© Dec 11, 2006
By Deborah Rorabaugh (SHADO Librarian)
Country of first publication, United States of America.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Clark Kent looked at his reflection. At the dark haired man in the mirror wearing the glasses and tuxedo. He was still having a hard time believing it. He was getting married today.
"Nervous?" Bruce Wayne, his best man, asked with a grin.
"Terrified," Clark admitted. "I still can't believe this."
"Neither can I," Bruce admitted. "But, she's just what the doctor ordered after what..."
"You promised not to mention her today."
"I just saw her and her husband being seated," Bruce explained. "I didn't know you'd invited them. A little masochistic on your part, isn't it?"
"The invitation was for Perry White, actually," Clark said. "I suspect Esther said it was okay for him to bring a few guests, or maybe Cat did. I know the Whites are in town for that 'Redefining Journalism' conference."
"Well, the usher put them on the groom's side of the cathedral."
"Well, they can't say they know the bride, and Lois certainly wouldn't admit she's crashing my wedding. I'm still amazed at all the fuss over a simple wedding."
"Simple?" Bruce laughed. "Clark, you're the top foreign affairs writer in the freaking country and you're getting married to the daughter of the head of EPRAD. This is the social event of the season. Too bad it's in Chicago otherwise the President would be here himself."
"I didn't vote for him," Clark said.
Outside the two men could hear the beginning strains of the Wedding March.
"Time to get you hitched, boy scout," Bruce said with a grin, leading Clark out into the cathedral.
Lois was married. To Richard.
Clark sat through the ceremony, trying to keep at least a non-frown on his face. He knew he'd been gone for six years and she had moved on, but it still hurt to watch her walk down the aisle on the arm of another man, knowing that man was not the father of her child. Knowing that the real father would do anything for her, including watch her marry another. He knew she knew all this, and he knew she didn't care.
"You forfeited your right to my son when you walked away from us," she told Superman. "I've agreed to marry Richard. We've set the date. He's a good man. He's been here for Jason and me. He'll be here. You won't."
She ignored the pain she had to have seen in his eyes. "I don't need you in my life. Jason doesn't need you."
"And when his powers come in?"
"I'll worry about that when it happens. Just leave us alone."
* * *
His life went from bad to worse. Not only had she told Superman to get out of her life, she was actively driving Clark away. She didn't want him near Jason, or her. Clark didn't know if she remembered who Superman really was or if she was reacting to the continued sly comments from people in the newsroom who saw how much Jason resembled him and not her husband.
Clark had only been back at the Planet for three months when he tendered his resignation once again. "I can't work here with her hating me, Perry. I don't know what I did to deserve it, but as much as I love it here, I can't stay. Not under these conditions."
Perry didn't look surprised, watching him from beneath grizzled eyebrows. "I understand, son. And I won't make you work out your two weeks if you don't want to."
"Thank you, sir. I appreciate that."
Perry looked around his desktop for a moment, finding and picking up a business card. He handed it to Clark. "I had a hunch it was going to come to this, so I took the liberty of contacting my counterpart over at the Chicago Star. You can start there Monday, if you want it. After all, they are our sister paper, which makes it a transfer. You keep your seniority."
"Three months?" Clark chuckled.
"You won't be starting over again, and O'Hanlon's a good man. You'll like him."
"I don't know how to thank you." Clark meant it. He hadn't expected such generosity from Perry, given that Lois was married to his nephew.
"You can thank me by doing the best job you know how," Perry said gruffly. "You're a good reporter. You have to potential of being a great one. Prove me right. And while you're at it, get yourself a life. Find a woman who isn't in lust with a fantasy, and be happy."
"Thank you, Perry," Clark said earnestly. "I'll do my best."
"I know you will. You deserve it."
Clark walked out of Perry's office, through the newsroom, back to his cubicle. He picked up the one personal item he had on his desk -- a framed photo of his parents and himself -- and put it in his briefcase. No one noticed, except for Perry, watching from his office and Cat Grant. Cat walked up to him as he started toward the elevator lobby.
"I was wondering how long it was going to take for you to finally give up," she said. "Where are you going?"
"Chicago," he said. "Perry offered me a transfer to the Star. I'm going to take it."
"Take care, farm boy," Cat said, then grabbed his face, giving him a kiss full on the mouth. "That bitch doesn't know what she's thrown away." Cat said as she pulled away. "Remember to write."
"I'm a writer, that's what I do," Clark laughed.
"Try to be happy, Clark," Cat said softly. She walked away as the elevator doors opened and he stepped inside.
Esther Krystin Straker Kimborough adjusted the lace veil that covered her hair and cascaded down her back.
"You look like a fairy princess," her mother, Elizabeth Kathryn Straker, told her, adjusting the tiara under the veil.
"I'm too tall to be a fairy princess," Esther reminded her mother.
"An Elven princess, then?" Edward Straker, USAF Major General Retired, joked. "You're missing the pointed ears, though."
"Very funny, Daddy," Esther complained. She inspected her reflection critically. "Am I doing the right thing, marrying Clark?"
"It's a little late to worry about that now," her father observed. "Do you love him?"
"Yes," she said. "He's my best friend. He was there when I needed someone. And I think he needs me just as much as I need him. You've never seen his eyes when he comes in after dealing with some tragedy, reporting on it. It breaks my heart, sometimes. He's such a good man. But sometimes, it's like I'm holding a great bird with a mending wing. I don't know how long it will be before he flies off, and if he does, if he'll be back."
In the mirror, she caught the reflection of her parents looking at one another with knowing expressions.
"That is one of the problems when a mortal gets involved with an angel," Elizabeth said with a smile. "Their priorities aren't always the same as everyone else's. And they do have wings, even if you can't always see them."
"I don't want to be the one to clip them," Esther said.
"Honey, he's just as afraid of clipping your wings," her father assured her, adjusting his uniform tie.
They met following an incident at the Chicago air show where the air force was showing off its newest stealth fighter.
