By Sarah Luddy <meerkat_comments AT aslandia DOT net>
Submitted January 2006
Summary: Emily Kent has it rough. First, her powers are coming in… and they're uncontrollable. Then, she and her brother are sent to Smallville for safety while her parents are on a dangerous assignment, and Emily keeps getting into fights with the school bully. Nobody ever said it was easy being Superman's daughter!
Emily Kent sat staring at her test, willing her vision to behave.
Her father had warned her about this, after all, during "the talk" they'd had over two years ago. And Jack had told her a little about how it had been for him. But nothing compared to actually experiencing the onset of her first powers.
Hearing had been easy. Well, relatively easy. Easier than this, anyway. Some days she'd hear only what a normal human would hear. Some days her hearing would fluctuate, and she'd suddenly be hearing everything going on for miles. It had given her a headache, and she'd stayed home from school for several days. But the hearing had pretty much straightened itself out last year, and now it simply seemed to be growing slowly in strength.
She took a quick glance around the room. Some of her fellow students were busily writing on their test papers. Others held thinking postures, nibbling on number two pencils or staring off into space.
One, in particular, caught her eye. Nathan was pretending to stare out the window, but he was really peering at Ellen's paper on the next desk, then scribbling in answers on his own paper. Figures.
Emily focused on him for a moment, forcing her vision to show him as he really was, not his skeletal structure or an odd blur of colors, the way people usually looked these days. Then she turned back to her paper.
What was it about paper that was so hard? One minute, she was seeing straight through her paper, sometimes even through the desk and the floor. The next minute, the paper was an incomprehensible blur. She could stare at it, hard, and bring it into focus, but as soon as she relaxed enough to try to actually read the words on the paper, her focus was gone.
She sighed and looked up at the teacher, who, unfortunately, was looking right at her. "Get back to work," Mrs. Bailes mouthed, waving a skeletal hand at Emily's test.
Emily put her hand over her eyes, then deliberately x-rayed through her hand to see the paper. It worked for a moment, but then she lost control of the x-ray and found herself staring at her hand. Had Jack struggled like this when his vision first came in? She hadn't been let in on the "family secret" by then, at least not completely, so she didn't really remember.
Emily looked around the room again. A bunch of skeletons were writing on their test papers diligently. One of the skeletons threw something at the girl in front of him, and Emily rolled her eyes at Nathan's antics. Suddenly the skeletons were all hazy pink blobs, and Emily quickly looked away before she got a glimpse of any body parts she'd rather not see.
The worst part about this was that she really had studied for this test. Grandma had helped her, quizzing her on the names and dates for hours. And history really could be fascinating. There were always exciting, dramatic things going on. Grandma was always willing to go along with any reenactment game Emily invented, and sometimes they even made it interesting enough that Jack was willing to play, too.
"Time's up," Mrs. Bailes said finally, and all of Emily's classmates gave deep sighs of relief as they turned their tests over.
Emily grabbed blindly for hers and scribbled her name across the top, even though she had no clue of where the space for her name was. She turned it over. Not that it mattered, given that the rest of the test was blank. She didn't even know what it had asked. This was not turning out to be a good year.
She waited until most of the other students had left the room, as usual. Although people were easier to see than the words on a test paper, she'd still found that she often bumped into others because she was unable to focus on their outline, and a skeleton looked a lot skinnier than a real person with muscle and fat on them. Mrs. Bailes, she noticed, was watching her as she made her way to the door. She tried to wind through desks and chairs like a normal individual without out-of-control super-vision, avoiding catching her teacher's eye.
Emily was about to make her way to the buses at the front of the school when she noticed a congregation of students near the elm tree. She walked towards them, giving her super-hearing free range as she approached. Her vision was at the blurry stage, but at least she could see people as fully-clothed, colored forms.
"You want this?" a boy's voice was saying mockingly, and Emily's heart sank as she recognized Nathan. "Come and get it."
"Oh, please, give it back," a younger boy's voice said in whining tones. "I'll get in trouble. It's mine, just give it back."
"If you want it, you'll have to come and get it," Nathan said again.
Emily reached the crowd and pushed two people aside so that she could see what was going on. She blinked twice and managed to clear her vision. Nathan was holding some sort of plaque in the air, high above a smaller boy's head. The smaller boy's face was tear-streaked, and his backpack was hanging open, dropping schoolbooks and supplies every time he made a move for the plaque.
"Nathan, give it back to him," Emily said forcefully, trying to ignore the hammering in her chest.
Nathan turned to her. "Yeah, sure, since *you* said so, I'll just give it right back." He made as if to hand the plaque to the boy, then snatched it back again just as the grateful boy reached for it.
"Nathan," she said warningly.
"What? Whatcha gonna do if I don't? Hit me?" he asked.
"If I have to. Haven't we gone through this before?"
"Oooh," the crowd said, sounding excited. There was nothing more exciting on a middle-school lawn than a fight, after all.
Nathan grinned. "Bring it."
Emily dropped her backpack and stood facing him for a moment, making up her decision. Grandma was going to kill her if she got into a fight *again*. But what other choice was there? She made a grab for the plaque.
Nathan hit her, his fist connecting with her face. Her head snapped back with the force of the blow, but she managed to stay upright. It hurt like anything, but ever since first met Nathan and seen his bullying tactics, she'd been getting used to the pain of being punched. Unfortunately, with the punch, her vision had gone haywire again, so that she was facing a larger skeleton with many other skeletons standing around.
She recognized one as the little boy Nathan had been bullying. He was watching, his shoulders shaking.
Fury rose in her chest. Without another word, she snatched the plaque out of Nathan's hand. He grabbed her shoulder and yanked her toward him, making her drop the plaque. She punched out, hitting something soft, and then she felt a pain on her head as one of his punches connected. Before she knew it, they were rolling on the ground, pummeling each other.
"Teacher!" one of the watching kids whispered loudly.
Immediately, Emily and Nathan broke apart. The smaller boy had already grabbed the plaque and disappeared, so Emily made a run for the buses before the teacher could figure out who had been fighting.
Unfortunately, Nathan rode the same bus as Emily, and got on only a moment after she did. As he passed her seat on his way to the back of the bus as usual, he whispered, "I'm gonna get you."
Emily held her chin high and pretended she didn't care. She stared blankly out the window, blinking quickly to keep the burning in her eyes from becoming tears.
When the bus stopped at the crossroads nearest to the farm, Emily jumped off quickly and ran towards the farmhouse, hoping Nathan wouldn't follow her. Out here where it was isolated, if he decided to get off at her stop to finish the fight, she wasn't sure she'd be able to escape.
Even though she didn't hear anyone behind her, Emily didn't stop running until she was wrenching open the front door. She slowed slightly then, gasping for breath, as she walked into the kitchen. Grandma hated for anybody to run in her house.
"Emily!" Grandma gasped, walking around the corner. "What happened?"
Jack, who was sitting at the counter with a glass of milk, burst out laughing and choked on his milk.
"Nothing," Emily muttered, dropping her book bag by the door and heading towards the refrigerator.
"Put it in your room," Grandma said automatically, indicating the bookbag.
"I will in a minute," Emily responded. They went through this same routine every day, which usually ended up with Emily rolling her eyes and taking her backpack upstairs before getting her snack.
But this time, Grandma seemed more concerned about the black eye.
"Emily, sit down," she said firmly. "I want to know what happened."
"Isn't it obvious?" Jack asked. "She got in a fight again. Em, you've got to remember you're not invulnerable yet. No playing the hero until you're at least, oh, my age."
She shot him a look, and he put his hands in the air. "All right, all right, I surrender."
"Yeah, Gram, I got in a fight, okay? You should see the other guy."
Grandma wasn't amused. "A fight with whom, may I ask?"
Jack grinned. "Bet you ten bucks it was Nathan again."
Grandma poured Emily a glass of milk and put two oatmeal cookies on a plate for her. "Was it?"
Emily nodded silently.
Jack crowed. "I knew it! Want me to come over to school with you tomorrow and give him a good lickin'? At least *one* of us has had their invulnerability kick in."
"You're not completely invulnerable yet," Emily pointed out.
"Enough to win a fight with a twelve-year-old!"
"Jack, don't you have homework to do or something?" Grandma asked.
He took the hint and carried his milk to his room, giving Emily a thumbs-up on the way.
"I'm sorry, Grandma," Emily said once he was gone. She took a bite of cookie. "I didn't mean to get in a fight again. Really. But… I can't just stand there and watch!"
"I know, honey," Grandma said, rubbing Emily's back. "I probably would have done the same when I was your age. And if I didn't… I should have."
Her grandmother's warm, comforting kitchen was such a strange contrast to the sharpness of the grass and concrete of the school grounds. Emily sighed. "When does invulnerability start, anyway?"
Grandma smiled. "Soon, I believe. You hardly ever get sick as it is."
"That doesn't count, though. That's probably at least partly because I'm not completely human, and so a lot of viruses are simply not able to invade a Kryptonian body." She led the way into the living room and flopped down on the couch.
"I suppose that's true," her grandmother said, following her and sitting on a chair nearby. "But your father… and Jack… started to become less and less vulnerable through their early teen years. You don't notice it right away, of course, especially when you're not expecting it. We didn't really notice it with your father until he was almost completely invulnerable. When something small should have caused him injury and didn't, we would all tend to write it off as luck, or a near-miss. It was only when he should have been in a position to be really hurt, and wasn't, that we noticed."
Emily smiled. "That must have been a shock. Do you remember what happened?"
"Of course!" She sat back in her chair, smiling. "Clark had already started to develop his super-strength by then. Well, our refrigerator broke, and we were getting a new one delivered. It came while Jonathan was out in the fields, and I'd told him we'd wait until his father returned to move the old one out and the new one in. But Clark wanted to impress me, I think, so he lifted the old refrigerator… over his head, I might add… and headed towards the door." She laughed.
"And the door wasn't exactly big enough to fit a fourteen-year- old boy carrying a fridge over his head. He dropped it, mostly on himself. I thought for a moment… well, but as it turned out, he was fine. Not even a scratch. Now, my *floor* was another matter… the fridge was heavy enough, and had fallen far enough, to chip a huge chunk out of my floor. But Clark looked up at me and said in wonder, 'Mom, that didn't hurt.' And that was when we realized it."
Emily giggled. "Was he in trouble?"
"For refusing to wait for his father, and ending up destroying my floor? You'd better believe it. But I went pretty easy on him because I was so relieved he was okay." Grandma frowned at Emily's slouch and mimicked sitting up straight.
Emily, frowning, sat up straighter. "What about Jack?" She took another bite of cookie. Her grandmother's cookies were the best in the world, everybody said so. Well, okay. All of the Kents and Lanes said so.
