Behave as if you have every right to be there, and no one will think to challenge you. Skulk and you won’t make it ten feet past the front door. That sage wisdom, learned from Perry White and practiced by intrepid reporter Lois Lane, was frequently put to use by both Lane-Kent kids, but especially Kala. She headed into the Daily Star building with her head up, backpack slung casually over one shoulder, her heeled boots rapping the tile floor authoritatively. She seemed so at home that a couple of cub reporters actually got out of her way and let her have the elevator car they were waiting for. Kala managed not to smirk until the doors closed.
She went straight up to the top floor, and was halfway across the bullpen before someone noticed her. “Hey,” a scowling young man called. “What’re you doing here?”
“I’m here to see Tobie,” Kala replied, looking up at him coyly through her eyelashes. He would’ve been handsome, if he would’ve lost the sour look, so she gave him the slow grin that made high school boys forget where they were.
She’d expected him to at least smile, but he just looked annoyed. Shaking his head, he got up to lead her to Tobie’s office, and Kala watched him warily. At least the other men in the office were behaving in more familiar ways; Kala got the obvious look over, the sly wait-until-you-walk-past glance, and a couple of friendly grins. She had grown accustomed to such treatment by men who didn’t realize how young she actually was, and it amused her. It gave her parents – and her brother – fits, but Kala considered herself above all of it. That aloof attitude just seemed to encourage most of them, though…
Tobie’s office was only partially glassed-in, and the editor was reading something at her desk, so she didn’t see them approach. The young man opened the door and said in an aggravated tone, “Raines, someone to see you.” He stepped back, not even bothering to hold the door for Kala, and muttered, “Young enough to be her daughter, too…”
“Excuse me?” Kala glared at him sharply, catching the door. “Just what are you implying?” Too late, she realized that her attempt to charm him might’ve been taken as something else entirely. She’d been raised to be very open-minded, but the implication freaked her out a bit. Tobie was cool, but she was, well, Mom’s age.
Tobie had stood up the moment the door opened, and Kala’s tone filled her in on the muttered comment she’d missed. Glowering at her employee, she snapped, “Listen, McAvery, she’s fifteen. And essentially my niece.” Holding up her left hand, with its slender gold ring, she added, “Not to mention, I am very happily married. Keep your perverse imaginings to yourself.”
Never one to forgo putting her two cents into the conversation, Kala glared at him too, aware that they had the attention of the entire newsroom. “Besides which, my mother and my father are department heads at the Daily Planet. I don’t fraternize with the enemy.” On that note, she spun on her heel and stalked into Tobie’s office, where she promptly hopped up onto the desk and swung her feet like a second-grader.
With a last glower at her staff, Tobie sat back down. “Get off the desk, brat,” she said. “And you could’ve just told him you were straight.”
“But Aunt Tobie, that never stopped you before,” Kala responded immediately, unable to contain her gleeful grin as she slid off the desk and into the chair opposite Tobie. Mom had asked Jason to give Tobie hell, not knowing that Kala would be the one delivering her invitation, and this was the best way to unnerve and annoy her at the moment. “With your reputation, straightness is just a challenge to be overcome.”
Tobie gave a heavy sigh. “You eavesdropped way too much as a child, Kala. And if I was that good at converting straight girls, I would’ve bagged your mom when we were in college.”
“You respect Mom too much to add her to your long list of conquests,” Kala dismissed the comment blithely, as if she hadn’t just said aloud what had remained unspoken between the two friends for twenty years. “Anyway, since I went to your wedding, I know perfectly well you’re off the market.”
“I’ve been off the market ever since I met Maggie,” Tobie smiled at the memory. “She made quite the impression…”
“I’ve heard,” Kala said dryly. “You were so enraptured watching her direct traffic that you rear-ended some guy’s car, and then tried to pick her up when she wrote you a ticket for it.”
“Never underestimate the power of a woman in uniform,” Tobie said with a smirk.
“Never underestimate the audacity of a reporter,” Kala shot back.
That earned a grudging grin from EIC Raines. “Nice vocabulary. People might actually think your parents are writers or something.”
“Hey, they still have a front-page byline now and then,” Kala replied. “Can the Editor in Chief of this newspaper say as much? Inquiring minds want to know.”
“Read the Star and find out,” Tobie retorted. “Might do you some good to read some news that doesn’t exist to impress its investors.”
