There were certain things Lois Lane always kept in her purse and would never be without: a couple of pens for writing down information, a hairbrush for taming her mane, some cash for a quick bribe or cab fare, a couple of credit cards in case of emergency and also to loid certain locks. The bank was going to take a lot more than an old AmEx card to get into, however, which was why she had a set of lock picks sewn into the lining of said purse. Not the cheap ones you could get out of a catalog that sold aluminum sword replicas and fake World War II memorabilia, either. These picks would’ve gotten her arrested in a heartbeat, just for having them. Maggie knew, but she pretended not to.
In any case, there was a whole lot more security at the bank’s corporate office than just locks. Guards patrolled outside and in, though she noticed that they seemed to move more smartly around the ground floor. She didn’t want to tangle with them. Lois had her Ladysmith, in case the security here was more like hired thugs, but she wouldn’t use that except in the most extreme circumstance.
Casing the place, she could see only one plausible way in: the rooftop door. Unlike the ground-floor entrances, which had keycard locks, it had a padlock she could pick. That meant Lois had to get to the roof first, though, and Kal-El could’ve come in handy there. Not that he would help her, of course. Breaking and entering were against his rules, so it was just as well he was distracted at the moment.
In the end, Lois managed to climb one fire escape that had been carelessly left down, get from that building’s roof to the one next door by simply stepping over a parapet, since they were built right up against each other, and then come to the bank office. Here she had a problem. The corporate office was a little distance away from the building she was on, just enough to give the workers a view of brick walls through their windows. Five or six feet.
Lois knew she was physically capable of jumping that. She also knew that trying to do so, with a five-story drop below and her history of bad luck with heights, was stupid. There was nothing up here she could use to bridge her way across, either. Not without giving herself away to the guards patrolling below. And she couldn’t call Kal-El for help. He’d pull her away and berate her.
She blew an irritated breath out from her nostrils. Twenty years ago, Lois would’ve jumped it. Back in those days she’d been reckless and wild, and something like this wouldn’t even faze her. But now … now she couldn’t help thinking of the finality of the fall. Sure, Kal-El would rescue her. If he could get here in time.
That kind of thinking disgusted her, and Lois turned away, retracing her steps. She ended up on the side street behind the bank’s corporate office, and finally her luck turned.
A woman was leaving the office, wearing smart red suit and carrying a briefcase. And Lois was in the perfect position to see through the smoked-glass door as the woman opened it, noting that the guard’s desk was presently unoccupied. So the only thing standing between Lois and easy access to the building was a keycard.
Just like the one the woman had carelessly dropped into her open purse as she took out her phone and made a call.
Pickpocketing is a lesser offense than burglary, anyway, Lois thought, and walked on staring down at her phone as if reading a text. Just as she reached the woman, who stepped to the left to avoid her, Lois looked up as if startled and stepped to her right. They crashed into each other, both phones hitting the ground and both women apologizing for the impact. “Sorry, you know how it is,” Lois said with a charming smile as she knelt to pick up the other woman’s phone.
“I know,” the woman chuckled, getting Lois’ phone and handing it over. Lois grinned and thanked her.
A professional could’ve done it more smoothly, sure, but the woman certainly didn’t notice her badge and keycard had made their way into Lois’ purse at some point during the incident, and that was all that mattered.
Kala was trying to be nice, flying slower and more smoothly than usual, but all Jason’s brain could comprehend was the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. Dotted here and there with atolls, it seemed a never-ending expanse of blue, and the only thing keeping him safe and dry was his sister’s hold on him. Knowing he didn’t like heights, or the thought of being stranded out here, she wasn’t complaining about the grip he had on her elbows.
The sun drenched him, and Jason felt nervous sweat prickle at the nape of his neck. By the time it beaded on his forehead, he realized it wasn’t just from anxiety, it was also from the heat. Something he hadn’t experienced since he was a little kid. Jason groaned, squeezing his eyes shut. “Kal, it’s not working.”
“Give it time,” she insisted.
So they waited, Jason swallowing nervously and looking down at the water only a few dozen feet below. “Do we have to be so low?” he asked.
“Well, I’m hoping the light reflecting off the water will bounce back up for an extra boost,” Kala said. “Also I’m watching for sharks.”
