Seeing as how there are at least a few that have stated that I really needed to just get this thing out XD, I'll refrain from a long intro. I will say that if you have a copy of 30 Seconds to Mars' Alibi, I very much suggestion you listen to it through last section of the chapter, starting from Lois leaving the room to shower. I'm seriously considering another fanmix for the section of the fic about to come, as I've been using some fantastic music for inspiration. I really hope that this guy will tide you over until two more weeks go by. BIG things ahead. I just hope the trust you guys have placed in me continues. I will break my rules on spoilers to say that I wouldn't lead you on for this many years to not have a good pay-off at the end. And there's a scene that coming up that's going to kill me to write. But it will be worth it. Trust me.

And with that cryptic promise, may I present?


Kal-El was deep in the coal mine, focused on the fire, but recent experience had reminded him never to tune out the rest of the world completely. Jason's screams for help cut across his hearing, and horror filled him. They should never have left the kids alone, it was exactly what Luthor wanted them to do. His heart seemed to shatter like crystal, in agony at the thought of losing Jason, too. It was bad enough with Kala still missing. To hear Jason screaming for help was more terror and fury than Kal-El could bear.

Even while he thought that, he was flying, the downdraft from his departure knocking down the flames for a moment. He only had a moment, perhaps two, before the fire grew into a conflagration, so Kal-El flew at his top speed. He was a mirage above the desert sand, a hazy blur there and gone so swiftly no human eye could have captured his image. He homed in on Jason's voice without paying attention to the fact that he'd passed the hotel. All that mattered right then was getting there in time.

Jason was in a drainage canal running for his life from a flash flood – with Elise. No more than ten feet behind them, a wall of water threatened to smash both of them against the concrete walls. So close – but he'd still made it in time, and relief washed over him. Kal-El braked slightly, just enough that he wouldn't snap their necks when he grabbed them, and snatched both kids out of harm's way.

He dropped them both on the roof of the hotel, giving them a quick glance to make sure they were both all right. Neither was injured, only terrified, and Kal-El left while Jason was still trying to frame the words 'thank you'. Even though he wanted nothing more than to hug his son right at that moment, grateful that he'd been fast enough to save Jason, he couldn't stay. The coal fire remained to be fought, but thanks to his speed, he made it back before the flames could seize the fuel he'd just beaten them back from.

There was no time to think about what had just happened, no time to be frightened or relieved or exasperated. Kal-El was just glad to know that the kids were momentarily safe, and that their near future contained an extremely stern warning about staying where they were told to.

Everything happened so fast that he couldn't keep up. One minute, Jason was praying with all his might that he'd move quickly enough to get himself and Elise clear, the next wind was rushing past his face as his father swooped them up. Mind still trying to catch up to the change in circumstance, Jason staggered a little as they landed. He'd never flown that fast before, or been dropped off without a word. Something must be going very wrong somewhere…

After a moment, the world seemed to solidify again. His shoes squelched when he moved, and he looked down to see puddles forming beneath his and Elise's feet. That was enough to send a chill ran down his spine as he realized they'd been rescued just before the water would have swept his feet out from under him. Close enough to the flood to have gotten his shoes wet. Closing his eyes for a moment, he sighed with enormous relief. He had never been so relieved to be busted by a parent in his life. "That was too close," he shuddered before opening his eyes to gauge Elise's emotional state. "Are you okay?"

What he saw when he turned to her wasn't a real surprise, considering the situation. She was staring at him with an expression of absolute disbelief. It was the word that came out of her mouth that blew him away. "Dad?!"

Jason felt himself blanch, blue eye wide with horror. Oh, God, I didn't. Oh God. Idiot! Think fast, stupid – you're already going to be grounded for the year, you don't want to be on restriction 'til you turn eighteen! Me and my big mouth! Quickly he grasped at the nearest straw. "He's my godfather. You know…"

Elise, however, was having none of it as she cut him off. "Don't even try it, Jason Kent, you couldn't lie your way out of a paper bag," Elise snapped. "Dad. Seriously. You just called Superman Dad. And then he actually showed up to save us."

Cornered, Jason had no idea how to proceed, so he just plowed forward with misdirection. It had to work. Something had to work. God, this had been such a stupid idea. Mom and Dad were going to kill him. Actually, no, it would be worse. Please let her listen. Please let her let it go… "It's kind of his job to do that. Besides, he wouldn't leave us. Look, Elise…"

She rolled her eyes at him in annoyance. Jason felt sick; she wasn't going to be talked out of it. "Don't start the plausible deniability crap with me. Just how epically freaking stupid do you think I am? You yelled for Dad, and Superman answered. Not only that, you were outrunning a flashflood while carrying me! So either the rumors are true about your mom and Superman, or your dad is really…"

Before she could even finish, Jason sat down in a defeated heap on the rooftop. How could I have been so dumb? All I wanted to do was help and now this. Head in his hands, he groaned, "I'm so grounded. They're going to kill me."

