Lois (kalalanekent) wrote,

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Heirs to the House of El: A Few Words Too Many (Part Two)

For a moment, Richard just stood in the doorway and watched Kala and Kristin. Kristin had many doting female relatives, but none so attentive as her big sister. For a while, Richard had actually worried that she wouldn’t learn to walk until she got too heavy for Kala to carry. That hadn’t happened, but whenever the twins were at the Whites’ apartment, Kala just naturally fell into the role of Kristin’s caretaker. And the little redhead loved the attention, even if she didn’t love the bath. “Need my ‘izzard,” she informed Kala, as the teenager tested the water temperature.

“One Godzilla floaty toy, coming up,” Kala replied, reaching up to grab it off the shelf above the commode. Richard grinned at the sight of it; the Godzilla tub toy had come on the market after Jason had outgrown it, but the boy had seen it in the store and loved it so much he bought it for Kristin. She was probably the only girl in the world who had a Godzilla toy floating in her Disney Princess bubble bath. Then again, Richard thought, Lana would certainly blame him for the movie monster.

Kala got Kristin undressed and in the bathtub with little complaint, and starting pouring warm water down the little girl’s long red hair. As usual, Kristin relaxed profoundly, tilting her head back and closing her eyes. “You have the prettiest hair,” Kala sighed.

“Nuh-uh,” Kristin protested lazily. “I like yours better.”

“But mine’s just black and wavy,” Kala said. “Yours is so lovely and red.”

“Your hair was red once,” Kristin said, her eyes opening.

Kala chuckled, and Richard echoed her. “She bleached the black out of it and dyed it red, kidlet,” he said. “Her mother almost fainted.”

“She knew I was doing it,” Kala said, glancing over her shoulder at Richard.

“Yeah, she just wasn’t prepared for the two days you waited between bleaching and dyeing,” Richard replied. He saw the irritation in her expression, and wondered at the tension between Lois and Kala. All teenage girls had problems with their moms, or so he’d heard, and Lois’ reaction to the locket the twins gave her on their birthday showed how strong the love between them really was. But still, he worried…

Kala was shampooing Kristin’s long hair, the younger girl once again almost falling asleep in bliss. The dark-haired teen hummed softly, and Richard recognized the melody of an old Moody Blues song. Richard sat down on the edge of the tub beside her, and Kala flashed him a quick smile.

He rumpled her hair lightly, and she shook her head as she started rinsing the lather from Kristin’s hair. “Quit it, Dad.”

“Sorry,” Richard said. “Are things any easier with your mom?”

For a long while, Kala didn’t speak, concentrating on Kristin. Richard thought she would simply sidestep the question, until she answered in a low, considering voice. “A little. Maybe.”

Richard sighed under his breath. He knew that tone; it was as much Lois as the grin a moment ago had been Clark. He also knew he wouldn’t be able to get another word out of Kala on the subject of her mother, and any attempt to discuss it would be met with increasing hostility. Instead, he asked, “Would you like to read Little K her bedtime story when we’re done?”

“Sure,” Kala said, favoring him with a smile.

Jason seemed distant to Lana, a faint scowl on his face as he watched television. Taken with Clark’s warning about the twins’ argument earlier, it worried her. She put her hand on his shoulder and felt him stiffen slightly, then relax and turn to her. He looked so mournful that he reminded her of Dusty as a pup, and she couldn’t help smiling. “What’s wrong, handsome?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he muttered, his gaze flickering away from her eyes.

Lana smiled ruefully and stroked his cheek. “You’re as good a liar as your father, Jason,” she told him kindly. “Which is to say, you’re not much good at lying.”

He sighed hugely, lower lip pouting slightly, an expression Lana was more accustomed to seeing on Kala’s face – or Lois’. The resemblances made her want to lean over and kiss his forehead, but she held her peace for the moment. With Jason, it was best not to push him; just waiting expectantly would often cause him to elaborate.

Lana knew she wasn’t his first choice of confidant. He was Lois’ baby boy, her firstborn and only son, and while the redhead never doubted that he loved her, the first part of his heart was given to Lois. Kala was a close – very close – second, but Lana suspected she was the only one who’d noticed the first tremors of estrangement growing between the twins. She was the last of the four parents to have come into their lives, and she saw the two teenagers with perhaps a little more clarity than the others did. Still, Jason seemed to be unable to talk to his mother or his sister about whatever was troubling him, and he hadn’t gone to either dad with it either, so Lana waited to see if he would confide in her.

