By ShayneT <email@example.com>
Submitted: April 2006
Summary: Nightfall comes more than ten years late, and Clark loses his memory of the intervening years. Can he and Lois reunite in a world that's no longer familiar?
Disclaimer: Rights to all recognizable characters in this story belong to DC Comics and Warner Brothers, and no infringement is intended by their use in this story. Other characters are mine.
The world seemed to pass by in flashes, still images frozen in time. The cold, dark merciless depths of space. The looming mountain, death of the world hurtling toward the earth.
Pain, pain, pain. Suffocation, panic. Struggling for breath.
Fire, burning…something wrong. Nothing had ever burned like this.
The earth flying toward him, instinctively heading for the one person who'd been like home.
A crash, then darkness.
Faces leaned over the crater, staring. Men and women in suits. He could hear their whispers. "It's him. What do you want us to do?"
Consciousness faded in and out. He felt himself being carried. "Get him inside. It won't be long."
It was a long time before he woke.
She stared down at him, the face that had haunted her dreams for years. "What's wrong with him?"
"Given that his physiology is quite different than that of a normal person, we can't be a hundred percent sure. It's fairly clear that he has suffered a head injury. I can't be clear about a prognosis yet."
Lois sighed, and slowly sat down by the side of the bed. Everything that had been between them, all the guilt, the recriminations, the anger. None of it meant anything.
The light of the afternoon sun made the room bright and cheery when Lois's mood was dark.The rest of the world was celebrating, but she was mourning. She'd lost him years ago, but it felt like she was losing him all over again.
The bitterness of regret was like bile in her throat. She couldn't change the past, no matter how much she wanted to. She'd made her choices and now she had to live with them.
Not everyone was that lucky.
"Don't talk to the press," Lois said quietly. "The last thing he needs when he wakes up is a circus outside the door."
Her life had been a circus for the past ten years, and his life had been even worse. Much of that was her fault, and she couldn't help but grimace as the familiar feelings of guilt rose to the surface once again.
There was no point in wondering what her life might have been like had she made different choices. All that existed was now, and she had to make the best of it.
As the doctor left the room, Lois sat down slowly next to the bed.
Her hand found his, and she sat still, a motionless figure lit in the afternoon sun.
Waking was painful. Everything was confused, disjointed. Nothing made sense. Then his eyes cleared and he saw her above him. She was asleep.
"Lois?" he spoke quietly, and his voice rasped unexpectedly.
She woke, startled, and leaned forward quickly. "Clark! I was starting to think you weren't ever going to wake up."
"What happened?" he asked slowly. Where was he? It wasn't a hospital room. It looked like a private room, and a private bed.
He blinked. Lois looked…older somehow, as though the weight of the world had finally wrung the last bit of innocence away from her. He could almost believe that he was seeing some gray in her hair.
"You don't remember?" Lois asked. "The doctors said you have a concussion. You've been unconscious for a couple of days. I'd better go get him."
Doctors? Clark felt a moment of panic. His secret!
"I don't need a doctor," he said quickly. "I'm fine."
She was silent for a long moment. "I'm sorry." she said at last. "I should have said it a long time ago, and I know it's not nearly enough."
"You don't have anything to be sorry about Lois." Clark smiled hopefully up at her. "You've been the best partner any man could have hoped for."
He must have been mistaken, but it almost seemed as though she paled for a moment.
"What's the last thing you remember?" she asked cautiously.
"We were covering the Nightfall asteroid. The scientists were telling us it was going to be a near miss." Clark frowned slightly. "Why?"
"So you don't remember anything that's happened since 1994?"
"This isn't 1994?" The look of confusion on his face made the dull ache in her chest even worse.
"No it isn't." She hesitated. "The first Nightfall asteroid was ten years ago."
"We didn't get so lucky with the second one. Superman had to stop it."
He leaned back and closed his eyes for a moment. "Is it going to be ok?"
She nodded. "You…he saved us, Clark. Superman saved the world."
"Is he ok?"
It startled Lois to hear him speak about Superman in the third person. She'd never had to keep up the pretense, but she didn't see any other choice now.
"Nobody has heard from him since he stopped the asteroid."
"Mom…I need to call my parents."
Lois froze, and she felt frozen and unable to move. A sick feeling in her gut made her wish that she was anywhere else in the world than where she was.
"You must feel tired. You've had a long day," she said at last.
He nodded. She could see that he was already sagging backward onto the bed, his short period of alertness draining his reserves.
She stared down at him for a moment. He didn't remember anything about the past ten years. For a moment she almost envied him.
He was going to have to relive the pain soon, and she was going to have to be there again, as she hadn't been the first time.
She slowly rose to her feet and headed for the door. The immensity of the mistake she'd made all those years ago still overwhelmed her at times.
The two men in black suits standing at attention by the door fell in behind her as she entered the hallway. One remained behind to watch over Clark. Lois wondered which one of them had the kryptonite. She would have ordered them to put it away if she could, but on matters of security they didn't have to obey her.
A third man joined them on their way down the hall.
"What do you want us to do, Madam President?" the third man asked.
"Have the press secretary make a statement applauding Superman and congratulating the country and the world. She can't say anything about where he's at; officially he's still missing. Get me the people at NASA. If there are any smaller fragments of the meteor that are likely to hit populated areas, I want to know about it first."
She went over the list in her head. It was easier than facing what she was going to have to face.
"I want the FEMA director to have a report ready by 0900 hours. I'll talk to President Kushkarin after I get everything else taken care of."
How do you tell the one man that you've ever loved that he has every reason in the world to hate you?
"I'll take care of it right away President Luthor."
Nothing was the same as it was.
When he woke again it was night. His head hurt, and he wondered why he had been allowed to sleep. He blinked slowly and it took him a moment to clear up enough to realize that he wasn't in a hospital room at all.
It wasn't a hospital room, though there was some equipment in the room beeping away. The hum was somehow soothing. It covered the sounds of crickets from outside.
Ignoring the pain in his head, Clark shifted position, turning on his side. He froze when he realized that the wall beside the bed was all one window looking out over the mountains, the forest laid out beneath. He recognized this mountain range; it was the Rocky Mountains, and from the look of the forest, this was somewhere in Colorado.
The view was beautiful.
The camera in the corner of the room was not. Clark froze, realizing that he was being watched.
He heard the door open behind him. He shifted again, and he realized that it was Lois, clad now only in a robe.
What had happened to them in the intervening years? Were they somehow…together?
The pain in her eyes suggested that wasn't the case.
Clark found that he couldn't take his eyes from her. She was even more beautiful now than when he'd first met her. There were lines around her eyes, but her eyes were as bright as ever.
"Lois," Clark said. "I feel so weak."
"The doctors say you've been poisoned," Lois said. "You came into contact with something that wasn't good for you."
