[14 Valentines] Silk and Pearls (complete version)
Author’s Note: To everybody who’s waited for a complete version of these, I’m so sorry for how long this delay was (read: ridiculous).Â Also, HAHAH — I apparently didn’t even have a complete copy of this story on my own hard drive, so yay livejournal and ctrl+c, guys.Â Anyway, this url is permanent, and will be updated to add the story’s url on my website when that does finally go up — you should feel pretty safe linking here barring the actual talkoncorners domain going down.Â Again, sorry for the ridiculous lagtime!
Silk (and Pearls), or, How Jane Sheppard Got Her Groove Back
â€œCan I drive?â€ Reed asked.
Jane cocked a brow at him in the rearview mirror.Â â€œNo,â€ she said.
Pouting, he whined, â€œI got my license like, four months ago.Â And itâ€™s only to the airport.â€
â€œAnd this is, â€˜like,â€™ my car,â€ Jane told him, â€œso the answer remains â€˜no.â€™â€œ
â€œBuzzkill,â€ Reed accused, slumping back into his seat and scowling.
Neil, sitting next to him and barely fending off an imminent landslide of garment bags and suitcases andâ€”proving Reed really had packed, all by himselfâ€”garbage bags containing their clothes and allergy medications, said, â€œReed, shut upâ€”youâ€™re the reason weâ€™re packed into the backseat.â€
Elliot, grinning widely, gave Jane his most angelic smile from the passenger seat and said, â€œMs. Sheppard, have I ever told you how much I love you?Â Like, a lot?â€
â€œOh, Jesus,â€ she muttered, and got onto the highway.
When Reed and Neil had run up to her, three months ago, their Coke-bottle glasses steamy and tears streaming from their eyes, shouting about how theyâ€™d done it!Â Theyâ€™d qualified for the ISEF! sheâ€™d been happier for them than almost anybodyâ€”but then Dr. Greenburg had wussed out claiming a â€œheart conditionâ€ and Jane had been shafted into chaperoning.Â Apparently potential for cardiac embolism was of greater concern than the complications of having a baby.
So she handed Gabe off at Rodneyâ€™s new and even more palatial estate three days early.Â It was three stories, a sleek glass and white ceramic affair nestled in the hills with a glittering night view.Â There was lots of disjointed art and nowhere to sit, no human touch.
â€œIsnâ€™t it beautiful?â€ Rodney had asked, not looking at any of itâ€”pulling Gabe close to his chest.
â€œYou have algea growing in your hot tub,â€ sheâ€™d told him, and kissed her son, curled into Rodneyâ€™s strong arms.Â Sheâ€™d run her hand over the soft, warm curve on the back of his head and murmured, â€œGoodbye, babyâ€”donâ€™t forget me,â€ into his sweet, pink cheek, and tried not to see the way Rodneyâ€™s eyes got glassy and red, the way they were both holding in whatever they were feeling.
â€œHe wonâ€™t,â€ Rodney had promised, voice strange and hurt.Â â€œYouâ€™ll be back soon.â€
Gabe was the last thing theyâ€™d ever done together and no doubt the best, and Jane wishedâ€”the way she wished she hadnâ€™t lost her virginity to Dan Taylor or that her mother hadnâ€™t died so youngâ€”that things were different, that the last fifteen years of her life hadnâ€™t been invalidated by a stack of legal documents three inches deep.
That first night in the hotel, Jane dialed the first six numbers of Rodneyâ€™s house phone thirty timesâ€”she wanted to talk to Gabe, even if he couldnâ€™t talk back, but when she finally pressed her finger to the last nine, a woman picked up, saying, â€œHello?â€ and Jane set the phone back in its cradle.
â€œOkay guys,â€ Jane said, clapping her hands together and watching Neil and Elliot and Reed nearly vibrate out of their skins with nervous energy, â€œrule: do not shame our school.â€
â€œRight,â€ they chorused.
â€œNo inappropriate behavior,â€ Jane continued, â€œlanguage, vomiting on the judgesâ€”â€
Reed turned a few shades greener at that.
â€œâ€”or saying, â€˜I came,â€™â€œ she concluded, giving them all a narrow-eyed look.Â â€œDonâ€™t think I wonâ€™t tell the librarians who wrote the work-around for looking at 4chan at school.Â I know you three yahoos had a hand in it.â€
Consumately bad liars, all, they just paled and nodded in agreement.Â Satisfied, Jane gave them each a squeeze and said, â€œYou guys are going to do great,â€ and meant it.
Sheâ€™d believed in their ability to succeedâ€”although, to be honest, she hadnâ€™t anticipated theyâ€™d get this farâ€”since theyâ€™d come and asked her to be their co-advisor with Dr. Greenburg, babbling about this brilliant idea they hadâ€”about technology that didnâ€™t just respond, that was responsive.
â€œWhat, so like, telemarketing phone trees could tell when I was about to flip out and throw my phone against the wall?â€ she asked.
â€œEXACTLY,â€ theyâ€™d chorused, and Jane had shrugged and said, â€œOkay, whatever gets me a live person on the phone faster.â€
The entire affair was nerve-wracking, with cascading minor disasters and a malfunction in their projectâ€™s voice system that had Neil crawling under their display table to have a good cry for half an hour before Reed realizedâ€”mid-hystrionicsâ€”that they needed new batteries.
The judges came round and saw their robot, nicknamed inappropriately HAL and voiced with a harmonic mix of Neil, Reed and Elliotâ€™s tones, interpret the tenor of their voices, read their questions into emotional ranges and offer them advice like, â€œPerhaps you should consult a cardiac specialist,â€ and â€œYou are enjoying this.Â A lot.Â Probably too much,â€ and â€œYou sound like a true scientist: curious, yet poorly-dressed,â€ Jane was ready to crawl under the display table and have a cry herself.
â€œItâ€™s very impressive,â€ one of the judges had told her boys, and theyâ€™d all puffed up so much Jane worried theyâ€™d explodeâ€”and that was before she went to the bathroom and came back to find yet another easily-amused spectator at their display table, laughing as the HAL told him, â€œYouâ€™re either brilliant, or insane. Or maybe both.â€
â€œDid you guys manage to program him to say anything polite?â€ Jane sighed, coming up around the side of the table and despairing at the eternal-ness of boys.Â Rodney would have thought this was hilarious.
The robot, reading her voice, turned in her direction to purr, â€œDonâ€™t be mad at me, Janeâ€”I love you.Â You are my muse.â€
And then the man at the booth laughed again, bright and unembarrassedâ€”even as Jane imagined new and interesting ways to kill her studentsâ€”and said, â€œThe robotâ€™s correct, Ms. Sheppardâ€”these three boys are very talented, you shouldnâ€™t hold a grudge.â€
Jane finally really looked at himâ€”tall, slim, pale and completely bald, at odds with his young face and slim shouldersâ€”and blinked in sudden, startling recognition from his cover photo on Time, the big spread theyâ€™d done in Wired, and said, awkward and surprised, â€œLex Luthor.â€
He smiled at her and offered a hand.Â â€œIn the flesh.â€
Lex hated phone trees, too, but he hated having call centers even more, and although LexCorp was a strictly B2B corporation, he had enough software enterprises out there that he wanted a more efficent way of doing thingsâ€”better voice recognition software also had security applications, screening capabilities.Â According to Lex Luthor, talking to three starry-eyed boys, their work had opened new doors, and as such, he was interested and wanted to keep in touch with them.
â€œI mean, if you donâ€™t mind,â€ he said, faux casual, and Jane snorted as they fell all over themselves to offer up phone numbers, email addressses, IM handles, their avatar names on XBox 360.Â (That was when they found out that Lex had been the guy handing them their asses in Halo 2, which had spurred another round of protracted moaning and praise.)Â Jane thought that if they could, they would have offered Lex their virginities, and that was even before Lex offered to take them all out for dinner.
â€œOh, noâ€”â€œ Jane started.
â€œOh my God, yes,â€ Neil moaned.Â â€œThat would be just like.â€
â€œJust such an incredible honor,â€ Elliot continued.Â â€œGod.â€
Reed looked nearly in tears.Â â€œEating with Tyrian Phoenix.Â I just canâ€™t.â€
Lex just smiled at her, extending an arm.Â â€œYou were saying?â€
She scowled at him, falling into step even as her students ran ahead, shouting at the sight of Lexâ€™s limousine.
â€œFine, but youâ€™re only setting yourself up to take a massive charge and suffer public humiliation,â€ she warned.Â â€œAnd for the record,â€ she added, â€œI donâ€™t like being manipulated like this.â€
This time, he didnâ€™t laugh, just smiled at her, seeming fond, and said, â€œIâ€™ll keep that in mind for the future,â€ and put three fingers on the small of her back, guiding her to the car where the driver was waiting, holding open the door.
Jane didnâ€™t turn that over in her head until theyâ€™ve arrived at the restaurant, till after Lex had ordered a round of appetizers and nonalcoholic beersâ€”â€œin the future.â€
The next night, the students were all corralled into a massive party.Â Before she left them in their room, Neil and Reed and Elliot were all putting on hair gel and way too much cologne, asking her if they looked â€œflyâ€ and how many â€œbabesâ€ theyâ€™d pick up.Â She didnâ€™t have the heart to tell them that nerds girls or not, they were never going to go for the Aqua Velva so she told them, â€œso fly,â€ and â€œat least two, maybe three.â€Â They were thrilled.
Her plan for the night was to go back to her room and debate whether or not to call Rodney againâ€”to feel profoundly sorry for herself and miss being 23 and in love, or 30 and happily married, or 33 and not on a school-mandated field trip so she was free to get well and truly wasted.
Except that when she got to her door Lex was leaning against it, dressed in black slacks and a dark gray sweater, and said, â€œIf you were freeâ€”Iâ€™d like to take you to dinner again.â€
â€œThe boys are at a party tonight,â€ she apologized, sliding her room key and seeing the indicator light go green.Â â€œAnd theyâ€™re trying to pick up girls, so I donâ€™t really think theyâ€™re going to be in the mood after all that inevitable rejectionâ€”but thanks for the offer.â€
â€œHow perfect,â€ Lex said, â€œconsidering I was hoping to have dinner just you and I.â€
He hovered in her opened doorway, and suddenly Jane felt shy, because of course, how could she have missed itâ€”the bottle of Riesling heâ€™d ordered the night before, to go with panna cotta and fresh berries, that hadnâ€™t been for the boysâ€™ benefit, thatâ€™d been for her.Â But itâ€™d been so long, and anyway, sheâ€™d never seen it coming, and so when she finally figured out that particular curve in Lexâ€™s smile, it hit her like a semi of awareness and she felt herself blush down to her toes.
â€œUm,â€ she said, feeling stupid and suddenly old.
Lex just took a step into her room, curving into the convex of space she left behind when she took a step away, purring at her, â€œItâ€™s just dinner, Janeâ€”you did well enough last night.â€
â€œLast time, I wasnâ€™t the one you were trying to charm,â€ she argued.
â€œNo,â€ Lex agreed, smiling, â€œyou did the charming.â€
She frowned at him, and then down at herself.Â â€œYou do know that Iâ€™m a divorced, single-mom math teacher, right?â€ she asked, looking back up at him.
Lex smiled at her, pushing away from the wall to put his fingers on her back again, steer her gently out of the room and back toward the bay of elevators.Â â€œDonâ€™t worry, I Googled you,â€ he murmured, close to her ear.
â€œOh, good,â€ Jane said.Â â€œI Googled you, too.â€
They ended up at Nicolaiâ€™s Roof at the Atlanta Hilton, the maitreâ€™d a silent, fairlylike presence around them.
â€œYou know,â€ she said, watching Lex refill her glass, â€œI read an article about Chateau dâ€™Yquem once.â€
He grinned at her over the candles.Â â€œDid you,â€ he saidâ€”without a trace of condescension.Â â€œWhat did you learn?â€
She cocked a brow.Â â€œThat not even restaurants like Nicolaiâ€™s Roof have it lying around in their wine cellars.â€
â€œHavenâ€™t you heard?â€ Lex laughed.Â â€œI travel in style.â€
Jane couldnâ€™t help but grin back.Â â€œThis isnâ€™t going to work, you know,â€ she told him, and felt weirdly regretful about that.
Lex studied her for a moment, heavy-lidded and thoughtful, and Jane though it was probably weird she was used to thatâ€”to being considered.Â Rodney used to do it in the early days of their marriage, like when she woke up and found him staring at her, equal parts bewildered and bemused.
â€œWhat?â€ she asked, tracing her fingers along the wine stem.
â€œI work all the time,â€ Lex said after a beat, easy as you like.Â â€œI was hoping this would be something different.â€
Something different, Jane thought, maybe she could offer.Â It was the rest of the Chateau dâ€™Yquem and a walk through the underground mall discussing robots and math and why Jane taught either or both later that Lex carefully pinned her to the wall of her hotel room and slid a hand up her skirt.
â€œBefore we get any further,â€ she said, â€œI feel obligated to point out that I donâ€™t fuck on the first date.â€
That wasnâ€™t true, exactly, but Jane could admit she was scaredâ€”itâ€™d been a long time, and the last people whoâ€™d gotten up close and personal with her vagina were watching her have a baby.Â God damn Rodney and his high definition Sony handycam, anyway.Â Lexâ€™s fingers was narrow and smooth, nimble on her thighs, the crease of her kneeâ€”different, new.Â Jane hadnâ€™t been unexplored territory in almost two decades, now.
Lex smiled at her, lopsided and amused.Â â€œA classy lady, I havenâ€™t dated one of those in a while,â€ he murmured, close to her ear, and Jane couldnâ€™t help but smile at that, paw for the hotel room lightswitch, and whisper back: â€œWell, not that classy.â€
He left, pressing an affectionate kiss to her forehead, her shoulder, her naked hip, three hours later.Â Jane stared up at her ceiling for the rest of the night, and called Rodney at first light, making him hold Gabe up to the phone so he could babble in babyspeak at her, ground her, remind her who she really was.
â€œI donâ€™t see why it was so fucking urgent you had to wake me up for it,â€ Rodney complained, putting Gabe back down in his crib, the rustle of soft fleece blankets faint over the phone line.
â€œI missed him,â€ Jane said, because it was true.Â â€œDonâ€™t you ever miss people you love?â€
She heard him swallow over the line.Â â€œYes,â€ Rodney croaked.Â â€œI do.â€
The boys made it to the semi-final round the next day; they celebrated by holding a LAN party.Â Lex celebrated by taking her to dinner again and reaching underneath the table at the hotel restaurant to slide his hand underneath her skirt, run a thumb over her clitoris.
â€œYouâ€™re going to get me fired for indecent behavior,â€ she told him, disapproving, letting him lower her across the king-sized bed in his penthouse suite, flip her skirt up.
â€œExcellent,â€ he said, sliding black cotton panties down her legs, kissing her ankles.Â â€œI have a position opening up tied to my bed in Metropolis.â€
â€œI canâ€™t believe you ever got laid with horrible lines like that,â€ she complained, feeling his mouth on the inside of her calf, her knee.
