Clark’s alive. It’s like a second chance. A miracle that seems too good to be true, but she has watched incessantly for any sign that this is fake, or (her real fear) a flash of might-have-been that she dived into with all her heart and soul, forsaking reality entirely, when Clark’s heart stopped that final time…but there is nothing. Or rather, there is everything.
Not just the sight of Clark smiling reassuringly at his dad, or wrapping strengthening arms around his mom in an embrace, or shaking Perry’s hand, or beckoning Jimmy closer when the kid hung back uncertainly (the flashes were filled with details for her eyes to feast on, too), but there is more.
The sound of his laugh. The sound of him telling her he wants her, still, in his life. The continuous, even sound of his breathing.
The smell of his skin, crisp and somehow still reminding her of clean air and brisk wind even though he hasn’t flown since Doomsday tore him from the sky—the scent that welcomes her and feels more like home than any other.
The touch of his long fingers wound through hers, and the smooth flesh where there were sickening wounds mere days before, and the warmth of his gaze on her.
Every sense, every moment, combines to prove that this is more than a flash. More than a fantasy. It’s real.
He’s alive, and because of that, she can live too. Can do more than just survive, and actually live. Can breathe without feeling shattered glass shift and stir in her lungs. Can move without feeling the ache of rust in her joints. Can think without degenerating into pure, distilled panic and grief and broken-heartedness.
He’s alive, and everything is more. She has transformed from an eroding creature of loss to a glowing being of vibrant energy. She is filled and overflowing with sheer joy, with hope and relief and gratefulness, so that every movement threatens to send her careening through his apartment, dancing from room to room, crackling and unrestrained. It’s so tempting to give into her jubilation, so tempting to throw herself at Clark—heedless of the still-healing wound in his chest—and wrap herself around him and bind her flesh, inch by inch, to his until they are as intertwined physically as she feels them to be in every other way, but…but…
But there is still so much between them.
Death has separated them, yes, but it did so only after her lies built a barrier miles high between them. And yet…and yet…if death can be so easily (her heart shudders in its nest of bone and muscle and hope, because easy is a relative term) conquered, if miracles can be granted so unexpectedly, then surely, surely, they can get past what happened before.
Clark has already taken the first step.
Partners, he said, and Lois clings to that word as if it is a life-raft in the midst of an endless ocean. Partnership is what he offered when he first started working at the Daily Planet. It’s what he taught her and showed her and modeled for her for weeks before she began to call him her friend. It’s what comes easiest, most naturally, to her, because he needs her and she needs him and he has what she needs and—
Lois shrugs aside the shiver down her spine (the tiniest razor-sharp edge of anxiety to her sparking, fizzing happiness).
And hopefully, she still has something he needs. Something he wants.
(Hopefully, somehow, miraculously, she is what he wants.)
She startles and looks up, then smiles (it is so hard not to smile, ever since Clark filled his lungs and opened his eyes again; since he took her hand in his and gave her absolution). Jimmy’s smile is a lot more tentative, shaky at the edges, but at least it is there. Much of her time at the Planet after Clark fled to Smallville is a blur to her now, but she doesn’t think Jimmy was speaking to her if he could help it (another reason she should have sent Tempus packing long before it came down to their final showdown; another clue that the present was not being molded at all into a utopia).
“Hey, Jimmy,” she says. “He sleeping again?”
She asks, but she’s already craning her neck to peer around Jimmy, her eyes well-trained to fix on Clark no matter what else is happening or who else is in the room. He’s been chafing, the last few days, at spending so much time in bed, has been getting up and walking around to stretch his legs; his parents let him, though they hover in his footsteps with arms outstretched as if to catch him even before he falls. Lois watches from her usual perch, and says his name quietly when she can tell it gets to be too much (when the lines in the center of his forehead appear, as they did whenever she would go too far for a story, before he would plant himself in place and refuse to move).
And he listens. He will tilt his head toward her, then look at his parents (listen, too, to their strained silence), and he will let them help him fall back into bed. And then he sleeps, for hours. At first, it frightened them, how long he slept, how little he was awake. Until they realized that each time he wakes, he is stronger, more alert, more ready to smile. Now, Lois feels herself relax when she sees Clark sleeping, propped up on pillows, fully dressed (though his mom will sneak in any minute, once Jimmy is gone, to undo the buttons on his shirt and roll up his cuffs, to expose him to as much sunlight as they can get away with).
“Yeah.” Jimmy shakes his head. His hands are shaking. “He…he fell asleep really fast. You’re sure he’s okay?”
“I’m sure.” She reaches out to him (because Clark reached out to her, and it’s impossible to do anything else after being granted such grace), clasps his hand, and steadies it in her own. “He hit his head when a building came down—luckily, Superman moved him away before the whole thing came crashing down on top of him. Perry and I got him out, but he’s still disoriented. He’ll sleep for a while, but trust me, Jimmy, he’s getting better.”
He is better. He’s breathing, and there are no catches, no pauses, no stops. Nothing but inhales and exhales, smooth and so steady Lois is no longer lightheaded setting her own body rhythms to his. He’s alive, and it will be a long time (if ever) before she stops thinking that incredulously every few moments and rejoicing in it.
