The cool night breeze flowed through the city and across the river, rippling the surface of the water, making it lap against the docks in lazy slaps. The sound was oddly eerie without the seaplane and its own quite groaning, the symphony of the night somehow incomplete without it. Everything else was in place – the moon was hanging high surrounded by a sea of stars, a mirror of the city’s sparkling lights below and the wind added to the serene picture – but without that seaplane…
There’s no normalcy unless the seaplane’s in the picture. It means he’s home and safe, giving Jason a bath while I sit in my study and write an article Perry’s got me on. It means he’s making dinner while I watch from a distance and admire him for everything he’s done, and for being so supportive with everything I’ve been through. Without that seaplane…
With a glass of ice water sitting by her side, Lois took a deep breath and released it, watching the faint fog form before her eyes and dissolve just as quickly. There was a small sting to the wind as it blew over the river. Her hair stirred in the breeze. She had made her way out there to relax and hopefully get the nerve to call for Superman, but sitting there knowing that Richard wasn’t safe and in that house with her was unsettling. Her eyes slowly shifted to the table. Sitting there next to her glass of water was her silver lighter. She had found it while digging through Lucy’s coat pocket one day, claiming to be searching for Jason’s jacket while he got ready for school. Lucy had a few choice words for her about that, but Lois had ignored all of it. Tucked away in her cast, hidden from her sister’s eyes, was the little charm she had relied on.
For all the good it’s doing me. Last time I had this thing a building nearly fell on me. God knows what could happen this time.
This time she knew there wasn’t going to be any nicotine satisfaction. Feeling a little disappointed at her lack of cigarettes, but happy that she was still determined to give up smoking, she craned her head to look back in the house. The bright lights from the kitchen were the only thing lighting the deck. Lucy was nowhere to be seen. Staying still and listening intently, she could faintly hear her sister talking on the phone. She had to be somewhere upstairs.
With a small smile, she lifted the lighter and turned it around in her hand, watching the silver coloring reflect in the light. She felt a small wonder of familiarity when she flipped the lid. Placing her thumb over the rotator, she flicked it once. Sparks flew, but no flame. Putting more pressure on her next flick, she stared at the sustained flame, watching it dance in the breeze, reveling in the small warmth it provided.
Then it went out.
Frowning, she closed the lid, opened it, and flicked the lighter again. The flame didn’t stay alive any longer than it did the first time. Snapping the cap shut, she closed her fingers over the lighter, suddenly feeling a chill that had nothing to do with the lack of warmth.
“How many times do I have to tell you to stop smoking?”
The voice was full of tenderness, its deep baritone warming her quicker than any flame possibly could. She set her hand down on her lap, staring at her fingers enclosed around the lighter. “As many times as it takes for me to finally stop, I guess.” Gathering the last of her nerve, she looked to the sky. He was hovering above her deck, his cape gently stirring around him in the breeze, his arms by his sides. The lights from the kitchen barely gleamed in his eyes, but his warm smile couldn’t be hidden by the surrounding darkness. He landed quietly on the deck, never parting from her gaze. He kept his distance, never moving any closer to her, but she was sure he was feeling the same longing she was.
When he finally did tear his eyes away from her own, he focused intently on the casts on her arm and leg, forehead creased in concentration. When he blinked the expression melted just as quickly as it had come. He turned to her. “You look like you’re doing better.”
He was using his X-ray vision to see my injuries. Ignoring the nagging voice that said she should have been touched by the intimate gesture, she waved her hand in the air, reaching for her glass of water as she did so. “As good as I can be considering the circumstances.” She didn’t try to hide the sarcasm in her tone when she spoke. Looking at him over the rim of her glass, she saw her words didn’t seem to faze him at all. He merely waited patiently while she drank, watching her carefully. He was waiting for her to take the next step.
The revelation startled her for a moment. As his hair slightly stirred in the breeze, she realized that he was waiting for her to say something. He was letting her start whatever conversation they were about to have. It seemed weird to realize that when he was the one who had dropped onto her deck. He could have listened from anywhere else if he had wanted to.
She decided to challenge him with that fact, then. It seemed to be the fitting way to discover what he was doing there. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here. Just dropping by?”
“Not exactly,” he said, giving her the slightest of smiles, ever confident. “I was flying over the city and saw you out here. You were playing with the lighter…” He lifted his hand and pointed at the object in question resting in her palm. “I was hoping you weren’t smoking again.”
There was the barest hint of longing when she looked at the lighter. “Not smoking. Just thinking. I haven’t smoked since…” Suddenly the wood of the deck was far more interesting than meeting his eyes. Since you visited Jason and let the both of us know you were alive and always around.
“Since the day you told me Jason was my son?” he finished for her, his tone full of caution and hesitancy. He knew there was a fine line that couldn’t be crossed, and his consideration for the matter nearly drove her to tears.
