Still, he didn’t want to linger at home. This morning’s fiasco was still very much on his mind. He’d been out very late last night, between the JLA public appearance in
Twenty minutes later, the front door had slammed as Lois left, knowing perfectly well that she was supposed to take the kids to the Whites’ on her way. Jason had stuck his head out of his room, calling “Mom?!” in a startled voice that seemed to belong to a much younger version of himself.
“Yeah, on how her special Amazonian power is staying wrinkle-free at her age,” Jason had shot back acidly. “And how that bustier ought to come with a warning, at her height she could poke some guys’ eyes out with those things. Real classy, Kal, and just what Mom wants to hear in the morning.”
He’d left out especially when Dad was out all night, but he might as well have said it.
He wondered, rather more often than he used to, what was going on in Lois’ mind. Once she had been an open book to him, but lately he seemed to be missing a few pages. At times, it felt as though he was also trying to read upside-down, in an unfamiliar language. Lois’ propensity for keeping secrets wasn’t news to
Sometimes Lois would snap at him, seemingly for no reason. And half her arguments with Kala seemed utterly irrational to
Sighing a little,
Almost immediately after arriving at the Whites’ house, Kala and Jason had stopped their quarreling. It was hard to be snide to each other when Kristin was practically climbing their legs, demanding to be held and swung. Besides, any home that Lana lived in became an island of serenity, and both teenagers behaved more graciously there.
After their Saturday outing – a whirlwind tour of the bookstore, the music shop, and the new café, Fuel – Kala was starting to feel a little tired. Her allowance had bought two used CDs, a hardcover Stephen King anthology and a couple of paperbacks, and a large sugarplum spice latte. Even better, she’d hung around Fuel long enough to learn that it was a club of sorts in the evening. They still sold coffee and neat appetizers, but they moved the furniture around to create a dance floor. Like many teen venues, they hosted an open-mike night, but they went a step beyond, in Kala’s opinion.
Fuel featured a lot of local bands, the kinds of acts that tended to open for bigger bands until they managed to sign their own record deal. When those garage bands headlined at Fuel, someone had to open for them. Since Fuel also had a karaoke machine, their answer was to let anyone with the guts to approach the mike sing a few songs. Once Kala learned that, she decided that was going to be her next major goal in life: sing in front of an audience that wasn’t comprised of art-school teachers, students, and parents.
That news had even been thrilling enough for her to overlook Giselle being at the bookstore. Kala had sighed loudly at the time, but most of the kids at Stalmaster tended to congregate at the same places. News of something like Fuel would spread through the school in a couple of weeks, and by January Kala could expect to see familiar faces there any time she visited.
All the excitement – good and otherwise – was probably what had worn her down. Now, all she wanted was a little peace and quiet, perhaps even a brief nap. When Kala strolled into the living room, she saw Jason sitting on the sofa while Kristin sprawled on the floor, drawing in her sketch pad. Dusty was snoring in his bed nearby, all four feet in the air. Yawning, Kala went over to Jason and nudged his shoe with the toe of her boot. “Lemme have the couch?” she asked.
He looked up at her incredulously. “Now? But Mythbusters is on! They’re testing a hwacha. It’s this ancient Korean war machine with black powder…”
Kala yawned more forcefully. “Sorry, you lost me in the geek-speak. If you won’t move and miss your precious whatchamacallit, at least budge over?”
Jason rolled his eyes and slid over, muttering, “Don’t call me a geek, Elvira.”
Kala stuck her tongue out at him and dropped onto the couch, leaning against him. She wriggled her shoulders until she found a comfortable position, and tipped her head back to grin at him. “You make a pretty good pillow, brother mine.”
Jason sighed. “You’re just as much a geek as I am, by the way.”
“Nuh-uh,” she said, in outright denial of all the times they’d both watched Discovery channel programming in rapt amazement.
“Yes-huh,” he retorted, and they both chuckled.
