Yes, that means that the next chapter will be posted in three weeks. We didn't want it to fall out that way, but we really don't have a choice unless we rush what's going to be a very important chapter. And there's no way we could churn that out in any quality to make deadlines that close. So, that said, the next chapter will be posted on December 5, which is just before my birthday! :D. That will also give us some headway to maybe start a 12 Days entry for Christmas or at least a oneshot of that sort.
Forgive us, but it was the only way to get things on the right weeks.
And now, back to our regularly-scheduled programming.
Now I'm not looking for absolution,
Forgiveness for the things I do.
But before you come to any conclusions,
Try walking in my shoes.
Try walking in my shoes.
You'll stumble in my footsteps,
Keep the same appointments I kept.
If you try walking in my shoes
If you try walking in my shoes...
~ Depeche Mode
The plans they’d made were far from concrete, but Elise was pretty good at making it up as she went along, and Sebast had honed his improvisation skills in theater class. That covered two of them. Jason preferred to work things out a little more specifically, but if everything they were plotting went right, he’d have the least to worry about.
Step one, however, was walking out the door. Taking a deep breath and saying a little prayer under her breath that this would work, Elise hurried to catch up with him in the hall outside the Lane-Kents’ apartment. “Hey, Nick?”
She held her breath until the college boy turned to look at her. His expression wasn't exactly the epitome of friendliness when his eyes lit on her. His tone was even less so. “Yeah?”
Elise supposed he had a right to sound that hostile; she and Sebast and Jason had been giving him the evil eye ever since he showed up. But he had showed up, even knowing that no one really wanted him there, no one liked him, and most of them at least partly blamed him for Kala running away. He could have just as easily disappeared on the family after their first confrontation with him. In spite of all that, though, he had to have cared enough about Kala to need to know what was going on. Elise felt she could respect him for that.
It kind of sucked more than a little that she was about to take blatant advantage of it. Elise took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. “Okay, look. I know we’re not friends or anything, and after the way things have been with you and the Kents in the last couple of days, I know you'd like to be shut of all of us. But I need a favor.”
Nick looked around in disbelief, as if searching for the hidden camera recording this farce. “Yeah, right. You know, I’m almost curious enough about why you think I’d help you to ask what exactly you want.”
Elise folded her arms and stared at him. She should have seen this coming, but she'd been hopeful. Fine, then, she'd have to convince him it was in his best interests to pay ball. “You want to help me, Nick, because you’re also helping Jason and Sebast. And they’re closer to Kala than anybody. Once she’s home, if you want to talk to her again, you need them to owe you one.”
Nick's brown eyes narrowed, but Elise met his gaze squarely. “You sneaky underhanded manipulative little…” He trailed off, and Elise got the feeling that he was just a little impressed by her bravado. Running a hand through his blond hair, he gave a small chuckle. “So what do you want, anyway?”
“Nothing much. Just a ride.” Elise gave him the least information possible for the moment, though they’d have to bring him into their conspiracy later. Right now, she only wanted to tell him enough to pique his interest.
“Where to?” he asked, trying to read her expression. The look on his face said he was not exactly certain she wasn't having him on.
“Home, from Jason’s aunt’s house,” Elise replied, never batting an eyelash or missing a beat. “Sebast and I are going over there with him for moral support, but we need someone to take us back home. Well, to Sebast’s house – I’m going to stay with him. Safety in numbers.”
“How come you’re asking me and not the cops?” Nick still sounded a little suspicious, but he hadn’t said no yet.
“Well, I don’t want to bother them,” Elise said, but that clearly struck the wrong note, as Nick rolled his eyes. She took a couple of hurried steps to close the distance between them before Nick could walk off. “Okay, fine, there’s more to it than that, but I can’t tell you here. I promise, it’s nothing illegal or immoral or anything stupid like that. I just…”
“What?” The blond boy looked at her skeptically, crossing his own arms.
Elise sighed, and lowered her voice to a whisper. “We want it to look like we’re leaving, but we’re actually going to stay. We’ll get out of your car at once we’re around the curve and sneak back in a window.”
“That’s a bad idea,” Nick said immediately, but again not refusing. “Not to mention nuts. Why would you want to risk getting shot by the cops for creeping around the house?”
