Conversations In A Diner
by M. Scott Eiland

Clark glanced across the room. Lois was in Perry's office, Jimmy was chatting up the new assistant in the Sports department, and no one else was within fifty feet of his desk, or watching what he was doing. He smiled and moved his hands to the keyboard. Long practice allowed him to type with only a whisper of sound, and he had installed some subtle but effective measures to keep the rather excessive typing speed from making his computer crash on him or otherwise leave a trace of what he had done. Twenty seconds later, he had a five thousand word article about drug trafficking in Burma and its connections in Metropolis--an article he had researched before leaving for Proycon five days before, and which he had used as a cover for his absence. Things got a little hairy while I was gone--I've got to be more selective with my offworld missions He spell checked the article, read it quickly, and emailed it to Perry for final approval. Satisfied, he leaned back in his chair. Maybe I'll have a quiet day at work for once

The phone rang, and Clark quickly picked it up: "Daily Planet. Kent speaking."

"Meet me in the alley next to the Starbucks across the street from the Planet in five minutes." The voice was female and familiar, though Clark couldn't quite place it.

"I beg your pardon--who am I speaking to?" Clark hadn't been expecting any calls, and he couldn't recall ever having heard this voice on the phone before, though he knew he had--

"You're hurting my feelings--I gave you an exclusive interview when I first arrived on Earth, Mr. Kent." Clark's eyes widened as he registered the amused tone in the woman's voice and recognized it belatedly. His jaw dropped as she added, "Besides--news doesn't travel faster than the speed of light on this world: I figured that you might want an update about recent events that happened while you were elsewhere."

How-- Clark looked around nervously and checked to be sure that no one was close by before muttering, "Hawkgirl, why--"

"Don't be so uptight--I'm not spilling any secrets--come as you are." The line clicked, and Clark shook his head in irritation as he secured his computer and headed for the elevator.

"Hey, Smallville! Where are you off to?" Lois' voice boomed across the newsroom, causing Clark to flinch. She snickered at his obvious discomfort and added, "Got a date?"

Clark bristled, and stifled the reply he had on the tip of his tongue in favor of: "Lunch appointment with a source. Gotta run." He escaped into the elevator and exhaled in relief--dodging Lois could be a real chore at times like this. He tensed up again as he remembered that the woman he was going to see could be just as stressful to deal with at times. Out of the frying pan. . .

The elevator doors opened, and he walked quietly out of the building, crossed the street, and went over to the entrance to the alley, where he leaned against the wall and checked his watch. Five minutes on the dot--where is she?

"Excuse me, but may I have your autograph, Mr. Kent?"

Clark turned and saw a woman of medium height looking at him. She wore an expensive-looking trenchcoat that was noticeably bunched up in the back, as if she was wearing a backpack under it. Her hair was medium-length and red, and her large, lovely eyes were pale green. Her voice gave Clark the impression that she was a tad vacuous--it had that air of breathlessness that he had learned from experience to respond to with friendly nods and a quick retreat. He forced a smile as the woman held out a pen and a pad and replied, "Of course, miss. Who should I make it out to?"

The woman smiled, and as Clark looked down at the paper, she chuckled throatily and suggested in a far more familiar voice, "Well, Shayera Hol would be nice--it is my name, after all."

Clark blinked, and wrote, "To Shayera Hol--OK, you got me. Warmest Regards, Clark Kent." He handed her the pen and pad, then grabbed her arm and led her about thirty feet down the alley, looking around to see if there were any observers before whispering, "Hawkgirl, what's going on? Why--?"

"I was just having a little fun--don't get all flustered." Hawkgirl grinned at him and took his arm. "Why don't you buy me lunch somewhere private and we can talk about what's been going on while you were off on Proycon."

Clark flinched, looked around again, then glared at her. Hawkgirl winked, and Clark sighed and accepted the inevitable. He led her out of the alley and a few doors down the street into a small restaurant. The man behind the front counter called out, "Hey, Mr. Kent--long time no see." He blinked at seeing Clark's companion and asked, "Miss Lane out of town?"

