By Anita Dicker <email@example.com>
Submitted: April 2000
Summary: Clark goes to New Krypton with Zara and Ching, and finds out that he is unable to prevent the civil war. The story chronicles some of the changes that occur to Clark while fighting on New Krypton.
This is my first attempt at fan fiction, so please be gentle. This is another story following on from the episode, 'Big Girls Don't Fly'. This was just something that I had been thinking about the very first time that I saw the ending of 'Big Girls Don't Fly'.
I had never believed that by going to New Krypton, Clark would be able to prevent a civil war. I always thought that it would be more than just a one on one battle, between Lord Kal-El and Lord Nor. I felt that it would be two groups fighting, and ending in a final battle. I wanted to describe how prolonged warfare would cause a change in your ideals.
I hope I didn't imitate anyone's ideas, I don't intend to plagiarize. I have read some stories where Clark had gone to New Krypton with Lady Zara and Lieutenant Ching, and then of his return. They have all blurred together.
The characters do not belong to me. They belong to those who have ownership rights, and any others who hold claim. I do not intend to infringe on anyones rights. The story however is mine, as are the characters I created.
This story would not have seen the light of day had it not been for my husband's support, and the invaluable assistance and patience of Kath Roden.
CHAPTER 1: The Tough Fight
Clark Kent hunkered down next to a broken wall. Bracing himself on one knee, he grimaced as the debris cut into his left leg. Looking back, he saw Lady Zara and Lieutenant Ching cautiously maneuver closer. They crouched lower as the whistling of a mortar round grew louder and exploded in a building nearby.
The cries of the wounded cut into Clark, and he gripped his energy pulse rifle tighter. Mortar rounds had been raining on the town for the past couple of days. Recently there had been a noticeable reduction in the number of rounds that were being fired. He suspected that they were running low on ammunition. Leaning his back against the shattered wall, he looked at Zara and Ching. He noticed the sweat soaked grime and soot on both their faces, and knew that his own wasn't any cleaner. He didn't have to look too closely to notice the gray of fatigue under the dirt. They had been fighting Lord Nor for almost a year and a half.
Lord Kal-El (also known as Clark Kent) had arrived early in New Krypton's spring, it was now early fall, a year later.
They were finally closing in on Lord Nor. They had him boxed in, in a secondary fortress that belonged to one of his supporters. He was surrounded. He would not be receiving any more supplies, as his supply lines had been severed. However, Lord Nor had the high ground. To attack flat-out as a ground force would be foolhardy. The town they held lay in ruins, but these remnants were the only substantial cover for over a mile. There was a scattering of burned out farms, outbuildings, and the wreckage of vehicles, between the town and the fortress. The movement of troops would need to be done carefully.
Zara reached over, touched Clark's arm to get his attention, and quickly pulled back her hand. Clark, startled, gave Zara his undivided attention. He was surprised, for she very rarely ever touched him, outside of protecting him from harm.
"Clark. When was the last time you had some sleep?" asked Zara.
Clark broke off eye contact on the pretext of adjusting his coat with his free hand. It was always cold at this time of year, especially after the sun had begun to set.
"When was the last time you had anything to eat?" she asked.
"I'm not even sure what day it is," murmured Clark, eyes downcast.
Zara really looked at Clark; she noticed how haggard he appeared to be. She motioned to Ching, and he moved nearer. Ching firmly grabbed hold of the rifle Clark had.
Clark's eyes came up and he started to pull his weapon back. His eyes tracked the extra hand that had a hold on his rifle, up the arm to its owner. His dark eyes narrowed as he took in Ching's face.
"Lord Kal-El, I will stay here," said Ching. "Return with Lady Zara to camp, so that you may rest, and have some food."
For a moment, Clark considered flatly refusing to go, but he realized how hungry and tired he was. Giving Ching a tired grin, he released his grip on the pulse rifle and moved cautiously past him toward Zara.
Ching slapped Clark companionably on the shoulder as he moved to take over his superior's previous position. He squatted where Clark had knelt. Ching rested his back against the crumbling wall, and held the rifle at the ready.
Zara moved with extreme care to where the vehicle she had arrived in was hidden. Clark limped slightly as he followed her, slowly and cautiously. When it was safe to stand upright, Zara turned to see how Clark was managing. She was surprised to see that she had outdistanced her companion by several yards. Waiting for him to catch up, she watched as he traveled to where she stood. She saw he was limping; her eyes scanned his legs and noticed that the left knee was bleeding slightly. It didn't look very serious, but she was going to have the medics at the camp examine his leg.
Zara always avoided touching Clark whenever possible. It was due to the fact that they were betrothed to each other, and simple contact intensified their physical connection. The link was to bind them to each other over time. She didn't love him, and she knew he didn't love her. The only ways that she had discovered to sever the bond was to limit contact with him, or create a physical connection with someone else. The third way to sever the connection would be Clark's death, and that wasn't an alternative to be considered.
She had found out by accident that addressing him by his Earth name could alleviate the bond. The name 'Clark' had a lower emotional hold on her than his Kryptonian name. She could only call him Clark around Ching, or when they were alone. She was constrained by the fact she was his wife under Kryptonian law and he was her lord and ruler of New Krypton. There were customs to be followed in public which she had to comply with.
Zara was also aware that he didn't feel the link between them. Clark's love for Lois somehow shielded him. She wasn't sure how his love for Lois protected him from feeling the link. Perhaps, since he had been raised in an environment that was free to express emotions, he had somehow linked with Lois. She had to get over her discomfort at touching him, other than to save his life. She had to break the bond soon, because lately, whenever Clark was nearby, her attention sometimes wandered.
Zara heard the scuffling of dirt and saw that Clark had stumbled in front of her. Without thought she stepped forward and caught him before he could hit the ground. She had pulled him into an embrace to keep him from falling. Unconsciously, as he leaned against her, she held him tighter. Realizing what she was doing, she grabbed his shoulders and pushed him away from her. Her hands remained on his shoulders maintaining her distance from him.
"Are you all right?" asked Zara looking at his face; it was ashen under the dirt.
"I think so," replied Clark in a voice so weary that Zara pushed aside her own discomfort. She placed his arm over her shoulders, and her arm around his waist. Walking slowly they arrived at the vehicle. There, she helped him gently into the passenger side of the vehicle. She started up the engine, and the vehicle lifted a foot off the ground.
She drove quickly to where the advance Headquarters camp was situated.
Zara pulled up to a field medical clinic. "Lord Kal-El has been injured," she called to a couple of orderlies.
The two orderlies quickly carried their Lord Kal-El into the clinic. Once the leg injury was cleaned, it was revealed to be a minor wound. A local anesthetic was applied and the knee wrapped.
Clark limped back to where Zara stood waiting. He knew she was playing the part of his dutiful wife. Fortunately, there was no need for them to pretend affection as the Kryptonians seemed to be a very reserved people.
"I would like to eat before I get some sleep," said Clark. "You want to join me?"
"I've already eaten," she said. "Do you want to sleep in the tent?"
Clark shook his head. "No, you can. I'll sleep in the medical tent." He noticed that she appeared uncomfortable. "Is there something wrong?"
"Clark, I would like to talk with you," Zara said hesitantly.
"Fine. Walk with me to the dining facility; I'm starved," he said.
"When was the last time you talked to the other lords?" she asked.
"What day is it?" asked Clark.
"It's the thirty sixth day of the fifth month."
"Then it's been ten days since I've talked to any of the ruling class," he answered. "I'll talk to them. What are they complaining about now?"
Zara had to smile at that; she almost laughed. "More of the same; you fighting at the front lines; your insistence that you are returning to Earth when the war is over, and so on."
"I can only lead by example, and I AM going home to Lois," his voice took on an edge that she had long begun to recognize. "I will convince them to allow a lady the right of succession, and to head a ruling house. You've been raised all your life to govern. I haven't and I don't want to." He stopped outside the dining facility entrance, and looked at Zara. "Anything else?" asked Clark.
She shook her head. "No. I just think we must keep repeating ourselves until they agree. That is why Ching and I went looking for you." She didn't add that it had taken them almost two days to find him.
"I'll be in the council chambers in about an hour. I'm going to eat," Clark said, as he rubbed his chin. To his surprise, he felt a five or six days growth of beard. "And then clean up." With that he walked inside the dining room.
Clark stood outside the entrance to his tent and casually looked inside; stepping into the tent he called, "Anyone here?" He listened, there was no response. The tent was designated for Lord Kal-El and Lady Zara. She and Clark had arranged it so that they never slept there at the same time. He knew Zara's feelings for Ching were beyond friendship. Clark would do nothing to violate his solemn promise to Lois, or cause damage to the relationship between Zara and Ching. Entering he turned to the left and stepped into the sleeping chamber that was curtained off from the rest of the tent. Glancing quickly over the large bed, he went over to where his clean clothing was stored. He pulled out a clean uniform and placed it on the bed. He stripped out of his clothes and stepped into the bathing facility.
After bathing he stood in front of the mirror; a towel around his waist, he looked at his reflection. He almost didn't recognize the man with the hard eyes who stared back at him. The man who had a scar on the right side of his forehead that faded into the hairline at the temple. His gaze followed the long scar that started on his right shoulder and ended just before his left nipple. That one had been too close, if it hadn't been for Ching's warning…
He looked closely at his beard and decided to keep it. Many men in the field had grown beards. Lord Nor knows what I look like, he recalled, as Zara and he had spent several months trying to work out a diplomatic solution. No matter what they came up with, it was always unacceptable. All that Nor wanted were delays, so that he could mobilize his forces. The attempted coup was unsuccessful, and that was why he carried a scar across his chest. Clark shook his head; no need to dwell on the past. Some facial hair may give me a little anonymity, a bit of an edge, he thought. He ran the shaver over his neck and throat, just short of his chin.
Finished dressing, he picked up the holster that held his sidearm. He checked the weapon and tied it down to his right leg. He grabbed a fresh coat out of the storage bin, and shrugged it on. Grinning, he knew that by not wearing ceremonial robes to the meeting, he would consternate the council. The only things he concerned himself with were being a soldier and fighting for change.
Clark met Zara outside the council chambers. He smiled at her, she too was wearing combat fatigues. This would further the consternation of the lords in the council. They didn't mind the common people fighting, but not their lords and ladies. Clark and Zara worked with several supporters within the council. Their backers worked to effect change while they were away. The necessity of Lord Kal-El and Lady Zara to also be there occasionally, to argue their own case, was vitally important. Clark and Zara composed themselves, and entered the lion's den.
Three hours later, they walked out of the council chambers, tired and spent.
"It's a good thing I'm not trying to convert them to a constitutional government. Just change the rules of the patriarchy, to allow women to rule as equals," Clark said, and flashed Zara a grin. "Think we made another point?"
"The arguments from Lord Mon-Ze seemed less forceful this time," Zara said, as she smiled back at him. "I spoke with his wife, Marta, a little over two days ago."
"AH! Divide and conquer, a good strategy," said Clark. "Is there anything else you need?" he asked her, stopping near the medical tent.
"No. Sleep well, Clark," answered Zara.
He turned, entered the tent, and located one of the doctors and asked for a bed for the evening. The doctor, clearly startled by this request, just stood still for a moment. The man belatedly realized to whom he was speaking, bowed and escorted Kal-El to the back of the tent, where there were several unoccupied beds.
Zara followed Clark slowly back to where he would be sleeping. Her bond compelled her to follow him. She watched surreptitiously as he removed his coat, boots, and took off his sidearm. He placed the weapon where he could access it quickly. He lay down and, before he finished pulling up the blanket, she noticed he was asleep. She walked to his bed, and finished pulling up the blanket. Then she quickly turned and headed outside.
Zara saw that Ching had entered the medical tent. Ching glanced over to where Clark lay sleeping.
"Clark is exhausted. He was asleep before his head hit the pillow," said Zara.
"There is a full squad now holding Kal-El's position," said Ching, and he turned to leave.
"Ching," Zara called, "I need to talk with you." She walked near him. "We will talk in my tent," she said softly, as she passed by him.
Zara and Ching entered the tent; she went over and sat in a chair.
He remained the consummate bodyguard, prepared and ever watchful. She knew Ching would continue to stand near the entrance. She encouraged him to come over and sit down, across from her. Finally he settled down; she made eye contact with him and began to speak.
"Ching." She released a breath she had been holding. "Lately, I have noticed that the betrothal bond between Clark and I has been growing stronger in me."
Ching gritted his teeth and broke off eye contact. Zara reached over and grabbed his hands. Startled he looked down at their clasped hands, then back up into her dark eyes.
"I know you have feelings for me." she smiled at him, "You also know, that I have feelings for you." She blushed slightly with her admission, but her eyes shone with love.
Ching didn't know what to say. He held his position as her bodyguard. He had loved her in silence for many years. He did not suspect she harbored suppressed feelings for him. That was, until she had confessed that she did while they were on Earth. He had never expected that she would act on those feelings for him. They each had their position, and their duty to perform for New Krypton.
Zara released his hands and reached up slowly to stroke his cheek. Her breath caught in her throat at the first touch on his jaw. His eyes closed at the first contact of her fingers. She leaned forward and their lips met, just barely touching. A low moan escaped Ching, as she pulled away. Sitting back they just looked at each other, both hardly daring to breathe.
