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Diatomic

For Christopher Reeve

Whose wife spoke at my school and whose Superman

Makes me want to be a journalist.

"Mommy, why is Mr. Clark always so sad?"

Lois peels her eyes away from her computer screen, startled at the question. Jason sits comfortably at her feet, coloring a picture of Superman with Crayola crayons. She arches an eyebrow. "Sad?" She asks, shifting her gaze across the room. Clark is bent over his keyboard, typing faster than should be possible, eyes unblinking. But his back is rigid and face pinched; he looks uncomfortable, just he's just eaten bad Chinese food. "I don't think Mr. Clark is sad, Jason. What would make you say that?"

He pauses his artistic endeavor to roll his eyes at her. "'Cause when he thinks that no one is looking, Mr. Clark just sits and looks at the floor, pinching his nose like Daddy did when Grandpa died." Jason wrinkles his nose. "I've tried to be extra nice to him. And I think it makes him feel better," he declares matter-of-factly. "Mr. Clark is nice."

Lois nods, smiling fondly down at her son. "Yes," she agrees, reaching down to ruffle his hair. "He's very nice." Her eyes trail upwards again, seeking Clark's bent form, but he's gone -- the only sign of his presence is a slight swivel of his chair.

-X-

"Clark!" Lois drapes her purse over her shoulder, hurrying to catch up with Clark's huge strides. "Slow down, for pity's sake!" He halts, turning to offer her a slight smile as he gently prods the elevator key. "God, who do you think you are -- Superman?" He stiffens for a second before relaxing, eyes glued to the floor.

"Gosh, Lois, wouldn't that be something?" He asks cheerfully, adjusting his glasses. Lois smiles, remembering quite suddenly how fond she'd been of his quaint charm. A sharp sense of guilt makes her straighten; she's been a terrible friend to Clark over the years -- particularly in his absense. She can't recall a single word on any of the postcards that he sent her, or the places that he'd traveled to.

She turns to study him. He fidgets under her gaze, tugging at his sleeves and scuffing his shoes on the floor. "Would you like to go to dinner with me?" She blurts, before she can help it. Lois blushes as his eyes jerk upwards to meet hers. "Nothing fancy, just around the corner. Chinese," she offers, babbling desperately. "It's just that we haven't really gotten a chance to catch up since you got back, Clark, and I'd love to hear all about your trip."

A little smile graces his mouth, and for the first time Lois realizes that it looks a little ... out of place on his wearied face. She peers closer -- his eyes have dark circles around the rims, his hair limp and oddly out of sorts, and his shoulders seem to weigh heavily on him. God, she thinks, Jason was right.

But his smile has grown and she can't help but grin back -- his happiness has always been a little infectious. "Sure, Lois," he agrees. "Chinese sounds great."

So she leads him three blocks from the Planet and watches with a mild sort of awe as he puts away a truly remarkable amount of Kung Pao chicken before he tucks the fork back between his lips, taking with it the last piece of meat from his plate. A wide smile lights his face as he chews. "Don't they have Chinese food in Smallville?" She teases cheerfully, dipping a fried dumpling into some soy sauce. "You're acting like you haven't eaten that in forever.

Clark makes a face. "It's not the same back home," he tells her, adjusting the napkin in his collar. "In Smallville we have real Chinese food -- not this wonderfully fake stuff."

In spite of herself, Lois can't help but laugh. Only Clark. "Welcome back," she laughs, raising her chopsticks in salute. "How does it feel?"

He doesn't answer for a minute, his face suddenly tightening. "A lot is different," he says honestly, before looking away. "But a lot is the same, too. I feel the same."

Lois shakes her head, washing the food down with a sip of Diet Coke. "I don't think you're totally the same," she tells him, and doesn't add, Because you aren't as happy as you used to be. "But at heart you're still good old Clark Kent." She cocks her head curiously at him. "What about me? Am I the same?" He inexplicably won't meet her eyes, and an odd part of her wants him to tell her no. For whatever reason, she suddenly wants to be different; to be new; to be free.

Clark doesn't smile as he answers ambiguously, "In some ways."

"What do you mean?" She looks closer at him, his tone sparking a weird sense of deja vu in her belly.

He smiles that tell-tale Clark Kent goody smile and shrugs disarmingly. "You're still stubborn as a mule, for one," he teases, "And no offense, but I'm pretty sure that Jason spells better than you." His voice takes on an odd tone when he says her son's name, and Lois' eyes crinkle at the edges as she thinks of her son. She swats at Clark with her napkin, laughing.

"I could still beat you up, buddy, so watch it!"

