A/N: This chapter is dedicated to: phyrry, skylark, and jammyjar
My thanks also to magpieinthesky and paloma
Over the longterm, I have gotten to partake in some wonderful discussions about the themes and difficulties in this chapter, and would like to cite the whirlpool of creativity therein: bibliophile42, tehpariah, sreya, dandello, and dealan311 (who inadvertently saved the entire chapter). Your dynamic thinking and different perspectives bring a valuable kind of chaos into my rambling.
Lois sighed a true sigh, the kind that reflects a fundamental desire to start life over again with the next breath. Jimmy watched as she flipped back the top of her cigarette pack and jiggled the last and solitary one back and forth, a sound of paper on paper. She stared at it.
"Time to go back to work."
"Yeah, I guess so," he answered. He was staring at her, at the misery written so plainly across her face. He felt the weight of her troubles in the air.
She sighed again. He sighed, too. And then they relaly did get up. They hadn't been sitting for too long, but the unforgiving density of poured concrete had left his backside feeling distinctly flat. The folder of photographs was off to the side, and he reached out for it as Lois shifted to stand.
There was another such folder waiting for him back at his desk that needed proofing for the Arts department before five o'clock, and Jimmy really wasn't in the mood to look at contemporary sculpture for the rest of the day. Fortunately, being in the company of Lois Lane was the easiest way to avoid an afternoon at the Daily Planet, and he had relished this break.
"I'll walk you in and then I have to go to Archives," she said with sudden purpose, already standing and speaking into her purse as she dug around in it aimlessly.
"Okay," he said back, stretching his legs before standing up.
Lois had a reputation of never sending her charges away while she went in her own direction; instead she escorted them back to the Bullpen to be sure no one gave her people any shit about being gone half the day while she ranted about a story or had a mental breakdown. Once she accompanied one of her interns halfway across Metropolis because it was his first week and Mr. White had threatened to 'crucify him in the lobby as a deterrent' if he messed up anytime soon. This was one of the reasons that she had such a strong following among the Kids, a generational distinction that still applied to Jimmy, despite his age and hard-earned cubicle wall.
"Did you find any more?" She tried to sound casual, wondering about her small glances at an old life. Jimmy immediately thought forward to a time when he would get to show her more of her past and felt the uncomfortable squirm that seemed to punctuate every conversation with Lois lately.
"Give me a day."
He was a little relieved. "Okay."
The elevator dinged. Lois stepped forward. He followed. And then he ratcheted up some nerve: "You should talk to Clark."
Lois didn't say anything, but the idea seemed to settle into her eyes.
Clark was staring at the five square inches of his desk mat that was still exposed to oxygen when he felt a presence step up behind him.
"Shopping?" Lois sounded amused, and he turned around to regard her. His desk was in fact surrounded with shopping bags from Vanders, and considering everyone only had about three feet of personal space to begin with, this raging blossom of navy bags looked comical in the middle of the Bullpen. There were bags under his keyboard tray, around the front of his desk and across the surface. He was exhausted and worried, but in no real way vexed, so he smiled back at her.
"I diverted my decorating budget this week," he confirmed.
Lois gave a sincere laugh, and he could tell because she raised a hand to hide her smile and looked away from him.
"Well, good for you," she planted her left hip on his desk, "So what's up, Clark?" Her foot nudged a shopping bag and Clark panicked.
He reached forward for the bag handles and moved them back towards his chair and away from the aisle; her keen eyes might see any manner of pattern or texture and he really wanted these new clothes as far from her mind as possible. He meant to hide them, in fact, at least until he could take the time to taxi them uptown, but found that it was a little awkward when he opened the supply closet and came face-to-face with a crying Ned from Business.
Ned cried a lot.
"Sorry about that," he mumbled.
She smirked at his unnecessary concern, and waited for his response.
"Um, nothing really. I made twenty-six calls to the DA's office," Lois gave a small laugh, "and went shopping. And I'm going home for the weekend."
It was a small lie. A fib.
"Yeah. I told my mom I would weeks ago." This was true.
