By C. Leuch <email@example.com>
Submitted January 2001
Summary: In this fourth installment of the C. Leuch's new generation series, Metropolis' superheroes are faced with a deadly threat against their family and betrayal as loyalties are tested to the limit.
Comments: My thanks to Shayne for his help in brainstorming this story — he provided me with many good ideas to build on. Also thanks to Dia and Adam for beta reading. This story is a sequel to Professional Loyalties, and is the fourth in my line of next generation Kent family stories. I would recommend reading them before this one to get a better understanding of the characters. Standard disclaimers apply. Feedback is always welcome.
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.”
Jon Kent entered his modest apartment as he did every evening after a hard day of work. He considered this apartment to be his home, just as his parent's house had been his home as a kid, but he couldn't help but notice the general emptiness of the place. Sure, he had plenty of furniture to fill it, and it definitely had a lived-in quality that he appreciated — in the corner sat a basket of unfolded laundry, on the coffee table was a used drinking glass, and on the couch was yesterday's edition of the Daily Planet. Even so, it would be nice to be able to come home to something or someone that could give him a little companionship.
Jon hadn't realized it immediately after he graduated from college, but it slowly dawned on him that he was lonely. It was hard, after graduation, to see all of his friends move away and find jobs elsewhere. It was equally hard to move out of his apartment of four years, which he had recently shared with his brother, to a new place more suited to his status as a reporter with a major newspaper. Sure, he always had his family to keep him company, and he knew that they loved him no matter what, but they weren't there when he walked in the door at night, and sometimes coming home to an empty apartment was just too much to bear. Jon supposed he could get a dog or cat, but he didn't think that he had enough free time to give them the attention that they deserved. Goldfish would even be nice, but could a goldfish keep a person company, really?
After seeing his brother, CJ, and his friend, Jenny, hook up during the previous summer, it became clear to Jon what he needed. At the time he chided himself, saying that nobody NEEDED to be a codependent, that someone who respected himself didn't need anyone else to make him feel whole. But he couldn't ignore that growing feeling of desolation, and the feeling of longing that he saw whenever he saw two people holding hands. He loved his brother dearly, but he had felt almost physically ill when CJ got engaged.
Jon was the first to admit that his love life was not exactly active. He had gone on a few dates, and even went steady with a girl in college for a little while, but his heart had never truly been with any of those women. He knew that a lot of girls found him attractive — he was not immune to the appreciative glances that he received, but glances were just that, and he never went out of his way to even acknowledge them. He wondered if maybe there wasn't something wrong with him, if maybe he was just incapable of love. It didn't seem possible, considering the experiences of other members of his family, but he couldn't deny the evidence so far.
Jon sighed and closed his apartment door behind him, flicking on some lights on his way to the kitchen. Another long night stretched out in front of him, and he didn't have any idea of what he would do. He liked to watch the occasional sporting event, but the baseball season was over, it was too early for basketball, and it was the wrong night of the week for football. He supposed that he could drop by and visit his folks, but if he spent any more time at their place, he figured he might as well move back in. His little brother had schoolwork to do, and he didn't have any close friends from work to hang out with. It was nights like these, he thought wryly, that having his other job came in very handy.
He had to admit that when he first donned the red and black Crimson Superman uniform, he had been wary of the press and publicity that hounded him wherever he went. As invigorating as the work itself was, the attention made him uncomfortable, and subsequently he didn't go out much. But as time went by and the Crimson Superman lost his novelty, the press began to go away, and magically, Jon found he liked to go out. He had always loved flying — the feeling of the air rushing against his face, the beauty of the landscape, and the freedom flying afforded him all made it a spectacular experience. He also truly loved being of assistance to other people. Jon had always been very conscientious of other people's feelings, and he never liked to see others get hurt. It was ultimately because of that that he had endured the unpleasantness, and he was glad he had. In the last few weeks he had increased his exposure as the Crimson Superman. He told himself that it was because he was becoming more comfortable with everything, or maybe to make amends for his earlier skittishness, but he couldn't help but think that he was using it as an escape from the emptiness he felt at home. He even found himself staying out later than he would like at times, just because he didn't want to face the empty apartment.
As he prepared his dinner, Jon decided that it would be another good night for him to go out. He could do some patrolling, and his dad would be more than happy to have another night off. If things kept up at the rate they were going, the original Superman could almost go into retirement. Jon threw together a quick meal and sat himself down in front of the TV, turning it on and viewing the local news. The stories that the newscasters presented were more of the same that he saw every night — stories of crime and violence, mixed in with the occasional inspirational story. Even with his increased presence in the city skies, Jon knew he couldn't stop all crime. It truly did amaze him how much violence there still was in the city, even after so many years of having a Superman around. He grudgingly acknowledged that all the crime fighting in the world couldn't change human nature, and as long as there were human beings on this earth, there would be violence of some sort.
Jon flicked the TV off again and cleaned up after his supper. That done, he lazily changed into his Superman outfit and took off out of the back window of his apartment. As he lifted further into the air, the city began to spread out below him. He remembered the first time he had witnessed the city from the air — his dad had taken off from the backyard of their house with Jon in tow. Jon had been 15 at the time and couldn't fly on his own. He clearly remembered how his house had begun to shrink, and as they went further and further up, it blended into the blocks upon blocks of houses that made up suburban Metropolis. Eventually as they continued their flight, the skyscrapers that were ever so prominent in the Metropolis skyline had loomed closer and closer. His father had set them down atop the tallest of them, and they just stood there for the longest time, chatting and taking in the sights. The action had been relatively slow that night, Jon recalled, but even watching discreetly as his dad stopped a couple of muggings and put out a fire was incredibly exciting to him. They had shared quite a few nights like that during his high school years, until one day he found that he could fly on his own — that had been very interesting. His dad had strictly prohibited him from flying in the daylight hours until he became an actual superhero, but that didn't stop him from taking the occasional jaunt across the United States during the nighttime hours. He just loved the way the lights of the cities seemed to sparkle when viewed from high up in the air, and the way that the stars seemed to burn so much more brightly as he rose higher into the sky. Nighttime was still his favorite time to go flying, if only because it brought back pleasant memories of those days — a happier time for him in general.
Jon forced his mind to return to the present as he circled above the city. The sun was still out, although it probably wouldn't be for much longer. He found himself drifting toward the Metropolis University campus, as he did often. He knew his little brother and Jenny were more than capable of taking care of themselves — heck, a few months earlier, they had proven that they made quite the crime fighting team, too — but he still liked to discreetly check on them. As he flew by his old apartment, he saw CJ inside, his nose in a book. Jon next flew toward Jenny's apartment. He remembered the first time he had glanced in there — he almost had almost fallen right out of the sky. Her roommate brought the word obsession to new heights with that Superman shrine of hers. It was no wonder that Jenny preferred to spend time at CJ's. Jenny was closed into her room, also studying. Jon smiled a little — as acutely lonely as he was, one thing that he truly didn't miss in his life after leaving college was all the studying. Sure, it was good for keeping his mind occupied, but there came a point, especially toward the end of his senior year, when he just got sick of reading books and writing term papers.
Jon continued past the campus and toward the harbor. He was nearing the docks when a loud burst of gunfire in the distance caught his attention. Zeroing in on the sound and setting his bearings, he quickly concluded that it was coming from the Garden District. With a burst of speed, he raced toward the shooting. The Garden District at one time had been what could be considered an upper middle class, inner city neighborhood. Brownstones lined either side of the street, their intricate brickwork a sign of the money that was once present in the neighborhood. But, like so many areas of the city, crime had steadily worked its way in, and the residents had moved on to newer, safer neighborhoods. The once proud neighborhood was little more than a hangout for various criminal organizations, although the organized crime families had kept a special eye on the area. The police had always done what they could to try and keep some semblance of law and order there, but it was hard to keep up. It seemed that this night the police had taken the initiative and raided one of the more notorious drug houses, but the criminal element wasn't going to go down without a fight.
Gunfire once again burst forth from inside one of the brownstones, raining bullets into the row of squad cars that sat in front of it. The police hid behind their vehicles until the shooting stopped, then they pointed their own guns toward the house and fired back. Jon could see at least one officer injured on the ground, and several more men down inside the house. This gunfight obviously wasn't accomplishing anything aside from getting a lot of people injured, so Jon decided that it was up to him to stop it. Taking a deep breath, he raced in to disarm the criminals inside the house, hopefully before any more of them came to any harm.
As he flew through one of the shattered windows, bullets danced in slow motion all around him. He plucked them out of the air and quickly crushed them before taking the guns out of the hands of the gunmen, in some instances even as their fingers were tensing over the triggers. Jon also grabbed any spare guns and ammunition that he saw lying around so that the criminals didn't have any chance to resume their assault on the police force out front. Before leaving, he took a quick look at the wounded criminals and determined that their injuries weren't life threatening. He then exited through the same window he entered and set down in front of one of the police cars, waiting for time to slam back into place before dropping his payload on the ground. The officers blinked in surprise as they became aware of his presence, looks of relief spreading across their faces.
"Everyone inside is unarmed," Jon announced, using his Superman voice. One of the officers began to move toward the building and made a hand signal indicating that the others should follow him inside. Confident that the situation was taken care of, Jon strode quickly toward the injured cop that he had noticed earlier. As he approached the officer, he noticed that another officer was bent over him, removing his jacket. The injured officer appeared to be unconscious, but Jon couldn't see any blood, which was good. Surreptitiously X-raying the man on the ground, Jon could see that a bulletproof vest worn under his clothing had been hit, with a small circular indentation marking the spot. His only injuries were some bruising and a cracked rib — nothing to be worried about, although the officer should probably see a doctor.
"He'll be just fine," Jon said to the attending officer, his attention still focused on the injured officer. As Jon spoke, the other officer's shoulders seem to droop with relief.
"Thank goodness," the attending officer said. The voice was higher than Jon anticipated, a woman's voice. For the first time he gave her his full attention, and he quickly came to the conclusion that her sex shouldn't have surprised him at all. Beneath the standard issue navy uniform was a slender, unquestionably feminine form. Jon forced his eyes away from her body and toward the back of her head, aware that Superman could never ever be seen gawking. It had really never been an issue before — Jon never, ever treated women with anything less than complete respect, and he most certainly never gawked. But tonight, for some reason, he had that urge.
After a second she finally turned her face toward him, and as soon as his eyes met hers, Jon had to stifle a gasp. The world outside of her face faded away and everything seemed to slow down, much as it did when he moved at superspeed. But he knew couldn't possibly be moving at superspeed — in fact, he doubted he could move voluntarily at all. Inside he screamed at himself to look away, but her dark eyes drew him in and spoke to him. He could feel the muscles in his jaw going slack, but he was helpless to stop it. After a long couple of seconds they both blinked, and the spell was broken. Jon looked away quickly and tried to compose himself. He took a few deep breaths and addressed her again, careful to make his features appropriately neutral. He avoided looking at her face, instead choosing to address her downed colleague.
"I can take him to the hospital if you wish, but he just has a cracked rib."
Officer Martinez opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted by a moaning coming from the ground behind her. She turned to face her partner. "Bob?" she asked.
"Diane? What happened?" came the weak reply from her partner. She laid a hand on his chest to silence him before turning to address the Crimson Superman, her eyes carefully diverted to his chest instead of his face.
"I think we'll be fine here, thanks, Superman," she said and smiled. She looked into his eyes again for a split second before turning back to her partner.
Jon nodded quickly and shot up into the air, any further patrols quickly forgotten in favor of getting home. He needed to do some serious thinking about what had just happened. What exactly DID just happen, he wondered? He looked into a women's eyes, he felt himself freeze up, the world stopped…oh God! Jon stopped suddenly in mid-flight as he realized what it meant. It happened to his dad, it happened to CJ, and now, finally, it happened to him. He didn't know whether to be ecstatic or terrified. Was SHE really supposed to be the love of his life, the person he was meant to be with? Jon began his forward motion again, now urgently wanting to get home. This was a monumental occurrence in his life, and he had no idea what to do. One thing was certain, though: he had to see her again. How or when, he didn't know, but he wanted to be cautious and do it right. True love only came around once, and he wasn't going to blow it.
Diane Martinez walked into the police station, her office, with her partner hobbling close by her side. He was still a little bit stunned from being shot in the chest — lucky for him his bulletproof vest protected him from being seriously harmed. As it was, the chief would probably send him home after writing up his incident report. Speaking of which, Diane had to write one of those, too.
She parted company with her partner and headed toward her desk, reviewing the night's activities. They had gone into the Garden District with a warrant to search one of the brownstones there — they had suspected it of being a drug house for a long time, but it was only recently that they had gotten enough evidence to really do anything about it. They had gone in there fully expecting to meet with some resistance, although they hadn't expected them to be quite so well armed. As they approached the brownstone, they had immediately been shot at, and the confrontation quickly degenerated into a shooting match, with neither side gaining any ground. Then the Crimson Superman intervened.
The thought of the Crimson Superman made her pause for a few seconds. She would be lying if she said it hadn't been a thrill to meet him. Although she never admitted it, even to herself, she had always wanted to meet one of the supermen in person. She respected their sense of justice and dedication to crime fighting, among their other qualities. In fact, she had been influenced by those qualities, even all the way down in her home state of Texas, and had decided to become a police officer in Metropolis partially because of their example. So when he came onto the scene tonight, she couldn't help but feel a little excited.
Diane had always considered herself to be a very level-headed person, never one to get obsessed with anything. She liked things, sure, and she would consider herself to be a fan of certain things — sports, TV shows, and Superman, for example — but never to the point of letting it take over any part of her life. She couldn't see how people could spend hours of their lives obsessing over these things, although she did indulge herself in reading the occasional article about her favorite subjects. But tonight she had met Superman, and everything changed. There was something when they looked at each other, she didn't know what it was. His face had transformed — she could've sworn that he looked stunned, although nothing she had ever heard or read said that the supermen showed any emotion. And then there were his eyes, his expressive eyes. She sensed a lot more depth to his personality than just the stoic, crime fighting hero persona. He seemed to communicate something to her — she couldn't tell what, but it was something that she felt she had to follow up on. All of a sudden she felt the need to find out more about the Crimson Superman.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a man standing over her desk. He wore black slacks and a white button-up shirt with a navy blazer and multi-colored tie. She looked up toward his face, and saw a rather handsome man with very dark hair and glasses. "Excuse me, Officer Martinez?"
"Yes?" she said with some annoyance. She had been in the middle of some very pleasant introspection before being so rudely interrupted.
"I'm Jonathan Kent with the Daily Planet. I would like to ask you a few questions about what happened tonight in the Garden District." He smiled at her pleasantly, if not somewhat timidly. That smile was somewhat disarming, she thought, but men had tried to charm her in order to get their way so many times in the few months that she had been on the force that she was becoming immune to it.
She narrowed her eyes and glared at him, wondering where he could have found out about the Garden District fiasco, and how he had known that she was there. She understood that reporters had their sources — he no doubt owned a police scanner — but that didn't mean that she felt in the least bit compelled to answer any of his questions. "Listen Mr. Kent," she said gruffly. "We will release a statement when the time is right, but for now that is still an investigation in progress and I cannot volunteer any information."
Diane had considered that to be the end of the matter, but instead of leaving, this reporter sat down in the chair next to her desk, his eyes never leaving her. She began to shuffle papers around on her desk, hoping he would get the hint, but he started speaking again, his voice still pleasant and steady. "I understand that," he said. "But I really just want to ask you a few questions."
She sighed and looked back at him, her eyes still narrowed in annoyance. "Fine, but don't expect me to give you anything you can use."
He smiled at her, which only strengthened her resolve. She wasn't going to let him charm her into giving away information on their investigation.
"Can you confirm that Superman was there?" he asked.
"The younger one provided us assistance, yes." Her answer was very curt, but the thought of the Crimson Superman had made her feel a little bit warmer inside.
"Were there any injuries or fatalities?" Jon asked. He knew perfectly well what the answers to these questions were, but his father had taught him early on that he shouldn't rely on a phantom interview with his alter-ego for all of his facts — it was just too suspicious, and he wanted to keep himself separated from the supermen as much as possible to protect his identity.
"No officers were seriously hurt, but a few of the perpetrators were hit and had to be taken to the hospital." She didn't bother to embellish any details, instead giving him the bare-bones facts and hoping that he would go away.
"Can you confirm that tonight's incident was related to a similar incident involving members of the Zarate crime family that happened a couple of weeks ago?"
Diane frowned. How did he know about the link with the Zarates? She had no intention of answering the question, but all of a sudden she felt the need to ask him some questions of her own. Anyone who knew that much about the case could be dangerous. She considered it for a moment, but decided it would be wise to just let him go — he would probably say that he got his knowledge from some source that she wouldn't be able to touch, and it would end up being a waste of time. "I think I'm going to have to wrap this up, Mr. Kent."
The reporter didn't look too surprised that she didn't answer his question. He reached into his coat and pulled out a business card, holding it out to her. "All right. If you do have any information to share, please give me a call."
She snatched the card out of his hand and looked at his face once again. He was giving her another one of those dazzling smiles, and she found herself melting just a little under his gaze. She looked into his eyes, dulled as they were behind his glasses, and felt a slight spark. She frowned once more, this time for letting this reporter get to her. She looked at the card in her hand and watched out of the corner of her eye as he stood up and left. Maybe she would need to find out more about this Jonathan Kent, too.
Susan entered the sizable foyer of her uncle's house. She couldn't help but have the feeling like she was in some sort of large train station or something when she entered the mansion — the domed ceiling hung three stories above her head, the skylights emitting enough light that no other illumination was needed. Her uncle came down the grand staircase, smiling as he always was when she visited him. He was really the only person in her family that had come into any money at all, not that that was the reason that she came to visit. He had built a publishing company from the ground up, and had earned a fortune in the process. Even after all of that, though, he still took an active interest in his company, and he was still the same nice guy that he had always been. When she ran away from home as a teenager, her uncle had allowed Susan to stay with him, and they had been very close ever since.
Susan had to admit that she was partial to the books published by her uncle's company, and it wasn't just because of his relation to her, either. No, he published every book written by Ridley Davenport, her very favorite author. Ever since he published his "Superboy" novel, she had been a faithful fan, and she truly enjoyed the advanced readings of his books that her uncle allowed her to have.
Susan waved at her uncle as he approached. "It's good to see you again, my dear," he said enthusiastically.
"It's good to see you, too Uncle Ed," she said. He lived so far outside of town that it was hard for her to get out to visit too often, especially since she didn't have any transportation of her own. For some reason, though, he had offered to drive her out to meet him today. He had made it sound like it was pretty urgent, too, although she couldn't figure out why. It had gnawed at her on the ride over, but upon seeing him, her fears vanished.
Susan and her uncle embraced quickly and then pulled apart. Susan took another look into his smiling face and was somewhat surprised to see a hint of wariness in his eyes, and a sense that his smile wasn't completely genuine. All of a sudden the urgent tone of his voice when he called her earlier in the week came back to her. He had always been so upbeat and cheery, she wondered what could've possibly happened to affect him so badly. She wanted to ask him about it, but he spoke before she had a chance to.
"Come with me, dear. I have something for you that I think you'll like," he said. With that, he started walking toward his study, a sizable room with bookshelves lining every wall. A quick glance showed that he owned a very diverse collection of books, including classics, comics, and everything in between. Toward the back wall of the room was a large, slightly cluttered cherry-wood desk, an overstuffed leather desk chair sitting behind it. Ed motioned for Susan to sit down behind the desk, and he proceeded to a bookcase on the side wall. On the outside, Susan couldn't see anything different about that particular case that would warrant his attention — it was made of the same wood as all the other ones, although it only contained books published by his company. He quickly started removing books from the bookshelf, stacking them neatly on the ground. As he cleared out more and more shelf area, a panel was exposed that contrasted with its surroundings. He reached back and pulled out the panel, revealing a small hidden compartment containing several items, some of which Susan recognized as accounting ledgers and other business documents. Out of place among them was a large manuscript. Susan briefly wondered why her uncle felt it necessary to keep a manuscript hidden away in his study at home -he had always been adamant about keeping work related items at work. In fact, whenever she read novels in advance, as much as she had pleaded for him to bring them home, he always forced her to come to his office to do so.
Her uncle grasped the manuscript, gently took it out of the compartment, and placed it on the desk beside her. She was extremely puzzled and curious at the same time — if this manuscript was important enough to warrant the special attention it was getting, it must be something special. Her curiosity got the better of her, and she glanced at the title of the front page. "The Life of a Super Man," it read. She had to fight a sense of giddiness — it was a new novel by Ridley Davenport! She reached out to grab it, but her uncle stopped her.
"I know Mr. Davenport is your favorite author, and I know Superman is your favorite subject, so I'm giving you this. I want you to enjoy it and keep this safe, and I don't want you to tell anyone about its existence. Understand?"
Susan swallowed and nodded, wondering why her uncle didn't want anyone to know about the new novel. She also wondered about the serious tone in his voice. But again, her curiosity got the better of her, and she picked up the manuscript and immediately opened it to the first page. She scanned the first few paragraphs, a smile growing on her face, and then forced herself to stop. Her uncle had invited her over, after all, and he needed her attention, too. She looked up and watched him putting the bookcase back in order. "So, Uncle Ed," she said, setting the manuscript aside, "I haven't talked to you for a while. How is everything going for you?"
Her uncle looked over his shoulder and smiled at her, this time genuinely, and sat down on the desktop next to her. The two proceeded to chat about what was going on in their lives, all hardships momentarily forgotten.
Ed Bantram watched as the car containing his niece pulled away from the house. As soon as it was out of sight, he allowed himself to sag against the wall, letting out a sigh as he did so. That had gone better than he had anticipated. Susan had lived with him for a couple of years, and she probably knew him better than almost anyone. There had been a few times during her two-hour visit when he thought for sure she wasn't buying his deception. It wasn't that he didn't think she was capable of hearing the truth about why he gave her the novel, but he didn't want her to be worried — her happiness meant more to him than his own. It was partially for that reason that he had given her that damnable manuscript — he knew it would please her to no end, and it would give more credence to the story that he had told the Zarates.
At the time that novel had come to his attention six and a half years ago, he had been excited — the concept was certainly original, and the subject matter was a popular one with almost all demographics. But then the Superman Foundation had withheld approval, and the project was essentially killed. He wondered at the time about the precise reason why they didn't want the novel printed — it wasn't like the foundation to turn down much of anything. When Ed asked the author what his opinion was about the circumstances a few days later, Ridley just shrugged and smiled strangely. Ed thought for sure that Ridley would fight for the novel, but he was more than content to let the matter drop, which had always bothered Ed. That had pretty much been it, and the novel had been more or less swept under the rug after that, until shortly after the Crimson Superman turned up.
Ed would certainly like to tell people, and he often did, that his own brilliance had caused his publishing company to be a success, but the reality of it was that his company would've gone under shortly after its inception if not for the help of a certain "family organization." In return for a few favors, the Zarate family had given him their money and support, and had even covertly tried to make things harder for other local publishing companies. With their help, his company had flourished, but over time their favors had gone from being relatively harmless, to being ever more demanding. Then, about six months ago, they started asking about that old Ridley Davenport Superman novel that had been forgotten about by almost everyone. He didn't have any idea how they found out about the novel, but they had, and they wanted it. Badly.
Ed had read the novel when it first crossed his desk. He had to admit the premise was interesting — that Superman had a secret identity. He couldn't help but wonder why the Zarates were interested in an unpublished piece of fiction. Whatever the reason, knowing the Zarates, it probably wasn't for good purposes. He had always done what they asked before, but this time he just couldn't bring himself to give them the novel — something just felt supremely wrong about it. He had always had a great deal of respect for Superman, and he just couldn't willingly participate in anything that might bring any type of harm to the superhero. In recent days their questioning of him about the novel had grown more and more insistent, and he couldn't play dumb much longer — they were wearing him down. The only solution to his problem was to get rid of the novel, and Susan was the perfect person to give it to. She had had a very strong obsession with Superman ever since he had known her, and he knew that she would be very protective of anything about him that she considered to be unique, even if it was just fiction. He didn't think the Zarates would think to ask her about it, or at least, he hoped they didn't. But now the novel was gone, and he could reiterate to them that he didn't have it, and hopefully that would be the end of the matter.
Joey Zarate sat at his desk, studying the latest statistics brought to him about the state of the family business. As much as he hated to say it, things weren't looking too good right now, and they hadn't since that new Superman had come on the scene. It was hard enough conducting their activities with just one of them patrolling the skies. With two, it was nearly impossible, although to be fair, they tended to trade off time instead of share time on duty. Still, something needed to be done, and fast, if they were to stay in business much longer.
Joey stood up and began to wander toward the large conference table at the corner of his dark, spartan office. It was time to put their plan into motion. He looked at the maps hanging on the wall and took in the patterns that the multicolored pins pushed into it created. For years they had been collecting all information they could find about Superman. The family had spotters throughout the city that called in whenever they saw him; they bought every newspaper sold in town to see who was covering his movements; they followed the tabloids even, all hoping for some insight into Superman's life. Dates, locations, and times were recorded with every sighting and charted to try to find some pattern to Superman's appearances. Joey picked up a report written by the family's most noted detective and read it for the umpteenth time.
The report was very interesting when coupled with the map hanging in front of him. According to their data, during business hours, Superman tended to be seen in an area, circular in shape, immediately radiating out from central Metropolis. At night, the sightings tended to be more spread out throughout the city and her suburbs. The daytime sightings outside of the central area were only usually for major occurrences that garnered a lot of media attention, while the sightings nearest to the center of the city were for smaller things, such as muggings and bank robberies, that didn't really get any coverage while they were happening. Many theories floated around the family's various experts as to why this was, but Joey was fairly sure he knew. Only one thing could truly explain the pattern, and that was that Superman must have a regular job somewhere in the central area of the city. Superman was known to have extraordinary hearing, but even he had his limits. Those limits would be exactly the type of thing that would cause the circular coverage area during the daytime. If he had a job, he would be expected to spend business hours in the building where he worked, although the sheer number of sightings that still happened during those hours attested to the fact that he likely had a job that allowed him to come and go pretty freely. The random appearances that showed up in the evening hours could be explained away as being caused by Superman patrolling the city, as he was known to do.
So how could Superman work in the central area of the city unless he masqueraded as someone else? He certainly couldn't dress in that gaudy blue spandex suit of his and NOT get noticed — no, he had to be going out in something else, probably as someone else. When Joey had first voiced this theory, many people had been skeptical, but the sudden appearance of a son seemed to sway some of them into seeing things his way. How could Superman have raised a son without anyone noticing unless he was living as someone else? The secret identity theory was actually a very old one, first voiced during the second year that Superman had been in the city. The Diana Stride expose was something that Joey remembered quite vividly, along with its exposure as a hoax. The person she tagged as being Superman might have been wrong, but the idea was certainly intriguing, and it had been wedged in his mind ever since, gaining credence as time wore on. Joey had made it one of his goals in life to reveal the secret to Superman's identity, and the time to do so was drawing near.
His thought process was interrupted by the ringing of the cellular phone hanging on his belt. "Joe here," he said.
"The Bantram niece just left his place with a manuscript under her arm," the voice on the other end said. Joey allowed himself to smile a little. The manuscript, the one thing that could end up being a crucial piece to the puzzle, was almost his.
Joe had read with interest the Ridley Davenport book "Superboy" when it came out several years ago. At the time of its release, Joey had considered it to be very interesting. As of six months ago, he saw it as being downright prophetic. Joey wasn't the type of person that believed in coincidences — something had to cause Mr. Davenport to write that book, and Joey had to know what it was. As much as he would've liked to have asked the author first hand, Mr. Davenport had spent the past year in hiatus in one of the few locations that was outside of the Zarate area of influence. It didn't really matter, though, since the Zarate family had the book's publisher in their back pocket. Joey had put his feelers out and, lo and behold, had found out about the existence of a mysterious unpublished Ridley Davenport novel, written around the same time as "Superboy," that supposedly dealt with a secret identity for Superman. Joey had nearly fallen out of his chair when he heard about that one.
In his curiosity, Joey had called out for another favor from Ed Bantram, the company owner and friend of the family, but Mr. Bantram had been less than forthcoming. Joey had kept up the pressure in hopes of getting what he wanted, but his patience had been wearing very thin in recent days. Now it seemed that Mr. Bantram had been less than honest when he told them that he didn't know of this manuscript. That was unfortunate for him, Joey thought.
"Tail the girl and grab Bantram," Joey said. The man on the other end grunted out his agreement and Joey ended the call. So the manuscript was in the hands of the niece. A quick thought ran through his mind, and Joey dialed up another number on his phone.
"This is Joe. What have you got on Susan Bantram, niece to our publisher friend?" Joey waited a few seconds while the man on the other end found the file.
"Junior at Metropolis University, lives off campus. Is a known member of several different organizations, most of them Superman oriented. In fact, she formed the Friends of Superman club at the University a couple of years ago. I have addresses, phone records, bank records, a list of mailing lists she's on, and logs of her internet activity here if you want to see them, boss," said the voice at the other end.
Joey's grin grew wider. She was a Superman fan, huh? An idea was forming — her cooperation might be much easier to get than her uncle's. She could come in very handy. "Just drop that whole file off at my office as soon as you get a chance. Thanks Tony," Joey said before hanging up. It was all coming into place. Soon, tantalizingly soon, he would be able to have Superman out of his way once and for all.
Jon Kent entered the Daily Planet the next morning in a cheery mood, a definite spring in his step. Jon had no doubt as to what had caused the mood — he had had all night to think about it. It was amazing how the sun seemed to shine brighter that morning, how his coffee and muffin had tasted that much better, and how delightfully musical all the standard sounds of the city were. Everywhere he looked, he saw the face of Diane Martinez. She had a very exotic look, very dark and beautiful. And she was very… tantalizing. Yes, that was the word. Obviously not easily intimidated. When she was working, she was completely focused, but when she smiled…oh, boy.
Jon moved to his desk on autopilot, oblivious to the curious stares of coworkers, who weren't used to seeing him so sunny first thing in the morning. He just couldn't stop thinking about the encounter the night before. He had not realized until he went back to the police station to interview Diane how strong his feelings for her were. It was truly amazing that those feelings had only come from a couple of exchanged sentences and some stray glances. Sure, her manner with him the second time around had been brusque, to say the least, but somehow that made her all the more desirable to him. Maybe it was the fact that it showed that she was an independent person, the type that didn't let other people (men, in particular) run all over them, the type that he had a great deal of respect for. In any case, trying to win her over was certainly a challenge he was up to. He had waited his whole life for that connection that he had felt when he looked into her eyes, and he knew definitively that he would do whatever it took to make her love him, even if it meant having an extreme amount of patience and a will of steel.
Jon slowly became aware of a hand being waved in front of his face. He blinked a few times and regained his focus, then turned to face the hand's owner. He blushed a little when he saw his dad there — Jon had been so lost in thought that he hadn't seen his father come over to his desk and sit down at the chair next to it. Clark Kent was smiling in an amused way at his son.
"Earth to Jon! Are you with me, bud?"
"Uh, hi, Dad," Jon said, an embarrassed smile crossing his face. "I guess I was just lost in thought. What's up?"
Clark held up an edition of the morning paper. "I saw the article you wrote about that shootout in the Garden District last night and I wanted to congratulate you. Good piece of investigating."
Jon blushed again. His dad had always been quick with a compliment, and had always taken every opportunity to let his children know he was proud of them. Even so, Jon felt humbled every time one of those compliments came his way. "Well, I figured since I had been there, I might as well write the article…"
"Well, yeah, there's that," Clark said quickly, giving a small dismissive gesture with his hand. "But it fell awfully nicely into that series of stories you've been doing about the organized crime in that area. It will be really interesting to see what connection turns up between the people from last night and the Zarate family. Have you gotten any hard evidence to support your hypothesis that the Zarates are running that part of town yet?'
Jon sighed. Just flying over the Garden District at night and tuning in his superhearing had yielded enough mentions of the Zarate name that it would be extremely hard for him to believe that the family wasn't controlling the area. But none of what he heard could be substantiated by anyone else, and none of it had garnered him enough information to make a large bust of his own that would prove once and for all that the Zarates were behind the drug dealing, prostitution, illegal gun sales, and extortion that was happening in that part of town on an almost continual basis. Even the occasional police raid that went down in that neighborhood wasn't making much of a dent, and the criminals caught weren't snitching on the family. He briefly wondered if the police even suspected how ingrained the crime family was to that neighborhood, but then he thought about his interview from the night before. When he broached that very subject with Officer Martinez, it had definitely gotten a reaction. Maybe the police were working toward the same ends that he was, after all.
The thought of his interview with Officer Martinez almost caused him to slip back into his reverie, but he forced himself to look at his father, who had that amused smile on his face again. Jon realized that he had been lost in thought for a few seconds, but he didn't try to cover it up, instead slipping into professional reporter mode. "No, I don't have hard evidence. I think it's just a matter of time before something turns up, though — there's enough activity out there that they're bound to slip up sometime," Jon said. He looked at his father again, and a thought popped into his head. "Dad, can I ask you something?"
Clark's smile faded slightly — the tone of Jon's voice had changed significantly from his earlier statement. His face seemed to have changed, too — the confident tones fell away and he almost looked timid. "Sure. What do you want to know?"
Jon glanced around nervously, noting the bustle of the newsroom. What he wanted to ask was somewhat personal and certainly not job related — he wanted to do it somewhere more private. "Uh, let's go to the conference room first."
"Okay," Clark said slowly, completely confused. He stood up and immediately Jon took him by the arm and dragged him into the conference room, shutting the door behind him.
"Tell me about when you first met Mom," Jon said as he sat down in one of the chairs surrounding the big conference table. Clark looked at Jon's eyes and caught his eager expression, and almost laughed. As much as he expected the subject to come up eventually, Clark certainly hadn't expected it to be first thing in the morning some day at work. He wondered briefly what had prompted the question, but he was sure he would find out soon enough.
Clark took a seat across from his son. "Well, I was in Perry's office interviewing for a job when she just burst in. All of a sudden, there she was, talking to Perry like I wasn't even there. I don't know what happened, but at that instant I first saw her, everything else seemed to dissolve until there was just me and her. Time meant nothing. I almost felt like I had been hit by a…"
"Bulldozer." Jon said, almost dreamily, cutting him off. Clark had been staring in the direction of Perry's old office when he started his tale, but Jon's interruption had brought his attention right back to the conference table. Clark looked at him and saw a very far away look on his face.
"Well, I was going to say Mack Truck, but the point is the same," Clark joked, trying to lighten the mood a little. "Anyway, at that second I fell hopelessly, completely in love, and I knew my life would never be the same again," he continued in a more serious tone.
"Mmmm. No doubt in your mind?" Jon's face took on a wistful quality that Clark had never seen before.
Clark narrowed his eyes and looked at his son more closely. What exactly happened to him last night? He had been fine when he left work… "No, none whatsoever," Clark said cautiously. "Why do you ask, exactly?"
"Huh?" Jon asked, suddenly bringing his attention back to the conference room. He smiled timidly again and avoided looking his father in the eye. "Oh, no reason. You know, I just…uh, well, I just met a girl last night and all of that applied. No big deal." Jon shrugged.
Clark arched his eyebrows and felt the corners of his mouth tug up, completely against his will. He found Jon's downplaying of the situation to be rather humorous, but Clark figured Jon probably wouldn't appreciate his amusement right now, so he tried to suppress it. He molded the best "concerned father" look on his face that he could before speaking. "You did?"
"Yeah," Jon said, very matter-of-factly. "Officer with Metropolis Police Department. Diane Martinez. I don't know what happened, but one second I was just doing standard rescue stuff, and the next we were looking into each other's eyes and…zap!" Jon made a hand signal that was supposed to imitate lightning.
An alarm bell went off in Clark's head — rescue stuff? He must've been dressed as Crimson Superman when the… zap took place. If that were the case, and she was falling for his alter ego, the whole situation could get ugly. Clark wished he could offer some sort of advice — the last thing he wanted was for Jon to go through the same torture that he had experienced. But, he didn't know enough about the situation to be of much help right now. The best he could do at the moment was offer support and encouragement and let Jon work out his love life on his own. That's what Clark would've wanted had he been in the same position.
"Well, you know, if you ever need any advice or an ear to bend or anything, you can always come to your mother and me," Clark said.
Jon smiled sincerely. "I know. I'm sure you'll be hearing a lot more about this before everything is said and done."
Clark nodded. "I'd be worried if I didn't. Now, what do you say we get back to work?" Jon nodded in agreement and stood up. As he was heading toward the door, Clark's conscience began to eat away at him. Sure, he had told himself that he was going to butt out of Jon's love life right now, but the memories of those days long ago, when he was so in love with Lois but she was only in love with Superman, came flooding back to him. Even with all the years that had passed, all those feelings remained fresh in his head. He couldn't help but feel that Jon was going down the same path. "Jon?" Clark blurted out, causing him to come to a halt.
"Yeah?" Jon said looking over his shoulder.
Clark stood up and took a deep breath, his mind quickly trying to figure out what, exactly, to say to his son. After a small pause, he began to speak again. "Just remember that the cornerstone of any relationship is trust, and being honest with someone will be the best way to gain that trust."
Jon looked Clark in the eyes, his expression puzzled at first. He nodded slowly as he caught the meaning. "I know. I guess…I'm new at this. I don't know what to do or what to say. It's so soon, you know?"
Clark smiled. He knew all too well what Jon was saying. "Yes, I do. It'll come to you, eventually. And I think that's all I'm going to say right now — it's your show, after all." Clark said with a small smile. He began to move forward, and as he walked past Jon, he gave him a quick pat on the shoulder. Jon grinned in return and followed his father out of the conference room, the beautiful face of Diane Martinez shoved momentarily to the back of his mind. He always thought better about things when he wasn't actually actively thinking about them, anyway — maybe by the end of the work day, he would have some sort of strategy on how to win her over worked out. Until then, he had work to do.
Jon took off across the city that night after his solitary supper. Unlike the previous night, however, he had a purpose in mind as he launched himself out of his apartment window. Without a second thought, he steered himself in the direction of the Garden District. All the talk about the Zarate family at work that had had made him anxious to get to the bottom of their involvement in the neighborhood.
As he reached the district, he slowed his velocity and tuned in his superhearing. It didn't take him long to see that activity was pretty slow, although he thought he heard someone alluding to something bigger that would be happening in the near future. He was about to give up and move on to patrol other areas of the city, when a scream caught his attention. Quickly he headed toward the sound, and found a woman being assaulted in an alley. It took very little effort to subdue the attacker, much to the relief of the woman. Jon let her know that he was taking the man to the nearest police station, and that she should probably go there herself and file a report. She agreed and thanked him profusely as he lifted off into the air, his passenger in tow.
Dropping off wrongdoers at police stations had always been a very routine part of his job as a superhero — it was one of those things he just didn't think about much anymore. But this time was different. The local precinct here was the one that Diane worked at, and that meant that there was a possibility that he would have to run into her again, face-to-face. While part of him felt gratified about that, the other part was completely terrified. He wanted to see more of her, but he wanted it to be on his terms, and out of uniform. Subconsciously, he knew that part of his reason for coming to the Garden District that night was to see her, but only from afar. He had come frighteningly close to giving away too much of himself the previous evening, and he was afraid that it would happen again.
The flight to the police station was uneventful and entirely too short. By the time that Jon finally decided he should keep an eye out for Diane Martinez and avoid her at all costs if he did happen to spot her, he was landing on the steps of the precinct. His attention had been so focused on making up his plan, that he hadn't noticed Diane standing just outside the door to the station. Jon felt his breath catch in his throat as their eyes met, and that strange feeling of the rest of the world melting away came back. Jon mentally screamed at himself to snap out of it, that he couldn't afford to lose control of his emotions with a prisoner in his custody. But try as he might, he couldn't force himself to look away. He involuntarily felt the corners of his mouth pull up as his eyes drank in her face, with those twinkling brown eyes; eyes that betrayed the fact that that she was just as spellbound as he was. Then she smiled at him.
Inside, Jon felt something akin to euphoria when she flashed that brilliant smile. But soon enough her eyes crept down to the S-shield on his chest, and that euphoric feeling quickly fled. All of a sudden he clearly remembered why he was at the police station, and more importantly, he remembered who he was to her. That realization was a crushing blow, a stark reminder of something that he had forgotten about in the heat of the moment. Her smile as she glanced at the S-shield could only mean that whatever it was she was feeling was meant for the Crimson Superman. He hadn't even considered that his other identity would come between himself and his plan for winning Diane, but hadn't he been wearing the suit when they first met? Of course he had. Women were constantly swooning over the Crimson Superman, that was certainly nothing new, but never before had he felt such a connection with another person as he had with Diane. He didn't want to believe that his feelings were false anymore than he wanted to believe that she was just another Superman enthusiast, but a sense of dread came over him as he realized that he didn't know what he thought anymore.
Jon carefully molded his facial features into the most neutral expression that he could and brought his attention back to the present. He glanced at his prisoner, who seemed to be oblivious of the small non-verbal exchange which had just taken place between the policewoman and the superhero. Jon nudged the man, and they walked up the steps and toward where Diane stood. He noticed that she was still looking at him, her smile of earlier now replaced with puzzlement. She no doubt wondered about the sudden change in his expression, as well she should, he thought bitterly.
"I caught this man in the middle of an assault," he said, keeping any trace of his anguished emotions out of his voice.
For the first time, Diane noticed that the Crimson Superman was accompanied by another man. She stared at the man for a few seconds, wondering why she hadn't seen him earlier, before looking back at the superhero, who was looking dispassionately at some point past her. "So you want me to take him into custody?" she asked.
"Yes," the superhero said flatly. "His victim should be coming in shortly to give her report."
Diane stared at the Crimson Superman, her eyes narrowing. What was it about this guy? He put on this hard outer shell, but for the second time in as many nights, she thought she had seen a crack. He had smiled at her — she had never heard of him really smiling at anyone. It was a shame, too, because that smile was extremely striking. As a whole, he was more than striking — breathtaking, even, she thought with a little bit of surprise. Diane had always figured herself to be the type not to be suckered in by a man's looks — what was it about this man that made her change that? Maybe it was the reputation he had for honesty, or the way he had devoted so much of his time to fighting for the same type of thing she believed in: the well being of the common man (and woman). In any case, she knew he wasn't the type of man that would hurt anyone, and maybe it would be okay to get into a relationship with someone like that.
