By Sue S. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: June, 2006
Summary: When Lois and Clark investigate the disappearance of artifacts from an archaelogical excavation, they both learn how the past can be rewritten. This takes place near the end of season two sometime after "Individual Responsibility" but before "Whine, Whine, Whine." From the beginning it was easy for me to understand what Lois could see in Clark. I honestly used to wonder sometimes just what he saw in her. This story is what my inner mild-mannered reporter had to say on the matter.
A few notes before we start:
I was a history major and I almost always find it irritating when someone plays fast and loose with historical events. That said, I beg your indulgence while I freely and willfully alter or completely make up people and events to suit the story. This is a work of fiction, not a recitation of history; it just happens to bear a striking resemblance to some actual people, places and events. Actually, it contains a reference to a real historical figure but I didn't take many liberties with him.
Revising history is the least of my sins since I'm also using fictional characters that don't belong to me. I've also borrowed liberally from 'Foundling'. Try to take comfort in the fact that I'm not making any money from this story.
This story is for my favorite history major, Sara. She's also my beta and I can't begin to express how grateful I am for her input. Thanks for reassuring me in all my insecurities and for pointing out my mistakes. Most of all, thank you for your sense of humour (see, I spelled it right just for you - and the Iron Lady <g>). You rock my world!
I must also express my appreciation to DJ who beta'd the PG version of this story for me. She suffered through computer problems with me and persevered beautifully with some of the fastest turnarounds on a beta I've ever seen. Thanks DJ!
The PG version of this story wouldn't exist without the kind assistance given to me by Vicki. She helped me rework the story so that the important plot points weren't lost.
Text bracketed inside < > is a memory.
"This had better be worth it, Clark. Otherwise, believe me, I will get even with you."
From anyone else those words would be an idle threat. Out of the mouth of Lois Lane they are enough to make even Superman tread lightly. Normally I would just let her rant, but I'm feeling especially reckless today. She's been not so subtly complaining since we left Metropolis this morning. Bad weather, flight delays and switching to the small single-engine plane that brought us to this decrepit little airfield have not improved her mood.
"It was your decision to come, Lois. Not mine."
"It wasn't my decision, it was Perry's. And it's your stupid story."
"It's not a stupid story. Doesn't it make you angry to know that artifacts that belong in a museum are being stolen and sold on the black market?"
Lois stands up and walks away, apparently as tired of this argument as I am. Just as I think that maybe I'm going to have a small respite she turns around and comes back towards me. "So where is this guy? Your friend, what's his name?"
"Joshua Grey. And I don't know where he is, maybe he got held up."
"Maybe he's not coming."
"Then we'll be sitting here for a long time, won't we?" I give her my sunniest smile.
She turns around, her heels clacking impatiently against the well-worn linoleum floor as she stalks away from me. She stops in front of the vending machine and puts her hands on her hips as she assesses the fact that nothing new has appeared inside since she last checked maybe, oh, three minutes earlier.
"… Big fat stupid story about what… pottery shards? I mean, who cares? Besides Clark? Who really cares?" She's muttering under her breath, completely unaware that I can hear her just fine.
I sigh and look at my watch. We've been sitting here for over half an hour and there's still no sign of Josh. When I spoke with him last night he had repeated our flight information back to me twice, just to make certain there were no mix-ups. It's puzzling that he's not here, but I'm not ready to give up on him just yet. Besides, I get a certain amount of enjoyment from watching Lois stew. Nobody frets better and - especially on her worst days - she can make me laugh. On the inside anyway. I know better than to laugh out loud at her right now.
She continues to mutter about the dearth of Double Fudge Crunch bars in the machine and to cast abuse at me in general. I tilt my head towards the road outside and listen. There's a distant engine noise but it's too far away to tell if their destination is the airfield.
Lois moves further away from me, her steps more slow and deliberate as she paces. I can tell she's thinking and I wonder how long it's going to take her to bring up just why Perry insisted that she come along on this story.
I called Perry two nights ago to tell him about Josh and the theft of several valuable artifacts from his small university-sponsored archaeological dig. When I told him I was going to come out and join the dig, Perry asked me if I'd consider bringing Lois along. I was hoping he'd suggest the idea first. Think of it as plausible deniability.
It's been nearly a week since Lois received an anonymous series of photographs - all of her in unguarded moments like walking to work, sitting at her desk, and wandering through her apartment wearing only a towel. There was no note or explanation left with the pictures - a silence that I still find unnerving.
We haven't been able to discover who took them, who sent them, or why. Perry thinks it's Lex Luthor, who reappeared recently in her life before skulking back into the shadows. I think Luthor's smarter than that but I'm at a loss to know who's behind it. I've flown past her apartment several times a night since then but I've never seen anyone or anything suspicious. Lois has shrugged it off with her usual bravado but it doesn't fool either Perry or myself. She agreed to come along on this story easily enough and I know she's only being grouchy because it's preferable to admitting that she's scared.
One thing you should know about Lois - what you see on the surface is often miles away from what's actually happening inside that amazing mind of hers. I've gleaned this knowledge from observation and from being in the right place when the veneer cracks and her grip loosens on the facade she tries to keep so tightly in place.
When we first started working together I was well on my way to considering her a world-class bitch. That was until Dr. Baines tied us up and tried to kill us. Lois surprised me by breaking down and confessing that she'd broken all the "rules" she'd spat out at me the day before. In a moment of clarity I realized that there were two Lois Lane's. She may be tough and cynical on the outside but it's only to hide her soft candy center. I love both sides of her, just not equally. I enjoy the verbal sparring with the bitchy one. She keeps me on my toes and, like I said earlier, I find her amusing since I know that it's all an act. It's the other Lois, the one I only see occasionally, that I love to distraction. That Lois brings out every protective and tender feeling I have, stretching those emotions until they're almost exquisite pain.
Sometimes though, on days like today, I'm left to wonder what it really is about her that draws me in. Those glimpses of her soul are becoming more frequent but they're still rare. So what is it that intrigues me? Is it her intelligence? Her body? The challenge? Some bizarre and exhilarating combination of all of the above?
"Hello! Earth to Clark?"
"What?" I glance up and she's standing next to me, her eyebrows knit together in suspicion. "Sorry. I was just… thinking."
"Hmph." She doesn't look like she actually believes me - she thinks I was ignoring her on purpose. "I asked if you'd switch seats with me."
"The one you're on looks softer."
I look at the chair next to me. It's exactly the same. I don't know what her game is and I toy with the idea of telling her "no" just to push her buttons. I decide it's not worth the risk, especially since I don't know how long we'll be stuck here. I get up and move to the other seat muttering under my breath, "There's nothing wrong with that chair."
"What?" Lois asks suspiciously.
"I said, 'Sure, take this chair'."
She frowns, but she can't prove what I did or didn't say. She murmurs something resembling a thank you as she sits down. I listen for the engine noise. It seems now to be headed in our direction. Lois begins to fidget, picking at the cracked plastic of the arm between our chairs. I know she's working up to something, but I can't decide if she wants another favor or she's just readying herself for another round of griping.
Oh, here it comes. "Yes?"
"Why do you think Perry sent us both? I mean, honestly, isn't this something you could do on your own?"
I know she only wants me to answer the first question but I don't feel like getting into it right now so I content myself with saying, "I don't know."
She gives up picking at the arm of the chair to examine her cuticles closely. "Do you want to know what I think?"
The engine noise is definitely coming closer so I decide to gamble on the fact that Josh will be here in a few more minutes. "I'm sure you're about to tell me."
Her head swivels to look at me. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Lois, you've never had an *unexpressed* thought."
She narrows her eyes at me. "I'm having one right now."
Caught off guard, I grin at her. "Back at you."
"Never mind," she huffs and stands up to stomp back over to the vending machine.
Now that her back is turned I allow myself a quiet chuckle and shake my head. I stand up, too, going over to the large window and tipping my glasses down to focus on the approaching truck. It's not Josh behind the wheel. The driver is a female in her late teens or early twenties. She has blond hair, pulled back in a ponytail and she's scowling at the windshield in an expression reminiscent of Lois' current mood. It looks like it might be a long ride to the dig site.
"Is that your friend?" Lois joins me in looking out the window at the truck as it speeds towards the airfield.
"I guess so." I surreptitiously push my glasses back up. Whoever she is, she's not close enough yet that I'd be able to tell she isn't Josh.
"Well, finally!" Lois turns from the window, brushing against my elbow as she moves past me. As always, it sends a little shiver of delight through me. I wonder sometimes if she does it on purpose, just to mess with my head. Then again, that would presuppose that she comprehends just how much I desire her. She knows I'm attracted to her. She just has no idea how deep and complete the attraction is. Given the way she freaked out after our first date it's a very good thing she doesn't realize the intensity of my feelings for her.
I move to grab Lois' suitcase before she does. "Here, let me."
She gives me another suspicious look while she tries to decide if I'm being chivalrous or condescending. Then she shrugs. "Fine. Thanks."
I follow her the length of the small terminal and she holds the door open for me. We walk out just as the truck slides to a stop on the gravel a few feet away from us.
"Are you Clark and Lois?" the girl asks through the open window of the truck.
"Yes," I answer hesitantly. Lois gives me a questioning look, like I might know why Josh is suddenly a surly young woman.
"What happened to Josh?" I ask.
"Oh, some paper pusher from the government showed up this morning and he and Dr. Hanover had to go back to the school with the guy. There's some big to-do over the stuff that got stolen last weekend. You couldn't have picked a worse week to volunteer on this project."
"We're only here because Josh said you guys were short-staffed…" It's partially the truth. Josh did say they were short-staffed.
"That's an understatement. Have you been on a dig before?"
"Once," I answer, "but it was years ago."
"What about you?" she jerks her head at Lois.
"I've never had the pleasure, no."
The girl gives Lois a nasty smile. I get the feeling they've both sized each other up and found the other severely wanting. "It's an acquired taste. Lots of tedium, very little reward."
"My favorite." Lois flashes her a saccharine smile.
It's going to be a *very* long ride.
As we drive to the dig site we learn that our driver's name is Emily McKay. She's twenty years old, an archaeology major and an even more aggressive driver than Lois. Emily had wanted to spend her summer excavating the ancient city of Tiwanaku on the border between Bolivia and Peru. That she's stuck in Ohio sifting through artifacts that only date back to the mid-1800's is a huge disappointment to her.
"It's all politics, you know," Emily says as she accelerates into a left turn that sends Lois sliding against me. "I'd be in Bolivia right now if I was willing to compromise my standards."
You'd think that the truck's cab, with its wide bench seat, would be enough to accommodate two small females and me. But Emily's driving has turned it into a contest to see how well Lois and I can brace against smashing into each other. Lois, for her part, seems to look on this as some kind of thrill ride. She's smiling as she gets thrown hard against me. I wish it were because she enjoyed the contact but I suspect that it's actually Emily's misery that's making her so happy. That, and the fact that she would rather die before letting anyone think she was scared. Ironically, I seem to be the only person in the truck the least bit intimidated.
This latest turn has put us on an unpaved road. As we bounce along the ruts I try not to watch Lois' breasts jostle. I fix my attention on the road ahead of us but I can still see them bounce in my peripheral vision.
"Do you get a lot of volunteers out here?" I ask, trying to redirect both Emily's thoughts and my own.
"We've had a couple of anthropology classes come in for a day. And you always get the wannabes." She glances over at Lois as she says this. I will never understand women and how they can make such snap judgments about each other.
Lois opens her mouth as if she means to reply.
"How many people are on the team right now?" I ask before Lois can formulate anything to say.
"Josh, me, Doc and Marty. We had a couple of locals helping out a few weeks ago but this is really just the Doc's little vanity project. He's obsessed, I tell you."
"Obsessed with what?" Lois asks.
"Lucas Peregrine. He died around 1915 and left his property to Doc's grandfather. But grandpa wasn't able to pay taxes on it during the Great Depression and lost it in foreclosure. The state bought the land but their plans to turn it into a historical site never happened. You've heard of Morgan's Raid, right?"
"July 1863; it was the northernmost penetration of the Confederacy during the Civil War," I answer.
Lois rolls her eyes and mutters, "Know-it-all."
"Right." Emily, at least, seems slightly impressed. "Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan, against orders, made a feint into Ohio to distract the Union Army into a chase. He came right through this area and it created a huge panic. Lucas figures heavily into the stories about the Raid in this neck of the woods. Apparently he practically took on an entire company of soldiers single-handedly. A couple of local families hid their valuables on his property for safe-keeping but they couldn't remember later where they buried them."
"Is that what Doc is doing? Looking for the family silver?" Lois asks.
"I guess," Emily shrugs. The truck rolls onto a narrow old bridge and I brace myself for disaster as I realize that the road makes a sharp right angle turn at the other end. As we negotiate the turn I manage to keep from hitting Lois. She grabs my arm to stop from sliding into Emily.
Clear of the bridge, Emily stomps on the accelerator and we speed up a hill. As we come over the top of the hill we barrel through a tree-lined driveway. I can see a large old house built of stone with a wrap-around porch at the end of the driveway.
"Here it is," Emily says as we come up rather fast on the house. She hits the brakes hard. Lois and I both reach forward to brace against the dashboard. "Welcome to paradise."
A man appears on the porch of the house. He's in his mid to late thirties with unkempt reddish-brown hair and a goatee. He raises his hand in greeting as we approach.
"How's it going?" he asks.
Emily ignores him, stalking past him and into the house. The screen door slams behind her, bouncing a couple of times in its frame before settling back into place.
"Is she always that cheerful?" Lois mutters.
"No, sometimes she's a little moody." The man grins at us and I get the impression he derives just as much pleasure from irritating Emily as I do from provoking Lois. "I'm Marty, by the way. Marty Evans." He shakes each of our hands as we tell him our names.
"Is this your house?" Lois asks.
"No, this is Doc's house. Dr. Hanover, that is. It's been in his family for years. The dig site is about fifty yards behind us. Come on in, I'll show you your rooms. Maybe before dinner we can take you over to the dig site and give you a quick tour."
Just inside the front door there is a small foyer. Directly in front of the door is a steep flight of stairs to the next floor. There are two archways on either side of the stairs. Marty gestures to the one on the left and says, "That's the kitchen. This room over here," he indicates the doorway on the right, "is the sitting room, but mostly we just keep field specimens in there. Doc's room is at the back of the house through there." He motions at the kitchen and then picks up Lois' suitcase, starting up the stairs with it.
"There are four rooms up here," Marty says after we've come to the top of the stairs. "The bathroom is straight ahead. We'll put you in here, Lois." He pushes open the first bedroom door on the right and then points to the next door down. "Clark, you can take that one."
I open the door and grimace. I don't particularly care about the room but I'm quite certain that this is just going to be more fuel for Lois' slow burn. The room is small. There's only enough space for a twin-size bed and a desk. There's a shelf on the wall above the desk. The head of the bed is beneath an open window but the room still feels stuffy.
I set my suitcase down and come back into the hallway. Marty gestures at the two doors across the hall saying, "Emily, Josh." Emily's room is opposite mine while Lois is opposite Josh. Lois reappears in the doorway of her room.
"Does the window open?" she asks Marty.
"Yeah, sure. Sometimes it just gets stuck. You know, from the humidity. The wood swells up."
"I know about humidity," Lois glares. "But the window will only open about an inch before it gets stuck."
"Can you help her out?" Marty asks me. "I gotta get started on dinner. Which reminds me, I need to know who to put on the schedule for dinner tomorrow."
"Schedule?" Lois sounds incredulous. "We only get dinner if we're on the schedule?"
"No, everyone eats. It's just we take turns cooking, you know? One of you will be cooking tomorrow night. You two can decide who's going first."
"I'm going to have to cook? Can't we just order a pizza or something?"
"No one delivers this far out in the country. But you can get a frozen pizza in town and cook it. Can't you?" The last two words are dripping with sarcasm. Just like that, Lois is now on Marty's list of people to annoy. I suppress a smile. Give her time, Marty. She grows on you.
Marty heads back down the stairs and I go in Lois' room to see about the window. Her room is as small and austere as mine. I push the window closed and then lift it open all the way, with maybe just a little more coercion than Lois could have used.
"How's that?" I turn around and give her a smile.
Lois smiles back. "Great. Thanks."
I actually think she means it, there's not a trace of sarcasm in either her words or her smile. There's a small silence and then Lois takes a step closer to me, reaching out to brush some non-existent lint from my shoulder.
"You know what I've always liked about you, Clark?"
"What?" I wish this was about something other than her not wanting to cook, but I can tell where her flattery is headed.
"Your cooking. You're a very good cook."
"Lois, I've never actually cooked for you."
"Well, here's your chance. I bet you could really impress me, if you tried."
"I'll take tomorrow night. But I'm not cooking when it's your turn." She starts to frown so I lean down to tell her in conspiratorial tone, "I bet you could really impress me, if you tried."
She steps away from me and takes hold of the door handle as she hints that I'm welcome to leave now. "*If* I wanted to impress you, I wouldn't have to cook to do it. In fact, I find it rather sexist that you assume I'd have to cook to impress you."
I move past her into the hallway. "I'm not being sexist. You're the one who said I could cook to impress you."
"Well, guess what? I'm not the slightest bit interested in impressing you. Especially if it involves cooking." She shuts the door. I'm turning to go back to my room when she flings the door open again. Her eyes are wide with alarm as she holds out a sheet of paper to me. "This was taped to the back of my door."
"What is it?" I take the paper from her and my blood runs cold. The image printed on the paper was taken this morning outside of Lois' apartment building. It's a picture of both of us getting in the cab to head for the airport.
"Who could have followed us?" Lois asks.
I shake my head. I have no idea who took the picture. I have no idea how they knew we were coming here, let alone exactly where to find us. I can feel a tic working in my jaw as I try to come to terms with the fact that she's no safer here than she was in Metropolis.
Lois takes the picture back, her hand shaking just a little as she looks at it. "Tell me again, how well do you know Josh?" she asks.
"It's not Josh."
"Really? How do you know? I mean, you always think you know someone, but how can you be certain?"
"I'm certain it's not Josh."
She looks at me skeptically. "Whose idea was it for us to come out here?"
"Mine. It was my idea. When Josh called he wasn't asking me to come out here. I volunteered to come. And you weren't part of the equation when I told him I was coming."
"We're a team, right? Isn't that what it says on all those billboards? And on that by-line that we share? If you're on a story, so am I." Her hands have stopped shaking, which is good. She's decided to be angry instead of unnerved.
"Lois, they don't have Daily Planet billboards out here. You were never mentioned until last night when I called Josh to let him know what time to come pick us up at the airport."
"How do you know that Josh didn't tell everyone else here that there were going to be two more for dinner tonight?"
"I'm sure he did, but how would they have had to have time to find someone in Metropolis to follow us and send this picture back to them?"
"It's a print-out, Clark. Somebody e-mailed them the picture. Maybe they called a private detective and had them follow us and send it?"
"So it's just a coincidence that somebody else took pictures of you last week and left them on your desk?"
"I don't know. What if I'm not the only one being stalked?"
"You're saying we each have a stalker?"
"Why not? At least mine is still in Metropolis."
"Are you kidding me?"
"Hey, I'm not the only one in this picture." She holds it up, pointing at me holding the door of the cab open for her.
"That's a pretty big leap to take."
"Okay then, how well do you know Marty or Emily?"
"I don't. I only just met them, the same as you."
"Then let's take this downstairs and see what their reactions are." Lois waves the picture over her shoulder as she heads towards the stairs.
Marty is just closing the oven door as we walk into the kitchen. "Did you get that window fixed?" he asks.
Lois skips the niceties. "Did you put this on my door?"
"What?" Marty looks bewildered. "Did I what?"
"Put this," Lois holds the picture up inches from his face, "on the back of my door?"
Marty takes the picture from her, his expression still confused He shakes his head. "I don't understand…" He looks up at both of us and then back to the picture. "Why would I put this on the back of your door?"
"You tell me." Lois takes the picture away. "Is there a computer in this house?"
"Yeah." Marty gestures in the direction of the sitting room. "In there. But it's not connected to the Internet or anything."
Lois turns, bumping into me as she hurries towards the next room. I step backwards to let her pass and give Marty an apologetic smile. He shrugs and shakes his head.
"She's not usually like this," I lie.
"For your sake, I hope not." He winks and turns back to the oven, adjusting the temperature dial. I leave to follow Lois into the next room.
The sitting room runs the length of the house. Three long folding tables sit end-to-end, covered in small cardboard boxes and index cards. Five-gallon buckets are stacked along the interior wall; some of them appear to be filled with dirt. There's a desk at the far end of the room with a computer on top of it. Emily sits at the computer, her back to us, entering data from a stack of index cards into the machine.
Lois is ahead of me, although Emily ignores her right up until Lois holds the picture over the computer's monitor. "Did you put this on the back of my door?"
Emily flips to the next card. "Nope," she says without looking.
"Are you sure? Why don't you at least take a look before you answer?"
Emily sighs and looks at the paper, then at Lois. "It's not mine." Her words are slow and distinct.
They stare at each other for a few seconds and then Emily clears her throat. "Do you mind? I'd like to finish this before dinner. I had to go pick people up at the airport so that's put me behind today."
Lois grudgingly withdraws the picture. Emily shakes her head and goes back to typing with a sigh. Lois turns to me and gives me a disapproving look. What does she want me to do? Beat a confession out of someone?
"Hey, you two," Marty says from behind me. "Did you still want to take a look at the dig site? We have some time before dinner - I can take you down there."
Lois folds up the picture and puts it in her pocket. She sends one last disgruntled glance in Emily's direction and then we both follow Marty through the kitchen and onto the back porch of the house. The back yard is choked with knee-high grass. There's an old shed to one side of the yard. A two-foot wide dirt path starts at the base of the porch stairs and then disappears in the trees about fifty feet away.
Marty starts down the path, gesturing for us to follow him. We reach the trees and cross a small wooden bridge over a rushing creek. The path continues on through the trees.
"We're on state land now," Marty tells us. "Everything on this side of the creek is land that once belonged to Lucas Peregrine."
We come into a hillside meadow that slopes down to a large lake. Halfway down the hill is an old cabin sagging at a gravity-defying angle. A canvas tent stands about twenty feet away. "Doc wants to do some excavation inside the house, but we needed more muscle first. Maybe now that you're here we can shore it up and explore the inside," Marty says as we approach the house.
We stop when we reach the house. The trail continues past the house and down the hill to a pier jutting into the lake. It seems to be much sturdier than the house.
"This is it, the old Peregrine homestead. And that's Lucas Lake, named after old Luke. Doc's father built the pier for fishing."
The grass around the house has been trampled into submission. Marty leads us around the corner of the house to an open trench, about ten feet in length and six feet wide. The trench slopes into the hill; the deepest end is about four feet below the surface. The tent is set up near the shallow end of the trench.
"That's my tent, and the dig headquarters."
"You sleep out here?" Lois asks.
"We need someone to keep an eye on things, plus I like camping better than being shut up in the house."
"Keep an eye on things? Where were you when the silver was stolen?"
"Right here," Marty grins at her obvious question. "But the artifacts were in the house."
"Let me guess, the doors weren't locked."
"No, they weren't. We're all the way out here in the country, why would we lock the door?"
Lois rolls her eyes and shrugs. I touch her arm to caution her against insulting Marty any further. "I take it you haven't had problems with items going missing before?" I ask.
"No, although we hadn't really found anything that valuable before."
"Who do you think took it?" I ask.
"Don't know." Marty turns to look out over the lake. "There's a YMCA camp on the far side of the lake. It's possible it was kids from the camp just playing a prank."
"You don't really believe that, do you?" Lois asks.
"No," Marty shakes his head. "I think it was someone from town. Everyone there knows that we're excavating the cabin. There was one family who threatened to sue from the very beginning if we found the silver. They claim that it rightfully belongs to them. And they're probably right. Maybe they just decided to skip all the legal red tape and take it home."
"I assume that this family was checked after the silver disappeared?" I put in.
"Yep. The sheriff went over with a warrant and looked through their house but didn't find a thing. Truthfully, they seemed more upset that the silver was missing than the fact that they were suspects. I can't decide if they're being cagey or genuine."
