If you've read this before, or it's falling upon fresh eyes, I've edited this a bit myself and at some point, do have every intention of sending this chapter to a beta, but for now, it's just all me. I hope you find this entertaining and icontinue on to the next chapters. If you've read this before, hopefully this is an improvement on the chapter I posted before. For the next few chapters, for some reason got rid of some breaks between sections in the chapters, I'm working on fixing that.
Proximity: Chapter 1
The rhythmic clacking of a woman's heels echoed through the otherwise empty stairwell as the slender female ascended the steps. The worn hinges of an icy rooftop door groaned in protest to open as her clammy palms pushed against the hefty weight of it.
"Go figure. All these years and they can't spring to fix the damn door…cheap bastards," she grumbled to a startled pigeon.
The evening air was calm and crisp but a gust of wind sent the chilly air through Lois Lane's thin beige blouse. Her thoughts immediately returned to the bustling newsroom below where she had left her jacket.
She wandered toward the limestone ledge, bent her hands over the stone surface and shifted her weight onto her palms. Her hazel eyes searched the horizon. The building lights in the distance that twinkled in the atmosphere jutted up against the sharp contrast of Hobbs Bay's inky black waters to the east.
After an immense sigh escaped, her fists dove into the skirt pockets. Lois's hands found what they were looking for; a copper lighter along with a fresh package of cigarettes.
"Well," she laughed at her short-lived promise to quit smoking "there's no way in hell I'm quitting now."
After the pack was ripped open, a cigarette rolled back and forth slowly between her slender thumb and index finger, releasing a sweet warm scent of un-smoked tobacco. The distant sounds of the traffic choked streets below floated upward on a gentle draft.
A small plume of violet smoke began to curl, mingling with a slight updraft as her eyes closed in synch with a long exhale of smoke.
"Maybe next week I'll go back to the patch" she stated. Lois had suddenly felt the need to justify herself to no one in particular.
Each drag of her cigarette eased some of the tension that had been building for weeks into a ball of lead in the pit of her stomach. Her mind drifted to a conversation earlier that morning.
"This is ridiculous Perry. We both know I'd rather be at home with a gin and tonic wallowing instead of being paraded in front of the rest of the staff like a show dog," she growled at Perry.
The greying man's brown eyes flickered in amusement at the irony of her descriptive selection. He remained quiet as one of his favored reporters paced his inner office floor. Lois continued "This is tacky and wrong, you know better. Wait, maybe you don't. On second thought, you're as shameless of a promoter as all those television editors. Don't give me a line of crap that newspapers are above all that..."
Perry glanced up from the recent edition awaiting his final inspection to print. Lois had made one last failing attempt at irritating him to the point of argument. He wasn't taking the bait.
"Finished?" he replied. Lois opened her mouth and he continued before she was able to counter. "Because I'm your Editor and Chief, I say you're going. End of story kid."
A partially chewed cigar returned to the silver haired editor's mouth. Un-phased, he resumed filtering through messages and articles awaiting his approval that littered his large desk.
"This is not the way I should win," she retorted. "I've written far better articles…more than I can count during the first and second Iraq war! Don't even get me started on the whole Southern Delta Water scandal responsible for President Chesterton's impeachment," she spat. "I won for shock value. Pure and simple; we both know it."
The old man's worn brow remained furrowed as he sighed, flipped a page and remained focused on the articles at hand instead of the fuming reporter that marched back and forth on the other side of his desk.
One particular half of his prized reporting team often had a flare for the dramatics. Perry knew far too well from years of experience that tomorrow she could easily have been ranting about something else. Of course he'd never admit it, especially to Lois, but his kiddo could learn a thing or two from Kent. Spelling should be one of them.
"Everyone is thrilled; shareholders included Lois, that The Planet is getting more recognition than The Times or The Post. It's not like every day I've been able to flaunt a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and you've been so damn close a few other times, we've both drooled over it. People want to celebrate."
"I don't care. They can have a party without me," she snipped then rolled her hand in the air. "Flaunt away. Show my picture if anyone's forgotten what I look like."
The editor ignored her melodramatic gesture.
"Loueen has been dealing with the rest of the staff all week to plan it. Besides, everyone likes cake." He paused and sipped his coffee. "You're going. Put on a happy face and enjoy it. You finally got a Pulitzer so relax and soak up the attention Lois; you haven't exactly been known to shy from fame and glory before. You and I both know that's not your style.
Lois's shoulders sagged. She knew she was defeated. Crap, there's no way out. I'm stuck. Really, stuck...
It was only night with her colleagues, and most of them would be green with envy. At least that was a definite potential benefit to the evening that might make it bearable.
As much as she attempted to decrease the general awfulness of the entire concept of the unofficial celebration, it basically was to be a night of pats on the back for something she just wished would go away.
Lois spun around on her heel, and sprinted out of Perry White's office. She flopped into a well-abused chair at her paper-strewn desk as scanned over a sea of other reporter's stations to her fiancé's empty and dark office. So much for moral support.
The high stacks of mail sat on Richard White's vacant desk were commonplace indicators of another prolonged absence in Europe or some other far off destination. The ever important conflicts overseas that demanded the full attention of the international editor had become more frequent and extensive in duration since their most recent chain of traumatic events six months ago.
Lois's visitation of Superman in Metropolis General was proof positive of a wedge being driven between herself and her fiancé. Since then, things between the couple were strained but they remained together. Regrettably, the growing disconnect had become far more noticeable in the recent months.
