By C. Leuch <email@example.com>
Submitted July 2000
Summary: In this charming, must-read sequel to the author's "Dawn of Discovery," Clark's youngest son CJ interns as "Robin" for his dad's friend, Batman, in Gotham City. While there, he learns the ups and downs of being a superhero, dealing with another identity, and trying to hide his secret identity from the new love of his life. How would he have ever guessed that being a superhero could be so complicated?
If you haven't read my earlier story, "Dawn of Discovery," I would recommend it. It might help you with some characters and references. This IS a fantasy world of mine, and in it, the legislators have seen the light and lowered the drinking age to 18.
Note on my continuity: I assume everything in the show happens up to the end of the second season (except HG Wells). That's where my continuity breaks off.
As always, comments are welcome (firstname.lastname@example.org). The usual disclaimers apply. Enjoy!
This story is part of the author’s “Dawn of Discovery” series, which includes “The Dawn of Discovery,” “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” “Professional Loyalties,” “Personal Loyalties,” “It Runs in the Family,” “I'll Be You For Christmas,” “Meet Sam Wayne,” and “Gotham Nights.”
My name is Samuel Clark Kent. My friends call me Clark, my family calls me CJ (since there is already a Clark Kent in the family), and right now the scum of Gotham are calling me Robin. Whatever they call me, I'm still just me. But who am I exactly, you're asking. I guess that's why I'm writing this — to answer that question. That, and I'm really bored right now casing this guy's hotel room — he hasn't been here in twelve hours, and I have clear instructions not to go ANYWHERE until he gets in, so here I am. I figure that this is as good of a time as any to start my memoirs — maybe someone will actually want to read them at some point in time, I don't know.
I'm sure you're pretty curious about how I got to be on the roof of the Gotham State Bank tower waiting for my as yet unnamed guy to get to his room; and why I'm dressed as Robin, a character of local lore who has been present in Gotham sporadically since before I was born. Well, I'll get to that. It's an interesting story, really, but before I go there, I think I'm going to tell you all about myself. It will help you understand a lot.
I was born in Metropolis on a beautiful spring evening in May of 1999. My parents are Lois Lane and Clark Kent, reporters at the world famous Daily Planet. Oh, and my dad is Superman. Don't get too shocked — if you're reading this you probably know that already. I'm the second of three children — I have a brother, Jonathan Lane Kent, who is two years older than myself, and a sister, Laura Emily Kent, who is five years younger than me. Laura was kind of a surprise and kind of not — I know Dad always wanted a little girl, but Mom was beginning to think she was getting a little old to be having many more kids by the time she came around. Oh well, they wouldn't trade her for the world.
I am six feet tall exactly and have medium brown hair. I must say, I don't look very much like anybody else in my family. If I take a good look at old pictures, I can see the resemblance to my Grandpa Lane — he's taller than me though. Heck, about everybody in my family is taller than me except Mom. I'd almost think I was adopted, but I have some very good reasons to believe I'm not. I don't wear glasses like my dad and siblings. I just never thought it would fly (no pun intended) as a disguise for me, a guy who spends a lot of time in the locker room with other guys. It's not like I look enough like Superman to have it make a difference. Of course, nobody else in my family NEEDS to wear glasses, either, but it works pretty well for them as a disguise.
Those are the statistics, but that doesn't really tell you much. What was the family of Superman like? Boringly normal, for the most part. We did the same things everyone else would do. I'm sure your imagination would tell you that we probably flew all over the globe, courtesy of my dad, or that my dad would put on shows for us with his superpowers or something. Well, you'd be wrong — I didn't even know about my dad until I was 14, and even then, we didn't make a big deal about it. When we went on family vacations, we drove in the car. You know all those scenes on TV that show a family crammed in a car rolling down the interstate and the kids fighting with each other while the parents seemed all exasperated in the front seat? THAT was my family. You probably think that Superman would be an extremely strict parent. You would be wrong on that one, too. My dad was a real softie compared to my mom, deemed the "drill sergeant" by me. Of course, none of us dared to call her that to her face. I know now that Dad probably heard every last thing we said about him and Mom, even when it wasn't said to his face, but he wasn't hard on us. Kids will be kids, after all.
Growing up, I liked math and science and I liked sports. This doesn't seem like a very normal combination, but it worked for me. My brother was always more interested in things like English and social studies and the arts. He joined band, I played football. And I played football darn well, too; well enough to make me a starter on the high school team as a sophomore. It earned me a scholarship to Metropolis University, where I'll be a junior next fall. I must say, even though a lot of bigwigs on the team like me tend to be the typical "dweeb-hating jock", you will never see me put down anybody with an interest in academics — I probably fall in the "dweeb" category myself. Right now I'm on my "summer internship", but I digress. I said I would get to that later, and I will.
Reading what I have written, I noticed that I'm still dealing in generalities. I'm sure it's fascinating to read, especially if the curious (read: "snoopy") type. And I admit I'm not an English major by any stretch of the imagination. But maybe I should try to organize my thoughts a little better, to relate some more specific stories and anecdotes. I'll stick to the most profound, for the sake of time.
HOW I LEARNED MY FATHER WAS SUPERMAN
Everybody in the family has a story on how they found out about Dad. Mom isn't really quick to relate hers to us kids, except to say that it was wonderful and scary at the same time. I suspect it was a very private and emotional thing for both her and Dad, so I don't pry. My brother told me how he found out once. He was pretty traumatized by it — he caught Mom and Superman in bed, I guess, and put two and two together when Mom called Superman "Clark" in a fit of passion. Let me just be the first to say that looking in on my folks IN BED is not something I would ever imagine my brother doing, but I give him points for admitting to it. My sister just found out the family secret last week, and I'm not really sure how that went down since I was here in Gotham at the time. The list goes on.
Myself, my journey to discovery of my dad's identity began the summer when I was 14. I was out playing soccer with my friends, and Jon stayed at home to do his chores (Mom always gave us chores to do when her and Dad were at work and we were at home by ourselves). Anyway, I got home after my game and Jon was vacuuming in the living room. I walked in the front door and around the corner and saw the couch suspended in midair, supported only by my brother's left hand. The WHOLE couch (it had a hide-a-bed, so it was HEAVY) was being held at chest height by a sixteen-year-old. I gasped and stopped dead in my tracks, but I don't think Jon heard me because he didn't react at all. Besides, he was in the process of vacuuming where the couch usually sat, and that vacuum was pretty loud. In any case, I snuck away, making sure that he didn't see me. Something fishy was definitely going on — I was sure I didn't see any wires or hoists or any other way that the couch could POSSIBLY be in midair besides the obvious — Jon was holding it.
From this point, I made it my own personal quest to see what the heck was going on. I followed Jon around, although he always seemed to know I was there. I didn't know how then (I do now). Being the scientist that I was, I figured that maybe science could help explain the floating couch. Instead of explaining it, science just magnified the problem. A couch made of denser material than air couldn't float, unless maybe it was filled with helium or something, and even then it was highly unlikely. Finally, it boiled down to biology. The only explanation was that Jon was the son of Superman. This could only happen if Dad was Superman (yeah, right. I didn't see that as being an option), if Mom had an affair with Superman, or if Jon was adopted. I got to looking at Jon, and he really did look a lot like Superman, only with glasses (and he didn't get those until about six months earlier). He also definitely had Mom's eyes. The odd thing was that Jon also looked a lot like Dad, too. After studying some pictures of Superman, I concluded that Dad also looked a lot like Superman. Strange. But if Jon could do THAT to a couch, he had to be a product of Mom and Superman, not Dad.
I decided that I had to talk to Superman and ask him what the heck he did to my mom. Plus I really wanted to know if Jon was his son. Now, I could have asked Mom or Jon the same thing, but I could see them giving the answer that they thought I wanted to hear. Besides, how often did you get to say that you'd met Superman? Arranging to meet him was a problem, since it wasn't like you could give him a call on the phone or anything. He DID have appointments to keep, though — charity golf outings, speaking engagements and hospital visits. But all these were highly publicized and I thought my chances of catching him alone at any of these was slim to none due to the media, so I came up with another plan. It was devilishly simple: just stand somewhere and yell, "HELP! Superman!" Yes, I know, Superman could fly over and take one look and see that I wasn't in trouble if I just stood in the street or something. So I found a nice, tall building and made my way to the roof to do my yelling. I had no intention of jumping off the building, I just wanted to make it look like I was.
One weekend when I thought I was ready (and I could sneak out of the house safely), I went to the top of the Metropolis Trade Tower, went over to the edge (after jumping the fence around the observation area), and yelled with all that was in me. I was scanning the sky so hard that I was very startled to hear Superman himself walk up behind me, sight unseen — I was almost so startled that I went over the edge. Almost, but not quite. Superman caught my shoulder and steadied me and cleared his throat. I whipped my head around to face him, and I almost laughed. I could tell that my dad was standing there, but I was SURE that he was just dressing like Superman as a joke or something — after all, I hadn't SEEN Superman fly in. I know I was looking at him funny, and I said something to him along the lines of, "Dad, what are you doing here dressed like Superman?" Naturally I was surprised when he picked me up and took off into the air. He was looking a bit embarrassed (there were other people staring at us in the nearby observation area), but he also looked pretty mad. We landed on a deserted beach north of town and began to talk. Well, I guess he talked and I gaped. He asked what the heck I thought I was doing and harped on about how I shouldn't have been up there, etc. I think he noticed my lack of a response because after a while it turned into a staring contest.
Finally, I said, "Dad?"
"Yeah?" He said.
"You're…" I said and pointed to the S on his Superman outfit.
"Yes I am." He was looking at me with one eyebrow in the air, his arms folded across his chest.
"OK, that explains a lot." And it did — Dad always seemed to disappear at weird times. And Mom and Dad seemed to get a lot of Superman stories at work (but not all of them). Plus the reason why Jon would be able to easily hoist a couch into the air was very clear all of a sudden. I suppose I should've been mad because he didn't tell me about it sooner, but for some reason I wasn't.
Dad just stood there looking at me, his one eyebrow still cocked and his arms still folded, not saying anything. I think maybe he began to grin a little bit, but it was barely perceptible. All in all he looked pretty intimidating, which in itself is not very characteristic — he was NEVER as intimidating as mom (not even when he was dressed as Superman). In any case, he was waiting for me to elaborate, so I decided to keep talking.
"I, uh, wanted to talk to you…" I said and pointed again to his chest.
"Is that why you were leaning over the edge of the second tallest building in Metropolis a moment ago?" He asked. I sensed a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
"Well, it's not like Superman's phone number is listed." I could be sarcastic, too. I don't think Superman/Dad appreciated that much because he squinted his eyes a little bit and looked at me for a few moments before continuing.
"Point taken. However, in the future, I would like you to NOT put yourself in jeopardy to get a hold of me." Now, I could tell this went beyond the point of sarcasm and was just being silly. Leave it to my dad to break the tension with hokey humor. I rolled my eyes.
"I THINK I know where I can find you now." He smiled, I smiled. He came over to me and laid a hand on my shoulder.
"Now, what did you want to ask your old dad?"
"Well, this is going to sound kinda dumb now because, well, my question has already been answered." I was waffling now, and I know I was blushing. I could feel it in my cheeks. Dad just looked a little amused.
"Why don't you ask me anyway?"
"OK. It's kind of a long question." I began to look around for someplace to sit down and found a couple of large boulders at the edge of the beach and walked toward them. Dad followed and we sat down before I continued.
"The other day I got home and Jon was vacuuming. Normally this wouldn't be unusual, but I saw that he had lifted the couch about four feet into the air with one hand." I was gesturing like I was holding up a couch with my left hand.
Dad completed the thought for me. He obviously knew what was coming next. "So you thought that it might have something to do with me."
"Well," I said, "You have to admit that Jon does look a lot like you, and by 'you' I mean Superman. His hair is a little lighter and he has the glasses now, but…" I raised my eyebrows.
Dad made a bit of a "thinking" face and uttered a grunt. Then he gave a half-smile and shook his head.
"Jon just began to develop his strength very recently, and I think he just got a little careless. I'm going to have to talk to him." He said this while looking off into the distance. It was almost an offhand comment. He looked at me, then and began to talk again.
"Speaking of which, I wonder…" He stood up and gestured for me to do the same. "See if you can pick up that rock." He pointed to where I was just sitting. Naturally, I looked at him like he was crazy. Being my dad, he caught on to this and again told me to pick up the rock. So I went over to it and wrapped my arms around it firmly. I was half expecting him to tell me to bend at the knees and not at the back when I picked it up (like Mom always preached to us when we shoveled snow in the winter), but Dad stayed quiet. I then lifted it (bending my knees like a good boy, if you were wondering) and amazingly I was able to pick the rock up. I did it easily, but not without at least a little bit of effort. I quickly put it down again and turned in amazement toward my dad.
He was beaming at me. "I guess that answers that question."
"How come I didn't know I could do that before?" I asked. I was thinking of a dozen ways in which my new found skill could be useful.
Dad just shrugged. "I'm not a psychologist, but I think it was just something that you didn't think about. I bet if you think now, though, you will find that you've always been able to easily do all the physical things that all the other kids had trouble doing, and I bet you always wondered why the other kids thought it was so hard."
He was right, of course. I hadn't ever thought that I might be able to things so much beyond what everybody else could do.
"Yeah, okay." I nodded my head slowly.
"We're going to have to have a talk about the responsibilities that go with your strength and later with your powers." Powers? I was going to have powers? This was too much. "But we can do that later. I bet right now you just want to get home and think about it for a while."
He was right. Again. I had had a bit of a shock, although it wasn't really bothering me that much. I just needed to absorb it all. We flew back home, and nobody else was there when we got back, so Dad dished us up some ice cream and we talked. Well, again, he did most of the talking. It was about him growing up in Kansas and what he went through. It was pretty neat to hear. He also told me about how Jon found out and asked me more than once if I was OK with him being Superman. I told him I was fine, and I was. I guess Jon had a lot of trouble accepting who Dad was, but it all worked out OK for him in the end.
I think the reason that I didn't have any trouble with it was because frankly, being the curious (snoopy) person I was, I had always been a bit more observant. I probably noticed things that Jon didn't that made it very easy for me to equate Dad with Superman. Don't ask me to go more in depth on that because, really, it was just one of those gut feelings. When I found out, then I knew and it made sense.
Anyway, that was the story about how I found out my dad was Superman.
THE SUPERPOWERS AND ADOLESCENCE
It was an interesting experience going through adolescence with superpowers. Of course, I don't know what it would be like to NOT go through adolescence with superpowers, but I'm relating my experience to what other people have told me (at school — not Dad or Jon. That would defeat the purpose). Normal kids get acne and their voices crack. My voice cracks (I thankfully avoided the acne, although Jon wasn't so lucky) PLUS I can all of a sudden see through things or set something on fire just by looking at it. At least I had a close relationship with my dad, and we would go work out my new powers when I got them, making it safer for me to be out among other people. How many other people can say that adolescence allowed them to get closer to their parents (as opposed to the hormone induced rebellion that most kids go through)?
Now, I love athletics, and participated in them actively, even after I developed my many talents. It was a real challenge not to use my strength once I learned I had it. Stuff like soccer or hockey weren't so bad — those are more finesse than power. And since I didn't (still don't and probably never will) have superspeed, these weren't a problem with these. Baseball was OK — don't swing the bat too hard or throw the ball too hard and that sport is fine. My first love is football, though, and that one is laden with pitfalls for a super-powered individual.
When you're, say, a freshman in high school trying out for the varsity football team, and you know you could probably bench press the previous year's entire varsity squad, it gets interesting. Of course, I didn't let on to anybody how strong I really was — I just made myself out to be a bit stronger than your average freshman guy and I ended up on the team. It wasn't anything that somebody might get suspicious about. Actually, the philosophy I used then is the same one I use now at Metropolis U. — basically, I play defensive line, and all you have to do is make a good imitation of a brick wall, maybe do some pushing, run in and tackle the quarterback sometimes for good measure. It doesn't take any exceptional effort. If you go up against some of these behemoths, like those corn-fed giants they have at Nebraska, then a 200 something pound guy like me has to make it look like I'm getting pushed around at least a little in order to keep up appearances and not raise suspicions. The fact that a guy my size can do so well on the line at all does raise some eyebrows, but I don't let that bother me — I HAVE seen stranger things in the real world. But I won't go into that here.
There is more to life than football, believe it or not. Adolescence is also the time in a man's life where he begins to develop facial hair. For the men with my lineage, shaving is interesting. Instead of using a razor (it wouldn't work — we are invulnerable), we bounce our laser vision off of a mirror and burn off the stubble. It's pretty cool to watch, but it's kind of hard to get a handle on. The same goes for cutting hair — scissors won't work, so you have to laser burn that, too. Would you believe that I had to go the library and read hair styling books? It was like torture for a testosterone junkie like myself, but I understand that Dad didn't want to get stuck cutting my hair all the time. He had to learn, so why shouldn't I? I usually keep it easy on myself and go for the buzz cut look.
Speaking of the whole invulnerability thing, that was interesting, too. I didn't realize this until I thought about it, but I stopped getting cuts and scrapes by the time I was ten. It's not for lack of trying — I fell down often enough, I just always thought that I was doing something different to not hurt myself. I didn't question that at all. I was never in any big accidents, either, so that helps. Sure, okay, I fell out of the tree house when I was twelve and didn't break any bones. Again, I chalked that up to luck.
If you took a good look at my adolescent life after I discovered my heritage, it would become evident that I made a habit of hiding myself and what I could do. The only time I could truly be myself was around my family, and even then my little sister didn't know the secret. We had to be discreet because of her and because we didn't want to make a habit of using our powers casually. Hiding that much of yourself can make you crazy after a while, and I can understand why Dad likes going out and being Superman. Granted, you are still hiding a large part of yourself (namely, your personality) then, too, but at least you get to use your powers. It would be very easy to become schizophrenic under these circumstances, but thankfully everyone in my family turned out okay. I think I am closest to the edge, though, because of the situation with my particular set of powers.
Let me elaborate a bit more. When two people get together and have children, they each give the child half a set of genes, and those two halves combine to make a whole person (and that's the VERY simplified version of genetics). The same is true for Superman, so naturally his children wouldn't have EVERYTHING that he does. That goes for powers, too, apparently. So far, both me and my brother are missing two powers, and in both cases these powers are related. Jon doesn't do the hot/cold thing: no heat vision or cooling breath. Big deal. I don't fly or have superspeed. Those are the two that, beyond a lot of other things, makes Superman particularly "super". Think about it — if he were just really strong, invulnerable, and could shoot laser beams out of his eyes (plus the super senses, but the public doesn't really get to see that in action a lot), it would be a lot less impressive. This is what I'm faced with. It's a relatively new development — the flying thing would have happened a year or two ago if was going to, and it hasn't. Now, I'm not bitter about the situation, don't get me wrong. It's just that, in my current employment, which will probably end up being my "night job" after college, I can't even use the powers I have. It just brings up too many possible problems. I'll elaborate later.
Now that I've brought up the employment, maybe I should just stop the suspense and get right to it:
WHY I'M IN GOTHAM CITY
I already mentioned that I will be a junior at Metropolis University this fall. I didn't tell you my future career goal, though: I want to be a forensic scientist. In my ideal scenario, I am a guy with a badge and a chemistry set, busting the bad guys through science. Of course, reality is a far different thing, and most police departments have independent labs do most of their scientific testing. It's too bad, too, because I really wanted to be a cop. Maybe I still can be a cop, or at least, someone who makes arrests. I can be Batman.
Again, don't be shocked. Due to the lack of "super" superpowers, I really shouldn't conduct my after hours activities as a Superman. Face it, I would feel…inadequate. I would have to make up some totally different superhero and appear in Metropolis, but it would be hard to disassociate myself from Superman, which I would have to do in order for the ruse to work.
Maybe you're confused. I'm sorry about that — some things you take for granted after being around them for a long time. Let me elaborate. What is Superman's costume? He wears a red, blue, and yellow spandex suit. No mask. Therefore, there is no reason to believe he is anybody other than who he says he is. We all know that he really is somebody else, and he can accomplish the deception by, well, putting on a pair of glasses. He also does his hair differently and behaves differently when not in costume. But like I said earlier, nobody would suspect that Superman would have an alternate identity just because he doesn't hide ANYTHING. I mentioned that I don't wear glasses, so in order to keep my identity a secret, I would have to wear a mask when doing hero stuff. I couldn't exactly do this and wear the "Superman" name because then people would know that Superman does indeed have something to hide, an identity to protect, and that wouldn't be good for my family. So you can see now why I would have to create another identity. Fortunately, I was saved from having to do this by good timing.
Heroes from different cities tend to keep to their own areas, but every now and then they have an occasion to wander into each other's territories. The year before I was born, Superman and Batman, Gotham's elusive and dark hero, met. Batman was visiting Metropolis for some reason, and of course my dad spotted him during his patrols and he dropped down to chat. They got friendly and, long story short (and this particular how-we-met story is VERY long — it can take my dad HOURS to tell it) they found out each other's identities. Batman is Bruce Wayne, millionaire playboy of Gotham and, deep down, an emotionally disturbed guy. Bruce is about 15 years older than my dad and, as such, is right now rapidly approaching retirement age.
Middle age is not a good time to be crawling across the roofs of Gotham chasing thugs and madmen, and Bruce knows this. He will soon be giving up his night job, and he needs a replacement. This is where I come in. My dad was talking to Bruce the summer before I left for college and just happened to mention my career interest and possible problems being a superhero in Metropolis to him. This started the wheels turning, and eventually he offered me the job. Kinda. Actually, the conditions are that I would intern under him during my summers (and the intern is Robin. Now you know), and if he was satisfied, I could take over for him.
Now you ask, why me? There have been other Robins before my little internships. Truthfully, these past Robins really didn't want the job. The first Robin was Richard (Dick) Grayson, now Nightwing. He has built up a reputation over the years as his current identity, and he really doesn't want to give that up. The second Robin was Jason Todd, and he died on the job many years ago. The third Robin was Tim Drake. After he graduated from high school he moved away from Gotham and established a life and a family of his own where he is, and he doesn't want to sacrifice that to be Batman. I can understand that. I think, considering all this, Bruce was really happy that I came around, otherwise there was probably a very good possibility that the Batman would retire along with Bruce Wayne.
So I have been on summer internships since entering college. Last year, my first, I was shipped off to study martial arts in Hong Kong. This was pretty neat in many ways. My dad has told us kids stories about the years he traveled the globe after college, and I have always envied him a little for that. So now I've done a little globe traveling myself, and I'm happy. Anyways, during my stay in Hong Kong, I learned a few different martial arts, the point of which was to focus my mind (a thing I do only when I'm working — otherwise I'm as unfocused as the next 20-year-old guy) and train me for hand-to-hand combat. Yes, I am super strong, but these arts teach you to focus that power into more efficient movements. After going through this training, I'm of the opinion that my brother should also take some martial arts courses. I mentioned this to my mom and she agreed with me wholeheartedly.
This is my first summer actually spent in Gotham. I got into town three weeks ago, and I've been living in a set of rooms at Wayne manor. I even have my own phone line. The first week I was here we did nothing but practice using the bat tools he has — and let me tell you, there are a ton of them. Grappling hooks, lines, batarangs, pellets, radios, transmitters, other electronic toys, gliders. If this guy wasn't rich, he would NEVER be able to finance Batman. I really didn't have any problems learning to use the toys, and anymore I've really begun to like them. The hooks and swing lines allow me to fly over the city in my own way. The pellets and batarangs and dark suit allow me to substitute stealth for superspeed. Face it, Dad's costume doesn't really let him be too incognito (and it's not supposed to). Of course, my super senses come in handy, too. The problem is, I can't use the laser vision or super strength as Robin because, well, that's just not something normal people do. And again, it would raise too many suspicions. Bruce has been helping me think of way to use them when I become Batman, though — maybe he could drop hints that he's designing a new suit with circuitry that would make Batman very strong or would let him shoot lasers from around his eyes.
