Lois breezes past him as usual when Clark gets to the Daily Planet, furiously scribbling notes as she leans down over the desk, placing the obligatory cup of coffee down unceremoniously on a stack of papers.
His papers. His desk. Of course.
He tries not to stare as he moves past her, and he's almost managed to get by without her noticing when someone bumps into him from behind. Caught off balance, he stumbles forward, crashing into Lois, his hands going instinctively to her waist.
She straightens, turning around until they're pressed almost flush against each other. Clark can feel himself starting to blush, and he steps back hurriedly.
"Smallville," Lois says, and he could swear her voice is a little higher than usual. Then, in a more normal register, "you're late."
"Sorry," he says. He's not quite sure what to do with his hands, and settles for shoving them in his pockets. "Traffic."
She nods, once, and steps to the side, putting more space between them. "Whatever. I'm going to go track down a lead, if you want to tag along."
"What's the story?" he asks. She's already moving towards the elevator, and he lengthens his stride a little to catch up.
"Some corporate case. Missing funds, top secret research allocations, that kind of thing."
Top secret research. That sounds more like - "What's the company?"
She pushes the button for the elevator, glancing sideways at him. "Metrotech."
"Lois, that's -"
"A Luthorcorp subsidiary." Lois smiles at him as the elevator doors slide open. "I know."
"You really think Tess is going to let you run that?"
"Once I've finished my report, she'll have no choice." She steps into the elevator, and raises an eyebrow. "Are you coming?"
Clark lets out a sigh, and steps in beside her. With Lois, it's not like he has a choice.
The Metrotech building is downtown, not far from the Daily Planet. Which, unfortunately for Clark, means he only has a few blocks to convince Lois that this is a bad idea.
By the time they reach the doors leading into the lobby, he still hasn't managed it.
"Lois," he says, reaching out to grab her elbow just as she's about to go waltzing in. She struggles a little, but he holds fast, and after a minute she gives in. He releases her, tentatively, and she smooths at her skirt, looking up at him in silent challenge. "I don't think you should go in there."
"Why not?" She looks genuinely confused, which, knowing Lois, she probably is. She has great instincts when it comes to stories, he'll admit, but absolutely no sense of when she's about to throw herself headlong into danger.
Somehow, he doesn't think because they could be hiding a top secret supervillain manufacturing facility is going to cut it as an answer. Even if she did believe it, it'd probably only make her even more determined to investigate, which is not exactly what he's going for.
"Do you really think they're just going to let you walk right in there and start asking questions?" he asks instead.
She sighs, as if she's already thought this through and he's struggling to catch up. "Of course not. That's why I have a plan."
"A plan? Wait -" But she's already moving towards the doors, and he catches up with her just inside the building. "Lois, what plan?"
She ignores him, making straight for the reception desk. "Hi. I'm Lisa Lawson, the temp agency sent me?"
The receptionist nods, and types something on her computer. "I'm sorry, Miss Lawson, I don't have any record of you in here."
Lois frowns as if in confusion, and leans forward conspiratorially. "Are you sure? I was supposed to have an interview today."
"I'm sure." The receptionist looks down again, and shakes her head. "Sorry, there's nothing here."
By the time she looks up, Lois is already moving away, further into the building, shouting back over her shoulder. "That's okay. I'll just sort it out with human resources. Down the hall, right?"
Clark tenses. For a moment, the receptionist looks like she's going to go after Lois, but eventually she seems to decide it isn't worth it. He knows how she feels.
When he looks back down, the receptionist is staring at him.
"Can I help you?"
"Yeah, I'm just -" For a second, he considers using the same story as Lois, but he's pretty sure she isn't going to buy it twice. "I'll just wait outside."
She shrugs, and when her attention is focused back on her computer, he speeds down the hall and after Lois. He isn't sure which way she went; human resources is on the first floor, but he doubts she'd actually be going there. Finally, he stops to look at the floor plan by the elevators, thankfully out of the receptionist's line of sight. The office of Timothy Martin, CEO, is on the top floor. If Lois is headed anywhere, it's there.
