You've Been Gone a Long Time

by Talya Firedancer

"Mmm," Lois mumbles, "that feels sooo good." She lifts her hips and extends her other foot before Richard has even released the first.

He bestows a wry smile on her, one she can't see because her eyes are closed, and guides her bare foot into his lap, reaching for the imp of scented oil beside the couch. "You walk as much as a beat cop in those heels, have you ever thought of wearing more sensible shoes?"

"Sensible shoes don't round out my outfits," Lois mumbles, squirming on the sofa until she's lying on her side with her head on a throw pillow.

Richard, who is in a position to appreciate the way her skirt splits up one long, leonine thigh, doesn't argue. He settles his thumbs into the arch of her instep and draws a blissful sigh out of her.

"Lois?" he asks after a moment, and receives a drowsy "hmm?" Taking this as encouragement to continue, he does. "Clark was gone for five years, right?" After a moment, there's a murmur that could be interpreted as assent.

He raises an eyebrow and digs into her foot, making her thrash, dark head raising. "Don't tickle!" she gasps, and he grins at her.

"Honey," he says, that wheedling tone she hates. "You were falling asleep. And I asked if Clark was gone for five years."

"Yes," Lois replies, settling against the cushions with a disgruntled oomph. "I guess so."

He's never seen someone so thoroughly determined to ignore a nice guy. It rouses his pity for Clark sometimes, when his curiosity isn't engaged. "So, how did he give his notice?"

Lois cracks an eye and heaves herself up on one elbow, giving him an exasperated look. "Why all the questions? He must have given notice or Perry would never have let him back."

Richard hesitates, his fingers inscribing loose circles over the callus on her heel, the instep, up to the big toe and down again. "How did he leave?" He wants to hear it from her. It's another missing piece and, he thinks, the way she relates it will be a part of that answer.

"I don't know, he said he had things to take care of, I think," Lois says, flopping back onto the couch and thrusting her foot against his palms in a clear demand for his undivided attention. "Places to go, wanted to see the world and all that. I don't really remember, it was a long time ago and I had my mind on other things, you know?"

He knows. He gives her a tight smile and she arches a brow in response.

"Do you want to talk," she's asking suggestively, "or go upstairs before they get back from the park?"

Richard scoops her off the couch into his arms and she laughs, her dark hair tumbling over his shoulder.


They stop for coffee every morning before work after dropping Jason off after school. It used to be Richard and Lois, the invincible duo, but ever since her Pulitzer she cabs to work early every day and he'd almost suspect she was stepping out on him, if he didn't know better. Lois is in the grip of the work-frenzy she dives into when she wants to shut out everything including thought. He saw this before they closed on the house, after Jason's birth, before she met his parents, now after Superman's return.

These days it's Richard and Clark picking up double-tall lattes and one no-whip soy mocha for Richard's favorite uncle and despite the fact that Clark could drop a pen four out of five times while searching for a notepad he handles a drink tray with no problems. They navigate the crowded coffee shop and Richard looks over his shoulder after slurping off the first layer of foam to prevent any incidents in the station wagon as he re-enters Metropolis traffic.

"You know, you were gone the same length of time as Superman? Five years," Richard says, and the tray dips at a dangerous angle. "Whoa!" He reaches out, grabbing one edge before the drinks topple like they're threatening.

Clark recovers it, pulling the tray in tight to his chest. "No, I-I-I didn't notice," he says, and keeps moving where Richard might have stopped. They return to the car without any accidents.

Even Jimmy, Richard thinks, has fallen into this trap of perpetual underestimation. "So what did you do, where'd you go?" he prompts, easing the station wagon away from the curb. The auto-locks engage and Clark grips the oh-shit bar beside the window, balancing the drink tray on his knee with one hand and looking everywhere but Richard.

"Well, I..."

It takes three traffic lights while Clark recites a list of places and events.

Richard tilts his head ever so slightly. "Huh," he says.

Clark's eyes widen almost imperceptibly. "What?" he says, a hair this side of anxious.

"Well," Richard says, leaning over the gear shift as if to make sure it's just between the two of them, "you know, I think word for word, that's exactly what was written on every single postcard you ever sent to Jimmy? That's...amazing."

Amazing isn't the word and they both know it. Clark shoots him a look with eyes so wide and blue they could swallow up the sea. His expression is almost angry, and this intrigues Richard.

"I guess," Clark says, swallowing and pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose, with one finger, "I just wrote it like I saw it, then." He offers a weak smile, begging Richard not to pursue it.

"You have a way with words," Richard agrees. He looks out the driver-side window so that Clark won't see his sudden grin. He wants to press the issue but he thinks now is not the time.