"Work" has consisted of doing research for Bruce during the day, while he's at work over at Wayne Enterprises, and of donning the Robin suit at night and doing his bidding. So far, this has mostly been surveillance (such as right now), although I got to go along with him once or twice when we rumbled with the bad guys. THAT was fun. Too bad I don't get to do it more. It's not that Bruce is keeping me away, it's just that after so many years of Batman patrolling the city, the criminal element has wised up and stays away from the Batman more times than not. There aren't even any really bad guys left to fight anymore, either — your Jokers and Penguins and Two-Faces of the world have been beaten long ago, and possible future criminals have wisely decided on different career choices. Because, face it, Batman WILL get you.
So here I am, on another night of surveillance, looking through the window of a hotel waiting for this guy to get home…
The sound of a swoosh and a thud behind him caught Robin's attention. *I know THAT sound all too well,* he thought. Closing his notebook and slipping it back into the large pouch on his utility belt along with his pen, he turned around and smiled.
"Hey, bro. I wasn't expecting you to come calling until tomorrow."
The Crimson Superman smiled back and ran his hand through his hair. "Well, I checked into the hotel and got bored, so I figured I'd visit. I called over to your place but you weren't there, so I thought I could find you the old-fashioned way. I didn't expect to only have to go across the street. If I didn't know better, I'd say you're spying on me." He had a twinkle in his eye that told Robin he was kidding around. Robin turned away from the young Superman to face the hotel again.
"Oh, ha-ha. I thought that maybe the Planet would put you up in someplace a little less pricey. Don't they usually shove the rookies to places called 'The Cozy Motel' or something like that?" School had only been out for less than a month, but CJ missed the bantering with his brother. Bruce just wasn't the type who you could tease and get away with it. Besides, he was never around.
"Well, they tried to make reservations, but there was a Harley convention in town and the Cozy Motel was all booked up. It's too bad, too, because I was really looking forward to getting closer to nature. The mice and roaches don't like my place back in Metropolis too much, for some reason."
CJ chuckled and shook his head. Jon walked over to where CJ was sitting and stood next to him.
"So what are you doing up here?" Jon asked.
"Oh, there is this guy who is orchestrating an insurance scam. I'm waiting for him to get back to his hotel room so I can spy on him a little bit. He is in the middle of a trail against the insurance company, which just happens to be owned by Bruce, claiming he should be collecting disability payments for injuries supposedly received on the job. Bruce doesn't think there is anything wrong with him, so I'm supposed to take a few pictures of him doing things that an injured guy shouldn't be doing, and then we'll have him." CJ/Robin sighed. It wasn't exactly what he would call a job for a superhero.
Apparently Jon/Crimson Superman thought the same thing. "Since when did your job description change to private detective for hire?" he asked.
CJ made a bit of a face. "Since Bruce said it did. He IS paying to have me around, might as well keep me busy. It's been kind of slow on the crime front lately."
"Well, hopefully that story I'm here for can change that."
"So you said on the phone." CJ had been glad to hear that the Planet was sending Jon out to Gotham to work on an investigation. It was going to be his first big story. It would be shared with Mom and Dad, of course — there were investigations going on in Metropolis, too. CJ didn't really know what exactly the story was supposed to be yet, but he suspected he would be finding out soon.
Suddenly, the light in the room CJ was watching flicked on.
"I wish I could stay and chat some more, but I have to take care of this. Shouldn't take too long." CJ reached for the line on his belt at shot it at the hotel across the street. It caught on the roof ledge, and he used it to swing over.
"Do you need any help?" Jon called after him.
"Nah, I got it," CJ said from mid-air. He hit the side of the hotel with his feet, several stories above the room he was looking at. He rappelled down so that he was next to the room window and stared through the wall, waiting for the man to do anything incriminating. After a few minutes, he saw what he was looking for and swung over to the window, pulling a camera from his belt while doing so. After snapping a few pictures through the window, he secured the camera and climbed the line up to the roof. While he was rewinding his line, Jon flew over and landed next to him.
"Done?" Jon asked.
"So what were you planning on doing for the rest of the night?"
"Weeeell…" CJ looked over at his brother and gave him a mischievous grin. "Maybe I can show you what a good time can be had around Gotham after hours."
Jon rolled his eyes. Some things never changed. "Why am I not surprised?"
CJ lifted his glove and glanced at his watch. It was only 10 PM. Bruce didn't have anything else for him to do tonight, and Batman was staying in tonight, so he wouldn't have any need for Robin's assistance. Ignoring Jon's comment, CJ spoke again. "I need to go back and change. I brought the motorcycle. You can either follow from above or meet me at Wayne manor in 45 minutes."
"I think I'll just follow. I've always wanted to see the famous Batcave, anyways."
"OK, then." CJ dropped over the edge of the building and snapped the glider wings on his cape into place. He glided down to street level, about 30 stories down, landing softly. The motorcycle was stashed in a nearby alley. He drove back to the cave, Jon hovering well overhead. The Batcave was deserted when CJ entered, well, except for the many bats that clung to the ceiling.
Jon received the full tour, and he was duly impressed. The many trophies of Batman's conquests throughout the years were displayed, along with the costumes previously used by Batman. CJ really didn't know a whole lot about most of these things. He made a mental note to get some stories out of Bruce before he left in August. The two brothers chatted about CJ's experiences with Batman thus far as they ascended the stairs. CJ had removed his Robin costume upon entering the cave and was now wearing a simple t-shirt and shorts.
"I would love to take a tour of the mansion sometime, too," Jon said as they opened the door that led from the cave into the foyer of Wayne Manor. "I bet it's full of all sorts of great old stuff."
"It's a regular antique stockpile, alright," CJ said dryly. It was like living in a museum. Half of the house wasn't used at all, but it was dusted once a week by the housekeepers and kept looking nice, anyway. Fortunately for CJ, his suite was normal, having been lived in by the Robins who came before himself. They had had pretty good taste in furnishings, sticking to more contemporary and, really, more useful furniture. "Bruce could probably show you around sometime, but beware: this place is huge. It would take hours."
"Well, some other time, then." Jon took in as much as he could as they made their way though the corridors of Wayne Manor. CJ led him to a door that was sitting ajar with light streaming through it. He knocked, which was followed by an invitation to enter from the man inside. The room they entered was an enormous library, rivaling some public libraries in size. In the middle of the room was Bruce Wayne, sitting at a large oak desk.
"Clark, good evening. I see you brought a guest." Bruce stood as the brothers approached him. He held out his hand toward Jon. "Hi, I'm Bruce Wayne."
"Jon Kent." Jon took Bruce's hand and shook it. He was still dressed as Superman, he realized, but Bruce knew the family secret, so it was okay. Jon regarded Wayne closely. He had expected the man who was Batman to be a big, solid guy, maybe six and a half feet tall. What he saw was somebody who was almost identical to CJ in size and stature. Wayne's eyes, Jon felt, were his most endearing feature. They blazed with intelligence — he could tell that not much got past this guy. Jon smiled a little nervously. "Ah, nice to meet you."
"The pleasure is mine," Bruce said with a pleasant smile. They all sat down to chat. "So Jon, I heard you were coming to town, but I didn't expect you until tomorrow."
Jon had planned all along to include Bruce in his impending investigation, and had even set up a meeting with him for the next day. "I was in town and bored so I looked for CJ here," Jon said. "I thought if anybody could keep me entertained, this was the guy."
"So I've heard," Bruce said. He turned quickly to CJ, his face becoming more serious and the pleasant tones dropping from his voice. "Did you finish the job?"
"Yeah. The film is developing in the machine. He is as good as finished."
"Excellent," Bruce said, the smile returning to his face. Jon remembered his dad saying something about how serious Bruce could be when he got to working. He thought maybe he had seen a hint of that when he had spoken to his brother just then, but it seemed to have evaporated quickly. His pleasant side was nice, although Jon didn't see evidence of the kind of laugh and smile lines around his mouth and eyes like he saw on his dad's face. He suspected that Bruce didn't smile a whole lot.
CJ popped up out of his chair and faced Bruce. "I'm going to go change." He looked at Jon. "Maybe you should, too."
"Eh, I'll do it on the way out. It'll only take a sec."
CJ shrugged. "OK. I'll be right back. You two have fun." He walked out of the room, leaving Jon alone with Bruce.
Jon and Bruce talked about Jon's new jobs in Metropolis, about how the superhero thing was going, and about how his father was. Any apprehension that Jon had at the thought of being in Bruce Wayne's company quickly melted away. Jon and Bruce were bantering like old pals by the time CJ returned, dressed to impress.
"We're going out to experience the night life here in Gotham," CJ told Bruce as he approached them again.
Bruce raised his eyebrows in mild amusement at this. "The real night life in Gotham has the night off."
"And I am VERY grateful, let me tell you," CJ said, appreciating one of Bruce's rare light moods and milking it for all it was worth. "Do you suppose we could…"
"Take the Mustang," Bruce said with a wave of the hand. "Have a good time. Enjoy your time out — I suspect things will be pretty busy starting tomorrow." He looked directly at Jon as he said the last part. Jon had the impression that Wayne knew more about their upcoming meeting than he let on. Jon just nodded and quickly turned to follow his brother out of the room.
"I will treasure this rare moment of freedom. Thanks!" CJ said over his shoulder. A brief gust of wind as they made their way back into the hallway signaled that Jon had changed clothes. "Looking good, bro," CJ said with a smile.
"Have I ever NOT been looking good?" Jon asked, batting his eyes mockingly.
"Do you really want me to answer that?" The two reached the garage quickly, and upon entering, found the Mustang among the twenty or so other cars.
Jon whistled in amazement at the sight of all the cars. Some of best automobiles in the world were housed here — Porches, Mercedes, BMWs, a Rolls Royce, a Prowler. The Mustang almost seemed dumpy in comparison. "Nice! I sure wish I were rich."
"Don't we all. Come on, lets go." CJ climbed into the driver's seat, Jon climbed in the passenger door. With a squeal of tires, the two set out.
Jon and CJ entered a popular nightclub in the campustown area around Gotham State University. Even though most of the students had left for the summer, the club was still relatively full of people. It was your typical student hang-out: the furnishings were a little worn around the edges from heavy use. A warm, well-stocked bar lined the rear wall, with bottles of every sort of liquor stocked on the shelves behind it. The layer of cigarette smoke that hung near the ceiling obscured the neon of various beer signs hanging on the walls. Televisions were mounted on the walls around the room, showing various baseball games and the basketball playoffs. Pool tables and dart boards were clustered near the entrance.
The two brothers found a table close to the bar and sat down. Jon mused that this was just CJ's type of place — the music was loud, several single women sat at the bar, and several sports were being shown simultaneously on TV. Jon offered to get drinks, and he approached the bar to order. Just as the bartender set the beers in front of him, he heard his name being called.
"Jon? Jon Kent?" Jon looked around and found the source sitting two barstools away. Recognizing her immediately, he momentarily abandoned his drinks and addressed her.
"Oh my gosh, Jenny! How are you? What are you doing here?" He approached a brunette and gave her a big hug.
"Oh, I'm great. I'm working at the Gotham Gazette for my summer internship. How about you? I heard you graduated." They released each other.
"Oh, I did. I'm here visiting my brother." Jon motioned in the general direction of their table.
"Hey buddy!" the bartender yelled at Jon. "You want these or what?" Jon regretfully took his attention away from his friend and addressed the bartender.
"Oh, yeah, sorry." He paid the bartender and claimed his beers. "So," he said, facing Jenny, "why don't you come over and sit with us? We can talk."
"I'd love to!" she said, following him over to the table. CJ was thoroughly engrossed in the basketball playoff game as Jon approached. CJ sensed his coming and spoke, not looking away from the TV. "Took long enough — I bet the beer is getting warm! Did you get lost?" he asked.
"Ah, no," Jon said as he sat down. CJ realized that there was somebody else sitting down next to Jon. Curious, he brought his attention back to the table. What he saw made him stop cold.
Jon was accompanied by the most gorgeous women that CJ had ever seen. And CJ had seen a lot of women. Some made it their point to go with every guy on the football team. Others were ones he found at the bar, lonely. Still more he met around campus. CJ tended to consider himself a bit of a playboy, although none of the relationships he got into ever went anywhere. Even so, this woman with Jon…wow. He didn't know what it was. Her flowing brown hair seemed to frame her oval face. Her eyes were a vibrant green, and glowed with warmth and happiness. She was thin but not overly so, wearing a flattering dress that, at the same time, didn't give too much away.
CJ was aware that he was staring, so he forced himself to tear his eyes away from Jon's companion. He felt a touch of jealously for his brother, who had brought this woman to his table. He also felt slightly embarrassed for his behavior. Taking a deep breath, he composed himself quickly and looked back toward his brother. Jon had an amused look on his face. The brunette didn't seem to be effected by CJ's unusual behavior.
Clearing his throat, CJ opened his mouth to speak. "Jon, who is your friend?" CJ was aware that his voice was a little deeper than it normally was. This only seemed to add to Jon's amusement.
"This," he said, "is Jenny Sears. We worked together at the campus paper last year. She's a journalism major at the U. of Metropolis." Jon turned to face his companion. "Jenny, this is my brother…"
"Clark Kent, ah, junior," CJ interrupted Jon in mid sentence. He thrust his right hand in her direction, still desperately avoiding looking at her, for fear she might think he was staring at her. As she took his hand, he took a chance and looked her way.
As their eyes met for the first time, the world seemed to stop altogether. CJ became very aware of her soft hand in his, and of the strange energy that seemed to be flowing through that hand. Her eyes seemed to speak to him, bore into him. All of a sudden CJ wanted to know everything there was to know about this woman. He didn't want to let go of her hand — what he really wanted to do was raise it up to his lips and kiss it.
The smile on Jenny's face faded, even as the smile in her eyes lingered. CJ felt her hand slipping out of his. A blush began to form on her cheeks as she shyly cleared her hair away from her face with her free hand. Their eyes remained locked together, and Jenny softly said, "Nice to meet you." Finally, they were no longer touching. This seemed to break the spell, and they both suddenly blinked and looked away.
Jon's amused smile had turned more alarmed. When CJ and Jenny took hands, he could feel the mood change. The playful atmosphere at their table turned very serious all of a sudden, and Jon didn't know if he liked it. He had a bad feeling, though. CJ and Jenny were looking anywhere but at each other when Jenny finally spoke.
"Jon, you never told me you had a brother before today." No, Jon didn't like where this was going. He decided to play it lightly, though.
"Oh, I thought I had." Jon looked at Jenny, who began to stare at the baseball game on the TV over the bar. "Not that we had a lot of time to talk about our personal lives at the paper." Jon looked at CJ now, who was staring into his beer.
"Mmm," was Jenny's only reply. An uncomfortable silence fell over the table. Jon struggled to start a conversation.
"You know, CJ, Jenny is doing her internship in Gotham this summer, too. What a coincidence!"
Jenny looked a little startled when Jon spoke. "CJ?" She looked questioning to Jon.
"My dad laid claim to the name 'Clark Kent' before I ever came around. He's the only one my family calls Clark. So they call me CJ." CJ said somewhat timidly. Jenny nodded, still avoiding CJ's eyes.
"So what do you prefer to be called?" she asked, softly, with a hint of something deeper than just curiosity in her voice. It was like music to CJ's ears.
"You can call me Clark. All my friends do," CJ replied, his voice deep with longing. The tension was beginning to drive CJ crazy, so he decided to change the subject to something a lot less dangerous. He nodded to the TV carrying the baseball game that Jenny was again staring at. On it, the Gotham Knights were playing the Chicago Cubs. "You a big Knights fan?"
"Not really. I do like the Cubs." She snorted as the hitter for the Knights singled up the middle, driving in a run. "Their bullpen always seems to give up games, though."
"Give their starting pitchers some credit — they blow their fair share of games, too," CJ countered.
"The team can usually get enough runs to cover their starters, though." Jenny was beginning to get animated. "It's hard to come back when the other team gets ahead of you in the late innings."
"You'd think after so many years of bad pitching, the Cubs GM would get a clue and acquire some decent pitching," CJ said, his voice becoming more confident.
"You said it," Jenny said. "Hitting never seems to be a problem…" Jenny kept talking, facing toward the TV, but CJ wasn't listening. He was staring at her again, thinking about how amazing this woman was. *She's beautiful and she knows sports! I think I'm in love.* This last thought caught CJ by surprise. Sure, he felt like he had been hit by lightning when he first saw her, but love? He'd never been in love in his life! His girlfriends were all…infatuations. Nothing deep. *Love, bah!* his inner self countered, *you are in LUST, my boy, nothing more.*
Jon had watched as the two talked sports, following the conversation back and force like a tennis match. Jenny was speaking now, but he saw a telltale goofy grin spread across his brother's face. Almost subconsciously, he reached across the table and slugged CJ in the upper arm. This seemed to do the trick, drawing CJ out of his trance, and he tossed a dirty look at Jon. Jon countered with his what-the-heck-do-you-think-you're-doing look. He then nodded his head toward Jenny, who was still talking about the Cubs. Figuring he made his point as he watched CJ's face turn red, Jon took a long, triumphant swig of his beer.
Meanwhile, Jenny finally ran out of steam. The baseball conversation had helped to loosen her up after her initial encounter with CJ, and now she was more than willing to bring her attention back to the table. Now that her mind was on sports, she looked at Jon again. "Say, don't you play on the football team?" she asked him.
After being so rudely brought out of his earlier reverie, CJ decided once and for all that if he was going to get though the night, he was going to have to control himself. He mentally transposed the face of his sister onto this Jenny Sears, torturer of his soul. That being done, the rest of the night went incident free. The trio played darts and had a few more beers. As they prepared to depart for the night, CJ purposely let his defenses slip down. He really didn't want this night to be the last night he saw Jenny.
Jon gave her a final embrace as he climbed into the passenger side of Bruce's 2010 Ford Mustang. CJ began to extend his hand toward her, but remembering what happened the last time they touched, he withdrew it again. She caught this gesture and seemed relieved when he withdrew. CJ reached into his wallet and withdrew a business card at random.
"Do you have a pen?" he asked Jenny. She looked a little puzzled at first, but seeing the card in his hand, she understood and fished a pen out of her purse. CJ accepted it, deliberately avoiding her touch. On the back of the business card, he wrote his name and phone number.
"Give me a call if you want to go to a Knights game sometime," he told her, extending the card and pen in her direction. She smiled and took them.
"I will," she said lightly. CJ felt joy surge up within his body. The smile that he wore could light up even the largest room — it almost knocked Jenny off her feet.
"Well, goodnight then," CJ said. Jenny just nodded, unable to say anything.
CJ climbed into the driver's seat. Before pulling the car out of the stall, his eyes met hers again. They spoke volumes to each other without saying a word. It was understood that they would see each other again. CJ blinked, shook his head, and drove off into the night.
As they pulled away from the bar, Jon looked over at his brother. The look shot toward him almost made CJ laugh, but he refrained.
"Mind telling me what that was all about?" Jon asked. CJ's behavior that night had been erratic at best — at least he managed to pull himself together enough for them to have a good evening. For a while after he introduced CJ to Jenny, Jon was sure that he was going to be a third wheel.
CJ made himself look as innocent as he could. "Gee, I just don't have any idea what you could possibly be talking about."
Jon rolled his eyes. "Yeah, right. Spill it."
"Well," CJ smiled boyishly, "I must say, I like your friend."
"I figured as much. So define 'like'." Jon knew that CJ had "liked" a lot of women since he arrived at college. He had brought a few of them over to their apartment for supper (and more?) a few times. But Jenny, she was Jon's friend, and he didn't want to see her getting hurt.
"You know…" CJ shrugged.
"Come on, CJ. You take a look at her and it's like you're a deer in the headlights. Then you act all weird for a while, talk sports — and I KNOW you only talk sports with girls when you're nervous — and then you act like she's some old friend that you have no attachment to. I've seen you're pick-up routine before and this definitely didn't follow the pattern. So what gives?" Jon felt like he was playing the stodgy older brother.
CJ sighed and shook his head. "This wasn't the old routine, let me tell you. I wasn't looking to pick anybody up tonight. It's just…when I saw her, it's like the earth stopped." CJ glanced at his brother. The serious tone in CJ's voice, the complete lack of mischief or humor meant that something really did happen to him. Jon recalled a conversation he'd had with his father when he was in high school. Jon had asked him if he'd ever had that sensation, like earth stood still. "It's that way every time I look at your mother," he had said. Jon knew it now definitively — CJ was doomed.
CJ turned back toward the road and continued. "I had to act detached or else I was going to jump all over her."
"Thank you for that, then. So, are you going to see her again?" Jon asked, trying to hide his apprehension.
"It's up to her. I gave her my number," CJ said, still serious.
"Well, treat her good. She's my friend."
"What, you don't trust me?" All of the sudden the humor returned to CJ's voice. Jon was extremely relieved to have the emotional tones lifted from the conversation. He went out tonight to have fun, after all.
Smiling in CJ's direction, and seeing the twinkle in his eyes, Jon played along. "Who, Love-'em-and-leave-'em Kent? Mr. Girl-of-the-month? You're practically a legend."
"Oh, I am NOT." CJ chuckled. "As far as the football team goes, I'm tame. Considering the girls that are throwing themselves at me all the time, I figure I'm the picture of restraint."
"You certainly aren't the picture of humility. Girls throwing themselves at you? You should be so lucky." Jon knew HE certainly wasn't that lucky. Jon also knew below CJ's football jock facade, he was just a somewhat shy, uncertain brainiac. The fact was, most of the time CJ's relationships ended because the girls who wanted the jock got disappointed when all they got was the academic.
CJ slipped into a Rodney Dangerfield act as he pulled the car up to Jon's hotel. "No respect, I'm telling you." CJ looked away from his brother, acting like he was adjusting an imaginary tie, trying to hide a smile. Jon climbed out of the car. Before he shut the door, he poked his head back in.
"Noon at Bruce's office, right?" he asked.
"Good. 'Night. And hey, try not to hit any of those women who are throwing themselves at you on your way home." Jon grinned wickedly and shut the door as CJ made a goofy face and stuck out his tongue. Yes, he missed having his brother around.
Jenny Sears entered her apartment and flopped down on the sofa, not bothering to turn on any lights. The dim glow of the sign for the small grocery store across the street cast an orange and blue hue across the ceiling. Blue…Clark had been wearing a blue shirt tonight…
She clutched her hands to her temples and shook her head. Tonight sure hadn't turned out like she thought it would, that's for sure. She had gone out basically just to get out of her apartment. The neighborhood bar seemed like a good place — little did she know that she would run into the object of her desire.
She had to admit, she had always had a crush on Jon Kent. He was a couple years older than her, and he was SUCH a good writer. Considering who his parents were, that was no great shock. And Jon was very good looking. She had never followed through on her crush, though. When she saw him tonight, she thought this would be the time to do so. Then she met his brother. If Jon was very good looking, Clark was a knockout. When they touched, she definitely felt something. When their eyes met, she almost drowned. She had thought she had seen something in them — desire maybe.
She certainly felt desire toward him, although she had no clue why. She didn't even know him, and Jenny had always told herself that she could never go out with a guy unless they were friends first. *Now you're thinking about going out with him?* Maybe. Could it be love at first sight? Why else would she feel that kind of instant attraction toward him? She had had a couple of boyfriends in college, but she had never felt that kind of overriding desire with them that she felt tonight.
The tension between them had been palpable. Then he reverted to jock mode and he changed. He treated her like his sister or something. That didn't bode well for any future relationship. Of course, he did give her his number before leaving. The anticipation in his voice when he asked her to call him said a lot — he was just as interested in her as she was in him. Probably. He DID invite her to a ballgame. Not to his place, not out on the town, but to a ball game. Jenny fished the card out of her purse.
Wayne Enterprises. He worked for them? Looking more closely at the front, she realized that this was Bruce Wayne's personal business card. Why would he part with that? Was that who he was working for over the summer? Interesting. Jenny held the card to her chest briefly, then rose and tacked it onto the bulletin board above her phone. He would definitely be hearing from her again. He seemed like an interesting guy — he definitely had the same sense of humor as his brother. Maybe it was a family trait. She had to know more about him. He seemed like a more complex person that he appeared on the outside.