Ching gingerly reached over and gently removed the pins that held up her hair. The shimmering dark mass fell past her shoulders. "Your hair is always so pretty." He dropped the pins as his hand trailed down the side her face. "You are so beautiful," whispered Ching.
She captured his hand as it rested on the side of her face. She moved his hand to her lips and kissed his fingers. With some unspoken signal they both stood; their eyes dark with desire, they stepped into each other's arms.
Ching's lips touched hers, then he blazed a trail down the side of her neck, and caused her to sigh in appreciation. His hands explored the texture of her hair as he continued to kiss her. Then his hands traveled down to stroke her sides.
Zara's hands held, then explored his body. First massaging his shoulders, then moving down his back. Their kisses had become quite intense, and their breathing had turned into ragged gasps. Her hands slid over his backside; as she pulled him to her, she arched against him. That movement forced a groan from him as he broke off a kiss. Self-control vanished, he swept her off her feet and carried her through the curtained off area to the bed. Passing through the heavy curtains, Ching carried Zara into the sleeping chamber. He paused, suddenly unsure; he set her down on her feet near the bed.
"Zara," he began. He didn't want to pressure her. He needed to slow down.
She silenced him with a kiss, and whispered, "I desire you." Then she reached up to the collar of his shirt, and started to open the buttons one by one. Arriving at the point where it disappeared into his trousers, she tugged up on his shirt and, reaching around him, completely freed it. She finished unbuttoning the shirt, and slipped it off his shoulders, letting it drop to the floor. She slid her hand beneath the black undershirt he wore. His stomach muscles clenched at the first touch of her fingers. Slipping the garment higher, she ran her fingers over his chest. He gasped, and reached for the hem to pull the undershirt off over his head. Her eyes raked across the naked expanse of his chest. Then her eyes dropped to the lower left side of his stomach. She reached over with her right hand and touched his side gently.
"It's really gone." She looked up into his eyes. "It's vanished."
Ching gazed down into her eyes; he was puzzled, what was she talking about. "What's gone?" he whispered.
"The scar." She ran her fingers over his left side at a slight angle. "It was right about here."
He captured her hand, to stop those fingers from sending electrical fire through his veins. He held her hand flat against his side.
"It faded away while we were on Earth." He looked at her, surprised. "I've never told you about that scar."
Zara smiled as a blush crept up her cheeks, keeping her eyes on his face. "I would watch you exercise sometimes. You would spar with an opponent, when you did calisthenics with your men. When you were finished, most of the time you would take off the sleeveless shirt you wore. There you were, looking positively magnificent. Your body glistening with sweat, your hair tousled," she had spoken softly, never breaking eye contact.
Ching noticed that her eyes had darkened, her breathing had quickened, and had become shallow. "I never knew you were watching," he said softly.
"You weren't supposed to know." Her grin broadened.
He took a step forward, closing the gap between them. His hands went to each side of her face, as he lowered his head to kiss her. Her lips were cool at first, as he pressed his lips against her mouth. Her hands had slipped down to rest on his hips. While warming her lips, his fingers were undoing the buttons on her shirt. He paused only for a moment as he tugged the shirt from her pants. A minute later her shirt also lay on the floor. He reached down and grabbed the hem of her black undershirt. Kissing her, he paused to pull the garment off over her head. Her arms rose to reach around his neck, and they embraced.
Zara woke up slowly, listening to the breathing of her lover, Ching. Physically she was tired, but she had never been so emotionally rested before. As she lay on the bed, languid, stretching, she became aware that something was missing. After a moment, she recognized what was wrong. Her betrothal bond, the mental link with Clark. The persistent awareness, that was a drone while she was awake, and recently unsettling her while she slept. The link had been growing louder, and more difficult to ignore with each passing week. Now, it had died down to a soft white noise. Conscious of what she was doing, she focused on the sensation. While she was tuned to the bond, the connection continued to diminish until she could no longer sense it.
As she lay there, she heard someone call into the tent. Getting up, she grabbed one of her long council robes, and slipped it on, along with a pair of shoes. She paused and glanced quickly into a mirror, making sure the robe was on properly. Hesitating at the heavy curtain, she looked over at Ching, who was still sleeping. In the main room she called out, "You may enter." She kept a formal tone.
Ching's top aide strode in, stopped, and bowed. "Your pardon, my Lady," he said. He glanced around furtively. "My Lady, do you know where Lieutenant Ching is?"
"Is the Lieutenant missing?" inquired Zara, blandly.
"I am unable to locate Lieutenant Ching. I thought perhaps he would be here." He bowed again and left.
She sighed, relieved, and returned to the sleeping chamber. She hurried to Ching, who was now awake and sitting up in the bed.
"That was good. Avoid answering a question by asking one of your own," he said, smiling at her as she sat beside him.
Wrapping her arms around her lover, she rested her head in the hollow of his neck and shoulder. "We are going to have to be very careful," she whispered.
"Especially considering the penalties for unlawful fraternization," he said softly. He held her firmly, enjoying the sensations she evoked in him. "At minimum, I could be removed from my post as your bodyguard. At the other extreme, and more likely, I would be executed."
"No!" Zara pulled back to look him in the eyes. "Never," she said fervently. Leaning forward, she kissed him hard on the mouth.
Clark lay still, eyelids moving, tracking some interior event. Each time he slept, he would dream of Lois. Things that they had done in the past, things they hoped to do in the future. In his dreams he would revisit the woman he loved.
He exits the elevator at the Daily Planet, and looks down over the news pit. Lois is having an argument with someone on the phone; she's making notes. Finally, she hangs up and glances to where he stands. Their eyes lock together, an electrical spark shoots between them. He proceeds down the ramp. She stands, and runs into his arms. Her body presses against his, a sweet agony. The office noise fades away, all that he can feel and see is Lois. Holding her tightly he breathes in the scent of her shampoo, and marvels over how well she molds herself to his body. She pulls back, his mouth seizes her lips, and their tongues engage in gentle battle. Breaking off the kiss, he gazes into her dark eyes, bright with unshed tears. He caresses her cheek in his special way, and asks, "Will you marry me?"
Lois gives him that smoldering smile, and says softly, "Yes." She slides her hands up his chest, slips her arms up behind his neck, she leans up and kisses the pulse at his throat. "Yes," she whispers. Standing up on her toes, she gives his earlobe a soft nip. "Yes," she breathes into his ear.
Clark is breathing with effort and feeling very warm. He looks down at Lois and sees that she's as flushed as he is. Attempting to control the situation, to hold on to their promise to wait until they were married, he backs off half a step.
Lois clutches at his jacket lapels and cries out, "No!"
Clark, startled, reaches for her, and then realizes she's looking past his shoulder. Glancing back over his shoulder, he sees Zara and Ching. They walk over — each grabs an arm, as they pull him away from Lois. His heels drag on the floor as he struggles ineffectively against them. He reaches out to Lois.
Lois has tears streaming down her cheeks. She steps forward, her legs give way, and she collapses to the floor.
Sitting upright abruptly, Clark, bathed in sweat and breathing hard, grabbed at the sheets. He concentrated on slowing his breathing and looked at his watch. He had been asleep for seven hours. As he sat on the edge of the bed he tried to recall his dream, but it had already slipped away. His stomach rumbled as he climbed out of the bed.
He pulled on his boots, grabbed his sidearm, and coat. Walking out of the medical tent, he headed to the dining facility. Treading his way slowly, he remembered the first time he had gone to the dining facility. Lord Kal-El had stood in line as everyone else had, to receive his meal. Before he accepted his food tray, he was quickly escorted to the back of the facility. He was given a tray of food that looked very different from what was being served to the soldiers. This food also smelled better than the aroma he had noted from the other fare.
Scanning the room, he had walked over to a table where a soldier had just sat. He had traded trays with the man, without saying a word. He'd moved over to another table, and prepared to eat. After the first bite he had almost gagged at the taste. The other entrees, if possible, had been worse. Talking to the group in charge of the food, he had been told that it was nutritionally adequate. Perhaps that had been so, but if you couldn't stand to eat it, it wasn't worth having. Clark had explained that having well fed troops aided in morale. He had given them a week to change the way food was prepared, making sure it was edible. He had also halted the practice right then of giving anyone specially prepared food.
Everyone eating the same food insured that it was all palatable.
Clark stepped into the sitting area of his tent. When he had called out, there had been no response. Walking into the sitting room there was a crunch underfoot. Glancing at the carpeted floor, he saw that he had stepped on something. Bending down, he picked up several hairpins. He called again; there still was no answer. He moved over to the curtain that sectioned off the sleeping area. Pulling the curtain aside, he looked around the room. The bed was neatly made; the tent was empty. Walking over to Zara's dressing area, he placed the hairpins on a small table. He walked over to his dressing area and retrieved a clean uniform. Undressing quickly, he stepped into the bathing area. Exiting his bath he quickly dressed, and combed his hair.
"Lord Kal-El, it is Lord Trey, may I enter?" a voice called from outside of the tent.
"Come in," Clark answered as he exited the bedroom. He placed his sidearm and coat near the entrance.
Lord Trey entered the tent and bowed deeply to his leader.
"What is it, Lord Trey?" asked Clark, exasperated; he was always uncomfortable at the reverence the Kryptonians showed him.
"I found some old documents that may serve your purpose, my Lord." Trey held several scrolls, the man seemed very pleased with himself.
Clark motioned that Trey should follow him over to the far side of the tent where a table stood. He noticed that the parchment scrolls were yellowed with age.
Trey carefully set the scrolls on the table, and started to open them.
Unexpectedly, Zara and Ching entered the tent.
"Cl-," Zara broke off when she saw Trey. "Kal-El, I didn't realize you were here." She turned to leave. "I will return when your business is finished."
"No, wait!" he called after them. "I want you both to hear this."
Warily, both Zara and Ching walked to where the scrolls were spread out. The writing on the scrolls appeared to be ancient Kryptonian. Then Zara noticed that the scribe had used a superfluous script pattern that made it difficult to read.
Clark looked at the writing and groaned silently, he had learned to speak the language on the trip to New Krypton. Learning to read Kryptonian was a bit harder, printed lettering was easier to read than a person's handwriting.
"Lord Kal-El, from what I have been able to decipher, there is no direct way to pass over the reins of power without an heir," said Trey.
"Then there's nothing I can do." Clark slumped dejectedly.
"Not unless you have a brother to pass those reins to." Trey gave him a brief smile. "There is a way, in effect, to adopt a brother. Someone you are close to, and have called brother in public."
Clark's eyes widened as he looked over at Ching. He redirected his gaze back to Trey. "All I have to do is call this man brother in front of witnesses, and we're related?"
"Not quite, papers also need to be drawn up to acknowledge him as your brother." Trey looked down at one of the scrolls, his finger lightly skimming. "Five members of the ruling council also must agree, and sign these papers."
"I think we have four or five members on our side already," Clark looked at Zara and she nodded her head in agreement. "When can you get started on the paper work?" he asked.
The older man shuffled, unable to look at his Lord Kal-El. Clark watched him and noticed Trey's reticence.
"What is wrong my friend?"
"Why are you unwilling to accept your birthright?" He looked at his Lord, trying to understand.
"I thought you understood. When I requested that you locate a way for Lady Zara to rule in my place. It's so I can return to Earth."
"The Lady Zara is a pretty woman. Don't you feel a need for her?" There was a plaintive tone in his voice.
"Yes, Lady Zara is pretty." Clark looked over at Zara as he said, "The only woman I feel a need for is Lois. What is it that you are talking about?" he directed the question to Trey.
Zara controlled her reaction, as her face remained impassive. She was afraid that Trey was going to explain the betrothal bond to Clark.
Lord Trey was puzzled; he didn't understand the two people that he had sworn a loyalty oath to. Gazing at both his Lord Kal-El and Lady Zara, he thought that he had never met two people who resisted their rightful positions as fervently as they did.
"Lord Trey, when can you finish the papers?" asked Clark.
"Two, possibly three weeks." Looking at Clark, Trey asked, "Who are you going to petition to become your brother?"
Clark looked at Ching, and said, "My brother is Lieutenant Ching."
Although it wasn't unexpected, hearing Clark pick Ching to be his brother caused Zara much excitement. But she remained impassive, for it was expected. She would now be able to marry the man she had always loved.
Tray nodded his gray head, and gathered up all of the scrolls he had brought with him. Bowing to both his Lord and Lady, he quickly left the tent.
Clark looked at both Zara and Ching. He smiled and said, "That was some of the best news I've heard today."
"I am honored that you would allow me the opportunity to rule New Krypton with the Lady Zara." Ching spoke these formal words, much to Clark's surprise.
"Ching, I know that you love Zara. I'm doing what is right, and what should have happened for the two of you." Clark watched them both, and noticed they seemed a little uneasy. "Well, I've got to get going," he said, and walked out of the tent.
Clark was a dozen yards away when he realized he had forgotten his coat and sidearm. He quietly stepped back into the tent and reached for the holster and coat. He looked up as he grabbed the items. He saw Zara and Ching locked in an embrace. He backed out quickly and escaped unnoticed. He smiled as he slipped on his coat and buckled on his weapon. They had wanted each other for a long time. Clark was happy for them; soon he would be with Lois.
