Disclaimer: I do not own the Dark Knight Rises, the rest of the Nolanverse Batman, or Man of Steel and I make no money off this work.
The characters Steve Trevor and Dr. Pamela Isley originate with DC Comics. The character Princess Diana of Themyscira originates with DC Comics, and I revised her origin in Batman: Entwined Fates. Hephaestus is from Greek mythology.
The characters Clark Kent, Lois Lane, General Zod, Martha Kent, Perry White, Sergeant Sekowsky, Dr. Emil Hamilton, Colonel Hardy, General Swanwick, Faora, Pete Ross, Jonathan Kent, Jor-El, and Lara Lor-Van as used in this story come from the Man of Steel movie.
The characters Bruce Wayne, John Blake, Jim Gordon, Lucius Fox, Alfred Pennyworth, and Selina Kyle as used in this story come from the Dark Knight Rises movie. Barbara "Babs" Gordon was barely introduced in the Dark Knight. Molly C. Quinn has been cast in the story to portray her. Also I dropped about a decade from Joseph Gordon Levitt's real age for the sake of my timeline. Hal Jordan is from the 2011 Green Lantern.
Also because I don't know Italian, when the dialogue is spoken in that language, I gave you the translation in curly brackets since that punctuation mark doesn't have another job in fiction. The Greek is presented in a Latin transliteration.
This story is set after the Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel, Signs and Portents: Meanwhile in Gotham City and Signs and Portents: Forgiveness is for the Living. And it's dedicated to everyone who watched the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer and exclaimed "Why are my heroes fighting each other?" Oh and Abelard, I hope you like the Steve Trevor that made it.
September 1, 2013
The three F-15s screeched through the sky towards the billowing, black mass. It reminded Steve of the 2010 Iceland volcano eruption. The lightning flickering in the enlarging red and black clouds didn't help the impression. "Keep an eye out for the alien entity designated as Superman. He doesn't have a transponder," Steve said to his subordinate pilots. Command listened to every word as well.
Igloo snorted. "Who gave him that call sign?"
"Copy that, Zipper," Flybot answered.
"Ready to engage," Steve said. "Entering the smoke screen." The clouds didn't hide General Zod's weapon from their radar. It loomed over the ocean on tripod legs. Their projected flight path took them over its domed top in bombing position. Lightning flashed around the jets. They soon broke through the clouds to see the black, insect-like machine. Blue energy pulsed from the bottom of the sphere-like body on top the legs. Water rose up in a halo around the weapon before smashing on the rocks growing around its feet. It repeated that process with every pulse. Smoke billowed from the flames churning on top the body and joined the rising clouds. The flames looked like glowing eyes from their vantage point.
Flybot's voice sounded strained. "Beginning visual reconnaissance." He broke out of formation to shoot it with the cameras.
"Engage the enemy, Flight 219," Command ordered over their headsets.
"Roger that," Steve replied. "Thunder One Fox Two." He fired the Sidewinder at the gravity weapon. The missile rounded toward the body. A panel on its side slid open like an eyelid. The black substance inside swelled out before narrowing into tentacles. "Igloo, Flybot, do you see that?"
"Don't know what the hell that thing is, but we're getting footage of it," Flybot said.
Three tentacles slithered out of the black and whipped around the gravity weapon. One hit the Sidewinder and detonated the missile, shattering it. The metal reformed and speared toward their jets. "The gravity weapon has a tentacle defense system," Igloo said.
"Evasive maneuvers," Steve banked his jet as he barked out the order. Igloo moved away, but the tentacles only followed the jet that had fired the missile. Steve swooped up. His HUD sounded proximity alarms.
"Fire on the defense mechanism," Command ordered.
Steve was in no position to shoot as he looped to keep the tentacles from hitting his jet. Igloo's voice cut through the cockpit alarms. "Thunder Two Fox Two."
The second Sidewinder hit the tentacles where they merged together, but yards away from the gravity weapon. The black appendages shattered, but the shards flowed together like water. "What the hell? A direct hit had no effect; the fragments reformed!" Igloo yelled across the comm.
Steve flattened out of his loop and glared at the tentacles' connection with the gravity weapon. "Thunder One Fox Two." The Sidewinder twisted between the tentacles. Steve held his breath. The explosion didn't rock the gravity weapon and the tentacles reformed. "Direct hits with Fox Twos are not damaging the damned thing."
His HUD screamed a warning. Steve rolled his jet, but the closest tentacle sprouted a three fingered hand that wrapped around his rear fuselage. It yanked him closer to the gravity weapon like a fishing line reeling in a catch.
"Zipper!" Flybot yelled.
"Fall back!" Steve yelled back. The second tentacle tightened around the jet behind his canopy. He pressed the eject button, but it malfunctioned. "I'm jammed; don't you two get caught. Fall back!" The tentacles spun him around, but the HUD showed Igloo and Flybot's transponders moving. "Command, conventional weapons haven't made a dent. Take that under advisement for the next battle strategy."
