Martha Kent was trying to hide the chuckle in her voice as she watched Perry White’s young son had his first interactions with livestock. “I wouldn’t if I were you. Chickens are not like puppies. They don’t like being chased, Bryan.” The little boy looked appropriately chagrined, and the hefty white hen stalked off, clucking aggravatedly. Martha managed to shoo Bryan back indoors with a quiet sigh.
The first day, everyone over the age of fifteen had been tense and worried, waiting for the other shoe to drop. The younger kids, of course, had been excited by the change of pace. Kristin visited Smallville frequently, and Michelle had been there several times, but the farm was a whole new world to Bryan, and all of the kids were delighted by the deep snow. At least the Pioneer Center was closed for the season and they didn’t have to worry about nearby neighbors who might just be spies for Luthor.
On this second day, it seemed as though Luthor wouldn’t attempt a strike at them, and the grownups began to cautiously relax their vigilance. Everyone in Smallville assumed it was just a family gathering, except the Langs and Hubbards, who knew about Kala’s kidnapping. Martha hadn’t told anyone about their extra insurance: the JLA was in the area, keeping watch over the family. She didn’t want that news to make Lucy or Loueen grow complacent, but it eased her own heart.
The three young children, however, were getting fractious. Kristin missed her family and moped around, eyeing Martha sadly. Michelle wanted her daddy, but she at least had her mother and sisters to keep her occupied. Bryan, without his father around, started to get mischievous. While his behavior brought Kristin out of her blue funk, it was a little harrying for everyone else.
Lucy and Loueen were having quite a time of it, but fortunately the children were all relatively well-behaved. Martha sighed quietly as she watched through the kitchen window, stealing a moment of relative peace before heading back inside.
Last night after the kids were in bed, Lucy had sought her out for a heart-to-heart. The sweet-natured blonde had been having trouble with the realization that her big sister had made such a deal with the devil, never mind what she’d said to keep Lois’ spirits up. Martha had reflected that ten years ago, she might’ve been the first to condemn Lois’ choices. But having known that headstrong young woman for so long, and having befriended her mother, Martha understood all too well. All of them – Lois, Ella, and Martha herself – would do just about anything to protect their families.
Her phone rang, and she answered it. “Clark?”
“Hi, Ma,” he said, sounding infinitely weary. It hurt her heart to hear it. “How is everyone?”
“We’re okay; don’t you worry about us. Safety in numbers is working so far. How are you, son?”
Clark answered with a quiet chuckle, “I’ll make it. We’re about to start searching – we should be pretty close, considering the amount Luthor has invested in this area.”
“I suppose I don’t need to tell you, but I’m your mother, so I’ll say it anyway. Be careful.” That at least got a chuckle from him, and she asked gently, “How are you and Lois holding up?”
“About the same.” His voice was cautious now. “Ma, it’s… I’ve got too many other things to think about right now.”
Martha’s silver brows drew together in a worried frown. “Son, I don’t mean to stick my nose in, but there’s a lot of pain between the two of you right now. Both of you are going to have your work cut out for you in healing that.”
“Tell me about it,” he muttered, and Martha chose to ignore his obvious sarcasm and do just that.
“You’re feeling betrayed, and that’s never easy to deal with. It hurts even more because this happened so long ago, and you never knew. You might even feel a little foolish for not having guessed earlier.” He was silent, but Martha knew her boy, and knew that this was a considering silence, not an outraged one. “Have you wondered what Lois has been going through?”
His voice came back as a rasping whisper, making it evident that Lois was somewhere nearby. “Sure, it must have been such a burden to lie to me.”
“It was,” Martha told him. “I know how she feels. Clark, I have to lie to Ben almost every day. And if he ever found out, I’m sure he’d feel just as betrayed as you do. I never dealt with an enemy of his, largely because he doesn’t have them, but I’ve kept a huge secret from him for all the years of our friendship, and through our entire marriage. He’d have a right to feel betrayed, and I know it. I chose to lie, to keep secrets, to protect him and his sons and his grandchildren. The fewer people who know the whole truth, the safer all of us will stay.”
