Well, dear readers, here we are again. In spite of computer troubles and a day off, we managed to get the chapter finished and our beta team got it back in record time.
This is the last of the Smallville cycle. As of this chapter, we're going back to Metropolis - but not without a few final words from Ben and Martha. And once the protagonists are back home, don't expect everything to be peachy-keen. This is Little Secrets, after all. Everything is not what it seems.
A quick note of gratitude before the story commences: Thanks first of all to our lovely beta team, which has increased by one. Trekkie, a fabulous reviewer, has joined us in proofreading each chapter. She catches typos that I miss, and I was formerly editor of the yearbook and the school newspaper! Creative Consultant Abby also gets huge hugs and thanks, as always. Last but far from least, the first beta reader LS ever had: Barb. You rock on, lady.
Enough chatter, here's what you're waiting for:
It was the last day of the Lanes’ visit to Smallville and all members of the family had awakened early, Lois included. As she and Clark moved around the farmhouse to get their preparations in order, Martha sat down on the sofa and sipped her tea, feeling rather melancholy. It seemed as though Jason and Kala had just arrived, and now they were leaving again. Don’t be a foolish old woman, she told herself sternly. It’s not as if Clark can’t fly them down for a weekend. And they’ve had so much fun here; they’re bound to want to come back. You’ll see them again.
But her heart wasn’t listening. They were both so delightful, a mix of sweetness and mischief that reminded her of their father. And their amazement at the simplest things – milking a cow, feeding chickens – brought wonder back into Martha’s life. Their loud and free laughter, when delighted or startled by a new experience, was a balm against those years without them. The few days she’d spent with Jason and Kala seemed like mere moments, time flying past while they came to know and love each other. And now they were leaving.
While she lingered on such thoughts, the twins came into the room, bouncy and bright-eyed as usual. They were such tiny bundles of limitless energy. Jason and Kala immediately noticed that Grandma looked sad, though, and toned down their rambunctious behavior to climb up onto the couch with her, one child on each side peering up at her curiously. Before Martha could do more than look surprised, Kala and Jason leaned against her and, without a word, hugged her.
The sudden show of affection startled a laugh out of Martha, and she returned the hugs. It was amazing how such a small gesture could be felt so deeply. "I’m gonna miss you two," Martha whispered against their hair. She was so focused on the pair of them that she didn’t see Clark start to walk into the room. He stopped in the doorway, just watching with a small smile.
Kala cocked her head and gave her a smile. "We won’t be gone long," she said confidently.
"We see our Nana almost ev’ry weekend," Jason added, explaining, "She’s Mommy’s momma. She lives in Metrop’lis, too. Nana makes the best ‘talian food in the whole world, but she doesn’t have a goat."
"Or chickens," Kala said with a grin. "Grandma, d’ya think Mommy would let me have a chicken?"
"Your stupid weasel would eat it," Jason said, mirroring that toothy smile.
His sister glared at him, then sighed. "I guess you’re right, Jason. I guess I can’t have a chicken," she said sadly, shrugging her shoulders.
His jaw fell open, and even Martha looked at her in surprise. She’d only known the twins three days, and even she knew that such an admission from Kala heralded the end of the world. The next moment, however, Kala’s hazel eyes sparkled with devilment, and she added, "If I got a chicken, it’d probably look at your dumb ol’ lizard and drop dead ‘cuz Gazeera’s so ugly!"
Jason was so outraged that he couldn’t speak, his mouth working and his eyes wide with shocked affront. It was all Martha could do not to burst out laughing, and even then it took her a moment before she could speak without chuckling.
"Now, both of you," she said, mildly scolding. "You have to behave if you want to go on trips to the farm. No more making fun of each other’s pets."
The twins heaved identical sighs, and chorused, "Yes, Grandma." They knew that no-nonsense tone very well, having heard it from Lois, and knew that protesting about which one of them started the fight was useless.
"Very good," Martha told them, giving each child a kiss on the forehead. "Now, let’s stay out from underfoot while your parents are packing. We’ve got just enough time left to make a batch of cookies before you go."
It was just like the Pied Piper of Hamlin. Play the right tune and… "YAY!" Jason and Kala exclaimed, following her to the kitchen excitedly. "What kind?"
Clark watched them go with a smile; he would have to find a way to bring the twins out here frequently. Ma clearly adored them, and they just as clearly showed the feeling was mutual. His fond reflections were interrupted by Lois yanking his sleeve, an expression of intense exasperation on her features. "Honey?" he asked.
"Clark, did you tell Richard I bought the twins’ plane tickets?" she asked irritably, her cell phone pressed to her ear as she rolled her hazel eyes heavenward.
