By Ruth Ellison (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary: After Lois knows the big secret, she assembles an archive of Superman news clippings in her apartment, determined to know "what she should have seen that she didn't see" — and thereby help build a better future with Clark by better understanding their past.
Lois was being mysterious again. It wasn't just the dogged persistence with which she hounded his Superman activities all day, taking copious notes and eyeing him as if she wanted to rip his wings off and stick him in a bottle. It wasn't the way she monopolised the press conference after one spectacular rescue; nor her rejection — when he returned exhausted to the Planet and found her staring thoughtfully at her notes — of his offer to help write up the story. He didn't even blink at her anxious glances towards the printer or the casualness with which she slipped papers into her bag when she thought he wasn't watching. But switching off her computer at 4pm — several hours early even for a Friday, and her story still unwritten — giving him an unconvincingly airy "See you later" on her way to the elevator — if this was Lois Lane, star reporter, then he was an alien with girl trouble.
"Where are you off to, Lois?" he asked, not prepared to let her escape so lightly.
"Oh, to do some research in the library — I'm having trouble with my story, I need more background material."
Though her tone said "I'm being creative with the truth," her excuse was clearly begging him not to ask questions. It was like her to be evasive, but apart from occasional misunderstandings they were long past the stage of professional rivalry. He decided to come at the matter from a different direction.
"Will you be at home this evening?" he asked.
"Maybe…" she said cagily. "But I'll probably be busy. doing research. You wouldn't be interested." She shot him a panicked look, and bolted.
Clark had been in the game long enough to know that you could only press an unwilling source so far. Lois had played the game far longer, and always played to win. He gave up.
His curiosity continued to interfere with his concentration for the rest of the afternoon. Instead of analysing the merits of a subsidised public transport system, he found himself wondering whether Lois might not appreciate some help with her research. He eventually abandoned his own story for the evening, said goodbye to his tireless editor and left.
On the way home he went to the supermarket, where he unaccountably purchased a box of chocolates as well as his normal groceries. As he walked the short distance to his apartment, he ate a raspberry-centred one and wondered just exactly what Lois was up to.
It took Clark about five minutes to decide that Lois would like to see him again that evening, and that she might let him in the door if he came bearing gifts, such as chocolate. Once again, he made a detour by picking up some Indian takeout en route to her apartment. He preferred Chinese, but "Any more Chinese food and I may be forced to stop seeing you" was not a directive to be argued with.
He knocked on her door and mentally counted to ten while she unbolted all her locks. By the time he got to fifteen, he decided she was stalling on him. When she finally opened the door and her opening sentence was "Uh-oh," he was sure of it.
"What?" he asked her in his best "What are you keeping from me?" voice.
She looked…embarrassed. She looked like she'd been caught in the act of doing something pleasurable but illicit, by the person she should have been doing it with.
"It's a man, isn't it?" Clark said. "Well, if I'm cramping your style, I can just go away again…"
"Get in," she said with a toss of her head.
Clark thrust his offering into her hands, and stepped into the room.
Lois's apartment looked like moving day at the National Archives. The floor was covered with boxes, and the boxes were filled with manila folders. Clark sampled a random box. Each manila folder contained a set of newspaper cuttings, and each of those cuttings, apparently, consisted of an article about Superman. He took off his glasses and scanned the other boxes. Their contents seemed to be similar. There was also a thick wad of computer paper, evidently print- outs of Lois's Superman files. Which explained the run on printer paper and the abusive graffiti about technology on the DP noticeboard.
Tucking his glasses into his jacket pocket, Clark commented, "If I'd known you meant *that* sort of article, I would've arrived via the window."
Lois did not look like a happy camper. "OK, so I was too embarrassed to tell you. And it's not for an article, it's for…personal reasons."
"Do I want to know what?"
She took a deep breath. "I wanted to know what I'd missed. I wanted to know what I should've seen that I didn't see, and what you were thinking and feeling that I didn't realise."
