The seaplane’s engines labored to maintain its maximum speed, but Richard didn’t back off the throttle. He had a bad feeling about this…
They broke through the cloud cover, and Lana gasped at the sight that met their eyes. Luthor’s helicopter hovered close to the waves, Superman nearby. Suddenly the hero fell into the sea, and someone jumped from the helicopter after him. Richard and Lana only had a glimpse over the distance, but the flash of red was probably Lois’ blouse. Only she would dive so unhesitatingly after Superman.
The ‘copter wheeled about, moving slowly after Lois. Watching its flight, Richard noticed something odd about the pilot. Whoever was controlling the stick didn’t seem too confident, a trait that chopper pilots rarely seemed to lack. It gave him an idea … a dangerous one, but it offered hope. Below them, Lois’ head bobbed to the surface.
He turned to Lana, torn. She shouldn’t have been part of this – she shouldn’t have to take this risk. They only had seconds in which to act, but he couldn’t bear the thought of harming her. “Lana…”
Her heart beat quickly with fear. This isn’t just a search for missing kids – this is war, against a psychopath with no regard for human life. How did I get mixed up in this? I’m just a small-town girl who happened to become a fashion designer. How did I wind up a deciding factor in the fate of a hero?
That’s right – I started out helping a childhood friend… No. Be honest. Most of the reason is this man beside me, whom I shouldn’t be falling in love with. But I am. And in some weird way, it fits that I’m here with him now, while he tries to save the woman he’s engaged to … who happens to be the beloved of that friend. And the hero we all adore, who also loves her.
That resolved, sea green eyes met his with perfect equanimity. “I trust you, Richard. Whatever you’ve got in mind, let’s do it.”
“Lana, we could… I think I can chase the ‘copter off – he’s more maneuverable, but I’m a gutsier pilot. It’s just…”
“We could all die?” she said gently. “I know. But we’re their only chance – the Coast Guard can’t get here in time. And she can’t hold him up that long. We have to.”
Richard nodded slowly, swallowing past the lump in his throat. “Yeah. You’re right. I just… This is damn dangerous – I doubt he’ll let me hit him, but we could hit the water, and that’d be the end.”
“So be it,” Lana said, calm now. Her hand slid over his atop the throttle, fingers tightening slightly. “Richard, do it. At least if we all die together, we can figure out who’s walking through the pearly gates with whom before we actually see St. Peter.”
Chuckling against his will, Richard nodded and pushed the throttle all the way forward. He twisted the yoke, sending the plane directly at the helicopter. Over the howl of the engines, which penetrated even the headphones, Richard said loudly, “Lana, just in case we die here… I’m in love with you.”
She whipped around to stare at him, eyes wide with shock, but before Lana could reply the nose of the plane tipped down, and they began a steep dive that threatened to pull her out of the seat. The speed of their fall filled the cockpit with the wild scream of the wind as Richard bared his teeth and aimed at the ‘copter.
In that terrible moment, racing toward the sea at speeds the plane was never designed to withstand, Lana saw the world with a new clarity. All of a sudden, she felt totally and completely alive…
The shock of icy water drove the breath from Lois’ lungs as she dove in, instantly penetrating her clothes. Her soaked jeans seemed to weigh a ton, but she kicked hard and her head broke the surface.
Gasping for air, Lois flailed her cuffed arms to stay afloat, blinking to clear the salt water from her eyes. Kal-El wasn’t far away, thrashing weakly. The helicopter’s engines snarled behind her, coming closer… I can barely keep myself above water like this; I’ll never be able to hold him up. Gotta get the cuffs off.
She wouldn’t let herself think of anything else. If she started wondering how long Kal-El could keep fighting the waves, she’d panic, and that wouldn’t help her pick the lock. Lois twisted her head and pulled one earring out, straightening its fishhook loop in her teeth. These were most likely Riley’s cuffs, bought from a novelty store and not police-issue. If so, they wouldn’t be too hard to pick.
