And with that cryptic promise, may I present?
Kal-El was deep in the coal mine, focused on the fire, but recent experience had reminded him never to tune out the rest of the world completely. Jason’s screams for help cut across his hearing, and horror filled him. They should never have left the kids alone, it was exactly what Luthor wanted them to do. His heart seemed to shatter like crystal, in agony at the thought of losing Jason, too. It was bad enough with Kala still missing. To hear Jason screaming for help was more terror and fury than Kal-El could bear.
Even while he thought that, he was flying, the downdraft from his departure knocking down the flames for a moment. He only had a moment, perhaps two, before the fire grew into a conflagration, so Kal-El flew at his top speed. He was a mirage above the desert sand, a hazy blur there and gone so swiftly no human eye could have captured his image. He homed in on Jason’s voice without paying attention to the fact that he’d passed the hotel. All that mattered right then was getting there in time.
Jason was in a drainage canal running for his life from a flash flood – with Elise. No more than ten feet behind them, a wall of water threatened to smash both of them against the concrete walls. So close – but he’d still made it in time, and relief washed over him. Kal-El braked slightly, just enough that he wouldn’t snap their necks when he grabbed them, and snatched both kids out of harm’s way.
He dropped them both on the roof of the hotel, giving them a quick glance to make sure they were both all right. Neither was injured, only terrified, and Kal-El left while Jason was still trying to frame the words ‘thank you’. Even though he wanted nothing more than to hug his son right at that moment, grateful that he’d been fast enough to save Jason, he couldn’t stay. The coal fire remained to be fought, but thanks to his speed, he made it back before the flames could seize the fuel he’d just beaten them back from.
There was no time to think about what had just happened, no time to be frightened or relieved or exasperated. Kal-El was just glad to know that the kids were momentarily safe, and that their near future contained an extremely stern warning about staying where they were told to.
Everything happened so fast that he couldn’t keep up. One minute, Jason was praying with all his might that he’d move quickly enough to get himself and Elise clear, the next wind was rushing past his face as his father swooped them up. Mind still trying to catch up to the change in circumstance, Jason staggered a little as they landed. He’d never flown that fast before, or been dropped off without a word. Something must be going very wrong somewhere…
After a moment, the world seemed to solidify again. His shoes squelched when he moved, and he looked down to see puddles forming beneath his and Elise’s feet. That was enough to send a chill ran down his spine as he realized they’d been rescued just before the water would have swept his feet out from under him. Close enough to the flood to have gotten his shoes wet. Closing his eyes for a moment, he sighed with enormous relief. He had never been so relieved to be busted by a parent in his life. “That was too close,” he shuddered before opening his eyes to gauge Elise’s emotional state. “Are you okay?”
What he saw when he turned to her wasn’t a real surprise, considering the situation. She was staring at him with an expression of absolute disbelief. It was the word that came out of her mouth that blew him away. “Dad?!”
Jason felt himself blanch, blue eye wide with horror. Oh, God, I didn’t. Oh God. Idiot! Think fast, stupid – you’re already going to be grounded for the year, you don’t want to be on restriction ‘til you turn eighteen! Me and my big mouth! Quickly he grasped at the nearest straw. “He’s my godfather. You know…”
Elise, however, was having none of it as she cut him off. “Don’t even try it, Jason Kent, you couldn’t lie your way out of a paper bag,” Elise snapped. “Dad. Seriously. You just called Superman Dad. And then he actually showed up to save us.”
Cornered, Jason had no idea how to proceed, so he just plowed forward with misdirection. It had to work. Something had to work. God, this had been such a stupid idea. Mom and Dad were going to kill him. Actually, no, it would be worse. Please let her listen. Please let her let it go… “It’s kind of his job to do that. Besides, he wouldn’t leave us. Look, Elise…”
She rolled her eyes at him in annoyance. Jason felt sick; she wasn’t going to be talked out of it. “Don’t start the plausible deniability crap with me. Just how epically freaking stupid do you think I am? You yelled for Dad, and Superman answered. Not only that, you were outrunning a flashflood while carrying me! So either the rumors are true about your mom and Superman, or your dad is really…”
Before she could even finish, Jason sat down in a defeated heap on the rooftop. How could I have been so dumb? All I wanted to do was help and now this. Head in his hands, he groaned, “I’m so grounded. They’re going to kill me.”
