Geeks and Dolls
by Lacey McBain
Clark stood on the sidewalk in front of Fordman's department store just enjoying the delicate fall of snowflakes against his skin. Of course, they didn't really feel all that cold, but he imagined they were and it was almost as good. School was out for the holidays, his parents were in Metropolis for the weekend, and his Christmas shopping was finished--except for one thing. He'd gotten the new Martha Stewart cookbook for his Mom and a heater for the water troughs for his Dad. Well, for the cows, really, but in some ways it was the same thing and it would make everyone's life easier, Clark figured. Besides, he got tired of using his heat vision to break up the crust of ice on the water troughs. Family taken care of, he also had a blank journal and a pen for Chloe, a new basketball for Pete (since Clark had accidentally crushed the old one), and a pink scarf for Lana. Chloe had rolled her eyes, but said, "yeah, she'll like it," and punched him on the arm hard enough that he knew if he'd been anyone else it would've hurt. A lot.
Now he just had to get something for Lex, and he was pretty sure he'd come up with the perfect gift. He'd done his research on-line, and this morning he'd gotten the call saying it was in and he could pick it up. Just in time for Christmas.
"You look like you're in a good mood, Clark."
He turned as he heard Lana's cheerful voice behind him. She was dressed in jeans and a dark pink parka, the fur around the hood glistening with snowflakes.
"Hey, Lana. Shopping done?"
She held up two very full shopping bags in answer. "What about you?"
"Just one more gift to get, and it's right across the street."
Lana peered at the shop across the way. It's windows weren't decorated for Christmas except for a tasteful string of white lights that illuminated the colourful displays of comic books and action figures.
"Geeks and Dolls? The comic book store? I didn't know you were a fan."
"I'm not exactly. I mean, I don't mind them, but--well, I wanted to get Lex something and he's a big Warrior Angel fan." Clark trailed off uncertainly. He wasn't sure Lex would appreciate him telling Lana about his Warrior Angel collection that spanned 147 issues and included every collectible figurine available. Except one.
Lana was still staring at the shop. "You know, every time I've gone over there, it's always closed. It's weird."
Now it was Clark's turn to look at Lana quizzically. "You're a closet comic fan?"
"No, silly. But the woman who owns the store is from France. France!" Lana said the word with an exaggerated roll of the "r" and a dreamy, reverent tone. Clark wasn't sure when Lana had started murmuring about going to France to study art, but he remembered her drawings from art class, and he wasn't sure it was such a good idea. Clark had been sure she would forget the whole thing when she'd almost flunked French class, but then there was that incident with the teacher who turned out to be able to set fires with her thoughts, and all the French marks had disappeared in one spectacular blaze along with Madame Flamb. Lana had come out of the ordeal with singed eyebrows and a clean slate.
"Well, I have to go over there," Clark started, not really wanting to take Lana along as he inquired about his order. Some things were just ... personal.
"Great! We can go together," Lana said, already starting across the street. Clark saw a flurry of movement inside the comic book store and the blinds on the door seemed to shutter closed when they got near the door.
Clark pointed to the sign that said, "Back in un moment" as Lana peered through the highly reflective windows.
"Didn't it look open from across the street?" Lana jiggled the door handle. "I swear it was open just a minute ago. It's so weird."
Clark focused his x-ray vision on the inside of the shop and saw the outline of one person. Female. Sitting behind the cash desk, impatiently tapping her fingers in a rhythm that Clark was almost positive was the French national anthem--he'd heard Lana humming it out-of-tune often enough. Suddenly, as if she knew she was being stared at, the figure turned and looked directly at him, tilted her head, and Clark could've sworn her heard the belaboured sigh from outside. A few moments later the shutters raised, and Clark could hear the sound of a series of locks, unlocking. Not one to miss an opportunity, Lana flung open the door triumphantly and stepped into Smallville's only comic book store.
"Allo, Clark," a lightly-accented French voice said.
"Oh, Madame Blandine," Lana gushed. "It's so nice to finally meet you." She thrust forward a pink-mittened hand that hung in the air between her and the other woman.
"It is not 'Madame Blandine,' it is simply Blandine." The tone was crisp and polite, but Blandine's dark eyes were unforgiving.
