Clark stood helplessly at the threshold of the barn, having no clue how to proceed. Martha was tucked up in bed, and he had just made one of the most difficult decisions of his life. He had decided to tell Sean the truth. So why couldn't he just make himself climb the ladder and talk to him?
Like his father before him, Sean found solace in the loft of the old red barn, and spent most of his free time up there, reading, sleeping, or even just thinking. He wasn't a quiet boy, but sometimes he fell into periods of taciturnity, causing Clark to wonder what was going through his mind as he took in the world around him.
Ducking his head as he passed through a low inner door, he reached the bottom of the ladder. He coughed.
"Dad?" the voice came from directly above him, and Clark jumped, surprised to see his son's dark head poking over the edge.
"Sean, be careful!" he wasn't really too concerned for his son's safety, but he felt he should say something nonetheless.
The boy snorted dismissively. "I've never fallen yet."
"Even so." Clark placed a foot on the bottom rung of the ladder, questioning. "Is it alright if I come up?" Even though it was his barn, he was loathe to intrude on what felt like Sean's personal space.
The boy shrugged. "Sure."
At the top, Clark pulled himself onto the loft easily, and dusted off his hands.
"It's a nice night for star-gazing." He commented, gesturing to the telescope set up by the open window.
Sean settled himself further into the old red corduroy couch, putting his feet up on the small crate-table. "It'll be good in a few more days, when the moon is full."
Clark rolled his shoulders back, a nervous habit he had picked up over the years. "Mind if I join you?"
His son patted the empty seat beside him. Clark folded himself down into the sofa, which groaned slightly under the added weight.
"What's up, Dad?" the boy turned slightly to better face his father.
"Can't I just come up to see you?" he was still contemplating what he wanted to say, and wasn't quite ready to alienate him.
Sean raised an eyebrow, unconvinced. "I saw Mom's car in the driveway."
"Ah. She didn't come say hi?"
Clark clasped his hands in his lap. "I'm sorry about everything that's been happening. I know it's not easy on you or Martha."
The boy shrugged again. "People have been through worse."
Clark could tell that he was affected more than he was letting on. He put a hand on his shoulder.
"It's alright to be upset, you know. You're sixteen, but that doesn't mean you can't talk to me if you need. God knows that when I was your age, I couldn't have made it without having someone to talk to, and I wasn't even dealing with all of this sort of thing."
Sean sighed, and shrugged Clark's hand off his shoulder. "Are you going to say what you came up here for?"
Clark cleared throat.
"I suppose you've been wondering what all of this…" he made a vague inclusive gesture "has come from, and I figured that you're old enough to know why your Mom…that is to say, Lana, and I are separating."
"A bit of honesty would be a nice change." Sean's acerbic tone reminded Clark of someone else, and he suddenly realized just how much his son had grown up in the past few months.
"What do you mean?"
"What were you talking about in the kitchen?"
"You heard us?"
Shit. Clark took a deep breath, bracing himself. "We were talking about you, among other things."
"And why did Mom say you needed to tell me the truth?" His gaze was stony and unforgiving, reminding Clark of somebody that he used to know.
What have I done?
He spread his hands helplessly, feeling overwhelmed. The beginning is always a good place to start.
"I think you are aware that there are some things about myself I've never told you."
Sean remained silent as his father continued, visibly tense.
"When I was younger…"
"Just say it."
"When I was younger, I was a very different man."
"Look, Sean, I know that I've upset you, but I don't need you to be rude. This is serious." He stood, and moved over to the open window, feeling stifled.
"You know that I lived in Metropolis. I was a journalist."
Sean sunk down further into the old sofa. "You don't talk about it much."
"My life has changed a lot since then, and some things are better left where they belong – in the past. But, as someone pointed out to me today, some things do need to be shared."
Uncrossing his feet on the table, Sean looked up at his father expectantly.
"I don't suppose you've ever wondered about why your... about why you were born a year before the wedding?" Clark flushed slightly.
"It's the twenty-first century, I figured it was sort of normal. I don't like to question that sort of thing."