Major Esther Straker was putting the plane through its paces over Lake Michigan when the engines flamed out and refused to re-ignite. Without power, the angular machine was as aerodynamic as a rock, and started falling out of the sky like one.
She pulled the ejection seat controls. The canopy blew off, but the seat stayed in place. This can't happen. These are supposed to be foolproof.
She knew she was dead. She would be joining her beloved husband Steven soon. She hoped it wouldn't hurt too much. Then the plane stopped falling, silently coming to Earth on the edge of the airstrip she'd taken off from. She didn't dare protest, didn't dare cry in disappointment.
Superman helped her out of the crippled plane. "Are you all right? Major Straker?"
"I'm fine, thank you," Esther said, pulling off her flight helmet. If Superman was surprised to see he had rescued a female pilot, he hid it well. She tried to put a neutral expression on her face. Why had he saved her?
He smiled his famous smile and said: "I won't tell you that flying is still the safest way to travel. You will, of course, look into why a billion dollar aircraft decided to become a rock?" He flew off without waiting for her reply.
The reporters showed up within minutes, all asking about Superman, all except one. He stood toward the back, watching, listening. Tall, with over-long dark hair, over-size glasses and the bluest eyes she'd ever seen. He seemed oddly familiar. He asked about the plane, the mechanics of the failure. He didn't ask about Superman.
She cut the impromptu press conference short, allowing the security guards to shoo the reporters away from her, all but the tall man in back. She walked up to him, held out her hand to be shaken. His hand was warm and dry, handshake firm. He didn't seem surprised at her boldness.
"I'm Esther Straker-Kimborough." She struggled to keep disappointment out of her voice at her rescue. She wasn't suicidal. She wasn't.
"Clark Kent, Chicago Star," he introduced himself. His voice was quiet, a little tentative. He's shy.
"Why didn't you ask about Superman?"
"Why, when everyone else was doing such a good job?" he asked. "Besides, I just moved here from Metropolis. Superman's old news there. Why a billion dollar aircraft fell out of the sky, and why the ejection seat mechanism failed are much more interesting, even if the final inquiry results are going to be classified." He peered at the name stenciled on her flight suit. "Your uniform says 'Straker'."
Smart, too. He sees things other people miss. "I kept my maiden name for professional reasons."
She saw a flicker of disappointment cross his face.
"My husband died last year."
"I'm sorry," he murmured.
The disappointment was still there, hidden under the polite response.
"How about a cup of coffee, Mister Kent?" she said. The disappointment disappeared. Does he know how transparent he is?
She changed out of her flight suit and found he was still waiting for her outside the locker room. He followed her to the airstrip coffee shop, seemingly content to allow her to take the lead, although he did open the coffee shop door for her. A gentleman in the Twenty-First Century.
They talked, or rather she talked. He had a gift for listening, for getting other people to open up to him. Afterwards, she realized she had given him her life history, except for one minor detail. About himself he'd said almost nothing, except that he worked for the Daily Planet before transferring to the Star a month before. She suspected a woman was involved. More the fool her, letting this one go.
Lois Lane-White couldn't remember why she and Richard decided to accompany Perry to the cathedral this afternoon. Yes, she knew Perry had kept in touch with Clark. She knew that Perry still blamed her, at least a little, for driving Clark into moving to Chicago, losing him one of the best reporters he'd had on staff at the time. She didn't really care about that.
She decided that curiosity was the most likely reason. Clark Kent was getting married. Lois was curious as to what sort of woman Clark would ask to marry him. More than likely, she was the one who did the asking.
Lois was surprised to find the ushers were in Air Force mess dress, complete with sabers. Oh, yes, the bride's father was an air force general and the bride was a serving officer.
"Are you friends of the bride or the groom?" the usher asked.
"The groom," Perry answered for them. "Perry White, Metropolis."
"Perry!" a woman's voice called out. Lois looked over to see Cat Grant hurrying over to them. The woman was wearing a stylish formal pale blue satin dress. She gave Perry a peck on the cheek. "I'm so glad you could make it. Mike's seated over here." She gestured to one of the pews toward the front of the sanctuary, hooked her arm though Perry's and lead him away. The usher held out his right arm to Lois as they followed Cat and Perry to the pew.
"Where's the munchkin?" Cat asked, looking back at Lois.
"At home with my parents," Lois said. "I didn't want him to miss any school."
"You're kidding, right?" Cat looked astonished.
Lois caught the warning look Perry gave Cat.
"I've got to get back to my post," Cat said, patting Perry on the arm. "I'll see you at the reception, right?"
"Wouldn't miss it," Perry promised. He slid into the pew next to Mike O'Hanlon and his wife, Caitlyn.
"Glad you could make it," O'Hanlon said, shaking Perry's hand. "I know Clark was really pleased when you called and said you'd be flying in in time to make the wedding."
"I wouldn't miss this for the world," Perry told his old friend. "I'm glad he finally found somebody. So, how's Cat working out for you?"
O'Hanlon laughed. "Metropolis's loss is Chicago's gain. Took her a whole month to get up to speed and she hasn't looked back since."
It was a miserable Monday morning. Richard had taken the car to work, leaving her to take a cab. She was down to her last pair of nylons, she had a blister from her new pumps and Jason had a cold. And she was mad at Clark. For his dorkiness, timidity, brilliance, naïveté, boy scout outlook. Friday, he had scooped her again, on a simple church financial corruption scandal. Perry had assigned it to her, but she hadn't had time to work on it. Clark took it and ran with it, again.
She was still trying to figure out what had happened between Cat and Clark the previous Friday when Clark left work for the weekend. Lois had happened to look over to the elevator lobby in time to see Cat giving Clark a kiss on the mouth. It didn't look like a 'friend' sort of kiss, not that Cat would even know how to do that. Clark didn't even seem surprised.
Lois knew Cat was attracted to anything male, warm, and human. There were times she wasn't even sure if human was a requirement.
Lois was late getting to her desk, slipping in quietly, hoping Perry wouldn't notice. He looked out of his office at her, but he didn't seem to notice her tardiness. She looked over to Clark's desk, intending to ask him about Cat and what she saw. He wasn't there.
