Richard had never been so happy to see anyone or anything in his life.
He'd never been happy with Lois' fascination with Superman, never understood why he held such a strong attraction for her or for half the other people Richard knew. Sure, Superman was a Hero. The ultimate Good Guy. Sure, he saved people all over the world all the time. He had incredible powers, good looks, charisma, everything you could ask for. He was probably a great person, if you could get to know him.
But that was it. You couldn't know Superman. Superman was a suit. He was not a person, someone you could touch, talk to, know or truly love. He might as well be a cartoon as a living, breathing person. He left the world for 5 long years, proving that he had higher priorities than the fate of humanity. Thus Richard's inability to understand how anyone, especially a woman as brilliant as Lois, could waste her life pining after him.
Until the ship's hulk went under the water and their bubble of air got smaller and smaller. Then those boots appeared and Richard suddenly understood how Lois could love him despite all sense, sensibility and being abandoned without a word for five years. The door blocking their way disappeared and Superman looked down at him.
"Take my hand," Superman said, blue eyes warm and concerned.
Richard did, sagging under the water for an instant before a warm, firm hand took his.
"Do you have them?" Superman asked.
Richard nodded, heart pounding.
The water fell away and suddenly they were flying, truly flying, flying the way that Richard had always dreamed. By the time they were back in the plane and Superman was checking to see if Lois was all right, the moment had faded and he was jealous of this God-In-Tights. He alternated between awed adoration and jealousy as time continued and the tables turned, with Lois and Richard saving Superman. Superman saved the world from Lex Luthor's plot but fell back to earth like a meteor and Lois went to his side with their son.
Their son, Richard knew, not his.
Richard loved Jason like his own flesh and blood but knew without a doubt that Jason was not his child. Their relationship had not gotten physical soon enough for it to be possible, though Lois appeared to have convinced herself that it was true.
I'm Superman's son's father, Richard thought as they headed into the crowd, going to the hospital where Superman waited. It was a strange thought, sharing a child and a lover with a legend. He still wasn't sure what to make of it. Richard waited for Lois and Jason to return to him. It was a hard wait. It was an even longer wait as the hours passed and Superman did not rise from his hospital bed.
Richard had work, so much work to do at the Daily Planet. But that all-too-real hand and those concerned blue eyes haunted him. Everyone at the Planet was on Superman watch. Even Clark was gone and he'd been a presence at the Planet ever since he returned, still not having an apartment of his own. When Superman 'released' himself from the hospital, Richard's knees gave out and he found himself in his chair, astonished by the depth of relief he felt.
It's relief for Lois and Jason's sake, not mine, Richard thought, busying himself with his paperwork. I'm not happy that he's OK. I'm not… There's no way I could have some damned hero-worship crush on Superman! He argued with himself for hours, through the sleepless night and into the next day, unable to work it out in his head as he worked on the research for his latest story.
"You OK?" Clark asked from the door to Richard's office. There was none of the normal hesitation in Clark's voice, making Richard look up at him sharply.
Blue eyes, warm and concerned met Richard's from behind the glasses. Same jaw. Same hair. Same size. Same voice. He remembered the feeling of shaking Clark's hand, in a visceral reaction that nearly stopped his heart.
Good god, Richard thought, jaw not dropping open only by sheer force of will.
"I'm fine," Richard said, smiling slowly at Clark, at Superman. "You all right?"
Clark blinked, the normal awkward mannerisms coming back instantly as he realized that he'd given himself away.
"O-of course," Clark said, fumbling with his glasses. "Y-you just looked um, upset. I thought that s-something might be wrong."
"No, not anymore," Richard said, chuckling. "It's all right now. Thank you."
Superman looked back at Richard from behind Clark's glasses and smiled faintly before nodding and returning to his desk. How Lois could have missed him sitting next to her all those years, Richard didn't know. But Richard knew. Clark knew that he knew. And it was OK.
Richard went back to work, heart lighter than it had been since he'd helped Lois pick up the pieces of her life after Superman left and she found herself single and pregnant. Come what may, Richard felt confident that it would all be OK.
"Dinner?" Lois asked, voice sharper than she'd intended. "Clark? Why in the world would you want to invite Clark to dinner, Richard?"
"Why not?" Richard responded, focusing on driving. His cheeks were ever so faintly red. He determinedly didn't meet her eyes.
"Clark?!" Lois insisted.
"What's wrong with Clark?" Richard asked, flicking a glance at her and then in the rear view mirror as traffic got thicker around them.
"Nothing," Lois said, confused. "He just … Clark. You know…" Boring, huge, clumsy, boring, small-town nobody, boring … Clark.
"No," Richard said as they arrived home, "I don't know. What's wrong with Clark? He's a great reporter, has traveled the world and seen lots of things. You've worked with him for years. I think he'd be interesting to have over for dinner."
He set his jaw in the way that Lois recognized as Richard's attempt to out-stubborn Lois. He really wants this, Lois realized as she got Jason out of his car seat and they headed inside. She didn't understand it.
"He's nice," Jason said quietly in her arms, giving her puppy eyes.
"Well, I'm not cooking," Lois said, giving in to the inevitable, "But if you're willing to cook or we get take-out, fine. We can have Clark over for dinner." She couldn't keep the confused snap from her voice as she said his name.
She was still confused as she cleaned up after dinner the next night. Richard had gone all out, making a huge, delicious dinner. He'd spent the whole night talking about anything and everything with Clark. Amazingly, Clark had been able to keep up with Richard. Lois hadn't realized the man knew so much about so many things. Maybe he had changed during that pointless trip around the world. She doubted it, but maybe.
She took her time cleaning up the dining room while they talked. She took her time cleaning up the kitchen and the dishes. They were still talking. She took her time putting Jason to bed. They were still talking. She even took her time laying out her clothes for tomorrow. But Clark and Richard were still talking animatedly when she slowly came downstairs to the living room.
"It's getting kind of late," Lois said after hovering unnoticed at the door for a few minutes listening to them discussing Middle East politics.
"Oh? Oh!" Clark said, suddenly looking at the clock. "Oh, I'm so sorry! I didn't realize how late it had gotten. Um, I should get going. Dinner was wonderful. Thank you so much."
He looked to Lois as if to thank her for the cooking.
"Don't thank me," Lois said, smiling ruefully. "Richard did all the cooking."
"Oh, um, thank you," Clark said to Richard, an odd smile on his lips. "It was delicious."
"You're welcome," Richard said, beaming. He stood and Clark stood with him. Richard put a hand on Clark's elbow as though to guide him to the door or keep him there, Lois wasn't sure which. "Do you need a ride home?"
"Oh, no," Clark said, shaking his head and fidgeting with his glasses. "I'm fine. Thank you for the offer."
Richard escorted Clark out and Lois stayed behind, straightening up the living room rather than listen to the two of them exchange platitudes at the door. When Richard came back in she speared him with a sharp glance.
"I know what you're up to, Richard," Lois said, trying to be huffy.
He froze like a deer in the headlights, swallowing hard. She crossed her arms on her chest, head cocked at him.
"Um, you do?" Richard said, rubbing the back of his neck. "S-sorry, Lois. I don't know what's gotten into me but, um…"
"I'm fine with it," Lois said, laughing in spite of herself and going to his side. "Really, I don't know why you didn't just tell me in the first place."
"Really?" Richard said, astonished. A beautiful smile bloomed on his face. "You mean it?"
"Of course," Lois said. "If you want to headhunt Clark for the International section, that's fine. You should have just told me what you were up to. I mean, really, you almost had me worried that there was something else going on between the two of you. Fortunately, I know you both better than that."
"Oh," Richard said, his eyes changing from delight to surprise then something else she couldn't identify as he hesitated for longer than normal. "Well, if you don't mind, I guess I'll talk to Perry about it tomorrow."
"Wonderful," Lois said firmly, "Let's go to bed. It's late, I'm tired and we have work tomorrow."
They headed upstairs together. The house was quiet, comforting, just what she'd wanted after Superman left and she found out she was pregnant. She'd convinced herself for years that Richard was Jason's father. Superman's return and the experiences on Lex's yacht had convinced her otherwise. She found herself wondering what it would be like to be heading upstairs with Superman, instead of Richard.
"So are you that tired?" Richard asked far too casually as they headed upstairs.
"You cannot be serious," Lois said, rolling her eyes.
"Hey, I'm a red-blooded American boy," Richard said, giving her puppy eyes with a hint of the smile that had charmed her out of her depression after Jason was born.
"Oh for heaven's sake!"
Superman paused in his scan of the infinite number of sounds from his adopted world.
Female, Metropolis, voice indicated terror, her heartbeat was through the roof. He homed on her location, scanning the area. Police, fire department, bank alarms, many terrified victims and a bank robber intent on killing his hostages and then himself.
He moved, arriving before the trigger could be pulled. He disarmed the robber and handed him over to the police. He was scanning the other sounds of the city as he did it, inevitably aware of the many voices and troubles of his home. So many cities had their own superheroes, working as he did to save them. Every city had the regular heroes, the firemen and policemen, the good citizens trying to do what was right. He couldn't be everywhere and it comforted him to know that there were others taking care of the things he couldn't.
*Clark? You're sure you want Clark?*
Perry White's voice caught his attention, both from the mention of Clark's name and from the disbelieving tone of voice.
*Yup,* Richard said, *I think he's wasted where he is right now, Perry. I'd like to move him to International. I already talked to Lois about it and she's fine with it. Thinks it's a good idea.*
*Hmm,* Perry said.
Superman hid his uneasiness at this change in the offing as he freed the hostages and politely took his leave. It was time to get back to work. Things seemed to have calmed down as the lunch rush ended and everyone headed back to work. Super speed was very useful in changing clothes, especially in tight places like a closet. He did have to find an apartment eventually. Someone would notice his living in the storage closet in time, even though he always checked to see that no one was watching before he entered and exited. No one was looking as Clark slipped out of the closet and headed towards his desk, glasses firmly in place.
"Oh, Mr. Clark!" Jimmy said, catching his attention. "The Chief wanted to talk to you."
"Oh, um, thank you," Clark said, nodding and heading that way. Why was Richard pushing for this change? He'd thought that Richard was trying to get Lois to see what Richard had seen last week but this would put him farther from Lois, not closer to her. Though he wasn't sure why Richard would jeopardize his relationship with Lois. It couldn't be all for Clark's sake.
Richard had disappeared from Perry's office by the time Clark got there. He hesitantly opened the door. Clark's ever-attentive ears searched for Richard and found him in the washroom. Clark instantly tuned him out. Privacy wasn't something either Clark or Superman truly had but he did try to respect some things.
"You wanted to see me, sir?" Clark said, surprised at how truly nervous he was. For once it wasn't an act.
"Yes, come in here, Clark," Perry said, leaning back in his chair. "Sit down. How are you doing? Any problems since you came back?"
"Oh, no, no problems, sir," Clark said, adjusting his glasses self-consciously.
"Good, good. Look, Clark," Perry said, leaning his elbows on his desk and studying him intently. "I've got an opportunity for you but I'm not sure you're going to want to take it."
"Really, sir?" Clark said, affecting surprise. "What opportunity?"
"I know you just got back," Perry said, "So I'm sure you don't want to be traveling all over the world again, but Richard's asked if you can work with him in International. It would mean a slight pay raise but you'd be traveling a lot more and your hours are going to be very irregular. I want you to think it over and then let me know your answer in a day or two."
"W-what does Lois think about this?" Clark asked. "I've been working with her since I got back. I'd hate to leave her in the lurch."
"She's fine with it," Perry said, glancing over at Lois' desk.
Richard was there now, talking to her. They smiled at each other like the loving couple that Clark knew they were. Despite the odd signals that Clark was getting from Richard and despite the fact that Lois still was in love with Superman, they were together and it would be wrong to step between them in either of his guises.
*So you asked?* Lois was saying.
*Yeah,* Richard said, taking her hand. *Perry's talking to him now. Thanks again for being so understanding.*
*Not at all,* Lois laughed, *It'll be good to have him doing different things. I really don't need his help.*
Clark tried not to wince. She had such a talent for making him feel like a 12-year-old with a crush. At times he wondered about his heart's continued attachment to a woman who never showed the slightest ability to see who he really was, either as Clark or as Superman. Everything that he'd shared with her to date had been received in a rather one-dimensional way. As brilliant as Lois was, she wasn't very flexible. Unlike Richard.
"Um, I don't need to think about it, sir," Clark said, "I'll do it. I think it might be good for my career, especially after being gone for so long."
"Great!" Perry said, shaking his hand firmly. "Talk to Richard about moving your desk, then. Good luck, Clark. I'm expecting great things from you."
"Thank you, sir," Clark said, leaving the office and shutting the door gently. He found Richard in his office and tapped gently on the glass before going in.
"So what did you say?" Richard asked, smiling at him eagerly.
"I … said yes," Clark said, abandoning his normal nervous mannerisms as he shut the door behind him. "But I wonder what you're up to."
"Up to?" Richard said, raising an eyebrow. "Now why would I be up to anything?"
Clark studied Richard with Superman's eyes and senses. His heartbeat had been calm before Clark showed up, digestion unruffled, hormones calm. But now his body was reacting to Clark's presence in the way that he'd always hoped Lois would react. Oh great, Clark thought with a sinking stomach, finally realizing what was going on. He's falling in love with me.
Clark sighed, took off his glasses and gave Richard a stern look.
"Don't start," Richard said, laughing. "Don't even start! I can quote the whole lecture before you begin it. Let's see, it would go something like this: You're with a wonderful woman, who's given you a beautiful son. You have a lovely home and great career. You shouldn't let hormones and being rescued from a desperate situation affect you so badly that you throw away all the perfect things in your life for a shell that isn't even the real person. Et cetera, et cetera, blah, blah, blah, yada yada. Am I close?"
"Um, yes," Clark said, lips twitching with amusement in spite of himself.
"Been giving myself that lecture at least once a day since the whole mess with Lex Luthor," Richard laughed. "But there is a person in there, Clark and I would like to get to know him. I'm pretty sure I'll get over my schoolboy crush in time and you're quite right. I do have a wonderful life and a beautiful lover."
He paused, studying Clark intently enough to make him nervous and twitchy again.
"But she's not my wife, Clark," Richard said seriously, "She may never be, the way we're going. And he's not my son. I've known that since before he was born. He's your son. She loves you too; for all that she hasn't figured it out yet. You should be part of her life and you need to be a part of his life, especially as his powers start waking up. Lord knows how this will all work out, but at least this way you'll have someone to cover your back when you need to dart off to save the world and you'll have a better chance of getting to know Jason."
"And it would be good for my career," Clark said, putting his glasses on again, lips fighting against that smile. He never would have expected Richard to be this understanding, not in a million years.
"Exactly!" Richard said, grinning. "So get your stuff and put it in the desk closest to mine and we'll start working on it."
"All right," Clark said, chuckling. "Thank you."
"You're welcome!" The grin that accompanied the words was enough to make Clark's stomach start flipping with a hormonal surge of his own. He didn't think that anyone had figured it out and been this open since he told his parents about his powers. Clark headed out of the office to pack up his desk and move his stuff the dozen feet to his new desk. Hearing yet another catastrophe as he was putting things away was an intense relief. He got to escape Richard's eyes watching him.
At least as Superman he didn't get nervous when Richard watched him with those eyes.
"Great article, isn't it?" Richard said to Lois, watching over her shoulder as she read it.
"Mmm-hmm," Lois said, nodding absently as she chewed a pen in lieu of smoking a cigarette.
"Clark did a good job on it," Richard continued, leaning against her desk. "He really deserves that award."
"It's good," Lois said, dropping the paper on her desk. She did not look pleased. In fact she looked downright angry. Her lips were so tight that you couldn't see them. Those wrinkles had formed between her brows and at the corners of her eyes. Her knuckles were white on arm of her chair and her toes were tapping far too rapid a rhythm on the floor.
"Jealous?" Richard asked, studying her with a frown.
"Of Clark?" Lois said, scoffing while turning faintly red. "Of course not. Don't be silly, Richard. Why in the world would I be jealous of Clark?"
"No reason, I guess," Richard said, sighing.
Except that I spend more time with him than I do with you lately. Except that Jason likes to play with him more than either of us. Except that he just won an award and you didn't. Except that he's going places and doing things that you always wanted to and never will.
"How's your article going?" Richard asked her, turning to her computer screen.
"Fine," Lois snapped with a glare, everything in her body language saying the opposite. "Don't you have something else to do?"
"I should go pick up Jason soon," Richard admitted, "But I don't want to get there too early and have to wait. You going to be home for dinner tonight?"
"No, I'll be late," Lois said, turning away. "I have to finish this. It's due tomorrow. Don't wait up for me."
"All right," Richard said, leaning in to kiss her on the cheek. She moved away before he could connect, fishing for something in her drawer and he pulled back, frowning again. "Want me to get you something to eat before I go?"
"No, I'm fine, Richard," Lois said, spearing him with glance. It was a big spear, straight through the gut. "Why don't you go ahead and head out? No need to stick around for me."
"All right," Richard said, sighing. "Feel free to wake me when you get home."
"Mmm-hmm," Lois said, attention firmly back on the article she'd been fighting with for two days.
Richard stood and walked away, frustrated. This was happening too much. Every time Richard tried to talk to Lois about Clark or Superman she pushed him away. Every time he tried to talk to her about their relationship, she pushed him away. He was having a hard time even talking to her about Jason, too. He loved the woman dearly but she was starting to annoy him.
"How hard is this to see?" Richard muttered as he got his coat and keys and headed out to pick up Jason from school. Clark wasn't what she'd made him out to be. Completely aside from being Superman, he wasn't the huge, clumsy, boring goof that she'd labeled him in her head. He'd managed to convince Clark to drop a few of the mannerisms around Lois in the hope that she'd see her mistake. It hadn't worked. If anything, had annoyed her even worse.
"Lois doesn't make mistakes," Richard sighed as he drove. "I suppose that's my mistake. Lois never makes mistakes, not unless they're world-beaters. I wish I knew how to convince her that this was a world-beater without giving away Clark's trust."
Because that was the one thing Richard wouldn't do. Not to save his prospective marriage to Lois. Not to help Clark convince Lois. Not to make himself happier or their home complete. He would not, ever, betray Clark, anymore than he'd betray Lois or abandon Jason.
"Why can't life be simple?" Richard moaned.
If life was simple, Lois would have figured it out when Richard did, or soon thereafter. If life was simple, Clark would be living with the three of them, and they'd all be having their supposedly secret fantasies fulfilled. Not that Lois could keep her secret fantasies for Superman secret. She talked in her sleep. Thank God that Richard didn't or he'd have been out on his ear weeks ago for having called out Clark's name in the middle of the night.
Of course, Richard thought, smiling ruefully at himself, if life was simple, Lois would have figured it out long before she met Richard and he'd be looking in from the outside at Lois and Clark, happily married to each other, instead of the way things were now. He couldn't help but believe that anyone would be happy married to Clark. The bone-deep goodness of the man showed, no matter which face he was wearing.
Richard's only problem with him was the feeling that Clark was holding back, that he wasn't seeing and talking to the real Clark. In the last several days, Richard had come to the conclusion that 'Clark' was as much of a disguise as 'Superman'. Richard apparently hadn't earned the right to see the real man inside of the disguises yet. He wasn't sure what he had to do to earn that right or if it was even possible.
"Daddy!" Jason called as Richard drove up to his school. "Can we have pizza for dinner?"
"Why not, sport?" Richard said, grinning at him and strapping him in. "Mommy's going to be late so we'll get a pizza and have it together."
"Will Mr. Clark be there?" Jason asked, giving Richard killer puppy eyes.
"Sorry," Richard said with a grin, ruffling his hair, "He's on an assignment, Jason. He won't be back until tomorrow night."
"Oh, OK," Jason said, "Can we have cheese pizza?"
It would annoy Lois when she found out but right now that didn't bother Richard. Pizza once a week or so wasn't going to hurt Superman's son, even if it was greasy, cheese pizza from a box. Richard refused to believe that his choice of dinner for the two of them had anything to do with annoying Lois. He wasn't that petty, even when justifiably annoyed.
"It's really not that surprising, you know," Gladys from Personals was saying 'confidentially' to someone as they came into the bathroom and took stalls. "Clark's just his type. I did some research and my, the life he lived before he settled down! You wouldn't believe it!"
Lois gritted her teeth as she flushed the toilet. Bathroom gossip was even worse than water cooler gossip. She tapped her way out of her stall and to the sinks. If the sound of her heels on the tile was extra loud, well, Lois thought she had the right to be annoyed. It was her fiancé that they were gossiping about. Besides, it was all nonsense!
Richard was not in love with Clark Kent!
Richard was in love with Lois and told her so every day. Many times a day. So what if the man spent so much time with Clark? So what if Lois caught his eyes on Clark far more than on her lately? Richard was her fiancé and Clark was, well, Clark.
When Richard came over to show her Clark's award-winning series after her trip to the bathroom, it just made Lois even madder. Sure, it was a wonderful series. He'd done excellent work on it. He truly deserved the award, Lois thought after she chased Richard away. But did Richard have to rub her nose in it? She'd wanted to cover that story. She'd have given her eyeteeth for it! But it was an international story and she covered domestic stories, so Perry had said, nearly at the top of his lungs when Lois tried to push it.
Gladys and Carol came out of the bathroom, still gossiping and Lois abandoned her desk, heading for the roof and an appointment with a cigarette.
"Really?" Carol stage-whispered as Lois passed. "More male lovers than female?"
"Yes!" Gladys said, and then nudged Carol when she spotted Lois' face.
Lois nearly crushed the cigarette removing it from the pack when she got to the roof.
"Thank you, ladies," Lois growled, flicking open her lighter, "I'm well aware of his 'past'. I don't need to be 'warned'."
The flame blew out.
Lois looked up and found Superman looking at her from midair. Impossibly, her heart leapt at the sight of him. She'd chosen Richard, not Superman. Told him so, in far too blunt of terms. The only thing they shared was Jason, for all that Lois rarely saw Superman around Jason.
"Having problems?" Superman asked.
"No," Lois said, putting the cigarette away. "Just having a bad day."
"Everyone has them," Superman said, smiling at her. The smile was so gentle and kind that it made Lois' heart flip. Why had she chosen Richard again?
"Even Superman?" Lois asked, not letting herself use the flirtatious tone of voice she wanted to.
"Even me," Superman said, looking into the distance sadly. "I can't be everywhere. I have to choose the greatest impact at the moment."
"So nothing's happening right now?" Lois said, rather sadly. She was lowest on his list, she guessed. Only spoken to when there was nothing else to be doing. "That's why you're here."
"No," Superman disagreed, smiling at her. "Talking to a friend when she's having a bad day rates higher than the other crisis out there at the moment. So, do you want to talk about it? I have a few minutes."
Lois took a deep breath, let it out slowly to fight the tears that tried to well up and smiled at him.
"Well, if you have a couple of minutes," Lois said, smiling wryly, "I suppose I could rant a little bit."
Superman smiled at her and settled on the roof next to her.
"What do you want to rant about?"
When Lois headed back downstairs 15 minutes later, she felt much better. She'd even had her cigarette after Superman left to deal with an emergency. Even if Superman thought that Clark might be better than Lois was willing to admit, Lois did feel better about getting to talk about Richard, Clark and everyone else's assumption that they were half a step away from jumping in bed together. Besides, she'd made Superman blush by saying it! Her good mood dissolved on seeing Clark the-ever-so-wonderful Kent talking to Perry, still carrying his suitcases from his trip to Moscow.
"Oh, Lois, Hi!" Clark said, fiddling with his glasses in the way that always annoyed her. "S-sorry, did you need to talk to Perry?"
"No," Lois said, heading for her desk. Her heels were making those loud clacks again but when she sat down to look at her article and the research material, she found that she could finally write. Lois lost herself in the writing, knowing that she was finally getting hot. This was good. This would make a difference. This was an award winning article. But she needed to get the eye on the ground to make it great.
Lois headed for Perry's office as he was closing up his laptop for the day.
"Perry, I'm heading for Seattle tomorrow," Lois declared, not letting him object. "I want to get first-hand info on those trade negotiations."
"Hmm," Perry said, nodding. "Well, what's your plan?"
Lois smiled inwardly. This would show up Clark's series for sure!
"So how long is she going to be gone?" Kal asked, frowning at Richard.
"Two weeks," Richard said, sighing. "The trade negotiations are a big story and she wanted to be there, on the ground as it happened. I can understand it. This is the first time in years that they've been held in the US and there are all sorts of protests going on. It's right up her alley."
Kal frowned, ears finding Seattle and the mess there. It was a disaster. There were riots, protestors everywhere and a police force that seemed ineffectual in dealing with the trouble. It wasn't the first time that it had happened. The last time Kal had been off the Earth, on his five-year journey. There were three super-powered people in Seattle and Kal could hear them working to keep their town safe.
"It's a mess there," Kal said, shaking his head.
"Going to help out?" Richard asked, looking at Kal, face neutral. Kal could hear his heart and stomach though, could see his worry and nervousness. He wished sometimes that he could read minds as well as he could read the physical symptoms. Was Richard more worried for Lois or for Kal? There was no way to tell.
"Not now," Kal said, "There's nothing substantive that I can do. And there are … others making a difference there. It's their town. I wouldn't want to take it from them. I won't interfere unless it gets much worse."
"Really?" Richard said, surprised. "I didn't know of any superheroes there."
"They don't wear suits but they're there," Kal said, smiling. "Do you want me to go pick up Jason?"
"Could you?" Richard said, looking utterly grateful. "I've got a meeting with Perry and the other heads that I don't dare miss."
"I'd be glad to," Kal said, honestly pleased that Richard trusted him to do it. "Jason's a pleasure to be around."
Richard gave Kal the keys to his SUV and Kal headed off to pick up his son. It set the tone for the next week. Kal and Richard nearly turned into spouses as they cared for Jason together. Kal was able to spend so much time with Jason. He got to help with homework, tuck him into bed, tell him bedtime stories. He got to make lunches, drop Jason off at school and act like a real father for this son of his.
It was wonderful.
Richard discovered that Kal still didn't have an apartment and insisted that Kal stay at the house while Lois was gone. It was certainly more convenient, Kal thought, and he got to spend more time with Jason, but it also made him nervous. He felt like he was taking Lois' place away from her.
"Don't be silly," Richard said late in the evening on the 9th day of Lois' trip. "This place is too big for just Jason and me. You need a place to stay and until you find your own apartment this will do. I expect you to have an apartment by the time she's back, though!"
He grinned, eyes snapping with amusement.
"I don't think she'd like to find you moved into our house when she came back," Richard said, chuckling.
"No, I don't think she'd like that much at all," Kal said, leaning back on the couch. "She still can't see me."
"You don't let me see the real you, either," Richard said, eyes sad. "You keep hiding behind those glasses or the suit, Clark. Am I ever going to be allowed to know the real you?"
Kal's mouth worked as he tried to come up with something to say. How could he respond to Richard? Kal had no right to intrude into Richard and Lois' life. Richard seemed determined to bring him in but that didn't make it right. He had no place sharing that sort of thing with a man who was going to marry someone else. Completely aside from the fact that Richard was a man and so was Kal.
"Oh, those eyes," Richard laughed, waving Kal off, "Those eyes are murder!"
"What?" Kal said, surprised.
"You, Clark Kent, have the best set of puppy eyes in the history of the universe," Richard grinned, pointing at Kal. "I bet if you used those eyes on criminals they'd give up instantly."
Kal burst into laughter, unable to stay serious in the face of Richard's teasing. They talked for a while longer and then Richard headed to bed while Kal went out on patrol. It was a quiet night. He dealt with several small emergencies. There was a robbery, an arson and a suicide attempt on one of the bridges. It was quiet enough that he swung by Seattle.
Lois was in the thick of things. It was four hours earlier on the West Coast. Dusk was just falling and the trade talks were breaking up. Things were starting to calm down on the streets. Lois was right in the thick of things. Kal could see two of the other super powers in the crowd and nodded. She was in good hands, along with the others in Seattle. Between them and the police, it looked like things were getting back under control. Kal headed home, or more accurately to Richard and Lois' home.
It was an odd feeling, coming home to Richard and Jason. He flew in the window of his borrowed bedroom. Then went to bed, surprised to be sleepy so soon. He wasn't due to sleep for a few hours yet. Rather than trying to fight it he settled in to sleep. He would be able to get an early morning patrol after he slept.
"Still," Kal said, "It is a very nice life that Richard has. Would be nice if I could have a life like this."
Richard headed upstairs to his bedroom, grateful that Lois was gone and that Clark was heading off on patrol as Superman. He needed a little time alone. He'd really thought that he might get through to Clark tonight, until the puppy eyes hit. He had the best puppy eyes that Richard had ever seen. Even Jason didn't have puppy eyes as good as that.
"So gorgeous," Richard said, settling into bed sadly. "Why the hell can't Lois see it?"
Why did it have to be so hard, Richard wondered as he crawled under the covers of his empty bed. Why did it have to be so hard for Lois to see, really see, who Clark / Superman was? Why couldn't Clark see that their lives would be perfect if all three of them were here together, with Jason? And why couldn't Richard find the right words, the right gestures, to make them all complete?
He'd always been bi. His earliest crushes had been evenly split between males and females. He'd dated both men and women throughout High School and college. He'd always been this way and had never hidden it from any of his lovers, Lois included. He'd told Lois long before they'd gotten involved with each other sexually.
She was the love of his life, perfectly beautiful, perfectly intelligent, and perfectly talented. She had also been solidly in love with Superman. He hadn't liked it. But he'd tolerated it, knowing there was no hope that she'd ever get together with Superman, the Perfect Man in a Suit. He'd been sure that given time and patience she'd come to love him far more than she ever had Superman. For years, he'd thought he was right, especially when Superman was gone.
Superman's return and discovering Clark's alter ego had changed so many things, not the least of which was his resentment of her infatuation with Superman. How could he resent her infatuation when he was nursing one of his own? And how could he fool himself anymore that she loved him more than Superman?
She was being such a bitch, Richard grumped, pummeling his pillow into shape with more force than was necessary. It was like she expected him to see only her while she was free to obsess all she wanted about Superman. Every time he tried to talk to her about the double standard she went off on him.
"At least Clark seems to understand having more than one person in your heart," Richard whispered, lying back against his chastised pillow.
Clark had the whole world, Richard knew. And he loved Lois, too. His friendship with Richard remained just that: friendship. With Clark, Richard ranked a very distant third behind the world and Lois. With Lois he was probably fourth, after work, Jason and Superman. Richard sighed, shutting off the light. He wasn't sure how he felt about that. Certainly, he wanted it to work out so that the three of them ended up together. He wanted to be more than just friends with Clark. He didn't want to give up Lois, either.
But in the lonely darkness of the bedroom, Richard had to be honest with himself. He wanted far more than to be third in anyone's heart. Or even second. He wanted to be first.
"So what do I do?" Richard whispered to the night. "I have Lois. Mostly. Sometimes. When she's not working. And I don't even know the real Clark. All I know is a shell that just as much of a fake as Superman."
Richard found his hand drifting towards his crotch and growled at himself. Deciding with his gonads wasn't going to work. Besides, it wasn't as if it was truly his decision to make alone. Lois had a say in things and so did Clark. Worries and depression in the middle of the night wasn't going to solve anything.
Richard firmly pulled his hand away and rolled over, trying to go to sleep. He fought with it in his head for a while longer and then fell asleep. He dreamed long, strange dreams, full of his trying to talk to Lois and having her turn away and then trying to talk to Clark and having him turn into Superman to go and save Lois from herself. He was almost grateful to get up in the morning. Richard rolled out of bed, pulled on sweats and a T-shirt and dragged himself down to the kitchen to make coffee. Halfway there, he grinned, sniffing the air.
"You are truly a life-saver," Richard said as he came into the kitchen with Clark.
"Coffee?" Clark said, eyes smiling at Richard from behind his heavy glasses. He offered Richard a mug of coffee.
"Please!" Richard said, taking the mug that Clark offered. "Coffee has to be God's gift to mankind."
It took about three sips for enough coherence to enter Richard's mind to notice that Clark was in a T-shirt and jeans for the first time ever. And that he filled out the T-shirt and jeans in all the right ways. It took two more sips to realize that he was clean-shaven.
"You already shaved?" Richard said, amazed. "On a Saturday?"
"Oh, well, I um, don't shave," Clark said, getting a little red behind his glasses. He was gathering ingredients for breakfast, eggs, cheese, broccoli and ham.
"At all?" Richard said, coffee forgotten in his hands. "Ever???"
"No, not at all," Clark said, busying himself with making omelets for everyone. He turned back after a long moment of silence. "What?"
"I think," Richard said slowly as he mulled it over in his head, "No, I know, that I'm intensely jealous of you." He grinned at Clark who laughed quietly.
"I always wanted to grow a beard," Clark confided.
They grinned at each other in silence. It was the most companionable, comfortable silence that Richard had ever experienced. Life with Lois was always full of talk or the clack of fingernails against keys. There had never been this quiet dwelling together in silence; a moment shared over coffee and the preparation of breakfast. Richard decided he liked it. Jason came in, face serious.
"Hey sport!" Richard said, picking him up. "What have you been up to?"
"Playing video games," Jason said quietly. "Daddy? Can we go to the zoo today?"
Richard smiled, nodding approval. They hadn't been in ages and it would be a good way to spend a Saturday. Jason got little enough fun given his parent's busy schedules.
"Can Mr. Clark come, too?" Jason asked, giving Clark the puppy eyes.
"I'd love to," Clark said firmly, ruffling Jason's hair. "Let's have some breakfast and then we can go."
"Thank you for your time," Lois said, shaking the trade rep's hand firmly.
"Not at all, Ms. Lane," he said in heavily accented English, smiling at her. "It was a pleasure to speak with you. Would you be interested in lunch?"
Lois smiled at him, said no and politely took her leave. She had an article to write, after all. It was Saturday, min-morning her time which meant it was just past lunch for Richard and Jason. She hadn't thought about them at all week. This was the first time since she'd left on the plane to Seattle.
When did they become so secondary? Lois wondered, frowning a little as she headed to the hotel's business center and its wireless hotspot.
She ran her mind over her past as she started her computer up and formatted her article in preparation for writing it. They'd always been secondary, Lois realized. Before Jason, she'd been totally consumed by her career, with no time or interest in relationships. Even her 'relationship' with Superman had had the assumption that nothing would or could come from it or she wouldn't have done it. Her career was her heart and soul.
At least until she heard that little heartbeat in the doctor's office, held Jason's tiny body. Jason had changed her priorities pretty dramatically, just by being there. She loved him dearly, more than anyone else in the whole world. But she missed this, missed it more than she'd realized until she got away from home and family for longer than a few days. She missed being able to go and follow a story wherever it led. She missed being able to focus utterly on her writing. She missed being free to work until 3:00 am if she needed to. She felt like she'd found a piece of her soul that she'd lost somewhere along the way.
Jason and Richard are part of my soul, aren't they?
The question didn't bring the powerful instinctive response she knew she should have felt. Women were supposed to feel a terrific bond to their children and spouses. She loved them both but it wasn't at all like the yearning hunger she'd felt for this, her career. Lois bit her lip and pulled out her cell phone. She hadn't called them all week. Not that she normally did while she was away. Richard would call her if anything were wrong. She pulled up his number and dialed, frowning as it rang and rang.
"Hello?" Richard finally picked up, breathless.
She could hear voices and the sound of animals in the distance. There was cheering, the sound of a merry-go-round or some other fair ride. She'd been expecting to hear the sounds of Jason practicing piano or playing video games or maybe TV, not this.
"Richard?" Lois said surprised, "Where in the world are you?"
"Lois!" Richard said, delighted. "We're at the zoo! Hey, is anything wrong? You normally don't call while you're gone."
"No, nothing's wrong," Lois said, smiling at the incongruity of Richard and Jason at the zoo. "What in the world made you decide to go to the zoo?"
She leaned back in her chair. Her screensaver come up. It was evenly split between pictures of Jason and Richard and Jimmy's Superman pictures. She would have to change that before she got home. Richard didn't like her having those pictures on her computer. She still didn't see what the problem was. It wasn't as though anything was going to happen and they were award-winning pictures.
"Jason asked if Clark and I would take him to the zoo, so we did," Richard said as if it was the most self-evident thing in the world.
"Clark," Lois said, only slightly surprised at how flat her voice was.
"Yes," Richard said, voice getting wary, "Clark. He's been helping out with Jason. Picking him up from school. Getting dinner. Stuff like that that."
"Really," Lois said, voice getting even flatter. Her fingers were tapping on the table. Her toes were tapping on the floor. She could feel her jaw tightening and people walking by looked away or left the area.
"Yes, really," Richard said, sounding annoyed. "It's been a very busy week for me and he's been a great help. Jason likes him a lot. They get along well together."
"I see," Lois said voice like ice. "Well, I just wanted to see how you were doing. Obviously, you're fine. I won't keep you from your pleasures, Richard. See you Friday night."
She hung up and promptly turned off her phone. She tucked it into her bag, on the very bottom and set to work on her article. Her nails were making the keys click very loudly but she didn't care. Obviously, Richard and Jason were fine without her. She had an article to write for the Sunday paper.
*I know! Pity they're obviously gay.*
Kal couldn't help but turn pink overhearing the comments. He wished he could turn his ears off. But it was part of being Kryptonian, part of being him. Fortunately, Richard didn't seem to have heard the comments. He was busy laughing as Jason pulled them towards the merry-go-round.
"Easy, Jason," Richard said, "There's plenty of time."
"But there's no line!" Jason said, excited.
It had been the best day in Kal's recent memory. They'd had breakfast, come to the Zoo and seen all the animals. Richard knew more about them than Kal had expected, able to tell Jason all about the animals and their habitats, what they ate and how long they lived. Richard had brought a camera with him and they took pictures all over the place. It made Kal's heart swell to think that there were pictures of him with his son now. It was not something that he'd ever expected there to be.
That strangers had taken pictures of all three of them together made him feel … odd.
Everyone assumed that he and Richard were a couple. A committed 'married' couple, with a shared son. The person at the food stall. The people taking tickets at the rides. The other people visiting the zoo. Even the children playing around them made the same assumption. As Jason headed onto the merry-go-round Richard rejoined Kal by the exit to the ride. They watched Jason picking out his animal, both smiling at him. While they did it Kal overheard several more comments on the two of them as a couple.
"This was an excellent idea," Richard said, grinning and waving to Jason as he whizzed by on the ride.
"It was," Kal agreed, smiling hesitantly at Jason and the other children.
"You sound enthusiastic. Not," Richard said slyly. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing!" Kal said, blushing.
There was no way he was going to embarrass Richard by telling him what everyone was thinking. It was embarrassing enough knowing it himself. He still wasn't sure why it was such an assumption. Despite Kryptonian assumptions of bisexuality, Kal had always been focused on women before. That 'before' made him pause. When had Richard become an option in Kal's mind? Richard laughed, grinning at him.
"The assumptions are getting to you, aren't they?" Richard said.
He gave Kal a knowing look, his smile saying that he was actually enjoying the situation, rather than being embarrassed by it as Kal had expected. Kal couldn't quite find words to answer Richard. He knew? Knew what everyone was saying about them? Kal knew that no one had said anything loud enough or obvious enough for Richard to hear it. Even the glances that they'd gotten hadn't been that bad. Metropolis was a big city, after all. Gay male couples weren't unknown and in some areas were quite common.
"How…?" Kal asked, cheeks pink.
"Easy," Richard said, smiling at him and patting his elbow, "It's obvious, at least with me. I'm so bi it's almost painful sometimes. Hey, there's our boy!"
Richard hurried off and grabbed Jason, lifting him and twirling him over his head before carrying him over to Kal. They were both laughing, Richard rather breathlessly. Jason was smiling widely, a beautiful thing on the serious boy's face. Richard was laughing, holding him close.
"Did you have fun?" Richard asked Jason who nodded firmly, hugging his neck.
Kal was swept by the sudden urge for this to be his life, his family. His fingers tightened on the guardrail behind him and he felt them give a little. He let go instantly, surprised at himself. What was he thinking? Richard loved Lois, not him! And Kal was not going to intrude into a relationship that had been established for years. Richard's pocket started ringing, making him start. He passed Jason over to Kal, fishing for his cell phone in his pocket.
"Hello?" Richard said once he'd finally gotten his phone out and answered it.
*Richard? Where in the world are you?*
Kal immediately took Jason off to the side, getting him a bottle of water and a small ice cream cone. No need for Jason to hear this conversation. It was bad enough that Kal couldn't help but overhear the whole discussion, both Richard and Lois' side. Kal flinched at Lois' tone of voice on the world 'pleasures'. What was he doing here? He had no right to be here with Lois' fiancé and child, everyone assuming that they belonged together.
"Damn it," Richard muttered, putting his phone away after Lois hung up on him.
Kal turned to him, eyes sad. All the joy of the day was gone for Kal. He had no right to be there, taking Lois' place in Richard's life. Or worse, taking Richard's place in Lois' life. He'd search for an apartment tomorrow and move immediately, Kal resolved. There was no need to prolong this … fantasy. His hand caressed Jason's head absently but his eyes were locked on Richard.
"Mr. Clark?" Jason said, tugging Kal's jeans.
"Yes, Jason?" Kal said, kneeling down so his eyes were at Jason's level.
"Can I call you Uncle Clark?" Jason asked, eyes serious.
"Do you want to?" Kal asked, wishing he could tell Jason the truth. But that would destroy his happy family. Kal knew the value of a strong family, with two parents who loved their child more than anything in the world. He knew what he would be taking away from Jason and wouldn't do it. Maybe when he was older, when his powers started maturing, maybe then it would be all right. For now, he could be 'Uncle' Clark and stay firmly on the sidelines. It was better that way.
"Yes," Jason said, nodding firmly.
"Then you can call me Uncle Clark," Kal said, smiling at him. "But your Mommy probably won't like that."
"She'll understand someday," Jason said seriously. "Mommy's smart."
Kal studied Jason, seeing more comprehension that he would have expected out of a five-year-old child. How much does he know? Kal wondered. How much does he understand of what's happening around him right now? Kal put a gentle hand on Jason's cheek, smiling at him.
"She is smart," Kal said. "I'm sure it will all be fine."
"Hey, why so serious?" Richard said as he rejoined the two of them. His smile was a little brittle and his voice was a little sad, but not so much so that it would be obvious to anyone without super senses. "We've still got some time. What do you two want to see next?"
"I want to see the lions again!" Jason declared, taking Richard's hand in his right hand and Kal's in his left.
"The lions it is," Richard said, throwing off his bad mood. "Ready, Clark?"
"Sure," Kal agreed, smiling at them both. They let Jason drag them off to the lion's enclosure.
Kal's heart was conflicted as the afternoon continued. He didn't belong here. He was intruding where he should never have gone. But Richard kept pulling him in as though he belonged. Kal finally realized that maybe Richard's intentions weren't quite as pure as he'd been thinking. Richard didn't want him there for Lois, Kal realized and blushed brightly. Richard wanted Kal there for himself.
The thought was enough to leave him breathless.
"That was the most fun I've had in years," Richard said quietly as he closed Jason's bedroom door behind them.
They'd gotten home just after 7:00, having gone out to dinner after they left the zoo. Jason had asked for pizza but they ended up at a Greek restaurant since they'd had pizza a couple of nights earlier. Richard knew the owner and most of the waiters from work. They got right in and had a wonderful time. By the time they'd left the restaurant Jason was falling asleep. He hadn't stirred at all as Clark had carried him up to bed and tucked him in.
"I agree," Clark said, smiling gently. "Um, can I get copies of the pictures you took? I'd … like to have them if it's OK."
"Of course it's OK," Richard said as they headed downstairs to the living room. "That's why I took them in the first place! I sure didn't take them for Lois."
They spent half an hour or so transferring the pictures off of Richard's camera and onto Clark's laptop. He'd taken them at the highest resolution possible so they took the time to rotate, copy and resize them as necessary. There were some great shots of Clark with Jason. There were also some not so great shots of Richard with Jason and the three of them together. They laughed and compared notes on the pictures and what everyone had been doing at the time they were taken.
"You really took them for me?" Clark asked quietly, studying a picture of him with Jason in his arms, both smiling at the camera. They were both at Richard's desk, leaning over to study Clark's laptop screen. Clark was close enough that Richard could feel the warmth of his body, like a living furnace, and smell their dinner on him.
"Yup," Richard said, studying Clark's face next to his. He ran a finger down Clark's jaw. "You seriously don't have to shave. That jaw is as smooth as Jason's."
Clark moved away so fast that he seemed to have vanished. Richard blinked and looked around. Clark was by the door, looking utterly fidgety and nervous. For the first time, Richard thought it was honest nervousness, not the nerves that Clark faked at work and in public.
"That was abrupt," Richard said, studying him. "The comments at the zoo still bothering you?"
"We … shouldn't touch," Clark said, not meeting Richard's eyes. "I didn't realize until this afternoon! I'm sorry, but..."
"You didn't realize I was bi?" Richard said, surprised. "Huh. I thought everyone knew that. Well, you were gone for 5 years so I suppose it makes sense. It was a huge flap in the grape vine at work when I started at the Planet. I think Lois was about the only one who didn't catch on until I told her. I was kind of surprised that she didn't mind."
"No, not that," Clark said, distressed. "I didn't realize I'd intruded in your life so badly, Richard. It's not right and I can't allow it to continue."
"Huh?" Richard said, confused. "What in the world are you talking about, Clark?"
He watched as Clark hesitated, waiting for him to say that he had to go and save the world. As nervous as Clark was right now, Richard was going to call him on it. An emergency right now would be coping out. But to his surprise, Clark didn't make the obvious excuse and flee the discussion. He turned back into the room and faced Richard.
"You have a wonderful life," Clark said finally, sitting in the chair farthest from Richard. "Lois loves you. Jason sees you as his father. You have a beautiful home and a great career. There's no reason for me to be here, Richard. A 'crush' isn't a reason to ruin all of that. I should go, find myself an apartment and let you get back to your life."
Richard studied him, letting the silence stretch long enough that Clark actually looked at him instead of anywhere else in the room. It took a long time but finally those blue eyes met Richard's. Clark was truly upset, he realized. Truly bothered by his 'intrusion' into Richard and Lois' life.
"Clark," Richard said, leaning forward to put his elbows on his knees, "You're wrong. You're not intruding at all. You're already here. Well, not exactly. Superman is already here, a part of this house, a part of my relationship with Lois."
"I don't understand," Clark said, looking like he did understand it but didn't want to admit it.
Richard smiled sadly, studying his hands. They'd clasped and the knuckles were white. He didn't remember clasping his hands. He certainly didn't intend to be clasping them this tightly. His hands hurt. But he didn't unclasp them either. It was better than waving them around madly or pounding on the desk the way he wanted to. The silence stretched as he marshaled his thoughts and organized his words.
"Before I met Lois," Richard said quietly, still looking at his white knuckles, "She was in love with Superman. It showed. But I thought I could get her to love me more over time. For a while I thought I'd succeeded, especially after her article. But then everything happened and, well, it's perfectly obvious that I was wrong. Completely and utterly wrong."
He looked up and met Clark's eyes. Clark flinched and swallowed hard. But he didn't look away, which Richard found promising.
"You're already in my house, Clark," Richard said seriously. "The only problem is that Lois can't seem to see that Superman is Clark Kent. Once she makes that connection, I'm sure that you'll be here for real, a part of this family. It's just a matter of time."
"How can you accept that?" Clark protested, looking distressed. "How can you accept being second in her heart?"
"I hate it," Richard said, quietly, studying his hands again. "I utterly hate it. But I don't know what else to do about it. You were there first, Clark. I went into the relationship knowing that. The real problem is that she's denying so strongly that there's still anything there. I think that when she makes the connection it will be all right."
Clark shook his head, smiling sadly.
"And people call me an optimist," Clark said amazed. "Lois doesn't have the room in her life for two men, Richard. If 'Superman' comes in, you're going to have to go."
Richard's heart froze. There was more truth in those words than Richard wanted to admit. He stared at Clark for easily as long as Clark had hesitated before sitting down.
"No," Richard said, dismissing the opinion by sheer force of will. "I can't believe that Lois would just throw me away like a piece of trash. I'm not … a placeholder, Clark. She loves me. I'm sure of it."
"You don't sound sure, Richard," Clark said, frowning. "You sound afraid. I've known her longer than you have. Lois doesn't have the capacity to love more than one man at a time. If you drag me in here, into her life, she's going to make you go. And I won't do that. Not to you or to Lois."
"I … care too much," Clark said, making Richard's heart flutter.
Richard couldn't meet Clark's eyes so he shut them. His heart was pounding. His stomach was in his throat. He was even shaking, which made Richard smile wryly at himself. It didn't mean what Richard wanted it to. He knew that. He forced himself to calm down. Clark loved the world, Lois, Jason and then maybe someday he might come to care about Richard. He kept telling himself that while hearing those words over and over in his head.
A large warm hand appeared on Richard's thigh, startling him into opening his eyes. Clark was there, kneeling in front of him, blue eyes concerned and warm. They stared into each other's eyes for a long moment before Clark frowned, squeezing Richard's thigh gently.
"What did I say?" Clark asked quietly.
"I … had to remind myself that I'm not first with you either," Richard said, blushing faintly. "It's OK. I just …" He couldn't continue and shook his head.
"Kryptonians are bisexual, Richard," Clark said quietly. "I've never met a man I was interested in that way before."
"Before?" Richard said hopefully. He brightened and smiled at Clark. Clark smiled back, nodding. It was the most beautiful thing that Richard had ever seen.
"Shall we say you're changing certain opinions?" Clark said, sounding far more like Superman than Clark at that moment. "I still think you're wrong about Lois but … I've really enjoyed our time so far. I hope it doesn't all fall apart when she gets home on Friday."
