Note: This is a companion story to "Of the Rest of Your Life" and picks up exactly where it left off.
Both fics are prequels to my story "Strays"; you can read them before you read "Strays", although I strongly advise against it, as you'll spoil some big surprises. And that's just no fun at all! : )
Special thanks to Barb for the beta.
"Jewels being lost are found againe, this never,
T'is lost but once, and once lost, lost for ever."
- Christopher Marlowe
At five-thirty PM, Lois Lane reached into her purse for a pen.
She was looking for the pen so she could scribble down what her informant on the docks was telling her; he wouldn't let her use her recorder, no matter how long and persuasively she tried to steamroller him.
Eventually she gave in – it was a reasonable demand – and pulled out her notepad. But she couldn't find her pen.
She knew she had one in her purse, so she went fishing. Her fingers closed unexpectedly around a chunky plastic cylinder and she thought, clearly and distinctly, Oh, damn.
It was Jason's spare inhaler, which she'd meant to pack with the rest of his things for his weekend with Richard. She'd remembered the shirts, shorts, socks, underwear, toothbrush, toothpaste, and two special toys (action figures this time), along with the vitamins, eyedrops, and assorted other meds.
She'd just forgotten the inhaler.
The informant produced a pen for her while she was standing there, kicking herself over the inhaler. He talked about shipping lines and which freighters would pick up and carry scum like Lex Luthor for the right price, and she wrote it all down so she could cross-check it later against other sources. Including a guy in blue tights who, with any luck, would be home before she was.
Meanwhile, she was thinking hard about the inhaler. It was the spare – Jason had one on him, twenty-four-seven – and he probably wouldn't need it.
In fact, she was positive that he wouldn't need it. Jason hadn't had even a minor asthma attack in over a year, not since that… incident on Luthor's boat.
Jason might need the inhaler.
She thought of what Richard would say if she left the thing in her purse all weekend. Something caustic and bitter and more than halfway justified, no doubt. Then he'd go tell his lawyer how irresponsible she was.
Lois ended the meeting as soon as possible, thanking her jittery informant and promising, again, not to use his name. By then it was just after six, and she was brimming over with good leads for the never-ending Luthor hunt – which didn't make up for the fact that she now had to tell Richard she'd screwed up. Wonderful.
It was raining, so she waited until she was back in her car before calling Richard's cell.
He didn't answer. Two rings... four rings… six… Voicemail kicked in, and the computer pleasantly and blandly asked her to leave a message.
"It's me," she said, irritated but not surprised that he was ignoring her calls. "Look, I forgot to pack Jason's spare inhaler. I know it's not an emergency, but I'd like him to have it… Just call me back, okay?"
She almost added, "And tell Jason I love him," but didn't. God only knew how that message would be damaged during delivery.
The hell of it was, she reflected as she drove, that she'd genuinely loved Richard. Had and did love him. He was a good man, he was devoted to Jason, and he'd been a rock when she desperately needed one.
But he wasn't Superman. He wasn't Clark Kent.
And there was nothing she could do about that, other than let him see Jason on weekends. Richard was lucky she was letting him do that much, what with that stupid, stupid custody case he was pursuing.
Richard had to understand. He had to. She could not, in any circumstance, let Jason out of her sight. God, even these weekend visits put her nerves on edge.
She turned on the radio and heard breaking news – Superman had rounded up the bad guys behind a spate of bombings in Romania, and was now apparently playing cavalry to some hapless soldiers in Afghanistan.
"Looks like it'll just be me and the leftovers," she muttered, sighing a little.
She checked the clock and toyed with the idea of simply driving out to Richard's apartment and dropping off the damn inhaler. It was six twenty-eight; assuming Richard had picked Jason up on time, they should be in.
Lois called Nancy Johnson, who did answer her phone.
"Hi, Nancy," she said. She didn't actually like Nancy much – they had "different mindsets," Clark once said – but for the boys' sake she was willing to fake it. "This is Lois. I just wanted to make sure everything went well with Jason this afternoon."