He'd known the meteor could kill him. She'd seen it in his eyes when he'd stood beside the scientists as they'd explained their plan. Unlike the last near miss, this rock was radioactive, at a frequency so high that it wouldn't even affect humans. Scientists had feared that he might not be so lucky, that the frequency of radiation might be close enough to that of kryptonite to depower him, to make him ineffective.
So they'd put him in a lead suit, knowing that it would be ripped away on the moment of impact. The hope had been that this would be just enough to let him split the rock in two, whatever might happen to him.
Lois remembered vividly sitting and staring at the paper in front of her, dreading what she was being asked to do. She'd signed it, against everything she wanted, against everything she believed because there was no other choice.
She'd lost her lunch violently after signing the order, retching helplessly as she sent the man she loved to die.
It wasn't the first repugnant decision she'd had to make; the office often demanded decisions that were painful. Yet this one was different. It had been like she was closing a chapter in her life. She'd always hoped for a reconciliation, and with this, there never would be.
You could see it in his eyes on television, the knowledge that he was a sacrifice, that he wouldn't be coming back.
And yet here he was, looking up at her in the moonlight. There was an innocence in his eyes that she hadn't seen in so long that she couldn't remember ever seeing it. It had been a simpler time, and for a moment Lois imagined that she was facing a time traveler, a Clark who hadn't had to go through the past years, who hadn't faced a decade and more of disappointments and pain.
A Clark who hadn't seen her being forced to make compromises that blackened her soul. Politics was a dirty business, and during the few conversations they'd had over the years, he'd never understood.
She'd done what she had to do.
She smiled down at Clark. "Are you hungry?"
It didn't hurt like Kryptonite, but he wasn't healing like he should. Clark blinked, then nodded, trying not to wince at the pain in his head. For a moment he wished that aspirin would affect him, but he'd tried it when he didn't have his powers back in Smallville, and it hadn't worked.
Lois reached for him, and helped him sit up slowly. He groaned involuntarily.
"Things are different between us, aren't they?"
"We're not partners anymore," Lois said quietly. "We both had to…move on."
He sat up in the bed, and Lois stepped back and reached for an intercom on the wall. "Bring us two roast beef sandwiches and iced teas."
"You don't have to tell them to put the mayo on the side and to make the lettuce crispy?" Clark asked, his lips quirking slightly.
"They know how I like my sandwiches," Lois said shortly. She pulled a chair from the wall and sat down beside him. "Listen, Clark. Things have changed."
"This is quite some place," Clark said, turning his head to look out the window.
It was almost as though he was afraid to hear the truth. Lois could understand that. She was afraid to tell it.
"We're just here to ride out the storm," Lois said. "Until we get the all clear that there won't be any meteor fragments hitting any populated areas."
"I'd have thought you'd have been in the middle of it, reporting on everything. The end of the world is just your sort of story."
Lois stared down at the blanket. "I haven't been a reporter in a long time." Lex had insisted on that. She should have known something was wrong then.
She glanced up to find Clark staring at her intently. She didn't have the heart to tell him that he hadn't been either.
"I'd have thought that you loved it too much to give it up."
"I'm more of a newsmaker now," Lois said quietly. "Life didn't turn out exactly how I expected."
Being the target of reporters instead of being one had been a shock from the beginning. It hadn't taken Lois long to learn to hate them. She'd hated her entire life and at times the only thing that had kept her going was the memory of her time with him.
They'd been partners, nothing more, but it had been the highlight of her life.
She sighed finally. "We haven't been friends in a long time, and I'm sorry about that."
Clark stared at her for a moment. Not friends? What had he done?
"Why?" he asked.
He loved her. He couldn't see any reason that might have stopped.
"I got married," she said.
"I shouldn't have done it. I knew it was a mistake the minute I said 'I do'. I kept hoping that you'd break in and save me, but you never did."
Clark wondered why he hadn't. Surely he'd have done everything in his power to stop her, to convince her that he loved her.
"It just wasn't the same after Jack and Perry died in the fire."
Clark froze. "Perry's dead?" It was a shock. Clark didn't even know who Jack was, but that wasn't important right now.
Lois nodded soberly. "The Daily Planet went up with it. Su…Superman was on the other side of the world, trying to deal with oil fires in the Middle East." She chuckled bitterly. "Maybe if Perry would have lived there might have been something to go back to."
Clark glanced down at her hands. "You don't wear a ring."
"He died." she said shortly. "I kept his name for political reasons."
"Political?" Clark found that his head was spinning. It was too much change in too short a time. He was actually grateful when the door behind Lois opened and a uniformed man slipped into the door and set a tray next to the bed.
The next few minutes were occupied with the activities of preparing the tray and eating. The food was good, almost as good as his mother made.
It was almost as though he knew, and just didn't want to ask.
A knock at the door interrupted her. A woman in a black suit stepped in. "Ma'am. It's time."
Lois glanced back at Clark, then said, "I have to go."
He didn't protest, and the drawn look on his face told her he wasn't ready yet for the truth.
She stepped through the door, and the woman stepped through the door. Her chief of staff was waiting.
"The fragments are starting to come down, and casualty reports are coming in."
Lois glanced sharply back at the door behind her. "Not here. We'll talk in the situation room."
Clark had stopped Nightfall. But he hadn't stopped the fragments left behind.
All anyone ever saw was the power of the office. No one ever saw the helplessness, the pain of the time when there was nothing you could do but sit and wait.
News footage was on a dozen screens, with live video of a sky lit by thousands of streaks of light. Thousands of fragments rained down; most were incinerated as they entered the atmosphere, but hundreds of larger pieces got through.
Colorado was safe, but even from here the sky was lit up like it was dawn.
Reports began flooding in from the west coast. Fragments of the meteor struck down like the judgment of God. Reports of fires, of looting, of traffic jams miles in length as people tried to escape the doomed areas. More people were dying from the panic than from the meteors. Power lines were down and a dozen western states were without electricity.
It was a nightmare, despite the low casualty count. So far it was only in the double digits, but that number would grow.
Throughout it all, Lois felt dazed. She made calls, spoke with governors and mayors and directors of Homeworld security. It was important that she remained calm and in command. Lives were at stake, and a failure here would cause panic and confusion down the line.
The military was efficient at least. This wasn't the confrontation they'd been preparing for, but they'd been looking for trouble from the skies. The new air defense system was put to its first real test. Eighty percent of the remaining fragments were shattered long before they reached the Earth, as streaks of fire shot up from military bases and population centers.
Despite everything they could do, there were too many fragments and too few defense systems in place. Lois found herself cursing under her breath, but it couldn't be helped. Dozens of large meteors struck the Earth, at first in uninhabited areas, but increasingly headed for metropolitan centers.
It was then that one of the agents entered at a run. He leaned close to Lois and whispered.
