By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted August 1998
Summary: Superman seen wearing a wedding ring?? It can't be! But there it is … all over the tabloids. How can our favorite couple get out of this one?
This story was written in response to a challenge posted on the L&C fanfic mailing list, and I hope that I've achieved the aims set by the person who posed the challenge. (Sorry, can't remember who it was). Any rotten tomatoes should come to me, not her!
"Lois! Clark! Take a look at this!"
Jimmy's excitable voice reached the Planet's star reporters as they had barely stepped out of the elevator to enter the newsroom. Lois turned to Clark, raising an eyebrow in amusement; Clark grinned back as they both wondered just what had occurred this time to gain Jimmy's interest.
Not allowing his friends time even to deposit their briefcases at their desks, Jimmy rushed over. "The Star says Superman's got married!"
Lois felt a little chill run through her; had their secret finally been discovered? She stole a glance at Clark: he also looked worried, though he was trying not to show it. Lois shook herself; how *could* anyone have found out?
"Jimmy, how could anyone believe some of the rubbish the Star prints? Really, they're not much better than the Whisper a lot of the time," she said firmly, dismissively. "Throw that away and let's get some work done around here before Perry sees what you're wasting time with."
"No, Lois, you don't understand," Jimmy protested. "It's not another made-up 'kiss and tell' story. This one's different, and Perry wants -"
"Perry wants you two in my office *right away*," the gruff voice of the Planet's editor-in-chief growled from a location behind and to the right of the little group.
Clark and Lois followed Perry White to his office; shutting the door behind them, Clark protested, "Chief, you're not suggesting *you* believe that stuff?"
"See for yourself," the editor replied, gesturing to a copy of that morning's edition of the Metropolis Star which was lying on his desk.
The banner headline screamed, "Who's Mrs Superman?"
Underneath, a smaller headline observed, "Man of Steel Married!"
Most of the remainder of the page was occupied by a large, blown-up colour photograph of Superman carrying a victim away from some emergency or other - the gas explosion near the docks a few days ago, Clark remembered. The photo was cropped so as to focus on the upper part of Superman's torso and his arms as they were wrapped around his passenger. A large circle had been drawn around Superman's left hand by a copy-editor, to emphasise the simple item of jewellery on his third finger.
A wedding ring.
<*My* wedding ring> thought Clark with a silent groan.
"How did that happen?" Lois exclaimed in shock, forgetting Perry's presence as she turned to Clark with an expression of horror on her face.
Clark, his mind in turmoil, managed to recover enough of his senses to realise what Lois had said and to prepare to cover up if necessary. But Perry's next words made it clear that he had not read anything suspicious into Lois's outburst.
"Yes, how come you two — who are supposed to be *friends* of Superman, after all — didn't know anything about this?" the editor asked in a voice heavily tinged with irony. "Of course, I know you wouldn't dream of keeping such a big news story to yourselves; after all, it's not as if the Planet's circulation figures would have been helped by *us* breaking this story, is it?" He gave Lois and Clark an accusatory glare.
"There's nothing wrong with the Planet's circulation," Lois objected, having pulled herself together — publicly at least — and seizing on the opportunity of a distraction.
"There is this morning!" Perry retorted. "Do you two really think anyone wanted to read about yet another environmental impact conference when the Star was telling the world that Superman's gotten himself hitched?"
Clark sighed. He was well aware that this was all his fault. He was usually so careful when he changed into The Suit, ensuring that he removed anything and everything which would link him to Clark Kent, Lois Lane or any semblance of a normal, *human* lifestyle. They had joked about his wedding ring when they had first been married, coming up with suggestions for places to carry it when he was Superman. He had insisted that he would remove it and wear it on the chain Lois had given him when he had departed for New Krypton. And so he had done, on every occasion when he had needed to become the super-hero. Except … until … two days ago. He had clearly forgotten, in the urgency of the need to get to the site of the explosion, to take off his ring. He knew why, of course. He and Lois had been … very enjoyably occupied … and he hadn't heard the sirens and news reports until some time after the explosion had occurred. In his guilt, and worry that he had somehow sub-consciously tu! ned out the sounds which would normally alert him, he had thrown himself out of their bedroom window even before he'd been fully dressed in the Suit. Of course, the Man of Steel could change in less than a split second, even in mid-flight, but in his haste, and concern, he had forgotten a vital element of Clark Kent's persona.
And because he had been careless, a photographer had been able to snatch an incriminating, highly damaging, image.
Clark searched his mind for other photographs taken of him during that rescue. He hadn't remembered noticing the ring, and for an instant his hopes rose. Perhaps the picture had been electronically altered? That had happened before, when Superman had been accused of having an affair with Lois; thankfully they had been able to prove that the pictures were forgeries before he had needed to implement his resolve to tell the truth about his _alter ego_.
