By C. Leuch <email@example.com>
Submitted: January, 2004
Summary: The whole Kent family gets into the act in this Christmas tale that continues the "Dawn of Discovery" series.
This story is a continuation of my next gen series, which started with Dawn Of Discovery. Reading those first would probably give you a better of idea of what's going on here, although I won't necessarily say they're required reading. The characters of Lois and Clark are property of DC Comics and Warner Brothers, all others are mine.
I'm dedicating this to LauraBF, my beta reader and a great writer. Hope your LnC muse comes back, because we could use a few more of your fics around here.
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.”
Snow flurries were just beginning to fall as Jon Kent made his way onto the roof of the Daily Planet. Above, the sky was gray and dreary, the wind pushing the clouds along but bringing a decided chill to the air. Days like this made him extremely glad to be invulnerable, he thought in passing as he lazily spun into his suit and took off into the air.
Christmas time was quickly approaching, but life at the Daily Planet took no breaks for holidays. Neither did the Metropolis PD, which was why he had been assigned the story he had. The police had decided to set up a prostitution sting this chilly evening, hoping in one bust to nab those who would buy a little bit of holiday companionship, and to pick up the women who would be willing to sell their bodies in another. His job was to observe a little bit of the action, then publish the names of the guilty, maybe with a little bit of personal information, just to try and take a bite out of what was become a booming industry. All in all, not a very exciting story, but in a city that was desperately trying to clean itself up before the holidays, it was important.
The police had given him the location of the first bust, and he quickly zeroed in on it, deciding to land a couple blocks away, where there was a little less activity. The neighborhood was fairly nice and relatively close to the business district, where most of the known clients worked. Traffic was heavy both on the road and on the sidewalks as work was just getting out for most of the downtown. Weaving through the mass of people, he approached the site, a busy street corner. Under normal circumstances, it might have been hard to make out one or two people against the crowd, but in this case, he could easily make out two women, dressed in loud and tacky clothing, loitering near the roadway. Most of the passersby ignored them, briskly moving along toward an unknown destination. But every now and then, someone would stop and talk to these women, crowding them, touching them in ways that a stranger should have no business doing. Jon stopped about half a block away and watched for a moment as the operation moved, and the woman ushered the man to a nearby alley, where the man would disappear and the woman would emerge only a couple of minutes later. This happened a few times in the span of only a couple of minutes, a very efficient operation, to be sure.
Satisfied that he had observed enough to satisfy the story he would be writing later that evening, Jon decided to move closer to the action and interview the personnel involved. With a smile, he slowly walked the remaining half block, blending into the crowd and eventually slipping behind one of the undercover officers unnoticed.
"Hey, hot stuff," he said, his voice deep. Startled, the officer quickly turned toward him, offering an obviously faked smile until her eyes locked onto his face. The smile faded, but only for a moment, replaced with an expression that was far more sly.
"Howdy. Looking for a little action, handsome?" she asked as she hiked up her fishnet stockings under her vinyl micro skirt. Her tongue ran across her frosted pink lips, and her sky blue eyelids batted a few times, just for effect.
Jon smiled, playing along. "Well, see, if I say yes, I might get in trouble," he said, drawing a pout from her. "And my girlfriend would KILL me."
Her hand slinked up and gasped onto his tie, pulling him into her. "What your girlfriend doesn't know won't hurt her. Besides, for you, I'll do it for cheap."
"Cheap? You?" he asked, laughing a little at the question. The feather boa strung across her shoulder fluttered in the wind, revealing a bare shoulder. "I would've never guessed. But…" He let himself succumb to her light tug on his tie and leaned in toward her, his lips ending up dangerously close to hers.
"Not so fast, sailor," she said, pressing the fingers of her free hand against his lips. "Follow me." With that, she led him by the tie to the alley, where an unmarked van lurked in the shadows. She looked toward the van, shook her head, then leaned up against the brick wall, her hand still firmly affixed to his tie. With a sultry smile, she pulled him in toward her again, and their lips met, this time in a long and steamy kiss.
"Who knew I'd have a thing for trashy women," Jon commented breathlessly as she pulled away and relinquished her grip on the tie. Her mouth pulled into a smirk and her eyes narrowed at the comment, eliciting laughter from him.
"You need any help down there, Di?" a voice called from the van.
"I think I can handle this one," she called back as she placed her hands on her hips and regarded Jon again, eliciting more laughter from him.
"So," he said, straightening out his tie, smiling devilishly. "I think you should wear this to dinner tonight. My mom would get a kick out of it," he said, appraising her, and watching as her eyes narrowed even further. The smile spreading across her face negated the effect, and soon he found himself being whapped across the face with the boa.
"As much as I would like to show off my…assets to your parents, I will not be caught dead in anything like this once this stakeout is over," she said, turning toward the van. Her stiletto heels clicked briskly along the pavement, and he followed, removing his suit jacket as he went.
"Here, you must be freezing," he said, wrapping it around her shoulders.
"While wearing enough makeup to put Tammy Faye to shame does have some insulation value," she said, pulling the coat tightly around her. "Yes, I am freezing. Thank you." She looked over her shoulder and smiled, warming him up a little in the process. "You know, I've brought down the mob, I've patrolled the beat, but somehow this wasn't how I imagined spending my days on the force." When they reached the van, she pulled open the passenger door, sending a burst of warm air into the alley. The cop in the driver's seat eyed Jon suspiciously, drawing a nervous nod from him.
"Marty, this is Jon Kent, with the Planet," Diane continued, regarding the other cop.
"And also her jealous and highly protective boyfriend," he added, giving a sideways glance to Diane.
The other cop looked between them a couple of times and shrugged, taking a sip from a cup of coffee. "So you come out here to see the show?" he asked, drawing a venomous glance from Diane.
She then looked toward Jon questioningly. "Actually, that's a good question," she said, rubbing her hands together and holding them in front of the van's hot air vent.
"I've been assigned to cover this story for the Planet. I SWEAR I had no idea that Diane would be here, outside of her precinct, might I add. That was just a bonus."
"I just BET it was," Diane mumbled, drawing a snort from the other cop, who quickly turned away, giving his attention to other matters as two sets of eyes immediately turned toward him. "I'm stayin' out of this one," he muttered, taking another sip of coffee. Diane and Jon turned toward each other, each wanting to say something, but neither having the fortitude to go first.
After a moment, Jon leaned over and gave Diane a quick peck on the cheek, careful not to land squarely in the middle of the mountain of blush. "And before I dig any more holes here, I think I'll check in with the precinct and see how that end of it goes."
"You're a smart one, Kent," she said, reaching up to wipe away a lipstick smear from his mouth.
"Did I mention that I'm also, you know, highly protective and jealous," he said, regarding the rather large opening in her shirt in the chest region.
Diane smiled a sultry smile. "Yeah, I think I heard that." She placed a finger under his chin and gently pushed upward until his eyes were looking into hers again. "And we're both professionals, no matter how much it must just kill you," she added, bringing a conciliatory nod of the head from him. She took off the jacket and handed it to him, then fluffed her hair and her chest region, closed the van door, and began to walk back toward the street. "Seven tonight, right?" she asked over her shoulder.
"Right. And feel free to wear that if you want," he added.
Diane wiggled her hips and kept walking. "In your dreams, Kent, in your dreams." Jon could only watch as she entered the crowd again and resumed her position, professional, in that dirty girl kind of way that could drive a man crazy. With a glance into the van at the laughing policeman, Jon headed out of the alley and away from the action, toward the police station. Somehow, days like this hadn't entered into his planning when he had started dating a cop. Too bad, too, because outfits like that could make the whole thing worthwhile.
Jenny tore a handful of paper out of the notebook, and tossed it into the fireplace in CJ's apartment, adding to the sizable pile that was already there. Finals had just officially finished the day before, and something about tearing into that reminder of her suffering just felt good.
"Goodbye, political science," she said, wiping her hands against each other to get of the flecks of paper leftover from the notebook binding.
CJ tossed a stack of old quizzes and tests on top of the rest. "And goodbye, history of modern socialism."
"Are you sure you're not going to miss that?" Jenny asked, her eyebrow arched. "I mean, in the real world, we discuss theories on the evolution of socialism all the time. Might just help in your future quest for justice against criminals and all that stuff."
"If Karl Marx tries to rob a bank, yes. Otherwise, I get the sneaking suspicion that it won't really come up," CJ answered, deadpan. "What about you? Political science is important stuff."
Jenny shrugged. "I'm keeping the textbook. The notes don't matter."
"Except when you symbolically want to get rid of them," CJ finished, bringing a nod from Jenny.
"So what are you waiting for?" she asked, gesturing toward the pile. The next moment, CJ squinted at the stack of paper, and instantly they shot into flames.
"We should've brought marshmallows," Jenny muttered, and CJ laughed.
"I'm way ahead of you," he said, walking into the kitchen, reaching into the cupboard, and retrieving a bag of marshmallows, a box of graham crackers, and a large Hershey bar. Jenny sat cross legged on the floor and shook her head, chuckling. "What would the ceremonial burning of last semester's notes be without smores?" he asked.
"Well, I wouldn't know. This is kind of a first for me," she said, retrieving a poker from the set of fireplace tools and skewering a marshmallow with it. "You know, we are completely going to ruin our supper."
"It's for a good cause," CJ said, kneeling next to her and adding his marshmallow to the skewer before guiding it into the fire. "Besides, we have a few hours."
"Which reminds me," Jenny said, watching the flames lick the confection. "I want to get there early. I need to ask your mom about what to get for Christmas for the Superman who has everything."
"She'll just tell you that he wouldn't want anything. And it's true," CJ said, cuddling up to Jenny and putting his arm around her waist.
Jenny closed her eyes, enjoying the moment. "I know," she said. "But it just feels wrong not getting him anything when he's been so generous to offer to fly us to my folk's place and back for Christmas Eve."
"Well," CJ said thoughtfully. "I've found the humorous things tend to work pretty well. Did I tell you about the time we got him real authentic strength pills from the nutrition store?"
"'For the man who only wishes he could be faster than a speeding locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound,'" Jenny said, laughing at the mental picture it brought. "I remember those. Superman pills, they called them."
"I remember him using the phrase, 'paybacks are heck', in connection with that present, too," CJ added, opening the packages of graham crackers and chocolate and arranging them for the impending smores.
"This is why I'm asking your mom — you're no help at all," Jenny replied, drawing the marshmallows from the fire and examining them. "This okay for you, or are you one of those people who only think a marshmallow is done after it turns into a charcoal briquette?"
"Works for me," CJ answered, pulling the marshmallows off the pokers and placing them on the assembled bits. "Bon appetite," he said, raising the smore. Jenny raised hers in the air as well and they brought them together with a crunch before digging in. Maybe they were ruining their supper, but with Kent family gatherings, there tended to be less eating and more talking. Besides, political science and the history of modern socialism never tasted so good.
"We're going where?" Lois asked as she closed the house door behind her. Clark removed his coat and held out his arm as he headed toward the closet. Lois quickly shrugged out of her trenchcoat and handed it to him as she bent down and pried off her heels.
"Well, the way I see it, this is the first Christmas that we'll be having since Jenny and Diane unofficially became members of the family," Clark started.
"What about Jenny's roommate, the snoopy one?" Lois asked, kicking aside one shoe, then the other.
"Susan? Yeah, her too I guess. Anyway, since this is the first official family gathering of the holiday season, why not do it someplace special?"
Lois placed one hand on her hips and looked at him, thinking. "You're the chef," she said, walking slowly toward the stairway. "I mean, if it were up to me, tonight's meal would be around several boxes of pizza."
Clark smiled and followed her toward the stairs. "The chef feels like eating out tonight, that's all. Plus think of it this way — that's eight plates, eight glasses, eight sets of silverware, and one large kitchen that you won't have to clean up after they leave."
"That I won't have to clean up?" she asked, throwing a glance across her shoulder.
Clark had seen that look enough to know what it meant. "That WE won't have to clean up," he amended.
"Better," Lois said with a smile, climbing the stairs.
Clark ran up a couple of the steps to catch up to his wife. He laid his hand on the small of her back, causing her to pause. As he made it to the step behind her, he leaned forward and placed a kiss on her neck. "You always liked Sydney this time of year, as I recall," he said. Memories of nights of the past spent in the shadow of the famous opera house ran through both their minds.
"Can you blame a girl?" she said, leaning back slightly. "A little bit of summer sure feels good after the snow starts flying around here."
The hand on Lois's back found its way to her stomach, as his free hand grasped the railing. "Nothing like an 80 degree, bug-filled supper to put you in the holiday spirit," Clark practically whispered against her neck, causing her to start laughing.
"Clark Kent, the last romantic," she said as she pulled away from him and continued up the stairs.
"I try," he said, smiling. "But seriously, I don't think we've ever brought the kids all the way down there. It'll be a nice change. AND it will be romantic."
Lois shrugged as she reached for her earrings. "You're the boss," she said, then turned to regard him with a sly smile.
"I'll believe that when I see it," he answered, eliciting another round of laughter from Lois. With a dramatic sigh, he trudged up the stairs and into their bedroom, toward his waiting wife who, with any luck, would demonstrate to him all the ways that she was, in fact, the boss. And hopefully before the kids arrived.
Diane pulled her jacket tighter as Jon piloted her car into the driveway of the Kent family home, next to a well used sedan that she was sure belonged to his brother. The heater in the car had been turned to broil for the better part of the journey as she tried to drive the chill out of her bones that had settled in after a long, cold day in fishnets and cashmere. Jon, bless his heart, didn't make any mention of the heat in the car. If he felt any discomfort at all, it was well hidden. Long after most mortal men would've shed their coats and blazers, rolled up the sleeves and loosened the tie, he sat comfortable and proper, and fully clothed.
He regarded her with a smile as he turned off the ignition. "You can't still be cold," he remarked. Diane just raised her eyebrows and nodded. She suspected that he didn't know what it felt like to be truly, bone-chillingly cold. "It has to be ninety degrees in here," he added.
Diane shrugged. "I think I'm going to make a beeline for your folk's fireplace once I get in there. That and a little eggnog will take me a long way."
A spark of something mischievous shone in his eye as he reached for the door handle. "If you need me to help you warm up, just say the word."
Diane smiled slyly and opened her door. "I can think of ways for you to warm me up, but somehow I don't think this is the place."
She laughed as his face turned an interesting shade of pink, and instantly she felt one hundred percent warmer. Something about laughter just seemed to light an inner fire, making any unpleasant feelings just slip away. And in the months since she'd met Jon, she'd probably laughed more than she ever had before. Walking around the car, she took his hand in hers and they walked silently toward the door, the cool chill of the air a forgotten memory. They climbed the steps, and Jon raised his hand to knock on the door, but he never got a chance. Both Jon and Diane wore expressions of surprise as the door was yanked open in front of them, and they were greeted with the smiling face of Jon's younger brother.
"G'day!" CJ said as both Diane and Jon's eyebrows rose in unison. There had to be a punch line there somewhere, but CJ just looked at them with an odd smile, one that conveyed that he knew something that they didn't. After a moment, he stepped aside to let them in.
Jenny had come up behind CJ, and as he stepped backwards, she wrapped her arms around him. "Subtle, honey, REAL subtle," she said, causing CJ's grin to deepen into a smirk. "Hey Jon, Diane," she said as she turned to the new guests. Diane raised her hand in greeting, still confused.
Turning her head as she entered the house, Diane noticed that Lois and Clark stood in the middle of the living room, Clark's arm draped over Lois's shoulders, both of them appraising a large, freshly cut Christmas tree. The lights had already been strung, and the tree glowed, filling the room with warmth. Laura was fishing handfuls of ornaments out of a large Tupperware container, holding them up in front of certain parts of the tree and waiting for an approving nod before hanging it from the bough and continuing on to the next. Off in the corner, a fire burned in the fireplace, the mantle above already lovingly decorated, with five large stockings hanging down, awaiting their booty. It was an ordinary holiday scene with a family that was at once so very normal, but also so very special. It bothered her, then, that her police instincts were telling her that something was up, something that she couldn't quite pinpoint. As she stripped off her coat, she took a deep breath, then noticed what was missing — food. She couldn't smell any food at all, and they had come here for dinner. The possibilities brought a smile to her face.
"Hi everyone," Jon said, finally getting the attention of Lois and Clark. Laura put down the ornaments and shoved a box under the tree, looking expectantly at her father. It occurred to Diane that part of the odd feeling she had been having was related to the clothing that Lois, Clark, and Laura wore. It was definitely winter in Metropolis, but Lois was wearing Capri pants and a short- sleeved blouse. Clark had on chinos and a polo, and Laura's hair was pulled back in a ponytail, lifting her dark hair off her bare shoulders. Diane smiled more widely as she came to the realization that wherever they were going for dinner, it was definitely warmer than it was here.
"Hi Jon, Diane. We thought we'd go out for supper tonight," Clark said. He grinned as he reached for a stack of books in the coffee table, finally drawing out a world atlas. "I was thinking that Australia would be nice about now."
"Australia? Wow," Jon said, making his way toward his father. The two talked in hushed tones over the map, flipping pages and pointing as they apparently discussed the travel route. Diane caught herself pondering an evening with kangaroos and koala bears in the outback feeling positively giddy.
"We'll fly in shifts, I'll take Lois first and Jon will follow with Diane. Then we will come back and get the rest of you. How does that sound?" Clark said, regarding everyone else in the room. Jenny, CJ, and Laura all nodded happily, and with that, Jon and Clark headed toward the backyard with Lois and Diane closely behind, the characteristic whooshing sound announcing that the men had changed into uniform, and the flights were ready to depart.
Only a few seconds after Clark took off with Lois, Jon gathered Diane into his arms and leapt into the sky. The ground quickly fell away beneath them, and they were off, streaking across the United States at a speed that Diane didn't even want to contemplate. The view was magnificent, as always, but she found her eyes drawn toward Jon. She still wondered how it was that they had ended up together, especially given how rocky their relationship had been at the outset. Rocky might not be the right word, she thought, amending herself. She had hated him, and that's all there was to it. Granted, she had to admit that there had always been that spark of pure physical attraction, but it had taken the revelation that he was the Crimson Superman to convince her that maybe he was an okay guy, after all.
Diane studied his face, smiling despite herself. It was amazing how prejudice could convince you that someone was someone that they were not. Once she got past her prejudice against all reporters and allowed herself to get to know him, she had found that he was everything that she had ever wanted in a man. He was devastatingly handsome, that much was for sure. He was strong-willed, confident, yet soft spoken, and not too stubborn or macho to be involved with a woman who was hard-nosed and strong-willed herself. His sense of humor was subtle, but always there. She loved that he was interested in the same things that she was, too. Interestingly, the fact that he was also a superhero didn't really enter into the equation. Well, maybe it did at first. And she had to admit that the powers and the rescues were integral to who he was, but they did not define who he was, not by any stretch of the imagination.
She still had a hard time believing how she had gotten so lucky as to have a man such as him be interested in her. She knew better than to look a gift horse in the mouth, as the saying went, but it was hard not to feel a little overwhelmed when he took her out to dinner in Europe from time to time. And tonight — Australia! After a day of freezing her tail off while pretending to be a cheap streetwalker, it was the best possible reward she could ask for. She felt like screaming into the clouds that she loved this man, even if she wasn't normally the type to give sappy platitudes. She couldn't help but love him.
"Are you going to visit your folks for the holidays?" Jon asked Diane, interrupting her quiet contemplation. It was a question that she had secretly hoped he wouldn't ask, and she cringed inwardly as she tried to think of a way to phrase her answer. The Pacific Ocean now flashed by below them, the sun, still low in the sky, reflecting the oranges and purples of the twilight off the water. It truly was a beautiful and serene sight, but she ignored it in favor of her hands.
"You know the cost of airfare nowadays," she said, knowing that the irony wouldn't be lost on him.
He raised an eyebrow and smirked. "Yeah I wish I knew where you could find some inexpensive flights," he said, trying to inject a little humor into the conversation as he brought her fractionally closer toward his chest.
