The phone rang, and Lois groped for it, groaning irritably. It was far too early for her to carry on a coherent conversation. “’Lo?” she said as she brought the phone to her ear.
It rang again, shrilly, and she yelped. Stupid freakin’ cell phone… Lois flipped it open and tried again. “Hello?”
That voice woke her up in a hurry. Ella – and she didn’t sound happy. “Hi, Momma,” Lois said. “What’s going on?”
“Oh, nothing important,” Ella said, and Lois knew that falsely cheerful tone very well. She’d heard it from her own lips too many times to count. “Let me see, I haven’t heard from my daughter since she dropped off my grandkids – who are still furious with her, and refuse to explain to their Nana – I’ve been calling the house since yesterday and not getting an answer, I called your ex and he doesn’t know where said daughter is and won’t tell me where she was last week, and now the whole family’s at the house except you, and the turkey’s almost done. Where the hell have you been and why weren’t you here two hours ago like you said you’d be?!”
Lois’ jaw dropped. Turkey… “It’s not Thanksgiving already?”
“Yes!” Ella snapped exasperatedly. “It’s Thanksgiving! The second largest holiday of the year! The one day when this entire mad family sits down to dinner together! And my oldest daughter is nowhere to be found!”
For a moment, it seemed to Lois as if her eyes couldn’t widen any further. With a groan, she dropped her head forcefully. Stupid, stupid, stupid! This is not the way you wanted this to go. Nice going, Lane. Just batting a thousand today. Lois launched herself out of bed while she talked, grabbing her clothes off the chair and struggling into them one-handed, the phone still pressed to her ear. “Momma, I’m so sorry. I just…”
Ella harrumphed. It wasn’t a sound that many people could pull off convincingly, but Elinore Lane could do it well. Lois winced, hopping on one foot while trying to shove her other leg into her jeans. She most assuredly was going to get an earful over this and it was best to mitigate it as much as possible. “I said I’m sorry, Momma, I lost track of time. A lot has been going on. I didn’t even know it was Thursday yet…”
A horrible thought penetrated the fog of self-recrimination in Lois’s mind. Thursday? But she had been scheduled to go back to work Wednesday… She leaned her head back with a wince and a groan. “Oh, shit. I was supposed to be the Planet yesterday!”
“Indeed,” Ella said. “But you still haven’t heard the best part.”
Oh, this was bad. When her mother got sarcastic, Lois knew she was really in trouble. Putting her hand to her forehead, she braced herself. “What, Momma?”
“When you get here, you can explain why you answered Clark Kent’s phone.”
Lois’ jaw dropped. She pulled the phone away from her ear to look at it, really look at it, and felt her stomach plummet. Her new phone was red, and she hadn’t gotten around to changing the ring tone, so it still rang with that annoying Nokia tune. This phone was black, and knowing Clark, he had simply never seen a reason to change the default ring tone.
She had answered Clark’s phone. Hers was still in the Riverside house. She’d answered Clark’s phone, obviously half-asleep. Oh, dear God. Oh, dear God…
“Maybe when you explain that, you’ll see fit to explain a few other things,” Ella said archly, and hung up.
“Oh, fuck,” Lois whimpered, still staring at the phone for a long stunned moment. How was she going to get out of this one?
Clark came in the balcony door in a hurry. He could hear Lois cursing angrily from halfway across the country, and had flown back at speeds that had seriously alarmed the pilots of a wing of Air Force jets on a training mission. “Lois? What’s wrong?” he called worriedly, still in uniform as he came in.
“Where the hell are my frikkin’ boots?” she called back. Her voice sounded strained, and when she turned to face him, her eyes were glazed in blind panic. She seemed about twenty seconds from a meltdown, which was decidedly not how he had left her.
“By the coat rack,” he replied, and she barreled past him to snatch them up. “Lois, what’s going on? What’s wrong?”
Something in his tone caught her attention, perhaps the rising fear, and, tossing her hair over her shoulder with an irritated gesture, Lois met his gaze for the first time since he’d returned. Her expression spoke volumes. “My mother called. Kal-El, it’s Thanksgiving. I’m supposed to be at Mom’s right now. Actually, I was supposed to be there two hours ago.”
“Uh-oh,” he said slowly.
“I didn’t even know it was Thursday!” she continued, shoving her feet into the boots she’d brought over last night. “She called here, and I was still sleepy, and I thought it was my phone when I picked it up, but it was yours. So now she’s ticked about that, too. And better yet, I was supposed to go back to work yesterday. Oh God, Perry’s gonna kill me.” With boots finally on, she jerked her trench coat off the coat rack and upended it over the sofa, shaking it briskly so that everything fell out of the pockets.
“Um…” Kal-El had never sounded so very Clark while he was still wearing the super-suit. “Uh, Lois? You don’t have to worry about Perry. I, um, I called him and told him you weren’t going to be at work yesterday.”