Elise gave him a displeased frown. “We won’t get shot, Nick. Jason's in on the plan; we all know that house, and there’s a spot where no one will be able to see us as long as we jump out quick. Jason needs us. Nick, this is his twin, and he’s going crazy, and none of the grownups have even really noticed. Besides, we’re safer there with him than we would be at Sebast’s. He already got permission from his mom.”
Nick rubbed the bridge of his nose, and Elise just waited. At last he reluctantly said, “Fine. When do you want to be picked up?”
Elise gave him the time with a barely-controlled sigh of relief. He hadn’t spotted the falsehood she’d snuck in amidst the truth there, and that was for the best. If Nick knew they intended to sneak Jason onto Richard’s plane, he probably wouldn’t go along with the plan.
Fifteen minutes since they had left the balcony and not a word spoken between them, only the sound of the wind and a chill in the air that had nothing to do with the weather.
They’d had silence on flights before, but it was usually because they were both too infatuated to string together a sentence. It had always been so easy for Lois to get lost in the sensation of flying. In the years before they were together, flying made her invariably wonder what it would be like to lie next to him. And once they’d been lovers, flying had since always served as a primal, visceral reminder of making love. Moving in harmony with each other, bodies touching, his skin so warm, the absolute trust between them, and her heightened awareness of his strength and tenderness.
Not now. And, she was beginning to wonder, possibly never again.
Kal-El looked straight ahead, never glancing over to see if Lois was all right. His arm across her back was stiff and tense, holding her only as close as was utterly necessary. His face was set in stern lines, and he hadn’t spoken to her at all.
Lois tried not to sigh; he would feel that, and she didn’t want him to think she was making some kind of passive-aggressive comment with it. What she wanted to do was more overtly-aggressive, but she held her tongue. She was in the wrong, regardless of the reasoning behind it, and she knew it – she’d known it since she made the deal with Luthor. Never mind that she’d only had two choices. Deals with the bad guys just weren’t something Kal-El could handle, ever.
They’d had moral arguments before, thrashing out the gray areas and trying to find the narrow, twisting line between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Even as far back as their first interviews, Kal-El had scolded Lois for breaking the law in pursuit of a story. Whether picking the locks on a senator’s secret apartment to find evidence of his double-dealing, or disguising herself as a valet to gain access to a district attorney’s car, Lois was willing to use foul means to a fair end. She never tried to say her actions were right; with a friend in the police force, she was well aware of her wrongdoing. But the ultimate outcome was right enough to justify the means.
He’d sat at the balcony across from her, cape flung jauntily over the chair, and demanded to know why. Why was she willing to risk her life and freedom, brave any challenge, break any law, in pursuit of a story? Kal-El was the kind of man who had to have firm boundaries, some things he simply would not do, and he couldn’t understand her willingness to not just tread the fine line between right and wrong, but to charge over it at full speed.
Trying to keep her tone gentle, Lois had asked him how he would know who to go after. Without the information she gained from breaking the rules, how would he and the police know where to look before it was too late? People in uniform – cops and heroes – had to obey a certain set of scruples, but the bad guys didn’t follow them. The villains of the world were trying to hide their guilt, not advertising it, and sometimes it couldn’t be discovered through legal channels. Or if they could be found out through ethical means, it would take time, and in that time the evildoers could cause more harm. Laws enacted by a corrupt congressman weren’t automatically repealed just because the legislator had been accepting bribes, and the families of murder victims weren’t consoled by the killer’s capture. Such criminals had to be taken down before they did any more harm than was absolutely necessary, and if that meant that someone had to break the rules and risk getting arrested – or shot at – Lois was willing to dare it. What was that compared to untold lives that hadn’t been ended or ruined, thanks to her efforts?
“Besides,” she had said as she looked him in the eye, unaware of the irony, “one day it might be my family at risk. My mother, my sister. And if it is, you can bet your ass I’ll do anything to save them.” The profanity, which she rarely used in front of him in those days, had startled them both into laughter, but the sentiment had rung true.
