By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted August 1998
Summary: With Lois away on an assignment, Clark is surprised when Lucy shows up on their doorstep. Sensing something is wrong, he invites her to stay, and in the process all three of them learn more about each other — and themselves.
All recognisable characters are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros and December 3rd productions. This is a little 'fluff' piece exploring how Clark might relate to a sister (or sister-in-law), and reintroducing Lucy, a character sadly under-used by the show.
His feet propped on the coffee table, Clark reached for the can of beer and the popcorn he had set out on the table before sitting down. Using his laser vision to change the TV channel over to the ball game, he leaned back on the sofa, fully relaxed. <All I need now is a quiet night for Superman> he thought, smiling to himself.
A sudden knock on the front door made him sit up. He swivelled in the direction of the door and X-rayed; the identity of the unexpected caller surprised him. He grabbed his glasses and put them on as he strode over to answer the knock.
The slight young woman on the other side appeared to be taken aback when Clark answered.
"Er… hi, Clark — is Lois in?"
Clark gave his sister-in-law a friendly smile, wondering what she was doing at their house. Lucy and Lois had never really been close since the Johnny Corbin affair. In addition, while Clark had always been inclined to treat Lucy as a member of Lois's family and therefore by extension of his own, he had never been sure of Lois's own attitude towards her sister. Lois considered that Lucy was wasting her life on dead-end jobs and that her taste in men was execrable; this was a view she had frequently expressed to Clark. As such, Clark wasn't sure whether Lois even liked Lucy any more. Of course, as Lois would have told Clark if he had ever asked her, if Clark had siblings of his own he would understand the love-hate relationship so common in families.
"Hi, Lucy. No, I'm afraid she's away for a few days. But come-"
Lucy's face fell and she interrupted him. "No, it's OK. I'll go." She turned to leave, picking up the backpack which had been leaning against her feet and which Clark hadn't noticed before. He reached for her arm, taking it gently.
"Hey, what's the hurry? At least come in and have a drink." With his free hand, he took the backpack from her and drew her into the house. Closing the door behind them, he put the backpack on the floor and took a proper look at his guest. What he saw in her face and her appearance made him more than just curious as to the reason for her visit.
"Lucy, what's wrong?" he asked, concerned.
"It doesn't matter," she insisted stubbornly. "I was looking for Lois… I guess I'll come back when she's back from wherever she is — or do you have a phone number where I can get her?"
"Sure, I can give you her number," Clark promised in an easy tone. "But you look to me like you're in some kind of trouble. Can't I help?"
"So what is it this time?" Lois asked in a long-suffering tone later that evening, when Clark had called to say that he wouldn't be able to fly out and see her as he had suggested he might, since Lucy was now staying at the house.
"She's split up with her boyfriend," Clark explained.
"*Another* one?" Lois groaned. "How many has she got through now? Although come to think of it, I didn't like this latest one anyway."
"Neither does Lucy, now," Clark observed wryly. His mind drifted back to his conversation with Lois's sister. Although they had met on many occasions over the years Clark had known Lois, he and Lucy had never really got to know each other on anything more than a superficial level. He half-suspected that Lucy was a little jealous that Lois had a successful relationship with a man who loved her as much as Clark did. Lucy's track record with men was, as Clark well knew, pretty poor. So, while Clark had always treated Lucy with casual friendliness, her attitude towards him tended to be more diffident. Hence her reluctance to stay once she knew Lois wasn't around: she had desperately needed to confide in someone and the brother-in-law she felt she barely knew and didn't feel altogether comfortable with did not seem like an adequate substitute.
It had taken Clark quite some time to overcome Lucy's reluctance to talk. He had made her coffee, and since she had eyed his popcorn with rather more than casual interest, he had returned to the kitchen and quickly thrown together some sandwiches. He would have made her a hot meal, but didn't want to wait the time it would take to prepare at normal speed, and didn't want to make her suspicious by doing it at super-speed. She had wolfed down the food so quickly that he knew his instincts had been correct.
After some small-talk about how Clark's and Lois's jobs were going (fine), where Lois was (in California covering the final stage of the President's re-election campaign as part of a small team of reporters guaranteed privileged access to the candidate), and the state of the weather, Clark had finally broached the subject of Lucy's visit. She had initially tried to pretend that she had just been in the neighbourhood and had decided to pay a call on her sister; Clark had glanced pointedly at her rucksack, making it clear that he didn't buy that explanation.
Eventually, she had cracked. "I… I need somewhere to stay for a few days. I was hoping that Lois wouldn't mind…"
Clark gave her a straight look. He had half-guessed as much, but was still surprised at her reluctance to ask *him*. "Of course you can stay here, Lucy, but tell me — why couldn't you just ask me? Did you think I'd have a problem with it?"
"Not really, I guess…" Lucy tailed off, avoiding Clark's eyes.
"Hey, come on, Luce — you'll have me thinking you don't like me," Clark teased.
"No, that's not true!" Lucy protested. "It's just — I guess… well, I didn't think you'd want me hanging around. I mean, you guys have been married less than a year — you don't want in-laws getting in the way."
"Lucy, don't make excuses," Clark replied evenly. "You're Lois's sister; that makes you part of the family. You're welcome here any time, whether Lois is here or not. Now, tell me what's really going on, please?"
Lucy looked up at Clark, and he saw the confusion in her face. She turned away again and played with the TV remote control. "I don't dislike you, Clark, of course not. I just feel like… well, I know Lois always says I'm terrible with relationships and really irresponsible and all, and you — you're such a straight kind of guy I always kind of figured you… you probably think I'm some kind of tramp and not the kind of person you really want as a sister-in-law -"
Clark stopped her before she could say any more. "Lucy, I've never heard such rubbish in my entire life! Have I *ever* given you any reason to think that?" he demanded.
"Nooo," she admitted hesitantly.
"Well, I don't! And neither does Lois, by the way, in case that was your next thought. Look, you've made a few bad choices with men, but let's face it, so have lots of people. Even Lois, as she would tell you herself if she was here — remember Lex?" Clark pointed out, even though the very thought of Lois's former fiance had a tendency to make him shudder.
Lucy shrugged. "Well, I've made yet another 'bad choice', Clark. And it's got me in even bigger trouble this time."
"I guessed there was a problem," Clark replied. "Going to tell me about it?"
Switching his attention back to the present now, Clark explained to Lois about Lucy's now ex-boyfriend, Paul. Lois, remembering small-time criminal Johnny Corbin, feared the worst. Paul, it seemed, was a violent alcoholic and compulsive gambler, who had lied continually to Lucy about his habits. He couldn't hold down a job, and Lucy's modest earnings from her secretarial job had kept them both. She had tried to persuade Paul to give up drinking and gambling, and he had promised her that he would - until, that was, the next occasion on which he came home to their apartment drunk and broke and began to beat her up.
Finally she had had enough, and two days ago she had thrown him out, threatening him with the police if he ever came near her again; he had seen the fury in her face and believed her. It was only after this that Lucy had discovered the reality of her situation.
Before he'd left, Paul had stolen her bank card and had withdrawn all the money in her account within a couple of hours. The rent on the apartment had not been paid for two months: Lucy had left the money with Paul to give to the landlord, but clearly he had gambled it. So she was penniless and homeless; and the final straw, that morning, was that she had also lost her job. Paul had tried to approach her employer for a loan, and her boss had been so angry that all Lucy's protestations that the relationship was over were ignored. She had been given the wages due her — enough to rescue some of her personal belongings which her landlord had seized in lieu of rent — and had been shown the door.
"So why did it take her until this evening to come here?" Lois demanded, amazed and angry.
"I think she was ashamed," Clark replied carefully.
"Ashamed?" Lois almost shouted. "Ashamed that she was physically abused by a lying, thieving, brutal…"
"Lois, come on, how many articles have you written on spousal abuse?" Clark chivvied her. "Don't you know that no matter what the circumstances, the most common response is for the woman to blame herself for her partner's violence?"
