by Talya Firedancer

The bullpen feels eerily quiet today or perhaps it's the whole of Metropolis, fallen silent with no need for urgency or cries of distress for a rare day; it happens, and leaves Clark looking perpetually over his shoulder. He settles in to typing the rest of his notes into a Word document that he's going to turn into a 1200-word article due by the end of the day and doesn't stop until he has a rough draft; Perry has, after all, often bragged of Clark's ability as fastest typist in the bullpen. This is the case especially when no one is looking. He glances at the clock and it's not even ten and he has to get up, because Lois has filched his stapler again. When he goes to get it, he bends over her desk and can't help but notice she's replaced the framed family picture with a lucite-encased shot of her and Jason on the beach, smiling and tousled and waving to the camera.

"Hey," a familiar, entirely welcome voice accosts him, "where did you go?"

Clark slews around, his grin all brilliance which he couldn't dampen if he wanted to even as his hand automatically slips to his glasses in that practiced defensive gesture. "Hello! Richard, welcome back!" He is moving forward, then hesitating as Richard moves in because he's unsure if it's going to be a handshake or a manly hug and they dodge as if trying to cross paths on the way to the bathroom before Richard laughs and grabs his hand, reeling him into a quick embrace.

"It's good to be back," Richard says, tipping his head to the side and giving Clark the unfettered joy of his smile.

"Yes, well..." Clark looks around in confusion. "Where's Lois? I thought--"

Richard's smile drops, his eyes glancing at her desk; he gives Clark a quick, strained smile. "Honestly? Haven't seen her yet. I went straight home from the airport and she was gone for the day already."

"Oh," Clark says slowly. "I'm sorry...Perry did just give her the Congress exposť..."

"And she'd be out of the house at four a.m. for that," Richard says evenly, raising a brow at him, but shakes his head. "Sorry. You don't need to hear about our problems but it's no secret we're having them. In fact, I think it's part of the reason Perry sent me packing, to give us some time apart - as well as the thought that my luck could rub off on Ben, whom I think has pretty much given up on foreign correspondance. I have a bone to pick with you, Clark."

"I'm sorry?" Clark says automatically, trying to take a step back and finding he's cornered against the edge of the desk.

"You moved out without a forwarding address?" Richard prompts, and there's a faint smile on his lips so Clark knows he's not completely mad but his tone is serious, deadly serious. "Not only did I offer that room for as long as you needed, but--"

"Well. I guess, I mean, it wasn't appropriate, and--"

"Don't try to pull that on me, Clark--"

"You were gone," Clark interrupts again, surprised at himself, "so maybe I didn't need it anymore." He stops, and they stare at each other, and Clark shoves his glasses fiercely up and over the bridge of the nose, looking away and tucking his hand in his pocket. He'd nearly broken them even though the frames he uses are the toughest dura-flex material on the market, and that's no good, because if he breaks his glasses he'd have to tape them together before going without. It's true, though. Lois treated him as if he wasn't there and while it was wonderful to be with Jason, the boy acted as though he were a houseguest or teacher or some other distant adult figure. Richard was different.

"Um." He continues stiltedly, speaking to the back of Lois's monitor rather than the man before him. "Anyhow my Mom has decided to sell the farm after all, she told me to stop sending her quite so much money, she said she doesn't need it."

"All right," Richard says, quiet and contemplative. There's a bit more cheer to his voice when he continues, "I guess we'll have to throw a housewarming party, then."

"Uh - uh, no really, you don't have to--"

"Housewarming party?" Jimmy helps himself to the conversation, brash tone loud enough for half the bullpen to hear. "Who's moved into a new place?"

"Clark has," Richard says, throwing a sly smile Clark's way to let him know he's not getting out of this.

"Clark?" Jimmy recoils in surprise. "Hadn't you found a place yet?"

"Uh, well..."

Clark freezes; he hears structural steel snapping in the distance, looks over his shoulder, and sees a construction accident in the making twelve blocks away. He turns to Richard and Jimmy with a mix of panic and resolve, preparing one of many excuses and hoping he can stammer it out without sounding too ineffectual. "I, excuse me--I have to go, I--"

"Go," Richard says, the intense blue-green of his eyes holding him in place for a moment nonetheless.

"What's going on, Clark?" Jimmy demands, but Clark is already retreating and he hears Richard behind him steering Jimmy away from the desk, explaining in a plausible tone that he's loaned Clark the station wagon because he has some interviews to conduct later and in exchange Clark has to move the car when the parking space's two hours are up, and it sounds like a great excuse, even though they've made no such arrangement.

He knows. The realization is sheer terror that would hold him back if his feet weren't already moving, finding the best place of half a dozen he's earmarked to use for changing.

Clark has gotten so used to being invisible in the shadow of Superman he never accounted for someone who could truly see.