CHAPTER 2: The Road to Victory
Early the next morning, Clark walked into the tent used as the wardroom. Ching and several of his aides stood around a map covered table. Clark walked over to a smaller table, and poured himself a cup of what was the Kryptonian equivalent of coffee. Taking a sip, he made a face of distaste. He moved over to the table, and looked down at the maps which Ching and his staff were studying. The maps were of various areas in and around the fortress where Lord Nor was hiding.
The fortress was a ruin left by a previous civilization. There were dozens of such compounds on the planet. The Kryptonians had been able to discover that the previous inhabitants of this world had died out, due to some sort of sudden change in their sun. This information had been deciphered from some of the surviving hieroglyphic tablets that were uncovered. They had not discovered a great deal of information, due to the harsh conditions of the planet. It had been more important to plant crops and harvest those crops, because the growing season was short. Some of the more egocentric lords claimed some of these ruins, and had them rebuilt. Lord Nam-Ek, one of Lord Nor's more zealous supporters, had claimed this citadel. It had been rebuilt and fortified. Lord Nor was there now, seeking refuge.
Clark and Ching had now been scrutinizing topographical maps of the surrounding area for the past two weeks. They had both come to an agreement that there was no easy way to get into Lord Nam-Ek's fortress. There were going to be a lot of casualties.
Clark continued to look at the maps after Ching and his aides had left. Alone in the wardroom, he pulled a chair closer the table. He leaned back, closed his eyes, and pinched the bridge of his nose. As much as he hated to admit it, there was no way to assault the fortress, not without great loss of life. The body count was already too high. He stood, and quickly strode to the dining facility. Ching and his staff had gone for a late morning meal.
Clark and Ching were walking back from the dining facility, the aides were several yards behind them. Near the wardroom, Clark saw a couple of extra guards keeping an eye on a scruffy looking man. The man's hands were tied behind his back, and his face showed that he had been hit several times. One of his eyes had started to darken and his lip was split and swollen.
"What's going on here?" Ching asked, as he walked over to the Sergeant of the Guard.
The man straightened as he saw his superior approach. "Sir! This man says he worked for Lord Nam-Ek."
"Is that why he's been beaten?" Clark asked, as he joined Ching.
The Sergeant glanced over at the bearded man who was standing next to his superior officer. He was about to ignore the question. With a second glance, he realized that the bearded man with no insignia on his uniform was Lord Kal-El. The Sergeant tried to swallow as his mouth went dry.
"No, Sir! He resisted arrest."
"Why is this prisoner here?" asked Ching.
"He claims that there is another way to enter Lord Nam-Ek's fortress."
"Really?" Ching's tone was incredulous. "And where is this access?"
"He refused to tell us." The Sergeant's gaze shot past Ching to where Clark stood. "He said he would only tell Lord Kal-El."
Clark listened, as he watched the captive. The man looked scared, which was to be expected being in the opposition camp. His clothing, which at one time had been of good quality, hung loose and tattered on him. His face had a sunken look, indicating the man hadn't been eating regularly. The man's gray hair was dirty and he had surprisingly
blue eyes; he appeared to be somewhere in his sixties.
With this news, Clark and Ching both thought it might be a trap. They indicated to the guard to wait, and they walked into the wardroom.
"What do you think?" asked Clark, once they were inside. He went to look at the maps that were spread out on the table.
"Could be some kind of elaborate trick," stated Ching.
"It can't hurt to listen to the man." He turned to look at Ching. "If it turns out to be false, we already know what we have to do."
Ching nodded, and went over to help Clark put away the maps. He also arranged a pair of chairs. They would be sitting on one side of the table. When the area was straightened, Ching called to have the prisoner brought in. Two guards flanked the prisoner, as he was escorted into the tent. The man looked around, what was going to happen to him?
Clark spoke up, using his official voice. "I am Lord Kal-El, and this is my brother, Lieutenant Ching." He indicated Ching, who stood to his left.
The guarded man bowed as deeply as he was able, with his hands bound behind his back. Clark watched this with a skeptical eye. When he sat down, Ching sat.
"What is your name?" asked Clark.
"Xan," replied their captive.
"Xan. What kind work did you do for Lord Nam-Ek?"
"I was contracted to be part of a crew involved in the rebuilding of the fortress. The work we did was determining areas that were unstable. We reported these areas to the work leaders. Work crews repaired those damaged sections."
Clark was silent as he regarded Xan. When he had been a reporter for the Daily Planet he had interviewed a great many people. He had learned to tell when individuals were lying, with a good deal of accuracy. He would observe the person's body language, while he interviewed them. Then he would confirm his suspicions with the use of his superpowers, by listening to their heartbeat and respiration. It was hard to observe Xan's body language, while his hands were tied.
"Guard," said Clark, indicating the man on Xan's left. "Untie the prisoner."
The guard stepped forward, and undid the rope which had bound the captive's hands. Xan bowed again, this time making sure it was proper. Standing upright, Xan rubbed his sore wrists.
"How long did you do this type of work?" Clark continued the interrogation.
"I started working there a little over three years ago." He glanced around as he quickly added, "I haven't been working there for two months."
"Where is this access to Lord Nam-Ek's fortress?" He couldn't keep the skepticism out of his voice.
"It's an underground passageway."
"A tunnel." There was suspicion in Clark's tone. "Where?"
"The passageway runs from the fortress to the large building in the center of these ruins." Xan wet his lips, and winced when his tongue touched the cut on his lip.
"Can you show us on a map where this tunnel is?" Clark asked as he stood.
"Yes, Sir!" said Xan as he nodded.
Casually walking over to the racks where the maps were stored, Clark grabbed the map that covered the area of the town and fortress. He spread the map on the table. "Show me where this tunnel is," he said.
Xan moved toward the map; he studied the diagram thoughtfully. Several moments passed, then he placed a finger on a building inside the fortress. "Two levels below the ground there is a passageway that leads to …" he paused, as he placed another finger on a building near the center of the town ruins, "here."
"There is a two story foundation for that building?" asked Ching. He was intrigued at the prospect of locating an entrance into the fortress.
Before Xan could answer, Clark looked down at the shorter man and asked, "How did you find the entrance to this underground passage?"
The older man glanced at both men, unsure which he should answer first. Deciding to answer the rightful leader of New Krypton, he said, "Two men and I were examining the stability of the floors and walls in this building." He tapped the building illustrated on the map. "Kelk saw steps that led further downward. We walked the perimeter of the lower room checking the strength of the walls, floor, and ceiling. Halfway through the inspection, we saw that part of an outer wall had collapsed. It appeared that there was an opening behind the fallen stone. Carefully, we moved some of the rocks away from the cavity. We walked several yards into the passageway. After a little while we noticed our lamps were growing dim. Tam, who was always hungry, stated it was time for our last meal of the day. We decided to return the next morning with freshly fueled lamps." Xan stopped to take a breath. He looked up at Ching, and Clark, who had returned to his chair. They watched and listened to him with interest.
"Who are Tam and Kelk?" asked Ching.
"Kelk and Tam are father and son. Kelk was teaching his son how to identify structural weaknesses. To be able to repair the damage, and whatever else was required. Tam was being taught to do the work that his father had learned from his father." He smiled a little at the remembrance of his friends.
Xan saw Ching nod; he took a deep breath and resumed his narrative. "The next day, with our midday meals packed, and with fully fueled lamps, we returned to the building. We moved more stones away from the opening. Then we started down the passageway, examining the walls as we traveled. We moved slowly because we were inspecting as we went. The walls were still very sturdy after all these centuries.
While we stopped to eat, we discussed what we were going to do. None of us knew how to report this kind of find to the work leaders. We decided to wait until we found where the tunnel ended. A short time later we came up against a rock wall. We gently probed the stones; they fell with just a little pressure. When enough blocks were removed, we crawled into the opening. We ended up in a small room with a hole in the ceiling." Xan stopped and coughed. His throat was becoming sore with all the unaccustomed talking he was doing.
Clark, watching Xan tell his story, recognized the man's problem. "Have some water brought in here," he said.
One of the guards walked over to the tent entrance; he spoke quietly to someone on the other side. A few moments later an aide entered the room carrying a tray with a pitcher of water and two mugs. The aide carried the tray over to the table where Clark and Ching sat. The man poured water into both mugs.
Once the man had poured the water, Clark said, "Give the water to the prisoner."
The aide, very surprised, looked over at his Lord Kal-El. Clark glared at the startled aide, who, in his haste to hand the mug to Xan, nearly spilled the water.
"Drink," Clark said to Xan. He tossed a glance at the aide. "Please leave."
Xan held the mug with both hands and drank slowly, as if it were the best water he had ever tasted. He gasped suddenly for air; lowering the glass he breathed deeply.
"Do you want some more water?" asked Clark.
"No, My Lord." He shook his head. "Thank you for the water."
"Continue with your story," said Clark. "You were in a room with a hole in the ceiling," he prompted. "What did you do from there?"
"The walls of the room were too steep to climb, and the large slabs of rock held back the soil, couldn't be moved." Xan began his account slowly. "Tam always carried a length of cord on his travels, but there was nothing to attach it to. We formed a human ladder and Tam was able to escape through the opening in the ceiling. He tied the cord to a beam; Kelk and I climbed up. We looked around the building and realized that we were in danger. The structure that we stood in was in very bad shape. Kelk and Tam walked out of the building, I was only a few feet behind them."
Xan's expression was starting to crumble; his voice became subdued. "They were killed as they walked out. I hid behind some fallen beams and other rubble." He closed his eyes as he fought for control; his breathing became tremulous. Several moments passed as Ching and Clark remained quiet, dispassionate observers. Finally Xan was able to talk. "I continued to hide. I eventually overheard that Lord Nam-Ek was fighting the rightful leader of New Krypton." Xan stopped talking, his shoulders slumped.
"Who killed your friends?" asked Ching. "Were they wearing a uniform like this?" He pinched his shirt, pulling it forward.
"No, Sir. They were not wearing uniforms." Xan looked around the tent. "I watched a lot of men and equipment enter the fortress. Then a few days later, men in uniforms, like yours, showed up."
"Why didn't you return to the fortress?" asked Clark.
"I was afraid I would be shot by the men who killed my friends."
"You could have used the tunnel to return," he said, voice mild.
"NO. It is wrong to fight against the rightful ruler of New Krypton." Xan now looked frightened. He had spoken against a lord in front of another lord.
"What should we do with you?" Clark leaned back in his chair. "Since your sponsor, Lord Nam-Ek, is charged with treason."
Xan paled. "M-my patron isn't L-lord Nam-Ek," he stammered.
Clark's eyes narrowed. "Then who is your patron?"
"The House of Ra," answered Xan.
With this news Clark went cold inside. The House of Ra, that was Zara's family. He stood, hands braced on the table. Bending slightly, he stared hard at the man. Xan recoiled from this attack.
"The House of Ra," repeated Clark.
The man nearly cringed, then nodded yes, vigorously.
Clark felt a hand rest on his shoulder; he turned to look at Ching. There was gentle pressure as Ching squeezed his shoulder. Ching motioned, with his head, to the far corner of the tent. He followed Ching over into the partially secluded corner.
"Maybe he's telling the truth?" whispered Ching.
"About the tunnel?" Clark whispered back.
Ching shook his head. "Well, that sounds interesting. What I meant was that he could be sponsored by the House of Ra. I believe I did see this man working around the properties several years back."
"Then why was he working for Lord Nam-Ek?"
"Sometimes when a lord requires extra help on a project, he will ask other lords for additional manpower. They come to an agreement of payment for the people and their services. They remain under the protection of the originating House," Ching looked into Clark's eyes, "unless the transfer is permanent."
Clark felt a little ill at the matter of fact way Ching could talk about the buying and selling of an individual. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths to calm himself. He thought to himself, this practice will have to change.
"Will Zara recognize this man, and vouch for him?" asked Clark in a low voice.
Ching shrugged. "If she remembers him."
"Maybe we should ask Zara to come here and see if she can identify Xan?"
"I will find Zara and bring her here," Ching said.
Clark nodded his head and Ching left the tent. Clark walked back over to his chair and sat, looking at the man who stood on the other side of the table. Clark had been watching Xan, he hoped the old man's story could be trusted. He stood up as Zara and Ching entered the tent. They crossed to his side of the table. Zara gave him the ritual greeting she used only when they were in public.
"My Lord Kal-El," she said, as she dropped her eyes, and kept them lowered, waited for his response. She held Clark in high regard, so she didn't mind giving him the formal greeting.
"Lady Zara," Clark replied. He hated the protocol that was required of them; you should earn the respect not just accept it because it was a birthright.
She then looked up at him with a smile in her eyes. Zara knew that he hated the ritual greeting. They avoided performing it as much as was possible, but it was required to be performed in public. She moved over to his left, and Ching with her, to her left. Her glance landed on Xan, and he bowed. The man did look familiar to her.
Ching had only told her that the man claimed that the House of Ra was his sponsor. He hadn't given her his name or any information that could have influenced her one way or another.
