Good morning, all! Well, the beta, it has returned from the ungodly brilliant and excellent B and will be posted early for poor Caroline, whose day isn't going so great. Hopefully this will take your mind off the headache and smack your Muse into high gear. Enjoy, folks. ;)
Jimmy Olsen was in the throes of one of his rare fits of organizing. In theory, a better filing system would make finding photos simpler and faster, which in turn would leave him more time for actually taking the shots that would advance his career. In practice, the more organized he got, the harder it was to find things that weren’t in their long-accustomed places. That didn’t stop the young photographer from occasionally succumbing to the siren call of brand-new file folders with color-coded tabs, however, and at the moment Jimmy had several years’ worth of pictures sprawling across his desk as he tried to update his filing system.
At first he didn’t even see Richard walk up to his desk, and the international editor’s voice startled him. “Looks like you have a bunch of office pictures from way back. Is that Perry before his cardiologist made him stop smoking cigars? Mind if I look?”
Jimmy looked up quickly, almost dropping the handful of folders he was trying to fit into his filing cabinet, and then smiled. “Sure. Some of these go back to before Clark started working here.” Go on and look, but don’t be surprised at what you see.
Richard started leafing through the photos on the desk, ostensibly looking at his uncle (Perry had never been without a cigar in the old days, even if he didn’t always light it, he always had one), but really looking at Lois. Jimmy knew he probably had more shots of her than anyone without a crush ever needed, and Richard noticed that, too.
“You’ve got a lot of Lois here,” her fiancé said offhandedly.
“She’s a good subject,” Jimmy replied just as casually, twitching an office candid out of the stack. “See here? Terrible lighting, but with her coloring she still shows up well. Good contrast. Besides, Ms. Lane never runs from the camera like some people.” He showed Richard a picture of Lois smiling broadly, while Perry tried to skulk out of the frame with a scowl. “She’s such a ham sometimes,” he added, pulling out a few more.
As if by accident, Jimmy chose another that showed Lois grinning at his lens, having hopped up on a desk and crossed her legs to better show off her white skirt. It happened to be Clark’s desk, and the edge of the shot captured his face. His expression was a complicated mixture of surprise and a touch of embarrassment, but his appreciation of the view was also quite clear.
Richard’s eyes narrowed and his lips thinned, but all he said was, “It’s amazing how much leg she has for someone so petite.”
Jimmy didn’t smile. He liked Richard well enough; he was a good guy, great with twins, and he adored Lois. But he wasn’t Clark. Since realizing Lois thought of him as a cute little brother, James B. Olsen had always secretly hoped that his best friend would finally win her. Have a good look, Mr. White. See what you interrupted. Well, actually, Clark interrupted it himself when he left for six years, but if you hadn’t come along and pestered her into going out with you, I bet they’d already be back together. Clark’s a lot less shy since he traveled the world, and I’ve seen some pretty intense looks going back and forth between the two of them. Besides, he loves her so much it practically surrounds him like a halo. If anyone here deserves Lois, it’s him.
Jimmy filed several shots of just Lois into their own folder, which was unlabelled. He had to remember to show some of those to Clark, just in case he needed to replace either of the snapshots Jimmy had given him years ago. Even with the best and most attentive care, pictures that old tended to yellow. The newer photo papers lasted much longer.
Richard was now investigating the group candids, what Jimmy thought of as the family photos. There were a lot of shots of Clark, Lois, and Perry in that stack, along with people from all the Daily Planet departments. A majority of them had been taken at various company Christmas parties and other functions. The infamous ‘premonition’ snapshot was in there, Loueen kissing Perry under the mistletoe, the editor trying to look annoyed but not succeeding in the slightest.
And Richard saw it, smiling as he picked it up, but the smile melted off his face as he caught a glimpse of the shot immediately below it. This was the same Christmas party, from the year just before Clark left, and the same bunch of mistletoe hanging by the door. Lois was caught in the act of dodging away from it, her hazel eyes glaring up at the parasitic plant. At the edge of the frame, Grizzly Lombard scowling in disappointment at having missed her.
Much closer, Clark watched Lois, beginning to laugh at her adept evasion. He wasn’t trying to maneuver her under the mistletoe like Lombard had been, just watching. Jimmy sat back and said nothing as Richard perused the pictures, seeing how many of them had Lois either grinning devilishly at Clark or Clark smiling wistfully at Lois. The two years they’d worked here together were chronicled in those snapshots, and they painted a picture of another relationship Richard knew nothing about.
“Wow. I never realized how close Lois and Clark were,” Richard said to Jimmy.
“Well, they were best friends,” Jimmy explained. “Didn’t people tell you about the stories they ran down together?”
“The stories, yeah,” Richard muttered. Then he looked seriously at the photographer and said, “You know them both better than anybody, Jimmy. Did you ever think … something else was going on?”
