Sometimes Lois thought she should take up a safer occupation. She could be an accountant, or maybe one of those nutjobs who knit sweaters for dogs. She could combine the two and do taxes for pomeranians.
She kicked off her heels and glanced, warily, over the edge of the roof. It was a sheer drop down to the bottom, but she might be okay if she landed in one of those dumpsters. She looked at the opposite rooftop and sucked in a deep breath.
There was shouting from the stairwell, footsteps thundering, and Lois steeled herself.
Now or never. She could do this.
She backed up a few steps, made sure the disc was safely tucked away in her pocket, and took a running start. She leapt just as the door burst open.
Halfway through her jump someone grabbed her, strong hands around her back and under her knees. She laughed in spite of herself, relieved, and twined her arms around his neck.
“How come you always know when to catch me?” she asked, but the face she looked up into didn’t have eyes as blue as the sky or one perfect curl hanging over his forehead. The face she looked up into was wearing the Batcowl.
“Tracking devices,” Batman replied.
They landed in a nearby alley, and he set her on her feet with surprising gentleness. It was a cold night and she shivered in her stocking feet, wrapping her arms around herself.
“Do you think you could have grabbed me before I ditched my shoes?” she asked. It was hard to tell in the dark and with him in that stupid cowl, but she thought he might’ve arched an eyebrow.
“I’ve got a proposition for you, Ms. Lane,” he said, “but you have to understand – it’s strictly confidential. This doesn’t go any farther.”
“I’m a reporter, Batman,” she said. “I don’t do confidential. What’s in it for me?”
“An exclusive with Bruce Wayne,” he said. She snorted.
“And how are you going to get me that?” she asked.
“I have my ways,” he replied. Batman’s ways, Lois was fairly sure, mostly involved dangling people off high buildings and over highways. Clark had assured her that this wasn’t (always) true, but he had been doing that thing he did when he lied where he wouldn’t look her straight in the eye.
“What if I don’t want an interview with Bruce Wayne?” she said.
“You will,” he replied. “Rumor has it he’s about to do something very scandalous.”
“One of the league’s bases has been compromised. We’re in the process of investigating, but its inhabitants need a place to stay for the time being. One of them is already accounted for. As for the other…”
Which was how Lois found herself standing on the doorstep of the West residence on Saturday. She took off her sunglasses, straightened her jacket and knocked, sharply, on the door.
The teenage boy who opened the door had red hair, freckles and a dumbstruck expression.
“Did it hurt?” he asked her.
“Wallace West!” a woman’s voice admonished from inside, alongside the clink of dishes in a sink.
“No, but you will if that goes where I think it’s going. Where’d you get that one? Green Arrow?” Lois replied. He blushed and she leaned on the doorjamb, staring down at him. “Let me guess – Kid Flash?”
His blush crept up to his ears.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said. She laughed and stuck out her hand.
“Call me Lois, Kid,” she said. “I’m looking for Superboy.”
“Right,” he said. “I knew that – Mom! Supey’s ride is here!”
Batman had shown her pictures, and she’d seen the resemblance, but it was different in person. Superboy had Superman’s eyes, his jawline, the strong set of his shoulders. But not his presence. Superman felt safe and confident and strong, but most importantly he felt kind.
Superboy mostly felt angry. It rolled off him in stormclouds, and Lois kept sneaking glances at him in the passenger seat on their ride home. He didn’t look at her at all.
“Hey,” she said at last. “What’s your name?”
“Superboy,” he said. She fought the urge to roll her eyes.
“No, kiddo,” she said. “Your real name.”
His face grew stonier, and he hunched in on himself, shoulders drawing up.
“I don’t have one,” he said to his knees.
“What do you mean –” Lois began, and that’s when the explosion rocked the highway. She slammed on the breaks and just narrowly kept from hitting the car in front of her.
She supposed she shouldn’t have been surprised when her car was promptly rearended. She jolted, bracing herself against the steering wheel. Behind her she could hear the man in the offending car shouting, but that was the least of her problems; when she looked over at the passenger seat, Superboy was gone.
“Figures,” Lois muttered, throwing her door open.
Lois didn’t need her killer reporter instincts to find Superboy. There was only one rule for tracking a missing superhero: follow the destruction.