"It was different with Jack, just as it will be with you. We figured that you and Jack would end up having super-powers, so we've been on the lookout since you were babies. Of course, Clark's powers didn't really start to appear until his pre-teen years, but we still found ourselves looking for hints, maybe the unnoticed beginnings of powers that we didn't notice until later with Clark. I think we started to notice that Jack was sidestepping a lot of potential injuries when he was just a bit older than you, maybe thirteen. He's not completely invulnerable yet, as you know, but it takes a lot to hurt him."
"Was Dad completely invulnerable by the time he was Jack's age? Do you think Jack is taking longer because we're only half- Kryptonian?"
Grandma thought for a moment. "Well, I'm really not sure. After all, incomplete invulnerability is hardly something you want to test. I do think that Jack would be fine if somebody, say, dropped a refrigerator on him, but I would kill anybody who suggested trying it. Jack's vulnerability seems to be mostly based around fire, as we've seen, but it's still improving. For all we know, your father could have been at exactly the same stage at sixteen."
Emily nodded. They all knew that Jack was still vulnerable to fire. There had been a major fire in Wichita last month, and Jack had gone to help. He and Emily weren't old enough to have superhero personas yet, but he'd tried his best to help without anybody catching him. His arms had been burned from wrist to elbow, and he'd lost his eyebrows and some of his front hair. However, along with a developing invulnerability, he also had a developing super-healing ability like their father, and already his hair had grown back. The burns had healed so much already that they looked like nothing worse than a bad sunburn.
"Grandma, can I call Mom?" Emily asked suddenly. "Please? You can take it out of my allowance."
Grandma smiled at her. "Of course you can call your mother, Emily! And I wouldn't dream of making you pay just to talk to her. You can use the phone here, if you like. I'm going to go upstairs and see if Jack needs any help with his homework." She headed for the stairs as Emily headed for the kitchen.
Emily dialed the phone number she knew so well by heart. Her mother picked up on the first ring. "Kent residence," she said sharply.
"Mom?" Emily said softly.
"Emily! Honey, what's wrong?"
"Nothing," Emily said quickly. "I mean, there's no emergency or anything. I just… wanted to talk."
Her mother's voice softened. "Of course."
"Mom… I want to come home." Emily knew she sounded like a small child, but she couldn't help it. "Please, can we?"
"Oh, sweetie." There was a pause. "You know we can't do that yet. Don't you like staying at your grandparents' farm?"
"The *farm* I like." She tried to keep the venom out of her voice. "But I hate school here. Maybe… could I be home- schooled?"
Her mother laughed. "Home-schooled? I don't think Martha is quite ready to take that on! And you know your father and I couldn't do that here, we have to work. Is something going on at school?"
"Well… I might flunk out."
The line went silent again. "Emily, what's going on?"
"I can't read!" Emily wailed. "I can't see the stupid paper because my vision's going crazy and I can't control it! And I keep getting in fights with this stupid bully."
She heard her mother whispering to someone, then there was a new click and her father's voice greeted her. "Hey, Em. What's this about your vision?"
"Super-vision! I hate it! I can't see what's on the paper! One minute it's too unfocused to read, the next minute I try to focus and I'm seeing right through the paper and into the ground below me. I see through people half the time, so I can't always read their expressions because I'm busy looking through them at their skeleton, or trying *not* to look at them because I'm seeing through their clothes. But at least that I can kind of ignore. But how am I supposed to do schoolwork when I can't see it?"
"How long has this been going on?" her father asked.
"About a week. Well, I mean, before that I'd notice that sometimes my vision would go blurry and sometimes I could see really, really well, but I could blink and make that go away."
"That might have been the beginnings of super-vision coming in, and this might be your x-ray vision," her father said. "I remember I did get super-vision first."
"What did you do? Did you have trouble seeing stuff on paper?"
"I did. But I didn't know that it was my special vision powers coming in. My parents drove me to a ophthamologist in the nearest big town to get my vision checked. He couldn't figure out what was going on. He ended up giving me glasses and an eye patch, to try to strengthen what he thought was my weaker eye."
"Well, obviously that wasn't what was really going on. I tried the eye patch for a few weeks, but it was only making things worse. The glasses worked, though. They gave me something to focus on whenever I was having trouble controlling the vision. I would concentrate on seeing the glasses, not seeing *through* them, and sometimes that would help. The whole thing only lasted a few weeks, though. And when I suddenly started setting things on fire with my eyes… well, we figured out pretty quickly that something more than great hearing and odd vision was going on. I ended up keeping my glasses, because they helped to prevent me from using my powers unexpectedly—although I changed them in for a pair of non-prescription ones."
"So… I need glasses?"
She could hear her parents whisper to each other again, which always drove her crazy. Especially as she still hadn't mastered her super-hearing over the phone line because of the static.
"Maybe we could think about that," her mother said eventually. "Jack has his already, and it's not a bad idea if you think you might want a secret identity someday. But right now, don't worry too much about it."
"Your vision will be fine in a few weeks," her father promised her. "I know it's tough right now, but you'll get through it."
"Dad?" Emily asked. "There's something else I want to know. Remember when you were a kid, and you had super-hearing and maybe super-vision, but no other powers? No super-strength, no super- speed, no invulnerability?"
"Well, how did you handle it? The cries for help, I mean? I can be sitting at school, or sometimes even at home, and hear a cry for help. I hear them all the time. But I can't *do* anything. Not just because I can't leave school in the middle of class, but also because I don't have any special abilities! Jack may not have all your powers yet, and he doesn't have a superhero identity, but at least when he hears somebody cry out, he can help! He has enough strength and speed to do the kind of stuff you do."
"Oh, Em," her father said softly. "Jack was at the same stage you are once, you know. It was different for me. I had super- hearing, but I hadn't thought of my powers as tools to rescue people yet. It simply hadn't occurred to me. So I didn't mentally separate out cries for help from the rest. I generally just blocked out everything so that I could live a normal life. I would hear sounds that were particularly loud, sometimes, like explosions, but when I did hear them… well, it was like what a normal kid, or a normal adult, for that matter, might think if they heard about a terrible tragedy on TV. They might feel sad, worried, even wish they could help, but that's it. It wasn't until my other powers came in that I started to realize I could use them to help people, and started to tune in to cries for help."
"So what am I supposed to do?" Emily cried.
There was another whispered conversation, then her father said, "Honey, I'm going to come over for a few hours, okay? Mom needs to stay here in Metropolis, though."
"Okay, Dad," Emily said softly.
She said good-bye to her mother and hung up the phone, and just as she turned around there was a "whoosh!" and her father walked in the kitchen door.
He didn't say a word, just walked towards her and held out his arms. Emily stepped into them, taking comfort from the warm, large body of her father.
"I wish I could make everything right, baby," he whispered into her hair.
"I know," she said, fighting a sob. "I guess even a superhero can't always do that."
After a few moments, they walked out onto the porch and sat on the swing. Emily leaned against her father and he put his arm around her, and they sat together, not talking, just watching the stars.
"Do you miss Metropolis?" Dad asked her.
"All the time," Emily started to say, but then she stopped. "Actually, it's not really Metropolis I miss. I miss you and Mom, and my friends at school. But mostly I miss being *normal*. In Metropolis I was just Emily Kent. But now that I'm getting these strange powers… everything's so confusing."
"Your Mom mentioned something about a bully at school," her father brought up delicately.
Emily colored. "Oh. Yeah."
"Is that where you got the black eye?" he asked, touching it gently.
She winced and pulled away, making the swing rock. "Yeah."
"Wanna tell me about it?"
"What's to tell? He was stealing something that belonged to this little kid. He's not, like, a teenager or something. Just another kid in my class. And nobody *else* was doing anything," she added defensively. "Nobody else *ever* does anything."
"Hey, I'm not saying you did the wrong thing," Dad said. "In fact… it sounds like something your mother would do. She's always been the one to stand up to the bullies of the world, even though she doesn't have any super-powers."
Emily smiled. Was she really like her mother? The thought made her warm inside. Everybody was always saying how amazing her mother was. And her father, Superman, the person everybody in Metropolis looked up to… he thought Lois Lane was the most wonderful woman in the entire world.
He smoothed her hair back from her face. "Just don't forget that you're not invulnerable, sweetie. I don't want to see you hurt."
The sun was setting, and Emily practiced her super-vision as she looked out over the cornfields. She could see the old Irig place, and if she squinted a bit she could see the family sitting down to dinner through the dining room window. She blinked, and she could suddenly see nothing further than the corn and wheat fields surrounding the farm buildings.
Emily blinked again and looked at her father. She focused on seeing him, forcing her vision to show him as he really was and not to waver in and out, sometimes x-raying through him and sometimes just being fuzzy. It worked! She was seeing his face, solid and real behind his glasses.
"I think I'm starting to get the hang of this vision thing," Emily said.
He smiled. "I'm so glad."
"Emily?" Mrs. Bailes said as the class stood up to leave the room. "Can I speak to you for just a minute?"
Emily swallowed hard and made her way to the front of the room, pushing past the other students who were on their way out.
"Yes, Mrs. Bailes?" she asked, trying to keep her voice steady.
"Emily, are you having trouble adjusting to Smallville Middle School?" the teacher asked unexpectedly.
"Well…" The teacher shuffled through some papers on her desk. "Your grades from Metropolis Union Middle were excellent, and you seemed to start out on the same track here. But ever since your first week, you've been slipping. You always look distracted in class, and your last test… you didn't answer a single question! You didn't even write your name in the right place."
Emily's face was burning. How could she possibly explain this? It sounded like… something like the stupidest kid in school would do. Or one of the kids who didn't care about school, spent their time distracting the other students and just waiting until they could drop out and be a gas station attendant.
"And then yesterday… I know that you and Nathan got in a fight. Maybe you weren't actually caught in the act, Emily, but that's about all that's keeping you from a suspension right now."
Emily's hand involuntarily went to her black eye. She nodded.
"Emily, if things don't improve, I'm going to have to have a talk with your parents… or, your grandparents, at least. We'll need to discuss your other options here."
She nodded mutely. "I understand."
"Good." Mrs. Bailes's gaze softened. "Please, Emily, try to do better. I believe that you can."
Emily shrugged and headed outside. She'd already missed her bus, and Jack was probably already on his way home. She'd wait a little while, 'til he was likely to be home, then call and ask him to pick her up.
She meandered her way over to the playground of the elementary school next-door. The elementary kids didn't get off school for another hour, so the playground was empty. She sat down on a swing and pushed off.
Emily's stomach felt as queasy as if she was about to perform in a school play. But this wasn't stage fright.
She'd always been the good kid. The student that teachers loved, because she always did her homework on time, paid attention in class, raised her hand, did well on the tests. She'd always been polite… all right, perhaps a bit of a suck-up, as Jack liked to say. But she liked pleasing people, making people like her.
