Clara turned a corner and slammed right into the chest of a tall man in a brown suit. She fell backwards, and all of her papers scattered across the marbled floor. The man's briefcase burst open and his papers all showerd down on top of hers.
"Oh gosh, I'm so sorry!" they said in unison. Clara looked up and smiled. "Oh, hi, Mr. Kent," she said.
"Hi, Miss King," he said, his cheeks turning bright red as he spoke.
"You know, we really have to stop meeting this way," she said, sitting up and checking her camera. When she was satisfied that it was undamaged, she started to pull the papers back into order. Clark knelt down and began to help. They bumped heads a couple of times, and they reached for the same piece of paper more than once. Passers-by shook their heads, and a few of the people who worked on their floor muttered, "C.K. squared are at it again."
As soon as they entered the bustling, humming office floor, they waved and parted ways. Clara looked back and watched Clark stumble to his desk before heading to her own area. "Hey Clara!"
"Hey, Jimmy," Clara said, dropping her papers onto the desk. "How's it going?"
"Great!" Jimmy said. "I'm on assignment with Lois again. This time we're headed down to-"
"You ready, Jimmy? Oh, hi Clara."
"Hi, Miss Lane."
"Jimmy, come on, we gotta get going if we're going to beat traffic."
"I'm right behind you Lois. See you, Clara, I'll tell you all about it!"
"Bye," Clara said. She sighed wistfully, wishing that she could go on a field assignment with a reporter, instead of just shooting pictures and hoping someone would want them, or taking random requests. She sat down and got ready to load her latest pictures onto her computer.
"KENT!!!" came the familiar, bellowing voice of the Editor in Chief. "In my office!"
"Yes, Mr. White." Clara peered above the stacks of files and papers to see Clark heading for the Chief's office. He closed the door behind him and Clara looked back down at her computer. She had just managed to get the sim card out of her camera when the chief's door opened again. "KING!!!"
Clara hopped out of her seat. "Be right there, Chief!" She stuck the memory card back into the camera and rushed into the Chief's office, narrowly escaping falling flat on her face a couple of times when some coworker or other's chair moved into her way at just the wrong moment.
Clara entered the Chief's office and glanced at Clark before looking up at her boss. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Yes! I want you with Clark today."
"Well that's what I said, isn't it?!"
"It's time for you to get out there and make a mark! Bring back something award-winning, King! Understand?"
"Clark will guide you. He'll tell you everything you need to know, right Kent?"
"He's almost as shy as you are, so you guys should get along great together. Now get out there, you two, and bring me back some fire!" He paused, and Clara and Clark both waited, wanting to be sure the Chief was really finished. "Well, what are you still doing here! Go! Good luck on your first field assignment, King."
"Thank you, Chief," Clara said. Clark held the door open for her and she stepped outside, trying to calm the breathless, hyper feeling she always had after leaving the Chief's office. It was particularly difficult to quell this time, because she had suddenly been thrust into a dream. Not only was she going to work her first field assignment with a reporter, but the reporter was Clark Kent! She couldn't stop smiling.
"Well, Miss King, it looks like we'll be working together for the first time," Clark said.
Clara nodded. "Looks that way. You can call me Clara," she said. "Since we are going to be bringing back fire together." Clark chuckled. "So, where are we headed?"
"Mr. White wants me to cover a story on the slums downtown. Well, one in particular. It's a terrible situation. Leaky pipes, bad railings, faulty locks. None of the tenants feel safe."
"Wow," Clara said. "Heavy piece. I'm sure that crazy earthquake Lex Luthor caused didn't help anything."
"Exactly! And the landlord hasn't even bothered to put plastic in the broken windows."
Clara shook her head. "Say, speaking of apartments, have you found a place to stay yet? I heard you were having some trouble."
"Yeah, I still haven't found anything. You know, all the bustle after Luthor's last attack..."
Clara nodded. "Well... if..." She blushed and studied her camera.
"Nothing," she said hastily. "Shall we get a cab?"
Clark frowned slightly, loooking confused, but let it drop. "Sure." By this time, they were downstairs in the lobby again. Clara approached the revolving doors with the great respect due to such a complex piece of technology. She got inside, glancing back at Clark, who entered the door at the same time she did. There was a semi-frantic shuffle and after a few hectic seconds, they burst out of the door and both looked back at it, much as if they had escaped a dragon's cavern.
Clara tried a few times to hail a cab, but without success. Clark stepped forward after the fourth cab passed and let out a loud whistle. Three cabs stopped in their tracks. Clara smiled, impressed. "Wow," she said. "I think I need to keep you around all the time." Clark only chuckled slightly and held the door open for her.
Clark gave the cabby the address, and they headed to the grungy part of town. When they drew nearer their destination, Clara took a couple of pictures from the backseat of the cab. When they reached the apartment they were to focus on, Clara stepped out of the car and took some shots of the building. She was shocked by how ill-kept it was, even though she knew she was coming to a slum. Most buildings around Metropolis had been restored to normal by now, but this one still had broken windows (some were just gaping holes where the glass should have been), the walls were cracked in places, and even the front door barely seemed to stay on its hinges.
The inside was worse. Clara snapped photo after photo of the dilapidated stairs, water-stained walls and cracked, creaking floors. Meanwhile, Clark began knocking on doors, looking for an interview. Before their visit was done, Clara had over 80 pictures of the apartment, bad plumbing, refuse issues and some of the tennants, and Clark had interviewed several of the residents and heard their many complaints.
"Sometimes I wish Superman cared enough about the little people around here to do something about this dump," one tennant said near the end of a long rant.
Clark looked stunned and seemed to be at a loss for words. Clara frowned. "With all due respect, sir," she said, trying not to sound too angry, "I'm sure Superman cares a great deal about everyone. But he can't be everywhere at one time. This is something that the housing authority, or maybe even the police, should be called on to help with, not Superman. It's something we can do on our own, and it wouldn't be fair to expect him to..." Clara stopped, thinking she might be getting a little too preachy. She was representing the Daily Planet, after all. "I'm sure that with the help of the article Mr. Kent is going to write, it will be brought to their attention, and something will be done about this place."
"Well, I sure hope so," the man said, apparently not offended in the least by being told off by the photographer. Clark wrapped up the interview and asked if Clara thought she needed any more pictures. She said that eighty-three photos was probably enough to choose from, and they hailed a cab back to the office.