Clark Kent had escaped.
There were flashes of the void, memories of pain and fear and desperate loss. Seeing the sky, Clark knew instinctively what it meant.
He felt a moment of fear, of hesitation. He was injured, and the fragments were poison to him. Intervening meant he could die.
Dying would mean giving up on a chance with Lois, a chance to be with her that apparently they'd missed the first time around.
The moment passed, and his purpose became clear. People were dying, and he had a chance to stop that. He couldn't simply sit by and let them destroy everything that he loved.
He'd become Superman for a reason, and it wasn't for glory. It wasn't for power. It was to make a difference, to leave the world better than what he'd found it. He didn't have the suit, but it didn't matter.
The shattering of the picture window was the only sign he left in his wake.
It was the news reports that clued them in first. The meteors continued to fall, but reports of people being saved began to trickle in, first as a few isolated reports, then as a flood.
People trapped on the freeway, trying to escape California, stuck in cars that had become death traps. Miraculously, these people began appearing at local shelters, appearing in a blur.
He wasn't slowing down at all, not stopping to accept thanks or give any explanations.
People pulled from buildings. He wasn't stopping the meteors; he must have learned already that they hurt him. His only concern was human life.
The calls began to slow. Lois found herself drawn increasingly to the screen, as millions of others must be. The damage to property was incredible, but the loss of life was far less that Lois ever would have hoped.
Scientists would later talk about the relatively small arc of the shower as it hit Nevada and California. Within an hour, the shower was striking the Pacific, the country being protected at last by the curvature of the earth.
From that point in, the reports were all about the damage that had been done. There were occasional reports of ships being saved out in the Pacific, but as the last of the meteor fragments landed, Lois was dealing with reports of deaths from the small tidal wave that hit the California coast first, and then the shores of Japan.
Fires too were taxing an already overstrained system.
The reports of deaths began again, and this time there were no reports of rescues.
There were no reports of Clark at all.
Lois felt numb. She'd found him again only to lose him.
It was hours before the calls began to slow, before there were moments of peace. The news channels were showing only repeats now, the same footage over and over again.
One more scar on the psyche of an already damaged nation.
In the end, all she could do was stare numbly at her desk. At this point, sleep seemed impossible, though she was desperately tired. She wondered, not for the first time, why she'd ever wanted the job.
Oh. Right. She'd wanted to make a difference.
He retched heavily, spewing water onto the deck. Dimly he could see figures above him. He felt as weak as he'd ever felt, and he retched again.
Squinting into the sky, he relaxed as he realized that no more meteors were falling. The sky was finally at peace, and filled with a sea of stars.
He slept. When he woke again, he realized he was on a stretcher. He heard the familiar sound of flashbulbs, and he squinted, realizing that there were photographers taking his picture.
"Are the rumors about you and the President true?" one of the men shouted when he saw that Clark was awake. "Don't you think it's a slap in the face of the country for you to carry on like that?"
Another man shoved him aside. "Is this the first part of another attack by the New Kryptonians?"
Clark shook his head and was instantly hit with blinding pain as he struggled against his restraints. A moment later he was out again.
When he woke again, he was in a hospital, and he was in pain.
Lois was there.
He looked worse than he had in the tabloid pictures. His face was pale and white, and he looked almost gaunt. He'd been unconscious for days.
Despite hard won knowledge of Kryptonian physiology, there had been little the doctors could do other than remove the fragments of meteorite that were poisoning him. And chelation therapy, introducing substances into the body designed to bind with the heavy metals in his bloodstream and help him excrete them.
It wasn't really designed for this sort of mineral, and the doctors didn't hold out much hope.
The camera was up in the corner of the room, an ever present eye waiting for him to lunge at her. Despite all her assurances, the secret service took its work seriously. Lois was persistently aware of the two agents waiting outside the door, and the others at both ends of the hall. The agents on top of the roof, in the basement, in the stairwells and on every possible entrance to this place were an ever present nuisance.
They'd earned their right to be.
Clark stirred, and Lois felt her heart leap. There'd been some fear that he was going to be comatose.
"Don't try to talk," Lois said. She smiled down at him, trying not to see the strain in her eyes. "I'm glad to see you back."
They sat together, and for now it was enough.
Her chief of staff was waiting for her. "You can't keep doing this. The press is having a field day."
"I've done all the rejecting I can stand. He saved our lives and he deserves anything we can give him." Lois scowled and slipped into the long, black armored car.
"It's just going to bring up the old rumors," The older man slipped into the seat beside her. "We can't afford to look weak."
"His numbers are almost up to what they were before the war. The people have forgiven him." Lois stared out the window at the gathering crowds of people outside. She'd have to vary the timing of her visits. It wouldn't do to be too predictable.
"That's today. What about tomorrow?"
"We'll deal with that when we come to it." Lois's voice curt, and the older man immediately backed off. He knew when to push a subject and when to drop it. It made him a valuable second in command.
"The joint chiefs want to look into using the meteorite fragments as a weapon."
Lois frowned. Supplies of kryptonite were intensely limited. It would be best to get the fragments out of the hands of criminals and into the hands of someone who could use it.
Lois stopped coming to visit him during the day.
He came to expect the sudden moments of awareness, of being awakened to her presence, warm and comforting. The visits were always in semi-darkness, the shadows cool and enveloping.
Often they just sat together, without words, taking comfort in each other's presence. Clark had stopped asking questions; he suspected that the answers would be too painful. The nights were simply about being together.
Days passed. Days were different than nights, long, rarely interrupted periods of boredom and pain. He was healing, but it was glacially slow, painful. This was what it was like to feel human.
During the day, the silent, efficient members of the secret service were replaced with a heavyset security guard named Ed. Ed was friendly enough, but prone to wander off at times. Clark suspected that the free donuts in the staff room kept calling Ed's name.
The nights were enchanted, dreamlike. The days were filled with peeling plaster, sagging ceiling tiles and heavyset nurses who refused to look him in the eye.
The doctors were pleased with his recovery at least. He'd died three times on the table.
When he'd been shot with a kryptonite bullet, he'd healed in less than a minute. He might have been healing well by human standards, but this was not normal for him. Clark began to become increasingly impatient, to hope to go back to his life.
He only had three channels on his television. Lois never knew because television was the last thing on their minds when they were together.
Being unconscious, he'd missed the initial reports about the meteor shower, and about the celebrations that had broken out all over the world in the aftermath. His ego would have hoped to see something about him, but the only shows on television were endless rounds of soap operas, Judge Judy and infomercials.
Questions burned in his mind. The presence of the secret service, and the indefinable aura of authority that had settled on Lois like a mantle told Clark that she was important and powerful. How she'd gotten into politics was still a mystery.
Clark began sleeping in the afternoons, so he'd be alert at night.
