Meet Sam Wayne

By Cindy Leuch <>

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: September 2006

Summary: In this installment of the "Dawn of Discovery" series, CJ Kent, fresh out of college and recently home from his honeymoon, is ready to enter the real world with a couple of new jobs waiting for him in Gotham City. He quickly finds out that his new life will be different, and much more difficult, than he had bargained for.

This is the next installment in my "Dawn of Discovery" next gen. series. Continuity-wise, it takes place after "I'll Be You For Christmas," although it's a couple years later. All familiar characters are property of Warner Bros. and DC Comics. All the Kent kids and associated significant others are mine, though. I owe a big thank you to Annie Riley, my wonderful and gracious beta reader. Hope you enjoy.

This story is part of the author’s “Dawn of Discovery” series, which includes “The Dawn of Discovery,” “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” “Professional Loyalties,” “Personal Loyalties,” “It Runs in the Family,” “I'll Be You For Christmas,” “Meet Sam Wayne,” and “Gotham Nights.”


The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast
The slow one now will later be fast
As the present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin'
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

— Bob Dylan

CJ sighed as he slid his backpack off his shoulder and settled into a seat by the window. The first flight of the day was going to be a full one, he could tell already. Gotham City was little more than a stone's throw from Metropolis by air, but for the business travelers and families that were packing into the airplane, the short flight offered enough time savings to make it worthwhile. Still, CJ thought with a smile as he watched his fellow travelers board the plane, if they knew who his family was, they would be giving him funny looks and wondering why he was there at all.

It was a good question, he supposed. Many a flight had been taken by more private means between Gotham City and Metropolis. And his car was certainly familiar with the stretch of interstate between the two cities. But today's visit to Gotham wasn't a summer move, or a social visit, or an old superhero get together. Today's visit was the official start to his new, post-college life in Gotham, and it was to be entirely above-board. First he would have his official interview with Wayne Industries, who coincidentally was financing his trip, followed by lunch with his future employer. Then he would peruse a few of the apartments available in the city, before spending a night at Wayne manor. Hopefully, by the end of his second day in town, he would have everything set up so that he could effortlessly make the transition to his new home and his new job, with his new family.

CJ smiled and turned to look out the window, not really paying attention to the flight attendants as they went through their pre-flight ritual and the plane began to taxi for takeoff. Unconsciously, his left thumb reached for his ring finger, feeling for the band of gold that had only recently been placed there. It had only been a few days since he had last flown in the conventional sense, when he and his new wife had returned from their Caribbean honeymoon cruise. The whole last month had seemed like a wonderful dream, between college graduation, the wedding, and the honeymoon. All the images seemed to blur together in his mind, and he knew that the full weight of everything that had happened during that time and what it meant for both him and Jennifer wouldn't hit him for a while. For now, he didn't really

have time to stop and reflect on it all, at least not outside this short flight. There was still too much to do before he could evaluate his life and where it was headed.

As they took off into the air, CJ chuckled slightly, then leaned back into his seat and closed his eyes. Air travel. How quaint. He knew that people all around the cabin were looking intently toward the ground, trying to find all the familiar Metropolis landmarks as they passed below. The view of the city from the air was something that he knew even with his eyes shut, and it was much more spectacular from out there than it was from the oval aircraft windows. It would be nice to be out above the clouds on his own, away from the hustle of terminals, security, and stuffy aircraft cabins, but he couldn't be upset about the fact that he wasn't able to. There were too many other wonderful things in his life to let the absence of one little superpower bother him. And he certainly wasn't going to inconvenience the rest of his family and tear them from their jobs just so he could attend to some business. So he had to commute just like any normal guy…no big deal. He just wished his wife was here with him.

The plane continued skyward and on a course that took them over the Atlantic Ocean, the normal buzz of conversation picking up again and blending with the rustle of newspaper and the light beeping of a child's video game somewhere to the rear of the cabin. Through it all, CJ found himself drifting off to sleep. Jenny was back home, taking care of finalizing things in Metropolis, but the thought of her kept him company. It was her face that danced in his vision as he let the hum of the aircraft engines fade into the background. Visions of their honeymoon taunted him, comforted him. The sweet nothingness of sleep quickly embraced him, and he was almost completely lost in his dreams when a sound lurched him back to reality. Immediately, his eyes popped open.

The sound had been something that a normal person surely wouldn't have been able to hear. During the normal course of flight, the airplane made noises, especially as the cabin was pressurized and depressurized. He was accustomed to those sounds, but what he heard now wasn't anything that he had ever heard before. It was a sound of fatigue, of something on the verge of failure. As he sat up in his chair, the sound came again, this time followed by a deafening bang. Not even the most oblivious passengers in the cabin could ignore the sound this time, but before anyone had time to panic, another bang came, and the cabin suddenly and explosively depressurized. The oxygen masks dropped down from the panel above, but CJ ignored them as he searched for the source of the noise. He could now hear the groan of metal under strain, and the horrible sound of something coming apart. It was the airplane, he realized as his eyes found the problem.

Around him, people scrambled to get oxygen masks on those who had already passed out. The flight attendants were helping in the task, while trying to calm people down. But they didn't know the extent of the problem. A body panel on the belly of the plane had somehow come loose, and the explosive depressurization had ripped it off, taking part of another panel with it. Cracks had formed in the frame, stretching away from the original failure point and becoming progressively larger. It was only a matter of time before the plane itself came apart. Worse than that, some hydraulic lines ran through the failure area, and all had been shredded by the blast. The plane was essentially crippled and there was no prospect for a happy ending, given the circumstances. Something had to be done, CJ thought as he looked around at the men, women, and children around him. If the plane went down, he would be fine, but they would surely perish. But what could he do to save them?

With a start, his eyes located the air phone. Saving this plane would take the skills of someone who could fly, and he knew just who to call. As he reached out for the phone, the plane suddenly pitched downward at an alarming angle. Muffled screams from around him caused the goose bumps to rise all over his body, followed by a small irrational jab of terror at the thought of what came next. None of this helped his concentration, and he found himself fumbling with the phone. Darn all the stupid features, he thought as he impatiently scrolled through the menu system. No, he didn't want to send email or look up news. It was looking more and more like he was about to be news, BAD news if he couldn't dial the phone. The airplane's velocity was rapidly increasing as he was finally able to dial the number of the Daily Planet. After one ring, he was prompted to enter an extension, which he did by memory.

"Come on, pick up," he said as he was transferred, but his only reply was the regular ringing of the phone on the other end. The plane was going frighteningly fast now, and as CJ looked back toward the failure location, he could see a large crack opening up through the cabin, large enough that luggage from the overhead bins was beginning to be sucked out of the void. There was no time, and no Superman at the other end of the line. That meant that if they had any prayer of survival, he would need to be the one to save the aircraft. CJ screamed as he threw the phone down and reached up, putting his hands on the underside of the storage bin. He closed his eyes and asserted his will, desperately hoping that whatever meager flight abilities he did have would be enough to help, but nothing happened. Through the earpiece of the phone, now on the cabin floor, CJ could hear his father's standard voice mail message, followed by a beep. "HELP!" he screamed, his voice desperate, his hands making indentations in the bins above him as the man in the next seat watched wide-eyed. The cry for help segued into a grunt as he pressed against the aircraft, but it was at that moment that they met the water.

CJ watched, horrified, as the plane exploded around him with the force of impact. At the speed they were traveling, hitting the water was like hitting a brick wall. Almost in slow motion, the wings of the plane shattered, and the already significant crack on the cabin wall broke open, splitting the body of the plane apart. The separate remains of the aircraft rapidly slipped below the waves, taking everyone who was still strapped in. CJ, still belted into his seat, was pulled into the water so rapidly that he barely had time to catch his breath. Quickly, he unlatched his belt and kicked free from the wreckage. The water was murky and the light fading as the fuselage slipped deeper into the ocean, but he could still see well enough to get a clear assessment of the situation. The man who had been seated next to him was still staring wide-eyed into the space above his seat, but CJ realized now that those eyes had probably gone dim even before the plane had hit the water. The human body was fragile, and between the lack of oxygen, the G forces on the plummet to earth, and the force of impact as the plane hit the water, it would be a miracle if anyone else was still alive. The optimist in CJ had hoped to see some signs of life, some evidence of people struggling to get free from their seats to escape to the surface, but he saw neither.

For a moment, he remained stationary in the water and watched the cabin fall, too stunned to do anything. It only took a moment for his instincts to kick in, though, and he began to swim toward his fellow travelers as quickly as he could. If there was even the slightest chance that someone down there could be saved, he needed to help them. As he reached the first row of intact seats, he started unbuckling people as quickly as he could. He had expected them to start floating upwards, but the turbulence in the wake of the sinking airplane was enough to keep them below the water. With a frustrated frown, he realized that he had to be the one to bring them to the surface. The human brain could only be deprived of oxygen for a few precious minutes before bad things began to happen, he knew, and it wouldn't do any good to free passengers from the wreckage if he couldn't get them any life-saving oxygen. It was hard to stomach the thought that the remaining passengers that he hadn't been able to reach would be lost to the depths of the ocean if he abandoned them, but if he didn't, those he had freed wouldn't have a chance, either. Concede and save some passengers or continue on and save none? It was a dilemma that nobody should have to face, especially not someone who called himself a hero, but as frustrating as it was, he knew that there was only one choice. His mind made up, CJ swam toward the freed passengers, gathered as many as he could, and started for the surface.

He broke through the surface of the water with a gasp of breath. Without thinking, he immediately turned to his charges, making sure all their heads were above water before starting CPR as best he could. He braced one arm under the person's back while trying to do chest compressions with his free hand, but in every case he was met with failure. A quick peek inside any one of them could have told him the damage was done, but he ignored the reality of the situation, continuing on in vain, talking to his patients, urging them to take a breath. After a few minutes of frantic action, even the eternal optimist inside of him recognized that it was useless. CJ gave out a frustrated cry as he flopped onto his back and stuck his arms out to the side, turning his attention to the nearly cloudless blue sky above. He didn't want to look at the water around him, at the bodies and floating luggage and debris, the last remains of a doomed plane. It was all so surreal, so terrible. The sky, at least, looked like it always had, a tenuous link to reality in a world that had now been turned upside down. He tried not to think about the fact that everyone on that aircraft had been alive not half an hour earlier, looking forward to vacations or business trips or whatever else brought them to that airport. But now…

His thoughts were mercifully interrupted by two specks shooting across the sky. CJ brought his arm up to signal them, and it was only a moment later that his brother's hands grasped his, and he was being pulled out of the water and into the air.

"CJ?" Jon asked, the surprise evident in his voice. "How did you…? Did anyone survive?"

CJ shook his head. "Not that I can tell," he answered after a moment. Their flight quickly brought them toward the shore, which was only a few miles away from the crash site. As he looked back toward where the plane had hit the water, he could see a trail of debris strung out along the flight path, although to look at it, one would never guess that it was the last remnants of a major airliner. The rest had simply been consumed by the ocean. "Nobody survived except me. Nobody could've," CJ said, his voice sounding weak even to himself.

Jon stayed prudently silent. There was little doubt that he'd seen similar things since donning the Crimson Superman costume, and he probably knew it was true. CJ turned his attention back toward their destination, which was rapidly approaching. The New Troy coast was well-populated, the morning sun glinting off the numerous houses that lined the shore. Docks pushed out into the sea in regular intervals, and many of them were packed with people trying to see the spectacle. Jon seemed to be veering away from the crowds, though, toward a scrubby portion of shoreline at the mouth of a large creek. "Where are we going?" CJ asked.

"I'm going to put you down someplace quiet, isolated. Someplace where you won't be seen," Jon answered with a nod toward their destination. The nearest house was about a mile away, surely far enough to ensure that there wouldn't be any unwelcome visitors. The brothers quickly descended, landing amongst the trees.

"Are you going to be all right?" Jon asked as he released CJ's hands.

CJ gave him a crooked smile. "I already survived the worst," he said. "I think I can take care of myself until you guys get done."

Jon nodded and made an attempt to return the smile, but he could only manage a worried grimace. "Uh, well, then I guess I'll see you in a few." With a nod, he took off faster than the human eye could follow and returned to the scene of the crash to begin cleaning things up.


As Jenny finally awoke, she stretched out in the bed that she had all to herself, reveling for a moment in the feeling of the warm sun against the bed sheets. She was acutely aware of how precious mornings like these were, and how few and far between they would be once she embarked on her life in the "real world." The only thing that could make the moment better was to wake up with her new husband nestled next to her. But, she thought with a smile, technically this was the second time that she had awoken that morning, and the first time she did have the pleasure of waking up in his arms.

The sun hadn't been up yet when he had rolled out of bed. CJ wasn't exactly a morning person, but he had been booked on the red eye to Gotham, and the lines through the security checkpoint at the Metropolis airport were notoriously slow. He had taken all necessary precautions to avoid waking her as he got up, but she had been able to sense the moment when he was no longer next to her. She was discreet in watching him get ready, letting him think that she was still asleep. There was just something about him that she could never tire of seeing, be it his graceful, fluid motions or his perfectly chiseled body. In any case, the jig was up when he came over to give her a quick kiss before leaving.

"Somebody's been sneaky," he said as he bent over and gave her a peck on the forehead. Jenny reached up and wrapped one arm around his neck, pulling his head back toward her so that she could more properly wish him goodbye.

"Somebody wanted to get an eyeful of her husband before he left her alone for two days," she answered after they pulled apart, her lips barely an inch from his.

She could feel CJ smile. "Two days is hardly forever," he said as he perched himself on the edge of the bed. "And it seems to me that you'd be happy to be rid of the old ball and chain for a while."

"Well, since you put it that way," she answered, and CJ feigned a look of hurt. At her chuckle, he leaned over and planted another small kiss on her lips.

"So, refresh my memory. Is there anything in particular that you wanted me to look for while I'm house hunting in Gotham?" CJ rose from the bed and walked over to grab his backpack.

Jenny rolled onto her back and pulled the sheet up over her shoulders. "Oh, you know. White picket fence, lots of green grass and big shady trees…something appropriate for 2.1 kids and maybe a dog."

"Not a studio apartment. Check," he said. Jenny just smiled. The banter was a good reason why she had married him. "If I find something like that in fantasy land, though, I'll be sure to let you know."

Jenny felt the urge to throw something at him, but it quickly passed. "Okay, seriously, if you can find anything in a neighborhood that isn't overrun with crime and violence, that's all I ask," she said.

CJ, whose hand was resting on the bedroom doorknob, cocked his head and gave her a sly grin. "You know, my job is going to be fighting crime and violence. If I live in a neighborhood that's too crime-free, it might make for a lot of long commutes…" He trailed off. Apparently he had noticed the daggers in her eyes, and gave her his most charming grin. "Have a good couple of days," he said, swinging open the bedroom door. "I love you."

"I love you too," Jenny said, returning his smile. She watched him leave, then rolled over and waited for the apartment door to open and close before letting herself relax. If she hadn't known any better, she would have thought that he looked anxious, and she supposed she could understand why. They were both turning the page to a new chapter in their lives, and he would be leaving the only city he had ever known, the home of his family, and going away to make another place his home. Truthfully, she was a little nervous too. Maybe more nervous than she was willing to admit, she thought with a frown as her stomach clenched up. Ever since they had returned from the honeymoon she hadn't felt well, especially in the mornings. At first it had been attributed to the food on the cruise ship, although she later decided it was anxiety. She got up and ran to the bathroom, falling prey to whatever it was that was upsetting her stomach, then returned to bed to try and sleep it off.

Now, as she laid in her bed and stared absently at the ceiling, she began to wonder if maybe something else wasn't behind her raw stomach. Food poisoning generally left her system within a day or two, and even nerves had never made her as sick as she had been lately. But, if she looked at things logically, the pieces of this little puzzle could be put together to reach an entirely different conclusion. She was sick in the mornings, and was a little…late. Given the activities that she and CJ had engaged in, starting around finals week and continuing regularly since, it was very possible that she was… Well, she thought as she swung her legs around and rose from bed, no conclusions would be reached until she took a certain test.

As she dressed and got herself ready for the day, her theory wouldn't leave her mind and she knew it wouldn't until she either confirmed her suspicion or was able to dismiss it as wishful thinking. It was best to just get it over with then, she thought, grabbing a granola bar as she passed through the apartment and headed directly for the door and the corner drugstore. It was hard to hold in her excitement, and she had to stop herself from breaking out into a jog as she made the short trip to the store and back. It was even harder not to notice the little grin the cashier gave her as she checked out. Once back at home, Jenny took a moment to calm her racing pulse, then walked slowly to the bathroom, unwrapped the test, and did everything that the instructions said. After waiting the longest thirty seconds in her life, she picked up the test, looked in the window, and then blinked a few times, just to be sure she was seeing what she thought she was seeing.

"Oh my God," she said, reaching for the counter and guiding herself along it until she was able to sit down on the toilet lid. Maybe it was just as well that CJ was gone for a couple of days, because she had no idea how to tell him the news. She turned again toward the test, which was still firmly held in her hand, and began trying to sort out how she felt. They had never talked about the possibility of having a family, or even contemplated whether they should HAVE a talk about having children. On the other hand, they hadn't exactly been extra cautious, either, and she supposed that in the backs of their minds, they had just figured that, when the time was right, it would just happen.

But the time sure didn't seem to be right. Were they old enough to be parents? Were they responsible enough to be taking care of a child? They were moving to a new city away from their family and friends and now, on top of everything else, they would be ushering a baby into the world. It seemed overwhelming, but at the same time, she couldn't help but feel overjoyed. She knew that she was grinning like an idiot, and she knew that she probably would be for a large part of the next 8 months. No matter what other emotions she held regarding her pregnancy, at the root of it all was profound happiness and love for her husband, even if it was all a little too much to process at the moment.

Dazed, Jenny put the test on the counter and rose from the toilet, placing her left hand over her lower belly as she shuffled into the living room. She had to call her mother, then Lois and Clark, then every obscure friend that she had made throughout the years, she thought as she collapsed on the couch. Then, once that was done, there was the business that needed to be attended to here in Metropolis, finding a job in Gotham, and…she had to stop her line of thought as she realized that she was starting to hyperventilate. Calm yourself, Jenny, she thought. Take it all one step at a time. Maybe take a few minutes to let everything absorb. With a small nod, she picked up the television remote, resolving to get lost in a game show or soap opera for about half an hour before embarking on any plan of action.

The television clicked on, but the show that was usually on that channel at that time of morning had apparently been replaced by some news coverage, the voice of the broadcaster conveying the urgency of the situation. The picture, apparently taken from a helicopter, showed a vast expanse of water with debris strewn about it. Every now and then, one of the Supermen appeared on the screen and then quickly vanished again. It looked like a shipwreck or something, she thought as she relaxed against the couch, placing the remote on the table. Disasters with Super assistance, while tragic, seemed to be a common, everyday experience around Metropolis. It was something that she was going to miss in Gotham City.

"…I'm being told that the Supermen have been able to find no survivors," the newscaster said as the picture swept across the ocean surface. "The crash was in water at least two miles deep, and recovery of most of the bodies and the wreckage is expected to take several days, even with the help of Superman."

The picture switched to a man in the studio, who was looking down at piece of paper on the desk in front of him. "The aircraft, which held 225 passengers, was completely booked." Aircraft? Jenny sat up and scooted fractionally closer to the television. "Metro Air spokesman state that the early flight to Gotham is generally popular, especially with the business class passengers. It is also one of their more profitable routes, and this accident could have a devastating effect on their business."

Jenny's mouth went dry and her arms began to tingle. She was pretty sure that CJ's flight was on Metro Air. But he had left more than three hours ago. Surely it was some other flight. The broadcaster never said the flight originated in Metropolis, although that was the Metro Air hub.

"The passenger list will not be released pending notification to the families of those lost. Meanwhile, an investigation by the FAA is already underway. Needless to say, the crash of flight 329 is, and will be remembered as, one of the terrible airline tragedies of our time."

Slowly, Jenny turned her attention to the coffee table in front of the couch, and the small stack of papers that it held. It tended to be the dumping ground for mail and various receipts and notifications. The airline reservations had only been made a few days earlier, and the confirmation would probably still be on the coffee table. Her hands were shaky as she picked up the papers and leafed through them, finally finding the sheet with the Metro Air logo at the top. According to this, his flight this morning was flight 329 to Gotham, departing roughly 45 minutes ago. The papers fluttered out of her hand as she stared wide-eyed at the TV screen, numb. No survivors, they had said. But it couldn't be true, could it? CJ had had a skyscraper collapsed on top of him, she'd seen it. Surely he'd survived. But even if he had, could anyone KNOW that he had?

It was then that the phone began to ring.


Since first donning the spandex a good thirty years earlier, it was safe to say that Clark had seen his fair share of accident scenes and disaster aftermaths. No two were alike, each having their own unique characteristics. Even categories of disasters — hurricanes, auto accidents, earthquakes — had unique cases, even if there were some fundamental similarities between them. Airline disasters certainly followed that template, too. In certain situations, where there was a controls malfunction or a fuel supply shortage for example, the problem could be known far enough in advance to get some super help in bringing the plane down. Other times, sudden accidents caused the plane to crash without warning, but even then the circumstances could dictate how many people survived. Airplane crashes didn't have to be fatal, but under certain circumstances they were, and those were the worst to handle.

As Clark hovered over the ocean and looked deep beneath the waves to the wreckage of the plane below, he knew that this was one of those circumstances. The body of the plane had been torn apart, the wings ripped from the fuselage. Then, very quickly after impact with the water, the aircraft had quickly plummeted to the sea floor, taking almost everyone with it. Nobody should have survived this crash. It was only thanks to his lineage that CJ had survived, and Clark thanked every deity imaginable for the fact that CJ was safe. But if he'd been any normal human being, he would be down there with the rest, a victim of horrible circumstance. It would be hard to explain the bodies that were floating in the water above the wreckage, the ones that CJ had apparently freed and tried to save. Even harder to explain, though, would be a lone survivor showing up, one who was miraculously unharmed.

Below, a boat carrying the officials involved with the crash investigation circled the crash area, their data collection already beginning. Most of those men were people that Clark had met before at scenes similar to this one. He knew that they were waiting for him to stop by and let them know what the situation was, and he dreaded what it was that he was about to say. Jon had already been sent away to retrieve CJ and take him home, and Clark had been hovering in the air much longer than he needed to assess the situation and complete his job. They were probably wondering what the hold up was, he thought with a sigh, and rightly so. It was time to face the music.

Quickly, Clark descended to the ship deck, quickly catching the attention of the officials aboard. After a round of greetings and handshaking, they got down to business.

"What's the assessment, Superman?" the man from the National Transportation Safety Board asked.

Clark chose his words carefully. "I could not find any evidence of survivors," he told them, hoping that none of them could hear the discomfort in his voice. He wanted to leave some wiggle room, if it was possible, on the off chance that maybe a way could be found to make it so that CJ could be alive. It would have been so absolute to state outright that nobody had survived, and it seemed presumptive to all but declare his son dead without talking to CJ first.

A few eyebrows rose at the statement, but nobody seemed to question it. "Were there any obvious signs of a cause?" another man asked. "Have you been able to locate the black box?" said a third. Clark found himself more at ease as the subject of survivors passed. He stayed long enough to answer their questions, took a brief detour to the ocean floor to retrieve the flight data recorders and return them to the investigators, then made his way home. It was hard to escape the feeling of finality that was building within him, one that suggested that there would be no escaping the inevitable outcome. He just hoped he was wrong.


CJ stepped out of the shower and toweled off, smiling a little at the comfortable warmness of the steamy bathroom. The drowned rat appearance was something that he was not fond of, and neither was eau de salt water. A little soap and some time under a showerhead could soothe away almost any problem, and for a moment it had managed to make him forget about everything that had happened that morning. But it only took a glance around the bathroom and the acknowledgement of where he was and why to make it all come back.

It was never any good to dwell on the negatives, CJ told himself as he wrapped the towel around his waist and shuffled over to the door. At least the sun was shining, right? As he opened the door and walked out into the hallway, he noticed that the window shades had been drawn, leaving him in relative darkness. Now frowning, he made his way to his old bedroom, noting the closed drapes. Apparently there was no sunbathing for him today.

"They don't want anyone to see you here." The voice came from the general direction of his bed, which was pushed against the wall adjacent to the door. With a start, CJ turned toward the source of the comment, not really needing to see who it was to know who had said the words. His smile immediately returned as he drank in the sight of her.

"I guess I'm not very presentable right now, anyway," he said, trying to make light of the situation. The corners of Jenny's mouth turned up ever so slightly, the twinkle shining gently in her eyes.

"I'd still peep on you," she said, and CJ felt a little of his pent up anxiety ease away. He reached behind himself and closed the bedroom door, giving them a little more privacy. Jenny patted the bed beside her, and he quickly strode over and sat down where she had indicated. He regarded her as he sat, and wondered for a moment if she had been having the same thoughts that he had. If she had, she probably wouldn't be nearly as outwardly calm as she appeared at the moment. It was nice to keep the unreality of the situation at an arms length, to pretend that everything is as it always had been and that nothing has changed, but at some point they had to be honest with themselves about what had happened.

With a sigh, CJ leaned against the wall, grabbing for Jenny's hand as he did. "How are you doing?" he asked, not knowing where else to start. Jenny shrugged and scooted back until she was also against the wall.

"Fine, I guess. But something tells me that I won't be pretty soon. How about you?" She leaned over, resting her head on his shoulder. CJ closed his eyes and released her hand, wrapping his arm around her shoulders.

"As good as can be expected for someone who rode a jumbo jet into the Atlantic from five miles up," he said, tightness creeping into his voice. "I'm still here, but by all rights, I should be…"

"Dead," Jenny said, completing his sentence. She sighed. "Something tells me that, in an official sense, you already are."

"Yeah, me too," he said, his arm around her shoulders pulling her closer toward him. "I was sitting there in the mud this morning, hiding away from humanity and watching Dad and Jon do their work at the crash site, and it occurred to me that there might not be a way out of this one," he said, gesturing with his free hand. "I mean, here I am, holed up in the house I grew up in, stuck behind closed blinds so that no living soul outside of this family can know I'm here. That's not like pretending to not be as strong as I am or not using heat vision or cooling breath in public. You can't dismiss yourself from an event that killed everyone else around you. You can't pretend to not be dead."

"Maybe you didn't get on the plane. Maybe you ducked away somewhere between the gate and the door," Jenny said, but CJ only shook his head. He'd considered both of those scenarios, desperately hoping that they were just enough to let him be officially alive, but he knew that there was no way that either could explain his situation.

"With the state of security these days, they know exactly who gets on every flight, and they have cameras following you all the way down that walkway and onto the plane. If you could somehow squeeze through that little gap between the gate and the body of the plane and then jump ten feet to the ground, there are dozens of workers around to catch you. The passenger manifest will come out soon, and I'll be on it, and there will be no going back." Silence fell across the room and neither of them spoke. CJ's eyes surveyed the surroundings, looking at all his old belongings, the trophies and awards and silly little trinkets that he never really paid much attention to before. But now they stood as reminders to a life that he would have to simply walk away from.

"I'm 22 years old. I know that I was planning to move out of Metropolis, but to never be able to come back to all this, to my family, to you. I can't be dead."

Jenny smiled ever so slightly. "You're not dead. Your name is dead, but you, the person behind the mask, so to speak, walked away from it unscathed," she said, and he caught himself smiling lightly, too, but it quickly faded.

"Yeah, I did. But now what? We had plans, jobs…a future. We barely had a past."

"Nobody can take away your memories or your past experiences. For what it's worth, I'm pretty sure you can still have your job," Jenny answered as she lifted her head from his shoulder. "You don't need to be Clark Kent to be Batman."

"True," he said with an appreciative duck of the head.

"As for our future, well, you did agree to the whole 'till death do we part' thing, and I don't expect this one little technicality to void that. We'll make it work; we'll have to…for the good of our child."

The mild depression that had settled over CJ suddenly went away, and he found that he couldn't speak, couldn't think, couldn't move. In slow motion, his eyes found hers, then wandered down her body until they reached her belly. "You…?" he finally rasped, his mouth dry.

She nodded. "I found out right before I saw the news," she said, a smile on her face. Impulsively, he leaned over and kissed her deeply, possessively. Her arms reached behind his bare torso and she pulled him toward her, both tumbling over onto their sides on the bed. No, he couldn't walk away from this, wouldn't even dream about walking away from this. He wouldn't let something as insignificant as death tear him away from the future that they had planned for, together. She was right, they would have to make it work some way. But how?

He pulled away from her reluctantly, a dark corner of his mind telling him that whatever the solution was, it wasn't going to be easy. Would they have to sneak around under the cover of night, meeting covertly in secret places? What kind of a life would that be? If it wasn't for that damn plane wreck…

Jenny's hand brushed against his cheek, urging him away from his dark mood. "Since when did you become the type to wallow?" she asked, her smile playful.

"I'm sorry," he said, marveling at how well she could sense his moods. "I guess it's just a lot to take in. Death…life…it's a funny world."

"Tell me about it," she answered, coaxing a grin out of him.

"So, are you going to be okay?" he asked as he rolled onto his side next to her.

Jenny shrugged again. "I guess we'll see. I've never been one to live life by the seat of my pants, but until we get it all figured out, that's what we'll have to do."

"But what about -" he started, but she reached over and placed a finger on his lips.

"It's too soon to start worrying about things. Wait a few days for the dust to settle. Call Mr. Wayne, see what you can work out. He called me this morning, by the way."

"He did?" CJ asked

"Right after I saw the news," Jenny said with a nod. "He wanted to talk to you, whenever you got a minute."

CJ sat up, his mind working. Bruce wanted to talk to him? Maybe he wanted to update their schedule, maybe he was just expressing his condolences. Or, he thought with a new kernel of hope, maybe Bruce had a plan.

With a grunt, Jenny pushed herself into a sitting position, then patted him on the shoulder. "I'll let you get ready. Some clothes from home are over on the dresser." She leaned over and gave him a quick peck on the cheek, then stood up and took a step toward the door. "Since you're going to be officially deceased soon, maybe we should make the most of the rest of the day, right here with your family. They're waiting downstairs."

CJ nodded. "Yeah, I'd like that." With that, she gave him a smile, then left his room. It was still hard to grasp the idea that he would have to just disappear, that he could never visit this place after tonight. What was it that he had told himself earlier? It was best not to dwell on the negative. And with so much positive in his life, even after "death," it was advice best taken. With a new sense of purpose, he readied himself to join his family for possibly the last time.


"I think I see a ghost," Laura said as CJ made his way down the stairs. Clark held his breath for a moment, waiting to see CJ's reaction, and was relieved to see a self-effacing smile spread across his face.

"Be glad I'm not a zombie," CJ replied, his sense of humor obviously still intact.

Jon, leaning against the wall across from the staircase, decided to chip in. "Well, he has been known to crave brains. You know, in his dates and stuff."

Everyone smiled. There was something about a little ribbing that made all the problems go away. Humor was a constant presence in their house, especially when most of the family was gathered, but Clark couldn't help but feel that there was a bit of a bittersweet tinge to it today. The get-together was spontaneous, born of an inherent understanding on everyone's part of what the near future would hold. By the time Clark had returned from helping out at the crash site, Jon had already gone to get Jenny, and Lois had excused the whole family from work for the rest of the day, telling their editor as much of the truth as she could. How she had known that CJ was on that plane, he still didn't know. Diane had promised to stop by after work, and Laura had decided to skip her summer class for the sake of spending a day at home.

What everybody knew but nobody wanted to say was that, barring a miracle or a brilliant stroke of deductive reasoning, CJ would be officially listed as a casualty of the plane crash. Of course he would still be very much alive, and they would be able to see him covertly, but they could never publicly be

together as a family again. Publicly they would have to be the grieving family, and even privately there might be a fair amount of gloom. The situation would also mean that there was one more secret to add to the growing list of family secrets, and something told Clark that this one might be hard to keep. To only be able to talk about his son in the past tense would be especially hard.

From behind him, Lois placed a hand on his shoulder, breaking his train of thought. He looked at her, and she just smiled knowingly, her expression telling him that he worried too much. "Who wants sandwiches?" she asked loudly, looking away from him and toward the assembled family in the living room, essentially dropping the subject of his tendency to fret until they had a little time alone. Clark turned and slipped his arm around her waist, watching Laura, Jenny, and Jon file past them into the dining room. He tried to put on a better face for them, to join in the laughter even if it was tinged with sadness, but he knew that there was something that he had to do before he could put his anxiety aside.

"We'll just be a sec," he told Lois as CJ finished descending the stairs and approached. She nodded, and he released her, gesturing to CJ to follow him toward the den. CJ looked back toward the rest of the family, shrugged comically, then strode behind Clark to the den. Clark closed the doors behind him.

"What's up?" CJ asked as he settled into the small love seat. Clark sat down at the desk, swiveled the chair, and regarded CJ for a moment. Even away from the rest of the assembled family, CJ still appeared to be in good spirits, although by all rights he should be at least somewhat upset.

"I just wanted to talk about what happened today, and try to figure out what the plan is from here on out," Clark said. "When I talked to the guys from the FAA and NTSB, I left the door open for possible survivors."

CJ's smile was grateful, yet resigned. "But how?" he asked. "I think you and I both know that there's no way there could've been any out of a crash like that."

Clark sighed and nodded. "That doesn't stop the fact that there was one." Clark glanced out the door, toward the dining room, then looked back toward CJ. "There's quite a brain trust assembled out there. I'm sure we can think of something."

CJ nodded slowly, his expression thoughtful. "I guess it won't do any harm to toss a few thoughts around," he said, then looked back toward Clark, all

humor now absent from his face. "In the absence of anything plausible, though, I think Laura's right. I'm a ghost. And I have made peace with that."

Clark frowned at his words, causing CJ's expression soften. "Look, Dad, it's just a name that's gone." CJ smiled lightly, glancing down at Clark's chest before meeting his eyes again. "I think this family knows a thing or three about assuming identities. Anyway, being 'dead' won't mean that I'll forget about you guys." CJ used his fingers to add quotes to the word "dead," and Clark couldn't help but smile at his optimism.

"No, you're right. But I just want to be sure that you've thought about what it means, that's all. To not see any of your friends or family again, to never be able to talk to anyone about what you saw and did before you assumed your new identity." Clark's voice got soft as he looked at Jenny in the room beyond. "To turn your back on your soul mate."

CJ shook his head, the good humor dropping from his face. "Jenny and I will make it work somehow. I'm not about to let her go. But all that other stuff…" His expression was sad, but the light in his eyes was warm as he looked directly at Clark. "Coming up with some lamebrain, implausible excuse to explain away my survival might mean that people take a closer look at me, and then at my family. If I say that some magic force rescued me from harm while everyone else died, someone is quite justifiably going to start digging into the real reason why, and in doing so might stumble upon the big secret and expose you and Jon and everyone else. I'd gladly give up my identity if it means not exposing everyone else's."

For a moment, Clark was too shocked to do much more than gape at his son. Then a deep sense of pride washed over him, and he had to stop himself from pulling CJ into a bear hug. "I guess I can't argue with that logic," Clark finally said with a smile. CJ's expression morphed into the lopsided mischievous grin that Clark was all too familiar with, and suddenly everything seemed like it had always been.

"Don't say I never gave you anything," CJ said, and Clark found himself laughing gently, shaking his head.

"I'm sure going to miss your visits around here, kiddo," Clark replied, rising from the chair and reaching out to tousle CJ's hair, just like he used to when CJ was younger.

"That makes two of us," CJ answered, his smile fading a little at the serious undertones of their conversation, even if it was meant to be light. "So, uh, how about I give you another little something to remember tonight by?"

"Like…?" Clark took a step toward the door, intending for him and CJ to join the rest of the family around the lunch table, but curiosity halted his forward progress.

"Some long distance charges. I need to give Bruce a call. Jenny said that he phoned the apartment this morning right after the accident."

"He did, huh?" Clark replied, his smile widening a bit. Bruce always seemed to have something interesting up his sleeve, and Clark couldn't help but wonder what it was in this circumstance. As CJ nodded, Clark opened the door. "Yeah, go ahead. I'll be interested to hear what he has to say."

With that, Clark walked out of the den and closed the door, giving CJ some privacy while he made his call. Clark would be the first to admit that he tended to internalize things, to scare himself with the possible negative scenarios that could come out of any given situation, and he had no doubt that he would be doing just that if he hadn't pulled CJ aside and talked the situation through. Time and time again, he was amazed at how outwardly negative situations could become positive, and how resilient and upbeat people could be when faced with adversity. He wouldn't lie to himself and say that CJ's predicament was bound to lead to a rosy outcome, but at the same time, CJ had a good head on his shoulders, a positive outlook and an ally in Bruce Wayne who was used to producing unique solutions to tough problems.

Not for the first time, Clark wondered how it was that Mad Dog Lane and a neurotic superhero managed to bring into the world children who so completely lacked their parents' character flaws, but quickly dismissed the thought with a smile and a shake of his head. Some mysteries were just best left unanswered.


The rest of the day at the Kent house seemed to fly by. The family spent most of the afternoon in the backyard after a quick scan revealed that all the surrounding neighbors were safely off at work. Although the temperature was enough to make the average mortal somewhat uncomfortable, Clark and the younger Kents played a spirited game of football without even a passing acknowledgement of the heat. Lois, Jenny, and later Diane gathered in a shady spot under one of the large trees, sipping lemonade and occasionally playing cheerleader. They shared interesting anecdotes about their husbands in hushed tones, eliciting giggles that drew worried glances from the men. As the afternoon changed to evening and it became time for the neighbors to arrive home, they all moved inside and gathered around the kitchen table for supper and then to play games.

Somewhere along the way, the games stopped and the story telling began as the family migrated to the more comfortable couches and chairs of the living room. Clark told of the time that he had officially died, and how it had just happened to occur while investigating a case in which a scientist was bringing dead gangsters back from the grave. It made for a happy coincidence, although Jenny noted that Lois looked a little less than happy while the story was being told. As the conversation moved on, they reminisced of family vacations in times gone by, of developing powers and new experiences, and of graduations and weddings and borrowed abilities that materialized as interesting Christmas gifts and faded out with the coming of a particularly lovely spring. The memories were all happy, the love palpable. Once the old stories began to run out and the conversation began to die down, CJ finally announced to the family that Lois and Clark were going to be grandparents, throwing in a couple of jokes about the fact. A bottle of champagne emerged from the refrigerator a short time later as everyone congratulated the new parents-to-be and toasted to what could only be a bright future.

After a while, when the sun had gone down and the eyelids of the assembled family members began to droop, CJ took Jenny's hand, dismissed them from the rest of the family, and led her to the backyard. They settled down in the lawn chairs, leaned back, and gazed up toward the sea of stars in the pristine sky above, their hands still entwined. Jenny tried not to think about the fact that this was probably his goodbye to her.

"Bruce wants me to go to Gotham tonight. For good. He basically said what you had earlier, that my night job was still there for me, dead identity or no. Today's events would just speed up the transition a little," CJ said, and Jenny nodded. "But there was something else."

"Something else?"

"Something big. I could tell in his voice. He's always so straightforward and serious, you know? But on the phone, he almost seemed nervous. He's the last person in the world that I'd ever see as nervous."

Above them, an airplane flew from south to north, its lights blinking gently as it made its way across the sky. "Well, you know him a lot better than I do, but yeah. Weird." Jenny sighed. "So then…"

"Then," CJ said, turning toward her. "He told me in no uncertain terms that you should keep your plans and head on out to Gotham. Though I don't think I'm going to be much help in finding your big shade trees and white picket fence."

"If you're there, it could have big cockroaches and barred windows, and I wouldn't care," Jenny said with a smile. CJ tugged gently at her arm, and her smile broadened. Slowly, she turned in the chair until she was sideways,

facing him. "Yes?" she said with a giggle.

"Come here," he said, patting his lap. "Give a dead guy a kiss."

"How romantic." She smirked as she rose from the chair, then took a step sideways and eased into his lap, immediately leaning down and gently kissing him.

"Might I recommend, though, that if you fly out to Gotham to visit, you take Superman Express," CJ said, a serious tone in his voice.

"I think that's definitely going to be the only way I fly for awhile," Jenny answered. She curled up against his chest, resting her head on his shoulder. "I'm going to miss you," she said after a moment.

CJ sighed heavily, then captured her lips again. "Not for long," he said after they pulled apart.

"I hope not." The cicadas hummed gently in the trees along the back of the property, and Jenny closed her eyes and smiled a little, trying to capture the moment.

"I love you, you know. I always will." His voice was soft, the usual teasing undertones absent. The hand perched on her waist wandered to her belly, slipping gently under her shirt. "Both of you."

The reality of the situation seemed to hit her at that moment. Until everything got sorted out, until Bruce enacted whatever big plan he had brewing and CJ assumed whatever new identity he would have, moments like these would be few and far between. They might end up in the same city, but they could be worlds apart, especially if they couldn't see each other publicly. Jenny buried her face against his neck and felt a tear make its way down her cheek. "I love you too."

She didn't know how long they sat like that. It felt like an eternity, but as he repositioned his arms and rose up from the chair with her gathered against him, it seemed to be far too short.

"It's getting late, and we all need to get going. Tomorrow's going to be a busy day," he said. She tilted her head back, locked eyes with him, and then nodded gently. Slowly, he leaned over and she slipped out of his arms, planting her feet on the ground. Hand in hand, they walked into the house, where the assembled family appeared to be chatting normally, outwardly oblivious to their return, but everyone's eyes seemed to say otherwise.

A few minutes later, after the family said their goodbyes, CJ and Clark left for Gotham. Before they left, Jenny made sure to stop Clark and plant a big wet kiss on his cheek, just to thank him. CJ had survived that crash and for that she was grateful beyond words. If he had been any normal mortal, he wouldn't have, and she would be mourning his passing rather than lamenting the inconvenience of his temporary absence from her life. It was thanks to Clark being who he was, for being CJ's father, that CJ wasn't just any normal mortal, and for that Clark deserved to know how grateful she was. He was somewhat startled by her kiss, and seemed acutely embarrassed, but he accepted her thanks graciously.

Shortly thereafter, Jon and Diane gave Jenny a ride home. As she stood outside the apartment building, hand on the front door, and watched the two of them drive away, she became aware for the first time that she was lonely. The feeling followed her down the hallway and up the stairs, strengthening as she unlocked her door and stepped inside. It was strange how empty and cold the apartment felt, she thought as she flipped the light switch and turned to lock the door behind her. This was the apartment that CJ had lived in throughout his time in college, at first sharing it with his brother, and for about the last year or so, sharing it with Jenny. To her, this was his place, and his mark was all over it, from the picture of Einstein hanging on the living room wall to the framed pictures of his Metropolis University football teams that were perched on the coffee tables flanking the couch. His shoes still sat on a mat by the front door, and the faint odor of his aftershave seemed to permeate everything, giving the apartment a fragrant tinge. It was comforting in a way to have all these reminders of him surrounding her if he couldn't be there himself, she supposed, and she always had her happy memories of him to keep her company, but they were no substitute for his presence.

With a sigh, she flopped down on the couch and decided to chase away some of the loneliness by phoning her mother. It was a phone call that she was dreading, one that would be filled with the best and worst of news, and with a few horrible lies. Her parents still didn't know that CJ was the son of one Superman and the brother of another, nor did they know what the real motivation had been for their initial decision to move to Gotham City. Before today's accident, she had no qualms about leaving them in the dark, about omitting certain details about the Kent family that they really didn't need to know. It wasn't lying that way, she supposed, and CJ had agreed with her. But that meant that tonight, she would have to tell them that CJ was on that plane, and as soon as they inevitably asked if he was dead, she would have to tell her first lie. Her parents deserved to know the truth, they deserved to not have to go through the grieving process, but she couldn't think of a way to tell them without opening up a whole different can of worms. Maybe Lois and Clark would have some thoughts on the matter, and maybe, before it was all over with, she could get the truth out in the open. But for now, as much as she hated it, she had to swallow her fears and make the call.

The talk went about as she expected. Jenny told them the bad news first, cringing as her mother started to cry over the phone. She tried to soften the blow with the news of her pregnancy, but that only made her mother cry harder. Jenny told her that her baby would know at the very least that he or she had a father who loved him or her very much, and that stopped the tears, at least for a moment. Despite the fact that CJ had only recently fallen victim to an airplane crash, Jenny's parents told her that they would take the next available flight to Metropolis, and that any further conversation could wait until then. Her parents agreed to give her a call once they knew their flight details, and that was that. She would need the support of the Kents to get her through her parent's visit, and after a short call to Lois, Jenny was assured that she wouldn't have to face them alone. That was something, at least.

Not too much later, right before the late news, the airline called. The Metro Air representative told Jenny in soothing yet matter-of-fact tones that CJ was among the dead from the crash of Flight 329. Jenny replied that she knew that already, and thought about asking how many other phone call recipients had honestly been unaware of the fate of their loved one. The rest of the conversation was mercifully short. Jenny assumed that she had been the last relative of a traveler to be informed of their loved ones' fates, given how often the airline's phone number had showed up in the caller ID list from that day. If that were the case, it meant that there was nothing stopping the airline from releasing the list to the public, allowing the real circus to begin. It was only about ten minutes later that a lawyer called. Apparently, a class action lawsuit against the airline was already being prepared, in the name of everyone that had fallen victim to whatever wrong the lawyer thought was committed. Jenny told him to take a hike, then unplugged her phone. It was definitely time to get some sleep and put this day behind her.

With a sigh, she walked into her bedroom, looked at the bed where she had awoken alone that morning, and thought of the prospect of weeks or months with nobody by her side. At least he was here in spirit, she thought, pulling back the sheet. As she laid down, she looked toward the door, where she had officially seen her husband last, remembering their conversation with a crooked smile. Like he had said then, it wasn't forever. But she had no doubt that it would feel like it.

After a while, she drifted into a peaceful sleep.


Jon Kent couldn't help but notice the sideways looks that he got as he made his way into work the next morning. His parents had taken the day off, outwardly to help take care of arrangements, although he suspected that they would be spending a lot of their time lending moral support to Jenny. Her parents were supposed to be flying in from Missouri that day, and he knew that they would all be getting together later. It was a gathering that he hoped to avoid. Trying to act the part of the bereaved brother consoling the grieving in-laws was not something that he looked forward to. Besides, his vacation time was somewhat scarce, thanks to a recent cyclone in the Indian Ocean. So here he was, working. Nobody said it would be easy, though.

He tried to avoid eye contact with his colleagues, keeping his gaze downward as he wound his way toward his desk. The passenger list of the doomed flight had been released the night before, and was a front page headline on every major paper in America. In tragedies like this, reporters tended to pick out the names of those that might have even minor celebrity status, and CJ's name fit the bill, even at papers other than those in Metropolis. He had been the son of fairly well-known, award-winning reporters. He had also been a four-year letter winner on a major, successful, college football program, landing his obituary on more than a few sports pages throughout the country. The Daily Planet had a nice sidebar on their personal connection to CJ, written by Jimmy and a few other reporters that had known the Kent family for a long time. The coverage didn't bother Jon, honestly. He was just glad that he hadn't been asked to participate in any of it. But as big as the story was, there were still plenty of other interesting things happening throughout Metropolis and the rest of the world, and that was what he hoped to work on that day.

Coworkers stopped by throughout the morning to offer Jon their condolences, and he accepted them all graciously, although he hated the deception. The interruptions made his work slow going, but he managed to hunt down a few promising leads on possible stories. He decided it would probably be less stressful to continue his investigations out of the office, and was just getting up to leave when his phone rang. It was probably another condolence call, he thought gloomily as he reached down to pick it up.

"Jon Kent," he said crisply, trying not to let his growing bad mood show through.

"Hey stranger." Diane was on the other end of the line, a fact that made his bad mood instantly clear up and a small smile appear on his face. He sat back down in his chair and set his briefcase beside him.

"Hey yourself. To what do I owe the pleasure?" For someone who had been more than a little unfriendly toward the press at the beginning of her police career, Diane had become one of Jon's best sources for interesting or unique stories. She was constantly giving him tips based on things that she had seen or heard around the police station. Many of the stories were of odd arrests, or of shady goings on that the police had been investigating but were unable to pursue due to lack of evidence or some other technicality. Often the Planet could acquire information in ways that the police could not, and while such information was generally not useful to a police case, it could be utilized to find some that was, leading to the mutually beneficial arrest of a criminal and a front page story for the Planet. Sometimes, the best the Planet could do would be to publicize a story to get an outcome that, while often still not resulting in criminal charges, could at least alert the world to the problem, or finger someone as being the piece of trash that they were. Jon always felt that the part of Diane that had led her to become a cop and later, for a while at least, a superhero, the part that valued law and order and justice, was satisfied with that arrangement, especially if it meant that the public good was ultimately fulfilled in an honest manner.

"I heard an interesting story around the station this morning," Diane said. Jon reached for a pen and a notepad, and poised himself to take down her information.

"Yeah?" he said, coaxing her on.

"The Metro Air corporate office is a pretty popular place this morning, given what happened yesterday. The big three networks are camped out front, bugging the employees and what not, trying to get quotes."

"Just like they always do after something big."

"Yeah," Diane said, sensing the slight distaste in his words. Jon definitely was not keen on the in-your-face style of journalism. "Anyway, a couple of our guys got sent down there to deal with them, and it came back that reporters weren't the only ones harassing the company."


"There's this group of protesters with signs. But it's not a consumer safety group or grieving families or anything like that. Apparently the signs read something to the effect of, 'Metro Air and its customers got what they deserved.' Real sick stuff. Stuff the big three networks even had the good taste to ignore."

Jon felt his mouth grow dry and his lip curl up. Sick was probably the kindest word he'd use for those people. "Nobody deserves a death by plane crash," Jon rasped.

"No," Diane said, her voice sympathetic. "And I personally think that these yahoos should get all the screen time they can, just so people can see what kind of twisted nutbags are out there. But that's not why I called." She stopped for a second, took a breath, and continued, her voice businesslike. "The interesting part of the story is that some guys around here have said that those same protesters were out in front of the Metro Air offices fairly regularly before the crash, holding similar signs. Metro Air is a big corporation that mistreats its workers, has dupes for customers, and should be destroyed plane by plane, stuff like that."

"So either it's a big coincidence that one of their planes just happened to go down, or…"

"I don't like to speculate about something like that," Diane said.

Jon leaned back in his seat, his mind spinning. "They've had a history with their unions, if I recall. Went and hired a bunch of replacement workers when one of the unions went on strike."

"Yeah I think I remember hearing something about that," Diane said thoughtfully. "They also cut all their employee benefits and pensions to avoid Chapter 11, I think."

"So you have the potential for a lot of people who could have a lot of hard feelings."

"And don't discount the number of whackos and conspiracy theorists looking for any excuse to be mad at big companies. If the two happen to find each other, who knows what could happen."

"Gosh, that sounds suspiciously like a conspiracy theory," Jon said with a grin. "I'm surprised, you know, coming from someone who doesn't like to speculate about things."

"I'm just thinking out loud. It's not my job to go chasing after every farfetched scenario, especially absent any type of evidence. We leave the conspiracy theories to you guys," Diane said, her smile coming through in her voice. When they first met, Diane wasn't much for teasing, but a little time around his family had brought out a keen ability to give as good as she got.

"Hey, conspiracies sell," he said in a light tone. "And every now and then they turn out to be true."

"Sasquatch would beg to differ," she said, and he laughed lightly.

"Anyway, thanks for the tip," he said, the light tones quickly dropping from his voice. "Not that I have anything against theories, I just hope that you're right and there's nothing here to speculate about. Still, I have a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach."

"Yeah, me too," she said quietly.

"I'll keep you informed. See you tonight?"

"Always. Love you."

"Love you, too." With that, he put the phone down, and stared blankly at his desk for a moment. It seemed horrific to even speculate that a plane crash could be anything other than an accident. Even if there were some crazy people out there who thought that business in general was wrong, who thought that a given company's policies were unfair or even criminal, surely they wouldn't advocate that people should die as a result. He could see these people making the argument that the customers were not innocents, that they contributed to the problem, but to even think about killing in the name of an ideology, or as a form of protest? And even if one group advocated such a thing, how could anyone have the heart to go through with it?

The thought of domestic terrorists was a scary one, but it seemed pretty far-fetched, even for someone who spent a fair amount of time chasing after wild theories. Jon wanted to believe that rational human beings wouldn't do such a thing, but realistically, he lived in a world where terrorism did exist, even on American soil. It was worth taking a look at these people, if only to ease his fears. Plus, Diane was right. Maybe someone needed to get the story of these people out there if only to stir up public outrage.

Slowly, Jon rose to his feet and picked up his briefcase. Maybe speaking with one of the protestors would tell him everything he needed to know. And if not, well, he had other ways of finding out the truth. His mind made up, he strode toward the elevators. Next stop, Metro Air headquarters.


Jon paid the cabbie and exited onto the street in front of an unassuming office building. He looked up, squinting as the sun glinted off the mirrored glass that stretched to a height that was fairly modest by Metropolis business district standards. Television vans, their broadcast antennas hoisted high into the air, lined the street opposite the building, and the assembled media mob looked fairly bored. On the sidewalk next to where Jon had emerged from the cab, a small group of protestors marched in a tight circle, carrying placards. Most of the people who passed by didn't give the protestors more than a sideways glance. To be sure, the business district tended to have its fair share of sidewalk protests, generally to dispute working conditions or materials that were being used by the company. But it wasn't very often that a protest group actually celebrated the deaths of innocent people.

Diane's informant had been very accurate. The signs being carried had several different messages, including, "Good Riddance, Flight 329," and "Corporate Greed Kills." The assembled mob wasn't chanting anything, preferring instead to chat amongst themselves, occasionally yelling something at people emerging from the office building that housed Metro Air. Jon felt the bile rise in his throat as he observed the scene from a distance. Slowly he approached the mob, which was flanked by a couple of police officers who appeared embarrassed to be there. Jon recognized one of the officers as working at Diane's precinct, and he approached him first.

"Hey, Jones," Jon said, extending his hand toward the officer. Startled, Jones looked toward Jon, an impatient expression on his face which quickly went away when he caught sight of who had called his name.

"Kent, what brings you down here?" Jones asked, grabbing Jon's hand. Jon pointed his free thumb toward the protestors, causing Jones to make a face. "What's the world come to, eh?" Jones said.

Jon shook his head. "Sometimes I wonder," he answered. Jones released his hand and looked at him thoughtfully for a moment as if trying to remember something, then a look of horror came over his face.

"Didn't I hear that you lost a brother in that crash?" he asked. Jon nodded. "Oh, man, I'm so sorry to hear that."

"Thanks," Jon said.

Jones turned toward the protestors, his eyes narrowed into slits, an angry expression now on his face. "You lose someone close to you, your own brother, and all these jerks can say is that they're glad he's dead. Makes me sick."

"Even if my brother hadn't died, it would still make me sick. Who has such little regard for human life?"

Jones nodded. "If I weren't here in a professional capacity, I'd give 'em a piece of my mind."

Jon gave a half smile and clapped his hand on Jones' shoulder, drawing his attention away from the protestors. "The power of the press, you know?" Jon said, bringing a knowing smile to the cop's face.

"Can't be easy to be objective on this one," Jones said, and Jon shrugged.

In both his capacity as a reporter and a superhero, Jon believed in giving people the benefit of the doubt. He didn't generally question intentions, didn't try to interpret meaning in things outside of what the facts said. Yes, there was speculation, but speculation was most useful in trying to find the truth, not in assigning any type of final condition. But in this case, speculation aside, the facts were that these people thought it was right that innocent people had died. "You can't be objective when talking about people who want other people dead. Period." Jon was aware that there was an edge to his voice.

Jones smiled lightly. "You get 'em, man. Splash 'em all over the front page. Let the world see what kinds of sickos are out there."

Jon smiled back. "So what have you seen since you've been here?" he asked.

Jones gestured toward the door. "Poor employees and customers getting yelled at. Stuff nobody should have to hear. You know, 'How does it feel to know you got someone killed?' and stuff like that. I try not to pay attention."

"I don't blame you."

"I get stuck with protecting the first amendment rights of these clowns. Almost makes me nostalgic for a good old fashioned drug bust or shootout or something."

"Yeah, I hear you," Jon mumbled, drawing a curious look from Jones. Jon gave a half smile and took a step toward the protestors. "Well, it was good talking to you. Time to get back to the old grind. Give my best to your wife."

"Likewise," Jones said with a small wave of the hand. "And my condolences to your family."

Jon raised his hand in greeting, gave Jones a quick nod, and then turned his attention toward the mob. A few people seemed to notice that he was talking to one of the cops, but most of the others seemed more interested in what was going on at the office building entrance. Jon watched them for a moment, trying to see if anyone emerged as a leader, but nobody seemed to assert himself. With a sigh, Jon reached for his notebook and pen, and approached one of the protestors.

"Hello, excuse me," he said, drawing the person's attention. The man appeared to be college aged, maybe a year or so younger than CJ. He wore a black t-shirt with a head shot of the president of the United States inside a large "no" symbol. His long, dark hair looked like it suffered from a lack of attention. As the man regarded Jon, he looked more annoyed than anything else.

"What?" the man asked, his progress now halted and his sign propped against his shoulder. Around him, his fellow protestors continued to march.

"My name in Jon Kent, and I'm with the Daily Planet." Immediately, the mob seemed to stop, turning their attention toward Jon. "I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about the group you represent."

Another man pushed his way through the crowd, tapping the first man on the shoulder as he opened his mouth to speak. Although the second man appeared to be a little more clean-cut, the political message on his t-shirt left something to be desired. "We're a group called Americans for Responsible Business," he said. "We believe that corporations should be held responsible for the greed and destruction that they bring to this country."

