By Ruth Ellison (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary: Clark has just inherited Perry's office, and Lois takes time off from her busy job to pay him a visit — and slip in some quality time.
This story is a bit of crystal-ball gazing. For those of you who enjoyed the puzzle in my 'Duet' story, you might like to think of this as a spot-the-difference picture. The book that Lois mentions is really there.
Lois passed through the old newsroom with the prickly feeling of returning to something intensely familiar and yet subtly different. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, this had been her kingdom. Well, Perry White had been the king and she had been the crown princess. Now Perry was finally gone to a very well deserved retirement and Jack, the Giant Killer, had inherited the kingdom, having previously observed tradition by marrying the princess — who had meanwhile gone off to conquer a realm of her own.
The kingdom's treasury was flush with funds at the moment and Clark's name had already made its way onto the office door. He was inside right now, gracefully transferring part of his book collection onto the shelves. He must have been enjoying himself, because he hadn't heard her approach and still didn't realise she was there. She watched him with pleasure for a minute or so before emitting a low, appreciative whistle that saw him freeze with surprise. He set aside his current armful of books and turned to face her with a sunny smile.
"I didn't even hear you coming," he said with a trace of wonder.
"You and your books," she said. "Do I have your permission to enter the inner sanctum?"
"I don't think it would really be mine until you did." He waved her in. "I'm surprised you found the time to come down, actually. Didn't you have some official lunch to attend?"
"I made time," Lois said smugly. "It was a very boring lunch full of overdressed dragons who drank too much champagne. But I got Herzberg to MC it and they were so busy watching his tight little buns, they forgot all about me."
"That man deserves a raise."
"Unlike others I could name, City Hall doesn't have well- heeled financial backing."
Clark raised his hands with a smile, acknowledging the Daily Planet's current good fortune but refusing to feel guilty about it. At the moment, his job was every bit as prestigious as hers, and they both knew it — the only difference being that one was by appointment and the other by election. Clark settled into *his* chair, put his feet onto *his* desk, and looked around happily at *his* domain. He put his hands behind his head and leaned back.
"Making yourself at home already?"
"Yep." He pointed at the desk. "Picture of you, one of the kids, one of Mom and Dad. Statue from Borneo which I happen to like but you won't have in the house. Chair tilted at just the right angle to convey an air of relaxed professionalism. I'm still working on the authoritarian manner, though."
"Authoritarian or authoritative?"
"Authoritarian. Crusty, brusque exterior concealing a deep concern for my employees and a passion for news."
They looked at each other for a moment and then burst out laughing.
Lois sidled around the chief-editorial desk and stood behind the chief-editorial chair, leaning forward over the chief- editorial shoulder so that she shared his viewing angle. "Big desk, comfy chair, good view of the newsroom — who's that at my old desk?"
"Andy Symonds. That's not all he has in common with you — he's a self-confessed Superman freak."
"How tiresome for you."
"He collects Superman action figures. He started when he was 10 and he claims to have every doll ever released."
"And Perry gave this person a job?"
"Oh, but he's got talent. A true nose for news. He was first on the scene for that multiple shooting in the mall the other week. We paired him up with Maher to write it up, but it was his story." Clark had instinctively leant forward as he spoke and was looking out the window with an air of deep concentration.
"You're going to be a great chief editor," Lois said.
Clark turned back to face her. "Well, I hope so. Stern's taken a bit of a gamble by choosing me, and I want to prove him right."
"You had Perry's backing. Like you said, he doesn't make mistakes when it comes to spotting talent."
Lois hadn't seen Clark so excited for a while. He'd lost a bit of interest in his work since she'd made her unexpected career move, but now he scented a challenge again and that always brought out the best in him. And he would bring just the right mixture of conscientious hard work and pure inspiration to the job.
She looked around the room, examining the changes that Clark was introducing. "I see the book on Uri Geller is still here… I thought that must have been one of Alice's that got in here by mistake."