By the look of him, Jason had more than one worry on his mind. Lana wasn’t surprised at that; those who saw only a smart, good-natured teenager were not looking hard enough. Jason was much deeper than most of them suspected. He had his insecurities, and he spent more time in weighty philosophical ponderings than the average boy his age. The only thing Lana wondered was which of his concerns he would choose to share. Like his mother, Jason was a master of the bait-and-switch method of answering personal questions.

He finally came out with, “How come Mom and Kala have to fight so much?” That was one of the ones Lana had been expecting, but it didn’t make it any easier to unravel, especially not with Jason looking at her plaintively. She took a few moments to marshal her thoughts on the subject, and let him see her thinking it over, knowing he’d understand the respect she gave him and his worry.

“Partly, it’s a mother-daughter thing,” she finally said. “I know, it sounds like a platitude, but things like that get said so often because they’re so often true. I’m not looking forward to it with Kristin.”

“Nuh-uh,” Jason protested. “You and Little K will never…”

“We will,” Lana interrupted him gently. “Almost guaranteed. I know I quarreled with my mother more than once, and I was more like Kristin than Kala when I was young. Jason, very few mothers and daughters get through adolescence without a few storms.”

“This isn’t a storm, it’s freakin’ hurricane season,” Jason groused.

Lana patted his shoulder soothingly, absently noting the muscle there – Jason would one day have Clark’s powerful build as well as his height. A far cry from the frail little boy she’d first met ten years ago… “Jason, honey. Your mother is very strong-willed, and she’s not used to backing down. Your sister is the same way.

Neither of those are bad personality traits, but they do make life complicated, especially when they’re in opposition to each other. All the little quibbles a teenage girl and her mother would have normally wind up becoming huge fights, because neither of them knows how to do anything but escalate.”

“Escalation, like in warfare,” Jason muttered cynically. “No wonder it feels like I’m living on scorched earth sometimes.”

“With the language your mother uses at times, I’m surprised there aren’t literal scorch marks on the walls,” Lana joked, and she surprised a chuckle out of Jason. While he was still smiling at that, she asked, “Now what’s really bothering you?”

Jason cut her an astonished look, and Lana had to bite back laughter. Kids didn’t know how transparent they were to their elders, and Jason had no idea that Lana could read him so well. But he drove those thoughts from her mind with his unexpected reply. “How come you don’t like Giselle?”

Lana took a deep breath. He would ask that. “Jason, I don’t dislike her,” she said evenly. “It’s just that…” She trailed off, trying to find the words to explain without sounding like the typical parent misunderstanding young love.

“Nobody does,” Jason said dispiritedly. “It’s like how Jor-El was about Mom – everybody thinks she’s not good enough for me.”

“Jason, I never said that,” Lana corrected. “I don’t presume to speak for anyone else, but I don’t dislike Giselle. I can’t say I like her, either, because I don’t know her.”

“We’ve been going out since September,” Jason replied, startled.

“Yes, and I’ve spoken to her plenty of times since then,” Lana said. “But I’ve never gotten the sense that she has something she believes in strongly enough to argue it. She’s never disagreed with me, or with anyone in the family, except maybe Kala. Giselle is unfailingly sweet, polite, and complimentary to every adult she meets, and I know absolutely nothing about her beyond that. I can’t really base an opinion of her on that alone.”

“Since when is it a bad thing that she’s nice?” Jason’s tone had turned slightly belligerent, and he’d turned to face Lana, his back against the arm of the sofa and his brows drawing down to a scowl.

“It’s not a bad thing. Listen, when you went out with…” Lana paused and made a hasty substitution, not wanting to mention Elise, “…Ashlyn, the first time I met her, I learned a lot about her. She’s a very nice girl, too, but she also has opinions. Once when she came over, she and I had a very long conversation about music. There are a couple of genres she likes that I don’t, and she politely disagreed with me and backed up her feelings. I actually bought a CD based on that conversation, by the way.”

Jason was still frowning, but she seemed to be making sense to him. “Okay.”

“She might just be shy,” Lana offered. “A lot of times a person who seems confident really isn’t. But I’m not going to really have any reason to like or dislike Giselle until I know something about her besides the fact that she has good manners.”

Lana rarely withheld information from the kids, but she did it now. One of her concerns with Giselle was something she’d never broach to Jason, not while he was so protective over the girl. Simply put, Giselle knew who Lana was, and knew that Jason was essentially her stepson. The designer treated him and Kala no differently than she treated Kristin, something Giselle had been witness to on numerous occasions.

