Here we go, all. This is first of two chapters coming at you this weekend, both chapters being smaller than usual due to the fact that they were originally a 9,500-word chapter that would have been a mess to post. Plus, we're making up for the fact that we skipped last week. We're really hoping the hard work paid off here. *crosses fingers* The second one will be posted tomorrow morning or afternoon.
And without further ado, may we present...
This was exactly what he hadn’t wanted to happen. With the way things had been going of late, he knew he shouldn’t really be surprised. Kal-El fought down the urge to simply drop this the way they had so many times before; he’d started this, he had to finish it. Holding his hands out beseechingly, hoping she could scale back from the ragged edge of her temper. “Wait. Lois, don’t read into that. I didn’t mean to say it like that.”
“Then what did you mean?” Lois ground out between clenched teeth. Her expression said the window of opportunity to keep this a civil discussion was rapidly closing. The timing of all of this was so wrong, but was it possible the timing would never be right. “In my experience, Mr. Kent, it’s a rare moment when you can manage to just spit out something you actually haven’t thought about. Might as well get it out of your system now.”
“That … there’s nothing for you to worry about. With me.” Kal-El felt his way through the words cautiously, but he had the sinking feeling that it was all going to be for naught. All the sane, rational, reassuring things he’d thought of to tell her seemed to have evaporated, and her thorny tone showed she was already past the point of calm discussion. He tried anyway. “Lois, I love you. When I married you, I said ‘for all eternity,’ and I truly meant that.”
Her expression was one of utter conflict. All of those emotions collided in her at once, the hazel eyes widening in horrified disbelief. That veiled reassurance struck deeply; all these months after her first fears, after his drawing away for so long, and he brought it up now? And to bring it up like this? “Of all the damn times for you to assume things about our relationship and my thoughts on it, this is not it,” she snarled, humiliation building as she glared at him. “And the last thing I want to talk about right now is your assumptions about my vanity.” Furious at being placed so baldly on the spot like this, Lois pushed past him to snatch up fresh clothes. No way in hell was she going to have this argument with him while she was one angry towel-slipping gesture away from buck naked. In fact, a better idea was to keep doing what they’d been doing and forgo the argument entirely. “You know what? Forget it, you can have the damn room; I’ll sleep in the car.”
“Lois, no.” Kal-El was hot on her heels as she came into the bedroom and Lois fought to keep her expression from faltering as she jerked on her jeans. There wasn’t too much more she could take. Furiously, she snatched up her bra while trying to block his words out.
“Stay. Please, stay. I never said you were vain. I just want you to know I love you. I loved you when you were twenty-five, and I’ll love you when you’re seventy-five. It doesn’t matter – I love you. We need to work this out. We can’t go on like this, with suspicions about each other’s colleagues.” And by that he meant Eastlake, whose lying smile he hadn’t forgotten, as much as Lois’ antipathy toward Diana. The pleading note in his voice was genuine, but beneath it was smoldering resentment. Kal-El had always loved her fiery personality, her indomitable passion, but now it worked against him. Wounded, Lois would strike out at him, and he couldn’t help being aggravated that he had to be the one to compromise, to mollify her, when he knew full well she was going to lash out at him with everything she had.
She had been pulling her shirt on over her head when he spoke those words and she was profoundly grateful that the look on her face was hidden by the garment. The shame and mortification, building steadily ever since they first discovered Kala missing, had been awful, but this? This was too much, him sounding almost like Elliot of all people, wanting to talk away all their problems. It was the final spark in the tinderbox, and Lois whirled on him in a fury. He wanted to have this fight so much he kept pushing it? Well, now they were going to have it and damn the consequences. “You’ve been talking to someone about it, obviously. Especially since you’ve never brought it up before now.”
“As a matter of fact, yes, I have,” he shot back, then abruptly reined in his temper before he named Richard. Letting Lois know he’d gone to her ex for information would just infuriate her more, and there was no telling what the further fallout would be.