"We'll miss you at Jason's party."
"I know. I have his present; I'll get it to you by tomorrow afternoon."
Lois smiled down at him, totally open and in rare form. She leaned back on her hand, flattening it on the 5 square inches of desk mat and letting her head bounce on her shoulder. Clark couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at what was probably the third sincere smile in 45 seconds. They usually only had these genuine exchanges in private... and most certainly in the dark. Her expression softened as she looked at him, and then gave way to a random confession:
"I'm worried about this party."
"Oh?" Clark felt an inner wince at this comment, wondering about its possible reference to Superman's unannounced (and frankly unprecedented) presence.
"Yeah. I don't really do parties, y'know?" Her voice lilted in an unusual way, and Clark gave a wicked, inner smile.
Sometimes, and against her very will, a very pronounced metro accent took over Lois' voice. Like any good reporter she tried to maintain a general, 'everywhere USA' accent as part of her journalism tackle box. It was a way to make anyone feel at ease, to allay suspicion of any particular prejudice in the way she spoke or phrased her language; it was the kind of touch that made TV anchormen and women look and sound the same across the great American countryside.
Right now, though, she sounded like a Metropolis teenager. Clark thought it was just as funny as he imagined Lois found his own accent.
"You've had parties though, just this one is family, not strangers."
This was a distant reference to the shocking parties that Lois used to throw in what Clark now knew the Bullpen referred to as the "Wild Days." It was hard to digest this nostalgia because those memories were actually very recent for him, and it served as another reminder of just how much he had missed. Although, 'miss' would really be a stretch, as these events (which were advertised to him with words like 'pot luck' much to her amusement) sometimes bordered on the criminal. Clearly, Senator Keely had nothing more pressing that Saturday than to give a dirty slide show on Lois' living room wall.
"Listen Clark, you may love to see your friends and family in one room, but that's really not very fun for me. I would prefer the strangers. And there will be children. Other people's children."
"Other people's children?" he parroted back at her, laughing on the words.
"Oh shut up," she snapped back without any real ire.
"You'll be fine."
"You think so," she laughed.
They shared a fond silence, each grinning silently at some point near the other person's head; they would rarely look each other in the eye, despite the trust between them. Lois and Clark were by nature very shy people, even considering Lois' penchant for the openly dramatic. She was, in her truest moments, as shy as the rest of the sad strangers aligned as friends and co-workers who surrounded them.
"Want my crab dip recipe?"
"You have fantastic crab dip."
"I know," Clark confirmed, leaning back.
"Fan-fucking-tastic crab dip, I love that dip..."
"You say that every New Years."
He saw her face change, looking forlorn. He'd seen that look a few times in reference to food over the last few months.
"I bet I could make you a good tempeh dip with the same spices. It's really all in the breadcrumbs..."
Lois' face lit up at the thought and the leg that she had crossed over her thigh started to bounce as she shook her foot, almost like a dog wagging its tail.
"Thanks, Smallville. I really appreciate it when people go out of their way to, well... I know it's my choice, but..."
He waited for her to continue, and was met with a thoughtful silence instead. Hearing the word 'appreciate' from Lois was just as significant as Sincere Smile #5 currently being sent across the aisle and back towards her desk as she avoided his space all together.
"You'll make someone a great wife one day," she grinned, emerging from her thought and looking back at him.
Clark cleared his throat and tried not to laugh, "Thanks, Lois. I've often been struck by the impression that you'd made a great parole officer."
Lois' hearty bark of laughter rang out like an Angelus bell through the Bullpen. A few startled heads turned, paying homage.
He smiled to himself, happy that he got her to laugh outright, and then waited for the moment to pass. He had a feeling that there was more to this conversation, and he let it come at whatever pace Lois wanted to set.
"I'm actually past my third cup."
"Come on," Lois let her hip slide off the desk, came down solidly on two feet, and turned towards the east wall. Clark sat unmoving in his chair before slapping his hands down on his knees, sighing, and making a show to no one that he was getting up to follow.