Marty looks at his watch. "I ought to get back. You two can look around here for a few minutes if you want. Just don't touch anything and don't go in the trench or inside the cabin." He waves at us and starts back up the trail.
"What do you think?" I ask as soon as Marty disappears into the trees.
Lois sighs. "I think it wouldn't take a genius to steal anything from these people. They don't even lock the door at night. They might as well have left a huge sign saying 'free stuff!' on the porch."
"It had to be someone who knew what they had found. We should look at the locals who were helping out and at that family who claims ownership."
"What if it was one of the people here?" Lois speculates.
"That's a possibility, too."
"I bet it was Emily," she says with a faint hint of glee.
"What makes you think that?"
I laugh. "Are you sure that's what it is?"
"Don't flatter yourself, Kent." She flounces back up the trail towards the house.
I watch her stalk away and grin. I am flattered. She wouldn't be this prickly unless she was jealous. Lois has great instincts, except when it comes to the obvious. Like me, for example. Or Lex Luthor. Emily, on the other hand, kinda deserves what's coming to her. I shouldn't take sides, I know, but she was rude to Lois first.
As we re-enter the kitchen a tall, dark-skinned man is setting the table. "Josh!" I say, happy to see that the years have treated him kindly. He doesn't look much different than when we played college football together.
We shake hands and slap shoulders. "Lois, this is Joshua Grey."
Josh looks at Lois and I see his eyebrows twitch in amusement. "So this is Lois?"
I close my eyes, knowing that Josh is about to embarrass me. "I…"
"It's nice to meet you," Lois says as she shakes his hand.
"No, it's nice to meet you. I've heard a lot about you."
"Really? Like what?" Lois looks over at me. I shake my head and look away.
"I think it was something along the lines of 'beautiful' and 'headstrong'."
"Headstrong?" Leave it to Lois to ignore the compliment in favor of the not-so-complimentary. "You told him I was headstrong? Is that what you think of me?"
"Actually, I think he said 'independent', I was just reading between the lines." Josh isn't correcting so much as stirring the pot.
"Nice try," Lois says. Then she smiles. "Did he really say beautiful?"
Josh opens his mouth to answer but I'm saved because an older man with white hair and a neatly trimmed beard enters the room along with Marty.
"This is Dr. Hanover. We all just call him 'Doc'. I assume you've already met Marty." Josh introduces us. Lois and I both shake hands with Doc and he gestures for us to sit at the table. As we're sitting down Emily shows up and sits in the chair across from me. Marty pulls dinner from the oven as Josh and Doc take their seats at opposite ends of the table.
Marty sets a casserole dish on the table and sits in the remaining chair next to Emily.
"So did Marty tell you his specialty?" Josh asks as he passes a bag of store-bought rolls to Lois. She looks over at Marty and shakes her head.
"Anthropology is my specialty. Re-enactment is my hobby," Marty corrects.
"Whatever," Josh says with a grin. "You know what I'm asking."
"I'm quite certain he hasn't shown them the freak show," Emily chimes in. "Go on, Marty. Show them how hardcore you really are."
Lois and I both look at Marty. He shakes his head. "It's not a freak show, I'll have you know. It's a talent, and I'm in high demand for my talent."
"Okay, I'll bite," Lois says. "What's your talent?"
"I'm a Civil War re-enactor," Marty explains. "I started about ten years ago and just got addicted. About five years ago I found out that I had a specific talent. You've seen the Civil War pictures taken by Matthew Brady?"
Lois and I both nod.
"Well, there are some re-enactors who specialize in recreating those pictures. I'm a bloater."
"A bloater?" Lois repeats.
"Yeah, I can bloat just like a corpse."
There's a moment of silence and then Lois laughs. "You can bloat like a corpse?"
"Show them," Emily eggs Marty on.
He pushes back his chair and then lies down on the floor. As we watch in stunned astonishment his cheeks puff out and his belly distends. His eyes turn glassy and appear sightless. His hands and limbs go stiff. He looks like he's been dead for hours under a hot sun.
Lois glances over at me with a smile. "There's your story," she tells me, "or at least the human interest angle is covered."
Marty grins and de-bloats. "Everyone has a talent," he says as he sits back down.
"You're a freak," Emily says with a smile. There is a trace of affection in the way she says it. I bet her earlier inhospitality really was due to the fact that they are understaffed and she drew the short straw to come pick us up at the airport.
Doc grimaces and reaches for the salt. "This is what happens when you only get a shoestring operating budget."
"Yes," Emily agrees with him. "As you can see, they spared every expense in setting us up here."
Doc sends her a reproving look and shakes his head. "After today we're just lucky we'll be allowed to continue tomorrow."
"Was it that bad, really?" Marty asks.
Josh nods. "It was that bad. The state and the federal governments are arguing with each other over who has jurisdiction."
"But isn't that state-owned land?" I ask, confused as to why the federal government would even be involved.
"That's what everyone is arguing about. Doc's father owed back taxes to both the state and the federal government when he lost the land. Since we're a middle party with no declared loyalty they've agreed to let us continue digging, so long as we submit to random unannounced visits from a regulator."
"It wasn't until we found something big that anyone showed the least bit of interest," Emily puts in bitterly.
"It's not even what we were looking for," Josh agrees.
"What are you looking for?" I ask.
There's a small silence as Marty, Josh and Emily look at Doc. Finally, Josh speaks. "We're looking for Lucas Peregrine. Doc's grandfather said he was buried on the property, near the corner of the house where our trench is."
"Why would you want to disturb his grave?" Lois looks just as baffled as I feel.
"Tell them your theory," Marty winks at Lois. "Doc has a theory about Lucas Peregrine."
Emily and Josh both look vaguely embarrassed. Doc pushes the food around on his plate and then sets his silverware down.
"I'm sure they've told you that my grandfather was born and raised in this house. His father, my great-grandfather, built it in 1858 with the help of his neighbor, Lucas Peregrine. My grandpa spent most of his boyhood down at Lucas' house. When I was child he told me countless stories about this area and about Lucas himself. Those stories were part of the reason I chose archaeology as my life's work. But there was one story he only told me once, just before he died. At the time I thought maybe he was just turning senile. And then Superman showed up and it made me wonder if there really was some truth to the story."
"Superman?" Lois asks, echoing my thoughts exactly.
"Yes, you see, my grandfather swore that he saw Lucas Peregrine fly."
"Lucas Peregrine could fly?" There are little spots in my vision and I'm glad I'm all ready sitting down. Is it possible? Could someone else from Krypton have been here before me?
Lois' eyes gleam at the realization that she might have an entirely new angle in her quest for the ultimate Superman story. "Fly?" she asks, motioning with her hand like she's about to zoom up from the table. "How high off the ground was he?"
Doc blinks, looking surprised that we're both so accepting of his theory. "My grandfather said he rose from the lake and flew to the front door of the cabin."
Lois nods. "That's pretty definitive. I mean, it couldn't have been a trick of the light or anything like that. What else do you know about Lucas? Did he have a family? Where did he say he came from?"
"Lucas said he had a family, but that they were far away. On the census his birthplace is listed as Kentucky. I've looked through the censuses for Kentucky in the years before he showed up here but I don't see him listed. Then again, some of those records are incomplete or have been lost over the years."
"Kentucky? Or 'KY'?" Lois wonders aloud.
"All places of birth are listed as initials," Doc answers.
"So maybe he said 'Kentucky' but actually meant the 'KY' to be an abbreviation for Krypton?" Lois speculates.
Doc smiles and nods his approval. "The census also lists both his parent's places of birth as 'KY'."
"What about his family?" I ask.
"He said he had a wife and a son. To my knowledge he never even told anyone their names. My grandfather had the impression that they were still alive, but living somewhere else."
"But they never lived here with him?" I press, eager for any scrap of information.
"No, he always lived alone. I've never found any Peregrines in the Kentucky censuses either."
"When did he show up in this area?" Lois asks.
"Around 1857. Both he and my great-grandfather settled in this area around the same time. Like I said, he helped my great-grandfather build this house in 1858."
"How old was he when he came here?" I ask.
"I would guess he was in his mid-forties at the time. I have pictures of him; would you like to see them?"
"Yes!" we say in unison, both of us pushing back from the table, all thoughts of dinner forgotten.
Doc smiles and beckons for us to follow him into the sitting room. He hunts among the boxes stacked next to the desk at the far end before producing an old leather-bound album. He turns the first few pages of the album and then lays it open in front of us. "That's him. That's Lucas Peregrine. This picture was taken around 1865."
The sepia-toned photograph shows a man with dark wavy hair, a little long in the fashion of the times. His eyes are pale and look almost haunted as he gazes at something just to the right of the camera. His mouth is thinned in a frown that makes it look as though he had never learned how to smile. He has a solid build, the kind that comes from years of hard work. A thick dark beard covers only his chin. His sideburns and cheeks are clean-shaven. Lucas Lake is in the background; it doesn't appear to have changed much in the intervening years.
"He doesn't really look like Superman, does he?" Lois comments.
I shake my head, a deep disappointment settling across me. I don't know what I was hoping for, but she's right. He looks nothing like me - or Jor-El. Still, the thought that this man may have beat me to Earth from Krypton by a hundred years is something I never expected. I wish it wasn't growing dark outside; I want to search out his history even more than Doc does.
"Didn't he ever smile?" Lois asks.
Doc nods. "Of course he did. My grandfather said he had a wonderful sense of humor. People just didn't smile for pictures in those days." He takes the album back and turns a few more pages. "There," he points. "There he is again."
This time the picture is of a small group in front of Doc's house. Lucas is standing on the top step, his shoulder leaning against the pillar of the porch. A young boy stands on the railing next to him, his arm thrown across Lucas' shoulder. Both Lucas and the boy are out of focus, their faces a little blurred but obviously smiling. Their figures definitely stand out against the rest of the people in the picture; everyone else is staring sourly at the camera.
"The boy is my grandfather. Just as the picture was taken his older brother dropped his pants and mooned them. Only Lucas and my grandfather laughed."
"Do you have any other pictures of him?" I ask.
"A few, but he's much older in them. They were taken in 1915, a couple of months before he died. I'll see if I can find them tonight and show them to you tomorrow."
"How did he die?" Lois asks.
"Old age, I guess. He had to be at least in his nineties when he went. My grandfather said he was sharp as a tack right up to the end."
"What is it you hope to find in his grave?" I ask, even though I feel more than a little morbidly curious to see his skeleton myself.
"If we can find him, I'd like to send a sample of his bones to a lab and see if they're any different. Maybe, if he is like Superman, his bones will be denser or something. I just want… proof, I guess. Marty says I'm dabbling in revisionist history here and that I'm going to be a joke amongst my colleagues."
"Why would you be a joke? If you find proof, I mean," Lois says. "History changes all the time."
"Ah, that's true, my dear. But changing commonly held ideas about the past isn't easy. It's painstaking, especially if you're going to be legitimate about it. Most people would prefer to keep alive the glossed-over fairy tale they learned in school. It gets messy when you look at it from the other side."
"History is written by the victors," I add.
"And usually the victors have something to hide. There are people who use this process of rewriting history to suit their own agendas. It's a slippery slope." Doc spreads his hands in a gesture of futility.
"But this isn't going to alter anybody's world view!" Lois exclaims.
Speak for yourself, Lois, I think. It would forever alter my world view. Don't get me wrong - I have my parents. And I have Lois, Jimmy, Perry and other friends like Josh. But there's always been an empty space inside me. A nagging sense that I'm it. There will never be anyone else who can understand on a primal level what it's like to be me. Even if we're separated by a century, I feel a tug of camaraderie for this man. Curiosity, sorrow, and compassion have all combined into a sort of longing so intense it's rapidly becoming an ache. Who was he really? What was he doing here?
"I doubt it would change the world," Doc says. "But I still want to know."
I turn back to the first picture. What was he looking at when this was taken? His eyes are at odds with his stern expression. He looks so sad. Was he thinking of his home? His family? I feel my throat beginning to close off with emotion. I excuse myself and stand up, leaving the room as quickly as I can without arousing Lois' suspicions. I head outside, to the front porch, where the second picture was taken. I lean against the same pillar Lucas did, craving the connection with him. I hear the screen door open and then close. Lois comes up quietly beside me and leans against the rail, her elbows resting on the spot where Doc's grandfather stood for the picture.
"Clark? Is something wrong?" she asks softly.
"Just… wondering if Doc is right about Lucas."
"I don't know. That would really be something, wouldn't it?"
"Are you glad you came now?"
She lets out a small laugh and nudges me with her shoulder. "Like you have to ask!"
"But I am asking." My longing for a connection with Lucas is somewhat assuaged by my connection with Lois. I'm so glad she's here, even if I can't think how to tell her why that is.
"Okay," she allows. "I'm glad I came."
"Even if it means having to hang out with a bunch of freaks?"
"You said Josh was your friend," she chides in a light tone.
"He is, but the rest of them seem just a little off-center, don't they?" I still feel hollow inside but the banter with Lois helps to fill the emptiness. Actually, just being around her seems to fill that loneliness inside me. Is that the attraction? It sounds so cliched to say, but I don't know how else to explain it.
She laughs at my assessment. "I don't know who's worse, Emily or Marty."
"What's wrong with Emily?" I tease.
"She's okay, if you like that type."
"What type is that?"
"Blonde. Nail-biter. Vindictive."
"Careful, Lois, I might start thinking you're jealous."
"Jealous? You wish! Since when are you the ideal male?"
"You have no idea."
"Don't I?" She raises her eyebrow and smirks at me.
Oh, the answers I could give to that. "No, I don't think you do."
Her eyes take on a flirtatious twinkle. "Suppose you tell me."
"Nah." I shake my head. "You're a prize-winning journalist, I'm sure you'll figure it out." God help me if she ever remembers this conversation when she finally pieces together who Superman is. It's not that I don't think about telling her, I'm just afraid of her reaction after I do. I can't decide between dropping a hint so large she can't help but realize the truth or just straight-up telling her.
"So… do you like her?"
"Not in the same way that I like you."
"Oh," she says. Her mouth curves into a small, pleased smile.
There's something about her smile and my own inner turmoil that makes me long for the time when my life was simpler. "It's hot, Lois. Let's go for a swim."
"A swim? Where?"
"In the lake."
"But… I didn't pack a swimsuit."
"So I'm not about to go skinny-dipping with you!"
I think about teasing her that Emily would, but decide against it. "Who said anything about skinny-dipping? We'll just strip down to our underwear. C'mon, Lois, it's going to be too dark to see anything anyway." Too dark for her. I'll just have to not look.
She bites her lower lip while she considers. "It is hot…" she allows. I give her an encouraging smile and she shakes her head with a laugh. "Okay, fine. But you have to swear to me that you won't look."
"Only if you promise not to look, too."
Her eyes sweep across my shoulders and she smiles. "Let's go before I change my mind."
We go through the house to the back porch. There are a couple of flashlights sitting on a table outside the back door. Lois grabs one and goes first, lighting the way for us both as we follow the trail to the fishing pier. The pier juts out about fifteen feet into the lake at a point where the shore slopes steeply. There are rails along the side since the drop to the water below is at least six feet.
I pull off my shoes and socks, tucking my glasses into one of my shoes. The moon is only three-quarters full. Its light is dim but not that faint, if she looks hard enough. Part of me wonders if I'm doing this just so she can see me without glasses while my hair is slicked back. It would feel so good to unburden myself to her tonight. All I need is the right opening and I can confess everything. You think I look like Superman? Well, funnily enough…
Lois appears to hesitate just for a moment and then she takes her shoes off. I pull off my jeans and t-shirt and fold them, stacking them on top of my shoes before tucking the bundle just under the boards of the pier. I walk to the end and climb over the railing. I glance back in time to see Lois tugging her shirt over her head. I grin and jump into the water. The water is cool but not cold. It's the perfect antidote to the humidity still heavy in the evening air. Treading water, I look up to see Lois peering over the railing above me.
"Come on in, the water's fine!"
"Are there any rocks?"
"How deep is it?"
"I'm not touching the bottom here."
She only hesitates for a moment. Then she climbs over the railing and leaps with a squeal. After a couple of seconds she surfaces and laughs with delight. We swim back to shore, scrambling up the steep bank and across the pier to jump in again. I'm wading back into shallower water when she launches herself at me from behind, pulling me off balance. I let myself fall back in the water, taking her with me. She swims away when I splash at her in retaliation. I start back again for the shore; it's not until I'm about to jump in again that I realize I don't hear her swimming anymore.
"Lois?" I can hear her breathing, so I know she hasn't gone under.
"Over here," she calls out in a lazy voice. "Can you see me?"
I scan the water and pick her out easily. She's floating on her back about thirty feet off-shore. Her eyes are fixed on the starry sky and wide with wonder. I dive in and swim out to join her. I roll over, tipping my head back in the water and look up at the stars. Even though I'm used to a clear night sky I'm still in awe at the sight.
"Look at them all," Lois says, her voice full of amazement. "I never realized there were so many stars. Does it look like this in Kansas?"
"Yes," I answer.
She sighs. "I don't think I've ever envied you more."
I don't answer her; just smile to myself. Her hand brushes my shoulder setting off a pleasant flutter in my stomach.
"Do you think Lucas Peregrine is related to Superman?"
"I don't know," I say slowly. How should I reveal this to her? "Superman said he came here as a baby. Lucas was here a hundred years earlier. I don't see how they could be related."
"Oh," Lois says quietly. "Was he really from Krypton or was Grandpa just senile?"
I don't answer, overwhelmed by questions of my own. Is it really possible that I'm not the first one from Krypton to come here? How did he get here? Where was the family Lucas said he had - here or on Krypton? What happened to them? If there are descendants of Lucas here, do they have powers? Or were his progeny killed when Krypton exploded?
"It would be nice, wouldn't it, if Superman had someone?" Lois asks, her voice distant and thoughtful.
I should tell her that he *does* have someone. Or, he's trying, at any rate. "He has you," I say hesitantly.
Lois moves so that she's treading water instead of floating. "Well, sure, he has you too."
"That's not what I meant." I join her in treading water. I can feel the undertow as she pedals her legs. It mirrors the invisible undertow that she's exerted over me since day one.
"Not what you… oh… no, it's really not like that, Clark."
"Hello?" Marty calls from the shore. "Lois? Clark? Is that you two?"
"Yes," Lois calls back. "Busted," she giggles under her breath.
On shore I hear Marty snicker quietly before he shouts, "Don't mind me! I was just checking."
"We should probably go back now," Lois says.
"Okay." I want to beg her to stay for just a few more minutes, but we can't have this conversation with Marty within earshot.
We both swim to shore. Marty has gone into the tent. His silhouette looms large against the canvas from the lamp's light. We dress quickly, our clothes sticking to our wet skin and underwear.
"Next time we should just skinny-dip," Lois laughs. "This didn't do much good, did it?"
"Not really," I agree. My mind wanders, thinking about tomorrow night and the possibility of skinny-dipping with Lois. Would being naked help or hurt my chances of having her hear me out? She couldn't really storm off if she was worried that I might see her, could she?
Lois turns on the flashlight and starts up the trail. She waves the beam over the tent as we pass. "Good night, Marty!" she calls.
"Good night!" he yells back.
A few yards away from the house she stops and shines the flashlight on me. "So what's our plan for tomorrow?"
I raise my hand to block the light. Caught by surprise, and already feeling off-kilter, I can't think of a thing to say.
"Clark? Did you hear me?" She drops the light's beam to my chest instead of my eyes.
"Sorry, yes, I heard you. I just… I don't know. I think I'd rather help out with the dig than go into town and look for the missing silver."
"My thoughts exactly," Lois says enthusiastically.
Lois' obsession with Superman usually falls under one of three categories - flattering, amusing or just a little unsettling. Tonight it's plain old irritating. "I should have known you'd never pass up the opportunity for a new angle on Superman."
"What the hell?" She shines the light in my face again. "Tell me that's not why you're more interested in that hole in the ground over finding someone's tarnished old tea service!"
"That's… different," I say lamely. There's no way I'm telling her anything now.
"It's no different. Just because you're such good friends with Superman doesn't mean you have dibs on any story about him!"
"Lois, that's not what I meant. It's not about the story…"
"Oh really? I beg to differ. I saw you looking at those pictures. I've never seen you thinking so hard. I'd bet you all ready have half the story written."
She turns away before I can reply and quickly covers the remaining distance to the house. The screen door slams and bounces behind her. Lois wouldn't appreciate the comparison to Emily, but she's acting exactly like her.
I look back towards the dig site and then close my eyes. I suddenly feel very alone. I wish Marty hadn't interrupted us and yet… And yet I'm grateful that he did. Nothing is more frightening to behold than Lois when she's righteously indignant. It's better, isn't it, that she's angry over an imagined slight than something as serious as deceiving her?
I open my eyes. I can just make out the light from the tent through the trees. I think about Lucas, buried somewhere nearby. If he was from Krypton he took his secret to the grave. It would appear he was close to Doc's grandfather but Lucas never confided in him.
<"He always lived alone.">
Was he lonely? He didn't talk about his family. Were they in his thoughts or was he escaping them by coming here? I think about the two pictures. One so sad and solemn and the other a moment of spontaneous laughter.
<"He had a wonderful sense of humor.">
But who was he? Was he happy here? Why was he here?
<"It would be nice, wouldn't it, if Superman had someone?">
Ah, Lois, it would be nice. But how do I tell you?
The next morning dawns bright and clear. The air is already heavy with humidity as we all head towards the dig site. It's going to be a scorcher of a day. Marty waves to us as we come out of the trees. Emily and Doc head into the tent when we reach the cabin. Josh gestures for Lois and me to join him at the shallow end of the trench.
"Let me just run over some protocol with you before we work your fingers to the bone," Josh says. "Always enter the trench from this end. Unless you're actually working, try not to touch the walls of the trench. The trench is sectioned. Everything taken out of it is labeled with the coordinates of where it was removed. All finds need to be documented with a picture in-situ before they're removed from the ground. We remove the soil in here a layer at a time and all of the dirt goes into one of these buckets." Josh points at a stack of empty five-gallon buckets. "We'll start you out with sifting. You can take out earthworms and obvious tree roots but everything else is considered a field specimen and needs to be placed in a box and labeled with the bucket's coordinates."
"Got it," Lois says impatiently. Josh looks a little pained and indicates that we should follow him into the tent. There's another long folding table inside. Josh shows us how to sift a spadeful of dirt at a time through the screen. He instructs us never to throw out any dirt until it's been okayed by either himself or Doc. Then he claps me on the shoulder. "Clark, we're going to shore up the house today since we have you here."
It takes until lunchtime to assemble a makeshift scaffolding along the north wall of the cabin. When we finish it doesn't seem much more stable to me, but Doc and Josh seem satisfied. Marty shakes his head and throws me a look that tells me he's not holding out much hope for the structure either. Emily and Josh head up to the house together to bring back lunch.
I stand near the edge of the deep end of the trench and watch Lois listlessly scraping dirt into a bucket. She's in a tank top and jeans with her hair pulled back in a ponytail threaded through the back of a baseball cap. Her arms and shoulders are smudged with dirt. I watch as she swipes at her face, leaving a small trail across her cheek. A trickle of sweat streaks across her clavicle and heads straight down into her cleavage. I should look away, but I don't since she takes the front of her shirt and pulls it back and forth to fan herself.
"You look hot, Lois," I tell her. I grin at the double meaning. She really does look sexy, though I doubt she'd believe me.
"I am hot, Clark," she grumbles and pulls the brim of her hat lower. "I'm miserably hot; thanks for noticing."
I glance over at Marty and Doc; they're still assessing the scaffolding. Lois hasn't looked up from her trowling. I take a small breath and blow cool air over her in the trench.
"Ohh, finally, a breeze," she murmurs and tilts her head down to let it blow across the back of her neck. It would almost be worth getting caught to have her see where her 'breeze' was coming from. But she doesn't look up and Doc calls for me to rejoin them. I send one last breeze at her in the trench before heading back over to the cabin.
It's wrong, isn't it, that I find the relieved sigh she makes such a turn on?
It's nearing five o'clock when Josh asks Lois and me to take the remaining unprocessed buckets from today back up to the house. There are four buckets and we each grab two. Lois takes a step and sets one of them down. "Too heavy," she says. "I'll come back for it."