She moved slowly toward the man, as she started to circle him for the second time. She gently grabbed his left arm, and pushed up the sleeve of his coat and shirt. She ran her finger over a birthmark, on the inside of his forearm. Zara smiled, in a way that Clark had rarely seen. "Xan," was all she said, before the older man started to cry. She turned on Clark and Ching with fire in her eyes. "WHO hurt him?"
"With words, I did," said Clark calmly. "The guards, when he resisted arrest."
Zara turned and murmured something to Xan. The older man, unable to speak, shook his head. "Xan didn't resist arrest." She didn't look up
as she spoke. She kept her head lowered, and continued to whisper to him. She rubbed small circles on Xan's back, and encouraged the man to control himself.
Clark and Ching watched this unexpected aspect of her personality. She obviously had some affection for this man. They were going to have to talk to her about Xan.
Zara looked to where the man she loved and the man she was married to by Kryptonian law stood as they observed her. The anger in her eyes had not diminished. "I want Xan to have some food, medical attention, clean clothes, and a place to sleep." Her tone brooked no argument.
Both men nodded in agreement. Ching spoke to one of the guards. He left, and brought in one of Lieutenant Ching's aides. The aide was informed of what Zara had requested for Xan. The aide was also instructed that the man was not a prisoner, but a guest.
With a few muttered comments from Zara, she convinced Xan to leave with the aide. She frowned at the men, then turned and stalked quickly out of the tent.
Ching dismissed the remaining men in the tent. Then both Clark and he took off after Zara. They didn't catch up with her until they arrived at her tent. Both men strode into the tent and were pulled up short. She stood there, legs spread, hands on hips; she had waited for them to arrive. Neither one of them had ever seen her this angry before.
"How could you hurt that old man?" Her tone was icy cold. She continued before they could answer, "Xan was more family than a servant.
He was a confidant, a special friend to me when I was growing up."
"Then why was he working for Lord Nam-Ek?" asked Clark.
"Three years ago there was no political strife, other than minor disagreements. When a lord asks for help it was usually provided," she said.
"Would you trust Xan with my life, your life, or Ching's?" he asked.
"Yes," Zara said without hesitation. "Why?"
Clark told her everything that Xan had told them about the tunnel leading into the fortress. Including all of the other details that he had passed on.
"I believe him," Zara said. "You should too."
The building, which held the secret tunnel, was easily located. Clark, stood outside the ruins of a building that must have been something in its day. He idly wondered what kind of civilization could build this, obviously flourish, and then disappear. He had been giving some thought to the original use of the tunnel. This was once a thriving town; if the villagers were under threat of attack, they could have used the tunnel to travel to the fortress for protection. His speculation was interrupted by a loud crash and rumble. He looked over as several dozen people streamed and tumbled out of the building.
A huge cloud of dust billowed out from the structure. The disheveled structural engineering squads were coughing, and choking on the dust. They each wore an equally disgusted expression on their face. Clark later learned that they had overestimated the strength of an inner wall that they were trying to shore up, and it collapsed. When the dust had settled the patient structural engineers strode carefully back into the building.
The reinforcement of the building had taken up most of the day. The site around the access point to the tunnel was doubly strengthened against collapse. When the structural engineers were confident that the building was safe, they allowed other personnel to enter. Clark casually walked over to where the entrance to the tunnel was supposed to be. He saw that a small group of carpenters had finished the construction of a block and tackle setup. He drew closer and saw that the engineers were already down in the pit. The engineers were moving the rocks that had fallen, and enlarging the opening into the tunnel. They were careful as they moved, and loaded the blocks to be hauled out of the hole. The cavity took shape as the rocks and other debris were cleared out. It appeared to be a small room, as Xan had described to Clark and Ching.
Poised looking down into the room that contained the entrance to the tunnel, Clark noted that the air smelled dank. Motioning to Ching, he asked, "How many three man reconnaissance teams are at base camp?"
Ching's eyes narrowed as he thought. "Six, possibly seven teams," he said.
"Have three teams report here, outfitted with close combat gear," said Clark. "Plus one structural engineering squad."
The orders were carried out, and within twenty minutes, the units Clark had asked for had reported. The three reconnaissance teams were all men; the structural engineers consisted of six women and four men.
Ching briefed them about the existence of the tunnel. The importance of the tunnel was not lost on the soldiers. What was impressed upon them most was the possibility that the passageway could be a trap.
Clark signaled to one of the reconnaissance teams. "You are going to be the first group in." Turning to the second reconnaissance unit, "You will be following the first team thirty minutes later. You will also take a radio with a landline, so that our communications won't be compromised. I want a report assessing the situation." He looked over at the remaining reconnaissance team and the structural engineers. "You," pointing at the last reconnaissance team, "will provide protection for the structural engineers, as they examine the tunnel walls for weaknesses, and have them marked as needed. You will follow thirty minutes after the second team has entered." Clark looked over at the assembled group. "Any questions?" he asked. As he had expected there were none. These people knew their jobs and they would do them. "Move out," he said to the first team. He watched as the men climbed down the ladder, and the lights they carried disappeared into the darkness.
To Clark, it felt like an eternity before the reconnaissance unit reported back, in reality only eighty minutes had passed. The report: the lowest level and the next level up were unoccupied and now secured. The ground floor had people coming and going, but it appeared not to be in constant use. It seemed to be primarily food storage on the three upper stories of the building. Clark knew that an attack within the fortress would demoralize the men that worked for Lords Nor and Nam-Ek. He made arrangements with Ching and they started to send people through the tunnel. It was early evening as they began the push.
Squad after squad outfitted for combat entered the tunnel. The separate units were to move into, and spread throughout, the compound. The trick was not to be seen as they took their positions. These groups had been briefed that the attack would begin the next morning, one hour before dawn.
When Clark's personal squad showed up for action, he knew it was time for him to enter the breach. His personal team consisted of seven men and three women. These people were hand picked by Ching for their skill. Their job, besides fighting Lord Nor, was to protect Lord Kal-El. During the past year and a half, only five of the original squad remained, four men and a woman. The present group had been with him nearly seven months.
A sergeant, an original member of the unit, walked up to Clark and handed him a battle harness. The harness carried grenades, and extra power packs for a pulse rifle, including extra power packs for his personal sidearm. Clark strapped on the harness. As he finished, the corporal handed him the extra rifle she was carrying. He performed a quick function check; the weapon was in prime condition. It wasn't that he didn't trust his people, checking his rifle was something he just did.
He looked at these dedicated men and women. "Let's go," he said.
They walked over to the drop that lead into the tunnel, and descended the ladders. Looking down the tunnel he could see that the troops could easily walk two abreast. There was no need to carry personal lights, as the tunnel now had lights strung along its length.
Clark and his group exited the tunnel fifty minutes later. The lowest level of the building had only a couple of dozen soldiers on it, setting up a communications link. They climbed the stairs to the second level. There were quite a few squads here, who were checking their gear for the final time.
It was starting to get dark and Clark began to feel tired. It had been a very long day. He crossed to the back wall near the stairs. He sat and leaned back against the wall. He placed the butt of the rifle on the floor, between his bent knees. Shortly, he was flanked by two of his personal team. They were two of the original team which had started with him over a year ago. A man sat to Clark's right; a woman sat to his left. The rest of the team had fanned out within the room. They each took positions to defend their lord.
He watched as half of the team appeared to go asleep. Looking to his right the man was asleep; the woman to his left was wide awake. Her blond hair was pulled back severely; her gaze sometimes startled Clark. Her eyes were an electric green as she turned to look at him. He had seen cats like that on the farm. While the cat's stare was always cold, her gaze was full of warmth. The circumstances which enabled her to become comfortable in her lord's presence had occurred in an early battle, when their position had been overrun by a staggering amount of force.
Clark had saved her life when he had dragged her unconscious body into a deep depression. As Clark had pulled her to safety, he had received a glancing blow to his head. He had woken much later with a throbbing headache.
The first thing he noticed, besides the pounding in his head, was the silence. There was no noise, no weapons fire, no explosions, and no cries of the wounded.
Belatedly, he remembered the woman; he moved to see her, and immediately regretted it. The world spun, then tilted on its axis. His breathing became rapid as he struggled to stay conscious. As the blackness at the edges of his vision faded, he crawled to her side. He touched her face and checked the pulse at her throat; she was still alive. He did a preliminary examination and determined that her only injuries were a right shoulder wound and a shallow gash on her right temple. Clark, while on Earth, had acquired a great deal of medical knowledge. He had studied Kryptonian physiology and they were not that different.
Opening her first aid kit, he bound up her injuries. Finished, he sat back and touched the side of his head. Wincing in pain, he pulled his hand away, there was a lot of blood. Heads wounds usually bled profusely, although they were superficial. He removed a small, cracked shaving mirror from the pouch he carried. He looked at the wound, and through waves of pain, he managed to clean and bandage it.
Clark was suddenly hungry; he searched in the pouch, and found a ration bar. As he slowly chewed the first bite, he realized that the food had definitely gotten better. After he swallowed a third bite his stomach rebelled, and he vomited what he had eaten. A concussion, he thought, as he gasped for some cool air. Some time later, he slowly sipped some of the water in his canteen. A low moan caused him to move over to the woman. She was awake, those green eyes were open, and he now remembered her name. Sergeant Kari, second in command of the detachment assigned to protect Lord Kal-El. She was one of the professional soldiers Lieutenant Ching had picked. Clark attempted a smile of encouragement, which failed miserably. When she saw her lord, Kari tried to sit up, but the pain in her shoulder discouraged any more movement. At her gasp, he reached over and told her to relax. They held a brief conversation on how she was feeling and if she hurt anywhere in particular. With gentle hands, Clark assured himself that there were no internal injuries.
Kari watched him with admiration and respect. Her perception of the handsome, dark eyed ruler of New Krypton was of a man who had sacrificed a great deal to perform his duty. Everyone on New Krypton knew that his or her duty was of the utmost importance. She thought of her parents who were retainers for a noble house. For five years she had worked as a retainer, and she knew she didn't want to be that type of servant. She had requested, and received permission, to become a professional soldier. A request she had made on her twenty-first birthday. That had surprised her family, not that she wanted some other type of duty, but that she wanted professional military service. Military service didn't suit most individuals, it was the hardest type of duty one could perform. A professional soldier served automatically for twenty to thirty years, and then received a stipend for the rest of their life. She had been a soldier for almost ten years, and never regretted a single moment. Well, maybe now, as she was injured and in pain.
She continued to watch him; he was obviously searching for something before the sun set. He disappeared for a short time then returned with the remnants of a backpack and some sort of heavy cloth. As he drew closer she recognized that the cloth was a blanket, which he spread over her body. He rummaged in the pack and produced a cup and a chemical heating element. He emptied a package of powder into the cup and added water. He then shook the heating element and quickly set it down, placing the cup on top. A few moments later steam rose from the cup. He carried the hot mug over to Kari and helped her to sit up. He sat behind her and supported her as she slowly drank the soup.
Clark thought about the situation they both were in, as the night wore on. They had been left for dead and could be miles behind enemy lines. They were going to have to head back to their own people. He looked at the woman he was holding, propped up. She didn't seem to be too badly hurt. They could travel quite a few miles a day, while keeping a cautious watch for hostiles. He had found a pistol. The charge indicator showed that it was less than a fourth full, a dozen shots perhaps. His harness had been stripped from his body. He was unsure why the pistol had been left behind, maybe an oversight.
The woman had become relaxed against his chest; she had fallen asleep. He deftly removed the cup from her limp fingers, and gently placed her on the ground. She appeared flushed and she felt a little too warm, a mild fever. There was not a lot he could do for her, as the first aid kit was limited. He quietly made himself a cup of soup, and scanned the stars in the night sky. He knew one of those stars was the Earth's sun. The memories of Lois were both sweet and bitter; he would never, ever leave her again. As he studied the stars, he realized that he knew where he was. He knew which direction to head in the morning.
He pulled his jacket closer and shook slightly, due to the cold. He looked over at Kari and saw that she was shivering in her sleep. He debated with himself for a moment and knew they would travel faster if they slept well. With his decision made he moved to where she lay. He still paused before he picked up the edge of the blanket. Then resolutely he lay down next to the woman, a soldier he fought beside. The warmth of their combined body heat increased, and Clark drifted into a fitful sleep.
The darkness faded as the morning came, bringing a little heat, warding off the chilly night. Clark awoke, noticing that Kari was no longer shivering and that her body temperature seemed closer to normal. He found himself snuggled against her, spooning her from behind, his arm across her waist. He quickly got up, without waking her, and moved away. He was slightly embarrassed, waking up lying next to her like that. He had slept warmly, if not deeply. His head still ached, so he searched the medical kit and took out some more painkillers. While waiting for the soup to heat up, he reoriented himself to the direction he was to take. He swallowed the tablets with the now warm soup and this time it stayed with him. Finally, thankfully, the pain was beginning to subside. He prepared another cup for Kari. Then he gathered the supplies they had found and they began their journey.
It had taken them almost four weeks to travel the distance to their lines. Those had been the most harrowing weeks either of them had ever experienced. The depravations they had endured together had forged an unbreakable link. They had saved each other from death a half a dozen times.
