Submitted September 1999
Summary: Clark's departure for New Krypton is the beginning of a time of trial for both him and Lois. As they attempt to rebuild their lives, they are challenged by crises on both Earth and New Krypton.
ARCHIVE NOTE: Although this story was not submitted to the Archive until 1999, it first appeared a few years ago on the old AOL reading room message boards.
She watched as Superman, her beloved Clark disappeared through the window in a streak of red and blue. "It's over. Everything is over… ".
Lois awoke, sitting upright in the bed, calling his name. "Clark?" she called again. For a brief moment she believed that it had been a nightmare. That she would call his name and he would appear in the doorway. She waited, staring at the doorway as she had every morning for the last two months. But he didn't appear. And once again she felt the same grief she had felt that day at the Planet, the day he had flown off to save New Krypton. Pulling her knees to her chest, she wiped at the tears that trickled down her cheek. 'Will this ever get any easier?' she thought. She glanced at the clock next to the bed. She was going to be late. Again. And she didn't care. "I've got to get through this. I've got to go on," she told herself, running her hands through her hair. Throwing back the covers, Lois placed her feet on the floor. "Got to go on," she repeated, heading for the shower.
"Lois?" Perry called from his office.
Jimmy Olsen ducked his head inside White's office door. "Not here yet, Chief."
"That's the fourth time in the last three weeks," Perry said. "What in the Sam Hill is going on with that girl? I know she was broken up about Superman leaving, but … " Perry shook his head. "Lois is one of the best. I wish I knew what was bothering her."
"She's been through a lot lately, Chief," Jimmy said, coming into the office and closing the door. "Between Superman leaving Earth and Clark going back to Smallville, her world has turned upside down."
"I know, Jimmy, I know. Losing half of my star writing team was bad enough. But now it seems like I'm losing the other half too."
"Chief," Jimmy started, almost afraid to ask, "you're not thinking about … about letting Lois go?"
"Olsen, have you lost your mind?" Perry stood, leaning across his desk. "Lois Lane has always come through for the Planet. And she's been through a lot for the Planet. She could have gone to Smallville with Clark, but she didn't want to abandon her job here. There is no way I would fire Lois. NO WAY. I'm just surprised. That's all. Lois has always been tough, no nonsense. I've never seen anything shake her, especially this bad."
Jimmy thought for a moment. When the idea struck him, he was almost afraid to speak up. "Chief, maybe … " Jimmy paused. Perry stared at him, waiting for him to finish. Jimmy swallowed hard.
"Well go on, son, speak up," Perry said, sitting back down.
"I was, uh, I … well, I was just thinking. Maybe if Lois took some time off. Maybe a vacation, or a visit to Smallville to see Clark. It might give her some time to recoup, ya know."
Perry jumped to his feet so quickly that Jimmy stepped back, startled. "That's the best idea I've heard since they opened Graceland for tours," Perry exclaimed, clapping his hand on Jimmy's back. "A little R&R ought to be just the cure for whatever ails the little lady."
"Thanks, Chief," Jimmy said, grinning at his success.
"Olsen, I want you to send Lois in here the minute she gets in," Perry grinned, returning to his chair.
"The minute she gets in, Chief." Jimmy headed out the door.
When Perry called her into his office Lois had thought that she was in trouble for being late. Or that he had a story for her. She hadn't expected his suggestion that she take some time off. At first, Lois had been offended. Okay, so she wasn't exactly at the top of her game, but that didn't mean she couldn't do her job. Lois had stormed out of Perry's office, insulted. But after sitting at her desk for a few minutes, rethinking the conversation, she began to wonder. She knew that she wasn't herself. She hadn't been able to concentrate on a story for weeks. Lois had never even considered taking time off. But Perry had suggested going to Smallville to see Clark. Lois shook her head. She and the Kents had come up with the story at the last minute when they realized they needed to explain Clark's disappearance. They had decided to say that Clark was returning to Smallville to help his parents because his father was having health problems. They didn't realize the problems the story would create. It meant that the Kents couldn't come to Metropolis to spend time with Lois. It also meant that no one really understood why Lois was so lost. They figured Clark was just in Smallville and that when his father recovered he would return. Only Lois knew the truth. That Clark might never return. That she might have lost the man she loved forever. Lois blinked back the tears that threatened yet again. Maybe Perry was right. Maybe she did need some time away. Lois went back to the door she had slammed minutes before and knocked.
Lois's father had been more than happy to lend her his retreat cabin for a few weeks. To be honest, Sam Lane had been very relieved to hear that his daughter was going to take some time off. Since Clark had left Metropolis and Superman had left earth Lois just hadn't been the same. After watching Lois's reaction when Superman nearly died from the Kryptonian virus, Sam knew that he had been a special friend to his little girl. Superman's leaving had been hard enough for her, but then when Clark had had to leave town shortly thereafter Sam worried that it would be too much for Lois. And he had to admit that he was more than a little surprised that Clark would leave Lois alone at a time when she was obviously so upset. Sam hoped that a little time away would give her a chance to regroup.
Lois tried to force herself to concentrate on what she was packing. It seemed that lately she had to force herself to concentrate on alot of things. She slid aside the "power" suits and formal wear in her closet to reach for her sweats, jeans, and t-shirts. 'Comfort clothes,' she thought. No need for blouses, pantsuits or heels in the woods. It was funny; she had never really liked the outdoors or the country. She had always been a city girl. But now, here she was running off to the woods. She smiled. Clark had always been the one at home in the outdoors. Apparently some of it had rubbed off on her. Like so many other things. Lois realized that she had stopped packing and was leaning against the frame of the closet. "Come on, Lois," she chastised herself, "if you keep letting yourself get caught up in memories you'll spend your entire time off packing for a trip you'll never get to go on." She shoved the jeans into the duffle bag, then turned. There was one thing she definitely did not want to forget. Going to the hope chest next to her bed she slowly lifted the lid… She had gone with Martha and Jonathan when they had closed up Clark's apartment. As she and Martha had packed his clothes for storage, Martha noticed as Lois lovingly picked up one of his Superman suits, holding the cape to her cheek. Lois had excused herself for a moment to get some air on the balcony.
Later, as they were leaving, Martha had handed Lois a package before hugging her good-bye. "I'm sure he wouldn't mind you keeping an eye on this for him," Martha had said, squeezing Lois's hand.
When Lois had returned home she had opened the package to find one of Clark's Superman capes… Reaching into the hope chest, Lois pulled out the cape. She thought of how many nights recently she had spent wrapped in the cape staring up at the stars. Carefully refolding it, she placed it in the duffel bag before zipping it closed. Lois took one last look around to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything, then picked up her bags and headed for the door.
After unpacking, Lois had called Martha to let her and Jonathan know that she was out of town. She had been speaking to the Kents by phone regularly since Clark had left. Martha had even made a brief surprise visit to Metropolis to check on her. Lois heard the concern in Martha's voice when she heard that Lois had taken a leave of absence from the Planet. "Martha, I'll be okay, really," Lois assured her.
"I just don't like you being out there all alone," Martha said.
'Alone,' Lois thought. 'There was a time when I thought I would never be alone again.'
"Lois, honey, you know our door is always open," Martha continued, "if you change your mind, you just come on out here."
"Thanks," Lois said, "I'll be out for a visit before I go back to work, I promise."
"Okay, honey. You take care."
"I will, Martha. Give my love to Jonathan."
"I'll talk to you soon," Lois promised.
"Bye" Lois said, hanging up the phone. She looked around the cabin. It really wasn't a cabin by most people's standards. It had a phone, TV, even a computer. But it was secluded. Away from everything and everyone. And that was what Lois wanted right now. She had decided on the drive up that she needed something to keep her busy, and something to help get herself together. She was tired of languishing in this depression. Lois Lane was used to taking a proactive approach to things. She hated being helpless, and this situation had left her feeling just that. So, even though it was a long shot, and even though her reporter's sensibilities told her she was crazy, she was going to pursue the only angle she could think of. Lois had been trying to connect to Clark telepathically, just as he had called to her the night he had left Earth. She remembered his visit to her apartment the night before he left. "I can't even write you." That was the hardest part. It was bad enough that she couldn't see him or touch him. But the fact that she couldn't even communicate with him was worse. She had decided that that would be her project during this trip. Before leaving Metropolis she had borrowed some books from her 'psychic' neighbor Star. Star had looked at Lois skeptically, knowing she normally didn't go for this stuff. She'd figure out what to tell Star later. Right now, she needed to get to work.
Clark sat in his quarters on New Krypton. Photos of him and Lois together were scattered across the tabletop. Reaching into his tunic, he pulled out the wedding ring she had asked him to keep safe for her. He closed his hand around it as he stepped to the window. Off to his left he saw smoke rising above part of the colony. Judging by the location it was the coming from the sector ruled by the house of Ap. Nor's agents were at work again. The door chimed. Clark took a deep breath. He wanted to be left alone. But he knew he had to deal with this. This was his destiny. And if he was ever going to get back to Lois he had to get things here settled. 'Open,' he thought and a doorway appeared in the wall.
Zara and Ching entered. "Kal, there's been another attack," Zara said in her Kryptonian monotone.
"I know," Clark said, still staring out the window.
"The council is asking for a meeting to discuss how you plan to handle Lord Nor."
"How I plan to handle Nor?!" Clark said, becoming angry. "What about them? They shoot down every proposal I make. They refuse to stand up for themselves. I gave up everything to come here to help these people, because I was supposedly their leader. I was the only one who could save them. Well, they don't want to be led, at least not by me."
"Kal … ," Zara began.
"Lord Kal," Ching interrupted, "perhaps they don't listen to you because your ideas sound so … foreign. Perhaps you should try to think more like a Kryptonian."
Clark glared at Ching, moving to stand within inches of his face. "I'm not LIKE Kryptonians," Clark snarled at Ching. "The things I value mean nothing here. And I have yet to figure out what Kryptonians value. You brought me here to save their lives, yet they show no concern for their own lives. They complain about Nor's brutality and destruction, but make no move to stand up and fight him. Honestly, in the time I've been here, Nor is the only one I've seen who seems to show any passion or feeling for anything. He may be brutal and cruel, but he has one thing up on the rest of you. At least he cares about something." Clark turned away from Zara and Ching and returned to the window. Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Clark suddenly felt light-headed and sank to his knees. Zara rushed to his side sending Ching for a med-tech.
Lois sat on the porch of the cabin, wrapped in the cape like a blanket. She was having a rough night. She felt an incredible sense of … something. She wasn't sure what it was; she hadn't been able to put her finger on it. It wasn't simply the depression of the last few weeks. That was there too, but this. This was … her head snapped up as she realized what she felt. Dread. Like something bad was about to happen. But what could happen here. She shook her head trying to clear the feeling. "Forget about it, Lois," she said aloud. "Back to work. Concentrate." She took a deep breath and focused, clearing her mind. Then she allowed one thought to form. <Clark> She pushed forward from her mind as hard as she could. <Clark, can you hear me?> Lois waited a moment for a response, then repeated the thought. Over and over.
*** Zara stepped outside the Med-lab, meeting Ching outside the door. "How is he?" Ching asked.
"Fine. For now." Zara answered, starting down the hall.
"For now?" Ching questioned, rushing to catch up to her. "What does that mean?" Zara continued down the hall without answering him. He reached for her arm, stopping her.
"Zara, what do you mean 'for now'?"
"Not here," she whispered motioning for him to follow her.
Inside the Med-lab, a med-tech monitored Clark's life signs. They had induced a state of deep sleep that resembled coma. Clark hadn't answered Lois's thoughts because in this state he couldn't hear them.
Zara stepped into her office at the council headquarters, ushering Ching in behind her. Ching waited for her to begin her explanation, but instead she went to the utility console for a beverage. Finally, he could take it no more. "Zara, you have kept me waiting long enough. What did you mean by 'for now'?" There was a hint of irritation in his voice.
