Lois (kalalanekent) wrote,

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Heirs to the House of El: Never Say Never (Chapter Seventeen)

Hats off and tons of love to saavikam77 for taking over as beta on her own while the others are on hiatus. Ella, we love you so much for this that it hurts. It means so much to us that you were willing to do this for us. *covers you in snuggles and kisses* Give the girl some love, guys! We couldn't do it without her.

Now, on with the show...

The shock of what was happening sank into Jason with bone-crunching teeth, full-fledged panic tunneling into the core of his soul with the notion that Kala could leave him behind like this. He knew his twin well enough to realize this wasn’t just a whim, and it scared the hell out of him that she had gone this far with it. This time not even his mother’s voice could steady him as she told him to stay where he was, she and Dad were on their way. He hung up the phone in a daze, shivering in spite of the heater being on, and stared around Kala’s room. The feeling of being lost and alone just wouldn’t abate. Why now? Why would she do this now? She had never even played at running off before, not even in her younger temper tantrums. Everything around him seemed to fade away for a moment, the world not quite real, until the sound of jangling metal roused him. Captain Bonnie was rattling her cage bars at him, and he made himself move forward to let the ferret out, petting her worriedly. Jason felt a slick spot on her black-furred head, and knew that Kala had kissed her pet goodbye, as well.

It was like a sledgehammer to the heart, the strength with which that gesture struck him. She’s gone. She really means it. She’s really gone. The pain and fear of it tore at him with ragged nails. As often as they drove each other out of their minds with aggravation, he felt as though a vast abyss had opened within him, a gulf that had until this moment been filled by his twin. Kala, the one who soothed his nightmares, knew his secrets, defended him fiercely against school bullies, was gone. Telling himself their parents would soon find her didn’t work; the fact that she’d left of her own volition was shock enough to cause that awful separation.

The ferret nipped his hand, and Jason startled back to himself. With his thoughts wandering so far away, he was squeezing her a little, as if by holding on to his sister’s pet he could somehow keep hold of Kala herself. “Sorry,” he murmured, rubbing the ferret’s tiny ears. She squirmed, and he put her back into her cage.

What else should he be doing right now? There had to be something, right? But he wasn’t supposed to leave, just in case Kal came back. Jason gave a groan of frustration, cradling his head in his hands and trying to think around the feelings of loss and fear. Despite how it looked, she might come home when it got late; there were snow showers expected tonight. Plus, what could she do on fifty bucks? That gave him hope; she couldn’t manage a hotel room on that much in Metropolis, not even in Suicide Slum. She’d have to come home, in that case, he told himself firmly with a deep breath to steady himself, ignoring the niggling doubts in the back of his mind.

He launched himself into action then, his mind racing. He had to call Richard and Lana, let them know what was going on. Being that low on money, Kala might just decide to go to them; she got along with Lana better than Mom, these days. He picked up his phone again and dialed their number. After that, maybe he ought to call Sebast…

Richard leaned against the counter, watching his wife idly. Lana thought it ridiculous to pay extra for vegetables that were already sliced, so she bought everything whole and cut it herself. At the moment she was slicing carrots for dinner that night, the knife flashing in her hand. “You know, you save a dollar or so by not buying pre-sliced veggies, but the knife set cost you how much?” he teased gently.

“I don’t mind paying for quality,” she replied, “just not convenience.” The redhead held up her favorite chef’s knife to illustrate her point. “You can buy one that looks like this at any discount store for five or ten dollars. But it won’t have the full tang construction – it’ll start to wobble in a couple of years. It won’t be high-quality German stainless steel, so it won’t hold an edge as long, and it may start to rust. It won’t be so perfectly balanced and easy to use. And it won’t last anywhere near as long. Kristin’s children will be able to use these knives.”

Richard shrugged, glancing at the knife block, where a complete set of blades rested. “I suppose I should take your insistence on the highest quality as a compliment, hmm? Considering you married me.”

“Of course, darling,” Lana said, and smiled at him. “It’s all about value – and I managed to get two close friends and a couple of stepchildren thrown in with you, so I’d say that was a pretty good deal.”

“You only married me for the package deal,” Richard chuckled.

“I’d tell you what I married you for, but our daughter’s in the next room,” Lana retorted, sea-green eyes bright with mischief.

