It was long past midday when the dispirited searchers reconvened at the Kents’ apartment, their best lead having fallen flat. The news didn’t get any better when they met the kids. All of the phone calls and visits to Kala’s usual hangouts had yielded nothing and they were clustered in the kitchen, trying to brainstorm something, anything, they could do now. Clark had the car when he left campus, supposedly to confer with Superman, while Lois accepted a ride from Maggie, and thus they were the two who had to tell the kids that Kala wasn’t with her mysterious boyfriend.
Lois was trying to remember the last time she had seen Jason so resolute and so absolutely forlorn. Listening to the kids hash out the options left, her eyes just kept going to her son. It hurt to know just how much his emotional equilibrium was off. Worse, there was nothing she could do to erase that look any more than she could stop her own guilt. Maybe if she hadn’t flown off the handle. . .
This isn’t helping, Lois. You can’t figure out where she is if you’re feeling sorry for yourself. And it’s not getting Kala home any faster. Right now the only important thing is having your daughter back with you. You can fall apart and act like a drama queen later.
The voice is her mind was familiar. And the General’s Daughter had a point. Grief was for afterwards, once all were present and accounted for. Forcibly grounding herself, Lois squeezed Jason’s shoulder before excusing herself. It did her heart good to see those blue eyes come up to hers and give her a tiny smile.
She headed out onto the balcony, hoping the cold air would blow some of the fatalism out of her mind. Maggie followed her, taking a cigarette from the pack in her pocket and lighting it. Lois eyed it, thinking back to when she’d smoked Marlboro Reds – she and the cop had always been bumming smokes off each other, something of a competition.
Before she could make the decision, they both heard the door open and turned to see Tobie and Cat coming to join them. Both looked as low as Lois felt. Nothing. Neither one got anything. It was clear in the way that they wouldn’t look her in the eyes, in the way they immediately lit up their own cigarettes. And daylight was wasting. In the face of this defeat, Lois bit her lip and then gave in, pawing through her purse for one of her cloves. When Lois exhaled her first plume of smoke, finally Maggie spoke up, asking casually, “So what freaked you out so bad about Mr. Powell?”
The reporter sighed. She'd hoped that no one had noticed her reaction to the boy, but since when had Maggie not had the eyes of hawk? It didn’t help that it was complicated. And a part of her past she would have happily forgotten. “He reminded me a little bit of Cameron,” she began, not comfortable with the line of questioning at all.
Which was made all more so when Tobie and Cat groaned and shared a bitter look. It was Tobie that said what they were both thinking, “Oh shit, Mags. If that’s the case, shoot the boy and do us all a favor.”
Her hazel eyes cut over at her oldest friends, her expression decidedly surly. “The difference is that this Nick seems like he gives a damn. Even if they were up to whatever bullshit they were up to, he tried to defend her. Which is more than I can say for Cameron back then.” Thinking back on those days, she couldn’t help a sigh.
Lois could feel the cop watching her as she lazily blew a smoke ring. “There’s a story behind this,” Maggie said.
“You wanna know my secrets? Ask your wife, and the cackling blonde. The less I have to remember, the happier I’ll be.” Lois was staring out across the city now. Part of the reasoning was true: Clark could arrive back at any moment, and she didn’t want him to see her smoking. The other reason was that it wasn’t a time in her life she was particularly fond of.
Unsurprisingly, it was Tobie that spoke first. “Okay, okay, this is a great story,” she said, glad of some distraction from their current worries. “So, when me and Cat and Lois were in college, we shared an apartment, right? And Lois never dated, she was practically married to her books.”
“While you made up for it by seducing a whole sorority,” Cat cut in.
The blonde was swiftly elbowed, the Star reporter frowning at her. “Hey, this is about Lois and Cameron, not about how much of a whore I was back in the day, Cat.”
“Yeah, we don’t have time to get into that, Tobe,” Maggie teased.
“Shut up, oh virtuous one. Anyway. So this guy Cameron decided to make it his life’s mission to get Lois in bed, mainly to save her from the inevitable result of spending too much time around the massive charisma of yours truly.”
Cat snickered, and Lois joined in after a moment, but Tobie ignored them to continue. “He somehow managed to sweet-talk her into dating him, and everything was okay for a while. She saw him on weekends only because she was too damn busy during the week, with school and working at the Planet.”
Cat couldn’t resist adding to the tale. “If I remember it right, a class got canceled midweek, and Lois went to go spend an hour with Cameron. Only she found him in bed with someone else.”
