Due to the utter awesome that is saavikam77 finishing this guy early, up she goes. And up ratchets the action. Expect the unexpected from here on in, ladies and gents. Again, remember the subtitle from Little Secrets: Nothing is what it seems.
Erik Eastlake wasn't entirely sure how he felt as he faced the balding man across from him. His outlook on this entire matter had been growing more off-balance as time drew on and he had gotten to know something more about Lois Lane-Kent. She was an intriguing woman, more dynamic than any woman his age, as well as quite attractive, and that made what he had done all the more distasteful. But business was business. A part of him was relieved that the Daily Planet's assistant editor hadn't taken the bait, her integrity remaining intact, especially when he considered what was being planned.
Another part of him knew what the alternative plans in these circumstances might turn out to be and he didn't particularly envy her for what might come next. "Sir, I really don't think she's going to play ball. We should rethink our approach on this."
"No," the man in the chair before him said with a patronizing smile. A smile from which you expect to see canary feathers flowing. "The plans have been in place for several months, and so far the only roadblock to our progress is you. You haven't completed your assignment to our satisfaction."
The young investor frowned at that. "And I'm telling you, that is not possible," Eastlake replied testily. "You don't know Lois Lane – she won't agree to your proposal."
"Oh, I think you'll find we know Lois Lane rather better than you do, young man," came the chuckled answer. "In any case, even if you're correct in your assumptions, her cooperation is not necessary to the plan." The older man leaned back in his expensive leather chair and regarded Eastlake through narrow, cold eyes. "In fact, it may be more profitable overall if she is simply … removed from the equation."
Usually, it was a cross to bear in the reporting world if you had friends in the police department, most especially if they had no problems pointing you out to other cops when you tried to sneak through a barricade. Or when you had managed to sneak evidence of a cover-up out of a company's headquarters and it was no hardship to figure out who the culprit was, Lois thought with a little amusement at the memory. It would have helped if her vendetta against Newstime hadn't been a matter of public record quite that early in her career. She'd been sloppy when making her get-away; the fingerprints she had left behind when she rifled through the CEO's personal files had made it impossible for Mags to ignore the theft, had had to arrest her, and had yet to let her live it down for doing something so dumb. But the upside of having a high-ranking police inspector as one of your closest friends was quickly becoming apparent once again.
Maggie Sawyer was at the apartment a few minutes after the call first came in, barely missing Clark as he left to search for his daughter. It was Lois who quickly briefed her; the cop was sure that the reporter seemed cool, calm, and collected to the three teenagers' gazes, but Maggie saw her too-wide eyes and abrupt gestures.
Once Lois finished summarizing the morning's events in that too-controlled voice, Maggie paused to flip open her cell phone and speed-dialed. "Tobe, relay this to the others. Kala has a little over three thousand dollars cash on her. Send someone to the airport and the train station, just in case."
"The airport?" Giselle asked, bewildered. She was sitting on the sofa beside Jason, holding his hand, and Elise was in the chair nearby. All three kids had been listening closely; they'd finished calling all of Kala's friends and were waiting for orders from the grownups. "Inspector Sawyer, can a sixteen-year-old even buy a plane ticket without her parents' permission?"
"All of you are forgetting something. She doesn't look sixteen," Maggie said quietly. She looked at Lois to add, "And I wouldn't be surprised if she had a false ID."
Jason squared his jaw at that, as if Maggie had gravely insulted his twin sister. "Not Kal," he said stubbornly, his eyes accusing. "I'd know if she did."
Lois gave an exasperated sigh before saying softly, "Jason, honey, we have to face facts. None of us knew about her boyfriend, not even your dad. I know you don't want to hear it, hell, I don't want to hear it, either. But Maggie's got a point; no one in this family is really sure what she's actually been up to…"
The front door was flung open then, and both Lois and Maggie rose to their feet fluidly, the reporter immediately reaching for her purse as the policewoman dropped her hand to her hip. There was a tense moment while they all waited to see what would come next.
And when it came, it was a relief. "All right, Jason, you're not picking up that damn phone and I've had about enough of this," they heard Sebast yell from the doorway. "Muchacho, you better be here, and you better listen to me this time, or I'm gonna…"
The young Latino man stormed in, his dark hair flying with the briskness of his stride, then skidded to an abrupt halt, seeing Jason, Giselle, and Elise. His dark eyes turned briefly furious at the sight of the black-haired girl, but since she was holding Jason's hand and rubbing his back, Sebast opened his mouth to say something and thought better of it for the moment. This wasn't the time or the place, not if they were going to find his mamita.
It was only then that he noticed the two adults. Maggie and Lois had eased down from their tense ready-to-draw-weapons posture, but both women were looking at him with exasperated disbelief. "Uh, the door was unlocked, Mom," he said hesitantly, flashing Lois a weak grin. Heaving a huge sigh and rolling her eyes expressively, the dark-haired woman pressed a palm to her forehead.