He was dead. He was dead. She held his body in her arms and breathed for him and pumped blood through his heart, and it was all for nothing because he was still dead.
For so long, an indeterminate amount of hours she doesn’t care to figure out, Clark Kent was gone from this world.
But now he’s back, and everything seems so much brighter, better, more wonderful.
She wishes she could make Jimmy realize how wonderful this is. It seems so wrong, so tragic, that she is so relieved, and Jimmy is still worried and afraid.
“Why didn’t you take him to the hospital?” Jimmy asks, and Lois is reminded again that Clark is here, with them, because Jimmy has only ever been so bold and confident around his friend. “If he’s still this messed up, almost two weeks after the accident, don’t you think he should get checked out by a doctor?”
“I told you,” Lois says steadily, “the hospitals were overflowing, and they wouldn’t take the time to check out a conscious, talking man when there were hundreds of more emergency cases. Martha’s had training in the past—you really think she won’t take better care of her son than an overworked hospital staff?”
It’s the story they’ve told everyone who’s asked, Jimmy and Jack and Henderson, even Cat, all of them worried about Clark. Truthfully, the city’s in such a mess after Doomsday’s rampage that most people have their own problems and people to worry about; Jimmy’s the first one who’s questioned it.
“Are you sure he was just hit in the head?”
Lois tears her gaze from Clark, looks back to Jimmy curiously. “He was hit a couple places. That’s why he’s sore.” She checks Clark again, compulsively, then asks, “What’s this about, Jimmy? Didn’t he tell you what happened?”
His jaw clenches as he looks away, stuffing his hands into his pockets. Then, angrily, he mutters, “I just wondered if maybe he wasn’t in the danger zone by accident. Maybe he went so close to the actual fighting because…because he…”
Sudden tension thrums through her veins. She forces herself to calmness instantly, before reminding herself that just because she is patterning her breathing to Clark’s, that doesn’t mean he will wake up when something throws her off.
His Secret. That’s what Jimmy’s talking about. What he’s dancing around.
Clark’s Secret. Superman. He knows. Somehow he’s figured it out. Lois swallows then, her continuing exhilaration muted by the dull resurgence of guilt. Her fault. She screamed Clark’s name over and over again on that dusty, blood street. Screamed it until her throat was raw, and called for Clark and let Superman come at the sound of it, right there, in full—if distorted—view of the media and anyone else trapped nearby. Perry put the pieces together because he heard her screaming on the news, and now Jimmy…
How many more?
How much more can she do to Clark? What else can she take away from him?
“Because what?” she snaps, sharper than she intended, and Jimmy recoils, then bristles at her.
“Because he probably saw you with Superman!” he accuses, and Lois is dumbfounded.
“I-I…what?” she stammers.
“Haven’t you seen the news?” Jimmy demands. “They found a security camera that wasn’t mangled, and there’s footage of you kissing Superman! How could you, Lois? Why would you do that to Clark?”
“How could you?” he asks again, his voice breaking. “I know you guys were having problems, and I know Superman’s a great guy, but…but Clark loves you! Didn’t you know he was there? And now you’re here—have you even told him that you kissed his friend? Because if he was that close, I think he probably saw. I think he knows, Lois.”
It’s an odd blend of anger and protectiveness, judgement and confusion, and it twists something uneasily in Lois’s gut. Because she isn’t guilty of the crime Jimmy thinks she is, but she is guilty of hurting Clark. Of valuing the superhero over the man. Of being criminally ignorant of just how much harm she would be inflicting on an oblivious Clark.
So how can she say anything in her defense? What is there she can say?
(Clark’s alive, and miracles do happen, but she is undeserving of them. How could she have let herself forget that in her euphoria?)
“She did kiss Superman,” Martha says, and both Jimmy and Lois jump in surprise. Jimmy turns to look at her, remorse and something that looks a lot like hope there. As if he thinks that Martha might have an explanation that will clear the whole thing up.
He’s going to be disappointed, Lois thinks. The Kents still haven’t forgiven her, though they all pretend to be fine with each other around Clark. If anything, this will give his parents a chance to get rid of her finally, an excuse to send her packing while they close ranks around their son.
(And if she can’t see Clark, if she can’t prove to her constantly doubting heart that he’s still alive, still breathing, then…then what will be left of her? She will go mad—and there are no more flashes to flee to for consolation.)
Martha fusses with Clark’s hair and his shirt (she can’t open it, not yet, not until Jimmy isn’t there to gasp in shock and disbelief at the wound that hasn’t completely healed yet), seemingly unconcerned about the abrupt bomb she has dropped into their conversation.
“Mrs. Kent?” Jimmy asks, tentatively.
She looks up and bestows a warm, maternal smile on him. Lois’s breath catches at the sight of it (at the memory of that same smile being turned her way, in Smallville, even after she’d insulted them and put her foot in her mouth, repeatedly). “Oh, Jimmy, surely you don’t begrudge Superman a good luck kiss? I’m not saying I was too happy when I saw it, either,” she adds tartly, with a reproving glance Lois’s way that almost lands on her (but slides away, as all her looks toward Lois do), “but it wasn’t the first time. Superman needed a bit of luck before Nightfall too.”
