Lois (kalalanekent) wrote,

Posting LS: Chapter Seventy-Five (Part Two)

I must make a momentary apology to the slash fans out there. Richard/Clark may be your OTP, but it can never happen in this universe. It's nothing mean, but we do jab at it a bit. *hugs*

“I’ll never forget what we had,” she whispered against his mouth.

Lois fled his apartment, tears starting up again. It just hurt too much; even kissing him now brought back bittersweet memories he’d never meant for her to have. She heard him calling out to her weakly, but she couldn’t bear to turn back. The sweetness of his lips mingled with the salt of her tears as she sobbed…

“Lois, wake up,” Kal-El whispered, shaking her shoulder a little more roughly. “Wake up, it’s only a dream. Hush, love, it’s just a dream. Don’t cry, Lois, I’m here…”

She looked up into those amazing sapphire eyes, seeing him so concerned and attentive, and blinked away tears. It was only a dream, he was right here beside her, none of that had happened… Lois snatched the pillow out from beneath her own head and hit Kal-El with it. “Damn you, you’d better not ever do that to me! I’d kill you! Dammit!”

He fended off the pillow, eventually taking it from her. “Lois, Lois, whatever it is, I wouldn’t do anything that would upset you this much. It was a dream. It wasn’t real.”

“It coulda been real, I would’ve done something that stupid for you,” she protested, sniffling back the tears that continued to leak. “I hate that; I’m so desperately in love with you, I’ve done such stupid stuff before, and I know I’d do something that lame…”

Kal-El hushed her, gathering her close against his chest and kissing her tear-streaked face until she settled down a bit. “Easy, love, it’s all right,” he whispered over and over again, stroking her hair until her breath stopped hitching. After a few moments, he nuzzled her cheek and asked, “Now, what was this dream about so I know what not to do?”

Lois sniffled again, burying her face in his neck. “It was a while from now – you and I were both older, I could tell. And … and you were trying that same stupid nonsense again, trying to pretend you’re not Superman. And I knew better, but I … I went along with it because … that’s what you wanted. I just love you too much for my own good. You are the only person I act like a stupid romantic with!”

“Lois, it was a dream,” he whispered, kissing her softly. “You know it’s a dream, because you’re not stupid. Farthest thing from it, really. You’re brilliant…”

“Done more than my share of stupid stuff because of you,” Lois muttered, curling closer against him. “Jumping out of windows and landing in fruit carts, that kind of stuff.”

“Being in love makes people do silly things,” he murmured. “I’ve done my share. But you’re not stupid, and it was just a dream. Lois, you know the truth now. We have the twins – we have a life together. I would never trade this life for anything…”

“Talked to your father lately?” she whispered huskily, turning her reddened eyes to his. “You did once, Kal-El.”

He traced one finger over her cheek before answering, looking at her somberly. “Lois, I made that mistake once. I won’t do it again. We’re proving every day that I can have you and my mission. No matter what Jor-El has to say on the matter, you and I are together now, and I mean for us to be together forever this time.”

“Yes, but…”

He cut her off with a gently scolding tone. “Lois, I can’t try to take everything back to the way it was, not now. Too many people know the secret. And I only know of two ways to undo what’s been done. One, the amnesia kiss … well, it’s not foolproof. And besides, look who knows. I have no problems kissing you like that…” Lois’ elbow caught him in the side, and he hastened to say, “No, I mean I have no problems giving you a romantic kiss! That was one heck of a kiss, and I have no idea if it would work as a peck on the cheek, all right? I was saying, I can’t imagine going around kissing everyone like that. The twins? Your mom? Lana? That’s … that’s just wrong.”

Lois actually snickered a little at that thought. “Yeah, well, once upon a time you wouldn’t have minded kissing Lana,” she teased, and had the satisfaction of seeing him blush.

Anyway, there’s one big reason why I can’t just give everyone amnesia and go back to keeping the secret,” Kal-El told her, waiting for Lois to stop snickering and meet his gaze. “Richard knows.”

She blinked up at him for a few seconds, then burst out laughing. “Oh my God, Kal-El, that’s hilarious,” Lois wheezed, still giggling. “Thanks, that made me feel better. You’re right. I can’t see that happening… Wait, you said there were two ways to undo it.” Her voice was suddenly nervous again, and her hands tightened on his shirt, seeking reassurance.

