Lois breathed shallowly, keeping her back pressed to the wall and the gun aimed at the ceiling as she sidled along the corridor. Getting onto the Gertrude had been easier than she’d expected, but the reporter knew that was only the beginning. Finding the twins would be far more difficult; escaping with them would be nearly impossible. But ever since she’d gotten that message from Luthor, ever since she’d heard Kala and Jason crying and calling for her, escaping wasn’t Lois’ goal. Getting to her children was. If she was with them, she could protect them – with her life, if necessary.
She had known, from the moment she set foot on the yacht’s deck, that this particular adventure might kill her. It was a risk Lois was willing to take. At least she might be able to take Luthor with her…
Another damned corner. Lois stopped, slid silently down onto one knee and peered cautiously around the edge of the wall. This hallway was short, ending in the open door to a stateroom. They would have to keep the kids locked up, but there were two other doors to check out. Lois crept forward to peer into the portholes, finding nothing of interest. Machinery in one, cleaning supplies in the other. And the open room was truly empty when she checked it as well.
Onward, to the next door, the next corridor, relentless in her search. Lois knew that Lex’s goons had to be looking for her. After that message, she was expected. But she had gotten past the nervous, ratty-looking guy outside this enclosed repair bay, so perhaps they were still waiting for her to arrive, not realizing she was already on board.
Lois didn’t allow hope to make her reckless, however. She eased up to the next open doorway, beyond which she could hear running water. Nothing prepared her for the sight that met her eyes when she peered around the doorframe: Lex Luthor, standing with his back to her, apparently brushing his teeth.
A wave of chilly fear swept over Lois; here was the monster himself, and she was only a few feet away from discovery in his very lair. But wrathful heat bloomed in its wake – he had done something to her children to make them scream for rescue. Lois leveled the Ladysmith at him, lining the sights up with the back of Luthor’s bald head. Her hands didn’t tremble as she slipped one finger inside the trigger guard, and her lips thinned to a grim line. This will blow my cover – but that won’t matter once you’re dead. Your hired muscle cares only about money, not your twisted schemes. And even if they do try to stop me, I’ve got more ammo.
With such cold thoughts in mind, Lois held her aim steady and began squeezing the trigger slowly. Goodbye, Luthor. May you rot in Hell.
For a moment, Kal-El stared at the phone. His mind was awash in horror and guilt; horror at the thought of the twins, crying, calling for their mother, and guilt at the realization that he had inadvertently destroyed the phone before hearing the most important part of the message: how to find Luthor.
Frantically, he scanned the area, trying to make sense of the jumble of steel parts and lead ballast all around. He also strained his hearing for one whisper of Lois’ voice, for the beat of her heart, but could hear neither. Panic began to gnaw at him; where was she? Did Luthor have her already? Surely that maniac couldn’t have captured and subdued Lois this quickly…
With his hearing at its most sensitive, he became aware of the sounds he least wanted to hear: alarms and sirens. Many of them. But what could be causing them, almost an hour after the EMP swept past? Kal-El hated to tear his attention away from Lois.
A low, greedy roar, one he’d thought he would never hear again after finding body of the arsonist. Another fire? But how … delayed timers gone haywire after the EMP? And then he realized he wasn’t hearing one fire, but several. One of them was dangerously near the main propane lines serving the city…
Giving one last, tortured look around the shipyards, Kal-El whispered, “Hold on, Lois. Keep the kids safe for me, just for a little while longer.” He took to the air swiftly, trying to discharge duty in time to return and save his beloved.
The Ladysmith’s trigger had been lightened to a mere two and a half pounds, and it glided back smoothly. Lois never slackened the pressure; she knew better than to pull the trigger sharply, as that might spoil her aim. Instead she squeezed it, and the front sight of the gun never wavered from the center of Luthor’s head.