Clark steps into the elevator, trying his best to look as though he belongs there as he presses the button. By the time he reaches the top floor and the elevator doors ding open, he calculates that it can't have been more than five minutes since he lost sight of Lois. Not much time for a regular person to get themselves into trouble, but Lois has always been particularly adept at that sort of thing. He forces himself to stop, listening carefully to the sounds around him. People around the corner, chatting as they walk down the halls, moving in and out of offices. A photocopier rattling off documents, doors opening and closing, the sound of some maintenance work at the far end of the building. And Lois' voice, followed by yelling, a sharp, crackling sound, and two loud thumps.
He speeds forward as soon as he hears the sounds; when he comes to a stop, he sees Lois, standing between two burly, well-dressed - and unconscious - men.
"Lois?" he asks. She looks up, brushing the hair from her face, her eyes widened slightly in suprise. He can see something in her hand, black and metal, and his gaze flicks from her to the men on the floor.
"Smallville," she says, and he'd almost believe her casual tone if it weren't for the unconscious bodies. "What are you doing up here?"
He thinks I came to rescue you probably wouldn't have quite the effect it deserves, given the situation. "Want to tell me what you're doing?" he counters.
She shrugs, trying on an innocent look, and he rolls his eyes.
"What happened to those guys?"
"They were manhandling me," she says, and presses a button on the object she's holding. It comes to life, sparks jumping out at one end, and he raises an eyebrow.
"You tasered them?"
"You didn't think I came unprepared, did you?"
He's not sure if he should be relieved that she seems to be able to get herself out of trouble almost as easily as she gets herself into it, or worried that she goes around expecting it. Probably both. He steps back a little, eyeing the taser warily. "Could you put that thing away?"
"Afraid I'm going to hurt you?" she asks, a note of playfulness creeping into her voice.
He smiles nervously. "Just a little jumpy around electricity."
Lois' expression changes at that, the smile slipping a little. He's about to apologise for bringing it up when she leans forward, reaching down to tug at one of the men on the floor.
"Well?" she asks, when he doesn't move. "Are you going to help me, or what? We can't just leave them lying here. Somebody's sure to come down this hallway sooner or later."
Glancing around quickly, he moves forward, grabbing the other man by his shoulders and pulling him down the hallway. Behind him, he can hear Lois stop and open a door; some kind of supply closet, by the looks of it, and he drags the men in there with a show of effort, closing the door behind him.
"So," he says, and he's planning on finishing the sentence when Lois grabs him, pulling him with her as she ducks around the corner. He opens his mouth, and she shoots him a warning look, covering his lips with her hand as she peers around the corner. The movement is subtle, a twist of her shoulders, but Clark can feel it push her closer against him, feel the rise and fall of her chest against his own as she breathes. He swallows and grabs her hand, pulling it down away from his mouth and stepping back as he feels her relax, staring at her with what he hopes is an annoyed expression.
"So," he tries again, more quietly this time. In the distance, he can hear footsteps fade down the hallway. "What do we do now?"
"Now we look for clues," she says, already setting off in the opposite direction. For someone with super speed, he thinks, he really shouldn't have to keep rushing to keep up with her. "I didn't get much out of the CEO. He called security on me before I even finished asking questions. Which, if you ask me, is suspicious enough on its own. I mean, why else would he be so eager to get rid of me?"
He has to bite the inside of his lip to keep from answering that one, and Lois turns around as if she's surprised by his silence. He shrugs, as innocently as he can manage, keeping his expression neutral.
"I have no idea," he says. "But Lois, we really shouldn't be up here. If we get caught -"
"If we get caught, we'll say we got lost or something," Lois says, starting down the hallway again. "Right now, this building is the best chance I've got to get some real, incriminating evidence on this guy, and I'm not going to give that up."
"You don't even know what you're looking for," he persists. Call him crazy, but the thought of sneaking around an office building while two security guards are knocked out in a supply closet isn't exactly inspiring confidence. "Maybe if we -"
But he's interrupted, again, when Lois stops short in front of him, pulling a set of keys out of her pocket and unlocking a door with a shout of triumph. As it swings open, he can reading the sign marked 'surveillance.'
