PART II: PARTNERS
"I'll need a task force, I can't cover this story alone," Louis paced in front of Perry's desk, not bothering with social niceties. This story was huge. He could taste it.
"You can have Jimmy," Perry said blandly.
Louis made a face. "Chief, we're talking about the space program..."
Perry considered that. "Alright. Take Kent."
That stopped Louis in his tracks. He whirled to face Perry. "Kent?!"
"What about Myerson?"
Louis crossed his arms. "Forget Kent."
Perry frowned. "She's got talent."
"She's a hick. Little Susie Smallville. I couldn't make that name up!"
"Kent, or nobody."
"Chief, I'll have to spend all my time just trying to make sure she stays out of trouble! She's just off the bus. Heck, she's just off the turnip cart! I turn my back for a minute, and some gang will have her tied naked to a telephone pole!"
Perry raised a brow. "You been thinking about Clara naked, tied to a pole?"
Louis flushed, and told himself very firmly it was from anger. "Fine," he all but snarled. "I'll take Kent. But don't ever say I'm not a team player."
He slammed his way out of Perry's office and wasted no time in marching over to Kent's desk, determined to impress upon her that she'd better listen to him if she wanted to survive long enough to see a byline.
Kent was busy typing away at her computer, a little smile on her face. Louis cleared his throat and she looked up, her smile getting bigger. Welcoming.
Louis frowned. Was she trying to flirt with him in her simple, country way? He'd better nip this in the bud now. Wouldn't do to have Clara thinking she could charm her way into a marriage, or ride his coattails to journalistic fame.
He shook that thought away. "You're with me, Kent," he snapped.
She stopped smiling. Good.
"I am?" she asked.
God, she was slow.
"Yes, now hurry up."
Louis tapped his foot impatiently while Clara shut down her computer and gathered up a truly hideous monster purse that was big enough to qualify as a diaper bag. Louis suddenly found himself wondering if she had children, but quickly dismissed the thought. He didn't care.
Clara slid the dull beige monstrosity over her shoulder, and fell into step with Louis as he headed to the elevator. She gave a little hop halfway there, trying to keep up with Louis' long strides.
He didn't slow down. She could either move at his speed, or fall behind.
"Mind if I ask where we're going?" Clara said. Surprisingly, she wasn't winded, even after her show of bunny hopping after Louis. Louis looked up, watching the needle above the elevator that indicated what floor it was on.
"To interview Samuel Platt. He's convinced the Messenger was sabotaged." Then Louis turned to look down at Clara, focusing on the top of her head. "And let's get something straight right now. I didn't work my butt off to become an investigative reporter for the Daily Planet just to babysit some hack from Nowheresville."
The elevator doors opened, and Louis stepped on board, still talking. "You're not working with me, you're working for me. I call the shots. I ask the questions. You do what I say, stay close, and stay out of trouble. You're the low man. I'm top banana. And that's the way I like it. Comprende?"
He expected Clara to fold like a house of cards. In fact, he just hoped he hadn't been harsh enough to make her cry, because he'd no earthly idea what to do with a weeping woman. But this needed to be straightened out right from the beginning, and Clara needed to start developing a thicker skin if she was going to make it. If she wasn't cut out for city reporting, best find out right away…
But Clara just looked calmly up at Louis, her brown eyes dancing with laughter. "You like to be on top. Got it."
Well, Clara had recognized Cat on sight. Maybe she was a disciple at Cat's School of Vamp.
"Don't push it, Kent," he said, trying to regain control of the situation. "You are way out of your league."
Clara just smiled.
Once they got back to the newsroom – after interviewing Platt and paying EPRAD a visit – Louis put Clara to work trying to sort through Platt's crumpled report.
Clara's voice stopped him just as he was about to return to his own desk. He had to start going through his little black book, trying to find a date who would distract Lex Luthor, but not distract Louis himself.
"Louis, about Dr. Baines…"
"What about her?"
Clara turned those brown eyes, so much like Lucy's, into full guilt trip mode. Louis was sure she was doing it on purpose. "Do you always flirt, if it will help you get a story?"
She was disappointed in him. For an instant, Louis was ashamed of himself, but then he pushed that feeling away, cloaking himself in irritation.
