“I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me.”
William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing
The only thing Lena Luthor can think about on the day of Lex’s funeral is Clark Danvers.
This is odd for a few reasons. Firstly, her only brother is dead--murdered, in fact. The hows and whys aren’t terribly important; a rival trading company, two hoodlums apprehended into police custody, one dead brother. Lex had been her friend once and she thought he might be again, although if those feelings of optimism were ever to bear fruit Lena isn’t sure and will probably never know.
Secondly, while she has, of course, thought about Clark Danvers before--he is the best blacksmith for horseshoes in a 20 mile radius and also extremely handsome (she knows this because the maids titter over him and who’s turn it is to retrieve that month’s order from the smith’s, of course, not by her own estimation)--endless thoughts do feel a little excessive.
Nonetheless, Clark’s face pops into her mind as soon as she wakes up in the morning and stays there, like something foul stuck to the bottom of her boot. Her first thought is to ask after him, that perhaps something nasty had befallen him during the night. Lillian had once called her clairvoyant in a spat of meanness. She’d taken it to heart, like she did with many of her mother’s insults. Her favorite books at the time were, after all, stories of ghosts and black cats and bad omens, reflective of the bad luck she herself experienced from the moment of her dreadful birth.
Still, Lena scuttles the thought. Asking after Mr. Danvers to the maids will just induce another wave of fevered whisperings which she is not in the mood to tolerate. She has a funeral to prepare for, after all.
As they step out of the church awash in the crowd of people, rubberneckers more than friends, Lena dons her black leather gloves and turns to her maid. “Ms. Huang.” She says, “Will you run ahead and tell the driver to take me back to the house? I’m feeling a little tired.”
Ms. Huang wisely says nothing more than “Yes, Ma’am.” And trots down to notify the carriage. Tomorrow will be a whirlwind, Lena knows. She’ll have only today as a grace period before the vultures begin to circle. There is a clock that has been ticking down from the moment she was informed of Lex’s death, and the hour hand is rapidly approaching midnight. Until that moment she has business to attend to, and a house that will surely be quieter now that it is one person lighter.
And it is--detestable as she’d found Lex near the end of his life, the overwhelming gap left in the home they shared is somehow worse. It is this small hole in her constitution that Clark Danvers must use to burrow in and stay rooted in her thoughts. She doesn’t stop thinking about him. Not as she removes her gloves and winter coat in the foyer, and not as she sits in her study writing to her lawyer. He’s a tawny specter in the back of her mind, an answer to a question that Lena hasn’t been asked yet. Clark Danvers, town blacksmith, boy who she’s known peripherally since his family moved to the area at the tender age of 16, when Lena was 14. He was handsome then, too.
The thought is banished as soon as it appears. She knows that he is handsome because other women find him handsome. He was as disgustingly optimistic then, as starry-eyed, a gnat buzzing in her ear. That much she knows for herself. And yet he remains unmarried, although such a man should have his pick of the women living in the township.
She doesn’t realize that she’s written his name not once, but three times on the sheet of paper in front of her until it’s too late. Huffing, Lena crumples it up and chucks it into the waste basket beside her before ringing the bell placed beside her stack of paper. A servant enters the study presently.
“Mr. Weaver,” Lena begins. “Have you notified Mr. Person that I will be requiring his services tomorrow morning?”
Mr. Weaver stumbles. “I thought you said you wouldn’t be needing him until next week, Miss.”
“Well.” Lena has fire trapped in her chest with nowhere else to go but Mr. Weaver. Her grip clenches around her pen. “In light of my brother’s recent and untimely death I think it prudent to expedite the date of our meeting. Do you not agree?”
The man in front of her shifts his weight from foot to foot, hands clasped in front of him. He seems to be straining to maintain eye contact. “Yes, Ms. Luthor. I agree.”
“I’m not sure why you didn’t anticipate this turn of events. Do I not pay you enough to put even the most minimal of efforts into your job, Mr. Weaver?”
“No, Mrs. Luthor, my salary is plenty.”
“Then why are you standing there like a slack jawed ape, sir? Run to Mr. Person and inform him presently that I will be in his office at half past 9 tomorrow morning. Go on, go!”
She sighs when he scuttles off, shutting the door behind him, and leans back into her chair. This is an eternal heachache that is just in it’s early stages. Lena rubs her temples and then bends back forward to hang her head into her hands on the desk.
It’s unusual for there to be another soul in Samuel Person’s office before the tender hour of 11 in the morning. The man himself is getting into his old age and with it, developing a taste for sleep and for drink. Lena isn’t sure if he would even open his offices in the morning if it weren’t by her request. Therefore, it’s strange to hear the agitated voice of a man trickling through the closed door of his office when she arrives. Already peeved at being made to wait, Lena situates herself in the compact sitting room and tries to extend her ear to the spirited discussion beyond.
She doesn’t need to try for very long, however, because an agitated-looking Mr. Ernest Danby emerges from the room not seconds later. He’s red all the way to the tips of his ears, but it doesn’t mask the large bruise blooming along his jawline. Lena lifts her eyebrows and drops her jaw, unable to school herself
Realizing he’s not alone in the room, Mr. Danby collects himself enough to bow slightly in her direction. “Ms. Luthor. You must forgive me for being so rude, but I don’t have time for pleasantries at the moment.”
“Of course.” Lena replies, watching astonished as he all but flees the room, leaving the door to Mr. Person’s office hanging ajar. When she peers in, the lawyer has his head hung and shaking over a stack of papers. He stands at the sight of her, gesturing toward the chair on the other side of his desk. Once Lena is settled, he seats himself once more.
“Allow me to start by giving my condolences on your brother’s passing.”
“Thank you, Mr. Person. May I ask, is Mr. Danby quite alright?”
Mr. Person shakes his head again and glances at the ceiling as if appealing to the heavens. “Do you mind if I smoke, Ms. Luthor?”