It was the shadow over his bed that woke him. He smiled, anticipating and opened his eyes, only to be confronted by an unexpected figure.
The afternoon sun still spilled through the window onto him. The figure beside his bed definitely wasn't Lois or even Ed.
It was a short, blonde teenager with a big smile and a fanny pack. She had a cellular phone that she was pointing at him, and a book in the other hand. "You won't believe who I've got on my rounds. I'm sending a picture now!"
Clark blinked, confused.
"It's not every day that you get to meet a celebrity." The girl smiled brightly. "Especially not a big hero like you! Saving all those people…it just gives me chills."
Clark relaxed slightly. He'd dealt with fans, both as Superman and less frequently as Clark Kent. He smiled at her. "I didn't know they were letting volunteers work this section of the hospital."
She wasn't a volunteer, of course. Liability laws had stopped candy striping back in the sixties. Clark would play along, however. Part of becoming Superman had been a commitment to communicating with people, to making sure that they weren't afraid.
"Well, technically I'm working in the wing next to here, but when I heard that you were here, I just said to myself, wouldn't it be great to meet the man himself?"
A headache was beginning to form in the center of Clark's skull, but he didn't stop smiling. The least he could do for someone was to give them the courtesy of listening. What else did he have to do?
"Mr. Kent. Will you sign my book for me?" The girl flipped her phone closed and slipped it into her pocket. "None of the gals back home will believe that I met the one and only Superman."
Clark froze. Everyone knew? When had that happened?
Numbly he took the pen she was offering and quickly scrawled an autograph. He frowned a moment, then closed the book.
The face of Jason Trask was on the cover. The book was entitled "Invasion: An autobiography of an American hero." The line at the foot of the page said, "The life and death of the man who predicted the invasion."
He felt nauseous, and it took a moment to realize it wasn't just the book.
"It's kind of ironic. That book is the last one you'll ever see." The girl stepped closer to him, and reached into her fanny pack. From inside it, she pulled a black piece of rock. "Did it feel good, killing Jason Trask? He knew the truth about your dirty little invasion."
It didn't hurt like Kryptonite had. It was a dull, debilitating, nauseous pain.
"I've got friends out in California. One of them had this in his back yard." The girl stared impassively down at the rock. "You know what one of these goes for on e-bay? What with the military trying to take it out of the hands of the people who need it?"
Clark grabbed for the call button, but the girl was quicker. "Now, don't be a naughty boy." She slapped his hand away and grabbed the unit herself, dropping it to the floor. "We've got a little time here, and we don't want it to be interrupted by a nasty old nurse."
"Why are you doing this?" Clark asked. The nausea even worse than before. Now his stomach was cramping, and so were other parts of his body.
"It's just sick, what you and that Lane woman are doing. I'd never let some filthy Kryp touch me. There's a name for women like that…" The girl hesitated, then scowled, a look of distaste on her face. "What if you get her pregnant?"
"You think it hasn't happened before? It's all over the internet! What your people did…you should be ashamed."
Clark tried to pull back, but the raised rails on the bed stopped him.
The girl pushed several buttons on the monitor beside his bed. There was a small alarm that disappeared a moment later.
"You've got a lot of people fooled," the girl said. "They think that just because you do a few good things here and there, you must be who you always said you were. Well, I know the truth."
The girl smiled and took another picture with her phone. "It's sort of appropriate that people get to see your last seconds on Earth."
"It's a good thing you've already had your bath for the day." The girl lifted his blanket and her small hand slipped under the cover. She dropped the rock into his lap, then patted him on the thigh. "Nobody will think to look for it here."
The pain was overwhelming.
She took picture after picture.
"I want him guarded." Lois said, scowling. If it hadn't been for the security guard coming back from his extended "bathroom" break and catching her in the act, Clark would be dead right now.
"That's going to make things look…"
"I don't care." Lois's voice was sharper than she'd intended. She took a deep breath, and said, "You know what he's done for all of us. He deserves better than this. He deserves to be treated like a hero, not…"
Her hands were shaking. She put them behind her and leaned back in her chair.
The older man sighed. "I'll pull the detail that watches over foreign dignitaries."
"He's an American citizen." Lois said. Her lips tightened, and she fought to keep her temper. "He's earned the right to be treated like one. Do anything different, and it gives credence to what the extremists are saying. Find a group that doesn't have any…prejudices, and make it quick."
Nodding, the older man made a note in his personal organizer.
"Do we have anything on the girl?" Lois was pleased at how even her voice sounded. Outbursts of anger could be tolerated in a reporter. To a president, they were a liability.
If Lex had shown her anything, it was how to hide her feelings.
"She belongs to a number of conspiracy web sites. There's some evidence that she's a member of an anti-Kryptonian extremist group. We're tracking down the sites she sent the pictures to, to see what we can find."
"If they've so much as dropped a piece of litter, I want them hauled in," Lois said. "If we can prove that they conspired with her…and somebody sent her that rock, I want them prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
"Our lawyers say they might try to claim it's not a homicide, as Kryptonians are by definition not human."
Letting that get by in court would be a disaster. The nation had less than a generation to make up their mind about the status of Kryptonians and those with Kryptonian blood.
The conspiracy sites were filled with hysterical rumors about half-Kryptonian children being born. It was true. Lois had seen the files on the children of the occupation. Within ten years, a group of Americans would come into abilities that were more than human.
Lois had fought too long and hard for women's rights to sit by while a new group was made into second class citizens. If need be, she'd turn Lex's entire fortune to stopping this.
He'd spin in his grave, but it was nothing more than he deserved.
"He's an American. When we granted him citizenship, we gave him all the rights and responsibilities that come with that."
"That won't be a popular stance."
"Have you seen his poll numbers? They're higher than mine." Even after saving the world they weren't up to pre-war levels, but neither of them had to say it. This was the world they lived in.
"That just makes the extremists more angry."
"It always does." Lois sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. Suddenly she was tired, more exhausted than she'd been since the night of the meteor strikes.
She'd chosen this, and there were miles still to go.
Scraping gently, the razor slid down the length of his throat, rhythmically. It was intimate, almost uncomfortably so, but Clark shut his eyes and endured it stoically.
It was warm here, almost uncomfortably so. Clark had been moved out of the hospital and into a country mansion, with an open window and ornate ceiling fans rotating sluggishly against the high ceiling.
If he didn't know better, he'd think he'd been moved to some sort of antebellum manor. He wasn't sure how long he'd been out before they'd transported him.
He swallowed, and the blade at his throat hesitated. He looked up at the all too young face above him, at the woman wearing the classic secret service dress, and it brought back memories of another young face.
She must have seen the shift in his expression, because she looked him in the eye and said, "We aren't all fanatics."
