Redesign by Djinn
It was the strangest of times. Superheroes and their alter egos had been split apart by some unknown force, and it wasn't clear if it was a permanent state or not. But it had gone on long enough that Clark had stopped waiting for Diana to come with news that she and Arthur had found the cure.
He'd gone on with his life. Clark's part of Superman's life. He'd thrown himself with a will back into his marriage.
But he still felt diminished. As if the better part of himself were up with the JLA, not living on terra firma.
And he could tell Diana was worried about him. She'd popped by several times, and during the last visit, she'd tried to find out how he was doing...and how he and Lois were doing--he thought she felt guilty that his marriage had nearly broken apart after her bargain with that damned Alcmaeon. He hadn't wanted to talk about Lois; he'd barely wanted to talk about his feelings. And he hadn't wanted to stay on the roof, said he didn't like talking up there anymore, that heights made him nervous.
He'd been lying. And he'd thought that Diana had known it. But he hadn't felt like changing his story, and she hadn't called him on it. She'd probably thought that he'd been trying to get away from her for one of two reasons: she'd reminded him of a life he would never have, or he hadn't wanted Lois to catch him talking to her.
He hadn't told her that there was a third reason: that Lois wasn't precisely thrilled with his new--less super--self. That he was lonely. That Diana was still as beautiful to him as ever. That he wanted her. Even if he didn't think he was the man to do anything about that. The man who could was the big guy in the tights and cape up in the satellite. That man, that Superman, was free to be with Diana now, and it hadn't escaped Clark's notice that she had changed the subject quickly when he'd asked her about his more super twin.
They'd stayed away from each other since that night. Until this evening, when Diana had called to check on him. On this, the latest of many nights when Lois had decided to work late--running all over town on a story she'd told him she didn't need help with.
"Come over," he'd said to Diana, not knowing he was going to say the words until they were out of his mouth.
"Now?" she'd asked. She never dropped by at dinnertime. Things were too raw between her and Lois for her to intrude on Lois's private time with him. "Where? Your apartment?"
"The roof," he'd said. Lois wouldn't expect him to be there if she did come home--not that he expected her to come home--and the rooftop was a piece of his old life.
"All right," Diana had said, but she'd sounded confused. "I'll be right there."
He'd taken the stairs to the roof, inflicting the feeling of being winded and a little sweaty on himself. He had a body to die for, and he was completely out of shape, had never had to work for his bulk. And before too much longer, his body was going to cease being buff and turn into something much softer if he didn't start working out.
Diana wasn't there when he opened the door to the roof, so he sat near the edge of the building, watching the lights of his amazing city wink on.
He didn't turn around. "Come sit." He heard her walking over, could feel the rush of air as she sat quickly, then felt her knee pressed up against his own.
"You okay?" she asked.
He didn't answer, just turned to look at her. "I've missed you."
"I've missed you too."
He laughed, the sound too human, too bitter. "Right. When you have super me?"
"I don't have him. He's not the kind of guy you have."
"No." She reached over, took his hand in hers. "Why the roof? You said heights bothered you."
An awkward silence fell between them, but she didn't let go and neither did he. Finally, he asked, "What's he like?"
"Dedicated," she answered without hesitation.
"Yeah. A real paragon." He brushed some dust from his jeans.
"No, I mean dedicated. As in nothing else matters." She smiled at him when he turned to look at her. "As in...no personality."
"Hmmm." Suddenly, he quit worrying about her and Super-dullard and began to worry about the uber Batman. "And you and Bruce's alter ego? How do you two get on?"
"Again. Not what you'd call a fun guy to pal around with." She met his eye. "Although from what I hear, neither is Bruce."
"Yeah, I've heard that too." He heard a lot as a reporter. More than he'd been aware of when he'd been Superman. He had more access as just plain Clark than he'd ever realized.
"Bruce is kind of a jerk," she said softly, as if it was a betrayal. "A really violent jerk."
He squeezed her hand. "Isn't that what you thought of him before?"