"No," he said. "I thought you bought them, but I didn’t say I knew for sure."
"I thought he did," Lois snapped, making it obvious that she and Richard had been arguing this point for a while now.
Clark could clearly hear Richard respond, "Well, Clark said he had it all worked out, so I thought you bought them." He sounded frazzled and frustrated, and they could hear the normal newsroom sounds in the background of the call.
"So who the hell paid for their tickets?" Lois growled, throwing her hands up in defeat. "Well, they weren’t free, you know. And Lana didn’t exactly check them as baggage…"
Richard, Clark, and Lois realized it at the same time: "Lana."
"She bought them each a new book in the airport, and lunch," Lois muttered, groaning. "No wonder she looked at me like I was nuts when I said something about that, considering she paid for two tickets!"
"She never said a word to me about it," Richard said incredulously. "Hell, I didn’t even know she was the one taking them until she turned up here!"
Clark just shook his head. "I never thought to ask either of you who was going to buy tickets. I would’ve offered to pay, but everything just fell into place so fast…"
"I’m paying her back," Lois declared. "Geez. I know the woman’s a millionaire, but who just randomly buys plane tickets for your kids without even telling you?"
"Better yet, who’s going to buy their return tickets?" Richard asked.
"Aw, crap," Lois groaned louder this time. That really did present a problem. "I bought a round-trip ticket because the return was half-off; I don’t even know if there’s space on the flight for the twins. And my freakin’ ticket is non-refundable… Why didn’t I think of that? Stupid, Lane."
"I’ll take them," Clark said quietly.
Lois blinked at him, the thought never having occurred to her, and Richard cursed suddenly in the background. "Lois, I’ve got a call coming in on another line," he said. "I’ll be damned glad when you get back here, I’ll tell you that. Call me and let me know what’s up, please?"
"I will, as soon as I’m sure," Lois said with a sigh. It was too damned early. "Take care."
A pause in which, not so long ago, Richard would’ve said he loved her, and she would’ve replied the same. "You too," he said simply, and hung up.
She frowned at the phone once she hung up, trying to ignore the uneasy feeling she got during those awkward moments between herself and her former fiancé. Hopefully, one day… Shaking it off, Lois looked askance at Clark. "You’d fly them? Both of them, all the way to Metropolis?"
"It wouldn’t take long," he said. "I’d stay in the cloud layer; we want them exposed to measured doses of sunlight, not the unfiltered stuff higher up. Two superpowers per child are enough to deal with at six."
"Yeah," Lois agreed shakily. "More than enough, actually. You’re sure you don’t mind flying them back?"
"Not at all," he replied. "We’ll leave a little later than you do so all of us get back around the same time. In fact, if you give me your keys I can bring your car up to the airport and the kids and I can meet your flight."
Lois blinked at him with a dubious light in her eyes. "Clark, do you even have a driver’s license?"
"Yes," he replied, chuckling. "I don’t drive much, but I do have one. And I know how to drive it. I can even parallel-park."
"All right, just this once," Lois said, not mentioning that it had taken her three weeks of continuous work to learn that particular skill. "And only because it’s inconvenient as hell to take a cab."
Clark laughed and kissed her forehead. "You’re doing me a favor by letting me pick you up, then?"
"Of course, hero," Lois teased. They hugged for a long moment, the dark-haired woman breathing in deep with contentment before they pulled back, both of them smiling. "Even with that taken care of, we still have a lot to do," Lois said reluctantly.
"We’ll get it done," Clark replied. "If you’ve got some of the bags packed, I’ll take them to the car. Oh, and I need you to take the twins’ luggage with you."
"Will do," she said with a salute, grinning cheekily. "Kal-El Air doesn’t take cargo, huh?"
"No," he replied before they broke apart to attend to their separate tasks, chuckling. "Passengers only."
As the hour of Lois’ departure neared, their efforts at packing intensified. Even though Lois hadn’t been in Smallville very long, her things had managed to infiltrate every corner of the house. Clark managed to find her coat on the rack by the door, her boots under the coffee table in the living room, and her purse hanging from the back of a chair in the kitchen.
Jason and Kala, once they found out that they would be flying back with Daddy, were so ecstatic that they got underfoot and in everyone’s way. Martha was pleased to learn she had a few more hours with them, but rather frazzled by the nuisances they made of themselves while Lois was trying to get ready to leave. Ben dropped by to say farewell, giving Lois a fond hug and admonishing her to come back soon.