"No, apparently that's part of the official editor-in- chief's library. For when I get tired of warping employees' personalities."
"Uh-huh. So you're planning to introduce some irritating, nitpicking rules just to show 'em who's boss?"
"Well, I thought I'd start by banning romantic liaisons between staff members."
"Oh, you're right, that one's an incredible time-waster."
"Especially when it starts involving honeymoon vacation time, maternity leave…"
"Better off just nipping it in the bud straightaway."
Clark's newfound enthusiasm was making him frisky. To Lois's complete surprise, he grabbed her round the waist and pulled her onto his lap. There was a bit more of her to grab than there'd once been, but he liked that. Lois giggled like a schoolgirl a third her age and closed her eyes in anticipation of his kiss. Like a good wine, he just got better and better.
"Oh, Clark, how…authoritarian of you," she murmured against his cheek. He shook with laughter and she almost slipped off his lap. She reestablished her position by putting her arms round his neck, and kissed him enthusiastically back. Busy people have to take their quality time where they can find it.
Clark had just let his hand drop to her thigh when a baritone voice said from the doorway, "Currying favour with the press again, Mayor Lane?"
Lois leapt to her feet smartly. Clark stood up too and held out a welcoming hand to his latest visitor. "Frank, this is an unexpected pleasure!"
"Unexpected, so I see." He smiled at Lois. "Good to see you too, Lois — just try not to take up too much of my new editor-in-chief's time."
Clark and Lois exchanged a humorous look. "Not coming round to tell me you changed your mind, I hope."
"No, then I'd be calling *you* into *my* office. Actually, I came to ask if you two were free on Saturday night. We're having a few people round for dinner, and Cyndy insisted that I invite you."
"We'd love to!"
"Sorry, we can't," Clark came in over Lois.
Clark looked at Lois in surprise, then shook his head sadly. "It's Louisa's birthday, remember? We promised to take her to a restaurant."
Lois's hand flew to her mouth. "Oh, my gosh! I completely forgot! I haven't even bought her a present yet!"
"You *were* there when she was born, weren't you? I sometimes wonder…"
Lois planted a vicious kick on her husband's ankle. He humoured her by responding with a tepid "ouch". Then he turned back to his other visitor and said, "Sorry, Frank, but family comes first."
"I understand completely. Maybe another time, then? I'll remember to give you more notice."
"Thanks. We'd like that." Lois was still casting resentful looks at Clark. "I don't often get to mix with *civilised* company."
"You're wasted at City Hall, Lois. Why don't you come back to a real job?"
She shook her head with a smile. "Sorry."
"Oh, well, no harm in asking. Well, I've got work to do and I'm sure you both do too. Try to keep your hands off each other once I've gone." They exchanged the usual pleasantries and he left.
Lois sighed. "I'd better be off too. I have a pile of papers this big on my desk that need to be read today." She turned to Clark with a sly, mischievous look on her face. "I can't wait until *you* start complaining about having to read financial reports every week."
"Yes, but I can read them a lot *faster* than you can."
"*That* is just one of the many things I hate about you."
"Yeah, I can tell by the way you kiss me." His hands had somehow made their way onto her shoulders. "Look…will you be busy this evening?"
Lois suddenly wished it *was* this evening. "Looking to celebrate?"
"If we need an excuse."
"When have we *ever* needed an excuse? …Clark, don't look at me like that or those papers will never get read."
He grinned and let go of her. "Don't be too late home."
"Don't *you* be!" She left the office with a smile on her face and the conviction that not even a truckload of papers could slow her down.
She paused outside the doorway and looked back. Clark was hanging a framed picture on the wall behind his desk. It was a 19th-century Japanese print and worth a good deal more than it looked.
He turned around and saw her. "Forget something?"
"No, I just…" She concentrated on the space that Clark had just filled. "It's just not going to be the same without Elvis."