Humming softly, Lex Luthor headed into the control room to monitor the current situation. His watchers in Metropolis had reported the police activity at the Davenports’ apartment, and of course he already knew Giselle was in jail. She had failed, but surely seeing his beloved turn a gun on him had shaken Jason’s resolve. Yes, things were proceeding very well indeed, as Mercy had pointed out.
Lex chuckled. Mercy might have thought she was manipulating him yesterday, but he would have come to the same realization within a few minutes. She simply wasn’t as disappointed in their assassins’ failures as he was; then again, Mercy was a little more accustomed to lowering her standards for employees. That didn’t detract at all from her efficiency as head of security … and even if it had, he would have been forgiving based on the nature of last night’s celebration.
Settling into the monitoring room, Luthor checked his screens. Kala’s room was empty, but rewinding the tape revealed that she’d left with Schecter. Good news. Next he picked up the headphones and tuned in to one of the remote channels.
Only static. That was not good. He quickly flipped through several channels, and finally reached one with sound. A man’s voice, “Should be right around here, Inspector Sawyer…”
Lex ground his teeth. So they’d finally found the surveillance devices. It had taken them long enough. He was losing another avenue of information … though it amused him to hear Sawyer swear under her breath. Flipping through the channels, he quickly realized that they were taking them down in order, moving from the front of the apartment toward the back. And as each sensor was pulled, Sawyer whispered into it a vow to capture him.
Charming, really. Luthor listened to her angry muttering while considering his options. He could simply proceed as planned, leaving the Lane-Kents and their friends preparing for another attack that would never materialize. He could fall back on some of his secondary channels of information. That insidious little program was still installed on the Daily Planet’s servers. It monitored the search engine on the server, and whenever certain terms were searched, such as the names of his companies, it logged the IP address of the computer tied into the network and started recording every location the reporter browsed, as well as capturing each keystroke. Thanks to that clever piece of programming, Luthor had partial copies of all of Lois’ notes. He would have had everything, but she tended to do some of her research on her personal laptop.
Sitting back and waiting, piecing together information from the server, was precisely what Mercy would recommend in this situation. Luthor sometimes felt her approach was too cautious; personally, he wanted to twist the knife a little further, remind everyone why they shouldn’t trifle with him.
A slow smile crossed his lips as he hit upon a perfect solution, a way to cast the family into even more chaos. The surveillance devices had all been pulled, and he could safely assume that Sawyer wanted to update the entire family on yesterday’s events. His watchers had reported all of them convening at the Lane-Kents’ apartment. It was too easy to disrupt their little planning meeting…
Luthor picked up the phone and dialed the security office. “The girl is with Schecter somewhere,” he ordered. “Find her and bring her to me in Surveillance.” With that done, he leaned back in his chair, smiling.
Nick had been out of his depth from the moment he entered the room. He’d never met Kala’s family, and only seen her brother from a distance. Nothing could have prepared him for the sheer number of people packed into the room, or for their single-mindedness. It kind of reminded him of a war room in those military movies, with everyone so serious and so focused. That brought home to him the fact that this was all real, and he had to step up if he wanted to keep pace. Even now, Jason, Sebast, and Elise were giving him occasional glares that let him know they thought him unworthy of even hearing this.
As Inspector Sawyer briefed them, Nick felt his stomach tighten into knots. Kala was in real trouble; people had already been injured, almost killed, and she’d only been gone three days. From the sounds of things, it was only going to get worse. The smart decision would be to get the hell out of this while he still could, but Nick couldn’t bring himself to do that. Kala was something really special, and not just because he was pretty sure she was going to end up famous. She was such an incongruous mix of innocence and cynicism, maturity and reckless youth, that he found her damn near irresistible. And to abandon her now was to say that his friendship with her was terribly shallow. He didn’t want that to be true; even if Kala was only interested in a little forbidden flirtation, he liked her a lot, and three days without her had shown him how much he missed her. Maybe not forever, til-death-do-us-part, but he wanted her around for a long time to come.
“We’ve already had to deal with one spy,” Sawyer was saying. “I know that everyone in this room is trustworthy: you’ve all passed an extensive background check, and I know everything about you. Including who narrowly avoided a shoplifting charge, Mr. Velez.”