"Eject, Captain Trevor. We'll get the Australian Coast Guard to--"
"Negative, I can't eject." The tentacle crushed something and the HUD wailed. "Hopefully Superman will give me a lift when he gets here." It was a faint hope, so faint to be a sarcastic quip instead. He doubted Command even heard it with all the alarms. His jet was turned toward the gravity weapon again. Go down swinging every time. "Get off our planet!" He fired the machine gun controls.
The bullets had no effect, but it felt good to let them rip. Luckily, the booted feet that landed on the jet's nose descended out of the line of fire. Extremely lucky, because the feet were connected to the best bare legs he had ever seen in person. And it would be criminal to hurt them or the hips wrapped in a shredded blue leather skirt or the breasts cupped by the red leather bustier. The gold symbol covering them was shaped into a bird not the stylized S his superiors said Superman wore. "So not Superman," he said to whoever manned the comm, if they heard his awed whisper amid all the alarms.
The third tentacle pulled back to swipe. Steve pointed to it, but the black-haired woman was already moving. Lightning crackled along the sword as she sliced the tentacle like an angel chopping off a serpentine demon's head.
It recoiled from the swordswoman instead of reforming like it had with the Sidewinder explosions. The other two tentacles wrapped around his jet let go and pulled back with the third to the inside of the water halo. New alarms sounded along with the HUD showing how he was unable to fly his jet and it was falling. He hit the eject button. The canopy refused to open.
The angel straddled the nose. He wished they had time for introductions. Too bad they would drop into the space that was affected by the gravity weapon and a pulse would send them down to the new rocks faster than regular gravity. He waved goodbye to her. She could fly out of this mess even if she didn't have wings.
She frowned and grasped the edge of the cockpit canopy with both hands. The metal bent and the polycarbonate cracked as she forced it up. She floated free as she continued pushing it back. Steve unbuckled his seat restraints and stood. She picked him up under his arms. He didn't mind being carried like a toddler when she zoomed away from the jet and the gravity weapon. He grabbed her shoulders. Actually, he was okay with dying because being carried off to Heaven rubbing up against a statuesque angel was the best way to go. If he kept up that train of thought, they might not let him in.
The angel coughed and gagged when they entered the smokescreen. Should he give her his air mask? They dropped in altitude, so he let go with one hand to unlatch it. She shifted the flight path and shot out of the black clouds, gulping down clean air once they were free. She adjusted her grip on him and he grabbed her shoulder again.
All he saw was her face and blue sky filtered through her wavy black hair. But what a face; who needed a view of where they were going? Her eyes were as blue as tropical water. Poetry could be written about her cheekbones. Too bad his word skills didn't go past 'roses are red, violets are blue.'
She pulled them upright and he looked down past her arm. A salvage ship with its aft crane as tall as the radio tower on top of its pilot house grew bigger under their feet. His knees buckled when she set him on the steel deck thanks to the boat's rolling motion, but she held him until he steadied. Her attention was grabbed by something behind him he couldn't hear. He unlatched his air mask and yanked off his helmet to hear her explain. "The machine was crushing his plane. That and it is absolutely foul in there."
A gravely male voice answered her. "So you're not immune to alien environments." A gloved hand gripped Steve's shoulder. "Do you need a medic, airman?"
Steve faced the voice and his jaw dropped when he saw the black cowl over the head. It was hard like a helmet; he hadn't expected that. "Holy shit, you're Batman."
The corner of the visible mouth quirked up slightly. "I am."
Steve turned back to his angel. Batman was last seen fighting the mercenaries that attacked Gotham City with Catwoman and this woman was not wearing black. "You must be Wonder Woman."
She winced. "The news people call me that. I am Princess Diana of Themyscira." Oh yeah, the gold band with a ruby star she wore was a tiara.
"Captain Steven Trevor, United States Air Force. Thank you for the rescue."
"What were you doing?" Batman asked. "The military has to know that conventional weapons don't work against the invaders after what happened in Kansas."
"I wasn't briefed on what happened in Kansas. We went in for reconnaissance and to assist Superman."
"Superman?" the princess asked.
"The alien who surrendered to General Zod; he's supposed to stop the gravity weapon while the rest of the attack force concentrates on the ship over Metropolis." Steve glared at the black cloud mass. "We went in hot and found out it has tentacles that don't blow up."
Princess Diana smiled wickedly. "They didn't like the taste of my steel."
He turned to Batman. "Can you update a Sidewinder with her steel? Because they shrugged them off and kept coming."
An explosion echoed over the water. Batman took a pair of high-tech binoculars off his bronze-colored belt and focused on the gravity weapon. "I don't think you have to worry about weapon upgrades now."
"Kal-El destroyed it?" Princess Diana laid a hand on the railing as her feet rose off the deck. "I will intercept him."
"He's already gone." Batman lowered the binoculars. "He flies faster than you."
