A blank screen.
She had been sitting at her computer and staring at a blank screen for what seemed like an hour, watching the little line blink back at her much like her brain was operating at the moment; a thought then nothing, an idea but nothing to give it life. She couldn’t think. Nothing seemed to work, and even writing down the words I have nothing to say about this; why can’t I think? didn’t seem to help.
The line blinked. Lois blinked back.
Finally, she groaned and removed her glasses, rubbing a hand over her eyes and all but feeling the headache that was creeping out to get her. She had to focus. Perry wouldn’t tolerate more ‘family magic’ as an excuse. A simple outline wasn’t that difficult to think of, anyway.
So… why couldn’t she think?!
Lois lifted her head and glanced at one
She smiled, doing her best to deceive him. “I’m doing fine,
“Are you sure it has nothing to do with the outline Mr. White gave us? It doesn’t look like you’ve gotten very far.”
She resisted the urge to block the monitor with her hands when he leaned over and gestured at the screen to prove his point. “There’s nothing wrong,
“Oh, uh, alright. Well, you know where I am if you need me.” He jerked his thumb to the empty desk behind him, making his way back to it and bumping into a man carrying files when he turned. “Excuse me. Sorry.” He mumbled, adjusting his glasses once again, and throwing a wave in Lois’ direction.
She didn’t respond. She only watched him sit back in his seat and reveled in the way his fingers flew across the keypad, the words flying onto the screen faster than her brain was connecting coherent thought. It almost felt like he was mocking her.
Perry was right. He was the fastest typist she had ever seen.
Darn the man. He didn’t have a family and a certain blue-suited hero to worry about.
It was only an hour later, but it felt like an eternity. When the second hand finally, finally, made its way past the twelve, Lois felt the burden of work replaced with the desire for food. A burger with everything on it sounded good, or maybe some Chinese from that place a few blocks from the Planet. With Richard gone on a business trip, she felt like she had more options for lunch.
There was that headache again. Richard, before leaving, had asked her that annoying question one more time. She had insisted with a wave of her arm that she was, in fact, never in love with Superman, and the hero’s reappearance was nothing more than excitement and anticipation of more thrilling things to come. Being a mother had taught her to tone down her instincts a little, but the thirst for adventure was always there. Richard seemed to be satisfied with that answer and didn’t ask her again.
That left her feeling concerned and upset over how she had handled everything. She had seen his face when she demanded that they turn the plane around and rescue Superman from the choppy waters. He knew something then, and it was something she really couldn’t deny. She loved Richard, yes, but did she now just merely tolerate him because Superman was back?
Of course not, she thought, shaking her head. He was there for her when Jason was born. He was willing to take her out and be a friend when others were too busy spreading gossip faster than the news on the presses. He was caring, charming, considerate and everything a gentleman should be. He was a dear friend.
She nearly choked when she thought that. Did she really consider her fiancée to be anything more than a friend?
Darn it all, she needed a cigarette. She needed one now.
Snatching her purse, she pushed her chair back and grabbed her coat, intent on making her way to the elevator in order to clear her thoughts. When she made it inside, happy with the way she had beaten the rush, a voice called out to her and footfalls pounded against the tiles.
“Going down! Lois, hold the elevator!”
Instinctively, she reached out and blocked the door.
Lois wasn’t sure about these ‘other people’ he had mentioned when the room had been empty, but decided not to ask. “It’s not a problem,
“Uh, actually no. I was thinking about going to a Chinese place just a few blocks from here. I think clearing my head might help me with that outline on the Creighton scandal. How are you doing with yours?”
Its non-existence is about as prominent as the air around us, Smallville. “Alright, I guess. I’ve just got other things on my mind right now. It’s been a little hard thinking of something.”
He set down his briefcase and put his coat on. “Well, uh, if you’re interested, you could join me for lunch… you know, if you wanted to talk.”
Lois turned and looked at him, smiling at the way he was picking lint off his sleeve so he wouldn’t have to face her. The shy country boy was considerate, and a conversation was something they hadn’t had in a long time. He always seemed to listen to her when she talked. Heck, if she was lucky, the gentleman in him would fully show by buying her lunch.
