No Pace Perceiv'd
Clark Kent had been working at The Planet for three months now, and Lois Lane still didn't know what to make of him. On the one hand, he was unfailingly polite. Opened doors for her and any other woman, stood up when anyone over forty approached, didn't swear within her hearing.
He even called her "Ma'am" for the first few weeks he worked with her. Lois was glad she broke him of that habit - it made her feel like her mother - but the rest of it was endearing. Clark was the kind of young man she'd really only seen in black and white movies on American Movie Classics on T.V. Certainly he couldn't be real.
Her partner in crime-lord busting, the Woodward to her Bernstein, the Tracy to her Hepburn. His fingers flew on the keyboard so fast she was amazed he didn't make more typos. It wasn't human. She loved that he mainlined caffeine with an addiction that almost rivaled hers, thought Three Musketeers bars were better than Prozac, but his mother's apple pie was the best medicine of all. She can't fathom having a mother who still bakes apple pie., but the first time he gave her a piece of Martha Kent's cranberry apple, she knew what he meant. Sara Lee and Mrs. Smith should be ashamed.
She liked watching him at work. His odd little habits. The way he chewed pencils down to the nub; how his coffee always seemed to be steaming hot, no matter how long ago he'd poured it. How he managed to come across innocent and innocuous for one interview, and sound angry and accusatory the next, depending on which appeal would get him closer to the truth. It's the kind of thing that Lois took years to learn, and he knew it intuitively. Lois had balked when she'd first been told to "show the kid the ropes", but as it turned out, Clark knew much more than his fresh off the farm act put on. Perry was right when he said Clark was a born reporter. Just out of college, and Lois could stand to learn a trick or two from him.
Case in point, how he managed his regular disappearing acts. Just when something exciting happened, she'd turn her head to see if he'd caught it, and find him gone. It was like he went out of his way to avoid conflict and danger. But at the same time, she knew he was no coward. She'd seen him talk a jumper back inside a skyscraper, and once he'd stopped some thug from mugging her. The thug had turned out to be a scared fourteen-year old with a cap gun, but she hadn't know that when it was pressing into her back.
So, no, Clark wasn't quite Superman, but he had gumption of his own.
That was the other weird thing. Superman. Clark claimed to have a connection to the newly minted hero. One of his first bylines was an interview with the "Man of Steel", though he hadn't asked the alien the questions Lois would have, it was still a good piece.
"Lois, if I'd asked him that, if the paper would even print it, it would have to have brown wrappers around it. We're not the Inquisitor.
"All right. I'll just have to ask him myself when he gives me my private interview. He did say he would, right?"
Clark just sighed at her. "Yes, he did. He's got your contact info."
Lois hoped he'd just appear on her balcony some day, and sweep her off her feet; maybe take her for a flight around the city. Silly romantic notion. Hardly befitting a professional journalist like her. When he did arrive, he just knocked on her door like a normal person. She did convince him to take her for a short flight, but he shied away from answering questions about his love life. "I care about everyone in my adopted home," was all he would say.
It was a brilliantly sunny day in Metropolis; the kind that was rare in big cities. No hints of smog or other pollution, just a light breeze that moved the new greenery and the fresh blooms of Luthor Memorial Park.
There were few people about, and she knew enough to keep her distance from the one who was most important to her. She followed Clark at a distance, wondering what he was doing there. This time, he walked slowly, as if savoring the peace and beauty of the place. She had no trouble keeping pace. She made sure to stay well behind, knowing he wouldn't appreciate her presence.
Lois wondered what Clark was doing here, three years after Lex Luthor had been declared dead. Though Lionel was a staple of her Planet reporting, she'd only covered Lex twice in print. Once was an early story from his tabloid clubbing days, and more recently during his disappearance and eventual memorial. While the elder Luthor had both fascinated and repelled her - she'd never met anybody with such a lack of a moral center --, his son was different.
In his short time as Metropolis' youngest tycoon, Lex had done more good for the community than Lionel had done in twenty years.
"To me, fair friend, you never can be old." Clark pulled out a leather bound volume, and began reading. Lois felt a momentary burst of pride for recognizing which Shakespearean sonnet he was reciting - 104 --, and then listened as he continued. She could almost feel the seasons changing, but somehow not, the way it was described in the poem. How lucky the young man was to be so well remembered. Not for the first time, Lois wished she had known Lex Luthor better.
Away from the activity of work at the Planet, Clark looked different. He'd bloomed himself, somehow, soaking up the sunlight like it was oxygen and he was an asthmatic.He leaned against the pillar, seeming to relax for the first time since she'd known him.
"Shakespeare's not wrong. Every time I think of you, you're twenty-one again. I--Lex, did you know I was twenty-one last week? I'm gonna be older than you soon."
He swallowed hard and looked back down at the book in his hand. Lois felt tears of her own start as she listened to Clark's voice break over a line that must have reminded him of the man he was missing.
Lois remembered Chloe had said that Clark and Lex had been friends back in Smallville, and she'd wondered how that was possible. A teenager whose worldview barely left the farm, and a billionaire who'd been everywhere, done everything, and some said everyone.
From the way Clark was talking, and the intimate way he leant against the marble column, Lois bet they had meant more to each other than just good friends. When she saw him trace the letters in Lex's name, she knew she had been right.
He put the book away, and began talking again, this time in his own words. "Lex, it's started. I just wish you could be here to watch it happen, see what you and those comic books started. If you really are dead -- and you know I won't let myself believe that - I hope you and Ryan are having a good laugh about it right now." He pulled off his glasses for a moment, and wiped his eyes. She could swear she saw something in them when he looked up again, something she recognized, but could not name. But no, it was probably a trick of the light.
For the first time, Lois saw how beautiful Clark could be. He was transformed by his memory of Lex, and it made Lois ache for him a little. She knew she would never be first with him. She wasn't his first love, and she wasn't foolish enough to believe she could be his last.
At twenty-one, Clark Kent had already lost the great love of his life -presumed dead these three-and-a-half years now. And unless some miracle occurred -Superman discovered a peeling bald man on an island somewhere, living off grubs, gone mad from the incessant sunlight - Lex Luthor would only be a memory.
But it didn't matter. Lois knew Clark wasn't ready to burn a new love into his synapses. At best, she hoped she could be a comfort to him, a dance partner, perhaps a bedmate. She'll never be what he needs, but it might be enough to be what he wants, at least for a while. It was a fair trade off.
Clark, with his wire rimmed glasses, and the frayed suits that make him look like he should be teaching English Lit, not playing intrepid reporter, is just a substitute for the man she really wants. The man she thinks she could love, if only he made himself more available.
But Superman - Kal El - would never belong to any one person, least of all a determined city journalist with more talent than grace. The whole world loved him, and God knows they needed him. Lois should accept that she had to share; it wasn't fair to expect him to pick favorites. It also wasn't fair to keep watching Clark in what was obviously meant to be a private moment. Lois shouldered her purse and walked back to the entrance. It looked like the wind was picking up.