Lois walked out of the second videoconference, feeling proud of herself for having passed on the news to her father that the resistance was gaining strength. She and the other humans now had freedom of movement, which meant it was only a matter of time before they would be able to pool their knowledge and figure out a way to sabotage the Kryptonians' superior weaponry, or somehow get themselves home. Satisfaction put a lift in the step and a smile on her face.
Until the dark-haired Kryptonian woman in the black uniform, the one she'd seen before, stepped out in front of her. She glared at Lois with eyes like black ice, and said flatly, "Seize her."
A steel robot hovering nearby clamped claws like manacles around Lois' upper arms. There was no time to run, and no room to fight. She could either walk where the robot directed her, or be dragged. The Kryptonian woman turned and led the way into a forbidding-looking crystal structure.
Twisting and lunging from side to side anyway, desperate trying to break the robot's implacable grip, Lois was forced into a bright white room. Several more robots lined the walls. Her captor turned to examine her with the cold detachment of an entomologist studying a butterfly on a pin. "You will tell us everything you know about the human resistance, and give us all information you have passed on to your co-conspirators," she said.
"The hell I will," Lois snarled defiantly. The situation was already hopeless, but she wouldn't be cowed. She knew full well that everyone broke under torture eventually. Her only hope was to lie, often and creatively, and hope that when they finally got the truth from her they would discount it as another lie. That way she could at least protect the other humans.
The woman arched one dark eyebrow. "You seem to have misunderstood, human. That was not a request. It was a statement of fact." She lifted her chin at someone behind Lois, and said, "Begin the extraction."
The robot holding her extended additional arms to grip her head tightly, preventing even the slightest movement. Another robot moved silently forward to hover in front of Lois. It had several arms, one of which had a crystal mounted in the end. That crystal moved toward Lois' forehead, shining with its own light as it did.
Only when she felt the heat against her skin did she understand that it was a laser. They meant to literally extract the information, directly from her brain, and to do it while she was conscious.
As the laser seared through her skin and a horrible burning smell filled the air, Lois began to scream.
Caught in the nightmare, Lois thrashed and moaned, oblivious to the real world. Only when Kal-El slammed his hands against her door and shouted did the sound startle her awake.
She took a moment, panting and soaked in fear-sweat, just to realize that it had been a dream. It had all been so real, even the scent of burning flesh had seemed real, and Lois shuddered to remember it. Her heart thundered in her chest, and the lingering terror of the dream seemed to have followed her into wakefulness.
The truth was, the nightmare could all too easily become real, and she knew it. But on the other side of her door was someone who sounded as distraught as she felt, and Lois climbed shakily out of bed to go to him. She opened the door, not thinking about the fact that she was wearing a nightgown, not thinking about anything but the desperate need to ground herself in reality.
Kal-El was wild-eyed, her fear reflected in his urgent gaze as he searched for the source of her distress. A storm of emotion was sweeping through her: creeping horror from the nightmare, overwhelming relief at waking up, crushing anxiety from taking part in the conspiracy, and pervasive loneliness. That Kal-El truly cared about her, his concern written starkly on his face, broke the last of Lois' resistance to trusting him. She flung herself into his arms thoughtlessly.
He should've drawn back. Holding hands was an intimacy reserved for married couples in private settings; a full-on embrace, her damp face burrowed against his neck, should have been far too much for the Kryptonian to tolerate. Lois wasn't thinking, or she would never have intruded on him like that.
And yet, he didn't shove her away and run for a shower to get rid of her icky human germs. Kal-El embraced her, holding her close. It had been far too long since she'd felt someone's arms around her in genuine affection. The hugs shared between the members of the resistance were a convenient method of making their captors look away, not an expression of fondness. But this was a strong, sure hug, one that spoke volumes about his attitude toward her.
In that instant Lois knew she could trust him. Kal-El didn't see her as a specimen to be studied or a potential spy to be investigated. He saw her as a person, one equal to himself, and he always treated her with courtesy, consideration, and compassion. He had been completely serious when he named himself her friend. And she needed a friend now, badly. The more stress she subjected herself to in gathering and passing information for the resistance, the more she would need to rely on his honesty and kindness. Even if she could never completely confide in him….
He was Kryptonian; there was no getting around that fact. But he was also her friend, and at the moment Lois needed to soak up all the comfort and reassurance he could offer her. She burrowed into his embrace, savoring the feeling of safety she'd missed since she'd first heard she was coming here. Kal-El, for his part, showed no reluctance at holding her.
After a moment, though, he drew back slightly, and her cheeks began to flush. Of course she'd overstayed her welcome. A hug for comfort was one thing, but she was a fool to expect prolonged contact. Abashed, Lois looked up at him with tears still blurring her vision, but saw no distaste in his gaze, only worry. His hands lightly cupped her face, his royal blue eyes searching for the cause of her distress.