Maggie's reaction was a mirror of Lois'. Leave it to Sebastian Velez to make a dramatic entrance that would nearly get him shot. "Well, Mr. Velez, I take it you haven't seen Kala?" the blonde-haired woman asked calmly, and the boy just shook his head. "All right then, what were you saying about 'this time'?"
Sebast sighed, looking from the adults to the other three teenagers. His gaze lingered on Giselle again, and she glanced away, looking miserable. His hesitation made Lois shift her weight nervously, but before the reporter could say anything, Maggie spoke up again. "I've got family friends and off-duty cops canvassing the bus stations, train stations, and air ports. Jason and the girls here have called all Kala's friends and let them know we need to find her – not to drag her home kicking and screaming, but to make sure she's safe. If you know anything, I give you my personal assurance what you tell us won't get Kala in any more trouble than she already is." Maggie cut Lois a significant look, mostly for Sebast's benefit.
"It's not that," Sebast said, sitting down and rubbing his hands over his face briskly. "It's just… I only found out today that she went to Fuel last night without me. See, my grandmother broke her hip last night, and I had to watch Michael while mis padres took her to the hospital, and I forgot to tell Kala I couldn't go. When she showed up, I told her, and she left, but she didn't tell me she was gonna go to the club anyway." He looked up at Lois then, and added, "I don't think she'd made that decision yet; I got the impression she was going home."
"Go on, Sebast. What happened then?" It was Jason who urged him this time, watching him with a puzzled expression.
"Abuelita's gonna be fine," Sebast continued, trying to sound calm. "I went up to Fuel this morning, and the guy behind the counter, Brandon, couldn't wait to tell me all about Kala singing last night. She was really, really good … and then he mentioned that she left with some guy he didn't know, and Brandon knows pretty much our whole crew."
"The guy who left the hickies on her," Maggie said then, matter-of-factly. "Do you know who Kala's been seeing, Sebast?"
That agitated the boy to the point that his words came out in the kind of rush you get with a shaken-up soda. "That's just the thing! I didn't know she was with anybody! This is the first I even heard of there being someone! The last one she was even seriously messing with was Caleb, and that was just to freak him out at the birthday party. The only guy she's been spending time with since then is me, so far as I know. Quarter finals were coming up, and we were all studying real hard." He caught himself before he could drift off into a tangent, and said, "Anyway, I don't know who her boyfriend is, and if anybody would know, it'd be me."
"That's what I said," Jason said in a small voice. He was pale and haunted-looking around the eyes, but the other boy offered Sebast a weak smile. "I guess she put one over on us both, huh?"
It was obvious to all around just how hard this was hitting Jason, so it was hard for Sebast to disagree. "Forgive me, amigo, but I think I know a little more about the details of what your sister's doing than you do," he said in a gentle tone. "She tries not to tell you things she knows you're gonna disapprove of. I mean, I know she got a Brazilian last summer, and you sure as hell didn't know that." At the face Jason made then, Sebast turned to look at the rest of the assembled group. "This guy, he's a total mystery if I've never heard of him. You guys all know that. He's gotta be someone she just met last night, and no matter what rumors certain people are spreading, I know damn well she didn't let him get very far."
It was Lois that noticed that Elise had looked more and more uncomfortable the longer Sebast talked. Catching the reporter's intense gaze, she finally spoke up, already wincing at what she had to say. "I … I think I know who it was," she said carefully, and that turned the rest around to look at her. "Kala's kinda known him a while, but they weren't really, exactly, um, dating. It was more like just flirting."
The reporter's lips thinned then. This had been exactly what she'd been worried about. "If you'd seen her neck last night, you'd know it was more than flirting," Lois said, and her voice had gotten very quiet and controlled.
Maggie headed her off with a warning look. "Elise, we need to know who he is. If Kala's run off with him, at least we'll know where she is. But right now, she could be anywhere. I won't get him in trouble unless he's done something illegal."
"That could be a problem. See, he's a college guy, and I don't know if he even knows she's only sixteen…"
The words were just barely out of Elise's mouth before Lois swore suddenly and graphically, making all four teens jump and stare at her. Her diatribe ended with "…and she says she doesn't wanna be anything like me! Goddammit, Kala!" Elise winced again at that.
"Lois, ease down," Maggie told her, giving the reporter a stern look. "Elise, do you have a name for this guy? Or know what college he goes to?"
"Nick Powell." Jason, Sebast, and Giselle were all staring at her. Sebast looked almost comical, his dark eyes so wide with shock, but Jason's expression wounded Elise far more than it should have. She took a deep breath and continued, "I'd assume he goes to U of M."
"Assume nothing," Maggie said. "I'm not even going to take it as fact that he's actually attending a college here, or that he gave his real name. But it's a lead, anyway." Blue eyes going to Lois, she continued in a firm tone, "My lead, Lane. I don't want you rolling up to this boy with guns blazing, understand?"
The dark-haired reporter's expression was down-right mutinous at this point. "I'm not gonna shoot the sonofabitch for making out with my daughter."
