(Supposedly about one thing, but really about many things.)
Flabbergasted, yes that was the perfect word for what Clark was feeling at the moment. Karen was enjoying his reaction very, very much. It was even better than she'd hoped for. This would teach him to sneak up on me in elevators, she thought.
"How? How did you know I worked …?" Clark stammered, as he collected his papers and looked up at her. Karen leaned forward. Whether it was intentional or not, she gave him a rather nice view of her cleavage. Her smile got just a little bigger as she whispered to him.
"Did you really think I wouldn't notice another Kryptonian on this planet?"
Clark just knelt there for a moment with his arms full of papers. Several emotions passed over his features. Finally he dipped his head then looked back up at her. He pushed his glasses up his nose absently.
"I guess the only think I can say is, Touché."
Karen felt satisfied. She stood up straight and crossed her arms in front of her. As he got up and tried to get all the papers on his desk, she leaned against the edge of his cubicle, still smiling.
"Now you know how it feels to be ambushed,' she offered. "Not cool, Clark."
Payback's a bitch, Clark thought, or in this case a gorgeous blonde in an amazing dress.
"I apologize, okay? I'll admit I was a little excited when I found out about you. I probably could have handled it better," he said.
"You think? You scared the crap out of me,' Karen replied.
"Again, I apologize,' he said. "Can we start over? I'm Clark Kent. I'll pretend you don't already know that and probably a lot more about me."
"I do,' Karen replied. She extended her hand to him. "I'm Karen Starr, Clark. I imagine you think you know more about me than you really do."
"Maybe I'll surprise you," he said with a smile. Karen's eyes opened a little wider.
"What is that a challenge or a threat?" She asked. "I have to tell you, I don't deal well with threats."
"It' a challenge." He raised his hands. "I come in peace, I promise."
"That's what all the aliens say,' she replied. "At first."
He couldn't help laughing and she joined him. He was about to say something else when he noticed they, well more accurately she was drawing a lot of attention from the others in the newsroom.
"Um, it's always lunchtime, could we go some place else and talk?" He suggested.
Karen heard the whispers too. She hadn't really planned on prolonging this meeting, but didn't want to compromise his secret identity either. The truth was she hadn't really thought much further in her plan than showing up at his workplace. Things usually took care of themselves when she used this plan in the past. Well, lunch wouldn't be so bad, she thought. I can get the message across in private and then be done with this.
"I guess we could grab a quick bite,' she replied.
"Great. Let me just get a couple of files and we can go."
Clark looked at the mess on top of his desk. He'd worry about it later, this was too important. He opened the bottom left hand drawer and pulled two files out and stuck them in his valise.
Karen turned and he escorted her back towards the elevators.
Lois Lane came barreling out of her office and ran smack into the backs of Steve Lombard and Jimmy Olsen. She stumbled and nearly fell before righting herself.
"What am I the only one working around her?" She complained.
"It looks like Kent's doing a little working too,' Lombard replied with a smirk. Lois looked at him and then followed his gaze to see Karen standing by the elevator with Clark.
"Who's the dish?" She asked.
"I think Clark hired himself a high class escort,' Lombard offered.
"Then he's making a lot more money than I thought,' Jimmy added. "A lot more money. I should ask for a raise."
"It's lunchtime?" Lois said.
"Maybe he's interested in a little afternoon delight,' Steve said with a grin. "Or maybe he's just taking her to lunch as part of his strategy."
"You think he hired a call girl to go to lunch with him?" Lois replied. "Why would anyone do something that stupid?"
"Get's the word out that he's a player,' Lombard explained. "Works every time. The ladies see you with a looker like her and suddenly they come flocking around like flies."
"You're an idiot, that word's already out. How did you ever become a reporter?" Lois asked. "First that was a mixed metaphor and second only a douchebag like you would think of something like that."
"What are you jealous because it works?" He asked.
"So does a flush toilet,' she replied. Lois turned her attention to Jimmy and snapped her fingers in front of his face. He blinked and then turned to look at her.
"Who is she?"
"Gorgeous,' Jimmy blurted out immediately.
Lois frowned and rolled her eyes.
"Thanks, does gorgeous have a name?" Lois asked impatiently.
"Ok, right, she's Karen Starr of Starr Industries,' Jimmy explained as he tried not to blush. Jesus, Lois must think I'm a douche like Steve now for blurting out gorgeous. Luckily Steve saved him.
"Rich and beautiful? That's my kind of gal!"
"Gal?" Lois questioned.
"What? Not PC?' Steve replied. "Dame? Broad? Skirt? Piece of trim? What's acceptable these days with you girls?"