She mentally chastised herself. What possessed her to think about a relationship with a man who was possibly the most eligible bachelor on the planet? What made her think he would go out with anyone? The original Superman was never, ever, seen with a woman on his arm — his son would no doubt be the same way. But, then again, the fact that Superman did, in fact, have a son meant that Superman had a woman somewhere — heck, he probably had a WIFE somewhere. It was very strange for her to think of Superman as being married — he didn't even wear a wedding band — but what else could explain the existence of a son? And how could Superman get married or have children without anyone knowing about it, anyway?
Diane recalled the small amount of research that she had undertaken after her shift ended yesterday. There were so many resources available if you just knew where to look, and even though she had only been a cop for a few months, she was beginning to know those resources pretty well. Some of the things she had seen were nothing but speculation, and she had dismissed those offhand, preferring to stick to fact. And the fact was, there wasn't too much to see outside of all the heroic acts that the supermen had done, no clues into their personalities or private lives. There were rumors, of course — some of the juicier Superman rumors were over 20 years old, but rumor wasn't something she was willing to put any stock into. She still wanted to know about these men, though. Everything. And, she thought with a small smile, it might just be easier to get the information first hand.
She pulled herself back to the current situation again and studied the Crimson Superman. Yes, he had smiled at her earlier, but then that smile disappeared, and he turned into the unemotional man that stood before her. A quick glance into his eyes showed something strange — sadness, maybe? The change in him just a few seconds earlier had been so abrupt, it was downright puzzling. She supposed that he had covered his emotions in an attempt to be more superhero-like. It was very possible — after all, he did have an image to protect. She really wanted to find out what he was actually thinking, but now wasn't the time. She figured that if she played her cards right, she would run into him again. Until that time, she could think up a way to approach him about it. It was strange how quickly this improbable attraction she had to him had manifested itself into something more, she thought. She just hoped the attraction was reciprocated. Judging by what she thought she had seen briefly in his eyes, she didn't think that would be a problem.
She reached down onto her belt and pulled off her handcuffs. "Thanks for bringing him in, Superman," she said looking into his eyes, which were focused off into the distance. "I know we can't be everywhere at once, and you make the city that much safer just by taking care of the things that we can't get to." She smiled and touched his arm lightly, which caused him to flinch slightly and draw in his breath quickly. His eyes were drawn suddenly back to hers, and what she saw was surprise mixed with a wistful longing, but that was quickly replaced with a look so sad, it almost made her heart break.
"Thank you," he said softly and shoved his prisoner in her direction. Diane took the man's hands and cuffed them. She began to read him his Miranda rights as she led him away. She looked over her shoulder quickly as she walked away and saw the Crimson Superman still standing there, his whole face now a careful mask of neutrality. But those eyes…again, they indicated something deeper than just a Superhero. She would find out someday what that something was, she vowed. Definitely.
Jon just stood rooted to his spot, watching her retreating form. As indifferently as he had tried to look and act in her presence, he knew that his face had given away far more of his tumultuous emotions that he would've preferred. He shook his head and glanced down at his red and black outfit. He had known when he had taken on the role of the Crimson Superman that his life would become more complicated — it went without saying that trying to keep two identities separate was not an easy task. But he had never realized what all that entailed when the emotion of…love was involved. Yes, he was sure it was love, and tonight it had only taken a few seconds of looking at her gorgeous face, of hearing her musical voice, before he was sure.
It made him sadder than he could possibly imagine to think that this woman, who he had felt an incredible bond with, was only interested in Superman. He supposed that, if he really wanted to, he could give her what she wanted, ethics be damned. Why did it matter what side of him she was interested in? It was still HIM, or at least part of him, that she wanted. And he wanted nothing more than to be with her, or at the very least spend some meaningful time with her. In frustration Jon took off into the air.
No, he thought sadly, it really would be wrong to lead her on as Superman. He could never be happy with someone that he had to hide things from, and she wouldn't be happy when she found out who he really was. Honesty, that's what his dad had said. The cornerstone of a good relationship. To have an honest relationship with her meant to have one with her as Jon Kent. When he had vowed to himself that he would do what it took to have her love him, he never realized what a monumental task that would be. It was almost enough to throw him further into despair, but the bond he felt with her was strong enough that he felt the pain of trying to win her would be nothing compared to the pain that would come if he didn't.
Jon looked around himself, realizing that he had been flying on autopilot. He saw that once again he was moving toward the Metropolis University campus to check up on his brother and Jenny. He drifted over his old apartment and looked down, seeing CJ in the process of cooking a supper of his own. As he watched, a voice drifted up from below.
"Don't think I don't know you're up there," CJ said before looking in Jon's direction, giving him a salute as he did so.
Jon blinked. "Wha…?"
"Don't look so surprised. You aren't the only one with talents, in case you forgot," CJ said, giving one of his mischievous smiles.
Jon's mind was still not thinking clearly after his latest encounter with Diane. "Of course not…"
CJ cut him off. They knew each other well enough to recognize signs of distress in each other. CJ's expression indicated that he seemed to be finding amusement in Jon's current emotional state. "Why don't you come down here and we can talk like normal people. That lurking up there is just creepy."
Jon managed a smile as he nodded. In less than a second he was standing in front of the door to the apartment, dressed in casual street clothes. He inserted his key into the lock and entered, inhaling the aroma of CJ's supper as he did so. CJ emerged from the kitchen with a plate of meatloaf and sat down on the couch as Jon watched.
"So what brings you hovering over my neck of the woods?" CJ asked just before taking a bite of his supper.
Jon wandered over to the recliner and sat down. "I don't know. Just kinda happened, I guess."
CJ cocked one of his eyebrows and looked at Jon. The tone in his brother's voice told him something was going on. "Uh-huh," he said slowly once he finished chewing.
"So sue me if I want to check up on my little brother," Jon said, a bit too defensively. CJ smiled a little, trying to guess what the problem was. He'd never known Jon to be the excessively moody type — he was annoyingly levelheaded most of the time, in fact. Then again, so was CJ. The only time he had ever really been temperamental was that time in Gotham city, right after he met Jenny…
"Oooh, wait. I know — you're having girl problems!" CJ said and scooted closer to Jon. He took another bite of his supper and gave Jon his undivided attention.
Jon blushed, turning his face an interesting shade of pink. CJ almost started laughing, but he managed to control himself.
"Well, I, uh," Jon started, a bit embarrassed. He wondered whether he should tell CJ his problem or not, but as he remembered what CJ had gone through only a couple of months earlier, the correct decision became clear. If anyone could help him, it was his brother. As CJ ate his supper, Jon began to tell his tale, not leaving out any detail, no matter how small or inconsequential. CJ listened in rapt attention, keeping his expression neutral. He knew Jon was having problems, but he didn't expect them to be that bad.
"I would suggest that you visit her some more as yourself and try to get to know her better," CJ said. "I mean, if your connection is really that strong, I bet she figures it out on her own."
"Like Jenny did?" Jon asked, a small ray of hope surfacing inside him.
"Yeah, like Jenny did. But Jenny would have to tell you her side of the story to give you a better idea…" CJ broke off and looked quickly at the piles of books on his floor, thinking briefly. He then looked back at Jon with a smile on his face. "How would you like to go out, have a few drinks, and hear all about it tonight?"
Jon opened his mouth to protest, but CJ held up his hand, stopping him before he could get a word out. "I know for a fact that you don't have anything better to do. You've been patrolling the city all week — Dad even called me once or twice with all the free time he had. I'm sure he would be more than happy to take over for one little night while you went out with us." CJ said. Jon had to admit that his brother had a point. What else was he going to do for the rest of the night? Sulk?
"Okay," Jon said, surprising himself somewhat. It wasn't the type of night that Jon had envisioned himself having when he left his apartment earlier that evening, but it promised to be relaxing and a little therapeutic. He remembered back to his college days, when the thought of spending a night out like that would've sent him running to find anything else at all to keep him occupied, but now he was really looking forward to it. Things certainly did change.
Jon made a point to call his father and let him know that he wasn't going to be available for extracurricular duties that night. Clark had seemed somewhat surprised and curious, and he had been pleased to know that Jon and CJ were spending some time together. CJ then called Jenny and let her know what was going on. She happily agreed to accompany them on their night out, since she didn't have much going on, either.
The two left the apartment a few minutes later and drove to Jenny's place. As they walked in the door to her apartment, CJ noticed Jon shield his eyes from the shrine and figured that Jon must have peeked into the apartment before, probably while checking up on Jenny. Either that, or the shrine really was that much of a legend, he thought with a grin. CJ made a mental note to ask him about it later. Susan was sitting on the couch in the living room reading something that looked like an unbound book. She looked up as soon as the men entered the apartment, an appreciative look forming on her face. It was the same look that she got every time she saw something that she considered to be desirable, be it supermen or ordinary mortals that she found attractive. CJ saw that look every single time they met.
The brothers looked at each other, the same thought on each of their minds, before looking at Susan. CJ cleared his throat and approached her. "Uh, Susan, this is my brother Jon. Jon, Susan," CJ said, pointing to each in turn as he made his introductions. Jon stepped forward and offered her his hand, which she shook firmly as she looked him over thoroughly. CJ could feel his brother tense up under the scrutiny, and it was no wonder, he thought as he glanced at the wall of shame. For whatever it was worth, Jon was valiantly trying to distance himself from his alter ego, slumping his shoulders slightly and moving without that air of confidence. It must've worked, he thought as Susan let go of his hand.
"Nice to meet you," Susan said. She glanced over to her wall and then back to Jon again. "So," she said, "are you a Superman fan?"
CJ rolled his eyes and slugged Jon in the bicep. "I'm going to get Jenny. You two have fun," he said as he retreated from the living room. As he rounded the corner and approached Jenny's bedroom, he had to start laughing — that pleading look on Jon's face as he left was just too funny. CJ could appreciate Jon's apprehension, but that didn't make it any less humorous in his eyes. He knew Jon would be able to hear his laughter, but he just couldn't stop himself. Just then, the door to Jenny's room opened. She was still putting in one of her earrings as she approached him, a crooked smile on her face.
"What's so funny?" she asked.
CJ grabbed her around the waist and pulled her in. "The piranha has just found her next victim," he said in a low voice. "Jon is hearing all about Susan's Superman obsession, and how she would love to eat his other identity for breakfast, I'm sure."
Jenny giggled. "It's kind of ironic if you think about it."
"I try not to," CJ said, bending over to give her a quick kiss. As they pulled apart, he found his eyes wandering down to the ring she wore on her left hand — his ring. Every single time he saw that, he felt like the luckiest guy on Earth, and this was no exception. Her took her hand in his and slowly drew it up to his lips, giving it a small kiss. "So, beautiful, are you ready for your night on the town?"
She gave him that smile she reserved for him and him alone. "I could never pass up a night out with the two most gorgeous men in Metropolis."
CJ arched is eyebrows at her, pouting slightly. "Gosh, I thought you only had eyes for me."
"I do," she said, kissing him again. "But you have to admit…"
CJ pressed his index finger to her lips, silencing her. "No, I don't."
"Well," she said after taking his hand from her lips and into her own, "think of it this way: I chose you. You are the man I love. I can't help it, though, if your family turns out good looking men. I mean, look at your dad…"
CJ shook his head. He really, really didn't want to hear about how handsome his dad was — that would just be too much. "Okaaaay. You made your point," he said with an air of playfulness. He bent down and kissed her again before speaking. "I think we should go rescue my brother now."
"Good idea," Jenny said. CJ released her waist but kept her hand in his. Together they walked to the living room, and what they saw made both of them pause. Susan was standing in front of her bookcase, talking about the letter she received from Superman, facing the wall as she did so. Jon was holding the unbound book, thumbing through it at superspeed with his jaw hanging open. He reached the end and looked up at Jenny and CJ, his jaw snapping shut audibly. CJ detected a hint of fear behind his eyes, but that quickly fled. Jon gently replaced the manuscript where he found it, careful to make sure that Susan hadn't heard him, and stood up.
"Well," he said to Susan, "it's been nice talking to you but we have to go now."
She turned around quickly, apparently a little annoyed at the interruption. "All right, if you have to. Goodbye, then." She waved her hand at them dismissively and returned to the couch.
The trio exited the apartment together, CJ and Jenny hand in hand with Jon trailing behind them. As they closed the apartment door behind them Jon let out a sigh. "If you ever put me through that again, I swear to God you are a dead man," he said to CJ.
CJ snickered. "What, you didn't find her hero worship to be interesting and entertaining?"
"No, I think scary is the word I would use."
"Come on you guys, she means well," Jenny chipped in. The brothers looked at her with raised eyebrows, identical expressions on their faces. Okay, so maybe they thought her roommate was a flake. But her obsession really was pretty harmless. Add to the equation the fact that Susan was also pretty dense, and Jenny certainly didn't think Jon or CJ had anything to worry about in the identity department. "What?"
Jon and CJ looked at each other. "Yeah, definitely scary," CJ said to Jon, and they both snickered. Jenny just shook her head. She had learned long ago — from the beginning, in fact — that those two operated on their own wavelength.
"So what were you speed reading there, Jon?" Jenny said, trying to change the subject.
Jon's smile faltered. "It was a novel or something. Really creepy. It was about Superman having a secret identity. It went into his home and family life — the weird part is that it seems to be modeled on Mom and Dad."
"You're kidding!" CJ said, more surprised than upset.
"No, I'm not. It was strange, but the date on it shows it's about seven years old. It was a manuscript, though — I don't think it's even been published."
"So what's Susan doing with it?" Jenny thought out loud, genuinely curious. Susan always seemed to have the inside track on novels and other published material, but Jenny could never figure out where she got her information.
"I think I'll ask Dad about it. That had to have gone through the Foundation at one point or another," Jon said, shrugging his shoulders. "In the meantime, though…"
The trio reached the outer door to the building. "It's a beautiful night, let's go enjoy ourselves," CJ finished. They walked out into the cool night air and headed in the general direction of campustown, which was only a few blocks away. As they walked down the street, they failed to notice a nondescript black Cadillac sitting against the curb, the men inside of it with their binoculars trained on the building they had just exited.
The man sitting on the passenger side of the car watched the trio pass by. He waited for them to go another block before taking a cellular phone out of the jacket of his neatly cut suit. The man in the driver's seat kept his binoculars on the building as his passenger dialed a familiar number.
"Joe? She's alone," he said, and then hung up. It was time.
Susan read her manuscript in the peace and quiet of her apartment. As much as she truly wanted to be focusing on the words on the page in front of her, she found her mind wandering back to her introduction to CJ's brother. She had this vague feeling that she had met him before, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. It was really strange, because she surely would've remembered a meeting with a guy like that. He had been wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and she had seen a very well-defined figure underneath, like he worked out heavily. His face had been somewhat obscured by glasses, but she had seen that underneath, he was quite handsome — he might even be the type of guy she would go for if she weren't saving herself for one of the sons of Superman. It wouldn't take too much imagination to see how stunning Jon Kent would look if he got contacts, stood up a little straighter, and maybe gained a little more confidence.
She mentally gave herself a shake and forced herself to get beck to the story. Reading along, she also found herself grafting CJ and Jenny's forms onto the main characters of the novel, who were supposed to be journalists at a major Metropolitan newspaper. She didn't know why, exactly. Maybe it was just because they were really the only couple that she knew very well. Imagining CJ in a Superman suit was somewhat funny — he just didn't seem the type, although he, like his brother, was certainly well built. But the idea of CJ picking up a car or shooting laser beams out of his eyes…come on! In a way, it made reading the novel that much more interesting, but the mental effort made the reading very slow going, indeed.
About half an hour after Jenny, CJ, and Jon left, Susan heard a knock on the apartment door. She was genuinely enjoying her reading, and the interruption had her more than a little annoyed. She delayed for a few seconds, hoping whoever it was would go away, but they didn't, and the knocking returned. Reluctantly, she set her manuscript aside and got up to answer the door.
A quick look through her peephole showed a man standing in the hallway about her age with dark hair and an outfit that looked like it was straight out of the frat boy fashion catalogs. Puzzled, she slowly opened the door. The man in the hallway seemed to brighten up as he caught sight of her, much to her satisfaction. His smile was very disarming, helping to ease away her trepidation.
"Miss Bantram?" the man asked somewhat timidly.
He held out his right hand. "I'm Tony Smith. I got your name from a friend of a friend that said that you were THE person to talk to around here if I wanted to know anything about Superman."
Susan took his hand tentatively at first, but the mention of her favorite subject melted away most of her lingering fears. Anyone who was coming to HER to find out about Superman was all right in her book. "Someone said that?" she asked shyly.
"Oh, yeah," Tony said enthusiastically. "Can I come in?"
"Sure," Susan said, gesturing for him to enter. She closed the door after him and led him into the living room. She noted with glee how his eyes widened upon seeing her Superman wall. What Superman fan wouldn't appreciate her display, she wondered? Susan sat down on the couch and gestured for Tony to sit in the neighboring chair. "So what do you want to know?"
"Well, first I want to ask you a question," Tony said.
"What would you say if I told you that I thought that Superman had a secret identity?" Tony looked directly into her eyes as he asked his question.
Susan swallowed and broke eye contact with him, glancing quickly at her wall before looking at the manuscript. "I don't know," she said slowly. Before today, she would've thought the idea to be preposterous. In fact, before today, the idea had never crossed her mind. But that manuscript was saying the same thing, and she really didn't know what to think. Was it possible for him to have a secret identity? Why on Earth would he even feel the need to have one?
Tony followed her gaze, and he smiled triumphantly as he saw her looking at something that could only be the elusive manuscript. He made a concerted effort to wipe the signs of this discovery off his face as Susan's gaze came back to him. "Let's just say I have some pretty good evidence to support my theory, and I would be willing to share it with you if you would help me out with something."
"Help you out with what?" Susan's voice took on an awed tone.
"Finding his identity," he said with a gleam in his eye and a smile on his lips.
Thoughts began to fly around furiously in Susan's brain. The opportunity to help him find Superman's identity? It was truly a once in a lifetime offer, one that was way too good to pass up. "Yes, I'd love to," she said softly, her mind still numb.
"Great!" Tony said as he stood up. "What do you say we get started this weekend?"
Susan nodded mutely, her eyes focused on her wall. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Tony retreating toward the door. A question suddenly permeated the haze in her mind, one that she just had to have answered before she could proceed. "Why me?" she asked him. "I mean, of all the people in the world who know about Superman and have studied Superman, I am hardly the foremost expert. Why would you want some kid with nothing more than an unhealthy obsession on your side?"
Tony plastered a smile on his face and looked over his shoulder, delivering his line in the most sincere manner that he could. "Sometimes an unhealthy obsession is a better thing to have than raw knowledge. Who would you want on your side when something was on the line — someone dedicated to the cause, or someone who just had knowledge of the cause?" Tony glanced at her wall before continuing. "And I can tell that you have a genuine love of Superman. You are exactly the type of person that I want on this project. Don't get me wrong — I have experts on my team, too, but I only take the best, and everyone I've talked to has said that you're one of the best."
Susan blushed and smiled widely. She knew she had tried throughout the years to make herself known throughout the legions of Superman fans, and she knew that plenty of people now knew who she was, but she had no idea that people thought so highly of her efforts. Maybe her persistence and fanaticism were finally paying off.
She stared dumbly off into space, not even noticing as Tony exited the apartment, pulling the door closed behind him. Floating around amongst the various self-congratulatory thoughts and images of Superman was a small, solitary feeling of dread; the feeling that something just wasn't right. That thought was never given credence, however, and was soon forgotten almost as quickly as it had appeared.
Tony walked down the hallway after exiting the Bantram woman's apartment, the smile fading from his face as soon as he had shut the door. That was almost too easy. He had been expecting her to ask what she could possibly get in return for his offer, but it had never been brought up. Flattery can get you everywhere, he thought as he walked along. He had sure laid it on thick, and it had worked. Joe was right — she was definitely going to be useful to them. Not only would she willingly help them to find Superman's identity, no questions asked, she was also going to hand over that manuscript, or at least the information it contained.
CJ and Jenny approached her apartment after bidding Jon goodnight. Their night out had been everything that it had promised — relaxing, fun, and distracting. For a while Jon had even seemed to forget about his problems with Diane, but CJ had noticed that every now and then he would get an almost pained expression on his face, and it wasn't because of any missed distress calls. A little bit of playful prodding by CJ would draw Jon out of his dark moods, but the fact that they kept coming back meant that Jon had it bad. Really bad.
The apartment was dark as the pair entered. After flipping on some lights, they nestled together and sat down on the couch, just holding each other for a while. It was Jenny who finally broke the comfortable stillness.
"So what's up with Jon?" she asked.
"Problems on a personal front — he met a girl who only seemed interested in…a certain side of him." CJ said carefully. Sometimes he hated talking at her apartment, just because they always had to resort to code whenever there was a possibility of Susan overhearing them. Even though she was in bed at the moment, he didn't want to take any chances.
Jenny nodded, understanding the meaning easily. "Why don't you tell me about it," she said. If it were anybody else, CJ would've flatly refused just out of respect for his brother's privacy, but Jenny had a unique take on the situation. Maybe she could offer him some advice, since Jon hadn't broached the subject while they were out.
CJ related to Jenny what he had heard from Jon. She listened closely, her eyes focused off into the distance, her mind obviously formulating a plan. CJ tended to get a little scared when she plotted, if only because of the fact that her plans always seemed to get somebody into trouble. As he finished his story, he noticed a wicked grin spreading across her face.
CJ cocked his eyebrow and looked at her. "Do I even want to know what you're up to?"
Her eyes twinkled as she bent down to kiss him. She was buttering him up, no doubt. That kiss had answered his question — he was sure now that he did not, in fact, want to know what she was up to, but he knew that he was going to find out nonetheless. He was probably even part of whatever plan she had concocted.
"How would you like to play matchmaker?" Jenny asked as she pulled away.
"Matchmaker?" CJ said, with more than a hint of skepticism. Both eyebrows were now arched as he looked at her unwavering, mischievous grin.
"Yes. Come on, Clark, you know your brother. If you leave him to approach this woman on his own, their courtship will be very long and arduous and we're going to have a lot more nights like tonight."
CJ thought back on his brother's love life and he had to admit that she did have a point. On the few occasions that CJ had gotten Jon to go out with him in the past, he had noticed women approaching Jon all the time, but invariably Jon would politely turn them down. In fact, CJ had never seen him approach a woman before on his own. Okay, Jon had a couple of girlfriends over the years, but those were all platonic female friends who goaded him into upgrading their relationship to dating status. It was never a matter of girls not liking Jon, it was always a matter of him being too shy around them, or maybe not interested enough in them, for anything to happen. So nothing had.
Now along came this policewoman, and Jon had felt that feeling that was all too familiar to CJ. How would the shy, but now suddenly interested, Jon handle it? If CJ knew his brother, it would be in the most careful way possible. Unfortunately for Jon, the men in his family seemed to have an affinity for strong, fiery women (albeit, strong fiery women with warm, lovable personalities lurking beneath the surface), and those women never seemed to take real quickly to the soft and gentle route. CJ suddenly remembered tales of his parent's courtship — it took two painful years of dancing around their feelings before they had finally gotten together. CJ didn't think he could take two years of Jon's brooding. If this was the solution, than he was more than happy to participate in it.
"You are correct, sweetheart, as always. So what exactly did you have in mind?" CJ asked.
"Well, the school paper has been doing this series, where the reporters follow around a professional for a day and report on what it was like."
"I think I know where this is going…" CJ muttered. Jenny smiled at him and continued.
"I've always wondered what it would be like to be a policewoman."
"I just bet you have."
Jenny smacked him lightly on the arm and gave him an amused look. "Do you want to know the rest of my plan or not?"
CJ molded a look of sincere repentance on his face, although Jenny wasn't fooled. "I'm sorry," he said in a pouting tone.
Jenny grinned lopsidedly. He may not be sorry now, but she would find a way for him make it up to her later. "Good. Well, to continue, I'm willing to bet that she and I are at least a little bit alike, personality wise, given that I know your brother and what type of person he tends to hang out with. Anyway, I'll spend my day becoming good friends with her, and I'll convince her to get set up on a blind date with Jon for that night, even if she doesn't know it."
CJ grinned. This was shaping up to be a plan was definitely worthy of her reputation — devious, yet simple. "And how do you propose to do that?"
"It's easy, really: I'll invite her out to supper with us, my treat, and Jon will mysteriously appear. No problem."
Not for the first time, CJ felt pity for those on the receiving end of his fiancee's brilliant plotting. Jon didn't stand a chance. It was too bad that his dad didn't have a conniving little brother and soon to be sister-in-law when he was trying to win over Mom — it would've made the whole process so much easier.
To show his appreciation for her, CJ kissed Jenny deeply. "So when do you expect to put your little plan into effect?" he asked her as they came up for air.
"Tomorrow, first thing. I wouldn't want them missing out on something like this. It would almost be too cruel," she said as they kissed again.
CJ sighed inwardly. She was right, again. Being made to live alone, not knowing that your true love is out there is tolerable. Living alone when your true love is in sight but just out of reach, that was torture. CJ knew that, throughout the years, he and Jon had done many things to goad each other, but in this particular matter, he figured that his brother deserved a break.
Susan woke up the next morning, the pleasant wisps of Superman dreams still floating around in her head. It had taken a great deal of patience, but she had finished her new Ridley Davenport novel last night, and it had been everything she could've possibly imagined and more. It had certainly given her plenty of fodder for her dreams, as well as for a few days worth of pleasant fantasies. She would close her eyes and see herself as a fly on the wall of some suburban house, watching Superman and his wife interact. Then, inevitably, she would find herself in the body of his wife. It felt so wonderful, staring into his dark eyes, knowing that the love that filled them was meant only for her. But then she would open her eyes again and would find that it had all been a dream.
As Susan pulled herself out of bed, her thoughts drifted to her strange visitor the night before. It was such an odd coincidence that, on the very day she received her new novel that alluded to Superman having a secret life, she had received a visitor who wanted her to find Superman's real secret identity, as if he actually had one. Susan was smart enough to know where fiction ended and fact began, but she couldn't help but wonder if it was all some sort of cosmic twist of fate, a sign from God that it was her destiny to uncover the man of steel's real life. And who was she to challenge fate?
She gathered some things together and wandered into the bathroom to take a shower. If she was meant to find Superman's identity, then she supposed she needed a plan. Sure, the man from last night -Tony — had said that they would get together over the weekend to work on it, but she was far too impatient to wait that long, even though the weekend DID start tomorrow. She wanted to go into that meeting with something that showed that she did, in fact, know what was going on. But what could that something be? The more she thought about it, the more she was certain that the answer was contained in her novel — it HAD been right about the secret identity, after all.
The hot water from the shower flowed around her, relaxing away the last vestiges of sleep and helping to clear her brain. What had the novel said Superman's real occupation was? She had spent a lot more of her time focusing on the personal interaction between Superman and his family and she had kind of skimmed the details that she had considered to be less important, his job being one of them. Newspaper reporter, maybe? Yes, that sounded right. Maybe what she could do today was to scope out the major newspapers in town and see if she could find anything. Okay, so she also had classes today that she should go to, but in the grand scheme of things, fulfilling her destiny, as well as her own personal dream to get to know Superman, was much more important.
Her course of action now decided, she quickly finished her shower and toweled off. Before returning to her bedroom to change, she diverted to the living room to grab the phone book, deciding that it would be a really good idea to see exactly what she was getting herself into. Flipping to the listings for newspapers, she was disheartened to find more than a dozen entries. Looking more closely, though, she saw that some of the "newspapers" named were actually tabloids. She ruled those out quickly — Superman had way too much integrity to work for one of those rags. That halved the number of listings. What were left were the two major newspapers in town — the Daily Planet and the Star; one international publication — America Daily, but they only had a small correspondence office in Metropolis; a couple of advertisers and the local college newspapers. She thought for sure the novel said he worked at a MAJOR paper, so she decided that her investigation should be limited to the Planet and the Star. Both were located within a few blocks of each other downtown, which was a good thing since she would be relying on cabs for transportation and she didn't have enough money to be riding around all over Metropolis.
In high spirits, Susan practically skipped to her room and changed. Today was going to be a great day, especially since she was most likely going to see Superman!
Jon Kent sat at his desk and stared off into the distance, trying to decide on a course of action. He had spent the whole day yesterday and most of the morning today researching his Zarate crime family story, and now all he needed was a nice, solid statement from the police. He had been putting this part off, knowing that if he waited longer, he might be able to catch Diane, since she worked a later shift. It was a terrifying thought, to be sure, but it was something that had to be done.
While he had been out last night with CJ and Jenny, he had taken the opportunity to do some thinking. He knew the purpose of the excursion had been to kick back and relax, and he had eventually, but not before getting a better handle on what exactly needed to be done. CJ was completely right — he needed to talk to Diane as his real self. The problem was in finding a way to do that without seeming too forward. He wanted to get close to her without it looking like he was trying to get close to her, if that made sense. Right now this Zarate case was his only lifeline, and he was going to milk it for all it was worth. He supposed that he could find other stories that would be in the area that her precinct covered, and he had to admit that idea had a large amount of appeal, but he was still a rookie at the Planet with nothing more than a minimal say in the stories he got assigned. The only reason he got the shootout story in the first place was because it related to the Zarate story he was already assigned to.
As he let his thoughts drift some more, he was jolted rudely into the present by the ringing of the phone. Startled, his hand shot out and fumbled around for the receiver, eventually getting a grip on it. He almost dropped it as he brought it up to his face.
"Daily Planet, Jonathan Kent speaking," he said, recovering quickly. That particular phone greeting was becoming so ingrained in him in the few months that he had worked at the Planet, that he found himself almost using it at home. That had to be a sure sign that he worked too hard, he thought wryly.
"Mr. Kent," the voice at the other end said. They were two small words, three syllables all told, but they had affected him immediately — he would know that voice anywhere.
He suddenly found himself sitting up straighter in his chair, not fully realizing that he had been slumping at all. He felt his heart begin to beat a little harder, and his hand automatically flew up to straighten his glasses. He was acting as if she were sitting in front of him, he realized, rather than speaking to him over the phone. With a considerable amount of willpower he forced himself to contain his excitement over having her actually calling him. It would do him no good in the long run to let his excitement carry through to his phone conversation, plus it would be somewhat unprofessional.
Yes, he told himself, be professional, be completely objective. Be Jon Kent, reporter for the Daily Planet, talking on the phone to a random member of the police department that you have no personal interest in. Grabbing on to that reasoning, he steeled his voice and spoke.
"Yes?" he said as evenly as he could. To his ear, his voice sounded a little TOO controlled, possibly a little too deep and analytical. But then again, he told himself, she would hardly be able to notice that, since they had barely even spoken to each other. Besides, one syllable could hardly convey that much of his mental state to her. Even so, Jon cringed slightly as he waited for her reply.
"This is Officer Martinez with the Metropolis Police Department. I'm just calling to inform you that the Department has released its official statement concerning the incident in the Garden District two nights ago. I thought you might be interested in that information."
Jon's smile began to turn into a frown as he listened to her speak. Her tone was so stilted, so completely devoid of any emotion, that it was disconcerting. He supposed that maybe officers were trained to talk that way when dealing with the media, but then he thought about some of the other members of the force that he had talked to on a professional level, and they had all been much less formal. Some had even joked around with him. So, no, that wasn't it. His mind began to formulate various explanations for her behavior, but then he realized that she was still on the line, waiting for his reply.
"Yes, I am, thank you. So where exactly can I obtain a copy of this statement?"
"I can fax it to you or you can come down to the station to get it," she said with a hint of annoyance, which only served to deepen Jon's frown. He knew it wasn't a question that a seasoned veteran would ask, but he was new to the process… He decided that this wasn't the time to dwell on that.
Jon began to open his mouth to tell her to fax him the statement, but then an idea popped into his head. Sure, he would receive the statement, probably read it over, but then what? Having seen one or two official police statements in his time, he knew that they often left out facts that they considered to be critical to other cases and that they didn't want released to the public. He would undoubtedly have questions after reading it, and, all things being equal, he would much prefer to ask those questions to someone face-to-face. Even better if it meant that he could ask them to HER face-to-face.
The frown on his face changing to a smile, Jon decided that it was time to take a trip down to Diane's precinct. "I'll be by to pick it up in a few minutes. Thank you, Officer."
Officer Martinez mumbled out, "You're welcome," before ending the phone call. Jon couldn't help but let his grin deepen. This could be the golden opportunity that he was looking for. A song suddenly in his head, Jon pursed his lips together and began to whistle as he got up from his desk and headed for the elevators. The day was most certainly looking up!
He pushed the elevator button and rocked back and forth, transferring his weight from the back of his heels to the balls of his feet and back again. The elevator arrived shortly, and he entered. As he turned around to push the button that would send him down to the lobby, he caught sight of something that almost took the wind right out of his sails. There, sitting on one of the couches in the reception area, was Jenny's roommate, Susan.
Jon furrowed his brow and looked at her. What was she doing there? She caught his gaze and looked at him, the expression on her face easily as confused as the one he undoubtedly wore. Recognition came to her as the doors of the elevator began to close. She quickly held up her hand in a gesture of greeting, and Jon held up his in a similar manner. Neither of them smiled at each other — they were both too confused. Jon's mind dwelled momentarily on the possible reasons for Susan being in the newsroom, but his thoughts quickly slipped back to his trip down to the police station. He couldn't wait to see Diane in person again. This time, when they felt that mutual attraction like they had felt last night, it would be okay for him to acknowledge her interest. Then…well, he didn't want to think about what happened then, but suffice to say, it would probably be wonderful.
Jon looked around the police station, the statement clutched into his left hand and a small notebook clutched in his right. He was right to assume he would have questions after reading the statement — he had plenty of them, in fact. The statement itself was little more than a bare bones description of the physical actions of the shootout. No mention was made of the weapons used, the people harmed, or any of the possible motives behind the shooting. Something strange was going on, and Jon wanted to know what it was.
He quickly located Officer Martinez sitting behind her desk. His heart jumped slightly upon seeing her, but his overriding desire to get to the bottom of the discrepancies in the police report momentarily prevailed over his attraction to her. He strode with purpose over to her desk and stood over her.
She caught his presence immediately and looked up into his face, her expression wary. "Can I help you, Mr. Kent?" she asked. Her tone indicated that she didn't appreciate his appearance at her desk. If the statement hadn't gotten Jon so riled, he probably would've been hurt by her coolness toward him.
Jon sat down in the chair next to the desk and opened his notebook. "I read through your department's statement and I couldn't help but notice a complete lack of details."
"Such as?" Diane asked.
"Well, for starters, nowhere did you mention a motivation for the attack."
"The department is not at liberty to release that information at this time," she said flatly.
"Could it possibly be linked to the mob-controlled drug activity that has been present in that area?"
Her eyes shot daggers at him. "Again, the department is not willing to release any details concerning the attack at this time."
Jon studied her face for a moment, finally looking deep into her eyes. It was funny how meeting her gaze had seemed to break down his defenses in each of their past meetings, but this time, nothing happened. Her eyes held a look of unyielding defiance, not the admiration that he had seen in them before. The fact that her defiance was aimed at him only served to strengthen his stubborn resolve. Before he knew what was happening, his mouth was opening and words were tumbling out.
"It seems to me that the department has had very few answers concerning the Garden District in recent months, and I'm not just talking about the official statements being released." As soon as the words were spoken, he regretted them. He would usually be the last person to ever accuse the police department of incompetence. It was just something about the way she had looked at him that had caused him to react.
Diane's whole face took on a steely look that Jon almost found frightening. "Look, Mr. Kent, I don't know who you think you are to come in here and accuse me or anybody else of not doing their jobs. I realize that you have your faithful readers to look out for, but I'm certainly not going to compromise an ongoing investigation for the sake of selling a few more newspapers. Now, unless you have something else you would like to ask me, I would like to get back to work."
Jon knew better than to press his luck any further — it was evident that he wasn't going to get anything out of her that night. Trying to preserve his dignity and well aware of the many sets of eyes which had now turned their undivided attention to his conversation, Jon stood up and stuffed his notepad into the inside pocket of his coat.
"No, I think that's all…for now," he said with an edge in his tone that rivaled hers, before leaving the station. As soon as he exited the big front doors, he made his way around to the alley next to the building and leaned up against the brick wall. He sighed and ran his hand through his hair, wondering what the heck had gotten into him. It wasn't like him to be rude to anyone, yet somehow Diane had managed to push his buttons. It was embarrassing, really — not the fact that she yelled at him; no, he had that coming. What was embarrassing was that he had lost his cool, and for what? A story? Pride? To prove a point? Whatever it was, it wasn't worth possibly ruining whatever real relationship existed between them, and he was almost certain that was exactly what he had done.
Slowly, Jon pushed himself away from the wall and began to walk in the general direction of the Daily Planet. He knew he was several miles away from his destination, but at the moment he just felt like walking. It would be relaxing, it would be calming, and, most of all, it would give him the opportunity to brood.
Susan plopped herself down on the couch in her apartment, her eyes immediately drawn to her wall, the symbol of her one love. It was too bad those posters and pictures gave the only glimpses of Superman and son that day, even after 12 hours on the job. It wasn't for lack of trying, either — she had studied so many faces that she had almost gone into sensory overload. No, the problem was that there were just too many people.
She had started in the lobby of the Daily Planet, but the continuous mob of people going in and out of the building had quickly grown overwhelming, and she decided it would be more productive to go up to the newsroom to observe. To her delight, the first thing that she had seen after stepping off the elevator was a big comfy couch with a great view of the whole newsroom. She sat down on that couch and stayed there until roughly two in the afternoon, never once getting bored. It was exciting, really — phones were ringing all the time, heated and insightful conversations were taking place all over, and the editor, who barked out orders with such authority that Susan had no doubt he moonlighted as a drill sergeant, was doing his best to make sure everything ran smoothly. She could see why someone would want to go into that line of work. It looked like the type of thing couldn't get dull even if it tried.
As much as she had watched the office happenings, she had also kept her eyes opened for her hero. If her novel was right, she would be looking for a reporter who spent a lot of time working with his wife. She had stared at her own photographs enough to know that Superman would be tall and muscular with short, dark hair and dark brown eyes. She had certainly seen many dark-haired men in the course of the day, but none of them really stood out from any of the others. It was so hard to see their physiques when they were all wearing business suits, although she suspected that Superman's muscles would most likely be big enough that they would come close to splitting the sleeves of any conventional jackets that were out there. Along with men wearing loose-fitting suits, she had also immediately dismissed men wearing glasses — everyone knew that Superman had perfect sight, so he certainly wouldn't need glasses.
The men that were left after her weeding out process, both at the Daily Planet and later at the Metropolis Star, just didn't seem right. She KNEW what Superman looked like, she spent her life studying him, but she just hadn't seen him. She had seen plenty of other people that she recognized — the legendary reporting team at the Planet of Lane and Kent, the older brother of CJ, and her favorite gossip columnist, just to name a few. So the day hadn't been a complete waste, but it had certainly been disappointing. She had wanted so badly to come up with something, anything, to please her new bosses, but it just didn't seem meant to be.
In the end, though, it didn't matter much, and that thought reassured her. She would find Superman eventually; it was just too bad it wasn't today.
Jon hovered in the air above the Garden District, feeling somewhat ashamed at himself for having to resort to spying to catch a glimpse of Diane. It wasn't the type of thing that he would normally do, but he just felt drawn to her and he couldn't keep away. The problem was that she had made her feelings toward Jon Kent perfectly clear during their last conversation. That rejection had caused a part of himself to go dark, but the shining ray of hope lay in the fact that she had feelings for his alter ego. He knew it was wrong to encourage those feelings, and he had no intention of doing so, but that didn't mean he couldn't take a bit of selfish pleasure in them. Granted, he couldn't bask in the light of her smile from up in the air, but it was certainly safer. It seemed that every time he approached her while on duty, she wore down his defenses a little bit more, and there was no telling what would happen if he were to run into her again.
Directly below him sat Diane's empty squad car. She was out patrolling the neighborhood on foot with her partner, who was now back from his medical leave. Jon kept his watch for the hour that it took the two to complete their patrol. It was interesting to see Diane interacting with the residents — as abrasive as her manner was to certain reporters, she seemed like a totally different person when talking to the common Garden District resident. She was quick to crack a joke or offer a friendly ear, but she didn't take any crap from anyone, either. Jon would give anything to be able to be at the receiving end of her quick wit and obviously caring demeanor, but at the moment, it seemed destined not to be.
He didn't know why he tortured himself by watching her, but he just couldn't make himself leave. He felt so protective of her safety — hundreds of what if scenarios flew around in his head, all involving Diane and sudden death, but none of them in the least bit probable. What if a stray bullet hit her out of nowhere? What if she suddenly got run down by a car? What if…? Jon shook his head. Visualizing these things certainly didn't help his emotional state, that was for sure. He banished the gory thoughts from his mind, if only for his own sanity.
Diane and her partner returned to their squad car in high spirits. It was nearing the dinner hour, and, even from several thousand feet in the air, Jon could hear her stomach growl. He grinned a little bit at the sound. So did her partner.
"You sound like you're ready to grab a bite to eat," the partner said, eyeing a small diner across the street.
"Is it that obvious?" Diane asked, a slight blush on her cheeks.
"Oh, yeah. Hey, how about I go get us some supper? I owe you for looking after me the other night," the partner said.
Diane nodded wordlessly and unlocked the squad car door while her partner headed across the street. She sat down in the car, her legs hanging out of the door, and laid her head on the headrest, closing her eyes briefly. Even doing something so mundane as sitting in a car, Diane seemed to have a grace and beauty that Jon just couldn't deny. He zoomed his vision in and drank in the sight of her.
