Yep, it was still coming this week. So worn out from things going on lately, this guy's late because I could think of what the hell to call the chapter! *headdesk* Yeah, it's like that. Enjoy, all!


Kal-El stayed occupied with many things; he had become one of Jhan-Or's chief assistants in the Society, running errands and making arrangements. From before dawn until late in the night, he facilitated the continued exodus of the humans in any way necessary. He was constantly having clandestine meetings, and then having legitimate meetings to cover for those. He also had to maintain his respectable reputation as one of New Krypton's foremost authorities on humankind, so he still had to do research and publish his findings.

All of that should have filled his time, and then some, but what Kal-El primarily felt was an echoing emptiness. The loss of Lois kept hitting him like a physical injury. He had no means of contacting her at present; they had discussed it before she left, trying to find some way to keep in touch. But the proxy servers by which Kryptonians viewed Earth's internet would likely log any attempt to set up an email account, and neither of them could take the risk of being tracked. Contact was too dangerous, for both of them and for all the other humans. Once they were all returned to their own planet, perhaps then … but Kal-El already had hopes of being appointed ambassador to Earth after the revolt.

He was young, still, and not so much involved in the actual rebellion side of things, so his ideas of the revolt and its aftermath were vague. Kal-El's chief concern was the humans, and as much as possible he left the politics up to Jhan-Or and the others, who had the talent and patience for it. With a little luck he and his house could escape the worst of the upheavals.

Besides, most of his attention was taken up by grief. Quite frankly, Kal-El pined for Lois. A dozen times a day he turned to ask her opinion of something, and the lack of her struck him again each time. Every morning he woke up alone, uncomfortable in his own bed, missing the odd comfort of her Earth-style bed. Unfortunately, he couldn't bear to sleep there without her beside him. Lois' absence was even more obvious in that bed where they'd talked and cuddled and made love so often.

And every night he found himself staying awake later and later, occupying himself with tasks better left to the morning, all to delay the moment when he had to retire to his empty bed. How strange, that he who had once abhorred touch like a proper Kryptonian now missed it so deeply. Lois' fingers laced through his, the warmth of her body fitting neatly against his own when they lay on their sides together, the softness of her hair under his cheek: each tiny sensation haunted his dreams.

And the dreams themselves were the worst. Kal-El routinely woke up from dreams where Supreme Chancellor Zod had stepped down, the Science Council had established peace with the humans, and Lois had returned to Krypton, treated like a true guest this time instead of the cruel mockery of being a hostage by any other name. Some of those dreams even ended with the announcement of her marriage into the House of El, a wedding that would broker a lasting peace between their people—and no one needed to know it was a love match as well.

Only once did he dream that Lois hadn't yet left, that the days since she'd gone were the dream and the reality was her amused smile and loving look. Kal-El had thought he was adjusting to her absence, but waking from that dream proved him wrong. Putting a hand out to stroke her flank, and finding only the empty bed, the loss was as fresh as if she'd left only moments ago.

The crystal he wore hidden beneath his robes was no comfort. To Kal-El it had become a symbol of Lois' captivity; small wonder that he'd cast it off her, the night they first went to bed together. Kal-El soon gained an understanding of how Lois had felt, wearing it day in and day out. It was an anchor around his neck, constantly reminding him of what he'd lost just as it had surely reminded her that she was a prisoner.

At least he'd freed her. There was that, and it soothed his soul a little. Lois was no longer a captive, at liberty amongst her own kind once more. His missing her was selfish, in its way, but it was alloyed with a sense of righteousness at having released her. Someday they would be together again, he promised himself. On equal standing, as it should have been all along.

The only thing that gave him peace was standing under the stars at night, looking for the bright yellow gleam of her sun, Sol. No matter the distance between them, if they could see the same star, he felt a little closer to her. Using telescopic instruments didn't feel the same, though he could actually see Earth if he did. No, only looking up with his eyes alone brought that feeling of connection, as if somewhere Lois too was looking up and wondering how he fared.