Zara turned. She was about to chastise him for his tone, but when she looked at him … she just couldn't. She motioned for him to sit at the conference table, then joined him. "Ching, it appears that our efforts may have been for nothing," she began. "Kal-El may not be able to help us after all."
"Zara," Ching said, confused, "are you referring to his lack of success with the council?"
"No. I am referring to his health. It seems that even though Kal-El is Kryptonian, his years under the yellow sun of the Earth have affected him."
"Affected him how?" Ching asked, concerned that their plan was unraveling before his eyes.
"Apparently, his body adapted to the influence of he yellow sun. We all grew up here and lived with the effects of the red sun all of our lives. It would appear that even though part of our ability to live under the conditions of a red sun are genetic, part of the ability is also due to exposure. It is similar to the function of the body's immune system. The body becomes immune to that to which it is subjected. And except for the brief period after his birth, Kal-El has never been subjected to a red sun."
"So, what you're saying is that Kal-El has no tolerance for life under a red sun?" Ching asked, trying to follow the explanation.
"He has some tolerance," Zara explained, "that which genetics provides. But not enough to live here indefinitely."
Ching stood, pacing. "Are you saying that he's dying?"
Zara took a deep breath. "No, not yet. But it is definitely taking it's toll on him. Over time, he will continue to become more and more exhausted. It will weaken him, and eventually, yes, it will kill him." Ching shook his head. Their efforts had been for nothing. A dead leader was of no more use to them than a leader on another planet. Zara went to him, laying her hand on his arm. He looked at her.
"How long do we have?" he asked.
"Two months, maybe three. No more," she answered. "We definitely need to rethink our plans."
"Yes. Yes, and quickly it would seem. Let's get to it," Ching said, returning to the conference table.
Within a few days, Clark was back on his feet. Zara told him that he had simply been exhausted from his trip from Earth and the stress of Nor's attacks. Zara and Ching decided to keep the information about Clark's condition from him, even though the symptoms continued to appear. Clark was often exhausted and he grew more impatient almost daily. He was already dissatisfied with his life on New Krypton and he grew more and more disgusted with the Council of Nobles. They feared that knowing about the effects of the red sun would make him want to leave New Krypton immediately and they needed him until they could put another plan in place.
Clark sat at the head of the conference table while the nobles continued their endless bickering. He had thought that he would feel some kinship to these people. That being with them would bring out his Kryptonian side. Instead, he found that he just felt like an outsider. He just didn't connect with these people. Maybe he had been on Earth too long. Maybe he really did resent being taken from his family and the woman he loved and that was keeping him from connecting. He really wasn't sure what the reason was, but Clark knew one thing for sure. He hated this. He was sick of being a diplomat. He was sick of their constant logical debates with no resolution. He was sick of their lack of emotion. And most of all he was sick of being Kal-El.
'I would give anything,' Clark thought, 'to hear someone yell … 'Help Superman!' Clark's head snapped to the side. He had heard it, but in his head. He concentrated on the thought. Where had it come from? And then he felt the emotion that followed. Amusement. 'Lois' he thought. She had been working to try to reach him telepathically. Ever since that night he had told her he loved her she had been trying return the connection. Clark had been able to sense her emotions for weeks now. It had seemed odd to him at first. Lois Lane, the ruthless, supposedly unfeeling star reporter who would go to any lengths to get a story. The woman Planet staffers had once referred to as the "Ice Goddess". The woman many claimed had no emotions … that this woman should have an affinity for empathic communication. 'Wouldn't that gang at the Planet be shocked,' he had thought, 'to find out that she not only had feelings, but that she could project them across the galaxy.' He had smiled. He, of course, knew Lois's emotions well. And he was glad to sense her playfulness now. For weeks he had felt her despair, her loss, her pain. He felt how much she missed him and it mirrored his own misery. And it was worse to know he had caused it.
Lois sat on the porch of the cabin, slowly opening her eyes, a slight grin across her face. "If he can hear me then that should get his attention." She rubbed her temples, trying to ease the pain creeping up behind her eyes. "This telepathy thing is harder than it looks," she said aloud to herself. She decided that maybe she should give it a rest for awhile before the headache got really bad. Standing to head back into the cabin, Lois froze as the familiar voice rang in her head.
<Cute Lois, very cute.>
She had done it, she had really done it. Finally. Lois was about to scream, "YES!!", when it struck her. He could hear her. She could communicate with him. He wasn't totally lost to her. She leaned against the side of the cabin as her legs began to shake. Ignoring the tears running down her cheeks, she sat down on the floor of the porch, closing her eyes again. <Clark? You can hear me?> She pushed the thought out, just as she had the last one. Opening her eyes, she leaned her head back against the wall, waiting for a response.
Clark leaned over, whispering to Zara, "I need to take a recess for a while."
"Now?," Zara answered. The nobles were close to agreeing on a basic plan about how to deal with Nor's agents when they were caught.
"Yes. Now!" Clark said. He knew this discussion about Nor's agents could go on for hours and he needed to answer Lois now. He wasn't sure how she had managed to reach him, but he didn't want to lose the opportunity. Besides, he was tired again, and the nobles were grating on his nerves. Some time away from them and a chance to communicate with Lois should be just what he needed.
Zara turned to argue, but noticed he had already started to rise from his seat. "I'd like to call a recess. We'll resume in… " Zara looked to where Clark's seat for an answer as to how long, but found it empty.
Clark was back in his quarters, sitting at the window, looking up at the stars. He held Lois's wedding ring tightly in his closed hand. <Yes, Lois, I can hear you.>
Lois's head snapped up as she heard Clark's answer. She had almost given up. <Oh, Clark, I … > She didn't know what to say, where to start. <Clark, I love you.>
Clark smiled painfully. <And I love you, Lois.> He thought for a moment, then repeated the statement he had made to her in her apartment before he left. <I have loved you from the beginning … >
Lois smiled also, realizing he was waiting for the response. < … And I'll love you 'til the end.>
Clark swallowed hard. He knew she would remember. In a way he felt guilty, knowing that Lois was waiting for him. But he couldn't have changed her mind. And he had learned about trying to make decisions for her. Boy, had he learned.
Lois had so many things she wanted to say to him, but most of all she wanted to know that he was okay. <Clark, how are things going there? Are you okay?>
'How are things going?' he thought to himself. Wondering what to tell her, he finally decided on the basic truth. <Things aren't going great, Lois. These nobles are infuriating. I'm supposed to be their leader, but I can't seem to reach them.>
Lois didn't like hearing that things were going badly. The longer this took, the longer it would be before he could return. If he could return. But she couldn't think about that now. He needed her support. <Clark, you have always been good with people. I'm sure you'll get through to them. They haven't known you very long. Give it some time.>
Clark felt her mood change when he said things weren't going well. He could have kicked himself for not realizing that it would upset her. And despite how she felt, she was still there trying to make him feel better, convincing him that he could do it. Like she always did when he doubted himself. < hope I get through to them soon. I'm getting tired of dealing with their petty squabbling.>
Lois was getting tired and the pain in her head was getting really intense. But she didn't want to stop. She missed him so much. And something was wrong, he didn't sound like himself. <Clark, Nor hasn't tried to hurt you has he?>
Clark almost missed what she said. He was busy concentrating on what he sensed she was feeling. Focusing in on it, Clark realized that it was pain. His breathing quickened as he began to panic. Something was wrong, and he couldn't do anything about it. <Lois, are you okay? Are you hurt? I feel that you're in pain.>
Realizing that he must be sensing her headache, Lois tried to reassure him. <It's nothing, Clark. Just a headache.>
<Lois, that's not your basic headache. What's wrong?>
<Clark … > She didn't want to tell him that it was the telepathy.
He had blasted that thought like a shot. And it didn't help her head. She placed her palms on her temples, trying to ease the pain. <It's this, Clark. The telepathy. But it's okay, really.>
Clark shook his head. Same old Lois. Never one to let a little danger, or pain, or anything else stand in her way. He decided that maybe they should call it a night. Besides, he couldn't put off the council for ever. <Lois, I think we should stop for a while.> She started to protest, but he interrupted. <Listen, now that you've learned how to do this we can do it anytime. And maybe we need to talk in small doses so your head doesn't hurt. I've got to get back to the council meeting anyway. Lois, I miss you very much. And I want you to know that I will move heaven and Earth if necessary to find a way back to you. Remember, in my heart, I am your husband.>
Lois squeezed her eyes shut as the tears came again. <And I am your wife.>
<Always.> Clark clenched his jaw, not wanting to let her go. <We'll speak again soon. I promise. Sleep well.>
<I will. You too.> Lois reached for the cape sitting on the chair next to her. Wrapping it around her, she headed back into the cabin. Lying on the couch, she pulled her knees to her chest sobbing. Eventually, she cried herself to sleep.
When Clark returned to the Council chamber, Zara noticed that he looked pale and very tired. She looked at Ching, alarmed. They must put together a plan quickly, before Kal-El's condition became apparent to the nobles. She nodded to Ching and he left the chamber. She had to be present at the council session, but Ching could continue working on their plan.
Lois awoke the next morning feeling drained, but somehow better. It did help to know that she could communicate with him. He wasn't out of reach. It was exactly the shot in the arm she had needed. She decided that she would head to Smallville that afternoon, then back to Metropolis.
Ching leaned back from the data terminal rubbing his eyes. He had been here all night, and he was no closer to a solution than he had been 10 hours ago. There had to be something, some way. New Krypton needed a leader. Kal-El wasn't making much headway with the council, and it really didn't matter. The red sun was taking it's toll and chances were he wouldn't live long enough to defeat Nor anyway. He had to find an answer. Ching touched the panel and continued his data search.
Lois returned to Metropolis feeling much better than when she had left. Her visit with the Kents had been wonderful, and she and Clark had 'spoken' briefly once while she was there. Dropping her bags inside the door, Lois headed for her answering machine. It had been a week since she checked her messages and they were banked up a mile deep. Most were from Jimmy, Perry, and her mother. Lois went into the kitchen to fix herself a cup of coffee as the messages ran. "Yadda, yadda, yadda," she said to herself as she listened to one of her mother's messages. Lois stopped what she was doing and walked back to the machine as the next message caught her attention. She rewound the tape to listen again.
"Miss Lane, my name is Jackpot. Clark, Mr. Kent, he gave me your number, and said that if I ever needed help and couldn't get him, to call you or Superman. Well, since Supes has like left the building … Anyways, I really need some help, so if you could get Clark to come down. He knows where to find me."
'Great,' Lois said to herself, 'have Clark come down. Sure, I can do that. Not. And you didn't even tell me where you were.' Lois knew that Clark had often spent time with some of the youth groups in the area. Obviously Jackpot was one of the kids he had met there. And this kid sounded really scared. Well, she would see if she could find out where this kid hung out through the group. If not, she'd have to ask Clark. She sighed and smiled. That sounded so nice. Just ask Clark. It still surprised her how much being able to contact him had done to improve her state of mind. Of course, she would much rather be able to see him, and touch him. Oh god, to be able to touch him again. To feel his arms around her. To sit on the couch with her head on his chest. To feel his lips on hers. 'Okay, Lois,' she said aloud, heading back to the kitchen, 'that will definitely be enough of THAT.'
Lois finished getting her coffee, then grabbed the phone and dialed. "Roberta, it's Lois. I need a favor."
Zara was in Clark's office, when Ching called to her in her mind. <What is it, Ching?> Zara hoped he had come up with something that would help them save New Krypton. Kal-El's health problems were becoming more and more obvious. She knew that they couldn't keep the secret from him much longer. And their time was running out. Even if they kept the secret, they only had a few weeks left before Kal-El would become two incapacitated to do them any good.
<Zara, I think I may have something. Can you meet me at the Data Office?>
Zara sighed. At last. She knew Ching would come up with something. She glanced over to where Kal sat vidconferencing with two of the nobles. The council had finally agreed on a plan and Kal-El was counselling these two leaders on their part. Zara noted how his shoulders slumped and he leaned heavily on the desk. The last week had been hard on him and she was worried that he was near collapse again. <Ching, I'll be there shortly. Wait for me there,> Zara answered. She didn't want to leave Kal here alone.