"It'll be all right," Richard said, putting his hand over Clark's on his thigh. "I trust her. It'll be fine."
He tried to sound convincing but he could hear the worry in his own voice.
"Not the best neighborhood," Kal commented as they entered the latest apartment in their search.
"True," Richard said, holding Jason's hand. "But it's got great access to the subway and bus lines. It'd be easy to get to work from here."
"We're working on cleaning up the neighborhood," the landlord said, letting them into the apartment. "It's improving slowly. This one is a two-bed, two-bath, with a remodeled kitchen and a dining area. Furnished, but you have to supply your own TV and microwave. Has a laundry nook with a washer and dryer. Both are newer."
"Wow!" Jason said, squirming free from Richard's grasp to go explore.
The apartment was filled with older furniture, nothing ratty or falling apart but definitely not new. It had a hardwood floor, with cream walls and ceiling. Some bland paintings had been put up on a couple of walls that were almost more generic than a hotel room's paintings. Kal wandered through it, checking out the bedrooms and bathrooms. Nothing horrible or stained, but nothing new, either. The living room had a sofa and one armchair, with a stained coffee table between them.
"Skylight," Richard commented, pointing up at it.
"So there is," Kal said, nodding. It was more than big enough for him to fit through, which was better than all the other apartments that they'd seen in the last three days. Apartment hunting had become their after-work activity of choice. Jason was having a blast with it.
"Hey, there's a balcony!" Jason called from the kitchen.
Kal and Richard looked at each other, intrigued. They went into the kitchen and found a beautiful, sunny room. The building next door that had blocked the light in the lower apartments ended one floor down, so there was no building in the way. Large windows had been installed along the wall and you could see the Metropolis Central Park in the distance. Just the tops of the trees showed. The kitchen counters were pale yellow and new. The stove and fridge were white and new as well. Off on the left there was a kitchen table and chairs and a sliding glass door that Jason had pushed open to explore.
The balcony was the only one on that floor Kal saw when he went outside. The other apartments on that level didn't have one. Just this one apartment. The street that it overlooked was actually a side alley, with virtually no traffic. All there was below him was the old warehouse with its blackened windows and garbage bins.
Kal started smiling. He turned to Richard and found him grinning at him.
"It's perfect!" Richard said, the grin lighting his face up like the sun.
"It is," Kal agreed, feeling as though the sun was warming him, despite the heavy overcast above their heads.
The landlord smiled as Jason ran and checked the rest of the apartment. Kal studied the details of the apartment this time. Plenty of outlets. Hookups for cable TV. A fireplace that he hadn't noted on his walkthrough. The washer and dryer looked reasonably new, too, hidden behind closet doors in the hallway between the two bedrooms. He wasn't sure what he'd do with the second bedroom but supposed it could be an office.
"I like it!" Jason declared eventually after trying every light switch and water faucet.
"I'll take it," Kal said to the landlord. "Where do I sign?"
"Come downstairs and we'll fill out the paperwork," the landlord said, grinning at them. "So when are the three of you moving in? Right away or in a couple of weeks?"
Kal squawked, going beet red as Richard started laughing. Jason studied the landlord with a puzzled, serious expression.
"We're not moving in," Jason said slowly. "Uncle Clark is moving in. We're just helping him find an apartment. Mommy would be upset if we moved out."
"Oh," the landlord said, surprised. He turned faintly red at first but started chuckling as Richard continued to laugh. Kal sighed, ruffling Jason's hair. They headed for the elevator, Richard still laughing so hard he could barely breath.
"Ohhh," Richard moaned when he finally stopped laughing, "Sorry! But everyone's been making that assumption. It's gotten to be a running joke."
"Just glad I didn't offend you," the landlord said, smiling at them.
Kal moaned, rubbing his face with one hand. The paperwork took about 15 minutes, including writing out the deposit check for the first and last month's rent, plus the security and cleaning deposit. That wiped out most of Clark's savings. He was glad there was a paycheck coming tomorrow or he wouldn't be buying groceries for his new house. Kal took the keys, smiled, shook his landlord's hand and they were off, back to Richard's house.
"So you'll be moving in tomorrow after work?" Richard said as they prepared dinner together.
"Or tonight," Kal said, working on the salad. "There's no reason to stay if I have an apartment."
"An apartment with no pillows, sheets or blankets and no food yet isn't fit to live in," Richard said, rolling his eyes. "Be serious. Take tomorrow afternoon off and get the place set up. You can spend the night here."
Dinner was quieter than it had been for the last week and a half. Jason had apparently figured out that Kal would be leaving now that he had an apartment of his own. It was his last night in their house. He clung to Kal, playing video games with him and then cuddling on the couch. They watched a movie until Jason fell asleep. His hands were locked in Kal's shirt as though he didn't ever want to let go. Kal didn't want to let go of him, either.
"Another person assumed we were a family," Kal said quietly after Jason fell asleep.
"Bother you?" Richard asked, not looking at Kal though he stilled on the couch until it was like he was made of stone.
"No," Kal admitted, petting Jason's head. "No, it didn't. Surprised me. Why does everyone assume that? Two guys and a child isn't normally a family."
"Isn't it?" Richard said, looking at Kal with serious, still eyes.
Kal shivered, seeing the want in Richard's eyes and knowing he echoed it. They had both danced around Kal's admission on Saturday after the Zoo, neither one bringing it up in the days that had followed. Kal wanted this. He wanted Jason to be his son. He wanted Richard with him as his spouse. But Jason had Lois and Richard for parents. And Richard was with Lois. So neither had spoken of what they both felt. Neither had acted.
"This isn't my family," Kal said finally, cuddling Jason in his lap. He nuzzled the boy's hair, desperately unhappy about it.
"It still could be, Clark," Richard said. "Try and have some faith in Lois. She's not as bad as you're making her out to be."
"If you say so," Kal said, sighing.
"I do say so," Richard said. "It will work out. She'll be home in a couple of days and it will all work out."
Kal could hear Richard trying to convince himself. It didn't appear to work any better this time than it had the last several hundred times he'd tried it. Kal wondered if he'd be able to pick up the pieces after Richard's illusions were shattered. He already knew that he wasn't going to be worrying about Lois. Richard meant more to him after these last several months than Lois did after the last several years. But having super powers didn't give you greater ability to deal with broken hearts and lives.
Saturday Lois wrote her article on the Trade Talks for the Sunday paper. She rewrote it a dozen times until she got it right, finally satisfied about dinnertime. She'd calmed down about the phone call by then. She ate dinner in the hotel, then returned to her room and stewed about Richard and Clark. Sunday Lois worked on getting the full details of the trade discussions. Monday she covered the protestors and what they thought of the whole trade talks situation. Tuesday was spent on the police coverage or the lack thereof and why the whole thing had degenerated into riots and chaos in the streets. Wednesday she covered how it was affecting the locals and the stores in the area. Thursday the talks were done and true chaos broke out on the streets.
Lois tried hard to stay out of danger all week but with things were so unstable on Thursday that it was almost impossible. She was surprised leaving the Convention Center by the chaos outside. There were crowds of running people, police in riot gear and tear gas hung in the air. It had been so busy and security was so tight in the convention center that no one had realized how crazy it had gotten outside.
"This way!" a tall woman with long black hair in blue jeans and a tight T-shirt called, pulling Lois and half a dozen other people aside. "Go two blocks that way, turn right and then go four blocks towards Pike's Place and you'll be out of the mess."
There was something about her that reminded Lois of Superman, something about her eyes, the way she carried herself and the way her commands were instantly obeyed, even by Lois.
"Go on," she'd said, nudging Lois with a wink. "What, you're expecting Superman to swoop in and carry you away? He's got other problems to solve right now!"
Lois ran with the others and escaped the chaos at the convention center unscathed. Getting back to her hotel turned out to be a challenge, however. She couldn't catch a cab to save her life and ended up walking through the chaos to get there. Halfway there she was swept up in a mass of people running away from something, Lois didn't know what. She nearly fell and was almost trampled when a large black man caught her, picked her up and carried her off to the side. Once the mass of panicked people passed he set her down, patting her shoulder.
"You all right?" he asked. "Wouldn't want you to get hurt. Might be bad for our city's reputation."
"I-I'm fine," Lois had said, rattled though she wouldn't admit it. His body had felt like steel, not like Superman's but like actual steel. The feeling of a heartbeat was the only thing that had made her believe he was truly alive.
"Glad to hear it," he said, looking back the way the people had come. "Gotta go. You'd best be off wherever you're going. This isn't someplace you want to be."
He strode away, towards the screams and whatever chaos has sent people running, once again reminding her of Superman. How many super heroes are there? Lois wondered as she hurried towards her hotel. The streets were less crowded as she neared her hotel. Lois waited for the light and then started across the street.
"No, no, no, dear!" said a little old woman who looked like she could run all the way to the top of the stairs in the skyscraper beside them without loosing her breath. She caught Lois' arm before she could head across the street. "You can't go that way. You need to go to the back door of your hotel. Just go up this block, cut left and then you'll be fine. There're some nasty rioters causing all sorts of trouble at the front door of the hotel."
"How did you know that's were I'm going?" Lois demanded. This was getting ridiculous!
"Saw your bag, dear," the little old lady winked. "Off you get! There are so many people who need help right now. Do your best not to be one of them, please!"
She hurried off and Lois stared at her bag. She'd forgotten that she was carrying her spare papers in a bag from her hotel. Lois laughed and followed the little old lady's instructions, making it to her room safely after all. Lois delayed her flight to Saturday and then to Sunday, telling herself that it was to follow the clean up after the trade talks and the riots. She knew she was lying. She didn't want to go home and face Richard. Sunday she finally made the trip to the airport and got on the plane for home. All the way there, on the long flights and during her runs through connecting airports, Lois got madder and madder about Clark's intrusion into their life. Richard was her fiancé. Jason was her son. He had no right to be there! By the time the cab dropped her off in front of the house she was convinced that she'd find Clark moved in, sleeping in her bed with Richard. It was well past dark, getting close to 10:00. She'd been up since 4:00 am.
"Lois!" Richard said, face lighting up as she pushed open the door. "You're home!"
"Mommy!" Jason said and ran for a hug.
The house looked just like normal. They were there, alone, waiting for her to come back. No Clark hovering, fidgeting with his glasses. No new furniture, no changes to the house. As she pulled Jason into a hug she blushed, embarrassed that she'd gotten all worked up over nothing. Of course nothing had happened. Why she'd let herself believe that Richard and Clark could ever be an item, she didn't know.
"Let me get those, Lois," Richard said, kissing her cheek. "You've lugged them across the country."
"Shouldn't Jason be in bed?" Lois asked, raising an eyebrow at Richard.
"I wanted to see my Mommy again!" Jason declared firmly. "I missed you!"
Lois laughed and took Jason upstairs to tuck him in and put him to sleep. He told her all about what they'd been doing over her two weeks away. Her jaw started hurting by the time he fell asleep. Clark might not be there now but he'd certainly become a fixture in Jason's life.
"Love you, Mommy," Jason said sleepily as he dropped off finally.
"Love you too, Jason," Lois whispered, kissing him when she was sure he was out.
She headed downstairs, looking for Richard. She found him in the laundry room, sorting out her clothes from the trip. He was in a T-shirt and jeans, humming quietly as he worked away at her laundry. It was such a domestic thing for him to be doing. Anger about Clark warred with deep appreciation that she'd chosen Richard. Why did he have to try and make this a threesome? Lois had never expressed any interest in that sort of thing. She'd accepted his 'past' but it was the past! Why was Richard so determined to resurrect that part of himself when he had her?
"You're doing laundry?" Lois asked finally, once the first load was in the washer.
"Sure," Richard said, smiling at her. "You've been gone, it needs to be done and I figured you'd like some time alone with Jason. He really missed you, Lois."
"Neither of you seem to have really missed me," Lois said, unable to keep the resentment in any longer. "Practically every other word Jason said was "Uncle Clark". Since when did Clark become Jason's uncle?"
Richard turned to her, eyes hurt. The look was like a punch in the stomach. Why did he have to be so sweet when she was mad at him? He was the one that was in the wrong, dragging Clark in to their life where he didn't belong. She had every right to be upset about this!
"Lois, do you have to do this?" Richard said sadly. "You only just got back. You're tired, jetlagged. Can't arguing wait until tomorrow?"
"I'm not picking a fight," Lois said, glaring at him. "I just want to know when Clark became such a fixture in my son's life."
Richard ran a hand through his hair, sighing. He started the washer, put the rest of her clothes in the hamper. He closed up the suitcases and tucked them away on the shelf and then headed out into the living room. Lois followed him, practically vibrating.
"Why is it such a big deal?" Richard asked quietly. "Why does he bother you so much, Lois? He's a nice guy and he helped out with Jason while you were gone. You've worked with him for years. I'm working with him every day. What's the problem here?"
"The problem is that I can see you trying to pull him into our bed!" Lois said, furious. "I don't know what sick fantasy you're trying to fulfill here, Richard but I will not have him in my house or in my bed! You're with me, not Clark! There isn't room for Clark in this house."
Richard's lips got very thin. His eyes went cold and he turned away, hands going to fists. She was surprised by the sudden surge of anger, but met it with anger of her own. She was in the right, no matter what Richard had convinced himself of while she was gone. Richard turned and glared at her.
"Lois," Richard ground out, "If Superman flew in that window and said 'I want to be a part of your life. I want to live here with you', what would you do?"
"What does that have to do with anything?" Lois asked, taking a step back. The sheer fury in his eyes surprised her. She'd never seen him this angry before, in all the years that they'd dated and then lived together.
"You're objecting to Clark when we've already got Superman living in this house!" Richard said. He nearly shouted the words, waving at the window as though he expected Superman to come flying in any second. "Lois, I've lived with your infatuation with Superman for years. I haven't said a word about it. Sure, I resent the living hell out of it but he was here first. I didn't think that it was my place to call you on it. But damn it all to hell, it makes me wonder what you'd do if he really did show up!"
Lois turned away, shaking.
"That's a hypothetical question," Lois said, refusing to meet his eyes.
"So answer it hypothetically!" Richard demanded.
Lois swallowed hard, shutting her eyes. How many times had she fantasized about this? How many times had she played that thought over and over in her head? Millions, Lois knew. Half the time when she was with Richard she was imagining Superman. But she'd deliberately chosen Richard, dependable, kind, gentle Richard. Superman wasn't ever going to be part of her life that way. Fantasies were just fantasies. It would never be.
"If hypothetically Superman ever did fly into my life again," Lois said, voice calm though her hands were shaking where they were locked on her arms, "I'd ask you to leave. But that's just a hypothetical. It's never going to happen. I chose you. I told him so and he accepted it. My life is here with you and it always will be."
She turned and the rest of what she was going to say stuck in her throat. Richard was white as a ghost, mouth dropped open. His mouth worked for a moment and she swore she could see tears in his eyes before he turned away from her, going to the window.
"If hypothetically Superman ever did fly into my life again," Lois said, voice calm and cold as ice, "I'd ask you to leave."
Richard felt like he'd been stabbed through the heart. He was so shocked by Lois' response that he didn't hear the rest of her words. His legs had gone to Jell-O and he could barely keep his feet. Clark had been right, after all. Richard's fears had been justified. He was nothing but a placeholder until Lois figured out who Superman really was. Richard turned away and went to the window. He'd been trying to get Lois to see who Clark really was. All he'd been doing was ensuring that he'd be removed from Lois and Jason's lives.
"Richard!" Lois said, coming over and putting a hand on his shoulder. "I told you, that's just a hypothetical. It's never going to happen. Superman knows that I chose you over him. He's not going to come sweeping back into my life now."
Richard pulled away from her hand convulsively, head turned away so she couldn't see the tears that tried to leak out of his eyes. She was so blind, so clueless. Superman was four desks away. He'd been sleeping in this house; caring for his son the whole time she was gone.
His son, Richard realized, stomach nearly throwing dinner across the room. Jason wasn't really Richard's son. If he and Lois split up he had absolutely no claim to Jason. Any sort of blood testing would prove it. He was going to loose both Lois and Jason. He wasn't going to get to stay with him, get to watch him grow up, go to school, become a man, take a wife (or maybe a husband) and have children of his own. That made it hit Richard all the harder. This wasn't Richard's life. It was Clark's life and Richard was just holding his place until Lois figured it out.
Lois sounded afraid, Richard realized. He just shook his head, not able to speak yet.
"Richard, please," Lois said, "I'd never let you go. I chose you! I chose you not once but several times. I love you, Richard! I don't want to share you with someone else. Please. Talk to me."
"You …" Richard swallowed hard, trying to calm his voice. It was shaking so hard he was surprised he'd managed to get the words out. "You … I thought that I meant more to you than that. I didn't think I was just holding Superman's place in your life."
"You're not!" Lois said angrily. "Damn it, Richard! Listen to me! I don't want him, I want you!"
Richard had to bite back hysterical laughter at that one. Him? She didn't want him. He knew it. He heard it every night in her dreams, saw it every day on her screensaver, felt it every time he tried to touch her and she pulled away because he'd disturbed her during a private fantasy of Superman. He was safe and convenient, a bland non-entity to fill her time until Superman swept back in.
"It doesn't sound like it to me," Richard said, the hurt he felt coming out. "Every night you're calling Superman's name, not mine. He's the one you dream of, the one you fantasize about. It's not my picture that's on your screensaver. It's his. His and Jason's. Superman and Superman's son's pictures are on your computer. I'm just in the shots to keep Jason from running away and playing."
Lois gasped, making Richard turn and look at her. She looked horrified. Richard blinked. She didn't realize that he knew who Jason's father really was?
"How…?" Lois whispered, shaking.
"You didn't think I could tell who Jason's real father was?" Richard said, amazed at her blindness. "Good God, Lois! I can count as well as the next man. I couldn't be Jason's real father. There was no one else who could have been his father. You never let anyone that close to you. Why do you think I was so jealous of your pictures of Superman? I knew all along who Jason's father was and it bothered me. Bothered me that you were still thinking of him when I was right here with you and he was long gone!"
Lois made a horrible whimpering noise deep in her throat, going pale.
"Besides, Jason told me what he did with piano on Lex's yacht, Lois," Richard said more gently. "I told him that sometimes people got extraordinary strength when they were in dangerous situations and the people they loved were going to be harmed. I think he accepted it. I didn't feel it was my place to tell him."
He still loved her. Loved her more than made sense now. But it was so painful, loving her. Lois' hands went to her mouth and she started crying.
"I didn't know you knew," Lois whispered.
"How could I not know, Lois?" Richard said. "We didn't have sex until you'd been pregnant for a solid month!"
She turned away, crying. He felt like crying too but didn't. He leaned against the window and rested his cheek against the cool glass. God, Clark had been so right about this. He should never have tried to bring Clark in. Never have tried to make Lois see. He was damned if he did and damned if he didn't. If Lois realized who Clark was she'd drop Richard like a hot potato. If he didn't push her until she realized it, then he had to live in the shadow of Superman, always knowing that he was nothing but a convenient placeholder for Lois's fantasy man.
"If it bothered you so much," Lois whispered, wiping her tears, "Why did you try and drag Clark in here?"
"At least Clark is a real person," Richard said tiredly. "He's not a disguise, a suit that blinds everyone to the person inside of it."
"What?" Lois said, whirling to stare at him.
"Superman is a disguise, Lois," Richard said sadly. He smiled weakly at her. "It isn't the real man. The real man isn't someone who spends 24-7 saving the world. He has to eat and sleep, earn a living, hold a job, take care of laundry and rent, just like everyone else. 'Superman' is a disguise he uses to protect his real identity."
"Clark's a real man," Richard continued, looking out over the dark lawn. "He's right there and he sees me. He helps and shares. He listens when I talk. He loves Jason and Jason adores him. He's also straight, Lois. He's never been with a man. I needed help while you were gone and he was there. I liked having someone listening to me, really seeing me. I haven't felt like you really saw me or listened to me since before Jason was born. I was willing to accept being third in your life. I'm not willing to accept being a distant fourth."
"Third?" Lois demanded. "What are talking about, Richard? You're not third, much less fourth!"
"Your first priority is work, Lois," Richard said, shutting his eyes. "Fine. I can accept that. I understand it. Work defines you. Without it you wouldn't be Lois Lane, the woman I fell in love with."
"Oh," Lois breathed. It was a sound of revelation, as though he'd told her something that she'd never known. "So what's second? Not that I agree with you about this."
"Jason," Richard smiled, "That wonderful little boy who calls me Daddy but who doesn't belong to me and never did. Third is Superman, the man you dream of, fantasize of and the father of your son. I'm fourth, Lois. I can't live with that. I love you but I can't live with being so far down in your set of priorities."
Richard heard the breath catching in Lois' throat as she tried to reply. He didn't open his eyes, didn't want to see the pain there. He had enough pain to deal with. He was fourth to both of them, Clark and Lois. He might be second for Jason but Jason didn't belong to him.
"Richard…" Lois said, voice quavering with tears. "I chose you, not him."
"Only because you wanted him to push it," Richard said, "You wanted him to say that he wanted you, wanted to be with you. It was a way to see if he really cared for you. Unfortunately, he's too good of a guy to push it. You should have just been honest with him."
He finally opened his eyes and looking at her. She was hugging herself. Tears were falling off her chin and she was biting her lip. Richard sighed, going to her side. He wiped the tears away, letting her hug him tight.
"We should go to bed, Lois," Richard said sadly. "It's late, you're jetlagged and we have to go to work tomorrow. This isn't accomplishing anything."
"I chose you, Richard," Lois whispered to him, face buried in his chest. "I'll always choose you."
Richard sighed, resting his chin on her head.
"Let's go to bed," Richard said, defeated. "Please? I'm tired and I just … want to get some sleep."
Lois nodded, still sniffling. They headed upstairs, to their bedroom. Richard was tempted to clean out his clothes right then but didn't have the energy to continue the fight. They crawled in bed together and Lois fell asleep almost immediately, exhausted from her trip and the fight. She had her arms locked around him as though fearful that he'd disappear. Richard couldn't sleep. He'd thought he'd at least had Lois but he'd been wrong. He knew he didn't have Clark. Lois muttered in her sleep, letting him go and rolling over.
"Superman," Lois sighing happily.
Clark's image filled Richard's mind. He could practically see him, smell his scent, feel the warmth he gave off like a furnace. His body reacted powerfully, so much more powerfully than it ever had to Lois. Richard eased out of bed, heading downstairs to the bathroom. He'd never get any sleep this way. Better to take care of the problem and then get some sleep. He'd talk to Clark tomorrow and this fake life would be over. He had no idea what he'd do after that but at least he wouldn't be living a lie anymore.
Dreams were a strange thing for Kal. He didn't need to sleep much, just 2-3 hours a day. He could go months without sleeping at all before it caught up to him and he had to sleep for a full day. But when he did sleep, he dreamed constantly.
He always knew they were dreams. He'd never had a nightmare where he didn't know that it was a nightmare. He could always wake up at any time. In his dreams he was aware of the world around him, the sounds of his adopted world, the feel of the bed under him, the blankets over him. Despite his lucidity during dreaming, they had incredible power. Tonight was no different. The dream held sway over reality, keeping him still in its vice-like grip.
Richard stood in Kal's bedroom, eyes hot with desire. Kal shivered and moved to his side, tipping Richard's face up to his. A faint hint of stubble marked Richard's chin, not enough to be obvious but easily felt. They stared into each other's eyes for a long moment and then Kal bent, kissing Richard on the lips.
It felt different kissing a man, Kal thought in his dream. There was flat muscle against his body, not soft roundness. That faint hint of beard brushed his chin and lips. Richard's tongue probed at Kal's and the dream shifted. Richard's hands were working at his pants while Kal kissed and nuzzled Richard's neck. They were in the living room, Kal pushed back into the armchair, Richard kneeling in front of him, jacket flung on the floor, tie draped over the stained coffee table. His shirt was open to the waist and Kal could see his chest, the plane of his stomach. It lit a fire in Kal's belly that hadn't been lit in far too long.
"Gorgeous," Kal murmured, shifting in bed, the feel of the covers against his skin nearly pulling him from the dream. He fought it and returned to dreams of Richard.
Richard's hands had pulled Kal's pants down. Kal moaned as Richard's hands stroked his thighs, up to his groin and the fierce erection there. His hands were brilliant and Kal captured his mouth again, pulling Richard into his lap. His hands pulled the shirt off of Richard's shoulders and Kal nuzzled his way down to Richard's nipples. Richard's moan was fuel to the fire.
Kal flipped Richard back and they were on the bed now. Kal kissed his way down to Richard's groin, nipping hard enough to make him gasp. Marks bloomed on his skin. Richard caught Kal's head before he could take Richard into his mouth, making Kal look at him. His eyes were so vulnerable, so afraid that it made Kal's heart melt.
"I love you," Richard breathed.
Kal moved back up, pinning Richard under him, holding his arms down before kissing him more deeply than before. Their erections rocked against each other as Richard's fingers twined with Kal's. Eventually, Kal let Richard's lips go. They were blood red and almost bruised, moist from the kiss. His eyes were intense, nearly more than Kal could bear.
"I love you, too," Kal murmured. "I'll never love anyone else."
*God, yes, Clark!*
Richard's voice derailed Kal's dream, jolting him to awareness. His ears homed in on Richard, finding him downstairs in his home, in the bathroom, panting hard as he stroked himself. Kal looked, sitting bolt upright as he saw that Richard was in tears. This was no joyful moment for Richard. For all that he was giving himself pleasure, Richard looked like his heart was being ripped out.
Kal bit his lip, tempted to go there, see if he was OK, to find out what had happened. But even as he thought it, Richard reached climax and it was over. He watched as Richard caught his breath, cleaned himself up and then sat again on the toilet and cried, cried like his heart had been irreparably broken. Kal's arousal died as he watched Richard's pain from so far away.
Eventually, Richard dried his face and went upstairs to Lois, easing back into their bed. Lois muttered Superman's name and snuggled close to Richard, making tears start falling down Richard's cheeks again. He cried silently for a while but eventually fell asleep. Kal frowned, not understanding why Richard would subject himself to this.
"This has to stop," Kal said to the quiet of his bedroom. "This is wrong. I won't let you keep doing this to yourself, Richard."
He gave up on sleep and pulled on the suit, heading out on patrol. For the rest of the night he listened to Richard sleep as Superman saved people and solved problems. When morning dawned in Metropolis, he heard the nasty little fight between Richard and Lois before Jason got up. He heard Jason's confusion at the breakfast table at his parent's pain. He heard Lois' conviction that Richard belonged to her as they dropped Jason off at school and headed for work. And he heard Richard's defeated depression in every word he spoke.
"No more," Kal said, changing into his normal suit and tie. He put his glasses firmly on his face and headed to work. It was time to put an end to this.
Richard hid in his office once they got to work. Or more accurately, he hid as much as anyone in an office with glass walls could. Perry pulled Lois into his office to congratulate her on her series of articles, much to Richard's relief. He couldn't stand being around her right now.
He felt … raw, like he'd been gutted and the insides of his body had been scraped clean. It showed and he knew it showed. Jimmy asked if he was OK. Gladys from Personals had checked on him three times so far, fishing for gossip. Most of the Planet was watching him and Lois, waiting for a blow-up. Everyone except Lois could see that he was hurting. The one person he wanted to see hadn't shown up yet, though.
Richard started, heart in his throat at the quiet word, the simple invitation. His hands spasmed on the keyboard, producing gibberish that he immediately deleted. He had a hard time doing it. Tears kept trying to blur his eyesight. Richard took a deep breath, gathered what little self-control he had, set his computer to standby and then let the breath out. He turned and looked up at Clark, knowing his desperation showed. He was unable to hide it.
"Yes, please. Now," Richard said, grabbing his coat and pulling it on as they headed for the elevator.
He didn't want to talk to anyone. Didn't want to see them. Didn't want to be around them. He really didn't want to see Lois. He loved her but it hurt too much. Now that they were walking side by side, Richard wasn't sure he wanted to see Clark either. But the quiet calm of the man, his unquestioning and supportive silence as they went down to the lobby, was a salve to his hurting heart.
They got coffee from a little stand up the block and then walked to the close-by park that overlooked the bay. No one else was there besides a few joggers and a homeless person shuffling from garbage can to garbage can. One spot of quiet in a world gone to hell, Richard thought, sipping at his coffee as though it was the only thing keeping him sane. As tight as his hands were on the cup, he realized, it might be.
"I heard a little," Clark finally broke the silence, voice quiet and grim.
"Yeah," Richard said, fighting those damned tears again. "You were right. It's your life I've been living. I'm nothing but a placeholder for her until she figures out who you really are. I shouldn't have said anything to her, shouldn't have tried. I asked her last night. Even at the time, I knew I shouldn't have. God, you should have seen her! Exhausted, dragging, jetlagged but she just couldn't let it rest until morning. She had to pick a fight. So I asked her. What would she do if Superman flew in and wanted to be part of her life? And she told me and you were so right, Clark, so utterly right. I never should have tried to bring you in with us. There's no room there, no room at all. She told me so, said it out right. I can't believe she said it! She'd drop me like a hot potato and happily set up shop with you. I'm living your life, Clark. You might as well just tell her who you are and then you can both live happily ever after, Lois and Clark and their son Jason, all together the way it should have been from the beginning. I was just a roadblock that kept that from happening. I'll leave, go find an apartment or something and it'll be great. You'll be together the way you should have been and I'll get out of both of your lives."
Richard couldn't stop talking now that he'd started. He'd been holding the anger and pain inside all night, all morning. Now that the words had started flowing he couldn't make himself shut up. He wasn't sure what he was saying. It didn't matter. He had to talk now that he'd started, no matter what nonsense came out. The flood of words kept Clark from replying and thanking him for letting Lois go. He didn't think he could bear to hear that, no matter what nonsense was coming out of his mouth.
"Kal," Clark said as he took a breath, looking at Richard from the corner of his eyes.
"What?" Richard said, derailed from his rant by sheer confusion.
"My name," Clark said, turning to face him. "My real name is Kal-el. My father's name was Jor-el. He was a rogue scientist from Krypton. He sent me here to save me from the destruction of our home world. He chose Earth deliberately, knowing that the sun's rays would interact with my body to give me nearly god-like powers. He wanted me to be a beacon for the world, to guide it to a better way."
"And you're telling me this why?" Richard asked, coffee forgotten in his hand, ranting and pain nearly forgotten in the shock of Clark's sudden confession.
"Because you have the right to know," Clark said.
No, Richard thought, studying him. This isn't Clark. This is Kal. This is the real man, Richard realized, the one that Richard had glimpsed over the last several months, the one that he'd wanted to get to know and had never been allowed to see. He was calm, certain, focused on Richard and Richard alone. Behind Clark's glasses, Kal's eyes were serious and concerned.
"If you're telling me this because you're trying to make me feel better, I'm going to break my hand punching you in the jaw!" Richard growled, glaring at him.
Kal laughed, eyes wrinkling at him. He reached out and gently cupped Richard's chin, startling him enough that Richard dropped his coffee. Kal caught it at super speed and set it on the rail next to them, never letting Richard's chin go. His hand was warm and gentle as he smiled down at Richard, holding his attention as he held Richard's chin.
"No," Kal said, taking off the glasses and tucking them in a pocket so that Richard could see him clearly, "I'm telling you because I love you and I want us to be together."
Richard's breath caught and Kal had to catch him this time. His knees gave way for an instant from sheer shock. Richard's mouth worked but all he heard coming out was garbled noises, not words. He pulled back, stepping away from Kal, rubbing his face with both hands. This couldn't be true. They'd both admitted that they were attracted to each other but for Kal to come out and say he 'loved' Richard, that couldn't be true. God, he wanted it to be true but it couldn't!
"Um, thank you for saying it," Richard said, turning away to stare out across the bay. "I … needed to hear it, I guess. But you shouldn't say things like that. You're finally clear to get Lois for yourself. All you have to do is tell her who you are. I appreciate your trying to make me feel better but—"
"Enough of this, Richard," Kal said firmly. "You're tearing yourself apart. I don't say things like that to anyone to 'make them feel better'!"
He gripped Richard's shoulder, turning Richard to face him. For the first time, Richard could feel the strength in those hands. He'd always been so gentle, so careful about touching. This time the grip of his hand on Richard's shoulder was painful in its intensity. He was going to have bruises later.
"You really … mean that," Richard said, looking at Kal's hand on his shoulder, not his face.
His legs did the wobbly thing again and Richard reached for his cup of coffee. The world kept throwing him shocks he wasn't ready for but at least he at least he had coffee. With coffee he could deal with anything. The thought made him start laughing and he couldn't stop. The laughter turned into tears. He found himself pulled into Kal's arms, held tight until the storm finally passed and he could think again.
"Thank you," Richard whispered. "I thought I'd lost everything. My home, my son, my wife, even you."
"I don't want her," Kal murmured back to him. "I used to. God, I used to want her so bad that it hurt. But over the last several months you've washed her out of my heart. I love you more than I ever loved her. I don't know what's going to happen but I want to be with you, Richard. I want us to be the family that everyone assumed we were the last two weeks. Lois and the whole world be damned. This is the most important thing for me to do right now. Be here with you."
Richard pulled back, his face puzzled as he looked up into Kal's eyes.
"What?" Richard said, surprised. "I assumed there weren't any disasters right now and that's why you had the time to talk to me."
Kal's lips twitched with amusement.
"No," Kal said, letting Richard pull free though he wanted to keep him in his arms. "I … prioritize. Right now there are three, no, four emergencies that I would be helpful at. But none of them are so bad that I would leave you right now. You need me more and are more important than they are."
It was true. He'd been tracking three minor emergencies all morning as he got ready for work and came to talk to Richard. None of them were truly momentous but all of them would have been solved quickly with a bit of his help. The fourth sounded like it was a bit more serious, but still not serious enough to pull him away from Richard. Not until Kal was sure that he'd be OK, that he'd be able to make it through the day without doing something stupid that everyone would regret.
"You prioritize," Richard said, the look turning it into a question.
"You listen to the world and decide where you're going to go and who you're going to save," Richard continued. He sounded like he was trying to work out how that would work.
"Exactly," Kal nodded, smiling now. He was adorable as he tried to piece together the rules that Kal lived by. It had taken Kal years to set them up but once they were there they'd been rock-solid guides that had let him live without too much regret. He regretted the five years that he'd been gone but now that he was back the rules functioned as well as they had before.
"So … if there's a major earthquake and people are dying, you'd be gone," Richard said, nodding.
"Maybe," Kal said, leaning against the rail and watching Richard's face. He crossed his arms on his chest and waited for Richard's response.
"Maybe?" Richard said, mind finally starting to work again after all the pain he'd been through in the last day. "What do you mean, maybe? That's major, isn't it?"
Kal laughed, looking away into the city, checking out the fourth emergency. It was a fire in a sky rise. It was serious, with flames starting to get out of control on one floor. It was an older building and the fire suppression system was out of date, obsolete. It couldn't handle the flames. There were four fire trucks there already and all the inhabitants of the building, including pets, had been evacuated. It was property, not lives, being threatened.
"I mean," Kal said turning back to Richard, "That if you were OK, nothing going on with you, yes, I'd be there. But if you were in pain or danger, I'd take care of you and then go there."
Richard's mouth dropped open and he had to lean against the rail, too.
"But Lex's yacht…" Richard protested, confused.
"You were on your way there," Kal said. "I can't be everywhere, Richard. There are other heroes and thousands of trained professionals working every day to deal with the emergencies of the world, to take care of the people and the property and to save lives. I know that. So I prioritize what I do at any given time. That day, the whole city of Metropolis was going to be wiped out. Millions of lives were balanced against Lois and Jason's lives. I did what I had to. I took care of the millions while you took care of Lois and Jason. It would have been a much more painful choice if you hadn't been on your way there."
"In a major earthquake," Kal continued, recalling the ones he'd helped at, "There are thousands endangered and usually a few dozen killed outright. I can't help the ones killed outright and the rest have time. Time for me and other people to get there. I have a sort of scale in my head. How many will die? How quickly will they die? How much damage will there be? How much damage can I undo or prevent? And most importantly, how are the people I love doing? Do they need me?"
He smiled at Richard and Richard brightened, smiling back. He was doing better, finally. The raw emotion and hurt was subsiding as he came to accept that Kal really did want him, not Lois; that he hadn't lost everything that mattered to him.
"So right now there's nothing that outranks me?" Richard said, shaking his head in amazement.
"Exactly," Kal said, smiling. "There's property damage and people hurt but others are there and doing their best to deal with it. I could make it better faster but no lives are at stake that no one else can save."
Richard stood tall and looked at Kal seriously.
"Go," Richard said, looking like the man that Kal had come to love. "I'm OK now. I can deal with Lois and the Planet. You deal with the world. Just don't forget that you've got a deadline on that article today!"
He waggled a finger at Kal and Kal laughed, leaning over towards Richard's lips.
"I won't forget," Kal said, eyes intent on Richard's. "Don't forget what I said. I want you with me, not her."
They were electric as they stared into each other's eyes. Their breath mingled and Kal could feel the warmth of Richard's lips just a hair's breadth away from his own.
"Not going to share me, huh?" Richard breathed, shaking ever so slightly.
"Not with her," Kal said. "We can discuss other people on a case by case basis if it comes to that."
Richard laughed, their lips nearly meeting and then he stepped back, almost back to his normal self.
Kal went, off to save the world or at least the little bits that needed him right now.
Lois didn't know where Richard had disappeared to and it bothered her. She'd been called into Perry's office and when she'd come out he'd been gone. After last night's fight and this morning's … spat (she refused to call it anything more than that), Lois was worried about what Clark would do, how he'd take advantage of Richard. She'd looked when she got out of Perry's office but couldn't find Richard anywhere. She refused to ask anyone if they'd seen him. They were all watching her like they expected her to self-combust at any moment. She could hear them whispering about her, Richard and Clark.
"Busybodies," Lois muttered, heading up to the roof for a cigarette. She needed to escape the eyes and judgmental looks more than she needed the nicotine. "He belongs with me, not Clark. They should mind their own business."
It was windy on the roof. Her dress snapped and billowed in the breeze and she had to fight to protect the little flame from her lighter. After a minute of battling she gave up and put it away with a sigh. Nothing was going her way this morning. Lois looked up and started. Superman was staring down at her, arms crossed, face serious.
"Was that you?" Lois asked, pulling her hair out of her mouth and wishing that the weather wasn't so blustery.
"No," Superman said, settling next to her. "I just got here. Lois, we need to talk."
Impossibly, her heart leapt at the thought that he might want to be with her after all but she squashed it. She'd chosen Richard, not Superman. Even if he did want that, she wouldn't do it. Richard was her life now, not Superman.
"What is it?" Lois asked, heart pounding despite her efforts to be calm.
"It has … come to my attention," Superman said carefully, "That you're still holding hopes regarding me. Hopes that I had thought you had ruled out a long time ago."
Lois' mouth worked. The words were much what she'd dreamed of but the tone of voice was the exact opposite of what she'd imagined. He didn't sound hopeful. He sounded almost annoyed.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Lois said, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Lois, I can hear your heart pounding every time I get close to you," Superman said sternly. "I can see which hormones react, see how your brain is firing if I so choose. You still want me. You can't hide that from me or lie to me about it."
She blushed brightly, embarrassed that her own body was exposing her lie.
"That's pretty rude," Lois said, spearing him with a glance. It bounced off like any bullet would have.
"I took you at your word, Lois," Superman said, frowning. "You said that you'd moved on and that you didn't love me anymore. It hurt but I moved on just as you said you had. Now I find that you hadn't been honest and you're hurting two good men because of it. That's not acceptable. I cannot be who I am and allow it to continue."
"Two good men?" Lois said, astonished. "What in the world are you talking about?"
"I pay attention to Jason, Lois," Superman said, shaking his head. "No matter where I am or what I'm doing, I listen to him. I know that Clark Kent has been helping out. He's been very good to Jason and I appreciate that. I can't do that. I don't have the freedom to do it. That Clark and Richard have found each other in the process and that you're tormenting them both—"
Lois made an indignant squawking noise. Superman couldn't be on everyone else's side? It was obvious that Richard and Clark couldn't belong together. Richard belonged with her and Jason, not with Clark Kent!
"Richard belongs with me!" Lois protested, infuriated.
"Richard belongs where he'll be happy, Lois," Superman said. "Is he happy with you? He's been very happy the last two weeks and you most certainly weren't around."
Lois' breath caught and her lips went thin with anger. First Gladys and Perry, then Jimmy, and now even Superman! They all were trying to tell her that she was making Richard miserable when she knew perfectly well it was his obsession with Clark that was the real problem.
"What does it matter to you?" Lois demanded. "You said you've moved on but you still visit me! You obviously still care about me!"
"I've found someone else," Superman said, the words stark and calm. "You said you'd moved on, Lois. So I moved on, too. You'll always be the mother of my child and I'll always be grateful to you for that. But you aren't the one I love."
Lois swallowed hard, stepping back and turning away. This was not something she'd expected, not anything she would ever have dreamed. Somehow she'd always believed that Superman would be there, caring for her no matter what she said or did. He had always been there, watching, making sure that she stayed safe.
"What's she like?" Lois asked quietly, feeling like she was twisting the knife in her own stomach but unable to stop herself.
"He's everything I've ever looked for," Superman said happily. "Kind, gentle, loving, intelligent, perceptive. He saw through my disguises and saw me, the man inside the suit. He's in a relationship right now and it's going to be difficult for a while. But he matters more than the whole world to me."
'He.' Lois' world froze at that word. Tears welled up despite her best efforts to control them. Why did she keep ending up with men who preferred other men?! First Richard and now Superman, too!
"I did this to you, didn't I?" Lois whimpered, putting her face in her hands.
"Of course not," Superman said calmly to her back. "Kryptonians are bisexual, Lois. It's not the body that matters. It's the soul. For a long while I thought we were perfectly matched but we're not. You never saw any deeper than the suit. Your work is your first priority, then Jason. I would, at best, always be third. I'm not willing to accept that. I want someone whose first priority is me, someone who sees me and accepts me, both Superman and the man I am in private. He does that. He's the first person to ever see through all my disguises, both as Superman and as a private person. He sees me."
She turned and he was looking away, out over the city. He had a peaceful, content expression on his face. He looked utterly at one with the world, happier than she'd ever seen him. The smile was so different from the ones she'd seen before, with her or in pictures. There was a solidity to it, a deep contentment that hadn't been there before.
"What does that have to do with me and Richard?" Lois said, shaking. She told herself it was the wind making her shiver but she knew it was a lie. Which meant that Superman knew it, too.
"I cannot accept you making two good men miserable because you made a huge mistake with me," Superman said, frowning at her again. "Not because of me. I understand that you love Richard. I understand that you chose him over me. I can understand why you did it. Richard is a wonderful man. But you didn't choose him honestly, Lois. You chose him while you kept thinking about me. Until you can truly let me go, it isn't fair of you to cling to him."
"And it's fair to let Clark seduce him?" Lois said angrily. "Two men cannot make a proper family! Besides, he's Jason's father."
"No," Superman said, eyes flashing at her, "I'm Jason's father. Richard has raised him but we all know that I'm his father. You do realize that you're hurting Jason with all of this, don't you? He sees how much pain Richard's in and how unhappy you are, Lois. You need to think about what's best for everyone, not just what's most convenient for you. Stop lying to yourself, Lois. You're smarter than that and you're a better human being than that."
Her mouth dropped open in shock.
"I have to go," Superman said, taking flight. "Think about what I've said today, Lois. If necessary I will come and take Jason from you."
"And who would you give him to?" Lois demanded, tears in her eyes. "You've already said that you can't raise him."
"Probably Richard and Clark," Superman said, pausing before he flew away, "They at least focus on him and love each other truly. A child needs his parents to truly love each other and to focus on him. You don't do that. Your career always comes first."
He flew away, leaving Lois in tears. It took a long time before she could go back downstairs and wash her face. By the time she made it back to her desk, Richard was back working at his desk. So was Clark, typing away at an article. She ignored them both and set to work on her next project. She deliberately didn't track how many typos she was making. But she made far more errors than normal as she typed.
"You're sure you want to pick Jason up?" Richard was saying in his office as the day wrapped up. "Clark could do it, you know."
"No," Lois said, voice biting, "Since you can't be bothered to pick up your own son, I'll go do it."
Kal sighed quietly. It had been a very long, very hard day. Lois had at first seemed to take Superman's words to heart. But as the day went on she clearly convinced herself that she was not wrong, that everyone else was deluded and that she needed to cling even tighter to Richard. She seemed to want to be with him every second. Richard was having none of it. He kept trying, all day long, to get Lois to calm down and act rationally. This last spat was apparently the straw that broke Lois' back, though, sending her back into attack mode. Lois wanted Richard to come with her to pick up Jason and Richard refused.
He didn't have much of a choice. There was a major meeting at the end of the day so he couldn't go with Lois to pick up Jason as she'd all but demanded. This had set off the fight that everyone had been waiting for. It had been loud enough that everyone could hear bits of it through the glass of Richard's office walls. Clark Kent was studiously ignoring the yelling and gesturing, though his face and ears were burning. His name was prominently mentioned in most of the shouts.
Some of the things that Lois was saying were unbelievable to Kal. He'd known that she was ruthless in getting her stories but he'd never expected her to be this ruthless in keeping what she considered to be hers. Unfortunately, she didn't appear to have any mode other than 'go take it and be damned to anyone who gets in the way'. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as Lois stormed off to pick up poor Jason. Kal wished he could call ahead to warn the poor boy. If he'd been confused this morning it was going to be much worse tonight.
"You look like you need a drink," Jimmy said to Richard once he came out of the office again.
"That sounds like a fabulous idea, Jimmy," Richard said. "Let's go do that. Now."
"You have a meeting," Perry said, clapping a hand on Richard's shoulder and keeping him from leaving immediately to get drunk.
Richard bit back curses, met Kal's eyes desperately and then threw up his hands and went off to the meeting. Jimmy hesitated, then turned to Kal. He started to say something, shut his mouth, opened it again and finally started talking.
"Um, is he going to be all right, Mr. Clark?" Jimmy asked, looking worried.
"I … think so," Clark said, saving his article and rubbing his forehead. "This is such a mess."
"What happened? I didn't think you were gay. Oh! Um … never mind. It's none of my business," Jimmy said, stopping Kal before he could say anything.
"It's OK," Kal said, shaking his head. "Lois was really upset that I helped out with Jason while she was gone and they um, had a huge fight last night. It's … a mess right now. She's really upset with me, not Richard."
"Oh," Jimmy said, eyes wide. "Oh! Oh… Well, um, some of the guys and I are going to the bar. You can join us if you want."
"I think I'll wait for Richard, Jimmy," Kal said ruefully. "I'm worried he'll do something stupid if he's left alone."
"OK," Jimmy said and left, joining the others with his tidbit of gossip to share.
How that bit of gossip would mutate over drinks would be interesting to see, Kal thought sourly. He worked away on his article, polishing it long past the point of completion. 'Racooning', Richard called it. An hour and a half later, the meeting broke up and Richard came stomping out, heading straight for his office.
"I need a drink," Richard declared as he pulled on his coat.
"You need to eat first," Kal said, blocking his way. "You didn't have breakfast or lunch. You haven't had dinner. You're getting something to eat before you even think of drinking anything, Richard."
Richard looked ready to argue the point, glaring at him. His jaw was clenched. His hands were fists. He was clearly furious. Kal met his fury with calm tinted by his own anger. He was furious at Lois and what she was doing to them all. Not just Richard, Jason and himself. She was disrupting the lives of her co-workers at the Daily Planet. He'd always known she was selfish but he'd never seen her this bad before.
"Fine," Richard said gesturing at the door, "A burger and fries and then many, many drinks."
"My place, a real dinner and a chance to talk," Kal countered, smiling in spite of himself. "Then drinks if you're still so inclined."
"You cook?" Richard said, surprised.
"Some," Kal shrugged, pulling on his coat as they headed for the elevator. "Not like you. You're a chef. I just know some decent recipes."
Richard grinned, raising an eyebrow.
"Well, if you're cooking, I guess I'll eat it," Richard said. "Better than a greasy burger."
"I was thinking stir fry," Kal said firmly. "Fast, easy and healthy."
"You're on," Richard said.
Kal's apartment was quiet and cold once they got there. He'd forgotten to close the window in the kitchen before he left in the morning and all the heat in the apartment had disappeared over the blustery day. Kal closed the window as Richard settled at the kitchen table, frowning and serious. Kal's lips twitched and he decided to make dinner … fast.
He'd used his powers a few times to make meals when he was starving and stealing time between major emergencies. This was the first time he'd done it for less urgent reasons. But getting Richard to smile again was a good reason. He used super speed to gather the ingredients, chop them up and get everything ready. He put his glasses of to the side. Heat vision cooked the thinly sliced chicken in seconds, prepped the oil and got the pan hot immediately. He worked just slow enough that Richard could watch what he was doing but not quite see the details of it.
"Whoa," Richard said, drawn out of his thoughts. "Where's the fire?"
Kal chuckled, glancing at Richard with twitching lips. He let the stir fry cook a bit and made a salad at super speed, set the table and got them both a beer to drink. Richard had gotten him the beer as a 'house warming gift' a few days ago. Inside of three minutes, they had a full dinner ready and waiting for them.
"Was that to cheer me up?" Richard asked as they settled down to eat.
"A little bit," Kal admitted, smiling as he put his glasses back on.
Richard reached over and took them off again. He set them on the far side of the table and smiled determinedly at Kal.
"You don't need them with me," Richard said, "So don't."
"All right," Kal said after considering arguing the point for a second. "But only in private. I need to wear them in public. It's part of the disguise."