She looked up toward him, trying her best to smile and wishing she could think of a way to change the subject without being too obvious. "You see my dilemma, then," she said in a flat voice, turning away to look at the scenery.
Jon sighed. She had never been very good at evading his questions, as much as she hated to admit it. "So what's wrong? You don't get along with your folks?" he asked. The subject of her parents had been brought up once or twice in the course of their young relationship, both times somewhat in passing, but she had never allowed herself to indulge in the details of her family during the conversations. Maybe he deserved to know at least a little about them, considering the trust he had placed in her. But somehow she didn't think that he would be happy with the full truth.
"Kind of. Over the last few years we just drifted apart. I was busy with my career, and they were busy with their lives. I told myself that it was for the best, because whenever I thought of home, I thought of the anger, all the anger that just seems to hang in the air there. I stopped being angry when I met you," she said, closing her eyes and resting her head on his chest. "But sometimes, right around this time of year, I think about them, and I get the urge to pick up the phone…"
Jon nodded. It probably wasn't something he could fathom, to be willingly separated from the people who raised and loved you. But not everyone had the type of family that he had, and not everyone's home life had been filled with love and understanding. "A phone call is cheap," he said. "If you can't handle talking to your parents, you can always hang up. Maybe they'd like to hear how happy you are, how well things are turning out for you." His optimism was truly uplifting, and she thought for a second that maybe, just maybe, he had a point.
Diane shrugged, then looked up at him with a smile. "I am happy," she said. "But I know that as soon as I tell my father about you, he'll start swearing at me in Spanish."
Jon wrinkled his nose. "The reporter grudge?" he asked, and she nodded.
"If you thought I used to be bad, talk to him sometime. You could be a saint and he still wouldn't trust you."
"What about a superhero? I might just have a shot at that one," he said, coaxing a laugh out of her, finally. They flew in silence for a moment, both content to watch the ocean as the sun rose higher into the air in front of them.
"I just don't think I'm ready to go back there yet," Diane said, her voice making it plain that her mind was made up. "Besides, I like being part of your family."
"And I know they're glad to have you. I sure am," Jon said, kissing the top of her head. Within moments, a large landmass began to appear on the horizon, one that could only be the Australian continent. As they reached land, their course changed southward, toward Sydney. Soon enough, they were landing in a dark alley of the city, near an outdoor bistro, where Lois was already sitting at a large table. Jon gave her a wave and a nod, and set Diane on the ground, giving her a quick kiss before taking off into the air again.
Jon and Clark soon returned to Sydney with their arms full, and the family finally got together at the downtown bistro. Suppertime in Metropolis just happened to coincide with an early lunch hour in Australia, and as they ate and talked, the bistro started to fill up with other patrons. The weather was pleasantly warm, a far cry from the snowy blandness that awaited them in Metropolis. Diane found herself almost too warm, although she wasn't about to complain — she was having far too much fun to complain.
After the meal, they wandered around the city, taking in the sights. The harbor was beautiful under the noontime sun. The opera house, on the other side, with the Harbor Bridge behind it, was as beautiful as the pictures had made it out to be. Eventually they made their way to the zoo, to see all the native creatures that she had been so anxious to behold. Koala bears, kangaroos, and platypii, among other exotic beasts, called the place home, and each of them scrambled to have their pictures taken with the creatures. Diane wondered briefly if she would ever be able to show anyone those pictures, taken in a place that she surely didn't have the money or vacation hours to visit. It was strange to think that she'd have to keep some sort of hidden photo album, that she'd have to keep some memories concealed from even her closest friends, but she really didn't mind all that much, because she knew that she always had the rest of the Kent family to share these memories with. And Jon, who was quickly becoming her constant companion, would always be in the know, too. As long as she had him, she couldn't feel too resentful about the extreme privacy that her life had to hold.
As the afternoon wore on, they wandered back toward where they had begun, passing through the parks by the harbor, the skies above starting to fill with dark clouds. She had heard Clark mention sometime during dinner that Sydney was sunny for over 300 days a year. Apparently the early part of the summer brought the storms, however, and as they stopped to take in one last look at the city skyline, thunder was beginning to roll overhead. Jon looked up at the sky, no doubt appraising the weather, then looked at her. His gaze held concern, and he didn't need to tell her that he was worried about her getting caught in a rainstorm. After being frozen, lightly snowed upon, and finally thawed, the last thing she needed was to endure a heavy rainfall.
"You want to head back?" he asked her, and she looked out across the harbor, drinking in the view. In truth, she wanted to stay a little longer, but she also knew that the hour was becoming late back home.
Diane sat down on a wrought iron park bench, motioning for Jon to join her. Thunder rumbled heavily as he sat next to her, but she really wasn't in any rush. "I was just thinking how romantic this is," she said, giving him a smile.
His hand wandered onto her knee as his eyes followed hers across the harbor. "I guess I'd never thought of Sydney as a romantic place before," he said, and she nodded silently.
"It's not really the place so much as the company, when you get right down to it," she said, and he slowly turned toward her, his expression somber. Lightning flashed in the distance, but she saw only his face. Slowly they leaned in toward each other and their lips met. The kiss was soft at first, barely a brush of the lips against each other. But gradually it deepened, and she found herself melting into him, devouring him, until, finally, she became aware of the world around her again. She smiled and giggled as they began to pull apart, her tongue licking her lips. He chuckled lightly, his eyes hungry, his breath still heavy against her lips. Under normal circumstances, she knew what came next, but they were in a foreign country, in public no less, and the next step would have to wait until they got home. Suddenly, she decided that maybe he was right — maybe they should go home sooner rather than later. She thought about saying as much, but before she got a chance, there was a bright flash of light.
Later, Diane would think back on that moment and wonder how she could not know what it was. But at the time, all she knew was that suddenly it was very bright, and very hot, and she couldn't understand why. As the light went away and she got a chance to look around, she noticed that CJ and Jenny, who sat on a neighboring bench, appeared to have experienced the same thing. Lois and Clark, standing hand in hand nearby under the lone tree in the park, also seemed stunned. Diane's body felt tingly, but not in a bad way. She didn't think she had been hurt, but as some people began to approach from other ends of the park, she could hear their murmurs, and she began to wonder what exactly had happened.
"My goodness, are you okay," a woman, who had practically sprinted to the site, asked. Diane looked at Jon, then looked at the woman, and didn't know what to say.
"What happened?" Jon asked, looking genuinely confused. The woman gaped at him.
"You were struck by lightning," she answered, disbelief in her voice. "It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen. It arced from that tree to each bench, and to those folks by the tree."
"Lightning?" Jenny asked from the neighboring bench, and suddenly Lois and Clark were right next to them, both of them apparently over their earlier confusion.
"Are you sure that's what you saw?" Lois was asking the woman, a hard edge present in her voice that Diane had never really heard before. She knew about the legend that was Lois Lane, reporter, but she had never beheld what it meant to be at the receiving end of one of her interviews. Now she was pretty sure that she was happier not knowing.
The woman looked at Lois, a spark of anger in her eyes. "I've never been so sure of anything," she said, then turned back to Diane and Jon. "So are you okay?" she asked again, and Diane nodded weakly. "Do you need me to call the paramedics?" she asked, and all the Kent men began to shake their heads vehemently.
"I think we'll be okay, thanks," Clark said, and that seemed to satisfy the woman. Other bystanders seemed to lose interest at that point, and they slowly wandered off, leaving the Kent clan alone once again.
"Did it…?" Clark asked his wife, but as Diane watched in amazement, Lois nodded and rose ever so slightly off the ground. Diane looked down at Lois's feet, and she was shocked to see that there was nothing under them. Lois was levitating herself. But Lois couldn't do that, could she?
"What the…?" CJ said softly, dittoing Diane's thoughts. They were all looking at Lois with varying degrees of surprise, all except Clark, who seemed very resigned.
"Lightning has been known to do…interesting things," Clark said softly. "Including transferring my powers."
Slowly, Jenny turned toward CJ and Diane looked toward Jon, each with identical expressions of wide-eyed surprise on their faces. "If I'm touching someone when I'm struck, that's when it happens. Even if there's just metal between us, that's all it takes. It hasn't happened in a very long time," Clark continued, but Diane's mind was spinning. She was touching Jon when it happened…AND there was metal between them. Did that mean…could she…?
Fat raindrops started to fall, interrupting her thoughts. It was now definitely time to leave, she knew. Jon gathered her up in his arms before she had a chance to ponder the situation anymore, and before she knew it, they were streaking across the vast Pacific.
"Do you think it's true?" Diane asked after a couple of minutes. Jon didn't turn toward her, his expression unreadable.
"My mom floated," he said finally, shaking his head. "That made a believer out of me."
"But what about us? Do you think I could do that, too?" she asked, and Jon took a deep breath. Maybe he was afraid of that prospect, she thought. Or maybe he was just feeling overwhelmed by the whole situation, which she could believe. But what if she COULD fly? "I want to try," she whispered, and Jon looked at her sharply, alarmed.
"Here?!" he practically choked, but Diane only nodded. "We're miles in the air, going several times the speed of sound. What happens if you can't?" he asked. She loved it when he was concerned about her, but she would not be swayed on this. To be able to fly would be incredible, and she had to at least try. And what better place was there to do it, over an empty ocean, with nobody around to observe and miles between her and any possible harm that could come to her.
"Then you'll be there for me," she said, her hand working its way up and absently playing with his hair. She could feel his tension drain away, and he ducked his head.
"Okay," he finally acquiesced. "Move around so that you're spread out underneath me," he said. His arm around her chest pinned her tightly against him as he dropped the arm that held her legs, and she twisted in his grip and spread herself out so that she was laid out, directly underneath him. The flight seemed totally different from this new perspective, and she immediately had a deeper understanding of how the birds felt. It seemed so much more like she was soaring now, gliding along the sky above the earth, free. But she wasn't content with this, and Jon knew it.
"Take my hand," he said, placing his free hand in hers. She grasped it tightly, a cold wave of excitement washing over her as she realized what was coming next. "Ready?" he asked, and she nodded. With that, the arm that had held her solidly to his chest fell away, and she gasped. But, to her amazement, she didn't fall. She held Jon's hand tightly, knowing that was all that held them together now, but she willed herself to drift sideways, out from underneath him. She grasped him, changing grips until finally they were flying side by side, both of their arms spread out as far as they could, their hands grasped together. There was only one more thing to do, she thought, but faced with the possibility of what letting go could do, she gulped, reconsidering for a moment, but only a moment. She turned her head toward Jon, locking eyes with him, then nodded ever so slightly and let go.
Part of her told her to close her eyes, to not witness the plummet to the ocean that might be coming. Another part of her just tried to concentrate on whatever it was that would keep her up in the air. In the end she did both, and as she pried her eyes open, she realized that she wasn't falling from the sky. The ocean was still rushing by below her, the clouds still floating above, and Jon was still beside her, just outside of her reach. She was flying!
"You're doing it," Jon said, an awed tone in his voice. She turned back toward him and beamed.
"I am," she said, then laughed. He laughed, too, and suddenly ducked underneath her and popper up on her other side. Confident now in her new ability, she started to rotate onto her back, enjoying the view above. It was so effortless, flying like this. All she had to do was will herself to do something, and it was done. With a whoop, she willed herself to go faster, and suddenly Jon was behind her, but it only took a second for him to catch up. For the rest of the flight back to Metropolis, they were like children, playing and laughing in the sky. Then, finally, as they approached Metropolis, he floated over and took her in his arms once more, and they landed.
The magic that the sky beheld felt suddenly like it was very much behind her. Having her feet solidly on the ground again brought reality crashing back to her, and it almost felt as if the flying were some distant dream. They were back in Metropolis, back to the clouds and the dark and the flurries and the cold, back to their jobs and their problems and their bills, back to a place where superpowers just didn't seem the same. That wasn't to say that they weren't special, but they just didn't seem to have as much bearing on her, here in reality.
As she and Jon parted from the family for the evening, she looked upwards and remembered, and vowed that soon she would be up there again.
It was hard to tell that anything had changed, Jenny thought during the return flight home. Maybe, if she tried really hard, she supposed that she could see things more clearly than she could before. Her eyesight hadn't exactly been terrible to begin with, but now it seemed that everything had maybe a little bit more definition. From as high up in the air as they were, the world generally just looked like a patchwork blob of colors. Sometimes roads could be seen crisscrossing the countryside like so many strands of a spider web. Towns would dot the scenery, dense grids of buildings with no features distinct from that height, at least not usually. Now, however, she could make out the cars on the roads below. In fact, she realized, if she wanted to, she could make out the license plate number on the car, or even the occupants inside. Details began to come into focus in towns now, too. She could zoom in on the yard of a house and distinctly tell what toys the children had left strewn about, or how long it had been since they cleaned up after the dog. It was amazing, she mused, to be able to see such things from several miles in the air. But honestly, how often would she be able to use such a power? It seemed that that particular find was to remain a fun toy, and nothing more.
Outside of her newly enhanced vision, she couldn't really tell that anything was different. She didn't feel stronger, although in truth she hadn't tried to exercise her new strength. She couldn't hear anything past the howling of the wind as they flew, although she didn't imagine there would be much to hear at 40,000 feet. Her eyes didn't burn, her mouth didn't feel like it was capable of freezing anything, and she certainly didn't feel invulnerable, not that she was particularly keen on doing anything that would put that power to the test.
As they landed in the backyard of the Kent home, she decided that she didn't really feel any different at all. It was funny, but she'd had what she thought at the time were entirely fantastic and unrealistic dreams about what it would be like to be able to do all the things that her fiance could do. To bend steel in her bare hands, to set something afire by even looking at it, to literally be able to jump a tall building in a single bound. In each dream, those abilities had come with a certain feeling of raw power, like she was a coiled spring ready to pop at any time. Yet now, even though she was pretty convinced that she did possess his powers and probably could do all those things, there was no raw energy, no feeling of absolute power. She was just boring old Jenny Sears still, not that there was anything wrong with that.
Jenny and CJ hung around the Kent home until everyone arrived, then thanked Lois and Clark for a wonderful evening and left for home. "So what do you think about the whole thing?" CJ asked as they pulled away from the house. She turned toward him, trying to read his expression but not having much luck.
"You mean about the fact that I'm essentially you right now?" she asked with a grin. CJ arched his eyebrows and gave a sideways nod. Jenny thought for a moment, then shrugged. "I don't know."
"Come on, you can't tell me that you never thought about what you would do if you could, I don't know, look through any wall you wanted to. Or take any metallic object and turn it into a work of modern art in no time flat." CJ gave her a challenging, if somewhat bemused, look, and she turned away, trying to hide a smile. Psychic abilities were not in the repertoire of powers, she had to keep reminding herself, even though it often felt like he could read her mind.
"Well, okay, I have, but it's all my subconscious's fault," she answered, and he smiled. "I don't want to go into details, but suffice to say, I did some interesting things with heat vision and massage oils."
CJ shook his head. "Wish I'D thought of that," he muttered, and they both laughed. The conversation drifted into more mundane things as the ride continued on through Metropolis, and all too soon they pulled up to her apartment building. They parted with a kiss and a reminder of what the schedule would be for the next day, and with that, she found herself on her own for the remainder of the night.
She had only been home a few minutes before deciding that a chilly December night called for a nice hot cup of tea. As she filled the cup under the faucet and got ready to set it in the microwave, the thought occurred to her that she should be able to heat it up herself now. So how exactly did the heat vision work, she wondered as she regarded the cup. Admittedly, it wasn't the most well-used power that CJ possessed, and the occasions that she had actually seen him used it were few and far between, and definitely did not apply to food. Sometimes he'd use it to dry things, such as hair or clothing, and sometimes he'd use it in place of a match. Way back when they first met, she'd seen him welding steel with it. If nothing else, it was clear that there was a bit of variability in the intensity of heat that he could produce — it obviously took a lot more to melt steel than it did to dry a sweater. But surely boiling water was something that should be easy enough, and should she give it too much of a zap, it should just vaporize, and that would be that, right? Sure. With a wry grin, she locked in on the water in the cup and concentrated.
"Come on," she said under her breath, even as the mug began to feel warm. But as the seconds ticked by, it became clear that there was no boiling, at least not yet. It was strange how the water seemed to heave up in the cup, but it refused to bubble or sizzle, or do anything that water was supposed to do when it got hot. Frustrated, she concentrated a little harder, and as the cup began to get decidedly hot, there was a loud popping sound, and she found herself covered with hot water. With a groan, she reached for a towel and began to sponge herself off. The water had managed to cover most of the upper reaches of her kitchen, and was now dripping down in a simulated indoor rainfall. Well, that was a real great start to the superpower thing, she thought — she'd somehow managed to explode water. Fortunately, nothing worse had happened.
Deciding to forego the tea, she headed toward the living room and flopped onto the couch, turning on the TV. Her roommate had gone home for Christmas and taken her wall of Superman stuff with her, much to the relief of Jenny and the entire Kent family. It was amazing how much Susan had grown up after the Zarate incident — she was no longer Superman obsessed, and for a good reason. She was even personable now, if not somewhat reserved, and was quickly becoming a good friend to Jenny. Susan had even been invited to supper tonight, and Jenny suspected that she wouldn't have missed it if she had known that there was a flight involved. Even so, it was good that Susan was at home, reconciling with her family.
The fare on TV was moderately interesting, but after about an hour, Jenny found herself yawning. With a start, she realized that it was well past midnight, and most definitely time for her to get to bed. By the time her head hit the pillow, her eyelids were drooping, and she was sure that sleep would come within moments. But as she closed her eyes and settled in, she heard something. It was hard to pinpoint what the sound was, but the more she concentrated on it, the louder it became, to the point where it started to take on a life of its own, pulsing and throbbing and making her want to will it to just go away. She turned over and pulled her pillow over her head, yet it persisted and grew louder, and other sounds began to join it. People seemed to be talking as if they were in the same room as her; a stereo thumped away somewhere very close; a television blared a laugh track. Then, as she clamped her hands over her ears, there was a siren. She could've sworn that the emergency vehicle was right outside her bedroom door, as loud as the sound was. The high pitched wail felt like a needle boring right into her head, causing her to gasp and tears to spring to her eyes in sheer pain. She silently pleaded for the siren to just stop, please stop, but it persisted, and the ache was unbearable. After a while, the siren faded off into the distance, but another siren quickly took its place, joined by a chorus of loud traffic and miscellaneous machinery.
What was happening, she wondered as she finally started sobbing. The noise seemed to drive away all her thoughts, both good and bad, to the point that there was nothing but raw, terrible pain. Somehow this had to be connected to the bolt of lightning, whether it was part of the new powers she possessed or some side effect of the electricity. In any case, she was certain that there was one person she could call who could maybe do something to make it all somehow disappear. Prying one of her hands away from her ear, she blindly reached for the phone and dialed CJ's number. As he picked up, she managed to sob his name before the incredible cacophony of sound became too much, and she had to clamp her hands over her ears once more. She was aware that she was still crying, and she tried to say more, but he had already hung up, no doubt on his way.
It took ten agonizing minutes for him to arrive, ten minutes in which she swore she heard everything that was happening in that part of Metropolis, things that she didn't want to know had happened, things that she could only imagine happening. She could hear people breathing, insects skittering, buildings settling. She could hear the wind howling past the buildings, carrying dried leaves and dust and sand that sounded like cannonballs as they hit the obstacles in their way. In the middle of it all, she heard his key being inserted in her lock, and hurried footfalls as CJ rushed to her bedroom.
"Jenny," he exclaimed softly as he entered the room, crawling onto her bed and embracing her from behind. She realized that she had somehow curled herself into a fetal position, with her eyes tightly squeezed shut and her arms over her ears. At his touch, she felt some of the tension and anxiety begin to flow away, even if the sounds of the city still continued to torture her.
"What's wrong?" he asked, his voice soft, concerned.
"I can hear it all," she rasped, the sound of her own voice thunderous. "It hurts so much."
She heard him sigh heavily as he pulled her closer into him. His cheek rested against the back of her head momentarily, his hand gently stroking her arm. After a moment, she felt his grasp loosen. "Do you trust me?" he asked as he rose from the bed.