She harrumphed under her breath before saying, "Undoubtedly, he is on his way to Metropolis. Do we make our way there now?"
"By the time we secure the invaders' hardware, the fight will be over." Batman returned the binoculars to his belt. "I'll tell the ship's Captain it's safe to salvage now."
"Wait, you want to take custody of the gravity weapon?" Steve asked.
The look over Batman's shoulder withered all glares Steve had ever received from any superior officer.
"We cannot let the invaders repair it," the princess said.
"You have an issue with that, Captain?" Batman asked.
Steve stood at attention thanks to that glower. "My commanders would have an issue with you taking a world destroying weapon, so I have to formally protest that you should turn it over to the United States government." He took a deep breath. "Me personally, all the governments have enough world destroying weapons. The last thing we need is an arms race based on extra-terrestrial tech. And the United States government and military did jack-shit to save Gotham. I trust you."
"We don't want to get you in trouble with your commanding officers, so protest noted," Batman said. "Where are you stationed?"
"Kadena Air Base on Okinawa."
"Better get him back there before someone puts him on a missing in action list, Diana."
"I know where Okinawa is." She scooped Steve up, bridal style. "Won't take long at all, Batman."
"Wait a minute!" They were airborne before Steve finished saying the words. "You don't have to take me all the way to Okinawa. We refueled at RAAF Base Pearce outside of Perth. Australia's a lot closer."
"Will that increase your troubles with your commanding officers?" Her forehead wrinkled like she didn't care for that idea.
"Emergency situation. The other two jets in my flight probably already landed there." She nodded and changed course. He remembered how she was holding him and blurted out, "You're pretty strong for a girl."
"No, I'm just pretty strong." She frowned.
He hated her frown and had to get it off her face. "I didn't mean to offend."
She smirked. "That doesn't mean you didn't."
"And that's why I'm not in the diplomatic corps. The wrong thing always comes out of my mouth."
"My people have a saying. Don't kill if you can wound, don't wound if you can subdue, don't subdue if you can pacify, and don't raise your hand at all until you've first extended it. All you need is more practice."
Steve thought about what to say next so she didn't dump his ass in the ocean. "That's a good philosophy, but how does it work with the current situation?"
Her nostrils flared. "Your government met a superior force's terms; that is pacifying. The invaders continued their attacks on Earth. Now we must subdue them and keep the innocents safe."
"We're on the same page with that. Not that I know how we're going to hit them so it hurts. Unless we can go to your people and get more swords."
She shook her head. "My sword is unique."
"And your people are probably too far away to help," he sighed.
"No, my people are the Amazons of Themyscira, an island hidden by magic in the Mediterranean Sea."
Steve had read Greek mythology when he was a kid. "The ladies who cut off one of their boobs to shoot better?" He was glad she hadn't followed the custom.
"That was deceitful propaganda written by our foremothers' enemies. We Amazons never did that. It doesn't improve archery."
He loved her indignant tone. It lacked the heat that had been in her voice over the current situation, but still passionate. "I always thought it made the Amazons badass. The Spartans were too chicken to cut off body parts. And you are definitely badass, Princess, even the tentacles realized that."
Her olive-tinted cheeks reddened. "Call me Diana."
"As long as you call me Steve." The land on the horizon grew larger as the bright sun shone. It was hard to believe that there was an alien invasion on the other side of the planet. Because of that, he couldn't drag this flight out and gave her directions to the air base. He recognized the other two U.S. F-15s being refueled on the ground. "Good, my men got away from the gravity weapon."
"Hopefully, Metropolis fares as well." Diana lowered her feet to the ground before setting him on his. The ground crews and pilots ran toward them. "Be careful if they send you out again, Steve."
"Wait a minute." He scrambled through his pockets. "If the world doesn't end today," he found a pen and a crumpled receipt, "I'd like to talk to you again, maybe do something fun. Unless," oh man it just occurred to him, "you and Batman…."
She shook her head. "No, we are allies, friends. He is in a committed relationship with someone else."
"Good, that's good. So if the world doesn't end today--"
"Do you like movies?" she asked.
"Movies, popcorn, sodas, fan of the whole experience." He wrote his personal cell phone number on the back of the receipt.
She took the slip of paper from him. "I will call you and we will go see a movie."
He nodded before he said something that would ruin his chance forever. "Be careful against them, Diana."
She nodded with a radiant smile before shooting off the ground. Steve ignored the shouts and press of the men that surrounded him as he watched the red and blue streak across the blue and white sky.
Lois, breathless from their kiss, watched Clark float over to Zod. The General knelt on the other side of the pulverized circle. Perry, Jenny, and Lombard climbed over the pile of rubble behind her, and she spared them a glance before focusing on Zod and Clark again.
"My soul, that is what you have taken from me!" Zod shouted. The bulkier Kryptonian lunged and slammed a shoulder into Clark's chest. Clark tumbled back before bouncing against the ground and skidding to a stop against the rubble.
