Lois stands at the foot of the wide king-sized bed where a pair of suitcases lie open and half-filled with strewn belongings. She blows a piece of chestnut hair out of her face and weighs her cell phone in her hand, thinking she's delayed long enough and if she waits any longer it'll probably test even Richard's legendary patience. She still has him programmed on speed dial, and it rings long enough that she's worried she has run out of options and she'll have to rely on Mrs. Klein's good graces and make arrangements from the plane or something, when the line finally picks up.
"Hello?" Richard huffs, out of breath and closer to ill-tempered than she's heard in a long time.
Lois almost hangs up, because it's after nine-thirty and she knows what would have him breathless at this hour of evening, but her name is on his caller ID so he'd know. She has to remind herself she's desperate. "Richard, I'm sorry to bother you."
"It's late, Lois," Richard says in a tone of gentle chiding and she's glad he seems to have gotten over his earlier mad.
They were always friends. He's a good man, she told Superman, and she knows this with every fiber of her being. She wants to hold onto their friendship and if that means she has to ignore certain new realities, so be it.
"I know," Lois says quickly, "so you know I wouldn't call if it weren't an emergency, right?"
Richard sighs and she can practically see him scrubbing a hand over one high cheekbone, passing it through his short hair. "Lois..."
"You know how we talked about visitation rights?" Lois says. "I think that wasn't quite the right phrase. How do you feel about joint custody?"
"Starting right now?" Richard says warily.
"Precisely!" Lois beams, turning to her dresser and scooping toiletries into a travel bag one-handed. "There are race riots in California and apparently there's chaos in Los Angeles."
"There's always chaos in Los Angeles."
"Yes, well, turn on CNN. This has to do with local elections and there's been two murders, an incident of police brutality, and a crackdown close to martial law, so I got a greenlight to fly out and cover breaking news."
There's silence on the other end of the line and Lois worries at a hangnail on her middle finger with her teeth. Then, "I thought we talked about this. About how it's not such a good idea to do these kinds of stories anymore--"
"You're not my fiance anymore," Lois parries swiftly.
The silence this time is dense, and Lois winces, and she's glad she can't see his reproachful turquoise eyes. She loves those expressive eyes, thinks some things are hard to change, but the essentials have already caused them to pass like ships. Circumstance has showed her that much just earlier that very day.
"You're right," Richard says finally. "I'm not your fiance. But we're still friends, and--"
"Yes, of course, but that's not the issue and I really don't have time for this touchy-feelie bullshit right now, Richard!" Lois bursts out. "Here's the deal, I'm flying out and I need you to take care of Jason, I'm probably going to be gone at least three days, maybe longer. This could be another Pulitzer!" She wants another, she thinks, because she'll never count the first one among her prizes. Not in her head. It's lying somewhere in a cubbyhole at the Planet and she knows she'll never hang it up anywhere with pride.
"Lois..." he starts again, and she knows from the tone of his voice that she has to head him off at the pass.
"Just for a few days," Lois wheedles. "Look, I'm sorry, I already asked Lucy but she can't--"
"You tried Lucy before me?" Richard interjects, now sounding wounded.
Lois doesn't need to conceal her quick grin because she's on the phone, not face-to-face. "Yes, well, I figured--"
"I'm with Clark right now, you know?" Richard asks softly, and Lois knows now from the careful intonations that her nebbish co-worker is also in the room, has probably been since they broke clinch for Richard to answer the phone and she *won't* think about that.
"Yeah, I know, it's okay." Lois's thumbnail slips into her mouth anyhow. "I could call a service--"
Lois shakes her head in confusion; that adamant utterance didn't sound like Richard. "Anyhow. You can stay here."
"Uh, Lois, that would be kind of weird..." Richard trails off.
Lois sucks in a sigh and wishes for a cigarette. "It's still your house, Richard. There's plenty of space, you don't have to stay in the, um, master bedroom. Anyhow we need to start thinking about what has to get done to sell it and you're better at that than I am."
