That said, wish us much inspiration on this lovely trip and we'll see you back here next week for the oneshot! *snugs* Love you guys!
Martha saddled up the bay mule, Patsy, and rode over to the Hubbard farm, where Ben was out with the hounds. He often went out when he needed to settle his mind, and last night’s news of the attack on Lana, coming atop their worries over Kala, had left him sorely in need of comfort. Martha would have been with him, as riding helped calm her mind just as well, but a mother’s intuition told her that she was needed at home. And sure enough, Clark had called, reluctant to ask favors of her. This was a big one – could she and Ben look after all the kids in the family, and probably some of the adults, too?
Once he’d explained why, she was more than willing to help, but these days she had to consult her husband before making such a decision. Martha hated to interrupt Ben’s hunt – they almost never caught anything, but then, that wasn’t the point – but this was too important to wait. Even at her age, she was confident on the back of the sensible mule, and they cut across the fields in search of him.
She found him on the back of their sorrel mule, Betty, ambling along behind six of the beagles. Ben was deep in thought and didn’t see Martha approaching, but the hounds certainly did. The dogs howled and ran frisking around Patsy’s hooves, making the mule flick her ears in disgust, but she wouldn’t kick them and they wouldn’t bite her, so all was well. Once the hounds got over the excitement and went back to sniffing eagerly along the hedgerow, Martha rode over to Ben. He leaned from his saddle to kiss her cheek. “Glad you could join me, after all,” he said, his eyes brightening a little.
Such a kind, wonderful man – it wounded her heart to keep secrets from him. But the truth about Clark was one of those things that were simply too huge to comprehend easily. My son is Superman, four words that could turn the whole world on its ear. Better to keep that hidden, even if Ben was clearly trustworthy. Martha sighed, and he caught on to her mood instantly. “What’s happened, love?”
“I spoke to Clark this morning,” she began.
Ben didn’t exactly frown, but that small smile disappeared. All of a sudden the crisp winter day seemed to lose some of its loveliness. “More bad news?” he asked grimly.
“Yes,” Martha replied, “but some good to leaven it. Lana is up and out of the hospital, bossing Clark around and talking about getting her apartment cleaned as soon as the police release the crime scene. She’s not giving up her home just because of what happened.”
“That is good to hear,” Ben said. “I always thought that girl was braver than she let on. Good for her.”
“Unfortunately, what happened to her wasn’t just some psycho.” Martha took a deep breath before continuing, remembering the raw despair in Clark’s voice. “It’s Lex Luthor, the man who kidnapped the twins back when they were six.”
“The one who created that island off Metropolis,” Ben remembered. “Why on earth is he after our Lana?”
Because losing her would break Clark’s heart, Martha thought. Annette and I always hoped they’d wind up together, but they’re better as friends – and they’re closer now than they ever were in the days when he carried a torch for her. “She and Lois are very close,” she explained instead. “Luthor has Kala, and he’s doing anything he can to distract Lois from coming after her.”
“That no-good snake has our granddaughter?” Ben’s voice rose sharply with anger. “But she ran away…”
“And he kidnapped her.” Martha briefly filled him in on as many of the details as she could. He had to know about the spy that had been in their ranks, and just how much force Luthor was willing to use. “From what I understand, Luthor wants Superman. He doesn’t want to deal with Lois – I understand she hurt him pretty badly the last time he tried using her for bait – so he took Kala. Superman will come looking for her; she’s his godchild. And now Luthor’s trying to make him hurry, make him careless, by threatening Lois’ friends and family.”
“Not Lois herself, because Superman would go after him like nobody’s business,” Ben mused. Betty sensed her rider’s agitation and sidestepped, tossing her head. Ben absently stroked her neck to soothe her. “Besides, he can protect Lois, but not her whole family – and it would ruin her to watch them get hurt.”
“Sick and devious,” Martha agreed. “Clark and Lois are going after Luthor, with Superman’s help. They want everyone else – everyone that can leave the city – to go somewhere safe until they get Kala back and get Luthor behind bars, where he belongs.”
“They ought to come out here,” Ben said immediately, startling Martha. While she tried to figure out how this had suddenly become so easy, he elaborated, “We’ve got the space, and it’s pretty safe out here. Hard for Luthor to sneak someone onto the farm, you know. And if he does, well, we’re not exactly helpless.”
“That’s a brilliant idea.” Martha finally smiled then, warmly. “I’ll call Clark and let him know. I don’t get good signal out here…”
“That’s all right, I need to round up the hounds and head in myself,” Ben said. He patted her hip affectionately. “I’ll see you in a few minutes.”
