Spoilers: Superman I and II, Superman Returns
Summary: "Children naturally seek out a connection with whichever parents are available."
It didn't come as too much of a shock that Lara had not been Jor-El's first and only wife, and that Jor-El hadn't been her first husband. He knew that (at least on Earth) marriages didn't always last, for one reason or another.
Of course, 'wife', 'husband', 'marriage' – these were human terms. The Kryptonian words didn't translate very well into English.
He has a few confusing memories from when he was four or five years old. He remembers calling out for his parents, but not with his mouth and lungs, and being upset that they didn't respond. He tried again and again, and when they asked what was wrong, all he could say was "You can't hear me." He could hear them, the way they were supposed to be (almost), could hear the connection between Jonathanmartha and Marthajonathan, but there was no Jonathanclark or Marthaclark to answer him. He bonded with them as best he could, marking the tendrils, the feelers of his soul, as Clarkjonathan and Clarkmartha like they were supposed to be.
This helped only a little. Clark Kent is a loner in more ways than one.
Kryptonians had recognized two major bonds – the child-parent bond and the spousal bond. There were others – the priests of Rao, for example, were celibate and bonded themselves to their order-parents, and siblings sometimes grew close enough to create a bond of brothers – but these two were the most important. Through these bonds of the soul, Kryptonians knew that all life was interconnected, treasured, one. Civilization was impossible without it. It was as basic as consciousness and rational thought. These were the building blocks of civilization.
So when Jor-El was selecting a new home for his only son and he saw signs of civilization on Earth, and that Earthlings resembled Kryptonians, he assumed that the Kryptonian truisms of civilization were also the basis of Earth culture. They were simply not as advanced technologically.
Unfortunately for little Kal-El, this was wrong. If Jor-El had known, he would have acted like any loving father and let Kal-El die mercifully with the rest of his race.
One of the reasons Clark leaves Smallville when he graduates from high school is because he's angry at Martha. He has known others who have lost spouses in Smallville and while they mourn a bit in public, Clark has always assumed they do more in private, hiding sorrow for propriety's sake. He sometimes senses bonding between other couples – Pete Ross's parents certainly have it – and some have it with their children, but no one feels complete. There is too much space between everyone.
When Jonathan Kent dies, he feels the soul-bond snap as surely as he hears the man fall to the ground, clutching helplessly at his left arm. Clark doesn't know what is wrong with him, why he is so angry at his father, realizing only in the coming days that there is a hole in his soul where the bond of Clarkjonathan is supposed to live. The bond is still there – sort of; it has always felt incomplete, but now it feels wrong.
He would rather have the incompleteness.
He knows that Martha doesn't feel it the same way; her behavior, the way she talks about Jonathan – it's all wrong. She isn't in enough pain: that is as close to an explanation as he can manage, even in trying to explain it to himself. He tries to come up with words that she will understand, but every time he fails.
So he leaves.
(Now, there is the matter of the mysterious green crystal, of course. It calls to him early one summer morning, and for a moment it feels like Clarkjonathan is alive again, like his father is back. But after a few moments he realizes that what he feels is more like a memory, something from Before, bubbling up from his subconscious. The memory calls itself Jorkal and Larakal, and for the first time in his life, he remembers something – albeit small and vague – from before his life with the Kents. He packs his bag, says goodbye to his mother as kindly as he can despite his lingering resentment towards her, and goes in search of who he really is.)
The tradition of women taking their husband's names as a married surname on Krypton came from spousal bonding. This is why Lara became Lara Jor-El when they bonded. An hour earlier she had been Lara Kin-Sur, and before her marriage Lara Lor-Van, after her father. An hour earlier she and Jor-El had been good friends; their bondmates Kin-Sur and Zana Jor-El were coworkers. They hugged and kissed their bondmates goodbye; Kin-Sur and Zana were leaving for a short trip away in fulfillment of work duties. Lara and Jor-El conversed pleasantly as they watched the aircraft leave Kryptonopolis; this was a regular occurrence.
Three minutes later, they each felt their respective bondmate try to break their connections: Zanajor and Kinlara were dying. Realizing the inevitable, Jorzana and Larakin were severed. In the fourth minute, the aircraft crashed into Mount Patan.
They mourned together with the others who had seen off loved ones and spoke with the authorities – accidents were always taken seriously on Krypton. Unexpected bond-breaks could drive the survivor mad if left untreated. Then, nearing the end of the first hour and feeling the loneliness of one who had once been bonded and now went singly, Lara turned to Jor-El and asked, "Whom shall we love now?" So close was the bond between these two that the silence now was physically painful. Jor-El felt a similar pain: both were individuals given to feeling things deeply.
