Lana was being pushy, and that made Clark anxious. This wasn’t the sweet, pretty girl he’d known years ago; Lana thought for herself now, and she didn’t let go once she’d decided to pursue something. A little bit like someone else I know, he thought, chagrined. I guess it’s no wonder I fell in love with Lois at first sight, practically. I was looking for an echo of her in Lana before I ever came to Metropolis and met Lois…
The redhead pulled the car to a stop at the corner and turned in her seat to look at Clark. “Just how involved were you with Lois Lane?”
He fumbled for an answer, trying to put her off that train of thought. She’d caught him unawares, however, and he could only pretend typical Clark cluelessness. “Lana … I don’t know what you’re talking about…”
An auburn brow arched at him, and sea green eyes bored into his blue ones. Then she sighed, and shook her head slightly. Lana’s expression was concerned and sympathetic when she said, “Clark, please. You do know. Richard … he thinks the twins are yours.”
Clark’s jaw dropped. Richard thinks… Oh my God. And his brain vapor-locked on that thought for a long moment. Here was yet another indicator that he might actually be a father. Though Clark would never dare to treat the thought with any certainty until Lois herself confirmed it – he would be crushed if he convinced himself that Jason and Kala were his own children, and then found out otherwise – it was becoming a more and more likely possibility. Me, a father. A father to those two, whom I already love so much…
Meanwhile, Lana touched his shoulder, looking worried. “I’m sorry, Clark. I just … I thought you should know, with them being missing. Richard and Lois are both going out of their minds, and it’s only a matter of time before he blurts it out to you or to her. I wanted you to hear it from me first before one of them confronts you.”
“Lana…” He couldn’t get any further than that. And Lana doesn’t know who I am. So Richard thinks that Clark is the father of the twins? Holy… How the heck did he dream that one up? I never had a chance with Lois until she knew the whole of who I am.
“I don’t care whether it’s true or not,” Lana said, although Clark saw the curiosity she was trying to deny. “That’s your business and hers – not mine. Not even Richard’s. But the way you’ve thrown yourself into the search wholeheartedly, I thought you at least suspected they might be…”
“Even if I was absolutely certain they aren’t mine, I’d be here,” Clark said, unaware that he’d dropped the nervous vocal mannerisms that distinguished this persona. “Lois is, first and foremost, my closest friend. I’d help her when she needed me, no matter what.”
Lana nodded slowly, temporarily satisfied with that noncommittal answer. After a moment, she replied slowly, “She’s a lucky woman, to have friends like you and Superman to count on no matter what.”
Clark nodded thoughtfully as she put the car back in gear and drove off. He had so much to think about… When Lana spoke again, the sound of her voice surprised him almost as much as her words.
“If they are yours … I won’t want to be anywhere around when Martha Kent finds out she has a pair of six-year-old grandkids she’s never met.”
“I don’t understand why we had to be in pairs,” Lois muttered as she picked the lock on the warehouse door. Richard stood by, keeping a nervous lookout and growing increasingly irritated at her constant grumbling. The lock’s tumblers finally succumbed, and Lois swung the door wide, still fuming. “We could’ve covered the lists in half the time and been working on the next set outside Metropolis by now.”
They had been sniping at each other ever since they’d walked out of the Planet offices, both troubled by their own secrets and those they suspected each other of keeping. They also each blamed themselves for the twins’ being missing, though they both tried to ignore that and concentrate on finding the children. But with Lois’ constant grumbling, Richard finally lost his temper as he followed her inside. “Lois, the whole point of us going in pairs was so that we could watch out for each other. Personally, I think it was brilliant. And about the only way to stop you from doing something stupid.”
Lois all but skidded to a halt, whirling to face Richard. Her flashlight beam seared his eyes, making him wince. “What?” she hissed.
Richard crossed his arms. He realized that he could’ve said that more diplomatically, but backing down wasn’t in his nature. “Tell the truth – if you were alone, you’d still break in, wouldn’t you? Knowing Luthor could be in any of these places, lurking around any corner, you’d still go in. Hell, if you knew for sure he was there, you’d run faster.”