It had taken a few minutes to get herself together, steeling herself against the various pains, to make it out to the car. The trip hadn’t been pleasant, to say the least, and it seemed like everything ached when she collapsed into the driver’s seat of the rental. Head leaned against the steering wheel for a moment, Lois made herself push aside the pain. The last few days were beginning to feel like a sadistic version of Let’s Make A Deal. Just how much pain, anger, and emotional scourging are you willing to endure to keep your family?
The answer was simple, if a little hard to take. All. I’m willing to bet all.
There wasn’t time for resting, regardless of how beaten up she felt. If Graves had been here, Luthor had to have figured out their location. None of this mattered right now. She could whimper and whine over bumps and bruises later. Just had to compartmentalize her body’s reaction to it and move on. Centering herself, she took a few deep breaths and relaxed her body. Slowly, the worst of it drained away. The rest she could easily ignore, for the time being. Once her mind started to quiet, she couldn’t help a chuckle. God, I’m getting too old for this shit.
It was only when Lois was moving to put the car in gear that she glanced into the middle console and saw the screen on her phone blinking. Seems she had a missed call from Lana on her phone. Nothing for a whole day and now it’s raining psychos. The party never stops today. Once she was on the road back to the hotel, she returned the call, trying not to get blood from her split knuckles on the rental car steering wheel. “Everything okay, Red?”
The relieved sigh from the other end of the phone didn’t bode well. “Thank God you finally called. We had company, Lois. Be careful.”
“Too late for that and I’m no good at it,” was her immediate and unsurprised response. “I had a little company too, and kicked her ass and sent her running back to her boss. The better question is, are you and Richard all right?” Lois didn’t mention the way her left eye felt sore and puffy. Lana would just worry it all out of proportion, especially since they’d likely been in bigger danger than she had. They could count bruises later.
“I’m fine. Richard scraped himself up a little, but he’ll be all right with some bandages. Lois, do you have any idea where Clark is?”
“Honestly? Not a clue. I haven’t seen or heard from him since we left out this morning.” The reporter frowned at the thought. If they had all three been in trouble, why hadn’t he put in an appearance?
Lana’s next comment made Lois wonder if she was reading her mind. “He’s not answering his phone, so maybe he had some company too.”
Feeling the blood drain from her face, Lois remembered what Mercy had said. I didn’t come here to kill you; I came to warn you. Back off, let it go, or instead of losing one child you’ll see your whole family slain. The family had divided for the search. Lois to investigate the warehouse, where she had been confronted with Mercy. Richard and Lana, who had been researching, only to be met by Luthor’s goon trying to steal their information. Kal-El, who was doing in-air recon and no one could reach. And Jason and Elise … back at the hotel for safe-keeping. Her biggest fear since the kids had stowed away rose up, only her hard-won control stopping her from immediately going into a full-blown panic. If Luthor had both twins… “Lana, you and Richard get in the car. We have to get back to the hotel now.” Lois hung up on Lana and dialed her son’s cell phone, praying that he would answer…
They’d made a breakthrough today, achieving unprecedented access to the information on cloning. Kryptonians had once used the technology extensively, but largely abandoned it for ethical reasons. While Jor-El would not share much with them about the topic, he’d finally detailed all of the uses Kryptonians had for cloning and the specific case that had ultimately caused them to ban it.
While Kala had questioned the AI, Zod had been providing a rapid translation of its answers. Luthor’s scientists were quite good in Kryptonese, but where possible Zod had shaded his translation so as to cast doubt on theirs. Kala had made sure to get enough background information to occupy Luthor’s researchers for a few days before making a couple of intentional mistakes that ended the day’s session.
Zod fell into step beside her as they left, and one quick glance showed her his approval. She’d timed it just right, and Kala had to hide a grin. Their partnership was working perfectly, and Luthor hadn’t seemed to have caught on to that fact just yet.
The man himself was trailing them out of the lab, glancing over the rough copy of the information they’d just acquired. Kala knew better than to glare at him by now; if she and Zod appeared too friendly or too defiant, it would set off Luthor’s paranoia, and the less he interfered with them, the easier their eventual escape would be.
At the moment, it was just the three of them and a couple of security guards moving down the hallway, and Kala had nothing more complicated in mind than lunch. Until Mercy Graves turned the corner ahead, walking toward them. Kala skidded to a halt, eyes wide.
The blonde looked like she’d been in a fight. One eye was swelling shut, her lip was swollen, and she had a scratch on her cheek. A little dried blood lurked at the corner of her mouth, and she moved stiffly, every step painful. Kala froze, impressed. Whoever had done that to the Head of Security was one tough bastard.