"You don't have to wear a disguise with me, Kal," Richard said, leaning his chin on one hand.
"I know," Kal said, running a finger along Richard's wonderfully stubbly chin. "And I can never thank you enough for that. Now eat your dinner before it gets cold."
"You sound like my mother," Richard laughed and they started eating.
"I can't believe you told her that!" Richard said as he was finishing up his second beer, and Kal his first. "You'd really take Jason away from her?"
Dinner had been just what Richard needed. He hadn't realized that he'd been that hungry. Or that Kal had talked to Lois before coming back to work as Clark. Their discussion of that little encounter had been enlightening for Richard. No wonder Lois had been so clingy and possessive. Kal may not have realized it but he'd just made Lois worse by taking that tack.
"No, though the thought is really tempting," Kal said. "She was being so damned stubborn and I was so angry at her. She can't keep doing this. He needs parents who will love him and make him a priority. And she needs to let go of me, and you, too."
Kal shook his head sadly, making Richard smile at him. Kal was so worried about Jason that it touched Richard's heart. He'd spent most of Jason's life helping the boy understand that his mother did love him; she was just busy with work. It had gotten harder as Jason had gone to school and seen how other parents cared for their children. But Jason knew Lois loved him in her own way. He was glad to hear that Kal wouldn't really do it.
"I have no idea how you'd make that stick anyway," Richard said, pondering it. "She could press charges."
"I was thinking of a paternity suit," Kal said, smiling rather wickedly. "As Clark Kent."
"Oh my god!" Richard said, bursting into laughter. The thought of it made him roar, especially the image of Gladys carrying that bit of gossip to everyone in the Planet. Kal grinned at him, sipping his beer slowly. Richard eventually stopped laughing and wiped his eyes.
"That would almost be worth it," Richard said, chuckling. "Oh, God, that would be perfect. I keep picturing Gladys getting that bit of info and running with it. Literally. Arms flapping and heels clacking and that frumpy tweed skirt she always wears going up to her knees with every duck-step."
Kal started chuckling, putting his face down in an effort to stop. He tried to stop but couldn't. He laughed as hard as Richard had, until there were tears in his eyes and he was breathless. It was the first time Richard had seen Kal laugh like that. It made him very happy to think he'd done it.
"You are evil," Kal said, grinning at Richard.
"Thank you," Richard said, pleased.
They grinned at each other and started gathering up the dishes, taking them to the sink. They rinsed the dishes and loaded the dishwasher in silence, until the kitchen had been restored to order. Richard sighed, looking out over the warehouse and the park in the distance. Night had fallen as they'd eaten dinner and talked. Lois had to be furious, home alone with Jason.
"I should probably head home," Richard said finally, the thought making him miserable.
"Lois took Jason out to eat," Kal said calmly. "You'd just be going home to an empty house. Stay a while longer. There's no rush."
Richard sighed, leaning on the counter top. They'd both abandoned their jackets after dinner. The apartment had warmed up again and it was comfortable here, in the bright, open kitchen. Richard had always been fond of kitchens, having basically grown up in one as a child. His mother had loved to cook and it had worn off on him.
"I didn't think that Superman got angry," Richard eventually said quietly. "Or Clark."
"Superman doesn't, generally," Kal said, crossing his arms and looking at Richard. "Clark gets flustered and then defeated. But Kal, well, Kal has a temper I'm afraid. I've worked my whole life to control it but its still there."
"Must be confusing," Richard said, looking sideways at him. "Being three people."
He was wondering if and when Kal would pick up on the subtle invitation of his pose. Most of his former lovers, even Lois, would have reacted to it by now. But then Kal was different. That was part of why Richard had come to love him so much.
"Not really," Kal said, studiously ignoring the offered ass. "I've got a lot of practice at it. You learn over time how to do it. It was harder when I was a teenager and my powers were still developing."
Richard stood and moved closer to Kal, testing to see if he'd retreat. He didn't, but he got very, very still, almost trembling as he kept himself in check. Richard smiled, a wry little crook of the corner of his mouth.
"Regretting saying it this morning?" Richard asked, tentatively laying a hand on Kal's crossed arms. The muscles jumped under his hand.
"Never," Kal said, relaxing a little. "But I won't … push things, Richard. If you need time, that's fine. I can wait."
Richard blinked, surprised. He cocked his head, trying to remember the details of their conversation this morning. He couldn't, too much had happened since then. He'd been too upset to remember everything that was said, on either side.
"Um, why would I need time?" Richard asked finally.
"Well, it had to be something of shock for me to say that right out of the blue," Kal said, all of nervousness that characterized Clark Kent's coming to the fore. "And, well, I know you still love Lois. I'm just hoping that someday you'll, well, um, m-maybe come to love me, too…"
Richard reached up and caught Kal's face in his hands and pulled him down into a kiss. Richard didn't let it be just a quick peck or even a simple kiss. Richard wrapped his arms around Kal's neck to keep him there. His tongue flicked at Kal's lips, enticing him to open his mouth. Kal moaned deep in his throat and pulled Richard close. Their tongues met, tangled, danced and time went away for Richard. It had been far too long since he'd kissed like this.
"Stop being silly," Richard whispered when their lips finally parted. "I love you so much more than her, Kal."
Kal swept him up off his feet, hugging him ferociously. They were both shaking, Richard slightly and Kal hard. Richard buried his face in Kal's neck, breathing in the scent of this man that might one day be wholly his. The thought made Richard deliriously happy.
"Never said it before," Kal whispered in Richard's ear. "Not to me or when I could hear it.
"Sorry," Richard laughed breathlessly. "Thought I had. Have to say it all the time from now on."
Kal's voice was a husky rumble, filled with lust and love and deep appreciation. Richard rumbled his own moan and pulled back enough to look Kal in the eyes.
"Shut up and kiss me again!"
"Shut up and kiss me again!"
Kal grinned at Richard, amused in spite of himself.
"Are you sure?" Kal asked, nuzzling Richard's chin and that wonderful little buzz of sandpaper he was so envious of. "I might not stop."
"Stop and I swear I'll break my hand punching you," Richard growled, then moaned at Kal started nibbling at his ear. "Oh god, please don't stop!"
"Mmm," Kal said into the nook between his neck and ear, "Stop what?"
Richard whimpered, fingers latched into Kal's hair as his breath hitched and his hips thrust against Kal. Kal could smell his arousal, taste it in his skin, feel it in the fierce hardness hidden behind Richard's slacks. Richard's fingers were working Kal's tie loose and then fumbling with his buttons.
"Suit?" Richard said, surprised but not displeased as his fingers traced the raised 'S' on Kal's chest. "Barely got to touch it before."
Kal moaned, loving the feel of Richard's fingers across his chest, even if the milliskin suit was in the way. He recaptured Richard's lips, pushing them back into the counter, hips grinding. Richard worked Kal's shirt free from his pants, pushing it down his shoulders to reveal the red and blue suit underneath. Kal's hands pulled Richard's tie loose, tossing it aside. Then came far too many buttons for Kal's patience at the moment but Richard had no other shirt to wear so he undid them at super speed. Richard's shirt went flying in the opposite direction from his tie.
"'S in the way," Richard muttered, tugging at the suit as Kal's hands caressed his chest and back.
"Let go for a second," Kal said, grinning.
"Ooo," Richard said, pausing in his tugs, "I'm not sure I can do that."
Kal laughed, nipping Richard's neck had enough to make him gasp and let go. A quick burst of speed and the suit was gone. He kept the pants, not wanting to push things too fast.
"Much better," Richard murmured, pulling Kal back to him. "Wanted to touch you for so long!"
"Me, too," Kal murmured, kissing his way down Richard's neck and shoulder, pausing at the bruises on his shoulder where Kal had grasped him in the morning. "Oh, Richard... I'm sorry! I didn't realize I'd hurt you."
There were livid bruises on Richard's shoulder exactly matching Kal's hand and fingers. He gently traced the bruises, biting his lip. This was what he always worried about; hurting the person he loved with the sheer power his body held. He hadn't realized he'd squeezed hard enough to bruise.
"Hush," Richard said, catching Kal's face and turning him to look into his eyes. "I've gotten worse than that from a good workout, Kal. Don't you dare loose heart because of those little bruises."
Kal held him close, trembling. It was something of a mistake, given the thin thread that held his self-control right now. Their naked chests rubbed together, muscle against muscle and Kal moaned. It was so utterly different from his encounters with women such as Lois. His dream of last night was suddenly far too vivid in his mind. He tried to let go and Richard clung, biting his neck. Kal murmured something incoherent until Richard's hand snaked between them, stroking Kal's erection through his pants.
"Oh god," Kal gasped. "Stop that!"
"Not letting go," Richard chuckled as he nibbled his way to Kal's chin.
"Please!" Kal whimpered. "Won't be able to stop!"
"Good," Richard said into Kal's lips, "Don't want you to stop."
He recaptured Kal's lips and the kiss was hot and wet, desperately urgent. All the while Richard's hand worked Kal's erection, drawing moans and shudders out of Kal. Richard let Kal's lips go and licked and bit his way down Kal's chest to his pants. He paused, kneeling with Kal pressed against the kitchen counter and then bit at Kal's erection through his pants.
"Mine," Richard murmured, working the fly.
"Only yours," Kal agreed, fingers trembling on Richard's head as the pants came free and his erection sprang out.
"Yes," Richard breathed, admiring it for a moment that seemed to stretch to eternity but Kal knew was barely a heartbeat.
Richard took Kal in his hands, gently stroking and then guided the tip to his mouth. His tongue flicked at Kal, making him gasp and splay his fingers out straight so that he wouldn't destroy the new kitchen countertop. Richard took Kal in his mouth. Every dream Kal had ever had, every fantasy, everything he'd read as he started realizing he was falling in love with Richard proved to be a dim comparison to the reality of his mouth around Kal's hardened flesh.
Richard's tongue and lips were brilliant. His hands stroked and caressed Kal. Kal moaned, fingers going to Richard's head and then away after a feather-light touch. He still feared hurting Richard. But Richard's mouth quickly took even that thought away and Kal's hands gently rode his head as Richard's mouth rode his erection. Kal caught his breath and held it as he trembled on the edge of orgasm for a long moment that seemed no time at all. Then he fell over with barely the time for a gasped warning to Richard. After it was done, Richard stood and pressed against Kal, panting, lips red and wet.
"You're not going home tonight," Kal whispered, pulling him tight.
"Don't want to," Richard said, voice husky. "Want to stay here with you."
"My bedroom?" Kal murmured, cupping Richard's ass.
"Now!" Richard said, grinning at Kal.
"I meant do you want to stay in the spare bedroom?" Kal laughed, kissing Richard.
"No," Richard said seriously. "I do not want to stay in the spare bedroom. I want to go to your bedroom, right now, and continue what we've begun. I'm no where near done with you yet, Kal-el!"
"Good," Kal said, grinning. "Because I'm certainly not done with you."
"You're holding back on me," Richard said to Kal much later.
They were cuddled in Kal's bed, tangled together like a ball of string attacked by a kitten. It was the middle of the night, long past the time that Richard would have come home, no matter how busy he was at work. The thought of Lois waiting for him didn't bring any guilt. She'd done too much lately for him to feel bad about making her worry. He'd turned his phone off before he went into the meeting with Perry and had no intention of turning it on until tomorrow, maybe around noon. Or maybe quitting time. If at all.
"I … don't want to hurt you," Kal said, not meeting his eyes. "I could hurt you so easily, Richard. I already did."
Kal turned out to be very good indeed at blowjobs but very reluctant to actually take Richard. Their touching hadn't gotten past what Richard called heavy petting. Which was wonderful, but Richard wanted more than just that. Kal seemed convinced it was as much as the two of them should do.
"I doubt that you could have gotten through to me this morning without being that firm," Richard said gently. "I was pretty out of it and needed a reality check badly. Nothing but that would have done it, you know."
Kal sighed, pulling him closer, so that they were snuggled together like two jigsaw puzzle pieces. They fit nearly as perfectly. Those bruises on Richard's shoulder haunted Kal every time he touched Richard. Richard could see it, feel it, and almost taste it in Kal's kisses. He was holding back, holding back his impulses, holding back his strength, holding back his heart to the point Richard felt like a piece of fine china wrapped in bubble wrap on a shelf.
"I'm too strong," Kal murmured eventually.
Richard could hear fear in his voice. He sighed, playing with Kal's hair. They'd circled around this ever since they came to Kal's bed. Kal had said outright that a man who could lift continents to outer space should not be having sex with another man. He was terrified of hurting Richard, maybe killing him if he got too passionate.
"I'm a lot less fragile than Lois," Richard countered.
"I gave her some nasty bruises when we were together," Kal admitted in a shame-filled voice.
"Is that all?" Richard asked, surprised.
From the way Kal had been reacting, Richard had wondered if there'd been broken bones or something. He'd been imagining all sorts of nasty injuries to Lois' body and wondering how she'd hid it from everyone else. But it if was just bruises, that wasn't anywhere near as serious as Kal seemed to feel it was. His concern for Richard and his guilt over Lois' bruises made Richard's heart love him even more, despite the frustration of not getting what he wanted tonight.
"Is that all???" Kal said, pulling back to look at Richard. "Isn't that enough?"
Richard chuckled, fingers going up Kal's ribs and across his broad chest. Kal smiled at him, capturing the hand and kissing his fingertips. Kal released Richard's hand and Richard went right back to tracing those muscles and playing with Kal's nipple. Kal laughed quietly, nuzzling his neck.
"A few bruises when someone as small as Lois gets together with someone as large as you is nothing, Kal," Richard said. "Heck, it might have happened even if you'd been a normal human. For heaven's sake, I've bruised her before. She's so fair skinned that it's almost inevitable sometimes."
"Can't say that I agree," Kal murmured, face in Richard's hair. "It's not right, Richard, hurting the person you love."
"Obviously, you do not get into fetishes other than skin-tight suits," Richard said, grinning at Kal's snort of disgust.
Kal pulled back and lay on his side, leaning on one elbow. It outlined the muscles of his arms and shoulders, made his stomach ripple in ways that made Richard's body react immediately. No one should look that good at 1:00 am, no matter who they were. Kal's lips were twitching with what might be amusement but his eyes looked mildly annoyed.
"I don't wear the suit because I have a fetish," Kal said. He was definitely annoyed.
"Didn't say that you did," Richard said, tracing a finger along his jaw. "Not like Batman, anyway. That man definitely has some fetish action going."
Kal laughed at that, running his hand over Richard's stomach. He leaned close, kissing Richard's neck. Richard moaned, pushing at Kal's shoulders until he lay on his back. Richard swung astride his hips, frowning at Kal's immediate flinch. He was frozen in place, the fear and worry keeping him from so much as touching Richard.
"I'm not going to settle for blow jobs and hand jobs," Richard said, leaning on Kal's chest.
Their lips nearly brushed, breath shared, warm and moist between the two of them. Kal's hands came to rest gently on Richard's hips. They were shaking ever so slightly. Richard brushed his nose against the tip of Kal's nose, smiling gently.
"If you need more time, that's fine," Richard said, "But I won't settle for less than everything, Kal. I'm a lot tougher than you think I am and you're a lot more vulnerable than I would have believed until tonight."
"Bullets and bombs I can handle," Kal admitted, quietly as his hands stroked Richard's back. "I couldn't handle hurting you, especially that way."
Kal's mind might be worried but his body was reacting strongly to Richard astride his hips. His erection pressed against Richard's ass, hot and hard and ready, even if Kal wasn't. Richard smiled and kissed Kal as gently and thoroughly as possible, wrapping his arms around Kal's neck as Kal half sat up in the bed, cradling him close. It turned into a passionate kiss, hot and urgent and full of tongues battling in Richard's mouth.
"Let me do it," Richard whispered, once the kiss broke. "If you're worried about hurting me, let me be on top, Kal. Please."
"I don't …"
"Please," Richard repeated, hoping desperately Kal would finally consent. "Please, Kal."
Kal held him tight, face buried in Richard's neck. Richard nuzzled his ear, caressed his back, and couldn't help but rock against Kal's hips and thighs, the feel of his erection against Kal's body too much to resist. Not to mention Kal's erection rubbing against Richard…
"You … want it that bad?" Kal murmured finally, voice muffled by Richard's flesh.
"Yes," Richard said simply, starting to shake with excitement that he might finally get what he'd been wanting all this time.
He'd thought about this ever since he figured out who Clark was. He'd thought about it every night while Lois was gone, every day while they worked together and many, many times while he was with Lois in their bed. It had become his favorite fantasy, Kal taking him, making Richard his. Kal swallowed hard and loosed Richard enough that they could look in each other's eyes. Kal was frightened, Richard could see it, but he was also excited.
"You're all I've through about for weeks, Kal," Richard admitted. "This is what I want. I want you in me. Please…"
Kal's mouth worked for a moment but no noise came out. He shut his eyes and ran his hands up Richard's body, rubbing over Richard's nipples for an instant. Then he nodded, eyes fluttering open to show a man as nervous as Clark Kent had ever been at his worst. Richard breathed a laugh, kissing him gently.
"Trust me," Richard said with a grin, "This is something I know how to do. Though I haven't for a few years."
"I trust you," Kal said simply. "I've just … never … with a guy before."
Richard reached for the lube that Kal had surprised him with earlier in the night, body pulsing with excitement. It was quite literally a dream come true for him. Kal moaned and clutched the sheets as Richard slicked his erection up and then straddled his hips again. Richard shivered and took a deep breath, relaxing as much as he could, given how excited he was.
Then he slowly, carefully, gently worked Kal into his ass. The first tentative thrusts made Kal flinch. Richard ignored the flinches, the pleasure more than enough, especially as the head entered him and it got easier. Richard groaned, riding Kal the way he'd wanted, though a little more gently that Richard would like right now to get Kal used to it. After a little, Kal's hands were on his hips, helping guide Richard.
"Does it hurt?" Kal asked, biting his lip with worry.
"God no!" Richard panted, head flung back. "You feel so good!"
Richard moaned, bracing himself on Kal's chest and pushing harder and faster. His eyes were shut so he was surprised when Kal flipped them over, putting Richard underneath, on his back.
"Ah?!" Richard gasped and then groaned in ecstasy as Kal took charge.
Kal's mouth was on Richard's, tongue thrust into Richard's mouth the way his body pounded into Richard's ass. His hands took Richard's, holding them down. Richard locked his fingers into Kal's, whimpering, and wrapped his legs around Kal's back. It was better than his fantasies, better than his dreams. Despite having come earlier, Richard found himself teetering on the edge of orgasm. There was a long, sweaty wonderful time where Richard could hear himself crying out, saying Kal's name but had no control over his voice and then he came, back arching and head flung back.
"Richard!" Kal gasped and came, too, hard and deep inside of Richard. He clutched Richard close as the waves swept over him and then they subsided slowly, panting together.
"T-told you I wouldn't be able to stop if I started," Kal murmured once they'd caught their breath.
"I really am going to have to break my hand on you, aren't I?" Richard laughed breathlessly. "How many times do I have to tell you that I don't WANT you to stop, Kal? I want you, all of you, from now on. I don't want anyone else touching me but you."
"Lois still has a claim on you," Kal said mournfully.
Richard hit him.
"Why didn't Daddy come home last night?" Jason asked his mother as she served him dinner. "Is he on a trip? When is he coming home?"
"Eat your dinner," Mommy said, lips going tight and getting the wrinkles around her eyes that made Jason go instantly quiet.
She was mad. Really mad, Jason realized. He ate in silence as Mommy watched the clock and picked at her food. There was a third plate at the table for Daddy but he wasn't there. He hadn't been there last night when they got back late from dinner. He hadn't been there when Jason woke up in the morning. He hadn't picked Jason up after school the way he normally did. Mommy did it and that was really strange. She never picked Jason up two nights in a row.
"Sorry I'm late!" Daddy said from the front door.
"Really?" Mommy said, voice like ice. "I wouldn't have known."
"Don't start, Lois," Daddy said warningly. "Perry has a new assignment for you and wanted to go over it with me first before he told you in the morning. It's a big one that you're going to love. That's why I'm late. Hey, great! You got Chinese! I'm starved."
He hugged Jason one armed and sat, slinging his jacket over the back of his chair. They sat in silence. Jason got done first and fidgeted for a while. Mommy was finally eating but she still had those angry lines around her eyes. Daddy looked tired but determined, his mouth all firm even while he chewed. There was a weird bruise on his neck that Jason didn't remember seeing before. Normally they talked a lot while they ate, though Jason rarely said anything. He didn't understand most of what they talked about. Tonight the quiet was scary. Something was wrong. Jason didn't know what it was but something was wrong.
"May I be excused, please?" Jason asked once he decided he couldn't stand sitting there in the silence between his parents one second longer. "I want to go play."
"Of course," Mommy said, smiling weakly at him. "Take your plate to the sink and wash your hands before go."
"Yes, ma'am," Jason said, hurrying away.
He went and played on his piano for a while but the music didn't make them start talking the way it normally did. Then he went and played video games because normally Daddy joined him and Mommy would watch and sigh over the waste of time and intellect, whatever that meant. It didn't work. Daddy didn't show up. Mommy didn't either. So he got his paper and crayons and started drawing because Mommy liked his pictures and maybe it would make her feel better, like it had when Superman was sick. He spent a while on the picture. It had Mommy and Daddy hugging and smiling, with Jason between them and Uncle Clark in his Superman suit standing beside them all.
Jason went looking for his parents. They weren't in the kitchen, where he'd expected to find them. They weren't doing laundry, though the hamper was overflowing. They weren't in the study where Mommy went to write. They weren't anywhere downstairs so Jason headed upstairs. He heard angry voices and slowed until he was creeping up the stairs.
"I can't believe this!" Mommy was saying. Her voice was angrier than he'd ever heard. But there was fear in her voice too, and that made him go silent. "You're leaving me? You're leaving us?"
"No, Lois," Daddy said, sighing, "I'm just moving to the spare bedroom. It can't go back to the way it was, Lois. I love you, truly I do, but I don't love you that way anymore. I can't live the way we were any more."
Daddy's voice was gentle and kind but very, very sad. Jason crept up to their bedroom door and peeked in. Mommy was crying. Daddy looked like he was going to cry, too. Daddy's suits and clothes were on the bed instead of in the closet. Even the formal, dressy shoes that he hated wearing were out of the closet.
"You have a strange way of showing love," Mommy said, turning away from him and going to the window.
"You don't really love me, Lois," Daddy said so sadly that Jason started crying for him. "You love Superman. I'll always care for you but I can't be a substitute for him. I can't love you the way you want me to. Our life has to change."
"What about Jason?" Mommy asked, making Jason nod urgently from the door, biting his lip to keep from saying anything.
"He's not truly my son and you know it," Daddy said, chin quivering at the thought. "He's Superman's son and someday Superman will want to be a father to him. I'll always love Jason as though he was my own son, Lois. I love that little boy more than life itself. But you know that it hurts him more to see us living a lie and hurting each other than it will for him to learn the truth. We've fallen out of love and that happens sometimes. It hurts but it happens."
Jason ducked back around the corner of the door, eyes wide. Uncle Clark was his real Daddy? He'd felt the 'S' on Uncle Clark's chest many times when he picked Jason up. He could see that they were the same person even if Mommy couldn't. But Jason hadn't known that Uncle Clark and Mommy had been in love once. Was that why Daddy had tried to get Mommy to bring him home? Was that why Mommy had been so upset by it? But then why would Daddy say that Mommy still loved him? It didn't make sense.
"But I do love you!" Mommy protested from their bedroom. "I chose you, Richard, not him!"
"I know, Lois," Richard said sadly. "But I can't keep living this way. It's tearing me apart and I won't let it go on. You're just going to have to accept it because this is the way it is. No more living lies."
Jason crept away from their door, still clutching his drawing. Next time he saw Uncle Clark he'd ask, Jason decided as he put the drawing up on the wall next to his bed. Uncle Clark never lied to him. Jason cried, scrubbing his eyes with his sleeve. A few minutes later he heard Mommy and Daddy head back downstairs. Jason curled up on his bed, wrapping himself in a blanket.
Jason didn't hear his parents come in later to check on him. He didn't hear Lois start crying again. He didn't hear the fight after that nor did he hear Richard leave again, taking a couple of changes of clothes with him. He didn't hear any of it. He'd fallen asleep. He was dreaming of flying with Uncle Clark, way up high in the sky, Uncle Clark in his Superman suit and Jason in a nice warm jacket with bright red mittens to keep his fingers from getting cold.
Kal sighed as he rode up in the elevator to his apartment. Richard had been right, he had made it worse with his threat about Jason. That Richard hadn't gone home last night and that he had a dandy hickie just showing above his collar hadn't helped things at all today. Lois had been worse, picking fights with Richard all day long. He was utterly relieved to be heading home and even more relieved that all the major emergencies had happened earlier in the day. Nothing was happening right now that he'd be any help with at all. He just wanted to collapse on his couch and rest for a bit before going on a midnight patrol.
Kal jumped, staring as he came out of the elevator. Martha Kent stood at his door, a battered old suitcase resting at her feet.
"Mom!" Clark said, astonished. "What in the world are you doing here?"
"I had a checkup in town tomorrow and decided to come by your new apartment," Martha said, smiling warmly at him. "I was just going to find a hotel close by since you weren't here. I'm glad you showed up. Can I borrow your spare bedroom overnight?"
"Of course!" Clark said, hugging her. He opened the door and carried her bag in. "Is everything all right?"
Clark scanned her quickly but didn't see anything worrisome, other than increasing old age. He could never think of himself as Kal when he was around his mother. Not that this version of Clark was very different from Kal, anyway, Clark thought with a mental grin. The people at the Planet wouldn't recognize this Clark as the same person at all.
"No, nothing's wrong, dear," she said, patting his cheek after he took her coat and hung it up. "I just had a yearly check up and decided to visit you. We've only had brief visits while you were on patrol since that whole incident with Lex, after all."
"I suppose I should have visited for longer," Clark said, hanging his own coat up. "Want me to make dinner? Won't take very long if I hurry it."
Martha smiled at him and nodded. "Some tea would be nice, too, dear."
Clark grinned and hugged her again, utterly glad to see her. They went to the kitchen and she oohed and ahhed over his new kitchen and the balcony as Clark 'hurried' the teapot and dinner for the two of them. They settled down and ate, her sharing stories of the farm and latest doings in Smallville. He shared stories of the articles he'd written and projects he was working on, as well as some of the minor events he'd helped on. The major ones she knew about through the news. He wasn't sure how to bring up Jason and Richard, so he let it rest for now.
"You're all smiles," Martha said a couple of hours later as Clark took their plates to the sink. "You haven't stopped smiling once since I got here."
"Really?" Clark said, surprised. "I hadn't noticed."
"Mm-hmm," Martha said, nodding and studying him over her second cup of tea. "So what's the good news that's gotten you so cheerful? Did you meet someone new?"
Clark blushed, fidgeting with the dishes. Suddenly he was 15 and seriously thinking about a (male) schoolmate again. That little discussion had gone well, but Richard meant so much more to him that it was hard to say anything. Jason first, then Richard, Clark decided, pouring himself a second cup of hot water for tea to fiddle with.
"Well, you remember Lois," Clark said sitting next to her.
Clark carefully tore open the teabag package. The tear was exactly straight across the top. He took out the tea bag and put it in the water, making sure that the string was nice and straight and didn't get into the water as it slowly sank and steeped. Then he carefully tucked the torn strip inside the package and folded it into quarters.
He only did this with tea when he was really nervous and she knew it. He'd done it since he was a small boy, never been able to stop himself, and didn't think he'd ever be able to stop. Martha knew that every time he did this he had some huge bit of news that was making him nervous and he needed a little time to calm down before he talked to her about it or something would be destroyed.
"How could I not?" Martha said once the tea bag had been carefully squeezed and set aside. Her voice was amused though he didn't dare look at her.
"Well, um, we … went a bit father before I left than I told you," Clark said, stomach in a knot, "And I got … something of a surprise when I came back. She has a son, Mom. And … well, he's … mine."
"Oh, my," Martha said, laying a gentle hand on his arm.
Clark finally met her eyes, relieved to find her not angry or upset, but excited and a little stunned. She met his eyes and they both started smiling. It was the biggest smile he'd seen on her face since his father died. Clark covered her hand with his free one and squeezed gently.
"Does she know who you are?" Martha asked, setting her cup of tea down. "Are you part of his life? Has he shown any sign of powers yet?"
"No, she doesn't," Clark said, making a face. "I've started being a part of his life but things are difficult right now. Lois … well, she really doesn't like me, not as Clark anyway. He has shown some signs but only during an adrenaline rush so it should be OK."
Martha nodded, serious now. There had been a couple of incidents in his small childhood that had given hints of what he would become but his powers hadn't truly developed until he was a teenager. The process of learning to deal with those powers had been 'interesting', as Martha put it.
"He's too young for that sort of power," Martha said quietly. "I'm glad that he's getting a childhood, not having to learn to use the power too young."
"Agreed," Clark said, "Though … well, that's the other half of what's made me so happy lately."
Martha looked confused.
"Well, Lois was with someone named Richard," Clark said, fiddling with his tea again. He could feel Martha's smile at his tea-fiddling without even looking up. "Richard's been raising Jason as his own son, though he always knew that Jason wasn't. And …"
*Damn that woman!* Richard's voice echoed in the elevator, startling Clark into silence. *One step forward and five steps back.*
"Clark?" Martha said, touching his elbow to recapture his attention. "Is something wrong? Do you need to go?"
Clark jumped, startled to find that he'd stood. He gulped, hearing the elevator open and Richard stomp down the hallway. He looked down at her, then up at the door and sighed, feeling very much like he was trapped by kryptonite with no where to go.
"Ah, well, no," Clark said, being very careful not to touch her or the chair behind him. "I don't need to go anywhere. Not now."
She stopped as Richard's copy of the key rattled in the lock and Richard stomped in, flinging a pair of suits and a duffle bag of clothes on Clark's couch. Richard had loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top several buttons at some point and the hickie that Clark had given him stood out vividly on his neck. His eyes were snapping with anger and he all but vibrated he was so upset.
"What happened?" Clark said, going to Richard's side without hesitation.
"Lois, that's what!" Richard growled. "That … I won't say it! I won't! She deserves every bit of a cussing out but I won't. I'm spending the night again and maybe tomorrow if she keeps this … up."
He looked behind Clark and suddenly froze, going red in the face and tugging his collar to hide the hickie.
"Um, guest?" Richard asked, pointing to Martha.
"Yes, sort of," Clark said, shivering a little with nervousness. "Richard, this is my mother, Martha Kent. Mom, this is Richard White, Jason's other father and … well, my lover."
"Richard, this is my mother, Martha Kent. Mom, this is Richard White, Jason's other father and … well, my lover."
Richard's heart froze solid in his chest for what seemed like an eternity and then started hammering like it wanted to leap straight out of his body. Every fiber of his body was screaming to run but Kal's hand was large and warm and steady on Richard's elbow, nailing him in place. This was definitely not what he'd been expecting when he headed over here, not 'The Talk' with a woman he knew nothing about and who was likely to be upset that Richard had seduced her son. He tried to say something but nothing was coming out of his mouth, not even garbled noises.
Martha walked over, full of fragile, elderly beauty and studied him for a long moment.
"I can see why you chose him," Martha said finally, nodding at Richard with something like approval. "Now come finish your tea and tell me all about it, Clark. You, too, Richard."
She turned and headed back into the kitchen, leaving Richard with his jaw dropped to the floor and Kal grinning ear to ear.
"Ah, she's…" Richard finally managed to say, staring at Kal.
"That's my Mom," Kal said, grinning. "Nothing fazes her."
"After you nearly demolished the barn learning to fly and set fire to my curtains with your vision," Martha said from the kitchen, "How could anything else you do be beyond understanding or acceptance?"
Her eyes twinkled at Richard as they joined her at the table, Kal sitting Richard down and going for a mug and some coffee for him. Richard could feel himself shaking as he sat at the table. First the anger with Lois and now this. His own parents had been very accepting of Richard's 'choices' in life. Even his uncle Perry had accepted it for the most part, though he'd seemed glad that Richard had settled down with Lois. But his male lover's parents … they had always been a different matter. Anger, recrimination, hated, sometimes actual fist fights had been the result when he'd met parents before. There hadn't been time yet to talk about it with Kal. He hadn't even known Martha's name until Kal introduced them.
"It's all right, dear," Martha said, patting Richard's arm.
Her gentle pat nearly made him jump out of the chair with surprise. He'd clenched his hands together on the table, sitting so rigidly that he almost hurt.
"Hasn't gone well in the past, I take it?" Martha said to him, eyes sad.
"Ah, no," Richard said, taking the cup of coffee that Kal gave him gratefully.
Kal sat opposite Richard, frowning worriedly at him. Richard sipped at his coffee, trying to calm down. Kal and Martha looked at each other, apparently coming to some unspoken accord to let him drink his coffee in peace for a little bit while he calmed down.
"You were so nervous when you talked to me about Pete in High School," Martha said to Kal, smiling at him. "But really, after breaking up with Lana I wasn't at all surprised. He was your second closest friend, after all. You always have formed close relationships with other men."
"True," Kal said, smiling at her. "Not that anything came of it. It was just rebound."
"This … isn't a surprise?" Richard asked, looking back and forth between the two of them.
Martha chuckled and shook her head, offering her mug of tea to Kal. Kal grinned and heated it with a blast of laser vision, making Richard laugh. He shook his head, finding himself relaxing despite his nervousness. This was so different from the other times he'd 'met the parents'. Not even Lois' family had been this supportive of him, and they thought he was the father of Lois' child.
"Very convenient once he learned to control it," Martha said wryly to Richard. "No, not a surprise. Not really. He was always special, you see, so we learned not to be surprised when he came home and told us odd things. Besides, you seem to be good for him. He hasn't smiled this much since his father died."
"I already told her about Jason," Kal said, "Which made her smile more than I've seen since Dad died."
They smiled at each other, making Richard's lips twitch. It truly seemed to be OK, much to his amazement. This was even smoother than his coming out his parents. They'd at least been surprised by it.
"So how did you figure it out?" Martha asked Richard, sipping her re-warmed tea.
"Well," Richard said, beginning the story of how Lois had followed a lead to Lex's yacht and gotten trapped, along with Jason's burst of power to save her. Kal continued with the continent that Lex had created. Richard picked up with getting the fax and how they'd both flown to the rescue. Kal went grim as he explained why he hadn't been able to save Lois and Jason himself. Richard hadn't known about the fractures in the earth, threatening Metropolis. Richard explained how he'd gotten there and they'd gotten trapped when the yacht got split in half. They leap-frogged through the explanation, talking for nearly an hour before they got to the current events.
"So she truly can't see it," Martha said sadly. "I always had doubts about her, though Clark never listened to me on that point. He thought she was the love of his life and wouldn't hear anything to the contrary."
"I still think that they'd have been perfect together if she'd ever figured it out," Richard said, shrugging. "I can so see it. Clark and Lois and their son Jason, maybe several other kids running around."
"That's never going to happen now," Kal said firmly enough to make Richard blush and Martha smile at him. "I love you, not her. I'll never be able to love her, not after being with you. There's no comparison."
The certainty in Kal's voice made Richard feel better. It was one thing to hear it in the bedroom but another thing entirely to hear it in front of the man's mother. His blush deepened and then faded as the thought about Lois and Jason. Richard sighed, swallowing the last, bitter dregs of his coffee. There was one last bit that Kal didn't know.
"Kal," Richard said, mouth grim, "Jason overheard our fight this evening. I'm … pretty sure he heard me say that you're really his father and I'm not. That's what the second fight was all about and that's why I left the house tonight. Lois just about fell to pieces when she realized that Jason had found out. We need to talk to him about this soon. He needs to know the truth about you and about us."
"Wonderful," Kal said, shoulders hunching and head going to his chest. "I'd hoped that he could have a normal childhood. I didn't want him to know that he was going to be special until he was older."
Martha patted Kal's arm, smiling sadly at him.
"Normal is a relative term, Clark," she said. "Nothing about his life is normal compared to the way you were raised, out on a farm in Kansas. He's the son of two good reporters with busy work lives. That's what he considers to be normal. You need to think of what's best for him, not what worked best for you as a child. Tell him the truth and help him come to understand it. Everything else will fall into place, I'm sure."
"Mommy, I don't have any clean underwear," Jason's quiet, plaintive voice said, snapping Lois out of her thoughts.
She started and stared down at Jason, surprised. He was looking up at her with sad eyes that nearly made her break into tears again. For the third time this morning. She'd barely been able to sleep last night, especially knowing that Richard was going to Clark's arms that night. And the night before. Her dreams had been full of rejection and pain. Richard's side of the bed was empty and cold when she woke up and now she found that life wasn't going to give her a break on any front.
"You don't?" Lois asked, petting his cheek, "Did you double-check?"
"Yes, Mommy," Jason said, nodding. "I don't have any undies left at all."
Jason went and checked, searching his drawers. He was right, there wasn't a single pair left. She checked the laundry hamper and flinched. It was overflowing. Richard usually did the laundry, since Lois was normally working on a story and she did the floors. Lois hadn't even thought of laundry for ages. Yet another thing she was going to have to start doing since Richard was … She couldn't finish the thought, not with Jason standing their watching her.
"Let me see if I can hurry a load along, Jason," Lois said. "You can have breakfast in your jammies for now."
"OK, Mommy," Jason said, smiling brightly at her.
He headed for the kitchen happily. He never got to eat breakfast in his jammies during the school week so it was treat to him. Lois put in a light load of whites, got them going and hurried to the kitchen. She left behind at least four more loads of laundry still to be done. Jason was standing at the fridge, looking in.
"There's no milk for my cereal, Mommy," Jason said, looking serious. "What do I have for breakfast?"
"Oh for—" Lois said and stopped herself.
She wouldn't swear in front of Jason, no matter how tempting the situation was. There wasn't anything decent for breakfast that didn't take more time to prepare than they had. She ended up making Jason instant oatmeal and toast with jam. By the time that was done she could switch the laundry. Jason needed help with his homework next, preventing her from reviewing her article for the paper the way she normally did first thing in the morning. Then it was time to pull the laundry out and help Jason get dressed.
"Can I have pizza for lunch, Mommy?" Jason asked once he was dressed.
"L-lunch?" Lois asked.
Jason nodded seriously, eyes grave and face still. He was being so good, too good, Lois knew. Neither of them dared bring up the fact that Richard wasn't there. Lois couldn't bring herself to ask Jason what he'd heard last night. She'd start crying and Jason would cry and they'd never get to school or work.
"Daddy always makes me lunch to bring to school," Jason said. "Can I have pizza in my lunch today?"
"Did he make lunch for you last night?" Lois asked and then shook her head immediately. "No, of course not. He got home late, didn't he? And left … early."
She rubbed her forehead, sighing. Richard was the cook in their relationship. Lois could make a few things but only a few. Richard loved to cook, loved to make food for them, loved sharing good things to eat with the people he loved. Lois viewed it as a tedious chore and they didn't have the time anymore for her to make anything. They were supposed to be out of the house 10 minutes ago.
"You'll just have to have the school lunch, Jason," Lois said, smiling weakly at him.
"Really?" Jason said perking up. "Wow, Mommy! I never get to eat the school lunch! Oh boy!"
He ran off to gather his schoolwork and Lois whimpered deep in her throat. What was she going to do if Richard never came back? She couldn't do this by herself, not and do her job! There was no way. Lois fought off tears again, getting dressed in a simple brown pantsuit with a cream blouse.
"I need money for lunch," Jason told her as she strapped him into his car seat.
"Of course, sweetie," Lois said, quivering slightly. "How much do you need?"
"I don't know, Mommy," Jason said, looking puzzled. "I've never had the school's lunch before. Maybe my teacher can tell you?"
"Sure," Lois said, smiling weakly at him. "I'll ask when I drop you off."
It put her nearly half an hour later than normal. That little discussion nearly had Lois in tears yet again. Why did everyone have to assume that something was wrong? It would be fine once she convinced Richard to leave Clark alone. Even as she thought it she knew it wasn't going to happen. Richard had made that amply clear during the last fight last night. The drive from school to the Planet took almost 45 minutes because she got caught in rush hour traffic that she normally avoided by being early.
Lois sat in her car once she got there and had a quick cry. Then she cleaned her face up, redid her makeup and headed up in the elevator. She was never this late. Never. She arrived at her desk an hour past starting time. It didn't really matter, given the amount of overtime Lois normally worked but it was the principle of the thing. Richard was in a meeting with Perry. Clark was at his desk, typing away at an article. When Richard came out of the meeting he didn't even look at Lois. He went straight to his office and settled at his desk to work. Lois felt like she'd been stabbed. He could at least have said hello!
"Lois," Perry called, "I want to talk to you."
"Sure," Lois said, heading into his office.
Perry sat behind his desk and studied her for a long moment. Lois tried not to quiver.
"Lois," Perry said, "You know I've supported you and Richard since the beginning. But things have changed. Obviously changed. I don't care what the three of you do in private. I want that clearly understood. I've already talked to Richard and I'll be talking to Clark soon. You can do whatever you want outside of the Daily Planet. The one thing that I require is that you do NOT bring your personal issues to work. I won't have the last two days repeated."
"No buts, Lois," Perry said sternly. "You and Richard were a long-shot from the beginning. An odd couple. I didn't care. You made Richard happy in your own way and Jason is a wonderful boy. But it was obviously never going to last or you would have married him years ago. Keep your personal issues out of the workplace, that's all I'm saying."
Lois bristled, then wilted, sitting in the chair opposite Perry.
"Fine," Lois said, nails digging into her palms to keep the tears at bay. "Was that all you had to talk to me about?"
"No, actually it isn't," Perry said, smiling at her. "I have a new assignment for you. Come check this out."
He took her to the project board on his wall where they mapped out all the major, continuing stories that the Planet was covering. There were dozens, including the regular columns, the short-term stories and the long-term assignments that were the plums of the Planet.
"Gary is retiring," Perry said, pointing to his beat. "I'd like to assign you to cover Washington DC. It will mean a lot more traveling but you're the best choice. You're our strongest domestic reporter and you're a bulldog on a story, Lois. We need you there."
"Oh my god," Lois said, brightening up immensely. It was a dream come true, the sort of assignment that she'd dreamed of for years. She'd worked for ages to get this sort of assignment, nearly her whole career.
"I talked to Richard about what to do with Jason," Perry said, crashing Lois' good mood with one name, "And he said that he'd talk with you about it last night. Apparently that didn't happen, did it?"
"Ah, no," Lois said, going pale and hugging herself.
"Well, go talk to the man and keep it civil," Perry said, patting her shoulder. "If you can't keep it civil at least take it up on the roof. You don't want to know the things that Gladys had been saying."
Lois groaned and rolled her eyes, making Perry smile at her. Gladys' capacity for gossip exceeded Lois' drive for work and Superman's powers. She was a legend at the Planet for her ability to sniff out any hint of gossip and communicate it to everyone faster than the speed of light. Lois loathed her. But that was OK, as Gladys loathed her, too.
"Go get that worked out and then let me know," Perry said. "I've got a couple of days before Gary needs an answer. There are a lot of contacts you're going to need to meet in Washington if you do take it, so you need to decide quickly."
"Thanks, Perry," Lois said, looking at the planning board display with an aching heart. What the hell was she going to do? Clark had no reason to want to take care of Jason other than helping Richard out. He wasn't going to want to live with him. "I … need a cigarette first."
"Go," Perry said, nodding. "But keep it civil, Lois. I mean it. If I have to, I'll send the lot of you home and skip your articles for tomorrow's paper."
"Now that's cheating!" Lois said, hands on her hips. She'd never yet missed a deadline or had an article pulled from the lineup. She certainly wasn't going to start now.
"Whatever it takes to keep the Planet running, Lois," Perry said with a grin, "Whatever it takes. Go. Let me know the answer as soon as you can."
"Well, here's the first draft of my article," Clark said to Richard. "I'd appreciate an opinion on it."
"Right," Richard said, nodding. "You um, heard?"
"Of course," Clark said, blushing.
Richard's talk with Perry had been a great deal more frank and explicit than the talk Clark just overheard with Lois. Perry had made it perfectly clear that he didn't care who Richard had in his bed, as long as it didn't cause trouble at the Planet. In Perry's words: "I don't give a damn who you sleep with as long as the paper gets out but right now you're fucking with two of my best reporters and I won't have it!" Richard's response to that had gotten heated enough that it was audible to everyone outside the glass office, making Clark turn beet red again. At least their talk had ended on a positive note once Richard was done venting to Perry about Lois.
"Lois just finished up with him," Clark said, sighing. "I … I'm going to talk to her on the roof. She's heading up for a cigarette break."
"Be careful, Clark," Richard said, frowning. "She's liable to be … difficult."
"I know," Clark said, nodding. "I will be."
Lois was up on the roof by the time Clark left Richard's office, already nursing a cigarette. Clark checked to make sure that Gladys was busy at work and then headed up. Lois was crying when he got there, wiping the tears away with shaking fingers. She looked small, weak and fragile.
"Lois, we really need to talk," Clark said, making her start and glare.
"I don't know what about," Lois snapped and turned away to hide her tears from him. "Why don't you go peddle your ass somewhere else? Haven't you done enough damage as it is?"
Clark flinched. How did she do that? She always found exactly the right words to make him feel like he was scum. He shook his head and dropped the Clark-act. He needed to be Superman for this talk. He needed to be strong, sure and in control, not hesitant, meek and shy.
"Comments like that are one reason why I never told you," Kal said, unbuttoning his shirt enough that the 'S' would show.
"Told me …" Lois turned and her mouth dropped open. "What?!"
Her eyes flew to Kal's face and she went pale, dropping her cigarette. Kal buttoned his shirt back up, letting the anger and pain show in his face. Enough was enough. This wasn't just the three of them anymore. Jason was being affected, as was everyone at the Planet and it was time that it ended.
"You never told me," Lois whispered, voice full of hurt. "All those years we worked together and you never told me! You were sitting there right next to me and you never said a word. You left and you never said anything. You came back and you never said anything! How could you?!"
"I couldn't," Kal said, walking over beside her. "One of the rules I live by is that I never tell anyone. They have to find out for themselves. Richard is one of the few who have. I think Jason knows, too, but I'm not sure. There have only been three others, Lois. And the only reason I'm telling you now is Jason. He's more important than my personal rules."
"Richard never told me," Lois said, now annoyed at Richard. "He could at least have hinted!"
"I made him promise not to," Clark said firmly. "It wasn't easy to get that promise out of him but I did it. I can't risk too many people knowing who I am, Lois. It would be dangerous to the people around me, especially Jason."
Lois laid shaking fingertips on Kal's chest, feeling the 'S' under his shirt. At one time, having her do that was one of his greatest dreams. Now he found her touch intrusive and annoying. Hers weren't the fingers that he wanted to be touching him. Hers weren't the eyes he wanted seeing him this way.
"That's why he was pushing us together," Lois said, voice shaking as hard as her hand was.
"He wanted you to see it," Kal said, moving her hand off of his body. "He … well, he thought a threesome would work but he clearly didn't understand either of us that well. I'm just not the type to share that way and neither are you. Neither of us is likely to share our love with more than one person. Richard's special that way, I suppose."
Lois shook her head, clearly still trying to accept it all.
"That's what Superman," She stopped, eyes wide, "I mean that's what you meant about meeting someone else. And that's why you said you'd give Jason to… Oh, I'm such an idiot!"
"Far be it from me to disagree with the Daily Planet's best reporter," Kal said, grinning at her look of disgust.
"Really, Lois," Kal said, lips twitching with amusement, "I thought that I gave myself away completely with that one. But you've been making me so mad lately that I … lost my temper. I would never actually take him away from you. He needs his mother but things have to change."
Lois sighed and leaned against the railing. He'd expected her to be more upset than this. But she was probably still in shock.
"I wonder what Gladys will say," Lois said, rubbing her chin.
"To what?" Kal asked, watching her warily.
Kal had learned over the years that whenever she got like this, Lois was plotting something big. She'd done it with the World Trade series and the Lex articles. She'd even done it with the "I Spent The Night With Superman" article. And he wished now that he'd understood the warning signs at that time. Though if he had, Jason wouldn't be here.
"To finding out that you're Jason's real father," Lois said, looking into the distance. "It does explain why I was so upset, you know. Beyond your stealing Richard, of course. I was trying desperately to keep my son away from the man who fathered him so he wouldn't take him away. You wanted to take him to raise him yourself and I wanted to keep him with the parents he'd always known. It works…"
It was just like Lois to come up with a back-story to explain why she'd been behaving the way she had. That it portrayed her as the protective good mother didn't bother him at all. If it made her let Richard go and let Kal be a part of Jason's life, then that was fine. Having Gladys find out would make it instantly known to everyone and would move everyone's attention off of her and onto him, which would probably help her calm down and stop being so difficult with everyone. Not that Kal necessarily wanted to be the focus of attention but he'd deal with it the way he'd always dealt with things. He'd work through it, this time with Richard at his side.
"You're going to let Gladys find out?" Kal said, lips twitching.
"You think she won't?" Lois said, raising an eyebrow at him. "Without either of us trying?"
"Good point. She has better ears than I do, I think," Kal said, smiling. "So what do we do about Jason? Especially with your new assignment."
"How--?!" Lois started to object and then rolled her eyes at herself. "Never mind, I obviously still haven't accepted this yet. Of course you heard. I don't know. I was worried that …"
She stopped and stared at Kal as though she'd had a sudden revelation.
"Worried that what?" Kal prompted, arms crossed on his chest. He heard the elevator behind him and glanced using X-ray vision. Gladys with a cigarette already at ready, snooping for gossip. He cocked his head at the door, smiling and mouthed 'Gladys'. Lois swallowed a laugh, turning away to study the skyline. As the door eased open carefully, Lois started talking again.
