By Kendra Prince (KPrince697@aol.com)
Summary: Lois seeks solace in Smallville after Clark's departure. And in the "Fortress of Solitude," she finds that Clark's globe gives her a window across the galaxy — all the way to New Krypton. A story that takes place after the episode "Big Girls Don't Fly."
Author's note: This story takes place after the third season finale. We're all eager to see our favorite duo reunited!
You will find music in just about every story I write because it is such a wonderful extension of the heart. A good love song can express a myriad of emotions in just three to four minutes time and it is usually a song that gets my creative juices flowing.
About the time "Big Girls Don't Fly" aired, I purchased a copy of "If My Heart Had Wings" by Melissa Manchester. Lyrics like "Sometimes it seems so unfair, like the universe doesn't care that it could tear our two souls apart," from the song, "In A Perfect World", launched this story. It's reminiscent of the loneliness and confusion Lois feels, following the surrender of her lover to a world she will never see, as well as her hope that they will be together again someday.
Special thanks go to my co-pilots on L&C flights of fancy: Evelyn and the folks (or is that FoLCs? <g>) at ABC Online, Amy and Dreaming.
May we continue to be blessed with writers that give us series and songs worth losing ourselves in, whether it's for an hour or just three to four minutes… (kp)
Just as she had done every evening since Clark Kent had left for New Krypton with Zara and Lt. Ching, Lois Lane walked into Clark's empty apartment at 344 Clinton. What was she looking for? Was she harboring a secret hope that Clark would be there waiting for her? In reality, she came back each night just to feel close to the man she loved. She would spend hours there, allowing the memories to come, whisking her away to happier days. Grateful that Clark's parents, Martha and Jonathan, had chosen to keep Clark's apartment for now, Lois found it to be a safe haven. Outside, the world was a chaotic place, muddling through without the Kryptonian savior known as Superman.
Lois turned on the stereo and poured herself a glass of wine. Stepping out onto the balcony, she permitted herself to become lost in the melancholy melody filtering through the night air…
"We were meant to be You were put on earth for me I'll know that 'til my dying day But somehow life got in the way Where did it all go wrong We couldn't survive the winter storm Now our lives are lying broken and bare Somewhere there must be a place For dreams that should have been Where a love like ours can stand the test of time In a perfect world You would still be mine Love should've been enough But it wasn't when the waters got rough The tide swept you out of my arms"
Lois winced at the memory forever etched in her mind. The memory of Clark gazing down at her in the Planet newsroom just before he turned to fly out of her life. She could remember her regret at letting him go, as well as Jonathan's admonition that a love that risks nothing is worth nothing. In releasing Clark to the destiny his birth father, Jor- El, had spoken of, Lois had paid the highest price she could pay.
As the song continued to play, she gazed up into the night sky, focusing on one star that flickered in the distance.
"Every night I ask why But I get no reply There are no answers in the moonlight No comfort in the moonlight Sometimes it seems so unfair Like the universe just doesn't care That it could tear our two souls apart Somewhere there must be a place For dreams that should have been Where a love like ours can stand the test of time In a perfect world You would still be mine Somewhere there must be a place Oh there's got to be a place A perfect world Where some day you'll be mine"*
Lois found herself wondering if it was just her imagination or did she really hear Clark calling out to her that first night alone? Oh Clark, she thought, were it that you could hear my heart tonight and every night. Are you safe? Have you conquered Lord Nor? Will you ever be able to return to me, my love?
Walking inside the apartment, Lois made her way to the wine rack. Pushing it aside, she stepped into the secret closet where Clark kept the suits that belonged to Superman. Lois reached for one of the capes and drew it close. Closing the wine rack back over the closet, she turned toward the bedroom. Wrapping the cape around her shoulders, she stretched out on Clark's bed and eventually drifted off to sleep.
Her dreams were initially nightmares of Clark being taken from her and dying in battle on New Krypton. Later, they were of her in Clark's arms as they soared to the heavens. His presence was so real. "I'll wait for you forever," she murmured sleepily.
Lois woke with a start to the ringing of the phone. She stifled a yawn as she answered, "… Hello?"
"Lois! Thank heavens! I've been trying to reach you for days!"
"Yes! I've been calling your apartment all week and getting your machine. I was worried sick about you," she chided.
Lois sat up in bed and ran her fingers through her hair. "I'm sorry. I've been spending a lot of time here lately. I just needed to feel close to Clark."
Martha could hear the loneliness in Lois' voice. "That's one reason we decided to keep the apartment for now. Besides, we need a place to stay when we come to Metropolis to see you."
Talking to Clark's mother was proving harder than Lois had anticipated. It just made her want to see Clark all the more. "I guess it will be a while before you can come back."
"I'm afraid so, honey. Jonathan has so much to do around the farm these days, especially now that Clark's …" Martha could have kicked herself for bringing up his absence.
Lois smiled sadly. "I know how much he loved helping Jonathan around the farm."
Martha brightened. "You know what you need? To be around family."
"Oh, Martha. I don't think so. Lucy's been flying to Europe a lot lately. And you know how Dad was hawking "ABS In A Bottle"? He's done so well at that, now he's marketing cyborg trainers to upper class gluttons."
"You're kidding!" Martha chuckled.
"I wish I were. Can't you just picture Baby Gunderson wearing a thong?"
Thongs sure don't belong on humans, Martha reasoned silently.
"And then there's Mom. I love her, but she's never been much of a nurturer."
"Actually, when I said 'family,' I meant Jonathan and myself. We have a ticket waiting for you at the airport, if you'd like to come to Smallville."
"Just try and keep me away," Lois sighed with relief.
Thanks to years of experience in last minute packing before dashing off to the airport, Lois was ready in no time. By that afternoon, she was running to meet Martha and Jonathan in the Kansas City airport terminal. As the three of them hugged, they were oblivious to the people around them. Passersby thought nothing of the all too familiar scene. A cherished daughter who had come home at last to be enveloped in a long-awaited warm embrace. The circle was complete, with one glaring exception — Clark.
On New Krypton, Clark fingered Lois' wedding band. He wore it on a silver chain Lois had given to him on their last night together. It tore at his heart to think of her halting words, softly spoken. "I never got the chance to wear my wedding ring," she said as she slipped the chain over his head and around his neck. "I was hoping you would keep it for me."
Clark had pledged to keep the ring as safe as his love for Lois. When he told her he had loved her from the beginning, she affirmed that she would love him until the end.
Just days before, Clark had received the startling news that he and Lady Zara had been pledged to one another as infants on Krypton, before the planet had been destroyed in a cataclysmic explosion. In his heart, Clark was already married — to Lois, not Zara, as Kryptonian custom had dictated.
A thousand or so Kryptonians had left Krypton to explore new worlds for possible colonization. The explosion left them homeless and destined to carve out life on a barren rock, as Ching had explained. Life was difficult at best for the Kryptonian pioneers. Being stranded forced them to realign priorities. Love and kindness had given way to survival.
New Krypton had reached a critical juncture. The recent death of Lady Zara's father, had left her as the only living member in the line of Ra. Stability in Kryptonian society was determined by the preservation of the royal lines. Both Clark, known on Krypton as Kal-El, and Zara were of noble blood. But unfortunately, so was Lord Nor. If Kal-El chose to annul his marriage to Zara, then by Kryptonian law, Lord Nor would be the next in line for Zara's hand.
Marriage to Nor was unthinkable for Zara. He stood for everything she hated. If Nor came into full power thanks to his union with Zara, New Krypton would be thrown into the greatest crisis that had faced them since the destruction of their former planet. Riots, mass murders and ultimately, civil war were inevitable if he began to reign.
