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Hostile Work Environment

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“To be clear,” Clark asked, “did I just help you commit a felony?”

Lois said nothing, but gave Clark her best ‘shut the fuck up’ look. Obediently, he shut the fuck up.

She hadn’t needed to bring him along. The only reason she had was as a precaution. He might be too big to be sneaky, but he was a fine size for warding off the majority of small threats. Lois, despite a carefully cultivated demeanor, still could not intimidate as well as a hapless dork who happened to shop in big and tall.

Furthermore: Clark Kent had an irritating tendency to wander off when something interesting was happening. When he did, he tended to find all sorts of information that Lois did not. And then he scooped her.

Keeping him close meant she’d see what he saw. No chance for him to go to Perry with an angle she’d missed out on. It wasn’t quite a rivalry, what they had, but it wasn’t exactly teamwork either.

Even if he had, technically, just helped her commit a felony.

It wasn’t a major felony. It was an investigative felony. Those could hardly be said to count. Really more of an ambitious misdemeanor.

The chaos in Luthor’s press room had died down, but not by much. It was enough that their brief excursion seemed to go unnoticed. Luthor’s staff had the little prototype drone under control, for all the good it did them. They would probably still get fired, and Luthor would blame them for LexCorp’s stock taking a dive. As if it was anyone’s fault but his that he tended to jump the gun when it came to tech announcements, always wanting to be first instead of best.

Clark was already taking notes on his phone of Luthor’s non-answers to questions, and she glanced at the screen. “Ugh. Watching you type gives me a headache.”

“Obviously you have the right to do whatever you’d like, but if it’s causing you physical pain, you should probably try to spend less time watching me,” Clark said. He wasn’t even looking at the screen to type the bizarre mess of letters and symbols that would somehow eventually become coherent notes. How did he even find some of those emoji so quickly?

She rolled her eyes. “I appreciate your concern.”

“You’re welcome,” he said, and if she hadn’t known better she might have thought he’d missed the sarcasm.

Her own notes were mostly mental, filing away various turns of phrase as they occurred to her. She didn’t need to be as precise as Clark, because precision was his specialty. Pure fact masquerading as objective. If pressed, she might admit that he had a fascinating skill for arranging direct quotes and statistics in just such a way as to get his point across. Sometimes Perry would edit out innocuous sentences that he didn’t think Kent had realized could be insulting in context. Most of them slipped through. That part was much more impressive. Lois wore her subjectivity on her sleeve, and while it was what Perry liked about her, she had a much harder time sneaking subtle jabs past him.

He did let her get away with outright insults sometimes, though. That was always nice.

A hand on her shoulder, and she turned at the same time Clark did. LexCorp security.

“Can you come with me, please?”

Son of a fuck.

Lois shrugged. “Yeah, sure, why not.” Clark said nothing as he followed along, adjusted his glasses and had the gall to look faintly amused.

Then again, he looked like that most of the time.

“Can I see your press passes, please?” the guard asked, and both of them presented theirs without comment. If nothing else, that checked out just fine. “Do you mind telling me what you were doing on private LexCorp property?” he asked.

“Attending a press conference,” Lois said flatly. She’d warned Clark more times than she could count to let her do the talking. It finally seemed to have sunk in, as he stood there with his hands in his pockets beside her. The guard did not seem amused by her sarcasm.

“And when you left the press room to enter the building without authorized access?” he asked.

“We were being divebombed by a rogue drone,” she said, enunciating slowly.

“Except you kept going down the hall.”

She shrugged. “I figured as long as we were in there I might as well use the bathroom.”

“Really.” The guard was even less convinced than he’d been before. “And you needed to bring your partner,” he said.

She crossed her arms over her chest. “He’s got a better sense of direction than I do. It’s a big building, I didn’t want to get lost.”

The guard had narrowed his eyes at Clark. Lois risked glancing toward him. He’d pressed his lips together like he was biting them shut, trying not to laugh, adjusting his glasses again. It was bad enough the man had a horrible poker face, this really didn’t seem like an ideal time to be amused by I-told-you-so’s. He was as likely to get fired as she was, if they’d been caught.

“You’ll be interested to know,” the guard said, “that while most of our cameras didn’t catch you, one of them did.” She tried to radiate ambivalence. “You entered a private LexCorp office belonging to an employee. One that did not, I should note, have a bathroom. Do you want to tell me what you did in there?” The guard frowned, attention back on Clark. “Is something funny, sir?”