"I don't care if you are Jason's real father," Lois said, lips twitching with amusement though her voice was perfectly in character as an aggrieved woman, "I still can't forgive you for stealing Richard. Or leaving without saying goodbye."
Kal had to swallow a laugh of his own. Way to get it out right off the bat!
"You drove him away, Lois," Kal said, "He just wanted me to be a part of my son's life. Besides, you didn't exactly let me talk to you after that night. You're the one who turned this into a huge mess. That Richard fell out of love with you is your own fault. That he fell in love with me is still a shock."
"Not to me," Lois said quietly but not so quietly that Gladys wouldn't hear it. "It makes total sense to me. We do need to talk about custody since Jason found out. Maybe split custody or something."
"We'd be glad to take him whenever you're out of town," Kal offered, hoping that her calm and agreeableness would last after Gladys went away with her newest nugget of gossip. He didn't really think that it would. "He's a joy to be around. But he needs to be told all of this, Lois. He shouldn't find out from someone else."
"Agreed," Lois said as the door eased shut again and Gladys ran for the elevator, cigarette forgotten.
One mission down, Kal thought, chuckling and shaking his head. One more to go: Telling Jason the truth.
"Richard!" Perry yelled as Richard was heading out to pick up Jason from school that afternoon, "Get in here!"
Richard sighed, finishing pulling on his coat and headed into his uncle's office. The day had gone surprisingly well. Lois had been civil. Clark had been relatively calm during his talk with Perry and afterwards. No one had picked any fights, at least among the three of them. But the rest of the Planet was in an uproar and Richard had been too busy to ask Clark what was up. He knew Gladys was at the heart of it but then, she normally was. The woman lived for her gossip and right now the three of them were her favorite subject matter.
"What's up, Perry?" Richard asked, checking for his keys. "I need to go pick Jason up from school."
Perry glared, waited until the door shut and then laid into Richard.
"What the hell is this about Jason not being your son?" Perry yelled. "Everyone's saying that he's Clark's son!"
"Oh, is that what everyone's been going on about today?" Richard said, finally putting the pieces together. "Sure, it's true. I thought you knew that. Heck, there was no way he was ever mine."
Perry stopped mid-rant, arm raised to gesture at him, making Richard fight to keep from laughing out loud. Sometimes a totally matter-of-fact nonchalant attitude did more than all the cursing in the world. Now if it had ever worked on Lois they'd have had a lot fewer fights over the time they'd been together.
"You mean it's true?" Perry said, collapsing into his chair.
His eyes were wide and his face was so pale that Richard worried about his heart giving out on him. Perry wasn't getting any younger. Heart problems ran through his side of the family, though Perry had never had any problems personally. It was part of why Richard made sure he stayed fit. He didn't want to risk a heart attack someday the way some of his relatives had.
"Of course it's true," Richard said, snorting. "Really Uncle Perry, you can count as well as I can. You know perfectly well that we didn't get together until after Lois had been pregnant for at least a month. I caught her on the rebound. It just took a while to figure out who she was rebounding from."
"I thought it was Superman," Perry admitted, shaking his head. "I'm serious, I really did."
"So did I," Richard said, grinning. "And in a way, it was. She loved Superman but well, that's not going to happen. And Clark was there and about the right size, dark hair. Good looking once you take of the glasses. I think it was a one-night thing over drinks that had … consequences. Clark was in love with her for years, after all. He was probably more than happy to 'pretend' for her."
Perry started chuckling. He wagged a finger at Richard, grinning.
"You are so going to get yourself into trouble with that tongue of yours someday, my boy," Perry said. "Go pick Jason up. Late night tonight?"
"Probably," Richard said, finally finding his keys. "Lois has the new assignment to prepare for. I've got a big article to finish. Clark's going to look after Jason for us. And have a talk with him."
"If the three of you can keep things civil," Perry said as Richard headed for the door, "This might actually work well for him."
"That's what I thought from the beginning," Richard said with a cocky grin. "But no one listened to me."
Richard got to the school earlier than normal, just as school was letting out. Jason was playing with some of his friends before their parents came for them. Jason's teacher, Ms. Kerrington caught him, pulling him aside. She looked worried as she watched Jason playing. She was huge, taller than Clark and nearly as broad in the shoulders, with long red hair and intense green eyes. Despite her size and obvious weightlifting addiction she was excellent with the children and a wonderful teacher who cared about all of them individually.
"Jason made some rather worrying comments today," she said to Richard. "He kept talking about having two daddies. Is there something going on right now that we should know about?"
"Ouch," Richard said, flinching. "Well, yes, there is. Lois and I are in the process of a breakup and I'm … well, I'm getting together with Jason's real father. You should meet him sometime. You'll see where a lot of Jason's personality comes from."
"He's not your son?" she said, astonished. "Good heavens, I had no idea."
"No," Richard said, smiling at Jason as he politely said hello to his friend's parents a few yards away. "We've kept it from him but he found out last night. I got together with Lois after he was conceived and well, it's complicated."
Ms. Kerrington studied him, a puzzled and amused expression on her face. One of her ears poked out of her hair. The second day of school, Jason had come home and told Richard that Ms. Kerrington had funny ears. She did. She also knew things that it was impossible for her to know and seemed stronger than even her obvious weightlifting could account for. Richard was convinced that she was as special in her way as Kal was. Thus he wasn't at all worried about sharing odd facts with her.
"How in the world did you meet and get involved with Jason's real father?" she asked, hands on her hips.
"Oh, he works at the Daily Planet," Richard said, grinning. "Has for years. He worked with Lois for years before I met her. He was madly in love with her but she was never interested. I think Jason was a … well, an accident on their part during a night out for drinks, though I don't know for sure. He went on a 5-year round the world trip right after Jason was conceived, I think to forget her. He came back to find Lois a mother and with me. I figured out that he was Jason's father recently and tried to get him involved in Jason's life. Lois fought it and our relationship sort of fell apart. We haven't quite gotten things worked out yet, but Clark and I are … very together now."
"Ah," Ms. Kerrington said, nodding. "That explains a lot of what he was saying. You are planning on discussing it with him, aren't you? He's a very bright little boy but he needs to have you talk to him."
"We are," Richard said firmly. "Probably tonight. It will take a while for everything to work out but we all love Jason more than anything so we're all committed to making it work."
"Excellent," Ms. Kerrington said as Jason ran over.
"Daddy!" Jason said, beaming at him.
He tackle-hugged Richard as though he expected Richard to disappear on him. He might, Richard thought sadly, picking him up and hugging him close. Jason wrapped his arms around Richard's neck and buried his face in Richard's jacket. Richard patted his back gently. He was sure Jason was upset now.
"There's my boy!" Richard said. "Missed you this morning, kiddo. Ready to have dinner at the Planet with Uncle Clark?"
Jason pulled back enough to look at Richard, a puzzled expression on his face. Apparently this was not what he'd been expecting. They really did have to talk with him, explain what was going on in terms that Jason would understand.
"Is Mommy still sad?" Jason asked, face going still.
"A little bit," Richard said, "But it's better than it was. Uncle Clark needs to talk to you. You OK with that?"
"Yes, please," Jason said, nodding. "I want to ask him a question."
Richard smiled, rubbing his forehead against Jason's. He was pretty sure what that question would be. At least they'd finally gotten to the point where Jason could ask the question without Lois going through the roof. He hoped. Maybe. He'd have to make sure that he kept Lois busy for this little talk, Richard decided. Jason and Clark deserved the chance to talk it out together without Lois or Richard interfering.
"Well, let's get some takeout for dinner and head back," Richard said, nodding at Ms. Kerrington as they headed away.
"Can we have pizza for dinner, Daddy?" Jason asked hopefully.
"No, no pizza, Jason," Richard said, grinning. "How about Mexican?"
He strapped Jason into his seat and the headed off, Jason still bargaining for his favorite pizza dinner. It was almost like a normal afternoon, if not for everything that was being left unsaid.
As closing time hit, Perry chased everyone out. Kal had seen Perry get protective this way before, but not recently. It would have been rather amusing, if it hadn't been Kal and Lois that Perry was being protective of. Once everyone was gone except for Lois and Kal, Perry pulled him aside for one last word of advice.
"Tell the kid straight up," Perry said, patting Kal's arm. "Don't hem and haw. He'll think you don't want him or something."
"Y-yes sir," Kal had said, every bit of Clark's nervousness real at that moment. He really hadn't expected that Perry would be so supportive. His nephew's son wasn't really his and Perry just accepted it? Perry smiled, pulled on his coat and departed, just as Richard and Jason arrived with bags of food for everyone to eat for dinner.
"Mommy!" Jason said, running to her and hugging her tight.
She clutched him, face in his hair for a long time. Neither of them seemed inclined to let go any time soon so Kal turned to Richard, helping with the dinner he'd brought. There was enough for a small army. They'd have leftovers to bring home on both sides, no matter who Richard ended up going home with.
"How'd it go?" Kal asked Richard as they got the food out. He'd gotten Thai and the spicy food smelled wonderful.
"Well, he definitely overheard us last night," Richard said, sighing. "He was talking about having two Daddies at school."
Kal winced, going red.
"He has a question for you," Richard said, lips twitching. "Three guesses what it is and the first two don't count. I'll run interference with Lois while you talk to him. Make sure he eats. He was saying he wanted pizza and wouldn't eat anything else. I think the other kids advised him to try and use it to get what he wants from us."
"They would," Kal laughed, "That's what kids do."
Lois finally let Jason go and they portioned out the food. Jason ended up next to Kal, making Lois twitch a little until Richard gave her a hard look. Jason ate quietly, obviously not happy about Thai food but eating it because Kal gave it to him. Lois finished first and went to help but Richard stopped her, getting her involved in a discussion about her new assignment and what to do with Jason while she was out of town. They headed off to the side, out of Jason's earshot.
"Um, Uncle Clark?" Jason said, once they were gone, "Can I ask you a question?"
"Sure," Kal said, studying him with a smile.
"A-are you… um, my … Daddy?"
Jason looked like he was about to explode from nervousness. Kal pulled him into his lap, hugging him close. Jason whimpered and clung to him, arms wrapped around his neck. Kal could hear Lois and Richard arguing in the background but he focused all but two tracks of his mind on Jason. His son needed him right now.
"Yes," Kal said quietly, "I am. But so is Richard."
"Huh?" Jason said, confused.
Kal chuckled. This was a talk that Kal had gone through with his parents when he was Jason's age and figured out that he'd been adopted. It was well before they admitted to him how special Kal was going to be, of course, but it still was one of his best memories of his parents. Their love for him had shown so very clearly during that talk and it had gotten him through some very difficult times later in his life.
"Who your Daddy is doesn't depend on blood, Jason," Kal said, petting his cheek. "It depends on love. My blood parents died shortly after I was born and I was adopted. My adoptive parents had no blood link to me at all but they were still my parents in every way. They loved me and I love them. It's the same with you and Richard. He may not have a blood tie to you but he's your Daddy because he loves you and he raised you. Richard was there, raising you your whole life. I wasn't here so I'm very, very grateful that he was your Daddy. While I may be your father, Richard will always be your Daddy and I'd never take that away from either of you."
"You went away for a long time," Jason said, his hands tracing the 'S' on Kal's chest. "Is that why you didn't raise me?"
"Partly," Kal said, pleased that Jason had figured it out already. "Also because your Mommy and I never got together the way she and Richard did. It was … it was different for us. It never worked, though we tried for a while. Have you told anyone about this?" He gestured towards the 'S' that Jason was still tracing.
"No," Jason said firmly. "That would be bad. All the cartoon superheroes have secret identities and when someone finds out bad things happen. So I've never said anything, not even to Mommy, not even when she was so mad and crying about Daddy."
He shivered, bottom lip starting to quiver. He curled into Kal's lap, one hand latched to Kal's shirt. Kal frowned, tucking him into his lap and rubbing his chin over Jason's hair. Jason's breath hitched as he fought tears and lost.
"Mommy and Daddy fight all the time now," Jason whispered, voice broken.
"I know," Kal said, petting his hair and holding him close. "I'm sorry."
He held Jason as he cried, possibly the first time that Jason had let himself cry while anyone was around. Kal let Jason cry himself out, not knowing what to say. How did you explain something like this to a small child? His parents had fallen out of love and now his Daddy had fallen in love with another man. It wasn't something that Kal would be comfortable discussing with a teenager, much less someone Jason's age. After a couple of minutes, Jason calmed, wiping his tears away and sniffling.
"Are you and Daddy in love?" Jason asked, looking up at Kal. "Is that why Mommy's been so unhappy?"
"Ah, well, yes," Kal said, surprised at how accepting Jason was of the concept. "You understood that?"
"Like the Two Daddies book at school," Jason said, nodding. "Daddy said a long time ago that he sometimes looked at guys that way and that it was OK if I did someday. But I don't know if I will. That's grown-up stuff. I'd rather have Mommy and Daddy be happy again. If they have to be apart to be happy it will make me sad but I still want them to be happy. It's scary when the fight all the time."
"I don't think they're going to be living together anymore," Kal said quietly. "Richard wants to move in with me."
"In your new apartment?" Jason said, brightening up. "Can I have the spare bedroom and stay there sometimes? That would fun! I like it there. There's a balcony and lots of stairs and the kitchen is really big and pretty yellow."
"I think that's what your Mommy and Daddy are talking about right now," Kal said, smiling. "I'm sure you'll be visiting at least, Jason."
"Daddy looks happy when he's with you," Jason said quietly as he played with Kal's tie. "He doesn't look happy when he's with Mommy, not anymore. And Mommy only looks really happy when she's working. Is that OK? Only being happy when you're working?"
Kal laughed, not surprised that Jason had asked that question. He'd wondered that many years ago when he'd first met Lois. She had more drive for her career than most men did. A lot of her coworkers, male and female, found it threatening. Kal had found her fascinating and then had fallen in love with her because of it. But the intensity of her work drive had never transferred over to him. He knew she felt that way about Jason, though. It was obvious in how she protected him.
"It's OK. That's just the way Lois is," Kal said, tapping his nose. "It's part of why I fell in love with her all those years ago. She loves you, too, you know, just as much as her work. Probably even more. She just doesn't show it the same way other Mommies do."
"That's what Daddy said," Jason said, nodding. "I wasn't sure. The other kids say it's not normal and she doesn't really love me."
"They're wrong," Kal said firmly enough to make Jason stare at him. "They're wrong, Jason. She loves you. She's just different from most Mommies, that's all."
"Oh," Jason said, reassured to the point that he relaxed entirely in Kal's arms. "Do you have any work to do tonight, Uncle Clark? Can you help me with my schoolwork? Hey, can I call you Daddy, too?"
"How about calling me Papa?" Kal offered, smiling at him. "Less confusing that way."
"Good idea," Richard said from behind them, laying a gentle hand on Kal's shoulder and ruffling Jason's hair. "Papa Clark sounds good to me."
"Daddy! Mommy!" Jason said, squirming out of Kal's arms and into Lois'. "You're smiling!"
She smiled at Kal, the most open and respectful smile he'd ever gotten out of her. Maybe this was going to work out after all, Kal thought as Lois picked Jason up and oofed at his weight. Jason laughed, hugging her. Kal smiled back, relieved that she didn't seem upset. Maybe she'd heard what he'd said about her and Jason? He'd been focusing so hard on Jason that he hadn't truly noticed when their discussion had ended. Richard leaned over, his lips close to Kal's ear.
"Or should it be Papa Kal?" Richard murmured to Kal and kissed his cheek.
"We'll see," Kal said, turning his head and kissing Richard's cheek. "There's time before I tell him the rest. I think he knows what he needs to know for now. We can tell him the rest as he needs it."
It was so strange watching Clark with Jason, Lois thought as she ate her dinner. She'd never thought of either Clark or Superman as being particularly fatherly. But with Jason it was like a whole different person came out. Clark was calm, quiet, no nervous tics, no stuttering, no worries. If this was the person that Richard had gotten to know, Lois could see why he'd fallen in love. He had all the calm and control of Superman combined with the warmth and humanity of Clark. Richard's pointed glares made it perfectly clear that she wasn't going to get to know this person the way she suddenly wanted to. Lois finished and went to help Clark with Jason but Richard caught her arm before she could do more than stand up.
"We should talk about your new assignment," Richard said quietly.
"Ah, well," Lois said, frowning at the too-silent-even-for-him Jason.
Richard pulled her away, out of earshot. Jason almost immediately started talking to Clark, which made Lois start to quiver again. This was her son and she was supposed to be there for him but suddenly he was talking more to someone else than he ever talked to her. It was threatening. It was scary. It was a relief. She crossed her arms on her stomach, wishing her guts would decide whether to be upset or happy. These roller-coaster emotional swings were getting very annoying.
"I wish I could decide if I should be mad or happy," Lois muttered, looking away from Jason and Clark.
"You're going through a lot right now, Lois," Richard said gently. "Give yourself some time. You're going to be gone most of the time with this new assignment. We really should talk about how to handle Jason, who he should live with and all that."
Lois sighed. She'd checked with Gary earlier in the day. If she managed to be home three days out of seven she'd be doing good. Washington was her dream assignment, the brass ring that she'd been working towards for years. But she'd (mostly) given it up when she'd gotten pregnant with Jason. Richard's relationship with her had let her continue her work in a way that most women wouldn't have been able to. But now Richard was gone and there was no way she could carry the load of working the Washington beat plus taking care of Jason and the house.
"We're going to have to sell the house," Lois said, firming her shoulders. "It's far too big for Jason and me. There's no way that I could take care of it alone."
"Good idea," Richard said, nodding but frowning at her. "We'll have to sort through what to keep and what to get rid of but that's not that big of a deal."
"And … you two need to take custody of Jason," Lois said, lips quivering.
Richard's mouth dropped open in surprise. He clearly hadn't expected that. Lois didn't want to do it. But having discovered that Clark was Jason's real father, Lois knew that Jason would be loved and wanted by both of them. Richard had always been Jason's primary caretaker, though Lois would never admit it out loud. Her sole worry about trusting Jason to them had been that he wouldn't feel like he belonged there. Obviously, he did belong there, though. Jason and Clark were making that very clear right now.
"Are you sure?" Richard said concerned, rubbing her elbow.
"Richard, I'm going to be gone more than I'm here," Lois said, shaking her head. "I'll probably be here on weekends, but during the week I'm going to be gone. I checked with Gary. He hasn't seen his wife or kids in years except on weekends, usually every other weekend."
"Hmm," Richard said, looking at Clark and Jason.
Jason had crawled into Clark's lap and buried his face in Clark's shoulder.
"How are we going to explain this to Jason?" Lois asked, voice low. "There's no way he's going to accept the whole two daddy thing."
"I think he already has," Richard said, giving her that crooked smile that had won her heart after Superman left. "He was talking about having two Daddies at school today. Ms. Kerrington pulled me aside to talk about it."
Lois groaned, rubbing her face in her hands. That woman gave her the creeps. No female should be that big, that strong or that intimidating. The only way Lois could handle dealing with her was by pretending it was a man, not a woman speaking to her. Not that it helped that much.
"What did you tell her?" Lois asked, dreading the answer.
"The truth," Richard said, shrugging. "That we were breaking up and that I was getting together with Jason real father."
"Did she pound you?" Lois asked, laughing a little.
"Not at all," Richard said, grinning. "I still don't know why you have so many problems with her. She's always been wonderful with me."
"She's a battleaxe with me," Lois grumbled.
She glanced back over at Clark and Jason. Jason was tracing the 'S' hidden on Clark's chest, making Lois flinch.
"He knew," Lois said, hand to her mouth. "Everyone figured it out but me!"
"Well, Jason does get to snuggle," Richard said, chuckling. "You don't. So will you get an apartment with two bedrooms? And how soon do you want to sell the house?"
"Right away," Lois said, letting Richard distract her. "Yes, a two- or three-bedroom apartment would be perfect. Does Clark … Do the two of you have a two-bed?"
She quivered as she changed the question. It hurt to think of Richard as no longer with her. But what else could she do? She wanted this assignment. She wanted to be there, reporting on Washington. And both Clark and Richard had made it very clear that it was over for her with them.
"Yes," Richard said, eyes so warm and happy as he looked at Clark. "Jason helped us pick it out, actually. You know, they have another apartment on a lower level, Lois. It's not the best neighborhood but it is very convenient to work and school. You might look at it."
"Don't you think that would be a little weird?" Lois said archly. "Me living in the same building as the two of you?"
"Very convenient for Jason, though," Richard suggested, grinning cockily at her. "He could just run upstairs and downstairs to visit or be babysat."
"Good point," Lois said, shaking her head. "Still seems weird to me but tell me where and I'll check it out tomorrow. I don't have a lot of time for apartment hunting. Gary wants me to start traveling with him right away."
They talked about Gary and Perry's plans for a little while. Lois was going to be lucky to see Jason more than twice in the next two months, if everything went as expected. She had to go to Washington, meet all of Gary's contacts, establish her own relationships with them. She knew she wanted to establish her own contacts there, which would take time and work. Richard listened and offered to take over selling the house. They spent a while discussing which pieces of furniture to sell and which to keep, Lois watching Clark and Jason from a corner of her eye.
"They … do seem to get along well," Lois said reluctantly.
"Jason adores him," Richard chuckled, "And Clark loves him so much."
Lois headed over and this time Richard let her. Jason and Clark were so involved in their conversation that they didn't seem to hear Lois and Richard approaching. Her heart about stopped when Jason asked if it was OK for Lois to love work more than him. She didn't love work more than him! Even as she thought it she wondered if it was true. Here she was planning on giving him away. How could she say that she loved him when she was giving him away?
"It's OK. That's just the way Lois is," Clark said with a chuckle, tapping Jason's nose. "It's part of why I fell in love with her all those years ago. She loves you, too, you know, just as much as her work. Probably even more. She just doesn't show it the same way other Mommies do."
"That's what Daddy said," Jason said, nodding. He still didn't see them standing behind the two of them. "I wasn't sure. The other kids say it's not normal and she doesn't really love me."
"They're wrong," Clark said so firmly that Lois started. "They're wrong, Jason. She loves you. She's just different from most Mommies, that's all."
Lois covered her mouth with her hands to keep from crying. Richard patted her shoulder reassuringly. Richard went to Clark's side and Jason squealed to see her smiling at them. She lifted him up, hugging him close. He was getting heavy but not so heavy that she couldn't still carry him.
"My big boy," Lois murmured to Jason, making him smile.
"You OK, Mommy?" Jason asked, that too-serious-for-his-age expression in his eyes.
"I'm fine," Lois said, kissing his forehead. "Change is just hard for me. It will all work out, Jason. We all love you and we're going to make it work out."
"I still can't believe she's giving us Jason," Kal said quietly as Richard unlocked the door to their apartment. "I never expected her to do that. I thought she'd fight us for years for him."
Richard chuckled, smiling at Kal.
"I was surprised too," Richard said, "But not very surprised. She really wants that assignment and she can't do it if she's got primary care of Jason. Not that she ever really took primary care of him. I was doing that once he stopped nursing. She's always focused first on her career."
"Still…" Kal said, checking for Martha as they walked in.
Martha wasn't waiting for them in the living room or the kitchen. She'd apparently gone to bed already, Richard noted as he put the leftovers in the fridge. There was a note on the table that Kal read and smiled at. Richard peeked over his shoulder and smiled too. Martha was staying for a week, in hopes of getting to meet her grandson before she went home. She'd added a thank you to Kal for letting her know that they'd be home late.
"We should bring Jason over tomorrow night," Kal said quietly but firmly. "I want him to meet her."
"Me too," Richard said, smiling.
Richard ran a hand up Kal's arm, smiling at him. This was his apartment now, and his lover. He wasn't going to have to shuttle back and forth. He didn't have to worry about Lois trying to lay claim to him now. Richard was Kal's, finally, in everyone's eyes except maybe his coworker's and his family. It brought such a feeling of happiness that Richard almost felt like crying.
"You look so happy," Kal murmured, running a thumb over Richard's chin and lips.
"I am happy," Richard said, pulling Kal into a hug and kissing his chin and over to his lips. "I'm yours, now. Utterly and completely yours. Lois admitted it! Jason's OK with it. Your mom's happy with it. Even Uncle Perry's OK with it."
"Good," Kal said, grinning at Richard. "Ready for bed?"
Richard laughed, running his hands down Kal's sides under the jacket, starting to unbutton the buttons of his vest. Kal set to work on Richard's tie and the buttons of his shirt. They kissed and half-stripped each other as they headed into the bedroom and shut the door behind them.
"Can't be too noisy," Kal murmured to Richard as he eased Richard's shirt down his arms, kissing his neck and the hickie that was still there. "Mom might wake up."
"We are ~ oh! ~ soundproofing this room," Richard said, stripping Kal's shirt off and exposing the suit underneath. "Because I'm not good at being quiet, Kal. Ah! Especially when you do that!"
Kal laughed and stroked Richard's erection through his pants again, nibbling at his neck and pushing Richard inexorably towards the bed. Richard's pants and underwear fell to the floor and there was a blast of air as Kal's suit went away, leaving them naked with each other.
Kal picked Richard up and lay him back on the bed, kissing his way down Richard's body. It was amazing how good he was with his hands and mouth, Richard thought in a tiny part of his mind that was wiped out when Kal reached Richard's groin.
"Yes!" Richard groaned, hands flying to Kal's head. He bit his lip to keep from crying out again.
Kal's tongue danced over Richard's erection, warm and wet and so very good. His hands were already probing at Richard's ass, slick with lube though Richard had no idea when Kal had managed to grab it. Richard's breath was coming in gasps and his hips rocked against Kal's mouth and hand, despite himself.
"So good," Richard whimpered, running his fingers through Kal's hair.
Kal looked up at him, mouth still locked around Richard's flesh and Richard had to grab a pillow to muffle the moan that time. The lust and love was so clear in those blue eyes.
"More?" Kal asked, grinning.
"Rhetorical question!" Richard said, laughing shakily. "Of course I want more. I want all of you, in me."
"Mmm," Kal said, smiling and kissing Richard's belly.
He caught Richard's hips and used his strength to flip Richard onto his stomach, making Richard gasp with surprise. Kal kissed Richard's back, licking the small of his back before gently pushing his way into Richard's ass. Richard breathed out slowly, pushing back against Kal. It felt so good, having Kal push into his body, filling him up. No matter what anyone else in the world might think, there was nothing better than being with the one you loved, no matter if it was a man or a woman.
"Yes," Richard whispered as Kal hit bottom. "Oh, yes, Kal!"
"So tight," Kal whispered back, hands large and warm on Richard's hips.
He started moving, both of them biting their lips to keep from moaning or crying out and waking Martha. It felt so good, Richard whimpered, muffling his whimpers in the pillows. So very good! Kal picked up the pace, pumping into Richard's body faster though still very gently. He reached underneath and stroked Richard's erection while licking, kissing and nipping his back. His body was so warm and firm against Richard's back.
"Nngh!" Richard grunted, "Mmm-hmm! Nnn!"
"God yes!" Kal murmured, pulling Richard up, off of his elbows so that they were kneeling on the bed together. Then he pulled Richard back into his lap, breath warm on Richard's nape. Richard gasped, spreading his legs wider so that he could sit astride Kal's lap.
"Oh god," Richard gasped, starting pumping up and down on Kal the way he wanted to.
Richard moved faster and harder than Kal's gentler pace. It felt so good, especially as Kal started to help him, using his hands on Richard's hips to support and add a little slap to the movements as Richard hit bottom each time. Richard started stroking himself and turned his head to Kal, seeking out his mouth over Richard's shoulder.
Their tongues tangled as much as possible given the position. Richard was panting and moaning loudly now, his hand flying on his erection as Kal took over moving Richard up and down. He was getting so close. It felt as though they'd been at it forever and no time at all. He shuddered, his free hand tangling in Kal's hair.
"C-can't.." Richard breathed, teetering on the edge.
Kal suddenly pushed Richard down onto the bed, his hands so firm as he truly pounded into Richard's ass. One hand reached underneath and milked Richard, working his erection as fast and hard as Kal worked Richard's ass. Richard gasped, eyes going wide. His whole body trembled and he grabbed at the pillow as Kal suddenly froze and came, filling Richard up, pushing him over the edge as well.
"Ahhmmn!" Richard cried out, the pillow barely muffling him. "Mmm! Mmmm…"
Kal moaned and gently slid out of Richard, checking to make sure he was OK before pulling Richard to him and collapsing on the bed. They panted, wrapped around each other. Richard kissed Kal's neck and chin, then captured his lips for a long, deep kiss.
"So good," Richard murmured once the kiss tapered off.
"Love you so much," Kal whispered back, eyes warm and tender as he caressed Richard's cheek.
"Love you to, Superman," Richard said, grinning at Kal's instant of annoyance. "No one could make love like that but you. And you're all mine!"
Kal laughed, hugging Richard close and kissing everywhere on his face and neck.
"Yours and no one else's," Kal agreed, "But we really are going to have to soundproof this room before Jason comes to live with us. I'm not going to be able to stop myself from wanting to hear those wonderful sounds you make."
"You can't be wanting it already," Richard said, surprised. He checked and laughed. "Superman indeed. I do think I'm going to stay in shape with you as my lover."
"Mmm-hmm," Kal said, grinning. "That's guaranteed."
Kal was amazed at how fast Lois moved once she made a decision. She'd taken a three-bedroom apartment on the third floor, at the opposite end of the building from Kal and Clark's apartment. The house was already on the market and most of the furniture had already been dispositioned. Kal's apartment suddenly had far more and far better furniture than before, though they still had the old, stained coffee table and couch. Lois had kept their couch and coffee table. All that was left two days later was to get the last clothes and pictures out of the house and they'd all be moved.
Martha and Richard were in the kitchen making dinner together. Kal could hear Richard telling stories of Jason's school and the things that they'd done together. Martha was laughing more than Kal had heard in a long, long time. He smiled happily, carrying in soundproofing for the bedroom.
"Let's see now," Kal said, smiling. "This won't take too long."
It took just a few seconds to move the furniture away from the walls and to take down the few pictures that he'd put up. Kal took a deep breath and started work. With super speed it was a quick easy job to put up the soundproofing. It wouldn't be strong enough to still the din of the world for his ears, but it would keep Martha and Jason from hearing them in the bedroom.
It took just about two minutes to fit the soundproofing in place over the walls and ceiling. An extra 30 seconds or so was all it took to soundproof the door. He didn't bother soundproofing the floor as it was quite sturdy and the sound didn't seem to carry through it. Then Kal was able to push the furniture back in place and put the pictures back on the walls.
"Done," Kal said, smiling happily. He gathered up his tools and headed into the other room, tucking them away on the shelf over the washer and dryer. He was almost floating he was so happy. His mom was there, Richard was his and Jason would be joining them soon. Lois was happier than he'd seen her since he left on his 5-year journey, diving into her new beat. And the world was quiet tonight, letting him have dinner with the people he loved.
"That's a good way to cook it!" Richard was saying to Martha.
"Oh, it's an old-fashioned way," Martha chuckled. "I think we're about ready for dinner."
"And I'm done in the bedroom other than gathering the rest of your clothes from the house, Richard," Kal said, coming into the kitchen.
Richard beamed at him, with that smile that lit up his whole face. Martha chuckled quietly and started ferrying food to the table. Kal blushed faintly, but smiled back at Richard, making him blush a little, too. Kal ran a thumb over his lips and then grabbed the salad and dressing for dinner. If they kept that up they'd be heading to the bedroom and not getting anything else done tonight.
"Sounds great!" Richard said, voice a little shaky. He gathered the last of the dinner and carrying it to the table. "We can run over after dinner and get the last of my clothes."
"When will Jason be moving in?" Martha asked after they settled in at the table and said a silent prayer of grace.
"Probably tomorrow," Kal said, passing the peas to her. "We're hoping that we can get Lois moved into her apartment downstairs in a day or two and Jason in here about the same time."
"I can go home sooner," Martha offered, "To make room for him."
"No," Richard said, smiling at her. "That's not necessary. We've got a folding camp bed that we're going to bring in for him while you're here. He's actually looking forward to using it. He says that it's almost like camping."
Martha laughed, smiling at them both. They ate and chatted, talking about their plans for the next few days and what Martha had been doing during the day. She'd been site seeing, checking out the museum and library. She'd bought a stack of books to bring home with her. She'd also bought a bunch of yarn and some new afghan patterns to try out.
"I will be making you and Jason some sweaters and an afghan," Martha told Richard as they cleaned up after dinner. "Every little boy needs an afghan from his grandmother."
"I'm sure he'll love it!" Richard said, delighted. "My mom and Lois' mother aren't crafty at all, so he doesn't have anything like that."
"Wonderful," Matha said firmly.
She headed out into the living room to start work on Jason's afghan. Kal and Richard headed to the house to gather up the rest of Richard's clothes. Lois and Jason were there, packing up their things and sorting out the last of what to sell and what to keep.
"Daddy! Papa!" Jason said as they came in.
He beamed at them and ran over for hugs. Richard knelt down and hugged him, getting a strangling hug from the boy. Jason turned to Kal, holding out his arms to be picked up. Kal laughed and picked him up, carrying him as Richard headed in to talk with Lois.
"Am I moving in with you tonight?" Jason asked eagerly.
"Not tonight, Jason," Kal said, grinning. "Tomorrow. Tonight we're getting Richard's things. Tomorrow we'll get yours."
"Oh, OK," Jason said, snuggling close.
Lois was a little brittle as she watched the two of them. She had a sad, almost regretful expression on her face but as soon as she saw him looking at her she wiped it off and went back to work on packing. She may have made the decision but it was obvious to Kal that she hadn't done it wholly happily. She loved Jason too much to be happy with letting him go.
"Do you need any help with the things that are left?" Richard asked, smiling at her.
"No, I think we've pretty much got it sorted out," Lois said, looking around the mostly empty house. "There's some furniture left to move but not much besides the pictures and I'm getting those tonight. You're here to get the last of your stuff?"
"Yup," Richard said, nodding. "By the way, we ARE going to help you move the last of your stuff, you know."
Kal chuckled at Lois' snort of indignation at that. She was so determined not to need their help for anything. She and Richard argued briefly about it but Lois' determination was no match Richard's cheerful determination and kindness. She ended up giving in after only a little bit of arguing. Jason sighed, laying his head on Kal's shoulder.
"Mommy's stubborn," Jason said quietly.
"Very much so," Kal said, smiling at him. "But that's OK. It's just the way she is. It makes her very strong and effective you know."
"Mmm-hmm," Jason agreed, "But she's still really stubborn."
He sounded like he was tired to Kal, but unwilling to admit it. Kal scanned Jason's room and saw that everything was packed except a few of his toys and a spare change of clothes. Time for a distraction, Kal thought.
"Want to help me pack the last of your toys?" Kal asked, grinning. "They're the ones coming to our place, after all. They should be waiting for you when you get there tomorrow, don't you think?"
"Yeah!" Jason said, grinning.
He squirmed and Kal let him down, following him upstairs to finish the packing that would make their little family complete. Tomorrow they'd be a family for real.
Chapter 2: Family Matters
Richard and Clark are building their lives together now that Lois has moved into her new position and given them custody of Jason but there are still major issues that they have to deal with, not the least being Lex Luthor and his minions.
Note: I want to write an epilogue for this that shows Jo and Dave coming to Jason's birthday party but I never have Hopefully someday I'll do it and get to put it up here for everyone to read.
Jason hid behind Papa Clark as Daddy brought Jason's clothes into his new home. Papa Clark had said that his Mom was waiting to meet Jason but he wasn't sure he wanted to meet someone new. He wanted to play in his new home. He wanted to see his new bedroom. He wanted to have dinner in their new kitchen and play on the balcony. Meeting his new Grandma wasn't high on his list of things to do right now.
"Come on, Jason," Papa Clark said, patting Jason's head. "Come meet my Mom."
Jason bit his lip, but followed Papa Clark, clutching his hand. Mommy's Mother was always very strict. She wanted Jason to be quiet and read, not run and play. Daddy's Momma was always busy, talking on the phone or with her friends. She never had time to talk with him and she didn't want to play at all. Jason didn't know what Papa Clark's Mom would be like.
She looked old, Jason thought as they went into the sunny kitchen. She had white hair pulled up in a bun and an old-lady dress. She smiled seeing Papa Clark and then beamed at Jason, making him hide a little more behind Papa Clark. Papa Clark made everything better. You could hide behind him and nothing could get you.
"Mom," Papa Clark said, "This is Jason. Jason, this is my Mom, Martha. She's been waiting to meet you."
He caressed Jason's head but didn't make him come out. It helped a little, letting Jason study her silently. She studied him, a smile wrinkling her face.
"Pleased to meet you, Jason," Martha said. "You can call me Grandma if you want. Oh, Clark, he looks so much like you at that age! I'm surprised no one figured it out sooner."
"No one has any pictures of me as a child, Mom," Papa Clark laughed, "So it's not that much of a surprise."
"Kal, can you give me hand in here?" Daddy called, making Papa Clark head that way.
Jason squeaked at being left alone with his new Grandma Martha. She smiled, lips twitching at his squeak of alarm. She turned away to the stove, getting a mug and a tea bag. There was hot water in the kettle and she poured some for her tea. Then she pulled down a second mug and got cocoa and marshmallows.
"Would you like some cocoa, Jason?" Martha asked. "We can put marshmallows in it if you'd like."
"Um… yes, please," Jason said, approaching her tentatively. This was much better than his other Grandmothers. They didn't think little boys should have sugar and cocoa was lots of sugar.
She smiled at him again, measuring out cocoa powder and putting in hot water from the kettle on the stove. She stirred it thoroughly, humming quietly and then dropped two marshmallows into the mug. She gave the mug to Jason and took her mug of tea to the table in the kitchen. He carried the mug to the table carefully and then climbed into a chair next to her.
"You're a very quiet little boy," Grandma Martha said as she sipped at her tea. Her eyes were smiling at him over her mug of tea. "Were you very nervous to meet me?"
"Yes," Jason said quietly, stirring his cocoa and fishing out the first marshmallow to eat.
He sucked the outer layer off of the marshmallow and put it back into the cocoa, dribbling cocoa over the top. She sipped her tea as he played with the marshmallow and calmed down. She didn't seem to want him to do anything in particular. She didn't even seem upset as he played with the cocoa. Mommy usually got upset when he did it. Maybe Papa Clark's Mom was as different from other grandmothers as Papa Clark was from everyone else?
"Um, what was Papa Clark like when he was little?" Jason asked finally, curiosity winning out over his shyness around new people.
"Much like you," Grandma Martha said, chuckling and setting her tea down. "He was a quiet little boy with new people but smiled and laughed a lot once he got to know them. He was very smart and understood more than we knew at the time. We were always amazed later at the things that he'd understood well before we thought he had."
Jason blinked, surprised.
"That's just like me," Jason said, eyes wide. "Only my teacher Ms. Kerrington seems to believe me when I say I understand something. Everyone else wants to explain it over and over again. Ms. Kerrington just seems to know when I understand it or not. She's really big and has funny ears."
"Really?" Grandma Martha said, smiling at him. Her smiles lit up her whole face and wrinkled her skin around her eyes and mouth. Neither of his other Grandmothers ever smiled at him that way. Jason grinned at her, liking her more and more by the minute.
"Yeah!" Jason said, telling her about some of the weird things he noticed about Ms. Kerrington. Her ears were pointed and moved like a dog's ears, though they were almost always hidden by her hair. She had way more strength than anyone he'd met besides Papa Clark. She could hear when everyone was causing trouble even if she was out of the room. She smelled when Peter had peanut butter in his lunchbox before he opened it and kept Susie away, because of her allergy.
"And she has fangs!" Jason said, pointing at his own teeth. "I saw them once when she was eating lunch."
"Hmm," Martha said, frowning a little. "Have you told anyone about all of this?"
"No one except Daddy and you," Jason said firmly. "She might be like Papa Clark and its bad when people find out about your secret identity. All the cartoons say that. So I haven't said anything to anyone. But you're different. You know about Papa Clark so I know you can be trusted with the secret."
Grandma Martha laughed, ruffling his hair. She had a very pleased and flattered expression on her face. Jason could hear Daddy and Papa Clark working in his bedroom. He couldn't tell what they were saying but he could hear their voices. His ears didn't work as well as Papa Clark's yet. He decided to ask her about Papa Clark. He finished off his cocoa and set it aside.
"When did Papa Clark start being different, Grandma Martha?" Jason asked.
"Oh, there were little incidents when he was your age," Grandma Martha said, looking into off out the doors to the balcony. "But they were just bursts, nothing sustained. It wasn't until he was a teenager that it really became obvious. He started breaking a lot of dishes without trying or meaning to. He'd do things super speed and not realize that he'd done it. And the things that boy would hear!"
She laughed, shaking her head. Jason grinned.
"We stopped trying to hide what his birthday and Christmas presents were," Grandma Martha confided. "He'd always know, no matter how we tried to make it a secret. But he was a good boy and never let on that he knew ahead of time. He knew how much we wanted him to have a normal life so he tried very hard to hide his abilities at first."
She sighed, looking very sad.
"I think it would have been better if we'd told him as a small child that we knew he'd be different," Grandma Martha said quietly. "He wouldn't have been so worried about it as a teenager. Everything got better once we all admitted the truth, though."
"Is that why Papa Clark told me?" Jason asked, a little puzzled.
"I don't know," Grandma Martha said, petting his cheek. "I think that he told you because he knew that you knew about him and he didn't want you to feel bad. None of us know what sort of abilities you'll have, Jason. You may be as strong as Clark or you may not. There's years yet before your powers start showing up."
Jason frowned, leaning into her hand. He'd wondered about that but had been afraid to ask Papa Clark. He could tell that there was a lot more that Papa Clark and Daddy hadn't told him yet. He wasn't sure if it was OK to ask about that, not even from Grandma Martha. It might be like secret identities and kryptonite, something dangerous to talk about. Grandma Martha smiled and stood, taking their mugs to the sink.
"I'm making you an afghan, Jason," Grandma Martha said. "Would you like to see what I've got done?"
"Really?" Jason said, eyes going wide and worries completely forgotten. "I've never had an afghan before, Grandma Martha! What's it going to look like? What color is it? When do I get it?"
Grandma Martha laughed, her face wrinkling up in a smile. She offered a hand to him and he took it, grinning.
"Come in the living room and I'll show you," Grandma Martha said, squeezing his hand gently.
"Yay!" Jason said, pulling her after him. She laughed again and they headed out of the kitchen, Jason all but bouncing with excitement.
"All right," Gary said, standing up, "I'm going to check my email and call my wife. Then we can head for the airport to catch our flight."
"Great!" Lois said, smiling at him. "I'm going to finish this article. I'm packed and ready to go."
Gary nodded and headed off to his desk. Lois tapped away at her computer, the noise and bustle of the Planet only background noise for her. It had been three days since they'd moved Jason into Richard and Clark's apartment and she was amazed at how happy he was. Every time she saw him he was grinning and laughing. It made her feel better about the choice she'd made but at the same time she felt bad that she hadn't been able to make him feel that way. But at least he was happy and she had her dream assignment. Everyone seemed much happier now.
"What kind of mother gives her child to a gay couple?" Gladys said in the background, her voice breaking through Lois' concentration.
"WHAT did you say?" Lois snapped, whirling in her chair to glare at Gladys as she froze in shock. "You better not have said what I think you said!"
The Planet stilled, everyone freezing as Lois confronted Gladys. Even Perry froze and he normally was right there to stop anything like this. Gladys stiffened, glaring at Lois.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Gladys said, huffing at Lois.
"Perry's office, NOW!" Lois growled, snapping her arm out and pointing.
Gladys swallowed hard but headed into the office, closely followed by Lois. Perry settled behind his desk, studying them both. Gladys looked confident, until you saw that her hands were shaking and she kept swallowing. Lois was vibrating with anger, her hands in fists, her nails digging into her palms.
"What happened?" Perry asked once the door was shut.
"I'm sure I don't know," Gladys said, arms crossed on her chest to hide the shaking hands.
"I'll tell you what happened," Lois growled, "'What kind of mother gives her child to a gay couple?', that's what happened! For me to have heard that while concentrating on work means that it was deliberately spoken loud enough for me to overhear. I have had enough of this, Perry. This has been a deliberate campaign for quite literally years. Every time anything happens with me, Gladys takes it as an opportunity to spread malicious and slanderous gossip about me. I'm sick of it! This will not go on!"
Perry moaned quietly, rubbing his face with his hands.
"Gladys, we've had this conversation before," Perry said sadly. "You know perfectly well that comments like that will get you fired."
"Humph!" Gladys snorted, glaring at them both. "You wouldn't dare! You have no proof of anything. It's my word against her word. I know too much and I'm too vital to the Planet's functions."
"As if!" Lois snorted back at her. "You're a clerk with delusions of grandeur. No one is vital. We're all expendable and for you to think that you're not shows just how idiotic you really are. As for proof, wait here."
She stomped back to her desk and pulled out the file that she'd started keeping on Gladys about the time she got pregnant with Jason and Gladys began her campaign again Lois. She stomped back in and tossed it on Perry's desk.
"What's this?" Perry said, surprised.
"The first time Gladys pulled this," Lois explained, "I started keeping tabs on her just like she was keeping tabs on me. That's five years worth of data on her behavior at the Planet."
"You can't do that!" Gladys said, horrified.
Perry flipped the file open and started flipping through it. Lois hadn't bothered with petting things like tracking how much time Gladys spent gossiping instead of working. She tracked Gladys' campaigns for and against the employees of the Planet. She'd effectively driven out several reporters, was protecting two clerks who weren't doing their jobs and she'd sabotaged five separate people's careers with her gossip campaigns. The only reason she hadn't succeeded with Lois was that Lois didn't have anything for her to use as leverage, other than Jason.
"You keep a file on me," Lois said, glaring. "Jason found it on your desk one night after work. I didn't say a word at the time but enough is enough. What the hell did you think I should do with Jason? Give him up for adoption? Quit and stay home with him? Richard has raised Jason and Clark is his real father. They love him and he's happy with them. You know perfectly well how much Gary was gone. I'm going to be gone just as much, if not more. I certainly can't take him with me as I work. The last time I did that we ended up trapped on Lex Luthor's yacht and nearly died!"
Gladys flushed, looking away. Perry whistled at some of the data in her file and then sighed sadly.
"Lois, go finish your article while I talk with Gladys," Perry said grimly. "By the time you get back this will be dealt with permanently."
"Good," Lois said. "We're here to work, not to gossip."
She whirled and stormed out, going back to her desk and pounding out the last few paragraphs of her article. She printed it and proofed it as Richard came over tentatively. The Planet was oddly quiet, people talking in whispers rather than the normal din and bustle that filled the huge open room. Clark came in, adjusting his tie and settled at his desk, starting work on something.
"What the heck was that all about?" Richard asked Lois, watching Gladys and Perry through the glass walls.
"Gladys has decided that Jason does not belong with a 'gay couple'," Lois said, still vibrating with anger.
Richard sighed, shoulders sagging as he rubbed his forehead. Clark turned from his computer, staring at her. He'd been gone when Gladys had made her comment so he might not have heard it, Lois thought, super ears notwithstanding. He glanced at Perry's office, looking rather hurt.
"I can't believe that woman still has a job," Richard said, looking disgusted. "What does she think we should do with him?"
"No idea," Lois snarled, giving up on editing her article. "I don't care. Perry's taking care of it. Don't take any shit from her while I'm gone, Richard. I mean it. If she says one thing about Jason or you two taking custody I'm going to sue. I will not deal with this any longer."
"I can't believe she said that," Clark said, looking sad and disappointed.
Gary was heading back over, looking rather pale and worried. He'd obviously heard about the confrontation. Lois grabbed her bag and suitcase, pulling on her coat. Perry was arguing with Gladys who looked angry and frightened. Once again, the whole Planet was waiting on pins and needles to see what would happen and it was all because of Gladys. Richard patted her shoulder reassuringly.
"We'll make sure this stops," Richard said firmly. "Uncle Perry's had his eye on her for a while now. All he needed was a clear incident, I think."
"He's got it," Lois said, turning off her computer and packing it in her bag. "Unfortunately, I have to go. I mean it Richard. I'm going to be calling and emailing to make sure that this isn't swept under the carpet. Don't let her get away with picking on Jason!"
"We won't," Clark said firmly.
He looked every bit like Superman as he glared at Perry's office. It made Lois wonder what he was overhearing but there was no time to ask. Gary was there and they had to leave or they'd miss their flight. It was a pity she couldn't fly like Superman. She'd be back every night to make sure that this was taken care of.
"Good luck!" Richard said to Gary and Lois.
"Good luck to you, too," Lois said, smiling tightly. "Let me know what happens."
"Will do," Richard said.
Lois stormed out, reluctant to leave the situation unresolved but she didn't have much of a choice. She had her job to do and Perry would take care of it. Richard and Clark would make sure of it. This would be over by the time she got back.
Kal smiled as he headed into Jason's school to pick him up. He was really enjoying getting to be Jason's father, including little things like this. It was pouring today so the kids whose parents drove them were all waiting inside, rather than playing in the yard as they normally did. Kal left his umbrella by the door and headed inside. Jason's classroom was decorated with letters and numbers, colors and animals, along with pictures drawn by the children. Jason was working on a puzzle with a couple of other children, frowning seriously. Kal hesitated outside his classroom, smiling at him with pride.
"You must be Jason's other father," a voice said behind Kal.
"Yes," Kal said, turning and looking down, directly into the chest of Jason's teacher. He blinked and looked up at her, surprised at her size. She was taller than Kal was by an inch or two and nearly as wide in the shoulders as he was. Despite this and her heavy musculature, she was very obviously female and grinned at him.