Jenny sighed and made her way into the bedroom. She wasn't looking forward to going in to work tomorrow. She brushed her teeth and changed before crawling into bed. As she closed her eyes, the face of Clark Kent Jr. floated into her vision. It was so handsome, so soft. A smile played across her face as she fell into sleep, dreaming of her newest friend.
At a couple of minutes before noon, a secretary ushered Jonathan Kent into the penthouse office of Bruce Wayne. Wayne was sitting at a large desk, intently reading papers from a folder. CJ lounged in a large chair facing the desk. His attire was very unprofessional — his t-shirt, baseball cap, and jean shorts looked out of place in the executive office, among the books and tasteful office furnishings. Jon was dressed in a nice suit — he was technically here on Daily Planet business, after all. Jon had fashioned his work attire after his father's, with the colorful jackets and ties that would definitely not be considered conservative. The view from the large office was spectacular — the Wayne Tower was the tallest building in Gotham. Jon was impressed.
Bruce acknowledged Jon as he approached the desk. They shook hands again, and Jon sat in a chair next to his brother.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Kent?" Wayne asked, his demeanor very serious and businesslike.
Jon settled more comfortably into his chair as he began to relate his lengthy tale. "About a month ago, the Peterson tower, a 40 story skyscraper in downtown Metropolis, partially collapsed during a wind storm. I'm sure you heard about it on the news."
Wayne nodded. "A hundred people died in that tragedy, right? I heard it would've been more if not for Superman and son."
Jon smiled grimly and nodded. "Right. Initially, authorities were unable to explain what would cause the building to collapse apparently without reason. No explosive devices or vandalism were found. It remained a mystery. Then, last week, another building collapsed on a windy day. This time it was a dorm at New Troy State College. Luckily, it was shortly after all the students had moved out for the summer, but again the collapse was apparently unprovoked.
"Two days ago, the report of an independent structural engineer hired by the City of Metropolis was released, and what it said was disturbing. Apparently both these buildings had been constructed improperly. The original design for both these buildings called for welded joints where steel structural members met. However, in both the joints had been riveted instead. It might seem like a slight difference, but structurally, it means a lot, and it led to the collapse of those buildings under large lateral loads conditions, such as when there were strong winds.
"The Planet began to do some digging and found that the same contractor, Smithson-Eastern Contractors, built both of these buildings. This company primarily operates in Metropolis and Gotham, with their main work being bridges and buildings. An investigation is beginning in Metropolis — inspectors with the contractor and the contracting authority are being interviewed, and structural engineers are pouring over every structure this company has built in Metropolis. The same investigations will be beginning here soon, which is why I'm here.
"What I need from you is an account of any dealings you have had with this contractor. I also need to borrow my brother for a while. In Metropolis, Superman is scanning Smithson-Eastern built buildings on his own — I plan to do the same here. Superman is also helping to correct the problem, manually welding together defective joints. I am unable to do this — that's where CJ here comes in."
Wayne nodded slowly, the wheels in his head turning. CJ also nodded. He knew about the building collapses — they were both all over the news. He had no idea that he was expected to be a human welding torch, though. The thought excited him somewhat — it wasn't often that he got to utilize his laser vision in public due to the Robin persona.
Jon sat back and accepted the silence. He knew Wayne would come through for him — he was probably formulating a strategy right now. Bruce collected his thoughts before speaking.
"I recall having dealings with this contractor several times. I was always somewhat suspicious of the bids they submitted — they seemed unbalanced, but it was nothing I could prove. Since my company is not a public institution, I had the discretion to reject their bids and use the company that I wanted. I'm sure the college wasn't as lucky." Wayne's voice had taken on a deep, somewhat raspy quality. It was the Batman voice; CJ knew it well.
"I'll make you a deal, Kent," Wayne said, his intense eyes boring into Jon. "You two go ahead and inspect the buildings — I know they built dozens over the years in Gotham and the suburbs. Be discreet about it, stay out of sight — we don't want Clark here giving away anything he shouldn't be." Wayne knew what was at stake if it were to be seen that Robin had x-ray and laser vision. "I will gather information on this company — things the police wouldn't be likely to get their hands on. I will also personally interview the company bigwigs in Gotham." A devilish smile crept across his face at the thought of some much-needed work for Batman.
"You can have the information that I gather, but only AFTER the situation is taken care of. It would be wise not to scare the contractor into hiding — if we want to get them, we have to take them by surprise. So I would advise not publishing anything until later."
Jon nodded. He had expected to have to do his own research, although he thought that Bruce just might offer to do it himself. His father had said that Bruce always liked research — they didn't call him "The World's Greatest Detective" for nothing. Bruce seemed much more vibrant now that he had a job to do, as compared to his lackadaisical manner last night.
"Why don't we start now? We can meet up again later tonight," Jon suggested.
"That's what I was thinking. Midnight. The cave." Bruce nodded and made a hand gesture, indicating they were dismissed. The Kents promptly rose and left the office.
As Jon stepped into the elevator leaving the office, his brother close behind, he pulled a cell phone out of his jacket pocket and dialed the familiar number for the Daily Planet. Superman would also be attending their little meeting tonight.
The next stop was the courthouse to get blueprints, then a change of clothing and they would be off on inspection. It was going to be a long day.
By 10 PM the brothers, dressed as Robin and the Crimson Superman, found themselves on top of the third building on the list. The first two had been rather small, as far as skyscrapers go, but a fifteen-story building has all sorts of steel joints, as they found out. Lucky for them, the first was an industrial building, so accessing the joints wasn't a problem. It took a long time welding them all, though, and by the time he was done, CJ was feeling decidedly worn out. The second building didn't have any defective joints. CJ was really hoping this one didn't, either. This one was an apartment building, so it would be difficult doing repairs without getting detected or having to cut through walls to reach the steel.
Transportation for the night had been provided by Jon. He deposited CJ on the roof and did a quick search of the building's frame at superspeed. While he was doing that, CJ pulled a blueprint of the building out of the backpack he was carrying and spread it out in front of him. The building was in the campustown area, only a block away from the bar that they had visited last night. The thought of last night momentarily sent CJ into a swoon, but he shook it off in order to concentrate on the task at hand. A blue and orange neon grocery sign across the street provided enough light to read the plans, the full moon overhead helped, too. These were nice, roomy apartments for being so close to campus, CJ thought. He frowned as he studied the plans further — as he suspected, access to the steel would have to be done through the hallways and stairwells — no convenient maintenance corridors or ventilation shafts.
Jon sighed as he appeared before CJ on the roof. CJ could tell right away that the news wasn't going to be good. He hazarded a look at Jon's face and his suspicions were confirmed. He sighed and laid back on the roof, letting out a groan as he did. The stars sure did look nice, well, at least the ones he could see through the illumination of the city. He wanted to just lie on the roof and stare at them for a while.
"No rest for the weary, I'm afraid," Jon said. He wasn't feeling as worn out as his brother was, but then again, he had the easier job. Of course, there were many nights when he, too, wanted nothing more than to stare at the stars. He was able to get a better vantage point, though. He brought CJ up to the top of the stratosphere once, and he had appreciated it in a resigned way.
"Darn it," CJ muttered under his breath. He reluctantly pulled himself up along with the blueprints. He thrust them toward his brother. "This one isn't going to be easy."
"I know, I saw," Jon said, taking the blueprints and looking through them anyway. "I suppose we should get going. Maybe we can get this place done before we have to get to the meeting — it's only six stories."
"Yeah, yeah." CJ made his way toward the roof access to the stairs. "Are we starting at the top or the bottom?"
"We're here, might as well start at the top." Jon jogged to catch up with CJ, grabbing the backpack as he went. "Just be careful."
"I'm the torch, you're the eyes and ears, remember?" CJ's fatigue was causing his mood to darken. He wasn't usually cross with anybody — he wasn't usually this tired, either. A good night in bed or a shot of sunshine would do a world of good right now.
Jon quickly scanned the staircase all the way down to the basement and saw nobody. Most of the apartments in this complex were empty right now, he had noticed during his earlier scan. This was prime time for vacations, and with the college kids largely gone, that left a lot of space for rent. As they reached the top floor, he scanned all of the apartments, finding them all to be empty.
"Nobody's home," Jon said as they opened the door.
"Good to hear." CJ reached up and touched the paneled ceiling. "This might work better than I thought." He walked to the nearest column and removed the ceiling tiles. Any scorch marks could be nicely concealed above the ceiling line, making the explaining quite a bit easier. CJ checked the hallway again before welding the connection.
"Nice digs," he commented as he shot a beam of heat out of his eyes. "How come they don't have places this nice around the MU campus?"
Jon drifted up through the hole in the ceiling to get a better look at his brother's handiwork. "Sure beats the place we lived in."
"SOME of us still have their name on a lease there." CJ focused his energy beam on the connection on the next side of the column.
Jenny Sears padded lightly up the stairway on the opposite side of the building. As she reached the sixth floor landing, she nestled her laundry basket on her hip and gently pulled open the door. Her bare feet made almost no sound as she made her way down the carpeted hallway. She heard voices in the distance, an unusual thing since she knew she was the only renter on this floor for the summer. She wondered who it could be — the landlord wouldn't be showing apartments after 10 PM.
She approached the corner in the hallway cautiously. She almost gasped at what she saw and heard. In her hallway was Metropolis's newest superhero, the Crimson Superman, and Robin, the sidekick of Gotham's own elusive hero. Robin hadn't been around town for years, though. Superman was floating, his head lost in the ceiling. Robin was staring into the ceiling, the distortion in the air caused by extreme heat evident around his eyes.
*What's going on here?* Jenny asked herself while she quietly slipped out of direct line of sight of the heroes. As she listened in on the conversation, she became even more confused.
"It WAS a better apartment complex than a lot of them in campustown, I guess," Crimson Superman said. Jenny had heard him speak on the news a couple of times before she left Metropolis. This newest Superman wasn't exactly the most friendly toward the media, although Jon Kent did manage to get an interview with him for the campus paper right after he first appeared. How Jon swung that one, she didn't know. In any case, Jenny could've sworn that his voice was an octave lower normally than what she was hearing here. In fact, his voice sounded familiar in a different way now that she thought about it.
"Not that you ever needed to be in close walking distance," Robin said. His voice sounded familiar, too. "Anyways, even obviously high quality places like ours didn't come cheap. Good thing Dad paid for it."
*Ours? Dad?* Startled at implications, Jenny unconsciously loosed her grip on the clothesbasket, causing it to come tumbling to the ground.
The sound stopped the superheroes' conversation cold. Instantly, both heads snapped around to investigate the source. "Shoot," Jon uttered under his breath.
Aware that she had given herself away, Jenny resolved to be bold and stuck her head around the corner. The Crimson Superman was now standing on the floor. Two sets of very wide eyes regarded her — she felt very shy all of a sudden. Even though the pair were probably one hundred feet away from her, she was able to lock eyes with Robin. It was almost as if a bolt of electricity passed between them. *That's the second time that's happened in as many days,* she thought almost absently. Before it had a chance to register, though, the pair just disappeared.
Jenny stood in the hallway and blinked a few times. *Think, Jenny, think!* She mentally kicked herself into action. What were they doing? That was the question. After scooping her spilled laundry back into the basket, she made her way down to where the pair had just been standing. Superman had been floating, his head in the ceiling, and Robin had been looking upwards. All Jenny could see was a normal looking drop ceiling.
She placed the laundry basket on the ground and reached up to remove the ceiling panels. As she did, she noticed two pairs of black holes burnt into the wall. Interesting. Deciding to look further, she dumped the clothes onto floor and turned over the basket so it could be used as a stepping stool.
*Much better!* Upon examination of the scorch marks, it was evident that they had been made by someone standing on the ground. The angle made it obvious. Robin had made these! Still standing on the basket, she stared blindly at the wall as the information processed.
All the pieces fit, it had to be. By all accounts, Robin was just a normal guy in a cape, yet here is this seemingly new Robin, who can burn things with his eyes. Then the conversation — "Dad" (Superman, obviously) paid for "our" apartment. "They're brothers," she muttered. Brothers. *What a story that would make!*
Giddy all of a sudden, Jenny jumped down, gathered her things, and jogged to her apartment. Oh yes — this could be just the thing to endear this college girl to her editor.
CJ felt dazed. One second he had been staring into Jenny's eyes, the next he was back on the roof. He blinked a few times, trying to reorient himself.
Jon stood a short distance away, his right hand on his hip and his left hand grasping his chin in a thinking pose. He seemed to be looking through the roof toward where they just were. His face fell a little as the seconds passed. CJ figured he could take a peek, too, but he really didn't think he'd like what he would see.
"Would you mind telling me what the heck just happened?" CJ asked, a bit of anger showing through his voice. Jon was supposed to be the lookout, after all — nobody was supposed to see them.
Jon shook his head a little. "I… I guess I wasn't paying attention." He sounded sad.
"You were paying attention just now — what do you think she knows?"
"Ah, well, she took a look and found the scorch marks. I think she might have seen something else, too." The last part was said cautiously.
"My God, I think she recognized me!" CJ was beginning to panic. If he didn't watch out, he might end up hyperventilating.
"No, no, no." Jon couldn't believe what he was hearing. He went over to put a hand on CJ's shoulder.
"Yes. I'm telling you, our eyes met! I felt that…whatever it was from when we looked at each other last night. There's no way she COULDN'T know!" CJ was gesturing wildly with his hands. Jon didn't know what to make of this assertion, but this mysterious connection — that couldn't be possible, could it? It was just a lot of hooey invented by people who liked to exaggerate their love for each other (he didn't see his brother as the type who would do this, but hey, people change). He had to dispel this notion pronto.
"Hey, she was practically on the other side of the building! There was no way she could've recognized you…or me! I wouldn't have recognized her if not for the powers!" This seemed to calm CJ a bit.
"Okay, okay, maybe you're right. But there WAS that connection. It was weird." CJ's face brightened a bit at the thought that maybe they were connected. Soul mates? It was an interesting idea. CJ wallowed momentarily in this, but then his mind snapped back to reality. Something his brother had said began to come back to him.
"You said she might have seen something else — what did you mean?"
"She took a good look at where you patched that connection." Jon removed his hand from CJ's shoulder and began to pace.
"Did she say anything?" CJ now wished he had looked, too.
"I could barely hear her say 'they're brothers'."
CJ immediately paled and uttered an expletive under his breath.
"If she looked at that patch, she might catch on to what we were doing, too." Jon was trying to direct the conversation away from personal territory and bring them back to more familiar ground. It didn't work.
"How could she have gotten that we're related? What if she saw more than we thought? What if she had been listening in on us for a while?" CJ felt the panic rise up again. This was serious! This could jeopardize him and his family, and he had hardly been a superhero for three weeks! She was a JOURNALIST for goodness sakes!
Jon sighed. Deep down, he was asking himself the same questions. And he felt a bit panicky, too. But he also knew that she couldn't hurt them. Yes, she was a journalist, but at her current job, all she probably would be doing is conducting research for the staff journalists. And anyways, she didn't have any proof to back up any claims to their identities or possible relation.
"CJ!" Jon whispered. He didn't want to say his real name loud enough to be easily overheard. It got his brother's attention. Jon continued at a normal voice level. "In the end it doesn't matter. And it won't be a problem, either, believe me. She doesn't have proof, just an idea about what she saw. The bigger problem is if this allows her to blow my story before the right time. She DOES have proof that we were welding that connection. It might take her a while to figure out why we were welding it, but she catches on fast. She's a monster researcher."
CJ seemed to accept this. He nodded slowly, thinking, grateful that one of them was able to keep a level head. It was definitely something he would have to work on. Jon was right — she couldn't let this out. They had to work quickly on a solution. "What can we do?" he finally asked.
"Well, we have to finish doing this building. I think it would be wise from here on out if we kept our yaps shut and just worked. I think there's enough space above that ceiling to stay up there and keep out of sight. We can superspeed between floors."
"That ceiling structure won't hold my weight," CJ said, doubt was written across his face.
"I'll hold you."
"Great," CJ muttered sarcastically. The thought that he needed Jon's help to do his job wounded his pride. His mind raced, trying to think of any alternatives, but there were none — float above the ceiling or risk being seen again. "Okay, let's go. I don't want to have to come back here to work on this again." Irritation flashed in his voice.
CJ strode again toward the staircase. Jon quickly caught up to him and laid a hand upon his shoulder, stopping his progress.
"Listen, we'll talk about what happened down there later. If it means anything to you, it bothered me, too. But we HAVE to get this done — her life, as well as the lives of everybody else who lives here, might be at risk if we don't. If you let your feelings interfere now, it could affect your work, and that won't be a good thing. Let's go and get this over with, CALMLY. Please."
CJ closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he spoke, it came out softly and evenly. "Yes, I agree. We can talk with Dad when he gets here. He'll know what to do. I think…I think I am calm, really. I just want to finish what we started." He turned his head to face his brother, a half smile on his face. "Thanks for understanding." CJ then looked back toward the door, and as he did so, his stance became more commanding, his face more confident. "So are we going or what?" he said, the light tone back in his voice.
Jon smiled to himself. *Lord help me, I know him too well,* he thought. It was good to see that old spark return in his brother after all that emotional upheaval. That was the one thing that had always endured in their family — despite the bad things that inevitably seemed to happen, they could always get through it with their sense of humor in tact. If you didn't have that, what did you have, after all?
Without hesitation, Jon swept them into the building. They still had a job to do.
Batman swung onto the seventh story ledge of an apartment building in one of the more affluent neighborhoods in Gotham. Inside slept the chief estimator for Smithson-Eastern Contractors in Gotham city. He might not know a whole lot, but if there was bid unbalancing going on, he would know about it. Batman didn't think he would get a whole lot of information out of this guy, but it would confirm his suspicions, giving him a good starting point.
He checked the window and found it unlatched. Gently, he pulled it open and dropped into the apartment. Even for a man of nearly 70 years of age, Batman still moved with amazing fluidity and grace. He still cut an intimidating figure in his bat-suit, too, although he was well aware that he most likely wouldn't for a whole lot longer. Criminals see wrinkles protruding from under the cowl, and all of a sudden they don't take you as seriously anymore.
As Batman crept toward the bedroom, he reflected on his current situation. He had always had a great amount of respect for Clark Kent, not for his superpowers, but for the way he conducted his life. Bruce had to admit that he was also jealous. Sure, he had played the part of the playboy and had had many women in the process, but now he was becoming an old man, and he was acutely aware of how alone he really was. Look at Kent — he has a wonderful family with two very fine sons and a daughter who looked like she would be a stunner when she got a little older. Clark was so proud of his family, and with good reason. They would carry on his legacy and pass it to another generation; they would make the world a better place.
Clark and Bruce had formed a friendship after they met and discovered each other's secrets so many years ago. They made it a point to visit whenever they happened to find themselves in each other's towns. They also chatted on the phone from time to time and, of course, they exchanged Christmas cards every year (the one to Clark and his family was one of the few Christmas cards that Bruce wrote personally — the rest were handled by his personal secretary). So it was that Clark and Bruce had been talking to each other on the phone about two years ago, when Bruce let it slip that he had thought about hanging up the cape. As if on cue, Clark had mentioned his younger son's career aspirations, and inspiration struck. The young CJ had enthusiastically agreed to be Bruce's intended replacement, and Bruce found it in himself to keep being the bat until the switch could be made.
Bruce had to admit that he liked Clark, Jr., for the most part. The kid was hard working and extremely bright. He was also a jokester — Bruce didn't have to guess where this trait came from. Being the keen observer that he was, Bruce could tell that CJ tended to be somewhat uncertain about himself, too. He had this jock-like veneer he would put on in order to blend in — it was so unlike the somewhat shy, intelligent kid that lay underneath. This kind of duality of personally was something Bruce could respect — he himself had the same problem — it was what led him to be Batman, after all. CJ would be a suitable replacement, Bruce figured, all things aside, but he wondered as to the boy's motivation. What motivated anybody who put on a disguise to fight crime, anyways? That sense of loss that Bruce had felt at his parent's death and his overriding desire to not let that happen to anyone else still kept him going night in and night out, even after almost six decades. It hardly seemed like so long.
Superman had always been propelled by a good heart. He had these things he could do and couldn't ignore a plea for help if he could possibly do anything about it. It was an innate goodness, a deep sense of respect for life. It was a noble and selfless thing to do, but then again that was the type of person that Clark was, and Bruce knew it. What about his son, though? The younger Clark couldn't do all the things his father could — he couldn't speed to the scene of trouble and fly in to save the day. He could never don the super suit. Was that why he wanted to be Batman — to prove that he could still fight crime and save lives with what he had? Bruce never doubted for a moment whether CJ's heart was in the right place or not, he just didn't want him to take on this responsibility for the wrong reasons and regret it.
These thoughts were pushed to the back of Batman's mind as he gently opened the bedroom door. A balding, slightly overweight man was laying on his bed inside, snoring away, peacefully unaware of the intruder. Batman made his way to the bed and loomed over the man, grabbing him by the shirt and yanking him awake. The man seemed more annoyed than anything else as he opened his eyes, until he caught sight of the source of his discomfort. The sparse light from the bedroom window made it possible only to see the outline of the Batman — the broad shoulders and strong jaw. The man's eyes shot wide open and he began to cower in Batman's grasp. It only made the hero hold on tighter.
"What do you want with me?" the man asked in a squeaky voice.
"I want information," Batman replied in his most menacing voice. It caused the man to cower even more. Batman let him fall back on the bed. "Your employer — they have been building defective structures for years. I want to know everything you know about it." He leaned down so that his nose was less than a foot away from the man's nose. "Everything." Batman stood up again.
"I…what? You mean the thing with the joints?"
Batman just stood there.
The man stopped for a moment, seemingly trying to decide what to say. Impatient, Batman reached out to grab him again.
The man threw up his hands to block the move. "OKAY! Okay. The company hit on hard times during the recession of the early nineties. Contracting companies were dropping like flies — nobody was interested in building anything. The contractors that remained fought tooth and nail for every job, and it seemed like we could never win any bids. So the boss decided that we needed to do something to keep ourselves in business. The engineer that worked with the company then said it was perfectly safe, but we didn't think the building owners would go for it. All I know is that they told me to bid it as if the steel connections were bolted despite what the plans said. I swear!"
"And how many projects did you do this on?"
"Uh… well, I only did it once, but there are at least five different estimators that do projects for the company." Sweat began to flow off the man's face.
"I want names — the engineer who told you it was OK, the other estimators, and anyone else who may be involved." Batman cracked his knuckles. "Or else."
Superman flew a quick loop around Gotham City before heading toward the Batcave. Even before he entered, he knew he was going to be the first one there for the meeting — his flight around the city had shown him that. He was only fifteen minutes early — he was hoping to spend the time chatting with Bruce about how CJ had been doing, but even Batman had taken to the streets for the night. Clark didn't know whether Bruce was expecting him or not, but in any case he decided to make himself at home in the cave and wait for the others to arrive.
Clark was immediately drawn to the area around the computer, where it appeared that Bruce had been hard at work researching Smithson-Eastern. There was a company history, list of employees and profiles of those he thought important, and a list of every building built by them since they'd been in business. Clark had many of these same things on his desk at work, thanks to the researchers at the Planet. Some of the things that Bruce managed to get a hold of, and in less than twelve hours, nonetheless, Clark found to be astounding. Copies of the financial record of the company, copies of bids put in for contracts, and even the State of New Troy financial assessment of the bidding ability of the company, generally only available to a couple of people inside the capitol. Impressive. Clark took at seat and began to leaf through all the documents.
After a few minutes, he heard the rush of air and a small thud as his sons landed. He turned around to look and them and had to smile. Jon was wearing his red and black Superman outfit — it looked quite good on him. It almost seemed to be more like a business suit than his own outfit — granted, the top was tight fitting, but the pants weren't, and the lack of a cape accentuated his broad shoulders. Jon didn't spend much time in the outfit — the whole Superhero thing was still very new to him, and Clark was more than willing to let him ease himself into it gradually — but when he did put it on, he conducted himself with the utmost dignity and control. Jon was pretty serious most of the time anyway, but he usually had a keen sense of humor and vibrancy that simply went away when he when he was the Crimson Superman. The effect of Jon's change into Superman seemed identical to the effect of his own change into Superman, Clark thought. It was eerie in a way, how Jon had turned out so much like himself. He was proud of him, nonetheless.
