This was that wonderful rarity, a Wednesday evening free from obligation. Wednesday because neither of them had class on Thursday mornings, and free from obligation meaning no dinner with parents, no appointments, and no call-outs from the Titans. So far, anyway. A night they could spend together. Not many of those, not as many as either of them would’ve liked.
What to do with all those precious hours? They did get to have meals together, from the occasional lunch to hastily-snatched snacks at the Tower, but a leisurely dinner was always welcome. And afterward … Cassie didn’t believe in talking in detail about her love life, not even with her close friends, but even she would say that they found joy in each other. The only problem was, well, finding said joy. Or the space to share it.
Jason’s dorm was shared with a roommate and an iguana, and Cassie lived with her mom, so it was never going to be his place or hers. They each had a room at Titans Tower, but after they were busted once, the knowing looks and smothered snickers were just too much to deal with.
Cassie found herself thoroughly exasperated by everyone’s attitudes. She and Jason were both adults, everyone knew they’d been dating for months, so the fact that they’d both walked out of her room at five in the morning really shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. Yet the whispers and giggles made it seem like some kind of scandal. For a team that regularly saved each other, civilians, the city, and sometimes the world, they were being awfully immature. Rose, especially, had a habit of tipping a knowing wink and waggling one eyebrow to Cassie whenever she and Jason were within fifteen feet of each other. It was quite simply infuriating.
And Jason found it embarrassing. She loved him for that, honestly. Other young men would’ve been entirely too proud to be sleeping with her—to the point that a few had been known to claim they had done so when absolutely nothing of the sort had occurred. Among the caped crowd, she could just call them out to battle for the sake of her honor, a prospect that generally caused a hasty retraction. In her civilian life, sadly, Cassie couldn’t show up in full Amazonian battle-gear, sword in hand, and challenge the liar. The thought of doing so let her keep her composure enough that her laughter was denial enough.
As always, Jason had tried to deal with the problem logically, pointing out the flaws of meeting up—he never said hooking up, and she loved him all the more for that—in various places accessible to them both. Cassie had muttered, “Well what else can we do?”
He had given her a serious look and then just grinned. “I have an idea.” And that was how Jason Kent signed up for a hotel chain rewards system as a birthday gift to himself. Jason Kent. The good guy, the nice boy her mother had always hoped she’d meet, he signed up for a rewards card.
“And how are we going to pay for this, Jason?” Cassie had asked. “It’s not like either of us gets a salary from the Titans.”
He’d looked abashed. “Um, I hadn’t planned to ask you to pay.” And then she’d found out about the trust fund. His scholarships paid for most of his college expenses, and the dividends from the trust fund were his to spend, though most of them got reinvested. Jason’s expenses were moderate: food, supplements and such for his iguana, clothes (a department in which guys had life vastly easier than girls), and the occasional movie ticket or gift. Jason did give wonderful gifts, not like some guys his age; she could tell he actually thought about what she would like.
So he had extra money, and after the first few times Cassie got used to meeting him in a hotel room. There was something deliciously fun about getting a room together, anyway, like it was both something forbidden and proof that they were genuine adults. She insisted on ordering in room service or having pizza delivered or bringing dinner, though. Her mother’s feminist sensibilities wouldn’t let Jason pay for everything, not when she had a part-time job and some spending money of her own.
Speaking of her mother, Dr. Helena Sandsmark surely knew that her daughter wasn’t just talking astronomy with her handsome, well-spoken, charmingly shy boyfriend. Although he would lose all reticence if you got him on the subject of his studies, and when he’d come to dinner Cassie’s mom had been surprised to learn all about the fascinating new data from the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Planet Hunter project he’d taken part in, wherein volunteers searched data from Kepler Space Mission for evidence of faraway planets in the dimming of stars. Pleasantly surprised, though.
It was only afterward that she had taken her daughter aside. “Against all my motherly instincts, I approve,” Mom had said, and Cassie had beamed. The fact that Jason was planning to pursue a master’s degree at the least—maybe a doctorate—certainly helped. And then her mother had raised her eyebrows and said quite calmly, “You’re taking all reasonable precautions?”
