By Beth Summerson <email@example.com>
Submitted: May 2008
Summary: A sequel to the author's story "Honesty." This story continues to follow the lives of the young couple as they deepen their relationship and take it to new levels. But the challenges of daily life prove to be difficult as their loyalties are tested and they struggle to remain faithful to each other, despite outside pressures.
This is a sequel to my story Honesty, which is available at the archive. I would suggest that any potential readers of this story read Honesty first. Otherwise, it could be very confusing.
Thanks so much to Nancy for providing such excellent comments and corrections as a BR. You're the best! And thanks too all the readers on the LCfanfic message boards for providing such great support and feedback as I wrote this. Thanks guys!
Thanks also to LaraMoon for being a fantastic GE. I think this story grew four pages just from all the extra paragraphs that needed to go in.
In order to avoid confusion, please remember that flashbacks in this story are marked off by three asterisks like so:
I hope you enjoy this story! I welcome all kinds of feedback, positive or negative, public or private.
She pushed against the back of her chair and smoothed her hands over the glossy wood of her desk. It had taken her a long time to get to where she was now. She looked different than the way she used to, and not only because of the judicious application of cosmetic surgery. She disliked the use of the word "older", but there was an air of wisdom about her, a deeper understanding of life, perhaps, which gave her an advantage she didn't have in the past.
She had been patient all those years. It hadn't been easy, but she had done it through careful planning and strategy and slow moving caution. Bit by bit, she had slowly moved towards her goal.
And now, it was being threatened. She had been caught red-handed and although she was relatively free for the time being, it wouldn't be long before the jaws of justice would clamp down on her once again. Luckily, she had taken precautions against such a thing ever happening. She just needed to keep a cool head, and not get overly excited. She had a plan.
There was a knock on the door to her private office.
"Come in," she invited. The door opened to reveal an attractive young woman clad in a pencil skirt and low cut blouse. Her hair was glossy and light while her makeup was artfully applied. Just like her mentor, this woman had no qualms about using her feminine charms to get what she wanted. "Why are you here, Gertrude?" the older woman asked.
"We found him," Gertrude told her with pleasure.
"Are you sure he's the one?" she asked pointedly, not yet daring to believe that they had found him.
Gertrude nodded, her mouth twisting wickedly. "Got too close to the truth without the proper precautions. We have him down in the basement."
"Excellent," her employer murmured.
"Should I deal with him in the usual way?"
The woman started to nod her approval, but then she reconsidered.
"Wait, Gertrude. I think there might be a better way to make an example of him. Or perhaps you might've... forgotten?"
Gertrude caught onto the hint immediately.
"Very well. I'll go do it right now." She exited the office and the woman spun herself absently in her chair.
Everything was coming into place. Their newest prisoner would be the perfect test subject for what was to come, what was to enable her freedom. She had worked so hard to get where she was now, and she would do whatever was necessary to ensure that she would stay here.
It had been just over two weeks since I had found out Jon's true identity. And I guess you could say it had been just over two weeks since Jon had found out my true identity. We had spent the time well, living in a honeymoon-type bliss as we discovered all the little things we hadn't known about each other before. I discovered that Jon had competed in chess on a national level in high school, and Jon somehow convinced me to give him a lecture in the art of disguise. And just a few nights ago, we had finally been able to take that last step towards being completely intimate. In addition to all the newly acquired knowledge (among other things), we were also able to publicize our relationship. We actually went out on dates in Metropolis, or to other places that had people. Like today, for instance.
Jon was taking me to Paris, which meant that we would have to get an early start to account for the time difference. He suggested that we meet at the Daily Planet beforehand, where he could give me a tour of the newsroom before he left early for the day, and of course I jumped at the chance to do this.
I had chosen to take a cab there. For one thing, parking was always horrendous in this area of town, not to mention the traffic. In addition, Jon was going to be taking me home the 'super' way, so I would've just ended up leaving my car parked somewhere overnight, not something I was overly keen on doing. I had some stuff in there that could be awkward to explain on a police report. Pepper spray could be seen as logical, but the small surveillance camera in the glove box would be a little more difficult. Not to mention the belt wedged between the seats that looked suspiciously like it belonged to a local superhero. Jon had had to run off in a bit of a hurry one night, and I still hadn't gotten it back to him.
I was distracted from my mental cataloguing by a sudden screech and crash that came from up ahead. I quickly paid the cabby what I owed him, and then rushed to the scene of the car accident to see if there was anything I could do to help out.
I wasn't the only one there by the time I arrived. I watched with the rest of the population on the street as Supernova assessed the situation and began helping victims out of their vehicles. Luckily, no one seemed seriously hurt, and an ambulance arrived quickly enough along with the police to take care of the accident. Supernova spoke briefly with the officer in charge, and then flew away, too fast for the human eye to follow.
It didn't take long for the people on the street to return to their everyday business. Superman had been patrolling Metropolis for over thirty years. He and his children were a common sight in the skies. But I was still dumbstruck. Even though I had first met him as Supernova, actually seeing Jon performing rescues on the street was another thing entirely.
"Hey, Kaylie," a voice suddenly greeted from behind me. I jumped a little and then turned to face my boyfriend. He had changed out of the suit and was now wearing a tie and glasses instead.
"Hey," I replied. "That was amazing just now. Was everyone okay?"
"I think a couple people might be a bit shaken up," Jon replied. "But they should be fine. Were you just heading to the Planet?" I nodded. "How about I walk with you then?" We set off down the sidewalk together.
It was still a novelty to be able to do this. In the months we had been together prior to Jon telling me who he was, we had had to stick to my apartment, or occasionally to some remote, far off place that didn't see Supernova as much as Metropolis did. But now we could walk out in the open for everyone to see that we were a couple. I'd also told practically everyone I knew that I now had a boyfriend. Because I had never seriously dated, it was a great feeling to finally be able to show people that I wasn't as socially inept as they thought. I had even managed to send a note to Jay. Even though my brother had known that I was seeing someone for a long time, I was finally able to tell him Jon's name, and let him know that we were completely committed to each other.
It was a short walk to the Daily Planet. Jon guided me through the foyer, up the elevator, and into the bullpen.
The newsroom was packed with action and energy. People were running in every direction, yelling things at each other and talking loudly on phones. Jon gave me a tour around the newsroom, introducing me to colleagues and giving me an idea of how the operation worked. It was interesting to see his interactions with other people. Although he was still Jon, it was a quieter, slightly more deferential version. He then led me down a little corridor just off the newsroom until we came to a stop outside a frosted glass door that bore his name.
"Your office?" I asked.
He nodded in affirmation, and then held the door open to let me in.
Piles of paper covered nearly every surface, and the guts of at least two computers were scattered across the remaining space of his desk. His personal desk chair was clear, but the chair opposite held a set of binders that were threatening to explode due to the overflow of contents. There was a bookshelf leaning against the wall that sagged under the weight of the fat technical books placed upon it. But the crowded feeling of the small office was combated by the huge window behind the desk. Although it looked into the alleyway, I suspected that Jon liked it that way as it provided an easy exit when he needed it.
"What do you think?" He asked me, closing the door after us.
"You never would guess by your apartment that you're such a packrat," I teased him. "Is all this stuff really necessary to hold onto?"
"Of course it is," he defended. "You never know when something might come in handy." I began browsing through his bookshelf.
"A guide to Windows XP?" I held up the book in question. "Where did you pick this up? A museum?"
"Garage sale," he admitted sheepishly. "But it does have some good background information and what happens if one of the reporters stumbles across an antiquated machine and they need me to search through it for information?"
I rolled my eyes, but didn't comment. I wandered over to his desk and found a picture frame buried among the circuit boards and wires.
"This is of us," I commented in surprise. The picture had only been taken about a week ago when we were at Lois and Clark's for a family dinner.
"Our first picture together," Jon commented as he stepped behind me and wrapped his arms around me.
"I didn't think you'd get it framed," I told him, pleased that he had done so. "We look happy together," I commented.
"We are happy together," Jon said with a little amusement. "Aren't we?"
I'm still not entirely sure what happened at that moment, but the next thing I knew, I was sitting on top of Jon's desk with him pressing against me, and the bits of computer had been swept onto the floor. His fingers dragged through my hair, and I heard several bobby pins suffer the same fate as the computer parts did.
"We shouldn't..." I protested breathlessly as I came up for air, "Not at your work..."
"Shh..." he told me, and brought us back together again.
I could feel his hands playing with the hem of my shirt as I yanked on his tie to loosen it. I kicked off my shoe and slid my foot up the side of his leg. He grabbed hold of it and used it to wrap my entire leg against his. In some far off remote corner of my mind, I was aware of the sound of the latch clicking as the door opened.
After a strong yank and a moment of blurred vision, I found myself sitting on top of the binders that were placed on the one chair. My shirt had been pulled back into place, but my hair was still mussed, and I noticed that my shoe was missing. Not to mention the flush that still covered my cheeks and the way my lips hung open, not yet realizing that there was nothing for them to kiss. Jon must've put me here at super-speed, because I looked to see him sitting at his desk chair, trying to appear collected, yet some papers were still fluttering in a telltale fashion.
I turned to face the intruder. She had a small, compact build, and her straight brown hair shimmered in the light coming from the window. She looked uncomfortable being in the room, and when we made eye contact her discomfort doubled.
"I-I'm sorry," she stammered. "I didn't know you had someone visiting. I knocked, but you must not have heard."
I didn't, that's for sure. And given the fact that Jon and I both looked guilty as hell, I figured this woman had already guessed why we hadn't heard her knock. Jon was the first to recover. He cleared his throat nervously.
"Yeah, sorry about that. Amanda, this is Kaylie. M-my girlfriend. Kaylie, this is Amanda. We... work together."
Immediately, I understood the intense undercurrents that I sensed in the room. This was the girl that Jon had dated before. Whom he had told the truth to, but then ended up breaking up with anyway. How awkward must it be for him to have his ex-girlfriend in the same room as me? And not to mention the tension that she must be feeling to come face to face with the person who was now with her old boyfriend.
"It's nice to meet you, Kaylie," she spoke to the floor. "Sorry I intruded. I'll just get going."
"Wait! Amanda!" Jon called to her before she left. "What did you need?"
"Oh, my computer keeps freezing up. But don't worry about it," she dismissed hastily, "You can come look at it another time, it's not a big deal." I could tell that she desperately wanted to get out of the office as soon as possible.
"I'll look at it today, I promise," Jon said. "That new software that we had to install isn't working properly, and it's been a common problem. Just give me a few minutes."
"Okay, thanks," she mumbled before ducking out the door.
Jon heaved a big sigh, and slumped in his chair.
"Is it always that awkward between you two?" I asked sympathetically.
"Not always," he mumbled into his hands. "But letting her see me with you like this wasn't exactly the most tactful thing I could've done. As you know, we had a really rough breakup, and there's still a lot of awkwardness between us. We manage to keep a professional relationship, but it's still difficult when our past collides unexpectedly. It's just..." he trailed off as his head shot up in a very familiar action. The he groaned heavily. "I have to go help out on this," he explained to me apologetically.
"Go ahead," I told him. "I'll just kick around in here for a while and try to tidy up some of the mess we made earlier. By the way, do you have my shoe?"
That brought a little grin to his face. He looked around behind his desk, and then tossed it to me.
"I'll be back as soon as I can," he said, and then shot out of the room via the window.
I puttered around his small office for a bit, picking up various flotsam that had fallen off his desk from before and trying to restore some sense of order to my hair. Amanda's sudden entrance should be a lesson to us, I thought to myself. We were so used to seeing each other in secluded places that we weren't used to being cautious about what we did and where. We needed to establish some boundaries. I vowed to discuss it later with Jon. A sharp rap interrupted my train of thought and I turned around to see a middle aged man with a trim build enter the room purposefully. He glanced around the room, looking for Jon, and then his eyes landed on me.
"Where's Jon?" he demanded.
"He's..." I stammered nervously. We had never gone through this before. What was his cover story supposed to be when he was off being Supernova? I had only ever seen him around people who knew the secret, so he didn't have to lie to them. "He's in the bathroom," I decided. Wait, what if it took longer than that? "I mean he's sick," I rushed to correct. "In the bathroom. I don't know when he'll be out," I finally finished awkwardly. To my surprise, the man's face cleared at my stumbling attempt, and he stuck out his hand.
"I should introduce myself," he said. "I'm Jim, the editor, and you must be Kaylie."
"Oh, good. You know." I breathed in relief.
"Don't worry, it gets easier with time," he reassured me. "Usually when he's at work we say that he's gone down to storage to do inventory. Nobody would follow him there, and he can reasonably spend hours at a time in that place."
I nodded in response. "I guess it must be a good perk to have your boss in on the secret."
"Definitely. When I was just a research kid, Clark was always having to come up with these nutty excuses for where he was when he was actually being Superman."
"Wait a minute, you used to work in research here?" I asked critically.
"Years ago when I was just getting a start to my career," he nodded in confirmation.
"Your name is Jim, as in *Jimmy Olsen*?" I couldn't believe I hadn't made this connection instantly when I heard his name.
"Yes," Jim confirmed. "I used to go by Jimmy, but once I started climbing the ladder, I realized that 'Jimmy' doesn't exactly help to inspire respect. Why are you so curious?"
"Nothing," I told him hastily. "It's just that... I-I know your father." Jack was like an uncle to me, and he had always spoken with fondness about the time his son had helped break open the Trevanian case. But he had never mentioned that "Jimbo" was now editor of the Daily Planet.
"You know my dad?" he asked interestedly. "How-" But he was interrupted by yet another person banging into Jon's office. It was a wonder how Jon got any work done at all in this place.
"Jimmy!" she shrieked. "How could you put me on the Faison interview?! I work for the Daily Planet, not People magazine!" I could see Jim shrinking back into himself under Lois' attack, and now I had no problem seeing the young twenty-something who had worked as a researcher for the Daily Planet.
"Lois, Claire Faison specifically asked for you to interview her. She's an international celebrity, it'll bring a lot of publicity for the Planet."
"So would uncovering government corruption, or busting open a crime ring," she retorted. "But I guess you're not going to get any of those because you're going to have you best investigative journalist off interviewing pampered movie stars."
Jim pinched his eyebrows together. "Please just do the interview, Lois?" he begged. She still looked at him stonily. "If you do this, then I'll get Winkler to cover that school board meeting instead of you, okay?" he begged. "She won't do the interview without you, and the suits'll kill me if we lose it."
Finally, Lois appeared mollified. "Fine, I'll do it," she grumbled. "But you owe me for this." Then she turned to look at me. "Hi, Kaylie, Jon said you would be coming today. Where is he?"
"Right here," the person in question answered. He had just come in through the window again. "There was a hold-up at a convenience store, but everything's taken care of now. And no," he answered to the mutual looks on Lois and Jimmy's face, "there's nothing to report to the Daily Planet. Everything was pretty run of the mill."
"Jon, I just got a call from the DA's office," Jim told him. "They wanted to know if I could get in touch with Supernova and tell him that the trial's been pushed back a few weeks, so there's no need to go in tomorrow."
"They give any reason?" Jon asked.
"You know lawyers," Jim shrugged. "I think the defense demanded more time to prepare his case or something."
"I'd rather just get it over with," Jon frowned. "But I guess it needs to be a fair trial so there's no chance that they can ask for an appeal." The he turned to me. "We'll be out of here in a second, Kaylie. I just need to fix Amanda's computer." The he exited along with Jim.
I turned to Lois, who was still in the room. "Do they have to testify very often for trials?" I asked, meaning Superman, Nebula, and Supernova.
"Not very," Lois replied. "If that were the case they'd never leave the courtroom. But this is the Sharon Fleming trial that we were talking about."
"She's the CEO who got caught for dirty dealings a few months ago, wasn't she?" I remembered the case when it first broke open just six months ago. I hadn't known Jon then, but I did remember reading something in the papers about his involvement.
Lois nodded. "Supernova was instrumental in taking her down and was an eyewitness to many of the charges Fleming's facing. She's got a fleet of lawyers at her disposal, so the DA asked Supernova to testify to help strengthen the case. With him on the stand, she doesn't stand a chance." I could sense the pride evident in her voice. Even though Jon always talked about how he wasn't really into investigating, I suspected that he really did enjoy it, even though he might not admit it to himself. I was tempted to ask for more details, but then Jon came back again, having finished with Amanda's computer.
"Ready to go?" he asked me.
"Fly us away, Supernova," I told him. "I'm expecting candles, food, and a ridiculous amount of romantic sap and that's a lot to cram into an evening so we better get a start on it."
They hovered over the sight of the fire together, and Jon tried not to feel too self-conscious in his new suit. It wasn't as bright as his father's, but it was just as tight, and he had to restrain himself from constantly tugging on it. He had tried wearing it around in private to get used to the feel of the fabric, but he still wasn't there yet. Just before they were about to dive into the scene, Clark put out an arm to stop Jon.
"Are you sure about this?" he asked his son seriously.
"Yeah, Dad. I'm positive."
"Because after this, there's no going back," Clark told him. "Everyone will know about you, and they'll expect you to stick around. It can be a big commitment. Maybe it's too soon. Maybe you should wait another year or so."
"Dad, I'm sure," Jon affirmed. "I've thought long and hard about this, and I want to do it. Now can we get down there and help these people out?"
Clark's face stretched into a grin. "You bet. Just follow my lead, okay?"
And at that moment, Supernova was born.
By the end of the evening, I had gotten my candles, food, and an absolutely ridiculous amount of romantic sap. We were just reentering Metropolis when Jon announced that the evening wasn't over yet, and that I should close my eyes.
"Just don't do any barrel rolls or anything," I instructed him, a little wary to be flying without seeing where I was going. "I'd like to keep my dinner in my stomach."
"Just relax," he told me. "It's not a long trip."
True to his word, we soon touched down, Jon spinning into his street clothes, and I opened my eyes to see that we were in a dingy alley just off a deserted street. Pools of water collected in the uneven pavement, and the streetlights flickered lazily.
"Did we take a wrong turn somewhere?" I asked, wrinkling my nose at a strange smell that I wasn't really sure I wanted to identify.
"You don't recognize it?" he asked. I shook my head. "Maybe because you're not seeing it from the right angle. You were more towards the main street and sitting down, and I was over in this area holding up a couple of thugs who I had valiantly saved you from--"
"The place we first met!" I exclaimed. "And if I remember correctly, I wasn't in any need of saving, valiant or otherwise."
"Not the most romantic spot, is it?" Jon asked ruefully.
"But it is," I told him hurriedly. "This is the place where it all began for us. It's not exactly pretty or conventional, but it works for us. It just shows how unique we are."
"Good. Because I brought you here for a certain reason." My mouth suddenly went dry, but I didn't interrupt him. Jon took a deep breath and ploughed forward. "When I first met you here," he began, "you turned my world upside down completely. I tried to play the part of the hero, and you just walked right in and brought out who I really was. That's how it's always been between us. You just seemed to know me right away, and even though I didn't know very much about you at the time, I felt a connection as soon as we started talking. And I've felt that connection strengthen over the time we've gotten to know each other.
"You're the most amazing person I've ever met, Kaylie. And I want to be a part of your life for as long as I live. And that's why I'm asking you..." he knelt down on the grimy street, and held out a small box to me. In the dark, I could only see a small glimmer but I still knew what it was. "Will you marry me?" he finally asked.
I had known ever since he had started talking that this is where he would end up, so I had my answer prepared already.
"Of course I'll marry you, Jon. I couldn't imagine doing anything different."
"I can't believe we're actually engaged!" I crowed happily to Jon as he flew us back to my apartment.
"Amazing, isn't it?" he grinned at me.
"So did you tell anyone that you were going to propose?"
"Well, I tried to keep it a secret, but Ellie knew that something was up, so she squeezed it out of me. And then she went and told my Aunt Lucy, who told my Uncle Brad and my mom, who told my dad..."
"So basically your whole family knows."
"Well, they didn't know that you would say yes," he pointed out as we landed on my balcony. "So we still need to tell them how it went. How about you? Anybody you want to call tonight to share the good news with?"
"Maybe later," I said. "I probably won't be able to get through to my dad right away, and Jay's off god knows where doing god knows what for the NIA. I'll get in contact with them some other time. As for right now..." I slid the glass door open as I stretched my arm across his neck. "I think I might have a better idea of how to spend my night."
"Oh, really? What might that be?"
I dragged Jon inside and down onto my sofa as our lips met hurriedly. I didn't even give him time to change out his Supernova suit, and I could feel the slick spandex underneath my fingers. Jon pulled away. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but then broke off as the door to my bathroom flew open and a stocky man with dark hair and an artificial looking goatee burst out.
"Kaylie, what the hell-" the intruder began. He was soon cut off when Jon raced over to him and grabbed his neck in typical superhero fashion.
"Who are you?" Jon demanded. "What are you doing here?"
"No! Wait!" I told Jon frantically. "You can put him down, it's all right." Jon turned to me, still holding onto the intruder. Both pairs of eyes stared at me, begging for answers. "He's my brother," I finally explained.
Theresa all but attacked him as he walked through the hall of the dormitory on his way to visit a roommate.
"Finally! A tall guy!" she exclaimed. "Give me a hand with this will you, Jon?"
Jon obediently helped his friend unroll the poster to stick on her door. He nearly dropped it, though, when he saw the picture on the poster. Him. Well, Supernova, really. However, his image happened to be doing some very un-Supernova-ish things.
"That's not real!" he cried out in shock, anxious to deny that his alter ego had been doing anything like what was pictured on the poster.
"Of course it's not," Theresa chuckled. "I Photoshopped it and then had one of the print guys blow it up for me. You can still tell it's fake. See where his hand is sliding up my shirt? The pixels don't match up properly. Hey, you're a computer guy, right? Do you think you can get this looking better for me?"
"No," he told her flatly, while trying to ignore the furious blush across his face. "And I can't believe you have a picture of you doing... *that* with Supernova. He would never do that in real life."
"I know he wouldn't," she responded. "But a girl can dream, can't she?"
"That's about as far as you'll ever get," their friend Toby interjected.
Theresa stuck her tongue out at him.
"Yeah, the guy's probably got a whole pose of chicks hanging off him wherever he goes," another chimed in. "He's got his pick of the most attractive ladies in the world. He's not going to settle for just anyone."
"I bet you wish you were Supernova, Eric," Toby teased. "Then you'd never have to worry about picking up girls at a party."
"If I were Supernova, I'd go beyond picking up girls," Eric replied. "I'd be able to study for midterms at super-speed so then I'd have the rest of the time to relax."
"Forget studying. Just use x-ray vision to cheat off other people's papers," Theresa suggested.
"If I were Supernova, I'd use my heat vision so we could actually get some heat in this building in the winter."
Everyone laughed in agreement at this statement. Then Theresa piped up again.
"Do you think he'd be able to heat up a whole building for such a long time? Doesn't he have some limits?"
"I dunno," Eric replied. "Jon, you're from Metropolis. Do you think Supernova could keep this whole building heated?"
"Um... maybe," Jon muttered. "I don't really know all that well what his limits are." He was anxious to deflect the attention away from himself; however his friends had other plans.
"Have you ever met Superman?" Theresa asked. "Or, did you even get to see Supernova when you went home for Thanksgiving?"
"Well... maybe once... you know, just in passing..." he hated this blatant lying, yet he couldn't exactly tell them the truth.
"Hey, Jon! Do you know what's up with the tight suit? Why are two grown men like that parading around in spandex?"
Jon didn't think his face could have gotten any redder. He was obviously wrong.
"There's nothing wrong with spandex," Theresa defended. "I think it adds to his image." She gazed lustily at the poster on her door. "Besides, you're only jealous because there's no way you could pull off wearing a suit that tight."
"I wouldn't want to," Toby replied firmly. "Hey, Jon, Eric and I are heading down to the gym to play basketball. Want to come?"
"I can't," he said reluctantly. "I've got an assignment due tomorrow." Actually, he had a charity appearance to do in Metropolis followed by a couple hours of patrolling with his dad, but they didn't need to know that.