He was different from his father. It's not like he owed these women anything.
"I do what it takes to get the story, Clara." He paused, about to say more, but then thought better of it. So far, Clara had stubbornly held onto her rose tinted glasses. There was nothing else Louis could do to prepare her.
She'd just have to lose her innocence the old fashioned way.
Louis went to his desk, got out his little black book, and started dialing – he'd start at Ashley, and work his way all the way through Zoe if he had to.
Clara tried not to eavesdrop on Louis' phone conversations, but it was hard with the newsroom almost deserted. She could restrict her hearing a lot, but not turn it completely off, and with no other sounds to distract her, she couldn't help but notice that Louis was looking for a date.
And that he didn't seem to care who it was with.
Some of the women said they were busy. Some were sick. One had gotten married since Louis last called.
Clara wondered how many were telling the truth, and how many were making excuses. Maybe Louis was just a really terrible date. After all, he was really prickly and rude. But when he smiled… the whole room lit up.
Feeling heat in her cheeks, Clara realized she was blushing. She was sitting here mooning over her colleague, the one who had treated her like a dimwitted porcelain doll all day!
But in spite of that, Clara liked him. There were flashes of a more sensitive man there, when Louis didn't think anyone was looking. He was just afraid to show his softer side. And a lot of his attitude seemed to stem from a genuine concern that something would happen to Clara while she was in the city. It was still chauvinistic, that he didn't seem to think she could take care of herself, but in a way it was sweet too.
It kind of reminded her of Daddy.
Oh great, Clara groaned inwardly. Let's not mention that one to Mom, or she'll start in with Freud and her psych classes.
As Clara watched, Louis hung up his phone and looked up across his desk. Clara quickly returned her attention to the mess of papers in front of her, not wanting to be caught staring.
"I don't suppose you have an evening gown?"
Clara looked up, feeling her flush return. "I could get one."
Louis grimaced, and Clara viciously repressed a stab of hurt. He looked like it was making him physically ill to have to stoop to asking the hack from Nowheresville to accompany him… wherever it was he was going.
"I need a date to Lex Luthor's ball tonight," Louis said.
Clara decided she wasn't going to make this easy for him. "And?"
A fleeting expression of surprise crossed Louis' face. Had he thought she'd jump at the chance to go out with him? No matter how handsome he was, he hadn't been very nice to her today.
"Look, do you want to go or not?"
Clara smiled. "Thanks anyway, Louis, but I think I'm going to get to bed early tonight."
At that, Louis exploded. "Are you crazy? This is the social event of the season. Everyone who's anyone is going to be there, and you want to go to bed early?" He threw up his hands.
Clara giggled at his dramatics. He was really pretty cute when he got worked up. "So... is this a date?"
"A date?" Louis sneered. "Oh, you mean like in Kansas, where I ask your father for permission and then try to feel you up in the vacant lot behind the Dairy Freeze?"
Clara giggled again, and Louis scowled. Valiantly, Clara tried to rearrange her face into an expression of seriousness, but she just couldn't. Louis was cracking her up.
"This is not a date," Louis went on. "It's business. I'm going to land Lex Luthor's first one-on-one interview if it kills me, and I need someone pretty on my arm to lure him in. He's notorious for stealing dates away at these shindigs."
And now Clara burst into a bright grin, warmth spreading in her chest. "You think I'm pretty?"
Louis gaped like a landed fish, and Clara bit back yet another giggle. She didn't think he'd appreciate it.
"I… that is… you're… If you ditch the mommy hand me downs and do something with your hair, you're alright," Louis said at last.
Clara snorted. "You think I'm pretty. Okay, Lou. I'd love to go to the ball with you."
Clara waited for Louis to correct her on his name, just like he'd done to Cat earlier. Surprisingly, he didn't. He just gathered up his coat and started heading toward the elevator.
"I've got to go get my tux. I'll pick you up at eight."
As soon as the elevator doors closed behind Louis, Clara sped over to Cat's desk, grabbed one of her business cards, and frantically punched the listed home number into Cat's desk phone.
"Cat," Clara said with some relief. "Will you help me?"
