“Congratulations, Lois. You’re officially re-entered the world of mobility.”
“Just shut up and keep the door open for me,” Lois grunted, secretly thrilled at her sister’s words.
“It’s not really mobility if I can’t run.”
“Oh, excuse me, Debbie Downer,” Lucy held the door as wide open as it was able, watching Lois move awkwardly with the cane into the doorway of her home. “Forgive me if your definition of ‘mobility’ involves you running after a suspect or a new case that you want the first scoop on. You still have Clark as your legs, you know, and after a few more weeks of rest, you can go back to the office.”
“And do nothing but sit in my desk and type at a keypad all day. Joy.”
“I thought you would have been thrilled to say goodbye to that wheelchair.”
“I’ll be thrilled if you promise me you won’t have to bathe me anymore.”
“And miss all the wonderful bonding opportunities we’ve had in the bathtub?” Lucy shut the door and watched Lois make her way into the living room, sit down on the couch, and prop her leg up on the coffee table. “Sis, you wound me.”
“Bull,” Lois grunted, her voice strained when her head fell onto the back of the couch. “I really don’t think sitting naked in a bathtub counts as bonding.”
“Too bad I think of it as payback for my childhood.” Lucy reached into her purse, pulling out a bottle of painkillers. “You’re gonna want to take these soon. At least you got the cast off your leg too, right?”
Lois lifted her head and stared dully at the splint on her arm. “Yeah…” She wiggled her fingers. “I still can’t write though.”
“What do you need to write for?” Lucy yelled form the kitchen. “You have a laptop! If you have proper typing form, you’ll be perfectly fine. Besides, Clark is your right hand, too. You can read his handwriting, can’t you?”
Lois had a memory of Clark’s impeccable handwriting flash through her mind. “Jason can read it perfectly, for crying out loud,” she muttered.
“I’m going to take that silence as a yes,” Lucy answered, walking back into the living room with a glass of water. She handed Lois the pills. “Have you heard anything from him recently?”
Lois swallowed the pills before answering. “Not recently. I’m hoping that means he’s found a big lead and is following it.” Her face momentarily darkened. “And if he did find one, he’d better tell me about it soon.”
“So then… you’re not upset with me? For talking about him this whole time like Richard isn’t…?”
Lois felt her heart sink. Getting her casts off that day was a painful reminder of what was really going on in her life. Richard had been missing for well over a month at this point, and while Officer Petty had been doing his best to share information, it had done little to comfort her. With the lack of information, it would be a miracle to find Richard alive.
If they found him at all.
A part of her was infuriated, wondering why she was giving up so easily when Clark was doing everything he could to help her. But that was the part of her personality – the fiery reporter with the never-say-die attitude – that didn’t seem to understand that everything really was out of her hands. Perry had called her a few days before, furious that she was on medical leave and still wanted to work. Never thought I would hear fury mixed with sympathy from Perry White. He had given her an earful about using Clark to do what she wanted, and she had listened to the whole speech, rolling her eyes and nodding her head at the same time, hearing what he said, knowing full well he understood that she wasn’t going to do what he asked. Procedure, she figured. He needed to keep up that gruff exterior so that other employees wouldn’t know he was a teddy bear on the inside. Clark probably hasn’t been keeping him as up-to-date as he has with me.
“No, Lucy. I’m not mad at you,” Lois whispered. Her face was sad when she turned to her little sister, finally accepting the probability of defeat. “You know better than I do that these things usually don’t end well.”
Lucy quietly observed her sister, dreading her next question. “What would you tell Jason?”
“I don’t know,” Lois muttered, shaking her head. She sniffed, realizing that tears were forming in her eyes. “I really don’t know. I didn’t want to think about it.”
Lucy reached out and stroked Lois’ hair, hating herself for asking the question, but knowing it was too important to ignore. A thought struck her. It probably wouldn’t provide much comfort, but it was worth a shot… “Do you want me to get your phone? See if Clark left any messages?”
She didn’t wait for an answer. Lois was nodding her head as Lucy stood and made her way up the stairs. Trying to infuse a bit of humor, she yelled back in a light voice, “I can’t believe you didn’t bring it with you!”
“It’s charging. I wasted the battery last night.” Which was stupid. She was an impatient and nervous wreck at the doctor’s office, hoping that some important message would be left on her phone when she returned, but dreading missing anything important. Lucy had to know. She was irritated by Lois’ constant fidgeting and kept telling her to calm down.
“It’s full now.” Lucy came down the stairs, the phone cradled in her palm. “No voice messages, though.”
“Does Clark even know how to text?”
