By Genevieve Clemens (Gaziel@gnn.com)
Summary: A few in-between scenes from the episode "Battlefield Earth." Clark recovers from kryptonite poisoning, and Lois confronts the Army Colonel who was willing to kill Superman if it brought down Lord Nor.
The sun was setting as Lois Lane walked towards the Daily Planet building. She paused for a minute, as she looked at the street, where, earlier that afternoon, five prone bodies had lain. Four of those bodies had been corpses; the fifth… Lois bit at the inside of her cheek as the anger threatened to overcome her once again. A few deep breaths had her back under control. She straightened her back, squared her shoulders, and continued her walk into the Daily Planet. There was a story to be written, and she, Lois Lane, was going to be the one to write it.
She entered the city room, and walked towards her desk. The room was quiet; the reporters working quietly at their terminals, trying to get their stories finished and accepted so they could go home to their families. As she powered up her computer, she heard a familiar voice calling her name. She looked up and saw Perry and Jimmy approaching. She tensed in anger again as she saw a uniformed figure following them.
"Lois?" Perry asked. "I'm surprised to see you here. How's Superman?"
Lois could see Colonel Cash hanging on her words. "He's still alive, if that's what you mean." She answered. She looked directly at the Colonel. "The other four are dead."
"Good!" exclaimed Perry, while Jimmy, eavesdropping quietly in the corner breathed a sigh of relief.
"That is good news," said the Colonel. "I'm sorry, Miss Lane," he continued, "but it had to be done. Superman was losing. The consequences if he had been killed, and the other aliens were allowed to continue their rampage on Earth were unthinkable."
"So you would kill someone who has never hurt anyone, who has always tried to help?" she exploded.
The Colonel took a deep breath. "Kill him, Miss Lane? You bet." He threw some papers down on her desk. "These are the casualty reports. In addition to the men under my command, they killed eight people in Smallville, and another thirty-five in Metropolis. Why don't you look at those papers? Maybe you knew some of them. If I had to kill Superman to stop them from killing any more, I would. Hell, I'd have killed everyone in Smallville to stop them, if that's what it had taken. I'm glad it didn't. But I'll bet Superman would have told me to go ahead."
Lois just looked at him. It was Perry who broke the silence. "Yes, I think he would have," he said quietly. As Lois shot a disbelieving stare at him, he repeated himself. "Nor had to be stopped, Lois. Whatever the cost. Superman knew that. And I think you do too, deep down."
She wasn't finished yet. "That doesn't excuse them stealing the Kryptonite," she said. "Or building the gas grenade. They had to start that before Nor ever came to Earth. Or the quantum disrupter that Lex purchased. That was another weapon they built to use against Superman."
"Yes we did," Cash responded. "Superman is too powerful, virtually unstoppable. True, he's helped so far. But people change. He could go crazy. Maybe he could be brainwashed, or hypnotized. We have to protect the American people, Miss Lane. That is our responsibility."
Memories of Superman knocking over parking meters, and returning a child to a kidnapper's car, came back to Lois. But she wasn't about to give in. "Superman would have found another way, "she said defiantly. "He would never have justified taking a life." She turned back to her computer. "I have a story to write," she said, dismissing them. "And if I'm going to get it in the early editions, I need to get started." As she began typing, she was aware of Jimmy and the Colonel leaving. But Perry remained, looking at her, and leaning over her desk. With an annoyed look, she stopped work and turned back to face him.
"Lois, honey," he said softly. "How is Superman, really?"
"Not good." She relented. "He's in a lot of pain, he's having trouble breathing on his own. He came to for a few minutes, and seemed to know us. But…"
"But he's OK?"
"They can't figure out why he's still alive, when the other are dead," Lois answered. "The medics on the ship have come up with a number of theories. The autopsies have shown a higher concentration of Kryptonite in the other men's tissues than in his. Maybe because they were closer to the explosion, they absorbed the gas. Or perhaps, the fact that Superman has lived on Earth longer than any of them meant his invulnerability was stronger. Or his many exposures to Kryptonite in the past have given him some immunity. They keep arguing about it and wondering."