I pick up her bucket, carrying two in my right hand and one with my left. "Show off," Lois murmurs as she follows me up the trail.
"Hey, Clark," Emily calls out from the porch as I get close to the stairs. "I have to run into town. Since you're cooking tonight, do you want to ride along to the store?"
I glance back. Lois is still struggling up the path, lugging her pail along with jerky steps. The glare she gives me is proof enough that she heard Emily's question. I climb the stairs and set the buckets down. "Just a second," I tell Emily before I hurry over to help Lois.
When I reach to take the bucket from her she swings it away. "I've got it, Clark," she grits out.
"I'm going into town with Emily," I tell her. "Do you want to ride along?" I don't want to leave her here alone when we still don't know who left the picture on the back of her door.
Lois has reached the porch and she rests the bucket on each step as she climbs the stairs. I'm about to repeat the question when she reaches the last step. She drops the bucket with a heavy thunk and wipes her hands on the back of her jeans. "Sure," she says sweetly. "Why not?"
Her words are at total odds with her body language. I look over at Emily and she's smiling at Lois. "We can wait while you get cleaned up," Emily says.
Lois looks down at herself, her expression unconcerned. "Nope, I'm all right. If you're going dressed like that, I should be fine."
Wow. Emily doesn't even blink. She simply says, "Okay. Let's go."
The drive into town is just as frightening as the drive from the airport. Emily speeds down the hill from the house and takes the corner before the bridge on two wheels. This time Lois doesn't pretend to enjoy the ride; she just glares at the windshield the entire time.
The town of Valentia is tiny, even by Smallville standards. We drive over a two-lane bridge and past a small park. A gas station, a bar, and a little grocery store are lined up next to each other. Emily parks the truck on the opposite side of the street in front of an ancient-looking movie theater. No films are advertised and it looks like it's been years since anything was shown there.
The heat is oppressive, even to me. The inside of the grocery store isn't much better. I'm wandering down the aisle in search of a bottle of wine when I hear a metallic screech followed by screams. I lower my glasses to look outside. A bus with 'Lucas Lake YMCA Camp' emblazoned across its side is hanging off the bridge over the river.
I'm looking around for a likely excuse when the front door of the store opens and a distressed woman yells, "Chester! Call for help! A bus has gone off the bridge!"
Lois and Emily both rush to follow the woman back outside. Chester pulls a phone out from under the counter and starts dialing. I slip into the storage room and then out the back door, changing as go. I fly swiftly to the bridge and lift the front end of the bus, moving it back onto firm ground. I'm just coming around the side of the bus when Lois calls out, "Superman!"
I turn in time to see her running her hand self-consciously through her hair. Emily is standing next to her, gaping openly at me. Lois looks as flustered as I feel. "What are you doing here?" Lois asks.
"Just passing through. Excuse me." I fly off quickly, mentally kicking myself for showing up. Most of the kids were already out of the bus and nobody was in immediate danger. I may have just blown it. I hurry through the alley and into the storeroom, changing back into my clothes. I jog through the store, bumping into Lois as I open the front door.
"Where were you?" she asks.
"In the bathroom. Why?"
She lets out a disgusted sigh. "That figures. You just barely missed seeing Superman."
"I know! It's weird, huh?"
"Why is it weird?" I look past her and see Emily standing outside, still looking up at the sky in the direction I flew away.
Lois narrows her eyes at me. For a heart-stopping moment I'm certain that she's figured it out. "He didn't even talk to me," she mutters.
"Obviously he was on his way to some other emergency," I improvise.
Lois shrugs. Emily comes back inside. "I've never seen Superman in real life before," she says with a touch of wonder. "He's taller than I thought he'd be."
Lois excuses herself to go upstairs as soon as we got back to the house. I'm absolutely certain she's up there writing. Emily follows me into the kitchen and perches herself on the counter to watch me cook.
"Why archaeology?" I ask her. "What made this your life's ambition?"
"Wow - I'm not sure this is really my life's ambition. I just love the sensation of holding something and knowing I'm the first person in centuries to touch it. I like to think about who had it last, what it meant to them. It's… kinda dumb, huh? Living in the past like that?"
"No, not at all. I think I can understand the impulse."
She smiles at me and sneaks a carrot from the pile that I've peeled.
"So what about your family?" she asks around the crunch of the carrot. "How many siblings?"
"Only child," I answer.
"Lucky you," she sighs. "I have an older brother. He's… a typical older brother, I guess."
"What does he do?"
"He's in the military but I guess it's something he can't really talk about much." She rolls her eyes. "I bet he's really a paper pusher and he just says that to make it sound more interesting. He admired the hell out of our uncle who actually was some kind of covert big shot."
"He was? Did he retire?"
"Killed in the line of duty," Emily says quietly. "But, because of his job, that's all they would tell us."
"Thank you." Emily shakes her head. "Talk about a buzz kill. Let's change the subject. Superman seemed to recognize Lois today. Do you guys know him?"
"Yeah, he's, uh, helped us on some stories."
"Cool! You're a writer? Like for a magazine?"
"Yeah, like for a magazine." It's easier to go along with her than to correct her.
"So are you guys friends or something?"
"Me and Superman?" I clarify. I'm pretty sure she's not referring to Lois.
"We're friends," I allow. "I guess I know him as well as anyone."
"What's he like?"
"He's… nice," I say lamely.
"Nice!" she snorts. "He's nice to look at, anyway."
"I…" I don't know what to say to that.
Emily laughs. "I guess you probably don't spend much time looking at him like that."
"No," I shake my head and laugh with her. "Not at all."
"He must be nice," she says dreamily. "I mean, he has all those powers and yet he only uses them to help people. Why is that?"
"Because he can help. He can make a difference."
Emily laughs. "Is he really that naive?"
"Superman is not naive!" Lois exclaims from behind us. Emily and I both jump in surprise.
Emily slides off the counter as she says, "Whatever. Don't have a freakin' cow, I just think it's a little naive not to have some ulterior motive." She takes another carrot and leaves the kitchen.
Lois glares at me. "Getting a little friendly with the enemy, aren't we, Clark?"
"Yeah, for all you know she's our stalker."
I laugh. "Is that all that's bothering you? Or are you still upset because Superman didn't talk to you today?"
"I just wanted to tell him about Lucas Peregrine! That's all."
"Sure." I know she absolutely hates it when I agree with her like this.
Lois crosses her arms over her chest and leans back against the counter as she sulks. The back door bangs shut and Marty comes into the kitchen. Lois ignores him in favor of harassing me. "Why do you assume that I can't mention Superman without some ulterior motive?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe it's just two years of experience?"
"He's never been that abrupt before. I'm telling you, Clark, it was weird. The whole thing was weird."
It's the last thing I want to talk about. Marty looks curious. "You saw Superman acting weird? Where?"
"Here!" Lois turns to him, happy for an audience. "I saw him in town today."
"Superman was in Valentia today? That is weird." Marty looks thoughtful.
"I don't know why it's so weird that he'd be here. He helps out all over the world. He may have just been flying over on his way to somewhere else." I definitely shouldn't have brought the suit with me. How long until everyone just lets it drop?
Lois and Marty both look unconvinced. "I think he's just a weird guy, period," says Marty. "Emily thinks I'm a freak? He's the real freak."
Lois looks to be as taken aback by his sudden vehemence as I am, but Marty is just warming up to his subject.
"He's an alien, you know? He's not even from here. Some people say he's just the advance guard for an entire invasion. This whole thing with Lucas is scary. What if Lucas was the advance guard and Superman is the next wave?"
"You don't really think that, do you?" I ask cautiously.
"No," Marty shakes his head. "But I know some people who do. Some of the re-enactors I hang out with are huge conspiracy theorists and they have a lot of interesting ideas about Superman."
After dinner Josh invites us to go into town with him, Marty and Emily. Two or three nights of the week they hang out at the bar there. I'm in no mood to go back to Valentia and I turn him down politely. Lois also declines and she sits down next to me on the top step of the front porch as they drive away.
"Why didn't you go along?" I ask.
"Josh is okay, but neither Emily nor Marty are my idea of good company," she answers.
"Besides," she leans just a little towards me. "I was hoping we'd go swimming again."
"Are you skinny-dipping this time?"
"Not even if you paid me," she grins. Then she stands up, holding her hand out to me. I take it and let her help pull me to a standing position. She doesn't let go of my hand; in fact, she clasps it with both her hands. "Ask me the other reason why I'm glad I came along on this story," she says softly.
"Why are you glad you came?"
"Because this is the first time since we started dating that you haven't run off just when things are getting interesting."
"And are things getting interesting right now?"
She lets go of my hand and blushes. "Maybe. C'mon, Clark, take me swimming."
This time Lois beats me at getting undressed and into the water. She dives in and swims a short distance before turning over to float on her back. I swim out to join her.
"It's like floating in the stars, you know?" she says dreamily.
"Almost," I tell her. Truthfully, this is actually better than floating in the sky. The sky is so empty and vast whereas the lake feels like being embraced in something tangible. Then again, it might just be her company that makes me feel so grounded.
I stare up at the sky and wonder if Lucas ever floated in the lake like this. Could he pick out Krypton's sun among all the stars? Was he stranded here or did he come here deliberately? The only things I learned about him today were that he ate a lot of chicken and could have picked a sturdier wood to build his house. I can't decide if it's my imagination or if it's intuition that tells me there is something waiting for me in that cabin. Every time I went near the northeast corner my skin seemed to almost hum. Then again, Lois was down in the trench only a few feet away and she often has the same effect on me.
There's a soft splash and I realize that Lois is swimming back towards the shore.
"Ha!" I call out to her. "You're one the doing the leaving now."
The splashing stops. "I'm not leaving you; I was just going back to shore."
"Wait, I'll come with you."
We're wading through the shallow water when she stumbles and falls sideways against me. I grab her, putting my arm around her waist for support. In the moonlight I can see the way her wet bra clings to her. Oh god, this might be a bad idea. I try to pull away, letting go of her waist but she grabs my arm to steady herself.
She places her other hand on my chest. Can she feel how fast my heart is beating at her touch? I swallow, feeling trapped by both lust and the realization that she's looking directly at me. I'm not wearing glasses, surely she can't miss the resemblance?
"Clark?" she whispers. Her hands don't move from my arm and chest. Our eyes meet and her mouth parts slightly. I wait for it, the exclamation, the accusation, maybe even a good hearty slap. Nothing. Maybe she really doesn't see it.
Or maybe, it dawns on me, she's waiting for you to kiss her. Maybe she's actually not even thinking about Superman right now. I bend a little closer and her eyes close. I was reading that right - she wants me to kiss her!
She leans closer; close enough that her breasts skim my chest as my lips brush lightly across hers. She exhales and then her hands move to the back of my neck, pulling my mouth down firmly to hers. Her lips part, her tongue tastes my upper lip quickly before disappearing back into her mouth. I follow it with my own, feeling bolder as her lips part to give me access.
The kiss becomes more urgent and deep. I wrap my arms around her, thrilling to the feel of her skin against mine. Lois smoothes her hands over my shoulders and down my chest, she's never touched me like this before and I can feel my self-control slipping. I want to touch her back, be as bold in caressing her as she is in exploring me, but I don't dare. I break the kiss first, telling her in a ragged whisper that we ought to go back to the house now.
She sighs and then agrees with me. Was that hesitation? Did she want more? Have I called a stop to this too soon?
It doesn't matter. The moment is gone. Lois wades out of the lake and starts to get dressed. I take a couple of deep breaths to steady myself and then join her.
I put my glasses on first, just in case.
We spend the next morning preparing the dig site for the bad weather that Doc's predicting. Securing a tarp over the trench takes all six of us since the wind has picked up. It begins to rain as we lug buckets back to the house.
We settle into the sitting room. Emily keyboards more index card entries into the computer. I sift one of the buckets. Josh is showing Lois how to clean field specimens. Marty and Doc are occupied with filling out index cards and cross-checking them against the field specimens log from the tent.
After a few hours we're all feeling a little stir crazy. It doesn't help when the ceiling light flickers and dies. Emily swears and pushes back from the now-dead computer. She joins Doc in sorting through the index cards stacked on the middle of the three tables.
"We lose power out here a lot," Josh explains. "Usually during storms, but sometimes for no discernable reason."
The rain has done nothing to disperse the heat inside the house. It's uncomfortably hot and muggy, even with the windows open.
"I know where I know you from!" Marty snaps his fingers and points at Lois. "You're that reporter from Metropolis! The one who kissed Superman before he took out the Nightfall asteroid last year, aren't you?"
The room falls silent. Emily and Doc stop what they're doing and look over. Josh gives me a regretful shrug.
"Umm," Lois says, her cheeks beginning to flush.
"That was you?" Emily looks at Lois with new eyes. "I remember that. You practically made out with him on national television."
"Actually, it was more like international television." I can't stop myself from adding that little tidbit, if only because it makes Lois blush even harder.
Lois shakes her head. "I didn't make out with Superman. I was just… kissing him for luck."
In which case, I wish she'd kiss me for luck every day.
"I don't know," Marty says dubiously. "I seem to remember it as being pretty intense."
"Is he a good kisser?" Emily asks.
Lois rolls her eyes and sighs.
"Yeah," I speak up when it seems that she's not going to answer. "Is he a good kisser?"
Lois shoots me a disgusted look. "I don't kiss and tell!"
"Oh, come on," Marty cajoles her. "Just answer 'yes' or 'no'."
"Have you kissed him more than once? Or was that the only time?" Emily leans forward to rest her elbows on the table as she waits for Lois to answer.
Lois scrubs at the field specimen in front of her, trying to ignore all of us. Even though Josh and Doc haven't joined in the questioning, they're waiting for her to answer, too.
"She's kissed him more than once," I offer cheerfully.
"Clark! You're not being helpful here." Lois slams the toothbrush she was using for cleaning down onto the table.
"How many times?" Marty asks.
"I'm not going to answer any questions about kissing Superman." Lois sets the specimen aside and stands up. "Now, if you'll all just excuse me, I have something else to do." And, with that, she leaves the room.
"Wow, she's a little touchy, isn't she?" Emily smirks.
She has *no* idea.
I think about following Lois but I know she's not going to talk to me for at least the next hour. I'll finish sifting this bucket and then I'll go find her.
"Lois?" I knock softly on her door. "Are you in there?"
It's something of a rhetoric question since I know she's in there. What's less certain is whether she'll answer me.
She lets out a sigh and then I hear her footsteps. She opens the door a few inches and glares at me. "What do you want? Because, unless you're here to apologize, I don't want to talk to you."
"For what?" I know why she wants an apology, but I can't help baiting her when she's acting this petulant.
She starts to shut the door so I put my foot in the opening to stall her. "Okay, I'm sorry."
"For what?" She's not going to make this easy.
"For… whatever it is you think I did." I'm not going to make it easy either.
"Move your foot."
"Lois, I'm sorry." I try again. "I shouldn't have teased you like that."
"You're my partner, Clark! You're supposed to take my side. You're not supposed to add fuel to the fire, pointing out how many times I've kissed Superman."
"I didn't say how many times. I only said you'd kissed him more than once." I know I'm splitting hairs, but I feel compelled to point out the distinction.
"I didn't realize you were keeping track. How many times is it, Clark? Do you know?"
I tense, there's a dangerous undercurrent beneath that question. "I don't know." It's a bad lie but she doesn't call me on it.
"Are you jealous of him? Is that it?"
The truth is, until recently, I was jealous of Superman. It's a conundrum that has kept me awake far too many nights to mention. Since we started dating, however, I've felt a little more secure around her.
This time she does pick up on the lie. "You are jealous!"
I take my foot away from the door and step back. "Anyway, I'm sorry. I just wanted to check on you and make sure you were okay."
She opens the door all the way. "Admit it. You're jealous."
I take another step back. "I'm not jealous."
"Do you really want to know? Because I'll tell you." She follows me out into the hallway.
"Tell me what?"
"If Superman's a good kisser. After all, you did ask me."
I feel like a deer in headlights. Of course I want to know the answer to that question but there are danger signals going off in my brain.
Lois takes my silence for assent and she shrugs. "He's not bad."
I don't know whether to be relieved or insulted. "That's it? Just 'not bad'?"
Lois shakes her head in disgust. "There's no pleasing you, is there? I thought you'd be happy to know that you're a better kisser than he is."
"I am?" How does she figure that? I just stare at her.
"You seem disappointed." Her eyebrows furrow as she frowns. "Why are you disappointed?"
"I'm not disappointed. I guess I'm just… surprised."
"That I'd rate you as better than Superman?"
"Well, you have to admit, that's a first."
Her expression clouds. "I… I'm a terrible person, aren't I?"
"What? No, Lois, that's not what I'm saying."
"But it's true. I've been mooning over Superman since the first time I saw him. And I never have compared you favorably to him."
I wish I could say she's exaggerating but she's not.
"The truth is I compared every man I've met for the past two years against Superman. It wasn't just you, if that makes you feel any better. And…" her voice trails off and she looks down at her feet.
"And?" I prompt.
"And nothing. I'm sorry. That's it."
"I'm sorry, too. You're right, I shouldn't have teased you like that."
She looks up and gives me the same shy smile as she did when I forgave her for slamming the door in my face after our first date.
"You really are a nice guy, Clark. Maybe even nicer than Superman."
"Nicer than Superman?"
"Well, yeah. He has to be nice, it's sorta his job. You're just nice because you're you."
"So I'm a better kisser and I'm nicer than Superman? Anything else?"
"You should stop while you're still ahead."
"Okay." I reach out and touch her cheek. She puts her hand over mine and looks up at me, her eyes soft with affection. God, I want to tell her. Right now. But there are four people sitting downstairs who are probably straining their ears to listen in on our conversation. It's not the kind of thing you can tell someone, especially Lois, with an audience. If only it wasn't raining, we could take a walk and I could tell her everything.
"What?" she asks, her expression curious.
"You look like you want to say something."
"I did. I do. I just…" I tilt my head towards the stairs. "I want to talk to you, just not with an audience."
She steps closer and I immediately start thinking about how it felt to kiss her last night in the lake. "You could just whisper it," she says softly.
I swallow; she really needs to back up a few inches or I'm going to lose all coherence. "It's not what you think it is. I mean… would you be willing to go for a walk?"
That does the trick. She steps back just as a crack of thunder shakes the house. "A walk? Are you serious?"
I nod. She folds her arms over her chest and frowns. "I'm not going for a walk in this."
"I'll tell you later."
"You could tell me now."
The mood has totally passed. I shake my head. "Forget it, it wasn't that important."
I head into my room and stop dead. Sitting on my pillow is another picture. Lois and Emily are in profile, both of them looking up and shading their eyes. It had to have been taken yesterday when we were in town. I don't pick it up, lowering my glasses to check it for fingerprints. There are none.
Lois comes in as I'm pushing my glasses back up. She looks over to see what has captured my attention and then gasps. "Oh my god!" She brushes past me to pick up the picture.
"Damn," she says, looking at it. "I really thought Emily was behind this."
I laugh, in spite of myself. "Do you want to take it downstairs and interrogate everyone?"
"No. I don't want to give him the satisfaction." She shakes her head emphatically. Then she turns the picture over; her hand trembles.
'LOIS LANE WILL LEAVE HERE IN A BOX' is written on the back in large block letters.
"In a box?" Lois says in disgust. "In a box? That's so stupid, isn't it?" She looks up at me, her eyes dark with worry.
"I'm sure they're just trying to upset us, that's all." I include myself in that statement because I'm certainly upset. Would she get the hint if I picked her up and flew her out the window to somewhere safe?
There's a flash of lightning and an almost immediate crack of thunder. That one was close. Lois jumps, her hand reaching out instinctively for my arm. "I wish we could go for that walk," she says, her fingers tightening on my bicep. Her expression changes from frightened to determined and she releases my arm to walk over and shut the door firmly.
"You were right, Clark. We should talk."
She comes back over and sits on the edge of the bed, patting the space next to her in invitation. I sit down heavily, not sure what it is she wants to talk about. I've done a quick risk assessment and there's simply no way I can tell her. Not even if we left the house - we'd still have to come back sometime and two years of subterfuge is not something she's likely to forgive quickly. Or quietly.
"Let's think about this logically, okay?" she starts and then begins ticking points off on her fingers. "One; someone left pictures of me on my desk at the Planet. Two; someone left a picture of us, in Metropolis, on the back of my door. Three; someone has left another picture, taken in Valentia, but this time there's a message on the back. Now, are all three of these things connected or am I just that popular?"
"They have to be connected," I tell her. "It's just too much of a coincidence otherwise."
"Right. But those first pictures showed up on my desk at least a week before you got the call from Josh to come out here. So did someone send those pictures in advance of stealing the silver to bring us out here?"
"Lois, we don't even know if they had found the silver yet when those pictures were left on your desk."
Agitated, she stands up and throws her arms wide, narrowly missing me. She turns away from me but not before I see her face twist in frustration and fear. She moves to the desk, absently tracing the wood grain on its surface while she thinks. "Do you ever feel lost, Clark?" she asks quietly.
She looks back at me and I nod. "I just hate this. I hate feeling trapped and clueless and…" She turns back to the desk. My heart beats faster - she's here. My real Lois. She's here and she's allowing me to see her.
"Scared?" I finish for her.
"I hate that most of all."
I want to hold her, but that has to be her decision.
"Do you know what scares me most of all?" This is said so softly that I doubt I could have heard her without superhearing.
"I know you think I'm reckless sometimes," she turns and sits back against the edge of the desk. "And, truthfully, I probably push things further than I used to because of Superman. I've gotten used to having him around. He's always right there or close by. And now, being all the way out here, it's like I'm working without a safety net. Sure, he was in Valentia yesterday, but he was obviously in a hurry to be somewhere else. There's no guarantee that he'll be there if something happens."
"Lois…" I start and then hesitate. It's a great opening, but there are still four people downstairs and she's not likely to respond in a soft voice if I tell her. "I'm here. I would never let anyone hurt you."
This elicits a small smile. "I know that. And it means a lot to me." She pushes away from the desk and comes back over to me, resting her hands on my shoulders as she looks down at me. "You know I would never let anyone hurt you either."
I smile. "Thanks."
Her fingers tighten a little on my shoulders. "So… I guess there won't be any swimming tonight."
"No, I guess not."
"That's a shame. I was really looking forward to it."
Feeling bold, I put my hands on her waist and gently urge her forward so she's between my knees. She comes willingly. Her left hand leaves my shoulder to comb back my hair. "Why?" I ask her. "What's so great about swimming in a lake?"
"The stars," she says wistfully. "I love the night sky, all those stars. And…"
"And this." She leans down and kisses me softly.
I hear the squeak of someone coming up the stairs. I put my hand on the back of her head and deepen the kiss. She lets out a soft moan at my sudden fervor but she kisses me back just as passionately. She sinks down, settling herself onto my knee and wrapping her arms around me when there's a knock on the door.
"Dinner's ready," Emily calls out.
Lois groans and pulls away from our kiss. "I really don't like her."
At this moment, neither do I.
By morning the rain has stopped. Humidity still hangs heavy in the air but the temperature is much cooler than the day before. Mist rises from the ground as we all hike towards the cabin. It matches perfectly with my sense of foreboding.
We roll the tarp back and find a few inches of water in the bottom of the trench.
"Please tell me we're not working in there today," Lois gripes.
For once, Emily seems sympathetic. "You can help in the tent today. Let Marty and Doc work on the water situation."
"Thanks," Lois says, a little surprised.
Josh and I check on the scaffolding along the north wall. It shifted considerably from the wind so we decide to take it down and reassemble the whole thing again. Marty and Doc spend the morning bailing and pumping the water out of the trench. Every scoop of water is run through a sieve first, complicating and drawing out the process. When I hear my name mentioned I freely eavesdrop on Lois and Emily as Josh and I take the scaffolding down.
"So, you and Clark, how close are you guys?" Emily asks Lois.
"Oh," Lois is caught off-guard. "We're really… he's my best friend. And we're dating."
"What about Superman? Is there something there?"
