Season 5, following my story "Never Let Me Go"
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
The Kryptonian symbols on the knife blade glowed as it sailed through the air. It struck squarely into Fine's chest. He flung his head back and his arms outward, and the crystal handle of the knife began to glow red. Clark saw with shock that the console, the grouping of crystals that served as the brain of the Fortress was glowing red too, and suddenly a red light shot out from the console to the knife.
The Fortress began to shake violently, and a shock wave sent Clark staggering backward. He steadied himself, braced his feet apart, and stared at the robot in dismay.
I have a really bad feeling about this, he thought.
He'd expected the robot to disappear in a flash of white light, the way he always did. He hadn't expected the dagger to start glowing. And he sure as hell hadn't expected the knife to somehow tie the robot into the Fortress' console. No one could affect the Fortress except him.
But by throwing the knife, he realized, he'd somehow granted the robot access to the Fortress' systems.
"Holy shit," he whispered, staring at Fine. "What have I done?"
Fine's eyes were closed, but he lifted his voice, sounding like an evangelist proclaiming the second coming of Christ. "You've opened the portal for Zod!"
Shit, Clark thought again. So totally not what I meant to do.
Zod was a phantom, a disembodied spirit imprisoned in the Phantom Zone, who needed a body to walk around the Earth. He was a general who'd been the mortal enemy of Clark's father, and who had evidently single-handedly destroyed Krypton. In a different timeline, Zod had chosen to inhabit Clark's body, which was of course superior to humans', being superfast and superstrong and impervious to harm. If Zod was truly being released, it figured that he'd try to force his way into Clark's body now.
Go ahead, you bastard, Clark thought, bracing himself to be invaded, bracing himself for the fight of a lifetime. Go ahead and try, you son of a bitch. I dare you.
More crimson light shot out from Fine's chest, but instead of slamming into Clark, it shot toward Chloe. Even Clark couldn't move at the speed of light, and before he could think about trying to protect her, the column of light knocked him aside, flinging him to the ground. The light blazed through Chloe's torso, so dazzlingly bright it hurt Clark's eyes.
At the same moment, the blue-white light faded from the crystalline walls of the Fortress, and the whole structure suddenly went dark.
The brilliant light died out, Fine disappeared in a flash of red light, and the fabric of reality seemed to shudder and writhe for an instant, giving Clark a horrible sensation of extreme vertigo. He felt as disoriented as he'd ever felt in his life, so disoriented that he had to clamp his jaws shut and swallow hard to fight back a wave of nausea. Then the strange shuddering died away, and so did the awful sensation.
Chloe sat up on the ice slab, blinking in the near-darkness.
Clark got to his feet and held out a hand to her, hoping against hope that she was all right. "Chlo," he whispered desperately. "Chloe?"
She turned her head and regarded him. Her hazel eyes, ordinarily so warm and lively, were cool and calculating. She rose to her feet and walked toward him, studying him like he was an insect pinned to a board for her inspection, and some instinct warned him he should back away.
But he held his ground, and she placed her hand on his cheek. He realized with despair that the warm buzzing sensation of their EM fields intersecting was gone. Their bond was gone.
Chloe was gone.
"You have your father's eyes," she said softly, looking up into his face. "Hello, Kal-El."
A terrible dread gripped him, and he spoke in a choked voice. "Where's Chloe?"
"Chloe is dead," she said in a perfectly unmoved voice. "You killed her just as effectively as if you had struck that dagger directly into her heart. Brainiac was created to serve Kryptonians, and he knew you couldn't kill her deliberately. He knew that you would choose to kill him rather than your lifemate. But he also realized that when I was freed, your lifemate would die. So he tricked you into releasing me, and fixing the space-time continuum, all in the same rash action." She smiled slightly. "So rash. So foolish. So hard-headed. Just like your father."
Fixing the space-time continuum. Clark thought about it and realized that the flood of memories pressing against the edges of his consciousness were gone. He remembered the way reality had seemed to writhe for a horrible, disorienting moment, and realized that in that instant, the space-time continuum had folded back in on itself, collapsing back into a single timeline. He'd fixed the rupture in space-time, but at a terrible cost.
Because if the rupture was repaired, then Chloe must be dead.
"Jor-El," he whispered, gazing up into the now-dark Fortress in a desperate plea for help. "Father."
"Oh, he's gone too," she said, smiling slightly. "You are alone now, Kal-El. And you will serve me, or I will destroy this body, and you will lose any possibility of ever recovering your lifemate."
A faint, feeble hope flickered within him. Maybe Chloe wasn't truly dead after all. Maybe she'd just been... pushed aside somehow.
Or maybe Zod was lying to make him think Chloe could be recovered. That unfortunately seemed quite likely. Nothing Clark had ever learned about Zod had given him the impression that Zod was trustworthy.
He wanted to imagine that Chloe's consciousness was still somewhere in her body, locked away rather than gone for good, but he couldn't feel any hint of her. And Jor-El had told him that the only way to fix the rupture in space-time was for Chloe to die. So it seemed almost certain that she was dead.
Even so, he couldn't risk angering Zod if there was the slightest chance he could get Chloe back somehow. He did his best to ignore his heartache and scowled at her.
"Why are you here?"
"For the same reason as anyone who'd been imprisoned like a beast. Revenge." Her voice went very cold. "Your father banished me to an eternal hell trying to save a doomed race. And in the end, the only survivor of his pathetic crusade was his son."
"Then this is between us. The people of Earth did nothing to harm you."
