Lois (kalalanekent) wrote,

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Across the Universe :: In the Midst of Metamorphosis [Chapter Forty]

Off to the tea shop in Orlando in the next four hours. Real-life needs to take a backseat a little bit, as staying up this late finishing things out is getting difficult again. That said, enjoy, all!

Lois’ first night in Smallville had been … odd. The guest bedroom was cozily furnished, with an overstuffed chair in one corner and a four-poster bed. A handmade quilt of painstakingly-arranged white, forest green, and chocolate brown patches adorned with a few precious darts of gold covered the duvet. The walls were painted a pale, cheerful green, with accents of white and rich cherry-stained woodwork. The curtains and the tablecloth over the nightstand were a warm beige with a stripe of darker brown. She didn’t have her own bathroom, but the one in the hall was only a couple steps outside her bedroom door, and it too was comfortably appointed. A new toothbrush still in the packaging sat beside the sink in anticipation of the next guest.

Over the years Lois had grown accustomed to moving and adapting to the nighttime sounds of a new house, to sleeping soundly wherever she happened to lay her head. But it was just so quiet. No cars passed by outside, and the only time she heard a dog bark, its owners hushed it quickly. That was just plain weird to Lois, who had sometimes fallen asleep to the marching of booted feet or the rumbling tires of jeeps.

Finally she realized why it bothered her. Kal-El’s house had been this quiet, in the depths of the night. While Kryptonians did sometimes keep late hours, they were usually absorbed in some form of study, which was generally a near-silent pursuit. Lois longed for the faint blue glow of the flower Lara had given her, and for the warmth of Kal-El at her back, his arm flung casually about her waist.

If they’d only known the secret growing with such soft certainty in her belly….

That finally made everything hit home, and Lois wept. For herself, uprooted and facing unimaginable odds. For Kal-El, who was still under Zod’s power and who didn’t know he was a father. For her mother and sister living in hiding somewhere, wondering what had happened to her. And for herself again, so lonely and so dependent on the kindness of strangers, a condition that her self-sufficient nature rebelled against automatically.

Lois didn’t cry loudly; she just curled up in a ball and pressed her face to the pillow to soak up the tears. So she had no idea how Lana had even known she was upset, but in the midst of her misery the redhead came into the room with two steaming mugs of tea, sat down beside her without a word, and rubbed her back. It was the silent understanding—no false attempt at cheer, just the acknowledgement and sympathy—that broke her. Lois rolled over and let Lana hold her as she shuddered and sobbed.

Once she was cried out, Lana didn’t try to get her to talk about it. Instead she offered tissues, and then the still-warm tea, sweet and soothing. “Sleep, Lois. Tomorrow will be different,” was all she said, and Lois had the odd feeling that maybe this was what having an older sister was like.

When Lois finally fell asleep, she dreamed strange vivid dreams. Only one stayed with her the next morning. She had been standing out in the middle of the Kansas prairie, waist-high grass rippling in the night wind, a scene that must’ve been pulled from a movie she’d watched or perhaps a book she’d read. The sky above was enormous, and to her surprise she recognized the constellations of New Krypton in the millions of stars glittering there like some impossible fairy-dust. The vastness of it impressed her, weighed her down with silence and contemplation, as no daytime-blue sky ever could.

Suddenly shooting stars streaked across the immense sky, and Lois stood with her head craned back, watching the spectacle with awe. And then, as she stared, one of the stars soared down toward her, so bright she had to throw her hands up before her, squeezing her eyes tight shut, and still her vision went red with the blazing brilliance.

There was no sound, and it never occurred to her to run, but when the light died away to a faint glow she removed her hands, looking for the meteorite that must have landed somewhere nearby. Lois had some faint dream-notion that it might be valuable. Yet there was no meteorite … instead, the last golden glow of it was now emanating from her belly, pulsing in time with her heartbeat.

She woke from that sometime in the early morning, the window still dark, and had to sit up for a moment until reality reasserted itself. Then the dream seemed silly, a product of pregnancy hormones or too much snack food, and Lois got up to go to the bathroom. The hooked rug underfoot helped to ground her in the real and practical world, but the awe and wonder of the dream lingered a while longer.

It had only been a matter of time, and Perry White had known it. There were only so many places Lois could’ve gone after she hopped off the cargo jet she’d stowed away on, and although the military had first looked at the much closer news outlets, they had eventually come to the Daily Planet, as he knew they must.

Now he was sitting on the wrong side of a battered steel desk, facing a seriously pissed-off general. “I’ll ask you again, Mr. White, in the hopes you’ll remember. Where is this girl?” And he added insult to injury by picking up the photograph and holding it out. In the picture, Lois was rolling her eyes and giving a sarcastic grin, standing beside a younger blonde who posed prettily.