Jimmy’s frown begins to slide off at that, his brows furrowing. “That’s true,” he muses, “but…but you weren’t dating Clark then.” He turns back, and at least he actually does look at her, narrow-eyed and expectant.
“I know,” she says, then clears her throat and tries to simulate a bashful shrug. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t really thinking, and…and I was so afraid for Superman. For all of us,” she adds hurriedly.
She wasn’t thinking. Even now, her mind skirts the edges of those memories, hesitant to bring them screaming back into the light of day.
“Don’t worry, Jimmy,” Martha says benignly (Lois makes a note to never, ever underestimate the power of Martha’s poker face). “Clark knows about it. There were a few words, but I think he understands.”
“Yeah…” Jimmy shifts his weight, then looks at Clark. “I guess.” He’s silent another moment before blurting, “They still haven’t found him. Superman. He’s still missing, just like that monster. You don’t…you don’t think he’s dead, do you?”
Both Lois and Martha flinch at that word (at the question, and the answer, and the truth that is no longer true).
“No!” Lois says emphatically. She can’t help it; she can’t bear to let anyone, least of all Jimmy, go for a moment longer than necessary thinking that Clark (Superman, but the distinction is hardly there at all for her anymore). “No, he’s not dead, Jimmy—I refuse to believe it. He’ll turn up, just like after Nightfall.”
Martha reaches out and caresses Clark’s brow, soft and gentle and desperate. Lois wishes she could trade places with her, or that she could at least sit nearer even without Clark awake to invite her to his side. But Martha has already done more for Lois today than she could have asked, so she tamps her longing down and looks back to Jimmy.
“Maybe he was just hurt,” she says (tries to remember not to blurt out the truth that means everything: he’s alive). “Maybe he needs time to recover.”
“But where did that monster go?” Jimmy shudders and looks around furtively, as if just speaking of the beast will summon it. “Perry called it Doomsday. Do you think it’s still out there?”
“No,” Martha says, and the assurance in her voice is so strong that even Lois feels infinitely reassured. “Superman would never have stopped fighting if he thought it would be back.”
It won’t be back, Lois knows, and Doomsday’s not the only one. Her hands tingle with pinpricks of guilt, as if the flesh itself remembers the stain of blood. Her ears ring with the echoes of Tempus’s surprised shout that cut off so abruptly when she knocked him into the portal. When it closed on him with such lethal finality.
She hasn’t told Clark yet. She doesn’t know how to tell him.
But Jimmy’s right about one thing, even if he didn’t say it outright (even if he was talking about something completely different): Clark deserves to know.
No more secrets. No more lies. He wants a partner, and equal partners share information.
She has to tell him. She knows she does. (She wishes she didn’t have to; wishes she could pretend it all away.)
After she tells him, he will look at her, and see a murderer. He will look at her, and see the blood on her hands. And Clark may be able to forgive crimes committed against himself, but she doesn’t think he’ll be able to overlook crimes committed against someone else.
Besides, he is not the only one she needs to face, and killing Tempus is not the only crime she has committed.
She waits until morning. Clark is always weakest through the night, and strongest after he’s slept a few hours past dawn. Perry isn’t visiting until later, and the Kents are awake as soon as Clark is, and he’s well enough, now, that she can fathom (if only just barely) leaving him when she is inevitably banished back to her own apartment.
“I don’t think any of you have heard the whole story yet,” she explains when she asks them all to sit at the breakfast table instead of dispersing to their usual places. “And I need to tell you.”
Martha and Jonathan exchange a look while Clark merely looks confused. “Clark’s filled us in on a bit,” Jonathan says slowly, as if Lois has not been close enough to overhear nearly every conversation they’ve had. Clark’s apartment is homey and comfortable, but it is not large, or conducive to privacy.
“I want you to know it all,” she says (and want is a strong word for what she really feels).
It takes a long time. She rambles and backtracks and gets distracted explaining things that don’t matter, and if it were an article, Perry would have torn his hair out in frustration and forgone his editing pen in favor of simply tearing the whole thing up and demanding she start all over again. Clark’s eyes are on her the whole time, though, and they carry a weight of their own, one that makes her stutter and forget what she is saying and lose track of her sentences.
“I’m sorry,” she says, in the end (because this is what’s most important), and dredges up enough courage (or is it resignation?) to meet Martha’s gaze. “I never wanted to hurt your son, but I did know I would, and I did it anyway.”
“Lois,” Clark starts, but Martha shakes her head, leans forward, intent and somber.
“Lois, honey,” she says, “I’m so sorry you had to go through all that.”
Bemused, Lois makes a half shake of her head. “No, I…it’s not…I—”
“You saw the future,” Jonathan interjected, his voice shaded with wonder. “Three days, you said? You must have seen all kinds of things!”
“No flying cars, though,” she says flippantly. The humor is automatic, a natural defense as she tries to sort their reactions into something that makes sense. “But I should have realized that the changes I observed were directly influenced by how thoroughly I believed John Doe. Or, Tempus, I guess.”
