By C. Leuch <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted October 2000
Summary: When she finally meets her son CJ's girlfriend, Lois takes an instant liking to Jenny, most likely because she has Lois's nose for journalism — and trouble. The two women soon find themselves in over their heads in a local university scandal, and with his dad and brother tending to superhero duties out of the country, it's up to CJ to save his mom and girlfriend. The third story in the author's "Dawn of Discovery" series.
Notes: References to university policies and state laws are all taken from Iowa State University policy and the Iowa Code (I'm sure other states and state universities are similar).
Thanks to Marnie for offering inspiration. The usual disclaimers apply.
This story is part of the author’s “Dawn of Discovery” series, which includes “The Dawn of Discovery,” “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” “Professional Loyalties,” “Personal Loyalties,” “It Runs in the Family,” “I'll Be You For Christmas,” “Meet Sam Wayne,” and “Gotham Nights.”
The rapidly setting sun cast a reddish hue in the sky, outlining the Metropolis skyscrapers and casting long shadows throughout the city. The lights in the office buildings were beginning to turn on and the hot August air was beginning to cool off, making it almost bearable to be outside. Fireflies and mosquitoes danced in the open areas of the city, much to the annoyance of those out trying to enjoy the night. The smell of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs hung in the air, barely covering some of the more unpleasant smells that wafted up from the darker recesses of the city. The supper hour brought chatty patrons to the outdoor patios and bistros of the city, giving the town a certain amount of vibrancy. It was just another summer evening in Metropolis.
Jenny Sears smiled as she drove her Honda toward the Metropolis University campus. She missed Metropolis. Gotham in the summer just wasn't the same — it seemed darker, somehow, and less alive. There the nasty, dark odors covered the pleasant summer smells, the skyline seemed more contorted and gnarled, and the vibrancy was replaced with a general gloominess. Even on the nicest evenings there, people tended to stay inside and kept to themselves. Jenny couldn't imagine living there all the time — her 3 months had been more than enough for her tastes.
Of course, she reminded herself, it wasn't the town of Metropolis she missed so much as the people in it. She could make out a red blur in the distant sky as she pulled her car into the parking lot of an average-looking apartment building on the outskirts of campustown. She had grown so used to seeing colorful blurs in the sky and hearing random sonic booms in the two years that she had been a student in Metropolis. She had also taken for granted what it was that Superman did on a daily basis, a fact that was made very clear to her when she helped to cover disasters in Gotham. Superman saved people, he put out fires, he caught criminals, and he stopped explosions. In short, he gave the city hope, which could be part of the reason that Metropolis had that spark that Gotham just didn't have.
Jenny thought about her own personal super man while she put the car in park and turned it off. She grabbed her bag out of the passenger seat as she got out. Clark Kent, Jr. had made Gotham City a very lively place for her in the two months that she had shared with him there. She figured that maybe she had thought Gotham was so dark because he hadn't been there for the last three weeks. It was like torture for her. Her phone had never gotten so much of a workout as it did then. Even though she could talk to him, what she wanted more than anything was to feel his touch, to taste his sweet lips, and to gaze into that gorgeous face. She had to stop herself from running through the apartment building, knowing that he was only a couple of floors away from her now.
She took the steps two at a time. As she reached his hallway, her eyes locked immediately on his door. She had never been there before in her life, but she had run through this moment in her head hundreds of times. She had also run through many different ways of approaching him; from the casual (hello and a handshake), to the kinky (wearing a jacket up to his apartment and taking it off when he opened the door, revealing a suggestively slinky outfit), to the romantic (wearing her best evening gown up and bringing candles and roses). In the end she decided on the subtle approach.
The wait for him to answer the door (all five seconds) seemed like an eternity, but she kept herself patient by thinking of the reward that lay on the other side. Finally the door opened, and there he stood, in jean shorts and a Metropolis University T-shirt, sporting a new goatee; he was looking decidedly casual, but to her he had never looked better. Putting her carefully thought-out plan in action, Jenny dropped her bag and flung herself at him, wrapping her arms around him and planting hungry kisses on his mouth. Her actions were returned in kind with equal intensity. They made their way inside the living room, entwined, seeking each other out.
CJ got his mouth free long enough to get a comment out. "Jenny! Won't you come in!" A mischievous grin spread across his face and a twinkle appeared in his eyes.
Jenny was a bit annoyed at being interrupted, but she played along. He wouldn't be CJ without that sense of humor — it was one of the many things she loved about him. "Don't mind if I do," she said, and then sought out his mouth again. They ended up on the couch, Jenny in CJ's lap, enjoying each other's taste, oblivious to anything else going on.
Finally, CJ pulled away. Jenny laid her head on his shoulder and sighed contentedly. "I missed you so much," she muttered, her eyes closed. She seemed drained, like their little outburst had sapped her of all her energy.
CJ brushed a strand of her long, brown hair out of her face. "I missed you, too." Her eyes fluttered open at his touch. "Tired?" CJ asked her.
"No," she said as she looked into his eyes. "Just content."
CJ kissed her cheek gently. "Me, too."
The timer in the kitchen interrupted their reverie. For the first time, Jenny noticed that she could smell something cooking, and it smelled GOOD. She snapped her head up and looked toward the kitchen.
"That would be supper," CJ said, following her gaze. "I should probably get it out of the oven before it gets overdone."
Jenny knew that would mean that she would have to leave his lap. "I suppose…"
"Here," he said as he stood up with her in his arms. He gently set her on the ground next to him. "You can come help me get things ready."
CJ walked to the kitchen, detouring to close the door that still stood open. Jenny took a moment to appraise his apartment. The building itself was one of the older ones around, although the apartment seemed to be in good condition. The walls looked like they had been recently painted, the hardwood floors were in good shape, and, she noted as she walked into the kitchen, the appliances were all fairly new. It was maintained much better than most bachelor pads that she had been to — she didn't know what it was, but so many men just didn't seemed to care that the dishes were dirty or that there was garbage lying everywhere. CJ obviously did, though.
Jenny took a quick peek in the oven to see what was sending the tantalizing smells out into the apartment. Lasagna — Italian, just like their first date. CJ pointed out where the plates and glasses and silverware were kept before taking the lasagna out of the oven. Jenny was grabbing the plates while he did this, and she noticed that he wasn't using any potholders, just his bare hands. She shook her head. "I'll never get used to that."
CJ just smiled. "Don't try this at home."
Jenny briefly wondered what would happen if she tried to cook in this kitchen — she doubted if CJ even owned a potholder. The stove was gas operated — he probably didn't even keep matches around to use in case the pilot light went out.
The lasagna smelled twice as good out of the oven as it did in it, making her mouth water as she set the table. She had skipped lunch entirely in her rush to get back to Metropolis. And she knew how good of a cook CJ was — he had cooked for her a couple of times in Gotham, and everything he made had been a masterpiece. She had commented once that she looked forward to eating at his parent's house because if he were this good of a cook, certainly so was his mother. CJ had just laughed, saying that NOBODY ever willingly ate Lois Lane's cooking, and that it was his dad that he got the skill from.
While Jenny placed the silverware, CJ tossed a salad. He was still working on the salad when she finished, so she took the opportunity to sit back and watch him for a while. She had to admit, that was one her favorite hobbies. Her eyes moved from his bare feet upwards, finally resting on his face. She wasn't sure how much she liked the new goatee — he had mentioned to her that since the whole superhero thing was over for a while, he was going to experiment a little. Goatees were popular with a lot of guys right now, and his looked a lot better than a lot of men's, she had to admit. He was also growing his hair out a little longer. It now was long enough to lie down on his head, and she could see now it's natural waviness. He really did have great hair — she didn't know why he kept it so short usually.
"I like your new look," she said in his direction.
He looked over his shoulder and smiled at her. "Thank you. The whole rest of the world could tell me it looked great, but if you didn't like it, I would be in the bathroom in two seconds to change it back."
Jenny thought again how lucky she was to have a man that made her feel so special. She was sure the feeling showed through on her face, because an amused smile appeared on CJ's lips. He brought the salad over to the table and gave her a quick peck on the lips on the way. Next he made his way over to the refrigerator to grab some drinks, then brought them over to the table and sat down.
As they ate, they caught each other up on everything that happened to them since their two-hour phone call the previous night. They also went over their plans for after supper. Sure, Jenny would've loved to have spent the night strolling with him hand-in-hand through central campus or along the ocean front, or maybe going out with him to a movie. But both their busy schedules left hardly any room open for such pleasantries. No, Jenny needed to move her things into her apartment, and CJ was going to help.
Jenny envied CJ in his living arrangements. When he had arrived at college, his brother had an apartment that he could share, so he moved in and probably wouldn't move out again until he graduated. Moving was one of those things that Jenny hated most in the world — everything would have to be taken from its familiar places and boxed up, sometimes never to return again. She invariably lost things into a vast black hole when she moved — sometimes her former roommates ended up with them, sometimes they just got left behind. Moving into a new place always meant about a week of chaos while everything got settled down and put away and while she got used to her new roommate.
Jenny didn't have a whole lot of female friends at Metropolis University — most of her friends were guys. And while she really didn't have any moral objections to sharing an apartment with a guy, she felt much more comfortable with a girl. So she put out an ad to find a roommate, and she thought she did pretty well. Her new roomie appeared normal enough, she seemed to have similar sleeping hours and habits — Jenny was sure it would work out fine.
After cleaning up their supper, Jenny and CJ stopped at her new apartment before moving anything in order to get the key. Her new roommate had been there since the beginning of August, so Jenny was sure she had made herself comfortable. CJ went with her into the building in case she needed to move anything around before bringing her stuff in. She had to admit that he was very handy to have around when there was any physical labor to be done. She had seen CJ lift a whole car by himself with ease (she was sure he had been showing off for her at the time), so she figured he would have no problems with her chest of drawers or her mattress.
Jenny knocked on the door and waited for it to be answered. CJ stood behind her, his arms around her waist. They heard quite a bit of shuffling around before the door was finally answered. Her roommate Susan stood there dressed to the nines, with her purse in her hand.
"Jenny, hi! I've been waiting for you. Here's your key. I'm going out to the bars now," she said quickly, practically hurtling out the door. She was almost around them before she registered CJ's presence. She stopped dead in her tracks and looked at him in an appraising way. "Hel-LO! I'm Susan," she said as she held out her hand toward him.
He had to remove his arm from Jenny's waist to shake her hand. "Clark," he said as he shook it.
"VERY pleased to meet you," Susan replied, a flirtatious grin on her lips. "I'm sure I will be seeing more of you later."
CJ smiled politely, feeling very nervous all of a sudden. "I'm sure."
"Well, until then…" Susan gave a little wave and started down the hallway, sauntering in a seductive way. When CJ turned his attention back to Jenny, he could see her staring after her new roommate with a very dark look on her face. If looks could kill, Susan would probably be dead on the floor right there. CJ replaced his arm on Jenny's waist and pulled her in closer to him, kissing her neck. That seemed to soften her mood considerably.
"Can you BELIEVE her?" she asked, making a move to go through the door. CJ dropped his arms and followed her.
"I get that a lot," he said. He used to love it when the women reacted to him in that manner, but anymore he found it tedious. Jenny shot an annoyed look back at him. He decided that a little lightening of the mood was needed. "If you want, I can wear a sign around my neck that says 'look but don't touch.'"
That brought a smile to her lips. "Who said they could look?" she asked with a hint of seriousness in her voice. CJ just arched his eyebrows and smiled. He was about to make a further comment when he noticed that Jenny had abruptly stopped.
"Holy cow…" she said softly, a stunned expression on her face. CJ followed her gaze into the living room and could suddenly see what she was reacting to. After overcoming his initial shock he began to laugh.
One whole wall of the living room had been made into a Superman shrine of sorts. Magazine pictures, posters, and photographs hung on the wall above a bookcase that was filled with Superman comics, novels, and a scrapbook. Figurines and toys sat on top of the bookcase and on a table next to it. The subject of most of the pictures and toys was the original Superman, although the new Superman certainly had his share of wall space, too. CJ moved further into the apartment to get a better look. One poster in particular caught his eye: it had the original Superman in the foreground, standing at an angle facing in toward the center of the poster with his hands on his hips and a commanding expression on his face. The Crimson Superman stood further in the background, an identical expression on his face, also standing angled toward the center of the poster, his arms crossed across his chest. At the bottom it said, "Super powered" in large letters, with the S fashioned after the S-shield on Superman's uniform. CJ walked over in front of the poster and faced Jenny, mimicking his father's stance and expression.
"What do you think?" he asked. Jenny turned white, not the response CJ was looking for.
"I think we had better be very careful," Jenny responded. She approached the wall and began to leaf through the things in the bookcase.
"Yeah, we better not make out on the couch. Talk about feeling like your folks are looking over your shoulder…" CJ changed back to a more casual stance and stuck his thumb out toward the pictures on the wall.
Jenny found that a smile had formed on her face in spite of herself. She glanced back at him quickly before bringing her attention back to the bookcase. "Seriously, doesn't all this bother you?"
"Well…" he said, pausing to think. There was a time when stuff like this did bother him a lot. Before he had found out about his dad, CJ had been a Superman fan, or at least he was to a certain extent. His parents hadn't encouraged him or discouraged him — they really didn't talk about Superman at home much at all. After he found out, it was hard going to school and seeing kids with Superman notebooks, backpacks and posters in their lockers. Sure, Superman was a symbol of goodness and decency, but he was also CJ's dad, and CJ knew he wasn't really the symbol of perfection that everyone thought he was. Of course, his father took it all in stride. He made jokes about some of the more outrageous things that were put out with his image on it — Superman underwear, for example. "I don't know whether to be honored or insulted," he'd said, after receiving a pack as a gag gift from Lois. Handling celebrity was just something that took some getting used to. Besides, it wasn't Clark Kent that people were idolizing, it was Superman. CJ was grateful to his father all over again for being so diligent in keeping his secret hidden. He couldn't image what it could've been like if people knew who his dad really was — they would've been mobbed everywhere they went, their actions would've been followed, and there would've been absolutely no chance for CJ or Jon or Laura to live any type of normal life. So given how bad it could be, he really didn't mind the attention that Superman got now.
Jenny had stopped rooting through the bookshelf and was now looking curiously at her suddenly introspective boyfriend. Once he pulled himself out of his reverie, he caught her gaze and smiled self consciously. "No, it doesn't bother me anymore. The way I see it, that's not me up there, and really, it's not my dad or Jon either. It's just their after hours, made-up personas. Also, of all the people to idolize, I guess I feel better having people look to Superman — at least he stands for something. So many people revere sports heroes, and for what? They can dunk a basketball or hit a home run or run fast. But so many of those guys have questionable morals — they aren't the types of people that others should be looking up to." CJ shrugged. "That answer your question?"
Jenny hadn't expected such an elaborate response to her question. She abandoned the bookcase and went over to put her arm around his waist. They looked at the gaudy scene together for a few moments in silence. CJ's family situation constantly amazed her and kept her on her toes. They had met in Gotham City, where the local hero was not exactly revered, and he certainly wasn't publicized much — there were no Batman lunchboxes and hats and T-shirts. The people in Gotham didn't go crazy over Superman, either — he barely stepped foot in their city. As she looked at the pictures, she tried to see the Supermen as others did, tried to imagine what other people thought about their heroes.
Jenny didn't grow up in Metropolis; she grew in Missouri, the heart of the Midwest. Nothing bad ever really happened in her part of the country — there was never any occasion for Superman to visit. They had heard about him there, but they didn't think much about him. When she had moved to Metropolis to go to college, the Superman worship that went on had shocked her. Metropolis natives all seemed to have a Superman mindset, a way of thinking about him and a confidence in their safety that Jenny never understood. So many people here thought of Superman as some God that floated down from some mythical place on high to help people whenever they needed him. From the beginning Jenny had just seen him as a man — it wasn't as if he spent all of his time helping people, and it wasn't as if bad things didn't still happen in Metropolis. And she now knew for certain that the Supermen were just men — imperfect and far from being gods. She didn't know why more people didn't see that, but she felt it was fortunate for the Kent family that the myth persisted.
Jenny looked at CJ, her expression soft. "Yeah, that about does it. But it does make me nervous to have all this stuff up and you coming over here all the time. If Susan worships Superman this much, what if she notices your resemblance?"
CJ had to admit that she had a point. "It's never been a problem before…" he said.
Jenny took a good look at CJ, then looked back at the pictures on the wall. He really didn't look that much like his father or Jon. She suspected that he took after Lois, although she had never met her. Jenny was looking forward to meeting her journalistic idol — they were going to eat supper with CJ's parents this Sunday. Her mind slipped back to the task at hand — CJ's face. "Now that I think about it, with that goatee, I bet it won't be a problem now, either."
CJ ran his hand over his chin. "I knew this was a good idea," he said with a light tone in his voice.
"I'm liking it more all the time," she said just before she reached up to give him a quick kiss. After disengaging, they turned their attention to the rest of the apartment. Jenny's room was untouched — moving furniture in would be no problem. CJ had to move a couple of things around in the living room to make room for her couch and end tables. That being done, they left in the truck that CJ borrowed from a friend on the football team and headed for Jenny's grandmother's house, where she had stored her things over the summer.
CJ gladly did all of the heavy lifting for her. Since her grandmother wasn't home, they didn't have to worry about anybody seeing him use his extraordinary strength and getting suspicious. He singlehandedly hefted her sofa and solid wood furniture into the truck. She did her part and hauled some of the lighter boxes, although she left the heavier ones for CJ. Some of the ones with textbooks in them that she couldn't even lift, he was able to stack up and carry with one arm. Working non-stop, they were able to load everything in under an hour.
It took quite a bit longer to move in, mostly because they both needed to help with the furniture, for appearances sake. "I'll do all the work, you just have to make it look like you're supporting your end, okay?" CJ had told her, so she clasped her hand on a corner and walked along, not really doing any work, but acting as if she were. They didn't have to use the same deception on the heavy boxes, since nobody knew what they contained. It was 11 PM by the time that they got everything out of the truck, late for the normal world, but early by college standards. CJ helped her put together her bed before they took a break. They sat on the floor of her room, leaning against the wall, surveying the piles of boxes that awaited her attention.
Jenny sighed as she took in the mess. "When am I going to find time to put all this away?"
CJ chucked and laid his hand on her knee. "I know somebody who can do it for you extra fast."
Jenny looked over at him knowingly. "I think he'll take one look in the living room and run away."
CJ shrugged. "Don't say I didn't suggest it. I'm sure Jon would be more than happy to help you out if you wanted him to."
"No, I don't want to impose. Besides, it's YOU that I want to be spending my time with right now." With that, she kissed him tenderly. He pulled away abruptly after a few seconds and kissed her neck, whispering in her ear as he did.
"Your roommate is coming." He kissed her on the neck again.
She threw her head back. "You heard her in the hallway?"
"Mmm-hmm." He trailed the kisses down to her shoulder.
"She seemed so hot for you earlier." Jenny snapped her head back up. "Let's give her something to talk about." She cradled her hand around CJ's cheek and brought his lips back to her mouth. She turned sideways and wrapped her arms around him tightly. The lock clicked and her roommate opened the door and walked through. Susan's purse hit the floor and she walked toward the bedroom, stopping outside Jenny's door. Susan let out a small gasp, watched for a moment, then continued quickly on to her own room, shutting the door behind her. Jenny and CJ pulled apart after a few more seconds, each grinning impishly.
"I think she was properly scandalized," CJ whispered.
Jenny giggled. "Oh yeah." Her eyes couldn't help but once again take in the boxes stacked around the room. "I really don't want to have to wake up in the morning and face this mess." She looked CJ in the eyes in smiled. "Maybe tonight, I could spend the night at your place." Her finger traced the muscles in his arms as she leaned over, her lips barely an inch from his ear. "Maybe we can finish what we started here tonight."
Jenny wasn't too surprised when CJ popped up to a standing position, offering his hand to her. "What are we waiting for?"
She accepted his hand and pulled herself up. Hand in hand, they walked out of the bedroom and to the door. As CJ laid his hand upon the doorknob he cocked his head and looked at her. "You do know that I have practice in the morning at 8-o-clock sharp?"
Jenny just smiled. "I know. And I don't care if you don't."
"Sleep is highly overrated, anyway," he said as he opened the door for her.
The brief trip back to CJ's apartment afforded Jenny the opportunity to think about their last night together. It was the last day of July, and what a day it had been. The humidity had been so thick, you could practically cut the air with a knife. The bright sun had beat down and bounced around in the great concrete jungle that was Gotham City, magnifying the heat and baking the residents. But the heat wasn't the big story of the day; no, the big story was the murder of the mayor's wife in cold blood as she ate her breakfast at her home. Even though it was CJ's last day in town, Bruce had kept him busy tracking down leads and doing research. Jenny had been kept busy surveying the crime scene and hanging out at the police station, all in an attempt to get a few more tidbits of information for the reporter she had been working under that week.
It had been a long, hard day of work for both of them, but the day was nothing compared to that night. Jenny knew that it would be the last time she would be able to see CJ until almost the end of August, and she wanted to make it special. Sure, she could've had Jon or the elder Clark fly one of them out to visit the other upon occasion, but that would've been unfair to them. And anyway, Jenny and CJ had always conducted their relationship as a normal couple — that's what they both wanted. The powers he possessed had nothing to do with how he felt about her, and although she certainly appreciated those powers in him, they weren't why she had fallen in love with him, either. It was his kindness, his intelligence, his humor, and his regard for her that made her love him (and, she had to admit, his stunning good looks helped, too).
That night she broiled steaks and they ate them together at her apartment, by candlelight. Soft music had played over the stereo, music that they danced to after supper. They held each other tight as they swayed back and forth, neither of them particularly knowledgeable of how they were supposed to be dancing, but each content to just be in each other's arms. As the candles burnt down, Jenny drew him into the bedroom. She sat him on the bed, stood up, and pulled off her dress as he watched, his eyes never leaving her body. She offered herself to him that night for the first time. She'd never imagined that making love to anybody could be as gratifying as it was with him — he was so patient, so responsive, so utterly wonderful. Neither of them slept at all that night, instead opting to explore each other thoroughly and fulfill each other repeatedly.
She had only let him leave her arms the next morning after he promised to call her every night, if only for a few minutes. Her body had ached for him ever since, although the ache had dulled somewhat with time. It had all come back to her as she had approached Metropolis today, though. Right now it was all she could do to keep herself from jumping him right there in the truck, with the nice, wide flatbed…
Jenny shook her head and looked over at CJ. He caught her gaze and smiled back. He, too, had vivid memories of his last night in Gotham. Even after all that Bruce had put him through and all the crime he had seen there, his memories of Gotham would always be pleasant thanks to that night, and the woman sitting next to him. He couldn't imagine what the last few weeks had been like for her — at least he had Jon and his folks here to keep him company and keep his mind off of her. She was all alone out there. Sure, she had made due on her own quite well before he came around, but it was different when you knew there was someone out there waiting for you, wanting you. A couple of times it had taken all of CJ's willpower not to beg Jon to fly him out to Gotham for a few hours, but they had agreed that they wouldn't do that.
As CJ parked the truck in the lot next to Jenny's car, he glanced again at her. Her eyes were looking longingly toward his apartment. CJ never wished he had superspeed so much in his life — he wanted to pick her up in his arms and whisk her up to the bedroom all at once. He sighed. They just had to make due like mere mortals. They walked hand in hand up to his apartment, heading straight for the bedroom once they got in. CJ snagged some candles out of a drawer and quickly lit them with his laser vision. The big double bed beckoned them in and Albert Einstein grinned at them from the wall, his tongue stuck out, giving Jenny suggestive thoughts all of a sudden. That night they made love tenderly until the candles burned themselves out. CJ had to go to football practice early, and Jenny had band rehearsal in the afternoon, but that was lost for the time being. They forgot about all their responsibilities and inhibitions, and just enjoyed being in love.
Sunday arrived too quickly, signaling the last day of freedom. Jenny always loved those few days before classes started — all the college kids coming back to campus lent a general sense of festiveness that always seemed to abruptly end as soon as that first class started on Monday. In the past she had gladly participated in the fun, attending parties around campustown at night and hanging out with old friends during the day. This year was different though — Jon had somehow managed to talk her into joining the marching band, and now, after four full days of rehearsal, she was silently cursing him. She had never realized how much work it was — surely it hadn't been this bad in high school, had it? Six hours per day were spent outside and three hours were spent inside, at first learning all the marching details — high step, low step, flips, horn carriage, commands. Later they learned drill and music, and now, the day before school started, they were able to march the entire pregame show (even if it didn't look very good yet). She remembered her high school band days when they spent the entire semester working on one show. Here, they did a new show every game — her head spun just thinking about it.
The endless rehearsals had left her exhausted at night. Her limited free time was spent trying to put her apartment in some semblance of order. CJ came over at night to help, of course — she knew his football practices had to be much more exhausting that her rehearsals, but he seemed to be a boundless fountain of energy. It must be nice having that super-energy, she thought, not for the first time. Last night, the band had its first big party, and she decided to attend. She gave Jon a call and asked him if he wanted to go with — he was a member for four years, and she knew he still had friends in the band. He was never big on parties in and of themselves, but he couldn't pass up the chance to chat with old friends. So they went together, sans CJ, and had a great, entirely sober time. Jon escorted her around, introducing her to all of his friends and filling her in on the traditions. She never realized what a close-knit bunch of people the band was. But considering how much time they spent together on a daily basis, she figured that was no big surprise.
CJ spent the night of the band party hanging out with his football buddies, who were very vocal in making sure he knew how little time he spent with them anymore. They made jokes about how he was "whipped" and how surprised they were that the little woman had let him out of the house. He just smiled and nodded, taking it in stride, silently wondering why he ever hung out with these guys. During those first few weeks of football practice before Jenny returned to Metropolis, he had purposely avoided them. Even when they did get together, he was always cutting out on them in order to make his nightly phone call to her. Truthfully, he had grown used to the openness that Jenny allowed him. She was always interested when he talked about academic issues — his football buddies just didn't want to hear about those kinds of things. She would keep up with him when he wanted to talk about sports, too. With Jenny, he could share matters that dealt with the family secret, things he couldn't share with anyone else outside the family. In short, with her he could be completely himself, and he liked that. CJ knew that even as recently as last year, he had truly enjoyed spending time with the guys — it was a chance to laugh, talk sports, and admire women. Now he just felt like a big phony in their presence, something that in reality he had always been when around them, but had just never bothered to acknowledge before.