A muffled sound brought Jon out of his stupor. It reminded him of the sound of a timer, counting down the seconds. The sound seemed to be coming from the area around the car, but he didn't know how that could be — he had been in the air guarding that whole vicinity, and he would've certainly noticed it earlier. A quick scan of the whole neighborhood revealed nothing, meaning the only place left was the car itself. With mounting dread, Jon x-rayed the car thoroughly, and what he found was an incendiary device hidden under the hood, it's counter just hitting 3 seconds. It must've been activated when she opened the door, he figured. How else could he have possibly missed it? Without thinking twice, Jon swooped down, grabbed Diane out of the car, and shot up into the air.
They had barely cleared the top of the neighborhood buildings when the bomb went off, blowing the car to unrecognizable bits. There was no way that anyone in it could've survived that — Diane would've been dead for sure if he hadn't been there. Suddenly he was very thankful for his obsessive behavior.
The feel of her body in his arms, her arms clutched firmly around his neck, was making it difficult for Jon to think clearly. He looked over at his passenger and saw a look of awe on her face. He seemed to see that particular look on the faces of practically everyone he rescued in that manner, but Diane's look hinted at an additional something behind it. As he watched, she turned her head so that her eyes met his, and her awed expression morphed into one of respect and — could it be? — love. Jon felt himself drowning helplessly in those eyes again and, conscious of the fact that he was still in the act of flying, he diverted his gaze and forced himself to concentrate on the surroundings. He was heading in the general direction of the police station, he knew, and he decided that the sooner he got there, the better. If she didn't get out of his arms quickly, he might end up doing something he regretted.
Jon increased his speed and quickly made it to the roof of the precinct. As he was landing, Diane, who had spent the entire trip studying his face and not the spectacular cityscapes that the flight afforded, began to speak. "I can't thank you enough for saving my life."
"It's what I do," Jon said matter-of-factly, his eyes still avoiding hers.
"I know it is, but I've just kinda had this feeling like you were looking out for me today. I don't know why or how, but I just did. It made me feel safe somehow, and…I just wanted to say thanks."
Jon looked at her wide-eyed. How could she possibly feel him watching over her? He almost despaired of the fact until she said that she liked it. She LIKED him looking over her. He had been so scared that she would hate him for it that her words seemed to lift an enormous weight off his shoulders.
"You're welcome," Jon said softly as his feet hit the roof of the building. He felt the beginnings of a smile spreading over his face. Suddenly he wished that he hadn't flown her there so quickly. Suddenly he just wanted to keep holding her in his arms some more.
Apparently Diane had the same thought. As Jon lowered his arms and stooped over so that she could stand on her own, he felt her arms tighten around his neck. They stood that way, both with their feet on the roof, Diane with her arms around Jon and Jon with his hands on her hips, for what seemed like an interminable amount of time. They stared into each other's eyes, neither speaking, but both searching the other's face as if trying to commit it to memory. Jon knew that his smile had grown goofy, but he didn't care anymore. The smile on her face told him everything he wanted to know about how she felt. Gradually Jon became aware that her face was moving closer to his. Before he knew it their lips were touching, and parting, and they were engaged in a deep, longing kiss. Jon's hands moved from her hips up to her back, and he embraced her tightly, deepening the kiss as much as he dared. The time dilation that he felt when he was around her was back again in full force. The kiss seemed to last forever, yet seemed entirely too short at the same time. As their lips pulled apart, she trailed kisses along his check, around to his ear.
"I love you," she whispered. Jon almost shot straight up in the air with her in his joy. He had never experienced a woman (well, a women other than his mother) saying those words to him, ever. He had never known the indescribable feeling that those words brought with them, especially coming from the mouth of the one that he loved more than anything else. He tightened his grip on her and ran his lips along her jaw line and around to her ear. He was about to return her sentiment when one word made his heart freeze.
"Mmm. Superman," she moaned softly.
Jon stiffened. Superman. He had reveled in her feelings for him, soaking them up and getting drunk on them before he had even realized what was happening. In all the euphoria and all the electricity that flowed between them, he had almost forgotten his attire, his role for the evening. Superman. Curse the day he ever met her in the blasted suit, he thought as he dropped his arms and straightened up. He knew that she wore a look of confusion and sadness, but he couldn't make himself look at her face to confirm that knowledge — it would be too much to bear. He turned on his heel and took a couple of steps away from her.
"Superman?" her voice called from behind him. It sounded so anguished…
Jon dropped his head and slumped his shoulders in despair. There was certainly no doubt who she wanted, and he couldn't give that to her, as much as he wanted to. "Only some of the time," Jon said softly, his head tilted slightly to the side, the disguise that he put on his voice while in uniform gone.
The last thing he heard before taking off was Diane gasping at his sudden change. Let her wonder, he thought gloomily as he shot through the air toward his apartment. He had never felt more confused about himself and his behavior than he was at that very moment, and it scared him.
Jon, still wearing his Superman outfit, wandered into his bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror. "Who are you?" he asked himself softly as he ran his hand through his hair, trying to give it a style like he more normally wore. This wasn't the first time that he had stood in front of a mirror and asked this question, but it was the first time he had done it since assuming the Crimson Superman identity. For a long time he thought he knew exactly who he was. He was Jonathan Kent, son of Clark and Lois Lane Kent. He was a normal, all-American kid who developed extraordinary powers in high school and now went out nights in red and black spandex, stopping crimes and saving people and property. Therein lay the problem.
He had created the Crimson Superman identity to shield himself from the public, from all the people who wanted a piece of Superman. Some of those people were completely innocent, but many more were dangerous, and he knew very well what sort of jeopardy he would be in if any of those people knew who the Crimson Superman was. His dad had spelled all this out to him many years ago, and it made as much sense now as it did back then. So when he helped, he changed his voice, his appearance, and his attitude, but it was just an act, wasn't it? He had always thought so, but act or not, it was Jon Kent putting on that suit and doing all those things. He was the Crimson Superman just as much as the Crimson Superman was him, and no amount of acting could change that. He had always managed to keep his real feelings suppressed while in the suit, had created a mental barrier that kept the essence of his personality pent up while performing super feats. That barrier had always held, that is until he met Diane. What was it about her that made him forget himself? What did she do to him to crumble that mental barrier? When she was around him, the practiced poise just disappeared, and what was left was just Jon, at least until she reminded him that he wasn't just Jon. But she didn't know that.
Diane had seen a side of the Crimson Superman that nobody outside his family had. Under normal circumstances, he would wonder what she would do with that information, but if she loved him as much as she claimed to, then she would keep that new information to herself. But…she had seen part of the real Jon Kent now. If he saw her again in person, would she figure that out? How could she not? She had studied him so hard that she would probably know him anywhere. And, like an idiot, he had spoken to her in his actual voice. Just as Jon began to resign himself to the fact that she would find his identity, he reminded himself that twice they had met, and she had studied him. He had let part of himself be known to her, only to not have her recognize him when he talked to her as Jon Kent. And not only did she NOT recognize him, she had treated him with a cool indifference that she no doubt reserved for people that she had no love lost for.
In the mirror, he studied his nose and eyes and mouth, letting his eyes roam all over his facial features before looking at the rest of himself. She probably hadn't noticed anything because she hadn't been looking. He reached out and grabbed his glasses, putting them on and then studying himself again. Now, however, she no doubt would be trying to find him, and he had to be careful, didn't he? Sure he did, if he didn't want her to find out, but… Would it be the worst thing in the world if she did? That thought surprised him. Of course it would be bad! She hated him, er, Jon. The second she found out that the Crimson Superman was him, it would probably be the death knell for any further relationship. Yes, if he were to have a real, honest to God relationship with her, then she most certainly would have to find out sooner or later, but not until he made her change her mind about her feelings for Jon Kent. Until then, patience was the name of the game. He would just have to avoid seeing her as the Crimson Superman anymore. If he was concerned about her safety, them maybe he could have Dad watch over her.
Jon quickly spun into some street clothes and wandered into his bedroom to grab his trombone. Making a little music always seemed to relax him, and that was most certainly what he needed right now. He put the horn together and brought it up to his lips, a soulful tune running through his head.
Joey Zarate paced around the large conference table, clenching and unclenching his fists in an attempt to control his emotions. Things had looked up just a few hours earlier, but now… He took a good look around the room, seeing his business associates gathered, each watching him nervously. He allowed himself a small grin — it was always so nice to see a little fear on their faces. It meant that they valued what he said and, more importantly, it meant that they knew what would happen if they crossed him.
Taking a deep breath, Joey stopped pacing and addressed his audience, his exterior as calm as it could be. "I have brought you together because a rash action on one of your parts has caused me to have to implement my plans earlier than expected." He scanned the faces of the men assembled, looking for any indicators of guilt, but seeing none. No matter, he thought, he didn't need to see their faces to know who the guilty party was. He had his resources.
He continued. "As you know, a bomb was detonated this evening in a Metropolis Police squad car in the Garden District. Those of you who are privy to my long term agenda know what I would like to accomplish in that neighborhood in due time. However, none of that can be done before a certain problem is taken care of — I am talking about getting the supermen out of the way." Joey clasped his hands behind his back and slowly made his way around the room.
"The plans for eliminating Superman and son have just begun to be put into motion after several years of careful research and preparation. Now, in one thoughtless action, one of you has jeopardized everything that's been worked for." He stopped and turned toward the large table, leaning over and placing his hands on it. His voice dropped so that his gathered associates almost had to strain to hear him. "I know for a fact that one of you planted that bomb — my experts can verify the workmanship. Let's just hope, for all your sakes, that your carelessness doesn't cause any further disruptions to my plans, or else…" Joey slapped his hand loudly on the table, causing all assembled to jump slightly. "I would hope that you are religious people."
A sinister smile crept across Joey's face as he looked around again, seeing the expressions everyone wore. It wasn't very often that he lost his temper, but when he did, it was truly a sight to behold. His wife had told him once that he was more intimidating when he got so angry that he got very quiet. Judging from people's reactions, this was one of those moments. His longtime friends merely looked resigned, but some of the young hotshots looked truly frightened, and with good reason. Joey was completely serious about this operation — it meant life or death to the organization. He would gladly put a few of the younger ones out of their misery if they threatened the livelihood of himself and his family.
Joey let the electricity sizzle in the room for a few moments before straightening up. Calmly, he again clasped his hands behind his back and began walking again. "Now, you all know what your roles will be — you will be expected to fulfill those without any further mishaps. I will be contacting you again at a later time. You are dismissed." Joe turned toward the wall and looked at his map, the colorful pins sticking out of it. Superman, he thought, your secrets will be mine.
The Bantram niece had been tracked to the Daily Planet and later to the Star. Newspapers. Joey had no doubt that her adventure was due to the novel, and as such he had no doubt what Superman's profession was supposed to be. It made Joe sad in a way — after all that time pursuing the mysterious novel, it was just a takeoff from the botched Diana Stride expose from oh so many years ago. He should've known as much, he told himself. But a little part in the back of his mind still held onto the hope that maybe the novel did contain some truth. The Daily Planet and the Star were both toward the center of the circle of daytime Superman sightings on the map. Also, the fact that the book had been rejected by the Superman Foundation led him to believe that maybe it hit a little too close to home.
Joe looked over his shoulder and saw the men filing out of the room. "Tony," he called, and motioned for one of those men to come over to him. Of all the people that he had on the Superman project, Tony was by far the most levelheaded and dependable, even if he was a relative newcomer. That was why he had chosen him to be their physical contact with the niece, and that was why he was calling him over now. If the novel was truly just a throwback to the Stride article, the girl really wasn't of any more use to them. Although, after thinking about it for a while, he decided that she might be handy to have around after all.
"Sir?" Tony asked, ever respectable toward his boss. Joe couldn't help but smile — they didn't make them like Tony any more. All the other kids Tony's age in the organization had real problems with authority and with controlling their tempers.
"It's time for the next phase. Get the tracking devices and give them to Ms. Bantram. She will tag Superman for us and then she will find him."
A look of worry came across Tony's face. "If you don't mind my asking, why are you having her do this and why would she agree to it?"
Joe placed his hand on Tony's shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. The kid was respectful, but at the same time, he wasn't just a yes man. Brains — that was another thing too many kids lacked these days.
"In order to tag Superman, she will have to put herself in a life-or-death situation, something that will require rescuing. There is always a chance that Superman will miss the rescue — it's been known to happen — and I can't risk losing one of my men for that. While most would probably shy away from putting themselves in that position, she will do it gladly. In fact, she will most likely thank you for giving her the idea. Then, once Superman is tagged and she begins searching for him, there is a possibility that he will catch on to her attempt. One would think that Superman might get angry at anybody wishing to expose him, and we don't want to be in that position, or at least not until we have the leverage we need. That is why I want her to do it and why she will want to. Besides, we have her uncle — if all else fails, his jeopardy will ensure her cooperation. Understand?"
Tony nodded his head. Joe removed his hand and gave Tony a quick pat on the back. "Tomorrow?"
Tony nodded and left. Joey stuck his hands in his pocket and turned to his map once again. Things might just turn out all right after all.
Diane Martinez sat at her desk and stared off into space. The whole night had been bizarre. It had been more than bizarre. In fact in the last few days her whole life felt like it had been turned upside down. Only a couple of days ago, she was a young, green officer on the Metropolis Police force, nothing special. Then came the Crimson Superman. His presence had an effect on her much like some sort of strange aphrodisiac. When she was around him, she lost all her inhibitions, and she did things that she would never imagine herself doing. Why was that? What was it about him that made her forget her better judgment?
She thought back to the events of just a few hours ago. It was strange how she had thought she was being watched all evening. Usually that feeling gave her the willies — after all, why would somebody be watching her unless there was something sinister going on? But tonight it had been comforting. She had felt the concern for her well being coming through somehow, and she knew that she was completely safe, no matter what she may do. That feeling had been well founded, as it turned out.
She remembered sitting in her car, and then the next moment, two strong arms were wrapped around her and she was shooting through the air, her car engulfed in a fireball below. That feeling of flying through the air was breathtaking, but it was nothing compared to the feeling she got when she looked at his face. The naked concern was evident, and she knew right away why she had felt like she was being watched — he had been looking after her. That revelation confirmed, in her mind, that he did feel something for her, that he did care about her, and it made her heart swell.
When he became aware of her eyes on him, his guard dropped momentarily. She saw her expression of love mirrored briefly on his face, but then he put his defenses up and steeled his expression, increasing his speed. She wasn't fooled, though. His actions and unspoken emotion told her all she needed to know. As they landed on the roof, she tried to vocalize her gratitude to loosen him up, and it worked. Instead of pulling away from her as her feet touched the roof, he had held on, and they had looked deep into each other's eyes. It was hard to describe the emotions that passed between them — she could sense how timid and unsure of himself he was, and how that warred with his feelings for her. There was only one thing she felt she could do about that, so she had leaned forward and ever so gently met his lips with her own. Much to her delight, he welcomed her advances, eagerly returning the kiss and deepening it more than she thought possible. That kiss had been so wonderful and warm…it had been like nothing she had ever experienced. It had just felt right in some way that she couldn't explain. As they came up for air and their lips drew apart, she had found herself kissing his jaw and his cheek. As her lips made their way around to his ear, the words that she felt deep inside just tumbled out.
"I love you," she had said. She hadn't really meant to say it, but all the same it had come out, and he responded to it. His own lips mimicked hers and trailed along her jaw line, causing shivers to course down her body. She remembered moaning his name in pure ecstasy, and then it was suddenly all over. He stiffened and pulled away, anguish written on his face. He diverted his eyes from hers and retreated. To say that she was stunned was an understatement — just a moment before they had been blissfully kissing and then… He turned away from her and her heart caught in her throat. She said his name again, this time imploring him to give her a reason why he was withdrawing from her, and what he had said in response had stunned her.
"Only some of the time," he had said, only it didn't sound like him. The deep richness of his voice was replaced by a higher, softer timbre. That voice that always seemed so authoritative and so characteristically Superman was now changed to something that sounded very much like it would come from an ordinary man, a man who felt things deeply and at the moment was very troubled. Then he took off.
Diane had watched his retreating form until she couldn't any longer. Even then, she remained rooted in her spot for several long minutes, her mind trying to process what had just happened. They had kissed, she had said his name, and he had retreated and told her… The meaning of his words hit her like a ton of bricks. He really wasn't Superman! Could that be? Who was he if he wasn't Superman? She pictured some shy man standing at a distance watching her — was it possible for someone like Superman to be nondescript, to blend into the crowd and not be noticed? She suspected if he really were someone else, it would have to be true. Was it possible that she had passed him on the streets somewhere and not even known it?
At that moment another thought came to her. In her two previous encounters, he had seemed so much on guard. Even though she could see his real feelings in his eyes, he kept his exterior formal, or at least he tried to. What was that she saw in him today, though? Nervousness? No, it was more of a guarded wariness, and she had seen that in him last time, too. What would cause him to react that way? Could it be that they really had met in person and something bad had happened? She supposed that it could be possible. Diane had to admit that she wasn't the most open person when it came to advances made on her by men, but then again she couldn't remember any men making any advances on her lately.
She dwelled on that for a moment more before her mind switched back to the more fundamental issue — who was he, really? It was something that she was sure countless criminals would kill to know, and it was no doubt a secret he would guard with everything in him. That secret was probably what allowed him to have a normal life, what allowed his family to function normally. He probably had a job and bank accounts, friends and acquaintances, none of which he could have if the world knew who he really was. No wonder he was so guarded around her.
Diane brought her hand up to her lips and lightly drew her fingers across them, trailing them along her jaw using the same path that the Crimson Superman had used. She loved him, and she was pretty sure he loved her. That was something that she wanted to explore further. It wouldn't end like this if she had anything to say about it. Her fingers reached her ear and dwelt there for a second before she balled her hand into a fist and dropped it down by her side. By God, if it meant making contact with every person in Metropolis, she would find him. She had to.
The rest of the night had been a blur — after she left the roof, she had made her way back to where her squad car had been to inspect the wreckage and reassure her partner that she was still alive. She remembered being told that forensics would go over the burned out shell of the car to see what it would find, but her mind didn't seem to process that or anything else said to her in the course of that evening at all. She had been too intent on studying the faces of everyone she came in contact with to let anything else distract her. Every person she met, she would first look into their eyes, then she would look at their lips and the rest of their face. Superman's face was the part of him that she knew best of all, and she could recognize it anywhere. But she didn't find what she was looking for. She supposed that was to be expected, though — after their kiss and the anguish it had caused him, she supposed that he had retreated to wherever it was that he called home and she wouldn't see him again soon.
So now she sat at her desk, staring off into space and reliving every moment that she spent with him. She had an incident report to write, she knew, but she just couldn't concentrate on it. She also knew she was drawing a few curious stares from her coworkers, but that was becoming a common thing, it seemed. Her introspection was interrupted by a bellow from across the room.
"Martinez! My office now," came the voice of Captain Shilling, her boss. Reluctantly she pushed her chair away from her desk and got up, making her way toward his office.
She came to a stop in front of his desk. "Sir?" she asked. It seemed she had been in this office a lot lately, especially considering the nature of the ongoing investigation that she was currently a part of. She suspected this had something to do with that.
"Sit down, Martinez, I have a special assignment for you tomorrow that I need to brief you on," Captain Shilling said.
Confused, Diane made her way to a chair and slowly sat down in it. "A special assignment?"
"Yes. As you know, the department takes an active role in keeping the public informed about ourselves — what it is we do, how we work…basically how we're spending their tax dollars. As part of that, they have agreed to be part of a program at Metropolis University that allows students to shadow a cop for a day. Tomorrow, you will be shadowed by a girl named Jenny Sears, a journalist for their school paper. She wants to write about the role of a woman on the police force and the higher ups thought it would be a great PR piece for the department."
Diane almost groaned. "A journalist?" Of all the people that she could be possibly be paired up with, she was getting stuck with a journalist?
"Yes. Do you have a problem with that?"
Diane looked at him closely. She had a problem with journalists in general, always sticking their noses into things and generally making it harder for her to do her job. Jonathan Kent came to mind immediately — questioning her, accusing her, and jeopardizing her investigating with his prodding. She had been burned by too many of his kind in the past, and she was sick of it. But even with as much ambivalence as she felt toward them, she realized that it wasn't something that she should let interfere with her job, and her job was to escort this student around for a day. Besides, she thought, this might be a good opportunity to mold the girl a little, make her see things from the department's perspective.
"No, sir, no problem."
"Good. She'll be here at noon tomorrow, right as your shift begins. Don't let her presence change the way you conduct your business, but make sure she doesn't come to harm, either."
Diane nodded as the captain continued, the information he was relaying to her going in one ear and out the other. She would lead this student around, sure, but that didn't mean she couldn't spend her time observing, too. She would find the Crimson Superman no matter what.
Susan sat on the couch in the living room of her apartment, the morning light streaming in through the large picture window behind her. She liked mornings, she really did, and this morning in particular would be special. It wasn't because of the bright sun or the prospect of having a whole day to herself; no, this morning was special because it marked the day that she would begin working in earnest on her Superman project. Despite her lack of success the day before, she felt confident that she would be able to contribute. She just had this feeling deep inside of her that she couldn't quite explain telling her something big was about to happen, and that she would be at the center of it. In all it made her so excited that she was having trouble sitting still.
Tony had called last night to let her know that he would be by that morning. Susan glanced at the clock on the VCR for the hundredth time, willing time to pass faster, but all the willpower in the world didn't seem to have any effect. She sighed and ate her yogurt, trying in vain to focus on the talk show on TV, but her mind couldn't seem to focus on anything but her upcoming project. What would Tony have her do? Would she get to meet Superman? When would they know his identity? Would he hurry up and get there already?
As if on cue, she heard a knocking on the door. Susan shot out of the chair and ran to answer, knowing full well who was on the other side. She was greeted to a sight similar to what she had expected — Tony stood there, and by his side were two large bags that seemed to contain electronic equipment. Susan smiled and motioned for him to enter, closing the door behind him. Before following him into the living room, she looked toward the bedrooms and the closed door that led to Jenny's room. Susan had to admit she was a little nervous about meeting while Jenny was in there, but she was placated by the fact that Jenny was a heavy sleeper and, more importantly, she was most assuredly not a morning person. Unless she had something else to so, Jenny would likely be asleep for another couple hours.
Susan turned her attention back toward her visitor and his new toys. Tony was bent over the bags, unpacking small gadgets and placing them on the coffee table.
"Morning," Susan said as she approached him, trying to make conversation.
"Yes, it is," Tony said. His tone seemed to indicate that morning wasn't his favorite time of day. Susan ignored the insinuation and concentrated on the task at hand. She made her way behind him and peered over his shoulder, trying to get a better look at what he was unpacking.
"What are those?" she asked. Some of the objects were incredibly small — she would've thought they were bugs if she didn't know any better. Some of the other objects looked like mini cameras and microphones, while another large piece of equipment seemed to be a global positioning unit.
"Have a seat and I'll tell you everything," he said, motioning toward the couch. She did as she was told and after a few moments, he sat down next to her.
"Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to use these devices to track Superman. It will require having to be rescued by him and, later, breaking into his house. Do you think you could do that?"
Susan's head was spinning. She had always dreamt of being rescued by supermen. In fact, a couple of times she had actually thought about putting herself in peril just to get a look at him up close and personal, but she had always stopped herself, usually because she was too concerned about her well-being to go through with it. But now everything changed. This wouldn't be for herself, it would be for the cause of research, and for the project. Yes, she was sure she could do that. As for breaking into his house, she didn't know what to think about that. She had always believed in following the law — it's what Superman would do — but this might be an instance where she could bend the rules. It was all in the name of science, after all.
Mutely, Susan nodded, bringing a smile to the face of her guest. "Great! Now, let me tell you exactly what you need to do with each of these…"
A small ray of sunshine poking around the curtains on her window was the first thing that Jenny was aware of as she slowly gained consciousness. She let out a small groan and flopped over on her side, her eyes searching out her alarm clock. The large red numbers told her it was eight o' clock, causing an even larger groan to escape her mouth. Eight was way too early to be up on a Saturday, especially when CJ was going to be out of town for a game. It would be really tempting to just stay in bed all day, she thought as she drew her blanket up over her head, but then she remembered that today was the day she was shadowing Diane Martinez, Jon's new love. The idea brought a small smile to her face — she just loved it when she was able to put one of her plans in motion. Watch out world, when Jenny Sears is on the case, you might as well give up because Jenny WILL prevail!
Jenny felt her eyelids begin to droop. Yes, she had that job shadow thing, but that wasn't for another 4 hours. And that left plenty of time to get some more sleep. And sleep was a very good thing, she thought as she closed her eyes completely and let darkness wash over her. After a few minutes she felt herself beginning to drift into sweet nothingness, when the sound of muffled voices reached her ears. She mentally frowned and tried to focus on them, hoping that she could pick out what was being said. It occurred to her that there was a good possibility that it was all a dream — her morning dreams always seemed so real — but that didn't stop her from listening. The voices remained indistinct, causing Jenny to frown further. What she wouldn't give to have CJ's hearing at that moment, she thought. Seemingly in answer to that thought, the voices suddenly became very distinctive and she could hear every word they were saying clearly. Oh, yeah, she thought, it had to be a dream.
Even if it was a dream, she decided to tune in and hear what was going on. She immediately recognized one of the voices as that of her roommate. The other one was male, and she had never heard it before. She couldn't recall Susan saying there would be company that morning, but she didn't let herself worry too much about that. It was a dream, right? After a few moments she let herself listen to what they were actually saying, and it surprised her.
"My organization has been tracking Superman for years, and we know that he hangs around central Metropolis during business hours Monday through Saturday. If you were to, say, jump off one of the buildings in that area today, chances are very good that he would rescue you, and then you could plant this tracer," the male said. They were going to track Superman? Jenny felt herself being drawn a little more toward full consciousness as she continued to listen.
"How do I use this?" Susan asked. The man then described the operation of the device and how it was planted. Jenny found herself being pulled even further awake as her mind began to ponder the reasons why Susan would want to do something like that.
"Then, once he's tagged and he's stopped somewhere, you can locate him with this," the man continued, describing the operation of another piece of equipment. As he finished, Jenny began to become aware of her surroundings again. The room seemed a little too bright and the temperature a little too warm. Finally, her eyes popped open and, just like that, the voices seemed to go away.
She couldn't help but wonder what just happened as she lay in bed, staring blankly at the ceiling. She could remember everything that was said, which was unusual for a dream. She lay very still for a few moments, trying to determine whether she could still hear anything, but she found she couldn't.
A glance at the clock told her that half an hour had passed. It was probably time to get up now. Jenny pulled herself out of bed and wandered out of her bedroom toward the bathroom, her bathrobe in tow. As she walked down the hallway, she made a cursory glance in the living room and saw Susan sitting there, alone, bent over the coffee table playing with something. That was all the proof that Jenny needed — it really had been all in her head. As intriguing as the conversation had been, her experience had been nothing but a dream, and as such, she decided it was best to just forget about it. No use on dwelling on something that wasn't real.
Susan looked out of the 60th story window of the Kahl Building, trying to compose herself. She took a quick look at her watch and saw that it read 1:00 PM — the perfect time to execute her plan. Looking back out the window again, she saw the people bustling on the sidewalk below and the cars driving by on the street. It would be impossible for them NOT to notice her step out onto that ledge, she thought. Taking a deep breath, she threw open the window and climbed out.
Mentally, she reviewed some of the details of the plan. She had to find a tall building somewhere in or around central Metropolis to jump off, and this one fit the bill. It wasn't the tallest, not by a long shot. The tallest building in town, the Lexcorp Tower, was over twice the height of the building she was now on, but she didn't think she would have the guts to hurl herself off that, not that the end result would be any different. Besides, the really tall buildings all had outrageous security on their roofs, mostly because there was always some nutcase trying to jump off them, and this building didn't have any of those security features. The Kahl Building wasn't the most centrally located, either, standing at the junction of what could be considered the Garden District and the Downtown Area. Susan couldn't say why exactly she chose a building so far on the outskirts of Downtown, but she thought it might have something to do with the area — she remembered seeing quite a few stories about the supermen rescuing people around there.
She didn't bother to close the window behind her as she slid along the ledge. If someone found it open, they would alert the cops, and that was what she wanted. In order for Superman to be alerted, people had to become aware of the fact that she was up there. She was careful to slide her feet gently back and forth until she reached a position where she couldn't be grabbed from either the window she came out of or the next one down. As she moved along, she made sure that her left hand didn't scrape along the wall. In that hand, between her fingers, was the tiny tracer that she was going to plant on Superman. All she had to do was squeeze it a little and an adhesive would come out of a small pore in the receiver, allowing it to stick to whatever she wanted to stick it to, most likely to Superman's cape. Tony had assured her the adhesive would be odorless to even the most super of noses, and that the transmitter worked on radiation and not sound waves, making it completely undetectable. She carried a few extra tracers with her just in case, so she was all set to go.
Susan looked down and saw a few people stopped on the sidewalk below. It was hard to tell from her vantage point, but she thought that they were pointing up toward her. The time to act was coming very quickly. She took the opportunity to review what she would do after the rescue. It was obvious that she had to put on some sort of act showing how distressed she was — she couldn't have Superman suspect that she had any ulterior motives. She had to admit that she wasn't the best actress, especially when Superman was involved, but she thought that maybe this time she would have the strength to do a good job, just because so much was at stake. The distressed bit would work with Superman initially, she figured, but then the police would get involved. They would probably ask for her name and details about her life, probably going so far as to request she go in for counseling. THAT was something she was certainly familiar with, and so Susan wasn't too worried about the possibility of seeing a shrink. It was the idea that she would have to give out her name that worried her more than anything else. She had asked Tony about that and he had told her it would be fine — she didn't have any prior run-ins with the law, and nobody would have any reasons to suspect her of anything. She certainly didn't plan on jumping off any more buildings in the future, so she decided that it wouldn't be too much of an issue.
The crowd on the sidewalk was growing larger by the second. Susan swore she could hear a distant siren too. At that moment a man's head popped out of the window that she had used to get onto the ledge and looked around. The man's eyes grew very wide when he saw Susan and he didn't speak for a moment. Susan used that brief pause to collect herself and try to look distressed.
"H-hey!" the man said shakily. "What are you doing out here? Why don't you come inside?" He stuck one of his arms out of the window and reached out for her.
This was just the sort of opportunity Susan was looking for. "Stay away from me!" she shrieked. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the red and blue lights of a squad car approaching from a couple blocks away.
The man quickly withdrew his arm and looked at her, obviously trying to determine a strategy. "Can I do anything for you?"
"There's nothing anyone can do for me," Susan said, adding a sob to the end of the sentence for extra effect.
"Surely it can't be that bad," the man said, his voice now very sympathetic.
Susan thought about making up a list of rants, reasons why her life could indeed be that bad, but she stopped herself. The squad car was now directly below her. Any further conversation would just be killing time, and she didn't need to do that anymore. It was time to go. "Did you call the cops?!" she asked him. She intentionally tried to sound hysterical, hoping that he would believe that she was truly capable of jumping.
"Yes, I did," the man replied slowly, soothingly. It caused Susan to smile inside — no one would doubt her story now.
"Who do you think you are? Do you think you know what's best for me? Those pigs aren't going to ruin this for me and neither are you," Susan yelled at him.
With that she looked down at the street again. It sure was an awful long way down, and if Superman didn't show up, there was no doubt that she would be no more than a greasy spot on the pavement. But he would come, she was sure. Taking a deep breath and closing her eyes, Susan said a small prayer and pushed away from the building.
Jenny sat in the patrol car and stared out the side window. To say that things weren't going smoothly was an understatement. From the very first moment she had been introduced to Diane Martinez, she had been treated with, at worst, veiled hostility and, at best, indifference. CJ hadn't been kidding when he said that she didn't have the best rapport with journalists. Diane made it seem as if having to be shadowed by Jenny was just a step above getting a tooth pulled on the comfort meter. It was all Jenny could do to try and get any kind of conversation going. She started with trying to make small talk, but ended up sticking to questions about the job, all of which Diane answered in the most basic and straightforward way possible.
The hour that they had spent together so far had consisted of driving around the jurisdiction of Diane's precinct and that was about it. Things were pretty slow on the crime front — Jenny hadn't even seen so much as a jaywalking offense yet. She was beginning to wonder how she would possibly be able to get through the next seven hours. She needed to get close to Diane somehow, if only for Jon's sake — she had that blind date to set up for tonight. She even had reservations at the restaurant set up already. To tell the truth, though, Jenny couldn't imagine what Jon saw in Diane. She supposed the officer could be considered attractive, but her personality was just so abrasive. Maybe it was a bad girl complex or something. Maybe Jon was somehow turned on by women who treated him like dirt. Jenny hazarded a look over at her escort for the day and changed her mind. Diane might be playing the hardened cop, but she just didn't seem the type. She didn't look like she spent all day scowling, and besides, she wouldn't become a cop if she didn't have some sort of deeply rooted regard for humanity. If that were the case, Jenny decided that she had seven hours to find the real person, the humanitarian, and become friends with her.
The crackling of the radio caught her attention. "Unit one, we have a report of a jumper on the roof of the Kahl Building. We are sending out units seven and ten from base, please assist. Over."
Diane reached down for the microphone and drew it up toward her. "This is unit one responding, I will be there momentarily."
Diane gave a quick look over to her passenger, her expression unreadable, and then turned back to the road. "Looks like you might see something today after all," Diane said flatly as she switched on her lights and sirens and put the accelerator to the floor. Jenny just had to smile — a little action was just what the doctor ordered.
They raced toward central Metropolis, sirens blaring, weaving through traffic and negotiating the stoplights. As they grew closer to the building, Jenny could see a knot of people on the sidewalk. She found her eyes drawn upward and she saw that there was indeed someone standing on the ledge at the top of the building. Jenny didn't know how safe it was to be up there. The building had to be at least 80 years old, built back in the days when skyscrapers were made with heavy steel frames and ornate carved stone exteriors. Who was to say how well that stone was holding up after all those years?
"So, what are you going to do?" Jenny asked, her eyes still glued on the jumper, who looked like no more than a speck to her.
"Two more units are coming — one of us will have to go up there and try to negotiate with the jumper. That will probably be one of the other units, who no doubt brought the staff psychiatrist with them from base. The rest of us will cordon off the area, just in case. That's what I need to do right now." Diane's words came quickly, the professionalism evident. Jenny couldn't help but wonder how often this situation came up — it was apparent from the way Diane rattled off the procedure that she'd done this before.
As soon as the car pulled up to the curb, Jenny and Diane jumped out and ran toward the crowd. "Stay behind me!" Diane yelled at her charge as they made their way through the people. They had only made it a few yards when Jenny heard the crowd collectively gasp. She looked up in time to see the jumper push away from the side of the building and descend. As much as she wanted to close her eyes and turn away, she found that she couldn't. Jenny wished at that moment that she could see into the mind of the jumper, to try and understand what would compel them to do such a thing. Who were they? What had caused them so much despair that they thought jumping to their death was the only answer? What a sad story it must be.
As Jenny watched, mesmerized, Diane began to assert her authority. "Everybody back!" she shouted at the crowd, jarring Jenny out of her spell. A few people began to move very slowly, but most stayed rooted in their spots. Jenny began to look around, her mind trying to absorb every last detail, when she realized that the jumper's path would meet the ground very near to where they were all standing, and it was possible that someone could get injured. She looked back at Diane and saw what little luck she was having in trying to move people, and she grew cold with fear. A part of her mind called out for Superman, hoping that he had heard the distressed cries of the crowd and the sound of the siren.
In a matter of milliseconds a familiar blue and red figure streaked across the sky. The crowd applauded as the elder Superman caught the jumper in his arms a good ten stories above the ground and floated gently down to safety. Jenny immediately began pushing her way through the crowd again toward where Superman was landing. Diane had stopped trying to move the crowd and she also moved toward Superman. As Jenny got closer to the superhero, she could begin to make out the jumper's form. Whoever it was appeared to be a blond female roughly her own age, although it was hard to tell because the blonde's arms were locked in a death grip around Superman's neck and her face was buried against his neck. If it weren't for the situation, she would likely find the scene somewhat humorous — what did Lois think when she saw scenes like the one of front of her now? She was probably used to seeing blondes with their arms around her husband, but that didn't mean she had to like it.
Jenny's train of thought changed abruptly as she saw the face of the woman who was just rescued. "Oh, my Lord," she said under her breath. Immediately she began pushing harder, determined to get to Superman's side.
"Susan?" Jenny said as she approached, catching the attention of both Susan and Superman.
"You know her?" Superman asked Jenny, his expression changing from concern to confusion to compassion very rapidly. Jenny came to a stop in from of the pair and regarded her roommate closely before addressing the Superhero. A dozen thoughts and emotions flashed through her mind, from guilt over not sensing that such a thing could happen, to anger at Susan for even considering suicide in the first place. What WOULD prompt her to jump off a building anyway?
Jenny blinked and looked at Superman. "She's my roommate," she told him before turning back to Susan. "Are you all right? What was that all about?" Jenny asked her frantically. She tried to read the expression on her roommate's face, but found that she couldn't, which in and of itself was strange. She would suspect that Susan would at the very least be overjoyed at being in the arms of her beloved hero, but that just didn't seem to be the case. On the other hand, if she had been upset enough to kill herself, Jenny would expect to see some sort of negative response from Susan, but those emotions were lacking, too.
Susan loosened her grip on Superman and began to pull away from him as her feet met with the solid ground. "I'm fine, really. I was upset before but I guess I'm not now," she said calmly, causing Jenny to stare in surprise. She was upset? When? A minute ago she had been upset enough to jump — why the sudden change? Jenny turned to Superman in exasperation, seeing a look of sympathy directed back at her in return. Jenny would not normally go out of her way to help her admittedly strange roommate, but she figured that a time like this called for a little compassion. Jenny stepped forward toward Susan, who now stood apart from Superman, and embraced her lightly. "Will you be okay?"
Susan returned the embrace with somewhat shaky hands. "Yes, I think so." She turned her head toward the superhero. "Thanks, Superman," she said very evenly.
It was at that moment that Diane finally made her way over to the trio. Instead of giving her attention to Susan, she went straight to Superman. Jenny thought it was strange how intensely Diane was eyeing him, almost as if she was studying him.
"Superman, I'm Officer Diane Martinez," she said boldly, holding a hand out toward the hero. Jenny briefly wondered exactly how much Jon had told Clark about his encounters with the officer.
Her question was soon answered, though, as she saw Superman's eyebrows rise in surprise. "Pleased to meet you, officer," he said as he shook her offered hand.
"Thanks for helping. I'm sure you get that a lot, but you really did save countless people from harm," she said, a small smile on her lips. The nonverbal communication going on between the two was classic, Jenny observed in amusement as she stepped back a little. Clark was obviously sizing Diane up, and Diane seemed to be pleased at his reaction to her, as if she expected it. What son wouldn't run to his father for advice on women, after all? The exchange ended as they released each other's hands, and Diane turned her complete attention to Susan, who had moved further away from the superhero. Susan's attention seemed drawn to the rapidly dissipating crowd instead of toward her idol, a fact that further convinced Jenny that something strange was going on with Susan. Under normal circumstances Susan would no doubt be staring gape-jawed at her hero — she had practically burned a hole in her posters in the living room she stared at them so often, the same adoring expression on her face every time. Now it seemed like she was avoiding him, if that was possible, and her natural enthusiasm was hidden behind a mask of neutrality.
As Diane began questioning her roommate, Jenny turned back to her future father-in-law. She looked him in the eyes and silently communicated her desire to find someplace a little more private to talk. He nodded and began walking toward the alley next to the building with Jenny close behind. As they rounded the corner, Clark did a quick scan to determine that they were truly alone.
"So that was the Officer Martinez that I've heard so much about," Clark said in a low voice.
"The same," Jenny replied. "Just how much HAVE you heard?"
Clark shrugged his shoulders. "Not much, but I know enough to think that Jon is in a little over his head." Clark paused and narrowed his eyes a little a half smile forming on his lips. "So, what exactly are you doing here with her? Or don't I want to know?"
Jenny giggled. "You sound just like my Clark," she said, causing him to smile wider, even as his eyebrows lifted in anticipation of her answer.
"Since you asked, I'm here on a mission," she said. "Me and Diane are going to become pals, and then I'm going to introduce her to a certain friend of mine."
"I see," Clark said with humor in his voice. "I don't suppose you need any help with your plan? I'm a sucker for a noble cause."
"Just give him a break on the crime fighting front tonight. CJ and I have everything else taken care of."
Clark shook his head, a smile on his face. "You are truly a force to be reckoned with. I'll send Jon a sympathy card when this is all over with."
Though Jenny had certainly grown accustomed to the Kent family style of humor, she would never tire of it. "We'll be gentle, I promise."
"Good to hear," Clark said. His smile began to fade before he continued, the light tones dropping out of his voice. "Look after your roommate — something doesn't seem quite right with her. I've foiled hundreds of attempts at suicide and have seen reactions from anger to shock, relief and sadness. Someone has to be feeling very strong emotions to attempt such a thing, but your roommate was very calm, almost as if she was expecting to be rescued. I can't explain it, but it just seems odd. Do you know what I'm saying?"
Jenny nodded. "Yeah. I thought the same thing. I'll see what I can do. Thanks, Cla… Superman."
Clark smiled and patted her on the shoulder. "I'm going to get back to work now. Good luck with your project," he said and winked at her before taking off into the air. That wink was something that never ceased to turn Jenny to mush inside. There were times that it still felt somewhat surreal to be privy to his family's deepest secret, and Jenny suspected that it wasn't something that would go away entirely. She lifted her left hand and looked at the ring that she wore. Superman's family in itself was special, and she just felt lucky to be a part of it.
Jenny closed her eyes and sighed. As much as she enjoyed thinking about her favorite family, there was still work to be done. With that she exited the alley and headed back to Diane and Susan.
"So, you know Superman?" Diane asked Jenny as soon as they were back in the squad car. Diane had seen the two disappear into that alley for a few minutes and had wondered at the time what it was all about. She had been told that the jumper was Jenny's roommate, and she thought that maybe Superman was consoling her or offering her advice, but her gut told her that it was something else. The two just seemed a little too chummy.
