Waking, part 15
Disclaimers in "part 0"
NOTE: // indicates translated quote.
Her husband was sitting in the midst of the Planet's small, smoky Cordova office, staring at the screen in front of him. She allowed herself an internal smile - he looked so innocently befuddled.
"You blocked?" she asked sympathetically. "It's not like Perry ordered up a special. He won't mind if you send it for tomorrow's edition." She nudged his shoulder with her hip, making space for herself in front of his screen. "Besides, you always over-think things when you get-"
She stopped, her eyes taking in the breakdown of Clark's normally readable prose. A lucid account of the underlying ethnic and religious tensions in the small nation-state gave way to scattered notes, phrases like "planetary delusion," "mass reaction to exhaustion," and "telepathic assault" jumbled together into nonsense sentences and elliptical space. At the bottom of the screen, in all caps, the cursor blinking at its end, was one isolated question:
Lois looked over her shoulder at her husband, noted the way his brow creased, and made a decision. With swift keystrokes, she deleted the file.
"We're going someplace quiet to eat, Smallville," she ordered, "and then we're going back to the hotel to have a long talk. What time is your meeting?"
"Five o'clock," he answered numbly.
"That gives us almost three hours." She took hold of his hand, pulling him insistently to his feet. "And I want the whole scoop, Smallville, not the Cliff Notes version."
She bullied him out the door, ignoring the looks and head shakes directed at them by the local reporters. It wasn't precisely news that Lois wore the pants in their household, even in this remote corner of the newsworthy world.
On the street, Clark seemed to relax a little, although his eyes darted among the crowd as if he were looking for something and the tightness of his mouth suggested he wasn't liking what he saw.
"I know just the place for the late lunch crowd," Lois breezed, only the tightening of her fingers in Clark's hand signaling her worry. "Quiet, out of the way, decent grub - and," she added in the barest of whispers, "you can tell me what the hell is going on."
That drew his attention, prompting him to disentangle his fingers from hers and put his arm around her shoulders. He pulled her close enough to kiss her forehead.
/"Ah, young love!"/ a voice called from the market stall they were passing, and they turned to the grinning old man who manned the stall. /"You should buy such a beauty a flower, sir!"/
Clark smiled his most affable Midwest farmboy smile at the man and asked, "What's he saying?"
He knew well enough, she knew, but Clark Kent didn't have quite the facility with language that Superman did. "He wants you to buy me a flower," she reported, her face wearing the appropriately flattered smile.
"Then I will," he announced, leading her to the man's stall and looking at the selection of late spring blooms. He plucked an early rose from amongst the buckets and smiled at the man. /"How much?"/ he asked in appropriately broken Cordovan.
The man reached out and took the flower from his fingers, snapping the stem to a length that would tuck into the button hole of Lois' trench coat. /"For young love? I think today the flower is free."/ He stepped forward to thread the flower into Lois' coat with a smile. /"We need to encourage such blooms,"/ he remarked, his expression kindly.
Lois colored slightly and said, "He wants to give it to me," she explained.
"Oh, but I - /sir, I shall... ought.../"
"No, no!" the man protested. "For loving, you see? Love?" His face expressed his earnestness, and he nodded approvingly when Clark's hand dropped from his back pocket.
/"Thanks to you,"/ Clark said, turning his smiling eyes to Lois and again kissing her forehead.
/"Tell him you two together makes an old heart happy,"/ the vendor stated.
"We make him happy," Lois explained, admiring how well Clark stayed in Smallville form. /"And you've made us happy,"/ she said brightly to the vendor. /"Thank you! Good-bye."/
She gave a little wave as she led Clark away, noticing as soon as they were clear of the stall the worry line in his forehead was creasing again. "Planetary disaster?" she asked quietly, half in jest.
He only tightened his arm around her, his fingers brushing the petals of the rose.
"Here we are," Lois announced, guiding him a short way down a side street to the restaurant entrance. "Local fare, well prepared, and not so much gouging of the Americans." Her tone was light with the faint sardonic edge that no good reporter was without - though it sounded forced.
They stepped from the bright street to the dim restaurant and were met at the door by a middle aged woman. She nodded politely at their entry and, at a word from Lois, led them back to a small booth where she left them with menus.
"Okay, Smallville," Lois hissed. "What's going on?"