"Expecting someone shorter?" She said, chuckling. "I'm Kayla Kerrington, Jason's home room teacher. Pleased to meet you."
"Actually, yes, I was," Kal said, smiling at her and offering a hand to shake. "I'm Clark Kent. I'm pleased to meet you. Jason has said a lot about you."
"Favorable, I hope," she said, taking his hand.
Her grip surprised him just as much as her size had. She had nearly as much strength as he did and wasn't afraid to let him know it in the handshake. He looked at her far more closely as they shook and then released each other's hands. With just a second's observation she was clearly not human. Her skin was different, only mimicking skin. It was far more like hide. Her jaw had muscle attachments completely different from a human's jaw. Her hair was clearly a sort of scale, not true hair. And her eyes were slit, not round as a human's or his eyes were.
"Yes, Jason's quite fond of your classes," Kal said, head cocked slightly at her. "You know when he understands something, instead of just assuming he doesn't and explaining multiple times."
"I pay attention to my students," she said, lips twitching. "Especially the ones like Jason. He's going to be something very special when he grows up. I wondered where it came from. Now I know."
Kal's lips started twitching, too, studying her. Odd to be having this sort of conversation with a schoolteacher. He was used to having it with other superheroes. She seemed as aware of his differences as he was of hers. He wondered what senses she had, in addition to her strength.
"We're all very proud of Jason," Kal said, listening to her body. "He's definitely going to make us proud."
As she moved, he could hear the way her muscles worked. It was odd, as though they were shifting and adapting, rather than just contracting and releasing. Her heart had three chambers, not four. A quick glance with X-ray vision showed a body as utterly different from human as it was possible to get. Hidden inside her spine was a tail. On her back were hidden wings, tucked under flaps of flesh that sealed utterly. Anyone touching wouldn't feel a thing. Her hide was armored to be as invulnerable as his body was, with a subdermal layer of tissue that acted like steel mesh, preventing anything from penetrating into her body.
"Figured me out yet?" Kayla asked quietly, chuckling.
"Dragon?" Kal asked equally quietly. He raised an eyebrow at her, wondering what she was doing teaching human children.
"Very good," Kayla said, grinning at him. "I wasn't aware that any of your people survived your world's demise. Or that you had children. Or that you knew about us."
Kal chuckled, amused.
"I've encountered a lot of people over time," Kal said, smiling at her. "And I have a lot of information that I've learned over time. I wasn't aware that any of your people were here. Why are you teaching elementary students?"
"Mmm, I suppose because they're the future," Kayla said, smiling at the kids still in the classroom. "Not everyone can be a superhero after all. Some of us just want to live our lives. Besides, exiles take all forms, as I'm sure you're aware."
"They do indeed," Kal said, chuckling.
Jason glanced up and spotted Kal talking to Kayla by the door. He grinned, grabbed his backpack and said goodbye to the other kids. He ran to the door and hugged Kal, beaming up at him.
"Papa! You came to pick me up! Are we going home or to the Planet?" Jason asked, holding his arms out to be picked up.
"Home," Kal said, grinning. "Richard's making dinner as we speak. It was good meeting you, Ms. Kerrington. I hope we get a chance to talk again."
"I'm sure we will," Kayla said, nodding at him and ruffling Jason's hair gently. "There's a school program in a couple of weeks. You're more than welcome to attend."
Jason snuggled Kal, smiling at her. Kal's lips were twitching again. Such an odd person to find teaching his son, but at least he knew that Jason and the others would be safe with Kayla there. Everything the Kryptonian archives had on Dragons said that they were utterly ferocious in protecting their children. Kayla clearly considered the children at the school to be hers.
"I'd be glad to!" Kal said, "I'll have to see if Richard and Lois can make it. Lois may not be back from Washington but we'll try."
"Yay!" Jason said, delighted.
"I'll send home information on it for you tomorrow then," Kayla said, turning away as several of the other kids came over to her. "Have a good evening!"
They headed out to the car, Kal retrieving his umbrella by the door. They ran for the car and Kal got Jason strapped into his seat, then hurried to the driver's side. Jason was quiet as they headed for the apartment. Kal listened to the world and Kayla as he drove, very content with life at the moment.
"She is really different, isn't she?" Jason said quietly as they pulled into their parking spot.
"Ms. Kerrington?" Kal said, smiling. "Very different. She's as different as I am in her own way. I'm rather pleased that she's there. I know that all of you will be safe if she's there, no matter what happens."
"It's OK to be different?" Jason asked quietly.
"Of course!" Kal said, surprised. "People may have questions or problems with it at first but everyone's different, Jason. Some people's differences are just more obvious than others. Lois is different in her work. Richard's different in how he loves people. I'm different in my way, as is Ms. Kerrington. You'll be different in your own way. There's nothing wrong with it at all. It's part of what makes life interesting and fun."
Jason brightened as Kal explained, ending up grinning happily. They headed inside, riding the elevator to the top floor. Jason chattered about what he'd done at school and the things that he and the others had done. Richard was humming in the kitchen when Kal opened the door.
"Daddy!" Jason squealed as he ran inside, dropping his coat and backpack by the door.
"Welcome home!" Richard said, beaming at them both.
"Do you really have to go?" Jason asked for the dozenth time, clinging to Martha's legs.
Richard hid a smile behind his hand, amused despite himself at Jason's ferocious attachment to his new Grandma. For a little boy who had been very reluctant to meet her, Jason had certainly fallen in love with Martha quickly. Not that Richard was surprised. He'd almost immediately loved her, too. She was everything a mother and grandmother should be, while still giving her son, grandson and son's lover their room.
"I'm afraid so, Jason," Martha said, petting his hair and smiling at him. "I have to get back to the farm. I've been gone much longer than I intended to be already. But I can come back and visit, you know."
"We could go out there and visit," Kal offered, smiling at them both.
Jason perked up, looking excited. Richard and Kal had already discussed it, a couple of nights ago after a lazy session of lovemaking. Kal really wanted to have Jason see where he grew up, for him to get to play on the farm. Kal wasn't sure what would happen to the farm when Martha died, as there was little likelihood of Kal ever going back to it now. It might get sold or it might get passed on to distant relatives who were likely to sell it. Either way, he wanted Jason to get a chance to experience small-town life. Richard wanted to go to see where Kal grew up and get a better feel for what made him who he was.
"Could we?" Jason asked, "Really? I've never been to a real farm before, only petting farms. Can I help on the farm? Do stuff?"
"Absolutely," Martha said, beaming at Kal. "I'd love to have the three of you visit anytime."
"Yay!" Jason said, hugging her tightly. "Is it OK, Daddy?"
"More than OK, Jason," Richard said, reassuring him. "We've already started planning it out. But it won't be for a few weeks at best. We've got too much going on at work right now to get away for a week or two."
Martha smiled at him, that wonderful, full-face smile that lit her up like a lantern. Richard thought that she'd really wanted this too, but hadn't been willing to ask. He knew she didn't like to impose on Kal and that she respected his need to take care of his family and the world first.
"I'm glad you'll be coming, then," Martha said, petting Jason again. "Let me know when you'll get there and I'll be glad to pick you up."
"We will," Kal said, smiling. "We should get going if you're going to catch your bus."
"Bus?" Richard said, surprised. "She's not taking a plane?"
Kal and Martha both laughed, grinning at him.
"No," Kal said, "The airport is a good two hours in the wrong direction. The bus goes right to past the farm. Much more convenient, even though it does take a while longer."
"Not when you factor in the drive," Martha said, disentangling Jason from her waist, "The wait in security, the wait at the gate, the wait for your luggage and all. It's much more time-effective to simply take the bus. And the seats are far more comfortable for my old body, too. Much more leg room, you know."
Richard laughed, shaking his head. That was something he hadn't expected. They headed out, driving Martha to the bus station, which Jason thought was the coolest thing ever. He played in the hard plastic bucket seats, poked his head into every corner and then settled next to Martha as she pulled out the afghan to work on it. Richard smiled. Jason was fascinated by the afghan and loved watching her crochet it. Her bus arrived after about 15 minutes and they went to say their goodbyes.
"I'm going to miss you, Jason," Martha said, giving him a long hug and a kiss on the forehead. "You be a good boy for your parents, all three of them."
"I will," Jason said, tearing up and not wanting to let go. He clung for a long time before Martha patted his back and stood.
She smiled up at Kal and he laughed, hugging her. They didn't say anything, just holding each other as though they never wanted to let go. Kal had a sheen of tears in his eyes when he finally let go. Martha had tears on her cheeks.
"I've always been so proud of you, Clark," Martha said to him, gently ruffling his hair. "Do stop by and visit on your patrols more often."
"I will, Mom," Kal said, grinning and giving her another quick hug.
Martha turned to Richard next, smiling at him. Richard blushed. It was such a warm, welcoming smile and he really wasn't prepared for it whenever time she did it. She stepped over and hugged him, warm and fragile and so kind. Richard shut his eyes and held her, smiling.
"Never doubt that he loves you, Richard," Martha whispered to him, "And never doubt that I am happy that you two found each other. You've made him happier than I've seen since High School."
"Thank you," Richard whispered back, fighting tears of his own.
They let each other go and Martha gathered up her bag of yarn and half-finished granny squares, grinning as Jason put out his arms for another hug. They hugged and Martha climbed on the bus, one of the last to board. Jason snuggled Kal and Richard, sniffling as the bus pulled away. They waved and Martha waved back. Jason kept waving until the bus was out of sight and then broke into tears.
"Aww, come on, kiddo," Richard said, picking him up, "You'll see her again. Soon."
"I know," Jason cried, "But I'm going to miss Grandma Martha!"
Kal smiled sadly, his eyes saying that he felt much the same way. Richard rubbed Jason's back and they headed back to their car. The bus station was already mostly empty and it echoed. Richard felt like there was a void in their lives now that Martha had left. Odd, he thought, most of the time he was relieved to get away from his parents or Lois' parents. Martha really was something special to have become so important to them all so quickly.
"Let's go home, guys," Richard said. "We'll have something nice and hot to drink, curl up on the sofa and watch an old movie together. What do you think? Sound good?"
"Mmm-hmm," Jason sniffled into his shoulder. "Cocoa. With two marshmallows. And tea for Papa Clark and coffee for Daddy. Can we watch Wizard of Oz? Grandma Martha said it reminds her of her home."
"Reminds me of home," Kal said, petting Jason's hair as they loaded into the car. "Let's do it."
Dorothy was just starting down the Yellow Brick Road when Kal heard the first explosion. He stiffened, ears automatically locating the sound: Metropolis, the industrial sector. It sounded like multiple explosions, not just one. There was already more fire than the fire departments would be able to handle by the sound of it. He groaned, glaring out the window, making Richard and Jason look at him concerned.
"What's wrong?" Richard asked, running fingers through Kal's hair gently.
"Explosions," Kal said, hugging Jason and kissing Richard before standing up. "Here in town. I'd better go. It sounds pretty major. You guys stay here, inside. I don't want to worry about the two of you out there if it spreads or there are other problems."
"Terrorists or something else?" Richard asked, frowning.
"It sounds more like an industrial accident," Kal said, using super speed to strip his street clothes off and reveal the suit. He shook the cape free and fixed his hair, straightening up and putting on his Superman attitude.
"Yay!" Jason said, clapping his hands. "I get to see the suit! I hardly ever get to see the suit up close!"
They both grinned at him, Richard ruffling his hair. He grinned at Kal, amused by Jason's utter faith and delight in his father's other 'profession'. Kal chuckled, leaning over to caress Jason's cheek before standing up again.
"I'll be back as soon as I can," Kal said, smiling. "You two go ahead and have some dinner without me if necessary, OK? Don't wait up. This sounds like a big fire. It's going to take a while to put out."
"OK," Jason said, pouting a little. "Can we watch the news and see if you're on it?"
"Sure," Kal said, grinning. Richard nodded agreement, standing to follow Kal.
Kal went out to the kitchen and onto the balcony. They had a quick kiss and then Kal was off, flying to the industrial sector of Metropolis. One of the biggest factories was in flames, with multiple silos full of flammable oils and powders that were in danger of exploding. The main explosion had happened in the factory proper, Kal noted as he flew over the scene. He couldn't tell what had set it off but the damage had been devastating. The fire was spreading rapidly though the building, far more rapidly than the fire department could deal with. They couldn't get close enough to the fire to be able to do any good. It burned with incredible heat and the smoke looked toxic.
This was going to be a tough one to deal with, Kal thought, plotting out what to do. A fire of this nature couldn't be fought with water. It needed foam or sand to smother it. Sand it will have, Kal thought, flipping skyward and darting to the sea shore. He used his heat vision to create a giant bowl and then super speed and flight to fill it with sand from the beach. He'd have to bring more sand in from somewhere else after the crisis was over but that was all right. He couldn't fly anywhere near as quickly on the return trip. He would have dumped his load if he did.
He could hear the firemen cheering as he returned with the sand, dumping it over the central part of the fire, smothering it rapidly. Four trips were needed to dampen it to the point the firemen could do their job with the foam, putting out the remaining hot spots. Kal went skyward, scanning for the source of the explosion and any other hot spots that might have been missed. One part of his mind had been tracking the time. It was already past dinner time for Jason and Richard.
*Papa Clark did it!* Jason cheered.
*Maybe not, Jason,* Richard said. *There might be more fire that the cameras can't see.*
*Ooooo, I didn't think of that.*
Kal stiffened. There were three underground fire hot spots that threatened the fire fighters. One was close to an underground gas main. If that went up the fire would flash through whole are, making the previous explosions seem minor.
"Pull back," Kal commanded, using his best Superman voice. He swooped low where the fire fighters were threatened. "The gas main is threatened by this one. It's bigger than it looks!"
They nodded and pulled back as Kal swept in. It was contained for the moment due to lack of oxygen, Kal noted. If he blasted into the underground space it would explode, flashing back and killing everyone close by. I need a concussive force, Kal decided after a half-second evaluation. He landed, used super speed to go into the fire zone and then down into the basement that was burning. It was full of barrels of oils. The walls of the room had been specially designed to contain a fire, Kal saw, but they were weakened by the explosions, letting air in and the fire out. Kal went to the center of the room and clapped his hands as hard as he could. The force of the clap was like an explosion, dousing the fire by driving the air away and beating down the flames themselves.
*Daddy, will Papa Clark be OK in the fire?* Jason asked, sounding a little afraid.
*He'll be fine, Jason,* Richard said, probably sounding utterly confident to Jason. Kal could hear the faint worry in his voice. *Nothing's going to hurt him.*
He helped douse the hot barrels before the fire could restart itself. That took 20 minutes. Dinner was done and Jason was helping put the dishes in the dishwasher. The other two hot spots were equally hard for the fire fighters, so Kal helped there as well. More sand was required for one, which took 5 minutes to fetch and 15 minutes to lay down. Mop up of the hot spot took another 25 minutes. Nearly Jason's bedtime. Just as they finished that hot spot the third one blew up, despite everyone's best efforts.
"Damn!" the fire chief gasped, shielding himself from the intense flames.
"Do you have more foam?" Kal asked, not bothering to shield himself. He was covered with soot, stank of smoke and wished this was over.
"We can't get it there," the fire chief said, shaking his head and retreating. "The fire's too intense. Our equipment will melt."
"Let me take the hose," Kal said, "And use the fire hoses with water to cool the hose I use. I can get right on top of the fire and the water won't bother me."
"Are you sure?" the fire chief said, horrified. "The power those hoses pack is…"
"Quite sure," Kal said, smiling reassuringly. "I've resisted far more force than just a few fire hoses, Chief. Let's knock this last fire out so everyone stays safe."
The chief looked at the fire, then looked at Kal, lips going tight. After a long moment of fire roaring behind Kal and silhouetting him against the night sky, the fire chief nodded. It took 5 minutes to get everything set up, during which the fire melted the roof of a nearby building, despite not touching it with its flames. Kal took the hose, braced himself and the fire fighters hit him with the water of three hoses, soaking him instantly.
*But can't I stay up and watch?* Jason begged, in their apartment.
*No, afraid not, kiddo,* Richard replied with an affectionate tone of voice, *That looks like its going to take quite a while. You'll just have to ask about it in the morning. It bed for you.*
Kal smiled and walked forwards slowly, making sure to keep the hose behind him for the most part where the water would keep it cool. He wrapped his cape around the nozzle so that it wouldn't overheat and fuse shut. It took too long to get close enough for the foam to be able to affect the fire but with his body and suit were able to deal with it. Once close enough he turned on the hose and set to work smothering the fire. Knocking down the fire took nearly 45 minutes, which was far too long for a man who wanted to go home and tuck his son in but not very long at all compared to what it would have been without Superman's assitance. Eventually the fire spluttered, flared, dimmed, and then died.
Cheers went up behind Kal and the fire hoses cut off, letting him continue spraying foam until the fire was well and truly smothered. He smiled, scanning the site for any more problems. There wasn't a thing that the fire fighters couldn't handle on their own so he returned the hose and smiled at their thanks, taking flight.
In all, it wasn't that bad of an emergency, Kal thought as he flew home. He'd missed dinner and Jason's bedtime but he could hear Richard waiting for him in the kitchen. At least the suit dried itself as he flew. The hoses had washed it clean. He wished the same could be said of his hair and skin. He was going to need a shower when he got home!
Richard had controlled his worries about Kal the whole time that Jason was awake. But once he'd gotten Jason tucked into bed and firmly asleep, Richard hovered between the kitchen balcony and the TV. He knew objectively that the fire couldn't hurt Kal but that didn't stop his unconscious mind from trying to panic as Kal walked into the inferno. He breathed a shaky sigh of relief when the fire went down, bit his lip when it flared back up again and collapsed on the couch in relief when the fire went out at long last.
"Oh god," Richard whispered, "I really think watching him like this isn't good for me."
He laughed shakily at himself and watched as Kal helped put the last of the fire out and then courteously took his leave. Once Richard knew Kal was on his way home he went to the balcony to wait. It didn't take long for the red and blue suit to appear in the sky, coming ever closer.
"Welcome home," Richard said with a grin as Kal landed on the balcony next to him.
"Sorry I was late," Kal said with an answering grin. "Thanks for getting Jason to bed."
Richard pulled Kal into a fierce hug, needing the reassurance of physical contact. Kal smiled and hugged him back, equally fiercely. It took a minute for the smell to connect with Richard's brain. Smoke, chemicals, and the stink of burnt plastic finally penetrated Richard's brain and he sighed, letting Kal go. He stepped back, nose wrinkling while he waved a hand in front of his face.
"You, sir, need a shower," Richard said, lips twitching.
"I know!" Kal laughed. "I stink. Let me go get cleaned up, Richard."
They headed into the apartment, Richard closing the balcony door and locking it behind them. He turned off the lights as they headed to the bedroom, happy to be watching Kal strip as he went. He found it amusing that Kal didn't wear underwear under the suit. He supposed that it was tight enough that it would show if he did. Richard smiled, keeping enough distance that he didn't get a nose full of the smoke and chemical stink that Kal was covered in. Kal climbed right in the shower, turning the water on full blast. Richard leaned against the counter, heart beating faster just looking at his muscular body covered in water.
"Going to watch?" Kal asked, soaping up.
The look he gave Richard said that he was welcome to join Kal in the shower. Richard grinned and started striping his clothes off immediately. Kal laughed, body starting to react to Richard before he even got there. Richard climbed in, running his hands up Kal's soapy sides. He didn't smell so badly of smoke and chemicals now that he'd started washing.
"Let me get your back," Richard said, turning Kal around.
"Thank you," Kal said, turning into the shower's spray to rinse his front off.
Richard happily soaped Kal's back up, taking his time and loving on Kal as he did it. He traced every muscle, tracked every contour, from Kal's hairline down to his ankles and back up again. Kal moaned, leaning into Richard's touch and then turning abruptly to pull Richard into a deep, almost desperate kiss.
"Yes," Richard whispered, "God, I was worried about you, Kal. It's so silly but I was scared when you went into the fire that way."
"Sorry," Kal murmured, slippery from the soap. "But I had to help. People would have died."
"I know," Richard said, kissing Kal again. "I'd never want you to stop helping people but that doesn't stop me from worrying about you when you do it."
They kissed and Kal pushed Richard up against the wall of the shower stall, lifting him up and caressing his ass. Richard gasped, clinging to Kal's shoulders. He wrapped his legs around Kal's hips, pulling him closer. They kissed again, lips crashing together almost violently as their tongues tangled. Kal's erection was pushing against his ass. The water was cascading over them, keeping Richard warm.
"Please," Richard gasped, meeting Kal's eyes. "Please!"
Kal moaned and pushed into him, eyes shutting with pleasure as Richard's body opened up to him. Richard groaned, fingers tangling in Kal's wet hair. Kal started moving in Richard, supporting his weight easily. Richard helped, using his legs to aid and guide, his arms to pull Kal into deeper kisses. It was incredible, with the pleasure of Kal's erection plunging into his body combining with the warm water pouring over them.
"Yes," Richard moaned, "Oh god yes, Kal!"
"Feels too good!" Kal gasped, biting his lip. "Not going to last very long!"
"N-neither am I," Richard whimpered as Kal picked up speed, pounding him faster and faster. "Do me! Yes!"
The water started getting cooler but neither of them was willing to stop, dry off and continue in their bed. They teetered on the edge of orgasm for what seemed like forever. Richard gasped and moaned as he rode Kal's erection and then his body arched and he cried out, coming hard. Kal groaned loudly and came, filling Richard up. The water was cold by now. Kal reached behind Richard to turn the shower off, still holding him tight, still buried in Richard's ass.
"Feels so good with you in me," Richard murmured breathlessly. "Love you, Kal."
"Love you too," Kal said, kissing him gently. "Want to head to bed and continue this somewhere more comfortable?"
Richard laughed, kissing him deeply.
"Yes," Richard said, "Definitely."
"Papa!" Jason squealed in the morning when he saw Kal setting the table for breakfast.
Kal laughed and picked Jason up, hugging him close. Jason clung, not wanting to let go. He must have been worried, Kal thought, smiling over Jason's shoulder at Richard. Richard's lips were twitching and his eyes were twinkling with amusement despite having gotten very little sleep last night. If Richard had been worried enough for four rounds of sex last night then Jason must have been worried too.
"Worried about me?" Kal asked, setting Jason in his chair.
"Um, a little?" Jason said, looking at Kal with huge puppy eyes.
Richard continued working on pancakes, eggs and toast for breakfast for the three of them. Kal pet Jason's hair, smiling at him. He certainly couldn't blame Jason or Richard for worrying. They'd seen more clearly than anyone else the Kal wasn't truly invulnerable. They'd saved him when Lex had stabbed him with kryptonite.
"Want to talk about it?" Kal asked. "Breakfast will be a few minutes. I can help you get dressed for the day while we talk."
"Yes, please," Jason said quietly, nodding seriously.
They headed to Jason's bedroom, now half-decorated with this stuff. There were a couple of boxes left to unpack but the room had Jason's feel to it at last. His toys were in the toy box. His books were on the shelves. The walls had most of his stuff on them and the closet was full of his clothes. It was a good feeling, Kal thought, knowing that Jason lived there with them. He got clothes for Jason, set them on the bed, and helped Jason pull his pajama top off when it got stuck halfway on his ears and one elbow.
"Papa?" Jason asked, voice frightened, "Am I going to have to go into fires like that someday?"
"Not unless you choose to," Kal said calmly. "What you choose to do with your life and your powers is up to you. We're not sure what your powers will be when you grow up, Jason. So you might not be strong enough or invulnerable enough to do it that way. You might need to use different methods if you choose to help people like I do. You're a different person from me so your life will be different from mine."
Jason thought about that as Kal helped him put on his shirt and button it up. He seemed to be thinking about it very seriously. But then Jason normally thought about things very seriously. What bothered Lois and Kal was that he rarely talked about what he was thinking about. Lois badgered him on it from time to time but Kal had decided that Jason would talk about it when he was ready.
"When we were on Lex's big boat," Jason said finally, "I got really scared for Mommy. And I pushed the piano into the bad guy. I hurt him really badly and he died."
"I know," Kal said calmly. "You saved her life when you did that."
"But I killed him," Jason said, eyes haunted. "He's dead because of me."
Kal pulled Jason into a hug, holding him close. Jason clung to him, face buried in Kal's neck as though he'd never let go, never go anywhere else ever gain. Kal sighed, rubbing Jason's back as he trembled. Kal knew what he was feeling, all too well.
"Sometimes that's the only way, Jason," Kal admitted sadly. "It hurts and it's bad but sometimes that's the only thing you can do."
"Has that happened to you?" Jason asked, eyes wide. He pulled back enough to look at Kal.
"Yes," Kal nodded, letting his sadness show. "Several times, actually. I remember every one, every incident, each person and their deaths. But in each case, other people, people I loved would have died if I hadn't acted. I would have hated myself far more if I hadn't acted and my loved ones died than if the bad guy died."
Jason laid his head on Kal's chest, sighing. Kal kissed the top of his head, still holding him tight.
"I didn't want Mommy to be hurt," Jason admitted. "I didn't want him to kill her."
"Exactly," Kal said, caressing his hair. "You had to choose. You had one instant of power available to you and you had to choose, Jason. You chose the good person, the one who takes care of you and loves you over the bad person who was keeping you there and hurting your Mommy. If it happens again, that's what you have to do. Choose the better person, the good person."
Jason nodded but was still far too serious.
"What if you have to choose between bad people?" Jason asked, puzzled. "Two bad people hurting each other?"
"As long as no good people are threatened," Kal said with a wry smile, "I tend not to act. I can't be everywhere, Jason, and you can't be either. I listen for places that I can make a difference, helping the good people. The bad people do a very good job taking care of themselves. They don't need my help or yours. Sometimes they learn from their mistakes. Sometimes they don't. But it doesn't matter. I help the good people and let the bad people face the consequences of their choices. Batman takes the opposite approach and gets rid of all the bad men, ignoring the good people. I guess it works for him."
"That's hard," Jason said sadly. "It's like letting people get hurt when you could stop it."
Kal nodded, getting Jason back up and helping him into his pants and socks.
"It's very hard," Kal said, "But that's part of life. Everyone has to make their own choices and take the consequences of those choices, Jason. Bad people make bad choices and bad things happen to them. I help good people who are in danger or who are being threatened by bad people. Just like what you did. You saved a good woman from a bad man. You only had one way to do it. If you had been older and your powers were awake, you would have had more things you could have done. But you had just one thing you could do and you did it. Never feel bad about saving your Mommy, Jason. You did the right thing."
Jason flung himself into Kal's arms, sniffling as he fought tears.
"You did the right thing, Jason," Kal murmured to him. "Believe me. I would have done exactly the same thing, just in a different way."
"Breakfast is ready!" Richard called from the other room. "Come and get it!"
Kal laughed, grinning at Jason. Jason took a shuddery breath, dashed his tears away and smiled at Kal, looking reassured. He still looked serious and sad but not as sad as he'd been.
"Ready?" Kal asked.
"I'm ready," Jason said, smiling. "Daddy's pancakes are really good. Let's go!"
"This is insane," Richard complained to Kal in his office with the door carefully closed. "I can't believe how bad it's gotten."
"I know," Kal said mournfully, proofing his article before giving it to Richard to review for the paper.
A week and a half had passed since Lois had left on her first trip to Washington. For precisely one day, 6 hours and 13 minutes, Gladys had been good. Richard had been counting. He knew Lois would want to know and Richard had been curious how long Gladys would last before she returned to her bad old ways. About a day and half appeared to be as long as she could go without gossiping.
The problem wasn't the gossip. The problem was that Lois wasn't there for her to attack so she was taking it out on Richard, Kal and Jason. Every little twitch, every comment they made, every look the two of them exchanged became fodder for Gladys. She interpreted everything they did not only as sexual but also as an attack against her. Richard felt like he couldn't breathe without her deciding he was going to attack her. Kal and Richard couldn't be in the same room without her saying something obnoxious about their relationship.
But the worst part was the things she was implying about poor Jason. How one went from parents divorcing amicably to the assumption that Jason was somehow, somewhere sexually abused by one or both of his parents, Richard didn't know. But that was what she was trying to make people think and that was what had nearly gotten her strangled by Richard and then by Kal.
"We need to get out of here," Richard said, leaning back in his chair, arms behind his head. "We need to get out of the office for a week or so and leave her to stew in her own juices."
"Would Perry let us both go?" Kal asked, surprised. "I don't have any vacation time yet, not for a couple of months."
Richard laughed mirthlessly. Perry had already suggested it, strongly encouraged it, come just shy of demanding that they get the heck out of the Planet for a while. Most of the rest of the International department was out on assignment anyway. They sent their articles in by email or fax and Richard had a Blackberry so he could do his job remotely.
"Not a problem," Richard said, smiling wrly. "The only question is where we'd go and for how long."
"Well, if you have somewhere in mind…" Kal said, giving Richard the article hesitantly. His eyes were alive with hope but his chin and lips said that he was sternly telling himself not to be pushy. Jason had been pestering the both of them endlessly since Martha left for a trip to Smallville. Kal had very carefully not pushed Richard on the point at all, though his face lit up every time Jason brought the idea up.
Richard read over the article, nodding in places and making a couple of minor markups in others. Kal twitched a little as he did it. Richard knew he was proud of his writing but not terrifically confident about it. It was a mark of their relationship that he allowed Richard to proof his writing. It took one hell of a lot of trust. Of course, Kal was also twitching because he wanted to know where Richard was thinking of taking them.
"I did," Richard said, controlling a grin with considerable difficultly as he handed the article back. "It's nothing special but I think we might enjoy it. We could leave tomorrow, spend the weekend, all next week and then come back the following weekend. What do you think?"
"Sounds … good," Kal said, studying the markups and nodding agreement. "But where would we go? Camping somewhere? I know you and Lois used to take Jason out a lot."
Richard laughed, unable to keep his mask any longer. He patted Kal's shoulder when he really wanted to kiss him. He could see Gladys watching them from her desk and decided he didn't care. They were clearing out anyway. She could go pound sand! He leaned over and kissed Kal on the lips quickly.
"Smallville, Mr. Kent," Richard said, grinning widely. "We're going to drive out to Smallville and visit your mom. What else would we do?"
Kal straightened up and beamed at him, grinning just as widely as Richard. Richard stood, heading for the door and opening it wide.
"Then it's agreed," Richard said happily, heading for Perry's office by way of Gladys' desk. "We're outta here!"
Gladys started, staring at him. "Where are you off to?" she asked, glaring at him.
"We couldn't stand your attitude a minute longer," Richard said breezily, "So we're off to visit Clark's mom in Smallville."
"I can't imagine that she'll be glad to see you," Gladys sniffed, nails tapping against her desk in a sharp rhythm.
"She's already been pestering us to come out," Richard said, mock surprised. "After she stayed with us for a week, she and Jason have been after us endlessly for another visit. It's really nice. My parents are so busy that they rarely have time to visit with him. Lois' parents think it's wonderful that he's got a Grandmother who can spend time with him too. So it's all good."
"Th-they all … know?" Gladys said, eyes going wide.
"Of course," Richard said, staring over his shoulder at her. "What? You think we're hiding things? Really, Gladys, not everyone has big, hairy secrets in their lives. We've been perfectly open about this all along. My parents always knew Jason wasn't really mine. And Lois' parents accepted it, too. They just wondered who his read dad was. They won't be in town to meet Clark for a few months but they've already talked to him on the phone. What's the big deal here?"
Gladys' mouth worked but no coherent noises came out. Richard could see everyone in the Planet snickering into their computer screens, even Gladys' normal cronies. He'd just blown most of her gossip and plots out of the water and knew it.
"Perry!" Richard said, heading for his office. "Clark and Jason and I are taking off for a week or so."
"Really?" Perry said, raising an eyebrow at him. "Well, come here so we can plan out how to handle Internationals."
Behind him, Richard could hear Clark chuckling. When he glanced back, Clark had settled at his desk, grinning and shaking his head in amusement as he edited his article before submitting it to Perry. Gladys was positively purple, fingers all but stomping the keys on her keyboard. Richard almost felt sorry for whatever poor soul she decided to focus on next. But not quite. He'd had quite enough of it and now it was someone else's turn.
"Phft!" Richard said, heading into Perry's office with him. "This is the modern age, Perry. It's called email!"
Kal was already reverting to thinking of himself as Clark and they hadn't even gotten to the farm yet. They'd packed up their stuff, picked Jason up from school and started driving that night. They made it half-way there the first night and now were driving into town.
"It's so pretty!" Jason said from the back seat, staring out the window. "So much green!"
"It's all corn fields," Clark said, grinning at Richard who was fast asleep in his seat, head lolled back against the window. "They haven't grown very high yet but give them a few weeks and they'll be taller than I am."
"Wow," Jason breathed, staring at the miles of corn. "That's where corn comes from?"
"Yup," Clark said, grinning.
They passed the cornfields and came to some of the farms at the outer edges of town. Jason's nose wrinkled and Clark grinned. He'd almost forgotten the smell of cows. As much as it stank, Clark found he'd missed the smell. Jason put his hands over his face. Richard grunted and woke up, waving a hand in front of his face.
"What is that smell?" Richard said, blinking as he looked around.
"Cows," Clark and Jason said at once, Clark with humor and affection, Jason with distinct distaste in his voice.
"Lovely," Richard said, rolling his eyes. "Hey, we're here!"
They drove into town. Smallville was still a tiny place, only several thousand souls all told. But it had grown since Clark's last visit. The old McGregor farm had been torn down and a real, live, actual strip mall stood in its place. Main Street were all torn up and being repaved. Clark nodded approval. The streets had needed it for decades. They even seemed to be widening the road and replacing the cracked and bumpy sidewalks. The heart of downtown looked much the same. There were the same old buildings and their faded paint. There was the hardware store where Clark and his father had gotten supplies. There was the feed store where they'd gotten grain and such for the cows. New stores filled some of the buildings, including a bookstore and variety shop that Clark didn't recognize and a small deli that looked brand new. It even had a Grand Opening banner in the window, though it was a little faded from the sun so it couldn't be that new. Four blocks later and they were heading out of town towards the Kent farm.
"That's it?" Richard said, astonished. "That's Smallville?"
"Well, the schools are off down that street," Clark said, pointing as they drove past. "The library is over there. And we do have an old Indian museum on the other side of town. They have some nice artifacts of the Indians who used to live in this area, as well as a lot of stuff on the settlers."
"That's all?" Richard repeated, making Clark laugh and Jason giggle.
"Yes, that's all, big-town boy," Clark said, teasing him. "Smallville lives up to its name, you know. It's mostly a farming community. Most of the population lives outside of town, on farms. The only people who live in town are the ones who work here or the people who commute to other towns to work. We have a lot of commuters, actually."
"Wow," Richard said, shaking his head in amazement.
It took another 20 minutes to drive out to the Kent farm. Their old farm was on rolling land, with fields of corn and pastures for the cows. Clark knew every inch of it and pointed out the various places on it. There was where he'd fallen in the creek as a little boy. There was his old tree fort. That was where he learned to use his heat vision. That was where he'd play with his best friend Pete, chasing bullfrogs and fishing. Clark left out the places where he'd courted Lana, where he'd gotten his first kiss, where he'd broken up with Lana. There was no need to upset either of them. Richard and Jason drank it all in, both beaming to see the places that Clark had grown up. As they got closer to the farm, Richard called ahead and Martha was waiting for them, beaming as they drove up.
"I'm so glad you came!" Martha said as they got out and Jason tackle-hugged her. "It's so good to have you here!"
"Thanks for letting us come on such short notice," Richard said, hugging her over the top of Jason who looked like he'd never let go.
"No problem," Martha said, kissing Clark's cheek as he bent over and hugged her too. "Get your things and come in. I've got lunch all ready, including hot water for tea and cocoa with marshmallows."
"Yay!" Jason said, running back to the car for his bag.
Lunch was full of laughter. Martha told stories of Clark as a little boy, making Clark blush. Richard laughed so hard that he cried. Jason complained once lunch was done that his face hurt. Clark's old dog enticed Jason to go out and play. Clark pulled Richard into a hug, smiling happily. Richard kissed him.
"I'm so glad you two found each other," Martha said, sitting on the porch screen. "You make each other so happy and you make Jason even happier."
"Thanks, Mom!" Clark said, beaming at her.
"How long are you going to stay?" Martha asked, chuckling as Jason threw the ball for their dog and the dog checked first that the ball didn't disappear into the distance.
"All next week," Richard said. "We'll go home next weekend. I will be doing a bit of work from here electronically. But not much. We're on vacation!"
"Wonderful!" Martha beamed.
Richard smiled as they walked down the five-block stretch of downtown Smallville. It had been fun so far. Their first full day had been a blast. Kal had taught Jason how to fish in the little pond and stream on the farm. They'd caught half a dozen fish big enough to eat. Richard and Martha cooked them for dinner, which Jason was delighted by until he found out how many bones there were in little brook trout. But it was a wonderful dinner with lots of stories about Kal as a young boy catching fish with his father.
The second day, Sunday, they spent helping on the farm and going to Martha's church in town. It was an eye-opener for Richard. He'd never spent a day on a farm in his life and had no idea how much work was involved. Jason loved it, asking a million questions and trying everything, from feeding the animals to milking the cows to cleaning up the manure. He got to ride in Kal's lap on the tractor, held securely with one super-arm, while he steered. Richard ended up exhausted, filthy and more than ready to leave the farm work to the farm hands in the future.
"Not a country boy?" Martha asked while giving Richard some lemonade during a break during the afternoon.
"Oh, no!" Richard laughed, "I'm definitely not cut out for farm life. I had no idea there was so much work to do! No wonder he's turned out the way he did."
"It's hard work," Martha confirmed, "But it's good for your soul. Makes for strong bodies and strong characters."
"Very true," Richard said, smiling at her.
The next day Richard had a hard time getting up so Kal decided that they would take it easy and go into town. Kal drove them in, showing them around. He showed them the schools, all within a block of each other. All three of them together were about as big as Jason's elementary school. They were all old-fashioned buildings, but remodeled and retrofitted to the modern age.
"Cool," Jason said, eyeing the playground. "They have lots of good stuff to play on!"
"That they do," Kal said, patting Jason's head. "But they're closed today so we shouldn't hang around. I don't want to cause trouble."
"Awwww," Jason said but came with them.
They headed over to the museum, which turned out to be far more interesting than Richard had expected. It was a couple stories high, full of old Indian artifacts and artifacts of the settler's days up to the current day. Smallville had had a far more interesting history than Richard had expected. It took nearly two hours to see the whole thing. Next they headed downtown to see if they could get some lunch. The old deli was long gone so they ended up eating at a new restaurant in the strip mall. It was good, but not as good as Kal's descriptions of the old deli. They walked up the street, checking out everything.
The hardware store ate another hour as Jason checked out everything. Richard did so, too, a bit wide-eyed. It was nothing like the hardware stores he was used to. This was no Home Depot with aisle full of dozens of different versions of everything you'd need to upgrade a home. There was a section of typical hardware store things: bolts, nuts, nails, hinges, plumbing supplies, and such. But then it got different.
There was an area devoted to kitchen goods, the dish drainers, cleaners and scrubbing supplies Richard got at the grocery store. There were plates and glasses, camping gear, guns and ammunition. There were toys, board games and coloring books. One corner had cast iron pots and pans that made Richard drool and Kal laugh, offering to buy him some. There were knives and fishing supplies, rods, reels and flies. They had a small clothing section devoted to the sorts of things you'd use for hunting or working on a farm. It truly had everything. Jason ended up getting a free stick of hard candy from the owner by the time they left, just because he looked so much like Kal as a child. They continued up the street, checking out an antique store briefly, then peering into a clothing store that had things two or three seasons out of style.
"This is new," Kal said outside the book and variety store. "Let's check it out."
"Sure," Richard said, shrugging. "Maybe we can find something to read. I finished the book I brought to read."
"Harry Potter!" Jason declared, pointing at the window.
They laughed and headed inside. It was a smaller store. The left half had some bookshelves with paperbacks and hardbacks interspersed. The right side had knickknacks and curios, tourist tacky goods and some very nice hand-knitted sweaters. The counter in the back had posters for various school plays on it and a red-headed woman behind the counter who looked like she'd been stunning in her youth, before she'd gained just a bit too much weight.
"Welcome!" she called to them, finishing her knitting before looking up. "Anything I can … get … you…"
Her eyes went wide at seeing Kal and Richard glanced at him. The expression on his face made Richard stiffen as if he'd been slapped. He hadn't seen that look on Kal's face when he looked at anyone but Richard. He looked back at the woman, surprised at how quickly his hackles were rising.
"Clark!" the woman said, beaming at him.
"Lana," Clark breathed, a quirky, reluctant smile on his lips.
Lana stared at Clark, mouth dropped open. She'd gossiped with Martha about his trip around the world, and been delighted to learn that he was back in the US. But she'd never expected to see him walk into her store out of the blue this way. Every pound of the weight she'd gained recently suddenly weighed about five times as much and she remembered that she hadn't put on her makeup or done her hair properly this morning. She barely noticed the man with Clark or the little boy who clung to his leg as all the old romance and failed attempts at relationships rushed back at her.
"I didn't know you were back in town," Clark said, one hand resting on the little boy's head. "I thought you'd moved away."
"I did for a while," Lana said, shrugging slightly. "But I missed home. Smallville will always be home for me, I guess. I've traveled but this is where I belong."
She found she couldn't meet his eyes for long. They'd been together and apart so many times over their lives that it was ridiculous. Friends since childhood, then a couple in High School, then apart, then together again briefly a couple of times. Quite firmly apart in college while still circling each other and never making the separation complete. Together again briefly before Lana had met the love of her life and left Clark for good. When Frank had died of cancer she'd left Smallville because there were simply too many memories here. But she couldn't stay away from her home.
You would have thought that after leaving Clark so utterly for Frank that the old sparks wouldn't fly, Lana thought, annoyed at herself, eyes drifting down to really look at the little boy. What she saw in his face made her breath catch.
"Oh Clark!" Lana breathed, staring at the boy. "I didn't know you had a son. He's the spitting image of you at that age!"
Clark laughed, looking down at the boy who looked up at him, frowning seriously.
"People keep saying that," Clark said, amused. "I think every single person who knew me as a child has said the same thing. This is Jason. Jason, this is Lana, an old friend of mine. And this is Richard."
The obvious pride and love in Clark's voice as he said Richard's name made Lana stare first at Clark and then at this man he clearly was in love with. Richard radiated jealousy, arms crossed over his chest, glaring, jaw clenching and unclenching furiously. How odd that Clark would end up with another man…
"Pleased to meet you both," Lana said, smiling. She didn't acknowledge the jealously. She'd tended enough shops to know better than that. "How long are you three in town?"
"Oh, just the week," Clark said, smiling at her again. "We decided to bring Jason out to see where I grew up. Things have changed!"
Lana laughed, shaking her head. Really, Clark always had been oblivious to things like this. Smiling at Lana right now was NOT the right thing to be doing! He was so going to get it later. She just hoped that Richard would wait until they were in private. If they had a lover's spat in the middle of downtown Smallville the stories would live on for three or four generations.
"As much as things in Smallville change," Lana said wryly. "Two new stores and a strip mall is change for us. Well, and an extra 25 lbs from the ice cream up the street. Frank would so be after me to get more exercise if he was still alive."
"I was so sorry to hear about his death," Clark said sadly. He seemed to honestly mean it, which touched Lana. "I was … gone, so there wasn't anything I could do but I really felt bad when I heard."
"Cancer," Lana said, fighting the tears that still tried to well up, three years later. "We fought it for as long as we could but …"
She shrugged, trying to smile but only managing a quirk of the lips that pretended to be a smile. Clark frowned and Lana shook her head. They still could communicate in nothing but a look and a gesture, even though they'd been apart for so many years now. She wasn't going to go into it with Clark. He had always had his secrets, even when they'd been talking about getting married years ago. She wasn't going to start unloading her secrets on him, not now, not ever. It was over, no matter how close they remained as friends. They'd started as friends and that's all they'd ever be. Especially since Clark had finally found someone to love.
"Have you found anyone else?" Clark said, frowning at her and making Richard go on high alert again. He didn't seem to realize that he was pulling Richard's chain so badly. They must not have encountered an old lover together before.
"Nope," Lana said, shaking her head. "I'm not looking. If the right guy walks in someday, fine. But he'll have to work pretty hard to top Frank. You didn't come close and you've always been the second place winner for me. A really distant second place but still second place."
She grinned and patted her hips.
"Of course, he's going to have to like plump women," Lana laughed, making Clark burst into laughter. "That deli up the street has home made ice cream. They have the best blueberry chocolate fudge ripple ice cream in the history of the world! You have got to go up there and try it, Clark. Their strawberry cheesecake ice cream is to die for. I swear, I have to ration myself or I'd spend my whole paycheck there and be wide as a barn in a month."
"Um, blueberry chocolate fudge ripple?" Richard said, eyes going wide.
Lana controlled a grin at finally getting him to say something. Food appeared to be his weak point, which amused her. Clark had never been that interested in food. It was good that he'd ended up with someone who did love food. Sometimes she would have sworn that Clark only ate to keep her company.
"Yup," Lana said, "Home made on the premises in small batches. With this incredibly decadent recipe that I swear will add pounds if you so much as look at the stuff. So good! Go get Jason some ice cream. You will not regret it. Don't bother with the sherbert. Go for the ice cream."
"Do they have chocolate chip?" Jason asked quietly.
Lana nodded, grinning at him. He seemed to realize how upset Richard was, even if Clark was doing his thick-as-a-brick routine.
"Yes, they do," Lana said to Jason, "With these big chunks of home-made chocolate chip cookies in it. They even have a recipe book and ice cream machines so you can make your own versions of their ice cream. I think they're talking about making kits for people, too."
"Can we have some?" Jason asked, tugging at Clark's hand and then at Richard's. "It sounds good."
"Of course," Richard said, smiling at Jason. The smile was a little too tight and his eyes looked like he wanted to kill either Clark or Lana or maybe both, but at least it was a smile.
"Um," Clark said and finally, FINALLY looked at Richard, "Let's do that."
Clark's expression made her hide a smile behind one hand. He'd noticed at last that Richard was upset, Lana thought. Really upset, furiously upset, completely jealously upset. Clark instantly went first concerned and then flustered.
"Shoo!" Lana said, flipping a hand at the three of them. "Go forth young Clark and have ice cream. Learn the secrets of the universe in the blueberry chocolate fudge ripple."
Clark burst out laughing.
"Nice to see you, Lana," Clark said, grinning at her old fortune telling routine from Junior High School.
"Nice to see you, too!" Lana said. "Nice to meet you, Richard and Jason. Have a nice visit to Smallville!"
Clark's stomach was flipping as they went up the block to the Deli with the Grand Opening sign. What in the world had he been thinking? Standing there talking with Lana when he had Richard standing next him. It hadn't occurred to him that Richard might get jealous of Clark and Lana's history together. They were over, had been over for years. Lana and Clark had been over before he'd ever gone to work at the Planet and met Lois. But that was no excuse for not noticing Richard's agitation. All his super senses and he didn't even notice that the man he loved was about to kill him!
"One giant scoop of blueberry chocolate fudge ripple for me," Richard said, apparently calmly, to the clerk. "What sort do you want, Jason?"
"I want chocolate chip cookie!" Jason said firmly, holding Richard's hand.
Jason always seemed to hold their hands when one or the other was upset. He knew when they were unhappy or happy and wanted to make it better. The only way he had was this simple method but he used it very well. His puppy eyes as he looked up at Clark were enough to have Clark kicking himself. Jason had realized how upset Richard was all along and the reproach in his eyes hurt.
"Clark?" Richard asked, eyes snapping though the tone of voice was perfectly reasonable and mild.
"Um, I'll have the strawberry cheesecake," Clark said, feeling like he was going to dissolve into a puddle on the floor. He'd managed to upset the two people who were most important to him in the whole world and he hadn't even noticed until it was too late!
"You got it," the clerk said, getting them their ice cream.
It was every bit as good as Lana had said it was, Clark thought, explaining how she'd managed to put on the extra weight that had so surprised him. Jason squealed at his ice cream. Richard's harsh expression disappeared in ice cream bliss. Even Clark calmed a lot, nibbling at his. It was incredibly rich and decadent, with chunks of strawberries and cheesecake buried in it.
"Recipe book," Richard said after two bites, flopping it down next to the register as the clerk rang up their purchases. "And one of the machines, too. I can't believe how good this is!"
"Can we make mine first?" Jason asked, delighted.
"The trick with the chocolate chip," the clerk said, grinning at the three of them, "Is to soak the cookies in milk for about five minutes before you add them to the ice cream. Makes them nice and chewy."
Richard chatted with the clerk about the recipes before they left, getting tips on how to make them as well or better than what the deli sold. Clark carried the purchases as they headed back up the block to their parked car. Jason demanded tastes of their ice cream, which lead to them switching cones like musical chairs. The blueberry fudge ripple was every bit as decadent as Lana had said. The chocolate chip cookie was really good, too. By the time they got back to the car everything seemed to be OK again.
Except that Richard wasn't looking at Clark. And he had yet to let go of Jason's hand. And he was crunching the waffle cone with a lot more force than necessary. Clark sighed mentally as they climbed in and headed back to the farm. He'd really messed this one up. Jason met Clark's eyes in the rear view mirror on their silent ride back home. He looked worried and a little afraid. Clark could only smile at him. He didn't know what else to do yet.
The drive home was far quieter than it should have been. As soon as they got back, Richard headed straight for their bedroom while Jason headed straight for his Grandma Martha. He cuddled up with her, getting a hug that made her frown at Clark, eye Richard and then turn back to Clark, raising an eyebrow. Clark winced and followed Richard, leaving Jason with his mother.
