“What the hell is going on here?”
It seemed that Lana had gotten there just in time. Of all the things she’d expected to walk into, the very last was an argument between Lois and Clark. Not only that, but one she could hear all the way outside the apartment, and in her consternation she’d sworn, however mildly. Behind her she heard Kay draw in an amazed breath; her assistant had heard her mutter ‘darn’ under her breath several times, but that was all.
And the pair of them turned at the sound of her voice in the suddenly silent room, Lois and Clark looking like their own twins caught in the midst of some misbehavior. Their guilty expressions weren’t a perfect match for Jason and Kala, though. Lana had never seen the twins look quite so pained and heart-sore as their parents did at the moment.
She felt for them, loved them both so much, but couldn't help feeling furious. In the midst of all that was happening – Kala missing, Luthor trying to kill anyone close to the family – these two were screaming at each other? Not to mention that it was happening in front of everyone and from the snatches Lana could hear in the foyer, they were perilously close to letting the secret slip.
Storming into the crowded room, Lana’s sea-green eyes wrathfully found and bored into Clark’s azure ones as she came forward to face him, then that steely gaze lit on Lois. “Well? Someone please explain this.” Neither could answer, both of them dropping their eyes with shamefaced embarrassment. Everyone else looked sheepish, too, which wasn’t much of a surprise, considering they’d just been forced to witness a very public airing of private grievances. It didn’t help that Lois and Clark had always controlled any of their personal problems; most of the family were under the impression that the two of them had never even had a real fight. A perception that now had changed drastically.
In the end, it was Maggie that finally spoke up. The cop looked as disillusioned as Lana had ever seen her, arms crossed over her chest. She’d been trying to hold Clark back before Lana had arrived, unsuccessfully of course, and her voice was full of bewildered sorrow. “Luthor called Clark. And told him about a deal Lois supposedly made with him ten years ago.”
Armed with that information, everything clicked into place. Luthor’s plans yesterday had failed; his pet assassin had been slain by a fashion designer, of all things, and everyone he wanted dead was still alive and now even more determined. What else could he do when faced with the current situation? The answer was obvious. Ten years ago, Luthor had called Lois and let her hear the twins crying for her, which brought her desperately rushing onto his yacht and into a trap. Now he’d done the same thing, only choosing Clark for his target this time, robbing him of caution and common sense with a single phone call.
A small part of her admired that brilliant piece of manipulation, but the rest of Lana was consumed with outrage. Clark was a deeply passionate man, devoted to those things he considered sacred: his mission and his family. To turn him against his own wife was like tricking him into cutting off his own arm; he was hemorrhaging anger and betrayal right now. Someone had to stop him, quickly, and no one else had even the slightest clue how to do that. Even the usual quarter to turn to when Clark was in a lather was out of commission this time. Lois, who was normally feisty and combative enough for any three people, seemed merely cornered, wounded, and lashing out in self defense. And it hurt Lana’s heart to see it.
So of course it fell to his oldest friend. Lana took a deep breath to brace herself, crossing her arms in exasperation. It was only made a tad awkward by the bulkiness of the bandages around her hand. She met Clark’s eyes steadily, knowing what she was about to say was the hardest blow she had ever delivered to him, but knowing it had to be said. “So of course you turned on Lois. Clark, you just did exactly what he wanted you to do.”
It had the desired effect, clearly. Blue eyes wide, Clark looked utterly pole-axed by the blunt statement. But the sheer shock of her scolding wasn’t enough to keep him silent for long. No one in the room missed the way he snapped out, “What are you doing out of the hospital?”
Lana only stared him down coolly, her disappointment in him obvious in every feature of her face. How badly Luthor must have rattled his cage to have him striking out like this. But someone had to talk sense to him and the others were just too stunned. Even Jason stood back, cowed. So it fell to her. “Saving you from making a mistake just when you really don’t need to,” was her chilly response. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Richard leaning back in his seat, looking both impressed and relieved.
“You should’ve stayed where you were safe,” Clark shot back, his expression thunderous.
Lana looked around the room slowly, at the whole assembled extended family. She gave all of them a reassuring smile, taking strength from every single face in the crowd. “Seems fairly safe right here, just like it always has,” she replied quietly.
That stymied him for a moment, and Lana looked at Lois, who paused before looking up at her. Those hazel eyes looked almost bruised with exhaustion and heartache. And the redhead didn’t miss the way everyone else was looking warily at her, all of them stunned by the revelation that Lois had made a deal with the enemy. As close as some of the others in the room were to the reporter, most didn’t have the insight into Lois that Lana did. Time to put that in perspective as well. “Lois, you are not a fool,” Lana stated. “I'm not going to say that either of you are wrong. But I know that whatever deal you made, you must have had a very good reason for doing so.”
