Sylvia harrumphed, a skill she’d perfected over the years. “It’s your son, Theo,” she called, and Theodore White sighed deeply. They’d gotten an extremely brief phone call from Richard last night, telling them that Lana had been attacked, but everyone was okay. Sylvia had been annoyed that Richard broke the connection after relaying the news instead of letting his parents comfort him.
Theo took the phone from her. “Any good news?” he asked his son.
“Lana’s out of the hospital,” Richard said. “And we have a lead on where Kala is. That’s about all there is to the good news.” The older man listened quietly, his heart sinking, as Richard detailed everything they’d learned.
Sylvia was hovering expectantly, still too vexed at Richard to have spoken to him, but wanting to know what was going on anyway. At the expression on Theo’s face, she leaned against the arm of his chair and took his hand gently.
With Sylvia watching worriedly, Theo managed to reassure his son. “It’s a gated community… Security’s very good. And we will be careful. What about you?”
He nodded slowly as Richard replied, glad that the boy would be safe. Richard had always been a little too much the daredevil, eager to risk exactly the things Sylvia wanted so badly to protect him from. At least from the sounds of things Richard was going to listen to his wife, and if a more sane and sensible individual existed, Theo wasn’t aware of it. Lana would surely keep him safe. After a few moments he let the boy go, hearing snippets of other conversations in the background.
“Well?” Sylvia’s voice was a trifle shrill, and Theo knew he’d have to minimize the danger to her. But halfway through his edited explanation – which he suspected was twice watered down, if Richard ran true to form in relaying anything dangerous to his parents – Sylvia flung her hands up. Her mouth was drawn down in an unpleasant moue of anger and fear. “How can he do this?” she cried. “Someone’s stalking them and he’s running off to the middle of nowhere? Can’t he get into Witness Protection or something? Theo, you know he hasn’t got any better sense, why didn’t you talk some into him for once?”
Theo let her run on, ignoring even the occasional digression into how all of this was Lois’ fault. He held his wife’s hand and murmured soothingly, knowing that Richard had actually become more responsible when he was with Lois. That didn’t matter to Sylvia, though. She was frightened, worried about her son, and needed someone else to blame.
Of course, the fact that Theo was comforting Sylvia meant he could barely spare a moment for his own fears. There had been something in Richard’s voice, some subdued and thoughtful note, that Theo didn’t like.
Sighing, Richard dropped his phone back in his pocket. That was when Lana slid her arm around his waist and leaned her head on his shoulder. “Hey, gorgeous,” he murmured, kissing her hair. Impossible to imagine what he would be doing now if he’d lost her yesterday – the world without her in it would have very little vibrancy left.
“Hardly,” she murmured, but Richard didn’t miss the smile that curved her lips at the compliment. Just seeing that was enough to make him grateful all over again to have her here to give it. “I came straight here from the hospital, Richard, and I’m going to have to get a shower before we leave. Ick.”
“You’re gorgeous to me,” he told her, hugging her gently.
Lana managed a halfhearted chuckle, but the glimmer was back in her eyes. “You always say that.”
“It’s always true.” Lana let him hold her, and Richard saw those sea-green eyes scan the room surreptitiously. His smile widened, seeing all the signs of the gears turning wildly in her mind, and he murmured, “We’re not going to Smallville, are we?”
“No,” she whispered, and Richard followed her gaze. Clark was completely preoccupied, talking to Perry and Ron and getting texts from his mother, so he likely couldn’t spare the concentration to listen in on them. And prefaced by love-talk, why would he eavesdrop?
“So what are we doing?” The adrenaline was back, the rush of doing something more than halfway crazy.
“Do you really think Lois and Clark can do this for more than one day without turning on each other?” That could have been snidely sarcastic coming from anyone else, but Lana made it an honest question. “Because I really, truly don’t. I think if we’re not there to shepherd them along, they’ll get into a fight and separate and he’ll have them both.”
“We’re following them,” Richard said. “I can find a pilot we trust for the plane you’re chartering, but you and I will take my plane and go straight to Nevada. I can work out the flight plan and file it tonight.”
“We can spend tonight at Ron and Lucy’s,” Lana replied, still in that low tone. “I won’t tell anyone what we’re planning until after those two have left. Clark would never agree to let us come along, but once we’re there, he’ll have to deal with it.”