Richard leaned in to steal a kiss, murmuring, “If I ever told everyone back home in Smallville how wicked you really are…”

“None of them would believe you,” she whispered back against his lips.

The phone rang, and Richard sighed as he went to answer it. “Hello?”

“Dad, I need your help,” Jason said, his voice shaking.

“What happened?” Richard asked. His tone made Lana put down the knife and come to stand beside him, her hand on his shoulder. He put the call on speakerphone so she could hear it as well.

“Kala ran away,” the boy replied, and to Richard’s shock he heard Jason give a hitching breath, trying not to sob. The whole story poured out of him in a rush. “She and Mom got into it last night, and Mom slapped her, and Kala went to hit her back, and Dad stopped her because Kala could’ve really hurt her, and then Kala went to her room and Dad and Mom got into a big fight and Kala wouldn’t talk to me.” He had to take a breath then, and continued, “Dad grounded her this morning, and he said I should go have lunch with Giselle like I planned, and while I was gone Kala packed her stuff and left. I don’t even know where she went!”

“We’ll find her,” Richard said reassuringly. “Have you told Lois and Clark?”

“Yes,” Jason sniffled. “They’re coming home. But … I thought she might come to your place. Maybe.”

“In that case,” Lana said gently, “we should stay here and wait for her. I don’t want her arriving to an empty house. If she gets here, she might talk to me.”

“Good idea,” Richard said. “Jason, your mom will be home in a few minutes, the way she drives. I’ll stay on the line with you ‘til then, okay?”

Jason drew in a steadier breath. “No, I need to call Sebast. I … Kala wasn’t supposed to be on the phone, but she was so miserable, I let her talk to him. I need to find out what she told him, if she’s going to his place.”

“Okay,” Richard said. “Good idea, son.”

“Jason, listen,” Lana added. “You might want to call the rest of her friends, too. Lois and Clark will want to do that, but it should be you who makes the calls – Kala’s friends are more likely to talk to you than to her parents.”

“Right,” Jason said. He was growing calmer the longer they talked.

“And just ask if they know where she is,” Richard said. “Promise not to tell her parents, if you have to, to get the truth from them. The most important thing is making sure she’s safe. We’ll work on getting her home later.”

“That’s smart,” Lana said. “Her friends won’t want to betray her, but they ought to understand why you’re worried.”

“We can always pull a fast one later and have Jason tell Kristin,” Richard said.

Lana swatted him lightly. “Don’t teach your son to be quite as much of a scoundrel as you are,” she admonished.

“All right,” Jason said. His voice was steady again, sounding almost normal now that he had something constructive to do. “I’m gonna start calling. Thanks.”

“Take it easy, Jason,” Richard said. “She’ll probably be home tonight.” Jason hung up, and Richard replaced the phone with a heavy sigh.

“You think so?” Lana asked him.

“I hope,” Richard said. “But this is Kala we’re talking about. She’s never done anything by halves.”

Lana slid her arm around his waist and leaned against him, her brow furrowed. “Jason said Lois and Clark argued last night,” she said. “I think we might’ve waited one day too long.”

“It’s not like we could’ve dragged them off in the middle of the party,” Richard said. “He missed most of it.”

“For a nuclear accident,” Lana sighed, mentioning the story they’d both seen on the news and in the paper this morning. “Lois and Kala fought, too. I should’ve said something to Lois about Kala sooner – I’ve seen what’s going on, I just didn’t want to interfere with her parenting. Or we should’ve come home a day early and confronted Lois and Clark.”

“Hindsight’s twenty-twenty,” Richard replied, rubbing her shoulders. “You couldn’t know this would happen.” She didn’t reply, just cuddled closer to him, all their plans for the day forgotten in the face of this new crisis.

The world was flying past her in a blur, Lois driving far too fast and weaving in and out of traffic; for once Clark didn’t criticize her. His face was grim, his blue eyes steely. Her stomach was roiling, and Lois was suddenly glad she hadn’t bothered with breakfast or lunch. In defiance of last night’s fiasco, Kala had finally done the one thing Lois feared the most – she’d run away from home, gone somewhere Lois couldn’t watch over her, couldn’t keep her safe. Anything could happen to the twins if they were out of their mother’s sight… You damned idiot, this is all your fault. You should have known that this would happen. What would you have done at that age? Dammit! “Please tell me you hear something?” she asked Clark, fighting valiantly to keep the panic out of her voice.