Cat Grant's apartment was a mixture of love nest and library, and pretty much exactly what Clara had expected. The Kama Sutra stood right next to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, a testament to Cat's celebration of her right to be both sexual and smart.
Why should we have to be one or the other? Cat had said in that long ago Met U lecture. People ask me why I dress the way I do. Why I don't dress like the smart professional I am. My reply is why shouldn't I dress the way I do? Should what I'm wearing matter? I'm a beautiful woman. It's not conceit, it's just a fact. People look at me, and they assume I'm shallow and stupid. I wear a leopard print dress, and they assume I'm shallow, stupid, and easy. But that's camouflage. If they want to underestimate me, let them. I am a modern woman in an urban jungle, and if my prey can't see me coming, that's their own fault.
Clara wondered how many people at the Daily Planet fell for Cat's leopard spots. She was willing to bet pretty much everyone but Perry.
Maybe even Perry.
"So you're going out with Louis?" Cat said, drawing Clara into the bedroom. Cat had graciously agreed to loan Clara a dress for the ball, and to help her with hair and make-up.
"It's just business," Clara replied. "I'm supposed to lure Lex Luthor to Lou, so he can get an interview."
"Ah," Cat said, as if everything suddenly made sense. "I was wondering if you'd put a spell on him or something. Louie's got extreme mommy issues. He pretty much only dates when he has to, for work appearances. To be honest, I think he's afraid of what he might do to a woman."
"What?" Clara gasped, suddenly really glad she was invulnerable. Could she have misjudged Lou that badly?
"Oh, I don't mean he's an abuser or anything," Cat quickly corrected. "But word in the newsroom is that Louie's dad stepped out on his mom all the time, and his mom used to drink and yell at Lou that he was just like his father and stuff like that. I guess you can't really blame him for having issues after all that."
Cat laid some dresses that looked like they might fit out on the bed. Clara was relieved to see that none of them were animal print or even that immodest. She wasn't sure if she was brave enough to wear something like that.
"How do you know all that?" Clara picked up a deep blue dress, and went behind the screen standing in the corner to try it on.
"There was this reporter a while ago, Claudia. She was from France. Anyway, apparently she and Louie spent a night getting really cozy, if you know what I mean. The next day, Claudia was telling everyone about Lou's mommy issues and claiming he was a one minute man. Come to think of it, that probably didn't help his shining personality any."
Clara came out from behind the screen, wincing in sympathy. "Poor Lou."
Cat snorted. "Poor everybody else. We're the ones who have to deal with him. Here, try this red one." She thrust another dress at Clara. It was sleeveless, with a fitted bodice that was a bit lower than Clara liked.
"I don't know, Cat…"
But Cat would hear none of it. She bodily pushed Clara back behind the screen, and Clara had to let her, lest Cat suspect anything.
So she tried on the dress. And she had to admit, it looked good. Really good.
"See!" Cat said. "It's perfect for you. It just needs to be hemmed a little, since I'm taller. But if we get you some really high heels…"
"I can hem it, if you don't mind," Clara said, not relishing the thought of trying to walk in such tall shoes. "I can run home and do it right now, and then come back so we can do hair and make-up. And I can let the dress back down after tonight," she hastened to add.
Cat laughed at her. "You are just too cute for words, Clara Kent. Something tells me this is going to be the start of a beautiful friendship. Sure. Go home and hem the dress. You can have it."
Clara started to protest, but Cat held up a hand. "You can pay me back by being my emergency seamstress, alright?" She winked. "Now get going, so we'll have time. And call Louie and tell him to pick you up at my place. He knows where it is."
That gave Clara pause. "Have you and Lou… you know?"
Cat patted her hand. "No, but not for lack of trying on my part. You've gotten further with Louie in one day than I have in five years."
Clara blushed yet again, but Cat was kind enough to pretend not to notice.
Clara breezed into the kitchen of her parents' farm house, her dress bundled to her chest, and her hair ruffled from flying. That was why she usually wore it in a tight braid, but she'd taken it down at Cat's and not bothered to put it back up again.
"Clara!" Mom exclaimed, turning away from the stove with oven mitts on her hands. "You're just in time for dinner. Your father's out back."