"And I wanted to reread your articles…knowing what I do now."
"What was this morning about?"
"Trying to remember what it felt like back when… Trying to see if I still wanted to write about Superman more than anything else in the world."
"And do you?"
Clark pulled out a manila folder from the box at his feet. Nearly 20 articles in just two weeks. At some point, Superman had ceased to be his creation and had become a public fantasy. It still felt odd to be writing about himself. It felt odd to have Lois writing about him without knowing she was. It felt *really* odd to have Lois writing about him *and* knowing she was. It felt really odd to have Lois, period.
"Maybe I'd better go," he said seriously. "I think we could *both* end up really embarrassed here."
"I know," she said. The atmosphere was suddenly a bit uncomfortable.
Clark eyed Lois, and she eyed him back. For his part, it was embarrassingly easy to recall embarrassing moments, and the slight blush on Lois's cheeks suggested similar thoughts of hasty words and impetuous actions.
"We have to get over that eventually," Clark finally said. "We can't undo the past. We just have to be completely honest with each other from now on."
"Then…you need to stay. So we both know where we're at." She ran her hand down the lapel of his jacket while her eyes locked enquiringly onto his. They understood each other, for once.
"Thank you," he said, kissing her lightly on the forehead. "If we *had* ended up upsetting each other, it would have been my fault."
"But you've got to promise to behave yourself," she said primly, pulling away from him again.
Clark settled onto her sofa and tried to look as if he belonged there. Didn't he always behave himself? Wasn't he the master at behaving himself? He didn't *always* tease her, did he?
He thumbed through the contents of the folder in his hands. "'I WAS ALIEN'S BONDAGE SLAVE', 'SEX WITH ALIEN IS OUT OF THIS WORLD', 'ALIEN'S NIGHT OF PASSION IN KINKY LOVE TRIANGLE'," he read out. "Gee, I must have enjoyed myself, only wish I could remember it. Lois, exactly what 'personal reasons' were you talking about?"
Lois gave him a "Don't start!" look.
"Glad to see you're being thorough," he said mischievously.
"If this is Chinese, I *will* have to ask you to leave," Lois said with a deft change of the subject. She headed into the kitchen and started to serve up.
"Indian. After what you said last time…"
"You're learning. I assume mine is the 'chickne tikka masala' and yours is the 'vindaloo exta-hot'?"
"Right, unless you want your head cleared real fast."
She laughed. "No, I'll leave the explosives to the expert."
She brought their meal over to the sofa and they sat, half- facing each other, to eat it. The vindaloo was good — good and hot — and Lois wouldn't have liked it at all.
"Seriously, I *can* help you," Clark said, waving his fork in the direction of the boxes. "For a start, those 'National Whisper' articles aren't likely to contain what you're looking for. I can winnow out the ones that contain a grain of truth."
"Do much winnowing on the farm, Clark?" she asked.
"Hey, what was this about behaving?" Not wanting to start another argument, he continued placatingly, "OK, this is your show…"
"No, it's a good idea — do it. It won't take you long, will it? Meanwhile, I'll start ploughing through the *serious* articles — the ones that *I* wrote."
Clark decided to refrain from pointing out Lois's own agricultural metaphor. "Secondly," he continued from his earlier remark, "if you have any questions I'll be right here to answer them. Or will that just lead to the embarrassment thing again…?" he finished a little uncertainly.
Lois patted him on the knee as she took his plate from him. "Clark, I have thousands of questions, but that's why I wanted to read the articles. To make sure they're the *right* questions."
"You always ask the right questions, Lois — that's why you're the best." That made her smile over her shoulder at him, which was worth a little shameless flattery.
"We'll get to questions," she promised.
With the comfortable feeling that comes from a good meal, they both settled happily into the task of sifting through the papers. Clark retained possession of the sofa, while Lois camped on the floor amid her boxes. As she predicted, Clark's assigned labour was not very taxing, especially since the 'National Whisper's articles rarely gave the truth more than the merest nudge. He did slow down, however, to read her the occasional gem.
