Kindred Spirits
by M. Scott Eiland

He leaned in for a gentle kiss, and Lois resisted the urge to laugh as his beard tickled her. After a moment, he pulled back, smiled at her, and flew off the edge of her balcony, waving at her once before vanishing into the night.

Lois stared after him for a few moments, then sighed and walked back into her apartment, closing and locking the sliding door and pulling the curtains. She sat down on the edge of her bed and--in the first private moment she had experienced in the last eighteen hours--began to cry in relief.

She had been watching TV at home when the reports of the super villains tearing up Metropolis broke into the regular programming, and she had immediately rushed to the scene, grabbing a night camera crew and finding a good vantage point to observe the main part of the battle. She had been appalled to see that the survivors of the League had apparently taken on Lobo as an ally--she knew the Zarnian bounty hunter was completely without scruples and was as poorly suited to serving with the League as she was to fighting Lennox Lewis for the heavyweight championship. Still, she had been relieved when the League had triumphed without the villains or Lobo doing too much damage, and she had allowed herself to relax when she saw motion out of the corner of her eye and turned to see Deadshot aim and fire a rocket at the unsuspecting League. She started to scream a warning, knowing that she was too late--

--only to see the rocket stopped dead and the blast absorbed by a figure darting out of the shadows. Batman quickly dispatched Deadshot, but Lois' eyes were riveted on the tall figure--dressed like the cover of a Conan novel--who stepped into the group of heroes- -provoking outbursts of joy from all of them.

He had come back.

She wanted to run to him, and her cameraman was suggesting that they move to get the interview immediately, but she saw the expression on Superman's face--and the beard and long hair didn't keep her from interpreting it correctly: the League had a new crisis facing them, and Superman wouldn't let a little thing like returning from the dead get in the way of being there to help them deal with it. After a few moments, the League departed, and Lois was preparing to head back to the office and put the story to bed when she heard a very familiar voice in her ear:

"I'll be by to see you as soon as we're done stopping Vandal Savage-- order some pizza. I've got quite a story for you to hear."

Lois looked around, and saw no one. It took her a moment to remember that he had demonstrated super-ventriloquism to her once before-- using heat vision very precisely to vibrate air molecules to generate sound. He had spotted her, and he was letting her know that he was OK and that he wanted to talk. Lois smiled--content for the moment-- and went back to the office to file the story of the fight (including the identity of the foe that the League had departed to face), knowing that she would have an even bigger story in a day or two.

She had stayed at the Daily Planet for the next twelve hours, ignoring first Jimmy's, then Perry's pleas that she go home and get some rest ("Damn it, Lane--it's not like he doesn't know where you live!"). She prowled the newsroom for reports of the League`s activities, unnerving several of the new staff members of the Planet who were unfamiliar with this side of the paper's resident superstar. Those who knew her better knew all too well the strain she had been under--and the additional stress created by the miraculous return--and continued absence--of the living symbol of Metropolis.

She was at her desk, drinking her twentieth cup of coffee of the day and reading sixty year old reports about Vandal Savage, when she heard an amused voice say, "Perry--are you paying overtime to Pulitzer Prize winners these days?"

Lois turned wearily and saw Superman standing next to Perry, watching her with an expression of concern that belied his tone. Perry shook his head in annoyance and growled, "No--I most certainly am not. Get her the hell out of here, before she frightens the rest of my staff to death." Superman grinned and started to move over to Lois--only to be stopped by a hand on his shoulder. He turned back to Perry, and the older man hesitated for a long moment before saying simply, "Welcome back, friend."

The newsroom burst out into cheers, and Superman took a moment to smile and appreciate his co-workers from a different angle before darting over to Lois, scooping her into his arms, and flying out the open window.

Lois--not about to be overwhelmed--hit her speed-dial and had the pizza ordered by the time that they reached her apartment. They sat down in her living room, and just stared at each other for several minutes before she could bring herself to ask the first question:

"So--keeping the beard?"