He was having a hard time believing it. Everything he'd learned about this new world had been negative. He and Lois, whatever had happened to make that young girl hate him that much…the changes just never seemed to stop. It was bewildering.
He struggled for a moment to remember her name before it came to him. Tammy. Not exactly the name he'd have expected from an agent. "Do you know when Lois is going to come back?"
"She's in Kyoto, at a conference. She waited as long as she could, but the peace talks couldn't wait."
"Is there any chance that I could get a newspaper, or at least a television?"
Tammy shrugged noncommittally.
"I don't make those decisions. I just work here."
Clark smiled up at her. In the past, charming women had been easy, though he was sure he looked far from attractive at the moment. "Just a magazine or a book?"
It almost seemed as though they were deliberately avoiding letting him know anything about the world around him.
Part of him didn't want to know. The rest of him felt compelled, though. He'd felt the same need as a child to stare at an open wound.
The people around him were nice, if ever present. It still felt like nothing more than a prison,
The rhythmic scraping of blade on skin continued.
Clark wondered why they didn't trust any nurses to do this. Was he that hated?
The sound of the wheelchair rolling against the gravel was as sweet as the sweet breath of wind on his face. Clark closed his eyes and allowed himself to relax, enjoying the warmth of the sun.
He was rarely out of the sun these days, and he wondered for a moment what his doctors knew that he didn't. Whatever it was, it seemed to be doing him some good. He'd managed to stand up on his own and had made it to the bathroom on his own last night. He felt optimistic for the first time in a while. He still hadn't seen Lois, and it had been almost a week now.
The thought that he might not be politically acceptable to visit was an ugly one, but Clark had to reassure himself that the office of president was a very busy one, and it wasn't something that allowed much time off.
Footsteps behind him. Clark didn't open his eyes, though he didn't recognize the sounds. He'd become familiar with Tammy's footsteps, light and quick, and he knew Lois's by heart. These were heavier and uneven.
They approached, and Clark slowly opened his eyes. He felt his pulse racing, and his face brightened.
Jimmy was wearing a tailored suit and had a cane and a briefcase, but physically he'd changed a lot less than Clark would have thought.
He still looked like a young man, and smile on his face was warm and genuine. If there was a trace of maturity there that hadn't been there before, it wasn't filled with the same sort of quiet pain that he'd become used to seeing.
"You're a hard man to track down, CK." Jimmy lowered himself stiffly onto the iron bench beside Clark. "The press has no idea where you are, and they're looking. If I didn't still have a little pull with the President, I never would have gotten in, and I'm not exactly sure where we are."
"What are you up to these days, Jimmy?" It was difficult to keep a note of melancholia from his voice. He'd lost so many memories, missed on so much. Even though there was obviously a lot of pain during those years, he was sure that there was a lot of good as well.
"War correspondent," Jimmy said. "I've been all over the world, and I've been published by pretty much everyone. I'm up for a Kerth this year."
There was a quiet sense of pride in his voice, a satisfaction and self confidence that had been missing from the boy Clark had known. Clark glanced down at the cane.
Jimmy noticed and grinned. "Well, being a war correspondent can be pretty dangerous…but I got this showing off for a girl. The doc says I'll be good as new in six weeks."
Clark grinned back. Not everything had changed.
"Lois told me you've lost your memory."
Clark nodded slowly. "I had a pretty bad head injury. I've had some concentration problems too." He'd had increased irritability as well, though he'd kept that to himself.
Jimmy reached for his briefcase and slid it into his lap. "Well, I've got something for you."
He opened the briefcase and pulled out a book. Clark winced. The last book he'd been presented with had been Trask's biography.
"You gave me permission to do this before."
Clark took the book and stared at it. Superman was on the cover, his cape whipping dramatically behind him. The title was "My life with a Hero, by James Olsen."
"I've been trying to get this published for years, but nobody was interested. With the whole Nightfall thing, though, you are suddenly a hot commodity. They're working on a print run of 500,000 copies right now."
Clark flipped through the book. In the center, there were pictures. Some were of him and Lois. Some were of Superman. A few were of Jimmy himself. He recognized the occasions. Halfway through, the pictures began to change. These were pictures of things he didn't recognize.
His hand froze as he came across a picture taken from a helicopter, of smoke over Washington D.C. The title below the picture was simple and to the point. "The invasion."
Jimmy coughed uncomfortably. "It turned out that you weren't the last Kryptonian…and some of them weren't friendly."
It explained a great deal.
Clark turned the page and saw a picture of the White House burning. "They did this?"
"After Luthor killed Nor, yeah."
"President Luthor. I guess he'd hated you for a long time, so he was ready when Nor and his men broke in making demands."
Lex would have had Kryptonite. The thought that he'd somehow become President still stunned Clark. He would have thought the American people would have had better sense.
"So they burned the White House."
"With the President in it." Jimmy's voice was grim, and he reached over and turned the page. Clark winced. He continued. "The secret service got Lois out, but…"
Clark froze as he stared down at a picture of Lex Luthor and Lois standing together at a fund raiser.
She'd married Lex.
It was night again. The days had begun to blur together, and Clark had begun to regain his strength. He could walk now, though he was restricted to certain parts of the house.
The doctors had suggested that exercise might be good for him, and so he'd begun to take walks, accompanied by Tammy and a rotation of other nameless agents.
They weren't nameless, but he had trouble caring what their names were. He'd begun slipping into a bit of a depression.
The world wasn't what he'd thought it'd be.
He'd begun reading Jimmy's book, when he was able to concentrate enough, and that was the one glimmer of hope that he had. Jimmy's book was uniformly positive and upbeat.
A cynical mind might even call it a propaganda piece.
Clark returned to his room. He'd been moved to the first floor, now that he was mobile and didn't have to be out in the sun every moment of the day.
He felt his heart skip a beat when he saw the shadowed figure sitting in the chair by his bed. It began pounding as he realized who it was.
She was crying.
Quickly, he moved around the bed and dropped to one knee beside her.
She seemed almost oblivious to his presence, but then she slipped her arms around him and hugged him tightly.
Minutes passed before she could get control of herself. Finally, she pulled away and spoke.
"I had to send people away to die again today."
He wasn't sure what she meant, but instinctively realized that he didn't have to say anything. He stood up and sat on the bed.
"It doesn't get any easier…I wonder sometimes if getting into it in the first place was even worth it."
Clark reached for the lamp beside the bed, but Lois shook her head.
"I don't want the cameras to see me like this." Lois reached for a tissue by the side of the bed. "I can't afford to look weak."
"It's not weak to cry."
"It is when you are President." Lois stared down at her hands. "If Lex taught me anything, he taught me that."
It was time. There were too many things that had been unspoken between them. Maybe it would be easier for her to talk under cover of darkness, where she didn't have to look him in the eye.
"Tell me about Lex," Clark said.
