The twins were exhausted but happy (and reasonably clean) when they came in from playing with the Carmichael kids. Lois watched them carefully, but she didn’t see any more signs of superpowers manifesting – they could’ve been any ordinary pair of kids hanging around the kitchen, trying to wheedle a cookie out of their grandmother.
“Cookies will spoil your lunch,” Martha told them gently.
Jason suddenly looked worried. “Grandma, do crackers spoil your lunch too?”
“Sometimes,” she said. “Why?”
“Dustin shared his cracker sandwiches,” Kala said. “They were yummy.”
Lois felt her spine turn to ice. “Cracker sandwiches?” she said softly. The only cracker sandwiches she’d ever heard of were the kind with peanut butter in the middle… “What did they have in them?”
Kala shrugged. “Dunno. It was good.”
“Lois?” Martha asked as the younger woman started to back away.
“It could’ve been peanut butter,” Lois said with real fear, running into the living room. She grabbed her purse, shook out the Benadryl and the inhaler and the Epi-pen, and raced back into the kitchen. The crackers themselves were made of wheat – that wasn’t as severe as the allergy to nuts, but it would make them nauseous…
Clark was kneeling beside the twins, looking at both of them with a scowl of concentration. Before Lois could reach them, he said, “They’re fine… There’s no immune response, Lois. No inflammation of the bronchial tubes, no gastritis, none of that. Their breathing and heart rates are normal.”
She blinked at him in confusion. “But allergies don’t just go away. If anything they get worse with time.”
He looked up at her and shrugged. “Who knows, with these two? Maybe the sunbath cured them of it, along with the other side effects.”
While Lois was digesting that thought, Ben arrived at the door with his beagles – a different group, but with Barkley still leading it – and the family got too wrapped up in preparing lunch to discuss things further. There was so much they couldn’t say in front of Ben, but Lois caught the serious looks going back and forth between Clark and Martha, and figured he would find a way to share their conversation from earlier without seeming suspicious.
She picked at her salad, wondering. Was it worth the risk of the twins developing full-blown superpowers to cure them? Could the sun itself really cure all the various conditions Jason and Kala had? It would be such a relief to never hear that terrifying asthmatic wheeze again, to never watch them fight for breath. And it would ease her heart to let them eat all the things she’d had to forbid them. They would finally be able to have a real birthday cake, with eggs and milk…
Her preoccupied manner during the meal didn’t cause comment, and after lunch the twins started asking questions of Ben. Lois basically ignored the conversation until she heard Jason and Kala squeal with delight. “You have a horse?!”
“Two,” he replied. “Mules, actually. A mule’s smarter than a horse; he won’t work himself to death for a person like a horse will. They’re cheaper to keep, too, because they eat less and stay healthier. I got one to keep up with the beagles when I’m training them to track – I’m not as young as I used to be, and I can’t walk around the woods all day. Once I had one mule, I figured he’d be lonely, so I got another. Martha and I go riding sometimes.”
“Fishing in Montana, Scrabble tournaments in Illinois, mule-riding all over Kansas – Ma, what haven’t you been doing?” Clark said, half exasperated and half amused. “I’m not going to get a postcard that says you’ve been windsurfing in California, am I?”
“No,” she laughed, but Jason and Kala were completely focused on Ben.
“Can we…” Kala began, but paused and started over. “If Mommy and Daddy say okay, can we please-pretty-please go riding? Please?”
Ben smiled. “If your parents don’t mind leading you around, I think you’ll do just fine. They’re real gentle mules.”
“Sounds fine to me,” Lois said. There was no use standing between Kala and anything with hooves; she was going through that common little-girl phase of being obsessed with horses. A gentle old mule was probably as safe as the ponies she sometimes got to ride at the fair.
Kala squealed in delight, so overcome with joy that she actually hugged Jason in spite of her vow never ever to be nice to him again after the frog incident. Chuckling, Clark said, “I’ll go you one better. Ben, do the Langs still have horses?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Two or three, at least. They’re a little more high-strung than my mules…”
“Do you think they have one calm enough for Lois to ride?” Clark asked, and looked at her in surprise when Lois snorted derisively.
“Kent, please,” she said, crossing her arms. “I may be a city girl, but I’m also an Army brat. One of our main recreations in Fort Hood was sneaking off base and ‘borrowing’ a couple of cow ponies from one of the ranches. That was joy-riding Texas style – my father tanned my backside a couple of times for getting caught, but I learned how to ride. If I could ride a half-broke mustang bareback with just a rope around the jaw when I was fifteen, I can ride a horse now.”
“I think she’ll be fine,” Ben opined, grinning.
“In that case, I’ll call Lana and see if I can’t set us up to go riding tomorrow morning,” Clark said, getting up.
“Tell that girl I owe her a great big hug when I see her next,” Martha said, grinning. “She ought to get a medal for slapping some sense into Jane Lutter.”
Amid chuckles, he went into the kitchen to set things up.
After dinner, the twins cautiously sipped milk and nibbled scrambled eggs until Lois was satisfied that their allergies were gone for good. Jason and Kala were incredibly excited, wanting to sample all the goodies they’d missed. Martha offered to take them out for some ice cream. A local shop stayed open into the early evening, and if she hurried she could get them their first taste of the sweet dessert before the place closed.
That left Lois and Clark alone again; apparently Martha trusted them now. Clark sat down on the sofa and turned on the news, seeing more coverage of his intervention with the hurricane that morning. Normally he didn’t mess around with weather systems, but he was haunted by the memory of the articles he’d read about the hurricanes that devastated New Orleans and many miles all around it while he was gone. Blowing the powerful storm off course had seemed like the only safe option, but he’d have to monitor it and make sure it didn’t head up the coast.
