Rated: Varies. K+ to a high T
Notes: There are three things you should know about this story: (A) I began it three-and-a-half years ago. I left it, found it and was inspired to finish. And I will. (B) This is mostly a Smallville future fic. I religiously followed Smallville through Season 4, I mostly watched it through Season 5, and I completely abandoned it after that, only to watch the scene where Lex killed Lionel, since I had waited for that scene for years. While this is mostly a Smallville fic, I have blended it heavily with Superman canon from the comics, movies and elsewhere. Lois is still Chloe's cousin, although she only vaguely knew Clark in Smallville. Lex is not dead or missing. Clark went to college and is only a little bumbling. I think you get the idea. (C) YouTube the video "Lex kill Lionel" (their title not mine) and watch it. Otherwise, watch the season 7 episode 16 of Smallville called "Descent". This is the Lex I know; this is the Lex I write.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Not mine.
Feedback: I fiend for it. More this time than ever.
CHAPTER ONE: ILL
Description: Lex is sick. Very sick. Rewind: The Daily Planet is being pimped out to the Global Press, and Lois isn't happy. She isn't happy at all. And, just where is Superman? Chiyu, and I are both Japanese words for cure.
Lex is sick. Very sick, in fact. Coughing coughs that rattle windows and fell skyscrapers. Sneezing sneezes that could propel ships and turbine engines. Vomiting rivers of rancid bile. And he has a fever -- a fever that can't match the heat of even the most lascivious, inebriated, casually lustful nights of his youth.
And this is new. He hasn't been sick in a long time. A very long time.
Compulsively he stares at himself in the mirror, wallowing in his misery. He looks like hell. Pale, clammy skin, dark bags under eyes, parched lips…the whole nine. He's surely dehydrated, and there's a slimy film on his tongue. He dare not stray too far from the toilet, and so he sits (in a reverence that reminds him of the couple of times he attended chapel at Excelsior) prostrate and worshipping the porcelain deity known as Commode.
After quite an extended interim, he notices that he is not vomiting anymore. He's not even coughing as much, probably because every expendable liquid has been jettisoned from his body. He stands wretchedly, noting the alteration in equilibrium that he had anticipated, and stumbles to the window of his darkened study. Or lounge. Or bedroom. And just where in delirious perdition is he?
In Smallville. That's right. And in ten years, he has lost his bearings in the place he used to know like the password to his safe-deposit box at LexCorp headquarters. And that feels bad -- worse than the fever and the stinging itch developing on the bottom of his feet.
He takes his shoes off, and his socks in turn, and feels the cool stone under his feet. A limestone floor in the guest bathroom. Solid, antediluvian limestone imported from Egypt -- one of a handful of anachronisms in the otherwise Norman Gothic house -- that was too decadent even for Lex's taste. Or had been -- when he used to care.
He pushes open the doors, and walks out into the, yes, guest bedroom. He now remembers thinking earlier that this would be good place to stay, a neutral place. A lab, if you will, in which he would carry out his experiment.
And this sickness…this is exhilarating. There is as much money in illness as health, as anyone knows, and Lex is nothing if not on the constant prowl for sources of new capital. Most insanely rich billionaires are.
He crawls to the bed, hoisting himself into its confines, submitting to his exhaustion and plague, and falls sound asleep, hoping to wake in the morning.
TWO MONTHS EARLIER
Election years are a journalist's bread and butter -- an instant cure for a lack of writers, lack of ideas, lack of opinions, lack of debates, and basically the general apathy of a nation that is sometimes too stable for its own good. Which is why Lois was even more furious.
"Kent!" Perry White called, peeking his head through the door of the office. "Lois, where's Kent?"
She broke from an entranced glare at her monitor and then channeled all her venomous energies at Perry. "Got your e-mail."
"Yeah, and they're all running on Sunday, so there's a 4:00 p.m. Friday deadline on all three." She just nodded vacantly.
"Let me guess," she said, her voice tensing, and a little facetious. "Did I misquote an anonymous source?" Perry raised an eyebrow. "Maybe I missed a deadline. It could be that I didn't wear hose that day to work. Or no, no, you caught me kissing a paperboy."