"How was town?" Martha asked Jason.
"It was fun," Jason said seriously, "But …" He pulled Martha off to the side, watching Richard as he headed up to their bedroom. "Why is Daddy upset that Papa Clark talked to that Lana person at the bookstore? He got all upset but she didn't say or do anything!"
"Ohh~hh," Martha chuckled, "Lana and Clark go way back, Jason. I wouldn't worry about it. Your Papa will explain it all to your Daddy and it will be fine. Let's go pick some peas for dinner."
"Ooo!" Jason said, "I haven't done that before!"
Richard eyed Clark as he held the door open to the bedroom for Richard. His lips were so thin as to nearly be invisible. His eyes were ice cold and his jaw kept jumping. Clark sighed, shutting the door. His room hadn't changed much over the years since he'd moved away from home. The lingering juvenile feeling to it didn't help at all right now. It made him feel more like a child than like the man that he truly was.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Clark asked quietly, taking off his coat and tossing it on his desk next to Richard's laptop.
"What's there to talk about?" Richard snapped, throwing his coat over the back of the chair. "She saw you, you saw her, and sparks flew."
Clark suppressed a whimper and sat on the bed, rubbing his face in his hands. How the heck was he supposed to explain Lana to Richard? There was so much history there and all of it was going to make Richard even more upset instead of making them feel better. They were just friends and had been for years, since college in fact. But they were former lovers and Richard had clearly seen that.
"I've known Lana since I was three," Clark said, meeting Richard's eyes as he glared down at him. "We're just friends."
"You don't smile like that at friends, Kal," Richard said, arms crossed on his chest. "That was a lover's smile, not a friend's smile. And the way she looked at you said the same thing."
Richard was trembling with agitation. It bothered Clark but he understood why he was so upset. Clark would have been much the same way if one of Richard's former lovers came onto him. But neither Clark nor Lana truly felt that way about each other anymore. It just looked that way to someone on the outside.
"We've been over since our sophomore year in college," Clark protested. "We just know each other really well, Richard. At one time she knew everything about me."
It was the wrong thing to say, making Richard's nostrils flare, his jaw clench and his eyes blaze.
"But," Clark continued quickly, "Then my powers started developing and things got difficult between the two of us and nothing was ever the same. She couldn't accept that I was keeping secrets and I always wanted to protect her from my powers and the danger of being associated with me. She never figured it out and I never told her. We were together, apart, together again so many times and it never worked. Never. Certainly, we're very close friends but that's all we are, Richard. We're childhood friends who stayed close, nothing more."
Richard stilled as Clark continued to explain, eyes softening when he got to the fact that Lana had never known. Clark stood, moving to Richard's side.
"She dumped me," Clark said, shrugging and smiling ruefully. "She got tired of the whole mess and dumped me completely once she found Frank, her late husband. I was best man at their wedding. They wanted me to be godparent to any children they had. But that never happened and Lana's never been quite the same since she lost him. Mom has stayed really good friends with Lana all this time so I know what's been happening with her."
"Still doesn't explain the way you looked at her," Richard growled.
"I'm sorry," Clark said mournfully. "She was my first love and she's always done that to me, from the time I was five years old. She used to throw snowballs at me when I did it. Did again once she met Frank in college."
Richard spluttered a laugh, shaking his head. Richard wrapped his arms around Clark's chest, burying his face in Clark's neck. Clark held him, rubbing his back and playing with his hair. They stayed that way for a long time, Clark worried that Richard would never forgive him.
"I'm sorry," Richard said, voice muffled. "The way you two looked at each other… It was like I could see you leaving with her and leaving me behind."
"No, I'm sorry," Clark said firmly. "I should have noticed that you were upset. It was such a surprise seeing her there, after so long. Though she really doesn't look half as good as she used to. She used to be the most stylish girl in town. All the other guys were jealous of me that we were so close."
Richard laughed, leaning back so he could look Clark in the eyes.
"That is not what I want to hear," Richard said firmly.
"It's true," Clark said, lips twitching, "She's really let herself go since Frank died."
"Still not what I want to hear," Richard said, fighting a smile.
"Hmm," Clark said, pretending to think about it. "I'm not sure what you want to hear. Maybe you could give me a hint?"
"Maybe I could break my hand on your jaw?" Richard said, the sparks in his eyes warring with the smile on his lips.
Clark leaned over close, eyes meeting Richards as his lips hovered a hair's breath away from Richard's mouth. Richard's breath caught and a shudder ran through him. Clark felt his hands fist in his shirt, trying to pull him closer. Clark resisted, their breath mingling warm and moist between their faces.
"I never loved her as much as I love you," Clark breathed, meaning every word of it. "I never loved either Lois or Lana as much as I love you, Richard. I'll never love anyone as much as you. If you died and I lived forever, I would spend eternity looking for your reincarnation, just so I could be with you again. You don't ever need to be jealous, Richard. No one will ever compete for your place in my heart. I love you and only you."
Richard stood on his tiptoes and kissed Clark, an urgent, hot desperate kiss that went from 0 to 60 in less than a second. Clark moaned, pulling him closer. Their tongues battled as Richard's hands started pulling Clark's shirt off. Clark rumbled a moan and floated them back to the bed.
Richard moaned into Kal's mouth as his feet lifted off the ground and they drifted to the bed. He was still yelling at himself inside. It was so stupid! He had no reason to be so jealous of Lana. She hadn't done a single thing to justify it. Other than that first look at Kal, she'd been nothing but reasonable and respectful. Kal hadn't done anything to justify Richard's jealous rage either. He was being completely irrational and it was idiotic. He knew it but hadn't been able to help himself.
"Sorry," Richard muttered as he worked at Kal's shirt, pulling at the buttons to get it open.
"Don't be," Kal murmured back to him as he pulled Richard's T-shirt over his head. "My fault."
Richard tried to explain but Kal's mouth was back on his and there was no room for thought, not even room for breathing as they kissed. Richard whimpered, fingers fisting in Kal's hair. Kal's shirt disappeared, torn as Kal gave into impatience. They tumbled back on the bed, grappling with each other and the powerful emotions that had washed over them today.
"Not your fault," Richard murmured during one brief instant when Kal let his lips go.
It wasn't. Not really. Richard had lost so many lovers, male and female, to other people. He'd lost Lois to Superman, thought truthfully he'd never had her. He'd lost Rick to his former lover Damien. He'd lost nearly every single one over the years when they'd found someone new or returned to someone old. As reasonable as Richard was on every other point, he reacted far too strongly to a lover looking at someone else that way.
Kal didn't give him the chance to explain, recapturing Richard's lips and rolling on top of him. Kal pinned him down and made Richard forget everything besides the man on top of him and his wonderful tongue. They both moaned as Kal's hand drifted southwards, finding Richard's nipples. Richard bucked against Kal's hips, rubbing his erection against Kal's hips.
"Want you," Richard gasped, pulling his mouth away from Kal's only with the greatest effort.
"No soundproofing," Kal murmured warningly. He started working his pants open while kissing and nibbling his way down Richard's neck.
"Don't care!" Richard said and gasped as Kal bit him. He arched against Kal, moaning. There was so going to be a mark but Richard didn't care.
Kal's hands pulled Richard's pants open and then slid them down as his mouth kissed and licked its way toward Richard's groin. Richard panted, hands still tangled in Kal's hair. He needed it to keep from coming right off the bed. Kal had never been this forceful or passionate before. He kept nipping Richard and leaving little marks on his body. Richard pulled one hand free and fisted it in his mouth as Kal stripped the last piece of clothing away. Kal sucked Richard's erection into his mouth, swallowing him whole. Richard's fist barely muffled his outcry. Kal didn't give him a chance to adjust, head moving quickly as Kal sucked him in, tongue warm and wet and urgent.
"Too much!" Richard gasped, hips bucking against Kal's restraining hips. "God, Kal! Ahhh!!! Y-you're~!"
"MMmmmm," Kal purred, sucking harder.
One hand moved around to Richard's ass, already slick with lube and where the hell had he gotten the lube? How had he gotten the lube?! Richard wondered as he muffled his moans and cries with his fist. Kal's fingers pushed into Richard, as urgent as Kal's mouth. It pushed Richard over the edge and he bit his lip to keep from screaming as he came hard. Kal swallowed it all, pumping his fingers in Richard's ass and not giving him the chance to relax or come down.
"More," Richard moaned, tears in his eyes. "Please Kal! More!"
Kal let his erection drop out of his mouth and smiled, kissing Richard's thigh. He moved up, pushing into Richard's ass without hesitation, filling him up with one quick, hard plunge that made Richard gasp, eyes going wide. He'd never been this forceful so early before. Usually Kal had to work up to it.
"Yes!" Richard gasped, hands clamping down on Kal's arms. "Oh god yes, Kal! Fuck me hard and fast!"
"Love you," Kal moaned, wrapping his arms round Richard's back, hooking his hands on Richard's shoulders. "Love you so much!"
He started pounding Richard's ass, capturing his mouth in a kiss so that Richard couldn't cry out. Richard whimpered and moaned, barely able to breathe as Kal pounded into his body, giving it to him so much harder and faster than he ever had. It may not have been super speed but it didn't matter. Richard was in heaven. He clutched at Kal's back, kissing him desperately. It was so good, so hot and urgent!
"Mmmnnnnn!!" Richard moaned, fingernails scratching ineffectually against Kal's back.
"More gently?" Kal asked, panting as he continued to pound Richard.
"God no!" Richard groaned. "I love it! L-love you so much!"
Kal groaned loudly, head back, eyes shut as he pounded into Richard. Both of them gave up on being quiet. They couldn't help it. It was too good to be quiet. Richard could hear Kal saying his name over and over, interspersed with pants and moans. Richard's throat hurt from the cries he couldn't stop. Their mouths crashed together again and the kiss was bruising in its intensity. Richard was already on the edge of another orgasm. Kal was taking him so hard and fast that he could barely breathe.
"Unh!" Kal grunted, ripping his mouth away from Richard's as his body arched and he came so hard that he practically convulsed.
"AAAHhhh!" Richard screamed, coming equally hard as Kal filled him up. "Ahhh! Unnnhhhh! Oh, god yes…"
They collapsed together on the bed, panting and sweaty. Richard couldn't stop whimpering, making Kal look at him worried. Aftershocks made him groan and arch against Kal for a long time before he could finally relax and catch his breath.
"Too much," Kal said mournfully.
"N-no," Richard said breathlessly, "J-just haven't cum that hard in ages. God, it was incredible, Kal! So damned good… Just what I needed."
Kal chuckled, kissing Richard gently, caressing his cheek.
"Sorry I got so upset," Richard said quietly. "I've lost nearly every single lover I ever had when they looked at someone else that way, Kal. I overreacted. I'm sorry. Neither of you did anything to justify my reaction."
"I still should have noticed sooner," Kal said quietly, kissing Richard again. "I'm your lover and I've got all these powers. What good are they if I don't pay close enough attention to you to know when I've upset you, no matter what the reason is? Maybe you overreacted but I still should have seen it sooner."
Richard chuckled, petting Kal's sweaty hair.
"We both goofed," Richard said. "It's over and done with, as far as I'm concerned."
"Not to me," Kal said, nuzzling Richard's neck and licking the hickie he'd given Richard.
"It's not?" Richard said, surprised.
Kal pulled back, leaning on one elbow to study Richard. He ran a thumb over Richard's chin, lips and cheek.
"Oh, no," Kal said seriously though his eyes were twinkling. "I think I have a lot more making up to do. At least two or three more times worth of making up."
Richard laughed, pulling Kal to him.
"Well, I think if you really feel that bad about it," Richard said, "We might be able to manage that."
"Good," Kal said, grinning as he leaned over and kissed Richard.
Later that evening, Richard and Kal cuddled on the couch, listening to the TV as Martha and Jason made dinner together. Martha had insisted Richard sit out dinner prep after seeing how exhausted he was. Jason had been worried until he saw their smiles and then he was fine. While his daddies had been 'busy', Martha had taken him out to the garden, picking peas and salad greens. Then they had gotten milk and churned butter by hand in the barn, which Jason thought was the coolest thing in the history of the world. He'd never known where butter came from before and the magic of seeing milk separate out into butter had been wondrous to him.
Richard felt far more secure in his relationship with Kal. Kal seemed far more certain of Richard's ability to deal with him and his strength. Jason seemed to have come to the realization that his parents could get angry without it being the end of the world. Martha seemed content that her son had finally found his soul mate. Everything was better than it had been before meeting Lana, despite Richard's exhaustion and sore body.
"So glad we came," Richard murmured to Kal, head resting on his shoulder.
"Me, too," Kal said, rubbing his cheek against Richard's hair. "Me, too."
Dinner was a quiet affair that was followed by a movie. Richard fell asleep on the couch cuddled with Kal and Jason while Martha worked on Jason's afghan. He woke in the morning cuddled with Kal in bed. He ached, head to toe. Every single muscle in his body ached. It was a good ache and it made Richard smile but he still ached.
"Morning," Kal murmured, kissing him gently.
"Morning!" Richard said, snuggling up instead of getting up right away.
The bathroom mirror showed why he ached so badly. He had more hickies from that one afternoon of sex than he'd collected in his entire life to date. Plus a few bruises in inconvenient locations that had Kal frowning unhappily. They spent the day doing quiet things to let Richard recover: checking email, fishing, reading and relaxing. The rest of the week was equally laid back. Kal still went on his regular patrols but for the most part they had a wonderful vacation from normal life. Jason got a healthy tan. Richard burned his nose playing with him on the farm. They all got muddy and laughed and had a wonderful time. But by the weekend, Jason was wondering when they'd get to go home.
"I miss school," Jason said quietly to Richard as they waited for Kal to come back from patrol. He swung his feet on the porch swing, looking to the sky. "And my games and the kitchen and Mommy and my friends."
"I think we're all just about ready to go home," Richard agreed, ruffling his hair. "Tomorrow's the day we pack up and head back."
"When will Mommy be back?" Jason asked, looking up at Richard with serious eyes.
"Probably somewhere during the week," Richard said, tapping his nose and making him grin. "Not sure. Her last email didn't specify the day, just that she was coming back for a few days."
Kal showed up in a swish of cape and red-and-blue costume. Jason promptly tackled him. Kal laughed and carried Jason inside. The next day was a sad one as they packed the van with their bags and the gifts that Martha had given them. Jason's first afghan was among the gifts. He wouldn't let it be packed. It was folded carefully and set on the seat next to his booster seat.
"Drive carefully," Martha said to Kal as she held him.
"I will, Mom," Kal said, holding her like he never wanted to let go.
Jason wouldn't let go when it was his turn.
"Want Grandma Martha to come with us!" Jason cried, making Martha laugh as she tried to pry him loose from her waist.
"Now, Jason," she said, patting his head, "I'll be coming to visit and you can come and visit me again. Be a good boy and let go."
He whimpered but did it, giving her the best set of puppy eyes Richard had ever seen. She grinned at him and kissed his forehead. Martha dried his tears, kissed his cheek and whispered something that made him perk up at least a little bit. Then it was Richard's turn and damn if he didn't have a hard time letting go, too.
"Take care of my boys for me," Martha whispered to him. "They're so strong but so weak in other ways. They need someone to love them and help them stay true to themselves."
"I will," Richard promised, tears in his eyes. "I promise! But you have to come and visit again."
He grinned at her and she laughed, nodding. They climbed into the car and waved goodbye to Martha as they drove away. Jason waved long after they were out of sight and then cried for a little while, snuggling his afghan. Eventually he fell asleep under it in the back seat. It was a quiet drive for the most part. They stopped once along the way to have lunch at a diner and again for dinner but drove straight through, taking turns so they could get home sooner. When they arrived it was dark.
"That's our parking spot!" Jason said as they drove up, pointing at their number.
"That it is," Kal said, grinning. "Glad to be home?"
"Yeah," Jason said pensively, "I'm going to miss Grandma Martha but I'm glad to be home, too."
Carrying their bags up took one trip between the three of them, though Kal was balancing a few too many things in his arms. At least the weight didn't bother him the way it would have Richard. Richard immediately started doing laundry while Kal got their new ice cream maker put away in the kitchen. Jason ran to his room to spread his afghan on his bed. It took them almost 15 minutes to go looking for Jason when he didn't come back out. He'd ended up curled up underneath his afghan, fast asleep. Kal and Richard exchanged amused looks and got him into his jammies, then tucked him into bed. Jason didn't wake at all the whole time.
"It's good to be home," Kal said as they folded laundry later. "I love my mom but this is my home, now."
"Agreed," Richard said, smiling at him. "Of course, we do have to go back to work tomorrow and deal with the Gladys situation again."
"True," Kal said, smiling. "But I think I can handle it now. There's been enough of a break. Besides, Perry might have taken care of it by now."
"Hope so," Richard said, taking the folded laundry to their room to put away. "But given that its Gladys, you never know for sure."
"True," Kal said, leaning against the doorframe. "It has been really quiet lately. Something has to break loose soon."
"Now knock on wood so you don't make it happen!" Richard laughed, grinning at Kal. "Don't jinx us!"
The next day was a normal one, getting Jason up and to school, heading to work through the rush hour traffic, dealing with being gone for a week and a half. Gladys was not gone but she had been given a final warning. One more incident and she'd be fired automatically. She was much, much quieter. It took until nearly 3:00 to find out what had happened to make Perry go that far.
"She didn't?" Richard said to Jimmy, eyes wide.
"She did!" Jimmy said, shaking his head in amazement. "She started saying that Perry was having an affair with Chloe in Printing and that they were going to get married."
"That has to be the biggest piece of –" Richard had to stop himself before he got going.
Chloe was a 17-year-old intern who had already admitted to Richard privately that she was gay. She'd told Richard that she admired him being so open about his relationship with Clark and that it gave her courage to be open about herself in the future, when she wasn't living at home with her parents. For Gladys to be spreading rumors like that was pure, out-and-out fiction. Or maybe delusions; Richard wasn't sure which.
"Wow," Richard said, shaking his head. "I never thought she'd stoop that low."
"No one did," Jimmy said, shrugging. "But Perry landed on her so hard that we thought the whole building was going to collapse. She's been really good ever since then. 4 days, 19 hours and um, 57 minutes so far."
Richard had to burst into laughter.
"I'm glad I'm not the only one tracking her!" Richard said, grinning.
"Oh, no," Jimmy said seriously. "Lois has us all keeping an eye on Gladys."
The rest of the day went smoothly. Richard and Clark both finished up enough work to be able to go home together, neither having to stay late. They got Jason, headed home and Richard made dinner. Kal seemed a bit distracted during dinner but Richard put that down to listening to the world and its troubles. It was almost time for his nightly patrol.
"Uh-oh," Kal said as they finished loading the dishwasher.
"What's wrong?" Richard asked.
"I have to go," Kal said, frowning. "There's something going on in Washington DC and I think I ought to go check it out. It doesn't look serious yet but it could be."
"Can we watch on TV???" Jason asked, tugging Kal's sleeve excitedly.
"Of course," Kal said, grinning and hugging Jason before using super speed to change out of his clothes and fix his hair. "Just make sure you get to bed at a reasonable time."
"I promise!" Jason said seriously. "Good luck!"
Jason ran into the living room to turn on the TV to CNN. They were already reporting something on a situation in DC so Jason curled up on the couch with his afghan, listening intently. Richard caught Kal's arm as he headed to the balcony.
"Be careful," Richard murmured to him, worried in spite of himself.
"I will be," Kal said, kissing him deeply. "Don't let him stay up late, OK?"
"Nope," Richard replied, heart beating faster from the kiss and the tender expression in Kal's eyes. "Go. Take care of the world. They need you and we've had you all week."
It had all worked so smoothly, Lex thought, watching as his men put on their body armor. He'd won. He'd created his continent. He'd stabbed and presumably killed Superman. He only had to wait as his continent grew and America was destroyed. He should have known that something would go wrong when it had gone so smoothly. Superman had returned – again! – and stolen his continent. Kitty, the little bitch, had dumped his crystals out of the helicopter and forever destroyed any chance of his repeating his success. He'd even run out of gas on his way to his Bahamas base.
But Lex had survived. He'd managed to stay free long enough for the others to come and pick him up. Pity they hadn't taken long enough that he'd had to eat Kitty. But she was gone now so it didn't matter. Lauren was far more compliant and far more talented, anyway.
"We're ready, Mr. Luthor," Dave said, his voice a bit distorted by the communication system on his body armor.
"Begin," Lex said, nodding approval.
A work of art, Lex thought, looking at his men's armor. Full body suits with cybernetic enhancements that would give them strength nearly equal to Superman's. Breathing systems that filtered the air they took in, removing any harmful gasses. Visors that had head's up displays and infrared vision, night vision, everything they'd need for this operation. And a beautiful green coating that was sure to give Lex's 'favorite' person trouble. Kryptonite wasn't easy to process into a coating but his men had found a way. Now they all glowed in the radiation that Superman couldn't survive.
Their heat-resistant titanium guns glowed, too. Each bullet was more than lead. It had a Kryptonite coating that would let it penetrate Superman's hide as easily as that shard had back on Lex's continent. The grenades were 'dirty' with Kryptonite, as was the small shaped charge that Lex carried. It would stick to Superman's milliskin suit, going off when he tried to remove it, coating him in Kryptonite dust that would be almost impossible for him to remove. He wouldn't fly away from the radiation this time. This time, Lex was prepared. It may have taken nearly a year to put all the pieces in place but this time, there would be no mistakes. Superman would die and Lex would have the world. The White House waited.
A month ago, agents had planted small crystals around DC, as near to the White House, Capital Building, Supreme Court and other government buildings as possible. An agent in the cleaning staff had even managed to plant one in the oval office. It had taken ages to figure out how to replicate the Kryptonian crystals that Kitty had lost. He still didn't have a grasp on their technology. But he did have a very solid workable weapon that would allow him to take the entire US government hostage. He'd only been waiting for a day when the President, First Family, Vice President and most of Congress were in DC. That had taken months of patient waiting for a Presidential address to the nation.
Other crystals had been planted on all the major bridges and highways into DC. The power plant, the water supply, even the sewage treatment systems had been dealt with. Only a few of the crystals had been discovered and those few had been treated as what they appeared to be: small white crystals that looked much like frosty lead quartz. None of them had been removed from their target locations, much to Lex's delight.
Once everyone was suited up, Lex checked that his agents were in place on the tracking display. Lauren was outside the White House, taking pictures. Raul was outside the Congress, pretending to wait for a friend. Everyone was in place. Even Jeremy, his least useful agent had made it to his designated location by the Supreme Court.
"Activating now," Lex said, pressing the button that sent the crystals into action.
There was a 30-second pause while the crystals drew power from the surrounding area, causing a drain in the electrical grid. Then they began to grow, shooting out spikes. Spikes went into the ground and into the air. The spikes in the ground cannibalized the minerals and metals in the surrounding material to breed more crystals. It was a slow process at first but within 10 minutes the crystals were replicating at a geometric rate. Lex smiled quietly and nodded approval. The crystals were following the programmed plan he'd encoded in them. In 20 minutes the Capital buildings were surrounded and completely contained, every person in them held hostage by the crystals. In no more than 5 minutes Superman was sure to arrive.
"Let's go," Lex said, snapping his visor down and clipping the control crystal to his belt.
They strode out of the large van they'd been waiting in. Lex smiled at the screams around them. The crystals were designed to attack anyone not carrying an identity crystal that marked them as one of Lex's people. Those attacked were either killed outright by the growing spikes or encapsulated in the crystals, destined to slowly starve to death or suffocate. They strode through the crystalline chaos secure and in control. The crystals recognized Lex and his men, allowing them to pass unmolested.
They walked calmly and securely though the rampaging crystals directly into the Capital Building, down the transformed crystalline hallway and into the control center for the news media. His men took control, forcing the reporters away from their posts at the camera center. Much to Lex's amusement, Lois Lane was there, among the newspaper reporters.
"You won't get away with this!" she snapped, glaring at the faceless (to her) men holding guns pointed at her.
"On the contrary," Lex said, sliding up his visor and smiling at her gasp of shock. "We already have."
"He's been sighted," one of Lex's men said, tapping Lex's shoulder.
"Excellent," Lex said, "Broadcast my message to the world while I deal with Superman."
"He'll stop you!" Lois declared fiercely.
"WRONG!" Lex roared, making everyone except his men flinch. "Wrong again, Ms. Lane! This time I've planned for everything and no one will be able to save him!"
Lex snapped down his visor and went with most of his men outside, smiling as he watched Superman try and free the trapped people from the crystals with his heat vision. Superman's gasp of horror as the crystals grew and crushed the people was so worth it. Heat made them grow. His vision was worthless.
"Do it," Lex said, nodding to his men.
They launched their shoulder-mounted grenades at Superman. Predictably, he didn't bother to dodge the grenades, confident in his invulnerability. His shout of agony as the Kryptonite-infused grenades knocked him from the sky was a balm to Lex's soul. He laughed and strode over, slapping the shaped charge to Superman's chest, right on top of that infernal 'S'.
"T-this won't kill me," Superman growled.
"I don't expect it to," Lex said, walking away, out of the blast radius.
Superman tried to tear it off and it went off from the pressure of his hand, enveloping him in a cloud of radioactive Kryptonite dust. This time Superman couldn't scream. He only croaked and collapsed to the pavement. Lex laughed and raised his visor so that Superman would see who had defeated him.
"Lex…" Superman breathed, struggling to rise. His eyes went wide with horror. Lex's men moved to surround Superman in a half-circle. There was still the possibility of ricochets and he didn't want to loose any of his men, not now when he was so close to success.
"You won't escape the radiation this time," Lex said, smiling at him. "You're coated in it and you'll never get it all off. My crystals are unstoppable and you can't fly away anymore. Time for you to die for real, Superman. Shoot him."
Richard couldn't help but be grateful that Jason had fallen asleep shortly after curling up under his afghan. The news reports had been sort of scary at first but the commentary on the lack of information had put him out. It had nearly put Richard out. There was nothing more boring than listening to someone talk endlessly about how little they knew about an event. Richard had carried Jason to bed, tucked him in and come back to find that Washington DC was being held hostage to crystals that attacked, killed and crushed anything that moved or breathed. And Kal was headed straight there.
"Be careful, Kal," Richard whispered, elbows on his knees as he watched the one camera in DC that still seemed to be working.
The Presidential Address had been cut off and replaced by static but one feed was still coming through from a helicopter flying high above the city. When Superman zoomed into the scene everyone was relieved. Everyone except for Richard. He worried. The reporters relief quickly turned to horror. Kal tried to free people from the crystals using his strength, only to have them be crushed as the crystals tried to capture him. The broken crystals immediately started breeding more, making it worse. Kal tried to use his heat vision but it seemed to super-charge the crystal's growth, crushing the people he tried to save. People in green armored suits came charging out of the Capital Building and fired grenades at Superman. Richard came to his feet in horror as Kal fell from the sky at their feet, surrounded by glowing green debris.
"No," Richard whispered, starting to shake. "Kryptonite…"
Their leader slapped some sort of bomb on Kal and it went off when he tried to remove it, covering him in green dust. The dust sapped his strength, leaving him even weaker. The news commentators were silent by now, struck dumb by the drama playing out in front of their cameras. The leader raised his visor, laughing at Superman.
"No!" Richard moaned, collapsing back on the couch. "Not Lex. Not Lex Luthor!"
There was nothing he could do. Even if he could go there, he wouldn't be there in time. Even if he could get there in time, there was no way that he could save Kal. He was just a human and the crystals would kill him before he ever got close to Kal. The green-suited men surrounded Kal, guns at the ready. They glowed slightly in the dusk that was falling over Capital Hill. Their guns glowed too.
"Get up, Kal," Richard said. "Get up! I know it hurts but you have to get up! Jason needs you. The world needs you. I need you! Get up!"
Kal struggled to rise, as though he heard Richard's words. Given his hearing, he might have, Richard thought. Richard swallowed hard, trembling on the sofa as he watched the screen. Kal collapsed, his arms not able to bear his weight.
"Don't give up, Kal," Richard said, "Please! Get up and get out of there!"
The guns were locked, aimed and Richard gasped.
"Get the fuck up, Kal!" Richard almost yelled at the TV screen as the image of his lover struggling to rise. "Damn it, I love you too much to watch this happen! Get up and get out of there! I CAN'T WATCH YOU DIE!"
Richard knew Kal heard him. Kal reacted like he'd been slapped, jaw firming in the zoomed in image. Then he shoved himself away, rolling as the bullets started to fly. The bullets left weird green trails in the air as they flew, like tracer rounds you see during gun battles at war. Kal rolled, staggered to his feet and ran, the green-suited men firing at his back. The helicopter's cameras showed him being hit several times and staggering as he ran. The bullets were hurting him!
"Keep going!" Richard said, "Get that crap off of your suit and then go after him."
As Kal ran, the helicopter was actually able to keep pace, which said a lot to Richard about how badly he had been affected. Normally the helicopter wouldn't have been able to keep up, no matter how hard it tried. A second helicopter arrived, tracking Kal while the first went back to the Capital Building. Their feed cut out, making Richard (and probably most of the world) squawk with indignation.
"Greetings," Lex said, smiling at them through the TV screen. "By now you have seen the power I command. My crystals will in time grow to cover all of America, most of Canada, all of Mexico, Central America and South America. They will propagate through the earth and eventually take over all the continents of the world. Only I can control them. Only I can stop them. Only my people can survive them. Anyone who wishes to survive the new world order will do as I say."
"Of course," Lex said, smiling smugly, "I have demands."
"That fucking asshole!" Richard snarled, resisting the urge to throw the remote straight through the TV screen. "I could care less what your idiotic demands are, Lex. What happened to Kal?!"
Lex continued talking blandly about the things he wanted (To be ruler of the world, gold, silver, jewels, several supermodels as his personal 'attendants'…) while Richard paced, cursing furiously if quietly so he wouldn't wake Jason up. Jason did not need to see this. He did not need to watch his Papa Clark being hurt, shot and possibly bleeding. Richard refused to even think that Kal might die. Richard checked the other channels and found that all of them had been preempted by Lex's broadcast demands.
"You have one hour to respond, Mr. Vice President," Lex said, smiling. "Currently, the President, First Family and Congress are alive. If you delay too long, I will release the crystals into the Chamber and kill them all."
The video feed cut to the captive politicians, reporters and guests. Richard moaned, head slumping into his hands. Lois was there, being held by a couple of the green-suited men with guns at her head. She was the only one being held that way, which meant that Lex knew she was there and was using her as insurance.
"Lois," Richard groaned, "How the hell do you manage to be right in the middle of it every single time something like this happens??? I swear, you're such a trouble magnet. Lovely. Kal, if you can hear me and I have to assume that you can, Lex has Lois hostage, as well as most of the government. We have got to smack that woman up back the head when you both get back. How does she do that?!"
He shook his head, amused despite his dismay at Lois' ability to land herself in trouble as skillfully as a cat landing on its feet.
The cameras tracking Lex and Superman came back, with excited commentary from the reporters. Lex had retreated back into the Capital Building. It shown in the night like something made of ice or glass, not at all the solid marble building it had been. Richard could see the shadows of Lex's men moving through the walls. The building hadn't just been encapsulated. It had been transformed into a giant crystal, completely at Lex's control. Superman had finally gotten past the edge of Lex's crystals, disappearing into a suburban area over a hundred miles outside of DC. The helicopter had finally had to give up the chase as it started to run out of fuel.
"Oh, Kal," Richard said, trembling. "Please be OK and get clean. Get that crap off of your suit. There has to be something that affects those crystals. There can't be too many Kryptonite grenades and bombs. Be OK. Please be OK!"
Kal ran, feeling like he'd been returned to his teenage years with the inability to fly and limited speed and strength. If it weren't for his hearing and the omnipresent ache of the kryptonite dust and the bullets that had lodged in his back it would be much the same. He could hear Richard pacing and cursing. He could hear Lex's address to the world. He could hear the whole world, just like normal. It was the rest of his abilities that were being affected. It took far too long to escape the leading edge of the crystals. One track of his mind was tracking the time since Lex completed his address and set the time limit of 60 minutes.
Richard was right, Kal decided. He needed to get clean and then he could go back and face Lex and his kryptonite weapons. He wasn't sure yet how he'd face them but there had to be a way. Kal scanned ahead as he ran through the suburbs of DC, looking for a hospital. He found a military hospital after 30 seconds too long and ran in, making the receiving nurse gasp when she saw him.
"Superman!" she said, hurrying to his side. "What can we do?"
"Do you have a decontamination center?" Kal asked politely, not letting himself sway or fall the way he wanted to.
The wind as he'd run had blown off a little of the kryptonite dust but so much of it was coating his suit that it made little difference. Worse, he'd gasped and it was coating his teeth and mouth. The bullets had barely penetrated his skin, lodging just inside the skin. It would be easy to pull them out with tweezers but that could wait until he was clean. The process for turning the kryptonite into a coating seemed to have lessened its effect on him, perhaps because of the binding agents used.
"Certainly!" she said, pointing the way as several doctors came running up, eyes wide.
He pulled on the military pants and picked up the T-shirt that they had kindly provided to him, leaving his suit to drip-dry. It was still lightly coated in kryptonite dust, though not as badly as it had been. It was still bad enough that he didn't want to wear it. He'd scrubbed it twice, then stripped and scrubbed himself three times, rinsing religiously to ensure that his body was clean. He'd brushed his teeth four times before he got all of the taste and feel of kryptonite out of his mouth. He'd cleaned his ears, his nose, his hair, under his nails and been utterly grateful when he felt more like himself.
"What else can we do for you?" the head doctor asked as Kal exited the decon center.
"Well, if you could wash my suit in a strong detergent I would appreciate it," Kal said mildly, smiling at them. "An ordinary washing machine will work. Also, I have four bullets in my back that need to be removed. They barely penetrated but they're coated in that same substance that I was attacked with so they're not coming out of their own accord. Normally my body would heal and expel them but that's not happening in this case."
"Ah, certainly," the head doctor said, swallowing hard as Kal turned. The doctor nodded, checking his back and the four green bullets and set to work.
00:31: 15 elapsed.
The doctor tisked, studying one of the green bullets while Kal pulled his borrowed T-shirt on. The coating of kryptonite on it was about half as effective as raw kryptonite, making it easy for Kal to stand there and watch the doctor looking the bullets. It felt as though he was twice as far away from them, in a different room. Kal had been highly amused when the nurse had offered to go get him a Superman T-shirt to wear while his suit was being cleaned.
"No, thank you," Kal said, grinning. "I know who I am."
The General for the base arrived as Kal left the doctor. The General looked white, terrified and on the verge of a heart attack. His staff was fluttering around Kal and the General, doing their best to fill them in on what was going on in DC. Or more accurately what little they knew since all communication had been cut off other than helicopter and plane flights over the city. The leading edge was expanding slowly, taking about 30 minutes to go half a mile. People were being evacuated efficiently now and few people were being caught by the crystals.
"Thank God you're all right, Superman," the General said, shaking his hand firmly. "Do you have any idea what we can do against this threat?"
"What does the Vice President say?" Kal asked, "He's the one with the final word, not me."
"He was killed within the first 20 minutes," the General said, looking grim. "We're keeping it quiet for now but one of the crystals killed him, crushed him."
"Then Lex has the whole US Government," Kal breathed, horrified.
"All but two Senators," the General said, hands fisting. "And they're out of the country right now. We don't know what those things are or how to fight them, Superman. You're our only hope of stopping this madman."
"Then let me tell you what I know," Kal said, keeping his voice firm and calm. "Do you have a briefing room we can use?"
"So they're vulnerable to cold," the General's expert said, "What can we use to strike at them with? Ice won't work; not portable enough. Liquid nitrogen and other liquid gasses are hard to control."
"There's always fire extinguishers," Kal suggested with a grin at their rolled eyes. "It would probably work as a short term method to slow their growth in critical areas. There's only one proper solution. I'm reasonably sure that Lex has a control device on his belt. If I can get close enough I know I can take it from him. I'm back to normal physically. My problem isn't the crystals. I can fly above them. My problem is the radiation that his suits give off and the kryptonite that coats his men's bullets."
"What blocks the radiation?" the General asked, eyes hopeful.
"Lead works best," Kal said, shrugging. "But I don't think that wrapping myself in X-ray shields from the imaging department will work very well. They'll fall off as soon as I have to fight. I know I'm going to have to fight Lex and his men. Their suits clearly give them advanced abilities."
"What about a lead-lined power suit with bullet-proof armor, a helmet that filters the air of all particulates and which amplifies the wearer's strength and speed?" the expert said, grinning wickedly. "Think that might help you out?"
"You have one of those in my size?" Kal asked, eyes wide.
00: 49: 09 elapsed.
The suit wasn't similar to Lex's suits. It was a copy of them. Lex had clearly stolen his design from the Pentagon. When Kal shared that fact with the General he'd stormed off to make heads roll. Kal suited up, feeling a bit absurd wearing a power suit but given the lead lining he knew he'd be safe from Lex's kryptonite weapons.
"I guess I'm ready," Kal said, carrying the helmet as he headed for the door.
"Not quite!" one of the nurses said, hurrying to his side. "We cleaned your cape. It dries really quickly! We're giving the rest of your suit another wash as our microscopes picked up some more dust on it."
She attached the cape to his power suit, standing on tiptoe to do it.
"Better!" she said with a grin and cocky salute at him. "You may not have the 'S' but the cape is almost as good. Go knock that bastard into the next country, Superman. We're all right behind you!"
"Thank you," Kal said, laughing. He looked at the helmet and made a face.
"What?" she asked, concerned.
"It feels … wrong to hide my face," Kal admitted, blushing slightly. "I'm not Batman after all."
"Better than getting another face full of that dust," she said, raising an eyebrow at him.
"True," Kal said, pulling it on and making sure the breathing system worked, the communication system functioned. "I'm off then. Good luck to everyone else."
00:57: 01 elapsed.
DC was a ghost town full of crystals and dead bodies. Kal flew overhead, listening to the President and other government officials in the crystalline Capital Building, listening to Richard pace and mutter worriedly, listening as the news reporters suddenly sighted him. Lex and Richard reacted in the same moment as the reporters started gushing with delight that he was OK.
Lex's men surged out of the Capital Building, guns at ready. Lex followed and glared up at Kal. Kal's black suit and red cape seemed to be an offense to nature to Lex, judging by the way his teeth ground.
"Give it up, Superman," Lex called to him. "You can't win against me and you know it!"
"On the contrary," Kal called back to him calmly. "I already know you're doomed. Surrender and release your hostages at once and this won't get messy."
They glared at each other for a long moment as the clock in Kal's head clicked down.
Kal didn't wait for them to fire this time. He knew their weapons had kryptonite and he knew showing off would be stupid. It was Lex. He had to have back up weapons that were stronger, more powerful. It was just the way Lex worked. Kal dove at Lex, determined to get that control device off of his belt.
Just before he could reach Lex, his men were there between them. Their power suits apparently had AI's assisting them because there was no way their reaction time would have been sufficient otherwise. Four of them grabbed him, wrestling with Kal while a fifth went for the helmet and a couple of others went for their guns.
Kal's suit kicked in, amplifying his strength and speed, though Kal had to be careful. He could hear and feel the servos heating up as he moved far more powerfully and quickly than any human could. If he weren't careful he'd burn them out.
Kal ripped his arm free and hit the one reaching for his helmet, throwing him over 30 feet, straight into one of the biggest crystals. It shattered and collapsed on top of him, burying him in a mass of re-growing crystals that spiked and grew as though they were alive. The crystals grew around him without crushing him, entrapping him or holding him back. But he was unconscious and didn't move. He could possibly be dying. For once that thought didn't bother Kal at all. He was too busy swinging at the other thugs while a thought tickled in his head.
WHY didn't they crystals attack Lex's people? What was keeping them safe when the rest of the world was doomed? There had to be a frequency, a control resonance that allowed Lex to protect his men. If he could find it and use it himself, Lex's main weapon would be useless against him.
00:59: 27 elapsed.
The bullets started flying but Kal was thinking and moving at super-speed. They lazily headed Kal's way as he knocked Lex's other men away, sending them flying as he had the first one. Lex was running away, into the capital building, taking the control device with him. He moved at nearly super-speed, assisted by his green suit. Kal headed after him, faster and stronger and quite determined to catch and destroy him.
The Capital Building itself attacked him, spikes shooting out of the walls and floors, dropping from the ceiling as it tried to capture and kill him. Kal backed off and darted back out, searching one of Lex's dropped men as fast as possible. The ID turned out to be a tiny broach of crystal about the size of one of his shirt buttons. Kal took it and put it on his cape, then darted back into the building.
This time the Capital Building failed to react to him, making Kal smile grimly behind his faceplate. Lex was farther ahead though, nearly to the Chamber where everyone was being held. Kal flew, using every bit of speed that he had and crashed straight through the walls, wincing inwardly at the destruction of the majestic old building. But Lex had already destroyed it with his crystals.
Lex and Kal arrived at nearly the same instant.
Kal drove straight at him in a spray of crystalline fragments that looked like diamonds floating in the air. Lex's reaction speed wasn't good enough, even with the assistance of his power suit. Kal was there and had the control crystal from Lex's hand before Lex could react. His scream of outrage was a slow motion drawl of the word 'Noooo!', dragged out to nearly infinity.
Precious microseconds ticked on as Kal studied the control device and then pushed the 'off' button.
00:59:57 elapsed. It was over.
Then Lex was tackling him and Kal realized he'd burnt out the servos on his suit. No more power assist for me, Kal sighed mentally and clung to the control device, refusing to let Lex pry it from his hand. Lex was nearly as strong with his suit as Kal was without his. But now, without the servos to help and locked up joints, Kal was working at a disadvantage. He had to fight his suit while Lex's still helped him fully.
"Damn it!" Lex roared, "Why won't you die?!"
Kal didn't bother answering. He flew straight at the outer walls, intending to crash through them and head away from the President and Lois and all the rest. He needed to deal with Lex. Once Lex was dealt with the rest of his men would fall easily. Lex never worked with independent and strong-willed people. He preferred lackeys he controlled utterly.
Lex clawed at his helmet, trying to rip it off but Kal caught his arm and made him take the brunt of the smash through the crystalline wall. Fragments few everywhere. This time they didn't start growing as soon as they landed, warming Kal's heart. He had found the off button! He flew straight up, taking the breathless and stunned Lex with him. Away from his goons, away from the president, away from any other help that Lex might have.
The general's troops were at the edge of the crystal's expanse and Kal dove at them, glowing with friction-heat he was flying so fast. The Kryptonite coating on Lex's suit couldn't cope with the heat and started flaking off. Kal spun and flung Lex hard at the ground, trusting the suit to keep him from dying. Not that he would mind if Lex died, but still, he was Superman. He didn't kill. Lex left a wonderful crater, out cold. Kal tossed the control crystal to the general's expert and then headed straight back for the Capital Building. There was mop-up work to do.
Locating Lex's remaining men was easy. They stuck out like sore thumbs. The assembled politicians took care of the ones in the Chamber once they realized that Lex had been dealt with and the crystals weren't a threat. By the time Kal had returned, they were taken care of. Lois was busy kicking one of them, which made Kal sigh. Of the assembled 10 men and one woman, the politicians took care of three and Kal captured all but one man and the woman. Oddly, he couldn't find them anywhere in DC despite scanning for them very carefully.
"So that's it," The President said, sighing with relief as the General and his troops arrived. "It's over."
"I doubt that, Mr. President," Kal said grimly. He gave the President the little crystal broach that had protected Kal against the Capital. "Lex never has just one plan. He always has many plans and he always has more weapons. He's patient, determined and power-mad. We didn't capture all of his men. We don't know where his base is. And we don't know how to restore DC yet."
Lauren and Jeremy headed out of DC. Neither of them had stuck around once Lex had engaged Superman. They knew that this plan would fail. Lauren knew it and had convinced Jeremy that she was right. The government would put Lex on trail, probably a military trial and there'd be a chance to save him then. For now, he could sit and stew. Lauren had her own ideas about how to deal with the ever-present 'Super-threat' and her own ideas about how to take over the world.
"Are you sure we're going to be all right?" Jeremy asked for the millionth time. "Won't Lex be pissed at us?"
"Nonsense," Lauren said, patting his arm absently as she drove. "We're his back-up. We were never supposed to stick around and be caught with the others. We have to free him and the others when we get a good chance. He'd be pissed if we didn't escape. You did bring the auxiliary control unit, didn't you?"
"Y-yes, ma'am," Jeremy said, holding the little box as though it was the most precious thing in the world. It was, at least to Lauren. All of her plans depended on it. She smiled and drove north, easily slipping through the evacuation chaos and into the wider world. Next time they'd be ready and not even Lex's ego could keep them from failing. The world would be theirs.
Midnight passed and still Kal wasn't back. Richard paced between the kitchen and the living room where the TV still chattered on about nothing at all. He'd turned it so low that the voiceover was just a dim murmur. It had been nearly two hours since Lex had been captured and nearly an hour and a half since Superman had departed DC. Richard was starting to twitch with worry.
"Come on, Kal," Richard murmured, swallowing hard against his nerves. "Where are you?"
He headed back out through the dark kitchen and onto the balcony with its dim nightlight that Jason had insisted Kal would need after night patrols. It was cool on the balcony. There was a light wind coming off of the park that smelled of an odd combination of warehouse roof and fresh green leaves. Richard looked up at the sky, trembling with the need to see that red and blue suit coming at him. Where was he???
"Sorry I'm late," Kal said apologetically, coming down from directly above.
"Wah!" Richard gasped, recoiling and running into the wall from sheer surprise. "God, you nearly gave me a heart attack! Where have you been?"
Kal chuckled and landed on the balcony. He looked embarrassed for some reason, making Richard wonder what had happened. Kal usually didn't get embarrassed by anything other than Lois, Jason or Richard. And occasionally Gladys.
"I had to go pick up my suit and then drop off the power suit I borrowed," Kal said, cheeks getting distinctly red even in the dim light of the nightlight.
"And that took an extra hour and a half?" Richard said, raising an eyebrow at Kal.
"Well," Kal said, rubbing the back of his neck and looking away over the warehouse, "I sort of destroyed their suit. The servos burned out and I kept fighting, so it was torn to shreds inside. That plus all the damage Lex and his men inflicted… Um, the General wasn't exactly happy about that."
Richard blinked, unsuccessfully fighting a grin. He started chuckling, all his nerves dissolving into laughter and relief that felt like an artery being cut. Now that he'd started laughing he found that he couldn't stop. His knees felt a little weak. His stomach felt almost queasy but he didn't feel like he was going to throw up. He was just so relieved that everything was all right, that Kal was all right.
"You … ruined the military's power suit?" Richard laughed, going to Kal's side. "Oh, Kal, only you could do that!"
"Sorry," Kal said, almost radiating he was blushing so badly. "They made me do some tests so they could determine exactly what I'd done. It took longer than I liked and I didn't care call you. I didn't want them to know about you or that I have a lover. Sorry. Are you all right?"
Richard nodded, still laughing quietly. He wrapped his arms around Kal's neck, pulling him down into a hug and a kiss. The kiss stilled the uncontrollable laughter as nothing else could. Kal's arms were arm and strong around his back as Kal picked him up, holding Richard tight.
"Thank you so much for yelling at me," Kal whispered in Richard's ear. "If you hadn't yelled, I don't think that I would have been able to get up."
Richard whimpered, clutching at Kal's shoulders.
"I thought that you were going to be killed," Richard whispered, voice broken even at a whisper. "I couldn't deal with that. I couldn't deal with loosing you."
Richard looked up at Kal and realized that they'd floated into the kitchen while he was clutching Kal. Richard blinked, looked around and smiled crookedly at Kal.
"How do you do that?" Richard asked. "Float so smoothly that I don't even realize that we're moving?"
"Lots of practice," Kal said, grinning as he closed the sliding door behind them. "Bed?"
"Hell yes!" Richard said, holding him close.
Kal laughed quietly, flying them gently and slowly to the bedroom and shutting the door with one booted foot. He settled Richard on the bed and set to work removing his clothes. He was urgent and fast but managed not to tear Richard's shirt or pop any buttons. Kal's suit disappeared, tossed off to the side and Richard's breath caught.
"Wait," Richard said quietly.
"What's wrong?" Kal asked, frowning.
"Um, can we … go slow tonight?" Richard asked, blushing. Normally he was the one who was rushing things, wanting to get to the sex right away while Kal was the one putting on the brakes to make sure Richard wouldn't be hurt.
"What's wrong?" Kal repeated, sitting next to Richard and pulling him into his lap.
Richard straddled his lap, wrapping his arms around Kal's neck. He ran trembling fingers over Kal's perfectly smooth chin, smiling at the smoothness that marked him as Kryptonian. Kal shivered, hands cupping Richard's buttocks as he pulled Richard close for a deep, slow but utterly passionate kiss.
"I thought I was going to loose you," Richard whispered into his lips once Kal let his mouth go, "I … I need to see for myself that you're OK. Please?"
"Of course," Kal said, smiling tenderly at him.
Richard kissed his way down Kal's chin, along his neck and over his broad shoulders. His fingers traced every muscle, checking for anything that could be wrong. Kal moaned as Richard gently touched him, getting ferociously erect. Richard ran his fingers down Kal's back, flinching when he found the four tiny divots that had to be bullet holes.
"You were shot," Richard breathed, trembling. "I'd almost convinced myself that they just hit you, that they didn't hurt you."
"They barely penetrated my skin at all," Kal reassured Richard. "There's only a mark because of the Kryptonite coating. But the kryptonite coating was mostly ineffective. The binding agent severely lessened its effect. It didn't hurt much, truly."