It was probably good that she was getting her poor grades in a school that she would only be at for a few months. Surely her parents would finish their story eventually. The bad guys would be behind bars, the threat would be over, and she and Jack could come home. By then, maybe Emily would have her powers under control—at least, those powers that made it difficult to do well in school. She'd come back and be the same Emily she'd always been—at the top of her class, the teacher's pet, and everything else.
She could tell herself that, but it didn't help. It hurt, knowing that she was failing her classes at Smallville Middle, even if she'd only be here for a few months. It hurt, knowing that she was disappointing her teacher. It hurt… knowing that she didn't have any friends.
In Metropolis, she'd been popular. Okay, maybe not the ultra- popular cheerleader-type, the stereotype from teen fiction novels. But she'd had friends, she'd had a place to sit at lunch and something to do on Saturday afternoons.
A creaking sound alerted her to the figure sitting himself down on the next swing.
"Nathan!" Emily gasped, her body tensing. "What are you doing? This is my swingset."
"No, it's the elementary school's swingset," he retorted. "And it's a free country."
She clamped her mouth shut and tried to ignore his presence, but it was difficult. Not only was he swinging hard enough to make the chains creak each time he went out and back, but he was also heavy enough that she could feel the pull through the chains of her own swing.
She was just about to get off the swing and stalk off to try calling her brother when Nathan spoke. "Are you mad at me about yesterday?" He caught his feet on the sand and brought his swing to a halt.
"Well, yeah," she said. "I got in trouble for that." Maybe not trouble like no-TV-for-a-week, but she certainly had gotten plenty of ribbing from her brother. And it was just one more thing to deal with on what was already turning out to be a pretty crummy week.
"Yeah, so did I," he admitted. "Especially when my dad found out I'd hit a girl."
"You deserved it," she said curtly.
He was silent for a moment, then said, "Maybe I did."
That was such a startling admission that Emily stared at Nathan. He wasn't looking at her, but watching the sand where he scuffed it up with his feet. He looked, for a moment, like a little boy who didn't want to admit that he was sorry.
"Why are you always fighting people?" she asked suddenly.
His head snapped up. "Why are you always a goody-two-shoes?" His glare startled her. "Little Miss Perfect, always standing up for the little guy. You probably wish I'd kill you, so you could be a martyr and a saint."
Emily felt her face go hot. For a long moment, she couldn't even think of any response. Her hands clenched themselves into fists.
"Too scared to hit me now?" Nathan taunted.
Emily forced her fists to relax. "No. Just too saintly, I guess." She tried to give him an irritatingly sweet look, but she didn't think it worked.
He gave a short bark of laughter, then immediately seemed to regret it. "Whatever. You can have your swingset back." He stood up.
No way. He was not about to get the last word. "Off to pick on some innocent third-grader? They're about the right size."
Nathan took a step towards her swing and gave her a violent shove, sending her backwards into the sand. She scrambled to her feet, spitting mad, to see him disappearing around the side of the building.
Emily lay on her stomach on her bed, doing her homework. Or trying to, at least. She was definitely getting much better at this focus thing, but she still found paper the hardest. She allowed her eyes to lose focus just a bit, until the paper was whole but the words slightly blurry. Then she tried to bring them into focus as slowly as she could. To Emily's triumph, it worked. Briefly. She scanned the page as quickly as she could, grateful for her photographic memory inherited from her father. When she realized she was looking through the paper again, she stopped, closed her eyes, and pictured the paper in her mind. Blindly, she tried to fill in the responses.
After a few minutes of this, she threw down her pencil in frustration and carried her homework downstairs to the kitchen. Grandma was sitting at the table, reading a book.
"Grandma?" Emily asked. "Can you help me with this? I can't read it, and I'm having trouble focusing on it enough to write the answers in the right places.
"Oh, sure, honey," Grandma said, getting up and taking the paper from Emily.
Within a few minutes, Emily was feeling much better. Grandma would read her the question, then put a red piece of construction paper over the paper, with just a slot cut in the construction paper that lined up with the answer space. Emily knew the answers to the questions, and it was easier to write in the space that glared white amidst the construction paper. Blurry vision didn't cause a problem there.
Grandma read over each answer once it was written, fixing any part where Emily's handwriting had gone askew because she couldn't see what she was doing. Emily's confidence was returning. She knew this stuff! She just… couldn't read. It gave her a whole new sympathy for people who had dyslexia or other learning disabilities. But people who had learning disabilities were given special options in class, more time to finish their tests and that sort of thing.
More time to finish tests… and some were even given their tests orally.
"That's it, Grandma!" Emily said excitedly. "Oral tests!"
Grandma looked startled. "What?"
"Maybe I can ask Mrs. Bailes to give me a chance to retake the test… orally! I know the answers, I just can't read the test paper. But if I tell her that I've been having trouble in class because I have vision problems, and that I have to wait for my parents to take me to an eye specialist before I can get glasses… maybe she'll let me take my tests orally in the meantime."
"That's a good idea, Emily!" Grandma said, sounding relieved. "You'll probably need to be getting glasses soon, anyway, if you think you might want to consider taking on a superhero persona as an adult. It's easier if there aren't any pictures of you without glasses when you're a teenager. Besides, once the heat- vision kicks in, the glasses will definitely help you with control."
Emily imagined accidentally setting Mrs. Bailes's classroom on fire, instead of just x-raying through it. She winced and nodded.
Emily wasn't exactly *looking* for a fight when she walked into school the next day—but somehow she wasn't exactly surprised when she found one.
The voice was so high-pitched that she heard it the moment she pushed open the school doors.
"I couldn't stop staring at him during math class yesterday. His hair is so long and silky, I hope he never cuts it. He actually turned around once, to look at the clock, and I think he smiled at me…"
Emily walked around the locker bank and, no surprise, found Nathan practicing his falsetto as he read aloud from what looked like a girl's diary. Probably the small blonde girl sobbing, her friend standing next to her with her arm around her and glaring at Nathan.
"Wow, Nathan, I'm impressed," Emily said loudly.
He stopped reading and looked up.
"You've progressed from reading 'Green Eggs and Ham' to reading younger kids' diaries. Next, you might actually be able to read the newspaper! I hear they're written on a middle-school level."
He winked at her. "I guess that's so that your parents can read their own stories, huh? I hear they're on some big one now, so big that they have to send their little babies to the country just to make sure they're safe."
Emily winced, but she knew it was her own fault. She shouldn't have given in to her urge to insult Nathan personally, no matter how much she wanted to. She'd never come out of that kind of battle without scars.
"Give the girl her diary back, Nathan."
"Why should I?"
"Why shouldn't you? Why should you keep it and read it to the whole school? They'll get a quick laugh out of listening to some embarrassed girl's purple prose about the guy who sits in front of her, but at the same time they're really thinking that you're a cruel, malicious person who'll probably grow up to be a serial killer. Haven't you noticed that nobody wants to be friends with you? They all know that you don't know how to be a friend, or even a decent human being."
"Like you do? Walking around so high and mighty, Emily, Defender of the Innocent, too good to be friends with anybody from a hick town."
That hit close to home. Emily took a sharp breath. "I don't go around hurting other people for my own amusement."
The bell rang, and everyone in the hallway suddenly scattered, heading for their disparate classrooms. Emily grabbed the diary from Nathan's hand while he was distracted and handed it to the blonde girl.
"Yeah, thanks a lot," the girl spat.
"What?" Emily was startled.
"Purple prose? I may be a 'little kid' but I know what that means. You made me look stupid in front of the entire school! Stay out of it next time!" She stalked off towards the second- floor stairwell.
"Kids these days," Nathan said, shaking his head sorrowfully. "Such a waste. We were never that obnoxious, were we?"
Emily rolled her eyes at him and head towards her first-period math class, but found herself hard-pressed to be angry, even when her math teacher assigned her extra homework for arriving late.
Her vision really was improving, Emily found. The super-vision was almost completely under control. She could zoom in or out at will, and had no difficulty looking out the window, over the ballfield, across the street, and into the windows of the Smallville Bakery. Her stomach rumbled.
The x-ray vision wasn't quite so perfect. If she concentrated, she could look at exactly the layer she intended. But if she let her mind wander, or if she concentrated too hard on a math problem or her science experiment, she'd suddenly find herself x- raying through everything without any discernible pattern. And it was rather hard to hold concentration on her vision when she was also trying to do her work well.
Fortunately, they were doing lab work in science right now. Susan, Emily's lab partner, was perfectly willing to write the lab report if Emily told her what to write. Susan was flattered to believe that she was doing all the writing because she had neater handwriting.
She hadn't had any math tests since starting school here, as her math teacher believed in giving only a few larger tests a year to cover entire units. But she had a feeling that, unless her vision got remarkably better by then, she'd be talking to him about oral tests for math as well. For now, though, only history, with Mrs. Bailes's weekly tests, was the problem. And maybe by the time she went home today, that problem would be solved.
Emily jerked as she felt something hit the back of her head. She felt the back of her hair gingerly, but there was nothing there that shouldn't be. A bug, maybe.
But before she'd even taken her hand away, something stung her hand. She half-turned in her chair and looked down to see two rubber bands lying on the floor. And at the back of the room, where he'd been sent for talking back to the teacher, was Nathan, grinning at her.
Emily picked up the rubber bands and waited until Mrs. Bailes turned her back. Then she fitted one to her hand, turned around, and fired.
Unfortunately, it missed.
"Drat," she murmured, fumbling with the other one while pretending to read what Mrs. Bailes had written on the chalkboard. When the teacher turned to face the board again, Emily let it fly.
Nathan clamped his hand to his forehead. Emily grinned, but her triumph was short-lived.
"Emily Kent!" Mrs. Bailes called. "Did you just shoot a rubber band at Nathan?"
Emily closed her eyes for a moment, then turned to the front. "Yes, ma'am," she said. Her face grew hot as she felt everybody staring at her.
"Why don't you come stand up front, then," Mrs. Bailes suggested. But Emily knew it wasn't an option.
Cheeks still burning, she got up from her desk and walked slowly to the front of the room and stood next to the chalkboard, facing the class. Mrs. Bailes nodded to her and then continued the lesson.
Emily's teacher back home just gave detentions to people who were "acting out" in class. She never made somebody stand at the front of the classroom. It was almost as bad as having to give a speech, having everybody stare at you.
Nathan, of course, never had to stand at the front of the classroom when he got in trouble. When Mrs. Bailes had tried, he'd made funny faces behind her back and mimicked her until the whole class was laughing at him instead of watching the teacher. After that, he always just got sent to the back of the room where at least he was distracting as few people as possible.