She pushed her way through the crowd of people gathering at the edge of the highway – someone caught her arm and said, “ma’am, it’s not safe,” but she shrugged them off – and swung herself over the partition.
There, off the road in a smoking crater, was Superboy fighting something huge and monstrous and otherwordly. It roared, rearing back on its hind legs, and Superboy roared right back. He surged forward.
Lois stood there, frozen to the spot, until the monster fell on top of him, all claws and teeth and spikes, and she’d seen supposedly indestructible people hurt too many times not to do something. She picked up a rock.
“Hey, ugly!” she shouted. Someone grabbed her by the back of her jacket, trying to pull her back over the partition, and she elbowed them in the face when she drew her arm back. “Yeah, I’m talking to you!”
She tossed the rock. It ricocheted harmlessly off the monster’s head, and for a minute she thought nothing was going to happen. Then one eye swiveled in her direction.
What happened next was a blur. The thing lunged, and people screamed, and Lois braced herself for impact, arms thrown up in front of her face. She squeezed her eyes shut.
The impact never came. She opened her eyes to find Superboy in front of her, his shoulder slammed up against the bulk of the monster.
“Don’t you touch her!” he bellowed, loud enough to make Lois’ ears ring. His footing slid precariously, the monster shoving back as good as it got. Superboy sent a brief, panicked glance at Lois. She planted her feet firmly on the ground, well aware that it’d do nothing to stop him if he continued to slide, and placed her hands on his shoulders.
“Kick its butt,” she said. The panic in his eyes morphed into something different and flickering; his mouth twitched, slightly.
He charged forward with a roar.
The dust settled. Superboy was standing, looking roughed up and rumpled but no worse for the wear with his hair in disarray and his shirt torn to pieces.
“You’re going to need a new one,” Lois said, planted at the edge of the crater. Superboy looked down at his shirt. He fiddled with a torn edge, holding it up like he was trying to put the S back together. He looked back up at her.
“I go through a ton of these,” he said with a grin.
“You’re going to need a name,” Lois said later, standing in the doorway to her kitchenette.
“I’ve been fine without one,” Superboy replied, arms crossed. He was wearing the only men’s shirt Lois had in her apartment – Clark’s, unsurprisingly, one of his terrible old sport shirts that were a little too tight on him. It hung on Superboy, too big in the shoulders, and he seemed uncomfortable in it.
“Really?” Lois said, raising an eyebrow, and Superboy shifted. “Don’t you want one?”
“No,” Superboy mumbled, eyes downcast. “Yes. Maybe – I don’t know!”
The shout rang out loud enough to echo; it was a good thing her neighbors already hated her. The new dent in her wall – well, nothing a photo or two couldn’t cover up.
“Sorry,” he said, pulling his fist back.
“I lost my security deposit ages ago,” Lois said. “Feel any better?”
“Not really,” he admitted. “Black Canary says I need to work on my anger.”
“Can’t really argue with that,” Lois said, “but, hey, you kept my wall in one piece. Little steps.”
Superboy was fiddling with the edge of his shirt again, looking around Lois’ living room like he had never seen one before. His eyes passed over the television and the bookcases, her one potted plant (a fake; she kept killing the real ones. Clark had once given her a cactus for her birthday and she’d managed to do it in within two weeks.) and landed on her small collection of photographs.
He stared long and hard at the one in the middle: her and Clark at the Planet’s Christmas party, his arms wrapped around her from behind and his chin on her shoulder. His eyes shone superhumanly blue behind his glasses.
Superboy stared at the picture for a long moment. Lois thought he might say something about, but he didn’t.
“Batman says you know Superman,” he said after a long moment. “That’s why he sent me to stay with you.”
“Sure, I know him,” Lois replied. Superboy fidgeted, staring at the carpet.
“Has he said anything about me?” he asked in a small voice. Lois pressed her lips into a thin line.
“C’mon, kid,” she said after a moment, taking him by the shoulder and steering him into the kitchen. “Let’s get you something to drink.”
Lois wandered out of her bedroom at the crack of dawn, bathrobe wrapped tightly around her, smart phone under her nose. The news about Bruce Wayne’s wild weekend with an up and coming actress, a lovely lady senator, a ringtailed lemur and a hot tub had just broken, along with photos, and a neighbor’s shaky video footage. In one picture, Wayne stood looking particularly smug and unapologetic. His thirteen-year-old adopted son looked much less amused. Lois huffed; it wasn’t the kind of interview she particularly cared about, but Wayne was a big enough name to almost make up for that, and Batman had promised he could get her an interview.