Kala made a reasonable impression of a mewling cat. “That was catty. Sounds like you think you have something to prove.”
“To you? Not a thing,” Tobie said, sitting back in her chair. “The only nice thing about being north of thirty-five is not having to defend myself against arrogant little squirts like you. I’ve survived being just as much of a snarky little shit as you are right now, and that’s accomplishment enough.”
“You know, you really have a poetic way of talking about your wild youth,” Kala commented, leaning back in her own chair. “Anyway, if you can stop being defensive for five seconds, I actually have a reason to be here.”
“Besides trying to take over your mom’s job of heckling me?” Tobie replied, smiling.
“Yeah, there’s a party this weekend you won’t want to miss,” Kala said, rummaging in her backpack for the invitation. “Especially since Jason’s downtown at SCU headquarters right now, inviting your wife, and I just invited Jamie.”
Tobie opened the invitation and glanced at it. “Yeah, I think I can make this one,” she said. Turning to look at Kala, her habitual sarcastic expression softened. “It’s hard to believe you’re gonna be sixteen. I still remember the goofy little kid with the pigtails and the big cheesy grin.”
The Lane eyebrow ticked up at that. “Don’t go all sentimental on me, Aunt Tobie,” Kala warned half-heartedly. “It just doesn’t suit your image.” She couldn’t quite help smiling, though.
“Nice to see the grin’s improved a bit,” Tobie commented, giving her a critical look. “Almost lady-like. Good thing your grandparents rubbed off on you. When you were little, half the time you looked like some kind of deranged monkey. Or wanting to be a deranged monkey, for that matter.”
“And when I have my own band, I think I’ll call it KLK and the Deranged Monkeys. What do you think? Think it’ll stand out?” Kala’s eyes twinkled merrily.
Tobie laughed. “Get out of my office, you brat. I’ll see you at the party.” Kala came around the desk to hug her, and the editor watched her leave with a slight smile. She had never wanted children of her own, but to her surprise, she’d gotten along well with the twins from the first meeting. Maybe because she never treated them like children – never knowing how you were supposed to treat children in the first place.
It was easy to fall into the habit of treating the twins as adults. They’d always been precocious, learning to speak and read and write earlier than most children. They had also both shown an early understanding of adult concepts like sarcasm, and developed keen wits at an age when most kids’ idea of humor was a guy slipping on a banana peel.
On the other hand, Jason and Kala had shown some very childish naïveté at times. Completely unaware that Tobie didn’t particularly like kids, they had both adored her and climbed into her lap at every opportunity, greeting her with sticky hugs and beaming smiles that she just couldn’t ignore. That experience had been very useful when Maggie’s ex-husband decided to let her daughter start visiting more often; Maggie’s on-call schedule meant that Tobie frequently found herself taking care of Jamie. It could’ve been very awkward, but somehow they managed to wind up as friends. Other than a standoffish period in Jamie’s mid-teens, family life was fairly enjoyable.
“Next thing you know I’ll start wanting a house and a picket fence and a dog,” Tobie sighed to herself. “Dammit, Raines, you’re getting old and senile. Leave the happy housewife crap to Lucy, she makes it look good.” On that amusing thought, she turned her mind back to work.
Jason’s final stop was a place most teenagers wouldn’t be comfortable: the headquarters of Metropolis’ Special Crime Unit. Few sixteen-year-old boys were at ease around the police, even if they had nothing to feel guilty about. Jason, however, had a spotless conscience and the knowledge that Aunt Maggie adored him, so he headed in to see the desk sergeant with a smile. “I’m here to see Inspector Sawyer,” he said confidently.
This particular officer wasn’t one Jason knew, and the older man looked at him for a moment. “On what business?”
“Inviting her to my birthday party,” Jason said, hoping that that didn’t sound as lame as he thought it did. “I’m her nephew, Jason Kent.”
A voice behind him said gruffly, “Arrest him. He’s Lois Lane’s son; he’s bound to have done something.”
“Hi, Lieutenant Turpin,” Jason said with a grin, holding out his hand. “My sister’s the evil twin, not me, remember?”
“Yeah, and the day we all start believing that, you’ll start your career in crime,” Turpin replied, shaking it before
catching his shoulder. “C’mon, kid, I’ll walk you to Mags’ office. Now what’s this about a party? You kids going to behave?”