“No,” he said, and Lois noticed that his knuckles had gone white where he gripped the hand-bar. It was like salt in a wound to see the look on his face. He was scared, too, and trying to hide it from her, as well. “I can’t isolate her heartbeat, Lois. And she has the hearing, too. She knows exactly where to go to hide from me.”

Her response was immediate and matter-of-fact, her jaw clenched. “So we’ll start searching those places.”

I’ll start searching.” Seeing the way that her wounded eyes swung to his and aware of just how stern that had sounded, Clark placed his hand over hers. “Lois, I fly faster than you drive … barely. Once we’re home to see if she left any clues, I’ll start looking. You stay with Jason – he needs you.”

The reporter felt her lips try to tremble and fought it. She could never remember Jason sounding so shaken and out-of-sorts since he started into his teens. And it took a lot to scare Jason, even now the child she had called her ‘Zen Baby’. Forcing herself to get a hold on her emotions, Lois locked her eyes to the road. “He’s terrified,” Lois said in a voice that sounded so small in spite of her best efforts.

Clark rubbed her arm gently, knowing she was just as scared. “You and Jason can canvass her friends, the likely places she might be headed. I’ll check everyplace she could be hiding from my hearing. If we don’t find her in a couple hours, we’ll call Maggie. She can get a missing-persons case started.”

Lois drew in a shuddering breath, her hands tightening on the steering wheel. “We’ll find her,” she stated firmly. “There’s no other option.”

“We will,” he replied, and she heard the faintest tremble in his voice. “We’re reporters. Finding what doesn’t want to be found is our job.”

Lois just nodded, not bothering to point out that she and Clark were both trying to convince themselves as much as each other. Kala was only a teenager, true, but a teen with superpowers – and smart like both of her parents. If she wanted to stay lost, she might just be able to do so.

Sebast snatched his cell phone up the minute it rang, having spent the last couple of hours feeling like the worst kind of heel. When he saw the name on the caller ID, he felt an unevenly-mixed rush of gratefulness and trepidation that didn’t stop him from pushing the ‘TALK’ button immediately. Before he could let out his apology in a rush that Kala couldn’t interrupt, he realized that it was Jason calling him this time and panicked at that. “Hey, is Kala with you?” the other boy asked, his voice tense, then added without waiting for an answer, “Are you expecting her any time soon? ‘Cause she’s not here, and I can’t find her.”

That was not the news Sebast had been hoping to hear and with Jason delivering it, he couldn’t help the dread that washed over him, especially in light of his and Kala’s earlier misunderstanding. “No, she isn’t, and I’m not. When she hung up the phone she was pretty mad at me. Jason…”

Those few words were all he managed, Jason cutting him off again in a nervy, distracted tone. “If she calls, or if she shows up there, call me. Please, Sebast. I won’t get her in trouble, I just have to know she’s okay.” Sebast had known Jason long enough to know the strain in his voice meant that he was trying his hardest to hold it together.

“I will, muchacho,” Sebast sighed, throwing himself back onto his bed in disgust. “But I think the chances of that are pretty slim. She’s not going to come over here unless she has to. Jason, I told her…”

He’d didn’t have time for more than that. “I have to go,” Jason was cutting him off mid-sentence again. “My phone’s ringing. I hope it’s her. Thanks, man; I’ll let you know what’s going on later.”

The phone clicked as he broke the connection, and Sebast stared at it. He sighed, bonking the phone against his forehead. “Kala, Kala, what the hell have you done now? And why do I get the feeling a good part of it is your dumb-ass best friend’s fault?” he murmured to his empty room. That in itself was reason enough to beat his head against the wall. Worse, Jason had barely let him get a word in edgewise, so the boy didn’t know his own girlfriend had manufactured the rumor that led to Kala and Sebast’s falling-out. “This sucks,” Sebast muttered, and resisted the urge to throw the phone across the room. How could he have been this stupid?

