Hey everybody! Here goes the first chapter of Changed For Good, the prequel of The Girl of Two Worlds. Guess I'd better give the Authoress' Usual Obligatory Disclaimer & Notes:
1) I obviously do not own Superman or Lois Lane. 2) As in TGoTW, I'm envisioning Henry Cavill and Amy Adams in the roles. 3) I haven't read any Superman comics, so pray excuse any violations of the canon! 4) I'm not going to venture (much) into Batman vs. Superman/Man of Steel 2 territory.
Hope you enjoy it!
"When sorrows come, they come not in single spies, but in battalions."
The fire radiating from Zod's eyes blasted into the wall, slicing through stone and moving closer to living flesh. A young, pretty woman whose features reminded Clark of his own mother pressed herself against the wall and shielded two screaming children with her body. She was weeping.
"Stop!" Clark shouted, trying with all his might to turn Zod's head away. "Don't do this!"
Zod ignored him and the lasers only grew more intense. Clark gritted his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut.
God, I don't want to do it!
He gave his locked arms and upper body a hard sideways twist. Zod's neck snapped loudly; he went limp and the fire died in his unseeing eyes.
As soon as the lasers disappeared and her path was clear, the young woman snatched up the two children and ran as fast as she could drag them. She probably didn't care to wait and see if the other Kryptonian was friendly or not. Clark hardly blamed her. He sank to his knees, staring at the monster that had been his sole surviving countryman.
A memory flashed through his reeling mind. His father-Jonathan, not Jor-El-stood in the yard of the Kansas farm house. Clark was with his mother on the porch, his head pressed against her stomach, watching while Dad aimed the shotgun at the rabies-infected dog staggering towards the henhouse.
The gun thundered. The dog collapsed. But it had been the family dog. Marty, old Hank's dam. Clark, only seven at the time, sobbed like his heart was broken. Dad came back on the porch and laid a hand on Clark's head.
"It had to be done," he'd soothed. "I know it hurts, Son . . . but I had no other choice."
I had no other choice.
A raw, groaning cry forced its way up Clark's throat and throbbed off the high marble walls of the station. He curled his body forward and covered his face with his hands.
He was filled with . . . what was it? Shame. Self-loathing. He had killed a man-a murderer, true, and a menace who would've reduced Earth to a pile of bloody ashes-but still, another Kryptonian.
But if he hadn't done it, that young human family would've died before his eyes.
He hated Zod for forcing him into a corner.
Quick, light footsteps pitter-pattered down the stairs a few yards away from him. He braced himself to face the intruder-but nothing could prepare him for the sight of Lois Lane.
She was still in the army-green jumpsuit, her ginger hair slipping loose from her ponytail; her face was smudged with dirt, blood, and tears, and he could see she was indescribably weary. But her blue eyes held neither horror nor revulsion at what she must've seen a few moments before-only loving sympathy.
At any other time, a boyish determination to be the tough guy would've prevailed, but he was tired-bone-tired-and overcome with emotions he had never felt before. He felt a tear run down his cheek and made no move to wipe it away or hide it.
Lois hurried forward, holding out her small slender hands; quickly but gently, she pressed his head against her stomach, just as his mother had done years before.
"Shh, it's all right . . . it's all right . . ."
He wrapped both arms as tightly as he dared around her waist and squeezed his eyes shut. She ran her fingers through his curls, saying nothing, merely letting him hold onto her like she was the last sure anchor in a world gone mad.
"I didn't know what else to do," he whispered. "I had to do it."
"Of course you did, no one would ever doubt it," she said, her voice hoarse from dust, tears, and exhaustion. "There was nothing else you could do."
He drew back from her with a shuddering breath and looked again at Zod's body. Lois tilted his head away from it, kneeling down to eye-level with him and forcing him to look at her. She suddenly looked fierce.
"I refuse to let you feel guilty. Do you hear me? People have died but thousands-thousands!-have been saved. I owe you my life and so do countless others. I will not let you eat your heart out over this!"
She still believed in him, supported him, trusted he wasn't some demon from hell. He stared at her, hardly able to comprehend it after all that had happened. Lois sniffed, wiped her eyes, took his hand and stood. Clark hesitated a moment, then followed her out of the deathly chamber.
They emerged in the pale, late afternoon sun to find the city stirring from its frightened stupor. Clark saw people crawling out from underneath cars that hadn't been crumpled by the world engine; he saw them emerge from behind piles of rubble, some of them bleeding, others crying, still more helping their neighbors get back on their feet.
