Author's Note: Um. Superman: Birthright. Maybe my new obsession, maybe not.
the shape of things to come
I've missed you.
He's working in the dark again. It's the third time this week. Sometimes he thinks they cut the lights on purpose, just to let him know just how unimportant he is.
Clark sighs, running his hands over his face. The glare of the computer screen is twice as bright to his eyes, even with the glasses reflecting some of the light. He's been sitting at his desk since five; it's now ten. His mother had expected him in Smallville at six-thirty for dinner, but the article is only half-finished.
He can't concentrate. The affects of last week's Kryptonite exposure are like a goddamn cold, lingering just long enough to drive him crazy.
Clark drops his head into his hands, groaning. He's always hated being sick. It makes him sensitive, and God, if the other reporters ditch him one more time . . .
It doesn't hurt his feelings, exactly. He made it this way on purpose, after all. But it dents his . . . perception of things. It's hard to stay passionate about saving people that derive joy from making poor, exaggeratedly helpless Clark Kent suffer. Sometimes he wants to just straighten up and throw on a t-shirt and go have a beer. He hadn't put too much thought into the aftershocks of this life—like his complete lack of friends, distractions, fun. His entire social network is made up of, Jesus, his parents.
"Smallville?" He lifts his head, squinting from behind his glasses and smiling automatically at the sound of Lois's voice. She flicks the lights on and frowns at him, crossing her arms over her chest. "What's with the blackout?"
He shrugs tiredly, tossing her a classically sheepish grin. "They forgot I was in here," he tells her ruefully, rubbing at the back of his neck. "It's okay. I don't really need the lights on to type."
Her expression softens as she moves towards him, arms swinging against the sides of her jeans. He likes her this way the best: loose-fitting shirt and jeans, topped off with scuffed up sneakers that he knows she's had since high school (they say Seniors 4Ever on the side). "Oh, for God's sake, Clark. You have to stand up for yourself."
He just shrugs, turning his attention back to the computer screen. Deadlines wait for no man, super or otherwise. Lois perches on the edge of his desk, her hands in her lap as she idly toys with his stapler. She doesn't say anything for a few minutes so he ignores her, figuring that with Lois it's probably best not to pry.
"So . . . stuck on the Luthorcorp article, huh?" She smiles at him sympathetically. "It's hard to find nice words for 'fifty people died thanks to Luthor's savior complex'."
"Hey, that sounds good. Can I quote you?"
He grins, turning back to the screen. Fifty words more and he was finished. God, how do you finish an article like this? How do you possibly draw conclusions from senseless tragedy?
"You should make that a statement, not a question," Lois is saying, reaching across him to point at the screen with a stubby fingernail. He can smell her perfume. "And maybe add a bit about what's his name . . . Van-Gar. People can be so . . ." she trails off in disgust, letting her hand fall heavily back into her lap.
"Optimistic," Clark supplies gently.
"Oh yeah? How'd you figure that? The guy was responsible for the murder of fifty innocent people, Clark—"
"And why?" Clark leans forward, forgetting for a second that he shouldn't let his guard down like this. "Because he wanted something better. He thought—misguided as it was—he thought was doing good. I mean, God, Lois, this city has been hypnotized by Lex Luthor for nearly a decade. Can we blame one of our own for falling for his pretty words? Can we blame him for wanting to be responsible for a new era that's not filled with hate and crime?"
Lois sits back, as if blown there by his words. Her lips twitch. "Wow, Smallville," she purrs, expression unreadable, "I didn't know you did impassioned so well."
He shrinks back into himself. "Haha. Um. It's the caffeine. I'm all, uh, twitchy from it. Ha."
She simply shakes her head at him, muttering something vaguely insulting about his constitution, and he tries again to focus on the article. Thirty more words.
It's hard to pay attention to the computer, though, with Lois sitting right there, drumming heels against his desk and chewing on a hangnail. It's nice, sort of, the quiet companionship that he can pretend exists between them. And okay, he knows that she's probably only still here because she's been dying to ask him something since the moment she noticed him at work, but. That's just Lois.
"What do you think he does when there's down time? Superman, I mean."
And there it is. Clark sighs imperceptibly as he constructs an answer. He hates it when she asks about Superman, and not because it makes him feel more than ever like he's two entirely different people, rather than just branches of the same tree. "D'you think someone like that has down time?" He muses after a moment. "I'm sure there's always something going on in the world. Fires, floods, cats up trees. You know."
She rolls his stapler over thoughtfully in her hands and chews her bottom lip. "So you think he just . . . I don't know . . . flies around saving people all the time?"
He shrugs. "Maybe."
"God. How lonely."
"It's not that bad," Clark defends unthinkingly, and then clears his throat. "I mean, uh, you know. It can't be. Being loved and adored all the time."
Her smile is teasing as she punches him lightly in the shoulder. "Jealous, Smallville?"
He plasters on his goofiest smile. "Golly, no. I'm afraid of heights."
Lois simply stares at him for a moment before bursting into loud, unafraid laughter; she presses her hand to her mouth to muffle the sound and he wishes she wouldn't. Her eyes stay on his face so he keeps it a picture of innocent honesty, and he knows he isn't imagining the fondness he can see in her expression. It's not really anything, but it's something.
"You're something else, Smallville," she tells him, hopping off of the desk and onto her feet. "Good luck on that article. How many words you got left?"
"Ten. But I know what I'm going to say."
She sends him a final smile and leaves the bullpen, her hips swaying as she goes. He watches her through the walls and into the elevator; he watches her step out on the ground floor and into the street. Then he lets her go.
He spits out the final few sentences of the article and sends it to Perry, grabbing his briefcase before shutting down his computer.
Maybe he'd go back to Smallville for the evening, to make up for missing dinner. He knows his mother loves it when he sleeps in his old room. And anyway, he could really use a beer.
He turns the lights off on his way out.
TWO HUNDRED WORDS FOR THE END OF THE WORLD
By Clark Kent.
Fifty human beings are dead, and my boss gave me one hundred piffling words to explain why. But I can't do it in two hundred. I couldn't do it in two thousand.
Lex Luthor wooed this city with soothing words of science. He promised to learn the hows, the whys of this world so that we wouldn't have to. He would use his genius to build an empire that could rule the world so that we wouldn't have to. Shh, he murmured. Let me do it all. All you have to do is trust me. All you have to do is sit in your complacency and not ask questions.
Fifty human beings are dead. And are we to any less to blame than Luthor? Yes, he masterminded the tragedy. But who stood against him? Who refused to let their fear of the unknown blind their vision? Who did anything but cry for help? "Van-Gar" might have pulled the trigger, but it was not his holograph soldiers that conquered Metropolis. We were slaves long before then, to our fear and willingness to turn over our freedom to a bald man in a glass tower. And who fought back?
Was it you?