Lana had her own office in the penthouse, and one side of the room was all business, containing her desk, her computer, her files, her phone – all the essentials of a home office. The other side of the room was completely different: a sinfully comfortable cube-shaped leather-covered chair divided the space, with only a small table in front of it. Lana was currently sitting there, her posture relaxed and her hands pressed together in front of her. She had three views, depending on which way she looked; one was the Metropolis skyline out the window in front of her, and the other two were much-enlarged photographs of the view from the beach house on Paradise Island and the back deck of the cabin in the North Carolina mountains. But the designer wasn’t looking at any of those. Her eyes were closed, and her mind was focused far away. Please, dear Lord, bring Kala home safely…

“Mommy?” That was Kristin’s voice from the hallway. Lana smiled slightly, making sure to add thanks for her blessings to the prayer before opening her eyes and looking at her daughter. Kristin grinned when she saw she had her mother’s attention, and said in her usual delighted burble, “I jus’ finished puttin’ together the puzzle I got for Christmas. It was hard!”

“And you did it all by yourself, didn’t you, you bright girl?” Lana replied, holding out her arms. Kristin came to her quickly and scrambled up into her lap. When she leaned her head against her mother’s shoulder, the shades of their hair matched so exactly that they seemed for a moment like one being.

“Jason helped a little,” Kristin confessed. “But not a lot. He jus’ helped with the sky bits. They’re hard, Mommy.”

“They are,” Lana said, nuzzling her daughter’s hair. It smelled faintly of cotton candy, her current favorite shampoo. “You did very well, honey.”

“I wanna call Kala an’ tell her,” Kristin proclaimed happily. “Can I use the phone?”

Lana suddenly felt as if a great wave hung over her, blocking out the sun and threatening to drown her. Do not grieve for that which has not been lost, she told herself sternly, and if your heart aches for the lack of Kala, imagine how Lois feels. She’ll need your strength, not your maundering.

“Not right now, sweetheart,” the redhead said gently. “Kala … Kala can’t use the phone.”


“She’s in trouble,” Lana explained.

Just that simple explanation wasn’t enough for Richard White’s daughter. “But why?”

“Well, Clark and Lo-Lo told her to be home by a certain time, and she didn’t do it. So she’s grounded.”

A frown floated over the little girl’s face, but it wasn’t as if this was the first time Kala had been treated to that punishment. Nevertheless, the expected response followed. “Why?” Kristin asked again. Her eyes sparkled at this old game, and Lana’s strategy for distracting her from the truth seemed to be working so far.

Lana couldn’t help the slight smile that teased her lips even as she tried to stay serious. “Well, because when daughters don’t obey the rules, their moms have to punish them so they don’t grow up to become utter reprobates.”

The smaller redhead made a face and stared at her mother, the big word entirely foreign to her. “Whatsa rep-robe-ate?” Kristin asked curiously.

“A bad, bad, bad person who never follows the rules or does what she’s asked … and never, ever gets any ice cream for dessert,” Lana answered, and tapped Kristin’s nose softly. The little girl giggled, and her laughter rang sweetly sharp through Lana’s heart. Please, dear God, bring Kala home safe and soon, she prayed. I hate hiding the truth from Kristin. And worse, I don’t know how long I can keep her from finding out. If she learns that Kala ran away, she’s going to think Kala left her.

The phone was ringing an awfully long time, and then suddenly it was answered. But not by the voice Elise expected to hear. “Hello?”

Jason’s voice startled Elise so badly that she felt her heart stutter in surprise, and for a moment she couldn’t reply. “Um, hi,” she began skittishly, and realizing how lame that sounded, she mentally kicked herself for acting like a moron. That done, she made her voice firm and businesslike. “I’m sorry, Jason. I was just returning Kala’s call. I didn’t realize she’d dialed from your phone since both numbers are in your mom’s name. Idiot me for not thinking about the number I was dialing. I’ll hang up now…”

“No!” he said, so hastily that Elise held the phone away from her ear and stared at it in shock. “No, Elise, it’s okay. I just … I didn’t know it was you, either, I didn’t look at my caller ID when the phone rang, I just kinda picked it up, and if Kala called you I need to talk to you anyway…”

She knew him well enough to know that disjointed rambling wasn’t his usual conversational style. “Whoa there, hold up,” she said, starting to frown. “Jason, what’s going on? You don’t sound right.”

He took a deep breath, and she heard a quiver in his voice when he answered. “Kala ran away from home. There was a big fight last night, she got grounded, and I took pity on her and let her use my phone today. I thought she just talked to Sebast, though.”

“She called me,” Elise answered, that frown deepening. “I went down to pick up some Chinese from across the street when she called, so she left a message, but she sounded … off. Like she expected to talk to me and didn’t know what to say on the voicemail.”