When they were settled into the cab, Clara started to review her pictures, trying to decide how she could narrow down the selection so that Clark wouldn't have to ponder all night to choose something. Clark cleared his throat. "That was pretty generous of you," he said.
"Hm? Oh, I think I might have been too generous. You've got almost a hundred to choose from."
"Huh? Oh, no! I meant about Superman. The way you defended him."
"Ohhhh," Clara said with a laugh. "Well, it just doesn't make sense to me to expect Superman to repair broken-down apartment buildings. Next people will expect him to repair cars and pay our taxes or something." Clark laughed at that. Clara smiled, but then took on a thoughtful tone. "I hope we never get so accustomed to him saving the day that we start to resent it when he's not there to pull kittens out of trees or shovel snow out of our driveways."
Clark nodded seriously. "I'll bet being resented by the people he cares so much about would hurt him quite a bit," he said.
"Mmm." They were silent for a few moments, then the conversation turned to other things, like the horrible state of the apartments, the absentee managers, and on to the latest gossip at the office. Back inside, Clara loaded her pictures and began trimming down the selections to make it easier for Clark. She took them back to Clark as soon as she could, and he set aside his notes to look them over with her. They were deep in concentration for quite some time, and before long, the others began trickling out of the office.
"Burning the midnight oil, eh, Clark?" Clara looked up at the sound of Richard White's voice. He peered over Clark's shoulder. "Whoa. You guys actually went in there?"
"A lot of people actually live there," Clark said.
Richard shook his head. "Shame." His smile returned. "Can I get you guys something before I head home? There's always Jason's favorite, burritos."
Clark looked at Clara. "You...?"
"I... um... if you...?"
Richard sighed. "I asked the wrong two people to make a decision," he said with a chuckle. "I'm going home. You two are on your own." He walked to the door, calling over his shoulder, "Nice work on those photos, Clara."
"Thanks, Mr. White," Clara said, pleased. When he was gone, they turned their attention back to the pictures. They finally managed to narrow it down to three good candidates, and the editor would have to make the final cut. By the time that was done, it was very late, and Clark still hadn't started writing yet. "Can I get you some coffee?" Clara asked. "You must be hungry now, too. I can run out and get something."
"Oh no, I couldn't inconvenience you like that. You should head home now."
"And miss the actual writing of the article? No way. Besides, it's no trouble. Come on, what do you take? You like cream and sugar?"
Clark looked like he wanted to protest, but he merely smiled and nodded. "Both. Thanks a lot, Clara."
"You're welcome." Clara trotted to the breakroom and made coffee, thinking back on the day's events. She hadn't had a chance to spend this much uninterrupted time with Clark before now, and she was enjoying herself quite a bit. When the coffee was done, she returned to Clark's desk and watched him work. He was fairly silent while he typed, but once in a while, he would ask her if she remembered a certain quote from one of the interviewees, or if she could think of another word for "disgusting" and "filth".
After another hour or so, Clark seemed to be satisfied with what he had. He let Clara read it, and she approved wholeheartedly. "It's great, Clark! He's going to love this," she said.
"Thank you! Well." He stacked up his papers and filed them away for the next day. "Can I see you home? It's awfully late."
Clara blushed just a little. "That would be really sweet of you," she said.
"We still haven't eaten dinner," he said. He looked at his watch, and his eyes widened. He pushed his glasses up, as if their being a little low on his nose had caused his watch to be wrong. "My goodness," he said. "It's later than I thought."
"The diners will still be open," she said.
"Would you like to grab a bite?"
"I'd love to."
Clark treated Clara to dinner at a 24-hour diner, then accompanied her home in a cab. She was struck again by the same idea she had in the elevator earlier that day. After spending the day with him, however, she was a little less shy about making the offer. "Clark?"
"Would you..." She cleared her throat, still a little too embarassed to speak without blushing. "If... if you ever get tired of living in a hotel, I have a pretty comfortable sofa bed you can use."
"You really mean that, Clara?"
"Absolutely," she said, his grateful tone encouraging her to look up into his face.
"I... I would really hate to impose-"
"Oh, you wouldn't be imposing at all," she said. "There's plenty of room, and I would love to have you over."
Clark smiled warmly. "Well, thank you so much, Clara. My mother does hate the fact that I'm staying in what she calls, a 'cold, heartless room'. And I could help you with the rent and utilities."
"Sure," Clara said, having no intention of accepting Clark's money. "You can move in this weekend. If that's alright with you."
"It's perfect. Have a good night, Clara."
"See you tomorrow, Clark."
She walked into the building and rode up to her apartment, barely able to catch her breath. She spent what remained of the night laying in bed pretending to sleep - far too excited to get any actual rest.
Clara enoyed her job well enough that she wasn't usually aching for the weekend to arrive, but the rest of the week was different. Friday couldn't have come slower. The Chief had liked the article and accompanying photographs so much that he'd decided to assign Clara to Clark indefinitely. Clara quickly learned the kind of pictures Clark tended to favor, and she was able to reduce her shots to under 30 per assignment. They began to fall into a rhythm, and even though they still managed to careen into each other now and then in the halls, when it was time to run a story down, they seemed to be much better attuned to one another. The nickname C.K. Squared began to mean more than "the clutziest team since the Three Stooges".Finally, the weekend arrived. Clark and Clara stayed a little late to finish up one last article. Lois and Jimmy were in as well, finishing up something they'd been working on, and Richard brought food for all. Clara got to spend a little time playing games with Jason while Clark and Lois put the finishing touches on their articles. When, at last, it was time for everyone to leave, Clara shared a taxi with Clark again, and he saw her to her apartment.
"I have just about everything packed," he said when they neared her apartment. "You're at 8C, right?"
"That's right," Clara said. "If you need help bringing things over, I can-"
"Oh no, thank you, I'm sure I can handle it. I'm a light packer."
"Okay," Clara said. "I'll see you tomorrow, then?" Clark nodded, and Clara left him.
Clark arrived earlier than Clara had expected. He was at her door before 9:00. Clara was grateful that she had been too nervous to sleep much the night before, and had spent half the night re-cleaning the apartment and making sure everything was ready for Clark's arrival. He stood at her doorstep with two suitcases, a briefcase and a single garment bag. "Good morning, Clara."
"Good morning," she said brightly. "Wow, you weren't kidding when you said you packed light. This is all you brought from home?"
"That's everything," he said.
Clara took the garment bag and the briefcase, and beckoned Clark to enter. "Come on in," she said. "I'll show you to your room."