CJ was wearing his Robin outfit. Clark had never seen his son dressed that way, and even he had to admit that the effect was stunning. The dark mask that covered the area around his eyes and the black, dark green, and maroon outfit served to make him seem menacing. CJ was not normally a very menacing person at all. He could be intense, like when he played football or when he studied science, or he could be naturally very funny and warm. CJ tended to wear rather loose-fitting clothes, but this outfit was tight fitting and accentuated his very well defined figure. Clark wished he could see CJ in action so that he could observe the effect the outfit had on his personality.
The boys caught their father smiling at them, and they smiled back. Clark noticed that they both looked tired — it had probably been a long night for them.
"Hi Dad!" Jon said enthusiastically, not letting any the stress he was feeling seep into his voice.
"Yeah, hi. How's things?" CJ asked. He wasn't as successful in controlling his voice. He perched himself on the computer table about three feet from where his father sat. Jon stood next to him.
Clark cocked one eyebrow at them. "Been busy. How about you? You look like you've had a hard day." Clark placed the papers he had been reading back where he found them and crossed his arms across his chest.
"It's definitely been one of those days that you just wish would get over with," CJ said, placing his hands on his chin and his elbows on his knees.
"That bad, huh?" Clark looked sympathetically at CJ. He then looked at Jon, his expression begging for him to elaborate.
Jon gave a crooked grin. "Girl problems," he said.
"Oooohh. I see." Clark grinned. CJ turned red, his weary expression not changing. Clark decided to lighten the mood. "I shouldn't be worried, should I? You're not going to write home next week saying you eloped or something?"
This made CJ smile a little. He shook his head before speaking. "No, it's not exactly that type of girl problems. Not that that would be a BAD thing." CJ stopped for a second, deep in thought, and then frowned. "Actually, I need to talk to you about something."
"If it's advice on girls, it might be better to ask your mother…" Clark really didn't think he would much help on this subject, considering how he almost blew it with Lois when they got together.
Jon chuckled at this, much to CJ's dismay. Jon knew full well that CJ would probably be looking for that type of advice soon enough, especially if he was as serious about Jenny as he seemed to be.
"I'll keep that in mind." CJ gave Jon a dirty look. He looked back at his amused and somewhat confused father. "What I wanted to ask you about was, uh, let's say, hypothetically, someone found out we were related. How would that be handled?"
"What, too good to be associated with your old man, now? Want me to pretended like I don't know you? I can stage a press conference and say 'Hi, my name is Clark Kent, and this is Clark Kent, Jr. Never mind the name, we're not related at all…'"
CJ smiled and shook his head. Sometimes he didn't know whether to laugh or to be exasperated. "ARGH!" he said in mock frustration. "What I meant was, when we were out tonight, this girl somehow managed to make the connection between Robin, and the Crimson Superman." He pointed his finger at Jon, who was still giggling. "She knows we're related."
"Girl problems…" Clark looked Jon in the eye and Jon shrugged and gave a knowing look, a twinkle in his eye. Clark looked back at CJ, trying to be serious. He could tell this bothered him a bit. "How did that happen?"
"She overheard us talking, I guess. And when we got the heck out of there, she looked at what we had just been doing and put two and two together." CJ talked with his eyes on the floor. He then looked at his dad and continued. "She's a journalist, too. Well, a journalism intern, but still!"
Clark thought briefly that Lois would probably like this girl a lot. He looked between his sons, trying to get a read on the situation. Jon looked calm, like the situation didn't bother him at all. Clark thought he might know why.
"Was there anybody with her?" Clark asked, figuring he knew the answer.
"Did she take pictures, video, anything?"
"So, what you're saying is that she has no evidence of any kind to back up her knowledge?"
CJ sighed and shook his head. There was something else, Clark knew it. He squinted his eyes and looked at CJ.
"You know her, don't you?"
CJ looked shocked, Jon looked smug — he knew his father would figure it out without a problem. He decided to make a contribution to the conversation.
"Actually, she's a friend of mine from college working in Gotham for the summer. I introduced her to CJ last night and let's just say that sparks flew between them."
Clark grinned and nodded. "And when you saw her tonight, you felt exposed," he said to CJ. Clark could appreciate the condition — Lois had put him in similar situations after they had met originally. He always felt a bit exposed when he was around her — he was sure that she could see right through him.
"Listen, I know how you feel, believe it or not. It's happened to me more than once, mostly with your mom. It should be fine, just don't give her any more reasons to pursue this, okay? Don't give her any opportunities to prove her theory."
CJ looked relieved. Clark got up and they embraced briefly. When they were done, he looked at CJ critically for a moment. "I like your outfit."
CJ had lightened up enough to be in a playful mood. Talking to his father always allowed him to feel better. He decided to have some fun and play along. "Really, you think I look the part of the youthful sidekick to the shadowy and mysterious Batman? 'Holy swiss cheese, Batman!'" CJ pretended to point to something in the distance.
Clark and Jon looked at each other. "Holy bad pun, Superman!" Jon said dryly.
Clark chuckled. "I give up."
Just then the door to the cave opened and the batmobile pulled in. The attention of all three Kents was drawn toward the car. Clark thought, not for the first time, that if he had to drive around in pursuit of crime, that would definitely be the way he would travel. The top of the car opened and Batman stepped out and headed in their general direction. As he did, he reached for the back of his costume and pulled off his cape and cowl.
It had been at least five years since Bruce and Clark had last met in person. When CJ moved up here a few weeks ago, he insisted on moving himself, mostly because he didn't have many possessions to move. Clark knew that Bruce was getting on in age, but he was really surprised to see how the years had treated him. Last time they'd met, a few streaks of gray were just beginning to show themselves in Bruce's hair — now, his head was completely gray. The wrinkles were really beginning to show up on his face, and his eyes were beginning to get bags under them. The most shocking thing, though, was the general weariness in his demeanor, like some of the fire had left him. Clark would be lying if he said he wasn't concerned about his old friend, but he tried not to let it show on his face.
"Bruce," Clark said, nodding toward his old friend.
"Clark, good to see you again."
Whereas Clark was surprised at the change in Bruce's appearance, Bruce was equally as surprised in the lack of change in Clark's. It seemed to Bruce that Clark had stopped aging in his mid thirties. His eldest son could almost be mistaken for his twin brother. Bruce felt a flash of jealousy, but quickly got it under control. They had a case to work on, and they had better get down to business. Bruce gestured to the Kents to follow him to a large table. They all gathered around it and sat down. Bruce grabbed the stack of papers from by the computer and joined them there.
"Alright," Bruce said, "here's the situation as I see it. This company was building things legitimately until they ran into hard times in the nineties, at which time they decided to cut costs by taking certain shortcuts, such as bolting joints instead of welding them."
"That's pretty much what I got out of it." Clark said.
"What do the police know?" Bruce asked, looking between Jon and Clark.
"The Metropolis PD has been interviewing the company owners in an attempt to see what they know. So far, the owners have been shoving the blame off to corrupt inspectors, saying that they don't know how else it could've happened. The police are trying to get a hold of all the building inspectors right now, but they haven't had any luck so far." Clark said.
"In Gotham, they really haven't done much. They're pretty much letting Metropolis take the lead. They have other things to worry about here," Jon said with a note of disgust.
Bruce nodded. "So they don't have anything concrete yet?"
"No," Clark responded.
"Who did you talk to tonight and what did they have to say?" Jon asked Bruce.
"Their chief estimator said that the idea came from the top, which I believe. I want to go after their chief engineer next." Bruce looked thoughtful. "To pull off something like that, though, the company probably would have to pay off the inspectors. Maybe the police are on to something."
"Well, the Metropolis police are having great difficulty finding most of the inspectors on the two collapsed buildings, part of the reason why they don't have anything concrete." Clark smiled. "Of course, some of us have other resources available to search for people."
"So…" Bruce said.
"Tomorrow," Clark said. "I want to finish the repair jobs before tracking the inspectors down. Speaking of which, what is the situation here?"
"They built forty buildings throughout town in the last forty years. We've only been able to look at three so far, of which two needed the repair," Jon chipped in.
Bruce pulled out the list of buildings built by Smithson-Eastern in Gotham. "Which ones?"
"The Campus Heights apartments and the Murton Manufacturing building were the ones that needed work. The Cooper Candy factory was okay," Jon said.
Bruce circled those on the list. "Look, those two that were bad were both built in the mid 90's. The other one was built in the 1970's." Bruce looked at Clark. "What about in Metropolis?"
Clark thought for a second. "I'll have to get back to you on that. They've done almost sixty buildings there, and I've looked at about half now. I would guess that the trend is the same." Clark addressed his sons briefly. "You'll let me know if you need some help in Gotham, won't you?"
CJ had been feeling pretty worthless for most of this meeting, and hearing the disparity in number of buildings inspected and doing the math in his head for how long it would take them to get done, he started feeling depressed. "I can only work so fast," he muttered. He knew he was holding things up.
Jon glanced at his brother, his eyes knowing. He then looked at his dad. "I think you'll need to help out here. I'm going to have to go back to Metropolis tomorrow, you know."
Clark nodded. "Okay." He knew CJ was feeling a little wounded right now. Clark tried to think of a way to get him involved in the meeting in a constructive way — maybe some science-related issue needed to be discussed. Nothing came to mind, though. Clark looked at CJ sympathetically, resolving to do something later to help him out.
Bruce was anxious to wrap up the meeting. "All right, here's the plan. Tomorrow, you two," he pointed to Jon and CJ, "continue doing what you were doing. I'll interview the brass. I have enough from their bids and financial statements that I can pretty much wrap it up if I get something good out of them. Clark, you get the inspectors and get me the info on the buildings. We can meet again tomorrow, same time and place. Agreed?"
"Good," Bruce said, and just like that he left the table.
Clark looked at Jon. "How is the investigating going for the article?"
Jon shrugged. "What I told Bruce is about it. The Gotham PD is really behind in this — if I didn't know better, I could swear that they aren't taking it very seriously. I won't have anything to publish until I get back to Metropolis. I promise that I will get something to show for this trip. How about you — are you publishing anything anytime soon?"
Clark looked distant. "This is big news right now — we can't just sit on it. I wrote up a little something for tomorrow's edition — a little update article to let people know that the investigation is still going on. I'm hoping to have this wrapped up in time to get something big for the weekend edition."
CJ spoke up for the first time. "Excuse me, but Jon," he looked over at his brother, "don't forget that Jenny might know something. It could compromise your investigation."
Jon had almost forgotten about that. He thought for a moment, interrupted by his father.
"That's the girl, right?"
CJ and Jon both nodded.
"The report on the building's collapse was a public document — I'm sure the Daily Planet is not the only newspaper investigating. In fact, the Star has been doing a series of articles on this, too," Clark pointed out.
"Yes, but how many know that Superman is actively repairing the defective buildings? How many know that this is also a problem in Gotham? I can tell you that she does, AND she can get proof, simply by getting a camera and taking pictures of the repair job in her apartment building," CJ said, thinking calmly and with a level head for the first time that night. Clark raised his eyebrows at this, Jon scrunched his brow together in thought. Everyone remained silent for a while as they pondered situation.
Clark thought about the possibilities. One thing that his own personal history had taught him was to NEVER dismiss a tenacious female reporter when she latched on to a story. He didn't know much about this girl, but she sounded enough like Lois to make him think they might have a problem, even if she was just an intern. Of course, she had to start from scratch, whereas they were in the middle of their investigation. The question was, would she connect her building to the contractor, and would she try to approach them, thereby scaring them away, or possibly getting herself in trouble?
"I think," Clark said slowly, "that if we act quickly, we can keep our story safe, and we can keep her safe, too."
The look of surprise on his son's face was Clark's clue to elaborate. "If this company is willing to put thousands of lives at risk on a daily basis to increase their profit margin, who's to say that they wouldn't want to get a snoopy college girl out of their way if and when she approaches them with evidence of wrongdoing?"
"I hadn't thought of that before," Jon muttered.
"Well, this type of thing used to happen to your mom all the time. Anyways, it should be fine if we get to it in a timely fashion. Okay?" Both boys nodded.
Satisfied, Clark smiled as he stood. "I should get going then."
"Me, too," Jon said.
CJ yawned, causing a chain reaction in Clark and Jon. "I think I'll go to bed. It's really been a long day."
"Rest up for another long one tomorrow," Clark said. He looked more closely at CJ. He thought that he had maybe seen some self-doubt in his youngest son. Was he unsure of his abilities? Clark often wondered if maybe his boys felt more remorse at the lack of a complete set of Superpowers than they let on to him — maybe that was playing into it. It was very possible, considering CJ's earlier comment. All he could do was offer fatherly advice and encouragement, along with a good dose of humor from time to time.
"I'm proud of what you're doing here in Gotham, CJ. Really. I know it hasn't been much yet. Don't get down on yourself," Clark said gently to his son.
CJ nodded, grateful for the sentiment. "Thanks, Dad."
"Hey, that's what I'm here for." Clark smiled and patted his shoulder. "See you tomorrow night." With that he took off in a blur. Jon said his goodbyes and also took off, leaving CJ alone in the cave.
He remained seated in his chair, running his hand through his hair. What a night, indeed. It was the most action he had seen as a 'superhero' so far. He didn't know what to make of it — it didn't seem like he had been doing the prototypical superhero-ish things. Don't they normally swoop in and rescue people in distress? Stop a fire? Save the world from terrorists? What had he been doing? Welding steel. Woo. Excitement. He supposed that was, technically, saving a building from collapse, but it lacked the action that he craved. There were no sirens, no media attention (aside from his journalist family, but that didn't count), no helicopters overhead with spotlights.
Okay, there had been action tonight, too, in a way. It involved a woman looking him in the eyes and had lasted a second or two, if that. He wondered what she made of that zap of electricity that traveled through their glance. He wondered if he wanted to know. Why did this woman have such an effect on him? She had nearly caused him to panic on the roof of that building later. He needed to get a grip, he concluded. Whether that grip was on reality or on her, he wasn't sure.
Shaking himself mentally, CJ rose from his chair and ripped off his mask. That's it, he thought, I'm going to bed. His dad was right — tomorrow would be a long day.
Jenny Sears plopped herself down at a table in a secluded corner of the research library of the Gotham Gazette. Her official tasks were finished for the time being, now it was time to hide herself and work on her own story. On the table sat volumes of research, gathered throughout the morning, on various topics relating to what she had seen the previous night. Robin, the newest Superman, her building. The file on Robin was on top, so she opened it first.
Robin, it seemed, had first appeared in Gotham almost thirty years ago. Like Batman, he was a somewhat shady character, and the accounts of him were somewhat sketchy. A couple of pictures of him did exist, though. They weren't that great, but they were good enough that she could see that this clearly was not the same Robin that she had seen last night. The oldest picture was about twenty-eight years old. This Robin looked like a high school aged boy. His outfit was a lot different — more brightly colored and hokey. His hair was darker and his facial features were different — his face seemed rounder, his nose seemed wider. It was definitely not the same person — her Robin had lighter brown hair that was buzz cut, and an oval face that was more angular. The next picture was only fifteen years old. Again, this Robin looked different — younger than the previous one (was that possible?). The outfit looked like it had changed to fit the style of the day, his hairstyle changed, too, although this Robin still had the darker hair. Had anybody noticed these disparities, she wondered?
Aside from the pictures, there were a couple of articles. It seemed that Robin was prone to disappearing for long stretches of times — Batman could go out for years without any Robin around, then Robin would show up and hang around for a few years before disappearing again. This could explain the different Robins — maybe they were different interns or assistants who worked for Batman when they were young and then went their own ways when they got older.
This sparked an idea in Jenny's mind, and she searched for another folder. This one contained information on all the heroes in Gotham. One sheet had a rough outline of Nightwing. It seemed his appearance coincided with the mysterious disappearance of the first Robin! The folder contained a picture of him, and it was obvious to her that his features matched the first Robin — granted, he looked older and his hair was a LOT longer as Nightwing, but still. Yes! It all made sense! So Batman was training new superheroes. Who she saw last night — the newest Robin — he was Superman's son. Why would Batman be training him instead of his father doing it? Jenny pulled a pencil out from behind her ear and began to tap it impatiently on the table as she thought.
Superman's son. Sons, plural. They had been in her building, doing something involving heat vision, obviously, because she could see the scorch marks on the wall, plain as day. But Robin had made the marks, not the Crimson Superman. Why? And why did they both have to be there doing whatever it was instead of just one of them — they were both superpowered, after all. It would be so nice to be able to talk to one of them, ask them what was going on. How, though? It occurred to her that Jon Kent, one of the only men to get an interview for the Crimson Superman, was right here in Gotham. Maybe he could get a hold of him.
Jenny pulled her backpack to her side and rooted around in it until she found her planner. In it was an entry for Jon Kent, complete with his cell phone number. Any self-respecting journalist would never turn their cell phone off in the middle of a business day, she thought as she dialed his number on her own cell phone. He picked up and they chatted, but he denied that he could get a hold of the Crimson Superman. His original interview had been somewhat of a fluke, he had said, partially his reward for being in the right place at the right time and partially a result of his family's long-standing link to Superman. Jenny thanked him and hung up, thoughtful. She had almost forgotten that Clark Kent, Sr. had been a very well known friend of Superman in the years immediately after he had shown up. That connection had diminished as Kent got a family — Superman probably got a family of his own at about the same time. It occurred to Jenny that the Crimson Superman seemed to be about the same age as Jon, although it was so hard to tell. Heck, Superman himself didn't even look forty, although by all accounts he had been around Metropolis for a good 25 years and therefore HAD to be older than that. The man didn't age.
None of this speculation was helping her to get a meeting with the younger Superman or with Robin. So much for the direct route, she thought. There had to be another way. She didn't feel up to deliberately getting herself in trouble — there were no guarantees that Superman or Robin would show up if she did, and she wasn't big on pain. There had to be another way. What if there was some way to know where they were going to be?
Jenny's mind wandered back to her apartment building. Maybe if she could find out what they were doing there, she could have an idea of where she might be able to find them later. She flipped through her files until she found the one that dealt with her building. Built in 1993, financed by a local real estate mogul and built by a contractor out of Metropolis and Gotham. The building had been put together in a timely fashion without incident. Nothing stood out. *Think, Jenny!* They had shot heat into the wall. Why? Heat melts things — the steel in the building, maybe? Looking at the information in the file, the company that supplied the steel for the building also supplied the steel to probably a third of the buildings in Gotham. If it were defective steel, that would be BIG. But she didn't think that was it.
Jenny closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair. Heat. Steel? Wiring? Soldering pipes? Something in the back of her mind said that wasn't it. She tried to grab onto whatever was saying that, but it was proving elusive. The more she tried, the worse it got. *I have to give it a rest — maybe then it will come to me.* She opened her eyes and sat up. She decided that reading the newspaper always helped her relax. She got up and walked to the newspaper rack near the front of the room, grabbed a copy of the Daily Planet and retuned to her desk. The news stories of the day were pretty mundane — news of corruption in the Metropolis mayor's office, a housing scandal in the inner city, and the rising costs of gasoline. Jenny felt herself beginning to relax. As she reached the fifth page, she read a small story written by the elder Clark Kent about building inspections and an ongoing investigation into two building collapses that occurred in Metropolis.
All at once that little idea in the back of her mind burst through. The building collapses! A report came out a week or so ago about those — something about bad construction. She HAD to find that report! It was a Metropolis news story, so she searched through the Daily Planet archive to find it. This article was also written by Clark Kent. The report had said that both buildings had been built with bad steel connections. Steel! It mentioned that they were both built by the same company — the same one that built her building!
It all made sense now — they were there fixing those connections. So they were probably quietly making their way around town fixing all the other buildings built by this company. She knew how she could get a hold of them now!
It wasn't too difficult for a master researcher such as herself to obtain a list of the other buildings in Gotham built by the same company that built the ones that collapsed in Metropolis. The list was rather lengthy, however. She wanted to camp out on the roof of one of them and wait for them to show up, but she might be waiting a while. Granted, being relatives of Superman, one would think that they could go between buildings pretty fast. Then again, they weren't moving very fast last night.
Jenny made up her mind — she would go to a building on the list and wait. She wanted to make it one in the same part of town as her apartment — she figured the odds were better that they would get all of one part of town before moving on to another part — it just made more sense. She just hoped she wasn't too late.
Jenny bolted to the newsroom, not bothering to replace her research articles. They might come in handy later, for a story. She figured it would be very hard to convince her boss to let an intern go out on a story, so she faked an illness (very convincingly) and was able to leave. After stopping at her apartment to grab a camera and a notebook, she was on her way. The story of her young career awaited her.
The building Jenny Sears chose to stake out was about four blocks from her own. She had never really taken the time to survey the neighborhood in which she lived in the time she had been in Gotham — all four weeks. She was now wishing she had. As with many urban campuses, the area immediately around the school was very nice, but it went downhill very fast as you got further away from the school. This particular neighborhood went from fairly affluent to seedy in the span of three blocks. The building she was staking out looked positively grungy — like maybe the landlord had just forgotten that it existed. Windows were broken in the basement and on the first floor, paint was peeling from the door and the window sills, and the brick was beginning to crumble at the corners. Still, it appeared that people were, in fact, living there. Potted plants clung to life in the upper windows, and the voices of children floated down from above.
Jenny figured in order to get the best chance of meeting the sons of Superman, she would probably have to make her way to the roof. That meant entering this building, and she wasn't sure she wanted to that. BUT, she was a journalist, and as such, she told herself, she should get used to going places and seeing things that she didn't want to. Bravely, she set out to climb the steps to the door and enter. Her progress was thwarted as a large man stepped out from the side of the building and quickly made his way toward her. He smiled, showing yellowed and broken teeth, making Jenny feel nauseous. He looked like he could've been a football player or wrestler in his better days. He cut a very imposing figure with his dark hair disheveled and his beard tangled.
"Hey honey, where do you think you're going?" His voice was low and gravelly. She sensed that he tried to make it sound pleasant, but to her it was only menacing. She briefly thought about what to say to the man, but in the end decided that it was probably wiser to say nothing at all. She tried to make her face impassive, willing it to hide the dread that was growing inside of her. She stood up a bit straighter and thrust her chin out.
The man circled around her once, checking her from head to toe, his smile growing larger as he finally came to a stop in front of her.
"Not the talkative type? That's okay, that's just the way I like 'em." He made a sound that was halfway between and chuckle and a cough. It caused Jenny to start shivering involuntarily.
"I bet you're one of them sorority chicks from the college. Did you get lost or are you just looking to spread a little culture to us lower class citizens?" The man started to fondle her hair. This was too much for Jenny, and she reached to knock his hand away. This only strengthened his resolve — as her hand brushed against his, he made a grab for her wrist. His grip was like iron, and Jenny found it impossible to break free. She began to wiggle convulsively, trying to get away.
"How about I show you my place, toots? Me and you can get a little better acquainted."
"NO!" she cried and began to wiggle more violently. Her foot reached out in an attempt to kick him where it counts, but he caught on to this and dodged her. The smile that he had earlier been wearing began to change into a sneer, making his face look that much more menacing.
"You're gonna be a fun one, I can tell right now," he said as he began to drag her up the steps and toward the entrance of the building.
"NO! HELP!" she cried. She had never been so terrified in her life. A tiny corner of her brain reminded her that she had wanted to get in a little trouble in order to reach her precious heroes. The rest of her brain told that tiny nagging portion to just shut the heck up and try to get away.
"HELP ME!" she cried again more loudly. But nobody was on the street to hear her. Nobody cared. She began to sob as she yelled for help again. Finally, a large, dirty hand pressed itself onto her mouth, muffling her screams.