Her lip curled in a sneer. “Hmm, let’s see. He has my kids – of course I would! You have no idea what this man is capable of, Richard! Not a frikkin’ clue! They’re six – and it’s dark now!”
Chagrined, Richard remembered all the times he’d had to inspect the twins’ closets for monsters. “Honey … please. It’s bad enough them being gone – I couldn’t lose you, too. Luthor would snatch you up in a heartbeat…”
“Only if he can dodge bullets,” Lois snarled. “Besides, even if he did manage to get me, it’d put me a little closer to where the twins are, wouldn’t it?”
Richard stared at her. “Lois … he’d kill you!”
“Not while he can use me for bait,” she said coldly. “Alive I’m a hostage. Dead I’m nothing but trouble. Luthor won’t harm one hair on my head unless he has a death wish.”
Disbelievingly, Richard shook his head. “My God, Lois. You’re talking about your own life like it’s just a bargaining chip…” He hadn’t known how utterly cold-blooded she could be. Once again it was all too clear that Lois had secrets Richard had never even imagined.
“I’d gladly risk mine to spare theirs,” Lois replied hotly. “Richard, let’s split up before we get into an argument.”
“Lois…” he began, but she was already moving off, and he had little choice but to let her.
The black-haired reporter stalked away, practically steaming, swinging her flashlight in wide arcs through each room before she entered it. All the while, though she was irritated with Richard, her mind swung back to Luthor and the twins.
Luthor held a grudge against Superman, and he spared no mercy for Lois. She also had an awful feeling that he knew or guessed whom the twins’ real father was. What he might do to them was beyond her capacity to imagine. Please, let Kala keep her mouth shut. If she smarts off to Luthor, God only knows what he’ll do. In a way, it’s a good thing that Jason’s with her. Maybe he’ll keep her calm. Keep them calm.
Oh, if he hurts my babies, that son of a bitch won’t have to worry about prison. I’ll kill him myself. And God help Kal-El if he stands in my way.
There was another sore spot eating away at her. As distant as she had been in these last months, how vocally dismissive she had been to him, from the moment she had received the phone call, he had been right there. Stopping her from running headlong into Luthor’s clutches, soothing her tears, telling her that they would find the twins no matter what. And he meant it, she knew, better than anyone else. The guilt over her past actions stung now, in spite of the reconciliation they were gradually coming to. No matter how angry she had been, how true her accusations had felt, Kal-El had yet to even do more than even slightly raise his voice to her.
Her emotions overwhelmed her, so strong that she could no longer hold back her tears. Biting her lip to keep from sobbing aloud, she berated herself for all of the wrong choices she had made and the ones that she stubbornly refused to make. If she had given more thought to her car suddenly breaking down … if she’d been there to pick the kids up herself… Something. Anything. Why did life have to be so unfair, so intent on taking everything she had been so slow to realize that she wanted? When she already knew that only things she wanted now were impossible? Was this punishment for her traitor’s thoughts about the man she had loved, to have an exchange? Him for her twins? Is this what it was?
…And gnashing your teeth like a repentant idiot is doing nothing for anyone, especially you, most especially not for those kids. You’re human is all, impossibly capable of mistakes in some cases. Stop behaving like a fifth-grade drama queen. Snap out of it, Lane, and act like a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, commented a sarcastic, somewhat disgusted voice. Seemed that the General’s Daughter had had enough.
And Lois knew the voice was right. This wasn’t the time or place to fall apart. Brusquely, she rubbed away her tears as she forced herself to breathe more slowly. Shaking her head to clear it, she focused on the narrow, dark hallway ahead of her. Right now the twins were counting on her, more than ever in their young lives. Any personal issues she had could wait until they found Kala and Jason.
Being as cautious as she knew how, despite the urge to just go barreling onward, Lois made her way through several of the huge abandoned building’s storage rooms. With the exception of river rats, of which Luthor was one only in Lois’ system of classification, the area was deserted.