Clark scoffed and Lana could see the way Lois flinched from the sound. In that moment, Lana knew that nothing anyone said to her could make the other woman feel any guiltier than she already did. In spite of that, the reporter only struggled for a moment before she got her facade firmly in place, lifting her chin defiantly. “You know what, it was all I could do when it happened. Everyone can believe what they want; I was protecting the kids – and him. Luthor didn’t give me the time to make a choice – it was either agree to leave him alone, or go right back into war. And the twins were six.”
“Sounds sensible to me,” Lana said, and when Clark turned wounded eyes on her, she lifted her left hand, letting him see the bandage. “As of yesterday, I have a little experience with what a mother will do to protect her children.”
The silence in the room took on another tone, as everyone remembered that Lana had killed her assailant. She remembered, too, the easy weight of the chef’s knife in her hand, the sound it made whickering through the air, how easily the woman’s flesh parted before it. Those memories were all too clear for Lana, even the thunk as the blade struck bone and skidded off a vertebra, the blood so hot as it sprayed her face and plastered her blouse to her body. Only one thought had been in her mind at the time, you will not touch my daughter, and she hadn’t felt the woman’s knife as it pierced her hand, hadn’t faltered as she swept her own blade through its fatal arc.
Clark seemed to be out of objections for the moment, and Lana decided to move this discussion out of earshot of those who didn’t know the truth of his identity. “Maggie, I’m sure you still have a lot you need to discuss,” Lana said calmly. “But Lois, Clark, Richard, and I need to talk for a moment, just among ourselves.”
The policewoman looked relieved, the status quo seeming to have finally started to return. “Go on, you four need to talk about this. You’re not missing much else, at the moment. We'll update you when you get back.”
The moment the four parents were ensconced in the master bedroom – awkward, but Loueen and the kids were upstairs in the study – Lois turned to her husband with desperation in her eyes. “He knows who you are,” she stressed emphatically. “Kal-El, Luthor would have published your identity for the world to read if I hadn’t agreed to leave him alone. What was I supposed to do, after all he’d done to us the month before?”
Not even her use of his Kryptonian name seemed to affect him. “That’s not the point,” Clark shot back. “You never even told me!”
“I’ve been trying to tell you since New Year’s!” Lois fought the rat of hopelessness that gnawed at her guts. She knew she had to keep her voice down, but she wanted to shout that into his face. Make him hear, make him understand the position Luthor had put her in. “Hell, I was going to tell you what was happening after the party, but you took off!”
“Since New Year’s?” Clark was just as angry. “How am I supposed to believe that? Or anything else you say, for that matter. Why wait this long? You’ve lied for ten years!”
Lois' eyes were starting to shine from frustrated tears. She wasn’t getting through to him. Just when she was sure she’d lose her temper, help came unexpectedly from Richard. “Clark, shut up.” The taller man wheeled to stare at him incredulously. The tone was more weary than angry, but Richard rarely spoke so bluntly to Clark. “She didn’t exactly lie, she kept a secret, and there’s a big damn difference between the two. Not only that, but you should’ve known Lois would do anything she could to protect you and those kids. When hasn’t she? She kept a bigger secret for six years, lied to everyone in her life – including me – about the kids when it would’ve been the easiest thing in the world to publish ‘Superman: Deadbeat Dad’. Hell, there could’ve been a book deal in that.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Lana cut in, before Clark could start up again. “Yes, Lois should have told someone. I can see why she wouldn’t tell you, but she could have told me…”
Lois was already shaking her head. “Lana, I barely knew you that well back then. There was no way I was going to chance the possibility that he could know. Not after everything we had already gone through. No one could know. This was in January, right after the last time the kids were kidnapped; our engagement notice had just gone into the paper. That’s where Luthor got the photo to compare Clark and Superman.”
“It still doesn’t matter.” Lana kept her tone cool and calm now; the time for shocking Clark back to his senses was past. He’d had enough shocks for one day. “We can sit here and argue over what Lois should have done, or we can deal with the choice she made. Personally, I prefer the option that gets us closer to finding our daughter.”
Clark sighed heavily. “I wouldn’t have expected you to come out on her side.”
“I’m not on her side,” Lana patiently corrected. “I’m on Kala’s side. Which is where both of you should be. Now come on. If you really must, we can pick up the blame game again once Kala is home safe.”
“Fine,” Clark said, but the dark look he shot toward Lois let everyone know that this wasn’t over. Lois, for her own part, could only sigh resignedly and turn away.
The man standing behind Kala wasn’t really trying to kill her, just shut her up and scare the hell out of her. Unfortunately, she was so angry she didn’t care about anything but getting her hands on Luthor. Kala summoned every ounce of the strength she’d inherited from her father and wrenched the nightstick away from her throat, rising from her chair so fast that to human eyes she was merely a blur.