Jor-El considered the situation and his long-standing close friendship with Lara before he looked at her and replied, "Why not each other?"
The tendril of her soul which had once been Larakin sought out his soul and she discovered that it resonated compatibly. Had they not been bonded to others when they'd first met, they would have known this before and it would have been a favorable match. Now it was a laudable one in their united grief, and a comforting one as well.
Thus were the bonds of Larajor and Jorlara born.
Kin-Sur and Zana would have approved. It was the Kryptonian way.
There is no bond of Clarkjor or Jorclark in the Fortress; machines cannot connect with souls, even if they are the most advanced artificial intelligence Krypton had had. But the AI of his birth father is knowledgeable and articulate, and always strives to make him understand. It is not always successful, but on the subject of soul-bonding, there is next to nothing that Clark – he begins to think of himself as Kal-El – does not understand. Every day, among other lessons, he meditates as Jor-El instructs him to do and eventually the ghost of Clarkjonathan is appeased. He feels a little lonelier, but more himself. There is less of a gaping hole in his soul.
That, more than the mastery of flight or philosophy, marks him as ready to rejoin human society.
Jor-El and Lara were, for the most part, typical Kryptonian parents. They loved each other, as Kryptonians considered love, and they doted on their infant son. Humans might have thought them old for first-time parents, even considering their previous marriages, but this was typical of their era. Being aware of the responsibility of raising a child, they considered the matter carefully before committing themselves to it. They may, as a race, have been proud and willfully ignorant of scientific fact as it related to the longevity of their home planet, but when it came to their children, Kryptonians were humble to a fault. The nature of soul-bonding with a child made it necessary to carefully explore every aspect of their lives to determine if an appropriate stability had been developed, if their souls were one in this decision, if they would be good parents.
Kal-El was very much a wanted child. He was cherished by his birth parents and though they made something of a mistake in sending him to Earth, the act of sending was a testament to their love for him.
The AI has little advice for him when he tells it that humans do not seem to bond as Kryptonians do. There is a hypothesis that they may be evolving in that direction – the bond between the Kents had been real, though (as he has learned) not quite as powerful as what Jor-El and Lara had had. And the fact that he can bond himself to a human has already been demonstrated. "Be certain, Kal-El," Jor-El tells him, "that if you mate yourself to a human, that their soul resonates with yours."
The vibration of Lois's soul nearly knocks him over that first day in Metropolis, and as sure as any animal that mates for life, he knows she is The One. And when he saves her that evening, dressed in his tribal colors, in that almost ridiculous comic-book costume, when he is able to be a little more like himself, like Clark Kent and Kal-El are supposed to be, he thinks she can feel it, too.
Why else would she have fainted?
Let it be known that Kryptonian men beat human men in denseness every time.
On Krypton, physical sexuality was embraced as a manifestation of the soul-bond between spouses. At the same time, they were extremely cautious in sexual acts, ever aware that a child should be conceived only when the parents had been truly introspective and certain that they were ready. Their knowledge of birth control would have made Planned Parenthood of America look like an abstinence-only initiative.
Jor-El neglected to include approximately ninety-eight percent of this information in the database of Kal-El's ship. In his defense, it was a highly stressful time and his son was barely a year old. Had he been sending an adolescent, it might have been crystal number one downloaded into the ship. And Lara herself remembered it only five seconds before Krypton imploded.
The Kents, coming from a conservative, religious background and a generation when One Did Not Speak Of Such Things, were hardly better than his birth parents. Most of Clark Kent's sexual education came from Pete Ross and his brothers in half-truths and innuendo.
It's a damn good thing Lois isn't a virgin.
She is an independent, liberated woman, too young to have burned any bras but she's had a few boyfriends she's gone all the way with. However, the Pill is only ninety-five percent effective when taken properly. Between stress, smoking, and forgetting it altogether in trying to solve the Clark-Superman mystery, her body is an unplanned pregnancy waiting to happen.
All it takes is one time. They give it a whole night of one times.
Occasionally, before the ill-fated trip to Niagara Falls, Kal-El, sitting across the newsroom in his guise as Clark Kent (he feels most comfortable these days when he thinks of himself as Kal, as a man separate, to a degree, from the humans around him, accepting of the fact that he will never understand everything about them), reaches out a tendril of his soul and taps Lois. Most of the time he can see that she feels it, looking up with a confused expression like someone has touched her physically and then hid. It is a little childish, but later he will look back and realize that he was a grown man with the emotions at times of a small boy. His psyche is stunted in many ways, and it shows itself from time to time. This is one of them.
