Clark arrived home fairly exhausted that evening, the events of the day having taken their toll. He had been hoping to relieve some of that tumultuous emotion when he stopped by the hospital to check on Lois, but his wife was so deeply asleep that she didn’t even notice when he kissed her forehead. The doctors had probably given her something to help her sleep, so he left a note by her bed simply telling her he loved her. At last he went to the apartment, where he found Richard and Lana waiting for him. Only then did Clark remember that their apartment wasn’t exactly habitable at the moment. “We only need a few days, I hope,” Lana explained to him. “The police have released the scene, and Maggie recommended a company that specializes in this sort of thing.”
It sickened Clark that the need for special crime-scene cleaners existed, but what bit deeper was the way fate had required his closest friends to need those services. “I’m sorry. Both of you. It never should have happened.” The guilt returned tenfold after its brief absence. “I should’ve been there. It never should have come to that point…”
Lana fixed him with her most stern look, green eyes narrowed at him. “Stop it, Clark. You do the best you can; you always have. Not even you can be everywhere.”
“None of you would be involved in this if I’d taken my father’s advice.” His voice was low, not expecting her to understand the reference. Jor-El had always warned him not to mingle with humans, that he would only be a danger to them…
Lana smacked him lightly on the cheek, glaring. “Don’t be an idiot, Clark. Yes, Lois told me how Jor-El wanted you to live, apart from all of humanity. That’s ridiculous. I’ve known you since long before you found out where you came from, and you’ve always been one of us in all the ways that matter. It was never a choice you had to make. And it doesn’t matter, anyway, because none of us have any regrets.”
Richard said from behind him, having checked on the girls, who were both napping, “She’s right, as usual. Clark, when I met you, it looked like you were taking away the best parts of my life. If anyone had cause to regret having you around, it’s me. But because of you, I’ve got three kids, my crazy ex-fiancée is still part of my life, and I have Lana, too. I never would’ve met my soul mate if not for you – she only came to Metropolis to look you up.”
“And instead I found my husband while he was engaged to my competition.” Lana smiled with fond remembrance; those tense days were much more amusing in retrospect. Who would have known, at that time, just how different things would be in the distant future?
“All of this?” Richard waved his hand to encompass the traumatized twins, Lana’s injuries, Lois’ absence. “This is Luthor’s fault, not yours. Quit taking the blame for things that aren’t your fault.”
While Clark hesitated, wondering if he could truly lay aside the guilt that festered in him for so long, Lana said softly, “Lois would throw something at you if she were here – if you didn’t hurt her too much with what you’re implying. Can you really believe that everything you have – your wife, your children, your friends – isn’t worth the sacrifices we’ve made and the hardships we’ve suffered?”
“It’s worth it to me,” he protested. Never again was he going to doubt Lois. She might keep a few secrets, and she might be utterly ruthless in defense of the family, but she would never betray him, and he could never bear to lose her.
Richard chimed in then. “And it’s worth it to us, too. I know it’s worth it to Lois. She wouldn’t trade the life she has with you for anything. Not even a wall plated in Pulitzers. We’ve all gained more than we could ever lose, and besides, super-guilt is not one of your cooler powers.”
Clark sighed heavily, turning it into a reluctant chuckle. For most of his adult life, he’d been shadowed by the nagging worry that his existence would cause suffering for those he loved. People like Luthor would always target his family; since Clark himself was invulnerable, the surest way to hurt him was to strike at those closest to him. But maybe it was time to finally lay the last remnants of that fear to rest. “You’re right,” he said at last.
“I usually am,” Lana replied, with a slow grin.
“Don’t let her gloat,” Richard warned, and immediately changed the topic. “So how are we working the sleeping arrangements? All three kids are currently huddled up in Jason’s room with both dogs, the weasel and the lizard.”
“You two can have the master bedroom,” Clark said. “Lois won’t be home for a few days at least, and I can sleep on the couch in her study.”
“You’re sure?” the redhead asked.
