By Beth Summerson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: February 2008
Summary: A Next Gen story where Jon Kent meets an amazing woman while he is patrolling one night. But how can they have a relationship when she doesn't know who he really is? And is it possible that she is hiding something as well?
This is a Next Gen story focusing on the life of Jon Kent. I won't say much more because I don't want to spoil it, but I hope you enjoy. Feedback of all kinds is gladly welcome.
Thanks to Nancy, my superstar BR who indulged my neuroses, provided excellent brainstorming ideas and character work, and patiently inserted commas every time a character addressed another by name. And never complained a bit!
Thanks to Terry for being a fantastic GE, who also patiently inserted comas every time a character addressed another by name (among other situations), and never asked why I was incapable of learning anything from Nancy's tutelage.
Thanks also to Wikipedia for provided such useful information on everything from rock types to bullets. Looking things up on Wikipedia made me feel like I actually know things.
And of course, a big thanks to the people on the LC fic boards. Your comments and encouragement and criticism was wonderful as always.
Lois buckled her seatbelt and turned around to face Jon and Ellie, who were sitting politely in the back of the Jeep. Clark had gone to 'pick up the wedding gift' so she was on her own.
"Are you guys buckled up?" she asked
"Yes, Mom," came the chorus from the backseat. Lois started the car and made her way out of the church parking lot. The traffic was terrible, as usual, but they had more than enough time to wade through the busy streets before they needed to be at the hall for the reception. Although the ceremony had been simple, (Lucy was never one for showiness) it had been difficult for Jon and Ellie to stay quiet for the whole thing. Lois was glad that she had arranged for a babysitter to come and take care of her kids during the reception.
"Mom?" her son asked, breaking the silence in the Jeep.
"How come Uncle Brad is our uncle now?"
"Well he married your Aunt Lucy today so that means that he's your uncle."
"But what about Uncle Tim?" Lois sighed. She knew this difficult topic might come up. Ellie was still too young to understand divorce, but Jon was six years old, and very curious. She wished Clark was here. He was so much better at this kind of thing, especially when her own childhood had suffered so much because of the divorce of her parents. Still, it was important for Jon to understand this.
"Sometimes," she began, "people who get married realize that they shouldn't be married after a while. They realize that the love they've shared between the two of them isn't the life-long kind of love you need for marriage. That's why Aunt Lucy isn't married to Uncle Tim anymore. But she was very lucky and found Uncle Brad to marry. They love each other very much." Jon was silent for a bit.
"Do you think that will ever happen to you and Dad?" The worry was evident in his voice.
"Oh, no Jon! Your dad and I love each other very much, and that's not going to happen."
"But it might," Jon was apprehensive. "I bet Aunt Lucy and Uncle Tim didn't know they didn't love each other that much when they got married. I bet they thought they were going to be married for the rest of their lives. What if you and Dad are like that? You might think you love each other, but maybe you won't. Maybe you'll start fighting like Aunt Lucy and Uncle Tim did."
At this statement, Lois pulled over and parked the car. She turned back to face Jon. Ellie was obliviously sleeping in her booster seat, but Jon's eyes were full of worried tears. Lois reached back and squeezed his hand.
"Jon, that's not going to happen. Your dad and I don't *think* we love each other that much, we *know* we love each other that much. We're going to be together for the rest of our lives, I promise." Jon sniffled.
"How do you know?"
"I can't really explain it, Jon. It's a feeling deep inside me, and I know that we're meant to stay together, okay?"
"Okay." Lois smiled at her son, and then turned the Jeep back onto the road.
"Once you get older, you might meet someone who will give you that exact same feeling." There was a silence from the back seat.
"I don't think so, Mom."
"Girls are gross."
I walked down the grimy downtown Metropolis street cursing my vanity. What had possessed me to buy these shoes? Yeah, they were nice and everything, but the pointed toes pinched and the spike heels caused me to wobble on the uneven sidewalk. Idiot! I called myself. Self-absorbed twit! Are these really worth all the blisters you're going to endure on the way home? I glanced down at my tightly shod foot as it glided smoothly over the sidewalk and landed with a sharp *clack*. The other followed. *Clack-clack*. What was it about a gorgeous pair of shoes that inspires a woman? That makes her feel confident in herself and in the world? I lifted my head high and strode forward. These shoes were worth every last chafed skin cell. Really.
I inhaled the crisp night air as I continued my walk. I could've called a cab to take me back to my apartment and save my tortured feet, but there was something about Metropolis at night that invigorated me, and so I had chosen to walk. The streetlights flickered as I passed empty shops and a couple cafes. I was just passing a dark alleyway when a man walking in the opposite direction roughly bumped me in the shoulder.
"Sorry," I murmured, and stumbled slightly trying to recover my balance. Stupid shoes. Before I could regain my stance, the man took the opportunity I had presented him and shoved me into the alley. He was immediately joined by another man who I could only assume was his accomplice. The men clamped down on my arms and jointly shoved me up against the wall.
"Give us your purse and any jewelry you got and we won't lay another finger on you, lady." They leered in hungrily, expectantly, their breath coming out in harsh pants.
I was disappointed. Was this the first time they had tried something like this? They had no weaponry on them, at least none they had produced, and the hold they had me in would be child's play to break. Honestly, if they were going to try and mug me, they should've at least *attempted* to do a proper job. Looking at the two men on either side of me, I decided to just deal with the problem myself rather than involve the authorities and play the helpless female role. In retrospect, I should've just screamed for help or something. It certainly made more sense than risking the possibility of someone seeing me pound the crap out of these two guys. But the combination of night air, an awesome pair of shoes, and the long period of undercover induced inactivity had me on a natural high, and I was anxious to prove myself to someone, even if it was just a couple of petty offenders.
I had never been very good at coming up with pithy catch-phrases, so I dived right into the action. I reached up and elbowed the guy on my right in the nose, then pivoted out of their grip, winding up to kick the other guy. I aimed for the solar plexus. Don't let anyone ever tell you I don't fight like a lady.
Unfortunately, my well placed kick didn't meet its target. Instead of hearing the satisfying thump, and following groan of pain, I ended up sprawled on the pavement with a wicked pain shooting through my right ankle. I looked up... and saw Him.
He was hovering at least a foot in the air, his cape flapping in the breeze. My two would-be muggers were hanging by their collars which he held tightly in his grasp. His immaculate red and black uniform proclaimed his identity: Supernova, the only son of Superman: defender of Truth, Justice and the American Way. And then there was me, sitting in a puddle with a twisted ankle.
"Are you all right?" he glanced over his shoulder down at me. His oh-so-kind-and-caring look, combined with his condescending questioning was enough to push me over the edge.
"I was until you got here," I snapped. Slowly, I untangled my limbs and got to my knees. My ankle was still throbbing. Supernova blinked.
"I'm perfectly capable of defending myself, Spaceboy. You had no reason to just barge in and push me out of the way." I picked up my purse, and shoved the scattered contents back inside. I briefly wondered if I was being a little ungrateful, but my wounded pride and matching ankle strengthened my irritation. Supernova bristled.
"I saw a woman being mugged. Excuse me for wanting to help." I climbed shakily to my feet, putting as little pressure on my ankle as possible. I looked down at my once glorious new shoes. Dammit! The right heel had snapped off!
"Well I didn't ask for your help, now did I?" A pregnant pause. I glanced at the two docile criminals in Supernova's grasp. They had mellowed considerably since his arrival. "Aren't you going to do something with those two?" I asked him. Supernova gave me an indecipherable look before shooting off into the distance. I gave a long sigh to collect myself, and then continued along the main street. It was difficult walking with only one good ankle and a broken shoe. I took a couple of painful, shuffling steps at a time.
Had I maybe been too harsh on him? If it wasn't for him, I would probably be on my way home without a sprained ankle and with my shoes will intact. But still, he was just doing his job. I really shouldn't have snapped at him like that; it was really rude and ungrateful. There could be a time when I actually need him and then...
Oh no. What happens when I DO actually need him? Given my... extracurricular activities, that is likely to happen. What if he doesn't come because I was so rude to him? That's ridiculous, I told myself. He wouldn't be so shallow as to not come. Also, I still have his father and his sister to look out for me.
Unless he tells them. Maybe they have weekly meetings where they discuss people they've saved. And they have a list of some sort. A 'No Save' list of people who were rude to them, or who committed crimes or something. Crap! I've just condemned myself to death through sheer rudeness.
I stumbled on the cracked walkway. But just when I though I was about to hit pavement for the second time that night, I found myself in the muscled arms of a spandex clad male. He led me to a bench and sat me down.
"Please just let me take a look at your ankle." His eyes pleaded with me. He came back! My heart danced. I no longer had to die! He gently slid off my ruined shoe. Deft fingers ran their way along my sore ankle, and my breath unexpectedly caught. They felt so light and gentle... Focus! I commanded myself. You have to apologize to him.
"I'm sorry I snapped at you," I began awkwardly.
"It's no problem," he murmured, not looking up from his task.
"No really, it was rude and inappropriate. You were helping me and I yelled in your face. I should've been more appreciative," I said. But I couldn't resist adding, "Even if I could've handled it myself."
Why did I have to do that? What was it about him that made me want to be so indiscreet? He looked at me and his eyebrow quirked up. "You don't believe me?" I asked.
"Oh, I believe you. You don't strike me as the type of person who makes false claims." He grinned at me. "I should apologize too. I should've been more careful when I rushed in there, but things tend to happen fast in those situations, and I don't always have time to adapt. Sometimes people get hurt even if I don't intend to." He looked so guilty, sitting there with my ankle in hand.
"My ankle can't be that bad," I told him. "At worst it's a little sprained." I flexed it tentatively.
"No it's not bad," he agreed. "I x-rayed it and there's no fracture, and even the muscle strain isn't bad at all. With a little ice, you should be fine."
"See?" I told him. "No harm done." He came and sat beside me on the bench, holding my broken shoe in his hand.
"It shouldn't have happened at all." He shook his head. "Did you know that my dad was sued once by a person who sustained a minor injury when he saved the guy's life?"
"What! That's terrible!"
"Luckily, it didn't hold up very well in court, but it still means I should be careful."
"Well you can relax because I'm not going to sue you for this." I gestured to my ankle.
"I'm really sorry," he said again.
"Don't even say it," I commanded. He still looked gloomy, so I decided to try to cheer him up. "But while we're in the mood for apologizing, I should probably say one more thing."
"Sorry I called you Spaceboy. It was a bit presumptuous of me." His face split into a grin.
"I kinda liked it."
"No one's ever given Supernova a nickname before. Most of the damsels in distress are too much in awe of me to have that kind of creativity."
"Okay, let's get one thing straight between the two of us, buddy. I am NOT a damsel in distress."
"That's for sure," he agreed. "You're more the distressing damsel type."
"Hey!" I cried in mock indignation. He smiled back at me. Then a stab of pain reminded me of my sore ankle. I winced.
"You should get some ice on that and keep it elevated," Supernova told me. He looked at me a moment as if thinking through something. "I could fly you home," he finally offered hesitantly. "Not as a damsel in distress or anything. Just for convenience. You'll be able to ice it and put it up on your sofa right away."
"Um, no that's okay," I told him, trying not to let the sudden butterflies in my stomach show too much in my voice. "I can just get a cab." Supernova shook his head.
"The street is deserted. You'll never find a cab here at this hour. It's not any trouble to take you home, honest." I looked at his earnest face. There was no way I was going to fly anywhere with him, but at the same time it would be nice to have some company...
"You can walk me home," I announced. His face became blank.
"Yeah, Spaceboy, walk. It's what people who can't defy gravity on a regular basis do."
"Well I don't know..." He trailed off. "It's kinda below my dignity, if you know what I mean." For a second, I thought he was serious. Then, I caught the glint in his eye.
"You can consider it your punishment for spraining my ankle," I shot back.
"Well I already promised not to sue you, so this is the next best option." I stood up, grabbed my purse, and balanced wobbly on one foot. Supernova placed his arm around me as support, and we hobbled down the street together.
We made slow progress.
Finally, he let out an exasperated sigh. "That's it," he declared, and scooped me up into his arms. At first I panicked as I thought he would take off into the air regardless of me not wanting to, but I could still detect the rhythm of his gait as his strode down the street so I relaxed. "Does this count as cheating?" he asked me.
"As long as you keep one foot on the ground at all times," I told him.
"I won't attempt a run," he teased me. So that was the way it was. Supernova carried me down the all but empty streets as I gave him directions to my apartment. It was strange, really. Whenever I had seen Supernova on TV he had always been so distant and formal. I had expected he would be the same way in person, but ever since he had sat me down on that bench, he been so open and friendly. He hadn't gotten mad at me for yelling at him, he was so gentle and concerned about my ankle, and he had told me that story about his father being sued. Not everyone heard about that, I was sure. And he had even gone so far as to tease me! It was a side of him that never really showed in press conferences and during charity appearances. Was this something that he did with people he had just rescued, or was it different entirely? Or was it wishful thinking, I chastised myself. But whatever it was, there was an easy camaraderie between the two of us that completely surprised me.
We reached my apartment all too soon. Luckily, the tenants at my place were the early to bed, early to rise type so we didn't make too much of a scene as Supernova carried me up the stairs, through the door, and finally let me down on my sofa.
"I've got an icepack in my freezer," I said. I watched as his cape billowed out behind him as he made his way into the kitchen. How did it billow so well? Was it some kind of Kryptonian fabric that was designed to billow beautifully no matter the circumstances? I had thought I read somewhere that Krypton was an advanced society. Surely they had billowy fabric technology? Wouldn't they be able to make whatever fabric they wanted? I wondered if it was some kind of special Kryptonian spandex that he used to make the rest of the suit. Blushing, I pulled myself back to reality. Why was I thinking about this? What was with my odd fascination with his clothes? Supernova reentered the room with the icepack in hand. He firmly wrapped it around my ankle, and plumped a pillow to go under it.
"Better?" he asked.
"Yeah," I said. There was a pause. His job was done, having delivered me safely home. And now he would leave. Desperately, I searched my mind for a way to get him to stay. Maybe a discussion on Kryptonian linen? Who knows, it could be his hobby or something. We both spoke at once, breaking the awkward silence.
"I should get go--"
"Why don't you st--"
We both paused, embarrassed.
"I guess you need to go find some other damsels that don't need rescuing, huh?"
"Um, yeah. Well I don't really need -- but I should... I should go."
"Okay." Why was I feeling so disappointed?
"Is it okay if I use your...?" He gestured to my balcony window questioningly.
"Oh! Sure, go right ahead." I was tempted to stand up and walk over to him to say goodbye, but what would I do? A handshake seemed way too impersonal. A hug? A kiss? Quickly, I scrubbed that thought from my mind. I'm sure that's exactly what he doesn't want. I bet every female between the ages of 12 and 72 has tried that game. I remained seated. My ankle was killing me anyway.
"See you around. And thanks for the lift home." He threw me a smile, and was gone out the window.
Jon Kent trudged behind his grandfather as they crossed the farm's Southwest pasture.
"I don't want to do it," he grumbled. "I already told you I don't want anything to do with all this stuff."
"And I've told you, Jon, you have to practice whether you want to or not. It's the only way for you to get in control."
Jon fingered his father's old glasses that he was now wearing. Just a few months ago he wouldn't have been caught dead wearing such geeky old frames, but ever since that one night when his grandmother had suddenly become a walking skeleton, he hadn't taken them off unless he was sleeping. Control sounded nice. But there was a difference between control, and what his grandpa was suggesting here.
"I still don't see why you're making me learn to fly," he argued. "You said Dad didn't start flying until he was eighteen, why are you making me fly now?"
"Jon, your grandmother and I have caught you floating three times already. It's the same with any of your other powers. You have to use them in order to gain control. I know how you feel about all this Jon, but you have to do this or else you're going to end up doing something we won't be able to explain away. What happens if you start floating in the middle of class, or you accidentally break something when a lot of people are watching? That's just the way it is, son, I'm sorry."
"But why does it have to be this way? Why can't I just be like everyone else?" Jon angrily brushed hot tears off his face. Upset with himself for losing his cool, he stopped walking and flopped down on the grass. Everything was different now. His glasses kept him from looking through things, but just yesterday he had pulled the banister off the staircase by just laying his hand on it. He still had problems controlling his hearing, and his breath. And if all that wasn't enough, he had been shocked to discover that he had been floating two feet off the couch while he was watching the football game earlier this week. His grandpa sat beside him, quietly giving him a moment to calm down.
"I know it's difficult Jon," he began. "Your dad went through the same thing. That's why I think you should--"
"I *don't* want to talk to him," Jon snapped. Jonathan senior sighed, and patted his grandson on the back.
"I know," he murmured. Jon tried to maintain his composure, but his face crumpled.
"They had fifteen years!" he cried. "And they never told me. Why didn't they tell me? Why did they have to lie?" Strong arms enveloped him and a small piece of the anger and betrayal he felt were carried away in the arms of someone who loved him.
It had honestly seemed like a good idea at the time. But now that I was dangling off an all-but-sheer rock face I was starting to reconsider. I had never intended to go this deep into the quarry, but my ankle was still stiff from last night, and it had only taken a slight stumble to slip on the loose shale. Don't-look-down, don't-look-down, don't-look-down, I chanted to myself. My heart pounded in my ears, and I struggled to remember to breathe. The last thing I needed right now was to pass out. Of all the things that I thought I would die doing, I had never thought collecting rock samples would be the kicker. I had re-strained my ankle during the fall, and it was hindering my ability to climb up the rock. I felt safer just clinging to my spot, but I knew I couldn't hold on indefinitely. Maybe if I could reach my cell phone in my pocket... I carefully released my right hand from its death grip on the rock face and started to reach down. Teetering slightly, I let out a sharp yelp. I had forgotten. Three points of contact at all times. It was basic climbing technique, but how was I supposed to do anything when one of my limbs was already incapacitated?
I was a mess. Why was it that I could do so many dangerous, life-threatening stunts without a second thought, yet as soon as I looked down I turned into a gibbering mess? I was about to descend into full blown panic when I felt a breeze at my side. Hardly daring to believe, I turned around and faced him once again. Supernova.
"Now, before I whisk you off to safety, I just want to make sure this time. Do you really need help, or do you have it all under control?" His mouth curved into a gentle smirk. He was probably so thrilled to find me really needing his help this time. But I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of seeing me all flustered. So instead I went with the more gracious approach.
"Actually, yes, I would like some help. This time." My calm words managed to hide my jittery insides. He grinned, and moved towards me, putting a steadying hand between my shoulder blades.
"Just put your arms around my neck and I'll lift you right out--"
"No!" I interrupted sharply. He paused, looking at me confusedly.
"Well isn't there some way we could do this whole rescue thing without... you know... The flying?" I was jumble of nerves. Please no flying. Please let there be a way out...
"Is there some reason you don't want me flying with you?" Supernova's brow was wrinkled. "Is it a personal space issue or something? Because I promise you I would never do anything to--"
"It's not that," I interrupted. "It's just that... It's that..." Oh, just say it. It's not like this situation could be anymore embarrassing. "I'mafraidofhieghts," I blurted out all at once. There. I had said it.
"I'm afraid of heights," I repeated, this time more slowly. Then he laughed. He laughed at me!!! "What?!! Do you think it's funny or something?" I was very close to descending into full hysteria. He sobered quickly.
"Sorry, I'm not laughing at your fears. It's just that if you really are afraid of heights, the last place where I would think to find you is dangling off a cliff face."
"It's not a cliff face," I interjected. "If anything it's a gorge, or a pit or something." He opened his mouth as if to reply, but I was in full panic mode and in no mood for polite conversation. "And for your information, Spaceboy, I'm not exactly dangling here by choice. I fell, okay? I slipped and I fell, and now I can't get back up because my ankle hurts and I need three points of contact and I only have three to begin with so maybe just go easy on me and-" The hand that was touching my back massaged down my spine, calming me. Then he maneuvered himself so he was hovering directly behind me. He placed two hands around my waist.
"Can you step back onto my boots?" he asked in a calming voice.
"Just step back. I won't let you fall, honest." I tentatively reached back with my bad foot, and gingerly placed weight onto his boot. He didn't even dip. Taking a leap of faith, I placed my good foot onto his other boot. He remained still, not even a hint of dropping downward. I let out a shaky breath. I had been conditioned over the years to always suppress my fears. A fear is a weakness, and a weakness is a trap. But Supernova didn't belittle me for my fears. He could've just whisked me up in his arms and have me on solid ground before I even noticed, but instead he was willing to play into my ridiculous phobia and baby me out of the situation.
"What happens if you suddenly stop flying?" I suddenly asked, cringing inwardly at my irrationality.
"That won't happen." Despite my stupid question, his voice betrayed no impatience or ridicule.
"You don't know that. All you know is that it's never happened before." I twisted my neck around to face him. "What if it happens for the first time tonight?"
"It's not going to happen, okay? You'll be safe." He spoke in a calm, reassuring tone. I felt myself start to relax, even though I kept a death grip on the rock wall in front of me. "Jeez, I never knew you could be such a Scaredy Cat."
"I am not a Scaredy Cat!" He smirked again. Damn that expression. "Anyway, what are you, eight? Since when did superheroes start name-calling their rescuees?"
"You started it!" he teased. I was tempted to stick my tongue out at him, but decided to take a mature stance. Plus, his face was so close to mine, I would probably end up French kissing the guy.
Oh. Wow. French-kissing Supernova. My cheeks began to heat up. But before I could indulge my fantasy too much, he was speaking again.
"Now you can keep a hold of the rock as much as you want. I'm just going to lift you up slowly okay? Kind of like an elevator." I nodded my head. Right. The rescue. Slowly, I felt myself begin to rise up. I kept my hands on the rock face, 'climbing' up along with him.
"Thanks for coming for me by the way." I tried to calm the tell-tale tremor in my voice. "Lucky me that you were nearby, huh?"
"I heard you screaming, actually."
"What??!! I didn't... Okay, maybe I did scream. But it was just a tiny one."
"Well lucky for you, I have good hearing." I could hear the grin coming through his voice. Finally, we reached level ground. Supernova let me down on my hands and knees, and I waited for my shaking body to calm down. I brought myself to me feet.
"Thanks," I told him again.
"You don't have to answer this," he began, "but what is a person who's terrified of heights doing hanging around the edge of an abandoned rock quarry?"
"It's all about confronting your fears directly," I told him, trying to pull of a nonchalant attitude. "If I were to constantly avoid heights, the fear would just grow more and more until I wouldn't even be able to use a step stool anymore."
"So you just throw yourself off a cliff every month as a desensitization technique?" Amusement sparkled behind his eyes.
"No, of course not." I rolled my eyes. "I also had to -- Crap!" I exclaimed. How could I have forgotten?
"What? What's wrong?"
"I needed to get a sample of this rock," I explained. "That's what I was doing here." Supernova raised his eyebrows.
"Yeah, this is a perfect example of metamorphic rock, and I was going to--"
"Wait here," He interrupted. He was gone and back in the blink of an eye, this time holding a sizeable chunk of rock in his hand. "Will this do?" He passed it to me. I hefted it in my hand, and then peered in for a closer look.
"Yes, it's beautiful," I told him. "Look, you can see the stripes running across it. That's where different minerals have been compressed over the years, forming this rock. Thank you." He nodded in acknowledgement. Then he opened his other hand, showing me a mess of broken plastic and wire.
"I found this at the bottom of the quarry. It's not yours, is it?" I frantically felt in my pocket. Nothing. My phone must've fallen out when I fell.
"Oh no!" I scooped the pieces into my hand, and shifted through them. There was no way it could be repaired.
"How did you get here in the first place?" He glanced around, no doubt looking for a car.
"My car is in the shop so I took a cab as far as the driver would go; then I hiked the rest of the way. But now I can't call for another cab to come pick me up."
"You hiked here? Isn't your ankle bothering you?"
"Yes. It is. Thank you so much for asking." I was stranded with no way of getting back to Metropolis. Supernova shifted uncomfortably.
"I could always fly you back to Metropolis."
"What? No, I... I can't" Somehow it didn't come out as firmly negative as I had thought it would. Maybe I was still giddy from my successful 'climb' out of the quarry. Maybe it was the extra-clear night air. Maybe I just wanted to spend more time with him. Whatever it was, I was in the mood for an adventure. I looked at Supernova tentatively, and he knew to push me forward.
"C'mon Scaredy, what happened to confronting your fears to overcome them?"
"Couldn't you just... run me back or something?"
"Sorry, Metropolis is too crowded and busy to try to pull a stunt like that. You're either flying back with me or you're hitchhiking along the highway." I took a deep breath.
"Okay," I whispered. Then louder: "Okay." I stepped forward uncertainly.
"Just put your arms around my neck," he instructed. "Here, let me hold your rock." He took it from me, and I did as he instructed, and then placed my feet on top of his boots as before. We had only risen a couple feet before I had another attack of nerves.
"Uh, Supernova?" He stopped rising in the air.
"About the whole thing about suddenly not being able to fly... That's never actually happened to you has it? Not even a hint of it, right? I mean, completely out of the realm of possibility?" I glance nervously at the ground.
"It won't happen, I promise. Just don't look down until you feel comfortable. Keep looking at my face." I had no problem whatsoever doing that. He had a nice face, not only physically, but also character-wise. I was a good judge of faces, and I could tell just by looking at him that he was a great guy. Not to mention all the things he had done for me in the last few days. Here he was, dragging some hysterical woman through the skies of Metropolis while he could be battling forest fires or mud slides or... Well, anything but this. Did it mean something? Did he have a special interest in me, more than the average person? No, of course not. He was just providing good customer service. That was all. I hastily pulled myself away from my train of thought.
"So, I'm not to sure I like your nickname for me," I said.
"What's wrong with Scaredy? I happen to like it." He gave me a devastating smile. "Besides, you never told me your real name, so I had to make one up, didn't I?"
"Oh that's right, I never did tell you," I blushed at my inadvertent rudeness. "My name is Kaylie Stewart."
"Pleased to meet you, Miss Stewart."
I let out a chuckle. "Are you seriously going to call me that? Because now I'm starting to think I like Scaredy better."
"All right. Kaylie." We both smiled.
"I think I'm ready to go up now," I said, steeling myself against the inborn panic. To my surprise, he let out a bark of laughter. "What?" I asked.
"Look down." I did.
"Holy sh-!" My mouth was immediately smothered by his large hand.
"Careful, Kaylie, it wouldn't do for Metropolis to know that I make it a habit to give lifts to people with dirty mouths." There was a wicked gleam behind his eyes.
"You brat!" I exclaim. "We must be a million feet in the air!" That blasted smirk reappeared.
"Hardly that high, but we are pretty far up." I drew myself closer into his embrace, searching for security. "Are you okay?" he asked. "I could take us lower if you want..."
"No, I'm actually okay," I realized, much to my surprise. "This feels a lot more secure than hanging off a cliff face." And it did to. I had always imagined flying with one of the Kryptonians would just serve to aggravate my fears, but as I rested safe in Supernova's arms I started to think that maybe heights weren't too bad... Until we dipped suddenly.
"Ahh!!" I screamed, and pulled myself even closer to Supernova. If he wasn't invulnerable I would have worried about strangling him. As it was, he only laughed.
"Are you okay?" he asked. He seemed to be asking that question a lot lately.
"I'm fine," I replied shakily.
"Air currents," he said by way of explanation. "They don't usually affect me too much, but every once in a while there's a bit of a pressure drop and... well, you know." He shrugged nonchalantly, but I was still considerably shaken. Flying was definitely not a good idea. I could see a cluster of city lights ahead. Maybe he could just drop me off at the city limits and I could hail a cab. He wouldn't be too offended, would he? He probably had a bunch of other stuff to take care of.
"It helps to talk." His voice interrupted my train of thought.
"It's a good distraction if you talk."
"Oh, um... okay." I drew a blank. "What should I talk about?" I asked.
"Well, how about telling me why you needed such a perfect sample of metamorphic rock. Are you a geologist or something?"
"No, not a geologist," I said. "I'm a teacher at Riverview Alternative School. The rock was for my next lesson."
He burst out laughing. Again. Honestly, what did he find so funny about me?
"What? What's so funny about me being a teacher?" Maybe it wasn't as cool and action filled as my other profession, but it still wasn't anything to laugh about.
"Nothing," he assured me. "It's just that I don't see many teachers who are willing to risk their lives for a lesson. There's the obvious police officer and firefighter who put their lives on the line on a daily basis. Then there are the reporters who'll do anything for a scoop. And I know of a few intellectual types who'll go pretty far to get what they need. But you're the first teacher I've met who is willing to face her greatest fear in order to bring her students a rock for her next lesson. That's something special."
"Well, I don't know about that," I began, blushing under his praise. "The way I see it, if you're truly passionate about something then you'll do anything for it. I love teaching, and I love my students. And if that means I have to be caught dangling of the side of a rock pit with a stiff ankle and no way home then so be it!"
Supernova shook his head in wonderment. "I was right. You are something special." The intensity of his gaze unsettled me. What was he thinking? I smiled tentatively at him, but then as suddenly as it was cast, the spell was broken. "Here we are," he announced, and lowered us onto my balcony. For all that I wanted the terrifying ride to end, I was very reluctant to pull away from his arms. Once again, I was safe at home, and he had no reason to stay.
"Would you like to come in for coffee?" I blurted out. Then I flushed. Of all the stupid things I could've said, why did it have to be coffee? He probably didn't even drink the stuff. Now he would be all embarrassed and he would have to think of some excuse to--
"Sure," he said. I blinked in surprise. He was coming in? Really? Giddily, I slid open the door which was thankfully unlocked. He followed me inside, and shut the door after him.
"How's your ankle?" he asked as I started the coffee pot.
"It's fine," I replied. "Still a little stiff, but I think I just need to walk it off." He nodded in response. I finished getting the coffee going and had the mugs and stuff all set out, then sat down at my kitchen table to wait for it to finish percolating. Supernova joined me at the table, and my throat went dry as an uncomfortable silence descended. I wasn't sure what to say to him now that all imminent danger had passed. Say something! I commanded myself.
"So, uh... I make my coffee pretty strong. I hope that's all right with you."
"It's fine," he said. Mentally, I smacked myself. Of course it's fine, you idiot! This guy can chug battery acid for breakfast, did you think a bit of strong coffee would be a problem? But I could still redeem myself. All I had to do was think of something really brilliant to say next so I didn't look like a complete dolt.
"Oh, look, the coffee's ready!" Wonderful. At least it gave us something to do as we each doctored our cups to the way we liked it. Three spoons of sugar and a spot of cream later, Supernova was sipping coffee from my Snoopy and Charlie Brown mug. Why did I have to get that one out of the cupboard? I was sure I had some more adult looking ones lurking about somewhere.
"This is great coffee," he said. I smiled in response, absently stirring the contents of my mug. Make conversation! I commanded myself. Since when was I intimidated by him?
"I uh... didn't know you had time for things like coffee. Don't you have to be out saving the world or something?"
"I'll keep an ear out for trouble," he replied. "And there's always my sister and my father to take care of things too."
"What's it like to have Superman as a father?" I asked. "It must be a lot to live up to at times." I had pretty much written the book on living under your parent's shadow. Supernova didn't answer right away and for a moment I had thought I went too far.
"I love working with my dad," he began. "My sister and I entered the 'family business,' so to speak, of our own free will. He didn't pressure us into anything. But he is always going to be the first one, and therefore the one that everyone looks up to." He paused for a bit, and then chuckled. "Did you know that someone once refused to be helped by me?"
"What? Really?" Why would anyone refuse to be rescued by Supernova?
"It was just a couple months after I had made my debut, so to speak. This elderly lady had some car trouble and was stranded by the side of the road. I flew down and offered to take her and her car wherever she wanted to go."
"And she refused, saying she had waited twenty-five years to have an excuse to call for Superman and she wasn't going to settle for some rookie son of his. She would wait for the real thing, thank you very much." I couldn't help but giggle. Who knew that Supernova could do such a good old lady impression?
"What did you do?"
"The only thing I could do really. I contacted my dad who swooped in and saved the day leaving me to wander aimlessly around the city looking for someone needing help across the street." I raised my eyebrow. "It was a slow night," he said by way of explanation.
"So you're a resounding failure in impressing old ladies. Maybe you need to repeat another year of superhero school." He grinned at me.
"Well, the old ladies may not like me too much, but I'm actually pretty popular with the younger crowd. My sister and I have a bet going that-" Suddenly, his head shot up erect.
"What is it?" I asked.
"Burglar alarm," he explained to me. "Sounds like it's coming from the downtown area." He was already standing, getting ready to leave. "I hate to cut this short, but I've got to go check this out."
"Yeah, sure," I replied, bewildered by the sudden change of events. He was leaving?
"Thanks for the coffee. It was really nice talking to you." I could see in his eyes that he really meant it, and that it wasn't a simple polite phrase muttered at the end of an evening.
"Yeah, it was nice..." I trailed off.
"I'll see you around, Kaylie." He looked straight in my eyes, and somehow I believed it.
"Bye," I whispered as he flew out my balcony, leaving me alone in my kitchen.
Riverview Alternative School was a second-chance school for students who have had problems with traditional schooling. The majority of the students had come from difficult family situations. The families were all in the lower income bracket, and the school was almost as poorly funded as they were. But despite all the difficulties this created, I loved my job. I really made a difference in the lives of these kids, and the way I saw their lives turn around was more than enough to compensate for all the frustrations along the way.
But today, I could barely concentrate on my lessons. Supernova had taken hostage of my thoughts and refused to let go. He made an excellent impression on TV, but his appearance in person was infinitely better. He seemed more colorful, as if a two dimensional figure had suddenly sprung into 3-D. And I liked him. I liked spending time with him, and maybe I was crazy, but I got the impression that he liked spending time with me. I wanted to see him again. But he was off flying around and saving the world; there was no way for me to contact him short of jumping off a building and hoping he would catch me. I disregarded that idea not only because it put me in possible danger, but also because it might not be him who would catch me and I didn't think that that was a good way to meet the family.