"Like Cher," Lana said, finally withdrawing her mittened hand. "That means 'dear' in French, Clark." Lana was speaking to him as if he were simple. Clark saw the French woman roll her eyes dramatically, but Lana wasn't stopping. "Oh, how very ... chic. I just knew you would be so--so ... French!"
Clark busied himself studying the displays and trying not to notice the way Blandine raised her eyebrow as if deciding where to hide the body.
"Non, ma petite fouine, not like Cher. Do I look like the woman who has had more plastic surgery than a Barbie doll?"
"No! No, of course, not," Lana stammered. "Excusez-moi. Je suis vraiment dso--"
"Non! Mon Dieu! Do not make it worse by butchering my language with a dull, rusty blade. You would not pain me so much if you carved out my heart with a teaspoon. It is time for you to go." With that, Blandine wrapped one hand around Lana's wrist and escorted her to the door. "Au revoir!" she said as she pushed Lana out into the cold and locked the door behind her.
Blandine turned on Clark, who tried to shrink his six-foot-four frame to blend in with the wall. "She followed me!" Clark said defensively, flushing red as the petite French woman stood glaring up at him. "I--she--"
"You will not bring her here again, or you will find that every issue of The Fantastic Four that you purchase will have the most important panel missing--seamlessly razored from its spine, and no one in this town will tell you what you have missed. Do you understand?"
Clark nodded. He knew better than to argue. He'd heard about some guy at school that had made a joke about Freedom Fries and the next thing he'd known, the guy was desperately trying to find a new supplier for Ultimate X Men. Even the Smallville post office seemed to keep losing his packages.
"Um." Clark looked around for something to change the subject. He pointed at the display of The Lord of the Rings action figures displayed on the shelf nearest his head. "Um, I like your action figures display."
"They are not 'action figures'," Blandine said with disdain. "They are dolls. There is no difference between Barbie and Legolas except a pink boa, and even that is open to debate. Call them what they are. If you are man enough." She raised an eyebrow, daring Clark to disagree.
"I didn't think they could bend like that." Clark blushed. He wasn't prepared to come down on the doll/action figure debate just yet. He'd like G.I. Joe, and sure, maybe he'd once asked his mother why he couldn't buy the nice pink dress for his doll, but that was a really long time ago. It didn't mean anything.
Aragorn was seated in front of a fake cooking fire. Clark didn't know action figures ... dolls could do the lotus position, and wow, Boromir was bent over on his knees in front of Legolas, and ... whoa. Clark thought he must've missed something when he read the book because he seriously didn't think the guys were that close, although the movie had kind of made him wonder about Sam and Frodo, now that he thought about it.
Blandine smiled and patted Clark's arm. "It is a hobby of mine, and the figures are ... rather flexible." Clark blushed more deeply, fingering the small sword that was tucked into Legolas's quiver. "The sword is actually Aragorn's, but he prefers to keep it in Legolas's quiver," Blandine continued with a dismissive wave of her hand. "It gives his hand a rest."
"Um, okay," Clark said, pulling his eyes away from the diorama and consciously willing his erection to subside. He hated being seventeen and perpetually turned on by ... everything. Nothing. He wasn't sure he was ever going to be able to think about elves and men the same way again, and damn, he and Lex were supposed to watch the extended version of the movies over the Christmas holidays.
"Now, Clark," Blandine said. "I have the item you requested. It is ... it is beautiful. I am quite certain Lex will appreciate it like no one else can."
"Absolutement!" She stretched a hand behind the counter and retrieved a cardboard box brimming with tissue paper. From the middle of it, she pulled out a small statue done in exquisite detail. "Ah, the Momentary Truce scene from Warrior Angel Issue 117."
Clark held the molded plastic base gently in his large hands and observed the two figures. Warrior Angel and his arch-enemy, Devillicus, shaking hands. Clark looked at the tiny faces, lips curled into friendly smiles, hands clasped in a firm grip, and he hoped Lex would get it. He really hoped he would.
The small bell over the door jangled sharply, but the door didn't open. "It's Lex," Clark hissed, shoving the figures roughly back into the box.
"Un moment, Monsieur Luthor," Blandine called, pulling the box away from Clark and tucking it under the counter. She jogged quickly to the door and opened it.
