Yet another chapter that I'm not really sure I can give an intro for. This is another one of those sections of the story that we've been planning since we were still writing Little Secrets. Yes, for that long. Hopefully we've been keeping you guessing so far and will continue to do so. That said, welcome to the new arc: Act III: Truth. And be ready as we shift it into high gear. Expect the unexpected. :D
The crushing level of guilt he felt threatened to overwhelm Kal-El. He’d been so completely focused on trying to find any clue that would lead him to Kala, he had blocked out the rest of the world. Lana and Kristin had been alone in their own apartment with a killer, and he hadn’t even known. If not for luck, and a moment of ruthless courage, his oldest friend would have been brutally murdered and he wouldn’t have even been aware until after the fact. It was all he had to keep himself together, staring directly through the walls of the OR. How would he be able to face Richard, or Lois, or even his own reflection in the mirror, if he had let that occur?
Just after dropping Lana off at the emergency room, he’d switched to plainclothes and hurried inside, keeping track of her heartbeat by super-hearing. It seemed like she was going to be okay, no thanks to him…
Richard rushed into the waiting room, and his gaze fell on Clark. The taller man flinched, expecting castigation for his negligence, but instead Richard had simply come forward and hugged him. Confused, Clark could only return the gesture.
They didn’t speak, only braced one another against the onslaught that was threatening to swallow their families. “Thank you,” Richard finally whispered hoarsely. Drawing back, the younger man made an attempt at composing himself, but with visible effort. “How is she?”
“Fine,” Clark replied, glad to have good news for him in spite of his troubled conscience. “They don’t think she has any serious injuries apart from her hand. She’s in surgery for that now. The rest just needs stitches.”
Richard sighed in relief. “Thank God.” Some of the panic was leaving his expression, but he’d had too much of a shock to calm down quickly.
It made Clark’s chest ache with remorse to see his friend like this. And what happened to Lana was even worse. And all because of him. Where could he even begin? “I’m so sorry. I should’ve been listening. Richard, I
He never got any further. Richard just hugged him again, tighter, knowing all too well the lengths to which Clark pushed himself and yet punished himself for all he couldn’t do. “I don’t know, either. Good thing we don’t have to find out.”
Glad of this comfort, Clark hushed and concentrated on monitoring Lana once they pulled away again. The surgeons were just about finished with her hand, if their conversation was any indication. For Richard’s sake and to assuage his own guilt, Clark would keep a vigilant watch over Lana. After all, both assassins were dead – Lois was perfectly safe.
Lois’ journalistic instinct had been nagging her ever since she walked into the Whites’ apartment and being held back was driving her mad. Something was off about this whole thing, and with Lana and everyone else safe for the moment, Lois let her hunch have free rein. The cops and paramedics were distracted, so she headed to the kitchen.
She knew better than to disturb a crime scene – Maggie would go utterly ballistic if she touched anything. But a look wouldn’t hurt…
Lois had to press a hand over her mouth when she peeked into the kitchen. When Lana had lashed out at her attacker, she’d sliced the woman’s throat deeply. Lois knew as much from what Maggie had told her. That hadn’t prepared her for the slaughterhouse atmosphere of Lana’s formerly tidy and welcoming kitchen. Blood had sprayed the ceiling and the counters before pooling beneath the dark-skinned woman lying on the floor.
The woman’s head lay at an unnatural angle on the bright white of the kitchen tiles, the whole image horrible and surreal in such a cheery place. Unable to help her wince at the sight, Lois remembered Maggie telling her that Lana had nearly decapitated her attacker. And as much as she would like to turn away and banish this nightmare for her mind for just a moment, there was something about the corpse that had all of Lois’ instincts on full alert. She couldn’t see the face from where she stood, and so she circled through the hall for a clearer look.
And startled at what she saw when peeked through the other door, her eyes widening. She knew this woman! She’d seen that face before, but where?
When the answer came to her, it made her heart freeze. Wheeling around, she yelled up the hallway, “Mags! We need to get to my place now!” Her finger flew on her cellphone, already speed-dialing the apartment without really thinking about it, but was met with an inane beeping – a line was cut or a phone was off the hook. It wouldn’t make that noise if Jason was just using the phone.
The next thing she heard the quick approach of booted feet. “What the hell?” the cop snapped, Lois hearing her before she was even rounding the corner. “Goddamn you, Lois, I told you to stay the hell out of my crime scene…”
She had no more seen the top of Maggie’s head before Lois grabbed her sleeve and yanked her to the doorway. “Look familiar?” she said hastily, the intensity in the reporter’s eyes just a little unsettling. “I can’t remember her name, something Taya, but she’s a friend of Justine Davenport’s. She dropped Giselle off a couple times.”