"Well, have fun with that," Eric replied, and the group split off to go their separate ways.
Jon was truly reluctant that he couldn't spend more time with his friends. It had been a difficult year for him so far. His classes were as challenging as ever, but now he had the added pressure of being a recently created superhero. He had decided to finish his degree at Kansas State University, but he found that the commute to Metropolis was more challenging than he though it would be. Not to mention all the offers he was getting for media interviews, charity appearances, and even product endorsement. With the help of the Superman Foundation, he was able to control some of it, yet he still found himself struggling to juggle his many commitments. But it had to die down soon, he told himself. It can't keep going this busy forever. As his father was fond of saying, you could only go at super-speed for so long.
"How many times have I told you to tell me when you're coming to visit?" I asked Jay accusingly. "You can't just break in whenever you want to."
"Yeah, I could see how me catching you cheating on your boyfriend could be kind of awkward," Jay commented sarcastically. "We wouldn't want that happening all the time."
"Look, this isn't what it looks like," Jon attempted to explain from his position on the sofa. We were sitting quietly together, and Jay hovered over us like an angry parent who was scolding his children for stealing cookies.
"Gee, I'm so glad it's not what it looks like," Jay spoke, his voice dripping with derision. "Because it looks like you've been making out with my sister who happens to be dating another guy." He turned to me. "Kaylie, do you mind telling me what the hell's going on? I thought you were supposed to be seeing that Jon Kent guy."
I chewed my lip nervously as I glanced in Jon's direction. He was still in the conspicuous Supernova suit, yet he was hunched over, sitting on my sofa and not looking remotely heroic. I tried to think of a believable explanation, some excuse that would make sense yet still keep Jay from finding out the secret. There wasn't anything. Even if I thought of something, I was never able to lie convincingly to Jay. He always saw right through me. Jon met my gaze, and we made a tacit decision.
"I am Jon Kent," Jon announced to Jay. "Supernova only exists when I wear the suit, but at any other time I live a normal life just like everyone else." Then Jon spun into his normal clothing to illustrate his point.
Jay sat down heavily in my armchair, staring at Jon.
"Everyone thinks that Superman came to Earth about thirty years ago when he saved the Prometheus launch," I explained. "But in actuality, he came here when he was just a baby and was raised as a normal kid all his life, only to invent Superman later on. He got married and had kids who were born and raised here on Earth. Jon invented Supernova when he decided to follow in his dad's footsteps, and his sister Ellie invented Nebula a few years later."
"That's... um... wow," Jay stammered. "No wonder you didn't want me investigating him when I first found out you were seeing someone."
"This has to be kept a secret," I emphasized. "It can't go beyond this apartment, and especially not to anyone at the NIA."
"Of course," Jay agreed, snapping out of his shock. "You don't have to worry about me spilling the beans. I'm good with secrets."
"So I hear," Jon said.
Jay shot Jon a curious look, but didn't question the comment.
"Speaking of secrets, you guys should maybe think about being a little more careful," Jay told us. "It might not have been the most polite thing for me to break into your apartment and hide out in the bathroom, Kaylie, but I could've been anyone and then you guys would've been in real trouble."
"I know. You're right," I admitted. Boundaries. First with Amanda and now with Jay. We really did need to start being more careful.
"But I am sorry I blew your cover, Jon," Jay apologized. "Your family must keep this secret pretty close and it must gall you to have a complete stranger stumble across it like this."
"We'll work it out," Jon replied magnanimously. "If you're going to be in Metropolis for a bit maybe we can arrange a meeting with the rest of the family. That will help smooth out some worries."
"I'm planning to be here for a while," Jay replied.
"What're you doing in Metropolis?" I asked, snagging the opportunity to find out what was going on. But Jay just gave me the lopsided grin he always does when he's hiding the truth from me.
"Can't a guy come visit his sister every now and then without facing an interrogation? I just wanted to come check up on you."
I didn't believe him, of course, and Jon sensed the tension between us.
"I think I'm going to head home for the night, Kaylie," he announced. "You two have probably got some catching up to do."
"I'll come with you to the balcony," I offered. Once we had gotten into relative privacy I turned to him to apologize. "Jon, I'm so sorry about Jay. He has this habit of dropping in at unexpected times and if I'm not there he just breaks in and waits for me to come home. I should've been prepared for that."
"It's my fault, too," Jon replied. "I should've checked your apartment to make sure that no one was there."
"And even though we didn't do anything incriminating earlier at the Planet," I added, "we still should've been more careful."
Jon nodded. "I guess that's something we need to work on, huh?"
"Yeah," I whispered. Then I glanced through the glass door at Jay sitting in my armchair. "Sorry we won't get to spend more time together tonight," I apologized.
"Well, at least now you get to tell someone about this." Jon lifted my hand up so the ring sparkled.
"You know, I almost forgot with all the excitement," I told him.
Jon brought my hand up to his lips and kissed it tenderly.
"I'll call you tomorrow," he said before he flew off into the sky.
I let myself back into my apartment, and went over to sit across from Jay. I could see the sunken bruising around his eyes that came from lack of sleep, and I noticed that he had lost a little weight since I had last seen him. Stress, probably. But I knew he wouldn't want me to fuss over him like that, so instead, I focused on another problem with his appearance.
"You know, you don't have the face for facial hair," I commented. "Even if it was real, it never looked very good."
"I was planning to lose it soon anyway. You'll notice that my hair is natural, though." I glanced up at his nearly-black hair that stuck up a little in messy spikes.
"No, its not."
"Okay, maybe not," he smiled a little hollowly. "But at least it looks natural."
"How are you handling the whole Jon thing?" I asked. He still seemed pretty shaken up.
"Still in shock, I think," he replied. "How long have you known that he was Supernova?"
"I dated him as Supernova," I answered. "It wasn't until a few weeks ago that I found out what his real identity was."
"Leave it to you to date a superhero," Jay commented with amusement.
"I don't think any other guy could handle all my... uniqueness," I replied.
"Kaylie, how much does Jon know about the NIA?" Jay asked critically.
"We don't have any secrets between us," I answered.
"So he knows about me then."
"I've mentioned you and dad a couple times," I replied, "but nothing specific. I don't even know any specifics about what you're doing anymore."
Jay ignored my blunt hint and instead began pacing the room.
"Didn't you say he works for a newspaper?" Jay asked me.
"It's going to be fine," I reassured him. "Jon's kept the biggest secret there is for years, he's not about to just blab ours for the sake of a headline."
"Yeah, you're right," Jay agreed. "It just makes me nervous knowing that he knows."
"How do you think he feels?" I countered. "He just met you and you know his whole family secret. The only thing you have going for you is that you're an NIA agent, which frankly, doesn't help very much as the Kents have had a lot of problems with the agency in the past."
"I didn't mean to do that, Kaylie; you know that, don't you?"
"Lucky for you, your inability to subscribe to social conventions is something I'm very familiar with," I replied. "Otherwise, I might be suspicious." I twisted my new ring with agitation. "We're just going to have to convince the Kents that you're trustworthy."
Jay's gaze landed on my hand, and I could see his brow furrow in concentration.
"When did that happen?" he asked, with a hint of surprise in his voice.
"Just before we came here," I answered with a faint smile growing on my face from the memory. "He took me back to the place where we first met and proposed."
"Congratulations, Kaylie," he told me sincerely. "It looks like you've got yourself a real life now. What you've always wanted." I noticed the sadness in his voice.
"Jay-" I began but didn't know how to finish. It was true. While I had always maintained a boundary between NIA work and my real life, Jay hadn't had an existence outside the agency since high school. "What are you really doing here?" I finally settled on asking.
"An assignment, of course. Look, Kaylie, I can see that I'm just going to be in your way here, but I do really need somewhere to crash in Metropolis for a few days until I can find a place of my own. I'll be public, so you don't have to worry about keeping a secret tenant."
"Who will you be?" I asked. It was a pertinent question. Jay spent probably close to seventy percent of his time undercover, and even when he did surface as himself, it was almost always in NIA headquarters.
"I'll be your brother," he answered simply. Then he paused for a moment, running his hand through his hair. Then he sighed tiredly. Finally he met my eyes. "I'm taking a leave of absence from the agency."
"What? Why?" I asked with surprise. Jay was incredibly dedicated to the NIA, despite the challenges that created, and I certainly hadn't seen this coming.
"I need a bit of a break. There are just a couple things I need to fix up before I'm completely done."
"What things?" I asked curiously.
"I need to finish what I started," he said determinedly. He didn't elaborate on it anymore, but I could sense the tension behind his eyes. Something was going on with him. But like always, he wasn't going to tell me.
Introducing Jay to Lois and Clark had gone as well as could be expected. Although they weren't really angry at the circumstances, it would still take them a while to trust Jay with such a large secret. Jon and I had met with the immediate family this morning to explain the situation to them. Because it was a Saturday, Lois and Clark both had the day off along with Jon, so we were able to drop by their brownstone to visit again later in the day. Jay had to submit to some pretty intensive questioning from the pair, but I think he was cautiously accepted for now.
Ellie hadn't been able to make that meeting because she was extremely busy at STAR labs. She was currently working through graduate studies in phylogenetics, although she had attempted to explain that to me, I still wasn't entirely sure what it was. Something to do with evolution and comparing different organisms. Although her primary interest was in Kryptonian biology, she needed to have a doctorate in a more publishable field to get a research grant from STAR labs. So she was forced to take on two fields of research at once in order to pursue her desired career, which made for a very busy timetable.
But bringing Jay by STAR labs also gave us the opportunity to introduce him to Brad and Lucy. Although they were not directly affected by Jay knowing, they still shared in the secret. We were greeted by Lucy as we entered the lab. Although I had only met her a couple of times, I had found her to be very friendly and warm. She lived up to that expectation today.
"Ellie told me all about your little blunder last night," she winked at us. "How are your parents taking it?"
"Better than I thought," Jon answered. "My dad hardly even lectured."
"Well, they're not exactly in a position to do so," she replied devilishly. "At least you guys didn't get caught by a tabloid journalist who plastered photographic evidence on every rag across the country."
"They never told us about that!" Ellie exclaimed as she made her way over to us.
"Well, I'll let them tell it," Lucy replied. "They would do a better job."
Jay shifted his weight a little and I was reminded of why we were here in the first place.
"This is my brother Jay," I introduced. "This is Lucy, Jon's aunt, and this is Ellie, his sister. Where's Brad?"
"I dropped him off in Florida," Ellie told us. "He's discussing some new Kryptonite theory with Dr. Klein. Our retired family doctor," she added for Jay's benefit.
"And you're not there?" Jon asked. It was a fair question. Usually Ellie was clamoring at the chance to learn more about how their unique biology worked.
"I'm stuck here working on some lousy research project for Met U," she pouted. "But I'm almost done my part of it so..." she turned to look at Jay. "Are you okay?" she asked pointedly.
"I'm fine," Jay answered, a little taken aback.
"It's just that your heartbeat is kinda screwy," she replied. "And there's some inflammation in your corneas that's consistent with--"
"I'm fine," Jay repeated, this time a little more testily. "Do you normally go around listening in on strangers' heartbeats? Isn't that considered to be an invasion of privacy or something?"
I could see that Ellie was momentarily taken aback by Jay's abrasive manner, but before I could jump in to defend her, she collected herself enough to rally.
"No more than breaking into someone's apartment and lying in wait for them to come home," she replied sarcastically.
"I'm used to doing things undercover. So sue me," Jay replied. "That doesn't give you the right to be critical of what I do."
"It does when it interferes with my family," Ellie shot back.
"Jay," I interrupted him before he could respond. "Can you just drop it? Please?" Why was he deliberately provoking her? Whatever tension that had build so quickly between the two of them dissipated at my intervention, yet I could still sense some stormy undercurrents
"We should get going," Jon suggested tactfully. "There's a great coffee shop just a few blocks away, why don't we head over there?"
I quickly chimed in my approval, and we exited the lab together.
"What's the matter with you, Jay? Why were you acting like such a jerk back there?" I demanded once we were out of earshot.
"I just didn't like her prying into me," Jay replied sulkily. "I mean, who surreptitiously gives someone a medical exam?"
"She was just concerned. I know you have privacy issues, but that gives you no excuse to antagonize her," I defended. When there was no change of expression on his face, I rolled my eyes in exasperation. I would have to be sure that the two of them spent as little time together as possible in the future.
He had been on his way to class when he got the call. He impatiently fished his phone out of his pocket and snapped it open.
"Hey, Grandma, I was just on my way to English. How are things going in Smallville?"
"Jon..." Even over the phone, her voice came in sounding small and weak. Immediately, Jon was on alert. Something was wrong. He walked over to an alcove to get some more privacy for his conversation.
"Grandma?" he asked tentatively. "Is everything okay?"
"Jon, you need to come over here right away," she told him, her voice breaking.
"Come over? To the farm?" Jon felt the panic rising in his voice.
"No, not the farm," she corrected. "The hospital. Jon, something's happened."
"I don't think Ellie likes Jay very much," Jon commented, as we sat on the sofa in my apartment. Jay had gone off to do whatever it was he was investigating so we had the place to ourselves.
"Well, I don't blame her," I replied. "He was incredibly rude."
"Ellie's kinda funny sometimes," Jon told me. "You don't really expect it of her, but she can get pretty territorial."
"Did you notice anything wrong with Jay's heartbeat?" I asked Jon concernedly.
"I don't usually hear other people's heartbeats unless I concentrate on it," Jon replied. "And when Jay seemed upset at Ellie's intervention, I decided that it would be best if I didn't pry."
"Working for the NIA has been hard on Jay," I said sadly. "Both physically and mentally. I wouldn't be surprised if he has some health problems as a result. I was always careful to keep a division between my life and the NIA. I had my teaching, and never a ton of friends, but always a few. And of course, now I have you." I smiled up at him and absorbed the warmth of his gaze. "But Jay never had any of that," I continued. "He gave his whole life to the agency. And I'm sure I only know about half the stuff he's had to live through."
"I thought you two worked together," Jon said.
"We used to do a lot of partner stuff," I replied. "But Jay's been doing more and more solo investigations which he doesn't tell me much about." I was silent for a bit. "And, he lies to me," I continued. "He thinks that he needs to spare me from all the terrible things that have happened to him, so he doesn't tell me when things are wrong. But what he doesn't realize is that I know when things are wrong anyway. I just don't know the reason." I turned to look Jon straight in the face. "Will you promise me something?" I asked him.
"Don't ever try to lie to me to protect me. It never works the way you want it to."
"I promise," he said.
"Thank you," I whispered. I wanted to take my mind off the sobering topic of my messed-up brother so I turned to a happier topic. "We should set a date," I told Jon as I wiggled my ring finger to make the ring dance merrily.
"Got one in mind?"
"I dunno," I thought aloud. "I don't want to be one of those couples that stays engaged for three years or something before actually getting married. That's kind of lame, don't you think? But at the same time, it takes forever to plan a wedding. You have to book way in advance for a location, and when my friend Thea got married it took months for her to get her dress." I sighed. "Maybe we can get married sometime next summer. I'll have some time off from Riverview, and we'll have plenty of time to prepare."
"That makes sense," Jon said amiably.
"But that's almost a whole year from now," I mused. "Do we really want to wait that long? I'm not sure I do."
"Mmm, that's true," Jon mumbled noncommittally.
"Or we can just stay completely apathetic on the subject and be engaged forever."
"Sorry, Kaylie," Jon apologized sheepishly. "I was just thinking about how our lives are going to be when we're married. Logistical things like where we'll live and stuff like that."
"There's a lot we have to discuss," I agreed. "We're merging lives here, there's got to be considerations! Whose furniture are we going to keep, and how are we going to deal with expenses. And," I continued with mounting panic, "I drink skim milk, but you drink 2%. It'd be stupid to buy two types of milk, but who's going to switch milks? I like skim. But you probably like 2%. It'd be completely unfair to expect one person to switch to a milk they don't like just to cut down on grocery costs!"
"And we're also going to have to fight over who gets what side of the secret compartment," Jon added with a smile. "Kaylie, I didn't mean to make you worried. And I know we've got a lot to discuss and work out between the two of us. But the important thing is that we love each other and we'll work through all the other things as they come. I know we will."
"Yeah, you're right," I agreed. "We will."
"How about we hold off on setting a date?" Jon asked me as he drew me into his arms. "We'll worry about that soon enough. For now, let's just enjoy being engaged."
"I think I could do that," I said agreeably.
Then the phone rang, preventing us from any further enjoyment.
"Hello?" I answered
"Are you alone?"
My heart sank. It was my dad. There was only ever one reason for him to call me. I had spent two glorious weeks with no new NIA assignments, but his call reinforced that my sabbatical was only meant to be short lived.
"Yes, I'm alone," I lied. Jon was just as entitled to hear about this as me. Besides the fact that we were getting married, he was also an honorary NIA agent, even though he rarely exercised that authority. I held onto to Jon's hand to silently tell him that I didn't want him to leave.
"I assume Jason's already been in contact with you."
"He came here last night."
"Good. I wanted to give you some more background information on this case. As you will understand, it's very important--"
"Dad, I met someone." I blurted out before he could launch himself further into his debriefing. "We're engaged." A moment of silence on his end.
"I see," he finally commented. More silence. "I suppose I should meet him."
"Um, I guess," I spoke hesitantly. "Maybe the next time you're going to be in Metropolis--"
"How about we meet for lunch tomorrow?" he asked suddenly. "I'll be able to fly up then. Will your fiance be free?"
"Uh," I stammered, feeling shocked. I hadn't seen my father for three years, and even then, it was inside the NIA base. I glanced over in Jon's direction to see him nodding yes to being free. "Yes, we'll be able to have lunch tomorrow. Do you want me to make a reservation somewhere?"
"We'll meet at your apartment. After lunch we'll have some time for me to debrief you about the assignment."
"Dad, I don't--"
"Eleven thirty, all right? Goodbye then, Kaylie." And then he hung up.
I turned to Jon, still holding the handset.
"That was my dad," I supplied.
"I'm not going to do it," I told him.
"Meet for lunch?" he asked.
"No, I mean I'm not going to do the assignment he wants me to."
"Kaylie, are you sure about that?" he asked me as his forehead crinkled.
"Yeah, I'm sure," I said. "We're engaged now, and spending time with you is my number one priority. Classes are going to be starting up at Riverview pretty soon, so I'll need to be spending more and more time at the school now. I think one job is enough for me for the time being. Besides, it'll be good to just enjoy life for a bit without some huge investigation in the way."
"But working for the NIA is such a huge part of who you are, Kaylie," Jon mentioned. "I don't want you to feel that you have to give up that part of yourself for the sake of our relationship."
"I may still do the odd investigation," I replied. "But then again, Jay's taking a leave of absence, so maybe it's time for me to do the same."
"Whatever you decide to do, I'll support you," Jon replied.
"We'll decide what to do together," I told him. "Isn't that what almost married people do?"
"Yeah, it is," he agreed. "You know, I can think of another thing that almost married people do."
"Oh, really?" I asked innocently. "Care to tell me what that might be?"
"I'd rather show you."
"Wait," I exclaimed before he could kiss me. "My brother's going to be home any second. We can't let him catch us making out again."
"Luckily, I happen to know a place completely free of sibling infestation," Jon replied with a grin. "In fact, if you play your cards right you might even get to have a free night's stay there, if you want it."
"How fast can you pack an evening bag for me?"
I looked over everything, making sure that I was ready for my dad to come over. My bathroom had been cleaned. Check. The fridge was recently purged of any dated take-out. Check. I had gotten lunch from the deli down the street. Check. I had removed any wrappers, labels, etc so my dad wouldn't know I had gotten lunch from the deli down the street. Check. I was dressed respectably. Not too dressy, but still a step up from casual. Check. My fiance was present. Check. He was dressed...
"I thought you were going to wear the blue tie," I told Jon.
"What's wrong with this one?" he asked.
"Nothing! It's just that this one is a little... Oh, never mind," I said as I saw his slightly wounded expression. "I'm sorry I'm being so obsessive. I swear, all it takes is for someone to mention my dad and I turn into an insecure little girl all over again. Forget about the tie, the one you have looks fine." And yet, I couldn't stop glancing at it as we continued last minute preparations for my dad to come over. It wasn't like there was anything wrong with the tie he had on. Well, maybe it did look a little... different. Not bad, per se, but still not quite what I would've chosen. It didn't take long for Jon to catch onto my pointed staring.
"Hold this," he said as he passed the coffee pot over to me. I blinked, felt a flutter of a breeze... And he was standing in the exact same position as before, but I saw that he was pulling the blue tie into place around his neck.
"Thanks," I smiled. "That was sweet."
"Anything to make you feel more comfortable with this, Kaylie," he replied.
The knock at the door prevented me from expressing my appreciation more thoroughly.
"Remember," I whispered to Jon quickly on my way to answer the door, "He doesn't work for the NIA. He's a structural engineer with a small firm in L.A. And I'm just a teacher at Riverview. You're not supposed to know any of the other stuff." I swung the door open to reveal my father.
Even though it had been a few years since I last saw him, he hadn't changed much. He still wore the same military-style haircut and the no-nonsense business suit in charcoal grey with a conservative tie. He carried a briefcase in his hand and his jacket was draped over the other arm. Even though it was a warm, late summer day, he still carried the jacket to prevent being caught unawares.
"Hello, Kaylie," he greeted me.
"Hi Dad," I gulped. "Let me take your jacket." I clumsily gathered his coat in my arms and hung it on a nearby hook. "This is my fiance, Jon Kent."
"It's good to meet you, Mr. Stewart," Jon said as he offered his hand.
My dad nodded and they shook hands brusquely.
"How about we sit down?" I offered. "You came at just the right time, Dad. We just finished brewing a fresh pot of coffee." My dad was always faultlessly punctual so I had been able to time the coffee exactly.
I insisted on playing hostess for a while, getting everyone their coffee and serving food, all the while listening in on the conversation between my dad and Jon. From what I could tell, most of it was centered on Jon as my dad tried to get a handle of his character. It wasn't long before I was able to sit down with them and fully listen to the conversation.
"And how do you like working for the newspaper?" my dad asked.
"I enjoy it very much," Jon replied. "The pace is stimulating and you get to meet some very interesting people."
"I would've thought that a person with your education would look for a job that dealt with programming and other more creative uses of your degree rather than simple technology management."
"I enjoy the newspaper," Jon said. "And the editor is a bit of a computer enthusiast so he's actually incorporated some of my programming ideas for the newsroom and they've helped to increase efficiency exponentially."
My dad nodded approvingly, and I was just starting to think that this meeting was going fairly well when a very familiar expression crossed over Jon's face. I saw him fiddle with something at his waist, and then his cell phone beeped for a text message. He had faked the phone going off in order to provide an excuse to go be Supernova.
"I'm so sorry," he apologized. "But this is the newsroom. Some kind of massive system crash. I need to get over there right away." He stood as he was talking and was already putting on his jacket as he spoke. I could only assume it was something serious, otherwise he wouldn't be in such a hurry to leave. I was extremely curious as to what the emergency had been, but with my dad in the room, Jon couldn't tell me.
"Good luck," I whispered into his ear before he took off out the door, leaving me alone with my dad. I returned to my seat across from him and picked at my macaroni salad.
"You know, he's lying," my dad remarked casually.
"Don't do this, Dad. Please." I frowned. The last thing I needed was for him to start looking into the Kent family.
"Very well. I'm not here to lecture you on your personal life, Kaylie."
There was an uncomfortable silence between us.
"I sent my final notes on the Sproxton case to your office, did you get them?" I asked.
"Yes. However, I have to say, they seem a little incomplete. You found complete records of his dealings with Intergang, yet you were unable to get any concrete information on Project Titan?"
I had hoped he wouldn't notice. I had decided along with the Kents that the NIA didn't need detailed information on how to track and eliminate Superman, Supernova, and Nebula so I had withheld that information from my report.