Jimmy just raised his eyebrows and looked completely innocent. “Something else? Like what?”
“Like maybe they were more than friends.” Richard was looking at the pictures now, avoiding Jimmy’s questioning gaze.
“Oh.” Now how do I handle this? Tell him I don’t think there was ever more between them, but I always thought there should’ve been? Back in those days, Clark was the only one here besides me and the Chief who really cared about her, and Perry and I were disqualified by age. The rest of the guys here just wanted to get in her pants. Clark cared – he still cares. He’s the only one who deserved to be with her. But it’s not like I don’t know that Richard loves her, even if I don’t think they’re perfect for each other. Jimmy took a deep breath. “They were best friends, Mr. White. They had to be, to work together the way they did. And they cared a lot about each other.” He paused, then shrugged. “Clark probably liked her, you know, more-than-friends liked her, but he’s always been a gentleman.”
“What about Lois? Do you think she liked him, and maybe nothing ever happened just because they had to work together every day?”
No way am I going there. “Hey, if I could read Lois’ mind, Mr. White, I wouldn’t get yelled at so much. Maybe she did. Maybe she just thought he was a nice guy, and the only one around here she could trust.”
Clark was bent over his desk, pretending to work, while listening to Jimmy’s conversation with Richard. He was also looking at the same photos, thinking that Jimmy’s pictures of Lois were clearly framed by Love’s eye, and all but reliving the memories those snapshots carried. Jimmy even still had the full picture from which the one on his desk – hidden behind the photo of Ma – had been cropped. That one was from the last Christmas party, Lois lounging in a chair after a couple of drinks, a sweet unguarded smile on her face, that incredible red dress…
She’d walked into the party, fashionably late, wearing that long black coat that covered her from neck to ankles. Someone laughed, someone else kidded here, “A trench coat? Some party dress, Lane!” And then Lois had smiled wickedly and shrugged the coat off her shoulders, letting it land on someone’s chair. The exclamations and wolf whistles had startled everyone who wasn’t looking her way, and Lois stalked to the punch bowl like a queen moving through a crowd of her adoring subjects. Hair down and wavy, lying night-black over her pale, bare shoulders, the vivid crimson of the dress in high contrast. It wasn’t really all that racy; it was just that she wore it so very well… Clark had almost forgotten to breathe while he watched her, love and longing wrapped so taut around his heart he thought it would burst… And as everyone was leaving, she had hugged him tightly enough to leave the scent of her perfume on his clothes, and kissed his cheek…
The phrase “more than friends” yanked Clark’s attention back to the present. It made him uneasy to hear them talking about him, especially with the direction Richard’s questions seemed to be leading. Jimmy seemed to be avoiding a straight answer, for which Clark was grateful.
While he was wondering what would be the best way to distract Richard from his current line of thought, his phone rang. Momentarily startled, he answered it. “Daily Planet International Department, Kent speaking, can I help you?”
“Kent? C’est Henri Archambault. Parlez-vous français?” The reply had a heavy Quebecois accent, and this was the source he’d been trying to reach for his newest article. The man was notoriously difficult to get hold of … no way he could pass up this call.
“Oui, je parle français. Merci pour retourner mon appel, Monsieur Archambault. Je voudrais vous demander…”
Clark soon found himself so absorbed in the call that he had to tune out Richard and Jimmy. Hopefully, the photographer wouldn’t say anything incriminating…
Several minutes later, he hung up the phone with a sigh of relief. In addition to the immigration story, he now had an extremely knowledgeable source to quote for Quebec’s continued desire to secede from Canada.
“I didn’t realize you spoke French so fluently,” Richard said from the other side of the desk, and Clark jumped.
“Gosh, I didn’t even hear you walk up,” he replied, keeping his face open and innocent while his stomach churned. “I took French in high school. And college. I like it a lot.”
“Your accent’s flawless,” Richard told him, and there was that intensity about him, that slight narrowing of his eyes. “You’d sound right at home in Paris. Ever been there?”
“Oh, a couple times.”
“I used to visit all the time when I lived in London,” Richard said. “Hey, what years did you go to Paris? We might’ve just barely missed meeting each other.”
Clark panicked a little then. He’d been to France many times, actually, but not as Clark Kent. The only time he could remember actually using his passport was the time he’d gone to the French observatory outside Paris to see what everyone had thought was Krypton. So he stammered a little as he named the year. “That was my first stop, you know, on my big trip around the world.”
Richard’s eyes lit up with an almost savage expression of triumph, but he damped it down quickly. For a moment, he’d looked almost like Lois when she’d shot him… Chills ran down Clark’s spine. He knows. He knows something. The last public save I did as Superman was that woman who fell into the Seine – how could I be so stupid? How could he not make the connection when I practically drew him a map? Oh, dear God, what am I going to do now?