“Two someone elses,” Tobie corrected. “Obviously, she dumped him. And when he was dumb enough to come by the apartment to apologize, Cat and I beat the shit out of him and fucked up his car. The only reason we never got charged with assault and destruction of property was he couldn’t admit he got his ass kicked by two girls. Plus, I think he knew he deserved it, the cheating little bastard.”
Sawyer’s eyebrows had been rising steadily through the story, and she shook her head at that last. “I’m so glad you wild pack of heathens has settled down since I started hanging out with you.”
“Yeah, you’ve only had to threaten to arrest us once,” Cat said with a smile. Tobie and Lois, who’d been causing that particular disturbance that almost got all three hauled off to jail, just glared at her.
“So, what about Nick triggered all these not-so-happy memories?” Maggie asked, eyeing Lois. The other two, who hadn’t met Nick, listened intently.
That one question was enough to sober Lois again. “Well, he’s a college guy. Good-looking, pretty sure of himself. And he strikes me as a bit of a player.”
Tobie curled her lip. “And our Kala’s dating him why?”
“Isn’t it obvious, Tobie? As much as she hates it: like mother, like daughter. And she has enough problems without adding that to the mix.” Lois took another drag off her cigarette, her anxiety in every movement, her right hand fidgeting with the locket around her neck.
“He stood up for her,” the cop pointed out. “I agree with you, Lois, he does seem to actually care about her. Doesn’t mean I think her seeing someone that much older than her is a good idea, but that’s not important right now. What is important is that she’s not with him, and if he had any idea where she was, I think he’d tell us.”
“Which leaves us with what?” Cat asked.
Sawyer paused to take a drag of her own before admitting, “Not a damn thing. My guys are covering the case as a kidnapping at this point. We’ll know if they find anything. Until then…”
There was a pause of silence as they all let the reality of the trail going cold start to sink in. It didn’t seem right, not in the case of Kala. It was Lois who broke it with a sigh, exhaling another plume of smoke. “I have an idea,” she said quietly, still staring at the skyline. “It’s just a hunch, but…”
They all turned to look at her when she trailed off, but Lois had that tight-lipped look they all knew so well. “Go on,” Maggie said, watching her curiously, “but call me if you hear anything.”
Lois ground out her cigarette and leaving the others on the balcony as she headed inside, only to run into Richard on his way in. He’d gotten Maggie’s call to come in, and had heard that their last lead had evaporated. Lois found him ruffling Jason’s hair and shaking hands with the other three kids. Seeing her, he immediately pulled her into a hug, and Lois gratefully relaxed against his shoulder with a sigh.
“Lana’s at the pediatrician with Kristin,” he whispered against her hair. When Lois tried to look up, worried, Richard just held her as she was. “It’s okay, Lois. Nothing big; Little K was upset last night and never got any sleep. She already had the sniffles, but now her ear hurts, so Lana took her in.” He squeezed Lois again to let her know that the littlest one’s troubles weren’t her fault, and added, “How’re you holding up?”
With a shaky laugh, Lois replied, “I have an idea I want to follow up.”
“And Clark’s out scanning the skies? Great, I’ll come with you. Sounds like you could seriously do with the company.”
Lois winced. Considering where her plans were taking her, and the secrets that they could possibly reveal, the last person she wanted with her was her ex. “I’d rather follow this one up alone.”
Richard narrowed his eyes at her speculatively. Before he could say anything else, Jason appeared at his mother’s side, having heard the discussion and walked away from the other kids. All of whom had been surprised by the way he had abruptly taken leave of them. “No way,” he said, and Lois saw her own inflexibility reflected in her son’s eyes.
Correction: the last person she wanted with her was her son. This was getting more complicated by the minute. There was no way she wanted Jason to even guess the things that had been happening outside of the apartment lately. Not to mention that fact that three pairs of eyes were now watching them in surprise. “Jason, honey, it may not be safe,” Lois began, but he cut her off.
“I’m not letting you go alone. Dad’s not here, and if I hadn’t left Kala alone…”
“It’s not your fault,” Richard and Lois said in unison, sighing at each other before giving him their best stern parental looks.
Normally it was enough to cow the boy, but Jason wouldn’t be so easily mollified now. “Doesn’t matter. It has to do with Kala and you shouldn’t be alone. I’m going with you, Mom. I can’t keep you safe if I don’t know where you are.”
“Jason,” Lois sighed, but the moment before she could say anything else, her son gave her a look from under furrowed brows that she’d seen too often in the mirror.