"I guess," Lois replied, in a quieter voice. "But why on earth would she not *call* me? I'm her *sister*, after all."
"Yeah," Clark agreed. "But you're a sister who's a highly successful career woman, earning a decent salary, and in a happy marriage. Next to you, Lucy feels she's failed."
"Oh God," Lois whispered. "Just like I did for years, when my father made it clear that I hadn't lived up to his expectations." Clark could hear her swallow in an attempt to hold back tears. "Clark, I'm going to get the first plane back tomorrow."
"No," Clark responded firmly. "Lois, you have a job to do out there. Lucy isn't on her own here — I'm here, and I can help her. You'll be back in a few days, and she'll still be staying here then. I've told her she's welcome here for as long as she wants to stay."
"But you just told me that you found it difficult to get through to her, Clark," Lois protested.
"At first, yeah," Clark agreed. "But once she did talk, she seemed to trust me enough to tell me everything."
And she had, Clark remembered. From the arguments to the cruel things Paul had yelled at her when he was drunk, to the way he'd lashed out at her physically. He had never hit her anywhere the bruises would show, Lucy had explained. He had beaten her upper arms, her legs, her breasts, her stomach… places which hurt, but weren't visible. Clark's stomach had churned as Lucy had rolled up her sleeve to reveal black, purple and yellow marks on her upper arm. Frowning, and taking care that Lucy didn't notice, he had lowered his glasses to X-ray her clothing: her chest and stomach showed signs of similar, older bruising. Trying not to let his fury show, he had quietly questioned Lucy as to whether she had ever sought medical help, concerned that she could also have sustained internal injuries.
"She never saw a doctor or went to the emergency room," Clark told Lois. "I think doing that would have forced her to admit that it was happening — as long as she told no-one, she could pretend it wasn't real."
"You're upset, aren't you, honey," Lois observed, recognising the tautness in her husband's voice.
"Yeah," Clark admitted. "Lois, I'm not a violent person, you know that. But tonight I wanted to go out there and find that Paul guy and give him just a taste of what he gave Lucy."
"Will you?" Lois asked. "Find him, I mean."
"I don't know," Clark replied. "I asked Lucy if she wanted him arrested — she said no. I think now that she's finally away from him, she wants to forget it happened. If we find him and he's arrested, she'll have to make statements and testify, and she doesn't want that."
"So — are you two going to be all right on your own?" Lois asked eventually, as the conversation drew to an end.
"What do you mean, sweetheart — you don't trust me with your sister?" Clark teased. "We'll be fine. I think, talking to Lucy tonight, her biggest problem is low self-esteem — pretty typical in abuse victims, of course. If I can work on her a bit, convince her that she is an attractive and desirable person, that might help her realise that she is a far more worthwhile person than she's letting herself believe."
"Clark Kent, you are such a boy scout," Lois teased. "But just you be careful — I don't want you making my baby sister fall in love with you!"
"Hey, come on!" Clark protested, embarrassed. "That's hardly likely, Lois!"
"Really?" she replied. "I might not be the only Lane who's a sucker for brown eyes, a great body and the flying, you know!"
Clark lay back on the bed, smiling now. "Well, I'm not exactly planning to do the latter with her, you know — especially as she doesn't know… what *you* know!"
"That you're Superman, you mean," Lois whispered, knowing Clark could hear her.
"Yeah, that," he agreed. "Lois, don't worry. I'll take good care of your sister."
"I know you will, honey," she replied. "I miss you."
"I miss you too, sweetheart," Clark assured her. "And you know I'd be out to see you if I could."
"Probably best not to," Lois conceded. "After all, it's not just that Lucy might notice you're gone. What if someone here sees you, or hears you in my room? We don't want to raise suspicions."
"OK, honey," Clark agreed. "Goodnight, Lois — I'll call you tomorrow."
"Yeah. Give Lucy my love," Lois replied. "Love you."
"Love you too."
Clark replaced the receiver and lay back on the bed, thinking of Lois. But the picture which came into his mind was the scared, tearful face of his sister-in-law when she had finished telling him about her life with Paul. He had held her then, almost as he would have a small child, and tried to comfort her. Then, sensing that she would sleep now, he had gently urged her to her feet and guided her to the spare bedroom. Showing her the location of the bathroom, he had left her to it and returned downstairs to fetch her rucksack and make her a hot, milky drink. On his return, he had found her in the bedroom, staring into the mirror. She hadn't looked up when he had entered.
"Clark, life's just so unfair," she had said, in a bitter tone. "I love Lois, and I wouldn't want to take anything away from her, but… why did she get all the good looks and I ended up like… nothing?" She swung away from the mirror and had tried to leave the room, as if immediately regretting her words. But Clark had put out his hand to stop her.
"Lucy, now's not the time for this discussion," he had told her gently. "But let me assure you, you are a very attractive woman, in your own way as beautiful as Lois."
She had given him a disbelieving look, which he had countered with a smile.
"You're just saying that to make me feel better," she had muttered then.
"I'm not, actually," he had insisted, still smiling, although inside he hadn't at all felt like smiling. He had wanted to strangle the man — or men — who had so completely destroyed this lovely young woman's belief in herself.
She had looked at him again, met his eyes briefly, and something in them had appeared to convince her. "I was wrong about you, Clark," she had commented then, with a flash of the spirit which had characterised Lucy when he had first met her. "You're not such a boring old stick after all. You're a pretty great guy."
"Glad you think so," he had replied, giving her a flash of the Kent grin which Lois loved so much. "Come here." He had tugged her towards him and hugged her. Dropping a brotherly kiss on her forehead, he had murmured, "Sleep well. We'll talk again tomorrow."
"Hey, Jimmy!" Clark called, seeing the Planet's young researcher/photographer pass close to his desk. "Do me a favour?"
"Sure, CK. What do you want?" Jimmy strode over, smiling; Clark noticed that the smile was not actually directed at *him*, but at an attractive blonde secretary who was walking past. He waited until he had Jimmy's full attention.
"Jimmy, can you find out anything for me about a Paul Bailey, until recently at…" Clark gave the address of Lucy's old apartment. "Dunno where he is now, and as far as I know he's unemployed."
"Geez, Clark, you sure give me a lot to go on, don't you," Jimmy commented sarcastically. "Anything else you know?"
Clark shrugged. "Alcoholic, small-time gambler, possible petty thief, occasional abuser of women."
Jimmy's eyes widened. "Nice guy. Some company you keep, CK. So I take it you know one of his victims?"
"Victims?" Clark queried.
"Yeah — abuser of women? He beat up someone you know?"
"Yeah, a friend of ours," Clark admitted, on a sigh.
"So what're you going to do?" Jimmy asked. "Report him to the police?"
Clark shook his head. "Probably not. I just want to know where to find him… if necessary."
Jimmy straightened up. "I'll do what I can."
As Jimmy sauntered off, Clark turned his attention back to his computer screen, but found it very difficult to concentrate. Injustice had always made him angry; violence, especially perpetrated by a stronger person on a weaker one, made him absolutely furious. Despite having finally told him to leave, it was clear that Lucy was still frightened of her ex-boyfriend; she had mentioned in passing to Clark the previous evening that she was very glad she had never told Paul about her sister, let alone where Lois lived and worked. If Paul had known that, Clark guessed, Lucy would not have come to Hyperion Avenue looking for help.
That morning, he had X-rayed into Lucy's bedroom as he had made breakfast; she was still fast asleep and he had decided to let her sleep. He had left her a note, including both his and Lois's mobile phone numbers, and tucked a spare key to the house in the envelope. After a moment, he had also taken fifty dollars from his wallet and stuffed that in as well, then left the note where Lucy would see it. Instead of going straight to the Planet, he had driven Lois's Jeep to the address Lucy had let slip the previous evening, and paid a visit to her ex-landlord.
