Finally, Kal-El was on his way home. He appreciated the fact that he’d been able to stay in Smallville an extra week, tidying up loose ends. But the downside of that was Lois having to go home first and keep the newspaper under control, both her department and his. He would’ve liked to have her by his side every waking moment while he tried to deal with the aftermath of Ma’s passing. It just wasn’t possible, given their work situation.
She’d been there for him while she was in Smallville, held him that first night, and she’d woken early enough the next morning to soothe him while he wept from the worst nightmare he’d ever had. He’d dreamed that the previous night had all been a dream, that Ma was alive and laughing at him for mourning her. And of course, then he’d woken up to find her truly gone.
Lois had been his rock then, the steady shoulder he could lean on. Few people understood just how much he relied on her, just how much of his strength was really hers. Lois had a poster hanging in her home office that read, ‘Behind every good man is a great woman,’ except he’d long ago covered the ‘good’ part with a sticky note that read ‘super’ and the ‘great’ part with a series of stacked notes that had things like ‘fantastic’, ‘brilliant’, and ‘fierce’ written on them. She teased him about it, but they both knew the sentiment was genuine. It was never easy to be a hero, but it was certainly easier if you could lift an island and let bullets bounce off your chest. Being heroic without powers was the real challenge, and that was his wife. She was his hero, he was hers, and they both knew just how lucky they were to have their happily-ever-after.
At least they were secure enough to handle a few days apart. Keeping in touch by phone helped—he’d called her every night for a long chat, and texted every day. Of course he could’ve flown home at any time, but Kal-El wanted to spend some extra time with Ben. And now that the older man knew the truth, he also knew his stepson was only a phone call away. If he ever needed a hand, Kal-El could be there in minutes.
Still, he was glad to be home. It was early in the afternoon when he touched down on the balcony, expecting Lois to be home. He’d texted her an hour ago just so she wouldn’t be surprised when she got in … but it turned out he was the one surprised. There was a note stuck in the French doors leading into the living room that simply said, ‘Find me’.
He located her heartbeat easily enough, and found his gorgeous wife submerged up to her chin in a steaming hot bath redolent of lavender and vanilla. “C’mere, hero, I’ve been keeping the water warm for you,” she said with a grin.
“I’ll just bet you have,” he laughed. Kal-El got undressed without hesitation and climbed in with her, glad they’d installed the garden tub back when they got this place. Most regular bathtubs were too short for his long-legged frame, and Lois liked to soak in a generous amount of water. Having massaging jets in the side made the whole thing a ridiculous indulgence, but a welcome one.
This was just what he needed, the heat soothing the last of the tension from him, Lois’ arms around him as he lay back against her. She kissed his temple and inhaled, breathing the scent of him. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” No other words needed to be said. Later they’d talk, about losing their moms, about plans that had to be made for the future, about Ma and what an amazing woman she was. But for right now all the comfort he needed was in her arms around his chest, her knees under his hands, her breath ruffling his hair, and her heartbeat strong and steady against his back.
Richard’s office chair squeaked. Normally that would aggravate him, but right now he was having too much fun irritating the guy in the next office. He’d rock back and rotate the chair so that it squeaked every few seconds, squeak-squeak-squeak, then stop, count to an odd number like seven or fifteen, and then do it again. The irregular intervals were driving the stuffed-shirt next door nuts. Maybe he had enough clout with management—which Richard referred to as manglement, given the state of this office—to get a new chair ordered. Squeak-squeak-squeak … squeaka-squeak.
“Are you actually doing anything productive, White?” That was the office busybody, a guy named Jerry. Richard had mistakenly assumed that anyone working for a flight magazine would be fairly cool, but this guy was apparently afraid of heights, hated airplanes, and thought all pilots were insane. Well, Richard would be the first to admit he wasn’t the best example of a sane pilot.
“I’m having an idea,” he replied calmly. “I’m thinking I should go home early. And then tomorrow morning I’ll head down to Schreyeck Airfield and drink a couple cups of coffee with whoever’s in. Maybe pick up the latest gossip, see what restored classics people are flying. I could’ve sworn I saw an old Bellanca out there last week. Looked pre-war.”