Working on the lock meant she couldn’t move her arms to swim, so Lois took a deep breath and slid the earring post into the lock. As she hurriedly felt for the tumblers, the water closed over her head…
The human heart is capable of monstrous deceits… His father’s voice. It couldn’t help him now – Luthor had tricked him. The twins were safe – he had that much to be thankful for – but Lois was still in Luthor’s clutches. He’d failed her, again…
The old wound from the shard stung where the salt water touched it, and his whole side ached now with a deep throb. The right side of his chest seemed about to burst from pain; the bullet was lodged deep in his muscle, and its kryptonite-studded tip radiated burning lines of agony throughout his upper body. Even breathing was painful, each desperate gasping breath seeming to dig the bullet deeper.
Not even the city was safe … that kryptonite-impregnated monstrosity was still out there in the ocean, still growing. He could hear the sea floor creaking, the sound conducted better through water than air. I’ve failed… I’ve failed them all…
The helicopter circled back, and Kal-El dimly saw Luthor leaning out of the open door, his gaze fixed on the waves. The hero’s vision grew dark, and he saw the chopper jerk away, Luthor falling back inside.
That was the last thing he saw before blackness rolled over him, and he let himself sink with one final thought chasing him down into unconsciousness: It wasn’t all in vain – as long as Jason and Kala are alive, then everything I’ve lived for, everything I dreamed of, is more than just ashes on the wind…
The damned lock finally gave just as Lois’ lungs threatened to explode. With her hands free, she lunged for the surface, taking a rasping breath of the salty air. Only when her lungs filled again did she open her eyes.
Lois almost dove back under. The seaplane passed over her with a tortured roar, one of its pontoons only a few feet above her head. Lois turned to look, and saw the helicopter dodge it, just barely. The door was still open, and she could hear Lex screaming in fury, but the words were unintelligible.
None of that matters, she thought, scything through the heavy sea toward the spot where she’d last seen Kal-El. Waves blocked her view, and her sodden clothes threatened to drag her down, but Lois forced herself onward.
A glimpse of black hair above the water, swiftly disappearing, and fear gave Lois the strength to reach him. Her arm plunged down through the tossing waves, desperate for one last little miracle…
She caught his cape, and hauled on it. Her arms burned with effort, her eyes stung from the salt water, and her entire body trembled just from these few moments of fighting the ocean. But her legendary stubbornness served her well at last – Lois managed to drag Kal-El to the surface, get her hand under his chin to keep his head back and above water.
He wasn’t responding. She couldn’t even tell if he was breathing. And using one arm to hold him up meant she was in imminent peril of sinking herself. Kal-El didn’t seem to have any natural ability to float.
“Come on!” she yelled, her voice lost in distant thunder, the slap of waves, and the snarl of aircraft engines. “Come on, Kal-El, help me!”
But he lay limply, his head tipped back on her shoulder, and Lois felt exhaustion begin to weaken her furiously pedaling legs. She flailed with her free arm, striving to keep them both up. “I won’t lose you like this,” she panted. “Not again…”
“Goddammit, Stanford, it’s just a seaplane!” Lex bellowed. “Just dodge him!”
“He’s crazy!” Stanford yelled, overcorrecting as he swung out of the seaplane’s path. One of the ‘copter’s skids clipped an unusually high wave, and Stanford hauled on the collective, striving for height. The geologist was sweating, his eyes constantly flicking back and forth between the front windows and the sides. “Mr. Luthor, he’s trying to kill us!”
“He hasn’t got the maneuverability,” Lex snapped, holding on to the back of the seat as Stanford turned the helicopter in a tight circle. “Keep dodging him until the damn fool crashes. I am not giving up now!”
“He’s a fighter pilot,” Stanford retorted nervously. “You sent me to a twelve-week course! He’s gonna smash right into us – oh, shit!”
The seaplane dove at them out of a cloud, engines howling in protest. Stanford yelped and jinked to one side, but it was a narrow miss. “Boss, he doesn’t care if he kills himself!” he yelled. “As long as he takes us with him!”
Lex scanned the sea angrily. They couldn’t hear the plane coming over their own engine noise, and the clouds worked against them as well. Stanford was losing it, Kitty was in hysterics, and he’d lost sight of Lois…
There! He just barely saw her, the top of her head cresting a wave for a few seconds. Lex started to yell to Stanford to bring them around, when Lois slipped underwater. “NO!” he roared. “Stanford, get us there! Now!”
