A/N- This is an AU one, exploring how Salvation might have gone another way. In this version of the episode, Lois's encounter with Zod and the Blur did not end with a kiss and she never discovered Clark's dual identity. However, Clark did end up ascending with the rest of the Kryptonians (as did Zod).
And in a little side note, just the single-sentence mention of Jimmy in this fic was enough to make me tear up. Damn, I miss that boy. He was my absolute favorite Smallville character, barring the legend that is Miss Lane herself. I am obviously not over his stupid, pointless death yet.

This oneshot took an unexpected turn, and developed an entirely unexpected second segment. I hadn't envisioned the second part, and I'm not sure how I feel about it, so it will actually be posted in a few days as a separate chapter, so that you may take it as a part of this if you wish, or choose to ignore it if you like this just how it is.

[Title]: Reality Bending
[Episode]: general S9, but specifically Salvation
[Characters]: Lois, Clark, mentions others
[Inspiration]: Dual inspiration this time. The first came from wondering how Lois would react if Clark had ascended instead of making his extremely un-subtle messianic sacrifice. The second came from the fact that no matter how much I hate Rose Tyler, the idea of a woman walking across a hundred thousand universes for the sake of the man she loves is exquisite.

"I'll find you somewhere,
I'll keep on trying until my dying day.
I just need to know, whatever has happened
The truth will free my soul.
Wherever you are, I won't stop searching,
Whatever it takes, I need to know..."
-Within Temptation

It isn't what he expected. Though to be fair, he didn't really think too hard about what he would be going away to, far too wrapped up in what he would be leaving behind to give it much thought. Maybe he had imagined some parallel Krypton, or another world altogether. What they found was rather different. No red Rao in the sky or a new world to adjust to all over again for the Kandorians.

They are on Earth. Sort of. A parallel Earth, he supposes you might call it. Humanity has never risen in this version of reality, leaving a pristine planet inhabited only by simpler animals.

He is grateful. It is at least somewhat familiar.

Even now, even with each and every Kryptonian fully possessed of the same powers and he still unable to master that last elusive ability that escaped him, he is revered among them. It was he who saw through Zod's lies, who saved them all, and the human race into the bargain.

He is proud of that. He is proud that when the time came to make a choice, he was strong enough to do what was right instead of what he desperately wanted to do. It seems, though, that it is his destiny to be the eternal outsider. Even among his own people, he stands apart. He cannot share in their memories of Krypton. His ways are not theirs.

He does his best. He learns their customs, he makes a point to participate in their daily life, to be as much a part of their world as he once was among humans. But the fact is... whatever blood they may share, these aren't really his people. It is a strange thing to realize that no matter which star he was born under, he really was human all along.

For the first few years, he is their de facto leader. He teaches them to cultivate the fertile land, just as his own father taught him. He guides them in the creation of a society from the ground up. Just as their planet becomes an interesting mix of Earth's natural beauty and Kryptonian crystal melded in an unexpectedly beautiful combination, theirs is a society built from a unique blend of Kryptonian structures and human ideals. They call it New Kandor and pledge to make it a paradise, never to succumb to the mistakes of their predecessors. Jor-El's wisdom guides them, their own storehouse of knowledge directs them, and he... he leads them.

But he was never meant to sit on high councils or help to transcribe seemingly endless codes of law. After three or four years pass, he begins to chafe against his new life- internally, of course. He doesn't let it show, because the Kandorians seem to need him.

Then, somehow, unbelievably, Kara finds them. It is a miracle to him. He has grown to care so much for his fellow Kryptonians, but Kara is family, and in some ways she is almost as human as he is. Her time on Earth affected her deeply, more than it did them, and in a way it makes her the perfect candidate to step into the role he has been filling. He never even realized it until she was there in front of him, but he understands that really, he was only holding the place for her until she arrived. She is far more Kryptonian than he can ever hope to be, but more human than most of the Kandorians, and she helps to bridge the gap beautifully.

With Kara in charge, he is able to fade into the background, and it is enough. He has his dear cousin with him, and a quiet life in a city called Faora built in the same location as Chicago on that other Earth.

The other life he used to live, that other man he used to be... they seem like dreams now. He remembers with absolute clarity that other Earth, and the baffling, wonderful humans who adopted him there.

The strong man, now gone, who was his rock in some of the darkest days of his young life. The warm, loving woman who raised him and taught him compassion. A dear friend he has hardly seen in years who was his first confidante. A newer friend, feckless and passionate and a determined protector of the weak, whose heroism inspired him to be more than he was. The bittersweet memory of a girl he used to love who vanished years ago into the darkness of her own quest for power. A bumbling, pure-hearted photographer who was probably a much better man than he. The best friend who was willing to give him her whole life because he needed her and the world needed him.

