Lois had expected resistance against her latest move, and resentment that she’d gone against the rest. What she hadn’t expected was the anger. All of them seemed furious, Henri actually shouting at her. “We cannot trust Kal-El!” he bellowed, as if she were a stupid girl who might be cowed by mere noise.
She was standing taller, her chin jutting out, ready to go ten rounds if it meant dropping the bomb of just why she could keep Kal-El silent, when the man himself stepped into their circle and spoke sharply. “You no longer have a choice.”
All the blood seemed to drain out of her then. Lois could only stare, quivering, as Kal-El glared around the group. He looked furious, as she had never seen him before. Kal-El was always so mild-mannered and accommodating; even in bed he was a considerate lover. Passionate, too, but even then attuned to her needs.
Not right now. At the moment he burned with a distilled fury. “You say you cannot trust me. Perhaps it is I who cannot trust you. I have spent hours searching for Lois, seeking to bring her news that the society I founded is at last in a position to perform the function for which it was intended, and instead I find a conspiracy vilifying my name. I, who will stop at nothing to secure your freedom!”
None of them could speak at that revelation. Lois trembled; they hadn’t talked about this, their private moments spent in far sweeter pursuits, but she wasn’t surprised to learn he really had been working on some kind of abolitionist movement. Hadn’t that been part of the reason why she’d fought to make an alliance? Hadn’t he hinted at it several times, veiled references here and there?
When Kal-El took another step forward, all of them fell back—except Henri and Lois herself. Fixing his gaze on Henri, Kal-El demanded, “It was you, was it not, who sabotaged the construction? My own uncle may be martyred for your impatience!”
“It wasn’t us,” Lois protested, stepping forward. “We were planning to, but your people got to it first.”
“Lois!” Geoffrey practically yelped. She didn’t have time to spare him a disdainful look. Kal-El knew what he’d interrupted. This wasn’t a goddamn quilting circle, for crying out loud.
That only took the edge off his anger. Kal-El was still furious, and now he was locked on Lois. “You would plan an act of war, knowing what it would cost? Everyone involved could have been banished to the Phantom Zone!”
“And what were we supposed to do, stand idly by while your people build a fleet of military ships we cannot hope to combat?” Henri spat back, getting between them. “I will not trust you on the basis of a few flimsy words and even flimsier threats! I have not forgotten what you are! I don’t care what manner of nonsense you’ve convinced Lois to believe; not all of us are teenage girls who’ve read too many adventure novels and think they can save the world single-handedly!”
Lois felt her face heat up in a spectacular blush. So that was it, then. They all thought she was a silly child playing choose-your-own-adventure on the grandest scale of all. But before she could shout back, Kal-El took a step closer, his beautiful blue eyes gone storm-dark. “You will mind your tongue when you speak of her, human!”
That snarled epithet was the worst thing he could’ve possibly said. Henri sneered, his dark eyes flashing. “Or what, alien? There are forty of us and only one of you! Just what do you think you can do here?!”
Tempers were rising, not least of them Lois’. “Knock it off, both of you!” she spat, grabbing Henri by the arm and only just remembering not to touch Kal-El in front of other people. But oh, the look he gave her when their eyes met, full of betrayal and wrath. For a moment it froze her.
The rest of the humans were tightening their circle, but Kal-El seemed not yet aware of his danger, his attention locked on Lois and Henri, who tried to shake her restraining hand off. For one second it looked like a brawl was about to break out.
And then Huang spoke up in a low, controlled voice that struck every one of them. “Enough. If we make any more noise, we’ll have the Consulars here to arrest us all.” That cooled them for the moment, long enough for Huang to catch the older man’s other arm. “Henri, my friend, enough. Kal-El is right. We have no choice but to trust him now. And Lois was right as well. If he wasn’t on our side, he would’ve gone to the Consulars as soon as he knew what we were discussing.”
Lois managed to breathe a sigh of relief, and Huang’s next words pierced her. “Perhaps we should have listened to her sooner. Who knows what lengths she would’ve gone to, in order to make her point.”