By the end of the day I was no closer to a solution than I was before. I tiredly let myself into my apartment, and heated some soup for supper. Supernova was on the evening news stopping some sort of volcanic eruption. Figures. While I spent all day moping about because I couldn't see him anymore, he was battling the torrential forces of nature. Suddenly, a soft tapping on my balcony window startled me. I whipped my head around to see Supernova himself standing there. I raced over and let him into my apartment, giddy with excitement. He had come to visit me!
He stood awkwardly in the center of the room, nervously glancing around.
"I hope I didn't come at a bad time," he began.
"No, definitely not," I babbled. My tongue was loosened by the excitement I felt from his impromptu visit. "A bad time, that is. It's a good time. Anytime really is a good time. It's not like I was doing anything important. Not that I don't ever do important things. I mean, I do have a life you know. And I've got friends... but no boyfriend, right now..." Ugh, this was terrible. Why couldn't I have shut my mouth before I made a complete lunatic out of myself? "But the point is: I'm glad to see you again." Despite my spew of verbal diarrhea, he gave no signs of regretting his visit. He merely smiled at me. "I see you've been keeping busy." I gestured toward the TV which was still showing the volcano story.
"Well, that's part of the reason why I came over here tonight." He shuffled his feet nervously.
"It is?" I asked blankly.
"I don't know if you've ever battled with a volcano before, but it tends to leave one feeling a little tired."
"Oh, really? I... didn't know." What was he getting at?
"Anyway, I'd appreciate it if you could give me the night off tonight. Maybe stay at home and watch some TV instead of falling into rock quarries?" I recognized that same teasing attitude from before, and I easily slipped into the routine.
"Well, I dunno," I hedged. "I had planned a spelunking expedition for later this evening. It would be a shame to have to reschedule." He nodded sagely.
"I thought that might be the case. So in order to sweeten the deal, I brought you this." Out of some invisible fold in his clothing, he brought out an inky-black shimmering rock. I held out my hands to accept it.
"Oh, it's gorgeous."
"Obsidian," he told me. "It's an igneous rock. When lava is cooled rapidly--"
"There's no time for the particles to crystallize," I continued. "Instead, the rock takes on a glass-like structure." I turned the rock over in my hands. "You can even see the little tracks where the lava flowed. Where did you get this?" He raised an eyebrow and cocked his head in the direction of the TV. My eyes widened. "You took this from that volcano today?" This changed the whole nature of his gift. The only way that this rock would've cooled enough by now was if he had done something to speed along the process. It wasn't something he had just stumbled across while walking down the street, he had *made* it especially for me. "Wow. Thanks."
"I thought it might come in handy for your lessons."
"It will. A lot of my students have difficulty understanding concepts in the abstract," I explained absentmindedly. I was still trying to process the fact that the rock I was now holding in my hand had been a mass of molten matter just hours before. "Having a physical example that they can actually hold and touch really makes the difference. Thank you." We smiled inanely at each other. I didn't know what to say to him. He had gone out of his way to bring me this rock, but how was I supposed to respond to it? Then Supernova awkwardly cleared his throat.
"Well, I guess I better get going..."
"Wait!" I called out before he had a chance to exit via the balcony. "I know it's your evening off and everything..."
"But I was wondering if you could give me a hand with a little bit of lightweight hero work," I blurted out, and snatched the movie case off of my kitchen counter. This was such a lame idea...
"'National Lampoon's?" he asked.
"Every month I let my students have a movie day as a reward for the work they've done," I explained in a rush. "But I always preview the movies to make sure there's no violence, or language, or difficult family situations. Most of these kids get enough of that at home anyway."
He nodded sympathetically. "I've seen plenty of those situations myself."
"Anyway," I continued, "who better to preview a movie than a shining beacon of good morals and decency such as yourself?" I looked at him expectantly as he gave me a scrutinizing look. I held my breath.
"Do you have popcorn?" he finally asked.
"I think I could dig some out," I told him breathlessly.
"Then I'm in."
The next day, I prepared in advance for Supernova's visit. Although he never said directly that he would come, I suspected that he would drop by again. It was a bit of a game. I knew that his silly little excuse to bring me a rock was an excuse just as he knew that I didn't really need him to watch that movie with me. I suppose neither of us was ready to admit that we wanted to see each other for the sake of seeing each other.
He knocked on my window that night bringing a stunning example of black marble that had been polished to a high gloss. I let him in and accepted the gift with the appropriate thanks. Then he saw my kitchen table, his eyes widening in response to the cluttered surface.
"Dr Jekyll, I had no idea you were planning world domination tonight. I would've come by at another time."
"It's for my class tomorrow," I explained. "We're doing a science experiment."
"Does the science experiment have something to do with wiping out the population of Metropolis? You've got enough chemicals here to dump into the river and poison everyone in the city."
"It's not that much," I muttered, my face growing red. Maybe I had gone a little overboard.
"I thought you were doing Geology with the students."
"This is for an older grade," I told him. "I'm going to give them a selection of chemical compounds and they'll have to identify the components in each."
"And you have to make the compounds first."
Supernova surveyed the plethora of materials I had gathered in my kitchen. "Looks like you could you use some help."
"Well, only if you have nothing better to do," I said nonchalantly.
"Just tell me what you want done and I'll mix it up for you 'super' quick." His eyes twinkled, as I froze. Super-speed? He couldn't use that! He'd be done in less than a minute!
"No!" I shouted. He quirked an eyebrow, questioning me. "You can't mix these with super-speed because then the... air bubbles get in and it's very bad for the..." I searched my mind desperately. "The ions," I concluded.
"The ions?" The tone of his voice indicated that he didn't believe me, but I couldn't exactly change my mind then.
"The ions," I confirmed resolutely. "They get all messed up and then my students won't be able to tell the difference between ammonium and calcium carbonate." Liar, I silently called myself.
"I never knew that could be such a problem." He told me disbelievingly.
"Look, buddy, who's the science teacher here, you or me? Trust me on this one."
"Okay! I bow to your expertise." He reached over and picked up a bottle of distilled water, swishing it back and forth. "So I guess if I were to help you it would have to be at normal speed, huh?"
"That's pretty much the situation," I grinned up at him, knowing that he would accept regardless of the terms. The man had flown around the world to get a rock for me. It was safe enough to assume that he would spend a little time mixing chemicals.
"All right, then," he finally replied, "What do you want me to do?"
For the next few minutes, we concentrated on the task ahead of us. Supernova responded well to instruction, and I gave him a clear outline of what mixtures I needed for tomorrow. We had been working in companionable silence for a while before I ventured forth into conversation.
"So besides scouring the globe for rare and mysterious rocks and mixing up chemicals with local science teachers, what do you do during off hours?"
"Not much," he replied. "I fly around looking for people needing saving, and do charity appearances." His expression was guarded, and I knew that he couldn't be telling the real truth. It bothered me that he was side-stepping the question.
"Gee, that sounds like a real blast," I replied sarcastically. "And here I was hoping for some juicy bit of gossip to pass on to the tabloids." My outward denial of subterfuge seemed to relax him.
"Well, there's also the secret bridge club that I founded with the police officers of the 12th precinct. Don't tell anyone about it though," he joked. I smiled faintly in response.
"Seriously though," I told him, "you do have somewhere to go when things get too tough, don't you?" I searched in his eyes to find sincerity. "I can't even imagine some of the stuff you must see day to day." I shook my head sadly. "You've got to have a place to heal."
"It can get pretty difficult," he said hoarsely. "I tend to see the worst in people at times. All the terrible things they do to each other. All the deaths and injuries that happen for no reason. It can make you sick." There was a haunted look in his eyes, and I felt the pain emanating from him. I reached out and touched his hand. The first physical contact we've had where he wasn't lifting me out of some impossible predicament. He gave himself a small shake of the head, and removed his gaze from distant memories of the present. "But I do have people to go to," He said reassuringly, "mostly my family. There's my dad and my sister and of course my mo-" he cut the last word off in haste, but I had already figured out who he was talking about. The super family was notoriously reticent when it came to talking about the mother of the two children. Most assumed that she lived on New Krypton, or that she was a victim of a 'passionate attack' by Superman, and her identity was unknown by her own children. But the way Supernova included her in his list of confidantes indicated that she was part of the family here on earth. Why didn't they say this in public? Were they trying to protect her for some reason? But Supernova was looking more and more uncomfortable with what he had just said, so I decided to just ignore his faux pas.
"And you have me now too," I declared. "Honestly, any time you need someone to talk to you can come and see me. Really." He gave me thankful smile.
"Kaylie, that means a lot to me. Thanks." He stroked my hand, causing me to inhale sharply. I had forgotten that it was still on top of his. A small zing traveled through my hand and up my arm. My mouth went dry. I swallowed hesitantly.
"Supernova-" I began.
But before I could finish any half-formed thoughts, his head snapped up in a gesture that was becoming all too familiar.
"What is it?" I asked a little snappishly.
"I'm really sorry Kaylie, I have to take care of this." He stumbled to his feet, almost knocking the chair over in his haste leave. "You can handle the rest by yourself, can't you?" He gestured to the mess of chemicals still at the table.
"Yeah, sure," I told him disappointedly.
"Great." His reached the entryway for the balcony, and paused. "It was great seeing you again, Kaylie." I gave him a small nod, and he left.
Jon flew in the direction of the sirens he had heard, mentally berating himself. How could he have let that happen? Why did he allow himself to become so open and unguarded? If he wasn't more careful he would be giving away the whole family secret. That comment about his mom... There was no way she wouldn't have picked up on it. How could she have relaxed him so much that he gave away something that important?
Kaylie Stewart was a human wrecking ball. Ever since their first meeting a few nights ago, she had been a master at tearing down the carefully erected barriers that kept his identity intact. He had tried to be the stand-offish stoic superhero, but he couldn't resist the urge to bait her, tease her, smile at her, open up to her.
She scared him. He had never thought he could trust someone again, not after his last disaster of a relationship. He had vowed that he wouldn't make the same mistakes again. Yet here he was, blabbing his intimate feelings and family secrets to this mysterious woman he had only known for a few days.
He should stop seeing her. It was too dangerous, eventually she would find out something that would give everything away. Tonight should be the last night he would see her. But he already knew he would be seeing her again. Although he had only known Kaylie for a few days, he had grown completely addicted to her. He craved the humor in her eyes, the laughter in her voice. She had never seemed fazed by his appearance as Supernova. It was as if she had the real x-ray vision and was able to look clear past the spandex and into the soul. Whatever the reason, whatever the motivation, Jon knew one thing for sure.
He had to see her again.
Despite his hasty departure, Supernova came back the next night. And the next night. Each time, he brought some kind of exotic rock specimen; stunning geodes, ocean-smoothed pumice, dull grey rocks that were flecked with semi-precious stones. He would always try to brush off the effort nonchalantly.
"I was helping with the rescue efforts in Peru and..." He'd say. Or:
"I often go deep sea diving, and when I saw this I thought you might like it."
I always had some kind of bizarre task that I desperately needed 'help' with.
"I have to get thirty of these done by tomorrow. And no, you can't use super-speed because..." And:
"I've been reading this book on feng shui and I think that the furniture in my apartment would be better suited if..."
We played the game for over two weeks. The start of something I felt that night among the chemicals intensified. I was constantly aware of his presence in the room. He would accidentally brush his hand against mine and there would be a surge of heat rushing through me. Instead of wearing my typical sweats and pushing my hair into a ponytail I started putting extra effort into my after-work clothing. I went shopping and bought a pair of fantastic body hugging jeans and I paired them with low-cut camisoles and flattering yet casual t-shirts. When I turned around after getting something out of the cupboard, I would often catch Supernova guiltily lowering his gaze, and I knew that my efforts had paid off. Yet we never said anything. It was ridiculous really; two grown adults skittering around their feelings, afraid to be the first one to say something. Finally, I decided to work up the courage and say something.
Supernova was helping me make artificial fossils with papier-mâché at my kitchen table and I was being extremely virtuous in ignoring the fact that his knee was mere millimeters from my thigh.
"Supernova," I asked, trying to disguise the shaking in my voice, "do they have flowers on Krypton?"
"Or New Krypton, I guess."
"Why do you want to know?" His expression was guarded.
"Well," I began, my heart racing, "here on Earth when a guy's trying to ask a girl out on a date he brings her flowers." He stared straight at me with a frozen expression on his face. I should've stopped talking then, but my mouth had already run away with me. "Now, I love the rocks, don't get me wrong, but we're actually finishing off our Geology unit tomorrow. We're moving on to Entomology and as much as I like you, the minute you start bringing dead bugs into my apartment, I'm locking my door." He opened his mouth to say something, but I was so far gone by then that I barely noticed. "But you don't even have to bring flowers if you don't want to. You can just come. Just you. And I would like that too. Actually, I would like that a lot." Finally, I stopped talking and just looked at him, holding my breath. There was a beat of silence before he grabbed hold of my head and pulled it towards his own, meeting me in the middle for one of those wild, passionate, bruising kisses that feature largely in romance novels. But I barely had enough time to absorb what was happening before a rush of air blew across the room, and I was left sitting alone. I looked to find Supernova standing on the opposite side of the room, looking horrified.
"Kaylie, I'm so sorry! I shouldn't have done that. I should've..." He jittered on the spot, and passed his hand through his hair roughly over and over again.
"What's going on?" I asked him nervously.
"Look, Kaylie, there's nothing more I would like to do than start a relationship with you right now. You're smart and funny and charming and perfect and beautiful as anything." I blushed at his praise, yet was still confused as to where he was taking this. "But I can't lie to you like this!" he exclaimed. "There are things about me that you don't know, and I can't keep them from you and I can't tell you either. It's just too much of a risk. But we can't have a future like this, I know that. I should've stopped coming over here; I should've done it differently. I really wish I had." He paced frantically back and forth, and somewhere in all his confused ramblings something clicked.
"This is about your other identity, isn't it?" I asked softly. He whirled around and stared wide-eyed at me.
"How did you know?" he asked hoarsely. I gestured for him to sit down again at the table. He cautiously lowered himself into his chair, never taking his eyes off me.
"First of all," I began, "I didn't know for sure until about two seconds ago when you asked how I knew."
"Now I'm sure you know that there are multiple theories as to the origins of you and your sister. The most popular is that you've been living on New Krypton until you came of age, and then traveled to Earth to join your father." I spoke slowly, piecing the evidence together for myself as I continued. "But a much less popular theory is that Superman has a wife or lover here on Earth and that you were born and raised here, only making a public debut when you were old enough. Of course for that to work, you would've had to have another identity, one you used while you were growing up to appear just like everyone else."
"I'm not finished yet!" I took a deep breath to gather my thoughts and then continued. "Now your conduct in public leaves nothing to raise suspicions, don't worry about that. But the way you act around me is decidedly different from the way you act in public. I can only assume that when we're spending time together you're acting like your true self, the way you are when you hang up your cape." He nodded reluctantly. "Not to mention the amount of time you've been spending here in the last few weeks. If you have time to spend hours on end at my apartment, then you obviously don't spend the entire day saving people. You must have somewhere to go when there are no emergencies." Supernova looked me sheepishly.
"Are you mad?" he asked. I suppose he assumed that any normal, well adjusted girl would be flipping her lid right now, but I'd pretty much grown up around secret identities and undercover agents so this really held no shock for me. But of course I didn't tell him all this.
"Of course I'm not mad." I rolled my eyes. "But this doesn't mean we can't date."
"Kaylie, my other life is more than just a name I use to blend in. It's who I am. I have a job, an apartment, friends, and a whole life. My sister, my dad, and I all have lives outside of our hero work, but that's who we really are. If I were to start dating you as Supernova it would be a dishonest. I can't have that kind of relationship with you."
I shook my head. "Look, you're going about this the wrong way. You are being honest with me; you're just not being entirely open."
He looked at me skeptically. "I don't see how there's a difference."
"I don't need to know what your name is, where you live, what your job is, and all that stuff in order to have a relationship with you. That's all just trivia compared to your personality and your character. And that I do know." Supernova chewed on his bottom lip.
"I don't know, Kaylie..."
"Well I do. I know that we can give this a shot."
"And how exactly does 'this' work?"
"Well, you ask me on a date. And I know we can't exactly go to the Italian place down the street, but you're Supernova, I'm sure you can think of something." He gave a small smile.
"And then we go. And then we take it from there. If the time comes when you want to tell me who you are, then you will. But I promise I won't try to investigate you or invade your privacy in any way. I'll wait for you to be ready."
"It's not that I don't trust you, Kaylie..."
"I know. It's not about whether or not I can keep a secret. This is the kind of secret that can only be told to a few people no matter how trustworthy the other ones are. It's too big of a risk to tell people. Both for yourself and for the other person. I know that. And I also know that if you were to tell me right now it would put too much stress on us. I don't need to know right now, and I'm willing to wait." Supernova gave me an amazed smile.
"How can you be so understanding, Kaylie? It's incredible."
"Everyone has secrets." I licked my lips nervously "You don't know everything about me either. I have... secrets too." But my comment must've been too cryptic for him. He just grinned mischievously at me.
"Ah, yes. I'm sure you've got plenty of skeletons in your closet. Multiple complaints of trespassing, assault charges from the local criminal population. You must have quite a record. But don't worry; I'll learn to deal with any curveballs you throw in my direction." I should've told him then that my curveball was going to feel more like a massive blow to the head that would leave him seeing stars for weeks after. But I didn't.
"I'll hold you to it," was all I said quietly. I would tell him everything later. "There is one thing..." I began.
"Well, I feel kind of silly calling you Supernova now when we both know that's not your real name."
"What's wrong with Spaceboy?" he teased. I shook my head.
"I need something that you can give me. It doesn't have to be your real name or anything," I rushed to explain. "Just something I can call you that means you." He paused, thinking.
"You can call me Jor," he suggested. "It's the name of my Kryptonian grandfather, and since I was named after my grandfather here on Earth it kind of parallels."
"I like Jor," I told him. I reached out and tentatively touched his hand. He picked my hand up and laced my fingers through his. "So there's something else we need to settle between the two of us, *Jor*."
"And that is?"
"When are we going on our first date?"
"Mmm... A very difficult conundrum." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Is tomorrow evening too soon for you?"
"Nope," I smiled. "Oh. No, wait. I have a thing tomorrow evening. I can't get out of it. How about the day after?"
"All right. I'll pick you up here at seven?" I nodded. "Now is everything settled to your liking or do you have any other requests?"
"One more thing."
"And that is?"
"Don't you think it's about time we kissed?"
Have you ever experienced that fantastic moment when you're working on a jigsaw puzzle, and you suddenly fit together two pieces that previously seemed impossible to match? You try them in every which way, and nothing works until suddenly with a twist of one and a turn of the other they plunk magically together in the exact way that they were originally cut.
That was the way that that kiss felt. It fit.
Jon swung the axe over his shoulder and brought it down hard on the chunk of wood, which splintered sharply. He worked at normal speed as he always did. It made him feel more human, even though the lack of sweat and his ability to keep his breath betrayed his Kryptonian heritage.
"I still don't understand why you insist on doing it the boring way," a voice remarked from the trees. He glanced up to see his sister perched on a branch, looking down on him.
"Ellie!" he exclaimed. "Happy Birthday! Where's Dad?" Their father had always insisted that he accompany Ellie on any cross-country flying expeditions in case she got lost or ran into trouble. He didn't need to worry about such rules with Jon because Jon hardly ever flew anywhere.
"I came solo," Ellie announced. "It's a birthday perk. Now that I'm sixteen, Dad's letting me fly alone anywhere in the country." Jon shook his head incredulously. His sister's eager acceptance of superpowers was never something he could understand.
"Most girls at sixteen are hoping for a car, you know."
"Well then I guess it's a good thing I'm not most girls. Otherwise, I'd be disappointed." She gave Jon a cheeky grin and floated down to his level. Jon continued his chopping at his previous speed.
"So you get national privileges at sixteen. What happens at eighteen?" *Thwack* The axe bit into the wood.
"World-wide passport, my dearest brother! Imagine being able to fly to China or France or Antarctica whenever I want to!" She gave an extended sigh of longing. "Then when I'm twenty, I'll start working with dad in the 'family business'." Jon paused in his chopping and looked over at Ellie.
"Really? You've decided you're going to do it?"
"Yep! The only thing left to decide is what name I'll pick. Mom says she'll print whatever name I want when she writes up the exclusive. What do you think about Shooting Star?"
"I think I want something from space. Dad thinks it's a good idea too, cause then people are more likely to associate me with space rather than Earth. How about Nebula? Or maybe--"
"What about Uranus?" Ellie gave Jon a well deserved smack.
"Really mature, Jon. Thanks a lot. Aren't you supposed to be setting a good example for me or something?"
"I'm just being a good brother. What kind of brother would I be if I didn't tease you incessantly?"
"Speaking of being a good brother..."
"Are you coming tonight?" She looked hesitantly at him. Jon felt a stab of guilt in his gut.
"Of course I'll be there, Ellie. It's your birthday party."
"It's just that you hardly ever come to visit us in Metropolis. And you're moving away to college next month." She scuffed her shoe in the ground. "I guess I'm just afraid I'll never see you again."
"Ellie, of course we'll still see each other." Ellie lifted her head to meet his gaze as he continued to reassure her. "We always get together for holidays, don't we? And now that you have your flying license, do you really think I'll be able to hide from you?" She grinned shyly.
"I guess not. And you can always fly home to us," she remarked pointedly.
Jon sighed. "Ellie, you know I don't like doing that. I only fly when I have to."
"I know you do. It's just silly that you don't want to use your natural abilities." She looked at him slyly. "I think I know the real reason why you won't fly."
"I'm faster than you and you're afraid of being beaten by a girl."
Jon scoffed. Old feelings of sibling rivalry began simmering in his stomach. "Yeah, right. I'm older than you; I've been able to fly for longer."
"Yeah, but I've had much more practice," she said smugly. "I've flown across the globe. You only fly between Smallville and Metropolis."
"Sorry, Ellie. In this case, age rules over experience." Ellie stood with her arms crossed, examining Jon critically.
"There's only one way to settle this," she announced with a gleam in her eye.
"No way, Ellie. I don't do that remember?"
"Wow, you really are a chicken, aren't you?" Her taunting face egged him on. Finally, he gave a small nod of assent. Ellie's face split into a grin. "First one to the Grand Canyon wins. On your mark... Get set...
There is a small but exclusive gentleman's club nestled in the heart of downtown Metropolis. It is named, most unoriginally, The Gentleman's Club. Its main attractions are the vast selection of high-brow liquor, the seafood sampler platter, and the women; who are all young, fit, and scantily clad. The traditional uniform for a cocktail waitress consists of a tight corset style top, and a short clingy skirt that is better described as a fringe. I think I have belts wider than that skirt. As long as the girl wears the regulation garter, and subscribes to The Gentleman's Club color scheme, the accessories are for her own choosing. That night, I had chosen a pair of midnight blue fishnets and high spike heels. I had a glittering necklace that swooped across my chest in a vain attempt to disguise my exposed cleavage but I think all it did was draw attention to it. The outfit completely objectified my body, and caused far too many eyes to wander. The corset top made it difficult to breathe, and I couldn't even cross my legs without showing a flash of coordinating underwear. It was, in short, demeaning, uncomfortable, and embarrassing. But the shoes were awesome.
The biggest risk (although it wasn't a very big one) in this assignment was that someone would recognize me. That would mean that both of my careers would come to a sudden and unpleasant end. But it was unlikely that any of the parents, staff, and least of all, students from Riverview Alternative would come to The Gentleman's Club. And even if they did come, it was extremely unlikely they would see Kaylie Stewart as their cocktail waitress. 'Catty Collins' sported a bleach-blonde bob that was radically different from my normal shoulder length auburn style, and wore a heavy layer of makeup with dark color around the eyes. I was blessed with a peculiar shade of hazel eyes that absorbed surrounding color, in this case causing my eyes to darken without needing colored contacts. Plus, my four inch heels made me significantly taller than I really was. Catty was nothing like Kaylie. She sauntered around the club, sending smoldering glares at the customers. She pursed her lips seductively and trailed her hands over the shoulders of the clients as she passed them. Eyes swiveled after her in her wake as she glided across the floor.
As much as I hated playing the part, it was what kept my cover alive. If Sproxton was looking for an agent to be working in the crowd, he would least suspect the most promiscuous one of the lot to be it. He was, on top of all his other despicable qualities, a chauvinistic pig.
As I cleared away empty whiskey glasses from a nearby table, I struggled to make out the conversation he was having with another middle aged man in a secluded booth.
"...business is doing well, I trust?" the greasy stranger asked Sproxton.
"As well as can be expected," he replied. "Of course a man in my position always hopes for the best and expects the worst." He laughed jovially and sucked heavily on his cigar. I wandered innocuously closer to his booth, pretending to clear off empty tables.
"A cautious man such as yourself no doubt considers all consequences before making a business decision," Greasy simpered.
"You're certainly correct," Sproxton declared. "An unwise investment could ruin a... businessman such as myself. Especially in these dangerous times."
"Ah, yes. You're very wise. The times are certainly dangerous, what with Intergang's rise in power." Finally, they were getting around to the point of the meeting. I polished the same spot on the table over and over again as I strained my ears to hear the conversation over the noise of the club.
"Correct me if I'm wrong my friend, but I have heard rumors that Intergang's been having some leadership issues lately. Mutiny in the ranks." Sproxton stabbed his cigar stub in the ashtray and took a swig of his drink. Greasy shook his head and smiled benevolently.
"You, of all people, should know not to listen to rumors. They're nothing but unsubstantiated lies spread in an effort to appease the masses. Intergang is not so indiscreet as to allow details of its inner workings to be known to the general public."
"I suppose," Sproxton sighed, "that the only way one might really know the strength of Intergang is to speak to one of the executives. Not to pathetic underlings who've been sent to offer petty bribes in exchange for half-hearted allegiance." Here his voice sharpened, and Greasy's slimy smile slipped. He was about to open his mouth in defense when Sproxton suddenly looked up and locked gazes with me. In my interest in the conversation I had come too close to his booth and remained for too long looking at the pair. I resisted the urge to drop my gaze, a sure giveaway that I had been watching, and instead returned his stare, giving him a long, slow once-over. Sproxton was well built for a man of his age, and I could see at least three conspicuous bulges where various weaponry was no doubt hidden. I felt his eyes crawling over me in return and I submitted to the visual inspection unflinchingly. Finally he dismissed me as a non-threat.
"Another round, miss," he commanded. Dammit, I cursed inwardly. Although I was able to decipher the innuendo and subtext within the conversation, there was no way that it would hold up in an inquiry. I still had no proof. But he had asked for another drink so I had no choice but to walk away from the pair, leaving them to discuss who knows what as I went to get refills. I was, after all, just a cocktail waitress.
I was on outfit number six by the time he knocked on my balcony door. I raced over to let him in as I struggled to twist my arm into the blazer I had chosen. I slid open the door and Supernova (or Jor, as I was to call him) stepped into the room.
"Hey," he grinned at me.
"Where are we going?" I blurted out. He chuckled.
"It's nice to know that a night apart didn't change your opinion of me. You still treat me with the highest respect."
"Do you have any idea how difficult it is to dress for a date when you have no idea where you're going?" I snapped. "If it's the traditional dinner date then I have to wear something dressy, but if you're one of those guys who take girls out paintballing as a first date then I'd end up ruining my nice clothes and then when you finally decide to have a nice date with me I have nothing to wear because all my clothes are covered in paint splotches. So I've been trying on about a billion different outfits trying to find something that's nice, but not too nice and something that I can wash paint out of and that's a lot harder than it looks." I straightened my jacket uneasily. Jor cocked his head to the side and peered at my outfit questioningly.
"You don't have a swimsuit underneath all that, do you?"
"What?! No. Wait, did you *look*?!!!" I crossed my arms in front of me in a vain attempt to protect myself. Jor rolled his eyes.
"Of course not, your virtue's safe with me. But you might want to change into a swim suit and some beach clothes because that's where we're going."
"We're going to the beach?" I asked confusedly. "Isn't it a little out of season?"
"Well that depends on where we go, now doesn't it?" His eyes twinkled at me. Was he going to take us to a tropical beach on our first date? Wow.
"Okay, just give me a minute to change." I entered my room dazedly and threw on my swimsuit and warm cover-up clothing, kicking my last attempt at an outfit into the corner. Jor smiled at me as I entered.
"Now it's time for me to change," he said. All of a sudden, he disappeared into a spinning blur of colors. I was completely spellbound. I had spent most of our acquaintance convincing him not to use super-speed, so I had never actually seen him doing it up close. The small tornado that contained my date for the evening slowed, and I was able to make out his features once more.
From the neck up he looked the exact same, but instead of the typical spandex uniform I had always known him to wear; he had on a black t-shirt and a pair of dark-rinse jeans that accentuated his long, powerful legs. Very long, and very powerful. My slackened jaw was a testimony to the fact.
"Wow." I blinked. "So that's one way to get out of your work clothes." He smiled at me self-consciously.
"What do you think?"
"I think... that that's pretty amazing." I stepped closer to him, taking in his appearance. He ducked his head down to my level and we shared a soft kiss. As we broke apart I could see his eyes questioning me silently, asking if the change was too much. I responded to his question with one of my own.
"So are you going to tell me where this mysterious beach is?"
"Nope. That would spoil the surprise." I sighed wistfully.
"Well I guess I'll have to find out when we get there." Jor grasped my hand and started towards my balcony, and I was suddenly reminded of our mode of transportation. Flying. Right. My heart tripped over itself and Jor must've realized that something was wrong because he turned back to me with an expression of concern on his face.
"Kaylie, are you ok with the flying? Because if you're not we don't have to go. We can do something else."
"No! I-I mean I'm not *not* scared but I want to... I mean we can't spend all our time in my apartment and flying is the way to..." I took a breath and spoke calmly. "I want to do this with you. I want to go to your mystery beach."
"You know that I won't let anything happen to you," He told me. I nodded.
"I trust you."
Hours later, we were lying together on the beach with the sand acting as a perfect pillow. The island that Jor had taken us to was completely uninhabited except for the local wildlife, and he refused to tell me where in the world it was. If I had really wanted to I could have taken notice of the angle of the sun, combined with a survey of the flora and fauna, and figured out the general location of the island, but I didn't want to. It would've spoiled the magic of the whole thing. We thoroughly explored the terrain before Jor led us to the picnic he had prepared for us. The nice thing about having a superhero for a boyfriend is that you don't need to worry about keeping the drinks cold and the food hot. He just does it all for you.
And now we were lying in each other's arms as we listened to the sound of the waves hitting the beach. Jor looked into my eyes intently, deep in thought. Finally, he spoke.
"First kiss," he declared.
"Oh no," I groaned. "Can't I pass on this one?"
"Nope," he replied smugly. "No passes. That's the rules; you have to answer the question no matter what."
"Fine," I grumbled. "My first kiss was with Eddie Schumacher in the eighth grade. We went to go see a movie together and he tried to kiss me during the film."
"Well, he scared me," I explained. "I wasn't expecting him to do that so I kicked him in the shin and pushed him away."
"Jeez, I'm starting to think it may be a good thing that I'm invulnerable." I gave Jor a mock punch on the shoulder and he pretended that it hurt.
"Anyway, I felt really bad about it so after we left the theatre I gave him another kiss without the physical violence."
"And how was it?"
"What, are you jealous?" I teased.
"Should I be?" I paused for a moment, thinking back.
"It was wet," I finally decided.
"And... how about this kiss?" He leaned in to kiss me gently on the mouth.
"Mmm... I'm not sure. I think you might have to do it again." He was happy to oblige.
"I think... I think I need to have it once more to get a full handle on the description. Would you...?"
"Happy to," he murmured as he drew me in for yet another kiss. "Another?" he asked breathlessly.
"Wait a minute buddy," I planted my hands on his chest and pulled myself away from his body. "You're just trying to get out of answering your question! It's my turn to ask!" Jor sighed dramatically.
"Busted," he joked. "So what's my question?"
"I want to know what your first kiss was." He shook his head.
"No repeats, remember? That's the--"
"The rules, yeah I know. Fine, I'll think of something else." I chewed my lip, stared at him intently for a few moments, and then decided on the perfect question. "When did you discover that your dad was Superman?" I asked. "Your parents must've waited until you were old enough to understand how important it was to keep the secret, right? So I want to know when they finally told you." He was silent for a few minutes, thinking. I started to wonder if I had maybe been too intrusive. Then he finally met my gaze again and I could see the sadness behind his eyes.
"It's kind of a long story," he said.
"We have time." He nodded, collecting himself. Then he took a deep breath and began.
"My parents never told me, I kind of stumbled upon the information myself. I was fifteen years old and I was looking in my parent's closet when I tripped the secret lever and opened the hidden compartment where all of my dad's suits were kept." He shook his head, still working through his emotions. "I had no idea what to think. I kept telling myself that there would be another explanation that I wasn't thinking of. That my dad couldn't possibly be Superman because then he would've lied to me all those years. My mom came upstairs and found me pulling suits of hangers, chucking them all over the room. She had us all sit down at the kitchen table and have a family meeting. That's when my parents finally explained everything to my sister and me. Before that we were both completely clueless."
"That must've been a huge shock at fifteen." I restrained the anger I was feeling. He should've been told sooner. Fifteen was much too old to be keeping a secret like that from your kid.