It was during this period that Clark lost some of his aversion about killing in self-defense, and for survival. As Superman, he had never intentionally hurt anyone; he had a code against killing. The battles that had predated this most recent conflict had been fought from a distance. With a faceless enemy and an inability to verify kills made by individuals. But there was no other way to get home; they had to defend themselves. The soldiers they had encountered would have killed them without a second thought. They had made it to the safety of their people. However, Clark had been forever changed by what he had to do to get them home.
"So, Kari, you're pulling the first watch?" Clark asked, as he looked at the woman who sat at his side.
"Yes, Sir," she replied. "Perhaps you should get some rest also."
Clark regarded this woman with whom he had shared so much. He admired her professionalism, and devotion to duty. She was still alive, and that spoke volumes as to her skill and training. He nodded in agreement to the suggestion of sleep. He shifted to be more comfortable while he sat. Closing his eyes for sleep, he knew the coming day would be the final battle. Armageddon.
Clark awoke as someone prodded his lower leg. He turned to see that Sergeant Kari was the one disturbing his sleep. The others felt that waking up Lord Kal-El was something they didn't want to do. Kari on the other hand treated him with deference, but was comfortable in his presence.
"It's an hour and twenty minutes before dawn, Sir," she said.
In the subdued lighting her eyes still appeared to glow, it was something he would never get used to. He got up, and stretched his muscles to get the blood flowing. He felt old beyond his years, and drained of vitality. When he had arrived on the planet he was an idealistic young man. No more; now he was a leader of a world in conflict. He grabbed his weapon and performed another function check. Looking up from the rifle, Kari had handed him a ration bar.
Breakfast, such as it was, took care of his hunger. Clark noticed that there were less people present than the night before. He worked his way to the stairs and climbed up them, his team close behind. He made his way to the ground floor, cautiously looking out of the window, and saw that it had drizzled that night. There were many small puddles all around the cobblestone streets and courtyards. It was an hour before dawn. It was then that the attack would begin. It would start with over a dozen detonations throughout the compound. The first thing would be to undermine the men and the buildings. Rendering them unfit to fight this battle.
When the explosions occurred, Clark and his team streamed out of the building that had hidden them. They followed another unit into one of the nearer buildings. Watchful, Clark and the two teams searched the ground floor rooms for Lord Nor's warriors. The groups were engaged in a few fire fights, as they found pockets of resistance. They pressed forward and heard numerous blasts all around in the citadel.
Clark heard someone ahead yell, "Grenade!" A huge concussive explosion was heard, and shrapnel shot forward. Lightning pain plunged into him on the left side of his face. He clutched at his eye as he tumbled to his knees, doubling up in pain. His gasps of pain were mixed with the moans and cries of others injured in the blast. Crouched on the floor, Clark, his hands at his face, waited for the spots to disappear from before his eyes. The only thing Clark could hear were the loud cries of the wounded, some calling for medics. Dimly, as the ringing in his ears faded, he heard the pounding of running feet. His right hand went to his hip, fumbling with the tie down, to get his sidearm free. There was a strong hand on his arm restraining him, he struggled and started to fight.
It was a woman's voice; Zara, Clark sagged relieved. He heard the scraping of boots and the rustle of cloth as she knelt next to him. He felt her arm cross his back as she helped him stand. He remained doubled up, due to the agony he was in, as she walked him to where a medic was working. She sat him down on a fallen ceiling beam.
"I'll go hurry the medic and get him over here," said Zara.
"No! I'll wait my turn like everyone else," Clark reached out to where he thought Zara was standing.
"You don't have to wait. You are Lord Kal of the House of El. You are not just anybody." There was an edge to her voice that he had only recently started to hear.
With his right eye, through the haze of pain and smoke, he watched her stalk off. A moment later she reappeared with two men. One of the men was Ching, the other was the medic. He watched as the medic sat his bag down, as he pulled out a spray bottle and what appeared to be a small flashlight. The medic sprayed a topical anesthetic, which penetrated deeply into the left side of his face. Then he flashed the shining light in his right eye; Clark jerked his head away. The light vanished, to show up not nearly as bright in his left eye. He heard Zara try to smother a gasp, and a hiss escaped from Ching.
"That bad, huh?" Clark tried to grin; it emerged as a grimace.
"Sir," said the medic, maintaining a neutral tone. "You have several pieces of metal debris, in and around your eye. They have to be removed. I'll make the arrangements to have you transferred to a hospital, where …"
"NO!" came a strangled shout. Clark composed himself. "You will patch me up the best you can." He glared at the medic with his good eye.
The medic looked over at Lieutenant Ching and Lady Zara, silently imploring their help to encourage Lord Kal-El to receive proper medical assistance.
Zara stepped forward and knelt to one knee to be at eye level, in front of Clark. She bowed her head, then looked up into Clark's face and said, "My Lord Kal-El, please go with the medic. If you refuse to go, you may lose the sight in your eye." Then speaking in a softer voice, she added "Please Clark."
Clark looked down into her eyes; they appeared dark in the half light of the collapsing hallway. Her eyes reflected her genuine concern, and they held a spark of anger that he had just recently learned to recognize.
"I promised you that I would bring Lord Nor to justice. I won't be able to do that if I'm in a hospital," stated Clark. He saw Zara nod her head, she understood; standing, she moved back.
The medic watched this all unfold, then reached into his bag and removed a half of an egg shaped cup. He walked up to Clark and sprayed an antiseptic all over and around his eye. He placed the cup over the eye, so that the shrapnel pieces would not be pressed deeper into Clark's eye. He taped the eye protection in place. The medic, having done all that he was able to do, moved off to another patient.
Clark stood up and experienced a moment of vertigo. A strong hand grabbed his arm and kept him from falling. He glanced at his savior, and saw that it was Ching.
"I must've stood up too fast," said Clark.
"Right," Ching agreed, as he released his arm.
Clark slowly, but steadily, walked back to where the blast of shrapnel had caught him. He saw that, off to one side, a half dozen bodies lay covered. He saw these bodies as testament of the ruthlessness of Lord Nor and his supporters.
Turning he looked back at Zara and Ching, "That," he said, as he pointed at the bodies, "is why I have to stop Nor."
Further on, he spotted a pulse rifle that had been dropped. Picking up the weapon, he performed a quick function check by reviewing all the power signatures. Knowing he was being followed, he turned to Zara and Ching.
"I'm doing fine," he said. Pointing at his eye cover, he asked. "This is very white isn't it?"
A wary nod of yes came from Zara.
Clark reached over to the wall with his fingers, and wiped off some of the soot. He gingerly smeared the soot over the eye protection, camouflaging the first aid. "I'm going to continue down here." His head turned, as he heard several more explosions elsewhere within the compound. His jaw clenched, his eye narrowed, and his grip on the rifle tightened.
When Clark started walking off, Ching signaled Clark's personal squad to follow Lord Kal-El. They were one less than they had started with, one of the men had been seriously injured in the blast. They quickly and silently followed Clark, a couple overtaking the lead. Ching also knew that Clark had an ability to lose his squad, for some reason they always seemed to become separated.
Clark looked around for his missing team. He had been able to lose the trained soldiers with some effort. He didn't want those people hurt just trying to protect him. He moved cautiously down another hallway in yet another building. He stopped, crouched, and looked at the dozens of bodies that were scattered about. They were soldiers from both sides of the conflict. The remains nearest to him wore the uniform of his people. The corpses further away were Lord Nor's men. It appeared that they had been defending a door at the end of the hallway. Glancing around at all the blood, and at the types of wounds on the bodies, Clark was convinced they were all dead.
Warily, he stood and moved past the bodies. Arriving at the door, he looked back at the carnage. He stood for a moment, trembling with rage and grief. With effort, he composed himself. He pressed himself against the wall next to the door. Standing off to the side, he pounded on the door with the butt of his rifle. No shots were fired. He pushed the door lever down, and pulled on the handle. A body toppled out and brushed against his leg as the door swung open. He waited a moment, then risked a glance into the room. It held a stairway, which rose up from the ground floor. The stairwell appeared to be empty. He proceeded up the steps, watchful for the expected ambush.
Clark exited the tower stairs; the parapet appeared vacant. He then relaxed his trigger finger. Cautiously, he moved up to the low wall. Kneeling, he ventured a look around the battlement. There was weapons fire in the courtyard below. He watched as one of his people dashed through the quadrangle. His eyes closed, briefly, after he saw the man shot down. Wait, there was some movement across the way, on the roof. A sniper, that was who had killed his man. Clark brought his rifle up to his shoulder. And, as he had done many times before, there was no emotional response; it wasn't a man that he was about to shoot, but the enemy. With a cold eye, he took careful aim, and squeezed the trigger. The partially hidden assassin dropped, and stayed sprawled on the rooftop. Clark scanned the adjacent roofs for other snipers; there were no more to be seen from his location. Maintaining a low profile he moved with great care to the next tower.
Arriving at the tower he could hear someone on the other side talking. The speech was indistinct, but someone was there.
Lying on his stomach, rifle resting across his forearms, he crawled, keeping close to the tower. He noticed that some water had puddled on the stones. Slipping forward, his left arm sloshed through the liquid. A moment later, Clark realized that his arm had started to burn. He glanced over and saw that his jacket sleeve was smoking. Almost frantic, he hunkered down to remove his coat and saw that the sleeve was nearly eaten away. The scorching sensation was stronger; his left arm felt like it was on fire. He removed the sleeve from his shirt, which hung in tatters, with his knife.
He stood against the wall as he examined his arm. It looked like chemical burns; his hand, wrist and forearm were raw looking. Gingerly he patted his arm with the dry part of his coat.
As he stood there, he noticed the stench of burnt meat. It was coming from the far side of the tower. He grabbed the pistol grip of his rifle and edged to the corner of the tower. He dared a glance around the corner. He jerked back, swallowing convulsively, gorge rising. His eyes closed, trying to get rid the sight that he had just seen. He trembled with revulsion and horror. There lay a man, who had apparently been cruelly tortured to death. The chemical that he had been in brief contact with had been poured directly onto the victim. There was not much left to identify who he may have been.
There were two men standing there, talking and joking over the body. Taking a couple of breaths he spun away from the corner and shot both men. He never saw the fist that hit him on the jaw. He was knocked sideways, and lost the one handed grip on his weapon. Recovering his balance he looked up into the face of evil.
Lord Nor stood there looking at this lone soldier who had killed the last of his bodyguards. At a glance he realized this wasn't a lucky warrior. The man had been injured several times, by his appearance.
"Lord Nor, you are under arrest for treason," Clark said in a tone firmer that he felt. His left arm was on fire and throbbing in tempo with his heart.
Nor smirked at this charge; who did this man think he was? His eyes suddenly narrowed, he recognized the voice. "Lord Kal-El." His smirk broadened. "You don't look well."
"I am well enough to take you into custody." He forced his eye to open wider to force the gray back from the periphery of his vision.
There was an explosion that was nearly deafening. This was louder than any Clark had heard throughout the assault on the fortress. Unconsciously, he turned his head to where the detonation had occurred.
Nor, seizing this diversion, leapt at his enemy.
This was their last battle; there would be only one victor.
The pain of his arm seemed minimized by the onslaught of replaced agony when Nor's fist connected with his injured eye. With a strangled groan, Clark fell to his knees, hands at his left eye. He felt blood trickle from beneath the now crushed eye protection. A new explosion of pain enveloped him as Nor kicked him below the ribs on his left side.
He was knocked over, due to the force of the blow. His hands went to his side and were covered with blood. Stunned he looked at Nor's boots, there were three inch spikes on the toes.
Before he could react, his antagonist stepped forward and kicked him repeatedly on his left side. He tried to protect his side; all he received as a result were some puncture wounds in his left arm. The last blow, on his ribs, seemed to force all the air out of his lungs.
"Now our great leader Kal-El is bowed before me." Nor laughed quickly. "If the Lady Zara carries your child, I shall raise it to hate your memory." He strutted self-importantly around his victim. "I have heard that you also have a woman on that backwater planet. You must want to reintroduce the use of concubines. I certainly will."
Nor leered down at Clark as he lay engulfed in pain. He swaggered over to his nemesis and kicked Clark a couple more times in the ribs. He squatted to lean over his adversary, and said, "I will bring your crushed and broken body back to your Earth." He grinned nastily down at his victim. "I will drop it in front of your Earth work place."
His grin became wider. "When your woman comes to claim your corpse, I will take her, and when I am done, I will drop her broken body next to yours."
"NOOO!" screamed Clark as he rolled and punched Nor in the face. He would NOT allow this inhuman animal to touch Lois. Clark would never know where the strength came from to roll to his injured side and hit Nor. He had the satisfaction of feeling Nor's nose break from the impact.
Stunned by the unanticipated attack, Nor landed on his backside; blood gushed from his nose. He erupted with a flurry of oaths at the man who had surprised him. He got to his feet with a knife in his hand, Kal-El was going to pay for his pain. Unexpectedly his body jerked from multiple impacts. Surprise and disbelief were in his eyes as he was knocked backwards. The knife clattered on the stone, dropping from his nerveless fingers.
Clark had drawn his, temporarily forgotten, sidearm, aimed it at his enemy, and pulled the trigger in a reflex action. He continued to fire his weapon, his finger convulsively depressing the trigger. When the weapon was drained of power, only then did he fall onto his back. He looked up into the early evening sky, the sun already started to set. One part of him was aware of what had happened; the other part waited for his tormentor to kick him again. It was becoming very hard to catch his breath, it hurt to breathe.