Clark had offered to pay the outstanding rent in return for the restoration of Lucy's confiscated belongings. A simple matter, he had thought, and he had his cheque book all ready. But the landlord, a greasy, fat little man, had insisted that it wasn't simply a matter of the overdue rent. There would also be interest due, penalty payments and a charge for storage.
"Storage?!" Clark had expostulated. "It's only been here since the day before yesterday."
"Doesn't matter," the landlord had replied, in between chewing gum. "Still a storage charge."
Clark had taken a deep breath and restrained himself from picking up the man by his collar. He reached inside his wallet and removed his Press card. "In case you haven't heard of me," he informed the landlord coldly, "I'm Clark Kent and I write for the Daily Planet. My wife, Lois Lane, is the sister of the woman whose belongings you are illegally holding on to. Now, I'm sure you wouldn't like to see an expose of bad rental practice in the Daily Planet, with you cited as one of the worst, would you?"
The landlord had quickly changed his tune and accepted a cheque for the outstanding rent. He had then let Clark into Lucy's old apartment; Clark had looked around in dismay at the gloomy, poky two-room place his sister-in-law had been renting. He was sure that Lois had never been there; if she had, she would have had Lucy out of there long ago. The electric fittings and appliances looked dangerous, and Clark didn't even need his X-ray vision to spot the damp and the worn window-frames.
He had loaded Lucy's things into the Jeep and driven back home; after checking that Lucy was still asleep, he'd unloaded them into the house at super-speed and gone to work.
Now as he tried to concentrate on the op-ed piece he was supposed to be writing on the forthcoming election, his mind was still on that appalling building he'd seen. He knew that many people in Metropolis lived in terrible conditions, in buildings which deserved to be condemned. But Lucy hadn't been paying rock-bottom rent. That landlord was making a fortune out of a building which was dangerous, with fittings nowhere near up to code. And how many more like him existed? Perhaps he ought to do an investigation after all…
When Clark got home that evening the first thing he noticed was the smell of cooking coming from the kitchen. He went to investigate, and discovered Lucy busy chopping vegetables.
She looked up at his entrance. "Hi Clark — I hope you don't mind, but I thought I'd see to dinner."
"Why would I mind? But I have to admit, I'm surprised you can," he teased.
"Hey, just because Lois could burn water…" Lucy retorted. "We're really not alike at all, Clark. I told you that last night."
Clark smiled. "I think you're more like Lois than you think, Lucy. Let me get changed, and I'll come and help."
Barely a couple of minutes later — Clark had changed clothes at almost human speed — he strolled back into the kitchen "So what'd you do today?"
Lucy shook back her long hair and replied, "Well, I was going to try to get the rest of my things, but I noticed you beat me to it. So how much do I owe you — I know old man Corelli won't have let you away with less than twenty per cent over the odds."
Clark grinned. "You may know him, but you obviously don't know me well enough. I paid him what he was owed, no more. And you don't owe me anything — you're family. Besides, I'm going to get a story out of it, which makes it all well worth while."
"A story?" Lucy was intrigued.
"Yeah — crooked landlords renting out rooms in buildings which aren't up to code, tenants who can't do anything about it because they can't afford to live anywhere else. Most of it's illegal, but there's not enough enforcement of building regulations. Perry — that's Lois's and my editor — agrees it'd be a great investigation."
"How will you do it?" Lucy asked. "You need evidence for that kind of story."
Clark leaned against the central worktop, his arms folded. "Easy. I pretend to be looking for accommodation — I answer ads and talk to the landlords, with a hidden tape recorder, take pictures with a hidden camera."
"They'll never believe you're looking for that sort of place!" Lucy exclaimed.
"No? Think I look too smart, do you?" Clark grinned. "Not once I've messed up my hair — " he ruffled it to demonstrate, "and wear some old clothes, not shave for a day or two — no problem."
"Sounds fascinating," Lucy said, clearly interested. "I wish I could help. Hey, couldn't I pretend to be looking for a place to stay as well?"
Clark wasn't sure about this suggestion. To start with, he knew what he was looking for, so he would be able to ask the right questions, but also — and this was something he certainly wouldn't tell Lucy — he'd intended to use his super-powers to check out buildings before talking to their owners. He hesitated before replying — he didn't want Lucy to think he felt she couldn't do the job. "Maybe you could talk to some of the tenants. Find out why they live there, what they pay, what problems they have getting their landlords to fix problems and so on. Think you could manage that?"
Lucy's face lit up. "That sounds fantastic — I'd love it. I always envied Lois when she was doing her undercover investigative stuff — it sounded so exciting."
"Yeah, it can be," Clark agreed. "But it's sometimes dangerous too. Lois has almost got herself killed a number of times. So you be careful, OK?"
"OK, OK, big brother-in-law," Lucy said wryly. "But speaking of Lois, I called her today. What did you say to her? I expected her to be mad, and to say 'I told you so' and all the usual things she says to me when my love-life goes wrong, but she didn't. She just said she loved me and that I was to let you look after me. What have you done to my sister?" She stared at Clark incredulously.
He laughed. "I guess Lois has softened a little. But anyway, she's worried about you. I told her what Paul did to you."
Lucy looked away. "I guess you had to. But I just want to forget it, OK?"
Clark took the hint, changing the subject. But later that evening he raised another question which had been puzzling him. "Lucy, why do you pretend that you're ditzy and not all that bright? I've been watching you — that's not true at all. You've carried on an intelligent conversation with me for the last couple of hours. You have a very sharp mind — just like Lois - and you're quick on the uptake. So why the 'dumb brunette' act?"
She was taken aback at Clark's observation. "I… suppose… well, guys don't like women to be smart, do they? So it's easier not to be."
"Lucy, where on earth do you get that notion?" Clark was incredulous. "Look, believe me, I should know what guys like. And let me tell you, an awful lot of us find intelligent women very attractive. Like I've always found Lois attractive."
"Yeah, well, I bet her brain wasn't the first thing you found attractive about her," Lucy retorted.
"Maybe not — I did see her before I spoke to her," Clark acknowledged. "But I very quickly realised how intelligent she is, and that appealed to me even more."
"Well, maybe you're like that. But the kind of guys I'm attracted to don't think like that," Lucy muttered sullenly.
"Maybe you're attracted to the wrong kind of guy," Clark suggested softly, looking straight at Lucy, the intensity of his gaze compelling her to meet his eyes.
"That's what Lois always says, but…" she looked away from him, "decent guys, guys like you, aren't attracted to women like me."
Clark stretched his hand across the expanse of sofa cushion to take her chin in his grasp, forcing her to look at him again. "Lucy, I don't know why you should say that. I told you last night that you are a very attractive woman. I'll elaborate. You are very beautiful, you're witty, intelligent, good company and you have a great body. Of *course* guys like me would be attracted to you."
She stared at him, her blue eyes widening in shock. "Clark, are you… flirting with me?" she asked shakily.
He laughed gently. "No, I'm not. You know I love your sister very much. But that doesn't mean that I can't appreciate all your good points, and tell you that you're under-valuing yourself. You want to know what men think; well, I'm the nearest thing to a brother you've got, so I'll tell you."
"You — really think I'm… beautiful?" Lucy asked in disbelief.
"Yes," he assured her quietly, sounding all the more sincere for his lack of force. "But someone's obviously got you convinced you're not — and that all your other good qualities are worthless too. That's a — damn shame, and I want to do something about it."
Lucy stood up and walked to the other side of the room, trying to take in Clark's words. "Paul used to say… that I was ugly, and stupid, and that if I didn't have him no-one would want me," she whispered.
Clark stood too, but remained where he was, watching her. "Of course he would. That's the classic technique of controlling men. He wanted you to believe that, so that you'd stay with him and put up with his behaviour."