Maggie couldn't help the slightest smirk. "Yeah, I know that, but your mouth's deadlier than that Ladysmith when you're mad," Maggie replied grimly. "And at least the gun's a fairly quick death."
"After how many years as a reporter, I know how to cultivate a source," Lois shot back, crossing her arms and glaring at her friend. "I have no intention of pissing him off – or scaring him senseless – until my daughter's home. Then his little jailbait-stalking ass is mine."
The two women had momentarily forgotten that the four teenagers were in the room, but Sebast reminded them by clearing his throat. "Can I have the next spot in the line to kick his ass?" he asked.
"You can have third, once we're done," Jason said with uncharacteristic bluntness, his expression as deadly serious as his mother's. "I'm her brother."
That was enough to make Inspector Sawyer heave a heavy sigh. It was to be expected from this family. "Don't leave any marks," Maggie muttered. "I might have an inside lead on this guy, if we're lucky. In the meantime, we'll check everything else…"
Kal-El flew along the subway, listening intently and ignoring the shocked expressions on people's faces when he darted out of the tunnel right before a train. He'd thought he would find Kala here, for sure; she practiced her super-hearing on the subway precisely because it was such a difficult environment for that power. Even he needed to concentrate down here…
…and anything that intruded on that concentration was decidedly unwelcome. His cell phone was silenced, but the sound of electrical relays firing as a text message came in still distracted him at this level of concentration. Irritated at the interruption but hoping it was Lois with good news, Kal-El soared out of the subway and sought the sky.
It wasn't Lois. The message was from Barbara Gordon, also known as Oracle: anyone up for penny-ante poker? call back if you're free. The JLA used codes for all communications that could possibly be intercepted, no matter how unlikely that was. At the moment, they were using the pretense of seeking more players in a card game to solicit help from other members of the team.
Fortunately, 'penny ante' meant trouble that could easily be handled by junior members of the League, if they worked together. On the other hand, if Oracle had included the phrase 'five-card stud', it would have indicated the kind of emergency that Kal-El needed to look into. If she'd said 'bridge' instead, it was serious but not critical. 'Blackjack' indicated that everyone available should respond immediately; the event was of worldwide consequence. The nuclear reactor would have been a 'blackjack', but so very few of them could even approach it…
The distraction had cost him time, however, and Kal-El didn't have time to waste. He flipped open his phone and dialed Oracle's secure line. As soon as she answered, he said shortly, "I'm afraid I won't be coming to any card games in the near future."
"Sorry to hear that," she replied, each word heavy with curiosity. "Any particular reason?"
They had codes for all sorts of potential stumbling blocks. Saying your spouse didn't want you out late was the standard euphemism for 'this may compromise my identity'. But there was no code for 'my child is missing', and in any case, Kal-El had not been particularly careful about learning the code words for getting out of duty. He considered himself to be on-call nearly all the time.
He was left with the truth. "My daughter ran away from home," he said simply, and listened to a beat of shocked silence before adding, "I need to find her."
"Ah, could you … would you like some help? I'm sure some of the guys…"
"No, thank you," Kal-El said curtly. "This is a family matter. I don't want to trouble anyone else with it. Just take me off the call list until I get back to you, please. Obviously my family takes priority over everything else."
"Of course," she replied. Kal-El flipped the phone shut, and hung there in midair, eyes closed, straining for the faintest sound of Kala's heartbeat. He knew it as well as Lois' or Jason's, better than the beat of his own heart, in fact. He still couldn't find it anywhere.
He wasn't sure why he had been so brusque with Oracle. Gut instinct told him to get off the phone quickly, and to keep the rest of the JLA out of this. Flying at super-speed had taught Kal-El to trust his intuition, to react instinctively, because he could fly faster than he could consciously think about his route. And for now, that hunch was enough – he didn't want to examine his own motives.
Deep down, Kal-El believed that all of this was his fault, proof of his failures as a father. He'd never felt as though he took naturally to the role; Richard had an instantaneous rapport with most kids, and an easygoing manner that charmed even his own children into confidences. He was much better at fatherhood, in Kal-El's opinion, and the fact that Richard had had three years more practice with the twins didn't matter. Richard surely didn't lie awake at night, worrying over the decisions he'd made that day, wondering if he'd chosen the right path, if he was being a good father, if he was somehow ruining his kids' psyches and lives.
No, Richard just did whatever the heck sounded good to him at the time, whether it was taking the kids to a new museum exhibit or just lying on the roof watching planes go by, and it all seemed to work out perfectly. If he were perfectly honest with himself, Kal-El would've admitted that he envied the other man's nonchalance. In this case, though, he couldn't see that he was over-thinking the whole situation, worrying far too much.