Lois's eyes blinked with a vacant look as thoughts of warm memories between her and Richard flitted by; but they had become a thing of the past. The elephant in the room had grown more oppressive and it weighed heavily on both their shoulders.
It simply became easier to function as a team or partnership rather than confirm the end an already dead relationship. Despite all of the tense and unease between them, even Richard's presence would have been a welcome respite at this point and a pleasant distraction from the impending evening that rapidly approached.
Unfortunately Jason wasn't at home either to provide her with an excuse to evade the dreaded celebration. He was conspicuously absent recently due to his first week long trip to Grandma Lane's house for fall break. Any diversions or convenient excuses of babysitters canceling, vomiting in class or calls from the school nurse were simply not an option.
Speaking of convenient excuses, where was the master himself?
Clark had been noticeably absent for the past hour. She narrowed her eyes into slits. You'd better not be off chasing a lead that you didn't tell me about…again.
She had a sneaking suspicion beginning to mount that perhaps he had been drafted into something that had to do with this evening's party. Meeting a source would have been a better use of his time.
Resigned to the plain fact there was no escaping later, her fingers began to rapidly flip through a notepad. Lois began to sink into her roughly scribbled press conference notes from earlier in the day. The reconstruction in Metropolis following the earthquake was stalled with bureaucratic red tape. She had to love the idiots in office; it was always a guarantee for a juicy story. It was amazing city hall ever got anything important completed. I'd better get back to writing that next Pulitzer winning article for something of substance that one could actually be proud of.
Lois's well chewed nails drummed rhythmically along the ledge of the rooftop as the worn reporter leaned against it. Her eyes vacantly drifted across the city lights along the crowded horizon as the sky itself had grown dark with nightfall.
With the cigarette finished, the remnants of smoke dissipated as did her thoughts from earlier. Her cell phone that had been fished out rested on the ledge along the package of cigarettes. There was only one person she could talk to and not face ridicule. Her sister; Lucy.
The familiar number was punched without thought and the ringing phone echoed in Lois's ear. Why do I feel so guilty over something I've earned?
"Hi! Lucy here, well not really since I'm not answering my phone but eave a message and I'll--" Lois slapped the phone shut and shoved it back into her pocket.
Out of all the nights for her sister to have date night. I've worked hard, spent many sleepless nights up to my elbows in notes, hunched over the computer. Lois was unable to shake the horrible feeling as though she had been sucker punched directly in the gut.
And she knew exactly why. She shivered not from cold, but from the memories of from months ago as they flooded her mind. She simply couldn't stop them.
The dark frigid water sent a sharp stabbing sensation through her arms as she grasped desperately at the edge of his red cape. She pulled and kicked toward the light rippling surface while her lungs blazed, screaming for a breath. When she broke the surface, the burn of salt water caused her to blink rapidly and push out the stinging sensation in her eyes as she uncontrollably gasped. Her aching legs treaded the choppy water, threatening to give way as cramps from the build-up of lactic acid in her calves warned her of impending fatigue.
Lois had to keep going, she was almost to the plane. "I'm not going to let you go, I can't. Not again" she gasped as Richard dove into the black water. Her nearly numb hand found his as he guided them to the seaplane.
On the hard rattling floor of the plane, her icy hands shook uncontrollably when palpating her former lover's side as a jagged stone pricked her fingertips. She had to get it out.
I can't let him die. "Don't you dare leave me…I need you. Stay, I know I we can do better than this." She whispered under the roar of the seaplane's engines. She had willed herself to remove the large sheath of kryptonite that was embedded into the intercostal muscles between his ribs.
Lois blinked back tears that began to build in her eyes as the wrenching scream of pure agony that escaped from his lungs. It was something she had never heard from him before. Never had she seen him so broken, so…human.
She kept her eyes focused on his as she held her breath, and pulled with all she could muster. His brilliant blue eyes flew open in pain as she had felt the shard of rock suddenly release from his side.
It had been covered with so much blood… his blood. It began to trickle down her arm. Her other hand attempted to sooth the wounded man by stroking the wet hair from his forehead as his eyes focused upon her shivering figure. Her blood covered hand rested lightly on his chest. Lois knew he understood, her intimate gesture of love had replaced anything either of them could have said, their souls had always had been connected despite the years that had separated them.
The empty echoes of congratulations resounded in her head and gnawed at her conscience as she felt a shudder to her bones.
At that moment…Lois knew she was wrong. Oh, so wrong about many things. That, she was sure of. The choice she made to keep Jason's father's identity from everyone, her farce of a relationship with Richard, the resentment toward the Man of Steel she refused to relinquish…all of it.
It was all wrong.
A feeling had been eating away at her since Superman's return. It only intensified when she visited him in the hospital with their son. Our son. I love him, we share a child.
The weight of their reality caused her head to shake in frustration. What a mess.
The worn fork rested on the nearly full plate in a noisy diner. Sunlight from the nearby window glinted off the water glass on the table and danced in the strands of Lois's straight thick chestnut hair as cars passed by.
After a lull in conversation regarding the press conference they were at earlier, Clark's sudden statement gave her a start.
"Gosh Lois, thanks for asking me to lunch. I, I mean, I'm glad to finally talk to you since I've been back...Not that we haven't talked at work or anything, but, well you know."