Jenny nodded. It was a question that he really didn't need to be asking — she trusted him implicitly, and he knew that.
"It's going to get a little louder in here, okay?" he continued, and no sooner had the words escaped his mouth than a thunderous sound filled the room. She flinched, but then realized that it was the radio, playing softly. CJ climbed back into the bed, wrapping his arms around her once again. As she let herself adjust to the relative loudness of the room, she realized that she couldn't hear all the sounds of the city anymore. Gradually she removed her arms from in front of her ears.
"Concentrate on the music," CJ said, and she did. When she was a kid, back in Missouri, she remembered doing something similar when thunderstorms would roll through at night. The radio or the television always seemed to help, even if it didn't always drown out the thunder. It was a trick that she had long since grown out of, and it had been forgotten, at least until now. As she became lost in the memories of summers past, the only thing she let herself hear was the music, and the steady sound of their breathing.
"Much better," she said, snuggling into him. After a moment, her eyelids were heavy again, and sleep beckoned. With the music to mask the sounds of the outside world and CJ in her bed to chase away all the other demons that would confront her, she finally fell into a fitful, dreamless sleep.
The evening was beginning to get late when Laura finally wandered up to her bedroom. After such a hectic night, visiting other continents, seeing exotic animals and witnessing the big lightning strike, it would be nice to settle into her quiet bedroom for a good night's sleep. There would be no school in the morning, no commitments or obligations, and that suited her just fine. Maybe she could finally get a little shopping done the next day.
As she reached the top of the stairs, she noticed that the ladder to the attic had been pulled down. Curious, she moved toward the opening in the ceiling, looking up into the normally dark void to try and see what exactly was going on up there. "Hello?" she said, craning her neck to see beyond the long shadows cast by the dim glow of a single incandescent light bulb against the towers of boxes above.
"I'm up here," her mother said from above, the sound of the shuffle of boxes following her voice.
Interested and suddenly not all that tired anymore, Laura began to ascend the ladder. "What are you doing up there?" she asked. Her experiences in the attic had been limited, at best, although she knew quite well what it looked like directly above her bedroom. She could also tell you the contents of most of the boxes right above where she slept every night, but the rest of the vast attic was a bit of a mystery.
"Well, I came up here to find something, and I just got caught up in all the old memories," her mom said from the far corner. Laura wandered over there, curious. Her mom was not generally the type to get nostalgic, to dwell on old memories. Right now, she was sitting on an old wooden trunk, an ancient cardboard box open at her feet, the various items inside holding absolutely no meaning to Laura. There was a faraway look on Lois's face, although when she caught sight of her daughter, it instantly disappeared, replaced with something much more pleasant.
Laura sat down next to her mother. Absently, she reached into the box, pulling out what appeared to be a mobile, composed of cutouts of eyes pasted to bits of foam core. She turned to Lois, one eyebrow raised, and jiggled the mobile.
"Please tell me that you didn't spend money on this," Laura said, eliciting a smile from her mom.
"No, I didn't. And no, I don't know why I'm keeping it. I think your dad put it up here, actually, as some sort of reminder of what could've been." At Laura's questioning glance, Lois just shook her head and took the mobile out of Laura's hand and put it back in the box. "Maybe I'll tell you that story sometime," she said, wrinkling her nose. "Or maybe not."
"So what are you looking for?" Laura asked, pulling back the corner of the box and seeing other miscellaneous items.
"Something that I put safely away a long time ago and hoped to never see again. I might have done a little too good of a job," she said, turning her attention to another stack of boxes. She moved to take one off the top, when Laura laid her hand on her shoulder.
"Can't you just…" she said, raising her eyebrows and pointing her middle and index fingers at the box.
Lois shrugged and nodded. "Yeah, I probably could. But what fun is that?" she asked, finally wrestling the box from the top of the pile and setting it at her feet. As she pulled the top open, a bright swatch of pink could be easily seen. "Aha," Lois said, pulling the garment out.
"Ugh, what is THAT?" Laura asked, appalled at the glaring brightness of the pastel pink and powder blue that assaulted her eyes.
"Did I ever tell you about the last time I got super powers?" Lois asked, holding the suit up in front of her, appraising it.
"You mean it's happened before?" Laura asked, looking between the suit and her mother, finally catching the significance of the outfit. In its own way, she supposed it did look like something a superhero would wear, with the tight spandex and the flowing cape.
Lois set the costume aside, then pulled a pair of pink boots from the box. "It was before your dad and I got married. A criminal we ran across built a weapon that actually stripped your dad of his powers and transferred them to me. I was the one wearing the tights in the family for about two days."
Laura gaped. Was that possible? Her mom, a superhero? She supposed, given her family situation, anything was possible. But her mom didn't need to possess superpowers to be able to move mountains and fight crime. Still, it was interesting to think of her mother assuming the hero duties, in that loud outfit no less. "So are you going to go out with daddy in that?" she asked, and Lois shook her head.
"Um, no that's not what I had in mind. I just thought it might be nice to have around in case I needed to do some…traveling." Lois reached into the box and pulled out the final piece of the costume, a dark pink mask. "That is, assuming it still fits," she added, looking down at herself quickly.
"Traveling?" Laura asked, although she had a good idea that she knew what kind she meant.
Lois nodded, giving Laura a sly smile. "Well, Jenny cornered me tonight and asked me what to get your father for Christmas."
"Me too," Laura quickly added. At the time, the question had surprised her, until she thought of the types of things that CJ generally got for her dad. It would be an understatement to say that CJ was the gag gift champion of the household, and if the gift was funny, or ironic, or outrageous, then he would be the one to give it. The closet in her parents' room was still littered with the 50th birthday, over the hill gifts from CJ. The Superman pills from last year were collecting dust in the bathroom medicine cabinet, and Laura couldn't say whether or not the Superman boxers had been put to good use, but she liked to think that they lurked beneath the suit some nights. Given that, it would stand to reason that he was hopeless in giving good gift recommendations.
"And I realized that I really didn't know what I was going to get him. You know me and last minute shopping," Lois continued, and Laura nodded. The story that would get Lois Lane's Christmas dollars would be the one open latest on Christmas Eve — it was a rule of nature. "But then I thought, hey, there's no reason that I can't do a little shopping around now."
"I like where this is going," Laura said, suddenly envisioning a nice batch of German chocolate sitting under the Christmas tree. She smiled eagerly. "Like, Europe?"
"Sure," Lois said. "Or the Mall of America. Or, really, anywhere that we could think of. You want to come along?"
"Do you have to ask?" Laura asked, and they giggled. "Just, please, tell me that when we're in public and in front of people, you won't wear that," she said pointing to the outfit. Lois mocked a look of hurt.
"Pastels were big when I wore that," she said, but Laura only laughed harder. Lois gave her a sideways look, then started to close up the boxes around her and neatly stack them again.
"What am I missing?" came her father's voice from near the opening to the floor below. In a second, he had climbed up the ladder and was walking toward them, a curious smile on his face.
All the mock consternation that Lois had been wearing suddenly fell away, and she positively beamed as she reached for the pink suit and held it up in front of herself. Clark started to laugh. "Ultra Woman! I wondered where you had gone off to."
"Ultra Woman?" Laura muttered, wondering who even thought up a cheesy name like that. Somehow, though, it seemed to match the cheesy costume.
"I've been in disguise all these years," Lois said. "Mild mannered reporter. Sound familiar?"
"Well, you can't be talking about my wife," he answered. "Mild-mannered would be the last phrase I'd use to describe her. Ow!"
Lois wore an evil grin as she nudged him in the ribs. Clark rubbed his side, giving her a dirty look that only lasted until he started laughing. "You know, Ultra Woman, I seem to recall, before you hastily left last time, wondering what was underneath that spandex. I mean, the suit obviously comes off…" He smiled wickedly, and Lois's cheeks turned red.
After a moment, she composed herself, then smiled knowingly, approaching him and wrapping her arms around his neck. "Yes, the suit comes off," she said, sarcasm present in her voice, before kissing him. He wrapped his arms around her, deepening the kiss, causing her to arch into him.
Here we go again, Laura thought, quickly rising from the chest and making her way back toward the opening and down the ladder. Once they started kissing, there was no escaping the make out session, and it was generally best just to let them be. With a sigh, she made her way toward her room again. As weird as things were right now, with her mom and Jenny and Diane all possessing superpowers, it was still nice to know that some things never changed.
Diane stood up and walked toward her window, pulling back the drapes and staring out toward her street and beyond. The television was giving the report of the news of the day, but after her experiences that evening, she had a hard time finding the mundane stories of petty crime and local politics all that important. She looked upward, toward the skyline of downtown Metropolis in the distance, and let her mind wander. The jubilation of her experiences had worn off, but the knowledge that she was different now had remained, and as the evening had grown later, a vaguely unsettled feeling had taken hold of her.
Phantom sounds had filtered into her consciousness almost from the moment that they had returned to Metropolis. At first, she had tried to dismiss what she was hearing as figments of an overactive imagination, especially since the noises were often vague — hums and scrapes and creaks that were present in the background everyday big city life. Sometimes she heard bits of conversation that weren't meant for her ears, interesting little tidbits that certainly wouldn't have been uttered if the speakers had known that they were being overheard. If she concentrated hard enough and looked far out into the distance, out of the normal range of human vision, she could sometimes see the source of the sounds. It didn't take much imagination to know that her enhanced hearing and sight were more of Jon's powers transferred to her, ones that would have a more immediate effect on her everyday life. She knew that it was only a matter of time before she heard something that wasn't mundane, that wasn't harmless, and that she'd feel compelled to do something about.
As she scanned the city beyond her apartment, she began to wonder just what she'd do when that time came. Secretly, she hoped that she wouldn't be the only one to hear the cry in the night, that Jon or Clark would come to the rescue, and that she wouldn't have to worry about it. But realistically, she knew that even super hearing had its range, and if Clark and Jon were in their homes far from her neighborhood or if they were out of town or otherwise occupied, she would have to be the one to come to the rescue, and she didn't know if she could do that. No, she thought, she knew she could do it. She was a police officer, and she'd been in situations where she'd had to rescue people before, even without superpowers. But what police officers did differed sharply from what superheroes did, and if she were to do all the super things that she would inevitably have to do, she couldn't do it as a police officer. Or as herself.
A frown began to appear on her face as she pondered the idea of having a secret identity. All her experiences in that area had been through Jon, and to a lesser extent through stories that she had heard from Lois and Clark and CJ. On the outside, she knew that they still managed to lead normal lives, even while their other selves had become well known and sought after heroes. Clark had successfully been two people for the better part of 30 years, so obviously he was doing something right. On the other hand, she knew that there were drawbacks to having dual identities, especially in personal relationships with others. What if she answered a call and ran into a colleague from work? How would she react the next day when the incident was discussed around the office, and questions were raised that she knew the answer to?
Diane sighed. She supposed that she'd cross that bridge when she came to it, but deep down inside she was becoming more and more certain that the time was coming, and soon. Letting go of the curtain, she made her way back to the couch, settling in and forcing herself to watch the news. This night, some big murder trial made the headlines, and Diane had to stop herself from yawning as they discussed the finer points of the prosecution's case. But as the local news finished and gave way to the national news, the breaking story finally caught her attention. An oil refinery was ablaze in Texas, the flames jumping high into the sky, billowing thick black smoke into the air as it illuminated the whole surrounding area in an eerie orange light. As the cameras scanned the scene, the two supermen swooped down from the air to offer their help. She scooted closer to the screen, watching keenly as the camera caught Jon flying in and out of the blaze, carrying out the wounded and tending to the fire. She never tired of watching him work, but at the same time she never felt entirely secure seeing him do the things that no normal person could do. Tonight he was doing it all, and he appeared to be a little worse for the wear. In only a few minutes on the scene, he was already covered in a layer of back grime, his normally cheerful face holding a grim expression that spoke volumes to her. He was tired: she could tell just from his eyes, but he would stay as long as it took to do the job, no matter how weary he was. That was just the type of person he was, and that was a large reason why she cared for him so very much.
Even as her attention was on the fire on television, a sound interrupted her thoughts. It was far away, she knew, but it was certainly clear and distinctive. There was no mistaking the terror that was held in that scream, nor the telltale sounds of a scuffle that accompanied it. Someone was in trouble somewhere out there, someone who needed help. She turned her head and looked through the wall and outside, her eyes darting back and forth as she searched the darkened alleyways and street corners for the source of the sound. Biting her lip, she turned back toward the TV, watching as the camera followed Clark this time, carrying a person to an ambulance. There was nobody in Metropolis to help whoever it was out there that had let out that scream, nobody but her.
Her mind raced as she turned again toward the world outside. How much danger was the other person in? Was there a gun? A knife? As the scream came again, she stood, a sense of resolve building inside of her. Did it matter if there was a weapon involved? Wasn't she sworn to uphold the law and protect the innocent? Someone had to help that person, and it sure looked like that someone had to be her. With a deep breath, she stalked toward her bedroom, finding a set of black clothing to change into. It took only a second to dress, and another second to rush out of her apartment and onto the roof. Clutching her police radio in one hand, she willed herself up into the air and over the city, toward where the screams had come from.
The scene was only a few blocks from her apartment. In an alley, away from a normally busy city street, a man was standing over a woman, a bloodied knife in one hand, her purse in another. The woman had lost consciousness, and apparently a lot of blood. Without a second's hesitation, Diane quickly dropped from the sky, no sooner landing next to the man before she delivered a knockout punch across his jaw. He fell to the ground with a thud, the steady rhythm of his breathing assuring Diane that he was still alive, although he would have one heck of a bruise once he woke up.
"Officer in need of assistance. Please send backup and an ambulance," she radioed, giving a location before jumping atop a neighboring building to wait for the units to come. It only took a few minutes before a siren came screaming down the street, coming to a stop where she had said she'd be. The first officer on the scene seemed confused at what he saw, and as a radio discussion started to take place, Diane only smiled and backed into the shadows. She didn't need to reveal herself to them — the scene pretty much spoke for itself. The ambulance came soon enough, but as they were loading the woman onto a stretcher, another siren pierced her consciousness, this one quite far away. This time she didn't have any hesitations about doing what needed to be done. After one last look down at the crime scene, she lifted into the air, shooting across the city toward the new destination.
The police radio crackled with news of an accident on the interstate, one that the police had yet to reach. The wreck was easy to spot, especially with all the headlights from backed up traffic behind it. She surveyed the scene from the air, scanning inside the car to see how the passengers were doing. With a start, she realized that at least two people inside the crowded car had died instantly, their faces frozen in the sheer terror of the last moments of their lives. Three other passengers were alive, but trapped, and it would take hours for the jaws of life to free them. Without another thought, she was on the ground, keenly feeling the eyes of passers by on her as she ripped the car apart and floated all the victims, both alive and dead, from the car. The police were just arriving as she finished up, but she didn't stick around to socialize. There was another siren across town.
The night wore on, crisis followed by disaster followed by accident. As she moved from crime scene to crime scene, she began to lose track of how many people she'd helped, how many calls she'd made to local police precincts, how many people had seen her do extraordinary things and gasped audibly. But with all that she'd done and all that she'd seen, one thing that she'd never forgotten were the faces of those that she hadn't been able to save. Each one of those was burned into her memory, torturing her, driving her on to each new crisis, driving her away from Metropolis if necessary, but always driving her. She knew that she was tired, but sleep was the furthest thing from her mind. As long as there was a need for her, she would continue on, so continue on she did, even after the sun began to peek above the horizon.
Jon yawned and looked toward the east, noticing the black of the sky turning to a lighter shade of violet as it met the ground. The sun would be rising soon, and the fire was only now beginning to become manageable. He hated large fires, if only because one wrong move could mean the difference between something small and containable, and a large-scale disaster. Fire, more than anything else, had the ability to cause horrific injury and loss. It also was the one type of disaster that was most immune to super intervention. He could rescue those in the fire's path, but fire fueled by chemicals and oil couldn't be doused with even the coldest breath he could muster, not that he had ever been able to muster much cold to begin with, and invariably he would become just another fireman, handling hoses and dousing agents, and waiting.
Superman landed next to Jon after a second, his eyes following Jon's toward the eastern sky. "You need to be to work this morning," he said, the statement not in question. Neither of them needed to say that it was already morning, and that rush hour was approaching quickly in Metropolis, one time zone to the east.
"Do you?" Jon asked, and Clark nodded, then shrugged.
"Nobody worries about me when I don't show up right on time. But you're still under your probationary period," Clark said, and Jon nodded. They had had this conversation on a few late night rescues, and he was always secretly relieved that his father was willing to take the extra super work in order to keep Jon in good standing as a new employee at the Planet. He wondered how his dad was able to do it when he was a new reporter, but he never asked. "Go on," Clark said quietly, and Jon turned toward him, offering him a smile for the first time since they had arrived in Texas.
"Thanks, Dad," he said. Clark laid a hand on his shoulder and returned the smile, then took off again toward the fire. With that, Jon lifted into the air and set a course for Metropolis. Streaking across the Midwest, he planned his morning routine and his work schedule, mentally making notes of all that needed to be done, his mind still sharp despite the lack of sleep. Below him, hundreds of thousands of televisions in hundreds of thousands of homes had turned on and tuned to the various network morning shows, giving him a chance to catch up on the news even as he thought through the impending events of the day. He had expected the oil refinery fire to be the biggest news of the young day, and it was on many stations, but as he neared Metropolis, he began to hear strange reports that filled him with a sense of dread.
It had been a busy night in Metropolis, apparently. Busy enough to cause the emergence of a new hero, a woman dressed in black who sounded suspiciously like Diane. Reports held that there was video, too, proof positive of her existence, but it hadn't aired yet, although it was only a matter of time. The newsroom would undoubtedly be humming once he arrived at work, and there was no doubt in his mind that he would become one of the growing masses to report the story. But on this day, being a reporter would have to be secondary to being a friend, and something told him that Diane had no idea what she had gotten herself into. He had to get to her, and quickly.
As Metropolis loomed in the distance, he zeroed all his senses in, trying to find where the emergencies were, where he might be able to find her. The answer came quickly enough, the crowd at the scene giving away her presence. A house was on fire in the suburbs, and she was at the scene, rescuing the family's household pets as Jon hovered above the site, pondering what he should do or say when he landed. As he waited, he took the opportunity to observe. The reports had been vague about her appearance, referring to her only as a woman in black. That was certainly accurate, from her black slacks to her black blouse and sweatshirt, black shoes, and black gloves. Her hair was pulled back and fastened in a tight bun, and her face was mostly covered by an overly large pair of sunglasses. Her mouth was set in an expressionless line, her posture rigid and her demeanor stiff. Normally she had a real knack for talking with people at the scene of a crime, but this morning she wasn't saying anything, wasn't even really acknowledging anyone. It would be easy to image that she was angry, given the clues, but Jon had been in her position once, the new hero on the scene for the first time, and he knew better. She was probably overwhelmed, not that she'd ever admit that to anyone, and tired. But if he knew her, a little weariness wouldn't keep her from carrying on, and she would keep moving on from crisis to crisis until someone came and stopped her, or until she collapsed from sheer exhaustion. He needed to get her alone, he decided. She needed to go home.
As Diane entered the house again, Jon zipped down and followed her in. He located the fire extinguisher on the way and emptied it on the fire, squelching the flames as best he could until the firefighters arrived. He found Diane in the master bedroom perched over a fish tank, a plastic baggie filled with water in one hand, a strainer in the other. So intent was she on her task that she didn't even hear him land, and as he placed a hand on her shoulder, she jumped, the strainer becoming a weapon of sorts as she turned toward him. As her eyes locked onto him, though, her haunted expression seemed to soften somewhat, her mouth turning up ever so slightly.
"You look like hell," she said as she laid the strainer down and reached toward his face, rubbing her thumb across his forehead and picking up a dark smudge of ash and grime.
