Red

by Jojo



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Lois wakes. It's a Thursday.

Yesterday had been Wednesday, and as Wednesdays went, it had been pretty shitty. Tuesday, though, Tuesday had been terrible - worse than the fight her parents had over her birthday cake when she was thirteen, worse than Philip Freeman spilling punch on her prom dress, worse than Mike Forest cheating on her with Candice Fucking Morris freshman year.

She refuses to think too hard about Monday. Her alarm clock tells her she's overslept by two hours. Clark's doing, she knows. She can't find it in herself to be annoyed.

Her apartment - beautiful, expensive, partially bought with guilt money from her father when she was twenty-five - is bright and airy and she stands at the windows and stares out at the empty sky.

A sip of coffee and she wants to throw up. She puts the cup down by the half-finished mug of tea Clark made her the previous night.

She chooses a red suit. She's always felt empowered in red.

In the traffic, her mind is uncomfortably blank. Turns the wheel, brakes. Stares at a woman on a bicycle wearing a red coat. A horn blares from somewhere nearby and Lois jumps, accelerates when she realizes it's aimed at her, a curse word not even prepared on her tongue.

Jimmy is an abnormally silent presence beside her in the elevator. She turns her head - feels weird, slow, maybe an out of body experience? - and the tips of his hair are tinted in blue, red and yellow.

Clark hands her another cup of coffee before she's even sat down. She nearly spits out a mouthful when she sees what he's wearing. Sharp suit, the kind of thing she's tried to make him wear before. The tie is exquisite and somehow familiar.

She follows him around the newsroom to their desks, sits on her chair and tries to remember how to access her email.

In the corner of her eye, Clark's head is bent studiously like a kid at school. She bet he was a hard-worker. Straight A-student. She's never thought to ask Chloe because, for a while, the name 'Clark Kent' would send Chloe into an uncharacteristic silent fury. And then she no longer felt she needed Chloe to find out about Clark.

Perry's hand is slightly damp as it closes around hers in a rare show of physical affection. Lois's skin crawls with horror, worried that everything she is feeling - or isn't - is on display to the world. Didn't she choose the red suit this morning?

Clark goes somewhere for lunch and is evasive about where and with whom, only that he won't be longer than an hour and she should call him if she wants to.

"I'm not sick or anything, Clark," she tells him because it's important he knows that she is stronger than this. She's the strong one.

He just pushes those glasses up his nose, though she's known for years that the prescription is minor. She used to think it was some kind of strange, backwards farm fashion mistake, but now they look incongruous with the suit and tie. She's just not sure any more.

Lex Luthor was in Metropolis on Monday night. That's how far she's gotten in the investigation. Clark is still refusing to help, the frown lines on his forehead even there when he's not looking at her. He looks over a lot. She's not blind.

She works on her article. It's a thousand words over the designated word limit, unstoppable, a snake that keeps shedding its skin. Jimmy passes by her desk too many times, eyes roving over her face. When she catches his eye, he beams, too many teeth, she thinks. Too young for her, she thinks.

That guy from finance is hanging around Clark's desk again. He's reaching out and flipping Clark's tie, head tilted to the side. No one should be flirting at a time like this.

She thinks, perhaps, Clark's gay. But she should know something like that, shouldn't she?

The mirror in the women's toilets is hideous. The color of the walls is all wrong, the lighting angled badly. She washes her face, takes out her purse and reapplies everything. At the base of her purse, she finds a button someone had handed to her on Tuesday, the 'S' emblem all angles and primary colors like something a child would draw.

She hadn't looked at it, had pocketed it instead and read her speech over and over. Later, she'd stumbled only when she'd looked out across the crowd and zeroed in on Lex Luthor, sitting front and center in black and grey, perfectly calm, perhaps a little bored.

Embarrassed by Clark's offer to drive her home again, Lois denies the need for company. But she drives to the LuthorCorp towers and sits in traffic, staring at the front entrance, willing Lex Luthor to walk out, coat floating behind him, shoulders released from the burden of carrying Superman's integrity.

Parks outside Clark's building and watches time pass. She's not sure what she's doing there; she doesn't particularly want to see Clark but knowing he's nearby is somehow comforting. It's dark by the time she finds the energy to leave.

At home, she notices her voicemail for the first time. The red light is blinking away steadily and she realizes she hasn't checked it since Monday night. There are four messages, all from the early hours of Tuesday morning. The first is a hang-up, Chloe's number. Then "Hi, Lois, it's Chloe." There's a long pause, just breathing, hitching breaths. "I know it's... it's kinda late but... I figured... oh God, Lois, I'm so sorry." Next is another hang-up, Chloe again. And, finally, "It's me again. I wanted to... check. Um. Have you spoken to Clark recently?"

Lois's finger hovers over 'delete'. Her nail is as red as the button, not even the slightest chip. Her manicurist deserved her heavy tip.

She wonders what Superman's death has to do with Clark Kent. Perhaps, like everything else, Chloe thought something was going on between Lois and her partner.

She leaves the messages undeleted, toes off her shoes, has a long bath and stays still until the water is room temperature.

Strange thoughts run through her usually ordered brain. Clark's Superman scoops, his new suit, Chloe's calls, Lex Luthor's expression at the memorial service, and Clark's reticence to dig deeper into Superman's death. Superman was murdered and Clark Kent doesn't want to know.

Sighing, Lois rolls over in bed. The silk sheets Lex addicted her to don't rustle, they slither. She slithers out of bed. Her heart pounds in her chest, she paces her bedroom restlessly, not sure what her mind is trying to tell her. She's usually quicker than this.

Lex's expression at the memorial service.

She picks up the phone and starts to speed-dial Clark's number, then changes her mind and hangs up before she finishes. She thinks she might be going a little mad.

She sits impatiently in front of her home pc, waits for it to load. Her desktop is a photograph of herself and Clark with their Pulitzers, the proudest moment of her life.

She stares at Clark's face, feeling flushed and unnerved.

Lifting the phone to her ear, she holds down number two on speed-dial. Clark picks up. "Kent speaking."

"Clark - " She wants to say more. But can't.

"Lois? Is something wrong?"

The silence spreads itself across the phone line. Lois can hear Clark breathing; it's a little rapid. Like Lois's heartbeat. "You're..." She stops. Her purse is nearby; she tips it out and the colored button rattles on the table, glossy and innocent.

"Lois? Do you need me to come over?"

Lois shakes her head. "It's nothing. Goodnight, Clark." She hangs up the phone and puts it down. Then pushes it a little way, behind the photograph of her family she keeps on her desk to remind herself why she doesn't email her mother more often.

She wraps her fingers around the button and tightens her fist until it hurts. Because she does hurt. Everywhere.

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Completed: 12 May 04

Thanks to Karen T for betaing.



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