Jerry sneered. “And that counts as productive.”
Richard shrugged. “I meet all my deadlines.”
“You’ll never get ahead in this business by just meeting expectations,” was the snide reply.
To that, Richard could only laugh. “C’mere. See this photo on my desk?” He turned around one of the framed photos on his desk. This one happened to show himself, Lana, and Kristin, taken on the deck of the cabin in North Carolina. “The gorgeous redhead here is my lovely wife, Lana. She happens to be the L in L. Lang. So given that you can’t walk into any mall in this country and not fall over her stuff, and L. Lang is a privately held company, just how much do you think I need to get ahead around here?”
“Oh, charming,” Jerry replied flatly.
“Furthermore….” Richard found another photo and turned it around for him. “See this crew? Editor in chief of the Daily Planet, Perry White—my uncle—his successor, Lois Lane—my ex-fiancée—and her husband, Clark Kent, head of the International department at the Planet, which job I convinced him to take when I left it. So yeah, when I decide to get ahead in this life, I’ll just head right back home to the biggest newspaper in town. I’m sure one of them’ll give me a desk. Knowing Lois, it’ll be in Features because she’s a vindictive bitch, but that’s just her good side.”
He leaned back, squeaking the chair, and then grinned evilly. “Or I’ll just head over to the Daily Star and get hired there. I know the editor in chief for that paper, too. It’d serve Lo right if I decided to give her some real competition.”
“So you married money and you’re well-connected. Why are you here, White?”
Richard shrugged. “I love planes. I love journalism. It’s kind of a dream job. Lemme tell you a secret: getting ahead is no fun if you’re just doing it because you think you’re supposed to. Getting to where you’re comfortable and happy and can pursue your dreams, that’s fun. I don’t need the stress or the heartache of the whole rat race thing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to skip out of work, go pick up my daughter and my wife, and take our dogs running in the park.”
He promptly did exactly that. When he got to Lana’s office, Kay met him just outside. “She’s on a conference call with the Vancouver team. Give it a minute. And hey there, little K. Love the hair.”
“It’s so awesome! Kala dyed it for me.” Kristin preened, showing off her purple streaks. Richard thought it was pretty cool-looking, but Lana had hit the roof after realizing the color was permanent. Future hair experiments were going to have to involve clip-ins or wash-out dyes, at least until Kristin got a little older.
They chatted for a few minutes, catching up on the office with Richard sharing his conversation with Jerry, and Kay updating him on herself, Laurel, and the joys of working with people in six time zones on two continents. Finally Lana strolled out to meet them.
Every single time they saw each other after an absence of more than ten minutes, Richard grinned to look at her, and Lana smiled warmly at him. It made their friends yell for insulin after a while, but to him, that was the secret of lasting love. Marry someone who made your heart lift every time you saw them. “Hey babe,” he said, and kissed her.
“Not a babe anymore, with this much white in my hair,” she laughed.
“That’s just your hair trying to match your name—or we can blame it on putting up with Lois and Clark and the twins,” Richard replied with a shrug.
Kristin pouted up at Kay. “How come parents always hafta kiss?”
“It’s a parent thing. They like embarrassing their kids in public,” Kay told her.
Lana ruffled her daughter’s hair. “You’re out early, Richard.”
He smirked mischievously. “Yeah, well, they tried to hold me back, but I was like a wild animal, so eventually they just set me free.”
“More like he snuck out when no one was looking,” Kay added drolly.
“Hey, who’s telling this story?” he complained, getting laughs from all three.
Lana managed to leave for the day; sometimes he had to cajole her into walking away from her work, but this wasn’t one of those days. They took Kristin and both dogs to the park, holding hands as they walked. Cissa heeled beautifully with the end of her leash tucked into Lana’s back pocket, and Kristin carried Dusty’s leash.
“You’re not the only one who left work early today,” Lana said, as their daughter encouraged the beagle to chase pigeons.