"Still," Richard said, clutching Kal, face buried in his neck. "Someone found a way to make bullets hurt you!"
"Shhhh," Kal whispered, holding Richard close. "Barely. They're not very effective. Lex isn't likely to share the knowledge with anyone. It will be all right."
Richard descended on Kal's mouth, kissing him with tears in his eyes. He pushed Kal back on the bed, kissing and licking his way down Kal's body, urgent now to show Kal how much he loved him, how much he would miss him if he lost him. Kal's breath caught and his fingers rested gently on Richard's head as he reached Kal's fierce erection. It was harder than normal, perhaps because of the tenderness and the emotions they both felt.
Richard gently took Kal's erection in his mouth, slowly swirling his tongue over the tip, around the head, then down the shaft. He cupped and caressed Kal's scrotum, showing him the tenderness that welled up in his heart. Kal moaned, fingers trembling slightly on Richard's head. Richard gently worked Kal's erection, remembering how much he loved to do this. It had been quite a while. Normally they leaped straight to sex. When they did take time for foreplay it was usually Kal taking care of Richard.
"R-Richard," Kal breathed, "I can't…"
"Mmm," Richard said, letting him go and grinning. He kept stroking Kal, nipping his thigh gently. "Been a while, hasn't it?"
"Far too long," Kal said, smiling at him.
"Let me take care of you," Richard breathed. "Let me show you how much I love you."
He went back to sucking on Kal's erection, eyes locked on Kal's. Kal moaned, fingers fisting in the covers as he shuddered and fought for control that Richard worked to wrest away from him. Richard smiled, closed his eyes and gave Kal everything he had. Kal gasped, hips bucking minimally in Richard's mouth. It didn't take very long before Kal gasped a warning and came. Richard backed off enough not to choke and swallowed it all, practically glowing with happiness. Kal pulled him up, sweeping him into his arms and kissing him. His hands were large and warm and firm on Richard's body, reminding him that he hadn't gotten any release yet.
"Thank you," Kal murmured, stroking Richard gently. "But now it's your turn."
"Why do I think that it's going to be very different from your turn?" Richard gasped as Kal bit his neck just hard enough to smart but not enough to mark him.
"Mmm, because it's us?" Kal laughed into his neck. "I love you so much, Richard. I can't tell you how much you mean to me. There aren't words for what I feel."
"Sure there are," Richard whispered, heart beating faster as he blushed and pumped in Kal's hand. "Three words. 'I love you.' You don't need to say anything else."
"Maybe not," Kal said, smiling that wonderful warm smile that melted Richard's innards every time, "But I can show it to you."
They'd spent over two hours making love, taking turns taking care of each other. Kal had learned things about Richard that he'd never dreamed. He'd learned things about himself that he'd never dreamed, too, which was truly a surprise. But in the end they had to give up and get some sleep. It was the wee hours of the morning, with just an hour and a half before they had to get up and get Jason ready for school. Richard was curled up on his left side, breath warm and moist on the side of Kal's neck. His arm was draped over Kal's chest possessively. Several small bruises mottled his biceps. A new hickie marked his shoulder, large and dark and probably painful, though Richard had loved it when Kal had done it.
But none of that mattered at the moment. Kal was dreaming, intensely aware as always of the real world but completely captivated by his inner world, the dream that held him captive.
He was standing on the roof of the Daily Planet, looking out over the city with satisfied but tired eyes. Lex's attack had been stopped before Kal's favorite city could be affected. His loves were safe and Lois was due back tomorrow, meaning that Richard and Kal could go out on a date, their first real date since they got together.
"Hey," a familiar voice said from above.
Kal looked and grinned, delighted.
"Jo!" Kal said, laughing, "It's been forever. Come down here and let me give you hug, little brother!"
In the dream, Jo was Kal's twin. They were nearly identical, similar powers, similar looks, but different in so many ways. He'd dreamed of Jo so many times over his life, always after events that were terrifying or disturbing or tragic. He knew it was a dream, knew it wasn't real, but the comfort of seeing this 'twin' was so powerful that Kal willingly gave himself to the dream.
Jo had let his hair grow since the last time Kal had seen him. It was down past his waist now, kept in a thick ponytail. He wore his normal black jeans, black T-shirt and black leather jacket. The tattoo of Kryptonian writing that Jor-el had inflicted on his left arm peeked out at the sleeve of his jacket, reminding Kal of one of the worst times of their lives before Jo landed and they hugged, holding each other tightly.
"God, it's been what, a year and a half since we talked?" Jo said, grinning at Kal. "We gotta get together more often, Clark. That's way too long between visits. So what's been up in your life?"
"Oh, stuff," Kal said, laughing at Jo's rolled eyes. Jo had always been the quiet twin, never talking about his life while Clark had been the chatty one. "Lots of stuff, really. Got time for verbal download?"
"I always have time for you, Clark," Jo said, eyes warm as he smiled at Kal.
Kal started with his trip to Krypton, the massive disappointment that it had been. Jo had argued with him not to go, so he just nodded and didn't comment. No need to bring that pain up again. Kal continued with his return, finding out about Lois' relationship with Richard and Jason. Jo winced. Lex's continent, finding out about Jason, breaking up with Lois and getting together with Richard all spilled out. Jo listened to it all, gasping, cheering, making raspberries and then pounding Kal's back at all the appropriate places. He truly was the best listener that Kal knew. Kal went on to Lex's latest attack and how close he'd come to succeeding in killing Kal.
"Ah, that's what triggered this dream," Jo said, nodding. "I nearly died a day and a half ago, too. Veriss came back and I nearly lost the fight this time. We've got to figure out a way to dream each other without major tragedies Clark. You bring so much comfort and joy to my life, even if this isn't real."
"You dream of me, too?" Kal said, straightening up, surprised.
"Very much so," Jo said, smiling at him. "I think we're from alternate universes, Clark. In my world, Mom and Dad named us Joseph. In your world it was Clark. Being what we are, from time to time our dreams coincide and we get to be twins."
He looked wistful, gazing out over the city with a sad expression. Kal smiled equally sadly.
"It would be wonderful if we could," Clark said, sighing. "But I'll take what I can get. I wish you could meet Richard and Jason. It would be wonderful for them to know you."
"I wish you could meet Dave," Jo said, grinning. "And come to one of my art exhibitions. God, I'd love to have you see the Twins exhibit I did! Do portraits of you and your family with me and mine. I'd love to read your articles. It'd be so cool if we really were twins."
They looked at each other, feeling their dreams starting to fade and clinging to them for just a few seconds longer. Kal reached out, holding out a hand to Jo. Jo smiled and rested the palm of his hand against Clark's. It was warm and firm and felt as real as anything ever had. But the waking world pulled at the both of them, tearing them apart. Kal woke with tears on his cheeks and a concerned Richard looking down at him.
"What's wrong?" Richard asked, wiping the tears away.
"Oh, just a dream," Kal said, hugging Richard close. "I have it after most really big crisis. I dream that I'm a twin. His name is Jo and he's an artist, a painter, who lives in Seattle with his lover David. It always feels so very real that it hurts when the dream ends."
"Really?" Richard said, fascinated. "I wish I could see him, meet him."
"Picture me with hair down to my waist," Kal said, grinning, "Always wearing black and openly gay since high school. An artist instead of a reporter, with a tattoo on my left arm from wrist to shoulder."
Richard's head cocked as he tried to imagine it. After a second he shook his head and laughed.
"I can't do it," Richard said, chuckling. "I just can't see you with long hair and black clothes. Black suit?"
"Yup," Kal said, grinning. "No cape and with a mask that covers his face. He's called the Shadow, not Superman. But he does much of what I do, just more quietly than me."
"Weird," Richard said, getting up, "You're going to have to tell me all about it!"
"I'd be glad to," Kal said, getting up too.
He felt better about life, having dreamed of Jo. Maybe the dreams were alternate versions of the same person. Maybe not. It truly didn't matter. Dreaming of his twin made him feel better, more able to deal with being who and what he was. He felt less alone after the dreams, less different, less isolated. They headed out to a jubilant Jason who tackle-hugged Kal, demanding to know everything that had happened after he'd fallen asleep. Kal laughed and started telling the edited version of events while Richard started breakfast.
Lois sighed with relief as she closed the door to her apartment and dropped her bags. It had been a very long, hard couple of weeks in Washington. Certainly, she'd made a lot of progress setting up her contacts, establishing herself as Gary's replacement. But the whole Lex fiasco had nearly made it pointless. Washington was a disaster area and it had taken three days and a military flight to Norfolk, VA to get a flight back home to Metropolis. Fortunately, she'd been carrying her laptop during the attack, unlike Gary, so she still had everything on it. Gary's laptop had been crystallized and fused to his hotel room.
The weirdest part of the whole thing had been knowing that Superman would not be checking to see if she was all right. Lex would have been sorely disappointed if he'd tried to use her as a hostage. She wasn't his girlfriend anymore and it stung. Superman had disappeared from DC without a glance at her, heading back home to his boyfriend.
She hated that thought, even if it was Richard. She hated the thought of Richard with Clark. She hated the thought that Clark was Superman and she'd been so blind that she'd missed it for years. And she hated that she hated it but couldn't seem to stop herself from picking at it mentally.
"I am such an idiot," Lois muttered to herself as she kicked off her shoes and dumped her coat by the hall closet. "I need to get over it."
She dumped clothes in the washer and headed for the kitchen to check her messages and nuke something to eat. Thirty-seven messages and a quick TV dinner later, Lois felt a bit better. Tomorrow looked to be hell. Over half the messages had been from people at work warning her about Gladys. Jimmy's count of how long she'd been 'good' far exceeded the bet that Lois had put down with Martin in Printing. Apparently Perry had put the fear of god in her, finally. But it hadn't worked over the long term and Gladys was back to normal.
She dreamed of crystals eating the world alive and woke a dozen times just before they consumed her. She burnt breakfast, which was amazing considering it was just frozen waffles. She got a run in her last set of hose and had to switch to pants. She forgot her laptop in her apartment and had to run back and get it, then run for work. She couldn't find a parking spot for the longest time and when she did finally find one it was miles away from her normal spot. It felt like the world had decided to dump on Lois today.
"Wonderful," Lois gritted through her teeth as she made it to the office at long last. "If Gladys says one word I'm smacking her and to hell with the consequences!"
When the elevator opened, Lois wasn't sure she was on the right floor. Things were quiet, calm, orderly. Voices were calm and reasonable. People were smiling at each other, helping each other. Richard's desk was completely neat and tidy, as far as she could see through the window. Clark's desk was equally neat, despite the fact that he was working and always made a mess when he was working. They both smiled brightly at her as she came in, Richard coming out of his office to greet her. There were flowers on her desk and everyone smiled to see her.
"Lois! You're back!" Richard said, taking her laptop bag and carrying it to her desk. "You OK after the excitement in DC?"
"You're not hurt or anything, are you?" Clark asked, eyes mildly worried as he looked down at her. She couldn't help but worry about X-rays for a second but let that go as she looked around at the bizarrely calm Daily Plant surrounding her.
"Ah, no I'm fine," Lois said, smiling somewhat confusedly at them. "I haven't stepped into an alternate universe, have I? This is very strange."
Richard's lips started twitching as he glanced at Clark. Clark suppressed a little chuckle of amusement, rolling his eyes as Richard turned back to her.
"Why no," Richard said, fighting the grin that was trying to break out. "What do you mean? It's always like this, isn't it?"
"That would be far more convincing if you weren't about to bust into belly laughs, Richard," Lois said, rolling her eyes as she leaned against her desk. "What's up? What happened to change the Planet this dramatically?"
Richard lost his war against the laughter, collapsing into her desk chair as he chortled. Everyone around them grinned. Clark sighed, shaking his head and turned to point at Gladys' desk.
"I think you'll find that that's the reason for the change," Clark said, grinning widely.
Lois looked and stared. Gladys' desk was empty. The half-empty mugs of coffee were gone. The stacks of baskets with their Personals slips had been removed. Even her computer was gone. Gladys wasn't there. Lois stared for a long moment, then turned back and stared at Richard who was looking like the cat that ate the canary. Clark chuckled, arms crossed on his chest with what looked like intense satisfaction.
"Give," Lois demanded, "What was the straw that finally broke the camel's back???"
"Oh, nothing much," Richard said, hands locked behind his head. "Gladys made a … shall we say inopportune remark after the whole DC event. While Perry was standing right behind her."
"She said that she hoped you'd been turned into a crystal statue," Clark said, leaning over to say it quietly, "And that it would make the world a better place."
Lois blinked, confused. Gladys had said far worse than that many times. A few times she'd said it at the top of her lungs for the whole world to hear.
"That was enough?" Lois said, looking back and forth between Richard and Clark.
"It was after trying to spread rumors that Perry and Chloe in Printing were having an affair," Richard said with a huge grin, "And getting her final warning. You missed the good part. Of course so did we. We were off visiting Clark's mom in Smallville."
"That would do it," Lois laughed, shaking her head. "I'm surprised she didn't loose her job right then. So all those messages on my answering machine were, what? An attempt to surprise me?"
"Yup," Richard said, laughing. "It's a welcome home gift. You've entered the Gladys-free zone, a strange world that no one at the Planet has seen or heard for nearly 25 years. Oddly, it's a very peaceful zone and we're all enjoying it to bits. No one expects it to last too long, life being what it is."
Lois looked around, her lips twitching with amusement. It was peaceful. Quiet. Calm. Reasonable, even.
"I'm not sure I can handle this much peace and quiet at work," Lois laughed, shaking her head. "So what else is new?"
"Well, we're having a party this afternoon," Clark said, grinning. "You're welcome to join us. There's even going to be cake."
"It better not say 'Welcome Home, Lois' on it!" Lois said, glaring up at him. She couldn't help smiling and ruining the glare.
"No," Clark said, laughing. "It says 'Thank You Perry!', actually. It's a surprise for him. Officially, it's a Thank You party for his years of service at the helm of the Planet. There's a card going around. No one has actually mentioned Gladys by name on the card. We're all expecting her to sue eventually."
Lois rolled her eyes and evicted Richard from her chair.
"I can see her doing that," Lois said, pulling out her laptop. "I'm so there for the party. Now go away and let me get back to work. Surely you have something to do other than gossip?"
They all laughed. Clark went back to his desk, typing away at his article. Richard headed back to his office and whatever he was working on. Lois turned on her computer, leaning on her elbows as her computer booted up. She studied the bare desk that used to hold her nemesis. Maybe she hadn't been the one to defeat Gladys but she still felt much better about the world knowing that she was gone.
"Maybe this isn't such a bad day after all," Lois muttered as she set to work on her article on the DC Crisis. She smiled. Not such a bad day indeed.
"Thanks again, Lois," Richard said, swinging Jason between him and Kal's. "We really appreciate it."
"No problem," Lois said, grinning and taking Jason in her arms once he was done swinging. "I haven't gotten to spend any time with Jason for weeks. It'll be wonderful to have him for a few nights."
"Yeah!" Jason said, grinning and clinging to her neck. His afghan was already on his other bed. His toys and games were in Lois' apartment. Everything was set for him to spend the next couple of days with Lois, leaving Richard and Clark free to spend time together, alone.
They waved goodbye and headed out of the building. Kal had set up reservations at a restaurant that one of the other reporters had recommended. Neither of them had been there before, which was surprising. They'd been to most restaurants in the area. Richard drove, Kal navigated and they found the perfect parking spot, not a block from the restaurant.
"This is nice," Richard said as they locked the car up. "We never get to go out. If it isn't Jason, it's work. If it isn't work, it's Superman. There's nothing important happening tonight, is there?"
Kal got that far-away look that said he was checking on the world. Richard took it as an opportunity to study that profile he loved so much. He could spend hours exploring Kal's face and body, the high cheekbones, strong jaw, thick dark hair and the lips that gave him such pleasure. Richard had to look away or he'd need to adjust his pants and they were just starting the evening. Kal came back to reality, smiling down at Richard.
"Nope," Kal said with a delighted grin. "Not a thing going on that's more important than dinner out with you."
"What would it take to be more important than me?" Richard asked, tucking his keys in his pocket.
"Oh, I don't know," Kal said, thinking about it. "Maybe another Lex attack. Meteors going to destroy the planet? Mega-thrust earthquake? That's about it. Oh, or Jason breaking a leg while playing. That would do it. But it would have to be something of that magnitude. You're more important than anyone else to me."
Richard blushed. They headed inside. Richard hadn't asked what sort of restaurant it was before they left. Kal had wanted it to be a surprise so he grinned at the smell of barbeque drifting through the air. Kal must have remembered Richard's comment while at Martha's that he loved barbeque. The restaurant was small, just a few tables on the main floor with a few more on the second floor. The second floor was a narrow balcony over the kitchen, overlooking the windows of the storefront. As they walked in the last patrons walked out, looking stuffed and talking about how good it had been.
"We needed reservations for this place?" Richard asked amazed.
"They regularly sell out," Kal said, happy that he'd surprised Richard. "So I called ahead to make sure that they held our dinners aside for us."
Kal went to the counter. The chef was bigger than Kal was, a burly blond man with long hair pulled back in a ponytail. He grinned as Kal said that their names and pulled out two big trays full of food from a warming oven.
"You got tha last o' tha food o' tha day," the chef drawled, passing the trays over. "We run out 'bout an hour ago. Gave ya tha last o' tha cornbread fer free, too. Whatcha want ta drink?"
"I'll have a beer," Richard said, whistling at the sheer quantity of food on his tray.
It was heavy. Kal had apparently ordered them sampler trays. Richard had a huge baked potato smothered in everything under the sun, barbeque beef, pork ribs, baked beans, potato salad, some barbequed chicken and a stack of cornbread with butter and honey on the side. Kal's tray was similar, but his looked to have some smoked pork, macaroni salad and mashed potatoes instead of a stuffed potato.
"Me, too," Kal said, smiling and hefting his tray with ease, of course. He snagged the beers and they went up on the balcony where they could watch people go by on the street while the chef and waitress cleaned up downstairs.
"We're going to need a doggy bag," Richard chuckled, looking at the food.
"Probably," Kal said, grinning. "I don't think dessert is going to be on the agenda."
Richard started on his beef, moaning as he tasted it. It was perfect, tender, full of flavor, coated with the sauce, which was better than any he'd ever had before. Kal tried his mashed potatoes and his eyebrows went up.
"Good?" Richard asked.
"Really good!" Kal said, taking a bite on his fork and offering it to Richard. "Try it! It's better than Mom's potatoes!"
Richard grinned and let Kal feed him, licking the fork clean as Kal pulled it free. Kal's eyes instantly went hot and passionate. Richard had known as soon as they dropped Jason off with Lois that they'd end up in bed but he'd thought that they might at least make it through dinner before seducing each other.
"It is good," Richard said, licking his lips, though not to be seductive. They were stellar mashed potatoes. "Try the beef, it's incredible."
He offered a forkful of beef to Kal. Kal grinned and all but made love to the fork as he ate the bite. Richard's breath caught and he had to adjust his pants. They continued to eat, feeding each other and alternating between raptures over the food and seducing each other as they ate. All the food was wonderful, continually distracting them from a single-minded focus on each other. Eventually, Richard looked down and realized that both of their trays were clean.
"I can't believe we ate all of that," Richard said, sighing happily. "We have got to come back here again."
"Definitely," Kal said, polishing off his beer. "I can't believe how good the food was."
"You two done seducing each other?" the waitress asked from the stairs. "I've still got to clean up the tables up there."
She grinned at them as Kal turned beet red. Richard blushed and then laughed sheepishly. He'd sort of forgotten that anyone else was there. It had felt like their own little world with no one watching or caring what they did. It almost made him squirm that she'd been watching them. Almost. Richard was just shameless enough that it also turned him on. Kal looked like he was about to melt into an embarrassed puddle on the floor.
"Sorry about that," Richard said as she came over and took their trays.
"Not at all, sweetie," she said, a wicked grin on her face. "Been a ton of fun to watch you two. Come back anytime!"
She laughed as Kal's chin slumped to his chest, patting his shoulder before walking off with their trays. Richard ran a foot over Kal's leg, making Kal look up with those same hot, passionate eyes. Richard's breath shuddered in his chest and Kal grinned.
"You have some sauce on your face," Kal murmured, reaching over to rub the corner of Richard's mouth.
His thumb was warm and tender, setting Richard's body to reacting again. Richard leaned his face into Kal's hand, kissing Kal's wrist. They looked at each other for a long moment. They both reached for their wallets and tossed some money on the table for the tip as they stood and headed for the door.
"Have a nice night!" the waitress called to them as they headed out the door.
Richard looked back. She was snuggled up with the chef whose arms were wrapped around her, holding her as tight as Kal ever held Richard. She winked at Richard, looking like the cat that ate the canary. Richard laughed under his breath and took Kal's hand as they walked out.
"Ready to head home?" Kal murmured, smiling down at Richard.
"Oh yes," Richard said, squeezing his hand. "We're not the only ones ready to head home."
"So I saw," Kal chuckled, "But I plan on giving you a better night than they could even dream of."
"I'm looking forward to it," Richard murmured, longing to take those glasses off and kiss Kal until he couldn't breathe and he flipped Richard on his back. "Are you sure that you can't just fly us home? Driving is going to take too long!"
Kal laughed, eyes crinkling at the corners.
"Let's," Kal murmured, pulling Richard into an alley abruptly. "I can come back for the car later tonight."
"Oh, you think you're going to get out of the bedroom before tomorrow morning?" Richard murmured back, wrapping his arms around Kal's neck as Kal pulled him close and they took to the warm night air. "You underestimate me."
"I'd never underestimate you, Richard," Kal whispered, kissing him tenderly. "I love you too much to ever underestimate you."
The night air whistled around them as they flew over the city to the balcony of their apartment. Richard had flown before, of course, but never like this. Kal's arms around him made him feel utterly safe. There was no engine sound, no airplane shell separating him from the world. Kal kept kissing him, nuzzling at his neck and caressing his back and buttocks.
"Love you," Richard moaned as they landed on the balcony and Kal slid it open, pulling Richard inside, "Love you so much, Kal!"
"Forever," Kal murmured into his ear. "I'll love you forever, Richard."
"Jason should be a salesman when he grows up," Kal said quietly to Lois as they watched Jason and Richard serving lemonade.
"You are so right," Lois said, chuckling. "I can't believe he talked all three of us into leaving work early to help out today!"
The school gymnasium was packed with parents and kids, all there for the last school festival for the end of the school year. Jason's teacher, Ms. Kerrington, towered over everyone, laughing and helping carry things. There were booths with the kid's art, places to make your own art with your kids, music, movies, a bake sale that Richard had populated with a dozen different quick breads and cakes. One of the other fathers was outside grilling hamburgers and hot dogs for people to eat. All the teachers were there and pretty much all of the students and their parents. It was a great get-together that felt quite odd to Kal. It was the first time he was publicly being introduced as Richard's lover and Jason's other father. They kept getting the strangest looks.
"Having fun?" Kal asked Jason as he dropped off another 5-gallon jug of lemonade for them.
"Lots of fun, Papa Clark!" Jason said, grinning up at him. "Thank you again for coming today!"
"No problem, Jason," Kal said, ruffling his hair fondly.
Kayla Kerrington was busily marshalling a troupe of parents and kids for an indoor bag race. She looked like she was having the time of her life as she called for other parents to help with the event, looking straight at Lois. Lois flinched but her chin went up and she nodded. Lois went to help Ms Kerrington, walking like she was heading into battle.
"Uh-oh," Jason said, eyes wide.
"What's wrong?" Kal asked, concerned.
"Ms Kerrington and Mommy don't get along very well," Jason said, using his puppy eyes on Kal to ask him without words to go help. Richard was laughing silently, watching Lois approach the huge teacher. He blatantly did not meet the puppy eyes or offer to help out, keeping his focus utterly on serving lemonade.
"Oh-kay," Kal said, heading that way out of sheer curiosity.
Lois could handle herself in everything from riots to Lex Luthor attacks to minor dustups on the freeway. He knew she could deal with Kayla Kerrington. And Kayla was more than capable of dealing with Lois. Any Dragon would be. Lois was so tiny and frail compared to Kayla that she was almost a gnat.
"Excellent," Kayla was saying, looking way down her nose at Lois. Lois barely came up to her chin. "If you will, Ms Lane, take that side and get them organized so we can get going."
"Of course, Ms Kerrington," Lois said, voice icy as she glared up at her.
Kal slowed down immediately and stayed on the sidelines. The electricity between the two of them was worse than the biggest tornado. All the kids and most of the parents got very wide-eyed at the sheer hostility between the two of them. It screamed of catfight held in check by the sheer willpower of the two females involved. He may be Superman but there was no way he was going to get between those two!
The sack races were just the start of the sparring between Lois and Kayla. Next there was the dance contest, then passing out prizes to the winners. After that they sparred back and forth verbally over Jason, Richard and Clark. Then about Washington DC and Lois' articles on it. It was actually entertaining to watch, in a scary sort of way. Lois was viciously polite, cold, outwardly calm but visibly stewing over Kayla. Kayla was apparently amused, laughing lightly but her jaw kept jumping and her hands went to fists at Lois' comments more times than Kal could count.
"They hate each other," Kal commented to Richard as things started drawing to a close and the parents started cleaning up and gathering up their kids.
"Oh, it's not really hate," Richard chuckled, carrying Jason. "It's more that Kayla seems to hold Lois to a different standard than she does everyone else. She expects more out of Lois and Lois sees the double-standard and reacts the way she does to all double-standards."
"Poorly," Kal said, chuckling and shaking his head. "I thought about trying to separate the two of them a few times but decided it wasn't worth my life."
"Wow," Jason breathed, staring at Kal. "They could hurt you? For real?!"
Richard and Kal laughed out loud.
"Oh, no," Kal said, grinning at him. "My life just wouldn't be worth living if I did stop Lois from fighting with Kayla. Your Mommy loves fighting too much."
Lois finally left Kayla and rejoined them, stewing but looking more alive and alert than she had in quite a while. She did thrive on a good challenge, Kal thought while fighting a smile. Maybe that's why Kayla did it? Kal glanced at Kayla and saw that she was off talking on a cell phone in a corner, looking worried about something. Well, maybe not, Kal thought. It might just be that they got along like fire and water.
"So I'm still taking Jason for the night?" Lois asked, holding out her arms to take Jason.
"Yup," Richard said, smiling as he passed Jason over to her. "We appreciate it. You OK after your battles?"
"Stupid, huge… Yes, I'm fine," Lois said, taking a deep breath and smiling determinedly. "Ready to go, Jason?"
"Yes, Mommy," Jason said seriously. "Bye Daddy! Bye Papa!"
He waved as they left and Kal waved back. It felt odd after their couple of weeks of caring for Jason to see him heading out with Lois. Kal almost wanted to run after them and take Jason back. Richard patted his arm and went to help clean up the lemonade stand. Kal turned to help take out the trash. He blinked to find Kayla standing next to him, looking dead serious.
"Can I talk to you for a second?" Kayla said, pointing to a quiet corner of the room.
"Certainly," Kal said, nodding. "It isn't in regards to your wonderful, close personal relationship with Lois, is it?"
Kayla burst out laughing, loud enough that people stared and then looked away again with grins. Her laughter was infectious, making Kal grin.
"Oh, that's a good one," Kayla said, chuckling. "Such a warm, loving friendship we have. Not! I swear that girl knows exactly how to set my temper off with just two words. She's getting close to setting it off with one word. She gets better with practice, doesn't she?"
"Very much so," Kal said, rolling his eyes. "Believe me, I've been on the receiving end."
"I'm sure you have," Kayla said, smiling sympathetically at him. She stopped and looked around, then turned back to him, grim again. "I … received some … interesting … information just now. Regarding certain crystals with particular properties that you … might be missing."
Kal stiffened, looking at her. She was speaking very carefully, watching to make sure that no one was listening in on them. Her ears were twitching enough that they were visible at times in her hair. She looked … frightened, which startled Kal. Dragons were nearly indestructible, living up to 60,000 years and she was young and strong. There shouldn't be much that could frighten her.
"I am missing certain crystals," Kal said, equally carefully, "But they're lost. I presumed that they were lost for good."
"The originals … probably are gone," Kayla said, meeting his eyes nervously. "But my … information source um, told me that … duplicates with similar properties may have been created."
"Could I speak with your information source?" Kal asked, heart beating a little faster.
He couldn't see how anyone on Earth could have duplicated the control crystals, but if it was someone who had been working with Lex Luthor, say the missing female and male that no one had been able to find or capture, then it became a possibility that frightened him. He needed to know whatever Kayla could tell him. Better yet, he needed to talk to her source of information.
"I'm afraid not," Kayla said, looking stricken and angry at the same time. "She's quite dead. Killed by the … creator of the duplicates. I dare not get any closer, Mr. Kent. I have … those I wish to protect and responsibilities that prevent me from taking a more active role. My people will not act until this directly affects us. We're too few to act to help you or to stop this … person."
"Where?" Kal said, straightening his shoulders.
"Outside of Smallville, Kansas," Kayla said, nodding at him. "About 25 miles south. Be very careful. The … person … doing this is … is doing things that are very dangerous, even to you. I wish I could say more, be more direct, but there are rules I must follow if I wish to stay here and take care of the children."
"Thank you for telling me this much," Kal said, nodding. "I think I must be going."
"Good luck!" Kayla called to Kal's back as he hurried to Richard's side.
Kal didn't respond. If someone had managed to create copies of the control crystals and was using them as a weapon, they were all in danger, everyone in the world. Kryptonian technology had some truly nasty weapons that Kal had always been very careful to keep hidden away. However, if there were new control crystals his Fortress of Solitude might be restored to full function, letting him finally set up a security system that would prevent things like Lex's robbery from happening.
"Trouble?" Richard asked, seeing it in the way Kal stood and the look on his face.
"Maybe," Kal said. "I'm going to go and check it out. Will you be OK to head home alone?"
"Go," Richard said, smiling at him. "Be careful, though. I don't want to loose you, Kal."
"I will be," Kal said, smiling before leaving the gymnasium. He changed at super speed and left his clothes in the car before taking to the air and heading for Smallville at top speed.
Veriss studied the layout of her control panel, the crystals and computer components working together in a perfect harmony. Her men were working around her, all in tight leather pants and skimpy shirts that showed off their muscled bodies so well. Most of the world thought she dressed them that way for her own entertainment. Certainly, she enjoyed the view, but the real reason for it was to distract the Shadow, her long-time nemesis Jo Kent whenever he showed up to attack her.
"He's guaranteed to show up," Veriss muttered, flipping her long, dark braid over her shoulder. "He hates it when I work from here."
The old Luthor manor was precious to Jo. It was the place where he met his first love, where they'd consummated their relationship, where Veriss had killed him while Jo watched and was helpless to save him. So every chance she got she came back here, just to annoy him. Besides, it was so large and had so many secret passages that it was a wonderful base of operations.
"Turn on the power!" Veriss called to her right-hand man, Jeremy.
"Yes, ma'am!" Jeremy called back nervously, starting the power flow through her newest device.
It sparked and glowed, creating a glowing sheet in front of Veriss. It slowly shifted and an image formed on it, showing Veriss her own face and a smoky image of the lab, complete with Jeremy's anxious expression. Veriss snarled, annoyed. It was supposed to open gates to other worlds, not create a glorified mirror!
"Damn, I guess I set it up wrong," Veriss' reflection said, thumping the counter on her side.
"Wait a minute," Veriss said, staring, "Did you say something?"
They stared at each other for a long moment as the image cleared and resolved, eventually making it seem like they were looking at identical consoles set back to back in the middle of a doubled lab. Veriss' double's Jeremy was dressed in perfectly ordinary jeans and a T-shirt, while her double wore tight-fitting and revealing clothes. There were no scantily-clad men around her, just heavily armed thugs with weapons that glowed with Kryptonite coatings.
"You're me in another universe," Veriss said, grinning wickedly. "My name is Annabelle Veriss. You are?"
"Lauren Young," Lauren replied, a perfectly matching grin on her face. "Fascinating. Why the buff boys?"
"The better to distract my nemesis, of course," Veriss said, shrugging. "He's so gay that they slow him down every time from sheer attraction."
"Huh," Lauren said, laughing. "That wouldn't work at all on my nemesis. He's as straight as an arrow. That's why I'm dressed this way, to distract him. What does yours look like?"
They compared notes, quickly establishing that their nemesis were in fact the same person, just with slight differences because of the differing universes. Veriss found the tight red and blue suit of Superman amusing. The cape looked like an invitation to trouble. He seemed stronger that the Shadow and clearly did not have the Kryptonian control tattoos that marked the Shadow's left arm. Lauren was amused by the Shadow's mask and sighed that his costume didn't show off the strategic regions well enough. Black pants, black boots and a tight black shirt with a gold 'S' on it just didn't seem sufficient to her.
The talk turned to their respective troubles dealing with their nemesis. Veriss had been fighting him openly for over a decade and a half now, with some temporary successes and far too many failures. Lauren had been working for nearly as long through front men and intermediaries, with a similar lack of success. Neither was able to defeat their nemesis. The Shadow / Superman's strengths were too great and their weaknesses too slight.
"My problem remains that I cannot defeat his control over the crystals," Veriss said eventually. "They respond too perfectly to him and he stops me every time."
"Hmm," Lauren said, playing with the end of her braid exactly like Veriss always did while thinking hard, "My problem is Superman's sheer strength, invulnerability and speed overwhelms my weapons every time. He has no control over the crystals at all."
"If we could just switch nemesis," Veriss said thoughtfully, "I would bet that we would be able to defeat them."
"Then the world would be ours…" Lauren said equally thoughtfully.
Identical evil grins bloomed on their faces and they set to work. The 'mirror' could be a gate, with a little bit of work. It was halfway through the setup when Lauren's people were attacked by a very large red-haired woman. Veriss tossed a special weapon through that penetrated almost any armor and Lauren gleefully fired it point-blank into the invader's chest.
"Y-you w-won't get a-away with this…" the invader gasped as she died at Lauren's feet. "I … already puh-passed the … word on… They'll … stop … you…"
"Hehehehehe!" Lauren chuckled. "I liiiiiiike this weapon! It kills Dragons."
"Is that what she was?" Veriss said, raising an eyebrow.
The body was slowly shifting shapes from a very large human female with a hole in her chest to a rather large reptilian creature with a hole in its chest. It had wings and a tail and looked to have a scaly hide. The wound slowly bled a strange shade of red blood on the floor.
"Very much so," Lauren said, smiling confidently. "I think we need to up our pace, Veriss. Superman will be here soon. I know the Dragons will tell him about this. They won't meddle themselves, having lost one of their own. They'll send him in to take the hits. I've had to deal with them before and they're quite timid if you prove that you can hurt them."
"That won't kill Shadow," Veriss said, "Unfortunately. I've tried."
"Let me tweak it with some of my things and it might fit the bill," Lauren said, handing it to her Jeremy. "Add Kryptonite to the mix and many very interesting things tend to happen."
They set to work on finishing their gate, working while talking. Their men scurried to do their bidding behind them, all but ignored by the twin women. Jeremy's whining on both sides was a constant and a constantly ignored irritant. He was timid but highly useful in his own way.
"True," Veriss said, "But the Shadow's resistant to Kryptonite. It's part of his tattoo."
"Hmm," Lauren said, thinking about it. "Have you tried hitting him with a Kryptonite / EMP combination? Since the tattoo is truly an organic computer, you might be able to short it out temporarily if you do that."
Veriss stopped and stared at her, nodding slowly as the idea ticked over her brain.
"No, I haven't," Veriss said, returning to work. "That might just work. The Kryptonite / EMP, then my pulse gun, then your Kryptonite bullets. Your Superman's considerably stronger and invulnerable than my Shadow. I don't think that my weapons will work on him."
"If you coat him with Kryptonite dust," Lauren said, "Then use your control over the crystals to drain his power and then hit him with Kryptonite coated bullets I'm sure you'll be successful. I don't have your control over the crystals so I haven't been able to do that. Kryptonite weakens Superman and considerably lessens his invulnerability."
"Excellent!" Veriss said, delighted.
They worked feverishly, making sure that they would be ready when their respective nemesis arrived and transferred places. Their men were on the lookout, scanning the skies for the respective suits. The appropriate weapons transferred hands. The appropriate traps were set. They managed to be done in time for chatting and comparing notes about their different worlds and different methods of attempting to take it over before Superman and the Shadow were sighted, nearly at the same instant.
"We're on," Veriss said, grinning wickedly.
"Have fun with him," Lauren said, turning on the display that made it seem that they weren't there.
"Oh, I will," Veriss said, laughing. "I most definitely will!"
Jo grumbled as he flew from Seattle to Smallville. He couldn't believe that Veriss was at it again, so soon after the last fight that they'd had. That she'd gone back to Lex's old manor just made him angrier. She kept going back there, kept rubbing his nose in his failure to save Lex. She kept forcing him to relive Lex's death and he hated her for it.
"Damn that woman," Jo growled as he arrived over the manor.
Her scantily clad muscle men were scanning the skies and spotted him immediately. They scurried inside, sounding the alarm. Jo sighed, shaking his head. Not two weeks later, here he was again, attacking Veriss in Lex's manor. It hurt, being forced to come back here over and over again. So many good things had happened here but the final bad thing overwhelmed all the good. As Jo scanned the building, looking for where Veriss had hidden her lab this time, the memories flowed through his mind.
They'd met when Lex had accidentally smashed through the bridge and taken Jo with his car into the river below. Jo had saved him and set the linkage of their lives in motion by tearing the roof of his car open instead of opening the door like any normal person would have. Out cold and sopping wet, Lex had been the most handsome man Jo had ever seen. But Jo was a high school student and Lex was the heir to the Luthor fortune so he'd said nothing but the normal, expected platitudes when Lex woke and met his eyes. Lex wasn't gay and he was rich, while Jo was just a farm boy. They had nothing to tie them together. The only thing declaring his interest would have done was to make Lex suspicious of Jo's motives.
He's said nothing of either his powers or his infatuation as Lex tried to figure out the 'miracle' of his salvation. He'd said nothing as Lex became a part of Smallville's life. He'd said nothing for so long, until Lionel was put on trial for his crimes and Jo had to testify about Lionel attempting to wipe Lex's memory with electroshock therapy. Lionel's manipulation had sent Jo to the room he'd known had to exist, the room with all the results of Lex's investigations. It was then that Jo had realized how tightly their lives had been bound together. He was on the verge of destroying what could be the love of his life. Even then it had been a struggle to admit anything. But what could have become the moment when they became bitter enemies had turned into the moment when they became lovers with Jo's first serious kiss.
"I had no idea you were gay," Lex had breathed afterwards, eyes wide. "So that's what you were hiding all this time. Have you told your parents yet?"
"There's more, Lex," Jo had whispered, shaking a little. "You were right, all along. You were right about me but there's so much more that you don't know. So much that I haven't dared to tell you. I've spent my whole life hiding from the people who would lock me in a lab and study me. I just want to help people and I can't do that if people know what I am."
The memory of Lex's acceptance of him was one of Jo's dearest memories and it had happened in the mansion that Veriss was defiling. They'd consummated their relationship in Lex's study, then again in his bedroom. Jo had spent so much time there, worked with Lex on so many things, grown so much in that mansion. And Veriss had killed Lex in that mansion, blown a hole in his chest with her very first pulse gun and laughed as Jo cradled Lex's dying body, unable to save the one person in the world that mattered most to him.
"She isn't going to get away with it," Jo muttered as he dove at the mansion. "I'll get her this time and she won't escape from prison ever again."
She had set up in the basement vaults, where Lex had kept his wines. The wine was long-gone, of course, taken by Lionel after Lex's death. No one had wanted to live in the mansion after Lex had been killed. Lionel had been heartbroken by the loss of his son and heir, becoming one of Jo's strongest allies against Veriss until he was killed in his turn. Since then, the house had languished. Lionel had willed it to Jo and Jo was unwilling to sell it, unable to live in it and too stubborn to tear it down.
The basement was a mass of crystals and computer components, with Veriss working feverishly on one side of a huge, oddly doubled console. Strangely, she was wearing a skimpy, tight-fitting outfit instead of her normal body armor and camo pants.
"Veriss!" Jo yelled, flying into the room.
"You won't stop me this time!" Veriss yelled back, diving for a control behind a wall that he didn't remember being there before.
"As if, you stupid bitch," Jo growled under his breath.
He darted at her and as he flew over the doubled console a wave of distortion hit him, nearly knocking him from the air it was so bad. His tattoo automatically analyzed the distortion, categorizing it as a gate between worlds. Warnings flashed in his inner eye. The gate was unstable, growing progressively worse and certain to destroy everything if it wasn't stopped. He gasped from that and the pain and crashed into the cement floor, sliding until he ran into the far wall. He clutched his head and looking blearily up at her as she grinned triumphantly.
"Lauren!" Jo's voice said from the door behind Jo, making him freeze and stare. "I know you're in here."
"You'll never stop me, Superman!" Veriss said from the other side of the console as Clark flew in, not noticing Jo where he lay on the floor by the wall. "You're too late!"
She duplicated this side's Veriss' dive towards a hidden control and Clark fell for it exactly as Jo had.
"No!" Jo yelled, trying to stand but moving too slowly even at super speed to stop Clark as he went through what had to be a gate between worlds.
"Jo?" Clark breathed, turning and staring as he went through the field and reacted much the same way that Jo had. Clark crashed on the other side and the twin Veriss laughed with delight, switching off the field and cutting Jo off form his world, his lover Dave and everything he'd ever known.
"Perfect," Lauren said, grinning at him with a smile every bit as evil as Veriss' had ever been. "Pleased to meet you, Shadow. Time for you to die."
She held up a little box and pushed the button, triggering a green wave of energy that felt like Kryptonite but that was also an electromagnetic pulse. Jo screamed as it shorted all along his Kryptonian control tattoos on his left arm. The pain was excruciating. The distortion of his senses was even worse, making it hard for him to tell which way was up or down. He'd come to rely heavily on the tattoo since he'd got it. Now he was 'blind' in the senses he'd gained from it, leaving him back with only his natural senses. It was like being naked, deaf and crippled.
"I think you know what this is," Lauren said, raising one of Veriss' new, improved pulse guns. "You're weaker than Superman and now your shields are down. Let's see if your invulnerability can match up to a pulse gun, Shadow."
Time slowed as her finger closed on the trigger and Jo started moving as fast as he possibly could. He ran, darting out of the basement room and heading up stairs that were nothing like Lex's manor. It was a farmhouse, not a mansion, and he'd been in the basement. Jo darted up into the house and then burst through the armed men with Kryptonite-coated guns and bullets. They fired and one hit him in his shoulder, right at the edge of his tattoo, making Jo stumble and cry out.
"Don't let him escape!" Lauren yelled from the basement. "Use the dust! Hit him with the K-dust!"
Jo looked around frantically as Lauren ran up the stairs, hitting her Kryptonite / EMP device again. The energy blasted him, making Jo scream with pain. Her men were throwing bags with glowing green dust at him, dust that made his insides curdle.
Oh hell, Jo thought, time slowing as he ran for the door. They're using the same Kryptonite dust on me that they used on Clark! He burst through the front door and ran out into the fields beyond, getting beyond gun range in less than a second. There were army troops just beyond the fence, making Jo laugh half hysterically. Trust Clark to be prepared for everything! He should have called the army before he went in. Clark was on his own facing Veriss.
"Who are you and where's Superman?" a General demanded as Jo ran up. The soldiers all had their guns at ready, aimed at Jo.
"I-I'm sort of him," Jo said, doing his best to catch his breath as he clutched his bleeding shoulder. The bullet had penetrated nearly an inch into his flesh. "They opened a dimensional gate, to another universe. I'm Superman in that universe. We traded places, so he's in my world while I'm here."
"Good God!" the General said, horrified. "We were notified that the threat was grave but I had no idea it was this grave!"
"It's worse than you think," Jo said, shuddering. "The machines they're using aren't stable. I felt it when I went through the gate. Even though they think they've shut them off, trapping Superman and I on the wrong side, I can feel the distortion from here. They're still running and the effect is going to get worse, going to spread. Pretty soon it will spread beyond the house and affect the surrounding area. If left unchecked the two worlds will be destroyed."
"What can we do?" the General asked, going grim.
"I need to—" Jo stopped as another Kryptonite / EMP swept out, shorting his tattoos out yet again and shutting down all of the army's electronic equipment. The energy sparked off of his tattoo in waves of green electricity, making everyone stare and back off. He managed not to scream this time but only by biting his lip hard to enough to make it bleed.
"Damn it, I need to get away from here long enough to shield against that," Jo gasped, swaying and glaring at the farmhouse. "I can stop her, stop them, but not right now, not with her blasting me like that every 30 seconds. I need to retreat and prepare. Don't let them flee, General. I'll be back as soon as I can, within an hour at the latest."
"Right," the General said, nodding firmly. "Do what you have to do, Superman. We'll hold the line against them."
Jo nodded and took to the air, flying as fast as he could given his condition. Such a different world, he thought as he flew towards Metropolis, Clark's home. In his world the army would have tried to arrest him, not helped him. He hoped that Clark was OK. The question was how he was going to find Clark's Richard. The dreams had never been clear enough for Jo to know where they lived. He didn't even know what Richard or Jason or Clark's Lois looked like. But he'd worry about that once he got there. For now he had to focus on flying or he'd fall out of the sky.
Kal used his X-ray vision to study the old farmhouse that Lauren had to be hiding in. There was some sort of equipment in the basement but there was a distortion effect that kept him from seeing anything clearly inside of the house. It wasn't like anything that he'd seen before or that he'd learned from the archives Jor-el had left for him. Kal flew down, finding the main room of the house oddly deserted. There were armed men in the barns bracketing the house, and off in other rooms but that was it.
"This makes me very nervous," Kal murmured, heading down into the basement where the distortion was centered. "Lauren! I know you're in here."
The basement was bigger than he expected, extending twice as far as he would have thought. There was a large console with crystals that had to be the recreated control crystals that Kayla had told him about. It almost looked mirrored but the two sides weren't exactly the same, even at a casual glance.
"You'll never stop me, Superman!" Lauren yelled from the other side of the console as she dove for a control hidden behind a wall to the right. "You're too late!"
Kal flew at her, trusting his speed to let him catch her in time. She was wearing body armor, which seemed odd given what he'd learned of her in the time since she escaped from Washington DC. He'd thought that she was far more likely to wear sexy clothes than anything protective.
"No!" a far too familiar voice yelled as Kal flew over the console.
Kal turned, eyes going wide as he saw Jo, the Shadow, struggling to stand behind Kal. It truly was his dream twin, Kal realized. He had the black pants, black shirt with the gold 'S' and black combat boots. He had the black mask over his head that changed his long hair from dark to coppery red. He even had the blue-green eyes that Kal had always found fascinating in his dreams because of their difference to his own blue eyes.
"Jo?" Kal breathed and then hit the midpoint of the console and a wave of distortion that tore at his body and mind.
It felt massively wrong, like the world was getting twisted and torn. He could have sworn he could feel every single person on both planets for a second; that he could feel the stars and planets of both universes being torn to shreds but then he was out the other side, nauseated and shuddering with pain. Kal gasped and crashed to the concrete floor, sliding a long ways before skidding to a stop. Lauren and her twin laughed with delight.
"Excellent!" Lauren's twin said, grinning down at Kal as she shut off the console. "Pleased to meet you, Superman. My name is Veriss. Time for you to die."
She hefted a large, deadly looking gun and aimed it at Kal. Half a dozen men dressed in tight leather pants and skimpy tank tops followed her lead. Kal shook his head, trying to rise but the effects of the distortion that was making it hard for him tell up from down, much less get to his feet.
"Fire!" Veriss said, grinning.
The guns sent pulses of coherent energy at Kal, smacking him back to the cement floor with the sheer kinetic impact. It was worse than anything he'd ever experienced, other than being stabbed by Lex's Kryptonite shard. But in a way it was worse because this hammered his whole body, not just one spot. The energy tore at him, trying to tear his skin, muscle and bone apart. His invulnerability wasn't strong enough to protect him completely and Kal cried out in pain as his body started bruising deeply. The concrete under his body shattered and crumbled, leaving him in a crater almost two feet deep, full of rubble and concrete dust.
"It's not enough!" Veriss snapped, "Get the K-dust!"
Kal's head snapped up as one of Veriss' bullyboys threw a bag of Kryptonite dust at Kal. Time slowed. Kal moved, his body screaming with a level of pain that he hadn't felt since he was a pre-teen, before his invulnerability started to take effect. He pulled off his cape and captured the bag of Kryptonite dust in it, flinging it off to the side. Then he ran for the stairs that were behind him, not in front of him as he would have expected, intent on getting out of the farmhouse and away from Veriss long enough to figure out what to do next.
The stairs were utterly different than the farmhouse stairs he'd come down but that didn't prepare him for the mansion he emerged into. It was huge and beautiful, if obviously untenanted. Stained glass windows shone at the ends of the hallways. Beautifully carved woodwork covered the walls and lintels. It was everything that the farmhouse hadn't been and totally unexpected in Smallville, Kansas.
"What the—?" Kal said, stopping from sheer surprise. He hadn't expected that their worlds would be so utterly different.
"Gotcha!" one of Veriss' men yelled, firing his pulse gun nearly point blank into Kal's back.
Kal staggered and nearly fell, the air driven out of his lungs. He whirled and smashed the gun, sending the man flying into the wall. More men came out of the rooms along the hallway and Kal started moving again. He headed for the front door only to realize that it had been trapped with kryptonite, as had all the windows. Veriss had been very thorough about making the mansion a death trap for Jo.