"I'm surprised you left him," Perry said. "You seemed … *very* concerned for him earlier. And what's this concubine stuff Jimmy was telling me earlier?."
"Oh, that was just the easiest way I could think of to get on that ship," Lois said airily. Then she looked up and decided she didn't like the look of growing suspicion and concern on his face. She knew how fond he was of Clark. She decided it was time for a bit of misdirection. "They gave me a communicator," she said, "and promised to call if there was any change. And I didn't leave him alone. Clark is with him. And Zara is there. She's his wife, you know."
Perry's eyebrows shot up at that piece of new. "His wife! He's married? I didn't know that."
"He's been married all along, apparently," Lois said, wondering how big a story to spin. "Guess I made quite a fool of myself there a few years ago, huh?" She continued without waiting for an answer. "Actually, I think I really embarrassed him back then. I didn't even begin to know him, not really, until after Clark and I got engaged. He and Clark have been friends, *really* good friends, for longer than I ever imagined."
She stopped, and looked down at her desk. A name on a piece of paper caught her eye. "Oh, God," she exclaimed, as she picked up the papers Colonel Cash had thrown down on her desk.
"What is it?" Perry asked, diverted from his thoughts of Superman.
Lois pointed to a name on the paper, listed under the heading SMALLVILLE, KANSAS — CASUALTY LIST. "I knew him. The first time I ever went to Smallville, Clark took me to a dance. Clark introduced us. They went to high school together. His wife was expecting their first child; I mean, it was like any day; and I danced with him because she didn't feel up to it. And now he's dead. Incinerated by Nor."
Perry saw the tears welling up in Lois' eyes. He knew how to stop that. "Lois, do you think you could get me that story by 9:00 tonight? We have a lot going in tomorrow's edition and it'll really help if you could get it in before deadline."
Lois nodded, and turned to her computer. When Perry looked up five minute later, all he could see was a straight back and fingers flying over a keyboard.
Four days later, Lois let herself back into her apartment after a hectic day at work. Perry had assigned her to interview "the public," determining how they felt about aliens, now that Earth had been invaded by a hostile force. She missed Clark. This was his kind of story. He would have been able to draw the people out with a sympathetic question or an inquiring look. Before she'd been teamed up with him she avoided this kind of story like the plague; afterwards, it was watching him write this kind of "mood" piece that had brought about her first grudging admiration for his skills as a reporter. The story would have been so much easier to write with him there. As she looked around the empty apartment, she knew she missed him for so much more than just help with a story.
Either Ching or Zara had contacted her daily, keeping her appraised of his progress, but no one had suggested that she go back aboard the Kryptonian ship. Two days ago, Clark had developed pneumonia, a result of the gas he had breathed into his lungs, and Ching had told her that the medics couldn't decide whether to take the ship out of the solar system, away from the yellow sun so that their drugs and medical devices might work, or whether they should take the ship in closer to the sun, so that the light might increase his invulnerability and cause him to heal faster. She didn't know what they had decided, but there had been no news yesterday, and all day today, the communicator had remained ominously silent. She trusted Ching and Zara that they wouldn't go back to New Krypton without letting her know. She *thought* she trusted them, but there was this nagging worry at the back of her mind. This terrible fear that she would never see him again. That he would either die, or leave, or be taken away.
She was putting the kettle on for tea, when she heard a sound at the window. She whirled, and Ching floated into her apartment. "Kal-el told me to knock," he said with a grin.
"Ching, is he? Is he…" Lois couldn't get the words out.
"He's much, much better," Ching said, still grinning. "You'll see."
"Did you take the ship in close to the sun, or out away?" Lois asked.
"Both," he replied. "Come. He wants to see you."
Lois held back as Ching pulled her towards the window. "Ching," she said. "Should I go? Those things they said at the trial — terrible things… I don't want to make things more difficult for him. "
"You won't," said Ching. "You can't. Trust me." And he gently pulled Lois towards him and the window.
On the ship, Ching led Lois towards Kal-El's bed chamber. As the doors opened silently, Zara stood up from where she had been sitting by his bedside. "He just dozed off," she whispered to Lois. Then she and Ching left the room.