When the gun fired, the noise was nearly deafening in that small space, and it was quickly followed by a loud tinkling crash as Luthor vanished. Lois had an instant of bewilderment before she realized what happened and threw herself across the hall, cursing her luck. It wasn’t Luthor she’d shot at, but his reflection in a mirror that took up most of the wall. And now, not only was the bastard still alive, but he knew she was here…
No time to waste. Abandoning stealth, Lois ran to put distance between herself and Luthor, whom she could hear yelling into a cell phone or a walkie-talkie behind her. She turned at random, bolting down a corridor and into a gym room. Lois rushed through a final door and came to a sudden halt by the pool. Shit. I don’t need to be outside.
Behind her, the gym door slammed open. No time to turn back, now. Lois darted around the low wall, hoping it lead to a staircase, but found herself trapped. Well, maybe I can lower myself off this edge – the engine room is probably down there on that lowest deck somewhere. It’s a bit of a drop, but…
“Ms. Lane?” Luthor’s cultured voice held a hint of predatory mockery. “Ms. Lane, I think it would be to your advantage to put the gun down.”
“And come out with my hands up?” she shot back nastily. “What is this, a low-budget Western?”
Lex chuckled cruelly. “No, Ms. Lane. This is more of a suspense. Namely, which of your bastard children am I holding hostage right this moment?”
Her spine turned to ice, and her stomach plummeted. He’d gone for them so damn fast… Or he was bluffing. “How the hell do I even know you have one of them with you? If I stick my head out, you could shoot me right here.”
“Oh, no, Ms. Lane,” Luthor replied. “I wouldn’t shoot you. Not only am I not carrying a gun, but live bait is far more effective at luring the big ones.” Giving that only a second to register in her mind, he continued, “The boys are waiting inside – I wouldn’t want them to get overexcited, and do something regrettable. No, this is between you and me, Ms. Lane. You and me, and one other…”
His voice trailed off, and a moment later Lois heard what she’d been dreading most: Jason’s shaky voice. “M-Mommy?”
Lois swore under her breath, helplessly. How could I have done this? I knew it was a trap. I was just vain enough to think I could trade my life for theirs… “Jason, honey?” she called softly, wanting him to know she was really there.
“Don’ come out, Mommy,” Jason said, in a stronger voice. “He’s a bad man.”
“Good and evil are merely different perspectives,” Lex said absently. “Now, Ms. Lane, put the gun down and push it around the corner. Don’t even think about shooting me – I’ve got your boy in front of me. And twins are like salt-and-pepper shakers, aren’t they? It’s not quite the same if you only have one of the set.”
“Lex, you don’t need them,” Lois reasoned, forcing herself to sound merely exasperated. The terror and rage she kept locked down very tightly. “You have me. We’ve done this before, and he came right along to rescue me. Let the twins go – they’re just kids. You don’t need them.”
“They’re just his kids,” Lex replied silkily. “And I believe I’ll keep them, all the same.”
Lois swallowed the lump in her throat. She had to make this believable. “Where did you get an asinine idea like that? Can’t you count?”
That cruel, mocking laugh again. “He’s an alien, a fact you seemed to forget once upon a time. Who knows what their gestation is? As for where I got the idea, well, from you. Specifically, from the blank space you left on their birth certificates. Come now, Ms. Lane – your boy is getting a little nervous. Slide the gun out and come here.”
“Oh, please,” Lois said. If you’re gonna bluff, go for it all. “You’re assuming aliens can even breed with earthlings. Which is fairly absurd – been watching too many B-movies, have you?”
“So, you’re saying you really can’t remember who you slept with?” Lex asked lightly. Lois didn’t need to see him to know he was grinning like a rabid fox. He continued, “Let me narrow the field for you, Ms. Lane. At least one of these kids has superpowers.”
Shit. I really wish I could make myself believe he’s dumb enough to let me have another shot at him… And I wish he didn’t know how to wind me up so well. Sonofabitch. “So typical, Lex. Tell me, do you ever get tired of hiding behind someone else? Although you’ve reached a new low, using a six-year-old for a human shield.”