He sighed. “I wasn’t ever going to tell you this, but… It would be possible to undo everything. I mean really undo it. I … I can sort of turn back time. Well, really more go back in time than turn it backwards – it’s sort of a quantum thing.”

Hazel eyes searched his, seeking some indication that he was joking, but she saw only seriousness. Lois drew back from him slightly, asking carefully, “Why does this sound like something you stumbled into by accident? Kinda like the amnesia kiss?”

Kal-El propped himself up on one elbow, looking at her very intently. “Lois… You’re right, it’s another power I didn’t know I had. I’ve only used it once, in dire circumstances, and only for a matter of hours. And I wouldn’t use it now. I have no idea if I could go back that far, or what would happen if I did. Furthermore, if I went back and stopped you from finding out for certain that I’m Superman, I would basically un-create the twins. And that’s tantamount to murder – I would never give up Jason and Kala. Never.

When he said that, Lois had looked at him in absolute horror. Un-create the twins? Never, indeed – she had known he was powerful, but never imagined something like that. To distract herself from the distressing thought, she asked softly, “Dire circumstances? Why do I get the feeling this has something to do with me?” He was looking at her very strangely.

“Lois…” Kal-El trailed off and had to look away for a moment before meeting her gaze again. He spoke very softly and very hesitantly as he answered, “Lois, I… It was for you. In California. That earthquake…”

“My car ran out of gas, and there you were,” Lois murmured, nameless dread creeping icily into her heart.

“No,” he whispered. “No. A fault opened up. Your car… I was dealing with a dam that had burst. I didn’t see the fault widening until it was too late. I found you… The car had fallen in, and there was a rockslide. You … you were…” The look on Lois’ face stopped him, her eyes wide with denial, shaking her head back and forth as if to blot out what he was about to say. Kal-El caught her chin and made her look at him, all the agony of that moment blazing in his expression. “You were already gone,” he choked out. “You … you suffocated. And I was too late to save you. I tried… But I couldn’t … couldn’t live without you… So I went back in time, risked the whole world for you…”

Lois felt as if she were suffocating all over again. She’d had a recurring nightmare of being trapped and smothered in some dark place, and she felt the horror of that dream returning as Kal-El spoke. But messing around with time … no, that was too dangerous. Whatever he meant by risking the whole world for her, she didn’t really want to know. “No wonder your father hates me…” Lois whispered softly; it made so much sense now. Not only had he jeopardized his mission, he’d risked the entire world. “Kal-El, don’t ever risk everything for me like that again. Ever. Please…”

“I won’t have to,” he murmured, kissing her forehead gently. “I’m a lot better at getting there in time now.”

“Promise me you won’t do it again,” Lois demanded, tilting her face up to kiss him quickly and desperately. “Promise. I don’t ever want you to do that again.”

“Lois…” Kal-El’s voice was very soft, but he couldn’t make that promise. Not when he’d planned to use that power if he hadn’t been able to rescue the twins in time. The truth was, he would risk anything, even his own life, for his family. “I love you, Lois. I won’t have to take a risk like that again. You see? I’m always looking after you – I got here in moments to wake you from the nightmare. No matter what happens, I’ll be there for you.” He kissed her forehead again, nuzzling her hair. “Besides, I’m not even sure it would work a second time.”

She clung to him, still shivering from the dream. It had seemed so real, that bleak future. Trying to distract herself, she asked, “So, how’d it go with the crystals?”

Kal-El sighed. “Everything works. Even the artificial intelligence. I have my father back… But he has no memory of all the things he and I talked about. It’s been … interesting, going over it all again.”

Her sudden stillness communicated her trepidation better than any words, and Kal-El continued by answering the questions Lois hadn’t asked. “I haven’t spoken to him about us, yet. Nor the twins. I need to recharge the power source fully – we had just gotten through my education and my first rescues when the power started to dim. There’s a crystal cluster just for storing the sun’s rays, and as it turns out the walls of the Fortress are designed to funnel that energy down to it. It’s easier just to carry the thing up out of Earth’s atmosphere and let it absorb the unfiltered rays, though, and that’s what I was doing earlier this evening. I got caught up – the sun does that to me – and I didn’t know how late it was. When I finally noticed, I went back to the apartment instead of waking you. I figured I’d see you in the morning – and it is morning now.” 

