Author's Note: For the purposes of this post-Returns story, please regard the Donner movies as providing a loose-ish background for the characters; I like to imagine that although Lois remembers her romantic history with Superman AND entertained the idea that Jason was not Richard's at the time of her pregnancy, the circumstances of his birth and his subsequent health problems etc convinced her he couldn't not be Richard's- and she's been in a kind of denial about how much Jason actually looks nothing like Richard and ALOT like Superman ever since.
This fic exists because of how much I love, and am simultaneously frustrated by, the Lois/Superman/Clark relationship of the movies. There's the delicious will he/won't he tension of The Reveal that hangs across all of them. But, dammit all, they're never allowed even one honest-to-God, non-dead, un-mindwiped kiss! That itch deserves to be scratched, and that is what fanfic is for.
Disclaimer: The Superman franchise does not belong to me. If it did there'd probably be a lot less plot and a lot more shirtless Brandon Routh...mmm... Um, where was I, again?
The Long Way Home
They say that becoming a father changes a man. Intellectually, Clark found that to be true. He felt he had been altered in some fundamental way. It would have seemed inconceivable a week ago that he could love Lois any more intensely, but he did. There was a connection between them now so intimate, that just the thought made him catch his breath.
And it wasn't just a change within himself either- Clark felt the world around him was different. For so long he'd carried the burden of Krypton alone. Now there was Jason; his heritage, his powers. The future held new possibilities. And new dangers. Where once he'd had just one dark-haired, alarmingly incident-prone human being to worry about- now there were two.
Everything had changed.
So there was an irony to Clark's first experiences of fatherhood. He turned up for work, as usual, melted into the safety of the background, as usual, and spent the days making sure that everything about his behavior remained outwardly the same. He had thought about things alot and decided on a plan. The right thing to do, the only thing to do, was to leave Lois and Jason alone to get on with their lives- without interfering. Lois had moved on and it had been naive to think she wouldn't. She was engaged to another man. A man who had spent five years bringing up his son.
As Superman, he could maintain a respectful distance and watch over them all. As Clark, he could be close to Jason without forcing Richard aside. He would continue to love Lois from afar, as he always had.
In his mind the plan was flawless.
It turned out his mother was not really on board with any aspect of the plan. In fact, she was brandishing the potato peeler at him. That was never a good sign.
"So that's it? You're going to pretend nothing's happened? That's your strategy?"
"Yes." Clark thought for a second. "No." He tried again, "Mom. She's with someone else. I can't," he searched for the right words, "...barge in and expect her to fall into my arms."
"Honey, I realise that. We all realise that this is... a complicated situation. But you have a son, with Lois. How can you seriously suggest staying away from that?"
"I'm still going to get to see them everyday. And just because I can't tuck Jason in at night, or tell Lois that I..." He swallowed. "It doesn't mean I can't be close to them. I can keep them safe. Watch over them. It's just that I'll be in the background. I'll always be there; they just won't know."
She looked at him skeptically. "Watch over them?"
"Stay away from them?"
"A respectful distance."
"And they'll never know?
He nodded, "Exactly." See? It was a good plan.
Martha dropped the peeler into the sink. "Oh for Heaven's Sake, Clark! That's not the behaviour of a good parent- that's the behavior of a psychopath!"
"You and dad raised me when Jor-El couldn't and I turned out okay; what's the difference?"
"He was dead!"
She wiped her hands on her apron, exasperated. "You love her."
"She...has someone else now."
Martha searched her son's face. He could be infuriatingly stoic but his eyes always gave him away, and she wanted to find the truth in them now. "Are you sure this is what you want?"
"It's the right thing to do."
She shook her head sadly. "Sometimes I think you must enjoy being unhappy."
"This has nothing to do with my happiness. I left her. Things have to be on her terms."
"Have you even spoken to her since the other night?"
Clark shuffled uncomfortably. "Of course."
"All the time. This morning."
"What did she say?"
"Does 'accommodating' have two Ms and one C, or two Cs and one M?"
"Her spelling is appalling."
"That's not what I meant."
Noises several thousand Hertz outside the range of normal human hearing caught his attention. "Mom, I have to go."
"I know what you meant."
"Are you sure you can't stay for dinner?"
He waved at the air. "There's a robbery. I really have to go."
She lay a hand on his arm. "Just talk to her."
For the seventh night in a row Lois slept in the spare room. And for the seventh morning in a row she took a moment to compose herself before stepping carefully into the kitchen. Jason was slurping spoonfuls of milk out of his cereal bowl. Richard was using the cafetiere. He had his back to her.
"Morning. Would you like a cup?"