"Where did you get those?" he asks, and Lois turns around as she shoves the keys back into her pocket.
"Pulled them off one of the security guards," she says, as if it's the most natural thing in the world to rifle through somebody's pockets after you've knocked them out with a taser. "Come on. There's got to be something good in here."
"Lois, I really don't think we should be in here," he tries again. Even to him, the words sound hollow, defeated.
"Relax, Smallville," Lois says. "Besides, it's not like we won't be able to see anyone coming."
Yeah, that makes him feel a whole lot better. "I have a bad feeling about this."
Lois just sighs, and ducks into the room. After a second, she looks out at him. "Well?" she asks impatiently. "Are you coming, or do you just want to stand there in the hallway until somebody sees you and blows our cover?"
Before he can say anything, she's gone again. With a final glance around, he follows her, pulling the door softly shut behind him.
The surveillance room is smaller than he would have guessed, computers and security feeds set up against two of the walls. An overhead light bulb emits a faint, yellowish glow, offsetting the small, windowless space. Beside him, Lois is already scanning the monitors, moving forward to rifle through some of the carefully labelled tapes.
"Well?" she asks, keeping her voice low. "Are you going to help me, or what?"
Right now, or what doesn't sound like such a bad idea, but he steps forward reluctantly, poking around on one of the computer keyboards. A dozen folders seem to pop up at once, all crammed with files, labels that seem to mean absolutely nothing.
"Do you know what we're supposed to be looking for?" he asks, though he's pretty sure he already knows the answer.
Lois shrugs, not turning to look at him. "Anything that looks suspicious. Financial transactions, research notes, that kind of thing. Just look for anything that looks secret or official."
He's pretty sure that anything secret isn't going to just jump out at him, and everything looks official. "Thanks," he says with a grimace. "That really helps."
"Any time," Lois says, sounding distracted. Glancing up from the computer, Clark turns to look at whatever has her so preoccupied, stepping up closer to get a better look at the monitor she's studying.
"Watch it," she says, half turning as he bumps into the back of her. She glances up at his face, and he could swear she blushes a little before turning back around.
"Well, it's not like there's a lot of room in here," he shoots back. With the security setup, the room is probably only designed for one person, and the two of them are cramped enough already without having to move around.
"Not with you taking up half the floor space," she mumbles, and Clark rolls his eyes. He could keep fighting with her all day, but he doesn't think it would get much work done. Instead, he leans forward over her shoulder, ignoring the way her body tenses slightly as he stares at the screen. For a minute, he isn't sure what he's supposed to be looking at, and then he sees it, almost no more than a dark shadow at the corner of the screen. Lois glances at him again, then rewinds the tape, this time going frame by frame.
The lighting is poor, and the footage is kind of blurry, but after a few viewings, it's easy to make out what they're looking at. People - handcuffed, by the looks of it - being led down a corridor towards an unmarked door.
"What was that?" he asks Lois.
"Maybe you should consider getting glasses," she says, already rifling through the next stack of tapes. "Didn't you see those people? I'll bet you anything this is exactly what I'm looking for."
"Who were they?" he asks. He has a pretty good idea, but he's hoping that Lois doesn't.
She shrugs, and lets out a sigh of frustration. "Damn it! Can you see the tapes that connect to this one? They're obviously being led from somewhere, to somewhere else, but everything else is blank."
Clark steps forward, gently grabbing her by the waist and moving her aside. "Here, let me have a look. Maybe you can search through the files on the computer."
She nods, and when her attention is focused elsewhere, he looks down at the tape Lois set aside, burning a hole hopefully small enough she won't notice until they leave. Even without more than a few seconds of blurry footage, he wouldn't put it past Lois to get a story.
He's barely finished doing that when Lois makes another noise behind him, and he turns around. "Trouble?" he asks, trying not to smile.
"This is ridiculous," she says, frantically clicking through windows. "Do you have any idea how many documents there are on this thing? I'm never going to be able to get through enough of them to find something useful."
