What You Make of It

by Talya Firedancer

A peace offering, she calls it when she invites him, and he's only too inclined to agree by that point in the interests of keeping civility and Jason-duties easy between them. He counters, though, by asking for Clark's inclusion and there's hesitation in her face long enough to let him know she wants to say no, but actually has a care that it may cause him to withdraw acceptance.

"Well, Jason loves him," Lois says at last, giving a half-shrug to indicate she's given in without actually saying so.

Richard returns the gesture with a full smile and withholds his obvious reply.

Clark is just as hesitant when Richard brings the idea home. "Are you sure it wouldn't be better without me?" he says, with an anticipatory wince.

"Of course not," Richard overrides him, and takes Clark's chin in hand. "Don't even think about bailing, either. This is a chance for all of us to have dinner together." He bites his tongue before unwittingly continuing as a family because in a way they are, even if Lois is slow on the uptake. Jason has already come to his own grasp of the situation, after all.

"All right," Clark gives in, and Richard knows it's mostly because Clark has trouble telling him no, and he's just as content to take that sort of win.

They arrive at the house on Riverside Drive at 8 p.m. the next evening on the dot. Richard spares a moment of wonder for the fact that Clark has managed not to hear some kind of world-shattering or even fair-to-middling emergency and knows he has Clark's basic sense of Boy Scout honor to thank for that. Not two steps inside, Jason is tugging Clark over to his Casio keyboard to show him the new tune he's learned, leaving Richard to venture into the kitchen and pour the wine. Lois has always been all thumbs as far as that's concerned.

"Thanks," she tells him simply, turning from the counter to find he's already worked the cork free from the bottle she left standing on the dining room table. Her eyes are a little startled, expression off-balance, as if not expecting the normalcy of this.

Richard shrugs, giving her a deprecating smile. See, we can still be friends. The scent of slow-roasting herbs and simmering vegetables reaches his nose. "That smells delicious."

"Oh," Lois says, off-guard. "I, uh. Well, I picked something up on the way home." She spreads her hands helplessly but her chin has a defiant lift, as if challenging him to say something, anything about her cooking or the lack thereof.

"Still smells good," he says mildly, lifting his wine in a sort of half-toast. "You've got great taste."

Lois tilts her head, putting hands to hips. There's a wry not-quite-smile twisting her mouth. "Yeah, look where it's gotten me."

"Lois--" he starts, then shakes his head, glancing involuntarily from her to Clark in the living room, bent over Jason and the keyboard earnestly pretending he wouldn't hear every word even if he didn't have super hearing.

She misinterprets the glance, easy enough given she still can't really see Clark. "No, it's fine, Richard. You're...uh, bi, I guess, given how great in bed you were, and now you're with someone else and it's fine." She squares her shoulders but her smile is brittle.

"I'm sorry," he says quietly, looking into the depths of the red wine he's poured, and he puts his entire meaning into those two words, even the layer she hasn't gotten to yet. First he left her - Superman. Then she and Richard split, and now Richard is with Clark, effectively canceling her chances with Superman even now that the Man of Steel has returned after all.

She's frowning at him a little, puzzled, her thumbnail caught between her teeth. "For what, Richard?" she says, catching the seriousness of that note.

"For leaving you alone," he replies, settling on the simplest truth.

"Oh, Richard." She's already shaking her head. "I love you, you know that. But even before - well, you know. It wasn't working out anymore. And I'm not alone. I have Jason." She puts on her brightest smile, and if it's only a tiny bit overblown they can both ignore it.

He glances back to the table where places have been laid out neatly. Over on the counter there's another plate that hasn't been set out with the others, but there are already four places at the table. "What's this?" he asks, crossing the kitchen to take a look. It's from the finest set of dishes, the one Richard's parents brought as a housewarming present. He picks it up, flips it over. It's flawless, not a single chip or scratch. They never used the best dishes, always kept them in cabinets.

"Oh...I was going to invite Martin for dinner," Lois says, turning back to the stove and stirring savory vegetables with a slotted spoon.

Richard sets the plate down carefully and turns, leaning back against the counter and gripping it with both hands. "Martin...from Travel? You're not dating Martin, are you?"

She casts an arch look over her shoulder. "Why; do you disapprove?"

Richard coughs a bit. "None of my business."


"But he's a player, everyone knows that!" He lowers his voice when Jason lifts his head, dark eyes seeking. "The water cooler club is constantly buzzing with tales of his exploits. Hell, I think he's had every single one of them."

"Except Agnes," Lois corrects, referring to the older, chain-smoking lady from Copy.

This time Richard snorts. "You sure about that?"

Lois looks briefly horrified, but the expression blows over like a wisp of cloud. "He's good-looking, presentable, he doesn't smoke, and he's not serious - that's about all I'm after right now."

Richard shrugs and grabs his glass of wine, passing it back and forth between his palms. There's something he's supposed to ask, now; something he would ask if he didn't know...what he knows. He doesn't want to, not only because he knows how she'll react in advance like one knows a quick hard puff blows out the lamplight but also because it's a debt of cruelty, if she ever does manage to earn the truth from Clark.

"What about Superman?" he utters the words as soft as he can, deliberately not glancing Clark's way now, sensing the charge in the air the instant the words leave his mouth.

Her gaze hardens, moves to a point in the air past his shoulder, and her lips thin. "He didn't come back for me," she says quickly enough that they're probably words she's already said to herself a dozen times over. "Besides, I made it pretty clear to him right after...well. I made sure he knew I moved on." She turns away and pays savage attention to the food in its stovetop pans, stirring with unnecessary force.

But you haven't, collects in the silence between them, and Richard goes to fill up a wine glass for Clark. He does love her, and he wants to fix this for her, but the man that she fell in love with never existed so it would be impossible for Richard to give him back. And as to what he was for her...it was what she needed at the time. Now they both know if it had been meant for keeps she would have let him put a real wedding band on her finger, and not the practice version.

"Dinner's ready," she calls in a moment, and when Richard turns to help, the woman beside the counter is straight-backed, clear-eyed. Lois Lane doesn't cry.

"Yay! I'm hungry," Jason announces, scampering over to his place at the table. "I want to have steak, can I try some steak too?"

"You can have a small piece," Lois tells him, and breaks into a smile when Jason positively glows.

Clark joins them at the table. "Can I help?" he asks. Richard pauses beside his own customary seat.

"I've got it," Lois says, waving them both off.

And she does.