She’d completely forgotten about the boy sleeping on her sofa until her second cup of coffee. Nothing seemed broken; she leaned out of the kitchenette.
At some point during the night he’d rolled off the sofa and onto the floor. He was completely cocooned in the blankets she’d lent him, hair just barely visible.
“Well,” Lois said to herself, sipping at her coffee. “I guess some things are genetic after all.”
Superboy stared at the glasses like he expected them to bite him.
“Why?” was all he said. Lois huffed, blowing a loose strand of hair out of her face.
“You’re not exactly unknown, with or without that giant S on your chest,” she said. She pulled up a picture on her phone, one of the ones from the highway incident, and held it out to him. “It’s a disguise.”
“Like Robin’s sunglasses,” Superboy said, frowning. “Except these are clear. So how do they disguise me?”
The glasses were thin rimmed affairs, nothing at all like Clark’s bulky black frames, but the resemblance was striking all the same. Nothing she could do about that, she supposed. She could’ve put him in a tailored tux and he still would have looked like Clark. At least now he didn’t look quite so much like strong, tall Superboy.
“Hell if I know,” Lois admitted, propping her chin up on her palm. “But for what it’s worth, it works.” She leaned forward and ruffled his hair until it stuck up in all directions; he scowled and she grinned. “Perfect.”
Superboy needed a name, if only for a few days. She couldn’t take him to the Planet without one -- I’m sorry, my religion forbids me from telling you that unless we are to be wed, in which case you’ll owe Ms. Lane twenty-seven goats wasn’t an excuse that was going to fly in a building full of reporters.
Most of the names she’d picked started with C, and she tried to tell herself that it wasn’t on purpose.
He scanned the list, eyebrows furrowed, and then he looked up at her.
“Which one’s good?” he asked.
“They’re all good,” she replied. Well, except for Hogarth. She’d mostly put that one in as a joke. “Pick the one you like the best.”
“They all look the same to me,” he said, frowning at the page. Lois rolled her eyes behind his back and glanced at her watch.
They ended up having him close his eyes and point to a random name. He pointed to Hogarth, which just figured. Lois moved his finger to the name just above it – Conner.
He opened his eyes and looked at it quizzically, mouthing it like he was testing how it felt.
“Like it, Conner?” she asked.
He stared at her, eyes wide and shockingly blue, face completely open for once.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “It feels weird.”
“You can always change it later,” Lois told him. Unable to help herself, she dropped a hand on top of his head and ruffled his hair. He squirmed, making a face, but didn’t draw away.
“That’s not how names work,” he told her seriously. She snorted.
“Kiddo, you’d be surprised.”
She ended up buying Conner a plaid button up shirt and an oversized hoodie. The hoodie bore the logo of Metropolis’ football team, and the shirt was two sizes too big. The collar wouldn’t stay straight no matter how many times Conner tugged at it.
“Do you remember our story?” she asked as they neared the Daily Planet.
“I’m your cousin from out of town,” he replied.
“Right,” she said. “And if anyone asks anything else?”
“Ask them a question instead,” he said. “And don’t stop asking questions.”
“You’ll make a reporter yet,” she said, and snapped her fingers.
Conner’s eyes were fixed on the golden globe. “You work here?” he asked, sounding almost shy.
“Like it?” she asked. He nodded, mouth slightly agape. They stood there for a moment in the shadow of the building, until Conner realized he was staring. He tore his eyes away from the globe.
“It’s okay, I guess,” he said, crossing his arms defensively. She snickered under her breath and held the door open for him.
Clark took one look at Conner and attempted to hide behind the nearest desk. He kept edging around corners, furtively avoiding eye contact and knocking things over. Lois hadn’t exactly believed it (how could Superman be afraid of one teenage boy?) but Batman had been completely right. The fact made her grind her teeth a little.
At 11:05, Lois sent Conner to get her coffee. The fact that Clark was by the coffee pot at the time was only a plus.
