Lois lay awake, her bedroom lit by the bioluminescent lily Lara had given her for her birthday months ago. The circulating air was just enough to keep the flower glowing, her intent gaze ceaselessly tracing the endless refractions of blue, green, and red firelight it sparked within the crystals. She should have been out like a light an hour ago, but endless potential disasters were running through her mind. Too many wolves at the door and she was feeling so much like a bleating lamb. That, more than anything, was making her uneasy in the extreme. So much was hanging in the balance right now that she almost didn’t dare close her eyes for fear of what she’d wake to. Besides, she was learning how to get by on very little sleep.
They’d learned so much since the Affair of the Necklace. For example, it turned out that the crystals didn’t work exactly the way everyone thought they did. Henri had cornered Lois, having seen the message from the Bureau of Human Affairs about her necklace being off. They had noted it as a potential concern with other humans. By then she’d already spoken to Kal-El, and the lie she told her co-conspirator matched the one on official record. He’d just taken the necklace off to untangle her hair. That was all.
Never mind that the necklace had been off for several hours, and her hair had been thoroughly tousled by the end of it. She felt herself flush a little at that, stirring up the memories of that night for something like the two-millionth-and second time. Kal-El loved her hair, loved burying his hands in it, loved pressing his face against her neck and breathing the scent of it. Too bad they couldn’t tell them why, she thought with a smirk. The answer would have been easy enough back home.
According to the messages Henri had originally intercepted, the information they’d had for weeks, there should have been an immediate alert when the tracking crystal was removed, which would have been horrible timing for her and Kal-El. And really, she should’ve thought of that when he tore the necklace off her, but her mind had been burned blank by the blue fire of his eyes. Nothing had been left of warnings, of her mission, of all the things she had to fear. At that moment there’d only been the two of them.
Meeting with her co-conspirators, Lois had been caught in a quandary. She couldn’t tell the Resistance that the necklace had been off for several hours without explaining why—and she wasn’t about to admit to sleeping with someone they would surely consider the enemy. All of them had been so upset about the opal earrings; but then, maybe they’d been right to worry. Unconsciously, she reached up and ran the fingertips of one hand over the smooth surface of the cool stone. She’d taken to wearing them around more often when she was between these four walls, a fact that earned her a fond smile any time Kal-El noticed them. Maybe even then they’d seen something she hadn’t. And if they’d seen it then, how long before they realized things had changed now?
She did have to tell them what Kal-El had told her: that the tracking signal came back online when he was holding the necklace. That had rocked Henri back on his heels, his eyes going wide with amazement. “Do you know what that means?” he’d whispered.
Of course she did. “They’re not keyed to a specific human, or even to humans in general,” she’d replied. “One person could wear someone else’s necklace, and the Bureau of Human Affairs might never know.”
“This could be momentous. I’ve got to do some research,” Henri had muttered before hurrying off. She had made her way back, her mind full of plots, and had practically fallen into Kal-El’s arms. He worried more about her when she ventured out alone, since the sabotage, and always met her at the door to hold her close. As always, she kept everything veiled from him except her happiness at being safely home again. But, increasingly, it was more and more of a struggle to hold back.
Lois’ next contact a day later had been Huang. “You are a fountain of revelations,” he’d told her.
She hadn’t liked that, or the sly look he gave her. Play innocent, none of them can ever guess or it all goes to hell, she’d told herself. “What did Henri dig up?” she’d asked instead.
“The Kryptonians changed how they operate the tracking signal on the crystals,” he’d told her. “Atmospheric conditions related to the current sunspot cycle meant that they received so many false reports of disconnection, they gave up on that system. Now they conduct random sweeps of all the tracking crystals several times per day. If the tally isn’t correct, they look into whichever crystal is missing.”
“Which means, if we’re careful and if we can figure out how to get these off, we might be able to swap necklaces or even have one person go off-grid entirely while someone else carries their crystal.”