"Uh, yeah. His son rescued me once," Jenny said with a faraway look in her eyes. Diane felt a surge of something…jealousy, maybe? That look Jenny had on her face was a little TOO wistful. She showed all of the classic symptoms of a love-struck co-ed. Diane had to force herself to calm a little before she responded — it wasn't as if she owned the Crimson Superman. She was well aware of his stunning good looks and innate goodness, and what affect that had on people. But that didn't mean that she couldn't feel a little possessive when other women fawned over him.
"He did?" Diane said flatly. She cast a dirty look in Jenny's direction but was startled to see a large smile on her face, as if she was enjoying a private joke. Diane felt a sudden surge of rage. There had to be something strange going on with her and Superman — why else would Jenny be smiling? Jenny didn't seem to notice Diane's angry gaze, judging from the cheerful tones in her voice as she continued.
"Yeah, last summer. I tried to…interview him after the rescue and he obliged. We've been close ever since."
"Close?" Diane asked with clenched teeth. It was getting harder and harder to control herself. The rational part of her brain was trying to tell her to calm down, but she just couldn't. Why was it that when even the thought of the Crimson Superman crept into her head, she lost all control of her emotions? Even seeing the original Superman had brought it out of her. She knew it was unprofessional to ignore the jumper in favor of the superhero, but she just had to see him. His reaction to her, the way he sized her up, told her everything she needed to know — the Crimson Superman had run to daddy and told him all about her. It was satisfying in a way, simply because it affirmed what she had believed all along. He DID care about her. But now there was this girl, this snoopy reporter, who claimed to be "close" to him, and who was obviously close enough to be able to command the elder Superman's personal attention.
The inflection in Diane's voice did not seem to be lost on Jenny this time. Her smile faded and her eyes grew slightly larger, much to Diane's satisfaction. Subtlety was never her strong point anyway, she thought. "Not CLOSE, close, if that's what you mean," Jenny said hurriedly. "He gives me interviews whenever I see him around a crime that's all."
Diane raised an eyebrow. Interviews, huh? It occurred to her that being a reporter must be really nice. While the police are off doing their jobs, handling the criminals and dealing with the public, the high and mighty reporters have time to hobnob with superheroes. Sure, the supermen were always good about giving their accounts of events to the police, too, but it always seemed like the reporters were the ones they gave most of their time to. Still, maybe this girl knew something more about them…
"I don't suppose you know how to get a hold of Superman?" Diane asked, not knowing what to expect. She really didn't think that this college girl would tell her even if she knew, but still, the idea was appealing.
Jenny shrugged and smiled that private smile again. "I heard yelling, 'help' usually works."
Diane squinted a bit, unsure as to whether Jenny was trying to be sarcastic or funny. Sarcasm was another of those things that Diane didn't tolerate very well. Even as that thought rattled around in her head, another part of her mind flashed back to what had just happened just a few minutes ago. Superman had shown up, but only after hearing the cries for help from the crowd and the sound of sirens. Maybe she was just stating the truth.
"Seriously, though, I've heard that if you let the word out that you want to see him, either with the Foundation or with some people at the newspapers that see him a lot, then he will generally find you."
Diane pondered this. She wanted very much to see the Crimson Superman again, if only to get him to talk to her. He obviously held onto the notion that she didn't care about him as a person so much as she cared about him as a super-powered being. She couldn't exactly dispute that, per se, since she really didn't know him as a person, but she did know that powers or not, there was a connection between them. And if she could see him again, maybe she could make him see that. With any luck he might even let her into his real life. What had started out as a remote idea was suddenly becoming more and more plausible.
Diane looked over at Jenny again, a smile forming on her face. College reporter or not, this girl might just be her in with Superman. "Well, since you seem to be so close to Superman, then I have a favor to ask you…"
Susan accepted the ride the police offered her back to her apartment. She sat calmly in the back of the squad car, her eyes staring sightlessly out the window. Normally she would find it quite unnerving to be essentially locked in the back of a car, separated from the next person by a metal cage, but today was not normal. She almost welcomed the isolation — it almost matched the hole that was growing inside herself. She knew that when the car stopped at the officer deposited her back her apartment, she would probably collapse on the floor and cry.
It was amazing what a simple act of deception could do to a person, she thought. Today she had flown with Superman. He had held her in his arms, pressed against his chest. Her fingers could still feel the material of his suit; her cheek seemed to tingle where she had laid it against the soft, warm skin of his neck; and her nose still recalled his slightly musky scent that spoke of aftershave and soap. Every microsecond of their time together was burned into her memory for all time — it would be something that she didn't think she could forget even if she tried. The experience had been everything she had thought it would be and more, but she just couldn't allow herself to enjoy it. Planting the tracer had taken all the willpower she possessed, and as soon as it was in place, something inside of her seemed to give.
It wasn't much of a surprise to her that the melancholy sunk in when it did. After jumping off that ledge, the ground seemed to fly up toward her so quickly, and the closer it came to her, the more certain she had become that she was going to die. That thought had brought with it many others. It was true what they said about your life flashing in front of you — she had recalled memories of her life up until that point, pleasant and unpleasant alike. In the span of no more than a second, she relived moments of her life that she hadn't thought about in ages, and loneliness surged up within her that was almost overwhelming. Then, suddenly, the ground wasn't approaching so quickly. Even though she knew what was happening, she just couldn't bring herself out of the funk that she was in. Fortunately she had enough presence of mind to do the job that she had set out for, but that was little consolation. Suddenly, in addition to the general emptiness she felt, her conscience was heavy with the thought that she had just lured Superman to her by dishonest means. She was taking advantage of her hero.
She probably would've lost it when she finally made it to the ground unharmed, but then she saw Jenny. Why did she have to be there, she wondered. Even given the state of mind Susan was in, she probably still could've acted the part of the upset jumper, but Jenny, more that anyone else, would be able to see right through the act. So she didn't even try, instead giving in to the melancholy. So it was that she had answered the questions that the police and later the paramedics had thrown at her, trying to make it appear that she was upset enough to jump off the building, but not bothering to divulge any details.
Susan became aware that the door of the police car was opening next to her. She focused her eyes on the officer as he held out his hand to her, her mind not wanting to be brought back to reality. She reluctantly took the offered hand and climbed out of the car. The officer escorted her all the way to her apartment and didn't leave until she closed the door behind herself. Under normal circumstances, she would probably think that such courteous attention lavished onto her by a man was flattering, and she would probably inquire about his availability for lunch the next day, but she was once again reminded that today was a far cry from normal. She half staggered into the living room and collapsed onto the couch, burying her head in her hands, the tension of the day finally escaping in the form sobs that wrenched her whole body.
She cried for what seemed like an eternity. As the tears began to dry and her composure began to come back, she allowed herself to look up. The first thing that caught her eye was her wall of Superman. The next thing she saw was the tracking unit that was sitting on the coffee table. She picked it up and looked it over closely, trying to decide on her next course of action. She knew what she was expected to do, and she knew what her conscience told her, and those were very different things. What about her heart? What did that say?
Even though the shame and guilt she felt at deceiving Superman was palpable, it was nothing compared to the loneliness that had manifested itself that day. She looked up at her wall again, trying to see it from a different perspective. All those years in Metropolis had been spent chasing after Superman and other attractive men, and she had found neither. Was that what her life had been about? Was that how she had grown so isolated? The answer was a definite yes. If her life truly was all about Superman, then her first step in trying to live a fuller, more fulfilling existence would have to be giving closure to her old life. She looked back down at the tracking device in her hand. What better closure would there be than to finish her mission, she thought as she turned it on.
The restaurant that Jenny had chosen for her little set-up that night was a nice family establishment, the type that would serve you a hamburger as quickly as a fancy delicacy. The food was affordable and the atmosphere was relaxed, making it the perfect place for a college girl such as herself to bring her fiancee and a guest to eat, or so she hoped Diane thought. It was also one of Jon's favorite restaurants — Jenny and CJ had eaten there with him on more than one occasion, and she knew that he would think nothing of it if she invited him tonight. It was the perfect arrangement. If only getting everyone together had been as easy as advertised.
CJ was no problem — Jenny figured that she could ask him to follow her to the worst cockroach-infested establishment in Metropolis and he would do so gladly. Jon, even given some of his recent emotional upheaval, wasn't too much of a problem, either. He had spent most of the day just trying to get his mind off Diane. When Jenny called him up that morning, she had caught him in the middle of scrubbing the grout in his bathtub. Honestly, who spends their Saturday scrubbing grout, she wondered. It made her feel a little guilty for dragging him into another confrontation with Diane when his nerves were still so raw, but she figured he would hold up fine. He WAS Superman, after all.
The biggest problem in the whole arrangement had been Diane. As soon as the topic of Superman had been breached, things had gone downhill rapidly. Jenny had sworn that Diane had been eyeing her all day — she could almost feel her gaze burning into her. Although Diane seemed to be taking pains to hide it, Jenny could also see jealousy directed toward her, too. Jenny had hoped that the animosity between them would go away as the hours progressed, and it did to a certain extent.
At times when they had to deal with the public, the meanness and jealousy went away and Diane seemed quite relaxed. She had a sense of humor and patience that went a long way with the people that she dealt with. She really did have a way with people. But then when the two of them were alone in the squad car again, the stone walls went back up. More than anything else, Diane seemed to be a study in contrast, she seemed to posses a certain duality. In that way, Jenny thought, maybe she was suited to be the girlfriend of a superhero, a man with two separate identities. She was funny at times and serious at others, tender yet unyieldingly stubborn, and even though she seemed to have feelings for the Crimson Superman, Diane seemed to appraise every man she saw. Jenny puzzled over that initially, but then she realized what Diane was really doing. It was something that Jenny had done herself the previous summer. That could only be seen as a positive sign. If Diane knew that the Crimson Superman lived his life as someone else and she still wanted to find him, that could only mean that she was interested in him as a person.
Even though the tension between the two of them had persisted throughout the day, about an hour before their time together was scheduled to end, Jenny finally decided to ask Diane to join her and CJ for supper. She would've preferred to do it after the two of them had become good friends, but as time grew shorter, Jenny began to realize that that just wasn't going to happen. The closest they had come to any type of friendship was when Jenny agreed to "spread the word" that Diane wanted to meet Superman, and even then Jenny had the distinct impression that Diane was just trying to use her. But it just couldn't wait any longer, Jenny decided, so she forged ahead and asked the question.
"Um," Jenny had begun as they rode along in the car, right after finishing the walking patrol of the neighborhood, "I want to say that I appreciate your taking the time to show me around today. As a sign of my gratitude, I would like to invite you to come to dinner with me and my fiancee tonight, my treat."
She had looked at Diane expectantly, trying to get a read on her emotions and failing miserably. This was the most critical part of the plan, and Jenny was beginning to get a feeling of dread deep in the pit of her stomach, a foreboding sense of failure. After going out of her way to give Jenny the cold shoulder all day, what would make Diane want to go to supper with her tonight?
"Look," Diane began, her tone indicating what she was going to say all too clearly. Jenny's mind began to reel, trying to think of ways to guarantee Diane would show up to dinner, but could think of nothing short of using the Superman meeting as bait. "I appreciate the offer but…"
"Just hear me out," Jenny interrupted her. If all else failed, and it certainly seemed like it had, naked honesty was as good of a path as any. "I know that you don't like me much, and I know that the second you get rid of me will probably be the best part of your day. But I had really hoped that we could at least reach a level of understanding that would allow us to work together today. I guess I was wrong. Even so, I do appreciate being given the opportunity to follow you around, and after the animosity you have shown me today, I think you owe it to me to at least come to dinner."
Jenny had steeled her face and looked at Diane, just daring her to say no. Much to Jenny's relief, Diane's features seemed to soften a little, and she acquiesced. She even seemed to act more civil for their last hour together, and the two of them were finally able to hold a conversation. When the shift ended, Jenny found that she was beginning to enjoy Diane's company, and the dread that she had been feeling regarding the meeting that night had faded away, replaced by optimism. Things were going to work out, she was sure.
"Martinez," Jon said with a steely voice, his face a mask of neutrality and his eyes burning.
"Kent," Diane sneered back, the corners of her mouth twitching. It wasn't the introduction that Jenny had been hoping for, but it was a start.
"Hi Jon!" Jenny said, trying to lighten things up a little bit. Jon and Diane both turned toward her, their eyes shooting daggers. Jenny felt the urge to shrink back into her chair, but she forced herself to get her emotions under control and sit up straighter. "So you two know each other?" she asked in the same cheery tone.
Jon turned his gaze to his brother, who wore the same innocently cheery expression as Jenny. She didn't need to read minds to know that Jon was blaming CJ for betraying his trust, although, Jenny thought, surely Jon must've known that CJ shared everything with her. And she just couldn't sit by and let her friend suffer. Why, it was probably almost inevitable that she would intervene, she thought. She almost felt offended at the accusation that Jon's glare held — they were just helping him out. Apparently he didn't see it that way, though.
"Yes, we do," Jon said through clenched teeth.
CJ did his best to look surprised. "Small world, isn't it? Why, Jenny was just out on assignment today with Miss Martinez here." The devilish smile that found its way onto his face just then almost made Jenny want to laugh.
"Yes, that is some coincidence," Jon said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
"Please, sit down," Jenny said as she gestured at the empty chair at the table. Jon glared at her for a second, then he turned toward Diane. Though he was obviously trying to maintain an image of anger and contempt, Jenny knew Jon well enough to see how his feelings changed when he looked at her. His shoulders hunched over slightly, his hands began to fidget and, most tellingly, his eyes grew softer. It was remarkable, really, and it was something that Jenny never thought she'd see with her own eyes. Jon was the very picture of a man frustrated in love. Jenny couldn't help but smile as Jon took a seat at the table.
The rest of the meal consisted mostly of small talk, and the tension between Jon and Diane was palpable. Jenny and CJ tried their hardest to keep the mood light, but they only succeeded in creating a running discussion among themselves as Diane and Jon silently watched. If anything was going to happen, Jenny figured that she needed to get Jon and Diane alone.
"Sweetheart," she said to CJ after finishing up her meal. "Didn't you have a phone call to make?"
CJ looked at her, a puzzled expression on his face. Jenny forced herself to keep smiling, even as her eyes pleaded with him to play along. "Uh, yeah I did, didn't I?" he said as he shrugged his shoulders almost imperceptibly.
"Yes, you did. And I just remembered that I have something I need to tell the person you're calling, too." She couldn't believe how lame that sounded, but it was the only thing she could think of to get them away from the table.
The two of them stood in unison and began to walk away from the table. The last thing that Jenny saw before rounding the corner to the hallway with the phone in it were the very wide eyes of both Jon and Diane, locked on her and CJ, both silently willing them to come back. Too bad for them, she thought with a smile on her face. Let the show begin.
After a few brief, torturous moments of silence, Jon leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms across his chest. "So, tell me, what is it that you have against reporters?" he asked.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Diane said, her face pointed away from him. The last thing she wanted was pursue this conversation. Why should it matter to him what her feelings were toward reporters? Okay, he was one, but so what? Couldn't he just accept the fact that she didn't like him and leave it at that?
Jon uncrossed his arms and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. "Sure you do," he said, a curious smile spreading across his face. "You've been giving me the cold shoulder ever since I flashed my press pass at you. I've been doing some asking around to some friends of mine in the business, and they told me your rapport with reporters was so bad, it was almost legendary, even though you've only been on the force for a few months."
Diane's head snapped around and she stared him down. "You ASKED people about me? Who do you think you are?" She felt the anger welling up inside herself once more. Kent just seemed to draw it out of her so much more easily than anyone else. It was one of the many things that annoyed her about him.
Jon held his ground, his smile growing. "I'm right, aren't I?"
Diane opened her mouth to speak and then closed it again without saying a word. She looked him in the eyes for a few seconds more before sighing and lowering her gaze. Given the words that had come out of his mouth, she had expected him to look smug, or maybe accusing. But what she saw instead was a man who was genuinely interested in what she had to say. Plus he WAS right, she had to admit. "I'm really that notorious?" she asked quietly, the anger gone, replaced acute embarrassment. She just couldn't believe that she had behaved badly enough to earn such a reputation with the media.
Jon nodded. Diane looked up at him and narrowed her eyes, trying to decide if she wanted to open up to him. Yes, he seemed to rile her more than anyone else possibly could, but there was an honesty in his eyes that she just couldn't deny. Maybe if she appeased him this once, he would leave her alone.
"It all started out when I was six," she began, her gaze directed at the table. "My father was a teacher at the high school in the town where I lived in Texas. One day, one of his female students went to the local newspaper, claiming that my father had sexually assaulted her. The reporter took the story and ran with it, not bothering to check any facts." Diane looked back at Jon, her eyes ablaze and an edge forming in her voice. "The story he wrote tore my father to shreds. The reporter dug up incidents from my father's past and twisted them around to fit his story. Of course, the fact that my father was innocent meant nothing to anybody. Nobody would believe him, instead choosing to believe the word of that little tramp and the reporter who championed her.
"The case was sent to court and tried, and the judge believed my father, thank God. But the whole ordeal nearly destroyed him and my family. We filed a libel suit against the paper, but we didn't get anywhere." Diane's voice steeled further, and she let all the anger she had harbored for so many years seep into her voice. "Ever since then, I have had contempt for reporters in general, because I know that when given the opportunity, you would all do the same thing. I've seen it a thousand times. I wish it weren't true, but I've come to the conclusion that it's just the way it has been and the way it always will be."
Jon's face was a mixture of sympathy and curiosity. "I think you're being a little unfair…"
The anger welled up inside of her again. What did she expect? Did she think that he, as a reporter himself, would just listen to her story and not try to change her mind? "Unfair? I would say I've been more than fair. Some of the sleaziest people I've ever met work for the media."
Jon winced slightly before responding, his voice soft. "Yes, every profession has a few people in it that give it a bad name, but some of the best people I know are reporters."
"I would say you're a little biased," Diane shot back.
"Maybe, but I've also had the chance to work in the industry for a while, and I know that most reporters are truly honest people. Many of us decided to do what we do because we wanted to make the world a better place. Sure, reporters write stories about the bad things that happen around us every day, but we also write the exposes that help out the little guy, that bring down the companies that are trying to exploit the average citizen."
The conviction with which he spoke touched a nerve with her, and she almost let herself believe what he was saying. But the pain and the humiliation that she had suffered so many years ago felt as fresh even now as it did then. She just couldn't let that go. "It doesn't matter," she said, her voice dulled by the hurt that still dwelled inside of her. "Nothing you say can change what happened. Give me a tangible reason to believe otherwise, and I might change my mind, but I doubt that will happen."
A look of disappointment formed on Jon's face. "If I'm truly that untrustworthy in your eyes, no matter what I may do, then I guess I should leave." He stood up abruptly and stepped away from the table, throwing some money on the table to cover the bill before leaving.
Diane looked at the money lying there for a second before speaking. "Look, Kent, you don't have to do that," she said as he turned away. "I'm fully capable of paying for my own meal."
Jon stopped and turned back to her, the curiosity, anger, and concern earlier now gone, replaced with sadness so deep that she felt a twinge in her heart. Why was it that she seemed to have that affect on men now? "I want to do it, okay?"
Diane just looked at him, at a loss for words. When was the last time a man had offered to pay for her meal? What made Kent want to do such a thing for her, even despite all the nasty words she'd exchanged with him? She found a small smile forming on her lips as her voice came back. "Okay," she said softly.
The change in him was remarkable. Her smile drew one out of him that could light up a room. Diane noticed for the first time how handsome he was. "If you want, you can pay me back — that is if you could stand to see me again sometime," he said with a twinkle in his eyes. His smile and his shy charm seemed so natural that Diane could hardly believe that she thought this man was capable of malice. Her own grin widened as she nodded in his direction. He nodded back to her and then turned to leave.
For some reason that she couldn't explain, the last words he said seemed to echo around in her head. "…See me again sometime…sometime…some…time…only some of the time." Diane blinked. Where had that come from? During the whole evening, as strange as it was for her to admit, she hadn't thought about the Crimson Superman once, and now suddenly his voice was echoing around in her head. Although, the more she thought about it, the more she realized that his voice had already been there; Jon's words had already been there. The inflections were different — the Crimson Superman's voice had been so filled with anguish while Jon's had been light, yet almost shy. Diane felt her heart start beating faster as the implications of her discovery came to her — if the voices were the same, was it possible that the man was, too? She just couldn't let him leave without knowing for sure.
"Wait!" she jumped to her feet and called after him. He stopped and turned around, looking at her curiously. Diane focused her eyes on his face and studied him long and hard, not caring whether he knew what she was doing or not. It was strange how she had never really noticed him before — the softness of his eyes hidden as they were behind his glasses and the sweetness of his smile. She would know those eyes anywhere, she thought as she felt herself get slightly dizzy. She noticed that his dark hair was styled, not plastered down on his head, serving to make the shape of his face seem more oval. It also made him that much more handsome. Her gaze trailed down to his chest, noting for the first time how muscular he appeared to be beneath the polo shirt he wore. It had to be him!
The revelation made her pause. She felt shocked and ashamed at the same time. Here, standing in front of her, was the very Superman that she had been searching so hard to find. But here also was the man that she had felt such a deep amount of anger toward — why was that? How could she feel such opposing things for the same person? It was probably because she never knew that they were the same person, she thought with a renewed sense of consternation. He could've told her as much and saved themselves a lot of trouble. But the more she thought about it, the more she had to admit that it wasn't as easy as all that. It wasn't just his secret, after all. And he HAD tried to drop her clues, or at least he did the last time they were together. That was probably the best he could do.
So who was the man in front of her, really? Through all the resentment and anger, she hadn't bothered nor cared to find out. She wished now that she had. All she knew was that Jon Kent was an idealistic reporter and the Crimson Superman was a tortured soul who loved her but didn't want to be loved back as a superhero. Maybe that told her everything she wanted to know about him — how he viewed himself, how he lived his life, and how he wanted to be treated. It was no wonder that he hadn't willingly warmed up to her as Superman. Why should he, when she really didn't love him for who he really was? But she did know that she loved the Crimson Superman. The question became, could she love a reporter? It only took a split second for to decide that she could, and she did. If she needed a compelling reason to dispel all her old notions about reporters, it was staring her in the face right now.
Jon's curious smile faded fast as she studied him. Her mind was telling her to speak, to say anything just to make him stay a little longer. A million thoughts on how to handle the situation tumbled through her head. Should she let him know what she had she deduced? Should she try and crack a joke just to see that smile again? Should she say something abrasive to deflect any possible suspicions he might have? The words that finally came out of her mouth caught her off guard for a moment.
"Do you believe in the idea of love at first sight?" she asked him quietly. It was a question directed as much to herself as it was to him. She couldn't believe that she could feel fireworks between them while he was wearing one set of clothing, yet when meeting him under a different set of circumstances, she felt nothing at all. She hated to think that love had everything to do with perception, but maybe it was true.
She could see his eyes grow wide for an instant before he regained his composure. "Why do you ask?" he said steadily as he slowly walked back toward the table.
She looked him squarely in the eyes and then blushed, dropping her head. "I guess…" she started, and then made herself stop. It was so hard to vocalize feelings, especially when they were so deeply rooted. She wanted to make him believe that she wanted to be with him, and that it had nothing to do with WHAT he was, rather it was who he was that counted. The problem was that she really didn't know who he was, not really.
"I guess I always thought I believed in it. I always thought that when you met the perfect man, you would instantly know he was the one, and you would kiss him and he would kiss you, then you would ride off into the sunset together. I never dreamed it could be so complicated." She clasped her hands and looked up at him again, suddenly shy. "I've felt that incredible connection that comes with meeting the person you know you're meant to be with. The problem is that I let my prejudices and blindness get between me and him. I just hope that when I see him again, I can let him know how sorry I am to have let that happen."
"What would you say?" Jon asked. She could hear the emotion in his voice; she knew she was getting through to him.
"First, I would let him know what an idiot I am."
He smiled crookedly at that. "Blindness and idiocy are hardly the same thing," he countered, his voice soothing.
"I know that. But, God knows, I could've handled things differently."
"Don't you think that he feels the same way? Who's to say how things would've turned out if he had been completely honest with you about himself? Besides, he knew who he was getting involved with — he would've expected you to act no differently than you did," Jon said, taking a step closer to her.
Diane looked away, the guilt eating her up inside. "But why should anyone expect to be treated so badly? It's just not fair to him." She looked up at his face again, and saw his concern for her written all over it. She didn't deserve this man, not after how she had acted, not after how she had treated him. A tear slid down her cheek as she continued. "Love is a funny thing, you know? You tell yourself that what you feel for someone has everything to do with who he is, even thought you haven't the slightest idea about who he really is. You build up certain expectations, never realizing that he doesn't see himself the same way you see him."
Jon took another step forward and reached out to wipe the tear off her cheek. Diane turned her head into his touch, savoring it while she could. Why would he want anything to do with her after tonight? He must know what she was trying to say, and he must be scared that she knew his secret, even if he didn't show it. "Given all that," she said, even as she felt her throat tighten up. "I would understand if he decided to move on and never see me again."
"Don't say that," Jon said, his voice taking on a passion that she hadn't heard before. "Love at first sight doesn't necessarily require familiarity, you just have to love each other. Everything else can come with time. We all build artificial things into relationships — unreasonable hopes and desires that the other person could never possibly hope to fulfill. So many relationships die for just that reason. Maybe instead of all the blaming and finger pointing, people need to just enjoy what they have and be in love."
Diane felt a wide smile spread across her face. She brought her hand up to meet his, which still cradled her cheek. He was so understanding, and he wanted to be with her, even though he had every right to hate her for the all the emotional stress that she had put him through. It occurred to her that despite his god-like qualities when he was out fighting crime, beneath all the powers and the spandex was a normal man, with feelings and desires and shortcomings just like everyone else. That's what she hadn't seen prior to tonight, and she loved him even more for that. He was right — with time they would get to know each other better, but for now…
She tilted her head up and leaned in toward him. Their lips met, and this time when they kissed, the feeling was indescribable. While still having all the passion of their previous kiss, this one had tenderness to it that the earlier one lacked. It spoke of a promise, of a future, together. They both smiled as they pulled apart, their arms wrapped around each other, neither wanting to ruin the moment by speaking.
"So," Diane finally said, "Do you think he will forgive me for my behavior?"
Jon chuckled, a sound that Diane found to be very pleasant, if only because it sounded so very natural. He probably laughed a lot, she realized, suddenly wishing that she could hear him laugh some more. "I would say that's a pretty good bet, although I think a little bit of groveling would go a long way."
She raised her eyebrows. "If he truly knows what to expect out of me as well as he claims to, he will know that I don't take to groveling very well."
Jon tipped his head and made a face. "Point taken. So what ARE you going to say to him when you see him again?"
Diane dropped her arms and pulled away from him. "I think I'll probably apologize profusely for making him suffer because of me, and then I'll probably insist we start again from scratch. I'll go up to him, extend my hand," she said as she looked him in the eyes and extended her right hand toward him, "and introduce myself. Hi, I'm Diane Martinez. I'm an officer with the Metropolis P.D, originally from Texas, and I'm a Virgo. I enjoy my work, I like helping people, and I've recently had a severe attitude adjustment when it comes to certain long-held notions."
Jon looked at her hand a second before reaching out and taking it with his own. "Jon Kent, reporter, Sagittarius, and recent Metropolis University graduate. I enjoy watching football and playing my trombone in my spare time. I'm a sucker for a sappy movie and reformed, formerly reporter-hating police women."
They shook once firmly and they released hands, looking at each other like two goofy teenagers. After a few seconds, Jon was able to compose himself. "Well, Officer Martinez, I think I should be going. Keep me informed on how it goes with your true love."
"You'll be the first to know," Diane said. With that, Jon turned on his heel and walked out of the restaurant, a smile on his face and a bit of a spring in his step. Diane couldn't help but smile as she watched his retreating form. "Fly safely, my love" she whispered as he reached the door. He turned back toward her for a second, a knowing smile on his face, gave her a salute with his right hand, and then walked out.
Diane had the uncanny feeling that she had just experienced something monumental, even amongst the mundane setting of the restaurant. Today truly was the first day of the rest of her life, and she decided then and there that she would do everything in her power to do it right this time.
"Man, I wish I could read lips," Jenny said. She clutched at CJ's hand and flattened herself closer to the wall next to him near the bathrooms at the restaurant. The location was such that they were away from the main part of the room, but they had a clear line of sight to the table where Diane and Jon were sitting.
"I can do lip reading one better, you know," CJ countered, a smirk on his face. He was watching the happenings at the table as intently as she was, a fact that she found amusing. He had given her a fair amount of ribbing for implementing her little plan in the first place, but she knew that deep down he was glad that she did.
"Yeah, but then I wouldn't have to wait for you to tell me what they're saying." The conversation between the two had been very animated at times, and it took all of Jenny's willpower not to sneak into the dining room so that she could hear it herself.
"It's not anything worth repeating right now. I mean, some of it is kinda interesting, but I can tell you about it later. Did you know… oh, wait a sec."
Jon stood up abruptly, threw some money on the table, and exchanged some words with Diane before turning to leave. But before he had a chance to go anywhere, she stopped him with her words. All of a sudden all the emotions that he had kept bottled up all evening came to the surface. He looked so sad as he spoke and, Jenny noticed, that seemed to strike a chord with Diane. When she spoke again, Jon's face lit up, and Jenny felt a feeling of satisfaction well up inside of her. They must have come to some sort of understanding.
"What did they say?" Jenny whispered, watching as Jon and Diane exchanged nods and Jon finally left.
CJ recounted the conversation to her, and she laid her head on his shoulder. "I knew it! I knew they would figure out that they really liked each other!"
Just then Jon stopped cold. Even from where she was at, Jenny could clearly hear Diane call out to him to wait. When Jon turned around, Diane seemed to study him for a long time before saying anything. Jenny heard CJ gasp slightly at the words, causing her to take her head off his shoulder and look at him curiously.
"What?" she asked.
"She just asked him if he believed in the idea of love at first sight," he said quietly, a smile breaking out across his face. He made such a big deal about being so macho and funny all the time, but Jenny knew he was a romantic at heart. She smiled at him and squeezed his hand before turning her attention back to the couple.
Jon said something before Diane launched into a long and obviously emotional speech. Jenny could almost feel CJ's good humor slipping away as him smile faded into an expression of awe. "She knows," he whispered.
Jenny just smiled and nodded. She was sure Diane would find out eventually — she had been putting so much of her effort into finding the Crimson Superman the last day that Jenny was surprised she hadn't figured it out sooner. It was strange how a preconceived hatred could cloud Diane's emotions so much that she couldn't see the man she loved even when he was right in front of her.
CJ caught her smile, and that seemed to put him at ease. He grinned back and began to repeat the conversation word for word. Jenny released his hands and brought her arms around him, closely watching what was going on in the dining room, trying to gauge reactions and read expressions. What started out as satisfaction gradually morphed into the same sappy feeling she got when watching an exceptionally emotional love scene in a movie, except that this was real life, and Jon was her friend.
"Oh, Clark," she sighed as Jon and Diane finally kissed. That had to be one of the most romantic cryptic conversations she had ever heard. CJ looked down at her, a goofy smile on his face as well. He drew her in toward himself and they embraced lovingly, Jenny's mind wandering back to when she had been in the same situation. She could still remember every detail of that night, and she knew that she would for the rest of her life.
Jenny closed her eyes and tightened her grip around her fiancee. CJ kissed the top of her head and rocked her slowly for a few moments. As Jenny's eyes came back open, she saw Jon and Diane talking again, with a new easiness between them that hadn't been there before. She looked up at CJ quizzically, but he just shook his head.
"I think they've earned their privacy," he said.
Jenny raised an eyebrow as a crooked smile formed on her face. "Privacy? This coming form the man who just eavesdropped on what could possibly be the most important conversation they'll have?"
CJ's expression turned entirely serious. "It was a momentary lapse of self control, and I'm tearing myself up with guilt for having done such a thing."
"I just bet you are," Jenny countered. CJ began tickling her lightly, a devilish glint in his eyes. Jenny tried unsuccessfully to fight back the fit of giggles that threatened to overtake her, finally giving in.
"Stop," she gasped as soon as she could catch a breath. "People are looking at us!"
Sure enough, a few people at the tables closest to them had turned their heads to see what the racket was. CJ stopped his tickling and looked around, unwrapping one of his arms from around Jenny to give a quick wave to the people who were watching, causing another outbreak of the giggles from Jenny.
"Now who's making a scene?" he asked and then bent down to plant a kiss on her lips. She returned it gladly, forgetting about any eyes that were on them. As they pulled apart, Jenny glanced back at the table and saw Diane sitting there alone, staring toward the front door of the restaurant.
"Come on," Jenny said as she unwrapped herself from CJ and took a few steps toward the table. "I think we can go back now."
CJ reached out for her hand and followed behind. As they neared the table, Diane tore her gaze away from the doors and looked curiously at them for a few moments. Her expression turned serious as her eyes fell solely on CJ, studying him in the same way that Jenny had seen her study so many other men that day.
"So, you're close to Superman's son, huh?" Diane asked Jenny, even though her eyes were still on CJ.
Jenny and CJ glanced at each other quickly and then both looked back at Diane. "Yeah, you could say that," Jenny said softly.
Diane finally took her gaze off CJ and looked at Jenny. "Well, I don't need you to get a hold of him for me anymore. I think I can find a way to do that myself," she said, grinning.
Jenny couldn't help but smile back. The two women looked at each other, and Jenny could feel a newfound respect pass between them. She knew that in the days and weeks to come, they would probably become closer friends, if only because of the knowledge that they now both shared.
"Well, I think it's time we go," Jenny said, looking at CJ for support.
"Yeah, it's been a long day," he chipped in.
"Amen to that," Diane mumbled under her breath, eliciting a crooked smile from CJ.
"Do you need a ride home or anything?" Jenny asked as they began walking toward the door.
"No," Diane replied, a faraway look coming across her face, "It's a beautiful night. I think I'll walk."
Jenny nodded. She could see in her mind Diane walking down the street, staring at the sky in hopes of seeing her hero. The trio walked silently until reaching the door. As they walked out into the night and prepared to part company, Diane turned toward Jenny and CJ.
"I just want to thank you for tonight. And I'm sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable today, it's just that…"
"I understand," Jenny said, looking lovingly at CJ. She knew the feeling all too well. And in any case, the day hadn't been a total loss — she did get a nice little story out of the deal. Plus, if it meant happiness for Jon, then it was worth everything she had to endure.
Diane nodded at them. "Well, I guess this is goodnight, then. I'm sure I will see you again sometime."
"Goodnight," Jenny and CJ said together. As Diane turned away and began to walk down the street, Jenny brought her arm around CJ's waist.
"How do you think it'll go for them? Do you think it will be as great for them as it was for us?" Jenny asked him as they began to walk toward his car.
"I guess only time will tell, but they've taken a good first step. Thanks to you," he said as he smiled down to her.
"Hey, all I did was bring them together. They did everything else. All I ask is that they remember me when they send out wedding invitations."
CJ laughed. "I'm sure they both appreciate you in their own way. But I know it pales in comparison to the vast amount of appreciation that I feel for you on a daily basis."
Jenny grinned at him suggestively. "Do you plan on showing me how much you appreciate me or do I have to get it out of you by force?"
CJ raised his eyebrows. "Well, I SUPPOSE, if you absolutely insist, I can give you a demonstration tonight."
The couple reached the car and CJ dug around in his pocket for his keys. As he did, Jenny leaned over and began to plant kisses on his neck. "Oh, I insist," she muttered.
CJ flushed a little before disengaging himself from Jenny. "Down, girl!" he said, drawing a giggle from Jenny. She dropped her arms and straightened up, turning herself into the picture of innocence. CJ looked at her appraisingly before making his way around to the driver's side of the car. As he inserted the key in the lock, he looked at her again. "Do you think you can control yourself until we get home?"
Jenny made doe eyes and nodded for a second before speaking. "Maybe," she said, her voice taking on a playful tone, causing CJ to snort. They climbed into the car and drove off, both silently grateful to fate for bringing them together so effortlessly.
Jon walked down the street, oblivious to the rest of the world. His surroundings were inconsequential, because Diane had just told him that she loved him. He reveled in the thought — it meant that they could finally start a real relationship. It meant that he could finally get some sleep at night. He could imagine a long future together, and the type of relationship they might have, both professionally and personally. Imagine what they could do together, the cop and the superhero/reporter. Between all the police information Diane had at her disposal and his powers and connections as a reporter, the potential good that could be done to society was astounding. Criminal dynasties could be brought down, and Metropolis on the whole could become a much better place to live and raise a family. And it would all be because of the love that they had between them.
A tiny little part of his brain felt the need to remind him, though, that as much as they had professed their love for one another, he and Diane really didn't even know each other. In fact, not ten minutes before their kiss (and, oh, what a kiss that was) they had been staring daggers at each other. She didn't like him very much at all, to be sure, but then something inside of her snapped, and she all but told him that she knew his secret. Then, suddenly, she didn't hate him anymore. What did THAT say, anyway? She admitted to her preconceived hatred for all reporters, and given the story he heard, he didn't exactly blame her for harboring some feelings of animosity toward people of his profession. But how much of her hatred for him was prejudice and how much was her simply not liking him because he was Jon Kent?
Jon stopped walking abruptly. Could it be that her feelings were all just for the Crimson Superman? She had apologized for the way she had treated Jon Kent, but that was only after she knew what he did in his off hours. Maybe all she wanted was the flashy suit and the powers. That thought almost made Jon physically ill — he had been so caught up in the moment when they were talking back at the restaurant that he hadn't even thought about those things. He had wanted so badly for it to be true that she actually loved him, but he figured that in actuality nothing had changed. Maybe she knew his secret now, but that just meant that she knew how to find him more easily. Even though she had said that she had done away with her reporter-phobia, it just wasn't possible that she could actually love the person he really was, was it?
Jon looked around, suddenly interested in where exactly his feet had led him. The neighborhood really wasn't distinguishable from any others in the city. Plain brownstones lined both sides of the street with the occasional little shop inserted between them, the skyline of downtown looming off in the distance. He might not know exactly where he was, but he didn't feel like walking around anymore to find out. Wandering and thinking had brought him nothing but heartache so far tonight — it was time to take a faster route. He looked around and spotted a nice, quiet alley that would be perfect to take off from. Before lifting into the air, he made a good scan of the sky, trying to locate his father on his patrol. If there was anyone who could help him out right now, it was him. HE had been a man in love once, put through the wringer by the woman he loved, who only loved him for the spandex.
Jon spun lazily into the suit and took off. Hopefully this talk with his dad would accomplish something, because he was just getting tired of the emotional roller coaster he was on.
Clark hovered above the city, enjoying the cool night air. Out of all his super abilities and the various things he could do, possibly the one thing that he loved most was the ability to fly up into the sky and observe the city from above. The color from the thousands of lights and signs, the bustle of the people, and the chatter of all the millions of voices interacted to create a brilliant portrait of a vibrant city. Metropolis as viewed from the sky had to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
On this particular night, the city was rather quiet, crime-wise. Clark didn't mind that at all — sometimes it was nice to just float and enjoy being alive. And think. He honestly didn't know how he would be able to do any type of serious thinking if the ability to fly were to be taken away from him. It seemed to him that all the serious soul-searching he had done over the years had been from this very vantage point. He didn't really have much heavy duty thinking to do this night. The biggest question mark in his mind was his eldest son and the policewoman he had gotten involved with.
Clark had only met Diane for a few moments during the afternoon, but her body language told him an awful lot. It was as if she were searching for recognition on his part when she introduced herself. Then, upon seeing that he did, in fact, know who she was, she seemed pleased. Clark briefly wondered if it was a mistake to have let her see that he knew her. Whether it was or not, it was too late by the time that he realized that she was looking for just such a reaction to do anything about it. So why would it matter to her whether he recognized her name or not?, he had wondered later. The answer to that was fairly simple: if Superman knew the name of a certain police officer who he had never met before but who his son had had several emotional encounters with, it could only mean that his son was affected enough to have to have had to turn elsewhere for help. He could see why such a thing would be important to her. On the other side of the coin, he thought, what did the fact that she cared what his reaction would be to hearing her name say about her feelings about Jon, or more precisely, about the Crimson Superman?
To say that Jon was affected by this Officer Diane Martinez was probably the understatement of the year. Clark had seen Jon through many emotional rough patches throughout the years, from when Jon found out the family secret to when he first went out to be a hero; but he had never seen Jon react the way he did to Diane. Love made a person do funny things, Clark mused. Even though Jon hadn't come to him directly for any advice for several days, Clark had been watching him surreptitiously, observing his rather odd behavior. It wasn't hard for him to see that Jon was obsessing about something. Clark had gone along with Jon's requests to take over patrols for several nights in a row, just because he knew that Jon needed the chance to blow off some steam, be he wished Jon would talk to him about the situation. It wasn't that he was snoopy, necessarily, but he did know what it was like to be experiencing what Jon was going through. Surely Jon knew that Clark could help him?
Speak of the devil, Clark thought as he was drawn out of his thoughts by an approaching figure dressed in red and black. It only took a moment for Clark to see that Jon was disturbed by something. Given the date Jon had been set up on that night, Clark was pretty sure he knew what that something was. He had been hoping that Jenny's devious little set-up would work and Jon and Diane would sort out whatever differences there were between them, but things almost never seemed to work so easily in the real world.
"What's wrong?" Clark asked as Jon drew nearer. It was hard not to notice his son's defeated expression. His erratic flight path made the depths of Jon's desolation that much more evident.
Jon brought himself to a stop a few feet away from Clark, sitting in a cross-legged position. He sighed heavily before his eyes finally met his father's. "I'm confused," Jon said.
"About what?" Clark asked, taking up a position similar to Jon's.
Jon tore his eyes away and focused on the Metropolis skyline. "It's Diane. I can't figure out why she said she loved me."
Clark smiled and clasped his son on the shoulder. "She said she loved you? Congratulations!"
"Yeah, well, it was only after she figured out I'm Superman," Jon said, almost offhandedly.