His voice calmed her frayed nerves in a way no one else had. Maybe it was the incessant rambling, the lilt, timbre or perhaps the simple black and white history…their history.
It was their history of late nights, hours in musty city record books, close scrapes with their foes, and how she missed it. It had been difficult to accept a partner but as much as she was reluctant to admit, after Clark left, she hadn't realized how much she enjoyed having one.
When she saw him in the buzzing newsroom after the shuttle disaster, her heart leapt in excitement. A little. All the regret of lost years with her gentle quirky partner hit her.
It finally felt as if a missing piece of herself fit again. She was recharged, she could smile again. One smile, in fact, started to creep across her face as her old friend spoke in his characteristic rambling fashion. Some things don't change thank goodness.
"Clark, I missed us…all of it. I'm glad your back. I had never wanted a partner in the first place you know."
"Yeah, noticed that from my first day. Remember the soda that ended up all over my pants?" Lois blushed in mild embarrassment at his remark. No one else would have noticed, but he noticed everything. "I guess Chief knew what he was doing" Clark mused as he tore off another bite from his burger.
Mustard escaped from the bottom and landed squarely on his tie.
His blue eyes rolled upward toward the ceiling. "Great. Just-"
"Typical of you Clark." Lois interjected. "Here, let me. I've learned some masterful stain removing techniques with a five year-old--Clark! Stop. You're just going to rub it in deeper. Give it to me." She yanked the brown and blue striped tie from his hands leaving a wide eyed Clark Kent frozen. His brilliant blue eyes pierced through the black rims of his glasses that slipped down his nose.
"Um, thanks." He nervously placed his suddenly free hands on the vinyl seat.
She was so close to him. After all the commotion of Luthor's most recent encounter with them both, the shuttle disaster and awkward flight following his return he hadn't been in this close of proximity to her. Admittedly, it was intoxicating.
Lois's hands slid up his tie to loosen and undo the knot. Her gentle scent drifted into his nose as she leaned closer and reflexively caused his heart to pound against his sternum so forcefully, he was certain she could feel it as her arm brushed against his shirt.
Her fingers were so close to his face as they brushed around the nape of his neck and hairline. The shiver this simple gesture caused went through him and the man of steel was spellbound; frozen and completely enamored with Lois so close to him.
Her tough-as-nails exterior had evaporated and the Lois he knew, his Lois sat next to him. Her hands touched his neck along the shirt collar, loosening his tie while the other hand slipped beneath to undo the top button. Whoa!
Clark's hands flew up from the seat and covered hers. Outing himself in public wasn't exactly the preferred direction he wanted this lunch to go.
"Here, it's ok. Let me do it," he managed a wobbly grin in her direction. "We don't want to be starting any rumors for the office gossip mongers."
His large hands engulfed hers around his shirt collar giving her pause to marvel at their warmth and the inexplicable electricity that tingled in her fingertips. It sizzled through her spine. Hmm. Awkward.
Why did it feel so comforting and familiar to have her hands in his? Not like I've ever been there done that. He was and always has been practically a brother to me. She blinked the intrusive thought away as he handed the mustard-laden tie to her.
"So, Clark," she stated mater-of-factly as she blotted the tie with a stain pen "I've got a problem. I hate to admit this to anyone, but, well, you. For some reason."
Her puzzled co-worker blinked and remained silent. His eyes blazed a shocking blue through his thick black frames at her and waited expectantly for Lois to proceed. If there was one thing he knew about Lois, it was how to get something genuine from underneath the fierce armor. He had to wait for it.
"You know my instincts have never steered me wrong before. Well, pretty much most of the time." Lois's confidence; some things remained the same. "Since being wrong isn't something I have much practice at…" she looked down at the tie. "I guess what I'm trying to say, is I need to apologize...to someone." Lois slid it across the table to its owner and then picked up her fork. "I don't really know how," Lois intently twirled it on her plate and began to push around the cold remnants of lunch. "It's never exactly been my strong suit."
"What?" She snapped her head up.
Her face softened and returned the fork to its plate. Mid-day traffic of the lunch hour crawled past the window as many Metropolitans began to make their way back to offices in the busy financial canyon of the Central Business District in the New Troy borough of Metropolis.
Shadows began to form along the impressive stone and steel buildings indicating that the noon hour had passed. Lois's eyes had followed the gleaming structures through the dirty window to the vibrant blue sky. They began to mist over as she ran her fingers through her long hair.
Pulling it away from her face, she sighed. Her eyes searched the sky for the person in need of the apology she had referenced. The usually observant reporter ironically remained oblivious to the present situation. The close proximity to the Man of Steel who was in fact, sitting directly in front of her.
Clark was definitely curious at what had brought out the rare remorseful and contemplative Lois Lane that he himself had only witnessed a handful of times in both personas.
"Well I've always figured, just go ahead and apologize" he replied slowly. "Before it becomes too difficult and eats away at you" his voice grew slightly melancholy.
"Sounds like you're speaking from personal experience. Which surprises me that you ever have trouble apologizing since you practically have made a sport of it, every other sentence and enough for the both of us." she mused.
"What's eating at you?" Clark wondered aloud.
Lois never apologized. To anyone. Ever. Clark knew she loved ripping open the soft underbelly of a story and took no prisoners. Her aggressive pursuits over the years must have caught up with her; something in one of her stories must have finally struck a nerve.
