He jumped slightly at the sound of her voice, the tone holding both surprise and welcome. With a nervous adjustment of his glasses, Clark smiled at Lucy as she opened the door fully. “G-good evening, Lucy. I hope this isn’t too late…”
“No, of course not! Come in, please. Lois was actually expecting you.” She opened the door wider and allowed him in the house, sighing deeply when she closed it again. “I’m really glad you’re here, to be honest. Tell me you came with something – anything, concerning Richard or… whatever.”
Clark’s brow furrowed. “Of course I did.” He craned his neck and looked around the house, momentarily using his x-ray vision to confirm Lois was still on the deck. “Lois isn’t asleep, is she?”
“No. She’s on the deck. She’s been there for several hours. I told her to come in since it was getting colder, but she won’t listen to me. It’s like she’s… lost. That’s why I had hoped you brought something with you. Maybe she needs something to snap her out of this.”
He followed Lucy into the kitchen. “Is she okay?”
Lucy’s eyes never strayed from Lois’ sitting form. “I don’t think so. She isn’t answering me. She’s been playing with that lighter ever since she’s been out there.” She smiled for a moment, concern lost in a memory. “I hid that from her when we got home. I put it somewhere hoping that she’d feel like she made progress when she found it.” Her eyes darkened again, pointing a finger at her sister. “That doesn’t look like progress. That looks… troubled.”
Clark frowned as he watched Lois twirl the lighter with her fingertips, her heartbeat telling him little, but her breathing was speaking loudly. Deep breaths, almost sighs, puffed visibly before her in white clouds. A breeze stirred the dark curls of her hair, but she didn’t shiver. Whatever she was thinking about was troubling her deeply.
She’s thinking about me. About Superman.
“I would just appreciate it if you could talk to her. See what’s up. She speaks highly of you, Clark. I said some things a few days ago that might have messed up her trust in me, and I don’t…” She stopped. She turned and faced Clark, eyes pleading. “She’s already between a rock and a hard place. The last thing I need to do is make it worse. You can give her something she needs. You can give her information… anything. Just…” She turned to her sister, worry flooding her eyes. “I’m not even sure what I can ask you to do. Maybe if you just talk to her… someone close and familiar…”
“L-Lucy… I’m not even sure she’d want to talk to someone right now. I know you want to help her, but…”
“Then I’ll ask her. I know her, Clark. A story might be the thing she needs. Information, no matter how insignificant, it could just…” She sighed, lifting a hand like she was going to make a point, then dropping it to her side. “Just let me talk to her. Let me see what she wants to do.”
Clark looked at Lois and clenched his jaw. As much as he wanted to drop the manila folder containing the newfound information on the counter and leave, the pleading tone in Lucy’s voice made it impossible to ignore the obvious state Lois was in. Lucy passed by him and gently opened the screen door, quietly calling Lois’s name like she was a creature who might startle. Clark lifted the folder and picked at one of the ends, pretending to be occupied.
“How’re you doing? It’s getting a little colder out here. Would you like a blanket?” He could hear the tenderness in Lucy’s tone. He quickly looked around the kitchen and found an afghan draped across a chair. Grabbing it, he walked to the door and held it out to Lucy, who had started making her way into the kitchen to grab it. Nodding her thanks, he watched as Lucy covered her older sister in the blanket and kneeled by her side. Lois didn’t appear to react at all, only lifting her arms over the blanket when it was placed over her. “I don’t know if you heard, but there’s someone here to see you. Clark looks like he has some new things to give you on the investigation. Would you like to see him?”
From his angle, Clark couldn’t tell if Lois even reacted. When Lucy stood several seconds later, a small, tender smile on her face, he could feel what little courage he had gathered drain from him. Facing Lois as Clark wouldn’t be as hard as it was as Superman, but facing her altogether was just as intimidating. Lucy walked over to where he was standing by the sliding glass doors, reaching out and touching his arm. “Thank you,” she mouthed, then, at his nervous nod, walked back into the kitchen.