He fetches a leather pouch from his coat and begins fixing his pipe as he speaks, adding tobacco and tamping it down thrice over. Mr. Person has been the Luthor family lawyer for as long as Lena has been alive plus change, and to her recollection his fingernails have always been yellow. “He got in a spat with a client last night outside of Barbara’s. Nasty business.”
“One Mr. Clark Danvers it would seem.” Lena can’t keep the shock from her face. Mr. Person strikes a match on his desk, holds it to the bowl of his pipe, and takes a thoughtful puff. “From what Mr. Danby tells me, Mr. Danvers asked for a sizeable loan for the purposes of keeping his shop above water and when the time came to pay back the money, he demurred. It ended badly, and now Mr. Danby wants to seek legal recourse against Mr. Danvers.”
Lena takes that information and tucks it away in the back of her mind, makes a suitable performance of a feminine gasp and a how dreadful, and moves the conversation along. Mr. Person has already done his research on her situation befitting his position of her family’s preferred attorney. He talks in circles in legal jargon for some time, puffing on his pipe and shuffling through papers in lieu of looking her in the eye.
To his credit, when she asks him to cut to the chase, he does. “You must be married, and soon.” Mr. Person sets his pipe onto the oak surface of his desk, an added emphasis on the situation. “Otherwise your family’s company will be left…vulnerable.”
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting this.” Lena shifts in her chair and turns her gloves over in her lap. Her hands alternate between her gloves and fussing with the fabric of her dress. “How long do I have?”
“If you had a man waiting in the wings to marry you tonight, that would be best.” Mr. Person chuckles. Lena frowns. “Jesting aside, there are no male heirs left in the Luthor clan, which leaves you in a very precarious position. As soon as you can, Ms. Luthor.”
Lena Luthor, in her waking hours, tries her best to convince herself that she does not believe in spirits, or clairvoyants, or the cold hand of fate. But Clark Danvers had appeared to her that day as suddenly, clearly, and persistently as if she’d dreamed him from her own free will. This is a private thought, a homespun belief, of which Lena has many. You shouldn’t walk under ladders, don’t let a black cat cross your path, sometimes coincidences are more than what they seem on the surface.
“I may have somebody in mind.”
“Clark Danvers?” Mr. Person says for the fifth time. He’s standing next to the window, pipe in hand, mouth set in a grim line. “The town blacksmith, Ms. Luthor, really? Is that really befitting a woman of your standing?”
“I think he’s a fine choice.” Lena siffs. She folds up her sleeve to look at her wristwatch. This meeting is becoming tedious.
“You do know that he’s an—“ Mr. Person lowers his voice. “ Avowed bachelor, don’t you?”
“I’m perfectly aware.” Lena ducks to hide the smile pulling at her mouth. “All the better for me, I say. He seems...malleable.”
“And what makes you think he’s going to say yes?”
Lena’s smile only grows.
Luckily for Lena, Clark could be picked out from a crowd of a hundred men from the sheer slightness of him alone, and she notes him almost immediately after exiting the carriage. Slender and well put together for a man of his age, he’s talking to one of the men minding a stall who she recognizes as somebody she’s done business with before—Winn Schott, maybe. Clark drinks of a tin cup filled with something warm, wipes the excess from his mouth with the back of his left hand, and extends it back to Mr. Schott. As he takes the cup back, Winn’s hand rests over Clark’s and lingers there for a moment, until Clark retracts.
Lena watches the interaction with interest from her vantage point down the street. She pretends to be browsing a stall, eyeing the two men askance all the while. Clark is all towheaded boyishness, hands stuffed in the pockets of his trousers and rocking back on his heels. Winn, on the other hand, seems--taken, perhaps. He’s leaning on his elbows, head cradled in the palm of his hand, dreamy smile fixed on his face.
Clark departs, Lena makes her move. Winn isn’t expecting her, which is exactly the way she wants it, and when he looks up his expression shifts all at once from surprise to confusion to deep, primal fear. He stutters out a greeting and nearly knocks all of his merchandise askew in the process.
“Ms. Luthor.” He says in a tremulous voice. “What can I help you with today?”
Lena isn’t looking at him, instead focusing on Clark’s retreating back. “That man you were talking to earlier. Remind me of his name?”
“M...Mr. Danvers?” Winn says with a frail chuckle, unsure if she’s telling an unfunny joke. “You’ve known each other since you were children.”
“And what business does he have with you?”
“Well Mr. Danvers and I, ah—“
“You two are friends?”
“Close friends? Bosom buddies?”
There’s a pinkness to Mr. Schott’s face that cannot be explained entirely by the cold. He scratches at his stubbled cheek. “I suppose so, I mean I’d like to think so, we haven’t had that conversation in so many words but we spend a lot of time together and—“
“Mr. Schott.” Lena cuts him off with a hard look. “Spare me.”
“Right, sorry. Yes, we are close.”
“And so, in this infinite closeness, would you happen to know if Mr. Danvers has any...suitors?”
Mr. Schott balks. “Suitors, ma’am?”
“Yes, Mr. Schott. Young women vying for the pleasure of his hand.”
“Oh.” The man looks faintly constipated. “I would say most of the girls in town think Mr. Danvers to be quite a catch. But he is an avowed bachelor, if you know what I mean.”
She does. And she takes pity on him, eventually. He has the look of a dog who’s just pissed on the floor but doesn’t know exactly what they did wrong. Lena can hear him unclenching as she turns away. If Winn is right, Mr. Danvers may be as perfect a specimen for what she needs as if she’d created him herself. Unattached, an avowed bachelor--so sure not to make any untoward advances on her--in a moment of dire financial straits. It’s the exact kind of situation Lena can leverage perfectly, like conducting a symphony, note by tedious note.
Barbara’s, by virtue of being the only place to obtain drink in the township, is nearly always busy in the evening. Lena Luthor knows this, like she knows most other things, by word of mouth. She has never been, and if not for the strange events of the last week, the thought of going would never have crossed her mind.
