Hope this chapter was worth the wait, everyone! As to everything that’s happening here, and will be happening in the chapters to come, we can only ask that you trust us. This story has been four years in the making – we began plotting Heirs to the House of El while we were writing Little Secrets – and everything that is to come has its purpose in the storyline.
Also remember that we are hardcore Clois ‘shippers. You may want to keep that in mind, too.
The hour was growing late, the day and its activities had been more than a little strenuous, and Maggie Sawyer would have liked nothing more than to be asleep at this point. But her mind was still racing with all that had been happening, and she didn’t dare drink more than three shots of scotch when she was going to work in the morning. There had been no update from Lois or Clark, either, and she knew she couldn’t rest until she knew that Richard and Lana had made it in one piece. And there was the mess with the kids to add to the anxiety. So she sprawled in the comfortable chair just beside the balcony doors and tried to drowse. The call would come in, she knew. She just had to be patient. Maggie closed her eyes and tried to clear her mind, hearing the faint sounds of Tobie and Cat arguing over something from the kitchen. Probably something completely ridiculous, a trend that had started almost immediately after they had come home from the Troupe’s.
First thing this morning was a fine example. Tobie had started the day by bitching at Cat for not rinsing out her toothbrush, prompting a puzzled look from Jamie. Turning to her mother, she asked in a vaguely amused tone, “Are they always like this?” Maggie, unable to stop her smirk, had told her plainly that any time the three friends weren’t arguing, someone was in a life-or-death situation, so she actually welcomed the bickering – it signaled a slight return to normality. Of course, without Lois around to balance them out, Tobie and Cat were twice as contentious. If she heard correctly, they were now in a heated argument about alfredo sauce versus tomato sauce. How the hell they’d gotten on that topic, she’d never know, but at least Jamie was having a ball laughing at them. She couldn’t remember a time when she had heard her daughter laugh so much, in fact.
And at least she knew they were safe. The situation in Smallville had been stable since the rest of the family had touched down, Martha herself had called once all were settled, and she’d had a call from Ron that night. Currently, all of the family attached to the Daily Planet were involved in what looked like a bid to take over the newspaper. They had control of the situation right now, but they wanted to keep Lois out of it for the moment. Everyone suspected it was a ploy by Luthor to distract all connected from whatever he was planning for Lois and Clark, and neither of them could afford the distraction. There had been no further attacks on any of the family still in town, so Ron thought they should keep this to themselves for now. Maggie fully agreed, telling him to keep her on standby. The news was enough to soothe her a little. Now if only she could reach someone in Nevada to know that they were all right…
“Inspector Sawyer.” That gravelly male voice came from the balcony not six inches away from her ear, and Maggie was on her feet with her gun drawn before she recognized the voice – and the style. Goddamn pointy-eared bastard.
Holstering her gun, she yanked back the curtain to confront the cowled figure she remembered well from her stint in Gotham’s Major Crimes Unit. That, however, did nothing for her frayed nerves. “Someday you may want to stop doing that. Do you want to get shot?” she growled irritably, glowering at him.
Maggie saw what may have been a smirk cross his lips, but Batman was too draped in shadow for her to be certain. “I thought you might appreciate an update, in light of the situation.”
Pushing away her annoyance, she leaned against the doorway and regarded him seriously. “I would, actually.” Truth be told, she was a bit impressed by the fact that he’d sought her out. That could only have come with Superman’s help and that meant that the situation out west could stop preying on her thoughts so heavily. Then again, he could be vexingly uncommunicative when he wanted to, frustrating the hell out of Gordon; she bet that it was the commissioner who had begun calling him ‘the Goddamn Batman’ after one of those infuriatingly brief meetings. But there was no doubt in Maggie’s mind whose side Batman was on.
He told her that Lois and Clark were presently safe in Nevada, and that Richard and Lana had discovered their stowaways. Jason and Elise were still with them, the adults evidently deciding that the kids were safer under their watchful eyes. So far, Luthor had made no move against them, but they were no closer to finding him, either. And Superman seemed of the mind that time was running out.