Clark blinked a few times and he felt his grip on Jon's shoulder loosening. Okay, he had been the one who said that honesty was the best policy as far as relationships went, but he hadn't really expect that the secret would be out that quickly. Either his sons were dating geniuses or they really didn't want to keep any secrets that would interfere with their relationships. Or both. He briefly considered making some remark to that effect, but one glance at Jon told him that he needed to stick to the issue at hand.
"You want to tell me about it?" Clark said after a slight pause.
Jon looked at Clark, his expression slightly wistful as he contemplated where he should start. "Since last time we talked, she and I have met a few times, and, before tonight, a certain pattern had emerged. If she saw me while I was doing super stuff, she would look at me with such obvious love. It was fantastic, and I would find myself getting caught up in it and loving her right back. In the end I would always catch myself, though, after realizing who I was there as."
Jon sighed and started playing with his hands, dropping his head and focusing on a point directly below them. "Of course, I went out of my way to meet with her as myself, but she barely tolerated my presence. I was nothing. I was less than nothing. It was hard to know how to feel about that — part of me wanted to put up neon signs and lay breadcrumbs, anything if it meant making her see that I was the same guy that she was in love with. The other part of me wanted her to love me without the powers. In the end I decided that the second option was the best, if only because it seemed more honest to me. I knew it wouldn't be an easy task, but I was willing to go along with it.
"So then along come Jenny and CJ. Those guys set me up tonight with her. I probably should've known that they'd try a stunt like that. Anyway, Diane and I finally got to talking, and I begin to think that maybe, just maybe, we would be able to work things out between us. Then… well, then something happened, and I think she figured it out. And she said she loved me, and we kissed. And now I'm confused."
Clark studied his son for a few moments, the memories of his own courtship of Lois flooding back to him. During parts of Jon's story, Clark had definitely had a strong feeling of deja vu. It was a case of history repeating itself, with a slight twist. And, of course, now Jon had her — she had said she loved him — and he wasn't sure it was in the way that he wanted.
"Sometimes you remind me so much of myself, it's scary," Clark said lightly, causing Jon's head to pop up in surprise. To be fair, Clark thought, he had a great deal of Lois in him, too. He could see it in the way Jon dealt with people sometimes, or how he attacked stories, but in matters of emotional significance, he could've been Clark's double.
"When I first met your mom, things happened the same way, but you know that. She loved Superman but barely put up with me sometimes. So what's a guy to do? I could've said to heck with it and let her know, as Superman, just what I felt, but that wouldn't have been fair to either of us. It would've created false pretenses between us, or at least MORE false pretenses than we had to begin with, and that could only serve to make things worse in the end. I bet you know exactly what my thought process was during those years — you seem to be thinking along the same lines yourself."
Jon smiled slightly and nodded. "You wanted her to love you for you."
"That's right," Clark said, a small smile forming on his lips. He floated around so that he was facing Jon. "And that's the way it should be. But how do you know that Diane doesn't love you for who you are?"
Jon opened his mouth to talk and then closed it quickly, a puzzled look forming on his face. "I guess I just assumed, since she only said it after she found out… And then she treated me so badly right before that…"
Ah, young love, Clark thought to himself. The misdirection and miscommunication that went with the whole dating ritual was not something he missed at all. Now, he could read Lois so easily that he almost forgot what it had been like when they first got together. He decided that it was time to let Jon in on a time-honored secret, the one thing that he found to be the most valuable in all relationships. It was something his parents had shared with him, and he was sure that their parents had passed it on to them even before that. He figured that almost everyone had heard this particular piece of advice when they first made their way in the dating world, but then promptly discounted it because they were young and stupid and had their own ideas on how love was supposed to work.
"Do you remember what I told you was the cornerstone to a good relationship last time we talked?" Clark asked.
"Trust and honesty," Jon answered quickly.
Well, he had obviously been paying attention, Clark thought. He was eternally grateful that his sons valued what he had to say. It also scared him a little bit — he had no illusions about knowing everything there was to know, and he couldn't help but wonder sometimes if he was telling them the right things. In this case, though, he was pretty sure that what he would say rang true. Besides, he didn't think he was giving advice so much as helping Jon to think more critically about his situation. "So, what do you think — can you trust Diane? Were you honest with her?"
Jon looked down at his suit quickly and then looked back at Clark. "Well, she knows the secret. I have no doubts that she'll keep it, so I suppose I trust her. And with that out in the open, then I suppose honesty is there, too, although we never actually SAID anything about Superman when we talked."
Clark raised his eyebrows. That must have been an interesting conversation. "This brings me to the point I want to make. Trust and honesty are good things to build on, but to get anywhere you need communication. And I don't mean dealing in generalities and hoping the other person will figure out what exactly you mean.
"You said you were confused about why Diane said she loved you, that you wondered if your being Superman had anything to do with it. What I'm saying is that you need to ask her. Believe me, I could've saved myself a lot of heartache throughout the years if I had talked to people about what they felt instead of just assuming that they'd feel a certain way. If I've learned nothing in my old age, it's that mind reading is most certainly NOT one of the powers listed in my owner's manual."
Jon chuckled at that. "I want to see this owner's manual," he mumbled, causing Clark's smile to broaden. A little bit of humor saved the day again, letting their serious conversation end on a more positive note. He uncrossed his legs and stretched out before floating around so that he was back at Jon's side.
"Just remember what they say about assuming," Clark added. That saying about assumptions was always one of his favorites — too bad he hadn't really understood it until fairly recently. Maybe if he repeated it enough to Jon, he wouldn't make the same mistakes.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Jon said and waved his hand in the air. "You made your point. Thanks, Dad. I don't know what I'd do without you."
"Don't you forget that when Father's Day comes along," he said, pointing a finger at Jon, the smile on his face giving away the fact that he was kidding. "Now, go on, get out of here and talk to her," Clark said as he began to drift away from Jon. Obviously not needing to be asked twice, in a flash Jon was streaking across the horizon.
Clark smiled and shook his head, silently wishing Jon good luck. He was certainly not in an enviable position, but hopefully he would find his way out of it. Clark was glad that in his case, when Lois had said she loved him for the first time, it was directed solely at Clark. By the time his secret was out, he had no reason to believe that Lois loved him for anything other than who he was. He didn't know if he could've taken it if it had happened any differently than it had.
As Clark resumed his half-hearted patrol of the city, his mind came back to the fact that Diane knew who Superman was. The thought of having another person in on his identity caused Clark to feel slightly uncomfortable. If it meant happiness for his son, though, he supposed it was okay. He had felt the same when he found out that Jenny knew the secret, too. It was just so odd, though — after twenty some years of having only a few select people in on it, having two new people in his confidence seemed like exponential growth.
"At this rate," Clark muttered as he tracked his son's retreating form, "The whole city will know the Kent family secret by Christmas."
Susan suppressed a yawn as she drove through the streets of Metropolis in a car loaned to her by her new business associates. It was getting past her bedtime, but she felt compelled to try and finish her task tonight — it would be the perfect closure to a day that she would rather forget. She picked the tracking unit up off the passenger seat and held it in her field of vision, trying to keep one eye on the road while following Superman's movements on the device's screen. Her lips pressed together into a thin line as she read what it had to say. There was no change, still. She had been driving around the city all night and all she had managed to do was circle around where he was located.
Susan pushed a button that gave the coordinates of the tracer relative to the tracking unit. For the third straight hour, the z-coordinate indicated that Superman was floating somewhere about 3 miles above the city — high enough to be out of sight, but not high enough to be in the way of airline traffic. She knew he was supposed to have some sort of secret identity, but if that were the case, she would've thought that he would be home by now. So far, his actions that night were more like what she would've expected from a hero without another set of commitments. The idea that he was some omnipotent being hovering over the city at all times of the night and day waiting to stop crime as it happened had been one that she had carried around for years, but it had been shattered when Tony had suggested his secret identity theory. But now… she couldn't help but think that maybe Tony was wrong, after all. And while Tony's theory did have some corroboration from that book that her had uncle given her, she knew that it was written by a guy who only ever wrote fiction. It was entirely possible that there was absolutely no truth to the theory. If that were the case, then all the work she had done, not to mention the fact that she had almost killed herself, was all for nothing.
With a sigh, Susan laid the receiver back on the seat. If his position hadn't changed at all in the last few hours, then she supposed there wasn't much hope that it would change any time soon. Maybe the best thing for now would be to just go home. She could try to track Superman again tomorrow, she supposed. If there were still no change then, she would report that to Tony and that would be it. A large part of her held out hope that she could still find Superman's identity, whatever it was. Another small part, though, was hoping that she wouldn't find anything at all, and that all would go back to the way it was before Tony ever showed up at her door.
Diane had wandered home in a daze, her gaze directed toward the heavens in hopes of catching at least a glimpse of him up there. She managed to make it back to her apartment without running into any stationary objects — not a small feat, considering her eyes had never left the sky. As she entered her apartment building, she found that she couldn't stand the closeness; she just had to get back out into the open. She really didn't know why. Even on the brightest nights, it would be impossible to track Superman in the sky. Still, a small part of her just felt closer to him somehow when she was outside, knowing he was out there somewhere, flying around as the Crimson Superman. She made her way up the stairwell, going past the floor she resided on and heading straight for the roof.
She emerged onto the top of the building, not knowing exactly what to expect. Though she had never been up there herself, she knew that people hung out there from time to time, and she was grateful to find herself alone. The roof itself was slightly uneven and covered with lines of tar that sealed random cracks on the surface. A raised brick ledge ran along the perimeter of the building, and pipes stuck out of the roof in several odd places. Aside from a small light over the doorway, there was no illumination up there. Diane wandered around the back of the stairwell into an area shaded from the security light, and settled herself down on the ledge, immediately shifting her eyes skyward as she did so.
She waited for nearly an hour, but to her it hardly seemed that long. Her mind kept replaying the end of their surprise date, the words he had said, and the feel of his lips on hers. It was hard to explain the feelings that she had then, that she was still having. She was never the sentimental type, she never broke down in tears in public places, and she most certainly didn't admit to anybody that she was wrong, ESPECIALLY not a man. What had happened to her? Had she compromised part of herself just for the attention of an admittedly gorgeous and desirable man? The more she thought about it, the more she realized that she hadn't compromised anything at all. More importantly, he hadn't asked her to compromise anything. Maybe it was just one of those things about being in love that makes people see things in a different light.
As she thought about the date some more, rehashing their conversation for the umpteenth time, her eyes caught a movement in the sky above her. Immediately all other thoughts got pushed aside as she followed the movement. It was hard to tell exactly what it was — an errant bird or an airplane, perhaps — but in her mind she knew exactly what it was. Her suspicions were confirmed as it neared her. She could distinctly see the form of a man, and the clothing he wore contained bits of red that contrasted with the darkness around him. He flew closer and closer to her building until he was hovering several hundred feet straight above it, too far away for Diane to read his expression, but she could tell just by his body language that he wasn't completely comfortable about the visit. Eventually, he slid out of the sky and landed twenty feet away from her, in an area that was partially illuminated by the stairwell light.
As his feet settled firmly onto the roof, she found herself staring at him, trying to burn all of his features into her mind and juxtapose them with the images of Jon Kent that she held. It was one thing to know academically about Superman's other identity; it was another thing entirely to see it for herself. She found her eyes drawn inexplicably toward the S-shield on his chest. It was funny how such a small thing could make such a huge difference in her perception of him. Maybe it had to do with what that shield stood for, and what its wearer had accomplished. The legacy of the supermen, both the one standing in front of her and his father, was truly impressive. It would be hard not to look at that S on his chest and not be awed — how many lives had he saved? How many disasters had he averted? She wished she knew.
Diane swallowed hard and forced her eyes upward, toward his face. His expression was obviously meant to be the stern, Superman look, but she could see that it was masking deeper insecurities. How often did he wear that mask, she wondered. "Is that you, Kent?" she asked, her voice considerably more shaky than she had intended it to be. She felt herself rising up and approaching him, wanting nothing more than to be nearer to where he was.
Her question brought a sad smile to his face. He looked down at his feet as he answered. "Yeah, it is," he said quietly in a voice that was unmistakably that of Jon Kent. "You were, perhaps, expecting someone else?"
She blushed at the insinuation of the question. Though she was aware that he had suffered emotionally because of the different ways she had treated his personas, she thought they had resolved everything at the restaurant. Obviously he still had doubts about her perception of him. She stopped a couple of feet in front him and tried to make eye contact, finally reaching out with her right hand and drawing his chin up.
"No, Mr. Kent," she said, trying to put emphasis on his real name, "I got exactly who I was looking for."
That one sentence had a dramatic effect on him. It was as if someone had suddenly shone a spotlight on his face, and Diane found herself melting a little under the glare. What she wouldn't give to see that smile more often, she thought as she felt the sudden desire to kiss him. She could see a similar desire burning in his eyes, and she began to close the gap between them, but then stopped, realizing that the time wasn't right yet. He had obviously come to her roof for a reason, and she wanted to clear whatever stale air there was still between them before engaging in more pleasant activities.
Diane dropped her hand from his chin and placed it on his forearm as she reluctantly tore her eyes away from his face. She looked around for a moment before seeing the ledge. "Why don't you have a seat and tell me what brought you here."
Jon nodded and the two walked over to the ledge and sat down.
"So…" Diane said, trying to start up some sort of conversation.
"So…" he replied slowly. An uncomfortable silence developed as Jon suddenly became very interested in a crack on the roof's surface. He acted like he wanted to say something, but was having a hard time trying to figure out how exactly to start. Diane waited patiently, her hand, which still lingered on his forearm, rubbing him gently in figure eights. She hoped that would have a calming effect on him — it certainly made her feel more at ease to know that he was truly there with her — but she couldn't tell if it was working, although he made no move to try and stop her from doing it.
"I need to ask you something," he finally said, still looking at the ground. She nodded, bracing herself inwardly for what was to come. He brought his head up and made eye contact with her before continuing. "Why do you want to be with me?"
"What?" Diane gasped. She had anticipated him asking any number of questions, but she had never dreamt that he doubted her motivations in wanting to be with him. Surely he had felt the same instant attraction that she had when they first met. Surely he had felt the mutual passion when they had kissed.
"Well, I couldn't help but notice how much differently you treated me when I'm playing the superhero, and I wonder if your attraction has nothing to do with ME, and everything to do with this," he said, plucking at his spandex top.
"Oh, that," Diane said as she began to feel her cheeks redden yet again. She had sort of figured that this subject would come up sooner or later, although they had talked about it in a very indirect way. What had he said earlier that night? That he didn't blame her for behaving the way she did. But he obviously still wondered how she could love him, given her feelings toward reporters. It was a valid question, one that she wondered about herself.
"I admit I was blown away by, uh," she started, pointing to his chest. "And I admit that I have a certain animosity toward reporters that caused me to view you in a different light than I would've otherwise. But once I figured out that you and…" she pointed to his chest again.
"Superman. You can say it, I'm not embarrassed about it," Jon interjected with a slightly amused smile.
"Okay." Diane returned his smile with shy smile of her own. He might not be embarrassed about admitting to the fact that he was the Crimson Superman, but she found herself becoming a little weak-kneed when she thought about it.
She forced herself to refocus on what she had been saying. Her eyes remained locked onto his, hoping that it would help to convince him of her sincerity. "Once I figured out that you and Superman were the same person, I can tell you that all my prejudices about reporters went straight out the window. I know because of my hatred of all reporters, I didn't even bother to try and figure out who you really were, what you're really like. But what I do know for sure is that you're a kind, caring, intelligent person who believes in helping out his fellow man, and that's the type of person I'd want to be with no matter what their job was. I admit, the extra stuff is a nice little bonus, but it's not the reason that I want to be with you."
"You'd be surprised how many people flock after me just because of the 'extra stuff,'" Jon said with a self-depreciating smile.
"No, I wouldn't be. After our first encounter, I went online and did a little research and there are some real nuts out there. You wonder where people get all the free time to erect the shrines and photo galleries and other Superman love-fests that are all over cyberspace."
Jon broadened his smile and then bit his lip as he turned away from Diane. "You can see how I might be a little apprehensive, then."
She placed her other hand on his knee and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "Yeah, I certainly can. But as far as I'm concerned, all the powers in the world wouldn't make a man worth anything unless he had the compassion and dedication to use them to do what's right."
Jon nodded slightly and glanced back over at her, giving her a crooked smile. "That was very well put. You could've been a fellow wordsmith yourself."
She shook her head. "Yeah, right. That type of thing just isn't my cup of tea. As it is, all my creative talent is going into writing up reports and press releases."
"From the one writing sample of yours I read, I'd say that your talent for creative writing isn't going to waste."
Diane briefly contemplated slapping him, but one quick look at the Super symbol on his chest told her that it would probably be no use. She sighed and dropped her head, wondering if she shouldn't be more honest with him about the Zarate investigation. It seemed like he was the one who had made all the sacrifices in this budding relationship so far, maybe she should return the favor. Yes, it was internal police business, but look who she was talking to.
"Well," she said and then looked back up at him, "I will admit to the sparseness of detail in that release I gave you, but you have to believe that it wasn't anything personal. There's a lot more going on in my office with the Zarate investigation than anyone outside of a few of the higher-ranking officers know anything about. I don't even know details, I just know that something big is going down."
Jon raised his eyebrows in surprise. "I had no idea…" he said as he looked off into the distance. She could tell he was thinking about something — maybe he was trying to assimilate that knowledge with his own investigations. "It would explain a lot." He smiled and looked at her, causing her stomach to flutter a little. "And no, I don't blame you for that release. And I'm sorry I lost my temper about that, it's just…"
Diane raised her hand to stop him. "Don't go blaming yourself for something that was very mutual." She studied Jon for a moment, her mind churning. He was sitting there still dressed as the Crimson Superman, talking like Jon Kent, showing emotion like an ordinary man. But he was so much more. She felt so lucky that he was there, that he wanted to be with her and that he cared enough to try and sort out the unresolved issues between them. As blessed as she felt, she still couldn't help but wonder what exactly made him WANT to go to such lengths just to be with her.
She locked her eyes on his once more. He seemed somewhat concerned at her sudden silence, so she smiled reassuringly and dropped her head down, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear as she did so. "Okay, Kent, you asked your question. Now I have one for you."
"Fire away," he said as he straightened himself up a little, assuming a more serious position.
"Why me? I mean, you're one of the most powerful men on this planet, and you could literally have any woman you wanted. Heck, you could probably walk down the street in your outfit there and have a mob of women trailing you, all wanting nothing more than to have you say, "Hi.", to them. Yet, for some odd reason you want to be with me, the woman who showed you, or the other you, I guess, the door on more than one occasion." As an afterthought she flashed him a brief nervous smile.
He brought his hand up and ran it through his hair, looking at her quizzically. "Honestly? It was just something I felt. It was strange. When our eyes met that very first time, it just felt right." He shrugged. "You're right — Superman could probably have whoever he wants, but I sure don't want anyone who just wants Superman, because that is not really who I am deep down inside. And yes, you showed me where the door was and actually kicked me out of it, but that just made me like you more."
Diane was somewhat confused. "So you're saying this was all fate or something? Karma, destiny, all that bunk that I never believed in before."
He gave her one of his megawatt smiles. "Why not? Besides, you were the one saying it was love at first sight. How is that any different from any of that other stuff you just mentioned?"
She had almost forgotten that she had said that. Maybe it really was destiny, she thought as she closed her eyes and summoned up all the internal feelings she had about this man. Completely gone were the anger and animosity, replaced by the strongest sense of rightness she had ever felt. She opened her eyes and looked at him again. "It's not," she said as she scooted closer to him. She circled her arms around his muscular form and tilted her face up to his. She felt his arms wrapping around her in a firm embrace, and before she knew it, his lips lightly brushed across hers with the slightest of kisses.
"Here's to destiny," he whispered, and they engaged in a deep, steamy, passionate kiss. Diane felt almost lighter than air, and when they finally parted, she had to look around to confirm that they were still seated on the ledge. She was almost surprised that they hadn't actually floated, and she briefly wondered what it would take to get him airborne, but she figured that she would have plenty of time to figure it out.
Jon rubbed her back slightly before dropping his arms and standing up. "I think that was a successful talk."
Diane licked her lips and looked up at him. "You could say that."
He offered her a hand and she took it, letting him pull her up. "I suppose you have to go fight some crime now or something."
"I think I've put in my hours this week. I was actually thinking that I should let you get to bed."
She pouted slightly and slung one of her arms around his waist. "What if I'm not tired?"
He kissed the top of her head. "I don't want to rush things," he said in a soft voice. She craned her neck to get a glimpse at his face, and she was humbled at the caring in his expression.
She stepped away from him and looked him over once more. "Okay, I understand. Let's just do a brief recap before you leave. Your extra bonus super abilities aren't what attract me to you, Kent. It's the caring person underneath all that that I like."
He put his hands on his hips and smiled slightly in amusement. "And I like you just because I do. So, I wonder, do you actually remember my first name?"
"Jon," she said quickly.
"Good. What's my home phone number?"
She looked at him blankly. "I don't know."
He shifted one of his hands behind his back and, after a moment, thrust in front of her. In it was a business card, similar to the one she had received from him earlier, but with his home number written across it in his own handwriting. "You do now."
She raised one of her eyebrows, looked at the card, and then looked at him. "Do I even want to know where this has been?" she asked, wondering where he could possibly keep those if they weren't somehow thrust down his pants. It wasn't like he was wearing a backpack or anything back there.
He chuckled and waved the card around. "It's a trade secret. It won't bite, really."
She took the card lightly by its edges and thrust it into her pocket. "Thanks."
"No problem. All I ask in return is that you use that number on there tomorrow and let me know what a good time will be to take you out to dinner."
"Dinner?" She looked skeptically at the sly grin on his face, internally giddy at the thought. Might as well put on a bit of a show for him, though. She couldn't exactly let him believe that he held all the cards. She must not have been very convincing because he started to take off, the grin on his face widening.
"Yes, dinner. Someplace nice. If you're good, I'll even buy for you again."
"Hey, I'm not guaranteeing that I'm calling tomorrow," she said as he gained a little more altitude.
"I'll talk to you later," he said and then rapidly ascended.
"You're so sure of yourself, aren't you Kent?" she called after him, watching as his form shrank in the night sky. She swore that she could hear the sound of laughter in the air, but she wasn't positive. As soon as she felt he was sufficiently far away, she allowed herself to smile. Dinner. Yes, she would definitely look forward to that. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the card, looking at it and memorizing the phone number. Her feet propelled her to the access door, and she skipped down the stairs toward her apartment, her mind already planning out their next evening together.
Jenny inserted her key into the lock of her apartment. A quick look at her watch as she pushed open the door told her that it was later than she had thought. It seemed like she had spent half the day just trying to convince herself that getting out of CJ's bed was something that she really should do. When was the last time she had spent a Saturday night in her own bed, she wondered. It felt like she had two apartments — she almost felt guilty for not kicking in for rent at CJ's. It was no wonder that she didn't spend more time at her own place, she thought as she caught sight of her roommate's garish display on the living room wall. Funny, she could get used to having a fiancee that could see through just about anything if he were so inclined, but a bunch of Superman memorabilia in her apartment gave her the willies every time she saw it. Why was that?
She shook her head and proceeded into the apartment. As she had made her way home, she had remembered the events of the prior afternoon, and had suddenly felt incredibly guilty for having spent the night at CJ's instead of coming home. Her roommate had thrown herself off a skyscraper, for goodness sakes! Jenny had always thought of herself as a kind and compassionate person, even toward people that she generally didn't like, and so under normal circumstances she would've made it a priority to come back to at least see if Susan were truly all right. Somehow, though, in Jenny's excitement over her little plan for Jon and Diane and its satisfactory conclusion, it had just slipped her mind. And then afterwards, she and CJ had gotten a little carried away like they seemed to do every weekend…
Jenny forced herself to focus on the task at hand as she hung her purse up on the closet doorknob and made her way further into the apartment. "Susan?" she called, looking around the living room and the kitchen. The only sound that greeted her was the steady ticking of a clock somewhere off in the distance. "Susan?" Jenny called again as she wandered around the corner into the hallway and then back to Susan's room. Her door was standing wide open, but Susan was nowhere to be seen. The detective in Jenny began looking for clues to let her know that Susan had made it home all right the previous evening. She didn't need to look much further than the bathroom for the evidence she needed — it was obvious that someone had taken a shower in there that morning. So where had Susan gone? And most importantly, what had she gone to do?
A sharp fear began to build inside of Jenny. She didn't think that she could live with herself if something had happened to Susan as a result of her own failure to be there for her. What if Susan did go out and try to finish what she started the day before? Jenny began to make her way over toward the phone, wondering if she should call 911 or one of the local superheroes to start an all-out search for her suicidal roommate, but then she stopped herself. It was entirely possible that she was overreacting, she realized. Susan had a habit of sleeping in on Sundays and then going out for doughnuts — what if that was where she had gone? What if she had decided to go to the grocery store, or maybe to a quiet study spot or something? Susan tended to do all of those things on the weekend.
Jenny took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and counted to ten in an attempt to stem the paranoia she was feeling. As she opened her eyes again, she felt much calmer. Maybe it would be best to wait around until Susan came home, and then confront her. And if Susan wasn't home by, say, supper time, then she could start getting upset. Yes, that sounded good, Jenny decided as she made her way back into the living room. She sat down on the couch and turned on the TV, just trying to find anything that would distract her until Susan came back. After flipping through the channels, she turned off the TV in disgust. With over a hundred channels on cable, one would think that surely SOMETHING would be on. Obviously not. Maybe it was the nervousness talking, but she felt the sudden urge to start pacing around the apartment. She stopped herself again, though, inwardly chastising herself for getting so worked up again.
Calm, she told herself; stay calm. It wouldn't do her any good to be a nervous wreck for the next few hours. She looked longingly at the phone, this time wishing that she could call CJ and have him come over for companionship, but she knew he had other things to do, and besides, this was a matter for her to work out with Susan one on one. Deciding that it was a good time to get some work done herself, Jenny made her way into her own room and picked up a textbook, all the while working out disaster scenarios in the back of her mind. She opened the book, trained her eyes on the page, and concentrated with all her might on the words, just hoping the time would pass a little faster and that Susan would get home. It was going to be a long afternoon.
If it wasn't one thing, it was another. Susan hadn't thought it was possible to be more depressed than she had been the day before, but she had found out quickly today that it was very possible, indeed. It was enough to turn her into a cynical person, totally contrary to her normal temperament. But nobody had said that things had been normal the last couple of days. Certainly throwing herself off a building was not something she would normally do. Neither was doing anything less than completely turning to mush when in the presence of Superman, the man she had idolized for oh so many years. She didn't normally have car trouble of any sort, either.
She looked around the waiting room of the auto repair center and told herself again why it was such a good thing that she didn't own a car. Did they actually try and make the place so dreary, or did it just happen to turn out that way? Either way, the fact that she was stuck there because of a malfunction in the car her "new friends" had lent her made her rapidly lose any goodwill she still felt toward them. Did fuel pumps go out that often? Wasn't it something you could check for? Would the people who were fixing the car please, please hurry up?!
Susan sighed and forced her thoughts to move on to something more pleasant. Look on the bright side, she told herself, at least you managed to find a mechanic who was open on Sunday. It was a good thing, too, because she didn't think that she could stand to put off finding Superman for another day. She had been making real progress when her car broke down, too. Superman had been on the ground in the same spot all day, it was just a matter of tracking him down. The further away from downtown she got, the stronger the signal became, and she was sure that she would've found him within the hour if her stupid car hadn't malfunctioned. It figured. Of course, when the tow truck man came, she had to put her tracking device away — secrecy was very important, after all. The car had been towed quite a long way, and she wondered how that had affected her position. She let her mind dwell on that during the ride to the garage, but as soon as she arrived, she was more preoccupied with other things. But the thought of her mission had always loomed behind everything, and the yearning to know where she was in relation to where she needed to be had only grown. It was to the point now that if she didn't find out soon, she just might go crazy. It was irrational, she knew, but she just had to know.
Susan looked around the drab little waiting room again, this time taking note of the other people who were waiting. In one corner, a lady was reading the two-year-old Reader's Digest that Susan had seen on the end table earlier. Her kid was sitting in front of the TV watching some PBS children's show. The receptionist at the billing desk was chatting on the phone and shifting papers around. None of them were paying the slightest bit of attention to Susan, but she didn't want to risk having them see anything. Trying to act calm despite the giddy feeling growing inside of her, she got up and walked in the direction of the restrooms. Not a single head turned as she walked by, and she slipped into the ladies' room unnoticed, careful to lock the door behind herself. One could never be too careful, after all.
She reached into her purse and pulled out the device. A quick push of a button gave her the coordinates of the tracer, and she almost dropped the device as she read the numbers. It was only a mile or two away. Superman was a mile or two away. She could almost walk at that distance. She slowly lowered her hands to her sides and stared off into space as she considered her options. On the one hand, she could wait until her car got done — it had taken a long time so far, it surely couldn't take that much longer, could it? On the other hand, she could walk and find the tracer, but then the garage might be closed by the time she managed to get back. Reluctantly she decided that it would be best to wait it out. She looked longingly at the tantalizingly close coordinates displayed on the device, then turned it off, slipped it back in her purse, and exited the bathroom. Although the thought of spending any more time in the waiting room was far less than appealing, she told herself that the end was in sight. She WOULD find Superman today. It was certain.
Jenny wandered back into the living after putting in a few hours of studying. Three chapters in three hours wasn't bad, really, especially considering the book she was reading from was insufferably dry and boring. If there had been anything at all that she would rather be doing, the reading would've been abandoned in a second. Jenny made a mental note to thank Susan after the next test on that subject — if anything good could possibly come out of this situation, it would be her grade in this class.
A few hard hours of studying deserved a break, Jenny told herself as she wandered into the living room again. Maybe she could watch TV or call CJ, or… Her gaze fell upon a bound manuscript sitting on the corner of the end table, away from the area where Susan generally kept her belongings. That must be the book that Jon had been talking about the other night, Jenny thought. She walked around the couch to where it was and bent over to pick it up. As she did, she noticed little black specs all over the cover. They looked like some sort of bug, bigger than a gnat but smaller than a fly, she thought as she started to brush them off the cover. Bugs in that apartment weren't anything new — small insects always seemed to find the holes in their screens. But as her hand met one of the "bugs", she noticed that it felt cold and hard — bugs never felt COLD. They never felt like anything. That was odd…
She picked up one of the black specs and immediately figured out why it was cold — it wasn't a bug, it was something metallic. It was small and round and didn't look like anything that she could identify. What could it be? She knew one person who could find out. After setting the manuscript gently back on the table where she had found it, careful to not further disturb any of the little black things, she made her way over to the phone and dialed CJ's number.
After two rings he picked up. They exchanged brief greetings before she cut to the chase. "Clark, I have something I want you take a look at."
"Don't tell me. You have some menial task around the apartment that you want me to do. What happened? Did a towel rack fall off the wall? A pipe sprung a leak? Your computer broke down?"
Jenny felt herself begin to grin sheepishly. Okay, she had a tendency to call him whenever she needed something done around the apartment, but she couldn't help it that he made an excellent handyman. And besides, he never protested. But that wasn't the point this time. "None of the above. Actually, I found something weird among some of Susan's stuff. I thought it might be up your alley. AND you can see…parts of it better than I can." She hoped he caught her meaning.
After a pause he agreed to come take a look. After hanging up she sat down on the couch, staring at the manuscript and the little black things on it. Maybe they were nothing. Maybe they were metallic shavings from something. But something at the back of her mind told her that they were far from harmless.
Susan drove the car around the block, watching as the coordinates given by the tracking device went up and then back down. Goose bumps broke out all over her skin as she came to the realization that this was it — somewhere on this block was Superman. She certainly would never have guessed that Superman would live in such a place. The neighborhood was very much like any other suburban neighborhood she had been in. Modest middle class houses lined both sides of the street, green expanses of well-manicured lawn stretched out in front of them, some containing obvious signs that children were present. Surely the neighbors would be able to notice that they had a superhero living in their midst, she thought. Someone like Superman would stick out like a sore thumb in an area like this. But if the neighbors suspected anything, there were no indications of it whatsoever. No large signs advertised where the man of steel resided, no houses were painted in some sort of bright primary color scheme, and there were no big S-shields anywhere to be seen. All of a sudden, Tony's theory seemed a lot more plausible.
Susan did one more circuit of the block, trying to pinpoint which house it was exactly. She finally parked her car in front of a nondescript cream-colored house, and looked at the readout. This house out of all those on the block was giving out the strongest readings. Superman should be in there, but all indications showed that nobody was home — the drapes were drawn, no lights were on, and no vehicles sat in the driveway. Maybe that was better, though. He couldn't wear that suit all the time — maybe the suit was there and Superman wasn't. If that were the case, then she could do all the snooping around she wanted to and not have to worry about any prying eyes!
She jumped out of the car and walked briskly up to the front of the house, looking around to see if anyone was observing her. After concluding that she wasn't being watched, she pulled a set of lock-picks out of her purse. Picking locks was one of those skills she had managed to acquire at some time or another that had come in very handy throughout the years. She kept telling herself that it was something she should forget — good people didn't go around picking locks. It just wasn't honest. But right now she was grateful to her devious past for allowing her the means to get to her hero, honest or not.
It only took a couple of seconds for the primary lock to succumb to her. The dead bolt was a little harder, but it too soon gave way and the door was unlocked. She took a deep breath and put her hand on the doorknob. This was it. On the other side of this door was the key to Superman — who he was, how he lived, what his interests and desires were. She knew it was her job now to find out this information, and there was nothing in the world she wanted to know more. But for some reason, it just felt wrong. Why should it matter who Superman was? Why did she need to know what his interests and desires were? Couldn't she live happily just knowing that he WAS somebody else and leave it at that? She almost turned around right then and left, but in the end, she told herself that to get this far only to walk away would be the biggest mistake she could possibly make. She couldn't leave without knowing.
With a shaky hand, Susan turned the doorknob and pushed open the door.
Jenny watched as CJ held up the little black "bug", staring at it intently, his expression changing from neutrality to puzzlement to awe.
"Well, what is it?" she asked impatiently, circling around in front of him.
"Not a bug, that's for sure," CJ said, still staring at it. His brow furrowed in concentration as he rotated it around.
"I knew that," she said as she leaned closer to the "bug", trying to get a better look for herself. "But what IS it, exactly?"
"I think it's some sort of tracer. It has a metallic casing, inside of which is a bubble of epoxy, probably for affixing it to something. There's a little pore on the side for it to come out. There is also a tiny transmitter. I can't hear the signal it gives out, so I can't tell you WHAT it's transmitting. But…" he picked up a different bug in his other hand and held it next to the other one. "The transmitters in these two have different properties. I would imagine that they're transmitting different signals — that's probably how you can tell them apart."
Jenny straightened up. Something in the back of her mind was trying to get through to her, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. "So, what you're telling me is that you put this bug on something and then you can track its position."
CJ nodded and looked at Jenny. "I think so, yes."
"What would Susan be doing with these?" she asked as she sat down on the couch. Who would she want to track? Her eyes caught the display on the wall. Superman. She closed and tried to process the jumbled thoughts that lay just below the surface. Yes, Susan would certainly be interested in Superman, possibly to the point of tracking him so that she could find him, but she had no way to get a hold of him in the first place. Unless…
"Oh my God!" Jenny said as she straightened up on the couch, a sharp fear surging through her. The floodgates to her subconscious finally opened and she knew exactly what was going on. She looked at the manuscript on the end table and caught the title, the final piece of the puzzle. "The Life of a Super Man." About Superman's identity. No wonder Susan had been acting funny yesterday. It wasn't fear or melancholy or anything associated with a suicide attempt, it was a detached professionalism that came with doing a job. The more Jenny thought about it, the more she was certain that was what it was. Susan had no doubt found the job to be distasteful, which was why she hadn't so much as looked at her vaunted hero. Jenny kicked herself for not noticing the signs earlier. She just hoped that Susan hadn't succeeded in her scheme yet.
"What?" CJ looked at her with concern. He had no idea just how concerned he should be, Jenny thought. His very identity was at stake in this.
"Don't you realize?" Jenny asked as she grabbed for the manuscript. She stood up again and handed it CJ. "Susan jumped off a building yesterday and was rescued by your father."
CJ glanced down at the manuscript in his hands and then toward the wall, obviously trying to process what she was telling him. "If she had the tracers when she jumped, then she probably put one on my dad when he caught her. She could use that to track him down and find his identity." CJ said slowly, a note of disgust in his voice.
Jenny laid her hand on his arm and looked up into his eyes. "I had a dream yesterday morning," she began, her voice soft. "Or at least I thought it was a dream. A man was telling Susan that they had been tracking Superman's activity and that he wanted her to tag him and tack down his identity. He wanted her to jump off a building…"
She felt CJ's posture become rigid as he took in a deep breath, and she knew without looking that a determined expression was forming on his face. He was getting in Superhero mode. The thought caused a small smile to come over her face in spite of the gravity of the situation. It was one of those things that had been instilled in him at a young age, no doubt: the need to investigate, the need to make things right. In this case it had to do with self-preservation as well.
"She's probably out there tracking down that bug right now. We need to get to it before she does," CJ said, his voice commanding and sure. "If someone other than her is involved, we need to find that out too." His expression softened as he brought his hand up to her chin and trailed his fingers up to her cheek. "Whether what you heard was real or a dream, we can't be too careful. We have to figure this out. Together."
"Together," Jenny echoed, her smile broadening. She knew she loved him for a reason, and when they worked together it became especially clear. She brought her hand up to cover his, and they looked into each other's eyes for a few moments before CJ finally broke contact.
"My mom and dad aren't home right now — they went upstate for the day and they took Laura with them," CJ said as he looked toward the phone, the seriousness in his voice holding.
"So we can't call to warn them…" Jenny concluded.
"But Jon is in town and on duty, as I recall."
"He can get us there fast."
"I'll call him." With that, CJ reached for the receiver.
Susan purposely looked down at the floor as she entered the house, trying to delay the inevitable. She told herself that she wanted to be sure that Superman did indeed live there before poking around too much. But her curiosity quickly got the better of her good intentions and she looked up in spite of herself. The house didn't look any different from any other house she had been in. In fact, it was almost remarkable because of its ordinariness. The furniture that it contained looked like it had been bought straight out of the home furnishings store down the street from her uncle's house. Everything looked a little worn around the edges, a sure sign that the house was well lived in. Coats hung on the coat tree and shoes were placed here and there throughout the living room. In the distance, near the stairs that led up to the second story, were pictures on the wall. They were too far away to make out any details, but she could clearly see that most of them contained a dark-haired man and a woman, along with several children. Susan felt a flash of jealousy. The fact that Superman had a family had not been lost on her when the newest Superman had been introduced, but she had never really imagined him with a woman. What did she look like? How many children did they have exactly? How old were those children?
Susan felt herself moving toward the portraits as if she were in some sort of trance, but then abruptly stopped. Business first. With that her attention was returned to the tracking device. The touch of a few buttons changed it to a more sensitive tracking mode, making it possible to locate the tracer to the nearest inch if she so chose. The readout told her that the tracer was about eight feet above, somewhere on the second floor. She carefully avoided looking at the pictures as she ascended the stairs, her eyes plastered on the device. At the top, she found herself in a hallway with five doors. She waved the tracker around and watched the numbers rise and fall, noticing that the strongest readings came at a strange angle in between two of the rooms. Susan stepped forward and looked into each room, trying to decide which was the most likely to contain what she was looking for. The first room she looked into seemed to belong to a teenage boy. She smiled as she considered the possibility that this room had belonged to the Crimson Superman. She allowed herself to look at the posters on the wall and the remnants of a childhood that seemed to be past. The bed was neatly made, and she could see a fine coating of dust over the surfaces of the room, telltale signs that whoever had called it home was no longer there.
The next room was obviously the master bedroom of the house. It was much larger than the previous bedroom, and it had a bathroom off to one side and a large closet on the other. Several more photographs dotted the walls here, and it was becoming harder for her to ignore them. This must be HIS room, she mused. Or, more precisely, his and hers. If anything, many of the feminine features of the room were more prominent than the masculine. The jewelry boxes and perfume bottles on the dresser stood out, as well as the slightly risque looking nightgown that was lying on the bed. Past the bed was a bookcase that contained several how-to books and novels and…could it be? Susan scurried around the bed to take a better look. Yes! It was a stash of Superman memorabilia that even she could be proud of. Volumes of comic books and novels, fiction and non-fiction, silly and serious, sat on the lower shelves. Maybe Superman wasn't immune to the things that were printed about him, she thought wryly. Interesting.
Susan looked down at the device again, wondering just how close to her target she was. It pointed her to a spot about a foot beyond where she was standing, past the bookshelf and through the wall in front of her. In the closet, no doubt. She made her way to the closet door, shielding her vision from the pictures on the wall, and entered. Colorful men's clothing lined one side of the interior, while women's apparel lined the other. From the looks of the attire, she would say that its owners were professionals of some sort — sport coats and dress shirts far outnumbered the less formal flannels and jeans. The bright colors and variety of different styles indicated to her that whoever owned this clothing seemed to be truly interesting. She felt a pang as she realized that she really did want to meet Superman, not as a hero but as a real man. What would it be like to know him? She almost felt bad for him, knowing what it was that she would likely be doing to his life. But it was something that had to be done — society had the right to know, didn't it? Susan shook her head to clear away those thoughts as she once again held up the device. Straight ahead, it said. She slowly walked through the clothing and made her way to the back wall. According to the device, whatever she was looking for was just on the other side of that wall. She knocked on it, trying to determine how solid it was. The sound made was surprisingly hollow — whatever it was, it wasn't a wall in the traditional sense. It sounded more like a thin door. But how could it be opened?
Susan worked her hands around the perimeter of the wall, trying to find a handle or crack or some other way to open it, but to no avail. She briefly considered punching a hole through it, but then dismissed the idea. There had to be SOME way to get to the other side — some sort of trigger, maybe? She looked around and was immediately drawn to the tie rack. She pulled down on the first hook, and to her surprise it gave way easily and the wall slid open.
