A/N: Welcome to my first fanfiction, currently on hiatus. I hope you enjoy it. Visit my author page for more info.
Realm of Expectations
Three months ago, everything in Richard White's life had been progress up the long hill of adulthood: he had a house, a partner soon to be his wife, a child, a high paying and satisfying job, and the knowledge that he had made it all come about. He was accomplished, he was normal, and life was normal. Each day was simply a progression from the day before, and while new things would pop up with Jason, or while Lois went through moods in relation to a new story, nothing was outside the realm of expectations.
They woke up, got Jason ready and into one of their car seats, swallowed the last bite of breakfast while starting their respective vehicles, and sometimes even parked next to each other in the Daily Planet deck. Richard went straight to his office, checked his email, and dialed his messaging service, and he knew that Lois went straight to the coffee shop for a large mocha with a double shot of espresso and then up to her desk to rest her head on her monitor until the exact second that the coffee was cool enough to sip.
He knew her day almost as well as he knew his own: after the coffee she was a blur or activity and phone calls, sometimes glancing towards Richard, but more often than not just snapping at co-workers in her usual matter-of-fact way and waiting for Uncle Perry to bellow for the daily brief. This usually happened at about 10:15. Her afternoon was spent writing, researching, or in the streets. Richard would spend his own day researching his next few articles (he preferred to work on more than one at a time rather than in serial), and would glance out his office window towards the Bullpen through the Venetian blinds. They often met for lunch.
This was Life. The simple pattern of patterns that made up the weeks and months.
This morning, however, Richard was just staring. Staring and staring into the Bullpen through the slats in his blinds, because today he was staring at Clark Kent, someone Richard had only heard about in passing until the day he walked back into 'their lives.'
New faces arrived at the Planet all the time. But old faces... that was different.
So the day after Richard met Clark Kent he had paused in the lobby to gaze at the Hall of Framing and Matting Expenses. The long lobby hallway leading to the elevator had amused Richard when he accepted the job, since it was lined with giant, framed articles, exposés, headlines, and memorable days in human history for as long as the Planet had been in business.
The whole thing was the kind of self-aggrandizement his uncle was famous for, and it was what made The Daily Planet the most famous newspaper in the world.
He had gotten used to the blaring headlines, the dramatic language, the last 50 years of human history displayed like report cards on the refrigerator. He knew the faces of world leaders drawn in concentration; he knew the stoic and inhuman portraits of Superman from the day he made his first headline; he knew that Lois' named frequented the front page almost as often as Superman's, both before and beyond his stay in the city.
But what Richard had not known was that Clark Kent's name was almost everywhere he looked, a name he had never trained his eye to recognize from across a hallway.
But now he saw it in bylines, awards, interviews, mentions, plaques in Perry's office, certificates in frames along the Bullpen walls, and even on an old post-it note tacked on the breakroom cork-board saying that Clark would be happy to buy the entire office lunch if someone would just please stop eating his Chinese left-overs out of the fridge. There was a series of rude counter-notes and lunch orders that were probably a fond memory once-upon-ago, left until they were forgotten.
Yet what really threw Richard was what he was watching right now: Clark's face was serious, his hands waving passionately about whatever he was saying, his typical geekish manner set in concentration as he sat forward in his chair. Lois stood across from him, one foot out in front of her and supporting the weight of her argument back at him. Betty, the copy-editor older than most of the staff combined (yet a woman who kept up with technology better than anyone Richard knew) shook her head with a wide smile as she fitted earbuds into her ears to block out the argument.
What Richard was so confused about was hidden in Betty's smile, and in the way everyone in the office smiled and shook their head as Lois threw a stapler at Clark and he ducked out of the way. Everyone seemed to share an appreciation of "Lois and Clark," a phrase that had popped up into the newsroom and that included a woman that Richard had seen scream that other people get in her way. Now people didn't ask 'where is Lois?', they asked 'where are Lois and Clark?'
And yet as far as Richard knew she had never had a partner. It was just one of those things: Lois works alone. But in the time that Clark had been back, a thousand untold stories surfaced about the two of them.