Kal-El had forgotten his own father's advice, which he'd accidentally overheard when Ma was fretting over his teenage years. "He's fine," Pa had said with a chuckle. "Lord, when I was his age, I was into everything. Me and a few of the gang decided to sneak into Ellzey's orchard for a lark one time. We didn't know old man Ellzey kept a 410 shotgun loaded with rock salt – wow! I had to eat standing up for a week. And I never told my pa, 'cause he'd have whupped me on top of it. Other boys we knew were playing cowboys and Indians with real bows and pellet guns, shootin' each other. But we all survived and turned out mostly right, for all our foolishness. Clark will be fine – kids are resilient."
Kal-El sighed heavily, and headed back down into the subways to continue the search.
"Have you seen this girl?" Cat Grant asked, flashing her winning smile – and a little cleavage – at the ticker seller. He leaned forward, peering through the glass window, and the blonde held her breath. Maybe this time…
"Nah," the young man said. "I'd've remembered her. Sorry."
"Thanks anyway." Cat gave him a sad smile and slid her business card through the slot in the window. "If you do see her, please call and tell me which bus she got on? She's only sixteen, and her family's worried sick."
He assured her he would, and Cat left to go meet up with Ian, who'd also been pressed into the search. Every one of Lois' family and friends was out looking; according to the gossip from WGBS the last time Cat had called in, a certain cape-wearing friend had even taken up the search.
No one was talking about what might happen if they couldn't find Kala. Could a sixteen-year-old girl really manage to hide from a bunch of reporters and cops – and a superhero who'd never quite gotten over her mom? It didn't seem possible.
But it was happening. They should've found a lead by now, and so far, nothing. Ignoring the chill that skittered down her back, Cat hurried to Ian's side, hoping he'd learned something.
"Just heard from Richard White," he said, flipping his phone closed. "He's in the search, too – had to leave his wife home, but her assistant's on it. They're taking three of our subway stations, so we can head further south."
"Poor Richard," Cat murmured, frowning slightly. "He must be frantic – and Lana too. But they can't exactly leave Kristin, and Kala might just go to Lana. She gets along better with her than she does with her mother."
"How'd that happen?" Ian asked, as they headed out of the train station. Between them, they'd shown Kala's photo to every ticket-seller in the place. "I mean, she likes her stepmom better than her mom?"
"It's not a matter of who she likes. Kala loves Lois, you'd better believe it, and no one will ever take her place. But you can't have two women that strong-willed in the same house without them fighting." Cat chuckled a little, and added, "Trust me on that. I used to share an apartment with Lois and Tobie. You think they squabble now…"
"Must've been interesting," Ian said, and placed his hand gently on the small of her back as they went out the doors. The wind had picked up, and its icy fingers found their way down collars and up cuffs. Cat shivered from more than just the temperature; without another word, she and Ian hurried to their next destination.
Jason stood staring out the French doors, a post he had taken up some time ago and showed no sign of leaving. Every line of his body spoke of utter misery. His voice was low, emotion flooding the slightest word. "It's gonna snow tonight. I hope…"
Standing beside him, Giselle could only watch him worriedly, rubbing his shoulders. "She'll be okay," she whispered, trying to comfort. "She's got money for a hotel room – assuming we don't find her first, which we might." She had stayed by his side through every moment.
Lois had been making a third pot of coffee when she overheard them, needing something to do so she didn't slowly go mad. She couldn't think of her daughter out there alone, thinking she wasn't wanted, knowing that she wasn't protected. Why had that stupid fight have to happen last night? And why did Kala have to be so damned willful? Especially since Luthor was slinking around? Her blood ran cold at that thought and she turned her thoughts away from that one, forcing herself to focus on something else. "Any news?" she asked Maggie, knowing full-well she'd never heard the phone go off.
"Nothing yet. They're still searching," the policewoman replied, glancing at her phone. Both of them were aware that the phone hadn't rung, but the notion consoled Lois, so neither of them spoke of it. "No word yet from the folks on foot; either she's still in town, or we missed her. Any idea where she might go if she does leave the city?"
Lois had paused in her attention to the coffee to place her hands over her face, rubbing her temples brusquely. It was clear that the day was wearing on her. "Clark called Martha and Ben. I didn't have the guts; how do you call and tell someone that their only granddaughter's run off?" She gave a sigh that spoke of heartache and regret, expression hidden, before continuing in a tired voice. "They're gonna warn the Langs and the Carmichaels. I had Richard call his parents, too – I can't see Kala going down to Florida, but she might do it just because I wouldn't expect it."
Sawyer leaned back in the dining chair she had commandeered, pensive as she considered the evidence in front of them. "It's a bitch hunting down someone who knows how you think."
Lois groaned then, dropping her hands to glare at her with wounded aggravation. God, not this again. "Please, Mags. If I never hear anyone say how much alike we are again… That's what started all this mess."
This was one of those times when the length of their friendship was apparent, simply in the way that the cop didn't react to her friend's attitude. Maggie knew Lois well enough to know that it was just her guilt talking. "I didn't say you were alike," Maggie replied evenly. "Just that you both know how the other thinks. Living together for sixteen years will do that to anyone, not just mother and daughter. Anyway, the whole point is that she knows exactly where and how you'd look for her."
