Once she was done, she saw Jason staring at her in wide-eyed confusion. For a moment, she wondered what that look was for: the confession or for sticking up for him? Although he didn’t keep her hanging for long. “When did we start dating again?”
The whole family just stood in amazement, none having expected this. “Time,” Richard called, as if this were a football game. “Son, when an attractive woman says she’s your girlfriend, just roll with it, okay? Never argue with that – unless you’re already dating someone else.”
Elise was about to start up again, but a sudden breeze rumpled her hair and blew several pages of Lois’ notes off the table. When it died down, Clark stepped out of the bathroom in civilian clothes. It was mind-blowing to think that this was Superman, that the same guy who made waffles from scratch on Sunday mornings was the hero she’d seen so frequently on TV. Elise noticed the difference in him immediately, now that she knew the secret, and awe silenced her. He stood straighter, and when he spoke his voice was deeper and more certain. “Jason, I believe I speak for all of us when I say that we are very disappointed in you.”
Jason flinched, but automatically dropped into a formal sort of speech Elise had never heard from him before. “Father, I am disappointed in myself as well. I have failed you.”
“Enough already,” Elise snapped, ignoring the utter weirdness of the moment to defend Jason. “If Mrs. Lane-Kent had been out there instead of us, she couldn’t have outrun the freaking flash flood! So technically we probably saved her life by leaving the hotel when we weren’t supposed to.” She didn’t see the way Lois narrowed her eyes angrily at that. It was never a good idea to remind Lois that she was the only person in the house without powers.
Jason looked at Elise, looked at his mother, and then looked at his father. This new steadiness was worrisome to the adults; he was taking this like a man, not a boy. “All I can say is that I promised Kala I would always protect her. If that means risking my own life, then so be it. I only regret involving Elise.”
Elise made her feelings on his chivalry known, casting aggravated eyes in his direction. “Oh come on. It wasn’t like you forced me to participate, Jason.”
As it was, both of them pointedly ignored her. “You are your mother’s son, Jason,” Clark sighed, knowing that Lois immediately bristled even as he continued, “fearlessly heroic beyond all possibility of caution or restraint.”
Before she could even form the words, Richard cut in, trying to divert Lois’ impending rage toward himself. “And with Lois’ instinct for finding trouble.”
And it almost worked. Almost. “Richard, I know what you’re doing. Don’t help,” Lois muttered through gritted teeth.
Clark shook his head slightly, and dropped some of the intensely formal manner. “Well, we don’t have much choice but to deal with the repercussions now. Elise, I heard what you said while I was on the way here. I don’t doubt your sincerity, but this is a huge secret that you’ll have to keep for the rest of your life. I wouldn’t ask that of anyone. It’s too much a burden.”
“But other people must know, right? You’ve told some people and nothing cataclysmic happened,” Elise asked earnestly, gaze straying over to Richard and Lana.
It was the redhead answered her, glancing around at the others before speaking. “None of us were told – we all found out on our own. I didn’t know until ten years ago, and I’ve known Clark since we were both three years old. The twins even figured it out without being told. Outside this room, there are only three people who ever knew the secret: Clark’s adoptive parents, and Lois’ mother. His parents had to know, and her mother learned the whole truth because she knew Superman was the twins’ father when we were trying to convince everyone that Clark was.”
Elise tilted her head in confusion, ready to ask a question, but Lois cut her off by saying, “It’s more than that. Luthor knows, and so does Mercy.”
“Which means his henchmen know, too,” Jason muttered. “He told almost everyone on the yacht last time.”
“Not necessarily,” Lois corrected. “He didn’t know Clark was Superman then – he only knew Superman was your father. We’ve been hearing rumors about that ever since I got pregnant, though, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to tell the guys who kidnapped you and Kala. Anyway, Luthor wouldn’t let anyone else know Clark’s identity if he could help it. That’s too much power for him to share.”
Clark mused over that. “You have a point.”
“That was the whole reason I cut a deal with him in the first place: to protect your identity. He couldn’t tell his people, because if one of them decided to spread the news, his threat would lose its power and I would nail his ass to the wall.” Lois cut her husband a pointed look at that.
“Okay, folks, let’s regroup and figure out what our next move will be,” Richard said. “And while we’re doing that, Lois, sit down for a second and let me look at your hands. You really gave that broad a beating, didn’t you? Let me get some triple antibiotic on those scratches.” His admiring tone took the sting out of the reminder that she’d been injured, and Lois reluctantly let Richard tend to her while they all pooled their information.