"Room!" Clark exclaimed, stepping inside and shutting the door. "I thought you said-"
"I know," Clara said. "But I couldn't stand the thought of you sleeping in the living room without any privacy, you know? I have this little room that I was using for an office, but I figured it would be big enough to turn into a bedroom." Clara led him to the small room. She had put her nervous energy to work during the week by moving her tiny computer desk and files into her bedroom, putting the bookcase in the living room and squirreling everything else in her "office" into whatever spaces she could find. She had found a fairly decent twin-sized bed on sale and hired help to bring it up to her apartment just that past Thursday. "I'm afraid there isn't much closet space," she said, opening the tiny closet door and hanging up his garment bag. "And you might be too tall for the bed, but I'm sure we can adjust somehow. I hope the room isn't too small."
"It's great, Clara," said Clark. "You shouldn't have gone to all this trouble!"
"It was no trouble," Clara said, happy that he appreciated all her hard work all the same. "I just want you to be comfortable. I'm sure you had more room at the hotel."
"I know I'll be comfortable," he said, looking around the room with a smile. "This is perfect."
Clara positively glowed. "Well, I'll let you settle in, and then I'll show you the rest of the apartment. Make yourself at home, Clark."
Clara left Clark to himself so that he could get situated. She bustled around in the kitchen and did what she could to straighten up, even though she had straightened about as much as humanly possible already. It wasn't long before Clark came out of his room in search of her. "Okay," she said. "Let me show you around."
Clara showed him her tiny kitchen, opening the refrigerator and telling him to help himself to everything inside. She showed him the living room, pointed out the TV ("I haven't seen the remote for the last three weeks"), showed him the bathroom, the extra towels, and her bedroom, which really wasn't too much larger than Clark's room. "Help yourself to everything, and make yourself at home," she said when the little tour was done.
"Thank you. I just have to say again, I really appreciate you doing this for me, Clara."
"It's my pleasure."
"Um... I guess I should let you know that sometimes I can keep pretty peculiar hours. I promise I'll do my best not to disturb you coming and going, but I do a lot of it."
"That's no problem, Clark. Besides, I tend to sleep like a log anyway. Can I... no. That's being too nosy. Let me give you the phone number here, so you can give it to your mom."
Clark looked surprised, and he smiled brightly. "That would be swell! Wow," he said, sounding amazed. "You remembered my mother." Clara just smiled and wrote her phone number on a slip of paper and handed it to him.
Clara found that she had been very fortunate in her roommate choice. Clark insisted on paying for half of everything: rent, groceries and utilities, no matter how much Clara urged him not to. He was inordinately neat, despite his habitual clumsiness, and there was never so much as a shoe out of place or a dish left unwashed for more than an hour. They cab-pooled to work every day, (Clark split the cost of that with her, too), and started hanging out much more during off-times.
Clark did indeed keep peculiar hours. Sometimes, if she woke up in the night for any reason, she would see him coming in, or going out. He would often give her an embarrassed grin if he saw her, then wave goodbye and head out the door. His bedroom door always remained closed when he was home. Clara respected his privacy far too much to wander into his room when he was gone, and she usually kept her door closed as well, so she couldn't logically find anything unusual about it. But there was still an air of mystery about Clark that piqued her curiosity.
It wasn't for another two months or so that her curiosity rose to a whole new level. It was two months and three days after Clark moved into her home that Clara first met Superman.
"People always say that they want to meet Superman, but I don't think they mean it."
Clark looked surprised. "Really? You think they're lying when they say that?"
"Oh no," Clara said. "I said that wrong. I'm sure they do want to meet him, but unless you get lucky and happen to see him walking down the street, which probably never happens, you don't usually get to meet Superman unless your life is in danger. I don't think people really want to be in situations where their lives are at risk."
"Ah. I see your point."
"I mean, I'm sure it would be the best thing in the world if your life was in danger, and Superman happened to be nearby, but... I'd much rather bump into him strolling at the park than to actually need his help."
Clark laughed. "I agree. Say, how's this?" Clark pointed to an unoccupied park bench shaded by a tree.
"Perfect," Clara said. Clark gestured for her to sit down first, then sat down beside her. They unpacked their lunches, and started to eat.
They were about half way finished when Clark looked up sharply. He noticed Clara watching him and grinned. "Sorry, Clara," he said. "I, um... thought I heard something."
"Ah," she said.
"Hey, um... I'm going to look for a restroom, okay?"
"Sure," Clara said. "I'll keep your food safe."
"Thanks." Clark got up and walked off in the direction of a few buildings. Clara turned back to brush away a fly, and when she turned back to watch Clark walk away, she was surprised to see that he was already out of sight. Clara figured that he must have turned off behind a tree or something, and went back to her lunch.
A couple of minutes later, she heard footsteps again. "Back alrea-" Clara gasped. The footsteps had not belonged to Clark, as she had assumed. Instead, a gruff-looking man stood before her, holding a gun.
"Get up, girl." Clara stood up slowly, staring at the barrel of the gun. He grabbed her arm and shoved her in the direction of several thick, tall shrubs. He pushed her toward them when they got closer and she turned swiftly, not liking having her back to him. "Gimme your money," he said.
Clara put her hand to her side, but her purse was not there. "Shoot," she whispered. In her fear, she had forgotten that she'd left her purse at the apartment. She hadn't remembered until they were half way to the park, and Clark had assured her that she wouldn't need her purse at a picnic. She dug into her pockets, but there was nothing in either one. She sighed shakily and looked up. "I don't have any."
"Don't lie to me," he shouted, straightening his arm and brandishing the weapon.
Clara backed up as far as she could, but was stopped by the bushes. "It's true," she cried. "I don't have any money! I... I left my..."
The man growled, and she could tell he had lost whatever patience he had. He cocked the gun, and Clara squeezed her eyes shut. She heard a loud bang, and her whole body shuddered. There was utter silence, then... a voice. A deep, curiously familiar voice said, "That wasn't very nice of you."
Clara opened her eyes and the first thing she was was a fist. She gasped when the hand opened and a warped piece of metal fell to the ground. "Superman," she whispered, looking up at the shimmering red cape, chiseled features and shiny black hair of her savior.
"That's right, miss," he said, lifting the shocked mugger up by the collar. He rose into the air and set the robber on top of the roof of a nearby building, then returned to stand in front of Clara. She smiled, although she could barely find the breath to speak. "Are you all right, miss?" he asked.
