Do not set one of them above the rest, Jor-El had said, so many times that the mantra was engraved in his mind. He was supposed to be impartial, to keep his distance from individuals so he could love all humanity selflessly and equally. Clark found that increasingly difficult as he settled into his job at the Daily Planet, becoming friends with his coworkers. It was hard not to like the eager young photographer, or the crusty editor, not to mention…
Lois swept in then, reaching over him as he stared at his typewriter, lost in thought. He should’ve known – he’d picked up one of the donuts in the break room, and it had sat next to his coffee untouched for more than ten minutes. In Lois’ mind, that made it fair game. The curve of her breast brushed his shoulder, feather light, and Clark tensed as if electrified. “Good thing you don’t want this donut, huh?” Lois teased as she snatched it up, strolling away with a devilish smile on her lips and powdered sugar on her fingers.
Clark sighed. Lois didn’t allow distance unless it was her idea. If she didn’t like you, she got in your face to tell you about it. And if she did like you, she invaded your space freely, stole your food, drank your coffee, sat on your desk to chat with other reporters, and hid your office supplies when you scooped a story from her.
She reminded him of certain barn cats back home, the sort that would hiss and spit if you picked them up, give you a disdainful look if you tried to approach them when they were otherwise occupied, but if they wanted attention, they’d worm their way into your lap meowing and purring until you had to pet them or be smothered in cat fur.
And to his own surprise, Clark liked that about her. He liked nearly everything about Lois, as a matter of fact, from her brilliant smile when she landed a story to her surly pout while she waited for the coffee to brew in the mornings. Lois was incredibly courageous, she was deeply loyal to her friends, and she pursued her job with a single-minded ferocity that he couldn’t help but admire. Even the things he probably shouldn’t have liked seemed charming to Clark: her profanity, her swift temper, her sarcasm, and her cynicism.
Part of it was the fact that she was at her most beautiful when she was furious, a wrathful fascinating hurricane of a woman, and Clark found he couldn’t tear his eyes away from her. Lois was nothing like any woman he’d ever met, certainly nothing like Lana, the last woman in his life he’d sighed after with disappointed longing. But then, he and Lana had just been kids. He’d fallen for red hair and a lovely smile, and never really gotten inside Lana’s mind. They’d been good friends when they were little, but by high school they were both caught up in the separate storms of adolescence, strangers to each other and themselves.
Lois had her own striking beauty, and Clark knew her. In only a month, they’d become fast friends. From whispers he’d overheard, Lois had decided to protect him, to shelter the obviously naïve farmboy from the cutthroat reporters. That meant only she could harass him.
On the other hand, no matter how much she joked and teased him, she never noticed him as anything more than a friend. Clark had tried to make a few overtures, telling himself it was part of his disguise. Few men would fail to try getting a date with a woman as attractive as Lois, after all, and never mind that when she was near he was tempted to forget about ‘distance’ entirely. She never seemed to take him seriously, but then, it was Clark asking her, shy awkward Clark, who was always polite even in the face of insult.
He was surprised to realize how much of his diffidence was unfeigned. All those years of holding back, guarding his secret, and then training for his mission, had left him inexperienced in relationships. Clark gave a rueful little chuckle. Just how on earth could he expect Lois to be interested in him? Look at her, look at the kind of man she was currently dating…
Lois was seeing Dr. Marrin, who happened to be a psychiatrist. He was suave, sophisticated, and utterly casual about relationships. Lois had openly said there was no love, no romance between them; it was all about fulfilling certain basic needs. That horrified Clark, that any man could spend so much time in her company and not fall in love with her. She deserved better.
And they had broken up more times than Clark could remember. That was a pretty strong indicator of unsuitability, to Clark’s mind. Dr. Marrin clearly didn’t appreciate Lois, and she obviously wasn’t as happy as she should be. Maybe what Lois really needed was a plain old-fashioned good guy for once, someone who respected her and enjoyed being with her.
He realized where his train of thought was heading, and tried to derail it. How could he continue to keep his rescues secret if he started spending even more time around a keen reporter? But the thought was too tempting. Maybe if he just took her out to dinner once… That wasn’t really dating, and Jor-El couldn’t find anything to disapprove of.
The reporter sauntered back over to her desk while licking the last of the sugar off her fingers. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she caught Freizon’s jaw hanging open as he watched her in a way that make him look utterly mesmerized. Oh, for God’s sake. Seriously? But rather than say something scathing at the ridiculousness, Lois decided to kill him with kindness and put an extra sway in her step as she dropped herself into her chair. Any minute now… At the squeak of her chair, Gil glanced up from his keyboard, startled and curious. The moment he spotted the look on his friend’s face, in connection with the fact that Lane had just sat down, he was busting his chops over it. It had been the same routine for the last three years.