"Did you know that I'm planning to impregnate Earth women and start a master race?" he asked. "It sounds like fun but I wouldn't have time for anything else…"
"What sort of gene pool were you looking for?"
"I was hoping that was negotiable," he said with a laugh.
"In your dreams, Clark," she replied mildly, really more interested in the article she was reading than in verbal shuttlecock.
Clark turned back to his own rapidly dwindling pile, and in a couple of minutes had finished. Seeing Lois still labouring under two years of Supermania, he reached for another box and began to sort through it. In this case, however, it was some of their own articles and he soon realised that most of it fell into the 'relevant' category. It was quite absorbing to reread old news about himself, and he appreciated why Lois wanted to do the same. Time gave perspective to old events, and of course she now had a new filter through which to view them. So did he, in a way — the very fact that they could do this together necessarily coloured his reading. So it was something they could do in parallel, but there was a severe limit on how much direct help he could give her. It was her own labour — a labour of love, he hoped — and he would just have to be patient in letting her complete it.
He decided to sit back and watch her work for a while. Clark's desk at the Daily Planet, combined with a little superpowered tweaking of time, gave him ample opportunity every day to watch Lois Lane, star reporter, in action. Here was a similar situation, especially since Lois never really ceased to be Lois Lane, star reporter, even in her sleep. At the moment she was Lois Lane, star reporter and would-be soulmate, using all the talents at her disposal to pleach past, present, future and train their lives into a single green and growing thing with deep roots, unshakable trunk and spreading branches heavy with fruit.
There was *nothing* Clark loved better than being with Lois when she was like this.
He stretched out on the sofa, propping his head on his elbow. Now he was almost on Lois's eyelevel, and had an ideal view of her and the structured chaos that surrounded her. Lois's method was thorough, but efficient. She would read through each clipping in turn, sometimes jotting in a notebook and sometimes scribbling on her computer print-out. Most articles, once read, were carefully returned to their place in the folder. (She *does* love me, he thought — one of the less attractive features of being her partner was having to apologise every time Lois misused the library.) Occasionally, however, Lois would read an item through more than once and add it to a separate pile. After a brief wrestle with his conscience, he started to read each one. Most of these privileged articles were of events that involved Lois herself.
At one point, Lois looked up and caught him in the act.
"You're cheating," she said.
"You mean you're bored. Well, too bad because it'll take me all weekend to finish."
"You mean you're going to keep going all night? I guess I should be flattered."
She smiled, with just a hint of derision. "Just because *you're* tired."
"I'm not tired."
"So sit up properly and stop putting footprints over my sofa. Too much ~—>," she said darkly, waving her hand appropriately although the symbolism was somewhat obscured by the folder clutched in it.
"Too much trying to understand irrational public transport policies, more like it."
"You insist on writing about these bleeding heart issues, Clark."
He groaned. "Let's not start on *that* subject again."
"You should just turn up in the suit at a council meeting and announce that you're tired of rescuing people from car crashes, or something."
"I wish it was that easy," he said with a sigh.
"Then that would give *me* something to write about. 'Superman, what are your views on public transport?' 'Just read my article in tomorrow's paper, Lois.'"
"That's not funny."
"Sometimes you take yourself too seriously, Clark."
Before he could formulate a suitable riposte, Lois had studiously buried her head in her manila folder again.
"You're no company. You won't even finish off an argument properly."
She looked up at him. "I didn't invite you here," she said pointedly.
He looked at her contritely. Sometimes he wondered why she hadn't just run him out of her life long since. Indifference would have done it. He would have still loved her, but without hope. But for all her air of contempt, disbelief, ridicule, irritation, she'd never managed to be indifferent to him, and he'd never needed to stop hoping. So he kept pushing and poking and provoking her, taking all kinds of liberties with her, rejoicing in whatever response she deigned to grant him, while waiting patiently for that flashing smile or appreciative glance that hinted of something infinitely richer.
