OK, here's the chapter as promised. Better late than never - Barb got it to us in record time, but I (Anissa) overslept, which is whhy it's being posted now. Read on, and make sure you have some tissues handy.
Our lives are made
In these small hours
These little wonders
These twists and turns of fate
Time falls away
But these small hours
These little wonders still remain.
~ Rob Thomas, Little Wonders
Richard had been watching for them; he opened the back door as Superman and Lois touched down. The twins were at his side immediately, both eager to see their mother and the hero … but they halted, looking up at him. “Daddy?” Jason whispered, his expression torn.
His love for the two of them squeezed his heart almost painfully, and Richard smiled sadly at Jason. “Go on,” he said in a low, husky voice. Only then did the twins dart out onto the dock and mob their parents. That moment of hesitation meant more to Richard than the kids would ever know. There was their real father, a superhero, a man whose name every child in the city knew in spite of his long absence, and yet they still called Richard Daddy, still waited for his permission.
He watched as
Superman took another step back, and Richard saw the man inside the hero even more clearly. That little bit of nervousness was so very
He never got to finish the sentence. “But we didn’t get to go flyin’,” Kala said pleadingly.
“Please can we?” Jason added quickly. “Pretty please? I wanna fly again!”
“You guys, no. You don’t get to just go flying whenever you want,” Lois told them both, shaking her head. Richard could see her watching his face out of the corner of her eye. It was something she always did when she thought she was on shaky ground and he recognized it as such.
“No fair, you got to fly,” Kala complained, completely oblivious as to the tensions between the adults for once.
Before the twins could start whining, Richard said calmly, “Jason, Kala, if you want Superman to take you flying, you’d better go inside and put your jackets on. It’s colder the higher up you go.”
“Richard,” Lois began with her expression already clouding, but the twins raced past her and into the house, yelling happily.
He glanced at Lois, but spoke to Superman. “Go ahead, take them up. They were really worried about you; besides, they should have some time with their father. And you don’t have to worry about fixing everything in one night. I didn’t know when you’d get out of the hospital, so I told Perry I gave you personal leave. You’re cleared to miss work for a couple of weeks.”
Both sets of eyes, the blue and the hazel, had gone comically wide. “Mr. White…” the hero started to say.
Richard sighed, running a hand through his hair in frustration. “C’mon. Enough, already. It’s a damn good disguise – fools the whole city – and to be honest I might never have gotten it, not even after I figured out that the twins’ real father had to be either Clark or Superman. What tipped me to the fact that there wasn’t a ‘Clark or Superman’ – that
Lois’ expression was a complicated mix of surprise, relief, and heartbreak. Those hazel eyes were wide, astonished for the second time in as many days. First Kala, now Richard. “You … you knew? Ever since…”
“Yes,” he replied. “And I’ve been covering for you. So has Lana – she figured it out the same time I did. Speaking of which, Lana wanted me to tell you Mrs.
“I know,” Kal-El said quietly. “I was so afraid for Jason and Kala… They know, Richard. I’m not sure how, but they know who I am, and they know I’m their father.” He paused after those words, looking intently at the man who should’ve been his rival. “The twins … they’re just amazing. You’re right; we have to do what’s best for them. Richard, I don’t know how to thank you.”
“Just take care of them,” Richard said, feeling bitterness rise in his chest. “They know who their real dad is now…”
The look on Lois’ face was utter misery. Biting her lip and looking away, she damned herself for a coward. She wanted to argue this, make them both know that they were both just as important, but she didn’t want to hurt either of them. Which was just as well, as Kal-El did it for her only a moment later.
“You’re their dad,” he said. “Richard, I haven’t been here. They barely know me. You’re the one who raised them, you’re the one they call Daddy. Trust me, knowing who your biological father is means a lot, but there’s no one who compares with the people who raised you. I would know.”