What surprised Lois was the sense of relief she felt. She'd thought of every way possible to tell him, but she'd never quite had the courage. It was as though a weight had lifted from her shoulders, one she'd become so accustomed to that she had barely known it existed.
"It was a mistake," Lois said. "I knew it the moment I said 'I do'."
She'd felt sick the moment the words passed her lips, but by then it had been too late. She still remembered the look of triumph on Lex's face, and the thought made her shudder.
"I guess part of me was waiting for one of you to rescue me. You or…him. It didn't matter which." It had been so long since Lois had thought of them as separate people that it felt almost quaint.
Clark was silent, his face enveloped in shadow. Lois wished she could see the expression on his face. She wished she had a clue as to what he was thinking.
"It was my reputation that helped him win the presidency." The familiar, acrid bitter taste rose in her throat. "He had the money, but he would have never survived the press poking around in his secrets if they hadn't assumed that I'd have known about anything."
"What was I doing?" Clark asked quietly. His voice was carefully neutral, devoid of emotion.
"I think you were trying to find proof. Lex found out about it, and it wasn't long before the story of your secret was public knowledge." Lois hesitated, "That helped him out too. People were so caught up in what was happening with you that the election was almost an afterthought."
"And my parents?" If anything, his posture was even stiffer than before. He had to know that something was wrong. His parents hadn't even attempted to contact him, despite knowing that he was injured and hurt.
"Your parents' farm was burned. I still haven't found out if it was Lex's men or random crazies that did it. Lex had them put in the witness protection program. He held it over your head…told you it wasn't safe to see them, that they'd be at risk just by your being there."
Lois sat up slowly and reached for a tissue.
"In the end, it saved them." Lois shook her head. "It's funny how things turn out. He did a lot of bad things, but he died a hero."
"So you…cared about him?" He wouldn't look at her. Instead he stared off into the distance.
Lois chuckled bitterly. "It was a cold, empty marriage from the beginning. Lex was always more interested in the pursuit of something than in actually having it. I think the only reason he kept 90 percent of his possessions was so nobody else could have them."
"He knew how I felt about you, even before I found out your secret. When you announced that you were leaving for your home planet to fight in a civil war, he took great delight in seeing me suffer."
Clark hadn't even stayed to see the results of the election. It had hurt, but Lois had understood. He didn't have anything left to hold him on Earth.
"You were gone for three years. I guess you won, because Nor and the remnants of his armies escaped, and they came here."
Clark remembered some of the pictures he'd seen, of buildings burned, and bodies. He felt ill.
"So my people…people with abilities like mine came here and invaded."
"If Lex hadn't been so paranoid about you, made sure that key people in the military had Kryptonite, we'd have been lost." Lois grimaced.
Jimmy had said the invasion lasted eighteen days. He hadn't talked much about what had happened during that time, but Clark could see it in his eyes. It had been bad.
Lois continued. "Eventually you returned and you rounded up most of Nor's men."
"Some deserted before the end. We've spent the last few years trying to round them up."
Aliens hiding in plain sight. Clark could see how that would frighten people, keep them looking over their shoulder. The thought that your neighbor, or the punk kid on the subway could burn you to death by just looking at you…it would terrify anyone.
Clark had traveled extensively when he was younger, and he knew just how far people would go to feel safe.
Just what they would give up.
The hatred in the young girl's eyes as she dropped the meteor on him…it was slowly becoming clear to him what it was about.
It was all about fear.
"The country wasn't the same after that. People were afraid. They voted General Cash into office, and it only got worse. The things he did…the things we did…" Lois shook her head. "I don't understand how we could have…"
"So you decided to run."
"I had billions of dollars and the name of a martyred president. Mostly, I didn't scare people as much as the other candidates did. President Cash would have had us under martial law, and the others were…weak. When people are afraid they avoid weakness."
She'd kept the money. Why that disappointed Clark he didn't know. From the look in her eye he suspected that it was an argument they'd had in the past.
Lois continued. "I promised to keep people safe without eroding the liberties that make this country what it is today." She looked down at the floor. "I wasn't always able to keep that promise."
"I'm sure you've made a great president Lois."
"Two thirds of the voters didn't think so. I'm in the record books as the only president to ever win with less than a third of the popular vote. People didn't like my age, they didn't like my sex…and they didn't like you."
Lois closed her eyes. "The comedians were relentless. The jokes they made…about us being together before Lex died…they were cruel and painful."
The campaign had been hell, grueling and relentless. Her opponents had hammered away at her qualifications, at her character. They'd made her out to be inept, weak willed, a whore.
The worst was that there had been a grain of truth to the accusations. Lois had realized that she loved Clark early in her marriage, and there were points where she had been tempted. But Clark…he was too principled to even consider something like that, whatever the temptation.
His parents had raised him better.
She was glad of it now. She'd have hated herself. Her father had cheated, and she knew by example how empty, how damaging that was.
Even after Lex died, it hadn't been the same. Lois had immersed herself in political events, trying to stop President Cash's worse atrocities. Rallies, fundraisers, lobbying. She'd fallen into it with the same intensity that she'd used in her life as a reporter. It had consumed her, left her with little time in her life for anything or anyone else.
She hadn't even had much time for him.
And given their arguments about Lex's money, it hadn't been easy to talk to Clark. He wasn't used to the sort of compromises that politicians had to make every day. He tended to see the world in blacks and whites.
It had been a luxury she couldn't afford.
The compromise she'd made to gain the presidency was still the source of her greatest guilt.
"My advisors…they pushed me to do something I didn't want to do." Lois felt a tear forming at the edge of her eyelid.
Clark leaned forward and said, "It's all right, Lois."
Pulling away from him, Lois said, "It'll never be all right. I rejected you, and I did it publicly."
It was the lie that Lois hadn't been able to live with. Seeing the pain in his eyes, even if only in the glaring lights of television cameras had been a nightmare.
How much worse must it have been for him? He could have been a king among his people, but he'd given it all up for a world that didn't want him.
For a woman who couldn't admit that she did.
She'd looked in the mirror every day, and she'd seen the weight of the world settling on her shoulders, the burden getting heavier and heavier. It happened with everyone, but Lois had hated the growing deadness in her eyes. She'd been alone, in the one place where no one should ever be alone.
Maybe there was a reason that they'd almost all been married. Everyone needed comfort, especially the holder of the office.
She jerked slightly as she felt his arms encircling her. It had been a long time since she'd been touched by anyone, and Lois felt herself sagging into his embrace.
The wetness of tears on her face surprised her, but they shouldn't have.
She felt as though for the first time that she could remember, she was coming home.
The scent of jasmine was heavy on the wind. Clark smiled slightly when he heard her stepping onto the veranda behind him.