Jason gasped and whimpered. “Well, his mother is a dangerous trigger-happy reporter who was willing to shoot me in the back – I think I’m perfectly justified to hold this kryptonite shard to his throat until you put the gun down.”
Lana and Richard arrived at the Planet only to find Ella Lane in Perry’s office. She raised a silver brow at them questioningly, and Lana felt very uneasy with those familiar hazel eyes trained on her.
Richard was taken aback, but covered it. “Ella! This is a surprise. Let me introduce you to Lana Lang, the designer – she’s an old friend of Clark’s, and she’s graciously volunteered her time to help us search for the twins. Lana, this is Ella Lane, Lois’ mother.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Ella said coolly, but her focus was on more important matters. “Richard, Peregrine’s told me everything he knows, but it seems you’ve been too busy to update him this morning. What’s the progress on finding my grandchildren, and where is my daughter?”
“Both the leads we had turned out to be false,” Richard replied quickly. “But we got a call this morning that said the message Luthor sent Lois was placed from the docks here. She and Clark are on their way up now, and the three of us are going to search the docks for Luthor’s yacht or any sign of him.”
Ella nodded, casting another speculative glance at Lana. “Hmm. Well, then, let’s get to work dividing the dock area up into a search grid.”
“Richard, you get started,” Lana said, sounding casual, but the look she gave him was full of purpose. “I’ll get us some coffee. Mrs. Lane, how do you take yours?”
“Black, with sugar,” Ella replied.
“Ella, Uncle Perry brews that coffee,” Richard warned. “Newsroom coffee is … an experience.”
“It can’t be any worse than barracks coffee,” Ella replied. “Sam brewed it so strong you couldn’t pour it in a metal thermos.”
When Lana left, the other three adjourned to the conference room, which suddenly seemed a great deal cooler than the rest of the office. Ella sat down while Perry dragged out the maps of Metropolis they’d used the other day, and Richard found her sharp eyes on him. He sat across from her and returned the look exasperatedly. After everything he’d been through that morning, he wasn’t in the mood to deal with Lois’ mother being nosy.
To her credit, though, Ella came directly to the point, and spoke without rancor. “You do realize, Richard, that if you cheat on my daughter and she catches you –which she would – she’s liable to destroy everything of value you own – and physically harm you in the process?”
“I’m not the one who’s cheating,” Richard said, the blunt assumption startled out of him by Ella’s forthright question. He quickly tried to backtrack, saying, “Not that she is. But I know I’m not cheating on Lois, and I know I won’t either.”
Ella merely nodded. “So, your dinner out to patch up the relationship, how did that go?”
That night at the Kasbah seemed years ago, as if it had taken place in the era B.K. – Before the Kidnapping. Richard felt a little rueful smile playing about his lips, and replied, “Pretty well. Not as well as I had expected, but … it’s no secret Lois and I are having problems right now.”
“Mm-hmm. And your solution is spend as much time as possible away from her and with Ms. Lang?”
Perry was deliberately ignoring them; he’d made his feelings on the matter clear days ago. Richard was starting to get just a little annoyed with Ella’s tone, and he replied a trifle sharply, “Mrs. Lane, our solution is to try and find the twins. If we’re not getting along with each other, then we won’t try to be on a search party together. That’s just not going to be productive.”
Those hazel eyes were all too familiar to him; he’d seen that speculative look from three generations of Lane women. Fortunately, Lana arrived with their coffee before Ella could ask another probing question. Richard sipped his to cover a sigh of relief, glad he wouldn’t have to discuss the apocalyptic argument this morning.
Ella, on the other hand, bit her lip. She would’ve much preferred to continue dissecting Richard’s motives – he was a good man, if not the perfect match for her daughter, but at the moment he seemed to be hiding something. And right now, dragging that secret out of him was far preferable to the worry that nagged at her mind.
