Completely unaware of what was happening two rooms away, Jason and Elise were falling asleep. Still side-by-side and carefully not touching, though – neither of them wanted to ruin their second chance by leaping in too quickly. “So your mom…” Elise had to pause to yawn. “Your mom’s helping everybody in the JLA keep their identities hidden. That’s pretty cool.”
“She’s Assistant Editor,” Jason explained, his eyelids growing heavier. “She’s in the right place to kill a story if she has to, or just send someone off on a wild-goose chase.” He smiled slightly, proud of Lois. Her contributions behind the scenes had kept Uncle Bruce’s name out of the paper even when some of his enemies were determined to expose him.
A moment passed without another question or comment from Elise, and Jason let his eyes drift closed. He would open them again in a moment…
Half an hour later, Elise shifted slightly in her sleep, and Jason reached out to drape an arm around her shoulders.
It would have been easy to simply drift off to sleep in the afterglow of their lovemaking, but Kal-El and Lois both had too much on their minds for that. “I love you,” he murmured after a long silence, stroking her hair. “I’ve always loved, I always will love you. Do you believe that now?”
As soon as he said it, she leaned her head against his hand before taking it and kissing the center of his palm. Turning to look over her shoulder at him, Lois gave him a small thoughtful smile. “Yeah. Same way I’ve always loved you, hero. I think we both made that pretty clear.”
He stroked one finger down the bridge of her nose, tracing her features lightly. Even though his recall was perfect, he still loved to etch each tiny detail into his memory. “I don’t want to fight like that again.”
“That makes two of us.” Whereas she would have jerked away an hour before, Lois leaned in to the touch, her eyes never leaving his. She was too languid to sound snappish, so her voice was merely matter-of-fact. “I gotta say it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for me, either.”
“So let’s not do that again, hmm?” Kal-El asked. “I promise you, Lois, I won’t shut you out again. I was only trying not to lean on you when you had so many burdens to bear – but most of my good intentions seem to turn out badly. Especially when I underestimate your strength.”
Lois sighed then, dropping her gaze. “Not so strong that no one saw what was happening. I didn’t even realize how bad it got until recently. And it wasn’t your fault. I didn’t say anything except to ask you why you couldn’t stay with me. And I didn’t want to tell you why. And I felt like a heel even trying.”
“You’ve always had problems admitting to vulnerability,” Kal-El murmured, his hand dropping to her shoulder and kneading the muscle there. “Just like I have problems admitting to fallibility, at times. Neither of us is perfect.”
“No argument, but my needs turned on a dime one day and I needed you more than the rest of the world for a little while. And after all that madness with you-know-who, I’ve tried to deal with a lot on my own. Guess that’s how I got us into this mess.” Lois tried to shrug, but found her shoulders too relaxed.
“You weren’t the only one who got us into this,” Kal-El said seriously, catching her chin. “I did my fair share. And so did Kala. I’ll admit, I am lenient with her, and she does provoke you intentionally.” He paused for a long moment, moving to massage her neck, and got a soft groan as Lois relaxed into his ministrations. In a soft voice, he continued, “Lois, I’m not trying to upset you. I think I might know why you’re strict with Kala. You don’t want her to make the same mistakes you did, right?”
That was enough to make her eyes widen as she looked at him. Why now? When we had that big wicked fight? For a moment, frustration bit deeply, but it was a useless emotion at this point. At least he understood now. Lois bit her tongue for a moment before replying in her calmest voice, “Why couldn’t you have understood a month ago?”
He didn’t rise for the bait, either. It was past time to take offense over the little things. “Because the kids inherited stubbornness from both of us?” he replied, pulling her close again to kiss her hair. “My point is, I don’t think Kala understands what you’re trying to do. From her perspective, it must seem as though she can’t do anything right where you’re concerned. It isn’t true, but she might even feel like she’s a complete disappointment to you.” Kal-El hesitated for a moment, then snuggled even closer to Lois before continuing. “You are not like your father, Lois. You love both of your children, and you’ve never been disappointed with them for who they are, only for how they behave. But to Kala, it may seem differently.”
He could feel her flinch, the mention of herself and the General in the same sentence and in this context making her uncomfortable as always. “She obviously does. And I have no idea where I first screwed up even,” Lois murmured in a small, thoughtful tone, troubled by the thought. “You know, I don’t know when she started to get the idea that that was the case. It’s like one day she was the adorable bossy little monster she’d always been, the next day she’s listening to the Chorus of the Damned and watching freakier stuff than Richard does. And everything she says practically has a sign attached that says, “Whatever, Mother’. And it hurts like hell. There was that point where I was tripping over her and now it’s like, ‘STOP CROWDING ME!’ I started losing her before I even knew she was pulling away and I have no idea how to stop it. Or if I’ll even have another chance to.”