The articles they worked on, the exclusives they brought in, their power as a journalism team, and perhaps the worst were those of an intimate nature, those kinds of memories and nostalgic conversations that can make a person feel out of place in the present and full of sadness that they weren't there in the past. Richard was consistently struck dumb at the stories like the ones Jimmy would tell:
"Wait, wait, CK, do you remember," and Jimmy trailed off laughing, "Do you remember when Lois got caught in traffic while you were covering the Bridge Street fire, and you," he turned his head and laughed like the thought of it was too much to bear, "You told her, 'Gosh Lois, you don't need to worry, this is simple as pie,' and she actually ran all the way there, the fire was out, the police were clearing the area, Superman had been and gone, she was all freaked out and you were at a BAKERY." Jimmy dissolved into laughter while Lois scowled at the memory and Clark hid his smile.
Once, early in the morning, Jimmy was sitting on the edge of Clark's desk, smiling across the aisle at Lois while Clark hid his face in his hands. Lois was still waiting for her coffee to cool, but had energy enough to tell her own remember-when, "And," she giggled, "I was in the middle of nowhere at a gas station in fucking Giston! 45 miles! I was out of gas and pissed as all hell, remember the Franklin murders, Clark?" Clark nodded from behind his hands, "And Jimmy, get this, no one knew where I was, I was out of quarters, I had no cell phone, there was no one at the station, no cars passed for HOURS, and the payphone rings. I figured I could at least tell whoever was calling to help me, so I pick up the phone and CLARK says, 'Hi, Lois! Where are you?'"
Lois threw her head back and laughed with more energy than she had expended all morning, "Clark! You HAD to know where I was! How the hell did you do that?" She laughed harder, shaking her head, "Goddamnit Smallville, you're hilarious."
Jimmy laughed and leaned back to prod Clark, trying to get him to move his hands so they could see his reaction. Clark was chuckling with joy on his face as he sat back in his chair, letting his hands drape across the arms of the chair and still refusing to answer Lois about something that had happened so long ago. Richard watched as the other man's sour mood from that morning dissipated instantly; Richard figured that this is how they had cheered him up for years, with Jimmy egging Lois on to tease and curse at him.
And so with Clark in their midst, Richard watched Lois, Jimmy, and even Uncle Perry draw closer to each other than he had ever seen them. Uncle Perry and Jimmy would even share "remember-whens" about the duo when they weren't there, and the whole office suddenly had a story to tell or an inside joke to introduce. Richard knew that the other new staff members felt out of place as well, but they were starting to appreciate the dynamic. They got to watch Lois be tamed by the humble, stuttering hero to the Bullpen masses and were free to enjoy it. The newbies and interns appreciated the view from the far end of the newsroom and quipped about being on the other side of Lois' temper at the water cooler.
But for Richard it was certainly more than feeling out of the loop. He felt like he had just lost his footing on life.
Lois laughed with Richard, and shared stories, yes, but hardly as many as she seemed to share with Clark, and besides all that, besides the general shift in the office and the sudden sense of familiarity that made the triangle between Lois, Clark, and Jimmy's desk seem like a Forbidden Treehouse, Richard really could not make peace with the OTHER behavior pattern. The one happening outside his office this moment: the times when the Treehouse would suddenly catch fire and Clark managed to match Lois step-for-step as she raved, ranted, and reiterated. Lois didn't let anyone talk back to her. Lois let no one hold open the door for her while she juggled files, let no one fix her noontime coffee, or answer her phone when she was on the other side of the Bullpen, or log on to her computer to search for something when she called from outside the office.
Richard had watched in open-mouthed astonishment as Clark stretched the phone across the aisle one afternoon, trying not to let it fall off his desk while he rummaged in Lois' drawer for a pen.
"Yes, okay, fine but I know that's the wrong file, Lois," Clark was moving the track ball to wake up the computer, "He's Prisoner 43-2-56-9, not 43-2-59-6," he paused to listen while he typed the password for her user name, "You know you and numbers, I just," Richard could just imagine the snappy response, "There's just no way. You know Ricardon was baiting you about the laundering, that's not his racket, yes, yes, I'm looking now," Clark's eyes were scanning Lois' Documents folder faster than Richard thought possible, "Found it. Reading." Clark had to stand and lift the coiled wire so Tom from the mailroom could walk past. The phone finally slipped off Clark's desk and hit the floor, but he ignored it. Richard could tell there was a respectful silence on the other end while he read.
He paused, and only Clark Kent could make, "Um, darn you to hell too, Lois, you're welcome," sound like the most polite thing anyone had ever said, while only Richard could fully appreciate the trust and significance of logging onto Lois' computer as something he had never even considered being allowed to do.
