Well, here it is! The very last chapter. Thanks for reading, everyone!
Disclaimer: I don't own any of it. Really. I promise.
Lois stared aimlessly at the blank walls as she had everyday for the last two weeks. They weren't blank, though—not to her. Clark's anguished blue eyes, green with reflected weakness, stared back at her wherever she looked. Closing her eyelids was worse. At least when her eyes were open she could hope they hadn't murdered him yet, in their vile attempt to root out the truth. The moment she tried to sleep, her mind went mad with horrifying possibilities.
She wondered how long until they turned to her with violent means. She imagined her father's presence kept the torture in their minds at bay, but who knew how long that would last. Honestly, she was almost hoping someone would try something, just so she could have an outlet for her anxiety. At least if she was withstanding torture she would know she was doing something to keep Clark safe.
Her feet tapped anxious rhythms on the floor, but she could do nothing to ease her helplessness. Within a week of her imprisonment she'd memorized every corner—every crack—in the tiny cell. Three paces along each wall. One third of the room taken by a simple, rickety cot. Four bars across the window of the heavy metal door.
She could see a few feet of the hall in either direction, but nothing more interesting than the same dull walls that graced her cell. A soldier sat outside the door on an old foldaway chair, gun resting across his right shoulder.
Guard change occurred every two hours, a well-oiled routine. They never spoke to her, nor moved except to stand or sit when soldiers were replaced. Once a day, usually in the morning when her mind was groggy from restless sleep, they interrogated her. It never lasted long, and the officers were growing more frustrated at each failure.
Her escape plan was as unformed as it had been fourteen days ago.
Lois didn't like admitting defeat. She told herself it was a mild setback, but her faith was wavering.
Just cause, she scoffed in her head. If she ever got out of this place, she was going to rip the legal system to shreds.
At first she'd taunted the guards—once her pleas to see Clark had ceased and her attempts to discover more information were staunchly ignored—but it only made her feel more alone. Despite the horrors she knew Clark was confronting, she selfishly wished his holding cell were near hers. At least then they could comfort each other. At least he'd know she never meant for this to happen.
Footfalls echoed down the long hallway, their hollow rhythm the only clock Lois had.
"Soldier, you're relieved," stated an unfamiliar voice.
Lois watched the soldiers perform their motions through the bars; the first soldier did an about-face, and she counted until his steps faded. Her eyes slid across the shadowed face of the new soldier, and she waited with disinterest for him to sit so she could dismiss him again.
An M16 pushed through the bars, and Lois blinked.
"In the corner, hands where I can see them," the man ordered, fighting to keep his tone level. It was the most vocal inflection she'd heard since her father disappeared. He'd tried to coax information out of her, but after three days of constant stonewalling, he strode down the corridor and never reappeared. She suspected he was amassing a new strategy.
Curious, Lois scooted back on the bed, fingers brushing the metal food tray she'd stowed between the mattress and the wall before obediently resting her hands flat on the scratchy blanket.
The soldier entered the room and closed the door behind him.
Mistake number one, Lois noted, hope welling despite the fear curling her stomach. He had nothing good planned, she knew. Still, no one had deviated from his orders yet. She'd almost started thinking she'd never get a chance to escape.
He raised his gun in her direction; not a threat, just a precaution. Lois kept herself still.
"Tell me what you know," the man hissed, low enough to avoid outside detection. Lois suspected they had her cell wired. She wondered if the monitoring technician was in on this.
"What?" Lois asked bluntly, staring up at him. Her fingertips curled into the blanket and straightened again.
His nose twitched with anger and disgust.
"About that thing," he barked, as if she should know.
Clark, she corrected in her head.
She'd realized the soldiers were becoming less and less willing to recognize Clark as a legitimate human being. Of course, she suspected he wasn't, but that didn't make him any less of a person. How much had they discovered through those barbaric lab tests?
