Also, as much as it embarrasses me to bring it up and toot any horns in my own general direction, it's that time of year again. The Superman Movieverse Fanfiction Awards has come around and this year, Anissa and I are on staff. Nominations are being taken in various categories for fics that were created between July 1, 2009 and July 30, 2010. Please come over and join us in showing recognition of your favorite authors! That said, I wouldn't mind it terribly if we got a little love.
*blushes madly* Nevermind that! Come nom or vote in the finals if the spirit moves you. And now, if you'll excuse me, I need another dose of antacid. ;)
~Ends Pimping As She's No Good At It~
All right, duties done, on with the chapter. *takes a deep breath and waits for reactions*
From that first moment when he’d seen Lois covered in blood, memories haunted Kal-El. Brief, fragile moments of their life together: catching her when she fell from the Daily Planet roof, Lois wide-eyed and clinging to her impossible rescuer; that day in the desert when he’d arrived too late to save her; the way she’d smiled through tears and knocked Ursa out cold at the Fortress; how his heart had ached at leaving her; returning from Krypton just in time to catch a falling plane, and seeing the dumbfounded and furious expression on her face when he spoke to her after the rescue. A thousand such moments, a thousand glimpses of her lovely face, a thousand expressions from joy to sorrow to triumph to wrath to contentment to early-morning lack of caffeine. Brittle, fracturing, as if slipping away even as she did. Moving beyond his ability to reach.
Ten years was not enough. He could not lose her, could not even bear to listen to her heartbeat as he raced back to Luthor’s lair. It was better not to know, for now. For one insane moment, blinded by panic, he had considered the most dire of saves. Somehow she had known what he had been thinking, even as she was fighting to keep her eyes open. No, she’d whispered , but her tone was firm as iron. Not again. You … remember your promise…
That cold night so many years ago came back to mind, in their first days together. Lois’ nightmare. A future spent together and yet always apart, which had led to the discussion of how he had risked all the world to save her once before.
“No wonder your father hates me…” she’d whispered softly. “Kal-El, don’t ever risk everything for me like that again. Ever. Please…”
“I won't have to.” He had kissed her forehead gently. “I'm a lot better at getting there in time now.”
“Promise me you won’t do it again,” Lois had demanded, tilting her face up to kiss him quickly and desperately. “Promise. I don’t ever want you to do that again.”
“Lois…” Kal-El’s voice had been very soft, but he couldn’t make that promise. Not when he’d planned to use that power if he hadn’t been able to rescue the twins in time. The truth was, he would risk anything, even his own life, for his family. “I love you, Lois. I won’t have to take a risk like that again. You see? I’m always looking after you – I got here in moments to wake you from the nightmare. No matter what happens, I’ll be there for you.” He’d kissed her forehead again, nuzzling her hair. “Besides, I’m not even sure it would work a second time.”
She’d eventually wrangled the promise from him, and it was bittersweet now. Especially since Hal had quietly warned him as well. Time itself could have unraveled had he done it again, to save the twins or otherwise. There should be no further testing of this unpredictable power.
And so he was down to that most human of all emotions: hope. He could do nothing more than hope she would be all right while he deliberately tuned out her heartbeat, preferring the uncertainty of hope to the potential finality of despair. That, and do as she requested. The thought brought on an extra burst of speed as he hurtled toward the warehouse.
Kal-El had one priority now – get Jason out. He was no longer even sure that Kala was in the facility; it might all have been an elaborate trap. Since he didn’t know where Kala was or if she was there at all, he could only get Jason and then return to the hospital to check on Lois.
Focusing in on Jason’s heartbeat made him realize immediately that his son hadn’t done as he was told. In fact, he was now over in the section Kal-El had been exploring before he heard the shots. Curbing his frustration, the hero soared back down through the hole he’d previously made in the ceiling and punched through the concrete floor in search of the boy.
He hadn’t the strength to even be angry with him for disobeying. Had she been there, Lois would have been furious enough for the both of them. Landing beside him as Jason got to his feet, Kal-El caught his shoulder. “I should have known I’d find you here. Come on, son.”