"That information was destroyed before I could send it to the agency," I said. Of course I had been the one to do the destroying, but that point was completely irrelevant. But my dad wasn't to be fooled.
"Don't try to pull the wool over my eyes, Kaylie," he told me sharply. "I suspect what you did. Be glad that I'm not going to look into it too deeply. Just know that some of your methods in this last assignment were questionable to say the least."
"Well, maybe if you hadn't split me and Jay up, it would've been done to your standards." I cringed inwardly at the juvenile tone. Two minutes with my father and I ended up sounding like a pubescent girl pouting because she couldn't go to the school dance.
"None of your tactics were as bad as some of the results," he continued. "To have the agency splashed across the Daily Planet the day after it happened--"
"Lois Lane was an invaluable source in that case," I argued furiously, finally able to stand up for something. "I was repaying her for her hard work with an exclusive. She didn't print anything that wasn't available for the general public."
"I'm just concerned that Ms. Lane's fondness for Superman might've influenced your decision to hold back information from the NIA. And I have to say it's extremely suspicious that this woman happens to be your future mother in law."
I paused for a moment, shocked at the multiple implications he was bringing to me. "Do you really think so little of me, Dad?" I asked, upset. "Do you think I'd let personal interest interfere with making sure people are brought to justice?"
"I'm not really sure what to think about it, Kaylie," he sighed. "I'm just trying to tell you what it looks like from an outsider's perspective. But let's leave that for the time being. There are more important things we need to discuss." He reached down to pull a small laptop computer from his briefcase and pulled up a file for me to read. "It's a memory erasure device," he told me, as I quickly skimmed through the information. "It enables the user to target a specific set of memories and wipe them from the subject's mind."
"Any idea whose it is?" I asked despite myself.
"We're not sure yet," my dad replied. "So far all we have is a few unsubstantiated rumors. Jason's been looking into some leads for the last month or so."
"That's great," I said, remembering that I had decided to sit this investigation out. "But I don't understand why you want to pull me in on this. It isn't even in my usual area. Jay can handle it himself."
My dad frowned. "Jason's been pulled off the case," he said.
"As of three nights ago," my dad told me. "He was dumped on the doorstep of the Metropolis NIA satellite office pumped full of drugs and with his memory so mangled you'd think it had been run through a food processor. He has no memory of ever working on this case, and even his personal memories are somewhat patchy. We can only assume that he had gotten too close and whomever it was decided to make an example of him. As a result, he's been discharged from the NIA and is no longer authorized to conduct any investigations whatsoever."
She was waiting for him in his dorm room when he came back from eating breakfast.
"Ellie, what are you doing here?" he demanded, quickly shutting the door after him. "What would've happened if someone was with me?"
"I was looking through the door," she replied. "I would've slipped out the window if anyone else came in. I do have some sense of responsibility." She grinned cheekily at him.
"Great. Fine. Whatever." It hadn't taken long for him to loose patience with her. Maybe if he didn't talk she would get the hint and leave.
"So I was thinking," she continued, purposefully oblivious to his moody demeanor, "that we should go somewhere today. It's Saturday, so you don't have class."
"Where were you thinking of going?"
"How about Brazil? I've never been there before, and it could be fun."
Jon shook his head. "Brazil's too far. If there's an emergency in Metropolis that I can help with, I won't be able to hear Dad."
"Well, I'm sure Dad can look after Metropolis for a day. He's been doing it himself for years until you started helping him."
"I'm not going anywhere today," Jon insisted stubbornly.
"Please, Jon?" his sister pleaded. "You haven't taken a day off since..." She stopped, aware that she was treading on dangerous ground. "Since the funeral," she finally finished.
"The funeral doesn't have anything to do with it," he replied stiffly.
"Jon, I know this has been difficult for you," Ellie told him hesitantly. "But it's been hard on everyone. And I really think you need to just take a day and blow off some steam--"
"You might be able to do that, Ellie," Jon interjected, "but I can't. Grandpa meant a lot more to me--"
"I loved him too!" Ellie cut in. "Just because you lived with him for four years doesn't mean that you have the ultimate claim on grief. We're all grieving, Jon!"
"Oh, really?" he remarked sarcastically. "Because for some people, a death in the family is more important than a day trip to Brazil."
"It's not about Brazil," Ellie told him, deeply wounded. "It's about spending time with you and actually getting to see you for once."
"If you want to see me, then just turn on the news," Jon replied snappily. "I'm out there making a difference every time. And now that's where I'm going right now." He brushed past her and shot out of the window, so fast that she didn't have time to catch where he was going.
"You lied to me!" I accused Jay later in the day when he had come home.
"How could you possibly think that I wouldn't find out?" I shouted. "What kind of imbecilic move was that to not *tell* me what happened? What was your plan, Jay? Just keep *illegally* investigating this and hope that Dad wouldn't get around to talking to me?"
"How could you keep me in the dark about this?"
"I was going to tell you!" he argued. "When I first came to visit you, I was going to tell you about the whole thing."
I paused, breaking off my rant. "You were?"
"I was. But then you were with Jon. And you're engaged. Kaylie, I only had to spend about two seconds with you to see how happy you are. I couldn't just walk into your life with all my baggage and ruin it."
"You thought I wouldn't care about what happened to you?" I asked. "Because I'm engaged I'm going to turn my back on you when something awful has happened? Do you really think you mean that little to me, Jay?"
"No, that's not it, Kaylie," he said. "I know you care about me. And maybe that's the problem. Because what we're dealing with isn't just any old crook. These are *memories*, Kaylie. Look, I think we both know that I don't have a lot going for me right now. But you... You have a whole life ahead of yourself. If you stumbled into trouble on this assignment... Just think about what it'd be like if they wiped your memories of Jon."
That stopped my anger in its tracks. Not because I was concerned about myself, but because I could really see the pain that Jay had gone through in the last few days.
"How much of your memories are gone?" I asked gently as I moved to sit beside him.
"Well, all the work I've put into this case, obviously," he said. "And besides that... Just stupid stuff, really. Personal things. The name of our pet gerbil, what high school we graduated from, whether I usually take sugar in my coffee. It's stuff I should remember, but now I just... can't. Anyway, the NIA has no way of knowing what else they did to me besides mess up my memories so they've dumped me. They can't risk having a loose cannon on board."
"I can't believe they would do that to you," I fumed. "You gave them your whole life!"
"Well, I'll still be financially provided for," Jay said tonelessly. "I just won't be of any use to anyone."
"Jay, I'll find the people who did this," I promised. "And I'm going to make sure they'll be made responsible for what happened to you."
"You shouldn't take the risk, Kaylie."
"I'm taking it," I said resolutely. "But I'm going to do it my way. Which means we're bringing in the Kents."
Jay had gone to sleep in my bed already. Although normally, he wouldn't take over my apartment like that, I could tell he was still suffering from the treatment he had received by whoever had done all those things to him, and a good night's sleep certainly couldn't do him any harm. I opened my sliding bookcase to reveal all the trappings of my NIA career, and pulled the small lead-lined box out of its nesting place. Although Jon never really went around x-raying parts of my apartment, there was still some instinct within me that made me put some extra precautions into making sure he didn't stumble across this. He didn't need to know about any of this. It's not like I would actually need it or anything. It's just a... precaution.
I placed only a few objects within the box, yet each carried a specific meaning behind them. The inky black obsidian stone that he had brought me the first time he had visited my apartment without having to save me first, a vial of sand from the island that had been the location of our first date, a few rose petals from the table in that cafe in Paris he had taken me to before he proposed, and a number of other items.
Despite my constant struggle to dismiss them, Jay's words still stuck in my head. What if I did lose my memories of Jon? I didn't dare to really contemplate the repercussions of such a thing, yet I still felt the need to do *something*. Just in case. I knew the objects wouldn't replace my memory, yet I still hoped that they would somehow let me connect emotionally if I couldn't do it intellectually.
Although I hadn't outwardly admitted it, this assignment scared me. As Jay had said before, it was more than just the typical risks in this assignment. These were memories. They made up who I was. What would happen to me if I lost them?
And despite my better judgment, I couldn't help replaying my dad's visit in my head. Had I compromised my good sense as an agent in order to fulfill my personal interests? Of course not. I had good reason to do what I did in the Sproxton case.
Yet, did that mean that my capability as an agent was compromised? My dad obviously thought so. And if I wanted to survive this investigation, I had to be as focused as possible. There was no room for mistakes, and no room for weakness.
The next day, I went to Riverview to start on some of my preparations for September. There was a lot of preliminary work that needed to be done before the students came back to school, and I had hoped to get a good start on it before things got too crazy with the investigation. Of course, I hadn't counted on the fact that being recently engaged leads to certain distractions.
"You've been holding out on me!" my friend and coworker Thea exclaimed when I filled her in on the latest development.
"I told you I was seeing someone," I explained, embarrassed by her intense attention to my left hand.
"But you didn't tell me that it was that serious! I thought you had only been dating about a month or so."
"It's been longer than that," I corrected. "We just didn't want to tell a whole bunch of people, and... Well, we just didn't want the pressure of a public relationship until we were sure." It was a bit of a loose excuse, but I felt Thea wouldn't really push the issue. It was one of the reasons why we got along so well together.
"So have you guys set a date?" she asked. "And when do I get to meet him?"
"No date yet," I replied. "And he said he might make an appearance for the school's open house. I'll introduce you then."
"How good looking is he?" she asked, only half teasing.
"Thea!" I exclaimed, feeling my face heat up.
"Pretty good, I see," she responded wickedly.
"You know, I'm supposed to be working here," I replied primly, ignoring her good-natured teasing.
"Well, I hope not too hard," she replied. I could instantly notice the change in her tone. "It looks like you have a visitor."
I turned around to see Jon standing in the doorway, his arm raised to knock on the open door.
"Jon!" I exclaimed, jumping out of my seat and rushing into his arms. "I didn't expect to see you here."
"I decided to surprise you," he replied cheerily.
I turned back to face Thea. "Jon, this is my friend Thea," I introduced. "She teaches at the school as well."
"Nice to meet you," he greeted.
"Likewise," she replied. "How did you find us? I didn't think any of the office staff were in yet to help visitors."
"I just wandered around until I found the science classroom," Jon lied. Thea didn't know that he had already been to this room as Supernova. "It's not a big school, so it wasn't hard to find."
"You know, you're not just supposed to walk into a school and wander through the halls," Thea told him teasingly. "People may think you're looking to abduct one of the students or something."
"Oh. Um, I'm sorry..."
"Thea, go easy on him," I told her. "He doesn't know you're just kidding."
"Lucky for you, there aren't any students here yet," Thea winked. "And even then, I wouldn't tell on you. I'm looking forward to getting to know you better, Jon, but I'm guessing that right now you had other plans in mind. I'll see you two later." She exited the classroom, pausing as she walked past me. "I was *so* right," she whispered in my ear.
Jon blushed, running his fingers through his hair self-consciously, and I could tell that he must have been aware of the meaning behind that comment.
"Serves you right for listening in on private conversations," I said as I swatted him playfully in the chest.
"I was only listening to make sure you were in the room," he explained sheepishly.
"Yeah, and if you happened to find out what I was saying about you to other people, then that's just good luck," I teased.
He shrugged innocently. "Can you blame a guy for being curious?"
"I guess not," I conceded, and moved in to kiss him gently. Unfortunately, we soon remembered our promise to be more careful in public, so we drew apart before anything interesting developed. "So what's the reason behind the surprise visit?" I asked, a little flushed.
"Well, I have the rest of the afternoon off, so I decided to swing by to see if you wanted some company to go to STAR labs. You're heading over there soon, right?"
I glanced up at the clock. Had it really gotten that late? "Yeah, I better get going if I want to get through the traffic. I promised Jay I'd meet him at four-thirty." I quickly shut down my computer and started collecting my possessions. "But you don't have to come with me. Brad volunteered to give him an exam to see if we can get some more concrete information. It'll probably be kind of boring for you, though."
"I don't mind. I want to be able to help out."
"Don't worry about it," I told him distractedly. "We won't really need you there."
"Oh. Okay," he said, slightly stung. "I guess I can... do an extra patrol or something instead. Since you don't seem to need me."
"Great idea!" I said with satisfaction, although I have to confess I was too busy thinking of my plans for the rest of the day to really pay attention to what he was saying. But at least this way, I didn't feel as guilty for not spending time with him. "By the way," I remembered, "I did want to talk to you about this whole... investigation thing. Somewhere not as public. Do you think you could swing by my place later tonight?"
"Maybe," he said distantly. "But I might not get done my patrol until late."
I blinked, taken aback by his attitude. He wasn't upset that I didn't need him at STAR labs, was he? "Oh. Well, um, maybe sometime tomorrow, then," I offered, a little hurt.
His face softened. "How about I come by tomorrow morning? I'll bring breakfast."
"That sounds good."
We split to go out separate ways as we exited the school. As I drove to STAR labs I reflected on the conversation we had just had. Jon *had* seemed a little put out that I didn't want him to accompany me to the lab. But at the same time, there was no real reason why he should come, beyond my personal feelings.
And those feelings could wait, I decided. This was a dangerous assignment, and I didn't want to put my personal relationship right in the middle of it. I wasn't willing to risk it. And right now, I needed to concentrate on getting this investigation done in the most efficient way possible.
"I've never seen anything like it," Brad told us after taking countless scans and running endless tests on Jay. "I had thought we were ages away from doing something like this."
"What exactly is it they did?" I asked pointedly.
"It appears that the clusters of neurons that actually contain your memories are still intact," Brad explained to Jay. "It's just the connectors that have been scrambled."
"It's really neat," Ellie chimed in, full of scientific excitement. "Because the brain relies on a chain of neurons to transfer information, there's no way it can access the memories it wants even though they're still stored in the cerebral cortex like they always were."
"Yeah, really neat," Jay commented dryly. "Except for the fact that it's my brain we're talking about."
Ellie's enthusiastic demeanor lowered, and I could see her blush a little in chagrin. "Of course I didn't mean... I-I know it must be difficult..."
"How does this explain the fact that some of his memories from before he worked on this case are missing?" I asked, rescuing her.
"The brain is strange," Brad shrugged. "We sometimes make connections based on seemingly random things. My guess would be that the memories Jay is missing from earlier are somehow linked to his investigation, even though they may seem to be completely random."
"Not to mention that the people who did it might not have been very careful," Ellie added.
"A warning," I murmured to myself. Perhaps these people were trying to show us just how much their device could do, and how far they were willing to go.
"Any chance of me getting the memories back?" Jay asked quietly.
"Possibly," Brad told him optimistically. "If we could find the device that did it, we may be able to reverse the procedure."
"Fat chance of that happening anytime soon," I grumbled. "I have hardly any information to go off of thanks to your inability to send in regular reports."
"I don't suppose there's any way you can just interpret the random neurons in my brain to find out what I've forgotten, is there?" Jay asked Brad.
"No," he replied. "There's no way someone can interpret your personal brain waves and turn it into something that makes sense to them. But that's probably a good thing in your case. Who knows what your attackers could have found if they were able to see your personal memories." It was a sobering thought. If they had been able to read any of Jay's personal memories, what kind of position would that put him in? Jay had access to some extremely sensitive information.
"I think I may have an idea," Ellie spoke up, breaking the silence. "We already know that your incidental memories are all messed up right now, but there are other types of memory that might help us. Physical memory, for example. That's stored in the cerebellum, not the cerebral cortex. And that part of your brain is fine!" She jabbed meaningfully at the scans. They didn't mean much to me, so I had to take her word for it.
"How will you access those memories?" Brad asked her. "Without remembering specific incidences where he used those physical skills, he has no way to tap into them."
"It would be a lot of work," she murmured under her breath as she stared intently at Jay, making him shift in discomfort. "But I think I could do it. I'd have to map out all his brain activity and we could put him through some VR simulations to try to tap into his subconscious..."
"It might work," Brad agreed. "But you'd have to head this up, Ellie. It would be an intensive project with a lot of time commitment and I can't justify doing that at this time." She nodded enthusiastically in response, and then turned to Jay.
"Are you okay with this?" she asked bluntly.
And I realized what it would mean. Ellie and Jay. Alone together in a small lab for hours on end. They had better move all the hazardous chemicals to another location.
"I'll be fine," Jay replied, obviously irritated. "I am capable of getting along with another human being."
"Oh, really?" she said sweetly. "That must be why you lied to everyone and pretended that nothing was wrong with you."
"Maybe it was because I didn't want someone making smarta--"
"Jay, can I talk to you outside for a moment?" I interjected. We stepped out into the hall together. "Can you just try to get along with Ellie?" I begged him. "For me?"
"I'm sorry, Kaylie," Jay apologized exasperatedly. "She's just so... I mean, does she *always* have the right answer to everything?"
"Just promise to stop baiting her," I asked him. "I can see she's not exactly your favorite person right now, but it's been hard enough trying to fit you into this whole situation without all this added conflict."
"I know. And I'm sorry," he said again. "I'll try to control myself, okay?"
"That's all I'm asking," I told him as we went back into the lab.
"Kaylie, I was just thinking," Ellie told us upon entering. "I had this old prof who works for the neurology department at Met U. He did a lot of research in the field of memory. You might want to try asking him for an idea of who could have the capability of doing this kind of thing."
"Thanks," I nodded in response. "That might be a good starting point." Of course that meant I would have to interview him. That wasn't something I could pick up by rifling through his filing cabinet at night. Which meant that some undercover work was necessary. And I had the perfect idea for an alias.
It was a charity function for the Metropolis Children's Hospital. Jon supposed that he should feel flattered that the organization had asked for him to come. It showed that the citizens of Metropolis were starting to regard him with just as much respect as his father. Yet all he was ever feeling these days was numb.
But he had wanted to help out a good cause and it meant one less night where he had to deal with a life that was rapidly spiraling out of control. So he had come to the function, made a speech, and spent the rest of the evening mingling with rich guests who were getting steadily drunker as the night progressed. He didn't eat or drink anything, of course. It wouldn't be seemly for Supernova to consume anything in public. And even if he had drunk a few glasses of champagne, it wouldn't have made a difference anyway.
So he had stood in the large room watching other people make fools of themselves, all the time wondering how this could be seen as an appropriate fundraiser for a *children's* hospital. He was just about to leave for the night when he caught sight of someone out of the corner of his eye. A spark of recognition flared through his body for a split second. And then it died. From the back, with most of his head hidden from view, the man had looked like...
But of course it wasn't. There was no logical reason why Jon should even think that man was his grandfather. And yet...
The room which had seemed mildly crowded at first was now suffocating him. He flinched away from the people who brushed against his shoulder. The cacophony of laugher warped strangely in his ears and the smell of booze and food gave him a rare headache.
He left. Suddenly, and without looking back. He soared high over the buildings in Metropolis and thankfully breathed in the acrid smog. He stretched out his hearing to take in the sounds of the city. Somewhere, there had to be someone who needed him. Someone who could let him forget, even for just a little bit.
"So how old are you supposed to be?" Jon asked me from his position lounging on my sofa.
I tweaked my mousy brown wig for the billionth time. It still didn't look quite right.
"Twenty-one," I replied somewhat absently. "I'm a journalism student who's tailing Lois Lane to learn more about the fascinating world of reporting."
"You know, you're going to have to say that a bit more convincingly if you want to pull it off."
I threw my comb at him. "I can be convincing," I defended. "Just not when I'm trying to fix my hair. Do you think this looks ugly enough?" I turned around so he could get a good look at my entire ensemble.
"You always look beautiful to me," he replied.
"That's sweet, but not exactly the kind of feedback I need right now," I smiled. "I'm going for a kind of bookish loner type of person."
Jon lifted his glasses off his face to get a closer look at me without having to move. "Do you have contacts in?" he asked.
"No, it's just the change in hair color," I replied. "More brown in my hair brings out more brown in my eyes. I also did a bit of shading and stuff on my face which makes a difference too."
He nodded in understanding. "So why go for ugly? Why not be the stunning beauty that you are?"
"People don't notice plain people as much as beautiful ones," I explained. "They're easier to miss, which makes my job easier for me. If I was constantly turning heads everywhere I went then I would never get any good information."
"Well, I don't know about that. I'm sure that cocktail waitress job you had last time got you plenty of information."
I didn't have my comb anymore so I had to settle with throwing the wig at him instead. He caught it in one hand and brought it closer to eye level. He studied it curiously, and I could see that something was upsetting him. I pushed his feet off the sofa so that I could sit across from him.
"What's up?" I asked seriously.
"Just worrying, I guess," he replied, smiling ruefully. "I know you've done stuff like this before, but I just can't help feeling anxious about you. You know, whenever my mom's off doing some investigation by herself my dad always goes crazy worrying about her. But I never really understood that fear until now."
"Jon, even though there are risks involved in this, I can't just avoid it."
"I know," he agreed. "But I still worry about you. Sorry."
"Don't be sorry," I replied immediately. "You're supposed to care for me, and it's only natural that you worry when I take risks. You know, I worry about you whenever you run off on a rescue."
"Yeah, I do. But like I said, that's natural. I see it as us looking out for each other. I guess the important thing is that we don't let our worries stifle the other person and prevent them from doing what they want to do." Jon nodded in agreement. "And Jon, about this whole investigation," I continued. "I know I told you I wasn't going to do it, but then I went ahead and took it anyway. And I didn't even talk to you about it like I said I would."
"Well, I have to admit it makes things more difficult to juggle," he said. "But you had to take it, Kaylie. Jay needs you right now." He meant the words, yet I could still see he was holding something back.
"But you do, too," I argued. "Even though Jay is my family, so are you. And I know that every minute I spend on this investigation is one more minute that I won't get to spend with you." I thought back to our brief conversation earlier today.
"That's true," Jon agreed. "But we can still manage to make it work," he told me. "We just need to put a priority on it. For instance, I know you're going off to visit that professor today, but how about we meet up later this evening?"
"Okay," I agreed happily, stealing the wig back from him and slipping it on my head once again.
"And about the whole worrying thing," Jon continued. "You know I wouldn't be nearly as worried if you weren't going to investigate something with my mom. She's a trouble magnet, so be careful, okay?" He was teasing me, but I could still see the inner concern behind his words.
"I'll be careful," I promised.
"Memory?" Dr Charles Winslow asked in a voice that I guessed to be about an octave higher than usual. "That's a rather broad field to be asking about. I can't really--"
"Can you at least tell us who some of the leading researchers are?" Lois asked resolutely.
"Well," he stammered as he cleaned his glasses with a paisley patterned handkerchief. "I suppose if you take into account the most recent breakthroughs and subsequent research grants, the leading researcher in the field of memory would be... well, me."
"Great," I commented. "Then you'll be able to help us out."
Dr Winslow smiled indulgently at me. "Miss..."
"Turner," I supplied.
"Miss Turner. The field of memory is so infinitely vast and complex. There's no way that I could explain it to you in terms you'd understand." He nervously passed his handkerchief over his slick forehead.
I sensed that he was prevaricating, and Lois must've picked up on it too because she gave him a brilliant smile and leaned forward in her seat.
"I'm sure you could explain it to us," she said flatteringly. "You must be an excellent teacher." Even though she was well into her fifties, Lois still had more than enough charm to squeeze the information from the elderly doctor.
He openly stared at her for a moment, and then relented. "Memories of specific events in a person's life are created in the hippocampus," he explained. "They are then transported to the cerebral cortex in the form of clusters of neurons."
"That creates incidental memory," Lois commented.
Dr Winslow nodded in response. Happy that someone was following his teaching, he continued with more enthusiasm. "These memories store information on the people you know, the places you've been, and any other incidents that make you who you are. It's always been my dream to discover a way to interpret another person's incidental memories, yet we're still very far from ever doing that." He paused hesitantly for a moment. "But recently," he continued, "we have been able to detect the age of these memory neurons within the brain in a completely noninvasive way. By using this technology, we are able to isolate memories formed in a certain time period with incredible accuracy."
"That's amazing," I praised. "So what do you do with those neurons once they're isolated?"
