“No, we’re not calling Dad,” Jason groused. Back at Titans Tower after Cassie had flown him there, he was presently being looked over by Tim and Raven. He winced when Tim shone a bright scope into his eye, and would’ve pulled away, but Cassie put her hand on his shoulder. Trying to move her was like trying to shove a boulder. So this is what it’s like for everyone else dealing with me, he thought morosely.
“You told me once your father lost his powers a long time ago,” Tim said, quite sensibly.
“Yeah, but that was on purpose, and it wasn’t magic,” Jason insisted. “We don’t need to tell him. I can figure this out, guys. It’ll probably just take some sun. Lots of sun. That’s basically what did it for Dad, after all: the concentrated sunlight stored in the Fortress’ main crystal assembly. The whole structure is a solar capacitor.”
He was babbling. Jason was babbling and he knew it and he could no more stop than he could catch the panic-rat scurrying around in his brain wondering when the allergies would come back. When the weakness and wheezing would set in. He already felt like he had a cold coming on, and Jason hadn’t had a cold since he was six.
“There are only residual traces of magic on him,” Raven announced. “Whatever happened is complete.”
“See? All I need is to recharge.” An idea struck him, and he turned to Cassie. “Can you fly me up to the Fortress for a bit? I can probably talk Jor-El into giving me a boost, and then a good long sun-soak ought to fix it.”
“Um, no,” Cassie replied, looking at him in frank disbelief. “I am so not breaking into the Fortress of Solitude. Not even for you.”
Jason stared at her. “What? It’s not breaking in, Cassie. I’m a Super.”
She crossed her arms and looked stern. “And it’s your dad’s Fortress of Solitude, and you won’t even tell him what’s going on.”
“I’m allowed to be there!”
“Are you allowed to go up there without telling him?”
Well, technically yes, because he’d never been forbidden to go, but in actual practice Jason usually got a ride from Dad because flying was easier than jumping. Kala didn’t really go anymore, just a few trips per year—if that. Nevada had iced over her desire to be the better Kryptonian, although she still spoke the language better than Jason could.
None of that mattered, because Cassie saw him hesitate, and she scowled. “No way. I’m not flying you up there if you’re just going to get in trouble with him. And good luck hitchhiking.”
It was no use explaining; Cassie didn’t get it. “Fine,” Jason spat, and turned to Tim. “Can you borrow the Bat-Wing?”
“Are you serious?!” Cassie exclaimed. Raven took that opportunity to leave, muttering something about researching the opponent who’d done this.
“Not right now. Maybe tonight,” Tim said.
Relief flooded through Jason. He could get through a day as a human. Just one day. It would be all right. “Thanks, Tim.”
Cassie threw her hands up in exasperation. “Are you both completely nuts?”
“Well you weren’t going to help me,” Jason pointed out.
She looked over at Tim, but he said nothing, just glanced at her once. The rest of Jason’s physical tests came up normal—human normal, which was the furthest thing from normal for him. Cassie blew an irritated breath from her nostrils and glared at them both. “Okay, fine. You two boys go break into Superman’s clubhouse looking for an answer that might not even be there.”
“Cassie, shut up,” Jason said. He’d had enough of her attitude. And wonder of wonders, she actually did, staring at him in utter shock. “One, we’re not breaking in, I have every right to be there, it’s more museum than clubhouse and that heritage is mine, too. Two, if you’re not gonna help me, then just butt out until I get this taken care of. At least Tim’s willing to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.”
Tim mouthed the word “Careful” while his back was to Cassie, giving Jason a pointed look, but he was way past being careful.
So was Cassie, apparently. “Are you even listening to yourself? Jason, you’re being totally schizoid about this whole deal. And what makes you think you can talk to me like that, anyway? Exactly how hard did you hit your head when you tripped over yourself?”
“Excuse you? Last I checked you were my girlfriend, you were supposed to be there for me in my hour of need, not flip out on me! Excuse me if I’m a little ticked off!”
“A little? You call this a little ticked off? You’re biting my head off over everything I say!”
“This is so much more than that,” Jason growled. “It’s kind of sad that my girlfriend won’t help me. Luckily my best friend will.”
Cassie could have a sharp tongue on her when she felt she was in the right. So far in their relationship, and in the friendship before it, Jason had never run afoul of it. Today, however, both of their patience was gone, and she snapped right back at him. “Oh, yeah, go ahead and make this a ‘bros before hos’ thing. Just when I thought you weren’t like the rest of the guys. One time you actually get hurt and I try to make you see sense, and here we are. Great.”
“Nobody ever said that, Cassie,” Tim interjected.