Tonight he didn't have to worry about putting on a front — tonight he and Jenny were going to spend some time with the family. CJ leaned against the front of his old Taurus, parked in the parking lot across from the field that the band used for practice. He used his vision to zoom in on Jenny, thinking she looked perfectly lovely despite her worn appearance. All 300 band members were gathered together around a ladder, not too closely due to the heat. After a minute or so, they began to scatter, obviously done for the day. He heard her say his name softly, his cue to find her and take her home. She found him first, though, making out his form as he crossed the street in the late afternoon sun.
Jenny jogged over to meet him, her clarinet clutched in her right hand. She made a move to hug him, but he held up a hand to stop her.
"Hey, hold on a second," CJ said. He had cleaned up after football practice, and was now wearing khaki shorts, a nice T-shirt, and an open floral-printed button-up shirt. Jenny, on the other hand, was soaked with sweat after spending the entire day out in the hot sun. Her hair was pulled up in a ponytail that was beginning to loosen up, sending stray strands of brown hair across her face.
Jenny looked appraisingly at CJ, then at herself. She bent her head up and gingerly kissed him, careful not to touch him with any of the rest of her grungy body. "You're looking good," she said.
He smiled. "As always."
A devilish smile reached Jenny's lips all of a sudden. "Too good, as a matter of fact," she said and quickly reached up with her free hand and messed his hair. She then took off in a run for the car. CJ looked briefly surprised, then he just turned and looked at her retreating form. No matter what her state of mind or circumstances, she was always a playful girl underneath, and that seemed to come out every time they got together. CJ began to jog toward the car, unwilling to let the light mood pass him by. As he went, he pulled off first one shirt, then the other, stuffing them into the back of his shorts. His jog turned into a sprint once he was bare-chested, and he picked up a squealing Jenny in one quick movement, still going full bore. He stopped abruptly as he rounded the car and bent his head to give his captive a long, deep kiss.
"How's that?" he asked with mischief in his eyes.
"Yeah, now THAT'S what I was looking for," she said, wrapping her arms around his neck, her clarinet still in one hand.
"Good," he said, kissing her on the forehead quickly before setting her down. "Now, let's get cleaned up. I don't want to keep my mom and dad waiting."
"I guess that wouldn't be too great of a first impression to make," Jenny agreed.
They hopped into the car and made their way quickly to her apartment, CJ still shirtless. A quick scan told him that her roommate was home, which meant that she would be keeping him company while Jenny showered. He entered the apartment apprehensively, his eyes trying to avoid the shrine and its owner. Susan managed to flag him down right away, however, her eyes never leaving his broad shoulders and well-defined chest. He politely excused himself when Jenny brought him a washcloth, but once he had freshened up and put his now somewhat wrinkled shirts back on, he was at her mercy.
He sat himself down on the couch in the living room, nervously eyeing Susan, who was in the process of reading a new Superman comic book.
"Are you a Superman fan?" she asked him, glancing over the top of the comic.
"I, uh, yeah. I am," CJ said. He spied a newspaper sitting on the coffee table and reached for it, not really wanting to get drawn into this discussion.
"I thought so. You like my wall? I've been collecting this stuff since I was a kid." She put down the comic and looked proudly at her shrine.
"It's… very thorough," CJ said, finding the sports section and looking intently at it, hoping she would get the point.
She didn't. "I collect EVERYTHING Superman. I even wrote him a letter once." She popped up off the couch and quickly grabbed something out of the bookcase. "He sent me this back."
Susan held the object between CJ and his paper, forcing him to look at it. What he saw was the standard Superman publicity photo put out by the Foundation that was sent to everyone who sent Superman a letter. The signature CJ recognized as being in his father's "other" hand. Whenever his dad signed stuff as Superman, the normally right-handed superhero used his left hand, another measure of safety against anyone trying to discover his real identity.
CJ plastered on his phony smile and nodded, letting her know how impressed he was.
Susan, pleased by this response, continued on. "I want to write another letter, this time to the new Superman. He is just… yummy. I would love to get my hands on him." She placed the photo back where she got it from and gazed at the "Super powered" poster.
CJ let out a bit of a choking sound, which he tried to cover up by coughing. He thought to himself that she had probably passed the new Superman on campus several times and more than likely could've gotten her hands on him if she'd have shown any interest, given the pathetic state that Jon's love life was perpetually in.
Jenny gave him a puzzled look. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I think I just swallowed a gnat or something," CJ replied, cracking a nervous smile. Susan smiled, accepting the explanation without comment.
"Have you ever met them?" Jenny asked, looking dreamily at her poster again.
CJ wasn't sure what to say. If he said yes, she would probably never leave him alone. But on the other hand, he was never that great of a liar. "Yes?" he replied timidly.
Her head snapped away from the poster and immediately CJ had her undivided attention. She sat herself down cross-legged on the floor in front of him, and he shot a mental plea out to Jenny to save him. Salvation not immediately forthcoming, he folded the sports section and placed it in his lap, sighing.
"Where? When?" Susan asked him, her eyes wide. "I've been trying to see them forever but I can never seem to get there on time."
"It was the chemistry building explosion last March," CJ replied, which was honest enough. He had been there helping out in his own right, and had publicly interacted with the heroes there.
Susan pouted. "I can't BELIEVE I slept through that. So what were they like?"
CJ shrugged. "About like you'd expect." Even though he was a bad liar, he was well practiced at being vague. One didn't grow up in his family without learning how to speak in generalizations and skirt the truth.
His audience looked disappointed. "Weren't they…spectacular or heroic or…super?"
"You know, they flew around and rescued people and stuff."
Susan was beginning to look exasperated when CJ finally heard the bathroom door open. He shot out of the chair, muttering, "Excuse me," and made a beeline to Jenny's room. She seemed surprised to see him, but the expression on his face made it impossible for her to turn him away.
Jenny shut the door behind him and watched him flop down on the bed. "Let me guess: she was giving you the Superman business," Jenny said as she made her way over to the closet. She had spent a lot of time putting things away over the last few days, but a healthy number of boxes still littered the room and blocked her path. She skillfully dodged them along the way.
"Ugh, yes!" he replied.
Jenny glanced in his direction and smiled. "I got the same thing my first night here. It was like slow torture."
CJ rolled over onto his side and watched her select her outfit. "When she said how yummy she thought Jon was…" he said softly, so that his voice couldn't be heard through the walls.
"I know. Although I think the word she used with me was 'tasty.'"
They smiled at each other for a moment, then Jenny removed her bathrobe and began to dress. CJ gazed longingly at her naked body, wishing they had more time to indulge themselves. Before he knew it, her bathrobe was slung over his head.
"Not now, birdboy. We have to get going," she said. CJ breathed deeply before removing the robe from his head, taking in the smell of soap and herbal shampoo. The face that emerged from under the robe looked very devilish.
CJ sat up in bed and reached out for Jenny, who was in the process of putting on her blouse. She didn't protest when he pulled her in toward him, kissing her neck and cheek and, finally her lips.
"As much…ooh…as I'm enjoying this, I still have to…ah…dry my hair and do my make-up," she said through his kisses.
"I can get your hair dry in a matter of seconds," he said, unwilling to let her out of his arms.
She squinted her eyes for a second. "Oh yeah, I forgot." She popped up out of his lap with resolve, much to CJ's dismay. "Okay, go ahead then."
"Yes, dear." He stood up and approached her, a thoughtful look on his face. Jenny closed her eyes and felt heat surround her head — it was a very comfortable heat, very relaxing. Before she knew it, the heat was gone and her hair was dry. She opened his eyes and smiled appreciatively at him.
"You're pretty handy to have around," she said.
"I also do windows," he said, very deadpan.
Jenny arched her eyebrows at him. "I don't suppose you do a style with the drying?"
CJ's voice became higher and he suddenly developed a lisp. "Tsk. Oh honey, I can make your hair look FABULOUS!"
They laughed for a second before CJ continued in his normal voice. "Seriously, I'll leave it to the expert. This is NOT the hairstyle of a talented hairdresser," he said, pointing to his head. Jenny nodded in agreement. She knew he had to do his own hair, and she couldn't imagine what an experience that had to be. He had all sorts of mirrors stashed under his sink at home for that very purpose. She had to admit that he did do a pretty good job on his own hair, as far as that went.
Jenny laid a hand on his shoulder briefly before leaving to finish up in the bathroom. CJ sat back down on the bed until she was done, unwilling to go out and face Susan again.
Jenny didn't take very long to finish up, and before they knew it, they were out the door, headed for the Kent house.
Jenny really didn't know what she expected the suburban home of Superman to look like. When she pictured the home of a Superhero, she always had imagined a craggy fortress in an isolated spot, overlooking the city, much like Wayne Manor. On the other hand, she thought of the household that would turn out men like Jon and CJ, the house that stood in front of her would've been about what she would expect. The tan colored two-story house she saw in front of her didn't stand out from any others in the neighborhood, except for the tall trees that stood behind it. An average sedan sat in the driveway in front of a single car garage, which had its door open. She could see a grill sitting out on the back patio billowing smoke, a picnic table sitting behind it, unoccupied.
CJ and Jenny entered the house through the garage door. They could hear the sound of voices, briefly interrupted by laughter, coming from the living room. They made their way through the kitchen, past a bowl of potato salad and a boiling pot of beer and bratwurst, toward the voices. The first form that Jenny could make out was Clark Kent, wearing jeans and a polo shirt, standing behind the couch. As they got closer, she could see that the couch was occupied by two women, who sat with their backs to the approaching couple. Jenny instinctively fell a step or two behind CJ, feeling suddenly shy.
Clark caught sight of them quickly. Jenny had no doubt that he knew they were there before they even entered the house. "Hi stranger, you're just in time. I was about to throw the brats on the grill," Clark said to CJ.
The couple entered the living room, now the subject of everybody's attention. Jenny could now see Jon sitting in a chair further into the room. She could also make out the forms on the couch. One was a woman who resembled CJ very much — that must be Lois Lane, she figured. Lois had a few strands of gray in her dark hair and a few wrinkles on her face, but she still looked very attractive for as old as she must be. The other person on the couch was a teenage girl with jet black hair that trailed down her back to just below her shoulder blades. Her facial features were an interesting mix of her Lois and Clark's faces, although her darker skin tone was very much her father's. Jenny knew this had to be CJ's sister Laura.
"Well, I could never miss the ceremonial placing of the first bratwurst on the grill," CJ said with his easy humor. Noticing the interested stares from the women in the room, he decided to introduce his guest. "Ah, everybody, this is Jenny. Jenny, you've met Dad and Jon," he said, pointing to each person as he named them. Clark smiled and nodded in her direction, while Jon raised his eyebrows. "This is my mom and my sister Laura."
"Hello Jenny. So nice to finally meet you," Lois said cordially.
Jenny held up her hand in greeting, smiling nervously. She couldn't help but notice that despite the pleasant smile on Lois's face, her eyes seemed to be appraising her closely. CJ placed his hand on the small of her back, causing Jenny's anxiety to drain a bit. "We're going to go on the grand tour, but when we get back, you can all coax Jenny's life story out of her," CJ said, further diffusing the tension. Jenny blushed slightly, noticing a somewhat pointed look on CJ's face aimed at Lois.
"That sounds like a challenge," Jon said.
"I'm sure it will be easy for you, Mr. Big Shot Reporter," Jenny shot back at him, a teasing tone in her voice.
"Okay. Well, I'm off to man the grill. It should take about ten minutes," Clark said, laying both of his hands on Lois's shoulders. She looked up into his face and smiled warmly.
"I guess that means I should finish up in the kitchen," Lois said. Clark patted her shoulder and then took off. Lois followed him toward the kitchen, with Laura and Jon closely behind.
CJ guided Jenny through the house, showing her everything there was to see. Again, Jenny was struck by just how normal everything seemed. Family pictures hung on the walls, shoes and magazines sat in places that they probably shouldn't be, just like at her family home. Everything was clean, but in such a way that she suspected not a lot of time was spent on it — the floor seemed to have been vacuumed without moving the couch and the entertainment center seemed to have been dusted without moving any of the knick-knacks out if the way. It was just like the home of two busy, full-time reporters.
Jenny saw CJ's room, complete with the posters that the rooms of all teenage boys seemed to have — a few skinny women in swimsuits, a few pro wrestlers. His bookcase contained several sports trophies, all for team achievements rather than individual ones. Jenny also noticed some intricately put together airplane models and cars. Out of place among all the typical boy things was a periodic table of elements in poster form on the wall, and several scientific gadgets on his shelves — a crystal radio and a model of an atom, among others. The room seemed so typical of CJ in so many ways, she thought. She wondered what it would've been like if they had met as kids — would they have been play pals? Would they have done puzzles or built models together? She had always been the type turn up her nose at particularly "girlie" things — she bet they probably would've gotten along. But it was no use speculating, she thought as she wrapped her arm around his waist. They were here together now, and that's what counted.
Jenny took a peek inside of Jon's room — it was much tidier and didn't scream "teenage boy" like CJ's did. Instead of the wrestling and swimsuit posters, he had scenic photographs and Ansel Adams prints on the wall. Instead of sporting trophies, he had music trophies. She could make out some Matchbox cars and Lego creations around his room — remnants of a childhood past. Neither Jon nor CJ probably spent much time at home — it almost seemed as if their rooms were left unchanged for nostalgia's sake.
Since the door was open, Jenny also peeked inside the master bedroom, careful not to touch anything. She could see on the far wall a wedding photograph — almost too small to make out any features on it. CJ and Jon's high school senior pictures held special places on the wall, with a smaller framed picture of Laura set on the dresser. No Supersuits lay on the floor, and indeed no clues whatsoever about Clark Kent's other identity could be found in the room. As if reading her mind, CJ pointed out the walk-in closet and told her that's where the suits were kept. He also pointed out his mother's stash of everything about Superman that was ever published.
Next, CJ showed her to the study downstairs, a room that had a lot of personality. Bookshelves lined two walls of the room, containing books in several different languages. A desk stood against the third wall, with a laptop computer atop it. The desk was covered with folders and papers, arranged in neat piles. Next to the desk was a display case, containing several crystal-like awards that Jenny realized were Kerths. The case also had some valued possessions — antiques and foreign objects that obviously held some sentimental value to the Kents. On the walls were several Japanese prints and some carved wood items that appeared to be African. Jenny could almost see Clark sitting in the overstuffed desk chair, quietly reading a book away from the bustle of children outside the French doors.
With that the tour was complete, and it was nearly time to eat. Jenny wandered outside with CJ to check out how things were at the grill. Clark and Laura were sitting on the picnic table, looking up at the sky and pointing, completely ignoring the bratwurst. Clark held his glasses in his hand, revealing a face that Jenny found to be bewildering. Yes, she knew about his other identity, but seeing him as a he was now, a cross between the two, was just strange. A thought popped into Jenny's head, and she looked around the yard, making note of the tall wooden fence that made it impossible for any of the neighbors to look in. The garage door was also closed by now, completely blocking off any line of sight to the yard.
When CJ saw what Laura and Clark were doing, he also looked skyward, squinting. Laura seemed to be concentrating on something, so the conversation had stopped for the time being.
"That satellite over there is one of the 24 GPS satellites, and so is that, that, and that," CJ said, pointing to places in the sky that just looked blue to Jenny. "That one there," he said, pointing someplace entirely different, "is a weather satellite, that one there is a communications satellite, and that," he said pointing to a white vapor trail in the sky and cocking his head slightly, "is American flight 1343 from Dallas." CJ smiled smugly. He had played this game before.
Jenny's jaw hung open. She knew that Superman (and children) had good hearing and vision, but those satellites were over 20,000 km above them. Plus the sun was still out!
"I already had THOSE," Laura said sarcastically. "I was looking for the Space Shuttle. I know it's up there somewhere…"
"Try and tune in on the radio signal," Clark said patiently. Laura closed her eyes for a moment, concentrating. When she opened them again, she turned her head away from where she had been previously looking to a point low in the horizon and pointed. "There, working on the Hubbell Telescope again."
"That's right," Clark said, smiling. "It's a little harder to see due to the refraction of the atmosphere at that angle, but there she is. I'm glad you're getting a hold of this."
CJ's mouth went flat as he looked. "I knew that," he said under his breath.
Jenny was fascinated by the whole scene. She sat at the picnic table with her elbows on her knees, her chin in her hands. It was just so interesting to see them testing their powers. Of course they had to learn to use them somehow, but it seemed so casual. Smiling, she put her hand on CJ's shoulder to soften him up again. He turned and smiled appreciatively at her. This little gesture didn't go without the notice of Laura and Clark, who looked at each other and smiled knowingly.
Clark took a peek at the grill before putting his glasses on again. "Brats are done," he said, grabbing the tongs and the platter. They waited until everything was off the grill before heading inside, Laura getting the door for her father. Lois and Jon were waiting for them inside, chatting about a story that Jon was working on at the Planet. They cut off their conversation, though, in favor of following the rest of them to the table. Comments were made all around about how good everything smelled and how willing they were to dig in.
As the family gathered around the table, Jenny noticed Jon and Clark tip their head slightly to the side, immediately stopping what they were doing, seemingly concentrating intensely. She also noticed CJ frowning, something that she didn't see him do very often. After a few seconds, the men seemed to come back to reality. Clark looked at Jon.
"You know the deal," Clark said, holding out his hands. Jon pressed his lips together and held out his hands in a similar gesture. Jenny almost fell off her chair when she saw them start playing rock-paper-scissors. Clark grinned triumphantly as his paper beat Jon's rock. Jon pouted for a fraction of a second before standing up straighter and stepping back from his chair.
"I'll have you know, I didn't bring the suit tonight," Jon said, stopping abruptly, a smug look on his face.
Clark just smiled at him. "Nice try. You can go upstairs and get one of mine. Go."
The corner of Jon's mouth turned up in a half smile, and then, just like that, Jon was gone, leaving the spot where he was standing only a second earlier empty. Jenny was slightly confused.
"He's going on a rescue, right?" she asked.
Laura spoke up for the first time in Jenny's presence. "Ever since Jon went public with the new Superman, him and Daddy share duty. They have to have some way to determine who gets to go—"
"Hey, after all these years, I'm entitled to a break every now and then," Clark interrupted. After hearing the sonic boom signaling Jon's departure, he added, "It's not my fault that Jon always chooses rock."
CJ threw back his head and laughed. Because he hadn't lived at home since Jon became the Crimson Superman, he hadn't heard of this game of theirs. He thought it was perfect, though — Jon really was too predictable sometimes.
"Oh, Clark, that's mean," Lois said in a slightly stern tone, although the smile on her face gave her away.
Jenny made a gesture with her hands, indicating that her lips were sealed. For the first time that night, she felt completely at home with CJ's family. She knew they accepted her — if they didn't, she wouldn't be there. For her, it was just a matter of seeing all of them in their natural state — no costumes, no formalities, no hurries, just family time. She thought that she could really enjoy spending time with them — they could be her surrogate family. Her own parents were so far away — she never really got the chance to go home often, and even if she did, home wasn't the enjoyable place for her that it had once been. Divorce had that effect on families. Jenny looked at the interaction between Lois and Clark — the love in their eyes when they looked at each other was something that she had never seen with her own parents.
She shook her head to clear it and smiled, enjoying the company.
Lois regarded Jenny, who was sitting across the table from her, and who was now very comfortably taking part in a conversation with Jon and Clark about being a journalist at a college newspaper. She had seemed pretty uncomfortable when she first arrived, but she had come out of her shell pretty quickly. Of course, CJ had maintained close contact with her the whole time, often placing his hands on her body, a gesture which always seemed to have an immediate effect on Jenny. It was very obvious to Lois that this was a couple who were very in love with each other. She could certainly respect that, she thought as she stole a glance at her husband.
Lois had to admit that at first she had been very apprehensive about Jenny knowing the family secret. She realized, after thinking about it for a few weeks, that what bothered her more than the fact that Jenny knew was how she knew. She had guessed it, on her own, two whole days after knowing CJ. Two days! Lois kept trying to rationalize it by saying that CJ must have practically thrown it at her or drawn her a picture or something. But Lois knew her son was smarter than that, and after meeting Jenny for herself, Lois had to admit that Jenny was a very bright girl. She could hold her own in any conversation, and listening to her tales of life at the Metropolis U. Daily, she seemed to be quite the researcher, too.
The one thing that struck Lois most about the whole situation, though, was the effect that Jenny seemed to have on her son. She wouldn't have believed if she hadn't seen it with her own eyes. CJ had always been a spark plug — full of energy that he channeled into sports and academics and humor. He was brilliant, inheriting a mind that dealt with technical details in a way that Lois just couldn't fathom. But children tended to be cruel, especially in the junior high years, to the kids that they saw as the bookworms. Many kids succumbed to the teasing and dropped any pretense at being academic, choosing instead to apply their energy into being popular or otherwise trying to fit in. Some kids just didn't care what others thought, but CJ wasn't one of those. He had always valued what others thought of him, but he wasn't willing to drop the academics. So he did triple duty, pouring large amounts of energy into being a sports hero and a whiz kid and Mr. Popularity all at once, something that would've exhausted any child with a normal heritage. Over the years he had developed a public persona to deal with the kids at school, one that was more brash than his normally gentle personality, one that used sometimes outrageous humor and jocularity to deal with the world.
But now that extra edge, that public brashness that he carried around with him sometimes even at home, seemed to have vanished completely. Here was her son, the way he was before the popular kids had their say, the way she had always known he was deep inside. She seemed to have done something to him that brought out his confidence. All of a sudden he seemed very happy to just be himself. And it all happened since Jenny Sears came into his life. If that was the price for letting her in on the secret, then Lois was more than happy that she knew.
Clark had spoken with Lois that afternoon about the whole Jenny situation. She swore sometimes that he could read her mind. He knew that she was hesitant about having her in on the secret, but it wasn't as if there was anything that could be done now. Besides, he told her, Jenny really was a good person. Lois had toned down plenty in her years of married life, but she was still cynical to a point, and as such, she found that she just couldn't believe that this Jenny was everything she was being made out to be. Lois knew a big I-told-you-so was coming from Clark tonight when she admitted to him that she was wrong (still a rare thing, even from the kinder, gentler Lois) and that she liked the newest member of the family. Not that Clark ever gloated, but she could always see it in his eyes…
Lois's features softened as her mind came back to the conversations going on at the table. She resolved to get to know Jenny better, maybe spend some time with her. She thought that she had the perfect answer.
"Jenny, I've been thinking," Lois said to her when a break came in the conversation. Jenny looked at her with an interesting expression on her face, a mixture of apprehension and happiness. Lois also seemed to get the attention of CJ and her husband. "Laura and I are going on a shopping trip next weekend. I was wondering if you wanted to come with — kind of a girl's night out."
Jenny smiled as Clark became very interested in his food all of a sudden. "I'd love to, Mrs. Kent," Jenny said, no trace of hesitation in her voice.
"Call me Lois, I insist." Lois gave her a broad, sincere smile. Jenny couldn't help but smile back — she felt like she was home.
Jenny and CJ drove back toward their apartments in comfortable silence, content to just be alone in each other's company. The night had been so completely domestic, yet so wonderful and bizarre, too, for Jenny. It was hard for her to put into words. Her acceptance into the Kent family, and the warmth with which they treated her, made her heart swell. But it was really weird having conversations and other family moments interrupted by disasters or other matters requiring super assistance. After Jon had returned from his initial rescue, he and Clark went out three more times, alternating back and forth on who got to go. Jon had stopped by his apartment to get his own suit after his first trip out — he groused to the family about how much his dad's cape bothered him. Aside from the rescues, none of the superpowered family members really used their powers — she didn't see them floating around the house or zipping from place to place. Jenny didn't think it was an act or something they did for the benefit of outsiders — they just seemed to revel in normalcy. The powers obviously weren't something that defined them or their relationships to each other. Of course, Jenny knew this from her relationships with Jon and CJ. No, they were just an ordinary family of ordinary people who could do extraordinary things.
CJ broke the silence when they were almost home. "Mom likes you."
Jenny looked at him and grinned. "Yeah, I could tell, though it didn't seem like it at first."
"It takes her a while to warm up to people sometimes, especially if she feels threatened by them."
Jenny frowned momentarily, trying to grasp his meaning. "Threatened?"
CJ glanced over to her quickly, giving her the most reassuring look that he could. "It's just that you figured out the BIG secret, and that makes you a possible threat. Don't worry about it — I think she convinced herself that you're trustworthy. And my dad trusts you completely, so you don't have anything to worry about."
Jenny smiled again. Trust was a big thing, something to be gained only by proving oneself worthy. To have the trust of Superman was a big thing indeed. "Well, good. I think I'm going to like being a member of your family."
"Yeah, well, just don't get TOO close to my mom. I have this feeling that if you do, I'm really going to be in for it."
Jenny grinned wickedly. "Uh-HUH."
CJ glanced nervously over at her. "I don't think I like that look," he said. He pulled the car up in front of Jenny's building and stopped. "I have half a mind to go up there with you and wipe it right off your face." A devilish smile crept across his face.
"What, in the same apartment as roommate-zilla? As much as I'd love to rub it into her face that you're all mine…"
CJ glanced in the direction of her apartment. "She's not home."
Jenny leaned over and kissed him lightly. "Then what are we waiting for? Park the car and we can go celebrate the last night before classes the right way."
Tim Westin crawled along the access way inside Hoover Hall on Tuesday morning, avoiding the mess of cables and wires that were everywhere, en route to a junction box about twenty feet away. It was such a pain to have to install new connections this way, he thought — one would think that they would have the system set up so that they could do this at some central location. The little corridor was about four feet high and just wide enough for him to squeeze through. Small air vents in the wall every so often allowed him to peek into the offices of the professors and researchers that worked there. Tim didn't consider himself to be an eavesdropper, but in this passage it just couldn't be helped. Besides, most of what he heard was students asking questions about homework or the professors on the phone with their spouses or associates — nothing in the least bit interesting.