Stifling a snicker, Lois kept her eyes glued to the notes on President Salkind’s ETA for this evening’s press conference, although a tiny smile betrayed the fact that she was listening to every word. Poor Bill, he’d been ogling her since she was hired, but she’d made it clear that dating anyone she worked with was completely impossible. Never. Never ever. It was one of her top Rules of Reporting, right up there with always getting a source and never letting anyone steal her story. And neither had happened more than once this far. And she had found ways to annihilated those that tried. Jasperson still crossed the hallway to avoid running into her alone after pulling that fast one. He’d also transferred over to Travel after that. Lesson learned.
It was only then that she noticed the message light on her phone was blinking, and Lois couldn’t help pursing her lips in aggravation. If the light was flashing this early, odds were thirty to one that it was one Doctor Elliot Marrin, whom she was dating yet again. If you could call it that after this many go-rounds. They had had an arrangement on and off the last few years, a mutually beneficial arrangement, that included social functions and philosophical discussions. And frequent and quite excellent sex. Yeah, putting it that way sounded a little crass, a little cold, but it was imminently practical for their busy lives and more truthful than trying to call it a romance; it suited Lois not to have to be tangled up in romantic attachments when she had a career to focus on, and it suited Elliot to have a beautiful young woman on his arm and in his bed without too many demands on his time. Now if only he’d quit trying to use his professional skills on her, trying to peel back the layers and figure her out… What possessed me to date a freakin’ shrink, of all things? And why the hell did I let Loueen get me involved with him in the first place?
She shook her head slightly; as many times as she wanted to duct-tape his mouth over the questions after the lights were out, the pros outweighed the cons the majority of the time, and that really was what mattered, right? No more messy breakup scenes like that with Cameron, although in the end it had proven worse for him than for her. As it should have – Lois Lane did not tolerate men cheating on her. Period. That much she could trust Elliot on. Between his practice and his need to show up at all the upper-crust events in town in the evening, he simply did not have the time. As if she didn’t give him incentive besides, she thought with a smirk.
She usually didn’t tolerate them psychoanalyzing her, judging her, either, but Elliott had wisely kept his pontificating mouth shut until he knew her well enough to know exactly when and how to spring his little observations on her. In bed in the small hours of the morning, perhaps, or in the car on the way back from the symphony, he’d make innocuous small talk. At least, it seemed innocuous, until he’d tricked her into talking about her childhood or her father or what it was like to go to twelve different schools in five countries over the span of eight years. Somehow she always wound up letting him see the cracks in her armor she spent so much time and effort hiding from everyone else, and she resented him for it. Which explained why they were on their sixth go-round now. Sure, he made her want to throttle him, but she had yet to find another man who could meet all of her needs without too many of the negatives to ruin it. It was a good compromise.
So why did she keep feeling like something was missing?
Almost as soon as the question rose in her mind, she quashed it. Deep introspection was not on the agenda today. Save that for the weekend and the independent film festival Elliot was dragging her to in Boston. As if she were looking forward to that… Not wanting to get into that either, Lois shrugged off the annoying thought. Enough time to dwell on that later. Unbeknownst to the boys, Perry had pulled her aside this morning to inform her that she had a President to interview tonight.
The memory of that shoved all of the other crap out of her mind. Galloway had been begging Perry for the opportunity to grab this one, every hour on the hour, from the moment the appearance had been announced. And that had been his fatal mistake. Several big stories had gone by while he begged the EIC for the big fish, all of which Lois had snapped up and stayed late working on, all the while proving herself capable of surpassing him once and for all. Galloway had finally proved that he read too much of his own press. That’s what had done him in and prompted Perry to give her the kind of opportunity that could cement her star reporter status for all time.
First he had to catch up to her. Once she decided to leave, Lois wanted to be gone; she was up out of her desk, grabbing her coat, and striding fast in high heels. Clark followed her, snagging the garment bag for her, but he could barely get a word in edgewise as Lois set about finishing the day’s tasks. Clearly she didn’t have a minute that wasn’t already being used for two or three different things.
As they approached the bullpen door and Lois dropped off her mail with Alice, Clark managed to pop the question. It actually sounded halfway natural, not nervous and forced and stuttering, because he had no time to over-think it.
The words were barely out of his mouth when Lois turned him down, never even looking up at him. “Oh, gosh, Clark, I’m sorry. I’m booked.”