And still did. What Kal-El had never really comprehended was that Lois would do whatever it took to secure the continued survival of her family, a family she’d never dreamed possible all of those years ago when he landed on her balcony for the first time. She hadn’t known how far she was willing to go until they had almost been taken from her once before. Lie, cheat, steal, even kill – Kal-El still didn’t know that she’d attempted to kill Luthor aboard the yacht, tried to murder him in cold blood while he stood with his back to her, unarmed, wearing a bathrobe and brushing his teeth.
And she knew it would only make matters worse for him to know that she wouldn’t have felt the slightest trace of guilt if she had accomplished it, either. It was a cold-blooded thing to say, and she wondered if she’d truly have that goal questioned on this quest, but it felt like honest truth. Especially when her mind remembered the way Kala, just a little kid back then, had looked over to catch her eye when Luthor was forcing her into the plane. The fear and pain in her gaze, crying out for Mommy to save her and Jason. If she had just done it then, none of this would have happened. And now, because she hadn’t been watching, the bastard had her daughter again.
No, this time was going to pay for all, no matter what it cost her. He wasn’t going to do this to them again. She wasn’t going to chase the ghosts of their past forever.
Sebast stared into the bathroom mirror, contemplating his reflection: a handsome face with haunted eyes. His life just wasn’t the same without Kala. They talked every day; hell, he saw her more often than he’d seen some of the guys he dated. And not being able to pick up the phone and just call her … Sebast felt cut adrift. How could he have been so stupid as to say something like that to her? He couldn’t help feeling personally responsible for Kala running away.
If only he hadn’t believed Giselle … and as it turned out, Giselle had been setting them all up from the beginning. I shouldn’t have listened to her, he thought. I should’ve known she was a liar. Never mind that the adults had all been fooled; like all teenagers, Sebast figured he was a little more in-touch with things than the rest of the world.
Kala was his best friend, his partner in crime, his platonic soul mate. She was also the girl that his parents kept hoping would ‘straighten him out’, but Sebast trusted her not to try something that insulting. He had reason to trust her, after all.
His hopeful parents had allowed her to spend the night, in the spare bedroom, and her parents hadn’t objected – he was allowed to sleep over at her house, too. In the Lane-Kents’ apartment, Sebast normally slept on the couch, but he spent plenty of time ensconced in her room, listening to music or watching old movies while the two of them sprawled companionably on her bed.
Once, they’d fallen asleep like that, after hours of studying followed by a vain attempt at a Godzilla movie marathon. Somewhere in the middle of Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, they had both lost the battle with boredom. Sebast woke up hours later to find himself snuggled up with Kala, her head on his shoulder, her leg wrapped around his knee. Somehow in their sleep, they were even holding hands. Bemused, Sebast had chuckled, “I fell asleep during a monster movie and woke up in a freakin’ rom-com. What the hell, mi Kala?”
Her eyeliner slightly blurry with sleep, she had given a soft snort of amusement before scoffing to him. “Well, good morning to you, too. I think we both know that most guys would kill to be in your position.”
“Hey, plenty of guys would kill to be in your position, too,” Sebast had informed her just as saucily, and they had both broken up laughing. There was no one else he could have been as comfortable waking up with. Kala loved him for who he was, had no designs on him and no ulterior motive, and he loved her for it.
And now he’d betrayed her.
Sebast rubbed his face briskly, trying to ignoring the stinging of his eyes. Helping Jason sneak onto the plane was the only way he could think of to try to atone for his mistake. The boy made a convincing argument, and hopefully his parents wouldn’t kill him for stowing away.
The plan, which they’d refined since arriving at the Troupe house, called for Nick to pick up Sebast and Elise at nine. Sebast would get out of the car and sneak back into the house, where he would climb in Jason’s bed. Jason would go out and hide in the plane. Sebast was the same size and hair color, so even if Lucy checked on him during the night, she would assume that he was Jason. Richard and Lana were leaving very early in the morning, so Jason would be saying his goodbyes tonight.
It was the best plan they could come up with on short notice, and Sebast hoped it would work. But there was one thing he could do to make the ruse a little more believable…
Well, that had been awkward. Kala lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling. Finding out that her father had been the one to crush Zod’s hand – “He meant to instruct me fully in my newfound vulnerability,” the General had told her dryly – had slightly shaken her image of him. After all, Superman was the hero who took scrupulous care not to harm his enemies unnecessarily. Only against a robot or some kind of monster, something nonliving or at least non-sentient, did he unleash his full strength. And here was evidence that he’d intentionally caused harm.