As every head swiveled to look at Sebast, the Puerto Rican boy yelped, “¡Dios! I was seven! I tried on a jacket while we were shopping and forgot to take it off! Mi madre freaked out when we got home and marched me back to the store and had them call the cops and everything! I didn’t even do it on purpose! That made me so scared of anybody in a uniform, the next time the UPS guy came to our house I cried because I thought he was gonna take me to jail for reading my cousin’s diary!”
That was the little bit of levity everyone needed, and they chuckled softly. “Bet you never even thought of stealing anything ever again, huh?” Sawyer laughed.
“Yeah, and now I get paranoid every time I see a cop car,” Sebast replied, calming down a little. “How the hell did you even get that? I thought juvenile records were sealed?”
“Not while you’re still a juvenile,” Maggie said. “The rest of you have nothing worse than a few speeding tickets and a couple of drunk and disorderly citations. Well, except Lois, our friendly local burglar…”
“It was for a story, Mags,” Lois shot back, “and I got hell for weeks because you came to arrest my ass. Handcuffs and all.”
“Taught you a lesson, didn’t it?” the policewoman replied.
“Yeah: don’t get caught,” Lois spat, and the whole room laughed again.
Maggie groaned, rolling her eyes theatrically. “Why am I friends with reporters? Good God, to you they’re not laws, they’re suggestions.”
“Damn right,” Tobie piped up, and had the grace to look embarrassed when her wife cut her a sharp look.
“Nice going, Raines,” Perry White growled. “Antagonize the cop – who happens to be your wife. Typical Star grace and tact.”
“Anyway,” Sawyer cut in before the two editors could start in on each other. “The point is, those of us in this room are the only ones we know we can trust. So the plans we make now are not to be shared with anyone else. Well, except Loueen; Perry, you’ll have to clue her in. And Lana and her assistant, Kay; Richard, you get to update them.”
Someone’s cell phone went off; it was Mr. Kent’s, and he quickly answered it, turning away from the rest of the group to take the call. Nick paid little attention to that, the policewoman’s next words taking up all of his attention. “Now, considering what we know Luthor’s capable of, I want all of you to stay on the alert. In fact, I’m considering that the children and those of you who can feasibly do so move into a central location where we can keep you under police protection until…”
Mr. Kent’s voice cut through the room; he had answered the call quietly, but now his voice was loud and furious. “Keep your hands off my daughter, Luthor!” he snarled into his phone. That got everyone’s attention immediately, and they all turned toward him with expressions of horror. All but Nick; he didn’t know anyone here, had no idea how uncharacteristic that tone was, so he looked to the others. That was why he alone saw Lois blanch, gripping the arm of her chair. She looked as horrified as anyone else, but unlike them, she didn’t seem at all surprised.
Half-rising out of his chair, Clark bellowed, “Don’t! You bastard, don’t you dare touch her!”
Kala had had a bad feeling about this from the moment the two thugs showed up in the cafeteria. Schecter saw them first, and frowned, which put Kala on the alert. When they walked up and said gruffly, “Boss wants to see her,” her heart sank.
Schecter’s worried expression didn’t bode well, either. “Did he say why?”
The two goons just shrugged, so Kala gave him a brittle smile. “All villains like to gloat,” she said sweetly, forcing herself to rise with her usual grace. “I suppose I’d better go see him, then. Lead on.”
Her casual demeanor confused the two security guys, and they didn’t say much as they led her to a part of the facility she’d never seen before. Up a flight of stairs, across several corridors, and then up another flight of stairs. Fortunately the two thugs didn’t say anything or try to touch Kala – she was keyed up, wary, ready to react in an instant. With her powers, she figured she could easily handle two apparently unarmed men, and at any rate they decided not to get a little revenge.
Finally, they brought her into a room with one wall made up entirely of flat-panel monitors. Several workstations had microphones and headsets and banks of switches. Luthor was sitting at one of the desks, his hands folded as a pointed reminder of the kryptonite ring he wore. “Good morning, Kala,” he said, an avid gleam in his eyes.