He stroked her cheek lightly, adding, “There will be plenty of time to have those arguments all over again. This time, Father isn’t dealing with a frightened youngster or a man in the first flush of love. I’ve had to live without his teaching and advice, and I know now that I can do my duty as well as have a life with you and Jason and Kala. Frankly, I’m not looking forward to pointing out that he lied to me about my powers being gone forever.”

“Yes, well, I’m not looking forward to you having to argue with him at all,” Lois muttered. “I can’t quite forgive him for the last time we went through this.”

Kal-El shushed her, placing little kisses all along her neck and jaw line. “Lois, love, you won’t lose me again. I just got you back; you’re not going to get rid of me anytime soon. That I’ll promise you. I’m staying this time.”

Lois sighed contentedly and nuzzled him. “Good. Because I wouldn’t let you go this time.”

Laughing, he lay down beside her – it was three o’clock and they both had to be up early. “Well, since you’re so set on keeping me close, I have to admit I have no intention of flying back to my apartment in this weather with just pajamas on. The cold can’t hurt me, but it’s not comfortable on bare feet, either.”

“Pajamas?” She leaned back to look at him and snickered. “I hope no one saw you. But yes, you’re welcome to stay.”

“Thanks,” he replied. “You’re not the only one who’s finding it difficult to sleep alone these days, you know.” 

Grinning, Lois held up the edge of the comforter so he could slide under it. “I’ll never turn down a Kryptonian heating blanket,” she murmured as he curled around her. “Just make sure you go to sleep and be as un-irresistible as you can, all right? We do have plans tomorrow. The horde is coming home.”

Kal-El just sighed against the back of her neck, breathing in the scent of her hair. Lois jerked away with a shiver, growling, “That is not helping. If you want us to behave, you’d better stay the heck away from the back of my neck. In fact…” She squirmed away enough to roll over and lay against him, unconsciously mirroring the way they’d slept that first time in the Fortress.

He chuckled and kissed the top of her head. “Sorry. You smell so good… Get some sleep, love.”

“Fine. You lay there and huff my shampoo, I’ll sleep.” In an undertone, she added as she snuggled in against his chest, “Don’t think I don’t know why you don’t stay here at night.”

“I’m trying to set an example…” But Lois was already falling asleep, and Kal-El simply wrapped his arms around her and held her. It was so wonderful just to lie with her, to hear her heartbeat and feel the warmth of her skin. He had never dreamed he would be this lucky… And if I’m very lucky and she says ‘yes’ when I offer her the ring, I can have this for the rest of our lives. To sleep beside Lois every night and wake up with her every morning… Absolute bliss. Even if she is the most savage creature on earth before she gets her coffee, she’s finally mine. 
Lois had made up both guest bedrooms and reluctantly moved back into the master bedroom. They would be using the living room regularly with Ben and Martha both staying here, so she wouldn’t be able to camp out on the sofa bed anymore. There’s no way I can keep this house; I’ll never be able to sleep here again, she thought in annoyance as she cautiously slid a bowl of fresh greens into Gazeera’s cage. The iguana had been quite lethargic over the weekend, probably missing his owner, but Lois was still using a set of tongs to reach into his cage. There was no telling when the lizard might attack.

Captain Jack rattled his cage bars loudly, nearly making Lois drop the tongs. “Dammit,” she growled. “What the hell is it with the Kents and their psychotic damn animals?! God! Gimme two seconds, you fur-covered slinky. Here’s your freakin’ weasel chow.” The black ferret pounced as soon as she poured the kibble into his feeder, and the reporter left the twins’ room, still grumbling under her breath.

“You can handle convicts, congressmen, and superheroes, but you’re defeated by your own children’s pets,” Clark chuckled. He was standing at the foot of the stairs, looking up at her in clear amusement. “I can’t decide if that’s sad or just richly ironic.”

“Bite me, hero,” Lois grumbled. “It’s not like they can attack you or anything. When’s the rest of the family getting here?”

“Richard’s plane is about fifteen minutes away,” he replied. 

“Great,” Lois said as she hurried downstairs. “That’s just enough time for me to chuck both cages in the river. We can tell the twins their pets went out on vacation and we don’t know when they’ll come back.”

