Elise had gone across the street with Mrs. White to check into the hotel, mostly because staying in the hospital room was starting to freak her out. It was just too weird to see Mrs. Lane-Kent lying there so still and small. Elise had never realized how the twins’ mother was hardly bigger than a kid herself – Elise was probably an inch or two taller. But when Lois was standing with her arms crossed and her hazel eyes flashing fire, yelling her head off or maybe just teasing someone, she seemed ten feet tall. It was not a happy realization.
I always knew this family was going to lead me straight down Crazy Boulevard, Elise thought. They’ve always been too damn weird. And now here I am mixed up in the middle of this, and my parents are gonna freak out, and my boyfriend and my friend are still out there…
Just as soon as the thoughts made themselves known, the girl felt guilty. She had been doing so well up to this point, had tried to take all of this in stride, and here she was blindly panicking. But honestly, how was she supposed to handle this? God, how did anyone handle it? How were Richard and Lana keeping sane while Lois lay in a hospital bed and Clark and Jason headed into danger? It was like the entire family was falling apart all around them and somehow they stayed so strong.
Lana had gotten the keys for the three rooms she’d asked for while Elise was lost in thought, and turned to say something to her. To no avail. The girl startled when she realized that the redhead had spoken, blushed when she realized she’d missed it entirely, but Lana was patient enough to repeat herself. “Since we’re here, we might as well take some of the luggage up, don’t you think?”
“Yeah,” Elise said, and they headed out to the hospital garage with a luggage cart borrowed with the clerk’s blessing. Between the two of them, they got most of the suitcases and bags back to the hotel and properly distributed among the rooms.
Elise and Jason, of course, had no luggage due to having snuck aboard the plane. That was quickly rectified as well – Lana got Elise’s clothing sizes and called the concierge. Apparently politely-worded requests and a platinum card got you all kinds of perks. It took a bit to get used to Lana’s casual generosity, Elise’s conscience pricking her. “Thanks. You really didn’t have to get me two new outfits.”
The older woman smiled at her sadly. “They’re not necessarily both for you. Kala wears the same size, and we don’t know if she still has the clothes she packed. She’ll likely need them when they get her back here.”
It hurt to see how drawn Lana had become. Jason’s family had taken so many hits in the past few days, the designer having to take over as the minder of the family for Lois and it was obvious the weight was growing heavier. But despite the pain, Richard and Lana had pushed on, with no special powers to help them on the journey. They were quiet for a moment before Elise swallowed and sat down heavily. Up until now, she had been in denial over how much danger Jason has wading into. But she couldn’t afford to be any longer. She was fighting to keep her upset out of her voice when she asked, “How can you be so optimistic? The odds against them ever coming back…”
Lana cut her off with a note of severity in her voice. “Elise, the odds have been against Clark from the beginning. He escaped an exploded planet while he was still an infant, and traveled through space to get here. Of all the places he could’ve landed, of all the people who could’ve taken him in, he wound up in the Kent’s field. Imagine if the government had found him first – or someone like Lex Luthor.”
That made Elise shiver. She’d never really thought of Superman as anything other than the ultimate good guy. But Lana wasn’t done. “He survived, he came here, and he found exactly the right people to raise him so that he could be the man he is. And then he met Lois, fell in love with her, and in spite of being from separate galaxies managed to conceive the twins with her. And those twins, though they were frail when they were little, grew up to be healthy, reasonably well-adjusted people. Not only that, only a handful of people have discovered his secret, and with the exception of Luthor they’re all people who care for him and will protect him. Clark’s beaten long odds so many times, it’s only reasonable to expect him to do it again.”
“Yeah, but aren’t you at all afraid? I mean, Jason’s never done anything like this before and Mr. Kent’s nearly been killed by Luthor before. I mean, look what he did to…” Elise tried to ignore the stinging in her eyes, the memory of Lois’ wounds biting deep.
The redhead sat down across from her, and gave her a weary smile. “Of course I am. Elise, I’ve known Clark since we were children. And I love Kala and Jason as much as I do Kristin. I’m afraid for them, but I have faith in them, too.”
Elise rubbed her eyes, feeling worn out and frazzled. “She promised to talk to me about, you know, about what it’s like being in love with a hero. And how it can be tough, really tough, but it’s worth it. And now…” She let the sentence trail off, her expression fraught.
“Now you’ll be having those talks a little later than planned,” Lana interjected, kneeling down in front of Elise. The poor girl really had no idea what she was walking into when she’d helped Jason come out here. It was a lot for someone to take in at a normal point in time; Lana could only imagine how mixed up the world must seem to her right now. And all because she still cared for her ex-boyfriend. “Elise, Lois is tough. She’ll come through this. This isn’t the worst she’s been through and come out the other side. She’s like a cat that way, always landing on her feet. Besides, I’m not an authority like Lois, but I do know a few things about loving a hero.”