Marveling at how easily that had gone – a sign that fortune was turning in their favor, perhaps – Martha clucked to Patsy and turned back toward the house. Reception was better near the road, for some reason, and she wanted to call Clark quickly. As she took out her phone to check the signal strength, she realized why Ben had been so open to the idea of hosting everyone. Now, at last, he could do something in the search for his granddaughter, something more important than just listening for news and hoping she’d come here on her own.
Men – always happier when they imagined themselves in control of a situation. With the ghost of a smile, Martha called Clark to tell him to send everyone.
It took nearly an hour for Maggie to corner Lois at last, but even then refused to talk in the crowded living room. “Let’s chase Loueen and the kids out of your study,” the blonde said. “I want you sitting down when you hear this.”
The reporter had lost track of the times her heart had been in her stomach today. It had been a banner day for bombs to drop. Unable to help it, she exhaled heavily. “Oh, great. What now?” Maggie didn’t answer, only turning away to lead the way upstairs.
Several sets of eyes met theirs when they opened the door. At least Loueen managed a smile, although Lois knew her well enough to see the tenseness there. “Are you guys finally done?” She and the kids had been playing Uno, the brightly-colored cards scattered across the carpet. “It’s a good thing we’re not playing for money, or these three little card sharks would own my life savings.” Her tone was light and bantering, but her eyes were just a little too wide; the study was fairly well-insulated, but she had to have heard the arguing.
At least it looked like she’d kept the kids from noticing it. Bryan, Michelle, and Kristin all grinned cheerfully at Maggie and Lois. Maggie returned their smiles, a veteran parent, and told them, “Lana’s here, you guys.”
The response to that was immediate. “YAY!” Kristin yelped, giving her Lo-Lo a token hug before she went racing out of the room calling for her mommy. Bryan and Michelle followed at her heels; the three youngest kids were often nicknamed The Three Musketeers for good reason.
Once they could no longer hear the sound of small feet, Loueen dropped her calm expression and glanced from one to the other with utter seriousness. “How bad is it?”
“Bad enough,” Maggie told her with a sigh. “I hate to do this, I need to speak to Lois alone for a minute, Loueen. Perry will let you know what’s up. We'll be down shortly.”
The brunette looked to Lois, and saw nothing in the reporter’s face that would require her to stay. And now was clearly not the time to bring up the raised voices she’d heard a moment ago. In most social situations, Maggie was the most laid-back of their group of friends, but when she felt the need to be professional, she could be seriously intense. The look in her blue eyes at the moment was not one any of them wanted to trifle with. That, paired with the somber nod Lois gave her, was enough to make her depart.
All Maggie said once they were alone was, “Sit.” Lois, expecting a dressing-down of epic proportions, did so without argument. Other than Clark, she had had the feeling that she would have to answer to Maggie for falling into this trap. She vividly remembered the lecture she got the night the cop had arrested her, and couldn't help but expect that this would be ten times worse.
Maggie took the seat across from Lois’ desk, leaned back in it, and fixed Lois with that no-nonsense look. “Tell me, exactly, what the terms of this deal were.”
And there was no way Lois could tell her all of it. Maggie didn’t know the truth about Clark, and while she was obviously trustworthy, the inner circle of the family had long ago decided to keep the secret on principle. But she could tell the policewoman enough to satisfy her. “Luthor called me and wanted to meet me – he threatened to publicize certain things if I didn’t. When I got there, he promised to leave me alone, I promised to leave him alone. I said I wouldn’t hunt him, and he said he’d pull back the spies he had following everyone in this family, including Clark’s mom.”
Still kicked back in the chair, Maggie betrayed not the slightest emotion when she asked, “So you made the deal. When did you decide to break it? And why decide to search him out now? You’ve said before that you were chasing L-Tech.”
After having spent several years with Elliot, and with Maggie herself, Lois knew when she was being analyzed; just this once she told herself that it was important. Her friend needed to understand what she had been thinking on all levels. Forcing herself to just let go and tell the story, Lois let her body relax into her own chair. It almost seemed a relief in itself to just tell the story out loud. “L-Tech’s been getting bolder and bolder,” she began. “They’re using Kryptonian technology, Maggie, and that stuff is dangerous. So far advanced beyond our science that it’s like … like giving nuclear weapons to Victorian England. And some of the product names are sly references to Superman that only I would get. It was Luthor, taunting me. And so help me, I took the bait.” Her head began to throb again, and she leaned forward to rub her aching temples.
Once again, Maggie was regarding her with clear consideration, waiting long enough to reply that Lois felt herself start to shrink. “He would have come after you eventually,” Maggie finally said and Lois exhaled the breath she hadn’t realized she'd been holding. “You know that, right? Luthor called you to make the deal. That means he wanted you off his back. Last time he tangled with you, he got his ass kicked, thoroughly. So he had to keep you out of it. But he was planning to start this up again. He just wanted to make you think it was your fault – he knows you pretty well, the bastard.”