Lois!” Clark scolded. “You wouldn’t. You threaten it every day, but you’d never hurt those animals.” He glared at her, and she just looked back steadily, one eyebrow slightly arched. “I know you wouldn’t, Lois. Complain and threaten if it makes you feel better, but I know you’re a better person than you give yourself credit for.”

“Yeah, right,” Lois muttered, but her heart wasn’t in it. “What’s the E.T.A. on the welcoming committee?”

Clark tilted his head slightly, listening. “Hmm. They should be here any second. Lucy’s pulling in the driveway now…”

Lois gulped, pausing beside him. “Um, so how’d your mother sound when you talked to her this morning?”

“Lois, it’ll be fine. This isn’t a UN meeting; we don’t need an armed peacekeeping force.” Clark hugged her close and kissed her forehead, ignoring the pointed look she declared at him, the most effective peacekeeper of them all. “It’s just the twins’ grandmothers finally meeting.”

“That’s what I’m worried about,” Lois whispered, and then she heard the van in the driveway.

They had just gotten Ella, Ron, Lucy, and the Troupe kids out of Lucy’s van when they heard the seaplane’s engine approach. “Just in time!” Lucy said happily. “Hustle it, kids.”

“Good God, Lucy, you gain five pounds more every time I see you,” her sister said, shaking her head in wonderment. “When are you gonna pop that kid out? Every time I see you, I forget your due date.”

“I’m not due ‘til January first,” the blonde replied. “Heckuva way to ring in the New Year, huh?”

“Remember, Lucy, your sister was a week or two late,” Ella commented, looking archly at Lois. She knew now that Lois had actually carried the twins eleven months, but given their ancestry it was little surprise.

“Yes, well, I’m always early,” Lucy said proudly, patting her belly.

Ron and Clark had gone with the three children to wait while Richard docked the seaplane. He had barely tied it to the mooring cleats when Kala jumped out of the plane, giggling madly and running along the dock. Jason was right on her heels, both of them yelling, “MOMMEEEEE!

This time, Lois couldn’t kneel fast enough, and she got tackled to the ground. Both kids hugged her, babbling happily about how much they’d missed her and asking after their pets. Only after she’d hugged them both and reassured them that the animals were okay did they suddenly notice Clark, Nana, and the rest of the family, and race off to attack-hug someone else. 

Lois got up, dusting snow off her jeans, and glared at Richard. Stalking over to him with her hands on her hips, she lowered her voice to demand, “Why in the hell are my kids acting like a couple of coked-up crackheads, Mr. White? How much candy did they bring back from Smallville?”

“Oh, the inflight snack was chocolate-chip cookies,” Lana replied, patting Richard on the shoulder. “It’s been fun.” With that said, the redhead turned her attention to helping Martha and Ben off the plane.

“Cookies? Are you freakin’ kidding me?” Lois stared at him. “Cookies and candy in a two-day period? And they’ve been seatbelted in for how many hours? No wonder they’re acting like zoo escapees! Thanks, Richard.”

He glanced past her, to where Jason and Kala had finished hugging the adults and were now chasing Sam, Nora, and Joanna around in the snow, all five kids giggling madly. Jason tripped, landed full-length in the snow, and got up looking like an overly-frosted gingerbread boy. For one second, Clark looked concerned, but Jason just laughed and ran off after his cousins. “Hey, what’s wrong with cookies?” Richard asked, grinning at their antics. “They don’t have allergies anymore.”

“Yes, but they do react to sugar, Richard,” Lois growled. “This is why I always bought them sugar-free candy, Richard. Because I don’t particularly like them being psychotically hyper, Richard.”

Seeing the look of imminent strangulation on Lois’ face, Richard just held his arms out and smiled. “I missed you, too, honey.”

Grumbling, Lois hugged him anyway, looking over his shoulder at Ben who had just exited the seaplane. The older man waved a greeting, which Lois returned … and then the hand on Richard’s shoulder tightened into a claw when she saw the dog carrier Ben was holding. “I will freakin’ kill you, Richard,” she snarled under her breath.