"Ditto," he said, grasping her sunglasses and gently pulling them off her face. Her eyes, now exposed to the world, seemed almost shockingly hollow and sunken. Up close, her skin seemed almost pale, the soft rosy vibrancy of her cheeks gone. Normally she was so beautiful and soft, her expression sharp and always intelligent, but now she was none of those, and he felt a twinge of sadness.
"Bet you're wondering why I'm here," she said, looking away from him.
"The thought did cross my mind," he answered, his hand working its way from her shoulder and down her back, feeling the tension in her muscles.
Diane took a deep breath and looked down at the baggie she was still holding, sloshing it around ever so slightly. "I guess I'm rescuing goldfish," she said, her expression blank, the apparent humor of the situation lost on her. Jon smiled painfully, a part of his heart breaking at what he saw. Certainly the lives of all creatures were precious, but the fire at this house had been small and easily contained, and the goldfish were certainly not in need of rescuing. He wondered what she'd seen that night, how bad it could've been to drive her to be here when she really didn't need to be. It was almost like she was avoiding going home, avoiding going to bed where she just might be haunted by what she had seen on the job tonight.
"Why?" he asked softly, and she looked surprised.
"You weren't here," she said, a pained expression flashing on her face for the barest moment. "I couldn't just let things happen because you weren't here, not when I could do something about it." As her face turned up toward him again, he could see the red ringing her eyes, the tears threatening, and he knew that this had nothing to do with goldfish, or a small house fire in suburbia.
"What kind of things?" he asked, hoping to draw out those painful details, hoping to make her open up so that she could firmly set herself in reality once again. He watched as she closed her eyes and frowned, taking a long, wracking breath.
"Muggings. Accidents. Robberies. Any number of other things that I don't even remember anymore. Bad things, mostly." As she opened her eyes and locked into his, he felt the weight of all she had seen, and he understood implicitly. "I've seen a lot of things since I've worked for the Metropolis PD, but this was different. When you're a cop who's been called to a crime scene, you go there knowing that there was nothing you could've done to help those people, nothing. Somehow the certainty that you're doing all you can to catch the person responsible for the crime and make sure that it doesn't happen again is enough. But tonight, at every scene I was at, it wasn't enough, because I KNEW that I could've done something to save those people. A split second here or there and maybe…"
Jon circled in front of her and gathered her in his arms. She eagerly embraced him, apparently not caring how dirty he was, and let out a sob. The bag of water fell out of her hand and hit the ground with a plop, a large metaphorical tear. "Maybe," he said, resting his cheek on her head. "But then again, maybe not. You can drive yourself crazy wondering what would've happened if you had just been a little faster, meanwhile missing the whole point. You did what you could, and that's all you can ever do, superpowered or not."
"That's small consolation when you're holding someone in your arms who had been alive only a few moments earlier," she said, her voice small. He tightened his grip on her ever so slightly, wishing he could impart to her all that he'd seen and learned since he'd been on the job. When he had first started out, it had been hard for him to witness some of the things that happened in the normal course of being a superhero. He would sometimes let himself get carried away in emotion when something bad happened, losing himself in the work and forgetting who he was in the process. Fortunately he had a father who had been there, and who was always at his side whenever he needed it. Now it was his turn to be there for Diane.
"I know, believe me I do. It never gets any easier to watch terrible things night in and night out, but sometimes you have to believe that things happen for a reason. Maybe you weren't meant to save that person, maybe you weren't meant to stop that particular crime. But you did care enough to go out there and try to do what's right, and because you care you'll keep going out there, and trying. And maybe next time you'll save that person, or stop that disaster."
She sniffed, pulling back from him and searching his face. "I never had you pegged as much of a spiritual person," she said, her expression still haunted. She wasn't convinced.
"Sometimes in this job, you have to be," he answered, his voice barely more than a whisper. You couldn't be a cynic and do what he did, what his father did. Sometimes all there was to hold onto in the face of disaster and doom was the basic belief in the goodness of humanity, and the idea that somehow a greater good would come out of whatever happened. Some might call that faith, some might call it spiritualism; he had never really considered it to be either of those. In his mind, it was just blind optimism, something that was instinctive and unwavering. He suspected sometimes that Diane didn't hold that same optimism, that maybe she embraced a somewhat darker view of life, but that didn't mean that she was incapable of seeing things as he did. Maybe it would take a night like tonight so make her come around. Maybe it would only reinforce her preconceived ideas. In the end, only time would tell.
As she knitted her eyebrows together, the distant sound of sirens could be heard. The firemen were arriving at last, and Diane's job at the house was officially finished. "Come on, let's take you home," he said, nudging her fractionally toward the door. She appeared confused for a second but as she seemed about to acquiesce, her head turned toward the window, her hearing evidently picking up the same dull crunch that he had heard, too, the sound of a car crumpling that was as distinctive as it was terrible. It was hard to tell where or how, or even how bad it was, but it was obvious that she wanted to find out.
"No, we have to go help," she said, her protest weak, yet blindly passionate at the same time.
"You need to go home," he insisted.
She turned toward him, looking at him with disbelief. "I can't go home when there's still a need for me out there," she said, her demeanor becoming impatient.
"There will always be a need for you, for us, out there," he said quietly, calmly. "Nobody, no matter how much they are capable of, can be everywhere at once to stop all of the bad things that happen all over Metropolis, and the United States, and the world. You can't blame yourself for events that are out of your control, and you can't blame yourself on the limitations that come with being human. You're allowed to go home; you're allowed to take the time to live your own life. And right now, you need to get some sleep."
Diane looked conflicted, but Jon could tell that his words had some effect on her. As she looked back toward him, studied him, he silently begged her to recognize the things that he had discovered all those years ago, when he realized just what kind of choices his father had had to make in order to be with his family. After a moment, she nodded once, and the tension seemed to fall from her body. Silently, he took her hand in his, and they left, bound for her apartment. He stayed for a moment, making sure that she was settled in, before taking off to begin his day. There was a new superhero to report on, and he was just the guy for the job.
The snow was blowing furiously outside as the sedan worked its way down the deserted interstate, bound for Kansas City. It had been an eventful last couple of days, to say the least, but Jenny was hoping that the excitement was over, at least until their arrival at the airport. Somehow, though, she had a feeling that something would happen, and a quick glance at CJ and the tight expression on his face told her that he believed the same. Quietly, she extended her hand toward him, and he gladly took it, giving it a squeeze before turning his attention to the snow outside. With a sigh, Jenny closed her eyes and leaned back, hoping that her memories from the last few days would somehow give her comfort.
Superman had provided the flight to Kansas City on the evening of the third day before Christmas, depositing her and CJ at the airport terminal, then returning with their luggage. After a quick farewell he was gone, scheduled to return to pick them up at the same time that the United redeye to Metropolis was also scheduled to leave two days later. Their cover was flawless, and her parents had been none the wiser when they came to pick them up at the airport and drove them back to the family home in St. Joseph. Her parents had taken an immediate shine to her fiance, but she could understand why. He was at his outgoing best in the car, engaging all of his considerable charms to make the best impression that he could with her parents. In a way, she was very glad to see them getting along so well, but she knew better than anyone that the charismatic man that he was presenting himself as — good old funny CJ, the flatterer, the goofball, Mr. Personality himself — was really a protective facade. She supposed to some extent maybe he was all of those things, but he was also so much more, and she wished that the intelligent CJ, the sly and strong and sensitive man that she knew, would reveal himself to her family.
As they neared her hometown, Jenny's parents revealed that they had taken an interest in CJ, following any news about Metropolis University football and cutting the clippings about it from the newspaper, saving them in a scrapbook in case anyone asked about their future son-in- law. CJ had blushed at that, but he turned positively crimson when Jenny's mom proudly boasted that Jenny's engagement to CJ had made ESPN, and that they had taped it, shown it to all her relatives, friends, neighbors, and door-to-door salesmen who happened to stop by the house. Jenny wanted to crawl into a hole at the very thought, although she wasn't entirely sure that her parents weren't exaggerating. It was her turn to turn red when they finally arrived home, and as soon as they walked in the door, her mother made a bee line for the television, inserting the very well worn tape into the VCR, beaming the whole while.
"You even upstaged Superman," her mom said proudly, pointing to the blue and red speck in the background that could only be the superhero as the tape played. She and CJ were the center of attention, however, and Jenny found herself mesmerized by the sight. Even now, several months later, she could close her eyes and remember every sound, every sight, every smell of that stadium. And she could remember exactly what it felt like, and how completely and totally content she had been right then, at that moment. Her eyes lowered to the ring on her finger, then they found CJ, who was now standing next to her, his hand resting on her shoulder.
Jenny's mother gripped the remote control to her chest, her eyes becoming moist. "I had no idea this was going to be on national television," CJ said softly to Jenny, seemingly serious. "I thought several thousand fans would be a lot of witnesses if, for whatever far-fetched and illogical reason you said no. Now I'm REALLY glad you said yes." A characteristic smirk was plastered on his face, and she felt the overwhelming urge to give him an elbow to the ribs, one that she KNEW would hurt, now that they shared his powers. Instead, she gave him a long- suffering glance, then turned back toward the television. Even with his obnoxious sense of humor oriented toward her ears only, the shifting of his weight back and forth broadcast that he wasn't entirely comfortable with the situation he found himself in, as the strange guest and center of attention. She could certainly understand.
"They have my birth recorded, too," she whispered to him. "Dad's colonoscopy is in the stack of tapes there, too, along with every birthday party and special occasion that my brother and I have ever had." That seemed to loosen him up a little, bringing the twinkle back to his eyes.
"And she shows these to everyone? Your poor mailman," he said, drawing a laugh from her. His arm found its way down to her waist, and the rest of the world just seemed to fade. After a few more moments, the tape was mercifully over, and they got on with the business of being a family. Her mother made them supper, and afterwards they played Monopoly and watched tapes in the family library from vacations and Christmases past, her mother more than happy to show off in her own way to their guest. Jenny found herself having a good time, even though she and CJ couldn't be as close to each other as they usually were, if only for the sake of decorum.
As the evening turned into night and the family went to bed, Jenny and CJ lingered in the living room, bathed in the soft twinkling of the hundreds of white lights on the Christmas tree. They both knew that that their time alone would be limited to the moments they could steal while the rest of the family slept, but they both recognized that the scarcity of such moments were what made them special. It was enough just to lie silently in each other's arms, reveling in the love and warmth they shared that words could do no justice to. It was during that first night, as they sat intertwined on the couch, that the first snowflake fell from the sky. The flurries began to change into wet, lazy flakes as they indulged in a long, steamy kiss, and as they ascended the stairs and parted company for neighboring bedrooms, the world was already turning white outside the windows.
Jenny felt a slight shiver as she walked alone into her childhood bedroom. It felt strange knowing that CJ was sleeping under the same roof, but not here with her. Even though this was their first winter together, somehow she couldn't remember how she slept through those snowy nights without him nestled next to her. He was only a room away, though, and maybe, just maybe, they weren't as separated as she thought. With a sly grin, she remembered her new abilities, the ones that had so terrified her the night before but that she was now beginning to become accustomed to, as strange as the idea was. As she slipped off her clothing, she looked toward the wall, watching with pleasure as it seemed to dissolve in front of her. Apparently she wasn't alone in her desire to break down the barrier between them — she could see CJ standing in the neighboring room, a smirk on his face, his eyes locked on her nearly naked form.
"Shame, shame," she said, knowing full well that he could hear her. With a start, he looked up, a modest expression of embarrassment flashing on his face before his lips formed into a wicked smile.
"Just pretend I'm in another room or something," he said, waving his hand in a shooing motion and returning his attention toward her body.
"Turnabout is fair play, you realize," she answered as she straightened up, her hands locking onto her hips. His expression was almost fearful for a few delicious moments, but then the recognition came to his eyes, and the wicked smile was back. Humming a tune under his breath, he performed the most awkward striptease that she had ever seen. With every garment of clothing removed, she laughed harder, and by the time he reached the lower layers of clothing, she had collapsed on her bed in a fit of giggles. He, too, was laughing, and with his audience gone, he also plopped down into his bed, his eyes still firmly locked onto her.
"Are you going to be okay tonight?" he asked after a brief silence, rolling onto his side and propping his head up with one arm. He didn't have to say what the question's context was; they both knew all too well.
The question hung in the air for a moment while Jenny pondered the situation. It could certainly be said that St. Joseph was a quiet town, especially compared to Metropolis, but quiet didn't apply so well when your hearing was sharp enough to clearly pick up a guy snoring in a house two blocks away. She closed her eyes, letting herself relax and her newly enhanced senses reach out. The fall of the snow outside sounded like a low roar, the sound of each flake hitting the ground reverberating in her head. In a way, it was just as bad as the sirens and screams of the big city, but it was also more regular, and after a while it was soothing. "Yeah, I think I will. Besides, you're only a glance away if I need anything."
As she opened her eyes and flashed a smile at him, he could see a look of sadness cross his face. "Yeah," he said, his voice heavy. His eyes shifted away from her as his hands began to clasp and unclasp each other, and Jenny realized with a start that he felt guilty. She supposed that maybe she had been too caught up in everything last night to be able to see it, but now it was plainly written on his face, a look of pain that was so acute, her heart just broke. The powers were a part of him, it was true, but he couldn't blame himself for that bolt of lightning. And he certainly couldn't blame himself because she was still somewhat overwhelmed by what she could hear now. In fact, he had been the one who had offered her comfort, who had stayed with her and held her until the fear passed. He was still her hero, she thought with a smile, and she hated to think that he felt any differently.
"The fact is, we're engaged in an intimate conversation, yet we're in two separate rooms. If that bolt of lightning hadn't happened, I'd only be WISHING I could do that." She flashed her most charming smile at him, watching as his expression softened. "The powers are really a gift, Clark; never doubt that I believe that. They're part of you, given to me in trust, and that makes them special." She set her jaw as she finished speaking, her expression conveying that there was no room for argument on that particular point.
"You think?" he asked, his eyebrows raised and the corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly. She wanted nothing more than to reach through the wall and comfort away that uncertainty, but she knew her powers only did so much.
"Sure," Jenny answered, rolling onto her back. "And there's no wrapping paper required. The best of both worlds."
"And I was in a panic there because I hadn't gotten you anything yet," he answered, deadpan, but as she looked back through the wall toward him, she could see the good humor back on his face.
"Liar," she said with a wink and a yawn. The soft chiming of the grandfather clock downstairs signaled that it was way past their bed time, and with knowing glances, they both started to climb under the covers. She let the wall reappear in front of her as she rolled onto her side.
"Night Jen," she heard him say.
"Night Clark," she whispered in return, but she had no doubt that he had heard. As she closed her eyes and let her senses reach out once again, the normal household sounds and the dull roar of the falling snow greeted her, comforted her, and ushered her into a peaceful sleep.
The next day, Christmas Eve, was more time with family, this time with turkey and pie, and more snow. CJ spent a lot of time entertaining Jenny's much younger brother, who otherwise would've had to fend for himself in the house full of adults. The two built an impressive Lego fortress between breakfast and lunch, further confirming to Jenny that CJ was very much in touch with the kid inside of him.
As the afternoon wore on, the television began to air more and more news reports connected to the snow. The winter weather advisory that had been posted the night before had long since turned into a winter storm warning, and there was no end in sight. The interstates were 100% snow and ice covered throughout the region, and the snowplows were having a hard time keeping up. Jenny caught CJ looking at the weather reports from time to time, an uncharacteristically dark expression flashing onto his face, disappearing just as quickly as his attention was drawn away to some other event.
Jenny didn't need to ask what the cause of his concern was. They were scheduled to fly out of Kansas City in the early morning, and the trip to the airport would no doubt be treacherous. But in reality, they didn't need to drive to Kansas City to catch their flight, a fact that her parents would not and could not know. She tried to think of ways to approach her mother and try to keep them from making the drive in the morning. Maybe she could say that they were going to catch a charter out of the local airport. Or maybe she could tell her that she and CJ would get something from the local car rental agency and drive themselves to Kansas City. Or…maybe something would happen in St. Joseph that would require the services of Superman, and he could offer a lift. But given the fact that such a thing had never happened in the nearly 30 years that Superman had been around, somehow she didn't hold out much hope of that happening. Even if it did, why would Superman offer to do such a thing for two people who he supposedly had only met in passing at a football game? Maybe she could just say that they didn't want to fly out until the weather cleared, and leave it at that. It didn't matter, she supposed as she finally got her mother alone. She would try whatever excuse it took to keep them safe.
The conversation didn't get very far. There was no getting around her mother's stubborn insistence that they all go together at the predetermined time. She had seemed genuinely touched by Jenny's concern for her welfare, but she would have nothing to do with Jenny's noble aspirations. A rental car would be expensive, she'd said, and so would a charter flight. Missing their flight in Kansas City would require them to purchase new tickets, ultimately setting them back hundreds of dollars that they didn't have. And they were no strangers to snow, her mother had said adamantly, and that was all there was to it.
Emerging into the family area after the conversation, she saw CJ beckoning to her with his eyes, gesturing toward the den even as he stood and walked toward it. She nodded and followed, closing the door behind her as she entered. The room was dark, the sun only recently having slipped below the horizon. Outside the window, the sky was dark blue, almost purple with the last bit of sunlight, accentuated by stars, something that she had missed seeing while in Metropolis. CJ's body was a mere shadow against the dark wood of the surrounding bookcases as he stood near the desk, staring at the phone.
"I heard," he said, answering her unasked question as he dialed the phone. She knew instinctively who he was calling, although she wondered why it had taken him so long to make the call.
"I figured," she said as she moved closer to him. Now that they were alone, she could see how tense he appeared. His posture was slightly hunched over, his lips were drawn into a thin, tight line. "My mom can be stubborn if she wants to be. Good thing she didn't pass that on to me," she said.
CJ turned to her, one eyebrow raised in question, a half smile replacing the anxious expression he had worn only moments ago. He opened his mouth to respond, but he never got a chance, as his family picked up the phone on the other end.
Jenny used her new hearing to listen in on the conversation, wondering absently how hard it would be to keep from eavesdropping on a regular basis, now that she could do it so easily. Not that she was a snoop, necessarily, but she WAS a reporter when she wasn't too busy being a student. Curiosity came naturally, and so the temptation would be there to be curious about, well, just about everything, even if it wasn't polite. How did CJ restrain himself…or DID CJ restrain himself, she wondered, looking at him with narrowed eyes. It would be an interesting conversation to have some time, but it would have to wait. With a sigh, CJ hung up the phone, the conversation finished, even though she knew that it had not been conclusive.
"My thoughts exactly," she said, wrapping her arms around him from behind. He leaned back into her, his body visibly relaxing under her touch. "I wish we could tell Mom and Dad what the situation really was. It would make it so much easier…" she said with a shake of the head.
CJ grunted. "Tell me about it. But I think I'd rather go through a few tense moments trying to cover for the secret than a lifetime dealing with the consequences. Not that I don't trust your family," he added hastily, and Jenny nodded.
"I understand," she said, holding him more tightly. She had spent a few sleepless nights since meeting CJ pondering just what her life would be like if the world knew what she knew. Those thoughts had come even more frequently after her roommate found out the secret, and as much as she tried to ignore them, she figured it would be best to face them, if only as a reminder of why she had to be careful. Why they had to be careful.
They stood in silence for a moment, their gazes turning toward the window. The thick white blanket of snow on the ground seemed to brighten the dusk, reflecting light from the streetlamps and the last remaining wisps of sunlight. "As much as I worry about what will happen when we get out in that, it occurs to me that maybe my mom has a point. Maybe it won't be as bad as we think it will," she mused, watching the snow swirl around in the light breeze outside.
Her eyes, easily adjusted to the dark now, caught CJ's eyebrows rising in surprise. "Oh?"
"It's not like we never get snow like this. Most people around here know how to handle themselves in this kind of weather. My dad's been driving me around in this stuff as long as I can remember, and I trust him completely. Plus, who knows — maybe by tomorrow morning, they will have cleared things off enough to make travel easier."
CJ smiled a little, pondering that. "I guess you're right," he said, twisting in her arms. "But what kind of superhero progeny would I be if I didn't get worked up when all the TV stations are talking about the certain doom that awaits you when you step foot outside?"