He nodded then, his smile sunny and sure this time. “Definitely. Lana, after all of this, don’t you know that you’re family? That you don’t even need to ask? Didn’t you make a point of reminding me just what we all mean to each other?” He gave her a reproachful look, Lana smiling now. “Exactly. Now stop questioning me, for Pete’s sake. That sofa’s comfortable enough and I think we’ve all slept on it a time or two. You know Lois wouldn’t have let us buy it if it wasn’t. Speaking of which, I’m about beat.”
Richard reached up and jostled his shoulder. “See if you can manage to stay awake at least until dinner. We ordered pizza. With Lois eating protein-rich health food, I figured that deep-dish pan was in order. Good way to welcome home the hero.”
Most of the time when the family gathered, Lois’ order of thin crust ruled the day. And Richard and Clark suffered in silence most of the time. Pan pizza was a rare treat, usually restricted to a boy’s night out or when Lois lost a bet of some sort. That both twins preferred thin crust didn’t help, either. Clark couldn’t resist the conspiratorial grin he shared with Richard, especially when Lana smirked and shook her head at them both.
Mercy had lain as still as she could throughout that long cold night, but she couldn’t keep from shivering. The first time had startled the snake, and its rattle buzzed, the sound of certain death in those tight quarters. After that Luthor had cautiously slid closer to her, sharing the warmth of his body. Mercy knew it was no romantic impulse; if she upset the snake enough, it could bite both of them.
The snake seemed less perturbed after that, as if it was willing to put up with a little movement in return for sharing their body heat. Mercy knew that snakes almost never attacked unprovoked, and rattlesnakes in particular had evolved their warning system to prevent themselves from wasting precious venom in self-defense. So once the reptile had remained somnolent through a couple of rounds of mild shivering, Mercy let herself fall asleep.
She woke in the morning when the snake crawled over her arm to exit the cave. “We have to be out before tonight,” Luthor whispered in her ear. “I’m not exactly enthused about having such a guest again.”
“We’re probably the guests,” Mercy whispered back with a tiny smile. “If it was any colder outside, this place would probably be full of rattlesnakes. They hibernate in large groups.”
“Definitely out before tonight,” Luthor replied. It was a long way to Australia with every hero in the country hunting them, but at least they hadn’t heard any search parties yet that morning. Perhaps there was still a chance they could make their escape cleanly. If they could only get outside the search perimeter, Las Vegas wasn’t far away. A perfect place to disappear.
The next morning, everyone woke early before realizing they had no urgent task to complete. The habit of nearly a week would be difficult to break, but in time that hyper-alert state would fade back into normalcy.
For now, though, since they were all up, they had breakfast together. The discussion around the table naturally fell toward planning the day. Richard had no intention of going back to work just yet; Lana needed to make an appointment with a specialist about her hand; Clark wanted to see Lois before heading back out to Nevada. The twins, however, had more pressing concerns.
“Um, Dad?” His hesitant tone got the adults’ attention. “I wanted to go out today – there are some things I need to research, you know, about up north.” Clark nodded, understanding that he wanted to speak to Jor-El and couldn’t say so in front of Kristin, who was happily munching on a bowl of Daddy Clark’s Apple Jacks. “But I was wondering … am I grounded? For sneaking out?”
Kala cut in before the adults could speak, staring at him and then their parents in disbelief. “Jase, stop being so modest. You saved my life. I’m grounded ‘til summer break, probably, but you’re the hero.”
“About that,” Clark said, and sighed, looking to Richard and Lana. “We still need to have a family conference about New Year’s Eve, but it’s more complicated now. And we’re going to have to make a decision without your mother.”
Kala looked resigned about the whole thing, leaning back in her chair. “Oh, come on. What’s to decide? Daddy, I broke curfew and ran away. I’m restricted. I deserve it.”
“Sweetheart, you almost died. I think that’s punishment enough to teach you the error of your ways.” Clark’s voice still held the horror of nearly losing his daughter.
Lana cut in, her voice casual between sips of coffee. “Two weeks restriction was what we all agreed on for breaking curfew. The running away was intentionally provoked by Luthor’s associates, and we honestly never planned for it, so we’ll leave that be for now. I suggest the same for Jason, since he put himself and Elise in some danger by sneaking onto the plane. The results don’t change the fact that both of them disobeyed clear instructions.”