Clark didn’t reply, and this time Martha sensed a little more truculence in this silence, though he was still thinking about what she’d told him. After a pause, he finally said, “Ma, I’m sorry, I have to go. I’ll talk to you later.”
“I love you, son,” Martha told him, and as he hung up she closed her eyes and offered up a silent prayer for him, Lois, Jason, and especially Kala, and the rest of the family caught in the tide of madness Luthor had sent surging over them again. Ella, if you could pass on a good word to Him, I think our children sorely need it. How I wish you were here with us now.
It had started about ten minutes after the adults left and showed no signs of stopping. After sitting in the chair by the window without a word, Jason had started pacing, occasionally staring at the door. From her vantage point on the edge of the bed, Elise had watched him go from one side of the room to the other until her stomach started to get queasy. At that point, she was lying on the bed on her back while she stared at the ceiling. She couldn’t really blame him; both of them were already getting pretty tired of this whole ‘stay inside and stay safe’ thing. But with a crazy man out there gunning for the whole family, you couldn’t really argue with the adults’ logic. “Hey, your impression of a deranged tiger at the zoo is perfect, you can quit practicing.”
Despite being aware of his mood, she wasn’t quite expecting the level of unfriendliness that came from his direction at that. It was rare to see Jason this wound up and she wasn’t exactly thrilled to have been here on the occasion that it came to light. “Thanks a lot,” he muttered angrily, and finally threw himself down in the chair. He glared at her as if she was the cause of all his problems, and Elise just rolled her eyes at him. Leave it to Jason to be a typical boy at a time like this.
The discomfort of the situation, of forced confinement when something urgent needed attending to, just grew as they stayed where they were. Knowing that Kala was somewhere in one of the nearby towns, subjected to who knows what, while they were sequestered safe and sound, didn’t help their consciences. Shame started down its usual path toward resentment. They might have started arguing, but Jason’s phone rang, a welcome distraction. He scrambled to answer it with the expression of a drowning man who has suddenly discovered a life raft floating at his elbow. “Hello?”
The response was immediate and thankfully all-too-familiar. “Hey, mano, I’m going stir-crazy over here.” He could hear the anxiety in Sebast’s voice all too easily since it mirrored his own. Catching Elise’s eye, Jason put him on speaker phone as Elise made her way over to stand by him. “I haven’t heard from you two all day. Where are you? Have you found her yet?”
As soon as the words were spoken aloud, both teenagers felt their voices dry up. There was no way either of them wanted to admit what the current state of affairs were. Doubly so since the Latino boy’s usually cocky, smooth voice had a trace of trapped-rat anxiety to it. In the end, Elise found her voice first. “Yeah, well, we ran into a little problem. They found us when we landed for a refuel and now we’re under house arrest at the hotel,” she said, wincing and rushing her words to prevent the reaction she was expecting. “Mrs. White was not happy when she found me, and pretty much everyone wanted to strangle us. Things are not pretty over here on that score.”
Silence on the other end. Again, the two shared a discomfited look. Not a good sign. “But they didn’t send us home,” Jason interjected finally, filling the pause on the other line.
The reply came an instant later, sounding disbelieving and more than a little confused. “So, wait. You’re telling me you’re stuck in the hotel? What you’re telling me is that they lock you in or something?”
Jason felt like sinking through the floor. He could tell already that nothing he could say would make them sound any less lame and cowardly. Clearing his throat, the boy braced himself for what he knew he deserved and told Kala’s best friend the truth. “No, but they told us to stay here. We’ve got to be close to Luthor, so Mom and Dad made us stay put where it’s safe.”
Several seconds of silence followed, enough that Jason checked the phone to make sure they hadn’t lost the connection. When Sebast spoke again, it was to mutter a few words in Spanish that weren’t in Jason’s textbook. “Are you kidding me?” he exploded. “Whatever happened to Jason ‘I have to find my sister or I’m gonna freakin’ Hulk out or some shit’ Kent? You headed out there to kick ass and take names! What happened, did you accidentally leave your huevos on the plane or something?”