"Writer's remorse, I wrote an article awhile ago and now I wish I hadn't."
The glass door swung open, the flood of street noise filled the diner as the two strode through, walking at a brisk pace. Perry would certainly "have their hides" as he would say, if they were late. Again.
"I've received a lot of attention for it" she sighed. "At first it was great, but now, ugh, I just wish I'd never written it."
Clark's stomach lurched before it plummeted to the floor.
Many experiences they shared made him certain he knew this tough woman better than almost anyone else. He knew exactly which article that she referred to, and that despite her public proclamations, Superman meant something to her. He meant something to her.
After he had been pulled from the water, on the seaplane her barriers began to disintegrate and he knew she still loved him. Beyond her tough exterior that everyone at The Planet knew and feared, as Superman, he knew her differently. The brief flash in time was seared into his mind.
The searing agony from the kryptonite sheath Luthor had plunged into his side had intensified to a wrenching visceral pain he had never experienced. He had thought his death was eminent.
In the flash of blinding pain, his eyes had flown open only to see a familiar pair of terrified hazel eyes looking directly back as Lois pulled to dislodge the object from his ribs. With sheer exhaustion that overtook him, it was almost too much for him to move or speak; only to rivet his eyes to hers.
A sharp pain jabbed his side as he inhaled.
"How did you find me?" was all he had been able to say as her eyes searched his.
Considering Richard, her fiancé and her son Jason were the other occupants of the small airplane, any profession of love to a woman he had left and was unacceptable. Instead, he simply looked at her in gratitude. Her wordless return of compassion in the gentle caress of her fingers that were covered in his own blood swept across his brow and rested on his chest spoke plainly. "I love you," her eyes seemed to say.
Clark quickened his pace to catch stride with the amazing woman in front of him. She had no idea she'd saved his life.
"Lois" he said loudly and with a certain ring that gave her visible pause.
Realizing his emotions had begun to get the better of himself and near fatal mistake, he cleared his throat while nervously pushing the thick glasses up the bridge of his nose.
"Are we talking about your Pulitzer?"
She turned to face him directly and blinked, looking at Clark with a haunted expression that faded as quickly as it had flashed upon her face. She looked down distractedly at her watch, suddenly resuming her rapid pace along the crowded Metropolis sidewalks.
Clark knew the silent treatment from Lois meant he struck a nerve. Pay dirt.
The quick stride of her lean legs caused a cascade of hair to flow behind her and mesmerized her male counterpart. His heart ached; she really had no idea how much her mere presence captivated him. He had to admit, at least as Clark, her anger rippling beneath the surface of Superman's return wasn't aimed in his direction.
Returning to work with her engaged to another man had been difficult to say the least. It became even more so, as time elapsed and he had begun to know Richard as a colleague and friend.
The situation was complicated by the undeniable fact that Richard was a genuine person of moral character whom Clark couldn't dislike, and it wasn't for a lack of trying on his behalf. He actually liked the man and to be brutally honest, he would have admittedly chosen Richard to take his place in Lois's life if he had known he wouldn't have returned.
His head shook. What a mess.
With a swish of the elevator doors closing, Lois and Clark ascended to the 35th floor in silence; uncomfortable at that. The whir of the cables lifting the car was deafening amidst the silence between the partners.
Gosh she smelled good.
He really hated elevator rides alone with her. Due to his keen sense of smell, her scent in close proximity often triggered memories of stolen moments from years ago. There were flashes that only he could remember, the way her skin felt beneath his fingers as they had trailed up her thigh, her soft lips upon his, the way she caused him to sharply inhale with pleasure when she ran her hands underneath his shirt over each abdominal muscle as they traveled below his belt--
The elevator snapped him out of an old heated memory into present time.
"Are you coming after work? She suddenly offered before the elevator no longer kept them segregated from their colleagues.
"Hmm? To what?"
The roar of the bullpen pressed upon them when the doors flung open.
"Oh you know," Lois waved a hand in the air as she stepped off the car into the bustling office. "Perry's informal Pulitzer award ceremony for yours truly. Personally I'd rather be back on that 777 going down in flames, but you know the burdens of being an award winning writer. Oh, wait. You don't."
Lois found it was far too entertaining to watch Clark squirm when she rubbed in her award winning journalist credentials. She may as well get some entertainment out of it.
A false grin flashed across her face.
Lois wasn't going to let anyone else but Perry White know how difficult the impending evening truly was; especially her old partner. She hadn't become a famed journalist for a lack of intuition and therefore was fully cognizant that not only had Clark reopened a wound, but he wasn't ignorant to that particular fact either.
The farm boy was intelligent and if he lacked perception or intelligence, it wouldn't have been possible for Clark to have clipped at her heels as her closest strong competition for just about everything before he had left. Admittedly, there wasn't a great deal of difference since he had returned in that regard.
Perry's sharp voice cracked above the roar for the bullpen as the two entered.
"C'mon kids, tell me what you two have on the progress they're supposedly making on rebuilding the ports. Kent! What are the numbers Metropolis is bleeding in lost shipping revenue that Gotham soaked up?"
Perry waved his arm in a sweeping gesture in Clark's general direction beckoning the man.
"A word Kent."
The editor invited the doomed reporter into his office for a personal up close berating. The tall reporter visibly shrunk a few inches, gulped, shot a look at Lois that screamed "why me?" and hurried into Perry White's office.