Today had been the very worst possible day to get in trouble with Mrs. Bailes. Emily had been planning to ask her about retaking the test orally. If she waited too long, Mrs. Bailes might not agree. But if she asked today… would Mrs. Bailes just think she was being a troublemaker?
The painful snap of a rubber band bouncing off her cheek again brought tears to her eyes, and she almost panicked. She was not going to cry in front of the entire class! That would be the ultimate humiliation. She closed her eyes and pretended to scratch her forehead until she had herself under control.
Emily stared at her shoes. Would this class never end?
After what seemed like ten hours, the class did finally end. Emily bent down to retie the shoe she'd noticed was loose, mostly to avoid looking at any of her classmates as they filed out of the classroom. It was time to talk to Mrs. Bailes. She'd already arranged with Jack to pick her up later from school so that she could have time to talk to the teacher. It would be awful to tell Jack why she'd chickened out.
Mrs. Bailes was standing at her desk, flipping through the homework papers that had been turned in.
"Uh… Mrs. Bailes?"
The teacher looked up and gave Emily a smile. Obviously she wasn't too upset over the rubber band incident.
"I was wondering… if I could talk to you for a minute?"
"I'm all ears," the teacher said. "What can I help you with?"
"Well, you know how I… didn't exactly do very well on the past test? It's not because I don't like history, or because I haven't been paying attention in class. Seriously!"
Mrs. Bailes nodded. "Your grades from Metropolis Union were very good. Are you upset at being at a new school?"
"No. Well, I mean, maybe a little. But mostly the problem is, well, I'm having trouble seeing."
The teacher blinked. "Seeing?"
"Yes. My vision has been kind of strange lately. I've been having trouble seeing the chalkboard, and especially with seeing what's written on my paper. I'm still doing all the work at home, but my grandmother helps read the papers to me. And I really do know all the answers! I just… can't read them."
Emily hoped her explanation didn't sound as lame to Mrs. Bailes as it did to her. But her teacher was nodding.
"I had wondered if…well, that's neither here nor there. Are you going to get glasses?"
Emily nodded. "Yeah. My brother had the same problems a few years ago, and his glasses help him a lot. But my parents want to take me to a specialist in the city when they get back, so it probably won't be for a few weeks. I thought maybe in the meantime—maybe I could take oral tests?"
"That sounds like a good idea," Mrs. Bailes said. "How about I'll make you a deal? If you promise not to shoot any more rubber bands in class, no matter how much that Nathan might deserve it, then I'll let you retake the last test orally. If your grade improves—and it can hardly get worse—then we'll do that for the rest of your tests while you're here in Smallville, or at least until you get glasses. Sound fair?"
"Very," Emily said, reddening. "I promise. It was just that…"
"I know, he was shooting them at you," she said. "But Nathan's just… trouble. You have to ignore people like that."
Emily nodded. "I'm sorry."
"I know you are. Now go ahead home and make sure you're ready for your retest tomorrow."
Emily went to her gym locker to get her basketball. Jack had agreed to give Emily a ride home after her meeting with her teacher at least partly because he needed to stay after school anyway to do some work for his yearbook club. Even after only a few weeks of school, he was already its chief photographer. He'd had plenty of experience trailing around Daily Planet photographers as a child in Metropolis, and a few things were bound to penetrate even his thick skull—at least in Emily's opinion. It gave her the perfect chance to practice her layups in the gym. There was no basketball hoop at the Kents' farm, nor was there a neighborhood court nearby. And whether she was going to be in Smallville or Metropolis once the basketball season started in a few weeks, Emily would need to get some practice first.
The gym was empty. Emily dribbled the ball over towards the farther basket, then made her first shot. A miss. It had definitely been too long since she had last practiced.
Her last practice, in fact, had been with her father. Unlike the fathers of some of her friends, he always took time to play with Jack and her. There was a basketball court just around the block from their townhouse, and he'd played 1-on-2 with them. He'd only had to run off once to be Superman, and he'd been back so fast they'd hardly even noticed. They always had to be ready for him to run off, but the times when he was around made it worth his disappearances. And, of course, he had never run off to be Superman and left the two of them in danger when they were small. He tried to make sure their mother or another adult was with them when he took them out, in case he had to be Superman. And if no other adult was there… well, they could see that it pained him, but he knew his duty to his children.
They'd loved him for that, even when they were just barely old enough to understand.
But this particular game, he'd been there, really there. They'd played so hard that they were dripping sweat. Emily had been playing full-out, but she knew that Jack and her father's struggles were at least partly over not using super-powers. Now that she was discovering how difficult it could be to control her vision and hearing, she had an idea of how hard it must be to hold back one's super-strength and speed.
She wondered, as she made a successful shot and jogged over to catch the rebound, whether she'd have to quit basketball for a while when her super-strength came in. She might have the same troubles controlling her super-strength as she did her current powers, and if that was the case, it really wouldn't be safe to be playing on a team until she got control. And once she did… would her parents even let her play sports, given her advantages?
Jack didn't play sports, but, then, that wasn't his interest. He loved photography, and trailed around the Daily Planet's star photographer Jimmy Olsen constantly. He liked playing pickup games on occasion, and he went on long bike-rides almost every day, but he didn't really have any interest in team sports.
Emily had been playing team sports since she was small, and she loved them. Basketball and softball were her favorites. During the spring and summer, she was always certain that she loved softball the most. But during the fall and winter, she was sure it was basketball. If she had to give them up…
She'd just have to convince her parents that she shouldn't have to give them up. She could do without them for a season, maybe, while she got her powers in order. But powers weren't cheating. They weren't like steroids, dangerous drugs that artificially increased muscle and endurance. They were her and Jack's natural state. Somebody who was talented at gymnastics wouldn't be told that they couldn't do gymnastics because it wasn't fair that they were better than everybody else, would they?
Of course, being super-powered was a bit beyond simply being the best in a sport. Nonetheless… Emily was perfectly willing to hold back, to be just a good member of the team and nothing more. Surely her parents would agree to that.
She watched the ball swish through the hoop with a satisfied smile, darted forward to catch the rebound, and turned around to see Nathan watching her.
Emily felt a frisson of fear. She was alone in the gym, alone with Nathan. And, despite the fact that she'd stood up to him before, she'd done it in front of other kids and with the chance of a teacher walking in—salvation, should she find herself completely out of her depth.
She took a step backwards.
Nathan looked disgusted. "What, do you think I'm going to jump you or something?" he asked.
Since that was exactly what she'd thought, she didn't respond.
"I just though… well, maybe we could play. A little one-on- one. What do you say?"
No. Definitely no.
"Are you any good?" she found herself asking.
He shrugged. "I'm thinking about trying out for the school team this year. I've never been on it before, though."
He was almost a head taller than her, and height could be an advantage in basketball. However, height was certainly not the only advantage a person could have. Speed could make up for height. So could a good jump.
"All right. But I have to quit at 4," she told him. "My brother's picking me up."
"Sure. Toss for possession?"
"Nah, you can have it, as the guest," she said, tossing him the ball. She immediately went into defensive mode.
He was good. She could tell that much right from the start. His eyes didn't give him away, he kept them locked with hers until he moved. And his control of the ball was excellent.
She stayed close, blocking his every shot as he moved around the court. She made several attempts to steal the ball, but every one failed. She'd probably fouled him at least once, in fact, but in a one-on-one game without a referee fouls tended to go unnoticed.
He finally managed to make a shot, but the ball hit the side of the backboard and fell away. Emily grabbed the rebound, but he was there, hands in her face before she could take a shot.
He was, in fact, probably the best challenge she'd had since taking on Jack back in Metropolis. And she could never tell how much of Jack's ability was because of his super-powers. That, and Jack was well over a foot taller and four years older.
A sound from the other side of the gym made Emily look up briefly, and she was surprised to see several other students standing there, watching her game with Nathan. She colored, then tried to ignore them and make the shot. She missed, and Nathan got the ball. He made another shot immediately, and this one went in.
Emily groaned and grabbed the rebound, darting back out near the three-point line before Nathan could catch up to her. She dribbled, breaking left or right occasionally, until she finally managed to catch him off guard. She darted in towards the basket, made a shot, and scored. They were tied.
They both paused for a moment, breathing heavily. A shot from the sidelines caught their attention at the same time. The few students watching had grown into a crowd of about fifteen, several their classmates but others from different grades.
"Go, Emily!" someone shouted.
"Kick Nathan's butt!" a girl called.
Nathan's face darkened, and he started toward her.
Emily grabbed his arm. "Nathan, don't. We're still playing, aren't we?"
He looked uncertain for a moment, glancing at the crowd on the sidelines and then back at her. "Okay," he said finally. "Let's go."
She could tell, however, that his mind was on the crowd. It continued to grow in size, and when anyone did shout out encouragement, it was always to her. She doubted any of them actually knew who she was… but apparently Nathan was so universally disliked, anybody was willing to cheer against him. It was almost enough to make her feel sorry for him. Almost, if he hadn't brought it on himself by his incessant bullying and rude behavior.
Emily grabbed another rebound and spun around just as Nathan tried to grab it. He ended up crashing into her hard enough to knock her to the floor.
Emily fell, stunned, and Nathan grabbed the ball from her hands before she could react.
"Foul move!" somebody shouted angrily, and Nathan looked up, startled.
Several of the impromptu fans were booing or catcalling. Nathan tossed the basketball back in Emily's direction and headed for the door of the gym.
Emily scrambled to her feet. "Nathan, wait!" she called. But he didn't stop.
She jogged after him and finally caught up with him just outside the boys' locker room.
"Nathan," she gasped, out of breath.
"What?" he shouted, looking as if he was about to hit her.
She paused for a moment, then held out her hand. "Good game," she said.
He stared at the hand for so long, Emily thought he was going to ignore it. Or spit on it. But finally he took it and gave a quick shake. "Good game, Emily." He turned and walked into the locker room.
Emily walked slowly back to the girls' locker room, spinning the ball as she went. She locked it safely back in its locker and then got into the shower.
Her mother had always told her to watch out for bullies. To stand up for the little guy. Her mother did that herself, in fact, going after the story to make the victims' stories known and make the bad guys pay. Like she was doing now.
But maybe… maybe it was possible for a bully to not *want* to be a bully. Maybe? Her mother would probably just say that it was a trick, a play for sympathy, something of the sort. Maybe Nathan had been a jerk all along, and the other kids at school just reacted to the attitude he showed everybody. Maybe.
If he did want to change, though, would anybody give him the chance? Maybe a chance was all he needed, after all.
There was a knock on the door, and then the locker room door opened slowly. "Em? You ready?" Jack's voice called in.
"Almost!" Emily called back. "Get out and give me a second to get dressed!"
