By Mary Potts, AKA Queen of the Capes, AKA Quill
Submitted: October, 2004
Summary: Young CJ Kent seeks to find a solution to his father's early — and unwelcome — retirement. Could the next generation of superheroes be preparing to step up?
This is the sequel to Rude Awakening. I suggest you read that one first in order for anything in this story to make sense. Well, okay, maybe you could read this alone, but I still suggest reading the first one. It's very short, honest! Go ahead; I'll wait.
[…recent crime-wave, experts say the crime rate has been steadily rising since Superman's mysterious disappearance over two months ago. All across the globe, people are asking the question, "Where is Superman?" A drastic rise in fatalities…]
CJ shut his eyes and tried to tune out the radio that was blaring across the street. <<Concentrate. If the sum of the two angles of a triangle is 79 degrees and the length of one side is 5…>>
[…another body found lying in front of an apartment building at 36th and Main; police say the victim was stabbed repeatedly…]
CJ raked a hand through his hair. It was hard to have to listen to these reports day after day. He knew that his father heard the reports too, and he wondered why his dad didn't do something! He saw the pained look on his dad's face every time a news anchor reported another murder, or the headlines printed another chain of robberies. Obviously, the reports disturbed him greatly, yet still he did nothing. He only sighed and busied himself with his children.
"CJ? Are you okay?"
He opened his eyes. Dina was leaning over his desk, looking for all the world like someone who'd just found an injured squirrel. "Yeah, Dina, I'm okay
"Are you sure?"
"Oh. Okay." Dina cast her eyes downward and fiddled with one of the pencils on his desk. "Are you mad at me?"
"I said 'Are you mad at me?'"
CJ leaned back and stared at her in surprise. "Dina, I'm not mad at you! Why on *earth* would I be mad at you?"
"Well," She brushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "Ever since that incident at lookout point two months ago, you've been —distant. I was just wondering…"
"Dina, that was *two months* ago. And besides, it wasn't your fault. It was just a misunderstanding. That's all. Everything was straightened out."
"Okay." She gave a small, relieved smile, grateful to know that she hadn't lost her friend over an acting job. Although, she didn't think he'd be too pleased to know that she was secretly delighted by the events of that night; it was an unending thrill to know that her acting skills were good enough to fool someone who undoubtedly encountered the real thing almost everyday! "So what's the matter?"
CJ heaved a sigh. "Nothing. It's just— it's personal, all right?"
"CJ, I'm your friend! You can tell me whatever's wrong, no matter how 'personal' it is!"
"I'm sorry, Dina, but I can't talk to you about it. Not this time."
Dina pouted and was about to protest when Mr. Raymond entered the room.
"Sorry about that, class. Now, if those of you who have gotten up will please return to your seats?"
CJ returned his gaze to his textbook; Dina frowned and grudgingly returned to her own desk, and Mr. Raymond wrote the day's assignment on the whiteboard.
[…12 victims of a fatal accident…]
CJ rolled over and pulled the blankets up tighter.
[…reports of a new serial killer…]
He punched his pillow and tried to get comfortable.
[…charred remains, experts say a clear case of arson…]
He squeezed his eyes shut. <<Gotta sleep. Gotta sleep!>>
Suddenly, a gun's report sounded, startling CJ into an upright position. He heard his father do the same in the next room.
"Honey, what is it?" came his mother's sleepy voice.
This was it. This *had* to be it. <<Come on, Dad! Joke's over! Do your spin thing and get out there.>>
He waited. Waited for the spin. Waited for the whoosh. Waited for any sign that the man his father used to be had not simply curled up and died!
"It's nothing, Lois. Go back to sleep."
CJ's eyes narrowed. His mother was speaking now, but he didn't listen. He slowly rose out of bed, a determined expression having taken over his face. This was the last straw!
He grabbed the jeans that were draped over the foot of his bed and pulled them on, then picked up a T-shirt off the floor and pulled it over his head. As an after thought, he plucked the pair of glasses off of his nightstand; then he went to the window and opened it.