"You're in league with it," the soldier accused, unaware of her frustration in the face of his own. The anger itself wasn't surprising, but his complete abandoning of the system had Lois's mind racing. What had happened to make him snap? Lois knew each soldier was carefully selected for this project. Something must have gone terribly wrong. It was the only viable answer. "What did it tell you?" he demanded, regaining control of his tone.
Lois gritted her teeth. After weeks, the "it" still made her skin crawl.
When she didn't respond, he moved closer, looming over her. "What is it about that thing that would make you betray your country?" he asked, voice rough with appalled curiosity. "How is he worth betraying your world?"
Suddenly, Lois had an ally, completely against his will.
"Why is he worth betraying your constitution?" Lois returned, achieving a level of calm she didn't think possible. The soldier's face curled in disgust, and Lois swallowed back her anger, her fear. "You seized him without cause, held him without accusing him, and tortured him without purpose. Have you even read the document you're basing your career on?"
"Times of war and public danger," the soldier recited, standing rigid.
"Right," Lois accepted, fighting to keep the sarcasm from her tone. Despite herself, she continued, "Because he was putting so many citizens at risk with those cows of his."
"I might have expected you to understand, Miss Lane, but clearly neither you nor your father can see what needs to be done."
Lois closed her eyes, fighting the medley of emotion that would only get in the way. "If you lose your cool, you lose control," the General lectured in her memory. It was the only help he'd give her now.
"Where is it?" he demanded. The force of his hand jerking her arm pulled her eyes open. Lois gritted her teeth against the bruising grip, staring defiantly into his face. "Has it contacted you?" he shook her, and her determination bled into confusion and hope.
"What?" her voice cracked, and she winced against the sound. He probably thought she was reacting to the other hand that reached up to grab her, letting his gun fall uselessly to his side.
The opportunity was there, but Lois couldn't take it.
"What are you talking about?" she asked, struggling to her knees on the hard mattress.
"It escaped over an hour ago," he answered almost automatically, fear lacing the words.
Don't, she commanded herself, though she couldn't help the fluttering feeling drifting through every inch of her body.
"You don't have clearance to know that," she told him, face set.
"I heard them," his voice was edged with tightly controlled hysteria. "And I know it got to you. Now tell me where it is!"
Lois took a careful breath before replying, "In case you haven't noticed, I'm not exactly the easiest person to reach right now."
"It can do things!" the soldier cried. He snapped his jaw shut, eyes darting, and continued harshly, "You know it can."
"I don't know anything," Lois reiterated the only thing she'd told anyone since she'd been taken. Apparently, it was too much for him.
"Don't give me that bullshit!" he growled, shoving her against the wall.
Breath left her in a gasp, and when the oxygen rushed back in, her body began to throb. He let her sink to the bed, shoulders still pressed against the wall, and moved in closer.
"I don't care if you're Sam Lane's daughter," he threatened. "I'll get the information any way I can."
His hand moved from her left shoulder, inching toward his weapon, and Lois made her move. Her fingers darted behind the bed, and before he could so much as grip the gun she had swung the tray against his temple.
"Bitch," he growled, staggering back, then lunging forward.
Lois was ready for him. Putting Daddy's boot camp to good use, she rammed her knee into the pressure point in his leg, sending him to his knees. Then she jammed the heel of her foot into his shoulder, disabling his weapon arm for a few precious seconds. She took the opportunity to grab the gun, its strap still attached to his shoulder, and shoot the bolt from the door. She was out of her cell and sprinting down the hall before he had recovered.
"Prisoner escaped! Prisoner escaped!" his booming voice, strained from her attack, echoed after her. Lois kept running, the feeling of success growing as his voice grew faint behind her.
Rounding a corner, she ran straight into a wall of soldiers, in formation and guns at the ready. With barely a thought Lois kicked off the wall, spinning back the way she'd come, praying for some other escape. But news of her breakout had already reached those in command. A second troupe advanced down the long hall, an ominous backdrop to the angry, limping soldier standing in front of the open door she'd just escaped.