No sooner had she said that than Jason asked in a kind of desperate excitement, “Did she say anything about where she was going?”

The hope in his voice was obvious, and Elise hated to dash it. “No,” she replied miserably, starting to pace the living room rug. “She just said she wanted to talk to me, but she’d call later, and then she hung up.”

Jason swore softly under his breath. “I gotta call her other friends,” he said then, and she knew he was already thinking of what to do next. Just when she expected him to ring off, he paused and added in a grateful tone she’d never expected to hear again, “Elise … thanks for letting me know.”

She closed her eyes with a sigh and a pained smile. Even over the phone she could imagine the worried and preoccupied expression that matched the anxiety on his face. She was one of the few in the world that were aware of just how close the Lane-Kent twins were. “Sure,” Elise murmured. “She’ll be all right, Jason. You know Kala; she’ll cool down. She always does.”

He hung up without saying anything else, his mind clearly distracted, and Elise sat there staring at her phone. All of a sudden, she remembered Nick Powell. That was one friend – however dubious the designation was – that none of Kala’s family and other friends knew about. Elise didn’t know much about him beyond his name, but she knew she needed to at least tell Jason that much. She picked up the phone and dialed his number from memory, but all she got was a busy tone. He was clearly calling other people. She sighed and resolved to try again in a few minutes.

Giselle called Jason in the middle of the day, and reached him after a couple of tries. He was distracted and only spoke to her for a minute before rushing back into his frantic poll of Kala’s friends. The pretty girl gnawed her lip, worried about him – this panicky rush was unlike the Jason she knew, who did most things deliberately.

She flipped open her phone again and dialed Justine. “Mom?” she said, when the blonde answered. “I just spoke to Jason. He thinks Kala ran away.”

“That’s terrible news,” Justine replied. “His poor parents must be frantic. Although I must say it’s not a surprise. From what I’ve heard of her, Kala’s rather impulsive and temperamental.”

“She is that,” Giselle said. “Jason sounds pretty much deranged. I think I ought to go to him – his parents are gonna be freaking out, he’ll need a shoulder to lean on.”

“That’s very kind of you,” Justine said, approval warm in her voice. “Call me if you need anything.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Giselle replied, and shut the phone with a tiny smile.

The doorbell rang, and Jason sighed. “I gotta go, Scott,” he said. “Thanks.” He hung up the phone – due to the urgency of the situation, Jason had let his telephone etiquette slide rather severely, cutting conversations down to the bare essentials. He hurried to the door, knowing Mom and Dad would want an update…

…but when he flung the door open, Elise was standing there. Jason froze in utter shock, staring at her.

Elise clearly felt as awkward about it as he did; her shoulders were tense, and she gestured a little more than usual when she spoke. “Listen, you hung up on me too soon,” she said, then winced a little. “Okay, no, that sounds too much like creepy-stalker-ex, when this has nothing to do with me being your ex. It might as well be Sebast telling you this, only he can’t because he doesn’t know and I don’t know why Kala didn’t tell him. And I tried calling you, but your phone was busy, and I don’t have the house line written down anywhere because really, who uses land lines anymore, so I figured, what the hell, it’s only five blocks…”

Jason looked at her, perplexed, feeling as though he’d walked into the middle of a conversation. She was rambling, which wasn’t normal for Elise, either. Suddenly she sighed and gave a little shake of her head. “I sound … like a complete moron. Jeez. Look, Jason, I might know something that’ll help you find Kala.”

That was the best news he’d had in two days. Jason grinned, unaware that his sudden smile lanced into Elise’s heart. Her mouth twisted as she thought, Guess you’re not over him, huh?

What he did next surprised them both. Jason grabbed Elise’s shoulder and pulled her into a hug. She stiffened for an instant, then wrapped her arms around him with a glad sigh. Jason hugged her tightly, his cheek against her hair, and murmured softly, “Thank God you’re here, Elise.”

“It’s gonna be okay, Jason. It’s gonna be fine. We’ll find her,” she murmured, rubbing his back. She’d almost forgotten how good, how right, it felt to be in his arms. That was most of the reason why she’d broken off their relationship. Anything that felt like this couldn’t be trusted; following your heart’s crazy whims was a sure way of getting yourself into trouble your head couldn’t get you out of.

“Wh-What is this?” a furious voice cried from behind Elise. She pulled away from Jason, turning to stare into very hurt and shocked green eyes. Elise had never shut the door, and Giselle had simply walked in.