In short order, Maggie came to the same conclusion Lois had. She swore graphically, barking orders to the other cops and calling for backup as she ran for the elevator. Lois followed at her heels, dialing Jason’s cell phone this time and knowing it was probably in vain…
Giselle came in quietly, the gun held in front of her, safe in the knowledge that she’d just cut the house phone line. She knew exactly where to find the gun; Justine hadn’t packed all of her collection. The plan was simple – find Jason and kill him. As Luthor had told her, his first two attempts had failed, and both assassins had met their deaths. Now it was up to her.
She’d protested vehemently. This wasn’t anything remotely close to what she was hired for – when she met Justine, the older woman had offered her a simple job: seduce a teenage boy and worm her way into his family. That sounded easier than scamming retirement checks, so Giselle had jumped at it. The pay was excellent, and the job was made easier by the fact that Jason Kent was actually quite attractive, if a bit too squeaky-clean for Giselle’s taste.
The job wasn’t as easy as she’d been le
ad to believe. Open and friendly on the surface, Jason’s extended family were actually quite secretive about certain things. They should have all been delighted to have such a pretty, well-mannered young lady dating their son, but she had the nagging feeling that she’d gotten something wrong. Somehow they didn’t like her
That played into Justine’s plans perfectly. Giselle had been able to alienate the twins as well as report on the family’s activities. Only recently had Justine mentioned that their true goal was kidnapping one of the kids. They’d been planning on Jason; if Giselle could only manage to get him to come with her and her ‘mom’ on vacation, they’d have him.
As it turned out, the other half of her job had come to fruition first. After New Year’s, she’d seen the opportunity to strike out at Kala and get a little revenge for all the slights and insults she’d been forced to take. Her rumor-mongering had led directly to Kala running away, and Justine’s contacts had picked the girl up very quickly. Giselle’s quick thinking had earned her a substantial bonus, and she thought her job was over.
But no. Justine had finally told her who they were really working for: Lex Luthor. He was no one to mess around with, and the job wasn’t done until he said it was done. Justine had made it very clear that Giselle had to stay on task and in character as the family searched for Kala, reporting their every move.
The job was taking far longer than Giselle had ever suspected, and she wanted out. Justine kept asking more and more of her, and she’d tried to flatly refuse when she wanted her to stick around and help search for Kala. The blonde had just laughed, and gotten a manila folder out of her desk. Inside were a dozen typed sheets of paper with detailed descriptions of Giselle’s recent criminal activities. “At least two of those are federal offenses,” Justine had said calmly. “We can point the police at the evidence.”
“I’ll turn you in,” Giselle had replied, and the older woman had just shaken her head.
“Is that so? Well, Giselle, what exactly do you have on us? I hired you to date a boy, get in arguments with his sister, and suck up to his family. If that’s a crime, you’re complicit in it. If you even try to go for the kidnapping, you’d first have to prove I had a hand in it, and if you succeed, you’re naming yourself as an accessory. It was your idea to spread the rumor about her. It would look as though the kidnapping was your idea, too.” Justine’s icy blue eyes had the look of a scientist studying a particularly interesting species of bug under a microscope, a small arrogant smile on her lips.
Giselle had been frightened by that, cowed into going along with their plan. It was only a little longer, she kept telling herself
She was a survivor first. She could do this if she had to. And she definitely had to… Drawing that cold-blooded self-interest around her like a coat, Giselle stalked into the apartment, gun at the ready.
Footsteps in the hall, and it was Kristin, dressed in an pink nightgown, who walked out and saw Giselle, not Jason. The little girl’s blue eyes grew huge when she saw the gun, and she froze. Giselle had a moment to think Oh God, you’ve got to be kidding and then Jason was moving in front of the little girl. He was trying to hide it from his little sister, but the dark-haired boy looked as keyed-up as she did at that moment. “Kristin, go to Lo-Lo’s study,” he said sternly. “Giselle…”
I never should have made that deal. I knew it was too damn good to be true. But she had and this was one last hurdle before she was out. She could do it; she’d survived tighter scrapes. Her green eyes narrowed then, gaze directly on her ‘boyfriend’ of the last few months. “Don’t make this any harder than it has to be,” Giselle warned darkly, and cocked the gun.
