Waterloo, Kansas

by Hope

For victoria p., it was her idea.

"Miss Cregg, it's a pleasure."

C.J. took the man's offered hand, and fought with the temptation to correct the honorific: she was hardly in her first blush, or for that matter, second or third. "Ms., thank you, and I don't believe I've had the pleasure." Oh well, score one for temptation.

"Lionel Luthor," he said, squeezing her hand gently before stepping back. Windswept hair and a razored smile, Lionel looked out over the the teeming crush of LuthorCorp employees waiting to hear a few words from the president. "My people have been looking forward to this visit for quite some time."

Metropolis was the swing. Where it led, Kansas would follow, and six electoral votes were nothing to ignore when Ritchie had already claimed the midwest for his own. In the middle of what Sam was calling the Labor Union Reunion Tour, C.J. had met more than her fair share of CEOs giddy with the prospect of bending the president's ear, and funnily enough, most of them reminded her of little Napoleons, this one included. Still, diplomacy mattered. "We're grateful for the opportunity to be heard, Mr. Luthor."

With a sidewards glance, he insisted, "Please, call me Lionel."

Scanning her surroundings for someone she could conceivably ditch the little emperor for, C.J. pasted on a pleasant, if chilly smile, and cursed Josh for disappearing into the throng again. Conversation with the deputy chief of staff would have been the ideal excuse, and she didn't think that a pressing need to talk to one of the secret service agents would do the trick. Stuck again with diplomacy, she ignored the invitation. "That's very kind of you."

"It's hardly kind," Lionel said, smoothing a hand down his tie. "When in the presence of power, Ms. Cregg, I defer."

Oh yeah right. She hoped she hadn't said that out loud. "I'm not the power, Mr. Luthor, I just work for it."

"On the contrary. The Oracle may speak for its mysteries, but if the people have no faith in the Oracle, the words are meaningless." Grasping the rail separating them from the masses below, Lionel leaned out to look down upon them. "You are as familiar to them as the president himself."

"So are Paul McCartney and Santa Claus, but that doesn't mean any of us will be making policy anytime soon." So much for diplomacy. Crossing her arms over her clipboard, C.J. willed the president to quit fooling around with last minute changes and take the stage already.

"With a turn of phrase, you steer the ship of public opinion. But..." Lionel held up a hand, royally, annoyingly gracious. "I won't press the matter. We all have the right to define our own place in the world."

Real big of him. Tightening her arms around the clipboard, C.J. ignored the warning way its edges cut into her arms. No, I'm sorry, you don't get to decide when the conversation's over."

Lionel's brows rose, and he finally looked over at her. Incredulous, perhaps even a little amused. "Pardon me?"

"I talk to people every day, Mr. Luthor, and they all want something. A sound byte, a moment alone with the president, and I can respect that. It's my job to respect that. But every day, at least one of those people decides that flattery is a tactic that I might enjoy. I do, by the way, but only when it's sincere, and while I appreciate classical references as much as the next girl, comparing what I do to inhaling holy hallucinogens and speaking in tongues doesn't impress me." The clipboard bit again, so C.J. tucked it under one arm, and told it, and diplomacy, to shut up. "I speak -to- the people, I speak -for- the president, and I don't need anyone's permission to to define my destiny."

The glimmer of Lionel's smile had tamped down to a dull slash. "Duly noted."

"Oh, and Lionel?" Escaping to a nearby stairwell, C.J. gestured toward the stage as the president made his way to the lectern, the crowd's murmurs rising to a roar to greet him. "Now you're in the presence of power. I suggest you defer."

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