"Thanks, Mags." The four teenagers winced at the sharpness of Lois' tone. "Just what I need to hear this late in day. That totally helps. Thanks."
Jason sighed, his expression fraught at his mother's obvious anxious state and his own helplessness. The boy allowed Giselle to lead him back to the couch then. He sat down as if the weight of the world were crushing him. No one saw the pained way Elise watched him.
"She's also sixteen, and no matter how gutsy she is or how much money she has, Kala's not prepared to live on her own," Maggie pointed out, not missing a beat. "Sooner or later, she'll go to someone for help. And once she gets the message that we're all worried about her, she'll come home."
Lois snorted, her shoulders tense; Clark was out searching, and with his powers, he should've found their daughter by now. Hadn't he told her he could recognize the kids' heartbeats just as easily as Lois' own? So why the hell were their depressing speculations not being suddenly interrupted by a sheepish Kala dropped onto the balcony by Superman?
Bagel, who had never been able to tolerate tension among the humans in her family, had at first hidden under furniture. As silence fell on the group while they apprehensively waited for replies, the beagle wandered into the living room, her forehead wrinkled into a fretful expression and her tail wagging restlessly. Jason seemed the most distraught of all, but he was leaned forward, his head cradled in his hands, and she couldn't jump into his lap. In the end, desperate to comfort her boy, Bagel settled for Giselle's lap instead, giving the girl a couple of anxious (and quite unappreciated) licks around the mouth before snuggling up to Jason's side. She managed to wedge her nose under his arm, and from there wiggled most of her body into his lap.
Having Bagel demand attention was enough to make Jason look up finally. His expression was determined as he rumpled the beagle's ears, letting out a long sigh. "Aunt Maggie, there's gotta be something we can do," he said then, facing her sadly.
Sawyer stared at him with a thoughtful expression, not saying a word. She seemed to be considering something. "There is, actually," the policewoman said after a moment, and all four kids perked up. "If she's still in town, she'll eventually go back to some place she's familiar with. I bet you all know those spots, right?"
That was enough to bring Jason back to himself, the boy already moving toward the door. "Yeah. So we should hit Fuel first…"
But the policewoman blocked him before he could go out, moving with surprising speed. "Whoa, son. First of all, play it subtle. You don't want to spook her out of her normal habits – this is a teenage girl we're dealing with, not a hardened criminal, but she's smart. Just leave messages with the staff that you need to talk to her, all right?"
"Sounds good," Sebast opined. Elise was standing up now as well, both kids looking serious and determined. Being able to help and not just sit around worrying and waiting had energized them. Becoming more animated by the moment, the Latino boy glanced at all those present. "Let's go in pairs, so if we see her, one can sneak off and call you guys while the other stalls for time. Elise, you're with me."
Sawyer nodded her approval. "Smart boy."
"Listen," Jason said, and then hesitated. He looked down at his interlaced fingers, sighed again, and forced himself to meet the adults' eyes. "Sebast, Elise, when you leave the message, tell her she needs to call me because … I have to keep the Gertrude promise, and what she's done won't let me."
The whole group looked at each other. "The Gertrude Promise?" Giselle said suspiciously. "What's that, twin code?"
"Yes," Jason said simply, and looked at Lois. She'd gone pale and her brow was furrowed with a mother's pain; the only Gertrude in the twins' lives was Luthor's damn yacht. Whatever promise the twins had made to each other, it was serious.
"Mind cluing me in?" Maggie asked, her gaze going from mother to son. She also remembered The Gertrude, and how fiercely protective the twins had been of each other after their ordeal.
Never taking his eyes off his mother, Jason answered in a low voice, "We promised we'd never let anyone separate us, and we'd never keep secrets from each other." He straightened up, and for a moment he looked so much like his father that Lois' hand went over her mouth, her heart leaping in her chest. "I can't keep her safe if I don't know where she is."
Sebast watched Jason, eyeing his friend warily. "So let's go. It's getting late and we only have a few hours before sundown. We've all got our phones; Mom, Inspector, call us if you get word. Jason, come on. Let's get moving."
"You do the same," Maggie responded. She waited until the kids all left, Jason last and giving his mother one final pained look that she'd returned with an encouraging smile, before she turned to Lois with a worried expression. "We're pretty much canvassing the city. There's only one downside to that. Lois, I hate to say it, but if anyone's listening for word of your family, they're gonna know she's out there alone."
They both knew the 'anyone' in that statement was Luthor. "He hasn't bothered me since," Lois' voice was husky when she said this, not willing to meet Maggie's eyes. "Hopefully she'll be home before he even catches word."