“Wha…? Oh,” he said, starting to smile apologetically as he stepped back from her. “Lois, Barkley pines when he’s left alone…”

Lois gave him a very black look and said flatly, “I hate y…”

Her words were cut off by the sudden baying of the beagle, and everyone jumped, even those who had met him. “We brought Barkley, Mommy!” Kala yelled happily. “He can meet Gazeera an’ Captain Jack!”

“For the love of God, Benjamin Hubbard, shut that fool hound up!” Martha called, glaring at Ben. She didn’t see the measuring glance Ella Lane gave her at that.

Clark chose that moment to make the introductions, catching his mother’s elbow gently. “Ma, I really want you to meet Lois’ family,” he said warmly, and offered Ben a smile, too. “Ben, you and Barkley too. Let’s go inside.”

Lois swatted Richard on the shoulder and called to her sister, “Gather your heathens, Lucy. Momma, Ron, c’mon. Everybody in the house where it’s warm. Jason! Kala! No, you are not making snowmen right now. Inside.”

Once indoors, Lois went to make hot chocolate, listening to Clark introduce everyone. Her attention drifted from the milk in the saucepan for just a moment as she reflected on the situation. Not so long ago, he thought he was alone on this earth, the last of his kind. The Last Son of Krypton, with only his adopted mother knowing the truth. But now look at him. He’s not the Last Son anymore; there’s a son and a daughter who both look like him and who are both inheriting his powers. Plus he has me, the love of his life… Lois grinned to herself before adding, and he’s the love of mine. That would’ve been enough, I think, but he also has my family now. Momma knows, and even if Lucy and Ron and the kids don’t know he’s Superman, they love Clark. They always have. Lucy’s going to drive me nuts with ‘I told you so’ over him. 

And the weirdest thing of all, Richard and Lana are some kind of family, too. He’s more my irritating brother than my ex-lover these days – for which I’m thankful, even when I want to deck him – and Lucy’s working her way around to unofficially making Lana a Lane girl. ‘Matching Monograms Club,’ indeed. Even Momma’s commented that the cheerleader reminds her of herself at that age, and I can see it. Lana’s got the poise and diplomacy Momma couldn’t quite instill into her headstrong foul-mouthed oldest or her bubbly cheerful youngest.

Lois was saved from having to contemplate how much like her father she really was by the milk starting to simmer. She quickly poured hot milk into mugs and added powdered cocoa, and Lucy arrived in a moment to help her carry the drinks out. “I love this kitchen,” her sister sighed. “It’s huge, you realize.”

“And totally wasted on me,” Lois replied. “That’s part of the reason why we’re not keeping it. Clark cooks, but he’s just as busy as I am. You’d get more use out of a kitchen this size than I ever would…”  She trailed off thoughtfully, then shook herself. “So how’s everything going out there?”

“Momma and Mrs. Kent haven’t had much of a chance to talk,” Lucy said in her usual sunny manner. “The kids are pretty much monopolizing everyone.”

“I will kill Richard for giving them sugar on a long flight,” Lois promised. She gave Lucy one tray of mugs and took the heavier tray herself, heading out to the living room to circulate.

Ella and Martha had each taken one of the deep, comfortable chairs that faced the sofa, and Richard and Lana were on the sofa, leaving space for Lucy. Ben, Ron, and Clark had taken chairs from the dining room, and the kids were all on the floor except for Joanna, who was perched on her father’s lap. Jason and Kala had shrewdly decided to sprawl on the floor between Ella’s seat and Martha’s, showing no favoritism.

Lois, however, glared at Richard. You live here, you jerk, you should’ve let Ben have the sofa. I swear you can take your arm from around Lana’s shoulder for five minutes and she won’t run away. Jeez. He interpreted the glare correctly and leapt to his feet, gesturing at the sofa. “I saved you a seat, hon. Here, give me that tray. You kids, mugs stay on the coffee table, not on the floor.”

Lois rolled her eyes and gave Ben a sweet smile. “Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer the couch, Ben? I sit on those dining room chairs all the time. It’s no trouble.”

The older man just grinned at her. He’d pulled his chair up beside Martha’s, and now he patted her arm. “Thank you, Lois, but I’m fine. Besides, with all these handsome younger men around, I’d better stick close to my lady.”

Clark almost controlled the stricken expression that briefly flitted across his face, but Lois caught it as she sat down. Well, he’d been very good about Ben and Martha lately. It was only when he was reminded that they were more than just friends that he looked nauseated. He’d come a long way since he’d first found out they were dating, the details of which Martha had told Lois over much coffee and laughter.