"It was. I had no idea that my dad was anything but an ordinary guy. I actually didn't believe him at first, and he had to give a demonstration of all his powers right there at the kitchen table. I was really upset. My parents had been lying to me for fifteen years and I felt stupid for not suspecting and scared because I felt like I didn't even know them." He paused for a moment, thinking. "I was angry for a long time. I moved out of the house and went to live with my grandparents. It only made matters worse when all the superpowers that my parents thought I didn't have were suddenly dumped on me like a ton of bricks. It was as if there was some sort of mental block about the whole thing. I wasn't Superman's kid so I couldn't have Superman's powers. But as soon as I knew the truth all these abilities appeared. It took me a long time to control them, and that was part of the reason why I was so angry. It felt like my own body was betraying me."
"How could they've not told you in fifteen years?" I wondered aloud.
"It wasn't that they weren't planning on it. But they always thought they'd tell me when I first started to get a hint of having the powers. But of course I didn't get any of that stuff until they actually told me the truth. My parents were used to keeping it a secret, and the more used you are to keeping a secret, the harder it is to finally tell the truth." He sighed heavily. "I didn't really understand that until about a year ago, but even though I didn't completely understand it back then, I was able to put that past me. People make mistakes. I was long past the age of thinking my parents were infallible and I could've forgiven them for that eventually. But that wasn't the real reason why I was mad at them."
"What was it?"
"I was mad at my parents because I desperately wanted to be normal, and my newly discovered superpowers made that impossible. I was lacking so much control that I couldn't join any sports for a year after, and even then I was too scared of hurting someone to even try. Even though my grandparents live in a small town, I still managed to find the worst crowd possible to hang around with. I started to get into drinking and drugs but that stuff doesn't have any effect on me so I soon gave it up. Looking back, I realize it was a good thing. Who knows what kind of damage I might have caused if my judgment was impaired?"
"But now you're flying around in spandex rescuing people on a regular basis. You must've come to accept your powers sometime."
"My acceptance kinda snuck up on me. I had to use my powers to do certain things like shave or cut my hair so I got comfortable using them. Gradually, I started using my powers more and more just because it was easier. And of course my sister was always there challenging me to races, arm-wrestling, whatever. I would have to use superpowers just to keep up with her."
"Sibling rivalry works its charm yet again," I teased.
He smiled in response. "It was on my nineteenth birthday that I finally realized I no longer needed a normal life."
"My parents offered to by me a car as a birthday present."
"Pretty generous," I commented.
"It was," he agreed. "But I didn't want it."
"The only thing that ran through my mind at the time was why I would want a car in the first place when I could fly around at super-speed and get anywhere I wanted on my own steam? The moment I thought that I knew that I wasn't going to live a normal life no matter how hard I tried to fool myself. So I chose to accept what was given to me. A year later I became Supernova and I have been for the last five years."
"Saving the world from criminals and fighting for truth, justice and the American way." I traced my hand along his jaw, drawing his face into a smile.
"And also saving crazy schoolteachers from their fate."
"Hey! I thought we agreed that the word 'passionate' would be a better description than crazy."
"Well I always say that there's a thin line between passion and insanity." He drew his hand up along the side of my leg and around my waist.
"Isn't it supposed to be genius and insanity?" I asked, struggling desperately to remain focused on the conversation.
"I guess it depends on how you look at it." He ducked in and stole a kiss from me.
"Well, I think... I..." I could hardly string two words together because I was having such a difficult time concentrating between all the kisses that were raining down on me. "You know you can be very... very... oh, what the hell." Finally I gave up and allowed Jor to carry me away.
He straightened his tie nervously as he entered the restaurant. He was late. Again. He searched the elegantly furnished room and found her sitting alone at a table, propping up her head with her right hand and idly stirring her drink with her left. He rushed over to the table and sat down across from her.
"Hi," he began apprehensively.
"You're late," she remarked coldly.
"Yeah, sorry about that. There was a mugging and I had to..." He dropped his voice down and leaned in so she could hear him. "Be Supernova for a bit." She stabbed her straw through the ice cubes in her empty glass and pierced him with a cold, steel-grey stare.
"And Clark or Ellie couldn't have handled it because...?" Jon bristled.
"I was nearby, Amanda. If I had called for my dad or Ellie the guy would've gotten away by the time they came. Just because I have a date with you doesn't mean I can ignore the rest of the world." His winced inwardly at his sharpness, a symptom of his guilt. True, he couldn't just ignore the mugging that had happened right under his nose, but he didn't have to personally escort the perpetrator to the police station, and although he tried to give the police detailed reports whenever possible, he could've come back to the station the next day. The truth was, he had been stalling. He wanted to come late, and that both worried him and made him squirm with guilt. He took a deep breath to collect himself. "Look, I'm sorry I was late. Let's just try to forget about it. Ellie agreed to take care of any rescue calls tonight so you have me for the rest of the evening, okay? Please, Mandy?"
"Fine," she said curtly, and briskly opened her menu. Silence settled uncomfortably between them, an unwelcome third wheel on their already difficult date.
"So," he cleared his throat awkwardly. "How was your day?"
"It was fine," she said, keeping her eyes glued to the menu in front of her. "I got some work done which is more than I can say for -- Oh! Waiter!" She flagged down the man passing their table. "I'll have another one of these please." She gestured to the empty glass in front of her.
"I'll just have water," Jon muttered. The waiter nodded and left the two of them alone again. "Mandy, how much have you had to drink already?" he asked gently. Her menu clapped shut.
"I'm not drunk, if that's what you're asking," she snapped. "Just because you're some kind of paragon of family values doesn't mean the rest of us can't have two drinks while we wait *twenty minutes* for our boyfriends to show up." Jon sighed, exasperated. "Or maybe the reason you're so upset is because your date last night was more frugal and you didn't have to blow as much money on her."
"We've been over this, Amanda," he spoke between clenched teeth, "Supernova made that commitment to the bachelor auction months ago. I couldn't just cancel."
"Yeah, I know," she brushed off the explanation roughly.
"It wasn't even a date, Mandy. The girl barely spoke the whole time except to ask if the suit actually came off." Amanda refused to be amused. Jon was close to losing his patience with the whole conversation. "Do you have a problem with me using my other identity to raise money for charities?" Amanda threw her napkin on the table, her eyes full of anger. And hurt.
"Yeah, Jon that's it. I'm such a selfish bitch that I want to keep you from helping starving African children or whatever that stupid date was for." She stood up from the table and grabbed her handbag. "I'm going home. You can pay for my extravagant booze tab yourself if you don't have to go arrest another mugger or something." And she stormed out of the restaurant.
It wasn't supposed to be this way, he thought in frustration. Sure, he expected her to be upset at first. He had hidden a major part of his life from her and that would change her perception of him. But when was she going to accept that part? Shouldn't it be smoother between them now that all of his mysterious disappearances were explained? But their relationship had only grown more and more difficult since he had told her everything. They fought constantly, and as much as she was striking out at him at every possible moment, he knew that he was acting like an inconsiderate jerk around her. He got up from his seat and threw a few bills on the table to pay for her drinks. She was right, too -- she hadn't been drunk. He had seen her drunk at that Christmas party last year and knew what the signs were. Why had he made that stupid comment about her drinking? It was rude and mean-spirited, designed to draw attention away from his own shortcomings as a boyfriend. As he walked out the door and onto the street, he began to wonder, not for the first time, if he had made a huge mistake in telling her the truth.
I spent most of the day after our first date running errands. The constant nighttime visits from Jor combined with my undercover work meant that I had run pitifully low on groceries and other essentials. I returned to my apartment that evening with my arms laden down with bags. I stepped through the doorway, dropping my keys on the nearby table. Suddenly, I got the feeling that something wasn't right. Someone had been or was still in my apartment. Trying not to draw attention to myself, I closed the door behind me, attempting to keep my movements as innocent as possible. I didn't want whoever it was to know that I had noticed their presence. Arms still full of grocery bags, I used my elbow to flick the light switch on. Then I saw it: a dark head sticking up above the back of my sofa. Wasting no time, I launched myself across the room and tackled the person sitting there. I don't think he was expecting me to attack, which should've been my first clue. He made very little effort to defend himself, instead allowing me to pull him down off the sofa and catch him in a chokehold. It wasn't until I heard his strangled gasp that I recognized him. After twenty-four years of hearing his voice it would've been difficult to mistake it.
"Jay?" I panted. "What the hell are you doing here?" I relaxed my hold of him and climbed off his torso.
"What, a guy can't come to visit his sister without a good reason?" The reckless, smart-alecky grin was also very familiar.
"In polite society, it's customary to at least call first," I commented, sifting through the pile of groceries I had dropped. "I think my tomatoes are bruised,"
"Well, that should teach you to go around tackling people."
"How was I supposed to know it was you?" I asked incredulously. "For all I knew someone could've caught on to the game and was lying in wait for me here. You're just lucky I didn't shoot you on sight."
"You couldn't have," my brother remarked smugly. "I disabled all your guns." He gestured to my coffee table where my entire arsenal was lying out on display, cartridges removed. Damn.
"Well, what if I had had one on me?" I challenged, not yet ready to give up on the argument.
"You wouldn't," he said confidently. "You were grocery shopping, Kaylie. There's no chance that you would bring a gun on an outing like that and take the risk of someone noticing. That could blow your whole cover."
"You're awfully confidant of yourself," I huffed.
"Dad taught me too, Kaylie. We're both trained to operate in the same way."
"Are you going to tell me why you decided to break cover and visit or are you going to leave me to puzzle it out myself?" I asked exasperatedly.
"I'm just checking up on you, Kaylie," he told me innocently, "making sure you're doing okay. I haven't seen you in months."
"We see each other at checkpoints," I pointed out. I didn't entirely buy his excuse. There had to be a reason for his visit beyond a social call.
"I mean really see each other, Kaylie. A checkpoint doesn't count, there's no time to really talk."
"Not much to talk about," I shrugged.
"Really. So you're not going to tell me about this new guy?" he asked.
"What guy?" I asked warily. How did he know about Jor? Instead of answering my question, Jay strode over to an absolutely gorgeous bouquet of flowers sitting on my table. I hadn't seen them there before.
"Dear Kaylie," he read. "Still thinking about last night. Yours, 'J'." A stupid, sloppy grin spread over my face.
"He must've dropped them off while I was out shopping." I snatched the card from Jay's hand and read it myself.
"So who is he?"
"We went on a date, Jay. Don't worry, he's perfectly safe."
"You don't know that, Kaylie," he warned me. "He could have been sent to get close to you and find out if you're a threat, or he could even just be an ignorant pawn. Who knows?"
"That's not it Jay, he's just a nice guy who happens to like me."
"Then how did he get these flowers in here?" Jay challenged. "Your door was locked when I came, and there were no signs of tampering. Unless he scaled the side of your building and let himself in through your balcony, which by the way should be kept locked, he's got some hidden talents." I refused to comment. He sighed. "Just give me his name, Kaylie. I'll do a thorough background check; maybe trail him of a couple days just to make sure he's clean."
"He's clean," I insisted. "I'm not going to tell you his name. That would be a betrayal of trust."
"Fine," He snapped. "Then give me the card and I'll run handwriting and fingerprint analysis on it." I backed away from him, holding the card close to me.
"Don't you dare take this card, Jason." I used his full name, hoping it would drive the point home. I couldn't exactly tell him that the reason I was so sure of my new boyfriend was that he happened to be a superhero, and that I couldn't even tell him Jor's real name if I wanted to. "Can't you trust my instincts on this?" I pleaded. "I *know* he's clean."
Jay gave a defeated sigh, and collapsed on the sofa. "Okay, fine. I'll trust your judgment. It's just that I worry about you. If someone ever found out what you really do then your whole life would be torn apart. You'd have to be undercover for the rest of your life."
"Why are you really here, Jay?" He didn't speak for a moment, just massaged his temples. He was always getting headaches since that one time in Taiwan.
"I'm being transferred to L.A.," he finally admitted. The news came as a heavy punch in the gut. We were being split up?
"What? They can't... But what about The Scorpion?" I gave the code name for Sproxton. It had been ingrained in us to never, ever speak the real names of targets on the off chance that there was a bug planted in the room.
"Kaylie, I know that you think he's the one. But the reality is there are three other guys who are just as likely. We have to try to investigate them too."
"It's him, I know it is," I insisted. "I just need more time. I'll get the evidence."
"I believe you, Kaylie. I, of all people, know how good your instincts are, they've gotten us out of a million scrapes in the past." He gestured for me to sit beside him on the sofa. "But the best way for me to help you is to rule out the other guys first and then come back here."
"Dad always trusted you more than me," I muttered. I couldn't believe he was taking Jay away from me. We had been a team ever since our very first assignment. To my dismay I felt a hot prickle rising up behind my eyes.
"Kaylie, Dad does trust you. It's just that resources are thin right now and we have to be as efficient as possible."
"I'll get the evidence I need," I said with determination, furiously blinking the tears back. "I'll nail him, you'll see."
"I know you will, Kaylie. Just don't do anything stupid to try to prove yourself, ok?" I smiled faintly. It was the typical exchange in our partnership. Each of us warning the other against being crazy, each of us ignoring the advice.
"I'm going to miss you, Jay."
"Don't worry, Kaylie. You'll be keeping pretty busy with this great new guy of yours." He stood up to leave. "When I come back I expect to meet him."
"You'll have to come out from undercover to do that," I remarked.
"Judging by the dopey smile on your face the minute you saw those flowers, I think it might be worth it." His face sobered. "Be careful with him, okay, Kaylie? Even if he is clean, you can't tell him about you and risk blowing the whole mission."
"I know," I replied softly as I let him out of the apartment. It was rule number one that had been drilled into our heads since the very first day. Never tell anyone the truth. Ever.
He knocked nervously on her apartment door and waited for her to answer. It had been bad this time. She had just been talking about how he always seemed to be running off on her, and asking him if that meant there was a problem with the relationship when he picked up a police radio. School shooting. He had had to go. Of course by the time he returned she was long gone.
The door opened abruptly, catching him off guard. Although she must have just gotten home from work she had already changed into sweats and pulled her long brown hair back in a ponytail. Amanda had always joked that the reason she had gotten a Theatre degree was so that she could wear stretch pants to work and not look out of place. As The Daily Planet's Drama critic she did have to prescribe to the employee dress code, but that didn't stop her from changing the minute she got home.
"Hi Mandy," Jon began hesitantly.
"Did you decide to come over here to finish our conversation?" she asked. She crossed her arms in front of her defensively.
"Um, yeah. Can I come in?" Mandy wordlessly opened the door wider to allow Jon to step into her apartment. He led them over to the kitchen table where they sat across from each other.
"Are we going to actually finish the conversation this time?" she asked scathingly. "Or will you suddenly have to return another library book or something?" Jon winced. After almost thirty years of being in the business, the Kent family had yet to manufacture more convincing excuses.
"Look Mandy... I-I know that things have been rocky between us for the last while."
"That's an understatement," she said wryly.
"But things are going to change now. Everything will be different, I promise." It'll be better, Jon promised himself. Once he told her the truth, everything would change for the better.
"Why is it going to be different, Jon?" she asked. "Are you going to stop running away from me every time I want to talk about something important? Are you going to start acting like I matter to you?" He should've told her earlier, he thought to himself. He'd already hurt her so much with his constant lying.
"Mandy," he began slowly, "I want to tell you something that I've wanted to tell you for a long time. But I couldn't as it's not just my secret. Letting you in on it is big step and it's something I wouldn't do if you weren't so important to me. But once you know it, it's your secret, too, and you can't tell any one else."
"Okay," she said warily.
"I actually have a good reason for running out all the time. It isn't because I don't care about you or because I don't want to hear what you have to say." He took a breath to collect himself. "It's because I have a... Well, I guess you could call it a second job." Amanda's forehead wrinkled in concentration.
"And whenever you run off when I'm trying to talk to you or when you're late for a date, you're off doing this second job?"
"Jon, what kind of job makes you run off at odd hours and is such a secret that you can't tell anyone?"
"Well, Mandy," Jon reached up and drew his glasses off his face. "The thing is: I'm Supernova."
And everything changed.
I had always hated going to the dentist, and this day was no exception. My previous dentist had sold off his practice to a guy who looked a little too chisel happy to put me at ease so I had been forced to switch to a new practice in a new building. Dr Brack had been recommended by one of the teachers at Riverview, so hopefully it would be worth the long trek into a relatively unfamiliar part of town. I glanced once again at the scrap of paper in my hand, then back up at the street sign at the corner. I still needed to walk two more blocks south before I got to the street where Dr Brack's office was. I set off down the street, sipping my coffee. I could never remember if you were supposed to refrain from eating or drinking an hour before or an hour after you went to see the dentist. Oh well, H.G. Brack could endure my coffee breath for the half hour checkup I was scheduled for, he was certainly being paid enough. Still maintaining the quick pace I always set when walking in the city, I checked the scrap of paper again. Wait; was that a five or a six? I stopped abruptly to take a closer look at my colleague's scrawled writing, and I was bumped harshly from behind. The motion knocked against the arm that held my coffee, and I ended up spilling it all over my cream-colored suit jacket.
"Oh! Sorry!" My accidental attacker bent down and fumbled to pick up my dropped cup.
"It's okay," I assured him. "I shouldn't have stopped so suddenly." I brushed my hand absentmindedly over my ruined jacket.
"I'm really sorry," he repeated. And this time I noticed a weird undertone to his words, a sort of awkward quality that went beyond the expected embarrassment. He stood up again, adjusting his glasses and staring at the ground. "Well, I should um..." He gestured vaguely with his thumb in the direction that he no doubt had been going when he bumped into me. "Sorry," he said again. Then he looked at me. It was a sweeping glance before he started walking away down the street. We made eye contact for less than a second, yet it was long enough for an electric jolt to shoot through me. I watched the man's suit-jacketed back disappearing among the crowds of people walking down the sidewalk. It couldn't possibly be... Could it?
As it turned out, Jor gave me the perfect opening that night to question him. He arrived at my apartment later than we had originally agreed. Weeks after our first date, we had started to fall into a routine of sorts.
"Sorry I'm late," he apologized. "There was an oil spill off the coast and we were all helping out with the clean up."
"I saw it on the news," I replied. We shared the customary kiss that had quickly become second nature to the both of us.
"Then I had to go back to my apartment and get cleaned up a bit," he continued. I handed him a freshly doctored cup of coffee and he nodded his thanks. "Do you have any idea how difficult crude oil is to get out of your hair? Not to mention the stains it's going to leave on my suit." Bingo. The perfect opening.
"I guess you end up with all kinds of crazy stuff on that uniform," I commented nonchalantly. He shrugged noncommittally. "Maybe I should ask you for some laundry advice."
"Why, you got any stained spandex hidden away?" he teased. His back was to me, putting in the movie I had chosen for tonight while I was still in the kitchen fiddling with my coffee.
"No spandex," I replied, "but I did get coffee spilled all over my favorite blazer today. This complete idiot bumped into me on the street and knocked my coffee cup right out of my hand." Jor stiffened, and I could see a red blush crawling up his neck. Oh, he was so busted.
"R-really?" he asked nervously, keeping his head and neck suspiciously rigid.
"Yeah, but it wasn't all that bad. The guy was really cute," I drawled. "I might try looking him up and asking him out on a date sometime. That is, if things don't work out between us." Jor whirled around and gave me such a deer-in-the-headlights look that I couldn't hold out any longer. I grabbed a nearby throw pillow and chucked it at his head. "You brat!" I exclaimed. "It was you! You were following me!"
"I wasn't following you!" he exclaimed defensively. I gave him a long steady look. "I was just kind of... going where you were going. But how did you recognize me?" he asked incredulously.
"My superior feminine intuition," I claimed.
"Seriously?" I thought for a moment. "The biggest clue was that I knew that Supernova is just a disguise. I knew that you were out there wandering around as a normal ordinary guy for most of the time, so I was looking for you among the ordinary. Also, knowing your voice and mannerisms was a huge clue. And I mean your real voice and mannerisms, not the façade you pull for the public."
We both sat down together on the sofa. "Well, I'm suitably impressed." Jor wrapped his arm around me and drew me close as we shared a kiss. "Just don't ever say a word about it around my mother."
"What? She didn't figure out the secret identity as fast?"
"It took her two years," Jor replied. "And she knew my dad both as a superhero and an ordinary man. My mom's not exactly the type who likes being fooled."
"I don't think any woman enjoys that feeling."
"Did I really ruin your jacket?" Jor asked sheepishly.
"It'll be fine," I reassured him. "And it's not really my favorite, don't worry." I peered at his face interestedly, trying to match it up with the man I had seen earlier today.
"So if you weren't following me exactly, where were you going?"
"I can't tell you that," Jor replied.
"Oh c'mon Jor," I wheedled. "I think it's a fair exchange: A ruined jacket for a glimpse into the secret life of Jor 'Spaceboy' Supernova. You don't have to tell me specifics or anything, just a general idea."
"All right, fine," he conceded. "I was coming back from my lunch break on my way to work."
"Hmm... Very revealing." We had done this before. Jor would give me some sort of useless trivia about his life and I would try to interpret as much as I could about it. "You work in the Central Business District, home to many offices and other places of business that employ thousands of people. So you have a white collar job."
"What makes you think I work in one of the buildings?" Jor challenged. "I could be a construction worker or someone like that who's working on or around the buildings and not actually in them."
"Nice try, Spaceboy, you're not going to get me off the trail that easily. You were wearing a suit jacket and tie, which is not the traditional outfit of a construction worker. Also that rules out any profession that requires a uniform. I guess being Supernova is enough of a uniform that you don't feel the need to wear one when you're not saving the world." I tapped his chest where the S crest sat, and he smiled in confirmation. "Then there's the matter of your lunch break." He cocked an eyebrow in my direction.
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"It was after two when we collided, which is a little late for lunch. That probably means you work in a fast-paced environment where lunch is sometimes put on hold to make room for business."
"Have I ever told you that you're brilliant?"
"Frequently. But you can always tell me it again." I tilted my chin up, silently asking for another kiss, but I could sense some kind of hesitation. I dropped my playful attitude and looked at him seriously. "Jor, you know that I would never go against your wishes and try to find out who you are, right?"
"I know," he replied hesitantly.
"And even though I know what you look like now, that doesn't change anything. When you think about it, how many people work in that area? There's Chow Towers, The Daily Planet, LNN, and the old LuthorCorp building all within the same few blocks, and those are just the big ones, not even counting the smaller buildings and companies. And I'm hardly ever in that area of the city so it's unlikely that I'll bump into you as you again."
"I would never betray your trust like that. This relationship is too important for me to risk it by doing something so stupid." Jor smile faintly and I felt him relax beside me.
"I know that, Kaylie. And the way you've handled the... oddities of this relationship is so amazing. Thank you for understanding." He finally drew me in for the long awaited kiss, and we spent several minutes cuddling together on the sofa before I finally broke the silence.
"So glasses, huh?"
"Yeah. They're actually made with leaded lenses. I started wearing them when I was fifteen and I couldn't control my X-ray vision. I just kind of stuck with them ever since and it helps to maintain the disguise." I closed my eyes and scrunched my face, bringing the face of Jor's alter ego to my mind.
"I think I like them," I decided. "With the glasses and your hair looser it makes you look softer somehow. I think I could get used to that someday." I fiddled with his hair the way it was now, slicked back with copious use of gel. "So," I began, changing subjects completely, "I have a bit of a favor to ask you."
"You know I'd do just about anything for you."
"Well it's not just for me," I explained hesitantly. "It's also for twenty-five students and a fellow staff member at Riverview." His raised his eyebrows in surprise.
"You're going to have to explain that one a bit more, Kaylie."
"My friend Thea and I are responsible for getting a speaker to come and talk to the graduating class about this time of year to get them thinking about their futures. Going to college or a trade school maybe. Most deadlines for applications are coming up soon and we want as many of our students as possible to continue with their education. We were going to have one of the city councilors come but she cancelled. I guess increased property taxes are more important than students at Riverview. A lot of things are more important than students at Riverview," I added a little bitterly.
"Let me guess," Jor began, "you wanted to know if Supernova would be available to make an appearance."
"Only if you want to," I rushed to clarify. "You don't have to if you don't want to, there's no pressure."
"Of course I want to, Kaylie. What would make you think I wouldn't want to?"
"Well, I just didn't want it to look like I was taking advantage of having you as a boyfriend. I didn't want you to think I was using your identity for selfish reasons."
"Kaylie, it's hardly selfish to want the best for your students. When am I supposed to come for this speech?"
"Next Friday," I reply with a grin.
"I'll be there."
I hadn't done any serious drawing since my university days, but tonight after Jor had left it felt very comforting to be able to sit down again with thick paper and a smudgy stub of charcoal pencil.
Flying in the face of artistic convention, I started with the glasses. Rectangular in shape, deep red in color, they were very stylish and contemporary. I saw these glasses as the heart of his identity. They were the polar opposite of Supernova, creating the illusion of imperfection instead of projecting godliness. I drew the shape of his head around the glasses and began to fill in the rest of his features. Although my stub came out as only grey, I still thought in color. The hair was a rich brown, lighter than his slicked down style suggested. He wore it freer when he was himself. I could see its softness in my imagination and I yearned to touch it with my fingers. It looked longer too, the way he wore it. Maybe the flattened hair gave the illusion of a shorter cut or something. It was messier too, rumpled and tousled. I could see this man right now, sitting at his desk, shoving his hand into his hair, burying it among the loose strands and shaking out any semblance of order.
He had an expressive mouth. Its shape twisted and turned in response to his emotions. It tightened almost imperceptivity at the corners when he was nervous or worried, it broke wide open when he smiled, and hung loose sloppily when he was shocked. Inviting lips that were sensitive and powerful all at once and that never failed to pull me towards him.
His eyebrows lay thick over his eyes. Always twitching, quirking, tilting, pinching, rising, moving, they told me the story of his mind. A straight nose pointed downward to a strong chin. Strong, but not hard, nothing about this man was hard.
His ears were maybe the only aspect that could be considered a flaw. They were big. Just a smidgen, just a hair. The glasses especially brought attention to them. They humanized him. I loved those ears.
I drew the eyes last of all. I had spent countless hours staring into those eyes and I could map them as easily as I could map the south bank of the Hobbs River (which, by the way, I could do very easily). To say they were brown would be to negate the incredible power of those eyes. The flecks of gold that burst forth and the ravines of darkness that dipped further down created such movement, such passion within his eyes that made 'brown' a tragedy of a term. And last of all, that glint of spirit hidden within. That special spark that snuck out and zapped me every time he came to see me.
There. Done. I pulled my focus back to take in the picture as a whole. There was my boyfriend, the real man. Although I saw Jor in him, there was a certain quality about this picture that I recognized as something else. Someone else who I hadn't met yet.
I could find him with this picture. The face recognition software I had access to through my contacts would come up with maybe a dozen matches and based on what little trivia I knew I could find out who he was. But I wouldn't. I had promised him I would wait. Walking over to my fireplace, I picked up the lighter and flicked it on; flames spurted up onto the paper and devoured his face. I tossed the picture into the hearth and watched it evaporate into ash. I would wait.
Despite the advice of numerous comic books, generic crime novels, and bad movies; it is not a good idea to participate in any amount of breaking and entering while wearing all black. Think about it: If you were to see a stranger dressed head to toe in black prowling around a street at night while wearing gloves and peering at doorknobs, the first thing you would do is call the police. Also, as much as I wanted to avoid the local authorities, I equally didn't want to do anything that might cause Sproxton to get suspicious. I had pretty much ruled out the idea of video surveillance, but that didn't mean that he hadn't posted plants along the street to keep an eye on things. So I had to be careful.
Although I labored to avoid certain predictable clichés in my work, it appeared that Sproxton had no such qualms. The place that I had followed him to a couple nights ago looked like it had been pulled out of a textbook for evil bad-guy hideouts. It was some kind of abandoned warehouse along Hobbs Bay, an area that had long since fallen into a slum.
By now, Sproxton would be sitting down for his weekly meeting with Intergang officials as they negotiated towards a deal. My work at The Gentleman's Club had given me next to nothing so far, so I decided to give Catty Collins the night off. It was time for... umm... 'some random homeless person' to take charge. Okay, so maybe I hadn't put as much background work into this disguise as I should have. If Jay were here, he would've chewed me out. But what I lacked in preparation I made up for in exuberance. I wore an old tattered outfit that was more patches than anything. A dark toque was pulled over my matted hair and I wore thick gloves despite the warm spring weather. The casual observer wouldn't know that the hat and matted hair were to prevent any hairs from falling out while I was in the building and that the gloves were to prevent fingerprints. But among all that stuff, the most effective element of my disguise was the amount of dirt on my person. Seriously, dirt is the single best disguise available. First of all, it grosses people out so much that they won't even want to look at you for very long. Also, people tend to turn away because they're embarrassed and they won't give you money. Not that I've never gotten money. A couple years ago, I was on stakeout and I made over thirty dollars in one night.
But that's beside the point.
To accompany my disguise, I walked slowly and with a hunch, barely glancing up from the dirty street. I shuffled up to the door and tried the doorknob, knowing that it would be locked. I then rummaged in my handbag, which of course matched the outfit I wore, and pulled out a rusted old pry bar. I made a show of clumsily wrenching at the door before breaking the lock and entering the warehouse.
I had left quite a mark on the door with my purposefully amateur lock jimmying, but that was all part of the plan. Sproxton was smart. He would notice if there was any signs of tampering on his door at all so my next best move was to distract him with some obvious scratches and hope he would pass over the more skilled ones.
The actual warehouse was empty, but there was a little corner office that I spotted to my right that seemed to be the only logical place for a criminal hideaway. This time I used a more delicate approach to opening the door, bringing out a series of thin metal tools, and being extra careful not to scratch the area around the lock. Once inside, I removed my dirty outdoor gloves to reveal clean latex ones. That way I wouldn't get any suspicious dirt on any of the surfaces in here. The room inside was a sterilized version of a personal office. The walls were covered with a nasty shade of green that had last been applied some time ago. There was a desk and chair in the center of the room with a small lamp and pencil cup sitting atop it. The only other furnishing in the room was a dented metal filing cabinet in the far corner. I didn't have much time. I was already taking a huge risk just by coming here without backup, and I didn't need to increase that risk by hanging around this office waiting for Sproxton to come back from The Gentleman's Club. I quickly flipped through the file folders in the cabinet, looking for names that I didn't recognize as legit operations. 'Project Titan' was at the very back of the drawer. I brought it out and began taking pictures of each and every page with my digital camera. I would read the actual contents of the file when I was safer.
Once I finished taking the pictures, I slipped the papers back into the folder and placed it in the exact same spot I had found it, then eased the drawer shut. I visually scanned the room making sure everything was left exactly the way it was before I entered, then shut the door after me, making sure it was locked. Now it was time to distract Sproxton.
I took out the pry bar I had used on the outside door and made a couple of clumsy gashes on his office door, but being sure to keep the lock intact. Then I emptied the disgustingly dirty purse I carried with me and gathered all the garbage I had collected previously into a small pile which I lit on fire. The general story I was going for was that a squatter had managed to break the outside lock and come in for some shelter. The squatter tried to break the office door, maybe looking for valuables, but failed. Then the squatter used what little junk he or she had to create a small fire to warm him or herself. With luck, Sproxton would buy it, and wouldn't look too closely at any other evidence I may have inadvertently left.
I double checked that my camera was still in my purse, and then shifted into the same pitiable women who had broken in as I shuffled back outside.
Jon walked over to Amanda's desk that morning cautiously, trying to gauge the mood she was in.
"Hi, Mandy," he said hesitantly.
"Hey," she said, glancing up at him, giving him a small smile.
"How was your night after I left?"
"I was up late," she replied. "Thinking through things." Jon sat down at the chair opposite her.
"And I don't know yet, Jon." She sighed. "It's going to take me a while to adjust to the new reality." She picked up her mug and took a sip, grimacing at the cold coffee. "Ugh."
"Here." Jon pulled down his glasses and stared at the cup as the liquid inside began to heat up.
"Are you...?" Amanda wrapped her hands around the cup to feel its new warmth. "Wow. I didn't think you did stuff like that here. You know, in public."
"Only when other people aren't watching," he explained. "I don't want to do anything to make them suspicious." Noting her thunderstruck expression, he bent in closer to her. "Are you okay, Mandy?"
"Yes. No. Argh! I don't know," she admitted exasperatedly. "I'm just not sure what to do with all of this. This whole thing about being one of the only people outside your immediate family who knows the secret is scary. It puts a ton of pressure on our relationship and I guess right now I really need you to-" A police siren drowned out the words she said next.
"Could you hold onto that thought, Mandy?" Jon interrupted. "I've gotta run, there's an emergency I have to help out with." He stood and exited the newsroom, failing to hear the words she spoke next.
"I really need you to be supportive."
"Okay everyone!" I called the class to order. "As you all know we have a special guest coming to talk to us today so please get settled into your seats and we can get started."
"Is it that councilwoman who's going to come today?"
"No, she ditched on us, didn't she, Miss S?"
"City council was holding a vote on a very important matter today, Rob. Mrs. Stanford had to be at the meeting." At least Mrs. Stanford *thought* it was important. I had a different opinion, but of course I didn't say any of that to the class. It was hard enough to teach some of these students to respect society without espousing my own contentions.
"Mrs. Burg wouldn't tell us who was coming," another student complained.
"That's because Miss Stewart wouldn't tell me either." My friend Thea winked at me from the back of the classroom.
"Are you gonna tell us now, Miss S?"
"Yeah, who's coming to speak to us?" Jor had probably been listening behind the door, waiting for the perfect cue to enter because right after Rob asked that question the door to the classroom burst open and Supernova strode confidently into the room.