It was reasonable to assume that Jason had access to her money, either through his allowance or through birthday gifts and the like. It was reasonable – and correct, though neither twin knew it – to assume that Jason stood to inherit part of her estate, as well. Lana had noticed that Giselle had very expensive tastes; her clothes were often designer, and Lana suspected some of them were tailored. She also wore jewelry and perfume that few teenagers could afford. Lana hadn’t quite begun to suspect that the girl was more interested in Jason’s money than in Jason himself, but given that they seemed a poor match in many ways…

Lana doubted that Giselle had the kind of strength to be a part of this family. True, not every date Jason went on was about future marriage prospects, and Lana was fairly certain he didn’t have any plans to marry Giselle. But anyone who spent significant time around the family began to notice things, the kinds of things that strained relationships: unexplained absences and unwillingness to discuss certain subjects among them. The sense of secrets kept, the feeling of being the outsider, tended to be disastrous in romance. Lana rather pitied Giselle, thinking that she was nice enough, but didn’t have the determination to stick with Jason even though she was (of necessity) being kept in the dark, and suspecting that the eventual breakup would hurt both kids.

Such was life, however, and like most kids, Jason would have to learn its lessons on his own. Besides, he was perceptive enough to have noticed that all the adults in the family had given Giselle a cool reception – not cold, not even chilly, but not the warmth that he’d expected. Any advice Lana gave him at this point wouldn’t be well-received; he’d just assume she was ‘ganging up’ on Giselle, and that would only strengthen his resolve to stay with the girl. Lana had a moment to think that the whole situation was probably driving Lois and Clark out of their minds, but they hadn’t said anything against Giselle, either. They both knew, as Lana did, that young love is romantic and idealistic, and listens very little to worldly-wise realism.

Jason had fallen silent, perhaps considering Lana’s remark about shyness. He was an optimist where other people were concerned, and that possible explanation probably sounded best to him. Lana decided to let him think on it for now – he was smart enough to consider other probabilities, as well. And perhaps he might even wonder how well he knew Giselle, too. Getting him thinking along those lines would do a lot more good than trying to force him to break up with her.

That’s enough parenting for one night, Lana thought, and ruffled Jason’s hair. “Kristin is probably on her way to sleep by now. You and Kala are welcome to stay up until ten-thirty, but I’d rather have my rest, and I imagine Richard feels the same – unless he finds an old horror movie on TV.”

Jason grinned wryly. “I happen to know they’re showing Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II tonight.”

“Oh, dear Lord,” Lana groaned. “There go my plans for the evening.”

The Daily Planet was usually quiet on a Saturday evening, only a few employees taking care of the weekend editions, so Clark was startled to hear laughter as he got off the elevator. Lois’ laughter, at that. It shocked him, considering the way she left. She’d never even told him she was headed into work, probably due to his absence from dinner last night, and he had to learn that from the twins. Clark walked in warily, glancing through the doors and walls to see where Lois was.

Sitting in her office, with the young investor Eastlake sitting across from her. He was leaning one elbow on her desk in a familiar way that Clark immediately disliked. But he composed his expression to a pleasant mask of neutrality as he crossed the bullpen to her office.

“I’ll grant her the bustier,” Eastlake was saying, “it might be bulletproof for all I know, but the panties? Come on. You gotta be kidding me! Our resident superhero in Metropolis may wear his briefs on the outside, but at least he’s wearing some tights to go with them and not flashing an acre of skin like she is.”

Lois was laughing so hard she was almost in tears, at least up until the remark about Superman. “There’s a reason for the skintight costume,” she said, between chuckles. “One, aerodynamics. Two, he’s invulnerable, but the costume isn’t. It has to be close to his skin to be protected from damage. That’s why the cape sometimes gets ripped, but the suit, never.”

“Makes sense,” Eastlake was saying. “So what’s her excuse?” Lois laughed again, trying in vain to stifle it.

Clark was beginning to get angry – something that normally took a very long time with him. But this Eastlake guy was pushing all of his buttons. First, though Clark was not normally a jealous man, this kid who had inherited his father’s money and never done a day’s work in his life was lounging in Lois’ office making sheep’s-eyes at her, when he had to know she was married. Lois Lane-Kent was right there on the door he’d walked in, for crying out loud! Eastlake had been around an awful lot over the last two months, and he always seemed to gravitate toward Lois.