“Oh.” Crestfallen, he had time to think that at least she’d let him down gently. The last time Bill had tried to finagle a date with her, Lois’ scathing reply had left the man unable to face her for a week.
“Yeah, Air Force One’s landing at the airport…” Lois rattled off the details of her latest assignment, stopping in mid-sentence to call a goodbye to one of the secretaries. It occurred to Clark that this moment was quintessentially Lois: she was moving fast, multitasking, her mind fixed on her goal, and completely ignoring his attempt at romance. Typical of her, really. She never wasted a moment on anything ‘soft’.
“My goodness, don’t you ever let up?” Clark asked with half a laugh, both amazed and amused. He’d never met anyone as driven as Lois, nor met any woman so utterly focused on her career.
Little did he realize that his comment had scored more deeply than he meant it to. Lois’ head came up, her gaze flat for a moment, but this was Clark. He didn’t deserve to get the really sharp side of her tongue. Still, it was high time he bought himself a clue. This was Metropolis, and unlike whatever backwater he’d come from in Kansas, not every woman in the city was content with the American Dream (For Girls): a husband to pamper, a house to clean, and kids to raise. Especially not this girl.
Lois couldn’t help stepping up onto her soapbox a bit, drawing the obvious comparison with her own sister. Lucy was perfectly happy with three kids, two cats, and one mortgage, but that was Lois’ worst nightmare. She loved her nephew and nieces, but 4 AM feedings and endless diaper changes on top of the cooking and cleaning and yard work … blech! Lois would rather have a string of violent murders to write up or a politician to grill.
Poor Clark wasn’t giving up, though, offering her a ride to the airport – did the man even own a car? She’d always seen him walking to work. Lois turned him down yet again, got her coat, and gently stopped him from following her into the ladies’ room. He tried one more time, though, and that was once too many for Lois’ patience, shutting the door in his face. Another man would’ve been slapped for his temerity.
One of the girls from accounting had been at the sink the whole time, and she gave Lois a slight smirk and shake of the head, international female sign language for men, aren’t they adorably clueless? Lois could only smile half-heartedly back, feeling like she’d just kicked a puppy. But somehow she had to let Clark know to just quit already.
Outside, Clark sighed and turned to go, only to realize his coat was trapped in the door. The door on the other side of which Lois was presently getting undressed, and that was not a thought he could entertain for more than an instant if he didn’t want to blush all the way to the tips of his ears. It wouldn’t tug loose, so he had to knock and ask Lois to open the door so he could retrieve his coat.
Fortunately, she needed something mailed, and stuck her head out to hand the letter to him. He’d no sooner taken the letter than Lois shut the door in his face again. Guess I really struck out there, Clark thought morosely. Maybe this was meant to be, proof that Jor-El was right. Lois had no interest in him whatsoever, and that stung. He had to admit that asking her out wasn’t some exercise designed to maintain his cover as the unlikeliest hero ever, nor was it an attempt to remind her there were better men in the world than Dr. Marrin.
No, the simple truth was, he was already falling for her. And Lois Lane was unreachable, impossible, especially since he worked with her. Preoccupied, Clark got shut out of one elevator, tried to get on another going the wrong way, and was totally ignored by a couple of reporters whom he tried to offer a friendly good night. Sighing again, he waited for the elevator to come back.
Meanwhile, Lois got changed and headed for the roof. Her ride was on its way, a two-seat helicopter. In a city the size of Metropolis, it was often a more efficient way of getting around the tall buildings than descending to street level and bothering with taxis. And of course the Daily Planet had to have two dedicated news helicopters for its reporters’ use. Lois had done it often enough as a reporter and an Army brat that it was routine now, and she hopped in without hesitation, greeted the pilot, and buckled herself in before allowing herself to imagine the look on Galloway’s face when he realized he wasn’t going to this press conference: ‘the girl’ was.
Her eyes narrowed a fraction at that. Galloway had never referred to her by name in the two years she’d worked the City beat. She was always ‘the girl’ or ‘that girl’ or worse, ‘Perry’s pet’, all of which infuriated her. And, what was worse, he knew it did. Let him call her whatever he liked, she was twice the reporter he was, and now she had a chance to prove it.
Enough about the past; the future was ahead of her. Lois started silently going over her questions for the president. She was keyed-up, tense; Lois wouldn’t allow herself to call her state of mind nervous, no matter how true it was. Consequently she wasn’t quite as alert to her surroundings as she normally would have been.
Perhaps if she hadn’t been so locked onto the task at hand, she might have seen the thin black cable when it popped loose and began whipping around on the black roof, perhaps not. Either way, Lois had no idea anything was wrong until the helicopter suddenly swayed in midair....