Lois stopped herself from dashing forward thanks to her long practice of being the observer, the one who told the truth after the event was done.
Zod strode towards Clark and continued to bellow. "I'm going to make them suffer, Kal, these humans you adopted. I will take them all from you, one by one."
Clark pushed up into the air instead of flexing his muscles. "You are a monster, Zod. And I'm gonna stop you." The two forces charged each other: Zod running hard enough to dent the powdery rubble and asphalt underneath and Clark flying with his arms straight in front of him. Their impact cratered the ground and then Lois saw Clark's red cape fly into the corner of a ruined building on the clearing's perimeter. Zod leaped after him.
Lois's eyes tracked the fight through the skyscrapers along with everyone still able to watch. The sun was setting and functional automatic lights flickered on. The sides of the buildings cratered as the opponents slammed against or through them. Zod appeared again now flying. He grabbed the end of Clark's cape and spun him around. Clark shot through multiple buildings. She held her breath as the pair climbed higher into the sky. Debris on fire from atmospheric friction rained down on the city. Clark and Zod must be among that debris.
She sprinted after them until Perry White's voice lassoed around her. "Lois! Where are you going?"
"After the story!" she yelled back. The falling debris led straight to the Union Station, a historical train station that rented out its massive space for events. Dodging stunned survivors and frozen traffic was harder, but she never let anything stop her from getting the story. Her feet moved faster since this story involved the man who saved her life three times, offered her freedom from the government by surrendering his, and kissed her. She pushed her way through the screaming people leaving the building. Halfway down the marble steps she stopped.
Clark had an arm around the kneeling general's neck. She heard Zod. "If you love these people so much, you can mourn for them!" Two streams of red fire gouged the floor and hit the wall next to a family. The father grabbed his son and shoved the boy closer to the younger girl and the woman, but the group had nowhere to run thanks to the debris on their right. The marble wall cracked and tiles exploded as Zod's eye beams inched closer.
"Don't do this! Stop! Don't!" Clark screamed.
Lois couldn't hear Zod's response over the family's screams, but she saw his lips snarl something. Clark closed his eyes. He shifted his hand to Zod's chin as he stood them. His hands forced Zod's head to the side much farther than any neck should turn. His arms splayed out and Zod dropped to the floor, the red light dying in his eyes. Clark panted as he stared at the older Kryptonian. Then he fell to his knees next to Zod's feet before bellowing "No!" Lois ran while it echoed through the cavernous space.
Clark didn't look up until she was three steps away from him. The lost expression on his face asked her for something he couldn't articulate. She rushed forward and cradled his head against her stomach. His arms wrapped around her hips without pressure. She hugged him closer, combed her fingers through his black hair, and refused to let any tears fall.
"I hear them screaming." Clark's voice was thick and hoarse.
Lois glanced around Union Station. The family that had been threatened had bolted. "No one's here."
"Outside, they're outside."
She raked his scalp and hoped it offered him comfort. "What can you do?" Dumb question, Lane. "What do you want to do?"
"No more death." Clark's muscles in his arms bulged, but his grasp on her didn't change. "I can't let anyone else die."
"Okay, let's go." But she didn't force him to move.
"They won't let me help, not after this. No one will trust me."
She took a deep breath. "They will when I tell them to." Clark jerked his head back to see her. "I'm not leaving you again," she whispered.
His lost look melted into gratitude before his jaw solidified. He scooped her up and they floated up through the broken glass and twisted rafters surrounding the hole in the glass roof. She kept her arms wrapped around his neck. They hovered above Union Station until he focused on something he could hear and she couldn't. Then they shot forward to the burning corner of a skyscraper.
Clark blew icy breath on the fire. The cold and carbon dioxide put out the flames. Now she noticed that this corner held the fire stairs and a big chunk of them were missing. He set her on the upper stairs. "There are people in the hallway."
"X-ray vision. That's how I cauterized your internal bleeding."
She nodded and put off any more questions about his abilities. She wrenched opened the fire door. People huddled away from the smoke and a few tried unsuccessfully breaking the windows with a desk chair battering ram. The office workers responded to the jumpsuit uniform and her commands without noticing the lack of insignias. They balked when they saw Clark, but she coaxed one to accept his ferry over the gap. After one was lifted across, they trusted him.
All night long the same scene repeated itself: Clark proving he wasn't human--flying, lifting impossible weights single handed, cutting through the rubble with his heat vision, putting out fires with his breath, telling people about internal injuries--and Lois reassuring the survivors. "It's okay, he's Superman. He's here to help us." She eventually welcomed the children. They were never afraid once they saw Clark smile.
Their route made a circle around the pulverized crater the Black Zero had left, so they ended up coming back to it after Clark didn't hear anyone in danger or smell any more fires. Lois stifled her yawn. The sliver of the waning crescent moon didn't tell her what time it was. The arms holding her princess style braced again, just like they had before they swooped down to help people. "What do you hear now?"