"She's not six anymore, Lois," Maggie said with deliberate firmness, "and we both know that she's not exactly helpless." The reporter had to smile a little at the irony of her friend's statement. Maggie wasn't talking about the powers either, not being aware of the twins' dual heritage. Jason and Kala had both taken martial arts classes for a while when they were thirteen, mostly to teach them self-discipline, but they'd eventually dropped out. Friends of the family had been told that their other extracurricular activities conflicted with the classes, but the real reason was the twins' developing powers. By the time they were fourteen, it was no longer safe for either of them to spar with other students or instructors. Still, those lessons hadn't been forgotten, and offered an additional layer of protection.
Knowing that didn't stop Lois from feeling chilled. She'd crossed her arms a while ago, hands clasping her elbows, and now she shivered. Maggie put a hand on her shoulder, offering wordless comfort. Jamie had run away from home a few times in her teens, usually leaving her father's house to try and get to her mom. Maggie understood the soul-deep horror of not knowing where your child was. Unfortunately, she was already doing everything she could think of to find Kala.
After sending Richard and Kay off into the search – her assistant had volunteered the moment she heard the news, but Lana still felt guilty about it – the redhead had racked her brain to think of places where Kala might go. Most of the extended family had been notified, thanks to Maggie, who had called Tobie first and put her in charge of setting up the civilian searchers. Richard had called Perry only to find out he'd already been informed.
All of that activity had greatly intrigued Kristin, and now the little girl stood looking at Lana worriedly. "How come everybody's callin' us?" she asked with honest curiosity.
Lana bit her lip; the phone had been ringing pretty much continuously with updates, and Kristin wasn't used to that. Not hearing from her big sister was also weighing on her, and Lana sighed with the realization that she'd have to tell her daughter something. "C'mere, sweetheart," she said, and seated them both on the couch.
"It's somethin' bad," Kristin said knowingly, studying her mother's face. "You an' Daddy haven't been smilin'."
"It's … complicated," Lana began, taking a deep breath. How could she make her little girl understand? "Listen, Kala got in trouble last night."
"I 'member." Kristin snuggled closer to Lana's side, tilting her head back to look up at her.
"Well, Kala and Lo-Lo got in a big fight," Lana made herself go on, hastening to add, "mostly because Lo-Lo was scared, not knowing where Kala was that late at night. They both got mad and they yelled at each other."
Kristin was nodding slightly, her look somber. "Kala likes t' make Lo-Lo mad," she whispered. "She thinks it's funny sometimes. Sometimes I think it's funny too, but mostly not."
And knowing how Lois was about being made to feel stupid, it was no wonder tempers had eventually flared. "Sometimes they are funny," Lana agreed. "But a lot of times it's kind of mean. They don't want to be mean to each other, but sometimes it just … happens."
Kristin's commentary on that was made clear by her stormy little frown. "That's dumb. They should be nicer to each other."
"I'll tell them you said so," Lana replied. "Anyway, Kala got so mad she decided she needed a vacation. But she didn't tell anybody where she went."
"Kala went on vacation without me?" Kristin whimpered, her eyes filling with tears. "But…"
"Honey, she didn't take anyone," Lana soothed, hugging her closer. "Not even Jason." That fact silenced the little girl, both redheads reflecting on how inseparable the twins usually were. Once, when Kala had gotten into a fight at school and been punished by not being allowed to go to the zoo that weekend, Jason had intentionally failed a spelling quiz so he would be forced to stay home, too.
"Everyone's trying to find Kala," Lana said gently when she felt Kristin cuddle closer and sniffle. "She might even come here. So we just have to wait and hope."
Kristin clearly didn't like that idea, but she was young enough to still believe that her mother knew best. Her anxiety was all too clear in the way she clung to Lana for a hug, though, and the designer snuggled her as much for Kristin's comfort as for her own.
Giselle struggled to keep up with Jason's long stride, pulling the collar of her jacket tighter against the cold. She didn't dare ask him to slow down; the Jason she'd known since the beginning of the school year would've acquiesced immediately, but this wasn't the same boy. Her Jason would never have yelled at her the way he'd done earlier. Tried to mediate between her and that meddling hussy Elise, sure, but yell at them both? A day ago Giselle would have said it couldn't happen. Now she saw a different side of her boyfriend, and it made her a little wary … and a little intrigued.
This new Jason seemed to be a more interesting prospect than the sweet, serious, slightly shy boy she'd been dating. He was more single-minded and determined than she would have guessed he could be, facing into the icy wind as if he couldn't feel it. And when they got to their first stop, Jason took the lead and began questioning the clerk at the book store. Giselle hung back and listened to his low, persuasive voice, noticed the intensity of his gaze and the tension in his muscular shoulders, and she began to worry.
This was a young man – she couldn't properly call him a boy, even if she was certain no woman had made a man of him yet – who was wholeheartedly, unswervingly devoted to his twin. In his concern for Kala, he'd almost forgotten Giselle was there. Her stomach began to churn slowly; what would he do if he found out she'd been the one to start the rumors? All the nasty, vicious things Kala had said and done to her would be forgotten, and Giselle herself would become the enemy.