Not only was Ella absolutely terrified for the twins, in spite of hiding it as well as only a general’s wife could. She also had a terrible suspicion that she simply could not shake; her mother’s intuition kept telling her that Lois was in danger, too. That her hot-headed child had done something impulsive, irrational … and possibly fatal.
Lois felt as though her blood had frozen in her veins, leaving her momentarily incapable of action or thought. She could hear only hear her own breath, rapid and shallow, as Lex’s cruel words wormed their way into her mind. Kryptonite – he’s threatening Jason with kryptonite…
She had no choice left. “All right,” Lois said, and hating the weakness she heard in her voice, she steadied herself forcibly. “I’m coming out. Don’t hurt Jason.”
“The gun first,” Lex said quickly. “Put it down, and slide it toward the door as far as you can.”
On the smooth deck, the Ladysmith glided several feet. Lois waited just out of sight, her heart thumping madly, as Lex spoke to one of his men. Footsteps, the faint clink of metal as the gun was lifted, and then Lex spoke again. “All right, Ms. Lane, very good. I’m sure your boy appreciates it. Now, hands on your head, come out slowly.”
She, who had rebelled against virtually all authority from the time she could walk, complied absolutely. Stepping out from behind the wall, Lois’ pained hazel eyes sought her son’s clear blue ones. There was fear in them, yes, but also determination, and a mad kind of courage that he must’ve gotten from her… Lois shook her head slightly, warning him to be cautious. The shard of crystal that Lex held against his throat looked sharp enough to kill him. “Here I am, Lex. Let him go.”
Lex’s answer was to step back inside. “Not so quickly, Ms. Lane. That may not be your only weapon. Come inside.” Turning to the tall blond man behind him, whom Lois recognized from the fire scene, he added, “Riley, search her. Thoroughly. I wouldn’t put it past her to have a knife in her hair.”
Inside the gym room, Lois stood absolutely still and watched Jason, reassuring him with her eyes as the other man approached her. And Riley was thorough, beginning at her boots and checking for a knife tucked into them, continuing upward searching for a pistol strapped to her ankle or perhaps another knife. He found no backup weapons by the time he reached her knees, and… Getting a little personal there, mister, Lois thought coldly, transferring her narrowed gaze to Lex, who was smiling at her with every evidence of good cheer.
Riley emptied Lois’ pockets and checked around the waistband of her jeans, sliding his hands up her sides. She hadn’t flinched, but when he obviously began to enjoy his task, Lois said sharply, “Those are real, and they don’t have weapons hidden in them.”
“Riley,” Lex said, and the man moved his hands. He checked her arms and ran his fingers through her hair, making Lois wish she had hidden a knife in there. Maybe he’d cut himself… Riley stepped back with a nod to his boss, and Lex finally moved the shard away from Jason’s neck. Just slightly, but enough to make Lois breathe easier.
“Lovely,” Lex commented. “Thank you very much for being cooperative, Ms. Lane.” Lois glared at him, not trusting herself to answer, and saw the woman standing in the doorway behind him. That face looked familiar … Lois’ eyes narrowed even further as she recognized the woman Superman had rescued from a runaway car, missing the museum robbery in the process. Her suspicions had been correct all along – Lex was behind everything, the robbery, the fires – any moment now he’d reveal his Grand Evil Scheme…
“Mommy?” Jason whispered. He hadn’t tried to get away from Lex, not yet, but tears were beginning to shine in his eyes.
“Honey, it’s okay,” Lois tried to soothe. The glare hadn’t worked, so she tried giving Lex a defeated look. “You got what you wanted – let my son go, Luthor.” And though it cost her to do so, her throat closing on the word, she added in a whisper, “Please.”
An art collector, at last standing before the Mona Lisa the day it was returned to the Louvre after being stolen and missing for years, might have had an expression of fulfilled delight on his face similar to the one Lex now wore. He released Jason, and the boy ran to his mother, stifling sobs.