â€œWell,â€ he murmured, nosing at the wiry curls between her thighs, â€œit helps that Iâ€™m a billionaire.â€
Lex was a diligent, intense lover, all serious eyes and panting-hot breaths against the hollow of her throat.Â And maybe a decade of marriage to Rodney had wrecked her for normal relationshipsâ€”apparently most other people didnâ€™t accidentally give one another black eyes their first week of sleeping together, who knewâ€” but then she didnâ€™t think Lexâ€™s constant, silky-dark litany of erotic promises was particularly normal, either.Â It was like having sex in a gothic romance novel; all that was missing was the wind shrieking across the moors, a crazy wife in the attic.Â And she managed not to laugh all the way into the handsiest part of the foreplay before she cracked.
â€œOkay, this is a reaction I donâ€™t usually inspire,â€ Lex said, looking sullen and somewhat wronged and very naked.
â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ Jane said, tugging him close to kiss him in apology.Â She could feel his dick hot and slick at the tip, rubbing the curve of her hip and she loved that she could still do that to somebody.Â â€œHavenâ€™t you ever laughed in bed with anybody?â€
â€œNo,â€ he said, stubborn.Â He slipped one knee underneath hers, canting her hip up, and Jane gasped as he pushed inside, his thumb stroking just above where they were joined.Â â€œTheyâ€™re mostly too busy being wracked with multiple, blinding orgasms.â€
She sucked a kiss at the wings of his collarbone, dug her nails into his back.Â â€œFar be it for me to like, turn down orgasmsâ€”but laughing can be fun, too.â€
Lex gave her a narrow-eyed look.Â â€œMaybe later,â€ he growled, and slid his thumb up until her breath hitched.Â â€œBut not now.â€
Jane dug her nails into his shoulders.Â â€œOkay,â€ she agreed, â€œmaybe later.â€
Her boys came in third place in the competition, which salved a lot of wounds accumulated from (a) not being fly and (b) picking up, between them, (-4) chicks.Â Lex had met them after the awards ceremony, invited them to visit LexCorpâ€™s research and development headquarters anytime, and given her a fond, platonic kiss on the cheek.Â Jane thought about telling them she was apparently sleeping with their Halo 3 hero, but they might have killed her in jealousy, so she kept quiet about it on the flight and quiet about it driving them each home.
She went to fetch Gabe from Rodneyâ€™s house and met his new housekeeper, a 36DD Nordic goddess with legs the length of Janeâ€™s entire body.Â She answered the door in Kate Moss skinny jeans and a black tube top, holding a copy of The Nanny Diaries.Â â€œYou must be Jane,â€ she said.
â€œAnd you must be kidding,â€ Jane said instead of â€˜hello.â€™
Carelyn (â€œItâ€™s pronounced Caroline, though, like the old-people name,â€ she explained), looked baffled at that until Jane rolled her eyes and said, â€œWhateverâ€”whereâ€™s my baby?â€
Gabe was a happy baby, and he was happy to see her, clapping his chubby fists and stuffing them into his mouth while she peppered his face with kisses, rubbed her face in his belly, breathed in his warm, baby smell and felt something click back into place in her chest.Â His hair was the same dishwater blond as Rodneyâ€™s, mired in cowlicks the way hers had as a baby, the way McKay said Johnâ€™s did, in another time and place, and Jane smoothed her hand over Gabeâ€™s warm, small head and loved him so much she could barely breathe.
â€œDr. McKayâ€™s at a conference,â€ Carelyn explained, snapping bubble gum in the doorway of the nursery, â€œbut he said heâ€™d be back by five.â€
Jane looked at her from the corner of her eyes.Â â€œHe makes you call him Dr. McKay?â€
Carelyn looked confused, again.Â Jane made a mental note to make Rodney fire her for somebody with more than six brain cells and 23 breast-sizes to rub together.
â€œWell, yeah,â€ Carelyn said.
â€œMaybe itâ€™s a sex thing,â€ Jane muttered under her breath, pulling Gabe into her arms.Â â€œTell Rodney thanks for looking after himâ€”Iâ€™ve got to head out if I want to get home before dark.â€
â€œHe said you could stay here,â€ Carelyn offered.Â â€œHe had me make up the guest room.â€
The last time sheâ€™d stayed in the guest room because it was too late/too wet outside/too cold/too windy to drive home, Rodney had come into her room at half past three and theyâ€™d fucked hard enough to leave bruises, and sheâ€™d had to drive home anyway in the raging wind and pouring rain.
â€œThatâ€™s not happening,â€ Jane said, throwing the diaper bag strap over her shoulder.Â â€œBut tell him thanks for the thought.â€
When she pulled into the driveway of her house, she saw a box on her front porch.Â It was covered in deep red paper, a brown package string around it, and in elegant longhand, written in permanent marker on an attached, pasteboard card was: I think you should laugh at me in bed some more,Â Lex.Â Inside the box was a pair of Yves St. Laurent sunglasses, a handbag containing a book of sudoku puzzles, three ballpoint pens, and a first-class plane ticket to Metropolis International Airport, redeemable at any time.
Jane glanced down at Gabe, who stared back up at her with her own green eyes, beguiling and curious.Â â€œYou donâ€™t mind if your mommy turns into a sex fiend cliche, do you?â€ she asked him, and he just giggled in reply, waved his fists at her.Â â€œItâ€™s not my fault, you know,â€ she felt obligated to tell him.Â â€œYour dadâ€™s idea of romance was to spill peanut sauce on my blouse and cop a feel in the back booth of a Malaysian restaurant.â€
At first, Jane decided it was adolescent and irresponsible and set the box awayâ€”something to look at with shuttered affection occasionally, to think about when she was lonely.Â Lex was a two-night stand and Jane had responsibilities.Â But then heâ€™d started in on the dirty emails.
Have you ever looked at the upper corners of rooms during interminable meetings? Lex wrote her the week after.Â That place where three verticies meet makes me think about the perfect apex between a womanâ€™s thighsâ€”shadowed and mathematically-difficult to navigate.Â By the way, Iâ€™ve been assured by a phalanx of my yes-men that my pick-up lines are phenomenal.
Just because I teach math doesnâ€™t mean Iâ€™m a whore for it, Jane lied.Â Â How did you find my email address?
I checked the CalTech alumni groupâ€”and I know for a fact people who graduate from the CalTech math program are whores for it, Lex answered.
And laughing, Jane had written back, Clearly, you did more googling than me.
Jane wondered why, those first few exchanges, Lex would waste so much time on a small-town schoolteacher, but then she couldnâ€™t help but think that maybe he was lonely, that anybody whoâ€™d never spent time laughing in bed with a lover had to be lonely.Â It wasnâ€™t her fault she wrote him back, that she sent him funny anecdotes about her students, that she told him the next time he was in California, he should feel welcome to swing by.Â Jane told herself it was because she didnâ€™t think he would, but in October, when Lex showed up on her doorstep in a Hugo Boss suit and Marc Jacobs power tie, looking fierce and tired, she wasnâ€™t surprised at all.
â€œYou look hungry,â€ she said, unbuttoning his shirt.Â Gabe was asleep in a playpen in the living room, just yards away; she was utterly going to hell.
â€œIâ€™m starving,â€ Lex told her, and sat her on her kitchen counter, fingers working the zipper on her jeans.
In November, Jane handed Gabe to Rodney so he could drag their son to Thanksgiving in Vancouver with his sister.Â â€œYou could come, if you want to,â€ Rodney offered, looking at her like she was a math problem, and Jane looked down at the ground so that when she lied, â€œNo, itâ€™s all rightâ€”I made plans,â€ she wouldnâ€™t give herself away.Â She hadnâ€™t, then, but the thought of sitting in their houseâ€”itâ€™s still their houseâ€”is too sad; to think of Rodney in the blustery November cold of Vancouver with Jeannie and Madison and Kaleb.Â Theyâ€™re her adopted family, her sister by marriage and affection and her niece, her brother-in-law, and she loves them, more than she thought she would.Â Jane used to call Jeannie every week, and theyâ€™d talk about Rodney and Kaleb, about Madison, about nothing in particular.Â She forgot, in the middle of the divorce, that it wasnâ€™t only Rodney she was losing.
â€œFuck this,â€ she told the flat-screen television in the living room, and packed a bag.
She didnâ€™t call in advance, but somehow there was a sleek black sedan waiting for her at Metropolis International.Â A beautiful, icy blond woman waylaid her at the luggage carriage, saying, â€œMs. Sheppardâ€”your bag has already been retrieved.Â If youâ€™ll follow me, Mr. Luthor is waiting for you.â€
Kansas was flat and brown and miserable in fall, and Jane was grateful to see the spikes of skyscrapers in the distance when they finally emerged, shimmering in the deepening evening.Â Lexâ€™s was the highest skyscraper of all, all chrome and steel inside, and Jane let herself get ushered into an elevator with no buttons, rocketed up to the 107th floor, where Herbie Hancock was playing when the doors opened.
â€œYouâ€™re worse than a 14-year-old boy with Facebook, Lex,â€ she chided, and Lex just handed her a glass of brandy, kissed her hello.
â€œSome people find my stalker tendencies charming,â€ he replied.
Jane kissed him back.Â â€œThose same people laugh at your jokes about aerodynamics.â€
She had thought all sheâ€™d see of Metropolis would be from a horizontal vantage point in front of Lexâ€™s bedroom windows, but he had different ideas.Â They went to the art museum, saw a Metropolis Sharks game, where the Sharks lost 42-7.Â â€œGod damn it,â€ Lex had said in the skybox, shouting helplessly through the soundproofed glass.Â â€œWhy did I buy you morons!â€Â Jane suggested post-season baseball, which turned out to be pretty much the same amount of embarrassingâ€”only at closer range, since Lex had seats near home plate so he could heckle and be heard.
â€œAre there any other teams you donâ€™t own?â€ she said, watching the Rockets run around like they were in a Three Stooges sketch in the outfield.
â€œOther than the Rockets?Â Several intramural college squash teams,â€ Lex muttered.
Jane smiled and bought him another hot dog.
They saw a movie and went to bookstores and she didnâ€™t wear high heels once.Â And on Thanksgiving night Lex roasted a turkey and Jane made some stuffing, and they ate it while watching National Treasure: Book of Secrets on his television, which was the size of an entire wall, and Jane complained about going blind until Lex decreased the screen contrast.
â€œYouâ€™re completely unimpressed by my money,â€ Lex said, looking constipated.
Jane reached for another slice of turkey.Â â€œI thought you said you did thorough research on me,â€ she teased.
â€œI did,â€ he answered, looking constipated.Â â€œAlthough I just suppose this means McKay Technology is doing much better than I had thought.â€
Lex engaged a helicopter to send her back to California the next day, and standing on the roof of his glittering skyscraper, Jane shouted over the sound of the blades, â€œDonâ€™t you think this is a little bit of overkill?â€ and Lex shouted back, â€œItâ€™s like you donâ€™t even know me.â€
Jeannie guilted Jane into agreeing to spend Christmas at Rodneyâ€™s, making up elaborate lies about how Madison had wept and taken up cutting and cocaine after her favorite auntâ€”â€œIâ€™m her only aunt,â€ Jane had pointed outâ€”had been missing at Thanksgiving.
â€œYouâ€™re still family, Jane,â€ Jeannie had said, before putting her daughter on the phoneâ€”that evil, manipulative woman, Jane thoughtâ€”so Madison could sniff out, â€œBut youâ€™re my favoritest only aunt, Aunt Jane!â€ in her most pitiful voice.Â So Jane had called Rodney and Rodney had called Jane and theyâ€™d called a cease fire for Gabeâ€™s first Christmas.
It was weird being in Rodneyâ€™s new houseâ€”which had everything you could want and nothing anybody needed.Â There were cashmere robes in the guest bathrooms and not enough tissues; artisan glycerin soaps and like, four spoons.Â Jane had endured 20 minutes of looking for paper towels and cooking oil before sheâ€™d stolen Rodneyâ€™s wallet and car keys and their son and headed for the CostCo.
â€œWhere are you going?â€ Rodney called from his perch on the roof.Â â€œI need a spotter!â€
â€œYou would have been done hours ago if you werenâ€™t putting up Santaâ€™s Crack Den up there!â€ she shouted back, and tried to ignore the mortified looks from the neighbors, the passers by.Â â€œAnd I am going to the store because you still live like a college freshman.â€
Rodney looked offended.Â â€œI bought toilet paper!â€
He had: one four-pack.
Jane sighed and added it to the mental tally as she strapped Gabe into the baby seat in the back of the car, saying to her son, â€œI donâ€™t care if itâ€™s going to make you gay, Iâ€™m mothering you until you learn to live like an actual human being.â€
Jane came back from the CostCo with a raging migraine, 24 bags of groceries and paper goods and a furiously angry child.Â Gabe had thrown his pacifier out of the window on the highway, and Jane, whoâ€™d fished the damn thing out of fishbowls and off of department store floors and out of bushes, drew the line at stopping interstate traffic to pluck it out of a pile of tire dust and vomit and stuff it back in his mouth.
So for the first time since Rodneyâ€™s net worth had climbed from $894.67 to $894.6 million, Jane was glad to see the housekeeper and Rodney’s tanorexic nanny waiting at the front door when she pulled up.
â€œThanks for grabbing the groceries,â€ she said to Lina, whose face turned into a mass of laugh lines when she smiled.Â Jane had adamantly refused to let Rodney get them a housekeeper when they were still together, the thought of having a witness to her puffy eyes first thing in the morning or the wayâ€”toward the endâ€”she and Rodney fought over everything from dish soap to well, getting a housekeeper wasnâ€™t a thought she relished.Â Â But if, instead of hot tweenies from Singapore, Rodney had offered to bring Lina in to help out, Jane might have capitulated, if only because Lina didnâ€™t seem to like Rodney all that much.
â€œThank you for getting my child as far away from me as humanly possible,â€ Jane said to Carelyn, and dumped her purse and Rodney’s keys and wallet in the hallway before she retreated to her room.
Jane was technically a guest in the sprawling house, but Lina always laid out linens in the same room for her, threw open the curtains, and Jane knew Rodney had done it on purpose, because the bookshelves on the walls were lined with Russian tragedy and the view of sunrise and sunset could break her heart.
In a lot of ways, Rodney, for his absentmindedness and tendency to drop off the face of the Earth for days at a stretch, was a stereotypically indulgent husband.Â When theyâ€™d just been married, heâ€™d made her model airplanes, built her ships in bottles and strung them up to the ceiling.Â And when theyâ€™d tiptoed into another tax bracket, heâ€™d bought her a bright red convertible, built her a sunroom and found her a house with a sprawling backyard populated with bright green and red maples.
The presents afterward stopped meaning so much, since they felt like an afterthought instead of a gift: a necklace to appease her after heâ€™d spent most of February in Singapore securing McKay Technologyâ€™s manufacturing plants there; a tennis bracelet when he blew up at her.Â Nevermind the only jewelry Jane had worn were Rodneyâ€™s engagement and wedding rings and her fatherâ€™s dog tags.