“I should have tried harder to figure you out when you asked me to give us a chance,” Clark says.
“You both should stop trying to shoulder blame,” Martha says pointedly. “Life’s hard, you know, and sometimes we end up in places we’d rather not be. I think the important thing is that you came to Clark for help as soon as you realized what was wrong, Lois. And you listened to her, Clark.”
Clark offers her the hint of a smile, though he seems almost subdued (and she hasn’t even gotten to the parts he doesn’t know yet). “Partners, right, Lois?”
“Lane and Kent,” she agrees sadly. It’s tempting, oh so tempting, to use this as excuse enough to let the rest go. After all, if she tells him the truth, it will only hurt him. It will take away the partner he thinks he knows and still wants.
But that’s a rationalization, and she is so sick of making those. If she hadn’t made so many before, she would have gone to Clark long before she broke up with him.
“You had a good idea earlier, partner,” Lois says, swallowing down the lump in her throat and forcing a neutral expression to her face. “Tempus did have enemies from the future. Or at least, I assume that’s where ‘Herb’ is from. Tempus said that he put up a dampener around our world—or our time period, I’m not sure which—so that Herb couldn’t follow him and stop him. To try to get around that, Herb…somehow sent me the memories of our life as…as it should have been. Could have been, I mean, if I…if I hadn’t—”
“If Tempus hadn’t interfered,” Clark offers gently.
She breathes past the lump in her throat. “Yeah. It’s what was causing all my headaches—visions, flashes of scenes, moments that might have been. Us, in the future.”
She’s unprepared for the sudden, potent longing that springs up in Clark’s face, burning there like bright solar flares.
“Our future,” he whispers, and there is a reverence in his voice that disturbs her (that makes her immediately, painfully jealous of her other-self, of what she had, or should have had, or would have had, or whatever; Lois only knows that she won’t get those moments).
“Yeah,” she says quietly. “They were…weird, sometimes, but…” She can’t go on, because Clark is looking at her as if he would give anything to have the power to read her mind, to look past her skull (past her mistakes) and delve deeply into the things she’s seen (the her he could have had if she weren’t so gullible). “They’re…fading,” she admits. “Tempus did something to tear them out of me, and since then, I…I can’t remember them as clearly. They’re blurry and disjointed.”
Stung, Lois looks away, hiding from the disappointment so evident in his voice, like a weight bearing that word down to the floor. “I’m sorry,” she says uselessly (and no matter how she craved those flashes, depended on them, wanted them, now she is lying; better to lose them than to have to relay them all to Clark and witness his disappointment turn into bitterness when he is left with only her).
“Probably best,” Martha says briskly. “The grass is always greener, dear.”
“It’s possible to know too much,” Jonathan adds, and Lois shrinks in on herself until she chances a look up and realizes they’re talking to Clark.
He nods, seemingly chastened. “Right. I know.” His chuckle is stilted and unfamiliar. “I’m sure there’s some things we’d all like to unknow.”
It doesn’t take a genius to know he’s imparting some secret message; Lois has no time to decipher it. If she’s offered any more excuses for not telling him this, she will cave in and close her mouth and repeat her sins. Time to bite the bullet, then.
“Clark,” she says abruptly, too loudly, “Tempus isn’t in jail.”
His eyes widen. He’s on his feet, a movement so quick she missed it while blinking. “He’s out? He’s free?” It’s Superman’s stance, and Superman’s voice, and an all too human fear blazing in those worn eyes. Fear that verges on terror so great his entire body is shaking even as he holds himself together with his arms crossed over his chest (covering his wound; protecting his heart; shrinking into himself).
“No! No, Clark, not that.” She’s on her feet, too, and how ironic that now, at the moment of confession, she no longer feels guilty at all.
That fear, that terror, there, in Clark’s being, scribed there in blood and scarred into his flesh and graven over his punctured, rebirthed heart…that is Tempus’s doing. Tempus’s crime. Tempus’s legacy. And he has done it to multiple Clarks, over and over again, in different ways, with varying shades and tools of cruelty. He’s done it to her Clark, terrified him and threatened him and caged him out with Kryptonite and sent after him a beast that still leaves Clark shaking and panting and whimpering in nightmares.
Tempus hurt Clark—killed Clark, indirectly and impermanently, but killed him nonetheless—and Lois would send him through that portal again, would strike and claw and rend and transform herself into Tempus’s Doomsday, a feral savage beast, a thousand times over if it would keep Clark (her Clark, any Clark, all of them so undeserving of pain and hate and fear) safe from his machinations.
“I killed him,” she says. A clear statement of fact. A report, rather than a confession. “He was going to watch you die, and then find another world, another timeline, and do it all over again. That was his entire life—destroying every Clark he could find. Ripping every Superman from the sky. And doing it in the most brutal, most destructive way possible. So I sent him into the portal.”
Martha’s hand is over hers. Jonathan is quiet and solemn, his mouth downturned in a sorrowful expression. Clark, in direct contrast, is crackling with restrained energy, sizzling with raw purpose that has no direction. Yet.