“Hi,” the girl responded, making herself sound as bored and blasé as possible. “You know, nobody’s ever studied the long-term effects of kryptonite radiation in humans. What are you gonna do when that thing gives you cancer? Get a robot hand built? It’ll bring you closer to your life’s ambition of becoming Dr. Claw.”
Luthor only smiled. “Have a seat.”
“And if I won’t?” was Kala’s instantaneous response, lifting her chin to look down on him haughtily. A part of her wanted to scream and run. She knew full well that this man wanted nothing more than to discredit and destroy her father; killing the rest of her family would only be a bonus.
At her question, he only chuckled and looked toward the two security men who were standing behind Kala. The girl heard the thwack of something heavy meeting flesh, probably a nightstick slapped against a palm. She didn’t turn around, instead sitting down with every ounce of grace her grandmothers had been able to teach her, and fixed Luthor with a frosty glare. “Yes?”
“I just need you to sit there for a moment,” Luthor said calmly, taking out a phone handset. He dialed a number and held it to his ear. Kala watched, puzzled, until she heard the voice that answered. Daddy.
Her first thought was to snatch the phone away, but a heavy hand gripped her shoulder. The impulse died as Luthor said, “Hello, Mr. Kent. I hope I didn’t interrupt your meeting. There’s someone here who would like to speak to you.” Then he held the phone toward Kala.
She clenched her teeth, glaring hatefully. Of course Luthor was only doing this to frighten her father; the bastard liked jerking his chain. She wouldn’t give Luthor the satisfaction of pleading for Daddy to come get her. That wouldn’t help her father’s state of mind at all.
Luthor’s eyebrows rose at her defiant expression, and he said flatly, “Speak. You can talk, or you can scream.” The two thugs were standing right behind her, and Kala heard their breath quicken, their pulses accelerate, as they anticipated the chance to hurt her.
Fine. He could make her speak, but she wouldn’t follow his script. “Don’t come for me, Daddy,” she said, trying to keep her voice steady, but her pitch began to rise in spite of her best efforts. “It’s a trap and we both know it. I’m fine here, don’t come after me, don’t let him…”
Luthor made an abrupt gesture, and one of the security men grabbed her head, covering her mouth with his hand. She struggled, trying to bite him, but both of them were pinning her down in the chair, the nightstick slipped under her chin and pressed back against her throat. They would choke her if she kept fighting.
Kala went limp, trying to catch her breath. Luthor was talking, and she needed to know what he was saying. “…she’s obviously quite well, for now, and as long as she continues to cooperate…”
Her father’s voice was perfectly clear to Kala’s sensitive hearing as he snarled, “Keep your hands off my daughter, Luthor!”
Luthor chuckled wickedly. “It’s a little late for that.”
Clark bellowed, “Don’t! You bastard, don’t you dare touch her!” Kala wanted so badly to let her father know that she was okay, to tell him that Luthor probably wouldn’t harm her for fear of Zod’s retaliation, that she could protect herself with her own powers. But the two goons were holding her down in the chair, and if she fought them too hard the sounds of the struggle would only scare her father worse.
“Don’t be so hasty,” Luthor all but purred. “I have no intention of harming Kala – yet. If she’ll do what I’ve asked of her, I’ll let her go.”
“You lie.” The rage in her father’s voice began to frighten Kala. “You’ve always lied, Luthor.”
“Not always,” he said lightly. “After all, I kept my end of the deal.”
Silence on the other end of the phone line. Kala’s exquisite hearing picked up Aunt Maggie’s voice, low and urgent, asking Clark for the phone, telling him there was no sense in listening to this.
“Don’t know what I’m talking about?” Luthor taunted. “Ask your wife.”
“No,” Clark said thickly.
“And while you’re at it,” Luthor continued, “remind her that I kept our bargain even when she broke it.” He looked directly into Kala’s eyes as he spoke, and winked conspiratorially at her.
Kala’s world seemed to be shattering around her. It couldn’t be… No matter how much they fought, Mom would never let Luthor take her. A traitorous voice in the back of her mind asked, Not even to protect Jase? It wasn’t as if she didn’t know who Mom’s favorite was…
“I will end this.” And it was that voice, the timbre and cadence he used only at the Fortress. Kala shuddered to hear it, never having heard such anger and determination from her father.