There was a pause. "About that, Lois," Nancy said, hesitant, and Lois' heart dropped. "Well… I don't know how to say this. Kevin isn't going to be able to play with Jason anymore."
"What? Why?" That didn't sound like trouble with Richard, but rather another problem altogether. Please don't say he threw a piano, she prayed, mentally crossing her fingers.
"Well, he broke one of Kevin's video game controllers. Crushed it – he must have been stomping on it, it's just destroyed. And some other things that I didn't find until just now. Kevin is very upset."
"Oh," Lois said, tastefully omitting the four-letter word she wanted to add. "I'm… so sorry."
Another pause. "Have you… I don't mean to sound nosey… Have you considered counseling? I mean, given the… situation. Between you and – Jason's father."
"Oh," Lois said. "That. Yes. Yes, definitely, we're considering it. Nancy, what time did Richard get there?"
"Five o'clock to the minute," Nancy said. "It's just that acting out is usually the first sign of deeper problems –"
"And everything seemed all right?"
"What? Yes. But Lois, I've heard from the other moms that there's been trouble in school, too –"
"Thanks, Nancy, I'll talk to you later," Lois said, effortlessly overriding her, and ended the call. She tossed the phone onto the passenger seat and started navigating her way to Richard's apartment.
Traffic wasn't too bad and she pulled into the parking lot at a little after seven-thirty. She called Richard's cell again, hoping to avoid running through the rain to the door, then disentangling herself from Jason one more painful time.
The phone rang until voicemail picked up.
Lois ended the call without leaving a message.
It didn't look as though the lights were on in Richard's apartment. She drummed her fingers on the wheel for a moment, thinking, then turned off the engine, slung her purse over her shoulder, climbed out, and hurried through the rain.
When knocking, and then banging, on the door didn't produce a response, she dug a credit card out of her purse and let herself in.
The lights weren't on. There was no sign of Jason, and it didn't feel like anyone had been in the apartment recently. She cautiously checked all the rooms, half-expecting Richard to appear and demand to know what she was doing, dripping water all over his floors. But she found nothing.
Unease twisted around her gut – the professional instinct of an investigative reporter that something very bad was going on.
She returned to the parking lot and, disregarding the rain, carefully looked around for Richard's car.
It wasn't there.
What the hell was going on? Where were they? God, what if there'd been an accident? What if Jason had been hurt? What if – but no. There was no way Richard would be crazy enough to...
But that custody case…
Back in her car. She called Clark's cell and got no answer, but she knew where he was – still off fighting someone else's war, and he'd probably left the phone with his clothes anyway.
Frustrated and worried and unable to let it drop, she decided to backtrack along the route Richard had most likely taken once he'd left the birthday party.
The rain had slowed down to a steady mist, but it was now eight o'clock and fully dark. She drove slowly enough to earn annoyed honks from the people behind her, which she ignored in favor of scanning the shoulders for any sign of Richard or Jason.
As she went through a particularly deserted stretch of road – just an office building and a bunch of trees – a flash of color in the grass across the way was lit by passing headlights and caught her attention. Her brain registered it automatically, before she really even processed it, as Jason's backpack.
Her heart kicked in her chest. She slammed on the brakes and made an illegal U-turn right there, earning more furious honking, then pulled off into the grass behind the backpack.
She was looking for her son even as she climbed out of the car and hurried to the backpack. Yes, it was Jason's – shiny red with a big blue airplane – and when she picked it up she saw his overnight bag lying some distance away. On its side, carelessly tossed down, toys and clothes spilling partway out.
Forget the unease, forget the adrenaline spike: Now real fear grabbed at her soul and dug its talons in deep, stealing her breath away.
Jason's things, abandoned by the side of the road.
No answer from Richard.
No one where they should be.
She clutched the backpack close to her chest and screamed, as loudly as she could, for Superman.