Grant kept one hand on the wheel, watching the waves outside. He didn’t like being alone on the yacht with Riley and that Lane woman. But then, he liked this job less and less every minute.
I signed on for the money. This was supposed to be an easy job, if not my usual line of work. Grant was a hitman by trade, a killer for hire. He’d had to turn informant to escape the death penalty, and knew that any of his old contacts would kill him if they found him. No, now that he was free, he was going to have to start at the bottom of his trade and work up again, with a new name and in a new city. Running security for Luthor was supposed to be something simple and profitable until he could get back into the swing of things.
This is way more complicated than Luthor led us all to believe. “I’ll break you out of prison if you come work for me. You don’t have to do much – just look intimidating at the right times, and keep other people out of my business.” Grant gave a skittery glance out the window at the stormy seas, trying to wrap his mind around this mess he had found himself in. He never mentioned we’d be kidnapping kids or famous reporters. Or messing around with Superman – that’s just stupid.
Grant checked the GPS and glanced meaningfully at the radio. He wished Luthor would get back here… The longer the boss was gone, the more worried he became. If anything happened to Luthor and Stanford and Kitty, he’d be stuck here looking like whatever happened to the reporter was his fault.
No way. Soon as we hit land, I’m gonna disappear. I didn’t sign on for all of this crazy bullshit. This is too damned much…
That particular train of thought was well-traveled, and Grant let it preoccupy him. He didn’t realize his error until he felt something hard and cylindrical poking him in the middle of the back, and heard what could only be the Lane woman growl in his ear, “Start telling me everything you know about Luthor’s plans, or so help me God I’ll use this.” She jabbed the muzzle of the gun against his spine. “And I really would love to use it.”
Dammit. I shoulda known…
When Kala hit the water with a splash and a high-pitched shriek of terror, even Kitty cried out. Lex glowered at her for her disloyalty, and then stood glaring at the hero. Even now Superman was trying to get up – obviously the kryptonite was affecting him, but he wasn’t quite dead yet. Like a cockroach sprayed with Raid, he was still twitching. Doesn’t he know he’s dead? This is all very noble, but he’s lost.
Lex wanted to stay, wanted to watch the light in Superman’s eyes die away. He wanted to see all of his plans and hopes come to fruition – this alien menace at last destroyed, along with his spawn. But Lex’s troops were getting restless … Stanford was halfway down the steps, hesitating only because Lex was watching him, and Kitty was crying brokenly. If he gave them time to think about it, they just might turn on him out of some misguided vestige of morality. “Stanford, Kitty, get back to the helicopter,” Lex said forcefully. “We’re done here.”
The scientist obeyed, reluctantly. Stanford wasn’t happy about any of this, and Luthor knew it. But he took orders well – the sooner all of this was finished, the sooner he could return to his quiet lab and the endlessly fascinating crystals.
Lex wasn’t quite finished yet. He got as close as he dared to the fallen hero, leaned down, and whispered, “Sorry I can’t stay. Lois is back on the yacht, and I don’t want to leave her alone too long. She’s going to be terribly lonely without you or the twins around. Although, I’ll try to … comfort her … as best I can.”
Superman was gasping for air, seemingly out of touch with events. At those words, however, sudden horror and outrage lit his eyes, and Lex savored it. A momentary victory, and only a tenth part of the vengeance he’d hoped to mete out, but sweet nonetheless. He sauntered away, leaving his enemy utterly broken and soon to die…
But wait. Kitty wasn’t moving. She was still standing by the steps, Stanford already at the chopper. Lex gave her a hard, cold stare. “Kitty, go on.”
“I’m not going with you,” she said, her voice trembling. At that moment she suddenly reminded him of Eve Teschmacher. Something about the spoiled-little-girl pout masquerading as stubborn defiance.
“Yes, you are,” Lex replied flatly. He could see now what Kitty planned – to stay behind, and somehow aid Superman. The resemblance was accurate to the last detail. Why the hell do all my women turn on me as soon as they get a good look at his blue eyes? Traitorous bitch. She’ll be lucky if she lives as long as Eve did. Oh well, I have her replacement already. “To the helicopter, Kitty. Now.”
Luthor stalked toward her, and Kitty took a few skittery steps back, clutching Tala like a security blanket. The little dog snarled at him, struggling in her arms as she tried to get at the man she hated. Her owner’s voice gained strength as she retorted, “No, Lex. I’m done with you. You can’t make me.”