Jason realized he’d been mentally preparing for something like this ever since he’d first seen Kristin. The family was under attack again, and he knew Luthor wouldn’t hesitate to target him. No one was safe anymore, and he had to keep his wits about him if he was going to rescue his twin.
He just hadn’t expected it to be Giselle.
If Jason was totally and completely honest with himself, he’d never considered Giselle his intellectual equal. Not that he had a problem with that; she wasn’t dumb, just not a genius. He admired her for her other traits
Jason didn’t think he was that shallow, but it was obvious that he’d misjudged his girlfriend. And that everyone in the family who had held back, not openly disapproving but certainly not making her welcome, had been right.
All of that reflection happened in a tenth of a second. Thinking fast, Jason sent Kristin away and faced Giselle alone. He’d barely begun to say her name when she cut him off.
Even her voice sounded different, a new sharp note of implacability in it. Jason tried to get past that, to let himself hope she was only scared, but in her eyes he saw her steeling herself to go through with this, with killing him. Those eyes were as icy as Lex Luthor’s, and Jason would never forget that expression.
Still, this was Giselle. Giselle, whom he had snuggled and kissed and held hands with. Surely he knew her well enough to be able to talk her out of this. There had to be some way for this not to end in bloodshed. Dad handled situations like this every day.
Of course, he was bulletproof, and Jason wasn’t. He couldn’t let himself feel fear at the moment, though. Panicking would get him killed.
“C’mon, Giselle,” Jason said soothingly. “Put the gun down.”
The barrel of the gun still aimed directly at Jason’s face, giving him no ground. “Shut up,” she growled, her voice bitter and giving no sign of its former warmth. They could have been strangers for all the familiarity there.
“You’re not going to do this. You’re not a killer, Giselle, I know you’re not.”
That was the wrong thing to say, as her eyes blazed with fury. “You know nothing about me,” Giselle hissed. “I’m not who you think I am, you idiot. I was paid to go out with you.”
“That doesn’t make you a murderer.” He held his hands out, showing her his empty palms. “Look, Giselle, whatever you’re mixed up in, we can help you.”
The laugh that left those perfect lips was hard and bitter, a sound he had never expected to hear. “Help me? You can’t even help yourselves. This family is so screwed up, you don’t even see it.”
“We can help you,” Jason insisted. “Mom and Dad know people… If someone’s after you, we can protect you.”
“Like you protected Kala?” Giselle retorted, and Jason flinched.
He rallied, then, her mention of Kala finally igniting his slow temper. It set his teeth on edge to think how many times he had lost his temper with his twin over this girl. It didn’t help to realize that Kal had been right in the end. She had always said that his girlfriend was going to hurt him badly in the end. He just hadn’t know just how right she was. “Giselle, you’re not going to shoot me,” Jason said more forcefully. “If you were a real killer, you’d have pulled the trigger by now. You’re just grandstanding – you need our help. You don’t need to do this.”
“God, you always did talk too much and act too little,” she snapped irritably. But she wasn’t squeezing the trigger, which was what was important, and Jason took that as a good sign.
He’d forgotten about Bagel.
Bagel had enjoyed a comfortable, predictable life for nine years. Her meals and walks ran on a reliable schedule that only occasionally varied, and that was during trips with her family. She liked things orderly – adventure was fun on walks and vacations, but in her own home, she preferred a stable routine.
That routine had been shattered. First, the big party. While Bagel generally enjoyed parties as opportunities to get affection and snacks from people, this party had carried an undertone of uneasiness. Like all dogs, Bagel was exquisitely attuned to the emotional weather of her family. Not only was she an astute reader of body language, but her nose was so much keener than a human’s that she could smell the changes in body chemistry that accompanied changes in emotional state. In other words, she could smell fear, anger, love, the whole range of human feelings.
She hadn’t liked the way the party ended, and then when Kala came home, everyone got into a huge fight. The house had reeked of adrenaline and anger, and Bagel had been confused and frightened by it.
Nothing had been right since then. Her schedule was ruined, her humans were frightened and angry, and Kala was missing. All of it combined to make Bagel a miserable little dog. And then Clark had brought Kristin over, smelling of blood and medicine and unhappiness. Bagel was presently hiding under the sofa while Jason soothed his little sister. The beagle was having the worst day of her life, and she was so distraught that she had started licking her own feet repetitively, trying to comfort herself. So far she’d only managed to remove some of her fur.