She knew what it meant that he would touch her, that he would step so far out of what was acceptable for him to offer her comfort. And at the moment she was a sea of turbulent emotion, only gradually stilling under the influence of his touch. Lois wanted to tell him a thousand things: that she was grateful for him, that she cherished his kindness, that she trusted him alone of all his kind. She wished then that they could have met under other circumstances. If she wasn't a hostage and he wasn't one of her captors, who knows what sort of friendship could blossom between them?
She had no words for any of that, not at the moment. Lois still felt like a pinball shot into a maze and clanging off every emotion possible in mere seconds. When her heart finally came to something like rest, it was nowhere she would ever have expected.
Lois rose up on her toes and kissed Kal-El. Out of affection, out of gratitude, out of relief and fear in uneasy mixture, out of a craving for something sane and familiar, out of some weird wish that they could be just a guy and girl and not tangled up in political intrigue and espionage, she couldn't tell. Lois was operating on instinct, and instinct told her to kiss him. When the night in shining armor saved the damsel in distress, she gave him a kiss—that was the way it always went in stories.
What he should've done then was be horrified. She knew that even as she pressed her lips to his, but at the moment she didn't care. Somehow this put the seal on everything, her trust in him, his concern for her, all the other things Lois couldn't name or comprehend.
He didn't yank himself away from her, though. Kal-El froze for an instant, and then ran his hands into Lois' hair, kissing her back just as urgently.
The shock of it finally forced Lois into full awareness. Here she was, wearing only a nightgown, standing on the threshold of her bedroom, and sharing a greedy kiss with a very handsome young man. It sounded like the setup of a romance novel, and the absurdity of it made her pull away, stunned.
Kal-El blinked at her as if just coming awake himself. He looked as flummoxed as she felt, and Lois had to pity him. No one around here ever did that; the intensity of the taboo was beyond her ability to measure.
His face turned brick red, blushing all the way to the tips of his ears. "I … I am sorry, Lois. I do not know why I did that."
"It's all right," she said, trying to regain her equilibrium. "I started it. I guess … I don't know. I'm sorry, too. I know you don't…."
But she trailed off then. He wasn't looking at her like a man disgusted with himself, horrified by his own behavior. Surprised, yes, but not sickened. Instead there was a dawning curiosity in his gaze. "You have no need to apologize. It was not…. Are you truly all right, now?"
She couldn't help it, her old insouciance rising up to fill the void left by bewilderment. "After a kiss like that, you probably chased off my nightmares for good. I'm fine."
"Good," he said, nodding slightly. "Very good. I shall … I shall finish my studies. Good night to you, Lois."
"Good night, Kal-El," she replied, trying not to grin at the way he seemed to float down the hallway. The poor guy had never been kissed, and here was Lois Lane laying one hell of a smooch on him. It'd be enough to turn anyone's head.
Only after the door closed and she was safely back in bed did worry creep in. All along, Lois had known that she was safe here because Kryptonians didn't touch, ever. There would be no physical violence, no abuse, no molestation. And yet in only a couple of months she'd found a Kryptonian willing to ignore his culture's restrictions enough to kiss her.
Or more worrisome, she'd created one. What if by exposing Kal-El to so much human culture and to her own expectations of normal behavior, she had changed him, awakened some buried instinct better left untouched? No Kryptonian woman would have ever hugged and kissed him, that was for sure.
She should have been afraid, and she was, a little. Lois had started something unexpected and unpredictable by kissing him. She couldn't figure out where this might lead, but it probably wasn't going to be sunshine and roses.
And where the hell was her own mind in all of this? The General's daughter knew better than to smooch the enemy. Only Kal-El wasn't her enemy. It was an accident of fate that he happened to be of the same race as the oppressors. She was certain that not only would he release her if he could, but that he would have protested the conquest of Earth if it had been feasible.
It's always feasible. Protest is always an option, even in the face of overwhelming odds. The problem is, most people won't stand up even when they hate what's happening, because they're too afraid of being knocked down. That was the General in her head, and Lois bridled at the intrusion. Kal-El was not a coward. He was kind and smart…
…and she was defending him automatically, thinking about him in ways she really, really shouldn't. A chill ran down Lois' spine at that. She wasn't attracted to him, was she? Worriedly, she searched her own feelings, turning her keen perception on herself.
Oh, hell. She was a healthy teenager, after all, and younger than any other human on this planet by at least four years. Now that she had adjusted to life on New Krypton, it was to be expected that some measure of normalcy would return. And that included crushes on boys.
Not this one. No way, no how. He was her jailer, for all that he was a compassionate one, and her goal was to escape. Mooning around over a handsome boy wasn't in the picture. Not to mention, if the resistance had an inkling of how fond she was of him already, they'd mistrust her. And his own people, surely they would be horrified that she'd corrupted a noble son of Krypton. If they found out, they'd probably send her back to Earth and demand another hostage in her place, which would be either Momma or Lucy.
That struck like a blow to the gut. No, she wouldn't let that happen. She wouldn't betray her people, and she wouldn't ruin Kal-El in the eyes of his. Lois Lane certainly had willpower enough to resist a silly crush and complete her mission.
She lay awake until dawn reminding herself of that.