“Yeah, I can tell. You’re not normally this suicidally blunt on your own,” Lois snapped, sitting back down on the bed to jam her feet into her boots. She was fully dressed by then, but he was between her and the door, so she had to respond in hopes of making him move. “And if you wanna talk about my insecurities, don’t you think I have a right to be insecure?”
Her abruptness startled him into replying with nothing but the unvarnished truth. “No,” he began, and Lois promptly cut him off.
“God, for one of the world’s brightest minds, you can be so fucking dense!” The words stung like shards of kryptonite, Lois’ face twisted into a vicious snarl.
“I’m dense?” he retorted. Oh yes, calm discussion was out the window now, and he was replying with heat instead of reason. “I’m dense? Spoken by the only thing on earth, other than lead, that I can’t see through! I’m dense. Good grief, Lois, you keep secrets from me and then get mad because I don’t know what you’re thinking…”
“You keeping a secret from me started all this mess a little over sixteen years ago,” she challenged. “Mm-hmm, and then I promised you I could keep a secret too, but you didn’t believe me, and you keep saying how much you regret that. Not to mention, my ability to keep a secret kept all of us out of trouble for a period of time, didn’t it? I know you hate it, I knew you’d hate it when I did it, but making a deal with Luthor so he’d keep the secret bought us ten years of peace!”
“Fine! You’re right! You’re right about the deal – you’re the only one who could have made it,” Kal-El shot back, pacing the room. He badly wanted to punch things, a state of emotional turmoil he hadn’t felt since discovering Luthor’s theft of the crystals from the Fortress. Instead of lashing out physically, which would likely end with costly and difficult to explain damage to the furniture, he let the venom he’d buried in his heart splash out onto Lois, on the one subject he’d told himself he wouldn’t ask about. “But tell me what has you so upset – tell me, Lois, I can’t read minds!”
The way her hazel eyes flew to his told him that that comment had been a direct hit. Lois closed her eyes after that, quiet for a moment. It had to have scored deep for her to be willing to let that weakness show now. He could just barely hear her mutter under her breath, “That never used to be a problem.”
Perry White eyed the cigar Loueen had had mounted in a glass case as both a joke and congratulations on quitting smoking. The thing was at least twelve years old, probably drier than the Sahara, and he’d cough like a junior high kid if he even thought too hard about smoking it. But moments like this, knowing Lane and Kent – and his nephew and niece-in-law – were smack in the middle of danger, it almost seemed worth it. Perhaps if he just puffed a bit… Olsen and Troupe were busy keeping tabs on the crime wave that had swept across the country today, so they’d never even know.
The doorbell rang, saving him from temptation. Perry went to answer it warily, not expecting any callers at this hour. Who on earth was visiting this late? To his surprise, he recognized the young man outside his door. He left the security chain on as he cracked the door open. “You picked a helluva time to visit, Eastlake.”
“I know Luthor’s trying to take over the Daily Planet,” the investor told him. “I can help you.”
Perry scoffed. “Yeah, sure, just like half my senior reporters would love to ‘help’ me right out of the Editor-in-Chief’s chair. Like I couldn’t figure out who sent you to spy on my assistant. Beat it, kid.”
He tried to close the door, but Eastlake pressed his foot against it. “Mr. White, I’m serious. You’re in deeper than you know.”
“I know that bastard Luthor is buying every share of stock he can get his hands on,” Perry shot back. “But you can tell him two can play at that game. I’m not gonna roll over and let him take my paper.” With that, he shoved at the door.
Eastlake yelped as it pinched his foot. “I’m not – ow! I’m not here on Luthor’s orders. I’m trying to help you!”
“Yeah, what’re you gonna do, buy a bunch of stock for me?” Perry snarled.
“No, I was thinking more along the lines of giving it to you. Please let me in?”
The investor sounded sincere, and that was an offer Perry couldn’t afford to refuse. He took another long, careful look through the peephole, then opened the door and let the younger man inside. “So talk,” he said gruffly.