Once everyone’s stories had been shared, Clark brooded in thoughtful silence for several moments. “I’m afraid that Luthor’s no longer working alone. From what Mercy told you, Lois, he has some sort of accomplice at the facility with him. And from what I’ve seen, he’s managed to network with the archenemies of the League. It’s the only logical explanation for what happened today.”
“So there’s, what, an Anti-Justice League now?” Richard asked.
“Apparently,” Clark replied dryly. Richard didn’t curse in front of Lana very often because she disapproved of that sort of language, but she didn’t even scowl at his muttered profanity then.
“We might as well stay here tonight,” Lana said. “Luthor may very well know which hotel we’re in, but security’s pretty tight here. Do you think he would try something in such a public place?”
Lois glanced at her, smirking at the question. “After he got burned the last few times? Probably not.”
“I’d be much happier if all of you were safely in Kansas, but I know…” Clark sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.
The hazel eyes then swung to him, her expression dark. “Exactly. Tough,” Lois snapped out before he could finish. “If I was in Kansas I wouldn’t have been able to find the address Luthor’s sending all the supplies to and beat the crap out of Mercy Graves. And lemme tell you, I needed that. Nothing like a thorough, righteous ass-kicking to make my day a little brighter.”
Clark made a sound then, perhaps a stifled chuckle, but it sounded scoffing to Lois. She was still keyed up from the fight and the revelation that her precious boy had blown the secret all to hell. It was little wonder, then, that she turned on Clark. “All right, hero, I know you disapprove of my tactics, but screw that! Some of us weren’t born bulletproof, and I don’t expect you to show up and fight my battles for me! I was taking care of myself long before you turned up in Metropolis, so don’t you dare judge me.”
That had been the last thing he’d expected when he’d shown amusement. It felt too close to an attack. His disbelief was palpable when he stared at her, brows furrowed. “What the heck are you talking about?”
The next few minutes rapidly descended into raised voices and hasty words and raw nerves, Richard and Lana trying to keep Lois and Clark from yelling at each other. There was simply too much adrenaline and stress in the room for anyone to get past the initial miscommunication.
In the middle of it, Jason decided that he’d heard all he needed to. Grabbing Elise’s hand, he practically dragged her into the next room. The adults were too busy to even notice. “God, I can’t stand any more of this,” he groaned once the door was closed. “They’ve been doing nothing but sniping at each other for weeks now. I swear, they’ve never been like this before. I wish they’d just stop already.”
“I’m sorry,” Elise told him, her mind still spinning at all the revelations. Superman was in the next room getting yelled at by his wife. What a head trip.
Jason sat down heavily on the bed, rubbing his forehead. The strain on his face hurt to even seen, the clear guilt there. “How did this turn into such a huge screw-up? Where did I go wrong?”
Elise thought about for a second, a frown of her own forming, then grabbed one of the pillows and whacked him upside the head with it. “News flash, Superboy: it’s not all about you. Your parents’ problems aren’t your fault. Your sister taking off and getting snatched by Luthor isn’t your fault. Luthor freaking trying to kill us isn’t your fault, either. Yeah, we screwed up today walking into a trap, but it’s not the end of the world.”
At least that got a startled smile out of him, blue eyes wide before he dropped his head and laughed. When he looked back up, his expression was unclouded and it did Elise’s heart good to see it. Misery didn’t suit him in the least. “Thanks for sticking up for me, by the way.”
“You’re welcome. Someone has to.” Elise smiled back and sat down next to him, trying to reconcile the Jason she knew and yes, loved, with the revelations she’d had today. “So, care to explain how I wound up dating a super-sekret babeh?”
Jason took one look at her face, her raised eyebrows and the twinkle lurking in her eyes and burst out laughing again. She was still confused, didn’t understand any of what was going on, but she wasn’t scared or grossed-out, it was obvious by everything she was doing right now. And that was enough to convince Jason that, despite the chaos around him, maybe things would be okay.
Sniping at each other was pointless and stupid, and even in the heat of her anger Lois realized it. Besides, they weren’t getting anything resolved and, in her current mood, it was more than she could tolerate. Not allowing herself to think of anyone else’s feelings at that moment, she brushed off Richard and Lana and turned her back on the whole argument. She had to get out of here, had to be alone before she started to buckle. “I’ve had enough. When everything starts to make some kind of freakin’ sense, let me know. I need a shower,” she snarled, standing up abruptly and storming off into the next room, slamming the door behind her.
Or trying to, anyway, because Kal-El caught it before it could latch, and followed her in. Behind him, Lana said something exasperatedly about letting the two hard-heads just fight it out. “Lois, listen,” he tried to say, but she cut him off before he could even get started.