Richard couldn’t think of a single thing to say to that, and the arrival of the twins made an answer unnecessary. “We’re really goin’ flyin’?” Kala said hopefully, trying to hide the eagerness in her voice. Jason was right behind her with an annoyed scowl on his little face, still trying to get his arm through the sleeve of his coat, not an easy task while he was running.
Kal-El looked at Lois, and she nodded. “Yes, we can go for a flight,” he said to the twins, who squealed with delight. “We can’t stay out too late, though.”
“Jason, come here, your coat’s inside-out,” Lois said, helping him put it on right. She kissed both twins before stepping back to let their father pick them up, her throat tight. “We’ll be here when you get back.” This was the scene she had always dreaded, watching the love of her life soar heavenward with her children, Jason and Kala waving to their earthbound mom.
Now, though, she was surprised to feel wistful instead of wounded. After all, could Jason and Kala possibly be any safer than they were with him? Kal-El and the twins flying together was also a hint of something Lois had never allowed herself to yearn for: the family she never thought she wanted, whole and perfect.
Those half-hopeful thoughts were interrupted by Richard quietly clearing his throat behind her. “Lois?” he said softly. “I think we’d better talk.”
Lois swallowed nervously as she turned toward him. This was a moment she had been dreading for so long now. She’d known Richard long enough to know that, no matter what he said, he wasn’t entirely happy about the way things had turned out. And how could she blame him? She couldn’t have it both ways.
Kitty finally breathed a sigh of relief. The last few hours had been eventful for her: she’d met Stanford as he left the hangar, and warned him that Lex was furious. The scientist was so worried that he probably hadn’t given any thought to her casual remark about getting them some dinner.
That had bought her a little more time before Lex started looking for her. Kitty had hurried down to the ticketing area and bought herself two tickets using two different credit cards. Both flights – one to
Instead, she’d left the terminal and gotten on the very next shuttle van, not even glancing at the destination. Hopefully Lex would try to follow both planes, or maybe look for her to have caught a cab at the airport. Kitty’s stomach twisted with fear through the entire ride, eventually getting out at a hotel. She slipped away from the other passengers and went out to the parking lot to walk Tala.
The little Pomeranian was delighted to be free of her purse and ran in joyful circles on the narrow grass strip between hotels. Unfortunately, she was so happy that she darted away from Kitty and led her on a merry chase through the parked cars. Finally Tala found a vehicle big enough to run underneath easily, a red pickup with a bumper sticker that read “I ♥ My Paint” next to a picture of a horse. She hid from Kitty there, her little pink tongue lolling out in silent canine laughter.
Kitty was almost ready to break down in tears. Her escape couldn’t be foiled by the caprice of a seven-pound dog, could it? Lex could be looking for her even now, she had to get away…
And then salvation had walked out of one of the rooms, carrying a suitcase and heading right for the pickup. “Can I help you?” the woman asked coolly as she looked at Kitty crouching beside the driver’s door.
Kitty had looked up at her, lip still trembling, and saw how perfect the setup was. Tala was a better accomplice than she’d seemed… “My dog went under your truck,” Kitty said. “Can you help me catch her? Her name’s Tala.”
The two women had managed to outsmart the dog at last, Kitty thanking her rescuer effusively. The woman had given her name as Mel, growing less suspicious. Then Kitty had asked the crucial question. “Are you … are you leaving the hotel?”
“Yes.” The wariness was back in Mel’s tone.
“Do you think you could give me a lift?” Kitty had asked pleadingly.
“I could call you a cab,” Mel had replied. Of course, scam artists were everywhere, and Kitty knew that a complete stranger asking for a ride was guaranteed a cool reception.
Fortunately, she had a trump card. Kitty took off the sunglasses she’d been wearing to look at Mel. The bruise Lex had given her spoke volumes, and the fear in her eyes was real. “Please. I … I don’t want him to be able to follow me. I just need to get away. I’ve got some money, I’ve got my dog – I’m lucky to escape with that much. He’s … he’s dangerous.”