"Sorry, Mom, I don't have time to eat." Clara was already moving towards the living room. "I just came to borrow the sewing machine, if that's okay? I need to hem this dress before tonight."
Martha Kent's eyebrows rose into her hairline. "That's some dress. Special occasion?"
Drat. Clara never had been able to sneak anything past her mother. "I'm going to a ball in Metropolis tonight with Louis Lane. But Mom, I'm really in a hurry so…"
"Say no more." Martha pulled off the oven mitts, set the oven to 'warm,' and followed Clara up the stairs. "We can talk while you work."
Martha held the dress and started pinning up the section that needed to be hemmed while Clara got the sewing machine. "Tell me about this man you're going to a ball with." Martha's eyes twinkled. "Is he handsome?"
"Mo-om," Clara whined, rolling her eyes. But she gave in, knowing her mother wouldn't let up until she found out what she wanted to know. "Yes, Lou is handsome. And rude, pigheaded, domineering… brilliant." Mom gave her a knowing look. Clara cleared her throat. "But it's just business. We're there to try and get an interview with Lex Luthor."
"Uh huh," Mom said, in a way that told Clara she wasn't buying it.
Clara took refuge in hemming the skirt of her dress at super speed, though she was forced to slow down once or twice to keep the thread from tangling.
"Good job, honey!" Mom inspected the stitches once she'd finished. "You've been practicing."
Then Daddy was shouting up the stairs, wondering where everyone was, and Clara had to go through the whole explanation of the ball again, except this time with a lot more questions about Lou and his intentions.
"I've got to go if I'm going to be ready on time, Daddy," Clara fought to extricate herself, leaning up to kiss Jonathon on the cheek. Quickly, she folded up her dress and made for the nearest window. "I'll see you guys next week for dinner. Promise."
The last thing she heard was her father shouting, "You make sure this Lou character knows you're not that kind of girl!" and her mom admonishing, "Jonathon, it's a new age. She can be that kind of girl if she wants, and it's none of our business."
Clara landed on the roof of Cat's apartment building, and finger-combed her hair, glad that whatever made it impervious to everything but heat vision also made it tangle-free. She'd need to cut it soon, she mused. It was ridiculously long again, reaching her waist. She was lazy about cutting it, since it involved setting up angled mirrors. And most people never noticed how long it was anyway, the way she wore it braided and pinned.
Once she was presentable, she made her way down the stairs to Cat's apartment, where Cat loaned her a strapless bra and they had fun picking shades of lipstick and styling their hair. Clara hadn't felt so much like a girl since she was back in Smallville, having sleepovers with Rachel Harris.
It felt good to have a friend.
"Now, Clara, do you absolutely need those glasses to see? It's just that the frames are so thick, it really distracts from your face."
Clara fiddled with the glasses, torn. There was lead in the lenses, to help her remember not to look through things. Her parents had gotten them for her when she was fourteen and accidentally saw through the shower stalls during gym. The frames were thick because they had to be, to support the heavy lenses.
But she hadn't had trouble controlling her powers in a really long time… and Cat had already seen her moving around the apartment without them on, while they were putting on make-up.
Making a decision, Clara took the glasses off and put them in her purse. "I don't absolutely need them. I can see well enough to get around, I just won't be able to see details."
There. That would give her an excuse to still wear them around work, but made it believable she could go an evening without them.
There was a knock at the door.
"Ooh, that must be Lou!" The slightly older woman seemed almost as excited as Clara was.
This is not a date. This is not a date, Clara repeated to herself as she went to open the door.
Lou stood at the threshold, looking absolutely breathtaking in his tuxedo. Clara stared, taking in broad shoulders and trim, narrow waist. Abruptly, she realized she was floating, just a little bit, and was profoundly grateful that her dress hid her feet. She tried to subtly bring herself back down to earth.
Louis was speechless. Who knew that Clara Kent was hiding this… this… supermodel underneath her frumpy clothes and glasses Bill Gates wouldn't be caught dead wearing?
Her hair was pinned up into some sort of tumble of curls on the top of her head, she wasn't wearing the glasses, and her figure... Those breasts… The flair of fabric around her hips… just.
Louis cleared his throat, reminding himself that this was just business, and even if Clara Kent was a knock out, he was no good for her. So he'd best keep his distance.