Lois snatched up her hairbrush, intending to roughly tame her rumpled hair before hurrying to her mother’s house. She didn’t have to make it obvious what she’d been doing over here, not when Ella already suspected. At his words, though, she froze. For the second time that morning, Lois felt as if her eyes were going to pop out of her skull. “You what?” she asked disbelievingly, her voice rising.
“You were sleeping so much,” he said awkwardly. “And I know you, you’ve never been that relaxed. I, um, I figured you needed the rest. You know, Perry was trying to get you to take the whole week back, so I called him and said you weren’t feeling like your usual self, you were mostly staying in bed, and you wouldn’t be in yesterday.”
For several long moments, she simply stared at him. “Kal-El, you do realize that calling me in is going to ignite the rumor mill, right? They’re not stupid, contrary to popular belief. They wouldn’t miss that.”
“We have to tell them something eventually…”
She sighed heavily, closing her eyes and pressing the heels of her hands against her face. “Oh my God. I knew we were gonna have to deal with the real world eventually, but why did it have to be now?!”
The fabric of the suit was cool against her skin as Kal-El gathered her in his arms. “These past few days have been like a dream,” he murmured. “I didn’t want to wake up, either. But we needed this. We needed time for just you and me, no distractions, no job, no family. Not even the twins. Just us.”
Lois took a deep shuddering breath, her arms sliding around his waist as she leaned against him. He kissed her hair and continued speaking softly, “The key is, we have to find ways to bring this dream into our real lives. We have to make sure we don’t lose what we found here when we have to cope with work and family and being parents – which I still have to learn how to do.”
“Not to mention saving the world and all that,” Lois added with another heavy sigh, her voice muffled against his chest.
“That, too,” Kal-El told her with a chuckle, holding her tighter. “Come on, I’ll take you to your car. I’ll even go to your mother’s house with you if you need the moral support – Ma’s expecting me, but it’s an hour earlier there and we eat dinner later.”
It took a minute before she raised her head, her expression just a bit more hopeful. “Not dressed like that you’re not,” Lois teased with a grinning glance at the shield just at cheek-level, and he laughed with her.
Fifteen minutes later, Lois pulled into the driveway close behind Ron’s sedan, and sat in the Audi for a moment, her heart hammering as she stared at the house as if it had every intention of swallowing her whole the minute she crossed the threshold. Seeing her intent look, Clark put his hand on her knee and squeezed gently. “I’ll go in with you,” he said softly. “She won’t say anything to you in front of me.”
“Yeah, the minute you leave she’ll be on me like white on rice,” Lois muttered, heaving what seemed like the hundredth sigh of the last half hour. “I know my mom, Clark. If she wonders about anything, she’ll bat you like a cat with a mouse until she gets an answer. And she wants an answer. Trust me.”
Clark grinned then, pushing his glasses back up his nose. “Sounds like someone else I know.”
The look in Lois’ eyes was not kind.
“I told you that I’d go with you,” he soothed, tilting her chin up to look at him. “It’s going to be all right. Better done now and finished with.”
She didn’t want to drag him into this, knowing there was a possibility that Ella would say whatever she wanted to say regardless of whether or not Clark was there, but Lois needed him. She couldn’t bear the thought of facing her mother alone, remembering how furious Ella sounded. Lois slid her hand atop his and squeezed gently, her eyes begging him to come with her even though she couldn’t bring herself to ask it of him. Finally, she gave him a brave smile and nodded. “Let’s do it.”
They got out of the car in silence, and walked up to the front door holding hands. Clark didn’t let go until Lois rang the doorbell, and even then he touched her shoulder lightly to let her know he was still there, still supporting her.
Lucy opened the door and dragged Lois into a hug. “Where have you been?!” she exclaimed, but she didn’t expect an answer. Kissing her sister’s cheek, she continued, “We were all worried, and I told Mom you’d show up, but of course she wouldn’t listen. Nobody believes the pregnant lady…”
Her voice trailed off when she saw Clark standing behind Lois, nervously shoving his glasses up. For one second Lucy darted a surprised and impressed look at her older sister, but then she grinned at him too. “Clark! Sweet of you to join us. Thanks for looking after Lois – we all know she won’t take care of herself when she’s not feeling well.” She looked back at Lois as she ushered them both inside, and asked curiously, “Are you feeling any better? You look pretty good. For a while there you were looking like you were about worn out…”
“Thanks, Luce. You know that nothing makes me feel better than to have you remind me when I look like a train-wreck.” Lois shot Clark a look over the top of Lucy’s head, and he read her expression clearly. See how fast the rumors fly? Before Clark could do more than smile apologetically at her, Ron was at his side.
“Clark! Brother, we all missed you,” Ron said, grabbing his hand and shaking it, giving him an enthusiastic slap on the back. He seemed almost too excited to see Clark again… “You all right? We heard you got out after the earthquake, and you had some time off, but no one’s really got any other news. Everything okay?”