He caught up to her at a people jam by Kyle's desk and they danced single-file through the vein aisles. It took an extraordinary amount of time to walk across this room one hour before Copy.
"Neeee-eeeed, did you forget to fill your prescription again?" Michelle cooed at the supply closet in a sing-song voice as she and two other reporters from this side of the Bullpen pressed their ears against the door. Lois shot a grin at the scene and Randy from Sports bit back a snicker as he waved back, moving his cheek away from his listening point and giving a long-suffering eye roll.
"It's a crying day," Lois offered to Clark as they moved past.
("I'll run it down, you know I don't mind...")
"Yeah, I know. I made the mistake of trying to go in there earlier," Clark's head swiveled as they made their way to the break room, sending a concerned sentiment towards the closet and wincing in sympathy for Ned. He gave a quick x-ray just to check, and saw that Ned was listening to them listening at the door. He seemed okay, for Ned.
("Listen, we know it's a bear market and we're okay with that...")
"You know he got into an air duct two years ago?" Lois stepped over the threshold into the break room and made straight for the coffee maker.
"You're kidding," Clark deadpanned.
"Nope! It was hilarious. He even left a dent."
"How did you get him out?"
"Chief staged a loud conversation about Legionnaire's Disease."
("How about we get you those stock ticker text messages? Wouldn't that be a nice present?"
"Holy crap Melissa, are you crazy?")
"Well, he seems to have come a long way from what I remember," remarked Clark, trying not to react to the snippets of conversation still filtering through his hearing.
Lois nodded wisely as she gave a long sip on her freshly topped off mug, shooting a look back through the door and swallowing.
"I will never tire of this place."
"You love what you do."
"You must; it's hard to keep you interested for very long."
He hadn't meant to say it, but one second later a slight, embarrassed blush crept across the back of his neck. The Sexy Eyebrow that Lois always floored him with was already in her hairline, her lips puckered on an interrupted sip of coffee.
"That is the second time you've said something that honest in less than a week. Are you feeling okay?"
("I don't know, when was the last time you refinanced?" Melissa sighed, "Come on, Ned.")
Clark was tempted to shake his head like a dog.
"Makes you wonder about Richard, right?" Lois gave him a knowing look as she sipped her coffee again, the steam wafting past her eyes as she looked at him shrewdly. She swallowed again while Clark tensed, "Because that's what you said seven years ago about The Intern."
"You told me you didn't remember that," he said evenly, almost the moment she finished speaking. He didn't want her to remember that.
"I didn't, until just now..." she trailed off, and then caught his eye, "Really." This was added to convince the skeptical look off his face.
Clark swallowed, wondering how best to respond to this subject without a) insulting Lois b) bringing up one of the most awkward workplace related events in Daily Planet history or c) having to hear about the insufferable thing that was Richard and his loving engagement to the woman he desired more than anything.
"Well, that was a long time ago."
"Mmmmm," she toned ambiguously, still looking at Clark and resting her hip against the counter. Clark suddenly realized that he was standing in the middle of the room and on the balls of his feet, edgy and paranoid. He tried to relax his shoulders, deciding that maybe he did want another cup of coffee, and went towards the little sink to wash out whatever mug he could find.
The silence spoke for itself only a minute longer before Lois perked up. Clark was halfway through washing a chipped Sagittarius mug and fully anticipating whatever was on Lois' mind to come spilling out any second. He only hoped that he had managed to defuse the fact that he just quoted himself on what ranked up there with the worst nights of his life.
"Have you ever kept a real secret? Like, a serious, life-altering secret?"
He tried not to flinch, and he grabbed the slippery mug by the handle, making sure he didn't drop it.
"I think all of us have." These cookie-cutter answers really frustrated the true philosopher in him. Bubbles swirled towards the drain, the whimsical scent of Summer Blossom wafted in the warm water while the sound of running water grated on his nerves.
"Have you, though?"
Clark slammed down the lever on the faucet a little harder than he meant to, and winced.
"I have, yes."
He moved for the dish towel (which was an unwise thing to do considering no one could remember the last time anyone had laundered it) and had it handed to him by Lois, as he blatantly avoided looking her in the eye.
