Fandom: Superman Returns
Character(s): Clark Kent (Superman), Richard White
Summary: There are as many things Superman and Richard White have in common as not. One night, Clark gets to know Richard and learns about their similarities.
Disclaimer: Superman and related franchises belong to DC Comics and Warner Bros., whom I'm not affiliated with. I make no profit from this.
Notes: Major spoilers for Superman Returns. Many thanks to musical_emjay for the beta.
Word Count: 4539
– William Wordsworth
Watching over Richard White became as important to Superman as watching over Lois Lane. There was a part of Superman that was half-tempted to let Richard die somehow, so that he could take Lois and Jason as his own, but a thought like that was fool's gold, glittering in the stream, promising everything, but delivering nothing.
Superman knew he would have made a terrible father. There was no time for him to devote to Jason. His time belonged to the world, not one little boy, no matter how precious. What sort of father flies out of the house every night, only to come home in the morning smelling of another catastrophe nearly averted? What sort of father spends his days pretending to be a bumbling fool who can't even tell the woman he loves how he feels? Whatever time he could spare for Jason would never be enough. As it was, he was lucky to get two hours of sleep most nights. Not that he needed a lot of rest, but even supermen needed to take a break every once in a while.
Richard White was perfect for Jason. Not just because Lois had chosen him, but because he genuinely loved the little boy. While Lois worked late or was distracted with a new story, it was Richard who stayed at home, watching Disney movies with Jason. When Lois occasionally forgot to bring back dinner, it was Richard who would go out in the rain to buy Chinese. When Lois was on the other side of the planet investigating a story, it was Richard who took Jason flying alone. Richard was always there.
Jason White loved Richard White as much as Clark Kent had loved Jonathan Kent. If Jason had a nightmare, it was to Richard's side of the bed he ran, quietly asking if he could sleep with his Mommy and Daddy that night. Richard was the first person he ran to, and the last person he left. The hurt was often visible on Lois's face when she noticed, but she said nothing. As much as Jason loved her, she wasn't there as often as Richard was, and she knew it.
Superman often sailed above their house on the quiet nights, watching the family with a peculiar ache in his heart. Jason neither needed nor wanted for anything. He did not need Superman or Clark Kent. He had a loving mother and a loving father. He had everything Clark had as a child.
The comparison inevitably left Superman with questions he couldn't bear to have answered. If Jor-El had lived to see Clark's childhood, would he have felt the same way about Jonathan Kent as Superman felt about Richard White?
The offices of the Daily Planet were quiet after nine o'clock in the evening, but no less crowded, a maze of cubicles and desks and stacks of papers. The overhead lights buzzed slightly as they burned, a surprisingly comforting background noise. There was a sort of burnished polish to the walls that made the office feel like home. The lemony smell of the disinfectant the janitor was using to clean the floors tickled Clark Kent's nose.
A door opened and Richard White came out of his office. His hair looked a mess, and despite the sleepy cast to his expression, his eyes seemed unnaturally bright. As always, Clark couldn't resist studying Richard, trying to figure what Lois saw in him. Was it his cheekbones? The painfully blue eyes? The expressive mouth? Or was he just that good in bed?
Clark pushed his glasses up his nose and tried to look like he wasn't listening as Richard approached Lois. She was sitting in front of her computer, staring at the screen intently. The blue light flickered on and off her face, creating odd shadows, at times making her look older and younger than she really was. Richard paused by her desk, watching her finger-comb her long brown hair for a moment before speaking.
"Lois, the report will still be there tomorrow," he said.
"I know." She clicked the mouse a few times, her eyes never leaving the screen. "But I'm onto something, Richard. There's reason to believe the LexCorp name is not a coincidence, and is owned by Luthor –"
"Lois, you're chasing ghosts. Luthor's been out of sight for an entire year."
"That's what bothers me," Lois muttered, clicking her mouse again. "There's something suspicious about LexCorp and its connection to Wayne Enterprises. Even Batman has –"
"Batman isn't your story. Superman is."
Clark looked up, expecting to find bitterness in Richard's face, since there was none in his voice, but he saw the same calm the man spoke with. If anything, he was too calm, like the sea before a storm.
Lois looked up and stopped playing with her hair. "I'll meet you at home. I won't be much longer."
Richard stared down at his feet for a moment, then looked up and smiled at her. "Of course." He shuffled away, towards Clark, who immediately went back to counting what little money he had left in his wallet.
Clark jumped, trying to keep the guilt off his face as he looked up. He managed a smile at Richard and snapped his wallet shut. "Richard. Hi."