“You’re right, I can’t,” Lex said, pausing, then suddenly lunged forward. But it wasn’t Kitty he was after; Tala’s snarl rose to a high pitch as he grabbed hold of her fur and yanked her from Kitty’s hands.
“No!” Kitty yelped, but Lex stepped back quickly, holding the dog high in the air while she writhed and snarled. Luckily for him, he had hold of the back of her neck and she couldn’t bite him. Tala tried valiantly, however, shrieking in mad fury as she strove to sink her teeth into his hand.
“Get moving,” Lex said threateningly. “Have your ass strapped in the seat before I count to twenty, Kitty, or I drop-kick the furball over the side. At least the little girl will have some company while she drowns. Move!”
As Kitty hurried away, she glanced over her shoulder at the stricken hero, still valiantly trying to lever himself up. I’m sorry, she mouthed, tears spilling down her cheeks. I’m so sorry.
Whistling softly, and shaking the dog slightly to keep her from twisting around and biting him, Lex followed her.
Seeing his daughter slip out of sight, Superman had lunged to his feet … almost. The sudden movement made the shard in his side cut deeper, and he cried out in agony as he fell back to the ground. Jason screamed, but he could barely feel his legs, much less move them.
The boy wheezed, his entire body one huge ache. His head throbbed savagely in time with his pulse. The bad guys were going away … And the Bald Man was making Miss Katherine leaving them too. She might’ve helped more, he knew she had tried, but now it was just him and Superman.
It was still hard for him to wrap his mind around the man lying on the ground below him, his breath as tortured as Jason’s. Superman – Clark Kent – his father. His father, beaten and stabbed and trying so hard to get up. Trying and failing, the sound of the helicopter loud in Jason’s ears, the little boy sobbing to see the hero so helpless.
“C’mon,” he whimpered, dragging himself forward with his hands, his legs useless and numb. “C’mon, we gotta save her.” Tears streaked Jason’s face, but he wouldn’t stop, wouldn’t give up, crawling to his father with his thready voice echoing faintly around the canyon.
It didn’t matter to Jason that he would have to drag himself down the steps, over the snapped-off bits of crystal, and across the cracked floor to Superman. The distance looked like forever, but that meant nothing. Jason had his father’s strength and his mother’s determination. He’d saved Kala before, he would save her now – with a little help. I won’t leave Kala, he told himself stubbornly, me an’ Superman are gonna save her, and save Mommy, and beat up that bad ol’ Luthor! I’m … not … gonna … give…
Grant had nothing left to lose; if Lois Lane was running loose and carrying a gun, Riley was dead or hurt. “Damn fool shoulda left you alone,” the hitman muttered after he’d finished giving her the details of Luthor’s plan, such as he knew it. He was still standing in front of the wheel, his hands on his head, and the barrel of the gun was still pressed tightly against his back.
“Yeah, he should’ve,” Lois agreed. “Now do me a favor and don’t struggle while I slip these cable ties on. I wouldn’t mind hurting you, but it’d piss off my police contact, not to mention Superman.”
“Luthor’s been gone too long,” Grant fretted, letting her bind his wrists. Maybe she’d forget to search him and he could get his pocketknife out and cut himself free… “Something’s wrong… I get the feeling your kids’ dad kicked Luthor’s ass.”
“I hope so.” Lois marched him over to the wall, keeping her doubt and panic walled up tightly inside. For the moment she also ignored the indignant little voice inside yelling, Does everyone know who their father is now? Was that little bit of gossip just too good for Luthor to keep to himself? God! Aloud, she controlled her tone and only said, “See that bar there by the door? Grab hold of it.”
Grant’s hopes fell. The bar was for keeping one’s balance in rough seas; it was securely anchored, and he wouldn’t be able to get to his knife once she strapped his bound hands to it. “Lady, are you sure you wanna do that? Do you even know how to drive this thing?”
She jabbed the gun against him roughly to prompt his obedience, and put three cable ties around the bar and his wrists. “No, I don’t. But you’re gonna tell me what I need to do to keep it afloat. Because if you don’t, I’m sure I can find a life boat, but I’m leaving you here.” Her voice was low and deadly serious; no bluff there.