“Thank you,” Maggie told him. She glanced away at the sound of Cat’s footsteps in the hall, and when she turned back, Batman was gone. She shook her head with a sigh. “The amazing disappearing superhero, ladies and gentlemen.”
When she had stowed away with Jason, she had never thought that she’d be doing this. Elise had been so glad to have been a counselor at summer camp; the basic first-aid knowledge seemed to be coming in handy tonight. But she wasn’t expecting what she saw when Lana raised her blouse. Just seeing it made the girl hiss in sympathetic pain. Beneath the bandage, the long slash across her ribs had reopened during the day, and blood smeared the wound, some of it dry, some still tacky. “Oh, wow.”
Lana gave a small smile at that, all too aware of how it looked. “I know,” the redhead murmured when she saw the girl’s pained wince, trying to be reassuring in spite of the reality of the wounds. “And I can’t see what I’m doing, so you have to clean it. I’m sorry, Elise.”
The girl was torn between disbelief and awe at the older woman’s guts. She’d have taken herself into an emergency room ASAP if it had been her, but it was clear that Lana had no intentions of even considering that. Again she was amazed at this family. They were just unbelievable. “This is so not your fault,” Elise told her, forcing herself to think straight. Okay, first things first, get it cleaned up. Fortunately the hospital had sent home a wound care kit, and Richard always had a first-aid kit on the plane, so she had supplies.
Lana held still while she sprayed cold saline over the wound and daubed it away with gauze. Once the dried blood was off, Elise could see that two stitches had torn through the skin, opening the cut each time Lana moved.
Elise smeared it with antibiotic ointment and held pressure against it with clean gauze for a few minutes, then wiped away the excess ointment and applied some butterfly bandages. “Okay, that should hold it closed for a while,” she said as she covered the whole thing with gauze and taped it in place, concentrating on making it as snug as she could. She couldn’t help giving the redhead a warning look, though. “But if you keep opening it by moving around, it’s going to scar.”
Jason’s stepmother just looked back at her with a small smile, obviously affected by the concern, but Elise knew she wasn’t going to back down. “I can live with a scar,” Lana told her. “What I can’t live with is knowing I lay in a hospital bed like a coward while my daughter was being held captive.” That said, she sat up gingerly and pulled the blouse down over the fresh bandage. Then she looked at the girl thoughtfully. “Thank you, Elise. I couldn’t have done this alone.”
They both glanced at the door, but neither Jason nor Richard had returned. All too aware that anything could happen at any time in this situation, Elise sighed with defeat. “You’re welcome. But what you need to be doing right now is nothing. Do you have to do something with the rest of them tonight? Any chance of you just resting for a while? Maybe get the rest of this cleaned up?”
Lana relented a little. “The dressings are supposed to be changed every day. Richard said I might as well just completely bandage both arms and wrap them in that purple stuff in the kit there, instead of doing separate bandages. And my hand has to be cleaned and re-bandaged, and the drains checked, too.”
All of that sounded, quite frankly, gross. But Elise figured everyone else was busy having their meltdowns, and she was here. At least this way she was needed, which kept her from worrying over Jason and what was going on with Lois. “We might as well get started,” she said, reaching for the bandage scissors.
As she worked, she had to keep biting her lip not to say something. Lana had many slashes across both forearms, ranging from shallow cuts that just needed a smear of antibiotic ointment to deep gashes with many stitches. Elise couldn’t imagine how much this was hurting, or how Lana could keep going without complaining at all.
There was silence for a time, Elise concentrating on the task at hand and the older woman staying as still as possible. After a while Lana broke it, her voice hushed, “I’m sorry I yelled at you earlier.” The girl looked up then, startled, to see a very thoughtful look on Lana’s face. “Elise, I want you to understand something. It’s not that we don’t like you; far from it. I don’t think it’s ever been a secret that you’ve been one of the best choices that Jason ever made. It’s that you shouldn’t be in this much danger.”
“Neither should you,” Elise pointed out, meeting her gaze and meaning it fully.