"It's not like I haven't seen it before," Jack complained as he went back out and closed the door.
Emily rolled her eyes. Just because Jack had changed her diapers once or twice when she was a baby, he thought her need for privacy was ridiculous. But just in case, she got dressed as quickly as she could and hurried out of the locker room with her jacket.
Their ride home was uneventful. Jack seemed lost in thought, and Emily had a feeling she knew why. He was crazy about this girl in the yearbook club, Chloe. He'd joined the club, even knowing that they probably wouldn't be in Smallville for very long, just to get to know her. Emily hadn't met her yet, but she'd overheard Jack talking to her on the phone. His voice got all soft and low. Emily had been shocked the first time she'd heard him speak the way, realizing he actually sounded… romantic? Her brother!
"How's Chloe?" she asked mischievously as they pulled up in front of the farmhouse.
"What?" he glanced at her and turned bright red. "Oh, you mean that girl in yearbook club? She's fine, I guess. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, no reason," Emily said with a grin, grabbing her backpack from the seat and racing into the house.
Grandma was on the phone, Grandpa behind her. He looked worried, but Martha waved to them. "They just walked in. They're fine. Did you want to talk to them?"
"Mom?" Jack mouthed to Grandpa. He nodded.
"All right. Well, we'll be waiting for your call, then," Grandma said, hanging up.
"What's up?" Jack asked.
"Your mother called," Grandma said. "She's really worried. Something's gone wrong with their investigation, and she sounded really upset about you guys."
"There's been a threat against you," Grandpa said.
"We've known that for ages," Jack complained. "That's why we're here."
"Yes, but this time it included pictures," Grandma said. "Of you two, here, walking into school."
Emily gave Jack a nervous glance. "Somebody took pictures of us here?"
"It's not exactly the world's greatest hiding place," Jack said. "I always thought they should have hidden us in Australia or something. Or at least some place where we aren't known to have relatives."
"Well, they didn't originally think that the threat would be serious," Grandpa said. "They thought they'd have the story in a matter of days."
"Which turned into weeks, which meant we had to be enrolled in school here," Emily said, making a face. She grabbed a banana from the fruit bowl and started to peel it. "So what does this mean? Are we going back to Metropolis?"
"Definitely not," Grandpa said. "You're safer here with us. They just want you to take some extra precautions. Emily, you won't be taking the bus anymore. I'll drive you into school, or Jack will take you. Jack, I want you to offer a friend of yours a ride. Don't drive alone. Both of you, if you have to wait outside the school building before or after school, or leave it for any reason, you stay with a friend. Okay?"
Emily and Jack nodded.
"Also, I think it's better if you both stay inside the house when you're not at school. Martha and I will take care of your outdoor chores."
Jack looked mutinous about this… probably thinking about his bike, Emily thought. But he didn't say anything. No matter the inconvenience, this seemed… dangerous. Emily had a feeling she'd be jumping at every nighttime sound until those drug dealers were caught.
"And please try to keep your eyes open," Grandma said. "Emily, don't walk everywhere with your nose in a book. Look around you. Try to see if there's anybody you see regularly who shouldn't be there."
Emily's mouth was dry. She didn't want to be a baby—she was twelve years old, for goodness sake, and she'd be a superhero some day—but she felt like shaking with fear. She wasn't invulnerable yet. Her parents' enemies might not be able to hurt Jack, at least not unless they discovered his vulnerability to fire… but she was still no more protected than the average twelve-year-old girl.
And even her superhero father couldn't be everywhere at once. If he had had Lois call them instead of coming over himself, that meant that he was spending every waking second trying to track down the criminals and stop them.
Grandma caught Emily's eye. "Don't worry, honey. You'll be fine. Did you talk to your teacher about doing the oral test?"
"Oh! Yes! She said okay, and I'm taking the retest tomorrow during lunch."
"That's wonderful," Grandma said, giving her a hug. "How about we go upstairs and I'll help you study?"
Emily knew that Grandma was trying to distract her, as well as give Jack and Grandpa time to talk in private, but she didn't care. She allowed herself to be distracted and brought a bowl of carrot sticks upstairs to munch while she studied.
The next morning, Grandpa drove Emily to school. Jack had driven in earlier with a friend who lived nearby, since he needed to develop some pictures before class.
Not only did Grandpa drop her off right in front of the school building, he insisted on walking her right up to the front door. The other kids on the grounds stared at her. Emily would have been embarrassed at her old school, but… nobody seemed to like her here anyway. So what did she care what they thought? She gave Grandpa a kiss on the cheek before he headed back to the car, which seemed to surprise him.
Emily spent the first few classes as a bundle of nerves until lunch time. When everybody else headed to the cafeteria, she headed for Mrs. Bailes's classroom.
Mrs. Bailes was ready for her. She read each question aloud slowly, just the way Grandma did. Emily found herself calming down after the first question was read and she realized that she knew the exact answer.
Mrs. Bailes took notes as Emily gave her answer aloud. The teacher gave no indication about whether she was pleased or displeased with the answer, which was a bit unnerving but, Emily assumed, only fair.
When Emily finished, ten minutes before the end of lunch, Mrs. Bailes finally gave her a smile. "You did well, Emily," she said. "I need to review your answers again to give you an exact grade, but you definitely passed. How about we'll do all your tests this way from now on, or at least until you get your glasses?"
"Oh, thank you, Mrs. Bailes!" Emily said. She had a strong urge to hug the teacher, but while that was acceptable in elementary school, she had a feeling it wasn't exactly encouraged in middle school. She settled for saying, "Thank you!" again and rushing off to her locker almost skipping with happiness.
When she came back into the classroom after lunch with her books, Mrs. Bailes was waiting for her. "Emily, I have a message for you," she said, calling her over. Emily walked up to her desk. "The office just paged me. They said that your mother just called and said everything has been taken care of at home and to check the front-page news tomorrow. They seemed to think you'd understand what that meant."
Emily let out her breath in a whoosh. "Oh, yes, I do! That's so great!"
"They also said that your parents are coming up to the farm, and they'd like you to come home now. Jack has been called over at his school, and he'll give you a ride back."
Emily gave the teacher a huge grin. "Thank you! Can I go now, then?"
"Yes, but stop by the office to sign out first, okay?"
Emily nodded and almost ran out of the classroom and down the hallway to the office. Mom and Dad were okay, and she could go home!
She slowed. She'd be going home… she was glad to be going home to her friends, of course. But her super-hearing was so much more difficult to handle in the big city. And what about her new vision powers? Would the teacher at Metropolis Union be as willing to let Emily take her tests orally until her vision settled?
She'd miss her grandparents, too. She'd really enjoyed getting to know them better by staying here. Of course, she'd grown up seeing them far more than any normal Metropolis kid would see his or her Kansas grandparents. Her father usually flew the whole family to Smallville every Sunday afternoon. But she'd still never stayed with them for weeks before.
And what about Nathan? Oh, sure, he wasn't exactly what she would call a friend. But she'd thought she was beginning to understand him, maybe. She'd thought about trying to see if she could win him over, get him to stop being a bully. It was probably a long shot, anyway, but… what would happen now that she was gone?
Emily walked slowly into the office and up to the secretary, who recognized her instantly. "Oh, you're Lois Lane's daughter!" she said, smiling brightly. "And Clark Kent's," she added almost as an afterthought.
Emily bit back a grin. Even after all these years, her mother tended to get all the notoriety, since her father often had to "disappear" at crucial moments to reappear as Superman.
"I'm supposed to meet my parents at home, so I need to sign out," she said.
"Of course. Just write your name and the time here. I'll write you a pass," the secretary said.
"So what are you here for?" a voice said from behind her. She turned to see Nathan sitting on the waiting bench by the wall.
"I'm going home early. My parents are here," she said.
He looked surprised. "Does that mean you're going back to Metropolis now?"
So he knew where she was from? That was interesting. "I'm not sure. Maybe. They might have me finish out the week here, I guess."
"Bet you're happy to be going home."
She shrugged. "Yeah, I miss my friends. But mostly I'm glad that the story is over and the bad guys in jail, yadda yadda. Last night my mom called and she was all freaked out. Turned out the drug dealers they were after had threatened them with pictures of Jack and me going to school here. She was so worried that she had Grandpa drive me to school instead of me taking the bus."
"I'd wondered where you were this morning. I'm glad they got the story."
"Mom says it'll be in the morning edition of the Daily Planet tomorrow. Check it out if you get the chance." Emily couldn't believe that she was actually having a halfway decent conversation with Nathan MacGillivray.
"So why are *you* here?" she suddenly thought to ask.
He grimaced. "Fighting. They're probably going to suspend me. It's my third fight of the year, third one they caught me at, anyway. And they have that stupid three-strikes rule."
"Who were you stealing lunch money from this time?" Emily asked darkly. She should have known that he was here because he'd been bullying again.
"Nobody. Me and that kid from the basketball game yesterday, we had words."
"Oh." She didn't know what to say to that.
"All right, Emily, here's your pass. And yours, Mr. MacGillivray. Three days' suspension. I don't want to see you on the school grounds until then. And that pass needs to be signed by your father."
Emily headed for the office doors.
"Hey, Emily, wait up!" Nathan called, trotting after her.
"Well… I know the bad guys got caught and all, but… if your mom was all worried yesterday, you still probably shouldn't be hanging around outside alone."
"My brother's coming to pick me up," she said, pushing open the school doors and walking into the bright sunlight.
"Yeah, but he's not here yet. Why don't I wait with you?"
Emily was about to tell him to go on home, but it occurred to her that she *had* wanted to see if she could help Nathan before she left for Metropolis. This might be her last chance.
She sat down on the grass by the flagpole and picked a long, flat blade. She held it between her thumbs and blew into it, making a honking noise.
"What, you've never blown grass blades before?" she asked.
"Oh, sure I have. I just wouldn't have thought you were the type to make such a… rude sound."
She threw the grass blade at him, and he laughed.
"Do you want to come over?" she asked before she could change her mind. "I mean, my parents will be there and all. But I could at least show you around before you leave. Besides, you have to get home somehow, don't you?"
He nodded. "I was just gonna wait for the bus. The secretary always tells me to get off the school grounds, but then how else would I get home?"
"Always? How often have you been suspended?"
"This is the first time this year. Twice last year, though."
He hesitated. "For bullying."
Emily tried to think of a delicate way to broach the subject, but she couldn't. "Why do you do it? Bullying, I mean?"
"I guess I… I don't know. It makes kids leave me alone, for the most part."
"What would they do if they didn't leave you alone? Tease you?"
"They did when I was little."
Emily wasn't sure what to say to that. Had they teased him because he'd been too big? Had he been so tall, so much bigger than the other kids even then? Or was it just how kids could be, always picking on somebody as the scapegoat, sometimes for no reason at all?