Clark saw the wisdom in that, and acquiesced. “The rules are the rules. Nevada should count as time served, though.”
They could all agree on that, though Kala cleared her throat cautiously. “Um, I’ll take that as more lenient than I deserve, but I do have one request. Can I go see Mom today? I need to talk to her.”
“I’ll bring you with me,” Clark told her with a smile. “After I drop Jason off for his research. Do either of you mind being left alone while I take care of things out west?”
Jason shook his head. “No, sir. Could you just get me back in time for lunch?”
“Of course. Kala?”
“Thank you, Daddy. I’ll be okay. I’ll just get something at the hospital cafeteria, or Daddy Richard can come get me.”
That settled things, and they finished breakfast on a lighter note.
Elise had only been half-listening to her parents’ lecture, most of which focused on the trouble they knew that Kent boy would drag her into. He’s Superman’s son. He saved my life and I probably saved his. Everything you think about him and his family is skewed. Yeah, he’s weird, but he’s half alien. Jason can’t help who he is.
Oh yeah, and I’m in love with him. This is not gonna be fun. The memory of yesterday still blazed freshly in her mind, forcing her to admit how much Jason meant to her. No other boy had gotten under her shirt, much less gotten it off her, and she had been the one to go there. Elise had to bite her lip at the memory of Jason’s expression when she peeled the shirt off; he looked like he’d just won the lottery, stunned and unable to believe his good fortune. But his hands had been so warm on her bare skin, and he hadn’t pushed for more the way she half expected him to.
“Are you even listening, young lady?” her father snapped.
“Yes, sir.” Elise plastered a rueful look on her face and let them both rant, knowing it was more about how worried they’d been when they couldn’t reach her than them actually being upset.
Her mother noticed first, her eyes going wide as she looked beyond Elise. The girl turned to look out the sliding glass door, and saw him. Even though she now knew that was Mr. Kent, it was still a shock to see Superman hovering just off their balcony.
Mr. Thorne slowly walked over and opened the door, still staring in surprise. Superman nodded politely to him, and spoke just twenty-five words. “Mr. Thorne, Mrs. Thorne. I just wanted to convey my gratitude toward your daughter Elise. Her assistance was invaluable during the search for my god-daughter.” And then with a respectful wave, he was gone.
As her parents slowly turned around to stare at her, Elise could only smile and shrug. Well, this is going to make life a little less ordinary. It was all she had not to laugh out loud.
Dropped off at the Fortress alone, Jason took a deep breath before approaching the crystal console. He removed the father crystal and placed it into the central slot, and Jor-El’s image appeared on the large flat crystal across from him. Those piercing blue eyes locked on his as the AI greeted him. No one had had time to visit the Fortress since their last consultation regarding Zod, so Jason spent the next few minutes updating his grandfather. He finished with the news of Zod’s death.
Jor-El’s image flickered, his expression grave – and wounded. “Dru-Zod was a brilliant and noble man. Unfortunately he was also irredeemable. He chose his path, and he alone bears responsibility for its ending. Still, I am sorry to hear of his death.”
Jason took a deep breath before he spoke next, the words painful to think, much less say aloud. “Grandfather, you were right. Kala had allied herself with General Zod. Yet at the crucial moment, she recovered her senses, repudiated him, and killed him. She believed at the time that she was sacrificing her own life to save myself and Father.”
Jor-El nodded as if he had expected that. “Then she has seen at last the truth of the legacy. It is not a glorious dream, it is a solemn duty, and at times a bitter one. Now she is ready, as she was not before. The honor of the House of El prevailed.”
Shaking his head, Jason chuckled. “No, Grandfather. It was the courage of the House of Lane that won out in the end. It was our mother’s name and example she drew upon in that moment.”
“Lois Lane is an exceedingly brave and uncompromising individual,” Jor-El replied, and Jason wasn’t imagining the hint of admiration in those words.