“Can it. I’ve been rolling around on a warehouse floor. I need a shower, I need a cigarette, and I need a hundred percent less passive-aggressive bullshit from you. But two out of three ain’t bad.” With that, she headed for the bathroom, and flung that door shut in his face as well.
Kal-El caught it before it could slam shut, but had the sense not to follow her into an enclosed space. He leaned against the wall just outside, leaving the door ajar so Lois could hear him. “Lois, we need to talk.”
“Not right now, we don’t.” Not even sparing him a glance, Lois shed her clothes and tossed them over the towel rack. The locket, which she had worn constantly since the twins gave it to her, she laid carefully aside on the counter. He was blessedly silent for a moment then, and as she turned the water temperature up and stepped into the needling spray, Lois avoided glancing at herself in the mirror. She didn’t want to see the damage she’d taken in this fight. Her carefully-applied makeup was surely shot to hell, and the grime from the warehouse floor wasn’t helping. Add in bruises and scrapes, and Lois supposed she looked every moment of her actual age, which she hadn’t admitted to in years.
That depressing thought drained the adrenaline from her, and Lois had no reserves left. She had pushed herself too hard, worn her competent façade too thin, to keep from falling into the despair that had awaited her since the afternoon her baby girl ran away from home. Gritting her teeth against a sob, she told herself the wetness on her cheeks was from the shower spray, and never mind that it tasted of salt.
Jor-El was right; she had doomed them all. She should never have done any of this. None of it, from the first rescue to the night that had created the twins. How different would his life have been if she hadn’t been in it? How much better would the twins’ lives have been if she hadn’t been their mother? If she hadn’t caught his eye, would he have stayed hidden until the other meta-humans had come out of the woodwork? Maybe then they would have been the children of a Kryptonian father and a goddess, would have had a mother who was above all of this. A mother Kala would still be proud to call her own, still proud of the similarities between them the way Kala had been with her as a child. A mother who would have been able to protect them better than she had, who would never have had to bargain with Luthor, who would have been able to end Lex’s grip on them forever.
The thought made Lois bite her lip painfully, but she had to admit it. Honestly, how many lives would never been touched by all of this madness, how much heartache could have been stopped, had she never met Kal-El? He would have been happy with Diana, never had half the fears and anxieties he was stuck with as Lois’ husband. The immortal Amazon would never age. Never disappoint him. Especially if he had never known any different. Lois shuddered at the idea, but couldn’t deny its power. If in some dark corner of her mind she hadn’t thought that Kal-El of Krypton and Diana of Themyscira would make a good match, she would never have been so threatened by the princess.
When he had learned that Lois had made a bargain with Luthor, Kal-El had been so furious that he couldn’t even speak. It had taken every ounce of his mind and will to grapple with that anger, to keep it from leaping out and accusing Lois of causing this whole fiasco. If he was honest, he was still angry with her. She should never have dealt with that madman, and she should never have kept it a secret from him. They should’ve been done with secrets ten years ago, when she finally told him the twins were his. Maybe if Lois had been honest with him, he would’ve seen this coming somehow…
All he wanted to was to let this go, to smooth things over, and go to sleep. All of them had had a rough day; he could still smell the oily smoke from the coal fire, and probably should’ve been taking a shower too. But Lois had made it very clear that she didn’t want him encroaching on her space. Kal-El sighed, wishing for the days when he could share a shower with his wife, and perhaps relieve a little stress as well. When had the spontaneous affection disappeared?
Standing out here in silence wasn’t helping. He needed to talk to her, no matter how little either of them wanted to have this conversation. About secrets, about uncertainties, and about where they were going from here. Kal-El took a deep breath and turned toward the bathroom door. “Lois. Please, just listen to me for a few minutes. Lana and Richard are right, you know. If Luthor has allies, we have to be at our best, and we’re nowhere near a hundred percent when we’re like this.”
“Like what?” came the cagey answer from behind the frosted glass shower door, Lois’ voice oddly garbled.
“Like two people who don’t love each other,” he replied, softly. “We’re both so ready to take offense. We’re ticking each other off with a word or a look. How did we get to this point?”
There was a harsh laugh then, bitter as day-old coffee, before she replied in that distorted voice, “I think that may have started when you blamed me for everything that went wrong, and practically vaporized me out of our living room with a look! Maybe before that, but I’m pretty sure that’s when it got the worst.”