She found she still couldn't speak, but she nodded and continued to smile. He held his hand to his forehead, tippping his imaginary hat to her and smiled. "Good day, miss." She nodded again, and he gave a slight chuckle and rose into the air again.
He had picked up the robber from the roof and was on his way, probably to the nearest police station, before Clara found her voice. She trotted forward, and called out, "Thank you, Superman! Thank you!"
He turned in the air, smiled and saluted her again before flying off at a speed that must certainly have made the gunman very uncomfortable. Clara stared after him until she couldn't even see a little blue and red speck, then walked back to the bench in a relative daze. "Just wait until I tell... where's Clark??"
Clara was alone for about five minutes or so before she saw Clark trotting up from across the park. She stood up and started to walk toward him. "Sorry Clara," he said as he approached. "I had the dickens of a time finding the... hey are you all right?"
Clara wasn't sure what to say. She'd had a few moments to realize how close she'd come to being killed, and the shock was starting to set in. "I... I guess I'm fine," she said.
"You're shaking. Are you sure?" Clara shook her head and let Clark help her back to the bench. "What happened?" he asked worriedly.
"There was... um... I..." She struggled to pull herself together. "I met Superman," she said, trying to sound cheerful.
Clark wasn't fooled, and his face looked grave. "I'm guessing you didn't meet him strolling through the park," he said.
Clara shook her head. "There was a robber with um... he had a gun, and..." Clara stopped, finding that she couldn't speak and fight tears at the same time. She brushed at her eyes, and Clark put his arm around her shoulder. She buried her face in his chest and let herself cry for a few moments. Clark patted her back and cleared his throat nervously.
"It's over now," he said. "And thank goodness you're all right. I don't know what I would have done if you got hurt."
"You're sweet, Clark." It wasn't long before Clara was able to calm down. Clark offered her his handkerchief to dry her eyes. Once the shock was over, Clara was able to talk about Superman. "He stopped a bullet with his bare hands!" she exclaimed. "ONE hand!"
"Wow. That's pretty impressive."
"And it didn't just stop, Clark. It was all... squished."
"Well, they do call him the man of steel," Clark said.
"That's true. He was super polite, too! I mean, he stopped to make sure I was okay and everything."
"That was very nice of him." Clara looked sharply at Clark. That phrase - that tone sounded eerily familiar. That wasn't very nice of you. Clara recalled the phrase Superman had used just after catching the robber's bullet. She frowned, tilting her head slightly, and Clark started to look a little uncomfortable. "What is it?" he asked. "Is there something on my..."
Clara shook herself. "No, no. It's nothing," she said distractedly. "Let's go home, huh? I think I've had enough of the wild outdoors for one afternoon."
"Me, too," Clark said. They caught a taxi back to the apartment and Clark offered to take care of cleaning everything up while Clara rested. Grateful, Clara went to her room and settled down in front of her computer. She did a few searches and re-read every article "The Daily Planet" had put out about Superman. There were small pictures of him accompanying each one, but they were too small for her purposes. She searched for a decent, high-resolution photo of Superman and printed it out.
Clara stared at his face for several minutes. The resemblance she'd thought she could see at the park was unmistakeable now. "They could be twins," she said to herself.
There was a sharp tap on the door and Clark poked his head in. His hair was slightly tousled and speckled with soap suds, his glasses just a little lopsided, and he had a soapy dish in one hand. "It's only five minutes to your Saturday show," he said.
"Oh! Thanks, Clark. How could I forget that?"
"Well, you did have kind of a rough day," Clark said. "I could tape it for you, if you'd rather rest some more."
Clara shook her head. "No way. I'll be there in two minutes."
Clark smiled and went back toward the kitchen. Clara studied the picture again before turning it over on the desk and joining him in the living room. "Thanks for doing the dishes," Clara said.
"No problem," said Clark. He pulled off his glasses long enough to wipe the suds off, and brushed the soap out of his bangs. Clara noticed that he kept his head down, but she could see the same chiseled jawline that she had seen on Superman's face. Even with the glasses on, she could see the similarities between the two of them. Could it really be just a coincidence?
Clara's favorite crime drama was on, and Clark sat on the edge of the couch to watch it with her. He seemed intent on the television, but Clara was more interested in watching Clark today, than watching her show. His hands. Clara had seen Superman's fist up close, and Clark's hands reminded her strongly of his. The article had said Superman was 6'4". Clark was the same height. She knew because she had asked him to tell her so that she could look for a more suitable bed to put in his bedroom. Superman had black hair and blue eyes. Clark did, too.
Clara shook her head. Surely, two tall people with black hair and blue eyes were allowed to exist at the same time? But, still. The strong jawline, the cleft chin? The nose? All so strikingly similar? Taken together with Clark leaving the house at odd hours, and conveniently being gone when Superman had arrived... it was pretty hard to think of it as a fluke.
Clara cleared her throat. "Clark, do you have any brothers?"
"Just curious," she said. "You don't often talk about your family."
Clark shrugged and looked down. "Well, Clara, you're about the only person who seems to care enough about me to ask."
Clara smiled slightly, but she could hear the somber tone in his voice. "Jimmy cares about you, Clark," she said softly. "And Mr. White cares. And Lois, of course."
Clark gave her a sardonic smile. "I'm sure she does, as much as she can care about a pesky coworker," he said.
"Oh, Clark! She doesn't think you're pesky." Clark laughed, and Clara shook her head. "So," she said. "Do you still have a crush on her?"
Clark blushed. "You, um... you noticed that, huh?"
"I did," she said gently, sorry that she had embarrassed him. "We don't have to talk about it, though."
"I think you must have been the only one who noticed." He was silent for a moment. Then finally, he answered her question. "Not anymore," he said. "Richard's a good man, and... and I was gone a long time. You can't expect people to wait for you forever. Especially when they..." he paused. "Especially when they weren't really interested in you to begin with." They were quiet for a few moments, then Clark smiled, and the slightly somber mood was lifted. "But that's old news anyway," he said. "Lois and Richard are getting married in a couple of months, and I'm sure they will be very happy."
"I'm sure they will," Clara said. They watched the rest of the show in their usual manner, guessing about the outcomes of the crimes, praising the heroes and condemning the stupidity/cruelty of the criminals.
For the next several days, Clara paid careful attention to the times Clark left the house or the office. She noticed that when he left late at night, there was usually a story in someone's newsreel the next day about how Superman had saved the day, sometimes nearby, sometimes on the other side of the country, and sometimes on a country half way across the globe. Whenever he left her while they were out together and he "had to go", she usually discovered that a Superman sighting had occurred fairly close by.