Luthor saw her as well, and made an oddly choked chuckling sound. “I see you succeeded in finding Ms. Lane.”
Kala felt like she’d been kicked in the chest. Mom had done that? But Mercy was here earlier this morning – that meant Mom was here, somewhere in Nevada, coming to save her. She couldn’t help gasping in surprise and relief, elation soaring through her. “I see my mother righteously kicked your ass,” Kala gloated.
Mercy glared at her, blue eyes narrowed in anger, but when she spoke her voice was cool and smooth as ever. “Considering that I was under specific orders not to kill her, yes, I did take a bit more of a beating than I’d planned. But your mother isn’t as young as she used to be, Kala. She’s in far more pain than I am.”
Zod murmured in Kryptonese, so softly that only Kala’s ears caught it, “So speaks any confident aggressor just handed an unexpected defeat.” Kala breathed a little easier. How many times had she heard bullies boast, You should’ve seen the other guy! Usually right after she’d beaten them up. No one wanted to admit to losing a fight, especially not against what they thought was a weaker opponent.
She smirked at Mercy. “I know my mother. You were lucky to get away with just bruises. If I were you, I’d hide under a rock when she gets here. Mom is a world champion at holding a grudge.” On that note, she turned away, meaning to storm off in a clatter of high heels and indignation.
Mercy’s mocking voice followed her. “She won’t be coming, Kala. You’re on your own here until we release you. I managed to convince your mother that the collateral cost is too high to keep trying to rescue you.”
Kala wavered, but tried to hold on to what she had always believed. “She would never stop trying. She would never abandon me,” she called over her shoulder.
Luthor shook his head slowly. “Everyone has their price, Kala. Hers was in blood. So much has been shed already.”
“Liar,” Kala said, shivering. Zod waited at her side, close enough to offer comfort without seeming to intrude.
With a smile like the devil’s own, Luthor unfolded the newspaper he’d been carrying under his arm all morning. Kala saw the huge bold print letters, and even knowing that this was just a tabloid didn’t stop her chest from tightening. LANA LANG SLAIN, the headline screamed.
Part of Kala wanted to crawl into a hole and just die. Her mother and father were used to this, being hunted by madmen, and Daddy Richard had his fair share of heroism. But Lana? Luthor had gone after the one person in the family who couldn’t defend herself.
Zod touched her arm lightly, the faintest pressure through her sleeve. “Believe nothing,” he murmured in Kryptonese. “I will attempt to confirm or deny this news, but put no faith in it yet. Luthor lies. He always lies.”
Kala managed to rally at that. Headlines could be faked; somewhere at home she had a fake cover of Rolling Stone with her photo manipped onto it. It would be very easy for Luthor to falsify a misleading headline like that, especially on a cheap tabloid rag like the Inquirer. “Why should I believe anything you say to me?” Kala said, her voice gaining strength as she dropped back into the cadences of Krypton. “I will not play your games any longer, Luthor. However, there is one thing you should know. If you truly have managed to assassinate my stepmother, you might as well have walked back into prison and locked yourself in a cell. My family will never stop hunting you.”
With that, she succeeded in storming off. Zod waited, watching her leave, and when he was certain she was out of earshot he turned to Luthor. “Your method of convincing her to join us is quite unconventional,” he said coldly. “One would almost suspect you wish her to hate us and defy us at every turn.”
Luthor chuckled nastily. “I don’t care if she likes us – and neither do you, General. The difference is, I know what we want from her. What’s your angle?”
“What else? You promised me my freedom if I could convince her to work with you,” Zod said, and turned away to follow Kala.
“He doesn’t really believe that,” Mercy mused.
“I didn’t think he was stupid enough to buy it,” Luthor concurred.
Mercy nodded. “Whatever he’s up to, we’ll have to keep an eye on him. Meanwhile, I hope the evacuation is proceeding smoothly. They’ll be on their way as soon as they can manage it.”
“Good,” Luthor said. “Where do you expect them to strike?”
“I found Ms. Lane in the warehouse. If she follows the addresses on those crates, she’ll turn up at the aboveground storage area for this facility. We should have some warning, though.” She smirked triumphantly.
“So you did manage to plant a tracking device on her,” Luthor said with a grin.
Mercy rubbed the corner of her mouth, scowling at the blood there. “It wouldn’t have been worth letting her win the fight otherwise.” She would never admit to Luthor just how close a thing it had been; Lois Lane had hidden reserves that Mercy had never suspected. It unsettled her to go into the final phase of their plans after discovering such a revelation, but Mercy was a realist. She knew she would never convince Lex to hold back now, when he could almost taste victory. It would be her task to ensure that he didn’t overreach himself, and to neutralize any other surprises the family might spring on them.