Seeing that his words were having an impact, he added, "Look why don't you go down to the library tomorrow? I know a couple of very good books on spousal abuse — both physical and psychological — Lois and I used them when we wrote articles on the subject. Reading them might help you understand what happened, and help you deal with it."
"Yeah, maybe," Lucy conceded. Abruptly changing the subject, she said, "Clark, you said you're the nearest thing to a brother I've got. What about you — do you have sisters?"
He shook his head. "I'm an only child — didn't Lois tell you?"
"Maybe — I can't remember. I guess when the two of you got engaged I was going through another of my 'I hate Lois' phases, and I didn't really pay much attention. So how come there's just you? Your parents really seem like the type who'd love lots of kids."
<Unlike Sam and Ellen Lane?> Clark silently finished for her. "Yeah, they would have. But they couldn't have kids of their own. I'm adopted."
"Oh." Lucy's expression was pensive. "You know, sometimes when we were growing up I used to wish I had been — then I might have had parents who actually wanted me."
<You and Lois both> thought Clark. Just then, his super-hearing kicked in; a bomb appeared to have exploded in one of the city's largest hotels. He had to go. Trying to sound convincing, he told Lucy that he'd just remembered an important file which he'd left at the Planet and which he needed first thing in the morning.
"Don't wait up," he told her as he ran out the door.
"No," she said, to his departing back. <Lois told me about his weird habit of disappearing all the time — wonder what he's up to?>
She shook her head and went into the study. Clark's comments about patterns of abuse had sunk in, and she booted up the computer and connected to the Internet, spending the next hour or so searching for relevant articles.
"So Lucy thinks you've got me all softened up, huh?" Lois lay back on the bed in her hotel room and smiled at her husband, who lay propped up on his elbow beside her. His discarded red and blue suit lay on the floor.
Clark trailed a finger along Lois's jawline. "Yeah, looks like it. Of course, I told her she had to be wrong — Mad Dog Lane is as terrifying as ever -"
Lois stopped his teasing with a slow, sultry kiss. "I'm glad you ignored what I said last night and came here anyway. I was really beginning to miss you."
"Miss you too," Clark murmured, in between kissing her.
"So, are you serious about this rental investigation?" Lois asked, some time later.
Clark assured her that he was. "It's not just because of Lucy, though that's what really does make me angry. When I saw what the place she'd been living in looked like, to say nothing of the state of the wiring, I just saw red. I want to see that landlord and others like him held to account for what they do."
Lois hugged her husband. "You've always been like that — caring about the little people, the ones who can't stand up for themselves. I remember that first Kerth award you won — for your retirement home investigation -"
"Yeah, the one you thought you should have won for your gun-running story," Clark remembered, grinning.
"Yeah, well, that's just it. Sure, mine was a great story and it deserved to be nominated, and I'm still mad that it wasn't. But you wrote about something that affects really vulnerable people, and that article showed that the person who wrote it really *cared* about the issue. That's why you won, and you deserved to win," Lois said softly.
Clark's smile widened. "Excuse me? Am I still talking to Lois Lane — the person who always has to be the best?" He tickled her with his super-breath. "Maybe Lucy's right and you have gone soft."
"Well, if I have — stop that, Clark! — it's your doing. But you've changed too," Lois retorted, squirming as he continued to blow gently on her vulnerable spots. "Four years ago you'd never have been so up-front about telling a woman how attractive she is. You were too shy and retiring."
"Probably," Clark agreed. "Still, one big difference between now and then is that I was in love with you. I like Lucy — a lot more than I ever did before, I admit. But I'm not in love with her."
"You'd better not be!" Lois threatened.
"Oh yeah? And what would you do if…" Clark teased.
"You don't even want to think about it, farmboy!" Lois assured him. "I have methods of revenge that even your super-powers can't protect you against!" She climbed onto her hands and knees and advanced upon him, then suddenly pounced, running the tips of her fingers very lightly up the soles of Clark's feet. He jumped, and floated several inches off the bed in shock.
"Caught you!" Lois laughed.
"Cute, Lois. Really cute," Clark replied drily, then rolled on top of her.
The following evening, Clark returned home to find Lucy in the study, busy typing up the interviews she had conducted that day with tenants of the run-down buildings. He had managed to fit in about three undercover visits that day, in between some work he'd had to do at the Planet and a couple of Superman rescues. He hoped that he wouldn't need to spend too many more days going undercover on this story, because the sight of an unshaven Superman had caused a couple of raised eyebrows.
Lucy had been suitably impressed at his disguise that morning, so much so that she had insisted on taking a couple of photographs, "just so that Lois can see what she's missing", which had made Clark smile.
He had then taken her to the Planet and provided her with a tape recorder and a mobile phone, and sent her off with the instruction to call him if she had any problems. She hadn't got in touch during the day, which Clark hoped was a good sign.
They spent the evening discussing the results of their research so far. Clark had managed to get what he hoped would be a couple of good photographs. These, and his tape-recorded conversations with landlords, together with his own descriptions of the apartments he had been offered for rent, he thought ought to make a hard-hitting piece. Lucy had managed to interview several tenants, and got a few horror-stories which Clark knew would be excellent as side-bars. "And if that doesn't make the city council pay some attention to its own building code, I don't know what will!" he commented to Lucy.
Clark was very impressed with Lucy's work, and said so. It wasn't just the interviews, although she had managed to ask the right kind of questions and had persuaded the tenants to talk openly to her. She had also made a number of good suggestions for writing up the material, not all of which would work in the context of the story Clark was envisaging, but which were good ideas nonetheless.
Saving the file he had been working on and switching off his laptop, Clark leaned back in his chair and looked quizzically at Lucy. "What do you intend to do about finding a job?" he enquired.
Lucy looked flustered, and she nervously ran her hand through her hair. "I'm trying, Clark — I spent most of yesterday replying to ads in the paper and I sent off several copies of my resume. Really, I don't want to be under your feet here for long if I can help it -"
Clark cut her off. "That's not what I meant — you're welcome to stay here as long as you like. I meant are you applying for secretarial work, or have you thought about trying something different?"
"Like what?" Lucy didn't see what he was getting at.
Clark gestured towards the paper, tapes and other paraphernalia scattered around the room. "You did a good job today. The interviews were just what I needed, and you really managed to gain their confidence. You also had some great ideas about the presentation of the story. Have you ever thought about journalism?"
Shaking her head, Lucy glanced down at the interview typescripts. "No, that was always Lois's ambition. I was never particularly ambitious as a kid, and I guess I just drifted into whatever job came along." She looked pensive. "Now that I'm older, I suppose I would prefer to have a career rather than having to wait at tables or take dictation for some guy who thinks that feeling up my skirt is part of what he gets in return for my salary." She paused, then looked at Clark. "But do you really think I could? I don't have any qualifications or experience."
"Depends," Clark replied. "You'd have to be prepared to start at the bottom — do a little research, gofering for people — like Jimmy did. He's had some bylines of his own now and Perry often teams him up with other reporters. I'd give you a reference on the basis of what you've done today."
"Sure. I'll have to do some asking around — I don't know if there's any openings at the Planet right now. Maybe another newspaper might need somebody." Clark stood up, stretched, and added, "I'll check it out for you. Meanwhile, want a coffee?"
"Yeah, but I'll get them," Lucy agreed. She made for the kitchen, and Clark strolled over to switch on the TV. Tuning to LNN, he saw there was coverage of the President's campaigning that day; he stood and watched it for a few minutes.
"Hey, that's Lois!" Lucy exclaimed, returning to hand him a mug of coffee.
Clark smiled. He had recognised the slim brunette woman as soon as he'd spotted her, and had raised his glasses to take a close-up look with his super-vision. The camera had caught Lois in the act of asking the President a question about an old associate who had just that day accused him of some underhand share dealing about ten years before. <Typical Lois> Clark thought; <in there like a piranha with the tough questions when it counts.>
Just then, the picture changed to a disaster scene; a plane had crashed somewhere in the Rocky Mountains and emergency services were having problems getting to survivors. The bitter cold was an added complicating factor.