Jon raised his eyebrows and scribbled some notes. "And what has Metro Air done to bring you here?" he asked.

"About everything a corporation can do. Profited while keeping its employees at a substandard wage, polluted the air and water, forced its competitors out of the market…"

"And the crash of Flight 329?"

The spokesman smiled, his expression outwardly cordial. Jon admitted that, although he had spent a few years doing the superhero thing, he had very rarely run into someone who could be considered a megalomaniac, someone who would take perverse pleasure at the suffering of others. On the few occasions that he had, though, there had been something about them that had given him a chill, something in their demeanor that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. As he looked into the eyes of the spokesman, he got that same feeling, and had to fight hard not to let the shock show on his face.

"We believe that justice visits those who have it coming. Metro Air temped fate for a long time. Perhaps fate struck back."

"What about the innocent people on board at the time? What do you have to say to their families?"

The spokesman shrugged, his smile unfaltering. "Those who do business with the devil are bound to suffer. It's a shame, but fate doesn't discriminate between those committing evil and those who are merely enabling evil to be committed."

It was hard to write. Jon's hand was shaking with rage, and he found himself backing slowly away from the crowd, afraid of what might happen if he didn't. "Thank you for your time," he said, his voice not betraying his emotion. With a nod, he turned from the group, stuffed his notepad into his pocket and quickly walked down the sidewalk, trying to put as much distance as he could between himself and the assembled protestors and media. After a few blocks, he ducked into an alley, walked to the end, and leaned against the wall. With a sigh, he brought his head to a rest against the brick façade, willing himself to calm down. Generally, Jon was cool and collected, even during the toughest times. He wasn't one to fall victim to emotion, and even though certain relatives of his were notorious for their short fuses, he almost never got truly angry. But today had been the exception.

It wasn't just that CJ had been on that plane. It wasn't just that 250 people had died. It was the smugness with which the spokesman dismissed what had happened. Yes, sometimes bad things happened to good people, it was a fact of life. But to infer that somehow those deaths were justice for some wrong committed by the company? There had to be more to the story, more going on with that group than anyone knew. But he had nothing to back that up but a hunch, and it took more than that for the Daily Planet to take a deeper look. What this case needed was the attention of someone with plenty of time on his hands and a little incentive to reach the truth.

With a small smile, Jon pushed away from the wall. Later tonight, he supposed he would take a little trip and pursue the matter further. Until then, though, he had a couple of other stories to investigate and some notes to write up. He also had enough time to take a leisurely flight to calm his nerves. Without further hesitation, he took a good look around the alley to verify that nobody was nearby, then lazily spun into the suit and took off into the sky.


It was 8 AM when CJ was awakened from a dreamless sleep by a knock on his door. He didn't remember falling asleep, although he did recall thinking at around 4 AM that he probably would be awake all night. The bed he slept in was the same one that he had for several summers before, the room was cozy and familiar. The circumstances, however, were very different, and as soon as his father had flown off toward Metropolis, he had felt very much alone. It wasn't too surprising, he supposed. His wife and family were now a few hundred miles away, and he was sharing a large, dusty mansion with a man who was not known for being supportive and comforting. Bruce had left him to his own devices not long after Clark had left, and CJ found himself lost in a bad mood that was not helped by the dark, empty mansion or the storm clouds that gathered outside.

Now, with the light streaming in through the windows and a few hours of sleep behind him, things didn't seem quite so dreary. Waking up alone in Gotham City couldn't help but remind him of his circumstances, though, no matter how cheery the day was.

"Clark?" Bruce said, knocking again on the door.

"Mmpf," CJ replied, folding his arms over his eyes.

"We have some things to discuss. Do you think you could meet me in my study at 8:30? I'll have some coffee and rolls in there, if you're hungry."

"'Kay," CJ said. He listened as footsteps retreated down the hallway, then forced himself to sit up and get going. Certainly the invitation meant that Bruce was ready to have the big talk, to unveil his plans for CJ's future and begin to make everything normal again. The rolls and coffee sounded promising, too.

With a sense of purpose, CJ set out to get ready for the day. Normally, a day at home would mean a comfortable wardrobe, a well-worn, familiar t-shirt and a pair of jeans that had seen better days, but those weren't available to him. Instead, he threw on the stiff, new clothes that had been waiting for him in his room when he arrived, and freshened up using the new toiletries that Bruce had provided. He had come with nothing but the clothes on his back, the last things he had that linked him to his previous life. Even his wallet, which had been in his bag during the flight, remained in the briny deep along with the rest of the airplane wreckage. He had no money, no pictures, no possessions…no name. But, if Bruce was the miracle worker that CJ hoped he was, he might at least have a future.

CJ arrived at Bruce's study at 8:30 on the dot. Opening the door, he found the drapes open, the sun streaming in through the windows bathing the whole room in a bright light. In the summers that CJ had been in Gotham, he had spent a decent amount of time in this room, talking to Bruce, gathering information, or just sitting down with a good book to read. Even on the brightest days, though, the curtains had always been drawn, the only illumination coming from dull, incandescent lights scattered throughout the room. It was strange how much a little sunlight could change what had been a somber room into someplace more welcoming, more inviting.

"Have a seat, please," Bruce said. Looking around, CJ found his employer standing by the window, silhouetted against the sunlight, his gaze focused outside. CJ sauntered toward the center of the room, grabbing a roll off a tray on the desk before sitting down in one of the overstuffed leather chairs.

"Since the founding of this country, the Wayne family has been in Gotham," Bruce said after a long moment, his attention still locked on the world outside. His posture was rigid, his hands locked behind his back. "At first, my ancestors profited from trade with Europe. Then, with the dawn of the industrial revolution, they found an opportunity to break away from the reliance on the old world, and usher in a new era of prosperity for this city and this country while making a few dollars in the process. The Wayne fortune was made a long time ago, the family name synonymous with wealth long before the Rockefellers or Carnegies rose to prominence. For the better part of two centuries, the Wayne fortune has passed from one generation to the next, keeping the foundation of the family and the company strong."

Bruce turned away from the window, looked downward, then raised his head until his dark eyes met CJ's. "With my death, so ends the Wayne family line. One of the cornerstones of Gotham City will cease to be, and one of the companies that helped make this country great will be gobbled up by Wall Street." Slowly, Bruce began to walk toward the desk, his eyes never leaving CJ's.

"My whole life has been about the past. My parents were killed when I was very young, and the memory of that crime has driven me to do things that I wouldn't have otherwise. I strove to make sure that the bad things that happened to me wouldn't happen to anyone else, to make sure that the innocent could live a life in peace without the threat of crime or violence. In a way, this family had always looked out for the people of this city, and that's what I continued to do.

"The problem is that I spent so much time feeding off the past that I never bothered to look toward the future." Bruce finally reached the desk. With a quick, graceful movement, he sat down and regarded CJ for a moment, a haunted smile on his face. "I did have a well-deserved reputation for being a playboy. I'm as guilty as any man of falling prey to his libido. I never wanted a family; I guess I figured that I couldn't give any time to a family if I did have one. If it was companionship I wanted, I could always get it, but I was married to my work, and my vendetta. And, in a way, I was happy."

Bruce looked away, bringing his hands up and running his fingers through his hair in an unusual nervous gesture. "Looking back, I don't think that I would've done anything different with my life if given the chance. I don't think I have anything to regret. But I do wish that there was someone to call family, someone to keep the name and the company alive after I'm gone. I sometimes wish I hadn't been as careful as I had been when I was sowing my wild oats."

CJ's hands started to grow clammy as he realized where this conversation was headed. "If you weren't careful, then maybe, out of the blue, some young man or woman could come knocking at your door…"

Bruce nodded, a look of determination in his eyes. "There could be another little Wayne out there. Nobody would be surprised. Most of my conquests didn't last more than a night or two, with women I never saw again."

"What if there really is someone? A son or a daughter?"

Bruce didn't flinch. That familiar look was in his eyes, the one that was sly and knowing, the one that betrayed a personality much deeper than that of just a billionaire playboy. CJ liked to think of it as his Batman look. "There isn't. I've checked up on every last one of them, just to be sure. But I think now that maybe a long lost son will show up after all."

"Me," CJ rasped, and Bruce nodded.

The room felt very warm at that moment, and CJ found it a little hard to breathe. The bright, cavernous study seemed too close, and he unconsciously reached for his shirt collar, pulling it away from his neck. Never in his wildest dreams did he ever think that Bruce would basically offer to adopt him. Now that he thought about it, though, he didn't know what he had expected from this meeting. Maybe he had thought that Bruce would take him in as a "friend of a friend," or maybe he had thought that Bruce would use his contacts and gadgets to create a new anonymous identity. But to be told that Bruce wanted him to be his long lost son, the heir to the Wayne empire…

"I don't know what to say," CJ said, trying to flash Bruce a smile.

"It's a lot to take in, I know," Bruce said. He didn't seem upset at CJ's reaction, but he didn't seem as sly or confident as he had earlier, either. "If you need some time to think it over…"

CJ nodded vigorously and stood from the chair. Bruce's eyes widened fractionally. "I'm flattered, I really am, please don't get me wrong," CJ said as he backed slowly toward the door. "And I'm grateful. But between the crash and the baby and this, it's…I…"

"Baby?" Bruce asked, halting CJ in his tracks. The overwhelming anxiety that had washed over him vanished at that moment, and he felt calm. It was amazing how one little fact could put everything in perspective. No matter what happened with Bruce, no matter if he was going to be some anonymous schmuck in the big city or the newfound son of a famous industrialist, the fact remained that he was also soon going to be a daddy. That was the most important thing, after all.

He smiled as he gave Bruce a small nod. "My wife. We just found out yesterday."

Bruce appeared to be genuinely happy for CJ. "Congratulations," he said with a rare smile. He remained in his seat looking thoughtfully at CJ, a momentary silence settling over the room. CJ found his smile fading as he watched. "It's been a long time since children have played in the halls of this house. But I can vouch for the fact that this place can be a lot of fun for a little one with an appetite for curiosity," Bruce said in a soft, wistful voice.

A lump formed in CJ's throat, and he had to look away. It was an invitation, one that just got a little harder to refuse. Wayne manor sat on acres of land with trees and caves and ponds, and the house probably had hundreds of rooms with plenty of interesting things to see. He could visualize his family here, and he knew that they could be happy under this roof, living as the next generation of the Wayne family. But he also knew that they could be happy just about anywhere, mansion or shack, city or country, so long as there was love. If there was one thing that would always be present between him, Jenny, and their child, it was love. "I appreciate that Bruce. But I'm still going to need a little time to think things over."

Bruce nodded, then held out his arm, gesturing toward the seat that CJ had just vacated. "Understood. But please, I want to get all the facts on the table so that you can make an informed decision."

CJ nodded slowly, returned to the chair, and sat down. Bruce proceeded to lay out his plan, getting into the fine details of what he would like to see happen. CJ would be his illegitimate son with a woman who had gone into seclusion shortly after she and Bruce had split up. Bruce spoke of the woman fondly, and CJ got the impression that she was someone that he cared for more deeply that a man would for just a one night stand. In any case, she had recently died, and that would be used as the explanation for how and why CJ had shown up when he did. CJ would be given a fake birth certificate, driver's license, educational history, credit history, medical reports…all the little things that any normal person would be expected to have, all of which Bruce could plant with little trouble. Bruce would throw a society gala in about a month to officially introduce CJ to the world, and in the meantime would drop hints around Wayne Enterprises and elsewhere that he had recently been introduced to his son. After his coming out party, Bruce would bring CJ to Wayne Enterprises, and in an example of nepotism at its finest, would install CJ as a company vice president, a spot specifically meant to prepare him to eventually take over the company.

It all sounded very convincing, very well thought out. CJ wasn't too concerned about a career in big business — it was what one of his degrees was in, after all. But the society parties, the idea of being a member of American royalty, struck him as being a little out of his league. He had considerable charms, to be sure, but he tended to be more in his element with people who were a little rough around the edges, with the jocks and working stiffs. If there was one thing that didn't bother him, though, it was that he most definitely wouldn't have to worry about accidentally running into one of his old friends in this new identity.

"So, do you have any questions?" Bruce asked and CJ had to blink a few times while he processed all the information.

After a moment, CJ sighed and shook his head. "Not right now. Although I imagine that there will be a few once I've had a chance to think it all through."

"Understood," Bruce said. With that, he rose from his chair and took a decisive stride toward the door. "Well, I need to get into the office. And you need to get started downstairs."

"Right," CJ said, taking his cue and following Bruce toward the door. Even if his regular identity was still up in the air, CJ's alter ego was well defined. Officially the reigns were being turned over very soon, which meant that he had to go through the cave to make sure that he had everything he needed. It also meant that there would be a new uniform to get fitted for, new toys to play with, and a whole big city to become intimately familiar with. Tonight, he would go out in an unofficial sense, soaking up the atmosphere of Gotham City and getting a feel for things. But tonight was a long way off, and that left a lot of time for some heavy thinking.

"Hey, Bruce?" CJ said as they walked out of the room and into the hallway. Bruce stopped and turned toward CJ, a neutral expression on his face. "No matter how this turns out, I want to thank you…for everything."

Bruce didn't smile, although his eyes were soft. "You're a good kid, and you've stuck by this stodgy old man for whatever reason." CJ shrugged and smiled charmingly, although Bruce didn't smile back. "You won't be thanking me once you meet your first psycho bad guy, though," Bruce said with his typical dry humor, and then turned and walked away. CJ just shook his head, chuckling softly. Bruce might be a very different type of man than those in the Kent clan, but he had one thing in common with them, and that was the ability to diffuse a heavy moment with a non-sequiter. Maybe that's why the two of them had always gotten along.

Now alone, CJ decided it was time to go for a little walk around the grounds to soak up the sun before slipping into the lair of the ultimate night person. He shoved his hands into his pants pockets and started to whistle, wandering slowly toward the great outdoors, and the rest of his life.


Jon flew a few lazy circles over Gotham City, scanning the shadows and dark

corners for the city's notorious man in black, the Batman, wondering for a moment how much luck he would have in locating a man who supposedly made a living out of not being seen. Then again, he thought with a smile, the new man behind the cowl had other talents that might make him easier to find.

"Hey, CJ" Jon said in a conversational voice from high in the air.

"Down here," came the immediate reply. Following the sound, Jon found his brother waving at him from atop the second tallest building in town, the world headquarters of Wayne Enterprises. Jon held up a hand in greeting and quickly flew over to join him.

CJ was perched on a narrow shelf of steel at the very top of the building, leaning against the spire that housed several television and phone antennas. His outfit wasn't the traditional Batman costume by any stretch. He wore a long-sleeved, black spandex t-shirt, with black jeans, and a black baseball cap was perched backwards on his head. His eyes were not obscured by any sort of mask. "Suit in for dry cleaning?" Jon asked as he landed and sat down next to his brother.

CJ looked at him sideways, a sarcastic half smile on his face, then shrugged. "The suit is a hunk of Kevlar that's about a size and a half too small. It somehow didn't seem all that necessary, considering," CJ said, and Jon had to admit that he had a point. "Besides, I think you, Dad, and the winged wildlife of this town are the only ones who are going to see me up here, and the supervillain element seems to have taken the last 20 years off."

Jon nodded gently. Nefarious bad guy activity hadn't been too much of a problem since the days of disco. Technology had made it easier for the cops to stop criminals before they ever gained legendary status, and tougher incarceration laws made sure that once the villain was locked up, they generally stayed that way. Jon sometimes wondered if laziness didn't play into the lack of supervillains, too — a society used to instant gratification tended to spawn the types of criminals who didn't have the patience to cook up grand plans and elaborate schemes, especially when the less elegant way produced the same results. In all it made the work of a superhero a little less interesting, but he certainly wasn't one to complain.

"I don't know about me and Dad, but the winged wildlife must be good company," Jon quipped, and CJ's smile widened.

"They're great listeners, sure, but so is your average brick wall. At least you and Dad occasionally act like you're actually hearing what I'm saying."

"Well, you know, it's the least we can do," Jon said as he followed CJ's lead, leaned back against the giant spire, and relaxed. A comfortable silence settled between the two of them, and Jon let his gaze wander over the city that stretched out in front of him, taking in the sights. He was always struck by how different Gotham was from Metropolis. Even at night, Gotham just seemed darker, more menacing somehow. Crime statistics tended to support that feeling, and as Jon watched, he witnessed half a dozen different acts of violence happening in homes and alleys throughout the city. A mugging, a theft, fights and drug use, things that he had half a mind to go take care of, but this wasn't his city. And that wasn't why he was there.

Jon sighed. "This definitely isn't Metropolis," he said.

"You can say that again," CJ answered, a certain flatness in his voice. "I never really paid attention to the feel of this town before. I was supposed to be the lackey, not the hero. But now that this is going to be MY city… It kind of seems overwhelming, the sheer amount of bad stuff that goes on out there."

"Gives you something to strive to achieve, I guess," Jon said, and CJ nodded gently. "So, uh, did you get things straightened out today?"

CJ inhaled deeply and frowned, causing Jon to almost reflexively furrow his brow. The formulation of a new identity was something that he knew CJ had looked forward to, and Jon was under the impression that just about anything would be okay so long as it meant some semblance of normalcy and a quick reunion with his wife.

"It's interesting you should ask that," CJ said, leaning his head back and resting it on the spire with a dull clang. "I was beginning to think that I might just go crazy if I couldn't discuss that particular issue with someone."

"So what's the problem?"

CJ raised his eyebrows, his gaze directed at the dark sky in front of him. "What would you say if I told you that Bruce Wayne offered to adopt me and make me his heir?"

"What?" Jon asked, not sure that he heard correctly.

"Me. A billionaire. The love child of Bruce Wayne."

It took a few seconds for Jon to realize that he was holding his breath. He blinked, looked at CJ, and began to laugh nervously. "I'd tell you to give me whatever rabbit's foot you've been rubbing," he said. The statement only caused CJ's frown to deepen, and Jon looked away. Yeah, maybe lucky was the last word to associate with CJ, especially given everything that had happened in the last couple of days. Being forced to abandon your life as you knew it and everyone who cared about you wasn't the type of thing that happened to someone who was lucky. But at the same time, CJ was about to start a family, and he was being offered a chance to possibly become an American icon, inheriting a fortune in the process.

"It sounds like a great opportunity, how's that?" Jon said, rephrasing his answer.

"Yeah," CJ said with a sigh. "It does. I can't argue with that. But I don't want to be famous, and I have no idea how to be a blue blood."

"Fame isn't so bad," Jon said, drawing a half smile from CJ. It wasn't that far from the truth. At the beginning of his career, Jon had absolutely hated the attention that his alter ego received. Everywhere he turned, his face stared back at him from magazines or t-shirts or posters, and he always wondered why everyone was so obsessed with him. After a while, it didn't bother him as much. He found himself getting used to it, and the attention

began to feel more flattering than anything else. It was all just a matter of perspective, he supposed, and even something as heavy as fame could be fun if you didn't take it too seriously. "At the end of the day, your wife will still think of you as the guy who takes out the trash, famous or not."

"Do billionaires take out their own trash?" CJ asked and Jon had to fight the urge to sock him in the shoulder.

"And apparently your wiseacre little brother will still have no respect for you."

CJ gave his characteristic grin. He definitely knew what buttons to push, Jon thought, and although he'd usually throw a few zingers right back at CJ, he suspected that their banter was a welcome distraction from the heaviness of the situation. "There could be benefits to being a blue blood, I'd imagine. Not that I have any firsthand experience with that one…"

CJ shrugged. "Well the money would be a benefit, sure, but it can't all be wine and roses. For example, instead of hot dogs and hamburgers, you end up eating things that normal people know enough to stay away from. If it comes out of a fish's butt, it's definitely not going into my mouth."

Jon stifled a laugh, instead putting an entirely serious expression on his face. "I'm sure your vast riches could afford only the finest hot dogs and junk food."

"I bet they'll expect me to wear Italian suits and know boring facts about stuff like art and wine."

"Considering how quickly you lap up boring sports statistics, I'm sure you'll learn everything you need to know about art and wine in no time."

"Instead of football I'm going to have to learn to play golf," CJ continued, undaunted.

"The horrors," Jon said flatly. CJ gave him a somewhat annoyed glance, and Jon smiled lightly. "Look, I don't see what the big deal is. Aside from eating stuff from a fish's butt, I think most people would be pleased as punch if those were the biggest problems ahead of them. It seems like you're going to have the perfect life handed to you on a silver platter. You have a great friend in Bruce Wayne."

"A great friend, yes." CJ look down at his hands, swung his feet back and forth a couple times, and then spoke again. "Bruce is going to end up as my father, though, in the eyes of everyone."

"Oh," Jon said, suddenly seeing where this was going.

"And I already have a father…"

Jon nodded. He supposed he hadn't considered that aspect of the situation. If CJ were to become the very public newfound son of Bruce Wayne, he'd probably end up having to go to a lot of events with Wayne, act like a son would toward a father, probably even call him "Dad." CJ and Bruce would both know that it was an act, but it would be real enough as far as the rest of the world was concerned.

"So Bruce can be a bonus dad. Like a generous stepdad or something," Jon said, raising his eyebrows and trying to put on his most reassuring expression. He wanted to try and sidestep the assumptions and the agonizing, the inevitable questions about whether or not Clark's feelings would be hurt if CJ decided to take Bruce up on his offer. Jon had done his fair share of worrying in the past, and if there was one thing that he had learned, it was that making assumptions about the feelings of others was a recipe for trouble. Maybe it was time to impart that wisdom on CJ.

"Our dad already is like a bonus dad. Two people for the price of one." CJ's voice had taken on a pouty tone. Jon leaned over and turned his head sideways, trying to capture CJ's eyes with his own. Gentle coaxing wasn't going to get the job done tonight. What CJ needed was a few sincere words to jar him out of his funk.

"Do you think you'll love Dad any less if you become Bruce's son?" Jon asked. CJ turned to him, a look of shock on his face.

"Of course not." CJ said quickly. His expression was defiant, but it quickly softened as he let the question absorb, and after a minute he looked away. "I can see how it might look that way, though. It kind of feels like I'd be betraying him."

"The plane crash wasn't your fault. You had no choice but to leave that life behind."

CJ turned back toward Jon, a pained look on his face. Obviously this was a conversation that he'd had with himself already. "But I do have a choice in who I become. All I wanted was to be some anonymous guy with a sketchy past, but now I'm supposed to be someone else's son…a valued and well-loved son at that. If I was Dad, I would probably be a little hurt when I saw that."

Jon smiled lightly. "What, hurt because you made something of your second life? Hurt because you took someone else's last name, even though you couldn't possibly use your own? Hurt because you have other people who care about you? I'd be proud if I was him. And some people think I am." That caused the corner of CJ's mouth to tug up. "But if Dad knows how you feel, and you know how he feels, where's the problem?"

CJ got a thoughtful, far away look in his eyes, and Jon smiled a little more deeply and leaned back. He was definitely getting better at this whole advice-giving thing. After a moment, CJ shook his head, turned his attention back to Jon, and gave him a sincere smile. "You know what? I worry too much."

Jon reached over and pulled CJ's hat forward. "If you didn't worry a little, I'd begin to wonder whether you were really a member of the Kent clan."

"Oh, I can prove to you that I am," CJ answered, his eyes sparking. Slowly one of his fists began to ball up.

Jon held up his hands and laughed. "No, I believe you." His shoulder throbbed with phantom pain, the lingering memories of similar past demonstrations. Why CJ always felt the need to slug him for effect rather than just zap something was beyond Jon. "So, uh, does that mean I'm talking to the new junior Mr. Wayne?"

CJ smiled, turned back toward the city, and sighed. "Yeah, I think you are."

With that, the conversation turned to other things. Jon waited a while to tell CJ about what he saw at the Metro Air offices earlier in the day, in part because he was enjoying their chat and didn't want to ruin it with possibly upsetting news. As time wore on, though, and CJ started asking him about work, Jon finally broke the news.

"What would you say if I told you that I have a feeling that your plane crash might not have been an accident?" Jon cringed inwardly, waiting for the reaction. Interestingly, though, the shock and outrage he had feared didn't come. Instead, CJ smiled lightly, a knowing look in his eyes.

"I'd say that I felt the same thing," CJ said.

It was Jon's turn to react with shock. "You did? Why?"

"Because I was there," CJ said. His eyes locked into Jon's, transmitting raw emotion and the shadow of not-so-distant memories. Jon found himself unable to look away. "I could tell you things about that crash that the NTSB could only guess at." CJ's voice had grown raspy, his pupils almost too wide. "The loud explosions, the way that the damage just happened to coincide with an area of the plane containing all the hydraulic lines, the quickness with which it plunged into the sea and the totality of the destruction. Something seemed too coincidental about it, something just didn't seem right."

After a moment, the shadow seemed to lift from CJ's eyes, and he shrugged, his little half smile coming back. "Not that I'm an expert in plane crashes or anything. So how about you? What makes you suspicious?"

Jon found himself unable to speak for a moment, and it wasn't just the lingering horror at what CJ must have experienced that caused his silence. He knew CJ had a bit of a dark side; he'd seen it before, but he was always surprised when it showed up. Outwardly, CJ was Mr. Funny, the class clown, the guy who could solve any problem with a smile and a joke. But somewhere deep inside, these other emotions and experiences lurked, reflections of a much deeper man than he showed outwardly. It almost made the Batman persona a natural fit. Almost, but not quite. CJ worried, but he didn't obsess. He felt things deeply, but he usually based his decisions on fact instead of emotion. His dark side didn't control him, but it did seem to anchor him, giving him a place to lock away all the bad memories so that he could focus on the better things in life. Still, his brief forays into his darker side tended to leave Jon with the mental equivalent of whiplash.

Jon blinked a couple of times, cleared his head, and related his story. CJ nodded as Jon spoke, listening intently. Somewhere in the middle of the story, CJ produced a notepad and began jotting some things down. Anger flashed in CJ's eyes as Jon quoted the group spokesman, anger that mirrored the edge in Jon's voice. As he wrapped up, they looked at each other in silence, no doubt wondering the same thing.

CJ was the first to speak. "How could people like that bring down a plane?"

"That's the big question," Jon said. "Especially given airport security these days."

"Airport security is run by the federal government and is far from infallible," CJ said. "But trying to slip something by security would be risky."

"What if they WERE security?" Jon asked. They both raised their eyebrows.

"Those guys in the back, the ones who open up suitcases… who's to stop them from slipping something inside one of the bags before putting it on the plane?" CJ's eyes sparkled, his grin was sly.

"What about a maintenance worker? Someone who has access to the plane could do some damage."

CJ nodded appreciatively. They tossed around a few other scenarios, none completely outside of the realm of possibility. It got quiet after that, both of them processing the conversation, before Jon decided that it was probably time to go. CJ agreed that it was getting late, and they said their goodbyes.

As Jon flew off, he looked over his shoulder and waved, smiling as CJ held up a hand in reply. Jon wondered if this would be how they met from now on, two superheroes on a rooftop in the dark of night talking shop. It wasn't so terrible, he supposed, but he would miss the hanging out at neighborhood haunts, or in the back yard at home. If things went as they probably were going to, there wasn't much of a chance for the two of them to ever publicly get together. CJ would be the next of the Wayne line, a member of the upper crust of society, the type of person that the average citizen saw only in magazines and on television. Jon was just a working class reporter in Metropolis, an average guy who had no business hanging out with billionaires.

As he turned his attention to the sky ahead, Jon pushed the thought out of his head. The future wasn't set, and nobody could know for sure how things would turn out. Fate had a funny way of coming in and turning things on their ear, too. And boy, there had been plenty of that lately. Who was to say what would come next, and who was to say that ordinary people like his friends and family couldn't get to know someone rich and famous? Hope was a powerful thing, and as long as there was hope, anything was possible.


The late morning sky was a cloudless blue and the air was just beginning to get hot and sticky as Jenny and her family crossed the large green space on the Metropolis University campus separating the main parking area and the student union. They were on their way to CJ's memorial reception, each of them with a box or bag of items in hand. The Union had been chosen as the location for the reception, partly because many of his close friends were still at the University, but also because it was a place where he had hung out frequently, where he had been well known and well liked, where his spirit lived on. The family also recognized that the Union was a rather informal gathering place, more suited to CJ than any stuffy funeral home or church would ever be. If they were supposed to be celebrating CJ's life, what better place to do it than a building on the campus that he had given so much of himself to?

Jenny wrapped her arms around herself, pulling CJ's varsity letter jacket tighter around her body. It was several sizes too big and inappropriately heavy for the time of year, but she found it comforting. Taking a deep breath and closing her eyes, she could almost believe that he was walking next to her, the light musk of his aftershave and the tinge of leather bringing back memories of chilly days, his jacket keeping the cold away, his laughter keeping her warm. She smiled, opened her eyes, and sighed, knowing that memories would be all she had of this place after today. It was hard to feel too bad about it, though, especially since she still had her husband to go back to, and he was the most important part of those memories.

Her smile widened as a rumble of thunder reverberated in the sky above. She had to stop herself from waving as a streak of color cut across the horizon not all that far away from campus. Behind her, she could hear her family members gasp.

"What was that?" her fifteen year old brother Jim asked, his eyes wide. Jenny turned and pointed to the source of the sound.

"Superman," she said nonchalantly. Her parents and brother looked in the direction she indicated, and she could see their jaws drop fractionally as they saw him. She had to suppress a giggle, reminding herself how she felt the first time she had seen the same thing. It was hard not to be awe-struck when you saw Superman in person after only ever seeing him on television. Little did they know, they'd already spent plenty of time with the Man of Steel since arriving in Metropolis the day before.

"Does that happen a lot in this city?" her dad asked, and Jenny shrugged, trying to keep her expression as neutral as possible.

This was the first time that her family had visited her here. Her wedding had taken place in Missouri, and her access to free flights had allowed her and CJ to visit her hometown quite frequently. There had never been a need for her family to come to Metropolis before. "Well, you know, from time to time. It's one of those things you get used to when you live in Metropolis."

Everyone nodded slowly, their eyes still skyward even long after Superman had disappeared to points unknown. Give it a few seconds, Jenny thought, and no doubt one of the Kent men would appear…

"Jenny!" she heard from near the Union. "Sears family!"

Jon Kent, clad in a formal suit, was jogging toward them, his hand raised in greeting. Jenny waved, then gestured for her family to follow as she started toward the building again. Jon only took a few seconds to meet up with them. "Do you need some help?" he asked, pointing to the bulky boxes that Jenny's dad and brother were carrying. At their grateful nods, he took the boxes and eased into step beside them.

Jenny had a lot she wanted to chat with Jon about, notably the trip that he was supposedly going to take to Gotham the night before. But with her family around, it was a conversation that would have to be put on hold for a while. "So, Jon, we're not late, are we?" Jenny asked, straining to locate her watch under the heavy leather sleeves of the coat.

"No, no, I just got here myself," he said. "Got held up at work."

"Or something like that," Jenny muttered, and he gave her an amused glance. She just smiled.

"Mom, Laura, and the wife are already getting things set up, but I think Dad was going to be a few minutes yet…" The idle chit chat continued on for a few minutes, and they quickly reached the door of the Union. Right before they entered, thunder rumbled across the sky again, and Jim looked up, searching for the source of the sound and quickly finding it.

"Man, that's so cool," he said. Jenny held open the door and tugged gently at his shirt, urging him in.

"Come on, Jim. If you're nice, I'll tell you about the time I met Superman."

"Mom's shown me the videotape, like, a thousand times," Jim answered, referring to her very public engagement at halftime of the Metropolis University football game honoring Superman and son. Of course, it made ESPN, was recorded by Jenny's mother, and shown to probably every resident of St. Joseph. At the mention of the tape, Jenny heard her mom sniffle, and had to stifle a groan as she knew that another round of tears were on the way.

Jim was doing a great impression of a brick wall, and Jenny tugged harder on his jacket to try and move him along. "Well, okay, Jon here has interviewed Superman. How's that?"

"Both of them," Jon chimed in. "One-on-one." Jenny looked over toward him and smiled gratefully as Jim finally ripped his eyes from the sky and started inside, quickly making his way toward Jon's side. Jon smiled back at her, then proceeded to tell Jim the tale of the big chemistry building explosion on campus. The two of them started walking slowly toward the stairwell, Jon gesturing as best he could with his arms full of boxes, Jim listening in rapt attention.

Jenny started to follow, but noticed that her parents had come to a stop. Looking behind her, she saw her dad with his arms wrapped around her mom, who was crying heavily now. With a sigh, Jenny reached into her pocket and pulled out a tissue, thrusting it in their general direction. The previous twenty-four hours had been similar to this. At the mere mention of CJ's name or the sight of his photograph, her mom had become a blubbering mess, going through at least one box of Kleenex so far with no end in sight. She had managed to contain herself when their family had gone to dinner with the Kents, but as soon as they returned to Jenny's apartment and started gathering things for the service, it had started up again.

"He was such a special boy," her mother said between sniffles, grabbing for the tissue. "He loved you so much."

"And I loved him," Jenny said gently as she took a step toward her mother and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. It had been hard to play the part of the bereaved wife even before her mother had come into town, but now, with the constant outpouring of grief, she was sure that she appeared almost cold by comparison. Once or twice the night before, she had mustered a few tears, brought on by the old happy memories and the knowledge that things would never be the same again. But it was becoming harder to pretend to be sad, to pretend to be anything but impatient. She wished that she could find some way to tell them the truth, that she could end the needless suffering, but now was not the time.

At that moment, the doors to the Union opened next to them, and Clark walked in, the ever-present smile on his face fading as he saw the scene in front of him. Giving Jenny a worried glance, Clark addressed her parents, then guided them toward the stairwell and their meeting room. Jenny followed behind, handing tissues to her mother who tried to wipe away the tears and make herself more presentable. "I'm sorry for making such a scene, it's just…we all miss your boy so much," her mother said. "Even Jimmy does. Your Clark always took the time to hang out with him when nobody else would."

"I'm sure he'd appreciate knowing that you all cared for him so much," Clark said gently. "And I'm sure being around your son gave him a good excuse to keep in contact with his rambunctious inner teenager."

Jenny bobbed her head and smiled weakly, knowing that the statement was true. If CJ was nothing else, he was in good contact with his inner child. His sense of fun was part of the reason she loved him so much. But, she thought with a frown, an experience like the one he had, the airplane crash, being surrounded by people in need and not being able to help them, could certainly make the innocence go away. He hadn't seemed especially brooding when she last saw him, but now, in a new town with a new life, she wondered how he was handling it. When she returned to him, would he be the same CJ? Would he be as quick with a joke? Would he still view life with the sunny optimism that he always had before?

Jenny shook her head and made herself stop, knowing that thoughts like those were fruitless. It was best to look forward to seeing him again, but first she would have to get through this day. As she looked around, she noticed

that they had finally arrived at the second floor room. Various family members were in the corner furthest from the door, hard at work moving tables and chairs and getting things set up. Jon had long since placed the boxes of photos and trinkets on the floor, and Laura and Diane had started rooting through them, pausing with each item to make comments before placing it on one of the tables. Jenny's parents had found a couple of chairs to sit in, and her mother was still trying to compose herself, with Clark offering words of encouragement. Away from the rest of the activity, Lois was moving around flower arrangements, at times seemingly lost behind the large spreads of foliage. As Jenny watched, Lois stopped, her eyes finding a gap in the flower sprigs and locking onto Jenny's. Quickly, the arrangement was placed on the nearest hard surface, and Lois walked toward Jenny, taking a detour toward Clark and the Sears family, saying a few words to them, and then continuing on.

As Lois reached Jenny, she gave her best smile, held out her arms and shooed Jenny out of the room. "What…?" Jenny asked, suddenly confused. Lois continued to herd her toward the stairs and back down to the ground level.

"This is a rescue, dear," Lois said. "You looked like you could use one."

Jenny found herself smiling and falling into step next to Lois. "Yeah I suppose I could." As they reached the ground floor, they angled toward the back of the building, where a few small eateries and sandwich shops were located.

"I know all about difficult mothers, believe me. Mine wrote the book." They approached one of the vendors and picked up some coffee, then sat down at a table in the far corner of the seating area. Because it was the summer and only a few classes were in session, they more or less had the area to themselves.

"It's not that she's difficult, per se. I mean, I can understand her grief. I'd probably be even worse if he were really gone," Jenny said. She tugged at the heavy arms of the coat, pushing them up as far as she could so that she could properly grip the coffee. "I just wish she didn't have to go through that."

Lois smiled and took a sip of her coffee, looking thoughtfully at Jenny for a moment before speaking. "You could tell them the truth. You don't need to wait for our permission. I know Clark hasn't said anything because he thinks it's your decision, and it is."

"I know," Jenny said quietly, looking down at the table. "And I also know that I'm going to have to tell them eventually. When I get engaged to Clark's new persona, the cat will be out of the bag. But I don't know how to tell them, and I have the feeling that there will be hard feelings when I do."

Lois reached out and squeezed Jenny's arm, drawing Jenny's gaze upwards. "It's tough, I know." Her smile began to fade, and her eyes became distant as she continued. "We told my parents once," she said, taking another sip of coffee. "Not too long after we were married, the question came up about whether or not we could even have kids. Rather than wait for nature to answer the question, Clark went in for tests, and when we didn't get the answer we wanted, I asked my father to look over the results. He was a doctor, and I figured that he'd keep the secret safe, but…things happened." Lois shook her head. "The secret, it can make you miserable if you look at it the wrong way. A freak accident with a memory altering machine made them forget, thank God, but after that…"

"You never told another soul?" Jenny asked, and Lois nodded.

"My sister's going to be here today and she doesn't know, or at least I haven't told her." Lois sighed.

It must've been a lonely existence at times, Jenny thought as she looked at Lois. To hide away a part of your life from the people you loved, from your friends. But she and Clark had had each other for all those years, and now they had the whole extended family to share their deepest secrets with. It was hard to be too lonely when their family shared so much love, and Jenny found herself smiling.

"What?" Lois asked, a curious look on her face.

"I'm just glad I'm not having to go through this alone, that's all," Jenny said, looking down. "You know what this is like. I mean, Clark said that something like this happened to him. I can't imagine what that must've been like for you."

Jenny looked up again, and was surprised to see Lois wearing a pained expression. When Clark had told his story the other night, she thought that Lois had seemed a little less than thrilled at reliving the memories, but Jenny just assumed that it was the isolation that the incident had caused. But it sure looked like maybe it was something else.

"Well, the big difference between then and now is that you at least know that CJ isn't dead."

Jenny furrowed her brow. "You mean…?"

"Clark hadn't told me about himself yet. I had no idea. As far as I was concerned, he really was dead, and that just ate me up inside. I was a wreck."

"Oh, my God," Jenny said, her voice small. "Did he try to drop hints or let you in on the secret afterwards? Did you come up with a solution together?"

Lois shook her head, taking a long sip of coffee. "I don't think he knew how much it affected me. We weren't dating at the time, although part of me knew that he wanted to take our relationship beyond just being partners. And I think the whole episode shocked him just as much as it did the rest of us, and for a while he probably didn't know what to do."

"Still, to not let you know…" Jenny started, and Lois shook her head again.

"I know that he's embarrassed about the way he handled the situation, and for good reason. But it could've been worse. He could've given up and moved on, slipping into a new life like CJ did. But he went out of his way to keep Clark Kent alive, and he made sure that I was the first person that saw him after his return from the dead. Through all the grief and the pain, I was forced to admit that I really did love Clark, and more than just as a friend and partner. I don't know when or if I would've realized that if he hadn't been killed."

Lois gave a small smile, her eyes distant. Maybe the moral of the story was that even the worst events in life could turn out positive. Even this service today, as negative as it seemed, could end up working out for the best. If nothing else, it would remind them all of what great friends CJ had, that they all had, and how important it was to value those friendships while they had the chance. "So it all worked out for the best, then," Jenny said, and Lois nodded gently.

"Once I knew Clark's secret, I didn't have any hard feelings about what I went through. And when the time comes for you to tell your parents, they won't hold it against you, either. Love can get you through a lot, believe me."

"Yeah," Jenny said, returning Lois's smile. "I just hate all the acting and the lies, that's all."

"That's why you need to take a time out every now and then," Lois said, and Jenny couldn't disagree. The constant sadness of her mother, and the way her family seemed to circle the wagons around her, not realizing that she really didn't need their comfort, was beginning to weigh on her. It felt good to step away from that and just be herself with Lois. And deep down inside, Jenny found that she was actually a bit excited about making a life in Gotham, and about falling in love with her husband all over again.

"Lois, today you are my hero," Jenny said, and they both giggled. For the next fifteen minutes or so they talked about whatever came to mind. When asked about the news of the day, Lois sighed and said that there had been a big rush hour pileup on the freeway, which was why the men had taken so long to arrive that morning. Lois also mentioned that Clark had checked his voicemail at work earlier that morning after being out of the office since the accident, and had found the message that CJ had left from the airplane. She said that she hadn't listened to the message, that the shade of white that Clark had turned upon hearing it was enough to quash her curiosity. Neither of them wanted to speculate about what he had heard, but Jenny could imagine. The type of thing that could cause Clark to go pale could only be horrific…and CJ had witnessed it all firsthand.

As the conversation moved on to more pleasant things and the coffee cups emptied, they decided that they should make their way back to the room where the reception was being held. Guests were due to arrive shortly, and both had a sneaking suspicion that their presence would be needed to put the finishing touches on the set-up. They grabbed a few coffees for the rest of the family and returned to a room that was still in need of some attention.

Jenny was glad to see that her mother had stopped crying, although Mrs. Sears was obviously trying very hard not to look toward the front of the room, where all the photographs and trinkets from CJ's life were now on display. Her mood improved a little as Jenny handed her one of the coffees and moved on to chat with Laura and Jon, who were still shuffling around display items. Everything was arranged chronologically, starting with baby photos and toothless elementary school pictures, through his science awards and on to his academic and athletic achievements in high school and college. A spot was left for his letter jacket, which Jenny shrugged off and put among the mementos. As she took one last look at the tables full of items that spelled out the life of her husband, she felt an unexpected rush of emotion. Her heavy intake of breath drew the attention of Jon and Laura, who were instantly by her side, offering silent comfort and strength. She wrapped her arms around them, and the three stood together for a few long moments just looking at what was in front of them, each no doubt remembering, each grateful that it wasn't really the end.

A few minutes later, the guests started arriving.

The reception lasted two hours, the initial trickle of guests swelling to a large crowd as time wore on. It seemed like the entire football team, all the coaches, and the majority of the athletic department stopped by to offer their sentiments and share their memories. Jenny met many of CJ's professors and teachers, along with friends and acquaintances. Some of the attendees had only met him once or twice, but they remembered him just the same. Old childhood friends, former girlfriends, Daily Planet employees, and a lot of the extended Lane family that Jenny had only heard about through legend also came by to pay their respects. It was an education meeting so many new people, but it was also somewhat overwhelming.

Jenny had expected there to be plenty of sadness and tears at the reception, and there was some of that, but more often than not, her husband's memory brought a lot of smiles to people's faces. It seemed that everyone remembered him as the guy who was the life of the party, the person they could always turn to if they needed to be cheered up. Beyond just being the funny guy, they also saw him as loyal and dependable, and a great talent and friend. She was truly heartened to see how well loved CJ was, and she wondered if he realized what an effect he had had on the lives of others.

As the crowd began to thin and the end of the reception began to near, an old, familiar face walked into the room. Jenny was the first to notice her, and she couldn't help but smile as she watched for a moment. The new guest stood just inside the door and looked uncomfortably around the room, trying her best to appear bereaved but not being wholly successful. Her eyes swept slowly over the tables of trinkets and mementos at the front of the room, her eyes widening a little as she found the Kent family members. Finally, a smile formed on her face as she noticed Jenny looking her way.

"Jenny!" she said, quickly crossing the room and drawing the attention of the rest of the family. Jenny glanced toward the Kent clan and had to suppress a laugh as she saw a few members of the family cringing, no doubt reliving memories of times gone by.

"Susan!" Jenny said, walking forward to greet her former roommate with a hug. Susan had graduated from Metropolis University about a year ago, taking her spot in the "real world" after graduation. Jenny had kept in occasional contact with her since then, exchanging birthday and Christmas cards and sending a wedding invitation, although the RSVP was never returned. Susan had grown up a lot in the year that they lived together following the Zarate incident, and she had moved on from her Superman fixation. The Kent family hadn't seen much of her since then, hence the cringing, but Jenny suspected that they'd be pleasantly surprised if they spent some time with her.

"Can we go somewhere to talk?" Susan whispered as she wrapped her arms around Jenny. Jenny nodded lightly, and as they pulled apart, Jenny motioned toward the hallway. Susan nodded, then turned to give a nervous smile toward the rest of the assembled Kent family before leading the way out of the room.

Neither said anything as they randomly started checking doors in the hallway outside the room. It only took a couple of tries before Jenny was able to find one that was unlocked. "Susan," she said, motioning toward the room. Together, they peeked inside, made sure nobody was around, and then closed the door behind them. Susan quickly perched herself on a chair and faced Jenny, an eager expression on her face.

"I never told you congratulations," she said. "How is the happy groom?"

"He's fine," Jenny answered, a smile spreading across her face. "This whole thing kind of put the kibosh on the extended Honeymoon…"

"Oh, come on. You guys have been on the honeymoon for the last two years." Susan's grin was teasing, and Jenny found herself blushing. In college, she had been careful not to be too intimate with CJ when Susan was around, in part because Jenny knew that she wouldn't appreciate seeing two people making out in front of her, but also in part because she knew that Susan had had a bit of a crush on CJ. Of course, Susan could infer how intimate the relationship was by the number of nights that Jenny spent at CJ's place. Jenny wasn't one to kiss and tell, though, and it just seemed awkward to be discussing these issues with Susan, even if it was in vague terms.

"Anyway, we'd been planning on moving to Gotham, and this just accelerated that a bit. That's where he is right now."

Susan's eyebrows went up. "Gotham? Seriously?" She looked to her left and right, then turned back to Jenny. "He's going to be Batman, isn't he?" she asked, her voice low. Jenny nodded, bringing a smile to Susan's face. "Ooh, I'm going to have to watch for him on the news! That should be exciting. I live in Gotham now, you know."

The last time Jenny had written to Susan, it had been via her uncle on the outskirts of Metropolis. Maybe the move would explain why Susan hadn't attended Jenny's wedding. "No, I hadn't heard. New job?"

Susan nodded, that eager look appearing on her face again. "Insurance. Yeah, I know, kind of boring, but it pays the bills and gets me out of the house. Say," she said, suddenly thoughtful, "are you going to be joining him out there?"

Jenny nodded, a playful smile on her face. "What, and leave him there to save the city alone? He wouldn't keep his tights clean without me around."

Susan smiled. "So where are you going to stay? Maybe we can meet up and keep each other company until he emerges from the dead."

Jenny's smile faded somewhat. "I don't know where I'm staying, to be honest. Clark was supposed to find a place when he went out there, but then…"

"So stay with me," Susan said quickly. "I have an extra bedroom in my apartment. We can be roomies again, and Clark can stop by whenever he wants."

There was a certain appeal to the offer, Jenny had to admit. She had figured that she would end up being stuck in a cramped, hole-in-the-wall efficiency until CJ established his new identity and it was safe for them to move in together again. Having a roommate was not an option for obvious reasons, meaning a lot of time alone and probably some pretty hefty rent. But Susan was in on the secret, and she was a trusted friend, even if she did still qualify as an eccentric. They wouldn't have to sneak around if she was there, and she could help run interference if someone suspected something strange was going on. "Are you sure?" Jenny asked, and Susan's smile widened.

"Sure I am! It'll be like old times."

Jenny looked at her, studied her for a long minute, and Susan's smile never flinched. What was the harm, she asked herself. Even from the outside, it would look like two old friends hooking up to help Jenny through a tough time. "Okay," Jenny said. At the word, Susan jumped from her chair and clutched her hands together, her smile now almost painfully wide.

"Oh, this will be great, you'll see."

Jenny rose from her chair and gave Susan another loose hug. "Thank you, Susan. I'll try not to be too much of a bother."

"Nonsense," Susan said, returning the hug. "I have a feeling it will be exciting, especially if that husband of yours stops by while on duty. One thing about you guys was that it was never dull with you around."

"Come on," Jenny said, pulling out of Susan's embrace and motioning toward the door. "I should get back to the reception before people start to miss me. We can talk some more afterwards."

Susan nodded, following Jenny out of the room and back toward the rest of the family. That was one problem solved, with only a few hundred more to go, Jenny thought with a sigh. Now that the service was just about over, she could begin to move on with things. All she had to do was shoo her parents out of town, pack a bag, and get back to the life she had planned before all this happened. Forget about the apartment full of shabby furniture and just opened wedding presents, forget about the cards and flowers that she was already beginning to be inundated with. Only one thing, one person, was really important, and he was waiting for her in Gotham. She'd taken the first step toward getting back with him, thanks to Susan, and suddenly all the remaining steps didn't seem so daunting.

As she returned to the room, she steered Susan toward the Kent family, and watched with a smile as they greeted her warmly. They chatted for a while as the reception wrapped up, and then Susan helped gather everything up again, returning all the items to their proper boxes and bags. When it was all said and done and the room was straightened up, Jenny slipped on CJ's letter jacket again, Susan picked up a bag, and together they exited the building, surrounded by Jenny's extended family. Walking across the green space and toward their cars, Jenny took one long last look back toward the Union and let the old memories come. She would miss the Metropolis University campus and the Union in particular, and she supposed that she would miss the innocence that her life in this place had held. Everyone had to grow up and move on at some point, and this was it for her. The surroundings began to blur as tears formed in her eyes, but she quickly blinked them away.

"So, Susan," she said, returning her attention to the walk ahead of her. "Let's talk about schedules…"


From the street, the sky over Gotham was an almost milky dark, the ambient glow from the bright streetlights and signs throughout town drowning out the soft light of the stars. The moon was barely more than a sliver, sitting low enough on the horizon that it was obscured from the average citizen by the tall buildings of the city. The darkness became more absolute as it filtered down to the alleys and side streets, especially in the more neglected parts of town, where maintenance workers were afraid to work, and where the streetlights tended to be darkened. It was easy to hide in the dark, to be obscured by the shadows, and the criminal element knew it. It was just as easy for the unsuspecting tourist to ignore anything not illuminated by the lights from above, to feel a false sense of security merely because they did not see the danger that awaited them in the darkness.

On one street in a seedy part of town, a woman walked briskly along the sidewalk, her eyes locked ahead, her purse slung over her shoulder and clutched with one of her free hands. Her path took her generally down the center of the sidewalk, although she seemed to veer toward the areas of greatest illumination. Turning a corner and progressing up one of the side streets, she let out a yelp as a man stepped from the shadows and stopped directly in front of her, a gun conspicuously tucked into the waist of his pants. The woman's eyes went wide as the man's hand came to a rest on the butt of the gun.

"So, uh, I think you might have something I want," the man said, his voice devoid of emotion. The woman looked down at her purse, then pulled it closer toward herself, gripping it possessively.

"No, please," the woman said, her fear coming though in her voice. "I don't have anything in here that's of any value."

"That's for me to decide," the man answered, taking a step toward her and drawing the gun out of his pants. As his other hand began to reach for the woman, another figure quickly emerged from the shadows. In one fluid motion, one hand reached for the man's gun as the other balled into a fist and hit the man squarely in the jaw. The woman jumped back, but she didn't run away,

instead watching the scene in front of her with curiosity. The man who had been intending to rob her fell limply to the concrete, his gun clutched in the hand of another man, who was now fully illuminated by the street light. This new man was dressed almost completely in black — black jeans, a black long-sleeved shirt, and dark sunglasses, a black bandanna tied on his head. He looked toward her and smiled.

"Don't be afraid," the new man said, his voice gentle. "You'll be okay."

The woman nodded once, not moving from her spot. Her eyes locked momentarily on the gun, which the man quickly brought behind his body and out of her sight. He had no doubt that, in his haste, he probably squeezed it a little harder than he should have, harder than a normal person should be able to, and it probably showed. The woman turned her gaze back toward his face, and she studied him for a moment before looking away, sculpting her features into a mask of neutrality, and continuing on her way toward wherever she was going.

As her footfalls continued down the street, the man in black, CJ, forced himself to take a few breaths to slow his racing heart. The hand that clutched the gun squeezed a little harder, distorting the gun into an unusable hunk of metal, then let it fall to the ground. Score one for the good guys tonight, he thought with a wry grin, looking at the unconscious man on the sidewalk.

It had only been twenty minutes or so since CJ had first set out from the infamous bat cave for a night of cleaning up the streets. Since he still didn't have a suit and probably wouldn't for a little while, he decided the dip into the vast wardrobe that Bruce had for undercover work. There were outfits for every occasion, although the majority were clearly meant for blending in with thugs and street hoodlums. It was one of those that he had chosen for this night, deciding to concentrate his efforts on street crime and other acts that directly impacted the average citizen of Gotham. He drove to town in an average car, not wanting to stand out, and parked it in an average lot near one of the hotspots that he had noticed the night before. After hiding in the shadows for only a few minutes, he witnessed his first crime, and he acted quickly and decisively. It was just too bad that there was nothing more he could do with this guy. Maybe a sore jaw would be enough to deter him from a life of crime…or maybe not. At least one woman was safe for now, and that was enough.

Quickly, he stepped out of the light and let himself be hidden in shadow once again, his eyes easily locating other dangers in the darkness. Most of the homeless men in the surrounding streets and alleys seemed uninterested in what had just happened, but other men, ones that looked like associates of the man who was now unconscious on the sidewalk, gathered near the mouth of a nearby alley and eyed CJ with malice. It only took a glance to see that most of them were armed, and it was pretty obvious that they wanted to inflict a little bit of pain on him for hurting their friend. With a lopsided smile, CJ sauntered toward them, wanting to get the inevitable confrontation over with. As he approached, the men reached inside their clothing, clutching their weapons, and started to surround him.

"You boys have a problem?" CJ asked in a scratchy voice, his half-smile still present. He stopped and stood tall in the center of the rough circle that the men formed around him.

"No, but I think you might," one of the men said, drawing a knife from behind him.

"Do-gooders don't last very long around here," another man said, pulling a gun from inside his shirt, raising it up, and pointing it at CJ. In an instant the gun went off with a loud blast.

Nonchalantly, CJ brought his hand up and caught the bullet. Then, in a quick, fluid motion, he stepped forward and kicked the gun out of the man's hand. The next moment, the crowd of men seemed to collapse around CJ. Fists flew, weapons were drawn, but none reached their target. CJ may not possess super speed, but he was certainly faster than an ordinary man. As he dodged the errant jabs, he struck out with precision, landing blows on the men around him and gradually reducing their numbers. In mere moments, the large crowd was reduced to two men, whose eyes widened as they looked at their fallen comrades. CJ's smile grew and he reached out for them, grabbing each by his shirt as he turned to flee. The men squirmed, but CJ pulled them toward him, eventually forcing them to look at him.

"Tell your friends that unless they're fond of pain, maybe they should find a better way to spend their nights," CJ said. The men nodded vigorously, their expressions fearful. With that, CJ released them and they ran.

Well, CJ thought, that was certainly invigorating. He looked down and counted the number of unconscious men around him, shaking his head as he realized that there were at least enough to form a football team. He'd taken out a street gang, probably one of those that spent all night robbing and vandalizing. There would be none of that tonight, although he had no illusions that beating the snot out of them on one isolated night would change their behavior. Maybe beating the snot out of them multiple nights would do it, though, he thought with a grin. Wiping his hands against each other, CJ stepped over the collapsed bodies around him and made his way down the street and toward the neighborhood business district, another criminal hot spot.

The streets were fairly deserted now, the neighborhood hoodlums apparently smart enough to know that they wouldn't be able to wreak too much havoc with him around. This was as good of a time as any to make a phone call, he thought, looking at his watch and pulling a cell phone out of his pocket. It was late enough to be considered impolite for calling someone's home, but he

knew that Jenny would be awake, and that she'd certainly want to hear from him. They hadn't spoken in two days now, which was the longest that he'd gone without contacting her for as long as they had known each other.

Absently, he pushed the speed dial number for their Metropolis apartment and held the phone up to his ear. It was answered after two rings, but the voice that greeted him caught him off guard for a moment. "Hello?" said the voice of Jenny's mom, its tone a little hoarse. He hadn't even considered the possibility that her parents would be coming into town to help her out, and that they would probably be staying at the apartment with her.

CJ opened his mouth to speak, but he was sure that his voice would be recognized if he used his normal timbre. After a moment of hesitation, he decided that a little misdirection would probably go a long way. "Yes, may I speak to Mrs. Kent, please," he said, lowering his voice and adding a nondescript European accent. He cringed a little bit at how he sounded, sure that Mrs. Sears would think something funny was up. To his surprise, she didn't protest, asked him to wait a moment, and finally handed the phone over to Jenny without comment.

"Hello, sexy," he said, and he could almost hear her smile through the phone.

"Hey you," she answered playfully. Behind her voice, he could hear rapid footfalls and the sounds of her moving through the apartment.

"Sorry to be calling so late, and sorry if I woke your mother…"

On the other end, he heard the click of a latch, and a relieved sigh from Jenny. "Don't be silly," she said, her voice still light. "I know that you living dead types are creatures of the night…"

CJ clutched his free hand to his chest. "She struck first, I'm hurt," he said with a laugh. "But, yes, it's stereotypical but true."

"As for my mother, well, she's still a little too bereft to sleep, and she's letting the rest of us know about it, so we can't sleep either."