Now, Jane didnâ€™t wear any jewelry at all.
Sheâ€™d put her fatherâ€™s dog tags away in a jewelry box on her vanity, crowding for space with her parentsâ€™ wedding rings, set together as a pair the way theyâ€™d been buried, side by side in a grassy green plot of land in Virginia.Â And in the compartment below, Jane had put her own wedding ring, the engagement ring Rodney had given her, gleaming with diamonds.Â Sheâ€™d cried the day she took them off, and when sheâ€™d gone to work, red-eyed, her fourth-finger naked, all the kids in her 8th period class had been too quiet, too well-behaved.
â€œI love your hands,â€ Rodney had said to her, inspecting her after heâ€™d returned from South Africa, after sheâ€™d laughed and dragged him back to their apartment to make love on the living room floor, to celebrate their engagement.
â€œTheyâ€™re all ripped up,â€ Jane had said, shy and trying to pull them away.Â Sheâ€™d had a part-time job at a bookstore moving boxes of new novels and hardbacks, and she knew her nails were stubby and her palms were calloused.Â There were prettier hands by far.
â€œTheyâ€™re perfect,â€ Rodney had contradicted and kissed her fingers one by one, and Jane had thought he looked impossibly handsome in the late-afternoon light.Â â€œI canâ€™t wait to see you wearing my ring.â€
Sheâ€™d been so happy she hadnâ€™t had words, just pressed grateful kisses to Rodneyâ€™s mouth, his throat, his shoulder; Jane hadnâ€™t believed sheâ€™d get to keep him.
So she was still staring at her hands, a little lost inside her own head, when Madison barreled into the room shrieking, â€œAunt Jane!â€ at a pitch frequented by dolphins and dogs and knocked her over, right onto the bed, where they collapsed in a tangle, with Jane bursting into laughter as she hugged her niece.
Madison had a crush on a boy named Toby in her class but she wasnâ€™t ready to commit to going with him yet, mostly because there was another boy named Michel who had black hair and the â€œgreenest green eyes everâ€ that sat next to her in class and spoke French like a dream.
â€œAh, French,â€ Jane sighed to Jeannie, smiling, â€œwe fall for it every time.â€
â€œOui,â€ Jeannie agreed, grinning.Â â€œHey, Maddie, why donâ€™t you go get the present we brought Gabe?â€Â Squealing, Madison ran off, because although she had transient affections for the boys in her class, she loved Gabe the way all children loved younger siblings: like he was a puppy.
â€œSheâ€™s going to drive me crazy in like, five years,â€ Jeannie said, sounding equal parts fond and regretful.
Jane laughed, curling her legs underneath herself on the couch and reaching for her coffee mug.Â â€œSheâ€™s adorable, and sheâ€™ll be fine.â€
â€œSpeaking of fine,â€ Jeannie said, with the same McKay family tact that had won and lost the war, â€œhow are you doing?Â Are you holding up?â€
â€œJeannie,â€ Jane said, disapproving.
â€œI know,â€ Jeannie rushed to say.Â â€œBut I justâ€”oh, Jane, I worry about you.Â I also worry about Rodney, but mostly I worry about you, because my brother is a dick and I like you better.â€
Jane squirmed in her seat, held her coffee like a shield in front of herself.Â â€œJeannie, come on, weâ€™ve had this conversation before.â€
Rodney hadnâ€™t, in his infinite wisdom and sensitivity, seen it fit to tell Jeannie they were separated, and Jeannie had learned by way of a Silicon Valley online gossip rag and called up Jane demanding to know that it wasnâ€™t true.
â€œWait, theyâ€™re writing about our divorce in Valleywag?â€ Jane had asked, packing another one of Rodneyâ€™s old t-shirts away.Â Sheâ€™d met Paul Boutin once at a McKay Technology holiday party; heâ€™d been halfway into the open bar and completely, miserably bored, and apparently he hadnâ€™t recognized her because heâ€™d asked if she wanted to flash him for the website.Â â€œWhy would they write about us in Valleywag?â€
â€œYou are completely missing the point,â€ Jeannie had yelled.Â â€œYou guys are getting divorced?â€
â€œOh, son of a bitch!â€ Jane had yelled right back.Â â€œThat asshole didnâ€™t tell you?â€
â€œIâ€™m not trying to have that conversation again,â€ Jeannie promised her, putting a hand on Janeâ€™s knee.Â â€œIâ€™m justâ€”I want to know that youâ€™ll be okay.â€
And there was something about the way she said it that made Jane want to put her face in her knees and give up.Â Jane thought that maybe Jeannie knew better than Rodney did how Jane had loved him, and that alone was tragic, that her sister-in-law was better-informed about her marriage than her husband had been.
â€œI will be just fine,â€ Jane said, and took another sip of coffee, grateful that whatever Jeannie was gearing up to say next was cut off when Madison ran back into the room, holding up a stuffed yellow star cushion and tailed by her uncle.
â€œAunt Jane, Uncle Rodney says this star is Polaris,â€ Madison reported, crawling into Janeâ€™s lap.
â€œAll McKays, so encroaching,â€ Jane faux-complained, stroking a hand down the back of Madisonâ€™s blond hair.Â â€œAnd your uncle would know.â€
â€œI said it could be Polaris,â€ Rodney corrected, standing awkwardly in the doorway, like the remains of her and Jeannieâ€™s conversation were hanging in the air, â€œitâ€™s not like stuffed toys have a lot of distinguishing elements.â€
Ignoring him, Madison confided, â€œDaddy says to call the ladies in for dinner.â€
â€œDid he?â€ Jane asked, and without thinking, she looked up to catch Rodneyâ€™s gaze and found him already looking at her.Â When theyâ€™d still been married, at dinner parties and corporate functions, at a thousand meals theyâ€™d shared in the company of others, Rodney had always come to fetch her, to find her from across a room and smile, hold out a hand and lead her to their seats.Â It was just habit, Jane thought, to look for Rodney before sitting down to break bread.
â€œHe did,â€ Rodney confirmed, holding out his hand, and Jane reached out to take it before he added, â€œCome on, Madisonâ€”letâ€™s go.â€
Jane must have sat there a moment too long after Madison scrambled away to take Rodneyâ€™s offered palm, her hand half-suspended in air, because the next thing she heard was Jeannieâ€™s voice, soft and sad, saying, â€œOh, Jane.â€
Sheâ€™d gone to dinner, sheâ€™d even eaten, but most of it sat uncomfortably in her stomach all through the stilted evening conversation, through the re-watching of A Christmas Story and of The Nightmare Before Christmas.Â Jane was considering pleading sickness to go curl up in bed and feel sorry for herself when her cell phone started to ring.
â€œHello?â€ she asked, plucking the phone off of Rodneyâ€™s coffee table and ignoring everybodyâ€™s curious looks.Â Almost everybody she knew in the world was already sitting in the room.
â€œMerry Christmas,â€ Lex said, a rough laugh in his voice.Â â€œIs now a bad time?â€
â€œMerry Christmas to you, too.Â And now,â€ Jane declared, pushing herself to her feet and heading for the now-deserted kitchen, â€œis a great time.â€
â€œOh, good,â€ Lex purred in her ear.Â â€œWhat are you wearing?â€
Jane laughed, she couldnâ€™t help it.Â â€œClothes,â€ she teased.Â â€œWhere are you?â€
â€œShanghai.â€Â Jane could hear the sound of good crystal in the background, and she could imagine Lex pouring himself a brandy, golden liquid swirling around ice.Â â€œItâ€™sâ€”noon here?â€
â€œWhatâ€™s it like?â€ she asked, leaning up against a counter to look out into Rodneyâ€™s backyard, the Almaden Valley at night.
Lex hummed.Â â€œCrowded.Â Youâ€™d like it, I think.Â Itâ€™s strangeâ€”a lot of neoclassical architecture across the river from some of the tallest, most beautiful skyscrapers Iâ€™ve ever seen.Â Not as,â€ he hurried to correct, â€œbeautiful as LexCorp Towers of course.â€
â€œOf course,â€ Jane said, and hoped he could hear the smile in her voice.Â â€œNo warm holiday moments with your family then?â€
â€œNo,â€ Lex answered,Â and Jane thought she could hear the smile in his.Â â€œHowâ€™s it going?â€
Sheâ€™d written him the week before, a short, uncomfortable email confessing her growing nausea about spending the holidays with her ex, with her ex-family.Â Heâ€™d sent her to an online game website where you could club baby seals to death, and Jane thought that if she wasnâ€™t all tied up, an emotional shipwreck, she could probably love him for that alone.
Jane looked at her feet, bare against the terra cotta tile of the kitchen.Â â€œItâ€™s going,â€ she said, quiet.Â â€œI guess itâ€™s better than being alone.â€
â€œVery the sunâ€™ll come up tomorrow,â€ Lex said, and Jane heard the clink of ice in his glass again.
She wished she was there, or he was here, so she could put her hand on his wrist, set his glass down on a table and draw him away.Â Jane didnâ€™t really know anything about Lexâ€”none of the important, world-shattering things like his business or his history or his family, all the reasons he was frictionless and sleek, too well-kept, but she knew she liked too much to hear him drink alone on Christmas Eve in another country.
â€œGo to the front door,â€ Lex said suddenly.
Jane frowned.Â â€œWhat?â€
â€œThe front door,â€ Lex encouraged.Â â€œNow.â€
Jane looked around the house.Â â€œLex, Iâ€™m not at my house right now.â€
â€œJane, please,â€ Lex chided.Â â€œNowâ€”front door.â€
Sighing, Jane made her way through the hallway, passing through the great room again and seeing Jeannieâ€™s face, Rodneyâ€™s frown, Madisonâ€™s curious gaze.
â€œSeriously, what is this about?â€ she asked, crossing into the front hall and stopping awkwardly at the enormous double doors to the house.
â€œAre you at the door?â€ Lex asked.
â€œNo,â€ Jane lied.Â She could hear footsteps behind her, and she knew if she turned around Rodney would be standing there.Â It made her neck hot to think about him watching her on the phone with herâ€”what the hell was Lex to her anyway?
Lex said, â€œGoodâ€”now, open it.â€
Jane sighed, but did, struggling to balance her cell phone for a moment before she managed the lock and swung the door openâ€”to find a very, very large box on the step.
â€œWhat the hell is that?â€ Rodney asked, and Jane could feel his breath on her shoulderâ€”hot in the brisk night and too close.Â â€œWhat is that box?Â Is it a bomb?Â Give me the phone.â€
Jane shoved him away.Â â€œPrivate phone call, Rodney,â€ she snapped, and turning her attention back to the box, she said, â€œSeriously, what is this?â€
â€œYou should open the box now,â€ Lex suggested.Â â€œAlso, I take it your ex-husband doesnâ€™tâ€”or rather, didnâ€™tâ€”know about our acquaintance.â€
â€œOnly you could make that word sound so dirty,â€ Jane complained, reaching for the red silk bow.
â€œWhat wordâ€ Rodney demanded.
â€œOh my God,â€ Jane said, because as soon as she pried the lid off of the box, she looked down inside to see a red-gold and white Corgie, smiling up at her with the brightest brown eyes sheâ€™d ever seen.Â â€œYou didnâ€™t.â€
â€œOh God, is that a puppy?â€ Rodney wailed, right into her ear, and Jane rolled her eyes and shoved him away again, squatting down to stroke a hand down the dogâ€™s head, scritch him between the ears.Â It whined at her obligingly, tongue lolling out for a moment before he leapt up, feet catching the edges of the box, so it could stretch up and lick at her face.
â€œMeet Bellerophon,â€ Lex told her.Â â€œHeâ€™s been trained expertly, thereâ€™s no need to worry about housebreaking him again.â€
Jane laughed, ruffling the dogâ€™s hair.Â He was warm and sweet, and she clutched the phone between her shoulder and ear to pull him out of the box, to sit down on the floor with him and admire his collar, engraved: Bellerophon, Jane Sheppard.
â€œHello there,â€ she cooed to the dog.Â â€œI think Iâ€™ll call you Bell.â€
â€œWhat?â€ Lex squawked.Â â€œWhat the hell kind of name is Bell?â€
â€œJesus Christâ€”who bought you that thing?â€ Rodney demanded.
â€œHeâ€™s wonderful,â€ Jane decided, planting a kiss on Bellâ€™s forehead.Â â€œThank you,â€ she said, feeling the most inappropriate kind of shy, sitting in her ex-husbandâ€™s foyer hugging a puppy and blushing.Â â€œIâ€™m glad you called.â€
â€œLikewise, Jane,â€ Lex said, adding, â€œGood night.â€
Jane pulled Bell into her lap, and he lapped at her face again, barking twice to say hello, and when Jane looked up, she saw Rodneyâ€™s look of utter despair.
â€œOh my God,â€ he said, voice flat.Â â€œSomeone bought you a puppy.â€
Which was when Madison finally put in an appearance, running into the room at mach 5 screaming, â€œPuppy!â€ at the top of her considerable lungs.
â€œSo this hasnâ€™t been that bad, has it?â€ Rodney said, trying to sound upbeat through his gritted teeth.Â â€œAlso, fuck, that hurtsâ€”what are you doing?Â Trying to dig it in hardâ€”argh!â€
â€œGot it,â€ Jane said, flicking the splinter aside into the pile of instructions and abandoned toy parts.
It was 11:30 and they were camped underneath Rodneyâ€™s 12-foot Christmas tree, professionally decorated and banked in by an embarrassment of presents.Â Jane had felt kind of bad about her own dozen until sheâ€™d walked into Rodneyâ€™s great room and realized a small Toys â€˜R Us franchise had apparently decamped in his living room.Â Bell was collapsed in a heap of copper-colored fur near Jane, wuffing softly and sleeping, exhausted and happy from chasing Madison and Jane around the house for hours, from meeting Gabe for the first time and licking his tiny hands sweetly.
â€œMaybe we shouldnâ€™t put this together for Madison after all,â€ Rodney said, eyeing the playhouse with deep suspicion.Â â€œI mean, this cannot be child safe.Â Itâ€™s tried to murder me three times already.â€
Jane smiled.Â â€œRodney, splinters arenâ€™t homicidal in nature.â€
She was feeling generous, good, and Rodney had been on his best behavior, dragged off by Jeannie before he could start peppering her (or the dog) with questions.Â She could tell it was killing him not to ask, not to rush upstairs and hire private investigators immediately, but he was holding his tongue and Jane appreciated the effort.
â€œWait until they get you,â€ he sulked, turning back to the playhouse roof, and Jane watched the line of his back, strong through the gray button-up he was wearing, and realized that she wanted him to be happy.Â Maybe this was that post-divorce epiphany that authors of self-help books talked about, that moment of realization that Rodney was neither her enemyâ€”she could want him to be happy, Jane decided, and said, awkward:
â€œUm.Â You should call her.â€
Rodney didnâ€™t stop what he was doing, which seemed to involve a lot of cussing under his breath.Â â€œWho?â€ he asked, distracted.