Her growing desperation showed in the way Lois startled at every sound and, instead of playing it safe and moving away, she headed directly to it. According to her watch, it had now been four hours since Barbara had called her after finding Mrs. Mosley unconscious on the entrance walkway, two hours since Lex’s message arrived on her cell phone. It had been more than twelve hours since she had last seen their faces, barely awake as they bounded into the bedroom for a kiss goodbye before leaving for school. And the dark had closed in fast.
They had only recently been allowed to play in the yard until just after dusk, something that seemed to have a forbidden thrill to it. Yet they always seemed to come in before the allotted time. Her twins had never been alone in the dark, not even in their bedrooms. They had nightlights, both of them, still being at that age that they were afraid of the Boogie-Man…
Well, Lex certainly fits that description, her mind commented disloyally and that was enough to turn her back in the direction of Richard’s car. She had to get more batteries for the weakening flashlight, had to keep looking, no matter how hopeless the area looked. Even if Kala and Jason weren’t here, maybe there was a clue. One of Kala’s hair-ties, maybe one of those goofy-looking Godzilla pens from Jason’s bag. Maybe one of the backpacks themselves. She had to keep looking…
Lois froze. There, in the hallway leading to this area, a shadow that hadn’t been there before. An elongated shadow, like a man’s. Lois’ hand crept into her purse, seeking the familiar rosewood grip of her Ladysmith.
Brutus finished his meal in the galley and set his plates in the sink. Stanford, Riley, and Grant were playing cards, cheating each other as usual. “Hey, Brutus, I’ll deal ya in,” Grant said with that funny sideways grin.
The bigger man glanced at him and shook his head slightly. “Nah. Not tonight. ‘M gonna check on the kids. Luthor says they gotta be watched.”
Riley chuckled. “Watch the girl, man. She’s a fighter. Like to see her again in about ten years.”
Brutus didn’t have to move fast or be overtly violent to make a point. He simply sauntered over to Riley, caught the front of his shirt in one fist, and lifted the man gently out of his chair. “Don’t touch them kids,” he said quietly. “I see a kid in one of your home movies, Riley, we’re not gonna be friends no more.”
“Yo, chill, man,” Riley said with a nervous laugh, as Brutus slowly lowered him to his seat. “I didn’t mean nothing by it, it’s just talk, ya know? I’m not like a child molester or nothin’.”
“I don’t like people who hurt kids,” Brutus said slowly, for emphasis. Riley laughed again, but he wouldn’t meet Brutus’ gaze. Grant was trying to watch him without seeming to, eyes skittering up to his face and away like a cornered rat trying not to see the cat approach.
And Stanford, who probably had the least to hide of any of them, looked up once and then back at his cards. Well, he might’ve been in stir with them, but Stanford wasn’t like them. The mineralogist didn’t get involved in stuff like this.
Brutus just looked at Riley for another long minute, and walked away. He took his time heading for the grand ballroom, shaking his head in contempt of Riley and Grant as he went. They had fought with the kids, opting to use force to get them on board. That was dumb. Kids were pretty easy to win over, if you were nice to them. Even smart, wary kids like these. There just wasn’t any such thing as a six-year-old cynic – although that Kala got pretty close.
Brutus paused at the door. Gertrude’s conceit had been to make every single door on the ship have a porthole in it. Not too great for privacy, and after a while all those little circular windows got on your nerves. But times like this they were pretty handy.
He cupped his hands around the window, peering into the darker room. The lights were still on, and in the dimness he could see them lying on the glass floor. Kinda cute – kids watching the fish. Brutus stepped back to unlock the door, and felt something brush his ankle.
It was only Tala, that powder puff of a dog. Brutus grinned at her. “Hey, fluffy-butt. Did she leave you out again?”
Tala stared up at him with dark, unreadable eyes. The tip of her tail wagged slowly.
“Wanna go keep the kids company?”
Tala knew the word ‘kids’, and her tail wagged faster. As soon as Brutus unlocked the door and opened it for her, she darted inside.
He followed more quietly. The kids were actually asleep – not even Tala’s cold nose expertly applied to Jason’s forehead woke him. The Pomeranian ran around the twins, her claws clicking on the glass, before leaping over Kala’s back and settling down in between them.