Just then, Bagel heard a stealthy noise at the door. She was normally a decent watchdog; her yips of delight at arriving strangers alerted her family to their presence. But just now, she felt too pathetic to muster her usual excited greeting. Instead she lay under the sofa, her chocolate-brown eyes trained on the door.
It opened slowly, and the person who stepped through was someone Bagel knew. But Giselle’s familiar scent was masked by the cloud of fear and rage and determination that hung over her. Those smells, along with a sharp oily note, swamped Bagel’s sensitive nose. She cringed, ears flat against her skull, as the girl moved into the apartment and confronted Jason.
Giselle was not moving like she normally did. Now she had a predator’s stealth and intent. Bagel’s hackles rose, her teeth bared, but she made no sound. As the girl moved past the sofa, something inside the little hound snapped.
She’d had too much – too much fear, too much anger, too much yelling, too much disruption of her tidy life. Then this human arrived, her body language and scent clearly advertising her intent to harm from the moment she stepped inside. And now she spoke, her voice harsh and cold and threatening. Jason talked to her, and Bagel heard the fear in his voice, the desperation in hers.
Bagel was not normally protective or aggressive, but that was the final straw. Snarling, she darted out from under the sofa and sank her teeth into Giselle’s calf.
It hardly seemed possible that this was the same gentle beagle who had licked Giselle’s face yesterday and squirmed her way onto Jason’s lap to comfort him.
The girl cried out in pain and surprise, trying to shake the little dog off. When Bagel lost her grip, Giselle took a step toward her and kicked. Hard. For a dog who’d never been struck harder than a mild swat on the rump, it was traumatic. Bagel squealed as she briefly went airborne.
That was all Jason needed to see. He lunged at Giselle, grappling for the gun, too furious to fear for his own life.
Somehow in all of the craziness for the search earlier in the day, Elise had managed to leave her purse at the Lane-Kents’ house. Feeling like an idiot for having to come back to her ex-boyfriend’s house for something he’d consider trival, she headed back over there, not bothering to call first. There had to be someone home on phone duty, likely Mr. White. And besides, it wasn’t as if anyone would be going to bed this early, not with Kala still missing and the prospects looking bleaker all the time. If she could time it right, she might even stay and help out a little later tonight. It wasn’t as if she couldn’t spare the extra time with the house being empty save for her. She’d just get Lois to drive her home later.
Getting off the elevator, Elise walked up the short hallway to the penthouse, surprising herself with a flare of hope to find Jason alone and immediately feeling like a moron for it. It wasn’t like he wouldn’t mock her absent-mindedness. But a high yip coming from the direction of the apartment made her freeze in mid-stride.
The door was open, and it shouldn’t have been. This was Metropolis, everyone kept their doors closed and locked, even on the better side of town. Hell, the Lane-Kents had five different locks running up the inside of their door. Worse, she could hear what sounded like a scuffle coming from inside.
The sane, sensible thing to do would have been to retreat and call the cops. But Elise was struck by the instant and undeniable thought that Jason might be in trouble. She couldn’t make herself walk away without making sure, and that was how she found herself peering in the doorway.
A muffled curse and a thump, then Jason crossed her field of vision. He was holding tight to Giselle – but that was no lover’s embrace. Rather, he had his arms around her and was trying to wrestle something out of her hands. They banged into a hall table, knocking it over, neither of them paying the slightest attention to it.
Giselle was suddenly stronger and more coordinated than Elise had ever imagined her, stamping down on Jason’s feet and twisting in his grip. “Let me go!” she yelled.
“You shouldn’t have kicked my dog,” Jason growled, and that was the moment when Elise realized the object they were fighting over was a gun.
Oh, shit, she thought, her mind going perfectly blank. At that moment, Giselle’s knees buckled and she practically fell out of Jason’s grasp, taking the gun with her. Tremendous fear roared up in Elise, the fear that she was about to see Jason killed, and that fear had her moving even while her conscious mind was still frozen. Taking two steps into the foyer, Elise snatched up the heavy ceramic dish that Lois used to contain her change, keys, and various other pocket flotsams. Neither Giselle nor Jason saw her throw it over-arm and hard, aimed squarely at the black-haired girl.
Giselle was rising to turn the pistol on Jason. At the last moment, she saw the dish coming and ducked, involuntarily squeezing the pistol as she did so. Its report stood out above the crashing dish. Elise was already diving for cover, and the shot missed her widely. Stupid, but lucky, she told herself as she darted back outside, already dialing 9-1-1. As badly as she wanted to help Jason, the smartest thing she could do would be to get the police there. But if she hurts him, I’ll kill her.