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On our finger the ring awakes

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You're Lois Lane. They'll let you in.

**

She disappeared into the clasping sea of bodies, Jason's little hand swallowed tight in her own. The vastness of the crowd welled up, swept in to cover her. Richard recognized, distantly, that some part of him was still chin-deep in icy water, palm pressed against the window; would be for a while yet.

There'd been no moment of clarity, sudden understanding, not even--he'd have welcomed the cliche--his life flashing before his eyes. Only terror, disbelief, the water so cold it hurt--that bone-deep ache just the other side of numbness. There'd been nothing but death, stupid and unfair and for no damned reason. And then--

He was Superman, Lois had said. Everyone was in love with him. Richard had thought it was just evasion; maybe it had been, but it was still true.

And anyway, hadn't he always known that Lois belonged to a story he had no part in?

**

Well. Better start at the beginning.

Not the first beginning, when he moved to Metropolis to take up a position way too plum for a guy with barely five years of experience and no big stories to his name, embarrassingly grateful for the nepotism. Or the beginning when Lois glanced up at him from her screen to greet him with a tight smile, and cut off his introduction to grab her ringing phone.

Maybe that was the right beginning, though. The first time he couldn't turn back.

**

Lois Lane was a Rising Star. That was what you called a journalist who could score A-1, above the fold, four years out of school and all on her own. She'd become a minor celebrity in her own right, even if most of the attention wasn't exactly focused on her hard-hitting investigative skills--a name was a name, right? Time enough later to get respectable.

And she wanted respect, it was clear. The head shot on her bio page on the Planet's website practically screamed it. Not a touch of glamour--not that she looked ugly, or angry. More like--it was a picture that didn't seem to care if you looked at it. A picture that didn't notice you were there, because it was looking at something else, just over your shoulder.

All the big Superman headlines were duly listed, of course, but her real focus (her bio informed him) was investigative journalism. She had one long-term exposé under her belt--just a minor point of municipal corruption, but it read like razors on the page.

Richard had only read up on her because Perry was such a fan. As far as his uncle was concerned, Lane was the Planet's own resident rock star--or maybe the mascot, or a handy groupie--it was hard to tell sometimes, when Perry was bragging again about how Lane kept Superman at the end of her leash.

"Wait, is she sleeping with him?" Richard had asked.

Perry had chuckled, a little soft with scotch. "She's getting the story, is what she's doing. Wouldn't sell half so many papers if Big Blue wasn't so sweet on her."

Richard had tried not to form a bad opinion--his uncle, after all, was the sort of man who'd refer to a female employee as a 'minx' without a hint of irony--but it wasn't like Perry was the only one saying it. Penetrating exposés or no, Lane had built her career on being Superman's best girl. It felt more than a little tacky.

But it didn't matter in the end, what he'd made up his mind to think of her. She tossed him a smile that didn't reach her eyes--sharp as a mouthful of needles--and started him over. From the beginning.

**

"So tell me," Lois said, "are you any good at all? Or are you just here as a family favor?" She didn't stop typing as she spoke, but it was still more of her attention than Richard had yet had focused on him.

The gauntlet was plain, and he couldn't help rising to it, a little amused at himself even as he responded. "Little of both, I guess. Perry heard some rumors about a 'Superwoman,' figured he'd better get on the ball."

She did stop then, and looked at him. For a second he felt uneasy, wanted to apologize. He bit it back, because--well, hell, it was juvenile, but she did start it. And he was curious to see how she'd end it.

"Well, you get points for lateral thinking," she said finally. "I haven't heard that one before. From a man, anyway."

"There you go," Richard said. "You found something I'm good for."

"I bring out the best in people," Lois said. "It's a gift."

He felt the air ease a little between them, just enough so that minutes later, he leaned forward into the silence and said, "Look, you know what people say about you--"

"Don't make me take away your points," she said without turning around.

"I'm just saying," and he didn't know why this felt so important, the career and reputation of a woman he'd met a couple weeks ago, "don't you plan on ever proving them wrong?"

When she turned and smiled at him it felt like being whittled down, fine as a needle.

"Give me time," she said.