By doing so he earned himself a serving of Cassie’s ire. “What? Don’t take his side, Tim. You’re supposed to be the smart one around here. Besides, you know half the superhero fandom already ‘ships you two anyway, don’t make it worse.”
“Yeah, well, the other half of the fandom ships me with my sister, so nobody really pays attention to them,” Jason snarled back. “They have no idea who we really are out of uniform—and whose loyalties are strongest.”
“You’re questioning my loyalty now? When you’re the one running like a scared kid, not wanting to talk to any of the people who could actually help? Dammit, Jason….”
“Oh boy, that’s enough,” Tim said sharply, before Jason could even open his mouth to respond. Not that he had anything coherent to say; his brain was a fog of terror and outrage. Distracted, they both looked at him, and Tim pointed to the door. “Cassie, out. Jason, relax.”
“You’re telling me to get out?” Cassie sounded more shocked than anything else.
“Yes, I am. I’ve got a couple more tests I want to run, and I need Jason as calm as possible to keep from skewing the readings.” That was Tim’s team-leader voice, and though they might run the Titans as a triumvirate most of the time, right now he looked and sounded like a leader.
For one thing, he was the only calm person in the medical suite.
Cassie stared at him in utter disbelief—and hurt, Jason finally saw. Tim had successfully derailed him from the imminent explosion of temper, and only now did he realize just what a jerk he’d just been. It was too late, though. Cassie spun on her heel and stalked out, leaving them alone.
Jason fumed, but Tim put a hand on his shoulder. “Come on. Let’s get through the rest of this testing.”
“All right,” Jason replied, tried to settle down. It wasn’t exactly easy at the moment, but with just Tim in the room, he could almost manage it.
“So are you going to tell me where you were that day?”
Elise fought down the urge to scream at Corrin, and just gritted her teeth and glared at her textbook instead. She had failed to answer a text he sent her the other week to finalize dinner plans for the evening, and then been completely unavailable most of the day. It would’ve been okay if she was any good at making things up on short notice, but quite frankly, Elise just wasn’t. Her excuse—that it was something embarrassingly personal she refused to discuss—was flimsy even by her own standards, and Corrin just would not stop picking at it. And it wasn’t like she could tell him she’d been strapped to a chair getting interviewed for a job she didn’t even want.
She didn’t want it, not really. The very last thing she wanted was to get even more involved in the superhero world. Coming to Berkeley had been the start of trying to have a normal life, something that seemed all too easy to forget about when she’d been with Jason. It had gotten to the point where hearing about him dismantling a giant robot with his bare hands was just another Tuesday, and after a while, the fact that that was her idea of normal now scared the hell out of her. Who was she in the midst of all that?
Of course, if she took the job offer, she’d know who she was in their world….
“Look, Elise, whatever it is, just tell me, all right?” Corrin said.
Her head snapped up, lips curling back in a sneer, ready to just lambaste him. And then Elise saw the look on his face, almost pleading, definitely worried. Maybe even fearful. Like the look Jason got when she talked about taking time off.
Jeez, did he think she was cheating on him? After all this time? Didn’t he know that just wasn’t in her nature? Jason had known, but Elise realized how much he was in her thoughts and kicked his memory away.
But how could she blame the guy? She’d disappeared on him, been totally unavailable, and now was refusing to talk about. Not to mention her ex was on her mind a lot lately…
…well, mostly because all of this was his damned fault. If she’d never gotten swept up in Jason Kent and his crazy life, Elise would be an ordinary college student right now. She never would’ve stowed away on a private plane or nearly gotten killed in Nevada, and she certainly wouldn’t be attracting the attention of the freaking Justice League of America.
Of course, she never would’ve flown with Superman, or been trusted by his whole family, one of the very people few who knew the Supers in both their private and public lives. She never would’ve had the satisfaction of helping save her friend’s life and defeat an evil madman, all at the age of sixteen.
She never would’ve understood why Jason tipped his head back and drank in the sun whenever he stepped into its light; never would’ve known that the warmth of his skin came from that same sun, a brightness she could savor even in the darkest room; never would’ve known the profound tenderness of him, who could throw a pickup truck like a fastball, wrapping his arms around her with all that strength carefully leashed.
And none of that was helping her right now, with Corrin’s brow still furrowed as he looked at her. Elise sighed and tried to figure out what to say.
It’s like this. I used to go out with Superboy. I know his real name, both of them, and since I’m a science major and the JLA needs scientists on board, that got me tapped for a job offer. Said job offer involved making me believe I was about to be electrocuted, since they had to know if I could keep more than just the Supers’ secrets. So yeah, sorry I couldn’t answer the phone and missed dinner, I was too busy trying not to pee my pants when freaking Oracle zapped me.