“Do it!” Lex snarled. I won’t let her go – I worked too hard to win this prize. She’s the trophy that makes this victory complete. I won’t let her get away from me…
The rotor wash flattened the surface of the waves, and for a moment Lex saw Lois barely ten feet from him. She was clinging to the alien, who lolled limply against her, his complexion pasty. In spite of the fact that he was much bigger than herself, Lois was holding him up. Fool, he’s already dead, Lex thought, and gripped the doorframe, getting ready to haul her out of the ocean by her hair as soon as Stanford got them close enough.
Just then, they heard an unfamiliar voice over the radio. “Hey, chickenshit, you ought to land that thing somewhere before you get killed! Be glad I don’t have a ‘copter or I’d take your tail rotor out and watch you spin!” Richard White laughed crazily, and Stanford glanced at the radio only to see that he’d been transmitting his conversation with Luthor.
The seaplane dove again. It seemed to appear suddenly as if by magic, but the damn pilot had merely used the bright rays of the sun shining through broken cloud cover to hide his approach. Stanford screamed in terror and wrenched the cyclic, making the entire craft sway abruptly. “Boss, we’re all gonna die!” He was answered by a war whoop from the radio and more laughter.
Lex had tumbled to the floor with that last move, and he saw Lois sink one more time. Six years ago, he wouldn’t have accepted this defeat – he would’ve pressed on. Which got him arrested then; it would kill him now. Stanford didn’t have the guts to outfly Lois’ fiancé, and if he kept forcing the geologist he’d lose. Time to cut his losses. Fine. Let her drown with her alien lover. There’s always plan B. “Let’s go,” he said coldly.
Stanford practically sobbed with relief now that this part of it was finally over. He pointed the ‘copter’s nose south and got them out of there at top speed.
Lois forced herself to the surface one more time and coughed for air, spitting out seawater. Her muscles burned, her eyes stung, her wet clothes weighed more every second, and Kal-El was dead weight… Don’t think like that! she reprimanded herself, tearing another rasping breath from the salty air. He’s not dead!
But she could feel no movement from him, and the dark thought took root and blossomed. What if he is? What if he is dead? And Luthor’s circling around, looking for you – Richard can’t fend him off forever. How long can you hold the both of up?
Long enough! The reply was a fierce snarl in her mind. Long enough to save us both, or die trying! I won’t lose him!
You’ve already lost, the persuasive murmur told her. He’s already gone. Just let him go… Or hold on, and let yourself go. You don’t want to live in a world without him, just stop fighting and let it happen…
That deep pessimism knew nothing of Lois’ willpower. Her entire life had shaped her for this moment; every setback, every challenge at the office, every callous remark from her father, had hardened her resolve. And she would not stop fighting now – not when everything hung in the balance.
“No!” Lois screamed, defying the part of her that wanted to give up. “Kal-El, say something! Anything! Let me know you can hear me! Kal-El!”
And, amazingly, his blue eyes opened. They looked into hers dazedly, full of pain. But he saw her; his eyes focused, and the ghost of a smile curved his lips.
Lois barely had time to process that miracle before she heard splashing behind her. Turning sharply, furious enough to take on a shark, instead she saw Richard swimming smoothly toward her. “Let me take him,” he said, looping one arm through the hero’s. “C’mon, Lois.”
She wouldn’t relinquish her hold, forcing her trembling limbs to help support Kal-El as they towed him back to the seaplane. It wasn’t far, but every yard seemed like miles. Lana was in the open door of the seaplane, reaching out to help Richard aboard. He turned and hauled Superman out of the water, half-dragging the larger man into the plane. Lana held her hand out to Lois.
The reporter was exhausted. She had nothing left; every last drop of her strength had gone into saving Kal-El. Now she could barely cling to the pontoon, and a part of her was ready to let go, ready to accept the darkness and surcease from pain that the deep water offered. Kal-El looked so pale…
A larger part of her was too Lois to quit. She reached up, and Lana caught her wrist. The two women locked eyes unexpectedly, weary hazel with wide green. Something passed between them then, some unspoken knowledge, and then Lana pulled Lois aboard with more strength than the raven-haired woman would have thought she possessed.