“Of course we’ll behave … badly, as always,” Jason quipped, getting a chuckle from Turpin. “Seriously, though. Uncle Perry’s throwing us a real party. Kala’s got a fancy dress nobody’s seen, that’s probably black anyway, and I’ve got a new suit.”
“Very nice,” Turpin said with actual interest. “And you’re inviting your mom’s crowd?”
“Well, they are my aunts,” Jason said with a shrug. “If Aunt Maggie will come to the party, she can keep them in line.”
“I’m sure she will, if for no other reason than to make sure that gang of high-powered reporters doesn’t decide to take over the world,” Turpin grinned fondly. They had arrived at a door with Inspector Margaret Sawyer neatly lettered on the frosted glass window. The older man rapped once on the glass before opening the door. “Mags, got a miscreant here to see you,” he said, giving Jason a quick wink.
The boy just shook his head slightly as he walked in. Maggie was looking up warmly from behind her desk, her ice-blue eyes thawed by affection when she saw Jason. Ten years had not changed her much in Jason’s eyes; her light blonde hair didn’t show gray, and she still had the same aura of competence and confidence that Jason had admired when he was little.
“Hey there, you,” Maggie said, getting up to hug Jason. It still felt weird to him to realize he was taller than her; after his last growth spurt, Jason was nearly six feet tall.
“Hi, Aunt Maggie,” He returned the hug before sitting down across from her.
“I’d ask what brings you to the precinct, but I have a pretty good idea,” Maggie said with a small smile, taking her own seat again.
“Well, yeah, deductive reasoning and all that.” Jason reached into his backpack for her invitation. “You know our birthday’s coming up, and you probably even know that Uncle Perry rented out the Centennial ballroom.”
“Actually, no,” Maggie corrected gently as she took the invitation. “The heating vents in here run directly over the duty desk. I heard you tell Sergeant Wilco why you were here.”
Jason had to laugh. “You know what Mom would say; typical devious cop.”
“Half my friends are reporters, I have to be devious just to stay ahead,” Maggie replied honestly. She opened the invitation and scanned it, unable to hold back the smile. “Of course I’ll be there, Jason. Do I get to bring a date?”
Jason smiled and nodded. “You can actually bring another guest. Kal’s already at the Star inviting Tobie. For some reason, she likes invading enemy territory.”
“I’d pity Tobie, but she enjoys sparring with the competition,” Maggie sighed. “There are days when I envy her for working in a field where she can have a drink with her opposition.”
A worried frown crossed Jason’s face for a moment. “Reporters get shot at too. Not as often as you guys, but they’re usually not expecting it, so I guess that’s worse in some ways.”
One pale blonde eyebrow arched up, and Maggie smiled at him. “From the mouths of babes, hmm? You’ve got a point there. Anybody ever tell you you’re as quick as your mom and as deep as your dad?”
“Not really,” Jason murmured, trying to hide an embarrassed little grin. “I don’t think a lot of people think Dad is deep.”
Maggie gave him a knowing look. “Yeah, but you know better. And so does anyone close to him. He’s a very smart man, your father. Anybody that klutzy has some very deep thoughts going on – the kind that keep him from paying attention to little things like whether there’s any furniture in his way.”
Or he’s listening to half the world, trying to stay ahead of the latest disaster, Jason thought, but it amounted to the same thing. “That’s probably true.”
“Of course it is. Cops can’t lie,” Maggie told him with a wink. Her phone rang at that moment, and she gave him an apologetic smile. “Duty calls.”
“Be safe, Aunt Maggie,” Jason said the same way he always did these days, quickly coming around her side of the desk to hug her. “I’ll see you at the party.”
“Take care, kid,” she said, and answered the phone. Jason showed himself out, waving at Lieutenant Turpin as he walked by. The wall clock proclaimed the time as being four-thirty; plenty of time for one last invitation.
Jason took the bus to his destination, getting off a few blocks away to buy some carnations from a sidewalk flower-vendor. He always brought cheerful flowers, in this case red and white striped ones, and he had the seller wrap them with a bright ribbon. Carrying the carnations, Jason walked the last two blocks in thoughtful silence.