"Bonjour, Blandine," Lex said in a polished French accent, taking her hand and kissing it gently. When he raised his head, he caught sight of Clark shuffling awkwardly from one foot to another. "Clark? What are you doing here?"
"Just--just looking around," Clark stammered awkwardly, his eyes flickering over to the shelf with the action figures. Lex followed his gaze and grinned.
"Well, yes, Blandine always has the most interesting displays. Even so, Aragorn does seem rather ... flexible."
"Super-poseable," Blandine corrected. "36 points of articulation. Much better than the standard models, if you ask me."
"Of course," Lex agreed demurely. He smiled at Clark, and picked up a comic book, sliding it from its protective plastic case. "Don't let me interrupt whatever you were doing. When the door was locked."
Lex raised an eyebrow at Blandine. She met his glance with a steady gaze. "Allons, Lex. Vous devriez savoir que mes autres activits ne s'tendent pas aux mineurs."
"Ah, mais il a dix-sept ans. C'est parfaitement lgal. Au moins pour l'une d'entre nous."
"Mais, oui. Je comprends." Blandine patted Lex on the arm. "Mais 'A coeur valiant rien d'impossible'."
"Hey, I don't speak French, you know." Clark was suddenly suspicious of what they were saying.
"We know," Blandine and Lex said simultaneously, sharing a smile. Lex glanced through the latest issue of Warrior Angel while Clark browsed through The Fantastic Four. He thought the Human Torch was cool. Way cooler than just having heat vision. And the Human Torch could fly. All Clark could manage was floating, and even that was only in his sleep. Being a super-hero was nothing at all like the comic books suggested.
The door jangled again and four men entered. They were all dressed in black outfits from head-to-toe and wearing gloves. Well, it was winter, but Clark thought it looked a little odd. He flipped the pages of his comic, but kept one eye on the men as they wandered throughout the small shop.
"Hey, where's your Spider man comics?" one of the men asked. He was a little taller than the rest, and his voice was pleasant and deep.
"I do not carry such a thing," Blandine replied.
"You don't carry Spider man?" the man asked, obviously surprised.
"I do not like spiders."
"Yeah, but--" he started to protest.
"Non. It is my store. I do not like spiders. Therefore, no web-slinging, wall-climbing spider-infected vigilantes here."
"But, lady, he's a hero!" A second man had stepped into the debate. He was younger than the first, but had similar dark hair and sharp blue eyes. The two men could easily be brothers, Clark thought.
"There are heroes, and then there are heroes!" Blandine retorted proudly. She got the same choked-up tone when she spoke about France. Or really good cheese. She grabbed a comic off the rack and waved it in the men's faces. "Daredevil is a hero. Batman is a hero!"
Clark wondered why Lex let out a sudden choked cough that sounded partly like chuckle, but not exactly.
"You okay?" Clark whispered.
"Sure," Lex said, but he was clearly trying not to laugh. "Bruce would be appalled," Clark heard him mutter under his breath.
Blandine's voice continued to carry: "Asterix--Asterix is a hero of the finest calibre, but Spider man is nothing more than a bug."
"Who's Asterix?" the third man asked. Clark could see a fringe of red-hair peeking out of the man's toque.
"Thought that was some sort of punctuation mark," the final guy murmured just loudly enough that Clark heard him too.
The first guy was still trying to win an obviously hopeless argument, and Clark imagined this was sort of how the French must have felt when the Americans decided to get involved in Vietnam. "So a guy who dresses up like a bat, hides his true identity, and only comes out at night is a hero, but--"
"Yes," Blandine said with utter conviction.
Lex was snickering into his comic book again and muttering to himself: "The ears are too long, but the rest ... surprisingly accurate."
Clark poked him in the ribs to quiet him. He had no idea why Lex thought Batman was so funny; it wasn't like Warrior Angel didn't have a few quirks Clark could point out. Purple spandex? At least Batman's costume was cool and sleek. Exactly the kind of thing Clark would choose if he was ever going to do the hero thing for real.
The red-haired guy tried to intervene between Blandine and the dark-haired man. "Hey, they're all just comic books, right?"