CJ's smile faltered. "Oh, hey, I'm sorry to hear that."

"No, don't be. It's not your fault." Jenny's voice was a little flat now. Neither of them spoke for a moment. "Your service was today," she said softly.

"Oh." CJ's forward progress stopped momentarily, his gaze turning down toward the sidewalk. That was another one of those things that he hadn't really allowed himself to think about, although he supposed that, academically, he had known they would probably have a service of some sort. "That must've been tough," he said, wondering for a moment how he would've handled the situation if he was in her shoes. At least she wasn't alone; at least she had his family there for moral support.

"Yes and no," she answered. "You have a lot of friends, that's for sure. They were all sad to hear about what happened and I know that you will be missed. On top of everything, though, I think almost everyone felt a certain amount of gratitude just for having gotten the chance to know you. I could certainly empathize with that." There was silence over the line, and CJ allowed himself a sad smile. "Clark Kent Junior will live on for a long time, in peoples' memories and hearts. I was really proud to be your wife today."

His grip tightened on the phone, and he had to take a few steps to the side to find a building to lean against. For a moment he couldn't talk; the lump that had formed in his throat made it nearly impossible. He closed his eyes and took a couple of deep breaths, trying to clear his mind, but not completely able to. There were so many things that you never considered as you went through life, things that seemed inconsequential or unimportant, but sometimes those things were what ended up making lasting impressions on others. He had always lived spontaneously, said what came naturally, and never really thought about the lasting impact of all his actions or words, not expecting there to be any. At some level deep inside himself, he knew he wanted to help others, to make a difference, but he had always figured that the way to do it was through heroism, doing the types of things he had seen his father doing. Maybe it was simpler than that, though. Plenty of people without his family's natural talents made an impact on the world every day. Maybe he'd been one of those people, and he just hadn't known it.

Jenny seemed to sense his feelings, and chuckled gently through the phone. "On the other hand, a few of your ex-girlfriends showed up, too. Suffice to say, most commented that they'd be more careful what they wished for in the future."

CJ smiled lightly. "Well, at least I made an impression. I figured that there was no pleasing some of my exes…I guess I was wrong." He pushed away from the wall and slowly started down the street again, his eyes now trained on his surroundings.

Jenny chuckled. "Anyway, now that that's over with, I should be able to join you out there in a few days."

"This town could definitely use a little cheering up, and you're just the person to do it." In the distance, CJ noticed some people walking in the shadows, deliberately pressing up against the wall to avoid coming under the glare from one of the lights. They ducked into an alley, looking around before finally disappearing around the corner. Didn't people realize that they always looked the most conspicuous when going out of their way not to?

"I even arranged for a place to stay. Ask me where, I dare you." Her voice had taken on that teasing quality that he loved. CJ glanced at the phone and pulled his mouth up into his familiar lopsided smile.

"Okay. Where are you staying?" He was now almost to the alley that the suspicious looking people had entered. Rather than risking exposure, he decided to stop short of the alley itself and do a little bit of creative peeking. He tilted his head forward, looked over the top of his sunglasses and through the corner of the building to see what was going on.

"You remember my old roommate Susan? She lives in Gotham now…"

CJ had just deduced that he was witnessing a drug deal, but as soon as Jenny spoke, the building popped back into place in front of him, and the details of what he had just been watching were all but forgotten. "Roommate-zilla?" he said incredulously, arching an eyebrow. Susan had definitely been a terror when Jenny had first moved in with her, her Wall of Shame still haunting his nightmares from time to time. The Zarate incident kicked her into becoming someone resembling a normal human being, but she still had her quirks. CJ was hardly one to pass judgment or to hold a grudge against anyone, but a part of him buried deep down inside didn't completely trust her. She knew the family secret, and that made her dangerous. It was true that she had proven herself able to keep the secret, but she had also proven herself to be a little unstable, and that was what worried him. Still, Jenny seemed to trust her, and had become friends with her. In this particular situation, maybe she was the perfect person to have around.

"What is that I'm hearing? Skepticism?"

He took a deep breath, and forced himself to smile. "Let's call it momentary surprise. I kinda thought that maybe we'd have a little privacy, that's all."

"It's not like I won't have my own bedroom," Jenny said. "It'll be like living with a sister. Wasn't it your Dad who said that she's family now?"

CJ sighed and stepped forward. Looking down the alley, he focused on the drugs being exchanged and shot a burst of heat toward them. Next he took aim at the larger stash, incinerating it instantly, the heat intense enough that there was no smoke or adverse by-products. Immediately, he felt more relieved, and was grateful that the drugs had been there to take the brunt of his frustration. "Yeah, he did. Look, I'm glad you'll be with her, don't get me wrong." He quickly moved down the street and away from the alley, not especially wanting to draw the attention of the druggies, who were still stunned at the moment. "I guess…" he lowered his voice until he was practically whispering. "It's all just been a little bit overwhelming lately, that's all. I don't know if you got a chance to talk to Jon, but I have a new identity waiting for me."

"No, I never got any time alone with your brother today. Congratulations, that's great news!" she said enthusiastically.

"You don't know the half of it," he said, his words hardly more than a mumble.

"So, tell me about it. We don't keep secrets from each other and haven't since our first date."

The memory caused CJ to smile. "I'd love to, but I don't really want to discuss it over the phone. Besides, I'm a little busy at the moment, if you know what I mean."

"Ah, I catch your drift. Okay, we can discuss it when I get into town, which should be in a few short days."

"The sooner the better," CJ said quickly. Two whole days without her was making him feel a little off balance, like part of himself was missing. She had been by his side ever since he started in the hero business, giving him encouragement, recharging his spirit. Just talking with her on the phone wasn't enough, and he wondered if the brief rooftop visits that they would be forced to have when she arrived would even be enough. He never had any doubt that they shared some sort of visceral connection, and with all the upheaval happening in both of their lives right now, he needed to hang onto

that connection more than ever before.

A quick out rush of air he heard through the phone told him that Jenny was now smiling widely. "Patience, Clark," she said, laughing lightly. "In the meantime, you have all those bad guys in Gotham to keep you company."

"They all seem to pass out shortly after meeting me. Wonder why," he said, her laughter coaxing back his sense of humor.

She laughed again, but stopped abruptly as someone knocked on the door behind her. In the distance, CJ could hear someone say her name, and he felt his smile fading as he realized their conversation was probably over with.

Jenny muttered an expletive under her breath. "Sorry, babe, but it looks like the natives are getting restless."

"Well, it's getting late in any case. Hey, I'm looking forward to seeing you. Give the mansion a call when you get into town."

"I certainly will." There was silence for a moment, both of them knowing that they had to say goodbye, but neither quite willing to do so. Jenny

ended up speaking first. "I love you."

"I love you too. Always. Good night."

"Good night."

With a click, the connection was broken, and that was that. CJ slowly pulled the phone away from his ear, smiling sadly as he looked at it. A few more days, and then, maybe, things would begin to return to normal. With a sigh, he shoved the phone in his pocket and turned his attention to the street ahead of him, noticing that he'd gone farther than he realized. In the distance, he could see the flashing neon signs of the bars and strip joints that were so popular with the bad crowd that seemed to frequent this part of town. The cops didn't even come out here anymore, knowing full well that the barroom brawls, the gambling, drugs and prostitution would all continue with or without their presence. This was the ugly underside of Gotham, and this was why he had come out tonight. Women brazenly stood on street corners, men boldly transacted illegal business, even under the bright lights from the streets and the storefronts. Screams rang out, carrying above even the din of loud music.

It was time to get down to work.


The restaurant CJ now found himself inside was in an area of Gotham City where he normally wouldn't have any reason to be. The crime rate was low, the community was close-knit and middle-class with its own unique identity, and most of the businesses were local and family-owned. It definitely wasn't the place to find a soon-to-be billionaire heir or a reclusive crime fighter, and that was precisely why he was there. He scratched unconsciously at his head and the long-haired blonde wig perched atop it as he looked around the restaurant, finally finding who he was looking for. Without hesitation, he strode to the back corner of the restaurant and sat down at a table, his lunch date already well aware of his presence and smiling at him with an annoyingly amused grin.

"Surf's up, dude," Jon said, laughing as CJ smirked at him. Between the blonde wig, the blue-tinted contacts, and the clothing featuring a black t-shirt with a giant pot leaf on it, CJ supposed he deserved the comment. He was supposed to be playing a part, after all.

"Left the surf board at home, amigo. The Gotham surfing scene is totally dead," he said in his best surfer dude voice, taking a seat at the table. Jon raised his eyebrows at the comment. "I'm undercover," CJ continued, his voice barely more than a whisper. "How about you?"

This time it was CJ who raised his eyebrows as the smile faded from Jon's face. "I'm on lunch break," Jon replied with mock indignation. He was dressed in his usual office attire, his appearance no different than what it would be on any normal day. He was also several hundred miles away from where he had been seen about five minutes earlier, a fact that could land him in hot water if anyone saw him in Gotham. "I wear a disguise every day, if you recall," Jon continued in a stage whisper, pulling open the top of his shirt just far enough to see a flash of red.

"Well, you know, just checking," CJ said with a half smile. "I didn't know how many people you knew in this town."

"Not enough to warrant a get-up like that," Jon answered, pointing at CJ, the amusement back in his features. "I know that my brother is officially sleeping with the fishes, pun intended, but…"

"I told you, I'm undercover," CJ said. "Have to meet up with those Americans for Responsible Business jerks after lunch. If you want to know the typical membership profile, you're looking at it." He sighed, reached for his glass of water and took a small sip, his eyes falling on a large manila envelope sitting half-concealed under Jon's menu. Jon caught CJ's eye movement and picked up the envelope and one of the menus, handing both to CJ.

"Going right into the lion's den is pretty gutsy, I'll give you that. Mom would be proud."

CJ smiled, taking the two items and quickly placing the envelope in his lap. "Mom IS proud, she said as much when she was giving me advice on how to do this." As Jon furrowed his brow and opened his mouth to speak, CJ held up his hand. "If I want to know all about having a highly conspicuous second identity, I'll talk to you and Dad. If I want to fly under the radar and get some actual undercover work done, Mom is the expert."

Jon's cheeks turned a little red, although his expression didn't change. At that moment, the waiter came to take their order, and their conversation ceased. CJ slipped into character while ordering, noticing with some amount of pride how the clean-cut waiter's eyes narrowed whenever he looked toward him. It was a new experience for someone who had always been the likable, All-American type of guy, and it proved that he was a better actor than he thought. "Did you see that?" CJ asked excitedly after the waiter left.

"See what?"

CJ pointed toward the waiter, who had moved on to the next table. "He thinks I'm a piece of California beach scum. My disguise is totally working."

"Totally," Jon said in his best imitation of CJ's surfer dude voice.

CJ smirked again, then looked down at the envelope in his lap, deciding that a change in the direction of their conversation would be a welcome thing. "So what did you get?" he asked, squinting slightly and looking through the contents via x-ray vision.

It had been almost a month since CJ had first arrived in Gotham. While his nocturnal activities certainly took up most of his evenings, the fact that it was summer meant that those activities were only a small part of his day. That left plenty of time for covert visits to see Jenny and Susan, to study up on the business of becoming part of society's upper crust, and most importantly to look into the circumstances surrounding the crash of Metro Air flight 329. Through the impressive computer set-up that Bruce Wayne had in the cave, CJ had been able to gather a lot of information in a short amount of time.

Americans for Responsible Business, the group that Jon had witnessed outside the Metro Air offices on the day after the plane crash, wasn't shy about using the internet to advance their cause. Their website was fairly complex and well-maintained, offering a multitude of reasons to hate companies ranging from the local mom and pop drugstore to Fortune 500 corporations. It struck CJ that any company that theoretically aimed to make a profit could be considered evil by the standards that the ARB set up, and he briefly wondered why anyone took them seriously. Granted, he was about to become a titan of the business world, and his future employer was high on the list of public enemies, but he was pretty certain that those were not the reasons he tended to roll his eyes when reading their propaganda.

While the website was useful in gathering information about the core principles of the group and their planned protest activities, what it didn't provide were membership lists or names of leaders within the organization. It also went a little light on some of the more controversial stances that he knew the group had taken. If he wanted to get to the meat of the story, he would have to witness the group in action. And if he really wanted to gather the information that would end up being the most useful, he'd have to get inside.

It was exactly a week ago that he had wandered over to one of the ARB's rallies, dressed much like he was today. They had been protesting the Gotham offices of the Daily Planet, of all places, apparently not happy about the fact that the printers didn't use unionized labor and that the newspaper didn't incorporate enough recycled material into it. CJ had watched from the sidelines for a few minutes before wandering up to the crowd and proclaiming himself a staunch supporter. The group apparently determined that he met the membership criteria, namely an opinion and a loud voice, and they welcomed him in. It had been easier than he had thought to coax names out of people, and to get them to open up to him about their experiences with the group. He played along, invented a background similar to those given by others, gained

their trust, and was eventually invited to their next closed door meeting, which would be today, after lunch.

His research didn't stop with Americans for Responsible Business, though. He also managed to gain access to employment records and timecards, and was able to find the names of everyone connected in even the smallest way to Flight 329 at the Metropolis Airport — baggage handlers, federal luggage inspectors, Metro Air mechanics, food service employees, and refuelers, among others. Each identified employee was then given a deep background check, and those that looked the least bit suspicious were flagged for further review. That was where Jon came in. Because CJ was stuck in Gotham and lacked certain talents, any surveillance work, especially surveillance that involved high-security airport locations, would need to be done by one of Metropolis's resident Supermen. Each of the suspects would be observed for a day, their movements monitored and everyone they came in contact with recorded. With any luck, something interesting would turn up. CJ had no illusions that it would be easy or quick, but he was certainly optimistic that something would turn up.

"Well, I started out with the latest report from the NTSB. They're still pulling up stuff from the ocean, but they've managed to get most of the big pieces and it's starting to be reassembled into something that resembles an airplane. They seem to be interested in the portion of the plane where you indicated to me the explosion took place."

"Little wonder," CJ said, scanning the pages. "Nothing says, 'pay attention to me' like a gaping bomb hole."

"They've also gone through the information from the flight data recorder and the voice recordings. I guess it all looks like it would when something explodes and a plane plummets into the ocean, although they did mention a small anomaly just before the plane hit the water, like something was trying to slow its descent…"

"Well, that something wasn't overly successful, obviously," CJ said flatly. He wasn't too worried that anyone would make the connection to him, especially since his efforts failed in spectacular fashion. Thinking back on that moment in time tended to put him in a bad mood, though, and he found himself slumping a little in his chair as Jon continued on.

"There's more stuff in that report that you can read for yourself. As for the surveillance, my wife is cursing your name right now."

CJ managed a half smile as he tore his eyes away from the contents of the envelope. "Considering I'm the man without a name until tomorrow, I imagine that would be pretty hard."

"You know what I'm saying," Jon said. "Even with Dad helping on a few of these, I'm beginning to forget what the inside of my apartment looks like."

"And you call yourself an investigative reporter?"

"I get PAID for that," Jon answered. "And it's a darn good thing that I can do a normal day's worth of work in a matter of minutes or else my boss would be cursing your name, too."

"Okay, let me rephrase that," CJ said. He looked around, lowered his voice, cocked an eyebrow, and continued. "You call yourself a superhero?"

Jon hunched over a little, outwardly offended, although he couldn't quite erase the shadow of a smile from his lips. "Stiffing my lovely but not overly patient wife for a night or two to save some lives I can handle," he whispered. "But being your employee doesn't quite rise to the same level of importance."

CJ found his bad mood quickly evaporating as their banter continued. In fact, it was almost beginning to feel like old times. Almost. But he couldn't ignore the increasingly itchy blonde wig and politically incorrect clothing. It did feel good to not have to put on any pretenses, though, to just be himself, especially in public. Those times would be few and far between after tomorrow and Bruce's big coming out party. "So do you at least have something to show for your suffering?" CJ said in his regular voice, a grin now on his face.

"What, besides a guilty conscience? Spying from the air to circumvent security and peeking through strangers' apartments isn't exactly ethical." Jon's expression showed his distaste for the assignment, although he had known full well what he was getting into when he agreed to it.

"Neither is crashing an airplane. The information…did you get any?" CJ asked, enjoying his brother's discomfort perhaps a bit too much.

Jon sighed. "I scanned wallets, wrote down names and interesting snippets of conversation, or at least what I could hear. Asking a guy to superhear in the presence of jet engines is just plain cruel." He gave a self-effacing smile and briefly fiddled with his glasses. "Most of it isn't all that interesting, but there were a few somewhat shady characters that entered the picture. Dad said that one guy he saw gave him a funny feeling…"

CJ's smile faded. When his parents got feelings about people, especially negative ones, it usually meant that there was more to the story. He learned a long time ago not to discount his parents' hunches. "Was he more specific than that, or should I just take it to mean that he found a bad dude that I should scope out?"

"You really get into the surfer lingo, don't you?" Jon asked, catching CJ momentarily off guard. After taking a second to mentally change gears, CJ widened his smile and leaned back.

"I'm a character actor. Like, sue me and stuff."

Jon chuckled. "And tomorrow, when you become Mr. Rich Guy, I suppose you'll quote from the Wall Street Journal and Fortune magazine at length. And all that golf knowledge that you earned the hard way…"

"I didn't say that I was a GOOD character actor," CJ said with a smirk. "Tomorrow is going to be more about looking rich, shaking hands, and sucking up to the captains of industry in attendance. I've been told that I can't even tell any jokes."

"Man, how will you survive?"

"That's not the worst part, though," CJ said. Jon waited patiently for the punchline, his eyebrows raised in anticipation. CJ pointed to his eyes, and then nodded as Jon seemed to understand.

"And you thought you could escape," Jon said with a wicked smile. "What was it that you said to me a few years ago? Something like, 'I'd rather die than have to put on a pair of those.'"

"Well, I did, in fact, die, so don't look so smug."

"My little brother, bespectacled at last. Welcome to the club." Jon shook his head.

"The family curse," CJ muttered, coaxing a laugh from Jon. Their food showed up a few moments later, and with their business officially concluded, the conversation moved on to other things. CJ knew that he would have a fair amount of reading ahead of him once he got a little bit of free time, but he found himself looking forward to it. It was hard to explain, but all the heavy research, deep background checks, and undercover work was proving to be rewarding in a way that he hadn't anticipated. He had always figured that the payoff would come at the conclusion of a case, with the arrest of the bad guy or the saving of the city. It was surprising to find, then, that he took a certain amount of pleasure in pursuit, in the thrill of the hunt, so to speak. Of course, if his investigation ended up not yielding any results, he would probably change his mind.

After they finished their meals, Jon and CJ hung around the restaurant for a few minutes, chatting about family and work and whatever else came to mind. Neither were entirely sure when they would be able to meet again, especially during daylight hours, so they wanted to make the most of what time they had. As time went by, though, CJ caught Jon checking his watch more frequently, and he knew that their lunch hour was close to being up. They wrapped up their chat, and at a few minutes to one simultaneously rose from their chairs and exited the restaurant.

"Well…" CJ said as they stood on the sidewalk a few steps from the door. He shoved his hands in his pockets and shifted his weight from heel to toe a few times, his gaze directed downward. The envelope of information, now folded in half and stuffed in his back pants pocket, crinkled lightly with the movement.

Jon gave a quick sigh and a smile, a little personality quirk that he had obviously picked up from their father. "I guess, until we meet again in some dark alley…"

CJ looked up, and saw that Jon appeared similarly uncomfortable. As their gazes met, CJ began to wonder why the sudden uneasiness had developed between them. They had always had a typical brotherly relationship. Maybe they were never exactly best friends, but they could certainly banter like pros. Heck, they had been in full banter mode not five minutes earlier. He suspected that it had something to do with tomorrow, and the fact that, with the creation of his new identity, Samuel Clark Kent would officially cease to be, even if he had been "dead" for the better part of a month.

"It doesn't just have to be a dark alley, you know," CJ said, drawing a surprised look from his brother. After a moment, CJ smiled. "It can be a dark roof or super secret crime fighting cave." He lowered his voice and took a small step forward. "Or, you know, a big stuffy mansion. The place has a hundred some rooms, surely my brother can come by sometime for a game of canasta without anyone having to know."

Jon's smile was grateful. He stepped forward and locked CJ in a loose embrace, which was gladly returned. "We all figured you'd be a big success. Who knew you would have to die to achieve it?"

CJ laughed and pulled away. "I'd let you be jealous if I thought I actually earned my success. You can still beat me in Monopoly, so I guess we're even."

They began to slowly walk down the sidewalk, angling toward the nearest alley. "And yet you end up as the real estate tycoon." As they turned the corner and entered the alley, CJ stopped as Jon continued on. "Good luck with everything tomorrow," Jon said as he walked sideways, taking off his glasses and pointing them toward CJ to emphasize the word 'everything.'

CJ waved dismissively. "I've always been the family nerd, now I'll finally look the part." The two brothers smiled at each other for a moment, then Jon tucked his glasses into his suit pocket, bent his knees slightly, and was gone. CJ held up a hand, watched the sky for a few seconds, then turned and started down the sidewalk again. He was almost in too good of a mood to talk to the ARB guys, but he supposed that even a soon-to-be billionaire superhero had to make some sacrifices.

Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to focus, and tried to slip back into character. After a few thoughts of hot sand and gnarly waves, he decided that he was ready to face the music. Kowabunga, dude.


Jenny was beginning to become very familiar with the roof of Susan's apartment building. Three weeks worth of late night rendezvous could do that, she thought with a sigh as she leaned up against the exterior wall of the stairwell. The moon hung high in the sky as she looked out over the sparse expanse of tarpaper and brick in front of her. The tall buildings of downtown were not all that far away, their lights giving the skyline a stark beauty. It was a view that she was definitely growing to appreciate, although she knew that she would appreciate it far more if she had a certain special someone by her side.

Since arriving in Gotham City, she'd seen her husband on a fairly regular basis, although it had generally been through short rooftop meetings that tended to degenerate into make-out sessions. He had been busy, she knew, between the preparations for assuming his new identity, his investigation of the airplane crash, and cleaning up the city. The latter was particularly time intensive, mostly because there was plenty of crime in Gotham City and a premium of nighttime hours in which to fight it. Those were the same hours that their meetings were relegated to, at least for the time being, but that would hopefully change very soon.

Jenny had been pretty busy herself in the short time that she'd been in town. Her first priority had been to find a job, something that she'd been working on even before CJ's untimely "death." The local office of the Daily Planet had been interested, although she didn't know how badly that newspaper needed another member of the Kent family on staff. It would be a prestigious job to have, but she was afraid that her last name might make for unrealistic expectations. Besides, she had a feeling that working there might put her in contact with people who would know and remember CJ, possibly jeopardizing their plans and blowing his cover. Jenny had interned at the Gotham Gazette, which was also interested in hiring her on a permanent basis. Part of her felt guilty at the possibility of working for a paper that competed with the Planet, and she wondered about the possibility of scooping her in-laws. If she ended up at the Gazette, would a professional rivalry develop between them? She couldn't stand the idea that she could end up feeling any animosity toward Lois and Clark and Jon, so the Gotham Gazette was ruled out, along with all other nationally recognized newspapers. Her only other viable employment opportunity, then, came with one of the periodicals that was housed in town, and that was where she ended up working. Gotham Magazine, her new employer, didn't generally cover news so much as special interest stories, especially those involving companies, people, and events in the city. It would be a chance to familiarize herself with the community, and to spread her wings a little bit as far as writing went.

Although she had put in some fairly long hours in trying to establish herself at her new job, her life in Gotham hadn't been all about work. She spent a fair amount of time hanging out with Susan, seeing what there was to see in the city, and generally trying to keep her mind off the giant void left by CJ's absence. After the sun went down each night, she wandered up to the roof, knowing full well that she might spend hours waiting for him to show up, if he even showed up at all, but not really caring that much. It left her with time to think and plan, to clear her mind, to appreciate her surroundings. As she sat in the spot she now occupied a couple of weeks earlier, her eyes locked on the Gotham skyline, it had occurred to her that something was not as it should be. Closing her eyes and clearing her thoughts, she had realized that she could hear the conversations of people on the sidewalk several stories below. She could also hear televisions in the apartments in the building she sat upon and smell the dinners being prepared for blocks around. Opening her eyes, it had occurred to her that she could also see things in the darkness that she normally couldn't, the fine details of the roof, the distinct shapes of features on buildings the better part of a mile away. It had been almost a year since CJ's powers, which had been transferred to her via a freak lightning strike, had faded away. Now, it was almost as if they had come back in a weakened form. With a start, she had realized that it was probably their child who was fueling their return.

The discovery had taken her by surprise, but it hadn't been unwelcome. As the nights had gone by and she passed her time alone on the rooftop, she found that her rediscovered talents were comforting. It was hard to be too lonely when she could reach out with her senses and observe all that the city held. As she sat there again this night, she closed her eyes and allowed herself to sense the activity in the neighborhood. Somewhere, she knew, a cat was digging through a dumpster. Somewhere a family was having lasagna as a late supper. And somewhere nearby, someone was running across the buildings, leaping into the air and landing with a dull thud, continuing along without breaking stride. Jenny smiled as the sound neared, knowing with every footfall where the person's final destination would be.

"The damsel sat alone on the darkened rooftop, waiting for her mythical hero to come and rescue her," she said as he landed on the roof beside her. She rose and turned, her smile growing as she saw him standing there, his dark form bathed in moonlight. He was dressed differently tonight than he had been before, the black shirt and pants, bandana and sunglasses replaced with the full regalia of the costume of Batman. A dark cowl covered his head and obscured his facial features, although his eyes were clear and unobstructed. His top was made of black spandex, a yellow symbol in the center of his chest showing the stylized shape of a bat. Over his heart, embroidered in black thread and no larger than the size of a quarter, was a small s-shield similar to that worn by his father and brother. The small size and black-on-black color made it almost invisible, and she undoubtedly wouldn't have noticed it if not for her new talents. A black cape hung across his shoulders, reaching down to mid calf and fluttering gently in the slight breeze. Around his waist was a gray utility belt made up of pockets and pouches of various sizes, no doubt containing all sorts of nifty gadgets and tools. Leather gloves covered his hands and a large portion of his forearms. His pants were form-fitting, probably spandex, and his boots were black. Jenny found it hard to take her eyes off him, and she was aware that her mouth was hanging slightly open.

He closed the distance between them with two long strides, leaned down, and immediately captured her mouth with his. Instinctively, she reached up and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, getting a little tangled in the new cape. Time seemed to stand still as they kissed, the rest of the world fading away into blissful nothingness. As they pulled apart, he reached up and pulled off the cowl, a smile on his face. "I might be a knight, but I'm missing the shining armor. Sorry," he said, a gentle, teasing tone in his voice.

Her hands lingered on his back, playing with the pleats in his new cape. "Well, then I guess black spandex will have to do," she answered.

"So do you like it?" CJ asked eagerly. "It was a birthday present."

Jenny dropped her hands and stepped back, cocking her head to the side. Birthday present, huh? CJ's birthday had passed not long before their wedding, but his new identity, well, his "birth" day would be tomorrow. She made a show of looking at him thoughtfully, although she could answer his question without a second thought. He was magnificent, heroic, almost regal. The form fitting costume revealed all the fine points of his well-sculpted physique, and she felt a little jealous for a moment knowing that other women would surely notice. "Yeah, it's okay," she said to him, although she

knew that her expression and the tone of her voice revealed her true feelings about the outfit. "I think you'd look a lot better out of it," she added with a smile.

She had an ulterior motive with her innuendo, one of which he was fully aware. Since this was his last night as an anonymous, ordinary person, his last night out of the glare of the paparazzi and the media, he wanted to spend it basking in normalcy. They had designated tonight as movie night, an old favorite during their college years. He would slip into some normal street clothing, make his way through their building, and spend the rest of the evening hanging out with Jenny and Susan, watching movies, eating popcorn, and just being himself. Jenny supposed it was her "birthday" gift to him, one that she knew he would appreciate.

CJ wiggled his eyebrows as he dramatically removed his cape, twirling it around a few times before handing it to her. Jenny couldn't help but laugh as he continued on, slowly, deliberately removing his gloves, almost as if he was doing a private strip show. She took the items as they were removed and placed them into a small cloth bag, one that looked like an oversized purse. Once he was down to the spandex portions of the outfit, she handed him a flannel shirt and jeans, which he put on over top his other garments. As she brought her gaze up to take a good look at him, she couldn't help but notice the light glint from the yellow band that was still present on his left ring finger. Their previous meetings had occurred while he was in the costume, and his gloves had never come off. She hesitated for a moment, her eyes lingering on his hand, a sad smile forming on her face.

"You're still wearing your ring," she said, her voice heavy, as her eyes found his.

He grinned sheepishly. "I just couldn't take it off," he said. "I guess tomorrow I won't have a choice, but…"

"Yeah," Jenny said quickly. "I know how you feel." It had occurred to her to wonder what the convention was for widows, if they kept their rings on for the rest of their lives or if they put them safely away after the deaths of their husbands. She supposed that it depended on the person, and whether or not they wanted to move on with their life. At some point she knew that she would have to move on, that eventually her rings would have to be removed and relegated to a lonely corner of her jewelry box, but she also knew that doing so would make her available again. Then she would be free to be courted by the city's newest billionaire, who would make sure that her finger wasn't bare for long. Still, it didn't make it any easier to take them off, and apparently CJ felt the same way.

He reached out and grasped her left hand in his, bringing it slowly up to his mouth and kissing it. "I'm kind of stuck, I'm afraid. But you don't have to hurry if you don't want to. Of course, I'll be honor bound not to hit on a married woman…"

"Widowed," Jenny said giving him a half smile. "Grieving. Expectant." She detached her hand from his and reached up to button the top button of his shirt, hoping to hide the black spandex currently revealed beneath it. She knew that they had theoretically talked about what would come next, the "chance" meeting at the party tomorrow, the interviews, the somewhat public courtship, but they had never talked about the finer details of the plan, the little things that could end up becoming obstacles. "It almost doesn't seem right to get rid of my wedding rings, to cast aside my husband, while I'm still expecting his baby. What would people think? I want it to be clear that I loved you, Clark, but at the same time, I do want to be courted by you, and I do want you to be with me when this baby comes."

CJ put his hands on hers, stilling her movement. Slowly, she looked into his eyes, which were suddenly very serious. "Don't feel that you have to somehow honor my memory, or that you have to act a certain way for the sake of appearances. Anyone who might be offended because you moved on already knows the truth of the situation."

"But what about you? Your new identity will have enough questions surrounding it even before you start dating a pregnant widow."

CJ smiled and shrugged. "Let people talk. I don't care." He reached up and tenderly ran his finger along her hairline. "I just want us back together sooner rather than later. I don't want you to go through this alone," he said, bringing his second hand, which was still entwined with hers, down to her stomach. They looked at each other for a few moments, not really saying anything, before she leaned into him, gently meeting his lips with hers. This kiss was tender, loving, entirely different from the hungry kisses shared between them of late.

"Who knew that there were romantic heroes out there stalking women on rooftops?" Jenny asked as they pulled apart, drawing an immediate smile from him. "Come on," she said, reaching down and grabbing a baseball cap from the bag, then handing it to him. "We have a birthday to celebrate. I even got cake."

CJ put the cap on backwards, and together they started down the stairs towards Susan's apartment. "The damsel in distress lures the unsuspecting hero into her abode with promises of cake. Little does he know the calamitous fate that awaits him." He shuffled his feet for effect, but she tugged him along, more than familiar with his style of teasing.

They both stayed quiet as they continued through the apartment building, each looking around, wary of any unexpected visitors. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to run into someone, especially since CJ's current wardrobe was indistinguishable from that of any other normal guy his age, but neither of them wanted to have to answer any questions. It occurred to her that it would be so much easier if he could use the window like the other superpowered men in the family. Lois had told Jenny a story or two about Superman's first couple of years in Metropolis, and his frequent visits through her living room window. If CJ wanted to enter through Susan's window, he'd have to climb down a rusty fire escape, which rattled loudly with even the slightest breeze. Half the neighborhood would know that he was there if he tried to climb down that thing and pop in through the window. At least the roof was safe, isolated, and had a nice view.

They made it to the apartment without incident, both of them relaxing as the door closed and sealed them off from the outside world. Opposite the door, Susan sat on the couch, her eyes anxious as she looked their way.

"Clark! Long time no see," Susan said with a grin. "How have you been?" Jenny looked toward CJ, who was already reaching up to undo the top button of his shirt now that they were safely in the apartment. He sighed gently as he finished, then regarded Susan with his usual, charming smile.

"Well, I've been wearing enough disguises to become schizophrenic. Besides that I can't complain." He wandered over to the other side of the room, sat down on the couch next to Susan, then reached down and grabbed a piece of popcorn from the bowl on the coffee table.

Susan's gaze wandered to the collar of CJ's shirt, her eyebrows rising a little as she saw the barest portion of his new costume beneath it. "And all these rumors I've heard about a mysterious man beating the inner city riff raff into submission?"

His expression was sly. "Who says that you can't believe anything that comes from the rumor mill?" He raised an eyebrow, waiting for the inevitable wide-eyed, dreamy expression from Susan. After a moment, he got the reaction he was waiting for and continued. "Rumors make for a good urban legend, but they hardly strike fear into bad guys. Now that the mysterious man has his snazzy new costume, hopefully he can finally get some decent press."

Susan giggled. Jenny quickly crossed the room and sat on CJ's lap, wrapping her arm around his neck. "It is pretty snazzy," she said to Susan, bringing a vigorous nod from CJ.

"I can't wait to see it on the news," Susan said with a smile. CJ seemed surprised for a moment, no doubt expecting her to demand a private viewing right then and there. Jenny wasn't all that surprised, though. The new Susan was a shadow of her former self, at least as far as her hero worship went. Most of the Superman stuff was long gone, donated to charities or local fan clubs, and even her new Batman collection was limited to newspaper clippings from the last few days. Jenny suspected that her new interest in Batman had nothing to do with hero worship and everything to do with that fact that it was a friend out there doing those things.

"To heck with the news," Jenny said, reaching down to undo a few more buttons on CJ's shirt.

"I'm here for one minute and she starts ripping my clothes off," CJ said to Susan with a sigh and a hefty amount of phony indignation, although he didn't resist. After a second, he leaned down to kiss Jenny on the neck.

"Well if you did like your dad and stuck some velcro on there, then I COULD rip your clothes off." Jenny inhaled sharply as CJ kissed her a few more times, then laughed gently. "You're not helping."

"Hmm?" CJ said with a smile as he straightened up.

"Show Susan your new suit," Jenny said, gesturing toward Susan, who was now regarding them with a bemused grin.

CJ pulled down the portion of shirt that was already unbuttoned, revealing the yellow bat symbol. "It's the cape, the cowl and the gloves that really give it zip," he said to Susan. "It's kind of a big picture thing. Plus, you know, for it to be really cool you have to be out in the dark…"

Susan looked like she was trying hard not to laugh. "Mmm-hmm," she said with

a bob of the head.

"And I thought you said it was just 'okay,'" CJ said, turning toward Jenny. He reached out and grabbed another handful of popcorn from the bowl, regarding her with raised eyebrows. She missed this, she realized as a smile spread across her face and she engaged him in a staring contest. Late night rooftop meetings were good for getting caught up and for at least partially satisfying their physical longing for each other, but the teasing and the laughter had gotten lost in the shuffle. CJ would still be CJ, and he would still interject wisecracks into even the most serious conversations, but the relaxed back-and-forth, the conversations that would leave them both laughing, had been few and far between since his "death."

"I also said you'd look better out of it, and I stand by that." Jenny raised her eyebrows and shifted her hands around to his back, reaching for the zipper that was back there somewhere.

Susan wrinkled her nose, although she was still smiling. "It sounds neat and all, but black on black? Sounds like something you'd wear to a funeral."

A piece of popcorn soared through the air, landing on Susan's lap. "Hey, I put the fun in funeral," CJ said with a smile, wiggling out of Jenny's grasp. "And good job with the dead guy joke."

Susan laughed and bowed her head as Jenny nodded appreciatively. The sense of humor was another new side of Susan's personality. "We figured that it was best to get them out of our systems, since we won't be able to use them after today," Susan said.

"Oh, yeah," he replied, apparently unaware of that particular fact. "Well, okay, in that case let me say that I'd die for a piece of cake right now."

"We've opened a Pandora's box," Jenny said to Susan, tightening her grip around CJ's neck as he slipped his arms underneath her and stood. "For the rest of the night…"

"It'll be like open mike night at the comedy store of the undead," CJ finished, flashing a lopsided smile.

Susan chuckled and rose from the couch, following CJ and Jenny toward the kitchen. CJ set Jenny down on the floor, and they gathered around the cake pan, telling bad puns while Susan sliced up and dished out the cake.

The evening continued, the three relaxing and snacking, talking and laughing, giving a running commentary on the movie as they watched. Jenny cuddled up to CJ throughout most of the night, enjoying his presence while she could. The hour quickly got late, and as the movie finished up, Susan yawned and looked at her watch, declaring with a knowing glance toward CJ and Jenny that it was time for her to go to bed.

Just like that, they were alone. The television blinked gently in the background, illuminating the darkened room with random flashes of light, but Jenny didn't really notice. Without hesitation, she reached behind her husband's head and pulled him toward her, capturing his lips in a deep kiss. All too soon, she felt him pulling away, and reluctantly she released him. As she opened her eyes, she saw him regarding her with a light smile.

"Thanks for the birthday present," he said. Absently, Jenny reached up and started playing with his hair. He had always kept it fairly closely cropped, usually in almost a buzz cut, and it felt strange to see him with longer hair. In fact, she noted with a grin, it had passed the point of being long enough to exhibit some natural curl.

"I haven't given you my entire gift yet," she answered, her voice deep and suggestive. Her other hand started trailing down his chest, making its way toward his waist.

He smiled appreciatively, although he didn't immediately return her advances. After a moment, Jenny stilled and looked at him questioningly. "I can't stay, you know," he said.

She sighed. "Maybe not all night, but for a little while?"

His hand found her knee. He cocked his head to the side, looking at her for a moment, then nodded. "You drive a hard bargain," he said, and she laughed gently. Without any more hesitation, he leaned in and kissed her briefly, then pulled back, stood up, and held out his hand. She reached out and took it, and together they walked toward her bedroom.

They both had experienced so many conflicting emotions — loss, grief, pain, uncertainty, and above all hope — since they had last been together, emotions that had largely been kept inside. It wasn't until they were apart that Jenny had realized how much she had depended on CJ, not just for companionship and love, but also for sharing her innermost thoughts and feelings with. He was the one person who could coax away her bad moods, who could truly make her forget about whatever problems life held, and she suspected that the same was true for him, as well. As Jenny gave CJ the rest of her present, she wasn't all that surprised at how intensely they responded to each other. It was a release, one that had been a long time coming, one that would undoubtedly make the sun shine a little brighter the next morning. She knew that he would be gone when she woke up, but for the night at least, they could forget about what was and what would be and just enjoy being in love, together.


The east lawn of Wayne manor was abuzz with activity, the caterers and organizers moving about, setting up a vast field of round tables for the party that would be starting in less than an hour. The lawn had already been transformed, with the addition of a small stage on one end and expensive-looking statuary and plants around the perimeter of the clearing. Near the stage, a semi-circle of chairs and music stands had been placed, and the musicians that comprised the small orchestra were already beginning to arrive and set up. It would be a party the likes of which CJ had only heard about, a black tie event for the rich, famous, and politically connected. It was out there on that lawn, under the discerning eyes of the crème of society, that Sam Wayne would be introduced to the world.

"Nervous?" Bruce Wayne asked, drawing CJ out of his reverie. CJ had been planted in front of the parlor window for quite a while, staring absently out toward the lawn, lost in thought. Looking over his shoulder, he noticed Bruce standing just inside the door to the room, already mostly dressed for the party. CJ gave him a small smile.

"If I said no, would you believe me?" CJ asked, taking a few steps away from the window. It had been a late night, and the eastern horizon had already started to lighten with the first shades of morning when he had finally returned. It had been harder than he had thought to leave Jenny asleep in the apartment, to return to Wayne Manor and an empty bed. Sheer exhaustion had lulled him to sleep, and he'd been glad to see that he had managed to pass the better part of the day in bed. That meant less time to think about tonight, to imagine the dozens of ways that he could end up blowing his new identity before it was even established.

Bruce studied him for a moment, then looked down and fiddled with a cufflink. "No, I don't think so," he said dryly. It was sometimes maddening to talk with Bruce, CJ thought as his smile grew slightly wider. His life had been all about hiding, and not just his identities. CJ suspected that Bruce had never really been close to anybody, that he had probably deliberately shied away from people, afraid of what would happen if he let anyone inside his defenses. Would being close to someone change him, make him forget his purpose in life? Would it lead to fate taking them away? The thought process was one that was somewhat foreign to CJ, but that didn't mean that he couldn't understand it. Beneath Bruce's tough exterior was someone who was lonely, someone who had a lot more compassion than he let himself exhibit, and CJ knew it. Maybe one of these days he would coax Bruce out of his shell, but until then, he wouldn't let himself get flustered by Bruce's gruff, seemingly uncaring persona.

CJ grabbed a nearby chair, turned it around, and sat down. "Why should I be nervous?" he asked.

Bruce looked toward him slowly, apparently caught off balance for a moment. He raised one of his eyebrows, the barest hint of amusement in his features. "People seem to get all flustered around the rich and famous. Personally, I've never been able to understand it, but…"

CJ shook his head gently. "Look who I'm related to. Celebrity isn't something that really bothers me. Strike one."

Bruce straightened up and crossed his arms across his chest. The look in his eyes became sly, his smile morphing into a more knowing one. "Okay. You're a college kid who's made a career out of going to rowdy parties and keggers, who's social and popular and can tell that joke about two guys walking into a bar better than anyone. Problem is, at this party the guy who can chug the most beer isn't going to be a hero. Here, a sense of humor consists of witty jabs at politicians, if you can even call that humor, and the people who you might end up offending are in control of a large percentage of this country's gross domestic product and can very easily make your life miserable. Throw in a four thousand dollar suit and hors d'oeuvres that are all the rage but taste like something that's been rotting in the hot sun for a few weeks, and you have a potential recipe for disaster. Is that a little closer?"

CJ stared at Bruce for a moment, his eyes wide, his mouth slightly open. "Uh, that sounds a little closer," he said, shaking his head lightly. He'd never been under the illusion that tonight's soiree would resemble the parties that he was used to, but when Bruce put it like that, it cast everything in a different light.

"Look, Clark," Bruce said, taking a couple of steps forward. "I've been around these people my whole life. Trust me, they might wield a lot of power, but that doesn't make them any more or less complicated than any other human being. Besides, you will wield a lot of power yourself now — they'll be as cautious of you as you will be of them. You have plenty of natural charm; use it to your advantage."

CJ's smile was almost shy. "It's the power and influence thing that probably bugs me most," he said quietly. Bruce's expression softened as he closed the gap between the two of them and rested his hand on CJ's shoulder.

"You don't have any yet, so don't worry," he said, the quip passing without so much as a smile from him. "Now, don't you think it's about time to start getting ready?" he asked, looking toward CJ's hair, which still needed to be cut. The expensive Italian suit that he had been fitted for a week or so earlier also awaited him in his room, along with expensive cuff links, tie, tie tack, and cologne. He might not be much different, personality-wise, from the college kid who supposedly died on that airplane, but today he was going to look every bit the son of one of the most expensive men in the country.

CJ nodded and stood as Bruce pulled his hand away from his shoulder. CJ reached up and tousled his hair, giving a sideways grin. "I hate playing barber," he said, "but darned if I'm not good at it." He took a couple steps toward the door, then stopped and looked back toward Bruce. "Thanks," he said simply.

"For what?"

CJ gawked at him for a moment, then held out his arm and pointed toward the window. "For this, for everything. It's almost overwhelming. You've been so generous, and I feel like a bit of a jerk for, well…for being a little reluctant in accepting it all."

Bruce looked down, then turned his gaze toward the window. "I can understand the reluctance," he said, his features pained, his eyes distant. "But I understand pain, too. Sometimes it can become so overwhelming that it can threaten to eat away at the very core of your being. You find yourself doing things that you wouldn't just to try and make it go away, but sometimes the harder you try, the worse it gets." Bruce looked toward CJ, his eyes dark. "I could never let someone go through something like that alone if I can help it. It doesn't matter that your family was wrenched away from you because of circumstance, it's still a tragedy. You have so much life in you, Clark; it would be a shame to have that spark go out just for the sake of protecting your identity and the identity of a good friend of mine." Bruce shrugged. "It was the least I could do."

CJ nodded, giving Bruce the barest of smiles. He tried not to dwell on pain, tried not to let himself obsess over wild scenarios of what could have been. Life was too short to spend being worried all the time. But after the plane crash, he caught himself sinking into the abyss from time to time, succumbing to the dark thoughts and doubts. He'd wondered about who he'd become when it was all over with, and he supposed he still worried about that, but because of Bruce, he didn't have to face a future without a name or identity. He knew he was lucky to have such a great friend. So why did he still feel somewhat hollow about what was about to happen?

"It's just…" CJ began, then sighed. He'd talked to his father on the phone earlier, and they had discussed all the outstanding issues that had been looming over CJ's new life. Jon had been right, their dad hadn't been angry or upset over the fact that Bruce was going to step in and play the part of CJ's father now. But CJ just couldn't bring himself to think of Bruce as his dad, no matter how generous Mr. Wayne was. "Will you be too upset if I don't call you 'Dad' tonight?" CJ asked, wincing a little at how blunt the question sounded.

Bruce didn't seem too surprised or upset at the question. "You have a father, one who's probably a thousand times the dad that I could even pretend to be." Bruce's smile was warm, and CJ felt himself relaxing. "I don't expect you to forget about him just because of this. Without your family, you have nothing. Believe me, I respect that."

"And for that, I thank you," CJ said with a nod. "You are my family now, too." He held out his right hand, and Bruce shook it gently. Without any further words, CJ took a step back, turned on his heel, and exited the room. It was time to get ready, and then to face the rest of his life. At least he could do it now without any lingering doubts or worries.

As CJ made his way down the long corridor toward his room, he actually found himself looking forward to the party. If nothing else, he could look forward to falling in love at first sight again.


Jenny handed her embossed invitation to the man at the gate, grabbed the arm of Lisa, her coworker at Gotham Magazine and "date" for the night, and walked through the floral arch onto the east lawn of Wayne Manor. The building loomed over the far side of the lawn, its Gothic limestone façade imposing, its darkened windows giving it a lonely feel. The soft strains of an orchestra filled the air, rising above the ambient chatter of the assembled guests. Trees and bushes ringed the clearing, their lush, green color making the large space almost cozy. At first glance, it appeared to be a gathering indistinguishable from any other, but as Jenny looked closer, she could see the signs of wealth and excess that she knew would be present. Most of the women were wearing designer dresses and expensive jewelry, their rings containing stones large enough to finance a small third-world country. The tables scattered throughout the clearing were covered with cloth-of-gold tablecloths and topped with large, colorful floral arrangements. Marble statues dotted the edge of the lawn, most unique and beautiful. It was enough to make Jenny almost feel self-conscious, her new, modest dress advertising her status as a member of a substantially lower class. She pulled her purse closer to her, unconsciously shrinking in on herself.

Lisa gave a low whistle as she looked around. "My compliments," she said, turning toward Jenny. "I can't believe you actually managed to score an invitation to a famous Wayne charity party."

Jenny smiled lightly. "Bruce Wayne's a friend of my husband's family. He attended our wedding," she said. "When he told me that he had something big to announce tonight, I asked for a scoop, so here we are." She scanned the crowd, looking for a familiar face among the strangers, and not immediately finding any.

"Well, my old boss once told me that connections were at least as important in journalism as actual writing talent," Lisa said.

"I don't know about that. Besides, I can think of dozens of things I'd rather do than exploit this particular connection for a spot as a society reporter."

"Don't knock it," Lisa said. "There are single guys at these things, single guys with money. You need to throw your hat back into the dating ring, and this is a great place to start."

She didn't know the half of it, Jenny thought with a smile. Lisa was the principal photographer for the magazine, and was technically here on assignment with Jenny. She was also Jenny's best friend at the office, someone who was more than willing to offer a friendly ear and a little bit of usually outrageous advice. Lisa knew about CJ's death, and was sympathetic to Jenny's position, but that didn't stop her from pointing out cute available men at every available opportunity. That was part of the reason that Jenny had insisted on bringing her to this event, even though they had never actually worked together on any stories yet. Lisa wouldn't be able to resist pointing out Sam Wayne, and for once, Jenny wouldn't be able to say no. Now all they had to do was wait for the big announcement, meet the new celebrity, and the rest would be history. Until the big event happened, though, it would be best to act like reporters, and see if they could find anything newsworthy.

"Why don't we fan out?" Jenny said to Lisa, gesturing to the south side of the clearing. Lisa nodded and gave her a smile, then began to make her way toward the area where Jenny had indicated. Jenny went in the opposite direction, stopping every now and then to chat with the partygoers. After a few minutes, the orchestra went noticeably quiet, and a group of people began to gather near the stage. Jenny rooted around in her purse, pulling out a small tape recorder and switching it on just as Bruce Wayne climbed the steps and approached the microphone, flanked by a man in a handsome suit.

"Hello everybody, and thank you for coming to tonight's Wayne Charities ball. The generous contributions from each and every one of you will be a great asset in the fight against poverty here in Gotham City." A light smattering of applause swelled up and quickly died down. Bruce smiled and glanced to his side before addressing the crowd again. The man next to Bruce was grinning confidently, his posture relaxed, and his face strangely familiar. Glasses obscured his eyes, the rapidly setting sun casting a slight glare off them that almost made him hard to look at, but Jenny found that she couldn't look away. She'd never been able to look away from that face, she thought with a smile, shaking her head a little as she contemplated the complete transformation that had to have taken place over the last day to turn her husband into the man that she saw up there on that stage.

"I have an ulterior motive in coming up here tonight, though," Bruce said, his voice congenial. "About a month ago, a young man came knocking on my door, and before I could shoo him away, he told me an interesting story about a woman whom I met a quarter century ago." Bruce took a quick breath, his demeanor almost nervous now. "It seems that not long after the woman and I parted company, she gave birth to a son who she raised in solitude, far away from Gotham City." The crowd grew very quiet, and all eyes eagerly looked toward the stage, although they now seemed trained on the man next to Bruce. "She died quietly a couple of months ago, telling her son shortly before passing away of the circumstances that lead to his birth. She also told him for the first time that his father was…me.

"Naturally, I was a little skeptical of this stranger and his claims, but after getting to know him a little, and enlisting the services of a credible DNA lab," Bruce said, flashing his teeth and drawing a small chuckle from the audience, "I have embraced him as my son. So tonight, I would like to introduce you all to this remarkable young man, Sam Wayne." He gestured toward CJ, who held up a hand in greeting. The crowd applauded thunderously, although a decided murmur seemed to carry through the audience. After a moment, Bruce turned toward CJ and extended his right hand, which CJ shook briefly before stepping forward and embracing Bruce in a quick hug. As they separated, Bruce gestured toward the microphone, which CJ, Sam Wayne, approached almost hesitantly.

Flashes from camera bulbs lit up the stage, and Sam Wayne opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, his eyes scanning the audience, before he finally spoke. "I, uh, look forward to meeting all of you. Bruce has made me feel very welcome here, and even though this is a whole different world from the one I was raised in, it's beginning to feel like home." CJ glanced sideways, giving Bruce a smile. "Thank you," he said, then turned back toward the crowd and nodded before stepping away from the podium.

The speech had seemed somewhat awkward, and Jenny wasn't sure whether that was natural or by design. CJ hadn't exactly been thrust into any situations that required speaking in front of large crowds except for his proposal to her, so she had nothing to gauge his reactions by. It seemed real enough, though. In fact, the whole situation seemed very real, and nobody should have any reason to question what they had just seen. CJ even looked a little bit like Bruce when seen from a distance. Jenny was impressed, and she caught herself smiling a little bit.

As CJ was shepherded across the stage and toward the steps, he scanned the crowd, his eyes quickly finding her. Jenny barely raised her hand, her smile widening, and he grinned in response, giving her a small nod. The next moment, he descended the steps and disappeared amongst the crowd. Jenny sighed and clicked her recorder off. Step one was complete. Step two would require seeking him out for an "interview," although she suspected that might be easier said than done. A small mob had formed near the stairway, each person no doubt wanting a piece of the newest member of the Wayne family. Jenny didn't especially want to join them, and she knew full well that CJ would seek her out at his earliest opportunity.

The orchestra started playing again a few moments later, and the party continued as if the little interruption had never occurred. Jenny wandered around the clearing, periodically glancing toward the mob around CJ. After a while, she met up with Lisa again.

"Did you see him?" Lisa asked breathlessly, gesturing toward the stage area.

"See who?" Jenny asked innocently. At Lisa's incredulous look, Jenny smiled. "Sam Wayne, you mean?"

"Yes! I was up close to the stage when he was introduced and…holy cow. Why are the rich ones always so darn good looking?"

Jenny shrugged. "Guess I didn't notice."

Lisa opened her mouth to say something, then smiled and pointed at Jenny. "You're pulling my chain, right? I mean, you might be a widow, but you certainly aren't dead."

"I was pretty far away," Jenny said defensively. "Besides, I can look all I want, but why would someone like Sam Wayne look back? Seems to me that he can have any girl he wants." It was fun to play devil's advocate, Jenny decided, noting how her friend's expression seemed to soften.

"Sure, he might be dancing with other girls right now, but that doesn't mean anything. All you have to do is step right up there and…"

"He's dancing with other girls?" Jenny asked, looking back where the mob had been and noticing it had dissipated.

Lisa laughed. "Oh yeah, you noticed him," she said. She took a step forward, wrapped her arm around Jenny's shoulder, and steered her toward the snack table. "Come on, let's mooch off these guys for a little while. It'll take your mind off things. Then maybe you can locate prince charming and get your exclusive…and a date."

With a smirk, Jenny let Lisa lead her toward the food. They indulged themselves for a while before wandering back toward the crowd, each chatting with people and gathering information. After a few minutes Lisa sat down at one of the tables, but Jenny didn't join her. Instead she decided to remain standing and scan the crowd again, hoping to catch sight of her husband without any luck.

Jenny sighed and looked longingly toward a nearby chair. After standing for the better part of an hour, her feet were beginning to cry out for mercy. Maybe after a short break, she could start to actively pursue her big interview with the newest Mr. Wayne. In the meantime, though…

"Excuse me, I couldn't help but notice that you looked a little lonely. " The familiar voice came from just behind her, causing a seductive smile to play across Jenny's lips. A few feet away, Lisa's head swung around, her eyes going wide as she looked just behind Jenny.

"Lonely is a state of mind," Jenny said, not turning around. Behind her, the familiar stranger took a couple steps forward, and she could almost feel his breath on her neck. It was all she could do to stop herself from leaning into him, but the fixed gaze of her coworker reminded her of the situation, and forced her to keep her poise.

"I guess a state of mind is a terrible thing to waste," the stranger said, a hint of amusement in his voice. "All the same, I was wondering if you wouldn't mind having this dance, miss…?"

Jenny turned around slowly, her smile faltering a little as she caught sight of her stranger, Sam Wayne. Although she had easily been able to see him during the announcement, thanks in part to her newly enhanced vision, the finer details had been lost. Up close, though, she could appreciate all that went into his transformation. It was amazing to see her husband standing there looking very much like the man he was supposed to be portraying, a man who was worth a billion dollars. With the exception of their wedding day and a few semi-formal gatherings during college, CJ never dressed up. His unique body proportions made it almost impossible to find a well-fitting suit, and they had certainly never had the kind of money to shell over for something custom-made. Now, though… Jenny knew that she had always had a thing for well-dressed men. Even though she had thought that her relationship with CJ had revealed that particular crush to be nothing but fantasy, seeing him in front of her now in an expensive, perfectly cut suit, a very nice haircut and stylish adornments, she almost felt weak-kneed. Even the glasses didn't seem too out-of-place or awkward on him.

"Missus. Kent, Jenny Kent," she said after a moment, her voice raspy, as she extended her left hand toward him.

His disappointment was almost comically exaggerated. He looked down and grasped her extended hand, noticing the rings, before groaning slightly. "Oh, I knew she looked too good to be true. The beautiful ones are always married." He gently leaned over and planted a light kiss on the back of her hand.

Jenny beamed at him, her cheeks feeling a little warm. Their eyes met, and she could see the playful spark in his, urging her to play along. "I'm widowed, actually," she said, coaxing a softer expression from him.

"Then I was right. You are lonely."

"I am," she said softly.

He closed the gap between them, putting his arm around her waist. "Then let me help you chase away that loneliness."

"I'd like that," she said with a smile, and together they walked toward the dance floor. Quite a few couples had taken the opportunity to dance, and Jenny couldn't help but notice a few people looking at her rather pointedly as she and CJ took their places among them. Gently, they started swaying to the music, the gap between them thinner than would be expected between two strangers. Jenny suspected that their intimate stance was part of the reason for the stares, but she couldn't discount the obvious class difference between them, or the fact that she was now dancing with the big celebrity of the party.

"So that lonely line…I bet it works on all the girls," she said with a teasing half-smile, aware that they had an audience.

"She questions my intentions," he said to nobody in particular, adding a sigh for effect. After a moment, he turned back to her. "I'll have you know that if I had something funny planned, I'd use a much cheaper line than that."


"Oh, pick one. Bruce has a million. How about, 'Are you a parking ticket? Because you have fine written all over you.'"

