The Light at the End of the Tunnel

by Talya Firedancer

Even before Richard has boarded his plane late at night, he calls them. He phones home to let them know he's sitting at the gate with his briefcase on his knee and coffee to keep him awake for the first leg of the interminable voyage and Lois's voice is steady in a way that makes him imagine he could be working a late night at the office for all she knows; there is more of a quaver in Clark's voice when she hands the phone over for everyone in the house to say good-night. He leaves messages when he's reached the ground in Baghdad. He's left his watch synchronized to Metropolis time but when he calls he keeps missing them.

He thinks of the things he really wants to say to Lois. He imagines them as conversation-openers, not daring to leave those messages on an impersonal machine. "I still love you." "I don't know if what we have is real." "I think about leaving you sometimes, not to really do it but just to think that I could if I had to." "I don't know what I would do without you...but I know without me you'd be fine." He thinks of her eyes and her lips, which are the same as when they first ensnared him, and the line of her body which has become painfully thin since he's known her as if her boundless energy has begun to consume her from within.

He thinks of Jason picking out the notes to "Heart and Soul" and wonders when he lost control.

Last he thinks of Clark when he can't put it off any longer, when the crump of heavy artillery in the distance keeps him up long into the night and he's tossed even the lightest sheets away from his overheated skin and wonders if he'll ever get the chance to tell Clark the truth, wonders what he would say if he told Clark he knows.

He searches for his lost colleague and thinks of never returning home even after he finds him, but he knows that wouldn't solve anything because Lois will never see Clark the way he does. He wants to do something, but anything he does will hurt someone.


Richard has headed up the international section of the Daily Planet for five years but that was during a world without Superman. Objectively he remembers seeing reports from all over the globe when the Man of Steel came back, though he was more dismissive at the time because he was jealous. Still, it means that Superman doesn't appear just in Metropolis but it's an easy thing to forget when the city acts as if he's its favorite son.

He looks up in the sky as he walks the streets making contacts with those who knew Nassar and without warning fingers point, rapid chatter directs attention above. There's a red and blue blur, there and gone. He looks at his watch and it's lunchtime in Metropolis.

Then he sees a report on Aljazeera later in the day about car bombs disarmed or a desert fire quelled and crisis averted in Iraq, and has to force himself to remember that Superman is covering the world, not just Metropolis.

Unlike Richard, he's not there just for one person.


He staggers into the hotel very late or very, very early with Nassar's arm hauled tight over his shoulders, both of them filthy, exhausted, but alive. Either his careful search has borne fruit or he got lucky but Richard doesn't care, he's going to grab a bath and his things and a bite to eat if there's time, and the two of them are catching the first plane out even if it's thirty minutes ago. Better if in that case.

The hotel clerk is gaping and Richard thinks for a moment it's the way both of them look but he is gazing at a point beyond and Richard twists awkwardly to look over his shoulder.

A man has walked into the hotel behind them, coat thrown open over a vest strapped with an abundance of explosive. Everything freezes.

Later they find out the man had nothing to do with the group who had kidnapped Nassar; it was an action of one of the dozens of splinter cells fed up with the businesses in Baghdad that cater to Americans. A man and a bunch of explosives and that easily, he could have never seen Jason again, never held his son or...

Never seen the ones he loves.

Before the bomber can detonate with the trigger he lifts in his hand he drops it with a surprised, pained cry and a man in red and blue strides into the room, dark red cape swirling behind him. He questions the bomber sharply in rapid Arabic; the man gives a sullen, defiant reply. Superman frowns at him and when the man tries to run, he snags him easily by the nape of his sweater and strips him of the bomb-vest and keeps him there until the local equivalent of the police arrives.

Richard says the first thing that comes to mind, and it's not a thank you. Nassar is still heavy against his shoulder. "I didn't expect to see you," he says, grateful nonetheless. "No job too small?"

Blue eyes reproachful, Superman replies, "I wouldn't let anything happen to you."

Somehow Richard knows he means it to him personally and not as some kind of general statement. He wants to say, "See you in Metropolis." He settles instead for, "Thank you."