“Well, you know, it was pretty, um, traumatic,” Clark said. “For a while I didn’t think I was going to live…”
In that brief instant, when Clark was distracted, Ella appeared as if out of nowhere and grabbed her oldest daughter’s arm, abruptly ending Lucy and Lois’ grumbling at each other. Without a word to anyone, Ella dragged Lois down the hallway to her bedroom and shut the door behind them. “What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” she whispered, mindful of Kala’s hearing.
Trapped. I knew it. No one can ever call my mother less than sharp as a tack. Lois’s gaze flickered between her mother and the door – this was exactly the situation she’d wanted to avoid, and in spite of Clark’s presence it had happened almost the moment she walked in the door. “Momma…”
“I cannot believe you,” Ella hissed, her arms crossed in front of her and her expression stern and stormy. “You run off without telling anyone where you’re going, and you don’t even tell me when you come home. I can’t find you at the house, you won’t answer your cell phone, and in the middle of me panicking – because Luthor is still out there, and God alone knows what could have happened to you – Ron finally admits he heard a rumor that Clark called you in sick to work yesterday. So I get Clark’s cell phone number from him, and call Clark to ask where you are, and you answer the phone!”
“Not only that, you sound half asleep in the middle of the day! At Clark’s apartment! Now you tell me right this instant what’s going on!”
“Momma, I was at Clark’s apartment,” Lois retorted, raising her voice to cut off any more of the tirade. Maybe there was still a way to save this. “I can’t sleep at the house. Not after everything that happened. So Clark very graciously let me stay at his place, and I must’ve picked up a bug somewhere, because I’ve been sleeping almost all the time. He was kind enough to look after me – he’s brought me meals and made sure I was comfortable.”
Ella gave her a steady, skeptical look, raising one eyebrow. Lois mirrored her unconsciously, her lips pressed to a thin stubborn line that said, That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
After a moment of tense silence, Ella sighed in annoyance. “Really, Lois? Then why are your twins suddenly talking about Daddy Clark and their Grandma in Kansas?”
Dammit. Lois’ eyes widened, her heartbeat quickening. She’d told her mother that Superman was the twins’ father, and had confirmation from Kala herself. Not only that, Ella was aware of their developing powers. There was no way she could get Ella to accept the same fiction that she was half-planning to feed to the rest of the rumor-hungry friends and family and coworkers…
“Momma, there’s an explanation…” How could you be so abysmally dumb, Lane? Of course she was going to question it. Now think of something quick before the whole thing explodes like Pompeii. Unconsciously, Lois had started playing with her hair, pulling one curl out straight and letting it go before catching it and pulling at it again.
“I don’t know how you convinced the kids, but what you’re doing to Clark is inexcusable,” Ella said sharply. As her mother continued to speak, the reporter kept pulling at her hair, faster and faster, twisting it a bit. Soon she would be tearing it out… “That poor boy has always been in love with you, and you’ve always known it. Lucy tells me there’s a rumor in the office that he’s the twins’ father. Well, I have no idea how you managed to convince him of that. But using him now is just wrong. I know perfectly well who their father is, and so do you. I raised you better than to play a trick like this on probably the only person who’s desperate enough to believe it.”
“Momma, there’s a perfectly good explanation,” Lois said weakly, hating that her mother would think the worst of her. But that’s the way the cards had fallen. Why didn’t I plan for this? I knew it was going to happen at some point. From the moment he woke up, I knew. Hell, I was the one who told her about Superman; why the hell wouldn’t this infuriate her? I couldn’t keep it from her forever.
“Well, I’d surely love to hear it,” Ella snapped.
The bedroom door opened, and both women looked up abruptly in surprise. Clark came in, his expression determined. He had heard Lois’ heart speed up and realized what must have happened. Making excuses to Lucy and Ron – weak excuses, but he could deal with them later – he’d hurried to Lois’ side.
“Clark, this is a private discussion,” Ella said to him, but her tone was kind, almost pitying.
“No, ma’am, it’s not,” he replied, his voice low and steady. Ella had never heard him that serious, never seen him act anything but nervously respectful in her presence. This new firmness in his tone and manner was almost as shocking as his next words. “Not when you’re discussing me, Lois, and our twins.”
“Clark…” Lois whispered, her heart hammering. In that instant, she felt a flash of terror. That hadn’t been Clark’s diffident stutter. Right now, he sounded more like his true self. She had to warn him; he was awfully close to blowing the secret, and she hadn’t told him that her mother knew the twins had superpowers… She rapidly shook her head, pleading him not to do it, mouthing the word, No!
Ella sighed, her expression both curious and sad, but before she could say anything, Clark overrode them both. “Mrs. Lane, as Lois’ mother, there’s something you should know. And I think it will make things a great deal clearer.”
“Clark. Don’t. Please, not for me,” Lois whispered brokenly, her chest tight with panic. “Don’t do this.”