"Bottom-line me Lois; I have no idea what you're talking about."
"What other explanation would there be for these paltry assignments?" She fiercely grabbed a paper off her desktop printer and began reading. "Elevated fluoride levels in tap water? Suspected abuse in local nursing homes? Let me emphasize local. Oh, and this is my favorite -- standardized testing in elementary schools. What next -- the back sale at the woman's club?"
"Lois," Perry said, frustrated, "those are perfectly valid articles. Every day can't bring thwarted attempts at world domination and subversive governmental cover-ups."
"Perry, I haven't gotten stories this lame since I was an intern from Met U."
"And half of the current interns at Met U would give their eye-tooth to cover any one of those stories."
"Perry, I wouldn't give my stapler to cover any of them -- and if you expect me to believe this doesn't have anything to do with that meeting you're going to at four, then charge the Brooklyn Bridge to my Visa card." With a flare, she grabbed her purse and produced said card. "8421--"
"Lois, you and I both know that it's ridiculous that you're taking this personally."
"...5638492..." she continued.
"The Planet has over 160 in-house correspondents, over 1500 staff total -- " he paused.
"...65373. Expiration date 06/2019."
"I can't talk to you when you're being irrational," he said and left out of the door.
"NO!" Lois shouted leaving the office and following behind him, gesturing with the provocative e-mail in hand, "What's irrational is the fact that four new men and six-freelancers are being given the political beat while the people, dare I say women, that put the air in this ship's sails are relegated to PTA meetings."
Perry turned around, observing the ranting spectacle that was trailing him.
"I admire you for picking up the women's torch, but, um, Barbara Walters kind of beat you to it. Besides, this is an election year -- "
"My point exactly," Lois interrupted.
"AND," Perry rebounded, "we are competing with every paper, not in the city, not in the county, not even in the state -- but in the country and beyond. This election is going to decide who will be the next leader of the free world, not to mention various congressmen and state representatives. You know as well as anyone that it's our job to put that prizefight into words. We can't do that effectively from The Planet lunchroom."
"Or, apparently, from the desks of some of the most respected journalists in the world," she countered. Perry eyes met hers.
"Sometimes I think you forget that this is my paper," he said. The statement took Lois aback. "I have a meeting. Tell Kent I want a reply to my e-mail, voicemail, and memo by the time I get back...or he can find employment elsewhere." With that he grabbed a folder off of a desk and headed out of the main door.
"Uuuggghhh!" Lois sighed dramatically, storming back into her office.
She slumped into her chair cross-armed, and gave her monitor another look of disgust. She'd gone undercover among the dregs of Metropolis, she'd put hundreds of miles on her car in a matter of days, she'd risked life and limb, and she'd done more "exposés" on a particular follicly-challenged and sociopathic billionaire than she thought possible. But she had never been as daunted as she was contemplating her ride to Pleasant Meadows Funeral, er, Convalescent Home. She perused her options again. Maybe she would do the piece on standardized testing first. There had to be some political relevance there.
"Hey Lois," he chirped, entering the office disheveled, bumbling and typically late. "Sorry -- "
" -- I'm late." Lois finished, exasperated. "Check your e-mail, voicemail and interoffice mail. Perry says your job depends on it."
"What?" Clark said, rushing into his chair and logging on. She could hear him reading frantically in an undertone. "Mmmm, don't see anything that urgent in his note. Certainly not anything that should threaten my job."
"Maybe the fact that you never respond, are always a day late and a dollar short, and don't own an iron is--collectively--the crux of the problem." Clark didn't seem to hear her; he was too frazzled by his job security, or his perceived lack there of.
"I mean, did he actually say that my job depends on it?" Lois couldn't believe he was sincerely worried.
"Clark, you aren't going anywhere," she sighed. "What are your assignments?"
"Only one," he said, finally putting down his attaché case and taking off his sport's jacket, "Projections on this year's swing voters."