"Look down." His voice held all the weariness his body didn't seem to possess.
Soldiers in military camouflage swarmed over the wreckage of the ship that Clark had liberated from the ice and Zod had flown to Metropolis before Clark forced him to crash. "Is there anything dangerous left in it?"
"I don't know. My father, Jor-El, intended for me to have that ship." He winced. "I destroyed the embryos to stop Zod and without my command key, I doubt Jor-El's still in it. Or what's left of it."
The embryos to start a new Krypton. She squashed that thought. Clark did not need to rehash that. "Could Zod have left behind a program like Jor-El did?"
"We better make sure he didn't."
He swooped to the wreckage and Lois stifled another yawn. There was still too much to do for her adrenaline and energy to run out. The ship vaguely looked like a turtle. The soldiers saw them coming and one ran inside the hole in the ship. The uniformed figure returned with Sergeant Sekowsky, whom she remembered from Ellesmere Island. "Sergeant Sekowsky, Superman, Superman, Sergeant Sekowsky. I'm pretty sure you two didn't meet on Ellesmere," she said as Clark set her on her feet.
"No, I managed to avoid everyone but you." Clark stretched out his hand. "What's going on here?"
Sekowsky looked at the hand before shaking it. "General Swanwick ordered us to secure it." He shot a worried glance at Lois. "He wants Dr. Hamilton to examine it as soon as possible."
Lois winced. "Faora attacked while Dr. Hamilton and I were getting the starship drive running. I was knocked out the bomber's doors and Superman caught me, but Hamilton and Colonel Hardy were still on the plane when the Phantom Zone portal opened."
Sekowsky's strickened eyes glanced to where the Black Zero had hovered over Metropolis. "We'll have to contact DARPA."
"We have to check something first." Clark gave him an apologetic look before he walked into the crash.
"What? No, you can't, sir!" Sekowsky hurried after him.
Lois nearly trod on his heels when she followed them. "Technically, it belongs to him. He's the last Kryptonian and it is a Kryptonian ship."
"But that's why the General-" Sekowsky snapped his mouth shut when Clark turned.
"The General doesn't trust me." He turned back to the waist-high, black console that held a command key. Lois glanced around for another flying robot, but none appeared. Clark pulled the command key out, not that it had any effect on the ship. "This has Zod's symbol on it." He held it out so Sekowsky saw it. "The one my birth parents sent with me had a program of my father that could control the ship."
"Some sort of artificial intelligence?"
"I guess." Clark shrugged. "I'm not that familiar with computer and robot theory. Too bad he's in the Phantom Zone too now and you can't ask him. But that's why I'm doing this." His large hand curled around the black crystal-shaped metal until it shrieked with stress and snapped with sparks. He opened his fist and Sekowsky gaped at the mess of shards. "Just in case Zod did the same thing."
Sekowsky accepted the shards Clark poured into his hands. "Okay, that's probably safer." He swallowed hard. "Look, General Swanwick was emphatic that we not let you take this ship away again."
"So the military locks it away from everyone?" Lois' hands found her hips.
"Our first alien encounter almost destroyed us. The General is very concerned that items in here could do the same by accident."
"But Superman isn't the enemy."
"Ms. Lane, I'm under orders."
"Lois, you did a story on a scientific company that remains separate from governments and military work," Clark said.
That story was years old. Had he done a search for everything she had written? She ignored the warmth that bubbled up. "S.T.A.R. Labs, they refuse all military work."
"That's my price. You confiscate the scout ship, but S.T.A.R. Labs gets full access. Otherwise, I'll take it back."
"I don't think anyone will have a problem with that." Sekowsky nodded. "I'll send someone to their Metropolis office tonight."
"We'll be in touch." Clark held out his hand to Lois and she clasped it. Once they were out in the circle of light surrounding the ship, he scooped her up and they flew into the air. He swallowed hard. "Will you go back to Mom's with me?" She shifted in his arms to see his face better, but he read hesitation in the move. "If it's a problem, I'll take you wherever you need to go. But I need to make sure Mom's okay after all this."
"I don't have a problem with your mother." She adjusted her arms around his neck. "Does she have a problem with me? She did throw me off your farm, but it made my top five list of politest scram reporter comebacks."
"I don't think she has a problem with you," he said slowly.
"Okay, I'd like to pick up a bag from my apartment and then we can go to Smallville." She pointed toward her apartment building, which was in a corner of Metropolis that had missed being pulverized by Black Zero and Zod and Clark's fight.
Clark was amused by her multiple packed bags in her closet and accepted her ready for the story in any part of the world excuse with lips twitching. He slung her overnight duffle onto his shoulder and wrapped his free arm around her waist. Before she processed it, she was flying out of the city almost like he did, almost like dancing.