“Not for you, love. For us. For Kala and Jason,” he replied with a solemn glance at her. Looking back at Ella, Clark took his glasses off and straightened up to his full height, the nervous smile replaced by a stern look. As Ella stared, not quite understanding, he ran a hand through his hair, freeing the one curl to fall onto his forehead.
That trademark curl, the one Lois had sometimes sarcastically called the super-curl of justice… Ella’s jaw dropped, and her hand pressed against her chest. For a moment she could barely breathe. She took one step back, then two, and then fell back to sit on the bed. Still staring at him in wonder and shock, she whispered, “You?”
“Yes,” Clark said. “Me. Clark Kent, Superman, Kal-El.”
“My God,” Ella murmured. The difference in his voice was very clear, the deeper, richer timbre Ella had heard when she’d told Superman that Lois was missing. She’d wondered how on earth the hero had known who she was…
“I’d appreciate it if we kept this between us,” he continued. “The twins know the whole truth, and so do Richard and Lana. But no one else knows that I’m living a double life. It would probably kill Perry White to learn that his biggest story has been right in the same newsroom with him all along.”
“Of course,” Ella said, and finally she seemed to be getting a handle on the situation. Lois hovered nervously beside her, uncertain what to think as her eyes went from her lover to her mother. Ella took a deep breath, smoothing her hair in a gesture eerily reminiscent of her daughter. “Well. It’s a lot to take in all at once … but everything makes sense now.”
“I’d hoped it would,” Kal-El told her.
Silence reigned as Lois’ heart churned. Her feelings were so mixed; he hadn’t even asked her opinion before revealing this secret to her mother, and at the same time she knew it was his to reveal or conceal. So much would change with just those few words; Lois’ entire world seemed to tilt on its axis. Her mother knew it all, now, including how Lois felt about this amazing man.
In that thoughtful silence, the knock on the door was loud. “Hey guys, I don’t want to bust up your little conclave in there, but the turkey’s done,” Lucy called. “Want me to bring the kids in?”
Ella glanced at both of them before calling back, “No, wait just a minute. We’ll be right out.”
Clark held up a hand, listening to her leave, then said softly, “All right, it’s safe to talk again. I don’t think she heard anything.”
“What are we going to tell them?” Ella asked. “Ron and Lucy, I mean.”
Clark looked at Lois then. “We haven’t had a chance to talk about this yet,” he said, a trifle sheepishly. “Do you think we could just … go without saying anything for now? We’d have to talk to the twins…”
“I have to talk to them,” Lois said, quiet dignity in her voice. “I’m the one they blame for wrecking their family. Let me take them aside for a minute before we eat.”
“Talk to Jason especially,” Ella advised her. “He seems to be the one who’s the most upset. I think Kala is just following his lead – all she wants is to know she’s not losing either of her parents. Any of her parents.”
“We both need to talk to them,” Clark said.
Lois nodded, and that seemed to be the end of the family conference. Clark smoothed his errant curl back and put his glasses on, stooping his shoulders slightly before opening the door. Ella stood up, catching her daughter’s arm. “I’m sorry I yelled at you,” she whispered. “Lois, if I had had the slightest clue…”
“I know, Momma.” Lois tried to smile, but it was hard to do so when she was dreading facing the twins. Jason in particular – he had always been very close with her, and since being kidnapped he had been quite protective of her as well. To see him angry and disappointed would be more painful than bringing him into this world, but it had to be done. Kala, it seemed, understood on some level even if she wasn’t sure how to feel on a whole. Events had led her to this point, and Lois could not turn aside from the task before her.
Ron and Lucy gave them some questioning looks, but refrained from asking what was on their minds as Ella took over directing the kitchen. Clark took a deep breath, Lois coming to stand beside him, and they both looked at each other for a long moment before he opened the back door. The Troupe kids rushed in, delighted to see him and Aunt Lois, but the twins held back, their small hands clasped.
Lois’ heart broke to see them acting as though they expected punishment. “Jason, we need to talk to you and Kala,” Clark said quietly, keeping his tone neutral.
Seeing the way their grasp on each other tightened, Lois added, “It’s about what happened before I came home the other day. Why you came to Nana’s.”
Jason looked up at both of them stonily and walked forward, his head down, his eyes fixing determinedly somewhere else, anywhere but on the pair of them. He passed Clark, who said his name in a firmer tone, but Jason kept walking as if he hadn’t heard.
Kala, however, stopped. Her hand pulled out of Jason’s, and she glanced up at the two adults briefly, her eyes wide and worried. Jason hesitated for a fraction of a second when he lost the contact with his sister, but he set his shoulders and kept moving, heading for the back of the house.
“Jason Garen,” Lois said in an amazed tone, and paused. It had always been rare occurrences when Jason had been this defiant. But she’d glimpsed his face as he had stormed past, and her son looked as if he were about to cry. Her heart ached for him, but before she could turn and go after him, Kala silently hugged her around the waist. Lois returned it gratefully, holding her daughter to her.
