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A Very Noble Christmas [IC]


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"Merry Christmas, mom."

Christmas is for kids. That's what Carla Noble, Clark's mother, often said. What she'd meant, though, was that all the lights and presents were for the kids. The adults tended to value spending time with family much more... and though the Noble family was small, Clark was right here every year at his mother's place in Ashton. Despite being in her upper 60s, Clark's mother was a sharp-witted woman, surprisingly active and insisted on cooking every year as if she was feeding an army. This year, at least, she had help--his sister Regina, and his sister-in-law, Charlotte.

He leaned down to kiss his mother on the forehead while she sat in her chair, barely able to get that out before his nephew jumped on his back. "Ah! No attacking the old guy!"

"Merry Christmas, Uncle Clark!"

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"Merry Christmas to you too, rugrat." Clark backed up to his mother's laughter as he proceeded to tie his nephew in knots, wrestling the 14-year old to the floor. It was never a good idea to assault someone who coached multiple high school sports, including wrestling. Every year, Casey tried it, and every year he lost. This year, he noticed that the teenager was a whole lot stronger; for a brief moment, he actually had to get serious before sitting on his back.

"You've been practicing." Clark chuckled and let his nephew up, who gave him a playful shove.

"Yep. And I start at FDR next year, too, so..."

"Is that right? You trying out for anything?"

"You know how much I hate contact sports," a voice called from the kitchen. Charlotte stood there shaking her head, and Casey's face fell. "Pick ONE and we'll see."

Clark gave his nephew a light shove back. "Well, you heard your mother. Whatever you decide, let me know, hm?"

"Alright, alright..." Casey huffed and brushed himself off, jabbing his uncle in the ribs with an elbow before escaping Clark's reach, headed into the upstairs bedrooms. Charlotte and his nieces and nephew had all been living with his mother, at his mother's insistence. Given their situation with his brother, it was likely the safest thing. Carla had no qualms about grabbing a shotgun and shooting some mobbed-up idiot trying to break in looking for Ben over his gambling debts.

"Merry Christmas, Charlotte." Charlotte's expression was rather deadpan as Clark flashed as charming a smile as he could manage.

"...you too, musclehead."

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"...you still call me 'musclehead'. How cute." Clark sighed, patting his mother on the shoulder--who found the entire scene all sorts of amusing. He followed Charlotte intot he kitchen, taking in the wonderful smells before taking a look around. "Wasn't Gina in here with you?"

"She got a phone call, stepped outside. Sounded like one of those 'official World Health Organization' things. And why are you encouraging my son to be a brainless musclehead like you?"

"H-hey!" Clark clutched at his chest in mock offense. "I'll have you know I worked damn hard to refine my level of muscleheadedness. It's practically a national treasure at this point."

"Oh, shut up." Charlotte finally cracked a smile, pulling open the oven for a moment and checking on its contents before closing it again. "I just worry about him. I think he might've gotten in his head that he's going to fight all those thugs that used to call and ask about Ben all the time..."

"Really?" Clark rubbed at the back of his neck, smiling nervously. "Can't imagine where he'd get an idea like that..."

"Probably those comic books you keep buying him. And all the heroes in the city... It's not exactly a career path, you know?"

Better than you think... Clark nodded. "He's a good kid though, and his grades have always been good, right? With enough training, he could get a scholarship anywhere in the country, academic OR athletic. He'll be fine."

"Hm. Maybe... I don't think he realizes that I've heard some of the songs he writes when he's bored..."

There was a long, awkward pause, and a question that Clark knew he had to ask. "So... have you seen Ben?"

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Benjamin Noble was a touchy subject among the Noble family. He and Clark were identical twins, but they couldn't have been more different. Ben had developed a crippling gambling addiction, among other things, and he owed a lot of important underworld figures a lot of money. They were always on the look out for 'Lucky Ben', who was as far from it as one could come. Clark refused outright to feel sorry for him; after their last face-to-face encounter, Clark punched him in the face for having the gall to blame all his problems on their father's disappearance during the evacuations during the Terminus invasion.

Clark knew better. It was the Crusader himself who put them all out of harm's way before going back in to fight the Omegadrones. Take care of your family, kid. Those weren't the words of some random caped hero as Ben thought--Clark had known the truth about his father for a long, long time.

"He's... actually doing better." Charlotte's voice jolted Clark back into the present. "I went to see him this morning at a rehab center in Midtown."

"Rehab again, huh?" Clark didn't bother hiding the skepticism in his voice, despite his sister-in-law's disapproving stare.

"Clark, don't be like that. He really is sticking with it this time. For God's sake, he IS still your brother. It's not his fault; he's not like you."

"What's that supposed to mean? Oh wait. 'Musclehead'. Right." Clark couldn't help but frown, brow furrowed at the implication that he'd left his brother twisting in the wind. In a way, though, it was true that he had. Crusader, however, had pulled Benjamin Noble out of dozens of fires, often when he wasn't even aware that he was being burned. As much trouble as Ben was to Clark sometimes, Ben was alive largely because of Crusader's influence... not that he could tell her that.

"No no, I mean... He's been running from something. Ever since we met, I've always felt like that. Maybe he's finally ready to face it, but you... You've never been that way. I think he envies you. You two really should talk more. And maybe you shouldn't break his nose when you do."

Clark didn't have a witty response for that one. He couldn't even look her in the eye for a minute after that. Something did catch his eye, though, and he looked up to see Regina, his younger sister, standing at the back door. "I'm... not interrupting am I?"

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  • 5 weeks later...

Dinner was relatively normal, masterfully masking the tension that Clark's discussion with Charlotte had created. Ben's absence was still on Clark's mind, and he felt a little guilty for outright assuming that his brother was up to no good again. He still wasn't completely prepared to believe that Ben hadn't deceived Charlotte too--after all, it was his third trip to a rehabilitation center. Still, it was the first time it seemed to be voluntary...

After dinner, Clark offered to clean up, though Charlotte insisted that he relax instead. Exiled to the front stoop, Clark pondered simply heading home, staring absently out into the street on which he'd spent so much of his childhood.

"...he really is trying you know."

By now, Clark had become used to Regina sneaking up on him. She had a knack for doing it, though he couldn't help but wonder where she'd learned to be so sneaky from. He merely shrugged in response, prompting a somewhat sour look from his younger, globetrotting sister.

"You're not fooling anybody, y'know. You can't give up on him anymore than Charlotte can."

Clark grunted. "...what am I supposed to say? I mean... damn, Gina. The drugs. The gambling. The LIES. You know he tried to use my social security number once to get a credit card to cover his debts?"

"Yeah... mom mentioned that a while back. Wasn't that was like ten years ago?"

"I should've just had him hauled off for identity theft back then."

"But you didn't. And we both know why."

"...too much of a hassle."

"Sure, okay. Let's go with that." Regina patted Clark on the back. "You really should go and see him."

"Why? I wouldn't even know what to say to him."

Regina chuckled, turning to head back into the house. "That's funny; he said the same thing about you."

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