The boy colored at that; he had known that Sebast was going to be irate, but that was a low blow. “Whoa! Sebast, you don’t get it! You’re not here! Y’know, this is dangerous!” Jason exclaimed. Elise stood next to him, staring wide-eyed from her ex to the phone.
“¡Aguacatao! I didn’t cut my goddamn hair so you could sit in the hotel room with your tail between your legs like a bitch! Dammit! Elise! Elise, what the hell? You were supposed to keep him on target! What are you doing, making out or something when you’re supposed to be finding mi Kala?! The longer you’re out there, the more you’ll be explaining this to your parents when they find out where you are!”
Elise swallowed heavily at that, her discomfort like a stone in her belly. Once she had finished helping Lana and before Mrs. Lane-Kent came into the hotel room, she’d made the decision to call her parents by cell phone last night. It had still been early enough that she caught them before they could call the house. Holding her breath and praying that she wouldn’t slip up, she’d reassured them that things were fine and asked if the trip that been good so far. She had only half-heard their responses, so scared that a background noise would give her away, but she made all the appropriate sounds before stifling a yawn and begging off the phone with quick reminders of affection. Elise felt awful lying to them; she never given them any reason to think she would do something this insane. Their trust had kept them from suspecting she wasn’t actually at home, but eventually they would find out. And she was most assuredly not looking forward to that.
But if they thought Sebast had said his peace, they were wrong. “You know what? I knew I should’ve gotten on that plane and left your ass at home, Jason! You made it sound like you’d use your freakin’ psychic twin powers to find her, all you had to do was get to Nevada. So I took the heat for you and Elise, I got your aunt givin’ me the goddamn cop eyes, I got bitched out by everybody here, and for what? Nothing?”
Jason looked as though he’d been sucker-punched in the stomach. Seeing that, Elise overrode him stridently. “Sebast, you don’t know what’s going on. This Luthor guy is psychotic and he’s after the whole family. We thought we knew what was going on here; we only thought we did. It sucks that you got chewed out, but it was the chance we all took knew that was gonna happen. Jason’s right. Seriously, you have no idea; you’re not here…”
That had been the wrong thing to say. “You’re damn right I’m not there!” Sebast roared back. “’Cause if I was, you two atorrantes wouldn’t be sitting on your asses in a hotel room, we’d be out looking for my girl! Go find my Kala or I’m hitch-hiking the hell out there to find her myself!” With that, he slammed the phone down, leaving Jason and Elise to stare at each other speechlessly.
It was only when the operator’s hollow voice informed him that he needed to hang that Jason cleared his voice again, sounding embarrassed at himself. “Wow. He must be feeling really guilty.”
“Yeah, I think that’s a sure bet.” Elise looked down at the phone, mildly surprised it hadn’t melted. She knew Kala was Sebast’s best friend, she knew the two were much closer than she was with any of the girls she’d called her best friends through her school years, but she had no idea it was like that. “I just … wow.”
“He’s got a point,” Jason said with a deep breath, a serious expression stealing over his features. “We should be out there looking for her. It’s the whole reason we stowed away on the plane and got ourselves in so much trouble. I know it’s not what Mom and Dad want us to do, but they need every free hand they can get. The sooner we figured out where Kal is, the sooner we can get her out of there.”
“Yeah, but do we even know where to start looking?” Elise asked doubtfully.
He grinned at her then, the first real smile since all of this madness began. “If Mom left her laptop here, which I think she did because she printed out all the notes down in the business center, then yeah, we can get their list.”
“Doesn’t she have a password?” Elise asked. He only chuckled, though at what private joke she couldn’t tell. At least Jason had a purpose again, and he headed into the next room with a determined light on his eye.