She swallowed, her throat making a dry click, and grabbed them both some hot chocolate to keep going. If she had any hope of redeeming herself, she'd have to be twice as devoted to this search as Jason was.
Just at that moment, her phone rang. "Mom?" she answered. Jason took the hot chocolate with a preoccupied air and headed out, forcing Giselle to trot after him with the phone pressed to her ear.
"How are things going?" the voice on the other end asked.
"We're still looking for her," Giselle replied. "Jason and I are checking the places she usually hangs out."
"Tell him I wish you both luck. When do you think you'll be in this evening?"
"I'm not sure," Giselle said with real worry, watching her boyfriend carefully. "Late, probably. Can you pick me up?"
"I'll be busy. Something came up at work – I'd be helping you all, otherwise. But you can call Taya if you need a ride."
"Okay. I'll call you if we get a good lead, Mom."
"Good girl," Justine said, and the two hung up with their usual brief goodbyes. Giselle almost had to run to catch back up to Jason, and she dedicated herself to keeping pace with him for the rest of the search.
They'd barely gone three blocks before Elise stopped and turned to Sebast with an expression of curious concern. "It's not like I can't tell that you're freaked out by more than just Kala lighting out on us. Are you pissed at me? Because all I did was keep a secret like she told me to. I didn't even know for sure that she wasn't going to tell you."
Sebast stopped to look her in the eye. From the way those gray eyes watched him, Elise clearly thought he would be within his rights to place the blame on her. He sighed then, coming forward to hug her. "No, I'm not mad at you," Sebast replied most sincerely, putting an arm around her shoulder and making her walk with him. "But I am mad at the psychotic little bitch that made me think Kala had gone and slept with this Nick guy." Elise raised an eyebrow as he continued, "I'm also pissed at myself, for being dumb enough to believe that shit. I know Kala. She thinks she's too good for just about anyone – except me, of course, but that's a whole other issue."
Elise couldn't help snickering at that last line. Kala did tend to brush off most guys as unworthy; even the ones she dated rarely got to stay with her longer than a few weeks. And none of them had gotten more than a kiss, if they were lucky and she was feeling generous. On the other hand, Sebast and Kala had taken a six-week Latin dance course after school and learned the rudiments of tango, salsa, and rumba, just so they could incorporate some of the moves into their club dancing. Elise had heard that they were almost kicked out of a teen club. Maybe his assertion that she considered him the only man good enough for her was partially true.
"I shouldn't have believed that slut," Sebast muttered. "Now she's gonna be spreading that rumor everywhere as soon as we go back to school."
Her confusion was written all over her face when she glanced at him. "So why didn't you say who it was? I mean, whoever she is, Jason's gonna want to have words with her. And I might round up some of Kala's girlfriends and kick her gossipy ass once this is all over."
Sebast looked at her, rolling his dark eyes. "Like I was gonna say something while the two-faced mosquita muerta was sitting right there, looking like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. I swear she's sucked out Jason's brain – he wouldn't believe me even if I told him."
That opened those gray eyes wide. Confusion gave way to absolute disbelief. "Giselle?!" Elise exclaimed, trying not to yell. "It was Giselle? Oh my God, I knew she hated Kala, but I didn't know how much! Is she out of her mind? He's going to kill her!"
"Giselle," Sebast confirmed. "And she fed me a good enough line that I actually bought it. More fool me – if I was a really good friend, I wouldn't have approached Kala like I did when I talked to her." The look on his face made it clear how angry he was with himself.
Furious, Elise crossed her arms. She should have expected as much, with all of the duplicity she had seen the other girl show to other people at school. It shouldn't have come as any surprise, but it had to be stopped. Immediately. "So, how and when are we gonna tell Jason?"
"That's just the thing. We can't. What good would it do? He'll think we just hate her, like everyone else." It obviously annoyed Sebast to say it, his eyes narrowed.
Elise scowled, but he had a point. "I'll tell you one thing," she said after a moment. "When we find Kala, I'm telling her. Not only will she believe it, she'll give us ringside seats when she gets her revenge."
"Damn right. See, this is why I missed you, Elise," Sebast stated with a fond smile, and then they were at the coffee shop Kala frequented. "Let's find our girl."
As night fell, the search had to be called off. Every train station, airport, and subway station had already been checked by a small army of family, friends, and police officers. They'd started on hotels next, and managed to get to most of the ones Lois thought Kala might go to. All the better hotels had been checked, and the concierges had copies of a photo of Kala.
It didn't seem likely that Kala would take a room in a cheap motel; she was accustomed to certain standards, and no one expected to find her in the $30-a-night fleapits. By ten o'clock, Maggie had to call the searchers in; Lucy had actually passed out, the result of spending too many hours on her feet in the cold. The rest of the searchers were bordering on exhaustion, and Lois and Maggie had come to the reluctant conclusion that Kala was either with Nick Powell, or she'd gotten out of the city without somehow leaving a trail for them to follow.