Incidentally his shin banged on a desk and tripped over a stray box of printer paper. The owner of the desk grumbled obscenities in his direction, clearly meant for him to hear.
This was going to be a long afternoon he thought to himself. Clark didn't need his hearing ability to pick up Lois's stifled laughter; it was clearly audible to everyone as the door to Perry's office closed.
Lois pounded at her keyboard in an attempt to divert any feelings of unease for the rapidly approaching office celebration. The corner of her eye usually picked up Kent's blazing eyes intermittently catching admiring glances, but instead she only saw the top of his head as he bent over his computer feverishly typing up the shipping revenue article before deadline.
That was odd.
"So, Kent, you coming tonight?" She attempted to feign nonchalance while shoving tattered remains of manila folders into a file cabinet.
A long pause was filled with daily white noise of keyboards and telephones in the office. Lois shut off her computer and glanced in his direction when he didn't provide a response.
"Clark. Are you coming?"
"Hmm. Oh, no I don't think I can. I have plans," he stated definitively.
"You mean it? C'mon can't be jealous and a no show just because I have a Pulitzer and you don't," she laughed.
The shock of Clark Kent having other plans gave Lois pause. Since when did this guy have a life outside their jobs? She certainly didn't have much of one.
Lois looked and absent-mindedly began to pick at her nail cuticles. Pure rejection read across her features. She attempted to brush away the visible disappointment.
With that, Clark pushed up his glasses and reached behind himself for a large beige trench coat.
"Really I can't. I have something I have to take care of. Lois you know better," he said softly with a serious tone and uncharacteristic dark expression. "I can't always be there for you. I wish I could. Things…" Clark sighed as the words escaped him slowly "sometimes get in the way. Now if you don't mind, I've got to turn this in to Mr. White before I leave for the evening." The copy of his article was waved in the air.
With a shrug of his broad shoulders, he slipped the coat over them and looked down. Clark had chosen his words carefully. He couldn't look at her because the helpless shocked look Lois wore mirrored the one she had when he caught her as she fell from the helicopter all those years ago that made both of them famous.
Sometimes the memories etched in his mind were just too painful. He still loved her and had known it the first moment he saw her again. It was also quite clear the feeling that seemed mutual when they saw each other on the rooftop and when he felt her nearby in the hospital.
The hospital visit had been quickly pushed aside to maintain a safe and solid relationship with a great man who had taken his place in his absence. It was only fair.
He was not going to be one to intervene in a serious relationship; she was engaged. That's just how things were. Not as he had planned, but when exactly did life go according to plan? Jason certainly had not been in the plans. He had a son; that was another issue altogether.
Lois quickly made her way to his side and startled him with how near in proximity she had become.
"Clark, come anyway" she pleaded. "I really want you to come. You're my partner."
She practically stood on top of his shoes. Not that he minded.
Lois took the article from his hands and reached for him as he began to fasten the buttons of his coat. She felt a shiver as her fingertips brushed over the back of his hand.
"Please try," she encouraged. The pair of reporters locked eyes at the touch they both felt.
What was happening? My best friend actually said no. What does he have to do anyway, organize his stamp collection? The contact of their hands had been reflexive, as if a simple touch would keep him anchored to the floorboards. Yeah, that had worked so well in the past for a previous man in her life. He took off for five years.
"Clark, I need you here. It won't be the same without you."
The tall man in front of her shifted backward causing her hand to slip from his, spell broken as he retreated toward the elevators.
On the rooftop, Lois sharply inhaled and squinted to make out the darkened watch face. She had been on her best behavior for two hours until that point, was fed up and had enough.
To hell with everyone, she was not going back down there. Not sober at least, not without a fight as a small flask of Maker's Mark was retrieved. The metal gleamed in the low light of The Planet's globe as the flask hit her lips with a quick tilt backward. The strong liquid was quickly gulped down as its remnants left a warm comforting burn trickling down her throat. She paused, held it to her lips again before another drink.
"Well, Lane, this is a personal best" she whispered before tipping the cold flask back again.
She felt like shit. No beating around the bush. Guilty, guilty, guilty. The award that had been a career long aspiration had come from the harshest backlash toward the most undeserving soul. How many times has he saved me? I've lost count. Some friend I've turned out to be.
The bourbon sloshed against its steel container. Steel…how fitting. She wasn't fooling herself, or anyone else for that matter. She loved him, always had. That had been apparent to everyone except herself. His eyes held nothing but kindness and respect for her. She had seen it countless times since his return, not that she deserved it recently.
Another gust of wind tossed her hair and cut into her skin as she crossed her arms and shivered. Lois looked up to the now dark sky with her eyes that glistened with tears. She knew Superman would not be there, but had hoped anyway she might have been mistaken.
Only a few strong stars bright enough to survive the choking city lights shone back at her.
Never before had Lois felt so strongly of complete isolation than at that moment. Even her best friend Clark, her partner who had been ever-present was absent at the party. That hurt.
She didn't know why nor expect to feel so rejected. Clark couldn't be jealous of Richard, especially recently. She laughed to herself at the ridiculous idea.
Things with Richard hadn't exactly been a storybook romance since Superman had returned and when she visited the man of steel in the hospital, it seemed to have cemented the beginning of the end.
Lois and Richard had made efforts at the office to keep up appearances of a happy relationship. Certainly gossip had been running rampant with suspicions of discontent between herself and the international editor. Everyone, including Clark had to have noticed.