It wasn’t until he looked the boy in the face that he saw how huge his eyes had gotten. The shock on Jason’s face went beyond just the misery of seeing his mother shot, shaking visibly. “It’s not just Luthor! It’s not just Luthor! Zod!” he was babbling. “Dad, Zod’s here! It’s Zod working with Luthor!”
That gave Kal-El pause, staring at the boy in horrified disbelief. General Zod had died while escaping prison with Ursa, as had been reported several years ago. He himself had visited the facility…
…and while he was still puzzling that out, the beeping sound broke through his thoughts. He’d heard it before, from the timers attached to the bombs Luthor’s arsonist had used a decade before. There was no more time to think about the implications of Zod being alive. Kal-El was too busy snatching up his son and trying to escape the imminent explosion.
They cleared the rooftop, Jason yelping at the speed of their ascent, just as the bombs went off. Below them, the warehouse exploded, glass and metal raining down as smoke and dust rose in a cloud. “KALA!” Jason screamed, struggling in his father’s grip.
Kal-El only flew higher. He told his son, “She’s not there, Jason. Even if she was, Luthor would never make it that easy. We should have known that. What we heard was a recording. Only a recording.”
Jason still fought him. “You don’t know that for sure! There was lead all over the place in there! Dad, we have to go back!”
It was the hardest thing Kal-El had ever done, to fly away from their only solid lead on Kala. But Luthor would not have triggered the explosion if it would endanger his most valuable hostage – not without making absolutely sure Kal-El knew she was in the path of the destruction. No, Kala wasn’t there at all. He knew it, and Jason would know it too, if he weren’t maddened by fear and anger. “We have to see to your mother first,” Kal-El said sternly, and Jason stopped struggling.
“But … you took her to the hospital.” Jason’s eyes were full of confusion. He was still young enough to believe that getting to the hospital in time could fix everything.
Kal-El knew better, knew that sometimes even he wasn’t fast enough to save people. With a heavy sigh, he listened for Lois’ heart, dreading what he might hear. At first, he couldn’t find it, but then he caught its familiar rhythm despite its weakened pulse. Relief washed through him; she was alive. Anything else he could deal with. “We still don’t know how badly she was hurt,” he reminded Jason.
That quieted him, Jason clearly worried, and the two spoke no more as they continued toward the hospital.
When the text came in, Richard, Lana, and Elise had already been on their way to find a hotel. Every scrap of information they could gather on the decommissioned base had been loaded onto the laptop; they only had to move out before contacting Clark and Lois. Elise was in the back seat, keeping herself busy putting rubber bands around the copies when Richard’s phone went off. The ring tone told him a text message had come in.
He was in the driver’s seat, the phone was in the console between the two front seats. Lana deftly snagged it, for which he thanked her, expecting her to open it and read the text to him. Which she didn’t immediately do. Having a bad feeling about her silence, he glanced at her with a frown.
His wife’s fair skin had gone shockingly pale. “Oh my dear God and all the saints in heaven,” Lana murmured softly. The unusual phrase made Elise snap her head up apprehensively. The little group had been on pins and needles ever since the other three had split off. This was not a good sign.
Richard, knowing Lana only used that particular phrase in situations that would have warranted profligate profanity from Lois, checked to make sure no cars were nearby and turned to face his wife. The sick feeling in the pit of his stomach was growing stronger. “What’s going on?” he demanded.
“Head for Las Vegas, right now.” The shock vanished from her expression almost as quickly as it had arrived, replaced by determination. “They found Luthor. Lois was hurt; she’s at a hospital there.”
Elise and Lana both saw the stricken expression on Richard’s face, but his attention was already far past them. The blow of this news was like having the air knocked out of him. Despite the very happy life he currently had, the pilot had known and loved Lois for a very long time. Ever since the moment he’d met her, he had admired the sharp-tongued spitfire who was legendary at the Planet. And once he got to know Lois, began to see further than the epic shadow she cast, he’d had no choice but to adore her. Lois had been nothing like he’d expected. She was so dedicated to her children, never once complaining or feeling sorry for herself because they were so delicate. Lois just buckled down and did what needed to be done to keep them safe.