“Giselle, it’s not what you think,” Jason started, raising his hands, but the black-haired girl was ahead of him.

Taking a step toward Elise, Giselle spat, “I knew it, you hussy, you couldn’t stand to let him go! It was perfectly okay for you to go get your freak on with some guy you met on vacation, but the minute Jason tries to move on, you’re trying to wrap him around your little finger again! Well, it won’t work this time – I won’t let you!”

Whoa!” Elise said throwing out her hand to ward the furious girl off. “Back the hell off, because you have no freakin’ clue what’s going on here.”

“Don’t you tell me to back off, you man-stealing slut,” Giselle shot back.

“Oh hell no,” Elise growled. “Shut up, Giselle. You don’t know me, and I know more than I need to about you. You were out to get Jason from the moment you saw him. Like you really needed help with Algebra – you get top marks in that class, higher than Jason’s grades.” The reference to how they’d met silenced Giselle for a second, and Elise drew a breath to continue her counterattack.

ENOUGH! That voice shocked both girls to silence, and they turned to stare wide-eyed at Jason. He was angrier than either of them had ever seen him, and they’d never heard the edge of frustrated fury that was in his voice as he spoke. “I’m sure most guys would be thrilled to have two girls fighting over them, but this is not the time. My sister ran away. Until she’s home, I don’t have time for this bullshit! Knock it off and help me, or get out!”

Elise’s jaw dropped, and her cheeks burned with shame at her own behavior. But Giselle spoke first. She turned a horrified expression toward Jason, and her green eyes began to fill with tears. “Oh, my God,” she whispered. “I’m so selfish… Jason, I’m sorry. I was just … I know you still care about her, and…” She stopped herself, lip trembling, as Jason only stared at her steadily, and then Giselle nodded. Her voice was firmer when she said, “You’re right. We should be trying to find Kala, not fighting.”

With that she turned to Elise, and gave her a chagrined little half-smile. “I apologize for being stupid. Sometimes, you know, he’s way too good for me and I get a little crazy. Forgive me for being a complete moron?”

“You’re not a moron,” Elise said automatically. “I heard something that might help Jason find Kala. I couldn’t reach him on the phone, so I came over.”

Giselle nodded. “Me, too,” she said. “I mean, the couldn’t-reach-him-so-I-came-over part. I don’t have a clue where Kala is – she never talks to me if she can help it.”

“All right,” Jason sighed. “If we’re done…”

He never got the chance to finish, because Lois and Clark arrived at that moment. Elise had a moment to think that she, Giselle, and the Lane-Kents must have just missed each other waiting for the elevator, and then Clark quietly stepped around the two girls to hug his son. Jason leaned against his father gratefully, and for a moment they just hugged. “We’ll find her,” Clark murmured, and Jason’s breath hitched.

Elise and Giselle caught each other’s gazes as they both looked away, giving Jason as much privacy as they could. “I really am sorry,” Giselle said to her rival, looking miserable. “I know nobody around here likes me except him, least of all Kala, but … she’s his sister. I’m afraid she’ll … well, you know.”

Do something stupid and get hurt, Elise thought. Which was exactly why she was worried about Kala. “It’s okay,” Elise said. “He’s wrecked over this. I just came over as a friend. I want her home – nothing will be the same until she is.”

“Me, too,” Giselle said, offering her hand. “Truce?”

Elise shook with her, wondering if she’d missed something about Jason’s new girlfriend. Was it possible that everyone had read her wrong?

Immediately on coming into the apartment, Lois broke away, letting Clark console their son for the moment. She noticed Giselle and Elise peripherally, but their being there meant very little to her at that moment. Ever since Jason’s phone call had come in, Lois had had a reporter’s nagging hunch, and she knew she had to follow it up.

First she looked into Kala’s room. The family portrait that had been sitting on her chest of drawers was gone, just as Jason had said on the phone, the gauzy scarf usually artfully arranged around the frame tossed carelessly on the dresser top. The icy feeling that the sight gave her couldn’t be ignored and she was hard put to fight off the fear that was starting to build. She had known some angry, rebellious teenagers back when she’d been one of them, and a couple had run away from home a few times, mostly to protest their parents’ unfairness. None had ever bothered to take a framed portrait of their family.