At 11: 07, the copy machine was no longer functioning. Clark had tripped over it in his attempt to escape. (Fortunately the Planet suffered major damage about five or six times a year, if they were lucky, and no one really batted an eye at a smoking copy machine.)
At lunchtime, Lois kicked open the restroom door.
“Lois!” Jimmy shrieked. He zipped up, horror written all over his face.
She jerked a thumb towards the door.
“Out,” she said.
“But –” he tried. “This is the men’s room!”
“Out!” Lois said. She stood silently by while he washed his hands and slunk out the door, shooting her sad puppy glances the entire time. She kicked the door shut behind him and surveyed the rest of the bathroom. “Clark. I know you’re in here.”
There was a tell tale guilty cough from a stall near the end. Lois pushed it open and found Clark, fully clothed and seated. With half a sandwich.
“Really?” she said, raising an eyebrow. “Honestly?”
“Join me for lunch?” he asked sheepishly. Lois stepped inside the stall and closed the door behind her. There wasn’t much room; she ended up standing between Clark’s knees, her hands planted on her hips.
“You’re eating lunch in a bathroom stall in order to hide from a teenage boy,” Lois said. “Clark, I want you to think about what brought you this incredibly shameful moment.”
He shifted uneasily. “You’re the one who brought him here. It’s a bad idea, someone’s going to notice that he looks like me – he’s going to notice that he looks like me – and what am I supposed to do? Laugh and say, hey, you’re right, probably a distant relative? How long can that fly? You should’ve left him at your place.”
“He’s a kid, Clark, you can’t just leave them alone all day,” she said. “Look what happened to the cactus!”
Clark fiddled with his glasses.
“He’s not a cactus, Lois,” he said.
“No,” Lois said. “He is definitely not a cactus.”
Clark winced, his shoulders gone rigid, a hard line under his crumpled dress shirt.
“I already had this talk with You Know Who,” he said, like that should be the end of it.
“So did I,” Lois replied. She planted her hands on her hips. “He’s your son, Clark.”
“He’s not my son,” Clark said, scowling. “He’s not a – he’s not a baby, Lois, he’s a sixteen-year-old boy who –”
“Sixteen-year-old boys show up looking for their fathers all the time,” Lois cut him off, holding up a hand.
“Most sixteen-year-old boys weren’t grown in a pod,” Clark retorted, and Lois scowled.
“Most reporters don’t hail from another planet,” she said. “So the situation’s weird. Life’s weird, Clark. Try harder.”
Clark opened and closed his mouth a few times, turning pink, before he averted his eyes. “I don’t know what he wants from me,” he said, knotting one hand in the knee of his trousers.
“He wants to know you,” Lois replied. Clark said nothing. The corner of his mouth twitched downwards. Lois sighed, “You know what, Clark, forget it.”
“Just like that?” he said, frowning as she pushed the stall door open.
“Not that we’re not going to continue this conversation later,” Lois said, checking her reflection in the mirror. “But if I don’t get going I’m going to miss that interview.”
“Oh, right,” Clark said, starting to stand. Lois shot him a look.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“Um,” Clark said, one hand on the stall door. He looked puzzled. “With you? To our interview?”
“You’re not coming,” Lois said. “Conner could use the experience. Someone needs to teach him some life skills.”
“Interrogation’s a life skill now?” Clark asked, then he paused, shoulders slumping. His fingers tightened, minutely, on the stall door. Something came over his face. Quietly, he asked, “Conner?”
“Well, I couldn’t just call him ‘hey, you’,” Lois said, hand on the door. “He needed a name.”
She gave Clark one last glance before she left; he looked crushed.
The interview ended with shouting, armed guards and several broken computers.
Conner took it all in stride.
“Is this how interviews normally go?” he asked, looking puzzled, as he threw a desk at their pursuers.
“Only if you’re with me,” Lois replied breezily, without breaking stride. She grabbed his wrist and pulled him sharply to the left, towards the emergency stairs. “Having a good time?”
He slid a brief grin her way.
“I’m starting to feel the aster,” he said. Lois had absolutely no idea what that meant.
Two days and one narrowly escaped lawsuit later, Clark stopped by her desk. More precisely, he’d been lurking in the vicinity of her desk for a little over an hour, and only finally popped up after Jimmy had accosted Conner to go look at pictures of cats or something.