She worked on her newest article for a while, made a few phone calls, worked on another piece for the Sunday edition. She went to lunch with Richard and came back. Clark still hadn't come in.
She walked into Perry's office. "Perry, do you know where Clark is?"
Perry checked the clock on his desk. "Oh, about now he's probably having lunch with Mike O'Hanlon in Chicago."
"What's he working on in Chicago?" she demanded.
"I'll know that when I see it come over the news service," Perry told her. "Now, don't you have a deadline?"
Miffed at Perry's obvious lack of concern about what Clark was up to, she stalked over to Clark's desk. That was when she realized the one piece of personal property Clark kept at his desk, a family picture in a simple silver frame, was gone. Clark was gone, again. Without saying goodbye, again.
Cat Grant came over to her. "He's gone, Lois. And nobody noticed."
"You noticed. Everybody noticed you noticing," Lois spat out.
"I noticed," Cat admitted. "Because, no matter what you think of me, Clark is my friend, and I care what happens to him. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a column to write."
* * *
It took a month for Metropolis to realize Superman was no longer responding to traffic accidents and muggings. By President's Day, it became apparent he'd stopped responding to anything but large-scale natural disasters, plane and train incidents. Superman was no longer making Metropolis his home and Lois knew she was to blame.
She tried to contact him, flying out to disaster sites where he'd been seen, been interviewed, but to no avail. If he knew she was trying to reach him, he didn't show it. He didn't contact her.
After a while, Perry forced her to give up. "Lois, Superman belongs to the world. And as much as I'd like to keep the Planet's relationship with him as close as it was, obviously he's got other ideas about what he wants to do with his time. I can't afford you flying around the country trying to talk to him and coming back with nothing."
That was when the dreams started. The dreams about Superman and about Clark Kent. About a crystal cathedral set in the snow. About a lover whose face she couldn't quite place.
Perry White sat in the pew next to Mike O'Hanlon, chatting with his counterpart, waiting for Lois to settle down. He realized it was a mistake to have invited Lois and Richard to this, at least without insisting Jason come along with them. Lois's statement to Cat about not wanting Jason to miss school was a lie and he knew it. Jason had been suspended for fighting, again. Only this time, he'd broken the other boy's jaw.
Perry couldn't help but wonder what sort of stresses the boy was going through that would prompt him to attack a classmate. Did Jason even know that his natural father was getting married today? Somehow Perry doubted it. Perry doubted Lois had told Jason that Clark was his biological father. The editor knew that Lois hadn't forgiven Clark for leaving, the first time for six years, and then two years ago, when he moved to Chicago to get away from her.
He pulled out the wedding invitation again, wishing Alice could have been there with him.
Major General and Mrs. Johannen Edward Straker
Request the honor of your presence
At the Nuptial Mass uniting their daughter
Lieutenant Colonel Esther Krystin Straker
United States Air Force
Clark Joseph Kent
Son of Mrs. Martha Clark Kent and the late Mr. Jonathan Joseph Kent
In the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony
Saturday, the eighteenth of April
at one o'clock
Cathedral of the Holy Name,
And afterward at the reception
Alice would have loved all the pomp of a cathedral wedding, even if it was in Chicago. Alice had liked Clark, a lot.
Perry sat a long time beside her hospice bed. Alice looked so peaceful, laying there. Death had smoothed out the creases that pain had made in her face. Cancer, breast cancer. They'd thought she'd beaten it. She'd been cancer-free for nearly eight years, but when it came back, it came back with a vengeance, invading her liver and bones. His wife of forty years, mother of his two sons, was dead.
Richard and Lois made the phone calls to the funeral home, to friends who would want to know. One call Perry made himself. He knew there was a seven hour time difference between Metropolis and Berlin, and it was one in the morning there, but he placed the call anyway.
"Clark Kent," the voice on the other end said after only about three rings.
"Clark, it's Perry. I wanted you to know that Alice is gone."
"Oh, Perry, I'm so sorry," Clark said. He sounded sincere.
"It was the cancer, it came back." It felt right to let him know there was nothing that could have been done.
"Is there anything I can do?"
"I'd appreciate it if you could make it to the funeral," Perry told him. There was a long silence on the other end and for a moment Perry though he'd lost the connection.
Finally: "Perry, I'm sorry, but I'm stuck at this conference for at least the next week, and I'm covering the peace negotiations Superman's mediating. I wish I could, but I don't see how I can break away."
"I know, Clark," Perry assured him. "I know you'd be here if you could."
"Thanks, Perry," Clark said. "Look, I'll probably be in Metropolis later this month. I'll stop by and we can have lunch."
"Sounds good, Clark," Perry said. Of course, Clark would be in Metropolis later in the month. He'd been elected as a Pulitzer finalist for his in depth coverage of the war Superman was working on ending.
The following Monday was Alice White's funeral. The weather was clear and a little cool. Perry's sons, Jerry and Perry Jr. managed to break away from their respective jobs and responsibilities to attend the service and stand with him at the gravesite.
Perry took a moment to look around at the group of friends and family who had come out to the cemetery to pay their last respects. He spotted a tall, dark haired man standing in the back. Perry looked away and when he looked back, the man was gone.
As he headed for Richard's car, Perry spotted the man again, this time standing over the still open grave. The man dropped a single rose onto the coffin and walked away towards a copse of trees.
* * *
"I am sorry I couldn't make it to Alice's funeral," Clark said as he and Perry sat down to lunch at Domani's, one of the finer restaurants in Metropolis overlooking the West River. "There was no way I could break away and take a plane here and back, not from Berlin. Plus the peace negotiations were at a critical stage."
"I also know how much you hate airplanes," Perry said. "Plus potentially saving thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of lives certainly takes precedence over one funeral. I hear they're looking to nominate Superman for the Nobel Peace Prize. But your background pieces on the history and players had to have helped."
