Little Earthquakes

by Talya Firedancer

Dying might not be so bad, is the first and only thought that tracks through Richard's sluggish brain as he finds out why deer freeze in headlights as the oncoming bus barrels toward him, horn crying havoc, breaks squealing impotence.

He won't be in the way anymore, won't be hurting anymore.

After Lois broke him the news not-so-gently, Richard did what most any lettered and well-bred man would do in such a situation: eschewing any other kind of comfort, he hit the bars. It was too late to call...anyone...and he found himself not wanting to. He went to three different bars in three hours and left each of them after getting hit on -- two women, one man -- and wound up on Clark's doorstep anyhow, knocking, getting no answer, knowing it had been stupid to expect him there in any case when first news in the bullpen on any given day was Superman's exploits of the night before.

He'd had too much to drink but not so much that he was ready to check into a hotel to sleep it off, so he wandered back downstairs, misplacing the elevator and stumbling down all ten flights.

Somehow trying to hail a cab had ended with him cursing on his hands and knees in the middle of the street. When he looked up there was the bus, not ten feet from him, and even at his best Richard would have been hard-pressed to react fast enough.

Jason, he thinks. Lois. Clark. He has time for three faces and the thought of all of them isn't peaceful, it only hurts. He rages and will not go gentle.

Something slams into him and his eyes are squeezed shut as the world drops away from beneath him. There's a sickening swoop in his stomach and it's not like he ever pictured, dying; it's like that moment when the seaplane leaves the turbulence of a river when it's airborne and his body takes a plunging instant to adjust. There is warmth, and the slow thud of a heartbeat. Richard opens his eyes to the serpentine crest of the hero, the Man of Steel, the source of his troubles and rescuer from sudden peril. "Shit," he says softly, and it's like perjury or mouthing crudities in church; you just donít swear in front of Superman.

"What do you think you're doing?" Superman demands, the steel of one of his many titles surfacing in his voice, but Richard is finding he has to close his eyes and swallow hard and remind himself that on this flight there's no airsickness bag and it would be considered rude to use his rescuer's cape for that sort of thing.

They alight in a patch of greenery that nowhere besides Metropolis would be considered a park. It's dark and there's no one around and for this Richard is grateful, having twofold priorities of emptying the rank contents of his stomach before he totters to his feet and lambasts his savior.

"Wha'dya mean, interfering with a man's right to drink himself to death?" Richard demands, making clever use of the tree behind him to keep himself upright.

Superman, tall, coolly and impeccably handsome as in any one of the photographs that paper Metropolis and inundate international publications, arches a dark brow at him and scowls. It's so much the opposite of what he'd expect of a hero that Richard pays attention when he speaks. "The way I see it, I was protecting the bus driver from committing involuntary manslaughter. You've just come back from the greater danger of Baghdad, Mr. White--"

"Knock that shit off," Richard snarls. "You expect me to believe you of all people don't know my first name?"

Superman falls silent and Richard wonders for a dizzying instant if he's gone too far and the man will fly off and leave him here to slump to the ground and give his hammering heart time to process what a terribly narrow escape he's had. "Richard," he speaks up at last in the tone of one trying again, soft and too considerate, "what's wrong?"

The bark of the tree behind him is rough but supportive as Richard leans against it, struggling with how to say nothing. He swallows hard. He'd rather have had this conversation with Clark, those eyes so blue shielded at least somewhat behind the square frames that protect him from the rest of the world. "Everything. Everything's wrong. I would have pretended for her sake that nothing's changed. And you would've too, these past three months have taught me that. I knew, you know? I knew it the day she came back after the 777 rescue." Such a thin line between the stories of "the 777/space mission disaster" and "the 777 rescue;" the red and blue line of Superman. If he hadn't returned...but he had, and it meant something to all of them. "I knew something was different."

No use pretending anymore.

There are things he can say to Superman, though, that he can't say to his friend Clark. "You took everything from me," he continues quietly, and Superman is shaking his head, denying it, brows knit in a fierce look.

"I never intended to take any of it," Superman tells him. "I couldn't. The moment I lifted you from that ship, I knew I'd defer to you in every way, because you can be what I can't. A husband, a father. You can be there for them, and I can't. It's yours." He looks as though he'd say more; stops.

"What you think it matters, you deciding these things alone? Lois and I, we're not in love anymore. We can't stay together. And for the life of me I don't know if it's because you came back or...or if you're just the catalyst for something that was there all along."

Superman tries to speak, Richard interrupts. "The one thing I thought I had left was my son. But no, she tells me; you don't have any obligations there. Like I'd think of it that way, as if Jason's just an obligation to me! He's not...she says he's not my son. And how do I know?" He mimics the way she said it, reliving the terrified-defiant look on her face, the pain in her eyes. "She said, 'Well, Richard, I hardly think you could bench-press pianos at five.'"

There's only silence now as he looks at the ground, the park rustles around him and he imagines the breeze on his face could be the force of his passing. When he looks up, though, Superman is still there, and they're both avoiding one another's eyes.

He tries to speak several times and Richard recognizes this speech pattern and it's not one he'd associate with the calm confidence of the hero before him. Superman settles on, "I'm sorry."

"Don't be." Richard closes his eyes. "We both loved her." He knows about everything that comes attached to that. The soothing darkness behind his eyes is so compelling, he lets himself relax in a way he hasn't in so long and before he knows it he's out.