Lois walked slowly towards the bed. The man sleeping on it was wearing the familiar red and blue suit, so different from the hospital gown he had been wearing the last time she saw him. His lips were red, not blue, and his skin was clear, without the terrible green tint it had had before. Her eyes moved down his body, checking out his hands (Yup! All ten fingers) , ending up at his boots.
"Do I pass muster?" came a quiet voice, and Lois looked back up at his face. His eyes, open now, and looking at her, were so clear. He reached out and took her hand in his, pulling her towards him on the bed.
Lois took a breath to answer him, and felt her control break. The tension, the fear of the last few days overcame her, and she found herself crying, sobbing as though her heart would break. Clark reached out and pulled her towards him, holding her, stroking her hair, and let her cry herself out. Lois had never cried like this before — not in anger, not in grief, not in remorse, but with relief.
When it was over, she looked at him, her eyes still wet. "I'm sorry," she said, "I don't — I was so afraid I'd never see you again. First you were going to New Krypton, then you were dying, then you were here…"
"Shhh," he said, holding her close. "Lois, I'm never going to leave you again. I promise." Lois tried to dry her face with her hands. "There is a bathroom over there, if you want to wash your face."
Lois got up and managed to splash some cold water on her face. She found a blue bottle, and filled it with cold water, and carried it back to the bed, where Clark still lay.
"No, I haven't seen a glass, either," he said with a wry smile. "A large goblet once, but mostly just bottles." Lois took a drink, and carried the bottle over to a table against the wall.
"How are you, Clark?" she asked then. "Really?"
"Well, Superman is taking a leave of absence. My powers are all gone. Temporarily, I'm sure. Just like the first time I was exposed to Kryptonite." He closed his eyes briefly, and continued. "And I'm tired. Very tired. I get dizzy spells, but not as many as yesterday, and they aren't real bad. Anyway. I promised Zara I'd lie down as much as possible today, but that hasn't been very much. We've been very busy with … politics."
Lois lay down on the bed next to him, snuggling in close, and his arms went around her. She didn't speak, waiting for him to continue.
"I went before the Council of Elders this morning," he said. "Not the Tribunal, but the whole council. And I admitted to everything that Nor accused me of at the trial. I wasn't fit to be a Kryptonian Lord; I didn't know the customs or the language (although I'm getting pretty good at it by now), and what was more, I didn't want to be a Kryptonian Lord. I wore the red and blue to make my point. I may be Kryptonian by birth, but I was raised and nurtured on Earth, and it is Earth's values I have embraced, and Earth people that I love. I am staying here.
"The House of El and the House of Nor are both leaderless. I asked the council that Ching take over the duties of the Lord of El; he was like a brother to me. The House of Nor will find someone more trustworthy, I think. The Council has learned a hard lesson. And Trey is shattered; he wasn't even there this morning. He can't believe how close he came to disaster or how blind he was to Nor's true intentions."
"What did the Council say about Ching?" Lois asked.
"Nothing yet. I think they are running a background check."
Lois raised her head at the familiar tone in his voice and saw a familiar grin. "Hey, that was your Clark voice."
"Clark has to come back. That's who I am. I don't like Kal-El much; he's too much like Superman." Lois felt Clark's arms tighten around her and felt his lips on her hair. "And to be honest, I don't care who the Council picks to lead the House of El, but it would make Ching an eligible suitor for Zara. They deserve that much."
As if on cue, the door's opened, and Ching and Zara entered. Lois jumped to her feet guiltily, and Clark started to rise, but changed his mind on seeing Zara's stern look, and settled back down on the pillows with a sigh.
"Kal-El," said Zara, "the Council has approved your choice of Ching to lead the House of El. They are readying the papers for you to sign now. But are you sure?"
"Well," said Clark, looking at Ching. "I know that Ching is honest, wise, dedicated, and willing to put his life on the line for things he believes in. You told me that the people on New Krypton trust him. Do *you* approve my choice, Zara?"