“She still loves you, and you love her,” Kal-El pointed out. “That means you both still have chances. We just have to figure out, together, how to fix it.” He nuzzled her cheek and added apologetically, “I know haven’t been helping. I’ve let things slide, but I never talked to you about it when I thought you were too strict. I just went easier on her to compensate, mostly because I didn’t want to fight with you and make things worse.” He chuckled ironically. “Communication could have fixed so many of these problems before they ever became problems.”
“I think all of us have been a little worried to rock the boat this last year or so. Between this with Kala, you and the lack of downtime with the League, the little digs Lex was making at me with the KAL chip and all that that I couldn’t tell you about, and then what happened with Momma…” Lois grew quiet for a moment, pulling him closer. “I think all of us just thought that if we ignored it, maybe things would change. Go back to the way they used to be. And you can’t. You can’t go back, no matter how much you want to. What’s done is done and you just have to go on.”
She tugged at his arm, and Kal-El obliged her by wrapping himself tightly around her. When Lois felt weak, she liked to shelter in his arms – and her reaching for that comfort again was another sign of better days ahead. “Believe me, I know we can’t change the past – but we can shape the future. And as always, Lois, you know I’m willing to face whatever the future holds as long as I have you with me.”
His wife leaned back against him, acknowledging his words silently. They fell silent again then, the quiet going on for so long that he began to think she had started to doze until he heard Lois murmur softly, “Do you think we’ll be okay?”
Kal-El lay there silently, giving the question serious thought as he stroked her arm. Ten years ago, he had barely been able to believe he’d won Lois. Once the fact of their marriage had sunk in, he’d taken it for granted that they would always be together. But the last few months had shown him the folly of that notion. No relationship, no matter how strong, could survive neglect by both of its partners. So he couldn’t say ‘yes, of course’ as easily as he once had. He was no longer that naïve.
But the commitment between them had never wavered. The love was still as powerful as ever. And in spite of miscommunications and good intentions gone bad, here they were, lying close in the dark on the eve of another battle. Still together. “Yes,” Kal-El said finally, and the words had more sincerity and surety than the easy response of years past. “We may need a little help picking up the pieces, but you and I will be together always. I think we’re going to be just fine.”
He heard the smile in her voice as Lois murmured, “I love you.” Her breathing slowed, and he knew she was falling asleep. Then, with a sigh of contentment, Kal-El drifted off to sleep to the sound of Lois’ heartbeat.
Early in the morning, Luthor and Mercy had finalized their preparations. The ‘upstairs’ facility had been cleaned out, all essential supplies removed and replaced by various traps and monitoring devices. Some of the security staff were already in place, and Luthor was on his way there with Zod and Mercy.
The only direct connection between this place and the actual lab was a long underground tunnel used for transporting crates of supplies. Once part of a mine, it came with some rail tracks installed, and Luthor had adapted and added to the existing system to suit his purposes. The carts that carried the supplies hadn’t been intended to carry passengers, but Luthor didn’t want to chance Superman seeing any of his staff moving around aboveground, so they were all enduring a bumpy ride. If he found the direct entrance to the facility, well, the four-hundred-foot elevator shaft wouldn’t deter the flying hero at all.
Luthor planned to use this same set of tracks to exit to surface facility if they didn’t succeed in killing the alien. Then he could trigger the explosives already spaced along the tunnel, and let the falling rocks catch Kal-El following them or delay his pursuit. Either way, Luthor would lose his supply tunnel, so he had spent the night getting the facility stocked for a siege. With all nonessential personnel already off the premises, they could last a long while underground.
Long enough for the fallback plans to his fallback plans to be implemented. He always had a backup plan, no matter how foolproof his current plot was. And this one was fairly airtight. He had the means to track the Kryptonians as they moved around the facility and separate his chosen target from the group.
Luthor smiled, slipping one hand into his pocket. The kryptonite ring on his finger clicked against the steel trigger guard of Lois’ Ladysmith revolver, which was already loaded.