"E, none of the above, ass wipe,' Lois fired back. "That you've actually gotten laid is really a testament to the power of alcohol, Steve."
"What have you been studying my moves?" He said with a smirk.
Lois gave him a snide look.
"Isn't there a bus you could be stepping in front of right now?"
Karen and Clark sat in a sidewalk café. It was a little more upscale than Clark would have like, but Karen pointed out she wasn't dressed for sitting in the park eating hot dogs. As they sipped their ice tea and ordered, Clark stole a glance at her. She looked amazing, dressed to the nines and had turned every head on the walk here. As excited as he was to actually talk to another Kryptonian, he had to wonder why she went all out. From their brief meeting at the elevator she had given him the distinct impression she wanted nothing to do with him. His reporter instincts wondered if there wasn't more to this visit than just a little pay back for ambushing her. He certainly hoped not, but would keep his guard up just in case.
Karen finished ordering and sat back as the waitress walked away. She took a sip of her ice tea, glanced at him and then looked around at the city. The subtle differences between this Metropolis and her Metropolis greeted her eye at every turn. She felt that familiar pang of homesickness, but pushed it away. She needed to focus on this meeting with him. She gave him another quick glance. It felt strange to be sitting here with him. It was almost a sense of déjà-vu being in this place with this man. Like the city though, she saw the differences in him too. It wasn't just the age disparity between this Clark Kent and the one she knew back home, either. In some ways the contrast between the two men was even more striking than the two cities.
They weren't the same man despite the name she reminded herself. The Clark back home was her flesh and blood, her family. The Clark sitting in front of her was no relation at all. She was Alice and had stepped through the looking glass. Funhouse mirror reflections of the familiar greeted her at every turn. Some were so similar to the ones she knew. The temptation to give in to the illusion was very tempting. Karen wanted to believe, but that only made her need to get back home all the more urgent. If she needed a reminder that this wasn't her world, she need only glance across the table.
She had two goals in mind for this meeting. One was to dissuade him from any further contact with her. That was the primary goal. She had been so careful up till now to not form any attachments to anyone in this world. She didn't need that complication. Her second reason was to keep him from poking his nose into her company. She'd read most of his articles in preparation for today and knew he was something of a crusader against corporate malfeasance. He already knew something of her contact with Michael Holt and she didn't need Clark digging any deeper.
So the basic message she wanted to get across today was leave my company and me alone. Forget you ever heard of me and soon enough it won't be an issue. She would just disappear back to where she was from.
Clark waited until the waitress had left and they had some privacy before he asked his first question.
"Yes, but you already knew that,' she replied.
"Still to hear you actually say it finally makes it real somehow."
'O-Okay,' she said. She could see the emotions just below the surface plainly on his face. She'd almost forgotten how big a deal this must be for him. Until recently he believed he was the last of his kind. She had been raised on Krypton and then arrived on her Earth when she was sixteen. Her Kal had taken her in and along with is wife Lois had been her adopted family. She never understood what it must be like to believe you were so alone until she arrived here. Even then Helena was with her. If the Kent's were already dead on this Earth that meant he'd been alone for some time. No wonder he seemed so isolated. No, no, don't go there, she chastised herself, don't start, just stay focused on what you're here for.
"So how did you get here?' He asked.
"Yes, it was." She replied.
"Did your friend Helena make the flight with you?"
She paused, taking another sip of her tea before responding.
"I thought you were interested in me, Clark?"
"I am, but I'm interested in a lot of things,' he replied.
"Well, I'm not going to discuss anything about Helena,' Karen stated. She leaned forward. "I guess you'll just have to settle for talking to me."
She flashed him a small smile that was equal parts flirting and challenging.
"I guess I can live with that."
"Good, cause that's all you're going to get today,' she replied.
"I wasn't really expecting more."
The waitress brought their food and they were silent as she placed it in front of them. After refilling their glasses she moved on to another table.
"So why today?' He asked, as he started in on his club sandwich.
"What do you mean?" She asked around a mouthful of her Cobb salad.
"I thought you made it pretty clear you wanted me to stay away from you,' he replied. "I mean you called the cops and everything."
"Sorry about that,' she offered.
"I'm used to it," he said with a shrug. "So why today?"
She finished chewing and sat back.
"Call it a hunch,' she said. "I had a feeling you weren't going to let it go."
Karen looked at him as he continued eating. She picked up her fork and stabbed another portion of the salad.
"So what is it you want, Clark?" She asked, getting to the issue at hand. "What exactly were you expecting to happen when you came to New York?"