He crawled forward, a penlight clutched in one hand, the box looming larger in his vision. He was almost to it when he heard some people enter the office immediately to his right. He tried to drown out the conversation as usual, but something that one of the men said made his ears perk up.
"Here's your money, Professor Seagrave," a voice said. Tim could hear the sound of something being placed on the desk and pushed across. Then he could hear something that sounded like the catches on a briefcase being released. He immediately stopped his forward motion and dropped down, trying to get a look through the air vent. He could tell that the men were wearing black dress shoes, but that was about it. It was probably a good thing, he thought — if the slits in the vest had allowed him to see their faces, chances were pretty good that they could see his, too. As it was, they didn't even know he was there.
After a few seconds, the briefcase was closed and removed from the desk "Thank you for your contribution. You will have the product by the end of the week," the professor said.
"That wasn't the deal," one of the men in the dress shoes said to him, his tone impatient. "You were supposed to give it to us today in exchange for the money." His foot started to tap.
"I realize that," the professor said evenly. "But covering up my research and hiding everything from the University takes time. I have graduate assistants and other researchers to get out of the way. You WILL have it by the end of the week, but no sooner."
The visitors conferred in low tones for a moment before replying. "Okay. This project is valuable enough that we agree. However, if you don't deliver by then, expect a late night visit from our associates." The men left abruptly, closing the door loudly behind them. The professor sighed audibly and Tim could hear his chair squeak — he imagined him leaning back in the chair with his head thrown back and a smile on his face.
It seemed like an eternity before the professor finally left the room. It wasn't until then that Tim allowed himself to move again. His mind was racing — he could only think of one reason why these men would give a professor money in exchange for research done at the University, and he knew that that was probably completely illegal. Did anybody else know about this? Should he alert the department or the administration? Would anybody believe him? Probably not.
It was then that he thought of someone who would be very interested in hearing about this, someone who would definitely believe him. He backed out of the corridor slowly, trying not to make too much noise. He would probably get reamed by his boss later for not completing this job, but he really didn't care right now. He had to go visit an old friend.
Jenny sat at her cubbyhole in the corner of the Metropolis University Daily's office, working on the draft of the story her editor had assigned to her. It was something about philanthropic activities that fraternities did — not especially exciting stuff, but something that might interest the students. Jenny's heart just wasn't in it. She had no illusions about what the student newspaper was for — it wasn't there to cover hard news, it was there to cover campus happenings. With an ironic smile on her face, Jenny thought to herself that maybe her fraternity story was real news — after all, she knew that 99% of guys joined fraternities just so they could party with other guys (and sorority girls) every night of the week. The fact that they're going out there and doing things that might actually benefit the community from time to time could be considered newsworthy.
Jenny sighed and poised her fingers over the keyboard. She had a pretty good body to the story, if only she could formulate a beginning that would grab the reader, make them interested. Her mind ran through several sentences before the right one was found. She was just about to type it into the word processor when an old friend interrupted her.
"Jenny!" he said as he slipped in the door. She recognized the voice right away. Her head immediately snapped around, her fraternity story momentarily forgotten, and faced him.
"Tim!" she exclaimed. Tim Westin was one of a handful of people from her hometown who had ventured to Metropolis to go to school. They hadn't really been good friends in high school, but they found that when in college in a strange town, it was much easier to make friends with people you already had something in common with. They had hung out together quite a bit during their freshman year, keeping each other from getting too homesick. But they really hadn't seen too much of each other since then, each having developed a new circle of friends. He still came around upon occasion, but she hadn't seen him since last May. Not that she wasn't glad to see him, but Jenny had to wonder what would bring him to the Daily office on a Tuesday morning, looking for her.
Jenny gestured for him to have a seat. "To what do I owe the pleasure?" she asked him, curious.
Tim took the chair in the next cubbyhole over from hers. "Ever since I've known you, you've had an eye for the big news," he started. She nodded in agreement and smiled. Big news was what she was all about. "Well, today I saw something that you might be interested in."
Jenny casually reached for a legal pad and a pen, sensing that he was about to tell her one heck of a story. Tim knew she didn't get interested in just anything — whatever he had must be big. "I'm all ears," Jenny said as she leaned back in her chair, making herself comfortable.
Tim proceeded to tell her everything he saw in Hoover Hall that morning. Jenny scribbled notes furiously, making comments to herself as she went along. One didn't work for the school newspaper without reading through the staff and student policies at least once. If Professor Seagrave was accepting money from somebody outside of the school in exchange for research or inventions that were developed at the University while on staff, then it was against several policies that she knew about. It was grounds for dismissal and/or arrest. This was news, all right. By the time Tim finished, she was still writing.
Tim looked at her curiously for a moment while Jenny continued, lost in her own little world. She gradually became aware that he was watching her and she stopped. She looked up and smiled at him. "I can't thank you enough for telling me about this. I've been waiting for something that I could dig into."
"Glad to be of service. I just don't like to see corruption in the University — I thought that you were the only person around here who would give my story justice."
Jenny blushed slightly at the compliment. Tim always was a really sweet guy — he knew how to make a girl feel special, that was for sure. Back when they were freshmen and she would get frustrated with school or the paper, he could always find a way to cheer her up. Many people had confused them for a couple, but there was never any doubt in either of their minds that they were just platonic friends. He was a nice enough guy, but she just never felt that spark with him, that fire like she felt with CJ. She always thought that the girl who would end up with Tim as a boyfriend would be lucky indeed.
Her mind now off the story, she decided to get caught up with him. Friends like him didn't come along very often and were important to keep.
"What do you know about a Professor Seagrave?" Jenny asked CJ as they sat down to eat lunch under a large oak tree on central campus. It had been pure luck that they had scheduled the same hour for lunch, a thing that they made sure to take advantage of.
"He's a mechanical engineering professor, I know that much. I took a thermodynamics class from him last semester." CJ reached into his brown paper bag and pulled out a sandwich and a pop. "Why do you ask?"
Jenny took a bite of her apple. After chewing for a few seconds, she answered. "A friend of mine saw something today that might indicate that he is defrauding the University and selling his research to some outside firm."
CJ gave her a surprised look. "Wow. That's pretty serious."
Jenny smiled grimly. "Yeah. So what's he like?"
CJ drew one of his knees up to his chest. "I don't know. Kinda quiet, I guess. Really smart." He shrugged. "I can't say he's very different from any of my other professors. Although…" He propped his arm up on his knee and pointed his finger at Jenny. "I could've sworn I saw him driving around in a new Mercedes last week."
Jenny arched her eyebrows. "Interesting." She took another bite out of her apple and noticed a frown come across CJ's face as he cocked his head slightly. She was beginning to become very familiar with that look — it was the same one he got on his face on Sunday right before Clark or Jon ran off. She saw his eyes shift toward the open sky and she followed his gaze, seeing a blue and red streak flash across her view. She smiled and took his hand, feeling, rather than seeing, the frown fade from his face as she did so. They just sat together, not saying anything for a few minutes.
CJ finally broke the silence. "So, I suppose I should keep my eyes open for a Jenny Sears exclusive in the Daily pretty soon."
Jenny snorted and looked him in the face. She could see the teasing glint in his eyes. "Not soon. If it's as big as I think, I have a lot of work to do. Research, snooping, the works." Jenny grew introspective momentarily. She hadn't really thought about the immense amount of work that her story would require. Between classes and band and her normal assignments for the paper, she didn't have a whole lot of extra time to work with. But she didn't want to just let the story drop. It had the potential to be awfully big…almost too big for a little college paper. In fact, it was the type of thing that papers like the Daily Planet would put on its front page.
CJ watched in growing apprehension as Jenny schemed. He saw a devious smile creep across her face and braced himself for whatever plan she was cooking up.
"Yesssiree, it will be a BIG story, all right," Jenny began, looking at him slyly. "Something that the major newspaper might want to hear about…"
"I don't think I like where this is going…"
Jenny's expression changed instantly, a look of innocence about her. She looked at him with doe eyes, ones that he knew he could not possibly say no to. "You know, Clark, I think your mom and I need to get better acquainted."
He arched an eyebrow and looked at her. Why fight it, he asked himself. He never knew Jenny to be the type to just let go of something — she would get her way eventually whether he liked it or not. Sighing, he reached into his backpack and pulled out a pen. "I'll give you her work number."
Jenny smiled triumphantly. She waited until he was done writing down the number before leaning over and kissing him gently. Her lips were slightly sticky from the juice of her apple, causing CJ to lick his own lips after they parted. "So does this mean I'm not going to see much of you for a while?" he asked, his lower lip sticking out in a small pout. He made his own set of doe eyes in her direction.
She saw right through him. "I ALWAYS have time for you. Don't you forget it!" The last part was punctuated with a light jab to his chest.
A reluctant smile spread across his face. "I love you, you know," he said.
"I do," she said and kissed him again, more intensely this time.
After emerging for air, they finished their lunches, sticking to conversation relating to their new classes and professors. Lunch was over with too soon for the couple, who could have spent all day just sitting in the grass talking. They reluctantly parted ways, promising to call each other later that night.
Jenny didn't have any time the rest of that afternoon to work on her story, what with her classes and marching band. She spent a lot of her time in class ignoring the professors (who weren't actually teaching anything yet — they were discussing the syllabi instead) in favor of planning her strategy. It wouldn't be too hard to show that the professor was spending over his means — salaries for state employees were public information and could be easily found over the internet. It also wouldn't be too hard to tail him after work and take pictures of his car and his house. Bank records were a little harder for a college student to try and get — she needed someplace with the resources of the Planet to do the majority of the research she wanted along those lines.
In addition to research, she should probably track down the students who were working on his projects, either as lab assistants or graduate assistants. Maybe she could get an idea of what he was working on, and why somebody might be interested in it. She also needed to bone up on her university policy — it was probably a good thing that nobody had assigned her any homework yet.
After supper, she started her research in earnest, using the means available to her. It kept her busy, and it should've kept her mind occupied, too, but it kept wandering back to CJ. Only two days into the school year, and already she was missing him again. School was hard enough without the distraction of a boyfriend, and really, in her previous years at Metropolis University, she hadn't had to worry about it. But CJ changed everything. It was strange feeling so conflicted — she felt the desire to work on her story and school work, but at the same time, she wanted nothing more that to be in his arms. But he had homework and football practice and plenty of other distractions of his own. How nice would it be if they could arrange something where they could just be together and work on their own things? She would settle for just being in the same room as him, although, on second thought, the idea of having him so close might just lead to further distractions.
She sighed and looked at her telephone. Even when they were separated by so many miles, they always had their nightly calls. But neither of them had anything better to do at the time, so it was okay. Jenny felt a wave of despair sweep over herself — she loved CJ so much. What if things started to fall apart because they couldn't spend any time with each other? What if they grew apart? What if they lost whatever it was between them because of neglect?
The phone began to ring, interrupting her thought process. She picked up quickly, trying to squelch her emotions but having difficulty in doing so.
"Hello," she said.
"Hi," came CJ's bright voice over the line. "How are you doing? You sound a little depressed."
"Oh," she said, trying to smile but still not fully able to. "I was just doing some work on my story. It got me thinking about some things. How about yourself?"
"I was trying to do some homework, but I wasn't having much success. I just felt like I should call you. So what were you thinking about?" His concern for her came out loud and clear.
Jenny breathed in deeply before speaking. "Just about how busy we both were. The only times I've seen you since classes started yesterday were at lunch. I guess I was just wondering if it was going to be this way the whole year."
If Jenny could see through the phone, she would've seen a thin smile play across CJ's concerned face. "Well, things are just hectic right now. It takes time to get settled into everything. I think it's a little too early in the game to be getting too worried about the rest of the semester. Besides, weren't you telling me today that you always had time for me?"
"Yeah, I know I said that. But what if we get so busy that WE don't have time for US? Football and band and homework and classes aren't going to go away anytime soon — in fact, they're probably bound to get worse." Jenny could feel a lump rising in her throat. Tears were threatening to overtake her.
"I know that, but I also know where my priorities lie. No matter how much is going on, you know that I'll always find time for you. If it means sacrificing my studies, then so be it. I'll gladly turn an A into a B if it's for a good cause."
Jenny smiled as a single tear slid down her cheek. "You don't know how glad am to hear that. If it makes you feel any better, I feel the same way."
"I hope so." She could hear the hint of laughter in his voice. "Are you going to be okay now? Does the world seem like a better place than it did before?"
"Hearing your voice always makes the world better for me." Jenny laughed shyly. "Better put out a sappiness alert. That was deep. Seriously though, I was just a little overwhelmed with everything."
He laughed, a sound that killed any of Jenny's apprehension once and for all. "That's understandable. It happens to the best of us. So do you want me to come over? I'm not going to get anything done here tonight."
Jenny had to admit that the prospect of having him over was very enticing, although she probably should get back to researching for her story. "Come on over — you can help me do my research. After this summer, you probably have quite a few resources available to tap into…"
"Yeah, I do. I could make some snide comment here about how you seem to be using me for my connections…"
"Your connections are not at the top of the list of reasons why I'm using you. I think your body is number one, followed by your brains, then you ability to make me laugh…"
CJ started laughing. "Well, just as long as we're straight on that. Okay, I'll be over in a little while."
"All right. Bye." Jenny hung up the phone, a goofy smile plastered on her face. How could she ever doubt his commitment to her? She felt almost silly for letting the thought even enter her mind at all. Satisfied that all was right with the world, she turned her attention back to her research, which would go even better once CJ got there. What a team they made.
Jenny sat down at her cubbyhole at the Metropolis Daily early the next morning and immediately stared at the phone. The moment of truth had arrived — time to call in the big guns. She had enough to show that there was something going on, enough to entice Lois to at least hear her out. Despite her confidence in front of CJ yesterday, she wasn't really too sure about the prospect of working with Lois. Aside from being her boyfriend's mother, Lois was also a highly respected reporter who had a real knack for finding big stories. Jenny figured that once she brought Lois into this, there was a good possibility that she would just be shoved off to the side. It happened to her plenty in Gotham, but, Jenny told herself, this was a different situation than at the Gazette. In Gotham, she was hired to be a flunkie, and flunkies weren't reporters and couldn't have claims to stories of their own. But here, she was a journalist, and that's what she was going to Lois as — one journalist in need of help of another one.
So why wasn't she picking up the phone yet? What was she afraid of? Lois had been nothing but cordial to her Sunday. And CJ had said it himself — Lois liked her. They were going to go shopping in a couple of days! No, she wasn't afraid of Lois. A small voice inside of herself told her that maybe she was afraid of feeling inferior. Yes, Jenny was a journalist, but at a college paper. And she might be one of the better ones they had here now, but back when Jon worked here, he was the big cheese, the star reporter. Jenny knew she wasn't the best writer there ever was. She also knew that Lois had won awards for her articles — SHE was a good writer. She was big-time. She had what it took. Jenny's biggest and most controversial article had been about a fight that broke out at a campus festival last spring. That article received good comments from her journalism professors, but it certainly didn't win awards or other notoriety.
Jenny shook her head, scolding herself. Of course she couldn't live up to the legend of Lois Lane right now — Jenny was only a junior in college, for goodness sakes. Lois had worked at the planet longer than Jenny had been on this Earth. BUT, what an opportunity! To work with a veteran, to learn the little secrets of the trade before graduating, to earn the respect of other senior journalists. It really was too good to pass up.
Jenny's hand finally reached for the phone. The number that CJ gave her to dial was Lois's direct line. It was answered after only one ring.
Jenny paused, trying to give herself another boost of confidence. "Hi, Lois! This is Jenny Sears." Her voice was a little perkier than normal, but she didn't think that Lois would notice.
"Jenny, hi. What can I do for you?"
Jenny thought about several ways to start the conversation — talk about last Sunday, maybe ask for advice about some aspect of her son's personality. She didn't think either of those would be very good — they gave the wrong pretense to the call. Besides, Jenny wasn't really big on idle chatter. In the end, she decided to cut to the chase. "I think it's more of a question of what I can do for you."
There was a brief silence at the other end. "Excuse me?"
Jenny gave a half smile as her mind accessed the spiel that she already had prepared. "A story fell into my lap completely by accident that I think you might find very interesting. I know it may sound strange — what could a little college newspaper have to write about that somebody like Lois Lane might be interested in?"
"That's just what I was going to ask," Lois said. She didn't sound annoyed in the slightest — Jenny figured that was probably a good sign.
"I assure you, it will be worth your time to listen to what I'm about to tell you…"
Lois hung up the phone and absently tapped her pencil on the desk, lost in thought. That had certainly been an interesting conversation. She had definitely never stumbled upon scoops that big in her college newspaper days, she vaguely recalled. If she had, she probably would've done the same thing as Jenny.
Lois had listened in rapt attention as Jenny told her tale, not interrupting her at all. Admittedly, Jenny's evidence was a little on the shaky side right now, but that was nothing that Lois couldn't help out with. She had years and years of experience in rooting out the facts — it felt good to think that she would be able to share some of that experience with a protégé. Besides, Lois had a feeling about this story — it was hard to quantify, but it was the same feeling she'd had on some of the bigger scoops of her career. There was something big going on.
Lois didn't know what it was exactly that had compelled Jenny to call her instead of, say, Clark or Jon about this, although, she noted with a small feeling of satisfaction, it was entirely possible that Jenny wanted to get on good terms with her. Lois had extended the olive branch on Sunday, offering to take Jenny with her and Laura shopping, but even Lois had to admit that working together had much more of a potential for bonding. It really did make Lois feel good to know that her son's girlfriend was interested in keeping the peace with his family. Secretly, that was one of Lois's darkest fears, and she knew it was one of Clark's, too — the fear that one of their children would one day run off with someone who maybe didn't get along with the rest of the family, or who didn't care to get along with the rest of the family. One of the truly beautiful things about their family had always been the closeness they felt — none of their children were ever particularly rebellious, and they always held the opinion of their parents in high regard. Realistically, Lois didn't think that any of her kids would ever turn their backs on that, but she couldn't help but worry.
Lois stopped her tapping and looked over at her husband, hard at work at his desk. She got up and walked over to him, noticing his face light up as she approached, even though he was still lost in his work. As she reached his side, he looked up at her and smiled. She couldn't help but smile back — even after all their years of marriage, he still had the ability to make her feel special.
"What's up?" he asked her as he set aside his work and reached for her hand.
"I hope you don't think I'm ditching you, but would you mind too much if I left you to work on the city council story by yourself?" Lois asked.
Clark arched his eyebrows at her. "Gosh, I don't know how I would ever get the impression that you're ditching me…."
Lois tousled his neatly styled hair playfully, eliciting a mischievous smile out of him. "I just got a lead on something new that requires my immediate attention."
"Oooh. I get it. Get a hot scoop and then ditch the partner. I see how you are." Clark's eyes sparkled despite the slightly accusing tone in his voice.
"Actually, I already have a partner on this one."
Clark looked surprised all of a sudden. "Who…?"
"Well…" Lois began to blush a little bit. She didn't know why she was suddenly shy — working with a journalism student was nothing to be ashamed of. She had done it before with the summer interns that they took on. "Let's just say that I'm helping out a journalism student on one of their stories, and in return they'll let us in on it."
Clark squinted at her. "A journalism student?" He looked at her questioningly before it hit him. "You're working with Jenny?"
"Actually, she called me with the story. It sounds very promising. I invited her over for supper tonight to work on it."
Clark smiled at her and drew her in toward his lap. "So, you're going to mold her impressionable young mind in your image, huh? Maybe I should pull CJ aside and brace him for what's to come."
"Look who's Mr. Funny this morning. Seriously though, you're okay about this, right?"
Clark wound his arm around his wife's waist. "I can manage just fine. Don't worry about it." He kissed her gently on the lips before continuing. "Just promise me that I still get to be in on some of your stories from time to time."
Lois rubbed his back gently. "Clark, you were my first partner and you will be my permanent partner until the day I…retire. You have nothing to worry about."
They kissed again before Lois got up and walked back to her desk, casting a loving glance over her shoulder on the way. Clark watched her in amazement. He knew that Lois would never have taken the story unless there was something to it — Lois just wasn't the type to do professional favors for people just for the heck of it. He wondered what would come out of this little journalistic union. Whatever it was, it would be a VERY interesting sight to behold, he was sure.
Lois and Jenny sat around the desk in the Kent house den, the doors closed to minimize interruptions.
"OK, so what do you have for me?" Lois asked. In their phone conversation that morning, it had been agreed that Jenny would gather all necessary university policies that could be used to build a case against the professor. Jenny would also try and talk to some people close to the professor.
"Well, as you know, Metropolis University is an public institution run by the Board of Regents of the state of New Troy. As such, its employees are subject to the state laws, one of which bars any public employee from accepting outside gifts in excess of $5. That in itself can get the professor nailed if we can prove that he accepted money, although that doesn't make a very interesting story."
Lois held up a folder. "Bank records. Compare these to his salary and it is obvious that he accepted money for something. So, yes, we do have that at least. But somebody is not giving him money just for the heck of it — they are certainly getting something in return. What is the one thing he can give them?"
"The most obvious answer is research, although I suppose he could also be selling off university property."
"We'll assume it's research," Lois said, reaching for a stack of magazines.
Jenny sorted through her papers until she found another sheet. "According to the employment agreement for professors at the school, all developments made by the professor at the University are considered the property of the University. They even have an Office of Intellectual Property to handle it all. Researchers are expected to submit reports on a regular basis to this office, apprising them of the state of their projects. This is the office that seeks out patents for new inventions. It's a major source of revenue for the University. The University also has a conflict of interest policy that strictly forbids professors from entering into a relationship with another party that might interfere with what is considered to be university business."
"Now we're getting to the heart of the matter," said Lois, who looked off into the distance, trying to think. She had a vague notion about some of the University's policies before tonight, but things were becoming clearer now. "Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that the professor developed something at the University, and now somebody's offering him big bucks for it. By selling the invention to this person, he is possibly depriving the public — and I say it's the public because it's our tax dollars that support that school and paid that man's salary and owns that invention- of revenue. THAT is what makes the story. People always like to hear about wasted tax dollars and other examples of corruption in government."
"I noticed," Jenny said, offering Lois a small smile. "But how do we prove anything?"
"For legal purposes, it will be enough to simply show that this Professor Seagrave is, in fact, selling research to someone outside of the University for money. And that won't be all too hard. For our purposes, though, it would be nice to know what he's selling to whom and why. It just makes for a better story. Now, for the question of 'what,' I have here a stack of journals and other trade magazines that contain articles that Professor Seagrave has written. Hope you like to read."
Jenny sighed and gave a weary smile. "I wouldn't be where I am if I hadn't read a thing or three along the way."
"Who he is selling whatever it is he's selling to is a more difficult question. These bank records show that the large deposits he made were cash."
"Untraceable," Jenny mumbled, trying to think. An idea hit her suddenly. "What about getting a hold of the phone records from his office?"
Lois shook her head. "The way the phone system is set up there, every call runs through a central switchboard. For the same reason that university phones can't use caller ID, we can't trace who called the professor or who he called by simply getting the phone company records. I know the University has a tracking system that monitors outgoing calls, but they don't give that information out readily."
Jenny was impressed. Lois really knew what was going on. "So what's left?"
Lois reached into a drawer in the desk and pulled out a small, white-colored device. A wide grin spread across her face. "The old-fashioned way: we rat them out. Can your friend who overheard that conversation in the first place regain access to that corridor?"
Jenny nodded. "I think so."
Lois showed Jenny how to use the device, which was a mini digital recorder. It was voice activated and had a life of a couple of days or more, depending on how often it was activated. "Now, how is it going with interviewing people who work with the professor?"
Jenny blushed slightly and pulled a wisp of her hair behind her ear. "Well, I haven't had much time to get around to that yet."
"That's okay. Tomorrow?"
"Yeah, tomorrow." Jenny got thoughtful once more. She stole a glance out of the door to the den and saw Clark and CJ and Laura sitting on the couch, watching some sporting event and apparently having a good time. "You know," she said, her features lighting up, "I know just the person who can help me when I do my little exploration into the mechanical engineering department…"
CJ knocked on the door of the thermodynamics lab in the basement of Hoover Hall. He wondered for the hundredth time just how he managed to get suckered into helping Mom and Jenny on their story. Yeah, okay, he was the one who had actually taken a class on the subject, and yeah, he was the readily available college student with super powers who could scan the lab and find anything out of place. But he still might have said no if it weren't for those eyes. Jenny looked at him with those puppy dog eyes and he just turned to mush. And never mind the fact that his mother had regaled him with stories of the hell she went through in his childbirth. Again. He couldn't stand to hear about the pain he had caused her, even if it really wasn't his fault. Guilt was an awful, awful thing, he thought, not for the first time.
The door was cracked open and a scrawny guy in a lab coat peeked through. "Can I help you?" he asked.
CJ stuck out his hand and grabbed the door frame, trying to guard against the lab assistant slamming the door on him. "Hi. I was in Professor Seagrave's class earlier today and I lost my notebook. I think I left it in here — do you mind if I take a look around?"
The guy in the lab coat looked at the hand on the door, then back at CJ. His expression looked slightly panicked at first, then he apparently calmed himself down. "Yeah, okay," he said, opening the door wider so that CJ could enter.
In truth, when CJ took his thermodynamics class, he never bothered to take the lab — he figured it would be too time consuming. Looking around at some of the gadgets sitting around the room made him regret that decision now. How neat would it be to play with some of those toys? CJ wandered toward the part of the room with a few tables and chairs, obviously the area where the lab classes met. The guy in the lab coat trailed him the whole way. CJ found it to be annoying, if not totally unexpected.
"So what are you working on here?" CJ asked. He began to look around, making note of everything. He could see that this guy had been working in the far corner of the room — his backpack still sat there, along with an open lab book and some scattered papers.
"I, uh, was testing the efficiency of a jet engine," Lab Coat guy said nervously. CJ glanced over at him and saw that he was anxiously wringing his hands and looking at the floor. CJ didn't need to listen in on his heart rate to know that he wasn't being entirely truthful. CJ turned his attention back to the student area, pretending to be looking for something.