He obviously wasn’t expecting that. He turned to her with eyebrows raised. “R-really?”
“Why not? We still haven’t had a chance to catch up since you came back.”
He gave her a goofy grin that spread from ear to ear. When the ‘ding’ sounded a moment later and the doors opened, he chuckled. “Swell!”
We still haven’t had a chance to catch up since you left.
Valid? Yes. Painful? More-so.
“Uh, are you cold Lois? We can get a taxi if you’d like.”
She waved an arm at him. “I’m fine. It’s not that much further anyway.”
Translation: she was cold but she wasn’t going to say anything about it. His Lois was still as stubborn as ever.
She’s not yours, he reminded himself, turning to face ahead before he ran into anymore people. The thought, while painful, was true and he had to do everything he could to make sure he remembered that. Well, she might not be yours, but…
“How is Jason doing?” he asked, doing his best to seem conversational and not parentally interested. He wondered vaguely if Lois noticed a change in his voice when he asked about their son. “He seemed like he was getting over that cold of his.”
“Thank God for that.” She moaned, shaking her head at some unknown memory. “His fever was so high at one point I nearly took him to the hospital. Thanks again for watching him that night. I don’t know what would have happened if we had left a sitter.”
Of course, the words were half true. Jason was in better care in
“It was no problem.” He said when he realized he hadn’t answered. “I’m just happy he’s feeling better.”
“The cold weather doesn’t help,” she muttered, thanking him when he opened the door and made their way to the warm entrance of the Chinese shop. It was a small place lined with old tile walls and older Chinese music. The Oriental workers on the other side of the bar seemed like they could barely speak English while the American counterparts were busy taking orders. Deliveries must have been prominent at that hour.
“Gee Lois, I didn’t even think to ask you if this place was alright. Do you want to go somewhere else?”
Lois caught the glare from the young man behind the counter after
“Are you sure? It wouldn’t bother me if we went somewhere else.”
She grinned at his insecurity. Or maybe it was his shy, farm-boy nature that was getting the best of him. Whatever it was, she dismissed it when she shook her head, leading them both to a table. “It’s fine,
“Ah, reporters instinct. Taking in every detail the moment you encounter it.” He adjusted his glasses, squirming when her eyes narrowed in surprise. “It’s something Mr. White told me I lacked. A long time ago.”
“I hope it was a long time ago. You’re a good reporter, Clark.”
His grin was lopsided. “It was. Sometime around my first few months of being at the Planet, he called me into his office and offered me ‘constructive criticism’, saying that I needed to be more aggressive and take more risks. It sounded to me like he wanted me to become like a certain hard-nosed reporter he had paired me with on different assignments.”
Lois remembered a similar time when she had offered him the same advice. “It wouldn’t have worked out. Your calm balanced nicely with my attitude. If you had become me I wouldn’t have been able to stand you.”
He said nothing, only staring at her for a moment before leaning back in his seat when a waitress came and dropped menus in front of them. Both agreed to waters, and when the waitress left Lois turned to him and leaned forward. “I was giving you a compliment,
“Oh, of course Lois.” He said, taking the silverware out of the napkin and laying them in order next to an imaginary plate. When he glanced back at her, she was still looking at him. He raised his eyebrows and adjusted his glasses once again.
His eyes blinked rapidly. “I’m sorry?”
“You get fidgety when you’re nervous. What’s wrong?”
His heart swelled at the thought that she knew him so well. He shifted in his seat again and wondered if fixing his tie was looking a little too nervous. “You wouldn’t have been able to stand me?”
She sat straighter. That’s what he was worried about? “I was just saying that I like you as you are.”
There was that lopsided grin again. “You do?”
“Of course. You’re a great friend, Clark.”
Absently, he wondered if she remembered their conversation so many years ago in her office. It had played out similarly to this one.
“It’s good to know you still think so. I was hoping you wouldn’t be mad that I left.”
Her eyes lit up as if coming to a realization. “That’s right. Your trip! I want to hear all about it.”
She looked at him expectantly. His eyebrows went up again. “Now?”