Blandine looked horrified. She snatched the comic book he was looking at out of his hand, the plastic cover fluttering to the floor beside him. "No, they are not just comic books. They are the free press, the voice of the people. They are our urban legends and modern myths, and they tell the stories that newspapers are too frightened to report. What really walks the streets at night. What evil lurks in the hearts of men." She took a step forward, and the men stepped back. All of them. Clark felt himself taking a step back as well.
"They tell the Truth," Blandine said firmly, and Clark had no doubt in his mind that the word only ever had a capital "t" in Blandine's vocabulary. "And if you believe less, get out of my shop."
"We can't do that, I'm afraid," the first man replied almost apologetically, and Clark barely saw the movement of his hand as he pulled a gun from his pocket and raised it to Blandine's chest. "Lock the door or you all die." The man gestured at Clark with the barrel of the automatic he held.
Lex laid a hand on Clark's arm, his eyes pale and blue. "Do exactly as he says, Clark."
So Clark did. Lex, however, wasn't good at taking his own advice and as soon as Clark's back was turned, he made a lunge for the gun. Clark caught the movement out of the corner of his eye, heard Blandine's shout, and whirled just in time to see Lex slip on the discarded plastic comic book cover and land hard, his head smashing into the glass display case as he fell.
"Lex!" Clark yelled and started to move to his side, but the barrel of a gun stopped him cold.
"Stay where you are, boy," the man with the gun said, and now Clark could see the other three pulling out weapons as well. "Lock the door, and no one else gets hurt. Nobody has to be a hero. Let's leave them in the comics, shall we?"
Clark reached back and turned the latch on the door, never taking his eyes off the men. "Look, it's not worth it. It's just a comic book store. Blandine can't have more than a couple of hundred dollars here. Why don't you take what you want and leave before someone else gets hurt?" Clark glanced at where Lex was moaning softly on the snow-damp floor, a thin trickle of blood running across his temple.
"We don't want the comic book money, kid," the red-haired man said, pulling a length of rope out of his backpack. "We've got much bigger plans that that!"
"The bank," Blandine said angrily when the three of them were secured in the backroom of the store.
"What?" Clark asked, struggling against the handcuffs they'd locked around his wrists. He wasn't entirely sure why Blandine had three sets of handcuffs in the drawer under the counter, but they were lightly-padded so at least they weren't chaffing his wrists. Still, Clark didn't really want to get used to wearing them, and the black satin was a little disconcerting. Lex was still unconscious and moaning softly, his body a warm presence along Clark's side.
"The bank," Blandine repeated. "My shop backs the Smallville Savings and Loan. They're going to rob the bank."
Clark glared at the men who were pulling supplies out of their matching black backpacks. He could see wires and something that looked like putty. All four of the men had shiny automatics tucked into their pants. Even if Clark could do something with Lex conveniently unconscious, it would be tough with four men, not to mention Blandine as a witness. Clark was beginning to think the French woman already had suspicions about him, and he wasn't ready to reveal his secret if he didn't have to.
"Why do you want to rob the bank?" Clark had to ask.
The dark-haired man who appeared to be the leader responded: "We've been planning this for two months. Bryan and me--that's my brother--" He pointed at the younger man with similar features, "used to work there till they let us go. Said we were stealing."
"No. No damn way Jim and me would be dishonest in our employment," Bryan said bitterly. "But they didn't care. Fired us anyway. Couldn't get jobs anywhere in Smallville after that."
"What about Metropolis? Granville? Edge City?" Bryan looked at Clark blankly and Jim just shook his head.
"This is where our family is. We didn't want to move to some big city full of crime and pollution! No, this is where our roots are. We're staying right here. Making them pay. Rusty and Clint were kind enough to help us out."
"And why are you two involved?" Blandine raised her chin towards the red-haired man.
"Clint and me?" The man scratched his head absently. "Well, we weren't really doing anything else, and the plan needed four guys."
Just then Lex started to come to. He moaned loudly and lifted his head from where Clark had insisted the robbers make a temporary pillow out of Clark's jacket.
"It's okay, Lex. You got hit in the head, but we're okay."
Lex opened his eyes, blinked and looked around. "Aren't we handcuffed and being held prisoner in the backroom of the comic book store while four guys are about to cut through the wall?"
"And by your definition this qualifies as okay?"