How _could_ he have been so careless? He had put in jeopardy his and Lois's privacy, and perhaps their entire lives. How could they continue in their home, their jobs, if the truth were known? Would Lois, his friends, his family ever be safe again?
Perry, impatient at the lack of response from the two journalists, tried again. "Will you just tell me whether you knew about this?" he demanded.
Lois, seeing that Clark was too lost in his thoughts to answer, spoke. "Perry, Superman is a friend of ours. And because of that, there are things about him which we haven't published — you know we didn't write about green Kryptonite, and you didn't write about red Kryptonite. So he does trust us … But at the same time, I'm well aware that he doesn't tell … his friends … everything about his private life. Maybe because he's afraid of having it become public knowledge, maybe because he really is a very private person. So you see, Chief, that story in the Star is as much of a shock to us as it was to you."
<Brava, Lois> Clark applauded his wife silently.
"Well, all right, I guess I accept that," Perry conceded. "But now this is public knowledge, I want the story! When did he get married, why didn't he tell anyone, why is he wearing a wedding ring if he's not prepared to talk about it — and most important, *who is she*?" He picked up the Star, glared at the headline, and threw it down on his desk. "This story's even bigger than Elvis marrying Priscilla, Charles marrying Diana … get on it!"
"Well, I managed to get us out of that — for the moment," Lois commented. They were sitting in the coffee shop around the corner from the Planet, having decided to go there to talk as soon as they'd left Perry's office.
"Yes, you did — I thought you were fantastic, sweetheart," Clark replied softly, reaching for Lois's hand and squeezing it.
Lois pulled her hand away. "You can't get around me that easily this time, Clark. This is appalling — how could you have let it happen?"
Hurt, Clark pulled back. He *knew* it was his fault; did she have to rub it in? After a pause, he said, in a voice so low she had to strain to hear him "Lois, I am sorry. I can't think how it happened. I even hoped at first that it was a forgery, but … " he paused again, then continued. "Before we left the newsroom, I looked at our own report of the explosion — I used my super-vision to look closely at the photo we ran, and I *was* wearing the ring."
"I knew it was real," Lois replied quietly.
"How?" Clark demanded.
"Do you think I wouldn't recognise the ring we chose together, that I put on your finger when we were married, that I see on your hand every day?" Lois's voice was angry, passionate, upset.
Clark again felt the tight band of emotional pain curl around his heart. But he forced himself to focus on the immediate problem. "Do you think anyone else will recognise it?"
I doubt it," Lois replied convincingly. "No-one else would have any reason to think it looked familiar — I'm sure none of our friends could describe your wedding ring, it's hardly distinctive in any way." <Except to me … >
"Lois, I'm sorry … " Clark murmured in a heartfelt voice. "I would never have wanted to do this to you, please believe me."
Lois allowed herself to meet her husband's eyes and to acknowledge his suffering as equal to her own. She *wasn't* being fair simply to blame him and pretend that they weren't both in this together.
"I do, Clark, and I'm sorry too — for making this harder by taking out my temper on you," she whispered, knowing that he could hear her. She reached for his hand, and they held each other for several moments.
"I love you," Clark mouthed at her. She smiled and mimed the words back to him.
"But we have to decide what we're going to do about this," she added a moment later, matter-of-factly.
"I know," Clark acknowledged. "We've got Perry on our backs, to say nothing of the rat-pack who'll be following Superman everywhere he goes for the foreseeable future — and probably chasing after us as well since it's known that we're friends of Superman's."
"So what do you want to do?" Lois asked, unsure of what he intended to suggest.
"We have to do something quickly, to stop the speculation. Which means providing an answer they'll be happy with."
"Such as?" Lois demanded. He couldn't be thinking of revealing all, could he?
"Such as who Superman is married to," Clark replied firmly. Lois thought that he was probably completely unconscious of it, but his jaw was set in a very Superman-like expression. She was glad they were sitting in a dark corner booth of an almost-deserted coffee shop.
Glancing around cautiously before speaking, Lois replied, "You mean me?"
"No," Clark replied instantly, reassuringly. "You're married to Clark Kent. Not Superman."
"We've had this conversation before, Clark," Lois pointed out patiently. "You *are* … you-know-who … and I'm married to … *both* of you."
"Not as far as the world knows, Lois," Clark replied firmly. The cogs of his brain were still working thousands of times faster than Intel's most powerful chip, but he was attempting to show a calm exterior to Lois.
He paused; Lois waited. Finally, he spoke. "Kal-El was married to Zara … and the world knows about the New Kryptonians … "
"That's an idea … " Lois raised her eyes to Clark's, her own shining. "That would be a wonderfully simple solution! You could do a press conference, explain about the birth betrothal, and say that even though Zara has gone back to New Krypton you are still married to her under Kryptonian law … " She broke off and grimaced at Clark.
"It won't work, will it?" she asked him.