It dawned on Jason then, one of his long-held assumptions turning on its head. Maybe they had been wrong in imagining his motives all along. Stunned, he thought back over what he had seen in Luthor’s facility. It fit. And it truly was not impossible, knowing his grandfather’s views on the mission. “You do not hate our mother,” he said slowly, eyes wide as he spoke aloud his guess. “You are not a misogynist or a racist. You never were. Your disapproval of her is rooted in something else, something she will do and cannot control, not something she has done or something she is.”
Jor-El’s image closed its eyes for a long moment. “So you have discovered the truth, son of my son?”
“I began to suspect when I saw Dru-Zod,” Jason admitted, watching the AI’s every movement. “He has barely aged in sixteen years – his hair is still black, with only a little gray at the temples. I understand that he did not age in the Phantom Zone, for time halts there. But here, on this planet, I had expected to meet a noticeably older man.”
He had never seen Jor-El look this sorrowful. “Yes. I am sorry, Jon-El, but you are correct. Not only does the yellow sun grant our people phenomenal powers, it also slows the aging process. By how much, I do not know and cannot calculate.”
“You dislike my mother because you know she will die before Father, and in so doing, break his heart.” Acid crept up Jason’s throat as he spoke. He had never wanted to think about Mom dying; he’d had to confront it far too closely when she was shot. No child ever wants to think about that far-off misty time when a parent just ceased to move about in their world, even when that time could come far too early. “You were doing it to protect him, but you would not tell him why, for fear you would completely alienate him.”
“Correct. Now you know why I advised him to distance himself from all humanity.”
Jason had to give a sad smile at that. How could Jor-El ever think that his son could be any less passionate than himself? Expect him to be an untouchable symbol of hope to these people he had been taught to lead? The thought was laughable when he thought of his father. “That is impossible to accomplish when you live amongst them every day, Grandfather. Caring enough for them to be their savior if your heart is not touched by them is not within him. It is what makes Father the hero he is, this lack of distance. The people he saves know that he truly cares about their fate quite personally. He has become one of Earth’s greatest for that reason alone.”
He saw Jor-El begin to form a response and so rushed on. “As to my mother, Father loves our mother as you loved Lara. She is his example for the heart of humanity, their flaws and their goodness. All along, she has helped him understand and further his mission in ways he had never considered. She has been a partner to him in all circumstances. And, I ask you, is it not better to have had that love, even though it must one day end? Millions of people on this planet become widowed – not all are fortunate as you are, to die in the same moment as their beloved.”
“You do not yet fully see, my grandson. Kal-El is doomed to lose everyone whom he loves. Perhaps even you, his children, will predecease him. I cannot calculate the span of his life, and even less so could I guess at yours who are half-Kryptonian. It is a terrible fate, and not one I meant for him to suffer. It is yet possible that he will again be the Last Son of Krypton.”
Those words chilled Jason to the core. That very thought had been in the back of his mind since he had seen General Zod, but he had been refusing to think about that part. His father, one day without them. It didn’t seem possible, just the same as truly losing Mom. He was too young to have been thinking that far in the future. This was part of the legacy he was being entrusted with. But this promise was one that he would happily make. He raised his head, and looked Jor-El squarely in the eyes. “Then I will see to it that such a thing never happens. I will ensure that the legacy does not end with myself and Kala. There will be Heirs to the House of El for generations to come, and even if Father should lose us, he will still have family. He will never be alone again.”
Lois had only been awake for an hour when Clark and Kala arrived. Clark brought her a cluster of flowers, delicate pale lavender blooms in a tiny pot. “It’s called Purple Saxifrage, Lois. It grows in the most inhospitable parts of the tundra, farther north than any other plant. The soil is only inches deep, the ground is covered in snow or ice most of the year, and the growing season is only a few months long. The name means ‘rock-breaker’, because it’s often found growing in cracks in the rocks. Over time, it can actually split boulders through bio-erosion.”
“Sounds like someone read up on it. Pretty impressive,” Lois said teasingly, using her good hand to turn the pot around on the bedside table. “It’s lovely, Clark.”
“It reminded me of you. Beautiful, fragile-looking, thriving in adversity, and completely indomitable.” She smiled at him for that, and Clark leaned in to kiss her, whispering, “I love you. I always have, and always will.”