"And how did that play out on those Mid Western morals?"
Clark clenched his jaw. He was very good at recognizing the differences in the way Lois said things. Despite the cynical wording, this was actually a sincere wondering at his distinct moral code... which was distinct only because he was transparent about the fact that he strove to be a good person, while most other people in their lives were purposefully conflicted.
However, Clark wasn't perfect. And the moment for this was not right.
"My morals are my own, Lois, and have nothing to do with where I came from," he bit back. He tried to stick his broad hand into the small mug to dry the bottom, to ignore this.
"I know that Clark, fine," she sounded a little taken aback, "I just meant..."
("Ned, I have been listening at this very door for the last eight years, what makes you think I won't be here tomorrow?")
Clark sighed and looked straight at the cabinets in front of him, x-raying them just for the sake of it.
"I'm sorry, Lois. I know what you meant. A question like that is bound to bring out the defensive paranoid in me."
"You're pretty much always a defensive paranoid."
"Check and mate." He cleared his throat and turned, trying to give her a smile and thinking that this would be the moment that she would recognize him and the world would explode.
Instead, she was holding out the coffee pot and looking curiously up at him, the same open face that he'd been graced to see all day.
He reached out for the carafe and they had an awkward can't quite get my fingers in the handle when yours are there already why don't you just put it down and then I'll pick it up, it was a nice gesture thanks anyway moments. Clark poured his coffee and wandered through his thoughts for a second.
"I'm assuming this is a secret that involves someone else?" Like Richard and your son.
"And you're wondering whether or not to tell," or be found out, "because impacting another life has moral implications?"
"Lois, I will be perfectly honest with you because-" that's what I always am? "-you appreciate the truth: You asked me because you want me to give you a simple answer, a black and white farm-boy answer that will relieve you of the burden of deciding. But I can't. Because while there is a simple response, it's a ridiculous one, and you know that.
"I should say that the right thing is always to tell the truth and be the good, ever honorable citizen. I should remind you that lies of omission are still lies, something that always seems so enlightened until it's your turn to keep a secret. I should insist that you strive for truth, justice, and the American way."
Clark took a breath, Lois blinked at him.
"But you already know that reality is nowhere near the ideal- nor should it be. Some secrets are meant to be kept, some need to be kept, so despite our better intentions we must avoid the truth. There is no universal answer, there is no cure for the common liar, Diogenes knew he would never find an honest man because there is nothing we can do but try. So if you sit and debate and explore your heart and realize that to keep this secret is still the best thing to do, then you are not a liar, Lois..." he swallowed, the passion in his voice actually making Lois uncomfortable based on the look she was giving his left shoulder, "...you are a human being."
She gave a small huff of breath at this last statement, voicing in this little gesture the exact irony that Clark felt when he used those words. Somehow Lois needed to live with a secret about something un-human, and to do so was supposed to define her as human, according to the words of an alien who used the same justification to justify the fact that he really is a liar.
Clark took a sip of black coffee, despite the fact that he disliked it, because he wanted something bitter to make the words seem sweet.
"Well," she sighed, "That didn't really help. Thanks a lot, Smallville."
They were both grim with the Truth.
"You're welcome, Lois."
Richard could see them exactly where they ought to be and headed straight to the heart of the Bullpen, right at Lois and Clark. He was walking quickly, his entire mindset a little jazzed and ready ago. It was just a burst of energy, and he went with it.
It had been an interesting day. Lois' dramatic address to the entire Bullpen, threatening hellfire and damnation, had set a pain between Richard's shoulder blades ever since 12:30. Apparently, every single person in this office knew more about Lois than he did, and it was really, really frustrating. Clark was not the only example, just the best example. Hell, one of her other best confidants was an awkward teenager trapped in a 26-year-old. He had tried to bring this up to somebody and they laughed, asking him exactly how young a person he thought must be trapped inside Lois.
Richard made his way over to the sacred pair, wondering if he would get to overhear whatever it was they had been talking about for the last forty minutes. They paused expectantly as soon as they noticed him.