As Perry White stepped off the elevator into the Daily Planet newsroom, he was surprised to find Lois Lane already at her desk. He leaned over her shoulder, "Making up for lost time. Now that's the Lois Lane I know."
Lois looked up at him and smiled. "Actually, this is a personal project, Perry. But I am back and ready to go."
Perry squeezed her shoulder, "One thing at a time, Lois. You handle that, then come see me."
"Thanks, Perry." He nodded, heading off to his office as Lois continued going over the lists of youth groups and members that Roberta had compiled for her. After about an hour she finally found Jackpot listed with the Metro Youth Club on the south side. Grabbing her purse, Lois jumped up and turned. "Wait a minute," she stopped herself. A purse was not a great idea on the south side. "Bullet proof vest, M-16, tank, maybe. But not a purse," she said as she pulled her cell phone, wallet, and car keys from the purse before dropping it in the desk drawer. Kicking it closed, Lois headed for the elevator, shoving the items into her jacket pockets as she went.
Ching was beginning to get fidgety. What was taking Zara so long? As if in answer, she appeared in the hallway. Noticing the look on his face, Zara began to explain. "Kal-El is getting worse. He made it through the vidconference, but just barely. When I dropped him off at his quarters he was exhausted."
"Well, if what I've found is true, we may not need him much longer," Ching replied.
Zara straightened at his remark. "How can you speak of him that way? As if he's a piece of refuse that we can simply toss away. Granted, Kal wasn't exactly successful at first, but the last week he has lived up to his destiny. And he has done that despite his physical condition."
Ching reached for her hand. "Zara, I assure you I meant no disrespect. I am very grateful for all that Kal-El has done for New Krypton. I merely meant that I may have found a solution that will provide New Krypton with a leader and also allow Kal-El to return to Earth."
Zara sat next to him, eager to hear what he had found. "Show me."
Lois spent half an hour interviewing kids at the Metro Youth Club before she found someone who knew Jackpot. And then the news wasn't good. Jackpot was a former gang banger from the south side. He had been trying to get out of that life and apparently Clark had been helping him. Everything had been going okay until Jackpot tried to get a friend out, too. His friend had been working as a runner for a drug pusher named Donovan Delight. "Cute name," she said sarcastically as she reread her notes. Delight had decided that he didn't want to give up one of his best runners and he was out to get Jackpot for trying to help the kid. After a good deal of prodding, and $50, she got one of the kids to give up that Jackpot was holed up in an abandoned warehouse down by the docks. And that was where she was headed.
Clark lay on the bed in his quarters. He couldn't sleep, but yet he felt totally exhausted. At first, he thought that maybe he was just tired from spending so much time working with the council during the last week. But he was beginning to wonder if something was really wrong. Having spent his life on Earth with his superpowers he really had no frame of reference. He didn't know what it was like to be "normal". The only time he had ever even been sick was when he had been infected with that Kryptonian virus. He didn't feel that bad this time. But he also didn't feel right. Clark wondered if he should call a med-tech. He was about to do just that when the door chimed. He raised himself to a sitting position. 'Open'. Zara and Ching entered his quarters. Clark walked out to the living area to greet them.
Lois pulled the Jeep to a stop outside a very run down warehouse next to dock 23. She could see the condemned notice on the door from the car. "Love what they've done with the place," she said, sliding out of the car. She had a bad feeling about this place. 'That's never stopped me before,' she thought to herself, 'but then … ' He wasn't here this time. She was on her own. Lois had often wondered if she had become reckless because she knew he would save her, or if he had to save her because she was always rushing in to danger. 'Chicken and the egg,' she had decided. Taking a deep breath, Lois approached the warehouse door. It was boarded over, but there a loose piece at the bottom. She assumed that was how Jackpot had gotten in. Pushing the board aside she leaned down and squeezed through into the warehouse. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, Lois searched for any sign of Jackpot. She walked forward slowly, stepping over trash and debris as she went. Her heart was pounding as she continued searching the darkness. Suddenly, she froze, hearing a noise off to one side. It dawned on her that if Delight was gunning for him, Jackpot might be armed. 'Great,' she thought, 'That's just what I need.'
"Jackpot," she called out, "it's Lois Lane. I'm here to help." A beam of light caught her in the eyes making her squint and raise her hand.
"You, you are Lois Lane?" came a surprised voice.
"That's what my license says," Lois answered still squinting against the light. Lowering the light, Jackpot stepped out from behind a stack of crates. Lois blinked, trying to get her eyes to refocus.
"Sorry about the light, Miss Lane. I, I wanted to make sure it was you," he explained, approaching her.
"I understand," Lois said, looking at the boy who stood before. He wasn't what she had expected. He looked to be maybe all of 14 and he wore a simple t-shirt and jeans. Jackpot motioned her to an area behind the crates from which he had just emerged. Stepping around the corner, Lois was surprised to see that he had set himself up a little living area. Apparently, he figured on being here for the long haul. Placing a cloth over one of the crates, he invited her to sit down, then sat across from her. Lois smiled. He definitely wasn't what she had expected, the manners, such a gentleman. He seemed much older than he could be. 'I've had dates with less manners,' she thought, referring to her federal disasters before Clark.
"I'm surprised Clark let you come down here alone," Jackpot said, starting to calm down.
"He doesn't know I'm here," Lois explained. "He probably wouldn't be thrilled." 'But I never listen, anyway,' she thought.
"It's probably better he doesn't know then. I wouldn't want you to get in trouble on my account."
"Wouldn't be the first time I was in trouble," Lois grinned.
Jackpot laughed. "Didn't he get curious when you asked him where to find me?" he asked. "
I didn't ask him." She watched as the frightened look returned to the boy's face. "
Then how did you find me?"
"I talked to some of the kids at the Metro Youth Club," she explained, watching as the boy began to tense up. "Jackpot," she continued, "is something wrong?" He stood, extinguishing the light, and looking around. Lois rose and stood next to him, placing her hand on his shoulder. "What is it?" She could feel him shaking.
"If you could find me that easy, then Delight's boys can too," he said, his voice trembling slightly.
"Well then, maybe we should get you out of here," Lois said, reaching for his hand. They started toward the opening in the crates when they heard a crash behind them.
Zara looked at Clark as he entered the room. He still looked ill. His coloring wasn't right, and he was very lethargic. She shot a look to Ching, to see if he had noticed, before taking the chair Clark offered her. Ching and Clark took their seats at the table.
"So," Clark began, "to what do I owe this visit?"
Zara leaned forward to begin speaking when the vidline chimed. Clark shook his head. "Will you excuse me for just one moment?" he said, rising to go to his desk.
Zara looked at Ching, sending the thought, <Are you sure the nobles will go for this arrangement?>
Ching furrowed his brow, <Why would they not? It may be an old provision, but it is valid.>
<I just don't want this to blow up in our face,> Zara explained. <I don't want to tell Kal unless we're sure.>
Ching reached for her hand, <Be sure, my Lady. It will work.>
Lois and Jackpot turned to see two men standing behind them. Pushing Jackpot behind her, Lois eased toward the opening. One of the men pulled a gun from his waistband. "Now, now," he said, grinning. "Best to just stand still. Wouldn't want me to get jumpy, would ya?"
"No, I guess not," Lois said.
"You two come on over here and have a seat. We need to talk to the kid."
Lois and Jackpot headed back to where they had been sitting earlier. She sat back down on the crate, but as Jackpot went to sit the second man grabbed him by the front of the shirt. "Not you, kid," he said, yanking Jackpot away from the crate. He shoved Jackpot back against the crates and pinned him there by the neck. The gunman walked over to where the second man was terrorizing Jackpot. Lois sat stone still, considering what to do. If she could just find… She spotted Jackpot's large flashlight sitting on the floor where he had set it earlier. The gunman was too preoccupied with Jackpot to notice as Lois ever so slowly slid her arm down her side to reach the end of the flashlight. She worked her hand slowly to the middle of the handle where she was sure she could get the right grip. Lois's heart was threatening to burst from her chest as she slid her arm slowly back. 'Now or never,' she thought. Snapping her arm back, then forward, Lois let the flashlight fly. Tumbling end for end, it caught the gunman right in the side of the head. Lois leapt to her feet and put all her weight into a shoulder block, catching him off balance and sending him sprawling into the nearby crates. The second man turned to face Lois, releasing Jackpot.
"RUN!!" Lois screamed at him as the man grabbed her by the shoulders. Jackpot hesitated for a moment, then seeing the look on her face, he took off. Lois resorted to the very old, but highly effective move, slamming her knee into the man's groin. As he sank to his knees, gasping, Lois grabbed the flashlight and slammed it into the back of his skull, sending him sprawling to the floor. Glancing behind her, Lois noticed the first man getting to his feet. And he looked very unhappy. Still holding the flashlight, Lois took off in a dead run. Lois was halfway up the aisleway when he came through the opening in the crates, gun in hand. He raised the gun, grinning, and slowly pulled off two rounds. He heard her scream, and saw her fall. Hearing his partner moan as he came around, he turned his head for an instant. When he turned back, she was gone.
Clark clicked off the vidline and returned to the table with Zara and Ching. Zara noticed that he looked irritated as he sat down. "Bad news?" she asked.
"Sort of," Clark responded. "The forces from the House of Ta are having a difficult time pushing Nor's agents back. But they haven't been defeated. I've sent reinforcements from Ip and En to help."
Ching looked impressed. "Excellent move," he said.
"Thanks." Clark continued, "Now, you had something to … " He stopped, his eyes growing wide. "NOOOOOOO!!!" he screamed, knocking the chair over as he leapt to his feet.
"What … ?" Zara asked standing, but stopped as Ching grabbed her arm. Clark looked as if he were in a trance. He stood, fists clenched, his chest heaving, staring blindly. Zara knew that he must be 'receiving' something. She looked to Ching. He was staring at Kal as if … as if he felt sorry for him.
And that was exactly what Ching was feeling. He wasn't sure exactly what had happened, but he knew that Kal was facing what had always been Ching's greatest fear. Someone Kal loved was in mortal danger. And Ching felt the name echoing through Kal-El's mind. Lois.
The gunman muttered under his breath. She couldn't have gotten far. He was sure he had hit her. Hauling his partner to his feet, they started up the aisle.
Jackpot reached up and punched the button on the old conveyor system. He held his breath as it sputtered, then, with a grind, started up. Releasing the breath, he crawled back through the shelves and boxes to where he had pulled Lois. She was still lying face down, just the way he had left her when he went for the conveyor. He knew the men would be looking for them, and the conveyor would cover the sound of their breathing. Looking through a slit in the crates, he could see that the men were heading toward the other side of the warehouse. 'Good,' he thought, 'maybe they'll give up soon.' Turning his attention to Lois, he stared at the ring of blood that was quickly spreading across the right side of her jacket. Reaching under her side to turn her over, he yanked his hand back suddenly. It was covered with blood. This was bad, really bad. 'Okay, Jacks,' he thought to himself, 'you got to do something. Can't just let the lady lie here and bleed to death.' Gritting his teeth, he reached under her side again, and gently turned her over.
Lois moaned through clenched teeth and her eyelids slowly fluttered open. Jackpot held his finger to his lips to let her know that they were still in danger. Lois nodded, grimacing against the pain, but not making a sound. Jackpot noticed that there was a matching blood stain on the front of her jacket. Apparently, the bullet had passed straight through. But that didn't help the fact that she was bleeding. And where had the second bullet gone? He didn't see any other wounds on the front of her, and he didn't want to turn her over again. He knew that had to hurt. He needed something to slow the bleeding until he could get help. As he looked around, he noticed that Lois's breathing had started to sound strange. It sounded like she was choking on something … He turned back and saw that she was struggling. Something was affecting her breathing, but she didn't want to cough and tip off the men who were still searching the warehouse. Jackpot rolled her carefully onto her left side, hoping it would help her breathe. As his hand slid across her back, he realized what had happened to the second bullet. It had hit about two inches to the left of the first. Jackpot's eyes widened. He had spent enough time on the street, and seen enough of his old buddies shot to know what this meant. The bullet had hit Lois's lung. He couldn't wait for the guys to give up and leave. If Lois was going to make it he had to get help now.