And yet, those strange events had come to pass, and so she found herself outside of the tavern on a cold November night. The street outside is frigid, but the glow of the tavern windows are honey warm. Lena does something very unlike herself and hesitates, gripping her shawl tight around her shoulders. She allows herself exactly one minute to consider if she’s making the right choice.
That done, she goes inside.
There’s a din and bodies moving haphazardly. The interior is all wood, tables scattered about, and the lanterns hung do very little to actually illuminate the place. Lena squints. So many of the patrons look the same, busty girls in tattered clothes and young, fawning men with their top shirt button undone. She orders a whiskey from the barkeeper and looks.
Lena sees Mr. Schott before anybody else. He’s sitting at a table with a man Lena realizes is Mr. Danvers and a woman she knows as his sister, Alexandra Danvers. She sees his nearly empty pint and the merry way he has his arm thrown over Clark’s shoulder, pulling him closer to his body as he laughs at something Alex has said.
Clark, however, is the first to spot her. Lena feels his gaze as soon as it becomes marked upon her body. The corner of his left eye is blackened with a bruise, a shiner as he would describe it to her later, the sclera of that eye marred with a circle of blood. Even from behind the round wire rims of his spectacles it’s glaring.
Then, something curious: Clark Danvers blushes . Out of the corner of her eye, she watches him lick his palm and use it to smooth back an errant blond curl from his forehead before saying something to Alex, rising, and moving towards the bar where Lena stands.
She’s expecting a little more than Hello when he approaches her, but that’s exactly what she gets and she takes it. In many ways, Clark still seems to be the clumsy 16 year old boy who’d tried to show her magic tricks while she was waiting for her mother to be done in the township shops. His earnestness is as detestable to her now as it was then.
“Hello, Mr. Danvers. That’s a fine bruise you’re sporting.”
Clark touches his roughed up eye with the tips of two fingers. It’s a keenly feminine gesture but Clark is a keenly feminine man, after all. “It’s nothing. A rough night at the bar. Hey, can I get you something to drink?”
Lena takes a pointed sip of her whiskey and Clark stutters, nodding. “Right. Would you want to take a turn outside? It’s a nice night. Not too cold yet. You never come by the shop anymore and we could talk or—catch up, perhaps, I don’t know—“
“What I would like, Mr. Danvers,” Lena says, cutting him off. He blinks at her owlishly. “Is for you to call on me tomorrow afternoon. Do you think you could manage that?”
“Call on you?” Clark stutters.
“Yes, Mr. Danvers. I presume you know the meaning of the word.”
“Yes, I do. Of course I do.” He laughs, takes a swig of his drink. “Sure, I’ll call on you. Are you sure I can’t get you another drink? You could come and sit with my sister and Winn.” He gestures over to where Alex and Winn are watching them, both with steadfast frowns on their faces. Lena grimaces and finishes her whiskey in one harsh swallow, slamming the glass down on the counter.
“No, I think not. I don’t think spending additional time in this environment would be good for my health.” Having delivered her message, Lena gathers her shawl and prepares to depart and leave a stuttering Clark Danvers in her wake. “I’ll see you tomorrow Mr. Danvers.”
“Wait, hold on--Ms. Luthor!” Clark follows her to the front step of the tavern, adjusting his glasses. Lena turns to him expectantly. The audacity of it, to hold her up, and for what? He’s stuttering like an idiot. “What time?”
“What time,” He repeats. “Shall I call on you tomorrow, is there a time you’d prefer?”
“Midday will be fine, Mr. Danvers. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” She looks at her wristwatch pointedly and he takes the hint, bobbing his head and backing hesitantly into the warm, rowdy embrace of Barbara’s.
“I’m looking forward to it.” Is the last thing he says before he’s gone, prompting Lena to roll her eyes. The air outside has a nastier bite than it did when she first exited the carriage. Lena considers Clark’s blush, the way he stuttered, and finds there’s something odd about it. Clark Danvers, avowed bachelor, and yet seemingly quite taken over her. As she enters the carriage Lena supposes there’s no sense in dwelling on it—it’s all a means to an end, after all.
Clark calls at exactly 5 minutes until midday. Lena is overseeing the table settings in the smaller dining room when Ms. Huang enters, curtsies, and steps aside to reveal the young man behind her.
He’s looking much more put together than the previous night, his hair (God, Lena thinks, her mother is going to have her head for bringing a blonde into the family—a problem for another day) is properly combed back, his shirt and trousers pressed. In his hand are a bunch of flowers, looking rag-tag, wrapped in a butcher’s sheet. He extends them and has the audacity to look proud.
“Ms. Huang, will you take those,” Lena pauses, waves her hand. “Somewhere else?”
“Yes, Ms. Luthor.” Ms. Huang smiles at Clark as she takes the flowers from his hand. He looks bewildered and a little crestfallen.
“Please have a seat, Mr. Danvers. The magistrate will be joining us shortly.”
This only exasperates the look of confusion on his face, but he sits gamely. “The magistrate, Ms. Luthor?”
“Yes. I wanted some time to talk to you before he arrived.” Behind them, servants busy themselves bringing food to the table. Tea biscuits, coffee, a cake. Clark watches the spread with wide eyes, sitting on his hands like an excited child. “Not used to so much food?”
“No.” Clark admits. “At home it’s mostly hardtack and sardines.”
Lena wrinkles her nose. “Dig in. I’m watching my figure.”
He does just that, piling his plate with sweets and pouring a generous cup of coffee. Clark fills hers before his own, a gentleman to the quick of him.
“I suppose you know by now about Mr. Luthor’s passing.”
Clark swallows, nodding. “Yes, and I was very sorry to hear it. Mr. Luthor was—“
“Let’s not get into what Mr. Luthor was or wasn’t. The point is, his death left me in a somewhat precarious situation. There are no more male heirs in the family, and I am unwed. And to my understanding, you’re in a situation yourself.”