We have to get the bullet out. Lois thought she said it aloud, but her teeth were chattering so hard the sentence was unintelligible. Lana took one look at her and whipped off her own coat, wrapping it around Lois’ shoulders. “Richard, first aid kit?” she said. “She’s hypothermic.”
“I’m fine,” Lois said, forcing the words out. “I’m shivering, that means I’m not hypothermic. He needs help.” Even as she spoke, she was navigating across the pitching floor toward Kal-El.
Richard was kneeling beside the hero, feeling for a pulse. He looked up at Lois, and his face paled. “So do you. Under the passenger seat, Lana – thermal blanket.” She hurried to get it, and Lois collapsed to her knees by Kal-El’s side. God, he looked so pale…
“Kal-El? Can you hear me?” Lois asked, touching his face. His skin was cool; compared to his usual warmth, this chill was ominous. Her hazel eyes turned to Richard even as Lana wrapped the thermal blanket around her. “He’s been shot with kryptonite; we have to get him to a hospital, Richard.”
“Luthor could come back any minute,” Lana said. “We’ve got to get out of here. Richard, I’ll keep an eye on them while you fly.”
It wasn’t an easy decision for Richard to make, but a necessary one. He didn’t want to leave Lois’ side or Superman’s – they were both in poor condition. Logic prevailed. “Lois, try to keep warm,” he said, and with a quick kiss to her forehead he hurried to the cockpit.
The gesture barely registered with Lois. She had found the bullet wound; it was closer to the shoulder, which was good, but the kryptonite was making Kal-El progressively weaker. He was wheezing now, coughing weakly, but seemed to be unconscious. Lois took the opportunity to peer closely at the wound, gritting her teeth at the sight of torn flesh.
Lana knelt beside her, holding the first aid kit. “Lois, I don’t think…”
Lois cut her a savage look, and she hushed. The reporter’s shivers were slowly subsiding now that the door was closed and she was wrapped up in the warm coat and the blanket. She’d only been exposed to the water for a few minutes, even if her clothes were still soaked in it. Grimacing, she pulled the blanket off and wrapped it around Kal-El, still worried about his temperature. “That bullet has to come out,” she said quietly. “It’ll kill him if it stays there much longer.”
The plane’s engines roared, and the floor vibrated as Richard strove to take off. Lana gulped nervously. “What do you want to do?”
Lois held one hand out, staring at it with a frown of concentration. She could steady it with an effort; good enough. “Are there tweezers in that kit? Forceps, something?”
Lana rustled through it. “Hmm … there’s these.” She held out a long, slender pair of hemostats sealed in a sterile package, and Lois grinned.
“Perfect,” she said, and took them. Now for the hard part…
“Please don’t bite my head off,” Lana began, “but do you really think you should be doing that?”
“One of us has to,” Lois said coldly. “And forgive me for saying it, but I don’t trust you not to stop if he wakes up. Besides, my father was a general. I’m certified in first aid and survival techniques, including minor field surgery.”
The designer swallowed again, her throat making a dry click. “Good point,” she murmured, surprised by how easily she could picture Lois probing the hero’s wound while he groaned in pain. “Then do it.”
“Alcohol wipes,” Lois said, and Lana handed them to her. She quickly wiped down her hands and the surface of the wound, then stripped the hemostatic forceps from the sterile wrapping. The entire plane was shaking with every wave they clipped, and Lois forced herself to wait until Richard actually took off. Then, taking a deep breath, she spread the wound open as far as it would go. Blood oozed from it, and the tissue was an angry, inflamed red.
Lois bit her lip and probed for the bullet, trying to be gentle but knowing she really couldn’t. And all the while, that pessimistic little voice in the back of her brain said, You know the kryptonite could’ve shattered on impact, right? It could be spreading throughout his body right now.
“Shut up,” Lois growled under her breath, and Lana looked at her worriedly. The engines were making the plane vibrate, and Lois had to brace her right elbow against Kal-El’s chest to steady her hand. I have to just do this. Whether it hurts him or not, I have to. It’s better to try to save him than sit here panicking and watch him die. With that resolution she sought the bullet again.