“Miracles do happen,” Lois muttered, reaching for the phone and confirming what Lucy had said. No messages. No nothing.
Until the phone rang.
“Couldn’t have timed that better in a movie!” Lucy laughed. Her smile faded slightly when she saw Lois’ face. “Is it Clark?”
Lois didn’t answer. She flipped open the phone and held it to her ear. “Clark? Where in God’s name have you been?”
Lucy watched several different things happen at once. Lois was irritated, obviously, but that irritation gave way to shock, disbelief… and absolute relief. She had never seen tears gather so quickly in her sister’s eyes. “Lois?”
Lois had covered her mouth while Clark spoke quietly, but when she turned to Lucy, her face was glowing, something Lucy hadn’t seen in a very long time. “They found him,” she whispered brokenly. “Richard’s alive.”
It wasn’t nearly soon enough to her liking when they landed in London.
Lois absently chewed on her thumb, watching the red digits count up to the floor where Richard was being held. An entire month of worrying had separated them, spent with her having no way of being sure that he was alive, worrying constantly that Clark was getting the right information, that he could handle things on his own. Of course he can handle things on his own. It’s different when it’s family. Maybe that’s why it was so hard to see reason when Lucy wanted to take their things to their hotel first instead of going straight to the hospital. Lois growled and gave her sister dirty looks the entire time, but she was sure she had a legitimate reason. Lucy never said a word. Lois was sure she understood.
Something tugged on her pants. Looking down, Lois saw Jason gripping the fabric. With all the wisdom of a five year old, he promptly told his mother that chewing on her nails was a bad habit. It was a wonderfully innocent way to break the lull. Lois beamed at him, looking up at Lucy, who only stared back, for once not taking pride in something she had taught her nephew. At this point, if Jason would look her in the eye and tell her to stop smoking, she would probably do it. Life was somewhat back to normal. It was a wonderful feeling.
The moment the elevator doors were opened, Lois couldn’t contain the joy she felt seeing Clark. He looked nervous, obviously holding a lot of information, and the usual light in his eyes was dulled. Despite his promise that he’d greet them at the elevator, he held visible pain, but tried hard to hide it. Lucy and Jason might be fooled, but Lois had known him too long to fall for that trick.
“Hey you,” she said, reaching out for him. She couldn’t tell who held the other tighter in the hug. He seemed so… burdened. “Thank you so much for meeting us here.”
“It’s no problem, Lois.” No stuttering, none of the usual perkiness. He turned to Lucy and shook her hand, then offered Jason a high-five. “It’s good that all of you were able to make it when you could.”
There was an awkward pause. Lucy, noticing how desperate Lois looked to talk to Clark, lifted Jason from the floor and settled him on her hip. “Jason and I are going to find a doctor and see if we can get a basic idea of what’s going on. Lois, do you want to see him first before Jason goes in?”
Lois nodded immediately. “I don’t know what kind of shape he’s in. There might not be anything to see at this point.”
“I wanna see Daddy,” Jason pouted, looking stubbornly at his mom.
“I know you do, sweetie. I do, too. But I want to make sure that Daddy will be awake to see you and maybe talk to you. Would you like that?”
That seemed to satisfy the boy enough. Lucy jerked her thumb at a group of nurses and said they’d be over there. Lois grinned slightly. Lucy knew her better than she thought.
“It’s nice that you brought him here,” Clark said, bringing her out of her thoughts. “I’m sure he’s been worried too, in his own way.”
“We all have. You have no idea how idea how happy I was to get your phone call.”
“I have a pretty good idea.” There seemed to be a small smile on his face, but he gestured down the hall before she could get a good look. “He’s down here. How much would you like to know?”
“As much as you can tell me, obviously.” Her attempt at their usual banter was met with silence. Once they passed Jason and Lucy, Lois jumped on her chance to dig deeper into the situation. “Clark,” she said quietly, now letting concern show. “How bad is it?”
They turned a corner and Clark stopped her, pinching his nose between his eyes. She had never seen him look this way before. The assurance he always tried to give her was gone, replaced with a reality that chilled her. If Clark couldn’t even find ways to make her see the good side in all of this…
His eyes were sad. He slipped his hands into his pockets and looked straight at her. “It’s not good,” he said quietly. “He has two gunshot wounds, one to the shoulder and one to his leg, just under the knee. There’s a laceration on his cheek, and deep cuts from where he was bound to a chair on his wrists, upper body, and ankles, all infected. His nose is broken, and his left eye is swollen shut. He’s very dehydrated, and starving. Doctors said that when they ran a blood test on him, he had some kind of hallucinogen running through his system. They also said that they found vitamins and minerals. Whoever had him was intentionally keeping him healthy enough to stay alive. Officer Meliene, the man who’s been helping me here, said that when his team found him, his captor had a gun raised to his head, ready to fire. They stopped him with seconds to spare.”