Clark held his coffee cup in both hands as if warming himself, a pensive look on his face. "I was afraid Mike was going to have kittens when he found out how much time I'd put into research on something he figured he couldn't publish. I'm glad he changed his mind."
"So's he," Perry chuckled. "I'd warned him you had a habit of chasing wild hares, but you'd never failed to bring me a good story, even if it did take a little patience on my part."
"A little patience?"
"Well, let's just say between you and Lois, I've had a lot of practice being patient," Perry said with a grin. He saw the sadness come into Clark's eyes. "She does miss you, you know."
"Not enough to return my calls, or answer my emails, even when they're about business," Clark told him. "The last time I tried her cell phone was about three months ago. I knew she was working an angle on Intergang and I had some background for her. Richard picked up and accused me of harassing her. He tried to get Mike to fire me."
"Mike called me as soon as it happened," Perry told him. He didn't mention how furious he'd been at his nephew for stepping out of bounds that way. "I gave Richard a warning never to try anything like that again. Lois didn't know anything about it." He paused, gauging Clark's reaction. "Mike tells me you've got yourself a girl friend."
Clark laughed. "Yeah, surprised everybody, especially me. She was hoping to come to the ceremony, but her unit got deployed last week. She's in charge of the air patrols over the Tazarastan border. At least the ceasefire's holding and with any luck, she'll be home in six months." There was a long pause. "How's Jason doing?" he asked finally.
"This past year's been hard on him, first that whole nightmare with Luthor, then Superman leaving Metropolis," Perry explained. "He's been having problems in school, fighting, things like that. Lois and Richard are having a hard time handling him, but please don't tell them I said anything. They're trying to keep it quiet."
"I can hardly tell them anything if they're not speaking to me," Clark reminded him with a sad smile.
Catherine Juliana Grant, society editor for the Chicago Star, checked her makeup one last time. Then she checked on her five year-old son, Adam, finger combing his strawberry blond hair back in place. He looked so grown-up in his miniature tuxedo, holding on to the pillow with the two wedding bands tied to it.
She clucked at the bride's maids, checking the last minute details, the bouquets, the flowers in the hair, the dresses. As matron of honor, she felt it was her duty to make the whole affair run as smoothly as possible.
Cat knew Penny from Metropolis. The younger woman worked in IT at the Planet. Lana Lang Ross was an old school chum of Clark's and married to the junior senator from Kansas. The other two young women were Esther's school friends and daughters of two General Straker's long-time comrades in arms. She was dressed in pale blue satin; they were in darker shades of blue.
Matron of Honor, she thought to herself. It's been a long journey in two and a half years. Two and a half years ago, Superman returned to action on Earth after an absence of more than five years. Cat was divorced from Adam's father, had moved to Metropolis from Gotham City to start a new life away from the abusive druggie she'd spent four years of her life being terrified of.
"And who are you, handsome?" Cat purred at the new boy in the bullpen, a tall, dark-haired man with oversize glasses and the brightest blue eyes she'd ever seen. He had a rather boyish face, and despite the layering of his clothes, she could tell he was well-built. There were muscles hiding under that three-piece suit.
"Clark Kent, um...?" He started to hold out a hand to be shaken, then realized that was the hand he had his briefcase in. He switched the briefcase to his left, and looked confused a moment before offering his right hand again.
She took his hand between both of hers. "Cat Grant," she said, emphasizing the T's in her name. His hand was harm and dry, handshake a little tentative, almost as if he were afraid of hurting someone. "And where did you fly in from?"
"Fly? I don't much like planes," he said, eyes wide in bewilderment. He gulped in nervousness as he tried to get past her, to his desk in the newsroom. She moved to stay in front of him, showing just enough cleavage to ensure the interest of any healthy heterosexual male.
"Cat, go sharpen your claws on somebody else," Lois Lane warned from across the room.
Cat raised one perfectly groomed eyebrow in Lois's direction. "Looks like she's staked her claim on you and Richard," she said conversationally to Clark.
"What?" He gave her a blank look, but the expression on his face when he looked over at Lois was anything but blank. Uh, oh, this boy's got it bad for the bitch queen, and that ain't good.
"Never mind, Clarkie boy," Cat said with a grin. "See ya' around."
"Um, nice to meet you, Ms. Grant," Clark managed to stammer out as he finally made it to his desk.
Over the next week, Cat pestered Jimmy Olsen and other 'old timers' about Clark Kent. About the shy man and brilliant writer from Smallville who was assigned to shadow Mad Dog Lane to learn the big city. The man who became the only partner who stayed Lane's partner for more than a month. The man who, after going undercover with her on a story at Niagara Falls, then another one in Alaska, filed the stories then vanished off the face of the Earth without a word for over five years. The man who was, without any doubt, the real father of Lois Lane's son.
Does Richard know?
Over the following few weeks, Cat watched as Lois's patronizing attitude toward Clark became disdain, then thinly veiled animosity. She watched as Clark became more withdrawn, even quieter than when she'd first met him. There were times Cat would have sworn she saw tears brightening his eyes after some uncalled for cutting remark from Lois.
It was after another such incident that Cat decided that something needed to be done.
"Clarkie, what are you doing for lunch?" she asked, leaning over him as he sat at his desk.
"Um, I don't know," Clark replied, more than a little confused.
She knew he usually ate his lunch at his desk, assuming he was in the building, which wasn't all that often. For her it would be breakfast as she'd just come into the office after an all night party celebrating the anniversary of one of the most exclusive clubs in the city. She'd filed her story from home at four in the morning and was just checking in with her editor and contacts.
"What am I doing for lunch?" he asked.
"How about the Ace O' Clubs?" she asked. "My treat."
"Okay," he said, although he still sounded dubious. He grabbed his coat from its hook and followed her out of the newsroom. But Cat noticed his glance in Lois's direction, and the dark look the other woman gave them both.
* * *
"So, what's this about, Cat?" Clark asked. The waiter had brought them coffee and taken their lunch order.
"What's wrong with me taking a co-worker to lunch so I can get to know him better?" Cat asked brightly.
"You have a reputation," he pointed out with a crooked smile.