"Lois, Hyde wants to know every one's personal hero, he's doing a thing," Richard sighed at her, looking hassled.
"Janis Joplin." Clark answered for her. Richard watched as Lois' gaze went immediately to Clark, a genuine smile blossoming on her face. She gave a small laugh and immediately hid her lips from view. She was pleased that Clark had said this.
Richard's jaw set and he rolled his head around to look at Clark.
"And your personal hero? Someone quaint and perfect? Abraham Lincoln?" Richard said quickly, his voice walking many fences.
Clark swung a little in his chair, disregarding Richard's baiting. He smirked, and got him back in the best way possible.
"Let's see, it would have to be Karl Marx, methinks."
"Quaint enough," confirmed Clark, a dark edge to his voice even as he smiled up at her and past Richard, "For this little old farm boy."
"Man, it's all about Communism this week. Somebody get me a red flag..." Lois looked away, her eyes bright with realization. She seemed to come to a conclusion, but didn't voice it.
Richard waited for her thought, and it managed to make him even angrier when she didn't share it. He was feeling punchy, and acted that way, "What's all about Communism?"
Lois was not amused by his tone, her eyes now slits in his direction. There was a twist to her lip. Like Elvis. Just a little.
But Richard didn't give a shit how odd it must have seemed for him to snap at her out of nowhere, because he was just that sick of these little exchanges. Clark's eyes slid over to him, just over the rim of his glasses from where he sat, from below Richard and still somehow towering over him.
A thought like wildfire raced through the editor's mind, and it occurred to him that Clark was playing Lois against him from this point out.
Richard's eyes moved to Lois, wondering if she would sense Clark's aura turning from nice guy to outright dick. But as ever, she stared straight back at him, unperturbed, eyebrow raised.
Richard tilted his head away and back down at Clark, still trying to understand whatever it was he was so struck by. He watched Clark use a finger to push the glasses back up his nose, then he moved a little in one direction with his knees and then swung! all the way around in his chair like Jason would have. Richard took a step back in surprise, mouth hanging open. Wasn't this how people noticed the nice guy serial killers?
"You're like a child sometimes," teased Lois, her voice even. She teased him even when she was irritated.
"It's fun," smiled Clark, obviously trying to break the tension in his usual good-natured and socially awkward way.
Richard sent one more helpless look towards Lois before giving up. He shook his head as if to clear it and walked away, back to find whoever it was that needed everyone's hero. He still hadn't answered the question himself, but thought darkly that he should choose Stalin.
Sunlight slanted through the tinted panes, casting gold shadows across desks and stacks of wayward paper. There was an evening-like quiet in the large room, and many desks sat empty and still while heads and fingers moved elsewhere in the space. All the once-weeklies usually got to home early on Wednesdays, since their pieces were in on mid-week copy and they wanted the hell out of there.
Through the streams of light flashed two bodies in motion, catching and reflecting the shafts in strobes of color.
"Well, this is just great."
Lois and Richard were having a Walking Conversation as they moved closer and farther from one another while navigating the Bullpen on the way to Richard's office. They were weaving through the many desks and past pillars, staring straight ahead and talking over the heads and past the shoulders of everyone they brushed by.
"Lois, I needed to get the oil changed..."
"I understand, Richard, I'm not angry, just frustrated. It took me two months to get Jason this appointment and there was something I wanted to take care of tonight for the Henderson story."
They both paused to look up at the Clock Board and find METROPOLIS in its usual spot. It was 4:34.
Lois turned on her heel, an idea suddenly in place.
"What?" Richard tried to keep up with her as she made a serious left turn.
"Yes?" Clark swung around in his chair, his eyes lighting up at the call.
"Can you take Jason to the doctor for me?" Lois asked from halfway down the aisle.
"Sure, when?" Clark answered almost immediately.
"Like twenty minutes. From now. You'd have to leave right now, actually."
"That's okay, no problem."
Clark moved to get up. Richard turned to Lois and opened his mouth to speak, but was quickly halted.