Kal-El was still unconscious, but he moaned thickly in pain. Lois bit her lip harder and kept on, tasting blood. It seemed like forever before the tip of the forceps touched something hard and metallic. The bullet was lodged too deep to see, so Lois had to feel for it, getting the tip of the forceps around it and then locking them on.
Please, God, let the damn kryptonite still be stuck in the hollow point, Lois thought. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and pulled the bullet out, smooth and fast.
Kal-El screamed, his eyes flying open. The sight that met his gaze was not exactly encouraging; Lois looked down at him, her eyes wide with horror, clutching the forceps with the kryptonite bullet in them. After a moment in which they stared at each other, each wracked by emotional and physical pain, Lois realized that just being in the same room with crystal was weakening him. She bolted to her feet, nearly stumbled over Lana, and rushed to the door.
Richard barked a startled curse as Lois flung the door open, the seaplane suddenly canting as its aerodynamic shape changed. “Close the goddamned door!” he bellowed as he fought the controls, but Lois flung the kryptonite bullet away first.
Then the door wouldn’t close on its own, and Lana had to scramble to help her yank it shut. Lois had started shivering again in the cold wind that had blown into the cabin.
When she turned around, Kal-El was sitting up, his hand pressed to the wound in his shoulder. “Lois?” he croaked, and then his voice found strength. “Richard, Lana… How…?”
“She went in after you,” Lana said as Lois fought the chattering of her teeth. “Luckily she managed not to get shot or drowned. We were right behind.”
“Where’s Luthor?” His breathing was still a little ragged, but they could see the color coming back into his cheeks.
Lois went to him and then hesitated, glancing toward Richard. She came to a decision and helped him to his feet, letting him lean on her, as she replied, “The sonofabitch got away. You were more important.”
“Richard chased him off,” Lana said quietly, holding onto the back of the front passenger seat. Strange how talking to the superhero seemed so natural after you’d watched someone rip a bullet out of his chest. “I … I’m glad we could help.”
“So am I,” he said, those intense blue eyes locked on hers. “Thank you, Lana. Thank you, too, Richard. That was very brave flying.”
“It was crazy,” Richard replied, looking back for a moment. Weird, the way he said their names was almost … familiar.
But then he turned to Lois, and Richard and Lana both knew they were forgotten as soon as hazel eyes met cerulean.
“You saved me,” he said softly, and Lois felt unexpected tears well up in her eyes.
“Returning the favor,” she replied, trying to joke and failing miserably. She couldn’t tell if he really felt that much better that fast, or if he was just trying to be strong in front of his audience. The past rose up between them…
The helicopter seat belt sliding through her fingers, Lois screamed louder than she ever had before as she fell. Nothing but air under her for sixty-five stories, and then pavement. No Pulitzer, just an epitaph. And at that age, a very short one.
Then strong arms around her, his slightly amused smile as her scream cut off in surprise. “Easy miss, I’ve got you.” Grinning at her so much the secret should’ve been blown right there.
Lois’ eyes wide and startled. Utter incredulity at this most impossible of things with his arm around her waist. “You’ve got me?” She looked down, saw nothing supporting him. “Who’s got you?!” And then thinking, the hell with it if we’re both crazy, he saved my life; I’m holding on. Locking her arms around his neck so tight that her perfume clung to his uniform for hours, holding each other so tightly that the sensation was forever burned into their minds.
Now it was he who had held on, clinging to life and hope long enough for her to rescue him. Kal-El touched her cheek, so gently. “Thank you,” he whispered. “Lois, I never meant for any of this to happen to you…”
And he never had. Lois remembered walking tentatively through the Fortress that night, looking for him after having stepped away to get her mind together on current events, wondering if she’d totally misconstrued the look in his eyes and the warmth in his touch. Wondering if she was being a fool to hope. And coming upon him arguing with the hologram of his father, Jor-El coldly dismissive of this human his son fancied himself in love with. Seeing the determination in Kal-El’s face, hearing him say, Father, I love her. In the face of all that had happened, their audience mattered little. “I know,” she soothed gently, eyes closing at the touch, hand slipped over his. “It’s the price I pay… the price I was always willing to pay. For you.”
“I know,” he replied. Kal-El cupped her face and looked at her for a long, searching moment. Her eyes opened and met his again, hers still full of fear and wonder, his both joyful and sad. All the thousand unspoken things between them shivered in the air around them, sang in their locked gazes.