"No--just having lunch with an old friend, Charlie." Clark replied. Charlie looked expectant, but Clark decided not to make introductions. "Is someone using the party room? We'd like a little privacy."

Charlie chuckled and commented, "I would too, if I were you." Clark scowled, and Charlie looked nervously over at the woman to see if she would choose to take offense. Instead, she winked at him and took a half-step closer to Clark. Charlie shook his head. Lucky bastard-- spends his work days with the most gorgeous reporter in the city, and now this He inclined his head towards a curtained doorway across the room and invited, "Go ahead and find a table in there. I'll come in after five minutes and take your orders."

Clark nodded and led his companion through the curtain and into the small, dimly lit room. A large table was in the middle of things, but Clark led Hawkgirl past it to a small corner booth, and handed her a menu from a holder on the wall as he commented, "I'm sorry--I'm not sure what you prefer to eat. My favorite is the spaghetti with meat sauce, with a salad."

"That sounds good," replied Hawkgirl, looking the menu over and closing it. "In my line of work, we learn to blend in, eat the local cuisine. Pasta and salad is about as unnoticeable a menu choice as one could come up with--and it's very tasty." She chuckled and commented, "You've known me for, what, over two years and you have no idea what I eat?"

Clark shrugged. "It didn't come up in our interview, and I just never noticed at--at the other times we were in the same place." Hawkgirl snickered at the abrupt euphemism, and watched as Clark lowered his glasses and looked for eavesdroppers or listening devices in the area. When he was satisfied, Clark turned to the amused Thanagarian and commented bluntly, "I don't seem to recall telling you about where Superman worked when he wasn't on duty."

Hawkgirl snorted. "Oh, please. I figured that out over a year ago. You spent two days with me as you look now for that interview, before I ever met Superman. You tend to notice things about them in that time, Clark. How their clothes hang on them--the subtle ways their expressions change when they talk, and when their moods change-- things like that. Besides--you're not exactly a small man, Clark. You're bigger than Batman, and I bet he'd fit in well with those football players that American TV is showing all the time. The resemblance is obvious, Clark--I can't believe you've gotten away with it all these years, even with the behavioral changes and the minor physical disguise." She shook her head in disbelief and asked, "Surely you haven't managed to fool Batman all these years, have you?"

"Well, no," Clark admitted, flushing at Hawkgirl's casual trashing of the effectiveness of his secret identity, "but only because he stuck a tracer on me after I used X-Ray vision to find out his--" Hawkgirl raised an eyebrow, and Clark felt compelled to add defensively, "Only because he was beating up hoods in Metropolis and threw me across a room when I tried to make him stop. I'd never just peek under a mask just because I can."

"Well, that explains why you didn't recognize me in the alley--I assumed that you would have looked under the mask at some point." Hawkgirl said, visibly amused. Clark shook his head, and Hawkgirl added, "I don't really have a secret identity--I just assume a disguise when I need to blend. Obviously, there are some limitations, but I didn't see any signs of being recognized out on the street just now--except for occasional staring and some interesting comments."

"Hanging around with the Flash probably has you used to that sort of behavior," commented Clark as he glanced at the doorway. Charlie would be coming in a few moments.

"He's a sweet kid," Hawkgirl replied, toying with her napkin as she looked over at Clark. "It'd be a bit off-putting if he wasn't flirting with me now and again, at his age and with what those powers of his must do to his hormone levels. He's not dumb--he knows I'm not interested."

Clark heard footsteps and inclined his head at the doorway. Hawkgirl nodded and went silent as Charlie came in and took their orders: both ordered spaghetti with meat sauce and salad, and Hawkgirl added a request for a bottle of wine. When Charlie left, Clark smiled and commented, "I didn't know you drank wine."

Hawkgirl shrugged. "It helps with the blending thing--there are places where people don't react well to a woman coming up to the bar and ordering an Antaran Skull-Blaster." Clark smiled, and Hawkgirl added, "So--you know Batman's secret identity too? That saves a lot of dancing around about the news while you were gone."