Her husband had just closed his phone when Lois gave a final unconscious nod to the gruff voice in her ear, so engrossed in her conversation that she was totally unaware of worrying her lower lip. “Thanks, Perry. I’ll try to keep in touch. Yes, I promise. ‘Kay, ‘bye.” Turning to the others, Lois’ posture was more confident, a determined glint in her eyes. “Okay, guys, research paid off. The old man gave me a list of places that belong to Luthor or one of his aliases. Clark, I’m giving you the ones outside of town. I’ll take this warehouse and a couple of the others nearby.” She wasn’t even looking at them now, absorbed in the task at hand. Without another word, Lois took a sheet of paper out of her briefcase and recopied her hastily-scrawled notes from the conversation with Perry, deftly adding in the information Bruce had sent her last night.
There was an anxious silence then, all expecting her to continue to expound upon this newly-gleaned information. Her only response was pen scratching over paper. All three traded looks before Richard made a face. Neither of the other two seemed to want to rock the boat, which left him asking in the lightest tone he could, “So are you going to let us help, or do we have to tag along and pester you?”
Her hazel eyes flicked over in his direction then, the glance cast at him normally reserved for whenever the twins asked a plainly foolish question. “We know Luthor’s somewhere in the area. But local resources can give us more information than what we gathered long-distance. If you two can hit the department of records and try and find some more concrete leads, I’d appreciate it.”
“Which leaves you playing Lone Ranger,” Richard responded, his disapproval creeping in despite his best intentions. He should have known, especially after last night. The guilt was eating at her again, so of course she’d try to overcompensate for it by taking the lion’s share of the work. “Lois, it’s not a good idea. We’re safer if we stick together.”
“We both know I’m more than capable of taking care of myself,” she shot back, and opened her jacket to show him the Ladysmith snug in her shoulder holster. Running a hand through her hair, she sighed. “Look, Richard, I’m being as practical as I know how. Think about it. Neither you or Lana are armed or used to doing the dirty work, so I’d rather you didn’t join me in the breaking and entering.”
Clark had been watching her warily throughout this speech, choosing that moment to speak up. “I’d rather you didn’t go off alone.”
Quick as lightning, hazel eyes locked on cerulean, a flare of heat there before she looked back to her notes. “What’s wrong, you don’t trust me?” Lois said, almost casually, but the way she was avoiding his gaze now showed the brittleness her voice concealed.
His blue eyes went stormy, but his reply was precise and devoid of emotion. “No, I just don’t like handing Luthor an opportunity like this again. But you’ll do as you please anyway, so there’s no point in arguing.” With that, he took the list she had just finished and disappeared, the speed of his flight stirring up a miniature sand storm.
Lois closed her eyes and sighed. Beautiful. We can’t even speak without hurting each other. Already she could feel her head aching, her stomach roiling. How the hell had they fallen into this nightmare? And how much longer until they woke up?
While she wasn’t looking, Richard slung his arm around her shoulders and yanked her close for a hug. She staggered slightly, taken by surprise, before glaring at him. Before she could even begin to rail at him for taking advantage of her lack of attention, he just smiled down sadly. “Be safe, Lois. Especially when you’ve just sent air support off on another mission.”
Despite her determination to stay strong, stay focused, the uncomplicated love she saw there undid her enough that she didn’t swat him. “I will,” Lois murmured, taking the strength her ex was trying to give. They stood there a moment in silence before Richard kissed her hair, quick and light, and he and Lana got into their car, leaving Lois alone with the list. Once they were gone, Lois made herself lock down and think only of the job at hand. She was exhausted, tired to the bone of skirting the issues between herself and Kal-El, but none of that was important. Now, none of the rest of it mattered until Kala was home safe.
Setting out in the general direction of the buildings, Lois let everything but the chase fade away. This had gone on long enough. It was time for a little payback, and she was more than glad to finally be bringing the fight to Luthor.
Perry hung up the phone, wishing there was something more he could do for Lois. He’d already given her all the notes from the last time they investigated Luthor, and just updated her on everything he’d managed to scrounge from the archives this time. It still didn’t feel like enough. She had a general direction and some leads to check out, but what he really wanted to give her was a map with an X on it that marked the spot where Kala was being held. If only it were that easy.