Thoroughly flustered, Henri stepped back, straightening his cuffs. “Perhaps you’re right. I … I cannot bear the thought of us failing now.”
“Nor can I,” Kal-El said, mastering his temper with difficulty, but mastering it nonetheless. “I have been on your side from the first. And I apologize for what I just called you. ‘Human’ is no insult, not to me.” With that, he offered his hand.
Lois managed not to gasp. Silence dropped on the Resistance like an anvil. Kryptonians did not touch, ever. A handshake was more intimate than a soul kiss. That he offered one in apology to a human he hadn’t even met before today was momentous.
Henri knew it, and stared at the proffered hand. He ground out bitterly, “Aren’t you afraid of catching our human germs?”
Kal-El didn’t withdraw his hand, but he did offer Henri a thin smile. “We’re already contaminated. All of us, even those who have never had a human in our homes. I spoke to a biologist about it recently, and was quite surprised at what I learned. So, Henri, let us shake hands and be friends, for we shall all have need of friends before this venture is complete.”
Bemusedly, Henri took his hand and shook it twice. Kal-El didn’t show any sign of discomfort, and only Lois knew why, her heart in her mouth at this. They were so close to being discovered and having all of their credibility shot straight to hell.
“Well then,” Geoffrey said. “Since we have no choice, I suppose we might as well trust you.”
“You might as well, since I am apparently supplying a good deal of your information. Not that I knew about it,” Kal-El replied, with an edge to his voice that made Lois wince. “I was not supposed to speak of this with any human, though I intended to tell Lois as I am certain of her discretion. And since you have all kept the existence of the Resistance a secret so far, I suppose I must equally trust to your collective discretion.”
He stopped to look each of them in the eye. When his gaze landed on Lois, it seared her. She couldn’t tell him that she’d been speaking for the others’ benefit, that in her heart of hearts she had never used him … not when she had gotten information from him, solely for the Resistance. All she could do was look levelly back at him and try not to let the heartbreak show.
Kal-El took a deep breath before continuing. “Have patience. We will very soon be in a position to begin smuggling you back to Earth, several at a time, on the transport ships returning to pick up more salt. Once all of you are safely back on Earth, we have … other plans. But the eventual goal is amity and free trade between our peoples. Can I count on your cooperation—and discretion? Now is not the time to reveal your intentions or ours to the Consulars.”
“Other plans?” Huang asked softly. “Perhaps … a few changes in policy?”
“Something like that,” Kal-El replied, his eyes cautious. “I’m afraid you have not met us at our best. Krypton has been a fair and tolerant democracy for the last thousand years. It is only within the current generation, and with the dire threat of annihilation forcing an exodus, that we have come to the current state of affairs.”
Lois could feel the restless tension in the group, but Geoffrey spoke up before any of them could question Kal-El. “The less we know about that side of things, the better. Just in case any of us are caught, we can’t reveal what we don’t know.”
Nodding, Kal-El agreed. “If we are discovered, it would be better overall for the Consulars to think we are merely abolitionists. There would still be chances for freedom, later. More than one faction is at work here, and even if we fail the group as a whole shall not falter.”
Henri had been looking thoughtful. “Do you truly believe that your entire Benevolent Society will simply surrender their humans? Especially when so much is at risk for each of them? Any of them could be branded a traitor for releasing us.”
Kal-El looked very serious. “Others in the group are assured of it, and I trust their judgment. Further, I shall lead by example. Lois will be among the first group of humans returned home.”