“Then get to that wheel and keep her headed into the waves,” Grant said quickly. He watched the swift, competent way the reporter took over the controls, and had a moment to wish she was on his side of the law. And then he saw what was really in her hands, and both admired her guts and hated his own gullibility. No gun after all, just the handle of Riley’s stupid police baton. He had been tricked.
“Hey,” Grant said after a moment, seeing her eye the radio and trying to distract her. Those sharp hazel eyes turned to him again, and he knew better than to smile and charm her. Instead he spoke plainly. “You know this’s just a job, right? I ain’t got nothing against you personally, your man neither. Nobody told me we was gonna mess with kids. I just needed the money. You understand?”
“No,” Lois told him coldly. “I don’t understand you and I never will. But you should understand this much – the only reason you’re conscious and unhurt right now is because you cooperated with me. Got it?”
“Got it,” Grant said. “Didja kill Riley or just hurt ‘im?”
“He’s alive,” Lois said shortly, picking up the radio handset with fierce determination. “Now shut up, I’m making a call.”
Kal-El gritted his teeth, the pain like a spear in his side, burning and tearing… He could hear Jason sobbing, hear the helicopter fading away, hear Kala splashing below. But the pain consumed his world…
No. No, the twins are depending on me. I’m the only one who can save them – my twins, my son and daughter. Jason and Kala need me. Lois still needs me… With those thoughts to spur him on, he took a deep, ragged breath, reaching around to feel the crystal in his side. It burned his fingertips to touch it…
Kala’s voice, so small, cried out several times only to be cut off an instant later by the seawater. Being only a little girl, she could only fight the tug of the waves and gravity and the cold of the water for so long… Another cry for help rang out and was suddenly cut off, then no more. Jason yelled her name, and Kal-El heard a rolling crash as the boy fell down the steps.
No more time for this, he thought grimly, and clenched his teeth as he forced himself to grip the ugly little shard. Pulling it out was worse than Lex stabbing it in – a low scream tore from him as he ripped the crystal out of his flesh, feeling blood spill from the wound.
But his head cleared the instant he flung the thing away from him. He was still sitting on top of an island made of the one substance that could kill him, but the relief of no longer having it inside his body was palpable. He could breathe again.
Still weak, he struggled to his feet. Jason was sitting up, wheezing heavily, but Kala … he couldn’t hear her calling anymore. The choice was agonizing. “Jason, wait,” he said, trying for his old firmness and certainty. “I’ll be right back with your sister.” After all, Jason was safe for a few minutes; Kala might drown right now.
“No,” Jason whispered with a wide-eyed shake of his head, reaching up. “Take me … with you … I can help…”
Kal-El couldn’t resist those tiny arms held up so trustingly. And when he picked Jason up, he was surprised to find his son – his son – clinging to his arm with much more strength than that small body had seemed to possess.
Now all he had to do was fly down, pick up Kala, and get all three of them as far from this damned island as possible. Sure. Easy, he thought, and dove off the edge.
It was no use calling Superman over the roar of the engines. Lana sent him a text message instead, feeling weirdly presumptuous. Not even telling herself that this was Clark’s phone helped her; she still couldn’t quite believe she was texting a superhero. What next, I email a chain letter to the President?
At least he now had the latest information on the yacht, and knew that she and Richard were going after it. She closed the phone reverently, and Richard glanced over, chuckling at her. “What, you never sent a text message before?” he teased, trying to distract himself from their dire situation as well as genuinely amused.
“Oh, and I suppose you call up superheroes every day, Mr. White?” Lana said archly. “When and if he responds, I should ask him for your number, then, right? I mean, you are on Superman’s speed dial, from the way you talk. C’mon, Richard, drop the blasé act. You sounded pretty impressed by him the night he stopped by to check on Lois.”
“I wasn’t that much of a gibbering fan,” Richard said defensively. “I mean, I like him, he is a hero. But I wasn’t asking for his autograph.”
“No, because you’d just drugged his ex,” Lana retorted swiftly.
That was the wrong comeback, and Richard’s various anxieties boiled over. “Did everyone but me know that? Hell, you were in Kansas and you knew it! How come I was the last person on the planet to find out about Lois and Superman?!”
“Because you didn’t want to know,” Lana shot back. “You told me she kept refusing to talk about him – obviously that means there was more to them than press agent and hero.”