“Smart lady.” Richard kissed her hair again, missing its usual faintly herbal scent from the henna rinse she didn’t think he knew about. “You’re one brave woman, too. Did I ever tell you that?”
She laughed then, and tilted her head back for a kiss. “Not really. I’m just trying to avoid my parents. Yours are overprotective, but mine will be apoplectic if they see me with stitches and bandages.”
Jason was doing a slow, angry burn at this point. All the adults were making plans, but every suggestion he had ventured had either been vetoed or ignored. He hadn’t even been able to talk to Mom. Dammit, he was Kala’s twin, he had superpowers, and he was a hero in training: he should be going out to Nevada. It was obvious.
And then he overheard Richard and Lana whispering. Hoping that they might be reconsidering the notion of packing him off to Smallville with the younger kids, he listened in. Jason’s hearing was nowhere near as keen as his sister’s, and so mainly ignored by his family, but it was sharper than the average teen. With concentration, he could make out what they were saying.
And far from being hopeful, it only added insult to injury. Richard and Lana were going to Nevada? By themselves?! Neither of them had powers of any kind, and Lana had already had far too close a brush with death for Jason’s comfort. He was torn between indignant anger and honest fear for them. Somehow, someway, he had to get to Nevada.
Elise and Sebast had been looking for him; they noticed his absence soon after Jason slunk out of the meeting, and found him in the hallway. One look at his expression told Elise that something was up. “Hey, get a grip, lizardboy,” she said, hoping to startle him back to his senses with the familiar taunt. The dark look on his face when he narrowed his blue eyes at her only concerned her more. “What happened?”
“Richard and Lana are going to Nevada,” Jason whispered harshly. “I just overheard them. How they can do that? If anyone goes, I should!”
His voice was rapidly rising, and Sebast caught his elbow. “Come on, mano, let’s talk where no one can eavesdrop on us, okay?”
The three teens decamped to Jason’s bedroom, where he dropped onto his bed with a groan. Elise took the chair, and Sebast leaned against Gazeera’s cage. “Okay, so the Whites are going to Nevada. In secret?” Elise looked a little doubting as she spoke.
“They’re gonna keep it from Mom and Dad,” Jason said. “But I guess they’ll tell everyone else after Mom and Dad leave. They’d kinda have to. Richard’s a pilot, you know, they can fly out there.”
The way that Sebast looked at him made his perplexity obvious. “Why not just tell your parents and all four fly out together?”
Jason took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He knew he had to be careful how much he told them. “Dad will freak. He’s already borderline psychotic – you saw that. He and Mom almost never yell at each other.” He laughed bitterly. “I think they’ve argued more in the last six months than they did in the nine years before that. This with Mom cutting a deal just made him hit the roof.”
Elise and Sebast exchanged a glance. It was certainly true that they’d never noticed any tension in the Lane-Kent house, never heard any arguing. Until today. While they were pondering, Jason thumped the mattress angrily. “I have to get out there! She’s my twin, I have to be there for her!”
“Jason,” Elise said gently. “You know, maybe … maybe your parents have a point. I mean, we don’t want Luthor to get you, too. And your mom and dad have Superman to help them.”
“You don’t understand.” Jason’s voice was almost a growl; the strain he was under showed in his eyes and in the tension in his shoulders. “I promised her I’d never let anyone separate us. I promised.”
Sebast bit his lip and shared a look with Elise before replying. “Jason, you know we love you and everything, but realistically and all, what can you do that they can’t? I mean, this is serious.”
For a moment, it seemed that Clark’s fury of moments before had been passed on to his son, but Jason controlled himself, his stormy expression subsiding. “Save her,” he said, biting off each syllable.
Elise was hesitant to bring it up, but knew someone had to speak reason to him. It just sucked that it had to be her. “Jase, as much as I hate to say it, maybe that’s a job for Superman,” she ventured cautiously.
“No, it isn’t.” Jason stared at both of them, and then began to speak with a dry, terrible kind of clarity. They both knew, of course, that Jason and Kala had been kidnapped ten years ago, but neither of the twins talked much about it. They brushed off the whole experience in a few sentences, as if it were nothing important, but Jason gave them a much more detailed picture … though far from complete.
