By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: February 2002
Summary: A late-night heart-to-heart brings Lois to a greater understanding of Clark, in this early Season 1 vignette.
Yet another birthday fic… This one was for Kaylle. :)
Thanks to Kaethel for a little brainstorming on IRC and help with some lines I was having problems with.
The rights to Lois and Clark belong to DC Comics and Warner Bros; I've only borrowed them for a few minutes!
The newsroom was in darkness when Lois came hurrying out of the elevator, anxious to get to her desk and transfer the words in her brain to the computer. At four in the morning she could be pretty sure of finding the bullpen empty; the night editor was probably downstairs checking on the final print run by this time, and the night shift of journalists would have gone home. She'd have plenty of peace and quiet to get this story down before the early birds on the day shift arrived.
She groped for the power switch on her computer and, while it was powering up, fumbled around her desk for the switch for her lamp. The sudden illumination made her blink; when she opened her eyes again, she suddenly realised that she wasn't alone.
Just a few feet away, Clark was sitting at his desk, hunched over, his head in his hands.
He was dressed casually, in jeans and a faded cotton shirt, and his hair was unkempt. He looked as if he'd just tumbled out of bed and pulled on the first things which came to hand, regardless of whether they were appropriate for where he was going.
He hadn't stirred since she'd seen him, and she wondered at first whether he was asleep. But then she saw a slight shudder go through his body, which made her curious. He was certainly awake… What was going on? And why wasn't he acknowledging her presence?
Her story forgotten for the moment, Lois got up and went over to Clark. Still, he didn't move.
Placing a hand on his shoulder, she said, "Clark, what are you doing here at this time of night?"
Without looking at her, he said quietly, "I dunno. Maybe I should ask you the same question."
"I've been up most of the night!" she retorted. "Big story. Major incident in my neighbourhood — a truck crashed into a hostel, then the fuel tank exploded, and there were lots of injuries — appalling burns. Some fatalities, too. I came in here to write it up."
She felt Clark's body tense under her hand. "Is that all a human tragedy is to you, Lois? Another front-page story?" The words were bitten out harshly, and still he didn't look at her.
"Clark, of course it's terrible!" she exclaimed, stung by the implication that she simply didn't care. "Of course I feel bad for the people who were hurt or killed. But someone has to write about it. That's what we *do*, Clark! You're a reporter, remember? We report the news!"
"Yeah. Six people died tonight… how many column inches does that get? Would it get more if ten people had died? Twenty? A hundred?" Now he was sounding bitterly cynical, but there was deep pain in his voice too.
Now concerned for her colleague, Lois pulled up a chair to sit beside him.
"Clark, you know how this business works as well as I do," she said, her tone matter-of-fact, but not without sympathy. "Yeah, bad news sells newspapers. But you have to look on the positive side, too. What we do, telling the stories when things like this happen, *helps* people. You have to remember that."
"How can anything help those people who were killed tonight? Those who were badly burned and are only just alive?" he demanded roughly.
"We can't help them, no," Lois agreed, placing her hand on his arm. He didn't shake it off.
"By writing about what happened — by telling it like it is, including explaining the cause of the accident, we help to put pressure on the state legislature to make sure that laws on road safety and vehicle maintenance are properly enforced," she explained, knowing that he knew this already, but figuring that he needed the reminder. "That accident probably wouldn't have happened if that truck's brakes had been checked — that's what the accident investigator on the scene told me, off the record."
Clark was silent for a long moment. Then, finally, he straightened and turned to face her.
Lois stifled a gasp. Her partner's expression was so bleak that he looked nothing like the Clark Kent she knew. The lively spark usually dancing in his eyes had disappeared in favour of a haunted look; the brown depths now reflected only grief and a sadness she couldn't begin to understand. His face was pale and the set of his jaw was grim, confirming her impression that there was something badly wrong. He was unshaven, and the stubble somehow seemed to add to the impression of desolation about him.
If she didn't know better, she'd have sworn that the red rims she could faintly see around his eyes meant that he'd been crying. But that couldn't be true. It was dark in the newsroom; the only light was coming from her desk. She was obviously imagining things.
But Clark was very upset about something…
"Did something happen, Clark?" she asked softly, after a long moment during which he made no attempt at breaking the silence.
In a low voice, which she had to strain to hear, he murmured, "Nothing. It's just… sometimes I wonder, Lois."
"About?" she prompted, when he didn't continue.
He sighed heavily. Then, just as she'd decided that he wasn't going to elaborate, he added, "Whether there's any good left in the world. Whether we're all selfish, Lois — all out for ourselves, for what we can get. Doesn't anyone care about their fellow human beings any more?"
Unsure how to respond, Lois asked, "What's brought this on, Clark?"
"Oh…" He shrugged helplessly. "I don't know… I suppose this last week hasn't helped — the way everyone wanted a piece of Superman, not because of what he can do, but because they want to make money out of him. All that tacky memorabilia… selling him on every street corner like some sort of Disney toy!"
"You're too naive, Clark," Lois felt compelled to say. "I keep telling you, this isn't Kansas. It's the big city, and in the big city most people are out for a fast buck. You should know that. It's not as if you haven't lived in cities before."
"I know," he agreed, still sounding depressed.
But Lois couldn't help feeling certain that what he'd just given her wasn't the real reason for his depression, though. That — and she fully agreed that it had been tacky and in bad taste — wasn't enough to reduce her colleague to this state. So she remained silent, waiting.
