Final chapter of the arc in two weeks. The (short) closing arc will follow that. Enjoy, all!
None of them spoke in the aftermath of this new surprise; however, Kal-El and Jason drifted closer to Kala, still marveling in this latest development. What was there to say after a revelation of this magnitude? For a long moment they all paused there in the warm sunlight, hovering, reflecting on this momentous event.
Without warning, Kala felt her strength begin to ebb away and wobbled slightly. Maybe it had been too much, too soon. Especially in light of all of the other trauma her system had been through. The girl maintained her position just an instant longer before gravity’s pull resumed. Panic rushed in her veins, feeling herself starting to fall, before she realized that Jason and her father had each grabbed one of her arms to hold her up. The sudden shift and the quick return of her earlier weakness made her a little dizzy. Better to just make herself comfortable and let them get her back to the rest of the family. “Okay, maybe I’ll schedule the next try for a few weeks from now instead of tomorrow,” she joked shakily.
Kal-El’s worried expression didn’t quite cover up the pride within it. That warmed Kala more than anything else could. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’ve been through a lot and my first flight wasn’t much different from yours. It only lasted a few minutes and cost your grandparents a hole in the barn roof. It takes time to develop the stamina for it,” her father told her with a smile. “Hold on to me, I’ll take you down to the hotel so you can get some rest, and we’ll work on the flying later on, all right?”
It was a relief to agree. “Yes, sir.” She switched her grip then so he could resume the flight downward. Rest was starting to sound very good to her; the brief euphoria of high-intensity sunlight was fading, reminding her she’d been far too close to dying just minutes ago. Still trying to get her head around everything that had happened in the last hour or so, Kala closed her eyes. There was so much to deal with and her mind was still swimming with the potential consequences. She just wanted to be home and safe. Beyond that, she told herself, nothing else mattered for now.
Las Vegas was not a city where people wouldn’t remark on Superman flying overhead, so the final descent had to be fast, a blur of sheer speed that took them down and through the open balcony door into the room before anyone looked up and saw them. Just the mere solidness of the hotel room’s carpet beneath her boots grounded her more than anything had so far, reinforcing the fact that she really was in the real world and her brother and father really were with her. And the bed nearby looked more like heaven than any bed had a right to.
But the sound of footsteps moving toward them from the other room had Kala’s head turning instantly, eyes sharp in that direction. The door to the suite opened, revealing their visitor, and the black-haired girl’s exhausted mind did a double-take.
Mercy drove as fast as she dared, but it was already too late when she arrived. The compound’s security system had sent text messages to her cell phone informing her of the breach, the triggering of the self-destruct sequence, and the detonation of the charges. Arriving after all of that, she had to assume the facility was already crawling with superheroes and/or police.
Fortunately, they likely hadn’t figured out where she’d left the ATV when she switched to the car, as the garage was well-concealed. She quickly parked the car there and took the ATV out into the desert, circling widely to avoid notice. Plenty of people in this area considered driving along the dunes and scrubland to be recreational, and she made sure not to seem too purposeful.
Mercy had to assume that Lex had escaped the facility before the charges blew. If he had still been inside, he was dead or captured, and she couldn’t help him now. But if he had gotten out, then he would be on foot in the desert as she had the only vehicle, and there were only so many places he could be. He was wise enough not to go too far, at least not in the heat of day.
They had never planned for an incident like this – the ATV was meant to provide both of them with transportation. It hadn’t occurred to Mercy, or to Lex, that they might be separated in an emergency. All she had to go on to find him was her knowledge of how his mind worked.
Leaving the ATV in a dry wash below the plateau where the elevator came out, Mercy set out to find her employer. The sand held no tracks to point the way, and she surveyed the terrain carefully. Think like Lex. Where would he go, with the lab collapsing in on itself behind him?
She was all too aware that eventually the League and the police would start looking for survivors who had escaped, and she had to get Lex away from here before then. The thought of simply leaving never crossed her mind.