Lois wondered at the smile that the question provoked. "No, Lois-- I'm looking forward to returning to the wonders of modern grooming-- and bathing. However, if you want to take some shots for the Planet, I'm not embarrassed--just don't expect this look to make a comeback anytime after I can get five minutes with a mirror and my heat vision."

Lois chuckled--he had told her what shaving involved for him in the past, and she had a feeling that it would be a tad rougher this time around than disposing of a little five-o-clock shadow. "Fair enough. It would have been a nice touch for your picture at the memorial, though--very rugged." She felt a moment of disbelief that she could joke about it, even now. "You missed a big scene at the service--I went ballistic on Lex when he showed up."

Superman blinked, and Lois wondered at his expression as he replied, "Really? Why was he there?"

Lois sighed. "Apparently, for the same reason the rest of us were-- something you want to tell me about you and Tall, Bald, and Evil?"

Superman sighed. "Luthor's a complicated guy--even if he was still up to the same crap he always was, he would have been ticked off that I was dead just because he wasn't in on it." He shrugged, and asked: "So how was the service otherwise? Savage said that it was quite an event."

"Great turnout--the only one of any importance who didn't show up was Smallville--he's been out of touch for over a week now. Probably stuck in Borneo or Cambodia without a cell phone, missed the whole show--" Lois paused in mid-sentence, and stared at Superman: "What do you mean, Savage told you?"

Superman grinned wickedly, motioned for Lois to start her tape recorder, and told her the whole story. It took two hours, and when he had finished, Lois knew that she had the story that would win her a second Pulitzer. Eat your heart out, Clark! She chided herself for the uncharitable thought, then saw that Superman's expression was wistful. "You came to like him, didn't you?"

"He spent thousands of years alone, Lois--teetering on the edge of total madness. The things he managed to accomplish while completely alone, facing a hostile environment. . .they were astonishing. Easy to say that it was a hell he built for himself, but he retained the greatness necessary to let me return to fix things." Superman shook his head in sadness, and said simply, "Lois--if I can help to draw that man out from the monster he has become. . .it would be a feat worthy of any hero. I've got to try." He chuckled bitterly and added, "Doesn't mean I'm turning my back on him any time soon."

Lois glared at him a little. "You'd better not--I've had attended enough memorial services for you."

Superman nodded gravely, and stood up: "I should go--you need to get some sleep so you can put those notes together."

Lois nodded wearily, and they walked out onto the balcony together. They stood silently for a moment before Lois whispered, "Kal?"

Superman blinked: even in private, Lois rarely used his real name. "Yes, Lois?"

Lois looked into his eyes and requested quietly: "Please don't do this to me--to us, again. It scared me enough to see what you might have been like if something had happened to me--I'm terrified at the thought of what this world is going to be like if you really do depart to the great hereafter." She put her arms around his neck and said simply, "We need you, you big lug."

He had smiled, kissed her, and flown off without another word, and-- after a few minutes of good old-fashioned crying her eyes out--she was preparing to settle down into her bed for a long night's sleep when she heard a gentle tapping at the door to the balcony. She frowned and walked over to the door, speaking normally with the knowledge that he could hear her clearly: "Forget to tell me something, or did you want that last slice of pepperoni after all--?"

Lois stopped in mid-sentence and stared: the moon was full, and it was shining directly onto the glass door, revealing the silhouette of her visitor. It was not the bulky, currently hirsute outline of the man she loved, but a slightly shorter, rather more petite shadow. She drew open the curtains and saw a familiar face. Startled, but not losing composure or forgetting her manners, she opened the door and smiled as she called out, "Princess Diana! This is a surprise-- please come in!"

The Amazon inclined her head and entered, allowing Lois to close the door and draw the curtains. When they had reached the living room, she turned and said, "Lois--anyone who's seen me go through a quart of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream doesn't have to stand on ceremony any more: just Diana will be fine."