"Oh? What else did you think about him?"
"Quit fishing. My relationship with him is my business."
"So you admit you have a relationship?" The teasing had dropped out of his voice; he knew they were straying onto dangerous ground. But it...bugged him. Or had bugged him. Ever since Alcmaeon, something had changed between Bruce and Diana.
He dropped her hand, practically jerked away from her. "Don't call me that."
"Why not?" She was looking at him as if he'd grown two heads.
"Because he's Kal, not me. I'm Clark." He wondered if she could hear the "just" in the name. Just Clark. Only ever Clark.
"No, he's Superman. You're Kal. And you're Clark." She looked as if she thought this was very elementary.
"No. He's Kal. He's the Kryptonian."
"He's only the alien. The creature who's stronger here, under our yellow sun. You're the man who Kal would have been on Krypton. Not a superman. Just a man. A good man. A fun man. A man with personality."
He stared at her. It had never occurred to him that he still had a right to his Kryptonian name. But she made sense. If he'd stayed on his own world, lived out his life as Kal-El, he'd only have been a normal man.
"Did you really think you weren't Kal anymore?"
"Yes. I did." He pushed himself to his feet, walked close to the edge, dangerously close.
She was there instantly, just as he'd known she would be. "What are you doing?"
"Nothing." He looked down at her, he was still taller than her. "I miss it. I lied."
He nodded. "And flying. I miss that so much."
"If Lois weren't due home, you could fly with me."
He looked down. "She's not due home anytime soon."
"Take me flying, Diana."
"Kal. All the trouble we caused. Are you sure you want to--"
"--She's not coming home for hours. And I want to fly. I want to see the city from above. High above."
"All right." She moved closer, smiling as if in embarrassment. "I usually make people face away from me when I do this. Much less intimate."
"We've been in more intimate situations." He could feel himself blushing, hoped she'd find it charming, or, better yet, that it was too dark for her to see him doing it.
"Yes. We have been." She pulled him close, holding him tightly.
Then she stepped off, falling lightly away from the building, and, for a moment, he thought he was too heavy for her. His stomach dropped to his toes, and he felt like throwing up.
"Please tell me you're not going to vomit."
"I'm not going to vomit," he said, trying his best to make sure that it was not a lie.
"That's the other reason I have them face away," she whispered in his ear, making him laugh and almost forget that all he wanted to do was hurl his leftover Thai food into the dark night.
As she flew them over Metropolis, her arms holding him securely, he began to relax, and finally could enjoy the sight he'd thought was lost to him.
"Lovely," he murmured.
She nestled against him, her head buried in his neck, and seemed to trust him to tell her if she was in danger of flying them into anything solid. "I miss you so, Kal. Lois got the better part of this deal."
"Tell that to Lois," he said, finding it much easier to talk about his marriage from the air, from the familiar feeling of being above his troubles.
"You and she are having problems...?"
"We'd just started to talk--I mean really talk--again. And then this." He saw the Daily Planet come in sight, decided he didn't want to fly over it. "Go left, Diana. Take us to the park."
She did what he asked, flying over the park, finally touching down when he pointed to his favorite place to walk. He'd come to this remote part of the park often when he'd needed time alone.
"So what's the problem? Now that you don't have to answer a JLA distress call every five minutes, you can talk even more."
"She misses Superman."
"I'm sure she doesn't. She married you, Clark. Remember when you lost your powers?"
He nodded. "But there wasn't another Superman running around then. I think...I think she wonders if maybe she and he would be better than she and I are."
"Oh, no. She and he would not. Would really not." Diana sighed. "Did I mention the no personality issue?"
"You did." And even on repeat it made him feel better.
They walked for a few moments in silence, then he looked over at her. "Do you love him, Diana?"
"Do I have to discuss personality again, Kal? I like my men with some charm." She took his arm, walking close to him and smiling up at him.
"Do you still love me?"