Nor had been characterized by Lt. Ching as a "soulless brigand". Clark was warned Nor would stop at nothing to take control. That was evidenced by the appearance of the intergalactic assassin, Tez, shortly after Ching and Zara had revealed their reason for coming to Earth.
Tez had been dispatched by Nor to slay Clark. He had failed, but then, Tez was not Kryptonian. His powers weren't enhanced by the Earth's sun, but rather by taking on the powers of his victims to use against them.
Reluctantly, Clark and Lois had agreed that Clark must fulfill his noble destiny. He must help New Krypton in their struggle. And he must honor his marriage to Zara, if that's what it took to win against Nor.
While Clark was Kryptonian by birth, he was far more tied to his earthly upbringing. Martha and Jonathan, the couple who had found Clark as an infant and raised him as their own, instilled remarkable values in their adopted son. Values that no doubt would have pleased Jor-El and Lara, Clark's birth parents. Now, thanks to those values, Krypton's lost son had returned, ready to lay down his life if necessary for a people he had yet to consider his own.
Zara walked into Clark's chamber to find him lost in thought. She saw him fingering Lois' wedding band and looking out into space at the Earth in the distance. Although Zara could read Clark's mind, she didn't have to in order to know what he was thinking. She spoke softly. "Kal-El?"
Clark jumped at the sound of Zara's voice. He smiled slightly. "Zara," he acknowledged. He didn't blame her for bringing him here. Zara was dutifully fulfilling her destiny as well.
Joining Clark at the window, Zara cast a glimpse at the Earth. "Do you think of her often?" she whispered.
Closing his eyes, Clark said, "Every minute…"
"… of every day," Lois murmured as she sat with Martha on the steps of the Kent farmhouse, gazing into the night sky.
Martha found her thoughts drifting back to Clark's first day at The Daily Planet. He had flown home to Kansas that night for supper and almost immediately started talking about this woman who asked him escort her to Lex Luthor's ball. Martha smiled just thinking about the look that crossed Clark's face as he said, "Lois is… pig-headed, domineering, uncompromising… brilliant," he finished with admiration. No doubt Lois had won Clark's heart the minute he laid eyes on the feisty reporter.
In Lois, Martha had found everything she could have asked for in a daughter-in-law. Lois was passionate about her work, her beliefs and Clark, especially Clark. Finally, Clark had found someone he could trust not only with his powers but with his heart as well.
While love had softened Lois in many ways, causing her to tear down emotional walls, it had strengthened her too. No longer was Lois the center of her own universe. She loved Clark so much. At one point, Lois had been willing to lay down her life for Martha and Jonathan, even before the truth had been confirmed that Clark and Superman were one and the same. No wonder Martha considered Lois "family".
Martha broke the silence by asking Lois if Clark had ever shown her "The Fortress Of Solitude".
"The what?" Lois asked.
Martha couldn't help but laugh at the look on Lois' face. "'The Fortress Of Solitude'. His *treehouse*."
Relieved this wasn't another dark Kryptonian secret, Lois smiled and said, "I don't think so."
"Well, I believe it's time you saw it."
Lois looked out into the darkness that surrounded the farmhouse. "Isn't it a little late to go exploring?" she asked.
"Nonsense. Jonathan's got some lamps that will make you swear it's daylight." With that, Martha rushed inside and quickly returned with two brightly shining lanterns. She handed one to Lois, then led her off the porch and around the side of the house.
Several yards away, in top of a mighty oak tree, sat the treehouse that had provided Clark with the privacy he had valued so highly throughout the years. Martha began to reminisce. "Clark fell out of this tree and broke his arm when he was about four."
"But I thought he was incapable of being hurt."
"No, that came later as his powers began to develop. I thought you might want to climb up and take a look."
"Uh…" Lois viewed the wooden steps nailed into the tree with suspicion.
Martha laughed. "Don't worry, honey. They're safe. Clark changed out those steps for his father and me when he left the globe up there." Martha was referring to the globe that accompanied the infant Kal-El in the ship that had brought him to Earth some thirty years before. The globe had revealed to Clark the fate of his birth parents, as well as his home planet.
Lois' jaw dropped. "His globe is here?"
"Right where he left it. Why don't you go up and take a look?"
Lois was halfway up the steps before she looked down at Martha. "Aren't you coming?"
"I have a few things to do. Besides, you need some time alone. Stay as long as you like."
Lois directed her attention toward the treehouse where Clark had spent so many happy hours. Climbing the remaining steps, she set foot inside "The Fortress Of Solitude".
The treehouse was bare, except for an old rickety wooden table, which served as host to the globe. Clark had shared everything about the globe with Lois, but she had never seen it before now. It sat in the middle of a small pillow on the table. Quiet and dim, the globe seemed to mock Lois as she circled around it. Kneeling beside the table, Lois tried in vain to will the globe to talk to her as it once did Clark. Anything to feel close to him again.
Feeling defeated by this piece of alien crystal, Lois absently reached out to brush away some of the dust that had gathered on the globe. "Oh Clark…" Lois sighed as she moved to the doorway of the treehouse. "If only there were some way to reach you from here."
At first, Clark thought he heard a soft whisper. "If only there were some way to reach you…" He looked up from the map of New Krypton he was studying with Ching. "Did you hear that?" he asked.
"Hear what?" Ching questioned without looking up.
"It sounded like Lois."
In the Fortress of Solitude, Lois failed to notice that the globe was beginning to steadily glow, increasing in intensity with every passing second. Lois had started pacing back and forth. Taking advantage of her privacy, she began to pour her heart out to Clark, even though he would never hear what she had to say. Little did she know, Clark *could* hear every word.
There it was again! This time it was unmistakable. Clark jumped out of his seat as a hologram of Lois formed in the middle of his chamber. "Ching, look!"
Ching dropped his instrument and rushed to stand by Clark. "This can't be!"
"Shhh!" Clark whispered harshly as he strove to hear everything Lois said.
"Clark," Lois murmured as she lightly touched the wood that framed the doorway of the treehouse, "did you know how gifted you were when you played here as a little boy? The many lives you would touch because of those gifts? Did you know when you used to camp out under the stars, that you had come from one and you would live on another someday? And did you know just about the time you started liking girls, there was one in Metropolis who was losing her faith in boys, thanks to her father?"
Clark recognized the surroundings. He knew Lois was in the Fortress of Solitude with the globe. He reached out to touch the hologram, but Ching said, "No!"
"If there is a way for Lois for to reach me here, then surely I can reach her too," Clark reasoned.
Ching would have none of the idea. "You have a life here on New Krypton. You have a mission to fulfill. You are duty-bound by your noble heritage to preserve Kryptonian society!" Ching's eyes burned with conviction. "The sooner you put your past behind you, the better."
"Better for whom?"
"We all have to be willing to sacrifice for the greater good, Kal-El," admonished Ching.
Clark turned his attention back to the hologram of Lois. With quiet urgency, he spoke, "Tell me, Ching. If Zara had been the one left behind, would you feel the same way?"
As if on cue, Lois' hologram began to speak once more. "For so long I believed there was no one in the world for me. Turns out I was right." She smiled weakly as she faced the globe. "Krypton's loss was my gain, at least for a little while…"
A soft night breeze crossed Lois' face as she wrapped her arms around her shoulders. "I'm grateful for the time we had together, Clark, even though it wasn't nearly long enough. I understand why you had to go. I'm even willing to accept the fact you may never be able to return to Earth." She leaned on the table and looked directly into the glowing globe. "What I can't accept is not knowing how you are. It's agony not being able to hear from you—" Lois' voice broke with that admission. "I'm trying to be strong, Clark. I really am…"
"Oh, great. Now, I'm hearing things like I did the first night you were gone. Talk about your wishful thinking."