Jackpot leaned down next to Lois's ear. "I gotta get some help," he whispered. "Stay here, I'll be right back."
Lois grabbed his arm. "No," she choked.
"Look, we don't have time to argue," he started, trying to pull her hand from his wrist.
"No, I mean … " she gasped, trying not to pass out. "My right pocket," she finally managed to say. Jackpot looked at her, confused, then reached into her jacket pocket. He grinned as his fingers closed around her cell phone.
"Well aren't you a resourceful lady," he whispered as he opened the phone and dialed. "Just hang on, now," he said, reaching for her hand. "Hang on."
Ching and Zara watched as Clark stood, transfixed. He sank slowly to his knees as the sensations washed over him. He focused on Lois, trying to pick up anything. He had lost her for a moment, but now he could feel her again, very faintly.
Zara walked over to him, placing her hand on his shoulder. "Kal, what is it?"
He spoke softly, not looking at her. "Lois … something has happened to Lois." He raised himself onto one knee. "I have to go," he said, still focused on the feelings he was getting from his "wife".
"Kal, that's not possible right now. It might be soon, but … " She stopped as he stood and glared at her. 'By the Lords,' she thought, 'he looks completely insane.'
Clark grabbed her by the arms, growling into her face. "I have to get back to Earth. NOW!!" Clark released her arms and started past her, but she reached for his arm to stop him. Clark turned, the same look on his face.
Ching stepped between them, pulling her hand from Clark's arm. Zara looked at Ching, surprised. "Let him go," he said quietly.
"What?!" Zara demanded.
Ching shook his head. "He must do this. He helped us when we asked, and now he needs to return. We must help him return to Earth." Ching stepped past her, placing his hand on Clark's shoulder.
"Come," Ching said, as the door appeared. "I will program the ship for you."
Zara stood, stunned, as they headed out the door.
Perry and Jimmy reached the hospital just minutes behind the ambulance. Under normal circumstances, Perry would have been shaken by the ride, but at the moment he was grateful for Jimmy's prowess on the motorcycle. Jimmy left Perry growling at the nurse behind the ER desk as he headed for the phone. Keeping one eye turned to Perry, Jimmy waited as the phone rang once, twice.
"Hello," the woman answered.
"Mrs. Kent," Jimmy began, "it's Jimmy Olsen. I have some bad news … "
Clark and Ching were huddled over the ship's control panel as Zara entered. "Ching," Zara said forcefully, "I need to speak with you."
Ching raised his head, sighing. "Now is not a good time," he said, returning his attention to the controls.
"Lieutenant!" Zara almost shouted. Ching's spine straightened. "I'll only be a moment," he said quietly to Clark as he turned and approached Zara. His displeasure was apparent.
"Ching," she said, softening, "we can not allow Kal-El to leave right now. Everything will fall apart. We have worked so hard. Can't he wait a few more days? Just until we can proceed with the ceremony?"
"No, he can not," Ching said, shaking his head.
"What is going on here?" Zara asked, her frustration adding an edge to her voice. Ching looked at her, then reached out to stroke her face. Zara searched his eyes.
"Zara," he started, his voice almost trembling, "I am your protector."
"And more … " she added.
Ching smiled slightly before continuing. "And my greatest fear has always been that something would happen to you. That you would be in danger or somehow injured and I would be unable to protect you or to help you." She nodded her understanding. "Kal-El is living that fear this very moment. Lois has been gravely injured. And he felt it, all of it. But he was here and unable to provide any assistance. He has been her protector, much as I have been yours. Now do you understand? He must go to her, and we must help him."
Zara looked at Kal-El, still standing over the controls, then back at Ching. Zara took a deep breath, nodding. "Provide him with whatever help he needs," she said, turning toward the door. "I will deal with the council."
Martha Kent stood outside the ICU room staring dully through the glass. She could just barely recognize her future daughter-in-law beneath the maze of tubes and wires. It seemed like they had Lois hooked up to every machine they had. 'Funny,' Martha thought, 'I never realized how small she is.' Lois always exuded such confidence, such determination, such strength. But now, she looked … fragile. 'I should call Jonathan,' she thought. He had gone to Clark's apartment to wait. They had decided that he should stay hidden for now to keep up the story of Clark's disappearance. Supposedly, Clark and Jonathan were on a fishing trip and couldn't be reached. The local police were trying to locate them, or so the story went. She and Jonathan had made up the story on the flight to Metropolis. It didn't make any sense to reveal the truth at this point. It wouldn't help anyone. And if she knew her son, he would be back soon. She thought about the conversation she had had with Lois during her visit. Lois had been able to connect to Clark telepathically. Martha hoped that Clark sensed that Lois was hurt and was on his way. If anything happened to Lois and he wasn't here … She knew that he would never forgive himself. 'It must be killing him to know that she's hurt and he can't get to her,' Martha thought, tears filling her eyes. They had been through so much. What had Jonathan said to Lois the day Clark left? "The love that risks nothing is worth nothing." Their love had risked everything. Everything. Lois had to be okay, she just had to be.
Clark paced the cabin of the ship like a caged animal. He wished that he could just jump out of the ship and fly back to Earth. But he knew that he couldn't. Ching had spilled everything while they were programming the ship's controls. Clark knew about the effects of the red sun. It would probably take weeks back on Earth before his powers fully returned. He slammed his fist into the wall. "Faster!" he yelled at the ship in frustration. He hadn't been able to sense Lois since early that morning when she… He closed his eyes against the memory. He should have been there, he should have protected her. He should have stayed with her. The anger flared again and he punched the wall of the ship until his knuckles were bloody. Sinking to the floor, he held his head in his hands. Why couldn't he feel her? She couldn't be… No, no. He would know if she was gone. 'She's still alive,' he told himself. He repeated it over and over as the ship continued toward Earth.
Martha woke, looking around the waiting room where she had slept. Jackpot went to the small refreshment table in the corner and poured her a cup of coffee. She pushed herself to a sitting position as he handed her the cup. "Thanks," she said, still a little groggy, "Has there been any change?" The boy shook his head, sitting beside her. She reached up to tousle his hair. "You get any sleep?" she asked, her mother's instincts kicking in.
"A little," he said with a shrug. "When is Clark going to get here?" he asked suddenly.
Martha looked at him surprised. He had sounded almost angry.
"It's just … it's … She was there because of me. She shouldn't have been there. I shouldn't have called her. When they were loading her in the ambulance she kept saying his name over and over. He can save her. I know he can. He's gonna be so mad at me. I shouldn't have called her. I shouldn't… " He broke down, sobbing, unable to finish.
Martha put her arm around him and pulled him to her. "Shhhhhh," she said, stroking his hair. "Clark will not be mad at you. Lois will be fine. And I'm sure Clark will be here as soon as he can." 'I'm sure he will,' she told herself.
Clark stared at the port as Earth came into view. He sighed heavily. Soon he would be back with Lois. He would take care of her, he would make sure she was okay. Looking down, he realized that he was still in his Kryptonian tunic. "I've got to change," he said to himself, rubbing his eyes. He hadn't slept since he had left New Krypton. "Time for that later. I've can't show up on Earth like this," he said, reaching for the bags he had stowed under one of the panels. Reaching into the bag he pulled out a sweater. The sweater. "You lent this it to me that time that we flew to Bangkok for Thai noodles." He noticed that a faint trace of her perfume still lingered in it's fibers. Squeezing the sweater in one hand, he reached for the wedding ring hanging from his neck with the other. Closing his eyes, he concentrated, trying desperately to reach her again. <Lois,> he thought, <Lois, I'm on my way. I'll be with you soon. I love you, Lois. I love you.> He leaned back against the wall of the ship, hoping for a response. It didn't come.
Sam and Ellen Lane had been on a "getting reacquainted" tour of Europe when they heard about Lois. When they finally arrived at the hospital, Ellen was nearly hysterical. After seeing Lois, she broke down altogether. Sam managed to track down an old friend working at the hospital, and had her sedated. He finally convinced her to lie down in one of the doctor's lounges, and went back to sit with his daughter. Martha was standing outside Lois's room as he came down the hall. He placed his hand on her shoulder, "Any change?" Martha shook her head. "Does Clark know?" he asked.
She turned and looked at him. She wanted to blurt out everything. She wanted to tell him where Clark was, and why he had left. 'My god,' she thought, 'he must think Clark is an absolute monster.' She quickly related the story about Clark and Jonathan heading out on a fishing trip and that there was no way to reach them, but that people were looking. "I'm sure he'll … ," she started. They both froze as the buzzers went off. As if in slow motion, they turned to see that the light above Lois's door was flashing. Sam pulled Martha to the side as nurses rushed to the room. "No," Martha choked, tears filling her eyes "Lois, no."
Clark set the ship down in the same warehouse Ching and Zara had used during their visit. Reaching out his hand to activate the doorway, he pulled back, blinking as the sensation hit him. He stood, confused, trying to sort out what he had just felt. As the realization hit him, he swallowed hard, his eyes filling with tears. "No," he said, activating the door, "NO." Extending his arms in front of him, Clark stepped out of the ship, intending to leap into the air as he had so many times before. He hovered a moment, then dropped, landing on his hands and knees on the warehouse floor. "Ahhhhhhhhhhhh," he screamed in frustration, slamming his fist into the floor. It left a small crater only slightly larger than his hand. He lifted his head. He would get to her one way or the other. Running his hand over the hole in the floor, he realized that his powers weren't totally gone. He stood, took a deep breath, and became a blur as he took off running.
*** As Clark reached the back of the hospital he slowed to normal speed, turning the corner to the front entrance. He stepped up to the information desk, still panting from the exertion of forcing his powers. "I'm looking… " He stopped, tilting his head to the side. His hearing had picked up a familiar voice. He heard his mother very faintly. And he turned, half stumbling as he ran toward her voice.
Martha and Sam stood outside Lois's room, watching helplessly as the doctors tried to revive her. Martha turned her head to look up at Sam. Her eyes grew wide as she spotted… "Clark," she whispered. As Martha brushed past him, Sam Lane turned to see where she was going.
Clark nearly fell into his mother's arms, the last of his energy spent. "Mom … ," he started, but stopped when he saw the look on his mother's face. Stepping past her, he headed for Lois's room. Martha followed him slowly, wishing there was something she could do. He froze as he saw the scene in Lois's room. Starting into the room, he found himself detained by a rather burly orderly.
"I'm sorry, sir, but you can't … "
"I have to see her," he said, grabbing at the man's shirt.
Tightening his grip on Clark's arms the orderly repeated, "I'm sorry, sir," he started.
Pulling the man down, Clark growled, "She's my wife! I have to see her." Summoning one last surge of strength, Clark broke free of the orderly, pushing him away. As he straightened back up, one of the nurses reached for the phone to call security.
Martha Kent rushed in after her son. "He's her fiance," she blurted, reaching Clark just as he collapsed to his knees. Sam and Martha steadied Clark as he struggled to his feet. "Lois," he said weakly, 'in my heart … I am your husband." The room froze as the heart monitor beeped. They waited what seemed like an eternity for the second beep, and then a third. There was a collective sigh as the pattern continued. Clark made his way to her side, taking her hand.
"I hate to say this," the doctor said softly, "but I'm going to have to ask everyone to leave while we examine Miss Lane." He noted the expression on Clark's face as he looked up at him. "It'll just be a moment, Mr … "
"Kent," Martha said, stroking Clark's shoulder. "Clark Kent."