“And Lois?” he asks. For a second, she’s confused, not sure what he wants of her, until he adds, “The Loises from these worlds—he hurt them too? Used them like he did you? Killed them?”
Her shrug is faint (she waits for the other shoe to drop). “I guess so. He said you were already—” She coughs, then, hopes it covers what she was about to say (she cannot say it, though; cannot look at Clark, on his feet and ready to fly to any Lois’s rescue mere days after being on his deathbed, and tell him that Tempus thought he was broken). “He said that Doomsday was for me. That seeing Clark Kent killed was what would destroy Lois Lane.”
And then, another miracle: the energy around Clark is damped down, retreats to its usual place inside him, and he gives her a quick, fond smile. “I’m glad he was wrong.”
He wasn’t wrong, she wants to say, but doesn’t. In that, at least, Tempus was absolutely, completely right.
She was destroyed.
But her Clark came back. He saved her, again, still, always, in ways she can’t even explain.
“You’re alive,” she says simply, not sure how else to put into words everything she feels.
And Martha smiles at her, a wide, expansive smile. And she stands and moves to hug Lois. And Jonathan pats her on the shoulder. It’s strange and inexplicable, at first, until she realizes that they understand. They know what it is to be destroyed by the loss of Clark Kent, and what it is to be healed by his return. They know, so intimately, what it is to be willing to do anything and everything to protect him.
“I knew it would be you,” Martha whispers into Lois’s ear while hugging her. “I’m so glad I wasn’t wrong. Thank you for coming through for him.”
Lois smiles back (because she can’t not smile at this remarkable sign of acceptance) and pretends like she knows what Martha is talking about.
Over Jonathan’s shoulder, Lois catches sight of Clark. He’s smiling at the sight of her surrounded by his parents. Smiling. Even after she’s told him what she did. Smiling in her direction. At her.
She doesn’t understand this family at all.
She doesn’t care. She takes it anyway.
The wound on Clark’s chest scars. Fades. Disappears. He dons a Superman Suit and flies his parents home and attends a press conference Perry arranged for him. The world welcomes him with parades and awards and tears. The media accepts his explanation of taking Doomsday into space, sending the monster where it can cause no more harm, and needing time to recuperate after the journey (why shouldn’t they believe it? It took him time to recuperate after his last trip to space, too, for Nightfall, didn’t it?). Metropolis’s streets are cleared of rubble in record time, a bright blur and opened roads left behind to mark Superman’s frenetic passing (a legacy being built up in front of her very eyes).
Lois packs up her few things, her blood-stained clothes and her new toothbrush and her raging reluctance, and goes back to her apartment. Clark’s promised Perry he will be there for the end of Lex’s trial, so she knows she will see him at the Planet. He’s promised her that he still wants to be partners, so she knows he will talk to her.
(But she remembers his disappointment after she told him of their destined life together, and she does not think he will ever kiss her again. She does not think he can love her anymore.)
She returns to the Daily Planet a month after Doomsday, and silently accepts the well-wishes and slanted remarks and jokes that greet her return. She writes an article on Superman cleaning up the city, and delivers it to Perry, and does not waste time staring at Clark’s empty desk. At her apartment, she cleans out her refrigerator and dusts her shelves and does the laundry, and does not glare at the phone for not ringing or her window for not being opened.
Three more days pass. Superman is busy, so she is too. Clark is absent, so she is too (absentminded and numb and in denial that it can end just like this, so quietly, so inevitably). She suffers from nightmares of a heart that doesn’t beat and breaths that pause and catch and never start again. Of graves in rubble-strewn streets and a whimper that keens endlessly while blood leaves a trail through her city, all pointing back to her. She wakes screaming, sits shivering, and stares outside (and knows that Clark is avoiding the nightmares by simply not sleeping, by working endlessly, tirelessly, relentlessly).
She picks up the phone to call him ten times, a hundred times, but never does (he won’t be there; he’s out, fixing and cleaning and healing).
Perry is careful with her. Jimmy is exuberant around her now that he’s forgiven her, happy she is back, happy to hear Clark will be back soon, happy that things are going back to normal (she envies him his illusions). Martha calls her once, maybe just to reassure her that all is forgiven; they talk for a few minutes before Lois finds an excuse to hang up. All those weeks of wanting Martha’s acceptance, of wishing for inclusion, and now that she has it, she doesn’t know what to do with it. Without Clark in her life, there is little for them to talk about (when it is all Lois wants to talk about; when all she wants is to beg Martha to explain what he is thinking, to plead her case to Clark).
Finally, on Friday night, facing a long weekend until Clark returns to the newsroom (if he is well; if he’s still alive, still recovering; she has only Superman reports to prove it to her fearful heart), Lois finds herself sitting on her couch doing the same thing she has done every evening.
She sits, motionless, and stares at what she holds in her hands.