Oh yeah. That’d be great. Elise dropped her face into her palms. “Dammit, Corrin, let it go,” she growled. “It’s a matter of principle now. Last I checked I don’t have your initials branded on my butt cheek, and I’m not your daughter either. I told you it was personal, I told you I wasn’t seeing anyone else. Either you trust me, or you don’t. That’s it.”
He sat in silence for a long moment, and when he finally spoke, the smallness of his tone wounded her. “Okay. Okay, Elise. Look, I’m sorry….”
She swore under her breath; she’d gone and hurt him, which was exactly what she hadn’t meant to do. “No, Corrin, I’m sorry. But this is how it has to be.”
And in his eyes she saw not one iota of understanding.
Tim was eyeing the rest of the Fortress, but Jason paid little attention to him. He was entirely focused on Jor-El’s thoughtful expression on the crystal wall across the room. Meanwhile the huge diagnostic crystal hovered within a hair’s breadth of Jason’s bare chest, its light pulsing so brightly that Jason’s eyes were narrowed to slits. He was watching for some hint of the diagnosis in Jor-El’s countenance. Hoping for an answer, something he could understand and work around.
Jason didn’t like or trust magic. It was too easy, and that was coming from a guy who could bench-press a circus worth of elephants with no apparent effort. Magic also seemed to make up the rules as it went along. As a science major, fascinated by the complex but logical forces that ruled the cosmos, the existence of magic upset his worldview.
And all of that was before it did something like this. Jason slammed down on that train of thought, forced to close his eyes as the crystal shone yet brighter. Standing here with the massive thing just above him was making him nervous, something he hadn’t felt in the Fortress since he was a kid. But then, he hadn’t worried about anything short of a building falling on him since he was seven or so.
The light died, and Jason looked up to his grandfather, hope beating in his chest. “It is strange,” Jor-El intoned—in English, by Jason’s request. Hearing him speak, Tim came back toward them both, his expression closed-off and neutral. Jason wanted him at least to know what was going on.
“How strange, Grandfather?” Jason asked as the diagnostic crystal retracted.
“It is the microcellular structures within each of your body’s cells that fuel your powers, Jon-El. Kal-El chose to call them kryptonelles, in English. They absorb the rays of the yellow sun and return its power to you.”
“I know this, Grandfather.” He kept any impatience out of his tone. Jor-El could be pedantic, but he always had a point.
“The kryptonelles in your body are in perfect working order. The diagnostic crystal can find no flaw in them, or indeed in any of your systems. Yet the kryptonelles appear to be … dormant. For some reason they do not awaken and perform their function.”
Jason swallowed, trying not to worry more. “Can they perhaps be stimulated?”
Jor-El’s image nodded. “Perhaps. I already attempted to do so with the diagnostic crystal, but I was unsuccessful. There may be insufficient power within the Fortress itself.”
That wasn’t surprising. It was late winter, and the Fortress was above the Arctic circle, working on stored solar energy from the long polar summer. The last time Jor-El had jump-started a slumbering Kryptonian physiology, it had drained the Fortress completely. He wouldn’t risk that again except in the most dire circumstances.
Sketching a bow to the image, Jason said, “Thank you, Grandfather. I shall seek an alternate power source.”
“May you find it swiftly, Jon-El.” They closed with traditional Kryptonian salutations, and then Jason grabbed his shirt and tugged it over his head. He already felt the chill in the air, something he’d never noticed here before. His metabolism normally kept him warm enough.
“Well, what do you want to do?” Tim asked. He’d been very quiet, but also very helpful, for which Jason would eventually remember to be grateful. At the moment his mind was running like an express train on narrow track.
“There’s one more thing I want to try,” he replied, grabbing up his jacket and putting that on as well. “My system just needs a jump-start, I think, and there’s not enough solar power here. But I know where to get some.”
Tim knew that meant high-altitude exposure. “Will you need the Bat-Wing? Because we’ve only got about another hour.”
Jason shook his head, sliding his phone out of the jacket pocket. “Nah, I’ve got a line on a less-noticeable flyer. Even though I hate flying with her, this one time Kal’s gonna be a lifesaver.”
Of course, his twin was going to give him unending hell about sending her a text asking for a flight, but just at the moment he would welcome it as a return to normality.
“All right then,” Tim said with a nod. “Let’s get back. I’ve got one more thing I want to do tonight.”
It was a mark of Jason’s preoccupation that he never even asked what that one thing was.