He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. Lois Lane had turned him into an expert on ceiling design. He could probably enumerate every crack and paint fleck in his bedroom. Was Lois an expert too, or did romance novels have the same effect? He wondered what her bedroom ceiling was like. Then it occurred to him that if he was in Lois's bedroom and in a position of horizontality suitable for ceiling contemplation, he was likely to have more interesting things in his line of vision. He stomped on the thought before it leaked out and attracted Lois's attention.
He *was* tired. How did she know these things about him? He closed his eyes and concentrated on the sound of rustling paper, of Lois's breath and heartbeat, of four- and six- and eight-legged things blindly colonising the spaces between the ceiling and the floor above. And very probably he fell asleep.
He was awakened, or recalled, by an insistent prodding that felt suspiciously like Lois's knee being thrust firmly and repeatedly into his shoulder. Opening his eyes, her hands were revealed to hold respectively a pile of papers and a box of chocolates. It was the same box he had purchased earlier.
"Move over and let me sit down. I have some questions for you." She set her pile of papers on the low table behind him.
Clark sat up to make room for her, but as soon as she was settled he lay down again and placed his head in her lap. He looked up at her cheekily, daring her to try moving him off. She made a grumbling noise but set the box of chocolates down on his chest in a motion of post factum permission. He helped himself to another raspberry-centred one.
"Are any of them peppermint?" she asked. "What's this one?" She held one up in front of him.
He squinted at it. "Caramel. Are these the warm-up questions?"
"I'm not interviewing you, silly. Well…maybe I am. Maybe that's the only way I know to get information out of people."
"I'd prefer thumb-screws!" He pretended to flinch in fear. "Everyone knows that Lois Lane is the most ruthless reporter in the world." He reached into the box and found himself another chocolate.
"Nah, I've gone soft since I met you. Now pay attention and answer my questions properly."
"Do I get a gold star for answering right?" She was starting to look a bit testy, so Clark assumed an appropriately solemn demeanour. It was hard to do while sucking caramel from the centre of a chocolate, and she wasn't fooled, either.
"Tell me about the globe. It came from Bureau 39, right?"
"Well, actually it came from Krypton via the spaceship I arrived in… OK, I *found* it in Bureau 39's warehouse." He wondered why Lois was asking this question in particular. "Are you still upset because I took it and didn't tell you?"
She thought about this. "I guess… No, I'm not upset, not now that I know why. You see why I'm doing this? Because there are all these things that didn't quite make sense before and maybe now they will. But I have to go back and check, because until I'm sure what I was thinking back then, I really won't understand what difference it'll make now, and I need to know what you were thinking back then, because that really will make a difference to how I…*we* deal with all of this for the future."
"You're very good at keeping your feelings to yourself, Clark," she continued at a more sedate pace. "And I…wasn't too good at listening to you back then. I was so desperate to write the story that I didn't even stop to wonder why you were acting strange. *And* we never even got to write it in the end."
"I think I see an 'Embarrassment Ahead' sign just around the bend, Lois…"
"So tell me now — what was it like? Honesty, right, partner?"
"Right." He tried to put himself back into the mind of Clark Kent, recent arrival to Metropolis and resident alien of Earth. Lois's Superman kick had been in full swing and her less spectacular junior partner had not featured very highly in her thinking. "I guess…you did upset me. All you cared about was Superman…"
"You have a problem with that?"
"…but really, the worst thing was coming back to the warehouse and finding everything gone. The ship was there, I'd touched it, and suddenly it was all gone again. There was just that brief moment when I thought I was *somebody*…" He sighed, then smiled up at her look of concern. "But I can tell you everything now, and that feels *good*. Have a chocolate — I don't like to see you looking so worried about me."