Clark knew he had to go and help. He thought frantically for an excuse, then just decided that he would be as honest as he could - he didn't have time to dream up the pathetic stories he used to use with Lois. Putting his coffee down on the table, he turned to Lucy and said, as calmly as he could, "I have to go out. I can't tell you where I'm going, but it is very important, or I wouldn't go. Don't wait up for me."
Without waiting for her reply, he hurried towards the door and pulled it behind him.
"What was *that* all about?" Lucy muttered? "And does he still do that to Lois?"
Lois dragged her thumbnail along her husband's chin and grinned. "I quite like the new look."
"Think it suits me, huh?" Clark grinned back at her. It was much later, and after having spent nearly three hours rescuing victims of the plane crash and helping the emergency services locate the flight recorder and other important instruments, he had decided to pay another quick visit to Lois's hotel room. She had let him in the window, delighted to see him.
"Not bad — rough and rugged." She kissed his darkened cheek. "But all the same, I think you'd better get rid of it before too long. I don't know if Metropolis is ready for a Superman with designer stubble."
Clark pretended to look disappointed. "What if I just tell them I felt like a change of image? You know, maybe I should ask Mom to design me a new costume — black leather might look good, don't you think?"
Lois growled deep in her throat, the thought of her husband dressed in nothing but black leather doing interesting things to her insides. "Maybe. But strictly for private viewing only." She leaned back in Clark's arms. "Seriously, though, you should 'shave' — or whatever you call that thing you do with your eyes - as soon as possible. You don't want anyone noticing that Clark Kent and Superman both seem to be growing a beard at the same time."
"Yeah, I know," Clark agreed. "I only need to do another couple of visits, and if I get them done early tomorrow, I can shave immediately afterwards."
Reaching up to kiss Clark, Lois said, laughing, "Then I'd better make the most of your new look while I can!"
The following morning, Clark told Lucy that he'd had to meet a source for another story he was working on. He hated lying about his whereabouts, but he had long recognised that it was the only alternative to letting his secret become known. She appeared to accept the explanation, however.
"Superman was on the news last night," she commented. "A while after you left, he arrived to help at that plane crash — I saw it on the news."
"Yeah?" Clark was cautious.
Lucy looked straight at him, her expression hesitant. "Clark, does it bother you — I mean, I know Lois used to have an awful crush on Superman. She really idolised him, and it looked for a while as if he was pretty keen on her too."
<Oh, not that again> Clark groaned inwardly. He'd had the same sort of questions from colleagues at work when he and Lois had got engaged. He decided to be as honest as possible in the circumstances. "It used to, a little, when I first knew Lois and all she thought of was Superman, and she barely noticed me. But that's all ancient history. She's still… fond of Superman…" <I'm pretty sure she is, judging by last night> he thought in amusement, "and he's a friend of ours. So it's not a problem."
"I'm glad," Lucy replied. "Because you're a really great guy, Clark Kent, and I just hope my sister appreciates you." She crossed the kitchen and reached up to plant a kiss on Clark's cheek. Clark responded by pulling her into his arms for a bear-hug.
"You're not so bad yourself, Lucy Lane, and I just hope *you* realise it," he told her mock-sternly.
She backed away a little, looking down at her feet. "I… guess I have been a little down on myself, and Paul didn't exactly help. But I'm taking your advice, and thinking more positively now. I even read a couple of those books you mentioned. And I guess I'm ready to move forward."
"Great," Clark said sincerely. "Just let me know if I can help."
"Well…" she began, giving him an impish grin. "I need to meet some different men from the type I usually get involved with. Just to get to know some guys as friends to begin with, I guess." Clark nodded. "Well," she continued, "you mentioned Jimmy Olsen yesterday — he's still at the Planet?"
"Yeah — you want to meet up with him?"
"Maybe. When I met him first a few years ago… well, we didn't get on too well. I thought he was a little… juvenile. But I guess that was a while ago and he might have changed — from what you and Lois have told me about him I suppose he must have." Lucy looked inquiringly at Clark.
"Jimmy's grown up a lot in the last few years," Clark confirmed. "He's still got a great sense of humour, but he's a responsible member of the Planet newsroom now and Lois and I think very highly of him. If you want some occasional male company — and you think I won't do! — you could do a lot worse than Jimmy."
"Oh, don't worry, I know I could do a lot worse," Lucy said drily. "Problem is, I frequently did."
A few hours later, Clark stood in his bathroom in the house on Hyperion Avenue, staring into the mirror. As he did, the dark stubble on his face began to disappear as if by magic. He smiled as he examined the result of his handiwork.
Walking into the bedroom to get dressed again in his business suit, he reflected on his morning's work. Not bad, even if he said so himself. He had managed to view three more apartments to rent, and got some more great material for the story. He had also brought Lucy with him to the Planet again before going out, and this time had re-introduced her to Jimmy.
He had noticed the surprise on Lucy's face when she saw how much Jimmy's appearance had changed in the four years since she'd seen him. He'd matured physically, but he also dressed less casually for work these days, now that Perry was less inclined to use him as a messenger boy and sent him on assignments more often. Jimmy also appeared to be impressed by Lucy. Clark knew that when they'd first met Jimmy had thought Lucy to be even more attractive than her sister. But in temperament they had simply not been suited. Even though he knew that Lucy wasn't looking for another relationship at the moment, Clark thought that the passage of time, and the changes in both of them, might mean that things could be different this time.
He had been pleased to hear Jimmy making a date to take Lucy to the movies at the weekend. It was just what his sister-in-law needed. It was all very well Clark telling her that she was attractive and desirable, but he was married to her sister! Not someone who could be interested in Lucy. Jimmy, on the other hand, was available, good-looking, and definitely interested in getting to know Lois's younger sister better.
<Yes, a good morning> Clark thought to himself, as he made his way back to the Planet with his tapes and research notes.
Later that afternoon, Clark found himself flying slowly over Metropolis, conducting one of his Superman 'patrols'; with Lucy staying at the house it wasn't as easy to get out in the early evening, so he'd decided to take advantage of some free time after he'd rescued the occupants of a burning building in the Hobb's Bay area of the city. Nothing much appeared to be happening that the emergency services couldn't deal with, and he was just about to head back to the Planet when he heard the sound of a woman's screams.
He flew in the direction of the cries, and soon saw the source. In an alley in one of the less desirable areas of the city — in fact, near where he had been looking at apartments that morning - a woman was being attacked by a larger, quite vicious-looking man.
Clark landed silently behind the man. "Need any help, miss?"
The man swung around. "Butt out, mis…ter," he tailed off as soon as he recognised the super-hero.
But Clark wasn't looking at him. Instead, he was staring at the woman. Lucy. Her face was puffy and her nose and mouth were bleeding. He turned to the man, anger burning inside him.
"I've never had much time for bullies," he observed coldly. The man tried to make a run for it past Lucy, but found that Superman was again blocking his way. Clark reached out and grabbed the man by the collar of his scruffy denim jacket. "I'll let the police deal with you," he drawled, having heard the sound of a siren not far off.
The man looked past Clark to Lucy. "Just you wait, you bitch. I'll get you. You'll be sorry you threw me out."
"No chance. It was the best thing I ever did!" she shouted back at him.
Clark stared in sudden realisation of the identity of his captive. Gritting his teeth, he flew off and delivered Paul Bailey to the police officers who had stopped to investigate an alarm a few blocks away. He promised to come to the police station to make a statement later. He then returned to Lucy.
She was standing where he'd left her, her arms wrapped around her body, seemingly unaware of her surroundings.
"Lucy? Are you all right?"
She swung around and glared at him. "Who asked you to interfere?"
"What?" Clark stared in amazement. "You were being beaten up. And you look badly hurt — you should let me take you to hospital."