Lois makes a little sighing laugh. "Superman? He's a good friend, too, but not like Clark. I'm not dating him. I mean, I guess I would, if he'd ask me. But he never has. And he's not naive, you know."
Emily sighs. "I didn't mean he was naive, it just seems odd that this perfect guy only exists to help people. What does he do when he's not flying around fixing problems?"
I can hear the smile in Lois' voice as she answers. "I remember he once told me he had to run errands. But they weren't stuff like picking up dry cleaning or grocery shopping. He hangs out at neighborhood watch meetings and then he said he was going to prison."
"Prison?" Emily giggles. "I bet he's their favorite pin-up boy."
Lois laughs with her. "Yeah, he never did say why he was going to the prison, just that it was on his list of places to go."
There's a pause and then Emily hesitantly asks, "So… is he a good kisser? Superman, I mean. He looks like he'd be a good kisser."
There's a pause and I think that Lois isn't going to answer. Then she says very softly, "Yeah. He is."
But Clark is better, I think.
Emily giggles again. "I knew it! He's just so… wow. I'd only ever seen him in pictures or on TV, you know? I guess it's a good thing he didn't come over to talk to us. I don't think I could have said anything intelligent."
"He does have that effect on people. I still get nervous around him, not as often, but sometimes."
"Clark!" Josh sounds frustrated. "Are you helping or hindering?"
"Sorry," I apologize, directing my attention away from the tent and over to Josh as he tries to steady a pillar. We struggle with the post for a minute until I put a little extra effort into it and slide it firmly into place.
"There are days when I think I need to seriously reconsider my career," Josh pants, wiping his forehead. "We need to try and brace this wall from the inside. I'm gonna take this post into the cabin and see if we can counter-balance the weight from the inside."
"I'll do it," I tell Josh, taking the post from him. I stand in the open doorway and look inside the cabin. Sunlight slants through the spaces where the outside wall has spread. Some of the planks from the wooden floor are missing, the rest creak beneath my feet as I move inside. I carefully pick my way over to the northeast corner, feeling that same odd tingle along my skin. I lean the post against the wall and then step back, looking to see a good spot to ground it. I kneel down and pull up a couple of floor boards.
"Clark?" Josh calls.
"It's okay," I shout back. "I'm just looking for a good spot to…" Before I can finish there's a creak, then a loud snap and then both the pole and the entire wall are falling onto me. I flatten myself on the floor, figuring that's the best idea. As the weight of the wall and roof settle on me all I can think is that I'm glad I came inside instead of Josh. I can hear the shouts and cries from outside. The one that cuts through me is Lois' anguished, "Clark!" I hear her struggle with Marty and Doc, trying to get closer to the cabin while they tell her to stay out.
As soon as the crashing noise ends I call out, "I'm okay!"
"Clark?" Lois sounds almost frantic. "Clark? Can you hear me?"
"Yes! I'm fine!" And I really am. It's a good thing I came inside instead of Josh. The roof's center beam is resting directly across my back and head - it surely would have killed anybody else. There's no way I can just crawl out of here without rousing suspicion so I let out a small sigh and settle in to wait until they've pulled enough of the cabin off of me to make it look like I was just really, really lucky.
The commotion outside is intense. Emily shouts that she's going to run back to the house and call for an ambulance. Everyone else is involved in pulling the rubble away. I can hear Lois, barking orders at them as she directs. I feel guilty for making them all go to so much trouble, but after Marty's outburst about Superman there's no way I'm going to reveal myself.
As they pull away wood the pile on top of me shifts again, pressing down even more heavily.
"No!" Lois yells. "Not like that! Clark? Are you okay?"
"I'm okay, Lois!" I call back, turning my head towards where her voice was. Something glints in the dark tomb I'm trapped in. I reach out towards it and gasp when it hums at my touch. It seems to be a small box, hidden inside the stones of the cabin's foundation. I inch a little closer and grasp the end of the box, pulling it towards me. It comes free from the foundation, still emitting a low hum that reminds me of the globe Jor-El left for me.
A small beam of sunlight slants in from above me. They're getting closer to having me free. It also shows the odd hieroglyphics carved into the box. Even though I can't read them I'm certain it's Kryptonian writing. I turn it over in my hands, unsure how to open it. There's no obvious lock or hinges. It's fashioned from some type of metal but it's lightweight, measuring about five inches long, four inches across and only three inches high.
Another beam of light slants across it. On impulse I push it back where I found it, setting a stone in front of it to hide it. Yes, I should give it to Doc. It's part of his proof. But I don't want to share it just yet. Not until I know what it contains. I know it's wrong, but it's my heritage, not Doc's.
Lois's hand touches my ankle. "Clark? Can you hear me? Are you okay?" I twitch my leg, my guilt compounding with her relieved sigh. I edge myself slowly out from under the beam - there's no way they could all lift it off of me. Nor is there any way I could explain being unscathed from it crushing me. As they pick another section of the wall off me, I roll into the free space they just opened up.
Four anxious faces peer down at me. I sit up and Marty and Josh each take my arms to help pull me out.
"Be careful," Doc cautions. "We don't know how badly he's hurt."
"Actually, I think I got really lucky. The beam from the ceiling kinda saved me."
"Oh, thank God," Lois breathes, her face pinched with worry. Her eyes dart back and forth as she checks to see if I'm really all right.
Josh looks at me in amazement. "You are one lucky son of a…"
"I can't believe it," Marty says. "We thought you were dead, for sure."
Lois touches my face. "You're sure you're okay?"
"Yes, I promise. I was just trapped, but I was okay."
Her eyes close briefly in relief. When she opens them again her hand drops to encircle my wrist. "I have to talk to you, Clark. Now!"
Josh and Marty exchange a knowing look. "Dude," Marty says with a laugh. "We'll give you two a minute."
Lois pulls me down the hill, stopping when we get to the pier. She looks back up the hill where Marty, Doc and Josh are looking at the rubble of the cabin and shaking their heads in disbelief.
"That wasn't an accident, Clark. Josh did it on purpose."
"Josh? You're saying Josh is behind this?"
"I saw him, Clark! I saw Josh messing around with the scaffolding. He pushed on the wall and it fell over!"
"Josh? Lois, really…"
"I know he's your friend, but you need to look at this objectively. Who set all this in motion to bring us out here? Who knew ahead of time that we would both be here? Who knows that we work at the Daily Planet? Josh!"
"Lois, you're forgetting one thing. Josh was here in Valentia - he couldn't have taken those pictures of you in Metropolis. Someone was already stalking you before he called me."
"So he had an accomplice. Maybe he had someone leave those pictures on my desk to really mess with our minds after we got here. Did you ever make him angry? You had to have done something - think! Did you steal his girlfriend? Run over his dog? Maybe he thinks the best way to get to you is through me. After all, you did say all those flattering things about me to him. He knows you like me, right?"
"But that doesn't make sense. Josh isn't like that."
"You're saying I didn't see what I'm telling you I saw?"
I sigh. "I don't know. Maybe you were mistaken?"
"Fine." She shakes her head in disgust. "Don't believe me."
"Lois, it's not that I don't believe you…"
"Whatever, Clark. Forget it." She heads back up the hill. I sigh as I watch her walk away. It would have been nice if she'd been happier I was still alive for just a little bit longer.
Doc tells us all to call it an early day. He thinks the cabin is too unstable to sort through right now. I breathe a sigh of relief that the box will stay safely hidden under the rubble. Marty, Josh and Doc start up the trail towards the house. I hang back, hoping for a chance to retrieve the box but Lois stays with me.
"Look," she says, pointing at the end of the thick center beam where it juts out from the tangled mass of wood. "See the end there? See how it's a clean break? Old wood should splinter. It doesn't break clean."
She's right. It doesn't look like an accidental break at all. "We were both working on the scaffolding, Lois. Just because you saw Josh messing with it doesn't mean he was trying to kill me."
"What about Marty?" she asks. "He had all the time in the world to tamper with that beam since he sleeps down here at night."
"But he wasn't here last night. He slept at the house because of the storm."
"He could have done it the night before." Lois never lets a theory go until a better one comes along.
"Then why didn't it blow down in the storm?"
She frowns. "I don't know. Maybe he got up early this morning to do it?"
"But why? And if you are the target, why weren't you sent into the cabin on some pretext? Josh was going to go in, not me. How could he be sure I'd offer to go instead?"
Lois falls silent, staring out at the lake as she nervously chews at her lower lip. I glance at where the box is hidden. What's inside it? Why does it call to me? It's torture having to wait until later to hold it again.
"Hey, Lois!" Emily yells from the top of the hill. We both turn to look at her. "It's your night for dinner!"
Lois sighs and then pats my arm as she moves past me. "In another half hour you're going to wish you were still under that pile of wood."
I give her a smile but don't walk with her. She stops and turns back. "Aren't you coming?"
"In a minute. I just want… to be alone for a few minutes."
She gives me a sympathetic nod and then trudges back up the hill.
I wait until she disappears into the trees before I lower my glasses and check that I'm alone. No one is around. I go back over to where the box is, pulling the foundation stones away so that I can reach inside. My skin begins to tingle even before I touch it. In better light I can see that the Kryptonian writing seems to be a border. The box is lightweight and a soft blue color reminiscent of the spacecraft I was sent to Earth in. Is it the same type of metal?
"What are you?" I breathe. It doesn't answer.
I turn the box over and over, looking at each side of it, but it doesn't do anything besides emit a soft hum. I still can't distinguish where, or even if, the box opens. I shake it gently but I don't hear anything.
Think, Clark. Why does it hum when you touch it? The globe does that too. But it didn't at first, I realize with a start. The globe was attuned to me, but it took months before it finally spoke to me. Would a Kryptonian object that wasn't attuned to me ever talk?
It wants to, I realize. It's trying right now. Would it hum for anyone who touched it or do they have to be from Krypton? Now there's a conversation I want to have. "Hey, Lois, will you just touch this strange object I found and tell me if you feel anything…?"
I hear footsteps on the bridge over the creek. Someone is coming towards the cabin. For a split second I hesitate. I don't want to put the box back. I hurry into the trees near the lake's shore. Marty calls out my name. I stay hidden, waiting to see what he does. He looks around curiously, shouting my name a few more times. Then he shrugs and kicks at the pile of rocks I dislodged from the cabin's foundation. He yells my name one more time before he turns and heads back towards the house.
I clutch the box close to my chest and try to decide what I should do. Leave it in the trees? But that would be risking that someone else might find it. Take it back to my room? Is it really safe there? Someone has already been in my room to leave that picture. I can't take it back to Metropolis. It's not possible to just disappear at random as easily out here. Then again, I'm all ready in trouble - how am I going to explain not being at the dig site when Marty came back?
I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. I move at super-speed through the trees towards the house. I wait, listening to hear where everyone is. Marty opens the back door and says, "I can't find him."
"What do you mean you can't find him?" Lois asks.
"I mean, there was no one down there and he didn't answer when I called for him."
"Maybe he took a walk?" Emily suggests. "I'm sure he was pretty rattled by the cabin falling on him. God knows I would be."
I peek at the house. Emily, Lois and Marty are in the kitchen. There's no sign of Josh or Doc, but the truck is missing. It's now or never. I rush around to the front of the house, elevate to my bedroom window and slip inside. I quietly pull my suitcase out from under the bed. I rip out the liner of the suitcase and nestle the box between the two rods for its telescoping handle. Then I adjust the liner back into place. It's crude, but it will do for tonight. I click the security lock shut and scramble the combination before shoving the suitcase back under the bed.
I check again, the three of them are still in the kitchen, arguing about where I might have gone. I leave through the window and land on the front porch. I take one quick breath to steady myself and walk inside. As I come through the doorway into the kitchen they all turn to stare at me.
"Where the hell have you been?" Lois asks.
"For a walk. I… came back through the trees. Why?"
"We've only been looking for you for… How am I supposed to know that you aren't confused and dizzy and wandering around somewhere? That happens, you know. People get a concussion and fall into water or mine shafts all the time."
"I don't think there are any mine shafts around here," Emily says with a quick smile in my direction.
"That's not the point! The point is we shouldn't have left a person with a possible head injury, oh, never mind. You're here now."
"What are we eating?" I ask.
"Whatever Josh and Doc bring back." Marty grins. "Lois said she'd buy."
I look over at Lois and she flashes me a warning glare. "Don't say it. You could still die today, Clark," she cautions me.
After dinner I head back to my room, feeling like an Argonaut lured in by a siren's song. I'm just about to pull the suitcase out from under the bed when Lois knocks on my door.
"Can I come in?"
I can't think of a single reason why not. I couldn't possibly tell her I was undressed and have her believe me.
"Sure." I unlock the door and open it.
She doesn't come in. "How are you feeling?"
She tilts her head and assesses me. Then she quietly asks, "Are you up for a swim tonight?"
Now I'm truly torn. Which siren song do I follow? The box under the bed? Or wet half-naked Lois? I think about the kiss we shared last night. "Give me a minute," I tell her. "I'll meet you on the back porch."
"Okay," she gives me a shy smile. "One minute."
As soon as she starts down the stairs I pull the suitcase from beneath the bed and recheck the lock. Still on, still secure. I push the suitcase back and head downstairs.
Tonight I leave my glasses on. I've tempted fate more than enough. As we float on our backs looking up at the stars I find myself distracted, wondering about the box and what it might contain. Maybe swimming wasn't the best idea tonight. Maybe I should find a way to go back early… I touch her arm lightly and tell her I'm heading back to shore.
I'm wading through chest-deep water when she splashes me from behind and tries to start a water fight. I keep moving, feeling bad that I'm ignoring her, especially when she's in such a playful mood.
"Are you okay?" she asks.
"You're not feeling dizzy or sick, are you?"
"I don't have a concussion, Lois."
"How can you be sure?" She moves in front of me and I stop, still waist-deep in the water. "You really ought to get checked out."
"Seriously, Clark. You're worrying me. You seem listless tonight."
"I'm just tired."
"You know you shouldn't sleep for 24 hours after a head injury."
"I don't have a head injury."
"Well, if you're confused, you'd hardly be the best judge, would you?" She reaches up and runs her fingers into my hair, pressing her fingertips down gently. "Does this hurt?"
"No." Hurt is exact opposite of how it feels.
"I was so worried… when the cabin collapsed on you."
"I know. Really, I'm okay."
Why did Lucas hide the box? There has to be something inside it.
Lois' hands drop to my left shoulder and she squeezes it gently. "How about here? Does this hurt?"
"No, that feels okay."
Both her hands travel down my left arm. "What about your arm? That's okay?"
"Yeah." On second thought, the box will still be there. Lois is here now.
The water eddies between us as she moves to stand behind me. "Hmm. What about here?" she asks, drawing her fingers across my back. My mental 'Yellow Pages' flips to "Getting Some" and the box fades dramatically in importance.
"That's okay, too."
She lets out a small, nervous laugh. "Just okay?"
What does she want me to say? All higher brain function is rapidly deserting me. I let out a little gasp as she places a feather-light kiss on my shoulder blade.
"How about that? Was that okay?" she asks quietly.
"Yeah. That was more than okay."
She kisses the center of my back and then her arms slide around me from behind. Her cheek rests against my shoulder blade and she sighs. I take her hands in mine, threading my fingers with hers.
"I was so worried," she whispers.
"It's over now, and I'm fine." I lift her right hand and press a kiss in her palm. "We're here, together. Don't think about what didn't happen."
"Remember last night when I told you I only took risks because Superman is always around to save me?"
"Today, when the cabin collapsed, I kept hoping that he was going to fly in and save you." She kisses my back again. "But he didn't. We're on our own out here, Clark. Promise me you won't do anything that reckless again."
"I…" I chicken out. "I promise."
She leaves a trail of soft kisses across my back as she works her way to my right shoulder. "How about this side?"
"It's okay," I answer and bend my head to kiss her. She kisses me back, her arms wrapping around my neck.
As the kiss deepens she presses against me. The water laps at us softly. She trembles as I smooth my hand down her back and then to her waist. Her hands leave my shoulders and caress across my chest. Is that a hint? I nudge my hand a little higher. Give me a sign, Lois. Something, anything.
She's so soft, the kiss so tender and yielding, that I feel daring. I lightly trace my thumb just beneath her breast. Lois quivers, her mouth coming loose from mine.
"Oh," she whispers.
I freeze, moving my hand back to her waist. "Sorry," I murmur.
"Don't apologize." She nibbles at my lower lip. "I wasn't asking you to stop."
There's a pounding in my ears that matches the throbbing elsewhere in my body. "So this is okay?"
"Oh yeah. It's more than okay." Lois lets out a nervous laugh and kisses my shoulder again. I bend down, kissing along the edge of her bra before darting my tongue out to taste her skin. Lois tips her head back, her hands threading through my hair in encouragement. I kiss my way back up her throat and find her lips again.
"Oh my god, this is it, isn't it?" She shivers in my arms and I attempt to pull her closer but she puts her hands flat on my chest to push me away. I reluctantly let her go. "Don't get me wrong, I want this. I mean, I think I want this. Do you want this? What am I saying? Of course you want this. Don't you? You do want me, right? Oh god, this is embarrassing."
"Lois, this doesn't have to be anything. It's whatever you want it to be."
"What do I want it to be? What if I don't know? What if… we just go back now? I'm sorry."
"Sorry? For what?"
"For…" She lets out an embarrassed giggle. "For leading you on."
"You weren't leading me on," I assure her. "Let's go back to the house."
"Thanks," she says softly. "I just don't think I'm ready…"
"You know what?" I take her hand as we wade towards the shore. "I don't think I'm ready yet either."
Taking that step will mean telling her. And telling her… well, I'm not ready to do that. Things are going so well between us. I don't want to ruin it.
It's nearly one o'clock before I'm certain that everyone is asleep. I roll off the bed, pulling the suitcase out and taking the box from it. It hums, but this time it also gives off a soft glow. I trace the engraved symbols, wishing I could read them. Are they instructions? Just for decoration? Lucas' monogram?
"I greet thee…" a garbled noise comes from the box, sounding like a cassette tape as the machine eats it.
"Go on," I will the box to continue, but the glow fades and then dies. The humming stops. Disappointment floods through me. It's so unfair.
"Come on… please," I whisper. Nothing. I set the box on the bed and sit down next to it. I trace my finger over one of the symbols, then the next. Suddenly the box begins to glow again. I run my finger over the etched outline again and the box floods the room with light.
Lucas Peregrine's form emerges from the light. "I greet thee thrice," he says, raising his hand. Even though I know he can't see me, I raise my hand in return.
"I am Lu-Kess, son of Krypton. I have fled my planet, accused of a crime I did not commit. I have left my family so they will not have to share in my shame. If you find this message, please tell my family that I did this for them. I have left these memories for my wife. Please see that she or my son receive them."
The light fades and Lucas disappears. I'm still sitting there in open-mouthed wonder when the box springs open.
There's a soft green glow coming from inside the box. Surely Lucas wouldn't be keeping Kryptonite? I don't feel sick so I reach inside and pull out a long, thin translucent strip of something that looks like plastic but feels like metal. Yet it's far too pliable to be metallic.
< "I have left these memories for my wife.">
Maybe it's a recording? Is this the Kryptonian version of a home movie? But how do I play it? I set the film back into the box and press on the symbols at random. Nothing happens. Gosh thanks, Lucas. You should have left the VCR, too.
And then I realize that maybe I do have one. Not here, but at home. Could the globe play the message? All those messages that Jor-El left me, what if those were recorded on something similar? I close the box and fly out the window towards home.
A few minutes later I settle into my old treehouse. The globe glows at my touch as if in greeting. I open the box and pull the film out. How do I make it play? There are no obvious openings on the globe. Then again, there aren't any obvious openings on the box and yet it opens. I'm touching the film to the globe at random when the globe starts to hum and alters to show its map of Krypton. The film is sucked into the globe with a soft "pfffft" sound.
I wait but nothing happens. The globe goes dark again. I close my eyes in frustration. Maybe it needs to process the film first? Or maybe it's really old? What if the globe isn't compatible with whatever Lucas used to record it? What do I do now? I wait a few more minutes, but it looks like the show is over for the night. I leave Lucas' box in the treehouse and take the globe with me back to Doc's house.
The next morning I come out of my room at the same time as Lois. She doesn't look over at me as she hurries to get down the stairs before I can say anything.
"Good morning, Lois!" I lean over the rail to watch her descending the stairs.
"Good morning," she says breathlessly and then disappears around the corner into the kitchen. I grin. She's embarrassed about last night.
As I come into the kitchen Lois leaves through the back door, moving down the path towards the dig site at almost a jog. Is she going to avoid me all day?
Josh and Emily look at me curiously.
"Lois not talking to you?" Josh asks.
I shrug and pour myself a bowl of cereal.
"Good morning, children!" Marty says as he comes in back door. "How are we all this fine morning?"
Emily lets out a disgusted sigh. Josh smiles at Marty. "There must be a re-enactment in your future. Which one is it?"
"The Battle of Lewis Ridge!"
"That's not until tomorrow," Emily grouses.
"True, but I'm leaving this morning to drive out there. I will have to live without the pleasure of your company for the next few days."
"And yet, somehow, I think we'll survive," Emily mutters.
"Ah, sweet Emily, I'll miss you most of all." He sits down next to her and bats his eyes at her. "Promise me you won't find anything significant until I get back."
"Just go play dead already, will you?" Her voice is gruff but she's fighting a smile.
Marty stands up and salutes us all. Josh returns the salute and Marty practically skips out of the kitchen. Josh shakes his head in amusement. "He's always so giddy when he leaves for a re-enactment."
"And such an idiot when he returns," Emily finishes.
By the time the three of us finish breakfast and walk down to the dig site, Lois and Doc have laid down boards to cover the vestiges of mud still left. Lois has settled in and is gamely trowling dirt into a bucket. I smile at her and she blushes, looking away quickly. Emily takes Doc's place in the trench and he goes into the tent to make entries in the log.
Josh and I work at removing the debris from the cabin. After a couple of hours we've cleared everything away but the center roof beam. Josh looks at the heavy wooden beam and then at me. "You're a walking miracle," he tells me.
"Doc!" Emily yells suddenly. "Doc, come look! I think we found him!"
Doc moves into the trench, shooing Lois and Emily back. Josh and I kneel on the edge and watch from above. Doc takes a paintbrush and softly cleans the area Emily was working. It looks like a light brown stone to me. Doc teases a little more soil away.
Emily twists her hands in excitement. "Is it him?"
"Get the camera," Doc tells her. Emily runs to the tent, grabs the camera and comes back into the trench. Doc leans back and she takes a picture. Doc asks for a small trowel and he scrapes away more dirt, revealing more and more of the stone. There seems to be a large hole in the stone and I realize with a jolt that it's the eye socket of a skull.
"Hello, Lu-Kess," I whisper.
Emily tells us that's it's going to be an all-day project just to expose the skull. For once I understand perfectly Lois' lack of patience. I'm torn between watching Doc slowly reveal Lucas and the urge to go check the globe and see if it's ready to show me anything. I tell Josh that I'm going for a walk. He waves me away distractedly, intent on watching Doc.
I go back to my room and get the globe. It doesn't hum or light up but I have a rising sense of anticipation. Even though the day is warm, I put on my jacket so that I can hide the globe in the pocket. I walk in the opposite direction of the dig, following the road down the hill to the bridge before ducking into the trees. I sit for a few seconds, concentrating on my surroundings. No one seems to be nearby.
I pull the globe from my pocket and wait. After half a minute it hums and changes to show me Krypton. Then I see Lucas, running down a darkened hallway. "I was set up by the House of Zod," he intones. I cannot stay and be imprisoned for a crime I did not commit." The view changes as Lucas enters a large room. He runs along a row of spacecraft before hurriedly climbing into one near the end. "I have looked through the data compiled by our exploratory probes. It is a fair distance but I believe it is possible. All the research I have done into deep space exploration will now be tested to its limits. I set the coordinates and bid farewell to my home." The craft leaves the hanger and, second later, I see Krypton growing smaller over Lucas' shoulder as he watches out a window.
"There was a part of me that hoped I would never awaken from the necessary suspension. That I might float forever unaware of what I have given up. But I have beaten the odds and arrived safely on the planet called Earth." I see the image of the craft approaching Earth and then streaking across the sky before landing in the same meadow where Lucas built his cabin.