Huang nodded. “Precisely, though we would have to be extremely careful. If we happened to remove crystals while they were conducting a sweep, we’d be in trouble. Henri is trying to see if there’s any sort of pattern; I’m sure you know ‘randomized’ situations are often anything but.”
“Oh yeah,” Lois had muttered. For a moment she flashed back to her real life back home, to randomized multiple choice tests that were mostly B and C answers. She should’ve been there, and her biggest worry should’ve been a history pop quiz. Not espionage and betrayal. Not all the other things she was worrying about, too. Lois was only seventeen, just a kid still by most people’s standards, and yet here she was living a double life with the freedom of her entire race hanging in the balance.
While her mind wandered, Huang had smiled at her. “And to think, we might never have known about this if not for your hair.”
Yet again the circumstances of that discovery rocketed back into her head and she didn’t even want to consider the willpower it had taken to neither flush nor blanche. She hadn’t had an answer for that, nothing she could come up with would sound remotely convincing at a moment like this, and luckily they’d crossed paths with some Kryptonians, which forced them to make innocuous small talk for a few moments. Lois was getting heartily sick of gardening-talk and weather-speculation.
Once the others were gone, Huang returned to a different tack. “Everything we’ve heard seems to suggest the Consulars don’t suspect us at all. All of their efforts are concentrated on finding Kryptonian traitors. Not a whisper of suspicion that humans would be capable of sabotage.”
Lois had nodded, even though it made her chest tight. How long before Kal-El was a suspect? How long before the entire Benevolent Society he was so proud of fell under bureaucratic mistrust? She had the miserable feeling that her divided loyalties were going to cause her a lot of grief.
And then Huang had only increased her burden by adding, “Of course, it may simply be that any discussion of human culpability is not being shared with any Kryptonian who has a human guest, for fear of interception. Not to mention the fact that almost all of the hosts are now members of your Kal-El’s club.”
That brought Lois’ chin up with a sudden jerk. Taking caution was one thing; it wasn’t the first time any of the others had used the phrasing. Best to nip this in the bud before anyone caught on. “For God’s sake. Listen, Huang, he’s not my Kal-El, and it’s not his club, either,” Lois had retorted, a little too quickly.
Huang had raised both hands, looking startled. “At ease, Lois. I meant nothing by it. Though if there’s something you need to discuss….”
Lois felt like kicking herself. Overdid it by snapping that hard. Shit. What the hell was it with her lately? In the end, she’d made herself sigh and smile wanly. “No, it’s just … ever since that deal with everyone jumping on me about the stupid earrings, I’ve been a little tense. It’s nothing, really. It’s just driving me up a wall.”
For a long moment, Huang had been quiet. “It’s rather strange, isn’t it? The ones we see on a daily basis, they seem to genuinely like and care about us. Their ways of expressing it are foreign, but the … fondness, for lack of a better word, comes through. Sometimes Jhan-Or talks to me like a friend. Or a son, almost. And yet they are the ones who would be in trouble if any of us did escape, which gives them a powerful, personal incentive to keep us safely captive.”
“Yeah,” Lois had murmured. Even with her father’s words of warning echoing in her mind, she found that she had come to trust Kal-El with her mind, with her body, even with her ever-wary heart … with everything except the fact that she was part of the Resistance. At that moment, she’d realized for the first time that if the Resistance managed to accomplish their goals, Kal-El—and his parents, too, most likely—would be in a world of trouble. He might even be accused of treason.
Thinking back on it from the safety of her bedroom, a tiny voice in Lois’ head whispered, He once said he would love to see Earth. Bring him with you. He’ll be safer there—and you don’t want to leave him, anyway. Not anymore. That was all true, but it wouldn’t work out the way she wanted, and Lois knew it. She could just imagine Kal-El’s reaction if she ever came to him and said, ‘Hey, so I’ve been keeping a secret from you practically since we met. I’m part of the group fighting against your people, and we’re about to make a break for it. Wanna come with me so you can really understand what it’s like to be an alien on someone else’s world? Hey, the fact that we’d both know exactly how it feels to be constantly viewed with suspicion and distrust would be a great bonding experience!’ Sure, he’d be delighted about that. Especially in light of the new twist to their relationship.