Her journal. Filled with all the memories-that-will-never-be. Stuffed full with details of a Clark who is in love with her. A Clark who wants more than partnership, and who is given it. All the stories of a life she would give anything to call hers. How many nights did she spend narrowing her eyes and unfocusing her vision in that way that let the flashes spin through her mind? How often did she cast herself adrift into those fantasies and luxuriate in the idea that somewhere, there is a Lois who got to be with Clark?
So many times. Endless nights. No matter the headaches, heedless of the consequences and the hangover of regret she’d be left with, she’d lived vicariously through years of their potential life.
And now, in her hands, she holds the recollection that escapes her now. It’s a fat book, filled with chaotic scribblings, torn from the book and placed in a haphazard order as she tried to make order and a timeline out of it, all thrown back together carelessly. It would be so easy to open the front cover and lift up the first page (or the middle, maybe, because the beginning would only remind her that this life will never be hers, the chances to grasp it already past; but the middle is full of people she hasn’t met yet, places she hasn’t gone, decisions she hasn’t messed up, and a Clark she will never call husband) and let herself fall back into fantasy.
Except…there is a small part of her that is scared it won’t be enough. Her notes were quick and usually written at the same time as she peered at the flashes. She could decipher her meanings before, when the flashes were clear in her mind, but now? Now they might be nothing more than the scrawl of a demented mind, incoherent and jumbled, as hollow and out-of-reach as life to a ghost lingering long past its prime.
“Coward,” she whispers to herself, and sets the journal down on her coffee table.
That’s not the real reason she won’t open it. The truth is far pettier, more slanted to envy than to fear.
She will not open it, will not read her slapdash notes, will not give into the temptation…because Clark wants this. She saw it, heard it, knows it. He wants this future, this Lois Lane, this life. And she cannot give it to him, and so she wants nothing more to do with it. No need to rub her nose in all of the decisions she should have made, the things she should have done, the man she should have.
The knock at her door startles her. For just an instant, she is taken back to that night, so long ago, when she opened her door to a knock (hoping it was Clark) and found John Doe. When he tempted her with a story bigger than she’d ever dreamed of, and she’d deprived Clark (and herself) of a future growing from friends into lovers into spouses into a legacy that would birth a Utopia.
But Tempus is gone.
Lois rises from her past and moves to the door. When she opens it, Clark smiles hesitantly at her. This is a flashback to an entirely different kind of moment, and she briefly worries that it is a flash; that her mind is scarred from the visions of the future and now shows her flashes of her past (just as divorced from her now as her future). His hair is windswept, the collar of his jacket isn’t quite straight, but his glasses are perched on his nose and his smile is Clark’s.
“Clark,” she says. “I… Come in.” She extends the invitation even knowing that he might just be there for a minute, to tell her…she doesn’t know what. She just cannot shake the idea that he might be there just for a blink, long enough to prove that he is alive, and then he will leave, his presence serving the purpose of rousing her from her numbness and reminding her of just how much she misses him.
She went from being his best friend to dating him, constantly with him, always seeing him, holding him, touching him, kissing him. And then the distance and the barbs and the absences, and then his desperation to keep her and then…then the end. The gulf between them. His death, and then his return, and she was with him every moment of every day, able to easily find him without more than a step or two of effort, able to touch him, sometimes, while he was awake and inviting her close.
And now it has been five days since she’s seen him. Since she’s heard his steady, even breathing, and matched hers up with his. Felt the heat emanating from his body, seen the flush of blood in his cheeks and the glint in his eyes. Known with every sense she has that he is alive.
She misses him. It’s an ache so large, so all-encompassing that she didn’t even realize why everything seemed so wrong until he is here, and suddenly everything is right again.
He follows her in and makes no move to stop her when she closes the door (flicks a lock when he isn’t looking, just to make it seem more final, more real). “I’m sorry I didn’t warn you I was coming,” he begins awkwardly, and Lois shakes her head.
“No! No, you…you don’t have to call.” She stops, takes a breath, forces herself to sound like a rational human being. “I mean, you’re welcome any time, Clark. You’re always invited.”
It’s a little desperate, maybe. She doesn’t care.
He smiles (it might be a bit nervous) and shifts uncomfortably. “Um…I wanted to see you before I came back to the Planet. I thought it might be good if we could…talk…you know, before we were in front of everyone.”
“Sure,” she says, only half listening. She’s distracted by surveying him, trying to find any hint of lingering aches or bruises or scars. The half-step she takes toward him is involuntary, as is the way she reaches out toward him before she can stop herself. “You’re okay?” she blurts. “You’re still healing?”
He softens, the line of his shoulders easing. “Yeah, Lois. I’m fine. Good as new.”
“The nights?” she asks quietly. “Are they…?”
“I’m fine,” he repeats, not quite meeting her eyes. “And I haven’t exactly been sleeping much. There’s a lot still to do.”
“You don’t have to do it all at once.” She gestures him to the couch, watches him sit, and then pauses. Her couches are small enough she should probably sit on the second one, opposite him, with the coffee table between them; it’s a professional distance, one most work partners would probably choose. But it is not the kind of partners they have ever been, so she sits right next to him. And so close, she cannot deny the temptation to spread her fingers and place her palm over his heart.