(It is not an inherent retardation. Proper parental bonding – rather, the lack thereof – has a lot to answer for.)
By the time they go to Niagara, the spousal bond is there on his side, Kallois thrumming in anticipation whenever he sees her, and twice as strong whenever he has to rescue her. He can't imagine going through what his birth parents had gone through with their first bondmates.
By the time they find out about Zod, Loiskal calls to him every second. It's a little different than he expected. It isn't planned or done consciously on her part; he hadn't even explained it to her. She felt it and responded subconsciously, and he doesn't realize that she simply thinks she is finally in love for real this time.
As previously stated, Kryptonian women complained about the denseness of their men just as human women do. Had she been in the know, Lois would have whacked him over the head with a kryptonite frying pan.
Before jumping him for the bazillionth time.
(Lois Lane is a secret romantic at heart. Honest.)
The breaking of a bond, unfortunately, was best done with the consent of both parties in most cases.
Small children, pre-verbal, did not yet have the mental development to form bonds. This is why it was possible for Jor-El and Lara to break Jorkal and Larakal without permanently damaging their infant son.
Mental illness and sudden death were not wholly unknown on Krypton. There was an entire subfield of mental health professionals dedicated to assisting people in those unfortunate circumstances, to help break a bond or ease the pain of one prematurely severed.
Most endeavored to break their bonds appropriately, as Kin-Sur and Zana had, realizing that their deaths were swift approaching and sparing their mates the pain of a sudden, forced break.
No one had, in the recorded history of Krypton, bonded with an alien.
Had Lois known that, and all that a spousal bond entailed, she might have been more hesitant in pursuing Superman.
There is some possibility that he would have felt the same way.
Being male and therefore by nature an idiot, Kal-El doesn't warn Lois what he is going to do, and what he expects of her. He thinks it's what is best, what she probably wants, and the only way to end the pain.
Considering she is human, not Kryptonian, it might have backfired anyway.
He wipes away her tears and grasps her face in his hands. Leaning down, his face bare of Clark Kent's glasses, he kisses her. In that quiet good-bye, he cuts Kallois.
He does not feel a reciprocation. Loiskal still resonates between their souls.
Lois stumbles back, shaking her head, looking confused. Hearing the approach of Loueen's shoes, he quickly grabs Clark's glasses and goes in search of water for his bond-mate.
It is clear, a few seconds later, that something has gone wrong. She doesn't remember him – not the way she's supposed to. She is supposed to lose the intensity of their bonding, of their love, not everything.
He is so screwed.
Jor-El included substantial resources on Kryptonian biology and psychology, and on soul-bonds. He assumed that Earth was similar enough to Krypton to have their own counselors and physicians specializing in bonds. He was, of course, wrong.
There is no one on Earth to help Kal-El, to free him from his mistake with Lois. If she were to let him go, that would be one thing. The fact that she is unable to do so – for various reasons – makes it necessary for an outside party to assist.
There is no one on Earth to help Kal-El.
There is something like relief in his heart when it is reported that astronomers have found Krypton. He loves Earth, loves humanity, loves Lois, but as much as he wants it to be home, he's not sure it ever will be.
He tells his mother, he gives notice at the Planet, and disappears. He considers telling Lois where he's going, but she's a smart girl: she can figure it out.
A small, childish part of him also hopes she will be as pained by his disappearance as he is by her unrelenting hold on him.
In the end, the trip is for naught. Krypton is dead. He finds no survivors. There are no doctors to cure him of Lois.
He understands now what Jor-El meant when he said soul-bonding gone wrong can drive one mad.
He comes back to Earth slowly going mad.
He is still enough of himself to take up his responsibilities again, saving humans from themselves, but there is another kind of relief when he falls from the sky, exhausted from lifting an island of kryptonite into space:
If he dies, he reasons, at least he won't have to worry about hurting anyone when the madness finally consumes him.
In his dreams – nightmares – Luthor is stabbing him again and again, taunting him. He hears Lois deny ever loving him, even as she continues to hold the bond of their souls tight in her hands. Jonathan Kent falls to the ground, clutching his arm. Martha turns away, refusing to ask him not to leave her again. Richard White embraces Lois and their little boy possessively.