That had her chewing her lower lip again before she sighed out a held breath quietly. She had to be quiet; Kal-El was asleep beside her. Going to bed with him hadn’t been a one-time fluke, and they’d been sleeping together pretty much constantly since then. Once the door closed behind them and her lips met his, everything else went away for a while. In his arms, she wasn’t Lois the hostage or Lois the spy or even Lois the General’s daughter, she was just … Lois. And being able to be only herself with him was the thing she cherished most in her life. Here, so far away from everything she knew and everyone she loved, he was home.
It wasn’t just sex, or even mostly sex. Though they were lovers, and over the past few weeks their lovemaking had become less tentative and more satisfying for them both. There was no shyness left in either of them anymore, no uncertainty. He was a tender, considerate lover, but he wanted much more from her than just that. The sex was just part of the physical and emotional intimacy between them, and that close bond was the only thing in her world that felt right anymore.
Even though she didn’t know just when she’d fallen in love with him. There was no point she could turn to and say, That was when it happened. Unless … she didn’t want to think it, but it might’ve been the moment they met. When she’d looked up at him, all wary defiance, and he had smiled to see her. He had been the first person who’d been happy to see her since she’d made the decision to come here. Lois couldn’t deny that that had affected her; he’d given a glimmer of hope, however brief it had been.
She couldn’t figure out precisely when or how she’d decided to go to bed with him, either. The first time had been a collision of anxieties and the craving for something, anything, that couldn’t be taken away. Lois could look back on it now and chuckle; they’d both been such kids, silly as that was to say a few weeks later. It was true, though. That first time had been equal parts laughter, embarrassment, curiosity, inexperience, exploration, and absolute trembling desire.
After that … well, if it had been just once, that would’ve meant both of them considered it a mistake. And in spite of the fact that Lois knew she was playing with fire, that getting romantically and physically involved with a Kryptonian was a hugely bad idea, she couldn’t quite make herself believe it was a mistake. During those moments together, she’d forgotten all her fears, forgotten her loneliness, forgotten everything but him telling her in a harsh whisper that he loved her. No wonder they’d gone back to her room by unspoken agreement the next night, and now slept there together every night. She’d tried, once, to convince herself this was just for information, tried to cast herself as Mata Hari, but it didn’t fit. She was finding that her traitor heart was telling her that it was because she was coming to love him too much.
Now that that last taboo had been broken, Kal-El wanted to be as close to her as possible, as often as he could. He craved touch like it was some kind of addiction, like he was an alcoholic who’d been sober for years and just fallen spectacularly off the wagon and into an unlocked liquor store. It was a good analogy, too, since half the time he seemed almost drunk, dizzy with delight at touching her. They’d reached the point where he tended to cross his arms behind his back when they were in public, just to keep from taking her hand. They weren’t fools, however; there were no precautions on Krypton, but they had little to be anxious of: they were different species, any chance of interbreeding virtually impossible.
Meanwhile Lois found it incredibly comforting just to cuddle with him. She knew him so well now, knew the way the rhythm of his breathing changed as he slipped over into sleep, knew the feel of his lips against her shoulder or her neck, the warm weight of his arm around her waist. She even knew how the contrary little curl in his forelock felt wrapped around her fingers.
When they lay together, Lois could almost disappear with his larger frame curled around her. She fit neatly against him, her head tucked under his chin, the small of her back against his belly. Sometimes lately, disappearing was all she wanted. He was the safety blanket she could pull over herself when the world felt full of monsters.
Kal-El probably felt much the same about her. They could spend hours burrowed into her bed. They talked desultorily, or simply lay snuggled together, his breath warm against her skin, her fingers interlaced with his. Those moments were a welcome respite from everything else; it felt as though her bedroom was their private retreat, where nothing could intrude on their happiness.