Smallville was a short flight southwest of Metropolis, even though they crossed three state lines. The town's neon store signs were lit on streets other than Main Street. The residential suburbs and outlying farms were lit with orange streetlights. The one above the Kent mailbox at the beginning of the long driveway still worked. The night was quiet enough to hear the television above the generator's motor. Lois recognized the voice of a CNN correspondent talking about the shelters in Metropolis; he always got first shot at the disaster stories. There was a light on in a shed behind the house.
Clark set down in the side yard equidistant from the house, barns, and the low slung shed. "Mom?"
The correspondent's voice cut off and Lois realized that part of the glow was a television set. The door slid open and the dog bounded out first, cavorting in front of Clark. He smiled as he scratched behind Dusty's ears.
"I thought you two might show up here." Martha Kent crossed the yard and cupped Clark's face. "You did good out there, Clark. Don't you dare let anyone tell you different." Her arms squeezed him.
"Thanks, Mom, but I wish it hadn't gone the way it did." He returned the hug. "You remember Lois?"
"I do. Welcome, Lois. I've got food ready and rigged the shower up in the barn."
Lois couldn't read the older woman's shadowed expression. "Food would be nice." She couldn't remember how long ago it was when she shoveled down an MRE at Peterson Air Base. "Thank you for letting me stay."
Martha waved off the thanks as she led them into the low shed. It turned out to cover an underground storm shelter built over the years. Shelves covered the walls except the rear one where wide bunk beds had been built. A folding card table was set up in the center of the underground space and a shelf at counter height held a Crockpot, coffee pot, and hot plate. The small television was on the shelf next to the miniature kitchen along with a battery-operated, storm radio. "Pick a bunk."
One bottom bunk was already made up, so Clark set Lois's bag on the other. "I've always taken the top bunk." He grabbed a duffle bag off the thin mattress, avoiding the lanterns hanging from the ceiling. "I'll take a shower before eating." He pulled a sleeping bag from the second highest shelf to the right and dropped it on his bunk. "Be back in a few."
The silence after he left was deafening. Lois took another sleeping bag and unfurled it on the naked mattress under the bunk Clark had picked. Bed made, she turned back to Martha. The unsmiling woman's voice wasn't hostile when she kicked one of the folding chairs. "Sit down before you fall down."
She obeyed while Martha stirred the contents of the Crockpot. "I don't know why I'm so tired. Clark was the one doing everything."
"You were the one running after him."
Lois wanted to say she was chasing the story, but what was the difference at this point? The sweetest and hottest kiss she had ever experienced while literally floating in the air; she didn't need to share that with Clark's mother.
Martha set a plastic bowl filled with beef stew in front of Lois. "Are you going to tell the world Clark's story?"
She blinked. "I want to tell the world Superman's story. And we all want to keep other reporters away, but I haven't started composing yet." That wasn't entirely true, but it was too hard to explain the writing process to non-writers.
Martha set two more bowls on the table before digging for the spoons. "He needs a way to be normal. That won't happen if everyone knows everything about him."
"Agreed." Lois took a spoon. "But the military was already here."
Martha smiled, hard and predatory. "Smallville won't give away Clark. I've been busy since you two left."
Lois blinked again. "Good, I was worried about that."
Martha considered her again. "You do care about him. Clark called you a friend, but he never had many of those." They both heard Clark before he started down the stairs. He wore a pair of battered blue jeans that snuggled his hips and a long-sleeved T-shirt with the sleeves shoved over his elbows. "Eat, Clark." Martha kicked the folding chair next to Lois.
"Yes, ma'am." He sat with a sigh. "How bad are the damages?"
"Brian Gerhardsson broke into tears when he saw the Sears store. I didn't have the heart to tell him about the truck through the roof here after that." Martha sat at the table.
"An insurance agent, well, the only one in Smallville," Clark explained. Lois nodded and yawned without dropping the stew out of her mouth. Clark looked at his mother. "How are we all going to rebuild? It's going to take money."
"The military liaison said the government would help, but no one around here is holding their breaths."
"Metropolis will need more money than us." His gaze fell on the dark television. "How many died?"
Martha looked confused. Lois rubbed her face. "We never stopped long enough to get numbers."
Martha nodded. "Nobody died in Smallville, but they were saying the death total in Metropolis will probably be in the hundreds." Clark's face fell. "Only the hundreds, son, because you got the people out who would have died trapped." She squeezed his hand.
"Lois helped too."
Sitting upright was too hard and his shoulder was at the right height to accept her leaning head. "I just channeled my father and barked orders. That's all."
"That's just the beginning," Clark said. He shifted, but his hands caught her before she toppled. "Bed before you pass out on me again."
She wanted to point out that passing out from anesthetic-less surgery was acceptable, but the yawn came out first. And then her mind drifted as soon as her back reclined on the mattress.
Daylight streamed in through the cracks in the hatch door when she woke. She was alone, but a paper-towel-wrapped breakfast sandwich waited on a paper plate. After wolfing it down, she dug out clean clothes and headed to the barn with an intact roof.