“If you won’t let me go, I’m telling Dad as soon as he gets here.” The way he tilted up his chin and crossed his arms as he returned her steady gaze was pure Lane stubbornness.
Utter disbelief welled up at his threat and Lois was sure that it was written all over her face. Great, now her own son was blackmailing her. As if this day couldn’t get any worse.
Richard couldn’t help laughing despite the seriousness of the situation they were in. “Better take him, Lois, he’s gonna tell Dad,” he teased. But when Lois glared at him, he tipped her a wink. Having Jason along would keep Lois from doing anything too crazy, and if something did happen unexpectedly, well, he was in superhero training for a reason.
The fact that one of his fathers was mocking him, even gently, didn’t appear to sway Jason in the slightest. His arms remained crossed, his position firm as he stared his mother down. Her hands going to her hips, Lois easily returned the annoyed expression on his face at having a figurative gun put to her head. And by her own son. There was no way she wanted him anywhere near her last lead, but what choice did she have? Wouldn’t it be worse to have to worry about Kal-El trying to find her out? But the part that got to her the worst was that it would have been something she herself would have done to get her way, and had, many times.
For a long moment, she didn’t trust herself to speak for fear of what would come out of her mouth. Off to their left she could hear the other kids start to mutter worriedly. She missed most of it, but caught Sebast’s whispered, “One of these days, Mom’s going to lose it and Jason isn’t going to know what hit him. The boy can’t try her forever.” Wasn’t that the truth. “Fine, you can go. Are you happy now?”
And when he grinned in relief and practically bounced to her side, he reminded her so much of his father back in the day that it hurt her heart. How was it that Jason had the impossible power to keep her from being angry at him for long, even when he deserved it? She gave an aggravated snort at the thought as she uncrossed her arms. Without another word, Lois headed straight for the door with him right at her heels, and added grumpily as they stepped into the hallway, “But you’d better keep up and keep quiet, Jason. I’d better not even know you’re there…”
As the two of them left, Lois still lecturing Jason, Richard just shook his head slightly. He didn’t notice Elise and Sebast turning to stare at Giselle; the three kids had been summarily abandoned after spending the day following up on all the phone calls made yesterday.
Giselle looked a little miffed at having been left behind, but the steady glare coming from the other two teenagers redirected her attention. She looked back at them with a trace of shame in her expression, but there was absolutely nothing she could say in defense.
Just as the tension began to mount, Richard strolled up and leaned against the counter. “Since your fearless leader just disappeared on you, I guess it’s my turn to be field commander. Bring me up to speed, kids."
Sebast and Elise sighed in unison as they turned their attention from Giselle to do so.
General Zod was still looking at Kala with an air of surprise when an all-too-familiar voice spoke further up the hall. “Well, I see you’ve already introduced yourselves. My, how you’ve grown, Kala! You could be Lois’ sister instead of her daughter.” Ice ran down the girl’s spine. That seemingly jovial voice – with mocking laughter beneath every word – came from another face Kala remembered well.
The difference was, she’d met Lex Luthor in person, not in holograms from the Fortress’ crystal bank archives. He had taken her and Jason captive, deliberately exposed them to kryptonite, and when Kala attacked him for beating up her father, Luthor had thrown her off the side of his damned kryptonite island. A long fall into icy water, and if not for Jason and Superman, she would’ve died there. Looking at him, she could feel the frigid sea again, taste the salt water that stung her eyes and nose. Her nightmare came to life, and Kala shivered in terror.
Now, as she had ten years ago, she instinctively relied on the one fragile thread of sanity that she could grasp in such a desperate position. Despite her current upset with the answer, it came immediately. What would Mom do? Simple: get angry, and get even. Never admit to being afraid.
“Luthor, you slimy sonofa…” Kala growled, taking a step toward him. Her left arm was still throbbing, but the pain felt distant in the face of her growing rage. She was far faster than the goons who’d brought her in. If she could just get one good punch…
“He wears a shard of kryptonite set in a ring,” Zod warned her an instant too late. The moment Kala shifted her weight, Luthor raised his hand, and she realized the dull metal on his finger was lead. Luthor hadn’t approached too closely; it would take him only an instant to flip open the cap and expose her to the radiation. Kala was fast – but not that fast. Not yet. And the memory of pain and weakness and that horrible ringing in her ears after her last exposure kept her at bay.
I have to get out. Kala did the unexpected, and whirled to bolt back through the group of men who’d brought her here. They were disorganized and demoralized, both from getting hurt by a teenager and from Zod’s heat-vision attack. The girl put on a burst of speed and dodged them easily, racing along the corridor looking for an exit.