He laughs, but it sounds oddly ironic to her ears. "Us farm boys weren't meant for fighting," he says, and finds his own comment inexplicably amusing. But he sobers as he adds, "But you're different, too. You're a lot more grounded than you used to be. And of course, even more beauti... " he trails off, suddenly sitting straighter in his chair. "My God, is that the time?" He asks, extricating his wallet from the back of his pants and dropping it onto the table. "I'm so sorry to run out like this, but I've just remembered -- I have an appointment. Dinner's on me -- will you bring my wallet back to the Planet tomorrow?"

Lois frowns. "Sure thing, Clark, but -- "

But he's gone already, pushing his way through the crowd and out the door before she can finish, "an appointment with who?" It isn't until she's driving home, sitting in traffic, that she realizes that he wasn't wearing a watch.

-X-

Dear Jimmy -

Happy New Year! I hope this postcard finds you drunk at a party somewhere. Everything is set for you to come stay, buddy -- my mother thinks that I must be some sort of social leper, seeing as I never bring any friends down to visit. The card has all the faces that you'll have to know; Lana says she's looking forward to meeting you. (Don't get too excited -- she's married.) I don't quite understand everything that Shelby says, but I'm pretty sure she's excited, too.

See you soon.

- Clark

"Lois? What are you doing?"

Lois jumps guiltily as Jimmy's postcard drifts to the floor. She bends down to pick it up, cheeks red. "Oh, uh ... I was ... invading your privacy?"

Jimmy raises his eyebrows, extricating the card from her fingers and smiling at the image on the front of the card. "Clark sent me this about a year ago," he explains, eyes lighting up at the memory. "Just before he came back to Metropolis, actually."

She frowns. "Were you going to visit him in Smallville?"

"Yeah. He sent a few lame postcards while he was away, but ... nothing too special. I think he was really in the middle of nowhere sometimes. And then one day, I get a long letter in the mail. Not too surprising ... Clark is pretty verbose on paper. Anyway, he basically said that he'd ended his 'last adventure' and would be arriving in Smallville just before New Year's. We planned for me to meet him the week after ... " Jimmy trails off, shrugging sadly. "But it didn't work out. That was around the time that ... " he lowers his voice, "...that his Mom got sick."

Lois startles at those words, bending forward to look at the card. Jimmy points at a beautiful, elderly woman on the far left, her arms around Clark's waist. She frowns. "Did she make it?"

Jimmy laughs at that. "Of course -- she's a Kent," he declares. "Still, it was pretty nasty for a while. I've never heard Clark so upset. They're really close."

She can't help but smile at that -- of course Clark would be a mother's boy. Then something twitches in her memory. "And who's this Lana character?" A deep red blush crawls along Jimmy's cheeks and Lois arches an eyebrow as he shifts his finger until its resting on the shoulders of possibly the most gorgeous woman that Lois has ever seen. "Who's that? A sister?"

He shakes his head sadly. "I wish," he murmurs. "No, that's Lana Lang -- the love of Clark's young life ... and one of his best friends." He gazes dolefully at the image. "Pretty high standards, huh? I mean, of course she's amazing -- she has to be, if Clark likes her. But they've got this decades-long history. I mean, Lana was his first ... " he trails off, embarrassed. "I shouldn't be telling this to you."

But Lois isn't really listening. She studies Lana's face instead, bizarrely intimidating for reasons that she can't account for. But all she can think, as she tries to imagine Clark -- soft-spoken, gentle-hearted, stuttering Clark Kent -- with this stunning woman, is ... what big shoes to fill.

-X-

"And then, Mr. Clark?"

"And then the evil Kingsley emptied an entire round of bullets on Batman!" Jason gasps, flinging himself into Clark's lap and hiding in his shirt. A fleeting expression of pain shoots across his face before he smiles -- so widely that Lois thinks his face might split. "Do you want me to go on?" He asks gently, wrapping both arms around her son's shoulders. She contemplates breaking up the party, but Clark looks so happy and she thinks that he needs a little more of that in his life.

"Yes," comes the muffled reply. Jason lifts his head. "But can I stay here? Just in case. I'm not scared, or anything."

Clark nods wisely, indicating with a gesture that his lap was always open to use. "Of course you can -- and I didn't think that you were," he objects. "But you know, it's okay to be afraid sometimes."

Jason frowns, shaking his head. "No -- being scared is for sissies. I'm big and brave -- like Superman!"

Clark grins, chuckling a little. "Can I tell you a secret?" He whispers. "You can't tell anyone -- not even Mom." Jason nods eagerly leaning in to hear. "When I told this story to Superman, he got scared."