The reporter’s jaw tightened, eyes narrow. “Of course he was planning it,” Lois said with bitter resentfulness. “The minute I published the next Superman article, he couldn’t leave it alone.”
“You’re right, he has such a freakin’ complex about Superman, he has to go after anyone connected to the guy. And there’s no one more connected that you, Lane. Besides his spies, there’s something else that indicates Luthor was plotting.” Lois looked at the cop expectantly, a little confused, and Maggie sighed. “Remember that video we recovered from the Gertrude? The one that exonerated you in two murders because it showed Luthor killing that guy?”
Lois could feel the hair prickle on the back of her neck. “Riley,” she said, unable to help her sneer when she remembered his leering face vividly. “His name was Riley. The snuff film guy.”
“Winner of the poetic justice award for the year,” Maggie said dryly before looking her friend in the eye. “The video’s gone, Lois.”
Now Lois’ hazel eyes went wide, the news making the reporter sit bolt-upright in her seat. “Gone?”
“Vanished. Disappeared. No longer in our evidence locker.” Her voice was flat, but Lois had known her long enough to hear the anger vibrating underneath that studious calm. “Along with all the other forensic evidence recovered from the yacht – at least, anything that could point to Luthor. The sonofabitch even stole back the goddamn wigs.”
Lois could only sit back bonelessly, stunned. The best evidence against Luthor – a guaranteed murder conviction – was simply gone. “How?” she stammered, shell-shocked. Her eyes were too wide now, utterly floored by the revelation.
Now it was Maggie’s turn to sound bitter. “He has someone on the force. That slimy little prick has someone on my police force. And if he’s good enough to steal that much critical evidence, I’m going to have a royal bitch of a time catching him.”
In a day full of demoralizing blows, this one caught Lois off guard. Her fury at Luthor had turned, in frustration, to a sort of dull resentment. Sooner or later she would be quickened to sharp, useful rage once again, but for now she was simply miserable. Only one bright flicker remained: she was going to Nevada, she would find Luthor there no matter what it took, and then there would be a reckoning.
“Lois.” Maggie spoke quietly then, but there was something different in her tone, and the reporter looked up. “Nevada has very … lax gun laws. You can go practically anywhere carrying a pistol at your hip, in full view, and it’s no big deal. You don’t need permits for anything but concealed carry.”
Well, at least she’d be able to bring her gun. But there was something more in the gleam of Maggie’s eyes. She had a feeling she knew what the other woman was saying between the lines, but wanted to be sure she didn't misunderstand. Grave hazel met the cop’s blue as they stared at each other for a long moment. “What are you telling me, Mags?”
The policewoman leaned forward. “I’m telling you we’ll never take him the right way. There will never be justice for Luthor, not if he can manipulate the system as well as he has. So keep your gun close, keep it loaded, and if you get him in your sights, Lois… Well, you won’t be in my jurisdiction.” Her meaning was as clear as the glacial ice her eyes resembled.
Plans continued on in the world outside the Lane-Kent study. “Logistics, people,” Perry was saying gruffly. “Okay, so we’re considering the evac point to be Kansas. The question at this point is, who’s going to Smallville, and how’re they getting there?”
“I’ve got that ‘how’ handled,” Lana said quickly. “I’ll charter a plane, and I think I can provide a trustworthy pilot.” She glanced at Richard and smiled. He returned the expression, but by he knew her well enough to tell from the slightest arch of one eyebrow, the briefest wink of one eyelid, that she was plotting something.
“That just leaves us with the ‘who’. Good,” Perry commented, taking full command of the room and the plans for the time, something that seemed to calm the rest of the room. They all instinctively trusted the Editor’s judgment in a crisis and as far as Perry White was concerned, that was just as it should be. “Loueen, you and Bryan are going. No arguments; I don’t want to hear it.” He could feel his wife's narrowed gaze on him, but continued on without missing a beat. “That said, I’m staying; with Lois and Clark both gone, I'm running the paper. I’ll be damned if I’ll let Luthor run me off my own turf, and he comes after me, he might get a surprise.” His tone brooked absolutely no opposition, the Chief at his dogged finest.
He had no more than finished his sentence and Jimmy was there at his side. “That makes two of us. When he goes after the paper, that’s our fight. I’m with you all the way, Chief.” The older man couldn’t help grinning, though he tried to scowl.
Ron stepped forward then, nodding decisively to Perry. “In that case, I want to stay, too,” he said. “You guys need someone who can run International while Clark’s gone. But Lucy and my kids are shipping out, though.”
Lucy immediately protested, despite knowing what they were up against. Her sweet face tensed in worry. “Ron, I don’t want you staying here alone. I mean, if he got to one of us already, what’s to stop him again?”
“Fine, he can stay with me,” Perry said. “We’ve got a spare room, and that’s one less house we have to guard. Besides, I wouldn’t like having the river with that so-very-convenient dock right at my back, if I were you.”