"Well, that sounds pretty neat. I've always been a big fan of aircraft. It must be fun to play with engines as your job." The statement was true enough. Aircraft had always fascinated him as a kid. He always wondered how they could fly — he found it interesting now that he had such an interest in flying when he was younger. CJ allowed himself a small smile before looking back at the area where Lab Coat guy was working. There WAS an engine sitting there next to what looked like a shipping box. CJ zoomed in, trying to take in the finer details. What kind of engine was that, exactly? His coffee table contained a much-loved and somewhat dog-eared book on aircraft, but nowhere had he seen anything like that engine. It obviously was a jet, but it was a lot smaller. That thing certainly couldn't propel an airplane, that much was sure. Interesting.
Then there was the matter of the box sitting next to it. It was just big enough to fit the engine inside, along with a good deal of packing peanuts. The box had a shipping label affixed to it. CJ zoomed his vision in further in order to read it, and then closed his eyes briefly, burning the image of the label into memory. When he opened his eyes again, he looked over at his companion and smiled, pretending that he heard what had just been said. CJ looked around the seating area again, searching for his imaginary notebook.
"Darn it, I don't think it's here. I must've left it in my other class today," CJ said, trying to sound upset. "Sorry to bother you — I know you have work to do."
Lab Coat guy smiled weakly. "I hope you find what you're looking for. I think you know the way out."
CJ nodded, a false smile planted on his face, and headed toward the door slowly, taking one more scan of the room. Once he was out in the hallway again, he reached into his backpack and pulled out a pen and a piece of paper and closed his eyes, summoning up the image of the label. CJ couldn't figure out why the University would be shipping what looked to be a prototype engine to a company in California. Maybe there was something to Jenny's story after all.
Returning his things back to his bag, CJ set out to join the women in his life for some lunch.
Tim Westin found himself crawling again through the same corridor in Hoover Hall where he had overheard that conversation just a couple of days earlier. This time, however, his work belt contained more than just the tools needed to finish the job he never got around to finishing the other day. Sitting in the large pocket of the belt was a small recording device, which he was to attach to the air vent to Professor Seagrave's office. If his boss knew about that recording device, he would probably have his hide, Tim speculated. Any apprehension that he felt, though, was more than compensated for by the thrill of it all — Tim couldn't help but feel a little like he was James Bond, the super spy who always seemed to play with all the coolest toys. He figured that was probably why he agreed to do this job for Jenny in the first place — his life needed a little bit more adventure in it. And maybe, just maybe, when he grew old and gray, he could tell his kids all about how he had helped bust up some major crime syndicate when he was in college.
Okay, he told himself, enough exaggerating. The conversation he had overheard had been pretty vague, but apparently now the Daily Planet was interested in what it could possibly mean. Tim didn't believe it at first, but Jenny had told him in her call this morning that she was working on this story with Lois Lane, of all people. Tim, who was still mostly asleep at the time that her call came in, immediately woke up upon hearing that little tidbit of information. Apparently, Jenny's new boyfriend was Lois's son. Even so, Tim was sure that a reporter of Lois's stature wouldn't hook up with anybody on a story if there wasn't something there. The Planet even provided the little recording device that he was about to install.
The absence of light coming through the holes of the air vent that led to the professor's office told Tim that nobody was there — a good thing, in this case. He examined the vent closely, noting that it was screwed on from the other side, which was what he had expected. Jenny mentioned to him on the phone that there was a good possibility that she would be accessing the inside of this office fairly soon, and that she planned to pick up the device when she did. While Tim had been relieved that he wouldn't have to be crawling through this tunnel again anytime soon, he did worry a little about his old friend's new contempt for breaking and entering laws.
Not wanting to waste a golden opportunity, he quickly installed the device onto the back of the vent, taking care to make sure that it couldn't be seen from inside the office. He pressed the small button that activated it, waiting for a blinking light or whirring sound that might give it away, but not finding any. It really was a handy little gadget — he briefly wondered how much dirt had been dug up as a result of the presence of this little thing.
Tim's eyes quickly pulled off of the device and focused on the knot of wires a couple of feet ahead of him. If this was what a super spy did, he decided that it might be wise to rethink his position on the benefits of being one. It was somehow pretty anticlimactic. He sighed and crawled on down the tunnel to do his real job.
Lois and Jenny and CJ met at a restaurant in campustown for lunch that afternoon. Jenny happily related that her friend Tim was able to install the recording device in the professor's office. CJ handed over the piece of paper onto which he had copied the shipping address of the weird engine he had seen. Lois promised to find a phone number that went with the address and that she would call them after lunch.
Jenny had to admit that even though she really, really enjoyed her private lunches with CJ on the campus green, there were certain advantages to going out to eat along with Lois, too. She really was good company — funny, intelligent, and engaging. As nice as it was to see her in a family setting, it was equally nice to get to know her apart from everybody else. Jenny really didn't know anymore why she had been so intimidated by Lois — it was more her reputation that she had been intimidated by, she forced herself to admit.
"Did you talk to people in the department today?" Lois asked Jenny. While CJ had been great for dealing with the technical things, such as sneaking around labs and talking shop with the technicians, Jenny was perfectly good at snooping around and talking to some of the less technically minded people.
"Yeah. I talked to the department secretary and the mailroom guys."
"Get a peek in his mailbox, did you?" Lois asked.
Jenny gave a mischievous smile. "I'm beginning to like the hands-on method of investigating things. I spent so much of my internship last summer either locked in a vault or a police station."
CJ gave her a reassuring smile and laid his hand on her knee, giving it a quick squeeze. He appreciated the hands-on investigative approach himself — it had been the cornerstone of his experience in Gotham City. Jenny smiled at him appreciatively and continued. "Anyway, he didn't have much there — a letter from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, a big envelope from some trade magazine, and a couple of official-looking letters from the University."
"Hmph," said Lois. "I wish I could say I'm making big progress, but this guy doesn't have too much in his background. It's somewhat interesting — he owned his own business for a while before entering academia. Apparently the business went under because the cash flow dried up. He put out some ingenious products, but I guess there just wasn't much of a market for them."
"I think I remember him mentioning something about that," CJ said, happy to contribute to the conversation. "When you take classes, a lot of times professors like to harp on the fact that they have had 'real world experience.'" CJ held up his fingers as if he was making imaginary quotation marks. "He didn't sound bitter about it at all. In fact, he almost made it sound as if he would be starting things up again if he ever got the opportunity."
Lois stuck out her lower lip slightly, and Jenny shook her head. Nobody spoke for a moment as they all tried to digest the information. Their food arrived at that moment, and they happily dug in. The conversation switched to the more mundane as they ate.
Before parting company for the remainder of the afternoon, Lois and Jenny agreed to get together that night and investigate the professor's office.
"It's a rite of passage in this business, the whole breaking and entering thing. That's how we always get all of our good information," Lois said. Jenny didn't remember that particular rite of passage in Gotham, but she wasn't going to contradict Lois. Besides, it sounded like a good time. They agreed that Lois would pick Jenny up after supper that night.
Professor Jack Seagrave leaned back in his chair, a satisfied smile on his face. Everything was going exactly as planned. Miner Engines was paying him for the jet engine he developed, the University was paying him for the time it took to develop it, and neither of them would be getting anything for their money. It was the perfect set-up, really. He had been secretive enough with both that when he emerged on the west coast in a few weeks — under a different name, of course — none of them would know that he was patenting the engine and manufacturing it for himself. By then, he fully intended to have effectively killed off his Jack Seagrave identity, so nobody would think to look for him, either.
Jack worried slightly what Miner would do if they did catch him — Martin Miner was a genius in technology, but he was also certifiable. His business sense wasn't that great, either — it was one of the things Jack had counted on. When he begged for an extension the other day, Miner had given it to him, no questions asked. It was almost too easy.
Jack had to cut off a giddy laugh as he picked up the phone and dialed the number for his new business partner in California. "Hello, Bill. Seagrave here. Tomorrow will be the day. I'm shipping the engine via UPS then, too…What? Don't worry about Miner. He doesn't suspect anything… The University? As far as they're concerned, they won't be missing a thing. All the falsified records are in place and the kids that helped me have been compensated. I thought we went over this a million times…. No, Bill. Really, it's all worked out. Just have the car ready for me at the airport tomorrow."
Jack replaced the phone and frowned. What had gotten into Bill? Was he having second thoughts? Just yesterday he had been very enthusiastic about the whole thing. Nobody else in Metropolis knew anything about the plan, or so he thought. Granted, some of his graduate students had helped him build the engine prototype, but they had been handpicked by him because of their loose morals. They had gotten their payoff, and they guaranteed him that they would keep their mouths shut. But if Bill was getting nervous, then maybe he should be, too.
Abruptly, the professor stood up and strode toward the door. Maybe it was a good time to check up on the final progress of his invention.
At approximately 4:15 PM eastern daylight time, a massive earthquake hit Japan, devastating the island and leveling whole cities. The reflective tremors could be felt almost halfway around the world, and they were especially evident to the two exceptional super-citizens of Metropolis. At approximately 4:17, two blurs, one red and the other blue, could be seen making their way across the continental United States and later over the Pacific ocean, on their way to try and rescue the people trapped in the rubble, to stop the fires that were raging, and to help reestablish some of the infrastructure of the now fractured nation.
Lois and Jenny slid through the dimly lit corridors of the now mostly empty Hoover Hall, bound toward the office of Professor Seagrave. Before setting out, Lois assured Jenny that she had done this hundreds of times. Of course, she didn't mention the dozens of times that she had been captured in the process — those WERE the minority. Yes, Clark was always coming to the rescue; and yes, he was out of town right now, but Lois didn't really foresee any large problems. This wasn't a very politically sensitive investigation, nor did it seem to involve any large crime organizations. No problem!
Lois expertly picked the lock to the professors office, making sure that Jenny could see exactly what she was doing — if the girl was going to be a good journalist, she had to know these little tricks of the trade. The pair slid into the office and shut the door gently behind them. Lois pulled a flashlight out of her purse and clicked it on, motioning for Jenny to do the same.
"So what exactly are we looking for?" Jenny whispered. She didn't know why she was whispering, exactly — it's not like there was anybody else around that could hear them.
"Anything incriminating. We need to go through files, stacks of papers, his computer, looking for anything that might get us a better idea about the company he's working for or what exactly he has up his sleeve," Lois said back in a low voice as she made a beeline for the filing cabinets. Jenny nodded in return and made her way to the desk. She had some experience in hacking into computers, so she figured that she could start there. As she waited for the computer to boot up, she made her way through the papers on the desk. She could see a stack of half-graded tests, another stack of student papers, and a couple of trade magazines. Nothing that would be of any use.
Turning her attention back to the computer, Jenny was pleased to see that the professor had it set to automatically log him into the mainframe. That would save her a lot of work. She immediately opened the file with his personal papers in it. She found drafts of many of the articles that he had submitted to professional journals, the same articles that they had already poured over.
In amongst the articles was another file, accessed more recently. Jenny pulled it up and was amazed by what she saw. Interspersed between the text of the article were pictures of flying cars that looked like something straight out of a cheesy sci-fi movie. Jenny felt a sense of awe — technology had to be generated somewhere, she just never thought that something with the possibility of being so revolutionary could be thought up by this particular man. She focused on the text of the article, but quickly found that the jargon was a little bit too technical. She could tell, though, that it was some sort of proposal on how to build these cars. She pulled a clean floppy disk out of her purse and inserted it into the floppy drive. It wasn't certain that this was what they were looking for, but it was the best lead they had so far. And if she couldn't exactly make out what was being said in the article, her brainiac boyfriend probably could.
Meanwhile, Lois had managed to find the file that contained Professor Seagrave's personal contacts. He kept information in the file concerning his insurance, university employment, and financial investments. Most of it was what Lois would expect someone to have filed away — there was one exception, though. Lois couldn't figure out why exactly a professor would have a pamphlet from an automobile manufacturer in the folder. Was he planning to invest in that company? She flipped back to his financial information and took a look at his investments — they consisted mostly of mutual funds, made up of hundreds of different companies. Yet he didn't have any pamphlets on any of those companies. Could this automobile manufacturer be who was paying him?
"Jenny? Did you find anything?" Lois asked, looking over her shoulder toward the professor's desk.
"This is really neat," Jenny said, her voice faraway.
Lois did a double take, not expecting Jenny to be so caught up in the subject matter. On the other hand, she WAS CJ's girlfriend… "What is it, though?"
"Oh," Jenny came back to Earth quickly. "The professor developed a new engine for cars that would make it possible for them to fly."
"Flying cars?" Lois asked, her mind kicking into gear. She looked back to the car company brochure. Cars! It made sense. The company paying the professor off stood to make a lot of money from his invention. This particular company was probably the culprit — why else would their brochure be in his personal file? Lois grabbed a scrap of paper and jotted onto it the phone number for the company given on the brochure. She stuck the paper in her pocket and stuffed the folder back into the filing cabinet.
Back at the computer, Jenny removed the disk from the computer and secured it in her purse and joined Lois near the door. "Do we have everything we need?"
Lois nodded. "I think so. We can get going pretty well on what we have here. It won't be too much longer before we can print something, and then our dear professor will be found out by the rest of the world."
Jenny smiled triumphantly. "Busted!" she said. She was really enjoying working with Lois. Her "hands on" approach to journalism was definitely something that Jenny could get used to. Who knew that snooping through somebody's office could be so much fun? Her smile fell as she remembered the surveillance tape that Tim implanted the air vent yesterday — it would be the key to the whole case. "Oh, wait, the tape! I almost forgot!"
She made a move for the small air vent in the floor that the recording device was attached to, but stopped quickly as she heard somebody opening the office door. The two women looked at each other in panic, realizing that there wasn't anyplace they could go — the office didn't have any closets or niches or anything else that would hide two reporters. Resigned to their fate, they stood up straight and watched the door open.
Two men dressed in black business suits entered the office and turned on the light. They blinked their eyes upon seeing what awaited them, the discovery taking a few seconds to sink in. Once it did, though, they immediately reached into their jackets and drew out guns, pointing them at the two women. Jenny felt panic begin to rise in her — she had never so much as seen a gun before. Lois just let out a resigned sigh. She was certainly no stranger to this type of situation.
Before too long, the women found themselves tied together, back to back, in the corner of the office. Why was it that bad guys always seemed to carry rope with them everywhere they went, Jenny thought? The men in suits had left, apparently to talk to some sort of "boss," but not before taking their purses. Jenny had a bad feeling about what was going to happen when the men came back — it couldn't be good, that was for sure. After struggling against their bonds, they both slumped against the wall in exhaustion, content to sit in silence and try to regain some of their strength.
It was Lois who finally broke the stillness. "Can I ask you something?" she asked.
"Sure," Jenny answered, wishing that they could face each other.
There was a moment of silence before Lois continued. "I know this is going to sound kind of dumb, and I know it's probably none of my business, but I have to know because it's been driving me crazy."
Jenny chuckled a little bit. She had been told that Lois had a tendency to babble, but she hadn't believed it until now. "What is it?"
Lois sighed. "How did you find out?"
Lois didn't need to elaborate — Jenny knew exactly what she was talking about. She had always wondered if and when it would be brought up. CJ had said that it took Lois a long time to find out about Superman — Jenny figured it was probably eating Lois up inside, knowing that Jenny found out in such a short amount of time. Jenny owed her the truth — she was CJ's mother, after all, and the secret concerned her, too.
The memory of their first days together brought a faraway smile to Jenny's face. She related the story to Lois in detail, her voice filled with passion. She had never tried to put the story of their meeting into words before, and had never realized how hard it would be. So much of their early relationship was based on feelings and hunches — it still was, to a certain extent — but now they knew each other so much better, and that knowledge only served to further strengthen their bond. Reaching the end of the tale, Jenny closed her eyes and pictured CJ. She let her emotions get the better of her as she summarized, a solitary tear sliding down her cheek. "I don't know if you believe in love at first sight, but that's what it was. When my eyes met his, it was as if I could see into his soul. It just seemed so obvious to me, once I had been held by Robin and talked to him and looked into his eyes, that he was the same man that I had met at that bar. I can't really explain it." Jenny opened her eyes again, a feeling of warmth spread over her.
"You love him, don't you?" Lois asked, a tremor in her voice.
"Very much, yes," Jenny said, without hesitation.
Lois let out a quick breath that sounded almost like a sob. "You know," she said, her voice full of emotion, "I almost envy you and the way you were able to get together. That may sound pretty strange, but it's true. You were able to see past the powers and the spandex. You listened to your heart and let yourself love him from the beginning." Lois sniffed. Jenny could feel her move her head, probably trying to wipe the tears off of her face.
"Oh, Lois…" Jenny said, trying to comfort her.
"No, it's true," Lois said, cutting her off. "I made so many mistakes along the way with Clark. When he first came around, I ignored him in favor of Superman — I guess I was just attracted to the powers and the flashy suit. He's always looked great in that suit. At the time I considered Clark to be nothing more than some rookie hick from nowhere — how wrong I was about that. And God, the way I gushed to Clark about Superman — it had to hurt him terribly. My behavior from that time still embarrasses me to this day. Then I almost married Lex Luthor — can you believe it? Of course, all I could think of walking down that aisle was Clark — I guess that's when I first realized that I really did love him. But it's so hard sometimes to follow through on that. We both almost seemed to willingly try and short-circuit any possible relationship between us. Why? We were both scared — scared of each other, our feelings.
"By the time Clark and I finally got together, we had wasted almost two years. Two years that we could've spent together in absolute bliss! And for what? What I wouldn't give to go back and give myself a good slap upside the head. I really did love him from the first moment I met him, but I was just too stubborn to see it."
Jenny looked at the ground, lost in thought. "The important thing is that you did get together," she said. "It might have been tough getting there, but the result is a relationship that I see as being almost perfect."
Lois sniffed again. "Do you mean that?"
Jenny smiled. "Yeah. Plus you raised three wonderful children — you know I have no complaints about the job you two did. People like Jon and Clark and Laura — GOOD people, kind and compassionate people, don't come out of just any home. They turned out the way they did because you love your fellow man and you love each other. It's so obvious. Even a perfect stranger can see it from the way you look at each other."
The floodgates were completely open now. Lois let out a few good sobs. "Thank you so much. You are so sweet."
"Well, I'm just telling the truth. We're both very lucky — we've found the perfect men, and they think we're the prefect women. Why question fate?"
That caused Lois to chuckle. She liked this girl. She couldn't help but think that Jenny reminded her an awful lot of herself at that age, before she had become a big-shot reporter, before she had been hurt by men, and before she had grown completely cynical. If she had met Clark at that age, they probably would've hit it off right away, too. Jenny really was a smart and kindhearted girl — CJ was very lucky to have her.
"So how did you find out about Clark?" Jenny asked, bringing Lois out of her introspection.
Lois allowed herself to smile. It had been so many years ago. It was almost hard to recall, even though it was one of the single most important events of her life. "It's strange, but I don't even remember anymore. It was kind of a growing feeling that I had for a long time. Clark would always run off at the worst time, always right before Superman showed up. I had always been close to him as both Clark and Superman, and I think I noticed the resemblance from the start. It took me almost dying before I let myself accept that they were the same man. You have to realize what a big shock it was — I had known Clark for so long but never knew about that other aspect of his personality. Of course, I found out pretty quickly that powers didn't make the man."
Jenny saw where this was going. "He was the same person that he had always been."
"Yes, exactly. Sure he could fly, but that was just a bonus. I guess the hardest part to accept was the constant running off to save the world. I couldn't stop him from doing that any more than I could stop him from breathing, nor would I want to. The need to help others was a driving force in his personality, an integral part of who he was…who he still is. I knew that no matter what the disaster was, he would always come back to me and the kids. But those disasters sure did have bad timing sometimes."
Jenny shook her head. "I guess that's something we haven't had to deal with much yet."
"I'm sure you'll handle it fine. Your situation will be different from ours, and I'm not going to sit here and tell you that it will be easy. But you already said that you love each other. Keep that at the forefront and you'll be okay. Just…promise me one thing."
Lois hesitated. She dearly wished that she had heard this piece of advice when she was young. "Don't let little things get in the way. Don't let your relationship self-destruct because you're too stubborn to talk to each other. You two truly have something special, and I would hate to see it ruined because of that."
"I promise you, Lois. You don't have anything to worry about."
Both women smiled off into the darkness. There was a new understanding between them now. Jenny viewed Lois more as a colleague and friend than a possible mother-in-law. After spending a little time working with her, she could see how Lois could be viewed as a tough reporter, running roughshod over people to get to the big story. But she could also see the sentimental and compassionate Lois, the one that probably only her husband and children really knew about. Jenny truly felt herself a member of their world now. She also knew, unequivocally, that she had Lois's blessing as far as knowing the family secret went.
Their reverie was interrupted by the return of the men in the business suits. One of them went to untie the women while the other kept his gun pointed at them. "Well, ladies, the boss has big plans for you. Especially you, Ms. Lane, big shot reporter. Too bad for you the big S-men are in Japan right now," the man holding the gun said.
"What does he want?" Jenny asked, not really expecting answer.
The man holding the gun spoke again, a small smile creeping across his face. "That's for us to know and you to find out, missy. Though I hope you didn't have any plans for tomorrow." The man untying the rope chuckled at that, although the women didn't seem to find it amusing.
After the rope was untied, the men led the women out of the room and through the building, eventually going down some stairs and entering a tunnel. They walked along in the darkness for a long time before they reached what appeared to be a control room. One of the men forced Jenny down into a sitting position and tied her arms to one of the pipes running through the room. The other one kept going along down the tunnel, Lois in tow. "I'll be back later. Don't do anything until I return," the man called as they walked away.
Jenny wondered why she was being left where she was and why Lois was going somewhere else. The men knew she was a reporter — they had probably heard of her. Lois did have quite a reputation for bringing down the big criminals. Jenny had heard tales of some of Lois's brushes with death from CJ — it seemed to be something that Lois was prone to. Maybe whoever was behind this wanted something special from her — a favorable article or a chance to gloat, who knew? Jenny, on the other hand, was a nobody college student, obviously no threat to the big boss and not deserving of a better reception area than a dank underground chamber.
So here she was, she thought, tied up in this small room, and nobody except Lois and the men in suits knew where she was. She took one look at her captor and could tell that he wasn't going to be much of a conversationalist. She didn't know how she was going to pass the time, but she found that closing her eyes and thinking of CJ seemed to relax her quite a bit. She sent out mental pleas to him to find her, but she was pretty sure that he couldn't hear them. She held on to the hope that he would realize that she was gone and would find her, with any luck before anything bad happened. She kept that hope firmly in the front of her mind because, right now, she figured it was all she had.
*Clark, where are you?*
CJ sat on his couch, staring into a biology textbook. The fourth day of classes had been completed today, and already he had a monster homework assignment in this class. He expected no less from, say, an engineering course or a physics class, but biology? Sighing, he picked up his pen and began scribbling some notes in the margin of his notebook, supplementing the notes from lecture earlier today.
He only worked for a few minutes before he couldn't take it anymore. CJ didn't know what it was — he had never really had much of a problem with studying before, although he had to admit that he used to let himself get distracted a lot with parties and dates. But tonight was different. Ever since just after supper, he had had a vaguely uneasy feeling. He didn't know what it was. He knew that Dad and Jon were off halfway around the world, — if he didn't have direct knowledge of that fact, he could tell just by listening to the number of emergency calls that went unanswered throughout the city. But it was that way whenever the Superman went out of town. No, this was something else.
CJ got up and put a few CD's into the stereo, not bothering to turn them on right away. He dearly wished that he could call Jenny and talk to her, but she was out tonight, working with Lois on their story. He still found that to be a scary thought. His mom and Jenny, working together, probably making trouble together. He had no doubt that the story that would come out as the end result of their collaboration would probably be something truly special, if only because Lois Lane was willingly sharing the byline with a college student.
Upon thinking of Jenny, his uneasy feeling increased. CJ closed his eyes and reached out with his senses. Maybe she really was in trouble — it was entirely possible, given some of his mother's past adventures in investigative journalism. He couldn't hear anything, although a dark recess of his mind could almost hear her calling his name…
Suddenly the phone rang, causing him to jump. Having the phone ringing so close to him when his superhearing was activated was almost painful. At the very least, it was disorienting. He clutched his head and blinked several times before reaching for the phone.
"Hello?" he said, trying to keep the slight annoyance he felt at the interruption out of his voice.
"Hey, CJ, it's me," his little sister's voice came over the phone. CJ's face lit up upon hearing her — he supposed if he had to be interrupted, she would be one of the people that he would have do it.
"Laura, hey! To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Well, I was just wondering if you knew where Mom was." He could hear a slight note of worry in her voice.
CJ frowned. "Not exactly. Why?"
"She had an appointment set up with my guidance counselor for tonight, and she missed it."
CJ's mind began to spin. "Maybe she just forgot." He knew that was pretty flimsy — Mom was always good at keeping appointments.
"She didn't, I'm positive. She even mentioned it to Daddy before they left for work this morning."
He glanced over at the clock, realizing that it was later than he had first thought. Jenny and Lois had left to work on the story almost five hours ago — that was more than enough time for them to get what they needed. Maybe they were working together at the Planet and time just got away from them. "Did you try calling work?"
"Yeah. That was the first place I called. They hadn't seen her since this afternoon."
He furrowed his brow. Could he be right? Were they really in trouble? "Dad's still gone?"
"Mmm-hmm. Jon went with him."
CJ sighed. This was not good. Who knew when they would be back?
"I have the whole house to myself. It's pretty cool," Laura continued, a touch of lightness in her voice. Either she was trying to downplay the possible disappearance of Lois Lane, or she was trying to lighten the mood. For his own peace of mind, CJ decided to play along, hoping to ease her earlier apprehension. It wouldn't do her any good to spend the whole night worrying.
"Just don't get too wild — I've been there. I don't think I ever saw Dad really mad before that time I tried to throw a party when I had the place to myself that one weekend in high school."
Laura giggled, recalling the family trip to Smallville that CJ decided to pass up in favor of a science camp. Oh, he hadn't intended for the little gathering of friends that he invited over to the empty house to get so out of control, but it did. Their father had been furious! "I almost forgot about that. Thanks for the advice."
"No problemo. Hey Laura? If you would leave a note for Dad telling him to call me when he gets back, I would appreciate it."