Slowly, they began to take notice of the tall man in steel blue, with the shimmering red cape billowing behind him in the slight breeze. He looked at the pale, weary faces and saw little fear now when they made eye contact with him. It was as if they'd finally recognized him as the white knight in this battle, no matter the death and destruction his kind had caused. He had been the one who fought for them. And in spite of the grief that he knew would only grow as the death toll climbed, in spite of the grim reality of rebuilding whole sections of Metropolis from the ground up, they were grateful.
"Look at them," Lois whispered. "Now you ought to know why you were sent here."
Her words gave him a jolt, almost like a surge of electricity through his veins that roused him from his lethargy. He tore his eyes from the moving sight and down at her. For a moment she met his gaze, then withdrew it with a slight flush creeping into her dirty cheeks.
Lois parted from Clark to help a woman with a baby stumbling out of a pile of rubble. She was then called to assist a portly, middle-aged gentleman and his even heavier lady companion, both of them staggering from a store whose windows had been completely blown out.
People all around her were offering help to others, while Clark-Kal-El, she reminded herself -lifted crumpled cars and enormous pieces of concrete that trapped screaming, crying captives. Eventually, the ambulances and fire trucks made their way to this street and Lois found herself supporting weak-kneed casualties into the waiting arms of the paramedics.
She was exhausted, but still too shaken to do anything but work as hard as she could. The memory of Colonel Hardy and Dr. Hamilton disappearing into the yawning Phantom Zone with Zod's cronies haunted her. She was sure they were dead, sucked into airless space. Her only comfort was that Faora-that witch, she thought bitterly-was dead as well.
Lois Lane was in no mood to show compassion towards any enemy of Clark Kent's. They deserved everything they got, plus some.
How she was going to get back to her apartment-if her apartment even existed anymore-was the first question in her mind. Then, with swift worry, her thoughts flew to her friends . . . Perry, Jenny, Lombard. She'd left them high and dry when they'd seen Zod and Clark hurtle back to Earth with the fiery remains of a smashed satellite.
"Where the hell are you going?" Perry had shouted after her when she started running.
"I've got to help him!" Lois shouted back without stopping.
"You'll get yourself killed, Lois, come back here!" Lombard cried.
Lois ignored him, leaping and stumbling over debris with more energy than she knew she had left in her. The whole way she thought of nothing but Clark-if the free-fall from space had hurt him-if Zod was dead yet-if Clark could even kill him.
Now the battle was over and darkness started to fall over the city. Lois ran a hand through her filthy hair and glanced around. She couldn't see Clark, but she could hear him. His voice was commanding and calm. He didn't sound at all like the vulnerable boy he'd been in the subway station, frightened by what he now knew he could do and needing someone to come and rescue him from himself.
Lois made her way, slowly, towards his voice. Eery rescue lights were going up. Sirens screamed incessantly, accompanied by shouts, screams, sobbing. She shuddered. This was truly the stuff of nightmares.
"Miss Lane?" she heard Kal-El call to her. Kal-El, not Clark, because Clark never talked with such stern authority; he was always more gentle and soft-spoken. She looked up, saw him coming towards her with long, quick strides. His red cape billowed in the smoky, dusty breeze.
"Are you okay?" he whispered. "I thought you'd left, I couldn't find you after we split . . ."
Now that was definitely Clark. Lois shook her head. "I just had to sit down and rest a minute. I-I need to get home or to the Planet office and don't know how to get there-"
"I'll take you," he said.
Lois frowned. "You don't know where either of them are."
Clark lifted an eyebrow. "You don't think I could figure it out pretty easy?"
Before she could reply, he turned back to the men who he'd just helped lift a fallen streetlight blocking the road. He said a few urgent words to them; they nodded, understanding, and he returned to her.
"Come on," he said, and without warning scooped her up in his arms. Lois swallowed back a gasp. Holding her tight, he jumped and sailed up towards the darkening sky, tinged with orange from numerous fires throughout Metropolis.
This was the first time he'd carried her in flight without danger being involved. It was a completely different thing from that moment this afternoon when he'd saved her from the burning escape pod, and then again from her fall off the C-17.
"You want to go to your apartment, or the Daily Planet?" he asked.
"Give me a general direction?"
"West End. The street is Maple, though, in case you can read street signs up here."
A very slight smile softened his chiseled face, now covered, she saw, in dust and grime. "I can read them-and I see the street. Looks like everything's intact."
Lois breathed a sigh of relief. "When I get home I've got to call my mom-if any of the phones work, of course-and let her know I'm all right."
"Where does she live?"
"Here in Metropolis, at the top of the Freeman Tower." Lois glanced over his shoulder, saw the building still standing. "But she's not in town right now . . . she's in Paris."
Clark drew his eyes from the city below to her. "While you're at it, would it be too much to ask if . . . well . . ."
"What?" she prodded softly.
"If you'd call my mom and let her know we're both safe, too?"