It had taken a few minutes to get herself together, steeling herself against the various pains, to make it out to the car. The trip hadn't been pleasant, to say the least, and it seemed like everything ached when she collapsed into the driver's seat of the rental. Head leaned against the steering wheel for a moment, Lois made herself push aside the pain. The last few days were beginning to feel like a sadistic version of Let's Make A Deal. Just how much pain, anger, and emotional scourging are you willing to endure to keep your family?

The answer was simple, if a little hard to take. All. I'm willing to bet all.

There wasn't time for resting, regardless of how beaten up she felt. If Graves had been here, Luthor had to have figured out their location. None of this mattered right now. She could whimper and whine over bumps and bruises later. Just had to compartmentalize her body's reaction to it and move on. Centering herself, she took a few deep breaths and relaxed her body. Slowly, the worst of it drained away. The rest she could easily ignore, for the time being. Once her mind started to quiet, she couldn't help a chuckle. God, I'm getting too old for this shit.

It was only when Lois was moving to put the car in gear that she glanced into the middle console and saw the screen on her phone blinking. Seems she had a missed call from Lana on her phone. Nothing for a whole day and now it's raining psychos. The party never stops today. Once she was on the road back to the hotel, she returned the call, trying not to get blood from her split knuckles on the rental car steering wheel. "Everything okay, Red?"

The relieved sigh from the other end of the phone didn't bode well. "Thank God you finally called. We had company, Lois. Be careful."

"Too late for that and I'm no good at it," was her immediate and unsurprised response. "I had a little company too, and kicked her ass and sent her running back to her boss. The better question is, are you and Richard all right?" Lois didn't mention the way her left eye felt sore and puffy. Lana would just worry it all out of proportion, especially since they'd likely been in bigger danger than she had. They could count bruises later.

"I'm fine. Richard scraped himself up a little, but he'll be all right with some bandages. Lois, do you have any idea where Clark is?"

"Honestly? Not a clue. I haven't seen or heard from him since we left out this morning." The reporter frowned at the thought. If they had all three been in trouble, why hadn't he put in an appearance?

Lana's next comment made Lois wonder if she was reading her mind. "He's not answering his phone, so maybe he had some company too."

Feeling the blood drain from her face, Lois remembered what Mercy had said. I didn't come here to kill you; I came to warn you. Back off, let it go, or instead of losing one child you'll see your whole family slain. The family had divided for the search. Lois to investigate the warehouse, where she had been confronted with Mercy. Richard and Lana, who had been researching, only to be met by Luthor's goon trying to steal their information. Kal-El, who was doing in-air recon and no one could reach. And Jason and Elise … back at the hotel for safe-keeping. Her biggest fear since the kids had stowed away rose up, only her hard-won control stopping her from immediately going into a full-blown panic. If Luthor had both twins… "Lana, you and Richard get in the car. We have to get back to the hotel now." Lois hung up on Lana and dialed her son's cell phone, praying that he would answer…

They'd made a breakthrough today, achieving unprecedented access to the information on cloning. Kryptonians had once used the technology extensively, but largely abandoned it for ethical reasons. While Jor-El would not share much with them about the topic, he'd finally detailed all of the uses Kryptonians had for cloning and the specific case that had ultimately caused them to ban it.

While Kala had questioned the AI, Zod had been providing a rapid translation of its answers. Luthor's scientists were quite good in Kryptonese, but where possible Zod had shaded his translation so as to cast doubt on theirs. Kala had made sure to get enough background information to occupy Luthor's researchers for a few days before making a couple of intentional mistakes that ended the day's session.

Zod fell into step beside her as they left, and one quick glance showed her his approval. She'd timed it just right, and Kala had to hide a grin. Their partnership was working perfectly, and Luthor hadn't seemed to have caught on to that fact just yet.

The man himself was trailing them out of the lab, glancing over the rough copy of the information they'd just acquired. Kala knew better than to glare at him by now; if she and Zod appeared too friendly or too defiant, it would set off Luthor's paranoia, and the less he interfered with them, the easier their eventual escape would be.

At the moment, it was just the three of them and a couple of security guards moving down the hallway, and Kala had nothing more complicated in mind than lunch. Until Mercy Graves turned the corner ahead, walking toward them. Kala skidded to a halt, eyes wide.

The blonde looked like she'd been in a fight. One eye was swelling shut, her lip was swollen, and she had a scratch on her cheek. A little dried blood lurked at the corner of her mouth, and she moved stiffly, every step painful. Kala froze, impressed. Whoever had done that to the Head of Security was one tough bastard.

Luthor saw her as well, and made an oddly choked chuckling sound. "I see you succeeded in finding Ms. Lane."

Kala felt like she'd been kicked in the chest. Mom had done that? But Mercy was here earlier this morning – that meant Mom was here, somewhere in Nevada, coming to save her. She couldn't help gasping in surprise and relief, elation soaring through her. "I see my mother righteously kicked your ass," Kala gloated.

Mercy glared at her, blue eyes narrowed in anger, but when she spoke her voice was cool and smooth as ever. "Considering that I was under specific orders not to kill her, yes, I did take a bit more of a beating than I'd planned. But your mother isn't as young as she used to be, Kala. She's in far more pain than I am."