A blur who swiftly punched the man who’d been choking her, landing a solid blow to his midsection. While he gasped for breath, never having seen the sucker punch, she was already turning to deal with his partner. Her head was full of a high, buzzing rage, and she lashed out wildly. Fortunately for Luthor’s thugs, Kala didn’t have her father’s strength, but they simply couldn’t block any of her blows, and they were both being beaten.
At least they were losing until Luthor uncapped his kryptonite ring. Kala’s ears began to ring, a horrible shrilling that seemed to threaten imminent deafness, and at the same time her whole body seemed to turn into one massive muscle cramp. She collapsed, falling backward into the chair, covering her ears with an agonized whimper. It had been ten years since she was last exposed to kryptonite, and she was completely unprepared for its effects in spite of Zod’s warning.
Gasping, trying not to cry, Kala fought to master the debilitating pain and weakness. The two thugs were getting ready to start in on her again, and Luthor just smiled evilly. “Threatening me is not a good idea, little girl,” he warned.
That was when the door burst open. “Out,” a familiar voice snapped, and the two security guys ran for it. Luthor looked up, and the woman said coolly, “I think she’s seen the error of her ways, Lex. We don’t want to damage her.”
With that, he flipped the cover back onto the ring, leaning back with a wary eye on Kala. She took a deep breath, the hellish ringing in her ears fading at last, and tried to look up at her rescuer…
…only to gasp again, in shock. “Mrs. Davenport?!” she yelped.
“Ms. Graves, actually,” the blonde replied with frosty amusement. “Mercedes Graves.”
It took only an instant for Kala to realize that if Mrs. Davenport worked for Luthor, then her daughter must also be one of the bad guys. Her temper instantly red-lined. “I knew that little bitch was trouble!” she snarled. “Where the hell is she?”
“In prison,” the older woman informed her. “She failed to maintain her cover.”
“My brother is a freakin’ idiot,” Kala muttered. “I knew she was rotten, I knew it, but nobody listens to the smart twin.”
“He’s a boy. Show them breasts and they lose all capacity for coherent thought.” Ms. Graves looked even more amused at that, while Lex chuckled quietly. The vibe between the two of them was not something Kala wanted to contemplate. Strolling over to Luthor’s side of the desk, the older woman added in speculative tones, “Consider yourself lucky that he never showed untoward interest in you, Kala dear. You are the only two of your kind in the world.”
That accusation rendered Kala speechless, sputtering in fury. It was bad enough that Grandpa Giant Floating Head had commented that the twins shouldn’t further thin the blood of the House of El by intermingling with humans, but he just meant for them to stay celibate. No one had ever implied that they … ewww. Jason was her brother. That was weird, wrong, and gross. “You are sick, lady,” Kala finally managed to spit.
Ms. Graves just shared a secretive look and a chuckle with Luthor. “Well, what are we accomplishing here?” the blonde asked her boss.
“Oh, just stirring up the hornet’s nest a little, Mercy,” he replied, grinning wolfishly. “We’ve lost surveillance on the Kents’ apartment, so I thought I’d call Kal-El and inform him of his wife’s deal with me.”
At those words, Kala felt herself flush with rage again. Only the memory of the kryptonite ring kept her from jumping across the desk. “You liar,” she hissed.
“Oh, it’s no lie.” Luthor was taking a perverse pleasure in infuriating Kala. “Your mother made a bargain with me. Care to guess what it was?”
Kala’s mind raced. Luthor had to have a reason for leading her on. Jason’s girlfriend was the spy. If they were after one of us, the easy one to get would be Jason. So could it be … no, Mom would never trade me for Jason. Would she?
All of a sudden, she simply didn’t want to know. Kala gathered all of her self-control to sit up straight and glare at Luthor. “No,” she said icily. “There’s no way I can trust anything you tell me anyway, so you might as well save your breath.”
Mercy intervened before Luthor could reply. “Regardless, Lex, we still have the business at hand to consider. You’ve had a night to consider our offer, Kala. Are you going to help us?”
“And what if I won’t?” the girl retorted. “Because the whole choking incident just now, and the kryptonite ring, aren’t inspiring me to cooperate.”
“Then you’re an expensive, dangerous liability,” the blonde told her. “But one that our physiologists would be fascinated to study posthumously.”
The not-so-veiled threat sent a splinter of ice into Kala’s heart. “That doesn’t leave me much choice, does it?” Mercy only smiled, waiting. “Fine. You promise you’ll let me go if I help you?”
“Of course,” Luthor said, and Mercy echoed him.
“All right,” Kala said after what she hoped was a convincing pause. She was already thinking of several ways to sabotage their plans. Hopefully at least one would work … but no matter what happened, she wasn’t going to give Luthor what he wanted. Never. “Let’s do this.”