“I’m not sure I know what you mean.”
“I bumped into Mr. Danby yesterday. He also had a nasty bruise.”
Clark stutters, then pushes his plate of sweets away, half finished. His face sours, lips pursed, and he runs the palm of his hand over his hair. “I’ll have the money to pay Mr. Danby by the end of the month. Business is picking up and—“
“No need.” Feeling suddenly peckish, Lena selects a biscuit for herself and sets it on her plate. “I’ve settled your debt with Mr. Danby and made certain he won’t be pursuing legal recourse.” She can feel Clark gawking at her. “I think we could be assets to one another, Mr. Danvers. You need a certain sense of financial comfort and I need—“
“You need a husband.” Clark finishes, sitting back in his chair. Realization dawns over his face plain as day. Lena wonders with genuine curiosity what must be running through his mind in the moment. She wishes she had a telescope with which she could just--peer in, take a look. Not that she’s ever been truly curious about the machinations of Clark Danvers’s mind, but there’s clearly some kind of journey happening based on the faces he’s making. “May I ask a question?”
“If you must.” Lena takes a delicate bite of her biscuit.
“Why me? It’s no secret that you don’t like me, despite my best efforts—“
“I don’t like any man, Mr. Danvers. You’re not special.” Clark’s lips quirk up at that. “It was a coincidence that I discovered you in the exact kind of situation I could help you out of. I don’t have time to find somebody more suitable. Nothing more.”
Clark hums and nods his head, glancing down to his hands which are folded in his lap. “I have one more question.” Lena rolls her eyes, but tilts her head in acquiescence. “If I did say yes. Would you say that there’s a chance that you might someday come to...tolerate me, or like me, just a little?”
The question is so wholehearted, so eager in its intentions, that it sends rocks tumbling around Lena’s stomach. “If you did say yes, you would come to live in my house with me, and be the face of my business. You would not enter my chambers, or touch me, or speak to me without my permission. And if,” Lena shakes her head. “If you follow those instructions down to the very last letter, we could, perhaps, find a certain accord.”
Clark is smiling in a way that doesn’t quite sit right with Lena. He looks assured of himself, almost, which he shouldn’t be. Lena wonders if Clark knows he’s making a deal with the devil. If he doesn’t yet, he will soon. “Okay, I’ll bite. I’ll do it. I accept your proposal.”
This is exactly her desired outcome. His ready answer still surprises Lena. She’s saved from a rare and embarrassing moment of ungroundedness by the entrance of the magistrate, a wiry man, with Ms. Huang coming presently at his heel.
“I hope you’ve prepared your vows, Mr. Danvers.” Lena smirks. Clark is back to his previous visage of a slack-jawed fish out of water, knocked off his previous, troubling pedestal.
“We’re getting...here? Now?” He tugs at the collar of his shirt. “This isn’t even my best shirt.”
Against his protests, Lena rises from her chair and summons Clark to do the same with a pointed look. The rest of it happens in Lena’s favorite way, like clockwork, or dominoes falling in a straight line. She greets the magistrate and requests Ms. Huang to remain as a witness. The magistrate positions himself next to the large, curtain-framed window, bible in hand, and adjusts his spectacles.
They stand in front of him. When he says, “You may join hands.” Lena reaches out and takes Clark’s into her grip. They’re calloused, a little damp. She tugs him slightly closer and watches him shift from foot to foot, visibly reddened.
“Are you nervous, Mr. Danvers?”
“Don’t you think you should call me Clark now, under the circumstances?” Clark’s eyes search her face and then move to her throat, the line of her dress. “This is the closest we’ve been since we were teenagers.”
“I don’t think I will.” Lena decides, and turns her head to the magistrate. “You can begin the ceremony.”
“You did what?” The feminine voice that filters out from behind the door is brimming with rage. Lena winces, removing her scarf and craning her head to get a better look around the shop. She hasn’t been inside in years, and even before she attended only briefly. Much of it is the same—the bellows, the anvil, the slack tub. Some of it is new. The apprentice sitting stock still at the workbench with his eyes wide in terror, for instance.
He looks at her and she pinches her face into a glare.
“Alex, this was my choice.” Clark comes storming out of the door into the main workroom, bag in hand. “I’m a grown man.”
“The hell you are!” Alex follows him out, just as fired up, and grabs him by the collar of his shirt before he can take another step. “Did you even take a minute to think about what would become of this place without you here?”
“It’s going to be fine! You run your own business without me.” Clark breaks free of Alex’s grip and blows through to the next room without sparing Lena or the apprentice as much as a cursory glance. “And Bart can take over the shop while I’m gone.”
“ Bart?” Alex’s voice reaches new levels of hysteria. “You want to but the livelihood of your business into the hands of Bart ?” She gestures to the apprentice, who blushes crimson. “We’ll go bankrupt, Clark!”
“We’re already bankrupt!” Clark yells from the other room. Lena peers in, still unnoticed by the quarreling pair. It’s a kitchen with a dirt floor and a cot set up in the corner. Clark is gathering clothes from his bed and throwing them into his bag. Lena shudders to think what it contains. “I’m doing this for us, Alex.”
Alex is leaning against the workbench when they emerge, head in her hands. “And what about your—your other thing , Clark?”
“Oh, I know about that.” All three heads whip to look at Lena. “Mr. Danvers is a bachelor of a certain age, there have certainly been rumors. And I’ve seen you with Mr. Schott.”
Clark’s mouth is hanging open and Alex looks like she’s about to bust out into laughter or tears. “Oh, she thinks you’re—okay. You know what? Good luck with this. You both have my blessing. But don’t come crying to me when this all blows up in your face, Clark Danvers.” Throwing her hands up, Alex exits and slams the door behind her. Clark remains frozen.
“What do you mean you’ve seen me with Mr. Schott?”