“Sure. Why not? No better time than the present. I’m really curious about those pictures with the llamas.”
Mentally, he groaned, cursing the postcards Jimmy had shown him that were written in his mother’s handwriting. Where did she get those, anyway? “There’s nothing really to be curious about.”
“Llamas? How can I not be curious about that? Where did you go where you saw llamas?
Nowhere near there, actually. “Well, the llamas… that was the only postcard they had left. I wanted to get something a little more accurate to where I was, but, uh, I guess there were a lot of tourists there. Not a lot of options left to me.”
Her raised eyebrow revealed that she didn’t believe him. The squirming in his seat was real this time. Please believe me. Please, please, please…
“That depends on where you were. You still haven’t told me that.”
He paused a moment, trying to clear his thoughts to think rationally. Lois was a smart woman and wasn’t a reporter for no reason. “Well, I wasn’t anywhere near
Not the full truth, but not a lie either. “Yes. Home. To, uh, to Smallville.”
She paused. “You went to
“Why all the worrying, then? If you went home you went home. How’s the sweet gray-haired old mom?”
He resisted the urge to say ‘silver-haired’. “She, uh… she remarried recently.”
“Really? Well, good for her. How does she like it?”
He answered quicker than she expected. “Is she?”
He sighed. “No, she really is. She’s enjoying herself. I’d rather see her happy than sad.”
Suddenly it became clear where his discomfort lied. “You aren’t happy with it. Does the guy hate you or something?”
“No! No, he’s a good man. Ben’s a good guy. It’s just…he’s not my dad. It’s weird to think that she’s, uh, moved on.”
‘Moved on’ seemed to be an odd choice, but Lois thought his downtrodden expression was more of a concern than his words. She leaned forward. “What happened,
He adjusted his glasses, his eyes lost in a memory. “He, uh… my dad died of a sudden heart attack when I was a senior in high school.”
Lois half expected him to say that his parents had gotten a divorce. She opened her mouth to offer him comfort, but he beat her to it. “It’s okay. I’m fine now. It’s just… he’ll never really be my dad. He’s a good man and she loves him. That’s all that matters.”
“It’s great to know that you guys had such a good relationship.”
He smiled, staring at his water glass. “He was a great guy. He taught me a lot about… uh, who I am.”
“So, if your home is still in Smallville, why the llama postcards?”
He felt his insides relax, happy she hadn’t noticed his near-slip. “Well, Smallville is the corn capital of the world!” he offered weakly.
She stared back at him. Obviously that one didn’t work. “I seriously doubt the ‘corn capital of the world’ is a major tourist attraction,
He grinned. “It really isn’t, but it was a stopping place. I stayed at the farm for a few days before I left.”
‘Doing what’ indeed. He had stopped at Smallville before he left on his journey to Krypton, but he couldn’t tell her that he was trying to sort through the negatives of leaving without saying goodbye or that he was telling his mom to cover for him while he was gone. He racked his brain for an excuse. “Just… meeting some old friends. I decided where I was going to go after the first day.”
He shifted in his seat again. “Uh, a little bit of everywhere.” What places had he seen on his numerous rescue missions as Superman? “There were the Aztec ruins in
“Oh, I’ve been there! A great sight isn’t it?”
A small smile came to his face, remembering the one time she had been there was the one moment she needed saving. Just before General Zod invaded. Just before their trip to
“You went to
Disappointment filled him, but he hid it behind a smile. “You’ve seen it before, Lois. Remember? The Honeymoon Hotel scandal that Mr. White assigned us to?”
Her brows furrowed. “When was that?”
“Several years ago. A few months before I left, I think.”
He lifted his menu, pretending to casually take a peek at the lunch special. He closed his eyes, hoping that she would remember but dreading the thought at the same time. He had only wanted her to forget that Clark Kent was Superman, not every other event that happened in the days following. Why had he said so much?
“Oh! I remember!”
“Didn’t the room have a polyester pink bear-skinned rug? There was some kind of fire place thing in the middle of it, wasn’t there?”
He was sure she could hear his gulp. There was no way she could remember…
“That was our room, yes.” He said, flinching behind the menu when his voice cracked.
