After a quick change of clothes on the way to the hospital, Clark and Jason learned from the admitting nurse that Lois Lane-Kent was listed as still being in surgery. Jason, having hidden his hands in his pockets on arrival, had quickly run to the men’s to wash his hands in a sink he wouldn’t even look into. He couldn’t bear to see the soap turn pink as he washed the blood off.
They waited impatiently for more news, Jason hovering close to his father’s side. At last, a man in a surgical gown came out to speak with them. “Mr. Kent?” he said, and when father and son approached, the surgeon gave them a cautious smile. “Sorry to keep you waiting. For a time, we weren’t even sure who your wife was. Superman didn’t have time to say before he left again. Thankfully, we have a fan or two here.” He paused before getting down to business. “She came through the surgery well. It was dicey there for a moment, but she’s a fighter, and she pulled through. There’s still the possibility of setbacks; she was nicked in a few vital places, but she’s made it this far. For now, we’ve done all we can – the rest is going to be up to her.” Clark asked a few questions and began to draw out more technical details, but his son had heard enough.
Sagging into a handy chair, Jason let his muscles go watery from relief. She’s alive. Mom’s still alive. Thank you, God. On some level Jason knew that Lois wasn’t yet out of danger; the careful choice of words and deliberate tone of the surgeon’s voice made that clear. But the doctor had said it was up to Lois now, and Mom was nothing if not determined. He had to believe she could make it back from this. No alternative was acceptable, no matter how much blood had been pouring down her shirt, no matter the pain in her startled gaze. He had the feeling that he’d see that in his nightmares for a long time to come.
The wait to see her, to reassure themselves of her continued existence, seemed forever; Lois needed to be in recovery before they could see her again. The doctors warned them she might not regain consciousness immediately; her system was struggling to right itself after the extent of the damage. Despite that, neither Dad nor Jason would leave until Lois’ vital signs were stable.
They were still sitting side by side, taking comfort in each other’s presence in an otherwise empty waiting room, when Richard, Lana, and Elise arrived. Richard was first, his eyes wild, and before Clark had even risen from his seat the pilot had crossed the room, grabbing the older man’s forearm in alarm. It was clear that he was every bit as frightened as they were. “What’s going on? Clark, where is she? The damn candy-stripers won’t tell me a goddamn thing about her condition, since I’m not ‘family’. I’m calling bullshit on that.”
Clark gripped his hand back just as hard. If anyone in the room knew anything close to what he felt, it was the pilot. And there had been no easy way to explain. The haunted look in his friend’s eyes had to reflect the same soul-deep agony he felt. “Richard, I’m sorry. Everything happened so fast. I never thought to let them know. I guess I took it as a given…”
Richard took a deep breath, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. It wasn’t Clark’s fault. It wasn’t fair to attack him with this as soon as they arrived. The shadows he saw under the older man’s eyes reminded him that he wasn’t alone in all of this. If he was in a blind panic, how must this be effecting Clark? The hero was just barely holding it together. And if he could do that when the love of his life was fighting for her life, it was the least Richard could do to make that easier for him. Right now, they were all hurting. Just a glance at his son was enough to tell him that. “It’s all right. I just got carried away. So how is she? Really, I mean.”
Meanwhile, Elise had gone straight to Jason, hugging him tight. The pain that tightened his chest loosened just a bit when he buried his face in her shoulder, his eyes closed, trying to focus on the scent of her hair and the warmth of her in his arms. Anything to distract him from the way his hands were still raw and pink from the effort of scrubbing Lois’ blood off them, as if removing the sign of her injury could somehow make it not have happened.
They just stood there, neither saying a word, though Elise’s mind raced. Oh, thank God he’s all right. He could have been killed. Oh my God, why did he have to go into that mess? And his mom… I can’t imagine. We can’t let her go. Please, God, let this work out. Let us all be okay when this is over. Elise drew back a little then, looking up at him with troubled gray eyes and biting her lip, but she had no words of comfort to offer. Sorry just sounded like the most cardboard and useless phrase on the planet. All she could do was be glad, in spite of the danger, that she had risked all of this to be there. At least he didn’t have to be alone.
