1Title: Sleight of Hand
Author: VisionGirl (Marcy)
Summary: Lois. Coin tricks. Musings. Sleepy Clark.
Notes: I really have no idea what this is. I was writing The Guardian and was suddenly waxing philosophical. It didn't fit there, so I made it a standalone.
Even when you've paid enough
Been put upon or been held up
Every single memory of the good or bad
Faces of love
Don't lose any sleep tonight
I'm sure everything will end up alright
You may win or lose
But to be yourself is all that you can do
The Kent's kitchen light had been left on. It glowed with the soft, inviting warmth of home.
When Lois reached the door she stopped, her hand lingering above the knob. She rose up on her toes and peeked in through the window. Inside, Clark slept soundly on the livingroom sofa.
She reached into her pocket and rummaged through that night's tips. Eventually, she pulled out a quarter. She tossed it, snatched it from the air, and slapped it onto the back of her hand.
"Inside or outside?" she asked it.
She removed her hand and it gave her its answer.
"Figures," Lois grumbled, pulling her coat tighter and brushing herself a seat on the front steps. She let out a deep sigh and the air fogged white.
It had been a late night at the Talon. The cold snap had come, dipping the mercury well below freezing, and causing the denizens of Smallville to seek salvation in steaming mugs. Lois had sent Mrs. Kent home early, and stayed behind to clean up. She stocked the new shipments that had come that afternoon. She sifted through the day's take, sorting the bills and updating the ledger. And when she was done with all of that, she convinced herself that the floor could use another once-over with the dust-broom.
It wasn't that she was looking for excuses to stay. It was just that since arriving in town those feelings of utility were few and far between. When she had the chance to actually do something productive, she latched onto it fiercely.
Lois worked the coin over in her hand, threading it through her fingers and over her knuckles. She let it slip down, finger palmed it, and allowed herself to be fooled. Now you see it. Now you don't.
The farm was iced in sheet of white snow, that twinkled pink and blue in the moonlight. It reminded her of Alaska.
It was there that she had picked up the coin habit. Her father had been stationed at Fort Wainwright, about twenty minutes outside of Anchorage. One night she watched on in amazement as one of the young soldiers seemingly plucked coins from the air, and dropped them one by one into an empty glass.
The nine year old Lois had refused to leave the mess hall until she was shown exactly how it was done.
Over time it had fallen into the habitual. The novelty of parlor magic had long since faded, and Lois would rather shove a dime in her own eye than pull it from some fleeceable person's ear. Now it was just something she did to keep her hands moving.
She had spent her whole life moving. She was, after all, a General's daughter. Transiency came with the territory. She once joked to Clark that she had always dreamt of being a hobo - but the truth was that it wasn't that far off from where she had been. She'd travel light, never forming ties. Never learning names. She'd drift into a town, sometimes with a whimper, other times a roar.
And then vanish. Like a coin.
With that part of her life over, the expectations were that she would now choose a path. Establish roots. But how was she supposed to commit to anything when all she'd ever known was impermanence?
Her life had prepared her to be unprepared.
Now she looked to a flip of the coin for direction.
Lois rubbed her arms, and shivered. Blind luck had never been her ally.
That afternoon she had watched Chloe fill out the class registration forms for her first official semester at Met U. Her cousin's excitement pulsed off in waves as she flipped through the catalogue and prattled on and on about the different journalism courses available. Lois half-listened as she wiped a nearby table clean, envious of her cousin's clarity of raison d'etre.
She wondered if a purpose was something you were born with - a calling that tugged at you from deep inside - or if was simply the name you gave to whatever it was you ultimately fell into, to lend it an importance it might not deserve. She hoped it was the former. She liked to believe she was meant for more.
Lois held her quarter up to the sky, and the small coin eclipsed the full, pale moon.
Or maybe it was all about perspective.
"Lois? What are you doing out here?"
Clark clomped out onto the porch, his heavy boots unlaced and loose. It was obvious that he had just slipped them on. They crunched in the snow as he got closer.
His sleep-tousled hair stuck straight up in patches, and dark circles shaded his eyes. She knew the lumpy, starch-rough couch must have been a horrible substitute for an actual bed, and for a moment she felt a pang of guilt for putting him there.