Her breath caught in her throat as she caught sight of what was contained in the small chamber that was revealed. There, in front of her, was Superman's wardrobe. Several suits hung from hangers on a bar, while another was contained in a clothes hamper sitting on the floor. Red boots sat on the floor, and red briefs were on the shelf above. With a shaky hand, she held out the device again, and saw that it pointed down to the hamper. She let her grip loosen on the device and it fell to the floor, her interest now on retrieving the suit with the tracer. It was still possible that this was all some sick joke. Maybe this guy was a Superman impersonator or he liked to dress up like him for Halloween or something. But she knew that wasn't true, and as she pulled the lone suit out of the clothes hamper, she immediately spotted the tracer. Her tracer. The one she had planted yesterday.
She clutched the suit to her chest and told herself to breathe. It was him, it was really him. She was in his house, standing in his closet, holding his suit. She had dreamed of this, yet it didn't seem right. She closed her eyes and rocked back and forth for a few seconds, her mind choosing not to focus on anything but the feel and smell of the suit in her arms. It smelled so masculine, and it felt so powerful, although she knew it was just spandex. It was HIS, and therefore it was special.
Susan finally told herself that she had to take the last step: look at the pictures. See his face once and for all. See him and his wife and children enjoying the life that they had forged for themselves, the life that they lived in relative anonymity. How many of this man's friends knew that he was Superman, she wondered as she slowly made her way out of the closet. Did his wife know? She must, Susan thought. As she made it to the door of the closet, she finally allowed herself to look at the portraits on the wall. She had to reach out for support as recognition came immediately — she KNEW those faces. She knew those people. Her vision started to swim as she started shaking her head in denial. It couldn't be, it just couldn't be, could it? She looked back down at the suit in her hand and knew with certainty that it could be true, that it was true. She knew who Superman was, and she knew who the Crimson Superman was, and the whole time they had been right under her nose.
The thoughts in her head began to jumble together, and the room started to spin. She tried to grab for the doorframe of the closet, but before she could get a grip, the world went dark.
In retrospect, Jon should've known that everything wouldn't go smoothly on his date with Diane that night. Since when had anything in his brief relationship with Diane ever gone smoothly? The weird thing was that his date had been going better than expected when the call came. Yes, he had been aware of the fact that his dad was out of town and he was TECHNICALLY on call for the night, but he had decided that, barring a major emergency, the city would have to make due on its own. He just never anticipated the major emergency would deal with the very secret that allowed him and the rest of his family to live a normal life.
Things didn't start to get interesting until that afternoon. Diane had called him right around lunch and suggested that they do something together, much to Jon's delight. He would like to say that he never doubted the fact that she would call him, especially after the previous night, but he also knew who he was dealing with. Diane Martinez was as maddening as she was beautiful, an enigma to be sure. Jon was pretty sure that she really did care for him, or at least the essence of him, but with the way she had treated him, he could never quite be sure. The kisses they shared, though, had been so fiery and passionate that they had rocked him to his soul, and those more than anything else gave him the hope that things would be okay. But relationships between two people were never a certain thing, and that's what worried him.
When she called, Diane had suggested that they go to a movie or something, but she had left it up to Jon to choose, saying that she would be happy whatever the choice was. That in and of itself had made him nervous — how was he supposed to know what she would like? And how could he be sure she'd be happy with the choice he made? She had mentioned that she liked the occasional action movie, but he wasn't so sure that was what HE wanted to watch. And nobody had said that they HAD to stick to seeing a movie. Metropolis had a thriving theater community, with literally hundred of shows of some sort or another being presented throughout the city. They could also take a walk through the city, or go on one of the horse and buggy rides through Centennial Park, or… the possibilities were endless. He had agonized over what to do with her, and in the end decided that he wanted to show her something that was near and dear to his heart. He called her back and told her to be ready by three, refusing to disclose where they were going to go, saying that it was going to be a surprise.
He had to borrow a car from his parents for the date since he didn't own one of his own, but they were all too happy to oblige. It was just an average family sedan, nothing that would stand out, but he didn't mind. The way Jon saw it, this date was going to be as normal as possible, and if that meant driving her from place to place rather than flying, as was his usual transportation choice, then his folks' car would have to do. Despite his desire to be "normal", he really did want to make a good impression in all respects. He had stared at his closet for at least five minutes trying to decide what to wear. A business suit wouldn't seem quite right under the circumstances; a nice dress suit was entirely too formal, yet jeans and a t-shirt was too informal. In the end, he showed up at her place wearing a nice button up shirt and some slacks — nothing special, really, but nice all the same. So, he figured, there was no way that she could get anything BUT a positive impression, right? Still, when he knocked her door, he became suddenly nervous, knowing that, for the first time, he was presenting himself to her as he really was. He wasn't there as the Crimson Superman, he wasn't putting on any pretence, and he wasn't trying to hide anything.
What if she didn't accept him that way? The thought caused him to shudder involuntarily, wondering what his life would turn out to be if the one woman in the world he cared for, and who knew who he was and what he could do, decided that it wasn't what she wanted. Of all the things that could possibly happen to him on the face of this planet, that would have to be one of the worst he could imagine. But as soon as Diane opened the door, he knew that he had nothing to worry about. He had been looking hard for any signs of apprehension on her part, but all he had seen was a smile that conveyed how genuinely happy she was to be with him.
As they drove toward the Metropolis University campus, they had bantered as if they had known each other their whole lives. They talked about themselves and teased each other mercilessly, each secretly loving it. Diane had tried to pry their destination out of him on more than one occasion, but he had evaded her tactics easily, not telling her until they actually pulled into the massive parking lot of the Metropolis University Auditorium.
Jon had figured that the best thing he could do on their first date was to show her the type of thing he was interested in, and what better way to do that than to take her to the University's Band-o-Rama, the Music Department's large annual concert that showcased the many ensembles on campus. It was a concert that Jon had participated in during the years he had been in college, and he had many fond memories of it. He supposed that it could be considered showing off on his part to bring her to this, but he couldn't help it if he was proud of his friends and the bands that he had been a part of for so many years. Diane had been a good sport about it — he could tell he caught her off guard a little in his choice of date activities, but she actually seemed to be enjoying herself.
Jon had explained to her that he had played in the marching band as well as the other ensembles at the University for four years, and that music was still a big part of his life. She had seemed to be amused at the excitement with which he talked about his band experiences, going so far as to call him a "band geek" before admitting that she herself had played tuba in her high school band. That particular revelation struck a chord with him, mostly because it showed that they shared some of the same fundamental interests. What else did they share, he had wondered as he reached for her hand. The rest of the concert passed uneventfully — they just sat back and listened to the music, hands clasped together, each just happy to be where the other one was.
The call came as they were walking out the door. Jon always made it a policy to turn off his cell phone when he was attending events such as that one, just for courtesy's sake, but for some reason that he didn't know, he had completely forgotten to do it that night. It was probably a good thing, he thought in retrospect — how bad would things have been if CJ and Jenny hadn't been able to get a hold of him?
He had answered the phone, somewhat annoyed at the intrusion into his date, but soon that annoyance morphed into a cold fear as his brother told him what exactly was going on. The details they discussed over the phone were very sketchy, mostly because they both knew that anyone could be listening in on the conversation, but enough information had been relayed to let Jon know the gravity of the situation. As he hung up the phone, he could see Diane looking at him curiously, and he wondered briefly what he should tell her. It only took a second for him to decide that she should know everything that was happening. In fact, he decided, it was probably better that she know, especially if what CJ had said was true and Susan was more or less stalking his father. She was a policewoman, so surely she could stop Susan before she got anywhere, and without Susan knowing that it was really the Super family that had foiled her plans. The benefits of having a cop in on his secret could be great, indeed, he thought wryly.
Jon ushered Diane to a side hallway of the auditorium, away from where the other concert-goers were congregating, and told her what CJ had told him. She seemed to be genuinely concerned for him, but he could also see a focus within her, one that he thought probably came from her police training. He didn't even have to ask her if she wanted to help with the case — she insisted on going along with him. Almost before he had finished talking, she started making arguments as to why he should take her with him, counting the reasons off on her fingers one by one. He watched in fascination for a few moments, a lopsided smile forming on his face, before finally cutting her off and letting her know that he wanted her along to begin with. A slightly dumbfounded expression formed on her face for a few moments before giving way to a large grin. Her eyes positively sparked up at him, and he felt his tension slip away as he momentarily lost himself in her.
They didn't have time to enjoy the moment, though. He came to his senses and hurried her into the stairwell, doing a quick change into the suit before taking off as quickly as he dared toward Jenny's. The flight went by in silence, with Diane taking the opportunity to bury her face against his neck. He was so hypersensitive to her touch that the hot air from her every breath seemed to burn against his skin, and even the slightest touch from her caused electricity to surge through his body. It was quite distracting to him, and he found that it took an immense amount of willpower just to maintain altitude and direction. He tightened his grip on her and flew on, an obscure part of his mind allowing him to become aware of how very right it felt to hold her in his arms.
The alley they landed in near Jenny's building was dark and deserted. Diane drew her face away from his neck and looked at him, her eyes mirroring the emotional tension and longing that he was feeling. They stood that way for a moment, reluctant to break physical contact, before he finally set her down. The ground beneath her feet immediately altered her attitude, and she instantly became businesslike and professional. She strode out of the alley, with Jon quickly changing into his regular clothes and falling into step behind her. He led the way once they were out onto the street, and within a minute they were at the door to the apartment.
Jon lifted his hand to knock on the door when it opened in front of him.
"What took you so long," CJ said as the door swung open, but he stopped abruptly when his eyes fell on Diane, who was standing well in back of Jon. He looked back and forth between Jon and Diane a couple of times before a small smile began to spread across his face. "Never mind," he said slyly as he stepped aside and motioned for them to enter.
They gathered in the living room and began to discuss what they should do. Jon had wondered how Diane would handle seeing the fabled wall, but she didn't seem fazed by it at all. She gave it one, long, appreciative glance before getting down to business. In the end it was decided that they should start at the Kent house and try to work from there. Since time was of the essence, Jon would provide the transportation, first to Diane and CJ, who would act as a type of advance security force, and finally to Jenny.
And so now he was carrying Jenny in his arms, closely but not TOO closely, with his childhood home approaching rapidly. In his first trip with Diane and CJ, he couldn't help but notice the strange car sitting in the street in front of the house. He avoided x-raying the house itself on his first trip, knowing that Susan's presence wouldn't affect the fact that he still had to leave to get Jenny. In any case, a part of him said, that was CJ's job. He had snorted at that thought, drawing strange looks from his two charges. Since when did Superman ever try to get off the hook by saying that something was somebody else's job? Could it be that he didn't really want to face up to the possibility that Susan, the psycho roommate, was at that very second rooting through his father's closet, finding the one thing that would be sure to send her over the deep end for good? He had flashes of where that would lead, and for a moment he could almost see the mob of reporters that would surely descend on his parent's home if the world were to know. So, no, he supposed that he didn't want to know if she was in there, but he wouldn't have a choice, and that became clearer as he neared the house for the second time.
The pair landed in the heavily fenced in back yard next to Diane and CJ. "Is she…?" Jon asked his brother, but was stopped by CJ's grim nodding. Jon turned his attention to the house and activated his super hearing, which immediately located Susan's heartbeat in the house. Activating his x-ray vision, he found her passed out in the closet of his parent's bedroom, holding one of his dad's suits.
"What do you see? Is she there?" Jenny asked, a look of worry on her face.
"Oh, yes, she is. She's there and she knows," CJ told her, his voice surprisingly emotionless and hard. It was a steely edge that CJ only ever seemed to take on when he was working on something important. Well, if anything could be considered important, Jon though wryly, this was it. Jon was just as guilty of hardening his position when something hit too close to home or effected him greatly — one only had to look as far as his experiences with Diane over the previous week to see that. But a thought struck him suddenly. What if, just once, he didn't take the hard line? What if he allowed himself to stay emotionally close to this and allow his feeling, his fears and worries and concern for the safety of his family and friends, to come through? He didn't know Susan that well, but he suspected that she would be swayed more by emotion than by rational arguments. Maybe she needed to see how the possibility of her ruining their lives affected them.
"Let's go, then," Diane said, jarring Jon out of his thoughts.
Taking charge of the situation, she headed toward the house, the rest of the group close behind. What they did right now, Jon realized as he entered the house through the garage just as he had done so many times throughout his childhood and afterwards, would influence all of their futures. He just hoped they could do it right.
Susan became aware of darkness. Painful darkness. Where was she, anyway?, she wondered as she tried to regain consciousness. A dull ache in her head made her slip back into the void from whence she had come. Her thoughts all seemed to be very far away, just out of her reach, but it didn't matter. She was content to languish in the darkness for a while. It felt good, calming. The real world never felt this good. She had a vague feeling that the real world had a lot of unpleasantness waiting for her if she were to wake up. That gave her an even better excuse not to.
Voices. She thought that maybe she heard voices, though she couldn't be sure. She wished they would go away and let her be, but they only seemed to get stronger. She retreated further back into the comfortable blackness, but try as she might, some words still entered her self-imposed sanctuary.
"…found out, all right," a masculine voice said. She briefly wondered who had found what out, but the throbbing in her head threatened to overwhelm her, so she sunk back into oblivion.
"Let's get her onto the bed," another man said, and she suddenly felt a strong pair of arms underneath her, lifting her up and, after a few seconds, setting her back down on a wonderfully soft surface. Somebody tugged at something at her arms, and she was aware that something was being taken away from her. Something important, maybe?
"…see the tracer?" A very familiar woman's voice asked. Tracer. Why did that word strike a chord with her? Tracer.
"Right here," one of the men said, and then he sighed. Disjointed words and phrases were beginning to come together now. Everything was becoming clearer. The desolate blackness of the comfortable place she had been in was beginning to take a reddish tint, and her thoughts didn't seem to be quite so far away anymore. She mentally reached out and tried to capture the random bits of information floating around in her head.
"So what now?" the first man asked. That voice…she knew she had heard it before. In fact, all the voices so far had sounded familiar. She tried to conjure up a face to match what she was hearing, and after a moment of concentration, a very handsome image of a man began to form in her vision. Yeah, she knew him. His name was…
Reality came crashing down on her right away. She knew where she was, she knew why she was there, and most importantly, she knew what was going on. The revelation caused her eyes to pop open as she gasped. Suddenly she was aware that all conversation had ceased and, as she allowed her eyes to focus, she noticed that there were four sets of eyes focused on nothing but her. Her eyes darted from face to face, drinking in the details and trying to reconcile them with the truth that she now knew.
Truth, that was the word of the moment, she thought. The truth had to be a strange, twisted concept to the people in front of her. Every last one of them, or, at least the three she recognized, made a living out of lying to everyone and anyone around them on a daily basis. More importantly, they had all lied to her, and more than once. Were they trying to escape the fact that they were the sons of Superman? They could fly and bend steel with their hands and set things on fire just by looking at them, and God knows what else, but they presented themselves as ordinary men. What could they possibly hope to gain by doing that? The prestige and notoriety that came with being a superman was certainly better than leading the life of a working stiff, toiling for every last penny and becoming just an anonymous face in the crowd. They were supposed to stand for truth and justice and everything that was right with the world, but she knew better. What they really stood for was deception, misdirection, and false pretense.
She looked closer at them, wondering why she hadn't noticed the resemblance before. She could vividly recall the night that she had been in the presence of both of their other guises, outside the library not all that long ago. Standing side by side as they were now, she could see how Jon was slightly taller and had a darker complexion than CJ, just like the Crimson Superman was taller and darker than what she could see of "Junior." Now that she thought about it, she had to question "Junior's" treatment toward her that night. He seemed evasive at first, which would fit given that he knew darn well who she was. Then he seemed somewhat standoffish, before reverting to the standard courtesy that she would expect from the son of a superhero who was "super" in his own right. But aside from that, she was going to ask him out on a date, and he had declined before she had even gotten the words out of her mouth. "I'm sorry, but I have to decline," was all he had said. Not, "Hi, Susan, it's me, Clark!" or, "Sorry, but I'm dating your roommate at the moment."
Speaking of her roommate… Susan's eyes narrowed a bit as she found Jenny. They lived together, sure, and Susan had thought they had a decently close relationship — they did mange to talk from time to time. So didn't people who were friends, or even mostly friends, share secrets with each other? The whole time they had been living together, Jenny had been dating CJ, who Jenny surely knew was the son of the city's fabled hero, and Jenny had never told her about him. It was so patently obvious that Susan was crazy about everything related to Superman, wouldn't Jenny want to bring a little happiness to her life and tell her that she had, in fact, met her hero? Didn't Jenny trust her? Didn't any of them trust her? She was their biggest fan and had been for so many years, surely they knew that she would never do anything to hurt them.
Out of the corner of her eyes, she noticed that something seemed out of place. It only took a moment for her to figure out what it was — it was hard NOT to see what it was. In his hands, Jon was holding a wadded up swath of blue and red material. Superman's suit. His fingers were still situated on either side of a little black speck that clung to the corner of the cape, right where she had put it the day before. She blushed as she remembered her mission and everything that it entailed. Okay, so maybe they did have a reason not to trust her, after all.
Suddenly she felt like a little kid who just got caught with their hand in the cookie jar. What must they be thinking of her right now? They undoubtedly saw her as a crook of the worst kind, the type of person they didn't want to have any association with, someone not worthy of knowing what she now knew.
"Susan?" Jenny finally said. It seemed like the attention of the room had been silently focused on her for an eternity, but in actuality it was probably only a matter of seconds. She looked at Jenny again and noticed how worried she appeared to be. Susan half expected them all to be regarding her with malice, but she saw none of that in Jenny. CJ, on the other hand, was eyeing her with suspicion. She had to admit that he had every right to be looking at her that way — she had broken into their house, after all.
Susan opened her mouth to talk, but only a high-pitched squeak came out. "Are you all right?" Jenny asked. Susan positioned her arms to push herself into a sitting position. She got about halfway up when the throbbing in her head began to return. How had she gotten that headache again? Ah, yes, she had passed out and probably hit it on the doorframe. The pain in her head only increased as she became completely upright, and she had to press her eyes closed for a few moments and wait for it to subside before finally nodding.
Jenny took a deep breath and looked down at the bed before continuing. "Susan…," she started, only to be interrupted by Jon's hand on her shoulder. The two exchanged a silent glance before he moved around the bed and kneeled in front of it, the suit still wadded in one of his hands. He looked into her eyes and she could see something lurking behind them, something that she couldn't see in either Jenny or CJ. She couldn't be sure, but his expression coupled with his body language seemed to tell her that he was feeling fear. Fear? What did he possibly have to be afraid of? He was one of the strongest men on the planet. If anyone should be afraid, it should be her. What would he do to her if he didn't like what she said? The things he could do, that they all could do, gave them a certain omnipotence that was disquieting. If they so chose, they could watch her every movement, spy on her no matter where she was, discreetly burn things or who knew what else.
"Why are you doing this?" Jon asked quietly, simply. She thought she could detect a wavering in his voice. All the previous notions about the things he could do to her quickly flew right out the window as she realized that he truly was afraid. It was disconcerting, seeing the Crimson Superman in front of her, hanging on her every word as if his life depended on it.
His life, now that was another interesting thing. What WAS his life? He was a reporter, she vaguely remembered, but that wasn't as important as the fact that he was a Superhero, was it? Surely not. But… On impulse, she reached out and pulled off his glasses, and he made no move to stop her. What would be the point, anyway? They all knew who and what he was. She held up the lenses in front of her eyes, seeing for herself what she already knew — the lenses in them were just plain glass. With a small sigh she placed them gently in her lap and looked at him again, this time seeing a strange cross between the man she had met earlier and the Superhero whose picture graced her walls and whose form had invaded her dreams many times.
"I… I want to know who you are," she said to him, her eyes locked on his. Ever since he had come onto the scene less than a year ago, she had dreamed of coming face to face with him like this, although in her dreams it was under a different set of circumstances. She would be cradled in his arms somewhere, safe and secure and knowing that she had him all to herself, but that was no more than an idle fantasy, something that she knew now would never come about.
He momentarily glanced away from her and toward the strange woman across the room before speaking. "I think you know who I am. I'm a guy named Jon Kent, the son of reporters, who was born right here in Metropolis and has lived here his entire life. I have fears and desires and ideals just like anyone else. I'm not anyone special, I'm just a person trying to make his way in the world, just like you, and if I help some people along the way, all the better. That's all I am, nothing more."
Susan felt tears beginning to form at the corners of her eyes. It wasn't true. It couldn't be. He was a liar before and he was just as much of a liar now. Did he expect her to believe that he really was someone who felt things like a regular person, who held a job somewhere and had friends and a normal family? "But, you're Superman," she heard herself say, surprised at how small her voice sounded.
"Don't you understand?" Jenny asked, her voice steady and calming, despite the accusation held in her words. Susan couldn't bring herself to look at anyone in the room anymore, lowering her gaze and concentrating on the single solitary wet spot that blossomed on the comforter, a spot, she realized, that had been created by her own tears.
"Superman isn't real, Susan. He's an act, a costume put on by some of the most remarkable men I know so that they can contribute to the well-being of society without having to compromise their privacy. These men live ordinary lives — except for a few small things, they're just like you and me. The supermen you hold in such esteem don't exist, not really. You know Clark, you've talked to Jon, and the truth is they are just who they presented themselves as."
Susan closed her eyes tightly and took in a long, shaky breath. Superman had been the focus of her life for so many years. He had been what she lived for, who she looked to as a role model, and who she had secretly loved. After all that, she thought for sure that she knew what he felt and thought, how he would act, and how he lived his life. True, in accepting this mission, she had made peace with the fact that maybe she didn't know how he lived his life, but she was certain nothing else changed. What she had expected was to find her Man of Steel, living in a house or apartment somewhere who, despite the clothes he wore, was still essentially Superman. He would be formal, polite, and, of course, always right. But now…now she knew better. And everything that she had known to be true for so long was not anymore. It felt to her as if her world had just begun to crumble in upon itself, leaving an increasingly dark place within her soul that she didn't know what to do with.
The tears came freely now, not caring that she was creating somewhat of a scene, not caring that, in the end, they wouldn't change anything. Superman would still just be a man, another face in the crowd that she couldn't distinguish from anyone else, who she hadn't been able to distinguish from anybody else despite the opportunity presented to her. What did that say about her? Was she the dumbest person on the planet? It certainly seemed like it right now. Shivers began to rack her body as she cried some more, and at one point she could feel someone place a blanket around her. In a way, she was grateful to them for letting her cry, and for not trying to tell her that things would be fine, because they weren't. Nothing would ever be the same again, nothing. The basis of her life was a lie, a piece of fiction, and her outlook from that point forward would be completely different because of that.
After a few minutes, her attention was caught by someone saying her name. She sniffed and looked up, seeing Jon and the strange woman looking around the room, while CJ had moved so that he was standing behind Jenny, who was still seated on the bed.
"Susan, we have to ask you something," Jenny said gently as soon as they established eye contact. Susan nodded slightly, indicating for them to go on, not trusting her voice.
CJ squeezed Jenny's shoulder and spoke, the hardness of his demeanor lessened somewhat from what it had been earlier. "Can we trust you to keep what you have found out here a secret?"
"Can you trust me?" Susan rasped out, incredulous. What did they think, that she was just going to blurt out their secret to the entire world? Superman and family may not be what she had thought they were, but they were still her heroes and she would never betray them. Of course there was the matter of Tony but, truth be told, she hadn't really intended to tell him to begin with. Sure, he had made it possible for her to get here in the first place, but in the end, she knew where her loyalties lied. "Of course you can trust me."
CJ and Jenny looked at each other, skepticism written all over their faces. She wished there were something that she could do to show them that she meant what she said, but she knew all too well that her actions so far had proven otherwise.
"I'm not worried about myself or my brother or my dad," CJ said, "We can take care of ourselves pretty well. But if word of our identities should get out, other members of our family could be at risk, people who are a lot more vulnerable such as my mom and my sister and Jenny. Right now, you hold the key to their safety, as well as for our ability to live the lives that we want. So, I will ask you again: can we trust you?"
Susan suspected that she would never entirely know the weight that came with being in on their secret. Images of the men she knew, of Jenny, and of bad guys flashed through her head. What WOULD happen if some hypothetical enemy found out about them? Most likely, they would do whatever it took to get to Superman, and if that meant getting his family out of their way, then so be it. She wondered if they lived in constant fear of just such a thing happening. The look in Jon's eyes not too long ago seemed to indicate that they did. She suddenly felt a burst of pity for this god-like family, for the precariousness of their situation. Their whole life was balanced on a razor's edge, with the key to their happiness hidden ostensibly behind a pair of glasses. It certainly wasn't a position that she would like to be in.
"You can trust me completely," Susan replied, hoping against hope that her sincerity carried though to them.
CJ regarded her closely for a second before nodding slowly. "Okay, good. Well, I suppose I should be getting you home then."
With that, Jenny stood up and offered her hand to Susan. She accepted it and pulled herself up, taking one last look around the room before heading toward the door. If she had it to do over again, would she still track down Superman? She supposed that the answer to that wouldn't come for a few days, after she had gotten a chance to absorb everything. Her view of the world was altered, but was that such a bad thing? Only time would tell.
CJ saw Jenny and Susan to the door of the bedroom before letting them know that he would be just a moment. As the women walked down the hall and toward the stairs, he moved back into his parent's bedroom and joined Jon and Diane in the walk-in closet.
At his brother's inquisitive glance, CJ let them know that everything should be okay. He had truly had his doubts, but something inside told him that they didn't have anything to worry about. Besides, Susan was enough of a fan of Superman to respect his privacy.
"So, what did you find?" CJ asked them. He had to admit that Diane was handling the situation like a pro. Most people, when standing in a closet faced with half a dozen super suits and all the accessories that went with them, would be flustered to say the least. CJ knew he was the first time he had seen them. Yet Diane appeared to be very businesslike as she knelt on the ground, inspecting a hand-held electronic device.
Jon pulled a scarf off his mom's shelf and handed to her.
"This is quite a sophisticated little device," Diane said, using the scarf to pick it up. "It tracks the position of that little bug down to the nearest inch. I've never seen anything like it." She held it up and pointed it at the tagged suit, which was now draped over Jon's arm, watching the readout fluctuate.
"Where would she get something like that? And that tracker — that's not something that someone like her would ever think up," CJ said.
Jon picked at the bug on the suit, unsuccessfully trying to pry it free. He squinted at it and pulled again, still having no luck. CJ knew what he was trying to do and sent a burst of heat vision toward where the bug was anchored, melting the adhesive. Jon pulled it free and smiled at his little brother. "Thanks."
"No problem. Didn't look you were having much luck trying to smoke it off of there."
Diane sent a questioning glance up at them and looked back at the device. "This is definitely not something sold commercially. And she didn't strike me as an engineer," Diane said absently.
"She's definitely not," CJ chimed in.
"Then somebody helped her to do this," Diane finished.
"But why her?" Jon asked. "I mean, yeah, she was obsessed with Superman, but that wasn't knowledge to anybody who didn't know her. Why would somebody give this to Susan?" He smoothed his fingers over the spot in the cape where the bug had been, feeling for any flaws in the fabric. Satisfied that it was in good shape, he tossed it in the hamper inside the hidden compartment and moved to close it.
"That's a very good question," Diane said. "But I bet I can lift some prints off this. Maybe then we can figure out who gave it to her."
"Yeah, okay. I'll take her home — maybe I can get some information out of her on the way," CJ added.
"Do that," Jon said as he slid the door closed. "I want to call Dad and let him know what happened, but after that I'm going to work with Diane, that is, if that's okay. I want to get to the bottom of this as quickly as I can."
The smile that Diane gave Jon was dazzling. CJ knew that there had been professional differences between them, and even though he had witnessed the kiss the night before, he wasn't convinced that her animosity toward his job would ever go away. Apparently it had.
"Of course it's okay," she said to Jon as she stood up. All of a sudden, CJ felt that any moment now he would be intruding on a personal moment between them.
"Uh, yeah, okay, well then I'll keep in touch," CJ mumbled quickly as he backed out of the closet, his eyes riveted on the two love birds. He tried to tune out his hearing as he retreated out of their field of vision and toward the bedroom door, but he was still able to hear them as they kissed and bantered quietly back and forth. It was disgusting, that's all there was to it. He was one to talk, he knew, but still… He and Jenny weren't THAT bad, really. Were they?
With a shake of his head, CJ left the room and jogged down the stairs, joining Jenny and Susan as they left for their apartment.
A black Cadillac pulled up in front of the apartment building where Jenny and Susan lived, unnoticed except for a few birds and squirrels, which were the only signs of life in the neighborhood at that moment. Not that the driver minded if anyone saw him pull up, anyway — he was just another anonymous face in the big city neighborhood populated by university students, most of whom couldn't even recognize each other.
Tony glanced up at the building and searched for Susan's apartment, making note of the lights that were on inside. Behind the curtains, he could see a shadow moving around. She was home. Perfect. He had spent so much time just sitting and waiting in front of this very building over the past few days that even a couple more minutes would seem like torture. Luckily for him there would be no more waiting, not after tonight. The weeks and months of planning would all come down to this night, and it would finally be done.
He turned off the car and leaned back in his seat, staring at the ceiling blankly as he went over the plan of action in his head. While Susan had been searching for the identity of Superman, Tony had been attending meetings with the Zarate brass, hashing out the final strategy and detailing the precise movements of all the men down to the very second. He knew that his job was probably the most important, that the whole operation hinged on him carrying out his duties successfully. That thought brought a wry grin to his face. That he should be entrusted with such great responsibility after only being employed with the family for less than a year said a lot for Joey's confidence in him. It also said a lot about the quality of some of the other members of the organization, Zarate family members or other acquaintances who had been around for years that, for some reason or another, Joe just didn't trust. Tony silently thanked them — he had dreamed of making his way in the family, but he never knew his rise would be so quick and easy. And now he would reap the rewards of being in the position he was in.
So, okay, he would go into the apartment and ask Susan to divulge Superman's identity. It had been a day and a half since they had last spoken, plenty of time for her to fulfill her duties, as zealous as she was. After getting the information, he would simply thank her and walk away, and she would never see him again. No questions would be asked — he knew enough about her to know that. Then… He turned his head slightly and regarded the bulky lead box that sat on the passenger seat. Whatever was in there was the key to the whole thing, and he would use that to hold Superman at bay. When Joey had given him that box, he hadn't bothered opening it for Tony, saying only that it contained a substance that most people didn't even know existed, a substance that was supposed to be quite deadly to the Man of Steel.
It was all so easy, so straightforward. It almost seemed TOO easy. Those were the plans that tended to go wrong, but Joey assured him that it would all be fine. But deep down inside, Tony wasn't so sure. With a deep breath, he opened the car door and climbed out, bound for the apartment. This was it, this was really it. Everything that he had worked for for so long started now.
CJ watched as Jenny collapsed on her bed, covering her face with her hands. He closed the door and sat down next to her, his mind churning. What little information they had managed to pry out of Susan on the way over had alluded to the fact that some man was helping her, and that he would probably stop by the apartment sometime soon. CJ was going to be there when that man dropped by, whether Susan liked it or not. If it took forever, he was going to find out who was behind all this, and why they had used Susan to find the secret.
"What a mess," Jenny moaned from the bed. "I think it's safe to say that my greatest nightmare couldn't be any worse than today."
CJ leaned over her and tried to smile reassuringly as his hand found her leg. "Come on, it wasn't that bad."
She moved her hands aside somewhat so that she could get a look at him, her face twisted in an expression of incredulity. "Don't tell me that you actually trust her enough to keep your secret. I'm surprised that the whole city of Metropolis doesn't know by now."
He shrugged. When he thought about it, he supposed that he really DIDN'T trust her that much, despite what he had believed earlier. Susan's history didn't exactly prove her to be a trustworthy person, and this attempt at finding Superman's identity was just the final proof.
"She said she'd keep it," he said, his voice betraying the fact that he was unconvinced by his own words.
Jenny didn't need to say anything to him — her expression said it all. He knew she didn't trust Susan as far as she could throw her. They stared at each other for a few moments before CJ spoke again.
"Okay, okay, I don't believe her either, but she KNOWS, and there's absolutely nothing we can do about that. We can stick to her like glue, which I fully intend to do until we get to the bottom of this, but then what? We can't live the rest of our lives in fear of her opening her mouth. At some point we're going to HAVE to trust her, whether we like it or not."
"God, we're stuck with her," Jenny said as she covered her eyes again.
A slight smile played across CJ's lips as he lowered himself down to an elbow next to her. He removed his hand from her leg and brought it up to her face, tracing her jawbone and grasping one of her hands, pulling it away from her face, allowing him to bend over and kiss her. "I'm afraid we ARE stuck with her, yes, but that doesn't mean she has to be your roommate forever. Can you imagine after we get married…"
"Don't even say that," Jenny said, a note of horror in her voice and a twinkle in her eye.
CJ just grinned impishly, staring into her face and watching as her expression softened. No words were exchanged for a few long moments while the two of them drunk in the sight of each other. Finally, CJ flopped over onto his back, his hand still entwined in hers.
He studied the spots on the ceiling, reviewing the events of the day for the umpteenth time. Here you have a college girl, relatively anonymous, certainly crazy about Superman but not as much as some people he had witnessed throughout the years, being aided by some very anonymous man in the search for Superman's identity. Something just didn't seem right with that scenario. Susan hadn't exactly been a saint throughout the years — Jenny had relayed some stories to him, stories Susan had told her about the wild days of her youth. So why would somebody entrust her with what was one of the greatest secrets on the planet? There were literally thousands of criminals who would love to find Superman's secret, and would go to great lengths to do so. Those criminals had vast resources, both monetary and people-wise.
His eyes slipped shut as various scenarios played through his head. Maybe she was somehow tied to one of those criminals — she was related to them, or she was repaying a favor, or… None of that seemed too likely. It was possible that she had just been in the right place at the right time, too, but this was not the type of thing that would be left to a chance encounter. Maybe she knew something or owned something that would be of value to them. Prior to today, she really didn't know any more about Superman than any other fan that CJ had met. The only unique Superman things she owned were an autographed picture and that weird manuscript.
With a start, he opened his eyes. "The manuscript," he hissed through clenched teeth. The title said it all — "The Life of a Super Man." Somebody must have known that she had that manuscript and figured it held the secret to his identity. All of a sudden a whole crop of new questions entered his head. How would somebody know that Susan had that? Why would someone think that the novel, written by an author of fiction, held any truth? What exactly was in that novel? And where did Susan get it in the first place? CJ couldn't be sure that the novel was the answer to the puzzle, but it sure seemed like the best option.
He sat up and looked toward the living room, where Susan was at the moment. The wall dissolved in front of him and he could clearly see Susan standing in front of her shrine to Superman, staring, showing no emotion at all. She seemed frozen in place, barely moving except for the slight rise and fall of her chest and the occasional blinking of her eyes.
"Is everything okay?" Jenny asked. The wall solidified again and CJ had to blink a couple of times before returning his attention to his fiancee. She still lay next to him, her chestnut hair framing her face. It was a sight he had seen many times, one that never failed to make his resolve melt. With a wary smile he forced himself up off the bed and toward the door.
"It will be," he said over his shoulder. He would sit down with Susan and they would discuss the manuscript, when she got it and from whom, and then he would take it away from her and it would never again see the light of day.
As he laid his hand on the doorknob, he heard a knock on the front door to the apartment. Freezing in place, he x-rayed through the apartment and saw a man standing in the hallway. Susan, startled out of her trance, looked toward Jenny's room before slowly making her way toward the door. CJ backed away from the door and returned to the bed, his eyes never leaving the man in the hall.
"What…?" Jenny asked before CJ held a finger up to his lips.
Susan looked at Jenny's room again. Could he hear the knock? Could he see what she was doing? It was so strange thinking of CJ as the son of Superman. She had always had an eye for him, it was true, but in the end she had always seen him as a normal, albeit somewhat brainy, jock. How wrong she was. She wondered how often he had looked or listened in on her without her knowing. Did they sit in there laughing at her, at her obsession for the hero that they knew to be less than the god she made him out to be? She had never known either of them to be that mean-spirited, but… The trust they put in her said a lot about what they thought of her, though.
Trust. The word cleared out all the rest of the thoughts in her head and echoed around, setting up a resonance. It was now her turn to truly show them that they could trust her. She knew well enough who was on the other side of that door, and she knew what she had to do. It would be hard, and she would be lying if she wasn't scared about having to confront Tony, but she knew she could do it. Besides, she was sure that CJ wouldn't let any harm come to her.
Plastering the most convincing smile on her face that she could, she opened the door. As expected, Tony was standing there, the smile he was wearing making him positively glow. For a moment, she remembered the commitment she had made to him, and she almost slipped back into her old, familiar mindset. But the moment passed quickly and she strengthened her resolve, mentally repeating the word "trust" once again.
"Tony," she said pleasantly, "won't you please come in?"
"I won't be long," Tony said before letting himself in and shutting the door behind him.
Susan knew what was coming. He was going to ask her, and she wouldn't be able to give him an answer. "Can I get you something to drink, or…" she stalled. Maybe he would just forget about it. Maybe if she delayed long enough he would just leave without even mentioning it at all.
"Did you find him?" Tony asked, cutting her off.
Susan felt her smile waver. "I…didn't find him."
Was it just her imagination, or did Tony's teeth appear to be bared a little more? "Didn't you?"
Her eyes widened. "N…no. I didn't."
"Why don't I believe you?" he asked with a sneer.
The situation was degrading rapidly. She could feel her heart jumping in her chest and the room began to pulsate in her field of vision. "I don't know. I really couldn't find him."
"I think you did." Tony came toward her and stood right in front of her, the sneer disappearing as quickly as it had appeared, replaced with the same broad smile that he had been wearing when he entered the apartment. If she didn't know any better, she could've sworn that it had just been a figment of her imagination.
"You wouldn't let me down, would you?" he asked, charm oozing from every syllable.
"No," she answered meekly, suddenly very afraid of him.
"Good. Then you will get another three hours to find him. I will be back then, and I expect results."
"Results, yes," she agreed, nodding. "But…what if I can't find anything?"
The smile was still on his face, but his eyes had changed, revealing a darkness that gave her very good reason to believe that this truly was a dangerous man. "When was the last time you saw your uncle?"
"My uncle?" She went cold.
"I don't know. A couple of days, I suppose."
He began to back toward the door of the apartment. "Well, I saw him recently. Don't worry — we're treating him well. But if you want him to live until tomorrow, I suggest you get to work."
Her breath caught in her throat. Her uncle! Those bastards had her uncle! She almost blurted out the information he desired right then and there, but then she stopped herself, remembering the word that had become her creed over the last couple of hours. Trust. They were counting on her, and she couldn't let them down, even if her uncle was being used against her. If anyone could help her, it was the men that she was trying to protect right now. That thought gave her a measure of comfort. If they could trust her, then she certainly could trust them.
"All right," she heard herself say as Tony opened the door.
"See you in a few hours then," he said cheerily before disappearing into the hallway. Susan stared at the door for a few moments before finally looking toward Jenny's room. She needed their help. She just hoped that they were willing to give it to her.
Tony hurried down the hallway, anxious to get back to the car. By God, he could've been an actor. He had worked long and hard to perfect his evil sneer, and she seemed to have been appropriately terrified by it. People were so easy to manipulate sometimes.
After a few brief moments he reached his car and immediately reached for his cell phone. It had taken a lot of effort, but he had managed to de-bug the phone. The Zarates seemed really big on tracking devices, he thought as he dialed a familiar number. The car, now that had been a particular challenge. He had found twenty bugs around it, and had methodically removed them all, placing them on another automobile. The poor, unsuspecting owner never knew that he was being tracked 24 hours a day by the mafia.
"Joe here," he heard from his phone.
"This is Tony. She has found him and told me everything. She assured me that he has not suspected a thing. I'm on my way over there right now to do the job."
"Excellent," Joe said. Tony smiled, knowing that Joey had no reason to suspect otherwise. "You will call me when it's taken care of, yes?"
"And I expect a full report. Not only are we going to kill big blue and his family, we're going to expose them and make life a living hell for anyone associated with them."
"I will get right on that after the job is finished, sir."
At the other end of the line, Joey chuckled. "You have a real future, kid. Good job."
"Thank you, sir," Tony said before disconnecting. He might have a real future, yes, but he doubted it was what Joey was thinking. He absently started pressing another familiar number into his phone. After a few rings it was answered.
"Hello?" the gruff voice said.
"Tony, what's the news?"
"It's tonight. He's going to do it tonight. We have tapes and videos from the planning meetings today and yesterday, enough to put him and the majority of the Zarate gang away for a very long time."
"Okay. Get back here — we need to go over the final plans." After a moment of silence, the captain sighed. "And, good work, officer."
"Thanks," he said, before hearing the line go dead. Those were strong words of praise, coming from a man like the captain. He only allowed himself to bask for a moment, though. The night was still young, and he had work to do. Pocketing his phone and picking the heavy box up off the passenger seat, he got out of the car and closed the door behind him. After a moment, he spotted a twenty-something year old college kid walking on a nearby sidewalk.
"Hey," Tony called out, immediately getting his attention. As soon as their eyes met, Tony tossed him the keys to the Cadillac. "It's all yours."
The kid looked back and forth between the keys, the car, and Tony, dumbfounded. "Thanks, mister," he said cautiously. Tony just smiled and began to walk toward the precinct.
"What the heck?" CJ mumbled as he stared gape-jawed through the wall toward the car where Tony was sitting.
"What?" both Susan and Jenny asked simultaneously, causing CJ to cringe.
He had overheard the entire conversation between Susan and Tony, and had been appalled at the man's cold demeanor. He should've known that whoever was behind this would have some sort of leverage over Susan. As soon as he heard Tony make the call in the car, all questions over who could be so ruthless had been answered. The mob. Of all the criminal organizations in town at the moment, the Zarate mob was perhaps the most desperate, with their once proud empire gradually eroding away throughout the years. After the fall of Intergang, they had silently built up a majority of the crime in town, but between Superman, some cunning reporters at the Daily Planet, and the Metropolis PD, all they really had left was a small-time drug ring and a protection racket in the Garden District. In fact, Jon was writing a series of articles on that very subject, he recalled with interest. Jon had been having a hard time trying to get a bead on what the Zarates were doing, and it was little wonder — they were just biding their time until they got a large part of their problem out of the way.
