by Talya Firedancer

Clark squares his shoulders and walks into the newsroom manfully, a litany of self-confidence welling in his head. It's only been an hour; international news can't possibly travel that fast, Richard probably doesn't even check that particular blogosphere, and with that last thought, his eyes dart in a quick but automatic flick toward the office of International's assistant editor, which spells his doom.

Richard is not looking in his direction, but rather is fixed on his computer screen, which when peered through reveals the very scene Clark was hoping to keep enshrined in obscurity forever. Richard's shoulders quake. A hand comes up to cover his mouth. His vivid blue-green eyes widen.

Like a dog with its tail tucked in, Clark slinks back to his desk, unable to avoid casting a last glance over his shoulder. Richard has noticed his arrival, all right, and quickly averts his eyes, biting down on his lip, shoulders hunching.

Profanity is not a vice often indulged in, but Clark invests in a good heartfelt damn, then seats himself at his desk. It's no use. All he can hope for now is that Richard will take pity on them both and not come out of his office until the bullpen clears.

Not long after Clark has graced his computer screen with a blank stare, an e-mail pops up to shake him loose from his dolorous thoughts. It's from Richard, so he opens it at once.

Can you file copy on the Superman incident in Japan by 5?

Involuntarily, Clark glances over at Richard's office, and now the man is making a study of avoiding his eyes. Clark's mouth firms in the closest approximation of a scowl that he can manage. Richard's shoulders are shaking.

Very funny, he's tempted to shoot back, but re-aligns his posture ramrod-straight with a sigh. Instead of replying, he runs a quick search and his fears are confirmed: it really is that bad. The pictorial evidence is already strung out over a number of Asian blogs.

He pushes back his chair and makes his way to Richard's door, shoving it open with uncharacteristic force, catching the handle before it can fly against the wall and shatter the glass. Richard ducks over his desk and won't meet his eyes. "Richard, you can't honestly want me to-- I mean, I'm not going to run that story, this is the Daily Planet, not the Metropolis Starr-- There's just no way, I won't do it!" he declares at last.

Richard remains bent over his desk, heart rate elevated and breathing short. Clark grows concerned. He's never had to administer CPR before and he's afraid he'd end up doing it wrong; in an eyeblink he reviews the symptoms of half a dozen medical complaints a healthy young man could suffer and worries about heart attack, then the first guffaw breaks through and Clark tenses even more.

"Ha ha...oh god no...go away, Clark, it was a joke...stop, I can't look at you without laughing!" Richard doubles over, pounding at his desk. "I can't believe -- and then you-- ha ha ha..."

Grimly Clark hauls the office door shut behind him, knowing he doesn't even need to look to confirm the number of peculiar stares that have arrowed in on their direction.

"Go ahead," Clark says with deceptive mildness. "Get it out of your system."

Richard sneaks a look at Clark, then goes off into another peal of laughter. Clark sighs and skirts the desk, taking a look at the image Richard has called up on the monitor. He controls a wince. A thousand Japanese camera-phones aimed in his direction practically the instant he landed and most of them, he thinks, got a fairly accurate picture of the situation.

"How was I supposed to know?" Clark said plaintively. "I had no idea the Japanese had a fertility festival like that every year. I mean, I didn't have an occasion to know Honen Matsuri from any other... I thought I was rescuing a hapless girl from being raped, not...um..."

"Dropping in on the biggest parade of penises in the world?" Richard supplies, and tries not to laugh. It lasts all of ten seconds before a snigger breaks loose.

Clark gives a reluctant chuckle. "Okay, I walked into that one," he allows. "And the Japanese love Superman, so of course they couldn't resist, er, giving me a...a very nice gift..."

"Speaking of, do you...do you still have the necklace of phalluses they garlanded you with?" Richard manages to ask, which just sets him off again, as he then howls and hammers at his knees, tears streaming from the corners of his eyes.

"No!" Clark says indignantly, then reconsiders as Richard makes another concerted effort to pull himself together. He adds in a reflective tone, "Did you want me to?"

This time they both laugh.