Lois worked alone. Lois thought alone, without a fiancé or child in that brain of hers, and while they were present in every other part of her, only Clark Kent could really approach her mind. Not the Lois over the breakfast table, or the Lois reading to Jason at night, but the spitfire that was Lane, Reporter, press pass in your face, Pulitzer on the wall. That was Clark's Lois, and as the weeks wore on Richard started to question Richard's Lois more and more.
Why did you never mention him? How are you so fiercely independent for five years, but suddenly pause to lean your arm on someone's shoulder while you read a screen? Why is he number four on your speed dial? Why is everyone in on the joke but me?
And to be fair it had not happened over night.
Clark was obviously out of step with his old life when he first came back. He fumbled about the office for the first few weeks, not really engaging Lois or anyone for that matter. He would just sit at his computer clicking around ("When I left it was Windows ME! This XP is really neat, I've been getting familiar with it."), wander around stuttering while introducing himself to old and new faces ("Well, uh, he tends to stay inside the Papal Palace, so no, I uh didn't meet the Pope."), go in and out of the three supply closets looking for things that had moved or been invented in his absence ("Erasable highlighters? Oh man, that's useful!"), disappear randomly (leading Richard to believe he had some kind of anxiety in crowds), and get lost in thought at his desk, hands steepled.
Uncle Perry may have initially placed Clark on the most useless of fluff pieces, but he was sure to read each and every one of them in order to see if Clark was still as good as he once was. Richard, realizing now as he scanned the numerous awards and bylines that Clark was a good reporter, snuck a glance at these crumbled articles in his uncle's trash can and was surprised at the depth of thought there. Clark had obviously not only studied journalism, but had a natural talent and drive for it. As soon as Perry was satisfied that this was still the case, he assigned them together.
And rather than the huffing and puffing he would have expected from Lois, she just rolled her eyes and sighed at Perry during the Brief. Jimmy had broken out into a wide smile at the sudden pairing, and the photographer took a front row seat along with the rest of the Bullpen that afternoon, when they had their first fight.
Richard could not mark the day when Lois and Clark clicked back in to being "Lois and Clark," but did note a day. Even though he had never known the pair before, he guessed at their working relationship the time that Lois sent her latest article to the printer while reminding Richard about Jason's Back to School night later that week. Lois was immediately distracted by a phone call and Richard walked back to his office, just in time to notice Clark waiting by the printer; he glanced at Lois' article before taking both his print-out and her's back to his desk.
Richard was busied for a few moments, but looked up to watch Lois approach the empty printer a few minutes later. Rather than stomp back to her desk to reprint the file or perhaps ask around, Lois just slowly turned her head to glance at Clark's desk. She walked up, picked up the white sheet with red scribbles, said, "Thanks, Smallville," and walked away. Lois wordlessly e-mailed each of her articles to him after that, and found them spell checked ("'Secrete' does pass spell check Lois, but I'm pretty sure you meant 'secret government bonds.'") and edited in her inbox, or if she was past deadline, at Copy.
Back in the present, Richard was watching Lois lose steam in the face of whatever counter-argument Clark was putting forth. Lois wouldn't listen to him if he told her the sky was blue, but for Clark she would permit enough logic to make her eventually accept the possibility that the sky was in fact red. Richard didn't know if he hated Clark for this.
He hated something. He hated the way Lois would probably spend the rest of today ignoring, abusing, or just lacking appreciation for the unique relationship she did not even notice having with Clark Kent. For Richard, this meant that Clark was somehow even holier, for that was probably the reason behind Betty's smile, because she knew, like everyone, how special Clark Kent seemed to be in relation to Lois Lane.
Everyone but Clark Kent, of course.
Lois sat back down at her desk, glaring in Clark's direction and hitting the keys harder than necessary. The Bullpen assumed a normal posture, Jimmy went back to not eavesdropping, and Clark adjusted the glasses on his nose in his shy, normal way. Perry bellowed for the meeting, it was 10:15.
Kent, a farm boy with a mid-western accent from Kansas; the most normal, down-to-earth American Joe Richard had EVER met, was a force outside the realm of expectations in Richard's otherwise simple life. And not even him directly, but the affect he unknowingly had on the woman Richard alone was supposed to know so well, but who now seemed like a stranger in comparison. Lois, the main part of his wake up / go to work / raise a child life was so suddenly the most alien thing he knew.
Or at least the second most alien.