*** Jon flew himself and his brother to the next building on the list. They were still in the campustown area, although they would probably be out of it after this building was looked at. It was now the middle of the afternoon, and the two had been at it for a good three hours already. Jon started the day in the city engineer's office, interviewing him about what they were doing to inspect Gotham's buildings. Next he had changed clothes and picked up (literally) CJ. The first building they went to was right next door to the one they got caught in last night. It had the same problems as its neighbor, but it also had the same floor plan and features, making the repair fairly easy.
Jon and CJ landed and took a good look around. CJ was beginning to feel a little bit uncomfortable — black and maroon were not the best colors to be wearing under the hot June sun in the middle if the day. Not that he ever felt truly uncomfortable, due to his heritage. As soon as they had landed, he felt the tar on the roof squish under his foot. That was going to make a mess — he might as well schedule an hour tonight for uniform cleaning, because it was going to need it.
As CJ lifted his boot to try and assess the damage, Jon zipped away for his quick preliminary inspection. CJ figured it probably wasn't necessary — this building didn't fit the profile. It had to be fifty years old by now — he could tell they were entering an older and less well maintained part of town. If they were all around here, then the next few on the list should be a cinch, he thought. They probably would all have these crappy, tarred roofs, though. He walked gingerly over to the edge of the building and began to scrape the bottom of his boot against the stone edge when his hearing picked up something.
It was a scream for help, and it was close — no more than a block or two away. Instinctively, CJ reached for his belt and pulled off his hook and line. He shot the line to the building across the street and jumped, swinging around the building. He let the line out gradually until he was close enough to the pavement to jump. He dropped from twenty feet in the air, leaving a crack in the pavement, and used his momentum as he broke out into a dead run toward the scene that was taking place down the street. His sight had picked up who the victim was. It made his blood run cold.
It was Jenny.
CJ reached deep inside himself and summoned the meager bit of superspeed he did possess. He ran the block from where he had landed to where Jenny was in less time than it would've taken the best Olympic runner. All he could think about was her. Neither Jenny nor her captor paid any attention to him as he approached. Good. He reached his hand out and grabbed the man, who was at least a hundred pounds heavier than himself, by the neck and easily lifted him off the pavement.
The man looked shocked — shocked that someone had intruded, shocked that this costumed guy had seemed to appear out of nowhere, and most of all shocked that this smaller man was holding him in the air. He released Jenny and made a grab at Robin. His hand was swatted away like it was a fly. This small man was strong. A mask covered the hero's eyes, and the rest of his face was distorted in a sneer. The large man could swear he saw a tinge of red from far beneath his captor's eyes. It made him feel a pang of fear. No matter, he thought as he reached behind himself and pulled a knife out of the back of his pants. This guy would not get the better of him.
Jenny had been startled to say the least. She stared at the scene in front of her with her mouth open, a look of awe on her tear-streaked face. It was Robin, from out of nowhere, and he was holding this guy in the air with one hand as easily as if he were holding up glass or a piece of paper. And he looked MAD. She let out a gasp as she saw her assailant pull a knife from his pants and swing it right at the midsection of her rescuer. As the knife impacted, she closed her eyes and said a silent prayer. She heard the knife clatter to the ground and began to weep again, this time for the fate of the man who had just saved her, the man she had tried to lure into an interview and who she instead got killed.
Slowly she opened her eyes and what she saw shocked her. Robin still held the man in the air, and this time a look of horror began to creep across the large man's face. Robin let out a growl as he tossed the man down the steps and onto the street. *What about the knife?!* Jenny's mind screamed out. A glint of metal caught her eye — it was the knife, or what was left of it. She went over to pick up the crumpled piece of metal, astonishment written on her face. It was true, it was all true. This was the son of Superman.
She turned her attention back to the two men. Robin had stalked over to the large man, who had hit the pavement hard. The young hero had roughly pulled the man up and had cocked his right fist back, meaning to punch him. Just then a blur crossed her vision and the Crimson Superman appeared beside Robin. He gently laid his hand on his brother's shoulder, ripping Robin's attention away from the man, who had begun to cower. Superman said something softly to Robin, causing Robin to slowly lower his fist. He flung the man back to the pavement and turned away in disgust. He took a step toward where Jenny stood and stopped. He had not so much as looked at her during the whole ordeal — he decided to take a chance and do so now.
Their eyes met, and what she saw shocked her. She had expected to see coolness, anger, maybe defiance. What she did see was fear, sadness, and worry. And maybe something else, too. Their eyes remained locked for several seconds. During this time she searched them, studied them, looking for some sign of who he was or how he really felt. She expanded her search to his face, his soft and beautiful features. Even though the masked covered part of it, she felt she could tell what his face was really like. He was handsome, he had a look of intelligence about him. The slight hint of wrinkles around his mouth meant that he probably smiled a lot, although she could see no traces of humor in him now. His lips were somewhat thin and pouty, slightly uneven. Who was this man who had come to her rescue just now? Why did he take it so personally? Why was he still looking at her? She thought she had felt a connection last night when she saw him — was it possible that he had, too?
Abruptly he tore his eyes away from hers and took to staring at the pavement. He took a deep breath, realizing for the first time that he had been holding it since their gazes met. A million thoughts raced through his mind. He should go comfort her. He should tell her it'll be OK. He should run far away from her and never set eyes on her again. The last idea had a certain amount of appeal to it, he admitted to himself. He turned and quickly began to walk away. He glanced over his shoulder to make sure that Jon was handling the man OK, and he saw that they had already left for the police station. That was his cue, he thought as he reached for the hook and line on his belt. He pointed it at the nearest building and was about to press the button to shoot the line when a voice called behind him.
"Wait!" Jenny cried, and she began to run toward him. His eyes got larger and larger the closer she came. She could swear he was afraid of her. She found this somewhat amusing, but she didn't let that show. She stopped about ten feet from him.
"I need to talk to you," she said softly. She tried to look into his eyes again, but he was avoiding her.
CJ could feel the panic. It was as if it had fingers wrapped around his mind, and those fingers began to squeeze. The only thing he could think to do for a few moments was to not make things worse by looking at her. He would have to talk to her, that much was certain. And if he had any hope of her not recognizing him as soon as he opened his mouth, he would have to disguise his voice somehow.
He cleared his throat and spoke. "What about?" The voice that came out of his mouth was low and somewhat raspy. It wasn't anything like his normal voice. It sounded fake, he thought. She would notice for sure.
She thought his voice sounded funny, and she wondered if his fear was causing that. She felt bad because she was the one that had caused his distress, and she was more grateful than words could say for his help, but she had to know. "Are you…" she trailed off.
"Am I what?" he asked tersely, his voice beginning to give a bit.
"Are you Superman's son?" She felt relieved that she had finally gotten it out.
Robin closed his eyes briefly, inhaling sharply. He knew it had been coming. Jon was the lucky one, he could escape quickly. CJ wasn't so lucky. A small part of him thought that even if he could escape at superspeed, maybe he didn't want to. He didn't want to have to answer this question, though. He opened his eyes again and looked over at her. In her left hand she still held the knife that the thug had tried to stab him with. It was now twisted, mangled, like it had been run over or melted. Jenny's eyes caught what he was looking at, and they immediately shifted to his midsection in the area where the knife would've impacted. He moved his gaze there, too. The black spandex that stretched out over his abdomen didn't contain a flaw — you would never know that it had just met the business end of a knife. His eyes moved to meet hers again and he spoke softly, the fake voice forgotten. "What do you think?"
She hesitated. "I think you are."
"Well there you go," he said and made a move to leave again.
"WAIT!" she cried.
He turned toward her again, suddenly angry. "Look, I didn't come here for the third degree. I came here to help you. You're fine, that scumbag is in jail, and my job is now finished. I need to go. I have other things to do." He turned away again, but this time her words stopped him before he could go anywhere.
"You did save me and I'm thankful," she said with a tone loud enough to capture his attention. She continued more softly, her voice filled with emotion. "I admit I came here to try and see you or your…brother. After I saw you the other night, I just needed to know more. I didn't plan on it happening this way, though." She shook her head. "But it did, and now you are running away, and I'm scared."
"Scared?" he whispered.
She nodded. The tears began to well up in her eyes. "Please don't leave me. Don't leave me alone again in this neighborhood."
Robin's expression began to soften. Through this all he had only thought about himself — his anger, his feelings. But here in front of him was this woman who had come close to being violated. He kicked himself mentally for even thinking of leaving her here alone. "I won't," he said and made a move to get closer to her, but stopped halfway, trying to get a grip on his emotions. "I'm sorry I was so selfish. Are you OK?"
"Do you want me to walk you home?"
She nodded vehemently this time. Robin smiled a little bit. As he made a move to approach her again, she ran over to him and gave him a bear hug, the tears flowing freely now. He wasn't sure what to do for a moment, so he just stood there. Gradually, he wrapped his arms around her, and made sounds to let her know it was all right. Eventually they pulled apart, and he decided to put more distance between them.
"Come on." He nudged her forward. She shuffled for a second before falling into step with him. CJ noticed a few people begin to emerge out onto the street as the two walked along in an awkward silence. It was like in an old western, when all the town folk retreated to some hiding place during the duel at high noon, only to emerge as soon as it was all over with. The sight of one of the city's guardians walking along the sidewalk in the bright sunshine in the middle of the day was more than enough to draw curious stares their way. Robin noticed this, and evidently Jenny did, too, judging by her nervous fidgeting. There was only one thing to do. It would mean being close to her, cradling her in his arms, and he didn't know if he could take it. But the opportunity presented itself, and all of a sudden CJ felt a lot less shy.
"Uh, would you like to take a higher route to your apartment?" CJ asked with a half smile.
Jenny seemed pleased at this suggestion. "I thought you'd never ask."
She gasped with delight as he scooped her into his arms, only to get a surprised look on her face as he told her to hold on and shot his line up to a neighboring building with one arm, securing her with the other. He made a running start and swung up to land on top of the building with the line attached to it. In a quick fluid motion, he placed her on the roof and grabbed at the line, unhooking the end and rewinding it, then tucking it back onto his utility belt. She was still staring at him incredulously when he picked her up again, this time with both arms, and began to run. As he reached the edge of the building, he willed the powerful muscles of his legs to send him high up into the air. While in mid-jump, he called upon the very small amount of flight ability he did manage to inherit to give him a bit of a boost, prolonging the jumps and softening the landings. They ran thus from building to building, until he came to her apartment.
He set her down again, and her mouth was agape, surprise written across her face. She made no move to go away from him, seemingly unaware of where they were until he finally broke the spell.
"We're here," he said.
Jenny blinked. "So we are," she said lightly, looking around. "I've never been up here before." A thought seemed to seize her suddenly, and she turned to him. "Can I ask you a few questions?"
Robin looked wary again all of a sudden. "Look, I know you're a reporter." He made no effort to disguise his voice anymore.
A questioning look appeared on her face. She opened her mouth to ask a question, but Robin held up his hand, stopping her. He continued. "I'm the pupil of the guy that some have called 'the World's Greatest Detective', so I know how to do my homework." She nodded. If he was doing his homework on her, that could only be a good sign.
"Anything that I say to you tonight has to be strictly off the record. It's not just for me — it's for my family, my friends, and my boss. I want you to promise me that you won't publish anything about me or my family." Robin looked very solemn.
Jenny thought about this for a few moments, debate raging in her head. She grasped at her purse, which contained her notebook and camera and was, remarkably, still in her possession even after all that just happened. It was so tempting to just promise him falsely and go write the story. But she wasn't that sort of person. If she didn't want to lie, maybe it would be better to tell him no, she didn't want to agree to that — a thing that would probably cause him to run off, and she didn't want that either. In the end, her curiosity got the better of her. When she looked at this man, for some reason she didn't care about the big story, or the possible career advancement it could bring — all she cared about was getting to know him. "Okay. I agree."
"Scout's honor?" Robin asked, a little grin on his face, as he held up the index, middle, and ring fingers on his right hand. Jenny laughed.
"Yes, scout's honor," she said, repeating his gesture. He then held out his hand, and she shook it. Momentarily she reveled in the feeling his hand in hers made, the rightness she felt.
"So what is your question?" he asked. He walked over to the roof access door and leaned against it. She followed behind him, but remained standing on her own a couple of feet away from the door.
"Well," she blushed, "I couldn't help but notice that you weren't flying back there. You're the son of Superman himself, so you would think you could. Is it because you're trying to be Robin, somebody who historically is as normal as everybody else?"
"No, it's not that. I can't," he said matter-of-factly.
She looked surprised again. She blinked just once. "What?"
"I can't fly. I didn't inherit that particular power. I don't need to give you a genetics lecture, do I?" His eyes twinkled a little behind the mask. The gentle bit of teasing didn't escape Jenny, even in her surprised state. It seemed almost out of place. Superman wasn't exactly a jokester — most would admit that he's one of the most straight-up, humorless, and dry guys she could think of. It must come form his mother, she thought.
"But your brother can…" She trailed off. She looked at him with one eyebrow arched, her gaze inquisitive.
"Yeah, but there are things that I can do and he can't." CJ shrugged. The image of the weld marks in her building came into Jenny's mind — Robin had made them and not the Crimson Superman. Maybe that was one of the powers he didn't get. "We give each other a hard time about it — all in fun, you know."
"I never thought of Superheroes as the types to give anybody a hard time about anything." Jenny crossed her arms in front of her chest, a gesture that made her look somewhat intimidating.
Robin's expression flashed briefly as he realized that he might be giving too much away. He wondered why he was still here, talking to this woman, when every sensible bone in his body told him to clam up and get away. What would Dad say if he knew that his son was dropping clues to a reporter — from a rival newspaper, no less — about the true nature of the world's most powerful men? CJ wondered how Dad had managed to handle Mom before she knew his secret — did he try and drop little clues? Did he secretly wish that she knew everything? CJ glanced at Jenny and decided that it didn't matter. He wanted her to know — it just felt right.
"You'd be surprised." CJ smiled brilliantly as pictures of his family flashed in his mind. "People can transform themselves so easily, create another personality entirely to keep people from finding out who they really are."
Jenny was shocked. "Are you saying…?"
"I'm not saying anything." CJ shook his head. "In fact, I've probably said too much already."
Jenny regarded him closely. She studied his still-smiling face. "And you, now. Is this personality just a facade? Are you trying to make me believe you're someone you're not?" She didn't know what to think — she had seen so many sides of this man — anger, fear, bravery, and now humor. Which was really him? The laugh lines she saw earlier along with the ease that he teased her and talked with her made her believe that what she saw now might just be the real man.
Robin just seemed amused. "Would I be wearing a mask if I didn't want you to believe that I'm someone else?" This caused a frown to form on Jenny's face. Instinctively, CJ reached out and cradled her face in his left hand. "I can assure you, though, that personality wise, this is pretty much me. I'm a fun guy, usually. AND I'm not generally as moody as you've seen me today." He removed his hand and stood up straight, breaking his contact with the door. "But that's all I'm going to say now. A guy has to has some secrets after all, doesn't he?" He smiled mischievously and walked to the edge of the building.
Jenny was touched and fascinated. She watched him walk over to the edge of the building, wondering where he was going now. What about later? Did he stay with his 'boss'? Would she ever be able to see him again? She sighed and mumbled to herself, "I wish…"
He turned around and looked at her. He was on the other side of the building by now, but he had obviously heard her. "You wish what?" he shouted so she could hear him.
She was surprised until she realized that he probably had super hearing. It made sense. "I wish I could see you again." Her voice was conversational — she knew he could hear it.
He smiled ironically. "Maybe you will and you won't even know it." With that, he leapt into the air and landed on the next building. His movements were so athletic, so fluid, Jenny saw for the first time. She followed him with her eyes as he jumped buildings until he was out of her sight. She sighed, entered her building and went to her apartment.
CJ came to a stop on the roof of the building they had been checking out before being interrupted. His feet no sooner touched the roof when his brother touched down beside him. "Hey, bro! How was the police station?"
Jon thought his brother sounded entirely too cheery considering what had just happened to his love. That broad grin on CJ's face seemed to say that his mind wasn't on business right now. That might be a problem. Jon cocked an eyebrow and looked at him closely before continuing slowly. "They were very surprised to see me, but once they got over it, it was pretty routine. I guess they aren't used to superheroes dropping off prisoners."
"Nah. Batman usually gift wraps them on site and leaves them for someone else to find. Says it gives them time to think." CJ said this in a tone that was very casual and nonchalant, as if he were saying 'warmer for this time of year' or 'how about those Cubbies?' His posture was relaxed, and his eyes were far away. It was rather unnerving for Jon. Rather than waste more time with chit-chat that wouldn't get them anywhere, he decided a change of course was in order. He had been meaning to wrap things up and catch his train back to Metropolis after getting some more work done, but it was becoming evident that CJ's mind was elsewhere.
"I have an idea," Jon said, changing subjects. "I need to catch my train in a little while — what if I get you back to the mansion for a little midday rest, maybe some lunch." This seemed to register with CJ, since he was nodding slowly. He wasn't looking at his brother, but instead off into the distance, toward the Gotham State Campus. Jon continued, "I'll do a quick check off all the buildings left on the list and let you know which ones will need work so that you can take care of them more easily when I'm gone."
"Yeah, OK. Let's go then." CJ said, and they took off immediately. The flight was extremely short — Jon could fly as quickly as he wanted to with his brother in tow, because he knew that he wouldn't get vaporized like a normal person might. He quickly deposited CJ in the cave and was most of the way out again when he heard his brother cry out for him.
"Wait a second!" CJ yelled. Something inside of him must have snapped back into place. Jon hovered in midair rather than fly back — they could hear each other just fine at this distance as it was.
"You don't have to yell," Jon said at normal volume. It took CJ's super hearing to pick it up.
"I didn't know if you were going to hear me or not what with you zooming out of here and all…" CJ said hurriedly.
Jon chuckled and waved his hand, signaling his brother to stop. "You're babbling."
This caused CJ to blush a little. He chucked in a self-conscious manner before speaking. "Okay, so maybe I am."
"What do you need?"
"Well, I uh…" CJ played with his hands and fidgeted. "I guess I wanted to know how long you were up there watching me after dropping that guy off at the police station." The words 'that guy' were said with venom that Jon had never heard in his brother's voice before. Jon studied CJ some more before answering, trying to get an idea of his state of mind. The edge in his voice didn't seem to jive with the embarrassed fidgeting and his inquisitive expression.
"I didn't see anything — as soon as I got back from the police station I landed on that roof next to you," Jon lied. He didn't lie very often — it wasn't something he was raised to believe in. OK, so maybe the whole secret identity thing was a lie in and of itself, but that was different. In matters such as these he always told the truth. Until now. In reality he had arrived in time to hear the tail end of CJ's conversation with Jenny. What he had heard had scared him more than he was willing to admit. CJ was practically giving her the family secret on a silver platter — the way he talked, the way he was completely himself, the way he more or less said that they all had another identity. Jon supposed that he trusted Jenny to a certain extent, but this was big, and she was a journalist. She was good, too. Probably not as good as he was himself, but good nonetheless.
Sometimes you couldn't tell what kind of a person someone was until they latched onto something that had the potential to destroy multiple people's lives, something like the secret that Jon was certain she would figure out on her own. Some people take things like that and use it as a sort of hand grenade — they remove the pin and lob it, then it blows apart, sending unrecognizable fragments of whatever it was near flying off into his space. Jon shuddered at the thought — his life could be those unrecognizable fragments. Then again, so could CJ's. He sincerely hoped that Jenny was not one of these types of people — he didn't know for sure, though. Family history had shown that you couldn't necessarily count on a person to react to something the way you wanted them to. With any luck, she would be very open with her mind, but closed with her mouth as far as the secret went.
Even though Jon had tried to sound convincing, he was certain that his voice gave away his deception. It didn't though — CJ just nodded, seemingly satisfied. Jon decided to leave before any more questions came up. He took off for the city, hopefully for the last time.
Jenny Sears went straight for her bed after entering her apartment and laid down without bothering to take off any of her clothes or her shoes. The confrontation that afternoon had left her exhausted, both mentally and physically. She had set out that day in search of truth, and had ended up getting so much more than she ever thought she would. Robin had told her so many things without hardly saying anything at all. Every word that came from his mouth echoed around her head in a jumble. The anger ("I didn't come here for the third degree!"), the compassion ("Are you OK?"), the humor ("I don't need to give you a genetics lecture, do I?") all mushed together. She laid her arm on her forehead and closed her eyes, trying to sort it all out. Instead of the words clicking together like pieces of a puzzle, they faded away as his form drifted into her vision. His athletic build, his handsome features, every last bit of him absolutely gorgeous. The thought was enough to turn her mind dirty, but Jenny didn't protest. Her mental arms reached out toward him and removed first his cape, then his gloves, boots and socks. She thought about how perfect his feet looked — ten perfectly formed toes, and no blisters or corns or other abnormalities like you see on most people's feet. Next the utility belt went. Her mind was momentarily surprised at how heavy it was, until she thought about what all he must keep in there. No matter, a super being such as himself probably didn't even notice the weight at all.
Her mental Robin now stood in front of her, wearing only the form-fitting spandex of his outfit and his mask. She could stare at the outfit forever — it didn't leave much to the imagination. She decided to forego that in favor of seeing all of his handsome face — something that, at the moment, WAS partially left to the imagination. The mask had to go. She reached out with her imaginary hands and gripped the mask. It didn't go easily, but it did finally give. She drew it slowly away from his face, wanting to savor the moment for all it was worth, even if it was all in her head. Just as she was able to make out his features, Robin morphed into Clark Kent, Jr.
*What the…?* she thought, furrowing her brow. Her mind's eye looked at her imaginary hands and saw the mask sitting there. She held it up and tried to put it back on the man in front of her, although technically it wasn't the same man. Just as the mask began to obscure his features, he morphed back into Robin. Surprised, she dropped the mask, and he once again turned back into Clark. The effect was amazing, she thought as she watched him morph more closely. The two men were the same height exactly, had the same color hair and the same hairstyle. The only difference seemed to be the wardrobe. It was almost as if they were the same person…
Jenny opened her eyes and sat bolt upright in bed. Her mind jumped back into analytical mode. Suddenly she could hear everything Robin said very clearly, and more importantly, it all made sense. Of course Superman was somebody else, and of course, so were his sons. They didn't fly off somewhere far away when they were done doing their superhero thing and live off by themselves. They owned clothing that didn't have a super symbol on it. And she knew who they were.
"You'd be surprised," he'd said. That was the understatement of the year. Surprise was just the beginning of it. She felt somewhat ill, too, like someone had just punched her in the stomach. The room felt like it was spinning, almost as fast as the thoughts in her head. Shock mixed with surprise and betrayal and, if it was possible, longing. The thought that Clark Kent, Jr. might somehow be related to Superman made her want him more than she thought possible. Why? It's not like his relations had anything to do with his personality. Maybe it was just the thought that those particular men were unattainable to most people, or that there was some celebrity status involved. Or maybe it was because she felt a strange connection to both of them.
She made herself stop for a moment. She really didn't know anything about who Robin was. She was halfway asleep when she made her 'discovery' — it wasn't exactly what she would consider to be concrete evidence. Jenny scrambled out of bed and went into her living room, stopping in front of the telephone and the bulletin board that hung above it. There, near the bottom, was the business card that Clark had given her that night they met. His phone number was scratched upon it, begging her to please dial it, talk to him, and confirm her suspicions.
What would she say to him? She had been in possession of this card for a couple of days and hadn't bothered to call him. It wasn't deliberate, she'd just gotten distracted. Her quest for a story had gotten in the way of her quest for companionship. She could easily think of something to tell him if he asked why she hadn't called earlier. Did she want to suggest they go out? That was a definite yes. It would give her an opportunity to observe him, ask him questions, and maybe see what he was really like. And to see if he liked her.
She reached out for the phone, took a deep breath, and dialed the number on the card.
CJ made his way around the kitchen of Wayne manor on autopilot. His body did the work while his mind resided somewhere far away. It had been this way ever since he left her standing on that roof. It felt so good to talk to her, to open up to her, all he wanted was to do it some more. Was it wrong? He didn't know. He did wish that he had been able to open up with her as himself, not that he had exactly had the chance. He felt it could be a BIG problem if he led her on while in his superhero disguise, but today he couldn't help himself.