“I’ll get him,” Clark said, his mouth curving up in a rueful smile as he touched the top of Kala’s head gently. “We need to talk. Man to man.”
Lois returned the apprehensive look, leaning up to brush her lips across his. “Just remember, he’s only six,” she said with a sigh. “He doesn’t understand any of this. All he knows is that Mommy turned into a creep who’s lied to him.”
Kala squeezed her tighter at those words, and Clark stroked her hair as he left to follow Jason. Lois sighed, picking up her daughter to enfold her in a tight hug, both grateful that Clark was going to speak to Jason instead of her and pained on his behalf.
As she turned to watch him leave, she caught sight of Lucy staring at her. Her sister’s eyebrows were raised in the traditional Lane woman’s look of and what the hell was that? She had seen the kiss, and it wasn’t the hesitant kiss of new lovers – that brief brush of lips spoke of long familiarity. And it was Clark.
Before Lois could even think of something to say, Kala pulled back far enough to look at her mother and murmur, “We didn’ know Daddy was gonna be here, Mommy.”
Lucy’s blonde eyebrows went up another inch, and she mouthed, Daddy? Ron, who had been coming out of the kitchen with a tureen of mashed potatoes, halted with an incredulous look.
“Neither did I, baby, but both of us missed you,” Lois replied to her daughter, letting Kala nestle her head on her shoulder. Things had gone completely out of control. And now the entire household suspected at least one of her long-kept secrets. “A lot of things have happened in the last few days and we both needed to talk to you two. That and I just missed you so much. Mommy’s had a busy week.” Resting her head against her child’s hair, Lois’ eyes slid closed as she gratefully breathed in the sweet scent of Kala’s hair and tried to force herself not to bawl.
Clark had done a great deal of difficult things in his life, but none weighed so heavily on his heart as following his son into the guest bedroom. His son – the words still made his heart clench in an uneasy mix of pride, joy, and terror.
Jason finally turned, facing him reluctantly, and the look on his face was anger firmly overlaid on deep hurt. Clark couldn’t help smiling sadly at that expression; he knew it too well. “You look just like your mother,” he said quietly.
The little boy tried to scowl, but it quickly turned into a pout as tears welled up in his eyes. Breath hitching, small hands balled into fists, he said angrily, “Don’ try an’ make nice!”
“Jason,” Clark said, kneeling in front of him, hating to see his sweet face reddened by anger and twisted with the effort not to cry. Why do I have to be the one to hurt him? All I wanted, coming back into his mother’s life, was a chance to make things right. But now I’m tearing his world apart, and he’s as angry with me as I was at fate when Pa died.
“Mommy’s making Daddy Richard go away!” Jason accused. “An’ it’s all your fault!”
That struck home, and Clark reeled. Wasn’t it his fault? Hadn’t he wished for the life Richard was leading, wanted it so much it made his heart ache? Wanted not only Lois, but the kids as well? He wanted to be their daddy, and for a while, it seemed like they were perfectly happy to accept him in that role.
Now this: Superman, the home-wrecker. A nice little nuclear family, Mommy, Daddy, and two children, torn apart by an interloper. Worst of all, the outsider forcing his way into their neatly-ordered lives wasn’t just some stranger. He was the twins’ actual father, the man who’d left their mother before they were born, and who was arrogant enough to presume he could pick up where he left off…
No. It’s not like that, I’m not like that. Jason doesn’t understand. “First of all, Jason, Mommy didn’t make Daddy Richard leave,” he said sternly, wanting to hug his son and knowing that he couldn’t right now. Trying to coddle the boy would only confirm his suspicions. “Daddy Richard made his own decision to move out. He still loves your Mommy, and we both told you it wouldn’t be fair for him – or me, or your mother – for all of us to live in the same house. We all love you kids enough to share you, and to be friends with each other. We have to be a part of each other’s lives, because no one wants to give you and your sister up. But romantic love, grown-up love, can’t be shared that way. I love your Mommy like that. I’ve always loved her like that.”
“An’ you left,” Jason said, folding his arms with an emphatic thwap of each fist into the crook of the opposite elbow. “You left Mommy before me an’ Kala were born. Now Daddy Richard’s leavin’. How long’s he gonna be gone? He might not come back for years and years, like you did. An’ what if you leave us again?”
“I would die before I’d leave you and your mother again,” Clark said very solemnly. “If I had known she was going to have you two, have my children, I would’ve never left in the first place. And Richard’s not going to be gone as long or go as far as I did. I left the whole planet, trying to find the place I came from. Richard, he’s not going any further than he can fly in a few hours. He wouldn’t want to be separated from you guys by more than that.”