“Good girl,” Brutus whispered. Kala and Jason had made themselves a pretty comfy nest there, and they’d probably sleep all night. Good enough. Brutus put a couple of mints – the sugar-free kind – on the edge of the piano bench for them.
As he walked past, Jason moved restlessly in his sleep and murmured, “Mommy, I don’ wanna go t’ school t’morrow…” Kala’s hand came out of the pile of blankets she’d burrowed under, and clasped his shoulder.
Brutus couldn’t help smiling at them. “Wish granted, kiddo,” he said softly. “Tomorrow’s Saturday anyway, but there’s no school on this ship any day of the week.” Kneeling, he lightly ruffled Kala’s tousled ebony curls, all that was visible of her other than her hand on Jason’s shoulder.
“Lois?” the shadow’s owner said, and the voice was so very familiar … and so very not Lex Luthor’s.
Lois had already slipped her index finger along the guard, preparing to pull the weapon from her purse, when the realization of her stalker hit her. Dammit! Why couldn’t he ever be bothered to warn her when he did that? Stiffening at the embarrassment of his having startled her, the dark-haired woman clenched her jaw as she snatched the first thing that came to hand out of her purse, and hurled it at his broad chest. Her lighter only made a weak thump as it hit him, but that was quickly drowned out by her frustrated snapping. “Would it kill you to even let me know you’re here? Instead of popping out of the shadows like some kind of psycho killer?” she hollered, holding her flashlight up at him like a nightstick. There was a moment of sadistic joy as she shined the light up into his face. She really did feel as though she had nearly had a heart attack. “For God’s sake, Kal-El, I could have shot you … how would you explain THAT?! What are you doing skulking around here in the dark instead of looking for the twins? Other than scaring the hell out of me?”
He didn’t respond to her anger or her accusations. Superman, for he was in uniform now, simply walked up to Lois and enfolded her in his arms. The strength that could crush coal into diamonds drew her gently close to him as he murmured, “Lois, we’re going to find them, I promise.”
“How do you know that?” Her voice broke even as she struggled to pull away, hating herself for behaving this weakly. They didn’t have time for this. Not with Richard somewhere in this building. Not with the stakes so high. God, please … let them be alright. I’ll slit Luthor’s throat where he stands once I find him, but please protect my babies. Let them be right. I beg you.
Giving in, leaning against him, she sobbed, “You can’t be sure of that! He wants revenge and from that note, he plans to take it from both of us. He knows about the Fortress, he knows what we were to each other. And he used it. He has my kids, Kal-El.” Our kids. Her face came up then, the pain in her eyes sharp enough to cut. “They’re so little. Still afraid of the dark, even. Especially Kala. And they’ve never been alone overnight before. They’re scared, I know it. And it’s all my damned fault.”
“It’s not your fault,” he told her, a note of sternness in his voice. “It’s Luthor’s doing, Lois. If anyone should take the blame for Luthor’s work, it’s me. He’s my nemesis; he wouldn’t have done this if he didn’t know what you mean to me.” Superman sighed, his breath ruffling her hair. “As for the twins, they’ll be strong. They might be scared, but they’ll stay strong. Look at who their mother is – the woman who cold-cocked a Kryptonian criminal. Not even the entire Council of Elders made that much of an impression on Ursa.”
That seemed to calm the hysteria somewhat. Unable to help herself, she reacted to his cautious teasing with a soft laugh between sniffles. It would have been easier to think on it if she didn’t have to remember what had led to that battle, but her memory of that moment was clear as day. She had owed that monster Ursa a shot after nearly breaking her arm defending Perry hours before. Nothing had felt more satisfying than that haymaker. Well, short of the look of unfathomable shock on the other woman’s face as she fell into the holding cells below the Fortress itself. And the expression on Kal-El’s face, his amazed laughter, when she turned to him afterwards. At that moment, I hadn’t the slightest doubt in the world that he loved me.