The more time she spent with Clark, the more sure she was that he had to be Superman. Clara started to keep a journal of her observations. She put her picture of Superman in the front, and noted all the similarities to Clark's build. She had a list of "coincidences" that she'd noticed over the past few days, linking Clark's absences with Superman's appearances, and the similarity she had noticed in their voices.
Clara never mentioned any of the things she'd noticed to anyone else. If Clark really was Superman, there must be some reason he didn't want people to know it. Whenever people pondered about Superman's "secret identity", she usually tried to either turn the conversation to something else, or mentioned that Superman had a right to his privacy just like anyone else.
Even though Clara was careful to protect Superman's privacy around everyone else, she was still itching to know the truth about Clark herself. She had almost worked up the courage to ask him several times, but she could never go through with it. It wasn't long, however, before asking became a moot point. One evening, while Clara was trying her hand at making corn chips at home, Clark asked if he had an extra ink cartrage.
"Sure, in my desk drawer," she said, pulling out a too-dark batch of chips. Clara had time to put another batch of tortilla chips into the pot of oil and watch it bubble for a moment before she realized what had just happened. She gasped and rushed to her bedroom. One look inside told her that she was too late. Clark had her journal in his hand, and was reading with a dark expression, growing ever darker by the moment.
He looked up when she stepped into the room, and his reproachful gaze made her want to run away. "What is this, Clara?"
"It's... it's nothing, Clark. Just... it's..."
"It's not nothing," he snapped. Clara jumped slightly. It was the first time she had ever heard Clark raise his voice. "It's... is this why you were so happy to let me stay here? So you could study me and compare me to Superman? Is this why you've been acting so nice? Taking such an interest in me?"
"Clark, no!" Clara was deeply hurt, and she could feel a lump developing in her throat. "I would never manipulate you like that, Clark. I've lo-" Clara stopped short. "I've c-cared about you since before I knew Superman existed! It hurts me that you could even think I would use you like that. I..." Clara brushed tears out from her eyes and started towards him, too ashamed to look at his face. "I'm so sorry, Clark. I'm sorry. It was stupid and wrong, and - " She took the journal from his hand and started to rip the pages out. "I'm sorry I ever made this stupid thing!" Clara could hardly see what she was doing through the blur of tears, and her hands shook so much that she found it hard to do more than bend the book's pages.
Clark took the book from her and set it on the bed. He held her hands in his and sighed. "I'm terribly sorry, Clara," he said. "I shouldn't have looked in the first place. I violated your privacy."
"But I was the one who-"
Clark put a finger on her lips. "Maybe we were both wrong. But it was mean of me to suggest that you didn't care about me, when you're one of the only people I know who really cares at all. It was wrong of me to make you cry. Can you forgive me?"
Clara was overcome. She threw her arms around Clark's waist and cried into his chest. Clark held her for a few moments, but before she'd had a chance to pull herself together, Clark tensed. "Oil!"
Clara gasped and raced toward the kitchen. The pot of oil had bubbled over, and Clara felt sure that a fire was bound to start any second. She stared at the stove in a panic. "What do we do?"
"Stay back!" Clark went into the kitchen and tried to turn off the stove. Just as he turned the knob, the fire flared, and caught Clark's hand and arm in a yellow blaze. Clara screamed and rushed into the kitchen. Clark looked pained, but he managed to cover the pot, still trying to smother the blaze on his arm. Clara found some kitchen towels and helped him put out the fire.
"Are you okay?" she asked frantically. "We have to get you to a hospital."
Clark shook his head. "It looked worse than it really is."
"Clark, your arm went up in FLAMES! Let me see it!" Before he could pull back, Clara had tossed the towels away and pulled the charred remains of his sleeve away with them. Clara's eyes widened, and she took a step back. Clark's hand and arm were completely unscathed. His skin wasn't even red. She looked into Clark's eyes and saw his worried, almost embarrassed expression.
Clara turned away and walked purposefully toward her bedroom. She picked up her "Clark Kent is Superman" journal and ripped out every page that had writing on it. She could see Clark watching her from the threshold of her room, but she didn't stop until she had put every page into her electric shredder. She looked at the remains of her journal with a satisfied nod and turned back to Clark. She brushed her hand along his astoundingly uninjured arm, and looked up into his piercing blue eyes. "I'll never tell a soul."
Clark smiled. "I believe you, Clara."
"I've been thinking about moving." Clara looked up sharply. "What?"
Clark looked up from the classified section of the newspaper. "Moving. It's so difficult. You have to apply, you have to compete with eight hundred other people, and then if you don't get it, you have to start all over again. It's a very inconvenient process."
"I agree," Clara said, calming down a little.
Clark looked at her thoughtfully. "I um.. I haven't found a place to stay yet."
"It's been almost six months."
"Very true," Clara said. There was a long pause. "Cla-" Clara stopped. Clark had begun to say her name at the same moment.
"You first," they said in unison. Clara smiled and gestured to Clark.
"I was going to ask you if you would mind... if it wouldn't be too much trouble for you if I could just stay here. I don't need more room than what I have, and I could give you a little extra money toward the bills."
"No, Clark, no, I won't hear of it," Clara said. He looked shocked. "Wait. That came out wrong. I meant no I don't need anymore money from you! Of course you can live with me! I would love it if you stayed here."
Clark smiled, and let out a sigh of relief. "That's a big weight off my shoulders, Clara," he said. "I really appreciate this."
"Well, to be honest, I've been trying to work up the courage to ask you to stay for a month now." Clark looked about as pleased as a person can be.
From that day on, Clara and Clark were practically inseperable. They did everything they could to assure the Chief that keeping them together as a reporter/phographer team was the most desirable arrangement possible. They ate every meal together, spent free-time together, and the people who paid attention to them at work seemed to grin a little more warmly when the two of them collided in a shower of documents and apologies.
About eight months after the return of Superman, the long-awaited wedding between Richard White and Lois Lane took place. Clara and Clark received invitations, along with about everyone on the newsroom floor. The wedding took place at Richard's beautiful waterfront home. Family and friends attended, but the couple had insisted that there be no official "press" present. They wanted a quiet wedding at home - as quiet as they could have with nearly a hundred people in attendance.