"Okay," Richard gives in.
"Okay?" Lois says brightly. "Fantastic. I have to catch a redeye, can you be here by ten-thirty?"
Now positively grinning, she hangs up and turns a critical eye on the contents of her wardrobe, still spread haphazardly across two suitcases. Not only will Jayce be well taken care of, but she's human enough to admit there's a tiny bit of payback there. Richard has never even hinted to her before that he was bi, and she doesn't like surprises.
Richard's lips are firm and sweet against his, and he tastes of wine and himself and a hint of spice from food-tasting of earlier and it's a heady combination as Clark leans into him, resting his hands on the man's hips as Richard's fingers tug on the hair at his nape. Their mouths mesh and part and press together again, exploring and slow at first, a kernel of Clark's awareness held back for wondering if they're really doing the right thing, then he slants his mouth down on Richard's and their tongues touch and he's immersed in warmth and heat, letting Richard crowd him against the counter while they tangle as men intent to never let go. It's hard now between them, and demanding, and Richard's heart is pounding between them so that when the cell phone in Richard's back pocket erupts in its jubilant "I just wanna fly" mantra, it's a physical shock.
They pull apart and Clark's gaze is focused on moist lips, still parted for him.
"I don't have to..." Richard pants, pulling the phone free anyhow, checking the ID. His eyes flutter closed and his jaw strains and he looks ready to pitch the cell phone aside. "It's Lois. Don't go anywhere." Richard aims a finger at him as if to anchor him in place.
"Okay," Clark says, inclining his body away from Richard, swimming in a morass of desire that leapt through his veins like flashfire and confusion. After all this time, maybe especially because of that gap of five years, Lois still makes him confused, uncertain as a teenage boy on the verge of flying.
The two feelings are so different, he thinks as Richard takes his phone over to the half-full bottle of wine and answers it. Richard is a man who makes him want to be himself, not just Superman. Himself, Kal-El.
"Hello," Richard says shortly, close to ungracious as Clark's ever heard him. On the other end Lois apologizes without sounding sorry and Clark looks away, making believe he can't hear both ends of the conversation as well as the various private threads from this building and the next, arguments between husband and wife, friends, roommates, lovemaking, philosophical discussions, a police car down the street speeding up to catch a car that sped through a red light and Lois, asking Richard how he feels about joint custody.
He's glad they will continue to share Jason as their son. Richard will be able to parent Jason in all the ways Superman can't, and Clark won't be able to. Neither of them has insulted Clark in suggesting he court Lois, for which he's grateful. Even if he and Richard hadn't...well, formed an attachment...not only has he been gone a long time, but discovering Lois to be the mother of his son has only reinforced all of the reasons for which he left her in the first place. She holds something precious of him, and if only the rest of the world knew... His father Jor-El had been right in instructing him to keep a secret identity to prevent any from taking his loved ones hostage.
"Lois--" Richard yelps, protesting, and Clark directs his attention outward again. He flips his phone shut with a grimace, then twitches a rueful smile in Clark's direction. "You heard?"
"I heard," Clark affirms, tilting his head in self-deprecation.
"So, want to spend a few days at the old homestead with me?" Richard raises his brows. "I won't even need to toss too much into the suitcase."
Clark holds up a hand. "Wait a minute, I don't think I was included on that invitation."
Richard bestows him with a charming grin. "Tonight's a moot point, Kal-El. You're my designated driver." He waggles his empty wineglass, which he downed during the course of his conversation with Lois.
"Ah," Clark sighs. "You win."
"I like to win," Richard says smugly. "Pack a suitcase, we can share your old spare room."
"Right," Clark says, thinking of a way to demur.
"Besides," Richard tells him, placing a hand on his stomach on his way to turn off the burners. "You think I'm letting you out of my sight? You let me kiss you!"
Clark shakes his head a little, and can't help but grin. He knows he's going to go along with it, for now.