“I pulled a few strings at Eagle Capital Investments,” Eastlake said. “I’d been asked to buy up shares of DP stock, but leave them in my own name so it wouldn’t look as if the ECI was trying to take over. Now, I did sign a piece of paper that said I would transfer all DP stock I owned to the company on a specific date. I’m not sure how legally binding that can be, but still, I signed it. I didn’t even quite realize what a shady deal it was at the time.”
Perry narrowed his eyes. Sure, that last part was a lie, but it was letting the kid save face, so he didn’t call Eastlake on it. “What date?”
Only two days away. “And you’ve suddenly realized that Luthor’s one of the bad guys, and you’re gonna thrown in with the plucky underdogs?” Perry asked disbelievingly. “Yeah, sure. You just decided this out of the goodness of your heart. What, you found a talking cricket and it showed you the error of your ways?”
Eastlake sighed, reached into his jacket, and pulled out several sheets of paper. “Here. Take the stock certificates. They’re genuine. I’m keeping five shares to hand over to ECI on Friday. The rest is yours.”
Perry glanced at the documentation; it looked legit, and he could certainly use those shares. But something was still off. “Fine. Now tell me the real reason you’re doing this.”
“It’s not enough that I’m giving you the stock? Mr. White, you know what those shares are worth.” Eastlake tried to glower, but Perry had mastered that art before this young fool could tie his own shoes.
The editor snorted. “All right, I get it. Your conscience is nagging you over what you tried to do to Lane.”
Eastlake stiffened at the words. Yep, right on the money. “The only thing I was trying to do to Lane was make sure she didn’t get steamrolled by ECI. They want her to take your job, and they’re willing to play hardball to get her to do it their way.”
“Then they ought to know she’ll never play by their rules. I practically raised that girl from the time she was sixteen; she doesn’t obey anyone unless she has a damn good reason to do so.”
“In that case, they’ll ruin her career and bring in someone who’ll do what they want. And I don’t want to see that happen.” Eastlake had been avoiding Perry’s eyes, but he met them now. “There aren’t many like Lois. She loves this paper – I’m sure you know that. She doesn’t deserve to have to watch it destroyed.”
Perry waited; it seemed like the young man had something else to say. At last, Eastlake added, “Besides, Pop wouldn’t allow this. He wasn’t sentimental; he was a good enough businessman to know the Planet is successful as it is. There’s no point in completely changing the formula when it’s already making money. The only reason ECI wants to do it is because Luthor’s holding the purse strings, and he has a grudge. Pop wouldn’t let him get away with it.”
That was enough for the editor. “All right. I’ll take these, and be grateful for them. But if you’ve got an ulterior motive you’re hiding, I promise you, you’ll regret it before I’m through.”
“They’re going to try to meet with you in a week,” Eastlake continued, not reacting to the threat. “They’re expecting to force you out then. So be ready.”
“Son, I’ve been ready to fight with people like that since the day I was born,” Perry said. “Thanks for the warning.”
Eastlake held out his hand, and after a second’s hesitation, Perry shook with him. “You’re welcome, Mr. White. I’ll see you next week.”
Lois’ snide remark about his former ability to read her moods was enough to wound him, but not enough to extinguish the anger building in his chest. “No, it didn’t,” Kal-El replied, trying not to snap at her and failing. “You never used to flirt with the damn investors, either!”
Resentful eyes met his. Christ, how had so much of this been misunderstood? Had he never even stopped to consider that just maybe appearances could have been deceiving on that front? How could he not know better? “One investor, Kent, and for a damn good reason! How the hell did you think we found out where L-Tech was based?” she replied hotly. “Where do you think this information came from? I didn’t pull it out of my ass, I wheedled it out of Eastlake!”
“You’ve used your wiles before, but you’ve never had to hide it from me,” he thundered. He hadn’t thought so much about this in the past few days, too distracted by trying to find Kala. All the while, the image of Lois and Eastlake laughing together had festered in the back of his mind. “The moment you started shutting your laptop and purging your emails I knew something more than information was going on!”