Richard shot her an exasperated glance. “Not talking about him means she was in love with him – you know, there’s a reason men don’t understand women. You don’t make any damn sense!”
Lana fumed, “Lois would slap the daylights out of you for a sexist comment like that! As it is, I’m seriously considering it!”
For some reason, that amused Richard slightly. “Lana, you’re just not the aggravated-assault type.”
The designer crossed her arms and spat, “Okay, so I’m not your fiancée, but you’d better quit comparing me to her if you want this relationship to…” Green eyes widened as she heard her own words, and Lana slapped a hand across her mouth.
Utter silence, but for the engines. Richard felt his heart beating in his throat, and over the headphones came Lana’s muffled murmur, “What the heck am I saying?”
Another long pause, both of them looking out the window and not at each other. “Why are we arguing?” Richard finally said in conciliatory tones. Geez, I’m totally screwing this up with Lana … and I shouldn’t even be thinking about it!
“Stress,” Lana sighed. “We’re both worried about her and the kids.”
“Yeah,” Richard said slowly. “After all of this is over, though … we need to figure some things out.”
Lana had no reply for that, other than a wordless murmur of agreement. She turned her attention to the radio, adjusting the volume slightly. Static crackled in their ears.
And then Richard’s face went white as he heard a very familiar voice on the channel. “Mayday, mayday, this is Lois Lane aboard the Gertrude, presently located latitude 40 north, longitude 73 west.”
For one heart-pounding moment it seemed as though he wouldn’t be able to fly, would plunge to his death carrying the fates of both his children. But then Kal-El found another notch of resilience beyond what he’d ever known he possessed, and his fall became a swoop that captured a now nearly-unconscious Kala just as her head ducked under the cold waves. Holding her with one arm, he strove for height. If I can break the cloud cover, I can neutralize some of the worst effects… Such desperate thoughts were all the hope he had. All three of them were weak from kryptonite radiation.
Jason clung tightly to him, and reached across to grab Kala’s hand. She was still weakly coughing up seawater and shivering, but managed to return his grip, her other arm looping around her father’s neck. Both twins were feverish and breathing raggedly, barely lucid – yet holding on tightly, to him and to each other.
Deep into the cloud layer, rumbling thunder somewhere in the distance, cool moisture closing around them. This wasn’t good, cut off from the sun, and Kal-El reached for more height. At last, just as he thought he’d reached the limit of his strength and would fall back to the sea, they soared upward and out of the clinging mist. The difference was immediately noticeable: Kal-El took his first full breath since being stabbed, golden sunlight bathing him and the two children.
The warm rays suffused him, baking away the tension and pain. Eyes closed, head tilted back, Kal-El hovered and soaked up the life-giving rays of the yellow sun. In his arms, Jason and Kala began to breathe easier, both up them turning their faces up to the golden disk above. Their eyes closed before the fierceness of its light, but their fevers cooled in spite of the heat washing through them. And then something curious happened.
Jason’s numbness vanished, replaced by soothing sense of warmth and power. Far from hurting and weakness, he felt as refreshed as if he’d just awakened, ready to bound down out of the sky and take on the world. The ringing that had plagued Kala’s ears disappeared into a strange kind of clarity, full of rustling voices each separate and distinct from each other, yet all of them easy to ignore when she focused on the sunlight pouring into her and her father’s steady heartbeat.
Something was very different to Jason and Kala as they were held bathed in sunlight. The utter amazement of what was happening, of just how instantly well they felt, the relief that they were finally safe from the bad man, and the absolute fascination of just where they – not to mention who was holding them – were all conspired to keep the twins stunned into silence.
Relief was not so swift for their father. The wound in his side still pained him, although blood stopped flowing from it. And he still felt generally debilitated, much the same way he had after returning home. It had taken two days in the Kansas sun to cure him then, and he wished wryly for the luxury of time to spend basking here.
His pure Kryptonian lineage left him far more sensitive to kryptonite radiation than the twins, apparently, though they seemed to draw their strength from the same source as himself. “Are you two okay?” he asked gently. “Is the sun making it better?”
Kal-El thought he already knew the answer – they both looked much better already – but couldn’t help wanting to hear it from them. His feelings about the twins were still a muddle of surprise and caution and delight, but the strongest of all was a fierce protectiveness that went beyond even what Lois inspired in him.