Zod murmured in Kryptonese, so softly that only Kala's ears caught it, "So speaks any confident aggressor just handed an unexpected defeat." Kala breathed a little easier. How many times had she heard bullies boast, You should've seen the other guy! Usually right after she'd beaten them up. No one wanted to admit to losing a fight, especially not against what they thought was a weaker opponent.

She smirked at Mercy. "I know my mother. You were lucky to get away with just bruises. If I were you, I'd hide under a rock when she gets here. Mom is a world champion at holding a grudge." On that note, she turned away, meaning to storm off in a clatter of high heels and indignation.

Mercy's mocking voice followed her. "She won't be coming, Kala. You're on your own here until we release you. I managed to convince your mother that the collateral cost is too high to keep trying to rescue you."

Kala wavered, but tried to hold on to what she had always believed. "She would never stop trying. She would never abandon me," she called over her shoulder.

Luthor shook his head slowly. "Everyone has their price, Kala. Hers was in blood. So much has been shed already."

"Liar," Kala said, shivering. Zod waited at her side, close enough to offer comfort without seeming to intrude.

With a smile like the devil's own, Luthor unfolded the newspaper he'd been carrying under his arm all morning. Kala saw the huge bold print letters, and even knowing that this was just a tabloid didn't stop her chest from tightening. LANA LANG SLAIN, the headline screamed.

Part of Kala wanted to crawl into a hole and just die. Her mother and father were used to this, being hunted by madmen, and Daddy Richard had his fair share of heroism. But Lana? Luthor had gone after the one person in the family who couldn't defend herself.

Zod touched her arm lightly, the faintest pressure through her sleeve. "Believe nothing," he murmured in Kryptonese. "I will attempt to confirm or deny this news, but put no faith in it yet. Luthor lies. He always lies."

Kala managed to rally at that. Headlines could be faked; somewhere at home she had a fake cover of Rolling Stone with her photo manipped onto it. It would be very easy for Luthor to falsify a misleading headline like that, especially on a cheap tabloid rag like the Inquirer. "Why should I believe anything you say to me?" Kala said, her voice gaining strength as she dropped back into the cadences of Krypton. "I will not play your games any longer, Luthor. However, there is one thing you should know. If you truly have managed to assassinate my stepmother, you might as well have walked back into prison and locked yourself in a cell. My family will never stop hunting you."

With that, she succeeded in storming off. Zod waited, watching her leave, and when he was certain she was out of earshot he turned to Luthor. "Your method of convincing her to join us is quite unconventional," he said coldly. "One would almost suspect you wish her to hate us and defy us at every turn."

Luthor chuckled nastily. "I don't care if she likes us – and neither do you, General. The difference is, I know what we want from her. What's your angle?"

"What else? You promised me my freedom if I could convince her to work with you," Zod said, and turned away to follow Kala.

"He doesn't really believe that," Mercy mused.

"I didn't think he was stupid enough to buy it," Luthor concurred.

Mercy nodded. "Whatever he's up to, we'll have to keep an eye on him. Meanwhile, I hope the evacuation is proceeding smoothly. They'll be on their way as soon as they can manage it."

"Good," Luthor said. "Where do you expect them to strike?"

"I found Ms. Lane in the warehouse. If she follows the addresses on those crates, she'll turn up at the aboveground storage area for this facility. We should have some warning, though." She smirked triumphantly.

"So you did manage to plant a tracking device on her," Luthor said with a grin.

Mercy rubbed the corner of her mouth, scowling at the blood there. "It wouldn't have been worth letting her win the fight otherwise." She would never admit to Luthor just how close a thing it had been; Lois Lane had hidden reserves that Mercy had never suspected. It unsettled her to go into the final phase of their plans after discovering such a revelation, but Mercy was a realist. She knew she would never convince Lex to hold back now, when he could almost taste victory. It would be her task to ensure that he didn't overreach himself, and to neutralize any other surprises the family might spring on them.

So wrapped up in the potentially never-ending fallout from his slip-up, Jason and Elise both startled violently when a digital sound came from the boy's direction. Both pairs of eyes glanced from one another to Jason's cell. Already not trusting his traitor mouth to open at all, he wasn't really in the mood to answer it. Even more so when the ringtone told him the call was from Mom. The feeling of impending doom pressed down further. He was going to have to tell her. He was going to have to tell his mother that he'd… Jason squeezed his eyes closed, wishing he could have that stupid thoughtless moment back.

But if things were as bad as they had been going lately, not answering could be even worse. Dad had clearly been on a rescue; who knows what other kinds of hell had broken loose? "Hi, Mom," he murmured dully into the receiver, a hand coming up to press against his forehead.

His mother didn't have to shout; the intensity in her voice worked much better than sheer volume. There was an uneasy mix there, anger and fear in equal measure. "Where are you?"

The boy took a deep breath before replying, "On the roof of the hotel." Oh God, she's going to breathe fire. She's never going to forgive me for this.

He could hear her pause, could almost see her look of utter confusion. "The roof?" she asked, the disbelief he'd been expecting there.