With him, she’d been wary, and after a while Richard had seen past the snarky exterior to the vulnerability Lois thought she was hiding so well. Once he’d proven he could be trusted with the twins, and with her heart, there were thousands of memories. The way she laughed when he clowned around with Jason and Kala; the way she slept curled around herself; the little arrogant lift to her step when she was on her way to break a big story; the softness in her when they were alone together, the deep romanticism she could show when she needed to be loved; the way she was gorgeous in her anger, which only provoked him to tease and taunt her more. He’d loved her so much in those days, when he still believed Lois would be his if only he could tame her just a little.
Now, of course, she was Clark’s, and wilder than ever. Perversely, Richard had found that he loved her all the more for that, the way he loved to see a wild hawk wheeling overhead even more than a tame falcon sitting jessed and leashed. In the past ten years, they’d made even more memories: mock-fighting with Lois in a drift of leaves at the cabin; applauding so hard when she’d won her second Pulitzer that his palms stung for an hour after the ceremony; tossing her into the pool at his new apartment, and getting dragged in after and summarily dunked by his furiously spluttering ex-fiancée.
Lois was so much more to him than an ex, and knowing she’d been hurt badly enough to get hospitalized chilled his soul. He’d seen her superglue a cut in her hand rather than go to a doctor, watched her go to work so sick she could barely stand rather than miss a single day. If she was that badly hurt… He couldn’t bear to think of losing her.
Swallowing the lump in his throat, Richard floored the accelerator. “Get me GPS directions to that hospital,” he told Lana, as the speedometer needle passed eighty miles per hour.
Blinking, Lois lay back, while she tried to get her bearings. She could vaguely remember coming into the hospital, her whole body a mass of varying degrees of pain. But now she felt almost well, though oddly light-headed. Amazing what doctors can do these days – or maybe it’s the drugs, she thought to herself with a stretch.
Getting out of bed and ambling out of the room, Lois winced a little at the brightness of the hallway. What idiot had decided to paint the whole thing pure white? Curiosity growing, she headed to the right with the vague notion that the nurses’ station was that way, noticing that the lights were even brighter.
She passed a set of swinging doors, and glanced in through the windows. A group of surgeons and nurses worked feverishly on a patient, and Lois glanced away, feeling as though she’d violated that poor person’s privacy even though she hadn’t seen a glimpse of the form lying on the table.
Lois continued up the corridor, wondering where on earth everyone else was. The hallway was deserted, and she couldn’t see the nurses’ station for the glare. She could no longer see the joints between the floor tiles for the brilliant illumination. Who had turned the lights up so high? How could anyone see their way in this?
Further ahead of her, a silhouetted figure stepped out into the hallway and turned toward her. “Wait!” Lois called, hurrying forward eagerly.
She skidded to a halt just before she reached the figure, suddenly wary. Who was this, simply waiting for her approach? Was she really safe here? The hospital felt decidedly odd to Lois, with the utter lack of other people except for those doctors she’d seen in the other room. And it was strangely quiet, too. Shouldn’t there be more noise, other patients, nurses going about their rounds?
And then the figure before her took a step forward, and all of Lois’ concerns were blasted aside at the sight of that well-loved face. Her eyes had never felt so wide. It couldn’t be… “Momma?” she managed to whisper weakly.
Ella smiled. She looked twenty – no, thirty years younger, her hair restored to its rich mahogany hue, her face unlined, but her eyes as deep and full of wisdom as they’d been the day she…
Lois’ breath caught in her throat. Her mother was dead. The truth of that sentence rang through every cell, the soul-deep heartache that had plagued her for the last six months. She was gone, but she was here, and Lois choked on a sob, tears threatening. This was what she’d wanted so desperately, one more moment with her mother, one more chance.
