Disclaimers: Characters belong to DC Comics, borrowed for fun, not for profit.
Canon notes (PLEASE READ or the story won't make sense): In Superman #182-183, Lois Lane was on the verge of publishing a story revealing that Lex Luthor knew about the impending invasion during Our Worlds at War. Because of an old deal between Lex Luthor and Lois Lane regarding the reopening of the Daily Planet, Lex Luthor told Lois to pull the plug on the story and she was obliged to do so. Clark Kent took up the reins of the story and had it run under his by-line. In the aftermath of the printing of the story, Lex Luthor had Martian Manhunter do a public mind scan to confirm that he did NOT know about the invasion. The mindscan revealed Luthor was innocent of foreknowledge, and Clark Kent was fired from the Daily Planet. HOWEVER, Perry White's very public dismissal of Clark Kent was a cover for having Clark continue researching the Luthor story. This investigation continues in secret, with not even Lois let in on it. The office in the abandoned warehouse was revealed in Man of Steel #134. Bruce's use of a hypnotic block to keep information from J'onn was revealed in JLA SF&O #3, when Batman was making his fail-safe plans for how to incapacitate rogue League members.
Continuity note: Set during year 2 of the J'onnverse, after 30/30. The above listed canon events would have fit into the J'onnverse at the very tail end of 30/30, with Lois following up the Luthor story during most of the month and Clark taking it to press while Bruce and J'onn were in the Rockies.
He opened his eyes, not having to feign shame as he visibly forced himself to meet her eyes.
She sighed and took his hand where it sat on the covers. "I'm heading into work. You going to be okay...?"
He smiled weakly at her. "I'm fine. I haven't really had a chance to sleep in in forever. Feel's nice."
She regarded him seriously, and he could see the doubt and self-blame warring in her eyes. She leaned down to kiss his lips softly. "Okay. Just make sure you get out of the house today. And not just in the cape. I've seen what all that day time television does to your state of mind."
He tightend his hold on her hand and tried for an ingenuous expression. "But there are exciting new career opportunities in web design-"
Lois snorted. "Yeah, keep it up, Smallville. Just - go for a walk or something. And let's get sushi or something tonight when I get home."
"Sure," he agreed, and she gave his hand a final squeeze before rising and heading for the door.
He listened as she made her way from their apartment, listening as she went down the elevator, got in the car - and paused for a moment to cry a little. He winced at the quickly contained sniffles, heard the blotting of a tissue against damp eyes and then the roar of the engine starting up. That was so Lois - tears only showed at the most private moments.
He should tell her, but then... he had promised Perry he wouldn't. And in some ways it made sense. Lois was a good actress, but she would feel obliged to help, would sit up nights with him puzzling it out, would make visits to places... no, he didn't want her involved. Even if what J'onn had read from Luthor's mind was true, that Lex still loved Lois and wouldn't harm her, Lex would not be the only party wanting to keep the story under wraps.
He continued to lie in bed staring at the ceiling until he heard Lois' car pull into its spot at the Daily Planet. Then he swung his legs out from under the covers and sat on the edge of the bed for a moment, shaking off the weight of his deception. He had a job to do and a laundry list of things that needed to happen in order to do that job.
The first step was going to be setting up office space somewhere so he could work without Lois becoming suspicious. He had an eye on some warehouse space that seemed promising, but he would need to establish a routine that got him into that part of town regularly enough to go unremarked by his wife's keen investigative senses.
He finally rose from bed and traded his boxers for his costume, pulled a pair of jeans over the tights. He turned to make the bed, a half-smile quirking his lips as he had to put away the two discarded outfits Lois had decided against for the day before he straightened the sheets. She was usually the picture of morning efficiency, but occasionally she would have days where nothing seemed to fit right. His smile faded. Usually on days when somethng else was bothering her.
"Let it go, Smallville," he growled at himself, going into his own bureau to find a t-shirt. He started to pull on a black one, then shook his head and refolded it. He opted instead for a long sleeved grey shirt with the Metropolis Meteors logo emblazoned across it. Lois had bought it for him at the end of last season, when the team had made the playoffs, but he rarely wore it. No time like the present, though, he decided.