“Oh please! Like I have the time or inclination to sleep around on you, Captain X-Ray!” Lois shouted, throwing up her hands in disgust. But he was right in a way, and Eastlake had fallen for it enough to make a serious pass at her. Lois still felt guilty about leading the man on that far, and even guiltier for the nanosecond in which she’d contemplated even considering the comfort of it for a moment. No way on earth she would have gone through with it; everything in her cried out against it. But the fact that the thought had crossed her mind, however briefly, scalded her soul.
“How should I know what’s going on in your head these days?” he snapped right back. “And as for the time, you’ve always been able to find time to do things you’d rather I didn’t find out about.” Meeting with Luthor was the first thing that occurred to him, though the many times she’d managed to sneak his Christmas gifts into the house, or make dinner reservations on his birthday, would have been better examples.
The sudden attack got a lightning-quick response from her, one that she immediately regretted. “Well, you know, maybe if you were home more, maybe you could make sure first hand! But no, now that the twins are almost grown, you spend more time in the Big Boys’ Clubhouse than you ever have. God knows I’m not enough to keep you home these days.” It was an unforgivably low blow, she knew it was, but it didn’t make it feel any less true.
“What?!” Kal-El looked at her in pure shock. “What’re you talking about, Lois?” He was home as often as he could be – the fate of the world often literally rested on his shoulders. And Lois knew that, and had always claimed to understand it. When had that started to change? Back in summer, most likely. That awful summer. As soon as that thought came to mind, he felt a knot start in his stomach. If he were honest, maybe this wasn’t as much a surprise as he thought. And he had a dreadful feeling like he might know what was behind some of this, after all.
But her answer blindsided him. “I do have eyes, Kent.” It was out before she could stop herself, the thoughts that had been lingering in the back of her mind for months. Thoughts that she’d never said aloud for fear that she’d sound like the world’s most foolish woman. Fears that had only grown larger as midnight passed into the small hours in the last few months, his work hours growing longer than they had ever been in the past. And now that it was out, there was no way of taking it back. Might as well keep going after breaking cover and showing her hand. “Like I don’t see these spandex-clad girls – and I do mean girls, most of them are half my age – hovering around you all dewy-eyed! Every damn time you do something with the JLA it’s an endless parade of stacked racks, tiny waists, and mile-long legs, and it all comes with freakin’ superpowers to boot!”
His jaw actually dropped open, staring at her as though she’d started speaking gibberish. “What?” This wasn’t the angry bellow of moments before; his voice had hollowed out with disbelief. Maybe his assumption had been entirely incorrect. Richard had told him why she hated Diana, but he’d never even imagined she was jealous of the entire female roster. That was simply insane!
Lois continued as if he hadn’t spoken, her left hand worrying the locket around her neck as she paced. “Fishnets over here, midriff bared over there, cleavage showing halfway to the navel, most of ‘em dress like they’re in a pinup calendar instead of the goddamn Justice League. Just how the hell am I supposed to stand up to that?” Lois stopped then, eyes now not so furious as much as hurt. The lost look in them spoke of even more than she was telling him. It was clear that she’d been holding this back for a very long time. “I’m not twenty-five anymore, Clark, as if it wasn’t blatantly obvious.” She knew she had to look as sick as she felt, turning away from him then to hide the swarm of emotions tearing at her. “And they all just can’t get enough of you. Diana’s the worst of the bunch – Diana the princess, the immortal. Diana, who can’t keep her eyes off of you, and who can blame her?”