"Mr. Kent," the doctor continued, "only a moment, I promise."
Clark turned to his mother looking for guidance. She nodded. Turning back to Lois, he slowly leaned over, kissing her tenderly on the forehead. Touching her cheek, he whispered, "I won't be far. I swear. I love you, Lois." His mother supported him as he stood, and walked toward the door.
Sitting Clark on one of the waiting room couches, Martha Kent knelt in front of him. "Clark, are you sure you're okay? Is there anything I can do?"
He lifted his head slowly, meeting her eyes. He shook his head. "I'll be okay, Mom. It's a long story."
"You look absolutely exhausted," she said, reaching up to stroke his face.
"Mom … ," he started, "I have never been so scared. I felt it when she… " He stopped as tears slipped down his cheeks. Martha sat next to him, pulling him to her as he broke down.
Sam Lane stood as Dr. Findlay exited Lois's room. "Doctor?" Sam asked, noting that he was shaking his head, "is there a problem?"
"Quite the contrary," Findlay smiled. "Barring any complications, it looks like Lois will be just fine." He watched as relief washed across Sam's face. "You know, Dr. Lane, that was one of the damndest things I've ever seen. I really thought we had lost her for a minute there. And then he walked into the room, and all of the sudden she was back. I mean, I've heard these stories before, but I had never witnessed it."
"Son," Sam said, clapping the young doctor on the back, "it would seem that sometimes Love is better than any medicine we've got."
Martha watched through the glass as Clark sat at Lois's side. He looked so tired. It was so strange to her to see him like this. But at least he was home. Martha jumped as Sam spoke her name.
"I didn't mean to startle you," he smiled, handing her a cup of coffee.
"Thanks," she said.
"He looks totally exhausted," he said, looking through the window. "Is he going home to get some sleep?"
Martha shook her head. "I'm going to ask again before I head back to the apartment, but he says he won't leave."
Sam smiled, "You know, Martha, I never thought anybody would be good enough for my little girl. But this boy of yours. He's something special."
"If there's one thing in this life I'm sure of, Sam, it's that they belong together."
Clark had sent his mother home, promising that he would try to get some sleep. He sat in the chair next to Lois's bed, just as he had for the last three hours. He spoke to her softly from time to time, telling her that he loved her, promising that they would be married as soon as she was well. Leaning back in the chair, he rubbed his eyes. "Clark." It was so faint, that for a moment, he thought he had imagined it. He stared at her as her eyelids fluttered open.
"Clark," she said softly, turning her head to look at him. "Is that really you?"
He leaned over her, stroking her hair. "It's me, Lois. I'm right here." He watched as her eyes filled with tears. "Shhhh," he said, brushing away the tears, "you rest. I'll be right here. I'm not going anywhere. I'll never leave you again." He kissed her gently. "I promise. I'll never leave you again." Pulling the chair closer, he laid his head next to hers, his hand still in her hair. Reaching for his other hand, she locked her fingers in his. Minutes later, they both drifted off to sleep.
Jonathan Kent was making breakfast, as Martha got ready to head back to the hospital. He handed her a cup of coffee as she entered the kitchen.
"You know, Jonathan, Lois is going to have several weeks of recovery before she can return to work. And Clark could certainly use a rest. Why don't we invite them to come stay with us for a while?"
Looking up from the stove, he wondered, "Do you really think Clark would leave Metropolis? I mean, won't he be anxious to become Superman again and try to settle things down?"
"Well," Martha said, settling at the table, "I think he's going to want to spend some time with Lois. And whether he wants to become Superman or not really doesn't matter right now. He thinks it may take weeks for his powers to fully return. In the meantime, there really isn't much he can do. Maybe some time away to rest would help him."
Jonathan considered the idea and nodded. Carrying their plates to the table, he smiled. "After what they've been through in the last year, they've earned a little downtime. And I think I know a way we could make it a special getaway for them."
Martha looked at him, noting his grin. "Just what did you have in mind?" she asked, grinning back at him.
"Do you have your address book with you? We're gonna need a little help with this one," he said, reaching for a note pad before joining Martha at the table.
Clark awoke slowly, watching Lois as she slept. The doctor had assured him that while Lois would have to take it easy for awhile, she would be fine. 'I wonder if he understands,' Clark thought, grinning. 'Taking it easy isn't exactly part of Lois's vocabulary.' He paused, becoming serious again. 'But we'll just have to add it. All I can do now is make sure that she takes time to recover.' Leaning back in the chair he looked at her hand, still entwined with his. "I wish I had been here. I could have prevented this. I could have protected you," he said softly. "I wish I had never… " He stopped as his mother appeared outside the window. Carefully sliding his hand from Lois's, he stood and headed for the door. After glancing back to be sure she was still asleep, he stepped outside the room.
Martha sat with Lois while Clark showered and changed his clothes. She had proposed the idea of coming to Smallville, and he had agreed. Providing, of coarse, that it was okay with Lois. Martha shook her head. She could hardly believe the change in Lois since Clark had returned. Her color was back, and the nurse said that all her vitals were good. And Martha noticed that there was a slight smile on her face as she slept. 'What a testament to the power of Love,' Martha thought. She leaned in as Lois's eyes slowly opened.
"Clark?" Her eyes searched the room, sadness creeping back across her face.
"Lois, he IS back," Martha said, reassuring her. "He just went to freshen up. He'll be back any minute now." She watched as Lois sighed and relaxed.
"I thought … I thought maybe I had just dreamed it," she explained, still a little groggy.
Martha smiled, reaching for her hand. "At first, so did I."
Later that day, Jonathan stepped out of Lois's room, leaving her and Clark to be alone. He found Martha down the hall speaking to Dr. Findlay. Thanking the doctor, Martha headed toward Jonathan. "He says that Lois will probably be ready to be released day after tomorrow," she told her husband. "Will that give you enough time?"
"It's gonna be close. How are they going to get out there since Clark can't fly?" he whispered.
"Well, Dr. Findlay said that Lois shouldn't fly anyway. Although I assume he meant by plane," Martha grinned, then realized that they had a problem. "Neither one of them is in any condition to drive out there. And that would be an awfully long time sitting in a car for Lois. I'm not sure she's up for that."
They stood, both wondering if they could really pull this off, when suddenly Jonathan snapped his fingers. "What if it wasn't a car?" he asked. "What if she could lie down or move around as she needed?"
Martha suddenly realized where he was going with this. She broke in to a huge grin. "I knew there was some reason I married you," she laughed, hugging him.
Clark helped Lois into the wheelchair as the nurse finished processing her release papers. "I really don't see why I can't just walk," Lois muttered. Clark laughed, glad to see the 'old' Lois back.
"Miss Lane … " the nurse started.
"Miss. Miss. I haven't been called… " Lois started.
Clark leaned down and kissed her, cutting off her tirade. "Lois, honey, let's get you out of here before they throw you out."
Lois took a breath, preparing to continue, then smiled. Grabbing the front of his shirt, she pulled him down in front of her. "I really did miss you. Even those smart aleck remarks," she said, kissing him before releasing his shirt.
Smiling, he grabbed the handles of the wheelchair and started out the door. Clark was surprised that his parents weren't there to pick them up. 'Oh well,' he figured, 'we can always take a cab.' But he still wondered what they were up to. He hadn't seen his father in two days, and his mother had stopped by earlier in the morning, then disappeared just as suddenly. Shrugging, he turned the wheelchair around to get it off the elevator. As he turned back toward the front door, he stopped. He noticed that Lois was also sitting, mouth agape.
"What the … ," she said, looking up at Clark. Outside the front entrance of the hospital sat a huge Winnebago. Jonathan and Martha stood leaning against the side.
As Clark wheeled the chair out, Jonathan opened the side door to the RV. "Mom, Dad, what is this?" Clark asked, still aghast.
"Well, Clark," his mother replied, "you and Lois agreed to come stay with us until you both recovered. But the doctor said that Lois shouldn't fly for a couple of weeks, so we had to find some way to get you to Smallville."
"Martha," Lois said, "we could have driven. You really didn't have to go to all this trouble."
"Lois," Martha said, patting her hand, "why would we want to spend all that time cramped in a car when we can travel in comfort?"
Lois smiled, grateful for Martha's wording. She knew that they were worried that she couldn't take the trip in a car, but Martha had carefully skated around that. Standing painfully, Lois wrapped her left arm around Martha's shoulders. "Thank you," she smiled.
"Anytime," Martha replied, hugging her carefully. "Anytime."
"But, Mom, where did you guys get this?" Clark asked, helping Lois inside.
"From me," came a voice from the driver's seat. Clark turned to find his father's old fishing buddy, Hank Steel, sitting there, grinning.
Jonathan climbed into the passenger seat as Martha joined Lois and Clark in the back. "Everybody ready?" Jonathan called, grinning back at his passengers.
"You guys never cease to amaze me," Clark laughed as the RV pulled out.
Martha, Jonathan, and Hank drove in shifts. Clark and Lois had offered to drive, but their hosts insisted that they sit back, relax, and rest. For Lois that was easy. The pain medication the doctor had prescribed knocked her out anyway. She hadn't intended to take it, but when she winced at the first bump in the road Martha insisted. Clark spent the trip reading, sleeping, and thinking. Lois knew that something was bothering him. When she asked about his 'trip' he would say that they would talk about it later. When she asked what was bothering him, he would say nothing, and change the subject. But she could see it in his eyes. She finally decided that she would get him to talk about it later when they were alone.
Lois and Clark were sitting together at the window as they pulled into the Kent's farm. Clark's attention was focused on a small building that sat next to the old farmhouse. It was the workshop he had built for his father when he was in high school. But it looked different now. "Hey Dad," Clark called to his father in the front, "when did you add shutters to the workshop?" Jonathan looked over at Martha in the passenger seat, grinning.
"Just recently, Clark," he replied, trying not to laugh. Jonathan pulled the RV to a stop in front of the workshop, and he and Martha hopped out. Clark looked at Lois, puzzled, as his mother pulled the side door open.
"Here we are," she said, grinning from ear to ear.
"Mom, what the … ," Clark started.
"Nah, just come on," she said, motioning him out. Clark stepped out, reaching in to help Lois. As Clark turned with Lois, they saw that Jonathan and Hank had opened the shutters on the workshop windows.
"Curtains?" Lois asked, looking at Clark.
"In a workshop?" he finished. Martha took his arm, as he took Lois's, leading them to the building. As they reached the front step, Jonathan threw open the front door. Lois and Clark stood staring, hardly able to believe their eyes. The workshop had been turned into a small home.
"How … ?" Clark finally managed to ask.
"Your father flew back earlier and he and his friends did the construction. And I e-mailed some of the women from the quilting circle and they handled the curtains and the decorating." "
"E-mailed the quilting circle?" Lois asked.
"Honey, this may be a small town, but that doesn't mean we don't know about the 'Net," Martha said proudly.
Lois laughed, "Now why doesn't that surprise me."
Clark hugged his mother, "I can't believe you guys did all this. I don't know what to say."
Lois smiled at Jonathan, squeezing his arm. "How can we ever thank you?" she asked.
"Be happy. You two deserve it," Jonathan said, kissing her on the cheek. Her eyes filled with tears as she returned the gesture. "Now," Jonathan said, "you two settle in. We'll be back in a bit."
As the others walked toward the farmhouse, Clark looked at Lois, an idea striking him. "I know technically, I'm not supposed to do this until after the wedding," he said, almost nervously. "But considering what we've been through, and how we feel … May I?" he asked, motioning to carry her.
"That would be very nice," she answered, smiling tearfully.
He bent down, very carefully lifting her into his arms. "Does that hurt?" he asked.
"No," she answered, reaching up to touch his face. "It feels wonderful. I missed this." They shared a brief kiss before he turned and carried her into their getaway home.
Lois sat on the couch as Clark rummaged through the small kitchen looking for something to make for dinner. Lois had offered, but Clark insisted that she rest. "You know," she shot, "I am not a complete invalid."