â€œCarter,â€ Jane said, and then clearing her throat, said, â€œI mean, Samantha Carter.â€
His hands stilling, Rodney turned to give her an odd look.Â â€œWhy would I call Carter?â€
Jane frowned at him.Â â€œRodney, itâ€™s Christmas.â€
â€œSo?â€ Rodney asked.
â€œOh, come on, Rodney,â€ Jane teased, grinning. She felt good, and she owed Lex and Bell for it, and Jane thought maybe later, after Rodney had gone to bed, she should pick up the phone and let Lex know she was wearing a mismatched pair of bra and underwearâ€”he seemed irrationally pleased by things like that.Â â€œYou know this sort of thing is part of why we got divorced, right?â€
Only Rodney didnâ€™t seemed chagrined or baffled so much as hurt, like sheâ€™d slapped him, and he asked, voice creaking, â€œExcuse me?â€
Too soon, Jane berated herself.Â â€œI just meant that itâ€™s Christmas,â€ she said, putting a hand on Rodneyâ€™s wrist.Â â€œYou shouldâ€”I mean, you can call your girlfriend.Â Itâ€™s not going to upset me.â€
Rodney gaped at her.
â€œSheâ€™ll be glad to hear from you,â€ Jane went on, and swallowing a knee-jerk wash of jealousy, said, â€œAnd look, maybe in the future, we could do this together.Â I mean, weâ€™re all adults.Â We can learn to get along for the holidays, you know?â€
â€œSam Carter is not my girlfriend,â€ Rodney said, voice flat, and Jane saw red at that, that after everything, that after all this time and the divorce and all of their fights and that hideous moment in the mountain in Colorado, Rodney still wanted to lie about this.
She turned back to the mobile she was putting together.Â â€œYou know what?â€ she said.Â â€œNevermind.Â Forget I mentioned anything.Â Of course sheâ€™s not your girlfriend.â€
There was a short, loaded silence before Rodney said, voice tight, â€œNo, Janeâ€”sheâ€™s actually not my girlfriend and youâ€”where the fuck do you get these stupid ideas?â€
Janeâ€™s hands stilled on the toy.Â â€œStupid idea?â€ she repeated.Â â€œStupid?Â Look, if youâ€™re too much of a coward to admit it now, after itâ€™s a moot point, then fine, but I donâ€™t have to take your shit anymore, a judge told me and everything.â€
â€œIf Iâ€™m tooâ€”are you kidding me?â€ Rodney yelled, throwing a playhouse shingle across the room.Â â€œAre you seriously fucking with me?Â Do not tell me you thought I wasâ€”â€
â€œYes!â€ Jane exploded, and she threw the mobile in Rodneyâ€™s face.Â She hoped it hurt.Â â€œYes, you jackass, I thought!Â I thought you and Sam were fucking!Â I thought youâ€™d been at it for yearsâ€”what the hell else was I supposed to think?â€
Rodney actually looked speechless.
â€œEvery other day, there was a fucking phone call from S. CARTER on your phone, and it didnâ€™t matter what we were doing or what was happening you dropped everything and ranâ€”week-long business trips, dinner meetings, in the middle of the night or at four fucking a.m., she called and you went running,â€ Jane bit out.Â â€œAnd sheâ€™sâ€”I donâ€™t even blame you, Rodney.Â Sheâ€™s hot, okay?Â Sheâ€™s gorgeous.Â Sheâ€™s blond.Â She doesnâ€™t take your shit.Â And Iâ€™m over it, I donâ€™t care, weâ€™re divorced anywayâ€”but do not sit here and lie about it anymore.â€
â€œWhat isâ€”I canâ€™t even,â€ Rodney kept stopping and starting, on the verge of a brain hemorrhage, so red it looked like all of the blood had rushed to his face, before he threw the mobile across the room to join the shingle.Â â€œI am not, and have never been, and never would have had an affair with Carterâ€”and I cannot fucking believe that you have to be told this shit!Â What the fuck, Jane?Â I was married, you were my wife, andâ€”â€œ
Rodney faltered for a bit before he drew himself up, before he said, â€œAndâ€”and you never would have stayed.Â Carter and Iâ€™ve worked together for years, and if youâ€™d thought that we wereâ€¦well, you never would haveâ€¦â€
But his sentence kind of melted off in the end, and Jane wondered if it wasnâ€™t because of the look on her face.Â Everything in her line of vision had gone blurry, washed out by tears, because Jane had thought this, known it, for years, but sheâ€™d never said it out loud, and it somehow hurt much worse after being given syllables and consonants and exclamation points than it had occupying all of her head, filling up all the empty spaces between her thoughts.
â€œOf course I fucking stayed,â€ Jane managed, choking it out, and she felt like she was drowning, gasping for breath.Â â€œWhere else would I go?Â Rodney, youâ€”you were my husband.â€
And Jane could see Rodney staring at her, see his face crumpling, his eyes and cheeks and nose go red like he was about to cry, too, and oh fuck, they couldnâ€™t both be this pathetic on Christmas Eve, so Jane scrubbed at her face and got up, snatched her cell phone and pulled on a sweater.
â€œIâ€™ve got to go,â€ she mumbled.Â â€œI have to get out of here.Â Tell Jeannie Iâ€™m sorry.â€
She was halfway down Rodneyâ€™s mile-long driveway when her phone rang againâ€”Lex Luthor, the call display said, and Jane cleared her throat and fished around for her car keys, hitting the talk button.Â â€œHello?â€
There was a long silence on the other end of the line.Â â€œAre you crying?â€ he asked.
â€œNo,â€ Jane lied.
â€œI see,â€ Lex said.Â â€œWell, Iâ€™m taking a suite at the Fairmont in San Joseâ€”if youâ€™d like, youâ€™re welcome to join me, Iâ€™ll be there in about four hours.â€
Jane got into her car, clutched at her steering wheel.Â She could see all the lights in Rodneyâ€™s house go on, see shadows in the windows.Â There was maybe another five minutes grace period before Rodney came after herâ€”he always did.Â He could never just let anything go.
â€œI thought you were in Shanghai,â€ she said.Â â€œThatâ€™sâ€”far away.â€
â€œI would explain, but the patents havenâ€™t gone through yet on the new aerospace technology,â€ Lex answered smoothly. She could hear him smiling through the phone.Â â€œWhen you get to the hotel, tell Mihaela youâ€™re my guest, and sheâ€™ll see to everything.â€
â€œLex,â€ she said, feeling a stutter in her chest, â€œitâ€™s Christmas Eve.â€
â€œIâ€™ll have you back by morning,â€ he promised.Â â€œGo on, Jane.Â Drive carefully,â€ he added, and hung up with a beep.
Jane saw the door to the house open in the rearview mirror, saw Rodney standing in the orange-lit doorway just a moment too long, and that was enough to make her turn her key in the ignition, to put her foot down on the gas.
Mihaela was either exquisitely kind or exquisitely well-paid, because she ushered Jane up to the Fairmont Suite with quiet efficiency, and then returned a few moments later with a silk nightgown and La Perla underwear.
â€œReally?â€ Jane asked, looking at the black bra.Â â€œHow much was this?â€
Mihaela only shrugged helplessly.Â â€œItâ€™s Mr. Luthor.Â I special-order him $16 water.â€
â€œIâ€™m not going to think about that one anymore,â€ Jane decided, and Mihaela laughed, promising to send up a bottle of Chivas as she went.
Jane was drunk and submerged in the whirlpool bath by the time she heard the door open again, heard Lexâ€™s measured footsteps padding into the bathroom to admire her, pink from the hot water and near-melted from the alcohol.
â€œHow intoxicated are you?â€ he asked, taking off his suit jacket and rolling up his sleeves.
Jane took another drink and dropped the crystal in the water.Â â€œLetâ€™s fuck against the windows.â€
â€œVery, I see,â€ Lex laughed, but he helped her out of the water, let her ruin his shirt, pressing her slick body against his and shoving at her until she was positioned against the wall of glassâ€”and Jane giggled, impatient and a little blurry, as she helped him unbutton his pants and pin her to the windows.
â€œAh,â€ Jane gasped, feeling Lex rocking into her, â€œhow was Shanghai?â€
â€œHm,â€ Lex said, indistinct, and bit at her collarbone, â€œI like this view better.â€
Jane had twin hangovers by the time Lex got her downstairs and into his Aston Martin, the combination of a lot of drinking and acrobatic sex making her entire body hurt.Â Sheâ€™d woken up with rugburn on her hands and knees (but not as badly as Lex) and bruised in weird places, and Lex had just handed her a mug of coffee and said, â€œSo youâ€™re kind of bloodthirsty when you fuck.â€
â€œOh, God,â€ Jane had said, mortified, and tried to smother herself in the bedding.
Mihaela made another trip upstairs to bring her jeans and a red black sweater, as if that would lessen the impact of the walk of shame, and Jane had pulled it on over her new, overpriced La Perla underwear and nursed her coffee and emerging Chivas headache.Â San Jose rolled past them far too quickly in the car windows, and by the time they reached Rodneyâ€™s estate in the valley again, Jane couldnâ€™t decide if she wanted to throw up from motion sickness or revulsion with her entire life.
â€œWe could just go away again.Â I do own an island,â€ Lex said, pulling to a stop at the front gate to Rodneyâ€™s house.Â â€œAlso, wow, very nouveau riche.â€
Jane shoved at his shoulder.Â â€œGod, Lex, shut upâ€”not everybody owns a Scottish castle.â€
She was seriously considering asking â€œWhere is the island?â€ when the front doors to the house burst open and Rodney came running outâ€”as if heâ€™d stayed up the entire night watching the exterior security feed for some sign of her return.Â Jane wouldnâ€™t put it past him.
â€œNot too late for me to hit the gas,â€ Lex said, watching Rodney bolt down his driveway.
Jane shook her head.Â â€œThereâ€™s only so much running I can do,â€ she murmured.
Lex smiled at her, affectionate, and Jane felt a surge of something warm in her chest to know that at least Lex liked her, and according to the tabloids, Lex didnâ€™t like anybody.
â€œI do like you, Jane,â€ Lex said, and reached over to curl a palm around the back of her neck, pull her close and kiss her, sweetly and slowly, luxurious.
â€œIâ€™m glad,â€ Jane panted into his mouth, and she would have slipped two fingers into the collar of his black shirt, but that was when Rodney pasted himself to the hood of the car, raving:
â€œLex Luthor, you let go of my wife fucking immediately.â€
Despite Lexâ€™s insistence that if it came down to fisticuffs, he could defend himself, Jane just rolled her eyes and made him stay in the car as she got out.
â€œRodney, heâ€™s a black belt,â€ she said, holding Rodney back as Lex drove away.
â€œHow do you know that?â€ Rodney demanded, grabbing her wrist. â€œDid he hit you?â€
Jane knew it was unintentional, but sometimes Rodney forgot he was four inches taller than her, that he was broad in the shoulders, and she felt herself tip toward him, losing her balance, as he jerked her close to inspect her. Jane thought with a sigh that if anybody were going to give her (un-fun) bruises, itâ€™d be Rodney.
â€œYeah, Rodney, he beat me and then he bought me a puppy.â€ Jane rolled her eyes and pried his fingers off of her, rubbing at her wrists. â€œCome on, Rodney.â€
Rodney opened and closed his fists, like he wished he could chase after Lexâ€™s car and personally destroy the upholstery. â€œHow long has this been going on?â€ he asked. â€œHow did thisâ€”how did you two even meet? Heâ€™s from Kansas.â€
â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter. Iâ€™m a grown-up,â€ she told him, feeling far too superior for the patchwork of hickeyâ€™s Lex had left on her inner thighs. â€œI can make my own decisions.â€
â€œNot if those decisions involve fucking Lex Luthor!â€ Rodney pointed a shaking finger to Bell, rolling in something on the professionally manicured front lawn. â€œDid that hellhound come from him, too?â€
â€œNo,â€ Jane said, â€œthat came from one of the other guys Iâ€™m fucking.â€
Rodney yelled, â€œHow many are thereâ€”a fleet?â€
â€œI wish there was!â€ Jane yelled back. â€œI wish there were two fleets. And that way, I wouldnâ€™t feel like such an absolute moron for not enjoying our apparently-open marriage!â€
â€œOkay, that is fucking it,â€ he roared at her, and even Bell stopped rolling on the lawn, tensing, abruptly aware that the tone of the argument had just changed. â€œI wasnâ€™t the one about to have sex withâ€”with the football coach in an alleyway behind a Marriott Courtyards! And Iâ€™m not screwing somebody from Kansas, eitherâ€”God, what? Did you go to Forbes.com and look up the next person richer than I am in America?â€
Janeâ€™s entire field of vision went red.
â€œYou know what?â€ she said, suddenly preternaturally calm. â€œThat is it. I am done.â€
Faltering, Rodney asked, â€œWhat?â€
â€œDone,â€ Jane repeated, marching over to pull Bell into her arms. â€œThrough. With you.â€
â€œWell,â€ Rodney said, looking constipated, â€œgood!â€
â€œAnd by the way,â€ Jane said, turning to go collect her baby, â€œLex is a lot richer than you are.â€|
Jane managed not to see Rodney for the rest of December and all of January by choreographing school, the nanny, and sending Rodney emails telling him to pick up Gabriel for his weekends straight from day careâ€”that had been the hardest part, having to say goodbye a whole seven hours early. And Jane knew, sometimes seeing the confusion on Gabeâ€™s face that she was being selfish, that if she were a better person and a good mother sheâ€™d suck it up and mend fences with Rodney and theyâ€™d do the hand-off the traditional way, with Jane lavishing Gabe with his due in good bye and see-you-soon kisses. But the zen sheâ€™d gained just before Christmas had gone out the window, and it was like all the fury she hadnâ€™t felt in the face of her grief, had suddenly welled up inside of her, like Jane realized Christmas morning she was divorced, that sheâ€™d spent 10 years with a man who thought she was a gold digger and a slut. Whenever it got too much, she put the leash on Bell and they went out for a runâ€”in the pink-gray of early morning or the deep, velvet blue of night, and Jane made lists in her head of trashy sex books to pick up from the library and mine for tips on how to get on with her life, how to make peace with her new reality, how to hire the cutest barely-legal pool boys.
In March, Lex took a penthouse in San Francisco, and in the second week, he called asking if sheâ€™d like to join him.