"Stay out of it!" Lucy shouted. "I don't want your help."
Clark couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Lucy, that was Paul, wasn't it? The ex-boyfriend who abused you. Why were you even talking to him?"
Lucy's eyes widened in shock. "How do you know about any of that?"
Clark realised his error and attempted to cover up for himself. "Oh, uh… Clark Kent's a friend of mine. He told me what had happened to you — he asked if I could look out for your ex-boyfriend."
"Well, it's none of your damn business!" Lucy shouted. "And Clark shouldn't have told you anything about me. Look, go away and leave me alone — you're not wanted here."
Clark was very reluctant to leave. "You're hurt. You need medical attention."
She marched past him. "I can look after myself. Get lost, Superman!"
Clark was left standing as, appalled, he watched his sister-in-law walk off, out of the alley, and away. After a moment or two, he floated off the ground and drifted up in the clouds, watching to ensure that she was safe. He continued to watch as she boarded a bus, and later alighted not far from Hyperion Avenue. Glad to see that she was home, Clark returned to the Planet.
Lucy was upstairs when Clark returned home, and deciding that he would wait until she was ready to talk, he went into the kitchen and prepared a casserole. Some time later, as he was taking the casserole out of the oven to check on it, Lucy burst into the kitchen. Clark quickly placed the dish on the worktop, hoping that he had been fast enough to prevent Lucy noticing that he had been holding a hot dish with his bare hands.
Lucy's face was puffy with developing bruises, and her lips were swollen. Clark felt furiously angry at Bailey, and very glad that he had found out, while at the police station, that the man was wanted on a number of charges of theft as well as assault and battery.
But Lucy was also angry; Clark realised that another characteristic the Lane sisters shared was a furious temper.
"Who said you could go around broadcasting my business to all and sundry?" Lucy demanded angrily.
Clark maintained a judicious silence.
"Superman — that red-and-blue freaky friend of yours. How come he knows all about me and Paul?"
Clark sighed. "Lucy, I'm sorry if you think I betrayed your confidence. I told you, Superman's a… friend of ours. I thought that you seemed scared of Paul, and I wanted to make sure that he couldn't get near you again. Superman was the obvious person to find him."
"It was *none of his business*!" Lucy shouted.
"I made it his business, Lucy," Clark replied. "If you think I did wrong, then I apologise. But Superman told me what happened, and it sounds like you were in a lot of danger. You look as if you were badly hurt." He reached out to tilt Lucy's chin, to take a proper look at her injuries. "Can I put anything on that swelling for you? You'll have a nasty bruise tomorrow."
Lucy pulled away. "Look, I appreciate your concern, Clark. But I wish you hadn't said anything to Superman." She walked across the kitchen, putting distance between them. "I didn't intend to meet Paul. He found me — I think someone told him I was in the area. He threatened me, hit me a little — he was angry that I threw him out. But I could've handled it. I could've… got away," she whispered.
Clark realised that Lucy was actually embarrassed that Superman had had to rescue her, but diplomatically chose not to say anything about that. "Well, from what I've heard, the police already have enough on him to put him away for a few years, regardless of anything he did to you. So you won't be seeing him for a while." He was pleased to see the expression of relief on Lucy's face.
She came back over to him, deliberately putting on a more cheerful expression. "So, what can I do? This smells great." She reached out to take the lid off the casserole dish.
"No, don't -" Clark yelled, rushing towards her.
It was too late; Lucy screamed in pain as her hand touched the burning hot lid. Clark snatched the lid out of her hand and put it on the worktop, then grabbed Lucy's arm and hustled her towards the sink. As he ran the water, he quickly and discreetly froze the area of the burn with his super-breath, then held her hand under water for several minutes.
"Thanks, Clark," Lucy gasped when she'd recovered from the shock. "I can't believe I did that!"
As Clark gently patted her hand dry with a paper towel, subtly blowing more freezing breath on the burn, Lucy suddenly stared up at him as something occurred to her. "Clark — when I came in, I definitely saw you holding that dish, and you *weren't wearing gloves*! How come you didn't get burnt?"
Clark closed his eyes briefly. Lois had warned him several times about being careful with his super-powers while Lucy was around, and he was well aware from his own observation that the younger Lane sister was not stupid. But he had let himself be caught out, and on something as silly as this… He took a breath, and exhaled slowly.
"Lucy… there's something I should tell you," he said heavily. "But you have to understand that no-one else must know about this. I know I can trust you, and I'm depending on your discretion." Lucy nodded, although she was completely baffled as to what Clark was going to tell her.
He released his hold on her, and stepped back. Keeping his eyes fixed on hers, Clark removed his glasses and laid them on the counter, at the same time brushing his hair back from his forehead.
"*You're*… Superman?" She was staggered. "Clark… I'd never have imagined… Oh my God… does Lois know?"
Clark raised one eyebrow and gave her an ironic 'what do you think' look.
"Superman's my brother-in-law!" she whispered in disbelief. Then, burying her head in her hands, she muttered, "And I told you to get lost and mind your own business!"
"You couldn't have known, Lucy," Clark reassured her. "And - now that you know — I didn't betray your confidence. It was stupid of me, this afternoon, to reveal how much I knew. It was just a hell of a shock realising that the woman I'd gone to help was you."
She shrugged. "I over-reacted. I *was* scared, and I had been calling for help, but I knew that Superman — you — knew Lois and you — if you know what I mean — and I didn't want you knowing that I'd been stupid enough to run into Paul…"
"Why not?" Clark asked gently. "We know you're not stupid enough to consider taking him back, so why would I think badly of you?"
Lucy shrugged again. "I guess I feel so… well, that I was crazy ever to get involved with him, and you've been helping me to forget that it ever happened, and… you really seem to think a lot of me, Clark. You make me feel better about myself than almost anyone else has in my entire life. And seeing Paul today just kind of dragged me back to the way things were."
"No, it didn't," Clark insisted. "You proved that you've moved on, become stronger. If you hadn't, you'd have wanted him to take you back. But you didn't — you fought him, and you put him out of your life permanently. I'm proud of you for that." He moved closer to her and pulled her lightly into his embrace.
"You seem to be making a habit of this," Lucy said shakily.
"Why not? I can hug my sister-in-law if I want, can't I?" Clark replied. "Besides, I always wanted a younger sister. Looks like I finally got one."
Lucy nodded. "I'd have liked a big brother too — not that I ever told Lois. She had enough problems what with knowing Dad had wanted her to be a boy." She hugged Clark back briefly, then giggled. "I can't believe I'm hugging Superman!" Glancing up at Clark then, she added, "You and Lois don't have to worry. I can keep a secret, and I won't tell anyone about this. I promise."
"OK," Clark replied. "Now, let me do something about these injuries."
"What?" Lucy demanded, puzzled.
"Come and sit down." He guided her towards the island worktop, and easily hoisted her up so that she was sitting on the edge. "Close your eyes. This might hurt a little, but I'll be as gentle as I can." He focused his heat vision on the cuts on Lucy's face and lips, sealing them deftly. Then he blew, gently, with his freezing breath on the bruised cheek, and again on her burnt palm. Testing the sites with a light touch of his finger, he said, "There. They aren't completely healed, but they should be a lot less painful now."
"Wow!" she exclaimed. "That's amazing! Can I call you the next time I cut myself chopping vegetables?"
Clark laughed. "Well, don't make a habit of it."
Thinking of something else now, Lucy observed, "Well, I understand now why you're not jealous of Lois's interest in Superman any more!"