Sometimes Kal-El would track that star's progress across the night sky until his neck ached from craning his head back, and he would suddenly realize he'd been lost in thought—lost in memory, really—for hours. Those were the nights he would stumble inside and fall into his lonely bed for a few hours of restless sleep strewn with fragmented dreams.

He always woke feeling haggard and somehow thinner, as if he'd stretched himself too far. But there was work to be done and Kal-El could not be seen to falter. He dared not attract too much attention. That could only lead someone to question where Lois was.

Kal-El may have been disinterested in politics, but politics were not disinterested in him, especially not when he had grown closer to Jhan-Or. He spent much of his time with the older man, and it should not have surprised him that Jhan-Or had been carefully evaluating the chances of taking Kal-El into his confidence.

A few days after the first group of humans left, Jhan-Or invited him over to the laboratory. Kal-El knew he had been studying some of the organisms the humans had brought to Krypton with them, and other microscopic creatures of Earth. Once he arrived, he dutifully looked at the images Jhan-Or had taken.

"…And this one, which humans once considered a pest for it spoils some of their primitively-preserved foods, is now used of all things for cosmetic injections to erase the signs of aging. To think of it, one of the most potent toxins known to them, being put to such a use," the older man was saying.

"Fascinating," Kal-El replied, though he honestly found it anything but.

Jhan-Or moved on to another image. "This one naturally competes with other microorganisms. Certain strains are considered a pest when their growth causes skin disorders, and others are used to brew beverages and bake bread. Had we any such thing as this, we could have defeated the great plague that drove our people to practice such stringent sterility."

Kal-El blinked. "But you said this organism was a pest."

"I said it can be. It naturally exists in competition with all the legions of creatures that humans carry on and in their bodies. That competition allows them all to survive without harming the host, for no one species dominates to the point of stripping the host's resources. It is only when the system falls out of balance and one kind ascends that the host begins to suffer." Jhan-Or cut Kal-El a significant look at that.

"Balance is essentially to most systems," Kal-El replied.

The biologist nodded. "Including democracy. It is not the dominance of one faction whose ideals are more correct that the rest that provides peace. It is the compromise between all of the varying viewpoints that results in overall harmony. No one gets precisely what they wish for, but all are more content than they would be otherwise."

"An interesting parallel," Kal-El said, knowing where this was going. He honestly could have left all the politics aside, but if Jhan-Or wanted to confide in him, it had to be important. So he asked a leading question. "Then what is to be done when the system becomes unbalanced?"

"Rebalance it, by reducing the strength of the dominant faction," Jhan-Or said lightly. "The trick, of course, is to find the most selective means of doing so, without harming the rest of the system and causing further unbalance. Broad-spectrum measures cause too much damage to the overall system, and therefore a targeted approach based on the dominant element's weakness is safest."

Kal-El mused on that, and Jhan-Or waited, watching his eyes. Sometimes the younger man felt as though Jhan-Or could see his thoughts as they flickered through his mind. "Open, armed revolt against an unbalanced government would be the broadest of broad spectrum measures," Kal-El finally said.

"Precisely. It is to be avoided if at all possible," Jhan-Or said serenely.

There was one problem with the path of logic down which he was being led. "What weaknesses are to be exploited in our situation? Our leader is an experienced tactician and perhaps the finest military strategist our people have ever produced."

Jhan-Or laughed at that. "Oh, Kal-El, you are so young. All men have weaknesses. The only difficulty is to discover what they are, and I assure you I had Dru-Zod's identified before I ever began this."

Kal-El badly wanted to know what that was. He could just barely conceive of coming into direct conflict with the Supreme Chancellor, whose authority was virtually limitless and whose power came from quite literally having an army at his disposal. If Kal-El could only know that Dru-Zod too was vulnerable, it would have reassured him greatly. As things stood now, the former general seemed omnipotent and indestructible.

Of course Jhan-Or would never part with such information if asked directly. Kal-El tried to think his way around the problem, and remembered how Jhan-Or had silenced Tar-Kon at the last meeting of the Society. Was it blackmail, then? Surely that was the most selective way of dealing with the Supreme Chancellor: force him to resign or see his darkest secrets revealed.