It had taken the last of Elise’s just-barely-firing brain cells to make it from Lois’ room on the eighth floor of the medical center to the hotel room. Having seen her nod over her book at last, and having woken Lana and failed to harass her into leaving the bedside for the comfort of the hotel room, Richard had turned his eye on her. As much as she worried for the reporter, Elise hadn’t been able to resist the lure of a comfortable bed. She’d just nap for a couple of hours, get her head right enough know particle physics from pre-calculus, and she’d stop by the hospital’s cafeteria for food for the three of them. There was no telling when the troops would make it back; she refused to think there could be any other outcome. Mr. Kent wouldn’t let it be otherwise…
With a sigh, she raised a hand to rub the tension out of her forehead as she made her way toward the second room that held the beds. Nope, sleep and that was an order. None of them could afford to get maudlin. They had to maintain the hope…
When she walked into the room, Elise stopped short in disbelief. Both of the missing Kents were standing there before her. And, from the looks of things, they hadn’t known what to expect, gauging from their stance and expressions. Even more startling was the fact that she had nearly tripped over her own feet when she had realized they were there and almost landed face-first into the shield on the front of her boyfriend’s father’s suit. Holy shit! Oh, that wouldn’t have gone over well. I have got to get used to this, she thought sheepishly as she tried to adjust to what she was seeing.
Her shock was quickly subsumed by the sight of Kala, just in the men’s shadows, alive and apparently unhurt beyond clothing damage and a couple of dirt smudges. Kala was here, standing in the same room with her, along with Jason. They had all come back in one piece. Heedless of anything other than extreme relief, Elise went directly to Kala and swept her into a tight hug, startling her friend. Until her arms wrapped around Kala, she had almost thought her a ghost, pale and wan despite the warmth she felt in her skin. “Oh my God, Kala, you’re all right, I can’t believe you’re really here…” Elise didn’t often babble, but she was too relieved not to at the moment.
Kala returned the hug, but Elise could feel the way the other girl’s body tensed and she knew she must be shooting a questioning look at Jason and her father. That made Elise grin; knowing the family secret explained a lot about Kala, including why she kept telling people she was more alien than vampire. A moment later, she heard Jason reply to the look of distress, and she could hear the smile in his voice. “It’s okay, Kal. Elise knows.”
Well, that provoked a response. At her brother’s casual revelation, Kala pulled back out of her embrace. Her dumbfounded gaze moved from her brother to her father, totally astonished at this development. Before they could answer, those hazel eyes were back to Elise. “You know? How … why … what the hell…?”
She had never been so happy to see her friend’s faint distrust. It meant that she actually cared about her family’s safety. “Long story, but it’s all right. We’ve already talked about the secret handshake and the fact that I can’t talk about anything under pain of death. Stop worrying.” Elise waved a hand dismissively, unable to stop smiling. The trivial stuff could be dealt with later. Right now, Kala being here was the most important thing and being almost like her normal self. There had to be a way to take that guarded look off her face. “Oh, and not only that, Jason and I are back together. So you did some good here.”
Kala blinked, her gaze switching between the pair of them in amazement, and after a few seconds got the joke. She didn’t quite burst out laughing, but Elise was happy to hear her dissolve into snickers.
Elise was laughing along with her now, raising beaming gray eyes to share the smile with Jason and Mr. Kent, whose shoulders finally relaxed. Kala responding almost normally seemed to put him at more ease than she’d seen him in days, and seeing that made Elise feel like a hero herself. “More importantly, Kala, are you feeling all right? What do you need?”
“A nap, more than anything. And for everything else to just go away for a little while,” she admitted, fighting a yawn that crept up on her suddenly. But as tired as she was, Elise saw her turn to smirk a little at Jason. By the gleam in her eyes, she’d taunt him about that news later. Her twin just gave an embarrassed little smile and shrugged. Kala would probably give them both hell about it for weeks once she was feeling better. Elise forced herself not to roll her eyes. Kala had been loudly saying that the two needed to get back together, and now they’d proven her right.