Dina was in the middle of a very nice dream when she heard the *thump* at her window. She sat up, getting increasingly nervous as the thumping continued. She hastily switched on a light and scrambled out of bed. Grabbing a baseball bat from her closet, she made her way carefully to the window and peeked behind the curtain.
"Dina!" A muffled voice called, "It's me!"
Dina pulled the curtains aside and opened the window. "CJ? What are you doing here?!"
"I—I need to talk to you."
Dina glanced at the clock, at CJ, and at the night scene outside. "Have you lost your mind? It's the middle of the night!"
"Please, Dina," CJ said. "It's important." He sounded so desperate, and his disheveled appearance made him look quite pathetic.
"All right, fine. Give me a minute to get dressed, then I'll let you in."
He shook his head. "I need to talk to you somewhere private. Could you meet me at Lookout Point
"Lookout Point?!" Dina's eyes widened.
She thought for a moment. "You brought a car? Maybe I can just ride with you."
He shook his head. "I didn't bring a car."
"Then how will you get there?" Dina raised an eyebrow.
"Just trust me, okay?"
"Okay, fine. I'll be there in twenty minutes."
CJ nodded, and Dina closed the window. <<This better not be some weird joke, Kent, or you owe me big!>>
Half an hour later, Dina's car pulled up at Lookout Point. CJ was already there, sitting on the railing with his feet dangling over the city. Dina climbed out of the car and walked over to him.
"All right, CJ, what is it?" And it better be important!"
CJ turned and studied her. She wore jeans and a sweater, and there was a curler still dangling from a strand of her hair. She looked pretty ticked, and CJ didn't blame her.
"CJ, what is it?" Dina was starting to get concerned.
"What's your deepest, darkest secret?"
"What I'm going to tell you is pretty big, and I need blackmail material. So what's your deepest darkest secret?"
"You've got to be kidding me!" Dina said. The look on his face told her he was not kidding, so she went and sat next to him on the railing. "Okay, okay. When I was twelve, I went on a camping trip with my dad and—I, uh—had a little accident."
"What kind of accident?"
She shot him a sharp look. "What do you think? I wet the sleeping bag! Okay?! And CJ, if you ever tell a soul, *I* *will* *kill* *you*!!!"
"Don't worry. You're secret's safe with me."
Dina snorted. "Okay. So, now that I've just told you the most humiliating experience of my life, what's this important thing you want to talk to me about?"
"Dina, I have to tell you something. It's a secret; one that my family has kept for a long time, and you have to understand, this secret is huge. If it got out, we could *all* be in a heap of trouble!" He took a deep breath. "It's about my dad…"
"Oh my god!" said Dina. "Has he been abusing you?!"
"No! No, nothing like that. You see," He raked a hand through his hair. "How can I explain this? Dina, remember when we came here to go over your lines and Superman thought I was trying to attack you?"
A tiny smile escaped her. "Yes, I remember." Her smile faded as she thought back to the events of that night. "Boy, he sure seemed pretty upset…"
"He really freaked out."
"He did, and he usually doesn't do that. Do you know why he freaked out then?"
Dina thought for a moment. "Well, I figured it was because he was so close to your family…"
"It's more than that, Dina. I'm his son."
Dina stared at CJ in shock. "You're—? You're Superman's son?"
"Oh my god! So the rumors about him and your mother are true? Oh, CJ, I'm so sorry! What that must be like for you… Does your dad know?"
"No, no, Dina, it's not like that!" At her confused look, he elaborated. "My dad wasn't cuckolded by Superman. My dad *is* Superman."
Dina's mouth opened and clapped shut. "Oh! But, wait a minute; Superman's disappeared, and I just saw your dad yesterday! What happened?"
"He decided to retire."
"Retire?! Jeez, if he was going to retire, he could've at least made a public announcement instead of letting us run around in a panic, thinking he's dropped off the face of the earth!"
"Dina, think about it. When did the crime wave start?"
"About a month ago," Dina replied, "shortly after everyone realized Superman was really gone."
"And when would it have started if Dad had announced there wasn't going to be a Superman anymore?"