"I know that," Clark retorted, "but the doctor said that you need to take it easy. Besides," he added, grinning, "I'm don't see anything here that should be served blackened."
"Oooooohhhhh," she laughed, "I'll get you for that crack." As he turned back to rifling through the cupboards, Lois slid a finger into her glass of iced tea, retrieving an ice cube. Stepping up behind Clark, she leaned in, whispering in his ear. "So," she said, "did you miss me while you were away?" Turning to face her, he dropped his guard, allowing her to slip an arm around his neck.
"DefiniteLLEEEEEEEEEE," he howled as she dropped the ice down the back of his collar.
Stepping back, she laughed, holding her side, as he danced around the kitchen trying to retrieve the ice. "That," she said, "is for the 'blackened' crack." He still had his arm in the back of his shirt when the phone rang.
They froze, looking at each other. "Phone? Did you see a phone?" they asked at the same time. Following the sound, they found it sitting on the bookshelf in the living room.
"Hello," Lois said, before bursting into a fit of laughter. The ice had made it's way into Clark's pants, and he was frantically shaking one leg trying to get it out. "Martha," Lois said, trying to pull herself together.
"It sounds like you two are having a good time," Martha said.
Still laughing, Lois tried to explain, "Clark has a piece of ice down his pants and he's trying to shake it out."
"Well," Martha laughed, "that's one way to get him to wait until the honeymoon."
"Oh, no," Lois found herself suddenly trying to clarify. "See, he made a remark, and to get … "
"Lois, dear," Martha interrupted, "it was a joke. Besides, you two are adults. And you're in love." Lois blushed. "Now," Martha continued, "I called to find out if you two were ready for dinner."
"Clark was just getting ready to fix something," Lois replied.
"Well, tell him to stop. It's already done. I'll bring it right over."
"Martha, that's not neces… " Lois started, but realized Martha had already hung up.
Clark, now free of the ice cube, stood glaring playfully at Lois. "What did Mom have to say?"
"She's bringing over dinner. And she said that ice down the pants was a good way to make you wait until the honeymoon."
Clark went to answer the door as his mother knocked. "Mom," he protested, "I can't believe you said that."
"What?" she asked, handing him the tray.
"About the ice."
"Clark," she patted him on the cheek, "despite what you might like to think, sex was not invented by your generation. Enjoy your dinner." She closed the door behind her.
After dinner, Lois and Clark headed to the living room. Clark lit a fire in the fireplace his father had added, and settled next to Lois on the couch. Within a few moments, they were both becoming drowsy. "I can't believe it's nine o'clock and I'm tired," Lois said, yawning.
"I know," Clark said. "I'm used to being up half the night. I guess we've both been through a lot."
"Yeah" She decided not to broach the subject of New Krypton tonight.
Clark stood, reaching for her arm. "Come on, time to put you to bed."
While Lois went into the bedroom to change, Clark headed back out to the kitchen. Testing out his powers, he sped through washing the dishes, drying them with his heat vision. 'Not bad,' he said to himself. He wasn't quite up to par yet, but he was getting there. As Clark stepped into the doorway of the bedroom, he noticed Lois sitting on the edge of the bed. Her t-shirt was pulled part way up, and she was trying to reach the bandage on her back. "Lois, what are you doing?" he asked rushing to the bed.
"I have to change these everyday," she explained, wincing as the reached for it again, "but this one is being difficult tonight."
He took her hand, stopping her. "Why didn't you just ask me?" he asked, sitting next to her.
"Clark, this isn't exactly pretty. I mean, it can be… "
"LOIS, we're getting married," he chastised her. "I believe there's something in the vows about 'for better or worse'." She looked at her lap. "Lois," he said, his tone softer, "I know you don't like asking for help." She looked up at him as he continued. "But that's what I'm here for. Now, what do I need to do?"
She stroked the side of his face. "Okay," she relented, "You have to pull the old bandage off, make sure everything looks okay, then put a new bandage on."
He slid around on the bed so that he was behind her. Reaching for one corner of the tape, he held her skin with the other hand as he pulled. When she tensed, holding her breath, he froze. "Am I doing something wrong?"
She shook her head. "No," she said through clenched teeth, "this is how it goes."
His jaw clenched. He hated seeing her in pain. Taking a deep breath, he began again. Laying the bandage to the side, he stared at the wounds on her back. He knew what had happened to her, but somehow it was suddenly even more real. He imagined how it must have felt, what she must have gone through. His stomach tightened into a huge knot. He touched the area around the wound, his eyes filling with tears.
She felt his fingertips brush her skin. She tried to look at him over her shoulder. "Clark, are you … ?"
"Hold still," he said, his voice cracking as he fumbled for the new bandage and the tape. He gently smoothed the tape around the edges. "All done," he announced. "What about the other one?" he asked as she turned to face him.
"I already did that one," she answered, noticing that his eyes were red, and that he wasn't looking her in the eye.
"Clark … ?" she started.
"We better get you to bed," he said, standing.
"Clark, please tell me what is bothering you."
"Lois, it's late and… "
"CLARK, it's 9:30. That is not late."
"But you're tired, and you need your rest."
"I'm not that tired." She paused, realizing that she sounded angry. "Clark," she sighed, "you just got done lecturing me about what being married means. It also means sharing your feelings and problems. Now, please tell me what's bothering you."
He stared at her. "I just … ," he said, looking away. "I-I hate seeing you in pain. I wish there was something I could do."
"Clark," she said tenderly, pulling him down next to her, "I know you're not used to being helpless. And you have been doing a lot. You've been taking wonderful care of me." She noticed that he still seemed upset. "Clark," she said, taking his face in her hands, "you heard what the doctor said. I'm going to be just fine. In a couple of weeks I'll be good as new, ready to drag you down the aisle."
He couldn't help but grin. "Drag me, huh."
"If necessary," she answered, leaning over to kiss him.
"Did you take your pill?" he asked suddenly remembering.
She rolled her eyes, "Oh, alright." As Lois headed into the bathroom to take the medicine, Clark turned down the bed. He pulled the extra pillow from the bed and threw it on the chair. When she returned, she sat on the edge of the bed. He supported her shoulders, helping her as she lay down. "Thanks," she said, wincing.
"Are you okay? Is there anything else I can do?" he asked.
"No," she smiled, "I'm fine." Clark turned, grabbing the pillow from the chair as he headed for the door. "Whoa, wait a minute," Lois said, realizing what he intended. "Where are you going?"
He pointed toward the living room. "Going to sleep on the couch."
"No, you are not," she said emphatically.
"Clark," she started, struggling to pull herself up. He rushed over, helping her to sit up. "Clark," she continued, "there is absolutely no reason you should sleep on the couch. You can sleep right here. With me."
"Lois, I thought we wanted to stick to our deal. Besides, you're not exactly in any condition… "
"Clark," she grinned, "I said you could SLEEP here. We can discuss 'other' things after I get a little better. Now, get over here."
"But … I'm afraid … that I'll hurt you. What if I roll over and hit your back, or something?"
"You worry too much. I'm not a china doll; I'm not that fragile." She continued, her tone becoming more serious. "Besides, when you stayed with me at the hospital I… I liked waking up with you next to me. I want to fall asleep in your arms." Clark shook his head. He couldn't argue with that. Going around to the other side of the bed, he got under the covers sliding next to her. As he stretched his arm under her pillow, she eased onto her side, leaning her head on his shoulder. He stroked her hair as they both drifted off to sleep.
Over the next week, Lois noticed that Clark still seemed to be agitated. He explained it away by saying that he was anxious for his powers to return and would disappear for a few hours each day to work on regaining them. Lois would spend this time with Martha playing cards, talking, even helping to cook. She was trying to spend more time up and around as the pain in her side began to ease. And Martha always made sure that she didn't do too much. When Clark was there, they spent the time together. He even took her into town one afternoon when she was especially stir crazy. She made the mistake of calling her mother one evening and getting an endless lecture about nothing in particular. Clark had laughed hysterically when she stuck the receiver between the cushions on the couch and announced to him that if she turned into her mother as she got older he was supposed to shoot her and put her out of her misery. Their evenings were spent in front of the fireplace or out on the porch under the stars. And each night they slept snuggled together, as they had since they had arrived.
Lois awoke to find herself alone. She had gotten used to waking up wrapped in Clark's arms. Squinting, as she raised herself on one arm, she realized he wasn't there. "Clark?" she called out, thinking maybe he was in another room. She began to worry when there was no reply. 'Lois,' she told herself, 'you're just being silly. He probably … ' She stopped as a sound caught her attention. Realizing that it was coming from outside, she slid into her sweats before heading out the front door. Following the sound, she turned the corner of the house. Clark stood, shirtless, beside the farmhouse chopping wood as only he could. Setting a piece of wood on the old stump, he would slam his hand down in a chopping motion, splitting the wood. Lois smiled at first, assuming that with his powers back, this was just play for him. But as she watched, she began to frown as she realized something was wrong. She noticed that his whole back was tensed, and that he was hitting the wood much harder than he needed too. In fact, he reduced one chunk to kindling as she watched. It looked like he was trying to work something out of his system, and he wasn't having much luck.
"This has gone on long enough," she said, as she watched him crush another piece of wood, then send the pieces into orbit. Reaching for another piece of wood, he continued as she approached. "Looks like your powers are back," she said, testing the waters.
"Yep. Almost totally now," he answered, slamming another piece of wood.
"Did that wood do something to you?"
Okay, she was tired of being coy. "Clark, what is going on?"
"What do you mean?" he asked without looking up.
"I mean, something's been eating at you since you got back. And every time I ask, you tell me it's nothing. If nothing is bothering you then why are you out here beating the crap out of wood."
"Lois, I am not 'beating the crap' out of it. I'm splitting it."
"Oh, excuse me. My growing up in the city, I guess I just misunderstood. So, tell me, those pieces that are now orbiting Jupiter, how do they fit in?" He turned, one eyebrow raised. He really wasn't in the mood for her sarcasm. She stood, arms crossed, determined. If she had to pick a fight to get this out of him, then she would. "Well?" Clark took a deep breath, then turned back to the wood. And Lois lost it. Knocking the piece of wood from the stump, she sat defiantly in its place. As they stared at each other, Lois's eyes wandered lower to the chain around his neck. Reaching out, she lifted it so that it rested in her palm. "In my heart, I am your wife," she whispered, turning her head as she blinked back tears. "Dammit Clark," she said, her anger flaring, "Why won't you tell me what's wrong? Don't you trust me?"
"You KNOW I trust you. I just have to work this out on my … "
Lois paced around the stump, ranting. "Don't you say it. Don't you DARE. You're not pulling this Lone Ranger stuff again."
"Lois, it's MY problem."
"WHAT? What is YOUR problem?"
"I will NOT dump this on you. God, haven't I done enough to you!"
"What?" she asked quietly, totally surprised. He turned away and she followed him.
"Clark, what do you mean 'haven't you done enough to me'? What do you think you've done to me?"
He hung his head, his back to her. "I don't 'think' it; I know what I've done."
Taking his arm, she turned him around. "Okay, then would you mind filling me in."
"Lois … "
"Clark, you haven't done anything to me."
"No? Then why are you standing there with two holes in your back."
Suddenly, she realized what all this was about. "Oh Clark. You can't blame yourself for that." She watched as the floodgates opened and everything that he had pent up for the last two weeks came flooding out. "I should have been here, Lois. But where was I? I was on New Krypton. Trying to save these, these people who ignored my existence for thirty years. Who, conveniently forgot I existed until they were in a jam that only I could get them out of. And then they, they turn up here, and tell me that I'm supposed to go with them because it's my DESTINY. And like an IDIOT I go with them. I turned my back on Earth, and Metropolis, and my parents … And you. I left behind everything and everyone I loved and I went with them. AND FOR WHAT. They didn't want to hear what I had to say, they didn't want me to lead them. They didn't care about me. They didn't even tell me that their sun was killing me. They were willing to let me DIE to keep up appearances. And these are the people I tried to save… And while I was off on this fool's errand, you nearly died."