"Well, it wouldn’t do to leave the other ‘Outlaw’ out here by himself, now would it?" she murmured against the older man’s ear. "She’s a lucky woman, Ben. Find some way to convince her."
They shared a smile at that as they stepped back. "Him, too. And don’t forget it." Lois only winked.
At last it was time to leave, and Lois made herself nearly ten minutes late hugging and kissing the twins and trying to extract promises of good behavior. Clark hugged and kissed her as well, and after a moment of looking at each other awkwardly, Lois and Martha even hugged each other goodbye. As Lois drove off, the other four stood in the dooryard waving.
Clark hugged the twins as he watched her leave. "All right, you two, we have a couple of hours. What do you want to do before we leave?"
"Help Grandma finish making more cookies!" Kala said excitedly, her eyes bright with the prospect of more chocolate chips.
"I have all the cookies I need, darling," Martha told her, and both twins’ faces fell in disappointment. "But I could always make an apple pie…"
The suggestion met with enthusiastic approval.
Clark landed at the riverside house and started looking through Lois’ key ring. There was no easy way to figure out which was the house key, and he wasn’t delighted by the prospect of trying each one in the door. She had at least twenty keys on there, some for the office, some for the house, probably keys to Lucy’s house and her mother’s as well. Several of them had different colors and patterns, and maybe the twins would know which of those identified the key he needed…
Before he could ask, the back door opened, revealing a very startled Richard. Both men just froze. The twins ran to him, yelling delightedly, and almost knocked him over in their affection. Clark followed them up to the door, wincing a little. Well, if this isn’t the very definition of awkward…
"An’ I got to pet a chicken, and meet our Grandma, and play with nice doggies, and milk a goat!" Kala reported with a huge grin of excitement.
"I caught a biiiiig froggy, but Mommy made me put it back," Jason added, not to be outdone. "And we met lots of people, too."
"Sounds like you had fun," Richard said, and only Clark could hear the hint of strain in his voice.
"We missed you," Jason replied, hugging him again. Their excitement would have been contagious, if the situation hadn’t been so problematic. "Can you come with us next time, Daddy?"
Richard looked up at Clark, not knowing what to say. The two men looked at each other, both at a loss for words and feeling a sense of impending doom. The same thought ran through both their minds: these kids are going to be furious when they figure out they can’t have both of us all the time. "Um, maybe," Richard finally said.
Clark glanced down; he’d changed clothes at super-speed behind a tree seconds after landing, so he could tug nervously on his shirt collar as well. "I guess I’ll head out," he said diffidently.
Jason whipped around and stared at him, eyes wide. "Daddy, you just got here!" he protested.
"No, it’s fine," Richard said. "I just wasn’t expecting you this soon, or I wouldn’t have been here. I’ll head back to Uncle Perry’s."
"No, Daddy!" Kala said suddenly, shaking her head at him, hanging on to his arm tightly. She looked back and forth between the two men, seeming to know what they were thinking, growing more upset by the second. "Daddy Richard, I missed you!"
Richard flinched at the new name, but he wasn’t alone. The next second, Jason turned to Clark and asked, "How come you wanna leave, Daddy Clark?"
They looked at each other helplessly as the twins stared at them, growing wild-eyed. "I thought you were friends!" Kala said, her voice rising. "You don’t like each other anymore?"
"Why’s somebody gotta leave?" Jason demanded.
"Kids, we should wait until your mother gets here to explain…" Richard began, but Jason cut him off.
Usually the sweeter and more manageable of the twins, Jason did have a temper, and when it boiled over, it was worse than Kala’s customary crankiness. "NO!" he yelled, stamping his foot. Richard’s eyes widened to see the imprint he left in the grass. "You tell me what’s wrong! Now!"
"Nothing’s wrong," Clark said, trying desperately to seem casual.
Kala picked up on her brother’s distress, though, and glared at Clark with her mother’s pout. "Grown-ups aren’t s’posed to tell fibs," she said, her voice on the verge of breaking. She reached out for Jason at the same moment he reached for her, and they held each other’s hands for dear life.
"Kids," Richard said softly. "C’mon, my little monsters. Come inside. We have a lot to talk about, and Gazeera and Captain Jack missed you."
Cajoling wasn’t working, though. "Only if Daddy Clark comes too," Jason said truculently. "I don’ wanna lose him or you."
"You’re not losing anyone," Clark said gently as Richard managed to shepherd them all inside. "Jason, haven’t we all told you we love you and we’re not going to leave?"
Blue eyes so like his own turned an angry glare in his direction. "Grownups aren’t supposed to tell fibs," Jason said, "but sometimes they don’t tell the truth, either."