Lana smiled, her sea-green eyes tired. “The difference is, I’ve made a commitment to this family already. I’m aware of what I’m walking into. You … Elise, you’re a very brave and insightful young woman, but there’s too much you don’t know.”
That furrowed Elise’s brow in way that nothing else in this conversation had. Again with the damn family-mystery thing. What in the hell was going on here that no one would explain to her? It was starting to feel like she has living in a Gothic romance novel where Jason had a crazy ex-wife locked in the attic somewhere. True as it was, now wasn’t the time or the place to drag it out of them, particularly out of poor wounded Mrs. White. Holding her tongue, Elise dropped her eyes back to the work at hand. “Tell me about it,” she sighed.
Richard knocked lightly at the door, but it swung open under his hand; Lois hadn’t completely closed it behind her when she had stormed out. He resisted the urge to peek in to check the space first and strolled in as if nothing were wrong. “Hey, Clark,” he called, keeping the tone light.
“I’m going out,” was the other man’s instantaneous response, his voice harsh. Clark was staring out the window, his back to Richard. “I can get sunlight instead of sleep.”
“Man, it’s dark out,” Richard replied, startled.
“On the other side of the world it’s midday.” Clark turned toward Richard then, and his face was haggard. Without another word, he was starting for the door.
Richard saw the determination there and knew he had to work quickly if he didn’t want the older man to leave. And he didn’t need to leave; this cycle didn’t need to start over again. It was likely part of their current problem, actually. “Clark. Stop, man. Seriously. You need sleep – actual sleep. Didn’t you tell me sunlight makes you feel energized, but it doesn’t replace sleep? Kinda like caffeine does for the rest of us. I tell you what, I wouldn’t want to try pulling an all-nighter right now no matter how much coffee you gave me.” Richard tilted his head, frowning. “Come to think of it, Clark, when was the last time you slept?”
The older man scowled, then, having to think about it. “The day before yesterday. I think.”
“Yeah, you need rest,” Richard insisted. “Get some sun tomorrow.”
Clark’s voice was brittle as he replied, “And how exactly do you expect me to sleep with everything that’s going on? I’m exhausted, but I’m way too keyed up to even close my eyes. Worrying about Kala would be enough, but Lois…”
When he stumbled to a halt, Richard sat down in the room’s chair. “About her. Wanna talk about it?”
It was clear then where Jason’s petulant look of displeasure came from as Clark brooded. If this situation had been a little less serious, Richard would have called him on it, but now wasn’t the time. “Thanks, your wife already gave me the lecture,” he snapped. Nope, definitely not the right time.
Richard only shrugged then, his whole being deceptively casual as he leaned back in the chair as if he belonged there. “Hey, who said I was here to lecture you? I can understand how you feel – she lied to me quite a lot back in the day, too, and I was royally pissed off about it. No one ever said it was easy to love Lois Lane.”
“You don’t understand. It was Luthor. She dealt with Luthor, and hid it from me!” He was pacing then, trying to outrun his anxiety.
That drew a chuckle from Richard. “Yeah, I do, actually. It was you. She slept with Superman and hid that from me.”
Clark paused, giving his friend a startled look, and the younger man continued, “I was always a fan. I was excited as hell to meet her when she came back from Paris because she was your chronicler. But she always insisted it was strictly business between you two. I felt like such an idiot when I found out the rest of Metropolis considered you the biggest love story in town. And yeah, I was mad at her for everything else she hid from me, not just her relationship with you. It wasn’t so much that she had me raising the Supertwins, but things like … she’d had a tubal ligation, and never told me about that. Or that she never had any intention of marrying me.”
“Okay, you have a point,” Clark admitted finally. He sat down heavily on the bed and rubbed his hands over his face, trying to scrub away some of the exhaustion.
“Told you so.” Richard couldn’t resist a smirk before he added, “So I can understand why you’re acting … hmm, a little out of character?”
Clark looked over at him despondently. “How am I supposed to act, Richard? She made a deal with Luthor and kept it a secret from me for ten years!”
