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Bearing Fruit

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Bruce joins them for Thanksgiving dinner, and everyone comes out afterward to sip hot cider under Clark. He's glad to be included, and happy to let Bruce climb him and just sit there beside the fruit, basking in its warmth. Everyone says it's getting hotter every day, but other than knowing that the baby is comfortable, he has a hard time knowing that kind of thing. Now Bruce measures the exact temperature and the circumference of the fruit, noting small color changes and muttering to himself as he takes notes.

"I'm going to want to run tests on this rind, after." he says at last.

"Of course you are," Lois says, and Clark chuckles, a little snow falling from his leaves.

"So will I. This has been strange."

Bruce's expression softens. "I'll bet."

Ma comes forward and pats Clark's trunk. "We hope you'll be able to eat Christmas dinner with us, but I can always make a nice meal later."

"Speaking of meals, son," Pa adds, warming his hands on his mug of cider, "are you sure you don't need mulch or anything?"

"I feel good," Clark says, losing a little snow as he instinctively tries to shrug.

Pa just smiles, and leans against Clark. "That's good, son."

Even as all the other trees go completely dormant, Clark's mind is becoming more active and more awake as the fruit gets even heavier. The weight has gone from nearly unnoticeable to cumbersome, and Clark groans as he shifts just a little bit, relieving one aching branch. Soon now, soon. The baby moves less now, because it has less room, and the rind has deepened from green to deep, dark, royal blue. Lois says there's a violet blush on the bottom curve, and as the winter deepens Clark can see it crawling up the sides toward the stem. There's a clear patch under Clark where he has been melting the snow away all winter, and it's convenient for Lois to make her way out to him. She checks on him constantly as the day draws nearer and nearer. None of them are exactly sure what will happen. It's not as if trees have labor pains, and Clark starts to have awful waking reverie-dream-things about fruit rotting on the vine, about watermelons cracking open to reveal gray sludge, and the sound of wailing babies.

In the end, Clark just knows. One morning he wakes up feeling like he has to move, like he's all bound up in the earth and inside the rind of the fruit and can't bear it for one more minute. He's about to scream for someone to come and dig him up when Lois comes out for her usual morning visit. When she sees the way Clark's leaves are trembling she comes running and climbs up into him, kissing his cheek and asking if he's okay. With her there, he is, and stills.

"Yes. It's today. Pick the fruit."

It's too heavy and too hot for Lois to do it by herself, but with Pa's help and the huge towel Ma thinks to bring, Lois is able to pluck their baby from its dried up stem without burning her hands, and she and Pa stagger back a little with the weight before setting it on the ground, where it billows steam into the frosty air. They're just looking to Clark again when he starts to change. It's more comfortable going back, without that nauseated, choking feeling, and within minutes he's pulling his feet from the frozen earth. Ma looks up from the fruit and beams at him. He doesn't feel awkward at all, still thinking like a tree. "What now, Clark?"

Clark shrugs, looking into the fruit where the baby is all bunched up and looking fussy and beautiful. "I guess we just take it inside and cut the rind open." The fruit has been losing heat since Lois picked it, and by the time they reach the house, Clark is carrying it in his arms, the towel around his waist. Now it's just fever-warm, and everyone touches the rind as Clark sets the fruit on the kitchen table, looking into it again to figure out how best to free his child.

The rind is thickest near the stem, so Clark sets the fruit up on its round bottom and slices the top off, passing it to Pa, who pokes curiously at the thick purple skin and the pale red-lavender flesh. It's like softer and more moist orange zest, about four inches thick. The cut side of the fruit shows a thin, tough membrane with purple-black beneath it. "Ma, can you get me a stock pot or something?"

"Of course," she says, and fetches the enormous copper-bottomed one that she used to make twenty packages of spaghetti at once when Clark was a teenager, and for making soup for the Firemen's Charity Supper. The fruit fits with room to spare, and Clark carefully tears the membrane, sending up a rush of sweet, dark purple juice. There's a bubbly bawling noise, and then Clark slides his hands into the inner cavity and hauls out the baby, fat and tightly curled up, skin stained a vivid purple. Lois laughs, and the baby looks over at her. It doesn't seem truly newborn, closer to a six-week-old baby. Clark beams, and flash-boils some water with his heat vision, breathing on it to cool it down and then carefully washing his daughter with Lois's help.

"So, looks like we're going with Doris after all," Lois says, beaming. It's her grandmother's name, and had ended up the favored choice for a girl. Clark smiles. "Looks like it."

Her whole, fat, happy little body clean, Doris shows no inclination whatsoever to sleep, cooing and babbling in Clark's arms. Ma pins a diaper together for her, since the package of Newborn Size is too small, and all four of them are left free to adore the baby and to wonder what on earth they're going to do with all this alien fruit.

"Figure we should bury it, Clark?" Pa asks, and Clark's stomach growls. He feels a sudden and true deep-winter hunger for fresh fruit, and glances over at the vivid flesh in the pot, blushing and shrugging.

"Well, I've been doing this whole thing by instinct..." Just to be safe, though, he leaves Doris with Lois and makes a quick flight to the Fortress with a piece of the fruit as well as some juice for analysis. Both turn out to be harmless to humans, and full of valuable vitamins, trace minerals, and other beneficial things. Jor-El also says that Clark's hunger is completely normal for his situation. With that in order, he eats the samples and flies back to tell the others.

The fruit has a very nice flavor, rich and berrylike with a hint of something that has to be called maple for lack of a better name. Even though Pa says it's 'kinda cannibalistic for my tastes, son,' he tries some along with everyone else. Clark eats a huge chunk, and Doris drinks the juice hungrily from a bottle and gums ferociously on small pieces, devouring the scraped and mashed flesh from a spoon as fast as Ma can prepare it.

Over the next few days Doris fades from violet to pink, and her eyes darken from baby blue to her mother's dark brown. She's active and coordinated, wiggling in people's arms so much it worries them, but she almost never fusses, too easily fascinated by the world around her to stay in a bad mood. Ma systematically bakes the last of the fruit into pies, and Clark takes samples to keep at the Fortress. He takes Doris with him when he does, so she can stare at her holographic grandparents and try to pet the baby sun-eater. Bruce has thoughtfully provided them a certificate of home birth with a doctored date that makes Doris the right age, but there's one more thing to do. Clark holds his daughter close as he sears her name into a traditional golden tablet, just like the images of his own, which was too heavy to come with him and blew up with the rest of Krypton.

"Welcome to the family, Dara-El."