Clark lay awash in agony; the wounds inflicted by Nor were bleeding heavily. Vaguely he heard someone say his name.
"Clark! Clark! Open your eyes. Clark?" the voice was insistent. He felt a hand on his chest; opening his eyes, he saw Zara staring down into his face. She kept repeating, "You did it! It's over!"
Another voice intruded. "Relax your hand. Let go of the weapon." It sounded like Ching. Faintly he realized someone had a firm grip of his right wrist. Ching's voice repeated his request. He dimly understood what Ching wanted; he relaxed his right hand slightly. He felt something being pulled away from his hand. A spasm of excruciating pain shot through Clark, and he cried out. Then his body relaxed as unconsciousness rescued him from his misery.
Zara looked at Ching; Clark was seriously hurt. His left side was bleeding from multiple puncture wounds. Zara glanced over at Nor, he had spikes on the toes of his boots. He must have taken great pleasure in kicking Clark. From Clark's shallow breathing and wheezing, she suspected a punctured lung. They were going to have to get him to a hospital quickly. The parapet was filling rapidly with their troops; she located a medic. The medic made the arrangements to have Clark quickly moved for medical treatment. As his wife, Zara was able to travel with him to the hospital; Ching accompanied her.
CHAPTER 3: The Journey Home
"Clark, will you just go and sit down somewhere, before you fall." Zara was only mildly annoyed at him for constantly coming up to the bridge.
She gazed over at a man who looked battered. He walked with a limp, slightly dragging his left leg, his left arm rested in a sling, but only one brown eye regarded her, as the left was covered with an eye patch.
"You know the ship is moving as fast as possible. Being on the bridge will not make the trip faster." She grasped his right arm and assisted him to his quarters. Walking slowly with him, she noticed that he seemed not as strong as he should have been by this time. She knew he had been stronger a couple of weeks earlier; when he had stood with Ching, during the ceremony of marriage between her and Ching. And he had appeared upbeat the next day when he abdicated the leadership, to her and the new Lord Ching.
Entering Clark's quarters, Zara led him over to the bed and slowly helped him sit down. She sat on a chair that was across from the bed. The man she looked at was not the same man she had taken from Earth. He had lost a lot of weight over the last several weeks, as he was recovering from his wounds.
"Why don't you sleep?" asked Zara.
"I've had enough sleep, besides I'm not tired." The dark circles under his eye belied his answer.
"Then work on the exercises that were prescribed by the doctors," she gestured at both his leg and arm.
"My injuries aren't going to get better until I get to Earth." Clark stared at her. "As I understand it, from what you and Ching explained to me."
They both recalled the conversations in the private hospital room. When Ching had told Clark that, before he had arrived on Earth, he had torn a muscle exercising. Within the first week, on Earth, he was feeling better, and a few old scars had started to vanish. By the time they had decided to leave, he could no longer see the scars. His shoulder had healed perfectly with nothing showing that it was ever injured, according to the physician who had examined him.
They were optimistic that, with his return, his body would heal with no long lasting effects. That was also why they had fought against the removal of Clark's left eye by the attending surgeon. The best medical treatments were provided to heal his left eye, and the rest of his body.
If this was true, Clark had suggested that maybe some of the more seriously injured should come and be healed on Earth. Both Ching and Zara, had said that that was generous, but that it would be a very bad idea. They were the only ones who knew what exposure to Earth's yellow sun did to Kryptonian physiology. They were concerned that if some unscrupulous individuals learned of it, it could be very bad for the people of Earth.
Zara fervently hoped that the Earth's sun would heal his body, especially his eye. On New Krypton, his eye would never have regained perfect vision. The scaring on his body would fade and disappear over time, but she worried about the scars that weren't on his body. The emotional wounds that cut more deeply than any physical injury could.
"The reason I went to the bridge is, I wanted to ask you to drop me off at my parent's farm."
"Not Metropolis?" she asked, surprised.
"NO!" That came out louder than he intended.
"You want to arrive at the farm. Why?"
"Because I don't want Lois to see me like this." His right hand reached up and traced the black patch that covered his left eye.
"I think Lois would understand. She loves you." Zara smiled at him. "You love her, and that's all that matters."
"I just want to heal a little before she sees me for the first time."
"Fine, we'll drop you off near the farm." Zara realized that arguing with Clark would accomplish nothing. She knew when his mind was made up. "If you want anything, call me on the ship's intercom," she said, as she stood.
"I won't come up to the bridge anymore." Clark gave her a tired smile.
Zara left his quarters and walked to the bridge. She hoped that the people who had raised him would help him heal. Zara thought that he was wrong to shut Lois out, she believed that having her around would hasten his recovery.
A FEW WEEKS LATER.
Clark stood on the outside of the ship, and looked up at the Earth's full moon. He turned to Ching and Zara, taking a deep breath, "Thank you for bringing me home."
"That was the least I could do for my brother." Ching smiled. He stepped toward Clark to shake his hand, changed his mind, and gave him a quick hug.
Clark was surprised, but before he could recover, Zara moved forward and also gave him a hug. "Take care of yourself Clark," she said, before she kissed him on the cheek.
Clark was puzzled for a moment, then his eye widened as he realized she had spoken to him in American English. "I will and, again, thank you," he replied in kind and kissed her cheek.
There were tears in Zara's eyes, she moved over to Ching who put his arm around his wife. She rested her head against her husband's shoulder.
Clark waved good-bye, and started walking. They had landed less than half a mile from his parent's farm. He noted that the air smelled clean after the early evening rain. Walking along the road he could hear the frogs and crickets, they were in full voice.
The farmhouse came into view; it was all in darkness, except there were blue/gray reflections flickering in the front window from a television set. He stood there looking at his childhood home as he absently rubbed his beard. He was very tired; it had been a long walk. Stepping up onto the porch, his injured leg gave way, and he stumbled up against the door.
Jonathan and Martha were watching a late prime time drama. They looked at each other when they heard the thumping on the porch.
"Who could that be at this time of night?" asked Martha as she looked over at the clock on the mantle.
"Don't know," replied Jonathan, as he stood to answer the door. Opening it, the first impression he had was of a man wearing all black; trousers, jacket, with a black beard and eye patch. He stared for a moment, and then recognition came.
"Dad?" said Clark; it seemed to him that his father was taking too long, and didn't recognize him.
Jonathan stepped forward and embraced his son. His son had come back; his boy was finally home.
Martha, concerned at the silence, moved to the front door to see what was going on. Seeing her husband hugging and being hugged in return, she said, "Jonathan, who …" He had moved over and she saw the man he had been embracing more clearly. "Clark." It came out as a squeak. She rushed forward, wrapping her arms around her son, tears streaming down her cheeks. When she finally backed from her son she registered the eye patch and was very concerned about his eye.
Clark limped slowly and heavily into the living room; he was very tired.
The walk to the farm had drained him. He took off the jacket he was wearing. His dad quickly took it from him and hung it on a hook by the door.
Martha noticed that he had lost some weight while he was gone. Wanting to feed him, she ushered him into the kitchen. She warmed up some of the stew that they had eaten earlier.
Clark moved over to the table, dragging his left leg, and sat heavily into the chair. Sitting at the table, he stared down at the bowl of food. He was a little hungry and he began to eat slowly.
They watched him solicitously. It had been almost two years, and they just wanted to be near him. They talked a little about some of the inconsequential things that had happened while he was away. He seemed to move with a weariness that went way beyond normal exhaustion, and he had stopped eating, leaving some food in the bowl.
"What's wrong sweetie?" asked Martha.
"Nothing Mom," he said and gave her a small smile. "This tastes good."
"I'll call Lois to.." she began.
"Please don't," he interrupted quietly.
"Lois will want to see you," his mother said.
"I don't want Lois to see me like this." As he spoke his right hand came up and touched the patch that covered his left eye. "It's going to take some time, but I will heal. And it's going to be a very long time before I get my powers back," he said tiredly.
His parents understood why he didn't want to see Lois. They disagreed with his decision, but would abide by his wishes. They also knew that Lois would be very hurt when she found out that Clark had come home and that she hadn't been notified.
Martha, watching her son, realized he was exhausted. "Clark, why don't you go to bed?"
"Yeah," he said, starting to rise. Using the table edge as a brace to stand up he stepped forward, but his leg gave out from under him.
Jonathan moved faster than he ever thought he could. He caught his son before he fell completely to the floor. He held Clark in a tight embrace, while his son struggled to get his legs to support him.
"Thanks Dad," he said wearily, as he leaned against his father.
Jonathan blinked quickly, and tightened his hold on his son. Shifting carefully, he grabbed his son's right arm, bringing it across his shoulders and gripped him around the waist. Reinforcing his hold on Clark's right wrist, they moved slowly to the steps up to the bedroom.
Martha trailed behind the pair as they moved up the stairs. She moved to the linen closet, getting another blanket for the bed. In the bedroom, Jonathan helped Clark to sit on the bed. He knelt to unbuckle the boots his son wore. Clark had slowly unbuttoned his shirt, and was slipping it off.
Martha entered the room; she was aghast at the scars she saw on her son's body. There were old wounds mixed with newer injuries. The newer wounds were still red and puckered. She had noticed the old gash on the right side of his forehead, when they were in the kitchen. There was a long scar that began on his right shoulder and ended just short of his left nipple. She spread the extra blanket on the bed and pulled back the covers. Jonathan had helped his son take off his pants, leaving his shorts on.
They watched Clark maneuver himself into the bed, and saw multiple puncture wounds on his left side. The dozens of stab like injuries ranged from his thigh and moved up high on his rib cage. And his left forearm looked as if it had been chemically burned. Clark rolled on to his back; his mother pulled up the covers to his chin. She sat on the edge of his bed, looking closely down into his face. She combed back the hair from his forehead, with her hand. There, she saw numerous small scars all around the eye patch. She felt the pain that most mothers feel when their children have been hurt.
"They don't hurt anymore," Clark said softly. He reached up and gently squeezed his mother's hand where it rested on the blanket. He had heard her gasp when she had entered the room and seen the aftermath of injuries he had suffered. This was another reason why he wanted to delay seeing Lois. He loved her too much to have her see him like this.
His parents said their good nights, and quietly moved out of the bedroom, closing the door.
In the hallway, Martha's hand covered her mouth as she tried to muffle her sob. "What did they do to our son?" Tears soon were running down her face. "What happened on that horrible planet?"
Jonathan put his arm around his wife, holding her as they walked to their bedroom. While he was putting on his pajamas he looked over at his wife, who was brushing her hair. "What are you going to do about Lois?" he asked.
She gave him a worn grin. "Nothing. She will be here the day after tomorrow, as planned."
"Oh. I had forgotten she told us she was going to be here late Friday afternoon," said Jonathan.
They both crawled into the bed, moving close together. Martha, still distressed over Clark's injuries, continued to softly weep. Jonathan attempted to swallow the lump that had formed in his throat. He held his wife and silently tried to comfort her, as they fell into a fitful sleep.
Clark awoke the next morning to the sounds of birds outside his window and the smell of pancakes coming from the kitchen. He looked around his childhood bedroom, seeing the trophies as if for the first time. He shook his head; this room held the memories of a more innocent time. He vaguely remembered how he got upstairs to his old bed. Standing, he looked down at the underwear he had slept in. He moved over to the dresser and discovered some clothing he had left there from previous visits. Walking to the door, he opened it and looked into the vacant hallway. Then he moved as fast as he was able to the bathroom for his shower.
Martha heard Clark moving around upstairs. She watched him as he came down the stairs. She saw that he had dressed in a flannel shirt, faded jeans and a pair of sneakers. She saw that his hair was still damp, from his shower, and longer than he usually wore it. She noticed that he made careful use of the handrail, and that he focused on each step as he moved down.
When he stood on the first floor he looked up and smiled at his mother. "G' morning."
"Hungry?" she asked, with a smile.
Clark appeared to give the question a little thought before he answered, "Yeah."
She went over and poured the batter on the hot griddle, listening to it sizzle. She observed Clark as he looked around the kitchen. He gazed at everything in the room. She set the short stack of pancakes on the table.
"Here you are sweetie," said Martha, as she seated herself at the opposite side of the table from him.
He seemed startled when she spoke; he looked over at the table. There were a stack of four pancakes, a glass of orange juice, and a cup of coffee. He appeared to move intently toward the table. It was painfully apparent to Martha that Clark was making an extra effort not to drag his left leg. He sat and looked at his mother, then down at the pancakes. It was as if he had never eaten her cooking. He picked up the fork, cut a bite, and chewed thoughtfully.
"Sweetie," Martha said. "Don't you want any syrup?"
He brought his attention to her slowly. "I was trying to think what was missing," he answered earnestly.
She reached over, picked up the syrup dispenser, and placed it near his plate. She pretended not to see how slowly he moved, or the minor tremor of his hand as he poured the syrup.
His expression while eating was as if he were sampling the finest food created. "This is really great Mom." He smiled at her. "All we had to eat the last two or three months were soups and stews." His eye lost focus, as he remembered. "During the most recent harvest, the rebels had destroyed crops, and killed or run off the livestock. They even killed some of the farmers and their hired hands." Clark's jaw tightened as he recalled reading the reports.