"Its atmosphere is similar to Krypton and its people are like ours. The radiation from its sun is different and I have found myself far more powerful here than I ever was on Krypton. They say our sun will someday destroy Krypton. I pray my family may find a way to avoid that fate. When they realize I am gone, surely they may try and join me?"
The view of the meadow remains but the cabin has appeared, new and sturdy. I see Lucas walking down towards the lake on the same path that now leads to the pier. "Years have passed and I am accepted as one of them. But I am not, a distinction that I try to remember. Only one here has touched my heart. The son of my neighbor; young Seth. He reminds me of our son. What have you become, Kal-Kess? Do you look with shame upon your father? Or has my innocence been discovered in the intervening years?"
I see Lucas sinking his spacecraft in the center of the lake. "I only know I must not return. I am here now. This must be my home. What becomes of me no longer matters. My only regret is that no honors or tributes will be given upon my death. I will have remained a stranger. Only Seth will grieve my passing. There will be no one to tend my grave."
I feel ashamed of my own interest in disturbing his grave. Lucas' gray eyes go soft and his shoulders sag just a little.
"My days are spent in the remembrance of you, dearest Kacie. I remember your hesitation in believing me to be your true mate; how I had to woo you so carefully. I knew from the first our connection was real. I feel it still, a small invisible thread that binds me to you. My only comfort is that you may feel it, too. Know that I did this for you and for our son. Know that I still live. I live for you."
That's it, I realize, that's what he was thinking about in his picture. His eyes have the same haunted expression. He was thinking of Kacie.
The globe fades and Lucas disappears. I close my eyes for a moment, overcome with emotion for this man. Was he ever proven innocent? Did Kacie really know what became of him or did she believe he simply vanished? I tuck the globe into my jacket pocket and return to the road.
The truck appears over the rise, its speed increasing as it comes down the hill. Why is Lois driving the truck? And why would she be so foolish as to try and take the corner before the bridge like Emily did? I hear a stomping noise and realize that she is trying to slow the truck down but the brakes are gone. I look around and realize I only have a few seconds before she reaches the bridge. There's no way I could run and change. It would be far too suspicious that Superman was all the way out here - again.
I stand in the road and wave at her to steer towards the trees.
"Clark! Move! I don't have brakes!" She leans on the horn as she hurtles towards me. But my gambit works, she steers to the left to avoid me. As the truck is about to hit the trees I move, letting the truck's right bumper strike me first to absorb the majority of the impact so that when it hits the trees it's going much slower. As soon as it stops I throw myself to the side, coming to rest on the dusty road.
"Clark!" The truck's door flies open and Lois jumps out, stumbling on the uneven ground as she races toward me. I sit up and pretend to wince. "Clark, are you okay?"
"Yeah, I think so," I reassure her. "I think I just got the wind knocked out of me."
"What did you think you were doing, jumping in front of the truck like that?" She looks both angry and tearful.
"I wasn't in front of the truck. I was running over to help you and it just kind of glanced past me."
"Help me? Help me how? What were you going to do? Throw yourself in front of the truck to stop it?"
"No, I just wanted to be there after you hit the trees, in case you needed help."
"You're lucky you're still alive." She looks over at the truck and I follow her gaze. There's a huge dent on the right side of the grill - exactly where the truck hit me. All I can do is hope she doesn't think too hard about it. Or maybe I'm hoping she *will* think too hard about it.
"Stay here," she tells me. "I'm going to go get help."
"No, Lois, I think I'm okay. I can walk." I prove it by standing up. Lois moves close to my side, putting both her arms around my waist to support me. Any protest I was about to make is lost at the sensation of her arms around me.
"Just take it slow," she cautions me.
"I'm fine, really."
"And I'm serious. I can't believe that didn't kill you."
In the end I give in and allow her to 'walk' me back to the house. There are far worse ways to spend the afternoon.
Lois insists that I sit down at the kitchen table once we reach the house. No amount of protesting will convince her that I'm fine. I sit and she leaves to go down to the dig site. As soon as she crosses the bridge I rush upstairs and tuck the globe back into its hiding place. I'm sitting at the table when Lois returns with Emily.
"Lois said you had an accident?" Emily looks to me for confirmation.
"Actually, Lois had the accident. I just got a little bump as the truck went past me."
Emily looks at both of us as if she's trying to decide why we're making up this story. "Lois said the truck hit you?"
"How could I have walked back to the house if the truck hit me? You hit the trees, Lois, not me."
Emily looks at Lois. Lois frowns. "I'm telling you, I hit him with the truck."
"Were you aiming for him?" Emily asks with a smile. I laugh. Lois doesn't.
"No, of course not," Lois tells her icily. I laugh again and she glares at me. "I wasn't!"
"How are things going down at the dig site?" I ask, trying to change the subject.
"We almost have the entire skull exposed," Emily says. "I think it will be a couple of days, but we should be able to recover the entire skeleton."
"Is there anything we can do to help?" I ask.
"Yeah, if you're up to it. We're going to dig down at the end of the trench. We'll go faster since we'll just save each bucket and process it later. Lois, is the truck totaled or can you still go into town to get more buckets?"
Lois shakes her head. "I think the brakes went out. I was stomping on them but it didn't make any difference."
Emily nods glumly. "Okay, we'll have Josh look at the truck. He's our mechanic. We'll just make do with the buckets we all ready have."
By dusk we've managed to remove just over two feet of topsoil from Lucas' grave. Doc calls a stop to our excavation since we're quickly losing the light. I'm walking behind Lois as we head back to the house. She slows down as we come close to the bridge. Then she bends down to play with her shoelace. As I go to pass her she touches my leg to stop me.
"Clark, wait," she says in a low tone.
"What is it?"
"I was talking to Emily. She went with Josh to bring the truck back up the hill. Someone cut the brake line. It wasn't an accident."
I had all ready guessed as much. "That's two accidents in as many days," I muse. "Kinda makes you want to not get out of bed tomorrow, doesn't it?"
"Are you kidding? Do you realize that we're uncovering definitive proof that Superman isn't the only alien to come here?" She straightens back up and gives me an incredulous look.
"Another visitor from a strange planet?"
"Sure, make jokes. I'm serious. You can stay in bed all day if you want, but I'll be helping out here." She swats at an insect in irritation.
"Lois, I'm not making jokes. I'm taking your safety very seriously here."
"My safety? You're the one who was nearly killed twice. Isn't there something wrong with this picture? If I'm the target, why are you the one in constant danger?"
"I told you I wouldn't let anyone hurt you." I know I'm needling her, but it seems worth the trouble.
"I'm serious, Clark. There's something wrong about this whole setup."
"You've just now reached that conclusion? There was nothing wrong with someone stalking you all the way here? You were the one driving the truck when it crashed."
"You know what it is? It's too random. There was no way to be sure that you would go in the cabin yesterday or that I would be driving the truck today."
"So you're saying someone here is setting traps without regard for who gets caught in them?"
"Not someone - Josh. The brake line was cut. Emily said Josh is their mechanic out here. And I did see him push on the wall when you were inside the cabin."
"Have you given any thought to the idea that he has it in for you?"
"No," I tell her emphatically, taking her elbow to urge her back to the house. "Josh doesn't have it in for me. We're friends, Lois. Friends don't try to kill each other."
"Don't be so sure. We're friends and I frequently want to kill you."
"Is that all?" I ask before I can think better of it.
"Is that all, what?"
"Is that all you want to do to me? Kill me?" It's a gamble, but maybe it will pay off.
"Are you suggesting I want to do something to else to you?" She stops walking, her hands on her hips.
My lips twitch as I fight a smile. "You tell me."
"Is this about last night? It is, isn't it? See, this is why I backed off. It's a bad idea."
"What's a bad idea?"
"You and me, working together and… being together. It won't end well."
I want to tease her about how she could possibly know that for certain without trying. I stop myself because levity is only going to push her away. "Lois," I tilt her chin up to look at me. "Why does it have to end? If it's something we both want, then it can work. I want this to work. Do you?"
Her eyes search mine for a long moment. I don't look away, hoping she will realize just how much this means to me.
"Take me swimming again tonight, Clark," she whispers.
Tonight we don't dive in from the pier. My heart is beating fast as I wonder if she feels the same undercurrent to every movement made as I do. My senses feel heightened, keying in on the whisper of her clothes as she removes them and the little gasp she makes when she first enters the water.
We wade in, side by side. We're deep enough that Lois has started to swim and I'm about to when her hand reaches out to touch my arm. "Clark?" Her fingers close over my wrist and I pull my arm in so that she glides nearer to me.
"Do you think you'll kiss me tonight?"
"I'd say your chances are pretty good, why?" I move us a few steps closer to shore so that she can touch the bottom.
"Because…" She draws even closer, putting her arms around my neck. "I really want you to."
"You could kiss me; I wouldn't be offended."
"It's not that." I can hear the smile in her voice. "I just don't want you to think I'm being forward."
"You? Forward? You're the shyest person I know."
She slaps my shoulder. "Watch it, Kent."
"Ow!" I decide to tease her. "Be careful with me. Don't forget you ran me over with a truck this afternoon."
Her hand slides away from my shoulder, down my chest and comes to rest on my left hip - right where the truck struck me. "You're okay though, right?"
I feel a little guilty at the concern in her voice. I'm also more than a little excited by where her hand is.
I should tell her. Right here, right now. Just say those three little words she's always wanted to hear: 'Lois, I'm Superman.' It would be so easy. It would be so final.
"Yes. I'm fine."
"Prove it," she whispers, pulling my mouth to hers. Her arms go around my neck and she fits her body flush against mine. I walk us backwards until the water is only as deep as our waists. Even though she let me touch her last night, I'm still not certain whether I should try anything. I hesitate and she tips her head back, breaking our kiss.
"What's wrong?" she asks.
"Nothing. I just… I'm not sure…"
She smiles and takes my left hand, placing it high on her waist. "That? Is that what you were wondering about?"
I stroke my fingers over her soft flesh. "Yeah, that was it."
"I'm sorry about last night." Her words end with a soft moan.
"I'm not." I kiss the join of her neck and shoulders where her pulse beats frantically against my lips.
"I thought about that when I was helping you back to the house today."
"Uh huh." I nuzzle just beneath her ear.
"I thought about how close, oh…" This when my teeth gently scrape her shoulder.
"Yeah." Is she going to talk the entire time?
"And I thought… I thought what if I lost him? I've thought I lost you before, Clark. I was even going to tell you how I felt about you but you fell asleep."
"Really?" I kiss the delicate shell of her ear and inhale the familiar intoxicating scent of her hair.
"We're more than friends, right, Clark? I mean this is more than friendly, isn't it? And I thought about this last night…"
"Clark, have you written anything yet?"
"The story about Lucas Peregrine and Superman. Have you started writing it yet?"
"What? Do you think I'm trying to seduce the story out from under you?" I move my hand to her shoulder.
"No, of course not! I just… Obviously you'll be here in the morning. The truck's still out of commission."
I laugh with her. "Lois, if you're worried that I'm going to leave you…"
"I'm not! I know you better than that. I… you don't really want to talk about the story right now, do you?"
Duh. "Lois, we can talk about anything you want."
"I don't want to talk." She kisses the underside of my chin. "I don't want say another word. No more talking. Don't let me distract you from what you were doing. That was nice."
"I'm a nice guy. You said so."
"Did I? Oh, yeah." She giggles. "Very nice. No more talking."
I think about betting her that she'll be the first one to talk but that would be counterproductive. Instead I kiss the creamy flesh at the edge of her bra. Her hands smooth over my back and shoulders, her fingers curling each time I find a sensitive spot. I slide both hands behind her, working at the hooks of her bra. I take it off her, tossing it behind me. It lands on the shore with a wet "thwap".
In the moonlight her skin looks like alabaster. She smiles up at me and I realize I've never seen anything as beautiful. It's not just that she's topless, although that is amazing to see. It's her. It's Lois at her most basic and primal and she's smiling at me with absolute trust and, dare I hope it, love in her eyes.
I kiss her mouth softly, trying to tell her with my lips and tongue the things I can't put into words. She kisses me back with perfect understanding, I'm certain of it. When the kiss breaks I give the same attention to her cheeks, then her neck.
"Ah," I gasp, torn between never wanting this moment to end and the realization that I have to tell her. She'll never forgive me if I don't tell her before we make this leap. "Lois, I need to talk to you."
"Now?" she's as breathless as I am. "Now you want to talk?"
"Uh, I…" Then again, is this really the best time to tell her? Is there ever going to be a good time to tell her? Maybe it can wait.
She shifts, her hips moving away from mine, and I can breathe again. I'm formulating the best way to blurt it out as her hands slide down my chest.
"Mmm," she hums. "Is this okay?"
"Yes!" I pant. It's freakin' fantastic. But I still ought to tell her. I have this dim sense of foreboding that her anger will increase exponentially if I tell her after the fact. "Lois… we need to talk… about Superman."
"Superman?" She repeats in disbelief.
"Ahhh, yessss…" She has to stop touching me like that or I won't be able to say anything.
"You want to talk about Superman right now?" She lets out a small giggle.
"Oh… I think… ah… I think we should."
"You're ruining this, you know that?" she asks with another giggle. She has no idea how ruined it's going to be.
"I know. I… ah, oh my god… don't…"
"Don't?" she whispers. "Don't what?" Her hand keeps sliding south.
"Don't… stop. God, Lois, please don't stop."
"You still want to talk about Superman?"
On second thought, Superman can wait. I'm way past the point where I could plead my case with any eloquence. Maybe this will be so good that she'll forgive me anything afterwards.
"You can put me down now," she says as her fingers draw a lazy pattern on my back.
"No, I don't think I can."
She giggles, nuzzling into my neck. "All right. Maybe we should just stay here."
She shivers and I realize that I can't keep her here all night. "Are you getting cold?"
"Maybe a little."
As we wade back to shore I feel more than a little dazed. Did that really just happen? Lois picks up her bra and then turns to look back at the water. "I think I lost my panties."
Should I tell her what I just lost?
Lois shrugs and pulls her clothes on without bothering about her bra. Her teeth have started chattering. I put on my jeans and glasses and then hand her my t-shirt. "Thanks," she says softly and pulls it over her head. I take her hand and we start up the trail. After a few steps she stumbles.
I turn back and scoop her up. "Oh, no, Clark. Put me down."
"You'll drop me."
"Lois, I've never dropped you yet."
She doesn't seem to examine that statement too closely. Her head drops to rest on my shoulder and she puts her arms loosely around my neck. "Would it do any good to argue with you?"
"Mmmm, Clark…" she murmurs, "I'm so glad I didn't kill you today."
"No, really. If I ever get angry with you again, just say 'Lucas Lake' and I'll find it in my heart to forgive you."
What if I told her now? Just said, "I'm Superman - Lucas Lake!" Would she forgive me?
She yawns. "Wake me up when we get to the house."
She probably only said that in jest, but she's asleep by the time we reach the back porch. Doc is seated on one of the rocking chairs and gets up to open the door for me. I'm blushing furiously, but Doc only whispers, "Good night" as I go past him.
Her bedroom door isn't shut tight and I'm able to toe it open. I set her gently on the bed and take her shoes off. She doesn't stir. I work the blanket out from under her and cover her up. I stand there for a few minutes, drinking in the sight of the woman I just made love to. The woman I love. Then I bend over her, kissing her lips softly, before straightening up and heading for my own room.
I lie on my bed, lost in the remembrance of what just happened. Something that Lucas said pops into my head.
<"… my true mate…">
I think I know exactly how he felt.
I wake up to a soft knock on my door. I open it to find Lois, dressed in different clothes than when I tucked her into bed. She's holding my folded t-shirt in her hands. "So either I had the most erotic and realistic dream of my life last night, or you decided you didn't want to sleep with me after all." She tries to say it casually, but there's a trace of fear beneath the words.
I grin at her. "The bed was a little too small for us both." I stand back, hoping she'll come in.
She does, setting the shirt down on the desk and then looks up at me hopefully. She reaches out hesitantly, letting her hand rest at the center of my chest. "So that was real?"
"Yes," I nod, feeling a little shy myself now.
She flushes. "How different are things going to be now? Do we feel different to you?"
"Different how? Lois, it's only been a minute since we started talking. But if you're going to keep babbling then, no, it's not any different."
"Doesn't it seem like it should be different? Once you've seen a person naked… well, actually, I didn't really see you naked, did I? I mean, I kind of did, when we got back to shore. But I was too busy getting dressed to really take a good look."
I raise my eyebrows at her. "Is that why you're here? You want to see me naked?"
"No!" She blushes and goes to leave.
"Wait, Lois, I'm sorry." I catch her shoulders and turn her to face me. I take her face between my hands and bend down to gently kiss her lips. She tastes like toothpaste and I realize that she's probably been awake for a long time, worrying about what she was going to say and do. I wonder what her internal script dictated that I should say. "I'm glad you're here."
I nod and smooth my hands over her shoulders, pulling her into a hug. Lois relaxes against me, laying her cheek against my chest. I rest my chin on top of her head and close my eyes, utterly content. Then the thought creeps in that I still have something to tell her. Wait, I tell myself. Just another minute - let everything be this perfect for another minute.
Just as I'm about to kiss her again, she tilts her head back to look up at me. "Clark? When we first met, did you think I was rude to you?"
"You were preoccupied with a story." I'm not sure full disclosure on that subject is the way to go at this moment.
"I was rude, wasn't I?" Her eyes are wide and worried.
I don't want to make her feel bad so I shake my head slightly. "I wouldn't say 'rude', necessarily."
"Everyone else would," she says glumly.
"Why does it matter now?"
She pulls away from the hug and sits down on my bed. My *unmade* bed - a little voice at the back of my mind notes. Lois appears to be preoccupied by other thoughts.
"I was trying to remember what my first impression of you was," she says slowly.
I sit down next to her, not wanting to feel like I'm looming over her. "What was it?"
She frowns. "That's just it! I don't remember. I don't know if I even formed an opinion of you at first. The first thing I really remember about you is when you wrote that schmoopy story about the theater and Perry just ate it up."
"Schmoopy?" I think I'm about to be offended.
"Overly sentimental." She waves her hand dismissively. "Whatever you want to call it."
I *am* offended. "It wasn't overly sentimental. It was a tribute. Tributes are meant to be a little… schmoopy."
Lois takes my hand, squeezing my fingers. "I just, I don't remember what it was like not to know you. It's like I don't remember not having you around. You're just… part of me, a part of my life now. And then, last night, it was like I almost remembered meeting you for the first time. Didn't I call you Mr. Green Jeans or something?"
"Yes, you did. And you called me 'farm boy'."
"That's not necessarily an insult."
"I thought it was insulting."
She falls silent for a moment. "I didn't mean it as an insult."
I laugh. "Yes, you did."
"Well, I don't now."
I smile. "I know that."
"Do you remember your first impression of me?"
This is not the time to tell her I thought she was a high-strung bitch. "Yes."
She waits, but I don't say anything. "Well? What was it?" she finally asks impatiently.
"I thought you were very driven."
Something flares in her eyes. "You thought I was a witch!"
"No, I didn't. I thought you were very focused. I'd read your stories and I was thrilled to be meeting the Lois Lane."
"Do you still think that? That I'm 'driven' and 'focused'?" She makes little finger-quotes for the adjectives that offend her. "Tell me how you really feel!"
"Do you want to know the very first thing I thought when I met you in person?"
She hesitates, bites her lip, and then says, "What?"
"I thought you were beautiful. I was blown away. I already knew you were an amazing reporter, I just wasn't prepared to see someone so young and drop-dead gorgeous."
"If you wanted to kiss my butt, Clark, you probably should have done it last night when it was bare to the world."
"Lois, I'll kiss anything of yours you want kissed."
She rolls her eyes at me. "You think I'm going to forgive you for calling me 'driven' if you sweet talk me?"
"You insulted me first."
"'Farm boy' is an occupation," she says with a glare.
"In your case, so is 'driven'."
My door is half-open and Josh knocks on it lightly before sticking his head in. He clears his throat and says, "We need you guys down at the site early this morning. Doc got a call last night that the federal regulator will be here this morning."
"Okay," I say in answer. He shuts the door behind him as he leaves.
Lois stands up. "I guess you need to get ready now."
"You can stay and watch."
She blushes, just like I hoped she would. She puts her hand on the doorknob and then turns back to me. "Did you really think that? That I was drop-dead gorgeous?"
"Lois, I've never stopped thinking that."
Her face splits in a grin before she quickly tones it down to a smirk. "You're good, Clark. Very good."
"You'd be the best judge of that now, wouldn't you?"
She turns bright red and leaves, shutting the door firmly behind her.
We spend the morning cleaning up the dig site, making sure that everything has been logged. Doc is clearly agitated and mutters frequently under his breath that we're going to be shut down before the day is out. Just before noon I hear a car drive up to the house. Five minutes pass and then Emily says, "There they are," in a low, urgent tone.
We all look up. Two men are coming down the path towards the dig site. One is in his late-forties and a little on the pudgy side. His brown hair, what's left of it, is badly combed-over. The walk from the house appears to have winded him and his forehead glistens with sweat. The other man is younger, maybe in his early thirties. He's taller and leaner than his companion with light brown hair. He sees us all staring and he gives us a friendly wave.
Doc waves back, but he mutters to us, "Never trust the government."
We watch them come closer. As they move around the rubble pile from the cabin the younger man waves again. "Hi! I'm Jay Shaw, from the Department of the Interior. This is John Dixon, he's my supervisor."
Doc goes forward shakes their hands. "Mr. Shaw. Mr. Dixon. I'm Dr. Hanover, the dig supervisor. He turns and gestures at each of us. "Emily, Lois, Josh, Clark."
"Just call us Jay and John, please. I'm sorry, I don't think I have all your names, but I'm sure we'll know you before the day is over," Jay says while John mops at his forehead. "So what have we got here?"
Doc takes them around the dig site. He explains with some trepidation how the cabin collapsed. When he comes to the trench John zeroes in on the exposed skull.
"This is supposed to be Lucas Peregrine?" he asks.
"Yes," Doc says.
John pulls a small notepad from his back pocket and leafs through it. "Leaving aside the fact that you're intending to disturb a burial that is less than a century old, what makes you so certain that this is your guy?"
"My grandfather said he was buried here."
"Uh huh." John looks at the notepad again. "And he was how old?"
"In his nineties, possibly older than that," Doc looks irritated.
John kneels next to the skull and points at Lucas's teeth. "Do those look like the teeth of a elderly man from the nineteenth century? He shouldn't even have teeth, let alone perfect teeth. They aren't dentures. There are no cavities. How do you explain that?"
Doc shrugs. "Some people are born lucky?"
"And look at his clavicle here," John points again. "I'm no expert, but that looks much too robust to be such an old man." John stands up, brushing his knees. "Here's what we need to do. I think this is a Native American burial, which it is illegal to disturb. Let's bring in a forensic anthropologist to make a determination. Until then, this excavation must stop."
Jay grimaces and looks like he's about to argue with John, but decides better of it. "You could…" he starts quietly, glancing at John. "What about starting with the cabin? Have you considered excavating it?"
"Let's go back to the house," John shoots Jay a glare. "You can show us what you've uncovered so far. I'll have to ask you all to stop any work here until we know something more definitive about this burial."
As we walk glumly up the hill towards the trees Lois lets out an exasperated sigh. I turn back to see what's bothering her and she motions for me to hang back with her. "Can they really do that? Just shut the whole thing down? Do you think they'll make us fill up the grave again?"
"I don't know. I hope not," I say.
"I guess Superman doesn't have cavities, does he?"
I make the leap of logic with her. "No, he doesn't."
"What do you think, Clark? Was Lucas really from Krypton?"
"Yeah," I say slowly. "I think he was. I… we should talk… about Lucas. This story. And, I have something I really have to tell you."
She grins and smacks my arm. "Later - I just got an idea! I'll see you back at the house!" She rushes away at a jog.
"Not now, Clark! I gotta write it down while I still have the phrasing right."
I sigh. "Sure, go ahead. It can wait."