Lois cast astonished eyes on him. From the moment he’d stumbled onto them, any expectation she had of what would happen from moment to moment had been thrown out the window. There was no way to judge what he meant and how, not when anything could happen next. And staying impartial wasn’t even a possibility. She could barely breathe between every exchange, but surprise gave her speech at this last. Either he still cared more than he wanted to admit … or else the fury over what he’d discovered was that enormous. “No, Kal-El, it shouldn’t be—”
“It must be you,” he answered, much too calm. His voice might be level and his posture perfectly correct, but she saw the storm in his eyes, their royal-blue depths full of things unspoken. “I am something of a figurehead within the Society, and you are an outlier among the humans, being the youngest. I intend to provide an example. It is unimaginably cruel to imprison you here, and beneath Kryptonian dignity to be complicit in such injustice. If I—the son of the last Councilor with any influence upon the Supreme Chancellor, the Kryptonian whose knowledge of human society is most encyclopedic, and not least the Society member who has developed the deepest and most egalitarian friendship with his human ward—if I am the first to offer to free you, then the rest shall be shamed into following suit.”
Lois’ heart stuttered in her chest. It all made very good sense, and she knew then that this decision had been made before he caught on to the Resistance.
Gabriela tossed her dark hair over one shoulder, considering. She’d kept silent so far, merely watching Kal-El, but spoke up then. “Are you so certain? If even one of your people dissents and reports to the Consulars, you will face heavy censure because of who your father is. And who your uncle is.”
“I know that, and plans are in place to mitigate that risk.” Kal-El continued, with heat in his tone, “I am not above using shame or even blackmail as a goad to make them do what they already know is right. They merely need the impetus to act, to stop telling themselves that we are making the best of a bad situation, that it is enough that we can permit you to walk freely about unaccompanied, as if you are all particularly well-behaved dogs who no longer need a leash. Relations between our people have been spoiled from the start, and this situation is beyond repair. We must start over, and begin by returning what was not ours to take. It is the only ethical way.”
While Lois stared, eyes wide, Huang came up to her and put one hand on her shoulder. “What I said earlier, I said to stop the fighting,” he told her. “But it was true nonetheless. You were right. We should have trusted him earlier. I’ve met a few firebrands determined to change history, and Kal-El is one of them.”
Even Henri nodded. “Little as I like losing one of the leaders of the Resistance in the first transport, at least we know Lois can carry a wealth of intel with her.”
The rest of the meeting—plots and plans and a dozen fiddly little details—went right over Lois’ head. She was numb to it all, aware of only one thing: Kal-El’s look toward her had not yet softened. She still saw the hard glint of betrayal in his eyes.
Lois knew it was coming. The fire in his gaze amongst the others had been warning enough; once they were alone, the embers of that fury arced around his person like a kind of force field. She could swear she could feel the heat just walking a step or two away from him. They had silence on the way back from the meeting. Lois was feeling completely at odds: both like a chastised child being escorted home after some ridiculous stunt and like a woman climbing a scaffold to the gallows. The dread of the unknown ate at her. She had come to rely on his incredible calm, his intrinsic good nature. Neither were in residence at the moment. It only made it worse that Kal-El barely even looked at her until they were inside and the door closed between them and the rest of the world.
And then the inevitable happened just like she had known it would. He caught her by the forearms with a suddenness that still struck her by surprise, Kal-El trembling with anger like she’d never seen from him before. Her breath was lost somewhere in her chest. She couldn’t even look him in the eye. “Why did you lie to me?” he demanded.
Lois winced at that. The rush of guilt was bitter, almost too bitter to swallow. “I never actually lied,” she whispered, the hair on the back of her neck standing up. She had always known she was safe on this planet, no one would physically harm her because they couldn’t bear touch—but she’d taught one of them to welcome it. And Kal-El was taller and stronger than she was. Never before would the thought have occurred to her, but now….
Now she just didn’t know. All of the cards on the table, the view between them wasn’t quite as pretty. And she couldn’t say she blamed him. It looked bad no matter which way you looked at her actions. Still glaring at her, he gave her a light shake. “You know what I meant! Why did you never tell me there was a Resistance—and that you were part of it?!”
There was a lump of steel in her belly, but Lois couldn’t stop herself from answering. “I couldn’t,” she retorted, finding her courage. “It’s a rebellion, Kal-El!”
“And all of this, every confidence, every intimacy, was that just so I’d be more malleable? So I’d give you more information?” he spat.