She turned again—again—again—rounding back and forth like a trapped animal. Desperately, her fingers slid across walls, her eyes tracing the ceiling for vents, frantic for any way to escape. She was met with nothing.
Angry and resigned, Lois turned back to face the long hallway. Limping toward her, the soldier she'd incapacitated raised his gun. With a pinch of fear, Lois suddenly realized he wasn't content to simply capture her.
He'd call it self-defense, surely. With the knot on his head and his backup still half a corridor away, the excuse might hold. The mad glint in his eye told her he was willing to take the risk.
Clark, I'm so sorry, she thought as she closed her eyes. She heard the bang, and the breath rushed from her body.
It took her a moment to realize her body was unpunctured. Another half-second, and she recognized the sturdy arms wrapped around her. She opened her eyes, sure she was deluding herself, and felt her feet leave the ground. Her stomach was flipping, the air was whipping around her, and the dark prison and its menacing guards disappeared.
Just as quickly as the world had blurred away, it resolved into a barren wilderness. The sickly trees and dusty earth told her they weren't in Kansas anymore. Her mind was racing, chaotic; the thought didn't even form into a quip.
Lois resisted stiffly as Clark slipped her back on her own two feet and took a step back, unwilling to let him go. She kept her hands wrapped around his forearms, stepping with him despite herself. Clark said nothing, but the careful stance of his posture told her he was probably about to bolt.
"You're okay," she breathed anyway, fingers tightening on his arms, reassuring herself that he was here and whole. "How are you okay?" The question fumbled from her lips almost before she'd finished voicing her relief.
Clark's eyes flashed; pain, resentment, and expectation tossed back and forth in the green-grey depths. His face stayed resolutely blank.
"Are you okay?" he asked her levelly, eyes scanning her frame.
Despite herself, Lois laughed. It wasn't loud or rich, but it was genuine.
"You already know, don't you?" she asked, voice wavering more than she'd like. She was having trouble believing that after two weeks of nothing but her own terrible imagination, Clark Kent was standing before her, x-raying her like it was the most natural thing in the world. For him, she mused, it was. "Why ask?"
He nodded briefly, and Lois's moment of levity disappeared. His face was so inexpressive; his eyes held none of their usual warmth. How much torture had he withstood while she was twiddling her thumbs in a moderately sized cell?
"Besides," she continued, taking a deep breath and staring up into his face. "The real question is: are you okay?"
"Fine," he answered shortly. The curt tone was bruising, but Lois couldn't blame him. She was half surprised he was still here letting her hold him; letting her explain.
The realization that he was still there, listening, after everything she had put him through made every scrap of guilt and horror she harbored rush in on her.
"Clark, I am so sorry," she said earnestly. She gripped him more tightly, as if the meager force of her muscles could reinforce the strength of her words. Tears were leaking into her eyes, but she was too intent to be ashamed. "This was all my fault," she confessed, hating the way his eyes hardened at the admission. "I was careless, and naïve, and stupid. But I never imagined they'd find you." Even observing every flicker of his face, she didn't know if he believed her. She probably wouldn't, in his position. "If I'd even suspected," she continued anyway, needing him to know despite her uncertainty, "I'd have done anything to keep you safe."
Clark's face remained impassive. His eyes tightened, and she couldn't read them anymore. Slowly, he raised his hands to her elbows and slid her hands from his arms. Lois's throat tightened, but she didn't protest.
He took a step back. That was okay. It made sense for him to want some distance. It was nothing she didn't deserve.
The seconds passed, and Lois waited for him to move. He had ample reasons to zip away, and no reason at all to stay. So why was he still there?
Still he said nothing, just continued to stare at her as if she were part of the barren landscape.
"How did you escape?" Lois asked, a little hoarsely despite her attempt at keeping a level tone. As much as she wanted to let him work through his thoughts, the silence was getting to her.
Once the question was out, she found she was itching to know the answer. It hadn't seemed important earlier, but now she needed to know. She needed something concrete to hold onto, in case he decided she wasn't worth her words. In case he was gone before she realized it.