Lois’ voice was choked with tears by then, but she ran on, unable to stop herself. “It’s perfect; too perfect, if you think about it. I mean, she’ll never age and you haven’t even gotten the first gray hair. She’s got powers of her own, you’d never have to worry about breaking her. Who knows, she might even be able to give you another … another child … she…” It was painful to see her struggle for her hard-won control now. He watched her bite back a hitching sob, before she tried to laugh, her lips twitching in an ironic smile. “Who knows? Maybe if you’d waited a little longer, you would have gotten a much better deal. I bet your father would’ve loved that. A goddess with powers that would compliment yours, and who’s dedicated to the same mission. A worthy partner at last…”
The reporter dropped her head then, face obscured by her damp hair, raising a hand to rub her forehead. Her voice was hushed when she continued on, “It would have all been for the best, you know? Think how much better everyone’s lives would have been if I hadn’t been in the way. You would’ve met her and the twins would be hers, with all the powers, and there’s no way anyone could’ve ever taken them away or hurt them…”
Kal-El had been stunned throughout her monologue. Everything Richard had told him was true, but it went deeper than either man could have guessed. He crossed the room to her and grabbed her shoulders almost roughly, making Lois look up at him. “Lois, it doesn’t matter,” he said, his voice more stern than she’d ever heard it. Even when he’d yelled at her that day, after finding out about the deal with Luthor, he hadn’t been this sure. “I only want you – ever since I met you, I only wanted you. Why are you suddenly so willing to join up with all the fanboys who want to throw me at Diana? When have I ever given you a reason to doubt?”
“So, about this ‘dating again’… When exactly did we get back together?” Jason gave Elise a hopeful smile. They had loosened up enough in the last twenty minutes that they were laying side-by-side on the bed, a little distance apart, just enjoying closeness.
She narrowed her eyes at him before rolling them with a laugh. That was Jason Kent and his one-track mind. His parents – the Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist and the superhero – were yelling at each other, his sister was still missing, she had just learned the Huge Family Secret, and what did he fixate on? Dating. Boys. Then again, she could understand not wanting to dwell on the bad stuff for once. “Okay, Jason, let’s recount events. I stowed away on a plane with you. I did that for three reasons: one, Kala’s my friend, two, Sebast couldn’t, and three, I still care about you. I never stopped caring about you. How did you miss that? Other than the fact that you’re a boy.”
He shrugged, looking sheepish and confused, ignoring the bait. “But, see, that’s what I don’t get. Kal said the same thing to me, at the birthday party, but it doesn’t make any sense. You told me you broke up with me because I was too perfect, so you turn around and start dating this Kiwi? Which I had to find out about from the rumor mill?”
Elise’s grey eyes wandered heavenward. Jason had never been known for being terribly subtle – see the marriage proposal at fifteen – but she had thought he would puzzle his way around this one. Jason was in the chess club, so surely he should’ve caught on to her strategy by now? “Okay, truth-telling time. I never dated anyone in New Zealand.”
“What?” Jason looked honestly thunderstruck. “Wait, wait just a minute, here. Elise, you talked about him. You described him in completely and disgusting detail to all of our friends. Not only that, you couldn’t stop talking about how you got love letters from him.” Just saying it, remembering, made him feel faintly green.
She had known she had gone a little overboard from the moment she had first opened her mouth about her ‘summer romance’, hoping to make it clear she was over Jason, but it seemed like she had been a little too detailed. It was enough to make her want to sink through the bed. God, now she had to explain what she had been up to. Did it have to get more humiliating? “I … told the school gossips so it would get around,” Elise corrected, blushing. “The letters really come from this chick I met. I spent just about every day at her house watching the complete DVD collection of Doctor Who – and the guy I described to everyone is the actor who plays the Doctor for several seasons, David Tennant. No one ever got to see the letters ‘David’ wrote me, remember? So yeah, I totally lied.” She was wincing when she finished, feeling like the world’s biggest idiot.
With a sigh, Elise rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling to get away from the look of utter disbelief in his eyes. “So I wouldn’t look like an idiot for not being over you, Jason.”
After a long moment, the girl made herself glance over at him. Jason gazed at her with a still-bewildered expression that made her want to hide under a pillow. “I will never understand girls,” Jason proclaimed, his brow furrowed. “First you break up with me because you like me too much, then you make up a New Zealand dream guy so that no one else will know you still like me. How does that make sense? How?”