"Any number of things," he answered, deep within intellectual ecstasy. It was the same with many researchers. Give them even a hint that you may be interested in their field and they'll spend the next decade regaling you with more detail than you'll ever want to know. It appeared that his original reluctance to speak had been forgotten. "Imagine the therapeutic uses in being able to isolate memories," he told us excitedly. "Not to mention the general benefit for the scientific community in being able to get a clearer map of brain function. In the years to come I hope to discover many uses for this technology."
"I imagine that would take a large amount of cash. Where do you get the funding for all of this?" Lois asked.
"It can be difficult to get the necessary funding," he told us. "Many of my colleagues struggle to find organizations willing to put forward money without some guarantee of success."
"Have you been able to secure funding, Dr Winslow?" I inquired innocently.
"Yes," he spoke with enthusiasm. "In fact, there have been quite a few companies that have expressed interest..." His voice faded off and he seemed to reconsider what he was saying. "Suffice it to say that there has been some interest," he finished. The change in attitudes was palpable. Any trace of the openness he shared was completely erased. "Now if there was nothing else, I really must get back to my research. Thank you Ms. Lane, Miss Turner." He stood, fumbling with his handkerchief.
"Dr Winslow, would you possibly agree to another interview in the future?" Lois asked as we were herded out of his office. "Our editor would certainly appreciate the extra information for our article."
"I think not," he replied firmly. "I will be much to busy. But thank you both for coming." And with the turn of a key, he locked the door to his office.
"He's got to be connected with this," Lois whispered to me frantically as we exited the building together.
I agreed completely. The breakthroughs he had talked about were far too similar to the things Brad and Ellie had found in Jay's brain to be coincidence. I couldn't believe that we were able to get a break in the investigation this early on, but I wasn't about to question our luck.
"He's connected for sure," I agreed. "But I'm not sure he's entirely willing. He seemed pretty scared near the end of our interview."
"Whoever's funding him probably made him sign some type of contract, and who knows what else. I imagine he's in over his head on this."
"So if he's not going to talk on his own," I said, "I guess we need to do some digging to find out for ourselves."
This time, it was his father that was waiting in his dorm room when he came home.
"What?" he asked dully as he dumped his backpack on the bed.
"Just got back from class?" his father asked.
"No, I was heading there but then I decided to swing by Metropolis instead to see if everything was quiet."
"You seem to be doing that a lot lately."
"Is that why you got this?" His dad held up a letter with the KSU crest visible.
"You had no right to read that," Jon snapped, reaching for the letter.
Clark jerked his hand away. "Seeing as how I'm paying for your education, I think it should be my business to know whether or not you're flunking out of every class you enrolled in this term."
Jon dropped his head, unable to look his father in the eye. He knew it had gotten bad at school, but he hadn't realized how bad until he received that letter.
"You can't keep this up, Jon," his father was continuing. "You're letting Supernova take over your whole life. That's not healthy for you in the long run."
Jon could see how much this was costing his dad. To step out his own personal grief at losing a father and be one for his own son. Jon could see the pain his father was dealing with, and decided to make it easy for him.
"You're right, Dad," he told him. "I'll take it easy on the Supernova stuff for a bit. Focus on my classes."
His father eyed him warily, not fully believing this sudden conversion. "You should visit your grandma, too. She could use the company now."
Jon felt his jaw tighten. Not the farm. He didn't think he could handle that yet. "Maybe," he finally choked out.
"Look, Dad, I have to get to work, okay? I've got a lot to catch up on."
"Okay," his father said dejectedly. "Just know that if you need anything..."
"I'll let you know," Jon agreed, immersed in the task of unpacking his bag.
He didn't turn around until he heard his father exit the room. Brushing off the guilt of having lied to his father, he waited to make sure he was really going to be left alone. No one seemed to understand that he *needed* Supernova. Supernova was strong where Jon wasn't. He didn't have any gaping holes in his heart that desperately needed to be filled. And besides, Jon knew he would eventually get back to his life. Just not quite yet. Deciding that his father was probably long gone, Jon spun into his suit and flew into the air, looking for someone who needed his help.
Stakeouts were never really something that I enjoyed, however I did recognize them as an essential part in an investigation. It was the best way to find out what Winslow had potentially gotten himself into. I didn't tell Lois what I was planning to do tonight. Although she was helping me through the Daily Planet, it was me who was heading the official NIA investigation. I had heard her making plans with Clark earlier in the day, and I didn't want her to have to cancel them for the sake of one lousy stakeout. And it did appear to be lousy so far.
Winslow hadn't given me anything interesting to go off of. He left the university lab just after seven and went home immediately after. And as far as I could tell, he had spent the last two hours watching old ER episodes while sitting in his large recliner. Apparently, he didn't get enough of doctors while at work. I desperately wanted him to do something. Make a mysterious phone call perhaps, or drive to some sketchy area of town and meet up with someone. Anything, really, except hang around here doing nothing.
I was startled out of my intense revere by a tapping at my passenger door. I turned to see Jon standing there, and I rolled down the window.
"What are you doing here?" I hissed frantically.
"I just came to visit you," he replied innocently. "Can I come in?"
I glanced nervously around to see if anyone was watching. "I guess now that you're here..." I flipped the lock and he opened the door.
"How's the stakeout going?" he asked me as he climbed into the car.
"Boring," I moped.
"Not nearly as fun as spending quality time with your fiance, huh?"
"I'm sorry I had to cancel tonight," I apologized. "It's just that this could end up being a real break in the case and I don't want to let it slip through my fingers."
We both looked down the deathly quiet street and in at Winslow calmly watching TV.
"Don't worry about it," he finally told me. Yet I still detected some disappointment in his tone. "When you cancelled, I volunteered to do patrol for Ellie," he said. "She's going to be working on the memory thing with Jay at STAR labs."
"Oh. That's good." That meant that he couldn't stay here for very long. He'd have to leave soon to fly around the city. Which was probably for the best, I told myself. Having him here all night would probably be too much of a distraction. "How about we meet tomorrow sometime instead?" I offered. "Maybe when you get off work."
"I have to meet with the DA," he explained reluctantly. "The Sharon Fleming trial, remember?"
"Oh, right. Darn it. And I'll probably be working late with your mom anyway."
"Well, how about the day after?"
"Open house at Riverview," I reminded him. "You were going to stop by and visit so I could show you off to everyone, but that doesn't really give us any alone time."
"This is ridiculous!" I exclaimed. "There's no way that we can't find two seconds to spend together."
"Well what about if we-" Jon cut himself off as his head snapped up in that telltale gesture. "I've got to go," he told me hurriedly. "But we'll find time, I promise."
"Okay, go," I said.
Jon quickly exited the car and ran off to be Supernova. Having no more entertaining distractions, I observed Winslow in silence.
Half an hour later, I was sorely tempted to give up and go home. Winslow appeared to have the makings of an all night marathon that wasn't going to slacken any time soon. I had pulled into a dark alley that gave me a great view of the surrounding area without exposing myself, so I was able to scan the street his house was on. He sure lived in a quiet neighborhood. It was just after ten o'clock, yet there was virtually no one walking about.
Except for one person. She strolled down the street in a seemingly causal manner, yet there was something I detected in her attitude that tipped me off. She seemed too alert in order to be a random passerby. And there was also her jacket. It was too bulky for the warm weather, and her hands were stuck firmly in her pockets. Looking closer, I deduced from the bulge in her right pocket that she was holding something in that hand. I exited my car quietly, leaving the door slightly ajar in order to avoid the telltale clunking sound. Keeping to the shadows, I slunk around to the side of Winslow's house. The woman had continued to make her way down the street and closer to his place. Her pace began to accelerate as she neared her destination.
I exited my hiding place, and began running towards her, picking up speed as I went. The final proof of her guilt was the fact that she didn't turn away when she saw me; instead she increased her speed as she moved towards her target. I rushed to catch her, but she had already managed to throw the small object in her hand through the window by the time I tackled her.
We tumbled away from the explosion, yet I could still feel the devouring heat as we rolled together on the ground. The woman fumbled with my tight hood as she tried to pull my hair. I snatched her wrist and bent it backwards. She grunted in pain, and before I could react, her other arm snuck out and her fist landed on my nose. Doing my best to ignore the pain, I fell forward onto her, bringing the full weight of my body to rest on her abdomen. I laced my arm behind her neck and held it tight. She struggled, but was unable to break my hold. I moved my hands to her neck and squeezed the essential veins. She was unconscious within seconds, and I quickly rolled her over and restrained her.
I turned around in time to see Jon fly down as Supernova and blow out the fire that had engulfed the remainder of Winslow's house. He then jogged over to the spot where I was standing.
"You're bleeding," he told me in shock once he got a chance to get a look at me.
"I'm fine," I said automatically as I brought my hand up to my nose to wipe away the blood. I winced at the unexpected tenderness.
"Here," Jon offered. He gently pressed the corner of his cape against my nose to stop the bleeding.
"I'll get it stained," I protested.
"It's already red," he shrugged. His eyes cut through the darkness and examined my nose. "It's not broken," he informed me softly.
"Thanks." I was worried that he would start to lecture me about being careful, but instead all he did was glance at the prone figure at our feet.
"Is she the one who...?"
"Yeah. Did Dr. Winslow--"
Jon shook his head, and I glanced over at the smoldering ruins that had once been his house. There was no way that he could have survived that blast. Frustration and anger, both at myself and at the attack boiled up inside me.
"The police will be here shortly," Jon informed me. "They'll take her into custody."
"No, they can't," I quickly objected. "I don't want her shut away in some place where I can't easily access her." I had already screwed up once with this, and I wasn't about to do it again.
"Kaylie, think about this. We can't keep her from the police," he argued. "She committed a crime and needs to face the consequences."
"She's connected to this case. I don't want to let her out of my sight."
"I made a promise to this city that I would uphold the law," Jon insisted stubbornly. "And that means making sure she gets taken into custody."
"I made a promise to investigate this case in the best way that I know how," I countered. "And that means letting her go and seeing what she might lead me to."
"She's a murderer, Kaylie," Jon said heatedly. "She needs to be taken to the proper authorities."
"The proper authorities won't do anything to help us! Do you really think she's going to spill the beans in a police interrogation room? I need to know who sent her to kill Winslow."
"How are you going to do that? Choke her again?"
I gaped speechlessly at him. What exactly was he trying to imply with that comment? I let go of his bloodstained cape and stormed away from him.
"No, wait!" he called after me. "I'm so sorry, Kaylie. I didn't mean--"
"I'm not going to talk about this right now," I cut him off, still walking away from him.
"Where are you going?" he asked, following me closely.
"Away," I told him shortly. "I don't want to be here when the cops show up; they don't need to know about NIA involvement yet." I dabbed at my nose with my fingers. It was still bleeding.
"Fine. I'll take you home then."
"I'm not going home; I'm going to Winslow's office. That woman was sent here to silence him, and I need to get anything I can from his office before that's taken care of too."
"You can't go there now, you've just been injured. You should go home."
"Okay, let's get something straight," I whirled around, nearly stabbing him with my pointed finger. "We may be engaged, but you can *never* tell me how to do my job, got it? I know what I'm doing and I don't need you butting in and interfering."
"Is this how it's going to be once we're married? Am I going to have to ask your permission whenever I want to do something?"
"Kaylie-" he began.
"Look, we obviously can't discuss this here," I interrupted. "Thanks to you, this street will be swarming with police in a few minutes," I turned around and continued to make my way towards my car. "I'll see you later," I threw over my shoulder before I climbed in and started the ignition.
Despite being a senior staff member who had brought in countless awards and prestige to the newspaper, Lois still chose to keep her small desk that was located out in the open along with most of the other reporters. It kept her in the loop, she explained to me. When something big happens, whether it be office related or worldwide, Lois was always in the thick of it. The only downside was the lack of privacy that came with working out in the open. So it was an unwritten rule at the Daily Planet that Lois Lane had first dibs on the conference room whenever she wanted it.
And that's where we were right now. After she had heard about the events last night, Lois had asked me to come here so we could compare notes on Winslow. That suited me as it gave me an opportunity to give my new disguise a solid test drive. So far, the staff hadn't even shown a hint of recognizing me, so I felt pretty pleased with myself. Until my fiance came into the room.
"What are you doing here?" he asked incredulously.
"Working," I replied shortly.
"Where else is a journalism student supposed to work?"
"People will recognize you!" he fretted nervously as he glanced out the glass door.
"No, they won't," I said as calmly as I could manage. "The only reason why you did is because you already know it's me."
"Not to mention your heightened senses giving you an additional advantage," Lois added.
"Jon, you wouldn't be telling me how to do my job, would you?" I interjected steely, reminding him of our unresolved issues from last night.
Jon opened his mouth to reply in turn, but then he glanced over to where Lois was seated. "No, I'm not," he relented sulkily.
There was a brief awkward moment as we looked at each other, uncomfortable continuing the argument while Lois was in the room. Finally, I turned away from Jon and fixed my attention to Lois. "So what were you saying before we were interrupted?" I asked her with exaggerated politeness.
"I spoke to my contact at the police station," she told me, shifting her gaze concernedly between the two of us. "They got a hit on the computer for the woman who bombed Winslow's house. Her name is Gertrude Brenner."
"Criminal record?" I asked.
"Completely clean," Lois replied, referring to her notes. "Her prints were taken when she was orphaned at age ten and put under state care. It would be easy to find information from that stage of her life, but once she came of age there's no telling what she did with herself. All we know is that's she's kept off the map."
"The only thing a clean records check indicates is that she's never been caught," I muttered to myself. "So the police have no idea who might have sent her last night?" I asked Lois.
"None," she replied. "And she's not saying anything."
"Imagine that," I commented lightly as I glanced up at Jon.
"I'm not apologizing for what I did," he said stubbornly, his arms crossed in front of his chest.
"Well thanks to you, the only solid lead we have is now locked away where no one can access her."
"So that means you didn't find anything in his office?" he asked me. I could detect just a little bit of guilt sneaking through.
"No," I replied flatly. "Someone had gone in and wiped his computer and stolen any files he kept on paper."
I could see Jon was about to reply but then he was interrupted by the sudden entrance of Jim Olsen.
"Hi, Jimmy," Lois greeted him, a little too brightly to be natural.
Jim's gaze swept across the room, taking in all of us. He held a small plastic card in his hand. "I just thought you should know," he began slowly, "that I made a call to my dad. And I took the liberty of making... um, Molly Turner a press pass."
He handed me the card and I could see that it was a Daily Planet press pass with Molly Turner's picture on it. Jack must've supplied it to Jim from the NIA files. She was one of my registered aliases, and so there was already a complete background of her on file with everything needed for the card I now had in my possession.
"How much did he tell you about the investigation?" Lois asked guiltily.
"Not much. And I don't really need to know more," he replied. "But Lois, you have to keep me up to date on things like this," he gestured in my direction. "How was I supposed to react when I found out that I had supposedly hired a new intern who was going to be trailing you? It's been the main topic of conversation in the newsroom all day. The rest of the staff can't believe that you're actually putting up with another student after that last one was such a disaster."
He paced the room, and I could see that his nerves had been more than a little frazzled by the situation. However, I got the idea that this was a fairly common occurrence between the two of them and that Jim had resigned himself to the fact that Lois would constantly keep him on his toes.
"Well, we can just say that you're making me work with her," she decided.
"Lois, since when have I been able to make you do anything?" he asked exasperatedly.
"True," she agreed smugly.
"I'm only planning on being here for a short while," I reassured Jim. "Lois' history with interns will only make it all the more believable when I leave."
"I wouldn't say I have a history," she grumbled. "More like--"
"You have a history, Mom," Jon replied with a small grin.
"I'll let you get to work," Jim told us as he made his way back to the door. "But Lois, I also needed to talk to you about that car theft story you're working on. Can you spare a second?"
She nodded and stood to exit along with Jim.
"Thanks for this, Jim," I held up the card. It acted as proof of his reliability, really. If Jack Olsen trusted Jim enough to give him this information, then I could trust him too.
"No problem, Kay- *Molly*," he replied. "I'm assuming that the Planet's getting an exclusive on this."
"Whatever I can legally give you," I promised.
Jim nodded in response and he and Lois both left the room. Jon snagged the opportunity to jump back to his previous contention.
"See? He recognized you!"
"He already suspected that I was connected to the NIA. It wouldn't take him long to put the pieces together," I replied, feeling the frustration build up in me again. "I can't believe this is coming from the same guy who thinks hair gel and spandex make a good disguise."
"That's a completely different set of circumstances," he argued.
"No, it's not. Why are you so uptight about this? You know what it is that I do, you have no right to be so critical about it."
"So I shouldn't be critical of the fact that you've shut me out of this investigation from the moment you took it? It's like you don't even want me around anymore."
"That's... That's not true," I sputtered, trying to come back on the offensive. "And you know, for someone who's so concerned about my disguise, you're not really helping the situation by arguing with someone who you supposedly just met today. Just do me a favor and leave me alone."
That got his attention. He took a step back and adjusted his glasses.
"Fine. I'll leave. Have fun investigating. I think we all know how important that is to you."
"Yeah, well you can go... catch a bus or something," I grumbled at him as he left the room.
Of course, he gave no indication of hearing me, even though I knew he had. Lois entered the conference room in his wake, and she hovered indecisively in the doorway, not sure who to go to. Obviously, I appeared to be the most hopeless case because she soon closed the door after her and sat down across from me.
"I don't want to talk about it," I told her flatly.
"Okay," she replied calmly. I flicked through the notes she had given me, yet I couldn't concentrate on them. Finally, I pushed them aside and planted my elbows on the table, looking directly across at Lois.
"How do you do it?" I demanded.
"Do what?" she asked.
"Well, look at you! You've got a stressful job that has constant pressure and high stakes, yet you still manage to have this perfect, loving relationship."
She snorted. "I don't know if perfect is the way to describe it."
"But you and Clark--"
"Do you know why Clark and I made those big romantic plans last night?"
"We had a fight. Nothing major," she hastened to clarify, "but it was enough that we needed to take time to reconnect with each other. Relationships take work no matter how long you've been together. We've been married over twenty-five years and we still run into snags from time to time. But we had decided a long time ago that any roadblocks along the way just make what we have together all the more worthwhile. It's all about compromising on the little things and finding the important things that really matter." She chuckled to herself. "Look at me, giving relationship advice. If you saw Clark and me when we were dating you never would've guessed it."
"Was it that difficult for you?" I asked timidly.
"Between me being unsure if I could marry someone who pretended to be two people, and Clark deciding to break up with me for my own good, it's a wonder we ever managed to make it down the aisle."
"Really?" Despite the heavy subject matter, I found her confession to be extremely comforting.
"Not to mention the cloning, the New Kryptonians, the Wedding Destroyer... Do you really want me to continue?"
"Um, I think I get the idea, thanks."
"Kaylie, everyone has difficulties in a relationship. And you and Jon still have a lot to learn about each other, which means you'll have a lot to work through."
"It's just so hard," I confessed. "I know I love Jon, but at the same time, Jay's my brother and I love him too. I owe him the loyalty to investigate this. And I'm also an NIA agent. I can't just ignore that part of me."
"And you shouldn't," Lois told me. "And that might make it difficult for you and Jon at times. But I'm sure you'll be able to work through those problems if you talk about them." She reached out and clasped my hand reassuringly. Then her cell phone beeped and she checked it exasperatedly. "Darn it. I have to meet with a source for another story. Will you be okay here for a bit? You can borrow my computer to dig up anything interesting you can find of Gertrude's history with Social Services, okay?"
"Okay," I agreed.
Maybe if I found the courage I could also go talk to Jon.
I had managed to put in a solid effort digging up everything I could about Gertrude's history. It left me with a lot of information to sift through, and I decided to take a little break before diving into it again. The coffee area in the newsroom was conveniently located within sight of Jon's office, so I was able to sample some authentic newsroom java while pondering what Lois had said to me earlier.
Apparently, putting a ring on my finger didn't magically cure relationship problems. And I had always known that intellectually. But somehow, I hadn't equated that to the easy relationship Jon and I had enjoyed the last few weeks. Now I was confronted with the unalterable reality that just because Jon knew about all my NIA work didn't mean that he would approve of it. We had already clashed while struggling to deal with something in our own way.
Compromise. That's what Lois had talked about. We had to give each other some room for negotiation. But how much was I supposed to negotiate? There were some things that I couldn't just give. I couldn't just change who I was for the sake of our relationship.
"You're Molly, right?" a man asked me, jerking me away from my thoughts.
"Y-yes. That's me," I replied.
"This is from Jon Kent, in IT," the man told me, handing over a large manila envelope.
"Thanks." I took the envelope with surprise. "Did he say--"
"He just asked me to deliver this to you. If you want to know what it's for, ask him yourself."
The man tromped off, and I pondered the envelope for a while before opening it to see the contents. They weren't exactly what I was expecting.
I was so immersed with what he had given me that I didn't hear Lois coming up behind me.
"Sorry that took so long," she apologized. "What do you have there?"
"Jon got it for me," I replied, still a little surprised. "He found a way to hack into the Met U server using..." I checked his note that was full of some kind of indecipherable techno-babble. "Well, I don't really understand what he used, but I guess he was able to access Winslow's day planner."
"Really? That's great!"
"Yeah..." He had seemed to have such a negative attitude towards what I had done last night, but to see this now... Was it some sort of tacit apology? "I think I'm going to go--"
"Oh, he left already Ka-uh-Molly," Lois told me, noticing my intention. "I ran into him on the way out. He wanted to prepare for the meeting with the DA, remember?"
"Oh. Right." I sank back into my chair.
"But this is excellent stuff," she said, trying to distract me. "If we can somehow sift through all the mundane appointments, we might be able to get something really... Oh, now this is something!" she exclaimed, bending over a particular set of entries.
"LexCorp?" I asked with a little confusion. "How does that help us? There must be at least twenty different companies leasing space from that building. Granted it's a little odd that he put the name of the building instead of the name of the company, but still..."
"Trust me, this means something," Lois told me grimly. "In over thirty years, things haven't changed much. Whenever something dirty is going on in Metropolis, LexCorp is always the first place to look."
We didn't have a back-up plan. Actually, we didn't even have a primary plan. In the NIA, they teach you to carefully run through every possible scenario that could happen, and to plan for every potential deviation, no matter how unlikely it may seem.
But we didn't do any of that. Instead, we headed straight into the LexCorp building with no idea of how the events would play out. Our cover was flimsy at best, and Lois informed me that we would just improvise the rest when we needed it. We didn't have time to stop by my apartment, so I was armed only with my cell phone, Molly Turner's ID, and a pair of ridiculously expensive shoes. Lois had only a set of lock picks, plus whatever other tools were in her work bag. Investigating something with Lois Lane was an experience I wouldn't soon forget. It was crazy, it was ill-prepared, it was incredibly risky, and it was unbelievably exhilarating. We entered the lobby on the ground floor, and Lois walked up to the main security desk.
"Lois Lane," she introduced herself, "and Molly Turner. We're here to see..." She glanced up at the directory board and picked a name at random. "Kevin Moloski from Dantract Communications. We don't have an appointment."
Being an award-winning reporter comes with certain perks. One of which is having a lot of clout. The receptionist spoke briefly with Moloski on the phone, and then told us that he would be glad to receive us in his office.
I couldn't really blame him. Who would want to risk ticking off Lois Lane? The receptionist gave us very helpful directions to get to his office which we completely ignored. Instead Lois led me past the glossy corporate elevators and into a smaller hallway that seemed much more unused.
"What if Moloski calls you and asks why you never came for the interview?" I asked her.
"I'll think of something," she replied breezily. "We need to see if we can find a way downstairs. When Lex used this building that's where all the interesting things happened. They've renovated it so much in the last few years that I'm not exactly sure... Well, I think we can find a stairwell in that direction."
We set off down the hall, and I couldn't help feeling on edge at the pervasive stillness of the hallway in comparison to the rest of the building. Was it maybe used for maintenance staff? It seemed to be too drab to be anything else. We soon found a door that was clearly marked as a stairwell, but it was unfortunately locked.