Lois dropped to her knees, Luthor and his cronies and the rest of the world vanishing for an instant as she swept her son into her arms. Even Superman was forgotten as the reporter hugged Jason tightly, choking back a sob of her own. While he was in the circle of her arms, no power on earth could harm him – and God help any that tried. Unable to put her relief into words, Lois kissed him on the forehead, temple, and cheek, all of her fierce love fraught in that gesture.
In a moment, Lois realized that Jason’s breath was hitching from more than tears, and his skin was unhealthily warm under her touch. Her heart sank; so the kids were susceptible to kryptonite after all. She had always hoped that they would get immunity to that deadly substance from her… “Jason, honey, are you okay? Is your sister okay?”
He looked up at her, still trying to be brave, and those amazingly blue eyes went through her like blades. “Mommy, I’m sorry… I shoulda been watchin’ out for us…”
Jason would neverknow how much it pained her to hear the shame in his voice, for not being able to stop something beyond his control. Dear God, he’s only six. Is this his father’s legacy, this need to take responsibility for things that aren’t his fault? Lois had no time to examine the thought, too busy stroking Jason’s hair and trying to soothe him. “No, honey, no – this wasn’t your fault. You did the best you could, better than anybody else could’ve. It wasn’t your fault.” She gently caught his chin to emphasize her words, willing him to understand.
“You sure?” Jason sniffled, his lip quivering, but never took those wounded eyes from hers.
“Of course, baby,” Lois whispered, kissing his forehead again. The strength of her hug had pulled him to one side of her, and with the kiss she nudged him a little further over. “You’re so brave.” Her heart just bled to have placed either of them in this kind of situation, regardless of not knowing what Luthor had been planning.
“The bad man was gonna hurt Kala, an’ I stopped ‘im,” Jason told her, cuddling close.
“Very good,” Lois replied, noticing that Lex chuckled but not knowing why. “You’ve kept the both of you safe, right?”
“Uh-huh.” It seemed to be working; Jason was calmer, rubbing his eyes with his sleeve. “Nobody’s gonna hurt my sister.”
“That’s my boy,” Lois said warmly, and kissed his cheek.
“This is all very touching,” Lex said, sounding bored, “but I’m afraid we don’t have time for an extended reunion. Come here, boy.”
The look of fear, mistrust, and blossoming hate that Jason shot at Lex was pure Lois; even as she continued trying to angle herself in front of him, she knew she’d never seen a look like that on Kal-El’s face. Before Lois could say anything to stop Lex, Jason whispered, “They’re saying Superman’s our daddy.”
That dark hair flew as Lois whipped around, hazel eyes startled. So Lex told them? Why not? Just another twist of the knife. But I know my twins. It might just have the opposite effect. Their Daddy always saves the day. Even as Lex started toward them, Lois smiled conspiratorially at Jason. “He is,” she confirmed, a little surprised to feel her own courage rise at the words.
The sparkle of wonder in Jason’s eyes was enough to sustain her, to make giving up that long-held secret in the presence of her nemesis a thing of delight for a moment. Just that admission seemed to bond mother and son even tighter…
And then Lex was beside them, the shiv in his hand, reached for Jason with the other. The boy yelped and hid behind Lois, and she stood up, glaring defiantly at Lex as she put her arms behind her to hold her son. “You have us, you have the gun, you’re hiding Kala away, leave him alone,” she growled.
“I’m not leaving him with you,” Lex replied warily. “No telling what you’d talk him into doing – you must know about his strength.”
Lois’ eyes glittered with hatred, and for a moment she looked as though she might lunge for Lex’s throat like a rabid wolf. Riley sidled closer, but Lex didn’t step back. The reporter muttered through clenched teeth, “You bastard. My mind doesn’t work like yours, Luthor. I’d never willingly endanger my child.”