He grabbed a pair of socks and tucked his wallet into his back pocket before he wandered to the kitchen, trying to decide what he should have for breakfast. He stared into the refrigerator for a moment, not really in the mood to cook eggs or bacon. He rummaged a bit on the shelves before deciding it might be better just to stop at a diner somewhere. He grabbed a muffin from the box on the counter and went into the living room to turn on the television.
Three minutes later he retraced his steps to find his socks on the top shelf of the refrigerator next to the milk. He collected them and poured himself a glass of milk, returning with both to the living room.
"...Planet, who ran the story, reports that they have fired the journalist responsible..."
Clark turned off the television.
Looking for work would be the most obvious excuse he could have to wander around the city, but it wasn't going to be a real option until the top news item of the day was something other than, "Clark Kent fired for publishing lies about the president." He washed down the last bite of muffin and started putting on his other sock. Maybe he could be working up a few human interest stories for his portfolio? Such stories were rarely time sensitive, and there was a reasonable chance he could eventually freelance...
He searched in the hall closet for a pair of stout walking boots and put them on, lacing them tight. He could spend some time in Jefferson Square Park and from there drift easily into the neighborhood where the old warehouse was. He could ostensibly be plotting a novel, and urban set one to balance his rural stories of human triumph over adversity.
He stood up from tying his boots and put on a light jacket. Thus far autumn in Metropolis had been almost balmy, but it still was a tad chilly to go anywhere without some sort of coat. He snagged a baseball hat to cover his unruly hair as he headed out the door and locked the apartment behind him.
It took almost half an hour to walk to Jefferson Square Park, and the air was just brisk enough to be refreshing. He walked with his hands stuffed in the pockets of his windbreaker, his eyes taking in the bright fall foliage against the crisp blue of the visible sky. He was just turning along one of the park paths when a voice said, "Hey! Mind the birdies, deary!"
He started, realizing he had been lost in his own thoughts, unaware that he was disturbing a sizable flock of pigeons. The citified creatures wheeled back down to the ground once he stopped, returning to the bits of popcorn that were being tossed down for them. Clark turned to find the source of the popcorn and saw a ragged old woman tossing handfuls onto the path.
"Uh, sorry," he said.
"Yeah, theys all sorry," the woman muttered, revealing her toothless top gum. "All them fancy men walkin' down this path, disturbing the li'l kippers just lookin' for a bite to eat." She looked up at Clark. "Well, go on, then. Y'already stirred 'em up."
Clark stared at the old woman for a moment. "I wasn't really going anywhere," he confessed, surprised at the words as he spoke them.
"No? Well, youse smarter than thems other fancy men. Theys think theys goin' somewhere, and they don't know shit." The old woman cackled and wheezed. "Hear that, birdies? Thems fancy men goin' nowhere and theys just too stupid to tell."
She tossed out another handful of popcorn, then looked up again. "Youse still here? Damn, boy. Youse want some popcorn too or sumpin?"
Clark blinked. "Uh, no, not really. Unless you want company feeding the birds."
More cackling came from the old woman. "Does I wants company, he asks. Don' no one hang around mad Harriet 'cept the birdies, mister. All's folks 'round here knows that."
"Mad Harriet? Is that you?" Clark asked, moving cautiously to the park bench and sitting on the edge of the space beside the old woman.
"Sometimes. When I'm not communin' with the birdies, y'know."
"Communing? Like now?"
The old woman gave him a disgusted look. "Not now. I'se feedin' them now. So's I can gets the gossip later."
"Gossip," Clark repeated flatly.
"Pigeons sees things, they do. Shit, the birds all over the damn city, or you too fancy man to notice?"
"Um, actually, yeah, I -"
"So's no one thinks about how pigeons is just terrible gossips. So's when I fly off with them theys remember ol' mad Harriet gives 'em some popcorn and they spills everything."
Harriet snorted. "Of course I fly." She glanced at him, her expression growing sly. "Don't you?"
Clark began to laugh nervously. "Of course not. What makes you think-?"