Everything was so much easier now. In the days since Lois had broke down and told him the truth, they'd rediscovered some of their easy camaraderie that they'd lost somewhere along the way. They'd laughed together, and Clark had begun to find some real hope that they would finally have a chance to find each other.
She was quiet for a moment. "I hear the doctors say you are ready."
Clark didn't look at her. He simply sat still, enjoying the return of senses that he'd never realized were so much a part of him. He didn't have to see her now to know she was there. He could hear the sounds of her heartbeat, the sounds of the blood rushing in her veins.
He could smell her sweet perfume, and beneath that, the scent he'd come to recognize as being indisputably her.
Seeing and hearing everything for miles around, he wished for a moment that he could share this with her, that she could see the world as he did.
It was indescribably beautiful.
Hesitantly she stepped forward. "Things are going to be different for you now."
Nodding, he said, "I know. I asked about my apartment, my things. The agents told me what happened to them. Do I really live in the artic someplace?"
"You still don't remember anything?" Lois moved beside him, and a moment later she leaned against him.
"My burn healed in under a minute," Clark said slowly. The burn on his thigh was the one injury that she hadn't seen. "And I still don't remember anything. The doctors say there's a good chance the damage may be permanent."
His brain was healed, but the information that had been in the damaged parts might never be recovered.
Worse, he couldn't stay here forever, waiting for stolen moments with a woman whose every waking moment was so busy that she barely had time to think.
"I've got some ideas," Lois said. "About some things you might be able to do…"
"You want me to work for you?" Clark's expression was incredulous.
"Technically you already work for me," Lois said. "When I signed the order sending you to stop Nightfall, I made you an agent of the United States government. That hasn't changed."
"I never wanted to play politics." Clark's expression was troubled. "I always wanted Superman to belong to the world."
"Superman can belong to the world. I want to hire Clark Kent."
Lois called back into the darkened recesses behind her. "Charlie!"
A young man in his early teens emerged with a briefcase. He struggled slightly carrying it.
The briefcase was lined with lead.
"I need you to sign some papers for me." At his look, she hurried on. "Non-disclosure forms. There are some things secret enough that it would be illegal for me to talk to you about without them."
Clark nodded shortly. He looked the papers over quickly, and signed his name to the bottom of them.
Lois had Charlie put the briefcase on a small table. She began her spiel.
"There were some unintended consequences to the occupation."
She pulled out several pictures, and she could see from his expression that he was hooked.
"What would you think about becoming an uncle?"
Clark straightened his tie and wondered for the thousandth time if he wouldn't be instantly recognized.
Stepping through the doors, he was immediately assaulted by the sounds of childhood. Laughing, running, the walls an explosion of colors that matched the happy sounds.
He felt relieved. This wasn't the sort of place he'd feared.
Showing his identification to a smiling elderly woman at the front desk, he was ushered back into a large room where dozens of children were playing.
There was a lot of laughter in this room, and Clark felt something within him easing a little. He'd imagined a place of gloom and despair, something out of Dickens. At the best he'd hoped to find a waiting area, a place where children were held in limbo as they waited in the furtive hope that someone, somehow would choose to love them.
This was a happy place, and Clark was glad to see that the staff was obviously dedicated to their work.
With all the happiness in the room, there was one dark spot in the corner. A single child sat alone. She was silent, watching the laughter around her, and there was something about her that simply cried out wordlessly.
Her face was heart shaped, and her hair was black. It would be easy to imagine that this is what his child with Lois would look like.
"Is Kara here?" Clark asked, even though he knew the answer. At the sound of her name, the girl looked up, and for the first time he saw a flicker of emotion.
The woman, Mrs. Crabtree by her nametag nodded and led her in the girl's direction.
"This is Clark." She spoke softly to the girl.
For a moment, Clark wondered if the little girl was deaf. All she'd done was stare up at him, as though she was fixated on his face. He wondered if she felt it too, the instant feeling of kinship that he'd felt with her.
New Kryptonians were telepathic with each other. Clark wasn't sure that he had those abilities, but just in case he attempted to project feelings of warmth and affection.
Clark lowered himself to one knee, bringing his face level with hers, and he held out his hand.
"Hello, Kara. I think we've got a lot to talk about."
She took his hand in hers, and he knew he'd made the right choice.
After this, thirty more to go.
Clark floated silently above the crowds. There were so many, each with a different story. Some were in orphanages, some lived with family members. Each was a testament to tragedy.
All of them were innocent, and each was a potential threat.
No one knew what would happen when the DNA of Earth and Krypton combined. Perhaps they would all be human. Perhaps some would inherit the legacy of their fathers.
Perhaps they all would.
There had been factions in the government who wanted to do something monstrous, terrified by the prospect of thirty children being abused and tormented and growing to hate the world.
What they'd wanted to do was monstrous.
The choice had been given to Lois. She'd sought out the help of the only experts in the world who knew how to raise a superhuman and turn him into a decent human being.
Their answers had been enlightening. Despite the risk, they'd met with the people in power, and they'd laid out a plan that had impressed and relieved the more reactionary members.
It thrilled Clark to know that his parents were still alive, and it gratified him to know that they thought he was the best choice to help carry out their plan.
They'd code named it Utopia.
Clark lay back staring at the stars, impatience thrumming deep within him.
Finally it was time. He allowed himself to drop through the clouds and into the night sky. The Pacific was beautiful this time of year, even in the darkness.
Hawaii. He never would have suspected.
Within a moment he was landing on a deserted beach. Two figures were walking from the opposite direction in the moonlight, holding hands as though they were still the young couple in love that they remembered themselves as.
They were tan, and his father had lost weight. He looked fit, glowing with health and vitality. They hardly seemed older.
Retirement had been good to them.
Their steps faltered as they caught sight of him. A moment later they were running toward him.
It wasn't until they reached him and he was deep in a double embrace that he realized that something within him was beginning to thaw.
The tears glistening in his eyes had never felt so right.
It was night again. It seemed that night was the only time he saw her anymore.
The fact that he was finally meeting her in her seat of power was a sign of progress. The familiar bulk of the building behind him was reassuring in a way. It had been rebuilt to match the old one almost exactly, on the outside at least. The improvements were unobtrusive and subtle.
He sat on the gentle slope of a hill, and he felt her walking up behind him.
She placed her hand on his shoulder and lowered herself gently onto the lawn, ignoring the likely grass stains on her pants suit.
"You aren't afraid of the paparazzi seeing us here?" Clark asked quietly.
"I'm counting on it," Lois said.
"It took a long time for me to get here." Lois began. "Between campaigning with Lex, being first lady and becoming an activist, I've got nearly a decade invested here in Washington."
Clark didn't speak. He simply sat and watched her in the reflected light of the moon.
"My people think I'm throwing it all away." Lois stared off into the distance, silent.
"What do you think?" Clark found himself tensing in anticipation of the answer.