Mel had made the obvious assumptions and given Kitty a lift, asking no more questions. The dark-haired woman could finally relax as they left the vicinity of the airport behind them. Mel, it turned out, was in town meeting friends and had a long drive home. Kitty was perfectly happy to ride with her for a while.
And now, several hours away from Lex (who was hopefully looking in the wrong direction), Kitty got out of the pickup and smiled at Mel. “Thank you so much,” she said with genuine gratitude. “You probably saved my life.”
“Just take care of yourself,” Mel replied. She had frowned when Kitty refused to go to a women’s shelter, but finally taken her to a small hotel in a strip mall instead. “You sure you’re gonna be all right?
“I’ll be fine,” Kitty assured her. A little place like this, she could pay for her room in cash and provide a fake name. It would take some time and work to create a new identity, one Lex couldn’t track, but she was confident that within the week she’d be staying in a much better hotel in a different city. Things were finally looking up for Kitty.
She waved goodbye to her benefactor as Mel drove away, casting one more worried glance into the rearview mirror. Of course, recovering from the current setback would’ve been a lot easier if Kitty had just taken the wallet Mel had left under her seat during one of their stops. But she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. The dark-haired woman laughed at herself. Developing a conscience at last, Katherine Kowalski? Never thought I’d let an opportunity like that pass me by. I guess Lex was so darned evil he made me want to do something good for once…
Richard held the door for Lois as they went inside, standing further back than he would have a week ago. Both were aware of the emotional chasm that had opened between them, mirrored in the physical distance they now kept from each other.
In spite of what he’d said, Richard kept silent as they walked into the house. Lois went to the refrigerator and poured herself a glass of milk, just to have something to do. For the second time that night, her fingers itched for a cigarette. Nicotine courage. Something, anything, to make her feel less small, less of a thoughtless coward. The weight of words unspoken seemed to crush her. He’s going to lose it. I just know he is. Richard knows every single lie I’ve told him, he knows I’m in love with someone else, he’s going to go absolutely ballistic any second now…
“Lois.” His voice was very low, and the tone was hard to decipher. “I … I think you should keep this.”
The black-haired reporter turned to look at him, and saw the sapphire engagement ring lying in Richard’s palm. He held it out to her, and to Lois’ surprise his expression was resigned, not wrathful. “I found it in the hotel room. You took it off to have a bath.”
“Richard…” Despite her struggle to stay calm in the face of this, she felt herself begin to crack as she looked down at it. It looked so small in his hand… You don’t deserve this, Richard. You don’t deserve this.
“Go on, take it,” Richard said, giving Lois the ghost of his mischievous grin. “Besides, that’s the rules. The woman gets to keep the ring if the man breaks the engagement.”
Hazel eyes met his, full of confusion, but Lois took the ring from him. Oh, God. It is it. This finishes us out once and for all, she thought with a sick feeling in her stomach. Her voice was soft, husky with emotion when she said, “Richard… What are you trying to tell me?”
“You know, I’ve got this all worked out in my head, and it still hurts to say it,” Richard sighed. “Lois… I’ve never known anyone like you before. And I’ll always love you. Always. But it’s become very clear to me over the last couple of months that, if we try to stay together, we’re just going to keep drifting apart. There’s a lot I didn’t know about you when we met – and I’m not accusing you of lying to me, or keeping secrets. You were protecting the kids. I understand that now. But it’s like the Lois I’ve gotten to know since
Lois bit her lip as she looked up at him, trying to read his expression. She saw pain and sorrow, but a strange kind of nobility, too. “Richard, I…”
He touched her face lightly, silencing her. “I know. It’s not your fault, Lois. It’s not either of our faults. We just … we weren’t meant to be.”