Kal-El mastered his temper before he could snap at her. As if all of this was his fault! Talking to Richard and Lana had helped him understand why Lois had made that bargain with his worst enemy, but the sheer outrage he felt had only barely begun to fade. Still, he had reached the point in the argument where he wanted it to be over more than he wanted to win.
In spite of that, it galled him to apologize. Kal-El could not escape the belief that his anger had been justified. His means of expressing it, however, might not have been. “I admit I overreacted.”
There was silence on the other side of the curtain, the only sound the gurgle of the water and the sound of the run-off hitting the porcelain of the tub surface. He was about to go on when he heard her mutter, “Once again, he comes out with the understatement of the year. As always, Kal-El, you have a way with words. You didn’t even wait for an explanation. You just ate me up right there.”
Kal-El took a deep breath. Balling his hands into fists somehow helped keep his tone level. “I was furious. I didn’t think there could be any explanation for that.”
“Oh, so you just assumed that, after he tried to kill the four of us, and Lana and Richard, I just randomly and for no reason at all, decided to make a deal with him that puts all of those lives at stake again? Nice to know just how well you believe in me there! Didn’t it occur to you once that maybe he had dirt on us? That he got to us in the first place because he knew things he shouldn’t?” The anger in her voice was a live wire, and quite nearly masked the pain beneath.
Time had taken the edge off of his sense of betrayal, and now Kal-El was starting to understand things from her perspective. He no longer doubted that Lois had chosen what seemed to her the lesser of two evils, no longer scoffed at the notion that she had done it out of her belief that she was protecting the entire family. At the heart of it, Lois had only done what she felt she had to do in order to keep them all safe.
Something clicked in his mind then. Lois had kept the deal a secret so as not to burden him. It couldn’t have been easy for her, always looking over her shoulder, wondering when Luthor would break his word – or when Kal-El would find out. She had suffered alone, believing she was acting in everyone’s best interests, and when the truth came out, it had all blown up in her face. What she’d thought was a mercy turned out to be unimaginable cruelty. And Kal-El, who had stolen her memories so that he would be the only one tormented by the loss of their relationship, knew that feeling all too well.
Knowing that, he couldn’t be quite so wrathful with her anymore. “Lois, I’m sorry. I was angry, and I wasn’t thinking logically. Wait – No, honestly, I wasn’t thinking at all. I should have given you the chance to explain.” But the return of mental clarity also meant Kal-El realized their problems ran a lot deeper than just this recent mess.
Lois was silent, neither accepting his apology nor snarling back defiantly. Kal-El didn’t need his x-ray vision to picture her frozen, eyes wide, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Softly, knowing she was listening intently, he said, “I was wrong, Lois. But all of this – Kala running away, the call from Luthor – has shown me something very clearly. And it’s that the problems between you and I aren’t going to be solved by a simple apology.”
His wife gave a small laugh then, the splashing of the water indicating that she was washing the conditioner out of her hair, shaking it to free herself of the excess. He knew her well enough to know that she’d use the cold water on her hair quickly before the end, despite how much she hated the water temperature. If he knew that, why couldn’t he have seen all of this coming? As he was turning that over in his mind, he felt the heat in the room dip and Lois responded with, “What are you implying, Kal-El? That you and I have bigger things to worry about than trust issues? Tell me about it.”
He took a deep breath then, bracing himself. The conversation had made its way around to the confrontation he’d been dreading. And, even though they needed to get this out in the open, he wasn’t sure he was ready for it. “I’m not talking about Luthor.”
Her voice was just as terse as he had been expecting. “Then what the hell is your problem?” The sound of the water stopped then, and one pale hand reached out to whisk a towel from the rack. If she was staying in there to dry off, it was a bad sign. Lois was not overtly modest and usually stepped out onto the matt to do that, a quirk of hers he’d become attuned to in the last decade. It was not a good sign. And any second Lois would be dressed again and determined to get away. Kal-El had to get to the heart of the issue, quickly.
“I’m talking about your insecurity, for one,” he blurted out, and immediately closed his eyes. That hadn’t come out right…
The reporter was already climbing out of the shower while he considered what to do next, towel wrapped around her tightly. His wife hadn’t even looked at him, jaw set and eyes forward, as she stalked across the tile floor. When the words came out, she had just reached the bathroom door. It was as if time stopped for a moment; she halted mid-step on the threshold as if she’d been turned to stone by those words, a startled expression bright as a deer in the headlights. Slowly, slowly, that beloved face tracked toward him, the amazed shock draining away to replaced with eyes narrowing to a stiletto-point. “What?” she hissed with tightly bound fury. He knew that look, and its potential for destruction; not for nothing was Lois called Mad Dog Lane around the office.