The wedding party got a special treat at the reception. Superman showed up to congratulate the happy couple. Clara was very pleased to see that Lois greeted him without expressing any regret. She knew, just like everyone else, how close Lois and Superman were, and Clark had told her himself that he'd had a difficult time at first with the idea of having lost her. But both seemed happy today, and Clara felt a sense of relief that surprised her. She hadn't known she'd been feeling insecure.
A couple of days after the wedding, Richard approached Clara and Clark while they were scrolling through photographs. "Hey guys!"
"Hi, Richard," they said.
He pulled a chair near them and sat down. "Listen," he said in a conspiratorial whisper. "I have a favor to ask you. You know how we said we were just going to stay quiet at home instead of having a honeymoon?"
"Yes," Clark said.
"Well, we've decided we would to go out of town, just for a couple of days. But we haven't been able to find anyone to take care of Jason while we're away." He cleared his throat. "And, since you two have been so good with him when he's around he office, we thought maybe you could watch him for a while. He's no trouble at all, you know," he said. "And we'd let you have the house while we're gone, too. I mean, we noticed you two have been getting along really well lately," he said with a wink. "How'd you like to get away from the city and live on the water for a while? Take a little mini-vacation?"
Clara looked at Clark questioningly. "I wouldn't mind," she said. "What do you think, Clark?"
"Sure thing," he said, pushing his glasses up. "Jason's a great kid."
Richard smiled. "Thanks! Man, you guys are life savers. We were thinking of leaving Thursday night and spending about four days. And of course, you can bring Jason to work during the weekdays. Would that be good for you?"
"Sure, it's perfect," Clark said.
"Great, I'll tell Lois and Jason."
It turned out Jason was far from disappointed that his parents were leaving him. Clara and Clark were his favorite people to hang out with when he got tired of his father's office. He seemed genuinely pleased with the prospect of having them over his house for four days.
Thursday evening, Clark and Clara brought their bags over, and Lois handed them the house keys. While Richard explained the security system to Clark, Lois gave Clara a brief lesson in pharmaceuticals, explaining all of Jason's medications, the doses and the schedule. "He's pretty good about doing this himself, but it's good to check all the same." Clara received a detailed list of everything Jason was allergic to, as well as a list of his favorite pastimes and a list of emergency phone numbers. After a lengthy goodbye to Jason, during which he was counselled to be good, and call if he needed anything, and have a good time, Lois and Richard finally headed off to enjoy their honeymoon.
Clara and Clark enjoyed taking care of Jason, and relaxing after work in the White's home, instead of their small apartment. They talked and played with Jason, and he spent a good amount of time playing by himself as well. However, he was rarely far from Clark's side if he could help it.
Seeing them together so often, without Lois to compare him to, Clara began to notice a strong resemblance between Clark and Jason. Even their mannerisms sometimes seemed to match. One morning, while Clara and Clark were cleaning up the kitchen, and Jason was in the next room practicing his piano, Clara mentioned the resemblance to Clark. "He looks so much like you, he could almost be yours," she said in a barely audible whisper. Clark looked sharply at her, and the music from the other room stopped suddenly. When she looked toward the living room, Jason was staring at her, even though he shouldn't have been able to hear a word she said. Clara put two and two together pretty quickly, and her eyes widened.
"I'll explain later," Clark said.
"No need," she replied, giving him a reassuring smile. He seemed relieved, and nothing more was said on the subject.
Their "mini-vacation" progressed peacefully until the last night of their stay. Around 11:00 PM, the house was rocked by a sudden earthquake. The house shook for a couple of seconds, then stopped as suddenly as it had started. Clara glanced at Clark, who was frowning toward the window. She looked out and saw a blaze and a cloud of smoke billoughing up from somewhere inside the city. She felt a hand on her arm. She turned, but Clark was already gone.
Clara headed upstairs to check on Jason. He met her half way, a worried look on his face. "It's okay, honey," she said, taking his hand.
"He went to check out what happened, but I'm sure he'll be right back," she said, hoping it would be enough. "Not sleepy anymore, are you?"
"You want to work your puzzle?"
"Okay, come on." They went downstairs and Jason sat in front of the coffee table and started to work on his puzzle. About ten minutes later, the lights went out.
Clara gasped and hopped to her feet. "Jason?"
"I'm here," he said, slipping his hand into hers.
She squeezed his hand. "Okay. Now we just have to find a flashlight."
"I know where to find one." He tugged her hand, and she followed him, marvelling at how well he was able to navigate in total darkness. They hadn't been moving for long when Jason stopped short and backed into her. "We should go a different way," he whispered.
He pulled her in the opposite direction and started moving much faster, pulling her along with a strength that might have made her nervous if she hadn't already had a strong suspicion who his father was. They had made it to the other end of the room when Clara heard the footsteps.
Jason started to run, and Clara followed his example. She ran as fast as she could, but she could hear the footsteps getting nearer. A few seconds later, Clara felt a hand grab her hair. She was jerked back, and she lost hold of Jason's hand. "Run, Jason!" she cried, struggling against her attacker. "Run, fast as you can!" She kicked and scratched and screamed, hoping to keep both men busy so that they wouldn't go after Jason.
Almost before she knew it, her hands were tied behind her, and a cloth bag was pulled over her head, straight down to her ankles. They tied the opening shut around her ankles and she was hefted off the floor. She felt as if she had been slung over someone's shoulder.
"No," one man said. "The boss said to stay away from the kid!"
Clara was bounced and jostled as they trotted down the stairs, and after a few minutes, she was dropped with a thud onto a hard surface. She heard a slam, and assumed she had been tossed into a trunk. Clara tried not to panic. Jason was safe, and she wasn't dead. Yet.
Clara tried to focus on something besides the idea of death. The bag she was in smelled strongly of cigarettes and sweat, which was far from pleasant. She tried to quell the beginnings of claustrophobia by convincing herself that the trunk was probably quite large and roomy.
Clara wasn't sure how long they drove, but it seemed an eternity before she was pulled out. She was slung on someone's shoulder again, and rushed to some unknown place. The weather changed, and there was no wind, which led Clara to believe they had gone inside a building. There seemed to be a lot of winding and moving up and down stairs, and before long, she was thoroughly disoriented.
After about five minutes or so of being bounced around, Clara thought she could hear music. The sound grew gradually louder, and she could distinguish the sound of violins and piano. A few moments later, Clara was again unceremoniously dumped onto a hard surface - most likely the floor.
"We got her, Boss," a gruff voice said. One of them grabbed her feet and untied her legs. The bag was pulled off of her, and she heard the tap of dress shoes advancing toward her. By the time her eyes adjusted to the light, the footsteps had stopped, and the person they belonged to was standing before her.