I don't go in the house. I'd only be in the way as Josh and Doc try to justify their project to John. I sit down on the porch, my shoulder resting against Lucas' pillar. The screen door squeaks and slams behind me and I hear Lois' footsteps. She sits down next to me on the top step and lightly leans against my shoulder.
"Did you get your idea written down?" I ask.
"Yeah, but whatever else I was going to say is gone. I hate when that happens."
"Lois, I still need to talk to you."
"Did you want to amend your first impression of me?"
"I remembered what I thought - about you. That first time in Perry's office."
"Do I want to hear it?"
She chuffs a laugh and almost smiles. "Maybe… it's not completely insulting."
"So what was it?"
"I thought…" she takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "I thought you looked like you were too eager to please. Earnest, I guess you could call it. You were very earnest."
"Not like the first time you saw Superman. He, at least, impressed you." I shouldn't feel petty. Couldn't she have created some little white lie for me? She could have said she thought I was tall or she liked my glasses or anything else. Earnest is just… unsexy.
She ducks her head in embarrassment. "He ate a bomb, Clark! This buff guy shows up out of nowhere in tights and a cape and he eats a bomb - of course I was impressed."
"I still need to talk to you about Superman."
She laughs. "And you say I'm obsessive? Let it go, Clark. I'd rather go swimming with you."
Josh opens the screen door. "Hey guys, we need your help. Jay got John to agree to let us excavate the cabin."
I roll my eyes in frustration. "We'll talk later?" I ask Lois as she stands up.
"Sure." She holds her hand out for me to help her up. "I think it's cute that you're jealous of him."
I allow myself a snicker. "Lois, trust me on this, I'm not jealous."
John takes charge of the project to move the heavy beam from the cabin's foundation. He directs Doc, Lois and me to stand on one side of the beam while he, Josh, Emily and Jay take the other side. We count off from three and everyone groans as they try to lift.
"Maybe we should try to use rollers, you know, get some logs?" Jay suggests.
"Let's try it once more first," John answers.
"Scoot down a little," I tell Lois so that I can take a place closer to the middle of the beam. Lois slides a couple of feet to the right, her face set in determination. Everyone squats down again and John admonishes us to remember to lift with our knees.
This time I put a little more effort into the lifting, but still let them all sweat it out pretty good. We stop twice to rest as we move the beam away from the cabin. On the last lift, Josh and John both stumble and the beam starts to slip. I catch it, balancing it solo for what seems like a very long second while everyone readjusts their grip. No one says anything and I breathe a small sigh of relief.
Doc takes over from John and we all begin setting up the cabin's foundation for a new trench. Lois and Emily go in the tent to begin a new log and sketch the area's features. I help Josh measure and mark out the new coordinates, staking out a grid pattern over the area.
"Are you okay?" Emily asks. I look over to see Lois slowly tapping a stack of index cards on the tabletop, her expression distant. Emily touches her shoulder and Lois snaps out of her trance.
"Are you okay?" Emily asks again.
"Yeah," Lois shakes her head. "I'm just tired, I guess."
I smile to myself with maybe just a touch of pride. How'd you get tired, Lois? Distracted by the memory of last night, I accidentally lose the end of the tape I'm holding and have to chase it down. I glance over and Lois is watching me. Blushing furiously, I go back to the corner of the grid. Way to be smooth and impressive there, Clark.
"Do you want a break?" Emily gives her a sympathetic smile. "We need a box of labels from the house."
"Good idea. I think a walk would wake me up." Lois sets aside the index cards and starts for the house. I watch her walking up the hill until Josh interrupts my daydreams to help set up the next quadrant.
Ten minutes pass and Lois doesn't return. Then fifteen and there's still no Lois. I start to get worried. It's been so quiet, accident-wise, today. Has something happened? I'm looking for an excuse to go back to the house when I see her come through the trees.
"Took you long enough," Emily comments when Lois hands the box to her.
"They weren't where I thought they were," Lois says quietly. "You should have told me where to find them."
Worried, I go over and touch her shoulder. "Lois, are you okay?"
She nods without looking up. "Never better. I'm just a little worn out, I guess."
"Not too tired to talk later, though, right?" I squeeze her shoulder gently.
"No," she looks up and gives me a half-smile. "Not too tired to talk."
John and Jay turn down the invitation to stay for dinner. I can't honestly say that any of us are disappointed. Doc goes in the kitchen to make dinner and the rest of us gather in the sitting room.
"So what is Doc's specialty?" I ask. "He said he was making his specialty for dinner."
Emily and Josh share a look and then say, in unison, "Hot dogs."
Emily continues. "When they dig us up, centuries from now, they'll marvel at how well preserved we are. And it won't be embalming fluid. It will be the hot dogs."
"I love hot dogs," Lois says absently. I feel a stab of disappointment that she's probably too tired to go swimming tonight. Then again, I have to tell her - tonight. In fact, I shouldn't put it off any longer.
"Lois? Can we go for a walk?"
She turns her weary-looking eyes to me. "Yeah. Let me just run upstairs and get my jacket."
"I'll go get it, " I tell her and head out of the room. As I reach the top of the stairs I see that my door is open a crack. I'm sure I closed it. Has someone been in my room again? Is there another picture? I rush into my room, expecting something bad.
It's not bad - it's worse.
My suitcase is sitting opened on my bed. My clothes have been tossed to one side and the liner is pulled back. The globe is gone. Sick with dread, I stare at the space where it should have been. Why did I leave it here? Why didn't I take it home? I can't even begin to comprehend what I've lost. Not just my past, but Lucas' as well.
Who has it? I don't think it's played anything for them. I was able to hear the messages from the globe before when it was played outside my presence. Or was that only because those messages were specifically meant for me? Could Lucas' message have played for someone else and I'd never realize it?
There are footsteps in the hallway behind me. I turn around to see Lois in the doorway, her face set in an inscrutable mask.
"Lose something?" she asks.
"I… yes," I say warily as I try to judge her mood. My stomach tightens in anxiety. Did she take the globe? What does she think it means? Does she *know*?
She comes in the room and shuts the door. "I'll tell you where it is, if you'll tell me why you have it. *Again*. Did Superman give it to you for safekeeping?" Her tone is low but the words seem to ring in my ears. I open my mouth to answer but she rushes on, her voice becoming huskier, but no louder, as she becomes more agitated. "Sure, tell me that. It's certainly plausible, isn't it?"
"Better yet, tell me why you brought it *here*. Do you take it everywhere? And here's another question while you're busy thinking. There's a huge dent in the truck where I hit you. Are you sure that didn't hurt?" The question holds absolutely no compassion.
"What about that cabin falling on you? We're all thinking we witnessed some kind of miracle but that's not what it was, was it? Or how about that amazing feat of strength this afternoon? I kept thinking I had to have imagined that. There was no way you could hold that beam by yourself. There's only one person who could, really. Gosh, wait, you don't suppose… " Her voice fades and she crosses her arms over her chest. "Have I figured it out? Or should I say *finally* figured it out?"
Panic floods through me - what am I supposed to say? "Lois…"
"Was that why you wanted to talk about Superman last night?"
"Yes," I nod.
"And then you decided you'd rather get laid than be honest with me?"
"Whoa! That's not how it happened! You said you didn't want to talk about it! You were the one pushing things forward!"
Her eyes widen in surprise. "How can you say that? What kind of revisionist history is that? I never said I didn't want to talk about it, I only asked if you were sure *you* wanted to talk about it. And then you said 'don't stop'!"
"How could you expect me to say anything else at that particular moment? Surely you remember what *you* were doing at the time. Whatever else you might believe about me, when it comes to that I'm just a guy with the same biological urges as any other man."
"And that's what it was to you? Just a biological urge to be satisfied?"
"NO! Lois! That's not what I meant at all!"
"Forget it! Enough, okay? I don't want to talk about that, so don't change the subject. What I want to know is why you never told me. Why did I have to figure it out? I thought we were friends. I even thought I was… special… to you. Why did you let me go on thinking that you were some kind of flake who couldn't commit? Why not just be honest with me when we started dating? Why not just be honest with me because you're my best friend? Do you not trust me? Is that it?"
"No, Lois. I trust you. I do. I was just afraid that you'd be angry."
"Well, you thought wrong! I'm not angry! I'm heartbroken!" Her eyes tear up and voice cracks. I realize I'm the biggest jerk in history. It would have been better if she were only furious. I could forgive myself for making her angry but not for breaking her heart.
"Lois, I'm sorry. I've wanted to tell you."
"But you *didn't*." She swipes away her tears with the back of her hand and stands up straighter. I feel the first anxious flutter that I've lost her. "I'll give you credit for wanting to tell me. But *actually* telling me is ninety-five percent of your grade on this one. Did you tell me?"
"No." I shake my head. "And that was a mistake. Lois…" I take a deep breath and then figure I might as well reveal all my secrets at once. "I love you. I never meant to hurt you and I'll do anything to make it up to you."
She shakes her head. "Clark… I can still call you Clark, right? Is that your real name?"
"Yes. Clark." It's not worth muddying the waters with Kal-El at this moment. Later, when we're both calmer, I'll tell her.
Another tear slides loose but she ignores it. "Okay, Clark, the thing is… I don't want you to make this up to me. I don't see how you really ever could."
My heart feels like it's breaking right along with hers. Lois bows her head and chokes on a sob. I want to reach out to her, but I don't dare. She opens the door and leaves. Should I follow her? I feel frozen to the spot. After a few seconds she returns, holding the globe.
"I… I'm sorry. I shouldn't have taken this from you." She sets it gently on the desk. "I was looking for the Suit, I thought you had to have it hidden somewhere, and found this instead. I only took it because… I guess I just wanted to see you suffer."
As the door closes softly behind her I think my knees are going to buckle. She's right. I can never make up for not telling her sooner. At the very least I should have told her last night. I just didn't want to ruin anything. And now I have. Worst of all, I told her I loved her and she ignored it. I've lost her.
I sit down on the bed and stare at the globe but it offers no advice. I should have told her. I can think of a hundred moments now that would have sufficed. She wants a revision of history? What if I went back and told her at the very start? Or when she was going to marry Lex? Or when we started dating? Or last night? Surely I could have found a way to tell her last night.
<"I guess I just wanted to see you suffer.">
Come back, Lois. If you really want to see me suffer you shouldn't miss this.
Please come back.
Dinner is beyond uncomfortable. Lois never looks at me and barely touches her food. I don't have much of an appetite myself. More than anything I just want to leave but I can't. It's not that I think Lois is going to blurt out my secret - I don't dare leave her here alone when we still know nothing about her stalker.
"We could have had Lucas completely uncovered by tomorrow if John hadn't made us stop," Emily comments to no one in particular.
Doc sighs. "We'll never get him. They're going to shut us down."
"They're not going to shut us down," Emily says reassuringly. "Jay was telling me that they're seriously thinking about turning the site into an interpretive history center, like a showcase for the area's history. The French and Indian Wars, the Civil War, the Underground Railroad… He said they might try to find a way to incorporate an on-going dig into the plan. You know, sort of a hands-on history kind of thing."
Doc frowns. "I'm sure Jay believes that, but I can assure you that John does not. He's going to shut us down. If not tomorrow, then the next day."
"But why would he let us start a new trench if he's going to shut us down?" Emily argues. "That makes no sense."
"Simple. It keeps us occupied until the paperwork goes through." Doc wipes his mouth with a napkin and clears his throat. "I think John means to take Lucas away from us."
"He can't!" Emily exclaims.
"Do you think they know who Lucas might be?" Lois asks. We all turn to look at her; it's the first time she's spoken since she came downstairs
"It's possible. John was awfully interested in Lucas' teeth. They'll bring in their expert and we'll never see him again." Doc pushes his plate away as he answers.
"Then let's steal him first," Lois suggests. Emily and Josh gape at her along with me, but Doc only smiles.
"My thoughts exactly, my dear."
Tonight we don't bother with a slow and thorough excavation. Doc, Emily and Lois hold flashlights while Josh and I dig down. We toss the dirt over the edge of the trench, no longer caring about preservation. It takes just over an hour for us to reach Lucas. Doc calls out for us to stop when he sees Josh turn over a fragment of cloth. Josh and I switch places with Doc and Emily.
They carefully work free a deteriorated and fragile woolen blanket from the earth. Josh slips back into the trench and the three of them carefully raise the bundle to Lois and me. We set him down gently at the side of the trench.
"We don't have a big enough box," Josh notes. "We're going to have to disarticulate him."
"Maybe not," Doc says. "If we use the tool chest from the tent we can just fold him in half. Let's get him out of here before we do any kind of recovery work on him."
Lois and Emily race into the tent to clean the chest out. Doc kicks some of the dirt back into the grave.
"Should we fill the hole in?" I ask.
"It doesn't matter. Once they get here tomorrow morning and find out he's gone I'm going to have to answer for it. Let's just get him somewhere safe."
Once the chest is cleaned out, Doc and Josh cautiously fold the bundle in half and then ease it into the tool chest. After Doc closes the lid, Josh and I each take an end to carry him back to the house. Emily goes ahead of us with a flashlight while Lois follows behind with one.
When we reach the back porch Josh asks, "Where should we put him?"
"In my room, for now," says Doc. "I'll move him again later."
"Where?" Emily asks.
"The last place anyone would expect to find him, " Doc says with a wan smile.
"The trunk of John's car?" Emily suggests.
"Better," Doc assures her. "Even better than that."
I pace my room, waiting for Lois to finish her shower. When I hear the bathroom door open, I step into the hallway. Lois, dressed in her nightshirt with a towel wrapped around her hair, knocks on Josh's door and tells him the bathroom is free. When she sees me her shoulders straighten.
"Clark, I'm too tired to talk, okay?" she says as she opens her door.
Josh comes into the hallway and glances over at us as he walks to the bathroom.
"Seriously. It's waited this long. It can wait a little longer." She tilts her head to indicate Josh. "There's nothing you can say that's going to change anything anyway. Good night, Clark." She goes in her room and shuts the door.
I turn to go back to my room when I hear her whisper, "Oh my god! Clark? Can you hear me?"
Should I go check on her? Knock on her door? She opens the door again, her eyes wide and frightened, and motions for me to come in.
"What is it?" I ask, although I have a sinking feeling I all ready know. She shuts the door and steps back. There's another picture taped to the back of her door. It was taken last night - while we were in the lake. It's us in profile and it's obvious why I never heard a thing - I look a little preoccupied. Something ugly filters through me at the realization that someone was watching the most intimate moment we've ever shared.
There are no fingerprints on this picture either. I pull it off the door and flip it over.
"DID YOU SEE FIREWORKS?"
"Lois, I want you to go back to Metropolis. I'll take you back tonight."
"What? No! How would you explain that?"
"I'll think of something. I care more about your safety right now…"
"I have Superman sleeping in the next room. I couldn't possibly get any safer."
"Lois, I'd feel better…"
"Well, I wouldn't! So, unless you intend to be a bully and forcibly fly me back, I'm staying right here. There's still a story to be written here, Clark. Don't you want to know for sure if Lucas was from Krypton?"
"He was," I tell her.
She goes absolutely still. "And how do you know this?"
I hesitate, knowing that the truth is only going to make things worse. "He told me."
"He told you? You've seen his ghost?"
"No, he left a box with a message in the foundation of the cabin. That's why I brought the globe here. It plays the message." I glance at the picture in my hands. So much can change in twenty-four hours.
Her eyes become cold. "When did you find the box?"
"When the cabin collapsed."
"Uh huh. Thanks for sharing, partner. What did you do with it?"
"I left it at my parent's house."
"Unbelievable. You are unbelievable! Talk about stealing a story - how did you justify that to yourself? How did you think you were going to justify it to me, assuming you ever told me? Actually, never mind me, what about Doc? I never would have believed that you could be so selfish!"
I have no defense for that, she's right. "Keep your voice down," I say in an urgent whisper.
She shakes her head in disbelief. "I'm the last person you need to worry about. I can keep your secret better than you did." She grabs the picture and tears it into pieces. I get the feeling the gesture is more about destroying the memory of last night than anything else. As she rips the picture apart she continues talking in a low voice. "You weren't going to tell me about Lucas, were you?"
"Yes, I was." I wish my voice didn't sound so uncertain.
"Really? When? On the way home? Were you going to have a little confession party on the plane? Or maybe you were going to tell me when you accepted the Kerth?"
Her petty words hit home and I lash back at her before I can think better of it. "This isn't about a story to me! This is about my life! Yes, I didn't tell you. But if you could stop feeling sorry for yourself and being just as selfish, by the way, then maybe you could spare a thought for how I might feel. Do you have any idea how much it would mean to me to know that I wasn't alone here? I just wanted a connection. And last night," I gesture at the torn scraps she's dropped on the desk, "I actually thought I had made one. For the first time ever I felt like I belonged here. I *was* going to tell you. I was going to tell you everything this afternoon but you ran off."
She closes her eyes and nods. "Fine, but even if you had told me this afternoon…" When she opens her eyes they're full of unshed tears. "This isn't something you can just tell a person and have them say 'oh great, thanks' and everything just keeps going along like normal. How would you feel if you just found out I've been lying to you since the first day we met? And it wasn't just ordinary lying about something like you think I have lousy taste in clothes, not that I'd give that opinion much weight since, well, you have lousy taste in clothes, Clark. But it wasn't something like that, was it? This was kind of a big one. This was something you knew I wanted to know."
One of the picture fragments is lying face up and she turns it over. "And don't you dare tell me that you thought my only interest in knowing about you was because I wanted a story. Maybe Lucas would have been just a story. But you are not a story to me."
"I know that," I say softly. "And I was going to tell you about me first, then about Lucas. I just didn't want this," I gesture at the uncomfortable space between us. "I didn't want you to be angry."
"I'm only angry about Lucas." Lois looks past me, her gaze focusing on the door. "I'm hurt that you didn't trust me."
"This isn't about trust…" I try to say but she cuts me off.
"It is to me." She goes to the door and opens it. "Good night, Clark," she says pointedly.
It is, quite possibly, the longest night of my life. I can't sleep. I can't think of anything but hurt in Lois' eyes as she told me that there was nothing I could do to fix this. To make matters worse, I can hear her muffled crying and sniffles. Last night she fell asleep in my arms and tonight I've made her cry.
<" I don't want you to make this up to me. I don't see how you really ever could.">
My mind goes in frantic circles. When I manage to push away the realization that I've broken her heart I can only wonder who it is that's stalking her. And why? Is this someone with a grudge from a story she's written? Could it be Lex seeking his own twisted revenge?
And what about Doc and Lucas? What's going to happen tomorrow morning when John and Jay get here and find him gone? Doc may put on a brave face, but this has to be a career-ending move for him. And what about Emily and Josh? This is going to taint their resumes as well.
I can hear Doc shuffling around in his room, muttering to himself as he examines Lucas' skeleton. Part of me feels like I let Lucas down as well. Should we have disturbed his grave? But if Doc was right and John was only going to take the skeleton… surely it's better that Lucas is with someone who can appreciate him?
I can't help but feel like I'm missing something. I go over everything that has happened since we arrived here but nothing makes sense. The string of random accidents bothers me - not all of them were directed at Lois. I hate to think that Josh is involved, but I have to believe that Lois saw something outside the cabin. And Josh did call to me, just before the cabin collapsed. Could he have been making sure I was in position?
But why? Why would he do that?
John arrives early the next morning with Jay glumly in tow and we all march down to the dig site with them. It feels like a funeral procession. When we reach the trench, John's face, already red from the hike, becomes almost purple as he sees the new hole in the ground.
"Who did this?" he barks out.
We all glance at each other, feigning ignorance. Who did what?
"Where is he?" he asks, pointing at Doc.
Doc shrugs. "I have no idea."
John looks at each of us as he works to control his anger. "You'll all be prosecuted. There are fines involved and you'll all do jail time."
No one speaks up. John turns to Doc again. "You're done. Finished. This is it. I'll personally see to it that you lose your tenure. Say good-bye to your reputation. I wouldn't be surprised to see you get audited by the IRS."
Doc still says nothing.
"You have until tomorrow morning to get this tent and its contents off this land," John shouts as he turns to leave. Jay follows him like an obedient puppy. Just before Jay steps into the trees he turns around and salutes us, a huge smile on his face.
"You gotta at least like that guy," Josh says.
"What do we do now?" Emily asks.
Doc draws in a deep breath and lets it out slowly as he surveys the trench. Then he shakes his head sadly. "There's nothing left to do, really. They're going to ask us to surrender all our files and everything we've found so far. I don't see the sense in cleaning the place up. If there's anything of sentimental value to you, I suggest you take it with you now."
Lois glances over at me with accusation in her eyes. I look away.
"What are you going to do after today?" I ask Doc.
He shrugs his shoulders. "Retire, I guess."
"But you have Lucas - can't you still prove your theory?"
Josh clears his throat. "We don't have any pictures for provenance. We robbed a grave, we didn't follow procedure."
"Oh," Lois says, looking over at Doc with worry. "Are you sure this was worth losing everything you've worked your whole life for?"
"Sometimes you have to risk everything, even if it means you're left with nothing," Doc tells her. "I've spent my entire life living in the past. I've always wanted, hoped even, that I might find something that would change history, even if it were only a little change. Whether it's accepted in scientific circles no longer matters to me. I just want to know, for myself, if Lucas was like Superman."
Emily touches Doc's hand. "John might not have that much clout. This could all blow over, you know."
"I appreciate that, my dear." Doc pats her shoulder. "I appreciate all of you putting yourselves on the line for me. I wish there was something I could do for you."
Josh gives Doc a weak smile. "We should at least try and get all the tools back up to the house. They aren't going to confiscate those."
Everyone takes some tools and we carry them back to the house. Even though there's nothing left that we want to move from the tent, we all head back down to the dig site. Doc pulls a folding chair out of the tent and sits near the end of the trench, his expression thoughtful. Emily continues down the trail to the pier. I stand near the cabin's beam, silently cursing myself for the way Lois found out. I should have told her. God, why didn't I tell her?
Lois moves into my peripheral vision but doesn't say anything. I turn my head to watch her. She's staring at the lake but I sense that she's just as aware of me. Is there any way I could convince her to trust me again?
"Lois?" I start hesitantly.
She turns to look at me, her expression guarded.
Startled by the noise, I freeze. Lois catches the movement and raises her eyebrow in curiosity. I look towards the pier. Emily is leaning against the railing at the end.
A sudden sense of deja vu… <"Mayson! No!">
"What is it?" Lois asks.
The pier explodes before I can answer.
After a moment of disbelief Josh and I both take off on a run; I don't care if it appears that maybe I'm running a little too fast. I dive into the water, swimming to reach where the end of the pier was. The water is still churning with falling debris. I catch sight of Emily. She's tangled in the railing and sinking fast. She's unconscious and a thin stream of bubbles marks her descent.
I dive deeper and catch hold of her arms, tugging to free her from the wreckage. I bring her to the surface and Josh helps me pull her to shore. She's still unresponsive so Josh tilts her head back and starts mouth-to-mouth. I scan her quickly. She has a deep cut on her forehead and another gash on her leg but it doesn't look like anything is broken.
Emily coughs and begins to choke. We roll her sideways and she throws up water. She's shivering violently as she struggles to sit up so Doc pulls off his shirt and wraps it around her shoulders. Emily coughs again, her eyes filling with tears and she hoarsely asks, "What happened?"
"Someone bombed the pier," Lois says, her eyes wide and dazed.
"What? Oh my god, I can't believe this." Emily moans and leans sideways to throw up again.
"We need to get you to a doctor," I tell her. "Can you walk?"
"Of course," she says but she falls sideways when she tries to stand up. I scoop her up and start walking for the house.
"Clark? What happened?" Emily asks weakly as we pass the cabin.
"You had accident, but you're going to be okay," I reassure her.
After a few seconds she stiffens in my arms and asks in an alarmed voice, "What's going on?"
"Emily, you were on the pier when it… collapsed. Do you remember that?"
"I remember… working in the tent. What happened?"
"Short-term memory loss," Doc says from behind me. "That's common."
Emily shivers and groans. "Why am I all wet?"
I walk a little faster. "You fell in the water."
"You're wet, too," she says in a thick slur. "Did you fall in?"