"Which I work hard to maintain," she replied. "But I promise to keep my hands to myself, not that anybody's going to believe that." She grinned at him. "So, tell me all about yourself."
"Not much to tell," he said. "Raised on a farm in Kansas, did okay in school. Got my degree at Kansas State, did some traveling, some writing, got a job at the Planet. Left for a while to do some more traveling came back. Like I said, not much to tell."
He was one of those tough ones to interview. He was an award winning investigative reporter, one of the best in the business according to the old-timers, but he gave little away of himself.
"What about you?" he asked.
"Like you, not much to tell," she said. "Raised in Gotham City, did okay in school, got my degree at Gotham State, worked for the Gotham Herald for a while, got married, had a kid, got divorced, moved to Metropolis, got a job at the Planet."
"You have a kid?" Clark asked. He sounded only a little surprised. He was the first person at the Planet she'd told this secret to. Cat Grant was a mommy.
She nodded. "Name's Adam, he's two and half. He lives with my mother-in-law up in Gotham. It's complicated. And please don't tell anyone at the office."
He smiled. "Your secret's safe with me."
"Now, for the real reason I called together this meeting," Cat said with a laugh. Somehow, she knew Clark would never betray her. "As you know, I do a lot of work after dark."
He nodded, waiting for her to go on.
"I'm looking for somebody who can go with me to some of these functions, the symphony, the show openings. And I'm getting tired of going with the guys who think they can grab some just because I have a 'reputation'. And that includes most of the guys in the office."
"And I'm safe?"
"Clark, if I didn't know you had the hots for Lois, I'd say you were gay," she said laughing. "But you don't do that scene either."
"What about my reputation?" Clark asked. There was a touch of amusement in his eyes. He had beautiful clear blue eyes and she wondered why he didn't go with contacts.
"I won't tell if you won't," she chuckled. "Are you game?"
He considered her offer for a long moment then grinned. "I'm game. Besides, I really do like the opera and I've heard good things about the new art director. This year's season is looking really promising."
"First things first," she said, handing him a business card. "He's one of the best tailors in the city. Get yourself kitted out for eveningwear and charge it to the company. Tell him you're my escort and he'll have you looking like James Bond."
James Bartholomew Olsen heaved a sigh of relief as he pinned the white rosebud and lavender boutonniere to his tuxedo. He had honestly never expected to be part of this wedding -- correction not this wedding in particular, but Clark Kent's wedding period. The reporter from Smallville had surprised everyone. He'd walked away from his dream job at the Daily Planet to take a position in Chicago. He'd finally walked, rather ran, away from Lois Lane and her machinations. Got himself a life and a girl. The farm boy had come up in the world. And no one deserved it more.
Jimmy smiled to himself, looking over at the other three groomsmen. He'd worked with Tom Andrews at the Planet, before the reporter moved to Chicago to be with family some eight years before. Pete Ross was a well-known figure in Washington D.C. Who'd've known he'd gone to school with Clark, that they'd been best of friends all through high school? The political pundits were predicting a long and illustrious career for the Kansan. There was even talk of a White House bid in a few years.
The last man, the bride's brother, was someone Jimmy had first met at the rehearsal, although a quick check on the Internet had shown Paul Straker to be a well respected aeronautical engineer at the age of twenty-five.
He brushed some lint off his jacket, contemplating his own upcoming nuptials. It wouldn't be nearly as grand as this. Penny's parents weren't rich or well-connected. He hoped Clark and Esther would be able make it.
"Olsen," Perry White said conversationally. He'd called Jimmy in to discuss his latest photos, none of which was good enough to print. Another couple weeks of this and Jimmy knew he'd be out of a job. A photographer who couldn't shoot decent photos wasn't much use to the paper.
"I just got a call from Clark Kent. Seems he's back from wherever he went and wants his job back."
"So, when does he start?" Jimmy asked. He tried to keep a grin off his face. It wouldn't do to let his boss know how much he'd missed the gangly reporter.
"Considering how he left, give me three reasons I should give him a job?" Perry demanded.
"Um, he's one of the best writers you know," Jimmy said, ticking the items off his fingers. "He's the only one, besides Mister Richard, who can put up with Miss Lane for more than ten minutes. Norm Parker up and died, so there's an open desk." Jimmy shrugged. "It was his time."
"Kent starts back Wednesday," Perry told him. "You might want to warn Lois."
* * *
Jimmy baked a cake to welcome Clark back to the Planet. He'd expected the reporter to show up first thing in the morning, but when the Clark didn't show, Ralph and Phil had started on the cake.
Disappointed that Clark's first day back was already marred with his lateness. Jimmy buried himself in his work, choosing which of the photographs turned in by others would illustrate the front page of tomorrow's edition of the Daily Planet. None of his photos had made the grade again.
He felt his desk shake as though kicked and looked over to see his precious camera tip off the edge of the desk, into a the large hand of the man standing beside his desk. "Careful," he warned, then looked up as the man straightened, handing him the camera.
"Sorry, Jimmy," the man said, an apologetic smile on his face.
"Mister Clark," Jimmy sputtered, recognizing the man. Then, realizing what he'd said, "I mean Kent, Mister Kent. You're here! You made it, wow! Oh my God, welcome back!"
Jimmy stopped a moment, looking around, thinking. "Hey, come with me! No wait, don't move," Jimmy decided, heading away to get the cake, at least what was left of it. "Stay here!"
Clark watched after him, eyes wide in confusion. He was still standing there, quietly towering over the short walls of the cubicle, when Jimmy came back with the cake. He peeled back the tattered aluminum foil to reveal a cake with nearly a quarter of it gone.
"I guess the other guys got hungry," Jimmy murmured in apology.
Clark just smiled, took a dollop of frosting and popped it in his mouth. "Delicious."
That was Clark, always the shy but friendly smile, the slightly stooped shoulders as though embarrassed by his height, the gawky ganglyness as though he couldn't quite figure out what he was supposed to do with his body.