“Oh yeah? What’s the gossip?” Richard asked.
“Lois took an early afternoon. Clark’s home from Smallville.”
That news, and the reminder that came with it, didn’t darken Richard’s day. Instead he held Lana’s hand a little tighter, grateful for all the sweetness in his life. “I love you. You know that, right?”
“I love you, too.” She squeezed his hand right back with a soft smile.
Providing their own transportation for a nationwide multi-band tour sucked. Especially when said transportation consisted of a full-sized van Kala had bought used, and now Ned’s and Robb’s cars. Ned drove a restored hearse with the back fitted out almost like a camper, and Robb had an elderly Corolla that had just died horribly on the side of the freeway. Fortunately they weren’t seeing much traffic.
Tossing a frustrated glare at Robb, Kala covered her face with her hands and sighed. “Dustin, I swear Sebast didn’t invite you along as our personal mechanic.”
“I know, but since I’m here….” He was elbow-deep in the engine, shaded by the hood of Robb’s car. The rest of the caravan had pulled over in sympathy, and Kala figured that her band—all in various Goth and punk gear even at eleven in the morning—were causing quite the spectacle for the few cars that passed them.
Robb was practically wringing his hands. “I, um, don’t really have that much money right now,” he said apologetically. “It’s not gonna be expensive, is it?”
“Nope,” Dustin said cheerfully. “I think it’s just your serpentine belt. Twenty bucks or so, and I can put it on for you if we can get a ratchet and a 3/8th socket. Has it been squealing when you start it up first thing in the morning?”
“Well, yeah, but it always goes away in like a block. Or two.”
Dustin slid out from under the car and brushed his hands off. “That’s a sign you’ve got a belt wearing out, Robb. As they warm up the squealing goes away, but eventually it’ll break or slip out of place, and then you have a problem. I think you’re okay here, because it just snapped clean and you pulled over right away.”
“I guess I’m glad I didn’t try driving to the next exit,” Robb said sheepishly.
Kala chuckled. “Robb, the serpentine runs your A/C, your alternator, your oil pump, and your water pump. You really don’t wanna drive without the last two.”
“Yeah, that’d blow the engine as soon as it got hot,” Dustin added. “So good decision. Now, how’re we gonna tow it? I left my truck in Kansas.”
Holding up her purse, Kala grinned. “Triple-A, baby. Doesn’t matter whose car it is, I can get it towed.” After some discussion and a call to AAA, Robb left in the van with Sebast and Morgan, Ned drove off behind them, and Kala and Dustin waited with the car keys. They would all meet up at the next tour destination.
“So, whatcha think of my wild crew?” Kala asked, once the dust settled.
“Robb needs a new car,” Dustin said thoughtfully.
Kala tipped back her head and laughed. Trust Dustin not to comment on Ned’s electric blue topknot, the safety pin Robb wore as an earring, or Morgan’s new wingtips. He had cars on the brain. “Is it as bad as that Oldsmobile Jase and I had?” she teased.
“Nah, that was a solid car. Once we got everything fixed with it I bet it’d run for another twenty years. This thing, someone didn’t take care of it. It’s got about three slow leaks I can see, and the engine’s filthy. He’d better get rid of it before it up and dies on him for good.” Dustin kicked a tire lightly. “Needs new tires, too. Looks like he’s got retreads on it.”
“The life of a traveling musician. They tell you all about the romance of the road, they never tell you how much the mileage is gonna beat up your car,” Kala said ruefully.
“Your van looks good though,” Dustin offered.
“I baby it. It gets its oil changes right at 3,000 miles, I check the fluids and the tire pressure every time we head out, and I put new spark plugs and wires on it a month ago,” Kala said absently.
Dustin laughed and looped his arm around her shoulders, bringing her in for a kiss. “And that’s why I love you so much. Because you spend more time on makeup than I do shaving and getting dressed, but you know how to change your spark plugs.”
“Well, yeah. I’m not paying some asshole at the quik-lube place ninety bucks for a tune-up just because he thinks girls don’t know jack about cars.” Kala ran that sentence back through her mind and winced. “Sorry.”