"Come on, Kent. I want to have time to strategize before we get there."
Clara smiled, and Louis' heart gave an absurd flutter. Stop that, he told it. We'd ruin her.
He ushered Clara before him, telling her the cab was waiting.
Louis turned, to see Cat watching him from the center of her living room. "Treat her right."
He nodded, and left the apartment with the odd feeling that he and Cat Grant had just formed some sort of pact to look after Clara Kent.
Louis spent the cab ride to Lexcorp coaching Clara.
"I bribed one of the party planners. Luthor is going to enter from the stairs on the left. So we're going to position you right in his sightline. I'll stand a bit behind you, not immediately noticeable, but present enough that Luthor might be drawn to the opportunity to steal you from me." Louis grinned. "When he appears, I want you to say, 'Lex Luthor, why haven't you been returning my phone calls?'"
"Lex Luthor, why haven't you been returning my phone calls?" Clara repeated, sounding polite. Worried about Luthor's health, even.
"No, you'll never get his attention that way. More… forceful. He likes strong women." Louis looked Clara up and down. "You'll have to fake it."
"Hey! Lou! What is that supposed to mean?"
Louis laughed. "Yes! Just like that. Say your line."
Clara glared, but said, "Lex Luthor, why haven't you been returning my phone calls?"
"Perfect! Once he comes over, give him your hand and introduce yourself. Then introduce me. I'll take it from there."
Clara looked down, clasping her hands together. "I don't know about this, Lou."
Louis found he didn't mind the nickname, coming from her. He wasn't sure why, but when she said it, it just sounded… comfy. He'd always hated it, because 'Lou' sounded like the sort of name a plumber or a mechanic might have. Not an investigative reporter. But on Clara's lips… it was just different, that was all.
Maybe it was because she was from Kansas.
"This is going to work, Clara. All you have to do is say your line, and get Luthor to come over to us. I'll handle everything else and you can go gossip with Cat or whatever it is you two do."
That earned him another hard look from Clara. "I'm staying. If I'm helping you get to Luthor, I should get some of the credit."
Louis felt his hands curl into fists. "Look, I have been trying to get this interview for over a year, so if you think that you're just going to waltz in there and – "
"I'm waltzing in there because you asked me to, Lou," Clara said calmly. Way, way too calmly. What was she, a Child of the Corn? Why wouldn't she fight back? It made it hard to keep yelling at her, when she was so passive. "All I'm saying is, if you've been trying for a year to get an interview, and you succeed tonight because of my help, I should get to stay."
This is what he got for bringing another journalist as his date. He should have called an escort service.
"I'm not sharing the byline."
"I'll take 'by Louis Lane with special contributions from Clara Kent.'"
Louis narrowed his eyes, staring Clara down.
She never blinked.
"Fine," he spat. "If we get anything, you can have 'special contributions.'"
"Thank you," Clara said cheerfully, with a smile. Like she hadn't just weaseled something out of Louis that he would normally never give up.
But he needed her for his plan to get to Luthor to work.
It occurred to him that Clara might not be as naïve as she first appeared. He'd have to keep an eye on her.
But he'd worry about that later.
They were at Lex Tower.
Clara got into position by the stairs, just like Lou had told her. She wasn't quite sure this was ethical, using her feminine wiles to lure Lex Luthor into an ambush, but she'd already agreed to it. There was no backing out now.
It was weird to think she had any feminine wiles at all. It was mostly the dress, she knew.
But Lou said I was pretty before he ever saw the dress… Well. Indirectly, at least.
Then she had no more time to think about it. A flash of lightning made Clara realize that there was a man, presumably Lex Luthor, standing at the top of the stairs, and she had missed her cue.
"Lex," she started, her mouth dry and voice barely more than a whisper. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Lex Luthor, why haven't you been returning my phone calls?"
The man came down the stairs. He was debonair in his tuxedo, possessing a cultured face and hair a shade between chestnut brown and honey blond. His blue eyes twinkled, and Clara couldn't keep herself from smiling. Lex Luthor was exactly her type. She usually went for older blond men with strong features, and Lex was absolutely that…
And yet somehow, Lou looked better in a tux.