Clark's struggle not to laugh had transitioned to a peculiar toothless grin, not mean-spirited enough to be a smirk. She was going to kill him herself, if Luthor didn’t. “No, not at all,” he said, an undercurrent of laughter beneath it. He cleared his throat to try and get rid of it, still looked entirely too much like he was enjoying himself. He looked down at Lois, and his inexplicably mischievous demeanor conspired with the slight disarray of his blue-black curls to make him look younger than usual. “What did we do in there?” he asked her, as if he was as interested to hear her answer as the guard.

He was throwing her under the bus. The unbelievable asshole was going to let her take all the heat for this. So much for down-home country chivalry.

“We were just…” Lois trailed off as she realized the guard’s eyeline was too low. She looked down at herself, and realized her skirt was still rumpled from when she’d checked the room for either surveillance or evidence. Not badly, but it did not pair well with the run in her stocking where it must have snagged on the awful carpet. She smoothed it out, looked back up, and realized—to her great horror—that the guard now also looked amused.

Wait. No. Clark wasn’t throwing her under the bus. It was worse than that. It was so much worse. He was throwing her under—

She looked back to Clark, who had averted his gaze while he tried to surreptitiously fix his hair. Which was not only not surreptitious, it made it look obvious what he was trying to hide.. “We—no.” Lois tried to sound stern instead of horrified, tried to think of some way she could possibly salvage this. She pointed an accusatory finger at him, threatened to stab him in the chest with a perfectly manicured fingernail. “Kent, no, we were not—” She looked back to the guard. “We were not,” she said, and she found she could not say any more than that, could not bring herself to say exactly what it was they had not done. And the more flustered she got, the more defensive she seemed, the more Clark looked like he was going to laugh. The more she felt herself start to turn red, like she was in high school instead of a grown goddamn woman who was more than capable of discussing these kinds of things when they did not involve Clark fucking Kent.

“Really?” the guard said as much as asked, and he wasn’t looking at her, was looking at Clark instead. Clark said nothing, looked at Lois and bit his lip like he was saying nothing for her sake, shrugged helplessly. “Did you… touch anything?”

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“The… desk…?” Clark managed, sheepish, gaze upward and slightly to the left like he was accessing his own brain.

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“It was not like that,” Lois tried one last time, and this time the guard looked at her with something like pity.

“I’m going to have to ask both of you to vacate the premises,” the guard apologized.

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“Are you going to have to, uh…” Clark rubbed his nose, pushed his glasses higher. “Report… this…?” Clark scratched his head, as if he were unsure of the appropriate protocol for the situation, as if he were genuinely embarrassed by some adolescent-style indiscretion.

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The guard shrugged. “I met my wife at my last job,” he said, as if that were an explanation. “And the guy who works in that office is a tool.”

She waited until they were out of the view of the building to try and hit Clark with her purse. Try, because he managed to sidestep away from her before she could do it, turning his face like she wouldn't know he had a shit-eating grin on it. He didn’t even miss a step, still strolling along the sidewalk with that long-legged gait.

“Kent, you unbelievable asshole.”

“What’d I do?”

“You know exactly what you did.”

“I didn’t do anything!” he said, offended. “All I did was ask you for our alibi. And we did touch the desk.”

“Don’t you try to pull that with me,” she said, and she had to lower her voice to a hiss due to curious passers-by. “You knew exactly what you were insinuating.”

“I don’t see how it’s my fault if people jump to conclusions. If you’d like to go back and explain that you were just stealing company secrets, we can go back.”

“I ought to kick you in the dick for that little performance,” she told him. “See you try to play cute then.”

He winced. “You really shouldn’t,” he said. “I wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself.”

Oh. My god.” She was, for the briefest moments, slack-jawed in shock. A fleeting grin transitioned to a smirk, turning to walk backward so he could stay in front of her and see her face. Her mouth snapped shut. “Kent, you pig.” He only shrugged again, hands in his pockets, and she didn’t know how he managed not to trip over anything. “Now you really deserve it.”

“The warning stands,” he said as he turned back around to walk by her side. She shoved him, and he tilted his torso sideways but kept walking, straightened out only when a pole would have hit him in the forehead.

His attempts at slapstick were really not as funny as he thought they were.

“Being polite doesn’t make you better than any other guy,” she said.

“Really? But that’s kind of my whole deal. It’s a little late in the game for me to go changing strategies.”

“One of these days you’re going to get shoved out a window,” she warned him. “Not by me, I’m just saying. Generally. Don’t be surprised when it happens.”

“I never am,” he said cheerfully, and she couldn’t help a snort of laughter.

He was still an asshole, though.