“Hopeless romantic,” Lois whispered back, her eyes gleaming.
“Only for you.”
“Right back at you, hero. From the top of my head to the tips of my toes. God help me.” The warmth in her voice when she said it make him lean in to kiss her again. After the last two weeks, he would never take an instant with her for granted.
Kala’s quiet laughter was a surprise to them both, and they turned to see her grinning at them. “You’re giving me cavities, really awful ones, but don’t stop. Please. Don’t ever stop. I’ll never mock it again.”
“I have it on good authority that we won’t,” Clark said with a glance at Lois, who just snickered. After stealing another kiss or two he had to head out for Nevada. Which left Lois alone with her daughter.
“Can I get you anything, Mom?” Kala asked, giving Lois’ hand a squeeze when she sat down on the side of the bed. “How’s your … you know?”
“I’ll live, Munchkin. They’re still keeping me pretty drugged, but the doctors say we’re getting there. Question is, will I go nuts in the bed before the damn things heal.” Lois shrugged then. “Nothing to do but wait and see. And eat bad hospital food. But what about you? Jason tells me that the nightmares are back. He’s scared for you, Kala. So am I.”
Kala sighed, dragging the chair close. She should have known that Jase would at least tell Mom what was happening. “Yeah. That. I do need to talk to you. About Nevada, and what happened there. I need your help.”
Lois hated that her daughter had been through all of that, but a part of her was elated to find Kala asking for her help again. It had been too long since the two of them had turned to each other, something both were now determined to rectify. “So talk.”
First Kala shoved her hair back, and shifted in the chair to get comfortable. “Okay, so it’s unanimous that I’m going back to Dr. Marrin, because obviously I’m not going to just walk away from all this with no scars whatsoever. But I can’t tell him the whole truth. We’ve got to work out a story that deals with everything but doesn’t blow the secret.”
This was the perfect opportunity for Lois to get the full story from her daughter. Kala hadn’t told anyone precisely what had happened to her, had just hinted at bits and pieces, but Lois was the best person to talk to about this. Especially if Lois’ worst fears were true. Still, she kept her voice calm. “Exactly. So tell me the whole truth, and we’ll figure out how much we can tell Eliot.”
The topic made Kala uncomfortable, for obvious reasons, so she starting ticking off the list in an exaggeratedly casual tone. “Let me see, I was kidnapped and drugged, I got pawed by Luthor’s goons, I was locked up in an underground lab with a bunch people who either wanted to dissect me or rape me, I almost turned evil under Dru-Zod’s influence, and then I turned around and killed the only person there who’d been kind to me, the only one I trusted. Did I mention he finally told me why he did that, why he protected me and everything?” Her too-bright tone concealed a lot of pain, so Lois only shook her head. “I’m the last female Kryptonian, Mom. He wanted to take over the planet, still, but this time he was going to have me around as human-Kryptonian liaison. Oh yeah, and his queen. Empress, I guess. Kala Dru-Zod, Empress of Earth. Kinda catchy, don’t you think?”
Lois was trying not to choke on that. She should have suspected it was that bad, but hearing it aloud made it a whole new ballgame. The desire to kill Zod, to tear him into tiny pieces with her bare hands, was overwhelming, but Kala had already taken care of that. All she said was, “Mm-hmm, we’re going to have to edit that.” If Kala wanted to be blasé, then Lois would too. It was a perfectly valid coping mechanism, one Lois had employed many times. There would be time to heal a little later.
Kala seemed to brighten up then, taking courage from her mother’s lack of histrionics. “Oh, and before that Luthor made me think you and Lana were both dead – actually first he tried to make me think you’d given me to him, traded me for Jase, but I figured out there was no way in hell you’d ever do that.” She laughed then, almost the snicker Lois was used to hearing. “You know, at one point, I was actually on the verge of tears wishing for a proper Hurricane Lane dressing-down? I remember thinking I’d let you rage on as long as you wanted and give you a standing ovation at the end. I missed you so bad it hurt.”