She wasn't wrong. After several moments, he spoke again, sounding bitter and angry. "Lois, tonight… before the emergency services came, people were just standing around looking! Staring — enjoying the spectacle! Some of those folks in that hostel could have been saved if a couple of the… the *curiosity seekers* had just made an effort… gone inside and helped someone to get out before the fuel tank exploded… They were old people, Lois. Drunks and vagrants mostly, but they didn't deserve to die, or to get burned. And yet all the *concerned citizens of Metropolis* could do was point and stare and say how they'd never wanted that hostel there in the first place."
"I heard that," Lois said quietly. "One of the police officers on the scene said much the same thing to me. And, you know, I have every intention of writing about that, too — don't worry, I'll make sure everyone in Metropolis knows how *public-spirited* the people in that neighbourhood are." She paused, giving his arm another gentle squeeze. "So maybe you can see that it's not such a bad thing to see this as a story, Clark? Maybe it'll make some people reassess their values."
"I guess you're right," he said after a moment, giving her a rueful smile.
He was looking a little more like the Clark she knew, Lois thought, feeling oddly relieved. Just why her — unwanted — partner's mental state should matter to her, she had no idea. After all, he was an occasionally irritating hack from some rural backwater in Kansas, wasn't he? He was also unwanted competition — he'd even beaten her to a couple of stories which should have been hers, like that first Superman interview.
And yet, something had torn at her when she'd seen his ravaged expression just now.
Maybe it was that humanity thing Clark had just been talking about. Maybe she wasn't as hard-bitten and detached as she'd believed herself to be; perhaps she was still capable of caring — to some infinitesimal degree — about the people around her.
The fact that her partner was, for some reason, suffering the kind of torment which always seemed worse at four am had actually bothered her. Bothered her enough, in fact, that she'd forgotten all about the urgency of getting her story written.
"Lois?" A hand waved in front of her face.
"Huh? Oh, sorry — I was thinking."
"Don't you have a story to write?" he prompted her, pushing his chair back as if he was about to get up.
"I guess… yeah," she said. But still she hesitated, even when Clark seemed to be making it clear that he didn't need her any more and she should go back to her desk.
"Are you okay now?" she found herself asking at last, without having intended it.
"Yeah." He smiled, the warm smile she was becoming accustomed to from him. "Thanks to you, Lois. You reminded me that not everyone in the world is selfish."
She shrugged. "There's a lot of selfishness around, Clark, sure. But there's also a lot of kindness, and courage, and self*less*ness. I mean, look at all those emergency service workers tonight — they turn up, they put themselves at risk, and they save lives. And Superman, too — all that he does to save people, just because he can. Because that's what he does — he gives people something to hope for. And between them, Superman and the rescue workers saved a lot of lives tonight."
"I guess," he acknowledged. "Superman could have done more, though." That last was said in little more than a whisper.
"How?" Lois demanded. "I know he got there late, after the explosion, but I heard him tell someone that he'd been across town helping a woman whose car had broken down in a dangerous area. If he hadn't helped her, she could have been attacked… killed…"
"If he'd got there sooner, six people could still be alive," Clark pointed out quietly. "And the burns unit at Metropolis General might not be overflowing with patients who'll be disfigured for life. Superman might as well not have bothered tonight," he finished, his voice bitter again.
Lois shook her head in denial of that criticism. "Superman was needed in both places tonight, Clark, and not even he can be in two places at once!"
"Maybe he should learn to," Clark retorted, a wry note of humour in his voice.
"Superman saved lives tonight, Clark," Lois pointed out. "Sure, six died, but if he hadn't turned up that could just as easily have been twice as many. And, as well as that, he reminded us all once again that he *cares*. That there is someone who can come flying in and save the day. It sounds corny, Clark, but he gives us all a reason to hope. Without that… " She shrugged and left the thought hanging in the air between them.
"I guess you're right," Clark said softly, getting to his feet. "Thank you. For giving me a sense of perspective."
Lois shrugged again, a little embarrassed. "That's okay, Clark. It's what friends are for, isn't it?" she said as she stood up.
He was silent for a long moment. Then, in a low voice, he said, "Are we friends, then?"
Were they? She'd said that without really thinking. And yet… Well, Clark wasn't exactly obnoxious. In fact, he was pretty okay to be with. He had a lively sense of humour, which he used to good effect when he wanted to jolly her out of one of her vile moods. And he was thoughtful and considerate. She suspected that Clark was the kind of person who could never pass by on the other side of the road when he saw someone in need.
In fact, Clark himself was proof that he was wrong: not everyone in the world was selfish.
Realising that he was still waiting for an answer, she took a deep breath and said, "Yes. We're… friends, Clark. I think."
He smiled again; a dazzling smile which, even in the dim light of the deserted newsroom, took her breath away. "I'm glad."
She was too, Lois realised, almost stunned by the knowledge. She'd never really seen friends — or friendship — as important. And yet, tonight, she'd gained a friend, and she was glad of it.
"Well, I… uh…" She gestured towards her desk. "I'd better get my story written."
Clark nodded. "And I better get home. I must look a mess…" He brushed his stubbly cheek with one hand.
They hesitated for a moment, neither seeming willing to make the first move away. Then Clark leaned forward and, to Lois's amazement, brushed her cheek with his lips. His stubble rasped against her skin, but oddly, she didn't mind. The unexpectedness of the kiss, together with the sensation of Clark's lips against her face, almost made her heart skip a beat.
Before she'd recovered her equilibrium, he'd turned on his heel and was heading for the elevator. He didn't look back.
The elevator doors had slid shut behind him when Lois sat up abruptly in her chair as a sudden thought struck her.
"Clark! But how did you know what happened…? YOU WEREN'T THERE!" she yelled after him.
But he'd gone, and the only sound she heard in response to her confused question was the gentle hum of machinery.
(c) Wendy Richards 2002