Clark frowned, puzzled. "I heard about the thing with Vandal Savage. Nasty business--what makes me nervous is that he must have had sources that told him I was off world. That rail gun wouldn't have been much trouble for me to deal with."

"More trouble than you'd have thought, Clark--John briefed me when I got back," Hawkgirl replied, all business for the moment. "Savage had managed to collect a nice little debris field to draw ammunition from--there was a substantial amount of kryptonite mixed in with the nickel-iron asteroids. It took John the better part of a day to gather it up and send it on a one-way trip to the sun."

"I'll have to thank him," commented Clark, wincing at the thought of having to deal with a satellite full of hostages and a weapon capable of wiping out a large city with one shot that was surrounded with kryptonite. Hawkgirl nodded, and Clark added, "What does that have to do with Batman and his secret identity?"

Hawkgirl grinned wickedly and removed a newspaper from her trench coat, handing it to Clark. Clark opened it and noted that it was a major daily newspaper from France. He read the headline--translating from French to English without effort--"Terrorists Attempt Abduction of Kasnian Princess: Foiled By Wonder Woman" There were many pictures accompanying the story--including one of Diana demolishing a military helicopter while wearing a black dress--but the one that caught Clark's eye was of Diana wearing the same dress, on the dance floor with-- "He was dancing with her in public? Not exactly the kind of woman he usually is seen with."

"He's got a better disguise than you do, but there are obvious indications if you know what you're looking for--physical similarities, Wayne's constant absences that aren't accounted for except for vague press releases about him being off on vacation, geographic proximity--both are intimately associated with Gotham City, and doing the math regarding how much all of his technology would cost: he needs a billionaire to be paying his bills." Hawkgirl commented as she reached for a chip from the basket that Charlie had left behind. She chewed thoughtfully for a moment, then added, "He couldn't resist being suave in front of the Princess--" Clark noted the slightly odd pronunciation she gave the last word--it was no secret in the League that she and Diana weren't exactly close-- "--and she caught him dead to rights. She's been teasing him about it mercilessly."

"Diana's been talking about Batman's secret identity in front of other people?" Clark frowned--that didn't sound like Diana.

"No, Batman came by last night when I was on monitoring duty and was muttering about it." Clark blinked in disbelief, and Hawkgirl noted the reaction. "I told him months ago that I had figured his secret out--he has the right to know, in case someone captured me and used coercion to extract secrets from me. I should have told you the same thing earlier, but I've never really had the right moment to do so." Clark nodded, and Hawkgirl added in an amused tone, "He was glad to hear that I'd had a little more problem figuring out his secret identity than yours--said that it was bad enough that your girlfriend had found out his secret."

"That's the problem with masks--they can come off at bad moments," replied Clark, reaching for a chip and chewing it for a moment before adding, "I'm surprised he opened up to you like that--he's not exactly a people person."

Hawkgirl shrugged. "You weren't around, and he needed to grumble to someone who knew what his situation was." Clark smiled slightly, and Hawkgirl shook her head and commented, "They're perfect for each other, you know--in a way, they're both displaced royalty. He isn't put off when she has those annoying aristocratic rants, and he's not scared off by the whole Themysciran anti-male vibes thing. She's hooked by the whole `man of mystery with a double life' mystique he has going for him. Should make things interesting, if he ever stops being annoyed that she figured him out without him intending for her to do so."

"He's not your type either, hmm?" Clark suggested. Charlie came in with the wine and the salad, and Hawkgirl seemed to be thinking about his comment as Clark poured the wine and Charlie departed. Clark finished pouring, and asked, "Penny for your thoughts?"

Hawkgirl shrugged, looking wistful. "Batman's interesting to be around, and probably the one I'd want in charge of any rescue attempt if someone really nasty got me: no offense--"

"None taken--we've got a lot of smart people on our team, but Batman is top of the heap as far as brains and determination goes." Clark replied, digging into his salad.