Jenny looked at him for a moment, trying to read his expression. Even though he had a tendency to joke about such things, he could also be deadly serious if he wanted to be. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference, but a long look into his eyes revealed the mischievous sparkle that she had hoped to see. "Come on," she said, disengaging her arms from his waist and taking him by the arm. He shuffled his feet and looked at her in confusion as she started to pull him toward the doorway. "Lets go outside and see just how mean and nasty those snowflakes can be. It looks like it's died down, and I've been waiting all day to make some snow angels."
"You've just been wanting to chuck snowballs at my head. I can see right through you," he said in mock seriousness, pointing the finger of his free hand at her.
Jenny smiled and wiggled her eyebrows. "Ask and ye shall receive," she said, and that finally brought the grin she'd been waiting for.
The remainder of the night was filled with fun in the snow, hot chocolate, and time with the family. The time out in the snow, making snowmen and lobbing snowballs at each other and at Jenny's little brother seemed to relax him, and for the first time since she'd been home, Jenny could see the real CJ as they spent the last parts of the evening chatting with her parents. The worry line that had been growing above his brow throughout the day seemed to be gone entirely. He wasn't trying to impress so much anymore; instead he was content to know that he had been accepted, and that he belonged with the family. As the night came, CJ and Jenny adjourned to their rooms once more, separate yet together once again. At some point in the night, Jenny swore she heard a large gust of wind and familiar voices chatting outside somewhere, but it may have just been a dream.
Morning came far too soon. The sky was still dark when the family woke up. The house bustled with activity as Jenny's parents prepared breakfast and Jenny and CJ gathered their things. In no time, they were in the car and on the road. Even though the snow had stopped falling the night before, the wind had since kicked up, blowing it around and making conditions less than ideal. The snowplows had done their best, and even though the interstate was well-cleared in spots, in others, the snow had drifted across the travel lanes, leaving just two wheel tracks, often with ice underneath.
Jenny opened her eyes once again, wishing that Kansas City would come sooner. As it was, all they saw were the rolling hills and snowy fields, and snow. Lots of snow. With a sigh, she squeezed CJ's had and looked out the front of the car, noticing that they were no longer alone on the roadway. Some other brave soul was also out and about, and driving about three car lengths in front of them. It looked like Jenny's father had settled in behind him, not willing to pass in the snowy conditions. She locked her eyes on the other car, which, in the dark of the pre-dawn hours, was nothing but two indistinct, yet hypnotic, red dots in front of them. For many miles they traveled together, until, suddenly, at a particularly snowy location, she noticed the taillights start to move from side to side, as if the rear of the car was fishtailing. After a moment, the car began to spin and slide sideways, off the shoulder of the road and down the embankment. Jenny's father uttered a curse and began to slow.
"Stop the car," CJ said as they heard a muted crash. On the right side of the road, a creek bed was bathed in the light of the other car's headlights, but there was something else, too, a growing orange glow that could be one thing and one thing only.
Gradually, the car came to a stop on the shoulder of the road. CJ's hand disengaged from Jenny's as he pulled on his jacket. "Help me," he whispered to her, then pushed open the door and immediately became lost amidst the blowing snow. Without a second thought, Jenny zipped up her coat and exited the car, making her way toward the wreck.
CJ was now standing on the edge of the shoulder, squinting into the snowy breeze, surveying the accident scene. The car below them had rolled over as it slid down the embankment, coming to rest on its top, lodged against a box culvert. The fire that they had seen was small, burning in a pool of gasoline on the ground adjacent to the car. Jenny willed the exterior of the car to dissolve away, and it did, revealing the interior of the car and its three occupants, all unconscious.
"We have to get them out of there," CJ said to her, an edge in his voice that was only present during very special circumstances. As she turned to look at his face, she saw nothing but raw determination. Underneath her jacket, she felt the goose bumps rise on her arms.
"We?" she asked, drawing his attention toward her. Their eyes locked together, and she realized that he had fully intended to say what he had said. She knew well what he was capable of — she had seen it on more than one occasion. But it had never really occurred to her before that moment that ALL the things she had seen him do were now within her scope of ability, too. It was easy enough to think of herself with x-ray vision or with super hearing, but she had never been a physically strong person. The idea of one Jennifer Sears, who had maybe been able to bench press fifty pounds in the weight room during high school gym class, now being able to move mountains, seemed a little far-fetched. She had once broken a toe when she stubbed her foot on the coffee table at home, but now she was invulnerable? It truly would take a leap of faith for her assume the role of the hero, but as she met her fiance's gaze, it occurred to her that he had all the confidence in the world that she could, indeed help him.
"You can do it," he said, without a hint of doubt. Jenny took a deep breath and nodded, and was greeted with a smile. With that, he was off down the slope. She followed, slipping most of the way. They split as they reached the bottom, each going to a different side of the car. She heard the screech of metal as CJ pulled the driver's door from its hinges. The passenger side door had deformed at some point in time during the accident, and would need to be removed, as well. She regarded it for a moment, her doubts from earlier resurfacing, if only for a moment. But as she reached out and grasped onto the door, the metal groaning under her fingertips, she thought of CJ and his unwavering confidence in her, and all the doubts magically vanished. With a grunt, she pulled, and the door came off in her hands easily. Dropping it, she reached into the car and unlatched the passenger's seatbelt, grabbing the man before he had a chance to fall. He must've weighed several hundred pounds, but in her arms he almost felt weightless. She carried him through the snow and laid him next to where CJ had placed the driver. CJ was now working on the freeing the second passenger in the car, so Jenny turned her attention to the fire. Thinking cold thoughts, she pursed her lips and blew, and the flames immediately went out.
"Jennifer? Clark?" she heard her father yelling from above. The wind had picked up again, and the snow was blowing furiously. Without her enhanced vision, she wouldn't have been able to see more than the outline of a man up there. Surely he hadn't been able to see anything that he shouldn't have.
"We're down here, Dad," she yelled. "Call the police. I think these people need an ambulance."
"Already done," he said as he started sliding down the hill toward them. Jenny glanced over toward CJ, who had laid the final passenger next to the other two. He was busying himself trying to remove any traces of super activity from the scene now, forcibly shaping the doors to make it appear as if they had somehow fallen off during the accident. He also quickly created trails in the snow that would simulate bodies being dragged to their current position. Satisfied, he then kneeled beside the victims, joining Jenny as she worked to revive them. Her father arrived a few seconds later.
As Jenny regarded her father, she was alarmed to see a look of shock on his face. The shock quickly morphed into surprise and, finally, wonder. "You saved them?" he asked, looking between Jenny and CJ.
"I pulled them out of the car. Jenny put out the fire," CJ answered as he pulled off one of his gloves and checked the pulse of the driver. Jenny started to do the same to her charge, but she noticed that he seemed to be waking up.
Jenny's dad looked at them with wide eyes for a moment, but then noticed the third victim, and moved to attend to him. After a few minutes, all who were in the other car were awake and alert, all apparently without any serious injuries. Jenny, her father, and CJ helped them up the embankment, and they all gathered around the Sears car while they waited for the ambulance to arrive. While Jenny's parents chatted with the folks from the other car, she snuck away, noticing a length of guardrail a couple hundred feet away that she could sit on.
The sky in the east was beginning to turn a deep shade of violet, a precursor to the sunrise that was coming soon. The snow was still blowing by on the wind, but she didn't feel the cold. She found her eyes wandering back toward the crash site and the crumpled car, the doors lying in the snow next to it. It was official, she thought with a wry smile. She was super. And she supposed she was a hero. That made her…something she didn't even want to ponder.
"Hey," CJ said, drawing her out of her thoughts. She hadn't heard him approach, but now he was beside her, sitting down on the guardrail.
"Hi," she answered, a squeak in her voice.
His arm reached over her shoulder and he pulled her in toward him. "Well, I think you can officially be considered a part of the Kent clan now, with that heroic rescue," he said, drawing a smile from her. "How does it feel?"
"Does this answer your question?" she said, holding up her hand, which was noticeably shaking. With a grin, he took her hand in his and brought it toward him, kissing the top of it.
"You did great," he said softly, and she knew he was right. But that wasn't what she was nervous about.
"Yeah," she sighed as she turned in his arms and leaned into him. "It's just…I guess I'm scared. It took nothing at all for me to rip that door off or to carry that man. I've used more effort trying to open a bottle of pop. When happens if I forget myself when I'm doing something at home or, even worse, in public?"
There was silence for a moment as CJ pondered what she had said, his other arm wrapped around her, holding her in a comforting embrace. "I know it's probably a lot to take all at once," he said. "My powers came in gradually, so I had time to get used to being a little strong before I became a LOT strong, if you know what I mean." At her nod, he continued. "But if you think about it, you've had these powers for a few days now, and even though I'm sure you didn't know your own strength, you haven't knocked any holes in anything."
"That's true," she said, letting her mind flash back to all the things that she'd done since the big lightning strike. There had been ample opportunity for her to slip up, most notably during the big snowball melee the night before. But nothing had happened.
"I have faith in you," he said, placing a kiss on the top of her head. "You just aren't someone who would hurt anyone or anything."
"But unintentionally? We all slip up from time to time," she answered, her voice small.
His hands detached and moved to her shoulders, applying gentle pressure and twisting her around to face him. "Believe me when I tell you that you have nothing to worry about. If you were the type of person who used brute force on a daily basis, maybe I'd worry. But you wouldn't be you if you did that. I've never hurt you, have I?"
She felt a pang at his last question, and tears threatened to form as she looked at the absolute sincerity in his face. "No," she answered, her throat tight.
"And I would say that we've had some pretty…passionate moments together, haven't we?" A little smile had formed on his face now, one that was sweet yet wicked at the same time. There was definitely a reason why she loved this man.
"We've had nights that have made my neighbors blush," Jenny answered, drawing a laugh from him.
"So trust me when I say that you have nothing to be worried about," he said, and she nodded, finally smiling.
"What did I ever do to deserve the faith that you've put in me?" she asked, cupping his cheek in her hand. He shrugged, a look of mock seriousness forming on his face.
"I think it started when you said, 'hi.' It was all kind of downhill from there," he said, a wide smile forming on his face. Under normal circumstances, such blatant teasing might warrant a round of tickling, or a good- natured, long-suffering sigh, but all she could think about was how badly she wanted to kiss him, so kiss him she did. She didn't know how long they remained together, but as she began to gather her wits again, she noticed that the police and ambulance had finally arrived. Reluctantly, they pulled apart and stood, making their way back toward her parents' car.
The police questioned them for a while, then questioned Jenny's parents before letting them continue on. By the time they were back on the road to Kansas City, the sun had risen above the horizon. Jenny caught her dad glancing back at them through the rearview mirror on more than one occasion, a proud smile on his face. It wasn't much longer before they were at the airport, in plenty of time to catch the flight that they were supposedly taking. Walking through the doors toward the ticket counter, Jenny could see Clark sitting on a couch in the reception area, his nose buried in a newspaper, but his eyes surreptitiously on them.
She said her final goodbyes to her parents, hugging them both. CJ shook hands with her father and gave her mother a quick kiss on the cheek. With that, they parted company. As they met up with Clark and walked toward more deserted areas of the airport, he promised them that he would come back and make sure that her parents got home safely. With that, it was back to Metropolis, their Christmas trip to Missouri one that Jenny was sure that she'd never forget.
As Diane woke up, she was aware of the bright afternoon sun streaming in through the westward-facing windows in her bedroom. She stretched and sighed, reveling in the warmness of the bed and the fuzzy feeling that came from a complete night of rest. The last remnants of her dreams still lingered, providing a nice distraction from the reality that would confront her once she finally got up and started the day. It felt good just to lie there for a while, blissfully unaware of the news of the day, news that she was pretty sure she wouldn't be too fond of.
She frowned a little as her eyes focused on the speckled ceiling, memories of the night before seeping back into her consciousness. It was odd to think of herself as some sort of superhero, on par with Clark and Jon, but she supposed that was what she had become now, although that was never what she had intended. All she had wanted to do was to help, anonymously if possible. When she had started out, she had intended to do what she did in such a way that a observer would think of her actions as nothing more than the work of some random good Samaritan, no different than anyone else in ability. But the rush of the moment had affected her, and it hadn't taken any time at all to get carried away, to extend herself further than intended, and to be seen. She was just doing what had to be done, she'd told herself, and it was true enough. Everything that she had done that night had been done based on the belief that what she was doing couldn't be done successfully by anyone else, and that lives were at stake if she had refused to act. But maybe she should've taken a step back at some point. If she had, maybe she would've seen that her actions had stopped being based on logic early on, and that it had been emotion fueling her for the majority of the night. And while emotion could be handy at times, last night it had made her careless and frenzied, and neither were the type of lasting image that she wanted to portray.
There was something about seeing horrible things that had always caused her to somehow retreat into herself. Usually she had her job to fall back onto, the rigid police procedures that were at the same time regimental and comforting. She needed that as a sort of reality check, some bit of logic that she could cling to and concentrate on. Being a superhero, though, was something entirely new. There were no procedures, no paperwork, no police sergeant or partner to guide you along the way. The work of the superhero seemed to thrive on emotion, on the unchecked manic zeal to always do the right thing, to save those in need and stop the things that could harm others. She had never really understood before last night what it truly was that Jon saw and felt day in and day out, the emotions he was driven by even while he tried his best to not let them get out of hand. His was a life where logic held that in check, and where humor probably made it all bearable in the end.
Diane smiled and pulled the covers back fractionally as she thought of Jon. In his own way, he had rescued her again last night. Everything that she had felt and thought in the course of escapades he had probably also experienced once upon a time. That night when the chemistry building had exploded on the Metropolis University campus almost a year ago now had probably been similar for him, although he had had his father by his side the whole time to guide him. And he had anticipated the coverage of the press. Of all the things about last night that gnawed at Diane, it was her total lack of regard for even the idea that she would somehow make the news the next day. She knew that she had been seen, and she supposed she knew that rumors would swirl because of that, but it occurred to her that, with the technology that was available now, it was entirely possible that there were pictures of her out there as well. The press had no doubt latched onto the story, carrying it to the national and even the world news, and splashing her largely covered face all over. Would anyone recognize her? Would she get strange sideways glances as she walked down the street now? Would random villains try and attack her? She knew that the answer to these questions should be obvious to her, that nobody had recognized the Kent men without a healthy dose of help, and that no random villains attacked them on a daily basis, but she still had to wonder. How blind could people be?
With a grunt, she threw back the covers and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. As nice as the thought was, she couldn't stay in bed and ponder the mysteries of life as a superhero all day. With that, she was up and off, taking a shower, getting dressed, and putting on a pot of coffee before sitting down in the living room and grasping the remote control. She took a deep breath and cringed as she turned on the television, which was tuned to the news channel that had been on the night before. Normally, during the daytime, this channel reverted to mostly political and world news, but today there was none of that. Middle eastern terrorists and European Union squabbles took a back seat to what was going on in Metropolis the night before. On the screen was a dark, fuzzy video, showing a shadowy figure flying in and out of an accident scene. The caption under the video gave the time and location that the tape had been taken at, and Diane felt her jaw drop as she realized that she had been right. There really had been video taken of her, and she really was seeing herself on screen, although she had to admit that it would take quite a stretch of the imagination for anyone else to see the resemblance to her in that grainy video.
"It's looking more and more like Superman was a pretty busy guy a couple decades ago," one of the commentators said. Diane almost laughed. The comment just seemed so absurdly out of place. But at the same time, she wondered how many people thought just that when they had heard about her the first time.
"Didn't he just disappear for a week a couple of different times back then?" another man asked, and as the video ended, they cut to the two men in the studio.
"As a matter of fact, he's done it several times," the first man said, shuffling some papers. "Two weeks in 1996 — I'm betting that was the honeymoon. Another week about four years later, then again in spring of 2003, and again in the summer of 2008. I don't think it's a coincidence that two new superheroes show up recently that look like they just might be old enough to have been born during those one week disappearances. Makes you wonder when number three will show up."
The camera switched to the second man. "Shadowy reports of another superperson around Metropolis surfaced about four months ago," he said, and Diane nodded. She remembered hearing about that even before she had ever met Jon. "While it is possible that those reports may correlate to this new one who showed up last night, the earlier reports had been of another male. So maybe number three HAS shown up, but was a little more shy than his siblings."
The first man nodded and raised his eyebrows, then held up one of his hands. "What I thought would be fun would be to do a little bit of historical research," he said. An old photograph of Superman flashed on the screen just then. It didn't seem remarkable, really — he was smiling his cordial Superman smile, apparently at the successful aftermath of one rescue or another. "This is a photo from about six months after one of those infamous disappearances," he said, and suddenly, a little circle was drawn over his shoulder region, around what looked like a little white speck on his uniform. "Doesn't that look like baby spittle to you?"
Diane snorted and quickly changed the channel. Poor Clark. Even if she HAD gotten a chance to think through all the possible consequences of her appearance, something like that was not likely to have been anywhere on the radar. Maybe it was best if she stayed far away from the news channels, she decided, finally finding a nice educational program to watch. When Jon got off work in a few hours, they could discuss all the other stories that had broken as a result of her appearance. Until then, it was probably better for her peace of mind to concentrate on other things, and just try and relax.
With a sigh, she looked around, her eyes finally falling on her coffee table and an unread copy of Time magazine that lay on top. The cover story was about the most recent Nobel prize winners, something that sounded mundane and uplifting at the same time. Smiling, she picked up the magazine and started reading. About halfway through the article, though, her hands began to shake, and the article became almost impossible to read. She had to set the magazine on the couch to finish the story of Randall Thompson, the latest winner of the medical prize. It seemed that Randall had been sickly for most of his life, suffering from a congenital heart defect that had grown steadily worse throughout his lifetime, and that, at the age of 25, had threatened his life and put him on the organ transplant list. He had received that transplant, going on to live a long and distinguished life, where he had ultimately discovered one of the keys to curing cancer. Thousands, possibly millions, of lives had been saved because of what he'd done, and all of it was possible because of the terrible misfortune of some anonymous organ donor that had led to that transplant all those years ago.
In this article, though, the heart donor wasn't all that anonymous. It was known that this person had been a teenager, a passenger in a van that had overturned on an icy interstate one winter, one who had died in the arms of Superman, who had arrived there a split second too late to stop the terrible tragedy. Diane closed her eyes and took a deep breath, the faces of those that she hadn't been able to save the night before flashing in front of her.
"Sometimes you have to believe that things happen for a reason. Maybe you weren't meant to save that person," Jon's voice echoed in her head from the night before. As she opened her eyes, a tear slid down her cheek, and she realized for the first time what exactly he meant. The universe worked in mysterious ways, but maybe, just maybe, there was some order to it all. Maybe sometimes things did happen for a reason. And maybe situations that seem to hold nothing but the bad could end up being for the best after all. Suddenly she needed nothing more than to be held. It was strange to think that her whole outlook on life could change just because of one article that she read in a magazine, but as she wrapped her arms around herself and looked toward the window, toward the bright day outside the window and the newly found promise that the world held, she realized that that was exactly what had happened.
After a moment, her eyes shifted to the small artificial Christmas tree that stood next to the window. The ornaments were few, the decorations were meager, but that didn't make the tree less loved, or less symbolic. Christmas was tomorrow, a day for giving and loving, and family. And forgiveness. Maybe she was crazy, but her new outlook on life made it very easy to ponder the idea of going down to Texas, visiting her family, and letting herself be free of the last dark cloud that hovered over her.