Lois chuckled. "Fair enough." Diana had shown up at her apartment door--still wearing the ceremonial robes that she had donned for the service--after the interment, and they had spent hours talking about Superman. Lois had the feeling that Diana was struggling to understand the man she had worked so closely with for over a year-- only to see him killed in front of her eyes--and she had been more than glad to share whatever insights she had. With the apparently not-so-dead having risen, she was wondering why Diana was paying her another visit. "There's a little pizza left, but I think I'm fresh out of ice cream."

Diana smiled. "I think we can make do with what's here." Her expression turned somber, and she said simply, "I wanted to make sure you were all right."

Lois felt a moment of warmth towards the Amazon, but her reply was purely reflexive: "Why shouldn't I be all right? He's alive--you guys saved the world from that nut Vandal Savage again. . .what makes you think that I'm not ready to go dancing in the streets?"

"Maybe you will be in a few hours--and from what I've seen here in Metropolis, you'll have a lot of company." Lois heard the undertone of joy in Diana's voice, and smiled involuntarily as she added, "But I'm betting your eyes weren't this puffy and red a few minutes ago, and that it isn't just relief that he's back. You were here for me last week, and I'd like to return the favor--if you want me to."

Lois sighed, and sat on the couch, burying her face in her hands for a moment. When she looked up, Diana was sitting across from her with a concerned expression. Lois smiled weakly, and bowed her head as she whispered, "I'm just not sure I can take it any more. It's too much, and I'm not sure I'm up to it--I'm not sure anyone is."

"Lois--you've had two severe shocks in the past week: it's not surprising that you'd feel like you're being pulled apart." Diana gazed at her with an expression of open empathy, and added, "Just give yourself some time--take some time off by yourself. He'll still be here."

Lois looked up and shook her head. "It isn't just that, Diana." She frowned and hesitated for a moment before continuing: "Diana--when I saw you a few days back, I spoke of the things that I found most wonderful about him. . .the things that made me admire him as well as the ones that made me love him. But if there's anything I've learned the past few years, it's that there's another side to him, too. He hides it, and most of the time I think he'd die rather than let it out--but it's there, and I can't help but think that it's my job to protect the world from it. . .and that I'm going to fail."

Diana's eyes moistened a little, and she whispered, "You mean what happened with the Justice Lords." One of the legacies of the interdimensional incursion by the League's warped counterparts had been three CD-ROMs of data passed on to the League by the Lords' Batman--containing the entire history of the events that had led up to the takeover of that world by the Lords (less certain personal information that would implicate secret identities and other personal secrets of the League). The League had released the data to the world after Batman had indulged a last gasp of paranoia and made sure nothing threatening was hiding in the discs. A notable item in the data was the fate of the Lois Lane of that world--kept alive and in luxury, but locked away from the rest of the world like a fairy tale princess. The Amazon princess shuddered involuntarily before reaching out to grasp Lois' arm and adding, "Lois--that was a different world. . .and it wasn't just him who was corrupted. All of our counterparts failed that test--all the ones that lived, anyway." She shivered--the Flash was annoying at times, but the news that his counterpart had died in the Lords' world had shaken her.

Lois shook her head. "It wasn't just that--and it wasn't even the incident with Darkseid before the League was founded--that was something done to him, not something that he chose." She paused, and Diana waited quietly, sensing that Lois was about to reveal something very personal. Lois grimaced, and said quietly, "About four years ago, Dr. Hamilton at STAR Labs came up with a gadget that could breach dimensional boundaries--a lot like the one that the Lords' Batman came up with, but with a few more bugs. I cleverly stumbled into it and wound up in the Metropolis of a parallel world--one that made the one of the Lords' world look like a paradise. I realized that it might take some doing to get me home, so I explored a bit and found out that the place was being run by Luthor--with Superman as his partner. The other thing I found out was that I had died in this world, and that was what had driven Superman over the edge into embracing a police state. Naturally, Lex wanted to protect his little kingdom and tried to kill me, but Superman found out and rescued me--and we had it out. He sounded a lot like the Lords' Superman, but I was able to convince him to confront Luthor, and after a nasty fight Luthor died in an air crash and the tyranny was overthrown. I left him there with his promise to make amends for what he had done and to go on without me--in the name of what he had always believed in." She paused, sighed and concluded, "So I always knew that he could cross the line that the Lords' Superman did--I just thought that my being there would be enough to stop it. Stupid, huh?"

