Running in Place

by Talya Firedancer

The night breeze is cool and lifts her hair up to flutter behind her as Lois leans against the railing of the back deck and chain-smokes. When the embers of one die, she taps another from the pack and lights the next from the dying sparks, expecting, then hoping, then finally only notional that she'll hear the flap of a cloak in the breeze and the Man of Tomorrow will drift to stand on that railing, lecturing her again on the dangers of smoking. On CNN behind her, an anchorwoman interrupts with a special bulletin on how Superman's saved three schoolbuses full of children on the London bridge and Lois can't help the snort that escapes her.

A part of her had expected, now that Richard had left, that Superman would swoop in to fill the void in her life, become a father to their son, and things would be... Well, the youthful naivete of that fantasy staggered her.

In place of any other anchor she has the oral fixation. She bites her nails and chews pens until they are unusable - one had actually exploded in her face the day before - and when that isn't enough, she smokes after she's put Jason to bed for the night. Richard has left, and maybe it was for the best, but what has it gotten them?

Since that day he's been avoiding her, at work and personally. Lois sucks in a deep drag and holds it in, her gaze skimming over the lights beyond the river to the seaplane docked behind her house. Seeing this, she exhales. She doesn't even know where he is staying, but at work he spends a lot of time with Clark and it puzzles her. Maybe she'll go so far as to say it bothers her, but... well, she doesn't know why, and that niggles at her more than anything.

He'd shown a lot of interest in Clark, as things between her and him got tense and strained.

Lois shakes her head, dismissing the thought before it has fully formed.

What matters right now is Jason. She'll focus on her son. In the beginning, she had her career, then her career and Superman, then... well, now she has her career and Jason, the two most important things and that's a start, right?

Will he get better? I hope he gets better. She hears Jason's solemn little voice questioning, and she knows she'll have to tell him. I like him. Not yet, though. He's still young and she has always intended for his father to be Richard - was sure it was Richard, or maybe simply willed it to be Richard given her steadfast refusal to review any ultrasounds, wanting to preserve the surprise of the birth or only telling herself that.

Now she knows. She's had Superman's child.

That should mean something, right? Only Lois wonders now if it really does, given that he can go on a five-year interstellar journey with no notice, no warning, no...goodbye.

She waits on the back deck every evening though she can tell herself otherwise; she's passing the time, she's decompressing, she's mulling over the next day's stories, she's smoking one cigarette after another until the tea saucer - Richard had steadfastly refused to keep anything in the house resembling an ashtray - overflows with the debris of her bad habit and she has nothing to show for the evening besides spent cigarette casings. He'll have to come by some time, she reasons. He said he'd 'be around.'

Only why should he, when she's made it clear in so many ways after five years why she doesn't need him? She got a goddamned Pulitzer on the litany of 'how do I not love thee,' and Lois knows one of her shortcomings is not being able to take things back. Not gracefully, if ever. She did her best to avoid that even when he all but asked her to, that night on the rooftop. And there's no way short of having air messages writ on Metropolis' sky to put him on notice that she's broken up with Richard.

The inevitable corollary to that is, did she do it for him? Or for herself?

Lois's fingers fumble for another cigarette in the pack only to find it empty. She's exhaled the last of the smoke and isn't any closer to finding her answers. Before Richard left for Baghdad she would have done just about anything to get the time and space she needed. Her lips curl at the irony of that, now.

As usual, if life won't bring her any answers, she'll have to go out and find her own. Lois crumples the empty pack in her hand and picks up the saucer-full of filters, looking up at the house for a moment. In a way she's been stalling, filling her hours with one thing because she doesn't want to think about what comes next.

Recognizing this, she strides forward to take action.