He blinked, eyes drifting in and out of focus as he registered her question, struggling with an answer. He hesitated, and when his eyes raked across her face the careful detachment was missing. Lois held her breath and willed him to speak.
"One of the doctors," he answered simply, but his voice was rough with suppressed gratitude.
Lois's eyes slid closed, and she blessed the faceless doctor's humanity. When she opened her eyes, she found Clark watching her. She met his gaze, unsure of what he was looking for and desperately hoping he would find it.
He averted his eyes, shifted his feet so he wasn't facing her quite so directly, and continued.
"They found out about the kryptonite."
He glanced at her briefly, intent but not accusing, wondering how much she knew. The blank confusion on her face convinced him in a second, and he explained with barely a pause, "The meteor rocks."
"Were they . . . studying the mutation?" she asked, a little hesitant. She wasn't sure whether his abilities came from the meteor rock or his unique heritage—if, in fact, she were right about it—and she wasn't sure she should be asking. A few weeks of close friendship wasn't the most solid foundation for trust, especially given the following fifteen days. She didn't want him to suddenly decide she wasn't worth the explanation.
"I'm . . . well . . ." for a moment, he struggled with his thoughts, "allergic, I guess. To the meteor rock. Its properties react negatively with my chemical makeup." He stopped again, and Lois realized he had all but admitted he wasn't the same as her. He took a deep breath and said bluntly, "Enough kryptonite can kill me."
Her heart jolted, and the image that had haunted her captivity sprung up; Clark's face became pale and contorted before her eyes. Lois's mouth twisted at the memory. "They were torturing you," she acknowledged bleakly.
"Studying me," he corrected, just as bleakly, "and neutralizing the threat."
By the way he was speaking, Lois realized he wasn't entirely convinced she wasn't of the same mindset. It hurt, however little she blamed him. Still, the fact that he was confiding at all encouraged her.
"The longer I'm exposed the weaker I get," he continued in a detached, lecturing tone. "A few days' exposure won't do any lasting damage, but enough kryptonite . . . for so long . . ." he shuddered. "They didn't want me dying," he explained, adding darkly, "not yet anyway."
For a moment, the look in Clark's eyes terrified her. She suddenly understood that this was what he'd been fighting his whole life. An entire life of hiding on the farm, countless people he'd pushed away . . . each opportunity he'd missed was because of the looming possibility of what he'd just undergone.
The anger faded from his eyes, and Clark forced his tone back to indifference, "So Dr. Hamilton convinced them to lessen the amount of kryptonite in my cell."
Lois took a deep, steadying breath. "You amassed your strength," she guessed.
"A little," he agreed. "Enough."
Needing something to do, Lois crossed her arms and leaned back against a sickly tree that nearly bent under her weight. She refused to let the guilt consume her, sure it would do nothing to help. Still. . . .
She couldn't help picturing Clark, lying there in agony, fighting to gather resolve through the pain. Praying for a way out and grateful for any small relief.
"Emil did what he could," Clark credited, gratitude seeping back into his tone. "After that first week," he continued, pacing several strides across the dusty ground, "the doctors worked in pairs. This morning, Dr. Hamilton discovered a unique antibody in my blood. He sent the other scientist for backup and smashed the sample."
Lois's gaze jerked up. Even knowing this Dr. Hamilton was a decent, moral person, she had a hard time believing he'd help Clark so brazenly, at such high personal risk.
"That place was swarming with guards," she argued, dropping her arms to her sides and tapping her fingers in agitation. His pacing was making her antsy. "And from what I saw, they were packing the green stuff."
"He managed to smuggle me into a supply closet," Clark's voice would have been wry if it weren't so businesslike. "The guards usually stayed outside, unless there was a problem. But Dr. Hamilton didn't know how to get me out of the lab, and he was starting to get worried we'd get caught. So he raised the alarm."