The sound finally caught Kristin’s attention, and she turned to look at her older siblings. Her drawing was close to done, so she flipped the sketchpad cover closed and got up, ambling over to the pair on the couch. “Can I sit with you?” she asked plaintively.
“Of course,” Kala said. She patted her leg, offering her lap.
Kristin was happy to oblige, and scrambled up easily. She was the right height to sit in Kala’s lap and lean back, her head tucked under Kala’s chin and her feet resting on Kala’s knees. The three of them lay like that, Jason watching the television and the two girls dozing, for almost an hour. Jason saw Lana come in to check on them once, and leave them to their own devices with a smile. Kala heard her, but didn’t open her eyes. She was half-asleep but more aware than she normally was when awake; her fantastic hearing was automatically tracking the heartbeats of everyone in the penthouse, as well as listening to the noises of the building and the outdoors. This is how Dad hears the world, she thought briefly, and smiled in satisfaction before slipping into dreams.
After Mythbusters went off, Jason watched a special about Egyptian pharaohs. As the program wound to a close, Richard stepped in and looked at the three of them. “Hey tiger,” he said to Jason. “I see you’re developing my talent for attracting the ladies. Just for my sake, try to make it work on someone besides your sisters. Am I gonna need a crowbar to pry Kristin away for her bath?”
“Gross,” Jason commented sourly. “We’re not in
Chuckling, Richard reached over to tickle his daughter under the chin. “Hey there, kidlet.
“Nooooo,” Kristin whined, batting at his hand. “Wanna stay wi’ Jason ‘n’ Kala.”
“You have to get a bath, little one,” Richard insisted, stroking his fingertips down her nose. “No stinky kids in my house.”
Kala stretched, almost crowding her brother off the sofa in the process, and looked up at Richard. “So you’re kicking Jason out?” she asked sweetly.
Jason elbowed her. “Stop being a dweeb.”
“You are stinky, Jason,” she replied, batting her eyelashes innocently.
“Remember that time in Kansas when you went swimming in the mud to play with Mr. Fabulous Fred the Funky Frog?”
Jason’s jaw dropped in horror. “Um, excuse me, but I just called him Fred. And we both wound up dumped in the bath for it.”
“Daddy’s first time bathing us,” Kala said. “He didn’t know how, remember?”
“It’s easy,” Richard cut in. “Put some detergent in the washing machine, drop the kid in, and set it on the gentle cycle.”
“Dad!” Kala groaned. “Now I don’t trust you to bathe Kristin. Heck, I don’t trust you to bathe Dusty. C’mon, Little Red, upsa-daisy. I’ll give you your bath.”
As she got to her feet, holding the still-whining Kristin, Richard grinned at Jason and shot him a thumb’s-up. “See how I managed to get out of bathing her? I am awesome. Watch and learn, my son, watch and learn.”
Jason guffawed. “You’d better supervise Kala and make sure she doesn’t dye Kristin’s hair black again, though.”
Now it was Richard’s turn to groan. “God, when Lana saw that I thought she’d have a heart attack. Either that or go psychotic and kill us all. I’m so glad it was the wash-out Halloween stuff.”
“I am not homicidal, Richard James White,” Lana said from the doorway, looking at him with auburn brows raised and her arms folded.
“Oh no, she used my middle name,” Richard stage-whispered to Jason. “Word of advice – any time your woman does that to you, run like hell.” He followed his own advice, giving Lana a quick peck on the cheek before dashing out to check on Kristin and Kala.
Lana shook her head in amusement, and came in to sit beside Jason. “Well, at least one other person in this family is remotely sane,” she said with a gentle smile.
The keys on Lois’ keyboard were screaming in protest as those hazel eyes bored a hole through her monitor. When she’d left on Friday, there had been several irons in the fire and the fury she was feeling this evening would be channeled into research on them. Thank God Perry wasn’t in or she had this feeling she’d strangle the old man with his necktie.