Two sets of now-bright eyes gazed up at him seriously, one pair as blue as his own, the other hazel like their mother’s. “Yes, sir,” Jason replied in a very respectful tone. This was his idol, his rescuer, his favorite adult pal around the office – and his father. “We … we didn’t tell them you were Mr. Clark.” The quiet addition rocked Kal-El to the very foundations of his soul – his long-held secret, which of course the children must eventually know, was something he’d been wondering in the back of his mind how to tell them. Lois hadn’t said anything; they were so young, no one would have expected children this small to keep such an important secret.
And while Kal-El was still staring at him in wide-eyed shock at that newest revelation, his daughter spoke up. “Thank you for saving us,” she whispered, looking at him with wonder so reminiscent of Lois that it broke his heart. And then Kala added something in a voice only she and he could hear, surprising him breathless with one word. “Daddy.”
Lex sat beside Stanford, keeping a wary eye on Kitty behind him. She’d been cooing over Tala since he’d given the mutt back to her; plenty of time to destroy the vicious little puffball later. For now he wanted Kitty’s compliance, and got it simply by letting the dog go unharmed.
Still, she wasn’t entirely trustworthy anymore. I only need her for a while, if all goes well, Lex thought. Just until I can break Lois to my will. He sighed at the thought; while Lois’ spirit would never be completely broken, and he knew that trying to keep her for too long would result in death for one or both of them. Still, just the idea of having her in his possession brought a wistful smile to his face.
The crackling radio intruded on Lex’s glowing self-satisfaction, and he eyed it unhappily. Stanford was scanning channels, listening for the Coast Guard or anyone else they didn’t want to run into. Suddenly, the last voice Lex expected to hear at that moment spoke clearly in his headphones.
“–hell did you get here so fast?” Lois Lane said, her voice shocked.
Lex sat bolt upright, eyes bulging. How did she get loose? he wondered. “Get us there now,” he snarled to Stanford, ignoring the small triumphant smile on Kitty’s face. She’d pay for her indiscretions later.
Another voice came over the airwaves, and Lex belatedly remembered Lois’ fiancé, the pilot. “We managed to trace the boat,” Richard was saying. “Your mother called in a favor…”
Lex leaned forward, cupping his hands around the headphones as he listened to Lois cut him off. “Dammit, the military was supposed to stay out of this!”
“He already had you, Lois,” Richard argued. His concern for her was plain in his voice, but so was a certain harried aggravation. “We couldn’t waste any more time. They’re not involved, they’re just sending me the coordinates for the yacht. Lois, where are the twins?”
Luthor smiled at the choked-off sob that sounded in his ears. Delicious. “Luthor has them – Richard, he took them to an island made of kryptonite. He’s using them as bait.” Her voice firmed, and she continued, “I’m fine here for a while – the two guys Lex left are both under control, and I can steer this thing for now. You go find the kids and keep Superman away from the island.”
“No, Lois, we’re closer to you,” Richard was saying. “We sent Superman your coordinates – if he’s not there, then he’s either still busy in Metropolis or already on the island. We’ll text him to let him know to stay away…” His voice faded for a moment, and Lex looked out the window at the right moment to see the seaplane below them. Stanford was keeping to the clouds, so it was unlikely that the pilot saw them…
Which was confirmed in the next radio transmission. “We’re only about ten minutes away, Lois. We’ll get you first and then go for the twins – there’s no telling when Luthor could come back. He has a helicopter on the ship…”
They commenced arguing, and Stanford kept the chopper flying at top speed toward the yacht. It amused Lex to hear both of them being so noble. Of course, neither of them knew he could reach the yacht far more quickly than the plane. He’d only have a few minutes on board, but as long as Lois kept talking, he knew exactly where she was.
It was painfully obvious now what must have happened. Riley. That pea-brained idiot must’ve tried to cast her in one of his documentaries. Damn him – I hope she killed him. No, wait – I hope she left him alive. I’ll kill him for this stupidity!
“I guess things aren’t working out quite you planned,” Kitty said poisonously.
Lex smiled slowly at her, held that wickedly amused expression until she became appropriately fearful again. “Oh, no, Katherine. I still have a few tricks up my sleeve. Just wait and see – I’ve saved the best for last.”