She feels only smooth skin beneath his shirt. No gaping wound, no exposed bones, no leaking blood. Just his chest, rising and falling with his breaths, and the thrum of his heart, so steadfast and strong. She lets out a sigh of relief that judders and probably smells of salty tears.
Clark lifts his hand and puts it on hers, holding it against him. He’s not smiling, but there is a warmth to his expression as he meets her gaze that she cannot define (that she is afraid to quantify for fear of a disappointment she will not recover from). “I’m here, Lois,” he says. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Sorry.” Her voice is light, breathy; she cannot look away from him. “I just keep seeing you…”
She can’t bring herself to say it.
He winces but does not push her hand away. It’s impossible to tell exactly what changes, between one second and the next, but one instant he is strong and comforting and almost-smiling, and the next he is worn. Tired. Haunted. Another mask turned translucent and ineffectual against her, as if he keeps parting layers like curtains before her, leading her deeper and deeper to his true, hidden self.
“Clark,” she exclaims sadly, and lifts her other hand to caress his cheek and finger a strand of his hair. She watches herself as if from afar, shocked at her own daring.
Clark leans into her touch. “Sorry,” he says without pulling away. “I thought I’d get used to it—the idea that I…died.” He lets out a mirthless laugh, little more than an expulsion of breath. “But it just gets weirder every time I think about it.”
“It’s a miracle.”
“It’s a nightmare,” he returns, and Lois recoils from him so violently her hand is yanked from between his (his touch always seeming so strong until any pressure is exerted and then its delicacy is revealed).
“What?!” she gasps.
“It scares me,” he admits, a tiny admission that freezes the rant boiling up from her chest to simmer in her throat. “I saw what my ribcage looked like, Lois—what my heart and lungs looked like. I died. And then…I just wasn’t dead anymore.”
“How is that scary?” she demands. She’s trying to understand, really, she is, but all she can see is his motionless body on the cold ground and Perry shifting his ribcage as he forced his heart to beat; all she can hear is the pauses and catches to his ragged breathing and the hollow silence when he stopped.
“I don’t want to be alone.” Clark looks down at his hands, clasped in front of him as he leans his elbows on his knees. “I don’t want to be immortal, Lois. All my life, all I’ve wanted to be is human. But to be human means to face mortality, and I…apparently, I can’t even do that right.”
He stands, then, and moves restlessly, finally settling in front of the window to survey the dusk light. Lois watches him, carefully, intently. She thinks he only moved because he is afraid to show her his expression (hesitant to let her through this newest layer).
“I guess that could be scary,” she allows after a long moment. “But I can’t see it that way. You were gone, Clark, and I was never going to get to talk to you again or hold you or—” She takes a deep breath, wipes a tear away before it can fully drop from her eye. “You came back,” she finally settles for saying. “And that’s hope, right there, in concrete form. Besides, you’ve aged normally so far, right, so as far as you know, mortality will still catch up to you eventually, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“I try not to think about it long enough to pinpoint exactly what I’m worried about,” he says wryly, something in him soothed, and moves to sit back down beside her (she’s encouraged that he didn’t choose the other couch either). “Anyway, I didn’t come to talk about that.”
“You can, though,” she interrupts him, the words tripping over each other in her haste to get them out. “You can talk to me about anything, Clark.” (Partners, she almost adds, except she thinks she’s begun to hate that word.)
“Thanks.” He smiles at her, and despite the inky smudges under his eyes, it’s a genuine gesture. “That means a lot. I know…I know I told you my Secret when you didn’t want me to. And I know you…didn’t find out in exactly the best way. It occurred to me that you didn’t really have the chance to be mad at me about it.”
“Mad?” She arches an eyebrow, almost amused. “Why do you think I’d be mad?”
He laughs. The sound is startling and electric; Lois’s entire body turns to it, as if magnetically attracted by forces so primal and inherent they cannot be denied. “Every time I imagined telling you, I definitely envisioned you mad.”
“I was,” she confesses. “Those three days I was in the future were filled with a lot of angry diatribes. You’re glad you missed it.”
A shadow flashes across his face, a solar storm eclipsing his usual brightness. “Yeah,” he says, almost listlessly. “The future’s probably overrated anyway, right?”
She considers him for a long, eternal moment. He’s alive. He’s here. He’s being more than her partner—he’s being her friend. It’s more than she deserves, she knows that. She wants to give him something close to what he deserves, something he won’t ask for and doesn’t even know she has to give him.
“Here.” Her heart is slow and plodding, beating out her reluctance. Her hand trembles when she picks up the journal from the coffee table and offers it to him.
He looks at it, quirks his lips up in a lopsided, curious smile, and takes it. “What is it?”
“It’s the future.”
His eyes fly up to meet hers. The apartment is silent around her, encasing the two of them in a silken, translucent bubble of possibilities.
“I wrote down all the flashes I had. Before. Everything I saw about the future we could have had. Our lives.”
“Our lives,” he repeats (and there is that reverence again, layered through his voice like hope and longing and wistfulness; it burns like acid through her soul). His hand caresses the cover of the journal, infinitely gentle. “Together?”