â€œYou know, I do work,â€ she laughed, turning into the high school parking lot. Reed and some girl with glasses the size of her entire face were awkwardly flirting next to the Pepsi machines outside, and Jane felt a pang for her high school romancesâ€”for how Dan had, despite being an asshole and almost giving her a concussion when theyâ€™d broken up, given her his letter jacket to wear. â€œI canâ€™t just run off every time you want to ravish somebody.â€
â€œJane, please,â€ Lex chided, â€œthat is what escort services are forâ€”I require your presence to entertain me both in and out of my ostentatiously large bed. Iâ€™ve already looked up your school schedule, you have two weeks off coming at the end of this one.â€
She set the parking brake and grinned down at her lap. â€œAnd you just happened to know my schedule well enough to know that Gabeâ€™s with Rodney those two weeks.â€
Lex made a considering noise. â€œI had planned that if he wasnâ€™t, I could buy a playpen, but I think then most of the world would start running our pictures prematurely in the New York Times wedding section.â€
Jane wondered if there wasnâ€™t something weird about their relationship, who they lived in a massive gray area of undefined interpersonal connection. She doubted she was being groomed to be the fifth ex-Mrs. Luthor. Maybe this was how friends with benefits was supposed to work, Jane thought philosophically, and grabbed her bag. She wished she had some friends to call around and ask since sheâ€™d barely been a sophomore in college before Rodney had started leaving his toothbrush in her apartment. That jackass, Jane decided, ruined everything.
Lexâ€™s apartment in downtown San Francisco was wide and warm, decorated in red-oranges and creams, dark teak wood. There were entire walls of windows and Jane spent the first two days of spring break in bedâ€”sometimes with Lex, sometimes with a book. Sheâ€™d already read most of the embarrassing Olivia Goldsmith ones, and now she was onto the Starter Wife, ignoring how much Lex was rolling his eyes at her.
â€œI have other books,â€ Lex offered, offering her an arm for balance she toed her feet into a pair of soft, faun-colored sandals. â€œIn fact, I have a library.â€
â€œYou had these in your library,â€ Jane told him, and let him open the door for her as they went out. â€œIâ€™m not letting you force your housekeeper to FedEx me Russian tragedy. Besides, Iâ€™ve read it all.â€
â€œOh?â€ Lex said, affectionate. â€œWhat did you think?â€
â€œAll of it made me want to throw myself in front of a train,â€ Jane replied. â€œAlso: can I drive your Lotus?â€
Lex said, â€œHa ha ha, no,â€ and they ended up in his Audi, driving until Lex reached a ramshackle restaurant on the beach as dusk was gathering pink at the edges of the sky. Lex ordered lobster and skate and a cream-briny oyster stew, and they traded stories about all the places theyâ€™d been until darkness blanketed the sky over the sea. It was strange to think how far away she felt when she and Gabe and Rodney were looking at the same ocean, near enough to touch.
â€œHey,â€ Lex said, touching the inside of her wrist, â€œwhere did you go?â€
She frowned out the window. â€œDo you ever feel like youâ€™re in the wrong place?â€ Jane asked.
â€œWhat, like out of phase?â€ Lex joked.
Jane made herself smile. â€œSort of,â€ she admitted.
And when Lex leaned over and kissed her fondly on the corner of her mouth, murmuring, â€œAll the time, Janeâ€”all the time,â€ she thought, You know, I really, really like you.
The next morning, she woke up to a blitz of blurry media coverage, pictures of her and Lex entering and exiting the restaurant and giant headlines about the warring romances of the tech titans, which Jane was sure Rodney appreciated if only on the most abstract of levels. That is, he would, if he were over having a seizureâ€”which at the time of his 7:30 a.m. wake-up call to her cell phone he hadnâ€™t been. Of course, it didnâ€™t help that Lex had answered.
â€œYouâ€™re doing that just to piss him off,â€ Jane accused, pushing her hair from her face and listening to Rodney scream through the handset.
Lex held a finger up to his lips. â€œIâ€™m sorry, McKay, itâ€™s just that Jane was still incapacitated from our night of lurid passion,â€ he said sympathetically, and then held the phone away from his ear when another barrage of shouting came forth.
â€œOkay,â€ Jane laughed helplessly, clutching the sheets to her chest and trying to snatch the phone away, â€œthat is just deliberately cruel. Lex, give me the phone!â€
â€œWhile Iâ€™ve got you on the line, I wanted to talk about you lowballing me on the last Apple contract,â€ Lex said, conversational, and thatâ€™s when Jane said, â€œOkay, thatâ€™s it,â€ and abandoned dignity in favor of tackling Lexâ€”nakedâ€”and snatching her cell phone out of his hand.
â€œHi,â€ she said, breathless, trying not to think about how sheâ€™s straddling Lexâ€™s chest right now, dressed in her hair and a dark blush. â€œSorry about that.â€
There was an angry silence on the phone. â€œWhat the fuck are you doing?â€ Rodney growled.
â€œIâ€™m on vacation,â€ Jane told him truthfully, ignoring Lex as he kissed the pads of her fingers, smirking.
â€œUS Weekly is fucking calling me,â€ Rodney yelled at her. â€œValleywag is calling me!â€
â€œThat guy from Valleywag asked me to flash him at your Christmas party like, three years ago,â€ Jane told him, for lack of anything better to say.
Rodney made a choking noise and hung up on her.
â€œCongratulations,â€ Lex said to her, smiling, â€œI think you just won the divorce.â€
And once Jane started laughing, she couldnâ€™t stop.
Four weeks later, Jane was reaching into the backseat of her car to unbuckle Gabeâ€™s carseat when she felt someone over her shoulderâ€”and she turned around just in time to see the shadow of a square jaw before the small of her back exploded in pain, a starburst, and she felt her arms and legs and knees go weak, and the last thing she saw before it all went black was Gabeâ€™s face, pale with terror.
She woke up later, aching and numb in her fingertips, and she couldnâ€™t feel her legs for long minutes, frozen and hearing her own breath too loud in her ears as she reached around with heavy arms to try and find her son. Jane was on a cold cement floor, nothing binding her wrists or ankles, but she was sluggish, weak. She could barely lift her neck. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust, for the darkness to fade into shadows, and by then the panic was hot and tight in her chestâ€”she couldnâ€™t find her baby, she couldnâ€™t hear his breathing.
What if they had hurt him? He could be cold or bleeding. What if he was scared or confused, and Jane couldnâ€™t help himâ€”she didnâ€™t know where he was. Jane had never not known where Gabe was, and Gabe had always known where she was, where Rodney was, and oh my God, she didnâ€™t even know where she wasâ€”
â€œOh, good,â€ someone said. â€œYouâ€™re awake.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t need to worry, your son is fine.â€
â€œLet me see him,â€ she gasped, automatic, knee-jerk. Her throat felt raw. â€œI want to see my son.â€
â€œEasily done,â€ her captor promised, voice soft. â€œAs long as you cooperate.â€
â€œThe McKay Technology board isnâ€™t authorized to ransom without proof of life,â€ Jane said, trying to remember what the lawyers had told her.
Rodney had celebrated becoming a paper billionaire by buying key man and key woman insurance for the family, which Jane felt was strange and then decided was morbid when heâ€™d invited a legal team to dinner to discuss kidnapping procedures. She wished now sheâ€™d paid more attention to what theyâ€™d been saying to her instead of her pork chop.
â€œDismembered body parts donâ€™t count,â€ she said.
â€œYouâ€™re not here because of McKay Technology,â€ the man said, amused.
Jane held her breath for a moment. â€œIâ€”I donâ€™t know what LexCorpâ€™s policies are,â€ she admitted, and felt sick, because sheâ€™d heard an ugly rumor a long time ago that LexCorp didnâ€™t ransom under any circumstance. Maybe Rodney would cut a deal; he could owe Lex, with interest.
The man laughed, and Jane winced at the sound of it. New aches were emergingâ€”her head, her wrist, the inside of her thigh. She tried not to think about it. She needed to get to Gabe and then she needed to get out and the rest was unimportant.
â€œOh, Jane, you honestly have no idea, do you?â€ he asked her, tracing a finger down her cheek, and Jane jerked away, pushed herself up on her hands and knees before collapsing back on her haunches. She was wrung out, exhausted, and now she was leaning against a wall in the near dark, nauseatingly dizzy and scared. Sheâ€™d never been so scared before.
â€œDonâ€™t,â€ she bit out, â€œtouch me.â€
He ignored her, curled a finger through her hair, and Jane shuddered, turned her chin. â€œDidnâ€™t you ever wonder what it was your husband was working on?â€ he asked. â€œNot many people would leave a woman like you cold in bed without a good reason.â€
â€œWhat do you want?â€ Jane snapped.
â€œJust for you to make a call,â€ he said, soothing, oily.
She held out her hand. â€œGive me the fucking phone and then bring me my son.â€
The phone rang twice before Rodney picked up, and Jane knew how much that pause had to have cost Rodney, that delay for the recording devices, and when she heard him croak, â€œHello?â€ voice shaking, it was all she could do to say:
â€œHi, itâ€™s me.â€
â€œOh, Jesus,â€ Rodney gasped. His voice sounded wet, like heâ€™d been crying, like heâ€™d been about to. â€œOh fuck, Janeâ€”are you all right? Is Gabe okay? Where are you?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Jane said honestly, watching the man in the corner of the room watch her, his eyes scraping down the length of her body. â€œIâ€™m fine, but. Rodney, they said they wouldnâ€™t let me see Gabe until after I called you.â€
Rodney muttered something under his breath before saying, â€œPut them on the phoneâ€”Iâ€™ll talk to them. If itâ€™s money, Iâ€™ve already started the process of building liquidity andâ€”â€
She swallowed hard, and the man across the room nodded at her, dark hair falling into his eyes. â€œGo on,â€ he encouraged. â€œTell himâ€”my people said your sonâ€™s getting very annoying.â€
Jane thought sheâ€™d never hated anybody so much in her life, and if she had enough energy to stand up on her own two feet, sheâ€™d go over there and kill him with her hands. She was strangely convinced she couldâ€”she could do anything for Gabe.
â€œRodney,â€ she interrupted, cutting him off mid-discussion of how heâ€™d personally fucked up the Nasdaq for the day by selling out his entire position in semiconductor stocks, â€œtheyâ€”they donâ€™t want money.â€
Rodneyâ€™s words jumbled up for a minute before he said, â€œWhat?â€
â€œThey want Doranda,â€ Jane repeated, listening to Rodneyâ€™s silence go still and scary. â€œThey said they want Dorandaâ€”Rodney, I donâ€™t know what that isâ€”â€
â€œI do,â€ Rodney told her, sounding tight, high, more scared than even before. â€œJaneâ€”oh my God, Jane, I canâ€™tâ€”I canâ€™t give themâ€”â€
And thatâ€™s when the man came over and pulled the phone away from her ear and held something curved to the dip between her collarbones. It looked like a gun, but it was too long, too round, and it was patterned like a snake, and Jane felt her heart fluttering wildly out of control in her chest, listening to Rodneyâ€™s voice get louder and louder on the phone as the man said to him:
â€œDr. McKay, as youâ€™ve told many and sundry, there is nothing you canâ€™t do, and youâ€™ll want to do it fast, too, this will be the second time in 12 hours Iâ€™ve zatted her.â€
Jane was aware just long enough to hear Rodney shout, â€œNo! Fuck youâ€”no!â€ before the same earthquake of pain roared through her body and she slumped over again, listening to the tinny sound of Rodney distant on the other side of consciousness.
The next time she woke up it was daylight, and it streamed into the gray laboratory from narrow slits of windows near the top of the walls. The air was musty and the floors were covered in dirt, grime, accumulated over years, and Jane grabbed at lab tables and stools and pushed herself to her feetâ€”there was no one else in the room: not the man from before, not her son.
Instead there were dusty consoles, the tired, washed-out look of an abandoned lab. She clutched at the walls and tried the doorsâ€”all three of them: locked, welded, lock destroyedâ€”heavy metal and
scarred, and Jane glanced up at the windows, another no go. And anyway, she didnâ€™t want out, she wanted her son, and Gabe had to be somewhere in the building.
â€œOkay,â€ Jane said to herself, voice raw, â€œwhat would Rodney do?â€
She glared around the roomâ€”at the broken computer part and scattered detritus, like the R&D labs had looked when McKay Technology had moved from its old digs in an office park to a beautiful gleaming building in the valley.
â€œToo bad Iâ€™m not MacGuyver,â€ Jane sighed, and went to dig through the piles of spare parts on the table. Maybe there would be a key, something heavy to bash out the doorâ€”or her kidnappers skull for that matter, when he came back in.
She was sifting through a pile of abandoned PDAs when one of them glowed to lifeâ€”going blue and soft and bright through its crystalline casing, and Jane froze a minute, glancing up at the door
and then back down again to see an image resolving on the screen: a map, and a single, pale green dot pulsating down the hall. It felt like the brooch in the basement of NORAD complex had, warm in the back of her mind, familiar, but like a babble of foreign languages, near white noise.
â€œOkay, cool,â€ she whispered at it, â€œbut not helpful.â€
The deeper in the pile, the more things lit up at her fingertips, and Jane remembered Carter awkwardly trying to explain something about gene-coded technology, and how Jane had spent most of the time fantasizing about stabbing her in the face. Some of the things she found felt dangerous, others less so, some felt dead, and when her fingers brushed over another green octagonâ€”the personal shield, McKay had told her, smirking at itâ€”she closed her fist around it and stuffed it into the pocket of her jeans.
But then Jane heard footsteps and she retreated to a far corner of the room, near a stack of abandoned folding chairs, and she was just debating whether or not she could pull off a wrestling move when the man from before said, â€œI wouldnâ€™t try that, Mrs. McKayâ€”somebody would end up hurt and it wouldnâ€™t be me.â€
Jane had a snappy (and stupid) comeback for that all ready when she lifted her head and saw Gabe, tearful and scared-silent in the manâ€™s arms and all her words fell away.
â€œOkay,â€ she agreed in a hush.
â€œI knew you could be biddable,â€ the man said, approving, and held Gabe out to her, and Jane felt herself rushing over, pulling her baby too-quickly and possibly too-tightly to her chest, but she could feel from the way he fisted his tiny hands in her shirt he didnâ€™t mind.
She ignored the man, the way he watched her, taking time to inspect Gabe for bruises, any cuts, hurts she couldnâ€™t heal with a reassuring smile and grateful kisses and found he was fine. His hands were coldâ€”it was freezing in the basement and Gabe didnâ€™t have his hatâ€”and he looked shaken, but somebody had changed his diaper and if the man left she could even get him fed.
â€œHi, baby,â€ she said, and he frowned at her, batting at her chest. From the corner of her eye, she could see the man heading toward the door, knocking twice, and a glimpes of a dank hall beyond the doorway before it was slammed shut again.
â€œHey, heyâ€”I know. I knowâ€”weâ€™ll be out of here soon,â€ she promised, and as the manâ€™s foosteps faded, she dug around in her back pocket, pulling out the octagon brooth and rubbing it clean on her pants. â€œGod, honey, you had better hope what little I remember from biology is true.â€
She slid the brooch underneath Gabeâ€™s Aqua Teen Hunger Force shirt and held it near his heart, pressed her forehead against his and muttered, â€œOh, come on, come onâ€”please donâ€™t let this be some disgusting, recessive completely useless freakâ€”â€œ and then she felt it, the pulse of it coming to life, and the crackle of electricity that had enveloped him â€œâ€”oh, thank God.â€
Gabe made an unhappy noise at her and batted again at her chest, which hurt more when there was a forcefield around his hand.