Of course in the middle of the call, Susan had come barreling into the room, babbling about her uncle. Jenny had managed to silence her quickly, and in enough time for CJ to hear Tony feed his boss false information. That had him puzzled, to be sure, but he had figured that perhaps Tony was trying to blackmail the Zarates. It was a time-honored criminal tradition, and the mob was an easy target. But then came the call to the police…
CJ motioned for the two of them to be quiet as he continued to listen. He couldn't believe that the man that had been so threatening just a few moments earlier was actually one of the good guys. Just when he thought that the day couldn't possibly get more interesting, it did. He came to the decision that he needed a vacation. Badly.
"That guy, Tony — he's a cop."
"WHAT?!?" Jenny and Susan said in unison, causing CJ to cringe again, this time not from the pain of having such loud voices nearby when he was super hearing, but rather from the fact that those two were beginning to…bond.
"He fed false information to the mob and then phoned some guy named Captain Schilling, telling him that they were going to bust the Zarate mob."
"Holy cow, this is BIG," Jenny said as she rushed over to the window, craning her neck to try and see the street outside. CJ knew she wouldn't be able to view anything, but he didn't try to stop her.
"That…that MAN was an officer of the law? He purposely used me and blackmailed me…" Susan stopped abruptly. In the past few hours, she had run the gamut of emotions, from excitement to fear and pity, profound sadness, and, when she thought of her new friends, respect. But now she appeared to be angry. CJ couldn't tell if she was about to scream or break down crying. Emotional confrontations with hysterical former groupies were never his strong suit, and he looked desperately over to Jenny, sending a silent plea to her to help defuse the situation.
As if she could read his thoughts, Jenny turned away from the window and addressed Susan, her voice calm. "He was playing a part. I'm willing to bet that you won't be seeing him again."
CJ nodded vehemently. "But, thanks to him, I think we have the information we need to get at the people who are trying to get at us." A thought occurred to him just then. He was sure that the cops would do a good job when they had their raid tonight, but he would say that the Kent family had a vested interest in it. They also had a nice in with the police department now. Maybe one of the supermen should meet up with this Captain Schilling.
Without hesitation, CJ reached for the phone and dialed his brother's number. As he listened to the ringing on the other end of the line, he noticed that both women were looking at him with interest. "Don't worry," he told them, a serious expression forming on his face. "After tonight everything will be resolved." And it would be. He, with the help of his family, would make sure that it was.
The bustle of the police station greeted Diane and Jon as they entered through the front doors, their hands entwined. The flight over had been taken in a comfortable silence, both of them knowing that they had a job to do, but also recognizing the growing bond between them. Diane had wanted nothing more than to explore that connection more thoroughly, and for a long while she had resented Susan for interrupting their date. But now she saw the opportunity to work together as being even better in the long run — she could prove to him that she respected him as a journalist as well as a hero. With that in mind, she had agreed to let Jon work at her desk while she worked in the crime lab trying to analyze the tracking device they had found in his parent's closet.
They parted company as they reached her desk, a silent exchange their only means of communication. She made her way toward the lab, thoughts of their evening thus far swirling in her head. Never in a million years had she expected the wild ride she had been taken on. When she had professed her love to Jon a few days ago, insisting it was the man she loved and not the superhero, she had thought she had known him. He was caring, it was true, and she could see that right away, but there was just so much more to him than she had ever imagined. Who would've thought that the city's newest superhero played trombone in the Metropolis University marching band for four years? Who would've been able to picture the house he grew up in, his room adorned with mementos of a childhood past and hobbies since forgotten? And who would've been able to see how charmingly vulnerable he really was, emotionally?
She stopped and looked over her shoulder, watching Jon as he pulled out his cell phone, punching a button or two before a dismayed expression came over his face. He shook the phone a couple of times before shoving it angrily back into the pocket of his jacket and picking up the phone on her desk. Diane smiled and shook her head — even Superman could get a dead battery in his cell phone. It seemed odd that such small imperfections could make her see him in a better light, but they did. After all, it was the little personality quirks that made him who he was.
As she continued toward the lab, Diane changed her mental focus to the investigation at hand. She and Jon had agreed to work together on this, each gathering information on different aspects of the case. While Jon was doing a deep background search of Susan Bantram and her family, friends, acquaintances, and anyone else who might know her, Diane was doing the forensic investigation of everything related to the tracking device. Fingerprints would just be the beginning — the serial number would be traced through the company to determine who bought it. Both on their investigations would take time, but the results would be definitive.
Fortunately, the crime lab was rather empty that night, so Diane was able to get to work quickly. It took no time flat to extract the prints, but comparing them to the national database would take a bit longer. After several long minutes, the computer gave her a name — Anthony Fortune. It sounded so familiar to Diane, but she couldn't quite place where she had heard it before. She didn't think he was a TV celebrity or anything like that. The mention of his name didn't conjure up any strong feeling in her, so he probably wasn't a well known criminal. It was almost as if she had heard the name in passing somewhere. She stared off into the distance, trying to pinpoint exactly what significance that name had, when her eyes fell on a series of photographs on the wall — the Officer of the Year gallery. She walked by it every day, not so much as giving the display a second thought but now… She focused on the faces of the distinguished officers. It took a great deal to earn that award — if she solved this case, maybe it would be her face up there. The thought caused a small grin to fall across her face. She would be in good company, she thought as she read the names off. The current chief of police was up there on that wall, along with her boss and several other big names at the Metropolis PD. She skimmed the names, mentally listing the accomplishments of each, until she met a portrait of a recent recipient — Tony Fortune.
Her eye narrowed. Yes, that was where she had heard the name before. Fortune was some big shot young cop who had made a name for himself very early in his career. It seemed strange, but shortly after being named the precinct's officer of the year, he had just vanished from the scene. Of course, this had all happened before Diane ever moved to Metropolis, but… Surely this man hadn't turned to a life of crime. She double checked the computer, no longer trusting the results of the fingerprint analysis. The computer had been wrong on rare occasions — maybe it had misread the print. She was about to run the analyzer again when the captain walked into the room.
"Captain," she acknowledged his presence brusquely, quickly turning her attention back to the investigation.
The captain nodded. "Martinez. Is that a reporter at your desk?"
Diane's lips twitched in mild amusement before she neutralized her expression. She had just found out about Jon's other self not even a day earlier, and since then she had not been in the office. As far as they knew, she still saw reporters as the lowest form of life on the planet, a rung below even lawyers and used car salesmen. It was amazing how one day could change a person's entire outlook on life, she mused. No doubt it looked odd to have a reporter sitting at her desk, using her phone and computer. She hadn't really even thought about when she had brought him in, so intent had she been on the investigation.
"Yes it is, sir," she replied.
The captain raised one of his eyebrows and looked at her strangely. "And that's okay with you?" he asked, a note of skepticism present in his voice.
"I did tell him he could use it, yes."
There was a moment of silence before the captain spoke up again. "Well, as long as he isn't getting into anything he shouldn't…"
I wouldn't worry about that, Diane thought. Even if he did, he was in a unique position to be of help to them. She had no worries whatsoever about this particular reporter seeing any confidential files — she knew he wouldn't take advantage of the knowledge.
"He won't, I made sure," she answered, her attention on the analyzing equipment. She was running the prints for the second time, watching as hundreds of pictures flashed on the screen in front of her.
"Yes, good. You're going to have to get him out of here in about 15 minutes, though," the captain said, the authoritative edge in his voice making it clear that there would be no arguing his command. Diane looked up in surprise, wondering what would warrant such a declaration.
"We'll be having a meeting at that time, and I want all my officers there. The situation we will be handling tonight needs to be approached with extreme care. I don't want any reporters anywhere near here when this is going on." He looked at her, and she was sure he was completely serious. After a few moments, he turned and left without another word.
This was the same man that had encouraged her to make better relations with the press, and now he was more or less demanding that Jon leave. What was going on? As the images of thumbprints continued to flash by on her computer screen, she made her way out of the lab toward her desk, noting that the eyes of the captain were on her the whole time. Jon seemed oblivious to her approach, wrapped up in a phone call.
"Bantram publishing?" she heard him ask as he scribbled notes on a piece of paper in front of him. "If her uncle owns that company, I want to know everything there is to know about it. I'll call back in a few." He hung up the phone and regarded her with a quick smile. "Well, this is getting interesting," he said to her.
"Yeah, tell me about it," she said, and proceeded to relay her conversation with the captain, as well as her preliminary findings to him. He frowned slightly at the implication.
"So what your saying is that the possibility exists that a cop might be behind this?" He made a face for second and looked past her. "Why would the police be interested in my dad? I wonder if it's not some sort of large scale plan against my family — maybe that's what your 'sensitive' meeting is about."
Jon stared at her, his eyes questioning, obviously aware of the insinuation of his statement. Yesterday she would've been incensed by his accusation of corruption, but today she wasn't. In fact, today those accusations seemed to have a great deal of truth in them. How well did she know the department, anyway? She had been there less than a year, and in that time had seen nothing to lead her to believe that the department had any shady dealings, but they could probably hide such things easily. In any case, it was evident to her that everything wasn't quite as it seemed. While it could be corruption, it could also just be the work of one crazy guy who just happened to be on the force.
Jon seemed to sense her conflict, and he reached up to touch her arm. "Then again, I suppose there's a good possibility that this meeting could just be a coincidence," he said.
"That's true," Diane replied, her attention distracted by a man walking through the station with a large, black metal box. It wasn't hard to identify him after staring at the Officer of the Year Gallery so recently. That was Fortune, and he was headed to the captain's office. She returned her attention to Jon and captured his eyes with her own. With a small nod toward Fortune she said, "On the other hand, that's the guy I just ID-ed."
Jon snapped his head around to follow the rogue officer through the office. After a few moments he gathered his things together and stood up. "If I was hesitant to get involved before, I'm sure not now. I'll be across the street watching and listening. Whatever it is they have you do, I'll be right behind."
Diane nodded, feeling the need to thank him properly for his concern for her and the investigation, but not at the station, and not under the watchful eyes of her coworkers. As he walked away, she whispered her words of thanks, and saw him turn his head slightly, acknowledging that he'd heard her. As soon as he left, she made her way back to the lab and checked the computer again. Those prints were definitely that of Anthony Fortune. So why was he after Superman? It was high time she found out.
The conference room overflowed with officers, ones Jon recognized from the day shift as well as the night shift. It seemed that in the matter of half an hour, the captain had managed to mobilize most of the force under his command. Something that required such a large amount of manpower could only be serious. Right now the evidence, however sketchy that it was, seemed to indicate that what he had thought was true, and the department was somehow behind Susan and her quest for Superman's identity. Instinct, on the other hand, told him that something else was going on. The MPD had shown nothing but the highest amount of respect to himself and his father, and he hadn't seen anyone on the force ever give him a reason to believe that they thought ill of the supermen. And anyway, why would the police use an innocent girl to get to them? And what good would the information do them? Too many questions were left unanswered for him to be sure of anything.
He wished he could talk to his father about it. He had tried calling him before they left the house, but for some reason, Clark wasn't answering his cell phone. Jon had left a message with his voice mail, and Clark would probably fly straight to Metropolis as soon as he received it, but who knew how long that would be? By then it could all be over with. For the time being, Jon had to face that he was alone in his guardianship of Metropolis for the night.
As his train of thought trailed off, he noticed that the noise in the room had begun to die down.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for coming tonight," Captain Shilling began as he paced the room, his gaze shifting from officer to officer. "As you know, the department has had an ongoing investigation into the Zarate crime family for some months. What you may not know is the extent of the investigation itself.
"We have placed several officers within the inner circle of the family, and in the course of the last year or so, they have been collecting evidence against the Zarates as the family has constructed a plan to reclaim the majority of the crime in the city. This plan is to be put into action tonight, and as soon as that happens, we will have everything we need to put the whole bunch of them away for a long time."
The captain continued with his tale, telling of levels of intelligence that ran much deeper than Jon had ever suspected in any of his own investigations of the family for the Planet. Apparently, a large portion of the police force throughout the entire city was being used in the bust that night, with each precinct performing a different function. While a large portion of the precincts would be employed in stemming the monstrous crime wave that the family planned to unleash upon the city that night, this particular precinct was going to be the one to get Joey Zarate himself.
The reporter in Jon salivated at the thought of being present for that raid. What a wrap-up to his series, to give a first-hand account of the capture of the largest crime figure in the city. It wasn't every day that a major crime syndicate got busted, and he wanted to be in on it. Aside from being front page material, it was also an excellent opportunity to make the Crimson Superman's presence known to the crime element of the city. All he would have to do would be to slide out of the sky and assist as the police captured Zarate and…
A sudden wave of nausea washed over him, and his field of vision seemed to constrict, making it hard to see. He made himself look back into the conference room, fighting the pain and forcing his x-ray vision to penetrate the wall. The metal box had been opened, and inside was a small rock that gave off a green glow. The sick feeling only grew as he recognized what it was. Kryptonite. He had never actually encountered it himself, but his father had told him plenty of stories. Intense pain, followed by weakness and the loss of powers and, if he wasn't careful, death — that's what kryptonite could do to him, he'd been warned. Even as far away as he was right now, it was still affecting him. He had to strain to hear the conversation as it continued.
"This is a rock that Zarate claims can kill Superman," Fortune said, speaking for the first time. "My job tonight was to use this to keep Superman at bay so that they could carry out their operation. As far as we know, this is the only piece of rock he had in his possession, but if you do find more, you need to get it to me immediately. Whether or not this rock actually affects Superman is not known, but we can never be too cautious." Fortune closed the box and Jon felt a wave relief pass over him. If what his father had said was true, and it seemed now that it was, then he certainly didn't want to encounter any more of that stuff, if at all possible. His hearing and eyesight seemed to immediately perk up upon the box being closed, and he could once again see clearly into the room.
Other things were becoming clear to him, as well. The pattern of organized crime in the whole city for the last few years made perfect sense now — they were biding their time until they were able to get a bigger piece of the pie. They sent out the occasional show of force just to let people know they were still around, all the while mobilizing for the big night. Tonight. And although Jon wasn't entirely sure why Susan had been picked to find Superman's identity, it was fairly clear to him why someone like her had been sent. Who else would they want on the case for them but some crazed, anonymous fan who would do whatever they asked, just because it meant getting the opportunity to get to know their hero a little better? He had never understood why some people thought others were expendable, but apparently Susan was to the Zarates. It was enough to make him feel some small measure of pity toward her, if only because she had been used so nefariously.
Captain Schilling completed the meeting, outlining technical details related to deployment of personnel. Jon, blessed with a sharp memory, hung on every element, wanting now more than ever to be part of the bust. Now he knew the full extent of Zarate's appalling plan, and he couldn't help but feel as if his whole family had dodged a major bullet. As apprehensive as he had been about Susan knowing the family secret, it was nothing compared to the prospect of the whole mob knowing. If Zarate had gotten his way, it was very possible that Jon, his parents and siblings and everyone else he loved, might not have lived to see tomorrow.
All he cared about now was bringing down the man who had ordered the torture of his family. It was fortunate, he supposed, that the man who had been charged with doing the despicable act had been a police officer, a man much too virtuous to do such a thing. For that, he owed the police a lot, and he fully expected to do his part to help them in any way he could.
CJ was careful not to slam the phone down, conscious of the fact that it would probably shatter if he did. Still, the release of stress would be really nice.
"Still nothing?" Jenny asked, her face soft with concern.
"Nothing. I've called Jon twice, my dad once, the house twice, and Diane's precinct once, and I have yet to talk to an actual human being."
Jenny sighed and sat down next to him. "We can't just sit on this," she said, and CJ couldn't disagree. Someone, preferably someone who flew around town with a big red and yellow S on their chest, had to know about the Zarates and the cops, and someone had to rescue Susan's uncle. One stubborn thought invaded his mind and refused to go away, no matter how much he tried. No, he certainly wasn't helpless. And yes, he had done some rescuing in his time, but that didn't mean he should do this one. But if he didn't do it, then who would? Jenny was right — something had to be done.
He shook his head and took a deep breath, letting the air out slowly. "I told myself that I wouldn't drag that costume out of the closet again till Halloween," he mumbled.
Susan stood on the other side of the room, puzzled. Jenny just smiled, patting him on the leg. "I, for one, would like to see you in that more often," she said lowly, meaning to be heard only by him.
He flushed a little at the suggestion in her voice, wonder how everything between them always seemed to disintegrate into innuendo. He allowed himself to look into her eyes, knowing that he was risking losing himself in them. Several long moments passed before Susan cleared her throat, breaking the spell.
"Uh, excuse me, but would you mind telling me what's going on?" she said impatiently.
CJ rolled his eyes, eliciting a small giggle from Jenny, and stood. "We are going to go find your uncle."
"You?" Susan asked, but then caught herself. Her eyes widened upon remembering that night a couple of months earlier. "You mean Junior will."
"I guess you could put it that way." He looked down at Jenny and offered his hand to her, drawing her up alongside himself. "You don't have to worry about anything, just stay here and keep calm."
With that, CJ walked to the bedroom door and opened it, motioning for the two women to leave ahead of him. He closed the door behind himself and followed them into the living room, noting with curiosity that Susan seemed to be avoiding looking at her wall. Maybe she was changing, he mused. It was possible that she had gone from being the obsessed fan to being an actual friend to her former heroes. He could still look into her eyes and see the awe, but that glazed-over look, the deer-in-the-headlights expression she used to get, seemed to be gone now. Maybe they really could trust her, after all.
"Do you need anything? Can I do anything for you?" Susan asked him as he headed toward the door to the apartment with Jenny.
CJ stopped and smiled at her cordially, hoping that it would ease her butterflies, because Lord knew that he had enough of his own. The thought of going out in that city as one of the Superman clan again terrified him. "Just stay here and man the apartment. If my dad calls, tell him I'm out working. He'll know what that means."
Susan nodded, seemingly disappointed. CJ sighed and walked out of the apartment, with Jenny following close behind. They walked down the hall in silence, both of them lost in their thoughts. Somewhere on the way to the car, their hands found each other, and they hesitated to separate as they reached their destination.
"How exactly are we going to find her uncle, Junior?" Jenny asked as she looked at their hands.
A small chuckle escaped CJ at the sound of his alter-alter ego's name. He looked absently at the ground as he dug around in the pocket of his jeans for his keys. "There's an office building downtown that is completely fortified with lead. My dad pointed it out to me once, and I had always wondered who would go to the trouble of building such a place. The strange thing is that it's fairly modern, only about 15 years old, and dates back to a time when major crime was on the decline in Metropolis. Who better to go to such lengths than a crime organization with plans of taking out Superman?"
"Sounds like a bit of a shot in the dark, if you ask me." She gave him a skeptical look, eliciting an awkward smile from him.
"It is, but what else do we have to go on? We have to do something. I could be entirely wrong about this, but at least it's worth a shot." He couldn't help but insert a note of passion into his small speech. He never was the type to just sit on his hands when trouble was afoot. With Jon and his father MIA, then he was the last line of defense. And he certainly wasn't going to let an innocent man die just because the mob was using him to get to their family.
A smile of genuine love crept across her face. "See this is why I love you so much. You could never stand idly by and watch someone get hurt."
Their barely suppressed desire for each other threatened to burst forth as CJ searched her face once more. It was tempting to give in, but he couldn't allow that, not now. A small chuckle escaped him as he reverted into a safer, more humorous mode.
"Well, I AM my father's son, after all. Sure, there's the whole heroism thing, but then there's the brooding and the bad jokes and the occasional stick-in-the-mud attitude…" He gave Jenny a hopeful glance and she smiled at him.
"I bought the whole package, and you can't scare me off. I am sticking to you like glue, buddy."
He gave her hand a quick squeeze and then released it, walking around to the driver's side of the car. "Come on, I need to go change."
Jon hovered above the patrol cars as they made their way through the city to the heart of downtown. They made little attempt at stealth, he thought as they parked in front of the building he referred to as the "Lead Palace," their red and blue lights blazing. He had long suspected that some sort of organized crime operated out of that building, but he could never be sure. While he was glad to know that his instincts had once again been right, it also threw a wrench into his plans. He had originally wanted to watch the arrest from above, flying down if he viewed anything going wrong, and certainly being present when Zarate was finally shoved into a squad car. He also wanted to surreptitiously try and locate the hostage that was mentioned during the briefing meeting. But the lead that outlined the building made it impossible to see inside, and if something went wrong, he would never even know.
Slowly, officers exited their cars and began to surround the building, putting extra men at the doors and windows. Nobody would be able to get in or out without running into one of them. A small force of officers, including Diane, Tony, and Captain Schilling, gathered at the front entrance of the building. The captain reminded them once again of the procedure, and Jon pondered what exactly he should do. After a few uncertain moments, he decided that the best thing to do was to make his presence known and offer to go into the building with them. With that, he gently floated out of the sky and landed next to the group of officers.
Diane had the grace to look surprised at his appearance, matching the expressions of all the other officers present.
"Superman! What are you doing here?" Tony asked, his eyes wide. Jon sensed a note of guilt in Tony, and took some small measure of comfort at the fact.
"I saw the unusually large number of police on the scene here, and I wondered if I could be of assistance," Jon said, his voice brought down to the lower, Superman tone that he used while on the job. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Diane tilt her head slightly, a small grin forming on her lips. He did his best to ignore her and concentrate on the commanding officers.
"Yes, of course," the captain said quickly, his eyes darting back in forth in thought. At last they settled on Jon and narrowed slightly, a sly gleam hidden within them. "Tony, brief the man."
Jon listened in rapt attention, nodding in the appropriate places, acting as if he had never heard the plan before. As Tony explained what was going to happen, the captain periodically interjected, altering small details to account for Superman's presence. Jon knew his function in the operation amounted to little more than decoration and a stronger sense of security, but it gave him a greater peace of mind to accompany them. At the conclusion of the briefing, the captain walked up to the door of the building and laid his hand upon the handle.
"Well then, ladies and gentlemen, if there is nothing else, let's go in there and bust some gangsters."
A murmur of agreement rippled through the small group of officers, and the captain pushed the door open and entered the building, his colleagues close behind. Jon decided to take up the rear, fully acknowledging that it was their operation. As Diane walked by him, their eyes met, and she communicated to him without even having to say a word. To his surprise, he saw much of himself reflected in those eyes — the indignation at the Zarate clan for what they almost did to his family, the vague excitement of being part of a history making operation, and the desire to get back to their time together. He felt a grin beginning to spread across his face, but he suppressed it, carefully molding his face into the mask of neutrality that he was so used to, and blinked away his feelings. There were too many people present for him to give anything away, and besides, it would all be over with soon enough. He favored her with a small nod and gestured toward the door. The rest of the officers filed past, oblivious to the small exchange that had just taken place between the superhero and one of their own. In a few minutes, Jon mused as he finally fell into step with the rest of the officers, it would be done and the largest crime syndicate would be history. And then, maybe, he could get back to his date.
CJ made his way through the downtown building, scanning every square inch of it as he went. The designers might have made an effort to shield the exterior of the building with lead to prevent the prying eyes of any superheroes from seeing the interior, but they obviously hadn't counted on one of them actually getting inside the building. He had fully expected to not have his enhanced vision at his disposal in finding Susan's uncle, but he had found the floors and walls of the building to be just as easily x-rayed as any other modern building in the city. He also noted that the roof access was as remarkably lock-free as any other high-rise that he had ever been to in his life. It occurred to him that if some hypothetical criminal wanted to make a real killing, all they would have to do was find a way to access the top of skyscrapers. Fortunately for him, no criminals had thought of that, and the buildings of Metropolis remained accessible from the roof.
Even with the benefit of x-ray vision, it was relatively slow going through the building. For the most part, he could only deal with one or two stories at a time, and it seemed that mobsters weren't keen on keeping hostages in the upper floors. With his luck, the uncle was probably being held in lowest levels of the sub-basement. At least he knew now that this was the right place — the name Zarate was plastered all over just about everything. Jon had once told him the extent of the Zarate family empire, but it seemed to CJ that Jon had sorely underestimated things. Much of the family's dealings were actually legitimate businesses, though judging from some of the random documents that he'd been able to see, business wasn't very good. That could be why they decided that they had to control Superman — they needed to get back into the more profitable but less lawful operations.
After almost an hour, CJ was beginning to get frustrated with his search. He had made it down to the first basement without hardly seeing a soul in the whole building. A very large office on the ground floor held one man, and there were a couple of people working in cubicles on a couple of other floors, but there were no hostages to be seen anywhere. He walked down the hallway, vaguely registering the similarity to every other hallway he'd been through in the building, concentrating most of his efforts on scanning the rooms around him and on the floor below. As he moved along, he began to hear the faint sound of footsteps on the floor above him.
CJ stopped as the steps grew louder and looked up, trying to see if whoever it was would likely be of danger to him. To his great surprise, he saw a group of Metropolis's finest making their way through the main lobby of the building, closely followed by the Crimson Superman. Okay, so maybe Jon DID know what was going on, but…
"Hey, big bro," CJ whispered. Jon tilted his head to the side, but didn't seem to immediately register what he had heard. "Look down," CJ said softly.
After looking around for a second, Jon found CJ. He held up an index finger, his face not showing any signs of surprise or confusion, indicating to CJ that he should wait a second. As soon as he was able to, Jon found an out of the way corner to sneak into.
"What are you doing here?" Jon hissed, the neutral superhero facade gone.
CJ folded his arms across his chest. "I could ask you the same thing," he said, raising his eyebrows.
"I'm busting Zarate. I thought you were going to look after Susan," Jon said, crossing his arms as well.
"Well, I WAS, but then she was visited by a member of the Zarate gang who threatened her and said that they had her uncle. When he left I kinda eavesdropped in on his phone conversation and found out that this guy wasn't really a gangster, he was…"
"An undercover cop, I know," Jon finished for him, dropping his arms. "So why didn't you call me?"
"I DID," CJ said, gesturing toward the ceiling. In the back of his mind, he noted that, were anybody to see him right now, they would probably think he was crazy. Normal people didn't talk and gesture towards the ceiling. But nobody said his family was ever normal. "You never answered my calls."
Jon grimaced and scratched the side of his head, suddenly timid. "I guess I forgot to charge the battery on my phone."
Well, that explained it, CJ thought as he rolled his eyes. "I guess it doesn't matter, though, since you seem to have figured out the little tidbit of information that I would've called you with."
"Being around a police station will do that," Jon replied with a small nod. "But that doesn't explain why you're here. How DID you get here anyhow?"
"I drove," CJ answered as he felt the corners of his mouth begin to tug up.
A floor above him, Jon crossed his arms again and cocked one of his eyebrows.
"Okay, Jenny drove. But it was my car."
He heard Jon's foot began to tap before he actually saw it. CJ could play this game as long as Jon could. Just because Jon was his older brother and flew around with the S on his chest didn't mean he was his father. It wasn't HIS fault that he couldn't take a mild amount of teasing. After a few moments of silence, Jon seemed to suddenly think of something.
"Wait a sec. I've only seen you wear those sunglasses once…" The 'Junior' costume that CJ had worn on his earlier escapade was on but covered at the moment. He was wearing the t-shirt, but wore his leather jacket on top of it, the ball cap stuffed into the inner pocket. He couldn't exactly re-grow the goatee, so he did without that, but he was wearing the sunglasses. CJ unzipped the jacket just enough so that the red and yellow crest of the t-shirt could be seen by his brother, and then zipped it up again.
"I get it," Jon continued, an amused grin spreading across his face. "You heard that Susan's uncle was kidnapped, so you figured that since you couldn't get a hold of me or Dad, and I know you couldn't get a hold of Dad because I couldn't, either; then you needed to do the rescuing. You ended up coming to the one, singularly most suspicious building in all of Metropolis in search of him, which just out of some weird cosmic twist actually happened to be correct, only to run into me."
"Jeez, take a breath," CJ muttered as he nodded in agreement. Jon opened his mouth to make a snide remark in return, but stopped abruptly and turned his head in reaction to a sound in the distance. CJ followed his gaze, and saw that the officers had reached the doors to the room where he had seen the man sitting earlier. With his gaze still directed toward the officers, Jon began to speak again.
"Listen, I have to go help with this. If you find her uncle, and I know he's around here someplace, go ahead and snag him. The police had a plan to retrieve him, but they were only going to do that after they had Zarate secured." Jon looked back at CJ and gave him a quick smile. "I'll see ya around."
With that, Jon jogged down the hallway toward where the police were. A part of CJ wanted to stay and watch the bust, but he decided that it was more important for him to complete the job he had set out to do. With a mental nudge, he forced himself to begin scanning the basement again.
The officers formed a double line behind Fortune and the Crimson Superman at the doors to Joey Zarate's office. Fortune made a gesture with his hand that indicated they were about to begin, and a still came over the group. All the officers in line stood, statue like, with their hands poised over their firearms.
Fortune rapped lightly on the door, setting the plan into action.
"Enter," came the muffled reply from inside. As they prepared to walk right into the lion's den, Jon had a nagging feeling that the operation was going far too smoothly at the moment. It seemed to him that the security around the building was far too sparse for an organization that dealt with crime. Wouldn't they have hidden cameras planted around the building? They had a limited access entrance that Tony was able to get through because of his connection with the family, but no guards could be seen anywhere. Granted, a major crime wave was currently underway across the city, one which would require a great deal of manpower, but wouldn't such a powerful man as Joey Zarate want some sort of protection?
What was the saying he had heard his grandparents say once or twice? Never look a gift horse in the mouth. The world had become so cynical lately that the saying could almost be considered quaint — not only was a gift horse often looked in the mouth, it was generally dissected, placed under a microscope and examined thoroughly. But the fact that they were at the building when nobody else was could be chalked up in part to good police work. Fortune knew intimately who was going to be where and when, and so their good luck most likely wasn't luck at all. He soothed the questioning voices in his mind with that logic, trying to ignore the vague feeling of unease that still managed to remain.
Tony took a deep breath and cracked opened one of the double doors, making sure that the officers would not be visible from within the office.
"Tony, this is a surprise. I take it that you have…finished your assignment, then," Jon heard Zarate say. He activated his x-ray vision and peered inside the room, quickly taking in the opulence of the large office.
Fortune smiled ironically. "Yes, I have."
Zarate clapped his hands and sat up in his chair, his eyes taking on a maniacal gleam that made Jon want to go in and grab him then and there. "Excellent," Zarate said. "I'm very proud of you, son. I would definitely say that great things await you in this organization."
"No, I don't think they do," Fortune replied as he reached behind his back, unlatching his handcuffs from his belt. "You have the right to remain silent."
The officers in the hallway took their cue and began to file into the office, making a horseshoe around Fortune, drawing their weapons as they went. Jon took his position next to Tony, crossing his arms and trying to assume his most menacing stance.
"Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney…"
The acidic smile that crept across Zarate's face would've caused the blood of his rivals to run cold. He glared at Tony, his eyes full of accusation and unsaid promises of revenge. Jon smiled internally, knowing that those threats would never come to be, not after tonight, not after Zarate was punished for what he had done. It was a great sense of relief for him to know that Zarate would no longer be of any danger to the Kent family.
Joey stood up slowly as Tony continued to read him his Miranda rights. His right hand was held in the air, and the left was being brought out from under the desk, when suddenly Jon felt a pain more intense than anything else he had ever felt before. It felt as if a giant hand had seized him and suddenly began to squeeze, displacing his insides and crushing his bones. His field of vision went red and he collapsed onto the floor with an audible groan.
The officers reacted with a collective gasp. As if from afar, he could hear them inquiring as to his well-being. His thoughts began to jumble as he tried to react to the pain that wracked his body. As odd as it was, the only thing he could think of was how embarrassed he should be that he, the city's newest Superhero, was now reduced to a useless mass of pain on the floor of this office. And Diane was there to see it. Diane, who he had tried so hard to impress that he felt at times like a child scrambling for attention. She had been his one great vulnerability, and her presence had always seemed to stir up his emotional uncertainty, even now that she knew his secret. But as vulnerable as he was with his feelings, his physical strength had always been the one thing he had been able to count on. But now that, too, had deserted him, and he wondered distantly how she could ever respect a man with so many flaws. In a vain attempt to rescue at least some of his dignity, he placed one of his hands on the ground and tried to push himself up, but his body wouldn't respond.
Jon could feel his strength leaving him rapidly. He did manage to gather enough from his internal reserves to lift his head up, directing his eyes to focus on Zarate's desk despite the fact that room was spinning around him. What he saw was an eerie green glow illuminating the smile of a madman. Then, to his horror, he saw Zarate finally bring his left hand up, and with a flash of silver, he knew suddenly what Zarate's ultimate plan for protection had been all along.
He told himself to move, but his body wouldn't respond. As the gun was drawn up, he dropped his head and resigned himself to his fate. He closed his eyes and was surprised to see a shadow come over him, separating him from Zarate. A split second later, a shot rang out, and a warm body collapsed on top of him. Relief that he was still alive quickly gave way to sheer horror at the fact that his own failings had probably caused the death of one of the officers. He wanted to cry out, but his body was still consumed with pain. The sound of a great deal of activity permeated the thick haze in his mind, and he tried once again to look up, but he felt himself slipping away. His eyes cracked open one more time, and he could see nothing but the dark blue uniform of the officer who had sacrificed themselves for his safety. And the long, thick strands of dark hair that flowed down her back…
A sob escaped him as he realized what that meant. *I'm so sorry,* he repeated over and over in his mind until he finally succumbed to the pain and anguish and slipped into unconsciousness.
Ed Bantram stared blankly at the walls of the room that had been his cell for the last couple of days. It probably couldn't ever be considered a room, he supposed — closet was a more accurate description. A shelf ran along the wall near the ceiling, and he could imagine that it had held cleaning supplies at some time or another. A simple faucet and floor drain were situated in one corner, amenities that were certainly nice for a man who was only given refreshment on an infrequent basis. His captors had treated him fairly well, he supposed, feeding him twice a day and letting him out to use the bathroom three times a day. But the floor was a hard, cold place to lie on, and the light that came from the low wattage bulb in the ceiling was barely better than having nothing at all.
His days in captivity had been spent at first trying to formulate some sort of escape plan. He knew well enough who his captors were, and he knew why he was there, even if nobody had bothered to tell him. But after several unsuccessful escape attempts, he quickly realized that no amount of scheming could bring about freedom for a worn out old man such as himself. The resignation that came with that revelation quickly changed their focus of his thoughts to the ruin that was his life. He had become a wealthy man, it was true, but at what cost? When he was a young boy, he remembered seeing the shows where a man had sold his soul to the devil to get ahead in life, and he remembered laughing at that man, wondering how he could possibly be so gullible. Yet, he had done the exact same thing, only this time his niece would be the one to pay the price. He frequently prayed to whatever deity would listen for her safety. He no longer cared about who had the blasted manuscript, as long as she was safe.
The days wore on, indistinguishable from one another. It was lonely in his closet all alone, and after a time he had began to see people where he knew there were none. A man, a janitor perhaps, opening the door to the room and pushing in a bucket with a mop, whistling a happy tune as he went about his work. A child playing hide and seek behind large objects that littered the floor of the closet, objects that quickly faded away as he tried to reach out and touch them. He knew it was possible that he could be losing his mind, but he no longer cared. His safety wasn't important, in the end.
Bantram shifted his position and reached over to the faucet, turning it on and cupping his hands underneath it. He leaned over and splashed the water on his face, hoping that it would wash away the crazy visions and increasingly melancholy thoughts. It was then that he heard the click of the locks on the door. He sat up quickly and looked anxiously toward the door, his portal to the outside world, somewhat startled. He had received his two meals for the day already, and normally they would then leave him alone over the long stretch of night. His eyes narrowed as he considered the possibility that this was just another of his hallucinations. The door cracked open, and a man that he had never seen before shoved his head in and smiled. Nobody ever smiled at him, he thought as he resigned himself to the fact that this was yet another fantasy.
With a sigh, he leaned back against the wall and let his imaginary visitor do what he will. It was a great surprise when two strong hands gripped his arm and tugged on him gently, coaxing him to rise. He looked as this man with eyes wide, laying his hand on the man's shoulder and affirming that he was actually there.
"Who…?" he rasped, as the reality of the situation sunk in.
"I'm just a friend. Come on, let's get out of here, Mr. Bantram." The stranger said as he helped him to his feet. This man knew his name! Bantram vowed that as soon as he got back home, this young man would be properly rewarded for his efforts. He wanted to ask him how he knew his name, but the stranger was already exiting the closet. Bantram stiffly followed, making his way as swiftly as he could.
In the hallway were sprawled the bodies of the guards he had become familiar with. Bantram could see their chests rising and falling gently, indicating that their miserable lives had been spared by his rescuer. As he looked up, he could see the stranger stopped in front of him, following his gaze. With a smile the stranger looked back at Bantram and waved his arm down the hallway before starting off again. Bantram hobbled behind, grateful that his rescuer kept the pace slow enough for him to keep up. The two walked in silence, making their way up a flight of stairs and around several corners before reaching what was some sort of main corridor.
After only a few paces down the corridor, the stranger stopped abruptly with a sharp intake of breath. Bantram could see the color draining from his face as he staggered over to the wall and propped himself up against it, his hand clutching his head. With alarm, Bantram could see the man's breathing had become heavier. He moved over to his rescuer and stood next to him, putting a comforting hand on his shoulder. Whoever he was, this man had saved him, and he could do no less than return the gestures of support that he had so recently been the recipient of.
The sound of a gun shot ricocheted down the hallway, and the stranger cringed visibly. Bantram went cold with fear — they were sitting ducks in this hallway. If whoever had fired the gun found them there, his friend wouldn't be able to ward them off, not in the condition he was in. He looked around wildly, waiting for someone, anyone, to make their way down the hallway, but nobody came.
After a few long moments, the stranger's demeanor changed and he abruptly pushed himself away from the wall. Bantram looked at him, and instantly saw that the stranger was now completely over whatever malady he had been experiencing. The pain lines that had etched themselves onto his face were gone, and his color had returned to normal. The man stood tall, his whole being exuding an air of confidence. For a moment Bantram wondered if the incident had even happened at all, if it was just another instance of his mind playing tricks on him. But that idea was quickly pushed aside as the stranger started jogging down the hallway, in the direction of the gunshot sound. As he jogged away, he looked over his shoulder and pointed down the hallway in the direction that they had been walking before he was overcome with pain. "Go that way and don't stop until you reach the doors. The police will be waiting for you outside. Go!"
Confused, Bantram watched the retreating form of his rescuer, trying to decide what to do. He was certainly in no condition for excitement, he knew. With a small nod, he made up his mind and began moving in the direction that the man had pointed out to him, toward freedom, toward Susan. He just hoped that his rescuer had helped her escape the mob as well.
CJ did a cursory check of his powers as he jogged down the hallway toward the sound of the gunshot he had heard earlier. As far as he could tell, they were mostly there, although maybe not as strongly as he would've liked. Pain like he had experienced could only have come from one source. Even though he hadn't been within close proximity to the Kryptonite, he had still hurt so much that it had been hard to see straight. The question of the moment became why exactly any Kryptonite would have been present at all, and as much as it scared him to admit it, he thought he knew the answer. A police raid, the presence of the Crimson Superman, and a crime boss bent on bringing down the first family of crime fighting all added up to a horrific scenario in his mind. He continued down the hallway, tracing the path to the room where he had seen the man earlier, and pulled up short as his x-ray vision allowed him a look inside.
Tony, the man he had seen at Jenny's apartment earlier, stood with a handcuffed Joey Zarate pushed up against the wall. Away from them was a mob of officers congregated around two bodies. One was an officer, and the other… a flash of gaudy red and yellow told CJ that his brother was one of the people on the floor. He started toward the conference room, only to stop himself again.
How would the officers react to his entry into that room? Odds were that they would consider him to be another member of the gang and would try to subdue him. It wasn't as if they could stop him even if they wanted to, but he didn't want to make that kind of a first impression. But not entering the room was not an option — he couldn't just stand in the hall while his brother lay unconscious on the ground. The answer, as much as he hated to admit it, was obvious. With a sigh he tugged down the zipper of his jacket, grabbing the baseball cap from inside and placing it on his head before shrugging the jacket off. From this point on, he would be classified as another Superman, he knew. He had considered the possibility before his last escapade in that outfit, and had made peace with the idea then. But the most fame he had received before was a vague mention of some sort of guardian angel in the next day's papers. Aside from immediate family, only Susan had really seen him and the outfit, and she had not mentioned it to anyone, and even if she had, nobody would've believed her. Being sighted by Susan and being sighted by a group of Metropolis's finest were two very different things, indeed. Now he wouldn't be some shadow, barely imagined leaping from the rooftops. Instead, he would be a legitimate superhero, an object of media frenzy and fanatics such as Susan. But, in the end, if that was the sacrifice he had to make to help his brother, then so be it.
CJ draped his jacket over his arm and slipped into the open door of the room, drawing the immediate attention of all the officers present. Within the matter of seconds he was staring down the barrels of several firearms. He held his hands up in an attempt to show that he meant no harm for them.
"I've come to help. I'm…family," he said, closing his eyes and letting out a rush or air as the last part was spoken.
"How do we know?" asked one of the officers, his finger poised over the trigger of his gun.
"You don't. And, as much as I would like to prove it to you, I'm not sure that I can to your satisfaction. The important thing here is making sure that they're all right," he said as he lowered one of his arms and pointed to the forms on the floor.
The officer looked toward an authoritative looking man, who gave a small nod of his head. Every gun in the room was lowered, much to CJ's relief. Quickly, he leaned over the downed officer and had to suppress a gasp as he saw who it was. He was instantly grateful for the sunglasses he wore, because he knew that his eyes were wide with shock.
"What happened?" he managed to ask as he crouched down next to her. Her pulse was strong and steady, and her breathing did not seem labored. There was no sign of blood anywhere, either, which made him feel much more at ease.
"Zarate had some rock that made Superman collapse. He was going to shoot Superman, but Officer Martinez stepped in front of him and took the bullet," one of the officers answered.
