Chapter 36: Once Upon A Time
The faint click of Jason’s door closing almost echoed in Lois’ ears. For several seconds, not even the cheerful sound of Jason’s cartoon channel penetrated her thoughts. A gray wash covered all five senses, and she felt as blank as the look Jason had just given her before he went upstairs.
Beside her, Richard exhaled noisily, breaking her from her trance. “That was unexpected.”
Lois nodded numbly. What do I do now? Does he just need time? Or does he want me to follow him up there?
She didn’t have time to make any sort of decision – Richard was already rising from the couch.
“What are you doing?" Lois asked tensely.
Richard looked down at her, affronted. “I'm going up there. I’m still his ‘Daddy’ no matter what happens after this.” He started forward, but Lois laid a restraining hand on his arm.
“Is that really the best thing to do here? Maybe he just needs a few moments to sort this out in his mind.” It seemed a weak argument, even as she was saying the words.
Richards eyebrows raised, an expression of ‘oh, really?’ crossing his face. “We don't know what he's thinking right now... he's only five years old, Lois.”
Lois stood, suddenly defensive. “Even when I was five years old, Richard, I needed plenty of time to myself…” Lois’ gaze drifted toward the stairs, and she made a sudden decision. “We'll go up together.”
His mouth quirked, and after a moment, he gestured for her to lead the way up the stairs. She climbed quickly, but lightly, and when she reached his door, she gently turned the doorknob to make sure it wasn’t locked. Gently opening the door, she called out, “Jason, honey?”
Jason was lying curled up on his bed, back turned away from the open door, and he didn’t respond. She came to sit on the edge of his bed, and lightly caressed his calf. “Are you all right?”
Behind her, Richard stayed in the doorway, leaning against the frame. “Do you want to talk?”
Jason stared straight ahead, not turning to look back at either of them. Tears glistened on his cheeks, and he sniffled, but other than that, all he did was slightly shake his head.
Heart aching, she gave his leg another small rub. “Will you let me know when you do?”
After a pause so long she worried whether he would ever speak to her again, he finally nodded.
“We’ll be downstairs if you need us…” There was not much else she could do. They slipped out of the room, closing the door quietly, and went back down the stairs.
Lois sat down heavily on the couch, completely at a loss. Richard stayed standing, running a hand through his hair. “Well...”
“Yeah…” Lois didn’t think she’d ever felt as if she didn’t know what the next step was.
“I guess I'd better go pack.” Richard turned and started back up the stairs again.
It took her a second to realize what he had just said. “What? Wait… no!” He looked back at her curiously, and before he could argue, she went on. “This is your house as much as mine. Actually… it’s more yours than mine. I was the one who made this decision… I should be the one to leave.”
He frowned. “But Jason should stay here – he needs the stability.”
“You're worried about stability? Knowing that he’s loved – that’s the kind of stability he needs. And what would we do in this big house all by ourselves?” She didn’t mention that there was absolutely no way that she could stay here… not with all the memories that would assault her at every opportunity.
“So where will you go? Will you live with…?” His eyes darted downward, unwilling to meet her eyes.
Lois was actually glad that he wasn’t looking at her. Her cheeks flushed. Where will we live? Clark and I haven’t even discussed that… I’m not even sure if we will live together at all… “I… I don’t know. I’ll probably get an apartment in the city… someplace close to the Planet…”
If Richard noticed the fact that she didn’t use the word ‘we,’ he was classy enough not to point it out. “Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. Besides, you’re still going to need a place to dock your plane.”
His lips pressed together. He’d lived with her long enough to know by now when arguing was pointless. “Well, you can take as much time as you need. I know it’ll take a while to get things sorted out.”
“Thank you, Richard.” His words were so calm, but in his eyes she could just glimpse the way this whole thing was tearing him apart inside.
He gestured over his shoulder with a nod of his head. “I guess I’ll be in the study, if you need me for anything.”
She watched him walk away, heartsore, but knowing this was for the best in the long run. Richard was an incredible man, and he deserved happiness… with the right woman for him. She’d known somewhere inside that she was not that person for some time, even though it had taken the reappearance of her soulmate to stir her to action.
Maybe I should go pack a bag myself. Wherever I end up living, I don’t think I can stay here another night… She climbed the stairs slowly, lost in thought. But the closer she got to Jason’s room, she realized that she could hear a slight sound coming from inside, the sound of sobbing. He hadn’t called out to them, so she was hesitant to go in to comfort him, even though it was her first impulse…
All of a sudden, Jason’s crying got much louder and he tearfully spoke aloud. But the sobs completely distorted his speech beyond recognition. Whatever he was saying, all she knew was that he needed someone. Right now.
