"There are thousands of people in Metropolis, and only a handful of them know my name." I rub my hands together, and look down into them. "Tomorrow, they all find out the truth about me."
Lois's fingers tremble, and she wraps them around her cup of coffee. "I have always thought," she says, her eyes turned downwards and her voice low, "that — that you shouldn't toil in obscurity your whole life." How often does she say things like that to me? With her face half in shadow like that she looks vaguely expressionistic, her whole countenance turned away, her knuckles white against the porcelain. I am always afraid to understand what she means. I let these moments of unpolished openness slip through my fingers, even as they twitch and ache to close around that hidden meaning, to pry it open, to keep it safe.
Half without thinking, I put my hands over Lois's as she grips the cup. There is a slight intake of breath, but she says nothing.
I think that I could spend the rest of my life like this.
"We only have ten hours," she says, glancing at her phone. I look up from where our fingers have knotted together and she meets me halfway. "I mean until press," she says. There is something wistful in her smile. "What do you want to do with your last night of anonymity?"
I return her smile, and I want to tell her what I have just been thinking — but I don't. I don't know how to vocalise this: that I want nothing that I don't have right now. What if I let go her hand? What would become of me then? I don't know what I am thinking. What would Lois think of me if she knew that right now, as I stand by a great precipice — the great precipice of my life — with the wind in my hair and pebbles sliding between my toes, all I want is to sit here and drink coffee? I got over my vertigo a long time ago.
But I think she knows; or maybe she is afraid to understand what I mean when I look at her like this.
I would understand that. We have looked at each other like this before. Then death danced through us, around us, between us, and rattling his bones at all of our friends. I was churned up in his wake; I lost myself; I lost a lot of things.
All of that seems so strangely in the past.
"It's not just me," I say. "In ten hours, all Metropolis will have your name on their lips."
There is a small, almost imperceptible twitch of the hand. She withdraws it to rest her chin on it. "Because of you;" she says, "not because of anything I did." She presses her lips together, and then takes a sip of coffee. "That's another story which has fallen into my lap," she says, and seems to think of herself as quite astute for it.
I watch her carefully. "Lois —"
There is that smile again; I don't know what to do with it. "I know what people say about me," she says, "Smallville." Brushing her hair back out of her eyes, she adds, "I don't know — sometimes I don't know that they're wrong."
For Lois, I think that self-reflection is like wandering through a dark and dust-filled chamber with a mirror around every corner; flitting through, she catches only glimpses of herself distorted by the half-light; she never stays long.
"Lois," I say, "stories don't just fall into people's laps." I hold my own coffee between my two hands and look down into it. "People don't like how effortless you make it seem."
But I know that Lois will never be satisfied with an explanation like that. "And the fact that you're my —"
But then she falters, and our eyes meet.
"Lois, I came to you," I say, and my hand feels so unsteady I am glad she let it go, "because you are the most talented reporter I know. Not because there's — not as a favour to you."
There is a moment where I wonder what I have said when I look at her face. Then she nods, almost to herself, and glances down at her coffee. "Right," she says, "I get it;" and I think she has misunderstood me in some way I am incapable of discerning.
I could never have wished for something like this: I never sat up late at night, wishing I could have coffee with someone like Lois Lane.
Yet somehow there is something in this feeling of reaching out and missing her fingertips in conversation that makes me think this is the moment I want to stop time for. What will I do when it is over? — when we are 'famous' and can no longer sit out drinking coffee and spewing words at each other which mean something other than what we want them to mean?
When Lois looks up at me, I realise that we will remember this moment for the rest of our lives.
"In forty years," she says, "they'll ask me: how did breaking the story on Clark Kent change your life? And I'll say — that was the last time I got coffee with him."
For a moment there, I thought I could have everything.
It would be so easy to walk over to her now, sit there and be reminded of what I gave up. What if I did, and I took her hands in mine, and then I told her the truth about me all over again?
And for a third time death would rattle his bones in my direction, and I could never take it back.
How can I go there now, and pretend to Lois that I am only her friend? When she tilts her head away from me so that her face is only half-lit, when she rubs her hands together to keep them warm and I don't take them in mine: how can I sit there and think about all the things we could have done? How can I make her suffer that? It would be so easy to make the same mistakes again. There's no right way to do what I did.
We will go our separate ways, and Lois will make a name for herself unentangled with mine; I will make sure that she can never deny that it was deserved. I just —
I know what Lois would think of me now.