Final Obligation
by M. Scott Eiland

I walk into the cathedral--and several thousand people seem to go silent at once at the sight of me. I see looks of shock, disgust, and outright horror directed at me, but I only hear one voice--coming from about a hundred feet away and apparently reacting to a comment that Hawk Girl just made. It's a very familiar voice, distorted by grief and hate:

"I can."

With effort, I keep my features composed and walk forward: the crowd parts before me as if I was a leper. The people in front of her move too, their expressions showing sympathy and echoing her obvious outrage. She meets my gaze--her eyes are violet and very beautiful, even when they communicate a desire to kill--and snarls, "Luthor! How dare you show your face here?"

I've faced some of the most powerful beings in existence--most notably today's guest of honor--without backing down, but a livid Lois Lane is someone to be reckoned with. I search for something to say to calm her down, and decided to temporize: "Lois, I--"

She hauls off and slaps me--hard. Lois Lane is not a lightweight in the slapping department--she doesn't do it just for the sake of appearances before being dragged off to await inevitable rescue by Her Hero (whether it be her late boyfriend or that irritating man from Gotham City). No, Lois is quite capable of removing a substantial portion of your bridgework if you're fool enough to stand there and take it. I roll with it a little, but I'm stunned momentarily and take a moment before turning back to her, wincing from the discomfort.

She's standing there glaring at me, and she hasn't missed a beat as she continues to berate me: "You've come to gloat--"

Sure, Lois. I thought it would be a swell idea to come to a gathering of several thousand of Superman's admirers--including a lot of thoroughly super powered people--and gloat as they mourn him. I've done some crazy things in my time, but I'm not -that- suicidally insane

She's still speaking--oblivious to my internal retort: "--you've tried to get rid of him for years--"

Yeah, and failed miserably. That little bastard Toyman did what I tried for years to do--lucky little no-talent loon

"--are you happy now? Isn't this what you've always wanted?"

No, and I wish to hell I knew why, since it -is- what I always wanted

She paused, then comes at me, weakly striking at my chest. Tears are running down her cheeks, and her voice is breaking: "I hate you! I hate you. . ."

She isn't hurting me, but I feel as if I've been kicked in the stomach. Damn him for making me do this. I don't belong here--I don't want to care, damn it! I have a life to rebuild, and he's not going to be in my way any more. I don't belong here

But I gave my word, and there it is. I should have known it was a bad idea.


"The terms seem fair--I can live with this." I was sitting at the table in the prison room where lawyers met with their clients, and the Big Blue Pain In The Ass was sitting across from me, waiting for me to finish reviewing the contract. I reached for a pen and signed the bottom casually--nothing to get excited about. Just a second chance at my life. I slid it across to Superman and waited for him to sign in his space, confirming that I had agreed to the terms. When he hesitated, I frowned and asked, "What are you waiting for? Sign it and we can go eject those impostors--and you can go back to being shiny, non-morally conflicted heroes."

He winced--it was absolutely killing him to cut me loose, and he knew that I knew it. He looked up at me and said quietly, "I'd like to add a final provision to this agreement--a private clause just between you and me."

I raised an eyebrow. "Really? I don't see why it couldn't go into the written agreement. This is the computer age--we could have a revised agreement in here in ten minutes, if it's so damned important."

He shook his head. "It'll be oral only--your word to me."

I stared at him. "You'd trust me to keep an oral agreement with no other evidence that it ever existed outside of our memories? Anyone ever tried to sell you a bridge, Kryptonian?"

He looked at me, nodded once, and said simply, "For this--yes, I trust you to keep your word."

I'd known him for years now, and he was still managing to surprise me- -but this was unusual even from him. I blinked, then admitted, "All right--you've got me curious. What is it?"

He looked down, swallowed hard, and said simply, "In the event that you outlive me, I want you to attend my funeral and sit next to Lois."

I can count the times that my jaw has dropped from sheer shock on the fingers of one hand, but that was one of them: "Excuse me?" He nodded once to confirm what I had just heard, and I coughed nervously before asking, "And your reason for wanting me to do this is--?"

"Personal." His voice was flat, revealing no emotion.

"I need to know more than that if I'm going to risk showing up at an event with hordes of angry, grieving people and risk being torn to pieces by an angry mob, alien." I wasn't angry, strangely enough-- just confused. He remained silent--though his mouth quirked a bit at my implicit admission that his death would be mourned nearly universally--and I added, "I'll admit that I've tried to kill her a few times, but you have to know that I'd be the last person on Earth that she'd want to see right then. I'm a bastard--but I'm not completely heartless."

He nodded and handed me a sealed envelope. "I wrote this note. If you wish, you can give it to her at any time after arriving at the service--it will explain why you are there and that I requested it. If you feel the need, you have my permission to release the contents of the note to the media after you have shown it to Lois. You're covered--I'll give you an unbreakable alibi."

I accepted the note, considered the matter for a moment, and replied: "Agreed--if you'll answer two questions." He scowled at me, and I added, "It can't hurt to listen to the questions, can it?"

He sighed, then nodded, and I asked: "Who killed me in the Lords' Universe, and why?"

He answered in full, taking five minutes, and I shivered momentarily before nodding and watching him sign the agreement. Before he left, he smirked at me and said simply, "I would have given you that one for free, Lex. I'll be watching you." He swept gracefully out the doors, and I was left staring. Of course, the odds of Superman dying before me were vanishingly slim--


--or not. Devious alien bastard.

I react instinctively, pulling Lois to me and holding her gently as she sobs into my chest. I give a quick glance to the people around us to see if anyone is inclined to take a tire iron to my skull for daring to lay hands on the quasi-widow, but those able to see seem transfixed by the sight of it: even Hawk Girl--who would cheerfully use me for a game of "Loves me, Loves me not" if she was short of daisies--is watching the moment with visible compassion on her face. I blink and lower my head down closer to hers. After a moment, I say softly, "Believe or not, I'm going to miss him too." Strangely enough, I'm not lying--though I'm not sure I understand why it's the truth.

I feel her stiffen for a moment, then relax as the sobs continue and the crowd moves away from us and toward their seats. After a few more seconds, Lois looks up and asks, "Damn it, why are you here?"

I sigh and hand her the envelope. "I was invited by the guest of honor." She opens the envelope, reads the note quickly, and looks up at me with a stunned expression on her face. I nod and say simply, "I kept my word." I refrain from adding my genuine addendum to that fact: and I'm glad I did

Lois stares at me, and it is a relief to see surprise rather than outrage there. After a few more seconds, she shakes her head and leads me back over to the friends section. I very carefully disregard the dozens of hostile glances directed my way--hmmm, why are Kent's parents here without him--and sit next to Lois without uttering another word.

Tomorrow, I will begin to plan my life without the presence of my greatest enemy and most potent motivation to strive for greatness. For today, I am content to sit and listen to those who knew him best remember him with love--and to wonder why I too would wish him to be here, had I the power to make it so.


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