He looked embarrassed to have told her so much. He tossed a rock in the direction of the flag pole, and Emily winced at the ding it made.
"So…" she prompted.
"I guess I could ride home with you," he said. "I haven't seen the Kent place in years. You sure your brother won't care?"
"Nah, he won't mind. And there he is!" she said, standing up and brushing the grass off her backpack and pants as the car approached.
Jack looked just as confused as she felt. Half-ecstatic, half- disappointed. He'd probably miss the yearbook club, and Chloe. But he loved Metropolis and the busy hustle-bustle of the city.
"Hey, Jack, Nathan's coming home with us, okay?" Emily said, leaning into the passenger seat.
"Sure. Get in."
Emily and Nathan climbed in and buckled their seatbelts, which were especially needed the way Jack drove sometimes.
They reached the farmhouse and got out of the car. But something seemed… wrong. They hadn't expected to see a car for their parents, of course, since Superman Express was still generally the way they traveled. But surely there would be some signs that somebody was here, right?
"Emily, stay back," Jack said, approaching the house. He tried the door, which was unlocked, and then stepped inside.
Emily and Nathan, who had not stayed in the car, peered in behind him. The house was dark, lit only by the sun from outside. And it was very obvious that nobody was home.
"Mom? Dad?" Jack called.
"Grandma? Grandpa?" Emily knew that her grandfather would usually be out doing farm chores at this hour, but if their parents were home, surely he would be inside visiting with them.
"Are you sure they said to meet here?" Nathan asked, sounding nervous.
"Positive," Jack said grimly. "Em, Nathan, I think we should wait by the car."
They turned towards the door. "Too late," a man said. He was silhouetted against the door frame, and he clearly held a gun.
"Now!" he said, and suddenly Emily felt herself grabbed from behind. Something awful-smelling was shoved in her face, and everything swam before her eyes. She could tell that Nathan and Jack had been grabbed, too. Then everything went black.
Emily opened her eyes. Her head felt like it was stuffed with cotton, and it was hard to see at first. Everything was blurry, as if her x-ray vision was completely malfunctioning.
"Jack?" she whispered.
"I'm here," her brother's voice called to her from the darkness.
"Me, too," she heard Nathan say.
"Shut up, back there," an adult voice said, sounding rather annoyed.
"Where are we?" Emily whispered so quietly that she knew only her brother would be able to hear.
His whisper back was likewise quiet. It was a good thing that Emily's super-hearing was the one power she had pretty much under control. "Dunno. We were in a truck earlier, I could feel the jolting. We've stopped moving, but I think we're still in the truck."
"Why didn't you stop them from taking us?" she asked.
"Well, the chloroform didn't knock me out, but it did make me a bit woozy. Chalk that up as another vulnerability. That, and…" He hesitated.
"He had a gun to your head, Em. I'm fast, but… it wasn't a risk I was willing to take. Now, maybe they'll relax their guard. Figure we're just kids. You know?"
A hand suddenly touched her arm. Emily started, as she'd believed her brother to be several feet away given the distance of his voice. But then she realized the hand was too small to be Jack's… it was Nathan's. She gave it a squeeze.
"We'll be okay," she whispered into what she thought was his ear.
There was suddenly a loud scraping noise and a flash of light as the back door to the truck was lifted suddenly up. Emily shielded her eyes against the flashlight the man at the opening held. "All right, all of you, get out. And don't try anything, or I'll shoot. I don't need three hostages, one or two will suffice, trust me. And shooting one of you will show the Kents that I'm serious."
Emily scooted her way towards the door and slid onto the ground. Her hands and feet were both tied together, her hands behind her back. She could look around, though. They were in what looked like a warehouse district. She didn't recognize any of the buildings, and there was no dock, no water, so it certainly wasn't the West River district or Hobb's Bay. Probably not Metropolis, then.
While her captors were busy watching Jack and Nathan drag themselves off the truck, Emily decided she'd have to take the risk. "Superman!" she yelled at the top of her lungs. "Help, Superman!"
The closest thug immediately grabbed her around the mouth and nose, squeezing so tight Emily was sure she'd suffocate. She struggled desperately, knowing that she was panicking but unable to help it. She tried to hit at him with her fists, but he was too big. Jack launched himself at her captor, and he had to let go in order to ward Jack off.
"Geez, this one's strong," he said to two others. "Hold him tight. Now," he said, turning back to Emily, "little girl, that wasn't very bright. If you don't want to get yourself, or one of the others, killed, then you'd better behave better than that. Besides, there's no way Superman will hear you so far away from Metropolis. Might as well save your breath… what's left of it."
Gasping for air, Emily nodded. All three were marched into the warehouse, four captors around them.
Emily tried to remember what her mother had taught her about being captured by criminals. Lois Lane Kent seemed to get caught or kidnapped about once a week, and she had escape down to a fine art. One of the first rules was to figure out how many bad guys there were, memorize their faces, and keep track of where each was at all times.
So, there were four. No, five, counting the driver of the truck who had just joined up at the rear. All wore ski masks and dark clothing, which made it difficult to tell them apart, but they were at least different heights and builds.
Stocky seemed to be the leader, and he pushed them into the warehouse. There were quite a few other people in the warehouse, most wearing something that looked almost like medical clothing, and they wore masks like doctors might wear over their mouths and noses.
One of them stepped forward. He looked angry. "Craig! What did you bring them here for, you moron!" he shouted at the stocky man.
"Where else did you expect me to take them?"
"Get a cheap hotel room! Something like that! Now they've seen the lab. You've created witnesses, you imbecile! You think we can return them to their parents after this?"
Craig shrugged. "They're kids. They didn't see how we got here, and there's nothing to see. Besides, by the time we let them go back home, this lab'll be closed up and we'll be long-gone."
The other man didn't look convinced. "Just get them in the back. Tie them up or something to keep them out of the way, then get back out here. We need more hands to get this shipment loaded on the truck."
Emily tried to count the workers in the warehouse quickly, but the two men were finished their conversation and she and the boys were pushed through the room before she had more than a general idea of their number.
There was a door at the back of the warehouse, and the three were pushed through it and into a small empty room that had probably once been an office. It had a few chairs, but not much else.
"Search 'em," Craig said to the tall man. "Two of 'em are Lois Lane's kids, so you'd better believe they know how to pick a lock. Take anything that could be used to escape or as a weapon. I need to supervise the arrangements. Once you're sure they're clear, tie 'em up good and well. In fact…" He tossed two pairs of handcuffs to the tall man. "Use them both on the bigger kid. We've already seen how strong he is."
The tall man nodded, and Craig walked out of the room. The tall man patted down Nathan while a skinny man checked Jack.
"You, too," another man said, patting Emily awkwardly. She gritted her teeth and tried to ignore his touch as he looked her over from head to toe. Finally, he yanked her barrettes out of her hair. "Ow!" she exclaimed. "Those are mine!"
He grinned and stuck them in a pocket. She looked over at Nathan and Jack. Both had been divested of their belts. "All of you," the skinny man said sharply, "take off your shoes and your watches. Hand them over."
They were certainly thorough. Once all three kids had given up their shoes and anything that the goons seemed to think could possibly, by any stretch of the imagination, be used as a weapon, they were led over to the chairs.
Jack's chair was placed against the back wall. There was a length of exposed pipe, and he was forced down onto his chair near it. The tall man threaded Jack's arms through the slots in the chair behind him, crossed them, and, using a separate handcuff for each wrist, cuffed him to the pipe.
"I'd like to see any human get out of that one, kid," he said with satisfaction. "Not even Houdini could manage that."
Emily was taken to one of the corners of the room on the opposite wall from Jack. Her hands were also crossed behind her, but since there was nothing on the wall for them to be tied to, they were tied to the rungs at the back of the chair… but carefully tied far enough apart so that she couldn't pull them together to work at the knots. Her ankles were likewise crossed and tied to the legs of the chair, high enough so that they couldn't reach the floor.
She felt a thud as one of the other chairs was pressed into her back. Nathan had been tied to it the same way she was. Then their chairs were lashed together, back-to-back.
The last of the men headed out, leaving the three alone in the room.
"Any idea what they're doing out there?" Emily asked.
"I bet they're making crystal meth," Jack said. "That's the main drug that those drug dealers Mom and Dad were tracking down were selling. They were trying to come up with an even more addictive version of it to sell in those clubs the drug dealers own. Maybe this means they've come up with it? They were talking in the truck about some sort of special shipment."
"How did you overhear them?" Nathan asked. "Didn't you get knocked out, too?"
Jack shot Emily a glance, then shrugged. "They didn't hold the chloroform tightly over my mouth, I guess. I woke up after a few minutes and just feigned unconsciousness for a while."
"Where was the special shipment going?" Emily prompted.
"I don't know," Jack said. "Really. They just said that the special shipment was ready. Something like that."
Emily gazed at him.
"Emily, don't you think I've thought about it? About all of it? But if I try to blast us out of here, I could hurt one of you. And what if they have this room booby-trapped, or something? And crystal meth labs aren't exactly the most stable places in the universe; you hear about them blowing up all the time. It might trigger an explosion."
"Relax, Jack," Nathan said from behind Emily, sounding amused. "You're not Superman."
Emily saw Jack flinch, but he didn't say anything. She shook her head at him. "Quiet," she whispered under her breath. "Don't give it away."
"Give what away?" Nathan asked from behind her.
Emily winced. He had better hearing than she'd given him credit for. Super-hearing was an amazing power, but its use as a secret conversational tool was limited by the inability to speak very quietly and still be clear.
Emily shrugged, and Nathan let out a small "ouch!"
"You'd better be," he muttered.
"Excuse me?" Emily said, shocked.
"Well, you guys really could have taken a few precautions, you know. I mean, did either of you bother to check whether the person who called the office really was your mother? It was a bit suspicious, you have to admit, encouraging you to come home together, alone, after she'd been so frantic that she had your grandfather drive you to school that morning."
"What, like you knew what was going to happen?" Emily was affronted.
"No, but if I were you I wouldn't have walked into the empty house."
"You did walk into the empty house," Emily reminded him.
"Yes, but I'm me, not you. Not the child of the most notorious news team on the East Coast."
"Did you a fat lot of good, didn't it?" Emily retorted.
"Notorious?" Jack sounded astonished.
Nathan sounded like he'd really like to whack one of them, if he could reach. It was probably best that he couldn't, because he'd either hit steel, or get punched by steel for hitting Emily. "It is your fault that I'm here, though," he said. "Nobody'd have any use for me if it wasn't for you." On the last few words, his voice trembled.
Emily wasn't sure how to respond. She had a feeling that Nathan wasn't entirely talking about his lack of use as a kidnap victim… but if she said something reassuring, she thought it would only humiliate him and anger him more. So she said nothing.