Ella held her arms open, and Lois ran to her, hugging her so tight she was afraid she’d hurt the older woman. Or reopen her own wounds – but she didn’t feel the slightest twinge as Ella squeezed her tight. “My darling, my Lois, my sweet girl,” Ella murmured, a litany of pet names Lois hadn’t heard since she turned thirteen.
After a moment they stepped back from each other, Ella stroking her daughter’s hair with a gentle hand. “Sweetheart, you know where we are.”
Lois understood then, and nodded, curiously accepting for one who’d fought so hard. The illusion of the hospital corridor was almost gone; they stood surrounded by formless brightness, a constant illumination from all sides. “You’ve passed on, and I think I have, too. I guess this is what comes next, right?” Now she could remember having been here once before, alone, with the memory of suffocating darkness behind her. But Kal-El had turned back time to save her from that fate – something she’d demanded he not even think about this time.
“Not quite,” Ella corrected. “This is the waiting room, so to speak. You’ve got one foot in each world here, darling. You can come with me … or you can go back.”
That prompted a puzzled frown from her daughter. “Go back?” Lois could sense what waited for her ahead. Rest, peace, joy – all the things she’d so rarely enjoyed in life. An end to struggle and pain, a just reward for all of her efforts.
She turned to look the way she’d come, and saw the hospital corridor, wreathed in darkness. The only point of light was the room she’d passed earlier, where the doctors worked furiously to save a life … her life, Lois began to realize. How could she go back to that, to the agony that awaited her? She didn’t even know how badly she’d been hurt. What if she couldn’t walk? What if she needed help just to get through each day? Her fiercely independent spirit rebelled at the thought.
“There’s more than pain back there,” Ella reminded her. Memory crashed through Lois like a cresting wave thundering on the shore. Her son, her daughter needed her. Jason and Kala were both still in Luthor’s lair, and Lois wanted to see them both free and safe. And Kal-El, whom she’d sent back into that viper’s nest to retrieve them. She bit her lip at that. How could she let him return only to find her gone in his absence? It was less cruel than dying in his arms would be, that was true, but how could she bear to leave him?
She wavered, pulled in two directions. The love of her family and friends called to her, imagining Richard’s heartbreak, Lana trying to stay strong for everyone else, Perry cursing her for skipping out in the middle of a huge story. But that brilliance ahead also summoned her, promising sweet relief, the chance to lay down her burdens and be herself, free from all the neuroses and stresses of life.
“Lois,” Ella said softly, and the reporter turned to look at her. “Darling, as tempting as it seems, I need you to fight. All of us do. If you come with me now, it may change the course of your entire family’s future. There’s a little boy who needs you very much.”
“Is Jason all right?” Lois demanded, worried by that remark. The memory of how he had found her came back to her then, along with the sound of Kal-El’s voice ordering him to get out of the tunnels. They had left him behind.
Ella shook her head. “I didn’t mean Jason, though he needs you, too. You will know him when you see him.” She wouldn’t elaborate, and the puzzle frustrated Lois. Which little boy? Bryan, Perry’s son? But why would he need her?
It didn’t matter, she realized. Lois was a fighter, not a coward. She wouldn’t go tamely along to whatever paradise waited, not while she was still needed in the world. A greater purpose existed to be served, and Lois would meet that challenge, no matter what it took. “I love you, Momma,” she said, and her decision filled her voice.
“I love you, too, my brave Lois.” Ella kissed her cheek, hugging her one more time. Lois wondered how much of this she’d remember, later, and didn’t care. She had her wish – she knew her mother wasn’t really gone, just somewhere else.
“Lane.” Lois knew that voice, too, and lifted her head with a scowl starting to furrow her brow. The tall, straight figure was merely a silhouette almost lost in the brightness, but she knew her father, even now. As she watched, his right arm raised in an unmistakable salute. “Well done. You’ve done me proud, soldier.”
