Always Around

by Talya Firedancer

During the time Richard is gone Lois imagines he has gone off to war, picturing herself in the role of a soldier's wife. It doesn't fit because she's not patient, and not the type to sit at home and do nothing - if it suited her she would've invited herself along to Baghdad but young mothers don't deprive their child of both parents and anyhow, she's pretty sure Perry sent Richard off like that to give her space. The Lane/White dynamic has assumed a holding pattern of utter politeness and her boss, at least, knows what that means.

Finally after working herself into a frenzy for three months everyone is leaving her alone. It's what she's wanted all along: the moment of total silence when she can find a center of utter clarity. Now that she's alone, though, she finds herself thinking about the things she hasn't been able to process all this time, like whether Jason will lift the car rather than wait for someone to winch it next time she has a flat or if Richard will realize the windblown look has nothing to do with nicotine but a far more serious addiction or the fact that they haven't had truly satisfying sex in over three months and she can name the last time because she knows the exact instant. She and Richard never talk anymore because she can't bring herself to do it and she thinks he knows, because he hasn't pushed.

She tucks her son in one night and smooths his hair over his forehead as he nestles sleepily into his blankets and asks for daddy; when she tells him gently as possible that daddy is in Baghdad, he asks for Superman. Lois wants to cry, break something, or have a cigarette.

He falls asleep after two bedtime stories and she finds a hidden stash of Virginia Slims and the lighter and goes outside for a pre-midnight stroll. The thoughts she's been pushing away with work and more work and ignoring Clark's bumbling attempts to help are catching up to her.

Would she have stayed with Richard if Jason hadn't been born? He was just what she needed at the time in that gray period after the world wondered and mourned and she glanced at every open window, every blur in the sky with her heart in her throat, and when they made love she saw color again and it was no surprise to her they created a child. No matter what came before she did think up until that life-altering instant on Lex Luthor's ship that Jason was the union of her second-string love. Now she knows that they don't even have that much, and the rest is a ring heavy on her finger that she let him put there, a placeholder for "later" which has become finally in her mind "maybe never."

All this time, the most perfect man she's ever found has been a substitute for something she's not even sure is real.

Lois starts conversations in her head that she knows she can't spring on him over the phone, not when he's overseas in the line of fire searching for a colleague who may be dead and the strain in his voice lets her know he thinks not only might he turn up empty-handed but it's possible he might...

She can't finish the thought, and her eyes burn behind closed lids. It's unworthy and it's awful and this is not her life. He'll come home because he has to, she refuses to consider anything else, but things might never be the same.

"He'll be all right," a warm, deep voice assures her.

Her eyes fly open and she jumps, fumbling the lighter through suddenly shaking hands. She wondered during that first heart-stopping flight if he could read her mind and that would be too much, when she was already saturated with him, overwhelmed by his presence and his voice and his touch, but for him to share even that intimacy with one, no human could handle it. Now she's confused, and blinks up at him as Superman alights on her back lawn, rendering the sleek lines of the seaplane behind him clumsy and graceless by comparison.

"What?" she demands, glancing behind her inadvertently to Jason's window. They have never talked, she thinks, about what to do now that he has proved his parentage but she knows it goes further than the fact she hasn't had to refill Jason's inhaler prescription.

"Richard is on his way home," Superman tells her, hands clasped before him, ingenuous and perfectly-groomed despite what has evidently been a transatlantic flight.

"Oh," Lois replies, lifting a hand to her hair, scraping wayward strands away from her face. She feels as if she's been offered an interview when she expected him to actually talk with her as if he knows her, address concerns and answer questions, hell, maybe even demand Jason from her on the grounds he's the only one capable of raising a child with super-anything. If Jason squints at the carpet and sets it on fire, after all, what's she going to do? "Thanks."

"I thought you'd want to know," he said, frowning slightly. "He found his colleague, but there was a hotel-bomber. I disarmed the man and--"

"Do you think Richard phoned in the copy on that, or should I?" Lois interrupted, chewing at an already-frayed cuticle.

Now Superman really was frowning. "I thought you'd want to hear it from me first instead of the Associated Press. He'll be fine, Lois."

Lois forces a smile. "Thank you," she says. "I don't want to seem ungrateful." She feels ungrateful. She wants to talk with him about their son, yell at him for leaving again maybe, gripe at him for focusing on the fiance that he doesn't seem to have any problems staying out of the way in favor of, hurl all her anger at the one person she knows will just absorb it all and not throw anything back.

He looks like he'll say more, for a moment, then he presses his lips together. "I have to go."

"Right. Thank you. Bye." She bends to retrieve her lighter and the cigarette she lost somewhere along the way, and when she straightens he's gone. Up and away without a backward glance, story of her life.

She's furious at herself for being unable to get over the sensation of twenty-six and head over heels for the Man of Tomorrow.