Lois knew she had stopped breathing. Clark never broke her gaze, staring at her with sadness and sympathy. She knew she should feel a sort of relief; Richard was alive, and had beaten the odds of being kidnapped by some psychopath, but the thought of him being hurt so badly was still enough to make the situation grave in its own way. There was one glaring question in her mind that he had yet to answer. “Who…?”
Clark shook his head. “I don’t know. Meliene will give me an exclusive when he has all the details.”
“No, I mean… I don’t care about who kidnapped him. He’s dead, right? Rotting where he deserves to be?”
“From what I understand, yes.”
“Who found him? How did you figure it out so quickly?”
Clark was quiet for a moment. Something flashed through his eyes, but it was gone before she could identify it. “I didn’t. Superman did.”
For the second time, Lois stopped breathing. “Superman?” she whispered. “W… w-why did he—“
“I asked him for help.” His voice was still so very quiet. He seemed to be getting closer to her, but Lois was sure that was just a part of her imagination. “He said that you had, too. He also said that Richard was a part of his family.”
She stared at him, baffled. “Why did it take him so long to come to that conclusion?” The words came out harsher than she had meant them to. Anger was slowly starting to bubble inside of her, but there was no place for it to grow and consume her. Too much had gone on in such a short amount of time.
Clark’s answering smile was small. “Maybe Superman can be pig-headed just like the rest of us.”
His answer was so quick and logical that it actually took her by surprise. Why was he acting so strangely today? She made a mental note to ask him about later. If she held off seeing Richard any longer, she was probably going to scream. “Can I see him?”
“The nurses told me earlier that he was resting.” A little gleam came into his eye, and suddenly she recognized the dear friend she loved as a brother. “That’s not going to stop you, of course. He’s two doors down, to the right. I’ll hold them off for as long as I can.”
Her smile was full-blown. Perhaps it was his crush on her that made him act the way he did. It wasn’t like he was surrendering, but it was such a valiant gesture, to do all he could to find Richard and bring him back. So selfless. So Clark Kent. Putting her weight on her good leg, she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, hugging him tightly, her cane gently tapping his back. He was slow in responding, eventually letting his arms pull her closer. Probably shocked him half to death. “Thank you so much, Clark. For everything.”
He seemed to hold her a bit tighter at that, but as soon as he did, he pulled away, looking intently into her eyes. “You can always count on me, Lois.” His arms dropped from her side. His smile, once again, was sad. “Go see him.”
Clark stood next to the door when she made her way over and reached for the handle. Once the door opened, it was like he didn’t exist anymore. She could hear the steady beeping of a heart monitor, the gentle sound of an air respirator… all that stood between her and Richard was a curtain. Four steps into the room and there was, finally, nothing at all.
Despite being told about his injuries, Clark forgot to mention how terrible he looked. The swollen eye was large and purple, half covered by the bandages placed over his nose. His right shoulder was plastered in white, his arm cradled in a sling, resting on his stomach. The blankets covered his injured leg, but she might as well be looking at it, the wrappings were so great. Fog covered the inside of the air respirator as he took a deep breath.
That’s when she noticed his breathing was uneven. He wasn’t asleep. His neck probably hurt too much to turn and see who had entered the room, and there was no way he could see with his swollen eye.
Taking a deep breath, she tried to keep her voice steady through her tears. “Richard?”
His breathing deepened. The fist on his stomach uncurled, and his fingers slowly lifted from the blankets. He still made no move to look at her, but he seemed to be gesturing to his side.
Willing her tears not to fall, she made her way to the other side of the hospital bed. When she finally got a good look at his face, their eyes connected. His lid seemed to have trouble staying up, like he was fighting sleep, but there was recognition. He followed her as she sat in the nearby chair and moved his closer to his bed. His hand was slightly clammy, but warm, responsive. His fingers gripped hers tightly.
“How’re you feeling?” she asked, feeling her resolve break.
He gave her a small smile in response. Instead of answering her, he lifted a hand to her face, tracing one of the small cuts, now fading, that she had gained with the rest of her injuries. His thumb slowly, lazily, cleared the tracks of her tears. She had no idea when they started falling, but she really didn’t care.
“Hey there, beautiful,” he whispered, and the small sound of his voice was unlike any relief she’d ever had.
She lifted her hand to her face, holding his there, reveling in his warmth and the feel of his fingers gently caressing her skin. She smiled at him, and it never felt more genuine. “Welcome back.”