"Clark and Josh saved you," Doc tells her.
Emily sighs and touches my cheek. "Thanks, Clark…" Her eyes close and she becomes heavier as her body goes limp.
When we reach the house Josh and Doc take Emily in the truck, leaving Lois and me behind. As we watch the dust settle back onto the road I tell her, "I think it was a pressure bomb. I heard it activate, but I didn't realize what it was in time to get down there."
"Do you think it was meant for us? After all, we've gone swimming almost every night here…"
"Yeah, I think it was meant for us."
There's a moment of silence while we both think about that. I want to ask her again to let me take her back to Metropolis but I'm certain she'd only argue against the idea.
"So… alone at last," Lois says, giving me a significant look. "We are alone here, right? I mean, you don't hear anyone else around, do you?"
I concentrate for a few seconds but I can only hear her - and the pounding in my ears. What does she mean, "alone at last"? I'm quite certain it doesn't have a sexual connotation, but I can't help wondering. "I don't hear anyone else," I say slowly.
"Good. Then it's time for you to come clean. Starting with the globe. I want to see Lucas' message."
She glares at me as if she thinks I'm going to argue with her. "Okay." I nod and go in the house. She follows me up to my room and stands in the doorway watching as I kneel down to retrieve my suitcase from under the bed.
I pull out the globe and gesture for her to come in. She hesitates for a moment and then shuts the door softly behind her. "Should I pull the curtains closed? Does it project on the wall?"
"No, it's more like a hologram." I smooth my hand over the globe but it doesn't do anything.
Come on, I think, you're making me look bad. Just show me Lucas' message again. There's a small hum and the globe's surface alters. "That's Krypton," I tell her, holding the globe out so she can see it better. "The first time I touched it, in that Bureau 39 warehouse, I just knew that somehow."
"It's where you're from - why wouldn't you already have known that?" She glances at me, puzzled, as she sits down on the desk chair.
"I didn't grow up there. I came here as a baby."
She opens her mouth to ask me a follow-up question when Lucas appears, running down the dark hallway towards the hanger. "I was set up by the House of Zod. I cannot stay and be imprisoned for a crime I did not commit…"
Lois exhales a small sigh, her expression rapt with attention. She doesn't move, hardly even blinks, as the message plays.
"… I knew from the first our connection was real. I feel it still, a small invisible thread that binds me to you. My only comfort is that you may feel it, too. Know that I did this for you and for our son. Know that I still live. I live for you."
The globe fades and Lois sits motionless for a few seconds. "Wow," she says finally. "Is there more?"
"If there is, I haven't seen it."
"So he never saw Kacie or his family again, did he?"
"That's so sad. He must have been so lonely…" She tilts her head. "Clark, I have a lot of questions. I don't know where to start."
"If they're questions about Lucas, well, you know as much as I do."
"No, questions about this globe… and you. How did you know it would play Lucas' message? Was that a lucky hunch or does it have other messages?"
"It has other messages."
I expect that she's going to be angry; instead she leans forward eagerly. "Would you… I mean, can I… if they're not too personal or something?"
I smile at her. "Actually, I think it would help explain things if you saw them yourself. Jor-El explains it far better than I can."
I stand up and go over to her, placing the globe in her hands. "Right here," I point to the spot on the globe that activates Jor-El's message. "Just touch it here."
She flushes with excitement, her hands trembling as she accepts the globe. "Really? Will it play for me?"
"Remember when Jack stole this from me and then sold it to someone else?" She nods. "I could see the messages so I know it played for them."
"Okay. Here goes, well, not nothing, so just here goes…" She taps her finger tentatively over the spot I showed her. Nothing happens. She tries again and the globe lights up, humming in her hands. "Oh!" she exclaims in surprise as it rises to hover just above her palms. "I didn't realize it…" She stops as Jor-El stands in front of us.
"My name is Jor-El. And you are Kal-El, my son. The object you possess has been attuned to you. That you now hear these words is proof that you survived the journey in space and have reached your full maturity. Now it is time for you to learn your heritage…"
I watch Lois as Jor-El explains about Krypton and its imminent doom. Her jaw frequently works as though she's about to speak but she remains quiet as the globe plays all five messages.
"We give you to Earth, to a realm called America, and a place called Kansas. Remember us, but do not regret our passing. All is fate."
After Jor-El fades from view we both sit in silence. Lois turns the globe over slowly in her hands.
"Clark… I… I don't know what to say. Why didn't they save themselves? If Lucas could make it here, why couldn't they?"
"I don't think they knew about Lucas."
"Do you remember them at all?"
I shake my head. "I was too young."
"God! How awful - for you, for them, for Lucas, for the entire planet." Her eyes fill with sympathetic tears. "I'm so sorry, Clark."
"Don't apologize, please. I feel badly for them, but it's like Jor-El said. 'All is fate'. I think I was fated to be here. This is really the only life I've ever known."
"Still, you had to know you weren't from here when you could fly and everyone else couldn't?"
"I didn't fly until I was eighteen. In fact, until I hit puberty I really wasn't any different from anyone else. It's weird, you know? I have this memory of what it was like to be normal. The superpowers didn't happen overnight, but they've never gone away. It's not that I wish I didn't have them. I just… I wish I could have a normal life, too. Friends, a family, a job… and you. From the first time I met you, I knew that I wanted to be with you."
Lois' expression flickers between pity and annoyance. "Just because I feel sorry for you doesn't mean that I'm still not upset."
"I know you said I couldn't make this up to you and I accept that. But that doesn't mean I'll give up trying. I love you, Lois." I give her my most hopeful smile.
She looks away. "It's easy for you to say that - you know me. I don't feel like I know you at all. It's weird because we had this… moment, I guess, where I felt like we… I don't know, we connected or something. But since that night it's just all fallen apart."
"I want you to know that it wasn't just a moment to me. It was everything to me. You think of Superman as this other person, this perfect guy, but he's not real. He's just a costume. Anyone can be perfect in small doses."
"I didn't think he was completely perfect," she says stubbornly.
"What if I had told you beforehand? Would you have been making love to Superman or to me? Clark is who made love to you."
"And it was Clark I wanted to make love to. But I didn't! If you're Superman, than he was there, too! How can you compartmentalize everything in your life?"
"I can't! I'm tired of it. More than anything I want someone besides my parents who I can just be me - all of me - with. Do you think it's been easy lying to everyone? Do you think I wanted to lie to you? I had to, at first. That was the whole point of creating this other persona, so that I could still just be me. I never thought you would have this massive crush on him."
"Answer me this, and be honest - if you can. Were you jealous of Superman?"
"Yeah, I was jealous of him. And when I was him, I was jealous of Clark."
"That makes no sense."
"It did to me. As Clark I can just hang out with you or ask you out on a date. I always had to be so careful, so correct as Superman. I hated every minute of that. It wasn't always easy, backing off when you were so blatantly throwing yourself at me. If sex was really all I wanted from you, Lois, I could have had you so many times as Superman."
Her eyes narrow. "Someone's a little full of himself, isn't he?"
"Tell me that's not true."
She frowns and shrugs.
"Do you want to know why I didn't tell you sooner?"
"Okay, why? And make it good, Clark."
"Because I knew that this would happen. That no matter what I said, or did, the only thing you were going to see was how long I hid the truth from you and not the fact that I was trusting you with the information that could destroy me, as Clark. You can ruin my entire life if you want to, Lois. I've been trying almost since we got here to tell you, but it never seemed to work out. If I could go back, I'd drag you out in that thunderstorm and tell you everything. I was scared, okay? You scare me. You don't realize the power you have over me. So I'm telling you now. I've shown you all my secrets and the information is yours to do whatever you want."
"I told you I would keep your secret, Clark," she says sadly. "I'm not going to expose you to the world."
"It's not the world I'm worried about."
"Oh." She looks at the globe for a long moment. Her eyes close and she shakes her head. Then she stands up and then hands the globe back to me. When her fingers brush mine she pulls her hand back quickly. She goes to the door but stops with her hand on the doorknob. "What about Lucas' ship? Have you checked the lake for it?"
"So why don't you look for it now?"
As I swim out to the middle of the lake I wonder what I'm going to do with Lucas' ship after I find it. I guess I could give it to Doc - there's some irrefutable proof. I reach the middle of the lake and tread water, looking back to shore. Lois is still standing there, shading her eyes, as she watches me.
I take in a breath of air and dive, scanning the bottom and finding nothing. Is it buried beneath a century of muck? I check again, making wider and wider circles but I still see nothing. I dive again, repeating the same search. Nothing. I surface again near the wreckage of the pier and look over at Lois.
"It's not there," I tell her as I wade towards the shore. I try, but fail, to push the image from my mind of the last time I waded out of the water here. Why didn't I tell her? And, if I had, would anything have been different?
Lois stares at the shattered remnants of the pier while I pull my clothes back on. "So who found it first? Is it possible that it was one of those pieces of junk that were bagged, tagged and categorized at the Bureau 39 warehouse?"
I look back at the lake, a heavy sensation in the pit of my stomach. What if she's right? If Jason Trask and his minions got hold of that ship then is it possible they still watch this area? I look over at the grave we dug up. "So if they have the ship, is it possible they've linked it to Lucas?"
"Maybe John and Jay aren't really with the Department of the Interior," Lois muses. "Maybe Doc was right and they're here to steal Lucas. But that still doesn't explain why someone's trying to kill us."
"You think the two are connected?"
"I don't know," Lois sighs. "It is funny, though, how it's all happening at the same time." Her eyebrows furrow in thought. "You know what else is weird? It was only a little bomb. Maybe they weren't trying to kill us, just injure us?"
"What?" I look at the pier and realize she's right. The bomb was timed to go off a few seconds after it was tripped. If we had been jumping from the end of the pier, we might have been in the water when it went off. Emily only survived because the force from the blast was directed at the middle of the pier.
"All these accidents, with the exception of the cabin falling in, they're dangerous but they might not necessarily kill someone, would they?"
"Where are you going with this?" I ask.
"What if it's not me who's being stalked? What if it's you? Not you, Clark, but you as Superman. After all, I've been on TV kissing Superman. And, in Metropolis at least, it's well known that you're 'friends' with him. What if all this is happening because we know Superman? Maybe he's trying to draw Superman out?"
"You think Josh knows I'm Superman and is trying to expose me?"
"He did bring us out here."
"But why? I've thought about it and there's nothing I've done to upset him."
"I don't know. Not everyone likes Superman, you know." She looks around. "Is someone watching us now, do you think? What if Marty didn't really go to Lewis Ridge? What if he's here, watching us right now with some of his wacko buddies?"
I scan the trees. "I don't see anyone."
"There has to be more than one person involved, this whole setup is too complex. They knew, before we did, that we were coming out here, but they had to have someone on the dig to lure us here. What if the pictures that were left for me at the Planet were just to freak me out so that once I got out here and it looked like trouble, I'd call for Superman? Think about it, Clark, the accidents didn't start happening until after Superman showed up in Valentia. Once they knew he, uh, you would show up out of the blue, they started putting everyone on the dig in danger in the hopes that you'd swoop in to save the day."
"But why? What are they going to do if Superman shows up again?"
She looks at me, her eyes dark with worry. "Do you really want to find out? I'm not the one who should be going back to Metropolis - it's you." I frown and she gives me a wry grin. "Doesn't feel so good when the shoe's on the other foot, does it?"
"You were so insistent that I go home, now you know how I felt. You aren't going to go back, are you?"
"Of course not!" How can she even suggest that I would leave now?
"Yep, that's exactly how I felt." Her grin turns into a smirk as she turns to go back to the house. She stops after a couple of steps and looks back at me. "Aren't you coming? I'm not so sure I should leave you here all alone and unprotected."
I know she's teasing but her words still rankle. "Is that how it feels? Really?"
"It's a little more palatable when you lecture me while wearing spandex, but yeah, that's how it feels."
"Spandex?" Now there's an idea. Lois in skin-tight spandex. "Would you wear a cape, too?"
She looks me up and down. "If you have one handy, I'd recommend using it. You look like you just wet your pants."
I glance down, horrified to see that she's right. My wet boxers have soaked through the shorts I'm wearing. When I look back up she's walking away.
The next morning Emily comes up to me in the sitting room as I'm about to take buckets from the house back to the dig site. The bandage on her forehead makes her look very young and fragile. "Clark? Can I ask you a favor?"
"Sure." I set the buckets down on the table.
"I need to go into town and Doc and Josh are both busy. I'm not supposed to drive… is there any chance you could drive me?"
I glance over at Lois. She's at the computer, supposedly entering data from the index cards although she stopped typing the moment Emily started talking to me. Emily looks over at Lois, too. "I'm not trying to put the moves on you!" She blushes furiously and I feel even worse.
"Just go," Lois says without turning around. "I'll be fine here. Really, just go."
I hesitate, not wanting to leave but sensing that she doesn't want me around right now. "I'll be back in an hour," I tell her.
"Bye then." Lois doesn't look over from the computer screen.
Emily is quiet as we drive into Valentia. She sits against the door, her cheek resting on the window, apparently lost in thought. It's only as we're driving back to Doc's house that she starts a conversation. "Can I ask you something?"
"You and Lois, you're dating right?"
"You two sure fight a lot. Or is it one of those relationships where you fight just to make up?"
"I hope not. We're… in an adjustment period."
"You're a nice guy, Clark."
"You saved my life, you know."
"So did Josh."
"Boy, you just can't take a compliment, can you? I bet if I told you that I thought you were an amazing investigative journalist you'd just blush, huh?"
"You knew I was a reporter?"
"Duh. Lois Lane and Clark Kent of the Daily Planet? Josh was always bragging about knowing you. When the silver went missing I told him he should have you guys come out to investigate."
We start up the hill and Emily reaches over and touches my arm. "I should warn you…"
"Warn me? About what?"
"Don't go back to the house."
"What? Why not?"
Emily lets go of my arm and it all clicks into place in a horrifying second.
<"He admired the hell out of our uncle who actually was some kind of covert big shot… Killed in the line of duty, but, because of his job, that's all they would tell us.">
"Stop the truck," she says with sudden urgency as the house comes into view. "You can't go back there."
I speed up. "Tell me what's going on."
"I don't want to see you get hurt." Emily begins to cry. "I'm so sorry. I didn't think they'd take it this far. They almost killed me! They never told me about the bomb, on the pier. Or the cabin, you were so lucky with the cabin."
I screech to a halt in front of the house.
"Who? Who's involved in this?"
"Jay… he's my brother. And John. John worked with my uncle."
Emily tearfully nods. "I'm sorry."
"Tell me what their plan is."
"Superman. They're trying to get Superman to show up so they can kill him."
I leave her in the cab of the truck and run inside, calling out for Lois. Josh says my name from the kitchen. I rush in to find Doc and Josh both tied to kitchen chairs. Doc is barely conscious, his head hanging low; a stream of blood flows from his now-broken nose. Josh has a split lip and one eye is swollen closed.
"Clark, get help," Josh rasps.
Outside, Emily starts the truck and it roars away from the house.
"Where's Lois?" I ask as I untie Josh.
Josh shakes his head. "I'm so sorry. We couldn't help her."
"Where is she?" Panic bubbles up inside me. What does he mean they couldn't help her? What have they done with her?
"I think they took her to the dig site." Josh rubs his wrists.
"Can you free Doc? And call for help?"
"They cut the phone line," Josh calls as I run from the kitchen.
Have they hurt her? I think of how battered Josh and Doc are and something frightening filters through me. If they have touched her, they will pay. I've never deliberately hurt anyone but this could send me over the edge. I hurry as quickly as I dare down the path.
When I come into the clearing I don't see anyone. It looks absolutely ordinary. I listen, picking up three heartbeats, all of them rapid. Two of them are coming from the woods. The third one I would recognize anywhere.
Why didn't she call out to me? I'm certain I would have sensed it if she had. Why didn't she? Is she unable to call out? Is she unconscious? She can't be, her heart is beating too fast.
"Lois?" I call out. She doesn't answer but I hear her heart rate increase. Where is she? She's not in the trees; it sounds like she's closer to the cabin. I start down the hill cautiously, uncertain what to expect. "Lois?" I shout for her again. This time I hear her breath hitch slightly.
"Lois? Where are you? Are you okay?"
"Clark, no," her voice is lower than a whisper and full of terror. "Please, just go away."
I stop, confused. Is she still so angry with me that she doesn't want my help? Or is it a trap that's been set for Superman?
Her breath catches in a soft sob. "I can't do this. Please, Clark. Don't find me." Again, the words are spoken so softly that no one else would hear them.
She can't do what? Why doesn't she want me to find her?
Lois is close enough that I can feel her heartbeat the same way that Lucas' box called to me. Is she in the tent? Do they have Kryptonite in there with her? I can still hear the two heartbeats in the woods but Lois appears to be alone in the tent. I pull back the tent flap. She's tied to one of the chairs and her eyes are full of unshed tears. Her clothes are dusty and there's a rip across the hem of her shirt. She obviously put up one heck of a fight between here and Doc's house. Her face is filthy and streaked with the tracks of tears. She looks horrified as I step into the tent.
"Clark," she says urgently. "Just turn around and go. Right now."
"I can't just leave you here."
"Yes, you can! Please, Clark! I can't do this."
"Do what?" I break the ropes holding her wrists behind her back.
She shakes her head. "I heard them talking; they have Kryptonite. Please go before it's too late." She doesn't rise from the chair. In fact, she doesn't even move. Her hands remain clasped together behind her back, her knuckles white from the effort.
"Lois, they saw me come in the tent. I'm not dressed as Superman. It would be more suspicious if I left you here, wouldn't it?"
"Why didn't you just listen to me and go the first time I asked you?" A tear leaves her eye and makes a new track down her face.
"What's wrong? Is there a bomb? What's going on?"
"I don't know where the Kryptonite is, Clark. I don't know what they're planning but I know they think they can kill you. Please just leave." She's shaking as she answers. I scan her and the chair but I don't see anything out of the ordinary.
"Let's go." I hold my hand out to her but she doesn't budge.
"You first." She shakes her head emphatically.
"Why not? What's going on, Lois?"
"It's John and Jay. They want Superman. They beat up Doc and Josh in the hopes that he'd show up here. And then they…" She glances nervously around. "Where are they now, do you know?"
"They're still in the trees," I tell her. "I can hear them. They're watching for Superman, not Clark."
"I don't think I can do it again, Clark." Her gaze alternates frantically between me and the door of the tent.
"Do what again?"
"They wanted to know if I knew where to find Superman. If I knew how to contact him."
I hear movement in the trees. "They're coming this way," I tell her. "Please, let me get you out of here." I reach to pick her up and she finally moves her arms to push me away.
"Don't! If they catch you it was all for nothing…"
I see the underside of her arms as she says this and her meaning becomes all too clear. There are two round burns on each of her arms. The kind a lighted cigarette would leave.
"I didn't tell them anything," she whispers. "I didn't say a word and now it's all going to be for nothing."
I think I'm going to be sick. I take hold of one of her arms to look at it. She tries to pull away but I don't release her. I shift my attention to her face, "They burned you?"
Tell me I'm wrong, Lois. Please tell me they didn't torture you.
Lois is still shaking and I realize that it's from a combination of pain and shock.
I open the flap of the tent to find John and Jay standing just outside. They have automatic rifles and they gesture for me to put my hands up. I step in front of Lois and raise my hands.
"Clark Kent," Jay says with an empty smile. "I hear you're good friends with Superman, too."
"What are you doing, Jay?"
"How do you live with yourself? Both of you? Aiding and abetting a known alien menace? Doesn't it bother you that your girlfriend makes out with that freak? Or is that a turn on for you? I don't suppose you'd like to do this the easy way and tell us where we can find him?"
Lois steps around me and shakes her head. "He doesn't know Superman. He tells everyone that, but he really doesn't know him at all." Her eyes plead with me to just go along with the ruse.
"But you know him, don't you, Lois? How would you feel if we did to Clark what we did to you? I bet he'd scream. The big ones always turn out to be babies." Jay gives a mirthless chuckle. "I gotta hand it to Lois. She didn't make a sound, even when we burned her."
<"I don't think I can do it again, Clark.">
My hands form into fists. They tortured her and she wouldn't even cry because she was afraid I would hear her.
<"…If they catch you it was all for nothing.">
They don't need Kryptonite to make me feel pain. Nothing could feel worse than seeing what they did to Lois. Except maybe knowing that she suffered through it without making a sound.
<"I would never let anyone hurt you either…">
I look at the burns on her arms and feel the bile rising in my stomach. They hurt her. *Burned* her repeatedly and she didn't tell them anything. I can't let them hurt her again. "Let her go and I'll give you Superman."
"Why would I let her go?" Jay laughs. "You're friends with Superman, but I think he and Lois are more than friends. She's better leverage than you. You go tell him to come back here and then we'll let her go. But she doesn't go anywhere until we see him."
Jay pokes me with the end of his rifle. "Go on, go get him. Go call for help or do whatever it is you gotta do. You have ten minutes and then we start burning her again. Unless Lois wants to go ahead and call for him herself?"
John grabs her arm and presses his thumb into one of her wounds. Lois whimpers and falls to her knees. I take a step towards them and John puts his gun to her head.
"Come on, baby, just for me. One little 'help, Superman' and I'll stop," John taunts her. Lois' lips thin and turn pale from the effort not to cry out. This time I know she's doing it because she won't give him the satisfaction.
"Let her go!" I step forward and Jay puts his gun to my head.
"Clark, no!" Lois' voice is thick with pain. "Tell Superman that I don't want him to come here. Promise me, Clark. No Superman."
"Better hurry!" John looks at his watch. "Time is ticking away."
"Superman is more important than me!" Lois cries out as I reluctantly start to walk away. "I'll never forgive you if you bring him back here!"
I look at her arms. She closes her eyes.
"I'll get him. Just don't hurt her again."
I run back towards the house, making a sharp right turn when I reach the trees. I rush through the trees until I'm near the lake, watching them the entire time.
Lois is still kneeling on the ground. Jay is pointing his gun at her while John lights up a cigarette. He blows smoke in Lois' face and she turns away. She looks so pale beneath the defiant expression she's wearing.
I change into the suit and fly towards them, landing about ten feet away. "Let her go."
John and Jay both grin at me. Lois looks at the ground. John speaks first. "And then you just fly away? I don't think so."
"That was deal you made with Clark. Me for Lois. I won't fly away."
Jay raises his gun and pulls the trigger. My cheek burns and I put my hand up, startled by the sensation. Before I can process this, another shot rings out and something searing and hot streaks through the right side of my chest. I drop to my knees, overcome with pain.
Kryptonite bullets. Why didn't I think of that? Another shot burns into me, this one through my left shoulder, close to where Arianna shot me. I fall onto my back, writhing in pain. Then another that catches me low in the abdomen. Lois shrieks. Jay swears and backhands her with his gun. She drops to the ground with a dull thud that sends a deeper kind of pain through me.
I can still feel the path the bullet made through my lung, yet it doesn't seem to hurt as much. Am I going into shock? My shoulder feels like it's on fire, but it's not as bad as when the bullet was lodged in there. My stomach roils with pain and then it, too, seems to abate.
Because the bullets passed right through me, I realize. Jay and John were too clever. Their weapons are too high-powered and the bullets didn't stop. I can feel my body knitting closed the holes that were made. The bullets must be nearby because I still feel sick, but I realize that I may just survive this after all. I have to do something before they see that I'm healing. I groan and roll into the trench, hoping that they won't look too close.
They're coming to the edge of the trench. I don't think I'm strong enough to take them on and I doubt that I could survive many more bullets. If they shoot me through the head would it fix itself? Do I want to take that chance?
<"…Everyone has a talent…" "…Go play dead already…">
I force myself to relax, concentrating on slowing my pulse as Jay jumps into the trench beside me. He kicks me and I manage not to flinch. That actually hurt. Jay puts his fingers to my neck.
"Well?" John asks.
"Might as well bury him here," Jay says with obvious glee. "My uncle is avenged."
"What do we do with her?"
"How about we let her bury him? It can be her penance for helping the alien." Jay kicks me again before climbing out of the trench. I find it heartening that it doesn't hurt as much this time. "Go on, honey. Get started."