Richard nodded, looking as mildly pleasant as ever. "Didn't know you were still here. Pulling an all-nighter, too?" he asked, thumbing back at Lois with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes.
"Oh, oh no." Clark grabbed his coat from the back of his chair and shoved his wallet in the pocket. Or rather, attempted to, as the wallet fell out and hit the floor. "I, um, I'm just leaving." He bent down to pick up his wallet, but Richard beat him to it.
Richard handed him the wallet. "So am I. I haven't the energy to keep up with Lois, either. Care to grab a drink?"
Clark froze. He had been hoping to change into Superman and visit Lois before checking around the world. There was also the problem that he didn't really have much money left until the next paycheck – which was still five days away.
"I'm buying," Richard said, apparently guessing some of Clark's hesitation.
"I…" Clark glanced at Lois, and then at the TV screens hanging off the newly restored pillars. No crises had revealed themselves as of yet, and there was no way to turn Richard down without appearing rude. "… thank you. That'd be swell."
Richard coughed, and Clark thought he heard choked laughter behind it. He had no idea why people kept doing that when he used the word "swell," "neat-o," "coolsville," or the like. City people were so strange.
Richard glanced back at Lois, who was back to staring at her computer screen intently, then at Clark. He gestured for Clark to follow him and headed out to the elevator. Donning his coat, Clark followed. Richard said nothing as they rode the elevator down. He held his coat in front of him and watched the lights flash at the top as they passed each floor. Feeling uncomfortable, Clark shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the lighted button for the first floor, desperately wishing he was dressed as Superman and talking to Lois instead of trapped in an elevator with a man whom he barely knew and had every reason to despise.
Clark wanted to hate Richard. He really did. It was supposed to be a normal reaction, and he wanted to think of Richard as a sort of woman-stealing Lex Luthor with more hair. However, he couldn't muster the emotion. Richard was too… nice.
"Watch the game last night?" Richard asked as they landed with a gentle bump at their destination. The elevator doors slid open to reveal the poorly lit lobby, which had that same inexplicable dark shine the Daily Planet's main offices did.
Richard smiled as he stepped out, then stepped aside so Clark could join him. "Neither did I. I don't like sports, actually. I was never any good at them." He pulled on his coat, his white shirt stretching out over his arms. He wasn't as muscular as Clark had supposed.
"You?" Clark stared as they headed out to the sidewalk, which was as quiet as a Metropolis street could get. "I would have thought you were captain of your high school football team or something."
"No. I had a lot of the same health problems as a kid that Jason has. Allergies and stuff. On the bright side, if I outgrew it, he should too."
Clark almost tripped over his feet, and not on purpose. He said nothing as Richard hailed a cab, reflecting that there would be a lot of things Jason would eventually outgrow. Like gravity.
"What about you?" Richard asked as a yellow cab pulled up to the curb. "I thought all small town kids were into football. A big guy like you should have done well."
"I was the waterboy." Clark didn't add how the only time he'd played football with one of his friends, the boy had gone to the hospital with five broken ribs.
"Ah. Ever accidentally spill your water on the cheerleaders' shirts?"
"Yeah," Clark said glumly. "I had as much luck back then holding liquid as I do now."
Richard stared at him. "I meant – um, never mind." He climbed into the back of the cab, settling himself on the dark vinyl. Clark followed him, choking back his laughter. Sometimes, making people think he was an idiot was too much fun.
"Cesar's Café on 56th and Broadway, please," Richard told the cab driver as Clark sat down and closed the door.
The cabbie, an Arabian-looking man with a picture of himself and three women wearing scarves over their faces on his dashboard, nodded and took off. Clark glanced out of the window at the bar he and Jimmy frequented and frowned.
"We usually go there," Clark said, pointing at the bar as they passed it.
"Oh, really?" Richard glanced at him. "I like Cesar's Café. Good Italian food and good drinks. I'm fond of their strawberry margaritas."
"If you're hungry, I'll get you something to eat." Richard turned to stare out the window. The passing street lights alternately cast his face in light and darkness, though his expression never wavered. "I don't expect Lois home till late. You know how she is when she gets started on a project she's interested in."
"Yeah, she's… she's real devoted. She doesn't usually work this late, though. What about Jason?"
"He's visiting his Aunt Lucy. She's taking him to Disney World this weekend, along with his cousin Samuel."
"Oh, how… how nice."