Dustin shrugged. “I know you cuss. I can kinda guess where you get it from, too. I actually rode in a car with your mom once, you know.”
“Most people only ride with her once,” Kala chuckled, and leaned her head on his shoulder. After a moment, she went quiet and thoughtful. Then she asked softly, “So are we really making a go of this again? Take a second shot?”
Dustin kissed her hair. “Well, yeah. I never fell out of love with you. There’ve been other girls, but … you’re kind of a tough act to follow.”
“Same here, it turns out,” she sighed, frowning and leaning into him. “Alan … huge mistake. Colossal. I know what I was thinking when we started up, but yeah. Dumb. And I can’t really remember too many of the ones between you and him, as horrified as I am to admit it. Other than you and Nick, I’ve pretty much sucked at relationships.” Kala pulled away slightly with watchful eyes, “If we’re going to try this again, I really, really want to try to make it work, Dustin. Maybe this time it might be something we can work out. Not in big cities all the time, you know.”
“So do I. And hey, maybe you should have a traveling mechanic on the team, if you’re gonna hire people who drive heaps like this.”
“Someday we’ll be riding around in a custom tour bus instead of our own cars,” Kala said dreamily.
He shrugged. “Won’t surprise me. You’re good, Kala. Really good.”
Oh, the smile he got for that. It lit her up even more than the sunlight. “I had no idea you liked my music,” she chuckled. “It’s not like you or Lizardboy ever listened to it other than to mock me when we were growing up. I seem to remember someone mentioning cats and blenders when all of this first started.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve always told you it’s not really my style, but I can tell what you’re doing now is good. And that was before you got training and were just singing loud to sing loud. Now you’re actually singing. Doesn’t sound anything like when you were playing around. You’ve got a voice with all kinds of power and emotion and stuff.” Dustin paused, breathing in the candied-violet scent of her hair, and added, “The rest of the band is pretty good, too. Needs more cowbell though.”
She elbowed him, smirking. “Yeah, right. I think cowbell might be a detour on my road to fame and fortune.”
He grinned back at her then. “I don’t think anything could detour you, Kala. Of course, by then you won’t need your own mechanic.”
She looked up at him, her heavily-lined hazel eyes solemn in the morning light. “I have this feeling like I’m always gonna need you in my life, Dustin. One way or another.”
That got her a broad smile and a kiss on the lips. “Who knows, maybe I’ll find a little gypsy in my blood, and we can live happily ever after on the road. If you get six or eight months of the year touring every big city on the continent, you think you could survive Smallville the rest of the time? Or at least someplace like North Carolina, where you don’t have 24/7 traffic noise outside your window?”
“Maybe,” she said thoughtfully. “Could be a lot of fun finding out, huh?” If they were both making it a go, it could work, after all. Maybe if she was lucky the second time around with Dustin, now that they were both a little older and surer of themselves, would be the charm.
In any case, it was worth it to see the look on the tow truck driver’s face when he pulled up. Only then did Kala realize how mismatched they looked: Dustin in jeans, a polo shirt, work boots, and that godforsaken cowboy hat, next to her in her velvet skirt, lace stockings, knee-high boots, and frilly peasant blouse, all in black and topped by her typical day makeup, which included more eyeliner than most people wore clubbing.
“You need some help?” the driver asked dubiously.
“Don’t mind her, she doesn’t bite,” Dustin said with a grin. “Well, not much. You’re okay as long as you’re not O-positive.”
She swatted his shoulder and laughed; it was the laugh that made the truck driver grin. Kala had never had a proper Goth laugh. She tended to tip her head back for a rollicking, infectious laugh that made everyone smile.
Ten minutes later Robb’s Corolla was riding on the flatbed of the tow truck, and Kala and Dustin were sitting in the cab swapping worst-driver stories with the driver. “I have the best!” Kala proclaimed, and told them about the idiot her mom had cursed out for putting pantyhose on in Metropolis traffic.