But Richard’s voice was very calm as he replied, “Yeah, I was in London then. Couldn’t get away ‘til summer, though. Oh well, I guess it’s better we met working here, right? I hear enough crap about being Perry’s nephew, it’d be worse if I’d been friends with the star reporter years ago, too.”
Clark tried to chuckle, but it sounded a little rusty to his own ears. “Oh, no, I’m not the star reporter. Lois is.”
“Lois isn’t a beat reporter anymore,” Richard replied, a glint in his eyes. “A lot has changed about Lois while you were gone.”
Clark met his gaze with a faintly puzzled expression, trying not to remember Lois’ mouth on his only yesterday, nor the things both hurtful and truthful she’d said to him later. “Lois has always been pretty, um, dynamic,” he offered. “Anyone who wants to be her friend gets used to change.”
Perhaps they would’ve said something else, perhaps something they would both regret, but Clark’s eyes went unfocused as he picked up a sound he was beginning to dread. Fire engines? Not again!
A moment later, someone monitoring the police bands yelled, “Holy crap! The French consulate’s on fire!”
Perry and Lois were both gone. Richard gave Clark a twisted grin. “You’re the one who speaks French, Kent. Get down there.”
Clark just nodded, grabbing a tape recorder for the look of it. He was running for the air shaft before the reporters in City had even figured out who should go. Richard stuck his head in the bullpen and called out, “Jimmy! Head down to the consulate – I bet Superman will show up there pretty soon. One of you guys from city go, too – I’ve got Kent covering the international angle.”
“Kent?” someone groused. “Great, there goes the whole story. I’m not wasting my time. He’s too damned good.”
“The international angle?” someone else complained. “What international angle? This’s Metropolis’ arsonist!”
“Yes, the international angle,” Richard said sweetly. “Because the French consulate is technically foreign soil. Your precious pet Metropolis firebug just targeted another nation for the first time. I’d say that’s news, wouldn’t you?” Into the utter silence that followed his chiding, he continued, “No volunteers? Gil, go for it. Get moving!”
He turned back to his own department just a second too late to see the look Ron had been giving him.
Lana left Agi’s office smiling. One minor detail in the write-up of her fashion show had needed to be changed, something the event organizer had gotten wrong, not the Daily Planet staff. Ms. Vega had been very professional about it, promising to take care of the correction immediately, and getting that done so quickly left Lana with a large blank space on her schedule for the day. On a whim, she decided to go see Clark.
She arrived, unfortunately, only a few minutes after he’d left to catch the consulate story. “Sorry you missed him,” Richard told her. He had just happened to be by Kent’s desk, not nosing around at all, when she walked up. “I don’t expect him back for an hour or two, but I can give him a message for you if you’d like.”
“Oh, no, that’s all right,” Lana demurred. “I was just hoping he was free for lunch. I’ve only got an hour or so to kill.”
“Hey, my lunch offer still stands,” Richard said impulsively. It would be nice, for once, to spend an hour with someone who wasn’t connected to the Planet, its rivalries, its demands, its gossip… “We can call it a business lunch and put it on the expense account; you’re going to have shows in Paris and Milan, right?”
Lana laughed. “I don’t think that quite qualifies as international news, Mr. White…”
“Please,” he replied. The more Richard thought about it, the better the idea seemed. Lana was pleasant company, and he needed to talk to someone with whom he wasn’t involved. “My uncle is Mr. White. I’m Richard. Although around here I mostly answer to Hey, You.”
She smiled, and asked a trifle shyly, “Are you sure your fiancée will understand?”
A brief flash of something in his eyes, anger or annoyance, and then Richard chuckled. “At the rate things are going, I doubt she’d notice. Besides, this is business – you’re a news source, Ms. Lang.”
Against her better judgment, Lana let that handsome grin sway her.
Superman had never made any distinctions between nations; when the need of him existed, he answered it. The fact that the French consulate was technically foreign soil didn’t slow him in the least.
This time, he was on guard, listening carefully for anything that might be a timer. Same nitromethane, but no bombs so far. No delayed ignitions either. Why is his M.O. so different each time?
He had little time to ponder it, though. This fire involved fewer people, but they were less amenable to the idea of fleeing the building and leaving their precious documents behind. All in all, he was kept too busy to wonder about much more than how many people were left inside, and whether the fire had smoldered into life again.
After it was all over, while dodging the press, his worries returned. This arsonist is unlike any other in Metropolis’ history. Some of his targets are much more elaborate than others; some seem political, others just seem calculated to create the greatest havoc possible. I’m beginning to wonder if this is the work of one man…
Of course, there’s always the possibility that Luthor’s mixed up in it somewhere. Though I would expect Luthor’s plans to have more rhyme and reason to them.