"Hold onto this while I see if I can bust it open," Lois said as she handed me her bag, and then bent over the door in concentration.
I watched the hallway alertly to see any possible intruders. The corridor stretched long and straight on both sides, so we would have plenty of opportunity to be aware of any people long before they reached us.
But even I wasn't able to anticipate the three beefy guys who sprang out of the room directly opposite us. Lois quickly turned and hid her lock picks behind her back, but I think they still saw what she had been doing.
"This area is off limits to visitors," the center guy informed us. His large body filled up the space between his two accomplices. The three of them effectively cut off any chance of us slipping past them.
"Well, we know that," Lois told him, full of false bravado. "We're trying to get to Kevin... Kevin Molo--"
"Moloski," I supplied.
"Kevin Moloski's office. From Dantract Communications" she finished. "We have an interview set up, you can check with reception. If that idiot secretary in the lobby had given us halfway decent directions then--"
"I don't buy it," the man interrupted, shifting his bulk menacingly from one foot to the other. "I think you were back here for a reason. You're coming with us."
Things had quickly gotten out of control. I eyed the three guys discreetly. I *might* be able to take them. They looked like plainclothes security guards, and they probably didn't have too much training to their credit. Apparently Lois had some skill with self-defense, so if she got the one closest to her, I could probably... I caught her eye, trying desperately to convey my vague notions of a plan. She returned my gaze curiously, and cocked her eyebrow in a way that was hauntingly similar to Jon. She knew what I was planning, and she was ready to back me up completely.
I stepped forward swiftly to take on the main guy, and as soon as I got close, I realized my mistake. Whoever this man was, he was clearly more alert than he had pretended to be. His hand shot out and twisted my arm painfully. I worked with his movement, trying to turn it into my benefit, but before I got the chance, a dizzying blow to the side of my head stopped any chance of that happening. Through the haze of pain, I barely detected the prick of a needle as it entered my skin.
"Kaylie? Kaylie, wake up! Can you hear me?"
I groaned loudly as I tried to unglue my eyelids. My head throbbed, and my back ached.
"Yeah, I'm awake," I replied irritably to Lois. "Stop shouting."
"Yeah." I took inventory of the rest of my body. As far as I could tell, I didn't seem to be suffering from any other injuries, although my hands were tied behind my back and my ankles were bound. Struggling under my restraints, I managed to push myself up beside Lois. I sat there for a moment, trying to stop my head from spinning. "What happened?" I asked.
"I'm not really sure," Lois replied. "They gave us both some kind of sedative and I only just woke up a few minutes ago. It looks like we're in the back of a truck or something."
I glanced around the space and had to agree with her conclusion. It certainly looked that way, except...
"We're not moving," I observed.
"No," Lois agreed. We sat in silence for a bit. Lois graciously gave me some time to get over my headache. Then she spoke again suddenly. "I hate it when this happens."
"Which part, the getting caught while we were supposed to be investigating, or being tied up and abandoned inside a truck trailer?"
"Both, I guess. Getting out usually isn't a problem, but then there's always Clark's post-kidnapping lecture." She smiled faintly.
"He still lectures you?"
"Yep. And it's always the same, too." Her smile stretched in memory. "He always asks if I'm all right. And I usually am. Then, he moves on to telling me how scared he was. And he makes me promise to be more careful in the future." She shifted awkwardly to get more comfortable. "I agree, but we both know that a week later I'll be out there again, doing the same things. It's just who I am, and Clark knows that. And after all that, we usually..." She trailed off, suddenly aware that she was telling this to someone, not just to herself. "We... um..."
"Express your love in a suitable fashion?" I filled in for her.
She grinned. "Something like that. Look, Kaylie," She began apologetically. "I'm sorry I got us into this mess. We probably shouldn't have raced over to LexCorp like that."
"There's nothing to apologize for," I told her. "I was with you all the way, and it was me who got caught unawares as a lookout." We were silent for a moment. "You know, I can't hear anyone outside who would be guarding us," I told her. Although I wasn't expecting to hear anything drastic, I still expected to hear some sort of rustling or something. The trailer wasn't insulated, so I could hear some other noises outside.
"They probably left to get back-up or something," Lois suggested.
"So they just tied us up and dumped us here? Was it too much of an effort to leave a guard?" Although the circumstances made it fortunate for us, I was irrationally irritated that our kidnappers hadn't planned this better. Didn't they know that Lois would just call for Superman as soon as she woke up?
"Well, they also gagged us," Lois explained to me. "I pulled yours off, and I was able to slip out of mine."
"You slipped out of your own gag?" I asked, impressed.
"I've had a lot of practice doing it," she told me. "That always seems to be the first thing anyone does to me whenever I get kidnapped."
I wisely refrained from any implications about the reasons behind that trend. "You'll have to teach me that trick," I said to her instead.
"Well, I wish I had another one that'll get us out this mess," Lois replied. "We could always call for help, but I don't like to depend on that solution. It's fast and all, but I can't always be relying on Superman to bail me out of trouble." She glanced over at me. "How about you? Got any NIA tricks up your sleeve?"
As it turned out, I did. Although my headache was dimming, I didn't want to try any drastic contortions just yet. Lois would have to give me a hand with this maneuver. "Can you reach my shoes?" I asked her.
"I guess I can." She scooted over to where my ankles were bound together.
"The right heel pops off," I instructed, watching her blindly groping at my shoe. Her hands were also tied behind her back so she couldn't look at what she was doing. It didn't take her long to find the correct shoe and remove the heel. "Now up by the sole, you'll find a--"
"Careful, it's sharp," I warned Lois as she gingerly removed the small blade from its nest. "You'll have to cut my ropes first," I told her as I scooted up to her. "I've cut my own before, but there's too much danger of self inflicted damage. The angle is better if you do mine."
"But I won't be able to see when I cut your ropes either," Lois protested.
"Just be careful," I instructed. "Small, light strokes won't really do much damage if you happen to miss, and I'll let you know right away if you injure me."
Lois sucked in a deep breath, and began cutting away at the bonds holding my wrists together. She made quick work of it, and didn't even nick me with the blade. I then took the blade myself and released Lois' hands and feet, then my own ankles. I stretched gratefully, and recovered the discarded heel. I placed the blade back in its spot and snapped the heel back on.
"I've got to get myself a pair of those," Lois observed.
"They're horribly expensive," I told her. "And to try to find a pair that actually looks halfway attractive is a real challenge, but I'll see if I can sneak some away from the NIA for you."
Now that we were free from our bonds, we were able to explore the space more thoroughly. The trailer was large, but it had no windows or anything to conveniently escape from. The only light came from the gaps by the door at the very end of the trailer.
"Well this is perfect," Lois commented sarcastically as she ran her hands over the smooth surface.
"There has to be some sort of emergency lever," I insisted. "They have codes and stuff to keep, right?"
Before Lois got a chance to reply, the large door buckled, giving off an awful screech. I jumped back.
What the hell was that?
Then, the entire door was ripped away and discarded on the ground nearby. Light from the setting sun flooded into the trailer, and I could just make out the silhouettes of Supernova and Superman as they hovered near the exposed doorway. I blinked, and my eyes adjusted to the change in light. They looked as shocked to see us standing by the entrance as we were to see them.
"What are you doing here?" I asked stupidly, still trying to process the recent events.
"We're umm... Well, we came to... to rescue you," Clark finished lamely.
Lois grinned up at him. "Who said we needed rescuing, Superman? We were doing just fine by ourselves." She took a step towards him.
"Yeah, I can see that," he replied, wrapping his arms around her. They leaned into each other, temporarily oblivious to anyone else.
I turned to look hesitantly at Jon. "Hey," I spoke tentatively.
"Hey," he replied hoarsely.
"Can we... Can we just get out of here?" I asked. "I think we really need to talk."
"Yeah," he nodded.
Then I was in his arms, and we were flying through the air. I held onto him tightly, and soon we were stepping into my apartment. Thankfully, Jay wasn't home so we would be able to have a real conversation. Jon didn't speak, and didn't even look directly in my eyes. The disguise I had been wearing all day seemed to put a barrier between us, so I pulled off my wig and kicked off my shoes. I still couldn't really discern what Jon was feeling. He had remained in his Supernova suit, and had sat down in an armchair.
"Look, Kaylie," he interrupted. "I know you're going to lecture me, but just hear me out first okay?"
I remained quiet, and sat down on the floor next to him.
"I know you didn't want me involved in your investigation," he continued, "and I can see that you probably had that truck situation under control. But the thing is, it's driving me crazy to be kept out of this, and when you and Mom went missing tonight, I just couldn't take it anymore. I had to do something. And I'm sorry if that makes you mad and if you think that it's controlling, but I just can't help it. That's just the way I am."
"Jon... No, I'm not mad. I was actually... really glad you came."
"You were?" he asked in surprise.
"Yeah," I nodded. "I was. Look, Jon, I know things have been difficult for us lately. And I know I'm partly to blame for that. I talked to your mom earlier about some of this--"
"You talked to my mom?"
"Yeah. But I wasn't going behind your back or anything," I hastened to clarify. "I just really needed someone to talk to."
"No, of course you weren't. It's just that... well, my mom sure gets around, that's all."
"You talked to her too?" I asked in surprise.
"Yeah." We both smiled at each other, recognizing our slightly ridiculous reality.
"Jon," I started again, "you were right about what you said earlier. I've been pushing you away. I just somehow got it into my head that I couldn't be an agent and a fiance at the same time. But I was so wrong about that. We've worked together before, and there's no reason why we can't do it again. Anything you have to offer would be great asset."
"Well, I haven't been the most accessible either," he admitted. "I immersed myself in Supernova instead of telling you how I really feel. And Kaylie, I really want to apologize for what I said to you the other night. About the whole Gertrude thing."
"Jon, you were right about what you said," I told him. "As Supernova, you have a duty to uphold the law."
"Maybe so," he replied. "But that gives me no right to get upset with you for bending the law. I've done that a couple times myself."
"That's right, you have," I grinned. "And I never got a chance to thank you for that little bit of hacking you did today."
"That was kind of meant to be an apology," he admitted.
"I figured. And I liked it."
"You know, most girls would prefer flowers or chocolate or something."
"Well, I guess that just shows how much you know me." I took his hand in mine.
"Does that mean I'm forgiven?"
"Yeah. Do you forgive me?"
"Of course, Kaylie." Our hands twisted together, and Jon reached his other hand up to touch the engagement ring that I wore on a chain around my neck. I couldn't wear it on my finger as Molly Turner, but I had still wanted to keep it close. "Funny how things can get off course so quickly," he commented.
"Yeah," I agreed. "I guess there are a few issues we still need to work out."
"Yeah." Jon brought his hand up to brush my face delicately. "Is that what you really want to do now? Talk?"
"No," I said as shivers ran down my spine. "It's not."
That was the last coherent sentence I said for a while. We came together instantly, and I was lost in the ecstasy of touching him once again. Although it was only a few days, it had still been all too long since we had... how had I phrased it with Lois? Expressed our love in a suitable fashion.
I was awakened several hours later by Jon tiptoeing across my room.
"Wha?" I mumbled incoherently.
"Hey." He came back to the bed and leaned over me. "I have to run out for a second, okay? Someone's calling for me."
"Oh. Okay. You'll come back, right?"
"Of course." He leaned over and kissed me, and then flew out of the room.
I fell back asleep instantly, knowing that he would be there again when I woke up.
Ironically enough, it was Kryptonite that saved him. The first exposure was the worst, his dad had told him. As he lied in bed, feeling achy and shivering, Jon hoped that his father was right. He didn't want to go through any of this again.
It was the silence that was the most difficult to adjust to. After weeks and weeks of being able to stretch out his hearing and find a distraction, the silence was oppressive and scary. It left too much time for thinking. He blinked his tears back hastily when his sister entered, carrying a tray.
"I brought you some soup," she announced proudly.
Even without his refined sense of smell, it still made his stomach growl with hunger. That was another different thing, too. Hunger.
"Did you make this?" he asked in surprise at his first taste.
"Of course I did, you twerp. Not everyone in this family is completely useless in the kitchen."
"Well, it's good. Thanks." He sipped it carefully to avoid being burned.
"Mom and Dad are on the trail to find out who did this," she offered.
"Hmm," he mumbled noncommittally. He wasn't too interested in the outcome. His parents would find the bad guys like they always did, and get a front page story. Whoopee.
"How are you feeling?" Ellie asked sympathetically.
"I know what you mean." Jon glanced at her sharply and she went on with the explanation. "I sort of... exposed myself to a chunk in STAR labs," she confessed. "I figured it'd be better to do it in a controlled lab setting and see what it really feels like rather than wait for some creep of a criminal to do it."
"I wasn't going to tell Mom and Dad, but of course they found out anyway. Dad already gave me a solid lecture, so I don't want to hear anything from you, okay?"
"Okay, I won't." He returned to his soup, mulling over her confession. There were some things about Ellie he just didn't understand.
"Jon," she began hesitantly, "I know it sucks to be grounded like this, but maybe some good can come out of it all."
"What do you mean?" he asked quietly.
"I'm just saying that maybe it'll be good to take a breather, that's all," she said cautiously. "Even though this is a major setback, it might give you some time to... rethink some things. You know, priorities and stuff. Hey, are you done with your soup?" she asked quickly. "Here, I'll take the bowl downstairs." She scurried out of the room, leaving him alone with his thoughts.
He was in his childhood room in Metropolis. Although he hadn't lived there much since he was fifteen, his parents still kept the room the same for whenever he visited. They even left up the same posters, which seemed a little ridiculous to him now. Had he really liked those things? And on his bedside table, a picture...
There was no escaping it in this room. For the first time in weeks, he couldn't just fly away from the painful memories that flooded him. Instead he clutched that picture to his chest as he felt the tears spill onto his pillow. And for the first time in weeks, he allowed himself to grieve.
But when I woke up, he wasn't. There, I mean. Beside me. Or anywhere else in my apartment. Jay had come home at some point and was sprawled across my sofa, but Jon was nowhere to be seen. Well, he must have had a good reason for it, I rationalized. Maybe he had seen Jay and was uncomfortable with blatantly staying the night when my brother was here. Which didn't seem entirely right. Jon was hardly scared of Jay.
I picked up the phone to call him, but then I decided against it. A glance at the clock told me that it was still early. He wouldn't have left for work yet.
So I scribbled a note for Jay explaining where I went when he woke up, and I climbed in my car and drove as fast as I dared to Jon's apartment. I spent the entire trip convincing myself that there had to be a reasonable explanation for him not coming back last night, yet my mind kept flashing to images of crazed villains holding him prisoner with Kryptonite. In all honesty, I couldn't think of another plausible reason why he wouldn't come back to me after he had promised he would.
That's why I was disappointed in him and a little angry when he opened the door to his apartment looking fresh and well rested.
"Hi," I choked out.
"Uh, good morning," he replied.
"You didn't come back last night."
"Jon, I know things haven't been perfect between us lately," I told him as I squeezed past his body and through the doorway. "But I guess that's why I thought you'd put the extra effort into making sure we'd be okay. And even if it did take you longer than you wanted it to last night, or if you got dirty or something and needed a shower, I wouldn't have minded. You could've come back anyway. And I don't think you're scared of Jay or anything, so that's no excuse... I don't know, maybe it wasn't a big deal for you, but it was for me. With everything we've gone through in the past few days I just needed to know, you know? That we're okay."
He stared blankly at me.
"You're not saying anything," I commented tensely. "Why aren't you saying anything?"
"Umm... Look, this may be a little awkward for you..." he began hesitantly. "But... are you sure that you've got the right place?"
"Just... maybe take a breath... and, you know, look around." He was still standing by the door, which he hadn't closed yet. I could sense that something had put him on edge. His right hand was jammed through his hair and he was fidgeting from side to side. And there was something else wrong with him. Something missing in his expression...
"Call your sister," I whispered hoarsely.
"Is she the one you're looking for?" he asked as his brow wrinkled. "Cause I have to tell you, it'd be difficult to get our addresses mixed up--"
"Damn it, Jon!" I screamed, near hysterics. "Just call your sister, okay?"
"Okay! Okay, I'm calling her. Just... sit down, alright?"
I obediently sank into the sofa as Jon picked up the phone and dialed Ellie's number. The phone. Right. Because it's not like he would just call her the normal way. I slumped over with my head between my knees to stop the black spots from dancing in front of my eyes.
He didn't know who I was. He had forgotten everything.
I sat on a stool at STAR labs, trying not to make eye contact with anyone else. I needed to be alone with my thoughts. It had been extremely awkward sitting in Jon's apartment waiting for Ellie to come. Jon kept shooting nervous glances in my direction, and I had no idea how to even begin to explain what had happened. Mercifully, Ellie had shown up in record time, and quickly convinced Jon to come to STAR labs with her. I had called Lois and Clark, and we all met at the lab, including Jay, who had learned of the events upon his arrival. During the entire time we had been waiting, I couldn't help but think that this could be my fault. Really, why else would Jon have been targeted unless it was meant as a warning for me?
Ellie exited the small examination room and came up to Lois, Clark, Jay, and me. She seemed pale, and she clutched her pen and clipboard in her hands with a tight grip. She took a shuddering breath before beginning to speak to us.
"As far as we can tell, it's the same thing that happened to Jay," she told us in a shaking voice. "We can't do a lot of the tests that we did with Jay because... because he's..." She shook her head slightly, and then went to make a notation with her pen. But she pressed too hard and the pen shattered in her hand. Ink oozed over her fingers. She cried out in frustration and sent the fragments skittering across the countertop. Her parents were instantly by her side, comforting her.
I remained frozen in my seat, feeling like a complete outsider. I had only really gotten to know Jon's family in the last few weeks, and Jon didn't even remember me anymore. Did I really have a place with these people? I heard the rush of water coming through a tap and I turned to see Jay wetting a rag. He wrung it out and brought it over to Ellie.
"Here," he offered it to her quietly.
"Thanks," she whispered. She took the cloth and scrubbed the pen ink from her hands. Then she took a deep cleansing breath and returned to business. Her resilient personality displayed itself once again as she bounced back and focused on the task at hand. "Based on the questions we asked him, we think he's lost about seven months of his memory. But we can't really tell for sure. None of the advanced scans we were able to do on Jay will work for Jon. His invulnerability makes that impossible."
Seven months? He had lost that much? That was before we even met. I supposed I should've seen that coming when he didn't recognize me earlier, but it still came as a shock. He had really forgotten everything about us.
Then Brad also exited the room where Jon was being examined. "Lucy's just finishing up with him," he told us. "It'll only take a bit."
"When can I see him?" I asked.
Lois and Clark had checked in on him while Brad, Lucy, and Ellie were running tests, yet I had stayed out of the way. I didn't want to make it even more confusing for him. But now I really wanted to see him again and see how he was doing.
"We should probably discuss that," Brad commented. "What are we going to tell him?"
"The truth," Lois said firmly. "We can't lie to him about the situation, that'll only make him more confused."
"It'll be a big shock to him..."
"But he needs to know," Lois insisted. "Let me talk to him and explain the situation. Then you can come in and see him, okay, Kaylie?"
"Okay," I whispered.
As Lois went off to talk to Jon, everyone else kind of split off in different directions. I just sat in my seat, still trying to take everything in.
Clark approached me and sat down beside me. "Are you okay, Kaylie?" he asked.
"Yeah, sure. Why wouldn't I be?" I told him sarcastically. "My fiance has completely forgotten that I exist. That's what every girl dreams of, isn't it?"
"Kaylie, trust me. I know how difficult this is for you," he told me sincerely.
I smiled wryly. "Why do I get the feeling that you've been through something like this before?"
Clark chuckled. "Well, Lois and I have been through a lot, that's for sure."
"And here you are, bailing us out of trouble when we need it."
"Well, with all the work my parents put into keeping our relationship afloat at the start, I guess you can say that we're paying it forward."
"I can't believe you're still willing to even talk to me after what happened to Jon."
He frowned. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"I put your son in danger!" I exclaimed, finally letting my fears out. "Someone must've found out about me and tried to get to me through Jon. I screwed up somewhere along the way and now Jon's paying for it."
"Kaylie, this isn't your fault," he told me insistently.
"Of course it is."
"No, it's not. Think about this: there's no way that Jon would willingly allow someone to wipe his memories. If he was targeted as Jon Kent, he would just use his powers to escape. They wouldn't be able to see it coming. But if he was targeted as Supernova, all they would need was a chunk of Kryptonite to neutralize him. He's made more than enough enemies as Supernova. You know that as well as I do after the Sproxton case."
"Well, yeah, I do. I-I just got..." Now that Clark had mentioned it, it made complete sense. Why hadn't I thought of it before?
"I know, Kaylie," he told me sympathetically. "Blaming yourself for something that isn't really your fault is a habit I've had a lot of experience with too, believe me. But you and Jon both have high-risk jobs. You can't blame yourself for everything that goes wrong."
"You're right," I admitted. "I guess with everything that's happened today I've just... It's just... It's hard, you know?" I was horrified to realize that there were tears springing up in my eyes as my voice cracked.
"I know." He put an arm comfortingly around my shoulder, and I swallowed my tears.
"Kaylie?" Lois came up to me. She and Lucy had both left the room so I guessed that they had run all the tests they could. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," I told her hastily, blinking to clear my eyes. "Are you done talking to Jon now?"
"Yeah. He wants to see you."
I nodded and then stood up to go into the little room.
As I stood in the doorway, I became painfully aware of the fact that I hadn't showered yet today. And I had just thrown on some random clothes on my way out of my apartment. I had never liked the shirt I was wearing, and I remembered that I hadn't put on any makeup. It was hardly the first impression I wanted to make on my amnesiac fiance. Maybe I could just sneak out and pop into the bathroom to tidy myself up...
But that plan quickly ended when Jon became aware of my presence and turned in his seat to look at me. I guess he would just have to put up with my appearance as it was.
"Hi," I said nervously.
"Uh, hi. K-Kaylie."
I walked across the room and sat down opposite him. "So... how are you doing?"
"I-I'm fine. You know, aside from the whole-" he gestured to his head "-memory loss thing."
"Right. Of course. I should've... I mean, of course aside from... from that."
The two of us were silent, not really sure what to say. Honestly, what is the rule for polite conversation in this situation? Jon was sitting on a table with his head bowed. His shirt was only partially done up, and I realized that I could see a fair section of his bare chest. Hastily, I brought my eyes up to see his face. That was *definitely* not a way to make a good first impression on him. I stared at his lost expression. He looked at me as if he were searching for something. Some trigger for lost memory, perhaps? Whatever he was looking for, he couldn't seem to find it.
Finally, he spoke up. "Uh, Kaylie?"
"I should probably ask you... I mean, I probably should've asked my mom this, but I wasn't really thinking about it at the time. And... well, we're... engaged so I'm *assuming* we've... And based on some of the things you said in my apartment this morning I... I guessed that... But you can never be completely sure, so I thought I'd just ask you... Jeez, this is so awkward. I don't even know how to..."
"It's okay, Jon," I interjected. I could already feel my cheeks heating up at where this was going, yet he did have a right to know. And it was bound to come up anyway, so it was probably better to just get this over with as opposed to skating around the issue... "To answer your question, yes, we have been... intimate. But of course I don't expect anything now," I added hastily. "To you I'm a complete stranger, and you wouldn't... well, you're not that kind of person. And, you know, I'm not that kind of person either. And it would just be weird. For both of us. And seeing how we were both... you know, before we... Well, it'd be just strange to have to... do anything that...yeah."
Jon gaped at me openly, then finally rehinged his jaw to speak. "Um... I was actually talking about whether or not you knew I... if you knew um, *everything* about me..." The penny finally dropped. Supernova. He was talking about Supernova.
"Oh." Duh. Of course. Why would he ask his *mom* whether or not we had had sex?
"But what you said is also good." He rushed to say. "I mean, it's good to... to know...what we've..."