So wrapped up in the potentially never-ending fallout from his slip-up, Jason and Elise both startled violently when a digital sound came from the boy’s direction. Both pairs of eyes glanced from one another to Jason’s cell. Already not trusting his traitor mouth to open at all, he wasn’t really in the mood to answer it. Even more so when the ringtone told him the call was from Mom. The feeling of impending doom pressed down further. He was going to have to tell her. He was going to have to tell his mother that he’d… Jason squeezed his eyes closed, wishing he could have that stupid thoughtless moment back.
But if things were as bad as they had been going lately, not answering could be even worse. Dad had clearly been on a rescue; who knows what other kinds of hell had broken loose? “Hi, Mom,” he murmured dully into the receiver, a hand coming up to press against his forehead.
His mother didn’t have to shout; the intensity in her voice worked much better than sheer volume. There was an uneasy mix there, anger and fear in equal measure. “Where are you?”
The boy took a deep breath before replying, “On the roof of the hotel.” Oh God, she’s going to breathe fire. She’s never going to forgive me for this.
He could hear her pause, could almost see her look of utter confusion. “The roof?” she asked, the disbelief he’d been expecting there.
“Yeah, the roof. Dad dropped us off here. He was in a hurry.” Elise was standing in front of him, but he didn’t bother to look up at her. He couldn’t bear to see disgust in her eyes.
Another pause, his mother’s voice sounding almost panicked now. It was too easy to see what was going on in her mind, how she was hoping she had misheard him. Jason felt his stomach lurch, all too aware that he’d have to explain soon. “Us? Is Elise there with you?”
“And who dropped you off?”
Jason could almost picture her elbowing him in the shoulder, trying to remind him to keep the secret. But it was a little late for that now. “Dad did. Mom, I screwed up. She knows.” There was a sharp intake of breath on the line and Lois was silent for a long moment. Wincing already, Jason forced himself to elaborate. “I had to use my powers, Mom. Elise knows the secret.”
Again, dead silence on the other end of the line. Jason could only imagine what was going through her mind and wasn’t sure he wanted to know. “What the hell…” he finally heard her growl under her breath, her voice tight, then immediately added, “Never mind. We’ll come up with something. I’ll be at the hotel in five minutes. Sit tight; Lana and your Dad should be there soon.” With that, there was a dial tone.
Staring at the phone in his hand, Jason felt about an inch tall. All of Mom’s years of subterfuge and now… How could he have been so stupid? “Oh God. She’s gonna kill me.” Sitting on the roof itself now, the boy buried his head in his hands. And if Mom was pissed at how this had gone so spectacularly out of his control, he could only imagine what Dad would think.
The defeated look on his face worried Elise. He’d had enough guts to defy everyone in an attempt to save his sister, had saved her life in that ravine, and here he was obviously being punished for it. It wasn’t fair, especially not to a guy who was here because he wanted his sister back instead of being expected to do this. She couldn’t even really compartmentalize the whole half-alien thing right now; she’d deal with that part of it later. It was too much to fit her mind around; for now, it hurt to see how low this was laying him. Elise knelt in front of him, leaning down until she caught his gaze. “Hey, Jason. It’s okay. Look, I won’t tell anyone, okay?”
His blue eyes were full with so much torn emotion that it hurt her to look at him. “That doesn’t matter,” he told her in a husky, flat voice. Closing his eyes tightly for a moment, Jason then stood and helped her up. The wounded look in his eyes didn’t change, but he seemed to have gotten himself together a little better. “Come on, let’s figure out how to get back inside.”
It turned out that there was an access door, but it was locked. In his present mood, Jason didn’t feel like waiting for someone to come up and let them in, so he forced the doorknob and the lock mechanism snapped under his hand. He led Elise back to the three rooms they’d taken, and settled himself in the middle one to await judgment. With a heavy sigh, he dropped down into the armchair at the side of the bed.
“Jason.” Elise was staring at him, and he finally met her eyes only to see worry in them. “We’ll tell them it was my idea to go exploring, okay?”
The boy only shook his head. It was obvious that he didn’t even consider it a possibility. “No, we’ll stick with the truth. It was my idea. You tried to keep me from going, but I just had to be the hero.” It sickened him to realize how close he’d come to letting her get hurt. Everyone was right; he wasn’t ready for this hero business, not yet. Maybe not ever.