The shower was a garden hose connected to a handheld sprayer in a stall with a drain in its concrete floor. She gritted her teeth against the chill of the water and opted for turning it off between rinses. After the grime of the past two days was soaped off, she dressed and went looking for her hosts.
An SUV kicked up dust as it moved down the driveway. Clark and the dog sat on the front porch steps watching it leave. "Morning, you found the shower." He waved at Lois' still damp red hair. "Sorry it's so rustic."
"One of the better rustic ones I've had." She nodded at the driveway. "We had company already?"
"Pete came by to check on Mom and gave her a ride so she can buy a new truck. She won't let me pull the old one out of the house until the insurance adjuster sees it." He stood with a lazy backbend and Lois' mouth went dry. "I promised to take pictures and tarp the other barn while she's gone."
"Do you need help?"
He smiled. "Shouldn't you be writing the story about everything that happened instead of swinging a hammer?"
"I don't want to be rude."
"You're not. Go introduce Superman to the world."
She set up a temporary desk on a weathered picnic table under the large shade tree behind the house while he pulled building supplies from the ruined barn. The dog settled under the table. Soon her fingers were gliding over the tablet keyboard as she focused on her memories and ignored Clark flying to take pictures of the house and barn roofs. She started with how she released her first story to Woodburn and how he justified her calling the Metroleaks website a creeping cancer of falsehoods by outing his source. She would respect him more if he had just talked to the military instead of seeing him on CNN while she was dressing for work.
That was a fun couple of paragraphs to write. She moved into the heart of this piece, Clark's heart, his symbol that means hope (but was going to stand for Superman now), rescuing her from the military's clutches, agreeing to surrender to save the world, and Zod's treachery.
A water bottle slid against her arm before landing next to her tablet. She said thank you as she read over her words, adjusting the flow of them between sips. Clark chuckled as he moved away. The hammer banged against nail and wood while she sped through her escape from the Black Zero with hologram Jor-El's help to the Battle of Smallville. No internet connection, damn, she needed to see what spin was being put out about it. "Hey Clark, who has wifi around here?"
He floated from the barn. "The IHOP offers internet." He winced. "No, Faora and I fought through the IHOP. The library's on Third Street; we didn't fight there. Do you need to get online right now?"
"Some time today. I need to email my sister and let her know I'm okay." She stretched and focused on Clark's reddening face. "I don't know what the military has already said about the Battle of Smallville and we don't want everyone else to camp out here."
"I don't want anyone bothering Mom either, but if I keep lying to people, they won't trust me."
Lois straddled the bench and looked at him. His feet were on the ground so she didn't have to crane her neck much. "People are going to want to know why they came here of all the places in the world to attack."
"They were looking for the Codex so they could rebuild Krypton on Earth and thought it was hidden in the ship that brought me here."
"We can work with that." She turned back to the keyboard and typed it. "I thought Zod came here to hurt your mom for raising you."
"Secondary consideration," Clark said. "Krypton had population control. The Codex was used to inscribe the genetic attributes into an artificially incubated baby to fill a predetermined role in society."
"And the scout ship had embryos on it."
He nodded. "When my birth parents discovered Krypton was destroying itself, they had me," his cheeks flushed more, "the old fashioned way. Jor-El wanted me to be a bridge between humans and Kryptonians, so he must have intended for me to eventually raise them. I don't think the survival of Zod's forces was part of his plan."
"And you destroyed the embryos to stop Zod from creating his version of Krypton."
"Krypton had its chance." Clark shrugged. "Jor-El and Lara wanted me to be able to choose. Billions of lives versus hundreds of possible lives wasn't much of a choice."
"Do you want all that in my story?"
"I trust you, Lois. Help them see me like you do." He picked up a blue, plastic tarp and rose into the air.
"Photo shoot with the suit will help," she muttered under her breath.
"My mom will see this story."
She dived back into her words, explaining the situation in Smallville in a few sentences before plunging ahead to the Battle of Metropolis and what they accomplished. She needed to interview Clark on what he did to the world engine, but for now she focused on the heroics of Colonel Hardy and Dr. Hamilton. They had flown out to bomb the Black Zero and sacrificed their lives to save the Earth.
Now she was up to the battle between Superman and Zod. She had questions to ask Clark about that too-because she knew she had missed chunks of their exchange-and she felt like punching the asshole. Might as well admit that so she did, but left out the part of her interrogation where she learned why Zod wanted to kill everyone on Earth. No, she would not put that devastated look on Clark's face again.
Martha returned in a gleaming blue truck while Lois was describing the rescue scenes from last night. "That'll keep the rain out." She looked up at the blue tarp covered barn. "Brian is on his way over to see the damage."
Lois' fingers hovered over the keyboard. "Should I hide?"