Kala wasn’t a fool; Zod might have been lying to her in an attempt to gain her sympathy and tarnish her father’s image. But he had spoken of the incident distantly and quickly changed the subject, insisting that Kala get something to eat and take a break from their lessons. She had taken the opportunity to leave with some of her dignity intact, and had grabbed food to go from the cafeteria.
Apparently, the word had gotten out that Kala was not to be messed with. She got plenty of nasty looks, but no one spoke to her, and none of the thugs even tried to lay a hand on her. That was fine by Kala; she met their glares with an icy, superior stare, reminding herself that she was fast enough to kick five of their asses before the first guy could land a blow.
She had eaten in her room and put the tray outside her door; let one of Luthor’s lackeys clean up. With her meal settling – she’d barely tasted the food – Kala contemplated what Zod had told her. She felt slightly ashamed that she could have imagined her mother trading her to Luthor. No matter how bad things were between them, Lois loved both her children, and she’d fight to the death before handing either one of them over to someone like Luthor. It was just like Luthor to try and make her think that, though.
It was kind of odd to be comforted by Zod. He didn’t seem to have much to gain by trying to repair her relationship with her mother, besides attempting to ingratiate himself to Kala. And he couldn’t have known Lois very well. Neither parent was willing to talk about it in depth to the kids, but Kala knew that the Kryptonian villains had captured Lois and used her as bait, threatening her life to make Kal-El acquiesce to their demands.
Maybe that had been the reason for the unaccustomed violence. Lois had always glossed over the story, but Kala had the feeling that she’d been in much more danger than even the printed articles alluded to. Had they actually hurt her, instead of just threatening? And what exactly had been threatened? Dad breaking Zod’s hand was wrong, but Zod threatening Lois was wrong first. Besides, Mom was pregnant, but no one had known it at the time.
Kala shook her head; it was a deeper puzzle than she thought she could solve. All of it had happened when she was still just a couple of cells, and she wasn’t naïve enough to imagine she could get a fair and balanced report of what had happened from Zod. She had to base her opinions and actions on what was happening now.
After all, Zod might have changed. He’d been in prison for sixteen years…
Kala tried to imagine that. While she lived her life, learned to walk and talk, lost her baby teeth and fell off her bike, had her first kiss and her first breakup, went from an infant to a child to a teenager, all that time Zod had been in jail. Everyone he knew was dead, or as good as dead – Non was in a special facility somewhere, pumped full of happy drugs, and Ursa had been killed trying to escape prison. Zod alone remained, and when he finally got out, he had found himself in another kind of prison, with Luthor as his jailer.
But what else could have happened? The kinds of crimes he’d committed weren’t things that could easily be rehabilitated. Robbing a convenience store or vandalizing someone’s car was one thing. Genocide and hostile takeover of an entire country – on his way to taking over the whole planet – was something else entirely. Even now, could she really say that Zod had changed?
He seemed like a different man than the one she’d seen in clips from old television shows, a lot more urbane and respectful than the maniac demanding obeisance. Then again, she had Luthor and his prison scum to compare him to, and just about anyone would look good next to them.
Still, as near as Kala could tell, Zod had been completely honest with her. And what he said he wanted was not only very plausible, but it jibed with what she needed: escape from Luthor. For that, she’d be more than willing to put in a good word with her father. Kal-El had had sixteen years to cool off, maybe he could judge whether or not Zod had truly reformed.
And if he hadn’t, he’d go back to prison. She only needed to suggest leniency to her father, and her word alone wouldn’t guarantee Zod’s freedom, not even if he helped get her out of Luthor’s clutches. She could discharge her obligation without double-crossing Zod or worrying about the fate of the world…
Kala sighed heavily. This was too much for her to worry about and too far in the future. Only the present mattered; she could figure out what to do after they’d escaped once she had actually gotten free. For now, she had to keep a watchful eye on Zod. He was her best chance as an ally, but she knew she couldn’t trust him.