Mad Harriet gave him a wink, and he caught a red gleam in her eye before she spoke again. "Well, the birdies is not so reliable, but theys tell me-"
"J'onn?" Clark whispered as quietly as he could, knowing the Martian's superhearing would pick up the sound.
Harriet's speech suddenly shifted directions. "Now, Robins, theys be a bit more reliable, but theys not so much around in the city. Leastways not Metropolis. Few more o' them Gotham way..."
Under Harriet's random chatter, Clark felt the touch to his mind. I'm sorry, Kal.
Don't be, Clark sent back, accepting the bag of popcorn mad Harriet offered him and tossing a handful to the pigeons. You reported what you found in his mind.
I know you believe your story, Clark. I would rather have proven you right.
J'onn, I value your honesty, as does the rest of the world. I would never -
I know. Kal, I know. There was a note of finality in the interruption, and Clark tossed more popcorn to the pigeons, dimly aware that J'onn had mad Harriet still rambling beside him.
"...I'se been in some cities ... y'know in London theys got these poor Ravens... but the pigeons still the best fors the gossip. Even give stock tips if you catch 'em ats the right times..."
I have a confession, Kal.
Mad Harriet was still chattering blithely away, tossing popcorn to the birds, but J'onn's voice was subdued in Clark's brain.
When I was scanning Luthor's mind, I didn't just look for foreknowledge of the war.
Well, you told me he was being up front about still loving Lois and-
Up front, yes. He wanted me to find that. I meant something else.
What are you talking about?
I did the scan he wouldn't let me do earlier. About the frame up. With Bruce.
He doesn't believe he knows anything about that either.
Wha- but -
Human memory is very malleable, Kal.
Hypnosis is one way, although most hypnotic blocks are crude and easily detected in a scan such as I did on Luthor.
No sign of that kind of block?
Not obviously. A more skilled hypnotist can erect a something that would be virtually undetectable without a deep mind probe. He paused for a moment. Bruce has used those.
Mad Harriet stopped her chatter to stare meaningfully at Clark. "Yer a dense one, ain't ya?"
"Uh, thanks," Clark muttered, trying to decide if he should take offense or accept an in character moment. He had not been paying enough attention to Harriet's chatter to know what prompted her comment.
I am not certain how Luthor has disguised his schemes, but I am positive that he was behind David Cain's assignment last summer. As positive as you are about what Lois uncovered.
Clark issued a mental sigh. I suppose you would know. You probably also know about Perry keeping me on undercover.
I wasn't certain, but now that you-
Bruce is influencing you, Clark projected curtly, realizing how he had been steered through their conversation.
A hint of a dry Martian chuckle tickled through Clark's mind. No. But interesting that you should blame his influence for your slip. He would be amused if I chose to tell him.
I won't. But I thought you would want to know that Luthor's memory has been tampered with in some way. Given especially your new challenge.
Yeah... yeah that's good to know... His fingers brushed against the bottom of the popcorn bag, and he glanced down. "We're out of popcorn."
Harriet snorted. "We nothin', fancy man. Youse just don' understand about pigeons. Can't feed 'em too much, now. Just enough for the gossip."
"Right," Clark agreed. "So you're here every day?"
"Every day? Now how's a girl s'posed to gets information if she's feedin' the same damn pigeons all the time? Youse definitely a dense one. Mights be anywhere tomorrow. Maybe not even in Metropolis."
"Oh. So then I guess this is goodbye?" He stood, extending his hand.
Harriet eyed him, then spit on her own grubby palm and reached out to clasp his hand. Clark managed not to react at the spittle slicking their palms. "No need for goodbye. Jus' next time youse up there with the birdies, ask after ol' Harriet. The pigeons'll know."
And with those words she faded out of sight, becoming both invisible and intangible. Clark glanced around and saw that no one had observed Harriet's disappearance, and he shook his head. J'onn had his moments. "Probably help if I spoke pigeon," he commented to the empty air, and a passerby gave him a leary stare and skirted past him. If he had been talking to anyone other than J'onn, he would suspect he was being laughed at. But J'onn was likely halfway to Gotham or Denver or wherever, his message delivered.
And it was a message that mattered. The question was just how Luthor had buried the truth, and Clark Kent was ready to start digging.