“Yes,” she answered, steeling her resolve. “It’s been a while since we’ve gotten the chance to talk. Rescuing me from a collapsed building wasn’t exactly my plan to get your attention.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t. But it worked anyway.” His grin was wry, a bit of the charm she had fallen so hard for coming back in his posture. For a moment all the awkwardness and anxiety that was so dominant between them lately vanished, and all the one person saw was the fragile existence of the other. She had lived for reporting but had no one to share it with, and he shared all he was with the world, but had no one to give his deepest thoughts and fears. Suddenly they didn’t just see what they were in the past, but the present was laid out before them as well. They were parents of a healthy and beautiful growing boy. The smile she gave him spoke volumes, and the smile he gave in return implied he knew what she was thinking.
“He’s beautiful,” he said quietly, almost reverent. “He looks like a bright little boy.”
“He is. He’s kinda fragile, but there’s little doubt in my mind he’ll grow out of it. He does have you for a daddy.”
“Richard’s more of a father to him than I am.”
She carefully watched his face, convinced that he would reveal a slight hint of jealousy at the mention of his romantic rival. When she saw nothing but genuine gratitude in his eyes, she let the subject drop, the frequent thoughts of Richard dragging her spirits down. Ever mindful of her, he noticed her head drop, her eyes glazing over absently. “Something’s happened to Richard.” The words were more of a statement than a question.
“It’s been all over the news. I’m surprised you haven’t… ah, heard anything about it.” There was no sarcasm in her tone, but it was full of a longing. It was so hard to hide how much she really did miss Richard’s company, his gentle spirit and kind nature that was so prominent in the man before her…
Oh God, why didn’t I see this before? Caring, considers others more important than him, can fly, loves his son… loves me. I met Richard White and became engaged to the human Superman! Am I really that stupid?
Suddenly all too aware of her immobile state and her inability to hide from his readable eyes, Lois shifted in her seat and stared at the chipped paint on her fingernails. Whether or not he had noticed how uncomfortable she had become, she didn’t know, but she knew that looking in his eyes would only shake something inside of her.
His voice brought her out of her thoughts. “I had heard something when I helped remove the seaplane from the island, but I wanted to come to you first. I needed to be sure.” His cape swirled in the breeze, gently moving across his legs. “Lois, what’s happened?”
I can’t look him in the eye. If I see that concerned look brimming with love one more time… “Richard… was kidnapped recently.”
“Kidnapped? You’re sure?”
“Evidence from the seaplane wreckage strongly supports the theory. We never would have found that out if you hadn’t brought it back from that island.” She grew quiet again, staring off into space. “Thank you for doing that.”
“Lois, you know I’d do anything for you.”
He knew it was dangerous statement to make. The tone of his voice gave him away. Though she knew she would be in the same spot had their roles been reversed, she also knew how unfair it was to Richard to be having this conversation. Superman hadn’t taken a step closer since he had landed on her deck, knowing well what close proximity did to both of them. And knowing the situation was far bigger than their relationship problems.
“If that’s true,” she said quietly, hating that she couldn’t gather the nerve to look at him. “Can I ask you to do something for me?”
She took his silence as his permission for her to continue. “We both know what you’re capable of doing. You told me so yourself – I hear everything, remember? If that’s the case… if you can hear things that other people could only dream of…” She trailed off, confidence fading in light of the gravity of her question. One of his boots gently tapped against the wood of the deck. One step.
“What do you need me to do, Lois?”
She took a deep breath and released it slowly. Her breath formed and dissolved before her eyes, reminding her of how chilly it was. She had become so numb, emotionally and physically, since the beginning of the evening. Lifting her head, she looked at the empty dock and the waters before it. “If you can hear everything… can you listen for him? Can you listen for Richard and save him?”
His deep and even breathing stilled and eventually stopped. Lois couldn’t recall a moment where she had heard him so quiet. Gathering her courage, she turned and looked at him. The bright sparkle in his eyes had dimmed, and his face was as white as she had ever seen it. The moment was broken by a blink from his eyes. He looked to the deck below, eyes suddenly clouded with guilt.
“I…” he said quietly. “Lois, it’s… it’s complicated. There are certain things…” For a moment he looked haunted, distant, the pale tone of his skin making him seem almost ghostly. He swallowed and met her gaze. The look in his eyes was filled with a sorrow that she had never seen before. “I’m sorry,” he said, and there seemed to be a thousand different meanings in his eyes. “I can’t find him for you.”
She opened her mouth to answer him, but found no words could come out. Before she could even gasp, he had already ascended to the sky, slowly lifting his head to the stars above.
She didn’t let him get far. Her words, whispered, were filled with disappointment and heartbreak. “You coward.”