“Yeah.” She smiles at him (a bittersweet, melancholy smile). “Together.”
“We were happy?”
“We had our moments,” she says with a dry chuckle, “but yes, we were happy. At least, as far as I can remember.”
He tilts his head to study her. “You haven’t read through it?”
“No.” Clasping her hands to still the desire she has to snatch the journal back, she looks away. “I’ve been meaning to. I’ve tried every day, actually. But…I don’t know. I just haven’t.”
His long fingers play with the corner of the cover as he stares down at the pages. “Ever since you mentioned it, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.” She watches his hands, transfixed, almost nauseous with trepidation as she waits for him to open the book and realize just how much she ruined. “Us. That’s what you said. You saw us in our future.”
Her blood turns to sludge in her veins, cold and leaden and guilty. Even Clark’s forgiveness, it seems, is not without limits.
“I’ll bet we were reporters,” he says slowly, musingly, as if crafting each fact from imagination. “I’ll bet we were partners and friends before we were ever more. I’ll bet it took me a while to be brave enough to tell you my Secret. And,” he smiles mischievously, “I’ll bet you were mad for a while after you knew. I’ll bet it took us a while to really adjust to being together, a couple, no secrets, knowing each other fully. I’ll bet that trouble always found us—because it always finds you, and you usually drag me along with you. I’ll bet we were always there for each other, even when bad things happened, even when we were hurt or scared or upset. I’ll bet I loved you with everything I am.”
She’s staring. She’s crying, a hand over her mouth to hide the sobs, the tears silent and continuous, dripping over her fingers. She’s breathless and speechless and motionless.
“I’ll bet you loved me,” he continues, so quietly she has to stare at him to make sure she’s hearing him correctly. “I’ll bet you proved it with everything you did.”
When he reaches out, when he places his hand over her free one, knotted into a fist in her lap, she breathes in sharply. When he wraps his fingers over that fist, and straightens her fingers, and intertwines their hands, she has to drop her hand from her mouth and place it over that knot, joining them completely together, a set all matched and bound.
He dropped the journal sometime (she didn’t even notice when he did it). It’s laying by their feet. Lois doesn’t spare it a glance (doesn’t dare look away from Clark).
“I don’t need to know the specifics of that future,” Clark tells her. “That’s what I realized after thinking about it while I shifted rubble and fixed up buildings and rebuilt portions of this city. Metropolis will never be exactly what it was before Doomsday, and I wish it hadn’t been torn up like that—but it will be made better, Lois. And I think we can be too. I don’t want the future you saw, because that’s not us, not anymore. Instead, I want the future we can make, together, from here on out. It might be different, but I think the important parts will still be the same. I think we can be just as happy as them.”
“I think we can be happier,” Lois says hastily (she already is, right now, right in this moment, so euphoric she feels as if she could fly them to the sun, so radiant she thinks she could rival the sun). She wants to lean forward and throw herself into his arms, but that would mean taking her hands out of his. Besides, she’s not entirely convinced just yet that that’s what he wants.
Smiling, wide and happy, Clark leans closer toward her, untangles one of his hands to cup her cheek in his hand. “A long time ago,” he says, as if telling her a story, “you came to my apartment, and you said you wanted to take a chance on me. Even though you knew I’d been lying to you, and even though you were mad at me, you still came and you still said you wanted to try. And I think part of you meant it, even if you didn’t realize it at the time.”
He’s always known her so well, better than she knows herself. She wishes she could see herself through his eyes (wishes he could see himself through hers).
“That changed our future.” His fingers play through her hair while his other hand lets go of hers and moves to tug at her elbows, that slight pressure she could so easily evade (but that she never will). “I want to change our future again. Which is why I’m here, in your apartment, and I know you lied, and maybe I am still a bit mad at you, but I want to try, Lois. I want to take a chance on us. No secrets. No ulterior motives. Just us, and a future we write ourselves.”
If she wrote this scene down, in a brand new journal, she would never be able to get through it without smudging the page with tears (and she will try, later, will laugh when for their first month anniversary, Clark gives her a thick, blank journal; she will sit and begin to write their journey from this moment on, and the ink will smear with salt water and Clark will come in with furrowed brow, wondering why she is crying; and she will set the pen aside and concentrate on the present, on making new memories to write down for their unknown future). It’s beautiful, and wondrous, and just as much a miracle as his return from the dead.
She wonders how long he’s practiced this. How many days it has taken him to compose this speech and imagine this moment. She’s sure there’s more.
She doesn’t care.
“I love you!” she blurts out, and then she is scrambling forward, tripping over the discarded journal and flinging herself into his open, waiting arms. “I love you, Clark!” She repeats it over and over again, a vow and a confession and a statement of fact all rolled into one, interspersed between kisses that pepper his lips, his cheeks, his throat, anywhere she can reach.
“I love you too, Lois,” he says, silencing her. And then his lips slant over hers, and she is home.
She is safe.
She is whole.
And the future is whatever they will make of it. He kisses her breathless. He kisses her until it is impossible to think.
He kisses them a blank slate and a full life, and Lois seizes it and kisses back the same for him.