“I remember that trip. What happened to that story? Did we ever get it figured out?”
Thankfully, the waitress returned to take their orders, buying him time but not much. He concentrated for a moment, thinking of something that would satisfy the reporter in her.
“Are you gonna tell me, or do I have to find out myself?”
“No!” his voice cracked again. “No. We, uh, we found out that the whole thing was a sham. Mr. White was given the lead by a fellow Planet worker who thought it would have been funny to have the two of us posing as newlyweds.”
Another half truth. That was the story Lois said she was going to tell Perry when
“That’s when you said you were going to get me a burger with everything on it, right? Right after I got dizzy in my office?”
“Yup. That’s it.” He grinned, hoping that his use of her cover worked.
“Yeah, I remember that now. There’s a few details that are a little shady, but… yeah. Wow,
Adjust the glasses. “Well, it was the last assignment I went on before I left.”
She shook a finger at him. “It was, wasn’t it? I found out I was pregnant just a few months after you left.”
If she noticed the sudden tension that fell over the table, she hid it well.
“How did that go?” he asked absently, wondering if she heard the longing in his voice, begging to know something about his son’s life that he couldn’t get as Superman – for the moment, anyway.
It was her turn to grin, taking a few swallows out of her water. “It was an adventure, to say the least. Jason moved a lot as a baby, so there would be moments at the Planet when I would suddenly stop and grab this swollen mass, wondering what on earth the child was doing. I’m happy Richard was there, even though he was a little over-protective.” She dropped her voice, trying to imitate Richard’s deep voice. “‘Are you okay, Lois? Do you need to sit down, Lois? Lois, you know you need to take it easy!’” She laughed. “If we hadn’t been dating I would have gone crazy.”
“So… you and Richard hit it off pretty fast?”
“Not really. Richard showed up about a month or so after you left. He tried constantly to get me to go out with him, but I refused. I guess I was still pretty attached to…” her voice faded.
She smiled back. “Him. I couldn’t believe he was gone. I kept expecting him to show up, but when he never did, I guess I just decided to let him go.”
The truth hurt.
“I guess I should start at the beginning, shouldn’t I? Like I said, Richard showed up a month after you left and kept bugging me for a date. I finally agreed just to get him to shut up, but I never expected I would actually fall for him. When you’re Superman’s press agent I guess you figure that someone’s got pretty big shoes to fill.”
“I told Richard I was pregnant two months after we were dating. I got really sick one morning and denied the obvious for as long as I could. After the fourth straight day, I went ahead and took a pregnancy test, thinking it was ridiculous and outrageous for me to be thinking like that. Obviously, I was wrong.”
“With flying colors, actually. He was thrilled at the thought of being a father. I was thrilled he was there to support me. You wouldn’t imagine the kind of things people were saying about us at the Planet, ‘how easy it was for
He glanced down at her warm gaze, genuinely adjusting his glasses when they fell off the bridge of his nose. “You’re a hard worker, Lois. Any person should be able to see that. People don’t win Pulitzers because of luck.”
She smiled at him, wishing he didn’t need to act so shy so that he could see it. “Thank you,
“I just wish I could have been there for you. I’m sure you needed lots of help.”
Her smile grew when he adjusted his tie, still looking any way but hers. “Richard helped out a lot. People eventually stopped talking. I’m not sure how, but I wonder if Richard didn’t use the ‘family magic’ to help out with that. Anyway, he helped me through the better part of it and was by my bedside when Jason was born.”
“He was born prematurely. Almost a month and a half early. When my water broke I was over at Richards for dinner. You can only imagine how flustered he was when I calmly walked over to him and told him my water had broken. I think we were the opposite of how people expected us to react. When we got to the hospital it was another… eighteen hours or so before Jason was finally born. He was this little thing, hardly bigger than Richard’s hands when he finally got the chance to hold him.”
Her voice faded near the end of her sentence.
“Jason didn’t have an easy first few hours. He was a weak little thing, his size and newborn status notwithstanding. They would run test after test on him to make sure he was okay. I’m not really sure what all of it was about. I’m sure Richard could tell you. I was still trying to get over the fact that I was officially a mother.”