When the news of the press conference had first come through, she had held her temper. They had originally had dinner plans out with the whole family, but those had only been tentative. There was general disappointment; both Kala and Lois had been looking forward to trying out the new Korean restaurant that had opened up a couple of blocks from the house on Stern. When the appearance had been announced, the other three had sighed and shrugged, declaring that it was fine. Kal-El had promised that he’d be home before it got too late with a pint of the blueberry-acai ice cream that was the current house-favorite dessert.
The meal had been unbelievable, all three of the Lane-Kents eating more than their fair share: Lois and Jason partaking of Shinseollo and Nakji Bokkeum; Kala, who was making a dedicated attempt at vegetarianism this week, managing to put away just as much of Japchae and Doraji Namul. Filled to the brim with excellent food, they had managed to make it home without a single fight (a minor miracle). The first of Metropolis’ Christmas lights were being lit up for the first time of the season on their way back to
Kal-El still hadn’t returned by the time they got home, but none of them had really been surprised. According to him, he was leaving to go directly to the appearance when he had left them at fifteen to six. It was only just eight when they arrived. From experience, they all knew that it would be at least three hours before they could expect to see him. At the least. Still in the cheerful mood that had buoyed them thus far this evening; they had all spent the evening watching a marathon of a show called Damages that Jason had run across a few weeks before. All of them were so engrossed that it amazed them when the last episode aired and they realized that it was after midnight. Both yawning hugely, the twins had gotten their hugs before bed and headed down the hallway to their rooms, only shoving each other half-heartedly before separating for the night.
It had only been a short time later that she turned off the living room lights and the television. It was getting more than a little late; especially after the long day she’d had. Calling Bagel’s name, Lois strolled toward her bedroom, hearing the beagle’s tags jingle as she got up from the heating vent she’d been snoozing on to follow her.
While Bagel had gotten herself settled in for the night, Lois had taken a shower. Part of her had hoped to have company before she finished, but no such luck. It wasn’t the first time that she’d spent the night alone since they married; she’d live. Even if he got caught up in something, they had all day tomorrow.
Her laid-back attitude had only started to slip when she realized that it was nearing two o’clock in the morning and she had yet to hear from her husband. As was her habit, despite the late hour, she turned on CNN as she dressed in a nightgown and got into bed.
Thinking about it now, the keys howled and rattled as she pounded them with aggravation. And within moments of her tuning in, their coverage of the conference was being recounted; all was well until a single image turned her whole day on its ear.
The three founding members of the Justice League of
In the video clip, Kal-El was speaking into the microphone, answering reporters’ questions, his attention focused on the crowd. Bruce and Diana were both waiting, pretty much just backing up their colleague. Lois knew that Bruce hated these public appearances, and beneath the mask she saw his scowl. He looked bored, and Lois had smiled a little at his expression; someone would much rather be beating the snot out of
Diana was watching Kal-El attentively. No, raptly. She looked at him like a cat eyeing a bowl of cream, and Lois had felt her temperature begin to rise. Back when Wonder Woman had first appeared on the superhero scene, some wag had made the comment that Superman was single, and wouldn’t that be the match of the century? If any man could handle a Wonder Woman, it would be Superman, and many other witty little remarks. Lois had to stifle her instinct to bellow that he was married, dammit – she couldn’t do that without revealing his identity.