“I heard the interview went well,” he opened with, hands in his pockets. “You know. All things considered.”
“Conner’s a natural at escaping from security guards,” Lois told him. Clark flinched.
“I get it, I’m in the doghouse,” he said. He stuck his hands in his pockets and, in a voice barely above a whisper, asked, “Can I ask why you picked that name?”
“It was on a list,” she said, shrugging. “He picked it. Well, actually, he picked Hogarth, so you can go ahead and thank me for Conner after all.”
“Hogarth?” Clark repeated. He craned his neck to look at Jimmy and Conner, intently bent over Jimmy’s desk. Jimmy was laughing, hands paused over the keyboard, and Conner was asking something Lois couldn’t hear (but Clark doubtlessly could), the corners of his mouth twitching upwards.
“Has he…” Clark trailed off, like his mouth had gone dry. “Does he … has he figured out? About me?”
“If he has,” Lois said, scribbling a few notes down on her yellow legal pad, “he hasn’t said anything about it to me. Hey, Clark, by the way – do you still have those notes from back when you wrote that article about Metropolis’ shocking number of deadbeat dads?”
Clark shot her a look.
“You know, I expect this kind of thing from Batman…” he muttered, stalking off.
“Mr. Kent won’t look at me,” Conner said suddenly over takeout (Thai, his choice, after rifling through Lois’ takeout menu drawer for the better part of half an hour).
“Is that so?” Lois asked around a mouthful of noodles.
“Except when he thinks I’m not looking,” Conner said, frowning. “Jimmy says he’s kind of shy.”
“Some people are shy,” Lois replied. “Pass the chicken?”
“Jimmy doesn’t have superhearing,” he said, handing it over. His frown turned thoughtful. “Those glasses aren’t as good a disguise as you think.”
Lois couldn’t help it; she set her chopsticks down and threw her head back laughing.
Subject: Is he adjusting okay?
The body of the e-mail was blank. Lois raised one eyebrow. She pushed her chair back her from desk, leaning around the partition until she could see Clark. He smiled sheepishly and waved at her. She rolled her eyes.
She fired back a quick reply: Fine, aside from the fact that my home computer is now plastered in cat macros. You could ask him yourself.
There was no immediate reply.
Two hours later Lois returned from lunch and found a new e-mail waiting for her.
I don’t know what I’d say
Lois frowned at the screen. She ripped a piece of paper off her pad and scribbled her reply, then wadded it up and took aim at Clark’s head. It hit him square in the nose and bounced off, landing on his desk. She watched as he smoothed it out.
You could start by saying “hi.”
That night, Lois taught Conner how to break and enter, which was important, she explained, for truth, justice and front page stories. He seemed to understand, and if he didn’t he had at least gotten very good at pretending he did.
He was also great at holding a flashlight.
“I was thinking,” he said.
“Little higher,” she said, flapping a hand at him. He shifted the flashlight so it shone into the back of the drawer. “Go on.”
“Jimmy showed me a picture,” he said, “of you and Superman. And there’s the picture of the two of you in your apartment. You look… close.”
“If you’re trying to imply something, the answer is yes,” Lois said. She snagged the document she had been looking for with a triumphant noise and held it up for Conner to see.
He barely spared it a glance.
“Does that make you my mother?” he asked, and Lois promptly fell backwards, her elbow knocking into the desk. Some expensive, kitschy knick-knack slid off it and shattered when it hit the floor. The alarms started to blare.
Lois grabbed the paperwork, and Conner, and made a run for it.
Later, sitting in a parking lot six blocks away with the papers spread out between them and the car to their backs, she turned to him.
“If anything, I’d be your step-mother,” she said. “But I’m not, because your dad and I aren’t married.”
“Okay,” he said, smiling. She had the feeling that her words had gone in one ear and right out the other. She huffed and asked him to pass her the files; it wasn’t hurting anything, letting the kid feel like she was family. Besides, it made her a little happy to see him smile.
Predictably, on Thursday, everything went wrong. Thursdays were like that.
She was standing in front of what had been large windows, before the bullets had shattered them. Now they were gaping holes, and the early spring air made her shiver more than the rows of armed guards staring her down.
