For the uncounted umpteenth time the end of the black pen is between Lois's teeth and she's chewing on it absently before she remembers, again, it's the Montblanc that Richard purchased for her when she won the Pulitzer. With a sigh she pulls it out of her mouth and looks at it fondly. Richard meant well, she knows, and wants only the best for her but a platinum-plated fountain pen with a brilliant jewel on the clip is better off in the case and she writes best with Pilot fine-line ballpoint anyhow.
The story she has been working on for the past two days is running dry. Her legal tablet is covered with barely-legible notes and she has 500 words in a computer document but at this point, she's waiting back on four different leads who have all promised to call back "soon." She wants to ask Perry for another assignment but she's been pushing so hard for the past three months he's starting to hint "vacation" instead when that's the last thing she needs.
She hasn't been avoiding home lately. She adores her son. She loves Richard very much. And she's just a little bit bewildered as to how Clark ended up in the equation, something she and Richard haven't had the chance to talk about.
Lois buries herself in work to avoid coming home early enough to sit down with a glass of wine and Richard and hear the words "we need to talk" popping out of her mouth.
A sigh slips out before she can stop it and with a final look at its sleek glossy black lines, she caps the Montblanc and grabs up her notepad, heading for Perry's office again.
There's a crash outside Richard White's office that reverberates even through the glass of his door and he gets up to investigate, unsurprised when he sees Clark kneeling beside a box of upended office supplies.
"What happened here, a tornado?" Richard asks good-naturedly, opening his door and dropping the kickstand. He crouches to help stack everything into the cardboard box.
Clark looks up, flashing that hesitant half-smile that's more grimace than anything else. "Oh, I just -- I, well, Lois--"
Richard can infer the rest. "Yeah, she is like a force of nature, huh?" He reaches for a box of pens and finds that Clark has gotten there first as he covers long, strong fingers with his own.
The hand is snatched away and the box drops in with the rest of the supplies. Richard blinks at the speed of it. He wants to ask, 'are you okay?' He knows he doesn't dare.
It would take a dead man not to see Clark's feelings, so this is one place Richard can't bring himself to take the teasing.
"What are you doing, moving desks?" he says instead, indicating the carton.
"Oh, no..." Clark's mouth purses. "Jeannie from Classifieds needed more post-it notes, and Harry in Metro wanted some more of those big document clips so Bob who sits next to him added new staples and a calculator, then Jimmy asked for--"
Richard holds up a hand. "Okay, I get it." He smiles, catches Clark with the tail end of it, is gratified when Clark tentatively returns it. "Clark, you know you've got to stop letting people take advantage of you."
"I don't mind," Clark says softly, the corners of his mouth turning up, and the loss of eye contact is like a physical wrench as he stands with the box in his arms.
Clark doesn't mean to eavesdrop any more than he means to get broadsided by Lois during any one of a dozen of her trips to Perry's office during the course of the week. As he's divulged to Lois as Superman on more than one occasion, he hears everything - all at once, all the time, and there's no way to stop or mute it, let alone one thread out of thousands.
What he has learned is the fine art of selective focus, like standing in a crowded cocktail party and paying attention to one conversation rather than trying to follow all of them. Not that he's been invited to any cocktail parties and if he was, would he go?
He hears Lois because he can't help it. But he sets the carton of supplies down because she is distressed, angry, and he tunes in on that before he's realized.
"I need it, Perry," Lois argues.
"Lois, what you need is to be taking it easy; you just won a Pulitzer, and while I know you have this relentless drive to top everyone including your own achievements, and that's what makes you one of my best reporters, at this juncture it would be better if you laid off--"
"Excuse me, with all due respect I think I know what I need better than you, Perry!" Lois snaps back. "Now, this story's going cold on me and I know you haven't dropped the follow-up for the City Hall corruption case on anyone, so--"
"I'm giving it to Kent," Perry interjects, his voice steely.
"To Clark? Great--" Her voice drips sarcasm.
He clutches the box to his chest again as someone collides with him. "Sorry," Bob from Metro apologizes, then glances into the box. "Hey, those the supplies?"
"Um, yes," Clark says, and Bob reaches in to rummage around.
By the time she leaves the office, Clark has busied himself elsewhere. It doesn't really matter, he knows, because she doesn't really "see" him at the office - the same way she barely acknowledges him now that he's taken up uneasy residence in her home. He'll do whatever makes it easiest, including removing himself from the line of sight.
When the carton is mostly empty he looks in and still has a box of ballpoint pens to deal with. Those are from Lois's request, and he glances over automatically to see her banging away at the keyboard, a phone tucked against her ear.
He decides to give them to her later, even though it's never a good time.