Richard gave Lois a cup of hot chocolate and a smirk, perching on the end of the sofa beside Lana, who cut him a bemused look. Lois rolled her eyes at him and then turned her attention back to her mother.

And caught Ella and Martha looking at each other intently. Lois held her breath; the two had been introduced, and had been darting glances at each other, but they hadn’t yet sized each other up. Now it was the moment of truth, and it occurred to her then that she had never formally introduced her mother to the parents of any of her men. First time for everything, she thought, trying to make herself chuckle and failing. 

A large portion of her future with Clark was now being decided. If their mothers didn’t get along, it could become a constant state of war – Lois knew how determined Ella was, and she’d had a taste of Martha’s disapproval. On the other hand, Clark was smiling at both of them, clearly expecting them to be instant friends. If that happened, it would go a long way toward making the rest of the couple’s life blissful.

Ella set down her mug with a barely-audible yet very deliberate clink, and turned in her chair to face the older woman. Martha looked back at her steadily, and gradually the other women in the room became aware of the tension. Lois had the thought that if the moms had been dogs, they would’ve been circling each other with hackles raised. And one of us would be running for the garden hose to split them up if they decide to fight. Might be a good idea anyway…

On the surface, the two women seemed to have much in common. They were both widows of a certain age, gray-haired and light-eyed, their faces full of character and their bearing full of confidence. A closer look revealed the differences. Silver hair and gray-blue eyes for Martha, whose face was lined by laughter and the Midwestern sun. White hair and hazel eyes for Ella, who had always taken judicious care of her skin but who could not hide the lines left by stress. Martha had worried over her son, but her life had contained a great deal of joy, first with Jonathan and now with Ben. Ella had frequently worried about the General and her headstrong eldest, and had often had to compose her features into a mask of serenity to hide her mourning for the close relationship her beloved Sam had never been able to have with Lois.

The corner of Martha’s mouth twitched up slightly as she observed that Mrs. Lane’s shoes probably cost more than her own outfit, and the other woman looked less comfortable in them. Ella noted with a trace of chagrin that Martha had to be several years her elder, but they looked the same age. The two continued considering each other for a long, silent moment, while Jason and Kala lay on the floor peering at them both. At last the twins turned to each other, and Jason whispered, “Why do they look funny?”

That brought a snicker from the three women seated across from the grandmothers – the Matching Monograms Club was watching them closely, even if the four men were still engaged in animated conversation and unaware of the tension. The kids had broken the ice, at least, and Martha smiled first. “Kala has your eyes,” she said quietly.

“And Jason has Clark’s,” Ella replied in the same complimentary tone.

“So we’ve both done our part to beautify the next generation,” Martha quipped, and the two women shared a laugh even as Lois sighed heavily in relief. Lucy patted her shoulder affectionately as Martha continued, “I was very much looking forward to meeting you, Ella. The twins have been filling my head with tales of their Nana and her wonderful house and all the exciting places they get to go with you and their cousins.”

“I’m glad to know that,” Ella replied. “Ever since they came back from Kansas, I’ve been hearing nonstop about their Grandma and her cool farm and all the chickens, goats, and frogs you have.”

Martha laughed at that, but before she could comment further, the twins leaped to their feet. “Grandma and Mister Ben and Miss Lana haven’t met Gazeera!” Jason said excitedly. He and Kala pelted upstairs, and Lois dropped her forehead into her hands with a groan.

“Well, this’ll be the first time I meet an iguana,” Ben said with amusement. Barkley lay on his lap, snoring; the dog had managed to sniff everyone’s ankles and was satisfied with life for the moment.

“The pets are a handful,” Richard cautioned. “Lois swears up and down she’s going to kill my uncle.”

“The swearing I believe,” Ella said archly, getting a chuckle from Martha. “But she’d never harm Perry.”

“Thanks, Momma,” Lois muttered under her breath.

Kala scampered downstairs first, holding her ferret tucked against her chest. For once she had the limelight while Jason was still coaxing Gazeera out of his cage, and she held her pet out to the assembled adults with a proud smile. “This is Cap’n Jack,” she proclaimed. “He’s a ferret, an’ he’s really smart. Uncle Perry gave ‘im to me for my birthday.”

