By Lori McElhaney (LoriMcE@aol.com)
Summary: Clark's presence on New Krypton doesn't have quite the unifying impact that Zara and Ching had expected. Clark decides his only option is to challenge Lord Nor to one-on-one combat. A story that extrapolates from events in the episode "Big Girls Don't Fly."
The New Krypton sun gleamed dully in the sky. Clark grimaced and stretched, knowing that today would begin another day away from the woman he loved, stuck here in this harsh, almost sterile, environment.
"Kal-El," a voice penetrated his consciousness… He rose and released the door lock. Zara entered, a troubled look on her face.
"I've asked you to call me Clark!" he snapped.
Immediately he felt ashamed of himself. She was not the source of this discontent; they were both caught up in events far beyond their control. He felt so helpless, something he had trouble accepting.
"I'm sorry, Zara. I didn't get much sleep last night. What do you want?"
"Why won't you use your telepathic ability, Clark?" Zara questioned.
"Because that just emphasizes how far I am from home…" his voice trailed off as he looked upward, "and no matter what you say, Earth is my home. All I love and cherish is there. Sometimes I felt alone and different because of my powers, but at least the things I valued and respected were the same. And since I met and loved Lois, I've felt that there was a place for me after all—a chance for children, a home. Here I'm truly an outsider—for all your predictions about my being here to help prevent civil war, it seems that my presence might cause one. Some of the other Houses resent my return and may unite with Nor to oppose me. My values don't fit in with what's considered normal here. I don't believe I should be granted certain privileges because of birth, and I don't believe people should be denied privileges because of birth."
Zara interrupted, "I understand, Clark, I don't want you to lie about your ideals, but perhaps you could temper your remarks until our alliance against Nor is solidified. Such talk frightens some; they see power shared with all classes as a threat to them. Remember, life has been hard here; no one wants to give up all they've gained for a principle. But if they join with Nor because of his promises to retain their power, all of us will lose. Nor cares for nothing except for himself."
Clark sighed, "I don't know what else to do… All of my suggestions for a peaceful solution fall on deaf ears. They continue to argue amongst themselves." His frustration was clearly evident.
"I believe they sense your regret about being here, about your commitment to our cause—"
He interrupted, "I've left EVERYTHING I care about to come here— What more could they want?"
Zara explained gently, "You've got to understand, appearances are very important here. Your refusal to go by your Kryptonian name, for example, is an insult to some. We need a way to solidify the union between our Houses in a positive way. There has been talk about our unusual living arrangements, the fact we do not share living quarters." She hesitated, then spoke in a low voice, "Perhaps if there were an heir to…"
"NO!" Clark yelled. "I told you when I agreed to come with you. I won't betray Lois. This arrangement is for appeasing the Houses only. If it's failing to do that, then perhaps you should take me home now and find another way."
"I would not have brought you here if I knew of another way, Clark."
Clark paced, his mind turning through possibilities. Zara watched him, her own discouragement mirroring his. She had been so sure that the other Houses would accept Kal-El. However, they had been at war too long. Customs and rituals had given way to personal power struggles. Fear had taken hold of her people, and she was so tired. In her search for Kal- El, the time she had spent on Earth had shown her how much her people had lost—joy in life itself. Having grown up in that environment, she understood Kal-El's frustration in the situation here. Perhaps if life here had not been so hard, her people could have flourished, but it had taken years to establish themselves here, and resources were few. Even the prototype vessel they had used to find Kal-El had a limited range, and the materials used to fuel it were scarce.
Suddenly he stopped pacing. "Zara, is there a way for me to challenge Nor directly? If I could defeat him one on one, maybe I could convince the people to at least try some of my ideas."
"Clark, your superpowers have faded under our red sun. Though you have improved in hand to hand combat skills, Nor still possesses the greater ability," Zara replied.
"But, Zara, he doesn't have my motivation. He only wants power, I'm fighting for my life, and my love. If I can defeat Nor I could abdicate to you and Ching…" Another idea took hold and Clark paused. "I know. Zara, if I defeat Nor, could you fake my death? If I were dead, you could marry Ching, then we could both have what we want. You could rule here in peace on New Krypton and have a life with Ching… There has been no true marriage between us, we both know that. I could return to Earth and Lois. With my death, there would be no cause to search me out again."
Zara looked at Clark. "I will discuss this with Ching; there may be a way to do this. I still urge caution. You are taking more of a risk than you realize."
As the door closed behind Zara, he looked out the window again. However, this time, the feelings inside him were not despair, but hope. The sky looked eerie with its red, glowing sun. Sometimes when he went outside and looked up at the night sky, he felt dizzy. He supposed it was from looking for familiar constellations and finding no familiar points of reference. But he kept doing it, looking for Earth's sun among all the other points of light and sending all his love, all his wishes for tomorrow, toward it.