Clark could’ve forgiven that; he had to, considering that dozens of men looked at his wife every day, and at least one or two a week actually leered at her. Lois laughed it off as flattery, and Clark ignored it. But here she was snickering with Eastlake like a couple of high-school kids making fun of the teachers after school.

He could not forgive what Eastlake was saying – and Lois was laughing – about one of his colleagues. True, Wonder Woman’s uniform was quite revealing; Clark had noticed that a lot of female superheroes tended to, well, advertise their assets. In Diana’s case, she’d once confided to him that she’d had no idea how her choice of costume would be perceived. She’d come from a world without men or men’s preconceptions, and the leers and wolf whistles that had greeted her first public appearances were baffling to her. Now she knew, but there was little hope of changing her uniform, and she’d accepted the slightly skewed image it had fixed in the public eye with a certain fatalism.

Clark knew how she felt – his own costume had been designed for exactly the reasons Lois had just mentioned to Eastlake, but he’d heard the joke about his briefs approximately three thousand times. Coming from that arrogant little wife-ogling rich boy’s mouth, it was once too many. He all but barged into Lois’ office, exaggerating his reputation for clumsiness a little. “Hi honey,” he said to Lois, his tone a trifle too bright. “I brought you dinner.”

Lois looked up at him, wide-eyed. The expression on her face could’ve been guilt, or simple astonishment. But after a second’s pause, she smiled up at him, the old sweet smile he knew so well. “That’s sweet of you, Clark. Do you have time to share it with me?”

That simple kindness – and the implied acceptance of his peace offering – perversely annoyed Clark even more. Someone else had cajoled Lois out of her cranky mood this morning, and Clark had the feeling that it was the young man sitting in the chair beside him. He didn’t look at Eastlake – didn’t quite trust himself to. Instead, he settled for standing just close enough to loom, acting as though he hadn’t seen the other man. “It’s our day, isn’t it?” he said to Lois, smiling to dispel any hint of sarcasm in his words. “Of course I have time. And I got your favorite pizza – three kinds of mushrooms, two kinds of olives, and extra feta cheese.”

Lois’ smile in return was somewhere between wry and amused; she’d caught the subtext, but she couldn’t turn down the pizza. Turning to Eastlake, she said, “Thanks for stopping by, Erik. I’ll get back with you about all this later, okay?”

“Sure,” the young man said, rising from his seat. “Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Mrs. Lane-Kent.” He shook her hand, then offered his to Clark, meeting the taller man’s eyes with no hesitation, no glimmer of guilt.

Clark, however, had known used-car salesmen who could lie with such open countenances, and he didn’t trust the investor. He also hadn’t missed Lois’ usage of the man’s first name. Aggravation was rapidly boiling over into anger, and Clark didn’t trust himself to shake the interloper’s hand. He shrugged, displaying the bag with the individual pizza boxes in his left hand and the drinks carrier in his right. “Sorry, I don’t have a free hand,” he said, making his voice as genial as possible. But he didn’t turn to face Eastlake, just giving him a look from the corner of his eye that spoke volumes.

Eastlake was not so much a fool as he seemed; he took himself out without saying anything further. Lois was looking up at Clark wonderingly, and after a moment she said, “That was pretty rude, for you – I mean, that was the equivalent of spitting on somebody’s shoes.”

He could make this a fight, or he could put it aside and enjoy dinner with his wife. Little wonder which Clark would choose. “If he looked any further down your cleavage, I might’ve spat on his shoes,” he reflected, setting her pizza box on her desk as she picked up her coffee mug and rolled her eyes. “Too bad I don’t have acid spit like certain other aliens I can think of.”

Lois burst out laughing. “Now I know you’re hanging out with Richard too much,” she said, and that shadow was gone from her eyes – she was his Lois again. “If you’re comparing yourself to that Ridley Scott movie, you’ve been watching too many creature-features with Mr. White.”

“Actually, I saw it with Jason,” Clark said, sitting down. Once again it seemed like things could be all right, and he reached across the table to take her hand. “I love you, Lois. There isn’t another like you in any galaxy, you know that?”

“I know there’re quite a few people who hope there isn’t another me anywhere in the universe.” That rejoinder was meant to be funny, but instead of the mischievous gleam he’d expected to see in her eyes, Clark only saw that odd little smile she’d been wearing on and off lately. He wasn’t sure entirely what that expression portended, but it didn’t make prying into her mood seem like a good idea.

Instead, Clark squeezed her hand gently, and promised himself he would make sure she knew how much she was loved by the time night gave way to morning.

Tags: heirs to the house of el

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