“And I’ll tell you again, General, that the young woman you’re looking for did in fact come to my office, but her story was pretty damn wild. I had to check her facts, and while I did, she got cold feet and left. Probably thought I didn’t believe her and was calling you.” Perry thought he’d delivered that convincingly enough, but he was too wise to believe that it would pass for truth. General Samuel Lane didn’t get to where he was by gambling without an ace in his pocket.

Now he played it. “I despise liars, Mr. White,” he growled, and Perry could see where Lois had gotten her stubborn determination. Sam leaned forward, the broad span of his uniform decorated with only a few medals—but ones that counted. “I know Lois came to see you. According to my sources, she spent over three hours in this building, and left with you. So I’m asking one more time, as a father and a general, where is my daughter?”

“’According to your sources’? Were you ever a reporter, General Lane?” Perry asked, and then decided to play his own hole-card. He dropped the polite-and regretfully-unhelpful-civilian act, letting his own determination burn brightly. “You’re right, Lois came to me. And told me a story I had to check out, because even at my age and experience I couldn’t believe our government could handle her situation with such blind, ham-handed stupidity.”

Perry saw the flash of fire in the general’s eyes, but the other man didn’t burst into a frothing rage. Mad Dog Lane had apparently learned to rein in the explosive temper that had given him his nickname. “So you think I’ve been stupid?” was all he said.

Leaning his elbows on the table, Perry looked directly into bright blue eyes, hard as diamonds. “I’d known your daughter for less than an hour before I realized that locking her up was the surest way to turn her against you. How come you didn’t see that? You’re her father, you should know her better than I do.”

“When it comes to a decision between what Lois wants and what all of humanity needs, I can’t be swayed by sentiment,” General Lane said coldly.

“Too bad. Maybe if you had, one of us would know where she is right now.”

The general’s expression was disbelieving. “So you’re going to maintain that you don’t know?”

Perry managed to chuckle. “I wish I did.”

“Is that so?” General Lane’s voice was deceptively bland. “Isn’t it odd, then, that you purchased clothing in her size? And bought her favorite kind of bagels by pure coincidence. And ordered pizza twice in one week.”

The editor leaned back in his chair, glancing at the two impassive men in fatigues who flanked the door. “You know she’s not with me. You already searched my place. Probably did it while your MPs were driving me here to meet you. So enough of the song and dance, General. I’ve seen it before and I’m not impressed.”

“She was living with you,” the General pointed out. “It stands to reason you know where she is now. And I will get that information from you, rest assured.”

That last had the flavor of a threat. Perry White had been threatened many times in the course of his career, cursed out by everything from crooked cops to graft-ridden politicians. The best threat, in his memory, had been from a leader of a KKK group involved in arson at several churches. When the man was arrested, partly on Perry’s information, he’d had the audacity to call down the wrath of God on whomever had betrayed him. Considering that the bastard had set fire to the houses of God because he didn’t like the skin color of the people worshipping in them, Perry thought that was pretty stupid of him. Or just racist, arrogant, and hypocritical. He’d made a good news bite for the TV crews, though, practically frothing at the mouth and shouting about how God would strike down the traitor.

This, now, the steady way the general looked at him, the steely determination in those blue eyes, the way the man looked like a coiled-up spring under serious tension, all of those factors made the quiet, subtle threat much more serious. And still, Perry looked right back at him. He’d had bricks thrown through his windows and a note that said ‘BOOM!’ shoved in his mailbox, he’d sat down at a narrow table to interview a dapper little man who had murdered six men, he’d even been shot at as an embedded journalist in Qurac. No way was he gonna flinch now.

“No, you won’t,” Perry said calmly, so steadfast and composed that a new frown line appeared on the general’s forehead. “The reason being, I don’t know where she is. I introduced her to a source of mine, one whose real name I don’t know but whose information has always been solid. He told me he was turning her over to one of his own contacts, whom as far as I know I’ve never met or even heard of.”

“You handed my firstborn daughter over to a stranger.” General Lane’s tone was flat, but the rage was back in his eyes.

“And she went willingly rather than let you catch her. What kind of father are you?” That was stupid, worse than taunting a maddened bull, but Perry had to make it seem as though he were playing all his cards recklessly to hide the one little lie he’d slipped in. Of course he knew Senator Ross. For Lois’ safety, though, he had to sell this story like no other in his entire career.

The general’s jaw worked as he ground his teeth. “You are a newspaper editor, Mr. White, and were a reporter before that. You don’t have daughters of your own, so I’ll excuse that remark. And you have no concept of duty, so I’ll excuse your ignorance too.”

That struck a chord. On another day Perry would’ve argued that his duty was to the truth. Not today, though. There was such a thing as too much risk. Still, he bared his teeth in a fierce grin, as though assured of victory—and as long as his one bluff worked, he was. “At least gimme credit for being wise enough to know you’d try to strong-arm me, and setting this up so I can’t rat Lois out no matter what you do. And please, General Lane, think about who and what I am. I would love to write a story under my own byline about how the Vice Chief of Staff decided to water-board a civilian for information about his runaway daughter while in the middle of a goddamned war. Do you have any idea of our circulation numbers? Hell, it wouldn’t matter, that issue would send them through the roof. They’d give me a Pulitzer too.”