Clark, oh of all people why would I care what he thinks?
Richard's wounded knowing look in the car that day had spoken what words could not. Over the past six months, their relationship had deteriorated to nothing more than companionship and a sense of duty on account of "their" son Jason. Ha, wouldn't that be a surprise? Another fun topic for discussion I'm just dying to delve into.
"Ugh" a grunt escaped while a rather cold nose scrunched in disgust at her own thoughts. Screw it; I'm here, already drinking. Why not continue my self destructive behavior? Her hands traded the flask in her pocket for the opened cigarettes and a familiar flame danced atop the lighter with a flick of her fingers.
A loud slam of the door jolted the lighter from her hand and sent it scattering across the roof. The annoyed smoker turned toward the door to see who joined her on the roof and disrupted the pity party. A tall familiar outline stood near the door. Her icy hands retrieved the lighter as she kept her eyes fixed and affect flat despite the internal surge of relief she felt.
"Lois, you know you shouldn't smoke."
The flame was rekindled and she lit another cigarette.
"I'm aware. You and what armies are going to stop me?" A fresh plume of smoke rose.
"Well, you know what they say…cancer, wrinkles, decreased lung capacity, your alveoli sacs filling up with tar, yellow fingernails, that and the new mayor just passed that cigarette tax so it's got to be expensive..."
"Stuff it Kent" she exhaled as the corners of her mouth twitched upward. "Thanks for the public service announcement."
"I just never understood the allure."
"No. I don't suppose you would. It happens to be stress relieving. You can thank these babies for saving your life on a few accounts" she paused to pat the pocket on her hip containing the pack. "If it weren't for them on a few late night stake-outs or research nights, you probably would have made the news as a murder report."
"Yeah, probably from second hand smoke inhalation" he quickly bit back as he remained deadpanned.
"Keep it up, and there's still hope for you yet to be fished out of Hobbs Bay by daybreak."
Even in the darkness, the glow from the city lights and globe etched out their features from the night sky. A slender brown heel-clad foot ground out the half finished cigarette.
More silence filled the space between their pregnant pauses, except the whir of the traffic below and the mechanics of the rotating Daily Planet globe in the backdrop.
"For coming when I needed you." She said plainly. Her eyes followed Clark's gaze out over the city. "I don't want to go back down there."
"Lois, I don't understand. You have been after this since the day I met you. In fact you've risked your neck and mine more times than I can count, you finally got what you wanted. Why are you avoiding it?"
Lois looked away, and out over Hobbs Bay. Clark wondered if her eyes were searching for an answer to his probing question or for counterpart in primary colors. He removed his coat and quietly approached the visibly cold woman who intermittently shivered.
The sudden radiant warmth from the coat and weight of it on her shoulders caught Lois by surprise. Her gut response would have been to proudly shrug it off, but instead, was too cold, too worn down and accepted it readily.
The coat had been amazingly warm, as if it had been stored in a radiator room. She drew it around her neck and briefly closed her eyes in silent gratitude before turning to face the broad shouldered man who had offered it without being asked.
Clark never had to have been asked, for anything. Clark always just simply had been there, somehow knew what was needed and gave without question or complaint.
The faint and familiar scent of aftershave lingered on the collar and tingled in her nose as Lois inhaled. Something else so comforting and hauntingly familiar about the smell triggered an unnerving sense of déjà vu.
Lois's eyes that looked at Clark were unreadable momentarily before they elapsed into a simple glimmer of gratitude.
"Thanks for the coat. I guess I'd been wandering around out here longer than I thought."
"You mean you were hiding," Clark corrected.
Lois rolled her eyes which evolved into a stare.
"Hiding," she reluctantly agreed "from an unnecessary party, of which I am not returning....Remember?"
"Lois" he uttered softly before proceeding "you're not answering my question."
"It's like salt in the wound," she stated flatly in surrender.
Damn. There weren't many people who could press her with a line of questions she couldn't wiggle out of and for some reason; Clark was always able to do it. She'd forgotten that sometimes, he knew her better than she knew herself. Lois forgot that annoying trait of his.
The broad man remained soundly in front of his visibly fragile counterpart, placed his hands firmly on her shoulders and silently waited for further explanation. Clark who fully comprehended the weight of her statement held his breath at her remark.
The extremely public accolades of her scathing article and frequent heralds in front of himself had indeed, been salt in the wound. He had been unaware that the feeling was mutual.
It had certainly burned every time Lois and Richard shared intimate gestures. A brush of fingertips at the back of the neck, resting a hand over hand while reading upcoming articles for error. However, they had become less frequent recently. He had noticed but had written it off as fatigue and stress of the job they both shared with their joint employer.
There were so many memories that were etched in his mind from years ago; the feel of her touch to the nape of his neck, Lois's uncanny ability to strip both suits from him in unbelievably small amounts of time, the incredible passion that had been earth shattering between them and intimate secret that the jointly held of his true identity for a brief period.
He had vowed to remain her steadfast friend and partner, to provide support as a true friend should but it was proving too difficult tonight. He just couldn't bear to be near her while donning his cheerful Clark persona, to support his partner's journalistic achievement for "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman."
Curiosity had gotten the better of him when she had appeared crestfallen at his announcement that he would not be present; he just couldn't abandon her. He had already done that nearly six years ago and vowed never to do it again, no matter how trivial.