He finished making his sandwich, added some potato chips to his plate, grabbed a pop and went down to his own personal suite of rooms. He was glad that Jon had given him a little time to rest and cool off — his brother could be a pretty smart guy sometimes. CJ placed his lunch on the desk in his room and went over to his stereo to put in a CD — something loud, something that would change his mood back. It was nice to be able to swoon over a woman, but he really, REALLY wanted to get back to himself, to his old mindset. Metallica — yes, that might do the trick. He put in the CD and cranked it up. He could feel the chair vibrating to the bass line as he sat down to eat his lunch.
The music eased his thoughts, shaped his attitude. He let his mind wander and tried not to think about much of anything except how good his sandwich was (those premium deli meats that Wayne could afford were much better than anything they ever bought at home), how awesome the music was, and how nice and cool the air conditioning was in his room. It felt so good to be out of the suit, if only momentarily — it was the house policy that whenever you stepped foot in the mansion itself during daylight hours, it had to be in street clothes due to the housekeepers that Bruce employed. CJ didn't mind at all -it was a good excuse to put on shorts and a t-shirt. He mused that just being out of the suit by itself would probably do the most for his attitude.
Just as CJ got really comfortable, the phone began to ring. He wondered who it could be — probably Bruce. Possibly Dad. In either case, he would have to turn the music down in order to hear anything at all. The phone rang another three times before he managed to pick it up. He figured even the five minutes of mindless bliss he had just experienced should have been enough to reenergize him, at least enough that he would have regained some of his concentration.
There was silence on the other end of the line.
"Hello?" he asked again. Jenny was completely panicked. The voice! It was HIS voice! There was no way it wasn't — she had heard it less than an hour ago. She was honestly hoping that she would get an answering machine, but here he was. And she still had yet to speak.
"Uh, hi Clark. It's Jenny Sears. You remember — from the bar the other night."
She thought she heard a choking sound on the other end of the line, followed by coughing. She could also faintly hear Metallica playing in the background. Interesting. Finally, he spoke again, his voice light and cheery.
"Oh, hi! I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to call. Lucky for you I'm a patient guy."
*Uh-huh,* she thought. She managed to get off a cheery giggle, a practiced sound that she only used on dates that she wanted to believe that she was having a good time when she really wasn't. "Well, I got a little busy with work and you just slipped my mind," she said, trying to match his light tone.
CJ made an exaggerated gasp. "I slipped your mind? I thought that whenever women saw me, I got burned into their minds, that my adorable and fun-loving self infected their brains like a bad disease."
This time when Jenny chuckled, it was real. It was coming back to her now, how Clark had kidded around (mostly with his brother) during their night in campustown. It was one of the things that she had found attractive about him. "You flatter yourself, Kent. Although that WOULD explain those headaches I've been having lately."
"Well, you better do something or they just might get worse." She could hear him wearing a smile. In her mind she envisioned his eyes sparkling, too.
"I suppose you have an idea about that." Jenny kept her tone teasing. She certainly had an idea about what to do. She had no idea for sure that he felt the same way, though. Maybe he would ask her on a date first.
"Yes, as a matter of fact I do."
Jenny beamed. He WAS interested in her. She figured that she knew that all along — if he weren't interested in her, why would he give her his phone number, after all?
"Take some Tylenol," he finished, mischief in his voice.
If he were in front of her, she would've slapped him. She didn't care if he WAS another man of steel — he deserved it.
"Two out of three doctors recommend it, although the stuff never works for me," he continued.
"You're going to wish it did if I ever get my hands on you," Jenny shot back in mock anger.
"Okay, I'll stop. I get carried away sometimes. The rest of my family can be worse than me, believe me."
"I'm friends with Jon, you know. And his friends know what a stitch he can be."
"Yeah, I believe it. So, hey, you want to go out and do something sometime?"
Jenny felt her spirits soar yet again. "Yeah, I think that would be great."
"You better choose the time and place or else you'll probably end up at Wrestlemania when it comes to town. It's fun for the whole family."
Jenny rolled her eyes. "The whole Redneck family, I'm sure."
"Perhaps I underestimated you. Maybe I should redouble my teasing effort. It's never too late! You know, I could do that while you, me, and the coonhounds are watching a tractor pull sometime. I think I have some country music around here somewhere."
"STOP, please, for the love of God!" Jenny had to catch her breath, she was laughing so hard. He was laughing by now, too. It took a while, but finally they were able to resume speaking.
"I was just thinking dinner for now. We'll save Wrestlemania for later," Jenny chipped in. Dinner would give her a good chance to talk with him uninterrupted — they could sit across from each other, observe each other, it would be nice. Then the plan was that they could go back to her place and chat.
CJ sounded disappointed. "Oh. Well, I SUPPOSE, if that's what you want. Dinner, then. When?"
"Oh, I don't know. How about tonight?"
"Tonight." There was silence on the other end for a moment. "Uh, well, I was going to be doing a little bit of work tonight, but I guess I can take a break for supper."
*Working, right. I know what YOU'RE doing,* Jenny thought. Maybe that would be an added bonus, she didn't know. He might just get sloppy in his changing of clothes or something, and then she'd have him. Perfect. "Good, I don't want to go anywhere where you need to dress up. Not that I'm not expecting you to not look good and not that I won't look good, too." She paused for a second, mentally trying to figure out if what she just said made sense. After deciding that it did, she continued. "Let's just so someplace nice. Not NICE nice, but nice. Not McDonalds."
"You ramble like that and you remind me of my mother."
"Lord, that's not a good thing." His mother was Lois Lane, Jenny remembered. She didn't seem like the babbling type, but then again, Jenny had never met her, she'd just read some of her articles. She had been one of Jenny's role models in journalism.
"All boys LOVE their mothers," CJ said, in a completely serious tone of voice. Jenny figured that if she could see his face, she would be able to see the gleam in his eyes that gave away his joke. She shook her head.
"I won't go there. So what time are you going to pick me up?"
"How about 7:30?"
Jenny did the math in her head. What could she get done by then? How much planning could she do in those hours? Plenty. "All right, that's fine. I'll give you my address."
The phone conversation was over after Jenny filled him in on how to get to her place. She couldn't wait until tonight -she would soon script all the questions that she was going to ask.
She stopped herself again. *Why are you going out with this man? One minute you act like you're interested in him physically, another minute you act as if he's just another interview subject. I mean, scripted questions on a date? Who does that?* She had to admit he was certainly handsome, whatever clothes he happened to be wearing. If he were anything like his brother (or, she reminded herself, the man who she had THOUGHT was his brother), then he would probably be very chivalrous and kind. Hadn't he shown himself to be that way already? She didn't know. What she did know was that she was interested in him, and whatever relationship he might offer to her. But she also knew that, really, she didn't know anything about him at all. And that's what dates were all about, anyway — getting to know the other person better. She imagined that most people probably DID have certain questions that they always asked on dates, questions that, in a way, were a script. They would try to see if the other person shared the same interests, if they would make a suitable companion, if they had any personality quirks, and so on. That's all she wanted to do. Granted, he had one very large personality quirk, but another reason that people go on dates is to see if they could work around those idiosyncrasies.
She didn't feel so bad about her little script now, although she decided that it would need to be committed to memory. She sighed and got out her notebook. She began to write down all the topics she wanted to cover and how subtle she wanted to be about them. It was certainly going to be a long wait until tonight.
CJ pulled his motorcycle into the underground parking ramp of the Wayne Tower. It was 7 PM on a Friday night, so there were still a few cars parked there, owned by the workaholics at the company who didn't really have anything better to do than stay at work. Gotham, like many large cities, had a central business area that only really had people in it during normal business hours. After quitting time, most people hopped in their cars and headed for the suburbs, or at the very least, the outer limits of the city. Patrolling this area of town in the evening had taught CJ that, for the most part, the only ones around at this time of night, aside from the overly diligent employees, were the homeless and criminals. Thankfully, he saw neither tonight as he guided his bike down the deepest recesses of the ramp. Bruce built the building many years ago, early in his crime fighting career. Even then, he'd had the foresight to add a secret place to stash or swap equipment, if necessary. This particular hiding place came equipped with a backup automobile and other supplies that might be needed to either restock the superhero or to cover an identity switch back to Bruce Wayne (or vice versa). CJ had been shown all the little hiding places around the city early in his stay in Gotham, and now that knowledge was really paying off.
He still couldn't believe that he was going to do what he was about to do. He should be out fixing buildings, lives depended on it! But he rationalized his time off by telling himself that these buildings had been that way for many years, and that the ones in Metropolis had collapsed under a great deal of wind. It was absolutely calm out tonight — no wind to knock anything over. Jon had given him the list of bad buildings about ten minutes after CJ had hung up the phone after talking to Jenny. Frankly, all the Metallica in the world wouldn't have changed his mood at that point, so CJ threw himself into work from then on, trying to get his mind off of her and their upcoming date.
The hiding place was concealed behind a wall, away from any of the lines of traffic. He slipped in easily and propped the bike in the corner, taking his bag off the bike as he did so. This particular room contained a dressing area, complete with a sink and mirror, one of the reasons that he had decided to come here. Plus there was the nondescript Dodge sedan that sat in the middle in the room with the keys in the ignition. Perfect. He couldn't exactly pick Jenny up on the Batcycle, THAT much was for sure.
CJ toted his bag over to the changing area, removing his gloves and tugging off his cape on the way. He sat on the bench and removed his boots next, followed by his mask. He always felt more himself right away after that mask came off. He supposed it could be psychological — the mask was the one thing more than any other part of his uniform that hid who he really was. He pulled his outfit out of the bag before taking off the form-fitting spandex top and pants. The outfit he had chosen for tonight was what he would label "college casual." It was exactly the type of thing that the frat boys wore when they went out on the club scene. He had been out on that scene plenty of times in his two years at Metropolis U. (although he could never talk Jon into going with him), but that wasn't what he had planned for tonight. No, he had the place he wanted to go in mind — it was an Italian restaurant in a nicer neighborhood in North Gotham. He had been there before — he had a quest while in this strange town to find the most authentic ethnic restaurants. He would know what authentic Italian was like, too, since his dad had gotten it for them several times straight from Rome. Nothing beat that, in his mind, although this restaurant did come close.
CJ reached behind himself and undid the zipper for his top. He slid it off, revealing a very well-defined chest which, like so much of himself, varied from what most of his relatives possessed. CJ's chest had a little hair on it (but not much), as opposed to the smooth hairless chest of his father and brother. His skin was also a shade or two lighter, a trait that he was sure was linked to whatever made his hair much lighter than everybody else's, too. He regarded himself in the mirror for a second, running his hand over his chin. He could probably due for a little freshening up, he figured. Good thing he brought a washcloth and some aftershave. As he wetted down the washcloth, he thought back on his evening activities. They were mostly routine — weld some steel, move, weld some more steel, and so on. It got really old after awhile, though he did have to admit the scenery was interesting. Tonight's job had been an affluent hi-rise condo near the large city park in Gotham. He kept himself to the service areas of the building, although he would also look around, using some of his special abilities. He would see men walking down the hallway in their tennis clothes and women in bathing suits, all heading for the fitness area on the top floor. He thought, for the millionth time since he had entered the care of Bruce Wayne, how very nice it must be to be filthy rich. Would that he could ever have that much money to his name.
After cleaning himself up a little, CJ shot a beam of his heat vision onto his face, burning off the stubble. He applied some aftershave and felt entirely refreshed. He stripped off his tight spandex pants next (they were too tight for what he preferred, but at least he wasn't wearing his underwear on the outside of them). Finally, he took a comb out of the pocket of his Kakis and ran it through his very short hair, more as a gesture that anything else. Hair that short rarely needed any messing with, which was part of the reason he kept it in that style. Because Jenny had just seen him a few hours earlier, and because he kept his hair the same as Robin, CJ also brought along a well-loved baseball cap to wear.
CJ regarded himself in the mirror one last time. He was satisfied with his appearance — he looked different enough from his alter ego to fool most anybody, he felt. That being said, he climbed in the car and made for Jenny's apartment building.
Jenny had started getting ready a full hour before CJ was due to pick her up, a sure sign that she was nervous. She had tried on five outfits before settling on a nice pair of slacks and a blouse. Her hair was meticulous, as was her make-up. Even though she was the person who would be doing the interviewing (even if he didn't know it), she felt somehow compelled to impress him. She sat on the couch watching TV, although she wasn't paying attention to what was on the screen. All she could think of was their upcoming date, her script, and her suitor's devastating smile. Try as she might, she just couldn't suppress her hormones.
She heard a knock on her door and checked her watch — 7:28, two minutes early. He was nothing if not punctual, she thought. She turned off the TV, got off the couch, took a deep breath, and opened the door. There he stood, looking every bit the college boy, complete with a baseball cap. Clever, she thought — that cap would conceal his hair, a part of him that wasn't concealed at all as Robin. He smiled broadly, although she could see that smile falter as soon as his eyes caught sight of her.
"Hi," he said, giving a nervous smile after speaking.
"Hello," she said in return, giving her most devastating smile. She could see him struggling to keep control of himself, and took a large amount of satisfaction from that. He did manage to get himself together, and he offered his arm to her.
""Uh, just let me go get my purse. Come on in — it should only take a sec." She waved him in and he entered, his hands now thrust into his pockets. She made her way back to her bedroom and snatched the purse off her bed.
"This is a nice place you have here," he remarked, looking around with interest.
She made a dismissive gesture with her right hand. "I'm subleasing it for the summer from some Gotham State students. They even left their furniture. The price was right." She came to a stop in front of him. He was as tall as she remembered from earlier today — a couple of inches taller than she was, but not as tall as his brother. As close as she was, she could smell him now, too. He smelled good — the same as she remembered from when he held her in his arms, but stronger and somehow fresher. "Okay, we can go now."
"Good," he smiled. He opened her apartment door for her and let her go through before he did. As they walked down the hall, she took a hold of the arm he offered her. What a chivalrous guy, she thought. It was such a contrast from the man she saw earlier — the one who was about to run away when she was at her most vulnerable. Maybe he was scared, she speculated. Scared of what he felt for her, perhaps, or maybe scared that he would give too much away. He should've been scared — he DID give too much away. And now she had him and he didn't even know it. She smiled.
They walked in silence until they reached the elevator. As he pushed the down button, she decided it was time to make conversation. "So where are you staying here in Gotham?" she asked. It was one of those questions on the script that was designed to get some information out of him. If he knew she was baiting him for information, he showed no sign of it.
"I'm staying with a friend of the family. They had some extra rooms and were more than happy to take me in."
She looked at his face closely. A family friend, huh? Batman, most likely. She could see Batman being friends with Superman. CJ's face didn't give anything away, although the lighting at this location caused the brim of his cap to cast a shadow over his eyes, making it almost look like he was wearing his dark Robin mask. The effect was pretty dazzling, and Jenny was unaware of the dreamy look that came over her face.
CJ caught her looking at him intently and almost panicked. That look on her face — she knew! He stopped the panic from rising by reminding himself that she couldn't — there was no way! Mom knew Dad for two YEARS (not days, as in this case) and worked with him on a daily basis and got rescued by him constantly and she still didn't figure out that he was Superman. So how could Jenny know? Relax! As a matter of habit, he reached up and tipped his hat quickly up and then down again. That action seemed to break whatever spell Jenny was under.
The elevator doors opened and the two stepped in, the silence between them a little uncomfortable now. They made idle chit-chat about the weather and news on the way to the car, being careful to stay away from personal questions for the time being. He opened the door of the car for her, again showing his chivalry. It was so hard to find a man that treated a woman this way anymore, she mused. As he climbed into the driver's seat, she asked, "Is this your car?" It looked very impersonal. Most people her age had cars that were highly personalized — their high school class tassels hung from the rearview mirrors, a sticker in the back window usually announced what college they went to and what sorority or fraternity they belonged to. There was usually a fair amount of other things lying around their cars, too — ice scrapers, bicycle pumps, discarded pop bottles. This car had none of that — no garbage lying on the floor, no stickers, nothing. It was meticulously clean. She just didn't see him as the type to have a car like that.
He shook his head. "I'm borrowing it for the night from the guy I'm staying with." CJ didn't mention that he probably could've borrowed the Porsche or the Mercedes if he had asked. "I left mine in Metropolis."
"I'm just curious — what kind of car do you usually drive?"
"A ten year old Ford Taurus with 100,000 miles on it. Standard college car, I'm afraid. It was Jon's in high school, then I got it when he went to college, and later my little sister will get it when I graduate, if it holds out that long." He turned on the car and pulled away from the curb. He glanced over at Jenny, and she looked a little amused. "What?" he asked.
"Huh, oh nothing," she glanced at him and chuckled. "I thought you'd be a pick-up truck or sports car type of guy. I just couldn't picture you, Mr. Football, driving a family sedan."
CJ smiled. "Actually, I'm the take-whatever-car-Dad-will-buy-for-you type of guy. As long as I'm just paying for gas, I don't care what car I drive. How about you? Do you drive a Toyota or a Honda?"
Jenny looked shocked. "What makes you think I drive a foreign car?"
"You do, don't you?"
CJ pointed to his temple and nodded. "I'm good."
"Uh-huh." Jenny just smiled. So the Kent family was frugal. Who would've thought? She thought that maybe since his father was Superman, he probably had all sorts of royalty money rolling in. With that, they could live like kings, yet the kids get stuck with an old Taurus. She wondered again what his family life was really like. Maybe if she were lucky she could find out.
The thought that the elder Clark Kent was Superman briefly caused her head to spin. She hadn't really dwelled on that fact during this whole ordeal — she was far more interested in Jon and CJ. Clark Kent, Sr. was one of the most highly regarded journalists in Metropolis, next to his wife, of course. She had heard him give a talk once at a journalistic convention in Metropolis (they had to attend seminars at the convention as part of one of her classes) and he was a funny guy. His speech had been very intelligent and entertaining, one of the only ones she had enjoyed at the convention. He was very open with people, and, she remembered, he was very handsome. He was so unlike Superman, it was very hard to believe the two were the same man.
*You'd be surprised.* That's what CJ had said. Again she knew how true that was. She looked at him, now fiddling with the radio, and thought how his personality seemed so much like what she had seen of his father. She didn't know him that well yet — then again, she really didn't know his dad, either. Maybe she would get the chance someday.
"So where are we going?" she finally asked. Popular music was softly coming out of the speakers now, the volume low enough that you didn't really need to talk loudly to be heard above it.
"That's for me to know and for you to find out," he said teasingly.
"Oh, come on."
"No, I want to surprise you."
*You already have quite a few times,* she thought wryly. Fine, if he didn't want to tell her, than she wouldn't pry. She would just have to get it out of him some other way. "I must warn you, I'm a picky eater." In reality, all she was really picky about when it came to food was how much it cost, but he didn't need to know that.
He was having none of her games, though. "It has a varied menu — you have all sorts of choices."
She pouted and decided to switch back to the direct approach. "Can't you just tell me? I hate not knowing!" That was the truth. It was one of the reasons why she had chosen journalism — the chance to dig for the truth.
"I would but…" he started, only to get interrupted.
"Yeah, I know, a guy has to have some secrets after all, doesn't he?"
Jenny's eyes got really wide as she realized what she had just done. At the same time CJ stomped on the brakes, causing the tires to squeal loudly. There were a few other vehicles around, and their occupants looked at CJ and Jenny like they were crazy. CJ eventually guided the car to a stop next to the curb and turned off the ignition. He turned his head to look at her, and strangely she saw a look of resigned relief on his face.
"Apparently not as many as he thought he did," he said quietly, seriously.
Jenny thought about lying, about trying to cover up what she'd just said or hiding the implications by saying that it was something she'd heard said earlier that day. But she knew it wouldn't do any good. It would only prolong the charade, and besides, he looked relieved, like he was happy she knew. She didn't want to take that away from him.
"Apparently not," she said. They silently looked into each other's eyes for a few moments, each soaking up things about the other person that they had never seen before. Jenny could now see the complete man and his experiences, the longing he had to share his whole self with someone outside of his family. All of a sudden she felt grateful to him for letting her be the one.
Peripherally, she noticed that his face seemed to be moving closer hers. She could feel his breath on her neck, and desire, all at once, began to show in his eyes. Suddenly their lips met, and they were engaged in the most spectacular kiss of either of their young lives. Sure, Jenny had kissed guys before, but their kisses seemed more mechanical and shallow somehow. This kiss, wow. She felt like there should be fireworks going off. He began to pull away, but she wrapped her arms around him and drew him back in again. Time seemed to stand still; the whole rest of the world seemed to dissolve until there was only him. The interview? Who cared! The script? It didn't matter. He was all that mattered right now.
They separated eventually, each in a swoon. CJ turned in his seat so that he was facing forward and leaned back, laying his head on the headrest, a contented look on his face. He sighed. She stayed seated just as she was, still facing in his direction. She just looked at him while he gathered himself. After studying the ceiling of the car for a while, he spoke.
"So you know about my…job and my family?" he asked, still looking at the ceiling.
"A girl has to have some secrets, too," she said. He looked at her, puzzled, and caught the smile on her face. She was playing with him! He knew he liked her for a reason. He decided to play along a little.
"Come on!" he pleaded.
"Where are we going for supper?" she asked him calmly, with both of her eyebrows raised and a smile on her face.
He chuckled and waved an index finger at her. "I see how you are." Her expression didn't change, so he caved. "Antonio's Italian Restaurant on the North Side. Capiche?"
"Thank you," she said smugly and turned in her seat to face forward.
"Well?" He looked at her, incredulous.
She turned her head to look at him, her face all innocence. "It's a long drive up there, plus we have the whole night to talk. So what are you waiting for?"
His expression didn't change. He still gaped at her, waiting for her to keep up her end of the deal. She bent over and kissed him lightly on the cheek. "I'll explain on the way."
He narrowed his eyes at her. "This is a date, right? Not an interview or a story or anything like that?"
She rolled her eyes at him in exasperation. To prove her point, she pulled him close and kissed him again full on the lips. The effect was just as stunning as the first time. "That answer your question?" she asked after she caught her breath.
He looked at her with doubt written across his face but a twinkle in his eye. "I don't know — women have been seducing men for millennia to get what they want."
She cupped his soft chin in her hand. "All I want is you. Besides, your brother can vouch for me. AND you know where I live. I'd have to be incredibly dumb to get you or any of your family mad at me now."
He smiled at that. "You got that right, sister." With that, he started up the car and took off again. As they drove to the restaurant, she began to relate her tale of how she found out, leaving out the part about how she was undressing him in her mind. He didn't need to know that. "Plus, it helped that I saw Jon in town from Metropolis at the same time as the Crimson Superman. It just made it all that much more concrete."
"I must say, I'm impressed. I won't even tell you how long it took Mom to find out about Dad."
She looked at him, surprised. "Really? It took a while?"
"Oh yeah. Just don't ask HER about it — she'd be liable to blow a fuse."
Jenny laughed at that. Lois Lane was a smart woman; it no doubt wounded her pride to have had Superman under her nose for however long it was and not even known about it. Jenny really didn't know how she could've been so blind — it would've been hard for Jenny to NOT make the connection between CJ and Robin.
"Seriously," Jenny said, "the way you were dropping hints this afternoon, it was like you wanted me to find out. Why?"
CJ drove along, lost in quiet contemplation. Jenny was beginning to think that he wasn't going to tell her when he finally did speak, his soft voice completely serious. "Truth be told, I'm not sure, either. Do you remember the night we met at the bar?" She nodded. "Well, I don't know about you, but I felt an incredible connection with you that night." CJ frowned. "I know I didn't show it well — I guess I was afraid of what I was feeling and where it would go. I've had girlfriends before, plenty of them in fact. But in all my time with those girls, I never felt anything as strong as I felt the moment I saw you." He glanced over at Jenny and saw her blushing meekly. He continued with his thoughts while the mood was still serious. "Then, of course, you saw me at work, and I felt the same thing. That zap of electricity, you know?" Jenny nodded. She knew exactly what he was talking about. "I guess that deep down, I wanted to be with you, and I wanted it to be an honest relationship, not built on half-truths. If it was going to work, you had to know the whole truth, and you had to be in the relationship ME, all of me, and not just part of me. I admit, I was conflicted as to what I should do exactly, but in the end I think I decided to leave it to you. I know now that I did the right thing."