Cassie had blushed. Even though she was a demigoddess and a superhero, she had blushed and muttered, “Yes, Mom,” like any other nineteen-year-old. She’d been on birth control from the time she started dating, under her mother’s better-safe-than-sorry rules, and Jason had told her about his own parents’ plans, which basically consisted of informing him where the condoms were and that they weren’t counted. So they were safe from any surprise Super-Wonder babies, at least, which was the last thing either of them needed at this point in their lives.
Although, with a mostly-demolished pizza on the table and the NASA channel playing on the TV, Cassie wasn’t thinking about her mother’s approval or his parents’ acceptance or, gods help her, having kids. Instead she was lying with her head on Jason’s chest and his arm around her shoulders, listening to the rumble of his voice as he gave her the background on the Swift GRB Mission. He felt NASA’s coverage of the latest GRB detection was too superficial. “I mean, this one is totally new. Professor Sarsten completely derailed class to talk about the analysis. It’s the longest gamma-ray burst ever detected; it beats the last one by almost a full twenty seconds. That’s unheard of, Cassie. I mean, if the last one was a star the size of our sun that got stuck in a black hole, this one is either a supergiant bigger than any we’ve ever seen, or it’s a giant getting eaten by a black hole.”
“Amazing to think stuff like that is going on all the time while we look up at the night sky,” Cassie murmured.
Jason turned and kissed her forehead. “Well, yeah. And the even cooler part is that since this is two billion light-years away, we’re actually seeing into the past.”
He went on, and Cassie lost herself to the rhythm of his voice and the wonderful warmth of him beside her. Only Jason Kent would consider stuff like synchotron emissions and accretion disks to be pillow talk. She listened, and tightly traced his abdominal muscles with her free hand, feeling the steady rise and fall of his breath.
After a few minutes Jason stopped, and looked at her with a touch of chagrin. “I’m boring you senseless, aren’t I?” he asked sheepishly.
“Nah,” Cassie murmured. She looked up at him, letting him see the mischief in her smile. “If I get bored I’ll just change the subject.”
“Oh, really?” Jason asked.
“How, exactly? I mean, this is my major and also sort of my heritage. I can talk for days—”
But at that precise moment, he stopped talking, because Cassie was sliding the tongue of his belt through its buckle. Nice and slow and casual. And another of the things she loved about him was that, at moments like this, there was still a look of wonder in his eyes, swiftly darkening to desire. No matter how often they slept together, Jason was still just a little amazed.
She couldn’t resist grinning at him. “Like this, that’s how.”
He rolled up onto his side to kiss her, his hand dropping to her hip for an affectionate, familiar squeeze. That easy strength, she loved that, too—other guys were intimidated by her powers, but with Jason it was a non-issue.
Shirts were off and he was unhooking her bra—looking through her with x-ray vision to see what he was doing—when Jason paused to catch her gaze. “All right, Cassie, you win. You’re right.”
“I’m right about what?” she asked, tilting her head slightly.
The bra came unhooked just then, and his hands took up the support instead. “There is something more fascinating than astronomy.”
Cassie laughed merrily at that until he stopped her with a kiss.
Lois’ blood was boiling. How dare you, you conniving old hellion, how dare you! Perry had given her exactly what she wanted, but in just such a way that she couldn’t savor it. And now she was on stakeout with her husband, hunched way down in the seat of a battered Rent-a-Wreck sedan, watching the back doors of a small shop. “What do you hear?” she asked Kal-El.
“Two men arguing the mahjong score in Cantonese,” he replied shortly. Kal-El was significantly less enthused about this assignment. He’d settled well into the role of administrator, and was probably worrying more than he should’ve about how Ron was handling the added stress. His middle daughter, Joanna—the painter, the wild one, unsurprisingly the one named after Lois—had recently announced her engagement to a fellow painter she’d met in Florida. Considering that she’d known the guy less than three months, and no one in the family had ever met him, Ron and Lucy were understandably freaking out. Lois, less so. She’d read the announcement, and the part where Lucy wrote, ‘Sometimes, you just know’ had resonated with her.