Martha watched as her son's face darkened with anger. The even-tempered man that they had raised still had control, but there was an undercurrent of anger. The time he had spent on New Krypton had not only marked him physically, but also emotionally. She prayed that her levelheaded son would soon talk to them.
She glanced at his plate and noticed that a few pieces of the pancake were uneaten. Looking back at her son, she saw that he had gotten up and was limping around the living room. She watched as he moved slowly, looking at the books, knick-knacks and other items. It seemed to her that he was trying to remember all the things he had left behind.
She saw that he had noticed the picture they had of him, with Lois. They looked so happy and in love. It had been taken a few days before the New Kryptonians had shown up to perform the tests to see if he was worthy. He held the picture frame as he ran his fingers across Lois' image. There was such tenderness and longing in his eyes. Abruptly he cleared his throat and sat the picture back in place.
"I'm goin' outside," he said over his shoulder. Moving as quickly as he
was able, he snatched the jacket he had worn the previous night off the hook. He stepped onto the porch, zipped up the coat, and waited for his eyes to adjust to the light. After a moment, he saw his dad moving around inside the barn. Walking with his awkward motion, he concentrated on the trek to the barn. He saw that his father was examining the tractor. "Dad, what's up with the tractor?" he asked as he came up behind his father.
Jumping slightly, Jonathan turned and flashed a grin at his son. Patting the old machine, he said, "The injectors are gummed up. The diesel I used last season must've been too thick." He turned back to the farm implement. "Son, can you hand me a nine sixteenth boxed end wrench?"
Clark, who was standing next to the toolbox that his dad had carried from the barn, bent down, picked up and handed the requested tool to his father. They worked companionably together until lunch, three hours later. He handed his dad the tools he asked for, returning others when they were not needed. Although hadn't carried out any physical labor, he was becoming very tired.
Jonathan belatedly noticed how pale his son looked, and silently chastised himself for not paying closer attention to his son. "I think we're finished," he said and gave the tractor a final pat. "Let's see what your Mom has fixed for lunch." He walked slowly to the house with his son, alert in case Clark's step faltered.
Clark entered the kitchen; his father was right behind him. He saw that his mother had fried chicken for lunch. While they ate, his parents made small talk about some of the things that had occurred while he was gone. They avoided mentioning any of the natural and manmade disasters. The conversation was concerned with social and political happenings. When they were finished eating, Martha shooed them out of the kitchen. Again, Clark did not finish the food that was on his plate. He was tired and unaccustomed to the amount of food that was available. Jonathan had gone back out to the barn.
"Clark, why don't you go take a nap?" his mother suggested.
He looked at his mom as she busied herself cleaning around the kitchen. He started to help her, but a wave of dizziness swept over him.
He looked down; his mother had a firm grip on his arm. When did she move to stand next to me? he thought.
"Let me help you up upstairs son," she said. Her concern was evident in her voice.
Once settled in his room, sleep came down on him like a weight. The strain of the day was minor but, on the other hand, it was also unreal to him. Several weeks ago he had been fighting for his life. The food situation was becoming critical that last month. That was why they had made their push when they did. He needed this time to sort out all the things that had occurred and set them in place.
Martha was getting ready to prepare dinner. She glanced up at the ceiling. She was worried about Clark. He'd been asleep for almost four hours. She returned her thoughts to fixing the evening meal.
Jonathan came into the house in a cheery mood. He walked up to his wife and stole a quick kiss. He had kept his hands away from her, as the degreaser he had used outside hadn't completely cleaned his hands. Then he went upstairs for his customary shower. Returning to the kitchen, he attempted to filch some of the cleaned vegetables Martha was working on. She was teasingly threatening to throw him out of the kitchen, when an anguished cry reached their ears. Jonathan headed up to Clark's room. Martha paused only to turn off the burners on the stove, and followed her husband up the steps.
Walking into the bedroom, Martha saw that Jonathan was sitting next to their son on the bed. Clark was looking at the floor, rocking slightly, with his arms wrapped around his chest. Her husband was rubbing their son's back, trying to calm him. She knelt in front of their son and smoothed the hair back away from his forehead; he was very warm to the touch.
"Sweetie, what's wrong?" she asked.
His head still down, he mumbled something that neither one of them heard.
"What was that son?" asked Jonathan.
"It was a dream," he said, a little louder.
"Sounded more like a nightmare," remarked his dad.
"Can you tell us about your dream?" asked his mom.
He had stopped rocking and looked up into his mother's eyes, her face held concern for him. He took several deep breaths. "The man, Lord Nor, who I tried to prevent from plunging New Krypton into a civil war. He and some of his followers had arrived on Earth. Since they all had super powers, there was no one to stop them." He paused, closing his eye. He … he had Lois …" Opening his eye he looked up at his Mom. There was fear in his expression. "She was … bleeding from … multiple injuries. He … ah threw her up against the Daily Planet building. She was dead before she hit the street below." He bowed his head, and hugged himself tighter. "Then I woke up."
Nether parent brought up the fact that he had screamed. They waited several minutes to see it he would say more. Martha excused herself so that she could finish dinner. She felt that perhaps Clark would be able to talk to his father about his nightmare. They both believed that
he had edited the dream that he had told to them.
"Son, why don't you wash up for supper?" said Jonathan, when it became apparent that Clark wasn't going to say any more.
Clark lumbered into the bathroom and looked into the mirror. In his dream, Nor had done more than just kill Lois. Clark had learned that there were worse things than dying. Taking several deep breaths and splashing some water on his face, he composed himself. He had a quiet dinner with his parents.
Later that evening they all watched some television.
The next day, Clark was sitting on the front porch swing, listening to the sounds of his mother in the house, as she concerned herself with some new art project. It was a couple of hours after lunch, and he was feeling tired. He had spent the morning wandering around, looking at the fields to be planted. He had considered going into the house to take a nap. While he thought about going in, he dozed off, sitting on the porch swing.
Martha stepped out of the house onto the porch. Seeing her son sleeping, she worried about him getting a stiff neck. He had the look of innocence that most men had when they were asleep. She and Jonathan had noted on several occasions, the far away look when he was staring at nothing and unaware they were watching. The look in his eyes (eye, she corrected herself) was of a man who had seen too much killing and could never forget. In the past two days he hadn't really spoken of his experiences on New Krypton. She sensed that his spirit was more battered than his body. The hidden scars worried her more than the ones she had seen on his body. A timer sounded in the kitchen and she quickly went back into the house.
Clark, asleep on the swing, awoke to the sounds of a car pulling up to the farmhouse. The glare on the windshield kept him from seeing who was driving up the road. He stood with effort as the car stopped and the drivers' door opened revealing Lois Lane. He froze; love and fear competed for control. He felt betrayed by his parents; they must have contacted Lois. He quickly turned, walked into the house, and rushed upstairs.
After locking the bedroom door behind him, he sat on the edge of his bed. A moment later, he reached into his shirt and pulled out the chain that held her ring. He had stared at the ring during all those months on New Krypton. That gold band had been the only thing that had kept him going. He clutched the ring tightly in his fist, and then placed the chain and ring back under his shirt. Crawling up onto the bed, he curled up and closed his eye. He lay there and wished he could fly away, anywhere. He shook his head; he knew he could be hit by a car or fall and break his neck. He had spent almost two years on a planet with a red sun. He also recalled that, in other conversations with Zara and Ching, it was believed that the more severe the injuries, the longer it would take to return to full power. The one time he wanted to leave, he was trapped by his powerless body.
Martha heard the front door slam as her son rushed into the house. She watched as he made his way awkwardly up the steps. Moving to the porch she saw that Lois had exited the car.
During those first few months after Clark had left, Lois had been inconsolable, she was devastated. She had taken a leave of absence from the Daily Planet and had stayed with the Kents, for several months. As time passed, she was able to contain the hurt of Clark being gone. She went back to work, and ignored the whispered rumors as to why Clark wasn't around. The general consensus was that he had been killed during the riots. The riots that had started after Superman had gone with the New Kryptonians. There were also those who figured that Clark had gotten fed up with her and left.
Lois' closest friends had let her be. There was a sadness in her eyes that was always there. When she would smile, for some reason, the joy would never reach her eyes. She remained close to Martha and Jonathan and visited them for several days every couple of months. When she had first told Perry White, her editor, that she needed more time off, he had rejected her request. She had then offered him her resignation if she could not have the time off. Perry had grudgingly agreed; he didn't want to lose both of his best reporters. Her writing style had slowly returned to its former state before she had met Clark, gritty and very hard hitting. She was very methodical in compiling her research, and it seemed she no longer took unnecessary risks for a story.
Lois watched the man who was on the porch, as he moved. There was something familiar about him that she was unable to pinpoint. She walked up to the porch, seeing that Martha had stepped out. She moved closer to the older woman and gave her a hug. "Who just walked into the house?" she asked after they separated.
Martha was unsure how to answer this question. She knew Lois would be upset at not being told sooner that Clark was back. Drawing Lois into the kitchen, Martha had her sit. She paced for a moment, trying to pick the right words.
Lois' anxiety mounted, and her calm faded. "What is it Martha?" she asked, as she grabbed Martha's arm.
"That was Clark you saw on the porch," stated Martha.
Lois went very still for a moment, looked into Martha's eyes and asked, "Clark is back?"
Before she could answer the younger woman, Lois stood up and started pacing. "Why didn't you call me? Why did he run into the house? Why — "
"Lois!" Martha interrupted. "Clark didn't want us to call you." She could see the pain and confusion on Lois' face. Holding the younger woman by the shoulders, to get her attention, she asked, "What exactly did you see when you drove up?"
Lois closed her eyes, in concentration. "A man with a short beard, an eye patch, who limped." Her eyes opened as her hand went to her mouth. "Oh no!" she whispered anguished.
"That's right," Martha confirmed. "Clark was hurt while he was on New Krypton."
"I need to see him," said Lois. She walked into the living room and glanced around the first floor area.
Martha followed her into the living room. "Clark went up to his room." Her eyes followed the stairs to the second floor. "I think I heard the door lock. Lois, let me talk to him first," said Martha. She held up a
hand forestalling Lois from saying anything. "He thinks we called you."
She headed up the steps and stopped outside Clark's room. She tapped on the door. "Clark," she said, as she tried the knob; the door was locked. She knocked on the door again. "Clark, open this door right now."
He heard his mother on the other side of the door. For a moment, he considered ignoring the tapping on the door but his good manners got the better of him. He went and unlocked the door. After his mother entered the room, he closed the door. He leaned against it and looked at her through a narrowed eye.
"Before you say anything, Clark, neither your father, nor I, called Lois." She stared back at her son. "Lois has been visiting us for the entire time that you have been gone. She missed you very much and we were the only people she could talk to. This weekend just happened to be when she decided to see us." She stopped, as she saw the information sink into her son's thick skull.
"Lois has been visiting you and Dad, all this time?" he asked slowly.
"When she could. She called when she couldn't," Martha confirmed.
Clark moved away from the door, his face thoughtful as he limped around his childhood bedroom. He was anxious to see Lois, but he also didn't want her here. Each time he passed next to the door he would reach for the knob, then he would pull back. His mother silently watched him work out his own desire to see Lois. Abruptly the door was opened and Clark moved out into the hallway to the stairs.
As he stood at the top of the steps, Lois just watched him. Clark's hair was just past the top edge of the collar on his shirt. With the short, boxed beard and the eye patch, he looked a little like a pirate. He didn't make any eye contact; he focused at a spot over her right ear. She continued to regard him, she watched as he navigated the steps to the first floor. He moved tentatively, his eye on the stairs, intent on not stumbling. Arriving on the ground floor he glanced up, and was trapped by Lois' eyes. Her eyes held him rooted to where he stood. He was unable to look away; he was drowning in those dark eyes.
She moved toward him; as she reached up to touch his face, he stiffened.
She flinched as though she had been slapped. Her gaze flickered over his face as her step faltered. Resolutely she kept moving and her right hand touched the left side of his jaw. She was surprised that his beard was so soft, she had expected it to be course and stiff. As her hand rested on his face, he closed his eye and bowed his head. He trembled slightly as her fingers stroked his beard.
"Clark," she said his name so softly, he almost didn't hear her.
He didn't trust himself to speak. He looked up and saw that there were silent tears streaming down her face. She seemed unaware that she was crying. Almost unconsciously his arms opened to hold her. In one swift movement she stepped into his embrace, her arms clasped around his body. Having Lois in his arms was a delight. He had been waiting for her, for a long time. His memory of holding her was a pale imitation to the reality of having her in his arms. He closed his eye, as he lost himself in the smell of her hair, and in the way that her firm body pressed against his.
After several minutes had passed, he released her to look at her. He mentally kicked himself again for ever leaving her as he gazed into her soft brown eyes. He reached up and wiped the tears off her cheeks with the fingers of his right hand. She smiled at him, her hands slid up his chest to the back of his neck, and she fingered the longer hair. She stretched up and pressed her lips against his. The passion and longing in the kiss startled both of them. Lois moaned softly, Clark tightened his hold and answered her with a small growl. Emboldened, she pressed herself against him more firmly. Surprised by the sudden shift in pressure, he placed more weight on his left leg. His weakened leg about to give out, he stepped backwards unsteadily, nearly tripping. Startled by his unexpected movement, Lois let go and stepped back. She saw him wince as he adjusted his stance.