Diana smiled. "Lois--I saw the unedited version of what was released to the media, and while I can't comment on all of it, I can tell you that he was still listening to you, even if he wasn't following the advice."

Lois stared, and Diana quietly gave her a brief description of the meticulous, faintly amused notes that the Lords' Batman had made about the regular dinner dates that the other Lois and Superman had participated in at the apartment where Lois was confined, and the circumstances under which they had taken place. When she finished, Lois shuddered and whispered, "Just when I thought I couldn't be more disturbed. . .he sat there with me, night after night, listened to what I had to say, then went out and continued to turn their world into a damned concentration camp."

"But he kept coming, Lois. He cut ties with almost everyone he cared about in Metropolis, and he kept coming back to see you, week after week, when all you did was berate him for what he was doing. It doesn't sound like he put up much of a fight, either--he just sat there and took it." Lois blinked, and a tear fell free as Diana added, "Perhaps deep down he saw you as the only remaining path he had left to going back to the way things were, and that was why he couldn't bear to give you up." She shook her head and muttered, "The others had doubts, but none of them repented until the League was abducted. Thank Hera that Bruce got through to--"

Lois flinched involuntarily and stared at Diana again. "You know--" Diana smiled, and Lois shook her head and muttered, "Of course you know--and you probably knew that I knew, or you wouldn't have let that slip." She chuckled and commented, "It puts those pictures from Paris a few months back in a whole new light. Good thing for you that I don't work for a tabloid."

"I wouldn't be here if you were the kind of person who would work for a tabloid, Lois," replied Diana, shaking her head in amusement. She looked back at the younger woman and whispered, "He told me more about you than Kal ever has, Lois--he's kept tabs on your career since the last time he was in Metropolis. Of course, it requires a lot of reading between the lines--what few lines there are--but he cares deeply for you." Lois blinked, and Diana sighed and concluded, "You've made it rather difficult for anyone who chooses to follow your old path, Lois."

"You and Batman--?" Lois couldn't bring herself to say his name-- even after a few years, the pain was still there.

"No--at least not yet." Diana's expression was wistful, and Lois watched her with interest as she sighed again and added, "It would be a bit complicated, to say the least--particularly with what you Americans would call `mother-in-law problems.'"

Lois snorted, then laughed out loud as Diana gave her a dirty look. Lois gave her an apologetic look and said, "Thanks for the dose of perspective--I need to be reminded sometimes that other people have complicated lives too."

"Any time." Diana watched Lois as the reporter yawned involuntarily, then stood up. Lois--noticing the unspoken decision to end the evening and concurring with it--joined her as the Amazon walked back to the balcony door. They stood in front of the door for a moment before Diana shook her head and commented, "It's really annoying that the interesting ones are the complicated ones, isn't it?"

"Definitely." Lois replied, looking out into the night and idly looking for a dark shape that would not be there. She turned back to Diana and said quietly, "Diana--tell that broody jerk that if he ever wants to stop by, regardless of the wardrobe involved--"

"I'll pass on the message," Diana replied. She looked at Lois fondly and added, "I should let you get some sleep--if Kal told you the whole story, you'll need the next few days to write it, and a lot of people won't be giving you much rest either before or after it's done." She opened the door, nodded, and called out, "Next time we'll do this at the Watchtower--the view's better," as she vanished into the night.

Lois watched her go, and walked out onto the balcony, listening to the occasional cheers and watching the fireworks that were bursting in various parts of the night sky--celebrating the return of their favorite adopted son. Tomorrow, she would get to work on the story that would give them more to cheer about, and to understand what they had almost lost. With another yawn and a quiet sigh, she left the balcony and went to bed.


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