"Lois, it's me."
Lois looked up to see a hologram forming of Clark on the other side of the table. Unable to take in what was happening, Lois backed away. Her eyes were twice their normal size. "Oh my —," she whispered as her hands finally felt the wall behind her. "My imagination must be on overdrive."
Once more, Clark's hologram spoke. "Lois, it is me. See?" With that, he reached into his suit and drew out Lois' wedding band. Holding it up for her inspection, he said, "I've kept it for you, just as I said I would." His expression softened as he murmured, "You look beautiful."
Immediately, a stream of self-conscious words poured out of Lois' mouth. "Oh no, I don't… I look awful… My hair's a mess… I have no makeup left…" Then the realization hit her. "Wait a minute. You can see me?"
Clark nodded sheepishly. "Looks like you found 'The Fortress Of Solitude'."
Lois shook her head incredulously. "But how, Clark?"
"It's the globe, Lois." He smiled wryly and said, "You know what they say about the next best thing to being there." Casting a glimpse at the doorway of his chamber, Clark continued, "Actually, I have Ching to thank for showing me how to reach you."
On his way out, Ching pulled an hourglass out of thin air. He indicated the floating hourglass and said, "You have this long to talk to Lois and then we must get back to planning our strategy."
In the hallway, Ching met Zara, who asked how the reluctant noble was progressing.
"He has much potential but his heart remains divided," Ching replied.
"I am confident Kal-El will do what is right," Zara offered.
"I wish I shared your confidence, my lady." Ching's tone was even, without emotion, but his expression couldn't conceal his true feelings for Zara.
Back in the chamber, Clark was eager to hear about his friends and loved ones. "How about Mom and Dad? Are they okay?"
"I should go get them." Lois started for the door of the treehouse. "They're going to want to talk to you—"
Lois' face betrayed her confusion as she walked back to the table.
"I want to talk to them, I really do, but I don't have long. I'd rather spend the time talking to you for now. Are Mom and Dad all right?"
"They're fine. They miss you. Martha really offered me a lifeline when she called me about flying out here."
Clark couldn't resist asking, "So, how was your flight anyway?"
Lois rolled her eyes and sighed, "Compared to my usual mode of transport? Slooowww. How about you? Have you heard from Nor yet?"
"No, but it's just a matter of time. His presence can certainly be felt. The majority of the citizens back the Council of Nobles but the number of Nor's supporters grows daily. New Krypton is a powderkeg, just waiting to blow."
"Don't people see Nor for what he is?"
"Some do, but they're afraid of retaliation if they speak out against him. Others… well, the name 'Lucifer' does spring to mind."
Lois nodded. "An angel of light," she murmured. "Please be careful. I couldn't bear it if anything happened to you."
Just then, the door to Clark's chamber opened. Ching walked in and pointed to the hourglass, with all the sand now at the bottom. "Time is up, Kal-El. We must get back to your training."
"Please. Allow me a chance to say good-bye." Ching nodded solemnly and stepped out into the hallway once more.
Clark looked back at the hologram of Lois. Her eyes were begging him not to sign off. They both looked at one another as they did their last night together, taking in every detail as if they might not see each other again. "I wish I could touch you," Clark whispered.
"Remember our accommodations at the Lakes' mansion? I told you then you could touch me with your words. You still can."
The sound of her name on his lips was music to her ears. "It will be enough, Clark. It has to be, for now."
"I'll try to reach Mom and Dad tomorrow. Take the globe back with you to Metropolis. Now that we know we can communicate, I'll want to talk to you every night."
"I'll be there with bells on."
"I've got to get back to my training. There's so much to learn here."
"Just don't forget the way home…" was Lois' final exhortation.
"Never." Clark smiled. "I love you."
"And I love you," Lois replied. With that, each of them touched their hands to their lips and reached out for the holograms of one another. The images faded with both Clark and Lois "touching" across a vast universe.
Alone in the treehouse once more, Lois reached to pick up the globe. Holding it up to the light, she whispered, "Thank you." For the first time since Clark had left for New Krypton, Lois was hopeful. At least now, she would know what was happening with the man she loved enough to let go.
In a remote part of New Krypton, the miscreant known as Lord Nor interrogated a spy who had been planted as a servant in the house of Ra. "Tell me. What do you know of Kal-El?"
"Though he is Kryptonian by birth, he has very strong ties to the Earth. From what I've heard, Ching thinks he has potential for battle, but has expressed concern that Kal-El is far too detached from his heritage to be effective here."
"Poor Zara. Looks like her long-awaited mate has a faithless heart. She needs a real man to rule with her." Nor strode across his chamber to admire himself in his full-length mirror. Were it not for the evil that lay hold of his heart, Nor would be a handsome man. Though he was slight of build, his persona made him seem much larger. He was easily ten years Zara's senior, but Nor's face had a boyish appeal. That is, until one got close enough to see his cold, steel blue eyes, which could render even the most eloquent speechless.
More than satisfied with his reflection, Nor whirled around to probe the spy with one more question. "Pray tell. What is Kal-El's Achilles heel? What will bring him to his knees?"
The spy wasted no time in revealing where Clark was most vulnerable. "The woman he left behind on Earth. The two of them were betrothed before Kal-El found out about his pledge to Zara. Her hold on him is a strong one." The spy cowered as he became locked in Nor's stare. "Have I done well, my lord?"
Nor's lips formed a slow, wicked smile. "Oh yes. Extremely well. For your reward, you may see your wife. In fact, since I'm feeling generous, you may stay the night." When the spy hesitated, Nor scowled and said, "Perhaps you'd like me to change my mind?"
"Oh no. No, my lord. Thank you. Thank you!" With that, the spy bowed in obeisance and ran out of the chamber.
Nor chuckled to himself as the door slid shut behind the spy. "Your day of reckoning is coming, Kal-El. Zara will be mine. When I'm through with your lover, you'll have nothing but your grief to keep you warm at night."
Just as Clark had directed, Lois took the globe home to Metropolis. The nights were a bittersweet time for both of them as they communicated via the glowing orb. While they were grateful for the chance to hear from one another, they were always conscious of the millions of miles that separated them.
One night, Lois decided to surprise Clark. She told him to meet her about dinner time. True to form, Clark's hologram appeared at 7:00 p.m. "Lois?" he called out. He couldn't see her yet, but he could tell the table was set for dinner, graced by flowers and candlelight. When Lois finally stepped into view, she took Clark's breath away.
"Hi there." Lois smiled warmly. "I thought we could have dinner together. The universe's first intergalactic date, maybe?"
As Clark's meal was placed before him by the man who had served him since his arrival on New Krypton, he viewed Lois' hologram appreciatively. "I see you're wearing *the* dress."
"I wasn't sure you'd remember."
"Are you kidding? I remember everything about our first date, especially you slamming the door in my face."
Lois smiled as she took a seat at the table. "You have to admit, I've opened a lot of doors since then."
"Yes, you have."
"What I remember is being so nervous, wondering if I'd meet your expectations. After I cleaned out Neiman's of every burgundy dress in my size, I ended up wearing this," she waved her hand in front of her.
"It's one of my favorites."
"Well, I thought I'd wear black to compliment that number you've got on. Doesn't leave much to the imagination, does it?" She raised an eyebrow suggestively.
"Hey, I'm not complaining." Even millions of miles away, Lois could make him blush.