I shared in the collective gasp with the class. His boots shone, his cape flapped majestically in the air-conditioner created breeze, and he proudly bore the crest of the House of El on his chest. He held his head erect, and his posture was flawlessly rigid. I hadn't seen him like this since our very first meeting in that alleyway almost three months ago. Seeing him acting like a superhero again after all the time we had spent together casually gave me a bit of a shock. Luckily I was able to compose myself as he drew up to me and stuck out his hand to shake mine.
"Supernova," I clasped his hand. "Thank you so much for joining us this afternoon. All the students here are very excited to meet you. I'm sure it must've been difficult to come on such short notice."
"Thank you, Miss Stewart," he replied stoically, "Nothing is to too much trouble when it comes to giving to the community." At that moment I couldn't recall if he actually sounded like that when he was Supernova in public or if he was just hamming it up for my benefit. Whatever the motivation, I struggled to maintain a straight face.
"I'm sure your visit today will be something that the students will remember for years to come."
"And I hope that Riverview as a whole will also benefit from this visit." Jor reached behind his back, drawing out an envelope and held it out to me. "I understand you've been searching for funds to pay for a new computer lab here. The Superman Foundation has decided to offer their support to the cause." The sudden gift stunned me. He hadn't mentioned anything about possibly donating something to the school.
"T-thank you!" I squeaked, and tried to bring myself under control. "Your support is very much appreciated." I grasped the envelope, and there was an intense pause between the two of us as we both caught each other's eyes. At our first meeting I had found his nobler-than-thou attitude irritating, but now that I was seeing him in the suit for the first time in quite a while I found it kind of... Well, you know. A fierce blush roared across my face. I cleared my throat and hastily made my way to the back of the classroom to join Thea before my body language betrayed me any more. As it turned out, I was far from safe from the scrutiny of others.
"Okay, spill it," Thea murmured in my ear. It was a large classroom and we were far enough out of everyone's way for us to carry on a quiet conversation.
"What are you talking about?" I asked innocently.
"You and Supernova," she explained. "There's something going on between the two of you." I forced a scoff out of the back of my throat while fighting the sudden nervousness rising in my stomach.
"I have no idea what you're talking about, Thea. I just got him to come speak to the class, that's the only reason why I know him."
"Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get one of them to come out to an event?" Thea retorted. "You have to write to the Superman Foundation in advance and explain all about your organization, providing a ton of background information and even then there's no guarantee someone will come. We're talking months of planning in advance and you managed to get a hold of him in a little over a week. And I can tell just by the way you were looking at him, Kaylie. You guys have some kind of history and I want to hear all about it." My dad had taught me that if someone has cornered you with the truth and you are forced to admit something, it is best to only admit as little as you can get away with, that way your accuser is placated but the majority of your secret is still intact.
"Okay, fine," I surrendered. "He saved me from some muggers downtown but during the rescue I accidentally twisted my ankle. He felt bad about it, and asked me if there was anything he could do to make it up. I couldn't think of anything at the time but when the whole Melinda Stanford problem came up I called in my favor."
"Hmm," she mused. "I would've asked for a thorough kissing if I was you."
"Thea!" I exclaimed, my face instantly heating up as I tried desperately to avoid thinking of all the times he *had* given me a thorough kissing. Very thorough.
"What?" she asked calmly. "Supernova hands you carte blanche and all you can think of is your class? Kaylie, I've said this before and I'll say it again: you need to get yourself some action."
Thea's comments worried me more than I wanted to admit. Hiding my real emotions and motives should have been something close to second nature for me, but apparently all it took was keen observance on Thea's part to see right through me. I also received another blow to my esteem when I was finally able to review the pictures I had taken of the file in Sproxton's office.
Project Titan appeared to be some kind of satellite guided, heat signature targeted "elimination system." The problem was that the designated targets were never referred to by name throughout the whole file. In keeping with the Greek mythology theme they were only referred to as "Kronos and his children." I couldn't nail him for authorizing illegal weapons testing unless I could be sure that the targets weren't actually official ones.
So my big risk had had almost no payoff. Now more than ever I was lamenting the loss of my brother. He was my conduit into the underground and without him I had to plan every contact I made carefully to avoid drawing attention to myself. I had received a postcard from him last week saying that "Aunt Ethel is faring well" which was our basic code to tell each other that we were still alive doing whatever it was that we were doing at the moment. But even though Jay was doing well, I knew it could be weeks if not months before he eliminated the other possibilities and I was growing frustrated with my inability to find any hard proof to stick onto Sproxton.
That was how Jor found me that night, sitting amidst a pile of marking that needed to be done the next day, wallowing in self disgust.
"Hey," he greeted me as he came in from the balcony.
"Hey," I responded shortly, not looking up from my task.
"What's going on? I thought we had a date tonight."
"I have to cancel. This grading needs to be done for tomorrow and I'll be up all night trying to finish it." I didn't mean to sound so curt with him but he must've picked up something in my tone.
"Kaylie, are you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," I told him shortly.
"Is this about that money I brought for the school today? I didn't want to make you feel uncomfortable but when I told my dad that I was coming he suggested that I bring a donation and--"
"Do you know how unfair it is that you can talk to your family about me and I can't talk to anyone about you?" I interrupted.
"Is that what's upsetting you?" he asked warily.
"No, it's not." I scrunched my face up and relaxed it to relieve some of the tension that was building up inside me. "I'm sorry I snapped at you, Jor. It's just that Thea came pretty close to figuring us out earlier today and that worries me. And work is getting stressful right now and I hate having to cancel on you. And it bugs me that when I have to cancel our date I couldn't just call you like in a normal relationship, I had to wait around for you to come pick me up and then disappoint you." I sighed deeply. "But none of that is your fault and I shouldn't be taking it out on you."
"It may not be my fault Kaylie, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about it. If something is worrying you you shouldn't have to hide it." He crossed the room and sat beside me on the sofa. "So you said that Thea was suspicious of our relationship?"
"Yeah." I twiddled with my pen restlessly. "She knew that you can't get Supernova to come to a dinky third rate school without some kind of inside influence, and apparently she noticed some of the chemistry going on between us when you first came in. I told her an edited version of our first meeting and just said that I was calling in a favor to get you to come."
"And she bought it?"
"So what's the problem?"
"The problem is that it shouldn't have happened at all," I told him in frustration. "I shouldn't be that transparent and it worries me that the first time we're ever seen in public together all it takes is a little observation to come dangerously close to the truth."
Jor placed his arm around my shoulder to calm me. "Relax, Kaylie. It'll be okay," he reassured me.
"How?" I demanded.
"Well, I don't know about you, but I can't really think of any other circumstances where Supernova and Kaylie Stewart would appear in public together. And even if we did, now we know to be extra careful. I don't think either of us felt a need to be cautious in that classroom today, I know I wasn't exactly as subtle as I should've been. But I'm sure we will be in the future."
"Okay," I agreed.
"And now about the other thing..."
"Jor, I didn't really mean the thing about not having a way to contact you. I was just venting."
"No, you have a point, Kaylie. It's hardly fair that I just drop in on you whenever I want but you have no way of finding me." He thought for a moment. "I think I may have something that might work. I'll see if I can get it for our date tomorrow night."
"We don't have a date tomorrow night," I pointed out.
"That was before you cancelled tonight," he retorted. "Tomorrow is a remedial date."
"Okay," I smiled.
"That is unless you want me to take care of all this pesky marking for you. It'll only take a couple seconds."
"I wish," I sighed wistfully. "But that would be a breach of my confidentiality agreement. I have to do it all myself."
"Well," Jor stood up. "Until tomorrow then."
"Definitely tomorrow," I agreed, and then stood up so we were level enough to kiss. "Thank you for listening."
"Just being a good boyfriend," he replied.
"Mmm. And you are. The best I could ever hope for."
"A blindfold?" I looked at the multicolored tie in Jor's hand dubiously. "You can't be serious."
"Please, Kaylie? I promise it'll be worth it."
I reached over and pinched the fashion atrocity he held out to me between my fingers and examined it closer. "Please tell me this isn't one of yours."
"It's actually my dad's. My sister's on this vendetta to cure him of all his fashion foibles, so she's taken to hiding his ties at my apartment in the hopes that he won't think to look there."
"Well what can you expect from a man who thinks that multicolored spandex would make for a good work uniform?" I caught sight of Jor's wounded expression. "But I'm sure that *you* have impeccable taste in ties," I reassured him. "It comes from having a sister."
"Thank you for that vote of confidence. Now will you let me put the blindfold on?" I allowed him to cover my eyes with the tie and pull it tight. Then he led me out of the window and we flew off to the undisclosed location of our remedial date.
I had gotten pretty comfortable flying with Jor over the time we had been dating. Flying in his arms actually felt much more stable than standing at the edge of a balcony or on top of a ladder. It was as if gravity didn't really matter anymore. We traveled all over the world for our dates. It was surprising how few people really knew what Supernova looked like, especially in out of the way locations. Even though he kept his hair the same, a pair of sunglasses and a sloppy shirt was enough of a disguise to throw everyone off. But tonight I hoped that we were staying closer to Metropolis. I didn't like the feeling of the blindfold over my eyes; flying was disorienting enough on its own without having my vision impeded. Jor let me down just a few minutes after we took off, and I heard the click of a door or window closing after us. As he pulled the tie off of my head, I found myself standing in the middle of an apartment of modest size, yet still comfortable and homey.
All of the 'rooms' spilled into each other, with no clear boundaries. A finish-stripped table and chairs created the dining area that was just slightly removed from the designated kitchen. A sloppy cream colored leather sofa just asking to be cuddled up on marked off the living room. Rich hardwood flooring was punctuated by dark, lush throw rugs. Cheery patterned curtains hung from the windows and there was a whole greenhouse worth of plants decorating the space in brown ceramic pots. A couple doors led off the main room where I assumed the bedroom and bathroom were located. Jor came up from behind and wrapped his arms around me.
"Is this your place?" I asked, my face splitting into an awed grin. I felt his head nod in response.
"What do you think?"
"I think it was worth wearing that terrible tie for." I turned my head sideways to receive a kiss.
"Mmm. High praise indeed."
"So tell me honestly: How much did your sister help in decorating this place?"
"She made most of the decisions and I was relegated to do the grunt work," Jor confessed.
"I knew I was dating a smart guy." He led me over to the table which he had set for dinner with candles and everything. He brought out two plates from the oven and set one in front of me, sitting down across from me. "Did you cook this for me?" I exclaimed as I inhaled the delicious aroma. Fish and... something else equally good.
"Yes. And that's a rare thing, so you should enjoy that while you still can." We ate together, talking about nothing in particular. I couldn't stop looking over his apartment. This was where his lived. A true expression of who he was. Although the apartment was warm and welcoming, the walls were suspiciously bare, and I could see a couple hooks where photographs normally hung. Of course he wasn't going to leave family pictures hanging on the walls while I was here. Even though I knew what he really looked like, the rest of the family were still mysteries to me. It disappointed me though, how even if he had brought me to his home, he still didn't feel like he could trust me completely yet. But it wasn't like I was completely trusting of him, I chastised myself. I had no right to ask him to share everything with him unless I was willing to do the same.
He insisted on clearing off the plates for the both of us after we had finished and I stretched lazily, full from the delicious meal. He then brought out dessert, some kind of chocolate concoction.
"Thank you for sharing this with me," I told him as I fiddled with my fork, meaning more than just the supper.
"Kaylie," he shoved his hand through his hair, suddenly nervous. "I asked you here tonight for a specific reason. This situation has been hard on you. A lot harder than you let on at times. I know it's been difficult keeping this a secret, and that what I'm asking of you is completely unfair--"
"Jor, we've already discussed this. Many times."
"I know we have. And even though you say you're fine with the way things are right now I know you still have problems. But I just... I need to tell you..." he trailed off.
"Tell me what?" I asked patiently.
"About a year ago," he began with difficulty, "I was dating this other girl. And we were having... problems. Maybe if I had looked at things a bit closer, taken a step back to examine, I would've realized that there were other problems but as it was... I-I thought the reason we were fighting was only because I hadn't told her the truth yet."
"So you did?" I asked curiously.
"Yeah." He pushed his hand through his hair again and I could see the pain this still caused him. "It was a disaster. I took her completely for granted and all but abandoned her as she tried desperately to cope with keeping this massive secret that I had pushed onto her." He sighed heavily. "In the end we just didn't love each other enough to work past the problems we faced."
"I'm sorry you had to go through that," I whispered.
"The thing was," he continued painfully, "I was so determined that she would be the one and it hurt so incredibly much to admit that I was wrong. I gave so much for that relationship and then to have it all evaporate... I don't know if I can go through that again. I need... time to be sure. I have to know absolutely this time around. Even though right now..." He sighed again and winced apologetically. "I'm making such a mess of this. But... do you understand what I'm saying?" I nodded in response.
"I understand," I told him as I reached out to clasp his hand in mine. He wasn't ready yet. And it might take him a lot longer to be ready than it would take me. We laced our fingers together, and then he finally looked up to meet my gaze. Tell him! A voice prompted from the back of my head. It wasn't fair that he was sitting here pouring his heart out to me while I had my own gigantic secret that he didn't know anything about. The least I could do was give him some sort of hint of what I was hiding. The words clogged in the back of my throat. My heart started pounding as I tensed in anticipation of what I was going to say.
"Jor..." I struggled to find to courage to continue. I smiled shakily in his direction, and he returned it to me, probably relating my inner turmoil to feelings regarding his confession.
"I have something for you," he said, and then disappeared into the kitchen. The moment was broken. I didn't know whether to be glad or disappointed. He returned to the table, bearing a small box which he handed to me.
I don't really know what I was expecting to be inside that box, but it certainly wasn't the cheap men's watch I found when I opened it. It was at least thirty or forty years old, and the face had a matrix of scratches across it. There was a small dent along the outside metal rim, and the hands were stuck at 3:14.
"Gee, thanks?" I had to assume there was some kind of deeper meaning to this gift, but I was at a loss for what that might be.
"You know how you were saying yesterday that it bothered you that you couldn't contact me?"
"Jor, I didn't really mean that. I was just upset and--"
"This watch will enable you to get a hold of me whenever you want."
"Really?" I asked curiously. "How?"
"It emits a supersonic signal whenever you pull the pin. I'll be able to hear it and know that you want to talk to me." I wrinkled my forehead.
"So what, I'm supposed to treat you like some kind of dog?"
"Pretty much," he replied smartly. "But I have better conversation skills." I turned the watch over in my hands and, surrendering to curiosity, pulled the pin. Nothing happened.
"It's not working," I complained.
Wincing, Jor reached over and pushed the pin back in. "You won't be able to hear it, remember?"
"Oh. Right." I blushed at my forgetfulness. "But you can hear it? Even across the city?"
"Trust me, it comes in loud and clear." He took the watch from me and slid it onto my wrist. He must've had the strap adjusted or something because despite the large face, the watch fit snugly around my wrist. "Sorry it's a little banged up and old, but it was a prototype developed years ago that didn't really end up going anywhere so there wasn't a lot of selection when it came to style."
"Thank you," I whispered. "I think this is the nicest gift anyone has ever given me." And it was, because he *listened* to me. Despite my constant denial that I needed a way to contact him it *did* bother me that I had to wait around until he decided to show up. He had listened to that problem and given me a solution without me even asking for one.
"Kaylie, it's just something that I thought would help-" He was interrupted by a whoosh and a click coming from the same window that we had entered earlier.
"Hey, it's me," the intruder announced. "I just stopped by wondering if I could-" Her last words were bitten off as she spotted us sitting together.
She was very petite, with a small bone structure. Her blonde hair was scraped back into a French braid and she was clad in deep navy spandex with a gold cape. Unlike her father and brother, she chose not to wear colorful briefs over her suit, giving her a much more streamlined look. It was Jor's sister of course, still in her Nebula disguise yet her brown eyes twinkled in a way that betrayed her true spirit.
"I didn't know you were bringing her here tonight!" she exclaimed, smacking Jor across the shoulder. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"It was kind of a last minute decision," Jor muttered.
"Ran out of near-deserted tropical retreats, huh?" she teased. "I told you that you should ask me. I know some pretty good places along the Indian Ocean." Then she turned to me. "Kaylie, it's nice to finally meet you." She stuck out her hand and shook mine firmly. "I'm Ellie." There was a clatter of cutlery hitting the floor as Jor dropped his dessert fork in shock. "Whoops," she giggled. "I forgot the whole secret identity thing. Don't worry though, brother dearest. It's just a nickname not my legal name or anything." Warm, bubbly, and sincere, I took to her immediately.
"It's nice to meet you too, Ellie. I've heard a bit about you and I've been dying to meet the girl who can beat my boyfriend at arm wrestling."
"Wow, he told you that?" She raised her eyebrows. "It must be an honest relationship if he's willing to divulge personal humiliations like losing to his little sister. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to beat him since I was fourteen and he was sixteen. He did eventually get a handle of the super strength." She sighed nostalgically. "But I've heard a lot about you too, Kaylie. In fact you're pretty much all he talks about."
"Really?" I blushed at the unexpected information.
"And I've been dying to meet the woman who can thoroughly chew out Supernova when he gets all condescending and noble."
Jor cleared his throat noisily, no doubt tiring of the embarrassment. "Is there a reason you stopped by, Ellie? Or was it just to humiliate me?"
"Well, I needed a blood sample, but you're busy now so maybe if you stop by the lab tomorrow--"
"How can you get a blood sample?" I asked curiously. Ellie opened the plastic box she had been carrying with her and held up the needle for me to see.
"It's a Kryptonite alloy," she explained. "A very weak amount of the radiation has no adverse effects on us yet enables me to puncture his skin."
"Ellie works with our family doctor," Jor further explained. "Right now she's researching... What is it?"
"Colds," she told us. "I want to know if the reason why we don't get sick is because we're invulnerable or because we're not fully human and therefore Earth germs don't affect us."
"Well it won't take you long to draw Jor's blood," I said. "Why don't you do it right now? I don't mind." Ellie and I both turned to face Jor.
"All right, fine," he conceded. As Ellie readied her sample kit, Jor rolled up his sleeve to expose his inner elbow.
"So what kinds of things does Jor say about me?" I asked Ellie as she pulled on a pair of latex gloves.
"Oh, the usual," she told me breezily. "That you're smart and beautiful and charming and kind and funny and understanding and everything a man could ever want." She slid the needle under Jor's skin expertly and inserted the test vial. "I would've pegged you as extremely boring except he also said that you've got a sharp tongue and you're not afraid to stab him with it."
"Ellie..." Jor groaned.
"Oh, relax. You need someone who can dish it out as good as they're given." The full test vial was removed and a second was popped in. "As soon as you told me how she yelled at you that one night for pushing her into a mud puddle I knew you guys would be great together."
"You know I broke a brand new pair of shoes because of that incident," I remarked
"And he hasn't flown you to Italy yet to by you a pair of replacements? I thought I taught him better than that." A third vial was inserted.
"I thought you were supposed to be backing *me* up, Ellie," Jor complained. "Whatever happened to families sticking together?"
"The female bond is stronger than that, my dear brother. Also, any girl willing to date you deserves all the support she can get." Ellie winked in my direction. She pulled the needle from his arm and pushed a cotton ball down on the puncture to stop the bleeding. Jor inhaled sharply in response to her touch.
"Sadist," he muttered.
"Wimp," she shot back.
"This has healed over." Ellie commented, breaking the chain of insults. She removed the cotton ball from Jor's arm and gathered her equipment together. She peeled her gloves off, bunched them into a ball, and tossed them into the kitchen garbage, making the long shot effortlessly. "I'll let you two get back to your date. It was nice meeting you, Kaylie." She flashed a smile at me. "See you around, X-ray," she shot at Jor, and then blew out of the room before he could come back with a retort.
"X-ray?" I asked Jor. There *had* to be a good story behind that name.
"Sorry about that," Jor apologized, purposefully ignoring my question.
"I like her," I grinned. "You guys kind of reminded me of me and my brother."
"You have a brother?" Jor asked, surprised. "You never mentioned him before."
"I don't get to see him much anymore," I explained to him sadly.
"Older or younger?" he queried.
"Does it matter?" I asked coyly.
"It makes all the difference," Jor insisted.
"We're twins, actually," I told him. "And before you say it, no we don't have any kind of psychic connection or anything else hokey like that."
"Furthest thing from my mind," he reassured me. We stood, collecting our plates from the table. After they had been dumped into the dishwasher, Jor led me over to the sofa and we sat down together. "You know, you don't talk about your family much."
"I don't see them very much," I explained. "There's only me, my brother Jason, and my dad. They're usually pretty busy with work so we don't get together very often." I shifted in my seat to lean back against him. "My mom died of lung cancer when I was six," I told him, explaining the obvious omission.
"Kaylie, I'm so sorry," he sympathized.
"It was years ago," I told him, brushing it off. But then I paused to think it over. "Sometimes I wonder what I've missed out on, not having a mom. When it happened, I was almost too young to really comprehend it. My dad basically wrapped himself up in his work and I guess my brother and I turned towards each other." I had never said any of this to anyone before. Maybe it was because I felt so safe with Jor that I was able to think all these scary thoughts. "I wanted so badly for my dad to love me," I continued. "I tried so hard to impress him, to prove myself to him. But there was no way I could ever compete with Jay. Even though we're the same age he was always bigger and stronger and faster. He was the boy and I was the girl and there was no way I could ever compete with that. I worked so hard to hide my faults, my insecurities. It's stupid, I know. I was always afraid that if I showed my dad any kind of weakness then he'd see me as some sort of failure." I twisted my neck around to get a better view of Jor. "But it was never like that with you. You've always treated my fears and concerns like they really mattered and like they weren't silly girly insecurities."
"Of course they matter, Kaylie. You matter." Those simple words choked me and brought hot tears to my eyes.
"I know. To you I do matter," I sniffled. "And that's just one of the reasons why I love you, Jor." I heard the sharp intake of breath beside my right ear.
"Oh, Kaylie... and I love you. All your strengths and weaknesses. All those insecurities you worry so much about but that just make you who you are. I love everything about you."
That night I felt a definitive change in the way I related to Jor. And it wasn't because of our profession of love. I knew I had felt that way about him for some time now and although finally saying it brought us to a new point in our relationship, it wasn't what had brought about the change. It was Ellie.
Seeing Jor interact with her had shown me the undeniable realty that he had a life apart from the one we shared together. I had always known that, of course, but this was the first time I had been confronted with it. And I wanted desperately to share it with him.
I was ready for him to tell me the truth.
But I remembered the speech he gave me earlier in the night. He had a history. He had told someone. Someone he thought he loved. And now he wasn't sure of me because of that. It angered me, this previous relationship. Why should our relationship be ruined by the failures of the past? Of course that wasn't fair. It wasn't Jor's fault and it probably wasn't even hers. But now he couldn't trust me enough to tell me.
What I had to do was show him that we were different. Prove to him that I was worthy of his trust. And how does one show that they are trustworthy? By giving trust first.
Was I actually considering telling him? Everything? We had known each other for just over three months. Hardly any time at all!
But it wasn't the time period that mattered here. It was the closeness. We loved each other. And you don't lie to the person you love. Even though it was a huge risk. Even though I was jeopardizing everything by telling him. I would have to do it.
Lois tapped gently on Jon's office door, and then stuck her head inside.
"Can I come in?" she asked gently. Jon sat at the desk, head resting in his hands.
"I guess so," he replied, unenthusiastically. Lois closed the door after her and immediately walked over to her son, placing her hand on his arm.
"That was a pretty nasty fight you two had earlier." She didn't need to specify who or what she was talking about. Everyone had heard Jon and Amanda yelling at each other through the closed doors of his office. Jon lifted his head up to meet her in the eye, and Lois was shocked to see the pain and disbelief spilling from his gaze.
"I think we just broke up, Mom," he said in a daze.
"Oh, Sweetie." Her expression melted in sympathy. "I'm so sorry."
"No matter how bad it got," he was continuing, "I never thought it would actually happen. I can't believe we let it get that bad between us."
"Jon, it wasn't your fault. And it wasn't Amanda's. Sometimes two people just aren't meant to be together."
"I didn't think that way with Amanda. I really thought she was the one." He shook his head, still processing what had just happened. "You know, everyone always talks about how you and Dad have such a perfect loving relationship. I guess I just wanted to have that too. But now that's not going to happen."
"Jon, you don't know that. Amanda wasn't your only chance at romance. You know, Dad wasn't the first man I ever seriously dated. I made mistakes too. That doesn't mean you won't ever find the right person."
Jon managed a wobbly smile. "Thanks, Mom." He sighed. "I should get back to work now." Jon listlessly picked up a pen and tapped it on his desk.
"Sure, Jon," Lois replied as she stood. "But if you want to talk about this some more, you know where I am, okay?"
But how was I going to tell him? Just sit him down one day and spit it all out? Maybe invite him over one night, cook him a really nice meal like he had done for me and then after just say "Oh, and by the way, Jor, I have this really huge secret that I haven't told you about..."? Or should I maybe build up to it more gradually? Maybe start leaving copies of "Weaponry and Ammunitions Weekly" lying around my apartment and mention in passing that Kim Possible was my childhood hero? Both options seemed ridiculous. It felt deceitful to put together a big romantic evening only to blindside him with my secret at the end. And besides the obvious silliness of the gradual approach, if I were to purposefully leave incriminating evidence lying around my apartment then I ran the risk of someone else finding out. So maybe it was best to use the band-aid tactic. Just call him over and blurt it out. But that scared me. The bonus of doing something like this more gradually was that it gave me a chance to work up the courage as well.
It was the last day of school, and I was still mulling the problem over as I cleaned up the Science classroom for the summer. All the kids had long gone home but I was still stuck pulling staples out of the walls and wiping down counters. A knock came from the open door and I turned around to face a petite woman in her mid fifties. She wore a well cut business suit and her short brown hair softly framed her face. Definitely not a parent, and too classy to be the type of social worker we usually got around here.
"Can I help you with something?" I asked politely.
"Yes, I'm looking for Kaylie Stewart," she replied. "The office told me to check here."
"I'm Kaylie Stewart," I confirmed. I came down from the step ladder and walked over to greet her.
"Lois Lane, Daily Planet," she introduced herself as we shook hands. Instantly, I was on alert. *Lois Lane*? Why was a multiple award winning journalist coming to see me? I could only think of one reason, and it scared the hell out of me.
"It's an honor to meet you, Ms. Lane," I stammered, struggling to maintain a calm veneer. "I'm familiar with your work, of course."
"Come, sit down." I gestured to the chair opposite my desk, and we both sat. "So what can I do for you, Ms. Lane?"
"I'm actually interested in doing a story on Riverview Alternative School," she said. "I'm interested in the kind of people who work here and in the influence alternative schools have on the students who attend them."
"Really?" I asked with a touch of skepticism. "I didn't think a reporter of your reputation wrote that kind of story. Don't you usually stick to the government conspiracies and drug rings?"
"Well, you know editors," she rolled her eyes playfully. "He thinks that doing the odd puff piece now and then helps to make me a better reporter."
She was lying. And it wasn't only her mannerisms that gave it away. I figured I had a pretty clear idea of why she was here, and it sure wasn't because of her editor. I had no idea how much she knew or suspected about my work, but I knew I had to approach the situation with extreme caution. It would look incredibly suspicious if I refused to grant the interview, and she probably knew that, so I had no choice but to put up with her for the time being and answer her questions.
"I guess editors can be as bad as principals sometimes, huh?" I replied with false levity.
"I guess they can." She dug in her bag and brought out a pad of paper. "Shall we get started?"
"Sure," I nodded. Then her eyes caught hold of Jor's signal watch on my wrist. Damn! I knew that it was stupid of me to wear this to work! But I hadn't wanted to take it off, so I had hoped my long sleeved blouse would provide enough cover. Obviously not enough cover for Lois Lane. "It's an... heirloom. Of sorts," I explained hastily. Although the watch wasn't remotely connected with any of the other business it was still out of place for a twenty something teacher in professional dress to be wearing a broken men's watch on her wrist. And I couldn't tell her the real reason why I was wearing it. That was just as much a secret as anything else. She was staring at the watch with a small wrinkle of concentration on her forehead.
"It must mean a lot to you," she said quietly, looking up at me at last.
"Yes," I replied softly. "It does." What I saw in her eyes next scared me more than anything else. Understanding. Like she knew exactly how it felt to have to share the one you love with the world. To be left stranded in the middle of a date after a quick kiss and a mumbled explanation. To feel the absence of the one you love so strongly that you have to resort to wearing ugly, banged up jewelry to remind yourself that he still loves you even though he can't be with you. How did she know? Reporter's intuition only went so far. Didn't it? She cleared her throat, and the moment thankfully passed.
"So, Miss Stewart," she began, the professional shield in place once again, "How long have you been a teacher here at Riverview?"
"This is the end of my second year," I replied, forcing myself to concentrate on the interview. I needed to be sure I didn't let anything slip. "I came here right after I finished my degree."
"You're young then," she remarked. "It must be difficult at times to deal with all the situations you find."
"It can be tough," I hedged, "but I do as much as I can. Sometimes it's just good for them to know that someone's looking out for their best interests. I try not to let any of the negative experiences discourage me. Whatever I can do for these students is enough." I saw a faint smile curl on her lips, but then it was gone.
"Could you describe the types of students who come here to Riverview?"
"We get a variety," I explained. "Usually the students have tried to integrate into a mainstream school and have had difficulty. Many of our students are in foster care or come from difficult home situations."
"Do you feel you have success here?"
"Definitely. I've seen many students turn around completely in the course of a few months if the proper attention and care is given to them."
"Care to give me a case study?" She asked it seemingly causally, not even glancing up from her notepad. Yet she would know that no teacher or school that wanted to stay in business would dish out personal information on students. Was she *testing* me? And why?
"Sorry," I replied carefully, "it's against confidentiality policy. I can't even confirm or deny that a certain student is enrolled here." Her eyebrows arched in response.
"Those are some pretty strict policies."
"As I said before, many of our students have had previous histories with schooling. They often have behavioral or learning difficulties. Those details should never be revealed by anyone other than the student or their family and only if they *choose* to disclose them." I had no idea what she was getting at in this line of questioning, but her constant prodding to reveal something about the students here was making me nervous. I watched her body language carefully for some clue as to where she was heading.
"It must be difficult for you at times to keep all those secrets," she continued. "I'm sure sometimes you might feel that it's too much pressure." Her eyes pierced me with intuitive scrutiny. Her pen stilled and her notebook lay abandoned in her left hand.
"Not really," I replied warily. "I do what I need to in order to protect my students."
"But to always have to be covering things up and guarding yourself against accidentally saying anything you shouldn't. It must be difficult. You must feel stressed having to cope with... well, with a whole secret life, in a sense." Too close! Dangerously too close! I had to get rid of her. Right now. I stood abruptly.
"Ms. Lane, I don't know what you're getting at, but I would never jeopardize the well being of my students. I would like you to leave now. You can finish your interview with another member of the staff." I tried to project the image of an indignant teacher being questioned in her professional integrity, but I'm not sure how successful I was. She clearly suspected *something*. But how much did she know? Did she know about Sproxton? Intergang? Jay?
"Of course, Miss Stewart," she replied deferentially. "Thank you very much for your time." She collected her bag and notepad and walked out the door. I stood by my desk shakily trying to collect my nerves. That had been close. I had never expected my two lives to clash so abruptly. I had obviously done something to make her suspicious, although I was completely ignorant as to what that might be.
Lois Lane was one of the good guys. I had read many of her stories and knew of her reputation. If she uncovered something about Sproxton, it might actually help me. But how did I point her in that direction without exposing myself?
Lois exited the school and hadn't even walked a block away before she bumped into her husband.
"Oh! Clark!" she twittered nervously. "This is a surprise! I didn't expect to see you here. In this area of town. But I guess you were out doing..." She performed the familiar hand gesture minutely. "Hey, do you want to stop someplace for coffee? Oh, but on second thought it's getting a little late. Maybe we should just head home and have an early supper. I think there's still some leftover lasagna in the freezer and we can heat that up. And maybe get out a bottle of wine, too. Do you realize how long it's been since we've had wine at dinner, Clark? Do we even have any wine at home? Maybe we should stop by the store and grab a bottle. Oh, and we can pick up some of those brown nut things you like so much. I think I ate the last of them this morning before going to work so--"
"Lois," Clark interrupted, looking over her shoulder, "is that Riverview Alternative you were just coming out of?"
"Um, is it?" she asked innocently.
"Lois," he chided gently. "You didn't."
"Of course I didn't," she defended indignantly. "I was just checking on... something, and I..." she trailed off and slumped in defeat. "Oh, Clark, I did, didn't I? This is terrible! I've become one of those awful, controlling mothers who won't let her grown kids cross the street without approval! What's gotten into me?" she wailed. Clark pulled her into a hug, regardless of the fact that they were in the middle of a busy sidewalk.
"It's okay, honey," he soothed. "You were just trying to do what's best for your kids. There's nothing wrong in that."
"I just don't want him to get hurt again like last time," she mumbled into his chest. "It was so hard on him and I just wanted to see her and know that..." She paused and then brought her head up to meet her husband in the eye. "She's hiding something, Clark. I can tell."
"Does she love him?" Clark asked gently.
A smile touched Lois' lips. "Yes. She does."
"Then they'll work it out between themselves. We somehow managed." Clark wrapped his arm around her shoulders, and they started walking down the street together.
"Yeah, we did." Lois tucked her body in close to his.
"By the way, I actually picked up a bottle of wine earlier this afternoon. And some groceries too, so how do a couple steaks and some new potatoes sound to you?"
"They sound perfect."
My hands wouldn't stop shaking. I had hardly eaten anything all day. It felt as if a Speed Metal band had taken up residence in my ribcage and the members were currently working towards their next big album. But the lead guitarist kept screwing up and the drummer had a heavy foot.