But what secrets could Dru-Zod possibly be concealing? Kal-El didn't realize he'd spoken the question aloud until Jhan-Or beside him chuckled, "Perhaps you shall see, young Kal-El. But not this day."

Life moved on, whether Kal-El wanted it to or not. The very day after his revealing conversation with Jhan-Or, he was invited over to dinner at his parents' house. Lara made a point of inviting Lois, and Kal-El felt horribly guilty when he lied and said she was ill. His mother had always been kind to Lois and was trying to include her, so rejecting the offer—even for a plausible reason—just felt wrong. Furthermore, he wanted Lara of all people to know what Lois meant to him. She alone might understand the depth of love he felt. But he couldn't risk anyone outside the Society knowing that Lois was no longer on the planet, so he made excuses and hoped that his mother didn't feel as though her acceptance was being snubbed.

It turned out that Lara had more important plans for the dinner. Kal-El arrived to find that his father wasn't home, and that Alura and Kara were. "It is a pleasure to see you both," he told them, smiling in spite of the surprise.

"And it is a pleasure to be here," Alura replied, though her smile was strained. Kal-El wondered how much pressure she was under, with Zor-El all but publicly demanding revolt. He would not ask, however.

Kara seemed entirely disgruntled, and as they sat down to dinner Kal-El tried several unsuccessful gambits to draw her out. All of them failed, Kara stubbornly pouting and giving him monosyllabic replies. She stared down at her plate, giving him only her blonde curls to talk to and never raising her eyes to his.

"Are you well, Kara?" he asked.

Instead of answering, she told him, "I am glad you did not bring your human. She is strange."

"Manners, Kara," Alura corrected gently.

"Of course she seems strange to you. Lois is from another galaxy," Kal-El reminded her. "I think that you remind her of her sister."

Kara wrinkled her nose and stared at her plate. "I am nothing like a little human girl." He smiled sadly; he had the feeling that Lois' Lucy was quite a lot like Kara, right down to the stubbornness.

Alura and Lara both tried to entice her into conversation, and met with no success either. Finally, Kal-El tried the one thing that had always animated his young cousin in the past. "How go your studies, Kara?"

At that, she looked up, and he met a hard blue stare full of a child's uncompromising fury. "They would go better if the other children did not call me the traitor's daughter," Kara spat.

"Kara Zor-El, I told you I will not have that sort of language," Alura retorted, her voice hot with shame … and a touch of fear.

"It's true!" Kara cried out. "Father does not even come home most evenings anymore. When he does come home, he barely speaks to us. Everyone knows he will not stop talking about rebellion, and the only reason he has not been arrested is because Jor-El is Supreme Chancellor Zod's friend!" Tears stood in her eyes by the end of it. Kara might not know all the ramifications, but she knew that her father getting arrested would be a Very Bad Thing.

That outburst set all of them back in utter shock. Kal-El looked over at his mother, and Lara looked back at him. He suddenly saw the signs of strain in her, new lines of worry at the corners of her eyes, and wondered if she was keeping secrets as burdensome as his.

"Kara, you do not know the entire story," Alura was saying. "Your father is a man of great conviction—"

"I just want my father!" Kara insisted, and then began to cry.

The habits of emotional restraint and composure were infused into all Kryptonian children from an early age, and such breakdowns were rare even among the youngest. Generally a tantrum would be met with silence tinged with disappointment, as no one wanted to reward or encourage such behavior.

But that evening, as Kara sobbed disconsolately, Kal-El could not bear to see her fear and grief go uncomforted. Without thinking, he put a hand on her shoulder, and Kara turned to him, leaning against his side. Such a thing simply did not happen.

Nonetheless, Alura rose from her seat and embraced her daughter, one arm around Kal-El's shoulders. On the other side of the small table, Lara got up and hugged them all. Kal-El had no memory of being hugged by his mother, but at that moment it was the most soothing feeling he could imagine.

"It's going to be all right," Lara whispered, and none of them dared to contradict her.