Head leaning slightly against his chest now, she tried to absorb a bit of his calm, his power. The urge to tell him was strong enough to weigh her down, his compliment arguing that she return it. But she couldn’t, not now. Not like this. “Yes, well. The difference is that Kala has a hard time with authority that isn’t me or Richard, as well as the fact that she will tell you exactly what she thinks of a situation. You’ve heard her. Jason will behave, for himself and Kala, but … with my daughter… I shudder to think of what her smart mouth might provoke him to do.” Closing her eyes to push back the fear starting to swell again, she allowed herself only these few moments with him.
“We’re going to find them, Lois, we’ll get there in time,” he told her again, stroking her hair lightly. How could he explain to her what he had done once before to save her life, what he would do again to save her children if he had to? Once upon a time, Lois, I wasn’t in time for you. You died in that desert, and I sent myself back in time to save you.
The touch of his fingertips was light over the strands, but she felt it as if he had run that warm hand down her cheek. Her eyes closed at that delicate touch. Unable to help herself, Lois felt herself snuggle into his comfort. It still seemed the most natural thing in the world, the way she seemed to gravitate to him as much as he did to her. After all, wasn’t he the father of her children? It was clear to her that she still loved him, painfully clear. Couldn’t he see that? He had to, if spite of all she had tried to deny it. How could she keep lying to him, to herself? To Richard?
That simple thought threw her eyes open, a flush rising to her cheeks as she pulled out of his embrace to step away. Almost immediately, everything in her protested. Even the General’s Daughter gave one of her rare silences. It was dark enough in the building to assure that he couldn’t see her torn expression. Neither could anyone else, for that matter, she thought with a mix of relief and knowingness. Already feeling guilty, she said firmly in a quiet voice, avoiding his gaze, “This … this isn’t getting the twins found. Richard and I made it through our list – this is the last stop. What about you and Lana?” Thinking for a moment, she added, “Where is Lana, anyway?”
“We finished our list – I didn’t have to actually break in – and I sent her home,” he replied, watching her with a faintly puzzled expression. One moment she was in his arms, the next, distant. His father had always said that no man would ever understand women – Pa Kent, that was, not Jor-El. Funny how the most useful advice came from the farmer and not the scientist renowned for his wisdom. “She was getting exhausted, and she needed to get some rest. So do you, Lois.”
Those eyes, which he could see much better than she thought he could, narrowed then. Her reply came quietly, firm as he had ever heard it, despite the many hours she had been awake and running. “I’ll sleep once Jason and Kala are safe and sound, asleep in their beds.”
“Lois, you can’t run on nerves forever.”
“I can do anything I damn well want to, Kal-El,” Lois snapped, all the more vehement. “Are you trying to tell me I’m too old for this? Because I used to do it all the time. And long before you showed up.”
Before Kal-El could try to reply, a beam of light entered the room. “Lois? Who are you … talking…” Richard stopped, staring, as his flashlight found Superman.
Kal-El turned to look at him, reminding himself that he’d supposedly never met this man before. “Mr. White, I presume,” he said, emphasizing the richer timbre of this persona’s voice. “It’s good to meet you at last, although I wish it were under other circumstances.”
Lois’ flashlight beam swung back and forth between the two men as she bit her lip. Richard was staring … hopefully he was just surprised by the sudden appearance of the hero, hopefully he didn’t have a clue that he’d been working with Superman for several months. When he finally spoke, Richard allayed those fears. “Yeah … always wanted to meet you, but not like this.” He seemed to shake himself slightly, adjusting to the presence of this superhuman being, and continued, “No luck?”
“I haven’t found them yet, no,” Kal-El replied, and genuine sorrow colored his words. “I scanned this building, too – the twins aren’t here.”
Lois’ shoulders slumped in defeat. “Dammit. Well, come on, there’s still upper 86th street.”
“I’ve already been there,” Superman told her gently. “I got a complete copy of the list from Mr. Kent and Ms. Lang, and I’ve checked all the addresses within the greater Metropolis area. There’s nothing more you can do tonight.”
“No, we can head back to the office,” Lois said, shaking her head. “Perry and Jimmy will have stayed late digging up more leads.”
“Ms. Lane, you need to get some rest,” Superman said, glancing at Richard as if seeking his support. “Go home – I’ll look into the out-of-state and foreign properties you found.”