I was going to tell him today. I needed to do it as soon as possible. Once I decided that I was going to finally tell him everything, the secret began to eat at me more than it ever had in the past. I couldn't stop thinking about telling him, how I would tell him, how he would respond. I fiddled with the signal watch in my hand nervously. I had never needed it until today. Forcing myself to remain calm, I pulled the pin, sending that supersonic signal Jor had talked about. It was less than a minute before Jor arrived on my balcony and I was able to turn the signal off.
"Hi," I greeted him.
"Hey," he said with a smile. "What's up?"
"Nothing much," I replied brightly. Liar. "I just needed to talk to you about something."
"Oh. Okay." I led him over to my sofa and we sat.
"Jor," I started slowly, "lately we've been getting pretty serious. And that's a good thing," I rushed to explain, "don't get me wrong. But I think before we go any further in this relationship I need to... You're not listening to anything I'm saying, are you?" Jor snapped out of his vacant expression and looked over to me guiltily.
"I'm sorry Kaylie," he apologized. "I'm just a little distracted."
"There was this bank robbery today," he explained. "It was pretty routine, but the robbers were using expanding bullets in all their guns."
"Expanding slugs?" I asked curiously. "Those are only available through high level government agencies." My mind was whirring with possibilities. "Those bank robbers must have some pretty good connections to be able to get their hands on them and it's unlikely they would use that kind of ammo just to rob a bank."
Jor looked at me with amusement. "Did you teach a 'Ballistics and Ammunition' class at Riverview or something? How do you know about government authorized firearms?" My forgotten nervousness flooded through my senses again. Yet another reason why Jor needed to know now. Teachers weren't supposed to know things like that, and it was getting harder and harder to keep that knowledge from slipping out in front of him. Luckily, he didn't press the issue. "But I'll deal with that later. I'm sorry I wasn't listening. You said you wanted to talk about something?"
"Yeah." My unexpected slip had me off kilter and I struggled to focus on my prepared speech. "I was saying that since we've gotten so serious lately, it's only fair that we... that I..." Jor reached over and put his hand comfortingly on my shoulder.
"You're really nervous aren't you?" he asked with concern. "Your heart is going a mile a minute."
"You monitor my pulse?" I asked, my amusement battling with my nerves.
"Only sometimes," he replied. "And right now, it's particularly hard to ignore. Why are you so scared?"
"I'm worried about what you'll say," I whispered. "That you won't like what I'm about to tell you."
"Kaylie, I love you." He insisted. "Whatever you say can't change that."
"I love you too." I told him. "And I... I have to tell you..." I struggled to find the words. "You know, I practiced this for two hours in front of the mirror, and I still have no idea what to say." I looked over at Jor, and he returned my gaze patiently. "I've never had a boyfriend." I finally blurted out. "I mean, I've had dates and stuff, but nothing really huge or anything. I even went stag to my senior prom. It was just never very important to me, but now we've ended up in this serious relationship and I have no idea how to do this. Maybe I should have told you earlier. Maybe I shouldn't even be telling you now. Maybe I'm going about it all wrong. I went through all the possibilities in my head and this seemed to be the best way but maybe I should have made a whole big evening for it. You know, cooked a nice dinner and put out candles and stuff. I think I have candles in a cupboard somewhere. Should I get them? Do you want candles?" I asked somewhat hysterically. Jor's hand landed on mine, putting a stop to my rambling.
"I think," he told me calmly, "you should just tell me what it is you want to say."
"You don't need candles?" His lips twitched.
"No. I don't."
"Okay." I swallowed nervously. "You know how you told me that night before our first date that you had a secret?"
"Well, I have one too. And it's big. Pretty much on par with yours." I flicked my eyes up to see Jor's face wrinkle into a frown, and then returned my gaze to our hands, still together on my lap. "I didn't tell you about it because I was scared. And I would've risked a lot more than just my safety and the safety of my family. But I have to tell you now. I can't keep this away from you anymore. I just hope that you'll understand why I didn't tell you before." I chewed on my bottom lip nervously and I lifted my head again to see Jor. He eyes bored into me.
"You have a secret." I nodded. "And even though you couldn't trust me with it before, you're going to tell me about it now? Everything about it?" I nodded again. "Well, what is it?" I took a deep shuddering breath to collect myself.
"I...- Oh, dammit! You've *got* to be kidding me. Go!" An all too familiar expression had passed over Jor's face, one that was usually closely followed by one of his patented 'I'm sorry Kaylie but I have to...' excuses. Jor shifted uneasily in his seat.
"You were about to tell me--"
"Yes. I was about to tell you the secret of my life. Do you think I can do it while you're squirming around like a five-year-old who's 'really, really got to go'?" My frustration fed my anger. It was easier to be angry at Jor needing to run off on me than to be nervous about divulging important secrets. Jor stood, but still hesitated to leave.
"This sounds like it could take awhile," he explained. "It'll probably be late when I finish." And I had somewhere to be late tonight, I remembered.
"Then stop by tomorrow morning," I told him. "I really need to get this out in the open."
"How about eight thirty?" Jor stooped down to kiss me, and gave me a reassuring smile.
"It'll be okay, Kaylie. Not matter how terrible you think it is, it can't be that bad." Then he disappeared from the room in a gust of wind. I couldn't let myself mull over his reaction for very long, however. Catty Collins had an important appointment to keep.
He had been looking in the closet for baby pictures. It was a school project, something about showing how a person's face changes over the years, but the basic features still remained the same. It didn't sound too interesting to him. Maybe Ellie would like something like that, but he was more interested in his computer programming option this semester than Biology. But Jon's parents had taught him well. Just because he didn't enjoy a class didn't mean he shouldn't do the homework to the best of his ability.
Ellie was downstairs immersed in some kind of science textbook, and his parents were working late at the Planet. Jon had decided to go hunting for a picture himself. He pushed aside his dad's suit jackets and his mom's skirts, looking for the picture albums. He bent down to look through the boxes kept on the floor. Nothing. As he stood, Jon whacked his head on the hook that jutted out of the wall.
It hadn't hurt. He had a thick skull, and nothing much seemed to hurt him. But as he glanced at the hook, he could see that it had lifted up from the wall, as if it was on a hinge. That's when the entire back wall of the closet slid away. And he saw them.
Tonight was going to be the night. After months of hedging around issues and discussing things half in code, Sproxton was finally going to join with Intergang. And I would have my proof. Bill Church III was sitting with him now, and although no one had actually managed to pin Intergang on the Churches yet, it just might be enough to take Sproxton down if I could get proof that he was going to make a deal with Church. All I needed was a signature on a piece of paper, or a briefcase exchanged. At this point I was even willing to take a cordial handshake as proof. Sproxton and Church were sitting in his usual booth removed from the rest of the patrons. I scanned the club, looking for anyone out of place. I couldn't afford to have anyone else here to screw-up months of my work.
Then I saw the suit jacketed back and head of tousled brown hair. I froze on the spot, not daring to think of the possibility that he could be here. He turned his head in my direction and a violent shock jolted through my body. Glasses. Why was he *here*? Of all places and of all times. Desperately, I clung to the forlorn hope that he wouldn't recognize me.
Too late. I guess the same instinct that allowed me to recognize him on the street allowed him to look through my wig and makeup and fishnet stockings. I saw his eye widen in disbelief. Furious tears swelled in my eyes. I had never planned for him to find out this way. He had no doubt just gotten the shock of his life and it was about to get worse. And he was still staring at me. I had to go to him and try to explain as best I could without giving my whole identity away.
"Please don't blow my cover," I whispered desperately under my breath, knowing that he could hear me. He nodded in response. I quickly emptied my tray of drinks, and deposited it at the bar. I then made my way over to the table where Jor was sitting. Although I had always found the skimpy uniform to be embarrassing, Jor's gaze on me made me even more exposed, almost naked. Although my principles revolted against the skimpy outfit, I had always been able to block them out for the sake of being undercover. But he brought all those feelings to the foreground, making me feel dirty and cheap. I flushed with shame, yet still struggled to remain in character. I reached Jor and swung my leg over his lap and then settled into place, straddling him. His body stiffened in response to my touch.
"Kay-" he began furiously. My mouth clamped over his, effectively silencing him. Our kiss tasted bitter, unlike anything we had shared before. But I had to remain in character, which meant performing every single humiliating, flirty action and refusing my more direct impulses. I released his lips from mine, and slid my mouth over to his ear.
"First thing: You can *not* call me by my name here. I'm Catty Collins right now. I promise you I'll explain everything as soon as I can, but right now I need you to just follow my lead until we get out of here, okay?" I felt his head nod in response so I eased up the vise-like grip I had his arms in. "Do you see the two men tucked away in that booth?"
"What are they doing?"
"Just talking, I think."
"What are they saying?" I whispered intently.
"I can't hear them through all the noise in the club." I sensed the irritation in his voice that was directed at me and I cringed inwardly. I hated doing this to him, but I couldn't let Sproxton get away.
"Okay, pay attention to their body language," I instructed. "Do they seem tense?"
"Catty," I corrected. It was unlikely that using my real name would cause any harm, but I couldn't take the chance. "This is really important, Jor, I promise. Please just do this for me and-" Suddenly, the door to the Gentleman's Club burst open and a fleet of police officers flooded the room. As if it wasn't a bad enough night already.
"This is the Metropolis Police! We have received reports of minors working and being served in this establishment. Everyone remain calm! We will be running an ID check on all staff and clients. Anyone caught attempting to leave the premises will be taken into custody."
I didn't have ID. The Gentleman's Club didn't ask for ID upon hiring, so I felt I would be safe enough without it. The cost of my oversight caused my gut to clench. I glanced backwards at the booth where Sproxton and Church were huddled. They had gone. I wasn't sure if he had arranged for the police raid in advance or if it was just luck, but the momentary distraction was enough for Sproxton to finish his business and get out of the club without anyone noticing. And that's what I had to do. If I was taken into custody they would run my prints and then the whole game would be up. I leaped off Jor's lap.
"We have to get out of here," I explained quickly. Then I grabbed his hand and ran for the stairs leading up to the dressing rooms and offices. We raced up the stairs and into a hallway. I pulled Jor inside a room, but left the door open to listen for anyone coming.
"Did you see where those two guys went?" I asked Jor breathlessly.
"No," he replied shortly. I didn't have the courage to look at his face.
"Okay, here's the plan," I told Jor, ignoring the stabbing guilt in my stomach. We just needed to get out of here and then I could explain everything to him. "We have to..." The scuffle of boots came from someone walking down the hallway. I shoved Jor against the wall, and waited. A policeman entered the room and I wasted no time. With a decisive blow, I knocked him unconscious, then pulled the gun from his holster and checked it to make sure it was in working condition.
"What did you just do?" Jor cried incredulously.
"He'll be fine," I muttered. "I couldn't let him take me in."
"So you knocked him unconscious? What the hell is going on here?" I had never felt so shameful about doing my job before. There would be no lasting damage done to the policeman, and I couldn't have let him take me in, yet I still felt so dirty having assaulted an officer. We were supposed to be on the same side.
"I promise I'll explain. Please can we just get out of here first?" I begged. Jor nodded tersely. I stuck my head into the hallway to check if the coast was clear then beckoned for Jor to follow me and we stepped out of the room. I could hear the thundering of footsteps coming up the stairs, and I momentarily froze in panic. Jor tugged on my arm.
"This way!" We ran down the hall to the fire escape and Jor burst the door open, pushing me onto the escape stairs. I had barely enough time to register the two storey drop before Jor scooped me up and launched us up into the air with a sickening swoop. "I'm taking you back to your apartment," Jor told me. I didn't have the nerve to speak. Jor was going faster than he normally flew, making the journey shorter than usual. He set me down on my balcony and we entered my apartment.
"Thank you for... you know." I spoke quietly. Jor looked me up and down, taking in my image.
I must've looked markedly different from the school teacher he had always known me as. My exaggerated makeup was smudged, and my tight skirt had ridden up in the flight. The change in style and color of my hair made my skin take on a different tone, and I noticed belatedly that I still held the policeman's gun. I clicked the gun safety on but kept it in my hand, not really sure where to put it. Jor reached over to me and gently pulled at my blonde wig. My natural hair spilled out from under it.
"Just checking to see which one of you was the lie," he told me.
"Kaylie, I'm not sure if I'm ready to discuss this right now." His expression was detached, and I struggled to interpret his tone. "I'll be by tomorrow morning like we planned and you can explain then, okay?" He tossed the wig onto the floor and shot out of the room. I stood there, holding that stupid gun in my hand, wondering if I had ruined everything.
The world closed in around him and his vision blackened at the edges until he could only focus on the image of his father floating in the middle of the room. His *father*. Floating. Jon stumbled backwards out of his chair.
His father was Superman.
How could they have kept this from him? They *lied*. For fifteen years.
"It's not true!" he yelled at his parents. Fruitlessly. His yelling wouldn't change anything. Thankfully, his father had come back down to earth.
"Jon, I know you must have a lot of questions, and-" but Jon wouldn't let them finish.
"You lied to me!" His father was Superman and that meant- that meant that he was Superman's son. Jon swung his eyes wildly around the room until they rested on Ellie, sitting speechless in her chair. She was Superman's daughter.
"Jon, we never meant to hurt you," his mom was saying. "We just didn't--"
"I don't care," Jon snapped. "I don't want to hear anything you tell me. Just leave me alone!" He ran up the stairs to his room, and slammed the door after him, oblivious to the ominous creak that stretched through the wood. He threw himself on his bed, wishing desperately that he could go back to a time when things were still normal. But that was impossible.
Eight thirty on the dot, he came. I sat on my sofa tightly gripping my hands together and trying to ignore the furious gnawing sensation in my stomach. There was none of the easy casualness between us like last night. Instead of greeting me warmly as before, he merely nodded at me curtly. He hadn't changed out of his Supernova suit.
"I figure you might want to go somewhere where there's no chance of our being overhead," he said when he refused to take a seat.
I would've taken this suggestion as a good sign if it wasn't for the look on his face. I wrapped my arms around his neck stiffly and we took off. The ride was bumpier than usual, but even though I gave a couple startled gasps at our sudden changes in altitude, he didn't speak to me. I wondered if maybe he was taking some kind of grim pleasure in my discomfort.
The flight came to a sudden end, and I was deposited on the ground of the very same tropical beach that we had come to on our first date. The spot had always been special to me, and we had returned to it several times over the last few months. I remained sitting in the sand, and Jor looked at me expectantly.
"Okay," I began shakily. "Last night must have been a huge shock for you. And I'm so sorry. I had never planned it to happen like that. I wanted to tell you everything before, but things... got crazy, which is the way it normally goes so maybe I shouldn't be surprised." I looked up to see Jor's reaction, but he wasn't looking at me. Instead he was digging a trench in the sand. No matter. I still had to keep talking. "But I'm really glad you gave me this chance to explain myself to you. What I did last night was perfectly reasonable considering the circumstances so I'm just going to tell you everything now and hopefully we can... get back on track." I took a deep breath. This was the moment. I would finally be able to tell him. "I work for--"
"--the NIA," he finished for me.
"How did you know?" I gasped breathlessly. My head started swimming and my voice strangely echoed in my ears. Jor dug deeper in the ground and brought out a briefcase, which he opened and pulled a small stack of papers out of.
"Your name is Kaylie Watson," he read aloud in a cold, ringing voice. "You're agent number J-2493. You joined the 'service' when you were eighteen years old. Trying to impress your dad, were you? Who is also, by the way, an NIA agent. And so is your brother. Quite the family business you have going on there, isn't it?" He mocked. Then he continued to skim through my file. "Registered aliases include Brenda Sykes, Molly Turner, and Kaylie Stewart." Each word that tore out of his mouth felt like an icicle being stabbed into my heart. The last two contained an extra sting.
"Where did you get that?" I asked in a low voice, trying to keep the bile from rising up in my throat.
"Oh, I had a friend Google it for me," he replied, venomously cheerful. Again, he bent over that damned file in his hand. "Your specialties are in Ammunitions and Martial Arts. Imagine that! Right now your assignments include... 'Target acquisition and removal'. So, what? You're some kind of bounty hunter or something?" He finally looked me in the eye, but his gaze offered no comfort.
"That file," I struggled to speak, "is falsified. Yes, I work for the NIA. But I'm not a... I don't kill people just because they've broken the law. That's not what I do."
Jor scoffed rudely. "You expect me to just believe you? After what I saw last night?" Hot anger scorched through me.
"I expect you to trust me!" I told him heatedly.
"Frankly Miss *Watson*," he snapped sarcastically, "I don't see any reason why I should."
"You don't see any reason why I'm trustworthy? Are you kidding?" I leapt up off my feet. "Do have any idea how easy it would've been to find out who you are?! I know that you were born in Metropolis about twenty-six years ago. I know that you were named after your paternal grandfather. I know the general area of town that you work in. You've left countless fingerprints scattered about my apartment. I know what you look like, Jor! I work for the National Intelligence Agency! I could find someone from a wrinkled dollar bill, let alone the amount of stuff you gave me. But I didn't! And now you're saying that you can't trust me?!"
"You lied to me, Kaylie!" he retorted. "You kept key information about yourself hidden from me for the whole time that we've known each other. How many times have we talked about secrets and you never even mentioned that you had one? You could've told me the same thing I told you that one night before we started dating, or at least have told me *something*. Instead you pretended that you were being totally open with me and then let me be completely blindsided last night!"
"I was going to tell you the truth," I argued, horrified to feel tears pooling in my eyes. "I called you over to tell you everything. But then you flew away from me. Twice! And instead of letting me explain this for myself you went ahead and dug up a ton of government issued crap and started throwing it in my face." Anger boiled up inside me. I couldn't believe that he had just gone ahead and ripped my secret from me in such a violent manner. Didn't he understand what he had done to me? "You violated me, Jor!" I accused.
"What are you talking about, Kaylie? I just found out that my girlfriend, who I thought loved me, has been leading a secret life. That you attack police officers and dress in provocative clothing in your spare time. You're as familiar with a gun as CEO is with a Blackberry. How did you expect me to react to having that thrown in my face? Don't you think I would be a little shocked and confused and wondering why you lied to me for so long?"
"You, of all people, should understand what it's like for me." I defended angrily. "I thought you would see that. Instead you went ahead and did exactly what I had promised never to do to you. How could you do that to me? Even though you can't trust me now, I thought you did, before this all happened. And I thought maybe you'd be able to hold onto some of that trust. But who am I kidding?" I said with dawning realization. "You never did trust me in the slightest, did you?"
"Kaylie, that's ridiculous. You told me yourself that I gave you more than enough information for you to find me. Obviously I trusted you wouldn't look into it."
"But you didn't know I could find you with that information." I pointed out. "For all you knew, I was just a simple schoolteacher with no connections whatsoever. I mean, really, what information did you actually give me?" I felt detached from the beach, from our argument. I went over the last few months of our relationship with new eyes. "You ran into me by accident that day on the street. If it wasn't for that, you wouldn't have told me where you worked or what you look like. And even that one day you told me you had a secret... You would've left if I didn't figure out that you had a secret identity. I was the one who uncovered everything about you. You only gave me information when you were backed into a corner with no way out."
"That's completely unfair. I took you to my apartment! I told you how old I am, where I was born, you know that my whole family still lives in Metropolis. I've given you a lot, and in return you lied to me!"
"Ellie told me her name within seconds of me meeting her!" I shot back. "Yeah, you took me to your apartment, but I had to wear a blindfold and you took down all the family pictures. You won't tell me your birthday or even your pager number. You still slick your hair back like you're Supernova even though I've seen how you normally wear it and I know you like the other style better." All the little tricks we'd pulled, all the little games we'd played, swirled around in my mind. They had seemed loving and sweet at the time, but now they just made me sick. The moisture threatening me finally overflowed and spilled down my cheeks. "I did all those things for you willingly. Because I knew you weren't ready. I knew you needed time. But then you just went and... and..." I gestured at the sheaf of papers clutched in his hand. My tears were choking me. I sniffed noisily and messily, wiping my nose on the back of my hand. I was a sniveling wreck, made an idiot in front of the one person who I never thought would do it. At that moment, I hated him more than anything for turning me into this. And I wanted to hurt him. "Were you ever going to tell me the truth?" I shouted at him spitefully. "Or were you just going to keep wallowing in the ruins of your last relationship?" I could see by his expression that that one had landed.
"My relationship with Amanda has nothing to do with the fact that you lied to me ever since we met!" he shouted.
"Don't you dare pin this all on me, Jor." I retaliated. "You gave me just as little as I gave you. But at least *I* was willing to wait for you to tell me the truth instead of taking it."
"Well, at least *I* was willing to be honest!"
"You really want to give me honesty, Jor? Then tell me: Who the hell are you?"
The silence roared in my ears. Jor froze, looking at me indecipherably, but then he suddenly rocketed into the sky. "That's what I thought!" I screeched at the clouds. "You're just going to run away! You're too scared to get involved! Well, I don't care. Leave!" I collapsed on the sand, as the flow of tears trickled to a stop. I gave one last small sniffle. "Dammit."
What had he done? The question clattered about his brain as he hovered over the island where Kaylie still sat. After their accidental run-in at the club last night, Jon had been consumed in confused anger. Comparable to the day that he found out his parents had lied to him for fifteen years.
But it was more than just anger and confusion that he felt. It was humiliation too. She had tricked him into thinking she was just a nice, ordinary person doing ordinary things. He should've picked up on the clues. After all, they were really more alike than he had ever suspected. But he had had no idea the amount of stuff she kept hidden.
And he had gone and dug it up. He should've let her explain herself, she was right. But he had been in shock that night, hardly thinking clearly, and he decided that he would find the answers himself since Kaylie was no longer to be trusted. He should've gone to her once he came across her file. Of course she wasn't an assassin; he knew she wasn't like that. Yet he had kept it to himself all night, while building up a boatload of resentment towards her.
She had stopped crying, which eased the pain and guilt he felt. But she was still sitting on the beach with unnerving stillness. Yet he couldn't work up the courage to go down to her. She said he didn't trust her. Was that true? He felt he did. He was comfortable with her knowing what she did about him. He didn't think for a second that she would abuse what she knew. Yet whenever he thought about taking the final step and actually telling her who he was, his gut clenched up and he mentally backed down. He wasn't ready yet, he kept telling himself. But would he ever be?
If he was really honest with himself, he knew that the game was up when he bumped into her that day on the street. After she recognized him, it was pretty obvious that all the stuff they did together was little more than a charade. A game that she kept playing for his sake.
And he had taken all her understanding and consideration and patience and ground it up into a pulp and served it to her alongside a stolen NIA personnel file and a healthy serving of unfair accusations. Again, the question ripped through his thoughts as he soared away from the painful view of the island. What had he done?
I felt a cool breeze on the back of my neck that wasn't from the ocean.
"I don't want to talk to you right now, Jor. Go away." I heard the small sound of a throat clearing and I whirled around to face... Not Jor. "Oh. It's you," I commented blankly. Okay, maybe not the best reception for the original Man of Steel, but I was still emotionally wrung out. Superman cleared his throat nervously again.
"You must be Miss Stewart," he began awkwardly.
"Don't... call me that," I replied with irritation.
"If you were meeting your son's... If you were meeting me for the first time in real life, you wouldn't call me Miss Stewart. You'd call me Kaylie. Pretending it's otherwise is just putting barriers in the way..." Despite my leftover moodiness, I didn't have enough emotional energy to put up a good fight.
"You're right," he conceded. "I'm sorry. Kaylie."
"It's all because of that stupid suit. It makes you think that you have to remove yourself from the world." I peered at him, petulantly scrutinizing him. "I don't suppose you'll tell me who you are, will you?" He shifted his feet uncomfortably.
"Kaylie, as much as I'm sure you're very trustworthy, I can't go behind my son's back and tell you things he isn't ready to tell you."
"Even if your son is being an idiotic jerk?" He flinched visibly at that comment, and I think that's what snapped me out of my foul mood enough to realize that I was being incredibly hard on him. It wasn't his fault that Jor was an idiotic jerk. "I'm sorry," I apologized. "I'm not making a very good first impression, am I?" He visibly relaxed, and joined me seated on the sand.
"Don't worry. You're not doing all that badly." He gave me half a smile.
"Did Jor ask you to come here?" I questioned in a small voice.
"He told me you had a fight."
"Now that's an understatement."
"He asked me to come pick you up and I agreed. I don't think either of you could've handled the trip home right now."
"Thank you," I offered weakly. He sat patiently next to me on the beach, waiting until I was ready. His fingers tapped an easy rhythm in his knee. Despite the spandex suit, this man looked so... ordinary. Yet he had been through so much. Had so much experience... "Can I ask you a question?" I blurted out.
"How did you tell your wife that you were Superman?" He was silent for a moment, thinking.
"I didn't tell her. She figured it out."
"I had been trying to tell her, but then things kind of spiraled out of control for a bit and I didn't get the chance. She ended up figuring it out herself and confronting me with the truth."
"Was she mad?" Did she lash out in every way possible and try to make you feel small and shameful and pathetic?
"Yes, she was mad. A bit. But I think more confused than anything else. It took her a while to rediscover who I was without any secrets in the way."
"She knew you for two years..." I remembered what Jor had told me earlier, "and all of a sudden you were different." Jor had thought I was a teacher, plain and simple. But then he discovered this completely different life hidden behind the one he saw. It must've blown him completely out of the water. I also remembered what he had told me on this same beach on our very first date. "Jor was fifteen before you told him and Ellie." He grimaced in response.
"We made a mistake in waiting that long to tell them. It becomes a habit to hide things from people. My wife and I had always planned on telling our kids the truth. But we figured we'd tell them when we first saw hints of them getting special abilities. When that didn't happen as soon as we thought, we set a new deadline. And then another. And I guess soon we were looking back and realizing we should've told them a long time ago." Once again, I could see myself in this story. When I first met Jor there was no reason for me to even consider telling him the truth. But gradually our relationship deepened, and looking back I saw that I should've told him at least something before last night. Instead I just did exactly what his parents had done to him when he was fifteen. Except maybe I should've known better.
"Why did he forgive you?" I asked Superman. "You lied to him for fifteen years. He moved across the country to be away from you, but then he ended up forgiving you."
"I guess he forgave us because he realized that even though we hurt him, we didn't do it intentionally and we were truly sorry for what we did. We were also careful to learn from our mistakes."
"That easy, huh?"
"Well, no. It's never that easy in life. It takes time for someone to work past any kind of emotional wound. The trust that was lost needs to be rebuilt and reinforced. But the important thing is that the wounded person realizes that they care for that person more than they care for their grudge. Kaylie, I don't know exactly what's going on between you and my son--"
"He didn't tell you?"
"No. All he said was that you had a huge argument about something." Well, that was a point to Jor's credit. Although he was upset with me for lying, at least he didn't tell anyone else. All he did was... At the thought of what he did to me, I felt the hurt and frustration heaving up inside me again.
"What would you do," I asked Superman, "if the person you thought you trusted more than anyone else in the world betrayed that trust and invaded your privacy?"
"That," he spoke carefully, "is for you to decide."
"I don't think I'm ready to make that decision yet." I bit my lip in confusion. I could barely contain my anger over what he had done to me today, yet I didn't think I was ready to cut the cord completely.
"One thing I can say, Kaylie, is that it seems that the person that you love the most is also the person who is able to hurt you the most. That's what happens sometimes when you really give yourself to a person. But just because they hurt you doesn't mean they don't love you."
I thought over Superman's words. Was there any way possible that Jor and I could work this out? Could I even consider forgiving him and rebuilding? And when, if ever, would he be willing to forgive me? It had taken him four years to forgive his parents. How long would it take this time?
Finally, I found my voice.
"I think I'm ready to go back now."
When Superman returned me to my apartment after the disastrous island visit, I vowed not to think about Jor. Which left me with very little to think about, what with Riverview being out for the summer. It was at times like this that I always thought I should get a hobby. You know, instead of chasing after miscellaneous bad guys with guns. So I went for a long, extended run outside, gradually increasing my speed over time and letting a massive stitch build up on my side, leaving me feeling wobbly and boneless. Then I took an insanely long bath with as much scented additives as possible, a truckload of vanilla candles, and a Miles Davis CD. Finally, I pulled out the ultimate feel-better remedy and ordered a large deluxe pizza with no onions and extra peppers. I wore bulky sweats and had my hair tied messily back in a ponytail as I munched absently on my hot, greasy comfort food.
I struggled desperately against feeling guilty. It was his fault. He didn't trust me enough to tell me anything about himself or to let me tell him about myself. End of story. That was it.
Or it should've been, anyway. But after my anger and frustration over what he did to me had dissipated a bit, I was left with the echoes of what I had angrily yelled at him on the beach. He never told me anything about himself, I had argued. That was true, there was still a lot about him that I was completely clueless to. But I remembered that one night months ago when we had first cooked up our arrangement. He had been skeptical, at first. He questioned our ability to have a meaningful relationship if he kept so many secrets from me. And I had brushed it off. I told him I didn't need to know any of that stuff.
Of course by now it was different. Before all the NIA stuff came floating to the surface, we had definitely come to the point where our relationship demanded complete honesty and openness. I had felt that tension mounting between us in the last few weeks. I knew that it would only be so long before I could not hold out any longer without needing the truth. In fact, it was that initial feeling that had spurred my desire to tell Jor the truth about my work for the NIA. I had been unhappy with the state of our relationship for weeks now, yet I hadn't said anything to Jor about it. The one time I had let my irritation show, I tried to minimize it as much as possible and brush it off. It was a habit ingrained in me from my childhood, I suppose. If something upset me with my father, the last thing I would do was tell him about it. Instead, I would force myself to forget and ask him to teach me how to disarm a chemical bomb or something because then at least he'd talk to me.
I had tried the same thing with Jor, too. The one time I had been angry with him, I tried to cover up my irritation, yet he hadn't let that happen. Instead, he planned this big romantic evening for me and gave me a solution to the problem I had tried to negate.
I glanced over to the signal watch sitting on my countertop. Thinking back, there was never a time when I had asked for something that he hadn't given to me. Although he wasn't exactly forthcoming with information, he always provided what I asked for. Looking over at that watch, I started to think that maybe I should try getting a hold of him...
But I stopped myself. Maybe I had been a little unfair in some of my accusations, but that didn't mean that Jor was without blame. He hacked into a government database and pulled my confidential file. That isn't something you could just stumble across. It was a huge betrayal of trust on his part, and I couldn't just let that go. It would be a repeat of the behavior that marked my relationship with my father. I refused to just sweep what he had done to me under the rug and apologize to him for not being entirely open.
Half of my pizza had mysteriously disappeared in the emotional fray. I tried to ignore the uncomfortably full feeling in my stomach as I pondered my options. What he had done to me was a huge blow in the trust that had cemented our relationship. Yet despite my anger, I couldn't get him out of my head. Not thinking about Jor seemed to be out of the question. But summoning him here was equally impossible. And it wasn't like I could talk to anyone about this. I decided to settle with maybe watching Jor.
I turned my TV onto a news station to see if he was doing anything newsworthy at the moment. An earthquake in Tibet. Perfect. Superman was already on the scene, and he was soon joined by Ellie, or Nebula as she appeared on the screen. I watched as they helped to clear rubble and remove victims, not really hearing what the newscaster was saying. Half an hour later, Supernova had yet to make an appearance.
Jor had told me that the family takes turns in looking after Metropolis. On Monday, for instance, Ellie would answer all the calls for help. Tuesday, Jor would take care of everything. Wednesday, their father would take over, and the cycle would repeat. But in case of major disasters like this one, they all pitched in. Why wasn't he there? There were a lot of possible explanations. He could have not heard about it, or he could be taking care of something here in Metropolis, or he could be in Antarctica talking to the penguins about how guilty he was feeling for hurting me (okay, maybe it was wishful thinking on the last one). But there was some sort of inexplicable instinct within me that told me that none of those were the case. Despite my dignity telling me not to, I reached for the signal watch and pulled the pin. He didn't come. Five minutes later, ten minutes later, he still wasn't here. And I was starting to panic.
However bad something had gotten between us, I knew he would never ignore my call on the signal watch. I had leapt off the sofa, changed into some more functional clothing, and was lacing up my combat boots before I stopped in my tracks and realized that I had nothing to go on. The only people I could possibly go to were Ellie and his dad, who were both in Tibet. What was there that I could do? That's when the doorbell rang. I ran over to it, and yanked it open, neglecting to look through the peephole. Jor stumbled into the entryway, leaning heavily on the wall for support.
His hair stuck up at odd angles, and he wore a wrinkled button up shirt with ratty jeans. He finally managed to right himself, and peered dopily in my direction.
"Hey, beautiful," he slurred, smiling lopsidedly. I remained frozen on the spot. I had never seen Jor like this before. He seemed almost... drunk? Maybe he was high? But alcohol or drugs had no effect on him.
"Jor?" I asked carefully. I made sure my door was shut firmly. It would not do to have the neighbors poking around at this time. "Are you all right?"
"Kaylie, I have to tell you..." His eyes rolled around crazily, and he slid down the wall. "I'm so sorry, Kaylie... What I did to you... You were right."
"Now's not the time to have this conversation, Jor," I told him firmly, and tried to grab a hold of his arm to pull him up. What had happened to him? He jerked his arm away from me with surprising nimbleness.
"That's not my real name, you know... Kaylie." His loopy smile stretched even wider across his face, and a giggle eked out of his mouth.
"I know it's not. You haven't told me your real name, remember?" Now was *definitely* not the time to be having this conversation.
"But I came to tell you... to tell you wh..." He sagged against the wall even more, and sank to his knees. "I don't feel so good." He finally muttered.
"That's what I've been telling you," I snapped. I was able to take advantage of his temporary weakness, and I wrapped my arm around his shoulders, trying to brace myself so I could pull him up. I was shocked to feel the heat emanating from his body. "Jor, you're burning up!"