"It could be worse," Blandine said. "You could have broken the glass display case when you fell. Instead, it appears you only have a mild concussion."
"Ah, the French," Lex murmured with a smile. "Such an optimistic people. Did I ever tell you I have a cousin named Blandine? On my mother's side."
"I am not surprised." Blandine brushed the comment off quickly. "It is a very common name in France. Practically as common as Penelope or Anastasia is here."
Clark shook his head, but decided not to argue the point. Blandine just had a slightly different way of looking at things, and Clark at least was happy not to be dealing with the situation alone, although maybe it would've been easier to rescue them all. He'd just have to wait for the right moment.
There was a sudden beeping from the main shop and Clark heard the store shutters sliding into place over the door. Bryan and Jim grabbed for their guns and stood in the doorway between the backroom and the store. "What's that?"
"It is my Difficult Customer Proximity Alarm," Blandine explained.
There was a put-upon sigh. "Retail is not the friendly, happy business you might think. There are people I would rather not deal with on a daily basis--and quite frankly, you four will be banned from this shop as soon as we manage to escape. However, the truth is I do not like to be bothered with mindless twits who waste my time, so I have an alarm rigged to detect their approach. When they are within ten feet of the store, the door locks, and the shutters close. It has ensured my sanity remains intact."
"You are one crazy bitch," Rusty said, shaking his head. He glanced towards the doorway as there was a tentative knock.
"Mademoiselle Blandine?" Lana's voice was clear, if somewhat cowed. Rusty set down his power saw immediately.
"Is that Lana?" Lex whispered, wiggling himself into a sitting position. Clark nodded. This scenario didn't need another hostage.
"Hello? Anyone there?" Lana's voice cut through the air like a diamond through glass. "I'm looking for Clark Kent. Hello?"
"Don't say a word." Bryan waved his gun in the air to emphasize the point. They waited as Lana called a few more times, then apparently gave up and left. Clark couldn't help but feel relieved. Being trapped in a building with Lex and the comic book lady was one thing, but Lana ... well, they just weren't that close anymore, and besides, he thought Blandine would probably snap and strangle Lana before too much time had passed.
Bryan looked through the doorway and Clark could see the sun had gone down and the street lights had come on. Obviously the robbers were waiting for evening when the bank would be empty and so would the streets of downtown Smallville.
"Okay, let's get this show on the road," Rusty said, picking up his circular saw and setting the blade against the drywall.
"Hey!" Bryan shouted as the blade started to churn. "Safety first!"
Rusty looked abashed and grabbed for the safety goggles Clint handed him. Clark just stared. Smallville had always had its own unique brand of criminal. The next few minutes were filled with the sound of a power saw slicing through wood and plaster, the air full of drywall and sawdust until everyone was covered with a grainy residue.
"We're through," Rusty shouted triumphantly, clearing away the debris. Clark could see the outline of a large safe. He struggled to bend his handcuffs apart--far enough he could slip out of them, but not enough to make anyone suspicious--so that he'd be ready to move when the opportunity presented itself. He just had to bide his time.
"Now what?" Blandine asked, choking on the dust in the air. It made her voice even more sultry than usual. "You have destroyed my wall and covered my belongings in dust." She spat out the word like a cherry pit. "I suppose you will not even allow a woman the luxury of going to the toilette to repair the damage to her wardrobe."
The men looked at each other shame-facedly, Rusty blinking from behind large safety goggles.
"Um, we're sorry, ma'am. You go on and fix yourself up, if you like. Clint'll just escort you to the bathroom." Jim looked apologetic even as he said it, and his face crumbled a little as Blandine got up, shook herself to get the worst of the dust off, and huffed through the doorway.
"Man, that woman is--how do the French say?--oo-la-la!" Bryan grinned widely.
"Hey," Clark said. "Be careful how you talk about a lady."
"Oh, she's a lady all right," the man returned. "And that outfit--va-va-va-voom."
Clark was getting angry, and the worst thing was he wasn't even sure what the men were implying. Blandine had always come across as a nice, respectable woman. There was nothing in her manner or dress to indicate otherwise--at least, not that he'd noticed.
"Clark," Lex cautioned. "Don't let them bother you. Besides, she's used to the talk."