"Yeah, the roof. Dad dropped us off here. He was in a hurry." Elise was standing in front of him, but he didn't bother to look up at her. He couldn't bear to see disgust in her eyes.

Another pause, his mother's voice sounding almost panicked now. It was too easy to see what was going on in her mind, how she was hoping she had misheard him. Jason felt his stomach lurch, all too aware that he'd have to explain soon. "Us? Is Elise there with you?"

"Yes."

"And who dropped you off?"

Jason could almost picture her elbowing him in the shoulder, trying to remind him to keep the secret. But it was a little late for that now. "Dad did. Mom, I screwed up. She knows." There was a sharp intake of breath on the line and Lois was silent for a long moment. Wincing already, Jason forced himself to elaborate. "I had to use my powers, Mom. Elise knows the secret."

Again, dead silence on the other end of the line. Jason could only imagine what was going through her mind and wasn't sure he wanted to know. "What the hell…" he finally heard her growl under her breath, her voice tight, then immediately added, "Never mind. We'll come up with something. I'll be at the hotel in five minutes. Sit tight; Lana and your Dad should be there soon." With that, there was a dial tone.

Staring at the phone in his hand, Jason felt about an inch tall. All of Mom's years of subterfuge and now… How could he have been so stupid? "Oh God. She's gonna kill me." Sitting on the roof itself now, the boy buried his head in his hands. And if Mom was pissed at how this had gone so spectacularly out of his control, he could only imagine what Dad would think.

The defeated look on his face worried Elise. He'd had enough guts to defy everyone in an attempt to save his sister, had saved her life in that ravine, and here he was obviously being punished for it. It wasn't fair, especially not to a guy who was here because he wanted his sister back instead of being expected to do this. She couldn't even really compartmentalize the whole half-alien thing right now; she'd deal with that part of it later. It was too much to fit her mind around; for now, it hurt to see how low this was laying him. Elise knelt in front of him, leaning down until she caught his gaze. "Hey, Jason. It's okay. Look, I won't tell anyone, okay?"

His blue eyes were full with so much torn emotion that it hurt her to look at him. "That doesn't matter," he told her in a husky, flat voice. Closing his eyes tightly for a moment, Jason then stood and helped her up. The wounded look in his eyes didn't change, but he seemed to have gotten himself together a little better. "Come on, let's figure out how to get back inside."

It turned out that there was an access door, but it was locked. In his present mood, Jason didn't feel like waiting for someone to come up and let them in, so he forced the doorknob and the lock mechanism snapped under his hand. He led Elise back to the three rooms they'd taken, and settled himself in the middle one to await judgment. With a heavy sigh, he dropped down into the armchair at the side of the bed.

"Jason." Elise was staring at him, and he finally met her eyes only to see worry in them. "We'll tell them it was my idea to go exploring, okay?"

The boy only shook his head. It was obvious that he didn't even consider it a possibility. "No, we'll stick with the truth. It was my idea. You tried to keep me from going, but I just had to be the hero." It sickened him to realize how close he'd come to letting her get hurt. Everyone was right; he wasn't ready for this hero business, not yet. Maybe not ever.

Elise just watched him without a word, her expression making it clear that she had something else to say, but Jason was already looking past her at the door. Moments later, it opened, admitting Richard and Lana. The redhead sighed with relief at the sight of him. "Thank God you're okay. Your mom was scared to death."

Jason, meanwhile, had gotten a good look at Richard. "What happened to you? You were only going to do research!" he asked with real surprise, sitting up in an instant, and then a dark expression crossed his face before he answered his own question. "Luthor."

The older man's usual grin was even more rakish with a bloody scratch angling down his cheek. "Someday he's gonna learn to stop messing with this family," Richard said with a vicious gleam in his eye.

Lana tossed him a cross glance before looking the kids over. "Your mom met with one of his agents, too. I'm actually surprised you kids didn't have a visitor; Lois was fairly sure you would have company."

At that mention of Mom, Jason's confidence seemed to die away a little at that, his face falling. "No, they didn't have to look for us. I was stupid enough to go to them."

Oh, God, not this song and dance again. Before he could get any further, Elise interjected, "Jason, stop it. It wasn't actually all his fault."

"Elise, stop trying to cover for me. Yes, it was," Jason insisted. He took a deep breath and rose to his feet, looking more like his father than ever, little though he knew it. "I wanted so badly to help find Kala, I made a huge mistake. I hacked into Mom's computer to look for her notes, and wound up following a lead in an email that must have been sent by Luthor. I talked Elise into going with me, and we were almost killed when it turned out to be a trap. Dad had to save us – and now Elise knows the secret." His voice dropped almost to a whisper, but he didn't look down. "I'm sorry."

Lana's jaw actually dropped; Elise hadn't realized people did that in real life. Richard looked stunned. The girl felt compelled to step up and say something. "Look, I'm not going to run around telling people or anything. I'm smarter than that."

The redhead gave her a pitying look. "Sweetheart, you're fifteen."

Elise bristled at that, but before she could say anything Lois burst into the room. The reporter looked like hell, her hair disheveled and pale skin dirt-smudged, knuckles bloodied. And the glare she settled on the kids was even more frightening for that. Jason, however, saw only her injuries. "Mom?!"