“Agreed,” Ron said. Maggie had just returned to the group, and nodded approvingly at what Perry was doing.
Tobie was the next to speak up, stepping forward to stand beside the two men. “Staying.” When Maggie looked as if she was about to speak, the dark-haired reporter added, “Honey, I’m EIC, I can’t leave. And I don’t really think Smallville’s ready for me, anyway.” The light sarcasm in that phase caused a ripple of knowing laughter, relieving the tenseness in the room just a bit. Tobie even gave a little grin before continuing on. “Besides, our apartment’s pretty safe: I’ve got the guns, I’ve got the dog, and I’ve got you, Mags.” Unspoken but plain on her face was the fact that she could also watch Maggie’s back.
The room was now humming low with excitement. After feeling like sitting ducks, the decision to close ranks and choose sides had returned vitality to the family. Cat spoke up now, glancing at the others, “I don’t want to go, either. Someone has to cover my angle so we get to see more of the whole picture. Sometimes news travels a little faster to the news networks, but I don’t want to stay at my place alone, either. Tobe?”
The Star editor didn’t even hesitate. “Spare bedroom, gotcha. What about Ian?” For once, Tobie wasn’t cracking wise about Cat’s choice of men.
“He had to leave town last night,” the blonde replied. “Family reunion – it was planned months ago. And quite frankly, the way this was starting to smell, I wanted him as far out of it as I could manage.”
“Huh. So all those years being a talking head never dulled your reporter’s instincts after all. I am impressed, Blondie.” That would have been insulting from anyone but Tobie, and Cat just smiled and flipped her the bird.
“Yeah, great, when this is all over, you two can have your own sitcom,” Perry said sardonically before turning his attention back to the group at large. “How about everyone else? Jason?”
When actually asked for his opinion, Jason looked hopeful for a moment. Maybe if he appealed to Uncle Perry… But before he could even open his mouth, Richard overrode him. “Son, you’re going to Smallville. That’s the end of it.”
While Richard and Jason shared stern looks, Lana could only sigh before looking over at Elise and Sebast. “Elise, you shouldn’t be on your own, but I don’t think your parents would appreciate us shipping you off to Smallville without so much as a by-your-leave.”
“They wouldn’t like that,” the girl answered immediately. “But … they know Sebast. I could probably stay with his family ‘til they get home.”
Sebast gave her a small grin, agreeing. “Sure. I mean, I must be the only guy whose parents are happy when girls come over and spend the night. I can call them, but I doubt they’ll mind, especially since this has to do with Kala.” Both women saw the flash of misery in his eyes when he said the name.
“Just to be safe, we’ll have someone watching your house, too,” Maggie said, rejoining the overall conversation. “I don’t know how far Luthor will go, but I wouldn’t put anything past him. Speaking of which, Richard, you should warn your parents.”
“I was afraid you’d say that,” he muttered. “My mom’s already having histrionics, Maggie.”
The comment was enough to start another bawl from Perry. “Tell her to cut the damn apron strings already, you’re a big boy,” his uncle groused. “That woman! Besides, you’ve got a wife to keep an eye on you now, and she won’t let you get in trouble. Will you, Lana?”
The redhead spoke without wavering. “Wherever I go, Richard comes with me.”
“Always,” Richard added, reaching to squeeze her good hand. “Hon, you should probably call your parents, too, let them know we’re coming.”
“Oh, I will,” Lana said, and this time Perry saw the little flicker of a wink she gave Richard. Well, well. It seemed that Lois wasn’t the only devious one in the family.
Turning his attention away from his nephew and niece-in-law, the Planet editor considered the rest of the room. “Is that everyone? I think we’re down to the college kids. Jamie and what’s-your-name?”
“Nick,” the blond boy said, still looking rather uneasy. “Look, not that I don't appreciate the thought, but I really don’t think anyone will come after me. I mean, from the sounds of things, I’m not exactly a close family friend.”
“And we did have a bitch of a time tracking you down,” Maggie mused. “Jamie? Want to come stay with us for a few days? We’ve got the sofa-bed.”
Jamie didn’t even attempt a dispute. “Sure. Safety in numbers.”
“That’s everyone.” Perry surveyed them all thoughtfully. “All right then, what are we doing for tonight? Lana, I know you’re a miracle worker, but I highly doubt you can charter a plane before tomorrow, not to mention file flight plans.”
Lana gave a small smile of acknowledgment at that, a smile that made all in the room grateful that she was still here amongst them. “You’re right. And Richard and I have nowhere to stay tonight – our apartment is still a crime scene.”
It was Lucy that made the final decision for all of them, with a quick glance at Ron. “Bring everyone to our place. We’ve got the room, and we can leave as a group.”