"Not about stuff like this," Richard said. The twins had halted in the kitchen, still gripping each other’s hands, their gazes swiveling from one father to the other.
"What’s wrong?" Kala asked worriedly. "What’s happenin’? How come you’re actin’ funny?"
Richard pulled out one of the kitchen chairs and sat down, Clark mirroring his example. That brought both of them down to a level where Jason and Kala didn’t have to crane their heads back and look up. "Listen, you two know your mommy and I have been arguing a lot," Richard began.
"You’re leaving," Jason said dully, his gaze accusatory. "You’re gonna leave like Bethany’s daddy and never come back. Mister Clark’s gonna be our new daddy."
"No," Clark said. "I’m not trying to take Richard’s place, and he’s not going to go away and never come back. That will never happen. We both love your mother, and we both love you two. Very much. It’s just…"
"Mommy can’t be in love with both of us at the same time," Richard finished for him.
"Why not? You’re always tellin’ us to share," Jason muttered darkly.
Richard and Clark looked at each other, struck by the sheer absurd hilarity of the remark. Share Lois? Not likely. They both loved her fiercely, and only putting the twins’ well-being first had been enough to convince Richard to let her go.
"Yeah," Kala said in a small voice. "Share." She was upset enough to have gotten quiet, leaving the arguing to Jason.
"That isn’t fair to either of us," Clark said gently. "Besides, where does that leave Lana?"
"Miss Lana can move in too," Jason said, his expression a stubborn scowl. "We’ve got lotsa room. Everybody can live together and nobody has to go away."
Richard scrubbed his hands over his face. My kids are trying to get me to start a free-love commune, he thought. This is so damned surreal.
"It wouldn’t be fair," Clark protested. "Listen. If I had a bowl of ice cream, only one bowl, and one spoon, and I told you two to take turns eating the ice cream, what would happen?"
"You’d fight like rabid pit bulls," Richard muttered under his breath.
"You’d argue," Clark continued. "And you’d both be upset. You’d be upset when it was your turn with the ice cream, because you’d know you’d have to give it up. And you’d be upset when the other one had the ice cream, because you’d want some and you’d have to watch the other eat it. It wouldn’t work."
"And a person isn’t a bowl of ice cream," Richard said. "Your mommy has feelings, too, guys. She wouldn’t want to make me and Clark fight. We wouldn’t want to, but we would at some point. She loves us both, and it would hurt her to see us upset."
"I don’t think Miss Lana would like it, either," Clark said. "She wouldn’t want to share Richard with your mommy."
"So Daddy’s goin’ away with Miss Lana," Jason muttered unhappily, and he frowned.
"Lana doesn’t mind if I’m friends with Mommy," Richard said. "Neither does Clark. I just can’t be Mommy’s boyfriend anymore. But I’ll always be your daddy as long as you want me to be."
"And I won’t try to stop that," Clark said. "Kids can have two daddies, you know. I’m your father because you get … certain things … from me, and because I love you. But Richard will always be your daddy because you grew up with him, and he loves you like a daddy should."
Kala was absolutely silent, her hazel eyes filling with tears. She turned away from the two men she loved and buried her face in her brother’s shoulder. Jason hugged her tight and glared at both adults. The little boy had heard enough. And none of it was anything he liked. "I wanna go to Nana’s," he demanded.
"Jason…" Richard began, but the boy cut him off again.
"I wanna go to Nana’s house," he said stubbornly, showing a surliness that even Richard had rarely seen. "And Kala’s goin’ with me. You won’t split us up. You promised that. Not ever."
A threat lurked behind his words as he stared at them. Jason had never behaved like this – Richard had never seen him so defiant before. Or as angry. Or wounded. He felt as helpless as Clark looked, neither of them able to give a satisfactory answer to the boy they both called son. "No one will separate you two," Clark said after a moment, his voice fraught with pain.
"All right, you can go to Nana’s house," Richard said finally. "Together. Mommy will be home later, and she’ll pick you up…"
Jason shook his head violently. "Nuh-uh. Stayin’ at Nana’s."
For once it was Kala who clung to him worriedly, peeking around his shoulder with a hurt and frightened expression. Ever the strong one, the mouthpiece for the both of them, Kala was for once silent. The look on her face as her gaze moved back and forth between he and Clark pained Richard more than Jason’s anger, and he gave in. "Okay, come on. Let’s go. Clark…"
"I’ve got to pick Lois up from the airport," he replied. "I’ve got her car keys…"
"I’ll go with you when I get back from taking them," Richard said, watching as Jason went to stand by the door and glare at him. "She’s not gonna be happy…"