“I told you I’m not going to bed until they’re found,” she replied, glaring. Get off the ‘Ms. Lane’ nonsense, Kal-El.
“Lois, he’s got a point,” Richard said. “I don’t like leaving the search tonight, either, but we can start again early.”
“It’s safer for you both in daylight,” Superman added. “Searching these warehouses at night is very dangerous, Ms. Lane, as you know.”
“When has that ever stopped me?” Lois challenged. She would never let either of them see the exhaustion that dogged her, a weariness born as much of constant anxiety as of physical and mental exertion.
“Lois, go home,” Kal-El said to her, and completely missed Richard’s sharp gaze flickering to him. “You don’t want to pass out halfway through tomorrow. Go home and try to get some sleep. I’ll keep on trying.”
She began to argue it, but the fatigue weighing on her prevented it. Brow furrowed, Lois demanded, “Promise me.”
He had always understood her so well. “Lois, I promise you I won’t stop searching. Whatever it takes … we’ll find them. Somewhere.”
Finally she nodded, and Richard took her arm. “We’ll see you in the morning?” he asked the hero.
Kal-El’s deep blue eyes met his, and he nodded. “Until then.”
As Richard and Lois left, she turned one last time, and the fear that shone in her eyes was no longer under her control. It broke Kal-El’s heart to see it … and strengthened his resolve to find the twins.
Brutus left without waking the kids, looking back into the room as he opened the door. Only Tala’s eyes glowed red in the faint light, and he smiled for a minute. Kids and a dog – it was a nice picture.
What waited for him outside the door was not. As he closed it, hand on the lock, he revealed Kitty standing behind it. Brutus’ pulse raced, but he didn’t let it show. Instead he simply locked the door casually, sparing the dark-haired woman no more than a glance. Her full lower lip was even more swollen than usual; would she ever learn not to defy Lex? You just didn’t cross a man like that.
“How come you were in there, Brutus?” she asked, trying to sound demanding, but her voice came out skittish. Weak. Brutus could break her neck one-handed, and they both knew it.
“Checkin’ on the kids,” he replied. “They’re sleeping.”
“Luthor said to.” She didn’t need a lengthy explanation; the shorter and more matter-of-fact his responses were, the less likely she was to guess his fondness for them.
Kitty seemed to accept that. She almost walked away, but halted, glancing up at him nervously. I’m not Riley, the big man thought of saying to her. As he looked back silently, Kitty added, “Have you seen Tala? My dog?”
Brutus jerked his head at the door. “In there. I guess she likes the kids, and they’re good with her. You put her in the last time, right?”
“Yeah … yeah, she likes them.” Kitty looked at the door again, and Brutus saw some unnamable emotion flicker across her face. Just another thing about women he’d never understand, apparently. “She’s better with them … Lex doesn’t like her much.”
Brutus just nodded, filing that fact away for future reference. “G’night, Miss Kowalski,” he said, and turned away.
Kitty remained, looking through the portal at the sleeping children, for a moment longer.
Richard’s mind was spinning throughout the drive home, barely conscious of Lois beside him with her forehead pressed against the window, staring out into the tumultuous night.
He’d been a Superman fan pretty much ever since the hero had made his famous debut. The mere thought that a man could fly, without needing a plane or a jet or a glider, was intoxicating. To soar as the hawk soars, to scythe through the air like a falcon – no, even more free and powerful than the raptors, able to hover motionless or accelerate past the speed of sound in a moment, laughing at gravity and glorying in never-ending strength … that was the stuff of Richard’s boyhood dreams. How could the man that boy had become not idolize this living symbol of everything heroic, when Superman could fly?
Meeting the superhero today had been … weird. He hadn’t been this in awe since he met Lois – which, if he was brutally honest, had been partly due to her connection to Superman. Good one, Richard, he thought to himself with an ironic internal chuckle. You got the ultimate Superman fan’s collectible: his girlfriend.
That had been the next thing to cross Richard’s mind, after the head trip that was meeting his idol. Suspicion. Lois had been speaking very familiarly to Superman; she’d actually been quarreling with him, from the sound. As he’d looked from one to the other, a tiny jealous part of his brain had whispered, He’s awfully friendly with your fiancée.