"I don't see why. You're Clark's friend; that's all they need to know." Clark brought a plate of sandwiches and three water bottles from the storm shelter. "So, son, you're going to keep doing this saving the world thing?"
"When it needs it." He set lunch on the picnic table. "If what I can do saves people's lives, I have to keep doing it." He set one of the water bottles in Lois' reach.
Martha picked up a sandwich as she sat. "What are you going to do when you're not saving the world? Continuing tramping on odd jobs?"
"It wasn't a bad way to see the world." He sat across the table from Martha and Lois. "But I always ended up leaving people in a lurch." Lois opened her water bottle while Clark mused. "I gotta find a job where I can keep my ear to the ground, where people won't look twice when I wanna go somewhere dangerous or start asking questions."
"Can you write?" Lois asked. Martha and Clark looked at her. "You just described what I do everyday."
A few days later, Clark Kent's account of the Battle of Smallville and its rebuilding efforts was published in the local paper and then were picked up by the AP. The Daily Planet published Lois' Superman story, the military debriefed her (and finally stopped asking for Superman's identity), and by the end of September, Clark was hired as a stringer for the Planet and moved to Metropolis. That same week, Superman dug out survivors of back to back earthquakes in Pakistan and Lois wrote up that story. She also won the argument that he could sleep on her couch while he looked for his own apartment. When he got back from rescuing people from Cyclone Phailin and writing up that adventure, she consoled herself with a new king-size bed and Clark helped break it in. Sleeping together made it easier to soothe him from his nightmares, even if he told Martha when they saw her for Thanksgiving he was still looking for an apartment. Martha wasn't fooled and asked Lois (after sending Clark to town for cranberry sauce) if he was pulling his weight with the chores.
November rolled into the Christmas holiday season. Lois took refuge in her work, though Metropolis' celebration was focused on helping the still displaced citizens. She was compiling police reports on a strange weapon that was available on the streets when Superman landed on the balcony and joined her without changing out of the cape. "General Swanwick has left you alone, right?"
"Haven't seen any soldiers. What happened?"
Clark dropped into his easy chair. "He sicced a drone on me. I think it's been in the air since Typhoon Haiyan. I slammed his twelve million dollar piece of hardware in front of his car and told him he had to convince Washington I'm not the enemy."
Lois snorted. "Should I go lean on our congressmen in Washington? One of the representatives is on the Armed Services Committee."
"Give General Swanwick a chance to do the right thing."
"They aren't dedicating drones to find Batman and Wonder Woman and she flies too."
He stared at her. "I read that story. You didn't say she flew."
"I'm pretty sure I didn't leave that detail out." She shuffled the police reports around her desk. "Who is making these guns?"
"Batman had a plane when he kept Gotham from blowing up. Is that what you mean?" She couldn't identify the note in his voice.
"If she had a plane, it was invisible. I saw Batman and Catwoman smooch like there was no tomorrow and they grabbed one of Wonder Woman's arms and she flew off with them. I put it in the story."
"I didn't read that."
She pulled up the Daily Planet's online archive of articles. That story was published in July so it was available behind the paywall. She recognized the paragraphs as she scanned over it. The surprising takeoff had been the third paragraph from the end's opener. And it was gone. "What the hell?"
"So I am remembering right?" Clark looked over her shoulder. "It isn't in the published story."
"Perry edited it out!"
"I'm sure that looked reasonable from his end. After all, people don't fly."
"I'll great Caesar's ghost his ass," she crossed her arms as she leaned back. Then she chuckled. "And a month later, I come back with a story that an alien saved my life and only my gnarly scar proves it. No wonder he refused to publish it. I'm lucky he didn't ask me to take a nice vacation with a mental health professional."
His hand slid across her side and rested over that scar. "What do you know about this Wonder Woman?"
"My description remained intact." She thought back. "Batman called her something else in Greek. Interpol started calling her Wonder Woman after the story published. She fought with a rope."
"She lassoed the mercenaries and they confessed all their sins. And her punch packed a wallop. Why are you so curious?"
He didn't look at her or the computer. "The astronauts in the scout ship died in their pods, all but one. It was empty and open when I went inside. What if Wonder Woman is Kryptonian? And she's been hiding all this time?"
He wouldn't be alone. Lois knew she was a sorry substitute for losing his entire people, but she couldn't blame him. "She hasn't looked for us either."
"Maybe Batman convinced her it wasn't a good idea. The news reports during his heyday weren't sympathetic." Clark straightened. "You don't think it's a good idea to look for her?"
"I don't want her to hurt you." Or me, she added to herself. "But if you want to spend Christmas searching Gotham City for clues where Batman has gone, unwrapping presents can wait." He grinned before kissing her cheek. "But you have to break it to your mother."
"I will. You got a reason to go to Gotham for Perry?" He headed toward their bedroom.
"He'll probably love a compare and contrast on the rebuilding of two great American cities. We can collaborate on it. This weird gun case can wait." She reached for her cell phone.