Jon knocked on the door of Diane's apartment, sniffing the bouquet of fresh roses that he held in his hand. Last night, as Diane had practically collapsed into bed, he had told her that he'd stop by after work, but he wondered if she remembered, since he was pretty sure that she had been asleep by the time that he had finished speaking. He'd given her a soft kiss and then left, off to his duties for the day, with thoughts of her never too far from his mind. And it wasn't just because he had spent most of the day writing about her, either — there was a nugget of guilt deep down inside of him that kept trying to tell him that he had at least some responsibility for her suffering the night before, that maybe if he had stayed with her longer, maybe if he had not gone down to fight that oil fire, he could've handled the situation in Metropolis, and she could've been spared having to expose herself. But he knew thoughts like that were fruitless and groundless. Would he have stayed in Metropolis at the expense of the people in Texas? Would he have hovered around Diane all night, not letting her out of his sight, badgering her about how to best use her powers? And more importantly, would she have let him? And was it necessarily bad that she had gone out in the first place? Of course not, on all counts. So why agonize over it? He found it much better to just be proud of her, and he was. For all she had been through last night, she had also done a lot of good for a lot of people, and there was no denying that, no matter how much some of his colleagues tried to take that particular point out of the story.
Diane answered the door quickly, a somber expression on her face that went away as soon as he held the roses out toward her. He noticed that she seemed to be dressed rather nicely for what he had intended to be a night in.
"How are you doing?" he asked, bending down to give her a kiss. She wrapped her arm around his neck, returning the kiss with intensity.
"Well," she said, stepping aside to let him into the apartment. They were only a couple of days past the shortest day of the year, and the world outside of her apartment had grown dark already. Normally, she wasn't one to sit in the dark, but tonight the only source of illumination was a small Christmas tree glowing from the far side of the living room, bathing the apartment in a soft white light. That poor tree had been largely neglected throughout the holiday season up until that point, and he suspected that it had been put up purely as an afterthought, a consequence of a chance glance at the upper shelf of a closet at just the right time. "I'm much better now that you're here," she finished.
Jon brought his hand around to the small of her back. "You've seen the news, I take it," he said, and she nodded meekly, her nose wrinkling ever so slightly.
"Yeah that was kind of hard to ignore. I wonder where some of these hacks are coming from," she answered, a slightly amused tone in her voice. Whatever was bugging her, it wasn't the news, which was a nice surprise, he supposed. The Diane of old would've blown up at the nosy nature of what was being reported, ranted about the inaccuracies and the speculative nature of everything. It was nice to see that she no longer felt that way, and he had to admit that many of the things that he had seen throughout the course of the day had made him want to laugh, as well.
"Well this hack stuck to just the facts, ma'am," he answered, drawing a smirk from her.
She walked toward the kitchen, twirling the roses in her hand as she searched for a vase in one of her upper cabinets. "I would expect no less," she said, looking over her shoulder and raising her eyebrows.
"You know," he said, moving toward her couch, "with all the speculation about who you are and where you came from, the actual details of what you did kind of got lost in the shuffle." He heard the tinkling of glass and looked toward the kitchen, Diane still rooting through the cupboard. At his comment, her head peeked out from behind the cupboard door, a half smile on her face.
"I suppose you did something about that," she said, and he smiled at her and sat down, breaking the eye connection.
"Darn right," he said, reaching for one of the magazines on the table. "I want everyone to know about what my girl can do."
He heard the faucet turn on and the vase fill with water. In a few moments, Diane was back in the living room, setting the flowers on the coffee table and settling in next to him. "You're sweet. You know that, right?" she asked, putting her hand on his knee. He raised an eyebrow, dirty thoughts momentarily flashing through his mind, but he only offered her a smile.
"I know," he said and winked. She nudged him, then looked down and noticed the magazine in his hands, a pained look passing across her face again. He looked back at the magazine again, suddenly curious. Flipping through it at superspeed, he found what was evidently disturbing her, and he felt his jaw drop ever so slightly as he read, turning back toward Diane as he finished. Her eyes were now lowered, staring blankly at the carpet. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into him.
"You were right," she said, and the corners of his mouth turned upwards again ever so slightly. It took an act of nature for Diane ever to admit that she was wrong about something, but he supposed that that article had been enough.
"Nobody wants to see anyone die. Nobody. But the beautiful thing about life is that it goes on regardless. And sometime you can take lemons and make lemonade." He put the magazine down and stared at the Christmas tree in the background, suddenly understanding why it was on in the first place. Sometimes the spirit of the season was lost amongst the shopping and the cooking and the relatives, but then an event comes that drives home the point, and you remember.
After a few moments of silence, he felt Diane stir again. "I want to go to Texas tonight," she said simply, and he blinked several times, trying to process the request.
"What?" he asked, pulling back. Her eyes turned toward him, and he noticed that there was a certain resignation there. She was serious. Whatever had happened last night and today had given her the motivation to put some things right.
"I want to see my mom and dad again," she said, calmly, evenly. "And I want you to come with me."
Snippets of former conversations came back to him, mentions of a gruff father who would surely hate him without even knowing him. He supposed that he was used to being judged prematurely — his time spent as a superhero had been filled with that. But as he looked at Diane and the longing in her eyes, he nodded, knowing that he would do just about anything if she asked. She had a lot of fences to mend with her folks, that much he knew, and she probably needed him to be her moral support, her tether to reality, and he would never deny her that. Besides, things probably wouldn't be as bad between him and her father as he had imagined. He would never hurt anyone, and surely he could make Mr. Martinez believe that, if given a chance.
"You want to get some dinner first?" he asked, and she nodded vehemently.
"I want a couple of drinks first, too," she added, and he chuckled.
Diane smiled and leaned into him, silence falling over the apartment again, but he didn't mind. In moments like this, he could reach out with his senses and just feel everything that he needed to know, and he suspected that she had discovered that ability, too. The city was just so alive, more alive than anyone could imagine, and in a way it was comforting to be a part of that. Diane had once mentioned her affinity for the hustle and bustle of the city, the very thing that a lot of people hated, but that Jon secretly loved, too. It was continually baffling that they could think so much alike, but it was reassuring at the same time.
After a few minutes, they finally left for dinner, stopping at a nice restaurant and just enjoying each other's company, each trying to put the impending trip out of their mind, if only for a little while. But after the meal was done, they made their way to a dark, deserted alley, and each stared up at the night sky, apprehensive.
"Are you ready?" he asked, spinning into the suit.
She gulped and nodded, quickly changing into her dark clothes and sunglasses. "I'm as ready as I'll ever be, I suppose," she said, then offered him a smile that seemed a bit forced.
"I hear that the stars at night are big and bright…" he started, and her smile quickly became genuine.
"What? Where we're going? Guess I never noticed," she replied.
"Well, you just never really got to see them close up back then," he answered, a knowing smile on his face, then jumped into the air and closer to the stars.
She quickly launched and came up beside him, her smile telling him everything he needed to know. Before too long, they were over Texas, heading toward San Antonio and a generic neighborhood of stucco ranches and Spanish tiled roofs. They landed in a neighborhood park, dark and deserted, and slowly made their way toward her parents' house. The houses that lined the street were lit up, and many had cars in front and scenes of busy family gatherings visible through the living room windows. Jon caught Diane staring at some of those, her expression blank, and he wondered what she was thinking. Did she have happy memories of times like those, or were they all bittersweet somehow? Were her thoughts of home colored with the anger that she had mentioned, or was she somehow sad that she hadn't been able to have the happy relations with her family that he knew she longed for? She seemed so happy and relaxed with his family it was hard to believe that all her bygone Christmases had been painful, but he wondered during moments like these. But whatever the past was, it was the present that mattered, and they quickly reached her house, approaching the door and ringing the bell.
As they stood in front of the house, waiting for her parents to answer the door, her hand found his and clasped it tightly. Normally, she wasn't someone who wanted to so much as witness the hokey public displays of affection that his parents were so famously known for, not to mention actually take part in any. Yes, they had kissed in the park in Sydney, but moments like that were the exception rather than the norm. 'Get a room' comments were common, especially in the company of his family, and she never, ever wanted to hold hands. But now she had him in a death grip, and he could certainly understand why. As he glanced over at her, he noticed how her eyes were slightly wide, her free hand nervously trying to smooth out her dress. She was anxious about this meeting, probably even more nervous than she had been at any point during her escapades last night.
Finally the door was answered, pulled open by a man that Jon could only assume was her father. He seemed confused as he caught sight of Jon, but as soon as he saw Diane, all confusion fled, and there was only joy.
"Sweetheart!" he cried, rushing out onto the porch and embracing his daughter. "Celia, come see who's here," he yelled into the house. Within moments, Diane's mother was also at the door, her jubilation evident. Each, in turn, hugged Diane, but she returned their embraces with only one arm, her other hand still steadfastly in Jon's. After a while, her parents seemed to notice him again, and they began to look curiously at him.
"Mom and Dad, this is Jon Kent. He's my, uh, better half I guess," Diane said, looking anxiously at her parents as they both looked toward Diane's left hand in unison. They seemed relieved as they looked toward him again. He just smiled and held out his hand to her father.
"Pleased to meet you," he said as her father grasped it and shook it. They exchanged a few other platitudes before finally being invited in. Entering the house, Jon looked around, noticing family pictures hanging all over the walls. Many were of Diane, some with another little boy who looked like he was probably her brother, although he didn't remember Diane mentioning having any siblings. In fact, he was pretty sure that she had mentioned being an only child on a couple of occasions. Other pictures had the whole family in them — younger versions of her parents, and a little Diane and brother, smiling semi-toothless elementary school grins. Happier times, Jon thought as he turned toward Diane again, noticing that she was flatly ignoring the pictures, seemingly going out of her way to do so.
They all gathered in the living room and talked, Diane telling them of what she had done since she left home, mentioning some things that Jon had only known about peripherally. Her parents talked some as well, mentioning their jobs and their hobbies, the condition of her relatives and old friends. Jon remained a silent observer, his hand still firmly pressed into hers, happy to just take it all in by her side. After a while her parents got up and left for the kitchen, gathering refreshment for their visitors. It was then that Diane finally released his hand, taking a deep breath and looking apologetically toward him.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I know this must be really boring for you…"
"Boring? You? Perish the thought," he said, offering a smile that seemed to melt away some of the anxiety. His eyes caught one of the family photos, and he shifted his eyes between it and her, wondering if he should pose the question. After a moment, curiosity got the better of him.
"Is that your brother," he asked, pointing toward a photo featuring just the boy. She followed his gaze, then turned back toward him, her good humor gone.
"Was," she said quietly, looking at her hands. "He passed away a long time ago."
"I'm so sorry," Jon said, placing his hand on her shoulder, immediately regretting the question.
"Don't be," she answered, looking up toward him again, her eyes sad. "He died of natural causes, very suddenly." She scooted toward him, resting her head on his shoulder and turning back toward the picture. "We were very close, never fought. We had a lot of fun together and then, one day, poof. That was it. It's like a huge part of you is gone suddenly, but you manage to convince yourself that he's still out there somewhere, you know? Oh, he's just away at camp or something and will be back in a while, but he doesn't come back."
"No," Jon said, understanding now where some of her passion from the night before had come from. Having lost a loved one before his time, naturally she wouldn't want anyone else to go through that same thing.
"Anyway," she continued, her voice soft, "that on top of everything else just made it unbearable around here. You almost felt as if there was something wrong with you if you dared to be happy. So I left and actively tried to forget."
"Anger, sadness…I can't imagine," Jon said, shaking his head.
"You wouldn't know it now," Diane said, straightening up suddenly as they heard her parents' footsteps approaching the room again. She had a point, he thought as he removed his arm from her shoulder and pressed his hand back into hers again. Of all the things that he had seen from her family so far, anger and sadness were definitely not among those. If anything, they just seemed happy to have her there, and he wondered if maybe they hadn't thought that they had lost her, too, somewhere along the way. A moment later, her mother was setting sodas in front of them, her father setting down a tray of snacks.
"So, Jon," her dad said as he sat back down on a chair opposite them. "What do you do for a living?"
Jon looked at Diane, who nodded and smiled, silently telling him to go ahead and say it. "I work for the Daily Planet," he said. He held his breath, waiting for the narrowed eyes, the consternation and maybe the accusations, but her father just nodded.
"That's a good newspaper," he said, and Jon found himself smiling despite himself. The conversation continued on from there, rapidly changing topics, getting Jon involved from time to time. After a while, Diane even disengaged her hand from his, relaxing, enjoying herself. Maybe it wasn't quite a Christmas miracle, he thought, but it was close enough.
Diane wanted to do loop-the-loops as they took off from San Antonio. Going to her parent's house had been like visiting strangers. When she had left after high school, there had been alcohol abuse and silent accusations, and not a whole lot of room for kindness or love. Tonight, though, they seemed like the parents she remembered, before the lawsuit and the tragic death of her brother. Something had happened somewhere along the way to change them, something that she would never know, although she suspected that their lack of contact had been part of it. Maybe the separation and the years of loneliness hadn't been entirely wasted, she thought, mystified yet again at how the silver linings to dark clouds seemed to be showing up more and more frequently of late.
As she cleared away her thoughts and forced herself to concentrate on the flight, Diane noticed that Jon's forward progress had slowed considerably. Curious, she turned to face him, and noticed a strange expression on his face as he looked very intently at her.
"What's wrong?" she asked, floating toward him, wondering if the exposure to her family had somehow affected him in a negative sense.
As soon as she got within arm's length, Jon reached for her hand, grasping it in his. "Do you ever think about the future?" he asked, his voice soft and serious. And nervous, she realized. It was a strange disparity, seeing him fidgety and nervous, even while hovering there in his red and black uniform, a symbol of supreme confidence and strength, worn by the most powerful men in the world. But the suit had never fooled her — he had always been completely vulnerable in her presence, suit or not. It was one of his many charms, she thought.
Diane smirked, wondering what the question was leading to. Did she ever think about the future? Did she even have time? She supposed that the future of her job was the standard, with big busts, investigations, maybe some undercover work, eventually leading to promotions. Her future as a superhero, well, that was still pretty up in the air, so to speak. If she were to continue, she'd need to find a tailor, that much was for certain. Outside of that, well…she'd never really been the type to plan things out in advance. Generally she just did, and that was fine.
"Not really," she answered, smiling slightly, rubbing his hand with her thumb, trying to soothe away his obvious tension. "You know me — why plan for tomorrow what you can do today."
A twinkle of something flashed in his eye, a sly half grin forming on his face. "I'm talking about us," he said, and she blinked, caught off guard.
"Our future, together?" she croaked. She looked at him, really looked at him, and wondered for the first time what exactly he had up his spandex sleeve. He knew how she felt about him, and likewise she knew his feelings toward her. They had never really talked about any aspects of their relationship beyond that, and anything more that what they had right now had always been assumed to be off the radar, at some indeterminate point in the future. They were taking it slow, playing it smart, but she supposed that they had never explicitly said as much.
"Sure," he said with a shrug, his eyes expectant. "Our relationship right now is great, but what about the next step? What about…marriage?"
She felt goose bumps break out all over her body as her pulse rate sped up. "What are you saying?" she rasped, and he smiled.
"Do you want to? Get married, I mean."
Diane gaped at him. Them? Married? Maybe in the back of her mind she had thought about it, but never seriously. "Oh, Jon, we hardly know each other," she said, voicing the one concern that had always stopped the dreaming and shoved the very thought of the m-word away every time it was pondered.
"We know enough," he said, grasping her other hand, as well. "Back there we lived out one of my greatest remaining fears about us — I met your father. I've seen you with them, with my folks, with me, and in a hundred different situations. I know your hopes and fears, I've seen you at your best and worst, and I realize that nothing can make me stop loving you."
She felt her eyes tear up, and she had to look away from him. He was right — they had seen a lot together. But good times or bad times, there were bound to be worse eventually. What then? And what about living arrangements and a thousand other little things that are seemingly inconsequential, until they are staring you in the face? As she looked up again and caught sight of his handsome face, she wondered if any of those silly things really mattered all that much. Everything he had said was true of her, as well. No matter what else came, they loved and respected each other, and that's what really counted, right?
As a smile formed on her face, she looked around, then back toward him. "This wasn't how I pictured being proposed to," she said.
"Well, it was kind of a spur of the moment thing. Besides, you know what they say — cirrus clouds are for lovers." His grin was teasing, but the expectancy behind it was entirely serious.
Diane arched her eyebrows and suppressed a giggle. She had to admit that he had a point. The stars twinkling overhead, the mostly full moon casting the cloud tops in a silver glow — it was definitely beautiful up there. Maybe this truly was the perfect place and the perfect time.
"So what do you say?" he asked, his hands letting go of hers and snaking their way behind her back.
"Well, eventually, yeah," she said, her finger tracing the stitch work on his S shield.
His grin only deepened. "What was it you said? Why put off for tomorrow what you can do today?" He removed his hands from their loose embrace around her and coiffed his hair, then started singing 'Viva Las Vegas' while doing his best Elvis imitation, hips and all. Diane couldn't help herself — she was laughing harder than she had in a long time. As he finished up, he regarded her with a triumphant smile. "My Uncle Perry had me doing Elvis imitations before I could tie my shoes."
Diane smiled and shook her head, trying to not let the levity distract from the seriousness of the question he posed. "YOU want to be spontaneous and fly out to Las Vegas and get married tonight. You, who lives your life from a carefully managed day planner." She arched her eyebrows and crossed her arms, challenging him, but that grin of his would not be displaced.
Jon nodded. "I think I've found lately that some of the best things happen spontaneously," he said, and she couldn't argue with that. They had met on accident, a stray bullet wounding her partner but bringing them together. Her superpowers were the result of an accident during a rather spontaneous trip to the land down under.
"Why do I get the feeling that you didn't get me anything for Christmas yet?" she asked, still not entirely convinced.
"Well, certainly, a symbol of my seriousness in this issue would tie up a large chunk of several paychecks for many months to come, but that's not why I'm asking, believe me." He floated closer to her, gathering her in his arms once again. "But I'm serious. I want to do it. Why wait? There won't be any big, overly elaborate ceremonies…"
"Go on," Diane said, smiling. Oh how he knew her and her disdain for large frilly ceremonies.
"No reception. No tossing of the flowers or the garter. No bad buffets or drunken relatives. Just you and me, some slot machines, and an Elvis impersonator. How much more romantic can you get?"
It was tempting, so very tempting. And the more she thought about it, the more sense it made. She had never loved any other man, could not see herself ever loving any other man, and if they were just going to end up marrying each other anyway, why not get it over with and get on with the Honeymoon? That alone would be worth the price of admission.
They were already drifting westward when she finally made up her mind. "Okay, let's go," she said, and with that, they were off, streaking toward sin city and the rest of their lives.
Clark took a sip from his wine glass and settled onto the couch, wrapping his arm around Lois and snuggling into her. The soft sounds of Christmas music drifted through the house, complimenting the Christmas decor which surrounded them. In the fireplace, the flames flickered hypnotically, drawing his attention as his mind began to wander over the events leading up to the impending holiday.
It had been tougher traveling to Missouri to chauffer CJ and Jenny than he had ever thought. Yes, the snowstorm had made for a somewhat tense situation, but that wasn't really too bad, as far as tense situations went. And he honestly didn't mind keeping an eye on the Sears family as they drove back home. What had been hard had been seeing Smallville in the distance. From the air, it seemed to be close enough to Kansas City to touch, and it had immediately drawn his attention, even though he had told himself that he wasn't going to look that way. On instinct, his eye wandered toward the lonely stretch of gravel road that he had once lived along, and the farmhouse that still stood, the majestic oak in the front yard a bit taller than he remembered, the barn a bit more weathered, the house a different color. It only took a second to remind himself that his parents weren't there anymore, that the house was now under the care of another loving family, and that he should just turn away. But he couldn't. His eyes shifted again, this time toward a simple white church on the outskirts of town and the rows of gravestones lined up beside it. Even from several hundred miles away he could read the writing on the stones that marked his parents' graves. Only then did he look away, a slight tear in his eye.
