Friday afternoon at the Daily Planet is a bi-polar mix of hectic and lazy. It's a time for finishing the last of your work before the Saturday edition goes to press then waiting out the clock until the weekend starts. In the main office, Clark can hear Lois and Perry in full swing, debating the merits of yet another expose on Luthor. Perry is trying to push the idea of another supervillian, maybe the Calculator but Lois is determined to call Luthor out on recent atrocities in the Congo. Three floors down, some of the junior staff are squabbling over a photo-insert and the mail boy is being chewed out for losing a FedEx that advertising were expecting. It's ten to four, one hour before the final submission deadline. The entire building buzzes with hurrying people, racing frantically to meet their deadlines.
In other words, business as usual.
Clark turns back to putting the finishing touches on a piece about a new civic engineering project and smiles when he hears Jimmy apologising to people as he boards the elevator. Jimmy sounds breathless, his heart beating a rapid staccato but there's no hint of fear in his voice. Clark saves the latest edits and peers casually over the wall of his cubicle.
The door opens and Jimmy tumbles out, juggling at least half a dozen folders. As if that wasn't enough, he has a sheaf of photo-paper under one arm and no less than four different cameras swinging around his neck. Clark nods to him and turns back to his article.
He's just getting ready to email it to Perry when Jimmy bounds into the cubicle, all stray papers and huge smile. "Afternoon, Mr Kent!"
"Good afternoon, Jimmy." Clark hits 'send' and turns to look at the flustered photographer. "How was New York?"
"Good! No. Better than good. It was fantastic, Mr Kent!" Jimmy dumps his folders and papers onto Lois's desk and beams at him. "You know why Mr. White sent me to New York?"
Clark pushes his glasses up to hide his smile. Lois will not be happy if she sees that but the 'debate' is turning into a full on argument so Jimmy has time. "Oh yes. To photograph the President's visit, wasn't it?"
"Yeah, but there was a terrorist threat so the President had to cancel so Mr Kingston – he's the New York correspondent now, did you know? – said he had a better story so we did that instead."
"Oh? What story was that?" The terrorist threat had been all over the news but Clark had also gotten a call the morning after from an exhausted and extremely cranky Nightwing who'd spent most of the previous night combing the city for the alleged bomb only to find an empty crate with burnt-out electronics. Dick had not been amused to find it a 'frat pledge' prank and had wasted no time calling in an anonymous tip to New York's finest.
"Well, you know there's a new cape in New York right? The guy that used to be in Blüdhaven?"
"You mean Nightwing?" Clark stiffens imperceptibly. Dick's time in New York has passed almost totally under the press' radar and the less said about his time in Blüdhaven the better, in Clark's opinion. Dick hadn't belonged there and the last thing Clark wanted was to see the whole sordid mess being thrown in his face.
"Yeah, that's the guy! Well, he's been having a big effect on crime, Mr Kingston says, so he wanted to do an article on him instead!" Jimmy digs through the papers and pulls out a folder. "Mr Kingston wanted photos, too, so he sent me out to get them but this Nightwing, he's really hard to find."
Clark didn't doubt it; Dick had learnt how to hide his patrol routes from Batman after all.
Jimmy waves a hand, just missing the filing cabinet beside the desk. "So I wound up spending three days on the roof of the Empire State, just in case. No sign of him and Mr Kingston was just getting ready to go with some of the amateur stuff, you know, cell-phone pictures? Then the last night, I've been there all night - and I'm telling you, Mr Kent, it was cold up there! – and just as the sun starts to come up and I'm trying to think how I'm going to explain this to Mr Kingston then, just like that, he's there!"
Jimmy sounds star-struck and Clark has to hide another smile. The Grayson effect claims another budding fan-boy. "You managed to get some photographs then?"
"Oh yes, Mr Kent!" Jimmy finally finds the folder he's looking for and holds it out. "But, oh, Mr Kent, you should have seen him. The way he moved-"
Clark stops paying attention to Jimmy as he opens the folder. Jimmy might claim to be nothing special when held up against the Daily Planet's more experienced photographers but he is a gifted photographer and his subject is ...breathtaking.
From the first shot, it is obvious that Nightwing was oblivious to the camera. Diving from the roof, arms out to embrace the rising sun, his face is open, exultant and the ever-present wariness that comes with the mask and all the mask entails is almost completely gone. It's a Nightwing that even Clark rarely sees, one at peace with himself, flying for the sheer joy of the wind and the sky.
There are more shots; Nightwing swinging from the jumpline, tumbling through the air, leaping from flagpole to jumpline but Clark keeps coming back to that first photograph. He can't even be entirely sure what draws him to it.
Perhaps it's because after Blüdhaven and everything that happened there, seeing Dick genuinely happy has become a very rare event. Perhaps it's the reminder of the young boy, vibrant red-gold smiling against the dark shadow of the Bat, that Clark first met so many years ago.
Or perhaps…perhaps, Clark thinks, he likes it because this is what he wants for Nightwing. Sunlight, clear skies and the joy of flying.
"-Mr Kent?" Jimmy is asking him something. Clark looks up, one hand lifting to adjust his glasses as he scrambles to get the façade of mild-mannered reporter back in place.
"Sorry, Jimmy." He manages a smile. "I was just admiring your pictures."
"You think Mr White'll like them?" Jimmy is practically vibrating with hope.
"I'm sure he will." Clark claps a hand on his shoulder and Jimmy beams up at him. "Actually, I wonder if you'd mind making me a copy of this one," he holds up the first picture. "before it wins you a Pulitzer?"
"I-of course, Mr Kent!" Jimmy's smile threatens to split his face. "You could keep that one if you like?"
"Thank you, Jimmy. I think I will." Clark turns back to his desk, carefully tucking the photograph into his briefcase as Perry hollers for Jimmy. Clark checks his email, then his voicemail, then his deadlines and finally his appointments. Nothing until Monday morning. Clark stares at the screen for a whole minute before he reaches for the phone.
It rings, then Dick's voice, slurred and sleep-husky, purrs in his ear. "Dick. Any chance you're free tonight?"
He can imagine Dick sitting up to rub sleep out of his eyes and smiling around the yawn that echoes across the phone lines. "I don't think there's anything big happening tonight. Why? What's up?"