"You did notice she always wears a corset and cut-off lace gloves, didn't you?"
Clark could feel his whole face getting hot and hoped the drywall dust was giving him adequate cover to hide his blush. "Um, yeah. Of course, I did." Truthfully, he hadn't noticed at all, but he knew Lex was wearing a pale lavender silk shirt with a long black jacket, that his pants were cuffed and his shoes were Gucci, and that there was a tiny imperfection on the buckle of his belt. He hoped Lex wasn't coming to the same conclusions he was because this was seriously not the right time to be having an epiphany about his sexual orientation and the reason why Lana was becoming less interesting all the time. Clark cleared his throat and tried to look nonchalant.
"Interesting," Lex murmured, and squeezed himself a little closer to Clark.
It took Jim, Bryan, Clint and Rusty almost an hour to clear away all the debris and clean up the room. They mostly did it to get Blandine to be quiet, Clark thought, since when she returned from the bathroom she was less than enthusiastic about the possibility of getting drywall dust all over herself again. The robbers cleared off a chair for her, made her a cup of chamomile tea with lemon, but it still wasn't enough until Clint volunteered to get the Shop-vac and clean up properly. As far as hostage-takers went, Clark had to admit he'd had worse.
"How's your head?" Clark murmured as Lex slumped awkwardly against his shoulder.
"Not bad." The blood had dried and crusted, and Clark could see the edges of a bruise beginning to form. "Hey, it takes more than a knock on the head to take Lex Luthor out of the picture," Lex said bravely. Clark grinned and gave him an affectionate nudge, even though he knew Lex's words were a complete fiction. A strong breeze could probably knock Lex out. The man had the most sensitive head in Smallville, Clark thought, wondering why his pants suddenly felt tighter. Erections seemed to arise without any rhyme or reason to them. Being a teenager was really a pain when you needed to concentrate on thwarting bank robbers and saving the people around you.
"You okay, Clark?"
Lex's blue eyes looked up into his, and Clark found himself wishing they were alone. Sure the padded settee that the men had pushed them onto was more comfortable than the floor, and Clark had to admit Blandine had done a nice job with the blue and yellow chintz fabric, but it was still too risky for Clark to make a move. Against the thieves.
Blandine's voice suddenly broke into Clark's thoughts. "Exactly how are you going to break into that safe?"
Jim looked at her as if she'd asked the stupidest question in the world. "How do you think?"
"Well, do you have a gun that can dissolve metallic objects?" she asked seriously.
"Can you walk through walls?" Lex asked. "Or maybe shape-shift into a bank employee and by-pass security that way?"
"Do you have super-human strength to rend the metal from its hinges? Or maybe heat vision to melt the lock?" Blandine suggested.
"I have heat vision," Clark muttered under his breath, but no one seemed to be paying attention to him. The four men were looking at Blandine and Lex with concerned expressions.
"No! Are you people insane? We're going to blow the vault with C4!" Rusty was already untangling a set of wires and starting to press blobs of grey looking putty around the edges of the vault.
"You are going to blow the entire block, espce de crtins," Blandine said with utter contempt in her voice. She shook her head. "That is a Renard 627 safe. It is an older model with steel-enforced doors, but it is relatively simple to open. You want a tiny bang, not an eruption like Mt. Vesuvius."
"And what exactly do you know about it?" Bryan asked.
"I took a course." Blandine shrugged as Lex raised an eyebrow. "Community college back home. Oddly enough, it never really caught on, but I was rather good at working with explosives."
"You really remind me of my cousin," Lex said again, and Clark couldn't help the concern that washed over his face. No doubt in his mind that Lex had a concussion--repeating insignificant bits of information was a dead giveaway.
"Just rest, Lex. Lay your head on my shoulder," Clark murmured, and was surprised when Lex did so immediately and without complaint. It felt nice, and Lex smelled spicy and sweet, a little like the trees after a full day of rain.
"Okay, Blandine will help Rusty with the C4," Bryan said, "but don't get any ideas about trying anything funny."
"The French are never funny," Blandine said with a completely straight face, then proceeded to give Clint and Rusty a lesson on the placement of explosives and how not to get oneself killed while robbing a bank. Clark thought it was an incredibly useful lecture for potential safe-crackers.