"Yeah, okay." Laura hesitated, her light mood slipping away. "You don't think there's anything wrong, do you?"
CJ answered in a voice that was more confident than he truly felt. "I'm sure everything's fine. Don't worry yourself over it. Talk to you later?"
"Yeah, later. Goodnight."
As he heard the other end of the line go dead, the small smile that CJ had plastered onto his face for the benefit of his sister faded away. Before jumping to any conclusions, he decided to call Jenny's apartment to see if she was home. Her answering machine told him that she wasn't. CJ replaced the phone and sank down into the couch, placing his head in his hands. Despite what he told his sister, he had the disturbing feeling that something was wrong. It wasn't something that he could quantify, but it was there nonetheless. He should've known, he told himself. That was the way fate always seemed to work — the simple, seemingly harmless things that you don't think twice about were always the things that turned into disasters. Of course, in the past those disasters didn't directly involve the possible injury of people he cared about.
The real question that CJ needed to answer was not whether Lois and Jenny were missing, but whether he should do something himself to try and figure out their whereabouts. He couldn't call the cops — they didn't care unless somebody had been missing for at least a day. With Dad and Jon gone, anything that was going to be done had to be done by him and him alone. It also should be done quickly — if bad guys DID have them, the longer he waited, the more likelihood there was that something bad would happen to them. But what could he do, really?
An idea began to form in the back of his mind, slowly growing as he considered his options. He wasn't totally without his resources. He was the son of Superman, after all. He also was pretty smart, if he did say so himself, and had at least a little bit of detective training under his belt. Given all that, he was far from helpless. Without another thought, he shot off the couch and made his way to his bedroom.
CJ dug frantically through his closet a few minutes later, looking for the items that he knew were there. Early in his football career, a few guys on the team had jokingly labeled him Superman for some of his defensive efforts — a title that had made him extremely nervous and that he discouraged the use of. It eventually died away, but not before the guys had pitched in and bought him a Superman hat and T-shirt. They had been immediately relegated to the darkest corner of the closet and forgotten, until now. Finally his hands brushed over the items in question and grabbed on, yanking them out from under the pile of other forgotten objects. The T-shirt was made of white cotton and had the S-shield screen printed on the front. It was about a size smaller than he normally wore, meaning that the fit would be pretty tight. The cap was blue and had an S-shield embroidered on the front. It hadn't been worn at all, and as such, the bill was perfectly flat. CJ used both hands to curl the bill, setting the hat aside when he was satisfied.
He wasn't too sure about what he was about to undertake. The way he saw it, there were three options for him as far as finding Jenny and his mom went: go out in a costume, be it Robin or Superman or something else; go out as himself; or wait until his dad and Jon came home. He didn't want to wait — sometimes it took days to help with the large disasters, and the earthquake that they were cleaning up after had been particularly devastating. So that option was out. He couldn't exactly go out as Robin — all that equipment was back in Gotham — well, all of it but the one swing line that he had snagged on the way out. Plus it would raise too many questions — there was absolutely no reason for Robin to be in Metropolis. He didn't want to borrow one of his dad's suits and go out as Superman, because, well, he wasn't, and he just couldn't do the things his dad could. And it would be extremely obvious that he WASN'T Superman because the suit wouldn't fit right (his dad was a couple of inches taller than CJ) and, he noted for not the first time, the resemblance just wasn't there. But if Jenny and Lois had been kidnapped and being held at gunpoint, the possibility existed that if he scared the perpetrators enough, they would shoot at him. It would look really suspicious when those bullets started bouncing right off of him. So no, he couldn't exactly go as himself, either. What he needed was a new disguise, and the T-shirt and cap (plus some other accessories) would do the job adequately. The way he figured, as long as nothing extraordinary happened, whatever bad guy he found would probably write him off as some nut who was a big fan of Superman, and that was just fine with him. And if something DID happen, he was covered.
His decision made, CJ took a deep breath and began to dress. He pulled off the shirt he was wearing and pulled the Superman T-shirt over his head, tucking it into his jeans. Next the cap came on, followed by his pair of wrap-around Oakley sunglasses. He checked the sunglasses to make sure that they were all plastic — that way he could x-ray through them without any problems. He grabbed the swing line off of the upper shelf in the closet and fastened it to his belt, completing the outfit. He wandered into the bathroom to look at himself in the mirror, trying to see if the disguise would work.
The first thing that his eyes found was the goatee — it would be a dead giveaway. A light bulb went on in his mind — the goatee COULD have its use, after all. Giving a half smile, he removed his Oakleys and shot a beam of his laser vision at the mirror, cutting an interesting zigzag pattern into his goatee. Sure it would stand out while he was fighting crime, but that was point. He would shave it all off as soon as he got back from his mission, and that would probably kill any link back to himself, CJ Kent. Just in case he had to make a quick escape, CJ decided that it might be wise to carry a mirror with him so that he could do it on the run. Before leaving the bathroom, he put his sunglasses back on and looked at himself. Trying to put the most neutral expression on his face that he could, he stood up straight and crossed his arms across his chest — the classic Superman pose. The cap covered all of his hair except his sideburns and a v-shaped patch on the back of his head. The shape of the sunglasses helped to obscure his facial features and hide his eyes. The T-shirt was snug enough to slip under his aura, plus he had to admit that it really brought out the definition in his upper body. He thought briefly that Jenny would probably appreciate the shirt very much. Yes, this outfit would do nicely.
Grabbing his smallest mirror from under the sink, CJ left the bathroom and snagged his leather jacket (just in case he needed to cover up his clothing), stuffing the mirror in the pocket. A daunting task lay ahead of him. He would have to rely on his senses and the detective skills that Bruce had taught him to do the job, something he was more than a little apprehensive about. Metropolis was an awfully big city to be trying to find two people in.
CJ jumped into his car, trying to decide where to go first. He knew that his mom had met with Jenny to work on the story, and that today they were going to investigate the professor. Knowing his mom, they were probably going to break into the professor's office after he went home. CJ half smiled as he recalled some of the discussions that his mom and dad had had over the years about her penchant for getting into trouble, stemming directly from her need to investigate things close up (like from the inside of a locked office). Dad always alluded to her constant need for rescue by Superman, although, to be fair, Mom hadn't needed to be rescued in recent memory. Even so, it might be plausible that Jenny and Lois had broken into Professor Seagrave's office and had been captured in the process.
He parked the car in the lot behind Hoover Hall, now largely empty. CJ had been to the professor's office once to ask him some questions about his thermodynamics class, but that had been long enough ago that he didn't remember exactly where it was anymore, although he had an idea about the general location. Sneaking into the shadows, CJ x-rayed the building, finding nobody in any of the offices in the area of interest. Strike one.
What now? Maybe to the Planet to try and decipher Mom's notes on the story. CJ really wished that he had made Jenny disclose to him a few more details about the investigation, like what company was paying the professor for his services. If he knew that, he could have another angle on it. As he was lost in thought, CJ's hearing picked up a dispatch signal from campus security, saying that the steam tunnel entrance in Hoover Hall had been forced open.
The steam tunnels! It would stand to reason that the captors, whoever they were, would want to get their prisoners out of the building unobserved. Even though the parking lot that CJ was in was nearly empty, students did walk by and cars drove through on a fairly regular basis. College campuses were busy places at all times of the day and night, after all. The next closest parking lot was several buildings away, meaning that the captors would have to drag them across campus, something even less desirable. But the steam tunnels were accessed in the sub-basement, and could be reached by taking the empty hallways of the building. The steam tunnels snaked underground through campus and across to other parts of the city, making them the perfect means of escape.
CJ looked down quickly and x-rayed the ground, easily making out the tunnels. Fresh footprints seemed to have been made in the muck, leading away from campus. He had to get in there himself, preferably before security got there. He jogged toward the nearest entrance, scanning the building for cameras and other security systems. Seeing only a card scanner, he quickly pulled down his sunglasses and shot a bolt of heat at it, shorting it out. The door came open easily with its electronic lock disengaged. CJ ran straight for the nearest stairwell and down the two flights of stairs at top speed, not running into any people on his way. The entrance to the steam tunnels was right where he had seen it when he x-rayed the ground, the door propped slightly open.
CJ ran along the tunnel, following the footsteps in the mud, for what seemed like forever. At one point, he found a discarded scrap of paper, with only a 7-digit phone number scribbled on it in his mom's writing. Thinking it was probably a clue, he shoved it into the pocket of his jeans and kept running. Eventually he could make out the sound of voices echoing through the tunnel, getting louder as he moved along. He slowed his pace, trying to make out the words being spoken.
"How does it feel to know that today is your last day on Earth?" a man's voice said. He let out a menacing chuckle, followed by a fit of coughing.
"Strangely like any other day," he heard Jenny say in a flat voice. CJ forced himself up into the air as far as he could and continued down the tunnel, toward the voices. The tunnel curved ahead, and he could see light coming from around the corner.
"Ain't you scared, girlie? You should be." He heard footsteps as the man approached her. "When Joe gets back we're going to have a grand old time down here."
CJ could hear a throaty sound and then spitting. CJ activated his vision and glanced through the tunnel walls so he could see around the corner. A man in a black business suit stood in front of Jenny, who was tied to a pipe and sitting on the ground. The man ran his hand across his face, trying to wipe off the gob of spit that she shot at him. CJ smiled — that was his girl, all right.
The smile turned into a look of horror as the man in the suit drew out a gun. "I don't care what the plan is, no dame does that to me and lives."
Forgetting any pretense at stealth, CJ's feet hit the ground again and he shot around the corner, interrupting the man as he was in the process of aiming the gun.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," CJ said, his voice commanding but not disguised. Both heads quickly turned in his direction, an ecstatic smile lighting up Jenny's face and a look of rage coming over the man. He raised the gun at CJ and pulled the trigger. The bullet impacted him in the upper abdomen, falling to the ground as a mass of crushed metal. CJ looked down where it struck, and then back to the man with the gun, a large smile on his face.
The man stared in disbelief at first before pulling the trigger several more times, ridding the gun of all of its bullets. Each of them hit CJ in the torso and fell, harmless. Finding that firearms were no use against the intruder in the Superman T-shirt and hat, the man next tried to physically assault him. CJ's martial arts training kicked in as he blocked the shots aimed at him. In one swift motion, CJ let loose a roundhouse kick that connected with the man's jaw. It was powerful enough to knock him out, but not so powerful that it did any permanent damage.
Jenny watched the whole scene, a look of awe plastered onto her face. Once again, CJ was coming to her rescue, and he wasn't even the resident superhero. She had to admit that she cringed when her captor had fired the gun at him — it was hard to truly believe that he could withstand an assault like that without seeing it for herself. This was also the first time that she had seen him use the martial arts that he had acquired in Hong Kong the summer before they met. It was really an impressive thing to watch — the fluidity and efficiency of his motions was a thing of beauty. HE was a thing of beauty, although she had to laugh a little bit to herself over his get-up. She didn't even know he owned a pair of Oakleys. And what was with the pattern shaved into his goatee?
After checking to make sure that the man was okay, CJ approached Jenny and untied her from the pipe. Her arms immediately flung themselves around his neck, pulling him into her for a ravenous kiss. "You saved me again. Is this going to become a habit?" she asked afterwards, her arms still around his neck.
CJ slid his arms underneath her and stood up. "Well, that's all up to you." He bent slightly and set her back down, this time in a standing position. He reached up and removed the sunglasses, revealing his whole face to her in the dark tunnel. How did he see in here with those things on anyway? she thought. "It seems to me every time I come to your rescue, you're working on some big story…" He arched an eyebrow at her.
Her face was all innocence. "It's not my fault that random bad guys always seem to turn up at exactly the wrong time."
He put his hand up and cupped her cheek. "I know. I'm just saying that you could maybe be a little more careful…" His eyes got really wide. "Oh, no. Wait a sec." CJ removed his hand from her cheek and put it on the side of his head. "I just realized something."
Jenny was puzzled. "What?"
CJ chuckled. "We sound just like my parents."
"Really?" Jenny giggled. After getting to know his folks a little bit, she could see them in this exact situation. It really was pretty funny. CJ nodded in response, and they laughed together for a moment.
"Seriously," CJ said, laying his hands on her shoulders. "In the future, it might be better for your health if you maybe didn't spit in the face of gun-toting bad guys."
Jenny placed her hands over his and gently slid them up his arms. "In retrospect, that might not have been the smartest thing in the world…"
"Well, just as long as you learned your lesson…" A smile crept across his face. "The look on the guy's face was pretty funny, though."
"You WOULD think so." Jenny smiled and kissed him again. Breaking it off, they both began to look around. The little area of the tunnel they were in was actually a small room, with valves and control panels on the wall. Crushed bullets lay on the ground near the entrance, and the unconscious man and his gun lay toward the back wall of the room. Illumination was provided by a sodium vapor lamp in ceiling, installed as part of the equipment for the room. A ladder on the near wall led upwards, presumably to the outside. X-raying the door revealed that it led to a walkway near the stadium.
"What are we going to do with all this?" Jenny asked.
CJ's mind kicked into analytical mode, running through several scenarios. They could leave the man as he was, unconscious on the ground, clean up the gun and the bullets, and wait for the security guards to find him. But that would only lead to a charge of trespassing, and considering this guy pulled a gun on his girl, CJ wanted him to face a harsher punishment. He could go and leave Jenny here with the man, and when they got discovered, Jenny could tell security the whole story. CJ didn't like that idea much, either, because it meant leaving her alone with this man, and who knew how long he would be unconscious? And besides, this wasn't the police coming to their rescue, it was campus security, and they didn't carry handguns or any other reliable means of protection. Plus it would mean a lengthy delay as they questioned Jenny, and he wanted to have her with him while they searched for his mother. An idea came to him suddenly as he turned to face Jenny.
"Campus Security is headed this way — they know that somebody broke into these tunnels." CJ glanced in the direction that he came from, trying to judge their distance. They were still quite a ways away, making very slow progress. They needed to be hurried — he wanted to get out of here and find Lois. "They're not moving very fast. Here is the plan: let out a big scream to get them running this way. When I say so, scream again, and make the second one sound like you're being kidnapped. You and I will escape through this door," he said, pointing toward the steel cover at the top of the ladder, "and we will go find Mom."
Jenny smiled in admiration — it really was a good plan. It only had one small flaw. "Won't they think that he tried to save me from being kidnapped or something?"
CJ shrugged. "It doesn't matter — if he discharged a firearm at somebody with the attempt of harming them, it's attempted murder and he can be charged." He picked up one of the bullets and examined it. "Even though these are pretty messed up, the back is still intact and these can still be matched up to that gun."
"All right." She nodded and kissed him lightly on the cheek. She was amazed again at Clark Kent, Jr. — funny guy, scientist, and one heck of a superhero in the making. She learned shortly after they met that when he got serious, watch out — something brilliant would invariably happen then. "You want me to let loose right now?"
"Go for it," he said, backing away and steeling himself. She let out a hellacious scream that echoed down the concrete tunnel, immediately catching the attention of the security guards.
"Remind me not to make you mad," CJ said to her, his humor back in full force. He glanced over at her face, a twinkle in his eye, before directing his gaze down the corridor. He reasoned that if he could hear their footfalls without using his powers, then the guards would be able to hear Jenny clearly and make out her words. It wouldn't leave them much time for escape, though. He made his way over to the ladder and began to climb it, gesturing for Jenny to follow him. They were most of the way up before they could make out the sounds of the approaching guards. "Now," CJ told her, softly.
They continued climbing while she let out another yell. "No! Let me go! Where are you taking me? Ahhh!" she screamed, sounding every bit the damsel in distress.
CJ's hand met the steel door and easily pushed it open, revealing the star-filled sky above. He scrambled out of the opening and offered a hand to Jenny, who accepted it and let herself be pulled out by him. He gently closed the door again and stood up next to her. "My dear, you could be an actress."
She arched her eyebrows at him, giving a skeptical smile. They looked each other in the eyes for a second before they both said, "Nah!" in unison. After giving in to a fit of giggles, they came back to the task at hand.
"We need to get going before we get found. Come on," he said, putting his sunglasses back on and holding his arms out to her, "Hop aboard."
Jenny didn't need to be asked twice. She hopped up into his arms and he began to run toward campus at a speed that was slightly faster than any mere mortal could achieve. They were well out of sight before the security guards made it out of the steel door. CJ didn't stop running until he reached his car back at Hoover Hall, roughly a mile and a half from where he started.
Jenny reluctantly left the safety of his arms and set both feet on the ground. After her close brush with death, she wanted nothing more that to go somewhere with him and curl up in his arms for a few hours. But Lois was still missing, and she had to be found before they could do anything. Jenny caught CJ looking at her, an unmistakable look of longing on his face showing despite everything that he had covering it up. She was sure that her face held the same expression, but she didn't allow herself to dwell on that.
CJ's expression of longing lingered only briefly, and all of a sudden his manner became very businesslike. He reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out a set of keys, unlocked the car door, and sat down in the passenger seat, his legs facing out the door. "Where to now?" he asked, looking in Jenny's direction.
Jenny looked at her hands, thinking. That was a very good question. "I don't know. They didn't tell me where they were taking her."
A playful smile played across his face. "Gosh, if you believe what they show you on TV, you'd think that all villains blurt out their evil plans to their captives just before the plan gets foiled. Are you sure that you didn't hear anything at least a little bit diabolical?"
"I don't think these guys watch the same shows you do," Jenny said, a small smile of her own forming on her lips. "I really don't know anything, except what the professor was working on. Your mom was getting information about whatever company was buying him off."
CJ raised his eyebrows. "What WAS he working on, anyway?"
"Well, it's kinda technical. Actually, I saved the file to disk in hopes of having you explain to me exactly what was going on. Sciency stuff has never been my strong suit. Those goons took my bag, though, and the disc was in there…"
"Do you remember anything at all about it?"
Jenny wrenched her brow together in thought. "Your mom and I looked through some journals at the things he had written in the past, and most of his articles dealt with power plants and making them more efficient. I guess he worked with other things from time to time too — air conditioning systems, engines and the like."
"Sure," CJ said, standing up and beginning to pace. "His specialty is thermodynamics, which deals with heat transfer and has applications in a lot of areas, including what you said, but it applies to things like the weather and other mechanical processes."
Her head bobbed up and down in agreement. Was there any subject outside of his sphere of knowledge? At his pause, she decided to go on. "Yeah, well I was going through the files on his computer, and I noticed one that was completely different than the others. While all his previous stuff was more or less theory, this one was a proposal to build a new type of engine — judging from the graphics, it would be like a jet engine for cars."
CJ smiled boyishly. Jenny figured that if she could see his eyes, they would have a twinkle in them. "Cool!"
As much as Jenny could understand his appreciation for such a thing (she had thought it was pretty cool the first time she had seen it, too), it didn't get them any closer to a solution. "Yeah, it's pretty interesting, but it doesn't tell us anything about where to find your mom."
The boyish grin was once again replaced by a serious expression. "Not really. Metropolis is filled with technology firms that could do something with a proposal like that. Aircraft companies, engine manufacturers, the list goes on."
A silence fell over them as they both stared at neutral sites on the pavement, thinking. All at once they both popped their heads up.
"The recorder! I almost forgot!" Jenny exclaimed.
"The phone number!" CJ said reaching into his pocket. They looked at each other, first in anticipation and then in confusion.
"What…?" CJ asked her, but before he barely got the word out of his mouth, she grabbed his arm and started pulling him toward the building. He made no attempt to restrain her, although he did manage to stick out a hand and close the car door on the way. "Hey!"
"We have to get in there again and get that recorder!" she said hurriedly, her stride not breaking for a second. He gained his footing and followed her, her hand still clutched firmly around his arm. They reached the building and entered through the same door that CJ had shorted out the lock on earlier. Entering the professor's office wasn't as easy — although at least two different sets of people had broken into it that night, the lock to the door remained intact. CJ argued that he could get them in with one flick of the wrist, but she was determined to use her newly acquired lock picking skills, pointing out that it would leave less evidence. CJ had to admit that she had a point, but that didn't stop him from being frustrated while waiting the five minutes it took her to get the job done. But, being the ever considerate boyfriend, he offered her nothing but encouragement the whole time, albeit through clenched teeth.
Upon entering the office, Jenny headed straight for a small air vent in the wall near the floor. "Clark!" she whispered at him. He had been taking the opportunity to look around a little bit, x-raying into some of the files and the desk. He brought his attention back to her and saw that she was kneeling on the ground, trying to pry the vent off the wall with her fingers. He knelt down beside her with a good idea as to why he had been called over.
"Can you rip this vent off of here?"
He stared at her, incredulous. "Now, wait a second! I thought we just spent all that time picking the lock because you didn't want evidence of a break-in. Excuse me if I'm wrong, but a vent ripped off the wall will just scream 'break-in.' Either that, or it will say that something really weird and nasty is lurking in that little crawl space."
It was Jenny's turn to look incredulous. She could envision some sort of large radioactive rat running through the crawl space at high speeds, breaking through metal air vents and entering offices, causing mass destruction. She glanced over at CJ, and saw that expression was now completely blank, his face straight as straight as could be. Jenny couldn't help but break out into a fit of laughter. He seemed to be waiting for this reaction from her, and upon receiving it, he broke out into a very CJ-like grin. It took her a few minutes to calm herself down again. Wiping tears from her face she spoke again. "Let's go for the 'weird and nasty thing' look — I want it to look like a hideously mutated animal burst through that vent." She giggled again after finishing, the pictures in her mind just too absurd to ignore.
CJ looked at her and raised an eyebrow. He then seemed to get comically speculative before returning to a neutral expression. "Okay. I suppose I can do that. Now, do you want it to look like a hideously mutated rat, or maybe a raccoon or an opossum? A squirrel possibly…"
Jenny threw her head back and started laughing again, but not before slugging him in the arm. She didn't really think it would hurt him — she just saw bullets bounce off his chest not too long ago — but, she figured, it got her point across. While she was trying to recover again, CJ dutifully punched a large hole in the vent, careful not to harm the device attached to the back of it. He disengaged the recorder and examined it. It only took a quick glance to affirm that it was the same one that his mother used on her stakeouts. He had some fun with this little device as a kid, that was for sure. Slipping the device into his pocket, he began to bend the metal on the vent to make it look like it was hit from the other side. By the time he finished, Jenny was once again in control of herself, and they left the office.
Jenny and CJ sat in his car, still parked in the lot outside Hoover Hall, listening to the recording device. CJ sat in the passenger seat, preferring not to drive once they got moving — he wanted to be able to scan the surroundings uninterrupted. They had listened to about half of the recording before anything even remotely interesting came up. Most of the conversations recorded were between students and the professor — if CJ had been in his thermodynamics class at the time, he probably would've found them very interesting. Finally, they could hear the professor on his side of a phone call with some guy named Bill.
"Do your remember Mom mentioning anyone named Bill?" CJ asked.
"No, but if you listen, he makes it clear that that is who the engine is being shipped to."
"So Bill is in California. Okay." They listened to the recording a little bit more.
"Miner, who is he?" Jenny asked.
CJ chewed on his lip for a second as his mind raced. Miner, Miner, that name was so familiar. Was he a professor at the University? No, he didn't think that was it. Maybe a company… Then it hit him. "Miner Engine Company. It makes sense if you listen to this again — I think Seagrave was getting money from Miner and he's going to double cross him."
"That must be why those guys broke into his office tonight," Jenny continued. She placed her hand over the ignition and turned on the car. "And now they have your mom."
CJ nodded. "Probably, although we can't be sure." He absently stuck his hands in his pocket when his fingers brushed across a scrap of paper. He gently pulled it out and looked at it, a new idea coming to him. "My mom dropped this piece of paper in the tunnels. I wonder if it's a clue."
Jenny was already putting the car into drive as CJ spoke. She glanced over at him and took in the writing. "Well, let's find a phone and then you can see."
CJ nodded. Jenny drove the car to the nearest pay phone, and CJ jumped out almost before it stopped moving. He approached the phone and punched in his calling card number by memory before entering the phone number on the scrap of paper. The phone on the other end rang four times before an answering machine picked up, announcing that he had dialed the Miner Engine Company and that nobody could answer the phone. CJ hung up and drummed his fingers on the phone casing, trying to decide on his next move. That was the second time that Miner had come up. On one hand, it could be an incredible coincidence, but on the other hand, he was looking for anything he could find. Barring a trip to California, Miner was their only real lead right now, so CJ decided that that was probably where they should head to next. He opened the phone book and found the listing for Miner Engines, then tore the page out and stuffed it in the back pocket of his jeans.
He looked at the phone, debating whether he should try and call home again. The chiming of the University bell tower in the distance told him that it was probably a little late, and anyway, his dad would know that CJ was looking for him. No use waking his sister up and worrying her needlessly if his father wasn't there. His mind made up, CJ jogged back to the car and got in.
"So what's the news?" Jenny asked as she looked at him anxiously.
"The phone number is for Miner Engines," CJ replied. "We should head there. Here's the address." He took the phone book page out of his pocket and handed it to Jenny, pointing out the listing for Miner as he did. Jenny looked a little confused, which prompted CJ to remember that she had only spent two school years in Metropolis. "Take the freeway out to the 78th Street exit and go east. I'll direct you from there, don't worry."
Jenny looked at him appreciatively. "I swear you can read my mind."
CJ pulled his sunglasses down to the end of his nose and looked at her with a gleam in his eye. "I bet I know what you're thinking right now."
Jenny blushed a little, giving away her thoughts. She had been thinking about his many assets, it was true, but she was also thinking that they had better get going. She leaned over and gave CJ a quick peck on the lips before putting the car in drive again and taking off. "My thoughts can be explored more thoroughly at a better time," she said with more than a little bit of suggestion. CJ had to raise his eyebrows and look at her.
"That thought should keep me going strong for the rest of the night," he said, laughing. Jenny kept her left hand on the wheel and sought out CJ's hand with her right. They rode together in comfortable silence, hands entwined, for a few minutes before CJ remembered the recording device and the fact that they hadn't listened to the whole recording yet. He used his free hand to locate the device and pushed the play button.