Jason’s lip was still trembling, his blue eyes still fraught with fear and fury. But all of the adults had been telling him and Kala the same things for so long that he couldn’t help wanting to believe them. Daddy was Superman, after all; he couldn’t tell a fib. Still… “How come everything’s gotta change?!” Jason wailed.
“Son, that happens,” Clark said. He really didn’t know how to explain so that Jason would understand, and he was forced to make things up as he went along, thinking, I hope parenting gets easier with practice. “Places change, people change. Sometimes grownups realize that what they thought they wanted isn’t really what they should have. Sometimes…”
All of a sudden, Clark remembered how he had felt when he had first returned to Earth. Everything seemed to have changed in his absence; Ma was dating Ben, Lois was a mother, affianced, and assistant editor – he’d felt as though he had landed on the wrong planet entirely. He smiled then, trying to reassure his son. “I wondered that a lot when I came home, you know. Why everything has to change. And I still don’t know the answer. But I know this – if everything I knew hadn’t changed, I wouldn’t have you and your sister. I wouldn’t be with your mom. And my mom wouldn’t have a boyfriend who raises beagles and lets kids borrow his mules.” That last made Jason’s mouth break into a tremulous smile, which he tried to hide. “Out of everything that happened, one thing didn’t change at all. Love. Ma still loves me, your mommy still loves you so much, and even Daddy Richard still loves Mommy, just not like boyfriend-girlfriend love. And the fact that all of us love you will never change.”
“Promise?” Jason sniffled.
“I promise,” Clark said, and Jason flung himself into his father’s arms.
“Don’ ever leave again,” he whimpered, and broke down sobbing.
“Never,” Clark said softly, holding him, cherishing the amazing softness of his son’s hair where Jason’s face was buried in his shoulder. Even shaking with sobs, red-faced and crying, furious only a moment ago, Jason was a miracle. It shouldn’t have been possible for this little boy or his sister to exist, yet here they were. And amazingly, in spite of relatively short acquaintance and all the mistakes Clark had made, all the ways he’d failed them, when Jason’s façade of anger finally broke, he sought Clark for comfort.
“I will never let you down again,” Clark murmured, and kissed the top of his son’s head as Jason hugged him tighter.
Lois had enlisted Kala to help her set the table, forestalling any questions from Lucy or Ron. She really couldn’t handle that right now; it was enough to watch Kala’s face as she occasionally paused to listen in the general direction Jason had gone. Something we need to work on, Lois thought. Eavesdropping isn’t a habit I want her to have, but right now it’s letting me know how the man-to-man talk is going.
Kala kept looking worried, but every now and then she smiled slightly, and that was encouraging. Before Lois could decide to give up and go look in on the both of them, Jason reappeared, his face freshly scrubbed, with Clark following him into the dining room, his hand on the boy’s shoulder.
It only to a moment for him to go to her, destroying all of her earlier fear. Lois couldn’t help fussing over her son for a moment, smoothing back his hair as she knelt in front of him. “You okay, baby?”
He nodded before slipping into her arms and hugged her tightly. Her breath caught in her throat, the relief nearly dizzying. In spite of barely being able to breathe, Lois hugged him back as tightly as she could. “I love you, Jason,” she whispered, kissing his soft brown hair.
“I love you, Mommy,” he said against her shoulder.
In the midst of that, Kala watched her twin cuddle with Mommy. Suddenly aware that he hadn’t done it on coming in the door, the little girl walked up to Clark and held up her arms. “Hug, please.”
He swept her up, kissing her on the forehead. “Love you, baby girl.”
Lois and Jason stepped back from each other, and the reporter saw the looks she was getting from Ron and Lucy. Stunned was the best description she could come up with. All except Ella, who couldn’t entirely hide a smile. Even Sam was old enough to have a puzzled frown on his face, though Joanna and Nora paid no attention.
Sighing, Lois stood up, holding Jason’s hand. Maybe Luthor had been right; she and Kal-El were no good at hiding their relationship. And this was definitely not the way she had planned to have all of this go down, but when had anything in her life gone to plan? Giving a quirky little smile, she shrugged, “Well, I wasn’t planning to bring this kind of drama as my special recipe for the family dinner, but you know me. Ron, Lucy, you’re smart enough to figure out what’s going on. I brought Clark to dinner for a reason. Surprise.”
Lucy’s jaw actually dropped. Ron looked over at Clark with an expression of impressed amazement. “Whoa, man,” he said quietly. “Is it … is it true?”
“Yes, I’m their father,” Clark said with Kala still in his arms, looking at Lois.
“Clark was in Paris on the first stop of his world tour,” she said. “All of you know I was there trying to find you-know-who. When I finally came to the conclusion that the guy in the cape was gone for good, I was pretty pissed at him. Then Clark and I ran into each other at a café one night, he tried to keep me cheered up, and then, well, one thing led to another. He had to keep traveling; I had a life to live. By the time I found out about these two, I’d lost contact with him. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I lied. Less questions that way.” Lois shrugged, amused by the expression on Clark’s face. This is payback for dropping the bomb on my mother, she thought. Now I get to spin the story however I want.