“Are you quite ready, Mr. Danvers? This place smells like dog urine.”
They exit back onto the Main Street, still bustling this early in the evening. There’s a distinct bite in the air. Lena pulls her jacket closer to herself.
“—just how men act Ms. Luthor, not that you would know.”
“I’m sorry, what are you talking about?” Lena hails their carriage, stepping aside to allow Clark to open the door for her.
“Myself and Mr. Schott. I think you may have misunderstood something.”
“No.” Lena says mildly. “I think I understood quite well.”
To say that her idea turns out to be somewhat half-baked is an understatement.
In the sense that she technically gets exactly what she wants, it goes over like gangbusters. With her tutelage, Clark becomes a more than adequate puppet head for her business. His light curls, wire rimmed glasses, and baby face make him trustable to a fault; her ruthless knowledge of the trading world makes him lethal.
However, in the sense that she now has a near complete stranger, and a man no less, living in her home—there’s less dividends to that equation. Having an unexpected border has a way of making one's home feel smaller than it is. It’s not that Clark isn’t a courteous housemate—he is, more than she’d like him to be—but they do have a habit of running into each other more than she would anticipate in a home with 20 bedrooms.
Lena suspects that most of this is by Clark’s own design. He does respect the rules that she’d laid out on their wedding day, but he also finds ways to circumvent them, sometimes without Lena noticing until it’s too late. They’ll eat breakfast together, for instance, and have something that apes a companionable conversation, and Lena won’t realize what’s happened until it’s over and Clark has left the room.
More troubling than her previous distaste at the idea of marrying a man is how agreeable she finds it. Clark being a good person, being kind to her, is a test on her resolve. Every night in bed she makes a promise to herself to redouble her efforts to put him back in his place.
This is a difficult oath to keep.
“I’ve been finding myself a little stir-crazy.” He admits to her, cracking an egg with his spoon at the breakfast table. He’s in his shirtsleeves, not quite yet all the way dressed for the day, and his cuffs are rolled up to expose his forearms. Lena finds herself unable to tear her gaze away, her own meal untouched. “I was thinking I might help the groundskeepers clear the brush from the garden this afternoon.”
“It would be a fitting job for you in that disgusting shirt.” Lena snatches an apple from the bowl on the table and begins to twist the stem from the top. “Didn’t we get you new clothes?”
Clark shakes his head. “Ms. Huang has been pinning back one of Mr. Luthor’s old vests on me for business meetings.”
“Give Ms. Huang your sizes and have her send for the tailor. Then put that shirt in the fire.”
The entire conversation turns out to be one enormous misfire. She happens to glance into the back garden through the window in her study, leafing through letters, and catches a glimpse of Clark working. He’s hauling brush to be used for the fire and raking up the last of the November leaves. Though it’s edging on bitterly cold outside, he’s forgone his jacket in favor of remaining in just his shirtsleeves.
Lena watches his body move until she catches herself and snaps the curtains shut, returning to her letters with a now burgeoning headache. It’s only increased when, later in the day, Clark returns from his adventures glowing with vigor and offers her a hand-gathered bouquet of chrysanthemums and Queen Anne’s lace. She looks him in the eye as she throws them into the wastebin.
His new wardrobe causes enough strife for her that she wishes she could go back and retrieve his old, sweat-stained shirts. He steps out of his chambers looking positively dashing. Even Ms. Huang has a faint blush on her cheeks.
Doing a little twirl ( keenly feminine Lena repeats in her head) he asks, “How do I look?”
Ignoring the many thousands of screaming fibers in her body informing her exactly how Clark Danvers looks, Lena responds: “Terrible. But it will do.” And exits the room as quickly as possible. She avoids him that day more staunchly than usual but finds him inescapable. The maids are apoplectic, unable to hide their fawning for even a moment until Lena is out of the room. They love to gossip in French, either ignorant of Lena’s fluency or simply willing to ignore it.
“ Do you think he’s really like they say he is?”
“It is peculiar, 26 and unwed. And so handsome.”
This incites a fresh round of giggles as they pour heated water into the basin. Lena sits off to the side in her robe, picking intently at her left pinky nail and pointedly not looking at the duo.
“I do prefer my men a little gruffer, though. It’s odd that he doesn’t seem to grow any hair on his face.”
“He’s still so cute. Do you think he’s a virgin?”
“To women, maybe. I could certainly show him a thing or two.”
Lena steps into the filled tub so harshly that it splashes water onto the faces and dresses of the maids, ending their conversation.
Her descent into total insanity begins, like she figures these things must, before she can even realize what’s happening.
A steady-handed alchemist, Mr. Danvers begins to change things in her home and in her life. Small things at first, the equivalent of moving a vase two inches to one side, or fixing a crooked painting, but things nonetheless. He asks to change the color of the drapes in the drawing room, she agrees. They’re no longer dark red, but powder blue. He asks to read her a selection from a book of poetry, she agrees. He tells her afterwards that the passage reminds him of her, and she only calls him an idiot once. He presses flowers in the pages of the books that she’s reading, she doesn’t throw them away. Suddenly she’s a woman who keeps flowers.
At first she thinks of it like an ebbing away, a tide coming in and wearing at her defenses until she simply lacks the will to fight. But she comes to the startling realization, as she arranges a bouquet in the drawing room, that it’s something else entirely. There had been gaps left by Lex’s death, and even before that, black holes in the house that they’d tucked away never to be spoken of. Clark is simply filling in those gaps, pouring something of himself into them until they’re whole again. Subsequently, there is light in the house again. Subsequently, Lena laughs for the first time in months watching him fall off a stepping stool while fixing window trim. He looks back over his shoulder at her, grinning as if it was something he planned.
Clark will wander about the house as if to decide on which project he’ll focus his energies on next. It becomes something like a game, waking up in the morning and wonder where she’ll find him next, standing with his arms crossed behind his back and a ready suggestion at the tip of his tongue. “Don’t you think this room could use more light?” “What if the cooks were to have new aprons for Christmas?”. Once, in the hallway of portraits, she comes upon him intently studying one of herself, her parents and her brother from when she was in her mid teens.