"How did you sleep?"
And this was how it was between them now. At home and at the office. They were polite. Cordial. Grown-ups.
"Um." Richard turned to pass her a coffee and appeared to be considering the question carefully. "Horribly, actually. Or maybe it was awfully? Terribly?"
Well, one of them was going to crack sooner or later. Lois cleared her throat. "Sweetheart, can you go clean your teeth for me, please?"
"But I've not finished-"
Jason carefully lowered the spoon that had been midway to his mouth and slunk off his chair. Lois was careful to avoid his eyes. He closed the door.
"We need to talk."
"We can't go on like this."
"Well, we agree on something."
Lois took a deep breath. "I think we should leave." She braced herself but Richard's response was not the mixture of anger, hurt and pain she had anticipated. He put his coffee down to come to her and take her hands.
"Do you mean that? Do you really mean that? Because, listen; I spoke to Perry and something's come up in Paris. I'm not talking about forever- just time enough to get away from...here. Have some space. Take time to think things through?"
Oh, this was going to get messy.
"No, Richard. That's not what I meant. I think, I think Jason and I. I think we should leave. You."
"What?" A look of incomprehension passed over his face.
Lois felt strangely reassured; anger, hurt and pain were definitely now on their way, and that could only be healthy. "I think it would be best if we just spent some time apart. I need to think."
"Did he ask you to do this?"
"He decided he wants to play happy families, is that it?"
Lois looked bemused. "Actually, I've not spoken to him."
"Five years and then he clicks his fingers, and you go running."
"It's not like that."
"What are you going to do, Lois? Move in together? Mr and Mrs Superman? Are you out of your mind?"
"Richard, please don't raise your voice. I've not spoken to him. I've not even seen him since-"
"Do you expect me to believe that? Do you expect me to believe a single word you say?"
"I'm trying to be honest."
"You told me you never loved him. And that was a lie."
Richard's voice cracked on the last word and it was unbearable.
"I wasn't lying to you." She raised her head to him. "I was lying to myself."
They were quiet. She blinked hot tears away. "I've got an appointment about an apartment that's near Jason's school. I'll drop him off on the way. I'll see you at work."
She left him stood in an empty kitchen. Her coffee sat unfinished on the table. Her lipstick had left a mark on the cup.
The newsroom was quiet. Another late night at the Planet. But this was the part of the day Clark had always liked best. When they were alone. When they could sit and work in silence and Clark could pretend that the only two things stopping him from going over to her and ripping open his shirt right there and then were the twin pressures of a morning deadline and an overdeveloped sense of propriety. Of course, that had all been before. What was stopping him now? Nothing, except lies covering lies, and five years worth of the world spinning on without him.
He watched her now. She was at her computer, one elbow rested on the desk so that she could lean her head on her hand. Her reading glasses sat on the tip of her nose and the reflection showed that she was scrolling through some kind of written document. She paused to pinch the bridge of her nose. She looked so tired. More than anything in the world he wanted to go to her. Place his hands on her shoulders. Rub her neck in small circles with his thumbs. Lay a gentle kiss on the top of her head, and maybe allow his lips to...
Oh, was she saying something? With an effort he refocused, "Mmm, uh. What?"
"I said I'm going to grab something to drink- do you want anything?"
"Oh. No. Thankyou."
Lois smiled and kind of shook her head at him as she walked past.
"I won't be a minute."
Clark was far too much of a gentleman to ask why she needed a coat to go to the soda machine. He watched her head toward the elevator just like he had every night this week. And just like every night, he forced himself to stay at his desk and concentrate on his work. He read the same paragraph three times before scrunching his eyes, determined not to give into himself. It was the only way this thing was going to work. But, God, she made it so hard.
He made a decision and the elevator doors had barely closed before he was working at the buttons on his shirt.
For the first time in a long time the sky was completely clear and you could look up and see stars. Lois pulled her coat tighter against a chill in the air and took a moment to marvel at the view. Jason knew all the constellations and would have been able to point them out to her. It was funny, she'd always imagined he inherited his fascination with the night sky from her. Perhaps not. She wondered what other traits, and habits and previously inexplicable interests of Jason's would now make better sense. It half-scared and half-thrilled her.
She gazed out across the city, looking. Looking for what? A speck on the horizon? A blur of red and blue? She was ridiculous but at least she knew it. That was something, right? She decided to give him five more minutes.
By the time he'd finally worked up the courage to move toward her, a police siren blared from the next block over. Clark sighed and retreated back into the shadows. The more things change, the more they stay the same. He flew off to deal with the world and left the woman he loved alone, waiting on a rooftop.