**

There was talk when she started showing, of course. It was about two months after Richard arrived that she announced it, after enough people had started to notice.

"So who's the lucky guy?" Jimmy asked, and Lois stared at him coldly just long enough for everyone within hearing to shift uncomfortably. The poor kid retreated, stammering, and brought in a huge garish sheet cake the next day, decorated with a frosting stork flying over a field of frosted cabbages--an apology Lois accepted with surprising equanimity. Possibly because they both had to work through lunch that day. Possibly because she knew as well as anyone what everyone was thinking, and that Jimmy's was by far the most innocuous comment going around.

(It never even occurred to Richard to credit the rumors about Superman being the father. He was so used to dismissing all that talk, and this just seemed the logical, unkind extension.)

She ate three pieces, left hand steadily back-and-forthing the plastic fork while she wrote with the other one. Curled over her desk, over the little outward press of her belly, the sugar haze thick in the air. A dab of frosting on her cheek. She was frowning and her whole body was a thick line of forbidding, impossible to touch, but he wanted to. He thought her stomach would curve exactly into his palm.

"Shit," she muttered, then, "did you ever call back the housing department about the--" She looked up, saw him watching her. "What?"

"You've got--" He touched his cheek. She swiped at her own and caught the little lick of frosting, examined it, sucked it off her fingers.

She never had to tell him not to ask about the baby. Maybe--he hoped--that was why she seemed more comfortable around him. She never had to tell him not to ask about Superman, either, not after their first conversation, and sometimes it seemed like he was the only one who didn't. It made him feel warm to think that he could be something for her that no one else would. He knew it was--ridiculous, pointless, what woman who'd ended up pregnant on her own and about to be a single mother wanted to let a new guy into her life? Especially one she'd just met, one who barely knew anything about her, one who'd never even thought about having a kid before, much less raising somebody else's.

But it wasn't like it was something he could stop.

**

About two weeks before Christmas her car broke down, and she more or less ordered Richard to carpool with her until it was fixed. Not rudely, just absently assuming that he would, "You live near Tenth and Market, right? God, I can't stand the subway, especially now," waving her hand vaguely at herself and rolling her eyes.

"People don't offer you a seat?"

"I hate being offered seats," she said. "You can pick me up at seven, right?" And smiled, like it was a game they were playing. She was looking at him, entirely at him, and that happened so rarely he couldn't tell at all how much she saw.

So that was how he learned what Lois was like in the morning, or at least some part of it. She had a tall silver travel coffee mug that made his car smell like vanilla, and she listened to the news on the radio(there was never a question of who would choose the station). She was quiet, sipped coffee and frowned and listened. It only took a couple days before he was used to having her there, a small warm vanilla-coffee scented presence, constant and comforting. Ridiculous, completely--God, at least he still had the wherewithal to be embarrassed at himself. And to keep from reaching over some morning, interrupt the traffic update and touch her arm, the slim little line of it under her sleeve. And that was it.

Evenings--nights, because she invariably stayed late, and he silently adjusted his habits to fit--were easier, because they talked then. Sometimes shop, sometimes--increasingly--other things. Lois was on a novel-reading kick, trying to finish one a week, and didn't seem to care if she liked them or not, just plowed grimly through and complained to him at night. Or enthused over the good ones, laughed hugely when Richard mentioned he'd been an English major in college--"Well, what did you major in," he asked, and she looked at him sideways.

"Journalism," she said, and the of course was unspoken. Lois never left a decision unmade a second longer than she had to.

Still, despite the distractions, it turned out to be on the ride home that he told her, stopped outside her apartment and cut into her goodbye to say "wait" and then sat there searching for words. He needed the right words, not because he expected her to feel the same towards him--he was certain she didn't--but it felt important, necessary to do this right anyway.

Lois waited, eyes sharp and curious. A little more than six months along, now. He felt his face heat up.

"Would you--I'd like to take you out sometime." He hurried the words out, heart thumping in his stomach. There was a moment, impossibly long, when her face didn't change at all. And when she smiled, it looked for a second like she was forcing her face into it. Just for a second. Until her face decided to go along.