She skidded to a halt at a dead end. There were other corridors, but she could hear the men running, Luthor barking orders at them. Not just the ones who’d brought her in; from the sounds of it, the villains had a whole flock of henchmen stashed here.
Trapped, Kala used the only option she knew was fool-proof: she flung her head back and screamed for her father, screamed loud enough that her throat burned. If he could only hear her, and she knew he could…
The flare of optimism she felt died almost as soon as it lit. “The entire facility is sound-proof.” That was Zod’s voice again, still speaking Kryptonese with its formal, flat tones. He’d caught up to her somehow… well, he was supposed to be dead, killed in an escape attempt just a few years after Ursa, so if he was alive it shouldn’t have been a surprise that he’d somehow managed to regain his powers.
Furious, Kala whirled on him, her eyes feral. She was cornered, no escape, no hope of help, and she knew her only option was to fight. Without thinking she leaped at Zod, her good arm cocked back for the hardest punch she’d ever thrown.
Thwack. Zod caught her wrist and held it, looking into her eyes steadily as she winced. Surprised, Kala read little in his expression beyond a distant sort of curiosity. “I mean you no harm,” he said with more than a little force, and added almost too swiftly for her to comprehend, “I am as much a prisoner here as you are, Kala Kal-El.”
With that, he released her, and Kala quickly stepped back. The rest of Luthor’s goons had arrived, but they hung back from the general even as they eyed Kala with obvious anger. It seemed she’d injured more than flesh, and blows to ego had a nasty way of incurring revenge.
No options left, no way to save herself, no way to call down a rescue. She was trapped for real, no running away. The enormity of it crashed down on Kala, and she staggered, leaning against the nearest wall for support. While all of them stood watching her – Zod unreadable, the men wary, Luthor avaricious – she slid down to sit on the floor, arms wrapped around her knees and her eyes glazing with terror.
Luthor smirked. “I didn’t expect you to volunteer for the welcoming committee, General,” he said. Zod turned his head slightly, but didn’t fully face Luthor, contempt etched in every line of his body. The bald man continued tauntingly, “Then again, you and Kala have sort of a connection – if her father hadn’t been so busy conceiving her, your little reign of terror would’ve ended much sooner.”
The Kryptonian did not acknowledge him, turning away again. Luthor’s eyes narrowed in wrath, and he snapped out, “Gentlemen, Miss Kent needs some time to adjust to her circumstances. Take her to her new quarters.”
The goons started to move, but Zod cut them a look that stopped them in their tracks. “Luthor, your filth will not lay hands on a Kryptonian,” he said sharply. It was the first time Kala had heard him use English, and she was unsurprised to realize it was just as formal as his Kryptonese.
All of them turned to look at Luthor, and even in her daze Kala saw their dismay. They couldn’t decide which man they feared more, Luthor or Zod. Luthor, however, was looking at Zod with amused disbelief. “What, you want to carry her over the threshold yourself?”
Again that half-turn and sneer. Kala realized that Zod had never looked directly at Luthor; a lot of animosity existed between the two, but at the moment that was just another fact floating through the numbing fear that swamped Kala’s mind. Ignoring Luthor’s snide chuckle, Zod closed the distance between himself and Kala, and extended a hand toward her. “Kala Kal-El,” he said, and waited.
Kala looked up at him, her expression bruised. She reached for his hand, but drew back, hesitating. Luthor made a tsking sound, but no one else moved, and Zod simply waited.
At last, Kala took his hand and let him help her to her feet. After a shaky moment, she stood up straight, and Zod immediately released her hand. “And where do you intend to quarter her, Luthor?” he asked, not even bothering to turn the slightest degree toward the bald man.
The continued slight clearly irritated Luthor. “Considering how well you two are getting along, I think I’ll give her the room across the hall from you,” he said with ill-disguised irritation. Zod didn’t acknowledge him further, merely took a step back from Kala before turning to lead the way.
Kala snuck a glance at the uneasy goons. For all their ambivalence toward Luthor and Zod, they seemed pretty clear on one thing: all of them hated Kala. And Luthor himself was watching her far too intently for Kala’s taste. She summoned all her dignity to walk away at Zod’s measured pace instead of fleeing their glares.
Erik Eastlake felt like a heel. Even more so now that the reason for his shame had been avoiding him like the plague. And with good reason. Lois Lane-Kent had more enemies than she knew about, and they were more powerful than she thought. He’d actively been trying to spare her the worst of what was coming, partly because his superiors had ordered him to bring her over to their side, and partly for his own selfish reasons. He was embarrassed about those reasons; the fact that she was older by ten years, at least, didn’t bother him, age was just a number, but the woman was married. Her marriage didn’t seem to be all that stable, but Erik didn’t like to think of himself as a home wrecker.