Lois let herself in quietly and was relieved that Richard was not in the living room. It wasn't that late but maybe he had gone to bed and they could avoid another argument until tomorrow. She flicked the light on in the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door. Rustling around she decided she wasn't hungry. Instead she took out milk to make tea. She jumped when she closed the door and found Richard watching her. He looked terrible.
He held his palms to her, "Jason's asleep. I just want to talk."
Lois nodded. "Do you want some tea?"
He smiled wryly. "I'd rather have a wedding date, but at this stage I guess I'll take what I can get." His reward was a wide, genuine smile. It had been so long since Lois had done that, her face felt funny afterward. They pulled out a couple of stools and sat opposite each other.
He started. "I've been thinking."
"Good, me too."
Lois let her head slump to her chest. "Richard. I'm not going to Paris."
"Will you just hear me out? Please?"
She looked at him carefully. Judging that he looked earnest rather than deluded, she relented. Off her look, he continued.
"Obviously this is a ...weird situation. But the thing is... I love you."
"I love you, and I know that you love me. And even though it turns out I'm not...we're a family. I don't want to lose that."
"I'll never let that happen. Whatever happens between us, Jason loves you. You'll always be a part of his life."
Richard let that sink in. "But not yours?"
"I do love you, but-"
"Then let's...not throw this away. Look, I know where I stand. I've seen the way you look at him. But we have something too, Lois, I feel it."
"Richard," her voice was soft, "I always thought, what we had; that it was enough...but it's not. Maybe if things had worked out differently..."
"Then let's make a fresh start. Come to Paris."
"Listen, I know it sounds crazy but think about it; somewhere new. Somewhere that Jason can grow up- away from all the whispers, and the half-truths, and the lies. And Superman? Superman can see him whenever he wants- what's an ocean to Superman?"
"Richard, I can't!"
"I don't love you the way that I should. The way that two people sharing a life should. It wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't be fair on any of us."
"I'm not asking for a commitment. We don't even need to live together. Just for you to think about it. Have you thought about Jason? About where he fits in all this?"
"Are you kidding?"
"Because it's all very well, being close to Superman. Until someone puts two and two together and decides they don't need to threaten you anymore. Not when they can hurt his kid."
"Don't you think I know that? Don't you think I know how dangerous this is? How much easier it would be if Jason was your son? But he's not."
A lesser man would have blanched at that but Richard didn't allow himself to be distracted, "Lois, I don't have superpowers but I swear to you, I would keep you safe."
She didn't have the words, but it was okay. He didn't need to hear them.
He spoke in a whisper, "Are you sure you know what you're doing?"
She gave a little laugh, "No. But I can't stay with you."
He nodded and they both knew. It was over.
She pulled herself together and waited until she could speak without her breath hitching. "We should go."
He covered her hands. "No. There's so much to go through. The house...it'll be easier if you stay." He smiled. "I won't be here long anyway."
"When do they expect you over there?"
He scratched the back of his head. "I still have a couple of features to run here. I'll finish the month."
Lois fiddled with her finger. "Here. You better take this."
Richard chuckled sadly to himself.
"Nothing. I was just thinking. Being slid your engagement ring back across a table. I was wondering if this might be the worst moment of my life."
He picked it up.
They decided to keep the break-up quiet. Lois knew that there had been a sweepstake countdown on her relationship with Richard ever since Superman came back, and she was damned if she'd give the gossips...especially Elaine in the Copy Room, the satisfaction.
So even though no one knew about it, it had been a monumental day. Her first as a technically single mom. It was a beautiful late summer evening and so she made her way up to the roof. It had become a habit- to end the day like this, and now that things had been settled with Richard, she relished the time as breathing space for herself. It was a relief to feel that she wasn't cheating on him just by being up here.
The sun was warm on her face and she leaned against the wall and basked in it. She no longer expected Superman to show up, so it took her by surprise when he did. So much had happened since they had last seen each other. There was so much to say.
So instead they were silent. His cape shifted slightly in the breeze. It felt good to see him. To be near him.
"I uh, saw the news- about the forest fires."
"I guess you've been pretty busy lately?"
"It's been a busy couple of weeks," he agreed, softly. And then the corner of his mouth turned up and his eyes sparkled, "I honestly don't know how you ever coped without me."
"Jerk." She deadpanned in return.
He smiled at her, "Nice article, by the way."
"Oh yeah? I'm regretting it already." She smiled back. Oh, it was too easy to fall back into old patterns. When neither of them had the right. She stuck her hands in her pockets. He let the smile fade from his face.
"Have you been avoiding me?"