Jenny chuckled. The fact that he managed to say the line with a straight face was impressive. She wondered if he really had used a similar line back in his bachelor days, but decided that she was happier not knowing. "Wow, that one is definitely cheap."

"See? I went the extra mile, just for you."

"I almost feel bad asking you why. I'm not exactly like all those high-society women around here." A few of the surrounding couples seemed to crowd in a little closer as she spoke, their heads tilted as if listening for an answer.

"Do I need a reason?" CJ asked, his eyes twinkling. Jenny raised an eyebrow in challenge, hoping to coax more out of him. "You don't need to be wearing jewels or a designer dress to be the most beautiful woman at this shindig. You are far and away the most attractive person here, and don't let anyone tell you any differently."

It was hard to fight the almost overpowering desire to kiss him. Although she knew that they were supposed to be acting out parts, there was a fair amount of their real thoughts and feelings coming through in their words. Their banter was natural, and although vague, there was nothing phony about it. Likewise, his expression told her that his last statement was one hundred percent true, that his words mirrored his actual feelings. Jenny felt herself leaning in toward him, certain that nobody would blame her for giving him a peck on the cheek after a compliment like that, but she stopped herself. Maybe it would be more appropriate if CJ made the first move.

Jenny straightened up, then smiled slyly. "You look pretty stunning yourself, Mr. Wayne. But then again, an Italian suit and a few billion dollars would look good on anyone."

"I've been told I clean up pretty well," he said, then smiled wickedly and leaned in toward her until his lips were barely an inch from her ear. Unconsciously, Jenny pressed into him as his body met hers. "If you think this suit looks good on me, you should see how it looks off me."

Jenny laughed, drawing curious stares from surrounding guests, who already seemed somewhat scandalized by her close contact with him. "I'd love to, believe me," she said quietly, meeting her cheek to his. They danced in silence for a few moments, then pulled apart as the song ended. Jenny felt disappointed that they would be forced to go their separate ways, but then remembered that she still hadn't accomplished her mission for the night. As CJ attempted to step away, she kept her hand firmly behind his back, nodding fractionally as he looked at her in surprise.

"You said such flattering things to me, I thought that one more dance might be appropriate, even if I end up having to chase off the other women with a stick." They both looked toward the perimeter of the dance floor, and noted a few women in rather revealing dresses looking their way, each with varying expressions of anger or disappointment.

As CJ looked back at Jenny, his smile was warm. "Let them wait. I chose to dance with you. And, might I add, I meant every word I said."

"I'm sure you did," Jenny said. "Part of the reason I'm sticking around is to wait and see what you say next. I mean, first comes the flattery, which tends to be followed by the expressions of undying love and the quick marriage proposal."

CJ arched his eyebrows. "I suppose you could say that I love you as much as a man could love a woman he just met five minutes earlier," he said nonchalantly. A woman nearby started to cough as he finished, causing his smile to broaden. "But unless you're the silly type who believes in love at first sight, I guess that doesn't mean much," he continued. As he spoke his eyes wandered to her left hand, which he clasped in his right. "Besides, you seem to have a lingering affection for your late husband. That might be a problem."

Her smile became crooked. "Maybe I do believe in love at first sight. As for my husband, I won't tell him if you won't." She cocked her head and studied his face for a second. "You do look a lot like him, though, except for the glasses."

CJ used to regularly tease his dad and brother about their glasses, using the occasion to brag about the fact that he didn't need to disguise himself or look like the nerd that he secretly was. Jenny doubted that she was the first one to point out the irony of his position, although the blush that rose in his cheeks told her that she had hit a nerve. "Glasses make a man look distinguished," CJ said defensively.

Jenny nodded and suppressed a giggle. He was cute when he was uncomfortable, and making him squirm was one of her favorite guilty pleasures. "Or nerdy. But I'm not knocking it," she said, drawing a sideways glance and a sigh from him. Yes, it was certainly fun to turn the tables on him from time to time.

They swayed to the music for a few moments in companionable silence. Jenny tried to eavesdrop on some of the surrounding conversations, and couldn't help but smile as she overheard some interesting things. Apparently the ruse was working, but they were also garnering quite a bit more attention than she had assumed. Maybe it was time to move along with the plan and arrange for a more private meeting. "So, uh, Mr. Wayne…Sam…"

"That is the name my mother gave me," he said with amusement. Jenny knew that his parents hadn't especially cared for the name, although CJ was rather neutral about it. He had referred to himself as "Clark," his middle name, more out of habit than anything else. It felt strange to call him by his real first name, his new name, and apparently he felt the same.

"I'd love to hear all about your transformation into Gotham's newest gold-plated bachelor, perhaps in a more private place." She looked pointedly at the gathering crowd, which he responded to with a smile and a slight nod.

"Why do I get the feeling that you're trying to interview me?" he asked, his voice teasing. He'd probably been waiting to use that line all night.

"It could be because I AM trying to interview you. I work for Gotham Magazine."

"A reporter? Oh man, I should've known. Beautiful and cunning."

"And on a deadline. How about dinner tomorrow?"

CJ's eyebrows knit together in mock confusion. "Hold on a second. I thought it was the rich bachelor who asked the beautiful woman out and not vice-versa."

Jenny unclasped is hand, and started playing with his tie. "Maybe back in the dark ages. Besides, we're not talking about a social meeting, it would be entirely business. So what do you say?"

"It's a date," CJ said with a smile, his hand on her back shifting lower. Jenny gave him a seductive smile, but didn't say anything further as they danced to the music for a few moments. As the song reached a crescendo, Jenny saw someone slide in behind CJ and tap him on the shoulder. Surprised, CJ turned around, and was greeted by Bruce Wayne.

"May I cut in?" Bruce asked, and CJ stepped away, waving an arm toward Jenny.

"Be my guest," CJ said. "Just watch out, she's with the press."

Bruce stepped in and put his arm around Jenny's back. As the two started dancing, he looked back toward CJ. "The devil is a woman in a red dress, son."

Jenny couldn't hide her amusement as Bruce gave her his attention. "Fortunately, my dress is blue," she said.

Bruce actually smiled gently, something that she didn't see very often but which suited him well. "Then I guess we have nothing to worry about." They looked at each other for a moment, gently swaying to the music, before he spoke again. "So, I see you met Sam."

"I did."

"You two seemed to hit it off pretty well." Whereas CJ's eyes seemed to twinkle with mischief as they spoke in code for their eager audience, Bruce's features didn't betray anything. He was probably much more used to the ruse, to the double speak. Jenny suspected that she would get used to it after a while, too.

"It was like we'd known each other our whole lives."

"And your story?"

Jenny's smile grew. "Thanks for the tip and the invite. I think it's definitely something the readers will be interested in. I, uh, would like to interview you, if that's okay."

Bruce nodded. "I expected nothing less. If you'd like to stop by, maybe tomorrow…"

Jenny made a face. "Well, your son seems to think we have a date tomorrow."

With a quick motion, Bruce spun her around and dipped her backward, then pulled her up again. Jenny giggled. "You can make it afterwards, then." At that moment, the music ended, and Bruce stepped away. "Until tomorrow."

"Tomorrow," Jenny said with a nod, then turned away and left the dance floor. It seemed like all the eyes were on her as she walked toward Lisa, and she couldn't help but put a slight swagger in her step.

Lisa's expression could only be classified as shock as Jenny approached the table and sat down. Jenny tried to act nonchalant, but with each passing second it became harder and harder to suppress a laugh. After a few moments of wide-eyed, gape-jawed silence, Lisa finally found her voice.

"You and Sam Wayne looked very good together," Lisa said, her surprise morphing into a sly smile.

"You think?" Jenny asked.

Lisa tapped on her camera. "I have the pictures to prove it."

Jenny smiled at her. "Well he seems to think that there's something between us." She shrugged and waved her hand. "Typical playboy flattery. But it takes more than a few smooth words and a pretty face to fool me."

Lisa's hand clamped onto Jenny's arm. "Honey, there are a billion reasons to get pulled into that net, let me tell you." After a moment her head cocked to the side and her eyes narrowed. "You seemed very into it, though. All laughs and smiles, and the way you danced…"

Jenny looked to the left and right, and leaned in toward Lisa, who was suddenly eager. "If you take the money and the smooth lines out of the equation, he is definitely someone worth getting to know a little better, I'll admit that."


"So I have an interview with father and son tomorrow." Jenny sat up and smiled triumphantly. Lisa's smile was so wide, Jenny's face almost hurt just looking at it.

"Way to go, girl."

"Come on," Jenny said. She grabbed her purse and rose from her chair. "I don't think that there's any more reason to be here."

Lisa nodded, reached for her camera and stood up. As the two walked toward the exit, Jenny took one last look over her shoulder, easily finding CJ among the crowd. She pursed her lips, gave him a wink, waited a second for the look of shock and longing before bringing her attention in front of her again.

"About those pictures," she said to Lisa as they reached the gate. "You think I could get some copies?"


Down time was a rare and valued thing for Lois Lane. Between work and any number of ongoing investigations, trying to be at least a halfway attentive mother to her teenaged daughter, trying to find some time alone with her often busy husband, and keeping up with all the little household chores such as laundry and dishes, she was left with precious little time for herself. Now was one of those rare occasions, however. A satisfied sigh escaped her lips as she took advantage of her good fortune and snuggled into the couch with a copy of the magazine that Jenny was now working for.

The issue that she was reading was about a week old, and was the first that contained one of Jenny's stories. It wasn't a bad little publication, she supposed, although the stories tended to center around Gotham City, a town which, until recently, Lois had very little interest in. The stories she had managed to read thus far were generally well-written and colorful, although she had to admit that they lacked the "hard news" angle that she usually preferred. In a way the magazine read like a promotional pamphlet, touting all the good and interesting people and things in town and glossing over any controversy in the process. Lois knew it was unfair to judge the magazine by the standards of investigative journalism, and instead tried to enjoy it for what it was. In the ten seconds that it had taken Clark to absorb the contents of the magazine he had been suitably impressed, and that said something.

Lois had saved Jenny's article for last, and that was what she turned to this evening. It was a nice little puff piece about a historical neighborhood park and the people who had utilized it throughout the years, told in a style that immediately captured the reader's attention. Jenny was definitely talented, Lois thought with a sigh. Lois had to admit that she was a little disappointed that Jenny hadn't taken up the offer to work at the Daily Planet's Gotham City office, especially since she obviously had the capacity to go a long way in the business. If Lois thought about it, though, she supposed that she could understand Jenny's decision. Aside from the appearance of nepotism, working at the Planet would also put Jenny in the position of being close to a lot of news stories that she wouldn't be able to report.

When Lois started her career in journalism, she had always dreamed of being in on the big story, of having the magic connections and inside knowledge that nobody else had. It hadn't been her aim, though, to actually marry the big story, or to spend most of her career covering up all the knowledge that her magic connections had given her. It could drive a person crazy after a while, and Jenny had certainly been around the family enough to know what keeping newsworthy secrets could lead to. Add to it that CJ was not just a newsworthy superhero, but also the newsworthy "son" of a celebrity, and it made it that much harder. Better to avoid the news, then, and write mood pieces and interest stories, to become the type of journalist who works as an almost anonymous part of a diversified team rather than the type who made a big name for herself. And, judging from Jenny's article, she seemed to be doing well in that role.

The sound of a door slamming drew Lois's attention away from her reading, and less than a second later Laura seemed to appear in front of her out of thin air. She was seventeen now, and in the past few months her powers had started to take full effect. What had started out as somewhat impressive strength and slightly-faster-than-normal speed had grown to powers on par with Clark's. And then, a couple of weeks ago, the flying had begun. Since that time, it had been hard to find Laura at home, although Lois didn't complain too much, especially if it meant a few more moments of precious solitude.

"Check this out," Laura said, slapping a tabloid down on the coffee table in front of the couch. Lois leaned forward, then chuckled as soon as she saw the forty point headline and accompanying picture.

"LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON," the headline blared, with a smaller subhead stating

that, "Gotham's newest Golden Boy follows in his father's playboy ways." A fuzzy photograph showed CJ and Jenny dancing very intimately, their cheeks pressed together and their eyes closed.

"It's nice to see that they're taking it slowly," Lois said as she reached for the paper.

"That story's in a bunch of other tabloids, too," Laura said. She sat down on the couch next to Lois, eyed the magazine in Lois's lap, and then smiled. "You know, for a couple who should probably be keeping a low profile, they're sure not shy about getting together in public."

"Since when has your brother been shy about anything?" Lois asked.

"Good point," Laura muttered with a bob of the head.

It was obvious that the photographer was using a zoom lens to take the picture, and that it was taken through a gap in some foliage. Jenny had said that the Sam Wayne coming out party was going to end up being her first marquee story, and it would no doubt be replete with photographs, but Lois was pretty sure that it would be another week or two before it got published. In the meantime, the escapades of Sam Wayne would be tabloid sensationalism.

"Sheesh, listen to this," Lois said as she read the article more closely. "'The newly minted Prince Charming wasted no time in wooing the ladies, apparently dancing with several of Gotham's debutantes before hooking up for an intimate dance with this unidentified woman.' At least he managed to play the part for a few minutes before giving up the ghost."

"Not that I'm one to ever take CJ's side for anything, but I bet it got kind of lonely in that mansion. He and Jenny have had to sneak around if they wanted to see each other…he probably got tired of the hiding." Laura shrugged, although her features seemed to convey that she could empathize. It was a situation that they all knew well enough; they hadn't been able to see him in public since the plane crash, either. But CJ and Jenny were playing a dangerous game, especially given the pictures that were beginning to show up. Even though the photos were a little fuzzy, the two of them had plenty of friends, any one of which could identify them and end the ruse.

"Even so, they'd be wise to at least have a chaperone," Lois said, looking away from the article and toward Laura almost as soon as the words left her mouth. "Someone who could pour a little bit of cold water on them when they're in the public eye, maybe someone who is good at spotting paparazzi lurking in the shadows…"

Laura tended to get impatient during the summertime, often taking classes to occupy her time. Summer classes were over with now, though, and while Laura had been busy enough exploring her new powers, the exploration had to be done away from witnesses. Lois could tell that the isolation made her a little starved for human contact. She had also been dropping hints, trying to goad Lois and Clark into taking some sort of vacation before her senior year of high school began in September. As Lois's eyes found Laura's a plan started to form, and Laura seemed to sense as much.

Laura scooted a little closer to Lois on the couch. "Mom, you know how much I love you, don't you?" she said sweetly, if not eagerly.

"When it suits your purposes," Lois said coyly. She was not above letting someone try and sweet talk her into doing something, especially when the conclusion was already foregone. Laura's smile faltered briefly, but was quickly back in full force.

"And you know how much I'm dying to get out of town."

"What about those little late night trips that you've been taking with your father?"

Laura gestured toward the ceiling. "Those are ABOVE Metropolis, not out of Metropolis."

Lois arched her eyebrows. "Are you sure that you won't miss those if you were to, say, go to Gotham for a little while?" Laura was positively beaming as she shook her head. Lois finally allowed herself a grin as she pointed a thumb toward the staircase. "Then go pack a bag while I make a phone call."

"Yay!" Laura said as she jumped off the couch. She took a step toward the stairs, then stopped, turned, and rushed over to give Lois a hug. "Thanks Mom. You're the best."

"That's what I hear," Lois said.

As Laura straightened up, her brow knitted together. "Daddy's going to be okay with this, isn't he?" she said.

Lois waved her hand. "I'll take care of him. Don't worry about it. Now go before I change my mind."

"Yes, ma'am," Laura said.

As Lois picked up the phone, she couldn't help but feel a little guilty that this move might be construed as meddling. She preferred to think of it as being protective, of being a good mother, and certainly Jenny and CJ wouldn't begrudge her sending them a familiar face as companionship. With that, she dialed the number for Wayne manor and smiled. Having Laura in Gotham would also serve to create more free time for Lois, and that was the most convincing argument of them all.


A week that had started out with a lot of promise for CJ was quickly becoming very long very fast.

Saturday had been the day of Bruce Wayne's charity party, the day that Sam Wayne had officially and very publicly come into being. After so much worrying about how the night might turn out, it had been surprisingly uneventful. All of the society types in attendance had doted on him unquestioningly, and had been appropriately charmed. The women fawned over him en masse, and the one woman that he had sought out had been beautiful and witty, the type of person that a man would be almost crazy not to fall for. Their five or so minutes of dancing together had been enough to sustain him for the rest of the night, to endure the introductions, interviews, and mindless society talk that followed.

The next day, Jenny had come over just after lunch and stayed until well after dinner time. Despite what she had told everyone, she did next to no interviewing during her time at Wayne Manor. The first minute or two of her visit was spent discussing with Bruce and CJ exactly what the public story would be and gathering a few juicy quotes, and after that she spent her time just hanging out. For a while CJ and Jenny visited with Bruce, hearing old stories or talking about whatever came to mind. Later, Bruce left to take care of some business, and CJ and Jenny wandered around the mansion, discussing their plans for the future. When should they get married? Engaged? How often should they publicly see each other until that time? How should they handle the press and the unflattering stories that would certainly come out of the affair?

Their time together wasn't all seriousness, though. It felt good to have some time alone away from the public eye, without the fear of discovery and without having to put on any pretenses. Spending the day together, it almost felt like old times. CJ let himself imagine for a while that they were just on some strange vacation from reality, that they had slipped away from their lives for a while to embark on an exploration of historic Wayne Manor. When they were done, they would jump into the car and drive home, and everything would be just fine. It made for a pleasant fiction, but he could never escape the nagging knowledge that it was just fiction, that they couldn't go back to the way it was.

Eventually, as the sun started to hang low in the western sky, it became time for Jenny to leave, even though she didn't really want to. CJ conceded that he also had some work to do. They parted company, but not before agreeing to embark upon a real, public date the next Friday. After watching Jenny drive away, CJ immediately went down to the cave, changed clothes, and hit the streets. His spirits buoyed by the weekend's activities, Batman managed to get a lot done that night. Aside from stopping the usual petty crime and drug deals, CJ managed to put an end to a high speed pursuit and stop a bank robbery. A camera crew from a local television station showed up at one point, and he let himself be photographed, hoping to stir up a little buzz with the media and maybe induce some fear with the criminal element. Sunday, all told, was a very good day. He even managed to get a few restful hours of sleep that night.

On Monday, Sam Wayne officially started work in the Wayne Enterprises Corporate office. CJ had assumed that he'd spend the whole day either filling out paperwork or being led around the company and introduced to management and other important people. He had figured that the people he would be in contact with at the company would be a good mix of interesting characters, and that he would immediately assume an important role as an upper management cog in the machine. As far as CJ was concerned, life at Wayne Enterprises would surely be an adventure, and if a few dull minutes did come along, his status as one of the high mucky mucks would give him access to all kinds of interesting projects. It came as a very unpleasant surprise, then, to find that life in corporate America was about one hundred eighty degrees out of phase with what he had expected.

He managed to spend the whole day in a series of board meetings, being introduced to vice presidents and lawyers who were all a generation older than he was and seemed to have the collective personality of a wet sponge. Throughout most of the day, CJ sat quietly in an overstuffed chair next to Bruce, trying to absorb the information being discussed but not having a whole lot of luck. He tried to take notes with the intention of educating himself on the issues that they were discussing after the meetings were over, but after awhile his notes turned into doodles, and it became a struggle to keep his mind from wandering. Lunch had been a much-anticipated break, but he ended up at a stuffy restaurant with the same group. When the lunchtime conversation turned away from work, he managed to get a few words in, but he found himself largely bored with the discussions of golf and politics, and he wondered for the first time just what exactly he had gotten himself into. Surely a life filled with nothing but corporate meetings and fiscal progress reports would suffocate him. Surely the fun part of his personality would wilt and die if he were forced to spend day in and day out with lawyers, accountants, and businessmen who had already had their collective will to live sucked out of them by years of such an existence. On the drive home, he had pleaded with Bruce to give him something, anything, to do that would be stimulating and allow him to interact with people who possessed a sense of humor or discernable personality. Bruce had seemed amused by the comment, although in the end he had just smiled and told CJ to be patient. Bruce knew as well as anyone that patience was never one of CJ's strong suits.

As if to complement his misery, Monday also saw the release of several tabloids centering around Sam Wayne. CJ knew that his parents tended to laugh about the tabloid articles discussing them and their alter egos; they usually clipped the more amusing ones and saved them in a shoebox under their bed. Many a dull night was passed by digging out the old clippings and having a good laugh at the overactive imaginations of the tabloid writers. It was probably healthy to be able to shrug off the obviously outrageous and fictional stories, and he knew that he could do that, if his limited experience as a shadowy super-figure in Metropolis was any indication. But Monday was the first time that any of the stories aimed at him tried to do anything more than speculate, and he felt himself becoming more angry than anything else. He had expected some funny misinformation to be spread about his new persona, turning him into some caricature of the average spoiled rich brat, and was okay with that. What incensed him was the treatment of Jenny in the stories. She was portrayed as cheap, a moneygrubber, someone who had an angle or a motive, and probably wouldn't give him the time of day if not for his new last name. He tried to ignore the stories, and for a while he did, but then came the phone call from his mother.

The suggestion that CJ was in need of a chaperone struck him as humorous at first, but as Lois explained her thought process, he had to admit that maybe it wasn't such a silly idea after all. He weakly tried to argue that he wasn't twelve years old anymore, and that he had managed to go through the process of courting Jenny the first time around without having his hand held, but Lois would have none of it. Circumstances were different now, reporters were hiding in bushes just waiting for him to slip up. No matter how careful he and Jenny were, maybe it was best that they have someone around to keep an extra eye out, and at least give the appearance that nothing tawdry was going on. Susan was a logical first choice as chaperone, especially since she and Jenny were already friends and roommates, but CJ couldn't help but feel that Susan was already doing plenty to help their cause. She deserved to have a life of her own, and didn't need to be dragged through the mud by tabloid reporters who would observe her interaction with Sam Wayne and his mystery girl. When CJ asked his mother who she would suggest instead, he could almost hear her grin, and he knew right then that he was in trouble. In very matter of fact terms that left no room for discussion, Lois stated that Laura would be coming out to lend a hand. For the sake of propriety, she would need to stay with Jenny, and would therefore need to wait until CJ could talk to her before heading out. As he hung up the phone, he found that he was glad that he would be spending a little time with his sister, even if her presence meant less time alone with Jenny, at least publicly. Fortunately, there were plenty of more private ways for them to hang out. It would be fun to find some time to catch up with his sister, and maybe to show her a little bit of the superhero lifestyle, Gotham City style.

That night, CJ went out and fought some more crime, noticing with some satisfaction that there was a new mood on the streets. People were talking about Batman, people were looking for Batman, and they were starting to

think twice about doing things that they shouldn't. Not everyone was easily intimidated, though, and there was still a sufficient amount of crime to keep him busy. After such a crummy day, it felt good to be able to take out his aggression on bad guys who were dumb enough to continue their ways despite the subtle warning on the news the night before.

Tuesday morning found CJ less than willing to climb out of bed, faced with the prospect of another mind-numbing day at work. He almost felt pouty as he carpooled to the office with Bruce, but to his surprise, he ended up being placed under the auspices of Bruce's personal secretary. She brought CJ on the rounds and introduced him to the more interesting personalities around the company, showed him around the departments, and gave him an overview of the major projects that the company was working on. He tried not to appear as interested as he really was about the finer details of the projects, of the science and theory behind what they were doing, assuming that the office suits generally didn't care about those things. He shook hands with quite a few awe-struck employees, and felt a little uncomfortable at the eagerness with which people greeted him. Around lunchtime, CJ shooed the secretary away, loosened his tie, and wandered down to the company cafeteria to sample the food and try to blend in.

Fortunately, he was still anonymous enough that nobody in the cafeteria seemed to recognize him. It occurred to him that the type of people who would frequent the cafeteria weren't likely to be in management, which made it an even more appealing destination. Down there he could interact with real people and have some real conversations, without uncomfortable stares or fanfare. After grabbing a tray and making his way through the food line, he ended up sitting next to a man named Stanley, someone who seemed outwardly shy, who would probably gladly spend his entire lunch break alone reading a book and not talking to anyone. Initially, CJ sensed that his presence wasn't welcome, and Stanley appeared to be a little upset at the interruption. CJ's charm and inherent ability to coax a conversation out of anyone quickly won Stanley over, though, and after a few minutes they were chatting like old pals.

CJ's new friend worked in the petrochemical division, designing plastic polymers for various applications, a job that he professed wasn't very interesting to the uninitiated, but CJ found himself wanting to hear more about it. Stanley explained in depth the project that he was currently working on, and the problems that he was facing. When he seemed hesitant to go into technicalities, CJ urged him on. Listening to Stanley describe his project put a smile on CJ's face, and for the first time in a long time, he felt his mind start to churn. Subconsciously, he began to process all the facts, logically putting things together in an attempt to try and solve the problem. It was the mental stimulation that he was looking for, CJ realized with some surprise, and it felt good. Almost without realizing it, he started bouncing ideas off Stanley, trying to get to the root of the challenges presented by the project and begin to resolve them. The conversation was animated, but unfortunately, it was over with all too soon.

As they finished up their meals and the end of the lunch hour loomed, CJ started to dismiss himself, but Stanley stopped him. "So, what's your name?" Stanley asked. CJ smiled his most charming smile, but silently cursed the fact that the question he had been hoping to avoid had finally been asked.

"I'm Sam," CJ said, hoping his first name would suffice.

"I just realized that I did all this talking about myself and my projects

and never asked what office you work in," Stanley said.

CJ pointed up. "Corporate office, with all the stuffed shirts," he said.

Stanley raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Really? You don't seem the type. I could've sworn you were an engineer."

"In another life," CJ answered, a hint of sadness in his voice. "I know engineers get a bad rap for having boring jobs, but you haven't seen boredom until you've sat through a board meeting. Hey, I bet that's where the name came from."

Stanley smiled. "So if I want to discuss a few ideas with you, how can I get a hold of you, Sam?"

"Just call upstairs and ask for me." The answer was suspiciously vague, and CJ cringed a little as he said it.

"Call upstairs?" Stanley asked with raised eyebrows. "The corporate office is a big place, and something tells me you aren't the only guy named Sam working at this joint."

CJ looked down, took a deep breath, then regarded his new friend again. He would find out the truth eventually, he supposed. Better to tell Stanley himself than to have him find out the hard way. "I just hate being called Mr. Wayne, that's all. It always feels like people are talking to my father when they do."

As Stanley's jaw dropped, CJ stood, gave a smile and a slight nod, then took his tray and exited the cafeteria. He wouldn't hold his breath waiting for a call from Stanley, but that didn't mean that CJ couldn't go down and visit him once in a while.

The afternoon hours were spent on the links, engaged in what Bruce liked to call corporate networking. Joining Bruce and CJ in a foursome were the mayor and district attorney of Gotham City, men who were on a first name basis with Bruce. Between crime fighting and becoming acclimated to a new city and

a new life, CJ had found precious little time to hone his meager golf skills, and it showed in the outcome of the game. He got thoroughly trounced by everyone, but at least managed to have a good time. The police chief in particular seemed to take a shine to CJ, telling him stories that were both interesting and funny, and taking the time to listen to CJ's comments or quips. Out on the golf course with the powerful and outwardly intimidating leaders of Gotham, CJ actually felt like himself for the first time since assuming his new identity. He was able to smile, able to relax a little bit, and he suspected the same was true for his companions.

After his second day of "work," he was feeling decidedly better about his job and the prospects for the future. And he was pretty sure that he had solved his friend Stanley's problem.

That night, while on duty as Batman, CJ became aware of someone watching him. It was a very vague feeling, one that could almost be dismissed as the product of an overactive imagination, but it was something that he had experienced before. When he was a kid, CJ used to get the same creeping feeling on the back of his neck, although at the time he hadn't been able to pinpoint the reason why. As he became older and discovered the family secret, he started to realize that, more often than not, the feeling stemmed from a certain superhero discreetly watching him from above. Not too long after mastering the use of his visual powers, he actually caught his dad hovering high above him. After that, Clark didn't bother with the subterfuge of hovering, and the feeling that came with being watched was all but forgotten. Until tonight, that was.

Instinctively, CJ looked upward and searched the sky, and was disappointed and troubled at the same time to not see any of his family members up there. It would've been nice to have Jon or his dad stop by to chat for awhile, but he wasn't expecting either of them to visit, at least not tonight. That meant that someone else, some stranger, was watching him. Looking around, he quickly located a man in a dark costume perched on a rooftop a block or so away, watching him through binoculars. CJ didn't acknowledge the other man, didn't let his gaze linger on the other man, and tried to go on with his work as if he was entirely alone. He tried to ignore the feeling as he went about his work, but after a few hours and more than a few glances over his shoulder, it become apparent that he was being followed. Finally tired of the cat and mouse game, CJ climbed up to a lonely stretch of rooftop, located the man, and made it known to him that he was aware of his presence. Even from a block away, CJ could hear the man utter a curse before shooting out a swing line and making his way toward him.

The man landed on the edge of the roof, giving CJ a calculating glance before continuing forward. He was obviously some sort of superhero, judging by his black and navy costume and the mask that obscured his face. It was apparent that he was no longer in his prime, if the liberal amount of gray in his hair and the prominent lines on the unobstructed portions of his face were any indication. CJ had spent the two previous summers in Gotham, prowling rooftops and studying under Batman, but he had never known that any other heroes called this town home. He didn't know whether to be surprised at the other man's presence or upset that their introduction had to be made under such less than ideal circumstances, although he was definitely leaning toward the latter. He realized that superheroes didn't generally operate under the same conventions as normal society, but manners were manners, and nowhere was spying on a colleague considered polite.

"Get a good show?" CJ asked with mild annoyance, his voice altered.

"It was interesting," the man said as he studied CJ carefully. "Who are you anyway?"

CJ pointed to the bat symbol on his chest. "I think that's obvious."

"You're not Batman," the other man said quickly, crossing his arms across his chest. "At least, you're not Bruce Wayne. You're the new one, aren't you? Sam, wasn't it?"

CJ cocked his head sideways and placed his hands on his hips. "Who's asking?" he countered, using his normal speaking voice.

The change in voice caused the other man to raise his eyebrows, then sigh. "Name's Nightwing…actually, I'm Dick Grayson. Guess Bruce didn't tell you about me."

"Guess not," CJ said. "I've heard your name, but…"

"I'm not surprised. We had a falling out, sheesh, probably before you were born. You're the kid who's been Robin the last couple summers, right?"

"Maybe." CJ didn't like the feeling that he wasn't in control of this conversation, and he didn't like the undertones of hostility that he was sensing. He knew that Grayson had been a kid that Bruce had looked after for awhile, but that was about it.

Nightwing held up his hands. "Listen kid, I'm not trying to bust your chops, and I don't want anything from you. I'm just surprised that the old man gave up the cowl without a fight, that's all. I must admit, I'm a little curious about the person he picked as his replacement, too."

CJ relaxed a little and gave a small half smile. "You could've asked me

sooner and saved yourself a few hours, you know?" At Nightwing's curious expression, CJ's smile widened. "I didn't get this job because I'm a good dancer."

Nightwing nodded appreciatively, then gestured toward the ledge of the building. They both sauntered toward a spot in the shadows and sat down. "Spill it, kid. Come on, I've told you who I am. I realize that you're hiding behind the Sam Wayne mask but, how do I say this?" Nightwing cocked his head and studied CJ for a moment. "If you actually share DNA with Bruce Wayne, then I'm Santa Claus."

CJ laughed. "You have me there," he said.

Nightwing gave a small smile. "See, this is my point. That man wouldn't laugh to save his life."

CJ let the comment slide. "I don't want to sound difficult, but I can't tell you my real identity. If I did I would be giving up the identities of other people, and it's not my place to do that. No, I'm not actually a Wayne, but I do have a few credentials that make me pretty well qualified to don the cape and cowl. Let's just say that I come from a family that knows how to wear spandex."

Nightwing knit his eyebrows together. "So either you come from a clan of lifeguards, actors, or…" His eyes went wide as he reached the inevitable conclusion.

"My dad's Superman," CJ said matter-of-factly, causing his companion to nod gently, an appraising look in his eyes.

"So, why take on the mantle of Batman? Why play Bruce Junior?"

CJ sighed, stood up, and started pacing slowly. "Remember that airplane that crashed on its way to Gotham City from Metropolis a little more than a month ago?" At Nightwing's nod, he continued. "I was on that plane, so that makes me very dead. Bruce offered to help, and I couldn't say no. I had a pregnant wife back home to think about, and a kind of ingrained desire to help out, so…"

"But, don't you have a brother out there as another Superman? Couldn't you just do that? Not to rain on the parade, but Batman has a lot of enemies."

CJ stopped and gave a self-effacing smile. "My brother got the flashy powers, I didn't. It's kind of hard to be super if you can't fly."

"Which is why you ended up on board a plane that crashed into the ocean," Nighwing finished, standing up, drawing a nod from CJ. He turned, crossed his arms across his chest, and looked away from CJ, his eyes trained into the distance. "I met your dad once, a long time ago," he said quietly after a few moments. "Back then, he and Batman didn't exactly see eye to eye. Your dad saved me, then he saved some criminal that Bruce had strung up and dangled over the side of a building. I'd been telling Bruce for a long time that his methods left a bad taste in my mouth, but seeing Superman validate my position only made me believe it more strongly. It wasn't long thereafter that I went my own way."

When Nightwing turned back to CJ, his eyes seemed sad, although his smile was genuine. "I'm glad it's someone like him that's taking watch over this city. Criminals might fear a vigilante, but decent, ordinary folks often do, too. What the people need is a hero, someone to look up to, someone who can make them feel safe. Something tells me that you'll do that job well."

"I appreciate that," CJ said softly. As he looked at Nightwing, he thought he could sense a bit of relief, like a burden had been removed from his soul. CJ had never heard any stories from his father about his earlier interactions with Batman, and had no idea what had transpired in the past between Bruce and Grayson. It wasn't too hard to imagine that a younger Bruce Wayne might fell prey to his darker instincts, though, and might feel the need to punish criminals who all too often would skate through the justice system without so much as a slap on the wrist. Maybe Nightwing had felt that it was his duty to try and counterbalance that type of rough justice, to provide hope to a city that desperately needed it. Now, after all these years, Gotham wouldn't need him to serve that role.

"I should let you get back to it," Nightwing said with a pleasant smile. "It was good to meet you. If you ever need anything…" He held out his hand, and CJ promptly shook it.

"Yeah same here. Feel free to stop by the mansion sometime, if you ever want to meet under more normal circumstances."

Nightwing seemed to cringe slightly. "Thanks, but the old man and I…"

"Give him another chance. I bet you'll find that he's not the same man you used to know."

"Maybe." Nightwing said. He gave a small salute, then jumped up on the ledge and over the side of the building, shooting a line out as he did. With that, he was gone, and CJ decided that it was probably time to head home for the night.

Wednesday brought CJ his first real day of work at the office. Bruce assigned him the task of going through a laundry list of project proposals, and determining which of them seemed viable and which seemed like pipe dreams. There were other considerations, of course, including possible return on investment and marketability. It was enjoyable and stimulating, and put CJ in a good mood. For lunch, he contemplated calling Jenny and making it a date, but decided against it for several reasons, not the least of which was the fact that her office was in another part of town, and would take the better part of the hour to reach. But Susan, who toiled away at one of the insurance companies headquartered in Gotham City, worked only a couple blocks away. She seemed pleasantly surprised when he called, and readily agreed to lunch, even after CJ warned her that her picture might end up in the paper the next day.

Susan suggested a busy deli near her office, and CJ met her there. Since becoming Sam Wayne, he hadn't ventured out in public on his own, at least not out of costume. Part of him was afraid that he would get stopped at every turn and asked if he was that guy whose fuzzy picture was in the papers. At the very least, he expected to hear surprised muttering as he braved the crowds, but was pleasantly surprised to experience neither of those. He did receive the occasional stare, the looks through squinted eyes that said that the person recognized him, but couldn't quite put their finger on why they recognized him. That kind of acknowledgment was okay with him, because it came with no expectations or preconceived prejudices. He was feeling confident and relaxed as he found Susan in the café, and was definitely his old self while in her company. She had a pleasant laugh and was getting better at telling a joke and a good story. It was a nice lunch, something that he could definitely get used to, and he gave Susan a small hug before parting company, slipping her a note in the process. The rooftop of her building would be visited by a mysterious and lonely superhero that night, and he would be looking for his wife's company.

Before leaving work that evening, he wandered down to the petrochemical division, watching discreetly as the engineers and technicians filed out of the office, then made his way over to Stanley's desk. CJ produced a pen and notepad, and scribbled a note to Stanley, describing the solution to his problem and thanking him for the chance to help. The note was placed in a prominent spot, somewhere Stanley was sure to find it, but also somewhere that wouldn't be noticeable to anyone else. This was a tip from one friend to the other, and didn't need to be advertised to the world.

After sundown, CJ went out again, and immediately made his way to Susan and Jenny's building. His wife was waiting for him, although she appeared a little annoyed that he hadn't called her for lunch. After explaining his situation, followed by several statements of his undying love and some

physical demonstration to that effect, she forgave him. They spent some time chatting about their week, sharing all the odd things that had happened to both of them, and as the conversation turned to the tabloids and the rumors, CJ decided to break the news that he had come to share.

"Laura's coming? Oh, that should be fun," Jenny said with a bright smile. "I miss your family."

"I miss them, too," he said with a small smile, circling his arm around her back. "It feels like I should be sending a thank you note to the tabloids for instigating our little family reunion."

Jenny's smile went a little flat. "I wouldn't be too hasty," she said, leaning into CJ's body. "They might've been responsible for your sister's visit, but they still called me cheap and any number of other unflattering things."

CJ smirked. The mention of Jenny's treatment by the hack tabloid writers still hit a raw nerve but suddenly, it didn't seem so hard to laugh it all away. "Maybe a visit by a big scary superhero could convince them to give you a little better treatment."

Jenny's smile returned and she raised her eyebrows in amusement. "I just love a man who's willing to defend the honor of his woman. And they say that chivalry is dead." Her tone was facetious, but a spark in her eye told him that she wasn't entirely dismissing his suggestion.

"Oh, chivalry probably is dead, this is part of that whole caveman instinct that all men possess." CJ waved his hand in a small circle. "It's still alive and well, believe me. I don't care how evolved society gets, ingrained within all men is the desire to beat the crap out of anyone who says bad things about either his mother or his girlfriend. Why do you think pro wrestling is so popular?"

"It's all clear to me now," she said with a laugh, then leaned in and captured his lips. It was a little awkward, especially while he was still wearing the cowl, and Jenny was still laughing as they pulled apart.

"What?" he asked. Jenny reached up and flicked one of the ears on the cowl.

"I know I said the outfit was nice and all, but I do prefer the real you. How about we take that thing off?" She reached up and cupped her hands on either side of his head, preparing to remove the cowl, but he shook his head gently, stopping her, and bringing a look of disappointment to her face.

"Sorry, but I can't stay long. Besides, you never know who might be around." Jenny opened her mouth to say something, probably to point out that they hadn't exactly worried about that in the past, but a quick kiss preempted her statement. "Last night I found out that I'm not the only guy in black prowling rooftops in this town."

Jenny raised her eyebrows. "Wow, really?"

CJ nodded. "The competition finally introduced himself after following me around for a few hours. I guess he's one of the old Robins. He seemed nice enough but it got me to thinking. If there's another good guy out there willing to spend a night shadowing me, who's to say there aren't some bad guys following me around, too?"

"The fact that you're here right now means that they would know how to find me, too, you know."

CJ nodded. "I'm aware of that, which is why I checked before coming up here tonight. We're definitely alone. But I think that maybe we need to be a little more careful from here on out. It looks like you made an impression on my alter ego, though, and something tells me that he'll be asking you out on a few dates in the near future. We shouldn't need to meet up here anymore."

Jenny absently fingered his cape, a crooked smile playing across her face. "I don't know, I think I'll miss our midnight meetings once they're gone. This kind of feels like our private spot."

"We'll still be able to come up here; we won't have to be so sneaky about it, that's all…unless we're trying to elude our new chaperone."

"Maybe we could find a more isolated rooftop, and I could get a mask, and then we'd be a truly batty couple." Jenny said with a giggle. "That might be…kinky. Imagine the scandal."

CJ gave a half smile and pondered her statement for a moment. "We do make a dynamic duo. We'd be even more dynamic if we could figure out the mechanics of kissing with two cowls involved." He laughed gently as she wiggled her eyebrows, then kissed her gently.

A distant church bell began to chime, indicating the late hour. CJ and Jenny pulled apart in unison and turned toward the sound, the smiles dropping from their faces. "You probably have to get going," Jenny said, a note of sadness in her voice.

"Probably," CJ said, sharing her disappointment. He looked toward her, smiled gently, then leaned in and kissed her deeply. "Don't despair. In another couple of days we can steam up the town."

"With a chaperone?" Her skepticism couldn't hide her smile.

He just smiled, knowing full well that they were capable of the sickening types of public displays of affection that his parents were famous for. "Sure. All the chaperone does is make sure that the next step doesn't happen, that's all."

"In that case, Junior here will make an adequate chaperone pretty quickly." She looked downward, and he slipped a hand over her stomach.

"I'll try not to hold that against him when he comes." They smiled at each other for a few moments, then engaged in one last quick kiss before he stepped away. "I'll see you Friday."

"I'll be looking forward to it," she said. With that, he left, deciding that this would be a good night to go home early. He gave himself a quota for the night, then quickly went about meeting it. It was still Wednesday when he made his way back to the mansion, the sounds of the church bells tolling the midnight hour echoing around the city as the door to the cave closed behind him.

With Wednesday behind him, CJ figured that the rest of the week would be a cinch. There were only two days left before he could officially celebrate his first week of gainful employment and get on with the business of publicly courting his wife. He had already seen his share of surprises and new experiences, and in a perfect world, that meant that the worst of this week was over. But he didn't live in a perfect world, a fact that had been affirmed several times already, and Thursday was the next meeting of the local chapter of Americans for Responsible Business. Whether he liked it or not, the remainder of the week still had plenty in store for him.


At approximately 2 PM Thursday afternoon, Sam Wayne left his office, ostensibly to grab an afternoon snack, hoping that nobody would notice when he didn't immediately return. For whatever reason, the ARB liked to schedule its meetings for the early afternoon hours, a time when most normal people would be holed up in an office somewhere. CJ suspected that the majority of the ARB members didn't work real jobs, that if any of them had a job at all, it involved asking people if they wanted fries with their meals. It made sense that wage slaves would find themselves unhappy with the perceived uncaring corporations that they worked for. All too often perception was not reality, though. Minimum wage or not, a job was a job. In a world where tellers, clerks, and other low rent personnel were all too often replaced by a machine, the companies that offered any job, even a minimum wage one, could be considered generous. He would love to explain that point to the disgruntled membership of the group, but his other identity would never say such a thing. His other identity was just as taken with the propaganda and misconceptions as the rest of them, and anyway, he wasn't there to try and change any of their minds.

Without fanfare, CJ made his way down to the parking ramp, then continued on to a small room hidden in an isolated corner on the lowest reaches of the structure. The room was one of many found in buildings across the city, a room that served as a staging area for Batman. A system of tunnels running beneath Gotham City allowed CJ to leave Wayne Tower in the middle of the business day and make his way to the Gotham State campus for the meeting without being caught or recognized. These tunnels carried telecommunications, power, water, and any number of utilities to buildings in the heart of the downtown and weren't widely known to the citizenry of Gotham, with the possible exception of local engineers, utility companies, and a certain superhero.

It only took a few moments for CJ to change into his gnarly alter ego; he

then used a door at the rear of the room to enter the tunnels and quickly make his way toward the University. He was wary of surveillance cameras rumored to be hidden in the walls, and surreptitiously zapped distant lights as he approached, preferring to be cloaked in darkness. Once he reached the last building on the outskirts of campus, he entered its basement, climbed the stairs, and emerged into the building's lobby without anyone questioning where he came from or why he was there.

The sun was shining brightly as he walked anonymously through the light afternoon crowds and onto the Gotham State campus. Bruce hadn't been upset or surprised that CJ would be leaving work for crime fighting duties, yet CJ couldn't help but wonder how much longer this could go on, how much of his new life he could push aside to follow up on what was a very thin lead in a case that might not even be a case. The investigation into the ARB was based on nothing but coincidence and a hunch. It was entirely possible that he could attend these meetings until the end of time and not find anything to substantiate his hunch, so in the absence of any evidence one way or the other, at what point did he call it quits? A month? A year? If there was even the possibility of finding something to link those guys to what happened to Metro Air Flight 329, didn't he have an obligation to pursue this lead no matter how long it took? It was a question that really didn't seem to have a definitive answer, one which his heart felt one way about and his head another. Maybe, in order to answer it, he had to more clearly understand why he was at the meetings, and what he was looking for.

As he pondered it, CJ supposed that the whole purpose of his undercover work was to get close to the people in the organization. If he could gain their trust, maybe he could become privy to some of the secrets of the group. What did the local leadership really think? What did they really wish they could do? If, in the course of the investigation, he became satisfied with the fact that the organization had nothing to do with the plane crash, then he would walk away and let it be. But as long as the seeds of doubt were there, he had to continue his investigation. If that meant missed work, then so be it. The public good was more important than any of his private worries, at least to a point. He didn't want to end up as one of those heroes with an all-consuming obsession that overshadowed his personal life, like Bruce had been. He would prefer to follow the example of his father, but he was cognizant of the fact that the work Batman did was largely different than the work Superman did.

CJ sighed as he realized that he had reached his destination. With a deep breath, he shoved all the questions and doubts from his mind, forced a vacant smile onto his face, and entered the building. After traversing a few dim hallways, he found the meeting room.

After taking a quick glance around the room, he noted that the crowd seemed larger than before. He saw the usual familiar faces, but a small group near the front of the room seemed to have some new members in it, many of whom had their backs to the door. CJ made his way over to the group of guys he had befriended earlier, and after he sat down and they exchanged greetings, he pointed toward the group of strangers.

"Who are the new dudes?" he asked. His friends followed his gaze, then collectively shrugged.

"Dunno," one of them answered. "But I saw them cozying up to our fearless leader a couple minutes ago."

Before anyone else had a chance to reply, the Gotham chapter leader stepped away from the knot of people that he had been talking to, said something to the group of strangers, and made his way to the front to begin the meeting. The new members sat down in chairs several rows in front of CJ without turning around and letting him see their faces.

A hush came over the room, and their leader began to speak. "Before we begin tonight, I'd like to welcome some ARB members who come to us from the west coast, via Houston, Chicago, and most recently Metropolis. They have excellent credentials and even better ideas, and have already shared with me a unique new plan, which I will let them explain to you all. Without further ado, I would like to introduce Brad Ross." Their leader gestured toward Ross, who stood as a smattering of applause rippled through the crowd. CJ clapped dutifully, but as Ross turned around and raised a hand in acknowledgement of the applause, CJ's hands stilled and his pleasant smile fell away. There was something familiar about Ross's face, something that sent a chill throughout CJ's body. Although he knew that they had never met, CJ still recognized Ross, and something told him that whatever he was going to say would validate the vague hunches that had been driving this investigation.

"Americans for Responsible Business has a long, prestigious record of standing up for human rights against the greed of corporate America," Ross started, a pleasant smile on his face. "All around the country, we have educated the public about the evils that are committed in the pursuit of the almighty dollar, and the public has responded by supporting our cause. Sometimes, though, change has come about not by the support of the public, but through almighty justice. Fate believes in our cause, and fate has supported us, too."

Ross's eyes took on a steely coolness as he continued, offsetting the congenial smile which remained on his face. CJ now completely understood what his brother had been talking about when he described his interaction with the ARB. "Now we propose to educate the public and the fates on the evils of one of Gotham's homegrown corporations, Wayne Enterprises."

A murmur rippled through the room, and few heads bobbed in agreement. Ross began to pace, his hands locked behind his back. He listed off all the perceived evils of Bruce's company one by one, using conjecture and rumors to support his statements. None of Ross's accusations were based on facts, and simple research would prove that to anyone. But looking around the room, CJ saw the glazed eyes and the smiles, and he knew that the rank and file membership believed every word that was being said. Ross segued into the financial structure of the company, and the fact that all profits ultimately ended up in the hands of Bruce Wayne and "his new bastard son." CJ shrank down in his chair and diverted his eyes, forcing a grin onto his face, although it was almost painful.

The speech ended and the cheering began, and soon the suggestion was made that all efforts be turned towards Wayne Enterprises. There would be protests and ads in local papers, coverage by the media and plenty of rumination on their organization's web page. CJ swallowed the bile that rose in his throat and cheered along with them, promising to do his part, although he knew that his presence at the protests would not be possible. As the meeting ended and the regular members started to leave, CJ swapped pleasantries with his buddies for a moment then quickly filed out of the room. He watched to make sure he wasn't followed, crossed an expanse of grass and found a secluded, shady place to hide himself.

Although CJ couldn't quite pinpoint where he had seen Brad Ross's face, he had a feeling that the answer would be found in the stack of research that had been done by Jon and their father. If that was the case, that meant that Ross was connected to the Metro Air disaster somehow, and the fact that Ross had just arrived from Metropolis helped validate that hunch. But rather than go straight home and review his research in hopes of confirming his suspicions, CJ decided his time would be better spent tailing Ross and gathering a little more information. A quick x-ray into Ross's wallet had revealed a man with no identity, no driver's license, and no credit cards. Trying to track "Brad Ross" through conventional research would lead to nothing but a phantom, he was sure. At least following him could lead to an apartment, or a familiar haunt, or a clue as to his real identity.

As Ross and another man exited the building, CJ emerged from the shadows. He followed at distance of at least a block, x-raying through buildings and obstructions as he tracked the pair. He didn't have far to go; they quickly reached an apartment in the Gotham State Campustown area, very near to the one Jenny had occupied when CJ had first met her. He made a note of the address, lingered for a moment, then quickly made his way back toward the tunnel system. He would need to do a little bit more…hands-on research after the sun went down. Until then, he would be going straight home to raid his notes and get wise. He found himself smiling as he entered the building he had emerged from and followed the hidden stairwells into the building's bowels. The hunt was on, his adrenaline was flowing, and suddenly Gotham City didn't seem like such a terrible place to be.


Bruce had an impressive computer set-up and research area in the cave, but CJ preferred to do his work at a large table in a dark, cozy corner, away from the hum of machinery. It was also away from the atmosphere tailored to the personality of the original Batman. The cave was very much Bruce, very dark and efficient and sterile. He was a man who had a mansion with hundreds of rooms, who could run a secret superhero operation out of any number of hidden nooks or crannies topside without anyone the wiser, but who chose to operate out of a dark, damp cave instead. Even without activating his super hearing, CJ's sensitive ears could easily make out the steady dripping of water and the rustle of winged wildlife in the distance. Given a choice, he would gladly retire to a location that wasn't so prone to mold, fungi, and guano, but he respected tradition, and he suspected that Bruce would be upset if he decided to change things. So he kept the cave as it was and utilized its resources for his research, but also found a corner to make his own, and tended to gravitate to that area when not using the computer or other tools.

CJ's work area was beneath an outcropping of rock near the side of the cave, and consisted of a desk and two additional tables, placed together to form a U shape around an overstuffed, high-backed desk chair. A small boom box, perched on one corner of the table, pelted out rock music with a heavy bass beat. On another corner of the table were two eight by ten picture frames, each containing a cover of Newsweek from the previous holiday season. The magazine had profiled the biggest names and news stories of the preceding year, and the top story and the subject of the cover photograph was a certain family of superheroes that had emerged at the very beginning of the year. On one cover, Superman and Ultra Woman stood locked in an intimate embrace, their eyelids heavy and their lips mere millimeters from each other, while crimson Superman looked toward the camera from a couple feet away, a long-suffering expression on his face. On the other cover, Superman and Ultra Woman stood side by side in parental poses, while Crimson Superman hovered cross legged in mid-air in front of them. Both covers were a little on the corny side, and both were obviously staged, but they also had qualities of the real people behind the masks that spoke volumes to him, qualities that most of the public would never be able to see. The pictures were personal and impersonal at the same time, family photos that could be placed on the desk of a fellow superhero without anyone realizing that they really were family photos.

All other surfaces on the desk and tables were currently covered with the research that Clark and Jon had done for CJ, organized into piles representing all the data on a given airport worker. CJ had made it through about half the piles, and was considering taking a break in his reading to catch a bite to eat. Super speed would have many advantages, he was sure, not the least of which would be the ability to get through the volumes of tedious research in a timely manner. He sighed and rubbed his eyes, then resolved to finish one more pile before making his way back up to the mansion and raiding the refrigerator. With a renewed sense of purpose, he picked up the next stack of papers and started reading. After a couple of minutes and a few pages of notes in his dad's neat handwriting, he flipped to a new page and stilled, a sly smile spreading across his face. A small pencil sketch showed a face that was unmistakably that of Brad Ross. No wonder he had seemed so familiar, CJ thought as he lowered the papers into his lap. Glancing down, he read the information attached to the sketch and saw that Brad Ross was apparently an acquaintance of one of the baggage handlers who had loaded the plane that day. He had a picture of the baggage handler, but couldn't immediately place him as one of the other people at the meeting today.

A friend of a baggage handler was a weak link, but it still provided a connection between the ARB and the airplane, he thought as he took a deep breath and looked up toward the roof of the cave. It meant that he and Jon hadn't been crazy; it meant that maybe there was something to the idea that the crash wasn't entirely accidental. But before any further conclusions could be drawn, he would need a lot more information than just a face and a tenuous connection. It was time to start doing some more focused work, to start surveillance operations, gathering evidence, and doing whatever he had to do to establish that this Brad Ross helped bring about the Metro Air tragedy, if that was indeed what happened.

CJ's smile grew as a plan formed. His little sister was coming to town soon, and she would need some way to keep herself occupied during her spare time between CJ and Jenny's dates. Laura had just mastered flying, or so CJ had heard, which made her a prime candidate for surveillance duty. CJ would orchestrate further research, and would go about performing the more hands-on duties, including a little breaking and entering, an activity that he was sure his father would frown upon but his mother would silently approve of. He would also keep an eye on activities at Wayne Enterprises, ARB's newest target. If Ross was responsible for death and destruction at Metro Air, then there was a possibility that he would try to do the same with Bruce's company, and he would probably need someone on the inside to help him. Any snooping around that CJ did would be dismissed as the curiosity of the newest board member, and wouldn't be considered out of character at all.

That left two tasks for his dad and Jon in Metropolis, one of which was certainly great fodder for a story, and the other a job that only a superhero could do. CJ turned off the radio, reached into his pocket, pulled out his cell phone, and dialed his brother's number. "Hey, it's me," he said after Jon answered. "Can you talk?"

"Uh, not really," Jon said, a mild amount of background noise helping to drown out of his voice. CJ could hear him position his hand over the phone and tell someone that he was talking to a source. "How about I meet you in a few minutes?" he said to CJ, his voice a little too loud.

CJ grinned, picturing the situation in his mind. Some remnant of his inner child still loved to see his brother uncomfortable. "Yeah, OK. I'm downstairs, if you catch my drift."

"Got it," Jon said quickly.

"And if it isn't too much trouble, you might want to grab Dad, too."

"Just put a shout out and I'm sure you could do that yourself," Jon said cryptically, although CJ thought he understood. It would make sense for his sister to come to Gotham City tonight, less than 24 hours before her first official assignment as chaperone, and he could see his father lending a helping hand. "If there's nothing else, I'll head on over…"

"There is one more thing," CJ said, his voice serious.

"Yeah?" Jon seemed appropriately eager.

"I haven't had any supper yet…" CJ said, laughing lightly as he heard an out rush of air on the other end of the line. If Jon were here, he would certainly have some sort of retort, probably something to the effect that surely even billionaires could dial the local pizza joint. But because Jon was officially talking to a "source" and no doubt had an audience, all he could do was sigh. "Bring enough for three. I'll pay you back, don't worry," CJ continued, visualizing the expression on his brother's face.

"I'll believe that when I see it," Jon said, his voice flat. "See you." With that, he hung up, and CJ couldn't help but laugh lightly, even as his stomach growled with impatience. Usually, if he hinted to his Dad that he was in the mood for fast food, Clark would leave for a few minutes and come back with some of the best stuff that CJ had ever eaten. Clark had his haunts in every corner of the planet, and apparently kept enough foreign currency on hand to stop in every now and then for a treat. Somehow, CJ didn't think that Jon had the same connections, although he had been to a few interesting places around the globe by now. Knowing Jon and his likely desire to get back at CJ for manipulating the phone call, he'd probably come bearing only the finest that McDonalds could offer. But right now, even that sounded good.

CJ flipped his phone closed, tapped it against his palm a couple times, then opened it again and dialed Jenny's apartment. After a couple of rings, Jenny picked up.

"Got company?" CJ asked her.

She hesitated for a few seconds. "Should I?" she asked, her voice a little confused. CJ's brow furrowed as he pondered the question.

"I don't know. When was my sister supposed to show up?"

"Tonight, but not for a few hours. Why?"

CJ sighed. The thing about cryptic conversations is that their meanings have to be assumed, and it was possible that he assumed wrong. Maybe he should have tried his dad's cell phone. "Oh, I wanted to discuss something with my dad and was lead to believe that he was, let's say, hanging around the area."

"You never know, but you'd think that he'd stop by or something if he was around."

"Yeah." The line went quiet, then CJ had an idea. "Say, can you do me a favor?" he asked, his smile coming back. "I'm not near a window, or else I'd do this myself, but…"

"You want me to yell for help?" Jenny asked. That was the standard way of summoning Superman for the average citizen, but she had no way of knowing that family members used a slightly different method.