Lois, however, had taken a picture of herself, Lucy, and their mother off the mantelpiece when she’d moved out. It had hung in her bedroom at her first shared apartment for two months before her roommates’ smoking got her into trouble at work, and after she moved in with Perry White, the same photo had sat at the desk he gave her for her schoolwork. Later, when she shared a college apartment with Tobie and Cat, the portrait had hung in her room. It had always been a touch of home during times when she got to see her mother and sister once a week, at most.

Kala’s taking the family portrait seemed ominous in that regard. Lois moved around her daughter’s room slowly, her mother’s eye and her own journalistic instincts taking in the details. Captain Bonnie had been left behind, a fact that seemed to argue for Kala’s swift return, but the ferret’s food and toys had been left conspicuously on the bookshelf nearest her cage. Furthermore, Lois saw some books missing from the shelves. Kala’s read-to-tatters copy of Stephen King’s It was among the books taken, as was her copy of Exiles: The Ruins of Ambrai, another book that had been a staple of her shelf for years and well-loved. Lois felt her heart plummet, though, when she realized that The Neverending Story wasn’t in its place by Kala’s bed. It had been always been her favorite book, the one she begged for Lois to read from at bedtime as a little girl. She’d had a paperback copy for many years, but had recently splurged on a fine hardcover version. Both were gone.

A part of her floundered then, wanting to turn away and keep telling herself that this was just a temper tantrum Kala was having, that the girl would be back when she over-spent on a lunch and dinner for herself and realized that none of her friends’ parents would let her stay overnight without a phone call to her parents. How far could the kid get on the fifty she’d been hoarding? But she knew her own child well enough to know better. Pushing aside her hesitance, Lois headed resolutely for the closet next. While Jason had seen some clothes missing, Lois was all too aware that her daughter kept the closet stuffed almost to bursting, and at least a week’s worth of clothes were taken. That also seemed to hint at something more serious than the angry-tantrum sort of runaway, the kind of kid who came home the next day after spending one night sleeping in a bus station. Not that Kala would ever consider a thing. Sooner an airport than that…

Locking down her misgivings on that nerve-wracking thought, Lois kept looking. She checked the hall closet, hoping her hunch would be wrong, but her rolling suitcase was gone as well. She has her backpack and my suitcase. She has her favorite books, all her jewelry, and plenty of clothes. What would she take with her if she really meant to leave, not just hide out at a friend’s house for a few days?

The answering came sickeningly clear, and Lois’ stomach roiled mutinously as she moved swiftly out to the kitchen and yanked open the door to the freezer. She raked aside the other contents in search of one specific item. In the farthest back corner, there should have been a plastic bag marked ‘Pork Chops’ which actually contained cash … but it, too, was gone, and Lois had to face the truth. The sickening dread overwhelmed her then, Lois clutching the rim of the freezer to keep from losing her balance as tears stung her eyes. Oh God, no. No. Her fear in that moment was like physical pain. She took it. She could be anywhere.

Her entire body just felt numb; as little as they liked to admit it, she and Kala had so much in common that there was no way that she could ignore the signs. Hadn’t she been in just this kind of situation at her age? Although she had to admit that Kala was a lot better off than she had been. There was no misunderstanding what her daughter had planned. Making herself get it together, Lois stood up and closed the fridge door. Drawing herself up with pained sigh, she re-entered the living room and interrupted the discussion between the other four to say in leaden tones, “Call the cops. Kala took my suitcase and the running money – she has no intention of coming home.”

Half a continent away, a bald man dismissed his assitant from his office and checked his email. The first message made him smile.

To: Alexander Roth (alexander.l.roth@prometheus.bb)

From: Mercy Graves (mercedes.graves@l-tech.net)

Subject: Results

Mr. Roth, our search engine poll from the resident programming in our Metropolis test servers has shown multiple hits on various values in the specified parameters. The highest concentration has been in the past week. You may be particularly interested to know that the first priority search term has been queried twice on the 31st of December and once today. Tracking the queries over time shows a definite pattern of the type we expected. Our projections for future searches would seem to be accurate at this point, but I will continue to monitor.

As the raw data is of a sensitive nature, I will send it to you by courier. Expect a package from me later in the week.

“Ah, Mercy,” Lex sighed, reading over the email again. “You’ve never failed me.” He leaned back in his chair and smiled, his mind turned – always – to the future.

Tags: heirs to the house of el

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