"Ah." He glanced over his shoulder to regard his son. "The truth is." He removed his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose, feeling jittery. "I found you. When I married Lana, she agreed that it would be best for you to keep it a secret."
"I know she's not my mother."
An icy silence settled over the room. Expressionless, Sean stared at his father.
Without his glasses on, he couldn't fully make out his son's face, but Clark thought he was a little green, as if about to be sick.
Deciding that this was the most difficult conversation he had ever had, Clark perched himself on the arm of the sofa.
"I came home from a long trip, and found you waiting for me, with no note, no explanation. Before that moment, I had no idea that you existed."
As is often the case with those in shock, Sean ignored the magnitude of this revelation, and grabbed for the next logical question.
"How do you know I'm even yours?
"I just know."
"But how do you know?" His young voice was shaky, tinged with anger and doubt.
Clark had no hesitation in answering. "When I saw you, I just knew. I can't explain it, but I had this absolute certainty that here was a little person come to make my life that much brighter after everything that had happened. I didn't even know that I was able to have children, but there you were, tiny and perfect, looking so much like me, but with your mother's curls."
Sean's bright blue eyes regarded him intently as he folded and then unfolded his hands, waiting for an explanation.
"Like I said, things were different back then. I loved this woman, but when she broke it off with me I needed to get away. I went on a very long trip. I wanted to find my biological family."
"I thought you said it never mattered to you that you were adopted." Sean's tone was almost accusing.
"It didn't – my parents were wonderful. But I felt lost, and I suppose you could say I was flighty back then, always wanting a challenge. Someone convinced me that it would be good for me, but I was wrong to go. A lot of bad things happened on that trip. It grounded me, in more ways than one. And suddenly finding myself a father, I made a choice not to keep pursuing whatever it was that pushed me over the edge. "
Sean nodded, as if letting this information sink in. "What was my mother's name?"
Knowing that it was a terrible idea, Clark blurted it out. "Lois."
"Lois Lane?" The boy wore a shocked expression of sudden comprehension.
With a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, Clark bobbed his head. "How do you know that name?"
"I took twentieth-century history last year. The Death of Superman was part of the Recent History module. Most of the primary sources we studied were her articles. I never made the connection, though. I didn't realise you knew her when you worked at The Planet."
With a look of shock, Clark turned to face his son. "You never told me you were studying that."
"I figured you probably wouldn't care. You've never been much of a fan of Superman, and for you it's recent memory. I don't see why it matters."
Clark shook his head. "It doesn't. But promise me, Sean, that you won't go looking for her. I don't want you to get hurt ever more than you already are."
"I don't want anything to do with a woman who abandoned me."
Feeling ashamed, Clark knew he should set things straight. "Don't be too hard on her. She was a good person, and I doubt that she would have done something so drastic without a very good reason. Not only were we young, we were partners. We investigated everything from crime rings to government cover-ups. When I left, it could have been dangerous for people to know about you."
"You never tried to contact her?"
He paused, deliberating. "I was gone for a long time."
"I don't suppose you'll ever tell me the whole truth, then."
"I wish it were that simple."
"Dad, I need answers. I can't live with all of these half-truths. You've hidden things from us all along, but now it's time for you to come clean. You can't come in here saying you'll be honest, expecting me to calmly accept the fact that you've lied to me my whole life, and then refuse to tell me everything. I don't understand your need for secrecy. These things you talk about happened close to twenty years ago."
Pushing his glasses back onto his face, Clark Kent saw before him a young man who had been shaken to the very core. "Every single day I thank my lucky stars that you don't take after me. You have so many questions, and your sharp mind can't help but look for answers. But please, if you have ever trusted me, trust me now. It's not the right time to go digging around. I promise, I will tell you everything, but with what's going on in the world at the moment, it's too risky. I can't compromise your safety."
"I don't understand."
"Can we talk about this tomorrow? It's late, and we're both getting pretty emotional. I need to check up on Martha."
"You've always got an excuse, haven't you?"
Clark didn't reply.
As Sean watched his father turn and descend the ladder, he felt something had changed between them.
His father was not the man he thought he was.