In any other circumstances, the entire family would've broken down laughing at the sheer irate ferocity in her. So much fury contained so loosely in such a small package was practically a Lois Lane trademark. But not now. Jason had never seen his mother in such a state, more a tornado of emotion than even he was at the moment. "Don't worry about me, that bitch Mercy Graves got the worst of it. Now what the hell happened to you two?"

"Oh, Jason hacked your computer, read your email, and triggered a trap set for you," Richard replied casually enough to make Elise wonder if he was even seeing the way his ex was fuming. He had already gone for the first-aid kit, and held it out to Lois.

She wasn't in the mood for it, though. Jason cringed at the look in her eyes, but he didn't back down, and he didn't try to blame anyone else. Elise, however, dove in front of him. "We didn't come out here to sit in a hotel room and hide," she said. "We wanted to help find Kala. And that's what we were trying to do."

"You should've both stayed right here where you'd be safe. No, we should have shipped the both of you back to Kansas last night, but we would have had the same damn problem," Lois shot back, arms crossed over her chest and giving no ground whatsoever. "Neither one of you have any business being out here. Jason, I can't believe you! I spent almost twenty years trying to keep this a secret, and you went and let your girlfriend find out on the second day the both of you are in Nevada? Un-freaking-believable!"

For Jason to disappoint his mother was a rare thing, and he didn't handle it well. "She's not my girlfriend," he managed to say, visibly wilting.

"Yes, I am, Jason," Elise spoke up, elbowing him with annoyance. Although she could understand why some of this was happening, the need to yell at Jason for situations that had been out of his control was finally getting to be too much for Elise to handle. Much to everyone's surprise, the girl met Lois' eyes and got in between mother and son. "And everything about this family finally makes some sense! I get it, okay? For the fiftieth time, I'm not going to tell anyone! All of you act like I'm some kind of featherbrained idiot who's going to blab to the paparazzi as soon as we get back to Metropolis. 'Hey, guess what, Inquirer? I kissed Superboy!' Not hardly!" Her gray eyes stormy, Elise met each of the adults' gazes with her own defiant stare. "I do have a 4.0 GPA, you know. It's not like I'm Giselle or something. I've got better sense than to run around telling everyone that my boyfriend is Superman's son."

Once she was done, she saw Jason staring at her in wide-eyed confusion. For a moment, she wondered what that look was for: the confession or for sticking up for him? Although he didn't keep her hanging for long. "When did we start dating again?"

The whole family just stood in amazement, none having expected this. "Time," Richard called, as if this were a football game. "Son, when an attractive woman says she's your girlfriend, just roll with it, okay? Never argue with that – unless you're already dating someone else."

Elise was about to start up again, but a sudden breeze rumpled her hair and blew several pages of Lois' notes off the table. When it died down, Clark stepped out of the bathroom in civilian clothes. It was mind-blowing to think that this was Superman, that the same guy who made waffles from scratch on Sunday mornings was the hero she'd seen so frequently on TV. Elise noticed the difference in him immediately, now that she knew the secret, and awe silenced her. He stood straighter, and when he spoke his voice was deeper and more certain. "Jason, I believe I speak for all of us when I say that we are very disappointed in you."

Jason flinched, but automatically dropped into a formal sort of speech Elise had never heard from him before. "Father, I am disappointed in myself as well. I have failed you."

"Enough already," Elise snapped, ignoring the utter weirdness of the moment to defend Jason. "If Mrs. Lane-Kent had been out there instead of us, she couldn't have outrun the freaking flash flood! So technically we probably saved her life by leaving the hotel when we weren't supposed to." She didn't see the way Lois narrowed her eyes angrily at that. It was never a good idea to remind Lois that she was the only person in the house without powers.

Jason looked at Elise, looked at his mother, and then looked at his father. This new steadiness was worrisome to the adults; he was taking this like a man, not a boy. "All I can say is that I promised Kala I would always protect her. If that means risking my own life, then so be it. I only regret involving Elise."

Elise made her feelings on his chivalry known, casting aggravated eyes in his direction. "Oh come on. It wasn't like you forced me to participate, Jason."

As it was, both of them pointedly ignored her. "You are your mother's son, Jason," Clark sighed, knowing that Lois immediately bristled even as he continued, "fearlessly heroic beyond all possibility of caution or restraint."

Before she could even form the words, Richard cut in, trying to divert Lois' impending rage toward himself. "And with Lois' instinct for finding trouble."

And it almost worked. Almost. "Richard, I know what you're doing. Don't help," Lois muttered through gritted teeth.

Clark shook his head slightly, and dropped some of the intensely formal manner. "Well, we don't have much choice but to deal with the repercussions now. Elise, I heard what you said while I was on the way here. I don't doubt your sincerity, but this is a huge secret that you'll have to keep for the rest of your life. I wouldn't ask that of anyone. It's too much a burden."

"But other people must know, right? You've told some people and nothing cataclysmic happened," Elise asked earnestly, gaze straying over to Richard and Lana.