Once inside the gates, it seemed he could feel the November chill that much more. Stately trees loomed over him, their leaves skirling along the path, and the weathered granite stones added to the feel of age and permanence. Some might have found fear within the cemetery’s stone walls, but Jason found only serenity.
And, at Nana’s grave, he found his sister. An invitation and a purple rose lay atop Ella’s headstone, and Kala sat beside it, knees drawn up to her chin and the cold November wind playing with her hair. Jason walked around the graves with exaggerated care; he had once, unthinkingly, trod on the very foot of Nana’s resting place, and Kala had gone berserk, lecturing him about respect for the dead and burial desecration. The thought of stepping on his beloved grandmother horrified him enough that Jason never made that mistake again.
Laying his carnations and invitation beside Kala’s, where they looked like exactly the kind of well-meant but mismatched gift a couple of kids would give their grandmother, Jason sat down next to his sister. He offered her his hand, and she took it, the two of them contemplating the words etched in fine black granite. Elinore Gwendolyn Lane, Beloved Wife, Dearest Mother, Best Nana Ever. The last three words hadn’t seemed to fit the somber mood of the cemetery, but Jason and Kala had argued fiercely for them. Nora and Joanna had supported them, Michelle had gone along with them, and Sam as the oldest grandchild had finally managed to convince the adults. “She is the best nana ever,” he’d said, tears in his eyes. “Not was. Is. And always will be. Why’re we gonna put something like ‘loved grandmother’ when it’s not what we feel and what we mean?”
The first few times Jason had come here, he’d found himself crying almost silently. But gradually, the sorrow had begun to seep away, replaced by the comfort he’d always felt in Nana’s presence. Now, six months after her passing, neither he nor Kala wept at the grave. It was a place of solace, not of grief, and though they still mourned her, the pain was not as keen as it had once been.
Softly, Kala began to sing, lyrics from Aida, a halting pause between each line. “I am here to tell you we can never meet again… Simple really, isn’t it, a word or two and then… A lifetime of not knowing where or how or why or when… You think of me or speak of me and wonder what befell… The someone you once loved … so long ago … so well…”
Jason squeezed her hand as she trailed off, and Kala leaned against his shoulder. For that moment, they were so perfectly in synch with each other that words were unnecessary. All of their arguments, the stress of their daily lives straddling two worlds, were gone, blown away by the same wind that now flipped a perfect red maple leaf onto Jason’s jacket.
Kala looked over at the leaf, clinging just over Jason’s heart, and smiled. “We miss you, too, Nana.”
A familiar sound reached Clark’s super-sensitive hearing: Jason and Kala, bickering as usual. “We’re early,” his son groused. “So you didn’t have to be such a jerk to Giselle after all.”
“Yes, I did,” Kala shot back. “Otherwise she would’ve sucked up all your free time and what pitiful few brain cells are still in there. I swear, Jason, your IQ drops like the temperature in the Arctic whenever she’s around.”
The pair was in the elevators, and Clark quickly finished up the paperwork he was in the midst of, resolutely ignoring the argument forty floors below. The twins had to work things out on their own; they both resented parental interference in their squabbles. After the first few times of being shocked and horrified by them screaming insults at each other, Clark had adopted a ‘no intervention until blood is spilled’ policy. Fortunately, Lois agreed with him on the matter, and was generally amused by the petty quarreling her children indulged it. It must’ve reminded her of most of her friendships; the more Jason and Kala sniped and complained, the more intensely they actually cared about each other. Weird, to Clark’s way of thinking, but patently true. Besides, Lois had commented offhand once, they’d been doing this since the womb. At least they weren’t physically kicking each other all day anymore. She had paused for a moment to consider, then added, “Well, most of the time, anyway.”
A few minutes later, Jason and Kala swung through the bullpen doors. Every reporter knew them on sight and greeted them, but they barely made it ten steps into the room before their biggest admirer saw them. “Kala! Jason!” Kristin called, dashing out of Lois’ office toward them. She pounced on them for hugs, asking excitedly, “What didja learn in big-kid school today?”
“That redheaded children are, genetically, smarter and more beautiful than anyone else,” Kala said, tapping Kristin’s nose fondly.