He froze. Looking back down at her, he could see the tears beginning to stream down her face, her brow furrowed. Her voice was breaking but her conviction was strong. “I can’t believe you… any other person in the world you would save at the drop of a hat, but not Richard White? He’s a good man…”
He was back on the dock and by her side in an instant, kneeling before her wheelchair, his hands resting on a wheel. “Oh, Lois… no, no, no. Lois, you don’t understand…”
“Just because he’s your romantic rival? You’re gone for five years and some other man stepped into your place… that makes you furious, doesn’t it? Is this some sick way to get back at him?”
“No. No, it’s not. Just let me explain…” Her silence at his words obviously shook him. He was fumbling for something to say, taking his time trying to piece the words together. “Richard’s situation is horrible. And believe me when I say that anyone in danger is someone I keep a close eye on. Especially someone you… love.” The final word was hard for him to get out. He looked away for a moment, then forced himself to meet her gaze. “Richard is no exception. And believe me when I tell you that I’ve been keeping an eye on him.”
Her eyes widened. “You have?” The desperation and disbelief were clear.
He gently smiled. “I have.”
“Then… then why…?”
“Lois, when I came here, I was given certain instructions on what to do while I lived here; how to contain my strength, how to live among you and not let vanity get to me, how to know what to interfere with or who to save. I was also told – specifically – that I was not to change the course of human history. It would make the human race depend on me too much, instead of solving problems for themselves.” He suddenly seemed to cower beneath her gaze, letting his head hang, resting it just above the S on his uniform. “Lois, journalists and reporters are kidnapped all the time. More often than not, the human race has been able to find them again. I can’t interfere with this. But I can help. I’ll search out evidence; I’ll bring seaplanes back to the coast into police custody. But I can’t hover above the earth and listen for him.” He looked back into her eyes, and she saw the struggle inside, duty warring with the desire to help her. “Please believe me. I’m nothing but grateful for Richard. I would have found him in a heartbeat if I could.”
“What about the million other times you saved me?” She bit back, bitterness bursting from the seams. “Wasn’t that interfering? Sounds like another sorry excuse to me.”
“I did change the course of human history once… for you.”
Silence. The two stared at the other, unable to look away. The haunted expression she saw on his face earlier returned, but the guilt was far more evident this time around. She resisted the urge to put her hand to his face, to provide comfort where he so obviously needed it. What’s hurting him so much?
Curious as she was, the bitter edge to her tone remained firm. “You said ‘once’. Which of all those times changed the course of human history? What about the Eiffel Tower? Sure there was a hydrogen bomb on the elevator, but I’m sure the city would be okay.”
He sighed. “Lois…”
“It’s just strange. Here are all these things you’ve saved me from and suddenly you’re worried about one little thing.”
His voice was a bit stronger. “Lois…”
“I’ll bet your rescues are on a list on honor or something. Is there something great and daring you haven’t done yet?”
She continued, seemingly not hearing him. “Maybe you weren’t up to par on that one. Is that what has you all bothered? Superman has his own standard for himself that he suddenly can’t keep--”
“You were dead, Lois!”
The emptiness and despair in his eyes closed her throat. He was on the verge of tears, a look of complete defeat that she had never seen before. The hands gripping her wheel slightly bent the metal until he pulled them away. “There was an explosion that caused an earthquake. You… you were driving down the same road it hit. I couldn’t get there in time. I…” He became lost in a memory, his form beginning to tremble slightly. A lone tear slipped down his cheek. “I pulled you out of your car,” he whispered. “You had several broken bones… and you were crushed to death. I never knew a body could be so cold.”
He paused, letting the memory wash over him. Lois sat before him, stunned into silence, in disbelief that this had happened. But she knew, better than anyone, that Superman never lied…
“I couldn’t bear it. Lois, a life without you… it’s not a life worth living. I turned back time to save you.” He swallowed, his eyes closing.
Her heart ached for him. More than anything else she wanted to reach out to him and hold him close, to tell him how grateful and speechless she was that he loved her that much. Instead she held his gaze and immediately regretted her next words. “So… you can turn back time and save me, but you couldn’t make yourself stay when you left for five years?”
Recognition dawned in his eyes, mixing with his hurt and guilt. It was a discussion for another time, and they both knew it. Keeping his gaze locked with hers, he spoke firmly. “I’ll help you find Richard, Lois, but I can’t be directly involved. We don’t know how many lives are at stake. But I promise you… we will find him. Together.”
Lois stared back at him, his words a balm to her torrent emotions. Feeling her own tears flooding her eyes, she finally gained enough composure to speak, though her words were thick. “Thank you.”
His eyes, red-rimmed and streaked with tears, were reassuring and confident. With a small smile, he stood and continued rising, floating above the deck and ultimately the house. “Good night, Lois,” he said to her, then flew off into the night.