Disclaimer: I own none of the rights to any of the copyrighted characters appearing in this work, and no infringement nor profit motive is intended. Rights belong respectively to Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy/Fox and to either DC Comics and its parent companies or to the Shuster estate, depending on how a current court case turns out.
A large city in the late 1940s.
The nattily-dressed brunette walked briskly into the recesses of the dimly lit bar. "Make it a double, Frank." She took a seat on the bar stool nearest the rail and threw the proffered drink back promptly as it was presented.
"Another", she said flatly. The bartender hesitated for a moment, wash rag over his shoulder, then shrugged and poured. This wasn't exactly like her, but then, this was a reporters' bar. Sometimes they saw things, or found things out. Things that required some fortification before being written up, if they were to appear in the paper at all. He supposed that applied to everyone, although if anyone had asked him before today, he would have said the confidence of the woman sitting before him was unshakable. After all she had seen, and done...
Still, he knew better than to ask her about it. The female reporter was not the sort to resort to a bar as a confessional; she was too self-contained. Medium height, trim suit with mid-length skirt and sensible (yet fashionable) shoes, dark hair tucked neatly under a pillbox hat. Little gloves she was stuffing in her purse. Face kind of like a Hepburn, although perhaps a little fuller, yet with a hard edge to her expression more reminiscent of Katherine than Audrey. Harder over the years, and harder still today.
The sole other female patron in the bar wasn't as wise, or perhaps she just wasn't sensitive to other people's moods. "Man trouble?" she asked bluntly, helping herself to a seat next to the reporter. "I suppose you could say that", came the reply with a sidelong glance at the intruder. "I'm not sure I want to talk about it, though. Partly because it could hurt some people, but mostly because it's just plain embarrassing."
"Oh, come now. I don't think you could tell me anything I haven't heard before. Men usually stick to the basics. Did he cheat on you, or use you for money, or walk out on you right when you thought things were getting good? It's usually one of those,if not all three at once." The newcomer - although the bartender couldn't for the life of him remember her walking in - was dressed similarly to the reporter, except that she sported no hat and and her dark blonde hair was was in an uncovered bob cut. Her face seemed very open, almost innocent if there wasn't a hint that even this young she was slightly jaded. There was a slight flash of jewelry at her throat beneath the suit blouse, but nothing ostentatious.
"No, none of the above", replied the reporter, now slightly amused. The girl was completely tactless, even if her pronouncements made a weird kind of sense to any observer of the human condition. "In fact, I think my situation may be unique. For one, how often does a guy turn out to be leading a complete double life?"
"Oh, that's nothing new. Bigamy is more common than you think. I even recall one guy that had five different wives and families - traveling salesman, or at least that's what he told them. I got to... well, let's just say that none of his wives had the best of wishes for him once they found out." The blonde had a certain air of satisfaction as she relayed her anecdote.
"Okay, sure, but how often does somebody lead a double life - and you know him in both roles, without spotting that they're the same man? Oh, I had my suspicions from time to time, they looked too much like brothers not to spot the resemblance, but now it turns out that they - well, he - has been going to extraordinary lengths to throw me off whenever I got too close to his secret. And I fell for it every... single... time. Me, the big-time reporter." The brunette stared down into her drink. "Stupid glasses."
The blonde was a little taken aback. "Well, that *is* kind of a new one. So, he's been keeping some sort of, well, secret identity. How's that hurt you, though, more than anyone else he knows? I'm sensing a little more here than the wounded pride of a fooled reporter."
"Don't underestimate a reporter's pride in being able to see under the surface of things. It really does gall me that I've been around him - both versions - for the majority of my professional career, and he's fooled me all that time. Even fed me stories I can't really take credit for anymore, at least in my own mind. Probably laughing at me behind his ca... sleeve the whole time, at the silly girl reporter who thinks her awards and byline are any more than a charade." The brunette chuckled bitterly. "But it gets worse, definitely. I've dated both of him, at least sort of. One identity I've idolized, even more than the average man in the street, and tried to get him to take an interest in me as more than a reporter, ever since the first time he... well, saved me. But he's always brushed me off, at least as more than a friend, even though I've always felt like he was sort of leading me on by the frequency with which he's continued to come to my rescue."
"And the other one?", asked the blonde. "Well, I've known him just as long, and he's been trying to get me to date him that whole time. At first I absolutely despised him - part of how he maintains the double identity is to make one self almost the polar opposite of the other, I guess, and I saw him as a sissy and a weakling. Then I eventually came to respect him as a colleague, and a sweet man I could keep as a friend, although there was no chemistry there." The brunette paused for another sip of her drink.