That shocked her more than the realization of her own death did. Her father, actually approving? Lois was startled into returning the salute. “Go now,” Ella urged, tugging at her shoulder to turn her. “Hurry, you haven’t much time. And don’t be afraid, Lois. I’m right here. I’ll always be right here with you…”
Her voice faded as the corridor rushed toward Lois. She had a hurried glimpse of the doctors crowded around the operating table, and then she was looking into her own face. Her features were disturbingly blank, and Lois rebelled against that. She was always expressive; she should never look like a porcelain doll. A badly-used doll, at that, with the bruises she’d collected and the deep shadows under her eyes.
Oh, this is going to suck.
After the final shock, everyone’s eyes were glued to the heart monitor. To their surprise, it showed a strong, steady rhythm. The surgeon was the first to cheer, but not the only one.
He allowed a moment of celebration before restoring order. “All right, people, let’s close up and get her to Recovery.” He paused to pat the patient’s shoulder. “I knew you were a fighter, lady.”
Kala had dozed off when she heard the chiming sound of the security panel. She sat up, watching it warily, but was relieved to hear Zod’s voice. “I have returned.”
“Enter,” she replied, and the door slid open to admit Zod. He stepped inside and greeted her with a deferential bow. Kala rose and returned the gesture.
Over the past few days she’d adopted his mannerisms and Jor-El’s, from the graceful greetings to the way she held her shoulders. She’d even styled her hair after the way she’d seen Lara wear hers. It was partly conscious, an effort to put herself in a Kryptonian frame of mind and thus improve her Kryptonese. But that explained only why she copied their gestures, their stances, when trying to unlock more information from the AI. The rest of the time, it was a subconscious realignment of loyalties. The humans who surrounded Kala now were either detached scientists or brutish thugs. She needed to differentiate herself from them, and so modeled her behavior on Kryptonians.
And the results showed. Even when she wasn’t trying, her Kryptonese was near-perfect, her accent distinctly that of Kryptonopolis as she asked Zod, “What have you learned?”
“Much. Your family is very close. They arrived at the loading facility today. Luthor had planned to separate and trap them, but it was Luthor who was driven back into his lair and forced to detonate the explosives planted in the shipping facility.” Zod unconsciously stood at the Kryptonian version of parade rest while giving his report.
“No one was harmed?” Kala asked hopefully, mirroring his posture.
Zod nodded as he answered. “Your father is, of course, invulnerable. When last I saw your brother, he was only bruised. I did not encounter your mother. Still, Luthor retreated in shame, so we can reasonably assume he failed.” Kala nodded, absorbing that. It hurt to know the her rescuers had been so close only to be turned away, but she knew her family wouldn’t give up on her. They’d be here soon.
“Luthor destroyed the access from the shipping facility, which leaves us with only one entrance, well concealed in the mountains,” Zod continued. “He detonated the explosives so quickly that I was nearly trapped in the debris, which I am certain would have pleased him. Instead, I discovered that I’ve regained my power of flight.”
That got Kala’s attention. “Excellent. Tell me, Dru-Zod, did you manage to speak to my father or brother?”
“Alas, I did not. Your father and I never encountered each other directly, and your brother attacked me on sight. I was unable to restrain him long enough to speak without harming him, so I released him.” Seeing the disappointment on her face, Zod added, “Do not fear, Kala. I did not expect either of them to listen to me. They know me only as the half-mad general who swore vengeance upon them. Only you can plead my case.”
“And I shall,” Kala promised him.
“At the moment, however, there is little else we can do. We must be patient, and ever alert for treachery by Luthor,” Zod reminded her. “I shall retire to my rooms; he will be watching us both closely after this setback.”
Kala nodded as he let himself out. She was beginning to worry; Luthor hadn’t been pestering her to try unlocking more information from the AI. Was he distracted by the rescue attempt? Or had she given him the information he needed? Kala tried to remember everything they’d discussed and how Luthor could possibly use it. He was motivated by profit and power…
As she cudgeled her memory, she was unaware of the door behind her sliding open again.