“I saved her the last time,” he said, voice low, eyes intent. “When Luthor brought us to that island – the one that’s out there still orbiting Saturn – and used us for bait. It’s what he’s trying to do again, using Kala to get Superman, and he’ll come for her, he always does. We’re his godchildren, and he’s always loved Mom, and Luthor freakin’ knows he’ll come after Kala just like he did the last time.
“And you know what happened the last time? Luthor tricked him. Superman didn’t know the island was made of kryptonite, the one thing that can kill him, and he was standing on a whole damn island of it. Luthor stabbed him with it, and then started beating him up. Us, six years old, we were watching this happen, watching Superman get beaten bloody by a madman who’d threatened our lives – a man who threatened to cut my throat if Mom didn’t put down her gun and let him take her hostage, too.
“Kala went and freaking jumped him, attacked Luthor, and when he grabbed her she freaking bit him. And you know what he did? Knocked her off the side and into the ocean, with her hands tied.” Fierce pride glowed in Jason’s voice.
Sebast was no longer leaning on Gazeera's cage, his eyes wide with amazement. He’d known about Kala’s nightmares and her fear of drowning, but hadn’t connected the two or realized that they had a basis in real events. “Bastard,” Elise hissed.
“Superman was stabbed and beaten up, and Luthor left – left Superman to die of kryptonite poisoning, left my sister to drown, left me to die of whatever. Exposure, maybe. He left, and I got Superman up, I helped him, and when he flew down with me to get Kala, I grabbed her. I held onto her while he flew us both to safety. She’s my sister, my twin, and I promised I’d always come to save her. Always.”
That left Elise and Sebast in shocked silence, both of them finally understanding why Jason was half-crazy at the moment. The twins were close, closer than any other kids they knew, closer even than a set of identical twins Elise had known in middle school. And now that bond made sense.
“The last time Luthor had us, while we were on the yacht, he left us in the care of a child molester,” Jason said baldly, his voice beginning to break a little. “The guy didn’t do anything to either of us, but only because … because he got killed before he could. If he’d do all that to six-year-olds, what the hell could he be doing to Kala right now? I don’t even know where she is, Nevada’s a big state, all I know is she’s alive, and I’m supposed to be with her!”
“Whoa,” Elise said, moving to sit beside him. That last had been too loud, almost a shout, and they didn’t want the parents’ attention. “Jason, calm down. You made your point.”
“So what?” he muttered, sniffing strongly to try and hide the fact that he was close to tears.
“So we’re gonna figure out how to get you to Nevada.” That was Sebast, and Elise looked up sharply, startled that he’d read her mind. The Latino boy shrugged. “Between the three of us we’ve got enough brains to come up with something. Right?”
With that, they settled down to do some real plotting.
Somehow half the day had been bled away in meeting and planning, and Clark was anxious to be gone. His daughter was somewhere in Nevada – if Lois’ source could be trusted, but he pushed the worrisome thought away. Kala was in Nevada, and the sooner he started looking for her, the sooner he could find her and bring her home.
Clark knew, unfortunately, that it wasn’t going to be easy. Nevada was vast and thinly populated. The latter would make it easier to listen for her heartbeat with less competing noise, but Lois claimed that Luthor’s lab was underground. It was hard to hear things underground, sound waves muffled by the earth. As for sight, Nevada was riddled with mineral deposits and old mines and military installations both active and decommissioned. It would take time to search every patch of ground, time he couldn’t afford, but was forced to spend.
It was time for them to leave – but Lois, suddenly, was nowhere in sight. Maggie saw Clark looking around, and came over to him. “What’s up?”
“Where’s Lois?” He couldn’t help the edge that stress gave his voice.
“Don’t worry, Clark, she had an errand to run. She’ll be back shortly.” The policewoman’s tone was deliberately casual.
Her words were enough for Clark to feel his heart ice over. Lois had simply left, on her own, in spite of the danger they’d been discussing. Why on earth would she have done that…?
The shadow of his doubt must have showed in his expression, because Maggie’s tone was sharp when she spoke. “She isn’t off meeting Luthor. Lois went out for smokes, Clark, and took my car. I let her go because she knows how to handle herself – and quite frankly, she needs a few minutes away from you right now.”
That stung, but it was true; Clark had needed a few minutes away from her, as well. And then his hearing located her, not buying smokes, but alone somewhere, without another human heartbeat for several hundred yards. She was talking, but softly, to herself.