His expression remained unchanged, unreadable. "Actually, I find it kind of hard to stay away from you."
"I've not seen you." She hadn't meant that to sound quite so accusing, but he remained inscrutable.
She nodded, and a part of her also understood, but she could feel the heat of old irritations and repressed anger rising to the surface. This simply wasn't good enough anymore; they had a child.
She shrugged. "Is this how it's going to be? Is this how it's going to work?"
"I'm not sure what you mean?"
"Every so often, you drop-in for a catch-up? Jason asks after you."
"I hear him."
Lois was taken aback by that. Well, what else had he heard? Superman seemed to read her mind.
"I told you, I'm always around."
If that was meant to appease her, it didn't.
"He wants to know you."
Superman took a step closer. "I..." But then he seemed to think better of it, "Lois, if anyone ever found out."
God, these men! Did they think she was stupid? "Don't you think I know that? We just have to be careful."
"I agree. That's why I think it's best that I..."
"Stay away?" she finished for him.
He gave her the look. Boy, she hadn't seen that in a good, long while. "Maintain a low profile." He corrected.
Lois let out a frustrated sigh. "We need you. I need you."
That made her head snap up. Lois narrowed her eyes at him. Damn. Where had that come from? "I don't want to make things difficult. You and Richard..."
She ducked her head. "Richard and I. It's over. We broke up."
"Why?" She laughed humorlessly. Was he serious? "You coming back; it kind of complicated things."
Clark was trying to take it all in. This was an unforeseen development on the part of the plan. New possibilities suddenly opened tantalisingly before him. What was she saying? Did she even know what she was saying? Did she mean it? A life with Lois...that was something he'd disregarded as nothing but fantasy for a long time.
He had been quiet for longer than was comfortable and Lois took his silence for something else. It occurred to her that perhaps she'd come on too strong.
"I don't expect anything from you."
Four miles away, he heard gunshots followed by screaming. He closed his eyes in silent frustration at the world and at the foolishness of his own self-interest. How dare he even consider a normal relationship with her if he couldn't even finish a goddamn conversation?
"I have to go."
Crestfallen, she watched him disappear into the sky.
"Geez," Lois yanked on the door handle, "no need to run for the hills quite so suddenly. I wasn't exactly expecting us to go pick out curtains."
By the time Clark made it back to the Planet, he could see that Lois had left the rooftop. At least it gave him time to think. Was she serious? Was she really giving up a fiancé, a home, a life... for him? And what did that even mean? What could he possibly offer in comparison? Real estate in the Arctic?
Not for the first time he marvelled at her courage. The way she was always so prepared to stake everything on him, even when he was running, flying, in the other direction.
But maybe it didn't have to be like that anymore? It was true, Superman, the fantasy, had little to offer her beyond himself. But he was more than that. Clark made him more than that. He allowed himself to imagine a future with her, a real future; waking up next to her in the morning; lazy saturday afternoons spent in the park, holding her hand and carrying Jason on his shoulders. He found himself wondering what it would be like coming home to her at night. Her hands working his tie loose, her fingers unbuttoning his shirt one by one. Her lips tracing the S of his shield on bare skin after his costume had been discarded and lay mingling, with other, mundane items of clothing on their bedroom floor...
So it was that at the end of a day that seemed interminable he found himself in a role-reversal that was inordinately pleasing; on the roof, waiting for Lois. Waiting to talk to her, to explain everything. Finally.
The thought made him giddy. He heard footsteps and prepared himself. In the short moment that it took to wonder at the unladylike heaviness of her step this evening, the door opened and Clark found that it was not Lois at all.
"Oh God. Not you, too."
"Up here. Waiting for Him."
"Oh. No." For a second, Clark thought about vocalizing the addendum; 'Actually Richard, I AM Him. And I was waiting for your ex-fiance- I'm in love with her.'
But it was probably best left unsaid. Belatedly, he realised Richard was still waiting for further explanation. "I...came looking for Lois." True enough.
Richard seemed to find that funny. He echoed Clark's words quietly. "'Looking for Lois.' Me too, pal. Me too."
Clark sensed he should perhaps get out of this conversation early. "Well," he looked around elaborately, "she's not here, so..."
"You know, I always knew, deep down, that she was holding something back."
Clark stayed where he was and remained silent.
"I mean, I knew there was a part of her I'd never know. A part of her she kept from me. Was she always like that? I mean, before?"
He thought hard about that. And the truth was disquieting. "No."
"He did that to her then, when he left."
"You don't seem to have a high opinion of him."
"Who, Superman? Oh, I think he's great. I just think he's a lousy boyfriend."