"Are you sure you still need it?" he asks. "I mean, you have the tape. Maybe we should just leave before anybody finds us."
Lois pauses, biting her lip as she glances back at the door. Finally, he can see the desire not to have to go through an entire computer's worth of files win out over the need to gather more evidence, and she brushes past him, reaching for the door handle.
It twists in her hand, and doesn't open.
"Uh, Lois?" he asks tentatively. She ignores him, twisting the handle again, with the same result.
"Oh, no," she says, under her breath but loud enough for him to hear. "No, no, no. You've got to be kidding me."
"Here," he says, taking a step forward. "Let me try."
Lois moves aside, and he twists the door handle, hard.
Which promptly comes off in his hand.
"Great," Lois says, shooting him a death glare. "That's just great. Way to go, Smallville. Now we're stuck here." She takes the handle from him, flinging it across the room. "Got any more bright ideas?"
He could try to break open the door, he knows. It looks sturdy, but nothing that would provide much of a challenge. That is, if Lois weren't standing right beside him, watching his every move. Slowly, he turns, trying to ignore the furious, expectant look in her eyes. He shrugs.
She sighs, somehow managing to pack more anger and frustration into the sound than he's ever heard anyone express with words. He steps back against the door as she starts rifling through the haphazardly scattered tapes, searching, he guesses, for something that might help them get out of here.
He leans back, preparing to push the door open, and stops short when Lois suddenly whirls around. He raises his eyebrows, steeling himself for whatever's coming.
"Lois?" he asks a few seconds later, when she still hasn't said anything.
"You," she says, her eyes narrowing. Clark tries to take a step back, but only succeeds in pushing harder against the door. "If it weren't for you, I'd -"
"Be trapped in here alone?" he offers.
She narrows her eyes further. "Maybe I wouldn't have been stupid enough to break off the damn door handle."
"But you would have been stupid enough to come rushing in here alone?"
She sucks in a breath, and he immediately regrets saying it.
"Lois, I'm sorry. I just meant -"
"I know what you meant," she says. She's stopped in the middle of the room, which puts her only a couple of steps away from him. "Yet again, Lois Lane gets herself trapped, and she pulls you in right alongside her."
"Lois," he says, and swallows. "It's not that bad. I mean, it's better than the last time we got trapped together."
She laughs at that, surprising him, and he takes a step forward.
"I'm sorry," he says. "That I couldn't protect you."
"From this?" She looks confused. "We're just -"
"Not this time," he says, looking down at her. "I meant -"
She waves him off, her hand almost hitting his chest. "Clark, it's not your job to protect me."
He bites back the argument on the tip of his tongue, and smiles, instead. "Thank god for that. Protecting you is practically a full-time job."
She shoots him a dirty look, but he can tell she doesn't mean it. "Please. I totally had a plan to get us away from that guy."
"What, by convincing him we were in love?"
A shadow crosses her expression, and she looks away. Almost without thinking, Clark takes her chin in his hand, tilting her head up to face him. She licks her lips, and he swallows, hard. After a beat too long, he realises he's still staring at her, the silence heavy around them. He expects her to look away first, to step make or make a joke to defuse the situation.
When she doesn't, he almost surprises himself by leaning down, pressing his lips lightly to hers.
He half expects her to push him away, maybe slap him, but instead she leans in, deepening the kiss. He lowers his hands to her waist, pulling her closer, crushing her lips against his as her hands fall to his chest. Almost distantly, he can feel her fingers twisting in the buttons of his shirt, and he slides his hands down, clutching at the fabric over her hips as he lifts her, carries her over to the desk behind them. He can hear a clicking sound as he sets her down, his fingers brushing over the computer keyboard, and then a series of low beeps.
Lois whirls around, breaking the kiss as she turns to face the computer. On the screen, he can see a series of folders pop up, and before he can look any closer she hops down off the desk, backing into him as she studies the files.
"Oh my god," she says, and he frowns. He would have expected that a couple of minutes earlier, but - "Clark, do you have any idea what this is?"