â€œSorry, sorry,â€ Jane told him, plucking the brooch off again and unbuttoning her shirt, unclasping her bra, â€œI know you must be starving.â€
Jane kissed the top of Gabeâ€™s head as he nursed, nosing his way toward her nippleâ€”his hands cold and a little grimy on her skin, and Jane curled up as tightly as she could, pulling her shirt in around him to keep him warm, to hold him near.
â€œNow,â€ she whispered down to him, â€œwe just have to figure out how to get out of here.â€
Half an hour later, she was still bereft of ideas. Her latent MacGuyver genius was no more active than before and even with Gabeâ€™s help initiating the broken pieces on the table, so far, sheâ€™d found something that looked like a shower massager, three things that were probably cell phones, and what she swore was an etch-a-sketch. She sucked at being kidnapped.
â€œOne day, Gabriel,â€ she told her son, settling down cross-legged on the floor to rest for a moment, â€œyouâ€™ll be able to parlay this experience into a really hot car.â€
Gabe frowned at her and kept squirming, looking over his shoulder at the door, pleading.
â€œYeah, I know, kid,â€ she said. â€œBut for once in my life, Iâ€™m going to listen to your dadâ€™s overpriced consultants and Iâ€™m going to be patientâ€”so that means youâ€™re going to be patient with me.â€
That plan lasted until some black-clad underline came in to deliver bottled water and diapers and a couple of MREs and saw Jane fiddling with the PDA, too slow to hide it. The womanâ€™s eyes went wide with surprise to see the machine glowing in Janeâ€™s hands, and before Jane could even panic, she was at the doorway, calling out something about the â€œATA gene.â€
Gabe looked at her mournfully.
â€œOkay, donâ€™t you start,â€ Jane muttered, hands shaking as she put the shield back on him, letting out a breath when she saw the shimmer of green. â€œIâ€™m going to get enough of your crap when youâ€™re in high school and all messed up from being a child of a broken home.â€
And by now, the heavy footfalls of the man sheâ€™d seen when sheâ€™d first woken up were familiar, like his wide shoulders and descriptionless face, his ordinary mouth and noseâ€”the smooth, leathery wound of his voice when he said, â€œMy myâ€”you are a delightful surprise, Mrs. McKay.â€
Jane ignored the urge to remind him she was legally divorced and stared at the floor instead.
But his hand stroked down her shoulder, carded through her hair, and no matter how tightly Jane squeezed her eyes shut, all she could think was that somewhere, there was a version of her who knew how to use a gun, and she was furious it wasnâ€™t her.
â€œSuch beauty in an ATA carrier, itâ€™s our lucky day,â€ he praised.
â€œHave you heard back from Rodney yet?â€ she asked.
There was a laugh overhead. â€œYour husband has been having difficulty acquiring what we need,â€ he told her, and Janeâ€™s breath caught in her throat when he added, â€œbut perhaps this isnâ€™t a complete loss after all.â€
â€œWhatever it is you want,â€ Jane promised, â€œheâ€™ll get it.â€
She believed it without doubt, because she knew Rodney was capable of great and terrible things, that his love could go black and jealous and cruel, and it was the first time in all the years sheâ€™d known him she was glad for it. Jane had an idea of what they were asking for, why they would ask Rodney specificallyâ€”Jane didnâ€™t care if he had to commit high treason, Rodney would come through, heâ€™d bring it, whatever it was they wanted, or heâ€™d find her and Gabe some other way. Her son wasnâ€™t going to die in this basement.
â€œOh,â€ the man said, casual, â€œheâ€™ll try, and itâ€™s sweet you have such faith in him still, but Dr. Mckayâ€™s powers are finite. Of course, itâ€™s good to know that even if he should fail weâ€™ll still recover something for our efforts.â€
He jerked her chin upward, so she was looking dizzily into his dishwater gray eyes.
â€œDonâ€™t be scared, Jane,â€ he soothed, â€œyou wonâ€™t feel a thing.â€
Janeâ€™s father had always said she was too stubborn by half to die, but mostly he said it with a sort of grieving reverence, on days when he got drunk and mooned at photographs of Janeâ€™s mother, her dark, smooth hair and smiling eyes. He said, â€œJane, if youâ€™d gone with your mother that day, in the wreckâ€”Iâ€™d have followed you both as far as I could,â€ and pulled her in for a hug.
And when sheâ€™d told Lex about this, drunk on strawberries and champagne and sitting on the patio of the penthouse in San Francisco, Lex had laughed, slurring a little, and said, â€œOh, thatâ€™s good to hearâ€”Iâ€™ve been sensing that my ex might want to kill you.â€
â€œYou didnâ€™t tell me you had an ex!â€ Jane had laughed, because itâ€™d been funnyâ€”it still was.
Lex had actually blushed. â€œHe asked if we could go on a break.
â€œNow Iâ€™m curious,â€ Jane had said, topping off both their solo cups. Theyâ€™d been unable to locate the champagne flutes, and Jane, on account of advocating laughing in bed and not wearing a bra, had said, â€œfuck itâ€ and gone with plastic. â€œWho was it? Do I know her?â€
â€œHim,â€ Lex had corrected.
Blinking, Jane had said, â€œHuh. Thatâ€™s two now,â€ thinking of McKay, and waved off Lexâ€™s curious look to add, â€œWell, who is he?â€
And even more sheepish than before, Lex had just pointed out the window, and Jane had narrowed her eyes drunkenly into the skyline, looking for a billboard with a gorgeous underwear model or a famous movie star until sheâ€™d seen a spec of primary colors, hovering sullenly in the distance and gasped.
â€œNo way,â€ sheâ€™d laughed.
â€œWay,â€ Lex had admitted.
â€œWe have got to figure out Wonder Womanâ€™s number,â€ Jane remembered sheâ€™d said, worried, â€œbecause at this rateâ€”you are totally losing the breakup,â€ and Lex had started laughing so hard heâ€™d spilled the remainder of his champagne.
So Jane kept reminding herself, over and over again, being shoved toward an unmarked room at the end of an unmarked hallway, that she hadnâ€™t died when the family car had wrapped itself around a tree, she hadnâ€™t died when Rodney had left her, and she hadnâ€™t died from sleeping with Supermanâ€™s boyfriendâ€”this wasnâ€™t going to take her down either.
Her daddy, once heâ€™d finished killing her captors with his bare hands, would have been proud.
The man had lied, and of course he had, because Jane felt her skin crawling as soon as she got through the other side of the door. Gabe made a fussing noise close to her ear and Jane hushed him, desperate, and stared, horrified, at the glass coffin propped up against the wallâ€”the long, white-haired thing on the inside. It had dark lashes and a green-pale face, dark black claws that curled at the tips, tattoos on its cheeks, and Jane saw a slit in one of its palms, like a gash, red.
Jane froze in her tracks.
â€œNo need to be frightened, Jane,â€ the man told her, closing his fist on the back of her neck, tight enough to bruiseâ€”and she bit her lip to stifle a whimper. She wouldnâ€™t give him the satisfaction. â€œBut we do need your help.â€
â€œCan I abstain?â€ Jane asked, unable to look away. The glass coffin looked frosted-over, dead, asleep, and she knew, being yards and yards away, that it was radiating warning: stay awayâ€”donâ€™t touchâ€”donâ€™t disturbâ€”do not unlock.
The man moved to touch the back of Gabeâ€™s sleeping head and Jane was across the room in a heartbeat, listening to herself hiss like a furious cat. He only smiled at her.
â€œOpen the case, if you please,â€ he invited.
â€œDo you know whatâ€™s in there?â€ Jane asked, reminding herself over and over again that Gabe had the shield on, that whatever happened, he couldnâ€™t be hurtâ€”that even if Rodney had to sift through wreckage, he would find their son, that he would be all right.
The man raised an eyebrow. â€œNow, Jane,â€ he said, â€œletâ€™s not waste any more time.â€
But the closer she got to the coffin, the louder the voices in her headâ€”the mourning noises, the worried sounds, muffled by a language barrier, and by the time she lifted one hand, near enough that the heat of her sweating palms steamed the glass. And she could feel it already, like the machine had a link to the weight in her chest, and it was like looking at the inner workings of a clock through a veil of skin and bone and sensation, to feel the coffin start to unlock.
â€œOkay,â€ Jane whispered to herself, and something in her murmured, run, run as soon as it opens, and she did, as soon as she heard the seal break, Jane broke left, then right, and didnâ€™t look back as an inhuman scream filled the roomâ€”she just kept running, darting for the door, seeing the looks of fascinated horror on the faces of her guards as they let her pass, frozen.
The only thing she and Rodney hadnâ€™t ever fought about was her sense of directionâ€”they both agreed she had none, and Jane knew, running into the semi-lit hallways of the complex that her best bet at the moment was simply to run as far and as fast as possible from whatever had caused all the screaming in the other room.
Her heart was thrashing out of her chest, and every time the saw guards in the hall, each time she crossed paths with someone, she thought, â€œThis is itâ€”theyâ€™re going to shoot me,â€ and â€œGabeâ€™s going to see me die,â€ and â€œI didnâ€™t want it to be this way,â€ and â€œI miss Rodney. I still miss Rodney.â€ But they just shoved her out of their way, like they werenâ€™t aware that she was their prized kidnap victim or something, and rushed toward where sheâ€™d come from, P-90s drawn.
Somewhere between the first left turn and the last one Gabe had started screaming in her ear, crying, and Jane put a hand over his mouth, trying to muffle his shrieking.
â€œIâ€™m sorryâ€”Iâ€™m sorry, but you can scream as much as you want after we get out of this,â€ she promised, scanning the hall and darting right when she saw two men coming round the corner.
The hallways were narrowing now, half metal and half crumbling cement, closing together, and Jane found more and more locked doors with security codes, button pads that didnâ€™t open no matter how she pounded at them with shaking fingers.
â€œFuck!â€ Jane shouted, coming up another one. â€œOh, come on! There has to be a fucking way out ofâ€”â€
Whatever else she was going to say was swallowed in a barrage of gunfire, a firework of explosions somewhere behind her, the sound of bullets bouncing off of metal. When it finally slowed, stopped, it left in its absence an odd silence, too huge, and Jane realized what was missing: whatever had been screaming in that room was dead nowâ€”she was only glad for a second before she remembered that made her the center of attention again.
She pushed away from the wall, creeping along as near silent as she could and closed a hand over the back of Gabeâ€™s head.
She could hear her own breath louder and louder in her head and Gabe had gone from wailing to whimperingâ€”maybe what they said about babies and heartbeats were true, because she was terrified and maybe Gabe could feel that through her ribcage, where he was curled up over her heart.
â€œItâ€™s okay,â€ she whispered to him, â€œMcKay told me John does this stuff all the time.â€
Gabe made a mournful noise, and Jane sighed, hugging the wall and heading toward a terminating hallâ€”there was a door, and there was that ubiquitous fucking security number pad, but there was also a whisper of light coming from the crack underneath the door.
It could just be halogen, more overheads like the buzzing ones, but it was better than the other optionsâ€”the unlocked doors, the half-open ones, with dust trailing out into the hallway, scraps of cloth. Jane didnâ€™t know where she was but it smelled like dying things.
The number pad looked pretty much like all the others, when she got close enough to inspect it: 1-9 with asterick, zero, and the number sign on the bottom rowâ€”three letters per key. It could be an alphanumeric code of any length, Jane thought, but sheâ€™d seen her kidnapper come and go over the course of the hours: heâ€™d been brief at the number pad, four beeps.
There were of course, still thousands of permutations, and Jane tried not to let herself do the math behind that, starting systematicallyâ€”0000 yielded a red light, so did 0001 and 0002-0009, and Jane was keying in â€œ1034â€ when she heard footsteps behind her.
When Jane whipped around, it was to come face to face withâ€”
â€œOh my God,â€ she choked out, curling her body around three-quarters, blocking Gabeâ€”whoâ€™d started screaming againâ€”as much as she could.
It was the man whoâ€™d come to talk to her earlierâ€”only it wasnâ€™t, because his black hair had turned ashen and olive skin had sallowed and lined, like time had fast-fowarded, like thereâ€™d been a warp and sheâ€™d stepped five decades into the future, to see him week and falling apart, barely alive, emaciated.
His wrist was trembling, shaking as he struggled to hold up a .45â€”aimed it between her eyes.
â€œWhat did you do?â€ he rasped, his eyes still gleaming. â€œWhat did you do?â€
Jane blinked and realized she was holding her breath, eyes crossing as she stared down the barrel of the gun, her mind blanking out.
â€œWhat did you do?â€ the man tried to yell, and it came out barely a whisper.
â€œI didnâ€™t do anything,â€ Jane said truthfully. â€œI just opened itâ€”like you asked.â€
The gun came closer, and Jane felt her throat go dry, and the voice in the back of her mind that had been listing the things sheâ€™d wanted to do shifted gears, suddenly, to remind her of all the things she had that sheâ€™d never expected. After all, if she died here, alone and frightened, she at least had a son who was likely too young to remember having seen any of this, and Rodney, for all he was a terrible husband and an appalling boss, loved him, and had loved her. She had managed to homewreck (well, sort of) a superhero, which she felt was admirable in a slutty sort of way, and her students had won bronze at a national science fairâ€”sheâ€™d never been hungry or beaten or raped and on a global scorecard she was doing okay.
â€œFix it,â€ the man hissed at her, pressing the metal barrel of the gun to her forehead. â€œFix it.â€
Jane closed her eyes, put a shaking hand over Gabeâ€™s face. â€œI canâ€™t,â€ she choked out. â€œI didnâ€™t do anything. Just let me go. I canâ€™t help you. Just let meâ€”â€
She heard a metal click and thought, I love you, and waitedâ€”for white light, for nothing, for black, for hellfire, and instead of any of that, she heard:
â€œYouâ€™re not as pretty as you look in the magazines.â€
Intellectually, Jane knew it was all kinds of inappropriate to fight with a rescuer, much less when he was the much-lauded and universally-beloved Superman, but honestly, she could sort of see why Lex had broken up with the guy.
â€œYou know youâ€™re kind of a dick,â€ she told him, getting pushed along the hallway. Gabeâ€™s squall had quieted into bewildered shock when Superman had appeared, and now his face was nestled into the crook of Janeâ€™s neck, staring and staring.
Superman turned around to glare at her. Even his perfect forelock looked pissed. â€œYou know heâ€™s been divorced like, four times,â€ he said, looking left and right before dragging her down another corridor. She really hoped he knew where he was going.
Jane rolled her eyes. â€œIs this really the time?â€ she hissed at him.
â€œAnd also,â€ Superman went on, knocking two rushing guards unconscious with a casual swipe of his hand, â€œyou have a baby. Do you really want to like, raise your baby in a broken home?â€
â€œJust for that,â€ Jane snapped at him, stepping over the guards and stumbling, â€œIâ€™m going to become the fifth ex-Mrs. Luthor.â€
Superman made a face at her Jane had seen on Rodney before, when sheâ€™d passed him diapers to put in the garbage. â€œI can see why Lex likes you,â€ he muttered.