But the teasing was forestalled, as at the moment Kala had more sobering concerns. Now that she was starting to feel more connected with the outside world, more immediate thoughts were coming to the surface. Her expression was serious when she took a deep breath and she said, “And I need to know some things other things, too. Like… Dad, is Mom…?”
“In the hospital, stable and recovering. She was sleeping the last time I spoke to Richard, which was before we went in to get you.” Mr. Kent – he had somehow changed from the cape to plainclothes without any of them even realizing he’d left the room – answered.
Elise could see Kala holding her breath waiting for the reply. She didn’t know that the last news Kala had gotten had been that tabloid headline claiming her stepmom was murdered, but the worried expression on Kala’s face made it clear that she’d at least heard about the attack. Elise was quickest to reassure her. “Mrs. White’s fine. She’s got her hand wrapped up; when I left to head over here, she was snoozing in the chair next to your mom’s bed. Don’t worry, there are cops on the door keeping an eye on both of them.”
The relief finally undid Kala. All of the tension she’d been radiating since her arrival just dissolved and she slumped to the bed, looking infinitely weary. Waving off the others’ concerns, she told them, “I’m just really tired. And if everybody’s okay, I can finally get some sleep. Which is really all I need. Honest.”
“I could do with a nap too,” Elise admitted, patting Kala’s shoulder lightly. She was never going to take this friendship for granted even for a second – and she was never ever going to let Kala do something as dangerous as run away from home just because she hadn’t answered her phone.
Mr. Kent was watching his daughter, but Jason knew his father, and he clearly understood the distance in the older man’s eyes. He touched Mr. Kent’s arm lightly to get his attention, and said, “I’ve got this. And we all know where you want to be. Go to Mom.”
“I have to get back out to the desert. They don’t know exactly what they’re walking into.” Elise could see how torn he was between love and duty, and wondered how many times he’d had to choose between what he needed to do and what had to be done. And how often would Jason need to make the same choice?
Jason proved himself to be the good son and a very smart kid. “Dad, Oracle said they had coverage – I’ve got enough super-hearing to have caught that. You can have a few minutes to yourself. You did it; you saved Kala and the rest of us. Go see her, for both of us. Tell her we’re back and everyone’s okay. She needs that and so do you. I’ll keep an eye on Kal. And I’ll come get you if anything happens, okay?” He squeezed his father’s shoulder encouragingly.
Mr. Kent looked at him for a long moment, then drew Jason into a hug and kissed the top of his head. When they pulled back, he stared intently into Jason’s eyes and said quietly, “I am so proud of you, son. So very proud. You’re becoming exactly the kind of man I’d be honored to call a friend, if we weren’t already related. And you’ve proven it beyond any shadow of a doubt these last few days.”
Jason could only smile, half-embarrassed by the acknowledgment. “I had a good example.”
Mr. Kent clasped his son’s shoulder briefly, then went to Kala, knelt at the bedside, and just looked at her a moment. For Kala’s part, a million emotions passed over her face while she was looking at him. Then he pulled her close and hugged her tightly. “I love you, Munchkin. I thought we had lost you.”
There was no hesitation when Kala burrowed her head against his shoulder and hugged back just as hard. It was clear from the hitching in her voice that she had started to cry. “I love you too, Daddy. I’m so sorry, for everything, for Mom and running away…”
“Shh,” he murmured, and stroked her hair lightly. “You weren’t the only one who made mistakes, Kala. All of us did. The important thing is that we’re all still here, we still love each other, and we’ve come out of this stronger than before.”
She only nodded silently, clinging to him for another moment, but to everyone’s surprise Kala was the first one to pull back. She scrubbed the tears from her eyes and looked up at him steadily, laughing a little when she sniffled. Elise, watching silently, could practically see him wondering just how much growing up Kala had done in the past few days. Both of his kids were rapidly becoming adults, as was Elise herself, and not even Superman could move fast enough to keep up with relentless time.