"No," CJ said. "I want you to yell the word 'rutabaga.'"

"Rutabaga?" Jenny asked, then laughed.

CJ smiled. "Yeah, rutabaga. It's a code word. When Superman's on the job, he doesn't bring the cell phone. For one thing, it would be embarrassing if he got a call while in the middle of something, and for another, they aren't all that secure. It's also pretty hard to get decent reception in the stratosphere."

"I guess I can see that."

"So if any of us need to get a hold of him in a non-emergency situation, rather than yell for help like any stranger could do to, we came up with a word that nobody else would ever yell. By yelling 'rutabaga' instead of 'help,' you avoid having the police called if Dad's not able to come. And if he is, he'll show up, generally as himself. In either case, you end up feeling a little silly, but it works. Trust me, I've tried it."

Jenny groaned slightly as she rose from wherever she was sitting and walked across the room. "Even if this does work, I bet I'll never live it down with my neighbors," she mumbled. In the background, CJ heard the window being opened. "That or I'll be deluged with rutabagas. What IS a rutabaga, anyway?"

CJ chuckled, wishing he were there to witness the spectacle. "A vegetable or something. I guess you'll find out."

"If I find out, you're finding out with me. We'll be eating the rutabaga casserole together. Hold on." CJ heard Jenny shuffle the phone around, then she said the word loudly, her voice causing a slight echo off the surrounding buildings. "Lights are coming on across the street," she said into the phone receiver. "And your dad isn't here."

"Say it again. Yell this time."

Jenny sighed heavily, then apparently lowered the phone again. "RUTABAGA!" she yelled, her voice much louder this time. CJ found that he couldn't stop laughing, and he almost missed the small yelp from Jenny and a responding male voice on the other end. "You have a phone call," he heard her say from a distance, and a moment later his dad was on the phone.

"I'm guessing you're not near a window," Clark said.

"No, I'm a few feet below ground at the moment, and had an intense craving for a certain vegetable."

"Liar. Nobody craves that vegetable."

"Speak for yourself. I could eat about anything right now, even a rutabaga," CJ said as his stomach churned.

"Anyway, what's up?" Clark asked. "Why the need to embarrass your lovely wife?"

CJ let him know about the meeting he would be having with Jon, and Clark agreed to attend. It occurred to CJ to wonder what, exactly, Clark was doing in the skies above Gotham, but decided that conversation could wait until after the meeting. After a short exchange, Clark handed the phone back to Jenny, and was at the Batcave before CJ and Jenny finished their conversation.

"That poor girl looked like she wanted to crawl into a dark cave when I got there," Clark said as CJ turned off his phone and shoved it into his pocket. CJ turned around and regarded his father, a smile on his face. They had talked plenty of times on the phone since CJ had left Metropolis, but hadn't seen each other in person since then. CJ rose from his chair and made his way toward the center of the cave.

"Yet you leave her there as you come visit my dark cave, I see," CJ answered as he approached Clark. They locked in a quick embrace. "I wasn't asking her to do anything I haven't done before," CJ continued as they pulled apart.

"I know. But apparently you don't remember the consequences of yelling silly words. Your friends referred to you as 'rutabaga boy' for a good month after that," Clark said with a smile as he perched himself on the large table at the center of the cave. CJ's cheeks burned as the memory, long repressed, came back. It wasn't long after he found out the big secret when he decided to summon his dad from the skies. Having Superman as a father was still kind of a novelty at the time, and CJ recalled that his reasoning for crying rutabaga was pretty lame — to rat on his brother or something along those lines. He had thought that he'd never live it down, but after awhile he had shoved the incident into a dark corner of his mind and forgotten about it, at least until a moment ago.

"Ah, memories," Clark continued with a chuckle, drawing an embarrassed look from CJ.

At that moment, Jon appeared next to them, his hands filled with bags of food. "You told Jenny the super secret password," he said with amusement as he looked at CJ. "I had just landed here in Gotham to grab dinner for the three of us when I heard the desperate cry of 'rutabaga' echo across the city. Once I recognized the voice, I thought about going down to the local market and finding one to give her, but I figured that she had suffered enough."

"There are worse words to yell," Clark said. "I toyed with having the code word be 'wolf,' but I'm not THAT mean."

Jon placed the bags on the table, and immediately reached in and started pulling out containers. The red printing stated that the food came from Ralph's Pagoda, causing CJ's eyebrows to rise. He knew that was the place to go in Metropolis when you had problems and wanted to take them out on your stomach, but he had no idea that there was a Ralph's Pagoda in Gotham City. Clark saw the name on the containers and cringed, holding up his hands as one was offered to him.

"No thanks. I'm not into self-torture," Clark said, causing an appreciative duck of the head from Jon. "Although, I suppose it's better than rutabaga."

"Okay, enough of the rutabaga," CJ said, grabbing for a container and a set of chopsticks. "I have a break in my case."

"Really?" Jon and Clark said in unison. CJ looked away from his meal and toward them, noting for the umpteenth time how strangely alike they were. Aside from their looks and the fact that both wore a large stylized S on his chest, there were certain mannerisms and habits that the two possessed. CJ had no doubts that he also shared certain personality traits with his family members, but he couldn't recall ever speaking in unison with any of them. Of course, he had to admit that there were times when he and Jon would come to similar far-out conclusions about things such as the airplane disaster, but that didn't mean anything, did it? CJ shook his head to push the thoughts away, then continued.

"Yeah. I ran into someone at today's ARB meeting who's connected to a baggage handler at Metropolis International Airport who loaded my flight." CJ watched as Jon and Clark's brows furrowed.

"So we were onto something, then?" Jon asked, surprised. If CJ took the time to think about it, he was sure that he'd be surprised that a wild theory based on hunches had played out, too. But he would wait until they were closer to a solid conclusion before he let the improbability of the situation sink in.

CJ made a face. "I don't know for sure yet, but I definitely want to find out. Dad, where is the NTSB at in their investigation? Do they have a cause of the crash yet or an explanation for the large hole in the side?"

Clark shrugged "Last I heard, they were floating the idea of explosive depressurization. They are still looking at it as an accident, as far as I know."

"That's a problem," CJ said. "We need to get them looking more closely at that hole; we need to find some proof that the crash wasn't an accident," CJ said, drawing nods from Jon and Clark. "There's enough doubt out there for me to believe that it wasn't, but until we can get everyone else to see that, then we don't have a case."

"Your best bet would probably be to locate the trigger mechanism," Clark said. "Every bomb has to have one."

CJ took a bite of his food and chewed thoughtfully for a moment. "You're right, but that might be easier said than done. Stuff was being sucked out the side of the plane well before it hit the water, and a trigger or any other part of a bomb could be miles away from the crash site."

"Needle in a haystack," Jon mumbled, a faraway look in his eyes.

"But we know the flight path," CJ countered, pointing his chopsticks in the direction of his brother. "And we know from flight recorder data where the plane was when the explosion happened."

"Or we will if we probe the NTSB a little," Clark said. "Then all that needs to be done is some hovering and x-raying."

"And I'd say it's worth a little bit of tedious searching, especially with the potential payoff," CJ said. His voice took on a hard edge and his focus shifted into the distance. "Justice for whoever did this would be a very welcome thing," he continued. "Not just for me and my petty inconvenience, but for everyone who really did die on that plane. It shouldn't be in vain."

CJ smiled lightly as he turned his attention back toward his companions and the worried stares that greeted him. "But there's more to the story," he said. "This guy that I met today, the friend of the baggage handler, didn't start his career as a hate-filled probable domestic terrorist in Metropolis. According to the chapter leader, he's made his way around to several large cities. I think he mentioned Chicago and Houston…"

"Begging the question, what bad things have happened to the foes of ARB in those cities," Jon said, causing CJ to nod vehemently.

"He had to start somewhere, but something tells me he had to work his way up to dropping a plane out of the sky," CJ said. "Maybe he set some fires, maybe he just vandalized or stole from the businesses he hated. I'd put good money on the fact that it won't take a whole lot of digging to find something in his past. Just take a look at who the ARB has targeted and which of those companies have had accidents occur, and voila…"

"Instant story," Clark said, completing the sentence with an appreciative grin. "Even without naming names. If the ARB's enemies have been falling victim to strange accidents, that's definitely newsworthy. And it shouldn't compromise your investigation."

"If anything it would help me out," CJ said. "Once I start tightening the noose on this guy, the more things I can pin on him, the better."

"He's also obviously not alone, though," Jon countered. "I don't know if I believe that the whole ARB is in on everything that's going on…"

CJ shook his head. "No, I think they're just a sounding board."

"But the fact that he was the friend of a guy in contact with the plane meant that the other guy was also in on it. Who knows, there might be more people out there with their fingers in this, too."

Clark whistled and shook his head. "It's scary to think about, assuming it's true," he said. "I never would've thought that anyone would be capable of such a thing, let alone a whole group of people…"

"Nobody would've," Jon said.

Clark looked at him incredulously. "YOU did." He looked at CJ, his expression morphing into one that was almost proud. "Both of you. You took something that seemed very far-fetched and had the tenacity to pursue it and to goad others into pursuing it until a solid link was found. I admit, I didn't think you'd get anything out of this investigation, but here we are, planning strategy and trying to nail down the evidence."

"We still don't have anything yet, just a connection," CJ said, although he couldn't stop a smile from plastering itself onto his face. "Let's not jump the gun. But thanks, Dad."

"Well, the snowball is starting to roll downhill, and I've been in enough of these investigations to know the real thing when I see it. Now, if you don't mind, I probably need to get going."

Jon waggled a carton of food in front of him. "Sure you can't stay for a bite? I know it's bad in a guilty kind of way but, really, is it worse than Mom's cooking?"

Clark gave a cautious laugh. "Uh, no comment."

"Think casserole surprise," CJ said, smiling as Clark's eyes widened and his expression froze.

"I would really prefer not to. No, I have a dinner date, thank you very much. I'm meeting your sister at this nice diner halfway between Metropolis and Gotham City. I'm going to be late if I don't hustle, so…"

CJ nodded and gestured toward the cave entrance. "By all means. Thanks for coming."

Clark stood and looked at CJ a few moments, then smiled gently. "I'll tell your mom that you miss her home cooking," he said with a wink, and then he was gone.

"Now you're in for it," Jon said with a chuckle, dipping his chopsticks into his carton. "She'll start mailing you boxes of burnt cookies…"

"I could use some new coasters," CJ said, raising an eyebrow and smirking.

The banter continued unabated, with Jon steering the conversation back toward the rutabaga incident and CJ trying valiantly not to let his previous embarrassment surface. As the cartons emptied and the food was finished, the case against the ARB was mentioned, and suddenly Jon became curious about CJ's undercover work.

"So, how did you end up making the connection?" Jon asked.

CJ rose from the table and walked over to his corner of the cave, gesturing for Jon to follow him. He heard Jon groan slightly as he caught sight of the framed pictures on the desk, and had to smile. Diane didn't take part in the photo shoot, a fact that had caused a certain amount of speculation at the time, but it hadn't surprised any of the family members. She took her name to heart; Shadow Woman really did tend to keep to the shadows, shying away from publicity and the press. She saw her place not as an icon or a role model, but as someone who did her duty to the city without fanfare. It made for a rather distant relationship with the public, but distance could have its advantages. When the magazine cover came out, the inevitable gossip and whispering started. It was almost scandalous to see Superman in a passionate embrace, even if it was with his wife. The photographs made Crimson Superman appear to be a kid of some kind. Jon found that his alter ego was often treated not as an adult but as a teenager, and he grew to hate it. Diane had given him a big I-told-you-so about the whole situation, and he had officially stopped doing publicity photos after that.

CJ looked over his shoulder and grinned at Jon. "I know you don't like them, but now I get to see you guys every day."

"Yeah, great," Jon said, diverting his eyes from the pictures. "So what did you want to show me?"

CJ held up a finger, then snatched up the relevant stack of papers, thumbing through it until he found the sketch. As he showed the picture to Jon, he watched as his brother's face went perceptibly pale. "I know that guy," Jon rasped, reaching for the paper.

"He calls himself Brad Ross," CJ said. "Talks big about fate being on the side of Americans for Responsible Business, blah, blah, blah."

"Yeah, he mentioned fate when I spoke with him in Metropolis," Jon said softly. "He's the guy I interviewed in front of the Metro Air office."

CJ's eyebrows rose. "The one that gave you a funny feeling?"

"That's him," Jon said, handing the picture back to CJ. "I bet he was the one that gave Dad the creeps, too."

"Little wonder," CJ said, placing the paper back in the stack and returning it to the table. "If he's willing to kill for a cause…"

"Let's get him," Jon said, his voice hard, eliciting a grim nod from CJ. "Close the chapter on this guy before he gets anyone else."

CJ gave a crooked smile. "You read my mind. It's scary when you do that."

Jon looked surprised for a moment, then smiled. "Dad did mention something about telepathic ability being in the gene pool…"

"Well, then I'll be getting some fashionable foil hats."

They chatted for a couple more minutes, then Jon collected on CJ's promise to pay for dinner, and returned to Metropolis. CJ found himself alone again, although he certainly didn't mind. The night was just getting started, and he had a belly full of barely edible food and was looking to take out the impending discomfort on the local criminal population. Bad guys, this was a bad night to be out on the streets.


Gotham City was definitely a different kind of town than Metropolis, Laura thought again as she and Jenny drove up the long, winding driveway that lead to Wayne Manor. Sure, both sat along the Atlantic coast, both had a variety of neighborhoods from slums to bustling business districts, and both had a certain buzz at all times of the day and night. But her now nightly flights over Metropolis and newfound familiarity of the view of the city from above made her pretty certain that her hometown didn't have mansions hidden in the

hills surrounding the town. Metropolis's millionaires populated the penthouses of nice hotels or swanky high rises, and they retired to their vacation homes upstate to get away from the world. The only thing surrounding Metropolis was Metropolis, almost as far as the eye could see, even from a mile up. But Bruce Wayne and son lived in an oasis perched just on the outskirts of the city proper, a small forest on the surrounding land serving to isolate it from the rest of Gotham. It was almost as if they were in a world of their own, something that she supposed was true in more ways than one.

Laura had arrived in Gotham as the sun was setting the night before. The drive had been long and boring, although it had certainly become more enjoyable after her father joined her at supper. She had been quick to point out to him for the umpteenth time that it would only take several seconds for her to reach Gotham on her own, but he had only smiled and told her to be patient. Her visit was all about appearances, he had said, and she supposed that was true. But her visit was also supposed to be a vacation, her time to go out and explore before having to endure her final year of high school, and she had been anxious to get started. Several pointless hours behind the wheel meant less time to enjoy herself, but she decided that she could put up with it if it meant seeing CJ and Jenny again.

It had been hard being around Metropolis after CJ's plane crashed. She found herself avoiding her friends, who couldn't hide the pity in their eyes when they looked at her. Home offered a welcome refuge, a place where she didn't have to worry about misspeaking and didn't have to feel guilty about being happy. But it wasn't the same without her brother around, even if she did get to talk to him from time to time on the telephone. She missed his jokes and his knack for cheering her up, and although her dad and Jon were certainly capable of both and did their best to fill the void, they weren't CJ.

Clark served as navigator once they finally arrived in Gotham, pointing the way through the city using the directions he had scribbled down while locating Jenny's apartment from the air a few hours earlier. Apparently, Jenny had helped him locate her place when she summoned him using the secret word that only the Kent kids were supposed to know. Laura had never actually used that method of trying to contact her father, often deciding not to when she otherwise might have, simply because she feared the damage it would bring to her image. The fear had been well founded, she decided as Jenny came down to greet them. A blush was prominent in Jenny's cheeks as she crossed the parking lot, and even though Clark did his best to put her at ease, the embarrassment was evident in the way that she carried herself, looking around nervously as they made their way inside. It seemed to go away once they were out of the public eye and safely in the apartment building, though.

After making a quick stop to deposit Laura's luggage in the apartment, Jenny led Laura and Clark up to the roof, where they sat down and chatted comfortably while waiting for CJ to show up. At times, all three would look off into the distance as a siren echoed through the city, searching for the Batman, sometimes finding him. Usually, though, the emergency sirens went unanswered, and Laura could see the tightness in her father's features as he tried to ignore them. After a while, CJ finally landed on their rooftop, his appearance striking in the black Batman uniform. She had to blink a few times to clear away the image of Batman that she thought she knew, and to reconcile the man she saw in front of her with her brother. Once he smiled, though, Laura found it hard not to recognize CJ beneath the cowl, and she had to stop herself from running over and hugging him.

Clark took the occasion of CJ's arrival as his cue to head back to Metropolis. Under normal circumstances, he probably would have stuck around for a while to chat, but Laura knew that CJ and Clark had met up before supper. The meeting had left Clark in good spirits, and he'd been almost bubbly during the drive into town. Even through the long rooftop chat and the unanswered calls for help, the smile lingered on his face, and it grew broader once he saw CJ in his costume. After exchanging some pleasantries, Clark spun into the suit. As he was about to take off, Laura stopped him and asked him to pose with CJ for a picture. Both CJ and Clark groaned lightly, but each managed to put a serious expression on his face long enough for the photo to be taken. The next moment, however, the spell was broken and they started to banter like they always had in the past.

"It feels like I'm part of the club now," CJ said, his hand still locked in a staged handshake with Clark. "Feel free to let me in on the secret password anytime."

Clark pointed his free thumb toward Laura and Jenny. "Not around the uninitiated. The league only shares its secrets with people who dare walk around in public in spandex. Meet me at the top of a darkened skyscraper some night and maybe we can talk."

"I am so disillusioned right now," Laura said as she slipped the cover on her camera and wrinkled her nose at them. If only the public got to see the side of the world's most famous heroes that she saw on a daily basis.

CJ grinned. "What, like I'm supposed to be serious all the time now that I have a secret identity?"

"Make that two or three secret identities," Jenny said with some amusement, causing CJ to nod appreciatively.

Laura rolled her eyes. "Well, you know, for most people, long after the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy have had their alter egos revealed, they can at least look at their local superheroes and wonder. I'm going to watch the news now, see my local superheroes, and think of what a couple of wisenheimers they are."

"Well, you know us. What did you expect?" CJ asked, the playfulness in his voice almost aggravating. Clark stayed prudently silent, although Laura could tell that he was thinking the same thing.

"I don't know. You'd think that the meeting between two icons would be momentous. Maybe there would be a rumble of thunder and blare of trumpets…parting of the seas at your feet."

Clark cocked an eyebrow and looked toward CJ. "I'm not held in this high of esteem at home, that's for sure," he said, gesturing toward Laura. "I know for a fact that all teenaged girls find their fathers to be highly embarrassing and silly, and comments like, 'Dad, you're not going to act that way when my friends come over, are you?' tell me that I'm no exception to that rule."

CJ was holding back his laughter, though just barely. Laura crossed her arms in front of her chest, fixed her most exasperated expression on her face and glared at her dad, whose grin was now very similar to CJ's characteristic smirk. "I was just making a point, that's all," she said flatly. "I guess I had this image of what the meeting between Batman and Superman would look like, influenced no doubt by the naïve public image of you two. But now I have it burned in my brain forever, for better or worse."

"And your camera," CJ added. "If that picture ends up in the National Whisper, I would probably hug you. It would make for great publicity…"

Laura smiled and sauntered toward him, deciding that it was time to turn the tables on him. "And if it doesn't end up in the National Whisper? Would I still get that hug?" She gave him her best puppy eyes, and took a great deal of amusement as the humor seemed to drain out of him and he melted under her spell. Laura was beginning to find that she had a certain talent for manipulation, one she had learned from watching one of the true masters of the art: her mother.

Her dad saw the ploy for what it was, and had to hide a smile. He shook his head gently, said goodnight, and flew off just as CJ wrapped his spandex-clad arms around her. Laura returned the hug gladly, but took the occasion, especially now that her father was gone, to drop a not-so-subtle hint about one of her other aims in visiting Gotham.

"Doesn't Batman generally have a sidekick?" Laura asked as they pulled apart. "Someone young, looks good in spandex, is able to crack wise at the drop of a hat…"

CJ took a step back, his eyes growing wide, then quickly narrowing. He pointed a gloved finger at her and opened his mouth to say something, then stopped, a smile slowly spreading across his face. "Yes, when it suits him. Although the last couple weeks Batman has been young, looks good in spandex, if he does say so himself, and can certainly crack wise with the best of them." He apparently knew where she was going with her hint, and was having a little fun at her expense.

"Someone to keep him company during those lonely nights," Laura continued.

CJ looked toward Jenny, a knowing expression on his face. "He's not all that lonely at night," he said heavily. When Laura looked toward Jenny, she could see CJ's expression mirrored on her face.

Turning her attention back toward CJ, Laura quickly tried to think of another excuse. "Someone with a lot of energy, a strong sense of justice, and parents who are several hundred miles away." She smiled weakly, drawing a rather surprised look from CJ.

"You didn't tell Mom and Dad that you were planning on playing Robin while you were out here, did you?" CJ asked, although his tone wasn't accusatory. If she didn't know any better, she could swear that he found the possibility amusing.

Laura shrugged. "No," she said, her voice neutral. Her official line was that what her parents didn't know wouldn't hurt them. Anyway, going out as a junior crime fighter wasn't a bad thing, especially with someone looking out for her. There were many worse things that she could be doing.

"Why not?" he asked, cocking his head. "I realize you're a delicate flower, but surely you didn't think they'd say no, did you?"

Laura's cheeks began to burn at his delicate flower crack. He knew darn well that she was invulnerable now, and that she had been for the better part of the last two years, even if she didn't look it. Of course, she'd never tested herself against her brothers or her dad, so she very well could be delicate compared to them, but she chalked up the comment to CJ's charm and his inherent ability to make her blush at least once during every conversation they had. "Well, I AM seventeen. It not like I have virgin eyes, but I'm sure there's plenty of sick stuff out there that can take away anyone's innocence pretty fast. I know Daddy, and something tells me that he'll want to keep his little girl away from the ugly side of hero work until I'm a little more mature." The last line was spoken with a fair amount of sarcasm, which Laura supposed wasn't justified. She loved that her father tried to shield her from the worst in the world, but honestly she was going to have to see it sooner or later. And Laura was sure that she was more mature than he wanted to admit.

CJ put his hands up and cringed. "Look, the last thing I want to do is get on Mom and Dad's bad side. I think I'm perfectly capable of making sure that you remain as pure as the wind driven snow while you're under my care, though, so when I tell them sometime next week that I had something for you to take care of in an after hours type of capacity…"

Laura couldn't stop herself from jumping once. "Yay!"

CJ chuckled cautiously, his hands still up. "…there's no way they can say no or get mad at me because I kinda forgot to mention that I was planning on having you help me all along."

Laura's smile abruptly faded, although the giddiness still remained. She had

thought that she was sweet talking him into letting her tag along, and now he was saying that he had planned on it all along? It took some of the wind out of her sails, but not too much — she was getting what she wanted, after all. After a moment, she narrowed her eyes and looked at him closely, wondering what exactly he had up his sleeve. The more she thought about it, though, the more she didn't care, even if his confession told her that it might not be what she expected.

"Before I say yes, though, I need proof that you are fit for sidekick duty. I need to hear your best one-liner." CJ's grin was back in full force as he spoke, contrasting heavily with the image that the costume and cowl were trying to portray. Laura had a hard time viewing him as menacing, even with the cool outfit, and she wondered how seriously the criminal element really took him. She supposed that if he concentrated, got down to work, and wiped the characteristic smirk off his face, then maybe. But beneath it all, he was still just CJ, and as far as she knew, CJ had never hurt a fly.

Laura folded her arms across her chest and looked at him with disbelief. "So, you don't need a demonstration of my newly acquired powers or proof that I can hold my own with a theoretical bad guy? You just need me to give a zinger that will bring down the house?"

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression," CJ said. "So, come on, let's have it. You come upon a bad guy who's about to assault a woman, and you say…"

Laura rolled her eyes, then assumed a typical sidekick attack position, and blurted out the first response that popped into her head. "Have you seen this one? It's a real kick," she said, then did an awkward roundhouse kick. Beside her, Jenny let out a small snort. CJ just looked at her appraisingly, although his eyes were positively dancing behind the cowl.

"I guess that will work," he said. "But your moves are in need of help." He grinned again, then stepped toward her. "Meet me at one AM at the top of the Gotham State stadium parking ramp. Bring something to write with." At Laura's nod, he stepped sideways and regarded Jenny. They looked at each other for a moment before leaning in for a quick, light kiss. "Tomorrow," he said.

"Tomorrow," Jenny said with a smile. "Watch out Gotham City." They both grinned, kissed lightly again, then CJ was gone.

Laura looked down at her watch, noting that she had a couple of hours to burn before leaving. Jenny caught her attention and gestured toward the roof access, and the two of them made their way down to Jenny's apartment. Susan, who hadn't been home when Laura first arrived, was there now. It was a couple of years ago when Laura had first been introduced to Susan, although the circumstances certainly were less than ideal. Her parents had been somewhat less than forthcoming in explaining how Susan had happened upon the family secret, but Laura hadn't been above eavesdropping to obtain the information. After hearing the story, she could understand why her parents had been so mysterious. The prospect of what could have been had Susan not been stopped was scary, and Laura found herself more distrustful of people than she had been before the whole sordid affair. The loss of her innocence alone should have made her resentful of Jenny's roommate, but Laura was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, at least until she got to know her. Susan had disappeared without saying so much as word to Laura, and after a while, Laura found herself forgetting about her and everything she had done. Then, a few weeks ago, Susan showed up out of the blue at CJ's funeral, and that was the beginning of her reunion with Jenny. Laura had given Susan a wide berth at the time, not sure what to think, delaying the inevitable confrontation. Delay wasn't an option now, however.

All the old feelings came back once Laura was reintroduced to Susan, but after talking with her for a little while, the fears and doubts were once again relegated to the past. Susan had changed, that much was certain. The slightly awed expression that she had held at the Kent house all those years ago was nowhere to be seen, replaced with a certain quiet ease. Susan had a reputation for being impulsive, for taking things a little too seriously, but now she seemed entirely normal and pleasant. As anxious as Laura was to go out and play hero, she found herself absorbed in conversation with both Susan and Jenny, and forgetting to look at the clock. It was almost one when Jenny reminded Laura of her impending meeting, and Laura had to rush to change clothes and take off across the city, utilizing Jenny and Susan's window.

To say that Laura was unfamiliar with Gotham would be an overstatement, but she figured that it couldn't be too hard to find a college stadium among the high rises. She had to fly a couple miles up into the air to get a good view of the city, but after a moment she located the stadium, and a prominent parking structure next to it. The structure looked practically deserted, with the exception of a solitary shadowy figure leaning against the barrier rail on the uppermost level. Almost as soon as she found him, he looked up and casually raised a hand in greeting. She quickly descended and landed next to him, eagerly watching his expression as his eyes followed her movement. A smile quickly spread across her face as she got her reward. CJ's expression seemed almost nostalgic as he sighed and regarded her for a moment.

"My baby sister, flying already," he said. "Where does the time go?"

"You like the outfit?" she said, turning so that he could get a better look.

He smiled lightly. "You look very heroic," he answered, then furrowed his brow. "Isn't that Diane's Shadow Woman costume?"

Laura nodded gently. "She doesn't have any use for it since the powers faded away, and we're the same size…"

"You're swapping clothes now?" CJ asked, a hint of surprise in his voice.

"I went as a cop last Halloween. I think she gets the better end of the deal, though, since she's in uniform most of the time."

CJ's expression was odd. He looked like he wanted to make a joke that even he found in poor taste, and was waging an inner battle over what exactly to say. Laura smiled at him, hoping to ease away the awkwardness. "So, uh, what did you need me to do for you, boss?" she asked after a moment, trying to steer the conversation into safer waters.

She thought that she saw him raise an eyebrow under the mask, although it was hard to tell. His expression turned more congenial as he cleared his throat and got to the heart of the matter. "You, dear sister, are going to be my eye in the sky."

"Wayne Enterprises needs a new traffic copter?" she asked, watching as his grin reappeared and he ducked his head. Laura had discovered a long time ago that the best way to gain CJ's attention and respect was to throw in a few non-sequiturs, to make him react the way he usually forced others to react to him. He was always at least good for a smile. He wagged a finger at her. "No, but I like your thinking." He took a deep breath and forced the smile away. His tone was suddenly very businesslike. "To make a long story short, I'm in the middle of an investigation, and have managed to identify my number one suspect. Before I can act on my suspicions, though, I need to get a little more dirt on the guy. This is where you come in."

"Can't you plant some bugs or something? Isn't that the usual protocol for mysterious superheroes slash detectives?" she asked. Somehow, when she had asked CJ to let her tag along, she hadn't envisioned that she would spend her time following someone around, and she was sure it showed on her face. CJ didn't seem to notice.

His small was small, sly. "What do you think I've been doing for the last couple hours?" he asked. "Good thing for me our man's not much of a homebody. At the same time, though, the fact that he's not around tonight probably means that he's not home much at other times, either. That's where you come in."

"Eye in the sky. I get it," Laura said with a small nod.

"Follow him around. Make a running list of where he goes and when, who he talks to, what they say. You think you can do that from…?" he asked, pointing up. Laura sighed and nodded, drawing a small smile from him. "You didn't think that the hero thing was all kicking butt and taking names, did you?" he asked.

"Well, yeah," she said, allowing a small grin to form on her face. "It certainly sounds like more fun."

"Sure, it's fun. But something like this, when it works out, is incredible. It's not just stopping a crime, it's stopping a cycle of crime, it's saving the lives of however many people in the future and avenging the lives of those who fell victim to this nutball in the past. It's…"

Laura held up her hands. "Okay, I get it; the payoff is worth the effort. This guy sounds really bad. Who is he?"

CJ proceeded to explain who Brad Ross was, what he might have done, and what he could be planning to do. Laura felt all traces of humor drain away as he told his story, the hardness in his voice telling. It wasn't in CJ's nature to hate or to accuse, but she could understand why he seemed to hate this man that he suspected of essentially killing him and 200 others. In his shoes, she would probably not bother with gathering evidence and undergoing hours of surveillance, she would probably go in there, impose a little righteous justice of her own, and be done with it. Probably. Maybe. But…after thinking for a second, she knew that she wouldn't, she couldn't, just as CJ couldn't. They both knew better than to stoop to the level of criminals that they were trying to stop, they both had been brought up better than that.

She regarded him sadly, wondering for the first time what it was that he went through, what all this must be like for him. The perfect life was laid out for him, and then it was gone, cruelly taken away. It wasn't all bad though, she supposed. His new life had certain advantages, ones that would probably become more apparent the longer she stuck around town. Still, the whole experience had to leave him with a certain void in his soul. And maybe this investigation was his way of filling that void, of really moving on.

Laura blinked and focused her attention on CJ's words, pulling out a notebook after a moment to scribble down some notes. Her gaze followed his movements as he pointed out Ross's apartment, only a couple of blocks distant. Ross was currently at a bar not too far away, CJ said, looking toward the location and frowning as he apparently found a very drunk Brad Ross inside. "There's no point in observing him tonight. You can start tomorrow."

"Morning?" Laura said, the obvious distaste in her voice drawing out CJ's smile.

"Drunks trying to sleep off a hangover aren't usually morning people, so…probably not. But if you lose him, you have to find him."

Laura sighed and made a face. "The new boss is a slave driver," she said, shoving the notebook back into her pocket, then nervously picking at her uniform.

CJ stepped forward and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. "A little hard

work won't kill you. Besides, the boss isn't asking you to do anything that he didn't have to do on his vacations in Gotham City, so he's not all that sympathetic."

Laura looked toward him, noting the obviously teasing expression. The sympathy card worked a lot better with her dad, Laura thought. CJ had a definite soft spot, but it took a lot more than a look or a little complaining to gain his compassion. "You flew over town?" she asked, deciding to use humor to get to him instead.

"Gravity's not as kind to me as it is to you. I had to stand on top of a building, but you get my point. It could be worse. Working for me is a cake walk compared to working for Bruce."

Laura nodded. "You have a point, I guess," she said. "So tomorrow, not too early, but before the crack of noon?"

CJ nodded and pulled away from her. "And you're just watching, okay? If he does anything, call me. If you see anything else of interest while you're up there — crimes, accidents, whatever — call the police. Don't confront anyone yourself."

"What, my lines are that bad?" Laura said with a half-smile, although his expression was suddenly serious.

"I was just kidding about the lines. You know that, right?" At her nod, his expression softened. "Criminals don't appreciate them anyway, believe me. The hero game is one in which image matters, and the further you can move your alter ego away from your real persona, the better off you are."

"It works for Daddy," Laura said with a nod, causing CJ's smile to widen.

"Right," he said, his eyes somewhat distant as he no doubt thought back to that moment when he had to put their father and Superman together into the same package. Laura knew that she still sometimes found it hard to believe that her boring family was full of superheroes, but that was just proof that what CJ said was true. "That image, it comes from your actions, but it also comes from those observing your actions. Your life will be a lot simpler without the press hounding you, which is why you call the police instead of playing superhero, okay?"

"Got it," she said with a thumbs-up, trying not to roll her eyes at the line that she had heard from her father so many times. Don't try and grow up so fast, he always told her. You only get one chance to be a kid, so enjoy it while you can, blah, blah, blah. Laura was never the patient type, though, and it was hard not to want to go out and make a name for herself, especially since she had all the abilities that she needed to do so.

"You don't look convinced," he said with amusement, which drew an annoyed look from her. "Look, I know it's Dad's chapter and verse, but that doesn't make it any less true. And, you know, I'm your boss, so…"

She smiled sarcastically. "I get it," she said, crossing her arms and looking at him for a moment. "Is that all you needed?"

"Yeah, that's pretty much it." He took a step away from her and glanced down to the street below before returning his attention to her. "We both have to work tomorrow, so we might as well get home and try to catch some z's."

"You need a lift?" she asked, pointing upward. He simply shook his head, although a shadow of something unpleasant lurked behind his expression. Sometimes she wondered how much the fact that he couldn't fly bothered him, and just when she became convinced that he didn't worry about it, looks like that would come along and make her think again. The darkness in his eyes only lingered for a moment before being replaced by his usual, easy-going expression.

"Thanks, no," he said. "Have a good night." With that, he turned and started running, then took a leap and soared through the air, landing in full stride on the pavement below. What he lacked in flight skills he made up for in grace, she decided as she watched him move. After a moment, she took off into the air, bound for Jenny's place.

The next day was spent in the skies over Gotham. Fortunately the day was overcast, and she was able to slip into the clouds and conceal herself. Watching Brad Ross was, for the most part, one of the most boring things she'd ever done. He got up, he watched TV, he went out and grabbed a sandwich, then met up with a friend and complained about everything that was wrong with the world. She managed to get a feel for the town while Ross and his friend did some reading at the library, and she found her attention turning toward the Gotham Knights baseball game across town as Ross shopped for groceries. In all, a day's worth of work netted a couple pages of notes, a couple of anonymous calls to the police to report some crimes she witnessed, and a fair amount of resentment toward her brother. As dinner approached, she abandoned her search, knowing that her other job, the one of chaperone, beckoned.

After a change of clothing and a little freshening up, she and Jenny hopped into the car and made their way through town to Wayne Manor. Winding up the driveway beneath the canopy of trees, seeing glimpses of the massive building through the foliage, Laura found any remaining pity she had for CJ quickly disappearing. If she lived in a place like that, a castle-like home with its own forest and a quick five-minute jaunt to the nearest grocery store, she could probably forget about a lot of the petty concerns in her life. After all, how bad could things be in a place like that? At the same time, though, it would be easy to hide away from the world here, which made it a perfect place for people like CJ and Bruce Wayne and, soon, Jenny … people who would all have something to hide. It would be perfect for her, too, if she wanted to pursue the part of sidekick in a more public capacity.

The thought caused her eyebrows to rise, and it wasn't long before another thought presented itself. Metropolis had plenty of work for two Supermen. Gotham, on the other hand, had just one Batman and, if her flight over the town today was any indication, enough crime to keep several superheroes busy. Plus, CJ's role was more that of a detective, the guy who fought crime or solved cases that the police couldn't or wouldn't handle. Superman, on the other hand, had a more varied workload, which consisted primarily of rescues or other super acts. While CJ could do some of that, and probably would do what he could even if Batman was supposed to be a mere mortal, he lacked certain abilities necessary to do a lot of that work. Yes, there was a need for another super being in Gotham, and maybe she was the person to fill that role.

It was a move that made sense, she supposed. She would be entering college in a year, and although her mother and two brothers were graduates of Metropolis University, it didn't mean that she had to attend that particular school. Laura had a reputation for being strong willed and more than a little ready to blaze her own trail. Nobody would raise too much of a stink, then, if she enrolled at Gotham State University. Outwardly, she could be a concerned sister-in-law or a doting aunt, keeping close to her late brother's wife and baby. Jenny and CJ would probably need a babysitter from time to time, and she would gladly oblige. She would also play the sidekick until she was willing to spread her own wings, at least if CJ agreed to it. It was a plan that had possibilities, and one that even her parents would have to admit was feasible.

Laura was aware that she was smiling too wide as they pulled up to the main entrance of Wayne manor. Jenny glanced her way, the smile on her face overly large, too. Almost before they had left the car, CJ had pulled open the massive front door, although Laura did a double take as she looked his way.

"Who are you, and what have you done with my brother?" she asked as he approached. He was dressed in a pair of khakis and a crimson, expensive-looking button down shirt, his hair longer than she ever remembered it being, styled neatly with a light application of some sort of hair product. Then, of course, there were the glasses, which in concert with the new hair style served to make the shape of his face seem entirely different. He looked like a pretty boy, which was par for the course for Jon and her father, but very unusual on CJ, who almost always sported denim and a t-shirt and looked very much the part of someone who spent all his free time on a football field. In an odd way, she supposed that he finally appeared to be the charming nerd, the side of his personality that was always there, but which he tended to only show to people he was close to. As a total package the look suited him, she decided after a moment.

CJ gave her a sympathetic glance, although she could see in his eyes that he was joking. "Poor bereaved girl doesn't accept that her brother passed away. I'm Sam Wayne, his evil twin." CJ stuck out his hand, which she looked at for a moment, then shook. He was smiling now, and it was infectious.

"My mistake," she said with a fair amount of sarcasm. "I should've known; my brother never cleaned up this well."

Jenny, who had moved next to CJ, circled her arm around his waist, leaned in, and gave him a peck on the cheek. "You have that right," she said, smiling as she inhaled a whiff of his cologne, something that CJ would never have worn. "You even smell expensive," she said to him with a giggle.

"I guess that's better than the alternative," he said with a wrinkle of his nose. "But it really bothers my sense of smell, to the point that I can practically taste this stuff. The things I do for fashion."

Laura nodded, knowing the feeling. To a super nose, perfume and cologne were almost painful, but that didn't mean that she didn't sometimes indulge in a little fragrance to make an impression. "Women have been torturing themselves in the name of fashion for years, dear. Don't expect any sympathy from me," Jenny said, stepping away from him slightly as they all made their way toward the mansion.

"So you must be planning to make an impression on…someone tonight," Laura said, trailing behind them somewhat. "Someone who would be close enough to notice your new torture device."

CJ looked over his shoulder. "You never know," he said, then smiled. "Jenny seems appropriately swayed. How about you?"

Laura gave him her widest smile. "It wasn't your cologne that impressed me, CJ."

His smile faded, "Sam," he said, his voice suddenly devoid of humor. "CJ is gone."

Laura's smile faded for a moment as she realized her mistake. She couldn't

help but call him by his real name, it was only natural. She'd never been forced to call any of her family members by anything other than their real names, thankfully, and she had wondered how it would work when the time came to assume her own secret identity. To address her dad as "Superman" in public would just be odd, even though she knew perfectly well that was who he was. She just had to think before speaking, she decided, and the same would be true tonight. "I'm sorry, SAM," she said, which brought his smile back. "What impressed me were the fine set of glasses you have there. You now look your IQ," she said.

CJ gave his best self-effacing smirk. "My inner nerd has finally been set free, it's true," he said.

"Plenty of people wear glasses who aren't nerds," Jenny said defensively.

CJ gave her a grateful look, then smiled. "No, I'll admit to my nerd heritage, I don't mind." His smile broadened as he turned his gaze to Laura. "But it's the nerds who end up with the Ferraris and the big mansions."

"Oh, are we taking the Ferrari?" Laura asked, defusing his attempt at humor. CJ's expression turned very smug as they entered the mansion.

"What's the magic word?" he asked, drawing a laugh from Jenny, who continued down the hallway, waving at Bruce, who was watching them with interest from afar.

Laura gave CJ her best little sister smile, then grabbed his arm and started walking slowly down the hallway. "On second thought, I think I'm going to save the magic word and the groveling for something else."


"I have this great idea," Laura said, eliciting a groan from CJ.

"Why do I get the feeling that I won't like this?" he asked.

Laura ignored his comment. "It occurred to me that you and Jenny might need a little…companionship here in Gotham City…"


CJ stood in front of the window to his penthouse office, his hands shoved into his pants pockets, his gaze fixed out over the city. Down below, the first protests had started in front of the Wayne Enterprises building, the small band of ARB members gaining scant attention from the average citizen, but still managing to make quite a ruckus. It was almost a shame that such a small number of people could ruin an otherwise pleasant Monday, he thought as he watched the sun rise over a neighboring skyscraper. The mirrored glass on the buildings across the downtown area reflected the rays, sending bright light into an area that generally remained under shadow. Gotham City could actually be quite beautiful under the glare of the morning sun, he decided.

With a sigh and a forced smile, CJ turned around and sat in the executive chair at his desk. A copy of the Gotham Gazette sat on top the desk, the headline telling of an amazing discovery made by Superman the night before. After a long weekend of tag-team searching with his son, Superman had finally located a small mechanism deep beneath the ocean along the path of Flight 329. The NTSB had been summoned to actually raise the object, which had quickly been identified as a detonator for an explosive device. Other debris was found in the area as well — bits of luggage, clues, pieces to a larger puzzle that was beginning to take shape in the public's eye. The Gazette's article made it clear that the authorities now considered the demise of Flight 329 to be anything but accidental. It was a start, CJ supposed, but there was still a lot of work to be done, and some of that work sat on his desk right now.

CJ moved the paper aside, revealing personnel files he had borrowed from the Human Resources Department. Batman had taken Friday night off so that Sam Wayne could paint the town red with Jenny, but after the festivities, it was back to the old grind, and his efforts had been fruitful. He'd spent a lot of time at the Batcave computer, trying to find out what had happened to that baggage handler, the friend of Brad Ross. A quick look at the airport payrolls had shown that the baggage handler left his job not long after the crash, and apparently nobody had batted an eyelash. A lot of people in the airline industry had been skittish after Flight 329 went down, and the increased security and scrutiny led to plenty of employee turnover. The baggage handler had taken advantage of the situation to simply disappear.

When the investigation had first started, CJ had done a cursory check into the background of the baggage handler, a man named Simon Armstrong. Nothing had seemed out of the ordinary at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight and a healthy dose of newfound skepticism, some of the information started to appear a little odd. CJ had taken the occasion this weekend to look a little closer into Armstrong's life, and what he found was a man who wasn't. Simon Armstrong had no medical records and no credit rating. He paid his rent in cash and took public transportation; he talked to his coworkers but never revealed details about his private life. Any of those facts could describe someone who was a bit of an eccentric, but the lack of a past and the shadiness of his existence didn't instill CJ with any confidence. There were a few pictures and a description of the man available, and they would hopefully be more than enough to help CJ recognize him if they crossed paths again. Something told CJ that would happen, and soon.

From Laura's notes and conversations overheard through the bugs in Brad Ross's apartment, it was apparent that something was being planned for Wayne Enterprises, something bigger than a simple protest. Ross and his companions never spoke in specific terms, but they sometimes mentioned "the plan." It was CJ's hunch that this plan, whatever it was, required someone inside Wayne Enterprises to implement it, someone like the baggage handler at Metro Air. It was entirely possible that the same man would try to gain employment with the company, although CJ certainly didn't expect him to use the same name or to even look the same. CJ opened the first folder, glancing at the name on top and sighing again. Resumes and information on potential new employees didn't come with pictures, so finding Simon Armstrong or any other ARB member trying to infiltrate the company might not be the easiest task. But any potential employee who was serious would have references, and CJ could certainly do his part as a responsible future boss and check to make sure that the applicant was who they said they were.

A tapping on the window drew CJ away from his task. He looked over his shoulder and noticed his sister hovering outside. For the first time that morning, his smile was genuine. "Shouldn't you be someplace less visible?" he asked, even as she disappeared. He followed her movement upward with his enhanced vision, and saw her land on the roof, not far above where he was.

"Way ahead of you," she said. After situating herself, she pulled a paper out of her back pocket and held it up. "Check it out, I'm in the tabloids."

CJ squinted, zooming in on the small print and slightly blurry picture. He was hoping that their Friday night escapades would go unnoticed, especially since he hadn't seen any reporters following them around, but it looked like he had been mistaken. He smiled as he caught the headline. "Double date?" he asked with raised eyebrows.

"Yeah, okay, that part is kind of, uh…"

"Let's not go there," CJ said with a quick laugh and a shake of the head.

"Consider me far away from there," she said. "But look, I'm called a knock-out and am praised for being billionaire-worthy."

"You're also anonymous, so don't get too big of a head."

"Oh, I know," she said with a wave of the hand. "It's just, well, cool."

"See what Dad says about it," CJ said, giving his signature grin. "I don't think 'cool' will be the word he uses."

"Phooey on Dad, then," Laura said, folding the paper in half and shoving it back into her pocket. "So, hey, nice office."

CJ looked around and shrugged. His office was next to Bruce's, and it was almost big enough to get lost in. Heavy wood cabinets filled with business-related books lined the walls, and a large, overstuffed couch sat opposite his desk, almost inviting visitors to lie down and take a nap. The office had been decorated by some executive who had since retired, and it obviously reflected an older, stodgier sense of style. But that wasn't necessarily a bad thing, and it certainly conveyed class that CJ was sure he couldn't duplicate on his own. "It's an office," CJ said. "Not my style, but…"

"It makes you look important. Any guy sitting in a place like that must be some kind of big-shot."

"Surely you're not talking about me," CJ said, still in full smirk.

"Well I'm not talking about the engineers in the cubicles a few floors down, that's for sure," she said. "So what are you working on?"

"The future of Wayne Enterprises," CJ said, pointing to the folders on his desk. "Potential employees. Somewhere in this stack of folders may very well be someone who wants to do to this company like they did to Metro Air."

"One of Brad Ross's pals?" Laura asked.

CJ nodded. "Have you been keeping track of the people he's met up with?"

"You said to, didn't you, boss?" Laura said, reaching for her note pad. "Most of them are downstairs with him. Beside those guys, he doesn't have many friends."

"I'm not surprised. Do you have names?"

Laura's cheeks went a little red as she flipped pages. She looked down at him with an apologetic expression. "Some. Sorry, my attention tends to wander," she said. CJ didn't have the heart to look disappointed, if only because he knew how mind numbing it could be to follow someone around for hours on end.

"It's okay. Do any match the people in the stack?"

Laura looked down at his desk for a moment, then shook her head. "I don't think so, but I don't know for sure. So many of these guys just use nicknames." She seemed somewhat frustrated, although it seemed to ease as CJ gave her a smile.

He reached into his jacket, pulling out a sheet of paper with a black and white picture of Simon Armstrong on it, then held it up toward the ceiling. "How about this guy? Have you run into him?"

Laura glanced at the picture, a look of concentration on her face, then sighed. "He doesn't look familiar," she said, her eyes diverting downward. It could be demoralizing to put so much effort into a task without anything to show for it. CJ was pretty sure that his sister wouldn't give up on him, but at the same time, she needed to have some fun, and she needed to taste success. Maybe he could help her on both accounts.

"Well, I guess we keep looking. Tell you what, how about you take a break while Ross protests with his ARB buddies downstairs. I can give you a buzz when they call it a day."

"Really?" she asked eagerly.

CJ nodded. "Then tonight, maybe you can take a break from the surveillance and help me put some fear into the criminals of Gotham." He watched as her smile grew, and couldn't help but laugh lightly as she bounced once.

"I'd hug you if I wasn't on the roof," she said, and he had no doubt it was true.

"Maybe later. Now go, before I change my mind," he said, pointing his thumb toward the city outside his window. Without another word, Laura was gone, leaving CJ to stare at the ceiling, a grin on his face. She didn't like to admit that she was very green as far as the hero gig went, but it was that greenness, her naivete, that made her fun to be around sometimes.

With a shake of his head, CJ cleared away the thoughts of his sister and turned his attention back to the task at hand. He took a deep breath, scanned the top folder, then reached for the phone. It was time to do some real work.


At lunchtime, CJ wandered down to the cafeteria much as he had a week earlier, but this time it was hard not to notice the shocked expressions that greeted him. He smiled and did his best to be friendly to everyone, to ease some of the apparent surprise at seeing the boss slumming with the common workers. He was a bit out of place, he supposed, even if he had ditched the tie and the expensive suit jacket before making his way down, but CJ had never been one to fall victim to preconceptions. Even before being the junior billionaire, he had been the nerd sitting at the table with the jocks, and if anything, that was a much scarier prospect.

Although outwardly he was playing the part of the congenial boss, his trip to the cafeteria for lunch had another purpose. In rifling through the personnel files and checking references, it occurred to him to wonder what the vulnerabilities of the company were. Would the ARB, or Brad Ross in particular, have done some homework to see where they could do the most damage? And wouldn't they want to place their man on the inside in a position to take advantage of the conceived weak spot? CJ had toyed with asking Bruce what areas the ARB might be concerned with, but the fact that Bruce had left town on business the night before made it rather difficult. Besides, CJ had come this far on his own, and he wanted to pursue this lead without help.

Unfortunately, CJ was a long way from knowing all the ins and outs of Wayne Enterprises. Although he knew in a vague sense all the types of business that the company was involved in, he didn't have any idea about the specifics. He would need the help of someone who had been with the company long enough to be familiar with its inner workings, but who could also be trusted to be discrete and open. The managers of the various departments were probably the most obvious people to talk to in order to get the information that CJ needed, and he was sure that he'd end up speaking with most of them, ostensibly about security concerns due to the protestors. But he'd read enough old Dilbert cartoons to know that it was the engineers and other lower level employees who drove the company, and five minutes with one of them would probably net more information than several hours with one of their superiors. Because of that, and because he was itching to return to his normal guy roots, CJ sought out his buddy Stanley.

CJ made his way through the lunch line, grabbing a plate of Salisbury steak and a sampling of all the side dishes and desserts before working his way into the cafeteria. Stanley, just as before, was sitting happily in a corner with his nose in a book, well away from anyone else. CJ strode over to him and set his tray on the table, causing Stanley to lower his book.

"Oh, Mr. Wayne," he said with a look of surprise. "How are you?"

"Please, it's just Sam," CJ said with one of his easy smiles, watching as Stanley seemed to relax a little at the gesture. "I've had my friends call me plenty of things throughout the years, but Mr. Wayne was never one of them." CJ's smile widened a bit at the private joke.

"I'm sorry," Stanley said, his cheeks turning a light shade of red. "I guess it's still a bit of a shock that you're, well…"

CJ waved his hand. "I'm just a new employee trying to fit in." His gaze wandered over the cafeteria, noting several sets of eyes turned his way, eyes that quickly looked elsewhere as soon as they saw him regarding them. "Apparently I'm not succeeding too well."

Stanley seemed to notice the rest of the room at that moment, and a small smile worked its way across his face as he looked around. "It's been my experience that fitting in isn't all it's cut out to be," Stanley said with a shrug. "It always feels like you're having to sacrifice part of yourself in order to fill some sort of expectation of normalcy, whatever that is. It's better to just be who you are, and to heck with people who don't respect that."

CJ looked at Stanley with surprise, then nodded slowly. He had to admit, he'd spent a fair amount of time covering up parts of himself in order to hang with the popular crowd. Of course, denying natural abilities in order to fit in was sort of a rite of passage for members of his family. But if he thought about it, the people who were his closest friends, the people he had always been the most comfortable around, were the ones who knew and accepted the real CJ. Stanley was right; there was a reason CJ had befriended him.

"Amen to that," CJ said, then reached down and stuck his fork into the bowl of potatoes. "I didn't realize until you said that how much time I spent before I became a Wayne trying to please people." He took a quick bite of food, realizing that he had probably said too much, and noticed Stanley's amused expression.

Stanley set his book on the table and regarded CJ. "You weren't always a Wayne?" he asked.

CJ chewed slowly, thinking of a way to frame his answer and dig himself out

of the hole he had made. He didn't want to say anything that wasn't part of the official Sam Wayne back story, but he also didn't want to start embellishing that story with "facts" that he would only forget, or tell lies to this man who was one of Sam Wayne's few friends. "Not by name, anyway," he answered, trying to sound nonchalant. "That was a bit of a surprise, let me tell you, but when you have an opportunity to become an instant success simply by embracing your heritage, even if you never knew it was your heritage…"

"Yeah, I'd jump right in, too," Stanley said. A momentary silence developed between them, one that wasn't uncomfortable. Stanley reached down and picked up his sandwich, his eyes never leaving CJ. "Still, I bet all your old friends treat you differently now."

"I don't see much of them anymore," CJ said softly, diverting his eyes down to his tray, trying to ignore the uncomfortable stab of sadness that the comment elicited. He took another bite of food, then pushed away the feelings and put a congenial smile on his face. Even if their discussion had wandered into uncomfortable territory, there was still work to be done and important issues to discuss with Stanley. "I guess that makes a few less people that I have to try to impress from now on, huh?" he asked, trying to lighten the mood.

Stanley, who had seemed almost worried at CJ's initial reaction to his statement, smiled and nodded with relief. "If a few billion dollars doesn't impress them…" he said, but stopped as CJ shook his head.

"I hate that people find inherited money and a last name impressive. I didn't do anything to earn either one of those." CJ paused, thinking of how the statement related to his former life, as well. He was a junior Superman, and he had seen what had happened to his brother when he had embraced that particular name and legacy. People didn't need to know anything about Crimson Superman or see him do anything heroic on his own to be impressed by him, although the fact that he held special powers probably played into that. Still, neither Jon, CJ, nor Laura wanted their accolades to be because of who they were related to or what they had inherited, but from their deeds. Even though Jon was an excellent writer, that didn't seem to turn many heads. CJ's science talent was largely ignored or panned, because a football star wasn't supposed to be smart. Neither was a trust fund baby. But Stanley apparently didn't play by the same rules as the rest of society. "Now if they found my ability to answer tough engineering problems remarkable, then I wouldn't mind."

"Well, I certainly did," Stanley said, his voice indicating that the statement wasn't meant to be patronizing. "I'd been stewing over that problem for weeks, and after a half-hour conversation, you managed to figure it out."

"That was the answer, then?" CJ asked, and he couldn't help but notice the pride that had snuck into his voice. Even after a week of crime fighting, investigating, and moving forward with his personal life, solving that problem still loomed as one of Sam Wayne's greatest accomplishments.

Stanley was now as animated as CJ had ever seen him. "You were definitely on the right track,", he said. He then proceeded to tell CJ what had happened when his hypothesis had been tested. This time he didn't spare any of the technical jargon, and CJ found himself engrossed in the conversation. After a little while, CJ casually mentioned the ARB and their protest at the building entrance, and successfully managed to steer the conversation toward what the ARB might be looking for, and what they intended to do.

"You design plastics and related products," CJ said as he leaned back in his seat and regarded Stanley. "I imagine those utilize a fairly complicated and possibly dangerous manufacturing process."

Stanley looked at him thoughtfully, then shrugged. "I design the product, not the manufacturing process. But I do know that they make several things here in town, at a plant that's made the news once or twice since I've worked here."

"The news?" CJ asked, curious. Manufacturing plants generally didn't make headlines unless something bad happened, and the inflection in Staley's voice at the comment made him believe that was the case here.

"Oh, some environmental group like the one outside argued that just having a plastics manufacturing plant near a large population center meant that some impending disaster was sure to happen, never mind the fact that the plant had all the required safety equipment and an excellent safety record. Still, the TV news covered the story and it caused a bit of an uproar."

"I'd imagine," CJ said absently, his mind spinning. The environmentalist group might have unwittingly given an idea to some people with the will to carry it out. He had to go look at that plant, although he could easily do it without having to rely on his alter ego.

Stanley looked at his watch, then turned toward CJ, an apologetic expression on his face. "I'm sorry, but it looks like I need to get going," he said. CJ forced himself out of his thoughts, and offered his friend a smile.

"Well, it was good talking to you again," CJ said, extending his hand. "Don't be a stranger."

Stanley took the offered hand and nodded once. "The pleasure's mine. Maybe next time we can do lunch someplace with better food and a nicer view."

"Good idea." With that, Stanley stepped away, smiled, and then started for the door. CJ decided that he was probably due back in the executive suites, and after a moment, he left too. He was right to have talked to Stanley, he thought as he braved the stares and made his way out of the cafeteria. The discussion had been very informative and relaxing, work and pleasure rolled into one. It had also resulted in a promising new lead, one that would be followed up on just as soon as CJ finished checking references. As he stepped into the elevator, he started to whistle tunelessly, holding his hand up to acknowledge the curious stares as the doors closed in front of him.