It was the redhead answered her, glancing around at the others before speaking. "None of us were told – we all found out on our own. I didn't know until ten years ago, and I've known Clark since we were both three years old. The twins even figured it out without being told. Outside this room, there are only three people who ever knew the secret: Clark's adoptive parents, and Lois' mother. His parents had to know, and her mother learned the whole truth because she knew Superman was the twins' father when we were trying to convince everyone that Clark was."

Elise tilted her head in confusion, ready to ask a question, but Lois cut her off by saying, "It's more than that. Luthor knows, and so does Mercy."

"Which means his henchmen know, too," Jason muttered. "He told almost everyone on the yacht last time."

"Not necessarily," Lois corrected. "He didn't know Clark was Superman then – he only knew Superman was your father. We've been hearing rumors about that ever since I got pregnant, though, so it wasn't much of a stretch to tell the guys who kidnapped you and Kala. Anyway, Luthor wouldn't let anyone else know Clark's identity if he could help it. That's too much power for him to share."

Clark mused over that. "You have a point."

"That was the whole reason I cut a deal with him in the first place: to protect your identity. He couldn't tell his people, because if one of them decided to spread the news, his threat would lose its power and I would nail his ass to the wall." Lois cut her husband a pointed look at that.

"Okay, folks, let's regroup and figure out what our next move will be," Richard said. "And while we're doing that, Lois, sit down for a second and let me look at your hands. You really gave that broad a beating, didn't you? Let me get some triple antibiotic on those scratches." His admiring tone took the sting out of the reminder that she'd been injured, and Lois reluctantly let Richard tend to her while they all pooled their information.

Once everyone's stories had been shared, Clark brooded in thoughtful silence for several moments. "I'm afraid that Luthor's no longer working alone. From what Mercy told you, Lois, he has some sort of accomplice at the facility with him. And from what I've seen, he's managed to network with the archenemies of the League. It's the only logical explanation for what happened today."

"So there's, what, an Anti-Justice League now?" Richard asked.

"Apparently," Clark replied dryly. Richard didn't curse in front of Lana very often because she disapproved of that sort of language, but she didn't even scowl at his muttered profanity then.

"We might as well stay here tonight," Lana said. "Luthor may very well know which hotel we're in, but security's pretty tight here. Do you think he would try something in such a public place?"

Lois glanced at her, smirking at the question. "After he got burned the last few times? Probably not."

"I'd be much happier if all of you were safely in Kansas, but I know…" Clark sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

The hazel eyes then swung to him, her expression dark. "Exactly. Tough," Lois snapped out before he could finish. "If I was in Kansas I wouldn't have been able to find the address Luthor's sending all the supplies to and beat the crap out of Mercy Graves. And lemme tell you, I needed that. Nothing like a thorough, righteous ass-kicking to make my day a little brighter."

Clark made a sound then, perhaps a stifled chuckle, but it sounded scoffing to Lois. She was still keyed up from the fight and the revelation that her precious boy had blown the secret all to hell. It was little wonder, then, that she turned on Clark. "All right, hero, I know you disapprove of my tactics, but screw that! Some of us weren't born bulletproof, and I don't expect you to show up and fight my battles for me! I was taking care of myself long before you turned up in Metropolis, so don't you dare judge me."

That had been the last thing he'd expected when he'd shown amusement. It felt too close to an attack. His disbelief was palpable when he stared at her, brows furrowed. "What the heck are you talking about?"

The next few minutes rapidly descended into raised voices and hasty words and raw nerves, Richard and Lana trying to keep Lois and Clark from yelling at each other. There was simply too much adrenaline and stress in the room for anyone to get past the initial miscommunication.

In the middle of it, Jason decided that he'd heard all he needed to. Grabbing Elise's hand, he practically dragged her into the next room. The adults were too busy to even notice. "God, I can't stand any more of this," he groaned once the door was closed. "They've been doing nothing but sniping at each other for weeks now. I swear, they've never been like this before. I wish they'd just stop already."

"I'm sorry," Elise told him, her mind still spinning at all the revelations. Superman was in the next room getting yelled at by his wife. What a head trip.

Jason sat down heavily on the bed, rubbing his forehead. The strain on his face hurt to even seen, the clear guilt there. "How did this turn into such a huge screw-up? Where did I go wrong?"

Elise thought about for a second, a frown of her own forming, then grabbed one of the pillows and whacked him upside the head with it. "News flash, Superboy: it's not all about you. Your parents' problems aren't your fault. Your sister taking off and getting snatched by Luthor isn't your fault. Luthor freaking trying to kill us isn't your fault, either. Yeah, we screwed up today walking into a trap, but it's not the end of the world."

At least that got a startled smile out of him, blue eyes wide before he dropped his head and laughed. When he looked back up, his expression was unclouded and it did Elise's heart good to see it. Misery didn't suit him in the least. "Thanks for sticking up for me, by the way."

"You're welcome. Someone has to." Elise smiled back and sat down next to him, trying to reconcile the Jason she knew and yes, loved, with the revelations she'd had today. "So, care to explain how I wound up dating a super-sekret babeh?"