Lana’s eyes widened in shock, and she turned to Richard, the blood draining from her face. He had been watching them too, and the look he turned to her was just as startled. Richard nodded once; he had seen what she saw. Lois and Superman both stripped of all their masks and pretensions, reduced to the elegant simplicity of their love for each other. The same thought crossed both Richard and Lana’s minds: I guess we don’t have to worry about Clark Kent having to compete with Superman. He’s been the competition all along… and Lois has known it from the beginning. This explains everything.
Kal-El leaned forward and kissed Lois once on the forehead, conscious of Richard and Lana watching so silently. Then he stepped back, as if the closeness was too much. His voice was very low as he whispered, “I never stopped loving you.”
Lois looked up, worried now. Why did his voice sound so very final? Why would he say that in front of Richard? Her heart began to race, but she was rooted to the floor by a presentiment of disaster. She knew that look; her spine turned to ice. Lois’ brows knit as she watched him take a few steps away from her, eyes widening as she started to shake again. A few steps toward the door… “What are you doing?” she asked, voice sharp with fear.
“I have to go back.” Kal-El opened the door resignedly, Richard scrambling for the controls again as the force of their airspeed tried to spin the plane off course.
“You’re hurt,” Lois pleaded lamely, knowing even as she said it that he wouldn’t stop for that. Tears began to well up in her eyes again, her voice hitching with her swifter breath. Kal-El, don’t be a virtuous idiot. Stay, stay with me, stay with the twins. Rest; you’ll die if you don’t. The island will keep. Stay with me…
He took a deep breath, but before he could say something reasonable, Lois cut him off. “Don’t do this,” she said quickly, tone rising in panic. She sounded terribly heartbroken and lonely, so much like she had that morning in her office, just before he’d kissed her to take the pain away. But there was no kiss to be used now. “Don’t you do this to me. Not now, not like this.” Lois’ voice dropped, forgetting who else was listening, and she added, “I can’t lose you a second time. Not after all of this.”
Kal-El’s eyes on her were infinitely sad, the roaring wind whipping his hair and his cape. For a long moment he looked at her silently, memorizing her face again as if it were not already a permanent part of his memory. To his aching heart, she had never looked more beautiful than she did in this last moment. “Goodbye, Lois,” he whispered huskily, and then he was gone.
For one long instant, Lois’ heart stopped, and she stood frozen in place by horror. He is! He’s going to try something incredibly stupid and noble, and get himself killed. And he knows it – he’s never said goodbye to me before. Never. Oh, God…
Her heart contracted in a painful beat, and sobbing “Kal-El…!” she lunged after him. Lois would’ve gone out the open door – knowing he would come back to save her – if not for Lana grabbing her shoulders and pulling her back from the brink.
Lois fought her, the floor tilting as the plane canted, and Richard yelled, “The door!” while trying to hold level flight. Lana shoved Lois away from the door and reached out to grab the handle, yanking it shut even though she felt something in her shoulder tear with effort.
“No! Kal-El!” Lois screamed, trying to get past her, and Lana did the only thing she could think of to control the madly struggling reporter. She locked one arm around the back of Lois’ neck and hugged her close, wincing as she got kicked in the shin.
One last intense effort to break free, and then Lois collapsed so abruptly she frightened Lana. Moaning, “No, no, no, it can’t end like this, I can’t lose him after this,” over and over, she leaned against the redhead’s shoulder and sobbed as if in pain from a mortal wound. Which, in a very real way, she was. With this, she could be destroyed in a way much more profound than any of Lex’s plans for her.
Lana held her, marveling at how petite Lois actually was – as soon as she broke down, she seemed to lose several inches of height. The designer couldn’t even offer comfort. She’d seen the finality of that goodbye in Superman’s eyes. In Clark’s eyes. Her own began to mist with tears. To discover something so amazing about an old friend moments before losing him forever just wasn’t fair…
Richard had far too much to think about, so he concentrated on flying the plane. They needed to get Lois to a hospital – God only knew what had happened to her while she was missing, and the ocean was dangerously cold. He forced himself to focus on being a pilot while anxiety over his fiancée, fear for his friend and idol, and worry over the twins chased each other around his mind.