Clark shook his head, disappointed. "No. Why is this the first time he's worn the ring if … ? Zara left a year ago. Why would he still consider himself married to her? And why didn't anyone say anything about a marriage at the time?"
"You're right," Lois acknowledged. "It's not convincing. But what can we say, then?"
Clark sighed deeply. "I don't know. We need to think about it — and in the meantime, look as if we're doing something about getting the story!"
Lois groaned. "I've just remembered the awards ceremony, Clark!"
Appalled, Clark shook his head slowly. He — or rather, Superman — was supposed to be presenting awards to children who had carried out acts of bravery, at a ceremony hosted by the Mayor. In a few hours' time … and the Press would be ravenous.
"Can you pull out?" Lois asked, although she knew what the answer would be.
Clark shook his head decisively. "You know I can't let those kids down." He reached for Lois's hand again. "It'll be a nightmare. But we can get through it."
Lois nodded, knowing that he was right.
"And Lois," Clark added, "You need to be up there at the front of the pack, asking as many intrusive questions as the Star and Whisper reporters do." He saw Lois instantly recoil at the thought, and added, "You have to. It's the only way to protect ourselves and assure Perry that we're taking this as seriously as he wants us to."
" … and, ladies and gentlemen of the Press," the Mayor continued her introduction to the awards ceremony, "Superman has asked me to say to you that he is aware that you all wish to ask him questions about recent speculation, but that he would be grateful if you would wait until after the awards have been presented. He wants me to assure you that if you will do as he asks, he will answer your questions then."
How like Clark that was, Lois reflected as she stood with the rest of the Metropolis Press corps — and one or two reporters from out of town — waiting for Superman's appearance. He *would* want to ensure that, whatever else was going on, the children should get the uninterrupted attention they deserved.
The Press corps was substantially larger than had been expected for such an event, and the City Hall staff had had to provide extra space. Even with that, a number of reporters jostled parents and relatives of the children who were to receive awards, and it was clear that the families did not appreciate their special event being hijacked by media interest in Superman-related gossip. Already some comments had been made in stage whispers about 'tabloid junk' and 'nosy reporters'. Lois couldn't help but sympathise. Although she was a reporter, loved her career, and felt passionate about the freedom of the Press, she and Clark had themselves been on the receiving end of unwelcome Press attention a few times, and so they understood how it felt.
As Lois watched the presentation of the awards, she thought that Clark was giving the children and their families even more time and attention than was his usual practice at these events. Attempting to put off the unavoidable confrontation with the Press as long as possible, or simply trying to compensate the children for the fact that their special day had been ruined by his carelessness? Knowing Clark, it could be either. Lois found herself hoping that Clark would hear an emergency he couldn't ignore, so that the impromptu press conference would be frustrated.
Eventually, the awards were over and the Mayor took the children and their families into one of the function rooms for a private reception. As soon as they had left, the Press swooped. Converging on the platform where Superman still stood, dozens of reporters began shouting questions at the same time, and several flashbulbs went off.
Shielding his eyes with one hand, Clark held up the other hand in an appeal for silence. However, afforded an uninterrupted sight of his left hand, the babble grew even more intense.
"He's not wearing it!"
"No ring! Could the Star have got it wrong?"
Lois's heart leapt on hearing the speaker nearest her. Perhaps they could get away with pretending it had all been a mistake after all.
She had no idea what Clark was going to say. They had discussed the likely sequence of events, but had not been able to come up with a convincing story before they had both had to leave for the ceremony. All Clark had said was that he would try to stall, for the time being.
<Tell them it *was* a mistake!> Lois pleaded silently, her eyes raised beseechingly to Clark's.
Clark read the mute appeal in his wife's eyes, but refused to acknowledge it in any way. He could not take the risk of anyone noticing, and wondering about it. He called for silence. "I can't answer your questions if I can't hear them!" he said ironically, in a raised voice.
The cacophony ceased. The journalists waited, poised, Clark thought, to pounce.
He straightened, crossed his arms in front of his chest, and looked straight at his persecutors. He paused, glancing from one face to another, then said, "Ms Lane?"
Lois, surprised, moved forward. Clark had not told her he intended to do that! She focused her attention quickly. <Treat this as you would any other news story!> she instructed herself. "Superman, the Star shows a photograph of you wearing a wedding ring. Can you explain that?" she demanded loudly.
Other reporters attempted to ask follow-ups, but again Clark raised his hand. "If you want me to answer, you've got to give me an opportunity," he pointed out.
<Tell them it was a mistake, that you … found it, got called away, and … > Lois screamed to herself. <And what?> the rational voice inside her head taunted. <And just put it on his finger? Why on earth would he have done that?> Her heart was thumping so loudly she was almost surprised her colleagues in the Press could not hear it. At the back of her mind were Clark's final words to her before he had left the coffee-shop: "Remember, Superman cannot lie, Lois!" Of course, she was well aware of the truth of that fact; Clark had been most insistent on maintaining Superman's integrity on that dreadful occasion when a photograph purporting to be of Lois and Superman had been published in supermarket tabloids. But how on earth was Clark going to get them out of this situation if he did not stretch the truth a little?