Jason was giving his father a very pointed look, and with that Mr. Kent left for the hospital.
Kala was already yawning, and Elise felt quite tired too, now that the first rush of adrenaline at seeing them had passed. She’d said so earlier meaning to reassure Kala, and was surprised to find it truthful. As for Jason himself, he looked more than ready for a nap, but Kala seemed to have other ideas. “You have to tell me what I missed,” she said to Elise. “Is everyone really okay?”
“Not now,” Jason said firmly, and both girls looked up at him in surprise. He opened the curtains to let the sun shine on the room’s king-sized bed, then turned back to his sister and his girlfriend. “Kal, everybody’s fine. But we can’t do the twenty-questions routine yet. You just had a huge hit of kryptonite, and you need to sleep it off. So do I.” His own yawn punctuated the statement.
Elise laughed, wagging a finger at him. “Knock it off, it’s catching. Gotta admit, I’m just about exhausted, too. It’s been a very long few days; you’d think it had been two years or something.”
“So it’s settled. Naptime. And I’m not listening to any objections. I’m bigger than both of you.” With that, Jason kicked off his shoes.
“I love it when you’re forceful,” his girlfriend cracked back, rolling her eyes.
Kala looked at Elise and despite the emotional and physical grind, managed to waggle her eyebrows in an almost serious manner. “Don’t worry, later on I promise not to tell anyone you slept with both twins.”
Elise stopped unlacing her own shoes long enough to smack Kala’s shoulder affectionately. “You’re such a perv.”
Somehow, with that bit of typical snarkiness, Jason began to feel like things could be normal again. All of them could get past this, and maybe someday he would stop seeing that horrible despairing look in Kala’s eyes just before Dad had taken them above the stratosphere. Maybe he and Kala could go back to joking and teasing each other like normal teenagers, and put off for a while having to be heroes-in-training. As much as he had accepted his place in the world, Jason still wanted a few years of ordinary life before destiny claimed him.
When Clark arrived at the door of the hospital room alone, Richard’s expression froze. Kal-El had forgotten the implications of walking in without the twins and quickly explained, “Jason and Kala are with Elise in the hotel. They needed some rest first; things were about as bad as we thought they were. But they’re basically okay. We’ll talk about all of it a little later. I think we all just need to get our heads together.”
His words had the effect he was hoping for. Richard sighed with evident relief, putting his head down and leaning back in his chair. Only then did he notice Lana, awakened by his voice, who then smiled warmly and looked upward. “Thank God you’re all okay.” The respite in the room was palpable. It was over. They had all made it through alive.
“What about Luthor, Clark?” Richard asked without raising his head.
“Not sure so far. He set off a timed explosion in the lab, and I had to get the kids out. The League is taking care of it at the moment.”
Lana stood up then, wincing a little as she stretched. “These chairs don’t agree with me. If you two don’t need me, I think I’ll head back over to the hotel – and when the kids wake up, if they need to talk, someone will be there.”
Richard nodded, moving to stretch his back. “Good idea. Clark, you’re going to be here for a little while, aren’t you?”
“For as long as I possibly can.”
Richard didn’t call him on it, and neither did Lana. “Then I’m going to go grab something to eat, and I’ll be back in a few minutes,” Richard said. The two of them started to head out, but then Richard stopped at the door and turned back to Kal-El. “I almost forgot to tell you! Lois woke up for a few seconds, earlier. I was holding her hand when she did. She’s on her way back, Clark.”
With that, everything seemed to be all right again. Kala was back, she was acting like her normal self again, neither twin had taken any permanent harm from the kryptonite, and Lois had woken up. Settling into the chair Richard had recently vacated, Kal-El took his wife’s hand and kissed her knuckles, one by one.
For a few moments, it was just him and Lois and his overwhelming gratitude that she was stubborn enough to have survived the worst Luthor could throw at her. They would have time to find all the problems in their marriage and repair them, time to figure out how things with Kala had gotten so hard and to fix that, time to rediscover all the reasons they loved each other so much and to make the family even stronger after coming through this crisis. So far as he was concerned, it was Lois’ fierce will that had bought them that time. “I love you so much,” Kal-El murmured.