"There's gotta be *something* I can do," Jack muttered. "Would it look suspicious if I got out of my handcuffs?"
"You got a lock pick on you somewhere?" Nathan asked, sounding impressed.
Emily shook her head warningly at Jack.
"I wish." Jack was looking intently at Emily, or, rather, her bound hands. "Ouch!" she exclaimed as she felt a powerful burning sensation as if she'd touched a hot stove. She fought back the tears that came to her eyes.
"Jack, that hurt! I'm not invulnerable, you know."
"What did he do?"
Emily sighed. Having Nathan here was turning out to be a royal pain. Without him, she and Jack would already be untied and be looking around the room for a way out.
Then, she had an idea. She and Jack had, after all, inherited their father's talent for languages.
"Jack, smog bi ti zazhetch dzes agon?" If he could light a fire in the room, maybe their captors would come to rescue them. Maybe. And when they did… Jack would be ready for them.
Jack shrugged. "Zdes net chevo zazetch."
She looked around the room. He was right. There really wasn't anything to burn, except perhaps their chairs. But they'd have to get out of the chairs first, and that would be hard to do without letting Nathan find out about their powers.
"What are you talking about?" Nathan asked, sounding understandably weirded-out.
"Nothing. It's just a game we play. Keeps us from going insane when we're bored or worried about something."
"Krome togo," Jack said, ignoring Emily's conversation with Nathan, "eti kimikati mogut bit bzrivo-opasniye. Ya mogu ustroit vzriv!"
Emily bit her lip. She hadn't thought about that. As Jack had pointed out earlier, crystal meth labs were always in the news for, well, exploding. But wasn't that because of chemicals mixed together improperly, not because of fire? Besides…
"Y ti smog bi nas unisti otsudo ceyu minutu? Lutshe risknut raneniye, chem zhdat poka oni nas ubyut."
If he had to, Jack could grab them both and get out of the lab fast. But if they stayed here… who knew if they'd really be returned to their parents, even if their parents gave in to the drug lords' commands.
If only it was dark enough that nobody could see what they were doing…
What about the electricity? "Mozem svet ubrat?"
Emily saw Jack turn his head and scan the walls. She could tell the moment he found the electrical wires. His entire expression lit up. Then he frowned in concentration.
"What if you get hurt?" he asked, forgetting to speak in Russian.
"We'll be fine. I trust you," she said.
Emily watched as Jack stared at the concrete wall. After a few minutes, there was a burning smell and the concrete began to… well, perhaps "melt away" was the best term.
"What's that?" Nathan asked, sounding anxious. Emily realized that he was turned away from the wall and couldn't see anything.
"Don't worry," she assured him. But what else was there to say? 'Don't worry, my brother will use his super-powers to get us out of here somehow?'
There was sudden frantic wriggling from behind her.
"Nathan?" she asked. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, just… just a minute."
She felt something pull loose, and suddenly Nathan was shaking one of his wrists, newly freed from its bounds, and looking rather pleased with himself.
"How did you do that?" Emily asked, pulling at her own ropes. It was, in fact, rather embarrassing that the one non-super had gotten himself free.
"Some tricks I learned from reading mystery novels," Nathan said, pulling his other hand free and massaging them together. "Good guys are always getting tied up. I know a lot of tricks. These guys did a solid job, though."
Nathan read mystery novels? She would have pegged him as the type who would never willingly look at a book, much less actually learn things from them like getting knots loose.
As he leaned forward, presumably to untie his ankles, Emily and Jack shared a look.
"I don't suppose *you* have any lock picking tools on you?" Jack asked Nathan.
"Nope, sorry. Ropes, I can do. But not handcuffs."
Jack sighed. Emily knew he was dying to pull them free, but it would be just a tad difficult to explain suddenly torn handcuffs.
She felt Nathan pulling at the knots on one of her wrists, and a few blessed minutes later she was pulling her aching wrist free. Between the two of them, they got her other limbs free quickly.
"Now, Jack?" she said. "Nathan, grab something for a weapon. The ropes, or a chair." She picked up the chair and stood at the wall just inside the door, on the side away from the hinges. Nathan grabbed a length of rope and joined her.
"What are we doing?" Nathan stage-whispered to Emily.
"Just be ready."
Jack went back to work on the wall. The burning smell intensified until the cement was gone. Emily focused her x-ray vision on the spot where Jack was working, and she was pleased to find that she could follow what he was doing. His heat vision bit through the wall and melted the coating from the wires. Just another moment…
"Hey, what's going on in here?" they heard Craig's voice call from outside the door. "I smell smoke."
"So do I," Nathan muttered, looking around the room for the source. Just as he focused on the place where Jack was burning through, they heard Craig at the door.
Before he managed to open it, Jack was through the wires. Sparks flew from the wall and the lights flickered and went out.
"Scott! Gregor! Get in here!" Craig bellowed as he opened the door.
Emily brought the chair over his head as hard as he could. He hit the floor without a sound.
She could feel Nathan next to her bending over to tie the man. She touched his shoulder. "Don't bother," she whispered.
She heard the slight whoosh as Jack sped past them, through the doorway and into the darkened main room of the warehouse. Chaos reigned as workers were trying to find their way to the doors in the dark.
There were sudden screams and a loud crash from one side of the warehouse. Then Jack was back at their side.
"Emily," he said urgently. "The chemicals. I think they spilled in the confusion."
"Are they going to explode?" Nathan asked, sounding frightened.
"Yeah. We gotta get out… now." Jack half-dragged Emily and Nathan behind him towards the door. The workers had all scattered, but the debris they'd knocked over in their mad struggle for the door made it difficult to maneuver. Just as they cleared the doorway, Emily felt something hot behind her…
And suddenly all three were whooshing through the air faster than Emily had ever dreamed of. If this was flying…
Then they were falling. They hit the ground, hard, a short distance from the warehouse.
Jack threw himself over Emily and Nathan just in time. Large pieces of rubble crash-landed around them, some still burning. Something hit Emily's arm, hard, and she cried out. Her arm was in agony. "Jack!" she cried, terrified of being buried.
She felt his hand on the back of her head, pushing her down into the ground. Protecting her with his own body, even though she knew he could be hurt by burning objects just as she could.
Emily coughed, her eyes streaming at the heat and smoke coming from the burning building. It felt as though she couldn't even draw a breath through her lungs.
She heard, rather than saw, Jack blow a gust of icy breath at the burning metal and wood around them. She could barely keep her eyes open against the pain in her arm.
"It's all right, Em," Jack said finally. Emily lifted her head. The warehouse behind them was… well, no more than a few partial walls. Most of the rest of it was scattered in all directions around it.
"Nathan!" she suddenly remembered.
Jack nodded to his left. Nathan lay unmoving on the ground.
"No, he was just knocked unconscious when we, uh, crash-landed," Jack said. "I think you may actually be just a little invulnerable after all, not to have been knocked out yourself."
A stabbing pain in Emily's arm negated that idea. "Jack, I think my arm is broken," she said, cradling the limb.
He glanced at it, winced, and nodded. "Looks like it. A clean break in one place, though."
"My own personal x-ray service," she said, trying to smile. "Jack, did you fly?"
"I think it was more like floating at super-speed," he said with a smile. "Sorry to disappoint."
"Floating is still impressive! You've never done that before."
"Yeah. Well, the explosion definitely helped."
A sound from near the warehouse made Emily look up. One of the thugs who'd brought them to the lab was walking around the side of the burning warehouse… and right towards them.
"Jack! We've gotta get out of here!" she said, pointing.
"Right," he said. He lifted Nathan over his shoulder, then grabbed Emily around her waist. She was propelled along as he ran at normal speed until they'd passed behind a building, then continued at super-speed.
If this was what super-speed would feel like, Emily thought, Jack could keep it. It was very… disconcerting, like riding a roller coaster. She wasn't entirely sure her stomach was keeping up with the rest of her body.
"Now," Jack said as they stopped in an alley some distance away, "here's where flying would come in handy."
Emily sighed wistfully. "Flying. Yeah."
"You kids lost?" a man asked, walking into the alley with another man just behind him.
Emily immediately shrank back against Jack. The man's question was friendly, but his body language was not. He continued walking towards them until he was only a few feet away.
"We're fine, actually," Jack said. "Thanks for asking."
Nathan gave a groan and suddenly sat up. "What happened?" he asked.
Emily and Jack were momentarily distracted, and then man took the opportunity. He grabbed Emily by the arm and dragged her towards him. "That's fine, we'll just take this pretty little thing."
"Get off," she said, shoving at his arm.
"Let her go!" Jack said, taking a step forward.
"Now, now, play nice," the second man said, pointing his gun at Emily. "Unless you want her brains splattered all over the sidewalk.
Nathan, who had just gotten to his feet, took a step in Emily's direction and put himself between Emily and the gunman. "You'll have to shoot through me, first," he said.
The gunman didn't need any further invitation. He shot Nathan…
And Jack snatched the bullets from the air.
Both men stared at Jack, then turned and ran down the alleyway.
Jack stared at the bullets in his hand, then slowly crumbled them into dust and let them fall. "Uh…"
"Nathan," Emily said before Jack could say anything, "Thanks."
"What for?" he grumbled. "Almost getting us both killed?"
"Stepping in front of a bullet for me," she corrected. "Any person willing to risk their life for another… well, is a pretty decent person."
He shrugged, looking embarrassed. "I wouldn't have done it for just anyone. Anyway, as it turned out, it wasn't necessary, was it? Your super-brother had it all under control."
Emily and Jack shared a glance.
"So, were the tabloids right all along?" Nathan asked. "Lois Lane had an affair with Superman?"
"My mother did not have an affair!" Emily said hotly. "She loves my father."
Nathan nodded. "That was my second guess. So then your father is… Superman."
Neither answered, but Nathan didn't seem to need an answer. "So my getting shot would have been for nothing, then. Bullets would have bounced right off you."
"No," Jack said. "Our powers come on gradually. Emily doesn't have them yet. Well, just super-hearing and a bit of super- vision. But she could still be killed by a bullet." He shuddered.
Nathan glanced at Emily. His expression was unreadable. Was he affronted by their revelation? Excited about telling everybody back at school? Horrified that he'd been hanging out with aliens? Mad that he'd almost been killed because of his association with their family?
She tentatively reached her good hand towards him, touching his lightly. He took her hand in hers and squeezed it.
"We've gotta get out of here," Jack said. "Obviously this is not the safest part of this city. But what city are we in?"
"I think we're still in the U.S., if that helps," Nathan said.
"We need to find a phone," Emily said. "Anybody got any money?"