Hawkgirl nodded in agreement and continued, "--but he's too introverted. I like to get out and have fun now and again without busting super villains' heads being involved, and that part of his personality is all tied up with Bruce Wayne, who is not interesting to me in the slightest." She looked over at Clark with a playful expression and added, "And even if I was inclined to steal you away from the reporter with the mean streak--"

"Lois isn't mean," protested Clark--remembering that Lois had been in rare form on the days when he had been interviewing Hawkgirl: losing a choice interview like that had definitely stuck in her craw. Hawk Girl snorted, and Clark amended, "Well, she can be--but it's mostly an act. I remember when she thought that I had died in an accident-- she confided in Superman that she felt horribly guilty about having treated me the way she had. She's always been the alpha in that newsroom--she's just trying to assert her authority."

"So you put up with her badmouthing you during the day, then you put on that cape and show her the world when you've got an opening in your busy schedule," commented Hawkgirl. Clark shrugged, and Hawkgirl shook her head and said, "Don't you just want to get even sometimes for some of the stuff she says to you while you're wearing those glasses?"

Clark smiled--and the expression was completely familiar to Hawkgirl as the one that Superman wore when he was about to give a particularly tough super villain a rather thorough beating: "What makes you think that I don't?" Hawkgirl laughed, and Superman added, "I'll tell you some stories sometimes when we're up in the Watchtower and things are slow. Now, what were you about to say about stealing me away from Lois?" His tone was intentionally light, but he was curious.

The Thanagarian flushed slightly, and hesitated before replying, "You are a worthy example for one who seeks to protect the innocent, Kal- El--" Clark blinked as Hawkgirl unexpectedly used his Kryptonian name, and watched her closely as she continued, "--but I fear that our outlooks on life are rather different. It is a useful fact in the context of our team--different outlooks give us a number of perspectives for approaching a problem--but for a closer relationship. . .you are a great warrior, but yearn for a peaceful existence. I exist for the battle, and I fear that I would bring that outlook to any relationship I entered. Anyone who would choose to be with me will have that to deal with."

Clark smiled, and certain observations he had made over the past few years clicked into alignment. He finished his salad and observed, "Well, I'm sure that things will work out for you. What has our Mr. Stewart been up to other than clearing away inconvenient kryptonite debris?"

Clark had posed the question without changing his tone of voice or expression, and he was rewarded with a flinch and a stare from Hawkgirl. Yep--I thought so She was silent for a moment, then shrugged and replied, "Haven't seen that much of him, really. He's away a lot on sector patrol, and when he is around we don't exactly get along--"

"So I've noticed," Clark commented, smirking slightly.

Hawkgirl glared at Clark, who remained impassive. After a moment, she sighed and requested softly, "Let's not go there, Clark--all right? It can't lead to any good."

Clark felt a touch of sadness, but felt compelled to honor the request. "All right--I'm shutting up now." He'd be a lucky guy , he didn't say, but allowed his eyes to communicate the message. Hawkgirl caught the look and smiled at him to acknowledge the unspoken sentiment. Clark heard footsteps--though they sounded odd for some reason--and he commented, "Our lunch is coming in just a moment--"

"Chow time, Smallville!" Lois Lane slipped through the curtains with two plates and gracefully walked over to the corner table, where she put the plates in front of the surprised diners. She raised an eyebrow at Clark's expression and snickered, "You look like you just saw a ghost, Clark. Don't worry, I'm not expecting a tip."

"Lois, I told you that I was having lunch with a source--suppose it had been someone who didn't want anyone else knowing they were in town?" Clark grated, locking eyes with Lois. "Do I barge in on your business lunches?"

"I'm sure you would--if I was dumb enough to let you know where they were," Lois replied, inwardly amused at having gotten a rise out of her partner. She heard a sound that suspiciously resembled a low growl coming from across the table, and she turned to Clark's luncheon companion and commented, "Charlie's description was right on the money--have we met, Ms.--"

"Holcombe--Sharon Holcombe." Hawkgirl's voice was icy, and she didn't move or offer to shake hands. "Mr. Kent is an old acquaintance of mine, and I had hoped to have a private conversation with him--something which is inconsistent with your continued presence here. If you'll excuse us?"