The poor guy. Here he was meeting his fiance for the first time that he could remember, and I'm sitting here regaling him with tales of our sexual exploits.
"To answer your question, Jon... Yeah, I know. That you're Supernova." I was too embarrassed to go into our whole convoluted history right now.
"That doesn't scare you, does it?" I asked anxiously. "You know that you can trust me with that, right?"
"No, it doesn't scare me. Well, not really," he reassured. "I mean, my family seems to trust you, and I obviously did enough to... you know, propose to you and stuff." He looked down at his hands.
"This must be so weird for you," I sympathized. "As far as you're concerned, you gained a fiance overnight."
"Well, it hasn't been all that bad," he told me. I could detect a little glimmer in his eye that had been missing up until this point. "This morning I woke up with a beautiful woman pounding on my door demanding to know why I hadn't spent the night with her."
I gave a crooked smile. "You might not remember it, Spaceboy, but I've been aggressive from the moment we met." I hadn't called him Spaceboy in a while, I realized. The novelty of knowing his real name hadn't still completely worn off, and that left little room for nicknames. But with the recent events, the name seemed to fit again.
"You know, that brings up a good point," Jon commented. "How did we meet? And could you also explain to me why a school teacher is helping my mom with an investigation?"
Oh, boy. This was going to take a while.
It had been a difficult day for Jon. A bit of an understatement, perhaps, but true nonetheless. Kaylie had filled him in on the highlights of their relationship up until this point, and he was still trying to process the whole thing. He had started dating her as Supernova? Had he been completely crazy?! Actually, it had seemed like the entire world had gone crazy and he was the only sane one around. How could he have lost seven months of his life?
But there were little clues that made him realize that everyone was right, and that something had happened. The weather, for one, was undeniably late summer. Aside from time travel, memory loss was the only real explanation available. And plus, there was the slight headache he woke up with this morning, and the very fuzzy memory of last night. And it wasn't just last night that was fuzzy. It seemed like his whole brain was a little overdone. He had to work extra hard to bring up basic things like his PIN number, and he had had difficulty concentrating all day.
Ellie had drilled him relentlessly on childhood trivia, and he found that a shocking number of memories were significantly less clear, and some of them gone all together. It was a side effect of the device he had been subjected to, his uncle had explained. Apparently, there was hope of the process being reversed. This was a hope he clung to, desperately. If the process could be reversed then he wouldn't have to feel so terrible. Then he wouldn't feel so empty and confused and lost.
He hadn't gone into work today. He wasn't up to the strain of pretending that he remembered the last seven months. Jim, of course, didn't push the issue when Jon called in sick. But Jon almost wished he had. It seemed like everyone was tiptoeing around him, trying to treat him carefully so as not to shock him. But all that did was remind Jon of what had happened to him. And of course, in the midst of all this confusion, was Kaylie.
His fiance. That should've terrified him under normal circumstances. Although it had been almost a year since his disastrous relationship with Amanda, he still hadn't thought he was ready to start another serious relationship. Yet here he was. Engaged. And although it scared him, there was something else he was feeling that wasn't fear. That was quite different from fear, actually. But he couldn't trust his own instincts on this. He needed to talk to someone who knew what had been going on in his life for the past seven months. Someone who wouldn't try to spare his feelings.
Jon made his way up the walkway leading to the tiny house Ellie was currently renting. Although its location on the outskirts of Metropolis wasn't exactly convenient, the price had been right and the place had a quaint charm that appealed to Ellie from the moment she saw it. And her abilities meant that transportation was never really a problem. Jon rang the doorbell and waited for her to come and answer it. He always made a point of always coming to the front entrance and ringing her doorbell in the vain hope that she would some day return the courtesy. That day had yet to come.
It took her a bit longer than normal to answer the door, and by the time she finally did, Jon had worked himself up into a nervous frenzy.
"Can I come in?" he blurted out. Not really waiting for a reply, he entered the house and started pacing back and forth in the living room.
"What's going on, Jon?" Ellie asked with concern.
He stopped pacing, spun around, and faced her. "Have I gone completely insane?"
"I'm just thinking about this whole Kaylie thing, you know?" he said as he returned to his pacing. "And I can't remember anything about her, right?"
"But I can't help feel this... connection between us," he admitted. "And I just can't understand it."
Ellie thought for a moment. "Well, it could be your subconscious remembering Kaylie," she finally suggested.
"Huh?" Jon asked blankly.
"It's like this," Ellie explained as she led him to a seat. "All the memories you have of being with Kaylie are lost for the time being. But you really loved her, so maybe there's a part of your brain that remembers that love and that's what you're feeling. It's like even though you've intellectually forgotten your love, you still spiritually love her."
"Wow, I would've thought that would be a little deep for a hardened scientist like yourself," he teased, feeling a little unsettled at the idea she had presented.
"A good scientist is willing to look at things from all angles," she replied haughtily. "Now is that all the reassurance that you need, brother dearest?"
"Yeah, I guess," he replied slowly. "It's just..."
"Well, I told her that it didn't bother me that she knows that I'm Supernova. But the thing is... I'm not sure if I can really trust her," he admitted. "I barely know her!"
"You can trust her," Ellie reassured, instantly seeing what he was really having difficulty with. "With everything, Jon. She's not going to be another Amanda."
"Do you like her?" Jon asked. Ellie and Amanda had never really gotten along very well, and in hindsight, Jon could tell that that should've been an early warning sign.
"Yeah, I like her," Ellie replied. "But the important question is if you like her."
Jon thought back to the cute expression on her face when she had gotten so embarrassed earlier, and the way she had patiently explained their relationship without showing a sliver of frustration. "Yeah. I think I do." At that admission, Jon allowed himself to relax for the first time that day. He was able to really take in his surroundings, and that's when he realized something disturbing. "Ellie, there's someone hiding in you closet."
Ellie instantly turned beet red. "Oh, yeah. That's... that's Jay."
"Yeah. You know how he got the whole memory treatment thing too, right? Well, we're trying to find a way to hack into his subconscious and find any clues. You might as well come out, Jay," she raised her voice so he could hear. "Jon knows you're here."
The door to the closet slid open and the same man that Jon remembered meeting earlier in the day stepped out, looking a little sheepish at being found out.
"So, why was Jay hiding in your hall closet?" Jon asked, still confused.
"We were... trying a new technique," Ellie rushed to say.
"--for the memory thing," Jay added.
"Yeah, the memory thing."
"In the closet?" Jon asked disbelievingly.
A beat of silence.
"We needed a dark space," Jay provided.
"Yeah," Ellie chimed in. "And the sun just kept streaming in through the blinds so he had to go in the closet."
Jon suspected that there was more to the story, but Ellie was silently pleading with him to believe her with her eyes, so he decided to go along with it. Obviously he was missing out on something here, but the promises of tonight overshadowed the curiosity he felt with this situation. Tonight, he had a date with Kaylie.
I was unreasonably nervous before Jon came over that night. He had obviously been shell-shocked at the story I had told him of our relationship and my job with the NIA, so I had given him some space for the rest of the day. But that didn't stop me from thinking about him all day, and running through our conversation in my head, trying to discern what he was thinking. Logically, I knew I couldn't really expect anything, but I couldn't help being a little disappointed when he simply waved goodbye to me at STAR labs, foregoing any type of physical contact. He still didn't know me, I reminded myself. And it would take him a while to be comfortable with our relationship. Especially now that I'd told him exactly what we've been up to in our spare time. I still blushed at the memory. How uncomfortable would that make him to intellectually know what we had done, but to have no memory of it? Every touch would have a certain significance, and I could hardly blame him for shying away from physical contact.
I had called my principal earlier in the day and told her that Jon had had an accident and needed someone to look after him for the evening, meaning I couldn't be there for the open house. I felt a little guilty at skipping out, especially because I had lied a little to do it, but I really needed to be with Jon tonight, and Thea said she was more than willing to cover for me.
Jay had thankfully gone for the night and although I had no idea where he was, I was glad to have the apartment to myself. Once things had calmed down a bit, I really needed to talk to him about getting his own place. It seemed he was going to be in Metropolis for an indefinite period of time, and with the money he was getting from the NIA, he could definitely afford it. I love Jay and all, but his constant presence was becoming a bit invasive.
Jon stood awkwardly in the doorway after I let him in, unsure of how to conduct himself. I closed the door after him, barely taking time to fumble with the security chain before I led him further in.
"You've got a nice place," he offered neutrally.
"Thanks," I replied. "It's not a penthouse or anything, but I like it. We used to hang out here a lot when we first started dating. The balcony's pretty convenient for you when you're... um, you know." I fumbled with my ring, feeling awkward with where the conversation was heading.
Even though he knew that I was in the loop, I still got the feeling that he wasn't completely comfortable with that. After all, he had come in the through the door even though we both knew he had flown here. But maybe he just thought that knocking on the door was less intrusive than knocking on a window. I looked in his face to see what he was thinking, and I saw that he was staring at my ring.
"Um, yes. This is..." Maybe it had been a bad idea to wear it, but I couldn't bring myself to take it off.
"Can I see it?" he asked hesitantly.
"Yeah, sure!" I stuck my hand out so he could get a closer look, and was surprised and pleased when he caught my hand and brought it closer to his face.
"It's nice," he commented, with a wistful smile.
I chewed on my lip, trying to decipher the meaning behind that simple phrase. "It must be weird for you to see it on my finger. And to know what that's supposed to mean for you."
He dropped my hand, and turned away from me. "Maybe a little," he confessed. "But you shouldn't have to stop wearing it for my sake."
I wrenched the ring off my finger and handed it to him. "Here. Take it."
"You can give it back to me when you're ready."
He took the ring from me. "Thank you, Kaylie."
I nodded jerkily, trying to ignore the empty feeling inside of me. Jon ran his finger along the curve of the ring.
"You know, you picked that out for me," I told him, trying to distract myself.
"I guess that means I have good taste." He grinned at me, and I unthawed at seeing his smile again.
"Well, I have to admit I was a little worried, what with the first piece of jewelry you bought me," I teased, referring to the beaten-up signal watch he had given me as a way to contact him. I expected him to rally with a similar comment, yet all I got in return was a blank stare. "Oh, right. You wouldn't remember about that."
"I'm sorry, Kaylie."
"Don't apologize, it's not your fault." I had had a hard day, and it was starting to catch up with me. "I just forgot for a second what had happened. I thought that everything was normal and obviously it still isn't, obviously everything is still screwed up, and I just... I really miss you, Jon." The tears that I had pushed back all day were spilling out of me. "That's such a terrible thing to say, isn't it? You're here. You're right here in front of me, but yet you aren't. There's still something missing, and I can feel it."
It was then that Jon pulled me into his arms, and I sobbed into his shoulder, no longer caring if he thought it was weird. And even though he had forgotten everything about me, I could sense that he cared about me as he held me, gently rocking me even after I had stopped crying. I stood there in his arms, absorbing that feeling. Finally, I was able to lift my head and look him in the eyes.
"Sorry about that," I apologized weakly.
"Don't apologize," he said huskily, echoing my earlier words. Then he kissed me. It was a sweet, simple kiss, nothing like some of the other ones we had shared. Yet there was an incredible power about it as well, something that shocked both of us, I think. We broke apart, and I looked into his dumbfounded expression.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm... great, actually. It's just the weirdest thing..."
"Kissing me is weird?" I teased.
"Well, not in that way. But it's like... It just feels so familiar, and it's almost as if I can remember doing it before."
"Well, you have done it before," I reminded him gently.
"Yeah, I guess." He ruffled his hair. "But it's still weird. This whole thing is weird. I mean, you know me. We've been dating for months. You probably know pretty much everything about me. And I... I can't even remember your last name."
"Stewart," I supplied.
"Well, actually, I guess Stewart is just an undercover name. But I've been using it since college in my civilian life, so it's the closest I have to a real last name." Until I became Kaylie Kent, I added to myself.
"Oh," he responded blankly, then sank down in the sofa with his head in his hands.
"But I'm guess that's not really the thing you were upset about."
"Well, it's that, and it's a million other things," he told me. "It's when you make a joke and I don't get it. Or when I have to ask you for directions to your apartment when I've obviously been here before. And through all that confusion," he said, looking directly in my eyes, "I can't help thinking that I must be missing out on something that's truly amazing."
"Do you really feel that way, Jon?" I asked, tentatively hopeful.
"Kaylie, I may not remember you or anything about our relationship, but there is... something about us that I remember. But I don't..." His face wrinkled in frustration. "I don't really know what it is yet."
"You'll find it," I reassured him, daring to lay my hand on top of his.
"You're amazing, you know that? I can't think of anyone who would accept this as well as you have."
"Jon, a few minutes ago I was sobbing in your arms," I reminded him. "That's hardly taking it coolly."
"Compared to a spectrum of bad reactions that include everything from depression to outright anger and rejection, I'd say that a little crying is called for, Kaylie."
"You know, you're pretty amazing yourself," I told him, overpowered by his own understanding of my situation. Then I leaned over and returned the kiss he had given me before.
I didn't plan on prolonging it, but I didn't object when he drew me closer and deepened our kiss. Nor did I object when he pulled away suddenly, his eyes dancing around in the sockets as he searched for answers.
"It's kind of like deja vu," he told me shakily.
"You know, this might be kind of like what Ellie's trying to do with Jay," I suggested. "She says that even though you may not personally remember things, there is a part of your brain that still knows what has happened."
"She said something about that today," Jon said.
"Maybe we should tell her about what you felt," I suggested. "She might find a useful technique out of it."
"Are you saying that Ellie should kiss Jay in the name of scientific research?" he asked teasingly.
"God no," I replied laughing. "That would be an instant disaster."
"Oh, they hate each other," I told him. "They've been fighting ever since the moment they met."
"Really?" he asked, surprised. "I didn't think they seemed too bad together."
"Trust me, it's bad. Everyone was a little distracted today, but normally they're at each other's throats. I'm surprised the lab hasn't blown up around them by now."
"Well, I guess you would know better than me," he shrugged. His automatic deference saddened me, and I was once again confronted with how confusing this must be for him.
"I have something that may help you," I told him, suddenly remembering the precautions I had taken on my behalf. I went over to my bookcase, and slid the panels back, searching for the little box I had put together.
"You have a secret compartment behind a bookcase?" Jon asked with amusement. "Don't you think that's a little cliche?"
"Sometimes cliche works," I defended as I pulled the box down and brought it over to him. I pulled out the old watch I had referred to before, and handed it to him. "This was the first piece of jewelry you ever got me."
"I got you this and you're still seeing me?" he asked dubiously as he traced the scratched face.
"It's more than just a watch," I explained, not surprised that he had forgotten the function of it. Although he knew about the watch long before he met me, it had become intrinsically tied to our relationship. "If you pull the pin on the side it-" I was cut off by Jon's startled exclamation.
He dropped the watch as his hands flew up to cover his ears.
"Sorry, I should've warned you," I apologized as I picked up the watch and turned it off. "You gave it to me as a way to contact you before I had your phone number." I absently slipped it onto my wrist. Its heavy weight was comforting, and prevented my left hand from feeling too empty.
"I must've really lo-- cared for you in order to give you that torture device," he told me.
"You did," I agreed softly.
"So what else is in the box?" he asked, changing the subject.
"Odds and ends," I told him mysteriously.
Boldly, he lifted the lid and sifted through the contents.
"Why are there so many rocks in here?"
"Early courting tokens," I told him. "You always brought me one to show my class as an excuse to visit me."
He raised his eyebrows at this statement, but he didn't ask me to expand. Instead, he leaned back in his seat and took in his surroundings. "We must've spent a lot of time here," he remarked.
"Especially when we were first getting to know each other," I confirmed. "But we went other places too."
The alley where we first met. That awful quarry he saved me from. The island he took me to.
"Where else did we go?"
"A lot of places," I told him. "But... I don't want to just tell you about them. I want to show you them."
Jon cocked his head to one side, thinking. Then he stood up and spun into his Supernova suit. He reached out and took my hand, leading up towards the balcony.
"Where to first?" he asked.
"I hadn't expected to see you here," Martha Kent commented when she opened to door to find her grandson waiting outside.
"Hey Grandma," he greeted her.
"I've missed you, Jon. You haven't stopped by in a while."
"Yeah, I know," he replied guiltily. She looked tired, and he realized that she had probably been lonely out on the farm by herself. "I'm really sorry I haven't been here more. I should've come to visit you earlier."
"Well, I would've liked it," she admitted. "But you're here now, and that's all that matters. How about you come on in? I've baked some fresh cookies."
"Okay," he agreed.
It was like he was fifteen all over again. Smallville had given him the emotional healing he needed over five years ago, and now... It was like coming home.
I walked into my apartment later that night alone. Jon and I had been walking home when he heard someone calling for help. I insisted that I could find my way home myself, and he flew off to help.
I was in a much better frame of mind when I stepped into the elevator as opposed to earlier in the day. Although Jon still didn't remember me, I was confident that one way or another, I would get my fiance back. And soon enough, I would be wearing my ring again. I fished my keys out of my pocket as I approached the door, thanking my earlier presence of mind for remembering to grab them before we left just in case. It wasn't all that late yet, and I should spend the remainder of the evening working on this case. I had been too busy fretting about Jon today to concentrate on anything. Distractedly, I slid my key into the hole and turned it, yet was surprised when I didn't hear the usual click of the bolt being pulled back. Had I forgotten to lock it? I thought back to when we had left my apartment. Jon had changed, I stood up to go with him, and we had gone... out... the window. Crap. A quick turn and a push confirmed my suspicions. Not only had I forgotten to lock the door, but the security chain I had fastened earlier was still hooked in.
Damn it. How could I have remembered my keys but forgotten the condition of my door? I must've been more distracted by Jon than I realized. I didn't have anything to cut the chain with me, and no money to buy something even if I could find a hardware store open at this time. I thought briefly of knocking on someone's door and asking for help, but how on earth would I explain my predicament? That I had decided to drop down from the balcony for kicks? Anyway, that was clearly the way I would have to enter.
My building was an old one, and it still had a fire escape ladder tacked onto the side of it that led to the roof. I scrambled up it, all the while ignoring the mounting panic inside me. My apartment was only three floors up. I could manage. I bit the inside of my cheek as I cautiously stepped onto the narrow ledge that stuck out from the building. I could see my balcony just around the corner, a little bit further along. I could make it.
Taking in a deep breath, I commanded my legs to stop shaking. Slowly, I inched forward, hugging the building at all times. I stepped cautiously, keeping my eyes glued to my balcony and never daring to look down. See? I was doing it. Nothing to it. I was already a quarter of the way there!
"Lost your key?"
I screamed, and tumbled into the arms of Jon, hovering behind me. "Jon, what the hell was that? You scared the crap out of me!"
"I'm so sorry Kaylie," he apologized sincerely. "I thought you heard me coming."
"I was too busy concentrating on not dying," I replied, squeezing his arms harder than I ever thought possible. "Take me inside, will you?"
By the time we had gotten inside and he had put me down my heart rate had returned to a more normal speed.
"Are you sure you're okay, Kaylie?" Jon asked again. "I'm so sorry that I startled you."
"Yeah, I'm fine," I reassured him. "Just... give me a minute." I bent over at the waist, bringing more blood to my head. Gradually, I began to feel better, which was easy now that I was back on solid ground. "I forgot to unhook the door chain before we left so I couldn't get in," I explained.
"So you just decided to scale the building?" His eyebrows crawled up his forehead in surprise.
"I was pretty sure I could make it," I replied. "And I was doing just fine until you showed up." I playfully poked him in the chest to show him that I had forgiven him for that. "I've had to do a little climbing in the past." And I had been scared witless about it the whole time, too. But my dad had always pushed me to do it anyway.
"But you don't like it," he said perceptively.
"Yeah," I agreed. "I'm kind of... afraid of heights." There was no point hiding it from him like I tried to do the first time around.
Jon's face broke into a smile. "You're kidding, right?"
"No, I'm not kidding!" I exclaimed indignantly. "And what is so funny about that? You laughed the first time I told you that, too."
"I did? Look, I'm sorry. I wasn't laughing at your fear, it's just... Well, you don't really act like someone who's afraid of heights."
"Maybe that's because when I get scared I just push harder," I confessed, dropping my gaze from his face. "I think that if I work hard enough against the fear, it'll eventually go away. But sometimes... sometimes I lose sight of the really important things in life."
"Why do I get the feeling that this isn't about heights anymore?"
I met his eyes again. "Look, Jon, I'm going to say something to you that probably won't make any sense whatsoever, but that I have to say anyway because if I don't I'm going to explode."
"I'm really sorry that I was pushing you away from this case. I was scared about it and I thought that if I worked extra hard I would do a better job and it wouldn't be as risky. But in the process... I was losing you. It was like the case was more important than my relationship with you and that's not true. You're the most important thing to me, and even though I don't act like it at times, that's how I feel."
"Don't say anything," I commanded him. "Just remember that so when you get your memories back you can know it."
"Okay." He was silent for a moment. "Kaylie, can I ask you something?"
"Sure," I replied, thinking he'd want to know more details about what I had been talking about.
"When we were flying earlier you didn't seem scared at all. Why?"
"Because," I smiled, "that's what it's like when I'm with you. You seem to make all my fears go away. Now if only I can remember that for the next investigation."
"How about you remember it for this one?" he asked as he wrapped his arms around me. "Let me help you out with this. I've been thinking about the whole circumstances around my memory loss."
"And I've been thinking that whoever erased my memories was probably targeting Supernova, not Jon."
"Your dad said the same thing," I replied. "That still leaves an encyclopedia of suspects."
"Not necessarily," he replied. "This device that you're investigating can target any set of memories, right?"
"Along a timeline, yes. They would have to know approximately when the memories were formed in order to know when to erase them."
"Well, I'm missing about seven months of my memory, so I'm thinking that we can narrow it down any of my activities in the last seven months."
"That's great," I replied. "That'll at least give us a starting point."
"It's not too late, so I thought I'd just head over to the Planet and see what I could dig up there."
"Can I come with you?" I asked, remembering all the information I had dug up on Gertrude that I still haven't touched. "I've been working there undercover and I've got some research there that I haven't had a chance to look at yet."
"Sure. Um, does that mean you have to change or something?"
"No, I'll be okay as myself," I replied. "If anyone sees me there I can just say I'm keeping you company."
"Well then we might as well go now," he offered.
"Great!" I agreed. "Just one thing..." I dashed over to the door and unhooked the chain and locked the bolt, then returned to him. "Now I'm ready to go."
As Jon flew towards the cry for help, he resolved to make his rescue as quickly as possible. Kaylie was waiting for him back at her apartment and he was anxious to return to the warm spot beside her in bed. He landed in an alleyway just outside of LexCorp and saw the woman hidden in the shadows. Thinking that she might have been subjected to some kind of attack and was hiding for modesty's sake, Jon refrained from using his excellent night vision to get a clear glimpse of her.
"Are you all right?" he asked instead gently.
"I'm just fine now that you're here," she replied smoothly. He recognized that voice. She stepped out of the shadows and his suspicions were confirmed.
"What do you want?" he demanded. "Why did you call me here?"
"Relax, Supernova," she whispered. "I just wanted to talk. We've had our differences in the past, but I really think--"
"You thought wrong," Jon declared authoritatively. "Things are not going to change just because you..." He faltered when he felt that all too familiar wave of dizziness. "You committed a crime, and you're going to have to pay..."
The feeling had grown stronger and he was having a hard time concentrating. Belatedly, he realized that he should've flown away when he first felt the Kryptonite. Now, he wasn't so sure he had the strength to. The pain intensified when the woman produced a glowing green crystal from the chain she had tucked into her top.
"This has been put to good use in the past," she informed him smugly. "And I have to say it works just as good today as it did then. Let's see just how good it can be, shall we?"