Lois moved slowly towards a pocket in the side of the wheelchair. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath, raised his shoulders, and adjusted his glasses. One step on the deck gave him a better view of her. He could see a faint line of smoke rising above her, fading out of sight when the breeze grew stronger. He had never seen such a distant look in her eyes before. The Lois he knew was always alert and poised, drinking in every detail while determining her next move. This woman looked despondent and lost, with a detachment brought on by fear. He knew he was welcome, but suddenly Clark felt like he was intruding.
“Uh, h-hi, Lois.” The small smile he made himself give her faded when she didn’t acknowledge him, opting instead to take another drag from the cigarette she had lit moments earlier. When had she started smoking again?
“I brought some files that I thought you might like to see,” he said, lifting the folder that was clutched in his grasp. “There… there might be some information that’s hard to read – emotionally, I mean – but you told me not to hold anything back from you, and I promised I would, so…” He set the folder beside her glass of water on the small table. “It’s right here when you wanna take a look.”
She still didn’t answer, watching the waves lap lazily against the dock. She was staring at where Richard’s seaplane used to be. Taking a quick glance at the same spot, he allowed his voice to drop a bit, forcing confidence to enter his tone. “We’re getting closer, Lois. A little progress is better than none.”
The thick smell of smoke entered his nostrils. She had taken another drag, still staring straight ahead, looking as lost as ever. If she wasn’t willing to answer – or nod, or grunt, or something – Clark didn’t know what he could do to help her. She didn’t look like she wanted company. At all. But if there was one thing he knew for sure about Lois, it was that she would hunt down what she wanted herself.
“You can’t give up hope, Lois,” he said quietly, lifting a hand then letting it drop moments later. “It’s the most valuable thing you have to hold on to. At least that’s what I was taught.”
Nothing. Another drag from the cigarette, then a flick to shake off some ash. No reaction to his words, no gesture, no sound. Her heartbeat and breathing were deep and even. She had to be lost in thought.
Her lack of response was making whatever small measure of confidence he had fade like the smoke she was releasing. For a moment, the most powerful man in the world felt completely helpless before the woman who was known for her words. Her silence was unbearable. At his wits end, he turned to the kitchen to look at Lucy for help. She was gone, having given them privacy.
“It’s a funny thing if you think about it.”
Her voice was so broken. Clark turned to look at her as soon as the words were out of her mouth. She was still looking at the vacant space where the seaplane sat. Carefully, feeling he could break this opportunity with one false move, he answered. “W-what’s funny?”
She spoke slowly, her words slurred like she’d been drinking, though nothing about her told him so. “He flies, he’s a gentleman, everything he does is for the sake of other people… he cares for me. He cares for Jason.” She chuckled bitterly. “I was so convinced that I had gotten over him. When Richard came and took care of us, I was convinced… that it was everything I needed. It was a sign that I moved on. God knows how wrong I was. He’s back, he’s better than ever…” her voice broke, tears slowly flooding her eyes. “He loves his son. He’s only seen him less than a handful of times, but the look in his eyes when he asked about him earlier…” She sniffed and finally broke contact with the docks, staring at the trail of smoke drifting away in the light breeze. “He came to see me tonight. Superman.”
Clark could feel his heart slowly begin to break in two. Never had he heard his name – the name of the man Lois Lane loved – spoken in such a way. He did his best to keep his tone light. “Did he? Well, that was good for him to do.”
“Yeah. It was the noble thing.” He caught the slight smile that lacked amusement. “Especially considering the things he won’t do. After all those years of declaring that he was for the people, that he was always ready to help. I’m always around, right Clark? And the man can’t lie. But he can sure bend the truth.”
Word by word his heart broke more. He adjusted his glasses and continued with his act. “Um, I don’t mean to sound insensitive, Lois, but I don’t really know what you’re talking about.”
She lifted the cigarette to her lips and took a long, deep drag. After a moment, she flicked the butt in the direction of the docks, watching it as it just barely made it into the river before them. “No. I suppose you don’t, do you?” She paused, gathering her thoughts. “Clark… have you ever denied someone in need?”
“What, uh… what do you mean?”
She paused again, the tears he saw earlier fading from sight. “If you were Superman, and the man your son called father was missing, would you help him?”
His eyebrows shot into his hairline. For once he was happy she wasn’t looking at him, feeling his face once again go pale. “Uh, I don’t really know why you’re asking me… shouldn’t you be asking… him?”