Talk about looks that could kill! All the general did, however, was say stiffly to the guards, “Get him out of my sight.”

“Sir, should we detain him, sir?” one of them asked.

General Lane waved a hand. “Take him home. He’s no use to us.”

Score one for the fourth estate, Perry thought as they led him out.

Lois’ first full day in Smallville started with strategy. “The odds of someone connecting you with your father are pretty slim, but just the same, I’d rather not use your real name,” Lana said apologetically. “Do you have a nickname?”

She shrugged. “Not really. I used to write letters to the school newspaper under the name Sadie Blodgett, though.”

The redhead eyed her critically. “Hmm. You don’t look like a Sadie at all.”

“That was kind of the point,” Lois said. It was so early that it was still dark outside, but Lana had coffee on and was even letting her have a cup. Only one, though, because she was pregnant, and too much caffeine was bad for the baby.

Lois heard that, and connected it with her brief glance at the bookcase in the hallway, where an older edition of What to Expect When You’re Expecting sat next to The Fertility Diet, and both titles had caught her eye. She knew, then, but nothing needed to be said about it.

“Sadie’s usually a nickname for Sarah,” Lana was saying. “Would you mind if I introduced you as Sarah Blodgett? I’ll say you’re a friend of a friend from Washington, staying with me for a break from the hectic pace of the city.”

“You think that’ll keep them off the scent?” Lois asked dubiously. To her mind, the connections between herself, her father, and D.C. were too clear.

Lana chuckled. “Sweetheart, if you keep resting your hand on your belly like that, they’ll figure out enough of your situation to fill in the blanks themselves.”

Lois startled; she hadn’t even been aware of her hand on her tummy, but that was quickly becoming its default position. “That’s even worse. A pregnant teenage Army brat?”

“No, no,” Lana demurred. “Everyone knows Pete’s a Senator, and this is an election year. People will probably assume you’re a conservative Congressman’s daughter, pregnant out of wedlock and hiding out here in the country to have your baby. If we just smile and don’t give any details, the rumor mill will invent a better cover story for us than either of us could make up. And if you forget to answer to Sarah a couple times, that will only spur them on.”

There was a happy little gleam in her eye, and Lois pointed at her with the whole-grain bagel she’d been pressed into eating. “You’ve got a devious streak, Lana.”

The redhead looked down modestly. “That’s as may be, but no one here would ever believe it of me.”

Lois found herself grinning. “Just like they’d never imagine you can sing every word of Aerosmith’s Crazy pitch-perfect. Gotcha, Red. I’m ready to roll out and see the sights whenever you are.”

She hadn’t understood why Lana was allotting a full day to such a simple trip. They only needed to stop by the post office, the general store, and the clothing store, the last to pick up some warmer clothes for Lois. All of those were located on Main Street within walking distance of each other, so what made Lana think they had to start at daybreak and plan for a full day.

That just showed how little she knew of small town life. Within the first hour—spent in line at the post office—Lois became convinced that the entire population of Smallville knew Lana and had to inquire after her personally. Even the clerks behind the counter made small talk about Pete and what was going on in the nation’s capital. Come to think of it, that probably explained the line, but none of the customers seemed to mind since they all got the same treatment, and all caught up with each other while they waited.

The general store was a welcome escape. There were only two or three other shoppers browsing the shelves, and the moment the store owner saw Lois he insisted that she take a seat on the stool behind the counter and rest a while. “You look a bit footsore, miss,” he said solicitously.

In truth, she was grateful. Lois’ legs ached after standing in line, and Lana introduced her while she relaxed. On first impression, Lana’s cousin Silas was a round man: plump with cheer, his round skull rising from a fringe of hair, with a round smiling face and glasses with rounded lenses and neat metal frames. Quite a contrast to the tall, slim redhead with her waist-length hair, but the hair still hanging bravely on at the back of his head was the same auburn as hers, and they had the same open, friendly smile.

Last night the two women had only picked up necessities; now Lana and Silas caught up on family events. They were kind enough to include ‘Sarah’ in the conversation, and Lois began to feel something like the guest of honor.

She couldn’t help noticing that every woman who entered the store glanced at her, and most of them smiled compassionately. As if they already knew her story, even though she wasn’t showing yet, and neither she nor Lana had mentioned her condition. “Is it really that obvious?” she finally blurted out.

Silas patted her shoulder. “Well, Sarah, you’re clearly not from around here. And there aren’t many reasons why a young girl from back East comes out to the country for peace and quiet. It’ll be fine; you’re in good hands with Lana.”

“Trust me,” the redhead said, and to her surprise, Lois already did.

Tags: across the universe

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