As Lois poured herself a glass of wine, she couldn't help but remember the wine she shared with Clark on their first date. She had just enough to lower her inhibitions. Anything to still the anxiety she felt as their relationship began to shift from solely friendship to a romantic dimension. "In vino veritas," had been her reply when Clark expressed surprise over her admission of a stormy relationship with her father.
Clark remarked, "The only time people seem to really express themselves is when they're passionate. Like when they fight."
"Or make love," Lois had replied when the wine had gotten the best of her.
Clark broke through Lois' walk down memory lane when he said, "How about a toast?"
Lois reached for her glass.
It was as if he had read her mind. "To Passion."
"To Passion," she echoed.
They both raised their glasses to toast the driving force in their relationship. This passion transcended physical attraction. This passion had led them to overcome insurmountable odds, fending off a varied assortment of villains and foes who stood in the way of their happiness. Nor was yet another force to be reckoned with. It was passion that brought them together and it was their devotion to one another that would sustain them.
Over dinner, each of them took turns sharing about their day, the other listening in rapt attention. Lois took notice of the blue liquid in Clark's goblet. Her curiosity got the best of her. She had to know just what Clark was drinking.
"Well, it's as close as the Kryptonians get to a cocktail."
Lois wrinkled her nose. "It looks like anti-freeze."
"Tastes like it too." Clark smiled. "Kryptonians love this stuff, but I'd give anything for a good cabernet right now."
Subtly, Lois turned the label on the wine bottle away from the direction of the globe.
"That's okay, Lois. Someone may as well enjoy my wine while I'm away."
"I've had enough, really." As she pressed the cork back into the bottle, she asked, "Would you like to dance?"
"Dance? Isn't that a little difficult considering?"
"Not at all. We just have to be creative." She reached for the remote as she rose from the table. "I found this wonderful song I want to share with you."
Skeptically, Clark rose from his table as well.
"Now, I want you to close your eyes and imagine me there in your arms." She pressed a button on the remote and music filled Clark's apartment. "Just see where the music takes you and I'll do the same."
"Some say it's just the nature of the beast When you love somebody so passionately Time has a way of stealing That raging fire you're feeling Leaving the ashes laying at your feet Those fools of little faith will never know Those higher places - two hearts can go Where time is standing still And love will burn until The heaven and the earth Have come and gone"
Clark and Lois allowed themselves to become lost in the music as it carried them across the miles to the solace of one another's arms. Though in reality, their movements were slight, in their souls, their passion took them to the heights. They hadn't shared a communion like this since their last flight together.
"This fire inside for you Is constant as the Northern Star And you will be Forever in my heart As long as there's a river Searching for an endless sea I will always love you - Faithfully"
Clark could feel it. Feel her. He could feel the silkiness of her hair as it brushed his cheek. He could smell the heady fragrance she always wore. He could almost swear to sensing Lois's lips touching his own.
"Tonight we'll raise a glass to lovers Across the ages We'll hold each other and toast to the day When history's said and done And we'll still stand as one Some thing's were never meant to fade away"
Lois sensed his arms around her. The strength of his hold upon her as he danced with her around the floor. The comfort of knowing he'd always be there for her. She could hear the rhythmic beating of his heart as she rested her head on his shoulder.
"This fire inside for you Is constant as the Northern Star And you will be Forever in my heart As long as there's a river Searching for an endless sea I will always love you - Faithfully"**
Unfortunately, even the best of love songs come to an end. As the song struck the final chord, Lois and Clark were left satisfied, but longing for more. Much more. The most vivid of imaginations could not take the place of truly being in one another's arms.
It was during one of many strategy sessions that Ching said something that sent chills down Clark's spine. Ching's demeanor throughout the hour made it clear he disapproved of Clark's frequent visits with Lois. He all but told Clark to cease contact with her. "You know, it's a good thing that Lois is still on Earth. Otherwise, she would be a prime target for Nor."
For the first time that day, Ching had Clark's full attention. "Why? I'm the one he wants, not Lois."
"What better way to get to you than through the woman you love?"
"How could he know about Lois?"
Ching stood to pace the floor. "Nor has spies everywhere. Trust no one."
Clark's glance challenged Ching. "Even you?"
In an instant, Ching was behind Clark with a weapon pointed at his throat. Ching didn't miss a beat. "As I said, trust no one."
Later that evening as Clark talked with Lois, he made a peculiar request.
"You want me to do what?" Lois asked incredulously.
"I want you to get Dr. Klein to give you a supply of kryptonite bullets. You know, the kind Arianna Carlin used on me."
"What on earth for?"
"You have to be able to defend yourself if any of Nor's cronies pay a visit."
Lois' mind was reeling. "You don't think Nor would try anything, do you?"
"I don't know what to think anymore. All I know is Nor will stop at nothing to assume power. That means he'll do whatever it takes to get me out of the way. Lois, please. Promise me you'll do this."
Reluctantly, Lois agreed to see Klein the next day. After Clark's request, she slept rather fitfully that night.
"So you've seen the woman Kal-El loves?" Nor inquired of his spy.
"Yes, my lord. I delivered dinner to him one night while he was communicating with her. They use the globe which Jor-El sent with Kal-El to Earth. One can see why Kal- El is drawn to her. She is a beauty."
The wheels began turning in Nor's evil mind as his fingers tapped out a rhythm on the arm of his chair. "No doubt Ching is expecting me to mount a full-scale attack. I have something far more devious in mind." He closed his eyes and summoned his military leaders. Opening a panel in the chair's arm, Nor drew out a mysterious vial. Handing it to the spy, he smiled sadistically and said, "Ready to make history happen?"
Back in Metropolis, Lois viewed the gun in her hand with apprehension. She'd never really approved of guns, perhaps because of the many that had been pointed at her. "Can I really do this if I have to?" she thought. Since Clark had come to Metropolis, defending herself had not been an issue. All she had to do was call out for Superman and he was there. The thoughts of fighting someone without him nearby unnerved her. "Relax, Lois. It'll probably never happen," she reassured herself as she slipped the gun into Clark's night stand.
Since she had brought the globe back to Metropolis, Lois had been staying over at Clark's apartment more than ever. With him technically missing, no one would expect the globe to be there. She also thought it was good that Clark get to see the familiar surroundings of his apartment when she talked with him.
Lois was eager to talk to Clark, but he had told her he would be busy with meetings and strategy sessions well into the night. Nor's people were getting increasingly restless and Ching expected a military strike by them any day. Slipping on the satin gown Clark liked so much, she looked at the clock on the bedside table. "Well, this is what I would have been wearing when you dropped in, Clark. Too bad, Fly Boy," she smiled to herself as crawled into bed. As she dropped off to sleep, she breathed a prayer for Clark's safety.
"You believe Nor will head straight for the Council Chamber?" Clark asked Ching and Zara as they sat around the table in Clark's quarters.
"Definitely. Nor wants a confrontation with the Council of Nobles. He'll bring citizens with him who feel the Council has turned a deaf ear to their concerns," Ching predicted. "As soon as he has what he considers to be proof of the Nobles' indifference, he'll incite the people to riot."
"We can't let this happen, Kal-El," Zara pleaded. "Too many lives are at stake."
The door to Clark's chamber opened and his servant wheeled in dinner trays for the three of them. He served Zara, then Ching and after stealthily pouring the contents of Nor's vial over the final plate, he placed the meal before Clark.
As a precautionary measure, Zara, Ching and Clark had ceased talking strategy in the presence of the servant. Before the man left, Ching surprised him by asking him to taste each of the meals. The servant swallowed hard when it came time to taste Clark's dinner. After all, Nor had not told him what the vial contained. He did as asked and tasted nothing unusual. After Ching dismissed him, the servant raced to his quarters to throw up and then prayed he wouldn't die.