Seeing that Jason was taken care of for the moment, Lana was standing beside Richard and Clark, a hand on either man’s shoulder. She had been in Lois’ place earlier, attacked first as the weakest link in the family chain, and how bitterly ironic it was that the former cheerleader had killed her assailant, while the general’s daughter lay hospitalized. Lana prided herself on being patient, kind, forgiving … but at the moment she hated Luthor with a trembling fury her soul had never known. How dare he strike at the two men she loved most in the world, wounding them by harming the woman they both loved – and wounding Lana, too. She loved Lois as the sister she’d never had, the irrepressible reporter her opposite in so many ways, it was impossible for them not to be fascinated by each other.
It could’ve been so different. She and Lois could easily have hated each other. But Lois wasn’t quite as much of a bitch as she pretended to be, and Lana wasn’t quite as yielding as she seemed. The fact that they’d married each other’s exes only solidified their friendship instead of making them bitter rivals. Lana felt a great debt to Lois for having a sense of humor about that, and for letting her be a part of the twins’ lives, a part of Clark’s life.
So now, while Lois fought for her own life, Lana held back her tears and offered comfort to those who needed it. She owed Lois that, and so much more. As Clark began to speak in a dreadful monotone, Lana rubbed his back gently, her expression solemn. “Lois was shot through the shoulder and the belly. The shoulder’s not life-threatening; the bullet went straight through her. There might be nerve damage and the muscle’s torn, so they’re not sure how much use she’ll have of her right hand.”
His hand going to his mouth in agitation, Richard swallowed forcefully, his expression torn between sorrow and anger. Elise felt Jason lean more heavily against her; this time he wasn’t distracted, and hearing the bare facts in layman’s terms was like frost creeping over his heart. The thought that they were discussing his mother, his mother with her wicked luck, was surreal. All of this just didn’t seem possible. How could a woman fall out of the sky however many times and survive without a scratch, only to be felled by a madman with a gun?
Clark continued his recitation, his voice dry as he struggled with knowledge he didn’t want to have. “The abdominal wound … the bullet nicked her liver and basically destroyed her right kidney. She lost a lot of blood. They had to transfuse basically her entire blood volume, and that has its own risks. Also she was losing blood so fast, her heart slowed down, and she went into cardiac arrest.”
Jason made a choked sound of denial, Elise squeezing him close protectively. The world went gray as Richard swayed on his feet, and Lana instinctively caught both men around the waist, watching Clark’s eyes. “They managed to resuscitate her, and she’s in recovery. But they don’t know … they don’t know when she’ll wake up…”
He mastered himself, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. “We’re staying until she’s stable. Once we know for sure, Jason and I are going back to get Kala.”
Elise spoke into the silence that followed that statement. “He’s trying to break us, once and for all. And she wouldn’t want that.”
“He won’t,” Jason said, his voice low. “Luthor won’t win this one.”
Everyone was in agreement about that, but the surgeon approached them and forestalled further discussion. “She’s moving to the ICU now, Mr. Kent, if you’d like to see her. Room 464.”
It took no time at all to have all of them on their feet. Clark shook the man’s hand. A tentative relief rushed through him. First obstacle cleared. She’d made it to Recovery. “Thank you. We’ll be up in a moment.”
Seeing them all start toward the elevators, the man gave a sincerely apologetic smile. “I’m sorry. We can only allow immediate family members into the ICU.”
“It’s all right,” Lana said, putting a restraining hand on Richard’s arm when he opened his mouth to protest. “We’ll wait. We know she’s in good hands.”
However, she wasn’t fast enough that Clark missed the vaguely resentful look crossed Richard’s face. “I’ll see if there’s anything I can do about that. Someone’s going to have to watch over her while the two of us are gone. Don’t worry, Richard.”