Clark, meanwhile, was gathering together the tentative plan he had been constructing in his mind for the past few hours. Step one: stall. Step two: find some valid explanation … but what?
"Yes, I was wearing a ring," he answered.
"A wedding ring?" demanded the Whisper reporter.
"Yes," he replied. "And yes, I have a wife."
"Who is she?"
"Why haven't you said anything before?"
"Why aren't you wearing the ring today?"
"Where is she?"
The questions came thick and fast, and Clark let them continue for a minute or two, buying time to compose himself. He risked a glance at Lois; although she was trying to behave like a journalist on the track of a great story, he knew that she was anxious. He noticed that she was chewing her lower lip, and he could tell that her pulse rate was higher than normal.
Decisively, he stopped the questions again.
"I have never said anything because I have always wanted my private life to be just that … private. What I do in public — helping people, lending my support to this kind of occasion — is newsworthy, and I accept that. I also try to assist the Press by giving occasional Press conferences and quotes for news reports, *as you are all aware*." Superman paused, then continued before the questions could re-start. "But I believe that I am entitled to privacy when I am not in the public eye, doing my job. Therefore I don't think I need to say more than I already have."
He turned, as if to leave, then paused and added, "Wearing the ring the other day was a mistake. I do not wear it normally when I'm … working … in order to safeguard my privacy and that of my wife."
The questions came again; the reporters were not happy at being told to mind their own business.
"What's she like?"
"Is she a babe?"
"Is she good in bed?"
Lois flushed at the last one, and glared at the questioner, a reporter on a tabloid TV news magazine show. How dare they … ? They were asking about *her*, although they didn't know it. She seethed silently.
"So the Suit comes off, then?" This, with a suggestive grin, came from the Star's female gossip columnist, in Lois's opinion a vamp who had made advances towards Clark more times than Lois was prepared to put up with.
Superman shook his head at the repeated questions and said loudly, "I have said all that I am prepared to at the moment." He stopped, then tilted his head to one side. "I have to go, I'm needed elsewhere." With that, he raised himself slowly into the air, and drifted towards an open window at the back of the hall. On exiting the window, he was gone with the sound of a sonic boom.
Lois, left behind in the midst of the fulminating throng of reporters, wondered whether that had been a real emergency or simply a convenient excuse to leave. She wanted desperately to leave as well, to go somewhere on her own, or with Clark, where they could simply forget about this whole nightmare. <Maybe Clark and I could fly to Smallville … no, Jonathan and Martha would want to talk about how we're going to handle this and, much as I love them, I don't think I could cope with it … maybe we could find some deserted tropical island somewhere and simply stay there until all this has died down … >
But she knew that such an idea was impossible. It would be too suspicious, and Perry in particular would be difficult to get around. Lois forced herself to concentrate on the matter at hand. Clark had done a good job of stalling, it was true; he had been aloof and insistent on his right to a private life, and indicated that he thought that the Press was overstepping what he considered a reasonable boundary. Enough for the time being, but it would certainly not kill the story.
No, the rat-pack would simply increase its efforts to find the woman they were calling Mrs Superman. That much was obvious from the hubbub, although no-one was giving too much away, other than their disgust at Superman's belief that he had a *right* to keep such information to himself.
Gradually the hall began to clear, as pressure of deadlines began to make itself felt on the various members of the Fourth Estate present.
The Daily Planet's evening edition announced, "Yes, I'm married, but it's my private business."
The Star screamed, "Who is she? The public's right to know."
The Whisper claimed, "Clairvoyant tells the secrets of mystery Super-Bride"
Clark, who had returned to the newsroom about an hour after Lois, crumpled the Whisper into a tiny ball and aimed it at the waste-paper bin. Lois saw the reined-in frustration in her husband's expression and moved towards him. Curling her arm about his shoulders, she murmured, "Can I get you a coffee, sweetheart?"
Clark smiled back at his wife. However difficult his life sometimes seemed, having Lois by his side somehow helped to reassure him that all would be well. As long as they had each other … <You and me together is stronger than me alone> … the words came to him suddenly from his sub-conscious. He had meant them when he had said them to Lois all that time ago, when she had just discovered his secret. But he hadn't *really* realised what the concept meant. Since then, so many things had happened which he really would not have been able to handle without Lois: the threat to his parents' lives, the — brief — loss of his super-powers, the arrival of the New Kryptonians, their inability to conceive. Through all of these, Lois had been his constant support. The only times, now, when he felt that he could not cope were when he felt that Lois was lost to him … when she had been kidnapped by Luthor and lost her memory, and when she had been framed and found guilty of murder.