“This is how I remember you.” He says when she comes up beside him. He has a smile like a crooked painting. “You’re lovely here, but sad. Will there be another?”
She regards the portrait in question, her whole family dressed in dour colors, her own stern frown.
“What do you mean?”
“Another portrait. Of you and I, now that we’re married. Your parents have one.”
“My father and brother are dead, my mother has taken ‘ill’ to the South of France for the last three years. There’s nobody here to be a traditions keeper but me.” She shakes her head. “And I say no more portraits.”
“But,” Clark hastens to look again at her young face, forever immortalized in oils. “How will people know what you look like?”
Lena squints. “What do you mean?”
“You know, this is you when you were 16. But you’re 25 now. And what about when you’re 40, or 60?”
“I’m not sure I shall live to be 60.” She moves closer to the painting, inspecting.The artist has certainly captured her spirit, her juvenile face. That much will always stay the same. “And I don’t know anyone who would care to know what I looked like, anyway.”
Clark hums, unconvinced. “I might.” Is all he says, and it’s enough. The next day she makes an appointment with an artist to come, because perhaps he’s right. It has been a decade, after all.
And so it goes: vases moved, spaces filled, doors and curtains flung open to let in the daylight. Lena catches herself in her bedroom anticipating sitting down with her husband for dinner that evening and pinches her thigh so hard that it leaves a bruise.
Clark’s seemingly endless resilience and capacity for antics doesn’t help matters at all. Every day is a new test of if he can impress her or not. To be fair, he does have a remarkable cache of skills for a man so young, not that Lena would ever express that thought out loud.
“Ms. Luthor!” She catches him out of the corner of her eye waving from the back garden. Winn is with him, looking sour to see her, and they both have fencing swords in their hands. She steps out of the door from her study, watching her breath begin to condense immediately in the chill. “How would you like to see me beat Mr. Schott one-handed?” He’s wearing a cocky smile in direct opposition to Winn’s disgruntled look.
“I don’t care what you do as long as you’re not doing it in the drawing room.” Lena comments, but stays where she is.
“Clark, let's go inside. I’m going to get my death out here. There’s snow on the ground.”
“Don’t be a baby.” Clark says, but doesn’t take his eyes off Lena’s face. He has one hand crossed behind his back and the other holding his fencing sword. The cold has rubbed color into his cheeks and dampened his hair—there’ll be fresh snow soon—he’s removed also his glasses to protect them, giving Lena an unobstructed view of his eyes. She has the urge to pinch her thigh again.
“Ow!” As quickly as the moment begins, it’s ended by the tip of Winn’s sword jabbing into Clark’s right shoulder. Everybody looks shocked, Lena barking out a peel of alarmed laughter as Clark crumples to the ground clutching his shoulder. He’s laughing too, although there are tears pricking the corner of his eyes. Winn seems the most distressed out of the three of them.
Clark puts on a show of being tough until Lena suggests that she take a look at the wound and then he’s warbling about how he needs somebody to take care of him. Lena rolls her eyes as she sits him down on the couch in the drawing room and pulls down his shirt to just reveal his injured shoulder. Clark grips at the linen to keep it from falling any further. Lena supposes he must be shy.
“I would have beat him, you know.” Clark sniffs. “Had I not been distracted.”
“Oh, certainly.” Lena shakes her head and touches the bruise-mottled skin with the pads of her fingers, watching goosebumps rise in their wake. Clark shivers almost imperceptibly.
“I mean it. I was seconds away, but you were wearing that brown dress—the one that brings out your eyes.”
“You’re being very bold for a man who was bested by a chum right in front of my very eyes.” The ribbing is softer than what Clark is usually on the receiving end of. Lena senses that she may be losing her touch. Her hand is still lingering on the smooth skin of his shoulder.
“I would bring him back tomorrow and beat him then, if I thought would it would impress you.” Clark’s eyes search her face, moving between her eyes and lips. “I would do anything to gain your favor.”
“Nothing you could do would gain my favor.” She says. It’s a lie.
“You’re cruel to me. Why?”
“I think you enjoy it.”
He seems to take this to heart and only grows bolder. After a long visit with the Lords, she rounds the corner into the kitchens to find Clark leaning against a counter with a plate of pie in his hand. He’s smiling and tousled in that way he looks when he’s just come in from a long ride or clearing brush from the yard. He takes a bite of pie and makes an exaggerated, happy groan, to the vocal delight of whatever female cook is standing with him.
Lena clears her throat, heads turn. Clark’s face brightens at the sight of her. It only deepens Lena’s frown. He places the plate delicately on the counter, dips in deference to the cook, and plods happily over to where she stands.
“You’re home early.” He breathes. “I thought you’d be calling on the Lords for another hour more.”
“It was tedious.” Lena huffs, removing her gloves. “But I see you were occupying herself well in my absence.”
“Addie makes the best pecan pie in Canada.” He’s standing closer that she’d usually like, hands clasped behind his back, but she’s too vexed to make a comment on it. She clenches and unclenches the gloves in her fist.
“Pecan pie and the privilege of her smile, how charming.”
“Truth be told, I’d rather have the privilege of yours.” Clark sighs. Something hateful happens then, something completely undeniable—Lena’s heart quickens, not with distaste, but with pleasure. “You’re pretty when you blush.” Lena realizes that she must be.
“You’re making a fool of yourself.” She bites out in a shaky voice. It doesn’t register above a whisper. “Being so bold.”