“Lois was protecting my reputation,” Clark said quietly.
“And you two…” Ron trailed off, looking from one to the other.
Lois rolled her eyes with a sigh. Oh, come on. You know better than that. Although it does have to be a bit of a shock. “Obviously, Ron.”
“No, I mean now,” he said, then backpedaled as his wife elbowed him in the side. “Are you two an item now?”
Lois and Clark shared a look, and he smiled slightly. “I think I’ll let you answer that, Lois.”
She looked him speculatively for several seconds. “I guess so,” Lois said with a deadpan shrug. “Well, the twins do belong to him. I guess it’s kinda required that I give him a trial period.” Clark just chuckled, finally making her break down and laugh.
And then the doorbell rang.
Richard parked at the end of the drive, looking up at Ella Lane’s house somberly. He would have to confront the twins again, and as if that were not reason enough to give him pause, Ella herself would want an explanation. Although he might luck out – Lois’ car was in the drive, which meant she was already there. Maybe her mother had decided to get her answers directly from the source.
Or maybe Lois would be out of sorts because of Ella’s questioning, and the twins would be sullen, and Ella herself would be less than pleased with her almost-son-in-law. In short, it could be the worst possible kind of family gathering, almost like being back home. Richard chuckled wanly at the thought.
There was no way to know how things would be until he actually walked in the door. Uncle Perry’s advice in a situation like this was “hope for the best, plan for the worst.” The first he could do, but the second… If this was going to be the kind of family dinner that had led Richard to spend five years living abroad, then he needed some emotional support. Grinning slightly to himself, he flipped open his phone and hit the first speed-dial.
“Lana Lang,” came the answer, quick and businesslike.
“Hello, Lana,” he said quietly, his grin becoming a smile full of love.
“Why, Richard,” she replied, and he could her the delighted surprise in her voice. “It’s not even four o’clock yet.”
He leaned back in the driver’s seat, closing his eyes. The one thing that had always cheered Richard up was talking to a beautiful woman, preferably one who found him as attractive as he found her. No matter what was going on in his life, flirting was his ultimate pick-me-up. And I don’t want to give too much thought to why that’s true, Richard mused before saying to Lana, “I couldn’t wait the extra hours to hear your voice.”
“Flatterer,” she told him.
A moment’s pause, and then she said, “So how are things in Metropolis?”
The flirtatious smile fell slightly as Richard answered, “Well, I might be about to walk into what will become known as the Lane Family Massacre. Lois got there first, so she and her mother might’ve been arguing. I know Ella’s ticked at her – all the Lane women have a temper, even Lucy. You just never see Lucy mad because she’s difficult to provoke. So I could be walking into a huge argument, and to the best of my knowledge the twins still hate me.”
“They don’t hate you, Richard,” Lana scolded gently. “They love you. So much that they’re terrified of losing you. Believe me, I’m acquainted with the feeling.”
“Do you do that just to make me smile?”
“Toss out a hint that you really do love me.”
She laughed softly into the phone. “Who said I was talking about you specifically, Mr. White?”
“Ouch,” Richard replied in the same teasing tone. “That burns. Lana, you just broke my heart.”
“Oh, please,” she muttered. “Remember, I’ve talked to your ex-fiancée. If I tear your heart out and feed it to stray cats, it will only be payback for all the hearts you’ve broken over the years.”
“And now she brings up my sordid youth,” Richard said with a sigh. “To think, I called you for moral support and got acidic banter instead.”
“Richard, I’m teasing you,” she said, her voice warm with affection. “I was under the impression you enjoyed sarcasm.”
“Just because I almost married the single greatest natural source of it…”
They both laughed then, and once they’d finished chuckling Lana told him quietly, “Richard, the twins are scared to lose you. They’ll realize soon enough that you aren’t going anywhere. Until then, just remember that they wouldn’t be this angry if they didn’t love you, all right?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, smirking.
“Furthermore,” Lana continued, “you have no way of knowing if Lois and her mother are fighting or if they’ve gotten things straightened out. Don’t walk in there expecting an argument. Lois is very smart, and from the brief time I got to meet Mrs. Lane, she seems to be an eminently practical and very wise lady. I’m sure things will be settled down before you get there.”
“Well, I’m in the driveway, and I haven’t heard any shots fired, so I’m guessing you’re right,” Richard joked rather weakly.
“Richard, it’s going to be all right,” Lana said soothingly.
“Yeah, I went through enough of this already,” he said, and was surprised at his own bitterness. “My family… Lana, I don’t even want you to meet my mother. Dad’s pretty cool, but he lets her have her way in everything and it just…”
“Richard, I plan to meet your parents eventually,” Lana said, another of those subtle hints. “I’ve already told my mother about you, so at some point I’m going to bring you out to Kansas and introduce you to my family, too.”