"You can't escape," Veriss called to Kal as he wavered by the far end of the hallway. The kryptonite around the window kept him from smashing through. With the kryptonite he'd do himself serious damage if he tried to jump through the window. "I've trapped everything and you're going to die, Superman. Lauren's killing Jo as we speak. Once the two of you are out of the way, we'll be able to take over our worlds at last!"
She laughed, an unhealthy amount of mania in the sound. Kal studied her, studied her men and their weapons and realized that he couldn't defeat her, not yet. He didn't know enough of the weaponry she commanded. He didn't know enough of her habits. And the kryptonite was going to kill him by itself if he didn't get away.
"You missed one thing," Kal said, looking at her with a firm jaw.
"What's that?" Veriss asked snidely.
"I can go through walls," Kal said, turning and smashing a hole in the wall of the mansion.
Brick and wood flew out into a wonderful traditional garden. Kal felt a little bad about breaking the wall but he didn't have time to contemplate it. Whoever owned the house would just have to fix it. Veriss' scream of outrage was followed by the sound of the pulse guns taking out that entire end of the hallway. Kal took to the skies, streaking towards Smallville. There were no troops outside, making Kal wonder if Jo had gone in alone against Veriss and how he'd found out about her actions. He must have been incredibly brave, incredibly angry or incredibly stupid to take her on alone.
Jo's Smallville was utterly different from Kal's. It was huge, comparatively speaking. There were easily 50,000 people in the town, not the sparse 3,500 back home. But the main drag of town looked much the same, complete with the police station. Kal breathed a sigh of relief and swooped down, hoping that they would help him keep Veriss from escaping.
"Shadow!" the Sheriff snapped, going for his gun. "You're under arrest!"
"Wait!" Kal said, shocked that the police in this world were Jo's enemies. "I'm not the Shadow. I'm called Superman. I'm from another world, another dimension. A woman called Veriss has opened a gate between worlds and lured me here and sent the Shadow to my world."
"You … look a lot like him," the Sheriff said, hand still resting on his gun. "Other than the hair and the primary colors."
Kal chuckled, nodding.
"I'm aware of him," Kal said respectfully, "But we're not the same person. We fill similar roles in our worlds but not exactly the same. I need your assistance. The military needs to get involved with stopping Veriss. She's set up a laboratory in the basement of a large mansion about 25 miles south of here. The equipment she's using is creating a distortion between worlds that will inevitably grow and destroy both of our worlds if she's not stopped."
"She's back in the old Luthor manor, huh?" the Sheriff said, shaking his head. "Damn, that woman haunts the place. You'd think she did enough bad when she killed Lex but she just has to make it worse."
"L-Luthor?" Kal said, startled.
"Yeah," the Sheriff said, nodding. "Lex used to be one of the most upstanding members of our community until Veriss killed him. The mansion belongs to Lex's old lover Jo Kent now but he can't stand to go there. Too many bad memories. She killed Lex right in front of Jo. I don't think he's ever been the same."
Kal swayed, shaking his head. It was too many differences too fast. He had to catch himself on the mailbox behind him to keep from falling. It felt like he'd literally walked into a Twilight Zone episode.
"Wait," Kal said, "Lex was a good citizen? And gay? And in love with Jo Kent???"
"Yeah," the Sheriff said, confused. "Not that way in your world?"
Kal laughed, rubbing his face with one hand.
"Ah, Lex Luthor is one of the greatest criminal masterminds in the history of my world," Kal said, wide eyed. "He's straight, in prison and has nearly killed me more times than I can count. No one would ever call him a model citizen."
"But you know Jo Kent?" the Sheriff said, cocking his head.
"I know of him," Kal said, "And he's straight in my world. He's a reporter for the Daily Planet and has won several awards for his articles. So bizarre! As much as I'd love to compare the differences between our worlds, I really need you to call the military to stop Veriss from escaping. I strongly doubt that anyone is going to be able to get close besides me. I would appreciate the military keeping her from escaping until I get back."
"Where are you going?" the Sheriff asked, frowning as he pulled out his cell phone.
"I need more information on Veriss before I go back in there, as well as a little time to recover from the impact of those pulse guns of hers," Kal said. "Can you tell me what Jo Kent's address is? He seems like the right person to ask, having encountered her before."
"Sure," the Sheriff said, nodding. He was very wide eyed. "She hit you with one of her pulse guns? And you survived?"
"Actually they hit me with quite a few of them, multiple blasts," Kal said, shrugging.
The Sheriff stared, mouth dropped open in shock. In the tense 5 minutes that followed the Sheriff contacted the military, give Kal Jo's address in Seattle and explained exactly why being able to stand there and have a conversation with Kal after he'd been hit by several rounds of pulse guns was so unbelievable. Kal hadn't realized just how lethal the pulse guns were. They were based on Kryptonian technology that Veriss had stolen from Jo and tweaked to improve their destructive capacity.
"That alone tells me that you're not the Shadow," the Sheriff said as Kal got ready to go. "He couldn't survive being hit by one, much less by multiple blasts from several of them. Those shields of his barely deflect the blasts enough for him to stay alive."
"I'll be back within an hour at the very latest, Sheriff," Kal said, grimly remembering seeing one in the farmhouse before he'd sailed through the gate. "Thank you for your assistance!"
As he flew away, he overheard the Sheriff comment to his deputies.
"If the Shadow was half as polite as that guy is," the Sheriff said, "I'd be far less likely to try and arrest him, no matter what the law says."
Kal chuckled and headed for Seattle at top speed. He needed Jo's lover's help. Hopefully Jo was more talkative with David than he was with Kal in the dreams. If not, maybe Kal could track down his mother in this world and see if she knew anything.
"Next stop, Seattle," Kal murmured, streaking through the sky.
"Older building," Jo muttered as he scanned Metropolis for Clark's new apartment, "A few blocks from the park, south facing, four stories, overlooks a two story abandoned warehouse, not the best neighborhood. What else? Oh, yes! They have the only balcony on that side of the building and a new kitchen with big windows. Walls are painted yellow."
He was clutching his shoulder, which was still bleeding. The bullet hadn't budged a millimeter from where it had buried itself. It should have been expelled almost right away but Jo's tattoo was glitchy because of the kryptonite coating on the bullet contacting the edges of his tattoo. It was also making it harder to fly and find where he wanted to go. He couldn't help but bless Clark's ever-garrulous tongue as he searched. He had no idea how Clark was going to find David, if he did try and find David. It was logical that he would try and find David. He'd need information and an ally. But Clark had no clues to go on. Jo had never said much of anything about his life, other than he was an artist and that he lived in Seattle with his lover David.
"Ah-hah!" Jo said, spotting an apartment that exactly matched Clark's description.
He swooped closer, his tattoo barely able to shield him from people's eyes and/or cameras. It wasn't a very busy area but he still didn't want to blow Clark's secret identity by being seen. This world seemed different from his world, more open and somehow more as Jo remembered the world as a child. It was oddly calmer and less violent than Jo's world. As Jo approached the balcony, a man came to the balcony door, sliding it open to come out and look up at the sky, frowning worriedly.
"Oh my God," Jo breathed, staring at him. "David!"
The man standing in front of him was Jo's lover. Sort of. His hair was cut short and neat, not shoulder length and dyed black at the tips. He had a suit on instead of Dave's normal slacks and printed T-shirt. He didn't have Dave's earring. And he didn't have Dave's beard, either. But in every other way, Jo was looking at his lover. Jo's heart beat faster as he stared at this alternate version of the one he loved. He almost turned and flew away, not trusting his common sense when it came to Dave or this other version of Dave. He didn't want to do anything that would destroy Clark's relationship with his lover and it would be far too easy to treat Richard like Dave. But then Richard bit his lip, looking up at the sky and Jo froze, staring at him.
"Damn it, Kal," Richard muttered, "Where are you?"
It was not an expression he'd ever seen on Dave's face. Dave always kept his worry and fears hidden. He knew that Jo watched him and wasn't going to cause Jo any worries or heartaches as he did what he had to do. Jo sighed, giving into the inevitable. He couldn't leave without letting Richard know what had happened. Besides, he needed to get that bullet out and Jo wasn't just about to trust a hospital or the police, no matter how different this world was from home.
"Clark's in trouble," Jo said, dropping the field that made him 'invisible' and landed next to Richard. "I need your help, Richard."
Richard squawked and jumped nearly a yard into the air. He backed into the wall, staring at Jo with wide eyes. He scanned Jo from his long copper-seeming hair down to his black combat boots, went back to the bleeding shoulder and nodded firmly.
"Come inside," Richard said, "I'll get the first aid kit and we'll look at that shoulder."
"Thank you," Jo said, grinning at Richard as he headed inside.
Dave had done almost the exact same thing the first time Jo had met him. Veriss had blasted Jo from the sky. Jo had landed in a smoking crater while Veriss' men tried to track him down and kill him. Jo had crashed in the middle of the road on the east side of Washington state, miles from any help. Dave had nearly driven right into the crater. Rather than call the police or keep driving (which most people in his world would have done), David had gotten out of the car, seen who it was, climbed into the smoking crater and lugged Jo out. He'd taken Jo home, patched him up, and become a fixture in Jo's life within days. The fact that Dave had bought Jo's masterpiece painting of himself and Clark as twins had only been the start of their deeper relationship.
Jo sat at the kitchen table, looking around the sunny kitchen while Richard found the first aid kit. It was surreal, truly surreal. There were a dozen or so small children's drawings on the fridge. Family pictures with Clark, Richard and a little boy that had to be Jason spotted the wall. But it was his face with short hair and Dave's face without the seriousness in the pictures. It was so like looking at what his life could have been if things had gone differently.
"So where's Kal?" Richard asked, pulling a chair around to start working on Jo's shoulder.
"You call him Kal-el?" Jo asked, astonished. He pulled off the mask, returning his hair to its normal black. "Ugh, I don't think I could stand that. I hate that name!"
Richard stared, looking at the change in Jo's hair, he presumed.
"Oh-kay. Your world is really different, isn't it?" Richard said, tugging at Jo's shirt. "Off with the shirt. I need to see the wound to treat it. So? Where is he?"
Jo pulled at this shirt, wincing a bit. Richard helped, whistling as Jo's tattoo was revealed. Kryptonian writing extended from his wrist to the base of his neck. It wasn't something that Jo normally allowed people to see, not wanting to answer questions about what it meant and where he got it. Much less how he got it. But this was David's twin and it was different.
"You're thinner and less muscular than Clark," Richard said, raising an eyebrow. "I'm surprised. I didn't think you'd be so different. What about Clark?"
"You are a reporter, aren't you? Can't let a question go until its answered," Jo said, earning a hard look from Richard. He grinned at the hard look and gave in to explaining. "He's in my world, fighting my nemesis, Veriss. I'm worried about him but he's a lot tougher than I am. The tattoo draws power from my body and that makes me weaker, slower and less invulnerable than he is. He's a heavy tank. I'm an armored car with lots of fancy weapons systems."
"Hmm," Richard said, carefully setting to work getting the bullet out, "Who's Veriss? What's she done to make her your nemesis?"
Jo winced as Richard probed the wound, locating the bullet. Jo tried concentrating on expelling it but his tattoo refused to cooperate and he had to sit there and let Richard dig it out. The tattoo worked well enough to block the pain at least. He just wished it could block the pain that accompanied talking about Veriss. That wound didn't look like it would ever heal.
"Let's see," Jo said, studying the first aid kit instead of watching Richard dig into his shoulder, "Veriss has done so much its hard to catalog it all. She's killed three presidents so far, two of them US presidents. Wiped out the Supreme Court twice. She destroyed the northern half of the state of Michigan and killed everyone there. Lake Superior and Michigan are one lake, not two in my world. She figured out how to steer hurricanes and smashed three into the eastern seaboard at once. Caused two mega-thrust earthquakes, one in Washington and one in Japan. Tried to destroy the entire world's computer systems. She almost succeeded on that one. That was close, too close. Stole a ton of Kryptonian technology that she's turned into weapons systems that she sells all over the world. I can't count how many wars she's started. Oh, and she killed my first lover while I watched, way back when we were both was just starting out."
Richard's hands stopped on Jo's shoulder, making him turn and look. Richard was pale. His mouth had dropped open and he stared at Jo.
"Clark's facing her alone?!" Richard said, horrified.
"Yes," Jo said, hearing the snap in his voice but unable to stop it, "At least until I get the bullet out of my tattoo and can go back there to help. The kryptonite coating is shorting out my tattoo and I'm nearly helpless without it."
"Oh, right," Richard said and went back to work. "So who was your lover?"
Jo's lips twitched. He waited until Richard had fished the bullet out and had set it aside. He knew better than to lay Lex on him while he was poking an open wound in Jo's body.
"Lex Luthor," Jo said.
"What about him?" Richard asked reaching for the gauze.
"He was my first lover," Jo said, waiting for the reaction he knew as coming, "The one that Veriss killed when she was just starting out. He's why I wear the mask. I won't risk the people I love being killed because someone figured out who I am and tracked them down to be hostages and targets."
Gauze went flying, Richard made some garbled noises and Jo couldn't help but burst into laughter at the perfection of his response. He'd hidden it from Clark for years in their dreams. Clark had always been so very straight that he hadn't wanted to hear about it when they were young. And by the time they were grown, Lex was dead and Jo hadn't wanted to talk about it. It hurt too much.
"Just how different are our worlds?!" Richard asked when he finally could talk again.
"Very," Jo said, sighing.
"Well, at least you must have a lot of support fighting her," Richard said, cleaning the wound while shaking his head in amazement.
"Exactly the opposite, actually," Jo sighed. "Everyone blames me for not stopping her sooner. Whenever there's another Veriss event, all anyone can talk about is how I failed again and how it's really my fault that it happened. It gets old. I tend to get very … snarky when people start going on about it."
Jo concentrated on the wound, relieved that his tattoo was finally cooperating again with the bullet and the coating out of the wound. The wound healed, closing up seamlessly. Jo nodded, rubbed his hand over the spot and sighed.
"Thank you," Jo said, "That was enormously helpful. I'm good to go once I adjust my shields to block Lauren's kryptonite / EMP weapon. And set my shields up to block the kryptonite dust she's using as a weapon."
"You can do that?" Richard asked amazed, as he gathered up the scattered gauze.
"Easily," Jo said shrugging. "The tattoo's an organic nano-computer bonded to my body. I carry the full archives of Krypton right here. I can control any Kryptonian technology at a distance. Neither Veriss nor Lauren will be able to defeat that. I saw the crystals here and they're not that different from home. I shouldn't have much trouble interacting with them."
Richard shook his head, amazed.
"I wish that Clark had that much control," Richard said. "Our Lex stole his crystals and he has no way to replace them, no way to access his Fortress's files anymore."
Jo pulled his shirt over, fixing the bullet hole with a touch. He pulled his shirt on, tucked it in and then pulled his mask back on. Richard stood as Jo did.
"I'll see what I can do about that," Jo said, "But I give no guarantees. I might be able to reset the weird copies that Lauren has but I'm going to insist that he set up some sort of security system if I do it. There's too much Kryptonian technology that needs to be kept secure for me to make keys for an open system."
"Focus on getting Clark back here and you back home," Richard said, running a finger through Jo's now copper hair. "That's the most important thing. Everything else can wait until that's done."
"Well, the worlds need to be saved, too," Jo said with a grin and a very firmly suppressed urge to grab Richard and hold tight, never letting go. He was so very like Dave and he desperately wanted a hug right now. He always did before heading into battle.
"Go," Richard said firmly. "Get home and save the world. Send my Kal back to me."
"I will," Jo said, heading out the balcony door and triggering his invisibility shield. "Thank you, Richard. I'm glad we got to meet at least once."
Jo took to the air before Richard had a chance to respond, focusing on reconfiguring his shields to deal with Lauren's weapons. His tattoo was already scanning ahead to see how bad the distortion was, calculating ways of stabilizing the machinery so he and Clark could go home before shutting it down. The military was being forced to pull back as Lauren's men blasted at them with their borrowed pulse guns. It was quickly degenerating in Smallville. Jo was concentrating on the problem so fiercely as he flew that he just barely heard Richard's quiet comment as he closed the balcony door.
"Good to meet you too, Shadow," Richard murmured, "And good luck!"
"So different," Kal murmured as he flew over Seattle, looking for Jo's apartment. "I didn't expect our worlds to be so very different."
Jo's world was far more violent that Kal's, full of armed civilians, ordinary people in armored cars and military and police that automatically drew first and asked questions later. During his flight he'd been astonished to see that the Great Lakes were completely different. Part of Michigan was gone, subsumed by the water. The shoreline of the Washington coast was completely different, rearranged by an earthquake that had to have been a mega-thrust quake. Most of the cities on the west coast were half-rubble. The quake clearly had happened fairly recently. They were still digging out. So many times he'd been tempted to stop and help but he had to fight Veriss and go home. This wasn't his world. The news made that clear.
Everywhere the news was blaring about the Shadow's failure to stop Veriss again. They blamed him for everything she was doing.
"I don't understand why he's so hated," Kal sighed, finding the proper building and the proper floor from the air. "Why is it his fault that Veriss is causing trouble and why does everyone blame Jo for it? Her actions are hers. Short of committing murder I don't see how he could conclusively stop her."
The proper apartment had a large window with a handle on the outside, which made Kal laugh under his breath. That was one way to solve the getting in and out unseen issue. He'd stayed several thousand feet above Seattle, not wanting to be seen as he located Jo's apartment. It looked like Jo's lover David was inside, though it wasn't possible to tell what David looked like with X-ray vision.
"Well, here's hoping I don't give him a heart attack," Kal murmured.
He swooped down at top speed and slipped inside the apartment so quickly that he was at best a blur and a whoosh of air. He moved into the apartment, away from the window. It was not what he was expecting. He had known that Jo was an artist but hadn't expected that the room he entered would be his studio. Paintings and photos covered the walls. There were rows of paintings lined up on the corners on the floor, most of them unframed. All were at least several feet tall and wide. A large canvas, as big as Kal was tall and twice as wide was set up and had something faintly sketched out on it. Nothing had been painted yet, making Kal wonder what it was going to be.
"Jo? What are you doing home when Veriss is…" The far too familiar voice trailed off as Kal turned and stared.
"Richard," Kal breathed, mouth dropped open in shock. His lips started twitching with amusement. He couldn't wait to tell Richard about this!
David was Richard, sort of. He had shoulder-length hair that had been died black at the tips and bleached blond at the roots. There was a dangly earring in one of his ears and he was wearing a loud printed T-shirt and slacks instead of Richard's traditional suit and tie. But that wasn't what made Kal grin.
"You have a beard!" Kal said, delighted.
David blinked, cocked his head at him and then laughed, the same wonderful laugh that Richard always had when he was tickled by something that Kal had done. David came closer, looking up at Kal. They studied each other for a long moment, a man's voice singing a folksong in Celtic in the background accompanied to traditional Irish instruments. It took a moment for Kal to recognize the voice as his own. Jo was the man singing on the CD, which took Kal's breath away. He wouldn't sing on a bet!
"I think I like long hair better," David said finally, reaching up to tug the curl on Kal's forehead.
"I think I love the beard!" Kal laughed, grinning at David. "I'm sorry to intrude, David but I needed help and you were the logical person to go to."
"Well, come in the other room and tell me what happened," David said, taking it all in stride. "All I know is what the news has been reporting and they're notoriously censored and biased against Jo."
The rest of the apartment was as unexpected as Jo's studio. Beautifully framed pictures hung on the walls and comfortable sofas filled the open floor of an apartment without walls. A big, fully stocked kitchen was off on the right, predictable given David was Richard's twin in this world. The kitchen table looked well used. It was beautifully painted with flowers and geometric designs. Every cabinet and surface seemed to have been painted, including the ceiling, which had a wonderful mural of clouds at sunset on it. But that wasn't what stopped Kal and nailed his feet to the floor.
On the far wall, with a couple of spotlights gently illuminating it, hung a larger-than-life size painting of Jo and Kal as twins.
They were young, just college age. The barn was in the background, done in shades of grey and dim red. Kal stood in the foreground, looking solidly at the viewer with a confident smile. He was painted all in shades of dark red and royal blue, striped like a flag. Jo was facing away from the viewer, looking over his shoulder at Kal, hair long and in a ponytail. Jo was painted in white and gold with Kryptonian writing like graffiti covering his body and face. Both were naked to the waist and every muscle, every fold of their jeans was perfectly detailed. It was beautiful.
"How?" Kal breathed, moving over to stare at it.
"It's his Twins painting," David said quietly behind Kal. "I still think it's his masterwork. He did it when he was in college. Said it came at a pivotal point in his life and that it has great meaning to him. I've never been able to get the full story from him but this painting is how I found out that he dreams of you."
"Pivotal is a good word for it," Kal said quietly. "This is from the time period after our fathers died and we first publicly helped people. I wonder why he made me dark and himself light. It was such a positive experience for me and so horrible for him. I would have thought he'd do it the opposite."
David's hand rested on Kal's elbow, making him start and turn to look. David's eyes were wide and his mouth had dropped open in shock. He shook himself after a second and then studied Kal with intent eyes.
"You know what happened?" David said.
"Yes," Kal said, turning back to the painting. "Our fathers died. It was a heart attack and there was nothing we could do, literally nothing at all. Shortly after that we both had an incident where we could save some strangers if we used our powers but there was no way to hide it. I did it and the people I saved were grateful, practically falling at my feet. Jo did it and they almost lynched him for not saving them sooner. We dreamed each other that night and for the first time I listened while he talked. Ranted, really. He was so mad at them. He'd saved them and they treated him like trash. I had no idea that he'd painted about it."
"He's … painted a whole series of pictures about the two of you as twins," David said, studying Kal, not the picture. "We did a showing of them all that was quite well received."
Kal blinked, surprised by that. He'd always been comforted by the dreams but hadn't thought much more beyond that. They were dreams, nothing more. They made him feel better, made him feel less alone as the last Kryptonian. But once he woke up, they were over and he was back to real life. Apparently, they'd been far more important for Jo.
"I'd love to see them," Kal said sighing regretfully, "But I came for help dealing with Veriss, not to explore Jo's life."
"Of course," David said, nodding and smiling. "She's a tough one. Most of what's wrong with the world can be traced back to her. Not all of it, of course, but most of it. People don't realize how much Jo does to stop her. Most of the time he works invisibly and people think it's an 'act of God', not him. I think he should act openly but he's dead-set against it. Says he won't risk people finding out about me and my getting killed."
David led the way to their bedroom, making Kal blush a little bit. It felt wrong to be intruding into Jo and David's bedroom. As fascinating at David was, he wasn't Richard. And as similar as Kal was to Jo, he wasn't Jo and never would be. Going into David and Jo's bedroom felt quite wrong. Which didn't stop him from noticing and being quietly amused by the soundproofing that Jo had installed. Some things appeared to stay the same, no matter which universe you were in. He did wonder whom the handcuffs were for, though.
"Why does everyone blame Jo for Veriss' actions?" Kal asked as David opened a closet that had a crystalline control console much like the one in Kal's Fortress of Solitude, just far more compact.
"I suppose because he's the only one who openly fights her," David sighed. "There are lots of other superheroes in the world. But none of them can go up against her. Her weapons are based on Kryptonian technology and Jo's the only one who has the strength, speed and invulnerability to be able to face them. He's thrown her in jail so many times. The law is set up that after three major felonies you're in prison for life, no parole, no appeals. But Veriss keeps escaping and everyone blames Jo when she attacks over and over. I think they want her killed but we have no death penalty."
That made Kal's back stiffen and his jaw start jumping. Bad enough that they blamed Jo for someone else's actions but to expect Jo to kill when they wouldn't do it themselves just made him mad.
"We don't kill," Kal said, hearing the anger and sternness in his voice. He didn't bother trying to hide it from David.
"I know," David said, grinning over his shoulder at Kal as he worked on the console. "You know. Jo knows. The rest of the world, on the other hand, doesn't know. And they assume that he's killed before and just chooses not to in this case. Not a lot to be done about it. They'd never believe him if he said it."
David straightened up and waited as the crystalline console flashed and hummed ever so faintly. He seemed utterly competent to run it, which surprised Kal. Kal had a basic understanding of how to check the archives and run a few of the machines of his Fortress. He'd never bothered to master the technology fully. He had better things to do, like save the world. Jo obviously had far more control and understanding if he could teach David how to run it, too. A crystal started growing, making Kal stare.
"What is it?" Kal asked, fascinated.
"I set it up to generate a crystal that will give you a shield against Kryptonite, much like Jo's shield," David said, "And set it so that it will allow you to mentally command the crystals of Veriss' machines, turning them off or manipulating them at will. Jo's tattoo lets him do that without a crystal but he said that you don't have the tattoo so this is the best stop-gap that I could think of."
"Thank you," Kal said, surprised. "Um, how did the world get to be like this? What happened to make it so violent and dangerous? It can't have been just the earthquake on the West Coast."
David sighed, looking into space as they waited for the crystals to grow.
"It all boils down to one name," David said sadly, "Veriss. From the time she killed Lex Luthor until now, she's been at the root of almost every major disaster and societal upheaval. She destroyed Michigan to try and kill Jo. He escaped and saved about 75% of the people but everyone blamed him for not saving all of them, despite the fact that it was impossible. She set off two mega-thrust earthquakes, one here and one in Japan, and everyone thought it was his fault. He didn't get there in time but not even he couldn't be in three places at once. She'd set up her controls on the East Coast. He did catch her but he couldn't stop her machinery in time to prevent the quakes. The fact that he saved about 95% of the people affected by the quakes and tidal waves they generated didn't seem to make any difference to public opinion."
"She's killed presidents," David went on, watching the crystal grow into a bracelet, "The Supreme Court, sells mass quantities of highly destructive weapons that he regularly destroys. She's made everyone so afraid and distrustful that it doesn't matter what anyone does. Its not just Jo who is looked down on. All superheroes are looked down on. There are standing federal orders to arrest all superheroes on sight."
Kal sighed, heart hurting that Jo was stuck in such a mess of a world. If he had the ability and freedom, he'd help Jo set it right in a heartbeat, no matter how long it took. But his world needed him. His five-year absence had proved that much to Kal. Besides, he had Richard and Jason to look after. He couldn't go gallivanting off on wild adventures anymore.
"I wish I could help set it right," Kal said quietly. "But I can't. I have to get home. I have to stop Lauren and Veriss' machines. They'll destroy both worlds if we let them keep running."
"I don't know what you could do," David said, shrugging. "You can't change people's opinions, you know. Not in one day, in one act."
The console beeped and David nodded with satisfaction. The completed bracelet was chunky but looked like it would fit well on Kal's wrist. Lights shone through it, like it was a console in miniature. After a moment's thought, Kal decided it must be exactly that.
"All right," David said, looking up at Kal. "Put your hand on the console here and I'll set the bracelet up to work with you."
Kal did as requested. David tweaked the crystals of the console and of the bracelet. Kal felt a slight electric thrill. It was barely noticeable, especially for a man who could be hit by lightning and barely notice it. Once the electricity faded, David took the bracelet off of the console and wrapped it around Kal's left wrist, making sure it was snug but not too tight.
"There you go," David said, smiling Richard's bright, determined smile. "You've got the weapons you need to be able to fight her now."
"Thank you, David," Kal said, finding it very hard not to pull him into a hug that might end up with them on the bed, making love. He was so very like Richard at that moment, long hair, earring and beard notwithstanding. "I should go. Things are getting nasty back in Smallville."
They headed back to the window-door in Jo's studio. Kal paused, looking at the huge canvas, waiting for Jo to return to work on it. The vague pencil marks on it weren't enough for him to puzzle out what it was supposed to be.
"What is it going to be?" Kal asked, unable to keep his curiosity under control.
David laughed, pulling Kal over to a sketch lying on a table with various tubes of paint and dozens of brushes. He pointed, eyes wrinkled with amusement. The sketch showed Superman flying with the Shadow, a bright blue sky behind them, clouds pink with dawn around them and a perfect, beautiful world below them. Kal smiled, touched by the sentiment. He took a pencil and wrote a little note on the sketch, making David look at him, puzzled.
"Make sure he reads the note before he starts painting," Kal said, grinning.
Kal's said: "I'd rather fix your world with you any day rather than fly with you over some utopia, Jo. Paint the world like it is so you have a record of how bad it was until you fixed it. Clark."
David read it, taking a shaky breath and then nodded, tears in his eyes.
"Thank you," David said, his voice shaking. He grabbed Kal and hugged him tight. "Send him home. I don't think I could live without him. He means too much to me!"
"I know," Kal whispered, holding David just as tightly. "I know."
They held each other for a long moment, just long enough for them both to start to feel uncomfortable with the embrace. They let go at almost the exact same moment. Kal headed for the window-door, pausing before going through.
"It was good to meet you, David," Kal said, smiling brightly. "I always wanted to, ever since Jo mentioned you. It makes me feel like Richard and I are destined for each other. We found each other in two very different worlds, after all. Maybe we're not just chance. Maybe we're destiny."
David beamed at him, nodding.
"I feel the same way, Clark," David said. "So go home to your Richard and send my Jo back to me. Everything else can be worked with, as long as we have each other."
Kal nodded and headed out, flying away to Smallville at top speed. He could hear the army battling desperately against Veriss. He could hear most of the world in desperate need of help and crying out against the Shadow who was nowhere to be seen. But no matter how hard he concentrated on everything else, there was no way he could miss David's quiet words as he shut the window-door in Jo's studio.
"It was so good to meet you, Superman," David said, "Good luck!"
Kal flew as quickly as possible back to Smallville, getting used to the strange crystalline bracelet as he flew. It was rather like having a person nudging him and pointing out things he might have missed while teaching him things he should have known ages ago. A very persistent, annoyed and determined person, Kal thought with some amusement as he arrived several thousand feet above Lex Luthor's former manor.
The field from Lauren and Veriss' machinery was well beyond the edges of the mansion and gardens now. Kal could see it with his unaided eyes but he doubted that the military or Veriss' men could. It shimmered and distorted the valley, making everything look like it was at the bottom of a fast-moving river. Everything inside of the field looked bizarre. It was a blend of the two worlds so that the farmhouse merged with the mansion. The barn blended with the formal gardens, sometimes right in the middle of a plant or wall.
The Bracelet, as Kal was starting to think of it, pointed out exactly how the energies of Veriss' machine were mismatched with Lauren's machine. Both needed to be adjusted but the bracelet could only affect one at a time, unlike Jo. He could have handled both easily. It kept putting up little flashing notices in front of Kal's eyes, warning him of the danger.
It looked like Veriss' men were trying to drive the army away by firing their pulse guns at them. The energies of the pulse gun were feeding the field around them, which made the pulses dissipate before they could hit the army. The army still pulled back, afraid of what could be and confused that it wasn't happening to them.
"What a mess," Kal murmured, shaking his head.
He swooped down, staying outside the edge of the field. He landed between the army and Veriss' men. Veriss' men immediately scurried back inside the mansion, looking terrified that Kal had returned. Kal could hear Veriss giving orders inside of the merged mansion and farmhouse but all she was saying was to get 'it'. He couldn't tell what 'it' was without using his vision and that didn't work very well through the edges of the field. The Bracelet couldn't tell either though it flashed more warnings at him.
"Shadow!" one of the army officers snapped, going for his gun.
"No, I'm Superman," Kal said, watching the manor, not him. His gun couldn't hurt Kal, no matter what he did. "The Shadow's on my world right now."
"As if," the army officer snapped, "You may have changed your uniform, cut and dyed your hair but you're still the Shadow."
Veriss' men rolled a pulse cannon out of the mansion and aimed it at Kal. The Bracelet flashed a warning at Kal, modulated a bit and then warned Kal to brace himself. The army behind Kal cried out and dove out of the way, terrified. The beam from the cannon was a hundred times as powerful as the one from the guns and it tore through the distortion like a hot knife going through butter.
"Unh!" Kal grunted as the beam from the cannon hit him.
It rocked him and his feet slid a bit on the grass but that was it. Between his natural strength and invulnerability and the Bracelet's modulation of the energy signature of the pulse's blast, it couldn't harm him. It didn't even bruise him the way the pulse guns had earlier. Sparks rained around Kal and then stopped as Veriss' men stopped firing. Kal grinned as they cursed and ran back into the building. None of them had expected Kal to be able to withstand that.
"Oh-kay," the army officer said, sounding faint, "Maybe you're not the Shadow after all."
The General of the Army looked to be the same person that Kal had dealt with on his world, though far more scarred and a good deal more serious. He came from the rear and studied Kal with a carefully blank expression.
"No, I'm not the Shadow," Kal said, smiling at them. "I would strongly recommend pulling back at least a mile, General Miles, preferably two miles. Ah, I hope your name is Miles. Your analog on my world is named Miles, anyway."
"Yes, that's my name," the General said, a brief moment of surprise crossing his otherwise stony expression.
"Good," Kal said, nodding. "I would recommend pulling back. I don't know what will happen when the Shadow and I return to our worlds and turn these machines off. It could be very dramatic or it could be very anti-climactic. Either way, I would prefer that you and your men weren't in the danger zone."
"Can't you keep the Shadow?" the army officer muttered, looking annoyed. "He's damned useless, especially against Veriss."
Kal frowned at him, lips going thin as he considered what and how much to say. It would be so easy to say enough that he gave away Jo's identity but he couldn't stay silent, not when people thought so badly of his 'twin'.
"No, I can't," Kal said, "We have to return home or the balance of the universes won't be restored and the distortion will continue, destroying both worlds. Besides, he loves this world and its people too much to abandon it. Don't blame him for your failures to keep Veriss in prison."
"If he'd just kill her—!" The officer huffed, glaring at Kal.
"The Shadow doesn't kill," Kal said sternly enough to make everyone flinch. "He can't."
General Miles looked at Kal, tense. He waved the officer off, making the man flinch a little and his jaw jump in anger. The soldiers muttered, glared and shuffled their feet, many fingering their guns. They truly seemed to hate the Shadow, which Kal found utterly incomprehensible. They were the ones letting Veriss out over and over. They should take responsibility for their own actions, to Kal's mind.
"Can't or won't?" Miles asked calmly.
"Can't," Kal said firmly. "He can't. I won't. There's a very big difference between the two."
Kal sighed with annoyance at their looks of stubborn refusal to accept. He knew that Jo didn't really want them to know about him, that he preferred to be a secret and not let anyone find anything out about him. But Kal couldn't resist saying something in the hope that it would make a difference for Jo, that it would improve things.
"We're both aliens," Kal said after a few seconds, "Sent to Earth by our fathers to save us from the destruction of our home worlds. My father was an idealist, a hopeful scientist. He sent me with archives and technology and a message that I should be a beacon to the world of what they could be, what they could become if they tried. I've tried to live up to it. The Shadow's father was … very different. He was a military ruler, a despot. He sent the Shadow to destroy humanity, take a select harem of human females and breed a new crop of his people here on Earth."
General Miles' jaw dropped as Kal spoke. The others frankly stared at Kal, amazed and horrified. This was something that none of them had expected and their minds seemed to be actually engaging.
"The Shadow isn't gay because that's his primary preference," Kal continued. "His people are functionally bisexual. The body doesn't matter. It's the person that you fall in love with, according to their beliefs. The Shadow is exclusively gay because he refuses to chance his father's programming kicking in and making him take over the world. That's why he prefers males. That's why he doesn't kill. That's why he does most everything the way he does it. He'd be worse than Hitler, worse than Genghis Khan, worse than any megalomaniac in history because of his abilities and powers. Have you seen the tattoo on his left arm?"
General Miles nodded, eyes wide.
"That isn't an adornment," Kal said firmly. "It's an organic nano-computer bonded to his body. It's a control device, implanted into his body by his father so that the Shadow would follow the plans his father had set for him. When he was a child it was small, about the size of quarter. But as he matured and failed to follow his father's plans, it grew, attempting to take over his body so that he would be forced to do as he was supposed to. The Shadow isn't rude because he's a jerk. He's rude because everything he does is counter to the voice in his head that tells him to destroy. Every minute of every day is a struggle for him to maintain his soul and do what he knows is right."
Kal smiled sadly, shaking his head.
"He works invisibly 95% of the time, General Miles," Kal said. "You don't see the vast majority of what the Shadow does. I have nowhere near the strength of character that he does. When I save someone, they're grateful and I get immediate reinforcement. When the Shadow does something he's either invisible or he's reviled for not doing more. But he still helps, still fights, still goes on doing his thing. I couldn't do that."
General Miles and the soldiers stared at Kal, still not willing to believe him.
"How do you know all this?" General Miles asked, voice combative. "If you're from another world, another dimension, how could you know?"
"I don't understand it," Kal admitted with a shrug, "But we've been in contact with each other since we were small children. The Shadow's the technical expert, not me. I'm just big, strong, fast and invulnerable. I never spent the time to learn everything that my people sent with me. It hasn't been necessary for me to know it. The Shadow learned it all because he had to. He had to find ways to subvert the programming so that he could save the world and the people he loved. He's given up on being Kryptonian. The Shadow considers himself to be fully human."
General Miles lips twitched as Kal said that he didn't understand it.
"You're just a big, strong brute?" General Miles said, amused.
"Not quite," Kal laughed, "But I'm certainly not a technical expert on inter-dimensional travel and communication. I just know that we've dreamed of each other our entire lives. Our dreams aren't like yours, General. They make a human's lucid dreams look nonsensical. Every so often we dream of each other, talk over what's happened in our lives and then go our separate ways as we wake up. It's been something of a shock to see the Shadow's world and his life. Our next dream I'm definitely going to have to give him noogie for not telling me more about what he was going through. So closed-mouthed about the important stuff!"
General Miles broke into laughter.
"That is something I'd love to see," General Miles chuckled. "Somehow I don't think I ever will. I don't suppose we can convince you to stay longer, Superman? We could use help straightening our world out."
"I truly wish I could," Kal said sadly. "There are so many ways I could help but I can't stay. Even if I could set things up so that it would be all right physically, I wouldn't. You see, I have a family and a young son to take care of. I won't abandon them, not even to help the Shadow fix his poor, abused world."
Kal sighed, shrugging slightly.
"If you can just keep Veriss in prison," Kal said, giving the General a look that made him flinch, "Instead of letting the lunatic out all the time and expecting the Shadow to 'take care of her', I think things will improve quickly. You shouldn't expect other people to solve your problems for you, General. Veriss may yet manage to kill the Shadow and then where will you be? Keep her in prison or make an exception to your death penalty rules. It's your world and your lives. You should take care of them yourselves without expecting someone else to take care of you."
Kal turned to study the field, which had been slowly advancing towards them. As he did it he saw the Shadow come into view on the far side of the valley. Apparently the field was acting as a lense that let you look between the worlds with the part inside of it being an odd merged combination of the two. Kal set his hand at the edge of the field and the Bracelet interacted with it, making it visible all along the valley.
"Ah, there he is," Kal said brightly. "Now that the expert's here I can get to work. Pull back, General Miles. Let us take care of this and then arrest Veriss and keep her in jail this time."
"G-good luck, Superman," General Miles said, backing off and waving for his men to pull back.
"Thank you, General Miles," Kal said, smiling at him. "And thank you for keeping her from fleeing. I would have hated to have to track her down across the globe. That could have taken forever and my son's birthday is coming up soon."
Kal stepped through the field, flinching a little as the distortion effects made him feel ill. He waited for his stomach to settle and watched as Jo did something on the other side, in Kal's world. They would be home soon, Kal thought, completely convinced of their ability to deal with anything together. Lauren and Veriss didn't stand a chance, not against the two of them together.
Jo flew into Smallville, marveling at the differences between the two worlds. His Smallville hadn't been this small since his grandfather's days. Lex's plant, his mansion, most of the town he'd grow up with didn't exist. It was a lot like stepping back in time. Oddly, the Kent farm was nearly identical, which seemed very odd given all the other differences. Jo didn't bother to compare the differences in detail. He'd do that later. He had his tattoo record everything so that he could pore over Clark's world once he got home.
The valley where Lex's manor should have been was filled with the distortion from Veriss and Lauren's machines. The army had pulled back, apparently in fear of Lauren's men and their pulse guns. They were firing as Jo flew up, though they weren't accomplishing anything. It appeared to be a deliberate attempt to strengthen the field as the energy from the pulse guns fed directly into the field and made it grow slowly.
The area inside of the field was a weird mixture of Jo's world and Clark's world. Parts of Lex's manor were mixed with parts of the farmhouse and barns. The formal gardens blended with the fields surrounding the farmhouse. As the field expanded, more of the world was warped by it, blending the two worlds in weird ways that Jo's tattoo identified as highly dangerous.
"What a mess," Jo muttered, shaking his head in dismay.
He swooped down in front of the army, dropping his invisibility just before landing.
"General Miles," Jo said, "You need to pull way back. When we shut those machines down it's going to be very dangerous and there's probably going to be a wash of energy that will mimic an EMP. I'd suggest pulling back at least one mile, maybe two and making sure that everyone is out of the area."
"Superman," Miles said, relieved and openly happy to see him, "Thank goodness you're back. We can't figure out what's going on."
"Actually, I'm called the Shadow," Jo said, smiling at him. "What's happening is my world is blending with your world inside of the field created by Veriss and Lauren's machines. It's highly dangerous and you shouldn't try and enter it. It might kill you, depending on where and when you entered it."
"We found that out already," Miles said grimly. "We lost four men when they tried to cross the line though three others were fine, only a little nauseous. We'll pull back. Send Superman back to us, Shadow. And good luck fixing things."
Jo smiled and shook his head in amazement as they cooperated with him so easily. He was used to fighting the army, not cooperating with them. But he'd have time to think about that later. He needed to stop Lauren and Veriss and get home. His tattoo could feel Clark on the far side of the field as Jo entered it and staggered, disoriented by the edge of the field. He shrugged it off and took to the air. His senses were no longer obscured by the edge of the field and it was the rest of the world that was like looking through a lake.
"Hey, Supes," Jo said in a normal tone of voice, grinning as Clark looked up and spotted him. "You ready to kick some butt?"
"Absolutely," Clark said, laughing. "I can handle the cannons and guns if you can start work on stabilizing Lauren's machinery. Her machine is the out of whack side."
"Good plan," Jo said, nodding. "Here they come."
It was so strange and so wonderful, Jo thought as he set to work. All his life he'd dreamed of having a twin, of not being the only one. Dreamed of someone else to fight by his side, someone to cover his back. Now, suddenly, it was happening.
Lauren's men fired pulse guns at Jo. The beams lanced at him only to be intercepted by Clark. Clark took them in the chest as though they were BB guns. Jo grinned and used his tattoo's powers to grasp the lines of force radiating from the malfunctioning machinery. His interactions with them made the lines of force fluoresce, turning them bright purple and red. The thugs cried out, firing faster at Jo, only to have Clark intercept all of their bolts.
"They already know that's not going to work on me," Clark chuckled, using his heat vision to heat the guns to the point that the men couldn't hold them but not to the point that they melted or exploded.
"Doesn't stop them from trying," Jo said, shrugging. "They're never the brightest in the world, you know."
"Isn't that the truth?" Clark laughed, diving in to attack and take the pulse cannon away before they could get it aimed at Jo and Clark.
Lauren and Veriss' bullyboys scattered, too afraid of the two of them to stay and fight. Most of them ran for the buildings while a couple ran for the edge of the field. Clark blocked the ones heading into the buildings, sending them flying with blows, heat vision and sheer intimidation. Jo continued his work with the energies, finding a way to force the field to stabilize and stop growing just about the time Clark drove the last of the men ran away, leaving Lauren and Veriss undefended inside the merged mansion / farmhouse.
"Ready to take on our twin lunatics?" Clark asked, hovering close to Jo but not so close that he interfered with what he was doing.
"Yes," Jo said, nodding as he 'tied' the fix off, making sure it would stay while they headed inside. "I've done as much as I can from out here. We need to get down to those basements and shut them off from there. Be careful, though. Veriss is a tricky one. I'm sure she's got traps galore in there."
"Lauren, too," Clark agreed. "Watch out for the Kryptonite."
"You watch out for Lauren's Kryptonite / EMP pulses," Jo said, adjusting Clark's bracelet so that he'd be a bit protected from them. "Not sure what they'd do to you but they knock me on my ass if I'm not braced for it. Fortunately, I am braced for it now."
They flew into the farmhouse / mansion, Jo feeling like he truly was Clark's shadow. Jo lagged behind, letting Clark take the big hits while Jo scanned for and dealt with any crystalline or technological threats that Clark couldn't cope with. They were a perfect team. Lauren tried to hit them with kryptonite dust but Clark blew it away while Jo used his powers to neutralize its radiation and render it useless. Veriss went for the EMP but Jo drained the device of power before she could push the button. Clark smacked her into the wall, knocking her out. Lauren tried to run but Clark caught her and Jo immobilized her, and then knocked her out, reshaping some metal into handcuffs. He made a second set for Veriss' unconscious form.
"That was indecently easy," Clark said with a grin. "I think I like teaming up with you."
"I was thinking the same thing," Jo said with an answering grin. "Let's go save the worlds."
"Right," Clark said, picking up Lauren and nodding for Jo to take Veriss. "When you drop her off with the army, tell them from me to keep her in prison this time, will you? They really shouldn't expect you to solve their problems for them."
Jo laughed and shouldered Veriss. They headed down into the basement where the twin consoles waited. Jo went to his side and Clark took his. They looked at each other across the machines; almost loathe to shut them down. Jo shook his head, nearly in tears because he wished it wouldn't end.
"You know," Clark said, adjusting his machinery to match the instructions of his bracelet, "If I had control crystals for my Fortress, we could probably set up a small, stable version of this gate."
"Possible," Jo said, reaching over to reset, fix and improve the fake crystals that Lauren had created. Once he was done they were perfect replicas of the ones that Clark had lost. "But it wouldn't be very safe. And you shouldn't leave Richard and Jason. You know what happens when you're gone for too long."
"True," Clark said, sighing. "I just thought it would be nice for Jason to meet you. You could come to his birthday party in a few weeks."
Jo ducked his head, smiling in spite of himself. They continued to work the machinery, the field contracting steadily around them. The world was gradually restored, with none of the dramatics that Jo had feared. It slowly drifted back to what it should have been outside. Within a few seconds it was shrinking back into the basements of the farmhouse and the mansion.
"I'll think about it," Jo said quietly. "But only if you set up a proper security program on that Fortress of yours! Why you didn't do it before you left I'll never know."
"Mm," Clark said, ducking his head to hide a grin and a blush, "I'm just a big, dumb brute to quote a certain general in your world. I don't understand these things. You're the technical expert, not me."
"Yeah," Jo said, rolling his eyes as the field passed over the two of them and became nothing more than a window between their two worlds, "Right. You've got brains just as good as mine. Use the bracelet and the crystals and you'll be fine."
Clark nodded, hesitating before turning it off.
"Um, about the mansion," Clark said, looking nervous, "I um, kind of destroyed a wall. Sorry."
"Oh, to hell with the wall," Jo said, rolling his eyes. "I can have the damned wall fixed. We should go. I can hear the army moving in on my side."
Clark nodded, raising a hand and just barely touching the window between the two of them. Jo did the same and their fingers touched for real, letting them lay their palms against each other. Clark was warm and real and the smile he gave Jo made it all worthwhile. His twin, his opposite, his analog in another world, nothing else in the universe made a difference to Jo at that moment. His brother was there and they'd saved the world together.
"Two more things," Clark said, grinning as Jo went to turn his side off. "I sort of told them about you, about your father and what he wanted you to be. They were too rude for me not to."
"Clark!" Jo snarled, glaring at him. "You had no right to do that! If I wanted them to know I would have told them years ago!"
"I know, I know. But they were so rude! Oh, and about the other thing?" Clark said, grinning wickedly at Jo.
"What?" Jo said warily. "You better not have done something obnoxious like exposing my identity."
"No, I left a note on your sketch for your next painting," Clark said, laughing, "Make sure you read it before you start work. See you around, Shadow."
Jo's jaw dropped as Clark winked and shut off his side, making the wall just a wall with an energy ripple over it. Jo laughed, shaking his head and shut his side off, amazed at Clark's nerve. He just had to have the last word. Veriss moaned at his feet and Jo sighed.
"Oh, well," Jo said, picking her up and slinging her over his shoulder where she whimpered and moaned quietly. "Back to reality."
He headed outside and found the army standing by the very large hole in the wall at the end of the hallway. Clark hadn't been kidding when he'd said that he'd broken the wall. He'd taken most of the end of the building out. Jo's old 'opponent' General Miles looked up at Jo as he approached dropping Veriss at the General's feet.
"I have a message from Superman," Jo said, lips twitching.
"Lovely," General Miles said, looking at Jo with a very different expression from his normal stony anger. "What is it?"
"Superman said to try and keep her in prison this time," Jo said, chuckling and shaking his head at Clark's nerve, "He also said that you shouldn't expect other people to solve your problems for you. Not as if I haven't said much the same thing many times before."
"True," General Miles said, lips twitching, "But there's something special about that one, isn't there?"
"Very much so," Jo said, sighing. "Very much so, indeed. Good luck, General. I'll be going now."
Jo went invisible and took flight, not bothering to hide the ability this time. If Clark had told them about his 'destiny', he probably said something about the invisibility, too. There was no reason to hide that power anymore.
"I'll be god-damned," Miles breathed, "He can turn invisible. Maybe that Superman was telling the truth."
"He always tells the truth, General Miles," Jo called down to him, "It's a point of honor for him. I'll see you around, not that you'll see me."
Jo headed home, eager to see Dave, to see the note that Clark had left, to show Dave all the recordings and study them for himself. It was odd how much seeing Clark helped strengthen and comfort Jo. He wondered if it did the same for Clark. Maybe he would set up that gate in his much-neglected Fortress of Solitude. It would be so nice to see him regularly instead of just in dreams, once in a very great while…