"Did something come up, Richard?"
Richard turned slowly, "I'm sorry?"
"Well, I know you were supposed to bring Jason," Clark was staring directly at Richard, past Lois' head, "Did something come up?"
It was the sweetest question he had ever been asked, but it made him furious.
Richard hid it well, "Yes, unfortunately, something did."
"That's a shame," still as lighthearted and unconcerned as ever, "Well, I'm glad I could come through for you, Lois."
Richard clenched his fist as Clark moved his gaze to her.
"What? Oh, hmm, thanks, Smallville, I really appreciate it. Here's the address and the name..."
"Would you like to play with anything? There's a neat fire truck in the corner..."
Jason looked up from where he was watching his swinging feet, perched on the same chair that every doctor's office opened in the last ten years seemed to own. An uncomfortable silence had fallen, at least, Clark thought it was uncomfortable when in fact it might just have been relatively pleasant but a lot tends to run through your mind when you're sitting next to your-
"No, thank you. I don't like those toys," Jason answered matter-of-factly, panning his eyes over the messy pile of K-6 distractions in the corner. He went back to swinging his feet and seemed perfectly content, even though Clark felt hopelessly inept at keeping his son from being bored.
"Ummm... would you like to read a magazine?" He leaned forward and started pushing aside the glossy books of eating disorders and high expectations about female orgasms in hopes of finding a Highlights or maybe even a coloring book.
"No, thank you."
Clark sat back.
'Please do something so I don't constantly feel like I need to do something! Why is this so much easier at the office?'
Clark looked hopelessly around the room, and its other occupants, and its potted plants and short fiber carpet. His mind wandered and he tried to distract himself; he hated places like these, often finding them full of bad memories and old fears. An older woman sat across from them, a row of hallways led down to whatever cavern of horror smelled like antiseptic and odd chemicals and Clark quickly reigned in his nose.
"What do you do in daycare all day, Jason? What kind of toys do you play with there?"
"Why?" It was a wondering word, more sincere in its utterance than most of what Clark asked everyday on the phone.
"I'm just curious," he tried to imbue this statement with just as much sincerity.
"I do puzzles."
"Puzzles? What kind?"
"All kinds," feet still swinging, "But I really like pictures."
Clark nodded, but knew there wasn't much chance of finding a jigsaw puzzle in a doctor's office. Or maybe there was. He really hadn't been in very many in his lifetime. Clark's eyes turned back to the toy pile and x-rayed it over the top of his glasses. There were Barbies, actions figures, various human organs that probably belonged to some anatomy doll and wait-!
He stood suddenly, making Jason pause and look up expectantly, ready to be called by the receptionist. Instead he watched Clark move to the toy pile, stick his arm in and extract a cube. He stuck his arm in at another angle and watched his hand push items aside in one translucent mass of images to pull another cube out.
He sat back down, holding out one of his treasures.
"Do you like this puzzle?"
"What is it?"
"This," Clark held it up between his forefinger and thumb, "Is a Rubik's cube." He handed Jason the multicolored shape. "You have to make all six sides a solid color, and you twist," he reached out and twisted the cube in Jason's hands, "See?"
Small hands were suddenly busy, diving into the challenge. They slowed a moment later as the straightforward task proved more troublesome than expected, and Clark fancied a small grin while he watched him for the first few minutes. Eventually he sat back, still smiling, and looked down at the second cube he was holding. His fingers came out mindlessly, grasping the small plastic thing with the frayed sticker edges (this cube appeared to have seen combat) and began to twist.
Time went on, Clark tried to relax and let the world move around him, just as he moved the small world in his hands. His consciousness drifted, so distracted by the discomfort he was trying to escape that he didn't realize where his thoughts were leading. Soon, a small frown was playing across Clark's face; he could feel it vaguely inside his mind as he went around and around. He watched Jason twist in tandem with him out of the corner of his eye and was inspired by it.
Everything in his life was a shifting puzzle. Clark had never been given the full truth at once about anything; the pinpoints of light in his understanding were random and fractured, begging for a pattern. He had spent all this time on Earth and Beyond just trying to make sense of it, and it took a measure more of his sanity than he was prepared to give.