Conner bared his teeth, fists clenched, standing in front of her like a shield. She wasn’t sure if he was as bulletproof as Clark, and she didn’t intend to find out. Lois caught him by the elbow.
“When I say jump,” she hissed through her teeth, “you jump. No questions.”
He didn’t seem happy about it, but he nodded shortly.
The guards parted, and Victor Capricorn, CEO of Capricorn Industrial stepped through. Capricorn Industrial had started out in Gotham, somehow managed to not be blown to smithereens or otherwise utterly destroyed by the two million or so supervillains lurking in those alleys, and recently made the move to Metropolis. Honestly, Lois wished Killer Croc had gotten him.
Victor clapped, slowly. Lois wanted to punch him in the face. From the way Conner’s eyes narrowed, so did he.
“Miss Lane,” he addressed her, a smirk pulling at his face. It made him look fantastically unattractive. “So the legend lives up to her name.”
“Don’t flatter me,” Lois scoffed. “It’ll get you nowhere.”
“And nowhere is exactly where you have left to go,” Victor pointed out. He clapped his hands again, and the guards raised their guns. Conner made a move, like he was about to barrel forward, so Lois held on tighter to his arm. “Your guard dog is very amusing, but clearly not very bright. You look like a smart woman, Miss Lane. Doubtlessly you’re brave. Drop the files and hold up your hands. Tell anyone it was a misunderstanding – I’m a reasonable man, I won’t press charges. I won’t have anyone follow you. We’ll work it out, privately. Maybe you can owe me a little favor or two.”
Lois held up the disc between two fingers and glanced at it contemplatively.
“You’re right about one thing,” she said. “I’m very brave.”
She jumped, and Conner jumped after her. He grabbed her and pulled her close as they fell.
“You didn’t say jump!” he accused, wrapping strong arms around her.
“It’s just an expression!” she shouted back, and if he had been any less super the grip she had on him probably would’ve hurt. “You can start flying any second now!”
“I can’t fly,” he said, looking at her with wide eyes.
“Then why did you jump?” she exclaimed, smacking him on the shoulder.
“Because you told me to!” he yelped. He wrapped himself around her like a shield, like he planned to take the brunt of the impact. Lois had to shout to make herself heard over the rush of the wind.
“Con, if I said jump off a bridge, would you –”
Suddenly they weren’t falling anymore. Conner’s grip went slack and Lois’ vision was obscured by a fluttering sea of red. She looked up and met a face with eyes as blue as the sky and one perfect curl hanging over his forehead.
“Superman,” Conner whispered.
“Hi,” Superman said. His grin was nervous and wide and real. “Sorry for the late rescue.”
“It’s cool,” Conner said, seemingly in awe. His eyes traced every line of Superman’s face, like he couldn’t quite believe it was happening.
Typically, Capricorn ruined the moment by ordering his guards to shoot at Superman. Clark brought his shoulders up to shield them. He frowned.
“What are you dragging Conner into?” he asked Lois.
“I like journalism,” Conner protested. “There’s a lot more punching things than I expected.”
Clark gave Lois a pained look. Lois shrugged as best as she could, considering she was dangling in midair between the two of them.
“You heard the kid,” she said, grinning. She wrapped an arm around Clark’s neck and he sighed as he flew them away, weaving in between skyscrapers and up into the open air. He kept them there for a moment, and Conner finally tore his eyes away from Clark’s face in order to stare out over the city.
Clark set them down on a roof and hovered there for a moment, looking unsure.
“I should probably go take care of Capricorn,” he said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. He stared at the ground and fidgeted. In midair. It looked ridiculous. “But… maybe we could all get dinner? Together? Sometime tonight?”
Conner’s face lit up.
“That’d be –” he stopped, coughed and adopted a much less enthusiastic tone. He slid his glasses up his nose. “That’d be cool. I guess.”
“Great!” he said. He fidgeted a little more, his hand lingering in the air over Conner’s shoulder, before he gave him a quick pat. Lois rolled her eyes.
“Hey,” she said, reaching forward and grabbing a fistful of his costume. “Nothing for me?”
“Not in front of Conner,” Clark said, looking abashed, but he leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek anyway. “Does this mean I’m not on the couch anymore?”
“Oh, honey,” she said, patting his cheek. “Of course not. Conner sleeps there, and there’s not enough room for two.”