The conversations that followed seemed to be those of a man getting his affairs in order. He was obviously making phone calls to bankers, lawyers, and real estate agents. If there was any doubt in CJ's mind as to the professor's true plan, it disappeared quickly. The professor was going to disappear and take his invention with him. After a few one-sided phone conversations, the voice on the recording seemed to change.
"So what are we looking for?" came Jenny's voice through the speaker. CJ's mouth broke out in a wicked grin as he continued listening.
"Oh, Clark, I don't think you'll hear anything more of interest on there," said Jenny nervously. She detached her right hand from CJ's and made a weak grab for the recorder.
CJ held it out of her reach. As the recording device kept playing, he could hear everything that happened with Jenny and Lois's search, and then their encounter with the kidnappers and their conversation afterwards. Jenny concentrated on the road with everything that was in her. As CJ heard the exchange between Lois and Jenny, his wicked smile faded and was replaced with a very soft, emotional look.
Finally the recording ended. CJ looked over at Jenny, unable to think of anything to say. The depth of emotion that had been in her voice when she told Lois their story was very touching to him, and her immediate affirmation of her love for him made his heart swell. CJ certainly knew that Jenny loved him — she had demonstrated that more than once — but the way she candidly told it to his mother was amazing. And as for Lois, well, he had never heard her talk about finding out his father's secret before. It was quite a revelation to him. It was obvious that Jenny and his mother had bonded strongly, if only because of their similar experiences in finding out large secrets about the men in their lives. CJ wondered absently what kind of strain that must put on a person, having had an experience that was so heavily emotional, yet not having anyone else who had a similar experience to share it with. His mom could talk to his dad or Grandma and Grandpa Kent about stuff dealing with the secret itself, but when it came to the discovery aspect of it all, Jenny was her only kindred spirit.
CJ's mind drew a blank — he couldn't even tell what Jenny was feeling, although he knew that she was at least slightly annoyed that he had listened to that part of the recording in the first place. His psychic touch of earlier failed him now, and all he could think of to do was to let her know how he felt. If it had been any other person than Jenny that he was speaking to, he would've made a joke or brushed over him emotions. But he had learned that those tactics didn't cut the mustard with her, and she would get past his defenses and find the truth eventually, anyway.
"I just want to let you know that I don't think you're the perfect woman, I KNOW you're the perfect woman," CJ said, referring to a portion of the conversation on tape. As he said those words, Jenny's neutral expression began to transform into a loving grin. Jenny brought her right hand up and caressed his face silently. After a few seconds, CJ took her hand in hers and brought it down to his lips, kissing it gently and then letting it go. It wouldn't do to have them get in an accident on the way to rescue his mother.
As he dropped her hand, CJ spotted their exit. "Here we are," he said, pointing to the sign that announced the exit. The soft atmosphere that had manifested itself in the car only moments before now became very businesslike as CJ gave Jenny directions to the company. The part of town they were now in was older, with large manufacturing buildings crowded together. Jenny pulled her car into a narrow alley between two of the more modern looking buildings on the block. CJ stared intently at the Miner building, looking for any signs of life at this late hour. It took no time flat to locate his mother in the business offices. She was tied to a chair in a conference room, alone and unharmed. CJ could see two other men talking animatedly in another room, one of them equipped with a gun.
Since his mother was currently alone, CJ saw this as about the best opportunity he would have to get her. He looked away from the building and focused in on Jenny, who was looking at him with a curious look on her face. As much as she knew about the abilities he possessed, it never ceased to amaze her when she saw him use them. "So…?" she said, hoping for good news.
"This is the place, all right. Mom's up there and I'm going to go get her."
Jenny smiled with relief. She had been convinced that it couldn't possibly be this easy to locate Lois in a city the size of Metropolis, but some very simple detective work and well placed clues made all the difference in the world. "I'll wait here and watch the exit," Jenny said, knowing that he would be better off going into the building alone.
"I was just going to suggest that," CJ said, smiling softly. "So you don't mind?"
Jenny shrugged. "Believe me, I've had more than my fair share of action tonight. A few minutes in the car will be relaxing."
"Good. Just don't fall asleep."
Jenny rolled her eyes. "Believe me, I'm not THAT tired."
CJ bent over and kissed her quickly, then he sat up again and opened the car door. "Okay. Well, I'm off. Wish me luck," he said, and took off toward the building without waiting for a reply.
"Good luck," Jenny said quietly, knowing that he would be perfectly able to hear her. She watched him disappear around the corner of the building and leaned back in her seat, closing her eyes briefly. The life of a journalist is certainly exciting, she thought. The things they go through for a story — no wonder Lois needed a superhero for a husband. Jenny opened her eyes again and stared at the ceiling, waiting and listening. This would definitely be a night that she would end up telling the kids about, when she had them.
Her eyes shot wide open at the realization of what she just implied. She was thinking about CHILDREN? This was serious. Was she ready to start thinking about a long-term future with CJ, a man who she met a mere two and a half months earlier? Was it possible that their relationship had gotten to that point? The more she thought about it, she realized, the less certain she was about anything. Jenny shook her head lightly, trying to clear away the thoughts and concentrating on the task at hand. Sighing, she resumed her lookout, waiting anxiously for anybody to exit that building.
Silence was deafening to Lois Lane. After years of spending time first in a busy newsroom, and then in a busy house with three children, she had grown used to having a certain amount of racket around her. Granted, the nights were usually quiet, although when Clark was around they generally tried to pass the time making noise of their own. It had been a long time since Lois had been kidnapped last — she had almost forgotten the feeling. On one hand, it was always a little scary — generally, if someone is willing to break the law and kidnap a person, what's to stop them from taking the next step and killing them? On the other hand, if the fact that they went to the trouble to keep you alive to begin with was probably a good sign. And kidnappings always seemed to be really good for quiet introspection, getting in better touch with your inner self. Look what had happened to her and Jenny just a few hours ago? If they hadn't been tied up together, they probably never would've had the little talk they did.
Lois looked around the small conference room she was in and sighed, tugging briefly at the ropes that held her in place. Her kidnappers had made a token effort to disguise the identity of their employer on the way over, even going so far as to blindfold her. Not that it mattered — she already knew who she was dealing with. She could probably also guess what they wanted with her, too. It might have been a few years since her last kidnapping, but one thing Lois knew was that the minds of criminals didn't change too much over time. Never mind the fact that evil schemes identical to the ones they were carrying out had been foiled time and again by people such as Lois, somehow every criminal believed that this time, it would work. So, Lois figured, if these criminals did what she thought, they would probably demand she work for them or die. Or they would threaten her family members. Or they would ask for information that they were certain she knew. It never failed.
It occurred to Lois that it was just her luck that an earthquake struck Japan right before the kidnapping, sending her husband and her eldest son off and the city unguarded. Of course, she trusted herself to get out of this — she HAD gotten herself in trouble even before Clark showed up. It was just that he made getting out of it so much easier, not to mention more pleasurable. She also told herself not to count out her other children. Even though they were not technically active superheroes, they were Superman's children, and she knew that nothing would stop them if they thought that something was wrong with her. They had inherited some of the same talents and abilities, not to mention the intellect, that both her and Clark possessed, plus CJ was technically a hero-in-training. They could definitely do the job, although it might be interesting to see how it went. Neither of them had costumes available, nor did she think that they really wanted to draw attention to themselves just yet — once it was known that Superman had more kids, it would be a non-stop media frenzy. That's what happened with Jon, although he had been very good about not letting it get to him.
Lois smiled. She always felt good when she thought about her children. Twenty five years ago, she would never have imagined that she would end up as proud mother with wonderful, loving kids and a husband who was, well, super. She never imagined how fulfilling a family could be, how great it felt to see her offspring making the world a better place, and knowing that she was responsible for making them the people they are. She also never dreamed that she would be investigating a story with a college junior who just happened to be her little boy's girlfriend. Lois couldn't help but feel bad for the girl right now — who knew what these guys did with her? She obviously wasn't important enough to warrant a visit to the big office.
The sound of the door opening interrupted her thoughts. A man in a nice business suit entered the room, followed by the goon who had brought her there. The goon displayed his gun in a not-so-subtle way, making sure that Lois knew it was there before giving the signal to the nicely dressed man to speak.
"Well, Miss Lane, or should I say, Mrs. Kent, reporter extraordinaire for the Daily Planet. It's a pleasure to meet you," the man said.
Lois glared at him for a moment before fixing a neutral expression on her face. "I wish I could say the same, but under the circumstances I don't think I can, Mr…"
"Come now, Mrs. Kent, I suspect you know full well who I am." The man stood up straight and smiled cordially. He went over to a small cabinet in the wall and opened it, revealing a small wet bar. He poured himself a drink and returned to face Lois.
Lois squinted her eyes, trying to get a look at the man in the dimly lit room. While she knew the company she was dealing with, she didn't really know too much about who was behind it. The man did look oddly familiar though. She just couldn't quite put her finger on it. "I'm afraid I really don't know who you are. Sorry."
This seemed to anger the man. He seemed about ready to throw his drink glass at the wall before he regained control of himself, once again fixing a pleasant expression on his face. "Well, soon enough the whole world will know who I am. Men of the likes of Bill Gates and Lex Luthor will seem like paupers next to me. I will be able to buy and sell whole nations if I so choose. The name Martin Miner will be said with a sense of awe."
The man wears his ego like a badge of honor, Lois thought. "Martin Miner, of Miner Engine Company? You make aircraft engines, right?"
Miner shot her an impatient look. "Aircraft engines are old news. The future, my dear, are these new jet engines our dear Professor developed for us."
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't he develop those for the University?"
Miner let out a chuckle. "What the University doesn't know won't hurt them."
"So what does this have to do with me?" Lois asked. She was tired of the pleasantries — it was time to see what was really going on.
"I'm glad you asked. You see, Mrs. Kent, what I am presenting to you is an opportunity. Behold my vision," he said, sitting on a table opposite her, not offering her any type of visual aids but gesturing as if he was pointing out objects that only he could see. "The professor is a brilliant man. You see, his engine is truly unique from any other in that it will change the way we do everyday things, such as driving. His engine has made it possible to develop flying automobiles — a concept that was previously relegated to bad science fiction movies. Unfortunately, the professor has not delivered on his end of the bargain." Miner leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees. "You were in his office tonight, so obviously you know about his research. You're a reporter, so I believe you must know other things about our dear professor." Miner got up and began to pace. "What I want to know is where he went and where his engine is. Tell me and I just might spare your life."
Lois's mind began to race as she tried to comprehend the meaning of what he'd just said. The professor must have taken Miner's money and blackmailed him, and now Miner wanted to find him. He must obviously think she knew more than she really did — it was a classic bad guy kidnapping motive. So the question became what could she do? Lie and give him a false location — that address that CJ had given her earlier, for one — or tell him the truth, which was that she didn't know anything. Maybe she could get more information out of him before giving him his answer.
"What about the girl who was with me?" Lois asked, trying to stall.
"What about her? She wasn't essential to the plan, so she will be dealt with. How she is dealt with is up to you. Tell me the truth and you will both be spared."
Lois grew cold. If anything happened to Jenny, she knew that CJ would never be the same. He loved her so much, that much was obvious, that if she were to die, Lois was certain that a large part of her son would die, too. She would never forgive herself if anything happened to Jenny as a result of her own actions. CJ might never forgive her either. Whatever the consequences were for her alone, the fact that Jenny's life was on the line, too, made her rethink her strategy.
"You probably know as much about the professor as I do," Lois said confidently.
Miner stopped abruptly and turned toward Lois. All of a sudden his eyes seemed wild, and a sneer formed on his lips. She was quite sure at that very second that he was insane. "LIAR," he shouted, hurling his glass across the room. "Why else would you be in that office? No, you know more than you say, and I'm going to get you to tell me. Until that time, you will be locked away, you will be starved and beaten and broken, and I will see to it that the rest of your family is made to suffer, too."
Lois wasn't too concerned about his threats on her immediate family — they were all invulnerable. She was more concerned about the safety of the people that lived near them. The man in front of her was clearly no longer in touch with logic, and having someone like that running around with a revenge motive put a lot of people at risk. It was up to her to make sure that nobody else got hurt, but she didn't have the information he was looking for. Maybe she could get him to see that she was telling him the truth.
Lois set her jaw in determination and opened her mouth to speak, but before she could get anything out, the door to the room shattered into a million pieces. That caught the attention of both Martin Miner and the goon, who immediately wheeled around to face the spot where the door once was. In its place stood a man dressed in a Superman T-shirt, jeans, and baseball cap, with gaudy sunglasses and a crazy goatee. Lois didn't immediately recognize her son, but once she did, she felt the sudden urge to start laughing. That was definitely one of the more interesting disguises he could've thought up.
"You've reached the end of the road," CJ said in an authoritative tone. The other men just stared at him for a second, not sure what to make of the intruder. "Your plan will never fly," CJ continued, his face straight.
Lois rolled her eyes. Leave it to CJ to turn a rescue into a stand-up routine.
"Kill him!" Miner yelled at the other man. The goon held up the gun and pulled the trigger, only to have the bullet stopped by a hand covering the end of the chamber. CJ crushed the gun with one hand while quickly delivering a knockout blow with the other.
While the goon was trying to shoot CJ, Miner was creating a diversion to allow himself to escape. He quickly ran to the bar and reached inside a little compartment, drawing a gun. He pointed the gun at Lois and looked at CJ, a large smile on his face. Crazy as he was, Miner was not stupid. He saw the effect that a gun had on this man in the weird Superman get-up. "Okay, kid, I don't know how you did that, but unless you let me get by, Mrs. Kent here dies."
CJ was still standing near the door, too far away from Miner to grab him. If Miner did pull the trigger, there was no way that CJ could possibly reach the bullet in time. CJ began to inch toward his mother, with the intent of putting himself between her and the gun. Once he was safely between them, he planned to disarm Miner. He wasn't allowed the opportunity, though — Miner caught his movement and pulled the trigger.
"NO!" CJ screamed, launching himself in the path of the bullet with everything that was in him. His eyes locked on the bullet slicing through the air. Too fast, he thought, it was just going to fast. He dove, reaching his hand out as far as he possibly could, closing his eyes and hoping for a miracle. Just as he was sure that his effort was in vain, he felt his fingertips just barely brush the bullet.
Lois let out a yelp as CJ fell to the ground. He immediately scrambled to his feet, heading straight for his mother and ignoring Martin Miner, who was now running down the hallway outside the door. CJ ripped off his sunglasses, tucking the earpiece into the neck of his shirt, and attended to Lois. Her face was outlined in pain and a red spot was beginning to form on her shirt at her right shoulder.
"Mom, are you all right?" CJ asked, knowing the answer but afraid to let himself believe it. He ripped away the binding from her hands and x-rayed her shoulder, seeing the damage for himself.
"Ahh, it hurts," Lois said, trying to fight back the pain. She had been shot before, once, many years ago. It wasn't serious then — just a flesh wound, actually. She couldn't exactly recall the feeling, but she was pretty sure that it wasn't this bad. "Do you see anything?"
CJ began to tear her shirt away from the wound. "The bullet is still lodged in there, but it's not near any important organs. I'm going to cauterize this to stop the bleeding — it might sting a little."
Lois nodded her head in agreement, bracing herself for further pain. Compared to what she was already feeling, it wasn't really too bad. At this point, she considered herself lucky that this was all the worse she was hurt. She had seen the gun go off and, even though she didn't have the benefit of super eyesight, she could see that bullet headed straight for her chest. CJ's jump had changed its trajectory just enough so that it hit her shoulder instead. While he hadn't stopped it from hitting her, he should be very proud of what he did, and she wanted to tell him as much, but her breath seemed caught in her throat at the moment.
CJ stood up. It truly broke his heart to see his mother in that much pain. "I'm getting you out of here and to the hospital. Can you walk, or do you want me to carry you?"
"I think I can walk," Lois managed to say. She tried to stand up, but all of a sudden the room began to spin, causing her to collapse back into the chair again.
"I guess that answers that," CJ said and scooped her up, with her good shoulder close to his body.
Lois closed her eyes and wrapped her good arm around his neck, mumbling, "Thank you." She couldn't ever recall being carried like this by anybody other than Clark — it felt strange. CJ had the same confident grip, and she felt very safe in his arms, but that didn't stop the fact that this was CJ holding her. Her little boy. It seemed like just yesterday that he was a little baby, their second miracle. Images flashed in her mind of him toddling around the house, clinging to the sofa and the end tables and the wall, and of Clark tickling him on the couch. She could almost still smell the baby food — he always really liked the strained peas, for whatever odd reason. Little snippets of his childhood began to float through her head — the time he won the science fair in elementary school, for one. He had run home that day and had been so proud — they had been proud of him, too. She also remembered CJ and Clark and Jon around a campfire roasting marshmallows on one of their family camping trips while a very pregnant Lois just sat back and took it all in.
And now, here he was, her hero of the day. Granted, he was a little unorthodox in his methods — she couldn't BELIEVE that bad pun on the entrance. Was that what Bruce was teaching him Gotham? Of course, knowing Bruce, that was probably frowned on there. No, knowing her son, that was probably all his own little idea.
Before she knew it, Lois found herself in the passenger seat of CJ's car. She must have dozed off on the way — that wasn't a good sign. She looked to her left and saw Jenny standing outside the driver's door, talking to CJ about something.
"I saw him get into a car a drive north," Jenny told him. They must be talking about Miner, Lois thought.
"Toward the University, no doubt," CJ said. "He knew that the professor had double crossed him. He probably wants to retrieve whatever he can. I have a feeling that you two interrupted his last attempt to gather the professor's things."
He must've been in the hallway outside of the room for a little while, Lois thought. He also must know what exactly was going on, either from investigating on in own or from talking with Jenny. Or both. She smiled lightly. She knew she was right to count on him coming for her.
"Yeah, they never did get a chance to root around the office — they seemed too preoccupied with us," Jenny said.
CJ glanced into the car and saw Lois looking at him. His face looked haggard, no doubt from worrying about her well-being. He managed a weak smile in her direction before refocusing on Jenny. "You take my mom to the hospital and I'll go after Miner."
"How will you get there?" Jenny asked, concern in her voice.
CJ reached for the swing line attached to his belt. "I'll take the high ground. I did it plenty of times in Gotham. Now go on. I'll find you when this is all over with." He made a move to leave, but Jenny put her hand on his shoulder.
"Hey!" she said softly. He turned his head to look into her eyes, his features softening considerably. "Be careful."
The corner of his mouth pulled up into a small smile before he bent forward and kissed her, lightly at first, but then more deeply. Their arms wrapped around each other's bodies and they just stood together like that, devouring each other, for a good thirty seconds before pulling apart. Lois watched in fascination. In the few times that she had seen those two together, they had been fairly restrained, limiting themselves to small touches or knowing smiles. What she saw in front of her was the embrace of lovers. The maternal part of her mind flared up at the sight, screaming out warnings about consequences. But the majority of her mind crushed that, reminding her that it was not like she and Clark had waited until their wedding night. Besides, it really wasn't any of her business.
When CJ disengaged himself from Jenny, he flashed a loving smile at her before turning and heading for the building they'd just left, putting his sunglasses back on and shooting a line at the roof. CJ jumped at least two stories into the air and swung himself up and out of sight. Jenny watched after him until she couldn't see him anymore, then she sighed and sat down in the car.
Jenny avoided looking at Lois for a moment, but she could practically feel Lois's eyes on her. When their eyes finally did meet, Jenny didn't see the consternation and disapproval that she had half expected, seeing instead a form of amused consent. A shy smile formed on Jenny's lips seemingly on its own, only to grow into a large grin when Lois responded with a smile of her own. She seemed to truly understand, Jenny thought. It was like a breath of fresh air. Their smiles threatened to turn into a fit of giggles until Lois clutched at her shoulder, in obvious pain.
Jenny returned her attention to the task at hand — getting Lois to the hospital. With a renewed sense of mission, she started up the car and took off.
CJ leapt high into the air, easily spanning the gap between buildings. As soon as his feet hit the roof he was running full speed, covering the width of the building in a few long strides and launching himself into the air again, leaping onto the next building. After only spending a few months on the hero scene in Gotham, he had gotten so that he really liked this form of transportation. Granted, it wasn't flying, but when he was up in the air, over the alleys and streets that separated the buildings, it certainly felt like it. There wasn't the traffic up here that there was down on the streets, and it allowed him time to think.
His thoughts during the majority of his roof hopping so far had focused on his mother and the bullet lodged in her shoulder. It was all his fault. If he hadn't been in that room, trying to be some sort of big hero, he wouldn't have provoked Miner to shoot and his mom would be okay now. What would Dad have to say about it? CJ hadn't really seen his dad angry too often, but he knew that when it did happen, it was a scary thing indeed. He didn't really want to be around when Dad heard about Mom getting shot. The bleakness he felt over the whole situation would've probably overwhelmed him before he even took to the rooftops, if not for the loving support of Jenny — how did he survive without her? Would he be able to survive the future without her? It was something he was wondering more and more all the time.
One thing was for sure, when he caught Miner, that man was going to pay. CJ was cognizant of the fact that those with the powers that he possessed should not be going around exacting revenge on people — he could seriously hurt them. One of the great things about Superman was that he always used his powers to help, never to harm. His children had been taught to be gentle people who were concerned about human life, and they had learned their lessons well. Even so, Miner had shot Lois, and CJ couldn't help but wonder if he would be able to control himself when he finally did get a hold of him. A situation like this had only confronted him once, and that was shortly after he met Jenny. If Jon hadn't been there, who knew what would've happened. At the time, CJ had been extremely scared of himself and the consequences of what he could've done. He'd never really had his temper flare up before then, and it was a very new experience. The end result was that he had let his fear and anger get the better of him, and afterwards he swore it would never happen again. But tonight it did — people just didn't mess with his loved ones without him getting really personal about it.
As he leapt into the air again, rapidly approaching the Metropolis University campus, CJ made an effort to suppress his emotions. It was the only way he would possibly be able to do his job effectively. Forget the impending talk with his father over his mother's shooting. Forget the fact that Miner shot his mother just for the sake of creating a diversion so that he could get away. Forget the fact that Jenny, too, came within an eyelash of being shot. Just concentrate on solving the case at hand and getting Miner to jail. If his father had taught him nothing, it was to have faith in the criminal justice system. It might have its shortcomings, but it still did a pretty good job, all things considered.
The end of the current row of buildings was nearing, with the central campus green spreading out beyond that. CJ launched himself off the eight-story building and flew through the air, hitting the grass and not missing a stride as he kept going ahead with a renewed sense of urgency. His vision had just picked up Miner, loading some things into a car, at the entrance to Hoover Hall on the opposite end of the green.
Susan wearily loaded her things into her backpack and made her way toward the entrance to the library. She would've much rather spent the night reading the new Superman comic that she'd bought yesterday, or maybe getting caught up on her Superclub newsletter. But no, her professor had assigned the killer research paper from you-know-where, and she didn't really have any time to waste in getting it done. Normal people didn't spend all night at the library at any point during the first week of school, yet here she was, leaving the still brightly lit library at one in the morning.
Susan walked out the door and stood for a second, allowing her eyes to adjust to the "darkness" outside. It never truly got dark in Metropolis, unless there was some major crisis at the electric company. There was always an orange glow on the horizon from the millions of streetlights that lined the streets of the city, and the blaze of illumination from the library certainly did its part to add to the light pollution. At the very least, Susan thought, all the light in the sky might cause any criminals to think twice before attacking anybody. Susan set off across the campus green, confident in her safety. She looked around, admiring the architecture and the trees and the outline they made on the sky.
A movement to one side of her caught her attention. At first she couldn't tell what it was- it seemed to be coming from above her. A bird, maybe. She craned her neck and looked up and couldn't believe what she saw — there was a person running across the roof of the building next to her. She stopped walking and just stared for a moment, questioning if she was really seeing what she thought she was seeing. Just then the figure on the roof jumped up into the air and over the edge. Susan watched in horror as the person fell through the air, and braced herself for the impending landing. For some reason she didn't know, though, she didn't close her eyes, and was therefore able to see the person land nimbly on the ground and immediately take off in a sprint across the green.
Her jaw dropped. That person or thing or whatever it was just jumped from the top of an eight story building, and not only did it land on the ground without incurring an injury, it shot off as if it barely felt anything. No normal person could do that. But, she thought, what if it wasn't a normal person? That idea sent a course of electricity through her body — if it wasn't a normal person, then it had to be a SUPER person. She reversed her course and began to sprint in the same direction as the person who had just leapt from the building, trying to be as quiet as she could under the circumstances.
The roof leaper passed under a walkway light as they reached the edge of the green. He or she or it had managed to pull far ahead of Susan as they traversed the green — whoever it was, that person could sure move fast. The distance wasn't great enough, though, that she couldn't make out the mysterious person's clothing. She could see it was obviously a male — a very impressively built male in a tight white T-shirt and jeans. He also wore a baseball cap and sunglasses. At the angle she was at, she could just barely make our what was on the front of his shirt — it was a yellow and red Superman shield! She had to fight the sudden urge to faint as she continued on. What kind of Superman was this that didn't wear spandex? Not that Susan had anything against the traditional Super outfit, but this one that this man had on was just so much…more. Sexier. And real. Superman and now Crimson Superman had just never seemed real to her, but she could see this super man lounging around the house or mowing the grass or going shopping. It was a mental picture that she could easily insert herself into next to him, she thought with a sigh.
As she swooned, the man stopped running. He was looking at something on the road in the distance and sneaking into a shadow. She dropped her pace to a brisk walk in hopes of not catching his attention, and settled into a shadow of her own as soon as she got sufficiently close to him. By now she could see what he was looking at, and she really didn't know what so special about it. There wasn't a robbery or a mugging or a fire or any other type of urgent disaster going on. In fact, all she could see in the direction he was looking was a man loading boxes into a car. What was so important about that that it warranted the attention of a superman?
