Chapter 8: Below
“Come on, Clark,” Richard cajoled. His voice floated up through the open window into Jason’s bedroom. “The water’s not very deep here. You’ll be fine.”
Lois grimaced slightly. Keep it down a little, guys! She had spent the last ten minutes coaxing Jason to sleep by telling him a story. He had protested just a little more, but he must have truly felt poorly, because he was already fast asleep. Nonetheless, she was afraid the noise might wake him up. He needed to rest, to gain his strength back.
“Uh, that’s not it…” Clark’s voice sounded nervous, almost like he was sick to his stomach. “I’ve had some bad experiences with water… I—I’m not a very good swimmer.”
Sighing silently, she walked over to the bedroom window to gently close it. She didn’t know why, but Clark’s words had sounded awfully familiar. Her eyebrows lowered in puzzlement, but then she dismissed it when she glanced out of the casing.
Clark was standing right at the edge of the water, clearly arguing with himself. Richard, as patient as if he were encouraging Jason, waded slowly over to the big baby and held out a gloved hand. “Come on, I think I see something under here, and I need someone to hold the flashlight while I try to lift it out of the water.”
Clark’s shoulders slumped a little lower than normal, and he nodded. “Okay. I’ll try to do my best.” He grabbed her fiancé’s outstretched hand and let the other man help him into the water.
Lois gently shut the window and began to latch it. On second thought… She nonchalantly flipped it back to the unlocked position. His father might want to check in on him tonight… if the big guy’s feeling better, that is.
She crept down the stairs, and slid the door to the deck open. Walking outside on light feet, she went to the railing and peered over the side. By this time, Clark had made it out as far as one of the posts of the deck. As he held the heavy-duty flashlight in one hand, he seemed to be gripping the post tightly with the other to keep himself upright. She suddenly remembered the time she and Clark had nearly been mugged, and he had fainted dead away. The man had no stomach for danger.
“What’s the matter, Clark?” she called down. He startled, looking up at her, and there was a slight cracking sound as he nearly slipped. “Whoa! Careful there, Smallville!”
“Oh, you scared me, Lois!” he said weakly. “I’m afraid that I’m not being much help to Richard.”
Richard’s voice, slightly muffled because of his location below the floorboards, assured him. “Just keep the light steady. Lois? Is that you?”
“Yes,” she responded. “What’s down there?”
“It’s hard to tell… it’s a couple feet under the water. I think part of it is stuck in the mud of the embankment….” he trailed off.
Lois was confused. “If it’s stuck there, what’s making the sound?”
“I don’t know. I guess maybe the ebb and flow of the water is jiggling it enough to tap against the post here…” He was silent for several seconds, and then she heard Richard groan as he strained to move the mystery object. “Damn. It’s stuck pretty well. Clark?”
“Yes?” her co-worker said, a little anxiously. He had shifted his hold on the post, and now had an arm wrapped around it.
“I think if you took one side, and I took the other, it might be easier to dislodge it.” Richard grunted again, mostly likely trying again as he waited for Clark to join him.
It was a reasonable request – so why did Clark suddenly seem to panic? For God’s sake, he was a grown man… didn’t they have water in Kansas? His blue eyes went wide, and a series of emotions crossed his face in quick succession. Finally, he seemed to come to a decision. He slowly let go of the post and stepped tentatively forward. “All right, I’ll be right—”
Without warning, Clark slipped and splashed backward into the murky water, arms pinwheeling in an almost comical fashion. He began to flail in the water, thrashing about for some sort of handhold.
She should have immediately cried out for help… but her feet felt frozen to the spot. Another wave of vertigo hit her, and she reached blindly for the railing, catching herself from toppling over. Clark’s movements became unnaturally sluggish, as if her brain was processing the sight before her in slow motion. She saw another river, another place and time, where this situation had been reversed. She was the one thrashing in the water… Clark running alongside, frantically shouting her name… But when had that ever happened?
Lois snapped back to reality with a jolt. “Oh, my God, Clark!” she cried out. Slipping out of her shoes, she ran down the deck stairs and to the edge of the water. She stepped off of the bank, and began to wade toward him, dress and all.
Richard had already pushed his way through the river water and grabbed Clark around the chest, just as she drew alongside them. Clark’s panicked movements suddenly ceased, and then his eyes rolled into his head. He had fainted. Again.
“Clark!” Richard slapped his face a couple times, trying to wake him up. “It’s no use,” Richard determined after trying to shake him. “He’s out cold.”
“Let’s get him inside,” she suggested.
Richard nodded, and began to heave him up out of the water, but faltered. “Wow. He’s… heavier than I expected.”
Lois put her arms under one of Clark’s armpits, and Richard shifted to the other. They lifted in unison, slowly dragging him toward the steps. Richard was right – not only was Clark heavy, but seemed rock solid. What do they feed those farm boys back in Smallville?
They arduously hauled his dead weight to the stairs and set him on one of the steps. Clark suddenly sputtered, coughing up water.
“That’s it, Clark,” she said, thumping lightly on his back. “Get it all out.” She turned to Richard, who was hovering beside them. “Could you go get some towels… maybe some dry clothes for him…?”
“Sure,” he said and went back inside the house.
Lois rubbed his back gently. “Clark? Can you speak?”
“Ye—” A cough interrupted his answer. “Yes, thank you.” He managed a feeble smile. “I don’t know how I’ll ever live down…” Another cough. “…almost drowning in four feet of water…”
She chuckled briefly. “You scared us out there. What happened? Did you slip?”
“I’ve never been a good swimmer, Lois. I guess I panicked.” He looked even paler than he had earlier tonight, if that was possible.
She shivered, and stood up, holding out a hand for support. “Do you think you can stand? I think we should get inside as soon as possible.”
He nodded, grabbing her hand. They nearly overbalanced, he was still so shaky. She wrapped his arm over her shoulders, grabbed him around the waist and they stumbled together the rest of the way up the deck stairs and into the house. He felt warm, too warm, in fact. Almost feverish. She was shivering in the night air, herself. She hoped Richard would get back quickly with the towels.
Just as she began to fumble open the screen door, Richard appeared with towels, and a couple of robes. Lois wrapped him in a towel. Together, she and Richard laid Clark out on the sofa, water stains be damned.
Lois put her own soft robe around her shoulders, and sat next to Clark. Then she looked up at Richard, who for some reason, was still drenched. She began to chide him for not changing out of his wet clothes, “Richard…” but he held out a restraining hand.
“I’m going back out there. Now that I know where that thing is, I’m going to go get a crowbar, and try to pry it out.”
Clark suddenly groaned beside her. She patted his hand comfortingly.
Richard bent down to kiss her cheek. “You’ll be okay, taking care of Clark?” She nodded silently, turning back to her patient, and her fiancé made his way once again to the garage for the crowbar.
That groan hadn’t sounded good at all. Lois put her hand to his forehead, almost flinching at the heat, and he closed his eyes. The warmth coming from him was almost ridiculously high. “Wow, you’re burning up, Clark… Let me go get a cool compress…”
He protested faintly as she ran to soak a washcloth in cold water. Wringing it out quickly, she brought it to him on the couch. Lois reached for Clark’s water-spattered lenses… but he caught her wrist in one of his large hands. “Don’t…”
But she was too intent on trying to cool him down. She used her other hand to remove them before he could stop her and placed them on the coffee table. Pushing his wet hair back from where it had plastered to his forehead, it curled to the side as she began to place the compress…
And she stifled a gasp.Next: Chapter 9: Waves