Jimmy, who had stood beside him through the call and added a few words of encouragement to Lois, tried to look on the bright side. “You know Ms. Lane and Mr. Kent. That team is unstoppable. And they have Superman on their side.”
“Yeah,” Perry said. “The last time Luthor tangled with them, he had to go underground – literally. This time let’s see if Superman can drop him back in prison, and someone can bring me another Pulitzer-winning story.”
Laurel looked a little worried. “You’re sure you don’t want to tell her?” she said.
“Tell her what?” Jimmy asked, glancing at the Chief.
“About the stock price,” Perry sighed. “How high is it now?”
Laurel didn’t even want to say it out loud, handing Perry the printout instead. He winced, and Jimmy’s eyes widened. “Lois is worried enough without this hanging over her head,” Perry said.
“I talked to Kay,” Laurel told him. “She’s run through all the money she can get her hands on, and broke into Lana’s personal funds. The Whites now have a controlling interest in the paper, but Luthor can still get a majority if he keeps on buying like this.”
Perry wished for a cigar to chomp on; it would be a welcome bit of comfort just now. “I already took a loan from my retirement fund,” he finally said. “Don’t need it anyway – I’ll be working here as long as I can bellow across the bullpen. I can’t go much further, though.” In spite of what he’d just said, Perry began to wonder how much cash he could get out of his life insurance policy. He had to leave something for Loueen and Bryan, of course, but there ought to be some cash available…
Jimmy frowned at that. “Where are they getting the shares?”
“Everyone wants to sell at these prices,” Laurel sighed. “I overheard someone in the break room say he was going to sell his shares from the employee stock purchase plan if the price went up another ten dollars.”
“Well that’s just stupid.” With that, James Olsen turned on his heel and stalked into the bullpen. Laurel and Perry exchanged apprehensive glances as he climbed up onto the center group of desks. Bill Freizon and Gil Truman looked up bemusedly, some of the other reporters starting to whisper among themselves.
“All right, listen up, people” the redhead called, making it apparent that he’d been listening to Perry’s bullpen bawl for years. When the photographer chose to project his voice, he was most definitely heard. “I’m sure a lot of you have noticed that our stock price is going up. It might seem like this is a good time to sell some of your shares and make a little money. Well, it’s not.”
He paused and looked around the room. Olsen had everyone’s full attention with this little stunt; the Planet crew might have expected to see Lois jump on a desk and give a sermon, but not Jimmy. “The reason the price is so high is because there’s a run on our stock. Someone’s trying to buy up enough shares to gain control of the paper.” The whispers increased to murmurs, and Jimmy dropped the bomb on them with perfect timing. “That someone is Lex Luthor.”
Absolute shocked silence for a heartbeat, then an outburst of angry noise as the assembled reporters processed that. While they were still humming like a hive of wasps, Jimmy raised his voice to continue. “Some of you might not have been here long enough to know who Luthor is. Let me introduce you: this is the guy who tried to kill Superman. The same guy who led General Zod and the other Kryptonian criminals here to kidnap Ms. Lane, because he knew that was the best way to capture Superman. Also the same guy that kidnapped Ms. Lane’s twins when they were six years old, and used them as bait to try and kill Superman again.” The murmur rose to a dull roar; some of the reporters were too young to remember news from those days, and the rest remembered it only too well.
“He’s got a fixation on Superman,” Jimmy said, raising his voice still louder. “And we’re Big Blue’s number one news source, his chroniclers. This is Superman’s paper, people. Are we gonna let his enemy steal us away?”
There was no pause followed his question. “NO!” came the reply throughout the City Room.
Jimmy nodded in satisfaction. “All right then. All of you pass it on; let’s get the word out to the others. Don’t sell your stock, and if you can afford to, buy some more. Every share we own is one Luthor can’t get his hands on. Everything the Daily Planet has stood for won’t go down in flames for one man’s obsession with destroying a hero.”
That seemed to be enough, and he hopped off the desk, ignoring the buzz in the background. Perry caught the younger man’s eye and nodded. “Well done, Olsen.”