“He’s very handsome,” Martha said, but Barkley had woken up when the strange scent drifted to his nostrils. Almost blind and nearly deaf though he was, his sense of smell was still keen. The beagle got one whiff of ‘vermin’ and broke loose with an ear-splitting bay that made everyone yelp.

“Shut up, Barkley, it’s a pet,” Ben said urgently, ruffling the hound’s ears to distract him. But Barkley scented something whose ancestors had killed chickens his ancestors protected, and he howled for the ferret’s blood, his hackles rising.

Captain Jack was smart enough to recognize the threat, and he was trying to scrabble out of Kala’s hands and flee just as much as Barkley was trying to get away from his master. “Ah, Lois, we might want to put him in his kennel,” Ben said, clutching the hound’s collar. “I don’t think he’s gonna quit…”

“Come with me,” Lois said, getting up quickly and offering Ben a hand. He needed both of his to hold on to the struggling dog, but fortunately he managed to follow Lois with little trouble. The reporter snagged the travel kennel from where it had been set down in the foyer and carried it up to the guest bedroom, while Ben alternately soothed and chastised Barkley. At least the beagle was quieting down once they left the living room and the scent of ferret behind.

Captain Jack was still squirming, but Kala was getting better at holding him. She snuggled him close and whispered, “It’s okay, Barkley wouldn’t hurt you. He just got excited. It’s okay, Cap’n Jack.”

“It’s not your fault, Kala,” Lana said gently, seeing the troubled look in the little girl’s hazel eyes. “Barkley was falling asleep anyway. He’ll be glad to take a nap upstairs while the rest of us talk.” By way of further reassurance, she reached out to rub the ferret’s head. Captain Jack had calmed down considerably, and even when panicking he hadn’t tried to bite Kala, so it seemed safe enough.

Getting Barkley settled in his cage in the guestroom, Ben and Lois both heard the sudden falsetto shriek, and the reporter cursed as she raced out of the room and down the stairs. Jason had just come downstairs with Gazeera, so it wasn’t him; Lois dashed past and into the living room.

Richard held Captain Jack by the scruff of the ferret’s neck, reaching out to touch Lana’s shoulder reassuringly with his free hand. The way the redhead was holding the neck of her blouse closed told Lois exactly what happened. Captain Jack must have tried to jump straight down her shirt, which explained how she’d gotten from seated on the couch to standing behind it, probably in one shocked leap. Jeez, we have a psycho dinosaur and a lecherous weasel. Thanks a lot, Perry. “Lana, are you okay?” Lois asked, everyone else echoing the question.

Her green eyes were still wide and wild, but Lana managed to answer in a slightly faint voice, “I’m fine, I’ve just never had a weasel in my cleavage before.”

Lois snorted and stared at Richard, but he wasn’t paying attention to her. “Kala,” he said sternly, “this is why Captain Jack is supposed to wear his leash when we have company.”

“I’m sorry!” Kala replied, stretching both hands up toward her bewildered-looking pet. “Daddy, gimme! You’re hurtin’ ‘im!”

“Not like I want to hurt him,” he muttered, handing over the ferret. Kala immediately cradled Captain Jack and started cooing to him as she carried him to her room to get his harness and leash. Jason, who had heard the whole thing, had already gone back upstairs for Gazeera’s leash.

Richard sighed, giving Lana an apologetic look, and then caught Lois still staring at him. “What?” he started to ask, then remembered Lana’s dazed reply and growled at his ex, “Shut up.”

Keeping several juicy replies behind her smirk – most of them along the lines of She’d better get used to having a weasel in her cleavage if she’s gonna be with you – Lois patted the redhead on the shoulder. “Welcome to the family, Lana. You’re not really one of us until you’ve starred in your own episode of When the Lane Kids’ Pets Attack.”

“Oh, lovely,” Lana said, the traumatized look finally leaving her eyes. “I didn’t know sororities hazed initiates, much less that the hazing involved being assaulted by wild animals. Just peachy.”

Once again, Lois just looked speculatively at Richard, one eyebrow raised and with her trademarked smartass grin. He happened to be looking at her that time, and she hadn’t even managed to open her to comment before he snapped, “Didn’t I tell you to shut up?”
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