“Am I?” Clark totters a little forward. “Because you sounded a little jealous of Addie just then, if I’m not mistaken.” His sudden proximity gives Lena the rare opportunity to look at his face, to study it. For no reason at all, her maid’s comment about his lack of a beard pops into her head like the rotating blip of a lighthouse. There really isn’t a single hair on his upper lip or his chin, and not on his cheeks either, and not in the way that some men are clean-shaven. She remembers her father’s face, how she used to love running her hands over the stubble on his cheeks, even right after he’d shaven she could feel the pricks of a few errant hairs against her hand.
And yet on Clark, not even a follicle.
Blinking back into reality, Lena places a hand onto his chest to separate them. “You’re making a mistake, Mr. Danvers.” She says, then flees.
Clark’s room is a cluttered mess typical of men his age and disposition. The sheets on the four poster bed are tangled, not yet tended to by the maid, and his nightshirt and underwear are still lying heaped on the floor. He’d left only minutes ago to see Alex in the township, so Lena reckons that she has time. To that end doesn’t go immediately to the bathing room, but lingers for a moment in the main bedroom. She moves to Clark’s bedside, sits on the edge of his mattress and takes a book off the top of the stack that sits on the nightstand.
All the novels in his possession are clearly lovelorn and dog-eared, with small scraps of paper tucked into the crannies of favorite passages. Lena holds Much Ado About Nothing in her hands, feels the weight of it, then opens it to a randomly selected earmark. There’s a passage underlined several times in Clark’s careful hand.
I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.
Lena closes the book and throws it back onto the nightstand as if burned.
His bathroom, at least, is tidy. There’s a vanity inside, and a large copper tub still damp on the inside from that morning’s bath. There’s nothing on the surface of the vanity and, Lena notes, no hairs sticking to the ivory bowl there. It’s curious, but also possible that the servants had simply already rinsed it out. She opens nearly every cabinet and drawer on the piece of furniture before she comes across Clark’s shaving kit.
The blade is tucked away in it’s wooden box and when she opens the hinged cover, dust disperses into the air. Brow furrowed, Lena removes the razor and opens it, inspecting the blade. It’s almost certainly the one he’d brought with him to the blacksmith’s shop, and yet there’s not a dull inch of the steel blade, not a single nick on the edge of it. Frowning, Lena gently touches it with the pad of her thumb and finds it brutally sharp.
One more odd thing remains in the drawer: a piece of burlap, wrapped around something soft. Lena sets the razor down and reaches in to peel back the layers of fabric and reveal--a mass of stained rags? Her nose wrinkles in disgust and confusion as she picks up one of the tattered pieces of linen and looks closer. The fabric is mottled brown with blood, in fact, and it looks like--
Oh. Lena replaces everything in the drawer with a speed she didn't know she possessed and exits the bedroom just as quickly, shutting the door softly behind her. She's in such a tizzy that she very nearly smashes into a maid carrying clean linens down the hallway. "Are you feeling alright, Ms. Luthor? You look a little red."
"I'm fine." Lena says as she hurries past her and down the hallway. "A little hungry is all."
Lena Luthor is not a stupid woman. And, by virtue of having been adopted, she possesses none of the familial madness that so plagued the Luthor clan for generations. Both of these things are true, and yet she cannot shake the suspicion that her new husband may actually be a woman. It’s an insane notion and yet—yet, she finds herself sitting at her vanity, hair brush in hand, wondering how it would be if it were true. If she were to peel back Clark’s shirt, and underneath find—run her hands over—
It starts as a fever that she hopes can be extinguished by one question answered: “Would it be possible for you to procure your birth record for me?”
Clark’s face twists. “For what?”
“The bank has been requesting it, so I can open that account you’ve been wanting.” Lena dabs at her mouth with a napkin. “To send funds to Ms. Danvers.”
“Yes, alright.” Clark agrees, and Lena hears the familiar and comforting sound of him cracking his egg, taking a long sip of his coffee. Something in her stomach settles. Of course, it was foolish for her to think--based only off the quality of a razor and some bloody rags, no less. It speaks if nothing else to the state of her mind since her brother’s death and Clark’s arrival at the mansion. “It is a copy though, will that be a problem? My original birth record was destroyed in the fire that killed my family, but the Danvers made me a new one when I came to live with them.”
Lena nearly drops her coffee into her lap.
Finding out the location of Clark’s origin is not difficult, as her husband is nothing if annoyingly eager to share the minutiae of his life with her. She only has to ask once and he’s regaling her with stories of a small Canadian village nearly destroyed by a fire, the hero Danvers family taking him in as an infant. She receives the copy of his birth record exactly as promised, his name scribbled in his foster mother’s hand: Clark Jeremiah Danvers , his birthday the winter solstice, his birthplace the same little village he’d described to her in such vivid detail.
She gives the certificate to Ms. Huang, who seems sure that she’ll be able to find the village in question given a couple days for asking about and travel. Lena leaves her with very clear instructions: seek out the church, if there is one, ask after their records. The bank is not satisfied with the copy, and wants proof from the church where Clark was registered as a baby. Her husband has said that the fire destroyed the church but just to be sure, to untangle any unnecessary complications. Luckily for her Jessica Huang is as discreet and loyal as they come and doesn’t voice any objections, if she has any.
In the meantime, Lena has her own investigation to conduct. She doesn’t confess to know much about men, having devoted much of her life to the rejection of them. But Lena Luthor is also no ingenue.
The door squeaks open and Clark pokes his head around. He’s wearing a loose linen shirt, britches, and a pair of suspenders, and his glasses sloped low on his nose. “You asked to see me, Ms. Luthor?”
“Yes.” Lena smiles faintly and pats the seat next to her on the couch. “Come sit with me.”
Clark hesitates. “Are you being quite serious?”
“Yes, Mr. Danvers. You’ve been gone all afternoon. I’ve...noticed your absence.”
Looking around as if to catch somebody waiting in the wings to humiliate him, Clark cautiously begins to cross the room. “Are you sure you’re not playing a prank on me?”