She’d just known about the man beside her. Perhaps not at their first meeting, but even then she’d known he was definitely different, and for a man to get Lois Lane’s attention required either a huge effort or a strongly unique character. Clark had made an impression … and later on Superman had pretty much embossed himself on her life. Yes, she could agree that sometimes you just knew.
Like the set up in the shop, as a matter of fact. It might’ve looked like four middle-aged men playing a game that had much in common with poker, but Lois knew it was more. The fact that the four men were the heads of four different associations—two of which had intense rivalries with each other—was one clue. And there was also the tipoff she’d gotten from Philip, that a fifth man often joined them, though not to gamble. Mr. Joeng was never seen to gamble, or drink, or smoke, or indulge in any other interesting little vices. He was a person of interest in several racketeering investigations, but nothing had ever stuck to him.
Lois muttered, “What about the banker? Suen. Is he acting nervous?” Mr. Suen wasn’t just the manager of the most prestigious bank in the area, he also ran the banker’s association. They had precious little information on him, but he’d struck Krista as the most anxious of the group. If his banks were being used to launder money, as Lois suspected, maybe he had a good reason to be nervy.
“Not yet,” Kal-El murmured. His super-hearing and x-ray vision were extremely handy during a stakeout like this. Once upon a time, he would’ve refused to use them, but these days he preferred to keep both of them a little further out of sight of their targets.
Lois slid a little lower in her seat, sipping the last of her wonton soup and reviewing the salient facts. Back in the day, the Chinatown associations had been called tongs, and they had formed mainly to protect their people from anti-Asian prejudice among the majority population of the city. Over time, however, the various tongs had come to represent families, regions, professions, and in some cases, crime syndicates. They were a lot like mob families. The culture might be different, but the fanatical loyalty was the same, and so were many of the crimes.
Extortion, racketeering, prostitution, gambling, larceny, drug trafficking—everywhere in the world the same sordid business. And Lois couldn’t pass this one up, not when she knew that Mr. Lei inside was the brother of the current Chinese ambassador. Prove his connection to organized crime, and maybe he would be forced to resign. Then maybe something could be done about certain U.S. military secrets mysteriously appearing in Chinese documents intercepted by American intelligence.
Not that Lois would go so far as to accuse him of espionage. At least, not yet.
“God, I missed this,” she sighed happily.
There was always a fight, somewhere, somehow, and Jason was never surprised to be called out. Not anymore. He was a valuable asset to the Titans, after all, as much for his Bat-training and his steadiness under fire as for his powers. Or so he believed, anyway.
This time it was a new opponent, and that always made him extra-wary. Lex Luthor was out there somewhere selling kryptonite to everyone who could afford it, and just because Jason had inherited some immunity from his mother didn’t mean the stuff wasn’t still extremely dangerous. Enough of it would kill him. Even a little would make him weak, dizzy, and disoriented. So Jason circled and observed as his teammates distracted the man, his senses alert for the first tingle of kryptonite radiation.
Nothing. With that he dove into the fight. This man was an above-average fighter, wearing a dark blue cloak that swirled around him and partly obscured his movements. His mask had darkened eyeholes, too, presenting an intimidating darkness instead of a face. Those kinds of dramatics rang hollow after a season in Gotham, though. Rose and Raven were in on the game, too, Rose taking on a couple of the main guy’s minions single-handedly—and with her trademark skill. Raven kept wrapping the major foe in shadows, harrying him while the others closed in. Jason moved patiently, keeping out of Cassie’s way and avoiding the grappling line Tim shot toward their foe.
The man swept his hand toward the tightening line, and it fell away. Very smooth, Jason hadn’t even seen the knife. But knives were of little concern to him. It was his way, in a fight like this, to come in slow and careful. Once he set hands on a villain, unless they had super-strength of their own, the whole deal was over.