And... her.

She is the one he misses most of all. Fierce and soft and independent to a fault, all the best of humanity in one single, incredibly beautiful woman. Some things about his other life have faded into haziness in his memories, but every single second with her, from that first moment of clarity standing beside the empty grave of her cousin to their last painful conversation in the loft of an old barn, is seared in technicolor into his memory. Compared to these memories of a dauntless woman who shone like a second sun in her own right, the reality he interacts with on a day to day basis seems a little dreamlike. It's probably not healthy, but the memory of her is all he has to go on, and he was never one to love less than absolutely. Sometimes Kryptonian women have propositioned him, Vala in particular, but he does not pay them much attention.

It is in his fifth year on New Kandor that it happens.

He is wandering the Horn of Africa (strangely, it is one of the few landmarks called by its human moniker) when a there is a twist in the fabric of the world and a shimmer of blue and gold and then there she is.

He stares.

She stares.

"Clark?" she asks.

It is the first time he has heard that name in what feels like an eternity. He smiles. Immediately in sync with each other, they walk a short distance to a flat slab of sparkling crystal, incongruous to the African landscape but all too common after the melding of Earth and Krypton, and sit down. As they walk, he studies her. She is dressed in a white wife-beater and cargo pants that have seen better days. Her dark hair is straight and pulled away from her face in a high ponytail. She seems older. Not physically, because while she has perhaps aged just a bit, she can't possibly be older than 27, which is strange because she was 24 the last time he saw her and he's very sure it's been five years. No, it's in her eyes that the distance sits the heaviest. Something in her soul is older. It shows, too, in the way she carries herself. She always had a very faint military air to her carriage, but it's more obvious now, and her gaze, though warm as she looks at him, is also strangely hesitant, as if she's afraid to trust him.

The silence between them does not last long.

"Are you real?" he asks quietly.

She nods. He accepts this because she wouldn't lie, not to him.

"Are you my Clark?"

"What do you mean?"

She closes her eyes and takes a fortifying breath. "Every Clark has a Lois. Every Lois has a Clark. Mine, beautiful idiot that he is, left everyone he ever knew and loved to save two civilizations from destroying each other. I've seen some of this world and from the looks of things, I seem to be getting closer. So are you the Clark who used the Book of Rao to take the Kandorians away?"

He isn't quite sure he understands everything she says, but some parts he grasps immediately. "That's me," he says.

That hesitancy he saw in her falls away in an instant and those worried eyes fill with water.

"I gotta hand it to you, Smallville, you sure pick trustworthy friends," she says in a wavering voice. "Once I realized you'd disappeared, I badgered Chloe and Oliver for a week and they never breathed a word. But I got your mother to crack. She told me everything. She thought I deserved to know." Her overbright eyes are hard to read when she demands, "Why would you do that? The saving the world thing, I get. I wouldn't expect anything else from you. But god, Clark, why didn't you say something? Something besides 'Go to Africa, Lois,'?"

She stops very abruptly, and he can tell it's because she's on the verge of losing her visibly flagging control over her emotions, and he knows how much she hates that.

"I didn't want to hurt you any more than I was already going to," he explains. With the time separating him from that decision, it sounds so silly to his ears even as he says it.

She slaps him. "More than having you just vanish without a trace?"

Tears are pouring down her cheeks now and it pulls painfully at his heart. In seconds she has launched herself at him and she presses the briefest of kisses to his lips before she buries her head in the crook of his neck, arms around him. He hangs on for dear life as well, clinging to her as something in him that he didn't even realize had died comes bursting back to life.

"I've looked for you for so long," she whispers. "I-"

But he cuts her off, holding her closer. "Not yet," he tells her softly. "Please, Lois, I just..." There is a part of him that is clamoring for an explanation, but the rest of him is reeling in dizzy, happy circles inside. Holding her in his arms again acts as a balm for parts of his soul that have been hurting for so long, and in case this is all he ever gets, he wants to make the most of it.

"I know," she responds to his unfinished statement.

They stay like that for some time. Maybe it's five minutes, or maybe it's fifteen, and the bruises on his well-worn heart begin to disappear, one by one. It's nowhere near enough, but it'll do for now. At last they part, but her slender hand remains in his much larger one.

"How are you here?" he asks.

She smiles wryly. "That's a long story," she cautions.

"We have all the time in the world," he says, and he's not sure how his face hasn't cracked in half yet, he's smiling so hard. She always did manage to make him smile like nobody else.