Jenny caught herself staring out the window of her suburban office, her gaze locked on the Gotham skyline and the Wayne Enterprises building, which stood proudly above the rest. CJ was in there somewhere, probably on one of the upper floors, and she could imagine him standing in front of a window, looking off toward where she was. It was a nice thought, but a junior executive and part time crime fighter such as he probably didn't have much time for staring out over the city. Even if he did, he probably wouldn't be able to find her office, hidden amongst the vast expanse of similar, nondescript business parks that made up that particular portion of town. Just looking toward the horizon, knowing he was somewhere in a building that was practically within arm's reach was comforting, even if it wasn't a substitute for seeing him every day. Sometimes she had to take what she could, though, and for now that would have to be enough.

With a sigh, Jenny turned back toward her desk. The proof of the next issue of her magazine was there, waiting to be inspected. Her interview with the Waynes was featured as the prominent story, although Bruce had stipulated that no pictures of him or CJ would be on the cover. The request was undoubtedly rooted in his concern over protecting CJ's identity, a concern that Jenny shared. Glasses, a new haircut, and a change in wardrobe could do a lot to change a person's appearance, but CJ had too many friends for her to believe that one of them wouldn't see the striking similarity between the late CJ Kent and Sam Wayne. The pictures that had made the tabloids hadn't been too much of a concern, since they tended to be fuzzy and somewhat indistinct, the product of an amateur photographer with a zoom lens and a far away hiding place. Even the photos that Jenny had included with her article were unclear, utilizing creative lighting or positioning to make CJ less recognizable. Her boss had complained that the article might as well have no pictures at all, but his complaints were rather half-hearted and ended up being for naught. It helped that Bruce was notoriously protective of his privacy, and the boss had understood that any interview with Wayne was a coup, bad pictures or not.

The story would finally be going to print within the next couple of days, which was fortunate considering how word of Jenny's relationship with Sam Wayne had spread. Lisa, while being a good friend and an interesting person to talk to, did not have a knack for keeping a secret. The entire office knew about Jenny's date the previous Friday, including her boss, who took a closer look at her article upon hearing the news. Apparently reporting on one's date was not overly professional, but she made sure to let it be known that CJ had only officially become her date as a consequence of the article. In the end, her article was left untouched, but she couldn't help but think that her standing within the organization took a bit of a hit as a result of their relationship. If that was the consequence of officially meeting her husband again, she supposed she could live with it. Besides, not everyone looked at her differently or tried to exploit her new connection, and a little buzz could sometimes be good for a reporter.

The ringing of the phone drew her out of her thoughts. It was probably a local museum curator returning her call, which was related to her next assignment. She quickly reached for a pen as she picked up the receiver, positioning the notepad in front of her in anticipation of a rather lengthy and informative conversation. The pen was quickly dropped, however, as she heard the angry voice on the other end of the line.

"Jennifer Sears!" her mother said before Jenny even had a chance to say hello.

"Mom?" Jenny replied, taking a look at her watch. She tended to keep a rather strict routine of calling her parents once a week, usually on Sunday afternoon, and this weekend had been no different. If her mother was calling on a weekday, at work no less, it must mean that something was wrong. Usually if there was bad news, though, her mother would sound almost too comforting, and that certainly wasn't the case here.

"I cannot believe that I would find my own daughter gracing the cover of a supermarket tabloid," her mom said quickly. "In the arms of a man, no less."

"Excuse me?" Jenny said. She knew that she should probably be reacting defensively to her mother's anger, but instead she inexplicably found herself smiling. The thought of CJ made her unable to elicit any other emotion.

"The National Whisper," her mother continued, unabashed. "Some new celebrity shows up in Gotham City and you run right into his arms?"

Jenny couldn't stop a pleasant sigh as she visualized the picture that her mom was probably talking about, the one from CJ's official coming out party. The reaction brought a snort of anger from her mother. Jenny took a deep breath and closed her eyes, deciding that her less-than-serious attitude was not what her mother needed to hear. As far as her mom knew, Jenny had been a widow for a little over a month, hardly enough time to get over CJ's death. Of course, if he really was dead, Jenny doubted that she would ever be over him, and her mom was probably well aware of that. She needed to act the part that she was playing, something she knew she had not done very well. "Mom, it's not what you think."

"Then it is you?"

Jenny sighed, more resigned this time. "Yes, it is."

"So what should I think? Your husband's body is barely cold, you're carrying his child, yet you're…socializing with another man." Her voice was very pointed, accusatory, and it was hard for Jenny not to shrink into her seat a little.

Jenny tightened her grip on the phone, trying to decide what to say. She knew her old friends might end up surprised at her relationship with Sam Wayne, but for all the worrying she had done about what her image would be in the eyes of everyone she had known back in Metropolis, she had never considered how her parents might feel. Maybe she thought that, since they were not the type of people who paid attention to tabloids, they wouldn't find out. News from the coast pertaining to the rich and famous often went ignored back home, and she supposed that she had assumed she'd be able to tell them on her own terms. That obviously wouldn't be the case here.

The more Jenny thought about it, the more a certain idea began to assert itself. Maybe it was time for her family to know about CJ. She had a pretty good idea of what her mother thought of her right now, and it wasn't flattering. Between the grief over CJ's "death" and the anger over her perceived unfaithfulness, her mother's health, both physical and mental, was probably starting to suffer. It wasn't fair to keep her in the dark. Surely CJ would agree.

"Believe me when I say that I love Clark just as much now as I did the day I married him, even if he is gone now. Something that strong just doesn't go away. But I'm allowed to make new friends, aren't I?"

Her mother hesitated a moment before answering. "Friends are fine. This picture showed you dancing closely, inappropriately so."

"He's very flattering, what can I say?" Jenny said, a blush rising in her cheek. "He is also new to town and doesn't have many friends. We're very alike in that respect. Rather than be lonely, we decided to keep each other company. Laura Kent came to town to make sure nothing more happens, if that makes you feel any better."

Jenny thought she could hear her mom give a small sigh of relief. "Yes, it does. But…"

"You're still worried that there might be more going on than friendship?"

"Yes," her mother said, her voice gentler. "You can't look at that picture and honestly say those are platonic friends engaged in that dance. I've been around the block a few times; I can spot these things."

"Well, you may be right. Maybe there is more there."


"I love my husband, mother, but I can't grieve over him forever. It might seem like it's too soon to move on, but sometimes the best things happen when you least expect them."

"I can't believe I'm hearing this. It sounds so…callous. What would Clark think if he saw that picture? If he heard what you're saying now?"

Jenny smiled and glanced out the window again. She had a pretty good idea what he'd say, what he had already said on the matter. "Please believe me when I say that there is more going on here than you know. In fact, I'd like to invite you and Dad to town to meet Sam Wayne."

"No, I don't think that would be appropriate."

"If you just got a chance to be in the same room with him, I think you'd change your mind." Her mother offered no immediate response, so Jenny continued. "Tell you what, if you don't approve of him after meeting him face-to-face, I promise that I will never see him again."

Her mother gave a nervous chuckle. "That's, uh…"

"I'm serious," Jenny said, her voice making it plain that she was. "If that's what it takes to set everything straight, then I'll happily agree to whatever you decide after meeting him."

After a moment, her mother acquiesced. "Fine. And, thank you."

"You're welcome. When we talk this weekend, we can discuss when, but sooner is better."

They discussed a few more technicalities about the trip, then finished their conversation. The visit would probably take place within the next few weeks, then hopefully all would be right with them. She couldn't decide whether she was excited or nervous at the prospect of her parents being let in on the secret, but she did know that it would be a relief to not have to deceive them anymore. CJ, of course, would have a say in when and how they were told since it was his secret, after all. Maybe his family would like to be a part of the revelation as well.

The more she thought about it, the bigger her parents' trip became. It would be something that would have to be discussed and coordinated with probably a half-dozen other people before calling her folks back. Funny, it had seemed a lot less complicated when she learned the secret. The thought prompted a faraway smile and brought back memories from not all that long ago, memories she indulged in for a moment before reaching for the phone again. She paused for a moment to look up the Wayne Enterprises switchboard number, then dialed and asked for Sam Wayne. She had never called him at work before, but if they were an item now, and if everyone seemed to know it, she supposed it was safe.

When he answered the phone, there was a hint of uncertainty in his voice. "You sound surprised to be getting a call," Jenny said with a teasing tone. "You used to be so popular."

She could hear an out rush of breath, and knew that he was smiling. "I'm still popular, it's just that I seem to be the one doing all the calling now, that's all. Apparently people find the big boss to be intimidating. Figure that out." He paused for a moment, then spoke again, his voice more serious. "As nice as it is to hear your voice, something tells me that this isn't a social call."

"Why does something have to be up for me to call you at work?" Jenny asked as she leaned back in her chair and glanced toward the door of her office, which was slightly open. From beyond, she could hear the constant clacking of keyboards, and the low tones of quiet conversation. She wished that she had thought to close her door before calling him, knowing that it was entirely possible that some of her conversation might be overheard by an unscrupulous coworker. With a quick burst of almost-super breath, one of the many rediscovered abilities being fueled by their child, the door was blown shut decisively, leaving her free to talk candidly without fear of eavesdropping.

"Well, we might officially be considered an item now, but I don't know if

we're at the all-important calling each other at work phase of the relationship," he said.

"For all you know, I'm calling you regarding our little interview from a week or so ago," she said, glancing at her desk again. "And, actually, while I have you on the phone, I should let you know that it turned out pretty well. We publish it on Wednesday."

"That's good to know. It'll be nice to finally have some good press after all those tabloid stories."

"Don't tell me you're getting tired of being branded as a fun-loving playboy already," she said with a small laugh. He attempted to respond in kind, but she could tell his laugh was a little forced.

"Once they started reporting that I was supposedly dating my sister, it kind of took the fun out of it." His voice was soft, resigned, and Jenny couldn't help but laugh. As he sighed, she could visualize a charmingly uncomfortable smile on his face. "As much as I love hearing your amusement at my embarrassment, what's up, exactly?" He asked after a moment.

"My mom thinks I'm a …fallen woman, that's what."

He let out a strangled breath, then laughed lightly. "Okay."

"The tabloids made it to the Thrifty Mart in Saint Joseph, and my Mom just happened to see me on the cover. Apparently I'm not very good at hiding my affection for you, even when you're not you and my picture is slightly out of focus." She smiled slightly, then shook her head. "I guess I'm not the actor I thought I was. Somehow, I thought this whole thing would be a lot easier."

"That makes two of us," he said. "There have been a couple of mornings when I've woken up and wondered how long it will take before the jig is up. I'm a fairly public figure, you know? Sooner or later, you would think that someone would see my picture…would see us together, and that would be it. That, or I'll be walking down the street and pass by one of my old teammates…" She was surprised to hear a twinge of fear in his voice, and wished more than anything that she could be by his side at that moment to ease his fears. But she would be lying if she didn't admit to having the same worries. It was better to not think about it, to just follow the plan they had laid out, because the alternative was just not acceptable. To separate herself from him for the rest of time, to never be seen in public together for fear of discovery, would make for an existence that she didn't want to even consider. Living in fear was not living. They would have to depend on either the blindness or the discretion of the people who had known them to carry them through.

"My mother didn't recognize you, if that says anything," Jenny said after a moment. "Of course, it made for a rather awkward conversation, and I felt like dirt for keeping her and Dad in the dark about you."

"So why don't you invite them out here, and let them see the truth for themselves?" he said, his fear of a moment ago gone. He was now attempting to comfort her, a fact that brought a smile to her face and made her thank her lucky stars for having him all for herself.

"It's funny you should say that," she said. "Because that's exactly what I did."

"Then why do I sense that you aren't entirely comfortable with it?" he asked, subtle humor back in his voice.

Jenny sighed and slumped lower in her chair. "I just have this creepy feeling that they're going to hate me for keeping this from them. I'd hate me for keeping a secret this big."

"Hey, you're talking to someone who found out that his father was an alien only after knowing him for fourteen years. I can give a dissertation on what having secrets in a family can do, believe me. But I don't hate my parents for keeping things from me, because I understand why they did. I think your parents will feel the same way. Or we can hope so, anyway."

"Yeah. But part of me was hoping that it would never come to this. It was probably pretty naive, but I guess I thought that maybe, if I avoided it long enough, I'd never have to tell them."

"Barring some sort of Earth-shattering catastrophe, you and I are going to be together for the rest of our lives," he said, his voice very even yet very impassioned at the same time. "You can't realistically expect that, in all that time, I'd somehow find a way to avoid meeting your parents. Then, given all the tabloid pictures and other stories that are out there now and will probably be published in the future, you'd have to believe their curiosity about their son-in-law would cause them to take a closer look at me, at my picture, and recognize me immediately." He paused for a moment, then continued, his voice gentler. "Face it, they were going to find out eventually, so why not spare them the hurt feelings?"

Jenny opened her mouth to speak, then gave a pained smile. She'd never admitted to herself why she'd hoped to keep them away, but faced with the question, the answer became obvious. "Maybe because part of me wants to keep your family's secret safe, keep you safe, no matter what the cost. If that means keeping my parents in the dark on certain things, or staying away from them for your sake, than so be it."

"I'd never ask you to do that, and you know it," he said gently. "Besides, I like your family too much to keep them away."

"I thought guys weren't supposed to like their in-laws," she said.

"I don't think I need to tell you that I'm not like other guys," he answered with a chuckle.

"You've got that right," she said. They spent a few moments working out logistics, when he would be available to see her parents and how he could provide for their transportation. After getting everything in order, he agreed to contact his parents and arrange for them to be there during the big revelation. A few moments later they said their goodbyes, and she hung up the phone.

Jenny leaned back and looked up at the ceiling, a smile spreading across her face. All it took was a conversation with him to lift her spirits, recharge her batteries, and help her face the real world again. Even though she knew they shouldn't rush their relationship, if only for the sake of appearances, she couldn't wait until they could be officially together again. It would happen soon enough, she told herself as she sat up again. Until then, he was just a phone call away.


CJ's thoughts were racing as he walked into the closet in the cave where his suit was kept. A small part of his mind was occupied with his case against the ARB, and the work he had done that day trying to determine if any of Wayne Enterprises' prospective employees was an ARB plant. A much larger portion of his mind was chewing over his conversation with Jenny and the fact that his in-laws now knew that she was involved with Sam Wayne. He had thought he'd made peace with the idea of revealing his identity to them; it was one of the many factors that he had considered when the opportunity to become Sam Wayne had presented itself. To keep his identity hidden would mean staying away from them, even after he and Jenny remarried, which would lead to a situation that wasn't realistic or palatable. He could never ask Jenny to choose between being with him and never seeing her parents again, so he had figured that his secret would have to be revealed to them. There was no doubt in his mind that he could trust them to be discreet, to guard his secrets as if they were their own. In his naive optimism, however, he had assumed that the revelation would be smooth and problem-free, that they would accept the news with a smile and that would be it. Now, faced with the impending disclosure, he wasn't so sure, and he found himself nervous.

Although he'd been on the receiving end of a revelation before, CJ had never had to be the one to break the news. Jenny knew the secret, sure, but she had figured it out by herself. Just trying to think of the right words to say, the proper way to frame the news when he told her folks was daunting. But if he thought about it, he recognized that he probably wouldn't have to tell the Sears family anything. As soon as he walked into the room, they would immediately know the truth about who he was. Or would they?

As he slipped into the costume, CJ began to ponder how his sudden reappearance would appear in the eyes of Jenny's folks. The fact that Clark Kent was Superman, and that his powers had been passed on to the next generation of Kent family, was at the heart of what would be revealed to the Sears family, but it would probably not even occur to them. When they saw Sam Wayne's face for the first time, they would probably think that he was some sort of scam artist. Why else would CJ Kent take on the guise of the son of a famous billionaire? Why else would he be alive when he supposedly died in an airplane crash? There would be no way for them to know that CJ actually did go down with the plane, no evidence except for his word. Superman would probably be the furthest thing from their minds when they saw him, and anger would probably be the kindest emotion to greet him. CJ wouldn't be able to simply walk into the room, say hello, and expect them to understand. There would have to be a revelation before they even met Sam Wayne, and it would have to come from someone other than him. Once they knew that their son-in-law was in possession of superpowers, they shouldn't be too surprised or angry when they saw his face. In fact, they would probably be expecting CJ when they were introduced to Sam Wayne, and would hopefully greet him warmly.

So the initial meeting might not be so bad after all, with a little help from his family. CJ couldn't help but wonder, though, as he wrapped the cape over his shoulders what would the Sears family think after everything had some time to sink in. The possibility of them seeing him differently, either because of his deception or because of his heritage, scared him more than he was willing to admit. He was used to the awe on the faces of strangers when they looked at their vaunted heroes, but with the exception of one former obsessed groupie, he'd never had to see how a friend would react when told that the people they thought they knew were also superheroes. The last thing he wanted was for the Sears family to regard him with that gape-jawed look of wonder that they gave the Supermen, the heroes that they didn't know. Hopefully they would understand that he was still the person they thought he was, the person they had known for years prior to the plane crash, and that they had no reason to see him any differently than they had before.

In the meantime, there was still crime to fight, and that was what he tried to turn his thoughts toward. CJ reached for his rather meager utility belt and wrapped it around his waist, fastening it with a click. Next, he reached for his cowl, the final piece of the puzzle, and pulled it over his head. Tonight, his sister would be meeting him atop the Gotham State parking ramp where they had talked her first night in town. She would be tagging along with him, helping him out, fulfilling her role as sidekick for the first time. The thought brought a half smile to his face, and helped to push away his pensive mood. He wasn't exactly a pro at the whole hero gig yet, but he knew enough that he could pass along, little tricks of the trade that Bruce had given him. Besides, fighting crime with a little companionship was always fun, and he was definitely someone who reveled in the more enjoyable side of life. With a renewed sense of purpose and a spring in his step, CJ left the closet and headed for the car, but let out a yelp as he practically ran into his brother just outside the closet door.

"Jeez, don't you knock?" CJ asked after he was able to catch his breath. He took a step back and reached up out of habit to run his hand through his hair, although the cowl stopped his progress.

"Sorry, but it's not like this place has a doorbell," Jon said, his amused expression causing a flash of consternation in CJ. "Besides, I thought the characteristic whoosh would serve as my announcement."

"I was preoccupied, I guess," CJ said with a frown. "I was kind of expecting you to call before showing up."

Jon's expression softened. "Well, Diane was out on a stake-out tonight, so rather than sit alone at home…"

"What, domestic life has become boring?" CJ asked, his good humor quickly recovering from the scare. He couldn't stay angry, especially not when Jon left such a perfect opportunity for CJ to insert a personal jab. "Or is your couch really that uncomfortable?"

Jon placed his hands on his hips, laughed lightly, and turned his head sideways, a crooked grin on his face. CJ smiled and waited for the response, which came a moment later. "Let's just say that I have a lot more fun with my wife around," Jon replied as his eyes locked into CJ's. The context of the comment was very plain on Jon's face, and CJ found his cheeks growing warm. They smiled at each other for a moment, then CJ shook his head.

"I can sympathize with you there, believe me," CJ said, taking a step to the side, then starting toward the center of the cave, gesturing for Jon to follow him.

"Might I add that I don't see you in that big mansion parked in front of a television," Jon said as he turned and fell into step behind CJ.

CJ waved his hand dismissively. "I find it's a lot more fun to make the news rather than watch the news. And most fiction has nothing on my life story."

"Very true on both counts."

They walked in silence for a moment, then CJ looked over his shoulder as best he could while wearing the bulky cowl. "So you never did say why you're here. Come to watch the action? I'd offer you the vaunted sidekick position, but it's already been filled."

Jon arched his eyebrows. "Let's just say I was in need of a good laugh, and the first thing I thought of was taking a trip out to Gotham City to see my brother."

CJ smiled and wiggled his eyebrows, then turned to face forward again. "I don't know whether to be insulted or flattered."

"Let's just keep the mystery, shall we?" Jon said.

"And here I thought I was the mysterious one." They approached what now served as the new batmobile: a black car with heavily tinted windows, but otherwise outwardly unremarkable in every way. He could never figure out the point of owning a vehicle so gaudy and unique that everyone immediately recognized it. It could never be taken to a mechanic, could never be driven on the streets without everyone knowing who was behind the wheel and wondering what he was up to. CJ figured that it was better to fade into the background, to use his car as part of the disguise. Even though it had a plain exterior, the engine was anything but. There were ten cylinders under the hood, enough to make even the novice car aficionado drool. CJ had quickly decided that he liked the fact that his unassuming car could easily beat about any other car on the road, including police vehicles. In a way it was like flying, only closer to the ground.

CJ stopped walking, took a long look at the car, then turned toward Jon. "Care to take a ride? You probably have news and I'm running late…"

"Hot date?" Jon asked, his smile almost wicked. "I've been in the middle of your dates with Jenny before, and if that's going to be the case again, I'd like to know ahead of time so that I can supply the bucket of cold water."

CJ smirked. "I'm meeting Laura, thank you, and although the tabloids have declared us an item…"


"…you can't believe everything you read." He sighed, then gestured toward the car. "I can't guarantee comedy, but maybe you'll end up with a few chuckles at my expense. No promises, though."

Jon smiled and nodded. Without another word, they climbed into the car and started toward town. Jon looked around, then raised his eyebrows as he caught sight of the dashboard. "I might be seeing things, but does the speedometer really go to 220?"

CJ smiled and nodded. "I got it over 100 once, and the pedal wasn't even close to being floored."

"Jeez, this thing looks like something you'd see grandparents riding around in."

CJ's smile became crooked. "He manages to convince others that he's two different people, but can still be fooled by appearances."

Jon shot him a dirty look, then settled down into the seat and relaxed. "Mind if we talk a little business for a while?"

"I suppose not."

The needle on the speedometer ticked upward as CJ accelerated through the tight curves on the secluded road leading out of the Gotham hills. He knew that he was probably showing off, but his brother didn't seem fazed by the speed. "There I was, having a fairly pleasant weekend interrupted by the occasional patrol over the Atlantic Ocean, but for whatever reason I couldn't stop thinking about your case. The potential to build a fairly solid argument against those nuts at the ARB was just too tempting to resist, especially since it seemed like the light was shining brightly at the end of the tunnel. So, when the wife went out to do some shopping, I found some time to research just what kinds of things occurred in the cities that your pal Ross has lived in."


"And, bad stuff happens all the time in bad cities; I don't think I need to tell you that. Aside from the random violence and obvious crimes, there are fires, floods, and accidents…things that are generally attributed to chance, things with no perceptible cause. In places that are so overwhelmed with other problems, it's easy for these apparent accidents to be dismissed after a rudimentary initial investigation, but it doesn't take much imagination to see how a lot of these things could be the result of more sinister circumstances. You could go crazy delving into the specifics of each case to look for that one missed clue that would prove foul play. I value my sanity, though, so I decided after digging into a couple cases to pull away and try a different strategy. I couldn't help but wonder, what would happen if I took all the so-called accidents and cross-checked them with the companies on the ARB hit list?"

"A lot of coincidences, I'd imagine."

"You would imagine correctly. Granted, some really might be coincidences, and there were plenty of other things that had nothing to do with any company that the ARB is interested in. I have no doubt, though, that a fair number of the things I found really are linked to the ARB or to Ross. When we get a chance to slow down, I'll let you peruse the file, but suffice to say, there's more than enough to convince even the biggest skeptic that something funny is going on."

"So, basically, you found what we were looking for," CJ said, his heart pounding rapidly at the possibility.

"In a nutshell, yeah. But there's a little more to it than that. After really taking a close look at all the things they might have done, I began to realize that, as time went on, the magnitude of their apparent incidents seemed to grow."

"How so?" The tires of the car screeched as CJ whipped onto another street, the interstate leading to the heart of downtown now within view.

"About 5 years ago or so, some companies on the list reported vandalism. That's probably nothing that would normally stand out at first blush, but the culprit was never found and the incidents corresponded with one of the cities Ross purported to be in. Then, a year or so later, another targeted company in another of Ross's cities reported a fire at its headquarters, which caused some sizable damage. From there, more things happened to different companies, suspicious accidents that caused exponentially larger damage, almost as if each new incident was building upon the previous one. Then, a targeted oil company in Texas found its whole refinery on fire, ostensibly as the result of yet another accident, although most people don't believe that it was. Top scientists could never quite figure out how something like that could happen without some help, given the safety systems that the refinery was required by law to have. No real evidence of foul play was ever found, though. It seems like a refinery blaze would be hard to top, but then came your plane crash. Makes me wonder what they have planned for Wayne Enterprises." CJ made a turn onto the interstate, then really stepped onto the accelerator. Jon squinted and turned toward CJ. "How you haven't been pulled over for speeding yet is a mystery to me."

CJ grinned and pointed to his eyes. "Don't tell me that you don't pull down the glasses every once in a while to check for cops when you drive Diane's car. It's hard to fall victim to a speed trap when you can literally see it coming a mile away."

"For one, Diane's car would be vibrating itself apart once it hit this speed. And for another, if I was in that much of a hurry, I would have other ways of getting there," Jon answered as CJ eased into the fast lane and started passing other vehicles as if they were standing still.

"Speak for yourself," CJ muttered, gripping the steering wheel tighter. "So are you going to publish what you found? Seems like the ARB is firmly in the public crosshairs since Dad found that detonator."

"I don't know if they are, at least not yet," Jon answered. "All the detonator proved was that the Metro Air accident was no accident. Nobody knows where it came from or how it got on the plane, but I'm sure that will come with time. I know Mom and Dad are doing some serious digging into that, and you know how their investigations usually turn out."

At CJ's nod, Jon continued. "I think people are aware that the ARB protested Metro Air before the crash and were unsympathetic, even celebratory, afterward. But will anybody honestly believe that the ARB has any connection to the crash? Doubtful. So, yeah, I'll publish an article pointing out all the bad luck that has befallen the companies under scrutiny of the ARB, including Metro Air. The story will hit the high notes and leave out some of the smaller, less obvious cases that I found, as well as the correlation between the accidents and certain cities on which we outwardly had no reason to be concentrating. You have to wonder, though, if someone else will build upon what I write, try to draw more connections to the ARB, and find those smaller incidents by themselves."

"I hope they do," CJ said. "The more people who figure out that these guys are bad news, the better the chances that they'll believe it when this Brad Ross guy gets fingered for the plane crash. Maybe it'll force Ross's hand on whatever he's planning at my company, too."

"Getting impatient?" Jon asked casually. CJ whipped the car over several lanes, and headed for the exit to the Gotham State University area.

"Yes and no. We have these guys in our crosshairs right now. Four people — you, me, Laura, and Dad — are devoting a great deal of time to making sure that they go down for that plane crash. As time goes by, the intensity will fade away, and we will all move on to other things. The ARB will end up striking when we're not prepared, and then what will happen? If we make them feel the heat now, there's a chance that they'll rush to do whatever they're going to do. In their rush, maybe they'll get sloppy, and maybe, with all of us working on this, we'll even catch them before anyone gets hurt." CJ sighed and slowed down, turning his attention briefly toward his brother. "All I want is to stop them before they hurt anyone else." He looked back toward the road, but not before seeing an expression of sympathy on Jon's face. The statement echoed in CJ's ears as they traveled in silence, the raw emotion in his own voice causing a frown to form on his face.

CJ never used to think of himself as the type of person who could be ruled by his emotions. Even the most traumatic experiences in his life didn't seem too terrible in hindsight, if only because he had always been able to eventually laugh them away. Maybe it was the result of some sort of naïveté, a built-in pair of rose-colored glasses, or maybe he just thought that there were better things to do than be angry all the time. Whatever the reason, he could look back on his life before the accident and smile at all the memories, good and bad. But since his old life was taken from him, he found himself succumbing to darker moods. Sure, he still looked at the sunny side of life whenever possible, but sometimes, when his thoughts turned to the plane crash or to the events surrounding it, he would become lost in thought, brooding…grieving. It was hard not to mourn the life he had lost, even if his current existence had so many blessings. But all the money, fame, and success in the world couldn't make up for the fact that he could never go home again, never quite be himself again.

There would always be some small part of him that would be left in the depths of the ocean, a part that died along with all his fellow passengers when that plane hit the water. That didn't mean that he wouldn't make the most of the life he had, or that he couldn't go back to being the positive person he once was. Maybe his innocence was gone, maybe his rose-colored glasses had lost their tint, but he still had his sense of humor and an overwhelming belief that everything that happened in the world happened for a reason. As long as he was aware of how the accident affected him, he could do his best to make sure that it didn't permanently change him, if only for the sake of his loved ones. He would work hard to make sure that Jenny and their child would not also be victims of the ARB's actions.

"Better watch out. If you use that tone out in public, Batman just might get

a reputation for being dark and brooding." Jon's voice was teasing, and CJ couldn't help but smile ever so slightly. "If it means anything, I'll do everything I can to help make sure these guys go down before they can do any more harm."

"I know you will." CJ said. As annoying as his brother could sometimes be, when it came to fighting crime or helping the innocent, there was never any question about where his priorities were. CJ and Jon had a fair amount of common ground, as much as CJ hated to admit it. "You do realize, of course, that Batman is going to take all the credit for saving those lives and bringing in Ross," CJ said, hoping to inject a note of humor into a conversation that had grown awkwardly serious.

"As long as I get all the credit for being the reporter brilliant enough to figure it out before Batman did, then I'm fine with that," Jon answered, a fair amount of smugness in his voice.

CJ was grinning as he pulled into the ramp and guided the car up several levels until he found an isolated spot to park the car. As CJ cut the ignition, he turned toward his brother and regarded him for a moment. "So will you at least mention me when you win the Pulitzer for your work on the case?" His expression made it clear that he was teasing.

Jon stuck out his lower lip and shrugged, trying to hide a smile. "No promises. Of course, you're assuming that hell is going to freeze over in the meantime."

"Well, since we are in the land of the walking dead, I'd say that anything is possible, even a big award for you before pigs go flying cross the sky."

"I'll BE one of the walking dead if I win the Pulitzer before Mom." They both laughed, but as the laughter died down, CJ caught himself looking around, hoping that nobody else was present in the ramp. It wouldn't do for two normally stoic superheroes to be caught acting so completely out of character. Jon apparently had the same thought, and CJ could see him forcing the smile off his face. After a moment, they looked at each other, nodded once, and exited the car. It was time to get down to work.


Laura leaned against the concrete railing of the parking garage and sighed. Her brother was now a good ten minutes late, and although usually she wouldn't be too surprised or annoyed at the fact, it was hard to ignore the sheer dullness of the Gotham State area at the moment. Like any teenager, she supposed that she held some unrealistic notions about what actually happened in college towns. She had always imagined non-stop parties at neighborhood fraternity houses, sidewalks teeming with interesting and intelligent people, and coffee houses with outdoor porches populated by folks having intellectually stimulating discussions. It didn't help that most of her exposure to college life had come on football game days or weekends, times when the stereotypes were more likely to be true. The reality, as she was finding out, was that summertime brought vacant sidewalks and nearly-vacant apartment buildings, coffee houses which closed early, and more hobos on the street than students. At least she still had Brad Ross to watch, she thought with a sigh, turning her attention to Ross's current location, a moderately busy bar a couple blocks away.

A car made its way down the lonely stretch of road below as she turned her attention to Ross's apartment. By now, she knew every nook and cranny of that place by heart. At the drop of a hat, she could rattle off the contents of his bookshelf, give the number of packages of ramen noodle soup in his cupboard and, oh yeah, recite the bomb making instructions that were kept at the bottom of a large pile of papers on his desk. Joining the instructions in the pile were numerous articles on Wayne Enterprises and Metro Air, some newsletters from fringe anti-business political groups, and scratch paper with scribbled phone numbers and notes. She had long ago recorded the information in her notebook, along with a few personal comments, although the information hadn't been forwarded on to CJ yet.

Laura's hand reached for her cellular phone, her more impatient side wondering who would answer if she called one of the numbers in Brad Ross's pile. Even as her fingers brushed against the phone, she stopped herself, knowing that the last thing she wanted was to put her cell phone number in the caller ID of a potential murder suspect. With a sigh, she clenched her hand into a fist and wondered for the umpteenth time what was holding up her brother. As if on cue, two very familiar voices reached her ears from not very far below, followed by raucous laughter. She rolled her eyes as the two imitated hyenas for a second before exiting the car.

Jon was at her side in mere moments, leaning nonchalantly against the barrier rail as if he had been there for hours. "I see that the sidekick life is filled with non-stop excitement," he said as she turned toward him, and she had to smile. His sense of humor always seemed to assert itself more strongly when under CJ's influence, a fact that she found interesting considering how much the two of them had always been at each other's throats as kids.

"At least I get to meet exciting heroes on a regular basis," she said, her eyes moving toward his chest. It never ceased to amaze her that it was her brother behind the spandex. As she grinned at him, he apparently noticed her outfit for the first time.

"Hey, you're wearing Diane's old suit. It looks good on you."

Laura blushed slightly. "You think so?"

"Sure," Jon answered. "It also compliments the wardrobe of Mr. Sunshine over there," he said, pointing his thumb toward CJ, who was quickly making his way toward them. CJ smirked at the words, making it obvious that he heard the remark.

"Better black than loud," Laura answered. "How Dad goes out in that suit every night is beyond me. The powers make you stand out enough, you don't need a bright blue suit to get attention."

"Amen to that, sister," CJ said as he approached. "So, what did I miss?"

Laura waved toward Brad Ross's apartment. "I think I saw some paint peeling in Ross's apartment while I was waiting for you to get here. That's about as exciting as it gets around here."

As Jon turned toward the apartment, CJ's smirk morphed into an easy smile.

"Why do I get the feeling that you're not thrilled with keeping watch on Brad Ross?"

Laura shook her head and smiled. "Is it that obvious?" As CJ nodded and raised his eyebrows, she continued. "Even if it is boring, it's at least bearing a little fruit. You know, he has enough bomb making literature and equipment in that apartment to get him sent up river for a long time."

CJ shrugged. "Yeah, I know. Unfortunately, cops need more than just the word of a couple people with x-ray vision to get a search warrant and do something about the situation."

"It's called reasonable suspicion," Jon said. "And, wow, you weren't kidding."

"Nobody's going to go in there until Ross does something to make the cops act…like actually planting a bomb. And that's why we're watching him." CJ's tone became more disgusted with each word. Laura smiled, hoping that that, along with a little good news, would help chase away the sour mood.

"If it means anything, I scribbled down a bunch of phone numbers that were on papers connected with the bomb making stuff. I think I might've found some clues to his real identity, too."

CJ sighed, his half-smile retuning. "That's great to hear," he said.

Laura looked at him anxiously, then nodded toward the general Campustown area. She had been saving the best news for last, and she was sure her brothers would turn interesting colors upon hearing it. "I think I also found your baggage handler."

She had been right, Laura thought with amusement as she noted the pallid hue that their complexions had taken. Both Jon and CJ were now looking at her intensely, practically in shock. "You did?" CJ asked, his expression practically begging her to continue.

Laura pointed to the bar where Ross was hanging out. "Yeah. His name is, uh, Simon Armstrong. He met up with Brad Ross at a bar about half an hour ago. They just got started on a game of darts."

Although he appeared lost in thought, CJ followed her gaze, then turned back toward Laura and Jon. He stared at them blankly for a moment, then seemed to grow taller, a decisive expression on his face. "I have an idea," he said, any hint of surprise or humor completely missing from his voice. With a curt nod, he was gone, taking off across the parking deck at a full run.

"What…?" Laura asked toward his retreating form. She then looked questioningly toward Jon, who just smiled.

"If you haven't seen his imitation of a surfer dude yet, then you're in for a real treat," he said. He sauntered up to the railing and casually leaned against it. "It's an undercover part he plays when he goes to ARB meetings."

"Really?" Laura asked, taking note of the amused expression that Jon held as

he looked out toward the bar.

"His act is so real, you'd almost swear that he was a beach bum and not just playing the part."

"Well, something tells me that for CJ, sometimes the part of gnarly party dude isn't too far from the truth," Laura said, settling in next to Jon. They made some small talk for a while, mostly getting caught up on the news from back home, until they saw a solitary, blonde-haired figure emerge from the parking garage stairwell and make his way toward the Campustown bars. He looked over his shoulder once, located the pair at the top of the garage, and gave them the thumbs up before entering the bar where Brad Ross and Simon Armstrong were.

One thing that Laura had always admired about CJ was his ability to comfortably fit in with anyone in any social situation. He could coax an introvert out of his or her shell or BS with a salesman; talk politics or philosophy just as easily as he could engage in even the most inane conversation. All of it was done without sounding patronizing or disinterested, and Laura suspected that it was because he genuinely did enjoy talking with people and being in all those different situations. His social skills were no doubt inherited from their father, who, despite being an alien in more than just the literal sense, always seemed at home with all walks of life. Laura and Jon tended to be a little more socially awkward, although that certainly didn't mean that either was shy. Still, in situations such as the one in which CJ was now placed, it was amazing to see how easily he could charm conversation even from someone who he suspected to be a killer.

Laura and Jon watched as he approached Ross and Armstrong, saying that he recognized them from an ARB meeting. They appeared to take his persona at face value, and allowed him to join them. He quickly settled in and gained their trust, his more liberal persona so convincing, even Laura had trouble seeing her brother beneath it. After engaging the men in some fairly mundane conversation, CJ gradually tried to steer the discussion toward potentially damning political topics, mentioning a few of the more radical ARB beliefs in an attempt to bait the men into agreeing or elaborating, but to no avail. Although nothing incriminating was said, there were plenty of other…interesting topics discussed. During some of the more bizarre rants by either Ross, Armstrong, or CJ, Laura couldn't help but let snide comments slip, often drawing a sideways glance from CJ. From time to time, Laura and Jon would discuss something mentioned in the bar, and Laura would watch with interest as CJ stared at them, apparently wanting to chip in but not able to.

After the better part of half an hour and at least one pint of beer, CJ jumped slightly and reached for his back pocket, telling his companions that he had a call coming in on the cell phone. He dismissed himself from their company, moved to an empty stool at the end of the bar, and pulled out his phone. Through the walls of the bar, Laura could see CJ's eyes lock into hers as he placed the phone against his ear. "Talking with those guys is worthwhile if it means getting some juicy information, but they seem dead set on keeping any wild plans they might have to themselves. At this point I think I'll probably break a pool cue over one of their heads if I hear one more oddball rant, so…"

"I wouldn't blame you if you did," Jon said, eliciting smirk from CJ. "Still, maybe after a few more beers they'll loosen up."

"I've been around a lot of drunks in my day, and I can tell you that all a few more beers will do is send them praying to the porcelain god. They're already pretty far in the bag. I'm not going to get anything useful tonight."

"I'm sure you have better things to do than stick around there," Jon answered, glancing at Laura, who nodded eagerly. She had been promised a night of real crime fighting action, and the night certainly wasn't getting any younger. Watching CJ morph into some sort of beach bum was entertaining, but she wanted to move on to something more interesting.

"You are, of course, correct. I'm going to get out of here." CJ kept the phone held to his ear as he turned and found Ross and Armstrong, holding his hand up in greeting. When they found him, he pointed to his phone and shrugged, then gestured toward the door, apparently indicating that he had to go take care of whatever the person on the other end was calling about. They shooed him away and quickly returned to their conversation, leaving him free to go. "So what did you think?" CJ asked as he walked out the door and onto the practically deserted street. "Even in the absence of damning statements, are those our guys?"

"Yeah," Jon and Laura answered emphatically, in unison. They looked at each other, grinned, then turned back toward CJ.

"They came off as a few donuts short of a dozen," Jon said, bringing a smile to CJ's face. "I could believe that people like that are capable of just about anything."

"The problem is, most of the time guys like this don't follow through on the kooky things they say. They talked big tonight about how they would like to replace all the white paper in town with pink paper, so that people would stare at it all day, then see the world in shades of green…"

"That one was particularly kooky. And, hey, someone paid attention to the color wheel in art class."

"Something tells me they won't follow through on that threat," CJ finished. "Then again, Ross didn't have that look in his eye when he said that."

"We know enough to believe that they'll say or do something incriminating at some time, though, right?" Laura asked, bringing nods from her brothers.

"Armstrong talked about getting started at his new job soon," CJ said. "One guess as to where that is."

"Someone needs to follow him. It would save you the work of hunting him down from the inside," Jon said. Both Jon and CJ looked toward Laura, who put up her hands defensively in response.

"There are two guys to watch and only one of me. If they're both as dangerous as you guys say, then I can't go after one and not the other." As she spoke, Laura crossed her arms in front of her and looked at Jon, raising her eyebrows. There were other super-powered beings in town who could manage such a chore, and Jon apparently knew it.

"Don't look at me like that," he said, his tone light. "I have a boss who expects me in the office first thing in the morning. Besides, this is your investigation," he said, looking toward CJ.

"You're right," CJ said evenly. He didn't appear to be frustrated or upset at the situation, a fact that bothered Laura for a moment, until she saw that, although he still appeared to be looking at her, his eyes weren't really on her. He was looking past her, she realized. As she was about to look over her shoulder, CJ held up his hand and pointed into the distance. "I think I know someone who will help us out."

Both Jon and Laura looked toward where he was pointing and noticed a solitary shadowy figure crouched down on a neighboring building, a pair of binoculars held up to his eyes pointed in their direction. In less than the time it took to gasp, Jon was gone.

"Don't overreact," CJ said as Jon disappeared. As he recognized that his words came too late, he sighed and lowered his phone. "He's not a bad guy," he added quietly.

"I'll tell him, Laura said, bringing a grateful smile from CJ. With that, she also took off in the air, bound for Jon and the mysterious stranger.


Curiosity was an emotion that Dick Grayson didn't experience very often, one that he had figured he'd grown out of a long time ago. In his younger years, while playing the part of the sidekick to Bruce Wayne's Batman, he'd seen enough of the bad side of humanity to make him almost afraid to be curious again. It surprised him, then, to find that his meeting with the young Sam Wayne had stirred that emotion, and he had been beholden to it ever since. At the expense of his own family, he had followed both Sam Wayne and the Batman, soaking in every last detail of his life. Dick wasn't quite sure what he was looking for or why he watched at all, but he found himself constantly amazed and surprised by the man Bruce Wayne had picked as his successor.

He could spend all day watching the new Batman at work. He was deceptively fast, although obviously not Superman fast. His movements were fluid and graceful, probably a by-product of the martial arts training that he'd obviously had; his blows were powerful, yet they appeared almost effortless. Watching him, it was easy to forget that his father was the famous Man of Steel, but every now and then the fact became hard to ignore. When a gun was fired, the new Batman would almost casually reach out to stop the bullet before any harm was done, despite his lack of speed. If a perpetrator would hide and try to take advantage of Batman's distraction to attack, none of his punches would so much as faze the hero, who would almost appear annoyed as he easily subdued the attacker. In the event that something dramatic would need to be done to control a situation or, in a few instances, rescue someone, Batman wasn't above a little heavy lifting to get the job done. Belligerent gang members who sought to hide behind a large piece of machinery to elude the hero had seen the machinery tossed aside and their position exposed, although they were too busy gaping at the ruined chunk of metal to run from the hero. In one instance, a woman caught in a fiery, partially collapsed building was rescued by the new Batman, although from the way he looked around prior to the rescue, it seemed that he didn't want anyone to know that he was the one who saved her. It was little wonder, Dick thought. Batman was supposed to be larger than life, yes, but he was also supposed to be a mere mortal, and mere mortals just didn't do those kinds of things.

His observation of the new Batman had driven home the point that it definitely wasn't Bruce Wayne wearing the cape and cowl anymore, a fact that Dick Grayson greeted with mixed emotions. He hadn't been lying when he told Sam Wayne that he was glad someone else had taken up the mantle, someone who truly valued the well being of everyone in the city and wasn't just on some sort of personal vendetta. At the same time, though, it just felt strange knowing that someone else was out there doing the work. Dick had expected that Bruce Wayne would keep on fighting for his own particular brand of justice until he was physically unable to do it anymore, or until he was dead. Of course, Dick hadn't talked to his former guardian in years, but he'd seen enough of the news to know that Bruce still appeared to be in good health, and that he could probably still kick around any of the scum in Metropolis. Bruce had simply retired, given up without a fight, and that was surprising. But…maybe Bruce Wayne had developed some sense in the quarter century since Dick had last spoken to him, or maybe Bruce saw something in his successor that made him believe that it was time for a changing of the guard.

Dick didn't pretend to know what it would be like to be the less talented son of Superman, to know that you would never be able to live up to your lineage, at least not in the eyes of the public. Neither would he know what it was like to be the only survivor of a horrific plane crash, one in which nobody should've survived. Together, those two circumstances were certainly traumatic, and could leave the type of mental scar that could fuel someone with a little talent and desire to take on a life of crime fighting. Still, one conversation with the kid had convinced Dick that his personality was much deeper and much more positive than what his story would lead you to believe. A chance observation of the new hero on a darkened rooftop with the woman who was apparently his wife only helped solidify that idea, and had helped fuel Dick's curiosity. He had to know more, he had to see what Bruce saw, and that started with gathering more information about the man who was the new Batman.

A little bit of elbow grease and a few hours of research at the local library had led Dick to a list of all those on board the downed Metro Air flight who were newly married and had at least one brother. That list was quite short, and upon locating pictures of all the men who fit the description, the real identity of Sam Wayne, and by association the identities of the Supermen, had been discovered. In a former life, Sam Wayne had been Samuel Clark Kent, CJ to his family, Clark to his friends, a standout football player at Metropolis University and a very popular and well-liked kid. His folks were Lois Lane and Clark Kent, journalists for the Daily Planet and probably two of the last people Dick would suspect as being the first family of crime fighting. Granted, Lois Lane was a famous friend of Superman, and a force of nature in her own right. But Kent had a reputation as someone who was happiest outside the limelight, who was outgoing yet unassuming and almost reserved, especially when it came to awards or praise. Beneath the modest exterior, though, was a man who could use his journalistic acumen to craft a powerful story, and do as much good for society as any spotlight-seeking superhero. He didn't come off as the type of person who possessed brute strength, but rather as someone with a more quiet will, the opposite of the Man of Steel in many ways. More surprisingly, both Clark and his youngest son were fairly well known for their humor and congeniality. CJ, especially, had been eulogized by friends as being the life of the party, someone who could be counted on to cheer up a friend when he was down. Dick had seen flashes of that side of him when they'd met on the roof, but it still seemed strange that it was one of the defining personality traits of the man who took on the identity of a dark and brooding hero. If nothing else, duality seemed to be prominent in the personalities of the Super family, something Dick could appreciate, and something which would certainly tie them to someone like Bruce Wayne.

It was partially because of that dichotomy, and because he never tired of seeing his amazing abilities, that Dick Grayson continued to watch Sam Wayne, Batman, from afar, even after finding most of his deep, dark secrets. It helped that Batman had recently acquired a new sidekick who was certainly worthy of attention. Dick assumed that she was the third of the Kent children, a daughter named Laura, who also happened to be a vision in form-fitting spandex. Since showing up a few days earlier, she had been an almost permanent fixture in the Gotham skies, usually hovering over the Gotham State campus area. She wasn't in town for the sightseeing, that much was certain, although during her off hours she had no problem taking in the social scene with Sam Wayne and his mysterious girlfriend. Dick couldn't deny that he had taken his perch atop the building he was currently on in part to observe her. He also knew that her brother would join her eventually, and he hadn't been wrong. He was surprised to find that it wasn't just Batman that came to visit this night; the Crimson Superman, the final member of the Kent clan, had come along as well.

It was interesting to watch them interact, to see them laughing. The socializing was short-lived, though, since Sam Wayne left almost immediately, bound for points unknown. Both Crimson Superman and his sister seemed content to stay on the roof, talking, but at times they didn't appear to be talking to each other. At one particular point, they both seemed to be conversing with someone else that Dick couldn't see, probably their absent brother. After a moment, they both turned in his direction and looked directly at him. It was then that he knew his clandestine spying of their activities was officially finished.

Before Dick even got a chance to lower his binoculars, Crimson Superman was at his side, his expression less than friendly. Dick could understand his annoyance, and he tried to act as nonchalant as possible, if only to avoid further provoking the perturbed hero.

"If I appear to be staring, it's only because we locals aren't generally graced with the company of one of Metropolis's finest." Dick gave a half smile, although Crimson Superman didn't say anything, and his eyes shifted between Dick and the binoculars in his hand. "Name's Nightwing," Dick said, extending his right hand toward the Superhero, who made no move to shake it.

"So why were you watching us, exactly?" Crimson Superman asked, his voice making it plain that the good mood he had been in earlier was definitely now gone. At that moment, the spandex-clad Laura Kent appeared in front of them, looking curiously at Dick and his outstretched hand before leaning in toward her brother and whispering something in his ear.

Dick lowered his hand and opened his mouth to greet the newest arrival to the rooftop, but both Crimson Superman and his sister suddenly looked at the vicinity they had come from. Before Dick could speak, Crimson Superman muttered, "Sorry," then was gone. He returned a couple seconds later with an average-looking college-aged kid that Dick didn't recognize at first. After staring at him for a second, though, he realized that this was the new Sam Wayne, and he had to hold back a laugh.

"Grayson," Sam Wayne said, scratching at his head and the long-haired blonde wig atop it.

"Wayne," Dick said with a nod.

"After a solid week of being followed, I can finally visit your rooftop and tell you to cut it the heck out," Sam Wayne said with a wry half smile.

"You knew he was up here even before coming out of that bar?" Crimson Superman asked, the antagonism now gone from his voice. The timbre was also more conversational, very different from the voice he generally used in public.

Sam Wayne looked at his brother and shrugged. "I make it my business to know these things."

"You never used to be that observant," Crimson Superman said with a hint of amusement.

"I never used to get stalked," Wayne answered. He turned his gaze toward Dick and grinned mischievously and nodded toward his brother, causing Dick to blink as he tried to acclimate himself with this side of the new Batman. "As a big shot hero with his own fan club, you'd think he would be used to

being followed, although I'd imagine his stalkers tend to be a little better looking," he said with a wiggle of his eyebrows.

The hue of Crimson Superman's cheeks was starting to match that of his uniform. Laura Kent giggled lightly, although she stopped after a dirty glance from her brother. Not waiting for an uncomfortable silence to develop, Sam Wayne circled around so that he was beside Dick, his eyes locking into Crimson Superman's and his expression quickly becoming more serious. "Look, we're all on the same side here, even if some of us are a little too curious for our own good." Wayne stuck out his thumb and pointed it toward Dick, who didn't contest the remark, but did have the presence to at least act appropriately embarrassed. "This is Nightwing, one of Bruce Wayne's former assistants."

"I was Robin, actually," Dick said with a glance toward Sam Wayne's sister, who seemed to perk up upon hearing that. Crimson Superman arched an eyebrow and pursed his lips, apparently somewhat surprised at the revelation.

"He and I have met before, and I let enough information about myself slip that he probably knows exactly who all of us are. Fortunately, the converse is true, as well." Wayne glanced toward Dick, who found a very interesting spot on the roof to stare at. Dick figured there was no point in denying what he knew, especially given Wayne's apparent knack for ferreting out the truth. "For the time being we'll just forget about that, and pretend that we're just who our spandex outfits say we are, okay?" Dick nodded and brought his gaze up, seeing an almost reluctant nod from Crimson Superman. "Okay, on with introductions, then. Glaring at you from across the roof is my brother, whose name is pretty obvious given the big S on his chest."

"I wasn't glaring," Crimson Superman muttered. "Nice to meet you," he said in a more normal voice. He reached out and finally shook Dick's hand, although his expression revealed that he still wasn't exactly thrilled about the circumstances. Wayne smiled encouragingly, then held out his arm toward Laura Kent.

"This is my sister, who has yet to actually assume a name."

"Why do I need a name? I'm not supposed to be talking to anyone in costume, remember?" Her voice wasn't angry or accusatory. If anything, it was almost sarcastic in a way that betrayed she was still a teenager, probably younger than Dick had first assumed.

"Aren't you Shadow Woman?" Dick asked, looking closely at the outfit she was wearing. Shadow Woman never sought out publicity, and very few pictures of her existed, but he could swear that the outfit Laura Kent was wearing matched what the mysterious heroine had worn. If she was as young as he thought, it was probably no wonder that she shied away from the public eye. Her father probably had a lot of say in that, as well.

"No, she's out of commission. I got this secondhand," she replied, running her hands down her thighs and absently modeling the uniform. She appeared thoughtful for a moment, then looked at Sam Wayne and arched an eyebrow. "I guess right now, I'm Robin." She smiled, and Dick couldn't help but notice how beautiful she was behind the mask. "Three Robins on the same roof…it's almost begging for a joke."

"Anyone have a lightbulb? We could see how many of us it takes to screw it in," Wayne answered dryly, and Dick smiled despite himself. His companions, too, seemed to be in a better mood after the joke. He almost felt bad, then, that he had to point out that at least one of them on the roof wasn't putting on any pretense at being a crime fighter at the moment.

"So, Wayne, who are you supposed to be?" Dick asked, looking more closely at the outfit he was wearing. The political statement on his t-shirt was one that no self-respecting billionaire would be caught dead wearing, and his overall look spoke of someone who had disdain for the rules of general hygiene.

"I'm supposed to be undercover. That's why I'm here." He walked over so that he was between his two siblings, then started to tell the story of Americans for Responsible Business, a political group that he suspected of doing everything from simple vandalism to crashing a plane, one that his former identity just happened to have the unfortunate luck to be on. Crimson Superman, who obviously had done a fair amount of work in the case, interjected from time to time, playing off Wayne to build a complete picture of where the investigation was and what the authorities knew. Wayne then played his trump card, and told Dick what the entire lynch pin of the case was, or, more precisely, who it was. Two people, both active members of the ARB, and both connected to the airplane disaster, just happened to be in town. From what had been found so far, both men also just happened to be scheming to do something potentially more devastating to the Wayne family business.

"We've looked into the apartment of one of these men, and we've seen the bomb making literature. More importantly, though, I've heard him say point blank that Wayne Enterprises deserves to have something terrible happen to it. I don't doubt that, if these guys get their way, something will."

Dick nodded, suitably impressed at the details of the investigation and the remarkable detective work that had been done to bring it to this point, although something about the situation was bothering him. "You all seem to have this investigation well in hand. Why tell me?"

Wayne and his brother looked at their sister, who had been silent during the explanation of the investigation. "My job has been observation," she said, the teenage sarcasm she had used earlier now replaced with a straightforward professionalism. "Up until tonight, we only had one guy to follow, but as of now we have two. I might be fast, but I can only be in one place at a time…"

"So you need someone who likes to snoop to follow the second guy around and catch him doing something he shouldn't," Dick finished, finally seeing the full picture.

"I'll settle for an address and an idea of a day job. I suspect that he's been hired on at the company, but I've had no luck finding him by simply rooting through personnel files." Wayne crossed his arms across his chest and looked at Dick. His whole essence radiated authority and confidence, and the belief that everything that was being done with the investigation would bring about some real good. This was what Bruce saw in the late CJ Kent, Dick realized. Here was a kid who wouldn't take no for an answer, who wouldn't let an outwardly impossible investigation or seemingly nonexistent connection stop him. He had enlisted the help of his friends and family to get the job done, and managed to nearly achieve the impossible. Simply by agreeing to help, Dick could help them save hundreds of lives, and force the perpetrators to face justice for the lives that they had already taken.

"Of course I'll help," Dick said, bringing smiles from his companions. "Just give me a name and a location, and I'll follow them as long as I have to."

"He's been known as Simon Armstrong, and he's currently hanging out with Brad Ross, our other suspect, at the Gotham Underground Pub," Wayne said. "Laur…er, Robin, will keep an eye on Ross, or she will after we go out and do a little butt kicking tonight."

"It's about time," she said eagerly, which caused the ghost of a smile to appear on Dick's face. He remembered those days, when he was young and naive, when spending a night in spandex fighting crime was the nearest thing to heaven that he could imagine. That was before it became more of a chore than a hobby, a thing that he did to satisfy a demanding mentor who could expertly appeal to Dick's guilty conscience. Since breaking out of Bruce Wayne's sphere of influence, responsibility fueled his nights atop lonely rooftops, not guilt, but the work never regained that freshness, that innocence. Looking at the new Batman, he saw a certain eagerness, too, which made his smile widen. For this family, maybe it was fun that brought them out at night, not just a sense of duty, and that was very refreshing.

"It looks like you don't need me right now," Crimson Superman said. He looked at his brother, raised his eyebrows, and took a step away from them.

"Tomorrow? Should I pick up an issue of the Planet?" Wayne asked, and Crimson Superman nodded.

Jon Kent, the superhero who, like his parents, was also an employee at the Planet, looked at Dick, his gaze knowing, then turned back toward CJ. "Everything you wanted to know about the ARB and their apparent reign of terror will be in there. And Dad should have more on the NTSB investigation of the crash." With a nod and a quick wave at his sister, Crimson Superman was off. Dick mentally made a note to take a look at the paper, perhaps to learn more about the young man he had met tonight.

Wayne sighed audibly, then clapped his hands together. "Okay," he said, then turned toward his sister. "Give me ten minutes and we can get going. Until then, you want to hover over the city and see if you can find any hot spots?" He waved his hand toward the area of the docks. "By the waterfront seems to be popular. I'll give a whistle when I'm ready."

"Can do," she said eagerly, then jumped into the air.

As soon as she was gone, Wayne looked at Dick and smiled. "I appreciate your help," he said pleasantly, but as he took a step toward Dick, the pleasantness seemed to fade away. "But please promise that this will be the end of your clandestine spying on me."

"I think I have something better to do for a while," Dick said.

"If you want to know something about me, all you have to do is ask. I'm not the type to tell a lie." Wayne gave an easy half-smile, and Dick had no doubt that he believed what he was saying. Too bad it wasn't necessarily true.