There's a dragging noise and then I hear Lois gasp - they've pulled her over to the rim of the trench.
"Oh god, no," she whispers.
"Either you bury him or you join him," Jay says.
"We… we took all the tools back to the house." The waver in her voice hurts to hear.
"Then use your hands."
Lois takes in a shuddery breath. A few seconds later a small handful of dirt falls across my chest. I desperately want to give her a sign, do something so that she knows I'm not dead but I don't dare open my eyes.
"Oh, for god's sake, go get her a shovel or we'll be here all day," John says.
"Be right back," Jay says and then I hear footsteps running up the path.
Lois continues to throw small handfuls of dirt, carefully avoiding my face. Does she know? Or is she just unable to cover my face? John swears at her and a large amount of dirt drops onto my head. I realize John's kicking dirt into the trench. "Go a little faster," he tells her. His footsteps retreat and the folding chair inside the tent squeals as he sits down. Another large fall of dirt covers me, this time on my shoulder.
I shake my head a little to clear the dirt and open one eye. Lois isn't looking at me. She's kneeling on the side of the trench, turned sideways as she scoops more dirt. Even when she turns back to drop it in, her eyes are half-closed.
"Lois," I exhale her name softly. Her eyes fly open and her breathing hitches as she realizes that I'm talking to her. She blinks and glances nervously behind her.
"Don't be slacking over there, sweetheart," John tells her.
Lois peers down at me, dropping another scoop of dirt on my legs. "What should I do?" she murmurs.
Good question. Should I just grab her and fly away? If John isn't expecting it, I could get Lois out of here quickly. But then what would happen to Doc and Josh, back at the house with Jay? I listen to the house, picking up only the sounds of Jay singing to himself as he comes down the stairs of the back porch.
Where are Josh and Doc? I listen more closely. I can hear Doc, he's somewhere outside the house and, for a moment, he and Jay are nearly in the same spot. Is he hiding in the tall grass of the back yard? How is it that Jay doesn't see him? What about Josh? I listen harder and realize that he's running down the road towards Valentia. He's gone to get help. So Lois is the only one still in immediate danger.
Jay is entering the woods; his footsteps clatter on the bridge over the creek. I move into a crouch and Lois freezes. "Hold your breath," I whisper to her.
She blinks her understanding and takes a deep breath. I push away from the trench with everything that I have in me, gathering Lois into my arms as I shoot away from the dig site. Within seconds I bring us down in the woods far from the meadow. I set Lois down gently and she shakes her head, her eyes filling with tears.
"Why didn't you just listen to me?" she asks.
"I couldn't leave you there."
"And you're not going to leave me here, either. You can't go back there, Clark."
"What about John and Jay?"
"How are you going to catch them? What if they still have Kryptonite bullets left? What are you going to do then? Why didn't you just listen to me?" She slaps my hand away when I reach out to calm her down. "You just figure 'I'm Superman, nothing can hurt me' and you blithely fly in without thinking about whether it's dangerous or not!"
"The shoe doesn't feel so good on the other foot, does it?"
"What?" Her expression turns even darker.
"You do the same thing on an almost daily basis. You told me so yourself, you take risks you shouldn't because you know I'm around to save you. How frightened do you think that makes me?"
"How? How is it different?"
"Because…" She's grasping at straws and we both know it. "Because it just is. You don't get hurt rescuing me."
"Maybe not, but *you* could get hurt. Today, you did get hurt…" my voice cracks and I feel tears come to my eyes. "Lois, why didn't you just call for help?"
"I couldn't! I knew they were going to hurt you. When they showed up at the house all I could think was that they wanted to kill you. How could I let that happen?"
"And what if I had left like you asked? What do you think they would have done then?"
She ducks her head. "I don't know. I didn't care, as long as I could get you to leave."
Lois reaches out and touches the hole one of the bullets made in the border of my S. Then she goes behind me and moves my cape to touch the hole it left when it passed through. Her head tips forward to rest against my back. I close my eyes, awash in the memory of the night the cabin collapsed, when we stood in the lake like this and she seduced me.
<"How about here? Does this hurt?">
"Lois, would you have left me there? If our places were reversed? Could you do it?" I ask.
Her head wobbles against my shoulder blade as she shakes her head. "No."
"You said you wouldn't forgive me if I brought them Superman, but I had to do it. Can you see that? I didn't care what happened, as long as they didn't hurt you again. Seeing what they did to you… that hurt more than any Kryptonite ever could."
She lifts her head from my back and comes around to face me. "You know when you said you were scared of the power I have over you?"
<"…I was scared, okay? You scare me. You don't realize the power you have over me…">
"It goes both ways, Clark. It scares me, how much I feel for you. I've spent years hiding from people because I didn't want to get hurt. And then you came along and I tried so hard not to like you. I've tried to push you away, to keep you at arm's length. I fell for Superman because he was safe. I always knew, deep down, that the fantasy of Superman couldn't work in reality. But he was safe because no matter how close it seemed like I was to Superman, it was always going to be platonic. It wasn't going to get messy. Falling in love with you was messy, even before I found out about Superman."
"And then it got really messy, didn't it?"
She lets out a rueful laugh. "Actually, no. It forced me to realize that I've been hiding from you just as much as you've hid from me. I think we're like two sides of the same coin, Clark. I work so hard to always look strong and you hide your strength from the world."
Lois' eyes sparkle with unshed tears as she looks up at me.
"When John and Jay burst into the house, demanding that we call out for Superman, I realized that I would do anything to protect you and what you were hiding. You were right to create a disguise, Clark. And you're right that I wouldn't have reacted nicely no matter how you told me. I was so frightened when I saw that cabin collapse on you because I thought I had lost you and there was nothing I could do. But that was nothing compared to how petrified I was when I saw them shoot you. I had tried so hard to protect you…" She puts her hand over the bullet hole. "I can't lose you. You're my best friend, Clark. I would do anything for you. I… I love you."
Overwhelmed, I reach out and cup her cheek. "I love you, Lois." There's so much that I still want to say. That I'm sorry that I hurt her. That it will always eat away at me how they hurt her. That I would give anything to keep her safe. That I would trade my soul for another chance to make love to her. Can she read all that in my eyes? I think she might because she gives me a watery smile and goes on tiptoe to kiss me softly.
I can hear sirens in the distance, reminding me that we can't stay here all day, no matter how much I might wish for that.
Lois sighs against my lips. "I hear them, too. I guess we should get back there."
As we come close to Doc's we can see that there are two police cars and an ambulance parked in front of the house. The truck is also parked in the driveway. "Emily went for help," I murmur. Then, a little louder so Lois can hear, "Jay is Emily's older brother. Jason Trask was their uncle."
"Trask? Really? Then I was right. She was behind this," Lois says smugly.
"Yeah, you were right. I'm not sure just how involved she was; she didn't know the cabin was going to collapse, or that the pier was rigged."
"So why did she come back?" Lois wonders.
"I think she's the one who brought the police. Josh couldn't have run into Valentia this fast."
"How did you know that she was Trask's niece?"
"She told me as we were coming back to the house. She took off when I came inside."
Everyone in front of the house shades their eyes to watch us descend.
"Lois, thank God," says Doc. "We were so worried."
"Did they find Jay and John?" Lois asks.
"They're searching the woods for them. What about Clark? What happened to him?"
"He went around the lake," Lois says. "He was going to the camp to call for help from there."
"So they didn't hurt him?" Emily asks.
Lois gives her a reassuring smile. "No. They sent him away to bring back Superman."
Emily looks over at me and flushes. "Superman, I… I'm sorry about all this. Really I am." She glances at the angry welts on Lois' arms. "And Lois? I'm truly sorry that they hurt you. I didn't think it was going to turn out like this. Will you tell Clark that? That I'm sorry?"
"I'll tell him," Lois says.
Another car comes over the rise of the hill. Marty gapes in amazement as he comes closer to the house and sees all the commotion. He parks behind the truck and gets out. He looks around as he walks towards us, taking in the police cruisers, the ambulance and the fact that Superman is here.
"What happened here?" he asks, his eyes wide with wonder.
For a moment, nobody speaks. Marty looks back and forth between us all, waiting expectantly. Finally Doc breaks the silence. "We found Lucas Peregrine."
Marty's face falls. "Without me? Oh man!"
"Then the government showed up," Josh adds. "And we had to disinter him rather quickly."
"You're serious?" Marty looks back and forth between Doc and Josh. "Where is he now?"
Doc grins. "If you had to hide someone here in a hurry, where would you put him?"
"Oh man!" Marty exclaims again. "Really? You put him in the old hiding place?"
"What hiding place?" Lois asks.
Marty gestures towards the back of the house. "Doc's great-grandfather was a conductor on the Underground Railroad. They built a small cellar with a trap door underneath the old shed out there." He turns to Doc. "Is that where you hid him?"
"And me," Doc says. "After Clark freed us, Josh helped me to hide in there while he went for help."
That explains why I could hear Doc and Jay in almost the same spot but Jay had no idea Doc was there.
Doc looks at Lois. "Have you told Superman about Lucas Peregrine?"
"She didn't have to," I answer. "Your grandfather was correct, Dr. Hanover. Lucas was from Krypton."
Doc breaks into a grin. "Then I'm very glad we saved him. Is he a relative of yours?"
"No, I don't think so. He was falsely accused of a crime and fled to Earth."
Doc nods solemnly as he takes this information in. Luckily, he doesn't ask me how I know this.
"Not to be rude, but why are you here, Superman? Did you come for Lucas?" Marty asks.
Emily clears her throat and says sadly, "That's my fault. I… my brother wanted to kill him. All those accidents were Jay trying to get Superman to come out here so they could shoot him."
"Who took the pictures?" Lois asks.
"John did. I just put them in your rooms. We just wanted to make you nervous, so that you'd ask Superman for help. I really didn't think they were going to hurt you." Emily twists her hands nervously. "And then, that day in Valentia, when you showed up?" She dares a peek at me before looking away. "I'd never seen you in person before. Even though Jay was always going on about how evil you were, you were so… not evil." She shrugs. "Lois and Clark both said you were nice. And the more I worked with them and got to know them, the more I wondered if maybe my uncle and Jay had it wrong. But it seemed like I was in it too deep to back out, you know? And then, when the pier exploded, it was just too much. I realized they didn't care who they hurt. I wanted to tell Clark this morning, but I couldn't think how."
I hold out my hand to Emily. She hesitates and then tentatively reaches out to shake it. "No hard feelings, Emily. You went for help when you could have just run away. That took courage." I give her a smile and she lets go of my hand.
"Thanks, I guess." She looks over at Doc. "So what are you going to do with Lucas now?"
Doc sighs and shrugs. "I… I don't know. We can't really re-inter him since I fear that someone else like John or Jay will come along. I guess we'll donate him to the college."
"Couldn't someone just steal him from there?" Lois points out.
An idea comes to me. "Would you trade him, Dr. Hanover? For another kind of proof?"
"He's not an acquisition, Superman. I think you have more claim on him than I have."
"Wait here," I tell him.
I rocket home and return five minutes later with the box that was hidden in the foundation of Lucas' cabin and hand it to Doc. "If you have it analyzed, I'm quite sure it will prove not to be anything from this world."
"I don't want it analyzed." Doc traces the symbols with wonder. "This is enough. May I ask you where you're going to take him?"
<"…My only regret is that no honors or tributes will be given upon my death. I will have remained a stranger… There will be no one to tend my grave.">
"Family plot," I tell him.
The next day we bury Lucas beneath the oak tree in my parent's yard. I lay the box gently in the hole and then rise to help Dad slowly fill in his grave. As I cover him I think about everything he sacrificed for the honor of his family. I feel sorrow for the circumstances of his life, for the fact that even in death he was a fugitive. Dad pats the soil into place while I lift the boulder I brought from the shore of Lucas Lake to mark his final resting place.
I step back and Lois takes my hand. Mom touches my elbow. We all stand for a few minutes in silence. I close my eyes, overwhelmed by a rush of feelings. Here I am, surrounded by the people who love me. Fate has been kinder to me than it was to Lucas. He feared he would die in anonymity and that no one would ever truly mourn him. It may be seventy years too late, but at least we can give him this much. I hope that, wherever he is, Lucas sees us. I hope that he knows that, against all odds, one little piece of his world has survived.
Mom pats my back and then she and Dad head back to the house.
"Do you think he would do it again, if he could rewrite history?" Lois asks.
"Do what again? Leave Krypton?"
"I don't know. Maybe not. Maybe after he got here he realized the sacrifice was just too great."
"What was it Doc said? That sometimes you have to risk everything, even if it means you're left with nothing?"
I look at the bandage on her arm and a lump comes to my throat. If I could rewrite history, that never would have happened, regardless of the cost. Lois sees where my gaze is directed and she releases my hand.
"I'll see you back at the house," she says softly and then walks away.
<"…My days are spent in the remembrance of you, dearest Kacie. I remember your hesitation in believing me to be your true mate; how I had to woo you so carefully…">
"But you did win her, Lucas." I whisper to him. "I wish you could tell me how you did it."
<"…I knew from the first our connection was real. I feel it still, a small invisible thread that binds me to you…">
Is that just a Kryptonian thing? I've felt a connection to Lois from almost the first moment I met her. When I made love to her I was convinced that connection became something tangible. Like Lucas said, an invisible thread binding her to me. Was I just reading too much into an intense moment?
Maybe it's time to risk everything and see if she'll give me a second chance.
I'm pacing my apartment, trying to decide what to do. I called Lois, but she's either not home or avoiding me. Should I go over there? But then, if she's avoiding me that would just annoy her. Is she still upset with me? There's been a truce between us after the events at Doc's and Lucas' burial, but I can't really define where our relationship is now. She hardly said anything to me after we got back to Metropolis this evening. Does she need space?
There's a familiar knock on my door and I break into a smile. When I open the door she's there, standing nervously outside. She's wearing a long-sleeved shirt to hide the bandages.
"Before you ask me in, you should know what this is," she blurts out. She sounds as edgy as I feel.
"What is this?"
"A time warp. A once-in-a-lifetime chance to rewrite your history."
"Okay," I say hesitantly. Please don't let me screw this one up.
"You have to trade me places. And then knock on the door."
Completely bemused, I step outside. She brushes against me as she enters my apartment, setting off that familiar primal reaction to her. She shuts my door and I knock. I can see her shadow through the curtains, waiting, but she doesn't open the door. I knock again.
Suddenly the door opens a few inches and she's glaring at me. "What do you want? Because, unless you're here to apologize, I don't want to talk to you."
"Apologize?" She made me leave my apartment so I could apologize? There's a laundry list of reasons I should apologize to her; which one am I meant to be sorry for right now?
"For what?" Oh my god, deja vu. I know exactly what she wants me to apologize for.
<"…Actually, it was more like international television…" "…She's kissed him more than once…">
She starts to shut the door so I put my foot in the opening like I did the first time we had this argument. "Okay, I'm sorry."
What did I say next? "For whatever it is you think I did."
"Move your foot."
"Lois, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have teased you like that."
"You're my partner, Clark! You're supposed to take my side. You're not supposed to add fuel to the fire, pointing out how many times I've kissed Superman."
"I didn't say how many times. I only said you'd kissed him more than once." I know the question that's coming next and I know exactly how I'm going to answer it.
"I didn't realize you were keeping track. How many times is it, Clark? Do you know?"
"Seven times," I say confidently.
She blinks in genuine surprise. Was she expecting this fight to go a little longer before I broke? "Seven times? You're wrong, it's only twice."
"No, it was seven times. You just didn't know you were kissing Superman the other five times. You see, Lois, I'm Superman."
"Seven times? Really?" She pulls the door wide open in invitation. Is she kidding?
"*This* would have been your reaction? That's such a load of crap!" I exclaim as I come inside and slam the door behind me.
"You don't know that for certain. There were people downstairs, I wouldn't have wanted to make a scene."
"Whose revisionist history is this? Yours or mine? At least be honest in your reaction!"
"I am being honest. I can't believe you know off-hand exactly how many times we kissed."
"Trust me, they're all seared into my memory." No sooner are the words out of my mouth then I wish I could recall them. "Seared" is the wrong word to use. "Lois, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
She tugs nervously on the end of one sleeve. "It's just an expression, Clark. I didn't take offense."
"It was the wrong thing to say. I'm sorry. I wish this really was a time warp; I never would have let them touch you."
"How would you change that? If you had been there then maybe they would have shot you in the house where you couldn't hide in the trench while you recovered. Maybe they would have kept shooting until you really were dead! They don't hurt now, so don't let that bother you. Do you know what I think of when I see them?"
I shake my head and look at her face. I can't bear to look at her arms. Looking at what they did to her makes me want to fly out the window, track them down and… It would feel so good to burn them back. Make them hurt like they hurt her. The police didn't find them, and I know that if I do I'll turn them over to the justice system. But that doesn't stop my dark thoughts of revenge.
"I think about why they're there. I think about why I did it. I think about you and… I think about that night, in the lake. If anything is seared into my memory, Clark, it's that night."
She looks up as if she's asking for divine help and takes a deep breath. "This is… probably the oddest question I've ever asked anyone." She clears her throat. "That night, in the lake, when we… anyway, it was like…" She sighs. "You know how Lucas said there was a connection between him and Kacie? Did you feel… something?" She covers her face with her hands. "I can't believe I'm asking you this. I don't mean the sex, I meant…"
So what I felt that night was real. Lois had experienced it too…a tangible connection. "I do know what you mean, Lois. It was… I'd swear, for a moment there, it was like I was… you," I answer.
"Exactly! That's why I asked you if you remembered your first impression of me. I swear I saw myself through your eyes, on that first day. It was so vivid and I thought later I must have imagined the whole thing. Has that happened for you before, with, you know, with others?"
"Lois, that's never happened before because I'd never done that before."
She doesn't react for a few seconds and then her eyes widen. "You're kidding me. That was… Clark, I never would have guessed. I…"
"I've always felt like there was a connection with you, Lois. That night just… reinforced it for me."
"A small invisible tie that binds us - isn't that how Lucas described it?"
"Do you think that was a one-time thing?"
There's only one way to find out. I think my heart skips a beat when she steps closer to me. "I… don't know," I manage to stammer.
"You're an award-winning journalist; I'm sure you'll think of some way to find out." Her eyes sparkle with encouragement.
My mind goes blank for a moment. Yeah, buddy, you heard that right. Go for it. Risk everything and see what happens.
"If you're teasing me, Lois, you have about thirty seconds left before I lock this door."
Her eyes darken. "You're really going to lock the door?" she asks.
Oh please, don't let me be reading this wrong. "Yep."
She moves past me to the door and my heart sinks. Was I being too intense? Did she think I was going to hold her prisoner here until she agreed to sleep with me again?
When she turns the lock the sound echoes in my ears. "I wasn't teasing you," she says.
She's still turning around when I pull her into my arms and kiss her. Her head tips back into my hand as we kiss each other desperately. Lois puts both her arms around my neck and leans her body invitingly against mine.
I become so breathless I can't think straight. The bed. I should take her to the bedroom and see what she does. I lift her into my arms and walk down the stairs. Each step bumps her body against mine. She kisses my neck, her breath hot against my skin. For the first time ever I worry that I might drop her if she doesn't stop distracting me. I manage to make it to the bedroom and lay her down on my bed. I stretch out next to her and she makes no protest. In fact, she pulls me on top of her as her lips capture mine again.
Her hands move restlessly down my back and lift the hem of my shirt. I break the kiss so that she can pull it off. She rolls us and sheds her own shirt. Oh, this is going so much better than I thought it would.
"I guess you're not going to ask me to leave, then?" she smiles
My mouth has gone dry and I have to swallow before I can answer. "No, please, stay as long as you like." My voice seems to have dropped three octaves.
"I'll only stay as long as you want me," she says.
"Then I guess you're never leaving."
She traces her fingers over where Jay shot me. There are faint red marks, but that's all. "No scars," she murmurs.
"No." I glance at her arm. "I'm so sorry, Lois."
"For what?" She looks perplexed, then realizes my meaning. "No, don't be sorry." She takes my face in her hands. "I don't want to talk about any of that right now." Her eyes glint with suppressed laughter. "I especially don't want to talk about Superman, so don't bring that up again either. You said you'd kiss me anywhere I wanted, right?"
<"Lois, I'll kiss anything of yours you want kissed.">
"Then kiss me here." She puts her hand over her heart. "You broke it, you can fix it."
I move her hand and press a kiss to her chest. I whisper endearments against her skin, imbuing them with all the love I feel for her, hoping that somehow it will sink deep inside her and truly mend the hurt I caused. I turn my head, resting my cheek against her heartbeat. She wraps her arms around me, the fingers of one hand threading through my hair while her other strokes across my back.
"Clark?" she whispers. "Which one was your favorite?"
"What?" I raise my head to look into her eyes.
"Which kiss was your favorite?"
I shift up a little and brush her lips with mine. "That one," I tell her. "Or maybe it was this one…"
I kiss her again, deeper this time, my tongue stroking over hers. When we come up for air she sighs. "I liked that one, too."
"I bet you'll like this one more," I kiss her again, taking my time and using delicate strokes of my tongue to explore her mouth.
"Oh yeah," she breathes. "That one was my favorite."
I wake up in the middle of the night and moonlight is pouring in through the window. Lois is lying on her side, facing me, one hand tucked beneath her pillow while the other rests on my chest. She looks so young and unguarded and it stirs up every protective feeling I ever felt for her. I can just make out of the edge of the bandage on the underside of her arm and I'm overcome anew at what she went through for my sake.
<"This had better be worth it, Clark. Otherwise, believe me, I will get even with you.">
Was it worth it, Lois? I watch her sleep and recognize that it was. It was worth everything we risked to get to this moment. Even if I could change what happened, Lois is right; it might not have turned out this way.
<"All is fate.">
Lois was always my fate and I was hers. She protected my secret and now that soft side she hides from the world is mine to protect. I was wrong when I thought that I loved that side of her best. That wasn't who intrigued me so much when I met her. It was the defiant, stubborn half of her personality that I first fell in love with. Without her strength we neither one of us would have made it to this moment.
<"…Do you still think that? That I'm 'driven' and 'focused'…?">
"I wouldn't love you half as much if you weren't," I whisper to her. "I love everything about you."
And, when she wakes up in the morning, I'll tell her that.
I have to thank my betas, Sara and DJ, for all the time they put into reading and commenting on the story for me. Sara, especially I must thank since she had to beta a story that was a gift to her. Thank you for all the snarky comments. Don't ever hold back!
It's fair to say there wouldn't be a PG version of this story without Vicki. I had reached the point where I was seriously considering letting it fade into the ether but she came along and showed me the way to make it work.
I also wish to thank everyone who took the time to comment on the boards. Your kind words buoyed me along on the days when I doubted myself.
When Clark said "seven kisses" this is how I figured it (kisses up to, but not including, WWWhine):
1) Strange Visitor (before they're tossed out of the plane)
2) Man of Steel Bars (when he resigns)
3) Pheromone, My Lovely (as "drugged" Superman)
4) Honeymoon in Metropolis (uh, yeah)
5) All Shook Up (for luck before the asteroid)
6) Lucky Leon (first date).
7) The second time they went swimming in the lake (since Lois is calling this a "time warp", Clark is leaving out the next two times they went "swimming")
The kiss in Tempus Fugitive doesn't count because neither of them remembers it. Personally, I think there's a missing off-screen kiss after Individual Responsibility (assuming Clark showed up and stuck around past 7:05, but I can't include that in the count).
John Hunt Morgan was a real historical figure and Morgan's Raid was an actual event during the American Civil War. Originally I went into more detail about both (Lucas was involved in a battle where the bullets just seemed to bounce off him) but realized that the story didn't need it. If you have the time or inclination, go check them out here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morgan's_Raid. It's a fascinating side note in history.
Marty's "talent" for bloating on the battlefield was inspired by Tony Horwitz's book "Confederates In The Attic". He's an amazingly fun writer. I heartily recommend all his books; he writes travelogues that are hilarious and insightful.
I also stole several lines from the ABC series. Hopefully they'll recognize it as a tribute and not plagiarism. It was done out of love, guys! No profit!