Clark felt a chill go down his spine. Oh no--this could be very bad

Lois raised an eyebrow and examined "Sharon Holcombe" minutely for a few moments before shaking her head and commenting, "You could have just brought her to the office, Smallville. You interviewed her the first time--I wouldn't try to muscle in on a follow-up, even if her last two years have been a bit more interesting than that puff piece you got from her the last time."

Clark felt a momentary burst of outrage at the slight to his article-- which had garnered him three nominations for regional journalism awards--and was about to utter a heated retort when he heard a low and dangerous whisper across the table from him: "Excuse me?"

Lois smirked and commented, "Hawkgirl--I know that you were some kind of hotshot undercover cop back home, but you might want to consider a few things. For one, walking down the street in a heavy trenchcoat on a day when it's seventy-five degrees and sunny out might just be considered eccentric--keeping it on when you're sitting in a restaurant is downright weird. Another thing--I've been keeping up on your career outside of the Justice League, and a gorgeous, trenchcoat -wearing redhead with big green eyes that had male witnesses waxing poetic over them has been spotted in most of the locations before you showed up and started clobbering people. Oh, and most women Smallville here hangs out with aren't prone to growling." Lois snickered at the seething expression on Hawkgirl's face and concluded, "Just a little tip from someone used to spotting little details like that." She turned away and called out, "Enjoy your lunch."

"Thank you for your advice, Miss Lane--I appreciate your observations." Lois turned in surprise at the reply from Hawkgirl-- she didn't notice Clark had paled, or that he was edging towards the edge of his seat to be ready to physically interpose himself between the two women. Hawkgirl locked eyes with Lois, and the expression on her face was pure evil as she added in an uncharacteristically quiet tone, "I just wish that I had your talent for observing important details like that when they're right under your nose."

Lois blinked, and stared at the Thanagarian woman suspiciously. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Good grief, Lois--the woman gives you a compliment and you're giving her the third degree." Clark had left his seat with just short of superhuman speed and was firmly leading Lois to the doorway before she had registered that Clark had moved. He led her through the doorway and added quietly, "I'm doing background research for an article about the Justice League that I'm putting together for about four months from now. If you stop harassing us and run along, I'll cut you in on the by-line and make arrangements to let you handle the interviews for Wonder Woman and Green Lantern--assuming you haven't already poisoned the well by ticking off their teammate." Lois blinked, and Clark smiled inwardly. "Deal?"

"What makes you think I couldn't pull some strings of my own and get those interviews without your help?" snapped Lois, who rarely reacted well to strong-arming--particularly from her mild-mannered partner.

Clark smiled, and Lois flinched at his next words: "What would he have thought of the way you just behaved with Hawkgirl in there?"

Lois blinked hard, and pulled away from him to re-enter the room. Clark followed her as she walked over to the table and looked down at the still-visibly angry woman sitting there. Lois cleared her throat gently and said quietly, "I'm sorry--I was very rude just now. I have a great deal of respect for what you do." Hawkgirl frowned, then nodded solemnly. Lois turned to Clark and whispered, "I'll see you back at the office, Smallville," then slipped through the curtains without any further comment.

Clark sighed in relief as he sat down again, then scowled and looked over at Hawkgirl--only to be surprised by the cheerful expression on her face. "What are you so happy about? I thought you were going to kill her, or taunt her into figuring out my secret--neither option being high on my list of good things to happen."

"I got her good--but you got her better." Hawkgirl smiled, and Clark felt warmed at the affection in her expression as she added, "It was nice to see Clark Kent scoring some points with Lois Lane for a change." Clark blinked, then smiled back at the Thanagarian--who winked at him and looked at her plate with enthusiasm and concluded, "We can talk more later--right now I want to do some damage to this pasta."

Clark was in full agreement, and the room was silent except for the sounds of a good meal being enjoyed thoroughly by two people who usually had far too little time to do so.


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