He lived only to solve, to attempt and understand, manage, and accept the life he had been given. An alien life, on an alien world that was his home, without answers and in many ways alone. In his heart of hearts, Clark considered himself human, no matter what pride in his heritage should otherwise dictate. And he felt this didn't hurt, really, except when his emotional swells threatened to capsize him. It afforded him a sense of home and belonging, a best case scenario for the last of a species.
But, he had no past when he landed here, and his entire existence was an enigma to be worked out.
The only difficulty in puzzles, really, is the number of dead ends you have to hit before you can realize your goal. The only difficulty in life was keeping the bad from out weighing the good... and that was a heavy burden for Clark.
It was disheartening to be made aware of Jason, something primary and solid in his life, only to have it taken away by the knowledge that to be truly whole, with Lois, he would undo all that he had done.
So it was also that Jason briefly relished his one red side, shining in the fluorescent lights, only to immediately realize he had to twist it away.
A son, a leasee soon to be mortgaged to Richard "I've got a problem with you" White.
That was really starting to tick him off and Clark's mind whipped out in another direction, his attention caught like a scent on the wind.
It was unfortunate for Richard that all the higher logical functions of Clark's mind were starting to wear down their gears in frustration. Everywhere in his thoughts was this binding tension. Parts of him wanted to claim Jason, claim Lois, claim everything in some massive, possessive sweep. Other parts reminded him of things like Danger, Hostage Scenarios, and Personal Morals and Obligations.
Somehow, though, it was mattering less and less whenever he thought about Richard. Really Clark should probably have liked him: a stable companion for Lois, what appeared to be a good father to Jason, and a man who could quote his baseball stats even in the midst of a Brief. They liked the same beer, the same television shows, and shared (based on an overheard conversation) an affinity for fudgsicles.
They had started out as neutral associates in the Bullpen, but the problem with Richard was, of course, Lois. They were competing for her attention, and it was new to both of them. Tensions were rising despite Clark's best efforts, but it's funny how jealousy can affect even the rational.
While she had had five years to get over him and pursue a mature and functioning relationship with another man, Clark was still reeling from their affair.
Clark gave a mental sigh, and resigned himself to this train of thought for awhile.
He felt, somewhere in his soul, that he deserved every little shred of self pity he could manage. It was really quite terrible to know, to think, that his actions had thrown Lois into the arms of another man almost as soon as he left the atmosphere. At least that's how he thought of it in the darkness, in the silence and cold of those first few weeks back home, staring at Lois through the glass of Richard's office.
Clark knew the mistake he was making, the taste of her still on his lips as he stared up at a control panel, ready to take himself away. He knew, as he contemplated traveling across the galaxy and really quite terrified, that Lois would suffer for it. That she would miss him. Even with all that happened between them gone, it didn't change what had been true so recently:
She loved me.
There it had been, a whole piece to this puzzle of his life, a simple way to be happy and fulfilled. The love of Lois Lane, a love to complement his existence, no matter what persona he was in. It was the most mental relief he had ever felt; a moment that was significant in its nothingness, a simple, good joy. It was right there, in his arms, in his bed, in his mouth and ears and everything.
She made every cell in his body burst in a pleasure that was everything he hoped it would be, save a little fumbling. It was short lived, in every respect, and soon he had to set about tearing it apart, just as he always did.
He finally knew, he finally knew that she loved him... and that was still true, even as his boosters came online. Something kept trying to push it past his notice, tried to make him forget and ignore how much he was hurting her by saving her a great hurt. Something fused inside him as he contemplated his own misery in that moment, and it didn't matter what the consequences were going to be. He just wanted to run away, duck his head and leave.
Clark Kent nor Superman wanted a single thing more to do with planet Earth, and its selfish, lying, murdering thieves. They wanted nothing to do with the IRS, irate taxi drivers, dangerous criminals, drunk drivers, belligerent witnesses, cruel media, or raving idiots. He had finally given everything he had to give and more, and now no matter how he moved or what he did, it seemed like he would hurt everyone he knew.