"Clark! Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. I just need to sit." He moved, slightly dragging his left leg.
Lois was unsure what to do, so she followed behind him solicitously. She watched as he sat on the couch with a slight groan. She sat next to him and looked closer at his face. He gave her that grin that made her weak at the knees. She thought it was a good thing she was sitting down.
"Why didn't you come to see me, or at least call me and tell me you were home?" Her tone was hurt.
"It wasn't that I didn't want to see you. I wanted to heal, before you saw me." He smiled softly at her. "I love you, and I didn't want you to worry."
He watched her eyes move, as they traced to contours of his face. He saw that she was always drawn back to his eye patch. "It's still there," he answered her unasked question. "My eye will just take some time to heal. It's not pleasant to look at, so I keep it covered."
He gave her grin.
She kept her expression neutral, although she was relieved. She had always thought his body to be perfect, but the wounds he had suffered didn't destroy what had made him such a wonderful man. Physical beauty was all too fleeting, there was more to a person that what they looked like. "What happened to your leg?" she asked.
"During the last offensive I ended up fighting Lord Nor alone. He had the upper hand for a little bit, and tried to kick me into submission." His face clouded. "I'm told I killed him.
"You were told you killed him?" asked Lois. "You don't remember?"
"I remember fighting him. He knocked me down and kicked me, a bit," he sighed. "He yelled at me, and that's about all I remember."
"Why do you think you killed him?"
"We were the only ones there. I was still alive, and his body was starting to cool. What is this? An interview?" He gave her a smile to soften his last words.
Lois blushed a little; she had unconsciously fallen into reporter mode. She was interested in what had happened to him on New Krypton. She told him about some of the things that had happened at the Daily Planet. When suppertime came around, Lois went into the kitchen to help. She had been learning how to cook on her previous visits. Martha was an excellent teacher, with a lot of patience.
That night Lois tried to sleep in the guestroom and she kept tossing on the bed. Perhaps it was the unfamiliar bed, she normally slept in Clark's room, but it was occupied. She slipped on a robe, and padded into the bathroom to get a drink of water. When she returned to the bed, she realized she had to make another trip to the bathroom. As she passed by Clark's room, she heard him murmuring in his sleep. Opening the door she glanced in and saw that the sheets and blankets were down at his waist. Martha had told her about some of the scars he had, but they were still a shock to see. She walked in and smoothed the hair back from his forehead. He seemed to relax under her touch. She pulled up the blankets to his shoulders. After she had sat with him for a few minutes, she rose to leave.
"Please don't go," he whispered.
She looked at him, startled, she hadn't realized that he was awake. "Clark, are you feeling okay?" she asked concerned.
He extended his right arm toward her. "Come 'ere."
She moved over to the right side of his bed. She sat on the edge of the bed, and looked down into his brown eye. "What do you need?"
"You," he said seriously, as he rubbed her forearm.
"My, my, Mister Kent, aren't we being forward," she teased. Lois shifted to lie on top of the covers, resting on her elbow; she looked into his face. Then she leaned forward to kiss him. As their lips made contact, it was as if a fire had been lit. Her hands reached up to fondle the hair on his head and face. Clark's hands were on her body, stroking her sides and back. She paused the kiss to get some air, and found herself half lying on top of Clark. Their breathing was heavy and irregular. She moved to sit on the side of the bed again, and she gave him a grin. She stood to straighten her robe and said, "I think I'd better leave."
"You don't have to go," he said, grinning at her.
"If I don't, neither one of us is going to get any sleep," she stated. She gave him a quick kiss, and walked out of the room.
That night, neither one of them slept very well. They each were very aware of how close the bedrooms were.
The next morning, Lois called the Daily Planet, to speak to Perry. She requested a leave of absence, and implied that she would resign if it wasn't approved. She wanted to spend time with Clark, but he didn't want anyone to know that he was home. He was afraid that they would want to see him, and that if they saw him injured and then later completely healed, they might be able figure out that he was Superman. The cover story they came up with was that Jonathan was sick and that she was staying to help Martha with the farm.
That morning, chores went a little faster with Lois and Clark lending a hand. Clark, annoyed with himself, was unable to do as much as he wanted, due to his injuries. Grabbing their jackets, Clark had suggested that they go for a walk. Lois had tucked her left arm around his right arm.
While walking, he told her about some of the humorous things that had happened early after his arrival on New Krypton. He said that he had learned to speak the language on his trip to New Krypton. He had explained how he had painfully learned that he was no longer invulnerable. He had spent the first couple of months with scrapes and bruises on his arms and legs.
As they walked she noticed that his limp was becoming more pronounced. He had told her that Nor's blows had done a lot of damage to the muscles and ligaments in his thigh and hip. She saw the pond they were heading for and the boulders that were near by. Arriving, they sat in silence on the boulders, looking around at the large pond, and the many trees that were scattered around.
"When is Superman going to reappear?" she asked breaking the silence.
He shook his head and said, "I don't know. Right now, I'm no more powerful that anyone else on this planet. I've lived for nearly two years where I could be injured. I learned caution, not to touch or do things that could hurt. It's going to take some time to get accustomed to being invulnerable again."
"When do you think you'll get you powers back?" she asked.
"I'm not sure. Ching thought that the healing process would start to happen before the powers would reappear. Everything should heal in time, due to the benefits of a yellow sun on Kryptonian physiology." He flashed a grin at her.
"Well, one thing's for sure, you both can't show up at the same time." She looked at him pointedly. "One of you should show up a few months before the other. So that no one can make the connection."
"I'm already home, and I want to marry you as soon as I'm healed." He held her eyes, his expression held wary hope. "That's if you still want to marry me?"
A smile lit up her face and, not breaking eye contact, she moved closer to him. "Yes, I want to marry you," she whispered into his ear.
She started kissing him and her arms went around his chest. She was pleasantly surprised when his tongue came forward and touched her lips, requesting access. Their tongues came together as they merged. She moved closer until she nearly sat on his lap. Her hands moved to his head to fondle his hair. Her lips had found their way to the pulse at his throat. She was lost in her own sensations as she kissed him. His hands were smoothing circles on her back, under her jacket.
"Woman, do you know what you're doing to me?" gasped Clark. His head was tilted to one side to allow her easier access.
Lois, as if from a great distance, heard his voice, and looked up to focus on his face. Then she became aware that she was sitting on his lap and that he was aroused. She giggled slightly and eased off his lap. "Sorry," she murmured, not sounding totally apologetic. She took several deep breaths as she stepped back.
He admired the way that her body moved, under her jeans, as she walked several feet away. "It's going to be a bit before I can walk back to the house," he said dryly.
She looked at him, coloring slightly, then said, "I have a question."
"One question?" he prompted.
"For now. When are you going to shave the beard?"
"What's wrong with it?" he asked with injured dignity, stroking his beard with his right hand.
"It tickles when we kiss."
"Really?" He watched her for a moment, and stood up from the boulder he had sat on. Walking to her, he gently held her face, he deeply and thoroughly kissed her. "I didn't hear you laugh," he whispered into her ear. Then he turned and started to walk back to the house.
Stunned by the intensity of the kiss, she just stood there for a minute.
Turning she saw Clark moving away. "Hey! Wait up," she called, as she ran up to him, grabbing his right hand. Teasing and joking, they walked into the house.
Lois walked into the living room, having helped Martha with the supper dishes. She saw that Clark was sitting on the couch with a preoccupied expression, absently massaging his left forearm and wrist. She sat next to him and his right arm reached around and pulled her close. She rested her head on his shoulder. They sat in silence for several minutes, enjoying the closeness. Jonathan and Martha came into the room a little later and sat in a pair of overstuffed chairs.
After a bit, Clark began talking about some of the dark and trying times on New Krypton. He also spoke of his experiences with Lady Zara, Lieutenant Ching, and some of his personal team. At times he would use a word that they didn't understand. Then he would apologize, and translate the Kryptonian term. As the evening progressed the pauses in his narrative grew longer. Sometimes, he would appear to stop, then rouse himself and continue. The daylight had disappeared and lights were turned on. His parents had stayed up with the younger couple, but being farmers they eventually had to call it a night.
After his parents went to bed, Lois believed that Clark was also ready for bed. She stood up and looked down at him. "Clark, are you tired?" she asked.
He slowly looked up at her, by degrees, not quite meeting her eyes. His hand reached and tugged gently on the hem of her sweater.
She sat back down, but didn't lean against him as she had done before. She sensed he had more to say and wanted to watch him. She knew that there was more to the stories than he had recited earlier. The sporadic way he had spoken informed her that things were much tougher than he had indicated.
Suddenly he said, "I've changed," He tapped himself on the chest. "The civil war was so very costly — in lives. I gave the orders and thousands of people died. I've killed with my bare hands." His eyes became haunted as he recalled a memory. "In an early battle, a member of my team and I were left for dead." Absently he touched the scar that disappeared into his temple. "We had been stripped of our coats and weapons. There were a few supplies scattered about, but not enough. We'd been traveling for about a week, when we stumbled across an enemy camp. I scouted the camp; there were only three soldiers. We waited until dusk. Then I slipped in behind the closest one and I broke his neck." He had rushed the last few words. His right arm, resting on her shoulders, had unconsciously twitched.
Lois had paled slightly.
"I carried his body back to where Sergeant Kari had hidden. The dead man's coat fit her. I took his pistol, but I killed the other two men quietly without needing to use it. I now had a coat for myself. We went through their belongings, food, blankets, a fresh first aid kit, and a lot of other gear. Once we had what we needed we moved on. We traveled until the moonlight was completely gone, and we couldn't see. It took us three more weeks to get to our own lines." His voice faded as the memory passed.
Lois was appalled at the horrors he had endured. This man who had been raised with love and kindness. He had been forced to kill to survive. His feelings of guilt were unfounded. She didn't know what to say to comfort him. "Clark, I'll always love you," she said, trying to soothe him.
"Sometimes, I think the man you fell in love with died two years ago." His voice was bitter.
She felt as if the breath had been knocked out of her. She leaned toward him and wrapped her arms tight around his chest. "No! No," she cried into the hollow of his neck and shoulder. She felt him stiffen and flinch and let him go. She realized he had emotionally withdrawn from her.
He slid away from her, until the end of the couch trapped him. He avoided looking at her. "I would get this rush of adrenalin at the beginning of battles, with a flush of excitement that was tinged with fear," he confessed softly. He hadn't liked the sensations, and was disgusted by what he had felt.
She sat back and looked at him, noticing how weary he became when he recalled his experiences on New Krypton. His shoulders would slump and there was a sharpness in his voice. This was not the man who had left Earth nearly two years ago.
"Clark," she moved near him, placed her hands on either side of his face, and made him look at her. "What would have happened if you hadn't defended yourself?" She didn't wait for an answer. "You would have been killed." She closed her eyes briefly. "And I would have grieved for you for the rest of my life."
"I went to New Krypton to prevent a war. I went there to save lives. I didn't go there intending to kill anyone." He tried break off eye contact.
"Clark, you did what you had to do to stay alive." She continued eye contact, making sure he was listening. "It was either you, or them. You made the only correct choice." She reached up and smoothed her right hand over his dark hair. Bringing her hand forward she brushed her thumb across the side of his eye patch. "They've hurt you in more ways than one." Her eyes darkened. "And I will never forgive them for that." The vehemence in her tone startled him.
"You know the old cliche: War is Hell," his tone was dispirited. "Well whoever said it only had it half right. It's also living with the memories of what you had to do." His voice broke, as he looked away.
Lois briefly pressed her lips against his, not only for comfort, but also to get his attention. When he was looking back into her eyes, she said, "Please talk to us. Let us know how you feel. Share your memories with me, and your parents." She knew that sounded trite, but she truly meant to ease his spirit.
Moving closer, she watched him close his eye and bow his head. She reached out and clutched him to her chest. She held him, and whispered, "I love you. My love is forever, because it just is." She hugged him tighter as he started to tremble. "Oh, Honey. If I could help you erase the past and forget, I would. We'll do this together, and hold on through the rough times. You're not alone anymore," she murmured.
When Clark had regained his composure, Lois had cuddled up against his uninjured right side. They sat there quietly, each giving and receiving strength from the other. After a while, he realized that she had fallen a sleep. He placed a kiss on the top of her head. Closing his eye for a moment, he was surprised to find that he had slept for several hours, and it was now dawn. He looked at the woman he loved, her head resting on his shoulder. He shifted, and gently laid her down on the couch.
Moving carefully to the porch door, he grabbed his jacket off the hook, and went outside. He walked to the east side of the house, his walk only slightly marred by his limp. Watching the sunrise, he knew that this was his home, his planet. The only real home he had ever known. He stood there, looking at his parent's land; they were good, solid people. Lois was going to marry him, and she would be another anchor. What he had endured while he was away had altered his perceptions about many things. He knew that with their help and unconditional love he would survive. It would take sometime before he could ever be Superman again, but Clark Kent was back home.