The four of them watched them go with the faintest amusement all around. “Good kids you’ve got there,” Dinah remarked thoughtfully.
“They are.” Kal-El was still seething somewhere deep inside, but he could ignore that for now. Luthor’s goons would be dealt with by justice, not vengeance. He had to keep telling himself that. In many ways he still saw that little six-year-old girl when he looked at Kala – his baby daughter. He was never going to stop wanting to protect her. Jason, now, that was a slightly different story. Jason was growing up into a fine young man, and Kal-El could see that easily. In many ways looking at Jason was like looking at his own past. With Kala, he needed her to wear a nametag that read ‘Young Woman’ as a constant reminder.
Kala had said she almost handled the situation by herself, but it still had to weigh on her mind, as Zod’s death must. And who knew what else had happened? She’s going to see Dr. Marrin again as soon as we get back to Metropolis. He may not know the whole truth, but he’s good and he knows her. That soothed his conscience enough to let him focus on the moment. “You were saying, Bruce?”
Bruce swung back to business with his customary thoroughness. “J’onn says we’ve found all the survivors. We’ve recovered some of the casualties, but it’s going to be a long process. The explosive charges were carefully set for maximum damage.”
Kal-El couldn’t help a sudden flare of hopefulness within the spike of guilt at those lost lives. “Any sign of Luthor himself?”
“Negative. He may be among the casualties, but for now I’m assuming he escaped. Don’t relinquish police protection until we know his whereabouts.”
“Trust me, I’ll take all the extra eyes I can get,” Kal-El replied.
It was Diana who added, “We’ve also found an extensive laboratory area. Many of the individual labs appear to be devoted to the study of crystalline structures.”
Kal-El bit back a curse. “Well, we knew he was using Kryptonian crystal to manufacture the high-speed computer processors, among other things.”
“With your permission, I’d like to give Wayne Enterprises’ R & D department access to Luthor’s research notes and materials, if we find them,” Bruce said.
“That technology can be extremely dangerous in the wrong hands,” Kal-El warned.
Bruce smiled. “So could everything else they work with. We know Luthor has other development sites – he never works without redundant backup. This technology will reach the public. The best we can do is force him to compete with us in a free market. One of his main goals has been the proprietary use of the crystals, and we can beat him there. We aren’t interested in artificially holding back progress to drive up profits on each new upgrade, for example.”
“You’re suggesting industrial espionage,” Diana pointed out.
Bruce simply shrugged. “Luthor stole the crystals in the first place. I’m asking the true owner’s permission to salvage what we can from this disaster. That gives Wayne Enterprises more right to develop and market the technology along safe, legal, ethical lines. Using Luthor’s notes and materials falls into a gray area, but if we tried to start from the original crystals like he did we’d be a decade behind and no real competition.”
“Do it, but keep me appraised. I’d like to know how much Luthor knows, and if we can get ahead of him.” The thought of allowing Krypton’s technological advantage out of his direct control made Kal-El queasy, but the fact was that it had been out of his control for ten years. At least he could trust Bruce to be honorable and honest.
That let them fall into silence, until Dinah asked, “Are they really going to move your wife to another room?”
“Yes, eventually. You know how hospitals are.”
Dinah nodded decisively. “Well, that decides it. Get back to her and make sure she doesn’t eat one of the interns alive for making her stay in bed. Don’t worry. We’ll keep you updated, and we’ll send someone over with your daughter’s belongings.”
Once he would’ve argued, but at the moment Kal-El had a multitude of reasons to follow Dinah’s suggestion, and did so with gratitude.
Apparently the Kents had made more of a nuisance of themselves in the ICU than they’d thought, because Lois was already being transferred to a regular room when her husband returned. She refused to be wheeled there in a gurney like an invalid, glaring at the patient transport team until they brought her a wheelchair instead. Walking the distance was absolutely out of the question, they told her, and she discovered that as soon as she sat up to transfer to the wheelchair.
Still, Lois had to take a few slow steps, just to prove she could. After that she let them wheel her to another floor, the whole flock in attendance and a uniformed police officer ahead of her. “This looks like a freaking processional,” she muttered.
Kala, walking just to the left of the wheelchair, grinned. “It is. And we’re your honor guard.” With a glance at her brother, the two began marching in step, squaring their shoulders and holding their heads high.