He smiled at her, a terrible light gleaming in his eyes like the death of stars. “Doesn’t it, Ms. Lane? You’ve already endangered your children – you endangered them the moment you lay down with their father.”
Metropolis was in chaos. It seemed that the EMP had triggered an unheard-of number of fires. Most were small, not having been set with the intricate types of accelerants that made the larger fires so deadly. Still, even a burning wastebasket can become a raging inferno – especially if there are two dozen of them at once, taxing the resources of the fire department and a superhero with a great deal to worry about.
Lex is getting away, part of his mind insisted. You know perfectly well that this is just a distraction while he escapes to God-knows-where with your children – and with Lois, most likely. She’d never resist a summons like that.
No more than I can shirk my duty, the rest of him replied. Distraction or not, lives are at stake here. I can’t let all these innocent people be endangered by my personal conflict with Lex, and my involvement with Lois.
Jason and Kala have been Lex’s captives for two days now. And the last thing you heard was them screaming for help. The people of Metropolis can cope while you rescue your kids. It’s what any father would do.
But I’m not just any father. All of a sudden, I think I understand why Lois wouldn’t tell me they were mine. No one should ever have to make a choice like this…
In the end, duty won, though the choice itself was bitter. Lois is with them. Lex couldn’t really hurt them – he needs them to lure me in. With Lois there, he won’t be able to do them any harm, and she’s perfectly capable of taking care of herself. Their danger is very real, but not immediate. These people will die, right now, and die badly if I don’t help fight the fires.
Damn you, Luthor. I will find them – you can’t hide them from me forever. And when I do, there’ll be hell to pay…
For a moment, it had looked like a standoff, Lois glaring at Lex, Lex holding the shiv and not backing down. Jason peered out from behind his mother worriedly, still trying to be brave, and it was his expression that finally moved Kitty to act.
She came into the room with an exasperated sigh and a clatter of high heels, elbowing past Lex and hoping he’d be too startled to lash out. Her eyes met Lois’ for an instant, and then she was reaching out to Jason. “C’mon, Jason. Let’s let the grown-ups talk about boring grownup stuff, okay honey?”
He started to take a step toward her, then hesitated, looking up at his mother. Kitty gave Lois a pleading look, hoping the reporter would realize she meant the boy no harm, and added, “Don’t you want to go tell Kala that Mommy’s here?”
That thawed him enough to sidle toward her, but he still looked up at Lois. “Are you gonna be okay?” Jason asked.
Lois’ heart almost broke for him then. As scared as he was, Jason was still wanted to protect her. “Sure, sweetheart,” Lois said, forcing herself to smile. “You go tell Kala I’m coming, okay?”
He nodded, and with a last belligerent glance at Luthor, he followed Kitty from the room.
“Riley, leave us,” Lex said softly.
“Go,” the older man reiterated firmly. “You searched her quite thoroughly, Riley, I’m sure to be safe. Go outside, tell Grant to get moving.”
Now they were alone, and Lois was looking down the barrel of her own gun, seeing the dark amusement on Lex’s face. Hatred, fear, and shame twisted within her, coalescing into furious bravado. Though it was probably unwise, Lois couldn’t stop herself from provoking her old enemy. “Thoroughly indeed. If he’d been any more thorough, he’d have strip-searched me – which you no doubt would have enjoyed. Why didn’t you order it, Lex? You could’ve videotaped the whole thing and watched it when the Viagra’s not working.”
Lex had stepped back slightly when Kitty and Jason left, keeping himself out of easy range. He knew all too well that Lois could handle herself in a fight, and if he gave her the slightest opportunity, she would try to wrestle the gun from him. So he merely chuckled at her taunts. “Ms. Lane…or shall I call you Lois? We do know each other, after all. Anyway, I wouldn’t dream of ordering the men to strip-search you. They’ve been sequestered without feminine company for months.”
Again, that cold gleam in his eyes shone as he added, “And I don’t share.”