"Probably five minutes after the announcement." Dina rested her chin on her hand. "I see your point. So, what made him decide to retire?"
"He got this crazy idea that he wasn't spending enough time with us, and he's afraid of us growing up to be criminals or weirdoes or something," CJ said.
"Ah. And I suppose our little rehearsal session didn't exactly help calm his fears, did it?"
"Nope. But don't blame yourself, Dina. This was something that's been cooking for a while. Dad's a family kind of guy; he's always worrying about us! Only now, I think he's gone too far. I mean sure, we missed him when he had to run out during school plays or piano recitals, but it isn't like he never made time for us! He didn't have to flat-out retire!"
"Have you talked to him about it?"
"Dina, I've tried to talk to him; so has Mom! He just won't listen! And this crime wave has gotten *really* out of control!"
"Do you have superpowers?"
It was a question that had come completely out of left field. "What?"
"Do you have superpowers?"
"Dina, if you don't mind, I'm trying to talk to you about a serious issue that affects the nation, and the rest of the world, as well as my own sanity?"
Dina rolled her eyes. "Just answer the question."
"Okay, yes. I have superpowers."
"Just trust me, okay? How much of Su—your dad's powers do you have?"
"All of them, but I'm not as strong, and when it comes to flying I have a little landing problem."
Dina snickered at the mental image of CJ soaring majestically through the air, diving towards the earth, then promptly crashing into a pile of trashcans.
CJ frowned. "Can we get back to the subject now?"
"CJ, we never left the subject!"
"Look, your dad doesn't want to be Superman anymore, right?"
"And you want to do something about this crime wave, right?"
"So *you* be Superman!"
CJ shook his head. "Uh-uh. No way! Dad will never go for it!"
"Well, in that case…" Dina grinned mischievously. "Who says he has to know?"
"Dina, I think if a teenager with all of Dad's powers, who was the spitting image of his oldest son, flew around claiming to be Superman, Dad just might suspect it was me."
"So then you don't claim to be Superman. We'll give you a new image and a new name, maybe a mask so he won't know it's you."
"Hmm." Said CJ, "That just might work!"
"What do you think of the name Captain Marvel?"
"Oh please, that's so cheesy sounding! How about…"
Tom slid the crowbar under the window and jiggled it to force the window open.
"Hurry up!" Frank hissed.
"Let me guess; you're doing your shopping five hours before the store opens in order to beat the morning rush?"
Tom and Frank turned around and saw a young kid in a black leotard, boots, and a mask. "Scram, kid. This ain't none of your business."
"Who do you think you are, the Lone Ranger?"
The kid approached them. "You don't understand; I'm *making* this my business!" The kid grabbed Tom's arm and wrenched it behind his back.
Frank pulled out his gun and leveled it at the kid's head. All of a sudden, the gun heated up so he was forced to drop it! Frank turned and ran down the alley. When he reached the other end of it, the kid was there, standing right in front of him.
"Leaving so soon?" The kid reached out and grabbed his wrist, and before he had a chance to blink, he suddenly found himself tied up and propped against Tom! "There. That should hold you until the cops get here, which should be in about…" He bent his arm and pretended to check a watch. "Oh, I'd say 5-10 minutes. And for future reference, the name is Nightwing."
Nightwing turned and walked down the alley; a girl met him at the end. He scooped her up and lifted high into the air…
Frank and Tom stared after them, slack-jawed, until an officer undid the rope and put them both in handcuffs.
CJ descended the stairs and walked into the kitchen. His father was sitting at the table quietly eating a bowl of cereal. Aside from him, the house was completely empty.
His father lowered his spoon. "Good morning."
"Um, where's Mom?"
"Getting a haircut."
"Oh." There was something cold and distant about his father's responses. CJ came further into the kitchen and stood by the table. "Where's John and Laura?"
"Visiting your grandmother."
He stilled. The house had been cleared on purpose. But why?
"Sit down, son. Your breakfast is on the table."