The threesome in Clark's chamber continued to talk about Nor's political and military maneuvers until they finished their respective meals. Ching and Zara left to meet with the Council of Nobles. Clark stayed behind to study the New Kryptonian constitution. While Ching was ready for military conflict, Clark was hoping for a more peaceful resolution.
As he poured over the bylaws, Clark began to rub his eyes. He was starting to feel extremely fatigued. He rubbed the back of his neck, chalking it up to the late night talks with Lois catching up with him.
Suddenly, a voice he had not heard since he defeated Tez on Earth, broke through in his mind. "Well, well. If it isn't the would-be nobleman, trying to learn the laws of the land," Nor taunted.
"It's about time you showed up, Nor," Clark responded. "I was starting to wonder if you'd gotten cold feet." Clark shook his head, as if to clear his mind. Something was definitely amiss.
"Just giving you enough rope to hang yourself, Kal- El. Your day of reckoning has finally come. Feeling well?"
Clark tried standing to his feet. "I'm… fine."
"That's good. Maybe you'll want to come see me off."
"Earth. Metropolis to be exact."
Clark's heart began to race. His worst fears were being realized. He knew now what Nor was planning. "Leave her out of this, Nor. This is between you and me!" Clark leaned on the table for support. The room was beginning to spin.
"Oh, you can save her. Provided you get there in time." Nor's vile laughter echoed in Clark's ears as Clark collapsed on the floor.
"Lois…" he called out helplessly as everything went black.
Because she never knew when Superman would pay a call, it had become habit for Lois to sleep with the windows open. Tonight was no exception as she left open the French doors leading out onto Clark's balcony.
Lois was in the midst of a tender dream about Clark, when she felt something touch her face. Or was it someone? Her eyes flew open and she screamed. Lord Nor had arrived.
Nor smiled slyly as his eyes traced Lois' form. "No wonder Kal-El was reluctant to leave Earth."
Lois sat up in the bed. "You're him, aren't you? Nor."
"The one and only, Miss Lane." Nor began walking around the apartment. He cast a quick glance at Lois as she slipped out of bed. "Nice gown, by the way." Nor chuckled as Lois lunged for the robe at the foot of the bed. He was going to enjoy watching Kal-El twist in the wind. Then, he might reward himself by taking this one back to New Krypton.
As Lois tied the robe around her waist, her thoughts went to the gun in Clark's bedside table.
"You are aware that I'm capable of reading your mind, aren't you? I know you have a weapon you think you can use on me, but it won't work. I'm not vulnerable to the measly weapons you Earthlings possess."
Lois fought not to think of the Kryptonite bullets. She did not dare let Nor know she might have the upper hand. "It's just a matter of time before Clark is here."
"Who? Oh, yes. Kal-El. One of my spies poisoned his meal tonight."
Lois panicked. "What?"
"Not to worry. He wasn't meant to die. Not yet. I've saved the honor of killing him for myself."
Anger flared in Lois. When she delivered a resounding slap to Nor's face, he grabbed her wrist and pinned her arm behind her. "You're hurting me," she cried.
"That's nothing compared to what I'll do to you if you don't tell me where I can find Kal-El's globe."
On New Krypton, Clark roused long enough to send a mental distress signal. Zara and Ching were on their way back to him when they were accosted by a band of Nor's henchmen. According to Nor's instructions, they feigned a kidnapping attempt on Zara. When Ching stepped in to save her, he was cut down by an assassin's bullet, all part of Nor's master plan.
"Ching, no!" Zara mentally summoned medics to help Ching and Kal-El. Zara made no effort to wipe the tears streaming down her face as she knelt to place Ching's head in her lap. She stroked his hair and begged him not to leave her.
Clark and Ching were brought into the infirmary about the same time. Physicians quickly determined Clark had been poisoned and administered an antidote. Fortunately for Ching, the bullet had passed through his shoulder.
Sitting between the beds of her mate and the one she longed to marry, Zara's mind was reeling. She began to wonder if she shouldn't annul the marriage to Kal-El and wed Nor. Maybe then she could pursue the peace her planet deserved.
"No!" Ching spoke in a hoarse whisper as he tried in vain to sit up. "I know what you're thinking, Zara. Marriage to Nor is not an option!"
"Shh…" Zara gently pushed Ching back down onto his pillow. She reached for his hand. "It may be the only way. What if you'd been killed tonight?"
"Defending you is my duty and… my privilege." Ching drew Zara's hand to his lips. His kiss brought all the feelings Zara had fought so hard to ignore to the surface. It was maddening not being able to surrender to the desire she felt for him.
"Lois…" Clark groaned. Zara moved to check on him.
"Kal-El? Can you hear me?"
Clark's eyes opened. Slowly, he became able to focus on Zara.
"You were poisoned, but you are going to be fine."
"Lois. I have to get to Lois!"
Zara called a medic to Clark's bedside. "I think he's hallucinating."
Clark fought against the physician as he tried to examine him. "You don't understand! Nor is going after Lois!"
As if on cue, a hologram began to form in the middle of the room. It was Nor, holding a knife to Lois' throat. "Sleep well, Kal-El?"
"Nor, if you harm her—"
"Don't waste my time with idle threats! You know why I'm here. I'm extending an invitation for you to join us. We're having so much… fun." With that, he tightened his grip on Lois, making her cry out.
"I'm on my way," Clark said as he struggled to sit up.
"No, don't, Clark! It's a trap!" Lois called out.
He looked directly at Lois. "It will be all right. Be strong."
Across the miles, his words found their place in Lois' heart. She discovered a strange calm in the midst of the terror.
"We'll be waiting, Kal-El," Nor warned. Releasing Lois' wrist, he whipped his hand around to snap in the direction of the globe, causing the hologram to stop abruptly.
Clark would remember the menace in Nor's eyes forever. He was extremely weak. His knees buckled on him as he jumped out of bed.
"Kal-El, it's too soon. You're much too weak to travel back to Earth," Zara said.
"I have no choice. Nor will kill her if I don't go."
"I'm coming with you." Ching rose up to look at Clark.
"This is madness!" Zara exclaimed. "How do the two of you expect to help Lois, when you can't even stand up?" Sensing she was outnumbered, Zara looked to the medic, who was standing by. "Order two stretchers to transport Ching and Kal-El to our ship."
Lois was doing her best to "be strong" as Clark had said. Nor had used the sash from her robe to tie her hands behind her back. He positioned her out on the balcony to await Clark's arrival. Nor stood back to admire his work. "Perfect. A veritable melodrama played out for my enjoyment. The heroine in peril, waiting for her hero to come save her."
"Why are you doing this? Clark has done nothing to you."
"Of course he has. He stands in the way of my rightful position. A position he is no more qualified for than I am to be a peasant!"
"Clark has something you'll never have, Nor. Morals. He's more qualified to rule than all the nobles on New Krypton put together," defended Lois.
Nor actually found Lois' defiant spirit intriguing. In spite of the gravity of the situation, she was willing to lock eyes with him, something few did and survive. With her sleep- tousled hair and her open robe fluttering in the night breeze, she was a vision, this vixen who had stolen Kal-El's heart. Nor moved close to Lois. Leaning in, he whispered, "You're almost too delicious to kill."
As Nor bent to place a kiss at the base of Lois' neck, words fell like a growl from her throat, "Get away from me." Not since the likes of Lex Luthor had Lois been this repulsed. Nor's very touch nauseated her.
Nor smiled, for he so enjoyed mentally sparring with Lois. "Perhaps you would be more accommodating if I told you Kal-El's life depended on it," he said.
"Leave her alone, Nor!"