Lois knew that would be terrifyingly easy for her daughter to do. Kala could run as fast as a car; she didn't have her father's endurance yet, but when she wanted to she could cover some serious distance. Knowing that, Lois had reluctantly agreed to end the search. The kids also had to be called off; none of them wanted to quit, but Sebast was asleep standing up and Elise had gotten blisters from running around in boots. They had only acquiesced when Maggie bullied them into going home, then made a point of calling Clark and harangued him into coming home. The police would keep an eye out for Kala tonight – as a minor, hers was declared a missing-persons case as soon as Lois called Maggie, instead of having to wait twenty-four hours like they would have had to do for an adult.
Clark remembered to appear at the front door, and Lois had never seen him so weary and bedraggled. The devastation shining in his eyes told her that he'd searched everywhere, everywhere, and found not a trace of Kala. Maggie hugged him and Lois both before she left. "We'll take up the search at first light," the policewoman said. "Try to get some sleep."
Lois uttered a short laugh; tired as she was thanks to last night's fitful sleep on the couch, sleep seemed to be impossibility. Still, she had to try and rest for tomorrow's search; maybe by then they would have some actual leads. The police were still sorting through all of the possible permutations of the name Nick Powell, and by tomorrow a full day's shift of hotel and transportation staff would have heard about the missing girl. Sighing, Lois headed up the hall to the master bedroom.
Kal-El followed without a word. Last night's argument hadn't vanished from their memories, but it assumed far less importance in light of Kala running away. Lois hesitated in the bedroom door, turning back to look at Kal-El. "I should check on Jason," she murmured. Anxiety and exhaustion were battering at her brain, but she had to make sure one of her twins was safe.
"He's fine," Kal-El said quietly, and the rusty tone of his voice spoke eloquently of his exhaustion. He had flown over most of the eastern seaboard, listening intently, and hadn't stopped for a sunbath in three days. Somehow he summoned the energy to continue, "Jason's in Kala's room with Bagel. He's already asleep, or close to it."
Lois nodded; she wanted to go to her son, but if he was close to drifting off, she'd rather let him get the rest. She headed into their bedroom, pulling her blouse off and dropping it onto a chair.
Kal-El flicked the light switch, plunging the room into darkness, and Lois heard the rustle of fabric from his side of the bed. She finished getting undressed and went to her chest of drawers for a nightgown…
…when suddenly Kal-El was behind her, his arms around her, his face buried in her hair. She stiffened for an instant, last night's rash words still hanging between them, finally relaxing against him with a tiny sigh of relief when no words were said. For a long moment, he just stood there in the blackness, holding her, and Lois let herself lean on him for strength.
Just about the time Lois began to think that they should go ahead and get in bed, even if neither of them had any chance at sleep, Kal-El nuzzled in and kissed the back of her neck firmly. Lois shivered; he knew exactly where the sweet spot was. She whispered his name, and he nibbled her nape, his hands sliding down her stomach.
Lois turned in his arms, reaching blindly for his face in the darkened room. She drew him down to her and kissed him, kissed him long and hungrily while his strong hands kneaded the muscles of her back and shoulders. They both wanted this comfort, this escape; no words were necessary, hands and hips spoke eloquently in the dark.
Kal-El led her to the bed, and the warmth of his touch set her body afire. For a little while, at least, they could both forget their failures and the trials that faced them. He kissed her as if he would devour her, his mouth greedy on her shoulders, her breasts, the soft curve of her belly and the swell of her hip. Lois tangled her fingers in his hair, bringing him up to her so she could return those desperate kisses, flick her tongue along the pulse in his throat and nip at his collarbone.
He rolled her under him and Lois' legs came up around his waist without hesitation, her teeth clenched so as not to wake Jason – he wouldn't understand this at all, would've thought them uncaring, vulgar in their disregard. But it was because they loved Kala, loved her and couldn't bear the pain of not knowing where she was, that they sought refuge in each other. In grief, in love, in sympathy with each other's failings and ashamed of their own, Lois and Kal-El came together again.
She couldn't help crying out softly, back arching with the extremity of it, and a moment later he shuddered as he reached the pinnacle with her. Lois collapsed against the mattress, feeling his weight fall on her just the slightest as they both tried to catch their breath. Her body and mind were just starting to relax, the reporter thinking she might just be able to sleep now if she took a Tylenol PM … when she felt Kal-El's lips against the curve of her neck, and he began to rock his hips gently against her in a way that made her eyes roll back again. Giving a helpless whimper, Lois rose to meet him frantically; twice was not unusual for them, and if the first round had helped her forget the dilemma they were in, the second might help her let go of the feeling that it was all her fault.
When he finally let her rest, they had managed a third time and Lois' mind had temporarily forgotten everything but the man who held her. So emotionally and physically exhausted that she slipped easily into sleep with a soft murmur of love, she was only vaguely aware of Kal-El snuggling up to her. He himself lay awake only a few minutes longer than she did, unable to remember the last time he'd felt this tired. Things would, had to, look better in the brightness of daylight.