Still, she was fascinating, one of the most dynamic and attractive women he’d ever met. And even knowing about her husband, and the kids, and the trials waiting for her ahead, Erik was still captivated by her in a way he really hadn’t expected. There was a vibrancy about her that spoke of a fire in more than just her career. He couldn’t stop himself from wondering what it would be like to lift her up onto her own desk, wrap her legs around his hips, and kiss her deeply while rocking against her. He could vividly imagine burying his face in her dark hair, his arms around her waist holding her close…
The doorbell rang, and Erik startled out of his guilty fantasy. Gotta stop that, he scolded himself guiltily. How are you ever going to face her again if you don’t get this under control? And you’re going to have to face her again, so get over it. You offered, she said no, end of story. Let it go. Strange that the doorbell should be chiming in the middle of the afternoon, though. He wasn’t expecting a package.
Erik opened the door of the condo, summoning the casual version of his charming grin. That expression fell as soon as he saw who was standing on his doorstep. With her hair wind-tossed and her color high from the extremity of the temperature was the very woman that had been invading his thoughts. He blinked, taken aback, and then finally managed to say, “Lois, I wasn’t expecting you.”
Her entire demeanor, however, was the exact opposite of what he’d hoped to see in this situation. Lois’ shoulders were tense, her lips thinned in anger. “I think we both can safely say that I wasn’t expecting to be here, Mr. Eastlake,” she said at last, a note of cold implacability while she watched him through narrowed eyes. Just in case he was entirely blind to body language and deaf to tone, she added, “And it’s Mrs. Lane-Kent.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, and somehow wound up continuing, “for… everything, you know.” Did I really think I could just suggest something like that to her, and have any chance of it being received well? I am an idiot. Already wondering just how much he’d have to grovel to convince her it had been a mistake and would never be repeated, Erik was glad to be cut off.
“I’m not here for an apology,” she replied, arching one eyebrow, and Eastlake had the distinct feeling she knew something she wasn’t supposed to.
Distinctly uncomfortable, Erik scrambled to come up with an explanation for her presence. If she wasn’t here to take him up on his offer – oh, optimism was eternal – and she wasn’t here to make him apologize, then what did she want? Maybe this was going in a positive direction. And maybe it was about to get worse. “Well, how can I help you?”
“I need to see your father’s notes.” He stared at her, this being the furthest thought from his mind at the moment. The pause seemed to just irritate her worse. The line of her jaw tightened before her gaze pinned him down. Heat started to seep back into her voice when she added in a dark tone, “Now.”
Erik rubbed the back of his neck, thinking quickly. Maybe he had a way in with her again. The opportunity to seduce her was gone, but if he could just crack that armor the tiniest bit… “This is really unprecedented,” he replied in his most professional tones. “I’d consider letting you in, if…”
Lois held up one hand in front of his face, immediately shushing him. “Erik, you might want to hold on a second before you finish that sentence,” she warned. She made a beckoning gesture with her other hand, and a tall young man stepped out from where he’d been concealed beside the door. At first, Erik didn’t recognize him, but Lois said icily, “You’ve met my son, Jason.”
“Right,” Erik said. He hadn’t recognized the boy he’d seen around the Planet offices with that apprehensive glare on his face. Was Lois really the kind of woman who’d bring her own son to threaten a man for his actions? But no, the boy would’ve been angry if he’d known about New Year’s Eve, and right now he was only confused and suspicious. Quickly editing his reply, Erik continued, “As I was saying, I’d be happy to let you in, if only you’ll tell me why you need to see those notes right this instant.”
“My daughter is missing,” Lois said flatly, and Erik flinched. He knew perfectly well how devoted she was to her children, and if one of them was gone…
“I don’t see how my father’s notes can help you,” he replied, “but you’re welcome to look. Just, please forgive me for being boorish the other day?”
“I’ll consider it.” Lois’ response was guarded, a flash of guilt flickering in her eyes. Just enough to let him know she had considered his offer, for an instant, and still rejected it. And then she just waited with a resolute stance, which essentially forced Erik to open the door wide and step back.
Knowing he had no other real choice, Eastlake stood aside. He had made this mess; this much he owed her. And just maybe there was a possibility of cleaning up loose ends. “Come in,” he said with a touch of resignation in his voice.