“That’s why I’m asking you. I did ask him.” Her voice began to raise in pitch, her tears slowly returning. “He has the ability to go above the earth’s atmosphere and can hear everything, but for some reason that interferes with his call of duty to the world. I might be biased, but doesn’t that sound like jealousy to you? It’s just one man. One man!”
The ache that had been building intensified, but for completely different reasons this time. He walked to her side and kneeled before her chair, concern flooding his features, a hand resting on the wheel of her chair. “Oh, Lois… no, no, no, Lois. That can’t be what he meant. That’s… that’s not like him.”
“You’re right. That’s not like him at all.” She then proceeded to give him every detail from her earlier conversation with Superman. The tears never fell from her eyes, and her voice never wavered. Clark kept his eyes locked with hers, giving her the support she so desperately needed while carefully listening to the beats of her heart.
As she was winding down, she waited for him to say something, fully expecting him to speak his mind and offer an opinion. Instead he remained sympathetic, waiting for her permission to speak. When she realized this, she sighed and ran a hand over her eyes. “Maybe I should have asked him sooner. When Doug called me that morning and told me that Richard’s signal had been transmitted, I didn’t even think. I just wanted information. Should I have asked him then? I don’t…”
She sighed, irritated, and looked at him. For a moment he dropped his gaze and stared at the cast on her leg, the memory of the incident flooding his mind. Never before had he felt like he had come closer to losing her like he had so long ago. She could have been crushed under that wood and sheetrock, just as she had in California. Getting her out had been the main priority in his mind.
“Maybe…” he said carefully, slowly. “Maybe he told you that he turned back time because finding you at the docks was too familiar to him.”
He had her attention. Staying quiet, she let him continue. “You said it was one time where he didn’t listen to his parents, right? Well, from what you’ve told me, it seems like he’s just doing it again. You said the crystals were missing from the Fortress? Then he doesn’t have a way to contact his father. He doesn’t want to go too far because he doesn’t want history to repeat itself. To you or other people.”
“This isn’t about me, though. This is about Richard.”
“Yes,” he said insistently, more so than he had ever allowed Clark Kent to say. “This is about Richard. Superman doesn’t want harm to come to others besides you – like Richard, like whoever else might be involved in this. Lois, we’re still discovering things in this case. It’s not over yet. We’ve barely pushed away from the start; the finish line won’t be in view for a while longer.”
The small, passionate fire that had begun to blaze in her eyes died at his words. Her eyes shifted to the river, giving him the barest glimpse of the tears beginning to refill in her eyes. When she turned her head completely to the same position it was in when he had seen her earlier, he felt his shoulders slump. She couldn’t be giving up. There was little else he could say that wouldn’t be repetitive, but he knew that saying the same things over again would fire her irritation instead of her hope. He clenched his jaw and looked at her firmly, yet tenderly. Lois Lane wasn’t giving up – it wasn’t in her nature to do so – but if she was losing hope, even allowing it to fade a bit… he wouldn’t stand for it. Leaning forward a bit, he moved his head until he could see the hazel shade of her eyes, the glistening of her tears more prominent.
“Lois,” he said slowly, carefully, tenderly. “We’ll bring Richard back. The seaplane will be back at the docks. Everything will be back to normal. I promise.”
The words were meant to lift her helpless mood, but he could feel a little more of him die with every word. The small flare of jealousy within him spoke for a moment; nothing will be back to normal. Not until you’re wearing my ring and I’m the one Jason calls ’father’. As soon as it spoke he pushed it down. There was no need to be listening to something so selfish, especially at this time, and definitely when the ultimate decision of who Jason would call ‘father’ was Lois’ to make.
A pair of tears slid down her cheeks. Wanting to do something – hold her, comfort her, consol her, anything – but knowing it wouldn’t be right to do so, Clark put his hands on his knees and stood straight. He opened his mouth to wish her a good night, but thought better of it. It would be the last thing she’d have for a while.