Lois looked over Nor's shoulder to see Clark standing behind him. Tears of relief filled her eyes. "Clark! Thank God!"
Nor whipped around to face Clark. "So, Kal-El, we meet at last. I've just been trying to convince Miss Lane to return to New Krypton with me after I do you in."
Clark glanced at Lois. "Are you okay?"
She smiled weakly. "I am now that you're here."
Nor moved between the two of them. "As touching as this reunion is, you and I have business." He waved his hand and two swords appeared out of thin air. "Choose your weapon."
Clark hesitated a moment before selecting a sword. Thankfully, part of his training on New Krypton involved the use of weapons, something he'd never had to worry about on Earth. Nor, however, was renowned as a master swordsman.
Nor flexed the sword in his hand. "Kryptonite-tipped. Hope you're prepared to die," he threatened.
And so it began. The battle royal. The two nobles were all over the small balcony. It was a veritable flurry of parries and thrusts. Still weak from the effects of the poison, it didn't take Clark long to become fatigued. It took everything in him to stay focused and not cave in to his exhaustion.
From her position against the wall, Lois silently cheered on her white knight. "Be strong, Clark," she whispered.
Nor could sense Clark's weariness and in the midst of his physical assault, began a mental battle with Clark as well. "I must admit your skills are far more impressive than I bargained for, Kal-El, but I'm still the best." He smiled victoriously as he backed Clark to the edge of the balcony. "I will have what is rightfully mine!" With that, he thrust one final time to deliver a serious blow to Clark, close to his heart. Clark fell over the balcony wall.
"No!" Lois cried out as she strained against the bonds that held her.
Nor looked over the edge of the balcony to see Clark lying in the alley below. Satisfied, he turned back to Lois, whose face had gone ashen. "Now, it's time for the victor to collect his spoils…"
"Think again, Nor," Clark spoke weakly, as Zara and Ching floated to the balcony on either side of him, offering their support.
A flood of relief washed over Lois, for the moment, anyway.
"How convenient! Now, I can rid New Krypton of both of you and Ching."
As they landed on the balcony, Clark whispered to Zara, "Take care of Lois for me." Zara nodded and quietly slipped to Lois' side.
While Nor was busy with Clark and Ching, Zara quickly untied Lois' hands. "Zara, is Nor susceptible to Kryptonite?"
"Yes. We all are. Why?"
Lois rubbed her wrists. "You may have to distract him while I go inside."
Nor mocked Clark, who was still struggling to recover from the first attack. "What's the matter, Kal-El? Lose your sword down below? Oh, what a pity." In the blink of an eye, Nor produced his sword once again. He proceeded to wave it menacingly before Clark's face. With every pass, the kryptonite tip of the sword served only to increase Clark's weakness. When Clark tried to inhale deeply to freeze Nor with his breath, his chest wound proved much too painful. Stifling a groan, Clark sank to the balcony floor.
Lois wanted to rush to him, but Zara grabbed her arm. "Go inside. I'll distract Nor."
With Clark out of the way, Nor turned his attention to Ching. "Well, Ching, I'm looking forward to mopping up the galaxy with you."
Though his shoulder was throbbing, Ching remained cool. "You can try, Nor, but let's do it mano a mano, like they taught us at the academy."
"Can't wait," said Nor as he tossed his sword over the balcony edge.
The lieutenant and the noble began circling one another. Each waiting for the other to make his move.
Keeping a wary eye on Clark and the battle going on just inches away from him, Lois stealthily made her way back into the apartment. As she slid open the drawer containing the gun, she reassured herself. "I can do this. I *can* do this."
By this time, Ching and Nor were thrashing all about the balcony. The Kryptonians had no problem throwing one another full force against the walls. Suddenly, in a surprise move, just as he body-slammed Ching, Nor whisked out a knife and jammed the blade into Ching's side.
Zara cried out, "Nor, no! Please. No more bloodshed! No more." She hurried to support Ching as he fell. She helped him to the floor and then stood to look Nor in the eye. "You win. I'll annul the marriage to Kal-El, but the violence has to cease!"
"My dear Zara, with Kal-El out of the way, what makes you think I want you when I can have *her*?" He turned to point out Lois, but she was nowhere to be found. "Where is she?" he bellowed.
"Sorry, but she's spoken for!" Clark shouted as he leapt on Nor's back, wrestling him to the balcony floor. Clark did his best to force Nor to drop the knife.
Unfortunately, Nor had the upper hand because Clark was still extremely weak. Though Clark fought valiantly, Nor landed on top of him. Nor wrapped one hand around Clark's throat and began to squeeze. Clark tried to wrench Nor's hand away, but to no avail.
Hearing Clark gasp for air, Nor felt assured victory was in sight. He raised the hand holding the knife and prepared to stab Clark.
Lois, who had been waiting for the ideal moment, slipped from the shadows, with her gun drawn on Nor.
Nor laughed confidently. "I told you Kryptonians aren't vulnerable to the petty weapons you Earthlings possess. Allow me to show you how a real weapon works." With that, the knife took on an eerie glow as Nor prepared to plunge it into Clark's chest.
It happened so quickly, Lois barely remembered pulling the trigger. But her aim was sure and Nor's threat to the peace of New Krypton was just a memory.
Zara bent over Nor to check his pulse. Relieved, she said, "He's dead."
"Lois," Clark called out in a raspy whisper. Lois dropped her gun and ran to him. All he wanted to do was hold her. Clark could breathe deep at last. It seemed fitting to have the air permeated by Lois' fragrance. Clark wanted to drink it in. Lois was shaking as Clark drew her close. He stroked her hair and spoke soothingly. "He can't hurt us anymore. Any of us." He smiled wryly and said, "You saved my life."
"Considering all the times you've saved mine, I think I owe you."
Clark looked over at Zara. "How's Ching?"
"Not good. He's lost a lot blood."
"Let's get him inside," said Clark before Lois helped him to his feet.
Later that night, after Clark and Ching's wounds had been dressed, Lois and Zara transported Nor's body back to the ship. Both Clark and Ching were asleep by the time the women had returned to the apartment.
Zara stayed by Ching's side through most of the night. When Lois looked in on them, she couldn't help recalling how she didn't want to leave Clark's side when a deadly virus invaded his body.
Lois had been unable to unwind enough to sleep. Close to dawn she tapped Zara on the shoulder and invited her out to the balcony. "I thought you could use some fresh air. How is Ching doing?"
"He seems stable. The wound is so deep though."
"He'll be all right, Zara. The Earth's sun seems to have restorative effects on Clark. It will be out soon, then we'll move Ching out here."
In a rare moment, Zara allowed her true feelings for Ching to show. "When Nor stabbed him, all I could think of is what if he dies without knowing…"
"I almost made the same mistake with Clark. Before I knew the truth about Superman, Clark and I were working on a story that involved us infiltrating a casino. While we were there, Clark defended my honor and was shot at close range. Since no one knew about him being Superman, he had to pretend he was dead. I couldn't do anything but watch as they dragged his body outside.
"The next day at the Planet, I remember thinking Clark died without knowing how I truly felt. Thankfully, he was okay and I had another chance. But if he hadn't been Superman, I would have missed out on something really special."
Zara sighed. "As soon as I get back to New Krypton, I'm having my marriage to Kal-El annulled. You two deserve to be together."
"Of course, that goes for you and Ching as well, now that Nor's out of the way."
"I wish you were right, but according to Kryptonian law, I'm to marry the next in line for my hand." Zara hesitated, saddened by the thought. "He's a friend of my father's. Twice my age, but he's a good man. He'll be a fair ruler."