As she came closer, Jon was powerless to stop her. She hung the chain around his neck, and it was all he could do to stay conscious. He was dimly aware of being lifted and carried somewhere by at least two different people, with every little jerk sending fresh darts of agony through him. He traveled inside and downwards in a long smooth motion, and then found himself being settled in a chair. The last thing he saw was the face of that woman towering over him, smugly bringing a terrifying machine closer and closer to him.
We entered the Daily Planet from the elevator rather than through the window in Jon's office to avoid suspicion. Although the night staff was not likely to come to Jon's office for anything, I agreed with Jon that it was best to play it safe. I let him go on ahead of me as I dashed off to Lois' desk to pick up the research I had left there the other day. I was glad that I had decided to print off the information instead of keeping it on the computer. It would probably bring up unwanted suspicion if people saw me logging into Lois' computer.
"Found anything interesting yet?" I asked Jon when I entered his office.
"Huh?" His head snapped up from his intense concentration. "Oh. No. Nothing yet. I'm having... difficulties."
"I can't remember my password," he confessed with frustration. "I usually change it about every month, so..."
"Oh. Well, I have an account set up here. You can use that."
"That's not going to give me the authorization I need," he replied, returning his concentration to his computer screen. "I've been trying to find a way to hack into the system, but that's turning out to be practically impossible."
"Trying to hack into a system that you designed yourself. There's something very poetic about that. You know, Jon, you can only become a true master at your craft once you have learned to defeat yourself," I teased.
"Gee, thanks, *babe*. You really know how to sympathize with a guy."
"You've already gotten tons of sympathy. It's time someone-- wait, 'babe'?"
The corner of his mouth twitched upwards. "Yeah, it's a term of endearment. But in your case, I was using it sarcastically."
Sarcastically or not, it was the first time he had ever called me something other than my name. Not that I was all that crazy about being named after a talking pig, but the point was that he had felt comfortable doing it even though his memories were still gone. His absorption in his work probably explained it, I decided. He had only given our conversation half of his attention, which meant he was acting more on instinct than on thought. I decided not to push the issue as it would only make him uncomfortable.
"You know, if I changed my password every month, I wouldn't need a fancy procedure to forget it," I told him. "I usually just stick with one and use it over and over."
"Well, having an eidetic memory helps," he replied. He stopped typing. "Well, normally it's eidetic. Not now, obviously." Then he gave his head a small shake and continued on the computer. "So what was it you needed to get from my mom's desk?"
"Research on Gertrude Brenner," I told him as I cleared off a chair to sit on. "She was arrested a couple days ago for blowing up the house of the doctor we suspect has done a lot of the research towards the device that took away your and Jay's memories."
"Anything interesting come up?"
"Well, I don't want to distract you..."
"You won't. You'll keep me company."
"Okay. Well, she went into foster care at the age of ten. Typical story, bounced around from place to place. There were a couple of behavior complaints from the homes, so that would've made placing her even harder. Oh, crap."
"One of the homes she was at was shut down after one of the older kids there filed a complaint of sexual abuse."
Jon's eyes snapped up from the screen. "That's awful."
"Yeah," I replied. I had seen too many situations like this through Riverview to not have an idea of the long-term effects that it would've had on her. "She's had some bad luck. Not all bad foster homes get reported, so who knows what else she had to go through? And if she had bad experiences in the past, she would have a hard time in other homes." I flipped over to the next page. "She was in foster care for about a year when she got caught for shoplifting, among some other petty crimes. They tried putting her into some community programs, probably to straighten her out."
"It couldn't have done much good if she was constantly moving around," Jon said. "She would've had to drop out of wherever they put her when she moved. What day were you born on?"
"September 12th, 1999," I replied automatically. "Why do you--"
"What kind of programs was she in?" Jon asked, cutting me off.
I've noticed that he tends to get into a strange zone when he's working on computers, so I didn't bother to question him.
"Umm... Big Brothers and Sisters, Girl Guides, the usual. Oh, now here's an interesting one. It's called Sinners to Saints. They match up 'reformed' criminals with kids who show signs of getting into trouble with the law."
"Some kind of career mentorship or something?" Jon joked darkly.
"Well, I guess the idea would be that kids learn that crime doesn't pay," I said, skeptical myself about the success of such a program.
"Or, kids could get some insider tips on how to start a life of crime," Jon spoke, echoing my own doubts. "Had we picked a date yet for the wedding?"
"No, we were just recently engaged. What--"
"So who was Gertrude matched up with?"
I skimmed through the sheet, looking for the relevant information. "'J. Cox'," I read off the sheet.
"Mrs. Cox?" Jon finally tore his eyes away from the computer screen in surprise.
"I guess. Do you know her?"
"My parents told me about her. She was Lex Luthor's personal assistant."
"What exactly does a personal assistant do?" I asked. It sounded suspiciously like a euphemism for something else.
"A little bit of everything, I guess," Jon replied. "When the whole Luthor thing came out, Cox made a deal with the DA and sold a ton of information in exchange for a lighter sentence."
"Well, with her as a mentor, it's no surprise Gertrude turned to a life of crime. What were they thinking pairing a well known criminal up with a kid like that?"
Jon shrugged. "She could've put in a good performance of remorse. If she worked for Luthor, she probably has a lot of talents."
"I guess," I agreed, still upset that this had happened. "Anyway, I don't think Cox is important in the grand scheme of things. We're looking for someone with a lot of power and a lot of money. Kind of hard to get either of those when you're a notorious criminal."
"True," Jon conceded, and then returned to his computer.
"Anyway, I don't know if I'm going to get anything useful out of all of this," I told him. "What kind of contact would a kid in foster care have with anyone like the person we're looking for?"
"So it was someone who she met after she turned eighteen and became a legal adult. And you don't have any record of her after that?"
"None," I told him. "It's like she dropped off the map."
"Hmm. That's weird. When did I propose to you?"
"August 11th, almost a week ago. Why are you asking me all these questions?"
"I-" He was interrupted by my cell phone ringing.
I checked the caller ID, and was surprised to see who it was.
"I should get this," I told him apologetically. I flipped the phone open and pressed it to my ear. "Hello?"
"Kaylie," the voice spoke over the phone.
"Hi, Dad. What do you want?"
"The Metropolis NIA office received a message today from someone claiming to have knowledge about your case. He wants you to meet him tomorrow in Centennial Park."
"Did 'he' leave a name?"
"He's dead," I said, gripping the phone tighter at the news. "He was killed two days ago."
"Apparently not," my dad countered. "He sent us a note this morning."
"Then it's an imposter."
"Either it's him, or someone who's gone through a great deal of trouble to fool us. We matched the fingerprints on the letter to those the university had on file for him. You must've missed something when you thought he was dead."
"I didn't miss-" No, I stopped myself. Obviously I had missed something. "Okay, I'll meet with him tomorrow. Did he leave a time?"
"In his note, he said he would be waiting at the fountain at 0900 hours."
I rolled my eyes. "Nine AM. Got it." I hung up the phone, but frowned at it after, still trying to process the events. How could've Winslow survived that explosion?
"Huh? Oh, sorry, Jon. I was just thinking."
"What did your dad say?"
"Winslow, the guy who we thought Gertrude killed? He's still alive."
"Really? How did he manage that?"
"No idea. I guess I'll have to ask him when I meet up with him tomorrow."
Jon nodded. "So you were saying earlier that you don't have any good information on Gertrude?"
"Yeah," I said, glad to change topics for the time being.
"So why haven't you gone to talk to her at the police station?"
"A few reasons," I replied. "Mostly because I don't want to force my hand and show NIA involvement. No matter how careful I was, if I went to the police as an NIA agent, word would get around."
"I figured it would be something like that," Jon replied. "But it seems to me as if word already has gotten around. Winslow knew to contact the NIA on this. If he's been working to develop this thing then it's a fair bet that his boss knows too."
"You're right," I realized. "By this stage, the benefits have outweighed the risks. I'll find out where she's being kept tomorrow and try to get in to see her."
"I can find out for you right now," Jon offered.
"You cracked into the system?"
"Not exactly," he said as he began to access the Metropolis PD network. "I just figured out my password. I usually start with something that has personal meaning to me and then scramble it up using a code I developed. This time I used August 11th, 2024." He flashed me a smile. "Okay, here we go. Gertrude Brenner."
"That was fast," I commented as I came around behind the desk to see the screen. "Looks like the MPD could use some of the Planet's security."
"The guy who designed their system is a friend of mine," Jon confessed. "He showed me a loophole so I could get this kind of information when I needed it. He got tired of my mom calling him all the time."
"So, this is Gertrude's file?"
"Yeah. See, she was brought in a couple days ago. Standard procedure was followed... Saw a judge for a preliminary hearing, blah blah... Then she was bailed out this afternoon."
"Whoever did it sent a lawyer to take care of the proceedings. No way of knowing who sent the guy, though."
And no way of knowing where Gertrude had gone after she had gotten out.
Normally, I'll do anything to avoid the government agent cliche type image that pervades the media today. But there are times when such an image is useful. And any good agent would be willing to use people's preconceived notions to her advantage. So when I went to meet Winslow that morning by the fountain, I dressed for the part. My dark navy, conservatively cut suit was matched with a white blouse done up to the collar. I wore sensible black loafers and my hair was coiled into a tight bun at the nape of my neck. I was not carrying a 'piece', however I couldn't resist the dark sunglasses that gave me a sufficiently mysterious image.
Winslow was waiting obediently by the fountain. I recognized the bushy hair, the large glasses, and the little nervous twitches he was prone to. This was definitely the same man. He was clutching a duffle bag nervously in his hands and I could see that his tight shoulders were bearing the brunt of his built up tension. I came up to him and sat nonchalantly beside him.
"I hear you wanted to meet with me?"
Winslow jumped visibly in his seat, and turned around to face me. "Oh, are you...?"
"I didn't think you'd be so..."
"Young?" I guessed. "Female?"
He dropped his gaze at my reprimand, so I decided to let him off the hook.
"I'm Agent Watson," I introduced myself, and surreptitiously flashed him my badge. "You said you had information."
"Maybe we should go somewhere else," he suggested, his eyes darting around, trying to take everyone in. He was really scared, and out of his element. In a lab, he could be a patronizing jerk, but here he was a very frightened and timid man. What had happened to him since I had last seen him?
"This is as good a place as any," I informed him. "It's loud and noisy and less chance of anyone overhearing us."
He bobbed his head in agreement, although he still looked worried.
Looking at his behavior, my curiosity finally got the better of me. "Dr. Winslow, three days ago, your house was blown up and as far as I was aware, you were in it at the time. Could you explain to me how on earth you managed to survive?"
"I-I wasn't there," he replied quickly.
"But... of course you were there," I sputtered. "You were watching TV. I *saw* you."
"That was my brother," he replied painfully. "I was upstairs in my study, and then ran out to the corner store, if you can believe it. Eddie wanted guacamole dip." His mouth twitched at the memory, but then it straightened out quickly. "And when I came back and saw... Well, I knew that things must've finally come back to me."
When I thought back to that night, I realized that it could've worked. I couldn't really get a clear view of the man watching TV, and someone with a similar build and hair color could've passed for the doctor. But what did that say for the quality of my surveillance? I took solace in the fact that Gertrude had been fooled as well as me.
Winslow reached up and mopped his forehead nervously. "I think I'm in over my head here. I never intended things to go this far. You have to believe me Miss Watson, I had no idea things would get this bad!"
"Whoa, it's okay! Calm down!" He had worked himself up into quite a state, and I was worried we would start drawing attention to ourselves. "Dr. Winslow, I'm not here to arrest you. Your responsibility in this manner is something we'll figure out later. For now, I'm here to get the information you claim to have. And I'm prepared to make it easy for you." I pushed my sunglasses further up my nose. "I know you've been involved in the creation of a device that can target and remove memories. Can you tell me how you got involved in that?"
He nodded his head agreeably. "About a year ago, I was trying to drum up donors to fund my research on memory and brain function when I was contacted anonymously by an interested party. They offered to pay me a significant amount of money to further my research and I accepted."
"Who contacted you?" I demanded.
"I don't know," he confessed. "This young girl, I don't think she could've been over twenty-five at the oldest. Attractive too," he added irrelevantly. Probably Gertrude, I thought to myself. "She told me that her employer was interested in my research and she offered me enough money to take it in a specific direction. Namely, that of actually being able to remove certain memories."
"But who was her employer?" I asked, getting closer to the solution. Was it possible that we could wrap this whole thing up with his testimony?
"I don't know," he confessed.
"You don't know?!" I exploded. "How could you've worked for someone for a year and not know who they are? Do you have any idea what you've caused because of-" A look at his expression forced me to calm down. Yes, it was frustrating that he didn't know, but yelling at him wouldn't really help and might keep him from telling me more information. "I'm sorry," I apologized with renewed calmness. "I'm just surprised that whoever it was who hired you managed to keep their identity a secret for so long. They didn't give anything away?"
"I only dealt with that one girl, and she refused to tell me her name or how to contact her. They left me cash at the front desk of the LexCorp building on a biweekly basis."
"And you didn't think to question the legalities of that?!"
"I was desperate for funds," he admitted. "They offered me everything I needed, and I was willing to look the other way in return."
"Everything you needed?" I questioned sharply.
"Oh, yes Miss Watson. They even gave me a separate lab space to work in."
"Where was the lab space?" I asked. It was possible that it could give me a clue.
Winslow gave me a county address that I guessed to be about ten minutes outside of Metropolis. "But I would be careful about going there, Miss Watson," he cautioned me, surprising me with his perceptiveness. "You see, I went back there a couple days ago and while I was there these three men came in." He gulped in fear, remembering the incident. "I heard them talking amongst themselves... I don't remember much of what they were saying, but the gist of it was that they had caught that reporter um... Lois Lane, and another one trespassing. And they were going to... 'Take care of them' one of them said."
I was shocked. Lois and I had pegged our miraculously easy escape down to dumb luck but it seemed as if there was more to the story. "What did you do?" I asked, nearly on the edge of my seat in anticipation but trying not to show it.
"I kept nitrous oxide in the lab for when I did subject testing," he told me. Laughing gas, I thought to myself. "I slipped on a mask and opened the canister, then snuck out." His handkerchief reappeared and wiped across his forehead. "I watched the news reports and there wasn't anything but I'm still not sure if Ms. Lane and her partner survived."
"They did," I told him. "They had no problems getting away." Thanks to him. "But why on earth did you go back to that lab?"
"To get my research," he replied, handing to duffle bag to me. "This isn't all of it, but I couldn't risk collecting more. I didn't know when those men would wake up again. I was hoping that if I got you this... that you'd be able to put in a good word for me. When everything goes to the courts." He looked anxiously at me.
I mentally catalogued his various criminal acts. Yet at the same time, he had probably saved my life, along with Lois'. And he had more than paid the price for whatever he had done with the loss of his brother.
"Dr. Winslow, I have to ask you," I finally decided. "Several days ago, one of our agents was subjected to what was probably your machine. What did you have to do with that?"
"Besides designing the infernal thing, nothing," he swore. "I thought the machine was to be used for therapeutic means. It wasn't until I realized that the prototype had been used by someone other than me that I confronted that woman. She told me about the NIA investigating her employer and said that they had used it to protect my reputation." He shuddered. "I think it was then that I started to realize I was in over my head. But of course by then it was too late." He gave another nervous scan of the park.
"Come with me," I decided. "We'll put you in protective custody until this is all sorted out.
He laughed hollowly. "Miss Watson, I hate to be rude, but I doubt that I'll be safe even in protective custody. I've been safe for the last few days on my own and I'll continue to do so until I hear that this whole business has been cleared up."
"No, Winslow, wait!" I objected. "You can't just--"
"I'm sorry," he shook his head as he stood up. "Please don't try to follow me." He stumbled on the ground as he ran away from me.
I let him go. The fountain had been a good choice on his part because the public location lessened the chances of someone attacking him. But it also gave me a disadvantage because I couldn't exactly tackle him and force him to come with me without making a scene, which would ultimately put him in more danger.
I picked up his duffle bag and headed back towards my car, thinking over the interview. Did he have any idea of the trouble he had caused by his desperation for research money? In his defense, he did seem like a pretty innocent pawn, even if some of his innocence was actually deliberate ignorance at times. Still, I wondered what he could have possibly been thinking when they told him they wanted the device built for therapeutic reasons. The idea of sitting in a chair and watching some mysterious device come close to you, knowing that it would completely change your world by the time you woke up haunted me. Especially every time that I remembered that that's exactly what Jay and Jon had gone through.
Although my interview with Winslow hadn't given me as much information as I had hoped, I knew the research notes he had given me would be of particular use to Ellie. So I had gone over to STAR labs later in the day to give them too her.
I was just approaching the door of the lab when I heard the clatter of something hitting the floor. I entered with concern. I had been mostly joking when I had told Jon about the lab blowing up around them, yet having two people who equally disliked each other in the same space couldn't be good for either tempers.
"Hey, it's me," I announced. "What's going-" I stopped abruptly when I saw Ellie and Jay tumble off the counter together and onto the floor. I heard them scramble around behind the counter space, and then Ellie popped into view.
She looked flushed and a little breathless as she smoothed her hair into place. "Kaylie! We... weren't expecting you here."
"Are you guys okay?" I asked with concern. "What happened?"
"We're fine," Jay assured me as he came into view. "You just startled us, that's all."
What had they been doing? Wrestling? Okay, obviously not. As much as Jay might find Ellie to be annoying, I had a hard time believing that he would physically attack her. And the same went for Ellie.
"That looked like quite the fall," I offered sympathetically, still trying to figure out what exactly had happened.
"We were sort of tangled up beforehand," Jay explained. "The whole thing was kind of an accident."
"It was?" Ellie asked, seeming to be irrationally upset by this information.
"Well, maybe an accident in the sense that I didn't expect it to happen," Jay rushed to correct. "But that's not saying I regret it happening."
"Yeah," Ellie agreed. "I mean, I don't. Regret it, that is."
"In fact," Jay continued, "I would be happy to do it all over again. As soon as I had the chance."
"Me too," Ellie replied, and I was surprised to see her blush.
"Okay, I give up," I told them. "What are you two talking about?" It sounded suspiciously like... But no. I knew how those two felt about each other. Something like that would be impossible.
"Nothing!" Ellie replied, snapping her attention back to me.
"Yeah, nothing," Jay agreed.
"So, you must've come here for a reason," Ellie continued. "What's up?"
"I have something for you," I told her, allowing myself to focus on the investigation. Whatever bizarre relationship my brother had going on with Ellie wasn't the most important thing here. "I just came from my meeting with Dr. Winslow."
"I filled Ellie in on what you told me last night," Jay said. "How did it go?"
"He couldn't give me a lot of information on our criminal mastermind, but he did give me as much of his research as he could." I plopped the duffle bag on the counter. "It's all in there."
Ellie pounced happily on whatever contents the bag would produce, but Jay was not so easily distracted.
"So what did he manage to tell you?" he asked quietly.
"Not much," I replied grouchily. I relayed the information Winslow had given me, including the research lab he had worked in.
"Are you going to go check it out?"
"Not yet," I replied. "If Winslow was working there, it's unlikely there would be anything pointing to the people who funded him. I'll maybe try to see if I can find out who owns the place."
"But it's obvious that Winslow was turning a blind eye to a lot of the activities around him," Jay pointed out. "It's likely that he missed something."
"I guess," I admitted. "But I don't really want to take the risk of going over there. He was almost caught when he went and that's the last thing I need right now."
"Yeah, okay. You're probably right," he relented. "I just want this whole thing wrapped up, you know?"
"Me too. But at least now we have Winslow's notes. Ellie can maybe try to find a way to reverse the procedure."
"It's possible," Ellie told us from across the lab. "These notes are pretty thorough, but you did say he didn't grab them all. There might be something missing, I'll know when I work on them more."
"Were you listening in on our conversation?" Jay asked with shock.
"My ears were burning," she replied impishly.
"Oh, so you just eavesdropped. Yeah, I can see why that might make sense as opposed to maybe *telling* us that..."
And they were arguing again. But as I listened to them, I realized that the dynamic between then had changed subtly. They weren't actually enjoying it, were they? Quickly, I dismissed that thought from my mind. There's no way they were actually starting to like each other. Right?
I had decided to change into my Molly Turner disguise in order to go back to the Planet. It would give me the freedom I needed to use whatever Planet resources I wanted without causing suspicion. Of course, it might not have been entirely necessary as I didn't plan on doing a lot of solo work, but I still wanted to make the effort. As soon as I got there, I walked straight to Jon's office and tapped on the door lightly before entering. Jon was hunched over his desk, but he looked up when I came in.
"Can I help..." he trailed off, staring at me intently.
I stood there, willingly submitting to his inspection.
"Kaylie?" he asked tentatively.
"Damn it," I surrendered merrily. "You win again."
"I told you before that you wouldn't be able to recognize me in this disguise if you didn't already know it was me. I guess I was wrong." I shut the door after me and sat across from him in the same place I had occupied the night before.
"Well, to be completely fair, I did have some... extra help." He gestured to his ears. "No matter how hard you try, you can't disguise your heartbeat."
"I'll have to bring that to the attention of the NIA," I teased, secretly pleased that he had already relearned my heartbeat. Or maybe it was something he had never really forgotten. Either way, it was still touching.
"So how did your meeting with Winslow go?"
"Not as good as I wanted, but not as bad as it could've been."
I filled him in on the events of the day.
"So you want me to see if I can find the owner of the research facility?"
"That would be nice," I suggested sweetly.
"You know, for the National Intelligence Agency, you guys seem to be pretty ill-equipped," Jon teased me. "Don't you have resources for this kind of thing?"
"Well, I suppose I could leave and go do it myself..."
"No way." He shook his head. "You're staying here."
"Thanks," I told him as he began to start the research I had asked. "I guess in all honesty, the reason why I don't like running to the NIA is because I don't entirely trust them. There's only so long you can uncover corrupt agents before it starts to get at you. And it's not like they value me very highly anyway. Just take what happened to Jay, for example. He gets into trouble on assignment and they dump him like a hot potato. Yeah, they're going to pay him compensation and everything, but Jay was completely dedicated to the NIA and they just threw him out when he got to be a liability. And they would do the same to me."
"So if you don't trust them, why work for them?"
"Parental pressure?" I suggested wryly. "But seriously, I guess it's because I can't just walk away from a problem when I see it. So despite all the agency's issues I stick with it because I know that I'm making a difference."
Jon smiled briefly at me, and then returned to his work. "Oh, here we go," he announced. "The building Winslow was working in is owned by SF Technologies. That sounds familiar..."
"I was doing some reading today on all the stuff Supernova's been up to in the last few months, and... Yeah, here, take a look." He pointed at his computer screen. "SF Technologies is a small company owned by Sharon Fleming."
"Apparently I was supposed to testify at her trial coming up."
"Jon!" I exclaimed, feeling the puzzle pieces coming into place.
"What?" he asked warily.
"You can't testify anymore!" I explained excitedly. "You forgot seven moths of your memory, and the Fleming case broke open six months ago. And your mom said Supernova's testimony was instrumental in the trial."
"So Fleming wanted to make sure I couldn't testify so the case would be weakened," Jon filled in.
"And by erasing the last seven months of your memory, not only did you forget everything about the trial; you also forgot all the work you must've done before her arrest as well."
"Do we have enough to prove that?"
"She owns Winslow's lab. With his testimony, that's pretty convincing evidence. How about you check into her financial statements and see if there's any trace of the money she paid him?"
We spent the next few hours poking around Fleming's accounts, digging up more and more information that showed she was connected to Winslow's research.
"So where does Gertrude fit into all of this?" Jon asked.
"Fleming probably hired her on an unofficial basis to do all her dirty work," I hypothesized. "We couldn't find her anywhere because she's probably not even a legal employee."
"So she solicits Winslow and acts as the middle man for Fleming. If things go wrong, there's nothing tying Fleming to anything illegal. When Winslow starts having second thoughts about the whole project--"
"About the time Jay was caught by Fleming," I added.