CJ scanned her, feeling slightly dirty for doing so. This was his brother's new girlfriend and he was literally looking at parts of her that no other man had seen before. He immediately noticed the heavy bulletproof vest, and the small circular indentation in it. Scanning deeper, he could see that the bullet hadn't permeated the vest, and that Diane had nothing more serious than a cracked rib. She probably passed out cold when the bullet hit, CJ reasoned with relief. She would be okay.
"A bullet impacted her vest, and she received a cracked rib, nothing more. She should probably go to the hospital, but she'll be fine," CJ said. Some officers responded with skepticism, others with surprise. To prove his point, CJ unbuttoned her shirt and ran his hand over where the bullet had hit. An excited murmur rippled through the gathered officers, and he noticed that their expressions had quickly turned to wonder. So this is what's it's like, he thought to himself as he quickly turned away from them and moved to attend to his brother. People were looking at him like he was some sort of freak of nature. He knew it happened to his brother and father — people like Susan drove the point home very solidly — but he had never actually been on the receiving end of people's awed admirations. As much as he delighted in being a showoff, this was one definite exception.
Behind him, he could hear the crackle of radios, and he knew that soon the office would be filled with even more officers. As he bent over the unconscious for of his brother, he wondered what he would do with him. If he tried to wake him up in the presence of others, there was a possibility that Jon would let something slip that he shouldn't. CJ knew what a jumble Jon's mind had to be — he had found it hard to think clearly himself during his own minimal exposure. His mind made up, CJ leaned over and scooped Jon up, straining ever so slightly under the weight. He stood up easily and made his way out of the room without any resistance from anyone else present. The officers that he managed to see as he left all stared at him, some with their mouths hanging open ever so slightly, most clearly fascinated.
He heard the reinforcements coming as he made his way toward a more remote area of the building. While he was relieved that he had managed to escape them, he grew increasingly alarmed at Jon's condition. His breathing had taken on a raspy quality, and he had started to shiver shortly after CJ had picked him up. Jon hadn't shown any signs of waking up, either. He should probably be in a hospital, or at the very least under the care of Dr. Klein, but there was no way that CJ could get him out of the building as he was with any type of stealth. They would just have to wait it out until the police left, or someone came to get them, or Jon woke up. And none of that would be soon, CJ reasoned as he sought out an office with a couch that he could lay Jon on.
The day, which had been an emotional roller coaster for the whole family, was far from over. CJ just hoped that nothing else out of the ordinary would happen, even if he knew that family history and his own dumb luck told him otherwise.
The first thing that Jon became aware of as he began to regain consciousness was the fact that he was cold. Could you be cold when you were dead?, he wondered before reasoning that if he were warm, then that might be an indication that he wound up somewhere unpleasant — Lord knew he hadn't been a saint his whole life. Sure, donning the super suit and saving lives was a good and noble thing, but he had been guilty of giving people a hard time as a kid, even into college. So cold could be a good sign. But he was also aware of a persistent dull ache throughout his body, one that he suspected would only become worse if he tried to move. In the distance, the sound of somebody talking permeated the haze of consciousness. Forcing himself to focus on it, he quickly became aware of the fact that it was his brother speaking to someone else. But his brother wasn't dead, was he? Maybe he WAS in hell. But the more he listened, the more he doubted that he was, in fact, dead.
"I'm stuck in here for now," CJ said before pausing a moment. "Yeah, I still have full use of my powers but Jon's out cold. When he wakes up, he'll probably feel like he was just put through the wringer. I still have my coat, so he could put it on and escape fairly easily, but he has to wake up first…no, no signs of that happening yet, and I'm getting worried…"
Jon had heard stories about people having near death experiences who told of being able to see and hear everything going on around them as if they were floating above their bodies. Prying open his eyes, he was hit with severe vertigo, and saw nothing but a white ceiling spinning above him. He snapped his eyes closed and took a long, shuddering breath. He was alive! But how…? He remembered walking into the office, and being hit with a severe pain, the flash of a gun, and an officer being shot and collapsing on top of him… Diane! She died to save him! All at once the mental anguish that flooded him was much worse than any physical pain he had felt, even when he had been on the floor of that office. She was gone, and it was his fault. He wanted to cry, but he didn't have the energy. A weak sob escaped his lips, and he willed himself to escape back into the dark unconsciousness from which he had just come. He couldn't imagine having found her, the one person who he was convinced was the love of his life, only to lose her once again at the hands of Zarate.
All at once he felt a hand touch his forehead, and he was aware that the room had become silent. "Jon?" he heard CJ ask, his voice coming from somewhere above. Jon didn't dare open his eyes, remembering the disorientation that had occurred during his earlier attempt.
"Dead…she's dead," he rasped in a voice that didn't sound like his own. The noise that escaped his lips sounded alien, tortured, much like he felt at the moment.
After the rustle of clothing, he felt something being draped over him. "No, she was wearing a bulletproof vest." The voice was down to his level, right beside him.
"My fault…" Whatever it was that CJ had said didn't matter, not anymore. All he desired now was the sweet embrace of nothingness to come so that he could be with her again, at least in his dreams.
"She's not dead," CJ persisted calmly.
The words of woe that Jon was about the utter died before he could say them. Did he say that… Could it be possible? He had felt her collapse on top of him, but he supposed that he had never felt the stickiness of blood that would've come with a gunshot, even through the pain he had been in. And she wouldn't have gone on that raid without a bulletproof vest, he was sure. The relief that washed over him felt like a breath of fresh air. All at once, the chill seemed to leave him and he felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from his chest, allowing him to breathe normally again.
Without warning, his eyes popped open again, and his brother's face came into focus beside him. The vertigo was still present, but as strongly as a few moments earlier. "She's not?"
CJ smiled. "No, she's not. In fact, they're taking her to the hospital right now." He glanced toward the wall and a look of amusement came onto his face. "You should hear the words coming out of her mouth. Your girl has a bit of a nasty streak in her."
Jon tried to push himself up to look at what CJ was seeing, but his movements were slow and shaky, and despite his newfound energy, he couldn't gather enough strength to sit up. When CJ saw him struggling to sit, he gently put a hand on his chest and shook his head.
"Whoa, not so fast. Let's take this nice and easy. How are you feeling?"
Taking a deep breath, Jon tried to discreetly move his arms and legs, and felt stiffness and pain with every move. Focusing on the ceiling, he tried to see through it, but found that to be a lost cause. Turning his head to address his brother more directly, he felt it begin to throb and had to close his eyes for a moment to regain his composure.
"I feel like I went on a bender and then got run over by a car," he replied, his voice still raspy, but regaining some of its composure.
CJ let out a quick snort of air and gave a crooked smile before sitting back on his haunches next to the sofa. "Can you be a little more specific?"
Jon raised his eyebrows minimally, surprised that that particular gesture didn't elicit the pain that he had thought it would. "Well, I hurt all over. I'm tired and dizzy and weak."
"Okay, that's a little better, I guess. Just so you know, here's the situation: I carried you out of Zarate's office, unconscious, and brought you here. This building is surrounded by cops and the press, all of whom would like nothing better to see you incapacitated and to get a picture of yours truly in this get-up."
Jon had forgotten what CJ was wearing, but he quickly remembered as he noticed that CJ had on the same thing that he had when he rescued their mother and busted that professor on campus a few months earlier. It took a second, but as what CJ said began to process, Jon became aware of the extent that CJ had gone to for him. He had walked into a room full of police, probably done a thing or two to make them believe that he was truly "super", and then carried him off. Those cops now knew for sure that there was another of the Superman clan out there, and as much as he knew that cops could be trusted to keep a secret, such things tended to get around. And CJ would've never exposed himself to them, except his brother was lying on the floor, at their mercy. Jon would've done the same if their positions had been reversed, he was certain. He wanted to thank him, but CJ had continued before he even got the chance.
"Jenny's out there with the car waiting for me…or us. But there are only two ways out: off the roof or out the door. The roof is too risky with you in as bad shape as you are right now, so we have to get you out the door somehow. So I need you to try and gather some of your energy together and help me out, here. We're in no big hurry now, but we don't want to have to spend all night in here, either."
Jon nodded weakly, trying to analyze the situation for himself. The thought of getting up and walking out of the building made him feel downright queasy, but he supposed if it had to be done, then he could do it. And CJ was right — he did not want to confront the media as he was at the moment — as awful as he felt, he was sure that he looked even worse. But they had plenty of time, and he wanted to take it nice and slow.
CJ tended to him, getting him water, helping him to sit upright, and, later, helping him to stand. They talked about mundane things at first, but eventually Jon confided in his brother about his feelings toward Diane and the date they had been on before being interrupted. Thinking about the risk that Diane had taken upon herself to save him only made him love her more than before. He wanted nothing more than to rush to her side at the hospital and tell her as much, but he knew that the situation at the moment wouldn't allow for it. As he finally stood on shaky legs, leaning heavily on his brother, he knew that any rendezvous between them would have to be in private.
CJ guided him to the small bathroom of the office, his leather jacket draped over Jon's shoulders, providing him warmth. They both had to alter their appearance somewhat to give themselves some measure of anonymity in leaving the office. It had been agreed from the beginning that Jon should wear the jacket — it would cover his red spandex top, the signature part of his outfit, completely and would keep the chill away from him. CJ had long dispensed with the hat and sunglasses, and had found a spare dress shirt in the closet to put on over his t-shirt.
As Jon propped himself against the sink, he got a good look at his reflection for the first time, and was shocked at how pale he appeared. Dark bags had formed under his eyes, contrasting drastically with the pasty white color that his complexion had turned. He leaned over and splashed some water on his face, running his fingers through his hair and sculpting it into a style that he generally wore when not in uniform. After slipping on the jacket, which was a little tight on him, he looked at himself again and was satisfied that nobody would recognize him unless they were really looking closely. He still didn't look entirely well, nor did he feel particularly well, but he didn't look like Superman, and that's what counted.
He craned his neck to get a glimpse at CJ, and had to smile at what he saw. He could probably count on one hand the number of times that he had seen his brother truly dressed up, and when he did, CJ always seemed to be highly uncomfortable with it. Even though Jon would not consider a nice, silk button down shirt tucked into a pair of jeans "dressed up," necessarily, his brother apparently did, judging from the slight cringe on his face.
"Who exactly are you trying to impress?" Jon asked, taking the opportunity to rib CJ and making it known that his sense of humor had survived his harrowing experience in intact.
"Don't get cheeky with me, Don Juan. I don't HAVE to be your crutch on the way out of here."
The smile faded from Jon's face as he remembered the words of thanks that he had never gotten around to saying. "I know you don't, and I want to thank you for everything. It couldn't have been easy for you to give yourself away in front of all those people…"
CJ held up his hand to silence Jon, his expression turning painfully serious. "Listen, I appreciate your…appreciation, but we both know that I couldn't have left you there, no matter how many people were in that room." CJ offered a pained smile. "My time was coming anyway. It won't matter much, in the end — I don't anticipate an encore performance, so long as you and Dad keep away from green glowing rocks." He smiled widely before amending his statement. "Then again, I said that last time was going to be it, too."
Jon arched his eyebrows and shook his head. "Well, there will be no more encounters with Kryptonite if I have anything to say about it, and I'm sure Dad will tell you the same. And as for that outfit," he held up his finger and traced an S on his chest, smirking. "I thought I heard somewhere that your fiancee wouldn't mind seeing that outfit again."
The dirty look CJ cast his way made Jon laugh slightly, and the reddish hue in his cheeks told him that he was onto something. He didn't know whether or not to find that disturbing, but he decided quickly that it wasn't something that he particularly wanted to dwell on. Just the thought of his brother having a sex life made him want to shudder, and it quickly wiped the grin off his face. He waved his hand toward the door and tried to push away from the sink. "How about we get out of here?"
CJ nodded vehemently and scrambled over to Jon, offering his arm for his to hold onto. They made their way slowly though the hallways of the building in silence. At first, it took all of Jon's concentration to will his legs not to give out, but the further he went, the more his strength seemed to come back to him. By the time they made it to the door that led outside the building, he was no longer relying on CJ to keep himself upright. Exiting the building into an alley and the cool night breeze that blew through it felt like the nearest thing to heaven that Jon could imagine. He looked up at the sky and felt his spirit recharged, as if his near death experience and the realization that it was behind him now had given him a new lease on life. He wanted so badly to jump up into the night sky and touch those clouds, to zip over to the hospital and offer words of thanks to Diane, and shout to the world how much he loved her on the flight over. But his thoughts, as nice as they were, were rudely interrupted by CJ's voice in his ear.
"Good evening, officer," CJ said loudly as they emerged out of the alley to the front of the building. A lone officer guarded the main entrance, and he looked at them suspiciously as they walked past. Jon strained to see his face, wondering if he was one of those inside the room when the incident had happened, but he just couldn't focus in that far. His special vision was one of the powers he had taken for granted, using it commonly without even knowing that he was. Having it taken away from him made him feel somewhat handicapped. Sighing, he gave up trying to use his now absent powers and stuck his hand up in the air, plastering a phony smile on his face.
"Nice night isn't it, officer?" Jon asked cheerily, his voice conversational. The officer merely nodded at them and watched as they walked past, en route to Jenny and the car, which sat a block away.
"That was close," CJ said through the side of his phony smile as they moved down the block, their pace picking up. As they approached the car, Jon held out his hand and placed it on CJ's arm, stopping him.
"Can we go to the hospital first? I want to see her."
CJ looked at the car a moment before looking Jon over. "You just can't go over there like this. The officers that were in that room tonight will be the ones watching over her at the hospital. They will see you, and no doubt recognize you. Believe me, you still look like death warmed over, and I guarantee you, you won't get a moment's peace, not alone, and certainly not with her." He stopped and gave an understanding smile. "But I can send Jenny over there, I suppose. Maybe she could bring her over to your place when she gets out…"
Jon smiled in relief and nodded, satisfied with that compromise. He patted CJ's arm with the hand that still rested on his arm and started toward the car again. As long as he could see her again, he was happy. She was alive. They were both alive. And he was bound and determined to make the most of his second chance at life.
Jenny glanced at the clock in CJ's car and saw that it was well after midnight. Being the significant other of a member of the Kent family was a job in and of itself, offering odd hours and a lot of stressful nights, but she had known that from the night that she had gone on her first date with CJ. And she honestly didn't mind looking after them — they were her family now, too, and there wasn't anything she wouldn't do for any one of them.
As she pulled the car up to the hospital, Jenny supposed that this visit to see Diane was the perfect opportunity for the two of them to talk. She really hadn't had any time alone with Diane since she had found out the big secret, and she wanted to know what Diane thought of everything. It was a lot to take in all at once, the whole Superhero thing and everything it entailed. It had only been a day since Diane had figured it out, but that day had been very full, both action-wise and emotionally. Jenny had been told that Diane and Jon were on a date when they called — now THAT was interesting. And as much as she told herself that it was none of her business, Jenny couldn't help but wonder what had happened on that date. What did they talk about? Where did he take her? She wanted so badly for things to work out between them, and to that end, she would offer all the support and encouragement to Diane that she possibly could.
After entering the hospital lobby and getting Diane's room number from the nurse manning the front desk, Jenny made her way along the sterile corridors, wondering exactly how she should broach such a sensitive subject. How did one ask somebody they barely knew to divulge information about every detail about their love life? If anything, she figured, she could just mention the fact that she had been in a very similar situation herself. The modest diamond that rested on the ring finder of her left hand attested to the fact that she had at least a little success in the area, too.
She found the right room and knocked on the open door, leaning through the doorway ever so slightly as she did. "Diane?"
Diane was lying in a large hospital bed in the middle of the single room, propped up and watching the television. "Yes?" she said absently, bringing up the TV remote and rapidly flipping through the stations as if looking for something, not bothering to glance toward the door. The distance between the two of them was large enough that it was hard for Jenny to read Diane's expression, but she could easily tell that something wasn't right.
"It's Jenny Sears," she said softly, hoping to sound comforting.
At the mention of the name, Diane's head snapped around and she looked at Jenny, her eyes frantic. "Oh, thank God! You came!" Diane exclaimed as she laid the remote down on the table next to the bed and sat up. She grimaced as she frantically swung around and dangled her legs over the edge of the bed.
Jenny forgot her earlier thoughts and rushed into the room. "What's wrong?" she asked as she laid a firm hand on Diane's shoulder, trying to stop her progress. Diane was obviously distressed, and the last thing she needed was to hurt herself further.
"How is he? Please tell me how he is, I don't care if it's good news or bad," Diane said rapidly, her eyes filled with anguish. Jenny wondered at first what she was talking about, but then it dawned on her that, as far as the Metropolis Police Department was concerned, the Crimson Superman was incapacitated. The last any of them had seen, according to what CJ had told her, was "Junior" carrying Jon off toward points unknown, and that was it. And poor Diane, she hadn't even seen that. None of them knew whether he was alive or dead.
"I've been watching every news station I could, looking for any information about him at all, but he hasn't been mentioned once." Diane grabbed onto Jenny's arm, the anticipation in her eyes heartbreaking. "I need to know. Is he…dead?" The last word was so soft that Jenny could barely hear it, but the expression on Diane's face chased away any doubt as to what exactly had been said.
Jenny shook her head dumbly, chastising herself for not even considering the fact that Diane didn't know about Jon's heath. She had just assumed…well, she didn't know what she had assumed. Maybe she thought there had been some sort of psychic connection between Jon and Diane or something. She swore that there was between CJ and herself — she could always tell if something was wrong with him and vice versa. And here she had been wondering about the details of their date, secretly hoping that it would tell her something about the progress of their relationship. The expression on Diane's face told her everything she could ever possibly hope to know, and she was gratified in a way.
A long sigh of relief escaped Diane as she closed her eyes and slumped down, deflated. The hand that had clutched Jenny's arm moved to cover her eyes, and, after a second, Jenny could hear her sobbing softly. Gently, Jenny sat down on the bed next to her and pulled her into an embrace, which was eagerly returned. Jenny found her eyes misting up a little as Diane clung to her, letting out all the tension and worry that had been building up since she had regained consciousness. As her crying gradually subsided, Diane slowly pulled away, sniffing heavily.
"I was so afraid," Diane said softly as she scooted away from the edge of the bed to lie down again, clutching at her injured chest as she did so.
"I'm so sorry. I didn't realize that nobody told you," Jenny said, finding Diane's eyes with her own. After a moment she dropped her gaze and stared at her hands, not able to take looking at Diane's tear streaked face anymore. "He's a little worse for the wear, but he'll survive. You saved his life, and I feel like a total heel for not coming here and telling you sooner."
"As long as he's okay, that all I care about," Diane said through her sniffles, flashing Jenny a genuine smile.
"Actually, he wanted to come over here and tell you himself, but Clark convinced him not to."
"He was going to come over?" Diane asked, her expression becoming distressed once again.
Jenny nodded, waiting for her to break down again, but was surprised when a broad smile spread across Diane's face instead.
"That's so sweet, I mean, considering what he went through," Diane said, wiping a rogue tear off her cheek.
Jenny watched in mute fascination as Diane stared past her, her emotions bared plainly on her face for all to see. It was so odd that yesterday she had seemed so coolly professional, careful not to let anyone catch so much as a glimpse of her true feelings. It was as if something in her had broken through whatever barrier it was that Diane had erected against the outside world.
"You really love him, don't you?" Jenny asked softly, bringing Diane's attention back to her. Diane's only reaction was a shy grin and a nod of her head.
"I don't know if I could've done what you did tonight, had I been in your place. Knowing that there are bullets out there, ones routinely used by the mob, that could easily puncture one of those bulletproof vests… You very easily could've been killed yourself. That takes courage."
Diane shrugged her shoulders and looked away. "I guess I never thought of that," she said, her voice far away. "All I could think of was that I couldn't let Zarate shoot him. It was just a split second decision, but it was the right thing to do."
In that moment, Jenny felt as if she was somehow transferred back to an instant in time from her childhood. She remembered asking her mother one night what the meaning of love was. "Loving somebody means caring more about their safety than you do your own," he mother had said with a smile. It was something that Jenny would always remember, especially through high school and college as she sought to find her mythical knight in shining armor. She was beginning to think her mother's pronouncement was just a load of baloney, concocted to soothe a young child in a moment of vulnerability and nothing more, until she met CJ. It was then that she knew it was completely true. To feel that way about somebody, and to have them feel the same way back, was truly the mark of a relationship that was meant to be. And, looking at Diane now, she knew that this one was meant to be. With a smile and a nod, she finally, mentally, gave her ultimate approval to their relationship.
"Of course, if he makes me go through this again, I'll kill him myself," Diane said, jarring Jenny out of her thoughts. They both started to laugh, and the laughter built until they were both rolled over on their sides, gasping for air. The comment wasn't overly funny, Jenny knew, but it was just so out of place, and they both needed that release. After they regained their composure, Jenny made arrangements with Diane to pick her up the next morning. Then they found themselves chatting well into the early morning hours, each suddenly finding that they had more in common than they had ever dreamed.
CJ stretched and mentally tried to shrug off the last vestiges of sleep. The sun shone brightly in the window, sending its bright rays over him as he lay on the couch in Jon's apartment. He turned to look at the clock on the VCR, and found that it was later than he originally thought. Rare was the day that he slept in much past nine, at least when he was sleeping alone, but the previous night hadn't been ordinary, to say the least.
After arriving at Jon's, CJ had tried to convince his brother to go to bed, but Jon would have none of it. While CJ turned on the TV to try and catch the latest news of the Zarate bust, Jon wrote up an article about it for the morning edition of the Planet. As much as Jon had been through physically, he was still sharp mentally, and he was certainly not going to let anyone else write the story that would be the capstone to the series that he had been writing on the Zarates. CJ could tell that Jon still wasn't happy with the situation — he hadn't been able to get an interview as himself with any of the police officers that had been on the scene, and because of that, he couldn't write with the depth of detail that he would've liked. Future articles were sure to come, but until that time, Jon had to make due with what he had.
The television news accounts of happenings throughout the city were somewhat vague, given the size of the operation. It was fairly obvious that the police were keeping the press at arm's length until they were able to complete their operation. But even with the lack of detail, it was plain to see that the original Superman had made an appearance. His presence had been observed at points throughout the city, assisting with the operation and helping in whatever way he could. At least they didn't need to wonder if their dad had gotten all of the phone messages that he and Jon had left, CJ thought. It was only a matter of time before Clark made his way over to visit them, a prospect that CJ hadn't particularly been looking forward to. CJ knew that his messages to his father had more or less stuck to the possibility of criminal activity in town, and even then they had been pretty vague. He didn't know what Jon had told him, but CJ figured it was pretty similar. There had been no mentions of the break-in at the house, of the fact that there was now one more person in the city that knew their secret. That was the type of thing that had to be brought up in person, and CJ knew that it was his turn to do it.
Jon had finished writing his article in good time and finally headed for bed. CJ couldn't convince himself to go to sleep, and he ended up watching the news, waiting for reports to come in that the police operation was finally over, but hearing none. As the time grew later and the eastern sky began to grow brighter, his eyelids grew leaden and he slipped off to sleep.
It was a good thing that he didn't need as much sleep as a normal person, he mused as he rose off the couch. Even after the meager few hours he had gotten, he felt surprisingly refreshed. But how he felt was not the important issue at the moment, he thought as he turned toward Jon's room, activating his vision. His patient seemed to be doing well. Jon lay peacefully in his bed, his breathing steady and even. Satisfied, CJ smiled and made his way toward the front door of the apartment to retrieve the morning paper. It would be interesting to see what the final take on the night had been in the press. Would news of his appearance get out? Would that be front page news? He feared as much, but thought that it was more likely that the fall of a major crime syndicate would be slightly bigger news. Lucky for him.
He opened the door and picked up the paper, immediately stripping the rubber band off it and unfolding it. With the swing of his foot, he kicked the door closed and began to walk back to the couch, reading the headlines as he walked. Jon's article had made the front page, no big surprise there. So had one from Clark. No wonder he hadn't shown up the previous night — he had other things to do, such as writing up an article for the paper. And it was entirely possible that he had done a quick fly-by to ensure their safety sometime during the night. Lord knows he had done that plenty of times throughout the years, especially when CJ and Jon had been sharing an apartment over at the university. He had probably figured that neither of them had noticed him, but CJ had on more than one occasion. It was so amazing how in tune he was to his father's presence sometimes — it was downright eerie. In fact, if he didn't know any better, he could swear that he could feel him around somewhere even now…
CJ furrowed his brow and looked through the outer walls, scanning the outside sky. Sure enough, his father hovered in the air high above the building, looking down at him. CJ held up one of his hands in greeting, then ran it through his hair trying to tame his bed-head, while pointing to the door with the newspaper. That was all the invitation that Clark needed. CJ focused his attention back to the apartment, sauntered back to the door and opened it, revealing his father standing in the hallway.
"So, Dad, what are you doing hanging around here this morning?" CJ asked with a teasing smile as he made his way back to his makeshift bed to straighten it up.
The pun was not lost on Clark, as he let out a small chuckle. "I just wanted to see how you two were holding up after last night. I heard about what happened."
CJ sat down on the couch and looked up as his father, the smile quickly fading from his face. "From who?"
Clark shrugged. "I overheard it at the police station. The possible death of one of the supermen is extremely newsworthy, so much so that it seemed to have made the rounds at the station before Zarate had even arrived there. It's a good thing that the police weren't talking to the press, or the city might be going crazy by now."
CJ glanced at Jon's bedroom before turning back to Clark. "I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't worried last night. I felt the effect of that stuff, and there were several rooms between it and me. I can only imagine what Jon must've gone through… Luckily he's fine now, though. Mostly."
Clark walked over to the couch and sat down next to CJ. "Believe me, you don't want to know what it's like to experience the full brunt of Kryptonite poisoning," he said with a wry smile. "I had hoped that you kids wouldn't be as vulnerable to Kryptonite as myself… I'm just glad that you were there to get him out of that."
"You heard about that too, huh?" CJ slouched further into the couch, wondering what exactly had been said about him.
The smile on Clark's face turned genuine as he began to talk. "The police didn't quite know what to make of you, from what I could tell. I guess time will tell what they release to the media about your involvement, if anything at all, but in either case, I'm glad you did what you did. I know what you were risking."
CJ nodded mutely. What was done was done, he supposed, and he knew he had been risking a lot, but he was glad to hear that the police didn't immediately plan revealing his existence. The more he thought about it, the more convinced he became that what transpired in that room would never be told to the outside world. Telling the world about him wouldn't do any good really, and without any pictures or videotape, he would remain just a memory locked in the minds of a few officers. So in the end, maybe he hadn't taken as much upon himself as he had assumed.
His thoughts began to drift back to the reason that he had been on the scene in the first place. In was no use delaying the inevitable, he thought as he broached the subject of Susan, and what had transpired with her. A cloud came over Clark's face as CJ told his tale, and he could tell that many thoughts were swirling around inside his head. CJ knew his dad had been feeling a little uptight about the number of people that had been let in on the secret lately, not that CJ blamed him. After a few moments of silence, Clark cocked his head and looked at CJ.
"I want you and Jon and Jenny and Diane to come over for supper tonight, and bring Susan. I think it's time we welcomed her to the family properly," Clark said matter-of-factly. As soon as the words left his mouth, he rose. "I'm going to go check on Jon before taking off," he said and walked away.
CJ felt like his jaw was lying on the floor. He stared at his father's retreating form at a loss for words. He hadn't really known what to expect from his dad, but had figured that the best solution would be to try to placate Susan whenever possible, to be friendly to her, and nothing else. Of course, he knew his father was the compassionate type, but never in a million years had he expected him to welcome Susan into their family with open arms. He was about to call out after Clark when he heard a knock on the front door. Abandoning his question for the time being, he made his way to the door, looking to see who it was on the way. Immediately a smile spread across his face as he saw who was standing on the other side.
Jenny and Diane looked very happy, if not a little tired, as CJ waved them into the apartment. He snagged Jenny as she walked by, drawing her into an embrace and placing a loud, wet kiss on her lips, smothering her giggles. Diane didn't seem to notice them as she looked on, her eyes sweeping the apartment. CJ figured that he knew what she was looking for, namely his brother, and that she probably deserved a little time alone with him.
"I SUPPOSE I should go get Jon, huh?" CJ asked, before impulsively trailing some sloppy kisses down Jenny's neck, causing her to start laughing harder. Diane finally brought her attention to them, giving them a half smile and nodding enthusiastically. CJ finally let go of Jenny and started toward the bedroom. Before he could reach the door, though, he saw that both Jon and Clark were standing in the doorway, talking to each other in low tones.
CJ cleared his throat, drawing their attention to him. With a quick head movement, he indicated their guests, and he saw Jon stop cold. Whatever he had been saying died on his lips, and his face turned into an unreadable mask as his gaze found Diane. The two of them just stared blankly at each other for a few long moments, until they both started moving toward each other, slowly at first, and then with increasing speed. CJ couldn't help but watch, silently mesmerized by the scene that was playing out in front of him.
Jon and Diane opened their arms and came together, clinging tightly to each other as soon as they made contact. CJ could see his brother close his eyes and lay his head against Diane's, content to stand with her, probably grateful beyond words that she was there and she was okay. Diane behaved in much the same way, taking a shuddering breath as she tightened her arms against him.
CJ looked between Jenny and his father, both of which seemed to be equally captivated. The scene was touching, really, and Jon couldn't help but wonder how their relationship had come so far in such a short period of time. It was truly amazing to see two people going from openly hating each other, to clinging to each other for dear life in the span of just over a day. Maybe it took a brush with death for both of them to appreciate what they had.
CJ felt a hand on his arm, and looked up to see his dad in front of him, motioning toward the door. CJ hadn't showered or shaved or even brushed his teeth yet that morning, but that could wait. Jon and Diane needed their privacy. As silently as they could, CJ and Clark made their way to the door, taking Jenny with them as they went. The last thing that CJ saw before leaving Jon's apartment was Diane tipping her head up, and Jon capturing her lips in a deep, emotional kiss — CJ could practically see fireworks going off around them. The romantic in him wanted to jump up and down, but he settled for a sappy smile as he reached for the hand of his own special lady.
"Dad?" CJ asked as the three of them made their way side by side down the corridor and out of the building.
"Jon's got it bad, doesn't he?"
Clarks face twisted into a comical expression as he looked at CJ. Okay, so he should be the last one to talk, but it was a legitimate question, wasn't it? CJ turned to look at Jenny, and was surprised to see her nose wrinkled up and her eyebrows raised. They both seemed to be asking him if he seriously thought otherwise. Clark Kent, Jr., master of the obvious, had struck once again, and he couldn't help but admit that they were right. Looking back and forth between them quickly, he felt a smile spreading across his face.
"Yeah," the three of them said in unison, causing them to all start laughing at once. From out of near tragedy came love and laughter, and, as was always the case when the family shared some good-natured teasing, all was right with the world.
Susan stood meekly behind CJ and Jenny as they rang the doorbell to the house, holding a small package under her arm. The woman who answered the door was someone that Susan had never met, but whose picture she had seen many times in the Daily Planet. Lois Lane was even more beautiful in person, her appearance very young for someone her age. She also bore a very strong resemblance to her youngest son, or, more correctly, her youngest son bore a strong resemblance to her, more so than to anyone else in his family. He shared her lighter coloring and many of her facial features, including her smile.
Lois embraced CJ and Jenny in turn, seemingly very pleased to see them. Only after letting them go did she seem to take note of Susan's presence. Lois's expression flashed briefly before finally welcoming Susan in a friendly tone. As they entered the house, Susan fell a step behind, noiselessly sitting on the couch as her companions went to join Jon and Diane and a beautiful teenage girl who could only be the youngest child of the Kent clan. She felt invisible as she watched them talk with each other, laughing and teasing, acting like the close-knit family that she knew them to be. Lois left them all to their own devices, heading toward the kitchen, her husband, and the wonderful smell of a home cooked meal.
The atmosphere in the living room between the children and their significant others cast a trance on Susan. She had seen similar scenes played out on TV and in movies, but she had always thought that they were very much fictional. For her family, gathering was never joyous, and meetings such as there were often interrupted by violence or alcohol or the police. But things here were so different, so foreign to her. She could tell by the expressions on their faces and the gleam in their eyes that they all genuinely cared for each other. She would've given anything to be the recipient of even half the affection they shared. The elder Kents probably loved them deeply, and they probably had done their best to make sure that they grew up to be the best people they could be — loving, fair, and compassionate.
It occurred to her that as strong as the people in this family were physically, it paled in comparison to the strength of their personal relationships. The horrible things they no doubt saw, the death and destruction day in and day out, were all made bearable because there were people who cared about them waiting at home, giving them the strength to go out there and face it all again. In that respect, the strength of their family was very much the gain of society. That revelation gave the human face of the hero even more definition. A smile spread across Susan's face as she allowed herself to embrace the truth once and for all, shattering all her preconceived notions and her childish hopes and dreams.
She sunk further into the couch, content to watch now that her thoughts were straightened out. Pleasant realities swirled around in her head, demanding enough of her attention that she didn't notice Clark Kent as he entered the living room from the kitchen and approached her. Only when he sat down on the couch did he manage to jar her from her reverie. Her head snapped around and, upon finding that she was staring into the face of the Man of Steel, she began to blush furiously. It was hard to forget their last meeting, and she couldn't help but feel embarrassed for deceiving him the way she had. But if he felt any ambivalence toward her, he didn't show it.
"Hi Susan, I'm Clark," he said gently, his voice as friendly and cheerful as his smile. He had such a wonderful smile, she thought as she tried to remember if any of the pictures of Superman that she owned had showed it, but she didn't think they had. His alter-ego was stoic and serious to the end, but, in fitting with her new revelation, that didn't seem to define him at all.
"Hi," she said meekly, aware that her cheeks were feeling somewhat warm. It was only a day ago that she had still had a crush on him, and those feelings, as irrelevant as they were now, just didn't seem to want to go away. Especially not when faced with such a devastating smile.
"I'm glad you could come," he said in the same voice. Susan began to feel slightly giddy again, if only because she never thought that she would hear those words come out of his mouth.
"You are?" she asked, trying to keep her voice even.
He flashed a comforting smile again, and she felt a warm, soothing feeling course through her body. "Yes, I am. I'm glad you're here because we need to talk."
The look in his eyes was a knowing one. Susan dropped her head and felt her giddiness falter somewhat as she realized what the talk was going to be about. She would've been a fool to think that he would just let go of the fact that she had tracked down his identity. Of course he was going to talk to her about it, probably chastise her for it. The friendliness, the comforting expression, it was all just a ruse meant to butter her up before dropping the hammer. He had spent years carefully covering his true self, why would tonight be any different? Never again would she be allowed inside this family's confidence. Never again would they even speak to her.
Resigning herself to her awful fate, she looked up into his face once again, feeling like a lamb being led to the slaughter. He still held the same appearance of gentleness and concern, but she wasn't fooled. "Let's go someplace more private, okay? Come on," he said, standing up. She followed, trying to keep her head held high despite everything.
The room that he led her to was just off the front entryway, separated from the hall by a set of French doors. It was obviously a den, decorated rather eclectically with artifacts from cultures around the world, awards from various reporting agencies, and other things of value. Clark sat down in a well-used desk chair and waved his hand in the direction of a smaller chair to the side of the desk. "Please, have a seat."
Susan did as instructed, waiting for him to drop the facade and get down to the stern, disciplinary manner that she knew lurked underneath. But Clark merely leaned back in his chair and regarded her thoughtfully. After a moment, he started to talk, his voice soft.
"I was 18 when I first started flying," he said, his eyes distant as he began his tale. "I was doing chores one weekend on my parents farm and started daydreaming, about what I don't even know anymore. In any case, when I came to my senses, I found that I was floating several feet off the ground, and it scared the hell out of me."
Susan nodded mutely, fascinated. Never had she expected him to relate his life's story to her. The details of Superman's life had always interested her, but she had always just assumed that he had always had all of his powers. Like so many things in the last day, that particular truism had been shot out the window, too.
"Of course, that was just the last of a whole lot of very strange things that happened to me during my adolescence. At first, I thought that if I just ignored them, they would go away, and I could be like everyone else. I didn't want to be different, I didn't want to be special." His expression grew pained as he spoke about what could only have been very traumatic times for him. "I was afraid that if anyone found about them, they would take me away from my home and my family and take me to a lab somewhere. I was also afraid for others, fearing that I would end up hurting someone if I didn't keep myself under complete control at all times."
Clark took a deep breath and gave a wry smile. "The flying, though, that was different than everything else. As scared as I was about what was happening to me, it didn't take me very long to see the possibilities that that particular special ability held. Many a night would pass with me taking to the sky, exploring the earth from several thousand feet above it…there's nothing like that in the whole world. But in the back of my mind I still held all those old fears. Every time I used one of my powers, I expected alarms to go off or men with guns to start hunting me down."
Clark leaned forward and placed his elbows on his knees, bringing his eyes back to Susan. "I lived many years of my life like that, afraid. I would move from place to place, running away from myself. In every one of the places I went, I would face crime and violence, and there came a point where I couldn't help but do what I could to make things better, and in the process do something that a normal man would have no business doing. Rumors would start and people would get suspicious, and I would leave, move on to somewhere else and start again. It's a lonely life, running all the time. I didn't have any friends, really, except my parents. That's no way for a person to live, but I was content, just because I thought that was the way that it had to be because of what I was.
"Then came Metropolis. I knew right away that there was something special about this city. I met Lois the very day I came in to town, and it was because of her that I ultimately decided to do whatever I could to make it so that I could stay here without living in fear. She was the one that planted the seed in my mind that created Superman. He would be a way for me to do what I could for people while still having a life of my own. I knew that Superman would be regarded strangely — a man who could fly, who had almost unlimited strength and speed would be a curiosity to be sure, but I never imagined the publicity, the flood of people who wanted a piece of him. I never wanted all that exposure, I just wanted to help. The creation of Superman helped to quell many of my long-held fears, but his popularity created a whole new set."
His expression turned serious. "Being someone who rallies against the evils of society has made Superman a target. Because of that, I have always worried about the safety of those who were closest to me — my parents, Lois, my children. Over the years I have guarded my secret closely, perhaps too closely. My boys found it out on their own, and it hurt them that I hadn't told them myself, but I just didn't want them to know if they didn't have to. See, possessing the secret of Superman's identity is a dangerous thing. It's a secret that some people would give anything to know for themselves, and those who know become as much of a target as Superman himself."
Susan knew that the family would be in danger if someone who knew the secret told, but she had never figured that there would be danger just in knowing. The more she thought about it, though, the more sense it made. If anything, her encounter with the Zarate mob had shown her just what lengths Superman's enemies would go to, and it was a truly scary thought.
"I just want to let you know that my sons and I will make sure that no harm comes to you. We consider you part of the family now, for better or worse. Just, make sure you don't get in league with any more gangsters, okay?" He gave her a teasing smile, and Susan felt her eyes mist up.
She had expected anger and condemnation, but what she received was a gift in and of itself. Clark had given her his protection, the confidence of the deeper details of his secret, and the warm embrace of their loving family. She knew she was not worthy of such an honor, but now that she had received it, she would need to do her best to make sure that she lived up to it. The compassion and understanding of the man sitting in front of her was so much more than she had ever hoped for. All of a sudden, the man who was Superman was her hero all over again, in a way so much different than he had been before. Now he wasn't just someone to be looked up to because of his abilities, he was someone who should be looked up to because of his humanity.
"I can't tell you how grateful I am," she said in a shaky voice before she had to stop to regain control of her emotions. As a single tear rolled down her cheek and dropped onto her hand, she became aware that she was still clutching the package that she had entered the house with. With a start she looked down at it, and then back up at Clark, who still regarded her with understanding.
"This is yours," she said as she held the package out toward him. His expression morphed to one of mild surprise as he took the rectangular package from her. While he probably could've x-rayed the package to see what was beneath the plain brown wrapping that covered it, instead he tore at the paper, reveling the manuscript that her uncle had given her.
She couldn't read his expression as she began to speak again, her voice composed. "I don't deserve to keep it, not after what happened. I think that book is the reason that they came after me in the first place, and I know that you can keep it safer than I can."
"Thank you," he said as he looked at it thoughtfully. After a moment, he set it on the desk and turned his attention back to her. She wanted to tell him that he had no business thanking her, that she couldn't imagine NOT giving him that manuscript that so obviously belonged in his hands, but he stood abruptly and put a hand lightly upon her shoulder.
"Dinner's waiting. We should probably get back out there before everyone else begins to wonder what happened to us."
She looked up at him and finally let herself smile. With a small nod she acknowledged him, telling him wordlessly that his family had nothing to fear from her. The look in his eyes was fatherly, and spoke of secrets shared, of knowledge known by an elite few lucky enough to have gained his confidence. With that he turned and left the den.
Susan stood up and followed behind, stopping as she reached the den doors and looking at the scene that transpired before her. A father approached his wife and children, causing a light to come into all their eyes that was easy to see. He said some words that caused them to begin moving together, laughing and teasing, toward the dining room. What a family this was, and it was now hers, too. They accepted her unconditionally, and because of that she was possibly the luckiest person on the face of the planet. Her life was changed forever now, but she wouldn't have it any other way.
"Susan, are you coming?" a voice said. She hadn't realized that she had allowed herself to get lost in her thoughts, but apparently she had. Returning her focus to the family, she saw Lois, standing with her arm around her husband, looking at Susan expectantly. There was no malice in this woman, who Susan knew to be one of the most tenacious newswomen in the industry, someone with a reputation for being hard-nosed and stubborn. She would've never been able to tell, Susan thought as she looked at the women who had now become her surrogate mother.
"I'm coming," Susan finally said. Taking a deep breath, she thrust her foot out and started forward, taking the first tentative steps toward her new life and family. It was a monumental moment, and she didn't think she had ever been happier or more sure of herself. Superman, she knew now, had been part of her destiny, but not in a way she had ever imagined. In her mind, she wondered what adventures awaited her as a result of her induction into his world, but she quickly decided that the adventures weren't important. What was important was that she was and would always remain loyal to her new family, just as they would remain loyal to her. Whatever else may come, that would always be true, and she was eternally grateful.