â€œIâ€™m telling him you said that,â€ Jane said, feeling 14-years-old.
And Superman whirled around on her, red-cheeked and furiously embarrassed, but before he could start in on how she was destroy his and Lexâ€™s cosmic love, something came out of nowhere and tackled him into a wall.
It was tall and wearing black snakeskinâ€”a coat that flapped around it, and Jane saw a flash of black claws and green skin and knew that whatever it was theyâ€™d made her wake up in that room hadnâ€™t died at all. That hand with the cut down the palm was gleaming and wet with blood and Jane saw it rushing up, rising upâ€”
And thatâ€™s when Jane heard the shot and theâ€”whatever the hell it wasâ€”flew across the room, slammed into the cement with a crunch before crumbling to the ground, followed by another body, another guard, his eyes rolling back in his head, gun abandoned. Then Superman was right in her face, his green eyes wide and his mouth open and his face pale andâ€”
She blinked twice at him, at his blown pupils.
â€œWhat? Why are you looking at me like that?â€ The words werenâ€™t coming out of her throat.
â€œJane,â€ he said, and he tried to take Gabe away from her, â€œyouâ€™ve been shot. Youâ€™re in shock.â€
And she must have been because she let him, and when she saw Gabeâ€™s face, he was wailing again, terrified, reaching his arms out toward her, force-field around his fingers streaked red.
â€œOh,â€ Jane breathed out, and felt herself slump against a wall, her breath go out of her, and before Superman could scoop her into his arms, one of those doors she could never get open did and Rodney tumbled into the hallway, and the last thing she remembered seeing was him falling to his knees in front of her, his hands open and desperate and empty.
Jane woke up saying, â€œOw.â€
â€œOh my God,â€ Rodney said, somewhere over her head, â€œDoctor! Doctors!â€
The flurry of activity immediately afterward was exhausting, between doctors coming in and out of the room to shine flashlights into her eyes and look at her wound (right in her stomach, to match her C-section scar) and to ignore her when she made sad, parched noises and tried to plead for something to drink. And Rodney, that coward, hung back and wrung his hands, looking heartbroken and disinclined to interrupt her the inquisition.
It was until later, hours later, that everybody was satisfied with poking her and drawing blood and telling her how lucky sheâ€™d been and her pathetic moaning finally brought Rodney and a cup of ice within snatching range.
â€œOh, God,â€ she moaned, hoarse, feeling the water slide down her throat, and she could cry from how good that felt. She glanced up at Rodney, at the way he was staring down at her, dark bruises under his bloodshot eyes, he looked thin and a little brittle. â€œGabe?â€ she asked.
Rodney shook his head. â€œHeâ€™s fine,â€ he whispered at her. â€œI had Jeannie take him home.â€
Jane felt a pang, but nodded. She didnâ€™t want Gabe to see this, either, and then she blushed and glanced down at her chestâ€”she was probably leaking through her hospital gown by now.
â€œUm,â€ Rodney said, â€œIâ€”I had one of the nurses, um.â€ He waved indistinctly at her chest. â€œI would have done it myself but Sam locked me into one of the barracks to make me sleep.â€
Clutching at her hospital gown, Jane said, â€œThanksâ€”I guess.â€
Rodney cleared his throat, took another step toward the bed and straightened her sheets, awkward and staring down at the blanket over her legs. â€œSo,â€ he said, shrill, â€œIâ€™m suing Superman.â€
Jane laughed, and it hurt, a lot. â€œOh, God,â€ she managed, â€œwhat? What did you say?â€
â€œFor reckless endangerment,â€ Rodney went on, puffing up, but his mouth was twitching, and Jane thought maybe this was old Rodney, the Rodney whoâ€™d drawn her scathing character defamations on napkins at their wedding reception. â€œHeâ€™s clearly a substandard superheroâ€”I should have called Batman.â€
â€œItâ€™s true,â€ Jane couldnâ€™t help but answer, trying not to grin too wide, â€œthe Dark Knightâ€™s so much more dreamy.â€
Rodney scowled at her. â€œMaybe the Green Lantern, then,â€ he muttered, and before she could tell him that she thought green was a terribly ravishing color, Rodney blurted out:
â€œI donâ€™t want to not be married to you.â€
â€œUm,â€ Jane said intelligently. â€œWhat?â€
Looking miserable, Rodney reached over, and hesitating, he took her hand, closed his own around it, and Jane suffered a sudden, vivid flashback, a blurry half-memory, of being wheeled into the operating room and Rodney running alongside the gurney, his fingers warm on her face.
â€œLook,â€ he said, hushed and desperate, â€œJane, I donâ€™t know what to do without you, and I didnâ€™t like the person I was when we were married, toward the end, but I amâ€”â€ he stopped, smirking bitterly â€œâ€”and I mean this utterly: but I am an absolute bastard when weâ€™re not married and I miss you. Jane, all three of my secretaries quit.â€
Jane frowned at him. â€œWell, thatâ€™s because you made fun of Dannyâ€™s limp,â€ she pointed out.
â€œJane,â€ Rodney said, laughing helplessly, â€œIâ€™m being serious.â€
â€œSorry,â€ she said, and looked at their hands, fingers entwined together.
Rodney sounded panicked now, his voice pitchy as he said, â€œIâ€™ll do better, Iâ€™ll sit through the counseling this timeâ€”we were good, werenâ€™t we? Before?â€
She felt, like Lex had said, out of phase, in the wrong place, and if she didnâ€™t belong with Rodney she didnâ€™t know where she belonged. Jane didnâ€™t know what to say, or how to say it, she just squeezed Rodneyâ€™s hand and kept staring at her knees underneath the salmon-colored blanket. It would be easier just to write this off, to say theyâ€™d been too young and too stubborn and the hurts were too deep to healâ€”if she tried hard enough, she could even believe it.
â€œIt wasnâ€™t just you,â€ Jane said, swallowing around the ball in her throat, because sheâ€™d had a hand in it, too, her own disappointment and grief. Rodney was unkind and Jane had been unforgiving, and theyâ€™d both gotten distractedâ€”theyâ€™d both blinked. â€œRodney, I donâ€™tâ€”â€
He put his free hand over her mouth.
â€œBefore you say anything else,â€ he said to her, urgent, â€œI think you should know that possibly since the moment I saw you, and for the entirety of our courtship and throughout our oftentimes completely disastrous marriage and for every one of the 245 days weâ€™ve been divorced, I have loved you in a way that defies calculation.â€
Whatever Jane wanted to say extinguished in her chest, in the fierce, desperate light of his eyes, blue and enormous, pleading.
â€œYou infuriate me and you make me make the good decisions instead of the smart ones,â€ Rodney went on, turning red, â€œand Jane, you donâ€™t even know what this means, but I gave up Atlantis to stay with you, even though we were barely talking to each other at that point.â€
â€œI know about Atlantis,â€ Jane murmured, staring up at him in wonder, remembering the way that McKay had talked about it, with the reverence of the converted, the entirely faithful.
â€œGod, Jane,â€ Rodney breathed out, his mouth slanted, his entire face collapsing under the weight of his exhaustion, â€œI donâ€™t want to not be married to you. I donâ€™t want to invalidate everything that made me happy. I donâ€™t want to keep hiring new assistants. Please,â€ he said, and he lifted their hands to put his face against her fingers, his breath hot and wet on her skin, â€œplease, Jane.â€
Jane stared at him for a long time before she managed:
â€œCanâ€”â€ he looked up at her, eyes wide with hope â€œâ€”Can I think about it?â€
And it was like the light in Rodneyâ€™s face was snuffed out, his whole face closed over.
Before Jane could say, â€œNo, Rodney, I mean it,â€ he set her hand back down on the bed and took a step away, looking away, edging away, and said, â€œFineâ€”take all the time you want,â€ conversation over.
The fourth day sheâ€™d been awake in the hospitalâ€”third day after Rodney had disappeared on her, third day Jeannie called her at two hour intervals to ask if she was all right and tell her that her brother was an asshole and a coward and please, please, please marry him again before he destroyed his lifeâ€™s work at McKay Technologyâ€”Lex swept into the hospital with a Japanese silk robe for her and said, â€œCome on, this place is cramping my style.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think thatâ€™s such a good idea,â€ Jane protested, still feeling sorry for herself. â€œYour ex already made it pretty clear heâ€™d kill me with his giant alien hands if I touched you again.â€
â€œSuperman is a very delicate invincible alien,â€ Lex said, dismissive, tugging at her hospital gown. â€œCome on, you canâ€™t expect to adequately recover in this hellhole.â€
â€œLex,â€ Jane said, eyes darting toward the window. There was a 50-50 chance either Superman was out there trying to kill her with his mind or Rodney had hired a sniper to stand watch at one of the tall buildings around the hospital.
Lex draped the silk over her shouldersâ€”whisper-soft. â€œJane, please,â€ he said, matter-of-fact, â€œSuperman is occupied with a mudslide in India and the last I checked, McKay was still trapped on a conference call with some very angry A-class shareholdersâ€”letâ€™s go.â€
They ended up in his penthouse in Metropolis, and Lex set her up in his bed, considerately placing an enormous stack of mind-rottingly bad books within easy reach. Jane smiled up at him gratefully and opened a copy of Good in Bed. â€œThanks,â€ she told him honestly, and Lex kissed her forehead and settled in next to her with a copy of the latest book in the Jedi Academy series.
The sixth day since sheâ€™d been shotâ€”the fifth day since Rodney had walked out on her, the day after Lex took her to Metropolisâ€”was Tuesday, and Jane circumvented spent most of it playing Katamari Damacy until her fingers were numb. Late that night, into the jewel-tone dark of the Metropolis night, watching light arc over the ceiling of Lexâ€™s bedroom, she turned to her left and whispered, close to Lexâ€™s ear, â€œRodney wants us to work it out.â€
The corners of Lexâ€™s mouth jerked up a little, rueful. â€œYou know, Jane,â€ he whispered back, turning to catch her gaze, â€œsome of us would kill to have a lover say he wanted you enough to try.â€
Jane found herself suddenly thinking of the first time Rodney had kissed her, the way heâ€™d been so nervous, how his hand had been wet with nervous sweat on her wrist, the way heâ€™d missed her mouth entirely. Sheâ€™d touched his cheek and laughed a little, softly against his lips, and tilted them until his mouth closed over hers, soft and possessing, and sheâ€™d forgotten all about how it was a little too cold and how it was raining, water drizzling over the doorstep of her second-floor apartment. Jane thought about the kiss on her wedding day, fierce, joyful, unafraid, and the way Rodney had kissed her back the day that Gabe had come to them: desperate, lovelyâ€”hopeful.
She wanted to believe, too.
She wanted that again, to feel Rodneyâ€™s mouth on hers and the buzz of happiness that had fizzed through her veins, the heavy sense of belonging that had pulsed underneath her skin. She wanted him to take her stargazing again, to South Africa and the large telescope, to planetariums during laser shows. She wanted him to be a father with her, to cry with her when Gabe left them for kindergarten and laugh at his graduations, to be on her side when he threw teenaged tantrums, when he broke her heart. She wanted to be angry with Rodney and forgive Rodney and for him to forgive herâ€”Jane wanted to grow old with him. She always had.
Jane smiled back at Lex, watched his eyes gleaming in the dark, and stroked his cheek.
â€œI would have been,â€ she said to him in a hush, â€œan excellent ex-Mrs. Luthor, you know.â€
â€œOf that,â€ Lex answered her, grinning, â€œI am absolutely certain.â€
On the seventh day, Jane paced Lexâ€™s roof terrace, scanning the skies.
Sheâ€™d called Rodneyâ€™s house, his sister, his office. Sheâ€™d called Rodneyâ€™s lawyers and accountants and his therapist and his neurologist, his prescribing general physician. Nobody had known where he was, and Jane had, finally, resorted to calling the number inscribed on an otherwise unmarked white business card: S. CARTER.
â€œRodney?â€ Carter had asked, baffled.
â€œI canâ€™t find him,â€ Jane forced out. â€œI was just wondering if youâ€™d heard from him.â€
â€œOh,â€ Carter yelled, â€œthat son of a bitch!â€
So now, Jane was looking for the only person who could help her at this point, hands clasped over her still-healing gunshot wound, wrapping the sweater Lex had liberated from the Badgley Mishka show more tightly around her shoulders and despairing at the gray overhead. Lex had been called away, something about terrified tech analysts calling in a frenzy, demanding to know why McKay Technologyâ€™s CEO had taken profit on every single one of his equities. It was probably for the best, since most of Lexâ€™s suggestions for summoning his ex-boyfriend had involved setting something on fire or finding some kind of firearm.
â€œYou wouldnâ€™t really have to shoot anybody,â€ Lex had said brightly. â€œYou could just pretend.â€
Sheâ€™d pointed at the terrace doors. â€œGo awayâ€”go tell people weâ€™re not entering a recession.â€
And now, an hour of fruitless searching later, resigned and hoping no one was near enough to hear her, she said:
â€œSuperman,â€ she tried again, louder, and when there was still no response, Jane yelled, â€œI know you can hear me! I checked the wiresâ€”nothingâ€™s on fire, nobodyâ€™s political system collapsed. I need to talk to you!â€
Jane rolled her eyes. She hadnâ€™t wanted to resort to this.
â€œIâ€™m carrying Lex Luthorâ€™s love child, I just thought you might want to know,â€ she yelled up at the skyâ€”and before the last echo of her words had faded out entirely, Superman was there, a swirl of red and blue and wholesome American goodness, looking devastated as he croaked:
â€œWhat? What did you say?â€
â€œI lied,â€ she said, and before his expression could melt from horror to fury, Jane went on, explaining, â€œLook, I need a favor.â€
It took him a minute, but Superman sputtered, â€œAre you kidding me? Youâ€™re sleeping with myâ€”myâ€”with Lex Luthor! Your ex-husband is suing me!â€
Jane had known that Rodney was bad at being divorced from her, the string of increasingly ridiculous nannies had been pretty indicative, but now he was adding frivolous lawsuits into the mix. This was clearly serious.
â€œI need a ride,â€ Jane told him, and before Superman could pull her hair and weep about how sheâ€™d stolen his man, she said, â€œTo Antarctica, or, so help me God, I will go in there, dress up like Princess Leia and seduce him. Weâ€™ll be married in a week.â€
Superman stared at her, distressed.
â€œYou know heâ€™d do it. He has a sickness,â€ Jane threatened.
Superman glared at her hard enough that Jane worried she might be set on fire (literally), but finally, his shoulders slumped, and looking resigned and entirely human, he muttered, â€œFineâ€”but youâ€™ll need a parka.â€
Jane thought sheâ€™d known true coldness the one Christmas Jeannie had tricked she and Rodney into going to Vancouver. Sheâ€™d spent the entire week wrapped in every blanket and sweater in the house, curled up hatefully in front of the roaring fire, sending Rodney to fetch and carry coffee, tea, molten lava, because sheâ€™d never been so cold in her life. Every time Caleb opened the door to the house, she had wanted to rise up and scratch his eyeballs out of his face.