"I have to worry about your feelings — I don't get to worry about your health or anything. What *was* the globe?"
"I'm not really sure. A navigational device, maybe, but it had messages for me stored in it too. From my father," he said wistfully. "My *real* father." He remembered something that would certainly interest her. "You know I have a Kryptonian name too? He called me Kal-El."
She looked impressed. "That makes *three* names altogether. They could get to be a mouthful if I ever decide to marry you. *And* you have two fathers, and I hardly even have one."
"I never thought of it like that," he said as he helped himself to another chocolate. "Is that really how you think of your father? Was he that much of a disappointment to you?"
"Well, you've met him… No, let's not talk about me. It's my turn to ask questions and be sympathetic and understanding."
Clark acquiesced, but he filed the question away for the next time she was willing to remember.
She glanced back at her notes. "I haven't finished about the globe yet — what did you end up doing with it?"
"It's somewhere very safe. On the farm," he added when he realised she wanted a real answer. Unfortunately, she also seemed to want a *complete* answer. "In my treehouse…" he finished sheepishly.
Lois looked as if she wanted to laugh, but she hastily thrust a chocolate into her mouth to cover the twitches at its corners. "Clark," she said slurpily, "when are you ever going to grow up?"
"I've been trying not to. Besides, it's a very good treehouse and nobody's tried to break into it yet, which is something I can't say for my apartment."
Lois's eyes widened a little. "Can people climb up to it easily? I mean, you don't have to be able to *fly* to get to it, do you?"
Clark chuckled. "Lois, you're completely transparent. You're not interested in treehouse security features. Just ask your real question."
She smiled, a little abashed. "I'd like to see this famous treehouse one day. And the globe. Purely for professional reasons, of course."
"Next time we're in Smallville, then - and yes, of course you can climb up to it. I was well past the treehouse stage before I could fly."
"I'm beginning to wonder," Lois retorted.
Clark reached into the box of chocolates just as Lois did the same. "You've had twice as many as me!" she complained.
"Yeah, and who paid for them?"
She looked at him thoughtfully. Clark wondered if she were measuring him for a coffin. "Which reminds me of another question," she said. She held out one of her computer print-outs and stabbed at an item ringed in red.
*** Item 156: Does not need to eat but likes to.
"You don't have to confirm the second half," Lois said.
Clark looked up at her. Her face wore a mixture of amusement, affection and genuine curiosity. He looked over the other items on her print-out. It was a catalogue of similar facts about him, each numbered and in some cases annotated. He looked from her, to the print-out, to the box of chocolates perched on his chest. He started to laugh uncontrollably.
Lois reached out to catch the box, which was tilting dangerously towards the floor. "Be quiet or I'll take away your candy," she said reprovingly. "You'd better not be laughing at *me*…"
Clark looked at her face again, and another wave of laughter passed over him. "Well…I don't *have* to eat…all the time…" he forced out between chortles.
"But you like the odd bomb between meals?" Her own barely suppressed laughter began to bubble out, especially as she doubtless was still picturing him floating around a treehouse.
"I *can* go without food…honest!" He looked her in the eye to see if he'd convinced her, but it only set them both off again. Lois bowed her head over his and they clutched each other for mutual support until the laughing fit passed.
When they had both recovered, they quickly finished off the remaining chocolates before they could argue about who should have the last one. Clark let Lois have it, since it was peppermint.
She picked up her bundle of papers again from somewhere behind his head, and began leafing through them. He heard her toss several aside, but she stopped on one and gazed at it thoughtfully. From his recumbent position Clark couldn't see it, but there was an arrested expression on her face.
"I have another question," she said, "but this is a big one." Her eyes clouded a little. "I could be heading right over the cliffs of embarrassment with this one."
"I'll catch you," he said softly, wondering about her sudden change in mood.
She looked at him strangely. "I hope so, because I really need to *know*."