And so she settles into the hollow under his arm, her head resting against his shoulder, and tells him a story he can hardly believe. She tells him how, although the world needed Clark Kent's sacrifice for a moment, it needs the Blur more. She tells him how she needed him more. She tells him how, after she wrung the truth out of his mother, she spent every free second scouring the rooftops of the high towers of Metropolis, searching for the Book of Rao, and how quite by chance, she actually found it. She tells him how Dr. Emil Hamilton and an elite team of specialists contracted by Oliver Queen put night and day efforts into cracking the alien technology. She tells him how, with the help of Chloe's rudimentary knowledge of the Kryptonian language, they were able to make some headway, but nowhere near enough.

"We didn't really make any major breakthroughs until... well, until Lana came back," she confesses. He looks startled at that, and she rolls her eyes. "Oh, chill, Smallville. I may want to gouge her eyes out for all the crap she put you through, but she and I were friends, too. Kind of. For Chloe's sake. Anyway, when she heard the reports that the Blur had disappeared from Metropolis without a trace, she came back to see what had happened. Once she found out what we were doing with the Book, she dredged up that Dr. Grohl character- you know, the alien tech expert she's been blackmailing into being her lapdog since, like, 2006- and with his expertise they made some serious headway."

She explains how they were able to narrow down the number of possible alternate dimensions he could have been relocated to from infinite to a mere twelve thousand. She shows him the two little discs she carries on her person which were the end result of the tests on the Book of Rao, one of which is keyed for trans-dimensional travel, and the other which acts as a homing beacon to carry her back to her proper universe when she's ready. She explains how, for the past two years (give or take- time runs differently between dimensions, so she's not entirely certain precisely how long it's been), she has been walking through realities, searching out thousands of Clark Kents and trying to find the one specific universe the Book of Rao dumped the Kandorians in.

"Bart wanted to come along," she says with a fond grin. "Actually, they all did, but he was particularly insistent."

"Why you?" he wonders.

"Isn't it obvious? I love you, you big idiot." He doesn't have time to process that before she sobers somewhat and adds, "Besides, you're my responsibility. I made a promise."

His brow wrinkles up in confusion. "What do you mean?"

Her look is wistful as she explains: "A few weeks before your dad died, he made me promise to look after you if anything happened to him. I haven't always been the best at that, but then this happened... Well, I had to follow you, didn't I?"

His heart breaks a little bit in the most amazing way, and he crushes her to him in a searing kiss. She meets him eagerly, burying her hands in his hair as they both try to pull each other closer than should be physically possible. Lips and tongues battle fiercely, both seeking dominance. His hands slide slowly up her sides, delighting in the feel of her. Without warning, the kiss slows into a more tender caress as a rush of deepest affection wells up in him for this brave, warm-hearted, amazing woman who gives so freely of herself, and whose sincerity once again leaves him astounded. She whimpers softly into his mouth and he feels himself come undone all over again.

He breaks the kiss, pressing his forehead to hers with closed eyes, catching his breath. Her arms are wound around his neck, and he knows that she loves him. Somehow, despite his parents' assurances that he was loved no matter what world he had been born on, despite loyal friends and strong allies, there was always a part of him buried somewhere underneath it all that feared he was unlovable. Years of living among his own people has not helped that, because he is as alien to them as he ever was among humans. But Lois... Lois loves him, the same way she does everything: with absolute commitment. It is an amazing feeling. He's not quite sure how that happened. How long were they actually together? Five months? Maybe six, at a stretch? Six months together, preceded by five years of a relationship that no one- themselves least of all- had ever quite been able to put a label on, and somehow she loves him.

She talks of worlds where Krypton was never lost, or where Lois Lane was; of worlds where they are together, of worlds where they are not; of worlds where he has found her but will never allow himself to have her; of worlds where he is human, of worlds where he has given up his powers, of worlds where he walks as a god among men; utopias side by side with dystopic hells, and everything in between. But the one constant he notes is that no matter what the universe, if it was at all possible, Clark Kent and Lois Lane found each other. If he were anyone else, if he had lived any other life, he might not have believed her. But as she talks of the confused young Kal-El who ran away through the portal to Earth in a rebellious quest to find his place in the universe and stumbled across the young army brat who was as lost and unsure as he was, he can believe it. He can imagine, in these other men who are somehow also him, the same feeling of willingness to move heaven and earth to see the love that is shining up at him in her eyes.

But it wasn't him who tore down the barriers of reality to make it happen, not this time. It was her. It was Lois Lane who gave the entire universe what-for and went running through space and time looking for him.

And when she finishes her long narration, she looks up at him and asks, "What now?"

He ponders. Kara is here to guide the Kandorians with the wisdom and strength her unusual life has given her, and he... well, he was always meant for Earth, not Krypton. He has a few things he needs to do first. He's not going to simply disappear from New Kandor the way he did from Earth. But once he's done what he needs to do, there is another life that lures him in like a siren song.

"Now, we go home," he says.

A/N- Stay tuned for Reality Bending pt 2!