He stared at the barren landscape, the mountains jutting out seeming to touch the sky. The architecture of the buildings, curved and elegant, seemed to contrast with the attitude of the people. They were a pragmatic and logical people, yet they were caught up in a seemingly endless struggle for position and power. What your family had been and done in the past was as important as what you achieved in the present. Getting them to look to a future, together, was a task harder than he had ever undertaken. However, now with a plan of action, he felt that maybe, just maybe, he had taken the first step towards home.
One week later…
Clark looked up as Ching entered the room. He announced solemnly, "It's time, Kal-El. The arena is prepared; the people of New Krypton have gathered. This challenge has not been invoked since our early days as settlers here. I believe that whatever the outcome, the people will support the victor." Ching stepped in front of Clark and looked him straight in the eye. "I hope you know what you're doing, Kal- El. If you lose here today, not only you, but all of us will suffer."
He replied in earnest, "Our other approaches were failing, Ching, war was inevitable. Hundreds would have suffered. At least this way, if I win, people's lives can change for the better. If I lose, then you will find a way to continue the fight another day."
"I wish I had your optimism, Kal-El."
Clark spoke determinedly, "You've got to understand, Ching, failure is not an option. I promised Lois that I would return to her, and I shall. Let's go."
Ching cautioned, "Nor knows his skill is superior. Perhaps that will make him overconfident. However, do not look for honor in him, there is none. Be prepared for treachery."
Both men were bloody and bruised, yet neither would give in to the other. Nor had the skill and strength, yet Kal-El came back again and again, when the crowd thought he was lost. Clark, fighting pain and fatigue, tried to focus on Nor, tried to anticipate his next move. He thought, I've got to try to end this soon, and tried to remember what Ching had taught him. Nor raised his weapon, and Clark moved to block him yet again. Summoning all his energy, he pushed him back.
Nor fell and did not get up. The crowds of people shouted. The noise, heat and exhaustion began to get to Clark; he swayed on his feet.
Through the crowd's noise, he heard Zara's shout—he turned just in time to see Nor surging through the crowd toward him, weapon raised. Strictly on instinct, he raised his weapon. His weapon struck Nor and he fell to the ground, dead.
"No," whispered Clark. "No."
He saw Ching and Zara coming toward him. "I didn't want to kill him."
Zara placed her arm around Clark to support him. "We know, Clark. He left you no choice. Come with us."
Ching and Zara led him through the crowd inside. As they led him to a chair, Zara looked at Clark, tears in her eyes, "You've given us all a chance here today, Clark. We owe you a debt we may never be able to repay."
"Just take me home, Zara," he whispered, "just take me home."
Exhausted and injured, he slipped into unconsciousness. Ching and Zara cleared the room of everyone but a few trusted allies.
Ching faced them and declared, "Here's what we're going to do…"
Later, Zara faced the crowd that still gathered outside. She motioned to the crowd to be silent, and announced, "Lord Kal-El has succumbed to his injuries. He is dead. Before he died he made me promise to try to build an alliance of peace between all our Houses. In his memory, for all he sacrificed when he came here to help us, I will try to make this happen. As a personal gesture to Kal-El, I am going to take his body back to Earth, back to the parents who raised him. When I return, all the Houses will meet to make this alliance a reality."
Aboard the ship, Clark struggled to awaken. Hazily he saw Zara leaning over him.
"Rest Kal-El, you deserve it. You are on your way home. Our marriage is annulled; you are free. We shall not call on you again. You have given us a fresh start—we will not forget you."
Martha and Jonathan were preparing for bed when there was a knock on the door.
"Who could that be at this late hour?" Martha exclaimed.
Jonathan went to open the door. Zara and Ching stood outside. Jonathan felt his stomach drop. He just knew his boy would not be coming home.
Martha came to see what was happening. "What are you doing here?" she asked.
"We have brought Clark home," Zara explained. "He has defeated Lord Nor and given our people a new chance for peace."
"Where is he?" Martha asked excitedly.
"He was injured in the battle," Zara replied. "He will recover, but his superpowers have faded under our red sun. He will need some time to heal. We will help bring him inside." They motioned to their assistants, who carried Clark on a stretcher.
Martha felt tears spring into her eyes as she saw her boy so helpless. She had never seen him so injured before. "Take him upstairs to his room. We will take care of him now."
Zara placed her hand on Martha's shoulder, "Good- bye. We will not trouble him again, we promise."
Jonathan and Martha sat by Clark's bedside, their emotions weaving from thankfulness that their son was home, safe, and worry over his obvious injuries.