Lena shakes her head and pats the sofa again. The cushions shift and dip under Clark’s weight when he sits, drawing them closer together on the already confined space of the couch. He smells fresh and clean, his shirt probably just washed that morning, and Lena can’t help but lean in just a little. She takes another sip from her whiskey to re-center herself.
“We’ve been married almost a month now.”
“It seems we have.” Clark remains stiff, but slackens by the minute.
“You know, most men, were they in your position, wouldn’t be as chivalrous as you have.”
“I guess I’m not most men.”
Humming, Lena leans back to regard Clark, all of him. His body is cast in the warm glow from the fireplace and the candles that illuminate the space and he’s looking at her intently. His eyes, usually blue, are dark. “No, you’re--what’s the word people use, an avowed bachelor? A man of specific mannerisms? A midnight botanist?”
“I know that’s what people say about me, but I assure you I’m none of those things.” Seemingly lured into a false sense of security, Clark has twisted his body to face Lena’s and is allowing it to sink into hers. He’s warm, like a furnace.
“I thought you might say that.” Lena admits. “To be honest, I’ve been confused. You haven’t made a secret of your interest in me.”
“Well, Ms. Luthor--”
“You can call me Lena, now, I think.” Lena places her palm on Clark’s thigh, right above his knee. She delights in the way he squirms, adjusting his glasses and glowing red even in the waning light of the room. One last sip of her drink, and it’s discarded onto her desk. “You are, aren’t you? Attracted to me, I mean.”
“Who wouldn’t be.” Clark breathes.
“I find you agreeable as well, against my better judgement.” This admission seems to startle Clark, Who flounders for a moment. He reaches up to fuss with his glasses. Lena’s hand creeps just an inch higher on his thigh, opening flat and squeezing. There’s a wonderful mass of muscle alive under her palm. “You’ve been quite the surprise to me, Clark Danvers.”
“Is something wrong? Do you want me to stop?”
“No. No, I just…”
Lena folds herself in, brushing her lips against the shell of his ear, and speaks. “If I asked you to come upstairs into my bedroom with me, you would?” It’s a Hail Mary sort of thing, being that Lena is completely unsure what she’ll do if Clark agrees. And part of her wants Clark to agree, the same part that wants her ludicrous hunch to be right, and the same part that wonders what she’ll find if she moves her hand a little further north.
Clark’s hand covers hers, stopping it in its tracks. Not removing it, or shifting it, just ceasing it’s movement. He looks at her through his eyelashes (they’re long, lightly colored. Lena can’t stop noticing things about his face). She takes her other hand and cups his cheek, his chin, feeling. She runs her thumb over his lips. Clark removes that, too, uncurls her fingers and places a kiss in the center of her palm. His grip is strong and confident. It sends pins and needles through her body.
“I wish I could say yes.” He whispers. Lena sucks in a breath and allows herself one moment to lean into his warmth, but even that feels too indulgent. She pulls her hands away in an instant, standing from the couch abruptly. The room is suddenly too hot with the two of them and the fire roaring on in the hearth. It stings like rejection against her common sense. “Lena, please—don’t be upset.”
“I’m not upset.” Lena says, placing a hand over her breastbone and taking a deep, fortifying breath. “I’m just startled, is all. Could you give me a moment, please?”
“Clark.” She says, voice a whisper. “One moment, please.”
He acquiesces and bows respectfully from the room. Lena locks it behind him, then pours her glass of whiskey until it’s full to the brim.
Although Jess is gone and come back in a span of 5 days, Lena sits on pins and needles waiting for her. Clark’s bluster is all but gone since their night in the study and he seems more cautious now than he was before. Gone is the rambunctious person who would eat a stone from the garden if only to curry her favor, replaced by somebody much more withdrawn.
On the fifth day, when Ms. Huang does return early in the morning, Lena then must wait all day to get a moment alone with her. It’s a tedious, stressful dance that leaves her unable to focus on other, more pressing matters. When the day finally ends and she’s able to steal away with Ms. Huang to the privacy of her bedrooms, it’s a physical relief.
“Well,” Lena eggs her on, brushing out her hair at the vanity. She’s dressed down into her chemise. Her maid stands behind her, looking hesitant. “Spit it out, Jess. What did you find out, was his birth record there?”
“Well, no.” Jess admits. “The church was certainly there, and they’ve retained all of their records for the last 75 years or so. I actually didn’t even have to look at their record at first—the pastor was there, he remembers the fire that Mr. Danvers was referring to.”
The fire hadn’t touched the church, but of course it hadn’t. It affected one section of the village, and killed six people, one of whom was a man with a baby who’s wife had died giving birth some weeks before. “He insists it was a baby girl.” Jess says. “And he showed me the birth registry—he’s right. It’s a small village, only one baby was born on the solstice that year, Baby Girl Parsons. I even checked the next six months, there was only one other birth, also a girl.”
“And you’re quite sure it’s the right village?”
“He remembers the Danvers.” Jess says. “He can’t say exactly what happened to the baby who survived the fire, but he remembers that the Danvers adopted a baby who’d been orphaned before they moved. It’s all so strange—Ms. Luthor, are you crying?”
“Oh God, I’m so relieved.” Lena wipes a tear from the corner of her eye. “All this time, I thought—that I had begun to have feelings for—this is the best news I’ve received in all my life.”
Jess squints. “Are we still talking about the bank?”
“Yes.” Lena sobs, burying her face into her face into her hands. “Now I won’t have to set up an account for Mr. Danvers, saving myself an enormous headache. He can deal in paper money for the time being.”
“Do you need some time alone?”
When Jess leaves, Lena allows herself a moment to dwell on the strangeness of it all. She’s always been a fan of the odd, the otherworldly, stories of the truly bizarre. She reflects on herself as a child, reading books of witches and omens, and thinks that it’s only fitting that something so uncanny would happen to her in her own life. She had, after all, been dogged by bad luck since a child. And for anybody else this might be considered a stroke of misfortune, but perhaps her own singularity had finally flipped the tables.