“Yes, really,” she chuckled.
“Damn, Lana, from you that’s practically a marriage proposal,” Richard teased her.
She coughed slightly, and Richard just knew she was blushing. “Yes, well, the point was, I’ll deal with your mother when I meet her. Just like you’ll deal with the infamous Lane ladies. I’m serious about not walking in expecting a fight, though. Everything’s probably fine.”
He took a deep breath and let it out with a sigh. “You’re probably right, as usual. Okay, wish me luck – I’m going in… You know, Lana, at moments like this, I really wish you were here.”
“Me, too,” she replied softly, and then she made herself joke again. “Heaven knows you need someone to take care of you.”
“Yeah, I do,” Richard admitted. “Love you, Lana.”
“Love you, too.”
With those words, spoken so low and solemnly, echoing in his mind, Richard closed his phone gently and got out of the car. In spite of Lana’s encouragement, he found it hard to think positive all the way to the door, and by the time he rang the bell doubt had started to creep in.
Little Sam opened the door, looking up at him in faint surprise. “Uncle Richard?” he said, then remembered his manners. “Come in.”
“Hi, Sam,” Richard said, stepping into a house redolent with the savory scents of a traditional Thanksgiving feast. It took a moment for Richard to really see the tableau before him.
Lois was holding Jason’s hand, and Ella was standing by Lucy and Ron, all of them looking at Richard with surprised expressions. He scanned the room quickly, nervous, and his eyes settled on Kala, who was staring at him wide-eyed from her perch in Clark’s arms.
Clark. Well, that’s unexpected, Richard thought. Everyone was watching him, so he made himself smile. Remember, you like Clark. And you’re happy for him and Lois – he gets to deal with her when she’s snarling about too much blood in her caffeine stream; you only have to see her when she’s fully awake now. And you just spoke to the woman who makes you almost forget who Lois is. Grow up and deal with it – this is your life now.
Internal pep talk accomplished, Richard managed to grin. “Hey, Clark,” he said. “Welcome to the Lane family dynasty.”
“Hi, Richard,” Clark said with obvious relief. The tension dropped away, and the twins came forward to hug Richard.
Both of them were more subdued than usual, Kala easing down from being held instead of just wriggling away as she usually did. She hugged Richard for a long time, too, and Jason was just as reluctant to let go.
Richard had dropped to one knee to hug them, kissing them both on the cheek. When they stepped back, satisfied at last, he gave them a serious look. Kala was wide-eyed and nervous, Jason looked like he’d been crying, and Lois’s hair was rumpled as if she’d been raking her hands through it obsessively. The three things together were more than enough clues for a reporter like Richard. “Have you two been giving your mommy a hard time?”
Both twins looked down at the ground, Jason’s lower lip pouting slightly. “Sorry,” he whispered, and his sister echoed him.
“Now listen,” Richard said, catching both of their chins and making them look at him. “I don’t love you any less. And I wouldn’t let anyone take you away from me, you hear? Not only that, neither Mommy nor Daddy Clark would ever do something that mean to you two or to me. We’ve all told you that no one’s going to leave – if you don’t believe me and Mommy, believe Clark, because he can’t lie worth a damn.”
“Richard,” Ella muttered warningly, but the slight profanity made both twins giggle.
“No more worrying,” Richard said sternly. “Promise?”
“Promise,” Jason and Kala said in unison.
“None at all,” Richard admonished. “Absolutely no worryworting around at all.”
“Yes, sir,” the twins replied, smiling again.
“All right then,” Richard told them, standing up. “That’s great, because I don’t know about you guys, but I’m starving. Hear my belly growling?”
Kala and Jason both leaned in toward Richard, listening expectantly, and both yelped in mock fear when he growled like a bear and grabbed at them. They ran off giggling like mad, carrying the Troupe kids along in a laughing pack heading to the kitchen.
“Richard, you’re amazing,” Lois sighed, giving him a grateful smile. He folded his arms and grinned back at her triumphantly as Lucy started herding the adults into the dining room.
Lois and Clark were the last ones out the door, his hand on the middle of her back in an unconscious gesture of closeness that, surprisingly, didn’t make Richard feel bitter in the slightest. He turned to see Ella watching them as well, and caught the expression of wonder in her eyes, the way her gaze lingered on Clark. Well, I’ll be damned. Lois told her. I guess that’s why I didn’t walk into a fight – Ella knows.
Leaning toward the woman who was nearly his mother-in-law, Richard whispered, “Quite a head trip, isn’t it? Welcome to the club.”
Ella looked at him, slightly startled, and then they shared a smile. “Richard, you’re quite a man,” she told him quietly. “You may not be marrying my daughter, but you’re still quite a man. And you’ll always be part of this family.”
“Glad to hear it,” he replied, and for a moment they stood there companionably watching the rest of the Lane tribe bustling around the dining room and kitchen.
“Did you bring the wine?”