Lois raised an eyebrow, impressed. It was ballsy, she had to admit. It didn't surprise her that the guards had believed the doctor; a large part of why they'd treated Clark so despicably was because they truly believed he was capable of anything, including escaping a fortified base in the blink of an eye. Still, the chances of getting caught—of getting Clark recaptured or killed and the doctor arrested for treason—were astronomically high. She didn't know if she'd have risked it.
"Two guards stayed," Clark continued as she gathered her thoughts. "Emil must have used some gas or something, because they were unconscious by the time I saw them. Then there was a disturbance in the east wing. That was you, I guess," he paused to look at her, the corners of his mouth not quite turning upward. "It gave Dr. Hamilton a chance to sneak me past the patrols and through a locked corridor."
From the long, winding hallways she had seen, it was no stretch to imagine an old sealed-off wing.
"It was easy after that," he finished, tension visibly lessening across his shoulders. "The corridor must've been abandoned years ago. No guards," he expounded, pausing to add a relieved, "No kryptonite."
"Why did you come back for me?" Lois finally asked the question she'd been avoiding, the one she most needed answered.
Abruptly, Clark stopped pacing. It was as if the question hadn't even crossed his mind.
"Dr. Hamilton told me," he explained slowly, as if he were willing his words to take. "He said they were keeping you, that you hadn't. . . ."
Given you up, Lois finished in her head, hearing the hollowness in his voice. And you didn't believe him, she realized in the same instant. Not really.
"And?" she prompted, unsatisfied.
"And," he repeated, an admission. He pursed his lips, considering. Then his foot inched forward, and he was standing right in front of her. ". . . and I couldn't leave you."
Suddenly, Lois didn't know what to do with herself. Her blood grew warm, invading her face, rushing down her shoulders to her fingertips and clogging her heart. Her feet tapped in her dirty boots. Fight or flight?
On impulse she pushed off the tree, bringing her body within inches of his. Barely moving, feeling foolish, she slid forward and slipped her arms around him. He stiffened, but Lois simply pressed her cheek against his chest and held on tight.
"I don't know what I would have done," she whispered the confession, "if anything had happened to you."
For the briefest of seconds, his arms tightened around her. She could almost hear his heartbeat, thudding in time with hers.
She felt him nod into her hair, and his hands were on her shoulders, pushing her body from his. Lois looked up at him, confused and hurt, face set impassively.
Clark seemed to steel himself, then looked down at her. "We should probably find somewhere a little safer," he suggested.
Somehow, the sentence held more weight than it should. Lois had the impression that something colossal was about to happen. Something that would change her life. Something that might change Clark's.
It's a simple question, Lane, she tried to convince herself. Still, she didn't speak for a long time, watching the anticipation and anxiety swirl in his eyes.
Biting her lip, Lois nodded.
The smile he shot her was relieved and a little nervous, but finally—finally—the familiar warmth caught the corners of his lips and pulled her own into a soft smile.
He gathered her into his arms with extra care and, as she slid her fingers along his shoulders to hook together behind his neck, he shot into the air.
If she'd thought her heart had dropped when he supersped, it was nothing compared to this. The ground was rushing away from them, the clouds were swirling around them, and all Lois could do was stare at him in wonder.
"Cowboy," she sighed when her breath stopped coming in gasps, "take me away." Only half of her meant the comment as satiric; she hoped he didn't notice. If not for his hearing, the words would have been lost over the Atlantic, which they now seemed to be traversing.
"Dixie Chicks?" he asked, eyes a little lighter than they had been.
"Hey," Lois protested, speech faint from the height and the ease of his teasing. She could feel the familiar comfort drift back into their relationship, and her whole body seemed weighted with happiness. "You try coming up with a witty retort to someone sweeping you off your feet and launching you into space. Not all of us are used to being airborne, you know," she deadpanned, rolling her eyes.
"It's easy to get used to," he assured her easily.
Lois hadn't realized her heartbeat had settled enough for it to skip. She didn't know if Clark had realized the implication of his words—that flying was something she could get used to—but she cherished the sentiment all the same.
