After sending Richard and Kay off into the search – her assistant had volunteered the moment she heard the news, but Lana still felt guilty about it – the redhead had racked her brain to think of places where Kala might go. Most of the extended family had been notified, thanks to Maggie, who had called Tobie first and put her in charge of setting up the civilian searchers. Richard had called Perry only to find out he’d already been informed.
All of that activity had greatly intrigued Kristin, and now the little girl stood looking at Lana worriedly. “How come everybody’s callin’ us?” she asked with honest curiosity.
Lana bit her lip; the phone had been ringing pretty much continuously with updates, and Kristin wasn’t used to that. Not hearing from her big sister was also weighing on her, and Lana sighed with the realization that she’d have to tell her daughter something. “C’mere, sweetheart,” she said, and seated them both on the couch.
“It’s somethin’ bad,” Kristin said knowingly, studying her mother’s face. “You an’ Daddy haven’t been smilin’.”
“It’s … complicated,” Lana began, taking a deep breath. How could she make her little girl understand? “Listen, Kala got in trouble last night.”
“I ‘member.” Kristin snuggled closer to Lana’s side, tilting her head back to look up at her.
“Well, Kala and Lo-Lo got in a big fight,” Lana made herself go on, hastening to add, “mostly because Lo-Lo was scared, not knowing where Kala was that late at night. They both got mad and they yelled at each other.”
Kristin was nodding slightly, her look somber. “Kala likes t’ make Lo-Lo mad,” she whispered. “She thinks it’s funny sometimes. Sometimes I think it’s funny too, but mostly not.”
And knowing how Lois was about being made to feel stupid, it was no wonder tempers had eventually flared. “Sometimes they are funny,” Lana agreed. “But a lot of times it’s kind of mean. They don’t want to be mean to each other, but sometimes it just … happens.”
Kristin’s commentary on that was made clear by her stormy little frown. “That’s dumb. They should be nicer to each other.”
“I’ll tell them you said so,” Lana replied. “Anyway, Kala got so mad she decided she needed a vacation. But she didn’t tell anybody where she went.”
“Kala went on vacation without me?” Kristin whimpered, her eyes filling with tears. “But…”
“Honey, she didn’t take anyone,” Lana soothed, hugging her closer. “Not even Jason.” That fact silenced the little girl, both redheads reflecting on how inseparable the twins usually were. Once, when Kala had gotten into a fight at school and been punished by not being allowed to go to the zoo that weekend, Jason had intentionally failed a spelling quiz so he would be forced to stay home, too.
“Everyone’s trying to find Kala,” Lana said gently when she felt Kristin cuddle closer and sniffle. “She might even come here. So we just have to wait and hope.”
Kristin clearly didn’t like that idea, but she was young enough to still believe that her mother knew best. Her anxiety was all too clear in the way she clung to Lana for a hug, though, and the designer snuggled her as much for Kristin’s comfort as for her own.
Giselle struggled to keep up with Jason’s long stride, pulling the collar of her jacket tighter against the cold. She didn’t dare ask him to slow down; the Jason she’d known since the beginning of the school year would’ve acquiesced immediately, but this wasn’t the same boy. Her Jason would never have yelled at her the way he’d done earlier. Tried to mediate between her and that meddling hussy Elise, sure, but yell at them both? A day ago Giselle would have said it couldn’t happen. Now she saw a different side of her boyfriend, and it made her a little wary … and a little intrigued.
This new Jason seemed to be a more interesting prospect than the sweet, serious, slightly shy boy she’d been dating. He was more single-minded and determined than she would have guessed he could be, facing into the icy wind as if he couldn’t feel it. And when they got to their first stop, Jason took the lead and began questioning the clerk at the book store. Giselle hung back and listened to his low, persuasive voice, noticed the intensity of his gaze and the tension in his muscular shoulders, and she began to worry.
This was a young man – she couldn’t properly call him a boy, even if she was certain no woman had made a man of him yet – who was wholeheartedly, unswervingly devoted to his twin. In his concern for Kala, he’d almost forgotten Giselle was there. Her stomach began to churn slowly; what would he do if he found out she’d been the one to start the rumors? All the nasty, vicious things Kala had said and done to her would be forgotten, and Giselle herself would become the enemy.
She swallowed, her throat making a dry click, and grabbed them both some hot chocolate to keep going. If she had any hope of redeeming herself, she’d have to be twice as devoted to this search as Jason was.
Just at that moment, her phone rang. “Mom?” she answered. Jason took the hot chocolate with a preoccupied air and headed out, forcing Giselle to trot after him with the phone pressed to her ear.
“How are things going?” the voice on the other end asked.
“We’re still looking for her,” Giselle replied. “Jason and I are checking the places she usually hangs out.”
“Tell him I wish you both luck. When do you think you’ll be in this evening?”