The man loading boxes quickly finished and hopped into the car. As he started it up, the superman began to inch toward the road. Susan could see the car begin to move out of her peripheral vision, and as it did, she saw the superman lift his hand up to his face and pull down his sunglasses slightly. They weren't pulled down far enough that she could get a really great look at his face, but she could just make out his eyelids. As she watched, he squinted perceptibly, and the air around his eyes began to shimmer, as if it was heated. Suddenly she could hear two banging noises is rapid succession — it was the front tires of the car being blown out. The superman ran into the road and directly into the path of the car, stopping it without even flinching. The man inside the car seemed too astounded to move. Who wouldn't be? Susan thought. The superman tore the door off the car in one quick movement and dragged the man out. With a quick swipe of his arm, the superman knocked the other man unconscious.
Susan watched the whole sequence in a state of rapture. She had never really been a spiritual person, but now she knew what people meant when they said they had a religious experience. His movements were so fluid and powerful, almost cat-like. She could also tell, even from the distance she was at, that he was drop-dead gorgeous. Never mind the sunglasses and the decidedly weird facial hair pattern — he had to be another one of Superman's offspring, so therefore he was a knockout. There were only two ways that the moment could possibly be made any better, she thought: if the superman would do a little flying demonstration for her, and if he would drop everything, run over to her, and kiss her brains out. She knew the last one was highly unlikely, but a girl could dream, couldn't she?
She stayed rooted in place as the superman placed the man back into the car and looked around, as if in search of something. Her eyes grew wide as she noticed him starting to walk toward her. She began to panic — maybe he really would come over and kiss her silly. Or maybe it was just a coincidence. Susan debated what she should do as he grew nearer and nearer, finally deciding that the best course of action would be just to face him head on. Gathering all the nerve she could muster, Susan stepped out from the shadows she was hiding in and into the path of her dream date.
CJ's eyes focused on the phone booth that stood outside the library. He didn't really want to carry Miner to the police station if he could avoid it — better to let the police come to him.
As he walked along the path, CJ counted his blessings — thank goodness it was late enough at night and early enough in the semester that campus had been nearly deserted when he made his pursuit of Miner. Granted, he wasn't paying too much attention to any possible onlookers, but there really wasn't much to pay attention to. It just felt good now to have everything done with, he thought. Yes, his mother had gotten injured, and that still ate him up inside, but at least she was still alive. And aside from that, the night really had been a success — all the bad guys were vanquished, and he did it all himself. It was just CJ, with his unimpressive powers and a little bit of ingenuity, that did all the heroics. The thought eased his conscience and almost made him feel happy as he continued toward the phone. He was home free now.
Suddenly, there was a rustle in the shadows and a woman stepped out onto the path, about ten feet in front of him. Strike that, he thought, it wasn't just any woman. It was Susan. CJ stopped dead in his tracks, any pleasant thoughts suddenly banished from his mind. He uttered an expletive under his breath and fought the very strong desire to turn around and run the other way. He quickly clenched and unclenched his fists a few times while deciding what to do. One look at Susan's face and he knew what she expected — he saw that same look the night that he'd helped Jenny move into her apartment.
He had only felt this exposed once before, and in retrospect he had a very good reason to feel that way at the time. Jenny really had exposed him, plain and simple, although he had to admit that he had helped out a little. He had absolutely no intention of giving hints of any kind to Susan here tonight, though. If he was going to be exposed for good, it would not be this early in his career and it would certainly not be by Jenny's roommate, the world's biggest Superman groupie. The secret would be around all of Metropolis by dawn if she found out, he was certain.
Composing himself and trying to act as neutral as possible, he finally spoke to her. "Excuse me," he said simply, his voice disguised. He started to move forward again, but she didn't move out of his way. She just stood there and stared at him. He made his way off the walkway and onto the grass, trying to get around her that way, but she followed him. CJ just gave up and stopped again, rolling his eyes in exasperation behind the sunglasses.
CJ felt the sudden urge to make some sort of sarcastic remark to get her to move, but then he remembered what he was wearing. Right now he was Superman, or at least a representative for the family of Superman. And Superman was always nice to non-criminals. He also didn't do anything that might give away the fact that he HAD a personality at all. He never made snide remarks or insulted anybody or did anything that would be in the least bit offensive.
Resigned to having to put up with Susan, at least for the moment, CJ sighed and crossed his arms across his chest, assuming the classic Superman pose. He could see Susan's eyes widen a little bit at this action. She didn't seem to be in a particular hurry to start any conversation, though. CJ cleared his throat, hoping that would spur her into action.
That seemed to have the desired effect. Susan looked down at the ground for a second, seemingly trying to gather her thoughts. Her head popped up again, and she began to shift her weight nervously from foot to foot as her hands played with the straps to her backpack. "So, uh, you're another one of the Superman clan, huh?"
CJ made a show of looking down at the emblem on his shirt. He cocked an eyebrow at her when he looked up again. "What makes you say that?"
"Well, uh, you know, there's the shirt," she said, pointing at his chest, "but I suppose you can get one of those anywhere, can't you?" She smiled nervously and stared at him for a second before she seemed to come to her senses. "Well, and I saw you jump off that building. Stop a car."
CJ nodded, mentally kicking himself for not checking the area more closely. At least she didn't have a video camera with her. He didn't know exactly how to answer her statement, so he just stood there looking at her. Eventually Susan continued. "So, ah, what do they call you?"
"You can call me Junior," he said quickly and matter-of-factly. People who knew his dad had been calling him "Junior" ever since he was a kid. CJ was never very fond of that particular name, although now it came in pretty handy.
Susan regarded him with her most sultry smile. "So, Junior, I wonder if you might be interested…"
CJ held up his hand to stop her. "I'm sorry, but I think I know what you're going to ask, and I'm going to have to decline."
As soon as the words came out of his mouth, all the vibrancy seemed to leave Susan, and she began to stare blankly at the pavement, her shoulders hunched over. "Oh, I see," she said quietly, her voice full of pain.
CJ couldn't help but feel bad for her — she had waited her whole life to finally meet Superman, or at the very least one of his relatives, and he was being pretty abrupt with her — it was a matter of his anger and pain over a personal matter overruling his sense of better judgment. CJ's eyes softened a bit behind the sunglasses, if for nothing more than in appreciation for what she must be going through. The sympathetic, sentimental part of him figured that maybe it would be okay to give her a small thrill. CJ uncrossed his arms and approached her, laying his hand on her shoulder. "I truly am sorry. Now, I have something to attend to," he said, then he bent down and gave her a small kiss on the cheek.
Susan's face instantly lit up, and her arms reached out to hug him. CJ placed his hands on her sides and gently pushed her away after a couple of seconds. He gave her a warm smile and walked toward the phone again, leaving her rooted in her spot, her eyes following him closely.
CJ wasn't very fond of the feeling that those eyes being locked onto him created — it felt like the hairs on the back of his neck were standing up. He tried to ignore it as he called the police, but when he called home, he found himself speaking very quietly into the phone as he left a message on the answering machine.
As CJ hung up the phone for the second time, he could hear a distant sonic boom in the air. He looked upwards and after a few seconds, he could see a single figure, dressed in red, begin to streak across the sky. He brought his fingers up to his mouth and let out a whistle, waving his other arm in the air, trying to get the attention of the returning Superhero. Not two seconds later the crimson Superman landed in front of his brother.
Jon took a glance over toward Susan, who was still watching CJ's every move very closely, before looking at his brother. As soon as his eyes caught sight of CJ's appearance, he let out a snort and began to giggle. "This is new one," Jon said. "What's with the look?"
CJ's lips were pressed into a thin line as he looked between his brother and Susan. "That's right. Laugh it up. While you were over in Japan, SOME of us were busy. I need to get back to Hoover Hall to make sure the police arrest a certain guy, but after that you might want to take me home so I can change — I can explain everything to you on the way."
Jon cocked an eyebrow at CJ, who seemed very businesslike at the moment. His sense of humor appeared to have left him for the moment — that more than anything else caused alarm bells to go off in Jon's head. Jon looked over at Susan again, a frown beginning to come over his face. "What's with the, uh, girl?" Jon favored her with a small smile before turning back to his brother.
"She's a Superman stalker — you know the type. She also just happens to be Jenny's roommate," CJ said, practically whispering the last part.
Jon's eyes got wide for a second, causing a little smile to appear on CJ's face for the first time since Jon landed. "She would like nothing more than to go on a date with a hot, available super-stud," CJ said, elbowing Jon.
Jon blushed slightly and looked back at his brother, a look of apprehension of his face. "Ahh, I don't think so."
CJ's smile grew a little wider. Leave it to some good old-fashioned bantering with his brother to snap him out of his bad mood, if only temporarily. "Come on, lover boy. HOW long has it been since you were on a date last? She wants you, I'm telling you. She even has pictures of you up on the wall of her living room. You want to talk about a girl who will worship the ground you walk on…"
Jon began to laugh self-consciously. "The last thing I need is some groupie as a girlfriend. I would never be able to live up to the image of me that she no doubt has built up in her head."
"At least you said it and not me," CJ said, finally back into full tease mode. The two laughed together for a second before they both looked off in the distance, hearing approaching sirens. "Is that for the guy that you want arrested?" Jon asked.
CJ nodded. Without another word, Jon flew them to meet the police.
Susan stood staring at the two heroes as they interacted, feeling numb. Before tonight, she could've sworn that she knew everything there was to know about the Superman family. She studied all the news footage of them and read all the gossip, but nothing had prepared her for the real thing. The Superman she thought she knew had ONE son, although, to be fair, once that son came onto the scene, most people figured it was only a matter of time before more super-children began to surface. That was one matter that the rumor mill actually DID get right. There's a first time for everything, she thought wryly.
Looking at them interacting helped to dispel another of her long-held notions. Superman was always so formal — he helped out, he did a little posing for the camera, and then he left. He would crack a cordial smile from time to time for photographs, but he was never really known to laugh or joke or show much emotion at all. His son was even worse — he had been ducking publicity from the moment he had flown onto the scene and gave his first brief interview. If the two Supermen were working together, the elder one always handled the press. If the younger one was working alone, he would give the press one of his famous quickie interviews that basically gave the facts in the most dry and straightforward way possible.
But as soon as the Crimson Superman landed tonight, he started cracking up. The other one went from somewhat snippy looking, to being chummy, to teasing. She could tell by their body language and crooked smiles that they were funning with each other — it was a strange sight indeed to Susan. Another strange sight was to see them standing side by side. The one in the T-shirt and jeans — Junior — was obviously shorter. She couldn't really make out his facial features enough to see if there was much resemblance there, but their mouths looked slightly different. Aside from height, their builds were pretty similar from what she could tell.
All of a sudden they both seemed to tilt their head to the side. One said something to the other, and suddenly they were both gone. That was enough to bring Susan firmly back into reality. The spot on her cheek where Junior's lips had touched almost seemed to tingle. She brought her fingers up to her face and gently ran them over the spot, a loving smile spreading out on her face. No matter if she ever saw any of them again, she would have the memory of tonight and that kiss forever.
Susan practically skipped back to her apartment. Wait until Jenny heard about this! Wait until all her online chat buddies heard about this! Wait until… Susan's forward progress came to a halt. What if she didn't let anybody know about this? She seemed to be the only one who saw this new Superman do anything tonight. She wondered if anybody else even knew he was out there. If she went out there talking about him, everybody would think she was crazy, and nobody would take her seriously again. The thought that whatever she saw would be a private matter made her feel better for some reason. It was the personal moments that were more special anyway.
Susan smiled again and began to skip down the path, thinking of their little private moment that she would treasure forever.
"What did you mean when you told the officer that that man he arrested was involved in a shooting tonight? Who got shot?" Jon asked. CJ stood bare-chested in the bathroom of his apartment, shaving away the last remains of his goatee, while Jon paced the living room. Jon didn't like the dark mood that CJ had slipped into as soon as the started talking to the police. CJ almost seemed despondent, like he was feeling guilty over something. At times, he had let flashes of anger come through — all in all, he was acting very uncharacteristically. Jon couldn't help but wonder what exactly had happened around Metropolis while he had been gone.
Jon could hear CJ sigh audibly. CJ didn't say anything while he finished shaving, then he walked very slowly out to the living room and slumped down on the couch, his eyes on the ground the whole time. Once CJ turned his face up toward his brother, Jon was shocked to see just how haunted his eyes were. He suddenly dreaded what it was that CJ was about to tell him.
"It was Mom," CJ said softly.
Jon gasped. "Mom? No! Is she okay? Please tell me she's okay." Jon could feel the panic beginning to rise up inside of him. If his mother was hurt, Dad would never forgive himself for not being there for her.
CJ's face turned away from his brother abruptly. Both hands came up to cover his eyes, and Jon could swear he saw his brother shudder slightly. As alarmed as he was about the news of his mother's shooting, the pain that CJ was currently going through was at the forefront right now. He sat down on the couch next to him and put a hand on CJ's back. As soon as Jon's hand made contact with the skin, CJ let in a sharp breath. After a few seconds, CJ seemed to regain his composure and he took the hands from his face and ran them through his hair.
When he finally faced Jon again, CJ's eyes looked slightly red, and he looked completely fatigued. "She'll be fine," CJ said softly.
Jon gave a small smile and removed his hand from his brother's back. He was at a loss as to what to do next. Dad was always so good at emotional confrontations, he thought. He had been on the receiving end of more than one of those in his day, but he had never really had to be the comforting authority figure. In actuality, Jon had spent a good deal of time during his childhood trying to make CJ's life hell, or at least making sure that he knew who the boss was. He had always thought of him as his "dorky little brother," and he made sure that CJ knew that's how he felt. Yes, he loved him in that brotherly way, and he had to admit that they had a rapport that was pretty amazing. In recent years they could always joke with each other — heck, they'd even lived together in this apartment for two years. But even though they had gotten along pretty well since high school, the one thing they had never done was connect on a purely emotional level. Jon had never felt the need to comfort CJ when he broke up with a girlfriend or felt frustrated — instead, they made jokes and smoothed over emotions in that manner. And CJ had never made the attempt to comfort Jon, either — in general, they were quite even-tempered anyway, and besides, Dad was the one who did that.
As Jon looked into his brother's pained face, he decided that no matter what the history was between them, they both had to grow up sometime. Dad wasn't there right now and his brother was torturing himself over this issue, and he was the only one there. "Why don't you tell me about what happened?" Jon said, his voice soft and even.
CJ proceeded to tell him the tale of the night's activities. Jon could see CJ's face light up when he talked about working with Jenny, and he could feel his pain when he talked about the actual shooting. CJ even had to stop once at that point to collect himself. Jon tried his best to keep his own feelings out of the tale, opting to nod and look sympathetic.
"And that's when you found me," CJ finished. He slumped against the back of the couch and let out a sigh. "Because of me, Mom got shot, and now she's in the hospital, in pain. Dad will never forgive me — I won't forgive me. I just don't want to be there when he gets back."
Jon looked at CJ, agape. So that's what the problem was — CJ thought he was to blame for the shooting? Judging from what he said during his story, Jon figured that CJ had actually saved their mother. If only there was a way that he could make HIM see that.
"Hey, don't be so hard on yourself. I think you were a hero out there tonight."
CJ snorted. "Some hero I am. Can't even save my own mom…"
"That's bull and you know it," Jon said, his patience beginning to wear a little thin. "You said it yourself — not only did you save Jenny's life, you solved the case — because of you, bad guys are going to jail. You fulfilled the lifelong dream of a fan AND you SAVED Mom's life. If you hadn't been there, who's to say that the goon wouldn't have fired his gun at Mom? Miner sounded like he was crazy — I bet he would've shot her anyway. And all the time you were trying not to let the family secret slip out, AND it's a school night. I bet you still have homework to do."
CJ looked at his brother in amazement, a crooked smile beginning to form on his lips as his mind raced through everything that Jon had just said. It was amazing sometimes how you can't hear what you're saying until someone repeats it back to you. Jenny would've died if not for him. And Miner WAS crazy…
"It's Biology homework…" CJ said weakly, still a bit dazed.
"See, I thought so." Jon smiled back. He didn't know how exactly, but he did it. Maybe he had a touch for this mushy stuff, after all. "Tell you what, why don't we go find what hospital Mom was brought to and go visit. I'm sure she wants to see you and thank you herself for saving her."
CJ nodded slowly. "Yeah, okay. I suppose." He got up off the couch and started toward his bedroom to change. About halfway there, he stopped and turned around, a full smile on his lips now. "You know," he said to Jon, "you could've gone into psychology. You could give Dad a run for his money on the 'counseling people with problems' front."
Jon was stunned to say the least. That was one heck of a compliment, coming from his little brother. Jon just blushed slightly and dismissed it. "The last thing I need is people telling me their problems all day long."
"I mean it, you know."
Jon's face turned a little redder. "Uh, thanks," he said. They looked at each other for a moment. The sincerity on CJ's face gradually gave way to an amused grin, obviously aimed at Jon's apparent discomfort. Jon reached for a magazine on the end table and hurled it at CJ after a few seconds. "Are going to change or what?" Jon said, his voice slightly angered, but playfulness evident in his eyes.
CJ just chuckled and turned around to continue toward his room. Jon shook his head — it was good to have the old CJ back again.
CJ and Jon walked into the emergency room of Metropolis General slowly. Neither had ever been too fond of visiting this place, because it usually meant something terrible had happened to somebody they knew. Jon had to admit that the majority of times that he had visited this particular ER had been in his duties as the Crimson Superman over the last few months — it wasn't like their family members were very prone to injury. He hated how sterile the environment was, and the smell of the many disinfectants bugged his sensitive nose. As he stepped through the doors, vague feelings of his previous visits flooded his memory — he could still feel the pain and despair that washed over him every time he had to drop someone there, and his fingers began to feel slightly sticky, as if recalling the blood that covered them the last time he was there. As Jon walked along, he made himself focus on the here and now, if only for the sake of his brother. As much as he had reassured CJ that he was not to blame, Jon knew he still felt somewhat guilty, and Jon could understand that.
The waiting room sat to the right of the lobby. A few wary souls graced the cheery looking room, most of them staring blankly at the television, which was showing some trashy talk show. Jenny sat off in a corner, reading a magazine. She seemed to sense the presence of the brothers as soon as they walked into the hospital — by the time they caught sight of her, she was already favoring them with a weary smile. Jon stood in the waiting room doorway as CJ rushed over and hugged her. The couple whispered things into each other's ears as they embraced, drawing the curious stares of a couple of the other people there. Jon shook his head slightly and decided to check with the admitting desk about the status of his mother.
The nurse that greeted him was very friendly — remarkably friendly, in fact, considering the hour. Jon briefly wondered how much of that cheerfulness was natural and how much was a front for the worried friends and relatives — that job couldn't be easy, with the things that the nurses no doubt had to tell people day in and day out. The nurse let Jon know that Lois was out of surgery and was currently being visited by a police officer — it was policy for the police to be notified in all shooting cases brought into the ER. The policeman had requested privacy, so the nurse told Jon that she would let him know when the officer had left. Jon agreed to this and made his way back to Jenny and CJ.
It was a good twenty minutes before the officer emerged from Lois's room and into the lobby. Instead of leaving, he went over to talk to Jenny. Jenny shooed the brothers off, telling them that they needed to go visit their mother, and the officer ushered her into a room with more privacy. Jon hesitated briefly as he looked between CJ's retreating form and Jenny. He wondered exactly what Jenny and Lois were telling this officer about CJ and the role he played in the rescue. Would they refer to him as a ghost, or some anonymous hero, or would they come right out and say that he was a new Superman? In any case, the kidnapping and attempted murder of Lois Lane, famous reporter, would be considered newsworthy, and if you add in the possible new hero, it became an even bigger story. Someone would have to write it, and given that he was here and his mother was somewhat incapacitated at the moment, Jon figured that he could be that person. If he could get a few quotes from the officer, Jenny, and Lois, he could maybe even get something together for the morning edition.
Jon walked over to the officer and asked him if he would come find him when he was done with Jenny, and the officer agreed. With that done, Jon made his way down to Lois's room. The sight that greeted him made his heart lurch. CJ had gotten there first, and was currently sitting on a chair next to the bed, clutching at Lois's hand as if it was a lifeline, and muttering, "I'm sorry," over and over again. Lois was patting his arm with her free hand, making soothing sounds and looking at him in a way that Jon hadn't seen since they were kids. Jon stopped in the doorway of the room, refusing to ruin the moment for them.
"I'm so sorry you got hurt," CJ continued, his voice anguished and a tear rolling down his cheek. For all the soothing that Jon had given him, just seeing his mother in a hospital bed, her shoulder bandaged up and an IV sticking into her arm, brought back all his pain.
"Shhhh. It's not your fault," Lois tried to tell him, moving her hand to his face to wipe away his tear.
CJ shook his head. "No, no, it is. He wouldn't have pulled the trigger if not for me."
"Stop blaming yourself. You couldn't…" Lois started, only to be cut off.
"I should've known. I should've been more careful," CJ continued on. Lois was becoming exasperated. If nothing else, her kids inherited the obsessive gene from their father. She looked up and saw Jon standing in the doorway, watching with interest but with no particular expression on his face. It might have been the last of the anesthesia talking, but for a moment she swore he was Clark — he looked so much like Clark did when they first met. The though made her wish that Clark could be there right now. He was always so good at comforting her and the kids in times when emotions ran high.
"…Dad's going to kill me when he gets back," CJ finished. Lois drew her eyes back to her youngest son and took a deep breath.
"Samuel Clark Kent!" she said in a firm tone, causing CJ's head to pop up. He looked at her in surprise, his eyes wide with shock. Even Jon seemed to be a bit surprised at the sudden outburst. Lois only ever used that tone when they got in trouble as kids. Jon could remember a time when he and CJ had been wrestling around on the ground. He couldn't remember exactly how they had ended up in that position, but he was pretty sure it was one of those little brotherly quarrels that always seemed to pop up. Their mom had caught them grappling dangerously close to some sensitive objects in the living room and used the same tone, calling their complete names to get their attention.
"I want you to listen to me and listen good," Lois continued, her free hand beginning to gesture. "Not only are you not to blame for this," she said, pointing to her bandaged shoulder, "you are a hero. When that bullet was shot it was headed for my chest, I could see it clear as day. Because of you, it only hit my shoulder."
CJ sniffed. "Really?"
Lois's voice began to soften a little. "Yes, really. I was worried about what might happen to me and Jenny, but I knew that you would come rescue us. I knew you had it in you — I never doubted that for a second. You risked exposure to do that, and for that, and for saving my life, I owe you a lot."
The look on CJ's face began to transform from stunned misery to wonder. He had been so certain that his mother would blame him for everything that he couldn't believe what he was hearing. She was grateful to him? She owed him? Was this really his mother lying here?
As if in response to his mental questioning, Lois's voice took on a tough edge once again. "But I don't want to hear any of this baloney about how your father's going to kill you or about how you should've known better. Since when did you become the 'woe is me' type? If your father gets mad at anybody it'll be me, and even then he knows me well enough that it won't stop me from getting myself in a situation like tonight. And you are not a mind reader — how the heck are you supposed to be able to know what people are going to do? Snap out of your funk and bask in your accomplishment, for goodness sakes!"
In the doorway, Jon was smiling. Rarely did he see his brother turn into a blubbering mess, and as amusing as he always seemed to find it, it also worried him. But his brother had always been especially sensitive to what his mother thought — maybe it had something to do with being the younger one, Jon thought. In any case, the change that had come over CJ as a result of the tirade was remarkable. Instead of looking slack-jawed and stunned, he was now beginning to smile a little. "So are you okay?" CJ asked, his voice still somewhat shaky.
Lois smiled and patted his shoulder. "I'm fine, sweetie, thanks to you. I'll probably be out of here tomorrow or the day after."
CJ's face softened considerably and his smile widened. He diverted his eyes before speaking again. "Do you really think I'm a hero? I mean, Jenny says I am all the time, but she's biased."
"What? And I'm not?" Lois smiled and stroked his cheek again. "Honey, you ARE a hero, and never let anybody tell you otherwise. Just, in the future, you might want to work a little on your entrance."
"I worked hard to think up those lines!" CJ said, letting out a little chuckle. "I thought it was a GREAT entrance."
Lois couldn't help but laugh a little — okay, his lines really were funny in a bad pun type of way. "Well, I guess if you thought so, then that's what counts. Are you okay now? Do you feel better."
CJ nodded. "Yeah. Thanks."
"Good, then my job is done. Now, why don't you give your mother a hug and get home and get some sleep. You need to get to classes tomorrow."
CJ nodded again and released Lois's hand as he stood up. Lois opened her arms as wide as the bandages would permit and CJ bent over and hugged her gently. "Get well. I love you, mom," he said in her ear.
"I love you, too. Now go," she said, patting his back. CJ stood up and smiled at her before turning and walking out the door. He acknowledged Jon on his way out, not making any snide comments or challenges. Jon sensed that CJ was acutely embarrassed, and Jon foresaw a good teasing coming his way because of it. As soon as CJ left, Jon had his own conference with Lois. She agreed that he should write the story, and she told him what she told the police about the night's events. Jon couldn't help but smile as he envisioned the article he was about to write, and the mention that he would have to make to a new "guardian angel" watching over the city.
The officer sat down with Jenny in an empty hospital room, each of them taking chairs and moving them around so that they pointed toward each other.
The officer spoke first. "Mrs. Kent told me about your being kidnapped with her tonight. I would like you to tell me what happened."
Jenny sat in silence for a second, staring at the floor and gathering her thoughts. She knew that she would eventually have to talk to the police about everything, and as much as she wanted to nail the guys who kidnapped her, she also felt very protective of CJ and wanted to keep his identity secret at all costs. Fortunately, Lois had the foresight to discuss the matter with her in the car on the way to the hospital. Even through the pain that she was no doubt feeling, Lois had formulated a plan, one that, while not exactly cutting CJ out of the picture, at least glossed over his relationship to them. Whether CJ liked it or not, they would have to tell the police that somebody with extraordinary abilities helped them in order to corroborate what the different goons had seen him do. They agreed that they wouldn't necessarily admit that he was a new Superman, instead deciding to call him a guardian angel.
Jenny began to tell her tale to the cop, editing out the fact that she had been illegally entering the professor's office, and giving a different explanation as to how she ended up at Miner Engines. She didn't want to let it be known that she had been driving the new guardian angel's car, instead saying that he had told her where to go and that they had arrived separately. The officer listened to the tale patiently, taking notes and nodding. He waited unit she was done before asking questions.