“Think of it this way,” the younger man suggested. “We’re talking about a woman who jumped from a helicopter into the ocean, fifty miles from land, while handcuffed, to save your life. That is how freaking intensely committed Lois is.”
Clark looked appropriately embarrassed at that reminder; he’d been so angry at Lois that he had forgotten how dedicated she was. That point made, Richard moved on, “Knowing that about her, I’m not at all surprised that she made a deal with Luthor. And seeing how you reacted to finding out, I kinda can’t blame her for keeping it a secret. That doesn’t make what she did right,” he interjected quickly, seeing the wounded look in Clark’s eyes. “It wasn’t right, Clark. She was wrong. And it sounds like she didn’t have any better choices at the time. I don’t have the full story, but maybe you should think about getting it. If you can talk to her long enough to hear her out.”
Poor Clark looked beaten and beleaguered. “It’s not just that. I guess … the biggest thing for me is that I trusted her, and even if you’re right, it still feels like a huge betrayal. Now I’m questioning a lot of things I always took for granted.”
“Like what?” asked Richard, who could see that Clark had something he needed to get off his chest, even if the other man was acting reluctant.
“Like this idiot investor who’s been hanging around her at work,” Clark muttered, his words coming slowly. “He’s just some rich kid who’s fascinated by the hotshot reporter with the great legs.”
“There’s always a few of those hovering around her,” Richard commented, thinking that Clark rarely mentioned Lois’ physical attributes out loud. Maybe he should compliment her that obviously a little more often… “A few decent guys, like you and me and Jimmy Olsen, but a lot of shallow jerks obsessed with the legs. And they are worth obsessing over, am I right?” That actually got a chuckle from Clark, and Richard followed up quickly. “She usually runs off the annoying ones, though. If this guy is aggravating you, she must not have scared him away yet. So what’s the deal?”
“She’s encouraging him,” Clark growled. “Every time I turn around they’re talking and laughing in her office. And lately she’s hiding her computer screen whenever I walk by.”
“Clark, she said she was researching Luthor. I bet that’s why she’s hiding what she’s doing online,” Richard pointed out. “As for this Eastlake guy, you can’t seriously think she’d cheat on you with one of the investors.”
“I wouldn’t have thought so, but…” Clark muttered.
“Hey. Earth to Clark? Lois is not going to cheat. Know why?” Richard waited until the older man turned his beleaguered gaze up to him, and hit him with the punch line. “Because she’s fucking Superman. What mere human has a chance against that?” Clark looked so horrified by that statement that Richard couldn’t help adding, “Except me, of course.”
That finally got the reaction he wanted – Clark laughed, the tension falling away from him. “Richard, have you ever doubted yourself?”
“Nope, not since Right Said Fred stole my theme song. I’m so sexy I make Tobie Raines uncomfortable,” Richard joked back.
“I don’t think that’s why she’s uncomfortable around you. I think it has more to do with controlling her urge to slap you upside the head.”
Richard shrugged. “I’m not kidding about you, though. What else could she want? Lois has the man that every woman in the world fantasizes about. Hell, there are still women sunbathing naked on rooftops in this city every summer.”
“Please don’t remind me.” Clark winced, and decided to change the subject slightly. “As for you, I know better, Richard. I’ve never worried about you and Lois, even though you still have some chemistry. At least, not since that journalism conference in Japan.”
That ended the hilarity instantly, Richard’s spine turning to ice. He and Lois had almost kissed then, and it was true that the conference marked the turning point in his relationship with her. After that one momentary brush with adultery, the two of them had always been friends with a little spark of something more, not the lovers they once were. But Clark sounded almost as if he knew. “You know,” Richard said, trying to sound as casually as he could, “she and I never…”
“I know,” Clark said without the slightest change in his tone. “I trusted the both of you. You had to figure out how to deal with having been together and still seeing each other, and the conference was the perfect way to do it. You proved to yourselves that you could actually be alone together and not leap right back into bed. I never doubted you; you wouldn’t betray me like that.”