Lois just snorted, but the little bit of humor certainly helped when it came time to transfer to the other bed. She refused to show pain other than by the occasional wince, hiss, and bitten-off curse, but was quite clearly relieved to be comfortable again. Richard shook his head at her stubbornness; if it was him, he’d be taking advantage of the break. An honorable injury that like was worth at least a month of someone else bringing his meals, fluffing his pillow, and generally coddling him.
When they were installed, the doctor came to see them and review Lois’ case. He was a young man with a great bedside manner – he even charmed Lois. “Now, from what I see here, you should expect to remain hospitalized for a few more days just to keep you under observation. As soon as possible you want to start physical therapy for the shoulder – just range-of-motion exercises for now, to keep it from stiffening as it heals. If you’re willing to put in the effort in PT, I’m certain you can regain full use of that arm.”
“Don’t worry about the effort,” Lois advised him. “And don’t expect me here for very long. As soon as I can I’d like to transfer to Metropolis General back home.”
“That’s an excellent hospital; I interned there. How exactly are you planning to transfer, Mrs. Lane-Kent?”
Before Lois could answer, Richard cut in. “Did they put in the notes how she arrived here, doctor?”
He flipped back a page in Lois’ chart. “Ah, it says walk-in to the ER. That can’t be right…”
Richard grinned, tipping Clark a wink while the doctor wasn’t looking. “It isn’t. She flew in – this is Lois Lane. Superman is a friend of the family. I’m sure if we ask him nicely he’ll transport her.”
“Superman isn’t a freaking ferry service, Richard,” Lois sighed. “Actually, doctor, I planned on flying in something a little more conventional. My loudmouth ex here is a licensed pilot, after all. Might as well let him be useful for once.”
That got laughs all around, which Richard didn’t mind. Someone had to be the comic relief in this family full of serious, driven Type-A personalities, and he had the wit for it. The doctor went on with his warnings and advice, most of it fairly standard, and ended with, “Remember, no strenuous activity for at least three weeks. That’s the absolute minimum recovery time for the type of injuries you’ve had. For most people it turns out to be a month, month and a half.”
By the set of her jaw, Lois was taking that as a personal challenge, and Clark cut her a warning look. “Don’t worry, doctor, we’ll remind her. Lois, I’m serious.”
She glared at him archly. “Oh, really?”
“Yes, really. Three weeks, no strenuous activity whatsoever.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes, Lois. And I will enforce it.”
With that Lois smiled one of the syrupy sweet grins that promised imminent destruction, and turned to the doctor with bright-eyed cheer. “So tell me, doctor. Is sex considered a strenuous activity?”
Richard couldn’t resist. “Only if you’re doing it right!” That got him smacked in the shoulder by Lana, while all three teenagers groaned and rolled their eyes. Clark just looked shocked by Lois’ temerity.
Evidently the doctor hadn’t expected such a question either, as he stammered slightly. “Well, ah, yes, considering your internal injuries, sexual intercourse is probably too strenuous for several weeks.”
“Oh, now that is just unacceptable,” Clark said, his voice dropping into a lower register in reactionary disbelief. Only to realize what he’d just said, and blushed while Lois snickered.
Richard could barely stand, he was laughing so hard, and both twins had stuck their fingers in their ears with expressions of pure agony on their faces. “Doc, they’ll be all right – the man’s just extremely glad his wife made it through surgery.”
“You can shut up any time, Richard,” Lois groused, which just made him laugh harder. Lana tried to help him breathe by smacking him a few more times, glaring furiously, and in the general uproar the doctor escaped.
The new hospital room was spacious enough for all of them, with extra seating, and no one particularly wanted to leave. Lois could’ve done without quite so much hovering, but there seemed to be no way of stopping the whole crew from falling over each other to adjust her pillows or get her a sip of water.
And then one of the nurses stopped in to check on the new patient in her ward. She happened to be tall, slender, and blonde. Kala was instantly on the alert, stepping between the nurse and her mother with a baleful look in her eye, faster on the uptake than Jase or her father or Lois herself, all senses alert and ready to fight as swiftly as if she’d never left Luthor’s compound…
…but it wasn’t Mercy Graves. It was just a tall, slender, blonde nurse, who looked slightly startled at how quickly Kala had gotten up. “Sorry, um, thought you were someone else,” Kala said, blushing. Lois breathed out, slowly, glad that Kala hadn’t broken out super-speed in front of a witness – or smacked the woman before realizing she wasn’t a threat.
“We’ve all been on edge,” Clark said, touching Kala’s shoulder lightly and turning one of his sincere, kind smiles on the nurse. He was one of those people who could not lie with facial expressions, something Lois had always appreciated about him, and the nurse smiled back before introducing herself and looking over her patient. Lois explained that she’d gotten rid of the morphine pump as soon as she was conscious because she enjoyed staying that way, and would be quite happy with some Vicodin every four hours or so.