Lois stared at him tearfully. "But I didn't die."
"What if you had? What if … "
She pressed her finger to his lips to stop him. "Clark, we could play 'what if' all day. What if you had never become Superman? What if you had never left Smallville? For that matter, what if you had never left Krypton? This could go on and on."
He shook his head. "But I should have stayed here."
"You can't be everywhere all the time. Some times you have to make a choice. And this time you chose to try to help the New Kryptonians." She reached up, taking his face in her hands. "Clark, that's who you are. That's part of what I love about you."
"Lois," he choked, "how can you ever forgive me for leaving you? For… "
"Clark," she whispered slowly, "there is NOTHING to forgive." She pulled him to her, holding him tightly as he began to cry.
They spent the rest of the night talking. Him telling her about what had happened on New Krypton. Her telling him about work, and Metropolis. And, when he asked her to, about how she got hurt. "I'm glad Jacks was there for you," he said quietly.
"He was great," she said.
They sat staring into the fire. "Lois… I love you."
She ran a finger lightly under his chin, smiling. "And I love you." She kissed him slowly, then snuggled onto his chest. Pulling the afghan over the two of them, Clark wrapped his arms securely around Lois, and closed his eyes.
Perry White was leaving the Planet late, as usual. Stepping out onto the street, he glanced up at the sky, noticing a white streak heading west. "Now, just what is that saying about shooting stars?" he mumbled to himself, heading towards his car.
Clark awoke with a start as the voice rang through his head. <Kal-El> Having felt him jump, Lois slowly opened her eyes. "No," he whispered.
"Clark," she said, turning to see his face, "what is it?"
<We need to speak with you.>
"Clark?" Lois tried to get his attention.
<No!> Clark sent back. <We are finished. Just leave me alone.>
Watching his face, Lois recognized the look. "Clark," she asked, her voice trembling, "what do they want?"
He clenched his jaw, stroking Lois's cheek. "They want to talk to me," he explained. "I told them no." Lois tried to smile. But she knew it wasn't that easy. If Zara and Ching were back, they wouldn't be put off by a simple 'no'.
<Kal-El, you don't understand. If you would just come out to the barn, we can discuss why we're here.>
"The barn!" he growled. Clark was furious. How dare they come back? And how dare they come here? Kissing Lois on the forehead, he slid off of the couch, reaching for his shoes.
"Where are you going?" she asked, sitting up.
"To tell them to get lost!"
"Wait," she said, slipping into her shoes, "I'm going with you."
"Lois … "
"Clark," she reached for his hand, "we're in this together. Forever."
He smiled slightly, shaking his head. "Okay, come on"
Through the predawn mist, Clark led the way to the Kent's barn. He expected to be greeted by the normal darkness of the barn's interior, but instead, he found the soft glow of the Kryptonian ship. Lois's hand tightened in his as she saw it. Turning, he met her eyes. The memories of the last time they had approached the ship together, and the results of that visit were still fresh in both of their minds. Taking a deep breath, she nodded. As they approached the ship, Clark slid his hand up to touch the side and they found themselves inside.
Zara and Ching sat at the table. "Lois," Ching said, rising, "I am pleased to see that you are well."
"Thanks," she answered politely.
"Indeed," Zara added, "it would seem that you are making an excellent recovery."
"Enough," Clark growled. "What are you doing here?"
"Kal-El," Zara said, stepping towards him, "I can understand your displeasure at seeing us. I assure you we would not be here if it wasn't of the utmost importance."
"My displeasure?" Clark spat, moving towards her. Lois placed her hand on his arm, trying to calm him. He took a deep breath before continuing. "Believe me," he said, "displeasure doesn't even begin to describe it. Look, I don't care what Nor has done this time, or what the council is bickering about now. I was willing to help you in your struggle before, but I'm not about to fight it for you. This is something the people of New Krypton are going to have to handle. On their own. I'm staying here." Looking at Lois, he added, "Where I belong." Lois smiled at him, squeezing his hand.
"Kal-El … "
"Clark," Lois corrected.
"Clark, you misunderstand. We are not here to ask you to return to New Krypton."
Lois and Clark stared at Zara, then at each other, confused. "Then why are you here?" Lois asked.
"We had intended to tell you this the last day on New Krypton when we visited your quarters. But the events of that day … ," Ching paused, looking at Lois, "Well, you had more important things to deal with."
"Intended to tell me what?" Clark asked, growing impatient.
"Ching found an old Kryptonian statute concerning transfer of leadership. The ceremony would allow you to transfer power to another, thereby releasing you of any further obligation to New Krypton," Zara explained.
"Ceremony?" Clark inquired.
"Let me explain," Ching offered. "The statute was originally created to allow for the possibility of a 'noble' union which produced no offspring. In order to prevent civil unrest and struggles for power, the statute states that a ruler who had no children could adopt as heir any party he considered worthy. It was generally a deathbed ceremony in which the dying ruler transferred his title and power to his chosen heir. However, there is a provision which allows for situations in which health concerns prevent the noble from being capable of continuing to rule. This is the provision which we would apply. Using your physical rejection of the red sun as an explanation, you can choose another to assume your role as ruler of New Krypton."
Lois was first to react. "So," she asked, "you're saying all Clark has to do is pick somebody to take his place and," she snapped her fingers, "he's out of it."
"Technically, the council leader must approve his decision … "
"I knew there had to be a catch," Lois interrupted, shaking her head.
"Clark," Zara explained quickly, "it is merely a formality. We have already spoken to the leader. He is prepared carry out the ceremony as soon as we contact him."
"So," Clark said, "I suppose I have to return to New Krypton for this ceremony." Lois looked at him, disturbed by the prospect.
"No," Ching added quickly, noting her concern. "The leader is set to travel here as soon as we contact him. He will bring with him whomever you choose as your heir."
Lois was suddenly struck by an idea. "Clark, could I speak to you outside for a moment."
"Clark," Zara stated impatiently, "we should contact the leader at soon as possible."
Lois grabbed his arm, leading him toward the side of the ship. "This will only take a minute," she assured them, as he extended his hand and they disappeared.
Zara and Ching were pacing nervously when Clark and Lois reappeared in the ship. Ching noted that Lois was grinning rather mischievously. "Contact the leader," Clark announced, "I'm ready to proceed."
"We will need the name of your chosen heir so that the leader can bring them as well," Zara said.
"The leader will be making the trip alone," Clark explained. "My chosen heir is already here." Zara looked at Clark, obviously confused. Lois winked at Ching as the implication suddenly struck him. "My heir," Clark continued, "will be Lieutenant Ching."
"But I am not of noble birth."
"The statute said ANY party the ruler considered worthy," Lois added.
"Ching," Clark said, placing his hand on his shoulder, "you helped me to return to the woman I loved. Allow me to return the favor. You show great concern for the people of New Krypton and you are dedicated to their survival. The council holds you in high regard. I cannot think of a better ruler for New Krypton."
"I will contact the leader immediately," Zara said, turning to the control panel.
Lois noticed that as she leaned over the controls, a small smile spread across Zara's face. Moving to stand next to her, Lois whispered in Zara's ear, "It would seem that New Krypton won't be robbing either of us of the men we love." Zara turned to face her.
"So it would seem," she said, placing her hand on Lois's arm. "Thank you." Lois smiled at her.
While they waited for the leader to arrive, Zara and Ching spent their time in the ship, planning for Nor's demise. Meanwhile, Lois and Clark enjoyed their 'vacation', reveling in the fact that Clark was about to be free of his Kryptonian title and obligation.
"Does it bother you?" Lois asked him one afternoon as they lounged on a blanket after a picnic lunch.
"What?" he said, looking down at her where she lay across his stomach.
"That you won't be Lord Kal-El anymore."
"No. Why would it?"
She turned to look at him. "Just thinking. When Zara and Ching first turned up, you seemed to really connect to all this. I mean to your Kryptonian heritage, and your destiny. I thought maybe you would miss it."
"Lois," he said softly, "it was … something I had always wondered about. I mean, I'm glad I found out more about where I came from. But if I learned one thing on New Krypton it's that I may be from Krypton, but I am not Kryptonian. Does that make sense?"
"Perfectly," she said, reaching up to kiss him.
Later that evening, Lois and Clark sat on the porch sharing a bottle of wine. Clark laughed as Lois told him about one of Jimmy's escapades during his absence. "So, he followed this lead to the … " she paused, laughing, "to the sewer plant." They both broke up. "And when he… " Lois froze.
Clark looked at her, realizing she had suddenly stopped laughing. "Lois … ?" he started, but stopped as she pointed into the sky. Following her arm, he saw that she was pointing at a white streak moving across the sky.
"I can't believe this is almost over," she said quietly.
"Believe it," he said, helping her up, then wrapping her in his arms. "And that means that soon you'll be able to drag me down the aisle," he grinned.
"You can count on it," she grinned back. She kissed him quickly, then darted off back into the house, returning with a new bottle of wine. They waited what seemed like an eternity.
Finally, Clark's head snapped up. <Kal-El, the Council Leader has arrived. We can proceed immediately.>
"Are they ready?" Lois asked, nervously.
"Yes," he answered, standing and reaching for her hand. As Lois and Clark crossed the driveway, heading for the barn, they missed the second streak of white crossing the sky behind them.
Lois and Clark entered the barn, the interior now lit by the glow of two Kryptonian ships. Zara and Ching were standing beside their ship. As Lois and Clark approached, a slightly older man stepped from behind the second ship. Lois noticed that his black tunic was decorated with several blue and gold symbols.
<Must mean he's the big guy,> Lois thought irreverently.
<It does,> Clark answered in her mind. She looked at him, grinning. Since he had returned, they hadn't really used the telepathy. What was the point? But every so often Clark would surprise her with it, usually in some playful moment. It was a simple reminder of their extraordinary bond.
"Lord Kal," the leader began, "I understand that you wish to relinquish your rights as Leader of New Krypton and appoint Lt. Ching as heir to your privilege."
"Yes," Clark answered, "that is correct." His grip on Lois's hand tightened. They would soon be free.
"Very well," the leader continued, "Lt. Ching, are you prepared to accept this appointment and all the rights and responsibilities that accompany it?"
Ching opened his mouth to answer, then froze. "Down!," he shouted suddenly, grabbing Zara and the leader and pushing them to the side.
Clark grabbed Lois and pulled her down behind a stack of hay bales, shoving her down beneath him and covering her. There was a thunderous crash as something tore through the roof of the barn. Clark shielded Lois as pieces of wood rained down. Raising his head slowly, Clark made sure that it was over, then helped Lois to her feet.
"You okay?" he asked, holding onto her waist.
"I'm fine," she answered, brushing herself off. "But wha… " She stopped as she noticed the figure, all in black, hovering just below the hole in the roof. Zara, Ching, and the council leader were already staring at him.
Clark turned to see what Lois was staring at. "Nor," he whispered. Lois and Clark stepped out from behind the hay, rejoining the others. They all watched in silence as the figure slowly floated down to the floor.
"Lord Kal-El," Nor said, sarcastically addressing Clark, "it is a pleasure to meet you face to face at last. Now, I am familiar with some of your companions," Nor sneered, gesturing toward the New Kryptonians. "However," he continued, turning his attention to Lois, "I'm afraid that I've never met this lovely creature before." Clark stepped protectively in front of Lois. Nor grinned. "Very well then. Based on your 'chivalrous' gesture, I will assume that this would be Lois Lane. So, this is the Earth woman with whom you are so enamored." Nor's voice dripped with sarcasm and contempt. "You know," he continued, "I've never really been fond of pets."
Lois's spine snapped straight. "Pets," she growled over Clark's shoulder.
"Lois," he warned, putting his arm back to keep her behind him.