"Huh. I guess both of those are out of the window, now. He's not really much of a reporter, considering that most of his stories have been about his alter ego, and he does have kind of the inside track on that, doesn't he? Never mind his other... advantages. Man, the stories I could have written if I could see and hear what he does... would be hard to source and back up, I suppose, without revealing things, but still. I suppose I'm not much of a reporter, either - it's not like most of my stories haven't been about him, too, one way or another, and I can see now where he took pity on me, fed me the stories he didn't need to keep his own job. And, dammit, if he wanted me, why couldn't he have just asked me as the self that he knew *I* wanted? Why play this silly game?"
"What game?" asked the blonde, feeling that she was getting to the crux of things now. The 'girl' reporter waved her hand, almost dismissively. "Well, like I said, I've been close to both his identities for a long time. You'd think I'd be able to see through the charade, but no. Sure, I came close a bunch of times, but every time... an impostor, a robot double, who knows, traveling in time for all I know. All to fool the one person he could have, should have trusted with his secret... who would have helped him keep it, for that matter. All the lame excuses he could have avoided. But I guess he never took me seriously enough to even consider telling me the truth... no, much better to play silly tricks on silly Lois again...till the day I just decide to clean up a spill at my desk myself and see him changing in the janitor's closet." Lois Lane, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter with the Daily Planet, closed up on herself and slumped over her drink once more.
"So, what are you going to do about it?" asked the blonde. "You could tell the world his secret, but then you'd have to reveal just how badly you'd been fooled all these years. Don't you wish he could somehow be forced into revealing it himself, or that something else horrible would happen to him?" This last was said with suspicious eagerness, and Lois would have detected a gleam in the blonde's eyes, had she been looking up.
"No, I can't say that. There's no denying he's done a lot of good over the years, and I know that revealing his secret now would make me and a lot of my friends vulnerable to his enemies and compromise his career. Heck, he must have saved my life a hundred times or more by now. I don't know if I even want to confront him with the knowledge that I know his secret. Maybe I'm worried that he'll manage to fool me again, or that he'll reveal he never really wanted me in either of his identities. But mainly I'm just too angry and embarrassed to face him right now."
"But isn't there *anything* you wish were different?" persisted the obviously frustrated young woman.
"Well, I guess the worst part is that I feel so *silly*" mused Lois. "I mean, here I spend over ten years chronicling the adventures of Superman, only to discover that the only reason I got all those stories and won those awards was because they got fed to me by his four-eyed alter ego, another fraud of a reporter. And yeah, I won awards, but isn't there something fundamentally ridiculous about a grown man jumping and flying around in tights - tights in primary colors, mind you - and a cape? Even though his powers and the threats he faces are real? I should have been covering wars and politics and major social events, not mad scientists and fifth-dimensional imps and giant Kryptonite apes. Not to mention that I'm starting to suspect that he actually spends more time protecting his secret identity than fighting any real threats, and takes a perverse pleasure in being in a love triangle with me and himself as the other two points."
"If somebody had told me years ago about this situation, I would have laughed at them and said it was something that belonged in the funny papers. Yeah, even Superman's costume kind of reminds me of something Flash Gordon would have worn fighting Ming the Merciless. When you come right down to it, Superman - no, scratch that, Superman and all of his costumed cronies and stupid enemies - never belonged anywhere but in a comic strip, and I WISH that's where they stayed."
For a moment, Lois and the bartender thought they saw the blonde's face change, like somebody had flayed the skin from her face. In a much deeper voice than she had hitherto used, she pronounced, "DONE." And the universe changed.
Some eighty years earlier, the warp drive controls of a small space capsule escaping the exploding planet Krypton reset themselves and threw the vehicle, baby and all, into a timeless limbo until such time as the Wish delaying young Kal-el's destiny was reversed.
Some twenty years earlier, two Jewish teenagers from Cleveland and Toronto found inspiration in the pulps and the science fiction novels of Philip Wylie and Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Some ten years earlier, the editor of of a publishing firm putting out comic strips in the new, experimental comic book form at last bought their work for publication in Action Comics #1, dated June, 1938, and the world was introduced to Superman.
And the Powers That Be, deprived of their greatest Champions by the power of the Wish, bided their time until the power of Anyanka, Patron Saint of Scorned Women, should one day be broken and they could start tweaking the timeline back to their satisfaction.