Chapter 15: Torn
Walking into the newsroom in the middle of the afternoon, Lois expected to be bombarded with questions about where they’d been, what they’d discovered. After all, she was now a partner in the greatest secret in the history of the Planet. She felt a huge sense of irony about the fact that, she, Lois Lane, knew the identity of Superman, and was completely unable to capitalize on it. The precious life they had created five years ago was effectively the final word on that matter, even if she hadn’t felt strongly that Clark was entitled his privacy. The world he protected owed him that.
But as they strolled over to her desk, she was startled to realize that they weren’t the center of attention. Everyone went about their business, barely looking up from their computer screens to register their presence. She stopped, set her purse down, and looked around dumbfounded.
Clark’s soft voice was sonorous in her ear. “It’s surprising, isn’t it? We go through life certain that our secrets are exposed for the world to see.” He shifted to face her, an understanding smile on his face. “But everyone else is too involved in their own problems really to see what’s right in front of their faces.” He pushed his glasses up his nose, a twinkle in his eye.
Lois tilted her head and gave him a grimace. No need to repeat that comment twice to get his meaning. But she couldn’t resist a jab. “After all, why would Superman have anything to hide? He never lies.”
That brought a blush to his face. She pretended not to notice as she jiggled the mouse to take her computer out of sleep mode and then typed in her password at the prompt. As she sat down in her chair, Clark harrumphed once.
“Changed your password, huh?”
“How did you…?” She shook her head, not sure whether to be amused or irritated. “Show off.” She had changed it, right after the Luthor ordeal, from superman to imalwaysaround. She made a mental note to change it again when he was busy at his ‘other job.’
Lois wasn’t exactly sure how to feel about the intimate knowledge of her life Clark could so easily obtain. He had arrived so suddenly at the café earlier, ready to console her after her blow up with Richard. Then, she had needed the comfort. But now? A prickle of worry started to needle her – he could hear everything she said, knew her password, probably knew her schedule down to the minute…
He had not yet earned the right to pry into her affairs like this! Not to mention the fact that erasing her memory had been a profound violation of her trust. She had been planning to rake him over the coals for his presumption… but being with him in the Fortress had affected her so strangely… They were on the road to repairing their relationship, but there were plenty more issues to deal with, starting with this one.
He had brought a briefcase over to her desk and was searching through the papers inside. “Clark,” she said seriously.
“Yes, Lois?” he inquired, turning toward her at once.
“If you don’t mind,” she began, imbuing that last word with as much innuendo as she could, “I’d appreciate it if you would keep those ever-observant ears and eyes to yourself.” Clark flushed, looking mortified. But before he could apologize, she went on. “I appreciate how much you worry about me, but please.” She looked directly into his eyes, willing him to understand. “This is my life – I need to have control of it. No matter how good your intentions are.” She was sure he caught the double meaning.
He nodded, pain briefly flashing across his face. “I’ll try to control it, Lois. I don’t think I do it deliberately… I’m just… tuned into you… and Jason… somehow. If it really bothers you, I will stop.”
Put that way, she couldn’t help but be touched. Lois smiled briefly into his clouded blue eyes to take the sting out of her words, and changed the subject. “Could you take a look at the photos I took yesterday? Maybe you’ll see something I missed.” She didn’t want him to think his talents were completely unappreciated.
“Of course.” She brought up the photos, and he peered at them, glasses sliding down his nose. “It’s quite difficult to make out the text here… the photos are too grainy…”
“Well, the light wasn’t that great… Can’t you, I don’t know, zoom in or something?”
He chuckled. “Even if I did, I would only see larger blurry pixels.”
“Oh.” She bit her lip as she thought. “Maybe Jimmy has an idea about how to enhance the image somehow…” She looked toward Jimmy’s desk and saw him packing his camera bag.
“Jimmy!” she called.
The young photographer hardly glanced up. “What, Ms. Lane? I’m about to head out of the office for a while.”
“We were hoping for your, uh, expertise in enhancing some photos,” Clark explained.
He gave Clark a regretful look. “Sorry, Clark. Chief wants me to follow up on a tip I got on a Superman sighting. Maybe later?”
“Oh, sure. Good luck, Jimmy,” Clark encouraged him.
Lois looked down, trying not to smirk. Yeah, good luck with that, Lois thought, knowing he’d have none at all. But what could either of them say?
He slung the bag over his shoulder and headed for the elevators. She turned her attention back to her notes, wondering what they would do now… Perhaps research the names Clark had mentioned in his X-ray search of the files at L & V…
“Mommy!” Lois looked up suddenly at the sound of Jason’s voice. The five year old nearly galloped to her desk to give her a hello hug. Behind him, Richard walked toward them at a considerably slower pace. Their eyes met briefly, and she broke the contact quickly before she could read the emotion there.
“Hi, sweetheart,” she said warmly to her son, holding him close a moment longer than normal. “Have a good day at school?”
“Pretty good,” he said happily. She was struck again by his naturally cheery disposition – and thought suddenly how similar it was to his father’s. He pulled away from her and looked up at Clark with sparkling eyes. “Hi, Mister Clark.”
“Hi, Jason,” he responded warmly, an almost identical sparkle in his deep blue eyes. Lois marveled at their natural connection… she had written it off before as her son’s easy way with strangers. “You look like you’re feeling better today.”
“Yeah,” Jason said shyly, embarrassed but clearly pleased that Clark had noticed. “Mommy said all I needed was a good night’s sleep.”
“She’s a smart one, your mommy.” Clark winked.