"Yeah," he muttered. "Somebody also replaced my legs with Jell-O." He gave a short breath of laughter.
"What happened to you? I thought you weren't sensitive to any drugs or alcohol." The crazy smile reappeared across his face.
"You see, that's what I love about you, Kaylie. You're so smart and you think on your feet... Which is good cause mine don't seem to be working too well at the momen..." His eyes fluttered shut, but I shook his shoulders, and he opened them blearily.
"Jor, you need to focus, okay? Let's get you somewhere where you can lie down. Do you think you can stand with my help?" By leaning heavily on the wall, and with my support, Jor was able to stand shakily, and work his way to my bedroom. I tried to question him some more to find out what had happened to him, but he refused to play ball, and instead kept reiterating that he was sorry and that he came here to tell me something.
"You can tell me later," I insisted. He was growing steadily weaker, and his fever worried me. Even for a half Kryptonian, it couldn't have been healthy. He sank clumsily into the bed, and let out a sigh of relief.
"I love you, Kaylie," he murmured, as he drifted off to sleep. I realized belatedly that I was stuck with a sick superhero with no knowledge of what happened to him and no idea of how to treat him.
"Jor?" I asked urgently, shaking him gently. "Who can I call for help? I don't know what to do! Jor? Are you still awake?" But he was long gone.
Immediately, I switched into Emergency Mode. Long practice while on assignment had enabled me to distance myself from distracting emotions and deal with life or death situations calmly and methodically.
The only two relatives of Jor's that I knew were Ellie and Jor's dad, both of whom were helping with disaster relief in Tibet. They might wonder why Jor didn't come to help out, but they wouldn't leave the scene to go searching for him. It could take hours before I managed to contact them. I had no other choice but to search his pockets looking for clues. A very short while later, I had a cell phone, a wallet, and a set of keys in my hands.
The cell phone seemed to be the best bet. I paged through his contact list determinedly. The only problem, I fumed to myself, was that I didn't know any of these names, or if they were to be trusted. The only one I knew was Ellie, and she was in Tibet. I was bemused to find my number stored in there. Was he actually planning to call me sometime? Finally, I hit the jackpot. "MOM" seemed like a safe bet. She would know Jor's secret, she wouldn't be in Tibet, and she might even have heard of me which would be good because then I wouldn't have to worry about convincing her it wasn't a hoax. I pulled up the number, but dialed from my own phone. That way, if she had caller ID, there wouldn't be any confusion. I held my breath in anticipation as I counted the rings. Finally, there was a click from the phone being picked up.
"Lois Lane," a voice greeted cheerfully over the phone.
Instantly, I exited Emergency Mode and entered Panic Mode. *Lois Lane* was his mother??!! *Lois Lane*??!! I slammed the phone back in its cradle, cutting off our connection. I forced air in and out of my lungs, but my head still spun crazily. Supernova's mother was Lois Lane. Superman's wife was Lois Lane. I flashed back to our interview. The way she looked at my watch, all her talk about secrets, she used the exact words "another life"...
But now wasn't the time to reflect on that. Jor was still in my bed, and although he was sleeping, I had no way of knowing if that was a good thing or a bad thing. I braced myself, and pressed the redial key on the phone.
"Lois Lane," she answered again, this time with a hint of irritation beneath the standard pleasantry.
"Hello, Ms. Lane," I spoke carefully, trying to keep the strain out of my voice. "This is Kaylie Stewart calling." Dead silence on the other end.
"How did you get this number, Miss Stewart?" she asked slowly. "I don't usually give interviewees my private cell number." Her private number. So there was no way it was Jor's mom's work number and Lois was just a colleague who picked up the phone. She was definitely Jor's mom.
"He's in my apartment right now," I explained cryptically. Long experience had taught me to never reveal details over the phone. "There's something wrong. I need you to come help me; I don't know what to do." I heard the sharp inhalation crackle over the line.
"What's your address?" She demanded crisply. I told her. "I'll be there in ten minutes." She hung up abruptly. I embraced the cool wall and allowed the tension to seep out of me. She was coming.
"Where is he?" she asked as soon as I opened the door to let her in.
"In my bedroom," I gestured in the direction, and she led the way with a brisk stride. Jor had started to shiver, and Lois reached over to brush the hair from his eyes.
"We need to get him more comfortable," she told me briskly, and then proceeded to order me around as we stripped off his outer layers of clothing and piled blankets on top of him. I was glad to have someone to take charge of the situation. I had no idea what had happened to him or how I should take care of him. Finally, his care was up to her standards and we were able to just observe him lying in the bed.
"What happened to him?" she asked me.
"I'm not sure," I replied. "He just showed up at my door like this."
"Well, maybe he'll be able to tell us when he wakes up," she responded. "I think he just needs to sleep for now. I checked and there was no evidence of him having Kryptonite on him so he should get better on his own."
"Don't you know about it? It seems like everyone does now."
"No, I do. But I thought it just hurt him. He was also acting kinda... Not himself," I finished delicately. Lois frowned in concentration.
"Really? Well, there may be a couple explanations for that. I tried to get hold of our family doctor, but he's out of town visiting his stepdaughter and won't be able to get back to Metropolis for a few hours. You'd think as his sister-in-law I'd be able to have some pull, but even I can't teleport people." An awkward silence spread between us, and I wasn't sure how to fill it. Maybe by asking why she had interviewed me that day? Was she interviewing her son's girlfriend or an NIA agent?
"Lois," she interrupted.
"Oh. Okay, Lois. Call me Kaylie." The polite civilities seemed very out of place after we had just finished stripping a twenty-six year old male to his boxers, yet I was still gratified that Lois wasn't nearly as terrifying as she had been during our interview. It was like she had a secret identity too. Hardened reporter verses caring mother.
"Kaylie, I hate to be a bother, but do you have anything I can eat? I skipped lunch earlier today, and with that earthquake in Tibet and now this situation my dinner plans have been tossed out the window."
"Umm... There's half a cold pizza in the fridge," I offered apologetically. "I'm running a little low on groceries at the moment." At all moments, actually, I added cynically to myself.
But she didn't miss my little prevarication. She nodded satisfactorily. "Good. Someone who can match up to my cooking skills." I led her to my kitchen and plunked the pizza box in front of her. She dug in enthusiastically as I stared openly at her. World famous reporter, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in journalism plus a truckload of Kerths, and here she was sitting on the biggest story ever. Not just sitting on it, married to it, rearing it, nursing it to health as it lies on my bed passed out from some mysterious attack. She had downed almost her entire piece before she was aware of my unabashed scrutiny. She shifted guiltily in her seat, and put down her pizza crust.
"Kaylie, I should probably apologize to you for your um... interview. It was pretty manipulative of me to come to you like that and interrogate you."
"Oh, well, don't worry about it." I told her uncomfortably. "You were just..." I trailed off, still not really sure what she was doing.
"Sticking my nose in where it doesn't belong?"
"Well, you put it that way, not me."
"You wouldn't know this, Kaylie," she began carefully, "but the effect you've had on my son is amazing. He's had some bad experiences in the past, which he's probably told you about." I nodded. "I wasn't sure if he'd be able to open up to someone again like he did with you." She pushed the abandoned pizza aside, and leaned in closer to me. "I know it doesn't seem like it, Kaylie, but he really does trust you. He just doesn't trust himself to trust the right people."
"He told you about our fight, didn't he?"
"Yes, he did. Some of it."
"Did you help him investigate me?" I asked her critically.
"No, Kaylie! I didn't know what he had done until he came to see us this morning to ask Cl- my husband to get you from the island."
"Clark Kent. Your husband." Although he wasn't nearly as famous as Lois was, he was still a household name in Metropolis. Lucky for Jor, the Kent kids weren't as well placed in the public eye. It wouldn't take more than a simple internet search to find out their names, but I couldn't recall them off the top of my head.
"Kaylie, please understand that I don't support my son investigating you in any way. That was no way for him to repay your patience and respect."
"Aren't mothers supposed to support their kids no matter what?" I asked wryly.
"It's also my job to make sure that he plays nice with the girls," she quipped.
"I think he came here to apologize," I told her softly. She nodded.
"He regretted your fight almost instantly after it happened."
I nodded and stared down at my hands, not really sure how to continue. We sat there together in silence, listening to my kitchen clock tick. A soft groan wafted from my room, and both Lois and I shot our heads up in response.
"Why don't you go talk to him?" Lois suggested. "I'll be out here if you need any help."
"Okay," I agreed. Jor was struggling to sit up in my bed as I entered the room. I turned the lights on dimly and made my way to the foot of the bed to sit there. "Hey," I greeted him. "Are you feeling better?"
"I think so," he replied groggily. "I'm still dead tired, but I'm feeling less... loopy."
"The initiated would call it being high, Jor," I told him dryly. "What happened to you?"
"I'll explain what happened later, I promise. But first I have to do what I came here to do." I waited for him to continue. "Kaylie, there's no excuse for what I did--"
"You're right, there isn't." He bowed his head in response, but then looked me in the eye again and continued.
"I was just so shocked last night, I wasn't thinking straight, but it was very wrong of me to get so upset. And I should've let you explain it for yourself instead of running off and digging it up myself. And I do trust you, Kaylie. I should've trusted what I knew about you instead of what I read in that file. I came over here to apologize for that, and to show you that I trust you completely, even though you might not ever be able to trust me again. I came here to tell you who I am. Everything about me with no information hidden. And I guess I was just hoping that you could see that, and maybe find a way to forgive me for what I did to you."
"You don't need to do that, Jor. I don't want to be the one who pushed you into this."
"You didn't push me! I wanted to tell you, I really did!"
He sighed. "Kaylie, my mom's in the next room. I think the jig is up."
"Jor, although Lois Lane is pretty much world famous, her kids fly slightly below the radar. You can still tell me yourself." Please tell me, I silently urged. Because if he told me himself, it meant that he wanted me to know. That he trusted me, maybe. Thankfully, he nodded.
"Okay, here goes." He smiled wobbly, and then took the plunge. "My name is Jonathan Kent, but everyone calls me Jon. My birthday is May 14th, 1998. I live at number 36 Belvedere Street. I grew up in Metropolis, but I spent three years living at my grandparent's farm in Smallville, Kansas. I went to Kansas State University and got a degree in Computing Science. I now work at The Daily Planet in the IT department, although I have been known to moonlight as an investigative reporter when my mom drags me into one of her crazy schemes. And I'm completely in love with a woman named Kaylie Stewart." He paused for a moment. "Or maybe it's Kaylie Watson, or Molly Turner, or Catty Collins, or--"
"Not Brenda Sykes," I interjected. "She's suspected of multiple felonies and is currently on the lam to avoid being busted for heading a meth ring." He blinked at me with wide eyes, and I cringed a little. That had seemed more lighthearted in my head.
"I guess the point I'm making, Kaylie," he continued, "is that it doesn't matter what your name is or what you do in your spare time. I love you and nothing's going to change that. And I'm sorry it took me so long to realize it."
"But it does matter." His apology had enabled me to face what I had done wrong. "I should've told you earlier that I was keeping something from you. But instead you had to find out at the club that night in the thick of everything..." That made me think for a moment. "Jor, what were you doing at The Gentleman's Club anyway? I didn't think that was the kind of place you frequented." He scratched his neck self-consciously.
"You know how I mentioned I occasionally do a bit of investigating for my mom? She got a tip from one of her sources that there was going to be a deal between Intergang and some bigwig government agent that night, so she asked me to go check it out for her." I let out a bark of laughter at the irony. We were both there investigating the same thing, but from different angles.
"I guess I owe you an explanation for what I was doing at the club, huh?"
He shook his head. "Kaylie, you don't owe me anything."
"But I want to tell you," I insisted.
"Okay. If you're sure."
"You know I work for the NIA," I began. "What you don't know is that I work for a covert branch within the organization that investigates internal corruption. That deal with Intergang you and your mom were investigating? The government agent you heard about was an NIA official that I've been investigating for months. But it's very important that I don't make him suspicious that the NIA suspects him until I get some hard proof, so that's why my file is falsified. The things I've been doing are so sensitive that they can't be placed on a computer system where any geek with a tech degree can access them." He smiled faintly at my gentle jab.
"I'm sorry again that I did that," he mumbled, and I could hear the fatigue in his voice.
"I know you are. And I forgive you for it," I told him. "And I'm sorry too that I kept all this stuff hidden from you. Spies are big fans of secrecy, and sometimes I get caught up in all the cloak and dagger stuff. But I've known that I could trust you with this for a long time." He slumped against the pillow weakly, and I could see he was about to drop off. "We'll talk some more later, okay? You need more sleep right now."
"'kay," he murmured.
"And don't think for a minute that you're going to get out of telling me what happened to you. I don't take kindly to have drugged boyfriends turning up on my doorstep without explanation, okay?" I demanded. But he was already asleep.
Normally, the editor of the Daily Planet didn't give office tours, but Jim Olsen was pretty ecstatic to have another Kent coming to work for him. Clark only came in occasionally to do the odd freelance piece with Lois after he had taken the teaching position at Metropolis University, so new blood was very welcome. Even though it was in the wrong department.
"Are you sure you want to work with the computers here, Jon?" he asked for the twelfth time. "I know you would do great in the newsroom."
"I'm sure, Jim," Jon replied again. "I'm not much for the all night stakeouts and crazy disguises my mom pulls off."
"Yeah, sure. You're definitely not the type of guy to go around wearing disguises." He glanced pointedly at Jon's crooked tie. "Anyway, I'm guessing it won't be very long before Lois wraps you up in one of her crazy schemes. She's already got me stuck firmly under her thumb, so you'll have plenty of company." Someone called his name from across his room and he waved in response. "It looks like we're going to have to cut this short, but you've been here so often you could probably walk through this building with your eyes closed. Ask Bob Stables if you need anything, okay?" He walked off in the direction of the person who had needed him, and Jon decided that he would grab a cup of coffee before settling himself down to work.
He had just finished doctoring the cup the way he liked it when he was jostled slightly by a newcomer to the coffee area.
"Whoops! Did I make you spill?" she asked apologetically.
"No, it's fine," he reassured her. She gazed at him curiously.
"Have I seen you around her before?"
"I just started today, but I've visited here before. Lois Lane is my mom." He hoped that she wouldn't start gushing about his parents now. He loved his mom, but he had no intention of spending his entire career underneath her shadow. But the woman just nodded in response.
"That must be it."
"I'm Jon," he offered her his hand. She took it, shaking it firmly.
"I'm Amanda. I work in the Arts and Culture section. You?"
"Jim hired me to look after the computer system here, but I think he's gotten it into his head that I'll be doing some writing for the paper too. Thinks that cause my parents are reporters it must be in my blood or something." She laughed genteelly, and then fingered her coffee cup tentatively.
"I know it's your first day and all that, so do you think you might want to grab some lunch together if you don't have any plans? I'll get you up to speed on all the office gossip and whatnot."
"That sounds good..." He heard the familiar sounds of a siren wailing in the distance. "I've actually got to run right now, Amanda," he excused himself hurriedly. "I forgot to... fill out some paperwork for HR, but I'll see you in a couple hours, okay?"
"Okay," she replied easily. As Jon dashed up the emergency stairwell to get to the roof he reflected on the encounter with pleasure. Lunch was definitely something to look forward to.
The Kent family descended as a whole the next morning. I had been up on and off throughout the night with Lois looking after Jor. No, looking after Jon, I reminded myself. It would probably take me a while to get used to the name change. Anyway, it was the second early morning in a row and I was so groggy that I didn't have the energy to feel embarrassed at the lack of food and whatnot to offer these people. Instead I remained curled up on the sofa carefully sipping the obscenely strong coffee that Lois made and stared at the Kents.
I had met all of them before, but never in this intimate of context. Clark commanded much less attention in casual jeans and a T-shirt as opposed to the spandex I had originally seen him in. His glasses made him seem mellower, and his attitude was more laid back, although the reason why he had come was anything but casual.
Jor- no, *Jon*- was different too. He still wore the clothing he had on last night for lack of anything else to wear, but Clark had brought his glasses which drastically changed his looks. He also acted differently with his family around. I saw the same teasing dynamic between him and Ellie as in the last meeting I had witnessed, but this time it was much more subdued as he was still feeling weak from last night. But despite the fact that he was still shaky and a little pale, he sat upright beside me on the sofa, and his arm was draped around me, showing how far we had come from our big fight yesterday.
Unlike her father and brother, Ellie didn't wear glasses as part of her real world disguise. But the chaotic mass of golden hair that tumbled down her back was more than enough to distract any critical eyes. She was as bubbly as ever, which I knew from watching news clips was not the way she acted as Nebula. Nobody could ever confuse this vivacious woman with the serene superhero on TV wearing such a severe hairstyle.
I had noticed Lois' differences between personal and professional demeanor last night when she had come to help me take care of Jor. Although she was still wickedly intelligent, her cunning was no longer directed at me, which was an incredible relief. The absence of a professional suit and jacket also softened her appearance.
There was one new addition to the clan that I hadn't met before. He was absolutely enormous, taller and broader than Clark even, with a fuzz of white-blonde hair and deep blue eyes. I had the nearly irrepressible desire to call him Sven. Seriously, the guy was like some kind of Norse god. But it turned out that he was Brad, Lois's brother-in-law who took time from his work at STAR labs with his wife and niece to act as the Kent family doctor. Brad had brought a stethoscope and the usual medical trappings to my apartment, although I suspected they were somewhat modified for the unique patient. We pulled all the blinds up, and allowed for sunlight to flood my living room, which, I was told, would help in the healing process. Brad checked Jor over, listening to his heart rate and such while Jor *finally* explained what had happened to him yesterday.
"I'm not entirely sure what happened," Jor explained. "I was flying over here to see Kaylie when I suddenly felt sick and dizzy. I tried to land and get into my street clothes as discreetly as possible, but I was already feeling pretty out of it."
"Dizziness and pain. Any other symptoms?" Brad asked.
"Yeah," Jor said. "Kaylie said that when I got here I was acting like I was high on something."
"Some kind of drug?" Ellie asked interestedly.
"I don't know how they would've administered it," Jor told her. "I was high in the air when I first felt sick, and I think I would've noticed something if it happened when I was on the ground."
"It could be red Kryptonite," Clark suggested.
"There's red stuff?" I asked in surprise.
Clark nodded. "It works differently than the green stuff."
"It does have unpredictable effects, so it could be the cause, Jon." Brad said.
"That does make sense," he agreed. "If you combine the effects of green Kryptonite and possible red Kryptonite ones, then you could get what happened to me."
"But how could someone expose you while you were flying?" Lois argued. "I don't think anything could've gotten close enough to you."
"Well, I was flying slower than normal," Jor mentioned hesitantly. "But I would've noticed if something got close enough to me to let me feel Kryptonite."
Everyone was silent for a few moments trying to puzzle out the problem. Then Ellie finally spoke up.
"What about if someone found out a way to send Kryptonite radiation over a distance? You could probably do it with a laser or energy beam. All you would need is a small lump and then magnify the radiation somehow."
"It is theoretically possible," Brad admitted. "But whoever would want to do that would need a lot of resources for research to make it operational."
"But it is possible," Ellie argued. I could see her idea working furiously in her mind as she analyzed the possibilities. "You would have to send the signal from the air, though. There're too many buildings and stuff on the ground that would get in the way. Jon, what if someone was following you in a plane and sent the signal from there?"
"I think I would've noticed a plane hovering over me, Ellie. Unlike you, I don't fly with my eyes closed," he teased.
"Okay, fine," she rolled her eyes. "Then let's say it was sent from a satellite. It still makes sense."
"Don't you think it's a little far fetched? You're assuming a lot."
I wasn't listening to the bickering going on between the two siblings, though. As soon as Ellie mentioned a satellite, something clicked in my head that brought me back to that mysterious file in Sproxton's office. Cryptic code words suddenly made sense, and the wording which initially confused me became clear.
"I think I know what it is," I announced, and dashed over to the hidden compartment behind my bookcase. Despite it being horribly cliché, that secret compartment had proven to be the best place to hide all my NIA related stuff. I pulled the file out of its place and handed it to Brad. "Would this explain what happened?" I asked him. Brad flicked through it in silence and I regarded the four pairs of eyes steadfastly fixed on me. Years of training had taught me not to reveal the truth to anyone. And if I requested it, I knew they would respect my wishes and not look into it any further. But I wanted to tell them anyway. This affected them deeply, putting nearly everyone in their family at risk. They had trusted me enough with their secret, and it was time for me to return the favor.
"I stole this file from the office of a man named Braun Sproxton. He's head of--"
"Covert Operations in the NIA," Lois supplied.
I nodded in confirmation. "He was the government agent who was making a deal with Intergang a couple nights ago that you asked Jo- *Jon* to investigate, Lois." And now I had to explain my own involvement. "A few months ago, the NIA received a tip from an informant that a high ranking official was about to jump ship. I've been working undercover trying to dig up some solid evidence that will get Sproxton removed from his position. Project Titan is not authorized by the NIA as a whole, but I couldn't make sense of it at first. Until I saw what its purpose was."
"Ellie was partially right," Brad told us. "He's using the NIA satellite to bounce a signal to a specific target. One of you three," he gestured to Clark, Ellie, and Jon.
"It uses something like a heat signature to find the target, right?" I recalled from my initial reading.
"Not really a heat signature, Kaylie. It's actually seeks out the energy field surrounding each person that is as unique as a fingerprint."
"What, like an aura?" I asked skeptically
"Exactly," he confirmed. I was surprised. I had never really been a big fan of any of that new age-y stuff, but everyone else seemed to be taking this in stride.
"We each have a protective aura that extends a few millimeters from our skin, Kaylie," Jon finally explained. "It's what keeps our suits from shredding and even protects people a bit when we fly with them."
"Everyone has an aura that is unique to them," Ellie continued. "But with superpowers, it becomes magnified to the point that it's noticeable. And, apparently, now it's traceable."
"Somehow, this guy has managed to pin down what my aura is and lock onto the signal it produces."
"That bank robbery," I remembered. "You know the one where they used expanding slugs? I told you that it was weird. I bet Sproxton gave some hired thugs the bullets and paid them to do the job. By using more damaging ammo, he was sure that one of you guys would show up. It's exactly the kind of thing he would do. He probably locked onto your signal then."
"Do you think he'll do it again for us?" Ellie asked worriedly.
"Not right away," I told her, chewing my lip furiously. "He'll wait a while to make sure that it worked on Jon. Maybe a week or so with no sightings of Supernova. Then he'll probably create another set-up. There's no telling which call for help will be engineered, though."
"And we can't just refuse calls for help," Clark commented. "Even if it is a set-up that doesn't mean that real people aren't in danger."
"Project Titan is nothing without Sproxton," I told them. "If I can take him down, then the whole idea will crumble."
"I already have years of research on Intergang," Lois offered. "I've been trying to take them down for ages; I'll help in whatever way I can." She seemed eager to help, and I hated to shut her out but...
"I need to do this by the book," I explained apologetically. "I've been trying to catch Sproxton for so long I can't afford to have him slip by on a technicality. I'll gladly take whatever research you have but I can't have any civilian involvement in this. Although it's unfairly elitist, the NIA won't accept anything that has too much outside influences. They tend to trust only themselves."
"Fine," Lois grumbled, "I'll stay in the sidelines." Even though she wanted to be involved, she realized that too much interference would only harm her ultimate objective.
"I can guarantee that you'll get the exclusive as soon as we can make it public," I offered, having quickly discovered the way to get in Lois' good graces. "And I promise you I'll get this taken care of as soon as I can. I've been doing covert operations for years and I'm a very good agent. I can handle this." She appeared slightly mollified by my simultaneous peace offering and reassurance.
"You may not know this," Clark told me, "but Superman, Supernova, and Nebula are all registered agents in the NIA."
"What?" Ellie exclaimed.
Clark nodded his confirmation. "After the whole Trevanian incident in 1996, Jack Olsen petitioned the Director to make me an honorary agent. When you two showed up in the public eye, I'm told that privilege was extended to you." I was familiar with the Trevanian scandal, of course. It was what had initially spurred the formation of the NIA branch that I was currently working for. But the fact that the three superheroes were NIA agents was news to me. Judging by the reactions of Jor and Ellie, it was news to them as well.
"You never told us about this, Dad," Jor (no, Jon, dammit!) commented.
"I didn't remember about it," Clark explained. "It's not something particularly useful in day to day situations, but if you're willing, Kaylie, we'd be happy to help."
"Thanks," I nodded. "You'd have to be careful though. We know Sproxton has Kryptonite and there's no telling when it might pop up in this investigation."
"Well, that takes care of Sproxton," Ellie said. "But it doesn't help Jon for the time being. The only reason why he's not feeling the effects of the Kryptonite is because his aura is still weakened enough that the satellite can't find it. As soon as he recovers, it'll stick him right back to where he was last night." She had been paging through the file, reading it at super-speed. We all must've thought along the same lines, because at her comment, everyone jumped out of their seats and pulled the blinds down to minimize the amount of sunlight in the room.
"I can fly up to the satellite and try to disable it," Clark offered.
"No way," Lois objected. "We have no way of knowing if the Kryptonite is stored here on Earth, or in the satellite, but you're not taking the chance." Clark reluctantly nodded his agreement.
"Even without direct exposure to sunlight, I'll heal on my own," Jor commented. His mouth tightened at the corners, and his face was deathly pale. "But maybe if we use small amounts of Kryptonite to keep me weak enough until the system can be disabled-" But that suggestion was met with unanimous disapproval.
"It wouldn't work, Jon," Brad explained. "We haven't done enough research to know how to administer a proper dosage. Any effect would be erratic and uncontrollable."
"Well, we have to figure out some way to diminish my aura," Jor fumed in irritation. Or rather, Jon fumed in irritation.
"I don't have anything in my research files that could help out," Brad told us frankly. Then he turned to Clark. "Can you remember any time when you didn't have your powers that wasn't because of Kryptonite?"
"No," Clark confessed.
"Unless," Lois began hesitantly. Clark looked at her sharply.
"Are you thinking about...?"
"It could work," she told him with mounting enthusiasm.
"The laser's actually still in orbit, I think," Clark added.
"What are you talking about?" Ellie interjected with the question that was on all of our minds.
"This happened years ago, before we had even gotten engaged," Lois began to explain.
"I was hit with this red Kryptonite laser--"
"--and his powers were temporarily transferred to me."
"Neither of us experienced any pain or discomfort--"
"If you don't count the stuff I accidentally did you, Clark. And you being tied to a chair and almost electrocuted. And--"
"The point is," Clark summarized firmly, "I got my powers back with no problems after another shot with the laser."
"Wait, were you Ultrawoman, Lois?" Brad asked disbelievingly. "I had almost forgotten about her."
"Luckily, she quickly faded from the public eye," Lois explained. "But the laser should work for Jon."
"How come there are no notes about this in your file?" Ellie asked pointedly.
"This was before we completely trusted Dr. Klein," Clark told her. "We asked for his help to fix the laser when it broke, but we didn't dare tell him what it did."
"Who's Dr. Klein?" I whispered in Jor's ear.
"Old family physician," he replied. "Uncle Brad took over for him after he retired."
"I'm not completely sure about this," Brad hedged. "Red K is pretty fickle, and who knows what it could do."
"It looks like the best option, though," I commented. Brad nodded grudgingly.
"And if we can find the original laser and chunk of Kryptonite, then there's an excellent chance that the initial results will repeat," Ellie mentioned.
"We'll have to find someone willing to participate in the exchange." Brad was reluctantly softening to the idea.
"I'll do it," I volunteered. The room echoed with uneasy silence.
"I'm sure about this, Jor. Jon. Whatever your name is. You're not going to convince me otherwise, so don't even bother trying."
To my surprise, he laughed instead of voicing more objections. "If you're absolutely sure, Kaylie, I don't see how I could even try to stop you."
"Good," I told him smugly. "I'm glad to see you're coming around to my way of thinking."
"Kaylie, are you really okay with this?" Clark asked seriously. "You're making a big sacrifice."
"Yeah, like it's a big sacrifice to be able fly and be invulnerable." I scoffed. "Someone has to do this, and it might as well be me. Now shouldn't someone be hunting down that laser?"
"Dad and I'll go do it now," Ellie offered. "There's no sense in delaying it." They both spun into their respective costumes, and zoomed out via the balcony. Then Brad stood up, stretching.
"Kaylie, I'd like to give you a quick physical if that's all right."
"Oh! Um, sure."
"Can we use your bedroom maybe?"
"Um... Okay." I hadn't been exactly prepared for this, but I supposed Brad wanted to make sure everything was all right before we did anything crazy. And speaking of which... "So is this the craziest thing you've ever done?" I asked Brad once we had gotten into my room.
"Well, this is definitely among the top ten, but you'd be surprised by the interesting circumstances the Kent family gets into. They just seem to attract the bizarre."
"So what attracted you to them?" I asked curiously.
"Lab rats," he told me briefly as he wrapped a blood pressure cuff around my arm.
"Um, excuse me?"
"It's a motorcycle group of doctors and researchers," he explained, looking a little embarrassed by this admission. "Dr Klein, their previous doctor, was at the same rally I attended shortly after I got my doctorate and was looking for a permanent research position. He liked me and I liked him and by the end of the weekend, he had offered me a job. I moved to Metropolis where I met Lucy, who was already working at STAR labs. We got married, and when Dr Klein wanted to retire, the Kents decided to let me in on the family secret so I could continue as their doctor." He was silent for a moment as he pressed his stethoscope to my chest to hear my breathing and heartbeat. "That's all I really need to do, Kaylie," he told me. "I actually asked you here because I wanted to make sure that you're absolutely certain about doing this procedure."
"When will people stop asking me this?" I exclaimed. "I *want* to do it!"
"I just want to make sure you understand the risks," Brad commented as he packed up the small amount of equipment he had brought with him. "Jon doesn't really have a choice, but you are more than able to back out of this."
"Jon needs someone else for this thing to work," I argued. "We can't exactly transfer his powers onto a lab rat." I could see that he still wasn't convinced. "Brad, if you had to risk your life for your wife, wouldn't you do it?"
"Of course I would."
"Well, it's the same for me," I told him. "I need to do this for him, and although it may be dangerous, I know that we're doing it in the safest way possible." Finally, Brad looked convinced. He picked up his medical kit, and we reentered my living room. Clark and Ellie had already returned from their search successfully.
Ellie was fiddling with what looked like an archaic video camera, but I assumed was the laser. "Everything's in working order," she told us.
"So how do we do this?" I asked, suddenly nervous. I had been confident in my decision to do it, but now it seemed to be happening so fast that I didn't have time to think.
"You two will need to stand on the opposite side of this room to get a proper distance," Brad directed. Jor stood and met me in our designated location. He still looked a little weak, but he was getting healthier by the minute. Funny how in normal circumstances that would be a good thing.
"When it happened before," Clark told us, "Lois and I were touching." Jor wrapped his arms around me, and I drew close to him for comfort.
"Are you okay?" he asked me quietly.
"Yes." I told both myself and him.
"How long was the blast?" Brad asked.
"Not long," Lois answered. "Maybe five seconds?" She looked at Clark for confirmation.
"I think even shorter than that," Clark said.
"Well, all right," Brad hefted the camera-laser up onto his shoulder. "Here goes nothing."
I felt a warm numbing sensation flow through me and dark blotches blossomed to cover my field of vision as I lost all sensation in my body.
"Kaylie? Kaylie can you hear me?" Jor was shaking my shoulder vigorously as he swam into view. I felt the weave of upholstery pressed against my cheek, and I groaned as the world blurred, then came into focus.
"Please don't tell me I passed out like some helpless female."
The grin that stretched across his face appeared strange from my sideways angle. "Okay, you didn't pass out. You swooned."
I decided to take the high road and ignore him, instead focusing on the issue at hand. "Did it work? How are you feeling?"
"Actually, I'm feeling much better. And I don't have my powers."
"So that means I have them?" My heart quickened at the news.
"Well, there's only one way to find out." I cautiously sat up on the sofa, and glanced nervously around at everyone staring at me intently. I didn't feel much different. My heartbeat felt a little faster, but that was probably because of nerves, not superpowers.
"So what do I do?" I asked everyone nervously.
"Just try something small," Ellie suggested. "X-ray vision is pretty easy, so maybe try that at first."
"How do I do it?" I asked blankly.
"Pick something in the room," Clark coached patiently. I cast around and settled on the table lamb beside the sofa.
"Okay, I'll use the lamp."
"Now concentrate on the lamp and focus your vision. Sometimes squinting helps at first. Imagine peeling away the layers of the lamp in your mind."
I concentrated hard, squinted tightly, but nothing happened. I forced myself to focus and block out everything else, but still I didn't get any further. I was just about to give up, but then I felt a slight tickle behind my eyes. Was that it? I concentrated on that feeling, magnifying it and directing the energy it brought towards the lamp. It instantly burst into flames.
They must've been prepared for something of the sort, because they reacted almost instantly. Ellie jumped up and ran over to the lamp to extinguish the fire. Clark caught me and forcibly restrained me from accidentally tearing my entire apartment down by trying to escape. He led me back to my seat and gently sat me down beside Jon, who looked at me with concern.
"Are you okay, Kaylie?" he asked me gently.
"My lamp just exploded because I looked at it," I told him distantly.
"That's nothing. I once evaporated the Smallville community skating rink because I was daydreaming about volcanoes." I tried to laugh at his attempt to lighten the mood, but all that came out was a strangled "ha-unh." I pushed my hand against the arm of the sofa to try to steady myself. The arm fell away with an awful wrenching noise at what felt like a light touch to me.
"Holy crap!" I exclaimed, jaw agape.
"Kaylie, you need to remain calm," Lois instructed soothingly. "I know it's really difficult right now, but the more anxious you get the harder it is to control yourself."