When he doesn't answer, she looks back over her shoulder at him, her eyes wide with excitement.
"Smallville," she snaps, bringing his attention back to the computer screen. "Focus. Quick, hand me my bag."
Still speechless, he reaches out to pass it to her, watching as she pulls out a disc and slides it into the computer. She drags a couple of folders to it, a smile creeping over her face.
"Clark, I think this is it," she says. She's a little breathless, and he'd like to think that at least part of that is because of him. He's about to ask her what exactly it is she found when he hears shouting outside, back down the hallway, and a flurry of voices.
Commotion that almost certainly means the two security guards they knocked out have been found.
"Lois," he says, his voice low and urgent. "Come on. We've got to get out of here."
"And how are we supposed to do that?" she asks. Before she can turn around, he backs up against the door, shoving it, hard, until it opens. Lois looks up a second later, and he smiles.
"I guess it was just jammed," he says, and opens the door wider. "Let's go."
He turns back in time to see her slip the disc into her bag, and his fingers graze her waist as she steps out ahead of him. He follows her out, closing the door as best he can before rushing down the hall behind her.
"This is amazing," she says, as they slip into the elevator. He looks over, not bothering to hide the smile on his face. "Do you have any idea what this means?"
"Yeah," he says, reaching out towards her.
She doesn't notice. "This is going to be the biggest story I've ever written."
"Metrotech under inquiry for corporate fraud," Clark reads aloud. Lois glances up at him, leaning back against the desk. "New evidence has come to light exposing the corporate giant's involvement in money laundering and insider trading schemes. Following yesterday's revelation of the company's activities by Daily Planter reporter Lois Lane, trading has been suspended and the company shut down while officials investigate the extent of the fraud. Corporate rivals, including Luthorcorp, which divested its interest in the company shortly before the news came to light, are rushing to fill the void left by the company's closure. Metrotech officials once again declined to comment, pending an announcement of criminal investigations."
"I still can't believe the tape fried," Lois says, moving forward to read over his shoulder. "Nailing them for shady research would have been the icing on the cake."
Clark clears his throat as she leans over him further, so close he can smell her perfume, and closes the paper. "At least you got the story," he says, and turns his head in time to see her smile.
"Damn right I did," she says, and straightens. "Clark, I just wanted to say -"
Before she can continue, he takes a step back, placing a hand on her back to lead her away towards the copy room. He ignores her bemused look, herding her into the room and closing the door behind them.
"- that I couldn't have done it without you," she finishes, looking around. "What are you doing?"
"Lois, we need to talk," he says, and he can see her stiffen, her expression guarded. "What happened the other day -"
"Wasn't a big deal," she interrupts him.
"Lois, we kissed."
She bites her lip, not quite looking at him. "It was just one of those things, you know? Life or death situation -"
"We were trapped in a surveillance room," he points out.
She looks up at him. "Well, we didn't know -"
Before she can say anything else, he steps forward, placing a hand on her cheek to draw her face up to his. He can feel her relax as he kisses her, his other hand going to her waist, her arms wrapping around his neck as she presses closer into him.
"You were saying?" he asks, and she shakes her head.
"I can't believe I'm doing this," she says as she leans in again, kissing him this time. He can't help but smile as she pushes him backwards, his back hitting the wall, his hands closing around her waist. He can feel her fingers working on his tie, loosening his top button, and when she jumps back suddenly, it takes him a second to register that somebody's opened the door.
"Sorry," a voice says, and Clark can't quite make out who it belongs to. "I'll come back later."
"Oops," Clark says, but Lois isn't looking at him; she's staring down at her watch, a frown darkening her expression.
"Crap," she says, and takes a step back, hurriedly disentangling his arms from around her waist. "I'm supposed to be meeting a source. I got a great lead about the research Metrotech might have been into, and I'm supposed to be there in five minutes."
Clark can only stare as she moves towards the door, smoothing at the front of her shirt.
"Well?" she asks, as she pulls the door open. "Are you coming, or what?"