Lois watched this conversation, trying not to let the wonder show on her face, especially since there was another person watching…
“I wasn’t sure if you’d be back here today, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to check,” Richard said in a normal voice as he drew alongside them. She was glad for Jason’s sake that he was trying to keep up appearances. “Good afternoon, Clark. You’re looking better yourself.”
“Yes, I feel much better… don’t know what came over me yesterday…”
Jason suddenly looked concerned, eyebrows drawing down. “You were feeling sick, too, Mister Clark?”
Clark paused for a barely discernible moment before responding. “Well, I had a bit of a problem in the river… your parents didn’t tell you about it?”
Lois tried to explain. “Honey, you were feeling so bad, I didn’t want you to worry about it. Besides, he’s just fine now, see?”
Jason’s eyebrows remained in place, and he added a tilt to his head. “Yes, but…” He shook it off, the way only a child could, and continued. “I’m glad you’re better.” Why did it seem as if there was more he wanted to say?
But she was glad to drop the subject. They had both sickened from the presence of kryptonite, and the less said about that, the better.
“Thanks.” Clark patted Jason’s shoulder affectionately.
She felt Richard’s hand on her shoulder, and she turned to him. The pain of their earlier argument was creeping back into his face as he said, “Lois, can we talk for a moment?”
“Now?” Here, with Clark not three feet away? was the thought she didn’t voice.
He nodded slightly, and turned to Clark. “Clark, do you mind if I steal your partner away for a few moments? Jason, will you be okay?”
Father and son nodded in unison. “Sure,” they said, and she had to stifle her reaction.
As obvious as their similarities now seemed to her, Richard saw only what he expected, and guided her gently by the arm into his office. He gestured for Lois to sit, which she did, nervously, and pulled another chair beside hers. Taking a deep breath, he began, “I’m sorry.”
Those were the only words she hadn’t been expecting. “What? No, I’m the one who should be sorry, Richard.”
With complete sincerity, he continued. “I shouldn’t have stormed out on you like that. I was upset, and not thinking clearly. You confirmed everything I feared in just a few words, and I couldn’t handle it.” Richard reached a hand out to take her palm in his own. “I’m still upset, but I don’t love you any less, Lois. And I don’t love Jason any less, either.”
Tears sprang to her eyes. She knew he would react this way, but knowing it and hearing it said were two different things. “I should have told you when I first suspected; I was just afraid of how you would take it.”
Richard squeezed her hands, but then released them gently. “But Lois,” he said, voice growing firmer, “I need to know something.”
She sniffled, and rubbed at her eyes. “What?”
“I asked you point-blank before if you loved him… Why did you lie to me?” He straightened up, clearly bracing himself for the worst.
Lois found herself totally unable to reply. To be truthful, she hadn’t really felt she had been lying when she had told Richard that she hadn’t loved Superman. Sure, she had a crush on the superhero before meeting Richard, but all of the feelings of love had been wiped away with her memories. Again, she felt anger that she was in this situation, but she also felt helpless to explain it to Richard – too many questions would arise.
And knowing Clark was right outside the office, his super-ears probably unintentionally focused on her erratic heartbeat, her throat completely closed up.
Richard’s face hardened. He stood, and walked to the window. He spoke his next words while gazing out over the city. “All afternoon, I tried to come up with some explanation for it. What would be the harm of telling me? It’s not like I hadn’t had a few love affairs myself before meeting you, Lois. There could only be one reason.” He paused, and swallowed before continuing. “You are still in love with him, even if you won’t admit it to yourself.”
No… she tried to blurt out, shaking her head vehemently instead. But the word wouldn’t come out. Was it because the object of her supposed affection was only a few yards away? Or a deeper reason? Richard stubbornly gazed out the window, keeping his back to her, and her gesture of negation was completely lost on him.
“Richard…” she finally managed.
“Lois.” He walked back over to her frozen form. Touching her cheek fondly, he said, “I love you, more than anything. But say the word now, and I’ll walk out of your life.”
She had never felt more torn in her life. She loved this man standing before her… loved him dearly. But did she love Richard the way a wife should? Did he deserve to be treated this way? And she wasn’t finished working through everything with Clark – not her anger, not her lack of trust, and certainly not her strange rediscovery of these old, powerful feelings for him…
Richard took her silence as dissent. “Then I’m going to fight for you, Lois. With all the strength I have… until you tell me to stop. Not even Superman can stand against that.” He emphasized the word with such bitterness that she nearly flinched. She could practically feel Clark do the same, even without looking at him. “I’ll see you at home.”
She could only nod, more tears silently running down her face. She watched her fiancé walk toward the son-of-his-heart, and call him to leave. The two looked up at the sound of Richard’s voice. And though Clark had a mournful look in his eyes, he smiled and bid Jason goodbye. Jason waved merrily, and ran to grab his father’s outstretched hand.
Lois finally found the strength to move after the elevator doors closed on them. She walked slowly over to her desk, yanking a tissue from a co-worker’s desk. Clark moved a drawing to the side that Jason must have made with him – of Superman, of course – and turned that mournful gaze on her. No need to ask if he had heard their conversation – it was all there in his eyes.
She shook her head. Not now. “Let’s get back to work,” she said tersely, dabbing at her eyes.
“Um, okay.” He cleared his throat. “Actually, I gave that image enhancement program a test run while I was entertaining Jason… and I found something you might find interesting.”
“You know that list of names I found – the owners of the company? One of these documents you quickly snapped a photo of was a note scribbled on personal stationery. Does the name Philip Mitchener ring any bells?”
In her haste to prove that the company was connected to Luthor, she had completely overlooked that… “Actually, yes. Isn’t he the…” She bent down to squint at the screen where Clark had zoomed in on the job title by the man’s name.
“Deputy mayor,” he finished for her.
Next: Chapter 16: United