“Pretty incredible, huh?”
“It sure was. I couldn’t believe this little life sleeping next to me all bundled up and fighting for his life was mine. I think I burst into tears at one point, hoping beyond all else that he would survive. The first time after his tests I held him in my arms and took him to the window, thinking that some bonding time would have done something for him. Imagine me, the city girl, trying to help her infant son get better by showing him the city.” She giggled. “It was the first thing I could think of. Then Jimmy decided to show up with that camera of his and take ‘exclusive photos of
She grabbed her purse and started digging through it, unaware of the light that flooded
This was his family.
“My hair looks horrible in that one.”
He hoped his face wasn’t tear-stained. When he looked at her, she was peeking over his shoulder and looking at the photograph, turning to make her way to her seat. Her purse bumped against the table. A white box, small and nearly halfway out, caught his eye. “You weren’t smoking again, were you?” he said before he realized it.
She froze in her seat before smiling. “Actually, no.” she reached inside her purse and pulled out the box. It was a collection of nicotine patches. “I’m actually making the effort. I figure Jason’s old enough now that it’s going to affect him someday.”
“You stopped smoking during the pregnancy, right?” Her hurt look shook him, making him wonder why he would ask such a thing. “I’m sorry, Lois. Of course you did. That was completely uncalled for…”
“Actually, you have every reason to ask. I did stop smoking, but the few days after…” she shrugged, letting her hands drop on the table. “the few days after were pretty hard. Richard would watch Jason while I went out. I had these stored away somewhere and recently found them again.”
His smile was genuinely thankful. “I had wanted to say something about it earlier when we first met, but I didn’t want to seem imposing. I just got worried about Jason, I guess.”
She leaned forward again with a conspiring smile. “Is that a parental gene coming out in you, Clark
He swallowed another lump. If she only knew… “I didn’t have any siblings. I guess I just care more about little ones than most single people.” The waitress returned with their orders, quieting both of them while she gave them plates.
She paused, looking at the expression in his eyes. “It’s okay,
His mind argued with her. I should have known. I should have been there. I should have seen your face when you saw him for the first time. I should have held him, not Richard. “I should have been there.”
“It really is okay. Here.” She slid the pictures back towards him, spreading each one out like he had them moments before. “Go ahead and keep one. I’ve got hundreds of them at home. Jimmy couldn’t stop until we dragged him out of the room. It was like he was trying to document it or something.”
He tried to ignore that sentence. “Babies in a hospital for something other than injuries are a little foreign to me.”
“Well, none of us remember the day we were born,
Lopsided grin. “That’s not exactly what I meant.”
Her blank stare told him everything. His grin grew. “I was adopted.”
Her eyes widened in surprise. “You were? I never knew that!”
He shrugged, adjusting his glasses again. “It’s not a big deal.”
“Of course it is!
A lot more than you think. “You’ve got it.
“Not at all. We did go out to catch up, didn’t we?” It was her turn to stare at the pictures fondly, a finger reaching out to touch the image of her son’s cheek. “Funny thing is, in those few times when I would hold him near the window, he always seemed to get better. His breathing would deepen, like it was giving him strength. He always liked the sunlight.”
“I guess your love of Superman carried over to him, huh? Superman got his powers from the sun, didn’t he?”
If he hadn’t been so focused on taking a bite, he would have met her alarmed eyes. She became fidgety, playing with her food with her chopsticks and staring at his face, wondering just how much he really did know. But he couldn’t have known, unless
He had noticed her sudden alarm. It took everything inside him to not smile. He knew he was teasing her, but how was she supposed to know? Besides, mild-mannered
“I’m fine.” She answered quickly.
“You, uh, haven’t touched your food yet. Are you feeling okay?”
“I’m fine, Clark.” She said again, watching his face while he ate. Did he know something? Or was telling someone else what she needed to do?
She stabbed a piece of chicken with her chopstick. She couldn’t tell anyone else! Telling her secret to a Superman who was comatose was bad enough, but
Suddenly she couldn’t think of a reason. What had made her think that