So he panicked. And rightfully so, really.
Damned be the consequences... and damned he was, because while he slept peacefully in a frozen vacuum of selfish oblivion, Lois found or was found by, Richard White.
He really had never even thought of it. It seemed ridiculously obvious now; how things must have fallen and apart and come back together in Lois' life after Superman seemingly left it forever. Yet, until the second Clark spotted that picture frame, he really never thought she'd move on. There wasn't supposed to be another man. There wasn't supposed to be a child, a lover, a promise, a house.
Clark tried to ignore the timing of Jason from almost the moment he learned his birthday. He tried not to think on the fact that Lois had apparently fallen for someone right after they had... been together. It was a bitter pill, to know that while she may not have the memories of consummating their... feelings... that whatever feelings may have been leftover from before weren't enough to keep her from Richard. She moved on immediately. The womb has a nine month fuse, it's not an easy lie to tell... which meant Richard had believed it, and so, obviously, had Lois.
His thoughts in this direction varied depending on his mood. Sometimes he imagined that Richard took advantage of an emotionally vulnerable Lois, sometimes he thought she took a lover to spite the memory of Superman, sometimes he thought it was some kind of cosmic coincidence... or perhaps punishment for his selfishness.
Whatever the reality, Lois was emotionally attached to this man and it was not his place to take that away from her. Or anyone. He had nothing to offer in return except a mess of life changing secrets, and so beyond his one desperate attempt at a kiss, he would do no more than yearn for her.
Or would he.
Another side of him, a lurking aggression, was successfully making subtle suggestions in Clark's life. It wasn't a voice as much as basic thrust of feeling, aimed at Lois, despite Richard. Richard's distaste was feeding this fire, making it very easy to construct criticisms of him, and help Clark see what he could give to Lois that Richard couldn't.
But Clark tempered his ability to read Lois. He had to. It was as much a power as his kinetic ones, and it took the same command to keep from abusing it. Clark closed his eyes, concentrating. He could feel his will slipping, falling, dissolving into the rage in his heart, the one that wanted Lois more than anything.
So easy... so easy to do exactly what it would take. It was always that easy, but he swore not to. He couldn't. He wouldn't.
Was he strong enough? Or crazy enough?
Because to love Lois Lane was crazy business, and few men in the world walked the edge as close as Clark Kent.
"Are you stuck, Mr. Clark?"
A chill lifted from his chest, and Clark sighed into the room, opening his eyes. He looked down at his Rubik's Cube, and then looked down at Jason. Two blue eyes glistened back at him, too large in such a small and precious face. He realized that he had been sitting perfectly still, his mind universes away from this place, and the breath unmoving in his lungs. Clark took a deep breath to compensate for his startled sigh, and resumed breathing. He kept looking down at Jason and smiled, overcome.
Whatever the rest of it mattered, it didn't matter with Jason. Clark was going to do everything it took to be a father to his son, even if that meant getting in Richard's way.
"I was stuck. I'm not anymore," he smiled down, blinking when Jason smiled.
"Good, I think I'm almost done. See?"
They were twisting in tandem, their actions almost identical but for the size of their hands. The cubes moved in their grip, over and around.
Clark's head snapped up.
"Ah, Mr. Lane," the receptionist was coming towards him, "You're Jason's father?"
He went for it. Some part of him wanted to scream it at this poor, ignorant woman smiling down at him.
"No, wait, no! I mean, I'm not his, I'm sorry," he cleared his throat, "I'm simply a family friend, um, something came up. Lois.. um, Ms. Lane asked me to take any forms or receipts home, I mean, to her, for her, from... you."
The receptionist blinked at him, smiled, and turned to Jason in a way overly maternal women could, "Are you ready, Jason?"
Jason put down his polychromatic Rubik's cube, almost unrecognizable in how rarely one actually saw one solved, and hopped down off the chair.
"I'll be back, Mr. Clark."
"I'll be right here, Jason."
He placed his cube down next to its match.