Jimmy got Clark settled into Norm's desk, made sure Perry knew he'd arrived.
Lunchtime rolled around and Jimmy invited Clark to join him at the Ace O' Clubs. He tried to get Clark to talk about his travels, about the cards, about the llama rodeo he'd written about. Jimmy kept all the cards Clark had sent Lois, even though he was sure Lois hadn't bothered to read them.
Clark's abrupt departure had hurt her more than Lois had cared to admit to anyone. She refused to talk about her former partner, even though it was obvious to anyone with half a brain that her son was Clark's not Richard's. The timing was too convenient.
Superman returned to the world the same day Clark came back to the Daily Planet. Lois got the exclusive once again. Then Luthor struck, creating his crystal island that threatened to destroy the rest of the world. Superman saved the day, but ended up injured, comatose in the hospital. It was Lois and her son who visited him, got the next exclusive when he recovered.
Jimmy had felt sorry for both Richard and Clark. They were both losing the woman they loved to the Man of Steel. Then, something happened.
Jimmy was never quite sure what it was that happened, but Superman stopped giving exclusive interviews to Lois Lane. Clark managed to get a few, but Lois seemed to take his success as a personal affront, making cutting comments about his abilities, his 'lack of growth' while he'd been gone.
Richard and Lois got married in a small ceremony. Jimmy was the photographer. Clark was present for the wedding, sitting in the back of the chapel by himself, a solemnly sad expression on his face. Jimmy didn't see Clark at the reception and doubted Lois even noticed the tall man's absence.
In the newsroom things went from bad to worse as more of Clark's stories made the first page and even Perry's threats hadn't been able to keep Lois's disdain for Clark from becoming grist for the gossip mill.
Jimmy watched as Cat Grant took things into her own hands. It wasn't exactly a secret that the society writer had taken a liking to the tall city beat reporter and had taken him under her wing and probably into her bed as well.
"CK, nice tux!" Jimmy said with a grin the first time he saw Clark in the formal wear he knew Cat had arranged for him. Clark was meeting Cat at the office before heading off to the season opening of La Gioconda. Clark ducked his head, blushing at the complement.
"Clarkie," Cat called, coming into the newsroom after him. "Didn't I tell you?" she laughed. "James Bond's got nothin' on you." She fussed a moment with his tie, making him stand up straighter before handing him the black cashmere overcoat he'd tossed on his chair.
Jimmy picked up his camera and got a shot of them before they realized he was still there. Cat was dressed in a green strapless sheath that set off her reddish hair and green eyes. She stood still as Clark draped a black cape over her shoulders. Another good photo. A pleased smile hovered about Clark's lips while Cat was laughing at something he'd said.
They made a good looking couple. And despite Cat's reputation, Jimmy was glad she'd taken on the task of bringing Clark out of his shell. The man deserved so much more than he'd been getting from life.
Jimmy turned to put away his camera and spotted Perry standing in the open door of his office, watching, hiding an almost paternal smile as the he observed the couple heading for the elevators.
Two months later, Clark was gone again.
"I didn't want to leave this time without saying goodbye," Clark told Jimmy over coffee. Clark had found Jimmy hiding from Perry in the downstairs coffee shop. After a good two months of Superman photos on the front page of the Planet, he'd hit another dry spell. Superman hadn't been showing his face recently in the city and the holiday season hadn't presented many dramatic photo-ops.
"Goodbye?" Jimmy asked. "Where are you going?"
"Chicago," Clark said. "Perry's arranged a transfer for me. It's not working for me here, not any more."
Jimmy just stared at the tall, dark haired man. "Will you be back?"
Clark shook his head as he unfolded himself from the small table. "Take care of yourself, Jimmy."
Martha Clark Kent patted her companion's hand as they waited for the processional music to begin so they could be seated. Ben Hubbard gave her a tentative smile. They were both a little overwhelmed by all the fuss of such a grand wedding, much less that Martha's little boy was getting married in a cathedral in Chicago to an air force officer.
It was something Martha Kent hadn't been sure she would ever see: her son, a refugee from a dead planet, getting married, having a chance at a normal, human life. This despite the fact that he wasn't human at all, really. He was Kryptonian, he was Superman.
She smoothed her skirt with an arthritic hand. She fancied herself a simple woman, a farmer's widow. She didn't have much use for fancy dress, but she had to admit the light blue suit was very nice.
My baby's getting married.
His bride was a good woman, of that she was sure. She was from a good family who had accepted Clark with open arms, welcoming him into their midst apparently without reservation.
From her place in the side hall, Martha could look out into the nave. She saw a well dressed, dark haired woman take the arm of one of the uniformed ushers who led her and the two men with her to the pew just behind where she knew she and Ben would be seated. Martha recognized the woman: Lois Lane. She'd met the woman and her son once, during the vigil outside of Metropolis General Hospital, after Superman fell to earth.
Martha assumed the older man with her was Perry White, Clark's former editor. The younger man had to be Lois's husband, Richard White, the senior White's nephew. Lois Lane, the woman who broke her son's heart, tossing it aside like rubbish. Martha took a deep breath to calm herself. It wouldn't do to get angry at the woman who hurt her son.
My baby's getting married.
"Mom, she's beautiful," her son said, standing in her kitchen, drying the supper dishes. "She's brilliant, and she's...well, she's... complicated. Domineering, uncompromising, pig-headed..."
Martha smiled at his enthusiasm. After four years of working his way around the world, then college, Clark had landed his dream job as a reporter at the Daily Planet. That he thought he'd found the girl of his dreams was frosting on the cake.
Martha just hoped this Lois Lane would appreciate what a rare prize her son really was.
* * *
"Mom, the ship is finished. I'm leaving tomorrow," he said solemnly. Again, they were in her kitchen, this time seated at the kitchen table, savoring coffee and homemade muffins.
"Don't you want to call your friends?" Martha asked. Clark had left the Daily Planet nine months before so he could build, grow, create the starship he would use to return to Krypton to find his roots. Martha didn't quite believe the reports that Krypton had been found by astronomers, that the planet might not be dead. But she didn't share her misgivings with her son. He was so hopeful to find his place in the universe. A place he hadn't really found on Earth.