Her son's eyes widen. "He did?" He enquires disbelievingly. "But Superman's not afraid of anything! He fights bad guys all the time!"

The older man shakes his head, settling against the back of his chair. "But that doesn't mean he isn't scared sometimes," he says. "Even Superman gets frightened."

"What is he afraid of?"

Clark is silent for a few minutes, looking away from Jason and out of the window, before he answers very quietly, "Failure."

-X-

Lois taps her foot impatiently, eyes grazing the skies for a sign of the subject of her article. And there he is -- jetting through the clouds and landing lightly on his feet. She doesn't say anything at first, and then allows for a little smile. "Hi, Superman," she greets, trying to be friendly without seeming too forward.

He seems amused by her attempt. "Hi, Ms. Lane."

She frowns. "Lois," she corrects.

"Kal," he echoes.

Lois rolls her eyes. She's just not comfortable calling him that name -- it brings back so many images that she can't quite remember, and her mind doesn't rest for days. "Well, Superman, do you want to get on with this interview?" She asks, placing emphasis on his name.

He just smiles at her, striding forward and taking a seat on the side of the building. "Sure thing, Ms. Lane. Go ahead."

She looks down at her notepad. "What do you think caused the collapse of the office building you evacuated yesterday?"

He kept his eyes trained on her face as he spoke, and she fidgets nervously. "Well," he begins, "The car that exploded in the basement may have been a factor."

"Well, if a little car bomb is all that it takes to bring a building to its knees..."

Superman rolls his eyes, and she thinks that it might be the first time she's ever seen him act so ... human. "I've never seen so much C-4 packed into one vehicle, Ms. Lane. There was nothing little about that bomb."

She sighs, scratching the questing from her pad. "All right. Do you have any idea who's behind the attack?"

"I'm not the master investigative reporter; that's not my job." She looks up at him, startled. He's not looking at her, now, his eyes distant and far away. For a second, no one speaks. Then, "Gosh, Ms. Lane, I'm sorry. It's been a long day." She's frozen as he stands. Gosh, Ms. Lane... He looks concerned, peering at her even as he keeps his distance. "Are you all right?" She can't answer him. Gosh, Lois, wouldn't that be something ...? She shakes her head. It's not possible -- just a coincidence. Millions of people in the world say 'gosh'. "Ms. Lane?"

She finally looks up. "Yeah," she croaks. "I'm fine. It's just -- " she breaks off, suddenly wanting to test him, suddenly wanting to be sure. "You reminded me so much of ... " This is stupid... "Clark Kent." He blinks, but otherwise his face doesn't react. Still, Lois can see a slight twitch in his hands -- a sure sign that he's nervous. "Superman?"

"I have to go," he declares stiffly. "Do you need anything else for your article?"

She shakes her head. This isn't the time to be interviewing him, when all she can think of is -- "Wait. Yes. There's one more thing." He waits expectantly, but she can tell he's eager to leave. "What are you afraid of?"

He doesn't answer right away, just stands still and looks surprised. Then, a tiny smile creeps onto his features. "At the moment?" He asks. "You."

-X-

Lois -

Happy New Year! I know what you're thinking: It's February! But that's the New Year in China (where I am). It's wild -- I've never seen so many people wearing red! You'd love it here, Lois; I hope you can come see everything some day. With your analytical mind I'm sure all the lore would drive you crazy ... but you'd certainly have a lot to write about!

Love, Clark

Lois studies the card, wondering why something seems so wrong to her. She can't place it, but something about his note -- about the card itself -- is niggling at her brain, warning her off. Something is not right, she thinks, and then suddenly -- "Jimmy! Can I see that card that we were looking at yesterday?" She glances over nervously at Clark, but he is -- as usual -- absent from his desk. Jimmy cocks a brow at her, but dutifully brings the object in question from his desk.

"What d'you need this for, Lois?"

She doesn't answer for a moment and then snaps her fingers. "Aha!" Holding the two cards side-by-side, it is clear that the handwriting doesn't match. And ... "In yours he's in Smallville but in mine he's going on about the Chinese New Year ... "

Jimmy frowns. "But why would he do that?"

Lois frowns. "And if he didn't write this ... who did?"

-X-

"Mom ... she knows." Lois pauses, glancing around the corner to see Clark on the phone. "She compared her last postcard to Jimmy's -- remember when he was going to come down for a visit ... last New Year's. I don't know why, Mom -- she's a smart girl, I guess she just noticed the different handwritings ... oh, Mom. It's not your fault, I asked you to cover for me while I was away, I came home as a surprise ...