Lois couldn't believe her ears. "Why be a slave to the law? Since when is duty more important than love? If you and Ching want to be together, then be together."
Zara smiled. "I know it's hard to understand, Lois, but the very laws we're bound by have made Ching and I the people we are today. Law may not be the most romantic of concepts, but where there is law, there is order. And where there is order, there is peace. Peace means everything to the Kryptonians."
The two women locked eyes for a brief moment. As much as Zara's sense of duty frustrated Lois, she admired Zara for her convictions and loyalty to her homeland.
"I should check on Ching," Zara said.
Lois reached for Zara's arm. "You may be Kryptonian, but you're on Earth now. New Krypton's laws don't apply. Make the most of your time with him while you're here."
Zara said nothing as she turned and walked inside Clark's apartment. She moved to Ching's side. When she reached up to stroke his forehead, Ching murmured Zara's name in his sleep. "I'm here," she whispered as she placed her head on his good shoulder. Even in his sleep, Ching reached for her and drew her close. Good thing he can't read my mind now, Zara thought as she finally surrendered to the exhaustion that overwhelmed her.
Lois had been right about the sun's restorative powers for Ching. When the sun broke through, Clark and Zara helped Ching outside. Almost immediately, his color improved and his breathing grew more steady. But the most restorative power of all was Zara's presence.
When Lois and Clark went inside to prepare a late morning breakfast, Ching walked over at Zara, who stood at the edge of the balcony. He broke the silence that hovered between them. "You know as much as I dislike the restlessness and the noise of Metropolis, there is one thing I enjoy — freedom."
"We have freedom on New Krypton," Zara replied quietly.
"Do we?" Ching asked. "Is it freedom when we can't act upon the things we feel?" He was so close, Zara could feel his breath upon her shoulder.
No conflict with Nor and his allies could compare to the war going on inside Zara now. Like Ching, she wanted to act upon her feelings. Lois' words echoed in her ears, "Make the most of your time with him while you're here."
Finally, duty won out and Zara stepped back. "Ching, this isn't about what we want. If we allow our hearts to rule our heads, we might as well have let Nor take control. Stability in the houses of the nobles is everything. Our people come first. That's the way it has to be."
Clark walked out on the balcony, a spatula in one hand and a skillet in the other. "Are you guys hungry?" he asked.
Ching looked directly at Zara. "Famished," he replied.
Later that evening, Zara and Ching said their good- byes, giving Clark and Lois time alone together. "I hate having to leave you again," Clark said.
"I know you have unfinished business."
Clark smiled and reached up to cradle Lois' face in his hand. "What did I ever do to deserve you?"
"Somehow, I think we were destined to be. Speaking of which, what about Ching and Zara? Isn't there anything you can do to help them?"
"I can't make any guarantees, but I do have something up my sleeve. Can you stay close to the globe tonight?"
Lois had no doubt Clark would save the day. "I'll be there."
"And I'll be home before you can say, 'Double Fudge Crunch Bar'," Clark promised.
The Council Chamber was all a buzz with the news of Nor's death as Zara, Ching and Clark walked in. When Clark stepped up to the podium, the chamber fell silent. Clark's voice filled the room. "I am Kal-El, son of Jor-El and Lara. It is an honor to meet with the Council of Nobles at last. Lady Zara, Lieutenant Ching and I have just returned from Earth, where we did battle with Lord Nor. The rumors you have heard are true. Lord Nor is dead."
The nobles began talking amongst themselves again. "Before I go any further, I have someone I would like you to meet." He closed his eyes and spoke Lois' name. In an instant, Lois' hologram formed in the chamber. Clark couldn't help smiling as Lois obviously won the admiration of the nobles in the room. She was nothing short of beautiful. Soft curls accentuated her face. She wore a tea-length burgundy dress that was just off the shoulders. Her satin pumps had been dyed to match. Little did Clark know his secret closet wasn't just for Superman's suits any more. Lois had been saving this dress for his homecoming.
"This is Lois Lane. As many of you know, my parents sent me to Earth as an infant just before Krypton exploded. Though I am Kryptonian by birth, I was raised an Earthling. Lois is the woman I was engaged to marry before I found out about my Kryptonian marriage to Lady Zara. I wanted you to meet Lois because she is the one who saved me from Nor just as he was about to murder me. Not only did she save me, she saved each of you from Nor's tyrannical reign."
Unprepared for the compliments Clark was paying her, Lois modestly looked away from the globe. The Chief Noble rose to his feet and began to applaud. The other nobles followed suit, except for one, who stood up and stormed out of the chamber. Lois smiled and nodded at the council members. "Her name doesn't mean 'War Maiden' for nothing," Clark smiled.
Clark motioned for Zara and Ching to join him on the platform. "I have come before you today for a number of reasons. I want to begin by addressing the unrest in New Krypton's society. The people have begun to feel as though the nobles are out of touch with their needs. While this may or may not be true, we must take steps to avoid strife which leads to support for people like Nor."
One of the nobles called out, "What would you suggest, Kal-El?"
"Allow me to explain government from an American perspective. We have three branches of government, the office of the President, Congress and the Supreme Court. With the exception of the Supreme Court, all are elected officials."
"You mean nobility has no place in your society?" another noble questioned.
"Our constitution allows our people to have a voice, meaning anyone can be voted into office, without regards of social standing. Each elected official has a term, after which they can be re-elected or voted out, based on their performance."
The Chief Noble spoke up. "If we were to consider such an amendment to the constitution, who would you suggest as New Krypton's leader, "President", as you call it?"
"Based on his considerable military expertise, his commitment to New Krypton and the strength of his character, I would nominate Lieutenant Ching."
Ching looked at Clark in amazement. "Kal-El?"
"I have no doubt you could do this," Clark affirmed.
Turning back to the Council, Clark said, "The other reason I have come before you today is to ask that my marriage to Lady Zara be annulled. The laws which served our fathers well will no longer be needed if you are willing to bring New Krypton into a new era, one that will allow every member of society to have a voice. I'm also asking that Zara be free to select her own husband, one she loves and can commit to for a lifetime."
The Chief Noble approached Zara. A close friend of her family, he had had the privilege of watching Zara grow into a mature young woman. He viewed her much as a father would view his daughter. "Zara, is there one such as Kal-El has described? One you love in spite of Kryptonian law?"
Zara bowed her head and spoke softly, "Yes, but I do not want to disobey the laws of our land."
"Do you agree with Kal-El that your marriage should be annulled?"
"Yes. He deserves to be with the one he loves. With Lois."
"You have given us much to think about. Please allow the Council time to discuss the points you have made."
The minutes seemed like hours as Ching, Zara and Clark as well as Lois waited to hear the Council's ruling.
"Kal-El, I want to thank you for your vote of confidence in the Council Chamber just now," said Ching.
"I meant what I said. I think you would make an excellent leader for New Krypton," Clark affirmed.
"Whatever happens in there, you can be assured that Clark is coming back to you," Zara told Lois.
"We just have to believe the nobles will do what is best for New Krypton," Lois replied.
Just then, the doors to the Council Chamber opened and they were beckoned inside.
"We have given much thought to your suggestions, Kal-El. We believe you want the best for New Krypton. So do we. While we agree with you that change is needed, we also know that this will take more time. You made very persuasive arguments, Kal-El. I think it is safe to say there will be change for the better on New Krypton.
"There is, of course, the matter of your marriage to Zara. Until the amendments to the constitution are made, the laws of marriage on New Krypton will stand. That is not to say exceptions will not be made on a case by case basis.
"The Council has agreed to annul your marriage to Zara and allow you to return to Earth, Kal-El. Zara, in the absence of your father, the Council has voted unanimously to allow you to marry Lt. Ching."