"Right," he agreed. "Winslow starts to have doubts when they use his machine to attack a federal agent. Fleming decides it's not worth the risk anymore and sends Gertrude to take him out."
"She gets caught by me, and taken to the police," I continued the story. "But what she doesn't know is that she never actually killed Winslow. Well, she did kill one Winslow, but the wrong one. His brother, not the scientist. Hopefully, she still doesn't know."
"With Winslow out of the picture, it's even easier to use the machine to erase my memories of the trial."
I nodded in agreement. "So after being sent to jail, Fleming sends a lawyer to bail Gertrude out. I know we couldn't find out who could've sent the lawyer based on his name alone, but is there any way we can find a connection between him and any of Fleming's companies?"
Sure enough, the lawyer was listed as one Fleming's legal consultants in a number of documents.
"Just the fact that her main offices are in the LexCorp building is also suspicious," I suggested after we had collected more than enough information to create an airtight case. "Winslow said his money was left at the front desk of the building."
"So now what do we do?" Jon asked teasingly. "Storm her office and take her in?"
"Not exactly," I told him with amusement. "Actually, I was thinking of letting the official NIA guys take care of it. They'll bring out the big guns and get her into custody. Her activities in the last few days would definitely be enough to make sure she's locked up until her trial. And as much as I have confidence in my disguise capabilities, I'd rather not test them unnecessarily. Bedsides, I have other plans tonight that are a lot more fun than tackling criminals."
"Yeah,' I replied coyly. "They involve celebrating the solving of this investigation with this really great guy I know. If he's free, that is."
"He might be," Jon replied. "Are you planning on doing this celebrating soon?"
"Very," I confirmed. "Oh but wait, your mom will probably kill us if we took this to the NIA without telling her. And then we should probably actually take it to the NIA..."
"But after that?"
"After that, we'll be able to celebrate however we choose."
"So this is your ideal celebration?" Jon asked me later that night, after we had completed the laundry list of tasks we needed to do.
"I like pizza. So sue me."
"Hey, there's nothing wrong with pizza. I just would've thought you'd do something a little more out of the ordinary, that's all."
"And catching the person who's responsible for creating a memory wiping device that erased the last seven months of your life is ordinary?"
"C'mon, Kaylie. It's not too far-fetched."
I laughed. "You only think that because you've got a skewed version of reality growing up with your parents. I've already heard about half their stories and I still can't believe them."
"Some of them are pretty far out there," he conceded.
"That's an understatement," I replied. "So anyway, after I've spent the last few days doing all kinds of crazy things, I'd like to just kick back and do something ordinary with the guy I love. Is that too much to ask?"
"I guess not," he told me, bringing me closer to him as we sat together on his sofa.
"So Ellie thinks that the research Winslow gave me could help to find a way to reverse the whole memory thing," I told him.
"That's good," Jon replied. "Maybe then I can get my memories back."
"It's got to be kind of scary for you," I told him. "You have no idea what you've missed in the last few months. And how your memories have changed who you are."
"Maybe it's a little scary," he admitted. "I know a lot has happened to me in my personal life in the last seven months. And to not have a clear idea of how that's impacted me is a little disconcerting. But Kaylie," he continued earnestly, "memory or not, the way that I feel about you hasn't changed. Just being with you for the last couple days has been so incredible. And even if Ellie can't find a way to reverse the procedure, I still... I still love you Kaylie. It took me a bit to realize that, but I do know it now."
"Oh, Jon." I was at a loss for words. I saw Jon reach into his pocket and bring out my engagement ring. "Are you sure?" I asked, unconsciously bringing my hand up to receive it.
"Positive." He slipped the ring back on my finger, took my hand, and kissed it.
I shivered a little as I stared into his eyes. That lost, searching look I had gotten used to the last couple days was replaced by the look of a man who knew exactly what he wanted.
The spell was immediately broken, however, with the arrival of Ellie through the window.
"Kaylie! Great! When you weren't at your apartment I hoped you would be here."
"Ellie. Hi." I wrenched my gaze away from Jon and tried to focus on what she was saying. "What's going on?"
"We did it," she announced, her eyes twinkling triumphantly. "Jay's got his memory back."
"That's great!" I commended enthusiastically. I hadn't hoped it would be this fast.
"And you'll never guess who it is that's behind all this! It's--"
"Sharon Fleming," Jon filled in.
Ellie deflated a little. "How did you know?"
"We figured it out earlier today," I told her apologetically.
"Well, that's great," she said. "Jay's memories can solidify your case. That's not the only reason that I came over here for anyway. Jon, if you want to come over the STAR labs now, I can reverse the whole procedure."
"Right now? That soon?" I replied excitedly.
"No reason to prolong it," Ellie shrugged.
"Well, sure, I guess now's as good a time as any," Jon said.
As the three of us headed off to STAR labs, I was extremely excited. Fleming was probably already in custody, Jay had his memory back, and Jon's was soon to return. Everything was shaping up well. Until we entered the lab.
"Where's Jay?" I asked Ellie.
"He was here just a few minutes ago," she replied with concern. "Maybe he went in the back somewhere?"
But he wasn't there. We searched the entire lab area to no avail.
Jay had disappeared.
"What do you mean she's not in custody yet?" I shouted angrily into my phone as I paced the lab.
"We're still verifying the information you gave us," Carl Porter replied. He was the Metropolis agent I had given all my notes to earlier this evening in the understanding that he would act on them. Obviously, I had been wrong.
"There's nothing to verify!" I shrieked. "I verified it myself."
"We have to follow protocol in cases like this, Agent Watson," he told me with infuriating patience.
"Well, maybe I should've followed my own protocol and brought her in myself. Then this whole thing could've been avoided."
"That's not your job. You're supposed to get the information we need and then let us deal with her officially. You know that."
"She's got my brother! A fellow agent, if you don't remember."
"He's no longer an agent, Kaylie," he reminded me gently. "And although that doesn't mean we're not going to look out for him, it does mean he is free to go wherever he wishes. And he has to be gone for a minimum of twenty-four hours before we can consider him a missing person."
"Don't give me that crap, Porter. He wouldn't just leave. I know that. Someone took him."
"Prove it to me then," he replied. "Show me that he was forcibly taken and we'll look into it."
I couldn't believe him. He wanted me to find proof that Jay was attacked and taken from STAR labs, and then just hand it over to some drone in the NIA who would spend the next hundred years 'verifying my information'? I didn't even bother to respond. I just shut the phone off and went to join the entire family assembled in the lab.
"Any luck yet?" I asked them.
"There's no sign of a struggle," Lois told me.
"I can't find any fingerprints that don't belong here," Clark added.
"So we have nothing to go off of," I concluded sadly. That seemed to be the case as we looked at each other blankly.
"Kaylie, are you sure he didn't just-" Lois began to suggest gently.
"He wouldn't leave." I insisted. "He knew that Jon and I were coming with Ellie." Why hadn't I just finished the job I was supposed to do last night instead of letting this happen?
"Ellie's computer has been tapped," Jon announced, breaking the silence.
"Really?" Ellie asked as she joined Jon at her workstation.
"More than just her computer," Jon continued. "The whole STAR labs network is feeding into another."
"STAR labs is the leading research lab in Metropolis. It makes sense that Fleming tapped into their system to see if anyone might be treating Jay," I guessed. "She's probably been watching Ellie's computer ever since she started working on this. Did you enter anything into the computer after you found out how to bring back Jay's memories?" I asked Ellie.
"Yes," she whispered guiltily. "I always enter the data I get right away and store it safely so there's no chance it'll go missing." She gazed woefully at the computer. "It's my fault they found him."
"Of course not," Lois comforted.
"You were doing what you were supposed to do. There's no way you could've known," I added.
Then Brad and Lucy entered the lab together. "We checked the service entrance," Brad told us. "The lock on the door has been busted open."
"Explains why the front desk never saw anything," Clark commented.
"We called the front desk and asked them to send us the security camera footage from that area," Lucy said.
"It just popped up on the computer," Jon told us. "Ellie, you said you left the lab at around 8:15?"
"About then," she confirmed.
Jon skipped through the footage until he found the appropriate time. A blank screen.
"Someone cut the feed?" Lois asked
"Looks like it," Jon muttered. "It's like this for twenty minutes solid. That must've been when Jay was taken."
"Try going just before it cut out," I suggested.
Jon complied, and played the footage frame by frame up until it cut out. I had to smile a little when both Clark and Jon removed their glasses simultaneously and leaned closer.
"Hold on a second," Clark interrupted when we got to the end. "Go back a couple frames and zoom into that corner.
As the picture magnified, I was able to see what Clark had noticed.
"That's Gertrude," I said, confirming what I had suspected from the beginning. And although this solved the mystery of where Jay had gone, it meant that he was in great danger.
"Fleming must've sent her to take care of him before he could tell anyone what he remembered," Jon added.
"She must've taken him to that research lab Winslow talked about," I guessed. "LexCorp wouldn't be as safe for her." I looked over at Jon. "Will you help me bust him out?"
"Of course," he replied as he stood up to take me.
I was throwing caution to the wind in running over to this lab, however I was far past the point of caring.
"Actually..." Ellie interrupted hesitantly. "I don't think that's where she took him."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Well..." She seemed unsure of how to continue. "Jay and I went there already today," she finally finished, deliberately not making eye contact with any of us.
"What?!" her parents simultaneously exploded.
"Isn't that the same place that that doctor narrowly escaped from? Why would you do something that risky?" Clark demanded.
"Ellie, how many times have we told you to be more careful?" Lois implored.
Lucy let out a terrific snort, and all heads turned to look at her. "Sorry," she blushed as she tucked her body against her large husband for protection.
"The information Dr. Winslow gave Kaylie was incomplete," Ellie defended. "I needed to find out more. And we were really careful!"
"That's something I haven't heard before," Clark muttered sarcastically under his breath.
"Anyway," she continued, "it wasn't anything more than a little shack with some fancy equipment. I remember Jay making a comment about how there's no way they could've kept Kaylie and Mom there for any length of time. Apparently, it's not built like a prison."
And that's something that Jay would know.
"Where else would they take him?" I wondered.
"The basement of LexCorp," Lois told us authoritatively. "We never got a chance to actually poke around down there."
I nodded. "That must be it."
Clark conferred silently with his wife, and then turned to face Jon and me. "We want to come with you," he said. "You're going to need some help dealing with Fleming and finding Jay."
"Thank you," I replied gratefully. Although I had originally been worried about how Jay would be accepted by the family, it appeared that they did care about him, despite his unexpected arrival.
"I'm coming, too," Ellie spoke up. I guessed she was still blaming herself for Jay's disappearance.
One look into her eyes stopped me from voicing any objections.
"Lucy and I will be waiting here," Brad told us.
Although I usually got Jon to fly carefully with me, we couldn't go fast enough this time. My guts clenched coldly as I thought of what Jay could possibly be going through. The five of us arrived in the bowels of the LexCorp building, this time bypassing the front desk altogether.
"I think we want to round up Fleming and any of her employees before we go looking for Jay," I told them. There was no sense in finding my brother only to be caught ourselves.
"Can you take a peek and try to find her?" Lois asked Clark.
"That's strange..." Clark replied after a moment.
"It looks like a lead lined room over there," Jon told us.
"And that's a sound proofing device installed outside of it," Clark added.
"Obviously someone was expecting us," Ellie commented as she jogged towards a door down the hall. Any other time, I would've questioned her haste, but now I was happy she was working this quickly.
We all raced to catch up to her as she twisted the doorknob, forcing it open.
It was an office that we stepped into, and despite the fact that it was in a basement, it was finely decorated with expensive furnishings and thick carpeting. The woman who sat at the desk looked up when we burst in, but to her credit she only seemed surprised for a brief moment before she collected herself again. Although I had never seen her in person, I did recognize her from pictures. She was Sharon Fleming.
Fleming stood up in greeting, proudly showing off the glowing green crystal hanging around her neck from a chain for us to see. I had seen it once before, so I recognized it instantly. Kryptonite.
"I have to say that although I thought one of you might show up, I wasn't expecting the whole family. This is a real treat." Her voice was pitched low, and she held herself with a natural grace that made her appear younger than she probably was. "By the way, how's your head feeling, Supernova?"
"I know what you did to my son, Ms. Fleming," Clark informed her sternly, yet I could see the strain the Kryptonite was starting to put on him. "And you should know that your plan won't prevent you from facing the consequences of what you did. They'll... They'll only make it worse for you."
Although I disliked seeing Jon and his family in discomfort, I knew there were better ways to solve this than running to their aid. Slowly, I began to inch away from the group. Fleming didn't even glance in my direction.
"Well, I don't know about that, Superman," she replied smoothly. "This old friend will certainly help to sway things my way." She fingered the necklace lovingly.
"Put that away!" Lois begged, viewing the effect the crystal was having on her family.
"I don't think so," Fleming replied. "I've worked hard to get where I am today. I'm not going to just roll over and give up. Especially after it's already been taken away from me once before, right, Ms. Lane?"
"What are you talking about?" Lois asked warily.
"I was so close to getting to the top all those years ago. But then you ruined it all. And I will do whatever is necessary to get there again." She fixed Lois with a deadly stare
Lois frowned, concentrating on Fleming's face. Then finally, something clicked for Lois. "Mrs. Cox?" She asked incredulously.
Fleming, or Cox, I suppose, laughed triumphantly. "Do you know, I've been waiting these past few years for someone to recognize me. You're the first. And even then, I had to help you along. I guess that just means that the measures I took to disguise myself worked."
It made sense. Jon and I had even brought up the fact that Mrs. Cox would be unable to get anywhere while using a notorious identity. Changing her name and appearance would give her a fresh start, and enable her to get everything that she wanted. She was confident in her win.
Yet she had failed to take me into account. I had gotten as close as I could without drawing attention to myself, so I covered the remaining distance with a run. Tackling her to the ground, I snapped the chain of her necklace and removed the pendant. Lois was quick to join me and took the Kryptonite. She began pawing through the desk, searching for something to put it in. I twisted Cox's arms behind her back, holding her in place. I was scanning the room to find something to tie her up with when Jon came up beside me and took her off my hands.
"How are you feeling?" I asked anxiously.
"I'm fine," he replied. "The Kryptonite's been put away." He lifted Mrs. Cox up and plopped her in the desk chair.
Lois produced a set of handcuffs, and within seconds she was properly restrained.
"Who are you?" she asked me spitefully. "Some kind of next-generation Lois Lane wannabe?"
"Hardly," Jon replied with smug amusement.
"Where is he?" I demanded.
"Who?" she asked petulantly.
"The agent you kidnapped from STAR labs," I snapped.
"You're NIA?" she sneered. "You don't look it."
"Just tell me where he is!"
"If you think I'm going to tell you where a prime witness is then you've grossly underestimated me."
"If you won't cooperate, then I'll make you tell me!" I started towards her, not really sure what my plan was. All I knew is that I had to get her to tell me where my brother was. But I was prevented from getting any closer to her by the strong hands that wrapped around my arms and held me in place. "Let me go!" I commanded Jon.
"No," he spoke softly in my ear. "Kaylie, you're not thinking clearly and if I let you go, you're going to do something you'll regret." Of course, struggling against him was ridiculous, but that didn't prevent me from trying.
"She knows where he is!" I spat angrily.
"We'll find where he is, Kaylie, I promise," Jon whispered. "It'll be okay. Please, just trust me. We'll deal with this together, okay?"
Trust. Yeah, I could do that. He had kept me safe from the day I had met him, and I knew he would continue to do so for the rest of our lives together. That's just what he did.
"Trust me, Kaylie," he whispered again. "We can handle this together."
I stopped fighting him, and instead collapsed against him, hoping desperately that Fleming wouldn't see this as acting too intimate with Supernova, but at the same time, being far past the point of caring.
"I love you," I whispered in the quietest voice possible. There was no chance of Fleming hearing it, but I knew that Jon would.
"I know," Jon replied, aware of the audience we had of Cox/Fleming.
I'm not sure that awareness would've kept up if we weren't interrupted by the sudden arrival of the illusive Gertrude Brenner.
Gertrude strode into the room, already talking. "I've been working on him for the last twenty minutes and he still won't-" She stopped in her tracks when she witnessed the scene in the office.
Ellie zipped over to her and grabbed her arms, appearing much larger than she actually was. "Where is he?" she demanded coldly.
"Who?" Gertrude asked, looking truly terrified.
"You know who!" Ellie exclaimed, shaking her slightly. And I saw a glimpse of the same terrifying expression I must've worn, echoed in Ellie's face.
"Down the hall," Gertrude squeaked in fear. "The fourth door on the left side."
Ellie dumped her unceremoniously on the floor.
"Superman and I will look after these two," Lois offered. "You three go find him."
I sagged with relief when we entered the room that Gertrude had directed us to. Jay was tied in a chair in the corner of the room with his hands cuffed behind him. Although his face was bloody and his hair was hopelessly mussed, he lifted his head when we entered and cracked a small grin.
"Knew it wouldn't take you long to find me," he mumbled.
Happily, I started towards him, but was stopped by the whirlwind that beat me there.
I blinked and saw Ellie kneeling in front of him, kissing him with more enthusiasm than I thought possible. They broke apart, and I thought Jay would utter some snide comment or something to shoot her down. But he surprised me.
"Not that this doesn't have interesting possibilities," he panted. "But do you mind taking care of the..." he shifted in his seat to bring his handcuffs to the front.
"Oh! Yeah, of course." She reached around and snapped the cuffs off his wrists.
"Much better," he said. And then he took her in his arms and they were kissing again.
I stood and watched them for a moment, dumbfounded. Earlier today in the lab... so *that's* what I had been walking in on. Duh. Why hadn't I thought of it before? Early prejudices based on what I had first seen between them? But Jon didn't remember that from before...
"Did you know about... about this?" I asked him, gesturing wildly at the pair.
"Well, I thought that something..." he trailed off. "But I didn't know it was *this*."
"Yeah," I replied faintly. "Me either."
"It wasn't as if we planned it," Ellie explained to us sheepishly.
Jon and I had personally dumped Fleming and Gertrude off at the NIA, leaving Agent Porter to figure out the paperwork. So now we were all back at STAR labs watching Ellie poke and prod some of the injuries that Jay had incurred during his encounter with Gertrude. And listening to their explanation behind the interesting turn their relationship had taken.
"It was fate," Jay continued melodramatically. "We had taken one look at each other and knew instantly that we were destined- Ow!"
"Shut it," Ellie commanded. "I think everyone here knows that's not how it happened. It was a bit more gradual than that. I learned that although he tries hard, he's not a complete jerk."
"And you're not as controlling as you seem," he shot back.
"Anyway," she continued, talking over him, "we didn't really want to tell anyone yet. Everything was still pretty crazy and we weren't even sure what was going on between us yet."
"We weren't trying to go behind your back," Jay told us. "But we just wanted to hold off for a bit."
"I see," Clark spoke. Yet he was still frowning slightly.
"Dad, we didn't do anything rash," Ellie rushed to explain. "We were just... spending time together. Getting to know each other. And we wanted to do more of that before everyone else knew."
"But I guess that all flew out the window tonight. You just couldn't control yourself, could you," Jay teased.
"I was worried about you!" Ellie snapped.
"Yeah, I know," he replied seriously.
She softened. "We had just gotten your memories back and then you were gone..." Her eyes snapped up to meet her brother's. "Jon, I almost forgot! We can get your memories back now! I figured out how to do it! I can't believe I forgot."
"Well, in your defense, I can be very distracting," Jay told her flirtatiously.
"Oh, stuff a sock in it, why don't you?"
Jon sat on the tractor in the barn, feeling self-conscious and nervous. Didn't people normally do this type of thing in the cemetery or something?
But the place where Jon felt his grandfather's presence most strongly wasn't in a field with a cold stone to mark the spot. It was here. Where they had spent countless hours together and where his grandpa had coached him through controlling his developing powers, plus a variety of angst that the more average teenager goes through. Hesitantly, Jon wet his lips and began to speak.
"Hi Grandpa. It's... it's me. Jon. I'm sorry I haven't visited here in a while. But, um... Things just got kind of busy, you know?" He took a shaky breath. "Actually, that's a lie. I wasn't too busy. I just didn't come because I couldn't stand walking in here and finding it empty. It was probably pretty stupid of me to get this upset. You were sick for a long time before... before it happened. I should have been expecting it, right?" He hastily wiped the corner of his eye and sniffed a little.
"Hey guess what? Supernova is going to get the key to the city. You would've been proud of that, wouldn't you? You always wanted me to be Supernova. Even when I was fighting so hard against it. You knew that it was a part of me. But you never pushed. You just let me come to that conclusion on my own time. And I remember when you first saw me in the suit..." Jon smiled at the memory. His grandfather had looked so proud. "You know, Grandpa, I didn't mean for things to get so out of control with Supernova. But I just couldn't bear the thought that you weren't going to be around any more. And when I was Supernova...
"Did I ever tell you that whenever I use my heat vision, I think back to the first time you taught me how to use it? It's true. I always see this pan of water sitting on the ground in the barn, and I hear your voice coaching me. And when I'm Supernova, it's like you're along for the ride. And that's how I remember you.
"But I forgot that even though you liked Supernova, you loved me. Jon. And you wouldn't want me to give up any part of myself for Supernova. You would've wanted me to have a life of my own. Go to school, spend time with family, have a job that means something to me. Maybe even get married someday. And I'm going to do all those things, Grandpa, just you watch!
"But I want you to know... That even though Dad's the one who flies around and rescues people and all that stuff... You were always my Superman. And you always will be."
"How are you feeling?" I asked Jon as we strolled down the street together.
I couldn't get over how wonderful it felt to be with my fiance once again. A man who remembered me.
"My memory's still a little jumbled," he told me. "But it's sorting itself out fast enough. For instance," he told me, his eyes twinkling, "I remember that your favorite ice cream flavor is Maple Walnut and that my mother almost demanded I stop dating you when she found that out."
Grinning at the memory, I tucked in closer to him, running my hand along his back. Which also felt pretty wonderful.
"I'm so happy you're back," I murmured into his shoulder.
"Me too," he agreed. "It was so confusing to be missing all that time. And the worst part of it was that I was missing the best part of my life."
"Of course, Kaylie." He leaned over to kiss me tenderly.
"Jon," I began hesitantly, "I need to thank you for what you did earlier when we were with Fleming. If you hadn't stopped me, I don't know what I would've done. But you were right when you said I would've regretted it." I chewed on my lip apprehensively "Do you remember what I said yesterday after you caught me... uh, trying to enter my apartment through the balcony?"
"About how you try to push through your fear all by yourself?"
"Yeah. I was... really scared tonight. But you helped me through that and kept me from making any mistakes. And I just... Well... Thanks. For doing that. I haven't exactly had the best track record with that kind of thing," I admitted. "Even with this case as a whole. You said you felt like I was shutting you out when I was working for the NIA. And even though I never meant to, I ended up doing it anyway. And I'm sorry for that, Jon."
"But now that we're together, Kaylie, neither of us will have to do that. We can rely on each other to help with our fears," he told me.
"Let's see if I can remember that," I said wryly.
"Don't worry, I'll remind you. And of course now, we have the rest of our lives to live together," he reminded me happily.
"About that," I said. "I think we should pick a date."
"Yes. Jon, just think about everything that's happened to us since we started dating. If we don't pick a date soon, who knows what will come up? A crazed politician, or a murderous celebrity, or an alien abduction, or..."
"An alien abduction?"
"You never know," I defended.
"Well, I don't know about all the other stuff, but I'll have you know that I am half alien." He leered comically towards me. "And I'd be more than willing to take you to some far-off distant place any time you please."
"Only half alien?" I crinkled my nose to feign disappointment. "Well, I suppose I'll have to take what I can get, huh?"
"The things you have to put up with! But I promise I'll make it worth your while."
"Glad to hear it." I grinned.
"So where to? A deserted beach off the Pacific? Or how about Paris or someplace equally romantic?"
"Home," I decided.
"Yeah. Take me back to your place. And from there... We'll see how out of this world things can get."