Elise felt her cheeks flush at that. She hadn’t expected to be taken into that confidence by the source, but Jason had mentioned it once or twice. “I heard you and Mr. Kent were, um…”
Lana gave a quiet laugh, the nostalgic smile softening her exhaustion. “He had a massive crush. I was the head cheerleader, though, and fairly crush-worthy back in the day, if I do say so myself. Besides, I may not be his wife, but I do love Clark as my friend. And Richard may not wear a cape, but he’s pretty heroic in his own right.”
“So how do you do this then?”
Sea-green eyes met hers steadily. “You have to truly love them, because they’re going to leave you. Whether it’s for a few hours or a few days, or forever, if you love a hero then you have to face the fact that they can’t be who they are and turn their back on their duty. And that duty might get them killed. It’s hard; Lois knows better than I do how hard it is. Sometimes you’ll wonder how you got into this mess and why you put up with it. But Lois was right: it’s worth it. If your love is strong and true, and you’re willing to work on a relationship instead of having everything handed to you on a silver platter, you’ll be fine.”
While Elise was digesting that, Lana leaned forward and took her hands gently. “We all hoped you’d be the one, Elise. And I hope you realize, whether you and Jason are meant to be or not, you’ll always be welcome in this family. There are so few of us who know the truth, we have to look out for each other.”
It was time. Everything that could be done to prepare had been done. Kal-El took a deep breath, and still he hesitated, looking up through the interlocking crystals of the Fortress. At this time of year the sky stayed dark most of the day, the sun only rising for a brief while. The stars above burned clear and cold, pitiless and eternal in their brilliance. Those stars were the inspiration for so many people, yet the stars themselves cared nothing for what their beauty called forth from the human imagination. The stars knew nothing of it, and simply went on shining.
There were times in Kal-El’s life when he’d wished he could be like that, simply do what he was brought to this planet to do without caring about how his actions affected others. It would make his life so much easier, if he just followed the dictates of his mission. It wasn’t his fault if people tried to emulate or rebel against him, any more than the stars were responsible for the songs written about them.
But it was his very nature to care about people, to worry if he was actually making the world a better place or just one that seemed better. That was what separated him from General Zod. Zod knew what was right, what was best – not believed, knew – and he did those things. He did not allow himself to doubt or to count the cost and ask if it was worth it. And for a given value of rightness, he was right. Even Jor-El agreed that if Zod’s coup had succeeded, Krypton’s people would have survived the explosion of their planet. Most of them, anyway. But was it really better to go down in a blaze of democratic glory, or to trickle away within a dictatorship?
It hadn’t even been a question for Zod. Victory at any cost, no matter how many freedoms he had to destroy, how many lives he had to end. That was the kind of person Kala had been around for the last four days. Someone whose utter certainty was the most terrifying thing about him. And Kala had always been self-possessed, confident, sure. Zod could play upon those qualities easily, because they were his own.
And now my son and I will fight him, the greatest of all Krypton’s strategists, and we cannot even be certain that Kala will not fight against us, Kal-El thought, and his heart grieved. He didn’t want to believe that Kala could turn on them, but Jor-El had cautioned him against that. Anyone could be manipulated.
“Dad?” Jason’s quiet voice came from beside him, and Kal-El startled. He had been so lost in his own thoughts that he had nearly forgotten the boy himself was so close by.
Then he smiled. I would rather have my son at my side, with his determination to do right clouded by his doubts, than a thousand Zods certain of their righteous victory. Because Jason and I will not commit the same error as Zod will, and he doesn’t understand our thinking, our worry, and he cannot plan for what we will or won’t do. He caught Jason’s shoulder in a firm grip, not a father comforting his son, but one man to another. “Let’s go,” he said with renewed calm and surety.
Jason only nodded, and Kal-El pulled him close as he soared upward. They were both leaving behind the things they couldn’t change – Luthor’s potential retaliation, Lois’ recovery – and doing the one thing they could and would finally do: rescue Kala.
Kal-El made a high pass over the patch of desert where they thought the lab was. His x-ray vision pierced the sand and rock. There was too much lead down there for him to see perfectly, but he could make out straight lines, a sense of order in the chaos. That place was manmade, not natural. They’d found Luthor’s lair.
They couldn’t search for an entrance because he would have it guarded. They couldn’t try the ventilation shafts, because Luthor would have those guarded as well. Making their own entrance was uncertain – almost crazy – because they couldn’t predict where they’d arrive.
But then, neither could Luthor. And he was expecting them to behave logically. The madman valued rationality, he wouldn’t expect them to make such a potentially costly error. If they were going to succeed, they had to start by catching him off guard.
“Ready?” Kal-El said, hearing his son take a deep breath, and waited for Jason’s nod before plunging directly download toward the facility. His heat vision instantly vaporized the ground ahead of him, entering on a slanting trajectory and praying with all his considerable might that this time, luck would be with him.
Lay your head down, child
I won't let the boogeyman come.
Counting bodies like sheep
To the rhythm of the war drums.
Pay no mind to the rabble,
Pay no mind to the rabble.
Head down, go to sleep
To the rhythm of the war drums.
~A Perfect Circle