She’d been angry, but she hadn’t become furious until she’d overheard another reporter saying that
Lois had never told Kal-El about any of this, but he probably knew. Her fears had gradually eased. It helped that by the time the JLA was founded, Bruce and Diana both knew about
The simple fact of Diana’s existence had led Lois to start buying expensive cosmetics and dyeing her hair; even the tiniest glimpse of gray was too much to bear with the freakin’ Princess of the Amazons around. But she hid those activities from
They’d been at a détente of sorts, Lois growling whenever Wonder Woman was in the news, and Diana keeping away from Kal-El. But that little snippet of video last night … it was only four or five seconds in which Kal-El said something to make the crowd chuckle, and Diana had looked at him and smiled. Not the smile that complimented a colleague on a nice bit of work, but a smile full of attraction, a smile that found Kal-El fascinating and well-nigh irresistible. Lois knew that look; she’d felt it on her own face too many times to count. As a woman who had reason to be frequently disappointed in men – a circumstance Diana shared – Lois was often amazed by the many little ways in which Kal-El failed to disappoint. He didn’t lie, he didn’t denigrate others to bolster his own self-image, he didn’t use people, and he never thought of women as objects or chattel. Combined with his looks, Kal-El was actually a little too good to be real. A lot of women gave him that amazed smile, and Lois usually laughed it off. But not where Diana was concerned…
Infuriated, Lois had viciously stabbed at the OFF button on the remote, and as soon as the television went dark she flung the remote at the television. Bagel had yelped at the sound of it hitting the wall, the little dog diving off the bed to hide beneath it. Lois hadn’t even bothered to comfort her pet; she’d just wanted to make sure she was deeply asleep whenever Kal-El finally dragged himself home.
Sleep had drained the most of the fury out of her, although she had already made the decision that she wouldn’t spend the day at home due to her continued irritation. It would just chafe at her until she turned on Kal-El with her temper blazing and demanded an explanation. He had gotten in extremely late, she knew. She herself had broken down and taken three Tylenol PM at around four to assure herself of at least five hours of rest before heading to the paper. Well, that and she just couldn’t handle facing him. And all would have stayed well if Kala hadn’t seen fit to show her ass at the breakfast table. After seeing that same smile on Diana’s face the night before and having been all too aware of the differences between herself and the Amazon, Lois had just barely managed to not rip the newspaper out of her daughter’s hands. It wasn’t the first time that she’d had this splashed in her face. And if the picture was on the front page of her paper, God only knew what the others would print.
Never mind the fact that it was Clark’s fault in the first place that Kala had anything to taunt her with; he’d scheduled one of his own people to cover the press conference in Sacramento and he’d asked Jimmy to come along for it. Yes, it was an excellent opportunity to be front and center at one of the rare gatherings of the Justice League, and Jimmy had been thrilled, but to see what had been whispered about on the front page of her own paper. To think that her own photographer had shot that piece of tripe…
She’d jerked her head up, startled by the sound, and forced herself to relax with a little chuckle. “Sure, Erik, have a seat,” she said. By now, her smile wasn’t forced;
But by all accounts,
Best of all, though, Erik was the only man Lois had met in the past twenty years who hadn’t asked about her most famous story. He was interested in her as an administrator, not as a reporter.
“I had an idea about the network thing,” he said, leaning forward to brace his elbows on her desk. “It’d be more costly going in, but you’d save yourself a lot of trouble in the long run.”
“Oh really?” Lois asked, intrigued.
“Switch over to the new Kal processors in your central servers,” he said, his eyes excited. Lois felt her heart plummet, but
“They’re new on the market,” Lois said through numb lips. “No one knows how much maintenance they require long-term.”
“Nah, the L-Tech research and development facility’s been using them in all its mainframes for seven years,” Erik said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Not a single burnout. Upgrading them is easy, too. They are heavier than silicone chips, and when you’re running as many computers as L-Tech is, that means you have to reinforce the floors, but you won’t have that problem here. And, L-Tech is going to come out with a new memory module specifically designed to work with their processor … but you didn’t hear it from me!”
Lois felt her stomach plummet. L-Tech was Luthor’s company, somehow. He ran it through a long chain of intermediaries, since he was still wanted on two murder charges in Metropolis, but she knew it was his. The Kal processor proved it – and from what
He was almost pathetically eager to please, and Lois had the gut feeling that
She would, however, be careful. Hunches were sometimes wrong, and no matter how slight the risk, Lois wouldn’t let her guard down all the way. That didn’t mean that she wouldn’t cultivate
With that in mind, Lois set her mind to charming