Lex stopped in front of Clara, and she offered him her hand. He kissed it, sending a thrill down her spine. "Lex Luthor. And you are…?"
"Oh," Clara blushed, well aware that even the tops of her breasts were turning red. She hoped that Lex wouldn't think her uncultured. The truth was just the opposite. She'd traveled all over the world. "Clara Kent, Daily Planet."
A throat cleared behind her, and she pulled her hand away from Lex, remembering the plan. "This is my partner, Louis Lane."
Lex didn't even look at Lou. "Ah, yes, Mr. Lane. I'm familiar with your work. But you, Ms. Kent… You must be new. Surely I wouldn't be able to overlook such a beautiful creature, even at a press conference."
Clara laughed. "Mr. Luthor! You scoundrel! That's one of the cheesiest things anyone has ever said to me!"
Lou scowled, though whether it was because he was being ignored or because of what Clara'd just said, she didn't know.
Oh God, I'm an idiot. I just called the third richest man in the world a cheesy scoundrel.
Lex threw his head back and laughed, apparently delighted by her audacity.
"Mr. Luthor," Lou started, but Lex didn't give him a chance to finish.
"May I have this dance?" he held a hand out to Clara.
Clara spared a glance in Lou's direction, and couldn't tell if his scowl meant she should dance, or shouldn't. She decided that she would, because after all she didn't want to offend Mr. Luthor. And he was being much better company than Lou, anyway.
"I'd love to, Mr. Luthor," Clara said, putting her hand in his.
"Please, call me Lex," he said, as he led her out to the dance floor and they began to waltz.
"Lex," Clara smiled.
They fell into step easily, both of them very good dancers, though Clara was cheating a little by occasionally hovering. She'd been a dancer since she was a little girl, but paranoia made her wary of tripping. She was a lot heavier than she looked, and it would raise questions if a woman as small as her managed to knock over Lex Luthor.
"Where did you learn to waltz?" Lex asked.
"From a Nigerian princess," Clara said proudly, glad she had an opportunity to show him that she wasn't, as Lou said, right off the turnip cart.
"Really?" Lex's brows rose. "I admit I'm intrigued."
"I did some traveling before taking a job at the Daily Planet. Adanma's family hired me to teach her English, and when she needed a partner for her ballroom dancing lessons, I was around." She smiled. "We had to take turns leading."
"So do you speak Yoruba?" Lex asked, naming the most popular dialect spoken in Nigeria.
Clara nodded. "Yes, but Adanma's family spoke Hausa, which I also know. In fact, I can order dinner in three hundred and fifty-seven languages. I can speak about twenty of those well enough to get around. And about ten fluently, though my accents aren't all that great."
Lex fixed her with an intense look. Clara felt herself go tongue-tied again, a ball of nerves tightening in her gut.
"You are a singular woman, Clara Kent," Lex said in French.
"Thank you, Lex," Clara answered in the same language. "You're a very charming man."
Lex switched to Italian. "I'm impressed. And that doesn't happen very often."
Without missing a beat, Clara picked up the new language, starting to enjoy the game. "You're pretty impressive yourself, though maybe I'm more easily impressed."
Chinese now. "Are you teasing me, Ms. Kent?"
"Maybe a little," she answered in Japanese, testing him.
"And now you are challenging me?" Lex said in Japanese.
Clara laughed, saying again, "Maybe a little."
Before their game could continue, Lou was there, blocking their way across the ballroom. "May I cut in?" he asked.
For a second, Clara thought he meant that he wanted to dance with Luthor. New Troy was a liberal state, after all, and Lou had said he'd do whatever it took to get a story.
But then Lou held out his hand, and Lex was reluctantly passing Clara over. "Of course. I have an announcement I must prepare for at any rate."
He turned away from Lou, meeting Clara's eyes. "I very much enjoyed meeting you, Ms. Kent."
"Please, call me Clara."
"Clara," Lex smiled. "May I call you some time?"
Clara smiled and asked Lou for one of his business cards. "Sure, Lex! I'd like that. I don't have a permanent number of my own yet, but if you call Lou, he'll make sure I get your message."
Lex took the card and tucked it into his pocket. "Excellent. I'll speak with you soon then." He nodded to Lou. "Mr. Lane."