He and Jason were silent on the elevator ride to the Intensive Care Unit, both of them afraid of what they would see. When they finally got to Lois’ room, the reality was both better and worse than they’d expected.
Lois looked as if she were only sleeping, no injuries beyond the bruise around her eye visible, but anyone who knew her as well as they did knew she never slept flat on her back. And the various tubes and wires coming out of her added a macabre touch. Jason remembered seeing Nana in the hospital, how he’d hated all the machines that clustered around her bedside like harbingers of doom. In all of his sixteen years, he had never seen his mother like this, never helpless in a hospital bed, never looking so small. It was a sight he hoped they wouldn’t have to see ever again once this nightmare was over. He wasn’t sure his heart could take it. Tightening his jaw against the ache in the back of his throat, he took Mom’s hand and tried not to think about how cool it was against the warmth of his.
Clark stroked her hair softly, using his x-ray vision to verify the extent of the damage and check the repairs. He had to think of it in clinical terms, or he’d go mad. The laparotomy had left a long incision down Lois’ belly, and the place where he liked to kiss her was now bisected by a line of stitches.
Looking down at his wife, Clark murmured, “This ends here and now – Luthor’s gone far enough.”
It was then that Jason chose to speak up, his eyes never leaving his mother’s closed ones. “He’s gone too far,” the boy growled, his voice choked with rage. He trembled slightly, as if he might fly apart at any second. “He should have gone after me, not her. She got shot because she was protecting me. She’s always tried to protect us from him. I’ll kill him for this.”
“You will not,” his father said, and that was Kal-El speaking, not a trace of mild manner in his voice. “Luthor is a murderer, Jason, we are not.”
His outrage coloring every word, Jason snapped back, “Doesn’t he deserve to die for this? Mom died on the operating table, he ought to pay for that.”
“Could you have saved your mother’s life, if the doctors couldn’t, if the most advanced medical knowledge available couldn’t save her?” Kal-El countered. “I couldn’t, and neither could you. If we cannot give life to one who deserves it, how dare we choose to give death?”
“Mom would’ve shot him.”
Kal-El’s patience was running out. “She likely couldn’t have taken him down any other way. Forced to choose between her life and his, I cannot fault her. But you and I are different. We can bring him to justice – not vengeance. We do not take revenge, Jason. That is what separates us from men like Luthor, or General Zod.”
“And what if she dies, Dad? What then? We both know he did enough damage to her that it’s a possibility. What do we do then?” Merely speaking the words turned Jason’s heart inside out.
It was as hard for Kal-El to hear as it was for Jason to say, and both of them glanced at Lois as if she might’ve caught that negative remark. Kal-El sighed heavily and took Jason by the shoulders. “Nothing, son. Even if the worst happens, killing Luthor will not bring her back. It will not even ease our grief. All it would do is prove that he was right all along, about power and about us. If we take the law into our own hands, we are no better than Luthor himself.”
Jason steadfastly ignored the burn behind his eyes. It’s not right. None of this is right. Mom shouldn’t be here, her hand shouldn’t feel this cold. Kal should be back home with all of us. Mom and Dad never should have fought in the first place! Damn him, he’s not going to take my family away! Not now! Struggling against the fury and despair he felt knotting up inside him, the boy raised his blue eyes to his father’s. The thought of leaving his mother for a moment brought a lance of guilt; what would she think if she knew he was abandoning her? He knew immediately, squeezing her hand. “Dad, Mom wouldn’t want us here unless we had Kala with us. We need to know what we’re up against and we need to get her out. Maybe if we can get to her, get her free, maybe … maybe Mom…”
Kal-El agreed. “Maybe, son. Kala has to be our priority now. We can do nothing more for Lois but save Kala. That’s what she wanted; for both of you to be safe. Wait here a moment; I need to make arrangements for Richard and Lana to be allowed up here while we’re gone.” It was clearly tearing him apart to walk away from Lois, but he had more experience in doing what must be done instead of what he wanted to do. Jason had a harder time reasoning with his own heart.