Turning her cheek against his palm, Lois whispered with shimmering eyes, “Richard, I do love you. I do. I don’t want you to think this was all… I never meant for any of this with Clark and the twins and Luthor to happen. It just … it all just…”
“I know.” He smiled then, and kissed her forehead, enfolding her in a hug. Richard was acutely aware that it might be the last time he would ever hold her like this. But he found it easier to tell her everything he needed to say while he rested his cheek against her hair. “Lois, I know you love me. I’m sorry I ever doubted you. But you love him more.” Lois’ shoulders tensed, and Richard just hugged her tighter. “Besides, he’s Superman. How can any ordinary guy compete?”
“Richard, don’t,” she whispered against his shoulder. “Don’t shortchange yourself. You’re not just an ordinary guy, you’re a wonderful man, you’re…”
“Not a superhero,” he said gently. “I can’t catch falling aircraft or pick up islands. I can’t see through everything except lead – and I’d have way too much fun with that if I could do it. I can’t blow out raging fires like they’re birthday candles. True, I can fly, but I have to file my flight plans with the FAA.”
“It’s not about his freakin’ powers,” Lois said, leaning back to look up at Richard. “It’s about the man he is…”
“And I can’t compete there, either,” Richard said. “I worked with
She looked up at him, a tear trickling down her already-damp cheek. As often as they’d fought, as much as she’d yearned for Kal-El, losing Richard still hurt her deeply. “You’re not exactly the villain here, Richard. You’re being pretty damned noble right now.”
“Yeah, but I don’t want to be noble,” he replied with a slightly bitter chuckle. “I want to be jealous and petty and make sure everybody else hurts just as much as I do. Problem is, I love you too much to do that to you.”
“That’s what makes you a good man, Richard,” Lois said to him. “You’d have a right to be like that. But you won’t. You’re a better person than you think you are.” She stroked his cheek and smiled sadly. “After all, you got
“I’ll put that on my dating resume,” Richard joked weakly. “Listen, Lois. I can’t say that I don’t love you anymore, or that I don’t still wish it could work out between us. I really did want to marry you and stay with you and the twins for the rest of my life. But … I love you enough to let you go. It would break my heart to see you standing on the dock twenty years from now, looking up, wondering why you settled for me when you could’ve had him. I won’t do that to either of us.”
Settled. That was the word Lois hated the most, in all its connotations. When she thought that Kal-El would never come back, that the love of her life was gone forever, Lois had settled. She’d taken the best available option, settled for less than what she really wanted. And then she had settled down, become a tamer version of herself, as if the powerful ambition that drove her throughout her youth had been knocked into idle by the responsibilities of having children, a fiancé, and a house.
Lois sniffled, burying her head in Richard’s shoulder again. She couldn’t lie to him; if she had married him, she probably would wonder from time to time how things could’ve been with Kal-El. And with her ex – the father of her twins – so very visible as he flew around the world rescuing people, it would be certain to cause strife.
Richard kissed her hair and spoke again, his voice growing softer. “I want to end this now, when we can still look back at the last three years and smile. Before all the good memories get poisoned by arguing and jealousy. I don’t want to wreck your life, Lois. I love you too much. And then there’s Jason and Kala. They don’t deserve to see us fight any more than they already have. I’d … I’d like to still be a part of their lives, Lois…”
She pulled back from him again, catching his chin and forcing him to meet her gaze. “Richard. Don’t be an idiot. You’re their dad. I’d never try to keep the kids from you. Never. And neither would Kal-El, if he knows what’s good for him. No matter what happens, I promise you, Richard, you’re still going to be a major part of the twins’ lives.” It was Lois’ turn to laugh, then. “I don’t think Jason and Kala would give us any choice in the matter if we tried to decide something else. They love you, Richard.”
That assurance was what he needed to hear. Losing Lois was hard – giving her up was the hardest thing he’d ever done. But just the thought of losing the twins was unbearable. Never again hearing Kala sing along with her favorite song on the radio, never again seeing Jason painstakingly put together a puzzle, never again snuggling with both of them on the couch while Godzilla flattened