“Jason, honey,” she said as she opened his bedroom door. Rushing over to him, she gathered him into her arms. For an instant, he resisted, but as another sob tore from him, he sank into her chest.
Lois stroked his hair silently, allowing him to cry out his pain. As much as it hurt to see him this way, it was almost better than the empty shock he’d shown before this.
They rocked back and forth for a while, and after a while, the sobs started to lessen. “Are you ready to talk?” she asked him gently.
“I don’t know,” he moaned into her chest through his sniffles.
“Would it be okay if I told you a story, then?”
He nodded under her chin.
“A long time ago… before you were born… there was a girl. She thought she could do anything, be anybody. And you know what? She was right. And she didn’t need anyone’s help to do it, either.” That was her, bold as brass Lois Lane. The youngest reporter, let alone a female one, to get a byline on the front page of the Planet on a regular basis.
“And then the girl met someone, someone so different from anyone she’d ever known. He was the first person who seemed interested in something other than just himself. In fact, he seemed to do nothing but help other people. And even the girl who didn’t need anyone’s help… found herself in need of his help more than she ever thought possible.”
Jason stayed quiet, listening to her soothing voice, relaxing under her stroking hands. He was well past the age when he would think this was just another fairy tale… but would he understand the point of this story?
“Pretty soon, the girl thought that she’d met her Prince Charming. But she felt a lot like Cinderella – she thought she had no chance with him.” Lois chuckled softly as she started the next section. “Now, at the same time, the girl met another boy. She didn’t really pay any attention to him at first, but the more she got to know him, she realized what a nice guy he was.”
Jason shifted, curling more into her, face buried in her neck. She took a breath to continue, but once again, she heard a flapping outside the window. Another figment of my imagination? She was tempted to ignore it…
But something inside prompted her to turn her head. The person she had been wishing for last night was floating just outside the window, an expression of concern on his face. He must have been so anguished by his son’s pain that he ceased his search for Luthor to comfort him. Lois lifted her chin from the top of Jason’s head and jerked her head to the side, gesturing that he could come in, if he wanted to. Jason’s face was away from the window, so he hadn’t noticed yet.
Lois kept talking – she was finding this as therapeutic for herself as she hoped it would be helpful in making Jason understand. “Unfortunately, she was too distracted by the first boy to really notice the other one.” Clark very gently opened the window, and slipped in. Somehow, without her noticing it, he had changed to casual clothing, jeans and his ever present flannel shirt, though he had left the glasses off.
“But then one day, she had a thought. What if, all this time, the two boys were one and the same? It would sure solve a lot of her problems. So she decided to try to trick him. Make him confess, once and for all.” Lois set a wry look at him, he grinned, probably remembering.
“It didn't turn out quite the way she hoped. But in the end, she found out that she was right after all, and the girl knew they were going to live happily ever after.”
Clark’s expression turned slightly mournful. He knew what was going to happen in the next chapter of the story.
She paused there, and Jason stilled, waiting. When she didn’t continue right away, he asked, “Well, did they?”
“Well, they wanted to... but you know, Munchkin, sometimes it takes awhile to get to a happily ever after.” She took a deep breath – this was going to be the hardest part of the story to tell.
“A terrible thing happened, and the prince had to leave… had to do battle with a great evil that was threatening the whole world. And when it was all over…” Lois swallowed. It was no easier to talk about it five years later than it had been that terrible morning at the Planet. “…the girl ended up confused, alone, with no idea what to do next.”
“Why was she alone, Mommy? What happened to the prince?”
“Well, you see…” Lois looked up, and locked eyes with Clark. And as she spoke the next words, she tried to let him know with her eyes that all of this was in the past now. “…the prince discovered that he had to make a long journey, one that would take him far, far away. He didn’t know how long it would take, if he would ever return… or if he would ever see the girl again.”
“That's really sad, Mommy.”
“Yes… yes, it is. But it wasn’t all completely sad… though neither one of them knew it… the prince had left a precious gift behind.”
Jason sat up, intrigued. “A gift?”
“More than just a gift…” She kissed the top of his head. “A miracle.” Lois’ heart clenched again – as she told this story to Jason, she was almost feeling afresh the worry and wonder of being pregnant with him.
“So, a little while later, the girl met another boy. And although this boy wasn’t a prince, he loved her. He treated her as much like a princess as the prince had done. The girl and boy cared for the gift together, thinking that it belonged to both of them now. And after a time… the girl’s memory of the prince faded until she wasn’t so sad anymore.”