Nathan and Jack both shook their heads. She sighed. Her arm was aching again like nothing she'd ever felt. Somehow she'd managed to tune out the pain while their attackers were here, but now it was back in full force.
"Can we just fly?" Nathan asked.
Jack shrugged. "Sorry, I can't fly yet. I can sort of float, and I can run at super-speed, though."
"How did you get us out of that explosion?" Nathan asked as they started off towards what they hoped was the center of town.
"I just ran super-speed out the doorway. I think the explosion lifted us into the air, and maybe my floating kept it under control. We landed pretty hard, though, that's why you were knocked out."
Nathan nodded and rubbed his head. "Still aches a bit." They headed out of the alley and into the dark street beyond.
"Maybe we could find a police station?" Emily suggested. "Or a gas station? They might be open all night."
"Maybe we could just yell 'Help, Superman!' now," Nathan said with a smile.
Jack lifted his eyebrows. "Not a bad idea. How about all of us yell, on three?"
They nodded. "One, two, three…"
"HELP, SUPERMAN!" they all yelled together.
They waited for the telltale whoosh. But nothing came.
"I guess we're just going to have to help ourselves," Emily said. "Which way do you think is the center of town?"
"That way," Jack and Nathan said at once, pointing in opposite directions. Emily sighed.
Before they could start an argument, however, the whoosh finally came. Superman, looking larger than life in his suit and cape, landed lightly in front of them.
"Emily! Jack!" he cried, pulling them into his arms. "I've been—"
He suddenly noticed Nathan.
"Uh, your parents have been worried sick."
"It's okay, Mr. Kent," Nathan said.
"He knows," Jack said. "We tried not to let it on, but when somebody shot at Emily and Nathan…"
"Actually, I sorta knew something before that," Nathan said. "Back when you two were speaking in Russian in the warehouse. You didn't bother to make sure that I didn't know Russian."
"You speak Russian?" Emily asked with surprise.
Nathan nodded. "My mother was Russian. You would have been better off with Chinese. Of course, I didn't know what you were talking about, setting a fire and such. But when I saw stuff start to melt on its own… I thought just Jack was super at first, though, since you seemed to be telling *him* to try stuff, rather than offering to do it yourself."
Their father was looking around at the dark alleyways and warehouses around them. "How about we get out of here and talk about this later?"
Emily nodded and winced as her arm gave another twinge. Her father noticed. "Are you hurt, Em?"
She nodded. "My arm."
He stared at it for a moment and she knew he was scanning it the way Jack had. "Broken."
"And Nathan hit his head. He was out for a few minutes," Jack added.
Her father nodded. "How about I put Emily on my right, then, so I can hold her without hurting her arm. Nathan, I'll carry you on my left."
"What about Jack?" Nathan asked.
"He's able to grab my shoulders. Since he's invulnerable and has super-strength, I don't have to keep him quite so close to my body to protect him during speed-flight."
Emily did her best to describe the criminals during the flight until her father at least had an idea which were the ringleaders, she hoped. Unless they'd gone underground already.
A few minutes later, they were landing lightly in front of a hospital. "Emily and Nathan, you'll both need to be looked at in the ER. Jack, can you go with them and help them get signed in? It will probably be a bit of a wait. I need to see if I can grab the bad guys before they escape. Then I'll go get Nathan's father and Lois and bring them over."
Emily saw that he watched them until they were through the hospital doors before taking off. She followed Jack and Nathan into the ER, beginning to feel a bit woozy.
"Jack, I need to sit down," she said abruptly. He nodded, and she walked over to the waiting area and dropped onto a chair while Jack talked to the nurse. Nathan followed her and sat down on the seat next to her.
Emily tried to use her other arm as a sling, but the slightest movement made her wince. The pain in her arm seemed to ebb and flow… and it was always worse when she let herself think about it.
"Are you going to tell anyone?" she asked Nathan to keep her mind off her arm. "About my father, I mean. And… Jack and me."
He shook his head. "Of course not. I know what it would do to your family. Besides… you're the first friend I've had in years. I don't want to lose that."
Emily smiled at him. "I'm glad."
"I guess I won't see you anymore, once you move back to Metropolis, though," he said, swinging his feet.
"Yeah. Mom and Dad will probably want us back with them, now that the case is over. *If* it's really over, that is."
"Won't Superman catch the bad guys? I thought he always did."
She smiled. "Usually. But not always. He's super-powered, but even he can't do everything."
"Hey, Emily," Jack said, walking back over. "You guys are supposed to fill out these forms." He glanced at Emily's arm. "I guess I can do yours for you," he said, sounding not exactly thrilled.
"Thanks, Jack," she said, giving him an angelic look. But once Nathan and Jack were both immersed in their forms, she regretted not having something to do herself. She stared at the clock, watched the nurse, and watched a small boy playing near his mother. Finally she closed her eyes and leaned against the wall, trying to imagine the pain away.
She opened her eyes with a start when she heard her name. "Emily!" her mother said, walking into the waiting area. "Jack!" She gave both of them hugs.
"And you're Emily's friend?" she asked Nathan.
He glanced at Emily. "Yeah, he's my friend," she said, smiling back at him. "And he saved my life!"
"I thought I did that," Jack muttered under his breath.
"You, too," she said.
"Nathan, your father is on the way. He was a little nervous about flying Superman Express, so I told him I'd go first."
A few minutes later, Nathan's father appeared. He looked slightly shaken after his flight, but he was obviously very relieved to find Nathan in one piece. Then a nurse came out and brought Emily into a room to set her arm. The painkillers she gave Emily offered the first relief she'd had in hours. The pain lessened to a point that she could actually think of something beyond how much her arm hurt.
When she came out again, her father had arrived as Clark Kent and was talking to Nathan's father, and Nathan was sitting on the waiting bench again. Her mother and Jack were nowhere to be seen.
"Hey," she said, sitting down next to Nathan. "Did they already see you?"
He nodded. "They don't think I have a concussion, but Dad has to wake me up every two hours just to make sure I'm okay." He rolled his eyes. "Dad's really excited about that idea, let me tell you. And your dad says that you and Jack are going back to Metropolis. Apparently he got all the bad guys, or at least the major ones." He grinned. "Apparently they had mostly all gone back to the scene of the crime and were looking through the rubble to see if they'd killed us. That, or they wanted to see if any of the drugs were still viable. The one who chased us must have gone into hiding when we escaped."
"Or was off looking for us."
"Yeah. Anyway, your dad said he's bringing you and Jack back with him tonight."
Nathan shrugged. "That's what he said."
She was silent for a moment. "Guess I won't be at school tomorrow, then."
They were quiet again.
"I'll miss you," Emily said, finally.
"Yeah," Nathan said. "I'll miss you, too."
"Are you ready to go home, Emily?" her father asked. He and Nathan's father had finished their discussion. "Your mother and brother are outside."
"Almost," Emily said. She reached out with her good hand, grabbed Nathan's wrist, and pulled him up. Then she gave him a one-armed hug. He looked taken aback at first, but then he gave her an awkward hug back.
She followed her father out the door to take the Superman Express home… back to Metropolis, where she belonged.
One year later…
It felt good to concentrate on dribbling the ball. Bounce it on the ground just hard enough for it to bounce right back into her hand every time. It was harder work than it had been at this time last year. Last year, dribbling, shooting, passing—they had all come naturally to her.
This year, she had to exert a great deal of control. Suddenly, with no real effort, she'd bounce the ball so hard on the ground that it would shoot thirty feet into the air. Or she'd make what felt like a nice, easy toss into the basketball hoop… and the ball would shoot off onto the next street, or pop as it slammed into the backboard at high speed—occasionally cracking bits off the backboard as well. Dad had had to replace more backboards than he liked to think about.
Emily had already missed softball in the spring, and if she didn't learn to get her powers under control soon, she'd miss basketball this fall as well. Not only did she have to get used to her new powers, but they also fluctuated—sometimes wildly— and were increasing gradually every day.
She gave the ball a gentle toss, hoping not to overshoot the basket this time. The ball was high enough, but just short of making it in. Before it could bounce off the rim, Emily gave it a tiny puff of super-breath. The ball dropped cleanly through the basket.
"Now, that's cheating. Blatant cheating if I ever saw it."
Emily turned around. Nathan stood just outside the court, his hands in his pockets, looking excited but a little uncertain.
"Nathan!" She felt the sudden urge to run and hug him, but something made her hold back. It wasn't that she was shy, exactly. But it had been a year since she'd seen him before. He looked taller, older. His hair was longer. Superficial changes, but they reminded her that time had gone by.
"Hey," he said, smiling and stepping closer. Despite his smile, he looked as awkward as she felt.
"What are you—?"
"Doing here?" He shrugged. "Well, my Dad grew up in a big city—Chicago—and he only moved out to Smallville with me after Mom died. Seems he thought that a small town was safer for raising a kid. But he hated it the whole time. After I was kidnapped and everything, he decided that small towns were just as dangerous as big cities."
Emily frowned. "But you wouldn't have been kidnapped if it wasn't for your association with Jack and me, and we were only kidnapped because of our parents, who are journalists in a big city."
He shuffled his feet. "Yeah, well, I think it was just an excuse. And I didn't argue with him. I thought maybe it would be nice to start over at a new school. It's easier when you don't have people reminding you at every turn of what a jerk you used to be."
"Why not Chicago?"
Nathan grinned. "Dad's mother-in-law lives in Chicago. Plus, he thought it would be nice to live in Superman's hometown. Safer, maybe. More exciting. Always a chance of seeing a streak of blue and red in the air."
"So you're living here now?" Emily held her breath, waiting for his response.
"Yeah. I'll be starting at Metropolis Union on Monday."
"That's my school! I'll show you around."
They stared at each other for a moment. Emily desperately wanted to keep the conversation going, to keep Nathan here, but absolutely nothing came to mind.
"How's your arm?" he asked finally.
Emily grinned. "Healed in two weeks. Super-healing and all that. How's your head?"
"Fine. Not much of a concussion, I guess." He gazed at her, then took another step forward. "I convinced Dad that Metropolis was the best place for us to move," he said. "He was thinking Washington, D.C. Or Los Angeles. But I argued for Metropolis."
"Why?" she whispered.
"Because my best friend is here."
Emily couldn't quite meet his eyes. But she dropped the ball she was holding, closed the distance between him, and gave him the hug she'd been longing to share since he'd arrived.
"I missed you," she whispered in his ear.
"I missed you, too, Em," he whispered back.
They separated, and Emily leaned down to pick up the ball.
"Wanna play a game?" he asked, nodding to the ball.
She grinned. "Better watch out. My super-strength and super- speed are coming in all at once. Plus invulnerability."
"Oh, so maybe you'll be able to keep up with me, finally," he teased back.
She passed him the ball. "Let's play!"