Cesar's Café turned out to not be too far away. It was halfway between the Daily Planet and Richard and Lois's home, outside downtown Metropolis. The glowing blue sign displayed the restaurant's name. Blue and white striped canvas covered the outside dining rooms, and the smell of tomatoes, basil, and oregano wafted past Clark's nose as the cabbie pulled up. Through the glass doors, he could see a well-polished bar with only two other people sitting there.
Realizing Richard had already stepped out of the cab and was walking around, Clark hurriedly grabbed the handle to let himself off. To his horror, the handle snapped off in his hand. Glancing at the cabbie to see if he noticed, Clark was relieved to see the man was busy lighting a cigarette. Using super speed, he dropped the rest of his cash onto the backseat to cover the damages. Richard opened the door and held it open, looking at Clark curiously as he shoved his wallet back into his back pocket.
"C'mon. I told you I was paying," Richard said.
"I… I, um. Thanks."
"Don't worry about it. I haven't had a chance to go out drinking with anyone in well over a year." Richard's lips quirked. "Trying to keep both Lois and Jason from getting themselves killed is a full-time job."
"I'll bet." Clark stepped out of the cab and quietly closed the door as Richard paid the cabbie. He winced at the sight of his cash on the backseat, next to the broken door handle. While he could at least sleep in the Daily Planet's offices, it looked like he was going to spend the rest of the week accepting free hot dogs from grateful vendors after preventing a robbery.
He hated hot dogs.
Richard led him inside the restaurant and headed straight for the bar. He sat down just as a bartender approached.
"What can I get you two?" the man asked. The cuffs on his white shirt were rolled up to reveal extremely hairy arms. Clark shuddered. The excessive body hair some humans had was a little repugnant.
"A strawberry margarita, a glass of water, and an order of mozzarella cheese sticks. And some fried calamari. Oh! And some of those stuffed mushrooms." The bartender raised an eyebrow at Richard, who grinned sheepishly. "Long day at work." He glanced at Clark. "Order whatever you want."
"Um, I, uh… I'll have whatever he's having."
"You want the left side of the menu, too?"
Clark thought of the next five days he'd spend with minimal food. While he didn't need much of it, he was awful fond of food. It certainly kept his energy up, if nothing else. "Sure. Very long day at work," he replied.
"Where do you guys work, so I know not to apply?"
"The Daily Planet," Richard said with a smile. "And if you don't mind, can you throw an order of shrimp scampi in for the both of us?"
"Sure. The barf bag is on the house after you two're done stuffing your faces." The bartender turned away, shaking his head in amusement.
Clark stared at the multitude of bottles lining the back wall of the bar, along with sepia pictures of places in Italy. A neon sign advertising Budweiser took center place. The bartender moved to the right of it, deftly making the strawberry margaritas. He brought them back without a word, then slapped a bowl of nuts and two glasses of water on the bar in front of them, then left to place their order with the cook.
"Great service," Clark remarked. Taking the margarita glass in his hand carefully – he couldn't afford to break anything else – Clark sipped at it. He winced at all the sugar. When he glanced at Richard, the other man was laughing.
"Sorry. I like sweet things. I'm not so much into beer. If you want some, order it."
"No, no. This is fine. I just… well, they don't serve these things in Smallville."
"I'm sure." Richard glanced at the door to the kitchen with a look of longing. Clark could hear his stomach growling. "I'll bet they don't do many Italian appetizers, either. My mother always used to scold me at restaurants, but I make meals out of appetizers – they're better than the entrees, I think."
The television set over the bar switched to a late night newscast. An attractive Chinese woman began telling of how Superman had stopped a hurricane from hitting Florida just that morning, before dawn. Clark smiled a little at the shaky footage of him blowing the hurricane in the opposite direction until it dissipated.
"It's funny," Richard said, watching the film clip avidly. "I actually touched the guy. Even saw him bleed. And he still doesn't seem real to me."
"Really?" Clark asked coolly, checking the world with his super hearing again. It was a surprisingly quiet night.
"Yeah." Richard was stirring his drink and had yet to take his eyes off the television screen. "I owe him my life. My family's life. But it's hard to believe he's real. That Lois is his…" He paused and stared down at his drink, his expression blank. "… his, you know. Main reporter."
"Right." Clark shifted uncomfortably, thinking of the kiss Lois had given him a few nights ago. It couldn't be called adultery – after all, she and Richard weren't married, and it still didn't look like the wedding was happening anytime soon. That, and he didn't think kisses, no matter how thrilling, were considered adultery. But he was a little hazy on the technicalities of such things.
Richard took a sip of his margarita, looking thoughtful. "I wonder how he cuts his hair."