Lois took a ragged breath, running the back of her hand lightly down her daughter’s cheek. That had hurt her like nothing else could. “I missed you too, baby. God, Kala, I missed you so much. I’m so sorry, for everything. I should never have slapped you. There was just so much going on then and I wasn’t… ”
Kala grabbed her hand and kissed it. “Quit it, Mom. I was being a total teenage drama queen. That’s what you’re supposed to do with hysterical people, right? Smack them out of it? Besides, it didn’t really hurt me.”
“Sure looked like it did.” Lois’ voice was barely a whisper, still seeing the wounded look on Kala’s face. Like she was six all over again and her world had shattered.
Sighing, Kala looked away, then forced herself to meet her mother’s gaze. “Yeah, okay, it did. Other than the occasional smack on the butt for being obnoxious, you’ve never hit me. It hurt. But I’ve never flown off the handle quite like that before. I was scared all to hell at the time – and it took me long enough, but I finally figured out you were scared out of your mind, too. We were both terrified, and we both did what we always do: we got angry. People are right, you know. We’re too much alike in some ways.”
Lois sighed heavily, pulling her daughter to her for a hug. Neither spoke for a moment then, thinking about all that had passed the last little while. Kala’s head was on her mother’s shoulder when Lois spoke up again. “Kala, listen. While you were gone … before we really knew it was a kidnapping… I read your diary, Kala. I’m sorry. I was trying to find any clue to where you’d gone. And I read the part about being afraid of being just…”
Oh shit. She saw it. Kala had never expect that to ever get back to her mom. Slowly, she sat up, but she couldn’t look at Mom. This was humiliating. “Lois Lane Lite?” Kala said, her face mask-like, her back ramrod straight.
“Yes. Sweetheart, you have to understand…” Lois trailed off, for once in her life groping for the words to explain what needed to be said. “Kala, if anything you’re going to be more than I am, not less.”
Eyes that exactly matched hers for color and pained expression stared into Lois’ own for a long moment then. “I find that hard to believe. Then again, I find it hard to believe anyone could ever surpass you, Mom.”
“You amaze me, Kala. On a regular basis. You do have so much of me in you, but you don’t have the same faults. And you have a lot of your father in you, too, you know that? You’ve just always had the worst time seeing it. It’s there, Kala, you are his daughter more than you even know. You can do so much, be so much…”
Kala’s lips curved up in a smile that was so very Clark. It broke Lois’ heart sweetly to see it. Some day she’ll realize it. It’ll just take time. “So I guess that makes me Lois Lane 2.0 – now with 10% more height?”
Lois laughed and kissed her. Just like her daughter to make a crack like that. Then again, one good nudge deserved another. “Exactly. Comes with three wardrobes, too: dark, darker, and GAF.”
“GAF?” Kala blinked, trying to look innocent. Did she just… Oh my God, Mom!
Lois just arched an eyebrow at her. “Oh, please. We both know you what it stands for.”
“Wait, did you just call me…?” She did! The realization made Kala throw back her head and laugh freely as she hadn’t done for months, and Lois joined in with her. The two of them felt burdens lifting from their shoulders in that shared hilarity. It wasn’t perfect, their relationship wasn’t going to be fixed with one conversation and a profane acronym, but it was a step in the right direction, and that was all they needed. Love and time (not to mention counseling) could do the rest.
Let it go.
Let it roll right off your shoulder.
Don’t you know?
The hardest part is over.
Let it in.
Let your clarity define you in the end,
We will only just remember how it feels.
All lives are made in these small hours,
These little wonders,
These twists and turns of fate.
Time folds away,
But these small hours
These small hours
Let it slide.
Let your troubles fall behind you,
Let it shine
‘Till you feel it all around you.
And I don’t mind
If it’s me you need to turn to
We’ll get by.
It’s the heart that really matters in the end.
All of my regret
Will wash away somehow,
But I cannot forget
The way I feel right now.
In these small hours,
These little wonders,
These twists and turns of fate.
Yeah, these twists and turns of fate…
Time falls away,
Yeah, but these small hours
These small hours
Yeah, ah, ah
Oh, they still remain,
These little wonders,
Oh, these twists and turns of fate,
Time falls away
But these small hours…
These Little Wonders…
~ Rob Thomas, Little Wonders