"Why did you make it appear as if you were being kidnapped by this so-called guardian angel if you say he saved your life?" he asked.
"Because I wasn't quite sure of his intentions," Jenny said, trying to keep her voice even so that she didn't arouse the suspicion of the officer. It apparently worked, as the officer simply scribbled a few more notes and moved on to the next question.
"If you were unsure of this man's actions, why did you follow him to Miner Engine Company?"
That was an easy one. "I was worried about Mrs. Kent's safety and wanted to make sure she was okay."
"I don't suppose this guardian angel gave you any means of contacting him in the future?"
Jenny had to smile a little at that question. She knew perfectly well where she could find him if she needed to, but she wasn't going to tell him that. "No. He just took off across the rooftops and that was the last I saw him."
The officer looked at her closely for a few seconds, which caused Jenny to feel nervous momentarily, before he turned his attention elsewhere. "I'm going to need you to come down to the station later today to identify the man you said kidnapped you. Can you do that?"
Jenny nodded vehemently. "Yes, sir. I'd be happy to." It was her turn to look at him closely. As much time as she had spent a police station in Gotham, she was beginning to get pretty good at getting information out of policemen. "I wonder if you would be willing to help me out with an article I'm doing for my school newspaper."
The officer was beginning to stand up when she asked her question. He stopped halfway at looked at her strangely. "Is your whole family a bunch of reporters? You're the second one to ask me tonight."
Jenny laughed as she stood up. "Well, a large number of us, anyway."
The policeman drew his lips into a small smile as he walked out of the room. "Yeah, sure. See you then."
Jenny just stood there even as the officer left, her mind on all that had happened that night. It was all finally over — CJ said that Miner had been caught on campus. She couldn't help but wonder what happened to the professor, though. According to what she had heard, he had double crossed Miner and left for California. When had he left, if he had even left at all? Did Miner have more goons that he sent after the professor? She decided to look into that as soon as she could, but for now she wanted to go see Lois.
She walked out of the room and made her way down to see her favorite family. She wanted to go home and get some sleep, but Lois's heath was even more paramount to her at the moment. Besides, she wanted to work out the details with Lois about when they would be finishing their story. And what a story that was going to be.
In the wee hours of the morning, a car made its way through the hills outside Metropolis, recklessly winding through the switchbacks. Behind the wheel sat professor Jack Seagrave, a bottle of beer in his hand. His plan had worked to perfection and now he was home free, off to seek his fortune in California. He knew that Martin Miner was probably very curious as to his whereabouts right now, and had decided belatedly that maybe driving to California would be safer than flying; less traceable. The now ex-professor was also convinced that somebody else was probably looking for him now, too — a reporter, probably. He didn't know how any information about his plan could've possibly made its way to the press, although he suspected that it was probably due to one of his graduate students. No matter, he thought, it wasn't a problem anymore.
He raised the bottle to his lips, taking a long, victorious swig. It felt so good to be loose of the confines of the University. He always felt so suffocated there, although he had to admit that the position gave him access to some of the more brilliant minds in the field. Those minds had inspired him to take on this project of his, which would now be the basis of what would be an enormous fortune. The thought made him smile, and he took another drink.
The signs on the road ahead of him indicated another sharp curve ahead. The yellow arrow signs seemed to dance all over the road in front of him, making him somewhat disoriented. His foot reached for the brake, applying pressure in an effort to slow the car down a little. Unfortunately for him, in his drunken state his foot had hit the gas pedal instead. The car sped up going into the turn, heading right for the guardrail at the edge of the cliff. The professor's last thought before going over the edge was to look over at the box beside him, which he had decided would be safer going with him than being shipped. What a shame, he thought as his car became airborne, that all that research and the fabulous piece of new technology that came out of it would now end up at the bottom of a ravine.
The car hit the bottom and erupted into an enormous fireball, which singed nearby trees and frightened the animals that lived in the area. The fire would eventually burn itself out, having never been seen by any human witnesses. It would be several days before anyone even noticed the wreckage of the car, and another couple of weeks before the driver was identified. By that time, the University had already filled the professor's position. His name would become just a vague memory to a few students who had taken his classes and a curse on the lips of Martin Miner. In death, the one thing that he would be remembered for would not be his remarkable accomplishments and discoveries, but one single headline on the Daily Planet, and the attached article written by Lois Lane and a college student named Jennifer Sears.
Jon laid himself down in the twin bed of his childhood bedroom, glancing at the clock on the nightstand as he did so. 4:00 AM. It hardly seemed like less than twenty four hours had passed since he woke up in his own apartment, expecting another routine day at work. What had happened instead was his first ever trip to Japan, the most harrowing rescue effort that he had ever been a part of, and the stigma of his mother being shot. Today he had been a reporter, superhero, son, friend, and comforting older brother, seemingly all at once. It was one of the more intense days that he could remember, but he didn't come out of it as exhausted as he had expected to be.
Things were still too up in the air for him to rest easily. His father was still in Japan cleaning up after the earthquake. All the trapped people had been found hours ago — Clark had sent Jon home at that point, using the justification that Jon was still too new to the Planet to be taking days off for things like that. Besides, most of the work that was left was essentially to set up enough infrastructure to get the Japanese back on their feet. It would be tedious, sure, but it didn't warrant the attention of both of them. Jon wanted to go over and get Clark after he found out about his mother's shooting, but Lois didn't want him to. She would be just fine, she assured him, with just the loving attention of her children. Clark would be home soon enough, she told Jon, and she would be happy to see him then.
Jon reluctantly agreed to stay in Metropolis, although he almost did run over to Japan anyway. After leaving the hospital, he made a quick stop at the Planet to write up his story. After that he decided to go to his parents house instead of his apartment, partly to look after his sister and partly to get to his father as soon as he got back. CJ had gone home with Jenny before Jon was done talking to his mother, and after the day that CJ had just had, Jon figured it was best to just let him go. Jon planned on bringing Laura to the hospital first thing in the morning, whether their dad was home or not. He was sure that her school would excuse the absence, and if they didn't they would undoubtedly hear about it from Lois.
Jon really didn't look forward to being the bearer of bad news, both to his sister and his father, but it was his responsibility now. He had thought all night about ways to tell both of them, but none sounded particularly good — no matter how he said it, he figured the reaction would be the same. He remembered his own reaction when CJ had told him, and he imagined that his father's would be about ten times worse than that. Just how did you tell the most powerful man in the world that his wife was in the hospital, the victim of a shooting that happened while he was off attending to some disaster elsewhere?
Jon's mind continued to churn even as he fell into a fitful sleep. The sound of a strong gust of sleep awoke him an hour and a half later — it was a sound that normally wouldn't cause a reaction, but he had been listening for it even in his sleep. He groggily opened his eyes and x-rayed the house, seeing his dad entering the garage. He sprung out of bed and moved to intercept him.
Clark strode through the house en route to his bedroom. The place was completely dark, as he expected it to be at that hour of the morning. His work in Japan had taken a little longer than expected, but he was sure Lois would understand. All told, it was one of the easier earthquake disasters that he had ever had to clean up after. The Japanese were very conscious of the threat that earthquakes caused, and as such had toughened their building standards several years earlier. As bad as the destruction was there, it could've been many times worse.
The sound of something moving upstairs halted Clark's movement. It was too early for anyone else to be awake for any normal circumstances — maybe Lois had heard him. He was about to call out her name when he saw Jon coming down the steps, his clothes wrinkled as if they had been slept in. "Jon?" Clark asked as he reached for a light switch.
"Dad," Jon said, his voice weary. Clark hadn't expected his son to be there. Jon seemed to be nervous, and he was avoiding looking Clark in the eye. It occurred to Clark that perhaps Jon had been waiting for him to get home for whatever reason. On a whim, Clark glanced toward his own bedroom and noticed that the bed was empty. Lois was not there. Something was going on.
Jon noticed this and cringed visibly. "Where's your mom?" Clark asked him, not panicked but not without a tinge of worry.
Jon sighed and dropped his head, looking at the carpet. "Metropolis General," he said quietly. He was going to continue, but the spot where Clark had been standing was empty.
Clark was at the entrance to the hospital in less than a second. He immediately made his way to the desk, determined to visit his wife no matter what the nurse told him. Fortunately, she let him in without a second thought. As Clark made his way to her room, he braced himself for the worst. In retrospect, it might have been better for him to listen to what Jon was going to tell him, he thought. He could only imagine what had happened to put her in this hospital — a gunshot? A bad accident? A strange medical problem? Would she be hooked up to multiple machines? It was enough to make Clark hesitate slightly before entering her room.
With a little mental nudge, he forced himself to open the door and step inside her room. The sight that greeted him was far better than he expected, although the bandages on her right shoulder looked fairly serious.
"Lois?" he said as he made his way over to her sleeping form. He stood over her and grasped her hand as her eyelids slowly opened. Instantly a smile appeared on her face.
"Oh, Clark," she said, reaching out with her good arm to him. Clark bent over and gathered her into a hug. He knew that his face was the picture of worry, but Lois didn't seem to care. His presence seemed to be enough to make her happy, and that in turn made him happy. They sat in their embrace for a minute or two before finally letting go.
"What happened?" Clark asked as he sat on the edge of her bed, holding her hand. Lois related to him the tale of her adventure, not leaving out the slightest detail. She made sure to dote on CJ's accomplishments and his heroism, as well as the incredible guilt he had felt afterwards. Clark couldn't help but feel guilty himself for being out of town when such a thing was happening, but Lois had many years experience in assuaging his fears and worries, and she let him know that it was okay. The couple sat together and talked for a long time, first about Clark's trip to Japan and next about their children. The topic moved on to work and home, and then to more mundane things.
The clock on the wall read 7:15 when Clark finally left the hospital, deciding that it would be an excellent time to talk with CJ. He knew how the boy must be feeling — it was surely how he would've felt had the same thing happened on his watch. He thought that CJ would appreciate him stopping by and reassuring him that he didn't blame him for what had happened. From everything that Lois had said, CJ had been honestly afraid of what Clark would do to him, as if Clark would ever think about holding the incident against his son. In actuality he was very proud of him, and amazed once again at his ingenuity. CJ had managed to save the day, seemingly without thinking twice about it.
Clark hovered outside of the building, peeking inside to make sure he wasn't interrupting anything. What he saw made him pause. CJ lay in bed with Jenny snuggled in close to him, a sheet barely covering their naked entwined forms. They looked so angelic, sleeping like that, that Clark didn't have the heart to wake them up, even if it was for an inspirational talk. He knew when he saw them in Gotham that they had something going. A look at their faces now, even as they slept, spoke volumes about their feelings toward each other.
Clark drifted higher up into the air and took off for his own house, ready to face another day. He would need to bring Laura to the hospital that morning, and he knew he would be spending some time there himself, just because he couldn't bear to leave Lois there alone.
For a moment he let his mind consider what could've happened. What if this same situation had occurred when the kids were too young to be of any help? He would be a single father raising three children, and no doubt loathing himself for ever letting such a terrible thing happen. Simply put, his life would be misery. He thanked whatever gods were smiling down upon him that that particular scenario never did happen. Truth be told, Lois had been very cautious since about the time that Jon came around, and Clark couldn't help but wonder if the adventure that she had gone on the previous day wasn't mostly for the benefit of Jenny. Lois had never been the type to live vicariously through her children, but maybe the idea of having a driven young female reporter as a protégé made her want to experience a part of her youth again. Clark hoped, for CJ's sake, that Jenny didn't take to that type of in-depth reporting as intensely as Lois had, and that her own near death experienced had instilled a sense of caution in her.
As for his wife, well, Clark wasn't sure if the return of the more adventurous Lois was a permanent or a temporary situation, but Clark didn't let himself worry too much about it. If the previous night had shown him anything, it was that the city was in some very capable hands, and those hands would never let anything bad happen to their loved ones.
The sound of an alarm clock drew Jenny out of the pleasant dream she had been having. She let out a small grunt and began to make a move to quiet the incessant buzzing, but she found that it had been turned off before she got the chance. As the fog of sleep began to clear away, she became aware of the soft, warm body that was pressed against her. Memories of the previous night began to surface, and for a moment she thought that maybe it had all been a dream — CJ in his crazy outfit, Lois in the hospital. But as her eyes fluttered open, she could see the blue Superman baseball cap sitting on the dresser next to the pair of sunglasses, and she knew it had been all too real. She didn't remember too much after leaving the hospital last night — she suspected she nodded off in the car.
Out of the corner of her eye, she could just barely make out CJ's face. He seemed to be watching her closely, wearing that lovingly amused expression that he always seemed to have on his face when they woke up together in the morning. Jenny found herself beginning to smile as she thought about the prospect of waking up every morning to that beautiful face. She rolled over so that she could look him in the eye.
"Good morning," CJ said tenderly as he propped his head up.
Jenny smiled and wrapped one of her arms around his neck, drawing him in and giving him a deep kiss. "Good morning yourself," she said. They pulled apart and resumed their previous positions, looking at in each other in silence for a few seconds. Jenny glanced at the alarm clock and noticed that it said 7:25 AM — a little later than she was used to getting up, but then again, she had had a very long night. Besides, she didn't have class for a few hours — she always worked at the Daily first thing in the morning.
CJ followed her gaze to the alarm clock and he made a face. He was going to be late for his first class if he didn't hurry up. "Did you sleep well?" CJ asked Jenny as he pulled his legs out from under the sheet and sat up, running a hand through his hair.
Jenny's eyes drank in the sight of his body as he dangled his legs over the edge of the bed and stood up. Seeing a sight like that would definitely start her day off right, she thought. "Yeah, but I'm still pretty tired," she said, trying to stifle a yawn as she finished. CJ glanced over his shoulder and gave her a crooked smile. She felt the sudden urge to throw a pillow at him, but decided against it.
As CJ surveyed the uncharacteristically messy floor of his bedroom, he began to chuckle. "If a stranger came by here, they would think we had a wild night last night or something," he said. Clothes were strewn all over the floor, making three vague piles, with Jenny's clothes in one, the outfit he wore to the hospital in another, and the Superman outfit in the last.
"Yeah, some wild night we had. We got in the door and went directly to bed," Jenny said flatly as she sat up in the bed, wrapping the sheet around herself as she did.
CJ snagged his bathrobe off the hook on the back of the door and made his way around the room, trying to straighten things up a little. Jenny watched with some interest, noting his expression as he picked up certain articles of clothing. As he reached her pile, he nonchalantly threw them in with his dirty laundry. As an afterthought, he looked over his shoulder. "You weren't going to wear that stuff today, were you?"
Jenny shook her head. After her first night over there, she had learned to keep a few articles of clean clothing around his apartment, just in case. She found it interesting that they were sharing so many things now, such as laundry. She hadn't gotten so far as to buy another toothbrush to keep in his bathroom, but she wondered if the time wouldn't come for that soon enough.
CJ came to the Superman pile of clothes next. He picked up the T-shirt with two fingers, as if afraid of it somehow. "I think I'm going to burn this," he said, sounding completely serious.
"Oh, come on now," Jenny said as she slid toward the edge of the bed. "You never know when you might need to wear that again."
"Hopefully never," CJ said with some distaste.
Jenny got out of the bed, the sheet draped over her body, and went over to him, wrapping her arms around his waist from behind. "I don't know," she said. "I was impressed with the work you did. Maybe someday both your dad and your brother will be out of town and somebody might need you."
CJ turned his head and looked at her skeptically, one of his eyebrows raised. Jenny tightened her arms around him and gave him a sloppy kiss on the cheek. "Besides," she said quietly into his ear, "I thought it was pretty sexy."
Without a second thought, CJ tossed the shirt in the laundry hamper. "Sold me, " he said, a smile returning to his lips. Jenny giggled and let go of him, returning to the edge of the bed. He chucked the rest of the dirty clothes into the hamper and made his way to the closet, pulling out an outfit. Next he went over to the dresser, pulling out a few more items, then he made his way to the door. As he laid his hand on the knob a thought sprang into his mind, halting his progress. "Speaking of my startling good looks when wearing a certain T-shirt…"
It was Jenny's turn to cock her eyebrow at him. "Yes?"
CJ smiled self consciously and diverted his eyes. "Well, don't be surprised if your roommate mentions having seen…me last night on campus."
"Really?" Jenny said, somewhat amused.
"Yeah. And, uh, don't be surprised if she mentions me, you know, giving her a little peck on the cheek." The last part was said very rapidly under his breath, and Jenny had to strain to hear it. It took a second, but what he said finally registered.
"You did WHAT?!?" Jenny said, her voice rising slightly. She was incredulous, though not to the point of being angry. Yet.
CJ paused and looked at her wide eyed for a moment before scurrying over and sitting next to her on the bed, placing his clothes next to him. "See, I was going along minding my own business and she just popped up out of nowhere. I wanted her to just go away, but I couldn't exactly tell her that. Then she's all awe-struck because she's finally met one of her fantasy super men and she asks me for a date. I decline, naturally, and she looked like somebody just told her that her dog had been run over by a car or something. I felt guilty and decided to give her something to remember, since she probably wouldn't encounter any of us in that type of situation again," CJ said rapidly, not pausing to take a breath. Jenny crossed her arms across her chest and listened to his rambling with interest, laughing inside as she pictured the situation. He was really cute when he groveled, she thought.
"I swear it wasn't anything," CJ continued, laying his hands on her leg. "I promise that from this second forward, when I see your roommate, I will not do so much as point my face in her direction, lest my lips so go astray again and ruin my reputation."
Jenny kept her arms crossed and looked at him with the sternest expression she could muster. In actuality, it was all she could do to not burst out laughing.
"I love you?" CJ said, his face pleading at her. That finally opened the floodgates and Jenny began to break down in a fit of giggles, much to CJ's relief. Once she could talk again, Jenny let him know that he was forgiven.
"Just remember that from now on, I have exclusive rights to all of you, mister, and that includes your lips," she said, kissing him there.
"Yes, ma'am," he said, returning the gesture. "I'm glad we got that out of the way. Okay, I really need to take a shower NOW or I'm going to be late," he said as he got up off the bed again and made his way out of the room. Jenny watched him go, again wondering how she'd gotten so lucky.
She got out of bed again and turned on CJ's radio before finding the clothing she had stashed in his closet a few days ago. Over the speakers came the morning DJ's, talking about the current news of the day. The radio wasn't on for a minute before a mention was made of an article in the morning edition of the Daily Planet, and the fact that it implied there was a new Superman out and about. Amazing, Jenny thought. The city was so hungry for a new hero to latch onto that people were taking vague stories and turning them into proof of a new Superman. Jenny figured it was only a matter of time before all the talk wound down, but until then, even the slightest mention of a Superman sighting would surely send the press into a frenzy. She had no intention of playing that particular game, although she might write up her own adventures into an article for the school paper.
She wondered again what the future would hold for her, and how CJ would fit into it. She didn't think that she really wanted to have many more nights like last night, as exciting as it had been. She valued her life too much. And even though he hadn't said anything about it, she was sure that CJ had been scared to death about the whole situation, and she didn't want to have to put him through that. No matter what happened, Jenny had a feeling that their lives would be interesting enough even without the extra excitement.
Jenny Sears sat in a lawn chair in the parking lot of the football stadium, enjoying a hamburger and the company of her surrogate family. The Kent family tailgate had been a Saturday tradition ever since Jon joined the marching band four years ago; in that time it had obviously become an important part of their weekend routine. She felt fortunate to have been invited to join them — it made that down time between Saturday morning practice and the game that much more enjoyable.
The atmosphere today seemed to be a little bit different than normal — Jenny couldn't quite put her finger on it. All the family members seemed to be smiling a little bit wider when they looked at her. It was homecoming, and she knew that Jon was happy to be marching in the alumni band. It was also the day that they were honoring Superman and son as the family of the year, and as much as they considered it to be an honor, she knew that they also considered it a bit of a hassle, too. Jon, in particular, was worried about the logistics of accepting the award at the beginning of halftime as the Crimson Superman, and then getting back to march with the alumni band as himself, all without anybody noticing anything that might be damning. But none of these things explained the smiles directed only at her and the knowing looks the rest of them exchanged. Something funny was definitely going, but she didn't allow herself to dwell on it.
After lunch, they sat and talked together. CJ was absent from the family gathering as he had been ever since he became a member of the Metropolis University football team — they spent the time before the game doing their own things. Jon was dressed in his alumni band uniform, his trombone sitting in the back seat of the Kent family sedan. Jenny wore her uniform, minus the wool jacket, hat and gloves. For October, it was unseasonably nice in Metropolis, not that anybody was complaining. Lois sat with her arm in a sling. It had been more than a month since the shooting, and her shoulder was healing very nicely. Clark sat next to her, and the two were as touchy-feely as Jenny had ever seen them. She had spent quite a bit of time around them since August, and she had heard the stories that CJ had told her about growing up around them, but they seemed to be exceptionally loving toward each other today, for whatever reason. Laura seemed to be having a good time, like she did at every football game. Jenny knew that she looked forward to the day that she could be a participant in the whole college football tradition rather than just an observer. This could be accomplished in a number of ways: Laura was on the dance squad at her high school and she played trumpet in the band, among other things. Jenny didn't expect her to be anything less than a wunderkind, especially coming from this special family.
When the time came to line up for band, Jenny and Jon left together, regaling each other with the latest band gossip. On the march over to the stadium, Jenny made sure to give a small wave to her favorite family, and they made sure to wave back. The pregame show went without a hitch, and as she left the field and headed toward the stands, Jenny located CJ among the football team members. She always gave him a few words of encouragement on that walk — she knew he was listening for them with his super ears, and he always looked over at her and smiled upon receiving them.
At halftime, Jenny stood at attention on the field, watching with pride as Clark and Jon accepted their awards. She was too far away to make eye contact with them or read their facial expressions, but she could see their forms. As soon as the small ceremony was over, Jon took off, although Clark stayed on the sidelines to watch the rest of the show. As she marched the next song, she didn't notice a solitary football player emerge from the locker room, helmet in tow, or the quick exchange he made with the waiting Superman. As the song ended, Jenny came to a halt at the fifty yard line near the front sideline. She had thought when they were first shown this drill that it was unusual to have clarinets charted up front — they were usually relegated to the back side of the field with the other "quiet" instruments. When asked, the director said with a gleam in his eye that he felt like doing something different for a change.
The pause between songs was longer than Jenny had expected, and she was beginning to wonder why when she noticed CJ, dressed in his football uniform, approaching her from the sideline, a man with a microphone at his side. Her mind began to go to work — what was he doing there? Why was that man with him?
At that moment, the public address announcer began to speak. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "please direct your attention to the field for a special announcement."
CJ stopped in front of Jenny and took her hand, pulling her forward so that they were separated from the rest of the band. He set his helmet on the ground and took her clarinet from her, setting it on the grass next to his helmet. Jenny began to tremble as the realization of what was going to happen came to her. Suddenly the special smiles and secret looks that she witnessed before the game made perfect sense.
As she watched, wide-eyed, CJ dropped down to one knee in front of her and looked up at her face with such love in his eyes that Jenny almost started crying. From under his helmet, CJ took a little black box out and opened it, revealing a modest diamond ring.
Jenny's hand flew up to her mouth as she stifled a gasp. Even though she knew right away what was happening, it was still hard to believe. Never in her wildest dreams had she envisioned a proposal like this, in front of thousands of people. Her legs were beginning to turn to jello and it took all of her willpower to not collapse right there on the spot.
CJ started speaking to her, his soft voice echoing strangely throughout the stadium. "Jenny Sears, since you've entered my life, everything I've ever known has been turned upside down. The little things that used to matter so much to me seem now to be inconsequential next to your love and the life it has given me. I love you with all my heart. Will you marry me?"
The stadium of 70,000 people grew deathly quiet as they waited for Jenny's reply. Her tears were flowing freely now, the pure joy she felt written across her face. As soon as she could find her voice, she said, "Yes, oh yes I will."
The crowd broke out in wild applause and CJ positively beamed at her. He took her left hand and drew it toward him, gently removing her white glove. He slipped the ring on her finger and held it tenderly, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. Jenny knew that he must be experiencing a strong emotion just then — that was about the only time he ever truly seemed to be at a loss for words. She gently pulled her hand out of his and wrapped her arms around his neck — not an easy task due to the shoulder pads he wore. He stood up and their lips met in a tender kiss, much to the crowd's approval. Jenny was vaguely aware that the drum major had blown the whistles to start the next song, but she was not ready to break their kiss yet. As she pulled away a few long seconds later, she could see over CJ's shoulder that Superman was still standing on the sidelines. He regarded them with a broad grin, and as soon as he caught Jenny's eyes, he winked at her. Jenny tightened her arms around her now-fiancée and brought her mouth to his ear.
"I love you," she said softly. The things he had said in his proposal to her held true for her feelings toward him. Her life before him had seemed full enough at the time, but she had never been aware of the huge void inside herself that CJ had so expertly found and filled. When she looked to her future, she absolutely couldn't imagine her life without him there. She knew that it wasn't going to be easy — he was going to have a whole city to protect after graduation. But she knew that he loved her, and that he would never let anything bad happen to her. And she was positive that he would be there by her side whenever she needed him, for as long as they lived. A love like theirs surely couldn't go wrong.
CJ turned his head so that his face met hers again. A little smile began to form on his lips. "I never doubted that for a second," he said, and they kissed again, oblivious of the band on the field, of the emerging football teams, and of the crowd, who was still cheering their every move.
Clark walked over to the happy couple and placed his hand on CJ's shoulder, causing the two to pull apart. "I want to be the first to congratulate you two," Clark said, offering his hand to CJ to shake. What he really wanted to do was embrace both of them, but the circumstances just did not allow it. CJ was well aware of this, and he met his father's eyes as they shook hands. They spoke volumes to each other without even saying a word.
"Thanks, old man," CJ said with a crooked smile. Clark gave him a mock stern look before softening up and giving his son a smile that spoke of a future teasing conversation that they were sure to have. Jenny reached over and grasped Superman's arm, drawing is attention to her. He offered one last smile at the couple before taking off into the air. CJ caught his father's thumbs up signal from high above the stadium and offered one of his own in return.
With that the two love birds parted company for the time being, their lives seemingly unchanged to the outside observer, but both knew that they would never be the same again.