CJ pulled out his chair and slowly sank into it. There was a plate of food in front of him; next to the plate was a section of the newspaper, turned to an article about Metropolis's newest superhero. Something was sticking out from between the pages. With two fingers, CJ pulled the black strip of cloth out of the newspaper.
Clark watched him as he stared silently at the domino in his hand.
"Yes, I do." Clark stood and put his dish in the sink. "CJ, we need to talk. First of all, what possessed you to go out and do something like this behind my back?!"
"I just wanted to help."
"I see. CJ, wanting to help is a fine and noble thing, but you're just a kid! You don't have enough experience to go out and try to clean up Metropolis by yourself!"
"I am not a kid!" CJ snapped, "I'm seventeen years old! And besides, *somebody's* got to do something about the crime wave!"
"Seventeen still makes you a kid, CJ! A young, very green kid, and if you go out there and try to declare war on the underworld, all you're going to succeed in doing is getting yourself killed!"
"I'm not gonna get myself killed, Dad!"
"Oh?! And who's the fortuneteller who told you *that*? You're an amateur CJ; you have no idea what you're doing, and some of the criminals out there are seasoned pros! They'll maim you and humiliate you just for laughs, and when they get bored with you, they'll just pick you off like an insignificant bug! A mere pest!"
"In case you've forgotten, I have superpowers, just like you!"
Clark slammed his hand down on the newspaper, nearly breaking the table. "I know that! And so do the papers! Don't you get it, CJ? If they know that 'Nightwing' has Superman's powers, it won't take long for them to realize that he probably also has Superman's weakness!
"You've never been exposed to Kryptonite, CJ; I hope you never are. It's a very unpleasant experience. It's the worst pain you can ever imagine! And even if you get away from it before it can kill you, it still weakens you to the point that anything else can!
"I don't want to wake up one morning, open the paper, and read that my son was found lying dead in an alley or something! It would break my heart; it would break your mother's heart, and we would have a hell of a time explaining it to your brother and sister!"
"Dad, that's not gonna happen!"
"You're damn right it's not gonna happen, because you're going to give up this 'Nightwing' foolishness right now!"
"No I'm not!"
"CJ, you didn't just say that."
"Dad, you can't make me give it up! You don't control my life!"
"In case you've forgotten, CJ, I'm your father!"
"I'm not so sure about that anymore!"
"Oh? And I suppose you think you got those superpowers from your mother?"
"My father helped people; he didn't sit by and watch the world go to Hell in a hand basket! I don't know *who* the hell *you* are!"
"Do you think I *like* being retired? Do you think I get some secret thrill from sitting idly by while people out there get hurt? I retired so I could be here for my family who needs me, CJ, not so I could watch my oldest son run out there and commit suicide!"
"Who needs a hypocrite? When I was a kid you taught me that it was important for each person to try to make a difference, that evil prevails when good men do nothing! You taught *all* of us that! What are you teaching us now?"
"That family is important! That a man should be there for his children!"
"Dad…" CJ sucked in a breath and lowered his voice. "Dad, please listen. When you were Superman, you got called away a lot, yeah, but you didn't neglect us! You were always there when we needed you!"
"No I wasn't! Don't you remember your tenth birthday? The one I completely *missed* because I spent the entire day in Timbuktu? I still can't shake the look you gave me when I finally returned home!"
"What about when I was five and I ran out in the snow in just my shorts and caught pneumonia?"
"CJ, that was the scariest week of my life!"
"I know. Mom said you never left my side. She also said she saw your head perk up several times. Dad, you might've missed a few special occasions, but you were always there when it was important!"
"But that's not enough, CJ. Look at you; you're almost a full- grown man now, and yet there's so much about you that I don't know!"
"Dad, nobody knows everything there is to know about their kids. Yes, there's a lot about me that you don't know, and there's probably a lot about me that you'll *never* know."
"I would at least like to *try* to get to know you, CJ."
"Okay then, fine! If you want, you can cut back on the Superman thing, but don't retire. Please? I know you want us to have a dad, but if you force yourself to not be who you are, then you're not giving us our real dad! I want my dad back."