"You better not set me free into the wild blue," she warned sternly, trying to tamp down her overwhelming, bubbling contentment. "I don't need to be any closer to heaven, thank you very much."
He didn't chuckle, but his lips curled nearly into a full grin. Then they were dropping, and Lois almost shrieked. She glared at him, sure he had done it on purpose.
"We're here," he explained, amusement overriding his nerves.
Lois glanced down in time to see white in every direction, and then the sky disappeared and Clark's feet touched the ground.
She held him for only a moment before curiosity overcame her and she climbed down onto her feet. Clark watched as she slowly walked around, taking in her surroundings.
"What is this place?" she breathed, blinking into the bright haze. The powder began to settle around her, shapes becoming smooth and sharp, like glittering glass sculptures on cushions of snow.
"My Fortress of Solitude," he told her. Her head whipped around, and a soft, wry smile graced his lips as she widened her eyes at him. "My real Fortress of Solitude," he said warmly. Then he chuckled. "You have no idea how shocked I was when you said that about my loft."
"Please," Lois scoffed halfheartedly. "I'm very perceptive," she told him. Then, with a teasing smile, "And you are not that hard to read."
"I'll keep that in mind," he nudged her shoulder. She smiled at him a moment more before turning to fully analyze the palace around her.
He watched as she eyed her surroundings, taking in the glimmering ice crystals, the looming fortress walls, and the flurries of snow drifting around them. Her gaze drifted back to him, and her eyes raked up and down his figure.
"I think I could definitely get lost with you for a while," she admitted, biting the corner of her lip.
After everything she'd put him through, he deserved a safe haven. And she certainly intended to prove to him just how wonderful he really was. Lois Lane didn't fall for just anybody; she didn't think he grasped how truly enrapturing she found him.
"For few weeks, at least," she qualified. Her heart ached as she watched his face fall, and she faced him squarely. "Then we're heading back to the city."
"We?" Clark asked, as if that were the last word he'd ever expected her to say. Then the sentiment struck him, and he frowned. "Lois, we can't-"
"We can and we will, Clark," she interjected before he could get going. Given the chance, he'd probably worry himself into a coma. "There's a story here, and we're not going to let it slip away." For a split second, fear flashed across his features. In that moment, Lois swore she wouldn't rest until he could trust her with every bit of his being. Then the fear was gone, melting back into an inquisitive quirk of his brow. Lois smiled, a plan forming in her head, "The government is undermining the rights of its people, and I intend to see them exposed."
"But, Lois," Clark shook his head, "I'm not a legal citizen." He took a deep breath, and for the first time admitted to her face, "I'm not even human."
Lois brushed her fingers against his arm, giving him a reassuring smile. Wordlessly, he brought his hand to hers and curled his fingers around her.
"That doesn't mean they can treat you like a monster," she argued. "People can trust you. The government needs to recognize that," she insisted softly.
His intent gaze and the soft admiration in his eyes, tempered with doubts he'd had his whole life, left her breathless. Lois swallowed thickly, unable to break his stare even as her mind raced for something to free her. She would kiss him in a moment, she knew; and despite the fact that she was surely half in love with him already, she knew it just wasn't the time.
An idea struck her, and with a sigh of mingled relief and inspiration she was off again, dropping his arm so she could pace around the snow. He let her hand slide past his wrist, then caught her fingers back between his.
Lois glanced down at their intertwined fingers, then smiled brilliantly at him. "Say, Clark?" she inquired innocently. "How do you feel about a career in journalism?" He raised one brow, and she couldn't help the devious curve of her mouth as she continued, "I know a fine reporter who's in the market for a partner."
And yep, that really is the end. I hope you guys have enjoyed reading this as much as I have writing it! It's been lots of fun. I won't promise anything else for now, because I don't have anything in the works at the moment. But both an epilogue and a sequel are kinda rolling around in my head, so we'll see where that goes. I am planning on doing one of the two, eventually. But please don't hold your breath.
Let me know what you thought! You guys are awesome!