He had felt remorse at her reaction but Superman was needed; he had been conveniently distracted by a failing levee northwest of St. Louis on the swollen Mississippi and Missouri Rivers from recent heavy rains in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. Until ten minutes ago his mind had been focused acutely on keeping the levee intact to prevent the northern St. Louis area from catastrophic floods.
Doing the right thing was not always an easy black and white situation. It wasn't easy to return to The Planet tonight to be there for Lois despite how difficult it was for him personally. It was also proving achingly challenging to stand near her with his hands on her shoulders and not draw her in or touch her face.
"Salt in the wound…" he echoed, marveled that she had a guilty conscience.
"Clark, you know what I mean," she uttered through clenched teeth.
"No, I don't quite follow how winning an award would leave you with a guilty conscience…that's it, right?"
"Perhaps" she huffed, as both arms crossed her chest. The Lois Lane defense shield was back on the rise.
Clark looked at her in wonder.
Something was behind those eyes. He kept picking away at it. Lois concluded that was how he got his sources to crack. Pick, pick, pick…which apparently what she was doing to the cuticles of her nail beds. If nothing were to scream "Guilty! You got me! Busted!" that would be it.
"Yes Clark, I do. I feel awful. I wrote it awhile ago. The intent was to help motivate our society as a whole. We had been self sufficient before Superman and when everyone realized Superman had disappeared we reacted like having the wind knocked out of us; we just rolled over and gave up. We forgot how to rely on ourselves to solve the simplest of problems."
Lois paused to turn away and place her palms on the limestone ledge, looked over the dark horizon and calmly continued.
"The article may have had a bit too personal of a touch to it. I would be lying to you if I said I wasn't left completely devastated when he was gone."
"That seemed perfectly clear in your article Lo-"
"Yes I know that," she snapped. "A journalistic sin splashing your heart and soul across the pages, but I did it," she interjected.
"I can understand how it's difficult to keep emotions out of work sometimes."
"You're kidding," This from mister vanilla.
His shoulders shrugged at her remark before he responded. "You haven't told Superman any of your thoughts on this?"
"I don't exactly have his phone number; in fact I'm quite sure he doesn't have one."
"You know that's not what I meant," he pressed.
"Oh, you know me" she sniffed. "I'm good at a lot of things but apologizing isn't one of them." Her hand rose from the ledge and quickly wiped away a stray tear. "It's eating away at me. There, satisfied?"
The hum of traffic below filled the silence between them.
"I don't know what to say." he mumbled.
He had said those words to her and years before, her response had been "Just say that you love me." Not that she had remembered it. If only her response could be so simple. Tonight she was apologizing to him, just, well not exactly to him. Things were so complicated sometimes when leading two lives.
Clark's hands drifted around her waist to close the coat around her shivering form and the space between them. A chill from her statement and closeness of her body ricocheted through his spine.
The sudden presence of Clark's hands on her waist from behind was an extremely intimate gesture, especially when it came from her shy co-worker.
An odd sensation of comfort and familiarity enveloped her. His hands on her waist felt as if they had been there before…many times and fit onto her hips as if they were meant to rest there.
Her form remained frozen, hypnotized by the strange pleasurable sensation of…Clark Kent…of all people amid his ability to resonate into every fiber of her being. His near proximity heated the chilly autumn air between them.
No one caused such emotions to stir with goose bumps rippling across her skin. No one from this planet anyway.
Her eyes closed to force tears from splashing down her face. Do not cry, do not cry. Bad enough I just spilled my guts. Keeping them tightly shut was the only way to keep the waterworks at bay.
"Thanks...for listening," she said as the comfortable silence was broken.
The wind flicked a stray piece of hair in front of her face. Annoyed, she swatted at it and slowly shifted backward against Clark.
"You're warm," she commented with contentment at the newfound warmth. "You can be my space heater any day Kent."
When her back pressed firmly against him, Clark inhaled sharply. Certainly she had felt that.
A lump rose in his throat, maybe it was guilt. He knew placing his hands on her had been wrong and failed the promise he made to not touch her. I should pull away. She's engaged, and not to me. His inner thoughts didn't relay the message to his feet, which remained firmly in place.
His hand slowly drifted to her face and traced along her hairline to tuck the haphazard piece of hair behind her ear. It came to rest on her shoulder momentarily before he removed it to brush the hair off her face.
Clark lifted his eyes to the city lights glittering in the atmosphere. Her indirect apology meant a great deal to him. He wanted nothing more at that moment than to hold her close and drift upward into the sky toward the stars above.
"You have to tell him you know."
"Yes, I guess I should" she stated with the weariness of a grudge that began to crumble. "I just don't know how to apologize."
Clark's stomach began to churn with nerves. His hand had slipped the thick frames off his face and held them loosely between his fingertips. He knew what he had to do.
"I think it will work itself out. Sometimes you don't need to say anything," he said with confidence.
"Sometimes they do Clark. But you know what? Lately they have not." The tone and her voice began to rise. "I've been kidnapped along with my son, my car stolen, I nearly lost the man I love at the hands of a psychotic maniac, and, are you ready for this? Discovering Jason is not Richard's son. How about that for a crappy day?" Her voice began to wobble.
"Gosh, I don't know what to say. I didn't ...Jason isn't Richard's? Lois, why are you telling me this?" He was slightly unnerved that she seemed to speak so freely of the shocking revelation.