He looked at her and gave her his most devastating smile, and Jenny knew, at that very second, that he was the "one", her mythical knight in shining armor (or black spandex, in his case), without a shadow of a doubt. Her heart filled with love as she looked at him. She thought that she saw the feeling returned in his eyes, but he had to bring his attention back to the road. They were almost to the restaurant.
CJ shook his head and smiled, the humor once again returned to his voice. "Wow, that was deep!"
Jenny giggled. "Too deep for your maleness to handle?"
"You said it. The testosterone was threatening to go on strike." He pulled the car into the parking lot. As he found a stall, he spoke again, an edge of seriousness returned to his voice. "Okay, I'm going to fill you in on the Superhero's Union standing rules regarding what should and should not be talked about when not wearing certain articles of clothing in a public place."
She paraphrased, "Oh, you mean the Kent family rules about not talking about Superman stuff in public."
He smiled. "Yeah, that's right. Here's how it works: just don't mention anything Superhero-ish, or at least not in a way that would indicate that you personally know said Superhero. We can talk about that stuff when we leave, okay?"
She nodded. "I'll be completely discreet. There's plenty of time for all that other stuff later."
"Good." He put the car in park and turned off the ignition. "Shall we, then?"
"Yes, let's." Jenny let herself out of the car before CJ got around to assist her. He offered her his arm and this time she took it gladly. They walked into the busy restaurant and were seated immediately at a nice quiet table near the back corner.
Throughout their date they discussed many issues, mostly relating to school or their families, and none of which had been on the script Jenny had originally formulated. Jenny knew that she had brought up the subject last time they were out together, but she was still curious about CJ's football experience.
"So Clark, tell me about football," she said.
"Well, it's a game played on a 100 yard field with a weird shaped ball and eleven guys on each team. It's usually played in the fall…"
"No, no!" she interrupted, laughing. He had this way of joking with everything she said — it was cute in away, yet annoying in another way. "I mean, tell me about YOU and football. Why do you play it? How did you get interested?"
"Well, my dad played when he was in college."
"Really? Wow." Superman played football. Who knew? He probably could've kicked whole teams up and down the field single-handedly if he'd wanted to. The fact that the elder Clark Kent didn't become a professional football player attested to the fact that he only did it for fun.
"Yeah. Anyway, we always watched it on Sundays at home, and I guess I always found it interesting. So I started playing in the back yard with Dad and Jon and it kind of went on from there."
"You look a little smaller than most of the football players I know."
"But I bet I'm twice as tough," he said with a twinkle in his eye.
"Speaking of that, how do you handle… you know?" She looked around to see if anybody was paying attention to their conversation.
Jenny realized she had broken the rule, so she didn't pursue the subject. "I bet the team takes a lot of your time."
He sighed. "Yeah. It does. But it's fun, and I don't mind. I guess the one thing I don't like so much is that it cuts in on my summer break — I'm going to have to leave here at the beginning of August when three-a-day practices start. And I guess I don't like the mandatory weight training. That does ME a lot of good."
She could just see him now, sitting in a gym wearing a Superman t-shirt, lifting a 500-pound barbell with two fingers. She laughed.
"Oh, I just pictured…oh, I'll tell you later." She giggled again. He looked amused.
"I don't know if I want to know," he said as he shook his head.
She remembered what he said about having to leave at the beginning of August. "I suppose it's hard to get an internship when you have to cut your summer short."
"Well," he said as wrinkled his nose in an attempt to amuse her, "it's not like my internship is exactly normal."
"No, not that — the one with Wayne Enterprises."
His eyes got wide for a moment, then he looked thoughtful. "Don't tell me I gave you my phone number on the back of THAT business card." She nodded, puzzled. Why would that be a problem? He sighed. "Jenny, I only have one job here, understand what I'm saying?"
She looked a little annoyed. "I thought I was being careful. Fine, okay, you only have one job, wink wink."
CJ smiled, charmed at her unawareness. "No, really, I only have one job here in Gotham."
"Oh," Jenny said, puzzled again. CJ could see the wheels turning. He looked at her in anticipation as she thought for a moment. "OH!" she finally exclaimed.
Jenny began to wonder how many shocks her system could take in one day. She now knew the identities of everyone who wore spandex after hours in both Metropolis and Gotham City. Bruce Wayne. No, he wouldn't have been the first person she would've fingered to be the bat. What could possibly compel a playboy worth over a billion dollars to go out and fight crime every night?
"Let me get this straight. You're here in Gotham, on an internship, staying with a friend of the family. Bruce Wayne?" she asked, still not believing it was real. He nodded.
"Wow," she whispered. Their food arrived just then. The smell of the pasta was enough to break the spell, and she happily changed subjects to something more mundane, shoving the new revelation to a dark corner of her mind for the time being.
They ate in relative silence, but as they waited for their bill, they resumed their conversation.
"I have to ask you something," CJ said to her. Jenny was a bit surprised — for most of the night she had been doing the asking and he had been doing the answering.
"Okay, sure. What?"
"This afternoon — you said you'd been looking for me and Jon. How did you know where to find us?"
Jenny blushed. "Well, I just did some research and with a little bit of good old fashioned intuition, I found you. Or, more correctly, you found me."
CJ smiled. One of the many things he liked about Jenny was how intelligent she was. "Jon said you were good," CJ commented, causing Jenny to blush some more.
"Who am I to turn down a compliment?" Jenny asked shyly. She wondered briefly why Jon would be talking about her to him, unless maybe they saw her admiring their handiwork last night. "Maybe you can clear up something for me," she said, and then lowered her voice so that she wouldn't be so easily overheard. "I read that whole big report from the building inspector in Metropolis, and I guess I don't know what exactly the reason why having bolted joints on those buildings would be a problem."
CJ knew this was a golden opportunity to impress her with his knowledge. So many of the women he had gone out with before were so shallow. He wondered how a lot of them stayed in college — he didn't think they were capable of having any intelligent thoughts at all. He would talk to them about something of interest to him like science, and they would get turned off. Jenny was different, though. She would appreciate it — she had ASKED him to talk science. He proceeded to give her a mini lecture on the statics of structures and what it meant to have pinned and fixed joints. It was a subject that he had been reading up on in recent days while Jon was off doing Daily Planet stuff.
Jenny was duly impressed. She never knew what a moment was or how structures worked. CJ explained everything in such a way that it was easily understandable. She had a newfound respect for this man. She knew she was looking at him with a renewed sense of awe. "My goodness, you're a brain!" she blurted out when he finished.
CJ laughed heartily at this. "Why, what were you expecting?"
Jenny was still a little awed. "I don't know. I thought football players weren't supposed to be smart."
CJ was still smiling wryly. "I consider myself a college student first."
Jenny looked a little embarrassed. "I didn't mean to insinuate."
CJ stopped her. "No, it's OK. Actually, you'd be surprised how much I get that." He stopped and became introspective. "I guess I've kind of made a habit of playing down how much I know. It's mostly to blend in, you know, because you're right — jocks aren't supposed to be intelligent. And since I usually hang out with the guys on the team when I'm not hanging out with my family, then I have to play the part."
The waitress came by with their change at this time and they got up and walked out of the restaurant. Jenny took his hand, and as soon as they got outside and away from any people, she stopped him. She took her hand and placed it on his cheek, her eyes searching his. "Poor Clark," she said softly and tenderly. "You're hiding yourself all the time. You hide your God given talents to protect yourself and your family, and you hide your personality to fit in. I just want you to know that you don't have to hide anything from me."
The smile quickly faded from CJ's face, to the point that it looked like he was going to break into tears. At a loss for anything else to say, he whispered, "Thank you," and kissed her tenderly. How could she understand him so completely? She was so amazing. He just wanted to take her in his arms and whisk her away somewhere. Instead, he just held her for a minute. He felt more at peace then than he had for a long time.
His peaceful interlude was interrupted by a faraway sound. It was loud enough that even Jenny could hear it. The skyline of Gotham off to the south glowed orange for a brief second before there was another sound, this one louder. They both snapped their heads toward the sound source in time to see the silhouette of one of the skyscrapers crumble.
CJ stood there wide-eyed for a fraction of a second before his brain kicked in. There was a building collapsing! He had to help!
"I have to go! Come on!" he said. Hand in hand, they ran toward the car and climbed in. CJ wasted no time in starting it up and pulling it out of the parking lot. He made his way across town with total disregard to any speed laws on the books. He did stop at red lights and stop signs, though — he wanted to get across town in a hurry, but he didn't want to get in an accident on the way.
"Do you have a cell phone with you?" he asked Jenny. Normally he carried a transmitter with him that would give him contact with the Batcave, but he had left that in the secret compartment at the Wayne Tower along with the rest of his outfit. His only hope was to try and get hold of his dad and his brother — they would be of more help in this situation than Batman.
"Yes. Let me find it here," Jenny said as she rooted through her purse. She never went anywhere without that phone.
"It's okay that I use it, isn't it?" CJ asked, ever the picture of politeness.
"Of course! Especially if you're going to use it for what I think you are." She was still rooting in her purse. "Ah! Here it is." She handed it over to CJ.
Still speeding through the streets of Gotham, CJ dialed his father's phone number by memory. Jenny didn't worry that CJ might be distracted enough to make his driving dangerous — he seemed to have cat-like reflexes. He avoided other cars and pedestrians with ease.
The other end of the line rang twice before it was picked up. Jon answered the phone — he was over there keeping Laura company while his folks went for a night out.
"They're in Metropolis, right? They didn't go to Europe or anything?" CJ asked. If his parents went to Europe, he could pretty much count on not being able to get hold of them at all that night.
"Yeah, they stayed in town. Why?"
CJ filled him in on what happened in downtown Gotham. "I'll also need you to pick me up after you get Dad. I'm at least fifteen minutes away by car right now and I still have to get my things and change."
"Yeah, OK. Where are you now?"
CJ let him know what part of town they were in and what he was driving. "Oh, and I have a guest in the car, so don't be too surprised when you see her."
There was a momentary silence at the other end of the line. "Okaaay. Um, well then I'll see you in a minute." With that they signed off.
As CJ handed Jenny the phone, he regarded Jenny with a look of regret.
"I hope you don't mind me ditching you. I have work to do."
Jenny smiled. "No, I don't mind. You have to help — who am I to tell you that you can't? I think I'm going to go watch anyway- I'm looking forward to seeing you in action."
CJ seemed somewhat sad all of a sudden. "I'm afraid I'm not going to be too visible tonight. I'm going to need to use my special abilities, but the world can't see me doing stuff that only Superman should be able to do. I'm going to be pretty well hidden from the public when I get there."
She shrugged. "I guess it doesn't matter. I just want to be where you are."
CJ glanced over to her, a tender look in his eyes. He didn't need to say anything — she knew what he was feeling. He silently reached out for her hand and took it, giving it a squeeze. They sat together in comfortable silence, driving through the town. CJ used this as an opportunity to tune in his hearing so he could tell exactly what was going on. What he was able to hear from the emergency band was horrifying — an airplane collided with the Gothcorp Building downtown. CJ felt sick to his stomach when he heard the name- it was on the list of buildings with bad joints in Gotham that he needed to fix.
After a minute, his hearing picked up his name being called from above. It was Jon — he was here to pick him up. CJ pulled over the car and turned off the engine. As he pulled the keys out of the ignition and handed them to Jenny, Jon emerged from a nearby alley, wearing normal street clothes.
"Take good care of the car or Bruce will kill me," CJ told Jenny. He made a move to open the door and get out, but Jenny put her hand on his shoulder. Her touch made him stop cold.
"Where are you going? I want to be able to find you."
"The Gothcorp Building. You won't be able to miss it. Just be careful."
"You don't have to worry about me," she said teasingly and gave him a brief kiss on the lips. Jon opened the driver's door to the car as their lips disengaged. He cleared his throat.
"Sorry to interrupt, but we're kind of in a hurry, here," Jon said briskly. He didn't mind seeing his brother kissing a girl, really — he'd seen it plenty of times. But this was his friend, and she knew their secret. Jon didn't really know what to think about that — he hadn't really let his mind dwell on it; he didn't WANT to let his mind dwell on it. He did know that their lip lock was delaying his rescue efforts, though, and that was what was immediately important.
Jenny looked embarrassed as she met Jon's eyes. "Hi, Jon," she said and held up her hand in greeting. This softened him up a little bit and he smiled weakly at her.
"Hi, Jenny. I don't mean to be rude, but we have to go," Jon replied.
"Yeah, I know." She climbed out of the passenger side of the car and watched the two brothers run back to the alley that Jon had emerged from. Just before he disappeared into the shadows, CJ looked back at Jenny and waved. She waved back, but by the time she put her hand in the air, he was gone. A streak of red shot out of the alley and crossed the sky, gone almost before it could be seen. She made her way around to the driver's side of the car, climbed in, started it up, and made her way to downtown Gotham.
"Jenny knows," Jon said. It was a statement rather than a question.
"Yeah, she does." They were standing in the secret spot at the bottom of Wayne Tower. CJ had already stripped off his shoes and his shirt, and he was working on his shorts right now.
"I knew she'd find out after this afternoon," Jon said.
CJ paused as he reached for his suit. He turned to look at Jon. "I thought you didn't see anything."
"I lied." Jon shrugged. He looked toward the floor, somewhat embarrassed.
"Why?" CJ asked, a puzzled expression on his face. When he saw that he wasn't going to get an answer right away, he began to pull on his spandex outfit.
Jon kicked at the ground. He didn't know why he had lied to his brother, truth be told. He didn't know what to say. He had told himself at the time that he was scared of what it would mean, and he was, but something deeper was at work. "Maybe because I thought it was a private matter."
CJ didn't buy it. "Something that might involve the family secret is your business, too. You know that."
"Okay, so maybe I thought you were doing the right thing."
CJ was in the process of zipping up the back of the suit. He stopped again. "What?!"
Jon clasped his hands behind his back and grinned rather sheepishly. "I can tell she means a lot to you."
CJ's mind slipped out of the present and he began to have thoughts of her. "Yeah, she does."
"And you two look good together. Plus she makes you happy. Who am I to try and throw a wrench into that?"
CJ nodded, made a face and reached for his cape. Jon continued. "Besides, if I had told you that I saw you talking to her, you would be expecting some lecture from me about how you shouldn't have said what you did, and I wasn't really prepared to do that."
The utility belt was put on next. "So you're saying you approve," CJ said.
"Yeah, that's what I'm saying. But I am not the one you should be seeking approval from."
CJ sat down and started putting on his boots. "What's done is done. She knows, and I think Dad will be okay with that. I don't know why he wouldn't. He's a romantic at heart, anyway."
Dad was a romantic? Jon supposed he could see that. He had talked to him about girls before, and Dad had always said that he would know when a girl is the right one. That sounded so cheesy, but maybe it was true. CJ seemed pretty sure about Jenny. "I suppose."
CJ reached for his mask and put that final piece of his costume into place. "Well, enough about me. We have a job to do."
Jon agreed wholeheartedly. With that, the two shot out toward the Gothcorp Building, where their father was already in action.
Batman slid quietly into the penthouse apartment of Ron Smithson, president of Smithson-Eastern Contractors. The apartment was not modest by any stretch of the imagination — the marble fireplace had a beautifully carved mantle with ostentatious gold ornaments on top of it. Persian rugs lined the floors and expensive leather furniture dotted the rooms. For a man that liked to flaunt his money, it was too bad for him that he hadn't invested in a better security system, Batman thought.
The hour was late, but not late enough for Smithson to be in bed yet. He sat in his study reading a book, a glass of brandy resting on the desk next to him. His chair was turned away from the door, allowing Batman to slip silently into the room, gently closing the door behind him. The click of the latch caught the man's attention . He swiftly reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a gun, aiming it the intruder with a practiced fluidity. Before he could get off any shots, it was kicked out of his hand, causing the gun to drop loudly to the floor. The man made a move to pick it up, but Batman grabbed hold of him, throwing him up against the wall.
"Batman," the man sneered.
"Shut up," Batman sneered back. The man made no attempt to struggle in his grasp, a sure sign that he would be trying something. Holding the man to the wall with one hand, Batman frisked him with the other, finding a dagger and another gun in the process. "You're coming with me."
Mr. Smithson was probably a good-sized man in his younger years, but he was in his mid seventies now, and had to become more frail with age. This allowed Batman to drag him around rather easily. The man did not resist the movement. His defiant attitude of earlier had now given way to a more resigned one. Batman brought him over to the window. The view of the city was magnificent — almost as good as the view Bruce had from his own office. He pointed to the skyline. "Tell me what you see," Batman said.
Smithson spoke for the first time. "Gotham City…" he said timidly.
"Maybe in part," Batman said. "But I would think you of all people would be able to see what is missing." With that, Batman grabbed the man's head and forced it in the direction of the gaping hole in the skyline where the Gothcorp Building once stood.
The man stayed prudently silent. Batman continued. "I'm sure you knew it would happen someday, although you probably would never imagine that it would be an airplane, when a strong gust of wind would've done the trick."
Batman left him staring off in the distance while he continued. "In an age where our buildings are overdesigned, you would think that such a thing would be impossible. In the 1940's, an airplane ran into the side of the Empire State Building, leaving the building a little worse for the wear, but still standing nonetheless. Yet the building your company erected fell like a house of cards in the same situation. Why is that, Mr. Smithson? Would you like to spare yourself the pain and tell me now, or shall I have to force it out of you?"
Smithson straightened up and hardened his features. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Batman struck him across the face with the back of his hand. "Oh? The Gothcorp had heavy competition from contractors eager to build it. Of all of those, you somehow manage to submit the low bid, although I know for a fact that you personally made over a million dollars on that job. I find it interesting, Mr. Smithson, that companies were willing to build that building for no profit, just to keep themselves afloat. But you profited. How? Oh, I know how. It's all in how you connect your steel. I'm sure it sounded harmless — bolt critical joints instead of welding them. What's the harm? Maybe the husbands and wives and children of the people who died in your buildings could tell you."
Smithson recovered from being struck and stood up straight and defiant still. "If that was being done, it was the fault of the inspectors and engineers. I have told that to the police already."
Batman struck him again. This time Smithson was less quick to recover. "The inspectors and engineers sang like canaries when given the proper motivation. Your name was the first through their mouths." Batman's lips pressed into a thin smile that would've surely scared any criminal who came in contact with him. Ron Smithson was no exception. Batman reached out and grabbed him with both hands, pulling him close enough to be able to feel the bat's breath on his face. "So I'm only going to ask you once," he said quietly, intensely. "Why would your buildings be built with defective joints?"
Smithson's face was now full of fear. He had heard stories about Batman, and he knew he would be a target. But he never, in his wildest dreams, imagined the fear that one masked man could impose on him. "Because I ordered them to be," he whispered, his voice trembling.
"You would be wise to remember that answer next time you see the police." Batman threw him onto the ground and reached for a length of rope from his belt. Before Smithson knew it, the rope was around him, denying him any movements he tried to make. Batman opened a window, secured the free end of the rope to building and threw him out, leaving him to dangle upside down in the night air. "Enjoy your view while you can. I have a feeling it won't be so nice from your next place of residence."
With that, Batman disappeared into the night.
Jenny leaned up against the First Bank Tower, a block away from the site of all the devastation, but in clear line of sight of it. The Gothcorp Building was now a complete loss. After all the trapped people were freed and the area immediately surrounding the building was cleared, the Supermen collapsed what was left of the structure so that it didn't stand as a hazard to the public. They left the pile of debris for the Gotham Emergency Crew to sift through and clean up — that had been half an hour ago. She had chosen to wait for Clark, so wait she did. She imagined they had taken a detour to talk to the police and the press. She didn't mind not being part of the press junket — she wasn't really a reporter yet, anyway. Most of the mob of people around the area had begun to disperse a few minutes ago when the Superheroes left the scene, leaving her relatively alone where she stood.
The wait didn't bother Jenny too much — it gave her an opportunity to view the large pile of rubble that used to be one of the tallest buildings in Gotham. Why the low flying plane had chosen this building with its defective joints out of all the skyscrapers in town to plow into was beyond her. Luckily there were only a few people inside when it happened, and the bottom half of the building remained intact after impact. It could've been much worse than it was. The pile of rubble that was the Gothcorp Building was in itself several stories high. Glass mixed with steel and concrete, all of which had fallen on the three brave heroes when they imploded the structure. She was sure they were all right, but she didn't want to think about what the experience must've been like.
From the shadows behind her, she felt a rustle of wind. She turned to see a figure emerge, wearing black pants and a red top with a Superman emblem on it. Her face lit up immediately upon seeing him — it was the first smile to reach her face since this terrible thing started. She almost said his real name aloud, but he gestured for her to be quiet. There were still a few people around, and he didn't want to cause a scene. Now that she knew who he was, he looked completely different to her than he ever did before. The "S" shield and the stern expression no longer had an effect on her — this was just Jon, after all. And Jon wouldn't hurt a fly.
The Crimson Superman approached her, his expression as stoic as it always was when he was in the suit. He looked tired, she thought. He was quite rough around the edges — concrete dust clung to his hair and lightly coated his suit, making the black on his uniform seem gray. She saw him smile a little as he got nearer. He stopped about a foot away from her.
"You are hereby invited to our little family reunion. I will be your escort this evening," he said in his Jon voice (not the deep Superman voice that he used when in public), his smile getting broader.
"Escort away," she said and held her arms out to him. She had to suppress a gasp as he scooped her up and shot into the air. She had ridden plenty of roller coasters in her lifetime, but even the best of them didn't offer the thrill of her current ride, even if it was only a lift to the roof. As they reached the top, Jon set her down gently, away from where Superman and Robin were. The elder Superhero sat with his youngest son upon one of the air conditioning units, deep in conversation. That must be the reason Jon set up down over here, Jenny thought.
Jon leaned over and talked softly into her ear. "He's getting the talk right now. I got one after my first big disaster, too."
Jenny took her gaze away from the others and looked at her friend. "You mean the chemistry building?"
He smiled awkwardly. "Yeah."
"You rat. You gave yourself the exclusive on that." She elbowed him gently, but it was like elbowing a brick wall.
He looked amused when she grabbed her wounded arm. "Well, the opportunity presented itself. Who am I to turn down a story like that? Besides, it impressed the heck out of my new bosses." He shrugged.
She pouted. "Like you needed to impress your folks."
"Oh, come on!"
"I'm kidding." She brightened up a little bit. She liked talking to Jon this way. He seemed a lot more open somehow now that he ever was before — maybe it was because she now knew everything about him. She was glad to see he still had that light humor, a more toned down version of his brother's quick wit. "So how is life after graduation?"
Jon shifted a little and shifted him gaze downward. "To tell you the truth, I kind of miss school. I miss playing my trombone and I miss the campus and all the free time I had. A full time job plus all the after hours stuff gets pretty hectic sometimes."
She patted his shoulder. "I believe it. Isn't there any other band you could join? I know you liked to play."
He scowled a little. "Who has time? I'd probably be running out of rehearsals all the time." He seemed to think of something and brighten up. "I'll always have the alumni band at MU. I'll be back for homecoming." He looked at her, smiling now. "Speaking of band, didn't I hear you say once that you were thinking about joining the marching band?"
"Oh, I don't know."
He put his arm around her. He had done it before — he was a very friendly guy. Back when she still had her crush on him, it had been one of those things she always looked forward to, even if it usually meant that he was trying to talk her into something. "You know, being in the band gives you free admission to all the home football games. And I KNOW that you have your eye on a certain starter on the team."
Jenny blushed. "Yeah, I do."
"What better way to show your guy you care than to go to his games and play him sweet songs on your…what do you play?"
"Right. Clarinet. Men can't resist women in that sexy wool uniform, either."
Jenny began to chuckle lightly. "Okay, fine! I'll join the band. You're pretty wise for an old guy."
Jon removed his arm from her shoulder. "Thanks, I think."