"In-cred-i-ble!" Lois exclaimed, providing Clark with whatever jolt he would have gotten from the coffee he had been sipping -- if he were actually affected by caffeine. "You know what, I'll give myself my own assignment today, 'Ten Reasons I Hate Working for The Daily Planet.' Point one: sharing an office with the hopelessly messy Clark Kent."
"Ouch. Someone woke up on the wrong side of her broomstick this morning," he teased.
"Shut-up Clark," she countered. "Besides, I have a bar-mitzvah to report on."
"What?" Clark asked. "What are you talking about?"
"You know that meeting's today -- the Global Press meeting."
"Yeah," Clark said, with a vague remembrance coming across his face. "We had a meeting about that, didn't we, about six months ago. We were the last major paper to jump on board. But, I thought that was a formality to placate our affiliates?"
"And, as usual, you thought wrong. If you recall, the basic run-down of that meeting was, 'even though we're affiliating ourselves with a media conglomerate, fear not -- no jobs will be cut and the ideology of this paper will not be compromised.'"
"Yeah," Clark said, but doubt crossed his face. "Why? You know something I don't?"
"Only that gradually the meatier stories are one by one being outsourced to 'associates' and 'free-lancers.'" She paused. "And men."
"Oh, c'mon, Lois," Clark began, peeking out from behind his monitor. "That battle cry is so twentieth century. I mean, I'll sit Shiva with you on the good-old days of keeping scoops in the family, but the feministic kvetching is a stretch."
"OK, what's up with the Jewish references?"
"You started it with the bar-mitzvah mention."
"And clearly you couldn't handle it. So, note to self: ixnay the ebrewhay." Clark just chuckled, shaking his head.
"I'm going to let you seep a little, while I...get started."
And there they sat in silence, Clark madly googling away, while Lois did some combination of brooding and collecting numbers of local elementary school principals. At least a half-hour went by that way until there was a knock at the door.
"People still knock?" Lois asked, incredulous, "Come in." It was Robby, the new intern.
"Doing my weekly fluff piece on Superman sightings, and you know I always -- "
"I know," Lois sighed, "you always start with me."
"You're finishing people's sentences again," Clark muttered. Lois ignored the jab.
"Sorry, kid, haven't seen him in weeks."
"Thanks anyway," Robby said, and when he left the sounds of tapping keyboards and machines warming up and printing were restored.
"Seems like the big issue this time around is the constitutional ban," Clark said after some time. "There are referendums being drafted in twenty-six states. A lot of people don't feel like big companies like Microsoft, Disney and LexCorp should be able to have a non-voting representative in Congress." He paused. "I don't even know how that happened in the first place." His audience was a million miles away.
"Where do you think he is?" she suddenly asked.
"Who?" Clark asked.
"Superman," Lois clarified, trance-like. Clark gave a blank shrug. "I mean, there was a time when he was around everyday, fighting crime, saving lives, kissing babies, and smiling for cameras. Now, if I didn't know better, I would think he was dead."
"Just because you haven't seen him doesn't mean he's dead -- or not still helping people."
"I know that Clark, it's just..." she paused a beat. The words weren't coming. "I don't know."
"You miss him?" Clark ventured.
"No," Lois snapped back. Clark was actually surprised at her tone. "How can you miss Superman? It's not like he's my brother, or boyfriend, or workmate."
"Then why do you care you haven't seen him?" Clark asked. Lois scrunched her face. It took her a while to answer.
"Because I guess I feel safer seeing him being Superman, than just knowing he's out there somewhere doing it." She looked embarrassed, and absently smoothed her skirt. "I guess that makes sense."
"Yeah," Clark reassured her. "It does...in a way, I guess."
"Enough about that." She stood and grabbed her purse and laptop. "I'm heading out, but I should be back by lunch. Turns out there are a few places where hopefully I can kill about fifteen birds with one stone and –– ," she paused, registering a look of disgust, "get this standardized testing story knocked out by tomorrow morning." Then she vanished behind the door.
It was a couple minutes before Clark peeked out of the window and saw her leave out of the main door and cross the street to the parking garage.
"He misses you too," he whispered.