Immediately on the heels of that thought had come chagrin. She was his girlfriend before I ever came back to the states. If anyone’s the interloper here, it’s me.
More than enough to leave any man confused and melancholy. If that wasn’t enough, the loss of the twins gnawed at him. Even more so when they arrived at the house and saw everything as it had been that morning, before their world had fallen apart. Both twins’ drawings on the refrigerator door, Kala’s hair tie on the table, Jason’s other sneakers by the coat rack – those things seemed fraught with meaning, haunting Richard. It hadn’t quite been real to him until that moment, a part of him still believing that this couldn’t possibly happen to people he loved.
Lois froze in the hallway, shivering, her eyes lingering on each of the twins’ belongings as if concentrating could bring them home. Richard slipped his arm around her shoulders wordlessly; nothing he could say would comfort her.
For a moment she accepted the touch, but then Lois moved away slightly. He let her; both of them had too much to feel, too much to think about. She went into the kitchen and got something out of the fridge. Food didn’t sound very appealing at the moment, but Richard supposed he’d have to eat something too.
He paced through the darkened house, his mind full of the twins – Kala’s laugh, Jason’s smile, their silly arguments, and the absolute seriousness with which they would suddenly unite in defense of each other. God, the house felt empty. Everywhere he looked was heartbreak – the couch that was often bereft of its cushions when the kids played at building forts, the piano Jason practiced on, the stereo system Kala sang along with.
And as awful as this was for him, it had to be infinitely worse for Lois. The twins were the most important part of her life, and her love for them was greater than any other emotion she’d ever known. She’d raised them basically alone through their infancy and toddler years, and only trusted a few people to look after them even now. Richard’s throat closed in sympathetic pain.
Enough of this. We need to get some rest and get back to the search tomorrow morning. Richard headed upstairs to look for Lois.
His heart broke again when he found her in the twins’ room, sitting on Jason’s bed. She hadn’t gone into the fridge for herself, Richard now saw. She had gotten out the mix of raw vegetables that Jason gave Gazeera every evening, and was hand-feeding the iguana. Wonder of wonders, the lizard was accepting the greens from her without trying his usual tricks; it seemed the pets knew something was wrong, too. Captain Jack’s food bowl had been freshly filled, but he was ignoring it, standing in the corner of his cage closest to Lois and pressing his nose against the wire.
Richard started to come in; she didn’t need to be in here, where the reminders of the twins’ absence were a thousand times stronger. But when Lois offered Gazeera a piece of zucchini, he saw her reflection in Jason’s mirror, saw the tears streaming down her cheeks silently.
Lois wouldn’t rest that night. Richard knew it to look at her; she’d stay up, pacing and worrying, until she collapsed from exhaustion. That would do them no good tomorrow. Something had to be done, and Richard went downstairs silently to do it.
Her sleeping pills were in the downstairs medicine cabinet, well out of the twins’ reach. Richard took down the bottle and shook one pill into his hand. He paused, thinking carefully, and added another. He’d seen her take two at once before, but not the way he planned to give them to her.
Richard replaced the medicine bottle and dropped the pills into a glass. He added a generous splash of Scotch and swirled until the pills dissolved. Then he topped up the glass with milk and carried it upstairs to her.
Lois had finished feeding the lizard, and accepted the drink gratefully. If she noticed anything funny about the taste, she probably attributed it to an extra dose of alcohol. Still without speaking, Richard sat beside her and rubbed her shoulders as she watched the animals move around their cages, probably wondering where their true owners were.
Within fifteen minutes, Lois’s eyelids were flickering. She had already been tired, and Richard caught the empty glass just as it tumbled from her hand. He was just fast enough to support her as she slumped against him.
She’d gone under awfully quick, and Richard felt her pulse as he held her close, worrying. The beat seemed steady, and her breathing was deep and even, so he must’ve dosed it just right. Gathering her into his arms and marveling at her lightness, Richard carried Lois down the hall to their bedroom.
Now all he had to do was figure out a way to make himself fall asleep.