Just as he turned to walk to the sliding glass door, something happened that made him still and shook him to his core. She caught his right hand in hers, the softness of her palm rubbing against his knuckles, her delicate fingers wrapping around his hand to hold him in place. The warmth of his hands gave her cool ones life. Her grasp was gentle, yet firm, almost as if she had tried to convince herself to not reach out to him before just doing so. The gesture was completely innocent on her part. And her innocence was marred by the memories he was suddenly bombarded with. He remembered those hands, their gentle touch, the cool palms…
The tender, delicate hands, cool to the touch, gliding up his arms and shoulders, threading into his hair while she teased him with her kiss…
He swallowed hard and closed his eyes tight, fighting the memory out of his mind. He felt himself begin to tremble, hoping that she wouldn’t notice, mentally begging her to let him go. It’s too much. Lois, please... it’s too much right now…
The brokenness in her tone nearly undid him. Her hand in his was too unbearable. He’d been so careful to not physically touch her. Holding her close at the Planet, her hands holding him gently in the seaplane… God, even her kiss in the newsroom. It had all been too much. Holding her while bringing her to the hospital when all of this began… his ache intensified until he thought it would hurt. He needed to get out of there. He needed to be away from her. She wasn’t his. Staying there like that any longer would be too much to bear.
Hoping that his shattering resolve wasn’t visible in his eyes, he turned his head and looked at her. She was trying so hard to be strong, fighting the obvious sob that threatened to tear out of her. Her grip on his hand tightened, and he felt himself fall for her all over again despite his earlier musings. The love of his life was breaking before him. But he wasn’t the one to gather the pieces.
His throat tightened until it was completely shut. The ache in him was so intense he literally felt numb. She had said the same thing to him so long ago…
Almost begging him that this was true, that the thought of him being beside her was no longer a fantasy, but reality. She stared straight into his eyes, imploring him… “Stay. Stay here with me…”
“… just for a little while. Please?”
She didn’t realize that she had said the exact same thing to him that night, clinging to him desperately, willing him to be by her side. And he had smiled, pressing a kiss gently to her lips, asking her almost incredulously where he would go…
But there was no joy, no euphoria to be seen in either of their faces. Tears continued to flow down her cheeks. She lifted her other hand and let the fingers peeping from her cast brush against his. It wasn’t really a yes or no answer – Lois wasn’t going to let him go. More than ever, she knew she needed comfort. In her innocence, she was seeking it in her best friend while he fought the feelings that desired to rise and take charge.
She needed comfort, not her former lover. Not the father of her child. Not the one who craved her attention, her very life since his return. She was desperate to save the life of another – one who would take the place he so desperately desired.
That in mind, he took a deep breath and released her hand, grabbing a matching chair from the table-set and setting it next to her. For a moment his posture was straight and frozen, his hands trembling against the armrests, his mind pushing down his beloved memories. But it wasn’t long before his company and mere presence wasn’t enough for her. Her heart racing, her breath released in shudders when she reached again for his hand. Her smaller fingers grasped his ever tighter until they trembled. Slowly, breath by breath, heartbeat by heartbeat, her resolve shattered. The shuddering breaths intensified until they became sobs, her form leaning into him until her head rested against his shoulder, her hand leaving his and clutching at the sleeve of his jacket.
Clark felt numb and alive at the same time. Desperate to comfort her but knowing any physical contact would drive him mad, he tugged at the sleeve of her shirt until she released his jacket while she lifted her head to stare at him curiously. The arm she held was around her shoulders, holding her as close as he could with the armrests in their way. The fingers from her cast grabbed a lapel of his jacket while the other snaked around his back, holding him in place at the shoulder. There, her forehead tucked under his chin and rough jacket material rubbing against her cheek, she began to cry, shaking in his arms.
Clark stared blankly at the city before him, fighting the familiarity of her in his arms with all his superhuman might. Her tears soaked through the collar of his shirt, arms holding him tightly. He only allowed himself to touch her shoulders, her arms… anywhere far away from the tempting bare skin of her hands, face and neck. Just having her hair so close, the scent overpowering, made him momentarily lose himself in memory. She had been that close to him in the Fortress, so content and so carefree… and here she was again, close as before, but without memory. She had no idea the effect she was having on him. She was just with Clark Kent.
Her comrade. Her friend. Her partner.
Not her lover. Not her fiancée. Not her little boy’s father.
“Shh…” he said quietly, hoping the strain in his voice couldn’t be heard, willing his own tears not to fall. “It’s okay, Lois. Everything is going to be alright…”