"You are pretty adept at deception, though, you have to admit," Dick said, gesturing at Wayne and his get up. "You can convincingly play the part of a rich brat, a superhero, or a college stoner, and all on the same night." Dick shrugged. "Sue me if I wanted to know which one is the truth."

Wayne's smile only grew. "Maybe a part of me is all those things. Or maybe too many people put too much emphasis on looks. If you want to know the truth, maybe we can meet down there, without costumes, and have a drink sometime like a couple of ordinary guys. The real me isn't hard to get to know. Maybe the real you is the same way."

Dick nodded. "Maybe," he said. Wayne looked down at the ground, then took a breath and started to move toward the stairway access to the roof. As he passed Dick, he paused.

"If I catch you looking at my sister the wrong way," he said, his face holding an eerily threatening expression, his finger pointing at Dick. Dick laughed defensively and held up his hands.

"Don't worry," he answered with a strained smile. Wayne didn't smile back. He just raised his eyebrows and continued on, pulling open the stairwell door and leaving without another word. Dick shook his head as soon as he knew he was alone, pondering the state of the hero business in Gotham City. Things were interesting now, he supposed, but interesting could be good.

With that, he went back to where he had been perched before being interrupted, gathered his things, and got ready to head toward the Gotham Underground Tap and his new job.


Two weeks. It had been two weeks since Jenny's mother called to give her opinion of Jenny's relationship with Sam Wayne, and two weeks since Jenny and CJ had decided to lay off the public dating for a while, if only to appease her parents. That wasn't to say they never saw each other in that time; they were simply much more clandestine about it than they were even during the month when CJ had been a non-person. More than once, Laura had flown Jenny over to Wayne Manor, sneaking her into the bowels of the mansion at a speed faster than the human eye was capable of seeing. The detachment from reality that was possible there made for evenings with CJ that were just like before, when there was no press to worry about and no image to try and maintain, when they were just two anonymous college kids in love. The evenings would inevitably come to an end, but there was always the consolation that soon they would be able to publicly be an item again.

For the most part, the separation was bearable, especially with the telephone as a viable option for communication, but at other times it was particularly painful. Jenny had made her first appointment to see the obstetrician not too long after her mother's call. Normally, that first check-up was one that the father would attend, but Sam Wayne couldn't be there, and probably wouldn't have been able to even before her mother's meddling. Laura had accompanied Jenny instead, and although it was some consolation, Jenny still couldn't help but feel CJ's absence intimately. For the umpteenth time she cursed Brad Ross and his pals for taking a special moment from her and CJ, although she had to admit that her problems were small compared to those who had lost loved ones in the crash. That still didn't make it any easier to have to live her life away from CJ, but she found that the forced separation did make the moments they managed to spend together that much sweeter.

The two weeks had seen CJ's investigation come together, to the point that all the information the police and the DA would possibly need to indict Ross and Armstrong for the plane crash and other past crimes was ready to go, sitting in an envelope waiting for delivery. All that had to happen now was for the two to act on their latest threat, to do whatever they had planned for Wayne Enterprises. It had been found, through their observations of Armstrong, that he was working at a Wayne Enterprises manufacturing facility in town. The facility could be targeted fairly easily, and had the potential to devastate Gotham City if its carefully managed safety system was compromised. Dick Grayson and Laura Kent took turns watching Armstrong, although they checked in on Ross frequently, too. The apartments of both men were bugged, as were strategic locations within the Wayne Enterprises

facility where Armstrong worked. It was only a matter of time before the two men made their move. Until then, CJ, Batman, would remain on standby.

In the midst of the investigation, the stolen moments together with CJ and the painful nights apart from him, Jenny made arrangements for her parents to come into town to meet Sam Wayne. As of today, the arrangements had come to fruition, with the private Wayne Lear jet containing her parents landing on the runway of Gotham airport that morning. They had been reluctant at first to accept hospitality from a man that they were actively trying to dissuade their daughter from dating. Even the thought of using his jet for transport had been greeted with a laugh, but Jenny had managed to talk them into accepting the offer. Her folks didn't need to be told about the drawbacks of commercial air travel, although they probably still would've taken an airline if they hadn't been assured that the transportation came with no strings attached. Jenny hoped that the situation would instill them with some goodwill toward Sam Wayne, but she supposed that only time would tell.

Jenny met her parents with a hug, noting with some satisfaction that the concern she had expected to see in their faces was conspicuously absent. They both seemed genuinely happy to be in town, visiting her, although she couldn't help but notice that her mother's eyes were immediately drawn to Jenny's midsection.

Her mom pointed out that Jenny was getting bigger, even before saying hello. Jenny had sighed and smiled, recognizing the subtle reminder of her ties to CJ for what it was. She deflected the comment with some simple humor, turning the conversation toward other things as they loaded their things into the car.

Their first stop was one of the nicer hotels in the heart of downtown Gotham. The Wayne tower was only a couple blocks away from the hotel, in which the Wayne family owned a significant interest. The arrangements were again set up by Sam Wayne, and Jenny's folks would be staying in one of the luxury suites generally held for Wayne Enterprises business associates. Her parents had only weakly protested the hotel accommodations, knowing full well that the alternative was something along the lines of the Motel 6 under the airport approach path, or floor space in Jenny and Susan's apartment. Besides, this visit was business, at least in a sense, and their stay didn't offer any hardship to the hotel or to the Wayne family. Jenny had to admit that the room, which was only a floor below the vaunted penthouse suites, was certainly fit for the upper crust of society. Her parents didn't feel at home amongst the expensive, garish decoration, she knew, and she could certainly understand the sentiment. But the room did offer a spectacular view, and her family spent several long minutes at the window, taking in the vision of the city from high above, before deciding that it was time to move along.

They were due at Wayne Manor in the mid-afternoon, so they spent the remaining morning hours shopping at the nice downtown boutiques before eating lunch and taking the long drive out to the house. Jenny couldn't help but glance over at her folks as they passed through the security gates and wound up the long, wooded drive on the Wayne property. Their expressions told her that they were impressed, but she could see her father's jaw lock into a determined scowl. This would be a battle of wills, at least from their perspective. Little did they know what awaited them inside.

Jenny was well aware of the plan that the Kents had for this afternoon. In fact, Lois and Clark had flown out the night before, and had gathered with Jenny, CJ, and Bruce at the manor for dinner to discuss how the revelations would unfold. It was an interesting gathering, especially since Lois hadn't seen CJ since he left Metropolis. He was most definitely himself, telling jokes that induced eye-rolling and actually causing Bruce to smile once or twice. Through the stories and the joking, they eventually worked out the details of the simple discussion that would need to happen before her parents ever met Sam Wayne. After the revelation and the meeting, it was anyone's guess what would happen or how her parents would react; if they would want to be alone to process the information, or if they would prefer to keep busy and not have to deal with their new knowledge. A series of activities had been lined up to cover either possibility, all with the aim of letting her folks see that the people they had thought they'd known were still the same, only a little more complex.

The driveway was empty as Jenny pulled up to the door of the manor. Her parents were taking in the sight of the impressive building as they exited the car and were ushered to the door. Before they had a chance to take more than a couple of steps, Bruce Wayne greeted them, his demeanor charming and warm. This was the Bruce that the public knew, the one that Jenny liked to think was, at least to some extent, genuine, but she knew better. Her parents were very complimentary to Mr. Wayne, and were obviously awestruck to be in his presence, but she couldn't help but notice the veiled reluctance behind their actions. They might very well be pleased to meet such an important and powerful man, but that didn't mean they approved of the reason for having to.

Jenny lagged behind as Bruce led them through the hallways to the study. At every corner, she paused before continuing on, looking longingly at the nearest doors, half expecting CJ to pop his head out and steal another moment with her. As the study drew near, she remembered that she could look beyond the doors, thanks to the powers fueled by their child, and at the last corner, she finally found him. He was standing inside the room adjoining the study, dressed in khakis and a button-down shirt, the same type of casual attire that his new persona seemed to wear exclusively in his off hours. His expression conveyed nervousness as he watched her parents make their way through the halls, but once his eyes found her, his features softened considerably. Jenny held up a hand and puckered her lips as her eyes met his, and he seemed surprised for a moment, but only a moment. He gestured toward a side hallway and the door to the room, and she quickly made her way to where he indicated.

"How…?" CJ whispered as he pulled the door open. He was so charming when he was confused, Jenny decided as she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.

"Junior is quite talented," she said breathlessly as they pulled apart.

"I love this kid already," he said with a smirk, leaning in to kiss her again, but stopping as Jenny's name echoed down the hallway. They both turned to find the source of the sound, and saw Bruce standing at the door of the study, his hand resting on the knob. A look into the study itself made it plain that CJ and Jenny were being watched, at least judging by the look on Clark's face. Clark pointed toward the door and raised his eyebrows, bringing a sigh from both Jenny and CJ.

Jenny leaned in and gave CJ another quick kiss before stepping away. "My audience awaits," she whispered. "Love you."

"Good luck," CJ said as he closed the door. Jenny watched him for a moment, then rounded the corner of the hallway and saw Bruce and her parents looking anxiously toward her.

"I, uh, stopped to admire some of the artwork," she said with a shrug, trying hard not to glance back at CJ and the snort she heard from the other room. "Shall we?" she asked as she approached the door, bringing a nod from Bruce. The door opened.

"I hope you don't mind, but I invited a few friends to join us," Bruce said. Her folks took a step into the room, and then stopped abruptly as they saw Lois and Clark waiting for them.

"Lois? Clark?" her father exclaimed in surprise, then walked quickly over and shook their hands. "I didn't expect to see you here."

Clark and Lois both stood as the Sears family approached. "We wanted to give our support to Jennifer," Clark said, shaking the hand offered by Jenny's father.

"It's been a tough time for her," Lois said, shaking hands, then gesturing toward a long, Victorian-styled couch across from where they had been sitting. "A lot tougher than it should be, and we can't help but feel like we're partially at fault."

"At fault? How?" her mother asked, taking a seat. Her expression spoke of confusion, which didn't surprise Jenny in the least. Lois and Clark weren't to blame for the plane crash, and they hadn't introduced Jenny to Sam Wayne or encouraged her to date him, at least not in as many words.

Bruce silently pulled the door closed after everyone had entered and the conversation began, then made his way toward his desk. Jenny sat down next to Clark, taking a close look at him as he pondered how to continue. He looked at his hands, his brow knit together, although a small smile remained on his face. He'd told his secret to a handful of people over the years, generally close friends or family, but it probably never got any easier to say it. It must be especially hard when the people to whom he was revealing himself were virtual strangers, people he'd only met on a handful of occasions and who didn't really know him. As Clark looked up and regarded her parents, he glanced briefly at Jenny, giving her a small nod before speaking.

"She's been keeping a secret. My secret," Clark said.

"Our secret," Lois amended, bringing a grin from Clark.

"The family's secret," Clark said to Lois, then looked back toward Jenny's parents. "And guarding that secret has caused her to be less than truthful with you. We take full responsibility for that, and ask you to please understand that we never meant to hurt you in any way." Clark gave a quick out rush of breath and a charming half-smile, one that CJ had mastered so well, then shook his head. "It's strange how complicated a simple little secret can be. It seems like the easiest thing in the world to keep, especially when you've done it your whole life."

Her parents were still perplexed, no doubt wondering what Clark Kent could possibly be keeping from the world to warrant his confession, especially at a meeting that was supposed to be about Sam Wayne. "You hardly know us well enough to be telling us something so personal," Jenny's father said, bringing a nod from her mother. "We don't like to pry into other people's affairs."

"Because it is a family secret, it's not just a personal affair. It concerns Jenny, too, and it concerns you. To understand why you are here this afternoon, you have to know." Lois was gentle, her words even. Lois could be many things, and tended to be more well known for the personality traits that got her to where she was in journalism — her passion, her sheer force of will. But it was this Lois, the loyal, protective, caring Lois that Jenny knew.

"Know what?" Jenny's mother asked, her voice almost small.

Lois and Clark glanced at each other, then Clark stood. Slowly he reached up and removed his glasses, tucking them inside his suit jacket. He took a long, apologetic look at Jenny's parents, then was gone in the blink of an eye. Taking his place was Superman in all his glory, his cape fluttering slightly as he came to a stop. Jenny's parents just looked at him, outwardly calm, almost as if they didn't know what to think.

"I'm Superman," Clark said finally, stating what was now plainly obvious to everyone in the room.

"Apparently so," Jenny's mom mumbled. Her breaths were ragged, her eyes slightly wide, but she kept her composure, even if she couldn't seem to look away from Clark.

Jenny's father stared for a minute, absorbing the information, before a grin began to spread across his face. He turned toward Jenny, a twinkle in his eyes. "You don't have to apologize for keeping a secret like this. I can understand why you might," he said. Looking briefly back at Clark and shaking his head. "It's…"

"A shock," Jenny's mom said, trying to smile but only managing a grimace. Lois scooted forward in her seat, intending to inquire as to her health, but Jenny's mom held up a hand. "I'm fine," she said.

"What does this have to do with Sam Wayne, though?" Jenny's dad asked. Even before the words were spoken, the door to the study opened, and without a sound, CJ slipped into the room. Jenny couldn't help but smile as their eyes met, and it was only a moment before everyone followed her gaze and looked toward their new visitor.

"It has everything to do with him," CJ said.

Before he could finish speaking, Jenny's mother passed out on the couch.


"Sheryl?" CJ asked, using one of the overstuffed throw pillows from the couch to fan his mother-in-law. Her eyes fluttered open and she looked groggily at CJ, his presence causing her eyebrows to knit together.

"Clark?" she asked. CJ smiled and looked toward Jenny, who was now standing next to him, before turning his attention back to Mrs. Sears.

"Sam Wayne," he said. Sheryl Sears appeared confused for a moment, but as the facts apparently came together in her mind, recognition came. She looked at Clark, who was still dressed in his Superman outfit and stood directly behind CJ, then toward Bruce Wayne.

"I see," she said as she tried to straighten up.

Jenny's father reached over to help her, assisted by CJ. "Clark didn't die in that plane crash, dear," Mr. Sears said, bringing a slow nod from his wife. Before her mother had come to, Jenny had profusely apologized for letting them believe that CJ was gone, and for all the grief they had gone through before they understood the truth. CJ had been heartened to see his father-in-law dismiss the apologies without a second thought, apparently assimilating the news of CJ's non-death just as readily as he had the fact that CJ's dad was a famous superhero. CJ supposed that he shouldn't question good fortune, that he should be grateful that there were no accusations or hurt feelings at the revelations, but he couldn't help but feel that, at some point, the other shoe would drop. No matter how positive your outlook in life or how high your threshold for surprise, certainly secrets like that should cause some sort of emotion. He should know.

"But he was on the plane, right? That's what the airline said," Mrs. Sears said to her husband, then looked questioningly toward CJ.

"Yes, I was," CJ said quietly as he straightened up and wrapped his arm around his wife.

"And you were saved because…"

"Good genetics," Clark, said, drawing the attention of everyone in the room.

"But those other poor people on the plane," Mrs. Sears said as she looked between Clark and CJ, her voice still small. "Why couldn't they be saved, too?"

CJ sighed and looked toward the floor. It always hurt to think of how things could've been different, if he would've been able to get hold of his father or Jon when he had tried, if fate had blessed him with just a little more flight ability. "I might be the son of Superman, but unfortunately I'm not super in the ways that would've helped that day. I tried, believe, me."

"That's one of the things that still baffles the NTSB," Clark said with a grim smile. "How could a plane plunging toward the ocean slow down and level out ever so slightly?"

CJ looked toward his dad and tried to give him an encouraging smile, but it was hard, especially given his father's pained expression. It was easy to forget that as hard as all this was for CJ and Jenny, it was equally hard for his folks, who had lost him in a way, as well. CJ couldn't frequent his old haunts anymore, could never visit his dad outside of the rare times when they worked together after hours. His mother hadn't seen him in over a month, and as much as she tried to downplay their reunion the night before, he could tell how excited she was to be with him again, could feel how long she lingered when she embraced him. That crash broke up their family, too, but at least they were together now. "Did you tell them it was a ghost?" CJ asked, turning up the side of his mouth, hoping that humor would work its magic and chase away the heaviness of the moment.

"Something like that," Clark answered with the barest of grins.

"But what about you?" Jenny's mom asked CJ. "Why couldn't you have saved Clark Kent?"

CJ looked at Jenny, trying to figure out how to frame his response, but Jenny's father answered for him. "Would you have believed it if he had been the only survivor of that crash, and without a scratch on him? Would you have honestly not questioned how that could be?" he said, and CJ smiled gratefully at him.

"We live in a world where miracles are taken at something less than face value," Jenny said, tilting her head so that it was resting on CJ's shoulder. "Clark knows the power of the press; he grew up watching it on full display. So for the sake of his family, he just…died."

The expressions on the faces of Jenny's parents softened as they turned toward CJ and Jenny, and then Lois and Clark. Even confronted with the incredible fact that the Kent family contained the world's most recognizable superheroes, it was hard to see them as anything less than a family who had just experienced a loss of their own. Sheryl turned her head sideways as she regarded CJ, then stood with a sigh. "Oh, Clark," she said as she reached out to hug him. "You poor thing."

"It's Sam now," Jenny said as she stepped away and let CJ return the embrace unencumbered.

"That's right, Sam Wayne," Jenny's father said, suddenly remembering where he was.

As Mrs. Sears pulled away from CJ, she looked at him with confusion. "But how can you be Sam Wayne?" she asked, turning her attention toward Bruce Wayne.

Since entering the room, Bruce had been observing the interaction quietly, his expression blank. CJ knew that Bruce viewed the exchange with a fair amount of curiosity, even if he didn't show it outwardly. The ways of family relationships were largely foreign to the reclusive billionaire, and the revelation that had taken place was even more so. But it was Bruce's turn to make a revelation of his own, and hopefully he'd learned a little something from his observations.

"Clark and I have been friends for many years," Bruce said in an almost emotionless, authoritative voice, nodding toward Superman. "We've also worked together in, shall we say, a professional capacity."

"Professional capacity?" Jenny's dad said with raised eyebrows.

"The Kents don't corner the market on secrets," Wayne said dryly. "Or alternate identities."

The Sears family looked at Bruce more closely, their eyes squinting slightly. CJ tried to hide a smile as he watched them try to decipher Bruce's alter ego without any luck. Bruce, unfazed by the appraising stares, started to pace as he continued. "I'm not as young as I used to be. Faced with a future without any family and a profession where the limitations of age were mounting, I had begun to realize that I needed a partner, a successor." Bruce paused and gestured towards CJ. "I had been grooming young Clark for several years to take care of the nighttime duties."

"Jen and I met one summer when I was here, working in Gotham for Bruce," CJ said, bringing curious glances from her parents.

"When this whole unfortunate incident happened, he agreed to be not just my successor, but my heir. Thus, Sam Wayne was born"

Jenny's father shook his head and turned toward CJ, his smile teasing. "Are you sure you didn't die and go to heaven?" he asked, causing CJ to grin. The two had always had a certain rapport, and Jenny's father often managed to surprise CJ with how unexpectedly humorous he could be beneath his otherwise bland façade. He and CJ were probably a lot more similar than either of them wanted to admit, a thought that CJ found perplexing, if not a little scary. Wasn't there an old wives' tale that said women married men who reminded them of their fathers?

"It's had its moments, I guess. But then there have been all the paparazzi, tabloids, and stalkers; they make things a little less than heavenly," CJ countered, although the protest sounded weak even to him. Most people would be more than willing to put up with such minor inconveniences for a multi-billion-dollar fortune.

Jenny rolled her eyes. "You like some of the attention, admit it," she said, and CJ bobbed his head in reluctant agreement.

He opened his mouth to respond, but Jenny's mother, whose gaze hadn't left Bruce since he began his tale, interrupted their banter. "You're some sort of superhero, too?" she asked him, her voice reflecting her disbelief. "Forgive me, I don't pay a whole lot of attention to the news coming from Gotham City, but I didn't know that this town even had a resident hero."

"I'm just a man," Bruce said, glancing at Clark and raising his eyebrows. "I'm not a superhero in the conventional sense, or at least I wasn't. All I did was fight crime anonymously."

"If you put on the spandex and cape, then you're a superhero," Clark said, and CJ nodded absently.

"You're Batman," Jenny's father said, snapping his fingers and pointing to Bruce.

Bruce smiled lightly and shook his head. "The kid is now," he said, and both Jenny's parents turned and looked at CJ. Sheryl's gaze seemed different than it had been previously; she was appraising him, measuring him up, trying to see a part of him that she thought she was unfamiliar with, and it was making CJ slightly uncomfortable.

"Guilty," CJ said with a self-conscious smile, hoping that his natural charm would deflect the calculating stare. "Call me an opportunist, or maybe just a guy with a healthy respect for tradition, but I couldn't refuse the chance to continue the legacy. I guess it was kind of a foregone conclusion that I would do something heroic with my life…or afterlife, and Batman was the best fit, given my particular skill set."

Sheryl nodded, then glanced toward Clark before looking at CJ again. "So," she said, a smile starting to form on her face. "Do you have a costume? I bet you look great in it."

Beside CJ, Jenny nodded vehemently, and CJ couldn't help but react with a grin of his own. "Well, yeah, but I, uh, don't do the whoosh thing, so I can't show you right now."

"Just keep an eye on the news; he'll show up," Jenny added, bringing a shrug from CJ.

"Both you and your father will, I bet," Jenny's dad said.

"Among other family members," Jenny continued, causing the surprise to return to her mother's face, but only for a moment. With the identities of two heroes revealed, it wasn't too much of a stretch to connect all the dots and uncover the identities of all the famous Metropolis superheroes.

"Wow, this is…remarkable," Sheryl said, turning her attention to CJ's folks, all anxiety that she had apparently held earlier now gone. "You know, I always felt your son was something special, although I guess I never had any idea how right I was. I was proud of him before I ever knew about any of this, when was he was just a good kid and gifted athlete. Now that I know the truth, I can't wait to read the paper every day, learn about the work he's doing here, and be proud of him all over again."

Clark smiled gratefully as he snaked an arm behind Lois. "I couldn't agree more," he said softly to Sheryl. After a moment, both turned their attention toward CJ, who was staring intently at the carpet and was well aware of the fact that he had turned a deep shade of red. If he could have one wish at that moment, it would be for the gushing to end without further comment. "It's just too bad that we have to show our pride from afar," Clark continued, laughing lightly at CJ's discomfort.

CJ sighed and turned toward the Sears family, deciding that turnabout was fair play, that one stream of glowing praise deserved another. "This coming from the man who has saved the planet…how many times?" He looked toward his mother for the answer, but she didn't get a chance to answer.

"I lost count after the first dozen," Bruce said flatly, apparently unimpressed by the fact. CJ could almost swear that there was a twinge of jealousy behind the words, and he wouldn't be surprised if there were. Bruce's heroic feats were impressive by any measure, but saving the city from various mentally unstable criminals just didn't inspire as much awe as saving the planet from asteroids and aliens, and he knew it.

Jenny nudged CJ. "Jeez, honey, learn to take a compliment," she said in a playful voice. Her hand, which had been wrapped behind him, made its way up his back and clasped onto his shoulder, turning him slightly toward her. As he met her eyes, he couldn't help but lean in and give her a quick kiss, even if they were in the company of their parents and in the middle of a conversation.

Lois, who had appeared almost distracted throughout the exchange, cleared her throat a few seconds into the kiss, coaxing CJ and Jenny apart. She gave the two a look of exasperation perfected by mothers throughout the years, and turned toward Jenny's parents. "Now that we have the first order of business wrapped up, maybe we should get down to the issue that you came here to discuss. Didn't you have some concerns about your daughter's relationship with Sam Wayne?" Lois asked, which instantly brought a change of mood to the room.

Somewhere along the line, while identities were being revealed and half-truths replaced with fact, they had managed to detach themselves from reality and all the preconceived prejudices that they had held before entering Wayne Manor that day. Jenny's parents had been preparing for a battle, had been steeling themselves against the charms of a man who they didn't approve of. Now that they knew that man was someone they couldn't possibly condemn, the situation changed, but that didn't mean the circumstances surrounding it had. Jenny was still pregnant, her husband was still officially dead, and she was very publicly involved with another man, even while the memory of CJ Kent was still fresh.

"I told you that once you met him, there was no way you could disapprove," Jenny said, trying to keep things light, and at least partially succeeding. The seriousness that had momentarily appeared on the faces of the Sears family was gone, but some hesitation remained, and CJ knew that the upcoming conversation wouldn't necessarily be easy.

"You were right," Jenny's dad said, with a slight smile. "I know how the two of you compliment each other, how you were almost made for each other, but…" He sighed, then wrapped his arm around his wife. "A love like that only comes around once in a lifetime if you're lucky. I don't think people will believe that lightning can strike twice."

"We know the truth," Sheryl continued quickly, regarding Jenny. "And we see where you are coming from. In your place, I'm sure I would run to my husband as soon as possible, too, consequences be damned. The problem is the rest of the world doesn't know the truth, and they can't be made to understand the circumstances surrounding your relationship."

"People love a scandal," Lois said, shaking her head. "People also love to condemn others based on preconceptions and nothing else. Sam Wayne and Jenny Kent might have every reason in the world to be together, but to the public it'll still look like a greedy widow is taking advantage of a naive or bewitched fool. Ultimately, it will taint not just your current relationship, but your former marriage, as well. Once the public finds out your identity, Jenny, they will say that there's no way you could've loved CJ as much as you claimed, especially given how quickly after his death you were willing to take up with another man. And if you are willing to dishonor your late husband's memory so unashamedly, what does that say about your feelings toward men in general? You will be branded a woman who only wants to marry for status and money, who is probably incapable of loyalty unless there's something in it for her."

CJ sighed. "It's not like we're ignoring the issue and passively waiting for it to go away. As I recall, you've already taken an active role in trying to diffuse the situation," he said to Lois. "That is why Laura is here, isn't it?"

Lois nodded, but wasn't about to concede the point. "She's supposed to help keep you two out of trouble, but she's not going to be around forever. Her presence doesn't stop the problem, though, nor does it repair the damage that's already been done. There's a fundamental issue, here: how do you get on with your lives together and do it in such a way that there's no appearance of impropriety? How do you honor what you had and still build a respectable future?"

CJ shifted his weight and frowned. It had felt a little like his mother was meddling when she sent Laura to Gotham City to babysit CJ and Jenny. With this discussion, the feeling only intensified, and CJ found himself a little perplexed as to a motive. Lois had said in the past how much she resented her own mother intruding on her affairs, and had assured CJ that he wouldn't have to worry about that from her, but here she was, discussing an issue that should, by all rights, be a private matter between CJ and Jenny. He didn't fault Jenny's parents for their concerns, especially since they were unaware until a few moments ago of the motives behind Jenny's relationship with Sam Wayne. Lois, however, was a different matter. "Mom," he said, knitting his brows together and regarding her, wondering how to say what he wanted to say without sounding condescending. "Why is this so important to you?" he asked after a moment.

Lois's expression softened, the defensive steely exterior that she so expertly erected during emotional times giving way, revealing her true emotions. "We all wouldn't be here if there wasn't a problem, honey. Your father and I also have had more than our fair share of run-ins with the tabloids, and we know how much damage a seemingly innocent story can do."

"Shortly after we were married, we weren't as careful as we should've been," Clark said, his demeanor resigned. "It resulted in accusations that Superman was having an affair with a married woman, Lois, and led to a firestorm of publicity just as some delicate negotiations were happening. A war almost broke out because we didn't take the power of the paparazzi seriously. You shouldn't have to go through the same thing."

CJ smiled, understanding. "I appreciate your concern," he said, then turned toward the Sears family. "I also appreciate just what it was that brought you here in the first place. But believe me when I say that Jen and I have discussed this topic to death, no pun intended. We're well aware of the potential damage to our reputations, but we're even more aware of the fact that every minute we spend apart is time that we can never get back. It's all about priorities, and our relationship was more important than vanity. I honestly don't care if the public believes that I'm a sucker for a pretty face. Heck, as far as they're concerned, it's probably a family trait, and that's fine, let them think that. They don't know the facts, will never know the facts, and I don't want to waste time that could be spent with my wife and my unborn child because we somehow have to honor my own memory or secure my own legacy."

"The problem is that it isn't just your memory or legacy that's being tainted," Jenny's mom said to CJ, taking up Lois's arguments as if they were her own. She then turned toward her daughter, a pained expression on her face. "Either of yours. Your baby will have to weather the accusations, too. Even years from now, women will probably come up to your child and ask him or her what it was like to know that his mommy didn't really love his daddy. It's sad but it's true."

Jenny hung her head, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. When she looked up again, her expression was determined. Part of the reason CJ loved her, would always love her, was the force of will within her. She was gentle, caring, and loving, but when push came to shove, she could always be counted on to stand up for what she believed. "I'll be damned if I'm going to spend my life afraid of what the gossips and rumormongers of this world believe. If I know in my heart that what I'm doing is right, then I will do it. To stay away from Clark, to deny him the joys of fatherhood and to deny him our love would be wrong and cruel, and I'm not going to do that. He goes through so much, sees so much as a result of what Batman does, the least I can do is be there for him to comfort him and let him know that there is goodness and love in this world."

CJ brought up his free hand and cupped her chin, gently turning her face so that she was facing him. Her expression spoke of defiance, but in her eyes was love in its purest form. A single tear worked its way down her cheek, and he gently brushed it away. She shuddered at his touch, the floodgates threatening to open, but was stopped at Clark's words.

"I don't think any of us would dare suggest that you two avoid each other completely for the sake of posterity," he said softly, evenly. "You can always have time together in private, where no photographers or paparazzi can find you. And as far as the public knows, maybe you are building a relationship, one that'll be serious a few months down the line. Don't give them any reason to think that anything more than some innocent hand holding is going on, and don't let them believe that there's a chance of any indecency. That's not too much to ask, is it?"

As CJ and Jenny shook their heads, Lois grinned in approval. "It's none of their business anyway," she said.

"Spoken like a true reporter," Clark said in his fatherly voice, the quip unexpected enough to elicit a snort from CJ, even despite the emotion of the moment.

"To refer to those tabloid slime balls as reporters is an insult to respectable journalists everywhere," Lois answered, giving her husband a dirty look, which Clark answered with an innocent smile.

"So, how does that sound?" CJ asked as he looked toward Jenny, then her parents. "We can still get together in public if we keep our hormones in check, and then after the baby comes, maybe we can run off to the magistrate and makes things official."

"That sounds very responsible," Sheryl answered with an approving nod.

"And in the meantime, I don't think a stolen kiss caught on film is going to lead to war. Call me silly," CJ said.

"Big business IS war," Bruce said, standing. "And trading on celebrity is big business. The war is already on, whether you like it or not. It's not enough to just try and be careful, you have to take this seriously. Assume there's someone with a hidden camera around every corner, and you can't go wrong."

CJ opened his mouth to protest, but his father shook his head and held up a hand. "All the super hearing and x-ray vision in the world isn't going to help you if all you can see is your lovely wife. Trust me on this."

CJ nodded, deciding that his dad probably knew what he was talking about. Love could make a person blind, and CJ was certainly aware of that. It was tough to think of evenings in public with Jenny when they weren't allowed so much as a loving smile or a quick kiss, but he supposed it wasn't the end of the world. If they wanted to see a movie, Wayne Manor had rooms that were more than suitable for watching a DVD and were probably bigger than a lot of movie theaters around town. Without an audience, they could have a truly romantic dinner in one of the manor's dining rooms or play games better left to private places. It could be fun, he decided as he finally allowed a grin to creep onto his face. "I think I can handle that. How about you?" He turned toward Jenny, who almost seemed relieved as she nodded.

"If it means being able to be with you, then I can turn myself into the model of virtue in public, as hard as it is to believe."

Everyone smiled at each other for a silent, blissful moment, then Bruce took a step toward the door. "Now that we've taken care of what we needed to, how about taking some time to enjoy Sam Wayne's new position in life?"

"Parents dream of this day," Clark said wistfully, bringing amused glances from CJ and Lois.

"Did you have something in mind?" Jenny's father asked Bruce, eliciting a nod.

"Do you golf?" Bruce asked, and a giddy smile spread across Jenny's father's face. "We have a tee time reserved at the country club at four. Come on, I'm driving and the kid is buying."

Bruce led the way out of the room, followed closely by Sheryl and Lois. Clark quietly changed back into civilian clothes and accompanied Jenny out of the room. CJ hung back and waited for Jenny's father, discreetly creeping up next to him as they trailed the group out of the room. He almost hated to broach the subject that he wanted to discuss with his father-in-law, but curiosity was a powerful thing, and CJ was never the shy type. "So, uh, Randy," CJ said as he pulled the study door closed behind them. "You seem to be taking all this very well." Jenny's father shoved his hands in his pocket and shrugged, no words immediately forthcoming. Not wanting to wait for the inevitable uncomfortable silence to descend between them, CJ continued, keeping the tone of his voice light. "I mean, when I found out about my dad, well, I wasn't exactly calm. And I can't say that I've ever known anyone who came back from the dead."

Randy looked at CJ, a strange twinkle in his eye, and ambled down the hallway. "You've told all your secrets, so I suppose I'll tell mine," he said with a grin. CJ took a few quick steps to catch up, then matched his father-in-law stride for stride. Randy glanced at him, then looked ahead, toward the rest of the family well ahead of them. "I had most of this figured out before we came out here," he said, causing CJ to stumble slightly.

"Huh? How?" CJ asked. The people who had figured out the family secret on their own in the past had done so in part because of the power of love, and in part because they had some help. CJ and Jon would be the first to admit that they'd been less than careful in protecting their identities when their relationships with their wives had been fresh. But in-laws, friends of the family, somewhat distant relatives, all had been shielded from the secret, mostly for their protection, but also because there was no good reason for them to know. CJ had supposed that it was possible that some of people closest to the family suspected, but he had never been confronted by any of them, so he assumed that they were all still blissfully unaware of the nighttime hobbies of the Kent family. It was shocking to think that maybe more people knew that Clark Kent was Superman than he had ever suspected, and he found himself shaken by Randy's admission.

Mr. Sears looked at CJ curiously. "It was nothing any of you did," he said, easily picking up on CJ's discomfort. "It's just that when you spend enough time with someone, you can't help but pick out the little traits that make them who they are. The first time I saw Superman on the news after meeting your father, it occurred to me that there was something familiar about him that I hadn't noticed before. Then, at your 'funeral,' it seemed odd that nobody in your family seemed overly upset that you were gone. I guess one and one came together at some point and my subconscious gave me the answer. This was just the affirmation." He paused and smiled at CJ. "Surprised?" he asked.

CJ bobbed his head and raised his eyebrows, but after a moment he made eye contact with Randy, and couldn't help but smirk. "You daughter found out on her own, so I guess not," he said. "Still, you must be a heck of a poker player."

Randy laughed and slapped CJ on the back. "We can sit down for a game sometime and you can try me," he said. "Just don't tell my wife. She has no idea that I had you guys figured out, and something tells me that if she did, I would be banished to the couch for a long time."

CJ laughed lightly. "I like to think I'm pretty good at keeping a secret," he said, bringing a nod from Randy.

"That you are, son," he said. As they continued down the hallway, the conversation turned to other things, but CJ found his fears easing, replaced with excitement about what the future would hold. Far from being burdened with his new knowledge, Jenny's father had embraced it without a second thought. That's what true friends did, CJ supposed, and Randy Sears was nothing if not a true friend. Those were all too valuable in his world.


Laura Kent sighed and looked up at the sky, taking note of the position of the sun and wondering where the day had gone. Her parents were in town, hanging out with Jenny and her family, probably having a great time, and Laura was stuck on a godforsaken roof watching some criminal do routine paperwork in his office. The life of a superhero was losing more glamour every second, she thought, wondering if a quick fifteen-minute jaunt to somewhere, anywhere other than the sticky, tarpaper-covered roof would cause any harm. Her ponderings were interrupted by a distinctive thud on the far side of the building. That could only be one person, she thought, looking toward the sound and confirming her suspicions.

"Please tell me you're here to relieve me," she said to Nightwing. Over the past couple of weeks, she'd gotten comfortable, but not exactly familiar, with the reclusive local hero. Their interactions tended to consist of brief conversations before one took over surveillance operations from the other. She often tried to coax stories out of him about the things he had seen and done while acting as Robin to Bruce Wayne's Batman, but he was always reluctant to talk when the topic was broached. More often than not, she would leave their encounters frustrated and in search of someone to talk to who would actually talk back.

"No such luck," Nightwing answered as he strode across the roof toward her. "Ross decided to make a stop to visit his pal."

Laura knit her brow together and turned toward the factory where Armstrong worked. She saw Ross's car parked in the otherwise deserted lot, and its owner approaching the factory door. Laura quickly turned toward Nightwing. "He's never done that before," she said, excitement creeping into her voice. Ross would never have any reason to be at the factory, and would in all likelihood avoid it like the plague if he were smart and wanted to dodge suspicion. His arrival probably meant one thing and one thing only.

Nightwing smiled and took a seat next to her. "No, he hasn't," he replied. "The fancy electronic gadget he's carting around and the various other wires and whatnot he's got on him aren't the types of things you'd take with you to go visit a friend, either."

Laura's eyes grew wide as she found the items her companion was taking about, and she quickly reached for her cell phone. Her actions were stopped, though, by Nightwing's hand on her arm.

"You don't need to call in the cavalry just yet," he said. "Let's wait until something actually happens."

She looked at him in surprise, then nodded and relaxed. "He'd probably kill me if he had to come out for a false alarm today, anyway," she said, settling back down onto the rooftop. Usually her statements or questions tended to be ignored by Nightwing, but tonight he looked at her questioningly.

"Big day?" he asked, catching her off guard. She looked at him for a moment, her brain vainly trying to figure out a comeback, but only the truth came to mind. Supposedly they didn't have any secrets, and she believed completely that anyone who would know the familial relationship between the new Batman, his sidekick, and the Crimson Superman was probably well aware of who they were when not in spandex, too.

Laura sighed. "Mom and Dad are in town, revealing everything that's worth knowing to my brother's in-laws."

"And you're stuck on a roof?" he said, his voice containing a subtle amount of humor mixed with surprise.

Laura just shrugged. "It's a crummy job, but someone has to do it," she answered. "Besides, I get to be with my folks 24-7 when I go home next month."

Nightwing cocked his head sideways and smiled gently. "Your parents can't be that bad to hang around with. I mean, your dad is Superman, right?"

"He's still my dad, and dads are embarrassing. That's just a fact of life." Maybe sons had different relationships with their fathers, she thought, watching how he seemed to greet her statement with amusement.

"Well, okay, but isn't a day around family and friends still preferable to this?" he said, waving his arm toward the large expanse of roof. "You're…how old?"

"Seventeen," Laura answered, crossing her hands across her chest.

Nightwing raised his eyebrows, then continued. "Which is way too young to be doing a job like this. Kids your age should be enjoying the freedom that comes with having absolutely no responsibility."

"You sound like my dad," Laura said, bringing a look of astonishment from her companion. "Anyway, aren't you the original boy wonder? You're one to talk." She was aware that she had become a little defensive, but that always seemed to happen whenever anyone suggested that she was too young to be playing superhero. She was just as capable of doing the job as her brothers, if not more so, since she actually got all of her father's talents and neither of them did. Maybe wisdom came with age, but she didn't need wisdom to stop an accident or save a life.

Nightwing seemed to relax as he regarded her, although there was a hint of concern in his features. "Let me ask you something," he said. "Why ARE you up here instead of out there having fun with your family?"

Laura looked at him incredulously. "To do my part to stop the bad guy. You know, truth, justice, the American way, all that stuff."

"So it's a duty you have to do?" he asked, and Laura had to pause before answering. She wanted to tell him that she was out here for a far more noble reason than simple duty, that she genuinely wanted to be on this rooftop, watching Simon Armstrong while everyone else she knew was out having fun, but it wasn't the truth. Mere moments before Nightwing's arrival, she had been scheming to get away for a while, so obviously it wasn't pure desire keeping her on the rooftop. She opened her mouth to give her answer, but stopped, realizing that there was something about the premise of the question that bothered her.

"Are you saying I shouldn't be here if the answer to that question is yes?" If Laura had learned nothing from living under the same roof as two successful journalists, it was to never take anything at face value, especially apparently leading questions. He seemed caught off guard at her evasion, which prompted a small, private smile to spread across her face. People who underestimated Laura Kent did so at their own peril.

"I suppose I am," he answered, then shook his head, his frustration apparently building. "I guess what I'm saying is that, years from now, when you're some washed out, mostly forgotten recluse, you'll probably look back on the long, boring nights you spent sitting on rooftops during the prime of your life and wonder what you were doing." He sighed and looked away, and Laura realized that this conversation wasn't about her at all, but about him. He might have been a childhood hero prodigy, but he probably looked back on those as lost years and resented the lifestyle that led him to miss out on a lot of the normal things that kids did.

"Do you hate Bruce for letting you be Robin?" she asked, knowing that the question was abrupt. His reaction showed that it wasn't unexpected, though, and for a moment there was silence. She wouldn't be surprised if he dropped the conversation like he did all other attempts to talk about his past, changing the subject to something safer or deciding not to talk at all. In anticipation of continued quiet, Laura looked toward the factory and Simon Armstrong, noting that Ross was making his way through the building, pointing the device in his hand at security cameras as he passed them.

"He couldn't have stopped me from becoming Robin," Dick said, diverting her attention away from her surveillance. His voice was small, his manner resigned, and she wondered if he had ever told anyone what he was telling her. "I was going to take out my aggression one way or the other. I hate him for encouraging me, for putting me in situations that no kid should ever have to be in, and ultimately for taking advantage of my eagerness to help."

"But didn't he do other things for you, good things? You had a billionaire as a guardian and all the advantages too, I imagine."

He shook his head, giving her a bitter smile. "Never love or respect, and those were what this scared, lonely kid needed more than anything. I always got the impression that the things he did, even the outwardly altruistic things, were always about him and nobody else. Fighting crime? It was all about his revenge on the people who killed his parents years ago. Giving money to charity? It helped quell the guilt that he felt over his station in life. Helping out a kid who had lost his parents? Well, maybe he just saw something in me that reminded him of himself, but he sure did a damn fine job in making sure I didn't turn out the same way."

Laura shrugged and gave a half smile. "Are you sure? You're still hanging out on rooftops and wearing a mask."

"I made it my job a long time ago to try and be a different type of hero. I never believed in intimidation as a method for solving crimes." His expression was determined, sincere, but she wondered what the other side of the story was. She didn't know Bruce Wayne too well, but as far as she was concerned, anyone who could do what Bruce did to help CJ couldn't be as bad as Nightwing seemed to think he was. His friendship with Superman spoke volumes, too. Laura thought about trying to argue the point with her companion, but one look at his defiant expression told her that he would not be swayed. Whether or not Bruce had actually been the tyrant that he was being portrayed as, Nightwing would probably always begrudge him the things that had happened in the past. Besides, as far as he was concerned, she was just some kid who didn't know anything. Better to leave the persuasion to someone who had a better perspective and more knowledge of the situation.

"So, what, do you think the same think will happen to me? I'll somehow resent my brother for stealing my childhood?" Laura asked, starting to feel impatient to get to the point of the conversation.

He frowned and looked at her in a manner that she was quite familiar with, an exasperated expression that told her she was controlling the conversation too much. It was strange how often her mother tended to get that look herself. "Not exactly. All I'm saying is that you're only young once. Maybe there are better things that you should be doing."

She regarded him, and decided that maybe it wasn't age that gave a person wisdom, it was their perspective on life and their experiences. He might be a costumed hero, but beneath the spandex was someone who was as normal as the next guy. He really didn't understand what drove the people like her to do what they did night in and night out, and that was a shame. "I can FLY," she said, her voice soft yet surprisingly impassioned. "I might look like the kid next door, but I have the power to move mountains if I really wanted to. I have all these incredible talents, but for what purpose? Sure, I could be out there shopping, playing sports, going on meaningless dates with boys I hardly know, or doing whatever it is that kids my age are supposed to do, or I can use my gifts to make a real difference in the world. How many seventeen year olds can say that? How many people of any age can say that?"

"But just because you are willing and able to take on the world doesn't mean you're ready for what the world throws back at you. There is more truly terrible stuff out there than you can imagine." His words were coming from personal experience, she had no doubt, but he obviously didn't know her family very well. His life as a young superhero was one devoid of family, and the benefits that unconditional love brought.

"Look, I am the most sheltered sidekick in history. My brother won't let me near the more notorious sections of town, because he doesn't want to answer to my dad if, God forbid, my virgin eyes see something they shouldn't. If Daddy had his way, I probably wouldn't be out here at all. Instead, I'd be joining him on the occasional patrol until I'm ready to venture out there by myself, probably after I'm finished with college. If the world wants to get to me, it's got a couple of pretty intimidating people to get past first."

Nightwing's smile was sad as he looked at her. "Your family sounds great," he said. Laura felt the urge to roll her eyes and remind him that families existed to torment teenage girls, but she decided that this wasn't the time. His own family had been taken from him when he was younger than she was, and he probably envied her for hers.

"They have their moments," she said with a smile, her eyes locking into his for a second. The words had barely been spoken when the sound of Brad Ross's voice drew her attention away.

"Let's do it," Ross said from behind the factory walls. Laura looked at him, and her eyes widened as she saw Ross remove what looked like an explosive device from his jacket.

"Oh no," Laura muttered. Nightwing looked at her, confused, before turning toward the factory.

"Is something happening?" he asked, the heavy emotion of mere moments ago gone. He stood and walked toward the edge of the roof, producing a pair of binoculars and peering toward the building, although there was no way that he could see what she was seeing.

"That's a bomb," Laura answered, and reached for her cell phone. Well, she thought as she dialed her brother's number, maybe she would be able to spend some time with her family today, after all.


CJ had to hide a smile as he watched his father's golf ball hook to the left almost immediately off the tee. Clark gave a frustrated groan and turned away, looking questioningly at CJ, who watched the ball fall into the woods a dozen or so feet from the fairway.

"You don't want to know," CJ said, answering Clark's unasked question.

"That's four holes in a row," Randy said with a shake of the head.

"This is why I stopped doing the charity golf outings — you know, the pro-ams and stuff like that. People started to get the distinct impression that my alter-ego wasn't as flawless as they thought." Clark cringed slightly and handed his driver to CJ.

"I imagine all the rescuing and life-saving would take away from any time you had to practice golf," Randy said.

"That's what I said," Clark answered, gesturing toward Randy and flashing him a smile. CJ was still amazed at how well his father-in-law was handling the situation, how he seemed absolutely unfazed at being surrounded by superheroes. His wife hadn't been quite as comfortable, and CJ had noticed more than once during the drive to the golf course that she seemed to be looking a little too closely at CJ and his folks. He suspected that was part of the reason that she had convinced Lois and Jenny to stick around the clubhouse with her while the men played golf, although CJ had hoped that she would spend some time with them and work past her fears. There was always time for that later, he supposed, and the evening was only just beginning.

Bruce slowly walked up to the box and planted his tee, placing the ball on

top. "Well, your ball might be in the woods, but it's still about a hundred feet closer to the hole that us mere mortals can get," he said. Bruce knew as well as anyone that Superman had feet of clay, and he certainly wasn't shy about letting him know it. CJ got the sneaking suspicion that Clark respected Bruce for that, like he respected the same qualities in Lois. Too many people considered Superman to be the nearest thing on Earth to a God, and it was people like Bruce and Lois that helped him keep his sense of perspective. Although, CJ thought with a quirk of the eyebrow, Clark's golf score spoke volumes about the hero's fallibility all by itself.

"Hey, I'm half mortal and I can hit it that far," CJ said, bringing amused glances from Randy and Clark, and a mild scowl from Bruce. CJ just smiled in return, knowing full well that Bruce was immune to his charms, but not caring.

Bruce squared up to the ball, held his position for a second, then swung back and hit it. The ball sailed arrow-straight through the air, landing in the middle of the fairway about halfway to the hole. Almost as soon as the ball hit the ground, CJ's cell phone began to ring. He looked crookedly at it, wondering who could possibly be calling him, especially since most of his contacts were at the country club. He quickly realized that at least one person was absent. Laura was still on surveillance, he remembered as the goosebumps began to rise on his arm. If she was calling him, that could only mean…

He immediately scrambled to dig the phone out of his pocket and flipped it open. "Hello?" he said, trying not to let the excitement creep into his voice.

"It's starting," Laura simply said.

For a moment CJ couldn't speak, and he was aware that his companions were looking at him curiously. He probably looked as dazed as he felt, he realized, inwardly cursing his absolute lack of any type of poker face. Given his tendency to wear his emotions on his sleeves, it was probably better to get it out of his system now, instead of when he actually got a chance to meet the bad guys. A raspy rush of air was the only sound he could make when he finally thought to talk again, and he had to clear his throat before he could form any words. "Are you sure?" he finally asked, mentally pushing the excitement away.

"Oh yeah," Laura answered. "I might be a little new at this, but I know a bomb when I see it."

"A bomb?" CJ asked quickly, and his companions collectively raised their eyebrows. Before waiting for Laura to affirm what she had said, he shook his head once and continued. "I'll be there as quick as I can. In the meantime, don't stop them from placing it. If they try to leave, don't let them. Got it?"

"Got it," Laura answered, and as soon as the words were uttered, CJ ended the call and flipped his phone shut. For a moment, there was silence on the green as Randy, Bruce, and Clark looked in anticipation at CJ.

"I'm sorry everyone but I need to get going," CJ said after a long second. The giddiness that had overtaken him when Laura had first called was slowly being replaced by raw determination. Now that the game was on and a factory was about to be bombed, his reaction was all that stood between Gotham City and an unimaginable disaster.

"Work beckons?" Bruce asked, and CJ nodded.

"I've spent so much time preparing for this moment, and now it's here," he answered as he placed the driver into its bag, then turned back toward his companions. "The guys that crashed the airplane I was on are finally going to face justice."

Randy, who had been unflinchingly optimistic since the afternoon's revelation, frowned and looked downward. The subject of the investigation hadn't come up that afternoon, although it wasn't because of malice or a desire to hold some secrets back. CJ just hadn't been sure how to broach the topic. At some point in time, he would tell Randy the whole story, but for the time being it appeared that Randy could glean enough information from the statement to understand what was happening. As he trained his eyes toward CJ, a certain hardness seemed to overtake his expression. "Give them hell," he said, his voice anything but light and cheerful.

CJ smiled a humorless smile and stood tall. "You don't have to worry about that," he answered with a nod. He locked eyes with Randy for a moment, then turned toward his dad. "Could you give me a lift?" he asked.

Clark looked over his shoulder toward the stand of trees that his ball was currently lost in, then looked back toward CJ. "Of course," he said, nodding toward the woods. CJ looked between Bruce and Randy, then raised his hand, said goodbye, and started toward the trees a step behind his father. "I'll be back eventually," Clark said over his shoulder toward the two remaining members of their foursome. "In the meantime, I know Lois is itching to play a few holes."

As soon as they were fully engulfed in shadow, Clark spun into his suit, grabbed CJ by the waist, and took off into the air. Judging by their flight path, CJ obviously didn't need to tell him where to go. "Poor guys won't know what hit them if Mom joins the group," CJ said.

"She could teach the pros a thing or two about golf," Clark said with a small smile. "Having her take over for one of us is probably our only chance of winning."

"Then I'll be sure to fight crime at least as long as it takes to finish out the round," CJ said, eliciting a chuckle from his father. They were rapidly approaching Wayne manor, its limestone façade imposing even from high in the air. Before they could reach it, though, Clark dove down toward the rock outcroppings not too far from the house, slowing down as he found the entrance to the cave. A second later, they were on the ground, and CJ was on the move.

He reached up to unbutton his shirt as he strode toward the big computer in the middle of the cave. As soon as he reached it, he hit a few keys, and a dozen rectangular images popped up on the giant screen. "What's that?" Clark asked from behind him.

"Surveillance," CJ said, training his gaze on each window for a few seconds before moving onto the next. He smiled as he saw something odd but expected in more than one of the rectangles. "I know you've been following the investigation by the various federal agencies into the crash of my plane, so I imagine you're aware of some of the discoveries they've made since you found that bomb detonator." CJ glanced over his shoulder and saw his dad nodding lightly, apparently recognizing the anomaly onscreen and sensing where the conversation was going.

The NTSB was still trying to piece the airplane together and definitively determine the cause of the crash, but they were now heavily leaning toward declaring it an act of terrorism. Since the detonator had been found, indicating a potential crime, the FBI had also gotten involved and it tended to keep a tighter lid on its investigations than most other federal agencies that had been on the case thus far. Superheroes had a little more pull with the FBI than the average citizen, but not much, and the information that Clark and Jon had been able to procure from it consisted mainly of rumors and general theories. Clark had been the first to tell CJ of the problems that the FBI found with the airport video surveillance cameras, and the fact that any incriminating activity had been obscured or lost. CJ had no doubt that the missing data was not an accident, and had finessed some of Bruce's longtime connections within the bureau to get more specific details about just how and when the picture was distorted. It had taken a little bit of his own ingenuity to work out the finer points of what had happened, but the information had proven to be very useful in his own investigation.

CJ turned back toward the screen and pointed to an odd rectangle, which showed a series of almost white, fairly shapeless blobs. "What I managed to figure out that the feds haven't yet is that the perpetrators were smart enough to devise a way to trick the airport camera system into thinking that the light levels had changed, that it was the middle of the night even in full daylight. It caused the cameras to overexpose the picture, and all but the most general part of the image to be lost. The picture from the airport cameras looked remarkably like these."

"Clever idea," Clark said.

CJ raised his eyebrows, glanced at his dad again, then looked back toward the screen, pointing to a different area. "I can be clever, too. The factory where Simon Armstrong worked was the obvious target for a future attack, so I patched the feed from the in-house monitors into the system here, although I was pretty sure what would happen to them if my suspects ever made their move. These other images come from a separate system I had installed, one that operates differently and is well-hidden. Everything recorded by my system will be clear as day."

"And it's working well," Clark said, now standing next to CJ. He squinted as he looked at one of the pictures, then pointed toward the screen and looked at CJ in alarm. "You do know that they're placing…"

"A bomb?" CJ said with a half-smile. "I was hoping they would. Committing a felony can get someone into a lot of trouble, especially if it's caught on tape." He glanced at the computer monitor again, then started quickly toward the changing area, tugging at his shirt to un-tuck it from his pants. "Now I just have to stop them before the damn thing goes off."

"So, do you need me to take you there, too?" Clark asked, but CJ shook his head before disappearing into the oversized closet. This battle would be a defining moment in the new Batman's career, and he was going to go into it without having to rely on super powered relatives for transportation. CJ would do this himself. Besides, he had a stop to make after saving the day.

CJ was aware that he was being less than gentle with his expensive clothing as he pulled it off, throwing it haphazardly into a corner in his haste to get dressed. "You don't need to stick around for my sake, Dad," CJ said as he pulled a suit off the rack and quickly stepped into it. "I'm sure you understand, it's just that…"

"This is your moment," Clark said, his voice odd. CJ paused for a second and looked through the wall, smiling slightly as he watched his dad glance around the cave, then look at the computer monitor and sigh. Clark's expression seemed almost sad, but proud, too. As if he felt CJ's gaze upon him, Clark looked toward the closet, through the wall, and smiled. "Good luck, kiddo," he said with a smile, and was gone.

It was hard to tap into the intensity he had held a few moments earlier, but CJ forced himself to start moving again. He could dwell on that brief moment later, but for now he had a job to do, and fast. It only took a minute to finish dressing, and as soon as he was done, he strode across the cave toward his desk, picking up a large stack of paper and other evidence before continuing toward the car. Tonight, in short order, he was going to arrest some criminals, disarm a bomb, and plead his case to the police commissioner. It was a hard day's work by anyone's measure, but he couldn't wait to get started.


Clark hovered high above Gotham City as CJ wound his way through the Saturday afternoon traffic toward the Wayne Enterprises plastics plant, cringing at times at the apparently reckless driving. He knew that he had told Bruce and Randy that he would return to the golf course, but Clark found himself unwilling to immediately go back, especially when one of the pivotal moments in CJ's young career as a superhero was imminent. He had observed many defining events in his children's lives — important concerts, big games, ceremonies — knowing that his presence was important to them, that they wanted him there to witness their achievements and be proud of them. This was just another of those moments, even if it didn't quite fit the mold of the other events. He was sure that CJ wouldn't object to his presence, just as he was sure Bruce and Randy wouldn't begrudge his absence because of it.

Clark had to admit that another reason he wanted to stick around and watch the action was to see the outcome of CJ's investigation. Once the data had begun to come together, he had tried to limit himself to an outside role in the case. His only contribution had been information from the NTSB that had been given to Superman and the Daily Planet, and he had let CJ, and to a lesser extent Jon, be the ones to interpret it as it related to their investigation against the ARB. It had been somewhat of a surprise to see everything develop as solidly as it had, but given the genes that the two boys shared, and their lifelong exposure to the typical Lane and Kent investigation, he had supposed that success was to be expected. Lois, certainly, hadn't been in the least bit shocked that CJ's ambitious theory had panned out, although that wasn't to say that she was anything less than proud that it had. Bruce, on the other hand…

Since CJ had moved to Gotham City, Clark and Bruce had had regular, clandestine meetings at various locations around town, one of which had helped to spur the now infamous rutabaga incident. Outwardly, Bruce had stayed out of CJ's way throughout the course of the investigation. He didn't offer criticism, constructive or otherwise, he didn't snoop, he didn't get in CJ's way or even so much as show his face in the cave, and he didn't give guidance, not that any had been asked. Privately, though, he had followed every development, no matter how minor, tracking the research CJ had done and listening in on conversations that had been made on Wayne property. In his meetings with Clark, Bruce hadn't been shy about offering his opinions on where things were going, often grousing about mistakes or missed opportunities, frequently expecting unrealistic outcomes from simple situations. Clark had just told him to be patient, which he knew was akin to asking a fireman to be patient while a blaze raged in front of him. They had both seen their fair share of successful investigations, but somehow, being on the outside led Bruce to expectations that even he probably couldn't fulfill in his prime.