Martha would even care if I'm safe? she thought, puzzled. Aloud she said, "Of course I'll call her. I just need you to give me her number. No, no, Clark-take me around the back, to the fire escape, so no one sees you."
He obeyed, landing at the top of the rickety metal stairs behind her apartment building, and set her on her feet. Lois felt light-headed-probably from sheer exhaustion-and clenched his hand until she regained her balance.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"You have something with you to take down Mom's number?" he asked.
"Oh sure, what writer leaves home without paper and pen?" Actually, she'd snagged the tiny notepad at Edwards Air Force Base just before she got into the C-17 with Hardy and the Kryptonian baby shuttle. She'd already made notes in it for a future article about her adventures during the flight back to Metropolis. Now she pulled it from her jumpsuit pocket and scribbled in the number he gave her.
"Take this one down, too," he whispered. She obeyed, looked up at him questioningly when he was finished. He smiled, shrugged. "That one's mine."
Lois almost dropped the notepad. He was giving her his number? Not only that, but . . . "Wait, you have a phone?"
"What do you mean, 'do I have a phone?' I'm no backwards country bumpkin."
She had to laugh at that, and when she did, a brilliant smile flashed across his face. He looked so different when he did that, far less like a stern alien lord and more like a regular person. She had never heard him laugh, though, and found herself wondering what that might sound like.
"Well here, take my number too," she said, quickly writing it down and handing the bit of paper to him.
"Thanks," he said, then grew serious again. "I only use the phone for emergencies, though. So should you, at least for a while. I have a feeling we'll both be under some scrutiny for a while. Too many people saw us together. If you start exchanging phone calls with some guy with a Kansas area code-"
"I understand, believe me," Lois said. "I'm a reporter. I know how to avoid incriminating situations."
"Except where your friendship with 'Joe of Ellesmere Island' is concerned, of course."
His sense of humor was delightful; why hadn't he ever talked like this before? She responded as archly as she could, considering her exhaustion.
"Well, I'll have you know, that had nothing to do with being careless. I told Woodburn about 'Joe' before I knew who 'Joe' really was. I thought he was going to publish my article. He was irate when I decided not to write the story or give it to him. That's why he threw me under the bus."
"And unwittingly gave Zod a second target." Clark tucked a loose strand of her hair behind her ear. "I didn't know he was tracking you until Faora demanded to have you."
Lois shivered. "Yeah, that was a little scary . . ."
"I don't know what I would've done if they'd killed you."
Lois swallowed hard. "I don't know what I would've done if they'd killed you."
Her own level of emotion startled her. Not since her childhood, when her father moved out, had she felt such an overwhelming desperation to keep someone close by. She reached forward and grabbed his hand.
"Look," she whispered, "you can't leave me here on this fire escape and not ever come back, not after what we've been through. Please don't do that to me."
He frowned. "Well, that escalated quickly. All I said was that we shouldn't exchange phone calls. How did that turn into 'Clark forgets about Lois the minute he leaves the fire escape?' "
Lois let out a shaky, relieved laugh. "Okay . . ."
"Besides, you think I'd forget about you after that kiss?"
She blushed. He smiled again-still no laugh-and glanced up at the night sky.
"I'd better go," he said. "It'll be a hard, late night . . . they'll need me."
"All right," she murmured. "Take care of yourself. Keep your distance from me if you think it would be smarter. I won't be mad at you, I promise. I'll probably be trying to keep the snoops out of my hair, too."
He nodded. "I've got to help clean up the mess my people made, though, so you'll see me around."
"That's not the same," she whispered. "Promise me you will come see me-eventually."
His smile turned gentle. That in itself would've been promise enough, but then he leaned forward and kissed her-not like he'd done a few hours ago, but quickly, softly. When he drew back, he looked her in the eye.
"That's your promise," he said. "I'll be back-and I won't forget about you."
Lois nodded, unable to say a word. She watched him fly away, then staggered into the building and crept along its corridors. Once she'd shut her own door behind her, she pressed her back against it.
She'd started her morning simply worried for Clark Kent, almost positive he was the Kal-El this General Zod was looking for. Less than an hour later she was in FBI custody. By noon she was on Zod's ship, in outer space, helplessly watching Clark vomit blood. She'd communicated with the hologram of a Kryptonian nobleman (a dead one, no less), nearly crashed in a Kansas cornfield, learned how to operate an alien baby carrier, witnessed the devastation of her home city, and tumbled out the back of an airborne C-17. And to top it all off, she'd fallen in love with an alien.
Lois couldn't think of anything else to do to relieve the irresistible wave of emotion. For the first time since Heaven knew when, she sank to the floor, folded her arms on her bent knees, and cried.