"I need to check your vitals," Brad told me, inching closer.
"Are you sure you want to risk that? I might fry you accidentally or break all the bones in your body." Tension started to rise up inside of me again. I started to realize that I could seriously hurt people. Jon put his arm around me, and I stiffened in response. Who knows what I could do to him now that I was the one with the superpowers? Then Clark crouched down and placed his hands over mine. I focused on him gratefully. At least I couldn't burn him to a crisp.
"After Brad is finished with you, I'll take you someplace far away from any form of civilization and we'll practice until you can get control, okay?"
"That sounds good," I said timidly.
"You'll get it Kaylie, don't worry," Jon reassured me. "You'll probably end up being better than me."
"Yeah, right," I muttered to myself. I had known that there were risks in using the laser, but I hadn't expected it to be so hard to simply control the powers when they came. I remained completely passive as Brad checked me out.
"You know, Jon," Ellie began, suspiciously innocent, "You not having your powers for the time being could actually be seen as a good thing."
"It would be really useful to have data to compare what your abilities are with and without any powers," she explained excitedly. "I think it might help with my research, not to mention the benefits--"
"What tests do you want to do, Ellie?" he asked resignedly.
"Just a few. Very simple ones, they shouldn't take long at all."
It had been just over ten years since the sudden appearance of his powers, but Jon was astounded to realize how much he had grown to depend on them. The run of tests Ellie was currently putting him through only served to draw attention to the loss.
"Okay," Ellie summarized, clicking her pen absentmindedly. "So far you show a marked decrease in strength, endurance, sensory perception, and reflex speed."
"Gee, that's great. As long as I don't get overconfident or anything." The physical trials she had pushed him through in the last hour had made him feel unbelievably slow, weak, and clumsy. He struggled to complete tasks that would have been laughably easy for him before Project Titan had appeared.
"Oh, stop whining," Ellie told him, refusing to be sympathetic. "You actually come in a bit above average in comparison to other males in your age bracket." She looked up from her clipboard apologetically. "Thanks for doing this for me, Jon. I know it can't be all that fun."
"No problem. I consider this to be at least three years worth of birthday presents."
"Watch it, bozo!" She pointed her pen at him menacingly. "I have you in a very unique position now where I'm a thousand times stronger and faster than you and you're completely vulnerable."
He threw up his arms in surrender. "Okay, fine! You don't owe me anything."
"You have that right, my dear brother!" She consulted her clipboard again. "I have one more test I want to do," she said hesitantly, "but if you don't want to, I completely understand."
"What is it?"
"I want to test your reaction to Kryptonite. It's possible that you're still sensitive to it, even though you have no powers. Or it could've been transferred to Kaylie. The only way we would know for sure is if we tested one of you."
"Okay, I'll do it," Jon nodded grimly. "With Kaylie investigating Sproxton, we need to know if Kryptonite can affect her."
Ellie brought out a heavy lead box and set it before him. "Just open it really slowly," she instructed. "As soon as you feel anything, shut it right away and we'll have our answer." Jon nodded again, and waited for Ellie to move a safe distance away. Then he carefully eased the lid off the box.
He felt nothing. The deadly Kryptonite glowed sinisterly up at him, but he was immune to the affects. He closed the box firmly, allowing Ellie to rejoin him.
"You felt nothing?" she asked.
"Nothing," he confirmed.
"So that means..."
"That Kaylie is vulnerable to it."
I had a very strong sense of déjà vu as Clark dropped me off at my apartment later that day. Of course this time, we had just returned from a super-power cram session in Antarctica as opposed to an ugly fight on a tropical beach.
Clark had given me a crash course in super-powers. I could blow down a house if I wanted to, or tie my bicycle in a knot. Unfortunately, I didn't have the amount of control that Clark and Ellie currently owned. I almost broke the sliding glass door on my balcony as I was trying to get inside, and I had pretty much given up on being able to control my heat vision. We had gone to STAR labs and gotten Brad to check me over, and he had thought it might have something to do with the temperamental nature of red Kryptonite.
"It never works the same way twice," Brad explained. "With practice, you may be able to get a better hang of it, but until then, you should just be very careful."
Clark had also given me a stern lecture about not running out to help on any rescues.
"You may hear things," he told me. "But you have to trust that Ellie and I will take care of it. You don't have full control, and it would also be very risky to introduce another superhero to Metropolis. We were lucky enough with Ultrawoman, but now that the kids are public, it makes it a lot more difficult to distract people."
So far, it hadn't been a problem. I still had to focus very hard in order to hear anything concrete, and even then, Ellie and Clark were soon on top of it. I also felt that I was already doing my part to better society by hunting down Sproxton. And anyway, there was something else I was having a problem with that would seriously jeopardize my career as a superhero. See, I still hadn't learned to fly.
I *did* manage to do a little floating and fluttering from iceberg to iceberg, don't get me wrong, but as far as the soaring through the air at rocket speed thing goes... Well, I just couldn't manage it. As soon as I got higher then a couple feet of the ground, I just froze. It was that stupid phobia of mine that had plagued me throughout my whole life. Although the Peter Pan method of faith, trust, and pixie dust didn't completely apply for honorary Kryptonians, it's very difficult to stay in the air when your mind is filled with images of squashed corpses instead of happy thoughts.
But Clark was very nice about it and didn't push me. He said that as long as I didn't start spontaneously floating in the street, it didn't really matter if I could fly or not. And spontaneous floating was not very likely at this point. The ground and I had a very amicable relationship, and I wasn't anxious to instigate an estrangement any time soon.
Anyway, I was very glad to have some spare time after the stressful night and day. And I knew exactly what I was going to do with it. I pulled out the business card Jon had left me before we all took off this morning. It gave me his office number, cell number, and pager number along with his email. On the back of the card, he had scribbled his home number. Although it was completely bizarre and upside-down and crazy, it was one of the most romantic gifts he had ever given me. Unfortunately, Ellie had already finished with her tests by the time we got to STAR labs, but she had told me that Jon was at work, so I dialed the number for his office connection.
"Hi, this is Jon Kent," he answered after the first ring.
"You better be prepared for a barrage of calls now that I have your number," I told him. "I don't think I'll ever get tired of hearing your voice over the phone."
"Kaylie! Hi! I'm glad you called." The warmth in his voice traveled through the air and heated me down to my toes. "How did your field trip go?"
"Did you know that penguins are not nearly as sociable as documentaries lead us to believe? I swear one tried to bite me while I was practicing X-ray vision."
"Well, he was probably afraid you would torch him like you did that lamp. It was self preservation."
Even though I couldn't see him at the moment, I could picture him perfectly in my mind's eye. That teasing smirk and quirked eyebrow... I was glad that he was teasing me instead of coddling me. There's only so much well meaning concern that I could take in one day. "Oh ha ha. Very funny, Spaceboy. I'll have you know that that problem is almost entirely dealt with."
"'Almost entirely'?" he echoed.
"I may still have a few problems that need ironing out," I admitted reluctantly.
"Kaylie, I'm sure you're doing fine," Jon reassured me. "You sound like you've taken this whole thing in stride, which is a lot better than I did when I was dumped with a bunch of crazy powers."
"So how have you been?" I asked him, eager to change the subject off my inability to control myself.
"Well, so far I've managed to give myself three paper cuts, burn my tongue on coffee, and create what promises to be a massive bruise on my knee by banging into something at STAR labs."
"Missing the invulnerability, huh?"
"Just a little," he said wryly. "Ellie didn't have much sympathy for me, though. I hit some big piece of equipment and knocked the calibration off. She hates it when people mess with things in her lab space." He paused. "You know, it's a good thing that you called. I'm going to call it a day here in a bit, and I was wondering if I could stop by your place and drop off that research my mom was talking about."
"Well, that depends," I told him.
"On whether or not you bring food. I'm starving!" I complained. "I thought I wasn't supposed to get hungry anymore."
"Well, you may not need food to survive, but that doesn't keep you from getting hungry," he explained. "What do you want me to bring?"
"Anything but pizza," I said. "I had a bit of an overload yesterday."
"Not pizza. Got it. I'll see you soon, Kaylie."
"Sounds good," I replied brightly.
"Okay!" There was an awkward pause.
"So... bye! I guess."
I was about to hang up when Jon called out hurriedly.
"I love you," he said almost tentatively. Because he wasn't there in person, I had to hug myself instead. But I still did it with feeling.
"I love you too, Jon." Then we were able to hang up.
Our first phone conversation. It was perhaps a little stilted, but then again we were at an awkward place in our relationship right now. Everything between us had been exposed, whether it was intentional or accidental. And things were even more screwed up now that I had Jon's powers. The traditional balance of power between us had shifted, and now I was scrambling to retain my footing. You'd think that the acquisition of powers would make me want to be more independent, but in actuality I found myself wanting to cling to Jon even more. Having the powers scared me. For years, I had worked with my body, training it and conditioning it until I knew its limits exactly and could be confident in my ability. Now, I was constantly being thrown off by the new abilities I was now in possession of, and I always had to be hyper aware of what I was doing in order to avoid unconsciously crossing the boundary between human and super. The whole situation set me nervously on edge and undermined my confidence, which was a bad thing to happen when I needed to be at my best. So now, more than ever, I needed to depend on Jon for his experience and support.
Even though I was constantly being reminded that I currently had Jon's powers, I was still expecting him to come knocking on my balcony instead of my door. And I was a little confused to be faced with the strange bespectacled man who stood in the doorway holding Chinese takeout. Although I had been able to recognize him the first time I saw him like this, I still pictured him in my head without glasses and with his hair slicked back. Not that I didn't like his hair this way. In fact, I would definitely call it an improvement.
"Come on in," I invited. He came inside and dumped the food plus several bulging folders on the table. "So I was thinking that we could--"
"Just one second," he interrupted.
"What?" I asked. Then Jon stepped close to me, wrapped his arms around me and kissed me in a way that left me feeling boneless and shivery.
"I was just thinking on the way over here that we haven't kissed since that night at the Gentleman's Club."
"Not exactly the best kiss we've ever shared," I commented.
"You did what you had to in order to shut me up," he replied easily. "If you didn't I would've blabbed the whole thing to everyone in the club and then the entire investigation would've been shot."
"Thanks for understanding." I was still in his embrace, and I finally go the chance to do what I had longed to from the moment I first saw his messy hairstyle. His hair was as soft as I had imagined it to be, and I could smell his shampoo as I ran my fingers through it. Jon was looking at me, but then his eyes slid over to the coffee table that was littered with papers.
"Are you planning a bonfire or something?"
"That's some of my research on Sproxton," I explained. "Surveillance notes, and background checks, and NIA records."
"This is only some of it?" He asked aghast. "You could write a twelve volume novel with all this stuff."
"Well, that's what spying is largely about," I told him as I attacked the food he had brought. "Research and patience and more research with the occasional life or death struggle thrown in." Jon walked over to my hidden compartment that I had left slightly ajar when I had dug out all the paper.
"Do you mind if I...?" he gestured to the bookcase.
"Go ahead," I told him. I pulled one of the files that he had brought with him towards me and began paging through it.
"All that's here is more paper," he complained.
"That's not everything." I stood and made my way to the bookcase. "All the fun stuff is underneath." I showed him how more panels slid away to reveal my modest weapon collection, and a couple of wigs with a bit of costuming make-up. A few more odds and ends completed my arsenal.
"So where are all the cool gadgets and the keys to the invisible car?" he asked half jokingly.
"Jon, I'm a spy, not Batgirl," I explained. "The more cool gadgets you depend on, the more likely they are to malfunction when you need them the most."
"I guess that makes sense," he admitted.
"I imagine it would be the same for you," I told him. "When you're performing a difficult rescue, you can't depend on flashy moves alone. You have to use your creativity to think of the best way to utilize what you have on hand. Take this thing, for example." I held up the rusted pry bar I had used to break into Sproxton's office. "I can use this to break locks, or as a screwdriver, or even as a weapon if I absolutely need to." I replaced the pry bar and began sliding the panels back in place to cover up all my equipment.
"You know, it's kind of weird," Jon commented. "You're still the same person and everything, but now I see this whole other side to you that I didn't before."
"It's kinda the same for me too," I told him. "I mean, I always knew you had a family and a job and all that, but to actually talk to you dressed like this, and to call you at work and see you with your family is really different. I guess it's like we need to get to know each other all over again." I was so busy puzzling this out that I failed to pay attention to what I was doing. The next thing I knew, I had ripped the sliding wood panel out of its place as I was moving it. I was now holding it in my hand, and I could see that that the casters had been torn out of their place
"Dammit," I hissed, flustered by my mistake.
"Kaylie, are you okay?" Jon asked me anxiously.
"I'm fine," I replied shortly. "I've been doing that on and off all day. It's just like I forget for one second to be careful, and I end up scorching a hole in something or," I held up the chunk of wood, "ripping apart expensive furniture." I sighed dejectedly. "This is going to put me up to at least a thousand dollars in damage since this morning."
"Kaylie, I'm so sorry you have to go through this." The guilt danced across his face. "You've made a huge sacrifice for me and you're only getting more trouble in return. Maybe if this isn't working, we can go to STAR labs and see if Uncle Brad will reverse it. I can try the Kryptonite thing I was talking about."
"Jon, what the hell are you thinking?" I exclaimed angrily. "You can't use green Kryptonite like that. Brad already told us that this morning. I volunteered to do this, and I'm not just going to back down because I break a couple of pieces of furniture."
"I know that," he said. "But Ellie called me at work after you did and told me that you were having more problems controlling your powers than we originally thought you would. I know how scary it can be to not be in control. I can't just let you stumble through this on your own."
I forced myself to calm down. Although he wasn't going about this in the way I wanted, he was just trying to help me out. "Look, Jon," I told him, "I appreciate your concern, but I've had an overdose of kindness and sympathy today, that's not what I need from you right now."
"So what do you need?" he offered.
"I need help sifting through all this research you brought," I told him, grateful to let our previous subject go. I didn't want to think about my lack of control right now. I was sure I would get it in time. He agreed to my request, and we both sat down at the kitchen table, eating the food Jon had brought and searching through Lois' files. It felt very natural to be working with Jon on this. I had recognized that we had similar work habits when I had assigned him all those silly little tasks before we had started dating, and it was nice to see that it still applied when the job was actually important.
"What are we looking for specifically?" Jon asked me.
"I need a record of businesses suspected of being connected to Intergang," I told him.
"Costmart is their HQ," he supplied.
"Too obvious," I said. "I have a list of companies Sproxton's connected to here and I'm hoping to find a common link between him and Intergang. But Sproxton's too smart to be associated with Costmart. Although it's never been proven in court, nearly everyone knows that Costmart and Intergang are intertwined." I paged through page after page of information. It would have to be something small, I decided. Maybe a sister or shell company... I was suddenly aware of Jon's eyes observing me.
"What?" I asked somewhat peevishly. I don't always like to be interrupted when I'm working.
"You're beautiful," he told me with a smile.
"Oh! Uh... thanks," I blushed.
"You're also floating," he added casually. I returned to my chair with a heavy thump. That had surprised me.
"I guess I was so focused on this that I just..."
"Lost track of gravity," he finished.
"Yeah. I guess so." I had never thought that that would actually happen. When I had been with Clark I had needed to work so hard to get up in the air.
"It still happens to me occasionally when I get really focused on something," Jon reassured me. We continued working in silence until Jon spoke again. "Kaylie, have you heard of a Marten Technologies?"
"I think so," I commented abstractedly. "They have a government contract and Sproxton meets with them to discuss their research grants and such."
"They also supply Costmart with a lot of merchandise. But if you look at this invoice and compare it to their tax return..." he passed the papers to me.
"Wow. There's a huge disparity."
"So I'm thinking--"
"That Marten Tech is doing some under the table dealings with Costmart?"
"And if Sproxton does dealings with Marten Tech as part of his legit duties it would be easy to slip in a few special deals now and then without raising suspicion."
"I've got to go check out their research lab," I told Jon as I pushed away from the table and rushed to get my stuff together.
"Wait, *you* have to go? You can't go there all alone!"
"Jon, I appreciate your concern, but I'm a trained NIA agent," I told him patiently. "I think I can take care of myself."
"Oh, so you always go on assignments by yourself?"
"Well, no," I admitted reluctantly. "Usually I have my brother as backup. But he's been transferred, so it's just me."
"Kaylie, I'm sure that you're more than capable of looking after yourself, but right now you've got some new abilities you can't entirely control. I really think it would be a good idea if you had someone with you." I stopped lacing up my shoes and took a look at him. He seemed truly agitated.
"It's more than just me not being fully able to control my abilities isn't it?" I asked.
"Ellie did a test," he admitted. "Kryptonite doesn't harm me anymore, which means that you're now vulnerable to it."
"Not necessarily," I argued. "You can't know for sure unless you test me."
"Okay, maybe we don't really know about you, but we do know for sure that I can't be hurt by it," he argued. "Please just let me come along and be your backup. I'll do whatever you want me to, and although I'm not a trained agent, I have done my share of breaking and entering."
I looked at him appraisingly. "All right, fine," I conceded. "You would actually solve a problem that I've been a little worried about." I reached for the keys to my car and tossed them in his direction. "I don't want to accidentally damage my car with an unexpected burst of superpowers, so you can drive."
"We're not flying?" he asked, a little confused.
"Of course not!" I exclaimed. "I'm afraid of heights, remember?" It was probably a good thing that my hearing wasn't tuned to pick up the mumbled reply from Jon. It would've only been some kind of biting jab, and right now I was too buzzed by the chance of a break in my investigation to think of a suitable comeback.
When you see Supernova on TV, you have a hard time believing that he has any weaknesses. And even with my knowledge of Jonathan Kent as the person in the suit, I had great faith in him. Of course he has his faults and all that. After all, nobody's perfect. But I had never imagined that he could be so terrifyingly awful at something that most people were able to do at least halfway decently. I mean, he spent three years living on a farm! I had thought it would be an essential skill. As it turns out, I was hopelessly wrong.
"Will you watch where you're going?!" I screeched for the third time. "You almost hit that fire hydrant!"
"The corner was sharper than I thought it would be," Jon muttered tensely.
"Red light! Red light!" I yelled. We lurched to a stop, but Jon hadn't braked fast enough, so the nose of my car was sticking conspicuously past the stop line. "I can't believe your parents were going to get you a car for your nineteenth birthday," I told him shakily. "Were they planning on murdering the entire state of Kansas?"
"It feels different now that my reflexes aren't what they should be," he defended.
"Yeah, sure, blame it on the lack of powers," I scoffed. "You don't get to be this bad of a driver without some serious practice. You're like a little old lady and an Italian all rolled into one!" The light changed to green, and the car sputtered and died before we could make it forward into the intersection.
"Oh great! We stalled. That's only happened about twelve times since we left my place. I thought you said you had driven stick before." Jon revived the car, and it lurched forward through the lights. I instinctively grabbed hold of the dashboard and I heard it groan in complaint.
"Easy, Kaylie," Jon reminded me cheerily. "You're supposed to be relaxing."
"Watch the road," I growled back. I swear he takes far too much pleasure in my annoyance.
"Kaylie, it's okay. I have driven before. Sure it was mostly farm equipment, but I still--"
"Watch out for that SUV!" Jon slowed down and narrowly missed a collision for the umpteenth time since he got behind the wheel. "Okay," I told him as I forced my breathing to be slow and steady, "my entire life has now flashed before my eyes. Pull over."
"We're just a few blocks from Marten Tech anyway. We'll walk the rest of the way."
"I take it you're going to be driving on the way back," Jon asked me as we started down the street.
"What I can't understand is the speed thing," I told him, still reliving the awful trip. "You either go way too fast or way too slow. What's wrong with a happy medium?"
"You know, I hadn't driven in six years. You'd think you could cut me a little slack."
"We need to find a side entrance," I told Jon, bringing us back to the mission at hand. "Hopefully it will be easier to get into." We strolled casually around the building looking for a door. The building itself was closed for the day, but there were still a lot of people milling around the streets, so we had to be as inconspicuous as possible. Finally we found one that was secluded enough for us to enter without attracting suspicion. There was just one problem.
"I can't pick this lock, it's one of those high security ones," I explained to Jon in frustration. "If I had planned this out in advance I would've--"
"You don't need to pick it." Jon told me calmly. "Just force it open. You have the strength." I thought it over. It would be obvious that the lock was broken when someone next came across it, however knowing what I planned to do to the lab if we found it, a broken lock would hardly be noticeable in comparison. I seized the doorknob and forced the door open by gradually applying more and more pressure like Clark had taught me. It finally gave away with a satisfying crunch. I turned to look at Jon triumphantly.
"I did it!" I exclaimed.
"I've never seen someone break a door better," he told me.
Emboldened by my success, I led us confidently into Marten Technologies. The interior of the building was sleek and professional, decorated in a way that only a cushy government contract and a wealthy private clientele could afford. Although the building appeared deserted for the night, we couldn't afford to wander around randomly looking for an illegal weapons lab that may or may not exist. I'm sure that if Jon had his powers, he could've scanned the entire building with X-ray vision in seconds and found any suspicious area immediately. I didn't have the skills he did though, despite temporarily having his powers, so I decided to go about things the way I had been trained.
There was a directory map conveniently posted on the wall, which I studied carefully, not looking at the visitor-friendly labels, but at the composition and layout of the building. It looked like most of the research labs were placed in clusters together with a clear view into all the others. It was unlikely that Sproxton could get away with doing any top secret projects in any of those facilities. Then my eye caught sight of a small room labeled the "Observation Tower." It appeared to be at level higher than all the others. I glanced over to Jon and saw that he was staring at the same thing. Wordlessly, we headed for the stairwell and climbed up to the top floor, then searched for the entrance to the small room. Guessing from the name of the room, I assumed there was a clear view skyward, which would enable Sproxton to send his satellite signal without a chance of interruption.
This time I didn't hesitate in breaking the door open, and when we entered the room, it was pretty obvious that something different was going on than some harmless stargazing. The beast of a machine that stood in the center of the room was obviously designed for transmitting something as opposed to receiving it. There were a couple computers sitting on a counter near the wall. A mess of scientific equipment and carefully organized papers filled the rest of the counter space.
"Okay, here's the plan," I told Jon. "You wipe those computers clean, I go through the papers to glean important information, and we find a way to dismantle that machine."
"Sound simple enough," he agreed, and then began working on the computers.
I had finished with the files earlier than Jon was done with the computers, so I wandered over to the machine to see how we could deactivate it. Although our problem wouldn't really be solved until we were able to catch Sproxton, incapacitating the machine would ensure that Clark and Ellie were safe from any future attacks. I noticed a small door on the side of the machine, so I bent down to yank it open. A lump of glowing red crystal tumbled out onto the floor. I stared at it curiously, and it sucked me into its glow.
"So that's what Kryptonite looks like," I commented idly.
"Kaylie, get away from there!" Jon exclaimed from across the room. I heard a frantic scuffling and then he swooped down and scooped the rock into a small box.
"How do you know that's lined with lead?" I asked him, still feeling a little dazed.
"It's heavy for its size," he explained. "I knew they must have had one around here somewhere, so I just... But that's not really important, Kaylie. How are you feeling?"
"Relax, Jor. Jon," I told him. "I feel fine." But as I made a move to stand up again, the world spun violently, and I fell down on the floor.
"Kaylie, what's wrong?" Jor asked anxiously.
"Dizzy," I muttered to him as I tried to lift myself to my knees. I couldn't seem to center my balance, and the world around me seemed to dance crazily in front of my eyes.
"We need to get you out of here," he decided. He grabbed me firmly around the waist and heaved me to my feet. "Just lean on me for support, okay?" I groaned noisily. "Kaylie? What's wrong?"
"I think I'm going to be sick."
The first time he had seen his father affected by Kryptonite was just over a year after he found out the secret. He was in Metropolis for Christmas holidays and was sitting at home reading a book when his parents shuffled into the house. Lois sat Clark down heavily on the sofa and helped him out of his coat.
"I'm feeling better now, Lois," Clark told her. "We got away from it fast enough so it wasn't too bad."
His wife looked him over critically. "I'll get you a cup of tea," she finally said, and left for the kitchen.
"Dad, what happened?" Ellie asked fearfully.
"I'm okay, Ellie," Clark reassured her. "Mom and I were going to meet a source and it turned out he had some Kryptonite on him. But we were able to get away fast enough, so I'm just a little bit tired and sore right now. But don't worry, I'll bounce right back." He smiled tiredly at her.
"Could Kryptonite affect me and Jon too?" Ellie asked, her scientific curiosity piqued.
"Hopefully not," Clark replied. "But I don't really know for sure."
"I'll ask Uncle Brad when I see him again," Ellie decided. "It would be good to know; just in case."
Jon didn't share her enthusiasm. His parents had told him that Kryptonite did actually exist, but he had never really understood the danger until now. He looked at his father taking off his glasses and leaning back against the cushions, grunting a little with the effort. Although his dad occasionally looked tired and stressed, this was taking it to a level that Jon hadn't seen before. It scared him. Somewhere out in the world was a substance so terrible that it could hurt Superman. And maybe it could hurt him too.
Lois reentered with a hot mug of tea. She sat beside her husband and carefully passed the mug to him.
"Now remember," she told him, "This is hot. You have to be careful or else you'll burn your tongue."
"Thanks, Lois," Clark replied gratefully.
Jon watched the man who could fly into burning buildings without hesitation, the man who could soar into space and rescue astronauts, the man who had nothing to fear. Reduced to sipping tea carefully to avoid burning his tongue. All because of a rock.
I managed to wait until we got outside of the building before I was sick. Although Jon had only a fraction of his formal strength, he still kept a strong arm around me which enabled me to walk mostly upright. We ducked around the alley, and Jon called Ellie while I was busy throwing up in the gutter. She came, picked us up, and took us to Jon's apartment. By then, I was already starting to recover from my brief exposure, and there wasn't really anything that Ellie could do to help me, so she left us, taking the red Kryptonite with her. Even though I had made a complete mess of the evening, Jon had had the presence of mind to take the box with the red K and the papers I had collected with us when we left. I had started paging through the new research when Jon come to sit beside me on the sofa, and handed me a cup of tea.
"This should help settle your stomach," he told me softly.
"Thanks," I said abstractly. I took a sip and then set it down on the coffee table, not really tasting it. I had to concentrate on sifting through this information. "So I'm thinking that it's kinda weird that there was only red Kryptonite in that machine," I told Jon. "We had decided that it was both red and green Kryptonite that had hurt you. Maybe there's something in the schematics--"
"Kaylie," Jon interrupted forcibly. "It's late. We've both had a long day. I know from personal experience that red K is difficult to come down from. You need to get some rest."
"Not yet," I insisted. "I still need to figure this out because I have hunch that--"
"Kaylie," he said again, this time laying his hand over mine to stop my frantic flipping through files. "You look dead tired. It can wait."
"No, it can't, Jon!" I burst out angrily. "I have to work this out."
"Why? Why does it have to be tonight?" he demanded.
"Because I screwed up!" I finally admitted. "You warned me before about the Kryptonite, but I still let myself get exposed to it, and we had to leave that lab that held all the answers. I was impulsive, and stupid, and I almost got us caught. We were incredibly lucky to escape that building without being found by someone and it was all my stupid fault." I remembered the training I had gone through when I first became an agent. Over and over I had been told that I was too impulsive, took too many risks, a liability. Those words came back to me now and pounded at my fragile nerves, leaving me with shattered fragments of guilt. Jon pulled me toward him and held me tight as frustrated tears squeezed out of me. I had never felt comfortable about crying in front of another person until I met him, and it appeared that I was now making the most of it.
"We did fine, Kaylie," Jon comforted me. "Even though it wasn't the perfect investigation, we still accomplished a great deal. I wiped both of those computers, and you disabled the machine for the time being. Plus, we now have Sproxton's chunk of red K."
"But if it wasn't for you..." I couldn't let myself finish off that thought. "You did everything that was important," I said instead. "I just messed everything up." Jon pulled away from me in order to look me in the eyes.
"Are you always this hard on yourself?" he demanded. "You didn't mess everything up, Kaylie, you were terrific. You're dealing with a whole spectrum of new abilities; it's bound to be difficult to anticipate every possible outcome. And maybe I did have to help you out near the end, but there was no way I could've done it all by myself. Even," he spoke, anticipating my objection, "if I had my powers. I probably would've ended up being the one needing help out of Marten Tech." Upon considering this, I decided that he might be right. The chunk of Kryptonite had just tumbled out of the machine when I jostled it.
"I guess I just don't like the idea of me dragging you down," I admitted. "I don't like other people having to step in and help me when I fail at something."
"First of all, Kaylie, you did not fail. You just needed some backup. And second: isn't that the whole point of loving someone and being with them? We're a team together, filling in the other person's gaps." As if to illustrate his point, he drew me in close again until we fit tight together, filling the gaps between us.
After a while, he reached lazily over to the coffee table and picked up my tea, handing it to me meaningfully.
"It's probably cold by now," I commented from my position lying back against him.
"This'll give you a good chance to practice your heat vision, then," he replied. With no small amount of trepidation, I carefully stared at the cup of tea, and concentrated on it until a ribbon of steam rose from it. Then, I immediately clamped my eyes shut until I was sure they were no longer giving off heat. "Hey, you did it!" Jon congratulated me. I sipped the tea carefully, and although it was a little hotter than I would normally like, my invulnerable tongue protected me from being scalded.
"I'll be so glad when I can give these powers back to you," I told Jon.
"You don't like them?" he asked.
"Well, the X-ray vision is kinda cool," I admitted, "but I hate having to be so careful all the time with everything I do. Plus, I still can't fly."
"Mmm." I could feel his chest rumbling on my cheek. "We could probably work on that. I have an idea."
A huge yawn cracked my jaw. "It would have to be tomorrow, I think," I said lazily. I was starting to realize how tired I was. "I should get going," I commented abstractly, yet not really meaning anything. I was far too comfortable to consider moving.
"You don't have to go just yet," Jon told me. "After all, you're car is still parked outside of Marten Tech, and I don't think Ellie would like being woken up again to--"
Those were the last words I heard as I tumbled into sleep.
I woke up with my cheek smooshed against Jon's chest. We had fallen asleep together. I had had an excellent sleep, not even stirring until some shifting on Jon's part had woken me up.
"Sorry," he apologized. "Did I wake you?"
"No, its okay," I told him quickly. "I'm just going to..." I climbed off of him, and stood shakily. I desperately needed to escape the situation, and the most logical refuge was the bathroom. I scurried over to the door and yanked it open. Coat closet. I remembered belatedly that I had never actually used the bathroom at Jon's place before, and therefore I didn't know where it was. The next door was the bedroom. *Definitely* not going in there.
"Kaylie," Jon called groggily from the sofa, "what are you doing?" But I wasn't paying enough attention to answer him. Finally, I tried the last available door and struck gold.
"I'm borrowing your toothbrush!" I called to Jon before I slammed the door closed and locked it. I only caught a glimpse of his face, but it was enough to tell that he was supremely confused. I fell against the door, and sank to the floor.
What had we just done? We had slept together. Well, not in the metaphorical sense, but in the falling asleep while occupying the same space sense. Which scared me almost as much as the other thing did. It implied a kind of intimacy that I didn't know that I was prepared for yet. One that we hadn't even *discussed* yet. We had gotten pretty... intense lately, especially last night, but we hadn't... you know... yet. My clothes were still all more or less in place, even though there were a couple of extra buttons undone on my shirt and... Oh, this is awful, I thought to myself. I can't even think about these things locked inside a bathroom, let alone actually talk about them with Jor. Jon. Whatever. What's-his-name has probably had had tons of experience before. That one ex-girlfriend of his, and who knows who else. A girlfriend in college. Date to the prom. In the back of a tractor stranded in the middle of a cornfield after he had crashed into a tree because of his obscene driving... Stop it! I ordered myself. I was starting to get hysterical. The point was, we had crossed a threshold I hadn't even seen coming until we had zoomed by it. And what did he think about it? Was he expecting it? What exactly was expected as far as intimacy goes in this stage of our relationship? Where exactly were we in our relationship?
"Kaylie?" Jon knocked on the door, disrupting my thoughts. "Are you okay?" I jumped involuntarily, and a bolt of heat vision sneaked out and scorched the tile floor.
"I'm fine!" I called to him, falsely cheerful. "I'll be out in a minute." Okay, obviously I couldn't spend the entire day locked inside a bathroom. I would have to come out eventually. I splashed water on my face and finger-combed my hair. Despite my efforts, I still sported a distinctive "morning after" look, even though it wasn't technically the morning after anything. Well, it was the morning after breaking into an illegal lab and being exposed to Kryptonite, but it wasn't after anything... um, you know. I was doing it again. Stop thinking about sex, I commanded myself. Go out and convince your boyfriend you haven't gone completely insane!
Jon was busy puttering around in the kitchen when I finally got the nerve to make an entrance. "There you are!" He smiled at me in that alarming fashion that he has a habit of doing, and handed me a cup of coffee. "How do you like your eggs? You have a choice between scrambled and a big sloppy mess that looks like it's been scrambled."
I tried to laugh, but didn't really succeed. "I, uh, burnt the floor in the bathroom a bit," I confessed. "Sorry." Jon immediately picked up on my tone, and left what he was doing to sit down beside me at the table.
"Okay, what's bothering you Kaylie?" he asked. "You seem really on edge. It's more than the Sproxton thing, isn't it?"
I fingered my coffee cup tentatively. "Jon, how would you classify our relationship?" I asked hesitantly.
"Well," he began slowly, "I guess you could say that we're dating. That we're serious about each other and where the relationship is going. That we love each other. Why are you concerned about this, Kaylie?"