When Zara's surprise registered on her face, the Chief Noble smiled and said, "It is Lt. Ching you want to marry, isn't it?"
Zara looked at Ching and said, "Is it that obvious?"
Ching took Zara's hand and asked, "Ready to spend a lifetime together?"
"If only you knew how much," Zara replied.
"So, when is the wedding?" Clark piped up.
"How about tonight?" Ching asked. "I'd like Kal-El and Lois to be our witnesses." Zara nodded in agreement.
"Wonderful!" The Chief Noble exclaimed. "But before we begin, the Council has a presentation to make." An apprentice of the Council brought a velvet covered box and a leather bound proclamation to the Chief Noble. The Chief Noble opened the proclamation and began reading. "Because of her selflessness in releasing Kal-El to serve the Kryptonian people and her bravery in battling those who would destroy the peace of our planet, the New Krypton Council of Nobles awards the title of "Lady" to Lois Lane."
Clark beamed with pride. Lois was astonished to say the least.
The Chief Noble continued, "Though you may not be of noble birth, Lois, you certainly possess the qualities we seek for in those who would rule here on New Krypton. Allow me to present this to you as a token of our appreciation to you." He then opened the velvet box to reveal a necklace that was adorned with one of the most beautiful red gems Lois had ever seen. The brightest ruby would pale in comparison to this jewel.
Lois spoke softly, "I don't feel worthy of this honor."
"All the more reason you should have this, my dear. For if one begins to feel worthy of the title they have been given, it should be stripped of them," the Chief Noble declared. He led in a round of thunderous applause for Lois, who nodded in gratitude to the Council. Then, he turned to Clark, handing him both the box and the proclamation. "I think you've chosen well, Kal-El. Can we trust you to deliver this to Lois when you return to Earth?"
"With pleasure, sir." Clark winked at Lois' hologram and Lois smiled back at him.
"Now, for the annulment. Zara, if you will join Kal-El and myself up here, we'll begin." Zara stepped up to the podium. "Zara, hold up your right hand and Kal-El, your left hand." They did as directed and the Chief Noble pressed the backs of their hands together, with their palms facing outward. He took a thin piece of cord and wrapped it around their hands. "Marriage on New Krypton is the noblest of all our traditions. The dissolution of a union is not taken lightly. The cord which binds your hands is a fragile one, symbolic of the bonds which hold a marriage together. Your palms facing outward signifies the separation about to take place. Based on the facts presented to the Council of Nobles, I hereby grant your annulment." With that, he applied gentle pressure between their hands and the cord broke.
Lois breathed a sigh of relief. Now, it was official. She and Clark could finally be together.
The Chief Noble motioned for Ching to join Zara on the platform. He smiled warmly at the two of them. "For so long, marriages on New Krypton have been pre-arranged by the families, that I must admit that I find it refreshing to be a part of a wedding based on love. Perhaps that is one of the many things we as a council must work to change." He turned to Ching and asked, "Ching, are you certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that Zara is the one you want for a life mate?"
"Yes," Ching replied with conviction.
"Will you place her needs above your own, seeking only the best for her? Laying your life down for her, if necessary?"
"She is the utmost of my priorities, sir. I would defend her to the death, if need be."
Smiling at Ching's earnestness, the Chief Noble said, "So you're saying you love her."
Ching looked directly at Zara and said, "With everything in me. It feels so good to be able to admit that at last."
"Zara, are you certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ching is the one you want for a life mate?"
"Yes," she replied.
"Will you believe only the best of him, affirming him and supporting him through the most difficult of times?"
"Ching has given me every reason to believe in him and what he brings to this union. I would consider it an honor to be his wife."
"Then, you're saying you love him as well."
Zara looked Ching in the eye and spoke, "With every fiber of my being." Remembering her conversation with Ching just before returning to New Krypton, she added, "There *is* a freedom in finally admitting that."
"If you will both raise your hands," the Chief Noble reached for a thick red cord. He placed the end between their palms and pressed their hands together, then wrapped the cord around their joined hands. "The Krypton wedding cord is a thick one, symbolic of the ties that bind you together as a couple. The bond is next to impossible to break, unless of course, you undo it yourselves. By the power vested in me and this council, I hereby pronounce you husband and wife."
As Ching and Zara stood there looking into each other's eyes, Clark leaned over and whispered, "Aren't you going to kiss the bride?"
They both appeared shocked. "That isn't part of the Kryptonian wedding ceremony," they said in unison.
"If I would leave any Earthly tradition with you, it would be that one," Clark encouraged. The Chief Noble nodded in agreement.
As Ching tilted Zara's chin up, part of him still couldn't believe that this was happening. Zara was truly his at last. With their kiss, the Council Chamber reverberated with applause. From Clark's apartment in Metropolis, Lois heartily joined in. She couldn't remember the last time she was this happy at a wedding.
Before Ching and Zara left for their quarters, Zara looked up at Lois' hologram and said, "He's all yours now, Lois. I wish you and Clark the best."
Ching echoed her sentiments by saying, "We owe you both so much. Thank you for all you've done."
Clark shook Ching's hand and said, "Congratulations." He then kissed Zara on the cheek.
They waved to Lois and turned to leave the Council Chamber. As they made their exit, they walked hand in hand through military guards, standing on either side of them, lasers crossed.
Clark walked up to Lois' hologram. "Ready for some company, Lady Lois?"
"Boy, am I ever. Hurry back, Lord Kal-El."
He viewed her appreciatively. "Do me a favor and be wearing that when I get home."
For the last time, they pressed their fingertips to their lips and "touched" across the universe.
Lois waited anxiously on Clark's balcony for his return. Just as she was beginning to discount the streak of light across the sky as a shooting star, he appeared. She flashed him the warmest of smiles and rushed into his arms. Their kiss was at once both precious and passionate. Though Lois would have never wished for Clark's absence, it truly did make the heart grow fonder, as if that were possible. "Welcome home," she whispered softly.
"I have a couple of things for you." Clark handed Lois the proclamation from the Council of Nobles. Then he opened the velvet box containing the necklace they had presented to Lois. He took it out and slipped it around her neck. The gem glistened in the glow of the moonlight. "Beautiful," Clark murmured, but he wasn't speaking of the necklace.
Lois reached to check for her wedding ring. It was still there, around Clark's neck. "I kept it for you, just like I said I would. I can't wait to slip it on your finger."
"Neither can I."
"That reminds me. Ching and Zara sent a wedding present to the ship just before I left New Krypton." He drew out another box.
Opening the package, Lois smiled. "A Kryptonian wedding cord. How sweet."
"Talk about the ties that bind. I wonder if people would be shocked if we used that at our wedding," Clark chuckled.
"Positively scandalized. But I don't care. I think we should use it as a tribute to your heritage. Now, I think you'd better go call Jonathan and Martha."
"Did they know I was coming back tonight?"
"No. I wanted you to have the honor of calling them."
Lois was still waiting on the balcony when she heard strains of music filtering from inside the apartment.
Clark joined her outside and said, "I told Mom and Dad we'd be out to see them in a couple of days. For now, I just want you to myself."
"Sounds like they're playing our song."
As Clark picked her up in his arms, he said, "Let me show you where the music took me." He bent to kiss her and they soared into the night sky.
"This fire inside for you Is constant as the Northern Star And you will be forever in my heart As long as there’s a river Searching for an endless sea I will always love you — Faithfully"**
The white knight had finally come home to his lady fair. All was well. For now.
* "In A Perfect World" by Friedman, Rich & Waldman
** "Faithfully" by Jones & Rose