He shook his head, not sure where to start. "Lois, this is going to sound weird, but - there's something not right about all this good will and high energy that's been going around."
She nodded, her eyes watching him narrowly. "So you think John was right."
He almost started, then remembered he had told her about the previous day's meeting. He sighed. "John's missing. And something's wrong with our favorite man in black."
"Wrong how?" Lois asked.
"Fevers. High enough he couldn't come to work."
She raised an eyebrow. "That doesn't sound good."
"No," Clark agreed. "And then these riots last night - we heard several other distress calls in the same window of time."
She met his eyes. "Where was Big S?" It was not a challenge or demand, just her usual unfailing sense that he had been somewhere that left him troubled.
"Power plant disaster. Pulling a body out of the grid."
Her hand reached across the table to clasp his. "Oh, Clark. I'm sorry."
He was silent a moment, accepting her sympathy.
"But things calmed down," she prompted.
"Rather suddenly." He touched his temple, trusting her to put together what he was saying. "Telepathy."
Her brows lowered in a frown of concentration. "What did John say?"
"He was already long missing by that point. I haven't seen him since yesterday's meeting."
She considered this for a moment. "And Wally's still out sick?"
"Ray, too? Man, that must be something nasty going around."
"And we're sitting on our hands," Clark sighed, fidgeting with the menu. "I feel like we should warn people, make a press announcement or something. But tell people what? They should sleep more?"
Lois snorted. "That'd go over like a lead balloon."
"I know," he admitted helplessly. "I can't help wishing we'd paid more attention when John first pointed all this out instead of putting him in a position where he felt he had to fight it alone."
"Hey, Clark," Lois increased the pressure of her fingers on his hand. "It sounded crazy. It still sounds crazy. If I didn't know what's going on, if I didn't know you so well, I would laugh at the idea."
"But it's our job to pay attention to these things-" he protested, his sense of defeat growing.
"You order ready now?"
Clark glanced up at the waitress, his hands opening the menu. "Uh, yeah. Just - why don't you get me..."
He trailed off as he turned his eyes back to the waitress' face. In the time it had taken him to look down and pick a number her eyes had developed a glassy look and her lip trembled as if she were fighting tears. "Miss? Are you all right?"
His query was met by a strangled sound across from him, and he looked over to see that Lois' face had reddened, a tear already rolling down one cheek. "Lois?"
There were more sniffles, and he realized that everyone in the restaurant was rummaging for handkerchiefs, tears streaming down their faces. "What-?" he wondered.
"Oh, Clark," Lois sniffed. "It's just so sad."
"I'm sorry," she apologized to the waitress, already rising from her seat. "We're not so hungry after all." She pulled at Clark's hand, dragging him in blinking bewilderment out to the sidewalk. There, too, peoples faces were distorted by emotion.
"Lois, what's going on?"
"I don't know," she sobbed. "Let's just - let's just go back to the hotel, okay?"
"Sure," he agreed in a daze. This time he took the lead for the few blocks to the hotel, traveling through a landscape made surreal by the weeping faces that surrounded him on all sides. He navigated the lobby, startled as guests and staff clung to each other, bound together in some grief-induced fog that he could not fathom. He kept Lois curled protectively to his chest as he stepped into the elevator. "What number?" he asked.
"Five," she choked out, pressing her face into him.
He waited until he had her in the room before he activated his JLA signaling device. The answer came quickly.
"Nightwing, it's Superman. I'm in Cordova and-"
"We know," came the grim reply. "It's happening everywhere. Seventeen countries have already declared national days of mourning, and the UN is holding an emergency meeting right now."
"What is it?" he wondered, still stroking his wife's hair comfortingly.
"No idea." He realized suddenly that there was a tighter note of control than usual in Nightwing's voice, that if it were happening everywhere, it would also be-
"I'll be there in a minute," he promised. "Superman out."
Lois lifted her tear streaked face to look at him. "I know you have to go," she croaked.
He brushed at her tears. "I'm sorry, Lois. I love you."
"I know, Clark." She hugged him tightly, and he wished for a moment that he could just be Clark Kent, could worry about nothing greater than comforting his wife. Then he gently pulled away from her and kissed her.
"I'll figure it out," he promised.
"I know," she acknowledged, stepping back and letting him slip out the window and across the clear afternoon sky.