“I’m not sure,” Giselle said with real worry, watching her boyfriend carefully. “Late, probably. Can you pick me up?”
“I’ll be busy. Something came up at work – I’d be helping you all, otherwise. But you can call Taya if you need a ride.”
“Okay. I’ll call you if we get a good lead, Mom.”
“Good girl,” Justine said, and the two hung up with their usual brief goodbyes. Giselle almost had to run to catch back up to Jason, and she dedicated herself to keeping pace with him for the rest of the search.
They’d barely gone three blocks before Elise stopped and turned to Sebast with an expression of curious concern. “It’s not like I can’t tell that you’re freaked out by more than just Kala lighting out on us. Are you pissed at me? Because all I did was keep a secret like she told me to. I didn’t even know for sure that she wasn’t going to tell you.”
Sebast stopped to look her in the eye. From the way those gray eyes watched him, Elise clearly thought he would be within his rights to place the blame on her. He sighed then, coming forward to hug her. “No, I’m not mad at you,” Sebast replied most sincerely, putting an arm around her shoulder and making her walk with him. “But I am mad at the psychotic little bitch that made me think Kala had gone and slept with this Nick guy.” Elise raised an eyebrow as he continued, “I’m also pissed at myself, for being dumb enough to believe that shit. I know Kala. She thinks she’s too good for just about anyone – except me, of course, but that’s a whole other issue.”
Elise couldn’t help snickering at that last line. Kala did tend to brush off most guys as unworthy; even the ones she dated rarely got to stay with her longer than a few weeks. And none of them had gotten more than a kiss, if they were lucky and she was feeling generous. On the other hand, Sebast and Kala had taken a six-week Latin dance course after school and learned the rudiments of tango, salsa, and rumba, just so they could incorporate some of the moves into their club dancing. Elise had heard that they were almost kicked out of a teen club. Maybe his assertion that she considered him the only man good enough for her was partially true.
“I shouldn’t have believed that slut,” Sebast muttered. “Now she’s gonna be spreading that rumor everywhere as soon as we go back to school.”
Her confusion was written all over her face when she glanced at him. “So why didn’t you say who it was? I mean, whoever she is, Jason’s gonna want to have words with her. And I might round up some of Kala’s girlfriends and kick her gossipy ass once this is all over.”
Sebast looked at her, rolling his dark eyes. “Like I was gonna say something while the two-faced mosquita muerta was sitting right there, looking like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. I swear she’s sucked out Jason’s brain – he wouldn’t believe me even if I told him.”
That opened those gray eyes wide. Confusion gave way to absolute disbelief. “Giselle?!” Elise exclaimed, trying not to yell. “It was Giselle? Oh my God, I knew she hated Kala, but I didn’t know how much! Is she out of her mind? He’s going to kill her!”
“Giselle,” Sebast confirmed. “And she fed me a good enough line that I actually bought it. More fool me – if I was a really good friend, I wouldn’t have approached Kala like I did when I talked to her.” The look on his face made it clear how angry he was with himself.
Furious, Elise crossed her arms. She should have expected as much, with all of the duplicity she had seen the other girl show to other people at school. It shouldn’t have come as any surprise, but it had to be stopped. Immediately. “So, how and when are we gonna tell Jason?”
“That’s just the thing. We can’t. What good would it do? He’ll think we just hate her, like everyone else.” It obviously annoyed Sebast to say it, his eyes narrowed.
Elise scowled, but he had a point. “I’ll tell you one thing,” she said after a moment. “When we find Kala, I’m telling her. Not only will she believe it, she’ll give us ringside seats when she gets her revenge.”
“Damn right. See, this is why I missed you, Elise,” Sebast stated with a fond smile, and then they were at the coffee shop Kala frequented. “Let’s find our girl.”
As night fell, the search had to be called off. Every train station, airport, and subway station had already been checked by a small army of family, friends, and police officers. They’d started on hotels next, and managed to get to most of the ones Lois thought Kala might go to. All the better hotels had been checked, and the concierges had copies of a photo of Kala.
It didn’t seem likely that Kala would take a room in a cheap motel; she was accustomed to certain standards, and no one expected to find her in the $30-a-night fleapits. By ten o’clock, Maggie had to call the searchers in; Lucy had actually passed out, the result of spending too many hours on her feet in the cold. The rest of the searchers were bordering on exhaustion, and Lois and Maggie had come to the reluctant conclusion that Kala was either with Nick Powell, or she’d gotten out of the city without somehow leaving a trail for them to follow.