"Well," she said, and pushed a loose curl behind her ear in an oddly shy gesture. "Yeah, all right." Her smile settled in, widened. She opened the car door. "See you tomorrow," she said, and then she was gone.

He watched her go into the building, watched the door swing shut behind her. Sat and watched a little longer. As though, if he left, it all might un-happen. If he looked away.

**

After the second date, they started making out in his car. Just, somewhere in between the restaurant and shifting out of park, her mouth found his and he was tasting waxy lipstick and the corn-syrup sticky sweetness from her soda--because she couldn't just drink water with food, she said, and wine was out, so Coke was it. He hadn't turned on the heat yet and it was cold, she was shivering. He wondered if her nipples were hard, and then pretty much immediately he was, and broke away, pressing his cheek against hers. Feeling the flushed heat.

"I'll take you home," he said. She nodded, but didn't move away.

**

She asked him to come up, looking directly at him and deliberately. So he let her out and drove a couple blocks to find somewhere to park, walked back alone, cold, quickly. Feeling suspended, almost out-of-body, or like an old rotary dial winding back to the start.

The sex was a little complicated, but not as awkward as he'd thought it might be. Lois pushed him firmly onto his back and said, "Now stay--" and straddled him, crawled up a little higher on hands and knees. Her belly was huge but dignified, solid and taut. He stroked her thighs lightly, feeling the flex as she lifted and then settled herself down on him. She felt incredibly slick, unbearably--it had been years since he'd been inside a woman without latex, since college, and the raw, wet clasp of her was insane.

She crouched over him, holding herself up with one hand as he rocked up into her, silent but for her short steady grunts. Sliding up in pitch when he slid a hand down between her legs, stroked for a second where she was stretched around him, sweet and open. Then worked her clit until she came, brutal little spasms that made him thrust up hard.

"Ah, god, god, please," she said, sounding shocked. Her face was twisted, hurt-looking. Richard pulled her down tight and came inside her, staring.

**

He half-woke in the middle of the night and found her watching him.

"What," he said, but his mouth was still asleep; he swallowed and tried again. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." She shook her head. Smiled, a second later. "It's all right."

"Do you want me to leave?"

"No, no. No. Go back to sleep." She rolled over and settled back against him. So he did, but reluctantly, feeling like he was leaving something behind.

**

When the labor started--a little early, middle of the night--he took her to the hospital and didn't bother correcting people. It was two weeks before the due date, nothing to panic over--they said--but the doctors seemed pretty damn concerned, and Lois was quietly, furiously terrified.

They gave her something to slow it down, and Richard tried to pay attention to what the doctors told him, but everything seemed unreal except Lois' hand gripping his, her nails digging into his palm. He'd seen her angry, exhausted, frustrated, but never afraid before. It felt almost precious.

In the end it didn't matter; the kid practically wrestled his way out--him, a boy, small but ferocious. "Ten out of ten," one of the nurses told them, smiling and surprised. Lois held him close to her face, murmured, "Hi, baby." Touched their faces together.

Richard sat, watched, except it didn't feel like time was passing, not really. The air smelled like sweat and blood, and something deeper and sticky and wet, maybe the way it smelled inside a body. Eventually Lois looked up and took his hand, put it on the tiny squirming back. "Here," she said, and looked at the baby, who was working busily at her nipple. "That's your daddy, baby."

Just like that.

**

The flash of cameras and sudden rise of voices alerted him when she came out. The crowd stretched, slipped apart to let her through, Jason in her arms, her face drawn and quiet.

"How is he?" Richard asked. She shook her head.

"He's not--he's still alive, but--"

"He's asleep," Jason said from the backseat.

Richard turned to look at him, and if he felt the urge to examine his son's features for a certain resemblance, it was easy enough to squash. "Asleep, huh."

Jason nodded. He looked so serious, but it didn't sit heavy on him. Just seemed to fill him up with some new, strange light, almost too bright to see. "He's dreaming," Jason said. Lois gave a choked little sound, a sob or a laugh. "I don't know what, though. I hope it's good dreams."

"Me too," Richard said, and started the slow drive back home.