Sighing, he kissed the top of her head, letting his lips linger on her hair. It was safe that way, safe to say what was really bothering him. "She and I...we made love the first night after I came back this way. But not since. I'm not...I'm not a superman in bed anymore."
She didn't move, letting him rest his lips on her hair as she held tight to his arm. "You're human."
"I know. And apparently, not that good."
"I don't believe that. It's just different."
"It's just ordinary."
She did pull away then, stared up at him, her eyes blazing. "So what? She's ordinary."
He was surprised at her words, realized she was right. "I never thought of it that way."
"Well, you should."
"Would you want to...with me? I mean, now? The way I am now?"
She didn't answer.
"Never mind. That was a stupid thing to ask." He started to walk away.
He stopped. "Really?"
"Yes. You didn't mean now as in right this minute, did you?"
He laughed. "No. I meant hypothetically."
"Good." She looked relieved. "I've felt guilty enough over Lois without adding this to the mix." She touched his arm; her fingers on his skin were gentle, tender.
It made him feel worlds better that she still cared for him. Plain old Clark still made her heart go pitter-patter. Or else she was lying through her teeth. Either way, a nice gesture. "If things continue the way they're going, I may show up on your doorstep."
She looked up at him seriously, her eyes solemn. "You'd be welcome."
He couldn't stand it anymore; he leaned down and kissed her. Just one kiss. Not a very long one. But a connection. A reminder that in this topsy-turvy world some things stayed the same.
Even if it was a thing he shouldn't have, a thing he shouldn't want.
He started walking again, pulling her along with him. He noticed her step was light, her touch on his arm still so sweet. "So I got all the personality, huh?"
"And the taste."
"What do you mean?"
"He sort of redesigned your uniform."
He felt her shaking, wondered if she was crying for some strange reason, and looked over at her. She wasn't crying, she was laughing. Silently, almost hysterically. In a way he'd never seen before. "Diana?"
She stopped for a moment, then she laughed again and this time it wasn't silent. She didn't make a lot of noises, but this was a seriously amused Amazon clutching his arm. She finally pulled herself together. "I'm sorry. I've had to hold it in every time I work with him. It's the dumbest outfit I've ever seen."
Again he felt unaccountably pleased at the comparison. "Yeah?" Then he looked at her uniform, thought of his own. "My old one wasn't exactly a work of art. And yours, while aesthetically quite pleasing, is not the most practical thing." He waggled his eyebrows as he let his eyes come to rest on her cleavage.
She slugged him. It hurt...quite a lot.
She was instantly contrite. "Oh goddesses, Kal. I forgot."
"It's okay," he said, as he rubbed his arm. "I don't need those muscles. Really."
"I'm sorry." She leaned up, kissing his cheek chastely. When she pulled away, she said, "Have you ever noticed that the superheroes who design their own outfits look so much cooler?"
"Yes," he said, thinking of Batman--he looked sinister just ordering fries and a shake. "That's what we get for letting our parents dress us funny."
"So what's so awful about my new uniform? What color is it?"
"That doesn't sound so bad."
"Hmm." He'd gotten used to the cape. But it was a mother to fold down into his shirts. "That'd be okay."
"It's one piece, the "S" is nice. It's yellow with red inside."
"He reversed it."
"But tastefully." She began to giggle.
In all the years he'd known her, he'd never heard her giggle that way. "What?"
"Well, that's the front. The front's okay. But the back. Or lack thereof..." At his look, she reached into his shirt pocket, pulling out a pen and the pad he always carried. "Let me show you." She drew quickly, then handed the pad back.
"You must be joking?" He touched the spot she'd made look the same shape as his "S" insignia. Only it appeared to be a big cut-out. "What the...?"
"That's skin showing. Arthur doesn't get it, either."
"And what's this?" Clark asked, fingering something sort of rippled that she'd drawn down the sides of the sleeves. It looked...it looked like the front of one of the tux shirts he'd worn to the prom in high school. "These aren't..."
"Oh, yes they are. Ruffles."