Elise just watched him without a word, her expression making it clear that she had something else to say, but Jason was already looking past her at the door. Moments later, it opened, admitting Richard and Lana. The redhead sighed with relief at the sight of him. “Thank God you’re okay. Your mom was scared to death.”
Jason, meanwhile, had gotten a good look at Richard. “What happened to you? You were only going to do research!” he asked with real surprise, sitting up in an instant, and then a dark expression crossed his face before he answered his own question. “Luthor.”
The older man’s usual grin was even more rakish with a bloody scratch angling down his cheek. “Someday he’s gonna learn to stop messing with this family,” Richard said with a vicious gleam in his eye.
Lana tossed him a cross glance before looking the kids over. “Your mom met with one of his agents, too. I’m actually surprised you kids didn’t have a visitor; Lois was fairly sure you would have company.”
At that mention of Mom, Jason’s confidence seemed to die away a little at that, his face falling. “No, they didn’t have to look for us. I was stupid enough to go to them.”
Oh, God, not this song and dance again. Before he could get any further, Elise interjected, “Jason, stop it. It wasn’t actually all his fault.”
“Elise, stop trying to cover for me. Yes, it was,” Jason insisted. He took a deep breath and rose to his feet, looking more like his father than ever, little though he knew it. “I wanted so badly to help find Kala, I made a huge mistake. I hacked into Mom’s computer to look for her notes, and wound up following a lead in an email that must have been sent by Luthor. I talked Elise into going with me, and we were almost killed when it turned out to be a trap. Dad had to save us – and now Elise knows the secret.” His voice dropped almost to a whisper, but he didn’t look down. “I’m sorry.”
Lana’s jaw actually dropped; Elise hadn’t realized people did that in real life. Richard looked stunned. The girl felt compelled to step up and say something. “Look, I’m not going to run around telling people or anything. I’m smarter than that.”
The redhead gave her a pitying look. “Sweetheart, you’re fifteen.”
Elise bristled at that, but before she could say anything Lois burst into the room. The reporter looked like hell, her hair disheveled and pale skin dirt-smudged, knuckles bloodied. And the glare she settled on the kids was even more frightening for that. Jason, however, saw only her injuries. “Mom?!”
In any other circumstances, the entire family would’ve broken down laughing at the sheer irate ferocity in her. So much fury contained so loosely in such a small package was practically a Lois Lane trademark. But not now. Jason had never seen his mother in such a state, more a tornado of emotion than even he was at the moment. “Don’t worry about me, that bitch Mercy Graves got the worst of it. Now what the hell happened to you two?”
“Oh, Jason hacked your computer, read your email, and triggered a trap set for you,” Richard replied casually enough to make Elise wonder if he was even seeing the way his ex was fuming. He had already gone for the first-aid kit, and held it out to Lois.
She wasn’t in the mood for it, though. Jason cringed at the look in her eyes, but he didn’t back down, and he didn’t try to blame anyone else. Elise, however, dove in front of him. “We didn’t come out here to sit in a hotel room and hide,” she said. “We wanted to help find Kala. And that’s what we were trying to do.”
“You should’ve both stayed right here where you’d be safe. No, we should have shipped the both of you back to Kansas last night, but we would have had the same damn problem,” Lois shot back, arms crossed over her chest and giving no ground whatsoever. “Neither one of you have any business being out here. Jason, I can’t believe you! I spent almost twenty years trying to keep this a secret, and you went and let your girlfriend find out on the second day the both of you are in Nevada? Un-freaking-believable!”
For Jason to disappoint his mother was a rare thing, and he didn’t handle it well. “She’s not my girlfriend,” he managed to say, visibly wilting.
“Yes, I am, Jason,” Elise spoke up, elbowing him with annoyance. Although she could understand why some of this was happening, the need to yell at Jason for situations that had been out of his control was finally getting to be too much for Elise to handle. Much to everyone’s surprise, the girl met Lois’ eyes and got in between mother and son. “And everything about this family finally makes some sense! I get it, okay? For the fiftieth time, I’m not going to tell anyone! All of you act like I’m some kind of featherbrained idiot who’s going to blab to the paparazzi as soon as we get back to Metropolis. ‘Hey, guess what, Inquirer? I kissed Superboy!’ Not hardly!” Her gray eyes stormy, Elise met each of the adults’ gazes with her own defiant stare. “I do have a 4.0 GPA, you know. It’s not like I’m Giselle or something. I’ve got better sense than to run around telling everyone that my boyfriend is Superman’s son.”