And then it all changes. He hears her voice:
"I don't know if you can hear me. They say…sometimes people can hear…What I wanted to say was, I forgive you. I forgive you for leaving us. We should have understood – especially me. I'm not sorry for writing that article – it was a wake-up call for all of us – but I'm sorry it came from me. I forgive you for whatever you did that made me forget whatever happened between us before you left. It took me a long time to figure it out, but I realize now that you probably thought you were doing the right thing. That you…you were helping me. And knowing you, I have to believe it was a decision made with love, or whatever the closest thing to love is for you. I know that because…I can't believe we would have done…certain things…without thinking we were in love. And I know now for certain that those things must have happened.
"You see, Superman…" She hesitates and he hears the rustle of cloth, the exhale of breath. "Kal-El." She swallows. "You see, I know now that…that Jason is your son." She sighs. "Is that enough to bring you back? My forgiveness and the truth about Jason? What else do you need before you can come back to us?" There is the sound of cloth on cloth again. "There's so much I still don't know. Do I need to release you back to the world? Am I holding you back somehow? Or do I need to fight for you? I can still feel there's something between us, and I don't know what to do about it." She pauses. "You have to wake up. Not for me, not for the world, but for Jason's sake. I'll let go of you if only you'll wake up and help Jason. He needs you."
The dream changes.
He runs between the rows of corn in Smallvile.
Jason kisses his forehead.
He wakes up to an unfamiliar beeping. Realizing he's been hospitalized is a first, as is the realization that hospital gowns truly are an insult to one's dignity.
Superspeed never seemed so useful.
There is another first. He no longer feels Loiskal pulling at him. She's let go of him. All that distance and this is when and where it finally happens. Somehow.
He vaguely remembers her speaking to him, but most of the words are lost to him – all but eight words that he never expected to hear: 'I know now that Jason is your son.'
He feels like himself again.
His son is asleep when he arrives at the house on Riverside Drive, but the windows are open, so he thinks nothing of going inside. Jason is asleep, yes, but it is a restless sleep. Considering all that has happened in the last few days, Kal-El is not surprised by that. He kneels by the bed and brushes the hair off Jason's forehead. When he speaks, he surprises even himself, remembering words that until now he has only ever heard in Jor-El's old voice. He embraces the Kryptonian tradition – in every aspect but one: he does not initiate a bond with his son.
No, not yet. It's not time, not yet. And Jason is half human. It might not work.
His presence, his voice, his words – something in all of it calms his son in his sleep.
He speaks with Lois when he's done, and the change is obvious. He's grown up a bit since they met all those years ago. He still feels affection for her, beyond even what he can imagine is necessary for the mother of his child, but he is not as driven to be with her as he was before, destructively so. He mourns that they are not together, either in the human way or the sharing of a Kryptonian bond, but he is not paralyzed by this sadness. He is…calm. He can recognize that their souls are still harmonious, but the timing is wrong. He is always around – will always be around if he can manage it – and if in the future she wants to try again, he will be ready.
Perhaps, at least at first, he should try things the human way, though.
He feels a loneliness in himself, the kind of loneliness that Lara and Jor-El must have felt when Kin-Sur and Zana died, but he is not debilitated by it. Perhaps he never will be. There is a lot of uncertainty, but he is no longer in pain, and that's an improvement in itself.
There was a kind of divorce on Krypton – not all marriages last – and children of divorce, and children who had lost one or both parents.
The strongest urge to bond always occurred with the biological parent, if he or she was still living, but if a parent created a spousal bond with another, the child could, if it so desired, bond with the new step-parent as well.
This is why Clark Kent was able to try to bond with the Kents. Starting at a certain age – it varied a little, but always after the child started speaking, and generally by the age of six Earth years – children naturally sought a connection with whichever parents were available.
Parents rarely refused to respond. That was part of Clark Kent's problems growing up. Millennia of Kryptonian evolution and hard-wired biology could not fathom why Jonathan and Martha were ignoring him in so basic a thing as soul-bonding.
Three weeks after he escapes from the hospital, Martha Kent has still not gone home to Smallville. She has hounded at him to finally get an apartment (which he has), and to take things easy (which he has honestly tried to do), and to tell Lois the truth (which he has not done).
"Not yet, Mom," he tells her. "It's not the right time yet."
But he tries to understand things from her perspective and he gets that it's something he should do. But Lois is still finding her way with her relationship with Richard (it vacillates almost daily between ending and continuing) and the fact that Superman is Jason's father. Lois is a brilliant and strong woman, but she has her limits, just like anyone else.
Just like him, he's learned.
