Jason was miserable, and Elise knew it. He was sitting in the middle of the bed, staring morosely down at his shoes. If this plan didn’t work, his chances of getting to Nevada were too slim to calculate.
The three kids had retreated here as soon as they got to the Troupes’ house; they all knew the layout, and Jason had figured out which room he need to have to be able to sneak Sebast in later on. Richard, Lana, and Kristin were getting the guest bedroom; Nora, Joanna, and Michelle each had their own rooms; and Loueen and Bryan were staying in what had been Sam’s room. Jason could have taken the sofa, but that made him a little too obvious. Instead, he’d taken what had been the family room when he and Kala had lived here.
Three years ago, Lucy and Ron had converted it into a bedroom for Ella. The downstairs bathroom was right beside it, and adding a door between them had made this room a convenient suite right in the heart of the house. No mother-in-law suite off to the side somewhere for Ella; she had been mere steps from the living room and the kitchen, within hearing distance of the stairs in case she called out at night. Elise thought that was a testament to how much Ron Troupe loved his mother-in-law.
Ella’s room had been cleaned out, most of her personal belongings distributed between her daughters, but the bed and the little couch beneath the window remained. Taking this room was integral to the plan, as it was the easiest way for Sebast to sneak in – the window was low, and out of sight of the driveway where a patrol car was already parked. Jason had told Sebast exactly where to get out of Nick’s car and which bushes would provide concealment between the road and the window. After all, he and Kala had played hide-and-seek on this property many times.
Those memories, which he’d had to call up in the course of their plotting, were depressing in light of the circumstances. Night would soon fall on the third day of Kala’s absence, and none of them had any real assurance that she was okay. Jason insisted she was fine, but she needed him, and Elise was inclined to believe him on both counts. She had seen too many examples of the symbiotic relationship between the twins not to take him seriously.
And with those thoughts uppermost in his mind, to come to the room where his beloved Nana had lived for the last three years before her untimely and recent death … yeah, Jason had a right to be morose. Elise sat down next to him and took his hand, squeezing his fingers lightly as she tried to think of something to say.
The look he turned on her was so bleak that any comforting words would sound like mockery. “Oh, Jason,” Elise sighed, her heart aching for him. He could be as obtuse as any boy, he was distressingly single-minded about certain things, and his whole family gave off a distinctive Not Normal vibe, but she’d never doubted he was a sensitive soul. And his sister being gone was clearly killing him; the hollow grief in those blue eyes was searing in its frankness.
Elise could do nothing but hug him, and after a second’s hesitation Jason put his arms around her and leaned his head on her shoulder. He shuddered once, but wouldn’t cry, though she would have considered tears fully justified. Any girl, even Kala, would have let the tears fall, but boys could be so stupidly macho sometimes.
Strangely, she found herself sniffling, as if she could somehow cry for him. Her whole life had been turned upside down, too; no matter how often you heard about it on the news, kidnappings just didn’t happen to kids you knew. It was always some other kid in some other city, and you felt sorry for them and their families, but your friends were supposed to be safe. Because you knew them, you knew the funny face Kala always made while she painted her toenails, you knew she was like a magpie for anything velvet, and this couldn’t happen to her, because you knew she was real and all those kids on TV and missing posters at Wal-Mart, those kids weren’t really real.
Only, it was real, all of it, and Elise was living it. Not only was her friend missing, but the rest of them had been threatened, too. People she knew and liked had been shot at and stabbed. The illusion of safety in her normal daily life was just gone. True, the adults were being very sane and sensible about it all, taking precautions, but Elise had just had it brought home to her in a too-concrete manner that bad things could happen to people she knew – or to her.
And yet, somehow, she still felt a little safe, because she was with Jason.
She pulled away a bit, smiling at her own foolishness, and Jason looked as though the hug had helped him. That awful emptiness was gone from his eyes, anyway, and Elise was glad to have banished it. “Thank you,” he said, his voice husky with suppressed emotion.
The bathroom door opened then, and Sebast walked into the room. Elise started to pull further away from Jason, but she froze at the sight of Sebast. Beside her, Jason’s jaw dropped open, and Elise yelped, “Oh my God, what did you do to your hair?!”
Bryan, Michelle, and Kristin were currently in Michelle’s room, playing in an unusually subdued manner. It was clear that all of the worry and strain on the adults was starting to get to the children, as well. Lana gave the kids a worried little frown as she pulled Lucy and Loueen aside into the kitchen for a few words. “We’ve got a pilot for you tomorrow,” she began, and they both gave her quizzical looks.
“Yeah, I know,” Loueen said slowly, raising her eyebrows. “Isn’t his name Richard? I think we’ve met him a couple of times, Lana.”