Jason only nodded, holding Lois’ hand as if he were her only link to life. If anyone could get the hospital to bend their rules, it was his father. And Dad and Lana should be up here, keeping an eye on Mom.
At least until he and Dad got back with Kala. And they would bring her back, no matter who stood in their way. It was all or nothing now. The time for waiting was over.
Luthor’s hands were on her throat before Kala became aware of her peril. Her concentration had been so fiercely on trying to figure out what he wanted from her that she’d missed the approach of the man himself.
At the touch, she leapt away from him, banging her shin on the table and getting tangled up with the chair she’d been sitting in. Luthor’s laughter was rich, that expansive, friendly laugh that never failed to chill her. It was then that Kala felt something hanging around her neck and pawed at it wildly. He had clasped something around her in that unguarded instant. Kryptonite, he’d collared her with kryptonite, she was already nauseous…
“Just a little gift – although you might call it an inheritance,” Luthor said lightly. Kala’s hands found the thing, but the shape was familiar. Breathing heavily, she forced her eyes to the mirror and saw that what he’d put around her neck wasn’t kryptonite.
It might as well have been.
The girl stared at the topaz locket, the same one she and Jason had given Mom on their birthday. She had never seen her mother without it, even when they had fought. The silver chain was stained with something dark, something that felt slightly tacky under Kala’s fingers… “Mom,” she whispered, realizing the only way Luthor could have gotten it from her. The world shifted dangerously, her vision blurring.
Luthor chortled maliciously. “It took me ten years, but I finally got her. And with her own gun, too.”
“You lie,” Kala snarled, hatred and horror rising up in her like a black, crushing wave. “It’s always lies with you. It’s a trick, some kind of elaborate trick… Zod said they were okay…”
Luthor was still smiling, manic and gleeful. “Oh, it’s no trick, princess. Maybe Zod just spun the story a little differently for you – he’s awfully considerate of your feelings, isn’t he?” Luthor let the implication hang in the air before finishing with brutal finality. “I called her in with a manipulation of your voice, made her think she was coming to your rescue, and I shot her down like a mad dog in the street. I took the necklace for a trophy, but once I realized what it was, I thought you should have it.”
And in fact, Zod hadn’t said anything about her mother. It could be true… Kala made herself open the locket, having to know, only to see the photos she and Jason had carefully cropped to fit within. Her stomach lurched, her whole body atremble. Oh God, Mom. Mommy, oh God, Mommy! No! NO! It was real, Luthor had really shot her mother, and oh God if that was true than maybe the newspaper headline wasn’t a fake, maybe Luthor was picking off her whole family one by one.
All of Kala’s Kryptonian airs and sophistication fell away. She had been keeping her fears locked away just to cope with the daily stresses of living under Luthor’s thumb, but she couldn’t pretend to be the princess in a crystal tower any longer. Her very human terror and rage surged forth.
“You fucking bastard,” she hissed, tears smearing her makeup, and lunged for him. Luthor uncapped the kryptonite ring, backing away. Even so, she fell to the ground retching only a few feet away from him.
In spite of that, he couldn’t resist one more parting shot. “I will miss your mother, you know. But fortunately I now have a reasonably accurate substitute…” His low, deadly voice hung on the air even as Luthor slipped out of the room, quick and silent as the snake he was.
Kala lay curled on the floor, sobbing. Her mother was dead, and the last words between them had been furious accusations. She would never be able to apologize for how she’d behaved, or how close she’d come to slapping her own mother. Lois was dead, and had died believing her own daughter hated her.
That knowledge gnawed at Kala, tearing her apart from the inside. She cried until her stomach ached, until her eyes burned, until she felt as though she’d cried out every tear her body would ever produce.
And then she sat up, trembling from the aftereffects of kryptonite and grief. With a shaking hand she lifted the locket to her lips and kissed the topaz. “I will kill Luthor, if it’s the last thing I do,” she solemnly promised the air, and then rose to confront Zod on his omission.