Hourglass
for Annie M

It gets you down
It gets you down
You travelled far; what have you found?
That there's no time. There's no time —
to analyse
to think things through
to make sense

— "Analyse", Thom Yorke

I.

Lois climbed to the top of the grain silo once. It was an hourglass, and she was the sweat-soaked Queen of Time. Her shirt clung to her skin in the oppressive, filmy night, and she closed her eyes and whispered 'I am significant'. Clark watched her from his room, but he didn't go to her.

He understood significance — conspiracy, responsibility; he understood what it was to be significant and to suffer because of it. It seemed important then that Lois not know that she was significant, that he thought her significant; it seemed important that she thought herself a grain of corn, or sand, or any pin of light in the night sky. Until she left, it seemed important.

Clark lifted a handful of grain and let it fall.

How was it that someone as significant as Lois could disappear in the wind? — and take the Sun away in the palm of her hand, and all sense of time or importance?

He had returned to the Daily Planet and found only ash and ruin. It wasn't Doomsday that did it, he had thought: the building collapsed when Lois left and took whatever she had in her which made things worthwhile. It couldn't live without her. It faded out; he faded out. He loved her, and she disappeared.

He saw her in his dreams still at the top of that grain silo, dirt smeared all down her arms, fingers pressed to her eyes. But he could never reach her, and every night she would fade out again. He didn't sleep much anymore. Instead he took all human emotion and pushed it deep down inside of himself, into the crevasse of his soul. He philosophised. He decided that it wasn't important what his motivations or intentions were; what was significant was influence and effect — things external, things outside of himself.

He cast off the shell of his identity. He was once Clark Kent; was Kal-El; was the Red-Blue Blur. He was none of these things now, each of them a construct, a dried-out, vacated exoskeleton. It didn't matter what he was called or who called him. He came and went with the wind.

But still she was there in his dreams. Her heartbeat echoed around his skull. She ran through the fields of corn in the night, in the day, and climbed to the top of the grain silo. She whispered into the wind 'I am significant', and faded away.

He was always listening for people crying, for hearts beating. He appeared when he was needed and faded out when he was done — and always he was searching. It didn't matter now, either, what people thought of him.

- - -

II.

There was a fire in Suicide Slum.

The air tasted of smoke for a mile around. It hung in the dry air over the burning building. It was an apartment building: old, and decrepit, it fell down like a house of cards on top of its residents. Brick by brick, it crushed them, and the fire spread through the neighbourhood.

Clark was on the scene before emergency services. He pulled children and adults, alive and dead, from the rubble. He worked for an hour, until the rain came and the fire burned out, and the air stung around him. Then he turned to leave. But he heard a voice.

"Clark?"

He turned.

In the smoke and ash he thought he saw her. There. By the phone booth: hair tousled, dirty. Her eyes glimmered, and everything he had tried to bury deep inside of himself burst forward. It scoured his insides; it was pyroclastic; it devastated him. He stumbled towards her. "Lois?" he said, reaching his hand out to her, half-afraid she would fade out at his touch.

"Clark," she said, and he gripped her, pulling her in, digging his fingers into her ribs. He thought he felt her sob against him. "Where did you come from?" he whispered, burying his face in her neck, in the smell of her.

He gathered her up into his arms, and she gripped his shoulder. Without thinking, without caring, he took her back to the farm — to that grain silo where she had thrown her significance into the wind.

- - -

III.

His heart was pounding. It was as if the world, as if time itself, had just started for him again.

"You wouldn't believe where I've been," she said. He understood then that she knew him. It had been almost a year since he had watched Lois climb the grain silo and known her. It was a warm, sweet summer's night (time, and seasons had returned). Now she had been somewhere, and come back, and known him.

"Tell me?" he asked, gently, but she shook her head slowly.

"The future," she said, with a wry smile — and he knew from the look in her eye not to ask her more. There was a long pause, and then Lois threw her arms around his shoulders, and he smelt the sweat on her skin. He closed his eyes, and breathed her in. He kissed her clavicle, and her jaw, and pressed his mouth into hers. She shifted against him like the ocean, like sand — she was smooth, and then rough, and warm, burning.

His heart was pounding.

He felt her fingers trace the curve of his spine under his shirt and she laid her hand flat against his shoulder-blade — the skeleton, the bent-over framework of a world he had carried. That was a thousand years ago or more, before the dawning of time itself, before she came back and brought it with her and all things which flow. Her leg shifted a little next to his. Her shirt rode up, baring her stomach. His fingers, her stomach, a touch, a shiver.

He pulled away, suddenly — doubting.

She stared back at him, neck and cheeks flushed red, hair tousled, smile playing about the corner of her mouth.

"Is this a dream?" he said. Lois only laid a hand on his chest.

"Do you dream about me like this?" she asked.

Clark blushed, and looked away. "Not quite," he admitted. Lois's smile widened. She leaned up, slowly this time, and just kissed the corner of his mouth.

- - -

IV.

He unfurled her. She unfurled him. She laid a hand on his shoulder, his wing, and gently unfolded him feather by feather. He twisted his fingers into her hair. I wanted this, he wanted to say, for so long. But time had meant nothing while she was away. Now that she was pressed into him, warm against his skin in the buzzing summer night, it was as if he were available once again to think, to smell and touch and feel — real things. And Lois was real. She was more real than the dirt and the corn: she was sweat, and bitten-down nails, and the taste of coffee in his mouth — the angle of her hip against his hand. She was Lois.

He felt her fingers wiping at his cheeks, and realised he was crying. He was crying and shaking, like a child. Tears, things which flow. But she kissed him, hard, like he was real to her in a way he hadn't been to himself for months, and it didn't matter.

You came back, he thought. You came back to me. Your heartbeat was the metronome of my life, the ticking of the clock. There was no time without her; her clock disappeared — away from Clark. But you're back, you're back, you're mine, he thought. There is time. There is ticking.

He pressed his face to her chest and kissed the cage of her ribs through her shirt. Her ribs expanded; she took a shuddering breath in, and dug her nails into his arm. He kissed her, desperately, from her neck to her jaw, and her mouth — she kissed him back, her fingers fumbling with the buttons on his shirt.

"I never thought I would do this with you," she said, heavily, as he pushed into her. She ran her fingers over his lips, closed her eyes, and arched against him. He said nothing, but ran his hand down the side of her face, to her neck, to her breast. His other hand against the dirt, he twisted his fingers into the grass. She gripped his shoulder, her eyes closed. He kissed her: pressed himself against her, into her.

- - -

V.

She was back. She was back and he loved her.

There was such a thing as day; there was such a thing as Sun. There was Lois. There was time.

She was back.