Clark sat and listened to Lex's breathing, the warmth of Lex's cheek pressed against Clark's shoulder, and thought this was really the best sort of hostage-taking he'd ever been involved with. Clark couldn't resist the urge to slip one arm loosely around Lex's shoulder.
"That feels nice," Lex murmured, and Clark gave him a little squeeze. A few moments later, Lex raised his head slightly, and Clark noted the glassy look still in his eyes. Definitely concussed. "Clark, do you have your hand free?"
A touch of super-speed and Clark's wrist was back in the handcuffs. "No. Of course not. You've got a concussion, Lex."
"Hm. I could've sworn--"
Blandine settled on the end of the settee beside Clark. "While they are busy assessing the charges, we should consider our plan."
"We have a plan?" Lex asked.
"Not yet," Clark admitted, but he was certainly open to suggestions. Lex sat up and Clark immediately missed the warmth. He sighed, but only Blandine seemed to notice. She looked at him and smiled.
"What about the plan Warrior Angel used to escape from the Evil Temptress Obscura in Issue 69?" Blandine offered.
Lex's face brightened with enthusiasm for a moment, then he shook his head. "No, it would take too long, and besides, we don't have a cat."
"True. Well, there's always the escape plan from Issue 14, when Devillicus has Warrior Angel and Corporal Monkey trapped in the jungle treehouse on the Island of Death."
Lex and Blandine both studied the ceiling for a long moment, then looked back at each other.
"I guess not," Blandine said. "What about the issue where Warrior Angel is seduced by the Sorceress Nightbloom with her field of purple orchids--"
"--where Devillicus is forced to rescue Warrior Angel in order to save the world from an even greater evil? I loved that issue," Lex whispered. "102 was one of my favourite issues ever."
"That's 112," Blandine corrected. "It was after Nuala took over doing the pencils."
"No, I'm sure it was 102," Lex countered.
"Who cares?" Clark interrupted frantically. "How did they get out?"
"Oh," Lex said. "Well, it was kind of complicated. There was a quantum mirror and a time traveler from the distant past, and--"
"Do either of you have an idea that will actually work in this reality?" Clark said, trying not to sound angry.
"Issue 45?" Lex suggested.
Blandine shook her head. "Not unless you can engineer a stun-gun from the stapler and elastic bands in my desk drawer. Issue 88?"
"Only if one of them is deathly allergic to citrus. Issue 100?"
"That was a beautiful issue," Blandine murmured, and Lex nodded in happy agreement. Clark considered bashing their heads together and simply super-speeding to the rescue. "But that will never work, Lex. Unless Clark is hiding a tentacle we know nothing about." Blandine looked at Clark hopefully. "I don't suppose you've got a--"
"No," Clark responded in whispered horror. "And even if I did, there's no way I'd be--it'd be a--a private tentacle--okay, this conversation has officially become ridiculous. We have to do something. They're going to rob the bank! All the people in Smallville will lose their money."
"No, they won't," Lex amended. "The bank's assets are insured. The worst that will happen is these poor saps will go to jail when they're caught."
Clark looked over at Rusty's boyish face, delightedly checking the charges along the seams of the vault, safety goggles still in place. He looked at Clint's admiring gaze; the easy camaraderie of Jim and Bryan. Suddenly, he wished there was a way to end this without getting the police involved, without anyone having to go to jail.
"You know, if we could end this now without anyone getting hurt, I'm sure the sheriff would go easy on them," Blandine said softly, as if she could read Clark's mind.
Lex closed his eyes heavily, and Clark knew the head injury was taking its toll. Lex really needed to get home and get some rest. "Go to sleep, Lex," he murmured. "We'll figure it out."
"You know," Lex said, just before his eyes slid closed, "all we really need is a distraction."
Blandine eyed Clark carefully. "For example, a good distraction might be if someone could generate enough heat to set off the sensor underneath my cash register causing it to send an alarm to the fire department."
"Then what?" Clark asked, trying to sound casual although his heart was pounding in his chest.
"Well, I did pocket the handcuff key in my corset when I went to the washroom," Blandine whispered and waved her free hand at Clark. "And I'm somewhat handy with a whip." Clark's eyes glanced up to where a replica of Catwoman's whip was displayed prominently on the storeroom wall. This might actually work.