"I think the people are bigger than that." Lois hesitated and turned to him. "If I'm wrong…I'll deal with it."
Glancing back at the house behind him, majestic in its reconstructed glory, Clark asked, "You'd give this all up?"
"It's a different world than it was just two years ago. People aren't as afraid, and their minds are clearer. If I stepped down tomorrow, I don't think General Cash would have a chance in the next election."
"Lois," Clark began. "I couldn't ask you to…"
"Throw in the towel?" Lois's lips quirked. "I thought you knew me a little better than that, Smallville."
In the distance, Clark could see the lights of camera crews arriving. The distance and the screen of trees and shrubs would make it hard for anyone not actually on the grounds to get a good shot, but it wouldn't be long before someone found them.
"I've got at least another year before campaigning starts again," Lois continued. "I'm going to try to accomplish as much as I possibly can."
Frowning, Clark said, "So where does that leave us?"
"It leaves us as the two most public people on the planet." Lois sighed. "I can't lie to you, Clark. This won't be easy. The jokes are going to be brutal, and the press is going to be relentless."
"We could just wait," Clark said. As he said it, part of him wanted to take it back. They'd lost so much time already, and he didn't want to lose any more.
"You'd do that for me?" Lois asked.
Clark's face felt frozen, but he nodded.
Taking his hand in hers, Lois looked him in the eye and said, "No. I've wasted too much time already. I'm not ready to wait another minute."
She kissed him, and Clark could hear the distant sound of flashbulbs.
Being President had its benefits. One of these was being able to make sure that people received honors they deserved.
Looking out over the sea of lights and faces, Lois smiled. She began to speak.
"The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civil honor our nation can bestow, and we award it today to 12 outstanding individuals. The men and women we honor span the spectrum of achievement. Some are fighters. Others are healers. All have left an enduring legacy of hope and courage and achievement."
The twelve men and women in the chairs behind her shifted slightly.
"It's my privilege to begin the evening by speaking about a man who had a special place in my heart. Dedicated to truth and justice and believing deeply in the highest principles of America, Perry White was a forceful, courageous and deeply principled reporter. He covered the civil rights movement, assassinations of presidents and musicians and throughout thirty years of service, he never lost sight of his deeply held belief in the truth."
Lois glanced out over the crowd, catching the eyes of several of the reporters who had known Perry personally.
"As an editor, he was demanding. He taught a new generation what it means to stand up for what you believe in. He was my mentor, and I only wish that he was here today so that I could present this award to him. In his place, his wife will accept the award."
There was movement behind her, and Alice stepped forward into the limelight. The years without Perry hadn't been kind to her, but there was an expression of gratitude in her eyes.
Lois handed her a box. Inside was a medal hung from a royal blue velvet ribbon.
Alice embraced her, and there was a desperate strength to her embrace. Lois struggled to keep tears from her eyes. She forgot sometimes how much she missed him, and sometimes it almost seemed as though he was only a phone call away.
When Alice returned to her seat, Lois began again.
"Our next candidate has been responsible for scientific advances that have made our lives safer and better. He has been a trailblazer on the frontiers of science, providing vital inventions that helped with the Occupation, and with the aftermath of Nightfall. It was his team who developed the weapons systems that keep our skies safe, whether the danger is natural, alien or manmade. Bernard Klein has been honored here before, but it is time to be honored yet again."
The years had been good to Doctor Klein. Success and acclaim had given him a new confidence that hadn't been there before. He accepted his award with good humor, his smile letting Lois know that he was solidly in her corner if no one else was.
Past Presidents had been content simply to list each award winner's accomplishments and allow the military to actually bestow the medals. Lois preferred the direct approach. She preferred to look each recipient in the eye, giving them the thanks of a grateful nation.
The others followed one after the other. Writers, artists, journalists and inventors followed one after another. One political prisoner and three activists.
It all passed by in a blur.
Finally, the last.
"Like the distinguished Doctor Klein, our last candidate has been on this platform more than once before. The last son of a dying planet, Kal El of Krypton was sent to the planet Earth. He was raised by Americans to hold the American ideal to the highest standard."
Lois glanced back at Clark, who looked as good as she could ever remember seeing him, standing in his Tuxedo.
"He had abilities far beyond those of ordinary men, abilities that we later learned could be devastating in the hands of lesser men. Unlike those men, he refused to be corrupted, instead dedicating his life as both Superman and Clark Kent to making the world a better place."
Lois gestured, and Clark stepped forward to stand beside her.
"Despite every bit of ingenuity mankind had to offer, Nightfall would have meant the death of the human race. Clark Kent chose to sacrifice himself so the rest of us might live. Later, when injured, he did it again, saving as many people as he could before he was himself overcome. He has paid a price for this, losing memory of years of his life, but if the need arose once more, he would not hesitate to do it once more."
Turning to him, Lois reached in the box and removed the ribbon.
"It is my special pleasure to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Clark Kent once again."
Being President had its privileges.
Being in Clark's arms was like stepping back in time, especially as they rose gently through the clouds. The sky opened up above them, the stars brilliant and the moon luminous and huge.
Flying with him had always been her guilty pleasure, and yet she'd forgotten just how much she'd enjoyed it. Here and now, with him still in his tuxedo and without a secret left to hide from the world, Lois felt content.
He was beautiful in the moonlight, seeming younger than he had been in years. Lois felt a little guilty, as though she were dating a younger man, one who was still innocent of all the world had to offer.
Holding her tightly, he stared down at her for a long moment. "Any regrets?"
Lois shook her head then smiled up at him. "I wouldn't have this any other way."
When it all came down to it, she needed him. She needed his uncomplicated view of the world, his ability to cut through all the confusion and come to the truth of the matter. Lois lived in a confusing world of grays, and Clark was there to remind her of what was right from wrong.
"You don't think we're moving too fast?" Clark asked again.
"We've been dancing around each other for thirteen years," Lois said quietly. "We have a lot of lost time to make up for."
If she'd learned anything over the last several weeks, it was not to take time for granted. Somehow, she'd come to believe that he was immortal, that he would always be there for her. She'd always expected that some day they would be together.
She'd almost lost him, more than once, and it had frightened her.
He kissed her gently, and the world seemed to spin.
The kiss seemed to last forever, and when it ended, Lois realized they were no longer alone.
Three helicopters broke through the clouds around them, filled with men in black suits.
Lois sighed, then giggled. There wouldn't be many of these times alone with Clark now that she was president, but it wouldn't last forever.
In the meantime, she'd grab every moment that she could and live life to the fullest.
She kissed Clark again, then looked back at the men gesturing for them to return to the white house. She sighed and nodded at him, and they began to descend through the clouds.
Sometimes being President wasn't all it was cut out to be.
But whatever future they faced, they'd do it together.