A/N: If you don't like angst, you might want to skip this fic. The characters don't belong to me, of course, and I'm not making a profit. I haven't even edited this story; it's not best piece of fanfiction ever. I just needed to write something. I needed to say goodbye.

Saying Goodbye

Lois took a deep breath as she pulled into the parking lot of the hospital and sat with her engine idling for a long moment. She didn't want to do this; she knew it was a terrible thing to admit, but it was still true. She briefly considered turning the car around and heading back to her apartment. It was late; she could come visit another time.

Except, in this case, that might not be true. In this case, time was against her, as Karen would likely be dead before the end of the week.

Slowly, reluctantly, Lois turned off her car and got out, heading for the wide double doors at the entrance. She still fought the desire to turn and leave as she rode the elevator to the fourth floor oncology unit. And then she was there, outside of the hospital room, and before she could talk herself out of it, she'd put her hand on the latch and entered.

The first thing that hit her was the smell. It smelled overwhelmingly of antiseptic and medicine overlaying the faint odor of human waste, and this time Lois really did almost turn away. Someone was standing with his back to Lois, blocking Karen's view of the door; she hadn't been spotted yet. She could leave now, and nobody would be the wiser. As terrible as it was to admit, she knew she didn't want to get a good view of the form on the hospital bed. When she thought of Karen in the future – and she no doubt would – she wanted to remember the most infectious smile she'd ever seen, or the way Karen would roll her eyes when Lois made one of her usual smart remarks. She didn't want to carry the memory of what was before her.

But now it was too late to run away. The person standing between her and Karen shifted, and Lois saw the sick woman smile as she catch sight of her visitor. So Lois stepped forward briskly and tried to pretend like this was just another day – that they were talking over a cup of coffee, not over a hundred tubes and wires that led from Karen's bed to the machines that sat beeping against the wall. Lois leaned down and gave Karen a quick hug as she tried desperately to think of something to say. Clearly, none of the usual conversation was appropriate. She couldn't ask how Karen was doing, not when the answer was so obviously that she was dying.

And you could see it. You could see it just by looking at her face. She was pale and weak, unable to speak above a whisper. The hair she'd always had so meticulously styled lay limply against her head. Her skin was sallow and sagged slightly, a testament to the weight Karen had so drastically lost since her diagnosis. The light in her eyes was dulled by her pain medication, and her bones looked so brittle that they seemed like they would be no more difficult to shatter than a bird's.

Lois tried to engage Karen in conversation, but they both knew what she was really doing. She was trying to say goodbye.

It wasn't long before Lois grabbed on to the first excuse she could think of to escape the confines of the hospice room. She tried to convince herself that her intentions were pure. Karen looked tired; she was obviously weak. And shouldn't she spend the last few days of her life with people closer to her than Lois, who was nothing more than her coworker?

But Lois knew the truth. She wasn't leaving out of any noble desire. She was running away. She was fleeing from a picture she wanted to eradicate from her memory immediately – that of the kindest woman she knew wasting away to the shell of what she once had been.

As she shifted her weight back and forth impatiently at the elevator, Lois couldn't help the trembling of her lower lip or the burning in the back of her throat from the emotions she could neither explain nor reveal. She was ashamed. She had no right to be feeling such grief; she barely knew the woman in the hospital room behind her. What right had she to grieve when those who had far greater right to do so were facing the inevitable with stoicism or humor?

But it simply wasn't right. It didn't make sense that someone would go into the hospital one day with a slight cough and never be allowed to leave again. It wasn't right that she should be promised a year and given only a handful of weeks. It wasn't right that something so terrible should happen to someone so kind, and it really wasn't right that, after everything, she was still smiling.

Lois wanted to scream at her. For her. It was unfair; didn't Karen see it? How could she look so happy when she knew she would likely not live to see the weekend? How could she still make jokes, and how could she look at her visitor as if she knew exactly how eager she was to escape and clearly not begrudge her that desire?

It wasn't right that someone so kind should be dying and Lois, who clearly wasn't that good a person, was free to leave. She had promised to return in the next couple of days, but she knew she probably wouldn't, really. She would be no more eager to face reality tomorrow than she was today.

Full of self-loathing, Lois was almost to the exit doors when she caught sight of someone waiting for her. Taking a deep breath, she stepped forward and waited for the meaningless platitudes that he would no doubt tell her in an attempt at offering comfort. If he said either "In a way, it's probably a mercy. At least she's not going to suffer." or "She's going to a better place.", Lois swore she would deck him. Slowing to a halt in front of him, she looked up into his face and waited to hear what he would say.

Instead of speaking, Clark reached out and grabbed Lois's hand and squeezed it gently before using it to pull her towards him. Wrapping his arms around her, he held her close without saying a word as Lois gave in to the emotion built up inside of her. She cried as she silently told the woman upstairs goodbye.

To Karen Zenzen,
the sweetest person I've ever met.
I'm going to miss your smile.