He shook his head. "A clean break works best, don't you think? And I've done that already. Besides, if they wanted to find me, they would have called you."
"That boy, Jimmy, did call," she said. "I told him I'd try to get in touch with you."
He shrugged. "Jimmy's a good guy. Please remember to send those postcards, okay?"
Martha nodded, eyes filling with tears. Her son was leaving, not just leaving home, but leaving the planet. She was filled with the fear that she would never see her beloved son again; never see his warm blue eyes, his easy smile. She feared he would die in the cold depths of space, that she would never know his fate. That he would die alone.
She hugged him, feeling him withdraw into himself, distancing himself from her.
Then he was gone.
* * *
She felt the crystal starship's return before she saw it. The farmhouse shook, the very air vibrating from its passage. The sonic boom was followed by an ear shattering explosion.
The cornfield was on fire as she drove her ancient truck across the field. Got out on shaky legs to see the still glowing crystalline construct that was so alien yet so familiar. Her heart nearly stopped when a hand touched her shoulder.
"No, don't. It's too hot," a deep, impossibly familiar, voice stated.
She turned to see her son, face gray with fatigue and pain, fall to the ground, unconscious.
My baby's come home.
* * *
"The world can always use more good reporters," she told him when he tried to convince her to let him stay at the farm, even for a little while. She was ready to move on with her life, already made plans to sell the farm.
"You're dating?" he'd asked in confused disbelief when she left to play bingo with Ben Hubbard. Martha sent Ben out to start his truck. She turned back to her son. "I'm selling the farm, Clark. We're moving to Montana."
Clark called Perry White the next day and was back in Metropolis the next week. Superman reappeared in Metropolis. And when Superman fell from the sky, Martha and Ben flew to Metropolis. She didn't tell Ben exactly why she had to be there, only that she needed to find Clark. They didn't find him, naturally. She couldn't tell Ben why, after all her demands; she wasn't overly concerned about not finding her son. She couldn't tell him she knew where Clark was. He was in a hospital room, unconscious, under the name of Superman.
She and Ben ended up outside the hospital, part of the spontaneous vigil that had formed to wait for news of their hero's condition. She watched Lois Lane and her son come out of the hospital, accompanied by a police officer. She managed to get close enough to talk to the woman. "He'll be okay," she assured the young woman. "He's a strong boy."
Lois gave her a confused look, not understanding.
* * *
"She hates me, and I don't know what I did," Clark said. This time the kitchen was in a lake cabin in Montana. Ben had gone into town, so she and Clark were alone. She knew he would leave before Ben got back.
"Is it Clark, or Superman she hates?" Martha asked softly. She'd seen him upset before. Despite an easy-going nature, his childhood hadn't always been easy, always hiding his extraordinary abilities, fearing to get close to people.
"Both," he answered. "I told you she told me that Jason was my son, Superman's son."
She nodded, remembering.
"Right after she and Richard set the date for their wedding, she told Superman he was no longer welcome to see Jason, that since he'd left her, he had no rights, no obligation to him."
Martha stared at him, dumbfounded. He didn't seem to notice.
"It's gotten worse at work. I've been escorting one of the society writers to the theater about once a week. There's nothing romantic. I'm not half-bad looking and she knows I'm too much a gentleman to try anything but it keeps other guys away. Lois... I don't know... She hates me and everyone in the office knows it. I don't know which is worse, the people who think I did something to deserve it, or the people who are sorry for me, that Mad Dog Lane has finally lost it." He finally looked over at her, eyes dark with pain.
"You know the worse part of it is, though? I think I still love her." He looked like his heart was breaking. "I gave Perry my notice yesterday. He arranged for me to transfer to the Chicago Star instead. I start there Monday."
"Honey, what about...?"
"Superman?" He laughed, but there was no humor there. "Metropolis will figure it out eventually. Metropolis moved on. Now it's time for Superman to."
"Do you really think she wants you out of her life completely?" Martha asked softly.
"That's what she said. I have no reason to doubt her." He stood to go. "I'll call you Monday with my new cell number." He kissed her cheek and disappeared.
Richard White followed his wife and uncle down the aisle to their seats. He didn't want to be there, didn't want to attend this wedding. He didn't want to even be in Chicago. More specifically, he didn't want to see Clark Kent.
He didn't want to be the one to explain that Lois had fooled both of them. That Jason's biological father was, in fact, Superman. He didn't want to have to apologize for being a fool, for seeing the other reporter as a threat. For trying to defend his wife from something that wasn't real, had probably never been real.
Richard was surprised to see Cat Grant coming down the aisle to greet them. She had left the Planet nearly two years ago allegedly under a cloud. The rumor mill claimed she was an alcoholic or a druggie. The rumormongers that claimed drugs were involved had also claimed that was the real reason Kent had left so abruptly.
Richard hadn't believed a word of it, but he knew Lois had grabbed onto the story like a lifeline. She had used it to justify why Kent left for the second time without a word to her. Not that she would have listened even if he had said goodbye.
Cat looked good in her satin dress. Chicago agreed with her and he was glad for her.
"Where's the munchkin?" Cat asked.
"At home with my parents," Lois said, her tone cool. "I didn't want him to miss any school." Lois was lying. Jason wasn't going to miss school -- he'd been suspended again for fighting and right now, Lois's dad was one of the few people able to handle him.
"You're kidding, right?" Cat looked astonished. Richard shook his head, warning her off. He knew a hand-written note in Perry's invitation had specifically asked that Jason come to see the ceremony. After two plus years, Jason still spoke fondly of 'Uncle Clark', wondered why the man never wrote or called him. How do you explain to a child that one of his favorite people had been ordered out of his life for something he hadn't done?
"I've got to get back to my post," Cat said with a smile. "I'll see you at the reception, right?"
"Yeah, Cat," Richard said. "We'll see you later."