"Well, you know I'm not very experienced with relationships. And with the whole intimacy thing, I'm not really sure how it's supposed to work. But I know you've dated before. Seriously dated, which means you've probably... you know. And I guess with what happened last night I've been unsure about how it's supposed to go. What are we supposed to do now?" I asked helplessly.
"We're not *supposed* to do anything," he told me. "We should've talked about this earlier, Kaylie. I had no idea that you were so worried about this."
"Well, I wasn't really worried until this morning. I mean, we slept in each other's arms last night. That's a big step, don't you think?"
"It is," he agreed. "But that doesn't mean that we have to do anything else. There's no pressure to do anything. I think we should just take things step by step. We don't have to do anything until we're both comfortable with it, okay?" He reached out to stroke my hand reassuringly.
"Okay," I hesitantly.
"And just because we did something together doesn't mean that we have to do it again right away. I think that we both trust each other enough to know that neither of us would push the other into something we're not ready for. Last night sort of happened by accident. I'm not expecting that to be the norm now that we've done it once. We'll just take it as it comes."
"I guess I was just nervous because I know that you've had a lot more experience than me," I admitted.
To my surprise, Jon started blushing. "About that, Kaylie," he said. "I guess I may have dated more than you. With Amanda and stuff. But as far as... anything else goes... Well, I've got about as much experience as you do."
"But I'm a virgin," I blurted out pointedly. Then, at the look that passed over his face, I understood. "So then you...?"
"I never felt that I could take that final step with a woman until she knew everything about me." I understood immediately that he meant knowing about Supernova. "I thought with Amanda, maybe we would... But after I told her, our relationship just kept deteriorating and it was never the right time."
"We're going to have one heck of a honeymoon," I grinned at him, then flushed in horror as I registered the shock on his face. Had I just said that? "Not that I'm just assuming we're going to get married," I rushed to cover up. "I mean, we haven't even talked about that before, and it's jumping the gun and everything. We're just starting to really get to know each other. It's too early to be thinking of that, I know. I was just..."
"It's all right, Kaylie," he told me. "I was just a little surprised, but to be honest, no matter how far I look into the future, you always seem to be a part of it."
"Yep. Sometimes it seems like it wouldn't even be worth living it without you."
My nose tickled, and I sniffed the air experimentally. "Are those the eggs?" I asked. Jon leapt from his seat and ran to the smoldering frying pan, turning the heat off. I peered over his shoulder at the burnt mess that was stuck to the bottom of the pan.
"Yummy," I commented sarcastically.
"I'd like to see you do better, Miss I've-got-the-frozen-food-section-mapped-out-in-my-head."
"Just because I don't cook very often doesn't mean I can't," I told him primly. "Now where are your potholders?"
"What?" he asked me blankly.
"This frying pan is too hot to pick up with bare hands. I need potholders."
"You don't need any, you're invulnerable, remember?" I could see his mouth twitching at the corner, holding back a smirk. "Besides," he continued. "I don't own any. I never really needed them."
"What do you do if you have people over who want to help you in the kitchen? After taking one look at your cooking, you know they're going to be begging to give you a hand." I picked the frying pan up and dumped it into the sink without the aid of potholders. Even though I knew I was invulnerable, it was still strange to feel the heat of the frying pan and not get burned. "Didn't you cook dinner when I came over here before?"
"I had some help," he admitted sheepishly.
"Well, I guess it's good to know that you were willing to go to some effort to impress me. Now get out some more eggs, and I'll show you how it's done."
Between the two of us, we managed to produce a gloppy, inconsistent mixture that slimed around our plates and we had to eat with spoons. But it tasted good because we had made it together. All throughout our meal, I kept sneaking glances over at the pile of paper sitting at the coffee table, yet Jon wouldn't let me look at it just yet.
"We have another project to work on before that," he told me as we worked together to clean up our breakfast efforts. He looked at me meaningfully and I groaned.
"Jon, I've pretty much given up on the flying thing. If we get to work on the Sproxton investigation, then we can transfer your powers back and we can put the whole thing behind us."
"So you're not even curious to find out what it feels like to fly under your own steam?" he persisted.
"Sure, I'm curious," I admitted. "But I can't seem to get more than a few inches off the ground before I get visions of very, very long falls and their unpleasant ends. I can't even climb a ladder without getting jitters. How am I supposed to fly?"
"Kaylie, right now you're invulnerable. Even if you did fall, you wouldn't be hurt in the slightest."
"Try telling my subconscious that," I grumbled.
"Look, I have an idea," Jon told me. "Will you at least try it out?"
"Fine," I conceded.
"Okay, stand up," he instructed. "Come over here into this open area... and close your eyes." I followed his instructions obediently, but then my eyes flew open when I felt his lips brush my mouth.
"What are you doing?" I asked him, although I lacked any kind of accusatory tone. I was actually enjoying his little lesson even though I had no idea how it would help me to fly. He didn't explain, just merely shushed me, so I closed my eyes again, allowing him to continue. I kissed him back, and to my delight, I was able to hear his heart rate increase. And as for the affect on me... Well, let's just say that although I wasn't ready for that thing we were talking about before, after more of that kissing, I would definitely get there. Sadly, he pulled away all too soon.
"Are you relaxed yet?" he asked, and I was pleased to hear him slightly out of breath.
"Yes. Wow, if this is a flying lesson, you should've signed me up earlier."
He smiled at me. "Look down," he said. I did, and was startled to see how high we were from the floor. I looked up and saw that our heads were brushing the ceiling. But this time I didn't panic and fall like I had with Clark. It felt kind of like all those flights I had taken with Jon, except this time I was the one supporting us in the air.
With gentle instruction, Jon gave me steering tips as we looped around the room. Then he got me to set him down and try flying by myself. It was an interesting experience, to say the least. I even went for a little jaunt outside of his apartment via a secluded window. But I still preferred being the passenger as opposed to the driver. Flying made me nervous, and I was still a little shaky at navigation. But at least now I had done it. If I was borrowing Jon's powers for the time being, then I might as well get the full experience. I successfully made a loop high above Jon's apartment building, and then landed triumphantly in front of him.
"Pretty fun, isn't it?" Jon asked. Despite his light words, I could see the wistfulness in his expression.
"You miss it, don't you?" I asked quietly.
"I do," he agreed. "But I'm willing to go without my powers for the time being if that means I can be well enough to help you with this investigation."
"Which means we have to get to work on it," I commented. And with that, we started to work through the Sproxton material, which was definitely rich in information. There was enough in the files for a solid conviction, including records of business dealings with Intergang and a complete scientific report of the development and execution of Project Titan.
"Something's going on," I commented in frustration as we flicked through all the technical documents we had stolen. "We know that there was green K in that satellite signal that hit you. The schematics show there being two types of Kryptonite in that machine. But there wasn't when we were there. I didn't feel any pain."
"Were they maybe in separate compartments?" Jon asked, pulling the diagram closer to him.
"No. Same location," I said.
"Well it must've been removed then."
"By who? Sproxton?"
"He's the most logical one," Jon pointed out.
"But why would he dismantle his own machine?" I asked
"He didn't completely dismantle it. It was probably still operational until we took out the red K."
"So he needed the green K for something? What?"
"What everyone uses it for," Jon shrugged. "Protection."
"Wait, do you think he might've figured out that I was onto him?"
"Well, that police raid was pretty convenient to just happen when it did," Jon suggested. "But then again, he could've just been taking standard precautions."
"Oh, crap," I groaned. "The police raid."
"What about it?"
"When I knocked that cop out I might as well have left a calling card for the NIA," I explained. "The way I knocked him out, and the fact that I took his gun screams government training. You can't just yank a gun out of a police holster," I told Jon in response to his still disbelieving face. "You have to pull it out in a certain way, otherwise it won't budge. The officer would have had to report the missing weapon to his superior, and it might've been mentioned to other officers in the precinct."
"Sproxton has sources in the police department?" Jon asked in surprise.
"He has sources *everywhere*," I corrected. "That police raid worked double duty. It distracted anyone from witnessing the deal, and it also worked to flush out any agents that were working there. Even if I didn't lay a finger on that cop I would've been taken into custody and fingerprinted. If that ever happens, a classified order pops up on the computer and they have to release me without any questions. But even that is enough of a clue for Sproxton." It was a stupid mistake of mine. I could've made my attack seem more like a civilian who just wanted to avoid an arrest, but emotions were running high that night with Jon stumbling across my big secret. I hadn't been thinking of those possibilities, only of getting out of the Gentleman's Club.
"So he knows the NIA is onto him," Jon finished for me. "What's he going to do with that information?" I was glad that he brought me back to the present. There was no sense dwelling on my mistakes when I still had to worry about finding Sproxton.
"Cut his losses and get out of the US," I hypothesized. "He's been to the lab and grabbed the Kryptonite as protection from Superman or Nebula."
"So he's just going to hop on his jet and fly away having gained nothing and lost everything from the whole endeavor?"
"No, he's not," I realized at Jon's comment. "He's still going to want something from Intergang. Maybe try to be bought out of the enterprise. We have to find him," I declared suddenly. "If we can catch him before he leaves the country then we can take him into custody and charge him. We have more than enough proof here that's he's been collaborating with Intergang."
"Where would he be?" Jon asked. "That office you mentioned?"
I shook my head. "Intergang doesn't know about that office. He'll pick a place that they've both been to before. Like--"
"The Gentleman's Club?" Jon filled in for me. I nodded, and then sprang to my feet.
"We have to head over there right away," I told Jon. "Before he gets a chance to leave." Jon stood obediently when I tugged his arm, and followed me to the window.
"Does this mean I get to see you in fishnets again?" he asked, and I noticed that he said that with a little too much hopefulness.
"No," I told him flatly. "But I will have to raid your closet."
I was insanely proud of myself when we landed on the roof of The Gentleman's Club. I had flown us there myself, and even though the ride might have been a bit bumpy, I still managed to do it, which was more than I had ever done since I had gotten these powers. Jon stumbled out of my grasp and leaned against the ledge of the building, his face ashen.
"Oh, come on, I wasn't *that* bad," I told him cheerfully.
"I think," He began shakily. "We've established a pretty solid division of duties. From now on, I promise to let you do all the driving if I never have to fly with you again."
"Fine," I humphed as I pulled the hood of Jon's sweater over my head. I hadn't had time to create a full costume, but the baggy sweater would be enough cover to keep Sproxton from getting a solid ID on me. Jon had a hat pulled low over his forehead, and he had removed his glasses to make him more difficult to identify as well.
When I first started working here, I had taken the precaution of hiding a small cache of equipment up on the roof in case I ever needed it. I had stashed it in a small, waterproof canvas bag and tucked it away in the gap between letters on the tasteless neon sign proclaiming the name of the establishment. I headed for that sign now, and pulled out my limited collection.
"Do you want the gun or the Taser?" I turned around to ask Jon. His eyebrows skyrocketed off his forehead.
"Kaylie, I've never used either of those," he protested.
"You need something," I argued. "You don't have any powers to protect you now." I considered the dilemma. "I'll give you the Taser," I decided. "It's just as effective no matter where you shoot it, and it's bound to be nonlethal. Sproxton is a big guy in excellent health." Jon looked at the weapon dubiously.
"I don't want to use this," he told me quietly. "It feels wrong."
"Hopefully you won't have to," I told him. "I'll take the gun so you shouldn't need it, but you're not Supernova right now. You're Jon Kent and this is the best thing you've got." He took the Taser reluctantly.
"Okay, here's the plan," I started. "The club hasn't opened yet for the day, so no one else should be here. We're going to comb this building-" I broke off as my hearing suddenly picked up on someone shuffling around inside the building. It had to be Sproxton.
I didn't even notice that I had shifted into super-speed. I just ran silently down the stairwell and into the basement, stopping when I saw the seated figure in the middle of the room, with a small metal briefcase at his feet. I drew my gun out and pointed it at his head. Although I was getting better and better at controlling my powers, I was still far more adept at using a gun, and that would also enable me to protect the fact that I even had superpowers in the first place. It showed how alert Sproxton was when heard the click of the gun as I took the safety off, and he raised his head to spear me with his gaze.
"I have to congratulate you," Sproxton began. "It's been years since someone has been able to sneak up on me. You must be very good."
"So good that I found the lab at Marten Tech. Your research is destroyed. I have the Kryptonite in a safe place. I have proof that you've been working with Intergang."
He shrugged. "Kryptonite can easily be obtained. All it takes is a quick dive into the Metropolis underground, or certain lucrative government connections. And I'm afraid that you're wrong in assuming that the research is gone. I still have all the necessary data with me on my hard drive."
The briefcase at his feet. Not waiting another second, I shot a bullet through the center and pointed the gun back up to his head.
"Very clever, miss," he commended me coolly. "But although that gave great dramatic effect, it was relatively useless. The files can still be retrieved."
I became conscious of a dangerous prickle traveling in through my head and down to my toes. It seemed to flush the strength right out of me. I darted my eyes back down to the briefcase and caught a glance of a sickly green glow. I snapped my eyes back up to his face. He had followed my gaze and understood what I had seen.
"You didn't really think that I would undertake this final business endeavor without some form of protection, did you? I caused severe damage, if not death, to the son of Superman. I had to take precautions to defend myself." A gentle ache sang through my joints, and I steadied myself as a violent tremor shook through me. Although the hole was small, and the exposure was minimal, the pain intensified with each passing second, and I became steadily weaker. And I had left Jon stranded on the rooftop with no idea where I had gone.
"I could still kill you right now," I told Sproxton. "I have the proof. I could defend myself in an inquiry."
"And yet you haven't," he commented idly. "If you were really going to shoot me, you would've done it as soon as you walked in here. I'm starting to think I was optimistic in calling you good. Squeamishness is not very becoming of a spy, miss. You should perhaps consider another profession."
He was right. If I was a better agent, I would've shot him as soon as I saw him. But I never liked killing in cold blood, and now it seemed to be too late. I blinked sweat out of my eyes, and fought to remain standing. Even if I did shoot now, there was very little chance I would actually make the shot.
"Your refusal to shoot begs the question of what exactly you are doing here," he continued. "What did you hope to achieve by this? In a few moments, this room will be visited by several Intergang officials who will deal with you as they know best. You couldn't have come all this way to just stand there sweating and trembling until you are killed. Do you have a partner? Is he more adept than you are? I hope for your sake he is, but given the fact that you seem to have separated I find that unlikely."
He was trying to intimidate me. And doing a damn good job of it too. But I still had the gun, and it was time to remind both myself and him of the fact. I fired another shot, this time aiming just above his head. Even though he tried to cover it, I could see that he had involuntarily ducked to avoid the shot.
"I'm not afraid to hurt you, Sproxton," I told him more calmly than I felt. "I'm trying to give you a chance to turn yourself in."
He laughed mockingly. "What benefit would it be for me to turn myself in? I would only subject myself to more discomfort than if you shot me. Especially because I have complete confidence that you would miss."
This time I recognized his intimidation tactics immediately and ignored them. I retained my stance with great effort. The ache that had been throbbing before had now turned into roiling cramps that made my legs threaten to buckle. I couldn't stop the shudder that spread through my body. "Oh, dear, you're not going to cry, are you?" Sproxton dismissed me with disgust. "Honestly, my dear, I would've thought I warranted a better agent than *this*." His last words were bitten off however, as a sharp electric crackle ripped through the air and he slumped over in his seat motionless. I turned to see Jon racing down the stairs.
He had found me. I barely had time to process this as all the tension leaked out of me like the air from a balloon. I swayed wildly on the spot and Jon managed to catch me before I fell down. He held me tighter than I've ever been held, and I heard was him whispering my name under his breath as pinpoints of blackness danced in front of my eyes.
He had almost finished his patrol for the night when he saw the woman being pushed into the alleyway and shoved against the wall by two scruffy looking men.
"Give us your purse and any jewelry you've got," one of the men demanded, "and we won't lay another finger on you, lady." Congratulating himself on his good timing, (the woman hadn't even needed to call for help) Jon flew down to the alley, pulled the men away from the woman, and held them up by their collars. Having managed to subdue the petty offenders, he glanced back over his shoulder to check on the woman. Somehow, she had fallen to the ground, and was sitting there with her legs tangled up and the contents of her purse dumped out on the street.
"Are you all right?" he asked in patented superhero fashion. The woman impatiently tossed the hair off her face and fixed him with a deadly gaze.
"I was until you got here," she replied snappily.
Jon froze in shock. "Excuse me?" he gaped. She unraveled her long legs, and rose gingerly to her knees, shoving things back into her purse.
"I'm perfectly capable of defending myself, Spaceboy," she asserted. Despite her abrasive attitude, he found that there was something he liked about it. "You had no reason to just barge in and push me out of the way," she continued. At this comment, however, Jon remembered that he was supposed to be a superhero. It was his job to help people and therefore he had every reason to jump in and give her a hand. He drew himself up to full superhero height. "I saw a woman being mugged," he defended himself sternly. "Excuse me for wanting to help." That had sounded more antagonizing than he had meant to. What was it about this woman that made him so off center?
"Well, I didn't ask for your help, now did I?" she shot back. She had started to get to her feet, and he noticed that she flinched involuntarily and swore under her breath when she placed weight on her right ankle. When he looked closer, he realized that the heel had broken. He must've knocked her over somehow when he swooped in for his "rescue," inadvertently hurting her. But she wasn't about to accept any of his sympathy. Instead she looked pointedly at the two criminals still dangling in his grasp. "Aren't you going to do something with those two?" she demanded accusingly. He gaped at her for a second longer, but then, realizing what a picture he must've been making, took off into the air with the criminals in his grasp.
He was able to get through the proceedings at the police station in record time, and then flew back to the street where he had first seen that woman. She was hobbling down the street painfully, and he yearned to go help her out, yet her reaction to his earlier attempt forced him to stay where he was. She obviously wasn't looking for someone to baby-sit her.
He held out until he saw her stumble on the sidewalk, and then rushed down at super-speed, catching her just before she reached the ground. Silently, he led her to a nearby bench, and helped her to sit down without straining her ankle.
"Please just let me look at your ankle," he asked her pleadingly. She tacitly gave him permission. He knelt on the ground, and tenderly slid off her shoe. He ran his fingers over her smooth skin, and he thought that he heard her breath catch for a split second. But then he felt he must've imagined it, because she spoke suddenly after that.
"I'm sorry I snapped at you," she apologized.
"It's no problem," he replied absently, still gazing at her delicate ankle that curved up and disappeared into her pant leg.
"No really," she insisted. "It was rude and inappropriate. You were helping me and I yelled in your face. I should've been more appreciative." He was a little stunned by this open omission of a mistake. Jon hadn't thought this woman would be willing to do that. But then, as if she felt that she was giving him too much, she hastily added: "Even if I could've handled it myself." It was so beautifully self-protective, that he couldn't help but be amused. "You don't believe me?" she demanded.
"Oh, I believe you. You don't strike me as the type of person who makes false claims." His teasing diminished when he realized that if she was capable of defending herself, then he had just injured her for no good reason. "I should apologize too," he offered. "I should've been more careful when I rushed in there, but things tend to happen so fast in those situations, and I don't always have time to adapt. Sometimes people get hurt even if I don't intend to."
But it turned out her ankle was fine, just a little muscle strain. And although she had been upset with his interference before, she turned out to be more understanding about the situation than he expected. Before long, he found himself telling her the story his own dad had told him when he first became Supernova. In any other circumstance, it might seem unwise to tell a person who he had just injured about a man who tried to make some cash from a similar incident, but he found himself inexplicably trusting this woman. He was even teasing her. Or could it even be seen as casual flirting? She seemed to open him up in a way that he had never thought possible since... Then a wince interrupted her smile.
"You should get some ice on that and keep it elevated," he told her authoritatively. Then he hesitated. He usually didn't do this for everyone, but he was thoroughly enjoying the time he spent with her, and he wasn't anxious for it to end. "I could fly you home," he finally offered. "You'll be able to ice it and put it up on your sofa right away."
"Uh, no it's okay," she refused emphatically. "I can just get a cab."
Jon shook his head. "The street is deserted. You'll never find a cab here at this hour. It's not any trouble to take you home, honest," he offered again.
She examined him critically for a moment, and then finally made her decision. "You can walk me home."
"Walk?" he asked blankly
"Yeah, Spaceboy, walk. It's what people who can't defy gravity on a regular basis do," she told him teasingly.
"Well I don't know..." He responded in turn. "It's kinda below my dignity, if you know what I mean."
"You can consider it your punishment for spraining my ankle," she shot back.
"Well I already promised not to sue you, so this is the next best option." She stood up, teetering drastically and he rushed to put an arm around to support her.
She was just a couple inches shorter than he was, and she seemed to fit naturally next to him. Her unsteady gait forced her to lean close to him to get the maximum amount of support. He could smell her perfume... Stop it! He commanded himself. As much as he liked her, it wasn't as if he could ask her out for coffee sometime. He was Supernova helping a woman home whom he had accidentally injured. The combination of the slow pace and close proximity was starting to affect him, so he swept her up off her feet and into the position that he normally used to hold passengers when he flew. Maybe that would help to remind him of the circumstances.
"Does this count as cheating?" he asked her teasingly when he realized that he had surprised her.
"As long as you keep one foot on the ground at all times," she told him seriously.
"I won't attempt a run then," he joked.
They reached her apartment all too soon, and he was able to get her easily settled on her sofa with an ice pack to reduce the swelling in her ankle. There was an awkward pause. Jon didn't want to leave, yet there was no reason at all for him to stay. He had done his duty, and that was all he was supposed to be there for. Finally, neither of them could stand the tense situation any more, and they both spoke at once.
"I should get go--"
"Why don't you st--"
They paused, embarrassed.
"I guess you need to go find some other damsels that don't need rescuing, huh?" she asked reluctantly.
"Um, yeah. Well I don't really need-- but I should... I should go," he finally admitted.
"Is it okay if I use your...?" He pointed in the direction of her balcony window.
"Oh! Sure, go right ahead." For a moment, it seemed that she was about to get up from the sofa, perhaps to say goodbye, but then she just sank further back into the cushions.
"Well, goodbye," he said.
"See you around. And thanks for the lift home." He smiled at her in acknowledgment and made his escape. It was probably a good thing that he hadn't stayed much longer, and yet he couldn't help regretting that he had to leave her so soon. And against his better judgment, he couldn't help hoping desperately that he would see her again.
I was prevented from completely losing consciousness by Jon violently shaking me by the shoulders.
"Kaylie, you can't sleep right now," he told me frantically. "You need to tell me where the Kryptonite is."
"...Briefcase..." I muttered. "I shot a hole..." Why had I done that anyway? Of course, I hadn't known there was Kryptonite in there at the time, but in retrospect, it had been a stupid move. I heard Jon race over to the briefcase, and then his footsteps carried him to the other end of the room. Immediately, the pain disappeared and my body felt blissfully numb. I used this opportunity to launch myself up off the floor and tackle Sproxton's prone body. I pushed my damp hair out of my eyes and quickly undid the buckle on my belt. I was winding it around his wrists when Jon returned. "You get his ankles," I directed him. "We only have a few seconds until he'll be able to move again." My trembling fingers refused to cooperate in tightening the buckle, but Jon stepped in and gave me a hand. Half carrying, half dragging, he brought me off of Sproxton's body and into the far corner of the room.
"The Kryptonite's at the other end," he explained to me. I glanced over at Sproxton in the center of the room. He was already beginning to stir, however he was currently immobilized, so he didn't pose a problem.
"We need to do something about him," I said.
"Well, I can't handle him by myself, and you're in no condition to help," Jon commented.
"So what do we do?" I asked, knowing he had a plan.
"We do what any self-respecting superhero or spy would do when things get tough."
"We call for help."
I grinned teasingly at him. "You know, Ellie's gong to hold this over your head for the rest of your natural life."
He nodded grimly. "I know."
"Well, you can yell for help," I told him. "Meanwhile I'm going to..." But that's all I managed to say before I finally reached unconsciousness.
When I woke up, I found myself lying in my bed on top of a mountain of pillows. The pain was completely gone, yet it felt as if my limbs were weighed down with sandbags, and my head was throbbing. I groaned softly as I stretched some of the kinks out of my body. I heard the scrape of a chair, and Jon's face popped into view.
"Kaylie? Are you awake?" He asked me. "Do you want some water?" I nodded gratefully, and he quickly handed me a glass. "How are you feeling?" he asked with concern as he sat on the edge of my bed.
"Tired," I confessed. "But I'll get over it. What happened at the club after I passed out? Where's Sproxton?"
"Everything's taken care of Kaylie, don't worry. You don't have to deal with anything right now except getting better."
"So what happened?" I persisted.
"Do you want the long version or the short version?" he asked.
"I want to know everything," I demanded. "But... hold on a sec. I need to get out this bed and stretch my legs a little. Help me up?" With Jon's help I was able to get out of bed and make my way into my living room. I curled up on the sofa with a blanket, more tired than when I started but still glad to be sitting more or less upright. "I could really go for some coffee right now," I hinted unsubtly.
"Tea would be better for you," Jon remarked. "It's not as harsh on your system and you'll be able to--"
"Fine." I interrupted. Apparently Jon had this thing for giving people tea when they're recovering from Kryptonite exposure. However, he was the expert so I was willing to follow his advice. "Tea, then. I think I may have some shoved in the back of one of my cupboards. Since you're so gung ho, you can do the rummaging." Jon grinned in triumph over winning his point, and went in search of the tea, finally finding it buried among a pile of other boxes. He plugged my kettle in and got out a couple of mugs. I was struck by the blatant domesticity of the scene. He had made coffee and stuff in my kitchen before, but now that he was here as Jon Kent and not as Supernova or Jor (last name unknown), it was so much more cozy. Jon caught me staring at him.
"I was just thinking," I told him, "that if Mrs. Brent from next door comes to ask me if I'm talking to someone you don't have to hide in the bathroom this time."
"I have to admit it'll be nice to meet the lady who tried to set you up with her forty year old son."
"She just doesn't want me to be lonely," I defended. "Besides, if she asks again, I'll be able to tell her that I've got a boyfriend with stunning good looks who gets extremely jealous if I even look at another guy."
"Gee thanks. Then she'll be chasing me away while shaking her crochet needles at me menacingly." The water had boiled, so Jon filled up our mugs and brought them over to me, sitting beside me on my sofa. "But I'm also looking forward to not having to hide our relationship from the world. Maybe we can actually go out to dinner in Metropolis for once."
"Yeah, that would be nice." I agreed, sipping experimentally. He had even managed to make my cheap tea taste amazing. "I still want to hear everything that happened," I reminded him.
"Ellie came in no time when I called and my dad came in soon after. I told him about the briefcase and he flew away and got a different box to put the Kryptonite in. We saw that there was an external hard drive in the briefcase but we didn't know what was on it."
"Files on Project Titan," I supplied.
He nodded. "I offered to take a look at it later, but now that we know what it is we can just destroy it."
"You might want to look at it anyway," I commented. "There might be something else on it that could be important."
He nodded in agreement. "So after the Kryptonite was taken care of," he continued, "Ellie flew us back here, checked you over, and then went to Marten Technologies to make sure every scrap of Project Titan was cleared away. She already knew about the lab after our little trip there, and she went with my mom in case she stumbled across any unpleasant surprises. My dad's still with Sproxton until we can contact the proper authorities."
"I can get in touch with someone," I offered. "I just need to leave a message with--"
"Don't worry about that right now," Jon told me. "Superman's got some pretty high connections and he's got a lot of credibility. He can handle it. You still need to rest. The first exposure to green K is always the hardest."
"Luckily, it'll also be my last. Now that we've got Sproxton it's safe for you to get your powers back. Or have you done the transfer already?" I asked him.
Jon shook his head. "We didn't want to do that until we were absolutely sure that there's no chance my aura can be traced. That means waiting until Ellie and my mom are done sweeping the lab. Also, Uncle Brad thinks it's a good idea to wait until you're totally healthy before we try anything with red K."
"So Clark's with the treasonous criminal, Ellie and Lois are stripping the illegal lab, Brad's doing the scientific scheming, and you have to play nurse? Sounds like somebody pulled the short straw."
"That's what I get for letting my girlfriend borrow my superpowers for a few days," he lamented. "I know you think they're fun, Kaylie but the next time I'm going to have to say no." Then he dropped his teasing attitude. "But seriously, Kaylie, I'm never *stuck* spending time with you."
"Of course," Jon reassured me. Admittedly, I had been fishing for compliments, but it was nice to see my search was successful.
"Your family has handled this so well, Jon. I can't even begin to thank them enough."
"Well, Ellie's pretty pleased that she got to poke and prod me when I was healthy but not super, my dad will just be glad to know that everything associated with Project Titan will either be in prison or outer space, and as for my mom... I think she's still hoping that you'll give her exclusive rights to the story for the Daily Planet."
"She'll get as much as can be made public," I promised. "Which should actually be quite a lot in comparison to other NIA activities. The NIA's going to be pretty pleased that they actually managed to capture someone without anyone dying beforehand. They'll probably claim that they knew about Sproxton for months, and just let him continue in order to learn more about Intergang or something."
"Government agencies always like good publicity," Jon agreed. "Even if it's not actually the agency that did any of the work. You're the one who deserves all the praise, Kaylie; you've been investigating this guy for months."
"It wasn't just me. My brother helped me out at first, then there was your family, and you, of course," I told him. "And I need to thank you," I continued, "for helping me at the club today. I know you didn't want to use that Taser, but you did anyway."
"I was so worried when you disappeared from the roof," he explained. "And as soon as I saw you in the basement, I knew that there was probably Kryptonite somewhere and that you needed help."
"Even though I was sick," I said, "I still think I would've been able to shoot him. It wouldn't have been the best shot, but I still would've made it."
"I didn't want you to have to do that," he admitted. "I don't like the idea of you hurting people. Is that wrong?" he asked hesitantly.
"No, it's not." I reassured him. "I don't like the idea of me hurting people myself. But you have to know that I have hurt people before. I've had to in order to protect myself. Sometimes it's the only way."
"I know that. Look, I know I didn't react in the best way possible when I first found out about your NIA stuff, but even over these last few days, I've really seen how much a part of you that is. And I can accept that part of you and love it just as much as I love everything else about you. But if I can do anything to keep those difficult situations from happening, Kaylie, then I'm going to do it. I know you can protect yourself physically in most situations, but I guess this just my way of protecting your spirit." He kissed my hand tenderly.
"Thank you," I managed to say. "No one's ever really... done that for me before. I mean, there's my dad who still makes me feel like an infant every time I even talk to him. And then my brother is even worse than me in some aspects and he's so deep undercover that he can't even call me and let me know how he's doing let alone provide any kind of emotional support. So to have you here for me is just... Thank you."
"You need to get some rest," he spoke softly, and when he said that I realized his words were true. My eyelids drooped heavily, and I was starting to feel lethargic. I guess now that I knew everything was being expertly taken care of by the Kents, I could relax. Jon led me back to my bed and tucked me in snugly. Then he turned to make his exit.
"Wait!" I grabbed hold of his hand and he sat down beside me. "Will you... stay with me?" I asked tentatively.
"Sure," he said.
"No, I mean s... sleep with me. In the bed."
He cocked an eyebrow. "Are you sure?"
I nodded. "Positive."
As Jon climbed in beside me and held me close, I thought back to our conversation that morning at breakfast. Whenever he imagined the future, he had said, I was always a part of it. And even though the future held an infinite number of problems and possibilities for me, he was always a part of mine too.
To my personal satisfaction, I didn't faint the second time I was hit with the red Kryptonite laser. Instead, I just let the warm tingle flow through me and into Jon as we stood together in STAR labs.
"Ok, that should be it," Brad announced cautiously. I peeked up from my place tucked against Jon's shoulder.
"How do you feel?" Jon asked anxiously.
"Fine," I replied. "Did it work?"
"There's no reason why it shouldn't," Ellie told us. "It worked one way, so it will the other." I cautiously tried to peek through the countertop. Nothing. And I wasn't surprised either. I could feel the change in energy in my body and I knew that I was back to normal. But was Jon?
"Try doing something," I suggested. He smiled back at me.
"I think I know just what to do," he said. Then before I could even realize what was happening, he scooped me up in his arms and we swooped out the window. "Are you okay?" he asked when we finally stopped.
I nodded breathlessly. "Just maybe save anymore joyriding until I'm not a passenger, okay?"
"Sorry," he apologized sheepishly.
"Now that I'm up here, though, it's not so bad," I admitted.
"It's amazing," he said, gazing at the clouds around us. The sun filtered through the mist and cast shadows on our faces.
"You really missed this, didn't you?"
"Like crazy," he told me. "Even though it was only for a few days, I never realized how strange it would be to go completely without powers. It was like I had forgotten how it was to be normal."
"Funny how when you were fifteen, all you wanted to be was normal," I commented.
"When I first got my powers," he reflected, "I felt so completely isolated and confused. It was like the whole world had conspired against me to make me feel as different and alone as possible. But now that I've accepted that part of myself, I can't imagine it any differently. And to have those powers taken away from me was like... an important part of me had been taken away. And I wasn't quite myself without it.
"You know, when I think about it," he continued, "that's kind of like the way it is with you."
"So being with me feels like the world is conspiring against you?" I teased. "I know I come with my own challenges, Jon, but I didn't think I was that bad."
"You know that's not what I meant."
"Explain it then," I told him as I shifted in his arms to get closer.
"Before I met you, I didn't know what it was like to be with you," he explained. "I thought life was supposed to be the way I had always experienced it. Maybe I was a little lonely, and maybe I was a little empty, but I didn't see anything really wrong with that. I didn't know what I was missing. But then you came into my life and you just blew apart all of my expectations. You changed my whole outlook on life. And now," his arms tightened around me, "we just fit so perfectly together..."
"That we're a part of each other," I finished. "And to be separated from you would be like missing a part of myself."
"So I guess what I'm saying," Jon told me, "is that being with you is like flying."