Lois’ eyelids fluttered open, her hair in her eyes, and she groaned before half-closing them again. Geez. Remind me not to take a beating and get laid in the same night, she thought, slowly sitting up. So many muscles and joints were complaining that she couldn’t even separate out the aches, all of it registering as a steady background rumble. “Dammit,” she grumbled under her breath. Her left eye didn’t want to open…
“Well, you look a sight.” That was Lana’s voice, accompanied by the welcome scent of coffee. Lois scrabbled for the proffered cup before remembering that she’d gone to sleep right afterward last night. But caffeine was far ahead of modesty at the moment. She tugged the sheets up after her first sip of coffee, finally realizing that Kal-El wasn’t beside her.
Lana chuckled. “He wanted to let you sleep until the coffee was done. Everyone’s in our room, planning strategy. Richard raided yet another breakfast buffet, so there’s even food.”
Her stomach immediately added its opinion to the other din in her body at the moment. The reporter grinned, wincing. The corner of her mouth was sore too. Yeah, as much as they had both needed the reconnection, maybe last night had not been the wisest choice. Especially from the look on Red’s face. “Let me guess. I look like shit, don’t I?” she said with a tired chuckle.
“You look like someone who was in a fight,” was the tactful response. The tone was so perfectly polite and so perfectly the redhead that Lois burst out laughing. Only then did Lana smirk. “And who then had a very … enthusiastic evening. It’s good to know you two are getting along again.”
Hazel eyes widened at that. Once she and Kal-El had gotten into the room, they hadn’t even thought about what could have been overheard; all that had mattered was getting to the truth and reconciling. And now that she considered the evening, Lois couldn’t help but wince. The hotel walls were pretty thin, so it was pretty clear that they’d heard everything. If it had been anyone else and this had been a normal day, Lois would’ve had a smart comeback. But with Lana, in these circumstances, she could only look down and blush. “Yeah, you could say that. Sorry, Red.”
“Don’t be,” Lana replied, crossing her arms and smiling at her. “Richard wanted to add his own commentary, but I told him no.”
Lois just groaned. Of course Richard couldn’t resist sounding off. She’d never hear the end of this one. “I really am sorry … and thank you. I owe you a lot and I know it.” She met those sea-green eyes, but Lana looked mildly confused. With a sad and guilty smile, Lois told her, “
“I did tell him to talk to you,” Lana pointed out. “But honestly, Lois. He may work with them, but that doesn’t mean much. There are only three women he trusts with those parts of his life: Martha, you, and me. Pretty exalted company, hmm?”
Lois had to agree to that. She could hear voices in the next room, so it was time to get up and get moving. “I can’t lay in bed forever. We have a lot to do. Like get my daughter back. Lex has separated this family long enough.”
“I’ll give you your privacy,” Lana said with an affectionate smile as she left the room. Lois slowly got out of bed, wincing as she stood up. Her back was the worst – that nasty fall, and then all the arching and flexing last night. The memories brought a smile to her lips. Some war wounds were worth it, despite the handicap.
But first, a hot shower to soothe some of her aches. Lois felt much better afterward, and quickly got dressed. She managed to walk into the other room just in time to hear Richard say, “…hold up scorecards like in the Olympics, but I couldn’t find a big enough piece of paper. Besides, Lois was letting you know you’d won the gold.”
Lois couldn’t help snickering at that, and Kal-El turned to see her. He broke into a smile full of relief and the memories of the last night. Lois blushed, ducking his gaze as she moved the rest of the way into the room to stand before him. She took a moment to just look at him, to see the change that last night’s revelations had brought about in him. All of the shadows that had been haunting them both had fled for now. Arching an eyebrow and tilting her head, Lois crossed her arms and asked in the same tone she had always used to taunt Clark with back in the day and drawled, “So, Kent, we friends again?”
From the doorway into the other room came a loud, relieved sigh. “Thank God you two are getting along again,” Jason said. “Now can we go get Kala and get back home before we start missing school?”
That got a chuckle from all three adults. Elise stuck her head out from behind Jason, grinning at the sight of Lois and Clark. However, Lois the ever-observant reporter noticed that Elise’s hair was wet, and she was wearing Lana’s bathrobe. Evidently she’d just come out of a shower… Lois looked at her son, arching one eyebrow.
Jason caught her meaning immediately. “Mom! Come on. You raised me better than that.”
Elise looked a little confused until Richard snickered. “Yeah, just be glad it was me that found you two curled up together and not my lovely wife.” Then she blushed a bit, muttering that it wasn’t like that.
“By the way, the hotel had your clothes laundered, so you’ve got something clean to wear,” Lana said, pointing to the plastic bag hanging near the door. Elise hurried through to grab her stuff and headed back, leaving Jason to face his parents.