Once Clark realized where she was, he gave her some privacy, going around the group to make sure the plans were completely finalized. This was also the last chance for goodbyes, and in spite of his outburst earlier, almost all of his friends hugged him. That made Clark feel both ashamed of his temper and humbled by the evidence of just how loved he was. The fact that this might, after all, turn out to be the last goodbye only made each murmured farewell more poignant.
When he came to her, Lana caught his hands and looked up at him. Clark flinched, expecting another tongue-lashing. “You know I love you,” the redhead said softly. “Clark, I only said what I did to call you to your senses. I hate hurting you – but I love you enough to do it when I have to. We’ve been friends far too long for me to do anything else.”
Clark sighed, glancing away from her, but actually managed a smile when he returned his gaze to hers. “I know.”
“Remember that.” A hint of humor lurked in her answering smile, and then she added, “You’re going to keep in touch, of course. Now tell me where you’re headed so I know where to aim my prayers.” Clark told her he planned to start in Smith Valley, the next town southeast of Carson City, and then work along the border from there.
Last were the kids. Clark picked up Kristin and held her for a long moment, stroking the glorious red hair that reminded him so much of Lana at that age. Her open affection and sweet-natured personality were heartbreaking; that this child had been in danger for even an instant called up a different sort of wrath, clear-eyed anger that would fuel his search for Luthor. “Love you, Little K,” Clark whispered.
“Love you, too,” she replied, kissing his cheek without a real understanding of what was happening. Then her blue eyes looked up at him woefully. “Bring Kala back soon, please?”
“Soon as I can.” He set her down, and looked for his son, but Jason had absconded. Like mother, like son. With a sigh, Clark locked onto Jason’s heartbeat and headed toward it. The boy was in his room, likely brooding over the fact that he couldn’t come along.
Halfway up the hall, Clark’s phone went off, and he opened it to a text message from Lois. I think they know Supes has our numbers. Pretend I’m him and take off. I’ll be home in 5. Good thinking, that – Clark had wondered how they would manage the actual leave-taking.
Ahead of him, Jason’s bedroom door opened, and the three teenagers walked out, looking nervous. Clark had to suppress a chuckle; as if he’d suspect Elise and Jason of getting into trouble at a time like this, especially when they had Sebast to chaperone. “Superman just sent me a message,” he told the group of them. “I’m leaving now. Your mother will be here in a few minutes and he’ll pick her up.”
Jason sighed heavily, and Clark hugged him. In spite of the boy’s resentment, his son responded with equal affection. Stepping back, he continued trying to reason with him. “I know you hate this, son, but trust me – it’s for the best. Don’t make things difficult for your Aunt Lucy, okay?”
The flash of annoyed petulance marked him as Lois’ son so clearly. “All right, Dad, I’ll go to Lucy’s tonight like a good little boy.” Jason couldn’t keep the sullen tone entirely out of his voice, but he sounded defeated. Clark hated that, but it was necessary.
“Elise, Sebast…” Clark didn’t quite know what to say, but Elise stepped forward and gave him an impulsive hug.
“Be safe, both of you” she said, and Sebast just shook his hand wordlessly.
If he wanted to leave time for Superman to realistically drop him off and come back for Lois, he had to go now. “Take care yourselves. We’ll try to get you updates on Kala through Jason,” he said, and turned to go.
The family paused as he opened the French doors to the balcony. “Superman sent me a text message,” Clark explained to Maggie. “He’s going to come in fast in case of any snipers. I’ll keep in touch…”
A convincing yelp of surprise as he blurred with super-speed, the flare of the cape released from beneath his suit, and Clark was up and away. None of them could have seen the quick change or realized that only one man rocketed away from the terrace, and he didn’t slow down to give them the chance.
Hovering in the clouds, he waited for Lois to arrive home. She had to say her farewells, too, and Lucy was especially reluctant to let go. Even from here, he could see the redness in Lois’ eyes, and hear the tiniest catch in her voice that told him she’d been crying.
It took about ten minutes for Lois to tie up her own goodbyes and he could see from his vantage point the way her shoulders were squared when she stepped out onto the balcony. Taking a moment to brace himself, he soared down to get her, thinking how very unlike most of their flights this was going to be.