He motioned to the house. "Come inside before my mom thinks I locked you out."
She rolled her eyes at his priorities. "Thanks, Smallville, but I'll pass."
He cleared a spot next to her and sat down. He puffed a few hot breaths into his hands, and waited patiently for an explanation.
Lois bit her bottom lip, as if knowing she was about to regret her next move. "When you look at me, do you see a failure?"
He stared at her blankly, thrown by the question.
"Wait. Don't answer that." She waved her hands in front of her, clearing the slate for a second attempt. She thought for a moment and then tried again. "Believe it or not, this isn't what I envisioned for myself, as glamorous as coffee-slinging is. Not that I ever really had a big, life plan. Not really. But kicked out of college? Mooching off friends of family? I think Smallville can officially go down in the books as the point in my life where I became well acquainted with rock bottom."
Clark reached out to stroke her back. It was an awkward gesture, but she appreciated it just the same.
"You want to hear something funny?" When he nodded she continued, "As much as I want to, I can't fully regret coming here."
He tilted his head. "Why not?"
"Well, for starters, I got to meet you."
His cheeks crimsoned, and she felt a blush heat her own. She looked away, awkwardly, reminded why full disclosure was something she tended to avoid. She leaned back on her hands, and they stung as they sunk into snow. She pulled them back and shook them off.
"Have you ever felt like you're running and running and getting absolutely nowhere?"
Something flickered in his eyes. A knowing look that told Lois that he knew exactly what she was talking about. She was grateful that he understood - she wasn't sure she could explain it any better if she wanted to.
"You know, I like to play the rebel but when it comes down to it, every choice I've made has been the safe one. It's easy to live up to expectations that don't exist."
Lois knew she had pulled the wool over the eyes of everyone that had tried to enter her life. The tough as nails exterior was a facade. An illusion.
Now for the first time she was exposing that lie for someone to see.
For Clark Kent to see.
"I called Met U admissions today," she confessed. He looked surprised, but she didn't blame him. "I got them to agree to reconsider my re-application for next semester. I'm done running away from any sort of potential I might have. I want to do something more. You're looking at a new Lois Lane."
"And I was just starting to like the old one," Clark teased, lightly.
Lois found herself smiling in spite of herself.
She took a deep breath and looked up at the stars. "I guess sometimes fate has to deal you a really crappy hand to get your attention."
He eyed her. "You know, you never struck me as the philosophical type."
She held her quarter up for him to see, pinched snugly between her thumb and forefinger. She palmed it with her left hand, and closed her right on the imaginary coin. His attention successfully drawn to the decoy, she dropped it into her pocket.
She opened her hands with a flourish.
She looked on amused as Clark scanned for the missing coin. At least he wasn't demanding that she roll up her sleeves. It was far too cold for that.
A part of her was disappointed. Yet another duped by the French Drop.
She patted him on the knee. "Appearances can be deceiving," she informed him, while also reminding herself.
Clark grinned broadly and his eyes sparkled with mischief as if enjoying a private joke.
He took her hand and flipped it over, inspecting it closer. Her wet, reddening fingers trembled under his touch, and she convinced herself Jack Frost was to blame. "You're freezing," he noted, his voice laced with concern. "Let's go in. I'll make you some coffee."
"For the first time in my life, I think coffee is about the last thing I want to see." She smelled her shirt. It reeked of hazelnut.
"Tea it is." He rose, and brushed off the back of his pants. "Are you coming?"
She nodded. "In a minute."
He didn't move. Instead he crouched back down beside her.
"For the record? When I look at you, I don't see a failure."
She ignored the way her stomach tightened, and asked, "What do you see?"
Clark smiled. "It's in your left pocket. Or, at least, it was." He opened his hand to reveal a quarter. He tossed it to her with a flick of the thumb before heading into the house.
Lois studied it, dumbfounded. She reached into her coat pocket and sure enough it was empty.
How had he...?
Lois shook her head and laughed.
For the first time in a long time, her course of action looked impossibly clear.
She pocketed the coin and followed Clark into the house.
Tea sounded like a really, really good plan.