Clara's eyes travelled up from the shiny black shoes on the waxed marble floor, past the black pin-striped suit, and up to the puzzled frown of "The Boss". Clara's eyes grew wide, and she edged backward. "Lex Luthor," she said in a breathless whisper.
"Well, I'm pleased to see that my reputation has preceeded me," he said. "Unfortunately, I can't say the same for yours." He turned to the two men who had brought her. "Who is this?" he asked.
"It's Lois Lane, Boss."
Clara snapped her head in the kidnappers' direction, and spoke in unison with Luthor. "Lois Lane??"
Clara's nervousness increased tenfold. Terrifying as it was to have been kidnapped by Lex Luthor, it was even worse to know she wasn't the intended target. She had seen enough crime dramas, and helped report on enough real crimes to know what happened to hostages that weren't useful.
Luthor frowned. "Let me be sure I have this right. You think this is Lois Lane?"
The men started to look nervous, too. "Uh... yes?"
"NO!" Luthor shouted. He pressed a hand to his temple. "Gentlemen. I know the many amazing talents Miss Lois Lane is credited with, but when did she lead you to believe that she could change her height, hair color and ethnic background??"
The men looked at her as if they had just noticed Clara was only half White. "W-well... it... it was dark, Boss, and-"
"S-she could be tanned," the other one said hesitantly.
Luthor looked disgusted. He picked up a two-way radio from a nearby table. "Gentlemen, I need you in here. Quickly, please."
"But... but she was in the house, and the kid was with her!" one of the kidnappers said.
He looked down at Clara inquisitively. "Is that so?" He moved closer to Clara and pointed at one of the men. "Get these ropes off," he said.
The man untied her hands, and Clara flexed her fingers. Lex held out his hand to her, and Clara reached out, mildly embarrassed that she couldn't stop her hand from shaking. He took her hand and helped her to her feet. "House sitting isn't as safe as it used to be, is it?" Clara let out a nervous laugh.
"You wanted to see us, Mr. Luthor?"
Lex looked up, without letting go of Clara's hand. "Take these two imbeciles away, and make sure I never have to see them again," he said.
Clara watched as two of the three men who'd entered dragged away the "imbeciles". The frightened men shouted excuses as they were dragged away, and Clara had little doubt about what Luthor had meant by not having to see them again. She started to tremble just a little bit harder. "Now," Luthor said, calling her attention back to him. "You have me at a disadvantage. Who are you?"
Clara gave him a nervous smile. "Oh, you don't want to bother yourself with unimportant trivia like that, Mr. Luthor! What's impotant is who I'm not. Like how I'm not Lois Lane, or how I'm not a person who has any clue what's going on or where she is. So why don't we just blindfold me, turn me around a few times, drop me off on the street somewhere, and we can pretend this didn't happen?"
Luthor chuckled slightly. He shook his head and tightened his grip on her hand - not enough to hurt, but enough to get his point across. "Cute idea, but no. You're not going anywhere. I'd hate for such a wonderful distraction to go to waste."
"You caused the-"
"I did. Now, please," he said, squeezing her hand again, making her wince this time. "Don't make me ask you again. Who are you?"
"Clara," she said shakily. "Clara King."
"Thank you," he said, letting her go. "Look her up," he said to the remaining henchman. The man nodded and went off, presumably to find a computer. Lex led Clara to a chair and gestured for her to sit. She sat down, nervously gripping the arms of the chair. "So, you were babysitting Lois' son, were you?" Clara nodded. "Did you know you were watching over an alien freak?" Clara looked up sharply, less from surprise at the revelation, than that Lex should know about it. "Oh yes. Superman's been sowing his seeds," he said. "And hasn't paid a dollar in child support, I'm sure."
"S-superman doesn't have a salary," Clara said.
Lex laughed. "Good point, Miss King, good point." There was a knock on the door, and the third henchman entered the room. "Ah. What did you find out about our guest?"
"She's a photographer for The Daily Planet," he said. "Lives off Main Street a few miles from the paper, no family in the state, recently filed a police report about an attempted robbery in Central Park. Report says she was saved by Superman."
"Well, well," Luthor said, grinning at her. "You've met the man himself, have you? Even better."
"What are you going to do?" she asked.
"Simple, my dear. I'm going to kill Superman." Clara's stomach churned. "Oh, don't look so upset, Miss King. I'm sure a do-gooder like him will be in a better place when it's all over."
"Why?" Clara managed to say.
"Why? Well, aren't good people supposed to go to heaven when they die?"
"Why k-kill him?" she asked.
"Oh, that. Because he's always in the way, of course. You work for 'The Daily Planet'. I'm sure you've been made aware of my lingering obsession with land." Clara nodded. "And I'm sure you're also aware that Superman never fails to interfere with my plans to acquire valuable property. I've had a little... shall we say quiet time? to think about things since my last masterpiece was destroyed. That's where it came to me. I've been going about this the wrong way all along. I keep making plans, then trying to figure out how to keep Superman from spoiling them. Hours upon hours of planning, thousands of dollars, years of preparation - wasted! And why? Because of Superman! So, what's the logical solution?"
He looked at her as if he expected an answer. Clara swallowed, and answered softly. "Get him out of the way first?"
"Get Superman out of the way FIRST! And that's where you come in. Just think, Clara! You are going to be the catalyst in what may come to be called the most monumental event in human history! The death of Superman, and the rise of Lex Luthor!" Clara could only shake her head. "Oh come now, don't be shy. Many great figures in the history of man have become so against their will. You think Joan of Arc wanted to be martyred?" Clara felt sick. "Hm. Maybe that was a bad example." He shook his head and waved his hand dissmissively. "No matter! Enough chit-chat. It's time to begin."
Lex looked toward his employee and pointed at Clara. "Can you make sure she can't get out of that chair?"
The man nodded, and in a couple of minutes, Clara was tied securely to the chair, barely able to move. Lex reached into a large chest and pulled out a heavy-looking black box with a black strap attached to it. He handled it carefully, and walked slowly toward her. He strapped the box to her waist, and started pressing the buttons on the top. She couldn't see what he was doing, but she could hear several beeps which were not reassuring in the least. "Now, Miss King," he said, still concentrating hard. "This box is highly volatile. So I wouldn't go shuffling around or squirming too much, understand?"
Clara swallowed, trying to fight tears. "What... what is it?" she asked, knowing full well that it must be a bomb.