Jason took one look at her face, her raised eyebrows and the twinkle lurking in her eyes and burst out laughing again. She was still confused, didn't understand any of what was going on, but she wasn't scared or grossed-out, it was obvious by everything she was doing right now. And that was enough to convince Jason that, despite the chaos around him, maybe things would be okay.

Sniping at each other was pointless and stupid, and even in the heat of her anger Lois realized it. Besides, they weren't getting anything resolved and, in her current mood, it was more than she could tolerate. Not allowing herself to think of anyone else's feelings at that moment, she brushed off Richard and Lana and turned her back on the whole argument. She had to get out of here, had to be alone before she started to buckle. "I've had enough. When everything starts to make some kind of freakin' sense, let me know. I need a shower," she snarled, standing up abruptly and storming off into the next room, slamming the door behind her.

Or trying to, anyway, because Kal-El caught it before it could latch, and followed her in. Behind him, Lana said something exasperatedly about letting the two hard-heads just fight it out. "Lois, listen," he tried to say, but she cut him off before he could even get started.

"Can it. I've been rolling around on a warehouse floor. I need a shower, I need a cigarette, and I need a hundred percent less passive-aggressive bullshit from you. But two out of three ain't bad." With that, she headed for the bathroom, and flung that door shut in his face as well.

Kal-El caught it before it could slam shut, but had the sense not to follow her into an enclosed space. He leaned against the wall just outside, leaving the door ajar so Lois could hear him. "Lois, we need to talk."

"Not right now, we don't." Not even sparing him a glance, Lois shed her clothes and tossed them over the towel rack. The locket, which she had worn constantly since the twins gave it to her, she laid carefully aside on the counter. He was blessedly silent for a moment then, and as she turned the water temperature up and stepped into the needling spray, Lois avoided glancing at herself in the mirror. She didn't want to see the damage she'd taken in this fight. Her carefully-applied makeup was surely shot to hell, and the grime from the warehouse floor wasn't helping. Add in bruises and scrapes, and Lois supposed she looked every moment of her actual age, which she hadn't admitted to in years.

That depressing thought drained the adrenaline from her, and Lois had no reserves left. She had pushed herself too hard, worn her competent façade too thin, to keep from falling into the despair that had awaited her since the afternoon her baby girl ran away from home. Gritting her teeth against a sob, she told herself the wetness on her cheeks was from the shower spray, and never mind that it tasted of salt.

Jor-El was right; she had doomed them all. She should never have done any of this. None of it, from the first rescue to the night that had created the twins. How different would his life have been if she hadn't been in it? How much better would the twins' lives have been if she hadn't been their mother? If she hadn't caught his eye, would he have stayed hidden until the other meta-humans had come out of the woodwork? Maybe then they would have been the children of a Kryptonian father and a goddess, would have had a mother who was above all of this. A mother Kala would still be proud to call her own, still proud of the similarities between them the way Kala had been with her as a child. A mother who would have been able to protect them better than she had, who would never have had to bargain with Luthor, who would have been able to end Lex's grip on them forever.

The thought made Lois bite her lip painfully, but she had to admit it. Honestly, how many lives would never been touched by all of this madness, how much heartache could have been stopped, had she never met Kal-El? He would have been happy with Diana, never had half the fears and anxieties he was stuck with as Lois' husband. The immortal Amazon would never age. Never disappoint him. Especially if he had never known any different. Lois shuddered at the idea, but couldn't deny its power. If in some dark corner of her mind she hadn't thought that Kal-El of Krypton and Diana of Themyscira would make a good match, she would never have been so threatened by the princess.

When he had learned that Lois had made a bargain with Luthor, Kal-El had been so furious that he couldn't even speak. It had taken every ounce of his mind and will to grapple with that anger, to keep it from leaping out and accusing Lois of causing this whole fiasco. If he was honest, he was still angry with her. She should never have dealt with that madman, and she should never have kept it a secret from him. They should've been done with secrets ten years ago, when she finally told him the twins were his. Maybe if Lois had been honest with him, he would've seen this coming somehow…

All he wanted to was to let this go, to smooth things over, and go to sleep. All of them had had a rough day; he could still smell the oily smoke from the coal fire, and probably should've been taking a shower too. But Lois had made it very clear that she didn't want him encroaching on her space. Kal-El sighed, wishing for the days when he could share a shower with his wife, and perhaps relieve a little stress as well. When had the spontaneous affection disappeared?

Standing out here in silence wasn't helping. He needed to talk to her, no matter how little either of them wanted to have this conversation. About secrets, about uncertainties, and about where they were going from here. Kal-El took a deep breath and turned toward the bathroom door. "Lois. Please, just listen to me for a few minutes. Lana and Richard are right, you know. If Luthor has allies, we have to be at our best, and we're nowhere near a hundred percent when we're like this."

"Like what?" came the cagey answer from behind the frosted glass shower door, Lois' voice oddly garbled.

"Like two people who don't love each other," he replied, softly. "We're both so ready to take offense. We're ticking each other off with a word or a look. How did we get to this point?"