"I don't know what it means. What? I wouldn't go that far -- it's a big leap from 'someone else was writing his postcards' to 'Clark Kent is -- '" he broke off. "Sorry ... I thought I heard something. Look, it doesn't matter. I'll tell her it was written by a girlfriend of mine that I was visiting ... Stop it, Mom. I have too had girlfriends since Lana..."

He stops again. "Mom, I'll call you back. I have to go. Someone needs -- I have to go." His voice softens. "Of course I'll be careful. I love you -- more than any ... well, almost anything."

-X-

Neither of them spoke at first; maybe they didn't have to. "Clark?" She asked quietly -- because he was starting to look uncomfortable. He didn't answer, just looked at him hands. "Why didn't you -- "

"What difference would it have made?" She looks at him, startled. Of the both of them, she was the only one justified to be angry; but she didn't have the energy to be angry. "Lois, you don't care about Clark. Oh, that's not to say that you don't like me -- maybe you do, just a little bit. But in the overall big picture of your life, I'm a tiny little bug on your windshield. There were no reasons to tell you -- if you didn't know, I could protect you. If you didn't know, I could -- keep you!"

She takes a step back; she's never heard Clark (or Superman) raise his voice. "What do you mean?" She asks, bewildered by his outburst. "What do you mean 'keep me'?"

"At least as Superman I had your respect," he snaps bitterly. "As Clark all I get is the occasional byline." He shakes his head, the fight suddenly slipping away. "I have to go," he murmurs. "42nd Street. Fire."

She nods slowly. His whole body is sagging -- he looks so tired, she thinks, and wishes that for once everyone would just behave so that he could have some sort of vacation. "Wait," she says suddenly, as he turns to go. "I -- I do like Clark," she insists. "You just have to give me a chance to get to know him again."

He looks over her shoulder, at a picture on the mantel of her and Richard kissing. "I'm sorry, Ms. Lane," he whispers. "I shouldn't have come back."

-X-

She is tired. Richard and Perry worry about her -- rightly. She can't seem to make it through the day without dozing off anymore; but the night won't let her sleep. Every time that a siren rings, she wants to run to the window and look for him -- hope that he's okay.

But Clark has stopped coming to work, and she's never sure until he's on the television and the process starts all over again.

She drives by his apartment -- she doesn't know why, except that she was eating a hotdog at the little stand outside of the Planet and suddenly she had to know where he lived, where he slept, where he ate his dinners. She asked the doorman for a key; "I'm his girlfriend," she explains -- and there is no guilt to the lie, only a flash of pleasure -- "And I left all of my makeup in his bathroom. Can you believe that?"

It's a mess. She isn't really surprised; between the Planet and the planet, when would he have time to clean? She wanders through the rooms -- it's an invasion of his privacy, but somehow she just doesn't care anymore. His bed is large and soft and even though she knows it's wrong (it's such an ambiguous word) she crawls between the sheets and lets his scent lull her into slumber.

"Lois."

His hand is heavy on her shoulder but she likes the weight. "Come here," she murmurs. "'M tired." He chuckles softly, and she feels the bed sigh as he slips in beside her. She can recall vaguely that she has a fiancée and there is a world that needs his saving. She rolls to face him, barely cracking her eyes. He isn't wearing The Suit, just his regular clothing. She smiles. "Clark," she whispers. "This is where you live."

His arches an eyebrow, brushing her hair out of her eyes. "And not, I might point out, where you live. How did you get in here?"

She giggles. "I left my makeup in your bathroom," she says, and he makes a face of confusion but she doesn't elaborate and chooses instead to kiss him.

"Lois -- "

"For once in your life, Clark/Superman, just do what you want to. Do you want to kiss me?"

"Yes, but -- "

"Are you angry that I'm in your bed?"

"No, but -- "

"If I asked, could I spend the night?"

His eyes soften and suddenly his lips are on hers. "Yes," he muttered. "Oh, God, Lois -- yes."

-X-

Things are complicated, but somehow she doesn't mind. Richard doesn't know that she will leave him, and Jason has to be told who his real father is, and she will always come second to the world, and she doesn't even know if they can have children (seeing as he's an alien) but ... it doesn't matter. Somehow, it just doesn't matter. She is sitting in his kitchen, wearing his massive shirt with his Superman cape wrapped around her shoulders like a blanket. Steaming coffee warms her hands and he is so beautiful in nothing but boxers.

It's not perfect -- things seldom are -- but she is warm and she is happy and she is loved and maybe, for now ... it's a start.