“I came pretty close to kissing her,” Richard finally said. “We were both really drunk, not that that excuses it.”
Clark shrugged. “It wouldn’t have gone beyond that. You know who you want to spend the rest of your life waking up beside, and it isn’t Lois. And as much as she still loves you, she wouldn’t have.”
Thoughtfully, Richard asked him, “So if you trusted her that much with me, who actually slept with her for three years and knows exactly how to seduce her, why are you so worried about this Eastlake guy?”
“I know you. You like everyone to think you’re an absolutely amoral stud, but you’re actually one of the good guys. Otherwise Lana would never have given you a second glance.”
Richard couldn’t fault that logic, although under other circumstances he would’ve reminded Clark that he had been that promiscuous in his younger years. As it was, he was more concerned with figuring out why Clark was threatened by this investor. “Still … what does Eastlake have that you don’t? Seriously, you don’t even need a plane to join the mile-high club.”
As Clark winced again, the answer dawned on Richard. “Let me guess – this guy pays attention to her, right? He’s always around, talking to her, hanging on every word she says.”
“Basically. He follows her around like a well-trained dog.”
“Which is exactly how everyone used to describe you!” Richard exclaimed. “Not the cape, but the guy at the office who just smiled when she stole his coffee. The man who was always there for her, the best friend who was madly in love. That’s the only thing this jerk can possibly give her that you aren’t: some attention.”
“She knew when she married me that the mission…” Clark didn’t even get to finish his sentence.
“Oh come on. You have a whole league’s worth of help, and you don’t have to step in at every traffic accident in Metropolis. You have to make time for your wife, Clark. Trust me, I know.” Richard scoffed slightly. “Do you think I have anything Lana needs? She’s got enough money to buy and sell me five times over. Yesterday proved she doesn’t need a man to protect her. She doesn’t need me to run her business, and I think she’d get mightily ticked off if I tried. She doesn’t even need the sex. The only thing I have that she needs is the attention. And even though Lois would never admit it, even under torture, she needs that too.”
Clark scowled. “She hates it when I make a fuss over her.”
Richard laughed. “Oh man, you are so out of touch. Clark, remember Valentine’s Day a few years ago when you sent her a hundred and one roses?”
“She complained for days.”
“Yeah, but she also displayed those suckers at her desk. It’s just like when you cuddle her, she complains about it and tells you you’re mussing her hair, but she doesn’t actually try to get away, does she?”
Clark was about to argue that, when he remembered one of their trips to the cabin. The kids had found a huge drift of fallen leaves, and all of them wound up getting a little silly and playing in the leaves. Richard had started tickling Lois, and she’d screamed and swatted at him, yelling at him to knock it off. Lana had been momentarily worried, but Clark had stopped her from intervening. ‘If Lois wants him to quit, she’ll make him quit,’ he’d said when the redhead looked at him in puzzlement. ‘The last man who touched her when she didn’t want him to got his hand broken.’ After a moment, Lana had seen that Lois was laughing in spite of her protests, and it had become obvious that she wasn’t really mad at Richard. Although when she stuffed a double handful of leaves down his shirt, it might have been up for debate.
“See, the thing about Lois is, she can’t admit to wanting to be fawned over,” Richard continued, bringing Clark out of his reverie. “She’s way too hardcore for that. She’ll never just tell you that she needs a hug, or that she just wants to talk about how your day was. Even now, even with the people who know her best, she can’t quite bring herself to be that vulnerable. If that’s frustrating, blame her dad. I’d punch him if he was still alive for how neurotic she is, but even that wouldn’t help.”
“You’re probably right,” Clark admitted, thinking about all the times Lois had smiled with possessive pride even as she’d told him not to get cuddly at the office.
“And you know what else?” Richard said quietly. “You used to know all this, Clark. You used to laugh at idiots like Eastlake who tried to put the moves on Lois. You thought it was hysterical, because you knew they never had a shot with her. When did you forget everything you used to know about your own wife, Clark?”