"Yeah, well, it's a bit difficult to be jealous of myself," Clark laughed. "Although I did manage it for a while." He briefly explained his triangular relationship with Lois before she had found out his secret. "I should have told her a lot sooner, I know that now. The ridiculous thing is that it wasn't even that I didn't trust her. I would have trusted Lois above almost anyone I knew. It was… wondering, never sure, whether she could prefer me, Clark, to the super-hero creation." He sighed, remembering what he now thought of as his folly. "And all the time she *did* want me, but was put off by knowing that I was hiding something from her." He smiled. "Anyway, your sister is extremely tenacious, as I'm sure you know, and she eventually told me what I should have told her long before. She figured it out herself, and has never let me forget it since!" Laughing, he added, "I have once or twice reminded her that she knew me better than anyone else in Metropolis during those first couple of years, and yet she was fooled for all that time by a pair of glasses."
Lucy studied Clark's face; he had not replaced his glasses since removing them to let her see the truth. "You do look very different without them. And in that suit too… well, I can imagine that not a lot of people look at your *face*!" She blushed, a little embarrassed.
Clark laughed. "That's exactly what my Mom said when she made the suit!"
Over dinner, they talked about Clark's *alter ego*, Clark being quite happy to answer Lucy's questions about his double life and his Kryptonian origins. He did have to leave at one stage when he heard a cry for help; as they were chatting Lucy noticed Clark's head tilt to one side and his expression became distracted in what Lois would have called his 'listening' mode, had she been there. Standing up abruptly, he apologised and said, "Someone needs me. I'll be back as soon as I can."
As he hurried towards the door, Lucy commented, "I guess that's what you were up to the last two nights when you rushed out with some lame excuse."
Clark, about to pull the door behind him, glanced back and said, "Yeah — sorry about the stupid excuses. At least you understand now." A slam of the door, and he was gone; Lucy heard a faint 'whoosh' a split second later.
A mere second later, Clark landed near the back entrance to a shopping mall, just in time to prevent a gang rape. The middle-aged woman, who had been set upon by a gang of youths who had first stolen her purse and credit cards and then decided to assault her, was very grateful for her unexpected rescue. After restraining and securing the would-be rapists, Clark then had to spend a few minutes calming the understandably distressed woman before the police arrived. Having assured the arresting officers that he would be happy to give evidence for the prosecution if necessary, he returned to the house.
He entered via the bedroom, changing into jeans and a T-shirt en route, and went to rejoin Lucy in the living-room.
"Wow. I guess Lois is used to this, right?" Lucy asked as Clark strolled down the stairs as casually as if he had been in the house all along.
"It took her a while, but yes… and she's a lot better than I am at thinking up excuses to cover my disappearances," Clark agreed with a grin. "The job helps — at least most of the time I can excuse my absences by coming back with another 'Superman saves someone' story."
"It sure explains how you and Lois manage to get so many Superman exclusives!" Lucy laughed. She then glanced away from Clark and twisted her hands together, in a manner which Clark now recognised as meaning that she wanted to ask him something but was embarrassed about it.
"Lucy? What is it?" he enquired.
"Oh, nothing… well, it's just that there's one thing I always really envied Lois for — being able to go flying with Superman. I always wondered what it would be like," she said apologetically.
"How can you claim that you're nothing like your sister?" Clark asked, in a voice of exaggerated patience. Smiling, he held out his hand towards her, saying, "Well, now's your chance to find out." He led her towards the stairs, explaining, when she eyed him curiously, "It's easier to take off from our bedroom - less chance of anyone noticing."
Upstairs, he stood back from Lucy and spun, leaving her open-mouthed. Clark again grinned to himself, remembering Lois's reaction when he had performed that same movement in front of her for the first time (twice, since they now both remembered their trip to 1966 with H.G. Wells). He quickly caught Lucy up in his arms and flew up and out of the bedroom window.
After a lazy flight over Metropolis, Clark re-entered the house through the same window and lowered Lucy lightly to the floor. She twisted in his arms and hugged him, reaching up to kiss his cheek. "Thanks, Clark, that was really wonderful. I'll always remember it."
Neither of them heard the bedroom door open. A voice from the other side of the room enquired acidly, "Just what is going on here? Superman -"
"Lois!" Clark exclaimed. Depositing Lucy in a chair, in a flash he had caught Lois up in his arms, spinning her around, and kissed her passionately. When she was able to get her breath back, Lois whispered urgently, "Lucy! What will she think…?"
"It's OK," Clark reassured her. "Lucy knows I'm Clark."
"*What*?" Lois exclaimed incredulously. "What on earth's been happening?"
"Not what you obviously thought, Lois," Lucy drawled from her chair. "I asked Clark if he'd take me flying, that's all."
Clark, who by now had changed his clothes, commented, "I didn't know you were coming back tonight, Lois — why didn't you tell me?"
"Do I need to?" Lois asked, still a little confused by the unexpected turn of events, including finding her husband and her sister together in her bedroom.
"Not really, except that once I left Lucy back here I was going to fly down to California to see you," Clark replied calmly.
"Oh," Lois replied lamely, wondering how she had managed to allow Clark to wrong-foot her like that, when it was she who had every reason to be suspicious.
"Hey, Lois," Lucy called in amusement. "Don't you trust Clark or something?"
Stung, Lois retorted, "Of course I trust him!"
"Well, then?" Lucy stood and faced her sister. "I'm going to make coffee. See you both downstairs in a minute."
Clark regarded Lois with a faint smile which didn't quite reach his eyes. "*Do* you trust me, Lois?"
Flinging herself into Clark's arms, Lois exclaimed, "Of course I trust you! I know you'd never do anything to betray my trust. But you have to understand that it was a bit of a shock to walk into my bedroom and find my husband with his arms around my sister, and kissing her — "
"Hey, I wasn't kissing her, honey," Clark protested mildly. "*She* kissed *me* — a peck on the cheek, no more."
"Yeah, I realise that now," Lois said apologetically. "You have to realise how it looked, though." Clark nodded, but gently pointed out again that he valued their relationship, and loved her too much, to even look at another woman in a romantic way.
"I guess I know that," Lois admitted, showing her husband in gestures how much she returned his love for her.
"So — you and Lucy are really getting on well now?"
"Yeah — she's a really lovely person, Lois," Clark assured her. "And though I know it'll take a while, I think she's starting to recover from the effects of that *animal* she lived with."
"Thanks to you, no doubt," Lois said softly, before noticing that her husband had that faraway expression on his face again. "Oh no, not now?"
"Afraid so, honey," Clark said regretfully, stepping back from her and spinning into his Superman attire again. "I'll try not to be too long; in the meantime, you should go and talk to Lucy."
As they sat together sipping coffee, Lucy filled Lois in on the recent events in her life. "And you know, Lois, I really hope you appreciate Clark — he's such a terrific guy. He's really helped me the last few days. I don't just mean by letting me stay here and getting my stuff back for me and making sure Paul can't come near me any more. Clark's really helped me to see that I need to have more confidence in myself."
Lois smiled; that was so like her Clark. "Yeah, he's pretty wonderful. You don't have to tell me that."
Lucy gave her elder sister a direct look. "But you thought he and I were… you know, upstairs. You should know both of us better than that, Lois."
"Yes, I should," Lois admitted. "And I didn't really think anything was going on — it was just a surprise, that's all."
"Yeah, well, I guess it's the first time you and I have ever seemed to share the same taste in guys, hey Lois?" Lucy teased. "Not that we do, really — I mean, Clark's great and all that and I love having him as a brother, but I don't fancy him."
"No?" Lois almost seemed offended. "You don't think he's attractive?"
Lucy laughed. "Sure he is. He's one of the best-looking guys I know. I've always thought that — I never could understand why you weren't interested in him when he first joined the Planet. He'd be attractive even if he wasn't also Superman. But I meant that *I'm* not attracted to him in a sexual way." She smiled at Lois. "Hey, I love Clark to bits for what he's done for me in the last couple of days. And I just hope that some day I might find someone who loves me as much as Clark does you." Lucy pulled a face and looked away. "You know I haven't exactly chosen very well so far."