“Bring it on, then,” Luthor said, his eyes fever bright. “Just remember the deal: don’t involve anyone else. Just you and the family, no cops, no capes, or I’ll…”
“No,” Clark said forcefully. “I don’t make deals with the likes of you, Luthor. Ever. I will do whatever it takes to find you and bring my daughter home. Whatever it takes. This time is the last.”
Through tear-blurred eyes, Kala saw a look of surprise pass over Luthor’s features, tinged perhaps with fear. “Then the consequences are on your head,” he said, and disconnected the call. Smiling at Kala, Luthor commented, “Seems like someone is very much Daddy’s little girl.”
“He’ll kill you,” Kala said bluntly, “but only if I don’t do it first. You sonofabitch, how dare you…” She’d forgotten the nightstick against her throat, and the man standing behind her cut off her air before she could finish the sentence.
Silence reigned in the Lane-Kents’ penthouse, silence pregnant with fury as soft gray clouds were pregnant with thunder. Maggie had stopped trying to talk sense to him. Her ice blue eyes were fixed on him, just like everyone else in the room. Only Lois didn’t meet his furious gaze; she had closed her eyes when she could tell the revelation was near, feeling the blood drain from her face. It’s done. Luthor told him. He knows. In spite of the cold horror that blanketed her, she felt a sickening sense of relief. All those years of forcing it to the back of her mind, of looking over everyone’s shoulder, were finished. For better or worse, her last secret was out.
The relief, however, didn’t quite prepare her for the reality that had been a decade coming. Clark took a deep, deep breath, and let it out in one rising rush of fury. “You made a deal with Luthor?!”
Just the sheer anger in his voice made her flinch. She should have known it would be this bad, had known that there was no way he would have taken this well. Why couldn’t he have been home this morning? She was going to tell him, had planned to, but he hadn’t been home first thing. She had tried and Fate had conspired against her again. Even now, she could remember how cold it had been in the station, the howl of the trains distant as Luthor spread his poison.
He had been watching her eyes. “So. Mutually assured destruction, that’s what this is. If you call him, I’ll go down – but not without ruining you. And that’s no fun for anyone, now is it?” Lex paused for only the briefest second, just long enough to return her feral smile. “This is what I want: leave me alone. Don’t try to find me; don’t help the police track me down. Stay out of my life and out of my way completely. And don’t set your caped hubby on my trail, either. If anything happens to me, your secret’s out.”
She had nodded gravely, not quite trusting herself to speak. Lex continued, “In return, I’ll leave your little family alone. I’ll pull back the watchers I have following the Kents, the Whites, the Troupes, and even the Langs and the Hubbards. You can stop looking over your shoulder, wondering when I’ll appear. That’s no way to have your twins grow up, now, is it? Besides, I have other interests now, and I’m going to be far too busy to pursue vengeance. So we have a ceasefire, essentially. Will you agree to that, Ms. Lane?”
A deal with the Devil is never long-term and always ends in hell. At first, Lois couldn’t reply, looking up at Clark with a shattered expression. In all their years together, she’d never seen that look of wrath and abhorrence turned on her. “You don’t understand. It was so sudden. I didn’t have any choice,” she whispered brokenly.
“There’s always a choice,” Clark retorted, taking a step toward his wife.
Maggie saw the situation going bad in a hurry. The pain and anger in Clark’s eyes made it perfectly clear that he was not in his right mind at the moment, and while the policewoman had never before been able to picture Clark raising his voice to Lois, at the moment he seemed quite capable of throttling her. As for Lois, she seemed to have been diminished. On a normal basis, she gave the impression of being much taller than she actually was, but right now she looked frail and wilted.
Trying to restrain Clark, Maggie grabbed his arm. To her shock she felt taut and trembling muscle just under his shirt; Clark apparently spent more time at the gym than she thought. Given that he was significantly taller and heavier than she was, there was no way she’d be able to stop him if he decided to give vent to the rage she could feel practically vibrating under his skin.
Lois couldn’t help laughing bitterly. “Yeah, you’re right. There’s always a choice – if you’re given the time to think about it.”
