“Thank you for taking the time to meet with me, Dr. Foster,” Clark says as he sets his phone on the table between them. The red ‘record’ button is lit and pulses silently.
“Thank you for taking the time to interview me, Mr. Kent.” Jane smiles warmly and sips her coffee.
“Please, call me Clark,” he adds.
“Clark,” Jane smiles. Her face is thin and pale, and he can see dark circles under her eyes beneath the makeup she wears. She is much smaller than he imagined, smaller than she should be.
“How are you feeling?” he asks, unable to stop the bubble of concern that forms inside him at the sight of her paper-thin skin and shaking hands.
“Tired,” she admits. But there is laughter in her voice that he is surprised to hear. “But fighting.”
“That’s good to hear,” he says and ignores the urge to take her hand where it rests on the table top. It wouldn’t be very professional. “You’re no stranger to fighting, from what I’ve heard.”
She laughs, a solemn bark of mirth that he feels twist inside him. “No, I’m not,” she admits readily. And he doesn’t think he’s imagining it when he hears a bitterness to her words. He listens closely, tries to find the truth hidden in the pounding of her heart.
She’s hiding something. What, he’s not sure. But there’s definitely something there she’s not saying. “Tensions have been running high since the Roxxon Weather Station incident,” he prods.
“Yes.” She nods and takes another sip of her coffee. She is being careful, which makes Clark worry she knows more than she’s saying.
“It must be difficult, being Earth’s representative for the Congress of Worlds. Particularly now, with the threat of war looming.” Clark clears his throat, hoping to dislodge that note of Superman that sometimes worms its way into his voice when he has to discuss politics and the safety of the world.
“There will always be the threat of war,” Jane says softly. As if she is considering some great truth. And Clark can really see it now, how tired she is. Not just physically, but he feels as if her soul is tired too. She carries within her more pain than she should. “And there will always be those who exploit those threats to their own ends.”
“True,” Clark concedes. A long line of past villains and sympathizers march through his thoughts. “But there will also be those who stand up for what’s right. Like this new Thor. She has been nothing but a friend to Earth, from what I can see.”
“I like to think so.” She nods, her hand curling into a fist on the table. He wonders if she is cold, or if it’s something else.
“You’ve met her then?”
“Our paths have crossed,” she says cagily, sipping her coffee to hide her face. But Clark can see the small smile she hides behind the cup.
“How has her alliance with Earth strained relationships in the Congress?” Clark wonders, tilting his head to listen closer to her heart when she answers.
“She’s not the only source of contention these days. And, as far as I’m concerned, she’s the last thing we should be worrying about. All around us the Realms are falling into chaos. And I fear it will only be a matter of time before it spills over to Earth.” She sighs and Clark can hear the fatigue in her tone. The very beat of her heart feels labored. She is being crushed, he realizes, under the weight of her responsibilities and her illness.
“Well, maybe this time, we won’t be alone,” he hints.
“You mean Superman?” she asks, that same small smile that makes him feel like he should be smiling too.
“Maybe,” he shrugs. “Or maybe someone else. Something else. I don’t pretend to know what it’s like, to have the fate of the world resting on my shoulders. But from what I’ve seen, we are in good hands. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time with The Daily Planet, it’s that the people of Earth are nothing if not resilient. No matter what the future holds for us, I know one thing. No one will be doing it alone.” He wills her to hear his offer for allies. He wants her to pass the message on to Thor, let her know that she is not alone. But, surprisingly, he finds that he means it for Jane too. He wants her to know that she’s not alone. He does take her hand then; unprofessional or not, no one deserves this kind of pain and suffering.
“Thank you,” she says, her eyes glistening. She squeezes his hand back; her grip is disturbingly soft and he finds that his heart aches for her. “Really. Thank you. I think,” she pauses to wipe an errant tear away, smearing her makeup and exposing the dark bruises under her eyes. “I think I really needed to hear that right now.”
Clark makes a promise to himself right then and there. He will not leave her to do this alone. Whether that means Superman or just regular old Clark Kent. He will be sure that Jane Foster never feels alone in her fight again.