There was a harsh laugh then, bitter as day-old coffee, before she replied in that distorted voice, "I think that may have started when you blamed me for everything that went wrong, and practically vaporized me out of our living room with a look! Maybe before that, but I'm pretty sure that's when it got the worst."

Kal-El mastered his temper before he could snap at her. As if all of this was his fault! Talking to Richard and Lana had helped him understand why Lois had made that bargain with his worst enemy, but the sheer outrage he felt had only barely begun to fade. Still, he had reached the point in the argument where he wanted it to be over more than he wanted to win.

In spite of that, it galled him to apologize. Kal-El could not escape the belief that his anger had been justified. His means of expressing it, however, might not have been. "I admit I overreacted."

There was silence on the other side of the curtain, the only sound the gurgle of the water and the sound of the run-off hitting the porcelain of the tub surface. He was about to go on when he heard her mutter, "Once again, he comes out with the understatement of the year. As always, Kal-El, you have a way with words. You didn't even wait for an explanation. You just ate me up right there."

Kal-El took a deep breath. Balling his hands into fists somehow helped keep his tone level. "I was furious. I didn't think there could be any explanation for that."

"Oh, so you just assumed that, after he tried to kill the four of us, and Lana and Richard, I just randomly and for no reason at all, decided to make a deal with him that puts all of those lives at stake again? Nice to know just how well you believe in me there! Didn't it occur to you once that maybe he had dirt on us? That he got to us in the first place because he knew things he shouldn't?" The anger in her voice was a live wire, and quite nearly masked the pain beneath.

Time had taken the edge off of his sense of betrayal, and now Kal-El was starting to understand things from her perspective. He no longer doubted that Lois had chosen what seemed to her the lesser of two evils, no longer scoffed at the notion that she had done it out of her belief that she was protecting the entire family. At the heart of it, Lois had only done what she felt she had to do in order to keep them all safe.

Something clicked in his mind then. Lois had kept the deal a secret so as not to burden him. It couldn't have been easy for her, always looking over her shoulder, wondering when Luthor would break his word – or when Kal-El would find out. She had suffered alone, believing she was acting in everyone's best interests, and when the truth came out, it had all blown up in her face. What she'd thought was a mercy turned out to be unimaginable cruelty. And Kal-El, who had stolen her memories so that he would be the only one tormented by the loss of their relationship, knew that feeling all too well.

Knowing that, he couldn't be quite so wrathful with her anymore. "Lois, I'm sorry. I was angry, and I wasn't thinking logically. Wait – No, honestly, I wasn't thinking at all. I should have given you the chance to explain." But the return of mental clarity also meant Kal-El realized their problems ran a lot deeper than just this recent mess.

Lois was silent, neither accepting his apology nor snarling back defiantly. Kal-El didn't need his x-ray vision to picture her frozen, eyes wide, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Softly, knowing she was listening intently, he said, "I was wrong, Lois. But all of this – Kala running away, the call from Luthor – has shown me something very clearly. And it's that the problems between you and I aren't going to be solved by a simple apology."

His wife gave a small laugh then, the splashing of the water indicating that she was washing the conditioner out of her hair, shaking it to free herself of the excess. He knew her well enough to know that she'd use the cold water on her hair quickly before the end, despite how much she hated the water temperature. If he knew that, why couldn't he have seen all of this coming? As he was turning that over in his mind, he felt the heat in the room dip and Lois responded with, "What are you implying, Kal-El? That you and I have bigger things to worry about than trust issues? Tell me about it."

He took a deep breath then, bracing himself. The conversation had made its way around to the confrontation he'd been dreading. And, even though they needed to get this out in the open, he wasn't sure he was ready for it. "I'm not talking about Luthor."

Her voice was just as terse as he had been expecting. "Then what the hell is your problem?" The sound of the water stopped then, and one pale hand reached out to whisk a towel from the rack. If she was staying in there to dry off, it was a bad sign. Lois was not overtly modest and usually stepped out onto the matt to do that, a quirk of hers he'd become attuned to in the last decade. It was not a good sign. And any second Lois would be dressed again and determined to get away. Kal-El had to get to the heart of the issue, quickly.

"I'm talking about your insecurity, for one," he blurted out, and immediately closed his eyes. That hadn't come out right…

The reporter was already climbing out of the shower while he considered what to do next, towel wrapped around her tightly. His wife hadn't even looked at him, jaw set and eyes forward, as she stalked across the tile floor. When the words came out, she had just reached the bathroom door. It was as if time stopped for a moment; she halted mid-step on the threshold as if she'd been turned to stone by those words, a startled expression bright as a deer in the headlights. Slowly, slowly, that beloved face tracked toward him, the amazed shock draining away to be replaced with eyes narrowing to a stiletto-point. "What?" she hissed with tightly bound fury. He knew that look, and its potential for destruction; not for nothing was Lois called Mad Dog Lane around the office.

Kal-El couldn't remember any instance in his life when he had been more inclined to back down and give in. He could almost see the sign over her head that read Do Not Proceed. Enter At Own Risk. But for love of her, to not lose her, it had to be done. With that thought in mind, he squared his shoulders and took a deep breath before he open his mouth and dove into what could likely be the greatest battle of his life.