<Together, we can find a way out of this> The thought imprinted itself on Clark's brain, and, looking at Lois, he felt that she believed it as well.
They took their coffee into the conference room, where Clark explained his absence since the ceremony. "There wasn't really an emergency — I just had to get out of there," he explained. "I knew that they wouldn't be happy with me telling them to mind their own business — and we've read the Star's editorial, they're claiming that I don't have any right to privacy and that everything I do is in the public interest. So I just left, and I went to see Mom and Dad."
"How are they?" Lois asked, concerned.
Clark shrugged. "Worried about us, but they're sure we'll find a way to deal with it."
They sat in silence for a few minutes, each lost in their own thoughts. Lois began to look through the other newspapers, making notes of points which they would have to address whenever they did arrive at a convincing explanation of Superman's marriage.
Suddenly she exclaimed angrily, "Just *who* do they think they are?!"
"Lois?" Clark looked at her in concern.
"Look at this!"
Clark quickly read the offending page. The first article was written by a scientist at Metropolis University, a geneticist. In it, he argued that if Superman was indeed married, and to an Earth woman, there could be great concerns for the human gene pool. Not only was there the question of potential Super-humans, he pointed out. The effect of mixing Kryptonian genes with human genes was completely unresearched, and it was highly irresponsible of Superman to risk corrupting the human gene pool in this way.
The other main article was by 'a former senior Defence official', and this was more disturbing. In it, the author reminded readers that, although Superman so far had appeared friendly to Earth, the government still had no proof of his ultimate intentions, nor any reliable means of controlling him should he cease to be a benign influence. The destruction wreaked by the New Kryptonians was referred to, in an attempt to suggest the kind of harm Superman *could* do if he so chose; references were also made to the couple of occasions when, to Clark's deep shame, Superman had appeared to lose control of his powers — once as a result of hypnosis and the second time due to red Kryptonite. Even more worrying, the writer argued, was the potential for Super-children. What if, he claimed, the ultimate aim was to start a Super-race who would take over the Earth?
Clark threw the paper down in disgust. "Trask clones crawling out of the woodwork, on top of everything else," he muttered.
Lois threw her husband a sharp glance. There had been something in his tone of voice …
She went to him and wrapped her arms around his taut body. "Honey, what is it? You're not letting that … that *garbage* — get to you, are you?"
Clark grimaced. "No, I know I shouldn't — well, not the nonsense about me trying to start a … " his voice fell to a whisper, " … a Super-race to take over the earth." He continued in a normal voice, "That's just laughable. But the effect of a combination of genes … we've never really considered that. All we've looked at is whether it would be *possible* for me to get you pregnant. I never thought about what our children might have to live with … "
<Typical Clark> Lois thought. <*We* thought about whether I could get pregnant. *Clark* didn't think about the children … we're in this together, you idiot!>
Deciding that setting him straight about what joint decision-making actually meant would be better done another time, she leaned towards Clark and kissed him softly, lingeringly.
Clark, successfully distracted, returned the kiss and held Lois tightly for several moments. Lois then pulled away and addressed her husband's concern. "Clark, Dr Klein isn't stupid. Don't you think that if there was a genuine need to worry about the effects of mixing … you know … that he would have said something while he was doing the tests for you?"
They both looked at each other in shock, and simultaneously exclaimed, "Dr Klein!"
In Lois's Jeep, as they drove out of the Planet's car park, they put into words the thoughts which had occurred to them both two minutes earlier.
"What if Dr Klein puts two and two together … Superman was asking him whether he could get an Earth woman pregnant; now Superman admits to being married?" Lois's voice was growing high-pitched.
"But honey, Dr Klein already knew that I … that Superman had a girlfriend. What difference does a revelation that he is married make?" Clark flung out an arm towards Lois in an attempt to convince her, and perhaps himself. "Lois, we've never given Bernard Klein any reason to suspect that I am Superman, or that you are involved with him — you can't mean that he'd figure out our secret from this?"
"No, I guess not," Lois acknowledged in a calmer voice. "I suppose what I'm really afraid of is that the Press will find out about the … tests. Then they'll not only hunt even harder for the mythical wife, but they'll be screaming about babies too!"
"OK," Clark said. "Let's look at this carefully. Are we saying that we're afraid Klein will talk to the Press?"
Lois hesitated. "He never has before … and he's taken risks to protect you — Superman — before too."
"Yes," Clark agreed. "And he's not interested in money, so I don't think the rewards the tabloids are offering would induce him to talk. But I can go and talk to him if you like … ?"
Lois hesitated again, torn. "I *would* like … but I also don't really want you going anywhere in the Suit at the moment. All it needs is one assistant at Star Labs to pick up the phone and notify a reporter that you're there … "
"OK, in that case I go to Star Labs, collect Dr Klein, and take him somewhere private to talk," Clark suggested.