Martha has lunch with him several days each week, between sewing curtains for his new apartment (she borrowed the machine from someone she met in the complex's laundry room) and making sure his refrigerator and freezer are stocked. On the rare occasions that Jason is in the bullpen at lunchtime, they miss each other by minutes.
His mother has made him promise to invite Lois and Jason – and Richard – to lunch with them, and he can't dissuade her of the idea. "Just say I want to meet your work friends, Clark," Martha tells him. "That's not too strange, is it? This is the first time I've visited you in Metropolis since you returned, and I never got to meet your Lois before. Don't worry – I'll be discrete," she adds at his hesitancy. "I've kept all your secrets all these years, son."
He doesn't quite stammer while he asks Lois, though it's clear he's nervous. (Superman is nervous more often than most people ever realize.) He's let Clark Kent become more confident, now that he's back from exploring the world. It's generally shown in small, subtle changes, but a few people have noticed. Not enough to guess at his secret identity, but enough to recognize that he's not quite the same man he used to be.
As it should be.
The release from Lois's soul constantly tugging at his is a big help.
"Oh, Clark, I'm so sorry," Lois replies with genuine regret. They've fallen into that old friendship again, and she's remarked a few times that one of these days she'll invite herself along to get the dirt on the real Clark Kent, or at least a few embarrassing stories. It's definitely a friends thing. "But you the Chief'll kill me if I don't get this done by printing, and I'm so behind. And Richard's been on the phone with Paris for hours now – it was supposed to be just a couple of minutes and then he'd watch Jason a while…"
The child in question is drawing his hundredth picture of Superman, sitting on the floor. "Mommy," he says, "can I go with Uncle Clark by myself?"
Jason is absolutely charming for a five-year-old, if a bit subdued, and he would have charmed Martha even if she hadn't known he's her grandson. They sit in a secluded booth where they can talk without anyone really hearing what they're saying (useful in case Superman questions come up), in a restaurant with a menu safe for Jason.
Well, safe for Kal-El if Lois were to interrogate him on what he fed Jason. He treasures his life.
Between the salad and the entrée, Martha asks, "Jason, dear, why do you look so sad?"
He shrugs his little shoulders. "I kept trying to call Mommy today and she doesn't hear me. Daddy doesn't either."
Kal-El takes a deep breath. "Like this?" he asks, and then taps Jason with a tendril of his soul.
Jason's eyes go wide and before long they are tapping each other back and forth like a pair of little boys at play, laughing like crazy. Martha watches in polite confusion but doesn't say anything.
Before he realizes what has happened, Kaljason and Jasonkal are as strong as steel.
Lois is going to kill him. He's going to have a lot to explain to her.
But he can't keep the grin off his face.
His son is just like him.
Martha wisely waits until the evening, until after they've returned a smiling Jason to Lois (who asks, "Gee, you're happy all of a sudden. I guess you really do like hanging out with Uncle Clark, huh?"), and after his work day is officially over, to say anything. She's made dinner, whichever old favorites that were manageable in less than a full afternoon: a clue that she realizes she's missed something important in their strange antics at lunch.
"We missed something, you father and I," she says. "Something important that your birth parents would have noticed as a matter of course."
He won't lie to her. "Yes," he admits. "You did."
"The crying and the being upset when you were about Jason's age," she continues. "And now it's happened to him. With his mother and Richard."
"Yes," he says. "But not with me."
"Because you understand. You know about this calling for mother and father and they don't hear. Because that happened with us."
He exhales. "Yes, but it's not your fault, Mom. It's a Kryptonian thing. Humans can't quite do it – some can feel it, and some like you and Dad kind of had it together, but it's not quite the same. It's…it's part of what went wrong with Lois. We got so caught up in her knowing who I was that I never explained about this, and it made a horrendous mess."
She doesn't ask for details about that, to his relief, but she does make a request. "Do it right now – call to me, or whatever it is that you do, while I know you're doing it."
He gives in and taps her with Clarkmartha – it's not quite the same as a child's call, but it's close enough. She feels it, shivers the moment it's done. "We never felt that?" she asks, surprised though she already knows the answer.
"I was little, Mom," he explains. "It wouldn't have been as powerful. And not everyone would probably feel it even now. You, and Lois – you're receptive to it. Special." He reaches out again with Clarkmartha, but holds it for a few moments, cherishing every happy thought of his mother he can grab hold of. "Like that," he adds. "Only doubled."
"Oh, Clark," she says. "That must have been how your people felt love. How did you ever forgive us for not understanding?"
He takes a deep breath and shrugs. "I grew up."