He forestalled any lecturing by giving them both his sternest look. “Okay, so gross mushiness aside, are you two gonna fight anymore? Because I’ve had enough of it to last me until I move out.”
Lois crossed her arms and arched an eyebrow, but
“Yeah, he gets a lot from me,” she chuckled, while Jason tried not to grin.
“Epic stubbornness,” Richard put in. “And the idea that ‘no’ just means ‘don’t let me catch you’. Oh yeah, he’s your son just as much as Kala’s your daughter.”
That gave them all pause, reflecting on the real reason they were here. “We might as well start sharing information, now that we’re all here,”
Lois gnawed her lip. “Mercy was saying something about allies, too, but she meant in the facility. She said…” The reporter faltered, then forced herself to go on. “She said that they were trying to get Kala on their side. She mentioned Stockholm Syndrome. When I laughed at her, that Kala would never join Luthor, she implied that there was someone else down there.” She looked up at Clark worriedly.
He was already sending a text message. “I’m asking Oracle if any of my known enemies are conspicuously absent from the fight.” Clark chuckled as he met his wife’s gaze again. “She’s already sent me a message telling me they have the situation under control, and I’m to focus on finding Luthor and getting my daughter back.”
“In that case, I may just have to reconsider my opinion of them,” she said with a small smirk before going somber and thoughtful again. “I can’t see Lex sharing the victory with anyone else in this case. You know how he is about us. Just who the hell would he be willing to team up with? And how could that effect Kala?”
Richard sighed and rubbed his temples. “She does have a bit of a fondness for bad boys. If he had one of the borderline cases – those people where you’re not sure if they’re a villain or an anti-hero – then maybe. I mean, just standing next to Luthor would make one of those types look like a saint.”
“Kala would never,” Jason cut in, turning a dismayed look on Richard. Elise elbowed him lightly, having a more realistic view of his sister.
“She wouldn’t turn on us,” Lana said, her voice full of certainty. “But we don’t know how she’ll react. She’s been trapped there for five days now. That’s long enough for Stockholm Syndrome to set in. Kala could be used to obeying her captors and might not be ready to run when we get there.”
“It would take a lot to break Kala down that far,” Lois put in, leaned back in the chair. “I think we all know that she’ll lead Lex off the truth if she can, especially since his main plan is to hurt her father. Even if she’s angry with me, I think she’d fight to keep his secrets. Jason’s, too.”
Everyone nodded to that. Hopefully the sight of her father’s uniform would wake Kala from whatever nightmare she was walking in, and then they could count on her as an ally instead of just a damsel in need of rescuing.
“This is what we learned yesterday,” Richard said, pulling out his notes. He’d circled the map locations of land purchases likely made by Luthor, writing the street addresses neatly beside each. “Lois, do any of these match the information you got?”
The reporter snatched the paper from him, her eyes quickly scanning the list. “Yeah, a few of them. But this one especially.” Pointing to a spot only twenty minutes from their current location, she smiled up at her ex grimly. “That’s where I was calling you from yesterday. That bitch cornered me in the warehouse there. You were right on the mark with that one.”
Richard’s mouth quirked up into a grin. “From the looks of your knuckles, Lois, she’ll never forget it, either. What about the others?”
Lois returned the grin before glancing at the list again, frowning. “Yeah, this one here. Off Neillkirk.” She was tapping a spot just southwest of town, trying to remember anything other than the address. The map showed a small property along a dirt road. “Seems as likely place to try as anything else. But I’m pretty sure that wherever he has her, Lex is keeping her away from sunlight. And probably someplace bigger than what could be in that area.”
Clark peered over her shoulder. “Is that another warehouse? Some kind of storage facility, maybe – it’s just a box on the map. No landscaping, no windows.” Of course, his eyes could see the finest details the image showed.
“Where did you see this address, Lois?” Richard asked. “Even if it’s not where Kala is, it might lead us to some clues.”
Another grim smile from the dark-haired reporter. “It was stamped on the side of some of the crates in the warehouse. Got a couple of glimpses of it when I was whaling Graves from one side of the place to the other.”
“That’s a hot lead,” Richard said as everyone got their things together and started heading for the door. “All right, let’s lock and load, people.”
It was what Kal-El said next that made all of them stop and turn to look at him. “Wait. Not all of us are going.”
A warning to the prophet, the liar, the honest,
This is war.
To the leader, the pariah, the victim, the messiah
This is war.
It's the moment of truth and the moment to lie,
The moment to live and the moment to die.
The moment to fight, the moment to fight, to fight, to fight, to fight...