Even after all the grousing, though, Clark knew that Bruce wanted CJ to succeed. It was just as hard for Bruce to step back from Batman, to deny himself active involvement in a big investigation and watch from the sidelines as someone else controlled the action. The frustration and the relative slowness of the investigation aside, Bruce couldn't deny that the transition had paid off. Since CJ had taken over, Batman was a household name again, crime was steadily falling in Gotham City, and there was a general buzz around town, which only served to make the situation more painful for Bruce, not that he would ever admit it. He had been oddly subdued as the case had finally come together, although Clark knew him well enough to see that he, too, was impressed with what CJ had done. Once everything was finished, he probably wouldn't give CJ so much as a pat on the back, but Clark figured that CJ would recognize Bruce's subtle approval for what it was, just like he always had.

Clark blinked and forced himself to pay attention to the action below as CJ's car began to make its way to an industrial portion of town. In a matter of minutes, CJ arrived at a large factory near the bay, parking his car out of the obvious line of sight from the roadway, intending to enter the building as stealthily as was possible under the full afternoon sun. Across the street from the factory was a tall, older warehouse, one that looked like it had seen better times. The building itself was unremarkable, except for the two figures atop the roof. Laura, clad entirely in black with her hair pulled back and a mask on her face, was perched on the edge of the building closest to the factory, looking anxiously inside, apparently tracking the perpetrators as they placed their bombs. Next to her was an older man in black and navy, a pair of binoculars in his hands, although he wasn't using them at the moment. He appeared frustrated as he looked between Laura and the factory, possibly waiting for updates.

Clark frowned. It wasn't unexpected to see Laura in spandex; he knew that she was doing surveillance for CJ, and he figured she would play sidekick to CJ's Batman even before CJ groveled to him about a week after Laura's arrival in Gotham, asking permission for just such a thing. Clark trusted CJ to take care of her and keep her out of trouble. The father in him, though, inherently didn't trust strange men alone on isolated rooftops with his teenaged daughter, even if there wasn't anything happening. The desire to land on the roof and play chaperone was overwhelming, but he had faith that Laura would put her companion in his place if anything funny happened. All the same, he decided that it would probably be best to make his presence known.

He touched down on the roof several feet from the two, drawing the attention of Laura and the strangely familiar man beside her. Immediately, Laura's expression lit up, although after a moment she seemed to realize that they were in a somewhat unique situation, facing each other for the first time as costumed heroes with an audience. "Daddy!" she said, her voice excited yet tentative at the same time. Clark smiled despite himself, momentarily ignoring her companion.

"Sweetheart," Clark said with a nod as he approached her. Her outfit was very familiar, a fact that he would normally exploit for a little humor. With a bystander, though, the humor would have to take a backseat. "What name are you using these days? Or should I just refer to you as…?" He gestured toward her outfit, a hand-me-down from Diane.

"Shadow Woman? I think she retired." Laura placed a hand on her hips and shifted her weight to one leg. "You can call me Robin," she said, cocking her eyebrow and pointing to a small, maroon R that had been pinned to the upper right corner of the outfit. "This," she said, motioning toward the man next to her, "is one of my predecessors."

Clark turned to look at the man, and quickly realized why he had seemed so familiar. He was the same Robin that Clark had met at least a quarter century earlier, although the youth had been chased from his features. The former Robin now looked like a man who was angry at the world, someone who viewed situations with a cynical eye. It was a shame, Clark thought, especially remembering the exuberance that he had had in his younger days.

"It's a pleasure, sir," the man said, holding out his hand, which Clark promptly shook. At the words, the man's expression changed into one that was almost pleasant.

"It's been a long time," Clark replied. Before he had any chance to comment on what the years had done, he heard the sound of a door latch clicking from the factory across the street. The sound seemed to reverberate in the massive factory main floor, and as Clark turned his attention to the scene, he immediately knew that the suspects had heard the sound too. CJ had entered through a back door, and had been cautious enough the close it without a sound, but he hadn't accounted for the reengagement of the lock mechanism. It was obvious that CJ recognized his mistake, but he didn't seem to realize its impact.

Both Clark and Laura exhaled loudly as Ross and Armstrong, who had been in the process of leaving, turned back toward the factory floor and split up to find the source of the sound. "What?" the former Robin asked.

"Rookie error," Clark said. "Just made his job a lot harder." CJ cringed as he stood in front of the door, looked around for a moment, then straightened up and strode confidently across the middle of the space. Ross had made his way toward a ladder, and was ascending toward the catwalks. Armstrong had procured a gun somehow, and was using the shadows cast by the large machinery to conceal himself, waiting to ambush the unsuspecting hero.

"Stealth has never been his style in anything," Laura commented. "Neither has subtlety. Look at that — he's practically daring them to take a shot at him."

Clark bobbed is head in agreement. "There's something to be said for boldness. But those machines around him are made of alloys containing lead," Clark said. "He's never going to be able to see those guys before they get to him." The only reason Clark could follow the movements of the suspects was because of the angle he was watching from.

"Not that they could hurt…oooh," Laura said, cringing. Armstrong jumped out from behind a piece of machinery and caught CJ off guard, knocking him sideways. The gun was raised and pointed toward CJ, but before the trigger could be pulled, CJ made a quick move and grabbed it by the barrel, wresting it away and crushing it as Armstrong looked on in shock.

"All the same, maybe you should go help," Clark said to Laura. She looked at him with an expression that was surprised at best, fearful at worst. He smiled, attempting to ease her fears. "You are the sidekick, aren't you?"

"Well, yeah, but don't sidekicks usually suffer horrible fates in situations like these? Aren't we generally the sacrificial lambs?"

"You said it yourself: it's not like anything can hurt you." At Laura's appraising nod, Clark turned back toward the factory. "Besides, there's a bomb in there with ten minutes to go until it explodes."

Inside the factory, Armstrong stared at the twisted piece of metal that his gun had become. A second later, CJ's fist came up and connected with his jaw, and Armstrong crumpled into a lifeless form on the ground. Before CJ could make a move to secure him, a shot rang out from high on the catwalks. CJ cupped his hand over the bullet as it impacted with his chest, ensuring that the shot wouldn't ricochet and damage any of the sensitive equipment around him. In a quick motion, he pulverized the bullet and dropped the powdery remains on the ground, looked toward Ross, then through the wall at the roof where Clark, Laura, and Dick were standing. "Ten minutes? Why do bad guys always insist on cutting things so close?"

"Martyrs are heroes in their world, I'm sure," Clark said with a shrug, then nodded toward Laura. "Ten minutes will go a lot more slowly if you have a

little help…"

"Fine, fine. Jeez is this the same guy who wanted to keep his little baby out of the line of fire until she's old enough to run for president?" As CJ spoke, another shot was fired. This time he reached out and nonchalantly plucked the bullet from the air.

Clark only responded by crossing his arms across his chest. CJ's eyes twinkled for a moment, then he looked away and was on the move, winding between machinery toward the nearest ladder. Clark nudged Laura, who was smiling triumphantly. "Go on," Clark said to her.

"Thank you, Daddy," Laura said. She leaned in and gave him a quick peck on the cheek, then was gone. Beside Clark, the former Robin was laughing gently.

At Clark's curious glance, Nightwing shook his head. "Sorry, I laugh to keep from gaping, I guess. It's just, well, watching your brood communicate is a very different experience."

Clark nodded and gave a half smile. "Talking through walls? It certainly cuts down on the cell phone bills." He watched Laura approach the unconscious Armstrong and reach for the rope from her utility belt, then he turned toward the former Robin. "So what do you call yourself these days, Dick?"

A surprised expression flashed across Dick's face at the use of his real name, but only for a moment. Even back when Dick had been Bruce's ward, Superman and Batman had been very much aware of who the other was behind the mask. Clark's knowledge had allowed him to extrapolate the identity of Robin, although he doubted that Robin had similar knowledge about Superman. Even though Bruce and Clark hadn't exactly been friends back in those days, discretion and mutual respect kept the identity of the other safe, in Bruce's case even from his sidekick. Given Dick's apparent participation in CJ's investigation, and his presence on the roof, Clark assumed that the playing field was finally even between the two of them.

"I go by Nightwing," he said with a nod. "Not exactly a household name, but I didn't get into this business for the press." He put an emphasis on the final word and gave Clark a knowing glance, leaving no doubt as to his knowledge of Superman's alter ego.

Clark raised his eyebrows, then gestured toward the factory, where CJ had reached the catwalks and was appraising the best way to confront a retreating Ross. "So how did you get roped into this investigation?" he asked. "The rest of us were pulled in by association."

Nightwing shrugged and looked away, his demeanor almost timid. "Curiosity," he said. "A new man was under the mantle of the bat, and I wanted to know who. I made the mistake of underestimating him…"

Clark smiled. "I think that makes two of us," he said, then shook his head. Beside him, Nightwing seemed to relax, a small smile finding its way onto his face. "Everyone believes that their kid is going to grow up and do something great, but after the accident, I began to wonder if maybe that spark that made him who he was would flicker out. My son could've just as easily been a stand-up comedian as a rocket scientist, but even someone with all the intelligence and talent in the world would have had a very hard time filling Bruce Wayne's shoes. He always believed he could do it, though, and maybe his untimely death helped him to embrace his role as Batman in a way that he wouldn't have otherwise."

Nightwing nodded. "He definitely succeeded, admirably so. I wouldn't characterize myself as someone who is easily impressed, but it's hard not to be after watching this come together," he said, then gave an almost haunted smile. "Gotham finally has a hero it can be proud of."

Clark frowned lightly at the words despite their praise. There was something in Dick's voice, a subtle undertone, that told him there was more behind what he said than he was letting on, and Clark suspected that he knew what. When Dick had left Batman's side to pursue his own superhero career all those years ago, Clark knew that the separation hadn't been amicable. Every sidekick has to grow up at some point to become his own man, but that hadn't been the driving force behind Nightwing's creation, judging by the shiner that Bruce sported immediately after the two parted ways. The fact that Nightwing had never been seen together with Batman spoke volumes, as did the fact that, in all the difficult, mutual investigations that Superman and Batman had done together, Nightwing had never been invited to offer assistance, even if it was sorely needed.

Dick raised his binoculars and looked toward the factory. Ross had descended to the floor, and CJ was floating soundlessly above the scaffolding toward his position, bracing himself to jump down when he had an opportunity, which came after only a few seconds. CJ didn't even try to break his fall as he hurtled to the ground, landing gracefully next to Ross and felling him with a punch before Ross even knew what was happening.

"Bruce talks about you," Clark said softly, his eyes not leaving the scene in front of him. He knew by the rustle of clothing and sharp intake of breath that Dick was looking at him, possibly incredulous, possibly angry. Clark didn't want to force a reconciliation that Dick didn't want, but he also hated to bear witness to a grudge, especially when the grudge was based on hurt feelings and half-truths. A little knowledge was power, and Dick deserved to know that he wasn't forgotten by his former mentor.

"We've met once a week since CJ came to town, and used to meet every few months before that," Clark continued. "We'd talk about this and that, the past and the future, the state of the world. Every now and then your name would pop up in connection with a wrong that was righted or a crime that was solved. It was almost as if he kept an eye out for you, not that he'd ever admit that."

Inside the factory, Laura was immediately at CJ's side. "I'll tie him up. Get the bomb," she said, pointing toward the far side of the main room and a large vat of chemicals. CJ nodded and immediately started toward the device, striding quickly across the floor.

"I'm just another headline on the news of the day, that's all," Nightwing said.

The corner of Clark's mouth turned up as he looked toward Dick. "So is the latest celebrity plastic surgery fad, but somehow that never entered the conversation."

Dick didn't even smile at the joke. He looked down at his binoculars and sighed, then looked toward the factory again. "The old man never cared about me. After three decades, I don't know why anything would've changed."

"People change," Clark said. Bruce was the poster boy for that statement, especially since he had begun to face his own mortality. "I also think it's safe to say that not everyone shows their affection in the same way. Bruce will never be the type of person to tell you that you've done a good job, at least not in so many words, but asking you to help him on the next job means that he appreciates the work you do."

"Maybe," Dick said, his voice small.

"And I'm not saying that I agree with that philosophy, but I can disagree with a friend and still respect him." Inside the factory, CJ had reached the bomb, but was unsure of how to defuse it. In the absence of any other course of action, CJ picked the bomb up, wrapped himself around it, and began dislocating wires. "It takes a special kind of man to take in someone like my son, someone who literally had no life, and not only entrust him with his fortune, but also with the identity that he had spent so much time and effort to establish."

The bomb went off with a dull thud. CJ winced slightly as he took the full force of the explosion, although he didn't appear any worse for the wear as he stood and waved the smoke away. "Bruce knows a good kid when he sees him," Nightwing said.

"He always has." Clark glanced toward Nightwing, who now appeared to be staring off into the distance. As Clark turned back toward the factory, CJ looked at him and held up the charred remains of the bomb trigger, an exact match to the one Clark found at the bottom of the ocean. With a large grin, Clark gave him a thumbs up sign, knowing that it above anything else would help to seal the case against Ross and Armstrong.

Now that the mission was accomplished, Clark figured it was probably time to head back to the golf course. It also meant that it was time to finish up his conversation with Nightwing. As he turned toward the former Robin, he sighed, realizing that their discussion had become somewhat one-sided and heavy-handed. That was not the impression he liked to leave, especially with a professional acquaintance. "I apologize for sounding…preachy," Clark said, garnering the attention of his companion. "It's just that you two were each other's family for a while, and I hate to see something like that broken apart by misunderstanding and pride." He glanced toward the factory, where CJ had made his way to Laura and the unconscious thugs. "Family is too important for that."

Nightwing gave a hint of a smile, apparently understanding where Clark's sensitivity on the subject came from. "Especially when you don't have any other family," he said, a hint of sadness in his voice. Clark didn't know what Dick Grayson had done with his private life in the years since leaving Bruce Wayne's guardianship, but he suspected that Dick didn't have anyone to confide in, any family to go home to. Dick was probably a lot more like Bruce that he wanted to admit, married to idealism and a vendetta, and too stubborn to put aside old disagreements and reunite with the one person who shared his experiences.

After a moment, Clark took a step away from the edge of the building. "If you feel like renewing any old acquaintances, I happen to know that the Waynes will be hosting some old friends at Juliani's tonight, around 8 o'clock." At Nightwing's surprised look, Clark smiled. "It was nice to see you again," he said, then took off into the air, headed toward the golf course. He hadn't been gone too long, and was probably in for another dozen holes of sliced tee shots and bogeys. Like a lot of things in life, though, golf was more about the company than about winning, a point of view that he had yet to convince his wife to hold. Until then, Superman would continue to be less than super on the links, which didn't bother him at all.


CJ utilized the growing evening shadows to conceal himself as he silently entered the office of the Police Commissioner of Gotham City. The room itself was large and cluttered, case files stacked haphazardly on most of the flat surfaces, books stuffed into the overfilled bookcases. The mess made stealth somewhat difficult, but CJ's meager flight abilities were useful in navigating without being heard. On the far side of the room, the commissioner sat hunched over his massive desk, staring blankly out the large window at the city that stretched out beyond it. For a moment, CJ surveyed the scene and collected his thoughts, although the speech that he was about to make had been memorized long ago and could be recited by rote. Maybe too much thinking could complicate things, he decided after a second. Thought tended to lead to doubt and nervousness, and neither would do him or the investigation any good.

"Commissioner," he said, his voice raspy and low. Startled, the commissioner turned toward him, although the surprise in his features quickly faded as CJ stepped forward into the light.

"Batman," the Commissioner said with a nod. "It's been a long time."

CJ ignored the urge to engage in small talk, knowing that his alter ego wasn't known for being personable and engaging. Instead, he stepped forward and dropped a stack of documents on the commissioner's desk. "Two men attempted to blow up the Wayne Enterprises Plastics plant today," he said. "They were unsuccessful this time, but this was not their first use of explosives." He gestured toward the stack of papers. "A couple of months ago, these same men planted a bomb on Metro Air Flight 329 bound for Gotham City from Metropolis."

"I remember that crash," the commissioner said as he reached for the papers. "I thought it was still considered an accident."

"Those documents will prove that it was not. A few weeks ago, Superman discovered a bomb detonator on the ocean floor along the airplane's flight path." CJ dropped a charred circuit board on the commissioner's desk next to the papers. "I think you will find it identical to this one from the Wayne factory." CJ proceeded to tell the complete story of the suspects dangling from the catwalks inside the factory, what their beliefs were, and how their political ideals lead them to gradually more aggressive attacks in city after city, culminating in their attempt to bomb the Wayne factory and cause major damage to the city via the chemicals that would be released as a result.

"Homegrown terrorists. It makes me sick," the commissioner said with a shake of the head.

CJ crossed his arms across his chest. "These men deserve to spend the rest of their lives behind bars. I trust your office will make sure that it happens, and so do the friends and family of everyone that these men have harmed." With that, CJ took a step back and turned around, intending to leave the office.

"Batman?" the commissioner said, causing CJ to stop. "You aren't the same man who used to visit my office, are you?"

CJ sighed and turned back toward the commissioner. "Times change; the baton gets passed and a new generation takes over. You aren't the same man who was commissioner when the Batman first started visiting this office, either."

The commissioner smiled slightly and shook his head. "No, I'm not. I just hope nothing has happened to your predecessor, that's all."

"He's fine," CJ said, letting a little bit of the disguise fall away from his voice. "Age limits everyone, though, and heroes are no different."

"No, I suppose not." There was a moment of awkward silence before the phone on the commissioner's desk began to ring. "Thanks for your help," he said to CJ with a nod. "Let's hope this is the beginning of a successful partnership."

CJ responded only with a smile, then left the office as silently as he had entered. Behind him, he could hear the commissioner pick up the phone. "Yes?" he said, his voice betraying a mild amount of shock, no doubt from the smile that the infamously brooding hero gave him.

"Sir, there's a situation at a Wayne Enterprises factory in the industrial district," the voice on the other end said. CJ's smile widened as he tuned out the conversation and walked away. The wheels were in motion now, the case against Ross and Armstrong building, and it was only a matter of time before the two faced justice.

Finally, after all the hard work, after all the late nights, undercover work, and worry, it was over.


Wayne Manor had literally hundreds of rooms, most of which were closed off and forgotten, visited upon occasion by the cleaning staff in order to clear out the cobwebs and dust. One forgotten room was particularly out of the way. Located in what could almost be described as a subbasement, it was between the lower level of the mansion itself and the upper reaches of the Batcave. It was a room that for many years had served as storage, but after CJ moved in, he had cleaned out the accumulated clutter of decades of Wayne family habitation and claimed the room as his own. Hidden away from the Wayne Manor staff and the rest of the world, it was the perfect place to establish his own private office, and to house all the remnants of his former life without fear of discovery.

Upon returning from his visit to the commissioner, CJ found himself inexplicably drawn toward his new office, despite the knowledge that his family was probably finishing up their outing and waiting patiently for him to arrive before heading off to supper. This would only take a second, he thought as he entered the room and flicked on the light. Easing into the creaky wooden chair in front of an old metal desk salvaged from another shuttered room, he drank in the sight of the accumulated tokens of his former life. Yearbooks, trophies, photographs, cards…some were in boxes, some were on shelves, and some were perched lovingly in strategic positions throughout the room. All seemed to call to him. Without thinking about it, he reached for the nearest picture, and almost immediately the memories began to flow. After a few moments he set the picture back where it had been, then reached for another memento, turning it over in his hands and remembering what it had felt like when he had taken it home. Soon that item was replaced and another was looked at, the memories growing thicker with each passing moment. Time lost meaning as he relived the past, wallowing in his former life, and he found himself unable to stop. He was trapped by an emotion that was happiness, sorrow, excitement, and pain all rolled into one, excruciating and intoxicating at the same time. After an indeterminate amount of time he was forced out of his thoughts by a light rapping on the door. When he looked up, he saw that the door had been pushed open, and his wife was standing in the opening, her expression worried.

"Clark?" she asked, taking a step toward him. CJ set aside the photo album he had been browsing and reached out to her. As soon as she took his hand, he pulled her toward him and into his lap.

"He's still dead," CJ said, his voice betraying a surprising amount of sadness. Maybe the Batman persona was rubbing off on him, after all.

Jenny wrapped her arms around his neck and looked at him for a moment. "You stopped the bad guys, didn't you?" she asked.

CJ gave a small smile. "Yeah," he answered, looking into her eyes and feeding briefly off the optimism that they held. After a moment he looked away, immediately seeing again the reminders of his old life. "I stopped the bad guys. I sent the men who killed 200 people, including me, to jail. My one singular mission for the last…however many weeks it's been since I came here is over with, but…"

"Nobody notified the guy who sets off the fireworks," Jenny said with a grin. Even through the melancholy that he found himself mired in, CJ couldn't help but smile. He reached up and found a stray lock of her hair, wrapping it gently around his finger before cupping her face in his hand. No matter how dark things seemed, she was always his ray of sunshine.

He found his smile fading as the heavy emotions that she had briefly chased away descended upon him once again. "It's like the nightmare is over but I can't wake up," he said softly after a moment.

Jenny placed her hand on top of his, then leaned in and kissed him tenderly. Time stood still for the second time that night, and he groaned lightly as she pulled away from him. "Did that feel like a nightmare?" she asked, and he smiled gently as he shook his head.

"That felt like heaven," he said, trying to recapture her lips, although she wouldn't let him. She looked around curiously, then turned her gaze on him, her expression completely serious.

"You had a wonderful life," she said, reaching for a photograph of CJ and his family on vacation, the poses very spontaneous, the smiles very genuine. "You had a loving, wonderful family, loyal friends, and a gorgeous wife. But you still do."

"It was just all over with so quickly," he said, his throat tightening to the point that he could barely speak the words. His emotions had been bottled up for so long, and he had never let them out, partly out of some half-baked idea of manliness, and partly because he had always tried to look at the positive side of everything. How could he be upset when he lived a life as charmed as his? But all the blind optimism couldn't hide the simple truth of what was, and it had hindered him from properly saying goodbye to the life that had been his.

He closed his eyes and turned away from Jenny as his vision began to mist up. "I think everyone wonders from time to time what they would do if something were to happen to them. The old what-if-the-world-is-going-to-end-tomorrow question, you know?" He looked back at Jenny, locking into her gaze with his. "What would you say to your friends and family? How would you say goodbye? Would you apologize for all your perceived failings or would you go down unapologetically in a blaze of glory?" He shook his head and gave a sad smile. "Almost as soon as the thought comes, it's dismissed. When you're twenty something years old, how bad can your life get, right? And, really, what are the odds of the world ending in the near future? But then the inevitable ends up happening, and you realize that you never got the opportunity to finish it the way you wanted to." He looked up and gestured toward the football team photographs that used to flank the couch in his old apartment. "Then all you're left with are memories, photographs, regret, and a whole lot of goodbyes that you wish you could've said."

Jenny sighed and leaned against him. "One of the things that makes life interesting is that nobody knows how or when they're going to go. In a perfect world, maybe you would've made all those plans and given all your fond farewells, but we don't live in a perfect world. You can't change what happened, but I think you can at least be consoled by the knowledge that you didn't need to say anything for your friends and family to know how you felt about them." Her smile was loving, and he found it hard to remain pessimistic in the face of her unwavering support.

"I know," he answered, tightening his arm around her. "But there's something to be said for closure. And maybe I needed a moment to…mourn what I lost."

Jenny nodded lightly. "I understand," she said. "Just don't spend so much time reliving your past that you forget about the present." Her voice was quiet, the words almost solemn, and he understood immediately that he hadn't been the only one to stare at the gathered mementoes and remember what was while lamenting what could never be again. She had already made peace with the past, and had probably done so before coming to join him in Gotham City. It could be upsetting having to relive that experience through someone else's eyes, and that thought above any others made him decide that he had already found the closure he needed, if only through her.

CJ gave a quick out rush of breath and a genuine smile. "I wouldn't dare," he said. "The present certainly has its advantages, and I think you and Junior are proof that the future won't be so bad, either."

She wrapped her arms around him and cocked her head to the side, her eyes taking on a mischievous twinkle. "Rather than spending your time down here surrounded by the ghosts of the past, you need to get out and gloat a little. After all, you just saved countless lives. If that isn't worth a little ego trip, I don't know what is."

"I don't know. Gloating's not really my style."

Jenny's expression became incredulous, and she pressed the back of her hand against his forehead. "Are you feeling all right? The man I married used to love to gloat, especially during family gatherings. Your dad's already done a fair amount of it himself since he returned from watching your escapades. Why should he get to have all the fun?"

CJ shook his head and smiled. "Good point."

With that, Jenny stood, although her hand remained locked in his. He got to his feet, and a moment later they exited the room hand-in-hand. Before closing the door, he took one last look at the collected memories of a lifetime, mentally said goodbye, then turned off the light. As Jenny tugged him down the hallway, he left all his emotional baggage behind and turned his attention to the present once and for all. "So, how's your mother been doing?" he asked.

They started to ascend the drab stairwell to the next level of the mansion. "Once you and your father left, the rest of us got pulled out onto the course to take over for you guys, and she started having fun despite how much she almost seemed to be trying to keep herself upset."

"What, she wasn't intimidated by Bruce?" CJ asked, his eyebrow raised in anticipation.

"No, I just think she wasn't intimidated by his golf game." They both laughed and continued onward and upward, toward their assembled family and the first complete gathering since the crash. It would be like old times, but the beginning of a whole new era, as well.


Dick Grayson took a sip from his now nearly-empty mug of beer, looked at his watch, and sighed. Although Superman had said that the Wayne clan would be arriving around 8, it was now almost an hour later and there was no sign of them. In a moment of blind, stupid optimism, Dick had decided to come see his old mentor again, although after the passage of time and a couple of drinks he was finding the desire to reconcile with Bruce fading. He wasn't sure why, exactly, he thought this would be the magical night that all the bad blood between the two of them would go away, although he suspected that the likely presence of Superman was a large part of it. Superman was the one person that Dick respected more than anyone else on the planet, and his almost fatherly words of encouragement atop that factory had helped to spawn a feeling that Dick hadn't felt in a long time: hope. With hope, almost anything was possible, even an unlikely reunion with someone who Dick still didn't entirely forgive.

Hope was one of the last emotions on Dick's mind as he took a long look at his surroundings before finishing his drink. Juliani's was a popular social gathering place with a unique atmosphere, comfortable lounge and colorful history, but it was primarily known for the upscale clientele that frequented its restaurant. He hated places like this, especially since he had walked away from Bruce Wayne and the lifestyle that he represented. It wasn't just the expensive drinks or the endless beat of techno music coming from the overly loud sound system, it was the people and their attitudes, the butt kissing and flattery that seemed to flow whenever someone rich and famous showed up. He had personally met most of the people in town worth meeting, and knew what kind of shallow personalities generally lurked behind the famous smiles. There wasn't enough beer in the bar to keep him around much longer, especially when faced with the rapidly increasing crowd of people.

Dick was seriously pondering walking out of Juliani's and never looking back when the rear door to the establishment opened. Normally, the door was fairly private, almost invisible to other patrons of the restaurant and lounge, but Dick had situated himself so that he could see it through a reflection in the large mirror over the bar. As Dick watched, a vaguely familiar young woman entered the building and started down the hallway, followed by an older couple. The three turned as they reached the entryway to the restaurant's private dining area. Dick's mouth went flat with disappointment, but he couldn't stop watching. Soon enough, the rear door opened again, and someone very familiar entered the building, followed by a host of men and women who seemed just familiar enough that their identities could be assumed. Dick stood as they filed toward him, and his mouth went dry as Bruce Wayne finally arrived, the last to enter, a cellular phone to his ear.

So intently did Dick stare at Bruce Wayne, that he momentarily missed a familiar voice call out to the bartender from right next to him. As he turned his head, he saw Sam Wayne, complete with his fake glasses, high-end wardrobe, and well-coiffed hair. Dick stared for a moment, then cleared his throat, drawing the slightly annoyed glance of his companion. Almost immediately, Sam Wayne's expression changed to one of good-humored familiarity.

"Well, Dick Grayson! Holy revelation in flannel," he said as he thrust out his hand. "We had a bet going as to whether or not you would show up. Looks like I won." Dick reached out to shake the offered hand, but before he got a chance to speak, Sam Wayne looked past him. "Hey Jon," he said, using his free hand to point at Dick. "Look who's here."

Startled, Dick turned back toward the hallway, and saw Jon Kent coming toward him, his expression congenial. "Mr. Kent," he said, releasing Wayne's hand and extending it toward Kent.

"Mr. Grayson. It's nice to finally meet you. The real you, that is," Jon Kent said.

"Likewise," Dick said, shaking his hand. It was amazing, Dick thought. Having already met the Crimson Superman and seen pictures of the man who stood in front of him, he had been pretty sure he knew what to expect if they ever met in real life. The real Jonathan Kent, though, was startlingly, almost disappointingly ordinary. Dick had expected the alter egos of the Supermen to be magnetic and imposing even without the costume, their sheer force of personality and inherent strength making them stand out. Their very presence had always been heady enough that he wondered how a pair of glasses and change of clothing managed to give them private lives without everyone knowing who they really were. The man in front of him now, though, could easily get lost in a crowd, and it wasn't just because of the wardrobe. He didn't seem powerful or strong, and he didn't carry himself with the air of authority that always seemed to follow his alter ego. When he stood, his posture was relaxed, his expression was amiable, almost amused, and his handshake was something short of firm. It was disconcerting to be faced with such a dichotomy, but as someone who had to maintain his own identity, he supposed it was comforting, too.

Beside them, Wayne gave a drink order to the bartender, then turned back to Jon and Dick. "So, you owe me twenty bucks," Wayne said to Jon.

Jon gave a sarcastic grin, then held his hand out toward Wayne. "Can you loan me twenty bucks? I need to pay back this rich guy who likes to swindle wage slaves out of their hard-earned cash to prove a point."

Dick tried not to laugh. It was easy to forget that the two men beside him were brothers, although the banter made it obvious. The interplay was amusing, but also educational.

Sam Wayne flashed a sly smile then shrugged. "If you can't pay, then you shouldn't play," he said. "I would take payment in beverages, though, I suppose." Two drinks were placed beside him at that moment, and he cocked an eyebrow at his brother, whose expression was now icy. Kent reached down for his wallet and paid the tab, causing a triumphant smile to form on Wayne's face as he picked the beverages up. After another moment of silent interplay, Wayne turned to Dick and gestured toward the dining room. "You're welcome to join us for dinner," he said. "It would be nice to get to know the real you, and I know other members of our little entourage feel the same way."

Dick tried to smile, but the thought of seeing Bruce again, face to face, made him freeze up momentarily. Jon Kent and Sam Wayne exchanged glances, turned toward the rear of the restaurant, then looked back toward Dick.

"He went out back to conduct a little business over the phone," Sam Wayne said, apparently sensing the source of Dick's apprehension. "I guess having one of your factories bombed makes you a popular guy."

"One would think," Dick answered, more relieved than earlier, but still apprehensive. "Are you sure it's okay?"

"I'm sure," Sam Wayne answered. "And since I'm paying, that's all that matters."

Dick couldn't argue with that logic, and with a slight nod he followed the brothers into the dining room. For a moment it felt like he was intruding on a private party, although he reminded himself that he had been invited, and probably half the people around him were hardly strangers. He stood tall and forced his sudden timidity away as all eyes in the room seemed to lock onto him, appraising him, though none seemed upset at his presence.

Sam Wayne looked over his shoulder to make sure that Dick had closed the door behind him, then turned back toward the crowd. "Everyone, I'd like you to meet Dick Grayson," he said. "He's part of the local wildlife, a former associate of Bruce's, and he helped us on the case today. We invited him to our little soiree to show our appreciation."

After the group collectively nodded, Sam Wayne introduced the people in the room to Dick. The first couple, an older man and woman, were introduced as Wayne's in-laws, or at least his former identity's in-laws. The man, Randy, was pleasant and seemed at ease, but his wife Sheryl seemed a little overwhelmed, and Dick could certainly sympathize. If he allowed himself to think about the accomplishments of all the people gathered in the room, he felt a little dizzy himself.

Jon Kent had settled into an empty chair next to the in-laws, and seated next to him was his wife Diane. Diane Kent was at first blush an intimidating woman. Unlike the rest of the assembled Kent clan, she seemed outwardly cynical and calculating, her body language less than friendly. When Dick was told that she was a cop, he wasn't surprised in the least. It was startling, then, that when her husband touched her, or leaned in to say something to her, the unwelcoming façade melted away, replaced by a smile that was beautiful and radiant. She seemed to be two people at the same time, the hard policewoman and the soft, pleasant woman that her husband coaxed out of her. That seeming duality probably helped her to fit in very naturally with this family. When Sam Wayne introduced her to Dick, she responded with a cordial smile and a nod, although he could tell that she was sizing him up, watching him, like a good detective would. He liked her, Dick decided, returning her smile with one of his own.

The next couple needed no introduction. Clark Kent, like his eldest son, was a vision of normalcy outside of the spandex. Although he was probably only a dozen years younger than Bruce, Clark didn't appear to be a day over thirty. It was a fact that hadn't occurred to Dick when he had been in Superman's presence, probably because he was, well, Superman, someone who had always seemed to be just as much of an unchanging part of the landscape as the skyline that he flew above. Here, though, surrounded by family, it was hard not to notice that his children seemed more like siblings. Lois, by comparison, had aged gracefully, but time had also been very kind to her. Her husband might be a good reason why.

Sam Wayne knelt between his parents, draped his arms over their shoulders, and smiled. "Dick, I'd like you to meet my mom and dad."

For a minute, Dick couldn't speak as he looked at the trio. When he had first met the new Batman, he hadn't really seen his resemblance to Superman, although Dick would be the first to admit that his memory was a little fuzzy as to what the famous superhero looked like in person. Then, after working with both in close proximity, he admitted to seeing some similar features, but nothing that would convince him of their relationship if not for the powers. But as Sam Wayne knelt between his parents, there was absolutely no doubt about his pedigree. It wasn't just his strong resemblance to his mother that made the picture complete, it was the impish smile he shared with the civilian version of his father and the sparkle in both their eyes. Now that Dick knew Sam Wayne a little better, he could also see the keen intelligence hidden beneath the exterior, not unlike his mother.

"Ma'am, sir, it's an honor," Dick said as he shook hands with them.

"I'm glad you were able to come. I've heard so much," Lois said to Dick, then glanced over her shoulder. "It'll be nice to finally be able to sort out the truth from the fiction."

"Are you implying I'm a little flexible with reality?" Wayne asked her.

Lois Lane raised an eyebrow and just smiled at him knowingly. "Sweetheart, you have three identities right now. Don't forget, I also have a well-functioning mom-radar that's been detecting your little distortions since the first time you snitched on your brother…"

"I missed you, Mom," Wayne said, leaning over to give her a peck on the cheek as she rolled her eyes.

Beside them, Clark Kent laughed gently, then regarded Dick. "You look a little nervous," he commented.

Dick grabbed for his arm and shrugged. "Too many nights alone on darkened rooftops and too many years out of high society," he said, smiling weakly. Clark smiled knowingly.

"Don't let the junior executive fool you," said the woman seated next to Clark. As Dick looked at her closely, he couldn't help but notice that her stomach seemed a little out of proportion with the rest of her. "We're hardly high society, and we've all seen our fair share of lonely nights atop darkened rooftops. You'll fit right in." She approached him and held out her hand. "Jennifer Kent. I'm the grieving widow."

If Dick squinted his eyes and blurred his vision, he could see why she seemed a little familiar at first glance. "Oh, sure. I've seen your picture," he said, taking the offered hand.

She gave a long-suffering sigh. "You and half the country," she said. "This one, though, is a new addition to the tabloid pages," she said, motioning to Laura Kent, the final family member, who was separated from Jenny by an empty chair.

"Laura," Dick said with a nod. Out of uniform, his teenaged rooftop companion finally looked her age. "You're Sam Wayne's hot new date, huh?"

Laura Kent rolled her eyes and fidgeted ever so slightly, looking toward her father for comment, although he didn't offer any.

With the introductions out of the way, Dick settled into an empty chair and listened as the conversations started up again, feeling more at ease with each passing moment. Snippets of anecdotes were relayed, stories that were tantalizingly interesting and that he would have loved to hear more of if given time. This was a family that functioned remarkably, Dick mused, even though it had every opportunity to be dysfunctional. Given his experience with the Bruce Wayne school of heroes and secret identities, he would never have thought it possible to don the spandex and still live a normal, loving home life, but the Kents seemed to handle it just fine.

He was just beginning to truly enjoy the company when the door to the dining room opened and the patriarch of the Wayne family walked in. Bruce didn't look around as he entered, concentrating his focus on Lois and Clark, and apparently missing the stranger in the room. "Sorry for the delay," he said, swiftly walking toward the head of the table. "Hopefully we won't have any more interruptions." His demeanor seemed pleasant, but not in the phony way that Dick was well acquainted with.

Bruce sat down next to Clark Kent and immediately turned toward Sam Wayne and smiled. "The kid's already proving to be a good investment," he said, bringing smiles to the faces of the assembled family members, but the smiles seemed strained. Nobody seemed to want to point out that Dick was there, but their expressions said more than words ever could. As all the other sets of eyes settled on Dick, Bruce finally saw him, and for a moment his smile seemed to falter.

"Dick," Bruce said quietly, a hint of surprise in his voice.

"In the flesh," Dick answered. He attempted to muster a smile, but the memories from years ago wouldn't let him. It was hard to decide how to feel, faced with a man who had done so much to shape his life, both for the bad and for the good.

"Dick helped CJ with the ARB case," Clark said, trying to break the uncomfortable silence. "He was a good sport about the whole thing, so we went ahead and invited him here tonight."

Bruce looked toward Clark, a brief flash of anger in his expression before it went blank and became completely unreadable. That neutral expression had always aggravated Dick more than anything, if only because it meant the end to discussion and reasoning. Once Bruce pushed away his emotion, his mind was made up, and the decision he made would not be pleasant for the person he was regarding. Far from shying away from Bruce's blank stare, though, Clark raised his eyebrows, then smiled. It was the same maddeningly charming expression that his son had mastered.

Watching the interplay between the two willful heroes was fascinating, but it only lasted a second. "I also thought it was appropriate that he be here tonight because, really, he's family," Sam Wayne said, the statement appearing to catch even himself off guard. He blinked a couple of times, gave a half smile, and looked curiously at Dick. "We both fell on hard times, were both taken in by Bruce, and were both taught the ways of being a detective and entrusted with the ultimate secret: who the Batman was. In a way, maybe that makes us, I don't know, adopted brothers."

Dick nodded gently, although he was too shocked to speak. As his mind struggled to digest the statement, he looked around, noting the smiles that were regarding him. He hazarded a glance toward Bruce, and was equally surprised to see that the old man was also affected by the statement.

"He just needs someone to pick on now that he's not around Jon all the time," Jenny chipped in, lightening the mood. Dick smiled, though he couldn't look away from Bruce. Soon enough, Bruce turned toward him, and although he seemed to be trying to emulate the stony exterior that he was famous for, he couldn't hide a look of regret. In a way, it was the apology that Dick had been waiting for all those years.

"In that case, I say welcome to the family," Jon said, drawing snickers from several people in the room. Dick and Bruce just looked at each other, and he knew that the reconciliation had come. Later that night, after the food had been served and the atmosphere had morphed from the calm family gathering to the party for the new hero, he and Bruce would probably go out to the bar and talk, maybe catch up on what had happened over the past quarter century, and mend their fences. Until then, Dick supposed, he would enjoy the company, and would be sure to thank Sam Wayne for making it all possible.

Soon enough, the heavy mood seemed to relax, and the room took on a low hum as several conversations started up at the same time. Somewhere in the middle of the socializing, a waitress came in, took the food order, and it seemed as if only a couple of minutes had passed before the meal was served. The Juliani's staff provided everything the group needed, then promised to leave the family alone until summoned. Almost before the door had closed behind the last of the wait staff, Sam Wayne took his glasses off. He then reached for his button-down shirt, grabbed it with two hands, and pulled it open, revealing a faded, snug, Metropolis University football t-shirt underneath. From the back of his pants, he produced a baseball cap, which he put on backwards after running his hand through his hair a couple of times. In a matter of moments, he transformed from a prototypical member of the moneyed elite to the average college jock. All of a sudden, his personality seemed a perfect match to his wardrobe, and the real Sam Wayne, the one that was social to the point of almost being over the top, began to blossom.

"I'm free!" he said, easing comfortably into his chair. "Back for a limited, one night only engagement."

Laura, seated beside Dick, nudged him in the ribs. Startled, he turned toward her, but as soon as he did, she nodded toward her brother. "I know you've seen a lot of different sides of my brother, but let me assure you, THAT'S the real deal."

"And what about you?" Dick asked her.

Laura, who had never been fazed by his questions and wasn't about to start now, arched an eyebrow and looked down at herself. "Hey, with me, what you see is what you get, no matter what the wardrobe."

"And your family? They don't seem all that embarrassing," Dick answered, but Laura only smiled.

"Just wait," she said.

Dick smiled at her, then turned back toward the main attraction. Sam Wayne was looking curiously at the scattered buttons that had been torn off as he opened his shirt. "You must spend a fortune at the tailor's," he said to his dad.

"One word: Velcro," said Lois. Clark raised an eyebrow and reached down, revealing a small strip of Velcro holding his shirt together. Sam Wayne stuck out his lower lip, cocked an eyebrow, and nodded.

Dick turned back toward Laura, who just gave him her best I-told-you-so expression, one that was much more pointed when not muted by the mask. He couldn't help but laugh. From that point on, he had no problems participating in the increasingly colorful conversations. At one point, Jon Kent leaned across the table and gave Dick pointers on making the most of his role as Sam Wayne's new adoptive big brother. Dick promised that the advice would not fall on deaf ears, and started planning ways in which to assert his new position. Somewhere in the middle of the socializing, it began to occur to him that this was the beginning of something that had the potential to change how he lived his life. From here on out, loneliness would no longer be his constant companion, and a friendly ear was no more than a phone call or a cry for help away. Finally, after years of resenting Bruce Wayne for his intrusion in his life, Dick could now silently thank him, if only for giving him the opportunity to be a part of this new, wonderful family.


8 months later

CJ couldn't wipe the smile off his face for the entire trip. Even before leaving Gotham City, Metropolis pulled at him like a magnet, guiding him along the highway and ultimately into his old neighborhood. Soon enough, he was piloting the car down the street where he had grown up, and into the driveway of the house that he had feared he would never see again. After the better part of a year, he was home.

The old neighborhood never changed, he decided as he cut the engine and looked at the house for a moment. The last year had seen his death and rebirth, had seen the establishment of his new identity and his success both in the business world and the underworld, yet the house seemed untouched by the passage of time. The flowers still bloomed in the same places they always had, the bushes stayed perpetually two feet tall, thanks to regular pruning, and the dead potted plants that had been sitting on the stoop were just as dead now as they had always been. CJ's dad had always referred to them as "Mom's garden," and kept them around, though CJ could never figure out why. It was probably another one of those private jokes his parents shared, little things that CJ never understood but always enjoyed.

The sound of an uncomfortable squeal brought CJ's attention back to the car, and he glanced into the rear view mirror to see its source. Before he could react, though, he heard the sound of the passenger door closing behind his wife. As the baby started to squirm and his face distorted in anticipation of a full-blown fit, CJ couldn't help but smile. Adam was a miracle in so many ways that he would never know. In a world where CJ Kent would ultimately be remembered for nothing so much as dying young, his son would represent his lasting legacy, ensuring that CJ's name and memory would never be allowed to be forgotten. More importantly, though, he was also the anchor that tied the new Wayne family to CJ's old family, which made trips like this possible.

CJ liked to think that Adam would also be his proxy in a way. Although he was only a couple of months old, CJ swore he could see mischief and keen intelligence reflected in his son's eyes. The timing of some of the things he did was almost too perfect to be coincidental, but it was only conjecture at this point. Even his birth was timed perfectly, coinciding with a several-day break in the raging mid-winter snowstorms that had pummeled Gotham. The storms had made things pretty quiet, crime-wise, when Adam entered the world, although CJ supposed that it wouldn't have mattered anyway. It would've taken something just shy of the apocalypse to tear CJ away from his son's birth, but the ebb in crime made Batman's disappearance less obvious. It helped that Dick Grayson, now a regular social guest at Wayne Manor, had agreed to keep a watch over the city for a while after Adam's birth.

The rear car door opened, and Jenny made comforting sounds as she unhooked the latches on the baby seat and lifted Adam up. CJ decided that he should probably tackle the baby bags, and forced himself into action. He got up and went around to the trunk of the car, looking around somewhat nervously for nosy neighbors before shaking his head and proceeding to the task at hand. The date chosen to venture back to Metropolis just happened to correspond with the yearly vacation time for at least one of the more outwardly social neighbors, and the time of day of their arrival was meant to mitigate the possibility of running into the rest. Even with his new wardrobe, hairstyle, and glasses, CJ was pretty sure he'd never be able to fool the neighbors into believing he was anyone other than, well, CJ Kent. Rather than be nervous about the potential of discovery, though, it was better to trust in their detailed planning and not let himself get upset at something that he couldn't do anything about at this point.

Almost as soon as he had weighted himself down with the collection of various bags, CJ's parents emerged from the house and rushed to greet Jenny and the baby. It wasn't the first time they'd met Adam, but that was hardly common knowledge to the world at large. Clark had flown Lois to the manor the day Adam had come home from the hospital, and there had been plenty of fawning at that time. This was their first public meeting, though, and they were certainly making the most of it. CJ wasn't sure what it was about babies that turned normally rational adults into cooing, blubbering messes, but his parents weren't any more immune to it than anyone else. Neither was he, CJ though with a wry smile as he closed the trunk, arranged the bags around himself, and stepped toward the rest of the family. Even Bruce had been taken in by Adam's charms, a fact that CJ found interesting and was willing to exploit if he had to.

The baby was quickly pacified by all the smiling faces surrounding him, and seemed almost overwhelmed for a moment. "Who are those weird people?" CJ asked as he looked over Jenny's shoulder.

"We're the people who will give you all the attention in the world for the next couple of hours, then hand you back to your parents as soon as the time comes to do all the icky stuff. Yes we are," said Lois, her voice high-pitched and syrupy. She waved her finger at Adam, who seemed fascinated with her.

Laura joined them outside, and as she stood behind her parents, she smiled smugly. "Are you sad because you're not the baby in the family anymore?" CJ asked her.

"If it means that someone else gets all the attention for once, then no, I'm not sad at all. I'm yesterday's news and I couldn't be any happier about it if I wanted to be. I feel free at last." Laura had teenage sarcasm down to an art, CJ was sure, and he felt like it was almost his obligation to help chase that sarcasm away. Besides, he was supposed to be the wiseacre in the family.

"Here, if you're so free," he said, stepping around the rest of the family, shrugging several of the bags off his shoulder and thrusting them in her direction. "You can be a good little sister and help me out." He couldn't help but smile at her consternation as she reluctantly took the offered luggage. "Come on," he said, wrapping his unencumbered arm around her shoulder and guiding her toward the house. The rest of the family took that as their cue, and followed behind.

Adam was well aware that he was the center of the universe as they all gathered around him in the living room. Everyone got a chance to hold him, and he made his best effort to be adorable, bringing an ample amount of baby talk from the assembled family. CJ hovered in the background, letting Jenny take the lead as Laura, Lois, and Clark fawned over Adam. After a while, CJ began to feel an acute stab of hunger, no doubt a byproduct of the meager breakfast that he'd managed to grab before leaving that morning. Silently, he took a step away from the gathering and headed toward the kitchen, making a beeline for the refrigerator and the treasures that it held. Swinging the door open, he smiled widely as he beheld the assortment of Little Debbies and Hostess snacks that his dad hoarded and his mother actively ignored. They probably wouldn't mind if he took one or two treats off their hands, he thought, reaching for the snacks and a can of pop. He straightened up and began to swing the door closed, letting out a yelp as he realized that he was not alone.

"Sorry," Clark said with an amused smile. "I saw you heading toward the kitchen and thought I'd join you."

CJ held up the handful of goodies. "You want one of these?" he asked. His dad nodded, paused for a moment, then grabbed for the cupcakes. Without another word, the two made their way toward the kitchen table, took a seat, and dove into their food.

"So," Clark said after a few moments. "You've been a father for two whole months now. Does it feel any less surreal yet?"

CJ raised his eyebrows, looked Clark in the eye, and shook his head. "What about the grandfather thing?" he asked.

"We don't use the g-word around here," Clark said, his tone humorous. "Either of them. They imply old age and I sure don't feel old enough to be a…you know."

CJ smiled. "Denial is not just a river in Egypt," he said, and they both chuckled.

"At least being a g-word comes with limited responsibilities. We get all the fun and don't have to deal with all the rest of it."

"Well, you know, I could probably hire someone to deal with the rest of it, but it just seems like cheating. Besides, even if it means dealing with toxic baby emissions, I find myself wanting to be there to experience all of his life and not abdicate that to hired help." The thought of baby emissions caused CJ's eyebrows to knit together, and he looked down at the food he was holding, silently asking his stomach what it thought. When there were no protests, he shrugged and took another bite.

"You only get one chance to see them grow up," Clark said. "One day you're grousing about diaper duty, and the next they're heading off to college."

"Kind of makes you want to stick around and not miss it, which kind of makes you become a homebody, even if you never had been before." Things changed, CJ mused. The very thought of watching life pass by outside his windows used to scare him to the point that he almost forgot what the inside of his apartment looked like when he was in college. Home was a place to keep your stuff, not a place to spend your life. But somehow, now that home also contained a family, it became the place to be.

"So has your alter ego suffered because of your new worldview?" Clark asked. He could probably write volumes about what it meant to juggle a career, a secret identity, and a family, although he seemed genuinely interested in CJ's take on it.

"I wouldn't say he's suffered at all," CJ joked. He smiled at his father for a minute, then looked down at the table. "Seriously, though, the urge to go out there and clean up the streets hasn't gone away since Adam came along. It surprised me for a moment, but then I realized that there's more than one reason to go out there and fight. All the old ideology still holds true, and there's still plenty of work to do, but now I also have an added motivation. Stopping bad guys, saving lives, ridding the streets of drugs, all those things make the world a better place for my child. It seems kind of corny to say, but it's amazing what lengths you would go to because of it."

"It's not corny or surprising at all," his dad said, his tone soft and serious. "It's just the natural reaction of a responsible father." A half-smile formed on his lips and he reached out and ruffled CJ's hair, just like he used to do years ago. "You've grown up, kiddo. Who would've thought, huh?"

CJ bobbed his head in agreement. If that's what growing up meant, then so be it, but that didn't mean he couldn't still be a kid at heart. Being responsible didn't have to come at the expense of his sense of humor, or his sense of fun. "I may be grown up, but somehow I found my way back here to Neverland," he said, looking around.

"Where nothing ever changes?"

"It's like you freeze-dried this place the day I left and thawed it out this morning."

Clark smiled. "I think you might be surprised." CJ raised an eyebrow, but didn't pursue the comment. "Speaking of surprises," Clark continued, pointing to CJ's left hand. "I can't believe you've managed to keep that thing hidden from the tabloids as long as you have."

Clark was referring to CJ's new wedding band, which was more cumbersome and gaudy than his old wedding band, although the sentiment it represented hadn't changed at all. Their remarriage had been quiet, the ceremony performed on the Wayne Manor grounds by a magistrate who was also a family friend. The only witnesses had been Bruce, Adam, and Susan. It was the polar opposite of their last wedding, but somehow the intimacy made it that much more special.

CJ shrugged. "We've been taking your advice and haven't given them any bait. After a while they just went away and never came back. I'm sure that one day word will get out and our pictures will be splashed all over the tabloids. Until then, though, it's sure nice to have a life that's private. You don't realize how much you take that for granted until it's gone."

"Look who you're talking to," Clark said, his expression showing that he found the media's intrusiveness humorous rather than burdensome. "So, you're a real family again. That must be a relief."

"We're a conventional family masquerading as an unconventional family, and that's kind of weird. It'll get a lot weirder if the poor kid ends up looking like me."

Clark smiled somewhat uncomfortably and captured CJ's eyes with his own. "And what if he does? What are you going to tell him?" he asked.

CJ took another bite of his snack and chewed thoughtfully for a second. "I've thought about that a lot, to be honest," he said. "Do I let him know from the beginning that I'm his real dad and not just his step-dad? Do I let him believe what the whole rest of the world believes, and then tell him the truth before nature starts to take its course and he develops powers? Or do I just ignore the situation and let him come to me? Maybe one day when he's a teenager and well on his way to becoming bulletproof, he'll decide that he needs to consult the only other bulletproof guy in town, and he'll find himself on top of Gotham's tallest building staring the local superhero in the eye."

Clark laughed gently, then looked down at his hands. "It wasn't my plan for you to find out that way, you know."

"Oh, I figured. You can't plan for something like that," CJ said with a chuckle. "But I was never upset about the way the revelation happened. And now that I'm faced with the decision of what to do myself, I'm beginning to think that your approach to things was the way to go, even if the execution maybe wasn't the best."

"What made you decide that?" Clark asked, surprised. He probably thought that CJ, Jon, and Laura all harbored some sort of internal trauma about the way the family secret was revealed to them, but nothing could be further from the truth. The temporary trauma went away when things were put into perspective, and CJ knew that his siblings were also acutely aware of what their father's thought process was, especially now that they all had their own secret identities to protect.

"I just imagined what I would've done if I'd have known the big secret as a kid." CJ smiled. "You know how kids do the whole my-dad-could-beat-up-your-dad thing? I wouldn't have been able to resist the opportunity to say, 'Oh yeah? Well my dad is Superman.' Kids like to show off. They also live in a world where certain things are absolute, and having someone refer to me as his step-father when he knows otherwise would surely bring a completely innocent revelation. Rather than put that kind of responsibility on his head, I'll let him live an innocent childhood and give him the truth when he's old enough to protect it."

"So you aren't concerned that he might resent you for keeping that from him?" Clark asked.

CJ shrugged. "I didn't resent you for keeping your secret," he answered.

Clark nodded gently, but his face was pensive as he looked toward CJ. "This is a different situation, though. Spandex aside, you always knew I was your father. You might not have known all aspects of who I was, but you knew the basics."

"And I knew that you loved me," CJ said. "I think that trumps biology. Adam will grow up knowing that even though his father supposedly died before he was born, he still loved him. Likewise, even though I'll just be his step-father, at least as far as he knows, I'll make it darn clear that I love him, too. It's hard being too mad at someone when you know that they're only looking out for what's best for you."

"Well," Clark said, his expression becoming amused and almost pained at the same time. "That's all well and good from an ideological standpoint, but reality isn't usually that kind. Maybe when all the smoke has cleared and he's come to terms with the truth, there will probably be no hard feelings. When he first finds out, though, rest assured there will be fireworks. I say that out of personal experience."

CJ nodded, fully understanding his father's perspective. "I appreciate what you're trying to say, believe me. I witnessed the ugly aftermath to at least one of the fireworks shows, and don't think that it didn't come to mind when I made this decision. It's just that…"

"I'm not arguing with your approach," Clark said, putting up his hands. "I think you've got it right, I just want to make sure you're ready for the consequences."

"Got it," CJ said. With that, the conversation moved into more mundane areas. They both finished their snacks, but neither seemed particularly motivated to end the first real, one-on-one conversation that they'd had since the day CJ left Metropolis.

After a while, Jenny's voice called out from the other room. "Clark?" she said.

"Yes?" both CJ and his dad answered in unison. They looked at each other and smiled, both listening as Jenny muttered to Lois and Laura that the response was one of the reasons she decided not to name the baby after his father.

"Are you coming back anytime soon? I think Adam's beginning to realize that he's surrounded by women."

"We'll be right there," CJ said. As he stood up, he balled up the used food wrapper and shot it basketball-style at the trash can. Clark groaned as it careened off the side. He then followed suit, his wrapper landing squarely inside the can. "He shoots, he scores," CJ said.

"It's all in the wrist," Clark said, demonstrating. CJ laughed lightly and led the way out of the kitchen, toward his waiting family. As he went, he took a long look at the pictures that lined the hallway walls, remembering. Unlike before, though, the memories were happy rather than bittersweet, and he knew it was only a matter of time before future portraits, of Jenny and his family, replaced them. No matter how timeless a place could seem, time marched along. The past gave the present value, but it was the hope of the future that made the present worth living, even when times seemed dark. The dark times were now behind him, though, and the future shined brightly on the horizon.

As CJ entered the living room, he made a beeline for his son, scooping him up and thrusting him high up into the air. Adam let out a squeal of delight, enjoying his momentary flight and the new face that was looking back at him. Genetics had given CJ a respite from death, but it was Adam who gave him a new life, and a new family. It was almost poetic that the last contribution that CJ Kent made to the world would end up being the best part of Sam Wayne's life. As Adam settled into CJ's arms, CJ leaned over and planted a gentle kiss on his forehead, then kissed Jenny. It was hard to be anything but grateful for everything that happened with such a wonderful new life.