"Yes. Congratulations, Kal. Your alter ego is a can-can girl." She leaned in closer. "Arthur calls him Prancer. But...uh...not to his face."
Clark giggled. He looked over at her. "You're not just saying this to make me feel better, are you?"
"No. It's the truth." She laughed again. "Besides, I couldn't make this up if I wanted to. I don't have that much imagination."
He smiled. "Thank you."
"For making me feel better about who I am."
"I've never forgotten who you are. Why should you?" She reached up, her hand gentle on his cheek. "You want me to fly you home?"
"I think I'll walk."
She didn't look like she thought that was a good idea. "It's the park. And it's night."
He knew there'd be joggers and people walking their dogs and probably some jerks too, but he'd chance it. It was his life, and he was going to live it. "I'll be fine."
"All right then." She leaned in, laying her lips against his softly and very quickly. "I'll see you."
Then she took off into the sky. But he had a feeling she'd be tailing him to make sure he got home safely.
Watching Diana's reflection as she stood talking to Arthur, Kal was content to just stand and stare out the satellite viewport. It felt so good to be back in his old body--to be whole again. He saw Bruce wave to him as he walked toward the teleporter, his stride steady--the old Batman. He knew his friend was glad to be the complete man too.
Kal caught Diana's eye for a moment, then realized Arthur was coming his way. He turned, meeting his old friend with a smile.
"Everything okay in there?" Arthur asked, knocking gently on his own head as if to illustrate which "there" he meant.
"I'm not sure what to call you."
Kal turned. "Why not just call me Prancer?"
Arthur turned an interesting shade of red, and mumbled, "Diana has a big mouth." Then he hurried away.
Diana sighed and walked over. "Couldn't leave well enough alone, huh?"
He shook his head. "You left out that I considerably enlarged this place," he said, gesturing at the parts of the satellite that jutted out where nothing had been before.
"Well there is that. You were very focused on the task." She smiled at him. "So you have all the memories of both parts?"
"That's right, Miss Fashion Critic." He smoothed down his old familiar uniform.
"What happened to the backless one?"
"It ceased to exist when I reintegrated."
"Thank all the gods and goddesses."
He laughed at her solemn look. "Those weren't supposed to come out looking like ruffles, you know. Faulty execution, but my original intent was good."
"I'll have to take your word for it. Unless you're going to go for version two point zero?"
"I'll restrain myself."
Her eyes sparkled. "Good." She looked down, then back up. Her eyes were less sparkly. "I guess Lois must have been glad to get her man back?"
"All night, I imagine." There was a teasing note in Diana's voice.
He met her eyes; they were sadder than he liked despite her teasing, so he decided to not go there. "She was coming around at the end anyway. Wanted us to go away together, so she could get to know 'Just Clark.'"
"She didn't put it that way?"
"Not in so many words, no."
"Well, at least she came around." Diana touched his arm. "You can be sure of her."
Sighing, he shook his head. "No, I can't. She was coming around, but it took so long. It was sort of...grudging. I can't be sure of her, and she can't be sure of me. I guess that's just how things are now."
"I'm sorry for my part in that."
"I'm not." He touched her arm, wanted to touch her cheek, but the other leaguers were still around, might walk in on them. "When you took me flying, you may have saved my life. You made me see things--realize things--about myself, that I was too torn up to recognize. You helped me understand who I am. And I'll never forget that."
"I won't either." She did touch his cheek, but then she could get away with it.
He didn't think she had any idea how often she touched him--although he thought the other JLAers had grown used to it. Nobody seemed to look twice. But when he touched her...
"You better get home," she said softly.
He nodded. Then he leaned in, suddenly not caring if anyone walked in, and rested his lips on her hair, the way he had that night in the park. "You're the best friend I'll ever have."
She pressed her head against his lips for a moment, then gently pulled away. "Same for me."
Turning, she walked away, giving him back his life, sending him on his way. Back to the marriage he was still working to rebuild, and back to the life he was still learning things about, even after all this time on Earth.