Clark returned to the house on Hyperion Avenue later that evening, pleased that he could at least reassure Lois about one thing. He had indeed virtually kidnapped the scientist and flown with him to a deserted cliff overlooking the coastline. Clark had been surprised to discover that he hadn't even needed to explain to Dr Klein what he'd wanted to discuss. The scientist had commented that he had read the reports in the Press and seen some of the TV coverage.
"I realised that this must have been going on for some time, given that you had asked me to run tests on your genetic compatibility with Earth women," Dr Klein remarked. "So as soon as I came in this morning I removed all trace of your records and test data from the laboratory. It's all locked in a safe at my home, where I keep highly sensitive research data. No-one even knows the safe is there, so your secret is perfectly safe with me."
Clark hadn't bothered to hide his relief. He had also realised that it would be highly insulting to the man who, he now knew, was genuinely his friend, even to suggest that Dr Klein might have considered talking to the Press. He had simply flown the man back to Star Labs and left before anyone had noticed.
On his way home, he had diverted to assist in a multiple-car pile-up on the freeway. But even that had not been straightforward. Instead of simply being grateful for his help, as was normal, accident victims, bystanders and even some emergency services personnel had insisted on congratulating him on his marriage and asking intrusive questions. The last straw had come when several reporters, alerted to his presence, had arrived and fired yet more questions at him. Deciding that the emergency services could just handle this one on their own, Clark had flown off without a backward glance.
But even having a quiet evening at home had turned out to be an impossibility. The TV news was full of speculation about Superman's bride. The talk shows were full of guests invited for some vague connection with Superman. The live comedy shows were full of ad-libs about Super-sex, joking about whether an Earth woman could keep up with a Super libido, whether a simultaneous orgasm would genuinely result in the couple floating on the ceiling, and whether Mrs Superman should be offered a lifetime prescription of a female version of Viagra.
Clark turned off the TV in disgust. "I don't believe it — they're making fun of our sex life now!"
Lois crossed to him and hugged him. "Who cares about the outside world? All we need is each other." They held each other close for some time, each acknowledging and aching for the other's pain.
"It's just so ironic, though, isn't it?" Lois mused thoughtfully. "I'm sure a lot of people we've pursued would say it was a case of just desserts."
"Because we're journalists, and we're having the tables turned on us and our privacy invaded?" Clark replied. "Lo-is! You and I have *never* resorted to the kind of cheap innuendo and distasteful gossip we've been hearing this evening!"
"Sure, I know that," Lois agreed. "But, Clark, you know very well that if this wasn't *us* involved here, we would be out there with the rest of the pack trying to get the story."
Clark snorted. "I hope we'd tell Perry to leave it to Cat Grant!"
"We haven't so far," Lois pointed out correctly, if irritatingly.
"OK, we haven't," Clark agreed, getting up and pacing vigorously around the room, pausing every now and then with dramatic gestures. "But that's because … "
"Because we know the truth and want to bury the story?" Lois suggested. "But doesn't that make us … "
Clark sighed. "Less than objective in our jobs as reporters, seekers after the truth and exposers of lies and corruption?" He paused, then added. "Maybe. But on the other hand, when did Woodward and Bernstein ever argue that the public had a right to know *everything*? Supposing we knew that a State Senator, unmarried, who had never made any pronouncements on morality, was having an affair with someone completely unconnected with public affairs, would it be 'in the public interest' to expose him or her?"
Lois nodded, her dark hair bobbing softly. "Clark, I agree with you, you know that. And you know that, even before I knew you were Superman, there were things I found out about you that I refused to print. OK, in case you're wondering, if something like this had happened before I knew you were Superman, *yes*, I would have been out there with the rest of the pack, wanting answers. But I would never have resorted to Whisper-type tactics." She paused, looking her partner and husband straight in the eye. "I admit that I might have cheated — leaned out of a window and yelled 'Help, Superman!" to try to get an exclusive interview. But I think my main motive would have been hurt that you hadn't told me … and probably jealousy."
Clark approached his wife and enveloped her in a tight hug. "Since I never intended marrying anyone other than you, Lois, that simply wouldn't have happened."
Lois laid her head on Clark's shoulder and enjoyed the welcome strength of his embrace for several minutes. At length, she murmured, "Take me flying, Clark."
"Is that wise, honey? What if we're seen?"
"It's dark, sweetheart — just go as high as you can until we're out of Metropolis, and then we can go somewhere remote," Lois suggested.
They returned home before dawn the following morning and collapsed into bed for the remaining few hours before their alarm went off. Neither of them was able to sleep; thoughts and fears kept rushing through their minds, although neither spoke. Both were aware that they needed to find a way to kill this story, and quickly. Yet nothing sprang to mind.
A shock awaited them as they left the house later. A throng of reporters was outside.