Out of the corner of her, Jenny could see the two other men stand up, their conversation obviously done. Not that she didn't enjoy talking to Jon, but there was somebody else that she wanted to see even more, and at last he was coming to her.
From the moment that he kissed Jenny goodbye until he climbed out of the stack of rubble that had been the Gothcorp Building was just a series of still pictures in CJ's mind. The bodies lying all around when he arrived at the scene and the odd way the red and blue lights from the emergency vehicles so many stories down played across them, throwing shadows over their twisted forms that made them seem almost ghoulish. The internal steel structure of the intact part of the building and the large cracks it contained; he remembered being surprised that it still held at all. Lucky it was a calm night or else it probably would've collapsed completely. The little girl running around in the parking ramp underneath, looking for somebody, anybody who could help her mommy. The girl clutched at her teddy bear as she lead him to a car that now resided under a massive chunk of concrete that had obviously fallen loose when the plane impacted the building. He had x-rayed that car, and he knew right away that nobody could help her mommy — she had undoubtedly died right away. He had picked up the little girl, so sweet and innocent and ignorant of her mother's fate, and carried her gently to the first paramedic he could find. And finally, being trapped in the rubble. It was one of those things he had always wondered about ever since he first got his powers — what would it be like to be shot, or have a bomb go off around you or a building fall down on you and not get hurt? He found out tonight. It was not something that he necessarily wanted to do again. The concrete and steel coming down on top of him, the dust entering his lungs, and the incredible pressure on all parts of his body — it was a unique experience. He had no problem clearing it off of himself, but his lack of speed and flight skills made it very slow going.
His father helped him out of the rubble and deposited him on the roof he was now on. Then the Supermen went away to give some press clips, leaving CJ alone with his thoughts. It wasn't a situation he wanted to be in. He had known deep inside what it was that his dad saw when he went out every night, but he had never seen it firsthand himself. They had had talks, of course, about what to expect and what it might feel like, but talks can never truly prepare a person for the real thing. The death, the destruction, and the helpless feelings they aroused in him were almost too much to bear. It seemed as if all he did that night was fish dead bodies out of the twisted structure — very few lives were spared in the accident, and of those that were, most required Superman to fly them to the paramedics. He couldn't avoid the sinking feeling that all this was his fault, that if he had done his job tonight all those people would be alive.
As if in answer to his misery, his father slid down out of the air and sat next to him. CJ had his forehead resting on his knees and his arms wrapped around his thighs. Superman wrapped his arm over his son's back.
"Are you all right?" he asked, concern in his voice.
After a brief pause, a small voice responded. "No, I'm not." One of CJ's arms disengaged itself and reached for his mask, pulling it off. He ran the sleeve on his other arm across his eyes, dampening it in the process. As he brought his face up and turned to face his father, Clark could see his eyes were red from crying. Clark could never recall having ever seen CJ in tears, or at least not since he was very young. Instinctively he went to embrace him, an action that was returned with enthusiasm. They stayed that way for at least a minute, neither of them talking. Finally, CJ straightened up and let go.
"Thanks, I needed that," CJ said meekly.
"That's what Dads are for," Clark said. CJ looked at him and gave a half smile. Their eyes met, and Clark could see that his son's smile wasn't genuine. CJ was still hurting inside. "You want to talk about it?"
CJ dropped his head and studied the mask in his hands. He fumbled with it, trying to think of a place to start.
"Do you remember how I used to watch those horror movies when I was in high school — the ones with all the blood and gore? I used to get some sort of weird thrill out of seeing Jason and Freddy and Chucky go on a tear. Before today, I would've sworn that there was nothing out there that could possibly give me nightmares, not after subjecting myself to all that. Well, I was wrong. All the movie blood and guts in the world could never compare to seeing it for real. The thought that those people had been alive and vibrant only a few minutes earlier — their bodies were still warm." CJ shook his head and suppressed a shudder. He lapsed into silence for a moment before continuing. "The worst part is that I was here, in Gotham, when all those people died tonight. I couldn't help any of them. What the hell good am I to anybody?" He slammed the mask onto the roof and placed his head in his hands. His voice slipped to a near whisper. "I could've been out repairing that building tonight, but instead I decided to go on a date. Is my personal pleasure worth the lives of those people?"
Clark had heard enough. He hated to see CJ beat himself up over things that they had talked about time and time again. "I want you to listen to me," Clark said in a voice that was soft and commanding at the same time. "The deaths of those people were NOT your fault. Let me tell you why. You said it yourself last night — you can only move so fast. Even I can only move so fast, believe it or not. I used to beat myself up when I couldn't get someplace in time to rescue someone, but then I realized that I had my limitations, and that I shouldn't berate myself because of them. Neither should you. It's not what you can't do that matters, after all, it's what you CAN do. You and me and Jon, we were given a great gift, a gift that can help people. But in the end we are only men, with jobs and responsibilities and lives to consider. Whatever time we can give and however we can help, that is more than enough. But nobody expects you to be out there all the time — that's impossible.
"I know you haven't had to deal with any of this before, let me tell you that even after years of seeing disaster after disaster, it never gets any easier to see the bodies of the people you couldn't save. You're a caring person, and as such I'm sure you never like to see anybody hurt or in trouble if you can help it. That can be a blessing and a curse, but it's what makes you who you are, and it's what drives you to put on that suit and come out at night. Am I right?"
CJ nodded. Clark patted his back reassuringly and tried to wrap it up.
"I guess all I am trying to tell you is do what you can when you can with what you can. You won't be able to be everywhere at once, but you will make a difference to the people you can help, and that's all that counts. Understand?"
CJ sighed. "Yeah. You're right, as always." When he gave a half smile this time, Clark could tell it was genuine. He decided to try and pull his son further out of his dark mood by changing the subject to something that was sure to brighten him up.
"So you said you were on a date?"
CJ blushed. "Yeah, I guess I did."
Clark elbowed his son lightly in a chummy way. "So, did you have a good time? Do you like her?"
A far away look settled onto CJ's face and a goofy grin spread across his face. "She is very special," he said in a dreamy tone. "She makes me feel special, too. We kissed and it was like the Fourth of July."
"That sounds serious."
"I sure hope so," CJ said quietly. He glanced over across the rooftop and saw her standing there with Jon. They were having an animated conversation, but obviously a light one. Jenny was smiling and laughing — her whole being seemed to glow. It was enough to make the last of CJ's misery dissolve away. Clark followed his son's gaze and saw her standing next to Jon, chatting with him like she was talking to an old friend. Odd.
A frown played across Clark's face. He was never one to eavesdrop on anybody's private conversations, but he was very tempted to right now. What exactly was going on? Why was she up here, anyway? And here was CJ, without his mask on…
Clark thought he made the connection, be he had to know for sure. "Is that her?" he asked CJ, who was still looking in her direction.
"Yup," he said proudly.
"What is she doing up here?"
CJ blinked once or twice. "Oh, she knows."
"Excuse me?" Even though that was what Clark had expected to hear, he was still surprised. And the nonchalant way which CJ had just announced her knowledge took him aback.
CJ realized a little late that his father might find that upsetting. He tried to sound reassuring. "She figured it out. Today. It's okay — she's a good person. I think…I think I might love her, too. And I think she loves me."
Clark sighed. It was bound to happen eventually, he told himself. The boys would fall in love and they would have to let their women in on their extracurricular activities. He just didn't expect it to happen so soon — CJ was only 20, after all. He regarded his son for a second. "If she makes you happy, then I'm glad." This elicited a smile, but Clark wasn't through. "Just treat her well, though. The Kents have a reputation to uphold." Clark was smiling now, too.
"I will, I promise. And our secret really is safe with her, I swear!" CJ grabbed his mask off the roof and began to stand up. Clark stood up, too, but he stopped his son from leaving by placing a hand on his shoulder. Clark was still smiling, although his voice was serious and quiet.
"I trust you to make the right decisions regarding the family secret. If you think that she will keep it safe, then I know she will."
CJ's smile faded somewhat. The trust that his father put into his hands was, he figured, the ultimate acknowledgement of his love for him. CJ felt humbled by it. He nodded once at his father.
"Now are you going to introduce me or what?" Clark asked.
CJ approached her quickly. Jenny noticed that he had taken his mask off and now held it. His eyes looked slightly red. Had he been crying? She would have to ask him later. Right now all she wanted to do was hold him in her arms. He was just as dusty as his brother, and his cape was torn. None of these things mattered, though, as they embraced. She rested her cheek on his shoulder for a moment, content to just stand there with him like this.
She remembered abruptly who he was up here with and pulled away. She noticed that Jon had gone over to stand next to Superman, and that both of them wore identical expressions on their faces. Both looked mildly amused, their lips pressed into small smiles and their eyebrows arched slightly. Standing side-by-side as they were, she thought they looked like twins — same height, same build, nearly the same faces. Jon's hair was just a bit lighter and Superman looked a little older, but the effect was remarkable. Jenny felt herself blush a little as she realized what a scene she and CJ must have just made. Good thing she hadn't decided to kiss him.
CJ composed himself and turned to face their audience. Jon and Superman's faces didn't change as CJ made his introductions.
"Dad, this is Jenny Sears. Jenny, this is my dad."
Clark smiled and held out his hand. "Clark Kent. The original. Pleased to meet you."
He really did look pleased to meet her, Jenny thought. That smile was brighter than any other she had seen on the face of Superman, either in the papers or on TV. "The pleasure is all mine," she said as she took his hand.
"Jenny's a journalism student at the Metropolis University," CJ chipped in.
"Ah, so that's how you two know each other," Clark said, pointing back and forth between Jon and Jenny. They both nodded. Clark and Jenny released each other's hands. "So where are you working in Gotham?" Clark asked Jenny.
Clark made a face that was supposed to look comically shocked. "To think, MY son is dating someone with the competition." He looked at CJ. "I thought I raised you better than that."
CJ just smiled and shrugged. Jenny giggled.
"If you ever want to maybe switch over from the dark side, look me up and I may be able to pull some strings at the Planet."
Jenny nodded. "I'll keep that in mind."
"Good. Well, I hate to greet and run, but I'm expected back home tonight, plus we still have a meeting to get to."
CJ's shoulders dropped. He'd forgotten all about the meeting with Batman what with everything that had happened tonight. All he wanted to do was go home.
Clark sensed his son's mood. "I don't think you need to go, CJ. This meeting will be mostly business."
CJ brightened up considerably. "You mean that?"
"Yeah, sure. Go home and get some rest." Clark patted him on the shoulder. He looked at Jenny. "Take care of my boy," he told her. Then he winked. *Superman WINKED at me!* She thought. She knew her smile was probably a little too wide, because Superman got that amused look on his face again. He chuckled. "Night!"
"Night!" both Jenny and CJ said simultaneously as Jon and Clark launched themselves up into the sky. As soon as they were out of sight, the couple embraced again, this time following it up with a deep kiss.
"Are you okay, Clark? You look light you've had a rough night," Jenny asked as they pulled apart.
CJ smiled weakly. "Yeah, I'm just fine now that I'm with you. I'll be even better when I can take a shower and go to bed."
"Would you like to stay at my place tonight?" Jenny asked. She knew it was probably too forward of her to ask, but CJ didn't look like he should be left alone. Besides, her place was a lot closer than Wayne Manor.
He was taken aback. It hadn't really occurred to him to spend the night with her so soon, although he had to admit to himself that the idea did have a certain amount of appeal. The thought of spending the night in her arms (and no more than that, he told himself sternly), her comforting his fears and anxieties away… It would be nice. He thought he must be crazy when he said, "yes."
She smiled at him. What had happened to her? Why was she doing this? When was he going to kiss her again? She took the initiative and sought out his lips.
High above Gotham, two forms hovered in the air.
"So, exactly HOW long have they known each other?" Clark asked Jon.
"She's the one you talked about last night, right?"
Clark looked at Jon with a smile on his face and a faraway look in his eyes. "True love can make you do funny things."
Jon looked somewhat surprised. He knew his dad to be many things — caring, loving, supportive. But a hopeless romantic? CJ had said as much, but still… It was so sappy.
Sensing his son's thoughts, Clark arched an eyebrow. "I've been there. CJ's smart, though. He did it the right way. He let her know before they got too close. Let that be a lesson to you."
"You know, you and Mom are really going to have to tell me about how you finally got together someday. I mean, how could she not see who you really were?"
Clark shook his head. "Like I said, love makes you do funny things. And stupid things. I wrote the book on stupid things to do when you're courting somebody."
"But everything turned out okay," Jon said and patted his dad on the back. He couldn't wait to hear the story, but for the time being his attention was brought back to what was going on beneath them. Jenny was kissing CJ again.
"Oh, for goodness sakes get a room!" Jon said in a louder than normal voice.
He watched CJ break off the kiss. "I thought you guys said you had someplace to be," his voice drifted up from below. It was not annoyed, more amused than anything else. Jenny looked confused until she realized what was going on. She turned her head upwards and squinted her eyes, but didn't see anything. A devilish look crossed her face as she wrapped her arms tightly around CJ.
"They still watching?" she whispered to him. He nodded. She planted her lips on his and proceeded to give him the most stunning kiss she possibly could.
Clark just laughed. She reminded him of Lois, all right. He turned to Jon, who by now was in a state of shock. "Come on, let's give them some privacy. Bruce is waiting for us."
With a rush of air, the two took off, leaving the lovebirds alone at last. They kissed for another minute before breaking apart. CJ smiled at her like a goofy teenager before he came to his senses. He remembered the mask in his hands and put it back on.
"My hero," Jenny said as she looked at him.
"Darn right," he said as he scooped her into his arms. He ran boldly to the edge of the tall building and leapt into the air.
Jenny lay on her bed and watched as CJ emerged from the steamy bathroom, fresh out of his shower. He wore nothing but the pair of shorts he had on at supper. The water vapor clung to his bare chest and arms, causing the light glinting off him to highlight his physique. Jenny appreciated what she saw greatly.
She contemplated that if she didn't know what she did about him, she would never have guessed that his father was from outer space. He looked like a normal guy — well, a very handsome and well-built normal guy. As soon as CJ caught sight of her, he smiled. When she looked into his eyes she saw love in its purest form, sweet and innocent.
"Hi handsome," she said, patting the bed next to her. He took the bait and sat down.
"Hi beautiful," he said in return.
"Feeling better now?"
"Let's just say, I'm feeling more myself." Jenny could appreciate that statement. A nice hot shower always helped to wash away her bad feelings along with the dirt and grime.
He scooted farther into the bed and lay down next to her, but they did not make contact. He turned onto his side and propped his head up, looking at her. They didn't speak for a minute or so, they didn't have to. They just laid together, content with each other's company. Jenny finally broke the silence.
"So what was it like for you out there tonight?" she asked, propping herself up onto an elbow.
CJ's expression didn't change. "Intense," he replied.
"Was it you first disaster?"
CJ sighed and plopped onto his back. "Yeah." He reached out for Jenny's hand and found it. "You hear on the news night in and night out about the terrible things that happen in the world. After a while, you become steeled to it, almost to the point that you just don't care anymore. But all you're responding to are pictures on a television. Seeing pictures and seeing the real thing are completely different."
Jenny tried to imagine what it must've been like to find the bodies in the twisted wreckage. What would she have felt like? It had to have been horrible for him.
"Part of being a superhero is dealing with that sort of thing. I don't know how my dad does it every night. He sees the worst of humanity and cleans up the bodies and returns home to us cheery as ever. He never let us see the hurt that I know he felt inside."
Jenny trailed her free hand over his chest. "You know the hurt he felt because you felt it tonight. I could tell you had been crying."
CJ smiled weakly. "Just don't advertise that. I'd loose all credibility with my friends."
Jenny stopped moving her hand and just let it rest on his chest. She frowned. "You don't need to be ashamed for feeling compassion toward your fellow man."
"I know." CJ closed his eyes momentarily, then opened them again, his face pained. "It's not that. I was ashamed that those people died because I couldn't get there fast enough. I was ashamed that I blew off my job to go out on our date." Jenny made a move to speak, but CJ cut her off. "My dad set me straight. Superheroes are allowed to have a life, too. Can you imagine the cries for help he ignored when I was growing up just to spend time with us kids? I don't blame you, and I don't blame myself anymore. I just can't shake the images I saw."
Jenny never thought much about what the life of a superhero would be like. What they saw night in and night out had to weigh heavily on them. What events in their lives did they have to skip in order to help out? When they gave their attention to their family or personal lives instead of to saving people, how much did they beat themselves up? She wondered what it would be like to hear cries for help while in the middle of a meeting or while in a fit of passion. How do you choose whether to ignore it or to respond?
She looked at CJ again and saw the pain on his face still. For him, it wasn't a matter of if he could respond to cries for help, it was COULD he respond to them. "It must be hard for you to not be able to fly to somebody's rescue when you hear cries for help."
He looked at her with a sense of awe mixed with sadness. Again, he felt she could read him like a book. "I accepted a long time ago that there were things that I couldn't do. Granted, nights like tonight make me wonder if I ever truly did accept it. But yeah, it's hard. You hear things all the time — screams in the night from far away, cries from the victimized. I would like to say that I could just turn it off, but I can't. I may not have a full set of powers, but I can still walk into a fire or lift heavy objects or disarm a gunman. My conscience wouldn't let me just look the other way when I can do something about it, so I'll do what I can with what I have." CJ smiled — it was what Dad had told him, true, but it was something that he had already known deep down inside.
Jenny pulled him closer. Just talking about it all this seemed to have put him at ease, although she could tell that some of his apprehension remained. Maybe all he needed was some encouragement.
"Well, I just want to thank you again for being there for me this afternoon. You certainly got there in the nick of time. If I didn't know any better, I would swear that you flew in there."
He softened at her remarks. A smile began to form on his face once again. "I guess I wasn't completely truthful earlier. I can fly a little."
"Really?" She looked at him with a disbelieving smile.
"You want to see?" He was beginning to get a mischievous glint in his eye.
"Yes, of course!"
CJ closed his eyes and furrowed his brow in concentration. A moment later he began to levitate. He got to a height of two inches above the bed and went no higher. Jenny ran her hand underneath him just to make sure what she was seeing was real. CJ's eyes were still closed when he began to speak. "That's all I've got."
Jenny sat up and leaned over him. "You aren't still holding out on me, are you, Clark?"
"Because I have ways of finding out."
CJ's eyes popped open. He lost a little altitude, but he kept on floating. A wide smile spread across his face. "You do, huh?" He was challenging her.
Just then she started to tickle him. He might be the Boy of Steel, but even steel has its pressure points. Laughing, CJ flopped back to the bed and wiggled around. He was careful not to lash out — it might hurt her. He finally grabbed her wrists and rolled her over, pinning her to the bed. He had her in a compromising position now, and he knew it. Desire crept up inside himself, and he knew it was showing through on his face, judging by the way she looked at him. Her smile grew eager. CJ leaned over and kissed her deeply.
He knew that it would be very easy to just go on from there, to sink into his desire. He could feel her responding to him, but that wasn't what he wanted out of tonight. It was too soon. He pulled back, much to her dismay. "Don't stop," Jenny muttered breathlessly as he drew away.
"It's not right," he said softly.
Her face was filled with disappointment, but she quickly came to the same conclusion as he did — it really was too soon. By now he had unpinned her hands. She brought one up to his face and brushed his cheek.
"You're so unlike other men," she said softly.
Her touch brought the desire back to the surface, but he pushed it right back down again. Smiling, he answered her. "I know."
"It's not just the powers, either. Most men would've just done their business whether it was right or not."
CJ moved off the top of her and lay on his back next to her again. "Those men don't have any respect for their girlfriends or for their relationship."
His unselfishness made Jenny love him very much at that moment. She scooted over to where he was and snuggled next to him. "How did I get so lucky to have met someone like you?"
CJ just smiled and pulled her close. He was wondering the same thing about her. He'd known her for two days, yet he felt like he'd known her his entire life. He didn't know how it was that he could talk with her so comfortably, but he didn't question his incredible luck. After the night he had had, it felt so right to just lay there with her — he couldn't imagine going back to Wayne Manor to sleep alone in his own bed.
They drifted off to sleep in each other's arms, each in disbelief of their own good fortune.
Meanwhile, at the Daily Planet, the finishing touches were being put on what would prove to be one of the biggest stories in recent years, a story no other newspaper would be able to lay claim to that day. Late that night, the police in Gotham City had arrested Ron Smithson, who had obviously been contacted by the Batman first, and charged him with manslaughter. The chief engineer of Smithson-Eastern had also been arrested. Various financial statements of Ron Smithson and his company had mysteriously shown up at the Metropolis and Gotham police departments, documents that showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the buildings had been purposely built wrong and that the company had profited from it. Lois Lane had been given an anonymous tip to be at the police headquarters that night, and she was there when the story broke.
The main story was written by Lois Lane and Clark Kent. Jon Kent was given his first ever front page headline for his interview with Superman about the building repairs he had been doing in Metropolis. Jon gave credit to the Crimson Superman for doing the same thing in Gotham. He resolved to fly out there again the next day, if only to be seen and to make his story more credible. He also vowed to check up on his little brother.
For as much as he had been scandalized by CJ and Jenny's affections toward each other last night, he wished them nothing but the best. Jon was also a little jealous — how was it that his dorky little brother found his true love before he did? Of course, CJ had always been better with the ladies than he ever was, but this wasn't your typical relationship. We'll see how it goes, Jon thought. If CJ could defy his normal convention and make this work long-term, then maybe, just maybe, it was a sign of something. Something that meant that there was still hope for himself, too.
CJ awoke to Jenny's arms around him. It wasn't an unpleasant thing to wake up to, he had to admit. He took a look at the clock and his eyes immediately popped open. It was a Saturday, but the clock said it was 8:30, and he had work to do. He hated to wake Jenny up, but he couldn't stick around or else Bruce would have his hide (and if there was one thing he had learned while in Gotham, it was to not get Bruce Wayne angry at him).
"Mmmm…" Jenny said as he got out of bed. She didn't wake up immediately, but her arms tried to find him. When she was unsuccessful, her eyes lazily opened.
"Shhh. Go back to sleep," he said over his shoulder as he made his way to the bathroom.
He paused in the door. "I have to go to work."
"So early?" She was beginning to awaken more.
"After last night, mine will be a full time job until everything gets fixed."
That seemed to pull her completely out of her sleepiness. "Full time? Won't you be able to get any breaks?"
CJ seemed thoughtful. "Well, a guy has to eat. Maybe we could do lunch somewhere."
"You know, if you don't want to have to change, you could just come here for lunch. I can make a salad and sandwiches."
CJ nodded. "Okay. How about noon?" Jenny agreed. He closed the bathroom door and freshened up. He emerged wearing the same clothes he'd worn on the date the previous night. In his hand was his utility belt from his costume, brought with him in case Bruce needed to contact him. Jenny was rooting through her drawers trying to find something to wear for the day. He gave her a quick peck on the check as he walked past her on the way out of the bedroom.
CJ opened the large pouch in his belt looking for the keys to the Dodge that they had driven home in after changing last night. The first thing his fingers met was a small notebook. He didn't exactly remember what it contained, so he took it out and looked inside. It was his memoirs, or at least, the very small part of them that he'd managed to write while staking out a rooftop a few days ago.
CJ stopped in his tracks as an idea came to mind. He turned around to face Jenny. "Do you still want the complete scoop on your favorite Gotham superhero?"
Jenny looked pleased. "Always."
He held out the notebook for her to take. "My memoirs."
"Oooh!" She reached for them eagerly. She flipped through them quickly. "This will give me something to do until lunch."
"Come on, I'm only 20 years old! I bet it'll take you ten minutes to read."
"But I can spend the rest of the time editing them and swooning."
CJ arched an eyebrow. "If you want something to do." He walked over to her and took her in his arms again. "You can think of an ending."
They kissed deeply one last time before CJ headed to work for the day. *An ending?* Jenny thought. *What could he…?*
The realization struck her hard. It wasn't a proposal, but it was a commitment. His love was hers for as long as she wanted it. Jenny's swoon hit her before she even read his memoirs. She had to sit down before her legs gave out on her. As she closed her eyes, she could imagine many possible endings, all of which involved him and her, together, in love.
That's all folks!