God, this looked a million times worse that she had expected him at see it. It had all gone wrong; everything had gone wrong if he thought that she could have let it go this far for something like intelligence. “No! Kal-El, I wouldn’t. Not for something like that!” That broke Lois’ heart. Everything she’d felt had been real, and the thought of leaving him wounded her even though he was scaring her right now. “Please know better!”
“How can I believe that? How can I ever trust you again? Everything I did for you, you turned around and used me to gather intelligence! You’ve been a spy, Lois!” He punctuated each sentence with another little shake, not enough to rock her on her feet yet, but what it portended was terrifying.
Why? Why had it had to happen like this? With no real way to explain? She had to live with him, after all. After this, after the betrayal, she still had to live under his roof for however long it took to get her off the planet. Never mind that she wasn’t so sure anymore exactly what she wanted for herself, that the romantic in her wanted to stay until the bitter end and somehow smuggle him home with her. It was stupid, the things that roared through her as she stared up at Kal-El. The events of the last half hour were more surreal and immediate to her than it had been since the moment she’d boarded the ship that had brought her here. Right now she was more frightened than she’d ever been on New Krypton. The one person she needed to trust and rely on was blatantly furious with her.
“I don’t know,” she managed to whimper, her stomach roiling. “I don’t know, Kal-El. I’m scared, I’ve been scared since I got here, I had to be part of the Resistance because you never told me about the Society until recently—and as soon as you did I started pushing for an alliance! Or did you miss that part?” Her voice had grown stronger by the end, and her gaze was solidly locked on him despite the tears in her eyes.
“I had always meant to use the Society to free you,” he told her, but something in him softened then, and he didn’t shake her. “I am not its leader, though, and until today I was unaware of the ultimate plan. It is not just your freedom we seek, Lois, it is our own. Jhan-Or is planning a political coup. He means to force the Supreme Chancellor to step down, by any means necessary. And I believe he has the connections and the cunning to accomplish it.”
“That’s the thing. I wanted to tell you, I really did. I wanted to tell you from the first moment Henri whispered ‘Vive la Resistance’ in my ear. But I couldn’t, Kal-El. I just … couldn’t.” The tears spilled over then, and Lois pulled away from him to dash them from her eyes. This was so damn weak, crying like an idiot teenage girl when the fate of both their peoples were at stake. Like a character in one of those lousy rom-coms her mother loved back home. God, she didn’t want to do this anymore….
“Why not?” That time, he wasn’t insisting. Kal-El was pleading with her.
The same tone was in her voice when she answered. “I don’t know! I wanted to, the longer this has gone on. I mean, everyone said not to trust you, that your dad was deep in the middle of this, that you were the enemy! What happened wasn’t planned. I tried to tell myself I was Mata Hari, using my feminine wiles to get information from you, but even I knew that was a lie. I never planned for any of this with us to happen. But somehow I … I kinda….” Her lips quivered even with her considerable willpower. “I knew better. They told me all of this, I believed it but somewhere in the middle of all this, I fell in love with you. I know how stupid it sounds after all of this, but I still do. I still love you.”
For a long moment he stared at her, perhaps trying to divine the truth of that statement. Finally, he spoke. “I love you, too, Lois. I … I truly don’t want you to leave. Even if that’s what’s best for you. I don’t want to lose you.”
At the way his voice broke, she turned and flung herself into his arms. Kal-El caught her and held her as she fought the sobs rising from her chest. Still feeling like all of this couldn’t be real, couldn’t be happening to her, Lois could only hold on tight. They were just kids; how the hell had they found themselves in a mess like this? But, for the first time, she found herself not completely regretting the situation. “I don’t want to go, I don’t, I want to stay with you. I want to stay with you.”
The irony that the only human on New Krypton who had a reason to want to be there would be one of the first to escape wasn’t lost on either of them. At the moment, however, they were both more concerned with apologies for secrets kept, confidences betrayed, and loyalties doubted, all of which quickly led them to the bedroom.