Clark sighed. "All right, CJ. I'll come out of retirement. But I want you to promise me that you're not going to be Nightwing anymore!"
"Okay, fair enough. I promise."
The sun was on his back and the wind was in his hair as he flew to catch a falling beam. It was good to be back, though Clark had made it clear at the press conference that his return was limited; no more rescuing cats in trees, no more delivering babies, and no special appearances. From now on, he would only appear if there was a true emergency.
Like this one.
The death toll so far was 12, though it would have been 54 if he hadn't arrived when he did! It was definitely good to be back.
His eyes turned the colour of flame as he welded two beams to keep the structure from totally collapsing. There were still 16 people trapped inside, and he needed to get them out quickly before something caved and more people got hurt. As he flew towards them, though, he heard the sound of metal scraping and turned to see another beam starting to yield.
"I got it!"
Before Clark could move, a figure in black tights and jacket dashed to the beam and began lifting it back into place. What on earth—?
"I got it! Go!"
Clark swiftly raced to where the others were cowering. When all 16 were safely away from the area, he nodded to his unrequested assistant. The youth released the beams he was holding and flew to Clark's side as the building shuddered and finally fell to its knees.
"Whoa. So what happened, a bomb?"
"No. More likely the contractor cut corners. Do you mind telling me what you're doing here?!"
"I, um, saw it on the news, and it looked like you could use a little help."
"You're not mad?"
"On the contrary," said Clark, "I'm furious. You said you were going to drop the Nightwing act. You broke your word to me!"
"Ah, but that's where you're wrong; I did *not* break my promise. Look!" CJ turned and showed his dad the back of his jacket.
Clark shook his head and sighed. "I guess that's fitting; you're just like your mother! So how much money did you spend on that jacket?"
"None, actually. It was a gift."
"A gift? From who?"
"Um, let's just say a very, very, *very* close friend who's good at keeping secrets and won't breathe a word about anything to anybody, I swear!"
Clark frowned. Just then, a camera flashed and a crowd of reporters began to emerge on the site. They waved their notebooks and shouted questions; all the while, photographers kept snapping pictures of everything. Microphones were shoved in the two superheroes' faces.
"Superman, over here!"
"Superman, who is this guy?"
"Is this your son? Kid brother? Cousin? A clone?"
"Are you the 'Nightwing' character who's been making the headlines lately?"
"Are you from Krypton too?"
"How old are you?"
"How long have you been in Metropolis?"
Clark raised his hands for the mob to quiet down. When it was down to a dull roar, he spoke. "Ladies and Gentlemen of the press, Tornado will gladly answer all of your questions a year or so from now; he will hold a press conference, and you can ask him anything you like then. Right now though, we both have to be going." Clark grabbed his son by the arm and took off, leaving the gaping crowd behind.
"A year?" CJ asked once they were high in the air.
"That's how long you're likely going to be grounded once we get home and sit down with your mother to discuss this stunt, not to mention a certain 'friend' of yours."
"Dad, you can't ground me; I'm too old! Being grounded is for kids!"
"CJ, as long as you live under my roof, you'll obey my rules and face whatever form of discipline I think is necessary. Now like I said, we'll discuss all this with your mother first. Then, when your mother and I are done yelling at you, we're going to get in touch with your friend and have a thorough discussion about the enormity of what he knows."
"I don't care if they're an 'it' right now, CJ. You are in serious trouble, and life is going to be very unpleasant for you between now and when you get back in the game."
"Back in the game? You mean you're gonna let me be a superhero?"
"Well, we have to talk it over with your mother first, but…yeah, I think so."
"But not until you're 18, and even then, *only* in a very limited capacity; no major disasters, no super-villains, and don't even *think* about going into outer space!"
"But Dad, what's left?!"
"Kittens in trees."
Clark grinned. "Don't worry, CJ, there will be plenty of things for you to do while you're learning the ropes, but I just want you to stay where I can keep an eye on you and avoid situations that are too dangerous. When you start getting the hang of things, I'll start extending your limits. Okay?"
"Oh, and CJ?"
"Get rid of that cheesy mask!"