To have everything he'd been through with Lois, the entire history of their relationship- reduced to such an offhanded, yet painfully accurate, epithet; Clark inwardly cringed.
"I guess I just thought that it would be enough. That we had enough. Whether he ever came back or not."
Clark swallowed down the bile that had involuntarily risen in his throat and forced himself to say the words without gagging, "You really...love her. Don't you?"
Clark's tone made Richard turn to him. He didn't see that he had to justify anything to Clark Kent, least of all his feelings for Lois. But this strange man with the high school crush was looking at him with such intensity, that he felt that maybe he did. But he turned away again.
"It doesn't matter. I guess somethings are just not meant to be."
Clark recognised his own pathological need to do the Right Thing for Lois in the other man's face, and he was chastened. Suddenly the reality of this entire debacle hit him and he felt disgusted. What the hell was he doing? What was he thinking? The arrogance... the condescension...the sheer hubris, to ever believe he could waltz back into town and expect Lois to bend and twist and make room for him, and do it all at the expense of the life he'd left her behind to rebuild.
And yet here he was. Destroying it all, from the inside out, again.
There was a way to fix it.
He waited for her on the roof again the next night. But this time his suit and glasses had been hidden away carefully. No Clark this evening. She came through the door.
"I got your message." With two fingers she held up the card she'd found tucked in her notebook after lunch. She read off of it,"'Meet me on the roof. Six pm.' Very old school." She smiled.
"Sorry for the cloak-and-dagger routine. I needed to speak to you."
"You know, we really need to come up with some kind of system. All this hanging around in the night air- it's no good for my complexion. Maybe I should talk to Lieutenant Gordon about something?"
Clark raised an eyebrow. "You want a bat signal?"
"Beats falling out of helicopters, I guess."
Nervous laughter only added to the nervous tension in the air.
"About the other night."
"I shouldn't have said anything-"
"No, I'm glad you did-"
"It's just that...I don't think this," Superman opened his hands to her, "is a good idea."
Lois misread the gesture. "Oh, well. I always thought it was kind of convenient. We could try using the house more often, I guess? I don't think you should come by in daylight, though."
Superman seemed to flinch. "No, I don't mean this." He pointed at the floor. "...I mean 'us'."
"Five years is a long time."
Lois felt a knot in the pit of her stomach tighten at having her own words quoted back to her. "What are you saying, exactly?"
"And things change."
She cocked her head. "I don't understand. Are you...breaking up with me?"
Lois was incredulous. "I don't believe it. We don't even have a relationship, I don't even know WHAT we have, and you're breaking up with me?"
"I care for you deeply. And I'll always be there for you and Jason."
"Watching, listening in? From the shadows? Tell you what, if it makes you happy, why don't I type up some kind of newsletter," she gestured the words in the air as Perry sometimes did when visualising a headline, 'Jason's Week.' I could email it to you- that way we wouldn't even have to see each other."
This time he definitely did flinch, thought Lois. Good. "He needs you."
"He needs a father. And you need a husband. Not some guy running off whenever a cat gets stuck."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Is that what this is about? I don't care about that."
He gave her the look again. She wished he was as transparent as she obviously was.
"Okay, that's a lie. I DO care about that. But I care about you more. I care about us more."
"I think you should stay with Richard."
She looked at him. Trying to work him out. He continued.
"Jason is your son."
"Lois. He has a father. I don't want to take that from him."
He was testing her patience now. "You know what? It's too late. You came back; and you did."
"I-I don't love you."
She reeled. All the years, all the fantasies she'd ever had involving them alone together, on some beautiful starlit evening, with him finally saying the 'L' word to her, flashed through her mind. What kind of sick perversion of them was this?
It was a mark of her bravery that she resisted the instinct to get the hell away from him and throw up, and instead, hold her ground. She searched his face- determined to find the lie. His eyes wouldn't meet hers.
"Look at me."
He was staring at the ground.
She raised her voice, "Look at me, and say that to my face."
He wouldn't. He couldn't.
Her voice was thick with emotion. "You know something? You're a coward."
His throat worked. "Lois."
"No, it's fine. You said what you came to say. I got the message."
She turned expertly on one high heel. With a hand on the doorknob she paused. Poise and venom carefully modulating her voice,
"Something's up with Jason's eyes. If it's not too much trouble, if it's not going to interfere with your own unique, stalker-assed, approach to parenting, I'd like you to talk to him. You can pick him up after twelve on Sunday."
"I have to go."
He listened to her sobbing as she made it down the stairs and into the elevator. He didn't move when she left the building. He stayed where he was, just watching the door she had left through. He felt sick.