"I don't really know,' he admitted. He wiped his lips and took another drink of ice tea. "When I found out about you, I just had this overwhelming urge to met you. That's pretty much as far as I was thinking."
"I guess I should be flattered." She said with a bit of a teasing tone. "I mean it's not everyday Superman shows up outside your elevator."
"You didn't seem very flattered that night,' he countered. "You gave me the impression I was the last person on Earth that you wanted to see."
"Well, you surprised me. What am I supposed to think when a strange man is suddenly floating outside me elevator, huh? You could have been some lunatic or kidnapper, for all I knew."
He smirked at this.
"I really doubt you're worried about lunatics or kidnappers, Karen."
"Girl's got to be careful, it's a dangerous world out there."
"Not for you, though."
"You'd be surprised,' she replied.
"So tell me more about this flight here,' he asked, shifting the topic back.
"It interests me,' he offered. "You've adapted really well. In five years you have a Fortune 500 company. That's pretty impressive in only five years."
Warning bells went off in Karen's head when he said five years. He couldn't know, she told herself, Helena promised it was a perfect back-story. What is he fishing for, she wondered?
"Now you're running around with the elites, moguls like Michael Holt, that's pretty rare air to climb into so fast." He added.
"I guess it's just another American success story,' she replied. He'd mentioned Michael again and now Karen felt on the defensive. "Michael is a friend, that's all."
Karen was stonewalling him on anything to do with how she got here, Clark realized. She said she wanted to talk; yet she wasn't offering any information. It made him rethink why she was here at all. He figured he'd press her a bit about her business and maybe she'd offer something more than just vague replies.
"That's not what the gossip around the business community was,' Clark pointed out.
"You shouldn't listen to gossip, Clark,' she said flatly.
"I don't know, you'd be surprised what you hear,' he replied. "Rumor has it that you and Michael Holt had a falling out. It's all pretty murky, but the word is some technology went missing. Ring a bell, Karen?"
"No, it doesn't,' she countered. "I didn't realize this was an interview, Clark. Are you doing a story on Starr Industries for you column? We've got nothing to hide so you're wasting your time."
"Everyone has something to hide, Karen,' Clark said. "You know that as well as anyone."
She took that as an implied threat and responded in kind. She leaned forward and looked him in the eye.
"Yes, they do, Clark, everyone."
He got her meaning and pushed his plate away from him.
"Which gets us right back to the question of why you're here, Karen? The dress, the unannounced drop in where I work, it makes me wonder why?"
This wasn't going the way she wanted. She realized she had been expecting him to react like the Clark she knew back home, but he wasn't. He was young and cocky, trying to put her on the spot. She wanted to reach over and wipe that smirk off his handsome face.
"So you want me to put my cards on the table, is that it?" She asked.
"That would be a nice change,' he replied.
She pushed her plate away from her and leaned closer. He absently leaned towards her as well.
"I came here to ask, no, to tell you to leave me and my company alone," Clark, she whispered. "Whatever ideas you might have had about us, forget them. In fact, forget me and we'll get alone fine. Is that plain enough for you, Clark?"
She was pissed, that was obvious. He'd only meant to challenge her a bit to get her to open up a little to him. He'd pushed her too hard and screwed it up again.
"Yes, that was plain enough,' he replied. He sat back, angry with himself for letting things get to this point.
"Than I think we're done here."
She started to get up and leave, but he raised his hand to stop her.
"Please, just another minute, okay?" He asked her. "Please?"
"Give me one good reason,' she said, still not sitting down.
"I have something for you,' he replied. He reached for his valise and pulled out the two folders. "I wanted to give you these."
"What are they?" She asked, as he handed her the folders.
"Just something that should help,' he quietly said. He sat back and folded his hands in his lap. Karen opened the top folder and nearly gasped. She quickly checked the second one and then looked at him for an explanation.
"You and your friend are very good at covering your tracks,' he said. "I didn't see the clues, but someone else did. I asked him to fix the tiny mistakes in your back-stories. Now they will check out completely, even before five years ago."
Karen was stunned and couldn't help asking the question foremost on her mind.
"Why? Why would you do this, Clark?"
He stood up and looked at the bill before setting some cash on the tray. He took a step away from the table before looking at her. She thought she saw something in his eyes, perhaps sadness.
"I get that you don't want to have anything to do with me,' he said. "I'll respect your wishes and won't bother you again. At least though, I'll know you're out there. That's something. With those, I'll know you're safe, too. Good bye, Karen."
He turned and headed back to the office.