She drew a deep breath. "Okay, okay," she said. 'For now,' she thought, raising an eyebrow.
"What do you want, Nor?" Clark asked curtly.
"Just happened to be in the neighborhood. I decided I'd drop in for your little ceremony." Nor paced pompously around the barn. "But you know, I kind of like it here. Grass and trees, fresh air, and of course, the power we gain under a yellow sun. Isn't it just … Super. Perhaps I should stay. What do you think, Kal? Maybe this world could use two supermen. Yes, yes, I think so."
"Nor," Zara spoke up, "your fight is with us, not with Kal or this planet."
"Originally, yes. But you yourself brought Kal-El, and thereby his beloved Earth, into this. Besides, New Krypton is beginning to bore me. This world would be much easier to conquer," he paused, turning his attention back to Lois. "Tell me, Lois, are there more like you here. Oh, I do hope so. I should love to fill my palace with such beautiful treasures. Kal, are they very hard to control?"
Ching had had it. He grabbed Nor's arm and spun him around. "Enough, Nor."
Nor jerked his arm free of Ching's grip. "Ah, yes, Lieutenant Ching. Would be heir to the Ruling Power of New Krypton." Nor turned his back to Ching as he continued. "Do you really think that you can defeat me?"
"I have no doubt."
"Really," Nor grinned, half turning. "How do you propose to rule New Krypton when you can't even fulfill the duties of your present position?" Ching tilted his head, confused. In a blur Nor turned, his arm raised, and fired a small energy weapon at Zara. Ching watched in horror as the blast caught her in the abdomen, sending her crashing back against the ship. Laughing, Nor lifted back into the air. Ching sank down next to Zara, cradling her in his arms. "Come, Ching. I believe the Earth saying is," Nor paused, thinking. "Ah yes … Let's Rock."
Ching clenched his jaw, torn between going after Nor and staying with Zara.
Opening her eyes, she said softly, "Go." Handing her to the leader, he launched off through the hole in the roof after Nor. Lois and Clark knelt at Zara's side. "I'll be fine," she said, struggling to sit up.
"Take care of her," Clark said to the leader as he stood. Scooping Lois into his arms, he sped from the barn.
Clark set Lois on her feet in the living room before heading into the bedroom. She heard the familiar whir and stepped into the doorway. She smiled slightly as he stood, once again, in the familiar red and blue costume. But the smile faded as she realized what he meant to do. Noticing the look in her eyes, he took her hands. "Lois, I have to help Ching. Alone, they're equal, but maybe he and I together can defeat Nor. It's the only way we can end this." She nodded slowly. She didn't like the idea, but she also knew he was right. He kissed her quickly before darting out the door.
Soaring into the sky, Clark searched for Ching and Nor. Noticing smoke rising from a nearby field, Clark suspected that the Kryptonians were responsible. Following the smoke, he found them. Extinguishing the fire with his breath, Clark jumped back as Ching suddenly came flying limply at him, apparently the result of a blow from Nor. Catching Ching, Clark righted him. Ching shook his head, stunned by the blow. "Ka..Clark, what are you doing here? This is not your fight."
"I know," Clark responded, "but together, we can defeat him. And he's threatened Earth now. So it is my fight."
"Very well then," Ching said, a slight gleam in his eye. "Let's go." Splitting up, they flew off in pursuit of Nor.
Lois stepped through the front door, wondering how things were going. She stared at the sky, hoping to see something, anything. She sighed, wrapping her arms around her. It would be dark soon. Clark and Ching had been gone a long time. From the corner of her eye, she noticed movement at the barn. She raised her hand to ward off the glare from the setting sun. Zara and the leader were standing in the shadow of the barn. Lois rushed to meet them. "Have you heard, you know," Lois asked tapping her temple, "from Ching?"
Zara shook her head. "Nothing. Have you seen them at all?"
"No," Lois replied, sighing again. Zara leaned heavily on the leader, still obviously weak. "Maybe you should come in the house and lie down for a while," Lois offered.
"No," Zara answered. "If this battle has been going on this long, then it is obviously not going well. We must come up with a plan to help them."
"Possibly," Zara replied, "but we'll need your help. If you're willing."
Jonathan had gone out in the pickup to see if he could spot the combatants. Martha sat on the porch with Zara, the leader, and Lois. Lois listened intently as they explained their plan. As the leader finished, Lois looked at Martha. She had stood and was fussing with the plants hanging from the porch ceiling.
Lois noted the concern on her face. "Martha," she asked, reaching for her arm, "what is it?"
Martha shook her head, "Lois, honey, you've only been out of the hospital a couple of weeks … " She paused, shaking her head again. "I just … Are you sure you're up to this?"
Standing, Lois took Martha's hand. The two women stood, face to face. "Martha," Lois started, "I'm okay. And I have to do this. Clark needs me… " She paused, tears filling her eyes. Taking a deep breath, she continued, "If they could defeat Nor alone, they would have done it by now. They need our help."
"But if Clark knew … " Martha stopped herself.
Lois smiled. "I know, he always tells me to be careful."
"And you never listen," Martha said, smiling tearfully back at her.
"If there was any other way… " Lois replied.
Martha squeezed her hands. "Okay. Is there anything I can do?"
"Sure, cross your fingers." Lois wrapped her arms around Martha's neck.
"Be careful, honey," Martha whispered in her ear.
"I will," Lois assured her. She stepped back, holding Martha's hands. "I will," she repeated before turning to follow Zara and the leader off the porch. Martha watched as the leader scooped Lois up and flew off.
Zara was in the barn, huddled over a table when Lois and the leader returned. "You got it?" Zara asked, referring to the locked box in Lois's hands. Nodding, Lois sat the box on the table next to the device Zara was assembling. "I'm nearly finished here," Zara said, returning to her work. "I'll need you to place it in the weapon."
"I understand," Lois replied, watching over Zara's shoulder. Using her heat vision, Zara welded the last piece into place, then cooled it with her breath. She turned it slowly in her hands, inspecting her work. Satisfied, she pressed a button on the underside of the gun and a small compartment opened on the top. Laying the gun on the table, she backed away.
"Do I just drop it in?" Lois asked, undoing the latches on the box.
"Yes," Zara answered a hint of nervousness in her voice. Lois slowly lifted the lid on the box. Reaching in, she pulled out the glowing green rock and quickly transferred it to the compartment in the weapon. "Now, quickly, latch the cover," Zara said. As the cover clicked closed, Zara and the leader cautiously approached the table. Zara turned the weapon on its side. "Now," she began, "let's show you how this works." Pointing to each part, Zara explained to Lois how to hold, aim, and fire the weapon. "It is very important that none of us are near Nor when you fire. We would all be affected just as he will."
"And he will be affected how?" Lois asked.
"It should render him powerless. I was unable to get as much power into the beam as I would have liked. It should be enough to take him down with a couple of blasts," Zara explained.
"And if it isn't?"
Zara was about to answer when Martha Kent raced into the barn. "They're here," she exclaimed breathlessly. "In the north field."
Lois exchanged a quick look with Zara, then lifted the weapon. Martha's eyes widened as Lois turned with the gun. Tucking the gun into her waistband, Lois pulled her jacket over it, hiding it. "Let's go," she said, determination in her voice.
Walking across the driveway, the group could hear the sounds of the battle raging in the north field. Reaching the edge of the field, they could see that the Kryptonian titans were tired and worn, but none seemed near defeat. Clark's Superman suit was torn in several places, and Ching's black suit had a large hole across the right side of his chest. They were all dirty, battered, and tired. Zara cringed as Nor pulled a tree up and drove it against Ching, sending him sailing across the field. Clark swooped down behind Nor, grabbing him in a headlock as Ching pulled himself back to his feet. Nor dropped to his knees, tricking Clark into thinking he had him. As Clark bent down, allowing him to fall, Nor reached over Clark's shoulders. Grabbing him by the back of his suit, he yanked Clark over his head, sending him sailing into Ching.
Lois started to reach for the gun, but Zara caught her arm. Lois drew a deep breath, trying to calm herself. She knew that Zara was right. Nor was moving too fast at the moment. And she would need to hit him with the first shot. Nor disappeared in a blur, then reappeared, hovering over Ching and Clark where they lay, trying to regain their senses. He held a large steel beam in his hands. Pulling back, farther into the sky, he suddenly launched down at them. Lois and Zara watched in horror as Nor struck Ching and Clark together at full force, driving them deep into the earth. Waves of dirt rose from the hole where the three Kryptonians had disappeared. Lois looked at Martha, tears in her eyes. Martha stood staring at the hole where her son had just disappeared. The earth rumbled as Nor came blasting back out of the earth. He landed in front of Lois and Martha, one arm behind his back. Lois crossed her arms, one hand sneaking beneath her jacket to grasp the butt of the gun. Smiling lecherously, Nor slowly pulled his arm from behind his back. As the item he held unfurled before them, Martha and Lois stared. It was Clark's Superman cape, a large jagged hole replacing the S. Martha sank to her knees, tears filling her eyes. Zara watched as Lois's face went blank. It was the same look she had seen on Clark's face that last day on New Krypton. Nor dropped the cape at Lois's feet and turned laughing as he walked slowly away.
Lois looked down slowly, bending to pick up the cape. She folded it carefully, and laid it to the side. Clenching her jaw, she stood and pulled the gun from her waistband. Leveling the weapon at Nor's back, Lois began to follow him. As she gained on him, she fired and watched as he stumbled. Continuing to walk slowly, but steadily toward him, she fired again. Nor turned just in time for the second blast to catch him full in the chest. Lois fired again, driving him to his knees. Her fourth blast knocked him onto his back. Lois was now standing over him. Looking up at her, he saw that her eyes were filled with tears. And he saw something else. She intended to kill him, he was sure of it. Writhing from the Kryptonite exposure, he struggled to get to his knees. Lois fired again, sending him sprawling on the ground again.
"So," he gasped, "you intend to murder me."
"You killed my soulmate," Lois replied quietly. "It's not murder. It's justice." She stood over him, leveling the gun at his head. 'Lois' she heard in her head. 'Lois, no!' She stopped, trying to figure out if she had really heard it. Concentrating, she called back to him. There was no reply. Her rage surged and she leveled the gun at Nor again.
Suddenly, there was another blast of earth and Clark screamed behind her. "Lois, NO!" She spun to see him hovering over the hole, supporting Ching. Nor saw his opportunity, and he took it. Kicking out with his leg, he knocked Lois's feet out from under her. As she fell back dropping the gun, he grabbed her around the neck. Clark released Ching and raced toward Nor.
"Ah-ah," Nor warned, placing his other hand on Lois's chin. "I'll snap her neck." Clark stopped, hovering just in front of them. Lois's mind raced. She looked at the gun, judging the distance. "She's mine now," Nor taunted, pulling Lois to her feet as he stood. His strength was returning and Lois knew she didn't have much time.
Staring hard at Clark, Lois sent one thought. <Go.>
He looked at her, replying, <What?!>
<GO!> she thought. Clark didn't understand, but he felt the urgency in her last thought. Hesitantly, he turned and flew off to the edge of the field landing next to his mother. Nor threw back his head, laughing. Slamming her elbow back, Lois cut his laughter short. Twisting free, she lunged for the gun. Grabbing it, she turned and fired twice, point blank. Nor dropped to the ground, unconscious. Stepping back, Lois held the gun on him, looking for any movement. Clark, Ching, and Zara raced to her side.
Zara passed her hand over Nor, then looked up, grinning. "He should be unconscious for several hours."
Lois let the gun drop from her hand as she began to shake. Clark pulled her into his arms, stroking her hair. She closed her eyes, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck. "Oh, Clark," she sighed, "I thought I had lost you."
"Shhhh," he said, pulling back to look her in the eyes. "You're never going to lose me. Never." He leaned down and kissed her, softly at first, and then more urgently.
Pulling back slightly, Lois grinned, "You know, we need to make some wedding plans. Fast."
Clark grinned back at her. "Definitely."