The little girl giggled, then held up her hands. “Swing me?” she pleaded. Jason and Kala each grabbed a hand. Walking on either side of her, they gently swung her between them with each step all the way to Lois’ office. Kala hugged her mother as if they hadn’t quarreled that morning, hugged Lana, and admired Kristin’s picture before heading back out. They split up to hand out invitations around the office, Jason going over to International, Kala to City. The family members had already been invited, but Ron confirmed that he, Lucy, and all four Troupe kids would make it. Kala invited Perry and Jimmy and Laurel, surprising her mother’s secretary.
When Richard saw a few moments later that both kids were hovering at Jimmy’s desk, keeping him from accomplishing anything, he picked up the phone on Clark’s desk and dialed Jimmy’s extension from memory. “Hey, Jimmy,” he said. “Tell the brats we have food, that’ll get them out of your hair.” At that distance, he saw Kala’s shoulders tense; she was getting much better about not giving away what she could hear. Even five years ago, she would have dashed off toward the office before Jimmy could even relay the message.
Kala was first through the door with no obvious use of superpowers. She seemed to have inherited Lois’ bottomless appetite and propensity for scavenging everyone else’s meals. “Hi Dad,” she said to Richard, kissing his cheek as he handed her the takeout box. Perching on the edge of Clark’s desk to eat, she added, “We made it back in time, Daddy.”
“I noticed,” Clark said, smiling. Some people thought it was odd that his sixteen-year-old daughter still called him Daddy, but it just seemed endearing to him.
“I noticed that you’re wearing my shirt,” Richard said, tugging at the hem of it.
Kala yelped and pulled away, looking wounded. “You said I could,” she replied, tugging the shoulder up with her sweetest smile. “It’s comfortable. And it smells like you.”
Richard hugged her for that. “Love you, too, Kiddle,” he said with smile when he pulled back.
That was enough that make Kala hide her face. “Dad,” she groaned at the old nickname, but smiled up at him after a moment.
Jason arrived just in time to prevent Kala from making her way back to the last egg roll, with Lois, Lana, and Kristin just behind him. Lana glanced at the clock on Clark’s desk and sighed. “Time flies when you’re having fun.”
The younger woman just frowned at her before dropping herself into a chair. “See, that’s what’s wrong with you, Lana. Cleaning out my in-tray is not fun. In no way and on any planet is that ever considered anything approaching fun,” Lois muttered.
“Lois, you had nicotine patches in there, and quit smoking ten years ago,” Lana retorted, crossing her arms to look at her scoldingly. Lois only gave a snort before taking a drink of the Mountain Dew she hadn’t finished during her earlier snack. “Mostly quit, anyway. Clark, I don’t know if you and Lois want to stay late today, but I think Richard and I will take the children home. Besides, I need to make sure Jason’s suit fits correctly, and we need to do Kala’s final fitting.”
The girl’s eyes sparkled at the mention of her new dress, a secret only she and Lana shared. It was a look that none of the family present missed. “I don’t have much homework,” she said quickly, looking pleadingly at her mother and father.
Lois and Clark shared a look full of adoration and understanding before Lois gave the twins an indulgent smile. “Sounds good to me,” she volunteered. “Just get home before it gets too late. Both of you have school tomorrow, okay?”
“I’ll second that,” Clark said, trying not to laugh at the eager excitement on Kala’s face as she almost tackled the both of them in gratitude. Even Jason had snickered. “We’ll see you two later.”
Hugs and kisses were exchanged, again – the three kids were all openly affectionate and brought that out in the adults – and peace was restored to the newsroom at last. Lois sighed, watching the elevator doors close, and Clark took her hand gently. “I don’t know what we would’ve done without Richard and Lana,” he murmured.
“Me neither,” Lois replied. Realizing her tone was far too affectionate, she added with a teasing smile, “Just think how much they’ve saved us in babysitting fees.”
“You are impossible,” Clark told her, pulling her down for a kiss. “Wrap up the paperwork and we’ll enjoy our free afternoon.”
“What, no meeting?” Lois commented drolly, dark eyebrows rising. “No world collapsing? No urgent consultation? None of that? Well, I may drop dead of shock.”
“Well, maybe one meeting,” Clark said, and his voice had lowered slightly, looking at her over the tops of his glasses so his royal blue gaze was unhindered. “A private conference between the heads of departments.”
At that, Lois smiled, and it was almost her usual saucy grin, close enough for Clark to tell himself that the hint of hesitation was just stress. “Let’s play it by ear, hero,” she murmured, and kissed him again before leaving.