Lois knew that would be terrifyingly easy for her daughter to do. Kala could run as fast as a car; she didn’t have her father’s endurance yet, but when she wanted to she could cover some serious distance. Knowing that, Lois had reluctantly agreed to end the search. The kids also had to be called off; none of them wanted to quit, but Sebast was asleep standing up and Elise had gotten blisters from running around in boots. They had only acquiesced when Maggie bullied them into going home, then made a point of calling Clark and harangued him into coming home. The police would keep an eye out for Kala tonight – as a minor, hers was declared a missing-persons case as soon as Lois called Maggie, instead of having to wait twenty-four hours like they would have had to do for an adult.
Clark remembered to appear at the front door, and Lois had never seen him so weary and bedraggled. The devastation shining in his eyes told her that he’d searched everywhere, everywhere, and found not a trace of Kala. Maggie hugged him and Lois both before she left. “We’ll take up the search at first light,” the policewoman said. “Try to get some sleep.”
Lois uttered a short laugh; tired as she was thanks to last night’s fitful sleep on the couch, sleep seemed to be impossibility. Still, she had to try and rest for tomorrow’s search; maybe by then they would have some actual leads. The police were still sorting through all of the possible permutations of the name Nick Powell, and by tomorrow a full day’s shift of hotel and transportation staff would have heard about the missing girl. Sighing, Lois headed up the hall to the master bedroom.
Kal-El followed without a word. Last night’s argument hadn’t vanished from their memories, but it assumed far less importance in light of Kala running away. Lois hesitated in the bedroom door, turning back to look at Kal-El. “I should check on Jason,” she murmured. Anxiety and exhaustion were battering at her brain, but she had to make sure one of her twins was safe.
“He’s fine,” Kal-El said quietly, and the rusty tone of his voice spoke eloquently of his exhaustion. He had flown over most of the eastern seaboard, listening intently, and hadn’t stopped for a sunbath in three days. Somehow he summoned the energy to continue, “Jason’s in Kala’s room with Bagel. He’s already asleep, or close to it.”
Lois nodded; she wanted to go to her son, but if he was close to drifting off, she’d rather let him get the rest. She headed into their bedroom, pulling her blouse off and dropping it onto a chair.
Kal-El flicked the light switch, plunging the room into darkness, and Lois heard the rustle of fabric from his side of the bed. She finished getting undressed and went to her chest of drawers for a nightgown…
…when suddenly Kal-El was behind her, his arms around her, his face buried in her hair. She stiffened for an instant, last night’s rash words still hanging between them, finally relaxing against him with a tiny sigh of relief when no words were said. For a long moment, he just stood there in the blackness, holding her, and Lois let herself lean on him for strength.
Just about the time Lois began to think that they should go ahead and get in bed, even if neither of them had any chance at sleep, Kal-El nuzzled in and kissed the back of her neck firmly. Lois shivered; he knew exactly where the sweet spot was. She whispered his name, and he nibbled her nape, his hands sliding down her stomach.
Lois turned in his arms, reaching blindly for his face in the darkened room. She drew him down to her and kissed him, kissed him long and hungrily while his strong hands kneaded the muscles of her back and shoulders. They both wanted this comfort, this escape; no words were necessary, hands and hips spoke eloquently in the dark.
Kal-El led her to the bed, and the warmth of his touch set her body afire. For a little while, at least, they could both forget their failures and the trials that faced them. He kissed her as if he would devour her, his mouth greedy on her shoulders, her breasts, the soft curve of her belly and the swell of her hip. Lois tangled her fingers in his hair, bringing him up to her so she could return those desperate kisses, flick her tongue along the pulse in his throat and nip at his collarbone.
He rolled her under him and Lois’ legs came up around his waist without hesitation, her teeth clenched so as not to wake Jason – he wouldn’t understand this at all, would’ve thought them uncaring, vulgar in their disregard. But it was because they loved Kala, loved her and couldn’t bear the pain of not knowing where she was, that they sought refuge in each other. In grief, in love, in sympathy with each other’s failings and ashamed of their own, Lois and Kal-El came together again.
She couldn’t help crying out softly, back arching with the extremity of it, and a moment later he shuddered as he reached the pinnacle with her. Lois collapsed against the mattress, feeling his weight fall on her just the slightest as they both tried to catch their breath. Her body and mind were just starting to relax, the reporter thinking she might just be able to sleep now if she took a Tylenol PM … when she felt Kal-El’s lips against the curve of her neck, and he began to rock his hips gently against her in a way that made her eyes roll back again. Giving a helpless whimper, Lois rose to meet him frantically; twice was not unusual for them, and if the first round had helped her forget the dilemma they were in, the second might help her let go of the feeling that it was all her fault.When he finally let her rest, they had managed a third time and Lois’ mind had temporarily forgotten everything but the man who held her. So emotionally and physically exhausted that she slipped easily into sleep with a soft murmur of love, she was only vaguely aware of Kal-El snuggling up to her. He himself lay awake only a few minutes longer than she did, unable to remember the last time he’d felt this tired. Things would, had to, look better in the brightness of daylight.