Lois reached for her sister's hands and squeezed them. "Who am I to talk, Luce? You say you couldn't understand why I wasn't interested in Clark at first — *I* can't understand it either. I haven't exactly had great taste in men either." She grimaced. "You know all about Claude. But I never really got to tell you about Lex, did I?"
Lucy shook her head.
"Oh, if we're going to have this conversation, we should have some wine," Lois decided. Seeing Lucy's enquiring look, Lois added, "Oh, don't worry, Clark said he'd be a while — he wants to take some time and do a patrol, now that you know who he is and I'm back."
Sipping her wine a few minutes later, Lois continued, "Clark first — well, you remember what I was like when we met. I thought he was just a hick from some small town somewhere — of course he wasn't, but I wasn't in the mood to look beyond the external. He didn't try to get my attention in any flashy sort of way, like Lex did, and I guess it took a while before his humour, and his gentle caring, and his loyalty made an impression on me. I don't even know when it happened, but by the time Lex asked me to marry him, I really cared for Clark a lot."
She paused, then resumed. "And then, of course, there was Superman. Well, what woman is *not* going to be impressed by him? And he… seemed to have a special affinity for me. He even told me that he cared — that I was special to him. I guess I always knew there was never really going to be a future there, even before he made it clear to me that it wasn't possible. And Lex… I didn't know anything about what he was really like then. I thought he was what he appeared to be: a rich, powerful man who was also a great philanthropist." Lois shook her head in disbelief. "It was his power, more than anything else, which attracted me to Lex. I didn't actually love him… I guess I was looking for security."
"Clark must have been hurt when you got engaged," Lucy suggested. "I knew — or at any rate, I'd guessed — that he cared about you. I could see it the first time I saw the two of you together."
"Yeah, Clark was hurt," Lois admitted, "and that's something I hate to remember. What's worse was that he tried to tell me what he knew, or suspected, about Lex, but I wouldn't listen. I just accused him of being jealous. It was a pretty horrible time, actually, what with the Planet going under — I didn't see Clark or any of the others for ages. Then when I did call Clark, it was really awkward — neither of us knew what to say to the other. So I didn't call again. I didn't realise until afterwards that Lex had deliberately been trying to cut me off from my friends."
"He sounds even worse than Paul," Lucy commented. "I mean — I know he was evil and he had people killed, but in terms of how he tried to control you, that sounds terrible."
"Looking back, it was," Lois reflected. "I *thought* I was happy at the time; I could have everything I wanted, I had a great job at LNN, a man who appeared to be devoted to me — but I didn't have my friends. And I remember one evening we were discussing the house Lex was having built for us, and he was deciding how many cars we needed to be able to park in the garage, and I was thinking, 'what am I *doing*? This is crazy!' But… I couldn't seem to admit I'd been wrong. Not until we were right there in front of the Archbishop — Lex was horrified when I said no. But then the police arrived, and it was all over."
"Yeah, Mom said it was kinda crazy," Lucy commented.
"You know," Lois added slowly, "I've often wondered what I would have done if Clark had come to me as Superman and told me what he knew about Lex. I'm sure I'd have believed him. Not that I was accusing Clark of lying or anything, it's just that Superman had more reason to *know* what was really going on. But I guess that was hard for Clark as well, since I'd rejected him as Clark and then practically begged him as Superman to love me. I'm not surprised he didn't want to see me as Superman again."
"So," Lois concluded on a sigh, "I really messed up there. If I hadn't changed my mind at the last minute, or if Clark and Perry and the others hadn't worked so hard to get the evidence against Lex, I'd have been married to probably the worst criminal in the world. So much for *my* taste in men! And then there was Dan…"
"Yeah, tell me about Dan! I never met him," Lucy responded. "I remember calling you at work one day and Clark answered your phone — he told me you were out with this Scardino guy and he didn't sound at all impressed."
"Well, Clark never liked Dan, but this time I think it really was all jealousy. He thought that we were getting along really well and that if Dan hadn't come along and messed things up we'd have been together. But that wasn't really true." Lois gave a wry smile. "If Clark hadn't been so… scared to confide to me, to explain what was really going on his life, Dan's coming along wouldn't have made any difference. It was Clark I wanted, but as I tried to tell him, I didn't want someone who wouldn't talk to me, *trust* me." She gave a short laugh. "That's ironic — I eventually discovered that *Dan* wasn't telling me the whole truth either. As for Clark, I eventually found out that what he wasn't telling me is what you found out tonight. The irony there is that it was his *not* telling me which was driving us apart. Once I knew, I could cope with his running off, because I knew why."
"I did wonder why you suddenly stopped complaining about Clark's abrupt disappearances," Lucy said with a grin. "Especially when he ran off twice with lame excuses while I was here!"
"Well, anyway, just because I finally chose Clark, don't take me as a model of how to choose men!" Lois observed dryly. <Especially as the bad choices didn't even stop at Dan… there was Maxwell Deter as well, to say nothing of running off with Lex after our wedding that never was! Best not to mention those…>
"So you don't think there's no hope for me?" Lucy asked, only half-joking.
"Of course not!" Lois insisted. "You'll find a great guy one of these days."
"Well, I'd like to get my life back on track first," Lucy suggested. "But one of these days… if I could meet someone who'd make me even half as happy as Clark's made you, Lois, I'd love it." She nudged her shoulder against her elder sister's. "Never take him for granted, Lois. You're very lucky."
"So you think Lucy's going to be all right?" Clark murmured to Lois much later, as they cuddled together in bed.
"Yeah — well, we Lanes are pretty indestructible," Lois teased. "You may knock us down, but we bounce back." She kissed her husband. "Thanks for getting Lucy an interview with the Research department, by the way. She's really excited about it — and the reference you gave her was excellent."
"I'm convinced she can do the job," Clark replied calmly. He trailed his hand along Lois's thigh, causing her to squeal in shock. "What's wrong, honey? Should I stop doing that?"
"No — oh no, please don't stop," she gasped, as his hand found an even more sensitive spot.
Clark grinned and continued his exploration. "Anyway, there's another little development you might like — Lucy's going to the movies on Saturday with Jimmy."
"Jimmy!" Lois momentarily forgot the effect Clark's hand was having on her, and stared at him incredulously. "But they *hated* each other!"
"Well, I wouldn't say that," Clark said, smiling. "They were both younger… I think now they might have grown up enough to take each other more seriously. Anyway, it's not a date, as such. They're just going to see if they can be friends. But who knows… *we* started as friends, didn't we?"
"Well, if it is going to be like that, I just hope Lucy doesn't take as long as I did to see that friends can also be lovers," Lois replied, grinning. "I hope she learns from my mistakes."
Clark ceased his caressing and met Lois's eyes. "Yeah, I heard you talking to Lucy about Lex. And Dan. I didn't mean to listen, and I flew away again after a minute or so. But I did hear what you said about Superman not telling you the truth about Lex. And about *me* driving you to Dan because I wouldn't talk to you."
Lois stared at Clark. She hadn't meant him to overhear her conversation, and she wouldn't have wanted to hurt him for the world. "Clark -" she began, apologetically.
"Hey, honey, it's OK," he soothed her. "I know I made a lot of mistakes, and if I could do things over again I'd do a lot of things differently. Including telling you about Superman much sooner."
"We both made mistakes," Lois conceded. "But we've got each other now. And Lucy's right. I will *never* take you for granted, Clark."
"Nor I you," he promised. "You are so special to me, Lois, and I thank God every day for you."
Lois, tears springing to her eyes, flung her arms around her husband and kissed him deeply. "I love you," she whispered against his mouth.
"I love you too," Clark replied as the kiss ended. Holding Lois's deep brown eyes with his, he repeated, "I love you, I love you, I LOVE YOU!."
They laughed, and Lucy, passing by their bedroom door on her way to the bathroom, heard Clark's declaration and their laughter, and grinned. "Just like a couple of kids!"