"Lois! Clark! Superman's a friend of yours — what do you know about his mystery girl?"
<Oh no, not again> Clark thought to himself. Lois, on the other hand, was setting about silencing the reporters.
"Yes, Superman is a friend of ours. But he told us all yesterday that he keeps his private life to himself. He has always been like that, as long as I have known him. Clark and I were as surprised as anyone else when we saw the wedding ring on his finger."
"Yeah, but have you spoken to him since?" demanded the Star's city reporter.
"Superman made it clear yesterday how he felt about Press harassment," Lois replied. "I gather he even left an emergency situation because of unwanted Press attention. I hardly think, in the circumstances, he would want to talk to reporters, however good friends they were."
Clark, again admiring Lois's capacity to think on her feet, joined in the discussion. "I don't think Superman wants to talk to anyone about this, and I certainly wouldn't ask him even in private or on off-the-record terms. I know Lois feels the same."
"I bet Perry White doesn't!" guffawed one older hack.
The morning's papers were even worse. The Star had taken up the theme of warning about the dangers of Superman's descendants, and other articles and leaders debated the limits of privacy entitlements. The general conclusion appeared to be that given that Superman, and any Super-offspring, had the potential to be a great danger to the State, Superman had no legitimate right to privacy about his marital affairs.
The sole dissenting voice in this was that of the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet. In a front-page editorial, Perry had written that the speculation about any danger to ordinary citizens from Superman was ludicrous. He listed the many dangers which Superman had averted, including stopping the Nightfall asteroid at great danger to himself. Superman, Perry reminded his readers, had also defended America against his own people, the New Kryptonians, at the risk of his own life. As a result, Superman surely deserved the same consideration and entitlements as every American citizen held under the Constitution.
Lois and Clark had not seen Perry's column, and as they read it they felt reassured in the knowledge of their friend and boss's support; not, of course, that Perry knew just who he was defending, but that was irrelevant.
However, their delight over the Planet editorial quickly disappeared when they saw the front page of the Star's latest edition.
"Mrs Superman talks! We reveal the identity of the Man of Steel's bride"
Accompanying the headline was a photograph of a pneumatic blonde woman, dressed in a skimpy Lycra dress, in dark blue with a yellow-and-red 'S' shield on the front, and displaying a wedding ring prominently.
Clark choked. "As if I could be remotely interested in someone like … that!" he gestured contemptuously at the newspaper.
"She's … a bimbo!" Lois snorted.
"Honey, I've never seen her before in my life," Clark muttered anxiously.
"Clark? I never thought you had!" Lois exclaimed. "Why … ? Oh, of course, because I wasn't sure whether to believe you when someone claimed she'd had your baby."
Clark inclined his head, although he didn't reply.
Further conversation was prevented by the newsroom TV screens blinking into action to reveal a press conference. The woman in the photograph was surrounded by Star editorial staff, who were asserting that she was indeed Superman's wife. She was even more pneumatic than her photograph had suggested, and the Lycra dress, sporting the S-motif, was at *least* three sizes too small for her, thought Lois uncharitably. Prompted by her companions, the woman, named only as Brandi, was telling tales of moonlight flights, trips to Venice, a hunky body and a fantastic sex life.
"He calls me his Baby, and I call him Big Boy," she simpered.
Clark shuddered, and sat at his desk hunched over his computer, attempting to drown out the sounds from the television.
"Yuck … I can't watch," Lois muttered in tones of revulsion. "Brandi! … what an act."
"Exactly," Perry growled from behind her. "This one's about as genuine as an Elvis impersonator at a church fete. But there's still a story!"
"What do you want us to do, Chief?" Clark enquired in a faintly bored tone. "I mean, the Whisper's staff are scouring every church and registry office in the country looking for a lead, other papers are offering rewards, bribes … do you want us to go and rummage through trash cans or something?"
"Now, son, you know very well the Planet's not that kind of paper," Perry said reprovingly. "And I know that Superman's careful of his privacy at the moment. But surely he doesn't want people thinking that … that casino bunny-girl is his wife? Why don't you two offer him the opportunity to put the record straight? Offer him whatever guarantees he wants — copy approval, if he wants it."
"Great idea, if we could think of what to say," Lois commented once they had returned to their desks; the rest of the newsroom staff were still staring at the TV screen.
"Maybe I can," Clark said slowly. "But if we're to carry it off, I need your help."
"What?" Lois demanded. "What are you going to do?"
Clark glanced around before replying. "Give the Press what they want - Superman's wife."
Lois stared at him. "How?! What … ?"
"Do you still have that Ultra Woman costume?" he murmured, dragging Lois towards the lift.
Inside the lift, Lois began to protest. "No — I mean it's a brilliant idea, but we can't … "
"Ultra Woman had Super-powers. I don't."
"Doesn't matter," Clark retorted swiftly. "You won't have to do anything. I can do it all."