"We've got to call Lois," Martha told Jonathan. Martha picked up the phone and punched in Lois' number.
Lois sat curled on her bed, clutching the bear Clark had given her. She had known that surviving his absence would be the hardest thing she had ever done, but the ache inside her had not diminished with time. She was so tired of lying to her friends; they had been so helpful since her "breakup" with him. Clark's and her performance must have been convincing, she thought. Their decision to explain his absence by having them argue publicly over her feelings about Superman leaving (she hadn't had to fake that anguish), and have Clark leave Metropolis to "sort things out" had seemed the best option at the time. But having her friends try to keep her spirits up with things like "he loves you, he'll be back" just rubbed in the probability that he was not coming back. As the months dragged on, the possibility that he had been killed or imprisoned by Nor was becoming greater. She knew that Clark wanted to return to her, but sometimes fate was unkind even to a super man.
The phone rang, and she answered it. Martha's voice was quiet in her ear.
"What is it, Martha?" Lois asked.
"Lois, he's home."
Lois sat in stunned silence.
Martha asked, "Lois, did you hear me? Clark's home!"
Lois' heart was racing. A thousand emotions swept over her at once. "Home? Where? In Smallville? Is he okay? Let me talk to him." She began to cry, tears streaming down her face. She should have known that he would find a way to return to her.
"Lois, he's hurt; he hasn't regained consciousness since Ching and Zara brought him here," Martha replied worriedly. "He was injured in some sort of battle. Zara and Ching only said that Nor was defeated and that they would not come for him again. They said he would be alright, but he looks so helpless lying there. Jonathan already has reservations for you on the next flight out first thing in the morning."
"Martha," Lois' voice trembled, "I was beginning to lose hope. I just can't seem to believe he's really here."
"Believe, Lois," Martha answered gently. "I knew nothing would come between Clark and his devotion to you. If there was a way, Clark would find it; if there was no way, he would have created one. You and Clark were meant to be together, Lois. Nothing on Earth or beyond could change that. You both have been through so much to get to this point. Your love for each other has seen you though it all and you both know nothing is stronger than the two of you together."
The next morning Jonathan picked Lois up from the airport.
"How is he?" Lois asked. "Has there been any change?"
"He's been drifting in and out of consciousness all night," Jonathan frowned worriedly. "He keeps mumbling, but nothing makes any sense."
"He'll be all right, Jonathan," Lois declared. "We haven't gone through all this to lose him now."
Lois paused outside Clark's bedroom door. I can't believe I'm so nervous, Lois thought. It is all I've wanted for so long. I'm so afraid I'm going to open the door and then wake up and he'll still be gone.
Lois pushed open the door, and her heart seem to skip a beat. He lay on his bed, a bandage partially obscuring his face. She could see purpling bruises on his arms and torso.
"Oh, my love," Lois whispered, "what have they done to you?" She moved forward and sat gently on the bed, afraid to jostle him. "Clark," she whispered again, "can you hear me?"
It was that dream again, Clark thought hazily. It's so real; I can almost smell her scent, hear her voice. I won't wake up, I won't. If I wake up, the pain of our separation will be with me again.
The voice came again, "Clark, I love you." He felt her lips brush his forehead. He opened his eyes.
"Lois, is it really you? Tell me I'm not dreaming." Clark shakily looked at Lois, drinking in every detail of her face.
Lois smiled at him through tears. "You're not dreaming, Clark. It's over, you're back with me, and nothing will ever separate us again. Rest now, Clark. You've been hurt pretty badly. We'll talk when you're stronger."
"No, Lois, wait." Clark weakly placed his hand on her arm. "I want to say this first." Lois took his hand in hers and listened quietly. "Nor is dead, I killed him." He looked away, a tremor in his voice. "I didn't want to kill him, Lois. He rushed me and I struck out blindly. There should have been another way…" He sighed. "Zara and Ching faked my death on New Krypton; there's no reason to fear their interference again. I did my best, the rest is up to them. I have little in common with those people, Lois. I wanted so much to understand my roots, to find some common ground. But, all I could think about was you, my parents and home."
Lois bit her lip. "Clark, about Zara—" she hesitated.
"I never betrayed you, Lois," he smiled gently. "The marriage is annulled; I'm free. Ching and Zara will rule New Krypton together. When I'm stronger—" Clark stopped talking and grimaced in pain.
"Clark," Lois spoke quietly, "all of this can wait until you're better. Just rest now."
"Lay down with me and hold me, Lois," Clark asked.
"I'm afraid I'll hurt you."
"Nothing will heal me faster than your presence," he replied. "Please stay with me."
Later, Martha looked at the couple sleeping in each other's arms, together at long last. She smiled and quietly shut the door.