This time she actually did put the pillow on her side over her face. Leave it to Jason to react as expected. Her voice was muffled when she responded, “All right, fine, so I have some issues. I mean, look at us. Jason, nobody meets their soul mate at our age. Teenagers are supposed to date and get their hearts broken and act like idiots.”
And, predictably, Jason leaned over and snatched the pillow away from her when he responded. “If that’s normal, I’m glad we’re weird.”
“I’m not weird, you are,” Elise retorted, looking up at him with annoyance. When he snorted in amusement, she couldn’t help the smile that rose to her lips, even as her cheeks burned. “Okay, fine, but you’re still weirder.”
“Hey, I’m half alien. What’s your excuse?” When her brows went up, Jason instantly started to regret the flippant remark. It was too soon for that. It was the first time he’d been in this situation; the timing was probably totally off…
There was an awkward silence for a moment, both planning their responses carefully. Elise was the first to break it, not without hesitation. “Yeah, about that. So … tell me. What’s it like? Being, you know, Superman’s son.”
Jason stared at her, wondering just what she meant. He hadn’t really considered the question in years. “You know my dad, Elise. He’s like any other dad. He tells me not to spend my allowance all in one place, he’s proud of me when I win a chess match, and we play catch on the weekends.” He paused, letting it sink in. In many ways, this was a fairly normal family, with all the normal trials and triumphs.
But then, she had a point. There was that little something extra that most people probably couldn’t imagine. But it was his life and nothing unusual to him these days. In his most blasé tone, Jason added, “Of course, sometimes when we’re in Smallville, we play catch with the tractor.”
“Holy shit.” Elise’s mind froze there for a moment, the image startling her more than she had expected. “That’s … wow. I mean, I knew you were strong by the way you were carrying me back there, but I didn’t realize… Wow.” She knew it wasn’t the most intelligent reaction to have, but really, who could blame her?
Jason, however, just shrugged as if this were just a common-place event that all families did. His only acknowledgement to the oddness was a small smile. “Speed would’ve been more useful, but I didn’t get as much of that. It’s more Kala’s thing…” The smile started to disappear again once he said his twin’s name. Guilt flared in his blue eyes.
Elise knew she had to keep his mind off Kala for the moment. If they were going to get any rest tonight and be ready to search tomorrow, she had to stop him from obsessing. “So what powers do you have? And God, that’s the weirdest question I’ve ever asked anyone.”
That seemed to work, and Jason again smiled slightly at her question. It was strange for him to talk freely about this with someone who wasn’t a relative. Chuckling, he told her, “Strength, a little speed, some hearing, the heat vision and the x-ray vision.”
Her eyes widened at the last of those, holding her hands palm-out … at chest height. There was a twist she hadn’t seen coming. “Whoa, x-ray vision?” When Jason raised an eyebrow, she felt like an idiot and dropped them. This is Jason, remember? “Yeah, good point. If you had really wanted to look, you could see through my hands, too. Everything but lead, right?”
“I have trouble with some of the denser metals,” Jason admitted. “But most ordinary things I can see through when I want to. I have to concentrate, though, and I don’t use it to peep at girls. Mom would whap me so hard upside the head; I wouldn’t be able to see for a week if I did something like that. You just don’t do that.”
The mental image was just too hilarious for words. “And knowing your mom, she would, too,” Elise replied with a grin. Little wonder she’d always gotten along with Mrs. Lane-Kent.
Jason paused to look her in the eyes, searching for something. “Are you sure you’re cool with this?” Jason finally asked. He hadn’t expected her to be this accepting. “I mean, it’s a little…”
“Weird? Shocking? Unexpected? Yeah.
Jason returned the grin. Both of them were starting to get a little tired, and it seemed like the adults weren’t going to come split them up anytime soon. Perhaps a bedtime story was in order. “It all started with a reporter, a falling helicopter, and a friend with a big secret.” And the way Elise grinned warmed his heart as he began.