Lois gaped at him. "Not even you can make me fly!"
Clark drove the Jeep back to Hyperion Avenue. He glanced at Lois as they waited at an intersection, and enquired, "Do you trust me, Lois?"
"Of *course* — how can you even ask?" Lois was indignant.
"I mean, do you trust me with your physical safety — not to drop you when I fly with you, or to take any risks where I'm not sure that you would be safe?"
"Again, of course!" Lois glared at him. "What has this to do with anything?"
"Simply that we can make it look as if you're flying. But you won't be - I'll be doing the flying, and any other Super feats necessary."
Parking the Jeep outside the house, Clark hustled Lois inside. Now that he had arrived at a solution to the problem, he wanted to implement his plan as quickly as possible so that their lives could return to normal. "Lois, when we fly I always hold you up in my arms," he explained once they were in their bedroom. "I don't actually *need* to hold you that way — I'm strong enough not to need two arms. But I do it to reassure you, and anyway I like it."
"Yes?" Lois was still unsure as to where this was leading.
"I could support you perfectly safely if we were just holding hands, and even more easily if you were clinging to my arm," he pointed out.
"So if we arrived at a Press conference, in costume, with you clinging to my arm as we touched down, it would look as if we were both flying. And I could lift you up once or twice during the conference so it would look like you were levitating."
Lois stared at her husband. It sounded so simple, and so irresistible … "Could we really get away with it?"
"Let's try," Clark suggested.
They experimented a number of times, and also talked through the story they would tell at the Press conference. Lois then phoned the Planet. Superman, she told Perry White, had agreed to give Lane and Kent an exclusive interview about his marriage, to be followed by a Press conference outside the Planet building where he would introduce his bride for the first and last time.
"Ready?" Clark asked Lois. They were on the roof of the Planet building, in costume; the massed ranks of the media were already gathered below.
"As I'll ever be," Lois said through gritted teeth. Clark curved his palm along her cheek and into her hair.
"Honey, trust me. This will be fine."
Lois nodded, eyes closed. "What a time to choose to develop a fear of heights!"
Clark laughed softly, and bent to kiss his wife. Before she had time to recover, he picked her up and carried her to the edge of the building. Lois wrapped her arms about his very solid arm as he set her down.
"Just hold on — and remember, I will *not* let you fall," Clark assured her.
He allowed them to drift slowly down from the roof, controlling the pace so that Lois would not feel a sensation of free-fall. He heard the shouts as their arrival was detected.
Jimmy's voice rose above the rest of the crowd. "Hey, it's Ultra Woman!"
The Press conference was a success. Clark explained that he and Ultra Woman had been married for some time, but had not chosen to tell anyone about the marriage because they had wanted privacy. Ultra Woman had not been seen in Metropolis since shortly after the Newtrich sisters had been arrested because she had been busy elsewhere; Earth was not the only planet in need of Super assistance, Clark explained blandly. And despite their marriage, Earth would not be seeing more of Ultra Woman. She and Superman would continue to conduct their marriage out of the public eye.
"And as for the woman claimed by the Star to be Superman's wife … " Ultra Woman added, with an amused glance at Clark, "I know my husband would not remotely be interested in her."
The conference over, Clark floated gently into the air again, though once they were above the Planet roof he turned their bodies so that Lois was held prone beneath him. In that position, should anyone see them, it would certainly look as if both were flying, he thought.
It did; Lois and Clark looked with some amusement later at the photograph Jimmy had managed to take with his telephoto lens, to accompany the exclusive Superman and Ultra Woman interview Lane and Kent had for the Planet. Lois and Clark had enjoyed composing the piece, knowing that it would put an end to speculation which had gone on for long before this story had broken: did Superman have a girlfriend, did he find Earth women attractive, and so on. With any luck it also ought to stop ludicrous claims from women asserting that they had slept with him; the Star's would-be wife had been exposed as a fake, put up to it by a crooked lawyer and a freelance journalist.
"I should have known Ultra Woman would never have looked at someone like me," Jimmy said sadly. "I mean, why should she, when Superman was around."
"Oh, come on, Jimmy, you don't want to let Penny hear you talking like that!" Lois chided, a little self-consciously; she had found it somewhat embarrassing to be the target of hero-worship during her first brief spell of duty as Ultra Woman.
"Oh, I guess not," the young photographer admitted. "It's just … well, she is kinda cute."
"Superman thinks so too," Clark observed, joining them. "In fact, I should say he's pretty crazy about Ultra Woman."
"Oh, is he indeed?" Lois enquired once Jimmy had wandered off. She cast her husband a glance through lowered lashes. "And does he show her how crazy he is about her?"
"Oh, I hope so," Clark replied, amused.
"Think he'd care to show her tonight?" Lois murmured
"I should think that could be arranged," Clark answered, winking at his wife as he returned to his desk.
"I'll look forward to it … "