Zara looked at Clark for a second, then turned to where Ching was standing silently by her side. "Oh, yes," she said, her face breaking into a large smile. "Yes, I do. It's just that it seems too good to be true. Nor defeated, and Ching…" she trailed off in confusion.
Ching came to her rescue. "That kryptonite was very effective," he said to Clark and Lois. "It is clearly a powerful weapon. Perhaps we should learn more about it."
"When we tell people about it," Zara said. "I think we can exaggerate enough that no one from New Krypton comes to Earth again."
"Kryptonite generally exists as a rock," Clark spoke up from the bed. "Coming into contact with it is … not pleasant. And it saps one's strength. But that gas… That was truly effective."
"I hate it!" Lois exclaimed. "Well, I do," she said, as three pairs of eyes turned to look at her. "Kryptonite gas, and that, that *thing* that Lex bought… The army is deliberately making weapons to use against you, did you know that? And I hate the thought that these things exist that can kill you. I hate it! I haven't forgotten about Trask. Have you? There are others like him around you know. More now, probably, than before. People are scared of creatures from outer space right now."
"Lois," came a quiet voice from the bed. "Do you know that they estimate that there are around 40,000 handguns in Metropolis? Legal ones?"
"What does that have to do with it?" Lois demanded. "Guns can't hurt you."
"No," Clark said. "But they can hurt *you*. I don't like knowing that there are 40,000 guns in the city that can kill you; that any Tom, Dick or Harry with a grudge and a few dollars can buy one, and take pot-shots at you. Given that knowledge, the fact that there are a few weapons available, and that very well-organized, very rich crackpots can try to hurt me is a fact that I can live with."
"Well, when you put it that way…" Lois picked up the water bottle and offered it to him. Clark took a drink, and pulled Lois down beside him on the bed.
"And besides," he said, "the army was right, Lois. Nor had to be stopped. My death would not have been too large a price to pay."
"You'll never get me to agree to that," Lois said angrily. "Never, never, never. And I never want to see that coward of a Colonel again as long as I live."
Clark lifted his had and touched her cheek. "I love you, too," he whispered.
The doors slid open, and Trey walked in. He started to raise his hand to cover his eyes, but Lois hopped off the bed.
"Lord Kal-El," Trey said, "These are the papers you need to sign to authorize Ching to assume the leadership of the house of El." Clark slid awkwardly off the bed, took the papers and began to read and sign them.
"Lord Kal-El," Trey said, "I feel I should offer my resignation from the Council of Elders. I cannot believe how easily I was duped by Nor, and what a grave mistake I made in siding with him against you. I do not trust myself to make such decisions anymore."
"Trey," Clark said, putting down the signed papers, and walking over to him. "I suspected you might feel this way, especially when you were not present at the Council of Elders this morning. But you are wrong. You *are* trustworthy. You have learned from this encounter."
"Trust Zara. She has the instincts to see a person's motivations. If you listen to her, you will not go wrong. Ching has the integrity and the dedication. But you — Trey, you have the experience of years. They are both young, and they will need you to guide them for a few more years yet."
"If you truly feel that way, Kal-El, I will try," said Trey.
"I do. You will do well, Trey. And now…" He handed Trey the papers. "Is there anything else I need to do before I — *we* can go home?"
"No," said Trey. Then he bowed and said something in Kryptonian. Clark bowed back, and Trey left the room. Clark turned and looked at Zara and Ching. They stood silently for a minute, staring at each other, and then Clark turned and offered Lois his arm.
As they left the bed chamber, and began moving through the maze of corridors on the ship, Lois asked Clark if he was sure he knew where they were going. He smiled. "I haven't figured it all out yet," he said, "but if I get lost, I just ask Ching. And I *do* know my way to the exit chamber. It's right over there." He pointed to a doorway set into the wall further down the corridor.
As they approached the exit chamber, Clark leaned towards Lois. "I'm starving," he said. "How about Chinese for dinner?"
Everything is back to normal, Lois thought. "Chinese is fine," she answered. "As long as it's take-out. I want you to myself tonight."
Clark smiled, meeting her eyes. "Take-out, it is," he said, as he opened the door and led her towards the device that would transport them away from the Kryptonian palace, and back to Metropolis.