And yet, Lois knew that wasn’t precisely true. This was the most fragile of shelters. Though the Consulars hadn’t moved on either the humans or the House of El, there were no guarantees whatsoever that they wouldn’t do so. Everything could come to an end at any moment. Still, the illusion of safety in his arms was a refuge from the surety of doubt and fear that awaited her anywhere—everywhere—else.
In his sleep, Kal-El rolled over and slid his arm around her waist with a happy sigh. Lois smiled wanly and caught his hand, bringing it to her lips for a kiss. That woke him, and he nuzzled her hair. “Lois, my love,” Kal-El sighed.
“Morning, you,” she murmured, leaning back against him.
For long moments, they were both silent, Kal-El gently playing with her fingers. He stroked the back of her hand, she laced their fingers together, and he rubbed his thumb in slow circles over her palm. Finally he said, “I can hear you thinking, Lois. What’s on your mind?”
After all of the months of listening to her casual Earth slang, he could almost pass for a native speaker when they were alone. Another reason of her comfort in his presence. “Hear me thinking? Since when are Kryptonians telepathic?” She tried to keep her tone light, but couldn’t help a tiny sliver of fear. If anyone on this planet could read her thoughts, she’d be in for a world of trouble. Several worlds of trouble. Possibly solar systems—no, universes of trouble. But Kryptonians weren’t telepathic, or the Resistance would already be arrested. Now she was just being paranoid.
Kal-El seemed to share that interpretation, running a soothing hand along her side. “You know I can’t really hear you thinking. I just know you, Lois. I know when you’re happy, and when you’re not. I know when you have a lot on your mind. You can tell me, you know.” He trailed kisses along her shoulder. “You can trust me.”
“I know. I … it’s me I don’t know if I can trust,” Lois admitted. He held her closer at that, as if his strength and warmth could somehow transfer to her.
“Tell me, Lois.” Such simple words, so softly spoken, but with them her throat tightened on admissions that couldn’t have been wrung from her by torture. Oh, how she wanted to just tell him everything, everything. The Resistance, her fears, the sabotage plans … the fact that she couldn’t even look forward to her freedom anymore, because it would mean leaving him.
“I … Kal-El, I’m scared.” That much she could safely say, as much as it was bitterest gall to admit out loud. However, it didn’t make it any less true.
Silently, his arms tightened around her to squeeze reassuringly. “I will protect you, Lois, with every means at my disposal.”
“I know,” she whispered back. But what, exactly, could he do? The Consulars were the only people on the planet who were armed. If they came for her, how could Kal-El possibly defend her? How could any of them defend themselves? At best he could pull the necklace off and let her run, but where would she go?
“It will not always be like this,” he told her then, and the hair stood up on the nape of her neck. There was new tension in his body, new conviction in his tone, new strength in the hand holding hers. That sounded … a lot like a promise.
“Kal-El, what…” she trailed off, then rolled onto her back to look up at him. “What do you mean?”
The look in his eyes could’ve come from her reflection. He knew something, something important … and he wasn’t going to tell her. Lois wondered what his secrets were, and for a moment even wondered if the Benevolent Society for Kryptonian Cultural Expansion wasn’t more than it seemed. If there was a faction of Kryptonians who abhorred the captivity of humans—and who were more subtle than Zor-El—where else would she expect to find them than in a group dedicated to helping the humans ‘adjust’? What better façade to hide behind?
She knew that look of his; she’d worn it often enough. No answers were forthcoming. Instead he stroked her cheek and murmured, “Nothing is concrete yet. But I promise you this, Lois. I will someday see you free—free from fear, and free—no matter what it takes. I … I cannot bear to see you so haunted.” With that he kissed her, and her speculation on whatever else he might’ve been thinking was lost. Kal-El was already getting very good at distracting her.