Kal-El had heard what they could not: the deep discontented growl of crystal against stone, the earth protesting as the island forced a widening chasm into the seafloor. He knew what it portended. The salt water continued to react with the Kryptonian crystal that Lex had used to create the island, and the virtually unlimited supply of water meant that the crystal structure would continue to grow. Eventually it would become a new continent … drowning most of Europe and North America in the process.
That was the long-term threat. More immediately, the new crack in the ocean’s floor was expanding in the immediate direction of Metropolis. The city had already endured an EMP, fires, high waves, and an earthquake. If the island was allowed to continue its growth, Metropolis would be struck by more earthquakes, each one more violent than the last, until the city was literally torn in half by the chasm in the seabed.
Every moment that Kal-El delayed, his task became even more daunting with the island’s continuing expansion. Still, he stole a few moments to rise above the clouds and soak up the sun’s healing rays.
He listened carefully to the baleful song of the crystal below, trying to gauge how long he could afford to wait while he replenished his strength. Kal-El also heard Lois, heard her screaming for him before her voice broke down into sobs. Oh, God, there is nothing more I want than to go to her and hold her. Now that we’ve finally reached this point – we both know how we feel about each other, and we both know about our children. Even the children finally know who I am. It seems like Richard would be willing to step aside gracefully. Everything I ever wanted for myself – the woman I love, a family – is finally in my grasp.
But I can only seize it at the price of millions of innocent lives. How can anyone possibly envy me? All of this power comes with its own price. I can’t be the man I am and turn my back on this.
I can’t be the man Lois loves and refuse my duty. Even if it kills me to carry it out.
Images of his life flashed before his eyes as he soaked up the sunlight. His youth in Smallville, racing the wind through rippling winter wheat, his late afternoon conversations on the porch with Pa, standing beside Ma in the cemetery. Then finding the ship that had carried him to Earth, the years of tutelage with Jor-El, leaving Ma to go to Metropolis.
Then Lois crossed his path, challenging his preconceptions – challenging him – from the first moment of their meeting. She had been the first person he publicly saved, and even now he could see the startled look on her face. Their lives remained entwined from that moment on; even when he gave up his powers and nearly lost the world, she hadn’t given up on him. The look in her eyes when their bodies finally joined, the pure trust and surrender, was almost worth all of that pain afterward – had he been the only one to suffer for their decision, Kal-El would consider it a fair price for the joy. But the agony in Lois’ eyes after they ended their romance wounded him more deeply than physical pain ever could, and he’d chosen to take those memories from her.
The best of intentions, and the worst of results. Seeing her after that was torture; he knew what had been between them, and her flirtatious smile pierced his heart when he had known her lazy, satisfied grin. Faced with that, Kal-El had to leave the planet, hoping Lois would go on with her life, be happy without him.
I was a fool. The thought saddened him even as he plunged out of the clouds, arrowing toward the island. Lois had been carrying his children even then, that last discussion they had had on her balcony, when he hadn’t had the courage to tell her that he was going away. Because of his own decisions, Kal-El had missed their birth, their early years. And now, flying toward an island made of kryptonite, he knew he would very likely miss seeing them grow up.
Jason and Kala would never know their father, except in stories and the memory of a few moments they’d spent together. With Mr. Clark at the office, and then seeing Superman beaten before he found the strength to save them all. Will they remember me? Will they be able to understand why I had to leave them? Will Lois? I don’t know which tears me apart worse – having to leave her, or having to leave the twins.
No more time to think on it. Kal-El’s heat vision vaporized the water ahead of him as he flew down toward the seabed, already feeling nauseated by the huge mass of kryptonite ahead. The sea floor also evaporated before his heat vision, and he tunneled rapidly down toward the base of the island. Kal-El undercut it, hoping to leave enough stone between himself and the growing kryptonite to shield him from its effects.
Grasping the stone above him, he began pushing it upward. The weight was incredible, but Kal-El found he could move it. As he strained to lift the entire island, he prayed, Please let this work. This island wouldn’t be here if not for me; I brought this threat to my adopted world. Please let me have the strength to right this wrong. Even if it kills me.