It was enough, for Kal-El, to hold her hand, to listen to her slow, deep breaths, to hear her heart beating steadily. Soon he would have to leave, but he had this time with her, hoping that somehow Lois would know he was there. He put aside everything else, tuned out the rest of the world and his place in it, and simply enjoyed the fact that he could be here with her.
He had gotten himself settled, closing his eyes and honing his hearing in on the beat of her heart, when he felt her hand twitch slightly in his. His eyes opened immediately and he sat up a little straighter, watching his wife’s face raptly. Searching for the slightest sign of movement, he noticed that her bruises had begun to fade. The visible marks of Luthor’s attack were healing, at least those easily within sight. And her breathing was speeding up. That could only mean one thing. Kal-El squeezed her fingers, and to his surprise she squeezed back. Richard had said she’d woken up … and within a span of seconds, those lovely hazel eyes were flickering open, and he could see that Lois’ gaze was still vague but clearly aware.
There was no way to describe the way his heart swelled to finally see her looking back at him. She had lived; once again, the Lane luck had shown itself and Lois had brazened her way through the odds. Wanting to reassure himself of these developments, his fingertips touched and traced the curve of her cheekbone. “It’s over. Jason and I are back and Kala’s safe. Everyone’s okay, Lois,” he said, surprised at how rough his voice sounded with emotion. They had come so close to losing it all. Perhaps he’d needed to see this proof that Lois was going to be okay…
Lois lay there watching closely for a time before she blinked at him, her expression muzzy as her eyes ran over his face with deliberation. He smiled tenderly at her, stroking an errant hair out of her face. In that moment, the wealth of his memories of her threatened to overwhelm him, and he leaned forward to kiss her.
Those hazel eyes looked deeply into his, the way they had so many times before. Then she asked softly, her voice husky with disuse, “Who’re you?”
Kal-El’s heart stuttered. Had he found his way back to her only to lose her again? How could Lois not know him? He couldn’t even find the words to answer her. How could she have forgotten the last ten years, all the moments that were so deeply engraved on his memory? All of the times they’d laughed until their sides ached, all of the passionate kisses that led to more, even all of the arguments. Was all of that gone? And was it somehow his fault, some delayed reaction to that damned amnesia kiss he’d had so very many occasions to regret? That mistake continued to haunt him, even now.
While he tried to overcome his panic, Lois’ lips had begun curving up in a tired smile … that had a definite air of smirk about it. Her eyes had slipped closed, but Kal-El had been a daily observer of that expressive face for more than a decade and now that the walls they’d built between them had been torn down, he knew her again. And that complacent little smile proved she was taunting him, even in the situation she was in! Unable to help himself, Kal-El laughed softly and squeezed her hand again. “Why you… I’ll have you know that scared the life out of me!”
Lois’ only reply was the slightest hint of a chuckle, but that was all Kal-El needed to hear. He kissed her knuckles again, softly. “Only you would do something like that at a time like this, Lois. I’ll get you back for that someday.” Oracle had told him to take his time, and though he privately suspected they needed his help out there in the desert, his place was here. He still needed to speak to the doctors and find out the specifics of Lois’ current condition.
And eventually he was going to have to pay for all the restraint he’d used and the emotions he’d suppressed. Walking away from Lois earlier had been one of the hardest things he’d ever done; knowing she might actually die while he was gone would have torn his heart to shreds if he’d let it. Kal-El hadn’t had a choice then; he’d had to save Kala, and Lois had explicitly told him to go. He had needed a clear mind for the rescue, and was still functioning on that self-control plus the relief of having the family safely back together. He knew that wouldn’t last, but being here with Lois and hearing her heart beating steadily in its familiar rhythm – seeing she felt well enough to taunt him, too – was helping him cope.