Realizing she had gone about that backwards, the redhead sighed. “About that. We wanted to tell you earlier; but we couldn’t, for obvious reasons. Richard and I aren’t going to Smallville.”
This news stunned Loueen, but Lucy was catching on quickly. Her tone was one of awe and amazement. “Oh my God. You’re going after Lois and Clark, aren’t you?”
Taking a deep breath, Lana nodded. “Yes. They’re going to need us.”
“Are you nuts? Haven’t you been through enough for the moment? You haven’t even been out of the hospital six hours yet,” Loueen hissed, the Voice of Reason. “Lana, they’re going up against Luthor.”
“I know,” the redhead replied. “And the way things have been between them, it will take him about five minutes to split them up and kill them both. He’s had spies in the family; he knows how tense things are right now. He might not even have to do anything – I’ve never seen Clark this angry, and I’ve known him since he was three. If they turn their backs on each other, and they’re out of Superman’s sight, Luthor will have them both. And I won’t allow that.”
“And what are you gonna do about it?” Loueen challenged. “Lana, hon, we love you, but come on. You’re a designer, not a ninja or something.”
“I am the only person in this family who will take Lois and Clark to task, and have them both listen to me,” Lana said sternly. “I understand what you’re saying, and I know what I’m doing here. But you have to realize something.”
She paused, and Lucy bit her lip worriedly as the redhead continued. “I am willing to risk my life for them. I’m willing to lose my life if it’s in the cause of getting Kala home. I came very close to dying just by being part of the family. I can’t be in any more danger than I was yesterday, and this way, I’m doing something about it. Lois and Clark need me, whether they know it or not, and they need Richard for much the same reasons. They have to work together, and I don’t think they can do it on their own for much more than a day.”
“You’re right about them,” Lucy whispered, fidgeting and feeling utterly disloyal. “Things are bad for him to yell at her like he did this morning. I hate seeing them fight … but even more, I hate thinking I might never see my sister and brother-in-law again, or my niece. If they’re like that in Nevada, how can they possibly find Kala and bring her home?”
“That’s why Richard and I have to go.” Lana fell silent for a moment; she had prayed over this decision, but hadn’t received any sort of sign to cease and desist. Then again, she also hadn’t received a clear sign telling her to go ahead. Regardless, this was what she felt she had to do, and she’d made her peace with the fact that it might be her last decisive act. The last day had brought Lana to a much closer understanding of her own mortality, and she was determined to do everything in her power to rescue Kala.
Richard felt just as strongly. He had known Kala even before Clark did, and she was still his daughter. Biological paternity was nothing compared to three years of bedtime stories, kissed boo-boos, and constant vigilance against the twins’ fragile health. Richard would strangle Luthor with his bare hands if he could manage it, or leap in front of a sniper’s bullet to save Kala just as easily as he’d done to spare Lana. Though he wasn’t quite as spiritual about it as Lana herself, he knew better than most that love was about self-sacrifice. He had given up Lois, whom he’d been ready to marry, out of love for her and the twins, because he saw that their lives would be better with Clark.
Lana had never told him that that single act of selfless nobility overcame all of her reservations about leaping into a relationship as quickly as they had. Whenever she’d worried that things were moving too fast, or that she might be let down as she had been before, she had remembered not only that he had risked his life to protect Lois, but had loved her enough to let her go afterward.
And having known that charismatic, exasperating, contrary, unladylike, fiery, and oddly vulnerable woman for the last ten years, Lana couldn’t help but love her as well. Lois was like the sister she’d never had, and then some. They were stepmoms to each other’s children, old flames of each other’s husbands, and everything but rivals. Gripped by the worst pain she’d ever known, Lana had sent her husband out of the delivery room and called for the woman she’d spent the past several months alternately being paranoid about and apologizing to. Lois had held her hands and coached her through Kristin’s birth, which had been every bit as agonizing as Lana’s worst imaginings, and she’d held the tiny infant while Lana recovered. Lois’ understanding and forgiveness had been gifts as miraculous as Kristin herself.
As for Clark, Lana had always loved him. He had been her friend first, then devoted follower, and after a long absence and the shattering of an old secret, they’d become friends again. They shared so much history that closeness was inevitable, and there was quite literally nothing she wouldn’t do for him. The fact that he was a superhero didn’t even enter into the equation; the Clark that Lana knew would have found some way to serve humanity even if he’d had no powers beyond his very human heart and soul.
Flying out to Nevada to rescue them both from their personal demons – saving their marriage and their daughter at the same time, most likely – wasn’t something Lois or Clark would ever have asked of Lana and Richard. But it was what they wanted, needed, to do.