And then he was gone.
Lou haphazardly pulled Clara into a waltz. She had to levitate to keep from tripping on her skirt.
"What are you playing at?" Lou demanded.
Clara blinked. "What?"
"The only reason you got anywhere near Luthor tonight is because I brought you, and then you bat your eyes and have him eating out of the palm of your hand, and you go off dancing with him where I can't hear what you're saying. You're trying to cut me out, and I won't have it, Kent."
Clara was stung that Lou thought so little of her that he suspected she was trying to steal his story, but then she remembered the piece about the theatre. She had stolen that, sort of, even if Lou didn't want the assignment.
No wonder he was suspicious of her.
Clara took a deep breath. "I'm not trying to cut you out, Lou. I just didn't want to offend Lex, and I don't know what else you expected me to do when he asked me to dance. Should I have told him no and demanded he talk to you?"
"Yes! No! I…" Lou huffed. He had quite a temper, but Clara thought he was more bluster than anything else. Lou took a deep breath. "What'd you find out?"
"He can waltz. He speaks French, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese. He's not easily impressed."
"That it? Some reporter you are."
Clara frowned, stopping and inadvertently making Lou stumble when he was unable to budge her into the next step of the dance. "I wasn't interviewing him, Lou. We were just chatting. It was nice. Lex is nice."
Unspoken went the words, You aren't nice to me, Lou.
Lou stared at her. Then he said, "Nice will get you eaten alive in this town."
Clara shrugged. "I've been to plenty of places where being eaten alive is a real possibility, and I'm still here."
Lou looked down at her, meeting her eyes, assessing how serious she was. Then he nodded, seeming to come to a decision. "Come on."
He strode off, and Clara had no choice but to follow.
Or well, she guessed she could have gone to find Lex, but that would have probably made Lou suspicious of her all over again, and she'd rather see what Lou was doing anyway.
Lou opened a door at the far side of the ballroom, and Clara followed him through a dark hall and another door. Once her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could see they were in some kind of private office.
"Lou," she hissed. "We shouldn't be here! What are you doing?"
Lou started rifling through the drawers of the desk. Clara looked between him and the door, frozen with anxiety.
"I'm being a reporter," Lou said, not even bothering to whisper. "You should try it sometime."
Lou moved on from the desk, examining a short sword that was displayed on a stand on one of the bookshelves. Clara moved further into the room. "Lou! Put that down. Who knows how much it cost…"
The lights flicked on, illuminating the richly appointed room. The oak panels and leather upholstery had Lex Luthor written all over them. Clara squeezed her eyes shut, counted to three, and turned towards the door.
"Lex," she said brightly, knowing how bad this looked.
Lex came forward and took the sword from Lou's hands.
"Macedonian?" Clara babbled, hoping to distract Lex from the fact that they'd been snooping in his office, and after he'd been so kind. "It's a beautiful piece, Lex. And this is a beautiful office. Actually, the whole tower is beautiful, just beautiful…" she trailed off. Lou looked annoyed. Lex looked bemused. He offered her a small smile.
"I hope you don't mind us looking around," Lou's voice broke the silence.
Lex ignored him. Sword still in hand, he motioned Clara over to a glass door that she could see led out to a balcony. "Have you seen the view from here? This is the tallest building in Metropolis. I must confess a certain pleasure in knowing that everyone in the city has to look up in order to see me."
It was a breathtaking view. Clara would love to live somewhere with a balcony like this. It would be like having her own personal landing pad.
She wondered if Lex would like flying. Would Lou?
Not that she could ever show them, of course.
Lex held out the antique short sword, leveling it at Lou and looking at him down the blade. "This sword belonged to Alexander the Great. With it he defeated Darius III – "
"And proclaimed himself King of Asia?" Clara finished, breathless, itching to touch the sword now.
Lex smiled at her, and held out the blade, letting her take the hilt. "You impress me again, Clara. You're always welcome in Lex Tower."
It was plain that the sentiment did not include Lou.
Once Clara had returned the sword to its display stand, Lex ushered them back toward the ballroom. "Come, Mr. Lane. I have a feeling my announcement is going to interest you."