That was nothing compared to Antarcticaâ€”the sheer bleakness of the cold, the unrelenting wind, was enough to knock the breath out of her, and even with Superman taking the brunt of it Jane could hear her teeth chattering. She was going to kill Rodney for this.
â€œAre you sure you want to do this?â€ Superman asked, shouting over the screaming wind.
â€œNo!â€ Jane yelled back. â€œGet me closer to the entrance!â€
Superman actually looked nervous. â€œTheyâ€™re not going to shoot stuff at me, are they?â€
â€œHow the hell would I know?â€ Jane demanded, thumping his titanium back. â€œHow are you this uncool, anyway? Lex told me you were invincible!â€
He floated her a bit closer to the dome in the ice, arms tight around her, protective, like he was trying to make up for earlier. â€œI can still bruise,â€ he sulked, and said, â€œOkay, I think this is it,â€ and set down.
When Carter had said, more embarrassed than anything else, that Rodney had offered to take up the post of chief science officer at the U.S. Air Forceâ€™s Antarctic base, Janeâ€™s response had been, essentially, â€œYouâ€™ve got to be fucking with me.â€
Jane wasnâ€™t even supposed to know about the Antarctic baseâ€”she imagined Carter had told her mostly out of a sense of homewrecking guilt, for which Jane now had deep sympathyâ€”much less be there, and so the idea of a military transport was right out. Even with Lexâ€™s vast resources, arranging a trip with the proper supplies and guides would take weeks, and Jane was pissed enough as it was, allowing her irritation to percolate another month or two could only lead to tragedy.
â€œThis isnâ€™t going to work,â€ Superman said, sounding genuinely worried and wrapping his cape around her shoulders, â€œyouâ€™re still injuredâ€”you shouldnâ€™t even be out here.â€
â€œGive him a second,â€ she stuttered, teeth chattering.
He looked at her curiously, thoughtful. â€œI thought you didnâ€™t love him anymore,â€ he said.
Jane glared at him as best as she could. â€œI thought you didnâ€™t love Lex anymore, either.â€
â€œWe shouldnâ€™t talk,â€ Superman said, scowling at her, â€œconserve heat.â€
â€œI agree,â€ Jane said, and just when she thought no one had seen them at all, out of nowhere in the snowdrifts near the dome, she saw a figure in neon-orange climb out, arms waving as it rushed toward them, and she must have been dumb from the cold because it took her a while to realize that the noises it was making were death threats.
â€œWhat are doing here?â€ Rodney shrieked, coming closer, tromping through the snow.
His face was red and his nose was red and his eyes were red, and Jane thought he was the most wonderful thing sheâ€™d ever seenâ€”just that snatch of him visible in the hood of his fur-lined park.
â€œDonâ€™t you remember youâ€™ve been shot? Oh my God!â€ he wailed, and shoving at her, tugging her through the snow toward the complex. Jane let herself be led through the drifts, following Rodney closely until he got her inside, where a phalanx of people with Coke-bottle glasses stared at her, wide-eyed, as Rodney struggled to get the door shut again, to block out the wind.
â€œHi,â€ Jane said to them, muzzy from the cold.
â€œHi,â€ one of them said back. â€œAre you Jane?â€
â€œWeâ€™ve heard about you,â€ another told her. â€œA lot.â€
â€œShut up, all of you,â€ Rodney barked, turning Jane around and leading her toward an enormous heatlamp, stripping off her gloves and parka and rubbing her hands, inspecting her face, running his fingers carefully over her side, ghosting over her stomach. â€œAre you hurt?â€ he asked, brusque.
Jane shook her head. â€œNo,â€ she breathed, â€œjust cold.â€
â€œGood,â€ Rodney muttered, and then taking a deep breath, yelled at the top of his lungs, â€œJust what the hell did you think you were doing out there?â€
Oh, yeah, Jane thought, and she felt a wild grin stretch across her face. Sheâ€™d missed this.
â€œDo you have any idea what somebody in your feeble physical condition could have suffered in this kind of weather? Did you think at all about what would have happened to Gabe if something had happened to you?â€ Rodney roared, unstoppable, and Jane saw all his underlings take big steps back, creeping toward safety in the face of his tirade. â€œAnd furthermore, are you out of your mind? You came with Superman! He hates you! He got you shot!â€
â€œRodney,â€ Jane tried to interrupt.
â€œDonâ€™t!â€ he snapped. â€œWhat if youâ€™d died? What if youâ€™d gotten sick? What if youâ€™d developed frostbite on your face and became so misfigured that Gabe didnâ€™t recognize you? What if youâ€™dâ€”â€
She put her hands on his face, stroking her thumbs over the much-loved lines of his cheekbones, and his words stuttered off, melted away, and his eyes went wide with such real surprise Jane couldnâ€™t help but stand on her tip-toes and brush a kiss to the corner of his mouth.
â€œâ€”um,â€ Rodney said, blushing. â€œJane?â€
Jane kissed him again, just to feel it, that tiny bubbling in her chestâ€”hope.
â€œYes,â€ she said to him.
Rodney blinked at her. â€œYes?â€ he asked.
She pulled herself a little closer, feeling the heat of him, the familiar weight of him. â€œYes,â€ she repeated, and looking straight into Rodneyâ€™s eyes, she said, â€œRodneyâ€”yes.â€
â€œOh,â€ Rodney whispered, like he finally got it.
â€œYes,â€ Jane agreed, and she felt his hands already sliding around her waist, tugging her closer, possessive, his thumb tracing the line of her spine, encroaching, like all McKays, as Rodney leaned down to brush against her mouth, â€œReally? Youâ€™re sure?â€
â€œYes,â€ Jane promised, one last timeâ€”and she meant it.
When Lex had specifically said, â€œBring Gabe,â€ Jane had thought it could only possibly end in disasterâ€”cake spattered everywhere, delicate crystal, broken.Â Rodneyâ€™s own House of Impossible Post-Modern Discomfort in Repose had looked like itâ€™d been raided by Nazi stormtroopers the last time Jane had seen it.Â Sheâ€™d protested and said it was fine, itâ€™d be easy enough to leave Gabe with the nanny, or a sitter, or in a kennel, but Lex had insisted.
â€œJane, I donâ€™t know where you get this idea Iâ€™m so persnickety about order,â€ he had chided.
â€œI just saw a commercial for one of your subsidiaries where the music cut off a little early,â€ she told him, and Lex had cursed fluidly before getting off the phone, presumably to skin one of his marketers.Â â€œYeah,â€ sheâ€™d said to the dial tone, â€œthat would be why.â€
â€œAnd thatâ€™s another thing,â€ Rodney whined, destroying yet another box of tissues.Â â€œYou still talk to him!Â Thatâ€™sâ€”thatâ€™s so wrong I donâ€™t even know how to quantify it.â€
Jane snatched the tissue box away from him.Â â€œThose are for people who have feelings, Rodney.â€
â€œIf anybody could make me have feelings, itâ€™d be you,â€ Rodney sulked.
â€œThis seems to be an issue weâ€™re returning to quite a bit,â€ Heightmeyer said, and turning to Jane, asked, â€œI think we all know why Rodneyâ€™s so bothered that youâ€™re still in frequent communication with Mr. Luthorâ€”â€
â€œBecause heâ€™s nuts,â€ Jane muttered, listening to Rodney squeak in fury.
â€œâ€”is there a reason you find yourself talking to him, still?â€
Jane fell silent for a bit, and stared at the carpeted floor of the office, the way her sneakers lined up with a stripe of blue on the rug.Â â€œIâ€™ve never had a lot of friends,â€ she finally admitted.Â â€œI donâ€™t want to lose touch with this one just because of some stuff that happened in the past.â€
â€œSome â€˜stuff,â€™â€ Rodney huffed, â€œinvolved his penis and your vagina.â€
â€œRodney!â€ Jane and Kate yelled at him together.
â€œWhat?â€ he protested.Â â€œI thought this was a judgment-free zone!â€
Every time Jane thought she was going to pick up one of Heightmeyerâ€™s hideous, decorative carvings and shove it down Rodneyâ€™s throat, she forced herself to count to ten, and remind herself that she was only so angry because she was trapped in counseling with himâ€”and that she could only possibly be trapped with him if he actually showed up.Â They were on their sixteenth session, which meant Rodney had now appeared at exactly fifteen more sessions than the first time theyâ€™d attempted this.
â€œWhat makes the fact that youâ€™re still upset about this the most ridiculous,â€ Jane forced herself to say lightly, â€œis that this whole tangent started when I mentioned that Lex told us to bring Gabe to his wedding.â€
â€œNo, whatâ€™s most ridiculous is that me and Superman are going end up sulking together over the open bar again, just like at the Christmas party,â€ Rodney complained.
Jane blinked.Â â€œOhâ€”um, actually, there probably wonâ€™t be an open bar.â€
â€œWhat?â€ Rodney asked, curious and earlier ire forgotten.Â â€œWhy not?â€
â€œGuys,â€ Kate said, snapping her fingers impatiently.Â â€œMarriage counseling?Â Hello?â€
It was possible that Jane should have felt bad about forgetting to mention that Lexâ€™s weddingâ€”fifth timeâ€™s the charm!â€”was going to be held on a farm, she didnâ€™t.Â Mostly, she felt like bursting into laughter.
â€œWe canâ€™t go,â€ Rodney babbled as rolling fields of golden wheat flew past the car windows.Â â€œWe havenâ€™t gotten all of our shotsâ€”what if Iâ€™m bitten by a goat?Â What if a cow licks me?Â What if I develop some sort of porcine influenza and die?â€
â€œItâ€™s Kansas, Rodney,â€ Jane sighed, changing lanes, â€œnot the Congo.â€
Rodney glared suspiciously through the glass as they whizzed past a chicken coop.Â â€œIt might as well be,â€ he hissed.Â â€œDonâ€™t even get me started on the possibilities for bird flu.â€
Dating her ex-husband was weird.
Heâ€™d changed since the first time heâ€™d scammed his way into her bed, and instead of his awkward, geeky charms, heâ€™d developed new ones specific to her: the way he helped her into a coat, how he absently stroked a finger down her palm when he held her hand, how he could send her dozens of emails a day, just because he kept finding things and or people who desperately needed mocking, and she was the only one who would get the joke.Â The way he still touched her sometimes: forgetful, casual, proprietary, and Jane couldnâ€™t lieâ€”it sent a shiver of arousal creeping up her spine.Â It also helped that sometimes heâ€™d look at her, utterly helpless, and say, â€œDonâ€™t give up on us yet, okay?â€
Jane had overrode Lexâ€™s suggestions and left Gabe under Bellâ€™s supervision and in the capable hands of the nanny, a 28-year-old childhood education major named Tad with aquamarine eyes and a swimmerâ€™s build she had installed in one of the many empty rooms of her house.Â Tad spent a lot of time getting splashed by Gabe and being forced to strip out of his shirts erotically.Â Also, he referred to her exclusively as Miz Sheppard without a hint of irony, and blushed like a little girl.Â Jane wanted to put him in her pocket he was so cute.Â Rodney clearly wanted to kill Tad in his sleep, and heâ€™d been so belligerent about it that Jane decided after very little consideration not to let Rodney know Tad was had been wearing a promise ring from his boyfriend Rory since their sophomore year of high school.
â€œGod, why would he do this?â€ Rodney moaned.
Jane shrugged.Â â€œProbably to make wife, uh, spouse number five happy.â€
Rodney rolled his eyes.Â â€œHeâ€™s always prince charming in the beginning.â€
â€œYes,â€ Jane agreed sweetly.Â â€œMany of us first wives know what thatâ€™s like,â€ she added, and that was enough to make Rodney cough awkwardly and shut up for the rest of the driveâ€”at least until he saw the sign and yelled, â€œYou have got to be fucking with me!Â Smallville?â€
There was no way to know, Jane mused, even now, if she wasnâ€™t just wasting more time, if she wouldnâ€™t have been better off staying in Lex Luthorâ€™s bed and taking his ring to wear (however temporarily), but she thought this way her only regrets would be good ones, if such a thing even existed.Â Jane was remembering, or maybe forgetting, because whenever she felt that rush of affection, that heated burn of love, that moment of protectiveness for Rodney, she was shedding the discomfort that came with it, that snap of hurtful memory.Â She was reorganizing, re-remembering, and Jane thought that if Rodney ever asked her to marry him again she might say yes againâ€”eyes wide open, knowing she was throwing herself into the deep end of the pool.
â€œWell, at least he wonâ€™t be sniffing after you anymore,â€ Rodney muttered.Â â€œOf course, Luthorâ€™s marriages typically have a two-year lifespan.â€
â€œI think he always means well,â€ Jane demurred, seeing a yellow farmhouse down the road.
Rodney was quiet for a moment before he said, â€œThatâ€™s generally not enough,â€ and she could hear from the tremor in his voice, like his words had shaken on the phone when sheâ€™d called with her kidnapperâ€™s demands.
Janeâ€™s mouth went dry.Â â€œIt counts though,â€ she told him, as the car slowed to a stop in the farmhouseâ€™s driveway.Â She took his hand and smiled at him, tried to get through his tight expression.Â â€œIt does count.â€
Heâ€™d told her a little, after, about the whys and whos, but Jane hadnâ€™t really cared, and sheâ€™d been scared enough to ask Rodney to stay with her, let him rig all the windows and doors of their ex-house with lasers and death rays or whatever heâ€™d done.Â And for almost a month after sheâ€™d dragged him home from Antarctica, Jane had nightmares, woke up screaming for Gabe.Â Rodney had climbed into bed with her, brought their son with him, and sheâ€™d slept clutching his hand hard enough to leave crescent-shaped welts from her fingernails, listening to Gabeâ€™s steady breathing.Â Itâ€™d been the only way sheâ€™d felt safe.
Now Rodney spent half his time at their old house, half his time at his new one, although it was looking less and less lived-in, which was a feat in and of itself.Â Heâ€™d brought all his laptops back home and all of his comic books, his beloved limited edition DVD box set of The Evil Dead, and Jane knew that it was only a matter of time if is movies had started to show up on the living room shelves again.
Lex met them at the front porch and Jane abandoned Rodney to their luggage and ran up to meet him, threw her arms around his shoulders with a whooping laugh before pulling away to inspect him.Â He looked happy, more relaxed in his blue jeans and gray t-shirt, he looked like he had rough edges, and Jane felt a surge of joy for himâ€”just a tiny sting of jealousyâ€”to know that somebody else had gotten around to making fun of him during sex.
â€œYou look good,â€ she said.
â€œJane!â€ Rodney wailed at her, struggling with a giant suitcase.Â â€œJane!â€
â€œYou look good, too,â€ he said, and peered over her shoulder.Â â€œHe looks like he might have a stroke.â€
â€œRodney will be fine,â€ Jane dismissed, and linking her arm with Lexâ€™s, she said, â€œNow, I want to hear all about this person that youâ€™re marrying in haste.â€
Lex burst out laughing.Â â€œJane,â€ he managed, â€œthe irony is going to kill you.â€