Evidently Loueen and Lucy saw those thoughts in Lana’s expression, because they both nodded. “All right,” Loueen said. “I don’t like it, but I get it. And I suppose everyone else will get used to it.”
“They’ll have to,” Lana replied. “Richard’s having the seaplane taxied over here tonight. We’ll be leaving at dawn, just before all of you, and hopefully we’ll be airborne before Maggie gets wind of it.”
“You’d better be, or she’ll have you arrested for something,” Loueen said.
Jason was profoundly grateful for Elise’s uncomplicated show of affection. He needed a hug, dammit, and neither Mom nor Kala had been around to provide it. That line of thought would set off the tears he was trying to hold back, however.
Sebast provided a welcome distraction by walking into the room. Jason and Elise both looked up, ready to explain away their closeness, but both of them were immediately distracted by the change in Sebast’s appearance.
Jason echoed Elise’s yelp with a muttered, “Holy crap, Sebast.”
Normally the Latino boy had long, straight black hair, a feature that plenty of girls at school obsessed over in vain. At the moment, it was a lot shorter. He put down the pair of scissors he’d filched from somewhere, and fluffed the fresh haircut. “So what do you think?”
“I think it’s a helluva time for a makeover,” Elise said acidly.
“No, really?” Sebast snarked back. “Because I didn’t cut it to be fashionable. I’m gonna be standing in for Jason, right? What if Mrs. Troupe opens the door and takes more than a quick glance at me? She’d notice if Jason suddenly grew like an extra foot of hair.”
That gave Elise pause. It was actually kind of brilliant, considering that the two boys had about the same color hair. Jason examined the haircut with a frown. “It looks kinda … weird on you.”
“Don’t worry, it feels weirder than it looks. As soon as Kala is home I’ll be rubbing Miracle-Gro on my scalp every night.” Sebast rubbed the back of his head, a distressed expression on his face.
Elise had to look away to conceal her smile. If anyone ever doubted that Sebast adored Kala, that he was her best friend in the whole wide world, this proved it. The boy was rather vain about his hair, and that he’d been willing to sacrifice it just to give Jason a better chance of being in on the rescue… Well, if that didn’t prove his loyalty to the twins, nothing would.
Now the only thing that worried Elise was just how Jason would be able to cope when he got to Nevada. Richard was a fairly permissive dad, but Lana was strict, and neither of them was going to be at all happy about Jason tagging along. Lois and Clark weren’t going to be happy, either. She could just envision the poor boy lectured and scolded and browbeaten into taking a plane home the very same day. He was stubborn, damn determined when he got his mind set on something, but could he really hold out against all four of his parents?
Lois was unusually quiet and subdued at his side, and perversely, that focused his attention on her even more. His mind was filled with what he’d heard while she was out of the house earlier. Only a fragment, but the words haunted him now that he realized where she’d gone.
Sure, she may have stopped for cigarettes on the way back, but her heartbeat had been at the cemetery. And what he’d heard when he checked up on her – afraid she was betraying him even then – was Lois speaking aloud to her parents. “…I tried to keep them safe, just like you would, Momma, but it blew up in my face. I guess maybe you were right about me all along, huh, General? Some ‘great mom’ I am…” Her voice had been a curious mixture of defeat, sorrow, and anger.
There was something infinitely sad about how sharp her tone had gotten when she addressed her father’s headstone. Even so many years later, she was still justifying herself to him. And still doubting herself as a parent.
A small part of him wanted to hug her and comfort her, knowing her too well not to empathize with her pain. The rest of him was still furious. She had crossed the one line he thought was absolutely, utterly beyond any hope of redemption. It wasn’t so much the lie – ironically, he was unsurprised by Lois lying to him, after the way things had been when he returned to the planet – as it was the fact that she’d cut a deal with his worst enemy, and then lied about that. It was crucial information, as important as the fact of the twins’ parentage, and though she’d eventually told him he was a father, he had no real proof that she would ever have told him about the deal with Luthor, no matter what she’d said she meant to do.
Clark forced his internal struggle deep down inside, leaving it to simmer. There were more important things to deal with. Namely, finding their daughter and liberating her from Luthor’s clutches. But first, he had to make sure that the bald maniac couldn’t strike out at anyone else he loved.
“Lois,” he said, his voice low, and she looked up at him with watchful eyes. The hesitance, almost distrustful, in her expression wounded him, but he hardened his heart against that, too. Duty first. “We have to make a stop along the way, and we’re going to need to make some calls.” With that, he adjusted course for the Fortress, where he would have to pick up a few items, already thinking of the JLA members he should call first to invite them to this impromptu meeting: Bruce and Diana. If anyone could understand what he was about to do and why, it would be them.