It was hard not to miss them during this time of the year. There had been so many good memories throughout the years of Christmases gone by, of pies and lovingly decorated trees and presents, of the incredibly strong love that they all felt toward each other, especially when each other was all they had. As time had moved on and he had married Lois, those Christmases still held their magic, although increasingly the festivities shifted toward Metropolis. Then, a few years after Laura had been born, they had just simply slipped away, peacefully, together. Lois had carried Clark through his grief during that time, even though he was positive that she had grieved their passing just as much as he had. Even so, it still hurt to think of them, and a selfish part of him had held him away from Smallville ever since. It was better to just remember Smallville as it was with them in it, he told himself. Surely the soul of that town had died with the passing of Jonathan and Martha Kent. Surely, wherever they were, they knew that he was thinking about them, and he didn't need to visit their final resting places to prove that to anybody. But deep inside he knew that he was just avoiding having to face the reality of the situation, an odd thing for a man who had faced down asteroids and aliens. After CJ and Jenny had been returned to Kansas, after he had safely overseen the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Sears to St. Joseph, he had slipped into a flower shop in town, bought two single red roses, and flown them to Smallville, placing them lovingly at the headstone they shared. He supposed he had cried, although he didn't really remember. He supposed that he had told the inanimate block of stone all that had happened in the lives of his children, and how proud he was of them on a daily basis, and he supposed that he had received strange glances from the other visitors to the cemetery that day, although he wasn't entirely sure that there were any. All he knew for sure was that he had felt a lot better when he had returned, more whole somehow. But he had never said a word of it to Lois, if only because there really hadn't been a moment to share. She deserved to know, though, and she deserved a chance to join him there, to say her peace to them as well.
"Honey, what's wrong?" she asked, drawing his attention away from the fire and the thoughts that swirled inside of his head. Leave it to Lois to ferret out his moods without his having to say so much as a word to her.
As he turned his attention toward Lois, Clark realized that he had been frowning. "I was just thinking about Mom and Dad," he said.
Immediately a look of concern crossed Lois's face, and she reached up to stroke his cheek. "It's really tough this time of year, I know," she said, leaning in to kiss him lightly on the cheek. "Your mom had a real way of making the holiday extra special. She taught me everything I know about turkey." Lois's voice was somewhat wistful, her eyes far away.
Clark smiled slightly, running his finger along her hairline. "I visited them today," he said, aware that his voice was still heavy.
Lois rested her head on his shoulder and turned toward the fire. She was silent for a moment, taking a long, slow sip of wine before finally speaking. "How was it?" she asked.
He thought for a second, swirling the wine in his glass. "After all the avoiding and the excuses for not doing it, I don't know what I was afraid of."
Lois's expression was sympathetic. "Maybe actually going out there to visit the gravesite would be to admit that they're really gone. And maybe you were afraid that you'd lose the memories of them somehow my doing that."
He shook his head and smiled, amazed yet again at the way his wife almost knew him better than he knew himself. "I think you hit the nail on the head," he said, his smile widening as he rethought the event. "I got a lot off my chest," he said, bringing a glance from Lois.
"That didn't include any deeply held feelings of anxiety over the proliferation of superpowers that you haven't bothered to share with your wife, would it?" she asked, a twinkle in her eye. Clark smirked, wondering when that particular subject would come up.
"What makes you think that I'm worried about that?" he asked, drawing a disbelieving stare from Lois.
"Because you worry, that's what you do. Although I have to admit you've hid it well this time." Lois took a sip of wine and raised her eyebrows, waiting for him to prove her wrong. Clark was well aware that he tended to be a little high strung about certain things, but for whatever reason, the lightning strike and the resulting superpowered women just didn't make him worry at all. Well, at least not as much as usual. And he had no idea why not, although he had his suspicions.
When his kids gained their powers, it hadn't been the powers that had caused his anxiety so much as the need to reveal to them who he was. He had to face each of them and let them know that he was not who they thought he was, at least not entirely. They each had to reconcile that new image of him with who they had thought he was beforehand, and he had always worried that their relationships would be damaged because of that. But Lois, Jenny, and Diane all knew the big secret, so that particular obstacle wasn't there.
Clark had always taken pains to help his children to develop their powers, to guide them in how and when to use them and to answer any questions they had. But their powers had come on slowly, not all and once. And at the time, he had been the only one who COULD help them. That wasn't the case anymore.
"I don't look worried because I'm not worried," he said, leaning down to give her a kiss on her head. "I don't need to worry about you, do I? You've done the whole hero gig before."
"Now that I'm invulnerable, I think it's probably safe to stop worrying about me, yes," she said, drawing a sideways glance from him. "And Ultrawoman might be a little rusty, but it all came back to me."
Clark nodded. "And as far as Jenny and Diane go, there are a couple of responsible young superpowered men who love them very much and are more than capable of guiding them as they discover their powers." Clark took another sip of his wine, and this time it was he who gave the challenging glance to Lois.
Lois gave a half smile and turned back toward the fire. "Admit it, you still hover," she said, and he chuckled.
"Okay, maybe a little," he answered, and she gave him a knowing glance. They sat in silence for a few minutes, watching the fire, before Clark's eyes wandered under the tree, and he noticed a small package that hadn't been there earlier in the day. Lois seemed to sense his curiosity, and her attention also turned toward the tree, a smile forming on her face.
"Hey, no peeking," she said as she pulled away from him, rose from the couch, and retrieved the present, setting it in his lap.
The tag on the box indicated that it was for Clark, from Lois. "What's this?" he asked, picking up the box and shaking it gently.
"Oh, a little something from me to you," she answered, her eyes twinkling. "Go ahead," she said with a smile, and Clark shrugged, grabbing at the bow and untying it.
He tore at the wrapping paper next, revealing a small paper box. Opening that, he found a white crystal star, wrapped lovingly in tissue paper. Raising his eyebrows, he turned toward Lois, who just smiled and pointed up.
"Ultrawoman and I thought that would spruce up the tree," she said. Clark nodded, leaned in, and gave her a kiss.
"I'm going to have to find a new shopping place," he muttered as he got up, grabbed a ribbon, and tied it to a lonely bough on the tree. The star that he had given her all those years ago had long since been retired, the family-sized Christmas tree too large for the little topper.
As he settled back down on the couch again, the sound of the television in the next house over caught both their attentions. There was a fire in a downtown high rise, and the firefighters were having a hard time reaching it. "Speaking of Ultrawoman…" he said, turning toward her, his face serious.
"Oh, I don't know, Clark," Lois said, shaking her head.
"Come with me," he said, taking her hand in his and smiling his most encouraging smile. In over twenty years of marriage, it was the one thing that they had truly been unable to share with each other, to do together. They had each experienced everything that went with being a superhero, but never at the same time. And anyway, it had been a long time since she had donned the spandex and the cape, and it would be good to knock the rust off as a team, when they were at their best.
She seemed torn for a minute, but as she looked at Clark, her eyes searching his, she seemed to relax, almost become excited at the prospect. "Okay," she said, and he beamed. As they rose off the couch, she grabbed his arm, drawing his attention back to her. "I just want one thing in return," she said, catching him off guard.
"What?" he asked.
"If I'm going to resurrect a superhero who hasn't been seen since the last millennium, whose last appearance in public involved a deep and impassioned kiss with your alter ego, I want us to go out there with our wedding bands on."
He looked at his left hand, then back toward her, not saying anything as he pondered the idea. Throughout the years, he had made it a policy to remove his wedding ring while in the suit. He had rationalized it by saying that Superman was just fiction, a character that was publicly above the toils of everyday life, including feelings and relationships. Anyway it wasn't "Superman" whom Lois was married to. Even though the ring was generic enough that nobody should be able to recognize it even if he did keep it on out there, what if, hypothetically, they did? The prospect of all those awkward questions and the possible damage to his image had led him to just take it off in his other guise. But now he had a son out there fighting crime, and another one who had been out and about, who people had heard about, even if he had been careful enough not to be photographed or seen in an official sense. And today, when Diane came out, the speculation had started all over again. The world just assumed now that he was married, and if Ultrawoman reemerged, most people would assume she was his wife, anyway. So what was the harm? It might even help to put a rest to some of the uncomfortable speculation.
Clark smiled, patting her hand. "Yeah, I think it's time," he said. She grinned, set down her wine glass, and then took off in a pink blur, out the back door and into the air. He followed closely behind her, and together they went to tackle the fire.
Diane stretched out on the bed as the sun streaked into the hotel room through the sheer drapes on the window. The soft, warm form of her now-husband lay silently beside her, his chest rising and falling slightly as he slept. She felt a shiver of excitement as she watched him, memories of the night before springing to mind. It hadn't been hard at all to find a wedding chapel that was available to marry them, and they had been on the ground no longer than half an hour before they were slipping wedding bands on each other's finger and signing the marriage certificate, officially becoming man and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Lane Kent. It seemed like every place in town had some sort of special for newlyweds, so they had made their way around, from casino to casino, lounge to lounge, having fun, drinking on the house, and thoroughly enjoying themselves. They even managed to slip a couple of dollars into a slot machine and get their pictures taken with a real genuine Elvis impersonator before deciding to get down to the real business of being married.
They had been together a few times before, and it had been great even then. Diane didn't know if it was the fact that they were now married, or if it was the mutual superpowers or just the location, but last night had been spectacular, and on several occasions and in several locations throughout their hotel suite. It was as if, all of a sudden, they couldn't get enough of each other. All in all, she couldn't image a better way of getting married — it had been short, simple, and the experience had been theirs and theirs alone, at their own pace, on their own terms. She sighed, her gaze turning toward the band of gold that now resided or her left ring finger. Maybe there was no diamond beside it yet, but what the wedding band stood for was more important than any hypothetical baubles.
Jon inhaled heavily, his arm wrapping around her stomach as he turned onto his side to face her. His eyes fluttered open, and he smiled that special smile of his. "Hey there," he said, then moved to kiss her shoulder.
"Morning, sleepyhead," she answered, giggling as his kisses worked their way along the various bare parts of her body, eventually working their way toward her mouth. They were picking up right where they had left off, and she was definitely not about to complain.
As they disengaged their kiss, he pulled back and smiled, propping himself up on one elbow. His hair, normally well-controlled in both his guises, was now shooting away from his head at odd angles, disheveled from sleep and the vigorous exercise from the night before. She had to suppress a giggle as she watched him. "I had to make sure that you're still here, that last night wasn't just some crazy dream," he said, his finger gently trailing across her bare belly, causing a slight tickling sensation.
"You're not having second thoughts, are you?" she asked, the crooked smile on her face giving away the facetious nature of the question.
"The only second thought I'm having is to wonder why we didn't try this sooner," he said, his finger stopping its movement, moving around to her side, and pulling her gently in toward him. She laughed and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling his face into hers and kissing him again. Things started to deepen, both of them positioning themselves for another round of passion, but before they could entirely lose themselves, the sound of multiple sirens drifted up from above, working their way through the morning traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard, past their hotel, and further down the strip to some major crisis. Both Jon and Diane stiffened, turning their gazes toward the sound, their libidos quickly evaporating. Diane tensed, wondering if they would have to go to help — who knew what the crisis was or how bad it could be. Would lives be lost?
"We can't," Jon said, seemingly reading her thoughts. She pried her eyes away from the scene outside and looked toward him again, his face now serious, yet resolute. "Neither of us are supposed to be here."
She pondered that for a second, but then remembered all the other places that had benefited from his help. "Sin City seems like a perfect place for superheroes," she said, but he shook his head, flopping onto his back beside her.
"Theoretically, I agree with you. But we don't generally patrol any areas outside of Metropolis unless specifically asked. Venturing across the world to help with other things is generally reserved for major disasters, the type of thing that attracts the attention of the national news." He stared up at the ceiling, his hand reaching for hers. "Whatever that is, something tells me that it's not quite at that level. If we go out there, the questions will start to fly — what are they doing in Vegas? Is there some other reason they're here? Maybe someone tenacious will actually start to dig into those things, and then what? At some point you have to ask yourself if protecting your identity is more important than helping out with whatever is going on out there, even if it means sacrificing property or, heaven forbid, lives."
The tone of his voice was flat, and she knew that he had been confronted with the issue before. It was terrible that anyone had to be faced with a choice like that, and she imagined that it ate at him whenever he had to make the choice to protect himself. "How many sirens did you listen to without doing anything before donning the spandex?" she asked quietly, sitting up in the bed and crossing her legs, drawing the sheet around her shoulders.
He seemed surprised for a moment, and his eyes were wide as he looked at her. But after a moment, that seemed to melt away, and his hand reached up and under the sheet, gently pushing it aside and revealing her bare shoulder underneath. "Too many," he answered heavily. "But I can't regret not helping. A long time ago, when I first realized who my dad was and what I was destined to be someday, I realized that sometimes you had to step aside and let things happen in the interest of yourself and your family. That's not a selfish choice, even if it seems like it sometimes." He sat up and kissed her exposed shoulder, his hand trailing down her arm. "But at least it's a choice. Imagine being able to hear those things and not being able to do anything about it."
"Like your brother," she said, and he nodded. How helpless he must feel sometimes, she thought, but that didn't stop him from doing what he could. Maybe his conscience rested easier, but surely the lack of ability was like a form of torture. No, she couldn't imagine that.
"But I don't want to talk about CJ on our honeymoon," Jon said, finally smiling slightly.
"If that's what you call one night in Las Vegas," she said, throwing her head back and closing her eyes as he continued to caress her exposed skin. "I have to work tonight."
Jon stopped abruptly, sitting up straight. "They're making you work Christmas night? Seriously?"
Diane shrugged. "Criminals still work Christmas, so we do, too."
He pouted slightly, comically, causing her to giggle. "Our first Christmas together as man and wife, and I'll be all alone at home," he said.
"Well, if anything bad happens, you can always come out and visit," she said, tracing a little S on his chest. He smiled and nodded, then grabbed her hand.
"I might just do that," he said, kissing her hand and wrapping his arms around her, pulling her closer. "In the meantime, let's make the most of our time before we have to head back for dinner."
"Mmmm," she answered as his mouth found hers. "And maybe we could think of names for my new alter ego."
His smile was mischievous. "Mrs. Crimson Superman," he answered, lying down again.
"That might be a little obvious," she answered with a smile. "Maybe something like, 'The Enigma.'"
"Miss Fantastic," she said, loving the way that they could be as silly as they wanted together. "I need to find a tailor to put that on an outfit of some sort."
"Shelia, at the foundation is fabulous," Jon said, squirming a little now as his advances stalled. "But enough about her and Miss Spectacular. I need Mrs. Kent for a while," he said pulling her on top of him. They both giggled and got back to business, relishing their brief honeymoon and knowing that it would be over far too soon.
CJ sat on the couch of his apartment, leafing through a catalog, the television on in front of him as he waited for Jenny to finish getting ready to go over to his parent's house for Christmas dinner.
"LNN News highlights Christmas Eve throughout America," the broadcaster said, and CJ yawned, flipping the page of his catalogue.
"As the sun set in San Francisco, carolers gathered around the brightly lit holiday tree, singing nondenominational songs of peace and acceptance," the commentator started.
"How festive," CJ muttered to nobody, glancing up at the screen in time to see a handful of people gathered around a large tree.
"It was a scene that was duplicated in many cities across America, a holiday tradition that continues, as strong today as it was decades ago. But in Las Vegas, the hot activity was 'A Very Elvis Christmas,' a new show in production at a local casino."
CJ smiled a crooked smile and turned his full attention to the television. On the screen now were pictures of dancing Elvis impersonators, decked out in sequined jumpsuits and red Christmas hats. The scene quickly turned to a man, standing in the lobby of a busy casino, the Elvises loitering behind him and mingling with casino patrons. The man was labeled as the show producer.
"It's a show that we started up last year," he said, people in the background gathering around one of the Elvis impersonators for a picture. There was a muted camera flash before the group stepped away. "It was a sequel to our Tom Jones Christmas Revue, which ran for five holiday seasons prior to that," the man continued, as a dark-haired couple now moved to stand next to the Elvis impersonator. CJ squinted, watching the people in the background, his eyes becoming wide as he fumbled to find the remote.
"Holy crap!" he said, pausing the television as another camera flash illuminated the background, giving an absolutely clear view of everyone there. "Jenny!" he said loudly as he scrambled off the couch and moved closer to the set.
Her head peeked out from the bathroom, her makeup only half applied. "What's up?" she asked, and he gestured wildly for her to come near. As she did, she could immediately understand why he had reacted the way he had. She started to laugh, bringing a dirty look from him. There, on the screen, pausing next to Elvis, were Jon and Diane, both looking very happy.
"Somehow I doubt that they went all the way to Las Vegas for 'A Very Elvis Christmas,'" CJ said. "Although I should tell you that Jon can do an Elvis impersonation as well as anyone."
Jenny looked at him, arching an eyebrow. He turned to her and smiled. "I tried to get him to go out and save people last Halloween dressed as Elvis instead of the regular suit. You know, with the sequins and the sideburns and all that?" Jenny nodded, trying very hard to keep her composure. "For some odd reason he said no."
"Gosh, I wonder, why," she said with a smirk, bringing an innocent shrug from him. "So why else would they go to Vegas?" Jenny asked. No sooner had the question escaped her lips than the answer came to her. Judging from his reaction, it came to CJ at the same time, too. Instantaneously, their jaws dropped and they turned back toward the television.
"No way," CJ said moving so close now that his nose practically touched the screen. "No WAY. I won't believe it."
Jenny positioned herself behind him, squinting at the screen. It could just be her imagination, but she swore she saw a smidge of gold showing on both their left hands. "Tell me that doesn't look like a wedding band," she said, pointing to the suspicious area. CJ sighed and settled back onto his heels.
"Maybe they're each holding a gold ribbon," he said, but the tenor of his voice gave away the fact that he didn't really believe the excuse. They were married; that was the only explanation there could be.
"Tell me that you aren't a little jealous that they beat us to the punch," Jenny said as she wrapped her arms around him from behind.
CJ stuck out his bottom lip and shook his head, but the slight blush in his cheeks meant that she was right, and she knew it. "Bet his mother-in-law doesn't have the proposal on videotape," CJ said, and Jenny just smiled.
"I bet he's glad of that," she said. With a theatrical growl, he turned in her arms, embracing her and placing a line of wet, sloppy kisses up her neck, then sat up again, looking at her with a goofy grin.
"You want to go to Las Vegas? Get married between the slot machines and the blackjack tables?" he asked.
Her expression was skeptical at best, horrified at worst. "I want to get married in a big church, wearing an expensive dress and standing in front of hundreds of friends and relatives, who will sponge off us for a free meal and drinks later while we dance until our feet hurt." She gave him her sweetest smile as she brought her finger up and trailed along the sensitive spot behind his ear. "And I want us both to be out of college at the time."
"Okay, that's what I thought," he said, his lips finally making their way to hers. "You know," he said as he pulled away, a thoughtful smile on his face, "if I were a betting man…"
"Vegas pun. Nice," Jenny said, and he nodded eagerly.
"I would bet that they haven't told anyone yet," he finished.
"Think they'll make it to dinner today?" she asked, and his smile broadened.
"Why wouldn't they? Oooh, this could be fun," he said, and she giggled. Who said family Christmas gatherings couldn't be entertaining? She could tell that CJ was already cataloguing his Elvis jokes, getting them ready to make Jon squirm in a few short hours. Poor Jon, she thought with a shake of the head. He wouldn't know what hit him. The honeymoon, so to speak, would soon be over.
The smell of turkey and pie permeated all corners of the Kent house as the noontime neared. Christmas carols played lightly on the stereo, and the television, on but muted, was parked on one of the cable news channels, the closed captioning relaying all that was going on in the world. Crumpled bits of wrapping paper and wads of scotch tape lay scattered across the living room floor, punctuated every now and then with opened boxes and stacks of presents. On the coffee table sat a well-read morning edition of the Daily Planet, the front-page stories mentioning a high rise fire the night before and the return of a Superhero who had long been thought lost to obscurity. The photograph that sat just above the fold of the paper showed Superman and Ultra Woman standing on the street amongst the crowd, each assessing the situation, Superman's arm wrapped around the back of the pink-spandex clad super heroine. A wedding ring adorned each of their left fingers.
Needless to say, the story had quickly become national news, and the television in the background had featured many Super family pictures throughout the morning. But in the Kent household, nobody really took all that much of an interest in the story. CJ and Jenny had arrived early, each eager and anxious, each actively engaging in strange conversations with Elvis themes. A few minutes later, Jon and Diane had arrived, each seemingly affixed to the other, each entirely unwilling to break contact with the other. They hadn't even stepped inside the door before they both held up their left hands.