She handed him a photo. Clark caught his breath — Jimmy had not been in good form that day, but he had no trouble making out the familiar contours of the Daily Planet newsroom, him in the suit, Lois in his arms, and both of them looking a little…awed. Frightened, even. Clark remembered that feeling. In Lois's case it might have been the unexpected mode of transport, but for him it was seeing the pieces of his life finally starting to fall into place, and in an unimaginably glorious way.
He looked up at her, wondering how much she could read in his eyes.
"Clark, why?" she asked.
There was no easy answer to that. Underneath the surface question lay a whole seam of issues that might take a lifetime to mine fully. "I suppose 'seemed like a good idea at the time' is not sufficient?" She shook her head emphatically.
"Well…because I had a beautiful woman in my arms?" She shook her head again.
"Because I was in love, and you do strange things when you're in love?" She didn't shake her head this time, but looked expectantly at him.
"Alright then… Because I was in love, and I was holding the woman I love in my arms, and she had this expression on her face that I can't even begin to describe… I never expected to fall in love, not like that, not suddenly and completely… Right from the beginning, you were the one. It wasn't so clear while we were just working together, but as soon as I held you, I knew it. And I needed some way to communicate that to you, in a way that you would actually listen to… It was obvious straightaway that in the suit, I wasn't the same man to you, that something different was happening between us. I wanted you to love me back, Lois, and there was that brief instant when I saw something like love in your eyes, and I was responding to that… And I wanted to make you feel as good as I felt myself."
Clark gradually realised that his last few sentences had been addressed to a spider busily spinning her web against Lois's cornice. He transferred his focus back to Lois herself. She too seemed to have a faraway look, sharing the memory. When she turned back to look at him, there were tears in her eyes.
"Can I ask you a question in return?" Clark asked. "Why the name?"
She awoke from her reverie. "The name? What…? Oh, *that* name! You really do have too many to keep up with. Well…the 'S', I guess, and…" A look of sudden remembrance darted across her face. "It was something *Lucy* said! She said she wanted me to meet a super guy…"
"And I was the first thing that happened along?" he teased.
"Clark, I'd never felt like that in my life before." Her gaze was tender. "Afterwards, I thought maybe it was just infatuation — but it was more than that. It was a sense of *rightness*, a sense that, just in that moment, I was where I was born to be…" She sighed dreamily. "I wanted it to last forever."
"'Forever' is an option," he said lightly. To have stirred such intense emotion in her once was a joy; a lifetime of it sounded scary. But, like a bolt of lightning that struck again and again in the same place, still it would flash between them when they least expected it — that sense of 'rightness' as she put it, that indefinable 'click' of lives coalescing. Perhaps that was the ultimate reason for this rereading of the past — to see whether the 'click' could be as intense between Lois and Clark, who liked to pretend that they were just a normal couple, as it had ever been between Lois and Superman, who were extraordinary together.
There was another question in her eyes that he knew she would never dare ask; he took pity on her by asking it himself.
"So, do you want to…go somewhere?"
She flung her arms around his head and kissed him solidly on the lips. "You are a wonderful person, Clark Kent," she said from the distance of about an eyelash. She pulled away a bit and looked at him intently.
"Amazing," she murmured.
"You really do look like Superman."
"Better, I hope." He let her kiss him again, this time with a bit of input from him.
When she surfaced for air, he said, "And *you* taste of peppermint."
The title of the story comes from a poem by Byron that I happened upon recently. It's entitled 'Stanzas for Music' and it summarises what the story is about.
They say that Hope is happiness;
But genuine Love must prize the past,
And Memory wakes the thoughts that bless
They rose the first — they set the last;
And all that Memory loves the most
Was once our only Hope to be,
And all that Hope adored and lost
Hath melted into Memory.
Alas! it is delusion all:
The future cheats us from afar,
Nor can we be what we recall,
Nor dare we think on what we are.
Thanks to Debby Stark for a thorough critique and encouraging me to turn a humble short story into something weightier.