"What?" Clark took a sip of water, unable to stand all the sugar in the margarita. He was seriously considering asking for a Budweiser.
"His hair. I mean, he's invulnerable, right? Can bounce bullets off his skin, fly through hurricanes, do pirouettes in space, and all that. But how does he cut his hair? Kryptonite scissors or something? Or is his hair not as invulnerable as everything else on him?"
"His hair's invulnerable, too, though not quite as tough as the rest of him – like your hair isn't as strong as the rest of you. It just doesn't grow much. When it gets too long, he can usually trim it with several steel scissors if he shampoos his hair with industrial-strength acid."
Richard stared at him, his mouth hanging slightly open. Clark suddenly realized how much he'd just revealed, and so authoritatively.
"Erm. I'm joking."
Richard smiled, laughing briefly. "Oh. Of course."
"You should ask Lois. She's the Superman expert."
Richard turned away and polished off his drink. "Yeah. She is." He glanced at the margarita in front of Clark, then motioned for the bartender. "Get my friend a beer or something."
The bartender glanced at Clark, who nodded. "Budweiser, please."
The bartender went to the tap and filled a glass with the amber liquid. He placed it in front of Clark and reached to take the margarita, but Richard snatched it. "I'll drink it."
"All right. Food'll be ready in a few minutes."
Clark watched the bartender shuffle away, aware of Richard's gaze still fixed firmly on him. He licked his lips and tried to think of a subject to discuss. "So, what about all your friends? Why don't you hang out with them?"
"Don't have many. At least not in Metropolis."
"I'm a military brat, so I spent a lot of time bouncing around the globe until Uncle Perry offered me a job at the Daily Planet after I graduated college." Richard took a thoughtful sip of his drink. "That's how I met Lois. And Jimmy. Though I can't quite call Jimmy a friend. I think he keeps expecting me to leave."
Clark gulped at his beer. "But you won't, right? You won't leave Jason?"
"No." Richard polished off the second margarita just as the bartender came out with a tray full of food. "Never. I love him."
Clark clapped a hand to his back. "Good."
Richard bowled forward, coughing a bit. "That's quite an arm you've got there," he said, rolling his shoulders.
Clark smiled. "I know."
"And then, I spent my high school years in Gotham City." Richard giggled a bit, sagging against Clark. "I had a friend there. His name was… was…"
"C'mon, Richard, in you go," Clark said with a sigh, gently lifting the rather drunken man into the cab he'd hailed. As Richard pondered who his friend in Gotham was, he blinked rapidly. Clark regretted not stopping Richard from having that seventh margarita.
"You're awful warm," Richard hiccupped. "D'you have a fever?"
"I'm fine. Tell me about your friend."
"Wayne. Wayne Bruce." Richard paused. "No, no. That's not right. Bruce Wayne. Yes. That was his name."
Clark smiled a bit as he got in next to Richard. This cabbie was a woman, heavy-set and scowling. She glared at Clark in her rearview mirror, as if she expected him to pull a gun on her.
"Brayne was rich. I mean, my father was a Naval Admiral, so it's not like I was poor, but Brayne –"
"Bruce. Right. Bruce was filthy rich. Not that it made him particularly happy. Poor guy." Richard seemed to sober a little. "His parents were murdered when he was eight or nine."
Clark gave the cabbie Richard's address and sat back as she drove off, listening to Richard ramble on about his rich friend and his years in high school and how he'd practically had to live in a bubble when he was five. Richard eventually fell silent mid-sentence, staring out of the window. The lights outside blurred to thin streaks of red, white, and blue.
"I coulda gotten Lois an interview with him," Richard suddenly said. "But he was… he's been playin' 'round with women lately. So I didn't. Last thing I need is more competition." Clark studied his face, seeing a hint of hurt and anger playing at the edges of his expression, as if struggling to take over. "Bad enough I have to compete with a god."
Richard turned to him, his jaw set as he spoke. "I want to hate him. She still loves him, I know she does. I want to… I want to wish he never came back, that I'd left him to drown and die. But I can't. I can't hate him, and I can't do anything but cheer him on. He's too… good."
Clark was overwhelmed, as if he was standing in the middle of that hurricane he'd blown away that morning. He tried to think of something to say, but nothing came. He just stared at Richard, never dreaming Richard felt like that.
"I wish I was him, sometimes." Richard leaned against the window, his breath creating a white patch of moisture on the glass. "Superman. He's everything I ever wanted to be."
Richard's eyes closed. Once his breath evened out and Clark was sure he was asleep, he leaned over to whisper into Richard's ear.