"Guess what I gave Diane for Christmas?" Jon said, and both of his parents had gaped at the golden bands, then turned their dumbfounded expressions toward the newlyweds, before offering their congratulations, a round of hugs, and a touch of the bubbly, kept in the refrigerator in case of special occasions.
CJ had been seen pouting during the exchange, saying "Drat," under his breath, no doubt mourning the lost opportunity the immediate announcement had brought. Jenny, ever the thoughtful fiancee, pointed out to him that just because the secret was out didn't mean that Jon and Diane couldn't be ribbed for eloping in the first place. CJ smiled, planted a kiss on her cheek, and told her that she was the best.
Dinner had commenced soon after that, with CJ loudly commenting that they had apparently hit the jackpot. The Elvis jokes came again, and the turkey was compared in size to the Hoover Dam. Jon greeted each joke with a slight blush, but Diane took them all in stride, taking the opportunity to chip in from time to time. It was in every way the prototypical family Christmas, and one in which the world was at peace, in which no super assistance was needed.
As the sky began to grow darker, and after the dishes had been cleared away and the turkey stored away to be finished off another day, the family had gathered around the table, with poker chips and a deck of cards. Diane dismissed herself after a couple of hands, having to head off to work, but the rest of them continued on through the nighttime hours, playing and chatting and laughing, enjoying themselves.
Lois dealt most of the hands, a well-worn dealer's visor perched on her head. "The guy who married you wasn't named Reverend Bob, by chance, was he?" she asked looking toward Jon. Clark smiled, catching the inference, but Jon shook his head, shrugging.
"All I know was that he was wearing a Santa Suit and a beard. It was either him or the Rabbi Lenny. I think we made the right choice."
"No Liberace or Elvis impersonators offered for your nuptials? I'm disappointed," CJ said, and Jon gave him a sideways glance. CJ smiled, picking up his hand.
"Yeah, but I can't imagine getting married that way. No white dress, no bride's maids or photographer or limo. Just you and your significant other and the sound of slot machines in the background." Jenny said, making a face.
"None of that waiting around and second guessing yourself, either," Jon replied, bringing an appreciative nod of the head from CJ. "Just skipping straight to the Honeymoon," he said with a smile and a blush.
"Wish we'd thought of that," Lois muttered, appraising the cards in her hand. "Wedding planners are tools of the devil himself. Between her and the invitations, the buffet planning…"
"The kidnappings, psychos, clones, ex-girlfriends, airline delays, completely booked hotels…" Clark continued, pulling a couple of cards and setting them on the table.
"Angels, aliens, evil psychiatrists, I think that maybe Las Vegas was the way to go," Lois finished, waiting for the others around the table to discard before handing out more cards.
"Remember that sweetie," Clark said as he turned to Laura, a surprised look on her face. "Eloping is a good thing."
"Clark!" Lois said, giving him a dirty look, even as CJ laughed.
The card game continued as the night wore on, taking a break for the annual viewing of "It's a Wonderful Life," before continuing on. Jon left and came back, more gifts were exchanged and gushed over, and through it all, there permeated an overwhelming sense of happiness, love, and normalcy. It didn't need to be dwelled upon that everyone at the table for turkey that evening could see through walls, could lift a tank or take the brunt of a bomb detonation, because it didn't matter to any of them. That Lois and Diane were now the major news item, that Jon and Clark were two of the biggest celebrities in the world, that CJ was somewhat of a local sports star and Laura a budding journalist in her own right just weren't all that important. Celebrity was nothing without family, and they all knew that family was at the heart of what made them all special. And so they celebrated that, and ate a few slices of pie in the process, and enjoyed just being together.
The police radios across Metropolis screamed out that there had been a possible shooting near the intersection of Gough and Millar, a dark, run-down, poorly planned section of town that just happened to lie within the precinct that Diane was a part of. It was a possible domestic, the radio said, the end result of an especially eventful family Christmas gathering. Never one to take shooting crimes lightly, even ones that the dispatcher mentioned didn't involve serious injury, the Crimson Superman dismissed himself from his own family gathering and headed toward the scene of the crime.
As he arrived at the brownstone, two cop cars and an ambulance sat outside, their lights flashing brightly, and the curtains of surrounding brownstones all drawn back, with curious faces staring out toward the street to try and observe some of the action. On the steps of the house, two officers talked to a woman, while an overweight, balding man was being carried toward the ambulance on a stretcher, trailed by two other officers. Setting his face into its usual, neutral, Superman expression, the Crimson Superman sauntered up to the house, catching the eye of everyone on the scene.
"Excuse me," he said to the nearest officer — Marty, he remembered from the prostitution sting. "Do you need any assistance?" he asked. Marty's partner, a stunning dark- haired beauty now wearing a bright wedding band, turned her attention away from the woman, looking at the Crimson Superman with a curious expression.
"Nothing exciting here, I'm afraid," she said, turning toward her partner. "We don't have anything urgent, do we?" Her demeanor was professional, authoritative, and unlike most of the other people on the scene, she really didn't seem to be too impressed with the arrival of the Crimson Superman.
"No, I don't think so. It was just a flesh wound," he said, shrugging.
"All the same," the female officer, sporting a brand new nametag that identified her as Officer Kent, said. "I'd like to have a word with you, Superman. You want to wrap this up, Marty?" she asked, and he nodded.
Officer Kent made her way toward a windowless, unlit alley, one that was completely dark to all but the super eye. As soon as the reached the depth of the darkness, she turned around and pounced on him, pinning him up against the brick wall and practically devouring him. His arms wrapped around her, pressing her up against him. They stayed that way for a few moments, lost in each other, until Diane finally broke the kiss and pulled away ever so slightly. They sat with their mouths mere millimeters apart, panting, their eyelids heavy, content just to be with each other in the dark, until Superman finally spoke, breaking the spell.
"You had something you needed to tell me?" he asked, his eyes twinkling. She smiled, moving her embrace from his hips to his shoulders.
"Yeah. I wanted to ask what took you so long," she said, and he chuckled, shifting his weight.
"Sometimes us superheroes get hung up in other crises, and I had a really great poker hand that I just didn't want to let go," he was smiling that teasing smile, and she was loving it. "If I'd have left any sooner, CJ might have gotten the pot, and that's just not right."
"At least you have your priorities," she said, then kissed him again, not as deeply this time, breaking the kiss relatively quickly.
"We need to get back out there, before they get suspicious," she said, although she didn't seem in too much of a hurry to step away from him. "Because we're both, you know, professionals."
"Professionals," he repeated, nodding. "No matter how much it kills us."
"Is there such a thing as a professional code of conduct for a superhero?" she asked, finally standing up straighter, her hand moving up to straighten her hair.
"I think not groping the officers on the scene of a crime would be in it, if there were," he answered. "Unless they start it."
"Funny," she said, taking a handkerchief out of her pocket and rubbing it on his lips, taking off a smear of lipstick. She then smoothed down his hair as he helped to straighten her uniform. After a moment they stilled, looking at each other, appraising each other, making sure everything was back as it should be. After a moment, they both nodded. "Professionals," Diane said, pointing at him, then turned on her heel and began to exit the alley.
The Crimson Superman followed, his face once again neutral, though keeping it that way was beginning to become painful. He wanted to grin, very badly, especially when she was in his sight, but he couldn't do it. As they approached the rest of the crew on the scene, he cleared his throat, grabbing their attention.
"Thank you for the information about the policemen's fundraiser," he said to Diane, who looked at him blankly for a second before offering him a cordial smile.
"No, thank you, Superman. Your assistance will certainly aid the cause." With that, she turned away, joining her partner as he continued to talk to the woman at the door of the brownstone.
"Well, Merry Christmas," he said to anyone who would listen, and took off into the air, headed toward home. Some snow flurries began to fall as he streaked across the sky, a reminder that not all dreams of a white Christmas went unfulfilled. He pondered white Christmases of times gone by, with sledding and snow forts and snowball fights, and then pondered those of the future, with his wife curled up to him on a nice warm couch in front of a roaring fire. He smiled, lazily turning onto his side and sticking out his tongue, catching flakes as they flew by him. Life was definitely good, and it would almost certainly get better. Merry Christmas to all, he thought. And to all a good night.
Shelia Mason sighed as she glanced up from her desk, watching the snow fly by the window, dusting the world in white. It was winter in Metropolis, not all that long after Christmas, and with the holidays all but a memory, it was back to the old grind. Or whatever passed for the old grind at the Superman Foundation.
It had been nearly ten years since she had answered a rather generic ad in the Daily Planet, asking for help from someone who was willing to be a part time seamstress and part time secretary. It seemed like the perfect match for someone who was trying to get back into the workforce after being a stay at home mom, someone who spent a lot of her free time creating clothing for herself. It was only after she had gotten the job offer that she realized that it had been the Superman Foundation that she had been interviewing for. That had been the icing on the cake for a longtime Superman admirer, and she had started immediately.
She hadn't even been there for two days before Superman, the boss himself, came sauntering into the office, casually greeting all the employees and introducing himself to her. They'd then retreated into a back room and he had briefed her about the most important part of her job, and that was being his own personal tailor. She'd been shocked and flattered, and he'd admitted to her rather shyly that he'd never had anyone other than his immediately family take that particular responsibility. It was the beginning of a rather close relationship with the man whom she just generally referred to as 'sir', as much as she knew he hated that.
Superman, as stoic as he generally seemed in public, was a very warm man in private. His smile was endearing, his sense of humor light, and his emotions just as easily bared as any other man's. She'd known about his marriage and his children long before it had been news, and he had allowed her to know those things without asking anything of her in return. In the course of fittings, even from the very beginning, she had seen the chain that hung from his neck and the band of gold it held, tucked into his suit, hidden away from the public. She had seen him, upon occasion, take out a wallet and rifle through it, exposing bright-eyed pictures of children, three of them that she could count, and a blurry driver's license that she never bothered to look too closely at. That the Man of Steel held a secret identity of some sort was just wild speculation for a lot of people, but she had known it to be true. Sometimes she caught herself wondering just who he was, wondering if maybe she wouldn't notice him if he passed her by on the sidewalk, and every now and then she looked, but without success.
One day, not all that long ago, he'd brought in a set of measurements and told her to make a top of those dimensions, but in red this time. He'd smiled at her, anxiety hidden behind his eyes, and she'd agreed, knowing that it wasn't for him. One of those young sprites whose face she'd never seen must've grown up, probably to be a quite impressive man in him own right, judging by the dimensions of the top that she had made. He had picked it up a few days later, obviously pleased, and that had been the last she had seen of it, until last March. She'd been flipping channels when she had seen the disaster, something at the University. There, standing among the destruction and emergency vehicles, was a very young version of her employer, wearing the very top that she had created. Crimson Superman was a fixture of the skyline from that point on, although she could tell that he was somewhat shy about all the publicity.
Even though Superman maintained his regular visitation schedule to the office, his son had been in only sporadically. He had been fairly quiet when he had visited, often lost in thought, almost always a little overwhelmed, his slightly widened eyes and fidgety stance generally giving his discomfort away. But alone, in the room that they always used for measurings and fittings, he opened up a little, and she came to care for him almost as much as she did for her own sons. He always referred to Superman as Dad, and Superman generally called him 'kiddo' or 'sport' or some other moniker that fathers used for their sons. Superman smiled and teased his son about his shy public attitude, and the Crimson Superman smiled and teased back, bits of his father's personality manifesting themselves in him. When the elder Superman wasn't around, his son generally kept his visits short and businesslike, but he always took the time to ask Shelia about her family and her health, and to chat about the mundane things that regular folks in the city generally chatted about.
All in all, Shelia thought, turning her attention back to the correspondence on her desk, she enjoyed her job, and she definitely enjoyed working with the famous heroes of Metropolis. In the last few days, though, she had gotten some unwanted attention as the two new superwomen had emerged. Reporters had swarmed the foundation and all the employees, asking over and over again what they knew about the women, following the employees around, making their lives miserable. The attention had died down after a few days, but Shelia couldn't help but wonder how things would change around the office as the super population of the city grew.
As if in answer to her thoughts, the front door of the office opened, a gust of wind blowing into the office, carrying a few stray flakes along with it. In a moment, the younger Superman entered the office, his expression amiable. He walked through the office with a spring in his step, greeting people as he made his way toward Shelia, gesturing to her that it was time to head back for some new suits. With a smile and a nod, she rose from her chair and followed him to the room, closing the door behind her.
No sooner had the door clicked shut did she notice that there was someone else in the room, a female someone, dressed entirely in black. This had to be one of the new ones, she thought, watching as the woman shook the flakes out of her hair and removed her overly large sunglasses, revealing a face that was very different than that of the man beside her. Whereas the coloration on the faces of the supermen seemed almost Asian, she seemed to be undoubtedly Latino.
"Hello," she said warmly, never one to pass judgment or jump to conclusions that she had no business jumping to. "What can I do for you?"
The Crimson Superman smiled, and it occurred to her that there was something different about him. The usual tightness was gone, the detachment and fidgetiness replaced with a smile and an air of confidence. He was a new man, she thought, noticing with a sly smile that there was something else different, too. Even as his father had shed the chain and started wearing his wedding band in public, it seemed that the Crimson Superman now wore a chain of his own. What dangled from the end was now safely tucked away, but Shelia didn't need to guess at what was there. No wonder he had that extra bounce in his step now.
"Shelia, I'd like to introduce you to…" he started, looking toward the woman beside him with raised eyebrows.
"I'm leaning toward Shadow Woman," the woman in black said, looking between Crimson Superman and Shelia, holding up her hands as she spoke the name, positioning the words on some imaginary marquee in front of her.
The superhero bobbed his head, gave her a slightly amused glance, and then turned back toward Shelia. "She, uh, has decided that it might be best to get some sort of uniform to do her work in."
"Yeah, I just kind of grabbed some stuff out of the closet the first night out," the new superwoman said, looking down at herself. It was kind of odd to see the new heroine appearing in what looked like slightly beat-up black dress pants and a faded black sweatshirt, her long hair pulled up into a loose ponytail. "I wouldn't call myself vain, but there has to be something more flattering I can wear out there."
Shelia nodded, pulling a pencil from behind her ear and walking over toward a closet, which contained some of her tools of the trade. "Now, would you want something out of spandex, which has kind of been the modus operandi around here, or would you prefer something fitted, made from a different material?"
"Me and spandex, we've had issues in the past," the superwoman said.
The Crimson Superman cleared his throat. "You and pink cashmere seemed to get along quite well," he said, the smile on his face quickly becoming devilish, in an endearingly charming type of way.
The new superwoman blushed, her cheeks turning a bright crimson. "Thin ice, buddy boy," she said, giving him a dirty look, even as she smiled. He chuckled. "No more comments from the peanut gallery," she said, pointing to him. He held up his hands and retreated into the corner, letting them alone even as they designed an outfit for her to wear.
Together, Shelia and the heroine discussed color and fit, cape or no cape, tight fitting or loose. In the end, the design they came up with was conservative yet flattering, tight without being revealing, and very simple. There would be no S on her chest, no cape, and no unnecessarily high heels. There would, however, be a good- sized mask, a first for Shelia, but a challenge that she would be more than happy to undertake.
As the session wound down, there was only the fitting left to do. Without a second thought, Shadow Woman whipped off her sweatshirt, even as the Crimson Superman remained standing in the corner, leaning casually against the wall, one leg crossed in front of the other, a neutral expression now of his face. Underneath the sweatshirt was a sports bra, covering the subject thoroughly, and a golden chain, a shiny new band of gold hanging from it. Shelia blinked, trying not to let her smile falter, then looked between the two heroes in the room. The Crimson Superman now had the barest of smiles on his face, his eyes on the shirtless superwoman, a faraway look in them. There was nothing lewd in the gaze, but there really wasn't amusement, either, just a subtle longing and remembrance of something from the past. It was the gaze of a lover, she realized with a blush.
Jarring herself out of her thoughts, Shelia blinked again, raising her measuring tape and starting to work. "So how was your Christmas?" she asked, not directing the question at either of them, necessarily. She could feel Shadow Woman look back over her shoulder, toward her husband.
"It was definitely one for the ages," the Crimson Superman said, his smile coming through in his words. "You could say that everyone in the family got something special for Christmas."
Shelia turned and scribbled some numbers in her notebook, then looked up at the hero that she had known for a few months, a young man that she was getting to know more about every day. It occurred to her that there was some double meaning in what he said, that maybe it was more than just coincidence that two new super figures had emerged right around the same time. Except, really, one of them wasn't new.
In a lengthy article that had appeared in the Daily Planet between Christmas and New Year's, Ultra Woman, a Superhero who had been present in Metropolis for less than a week in 1995 and disappeared, had admitted that she was the mysterious wife of Superman, the woman who had borne his son, and his super soul mate. She never really said what exactly it was that she had done or where she had been for twenty-five years, although the analysts and opinion writers had been more than happy to postulate on that. The woman that was here in the room, though, still had yet to do any types of press interviews or have a clear picture of her taken. She remained in many ways, well, a Shadow Woman, and it appeared that maybe she had a good reason for that.
"And how is your mother? It was nice to finally see her face, after all these months of wondering," Shelia said, turning back to her work.
"She's having fun. And I think Dad likes having her around on the job now, although neither of them are too hot on some of the press coverage."
"I can definitely second that, although I must point out the irony…" Shadow Woman started, but then tailed off. As Shelia looked up again, she saw the Crimson Superman making sideways 'cut' motions with his hands, an almost comical expression on his face. He stopped as soon as he knew that Shelia was looking at him, his expression quickly morphing into that of someone who had no interest in what was going.
"Well, you let her knew that if she needs anything, to come see me. I don't imagine spandex that's been in storage for 25 years can hold up all that well."
"Will do," the Crimson Superman said, smiling again a little. After a few minutes, Shelia was done, and the new heroine put her top back on and made her way toward the door. They promised to meet up again in a couple of days to try on the finished product, and with that, the couple was out the door.
Shelia was tapping her notebook against her hand, lost in thought as she wandered back to her desk. It was one thing to know abstractly about the lives that the Supermen led, the fact they went to some home somewhere to some mythical wife or girlfriend every night, just like everyone else. To know of that and not have to necessarily be confronted by it was well and good, but to see the interaction of a young, apparently married super couple, made it that much more of a reality, something that she was sure would give her goosebumps if she thought about it too deeply.
Shaking her head, she sat down, grabbing for the newspaper. She skimmed most of the articles, flipping the pages quickly, her heart not entirely into the activity. As she reached the last page, she saw some pictures and smiled — the wedding announcements! There were always couples that she knew turning up in there, friends of her boys or children of old friend that she had lost touch with. As she scanned the pictures, she stopped and gasped, leaning back into the chair, her eyes affixed to the paper.
"Jonathan L. Kent, son of Clark and Lois Kent of Metropolis, and Diane M. Martinez, daughter of Cruz and Celia Martinez, San Antonio, Texas, were married on December 24," the caption read. Above it was a picture of a handsome couple. The man, still quite young, wore a smart suit with an abstract tie, his dark hair, with its natural curl, neatly styled, glasses somewhat obscuring his face. The woman, also young and attractive, wore a simple dress, her long hair framing her smiling face. They stood in front of a neutral backdrop, hands entwined, bodies pressed together. Both appeared to be very happy, their smiles very natural.
Shelia began to laugh, drawing odd stares from her coworkers. None of them, of course, would understand, because none of them had met the newest member of the Kent family, unmasked, undressed, in this office not more than five minutes earlier. None of them had seen enough of the Crimson Superman to believe that the handsome young man in that picture could possibly be him, but Shelia had no doubt. It was nice to finally put a real name to the face, she supposed, but it was even better to know that everything was going well for the two of them, for their whole family. Maybe, she thought with a grin, she'd send a card. Even a budding young reporter at the Daily Planet and his folks needed a tailor, right? Certainly.