"Nitroglycerine," he answered simply. "Along with a few special additions of my own." He stood up, apparently finished, and looked back at the other man in the room. "Is the microphone ready?"
"Just about." Clara hadn't noticed until now that the henchman was fiddling with a second black box on top of a large desk. He turned a few dials on the box, attached a regular stage microphone to it and held it out to Luthor. "All right, Boss."
Luthor took the microphone and began to speak. Clara was surprised that the sound didn't seem to be amplified at all, but she was soon more concerned with the message. "Hello, Superman. I'm sure you recognize my voice by now. You have exactly five minutes to get to the subway station under 10th Street, or a very nice young lady is going to encounter a very ugly end." He switched off the mic and moved back to stand in front of Clara. He checked his watch, pressed a few more buttons on the box and nodded, satisfied. "And now, adieu, Miss King. It's been a pleasure."
"Wait," she pleaded as he turned away. He turned back, a curious look on his face. "Please. Please don't do this."
"Not to worry, Miss King," he said. "Superman will save you." He smiled, but there was a cold gleam in his eyes. "I'm counting on it."
Luthor left the room, and Clara heard the sound of the door being bolted shut. There was no sound to be heard except for the beeping of the box on her lap counting down the seconds until detonation. Five minutes. Five minutes to live. Unless Superman made it in time, and then it would be five minutes for him to fall into some kind of trap she didn't have the power to stop. Tears welled in Clara's eyes, but she was too afraid to cry openly lest her movements cause the box to explode prematurely.
The next four minutes were the longest minutes in her life, spent vascilating between hope and despair. Then, with less than forty seconds left on the clock, the door was pulled off its hinges, and Superman stepped across the threshold. Their eyes met, and he gasped. In the time it took Clara to blink, he was standing in front of her. He reached for the bomb, and she shook her head slightly. "It's a trap, Superman," she said.
"I won't let you die," he said. He studied the bomb for a few seconds, but there didn't seem to be a way to disarm it. Superman found the strap that held the bomb to Clara's waist, pulled it carefully away from her, then sped across the room. The beeping ended before he could get outside, and he quickly crouched down, curling himself over the bomb. There was a muffled explosion, and a cloud of green smoke billoughed up around him.
Superman cried out in shock. He reeled back and staggered away from the remains of the bomb. He turned, and Clara gaped in horror. His face and hands were blistery red, and steam rose from his skin. "Kryptonite," she cried. Superman took a few steps toward her, but had only made it half way before he fell to his knees. "Oh no, no!" Superman clutched at his throat, gasping for air. Clara struggled to get out of the chair and help him, but she was bound too tightly. In a few moments, Superman collapsed, and his limbs grew still.
Clara stared at him, unable to move, breathe, or even think. A moment later, Superman moved again. He coughed. He coughed again and again, as if he were trying to get something out of his throat. He managed to push himself up on his hands, and Clara thought he was going to get up. He gasped twice, then let out an earth-shattering sneeze. The ground literally shook, and Superman was propelled up toward the ceiling.
He fell back down, hitting the floor with a resounding thud. He managed to sit up, but before he could do anything more, he sneezed again. The resulting gust of wind knocked Clara's chair over, and she heard another boom, probably of Superman hitting the far wall. Clara struggled to scoot the chair somewhere that her head would be protected from the items falling off of the rocking shelves. There was another sneeze and another crash. Clara managed to get underneath the desk, and waited. Every few seconds, there was the thunderous sound of one of Superman's sneezes, followed by gusty winds and crashing sounds. Clara began to fear that the entire room would collapse before he stopped.
Eventually, the sounds and the small earthquakes died down. Clara could hear a few more things falling down, but no more sneezing. After a few minutes, she could hear objects being moved, and footsteps coming toward her. Soon, a familiar pair of red boots appeared before her. Superman knelt down, and Clara could see that his face was already starting to clear up. His nose was a little red, though, and his eyes watered.
Clara cleared her throat. "Um... bless you?"
Superman laughed. "Thank you," he said, sounding a little congested. "Are you hurt?"
"I'm fine." He helped her get out of the chair, and she looked around the decimated room. "Wow."
"Let's get you out of here," he said. "Hold on."
Clara wrapped her arms around his waist, and he lifted a few feet off the ground to avoid the fallen debris. He took her out of the subway and back to the White's home. "Thank you so much," she said when they touched the ground.
"You're welcome." Superman looked past her, and Clara turned to see Jason running down the stairs. He grabbed Clara's hand, and looked up at Superman with a small smile. "Hey, sweetie," Clara said to Jason. "Are you all right?"
He nodded. "Are you?"
"Yes, Jason. Everything is okay now." Superman took a step back and Clara frowned. "You're leaving?"
"I have to find Luthor," he said. "You should be safe now." He rose further into the air, then flew off at an incredible speed. Clara took Jason back into the house and sat with him until he was able to fall asleep. She was still pretty high-strung herself after all the excitement, and she couldn't get back to sleep right away. She wanted to wait up for Clark anyway, so she sat downstairs and tried not to worry.
Clara was awakened by a warm hand touching hers. She opened her eyes to see Clark smiling at her. She sat up suddenly and looked around. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," he said.
"It's okay. I wasn't supposed to be sleeping. Is everything all right?"
"Everything is fine," he said. "Richard and Lois are back, and I figured we should head home."
"Oh! Yes, I guess you're right." Clara was dying to ask Clark what had happened, but Richard and Lois were roaming around the house putting things away and chatting about their vacation. She couldn't risk it. When they had gathered their own things together, Clara and Clark said goodbye. Jason looked somber as they left, but Clark assured him that they would see him at the paper, and he could spend the night at their house some time if it was okay with his parents.
At least another thirty minutes passed before they reached the apartment, and Clara was finally alone with Clark. "So. Did you find him?"
"No," he answered. "But I think he must know by now that his plan didn't work. He's hiding somewhere, waiting for his chance to strike at me again."
Clara frowned. "What are you going to do?" she asked.
"I'm going to make sure that the people I care about are as safe as they can possibly be. And when he tries again, I'm going to be ready for him." He looked very grim for a moment, then looked down at Clara and smiled. "But in the meantime, I'm going to live my life, and be happy." He pulled her close to him, leaned down and kissed her warmly. Clara closed her eyes and kissed him back, feeling like she had never really been kissed before this moment.
He let go, and she smiled up at him. "That sounds like a good plan."