Cassie threw a punch, and the man blocked it, his gauntleted forearm taking the blow squarely. She scowled, dancing back, and Jason made his move. Let’s see if this fool can handle two superheroes at once, he thought, and lunged to grab the man. Very few people could break his grip, and even if this guy was a metahuman, Cassie could always knock him out while he was distracted.
Except it didn’t go that way at all. The man’s hand came up to strike at Jason’s head, a blow he didn’t even bother to deflect—super-strength wasn’t much good against Kryptonian invulnerability—and then the world went white.
When he came to, Cassie was crouched over him with a worried expression on her face. “Can you hear me? C’mon, wake up, I know you can hear me! You’d better not be in a coma or anything, I swear….”
He blinked a few times, and then tried to smile at her. “If I was, would you try to wake me up with a kiss?”
Cassie punched his shoulder, and Jason flinched. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the best time to make a Sleeping Beauty joke. But she was already sighing with relief and pulling him into a hug. “I was worried about you.”
“I kinda noticed,” he chuckled, and hugged her tight. “Guess that guy was a lot stronger than I thought. How long was I out?”
“Almost three minutes,” Tim said, staring at him. “All your vital signs were normal, you just weren’t waking up.”
“You shoulda tried to kiss of life yourself,” Rose called, smirking, and Cassie looked away from Jason to curl her lip in anger.
Tim just waved his hand at Rose like she was an annoying mosquito. Jason had heard about Rose’s beef with him; apparently she didn’t take well to being handcuffed and dragged out of anyone’s bed, once she’d bothered to show up there topless. To Jason, Tim said, “You’ll need to go get checked out.”
He groaned. Jason had never liked going for a checkup; he’d spent too much time in various specialists’ offices as a kid. “I thought I was done seeing doctors when my powers came in,” he grumbled, getting to his feet.
Cassie rolled her eyes at him. “Oh come on. It’s no big deal. And if you behave I’ll get you a lollipop afterward, all right?”
That gentle teasing made Jason roll his eyes, but it worked. “Fine. I’ll meet you at the Tower.”
“You sure you’re okay? You were out for a long time. Relatively speaking,” Tim said, his brow creased with worry.
“Maybe I should fly you,” Cassie said.
There was a fine line between touching concern and annoying apprehension. Jason made himself smile even though Cassie and Tim were on the less-welcome side of that line, so far as he was concerned. “Really, guys, I feel fine. Well-rested and ready to go. I’m only going to check in because you asked me to.” With that, he turned and sprang, letting his leap carry him out of their range.
Except … that didn’t happen.
Jason was looking at the ground again much too soon, and managed to trip over nothing at all as his expectations clashed with reality. He would up going face-down on the asphalt, and it hurt. He sat up again, flooded with numb shock.
That shouldn’t have hurt! He was invulnerable to most things, he’d had bullets bounce off him, he’d even walked through cement block walls before. But when Jason automatically brought his hand to his stinging jaw, it came away bloody. He turned to stare at the rest of the team, and even Rose lost her sarcastic grin.
A cold chill ran down Jason’s spine, and he stared at his bloodied palm. No matter how hard he tried, though, he couldn’t see through it. Strength gone, invulnerability gone, x-ray vision gone … he realized with creeping horror that all his powers were gone.
He looked at each of his friends and teammates, seeing only dawning fear in their eyes. “Jase?” Cassie murmured, worried enough to forget the rule about using real names in the field.
“What the fuck happened?” Rose demanded, turning toward the concussed-and-trussed adversary as if she meant to kick some answers out of him. But the bad guy wasn’t the one who spoke up.
“Those gauntlets he’s wearing,” Raven murmured. “I think they’re magical.”
Magic, the only other weakness Kryptonians had, the one Jason tended to forget about most of the time. Magic. He’d been struck by a magical object, wielded by someone who was probably a sorcerer of some kind, and now … now his powers had deserted him. It was everything he could do not to start retching right there.
Jason Kent was, for the first time in well over a decade, human.