Once they were alone again in the spacious room – and if Red thought no one had noticed they were in the VIP suite, well, think again – Kala sat down with a sigh of excess adrenaline. Lois’ frustration boiled over then. Her own daughter had leapt up to defend her, while she was lying here virtually helpless.
Which she wouldn’t be if she hadn’t been stupid enough to fall for Luthor’s trap and let him shoot her. And none of them would even be in this mess if she hadn’t agreed to that bargain ten years ago, keeping a secret that nearly poisoned her marriage and almost got half the family killed…
It was enough to bring almost anyone to tears, but Lois being Lois, she cursed instead. Richard, who had been innocently tucking the blanket around her toes, just looked at her perplexedly when she swore at him.
“Lois, what’s wrong?” Clark asked worriedly.
“Dammit, I’m just about sick of all of you treating me like the heroine of the story,” she growled. All of them seemed confused, so she elaborated. “Did you forget the part where everyone looked at me like a traitor because I cut a deal with Luthor? Did you forget the part where my research kicked off all of this? Did you especially forget the part where me slapping my own daughter in the face is what made her run away in the first place so Luthor could kidnap her?”
Kala was the first to cut her off. “Okay, whoa, Mom. I didn’t leave just because you slapped me – it was you, and Dad yelling at me, and Sebast believing what Giselle told him, and also me just being emo. Besides, I pretty much deserved to be slapped that night. I was being a total pain in the neck and doing some really stupid stuff.”
“Speaking of which, we’ve met Nick, and your father didn’t strangle him,” Richard remarked.
While Kala stared wide-eyed, Clark picked up the thread. “Lois, Luthor was going to do this eventually. He had the whole lab set up, and he planted Giselle before your research started. You might have accelerated his timetable, but he was always planning to come after us. It’s just what Luthor does.”
And Jason came in for the final point. “You made that deal to protect us, Mom. We all get that now, even Dad. Right?”
Clark sighed. “I couldn’t have made that choice, but you’ve always been willing to do whatever it takes to keep all of us safe. And for ten years, it worked perfectly.”
Lois looked at each of them in turn, and saw only solemn regard. Even Elise seemed approving, and she was the one with the most reason to turn and run from all the madness. She turned to Kala, and saw those hazel eyes identical to her own meeting hers with steady patience. “Did Luthor even tell you what the deal was?” she asked, hating herself for the question.
Kala snorted, a decidedly unladylike sound. “No, but he tried to give me a load of b.s. Mom, Luthor lies. He always lies. I’m too smart to believe that crap.”
Maybe Jason heard a flicker of pain in his twin’s voice, or maybe he simply wanted it said and done. The truth had to be kinder than whatever story Luthor had tried to tell her. “Kal, Mom promised not to hunt Luthor. He knew Dad’s identity, he knew whose kids we are. He would’ve gone public with it if Mom tried to track him down. That was what the deal really was, and it all went down back when we were just six years old.”
“Sounds like good common sense to me,” Kala replied with a shrug. “And that explains why Dad legally adopted us as well as marrying Mom. It puts his name on the birth certificate.”
“Also explains why there are some well-known pictures of Superman standing next to Dad,” Jason said, grinning. Lois smiled a little, too. That had been one of her better ideas, photographic evidence that Clark couldn’t possibly be Superman.
Kala turned back to her mother. “I knew you had to be protecting us. Dru-Zod even told me that; even he knew you wouldn’t make a deal with Luthor unless it was for our sake.”
As Lois tried to fathom that, Jason laid his hand over hers. It always startled her to realize he could do that; her son was easily six inches taller and quite a bit heavier than she was. If he wanted to he could pick her up in one arm, and when he took her hand it almost disappeared within his. “As far back as I can remember, Mom, you’ve always protected us. But now Kal and I are coming into our heritage, and we’re getting to the point where we can look after ourselves. You did your job as a mom perfectly to get us here. It’s time to let us protect you.”
Lois blinked back tears, biting her lip. There just weren’t any words for the level of emotion Jason’s speech made her feel. It had been hard enough to hear him saying that, but in true twins tradition, Kala had to one up it by taking her other hand with great care to add hoarsely, “Amen to that, Jase. Enough is enough. This time paid for all. It’s our turn do our best for you.”
And this time she wasn’t fast enough to hold the tears back.