As Lois spoke, Clark quietly moved over to the bedroom door, opening it gently. Richard was there in the threshold, embarrassed to be caught eavesdropping. Richard signed ‘see’ with one hand, and made a swooping gesture: ‘I saw Clark fly in…’ Clark shrugged, embarrassed. She nodded slightly to give Richard permission to come in – if there was ever a time when all three of Jason’s parents needed him, it was now.
Jason mumbled quietly, his tears nearly stopped. “Is that the end of the story? It’s kind of a happy ending…”
Lois chuckled softly. “No, kiddo, that’s not the end of the story. Do you know what happened next?”
“The prince came back. And at first, instead of being happy, the girl was a little bit angry. Why had he come back just when she was starting to be happy again? What was she going to do about the other boy she had met?”
“What did she do?” Jason’s voice was now touched with interest. He looked curiously up at her, still unaware that they had company in the room with them now.
Lois kept her gaze downward as she talked, not wanting to meet anyone’s eyes, not Jason, not Clark, not Richard. “At first, she didn’t know what to do. Maybe it would be best to marry the other boy… the prince could take care of himself… and the little miracle gift was doing just fine. But…”
She paused for a long second. She could only imagine the expressions on the men’s faces. After all, neither of them had really heard from her the full story, and even though they would be getting it in the form of a fairy tale… and truthfully, wasn’t that pretty close to the way her life had been so far? Ordinary girl meets extraordinary guy, but there was always some sort of problem to overcome…
Would the girl run away when the magic ended and hope that prince would find her? Would she wait for her prince to save her from a great evil, and end up sleeping a hundred years?
Or would she risk everything to join him in a world she never dreamed she would be a part of?
Of course, it was a lot more complicated than that. Fairy tales didn’t always have to be all about the prince and the girl.
“…But what, mommy?” There was a slight urgency in Jason’s voice.
“But… the girl realized that she wasn’t being fair to the boy. She had found her prince… Somewhere out there was a princess for that boy…” She looked briefly into Richard’s resigned face. “…and she just wasn’t it.”
“’The End’?” Jason asked doubtfully.
“More like… ‘To be continued.’”
“So…” His little brows furrowed in thought as lifted his head to look up at the ceiling. “If you’re the girl… and Daddy’s the boy…” Suddenly, Jason turned his head enough to catch a glimpse of Richard by the doorway, and he swiveled all the way around, startled that they weren’t alone anymore. His eyes then fell on Clark, leaning against one of Jason’s short bookcases. Clark somehow managed all at once to look awkward, consoling, anxious and brave in his stance.
Father and son held each other’s gazes, and for one clear moment, Jason’s parentage was perfectly obvious to every adult in the room. “M—Mister Clark?”
“Hello, Jason.” His voice was warm, deep, unassuming.
The little boy started, looking quickly between the three adults. His eyes went wide with shock and he spluttered, “No—wait! He…” His voice descended into a low whine. “I don’t understand…”
Lois gathered Jason into her arms again, and she murmured as gently as she could, “Do you remember the part of the story with the ‘gift’? That was you, sweetheart.” She kissed the crown of his head once again. “When you came into our lives, we didn’t realize what had really happened. Not at first.”
He looked up at her, eyes suddenly filled with fear. “Oh, honey, I’m sorry, that didn’t come out right…” She bit her lip, not knowing what to say, but knowing it needed to be said. “Let’s see, why don’t we try it this way… You know how people tease us that we are a lot alike? How we look alike…”
“…and are always getting into trouble?” He grinned slightly.
She grinned back at him. “Right. Well, there are also things about you that are not like me at all. You’re good in math and science… and when you’re worried about someone, really worried… you can do special things.” She swallowed. “Just like Clark can.”
Jason looked at each adult face in turn, trying to confirm what his mother had just said. Then he stilled, almost a repetition of the way he had reacted to the news of the break-up downstairs.
“Do you understand what I’m saying?” It was a lot for a young boy to grasp, especially so suddenly. He might have already accepted that he was somehow different, just like Clark was, but did he comprehend why…?
Jason unfroze, and looked very seriously at Clark again. Clark met his frank appraisal with quiet confidence. “I’m like you… because you’re my…”
“I’m your father, Jason.”
“But…?” He looked at Richard.
“Yes, it’s true, kiddo.” Richard told him, speaking at last. “But we all love you. You know that, don’t you?” He walked close to sit beside them on the bed.
He nodded numbly.
Clark came to kneel in front of Jason and Lois. “Jason, I bet you have a lot of questions. I think I know what might help.”
“What?” His voice was trembling a little, but he seemed willing to listen.
“I have a place I go sometimes when I need to think. It’s not the same as it used to be, but you should know about it anyway.” He held out a hand toward his son. “Would you let me take you there?”
Next: Chapter 37: Heritage