"Le monde besoin de heroes, Clark."
He took a deep breath and glared at the wall, focusing his heat vision on the area where the sensor was. Of course, lighting the wall on fire caused the sensor to go off immediately, but it was exactly the distraction they needed. Clark slipped his hands free and batted out the flames, while Blandine whirled, grabbed the whip off the wall, and had up-ended Clint and Rusty before the flames were out. Another quick flick of her wrist, and Bryan's arm was caught in the leather whip. Clark knocked him and Jim gently together and secured their hands with the handcuffs he and Blandine had been wearing just moments ago. In the distance, Clark could hear the faint sounds of the Smallville Fire Brigade readying for action.
Lex dozed lightly on the settee, and Clark sat down beside him, patting Lex's leg. They were safe.
After the fire department had arrived and made sure they were all right, and the sheriff had taken the men down to the station for questioning, Clark, Blandine and Lex stood in the comic book store and considered their lucky escape.
"So there was a faulty circuit in the wall," Lex said, still mystified that he'd woken up to find himself no longer a hostage. "And it just caught on fire?"
"Oui, bien sur," Blandine said without glancing at Clark.
"Yeah, it was pure luck," Clark added.
"Well, unfortunately, one item was damaged in the fire." Blandine pulled out the cardboard box she'd shown Clark earlier in the afternoon. The box that held Lex's Christmas present. He cradled it in his hands, black ash flaking off on his skin.
"Oh, no," Clark murmured.
'What's that?" Lex asked.
"It was supposed to be your Christmas present." Clark opened the lid gingerly, not quite daring to look. Lex smiled up at him and reached into the box, pulling out the two figures. Warrior Angel's costume was scorched and there was a slight indentation to the crown of his bald head. Devillicus had fared slightly worse, the heat melting the figure slightly, so that Devillicus's head was now pressed against Warrior Angel's in what could only be called a blistering kiss. Their mouths fused together for all eternity.
Lex stared at it for a moment, then looked at Clark with a wide, welcoming smile.
"It's perfect, Clark. Absolutely perfect."
When Lex reached up to kiss him, Clark thought he heard the sound of a French woman laughing.
Omniscient Narrator's Epilogue
Lex, Blandine and Clark all spoke at the hearing for the four bank robbers, and in light of their positive testimonies, the four men were given suspended sentences. Jim and Bryan returned to their jobs at the bank, volunteering 200 hours of their time to train new employees in security measures. Rusty took a safe-cracking course and joined the Smallville Sheriff's Department as the newest--and only--member of the Smallville bomb squad. Clint still works part-time at Blandine's comic book store and is working on a graphic novel about a seventeenth-century French witch. He is coincidentally dating Lana Lang, who is still not allowed in the store when Blandine is there.
With a contribution from Lex Luthor, Blandine renovated Geeks and Dolls and expanded the business to include a line of teddy bears wearing super-hero costumes. When Clark finally became Superman, Blandine was granted the merchandising rights. She lives in Smallville, but travels to France whenever the urge for decent cheese strikes her.
Lex and Clark lived happily ever after without the need for secrets or lies or convenient head trauma. Clark finally found out why Lex was snickering at the Batman comic books and Bruce refused to help Clark with his wardrobe; consequently, Dick helped Clark with costume design, and the rest is history.
Convenient Head Trauma continues to thrive wherever there is villainy and injustice. He is happily living off the revenues from a syndicated television show based on Clark's youth in Smallville.
ma petite fouine - my little weasel
"Excusez-moi. Je suis vraiment dsole" - Excuse me! I'm truly sorry.
"Allons, Lex. Vous devriez savoir que mes autres activits ne s'tendent pas aux mineurs". - Come on, Lex. You know my sideline business doesn't extend to minors/jailbait!
"Ah, mais il a dix-sept ans. C'est parfaitement lgal. Au moins pour l'une d'entre nous." - Ah, but he's 17. Perfectly legal. At least for one of us.
"Mais, oui. Je comprends." - Ah yes, I understand. "Mais 'A coeur valiant rien d'impossible'." - But for the valiant heart nothing is impossible. Le monde besoin de heroes, Clark. - The world needs its heroes, Clark.