He slid into the pew next to his wife. Perry was deep in conversation with Mike O'Hanlon, his counterpart at the Star. Richard found himself studying Lois, watching her watch everyone else. Once again he wondered what he'd been thinking when he thought he could steal her away from Jason's real father. Once again he wondered at what role he'd played in driving Superman away from Metropolis, the city that loved him best?
"I'm not doing another 'in depth' Superman story," Lois was telling Perry for the umpteenth time. "Let Polly or Mags do it. For that matter let Clark do it."
Richard smiled at the sudden look of astonished horror that crossed Clark's face at the suggestion. Richard was standing by the door to the conference room, watching the daily assignment meeting, where each of the senior reporters received their marching orders and told Perry what progress they were making on their various investigations. Superman was always the first topic of discussion.
The superhero had been back in Metropolis for two weeks now. The city was picking itself up from the earthquake Lex Luthor had created using stolen Kryptonian technology. The crime rate in Metropolis, indeed the entire eastern seaboard, was dropping. All was right with the world, mostly.
Perry dismissed the meeting with a stabbing finger at Lois: "Get me Superman!"
Outside, Richard pulled the star reporter to him and gave her a gentle kiss. He loved her for her strength, her brilliance, her obstinacy. "Maybe you and one of the others can work on it together so you don't have to be alone with him," he suggested.
"And you suggest, Clark?" she said with a grimace.
Richard shrugged. "Someone, anyone." He paused. "You know, we still need to talk."
"Yeah," she agreed.
"How about lunch?"
* * *
"I asked you when he first came back if you still loved him," Richard reminded her over lunch. They had gone to the deli just down the street from the Daily Planet. It was early and the restaurant was still quiet.
"And I told you 'no'," she told him. "I may not have been quite truthful. I was in love with him, and I thought he was in love with me. Then he left without a word and I found I was pregnant."
"Everybody thinks Jason is Clark's son," Richard said.
"Richard, I don't remember having sex with either of them."
Richard flinched inwardly at her choice of words. Not 'making love,' but 'having sex.' 'Having sex' was what one did after a drunken party, when all you wanted was release and the partner didn't matter and you just hoped you wouldn't catch something if your partner forgot the condoms. Lois caught a baby.
"You said 'was' in love with him."
"How can you really be in love with a god? I care about him, but I'm not 'in love' with him. He wasn't there when Jason was born, you were. He belongs to the world and the world loves him, the world needs him. I don't. I thought I did, but I was wrong."
"And what about Clark?" Richard spotted the other man walking into the deli, speaking to the order taker. Clark saw the couple in the back booth and nodded politely.
"What about him?"
"Look, we both know Jason looks just like him and we both know you were pregnant when we met. I just want to know how you plan to handle this."
"You are Jason's father," she said firmly. "It says so on his birth certificate, and I say so. Case closed."
Behind her, at the counter, Richard saw Clark flinch, as though he'd heard the coldness in Lois's tone while talking about him. After a moment, Clark's take-out order was handed to him and he left, shoulders slumped even more than usual. Was it possible Lois's voice had carried?
"In that case, why don't you want to set a date?"
In answer, Lois pulled out her Day-timer and opened it to October. "It only takes a couple days to get a license. Pick a date."
He looked over her calendar. "Don't you want to have time to plan?"
"What's to plan? I'll get Lucy to be my maid-of-honor. You figure out who you want to be best man. It'll be family and a few people from work, a couple friends. My mom will love handling the reception. I know she always wanted me to have a big wedding, but I'm sure Lucy will oblige," she said.
Richard pointed to the last Saturday of the month. "It gives us a couple weeks to get ready."
Lois wrote it in on her calendar.
* * *
It was a small ceremony in the side chapel of the church just down the street from their house. Jason gave the bride away and Perry was best man. As predicted, Lois's mother complained about there not being enough time to prepare properly. But the wedding cake was ready, as was the caterer.
The reception was in the church basement.
Richard was surprised to see that Lois had invited Clark to the ceremony. He wasn't surprised that the other man didn't come to the reception, although he had left a wedding present -- a set of Messermeister kitchen knives. Richard wondered if Lois knew or cared how much her colleague had spent on her, them.
* * *
Richard had hoped that making things official would help. He was wrong. Clark managed several Superman exclusives, which Perry automatically put on the front page above the fold. Lois's stories on corruption at FEMA, the hunt for Lex Luthor, went below the fold or somewhere inside. It was a turn of events that made Lois almost impossible to live with. Clark had always been a good writer. He was becoming a great one. The bite that Perry had always thought was missing was now showing itself.
It was driving Lois crazy.
Then, Clark started going out with Cat Grant. Richard knew what the rumor mill said, had a pretty good idea what was really going on. Privately, he was glad that someone had noticed the reporter's lack of a life and decided to do something about it, even if it was a society columnist with the reputation of being a man-eater.
Richard also knew Jason thought the world of Clark. He was one of the few grownups in the newsroom who would actually stop and talk to the boy. Clark always had a kind word for him, never gave the impression that Jason was anything other than welcome. But when Clark's photo showed up on the society page of the rival Metropolis Star with Cat Grant, Lois forbade Jason's visits to Clark's desk.
It was only a matter of time and Richard wasn't surprised when Perry told him that Clark had transferred to Chicago. Richard barely noticed that Superman had stopped patrolling Metropolis.
He was surprised when Clark started emailing Lois with the subject line 'we need to talk.' Lois ignored them at first, refusing to read them. She complained to Perry, who apparently did nothing. When Richard complained to Perry, he was told it was business and Lois needed to answer her mail.
It was when the phone calls started at work and then on her cell phone that Richard lost it. Looking back, he realized what a fool he'd been, calling Mike O'Hanlon to complain about Clark harassing Lois. He realized it when the Planet picked up Clark Kent's exposé on Morgan Edge and Intergang over Lois's series of articles on the same subject.
Then Jason started doing impossible things and Richard realized what a fool he'd really been, he and Clark both.
All I Have To Give, P2
The Works of Deborah Rorabaugh
The Library Entrance