"I know you won't say anything and I trust you. Sometimes I just feel like I can tell you things," she simply admitted.
"Um, thanks, I think. I can't even begin to imagine, it must have been difficult to tell Richard that, especially after he nearly died when the two of you helped rescue Superman."
"I'm not talking about Richard."
"Oh." His stomach flipped.
"I don't love him Clark" she stated flatly. "He knows that. We barely speak to each other. Why Richard hasn't ended the relationship is beyond my comprehension. I can only surmise he thinks it's in Jason's best interest. Once he gets back from Rome, that revelation about Jason will probably make severing ties easier huh?" she laughed bitterly. "I still haven't told him about Jason and once he finds out, if he doesn't end it, I will." The confession hung with finality in her statement. "There's a lot of talking I need to do" she sighed. "With Richard I…" her voice trailed off.
"Lois" he proceeded softly. The drop in his voice gave her pause and caused her to shiver. "There's something I need to tell you..."
Lois felt his hand brush against her hip and glanced downward. Clark's glasses were folded up, resting in his palm.
"Well since you have no trouble speaking, maybe you can tell me what to say. I don't know how to tell him."
Her weight shifted as she turned to face him. His glasses remained firmly in his hand while his heart banged against his sternum. He was sure it was audible to her.
This was it, I'm not turning back. The time is now. She needs to know. She'll slap me, but she'll know. I can do this.
He could lift an island and stop an airplane but telling Lois who he was proved the impossible challenge.
Her head bent forward and landed squarely on his chest. Their shoes touched tip to tip. His presence was so comforting. She could stay like this forever. Safe. With Clark, she was safe from anything. Reality seemed a distant entity; it merely nibbled at the edge of the haze that seemingly surrounded her and Clark.
A sigh escaped from his chest along with a muffled grumble. "Guess I have to return to that lame excuse of a party."
Clark blinked to break the trance he had found himself in with Lois's head against his chest. The moment had passed.
With a swift move, he returned his glasses to the bridge of his nose and peered down at her through them with a sad expression. I have to tell her at some point. Now was not it. But soon.
If she would end things with Richard, it had to be done of her own volition without his external influence of emotions clouding her judgment. He managed a weak smile as Lois's head turned up and their eyes met.
I love you Lois, so much. Clark drew himself away from her and regained their safe distance again.
The female reporter's silhouette stood against the backdrop of the Metropolis skyline and mirrored his awkward stance. After slipping the coat off her shoulders with the collar in her fist, an arm stretched outward to return the coat to it's owner. The other hand rubbed at her sniffling nose while her eyes looked away in embarrassment.
"Ok, so, here's you coat." Lois glanced at him as it slipped over a pair of broad shoulders. Very broad, sturdy shoulders. "Don't want to start any more office gossip." A weak smile emerged. "And don't think I don't know about the pool going for the next time I throw inanimate objects in your general direction," She accused him playfully.
The feeble smile grew wider at the tall man's surprised eyebrows. Her stomach somersaulted upside down. Cute. The boy's got charm. Ugh what am I thinking?… Idiot. A nervous laugh escaped her lips as an attempt to brush off the unexpected thoughts dancing through her mind, emotions she had for…Clark Kent of all people. Her eyes rolled at the inward thought.
"C'mon fearless partner. I'm not going down there to face that pain and torture alone." Her smile continued. "Besides," her shoulders became squared as her posture straightened "You came back to save me, didn't you?" Her eyes twinkled as Clark gulped at the words.
I did come back, for you. I would come back from the ends of the universe for you again. "Um, I guess that pretty much says it all."
Lois had begun to make her way to the rooftop door, froze at the handle before opening it and whipped around inches from Clark's face.
"Oh and another thing," she added with a flash of malice in her voice.
"If you so much as breathe a word of this conversation to anyone..." her eyes narrowed into slits. "You. Will. Be. Sorry." An index finger punctuated each word into his large shoulder and a megawatt smile erupted. "It will take the Metropolis PD a month to find your body parts…got it?" With that final threat her arm flung open the heavy door and its hinges groaned loudly.
"Someone should really fix that." He marveled at how loud the door was. He'd rarely been on the roof long enough to actually hear it open and close. Often, he had been airborne before it ever fully opened or closed.
Her heels began to echo descending into the stairwell before Clark moved from the spot. The outpouring of Lois's emotions left him stunned on the rooftop.
Their situation was hers to control, sometime soon it would all come to a head. Like a head-on collision.
The clacking echoes stopped just before the door slammed shut.
"Come on Smallville, move it," Lois's voice reverberated from half a floor below.
Clark's firm hand pushed the door open again, which sent a gust of cold night air down the stairwell.
"Yes I know….to save you from a fate worse then death." His voice had returned to its usual melodic lilt. "Someday Lois Lane you're going to owe me one."
The door slammed shut behind him and his footsteps quickly closed the distance between the pair. Lois gave her pause to know her partner was now catching up. The rosy blush on her cheeks had formed from sudden temperature change Clark noticed, as she glanced at him before speaking.
"What are you smiling at? I swear Clark," her cadence toward the newsroom resumed "sometimes you are so strange."
"Lois, you have no idea," he grinned. "You know you have your quirks too."
"Uh huh" the flustered reporter grunted. The door in the stairwell marking the bullpen's 35th floor swung open as a wall of sound hit them. Clark smiled in awe and admiration of his partner as they returned to the party. Apology accepted Lois.
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