“You’ve had how long to at least tell me?” Clark thundered. The rest of the family was still in shock, watching this play out with pained expressions. No one said a word; what could anyone say? If Lois could make a deal with Luthor, and Clark could be this angry at his own wife, then what else could go wrong? Everyone lived with a certain set of assumptions about the world, and two of them had just been violently overturned.
“Okay, cool it,” Maggie said in her authoritarian voice, sliding her hand down to Clark’s wrist to apply a joint lock if necessary. She could hardly believe that such an innately gentle man was giving off all the signs of imminent wrathful destruction, but her training overrode her consternation.
The only problem was, Clark didn’t even notice her, and the attempt to restrain him failed utterly. Maggie tried to catch Richard’s eye, or maybe Ron’s, but they were both locked into a horrified daze.
“Dammit, Clark, I couldn’t! If I’d told you, he’d have come after us again. We hadn’t completely recovered from the last time he struck out at us and we weren’t ready for another fight,” Lois cried out in frustration. “He said he’d leave us alone if we didn’t go after him!”
“And now he has my daughter,” Clark shot back. “I trusted you! I never imagined you could lie about something this big, not again, not after what we went through ten years ago!”
Jason had somehow crossed the room, and now he interposed himself between his parents. “Dad,” he said sharply, his expression urgently trying to communicate something to Clark.
Both parents ignored him, their gazes locked on each other, acting as if they were alone in the room. Lois seemed to rally at Clark’s last words, the fire returning to her eyes. “After what we went through ten years ago? Yeah, and who dropped that on our doorstep? It certainly wasn’t me! I don’t remember being the one that waved the red flag under his nose.”
“You swore no more secrets. And you lied to me anyway.” Apparently Jason and Kala didn’t just get their stubbornness from Lois. Clark was mulishly fixated on that fact, his voice shaking with betrayal.
Lois’ jaw tightened at that, her frustration growing strong every minute. She couldn’t make him listen, couldn’t make him understand. How could she have been stupid enough to think Luthor would keep his bargain when the bait had been laid in front of her? “I never lied,” Lois denied sharply. “I just didn’t tell you – I knew exactly what you’d do if I did! I did it to protect all of us!”
“Yeah, we see how well that worked out,” Clark fired back. Maggie got the impression that a whole universe of unspoken things lurked beneath this argument, and she didn’t want to examine them too closely yet.
Lois bristled at that, guilt burning away for the moment in sheer anger. Her eyes met his directly. “It bought us ten years! Ten years for the twins to grow up…”
“Ten years?!” The words seemed to explode out of Clark, and even Maggie flinched. “You’ve been hiding this for a decade? Our whole marriage?”
Something Lois crumbled at that, seeing the look in his eyes. Luthor had scored the direct hit he always wanted: Kal-El now saw her as the enemy. Her love for her family, her need to protect her children, had become the weapon to be used against her. “I did what I had to do; they were only babies when this started” Lois whispered, tears glimmering in her eyes even as she refused to drop her eyes. “I did what I had to do to keep us safe.”
“We’re not safe!” Clark’s voice had risen with each exchange, and at that point he sounded absolutely maddened by pain. “Kala’s gone, Luthor’s trying to kill us all, how dare you say you betrayed me to keep us safe?!”
Lois clenched her jaw, the fire burning hot again. “We were safe for ten years! What he’s doing now, he would’ve done when the twins were six! I had no choice!”
“You could have told me!” Clark bellowed back.
From the foyer came a new voice, demanding, “What the hell is going on here?”
Clark and Lois both stopped and turned toward the hall with astonished expressions. So did everyone else in the room. In a day full of shocks, perhaps the most unexpected was hearing Lana swear.
The redhead stalked into the room, head held high, staring down Clark. Kay trailed behind her, looking stunned. “Well?” Lana asked again. “Someone please explain this.”
“Luthor called Clark,” Maggie began. “And told him about a deal Lois supposedly made with him ten years ago.”
Lana crossed her arms and looked at Clark. Almost no one had seen her furious, but today was apparently full of firsts. “So of course you turned on Lois,” she said. “Clark, you just did exactly what he wanted you to do.”