"No. But you feel no pain greater than to see others in agony, especially people on your adopted planet." She smiled Chloe's beautiful smile, but it was touched with cruelty. It was her sweet, innocent smile, but corrupted into something that was neither sweet nor innocent. "And I would see Jor-El's son suffer."
He glared at her defiantly. "I won't let you destroy this planet like you did Krypton."
"You don't have a choice... unless you join me."
"I'll never join you."
"You think not?" She laughed softly. "Your lifemate gave herself up to me voluntarily. Did you know that?"
"She did not. She'd never do that."
"To save you and all of the universe? Of course she would. She was very nearly as foolishly noble as you are." Her voice dripped with disdain. "She and Brainiac made a bargain. She agreed to retrieve you in order to save reality, but only if Brainiac would spare you the fate of becoming my vessel. She offered to take your place, and he prepared her body for my possession. It is now as strong and fast and invulnerable as your body is." She smiled coldly. "And best of all... she gave herself to me of her own free will."
"She didn't really have any choice. She was trying to save me."
"Yes, that sounds very noble. But she wanted this." Chloe's mouth curved in a smile, and it was such a cold, cruel smile that a shiver ran down his spine. "On some level, she wanted this sort of power for her own. Not long ago, she gained superpowers, if only for an hour... and she liked it. Who wouldn't? She wanted to be as strong and invincible as you. On some level, she was envious of your powers, and coveted them for her own."
He remembered how psyched she'd been to find herself with superpowers, and how disappointed she'd been to lose them, and he realized that on some level, she might well have wanted to be super. But he knew Chloe well enough to know she'd never endanger the world by acting as a host to Zod unless she'd truly had no choice.
She'd sacrificed herself to save reality, and to save him. She was a hero. He was bleakly certain of that. But it did little to comfort him for her loss.
He'd found her after so many long, empty years, only to lose her again.
She seemed oblivious to his despair, or more likely she just didn't care. "Join with me, son of Jor-El," she said softly. "Together, we can rule this planet."
He remembered the sentence that had been written in the spaceship that had sent him to Earth: Rule them with strength. He'd never been certain why his parents had left that message for him, but he'd decided long ago that it didn't matter, because he would never abuse his powers that way. He felt oddly certain his purpose was to serve Earth, not to rule it.
"No," he said again. "I won't let you destroy Earth like you did Krypton."
She smiled, a cold smile that somehow made the Fortress seem darker. "Jor-El couldn't stop me, and neither will his son."
He lunged for her, and she raised her hand and struck him across the face, hard. He flew backward and slammed into one of the crystal outcroppings, so hard that all the breath was driven from him. He bounded to his feet and lunged again, trying to immobilize her, rather than actually hurt her, and she hit him with a punch that sent him sailing a good thirty feet through the air before he slammed into a wall.
He got to his feet, more slowly this time, and glared at her. This was fruitless. Zod had military training and killer instincts, and whatever they'd done to Chloe's body had made her a match for him physically. He didn't have much chance of taking her down without really hurting her, and he couldn't hit her back, couldn't truly fight her, because that was Chloe's body, and if there was the slightest chance she could be gotten back... well, he couldn't risk it. Anyway, he couldn't hurt an entity who looked so much like his lifemate. He just couldn't.
He lifted his chin stubbornly, stalking toward her. "Then I'll die trying."
"But you won't be the only one." She spoke slowly, deliberately, as if he were a child. He supposed that to Zod, he was little more than a child. "These humans you care so much about... swear your allegiance to me, and I'll allow the ones you love most to live."
He stared at her steadily. "The one I want most is my lifemate. I want Chloe back."
"I told you, Kal-El. She's already dead."
"I don't believe that. I can't believe that." He paused in front of her and looked at her imploringly, his voice very soft. "Please. You can have my body instead. I'll give it to you freely, if you just let her go."
"So noble and self-sacrificing," she scoffed. "Just like your father. But I have no interest in your body. This one is perfect for my purposes."
He was fairly certain she'd rather have his body, which possessed superpowers naturally, and he suspected the fact that she'd declined the trade he offered meant Chloe couldn't be retrieved. But he had no way of knowing for sure. He bent his head and swallowed hard against the grief and the pain that threatened to choke him.
"If you do not join with me," she said, "everyone that you ever loved will be destroyed, while you watch. I have an army in place, thanks to Brainiac's tireless recruitment efforts, and already my people are moving to take over the planet. Join with me, son of Jor-El."
He hesitated, and she spoke with soft intensity, staring into his eyes. "Kneel before Zod."
He stared at her a long moment. He didn't dare defy her outright, because she wore Chloe's body, and he didn't doubt she'd destroy it if he angered her. He remembered her words: You will serve me, or I will destroy this body, and you will lose any possibility of ever recovering your lifemate.
If there was the slightest chance of getting Chloe back, he had to keep her body safe. He had to. He'd vowed to keep her safe. He'd promised.
I will always come to you
Protect you from danger
Guard you from enemies...
He couldn't kill Zod, any more than he'd been able to kill Chloe. But he thought of everyone he loved being killed, right in front of him, the way Chloe had been, and he knew he couldn't permit that, either. He couldn't allow people to die unnecessarily, whether they were the people he loved or perfect strangers. Somehow, he had to save as many people as possible. And he could only think of one way to do that, could only see one path that might permit him to protect the world and Chloe's body all at once.
Slowly, he dropped to his knees... and knelt before Zod.
Read the sequel, Wherever You Will Go.