"He feels the same way about you."
Richard and Lois's house was as quiet as the proverbial tomb, and seemed empty without the small presence of Jason. The bedroom was white and well-decorated, bearing a lot of Lois's sophisticated touch, but for the huge display of model airplanes in a glass cabinet in the corner. The bed was so large that Lois and Richard could lay on it without ever touching each other. As Clark approached it, he wondered if that were true, lately.
That is, until he realized it was none of his business whether they touched or not.
Clark laid Richard on his bed. He hadn't turned on any of the lights, but it wasn't like he needed them. Richard was passed out. He didn't even respond when Clark started stripping him, and only mumbled a little about "more calamari" when Clark covered him with his blankets. Clark shook his head. He'd never seen any human eat or drink so much in one sitting without puking.
The light suddenly came on, and Clark whirled around.
"Oh!" Lois stood in the doorway, one hand removing her shoes, the other frozen over the light switch. Her eyes had gone wide as she studied him, making her seem more lovely than ever.
"I… Clark. I thought you were someone else for a minute." Her gaze fell on Richard, who was back to mumbling, this time about being "filthy rich". "What are you doing here?" she asked sharply.
Clark adjusted his glasses before speaking. "He had a little too much to drink, so I brought him home. I hope you don't mind."
"Not at all. Thank you." Lois moved further into the room. "Do you have a place yet?"
"Um, no. I'm still –"
"Why don't you stay here for tonight? Jason's in Florida, so you could crash in his room."
Clark smiled. "No, thank you. I appreciate the offer, I really do, but I have to go."
"Oh, okay. Good night."
"Good night, Lois."
Clark had to brush past Lois to get out of the bedroom. He tried not to breathe in her perfume – still Chanel No. 5. Fighting the urge to turn around and take her in his arms, Clark walked out of the house. She wasn't his, she'd never been his, and she never would be his. He had to remember that.
He made sure he was out of eyesight before changing into Superman and flying off.
Jason had been home three days when Superman finally had a chance to visit him. The little boy was wearing a brand new t-shirt, obviously bought at Disney World. On the front was Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars, holding his blue lightsaber out and looking like he was about ready to smite someone. Superman made note of this preference. Maybe he could drop into Ewan McGregor's home one day and bring Jason to meet him.
The sun had just set and Jason and Richard had just finished fishing by the pier. Lois was still at the Daily Planet, chasing her ghosts with LexCorp. Richard was packaging their bait up – it seemed they hadn't caught anything – while Jason stood by. He held the fishing poles and excitedly told Richard all about meeting Mickey Mouse and Aladdin and Tigger.
Richard's sleeves were rolled up, but Superman was relieved to see there was no excess body hair on his arms as he closed up their tackle box. He nodded as Jason spoke, seeming to actually listen to Jason's babble – a rare enough trait in any man.
Superman landed on the pier, causing tiny ripples to stretch out into the bay as the pillars creaked and groaned. Both Richard and Jason looked up at him, Richard with mild surprise and Jason with rapture.
"Superman!" Jason cried, beaming.
"Hello, Superman," Richard said, his expression pleasant. "Lois is at the Daily Planet." There wasn't a hint of bitterness in his tone. Superman admired his control.
"I didn't come here for Lois." He smiled down at Jason. "I came to take you flying."
"Oh!" Jason turned to Richard. "Can I, Daddy?"
Richard hesitated, pain flashing through his eyes for just a moment. He licked his lips and forced a smile that would have been convincing to a human. "Of course you can, Jason." He turned to Superman. "You will be careful with him, won't you?"
Superman held out his hand to Richard. "I meant both of you."
Richard blinked in surprise. "Both of us?"
"Yes. Father and son. I wouldn't dream of separating you."
Jason dropped the fishing poles in delight. "C'mon, Daddy." He walked towards Superman, who picked him up in one arm. He closed his eyes and breathed in Jason's scent, catching a whiff of hypoallergenic shampoo, his father's cologne, and fishing tackle in his hair. Smiling, he opened his eyes and held out his free hand to Richard.
Richard set down the tackle box, glancing between Jason and Superman. After a moment, he smiled back. He approached Superman, his eyes bright in the moonlight. A night breeze ruffled his brown hair, and Superman understood exactly what Lois saw in this man.
"Thank you," Richard whispered.
"No. Thank you." Superman held Jason tightly, his arm still outstretched towards Richard, waiting.
Richard took his hand. Until Jason needed Superman for guidance, he would have Richard. He would always have Richard. Superman would make sure of that.
Up, up, and away they went.