Lois came back into the room and sat beside him, sipping iced tea. She seemed distant, and he supposed that the events of the day were probably a bit much for even a hardboiled reporter to handle. Discovering that the twins weren’t allergic any longer – who knew how long they’d actually been safe – and that Jason had x-ray vision was enough to overwhelm anyone, even Lois.
“You okay?” he asked, and those amazing hazel eyes blinked at him.
“Yeah, just … tired. And I slept in today.” Lois yawned as if to prove her point, then put her glass down and leaned sideways against his chest.
“You’ve been running on nerves and caffeine for so long, you don’t remember what relaxation feels like,” Clark chided. He lifted her off him gently and turned to face her, propping one leg on the couch and leaning against the arm of the sofa.
Lois sighed and snuggled back up to him gladly, her back against his chest and his chin resting atop her head. She let her arms rest along his legs, and leaned her head back with a purr of delight as he stroked her neck. For the moment, there was no mad rush of passion, no desperate need. Right now, for this moment, they both just wanted the pleasure of having each other near. “Feels good,” she murmured.
Clark kissed her hair, gently rubbing her shoulders, feeling the tension drain from her. He switched to caressing her face with the lightest touch possible, and Lois’s expression relaxed into a soft smile. “I love you,” he told her.
She was quiet for so long that he thought she’d fallen asleep. But then she let out a long sigh of contentment and whispered back, “I love you, too, Kal-El.”
They were still sitting like that, nestled into each other, his hand resting over her heart, when Martha and the twins came back and found them asleep in front of the news broadcast.
Don’t be such a coward, Lana scolded herself, and pressed the Send button on her phone. She bit her lip while she listened to it ring, half hoping the call would be answered, and half glad it hadn’t been picked up yet…
A click cut off the ringing, and his voice seemed to reach right across the miles separating them and wrap itself around her. “Lana?”
“Hello, Richard,” she said, feeling like a fool for the butterflies in her stomach. You’re not in high school anymore – and you weren’t this silly even then! “I was just wondering … how you’ve been. You know.”
“Better for having heard from you,” he replied. “It’s kinda lonely in Metropolis at the moment, especially since I’m covering her department and mine. But it’s not all that much of a hardship. How are you?”
“Pretty good,” she replied, absently twisting a lock of her auburn hair. “I heard from Clark tonight – only a last-minute intervention kept Gazeera from having a giant Kansas bullfrog for a roommate.”
“Dear God,” Richard groaned. “I’m never letting them visit the Southern states again; now that he’s old enough to know what one is, Jason will bring home an alligator. At least Kala likes cute furry things.”
“Yes, well, I also understand that he got monumentally filthy in the process of catching the thing,” Lana said. “You’ll hear about the adventures of Fred the Frog when the twins call tonight, so I wanted you to be prepared.”
“Thank you,” he replied. Silence reigned between them for a moment, and then Richard asked very quietly, “Are you planning to come back to Metropolis anytime soon?”
Lana bit her lip again, adjusting the strap over her shoulder. “Soon, but not right away. I have a lot going on at the moment.” That sounded too casual and disaffected, so she added, “I’m looking forward to coming back, though.”
“I miss you.” Such simple words, so softly spoken, but Lana shivered with the sudden desire to fly back to Metropolis that night. She could be in his arms before morning…
No, she told herself sternly, taking a deep breath. You wanted time away from him, time to think without getting drunk on his nearness. Well, now you have it. Don’t squander it by running right back and diving into this headfirst. “I miss you too,” she admitted, voice shaking a little. “I won’t be away longer than I need to. And you won’t be all that lonely, either – Lois and the twins are coming home tomorrow. They’re borrowing my parents’ horses to take Jason and Kala riding in the morning, but they should be on a plane that afternoon. She’ll probably give you all the details when she calls.”
“She will,” Richard confirmed. “And it’ll be good to have the munchkins back. But I think it’s time the three of us sat them down for a long talk, and they probably won’t be happy with us when they find out they can’t have both daddies living with them.”
“They’ll never doubt you love them,” Lana said. “I know they’ll figure out that no one’s leaving them forever; once Jason and Kala understand that, you’ll be okay.”
“We’re shaking their world apart, and I can’t blame them for being ticked off,” Richard muttered.
Lana sighed exasperatedly, tucking the phone against her shoulder as she pulled back her sleeve to check her watch. “Don’t go borrowing trouble, Richard. You don’t know for a fact how the twins will behave, so don’t worry so much about it, all right?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he teased.
“I have to run,” Lana said, regret clear in her tone. “Richard, I wish I could talk longer…”
“I understand,” he said. “I’ll talk to you later, Lana… I love you.”
“I love you too.” She could say it more easily now, though she still blushed in spite of not having to face him to admit how she felt. “Good night, Richard.”
“Good night,” came the soft reply, and after a moment they both hung up.
Lana tipped her head back, breathing deeply. It was so hard to fight the part of herself that wanted to run to him, to forget about taking things slow and not being a rebound, just aching to have his arms around her again. But she could fight it, and did; she’d made a lifestyle out of forcing her heart to obey her mind. It was only now, with Richard, that her control threatened to break…
Pushing those thoughts aside, Lana adjusted the carryon bag over her shoulder and headed for the international terminal alone. She hadn’t even told Lois or Clark that she was leaving just yet. “Milan, here I come,” she sighed under her breath. “Forgive me if I’d rather be back in Metropolis.”
P.S. dont_be_so_base finally did my SII: DC bases! *Squees* Hey, elliania...! *grins*