“Sharks?” Jason was shocked to hear his own voice sound so weak. Under normal circumstances he had nothing to fear from a shark. Heck, he and Kala had pummeled Bizarro around the North Atlantic not that long ago, and not once had he worried about what might lurk under the waves. But right now, his invulnerability was gone, and he couldn’t help thinking that to a shark he was just another meaty snack.
Kala replied obliviously, “Yeah, you know that shark-tagging program I was watching last summer? Where they catch the great whites alive and put a tag on them to see what they’re doing? Some of them come out this way, but no one’s quite sure why. I always kind of hope I’ll see one in the wild.”
Jason groaned. That was his sister—if there was a weird, potentially dangerous, generally freaky animal, she liked it. “Could we maybe not see one today? You know, with your not-so-invulnerable brother hanging around?”
“Jase.” Kala looked at him, and pulled him close for a hug. “I won’t drop you. And if any shark did try to take a chunk out of my brother, they’d find themselves pretty personally endangered.”
“You always did fight my battles for me.” He smiled sadly, thinking of all the times in grade school he’d refused to raise a hand to a bully—only to see Kala run up screaming and flailing. Seeing her pile in like that, even to someone who made a career out of picking on littler kids, almost made him feel sympathy for the poor unsuspecting bully. Even more so once she’d learned what ‘kick ‘em in the jools!’ really meant.
“Yeah, well, someone had to look after you.” Kala smooched his cheek, leaving a smear of dark lipstick.
Jason scrubbed at it. “Don’t they make lipstick now that doesn’t come off all over the place?”
“Not in my colors,” Kala said proudly.
While they waited for the sun to charge him up, they fell to discussing mundane things: the other students in his classes, the guys in her band, what mutual friends were up to. The only one they didn’t discuss was Elise. “Oh, and Kristin wants pink streaks now, in time for Valentine’s day,” Kala added.
Rolling his eyes, Jason just said, “Lana’s gonna kill you.”
“Nah. I bought Kristin the clip-ins in five colors. Among other things. What’re you getting her for her birthday?”
“Never you mind,” Jason said haughtily. He’d already bought Kristin a decent telescope, so they could look at the stars together, but he also needed a slightly more girly gift and was having trouble choosing one. He’d probably have to enlist Cassie … if she was still speaking to him.
“Whoa, brother mine. You seriously just looked like someone stole your iguana. What’s up?” Kala’s worried brow looked exactly like their Mom’s, and he couldn’t help responding the same way.
“It’s Cassie. I … I was kind of a jerk to her. She wanted me to tell Dad, and … I don’t want to go running to him with this. I mean, I’m supposed to be one of the unofficial leaders of the Titans. What kind of hero am I if I have to run to Daddy all the time? This is my problem, I’ll handle it.”
His twin stared at him for a long moment, and then let go with one hand just so she could smack him upside the head. “One, you’re a dork. Two, flowers, chocolate, abject apology, foot rub. Trust me. Three, you’re the kind of hero who has some frikkin’ sense, Jase. The whole reason you guys have teams is so you can support each other, so you’re not all flying blind like Daddy and Diana and Bruce and Ollie and everyone else were back when they started out. Don’t you remember all the arguments Mom and Daddy had over him trying to do everything himself? Four, if this doesn’t work, Jason, we’re going to Daddy, and that’s that. I’ll fly you to HQ myself, and you know damn well you can’t just let go or anything.”
He had to hang his head. Kala was right, and there was no denying it.
There was also no denying the fact that he didn’t feel any better after hovering in the sun this long, and in fact, Jason thought he was starting to get a sunburn. “All right, Kal. Let’s go back,” he murmured, defeated.
Kal-El had been busy dealing with a freak storm that had caused an airplane to crash into the ocean, but when the message came through on his comm that he was needed at Titans Tower, he wrapped things up as quickly as he could. He arrived to find most of the current Titans roster hanging around conspicuously, and once he walked into the comm room, both of his children sitting there looking despondent—along with a very nervous Cassie Sandsmark and a very serious Tim Drake. “What’s going on?” he asked.
“Hi, Dad,” Jason said wanly. “I, um … well, what happened was….” He squirmed miserably, and for one horrible moment the worst possibilities flashed through Kal-El’s mind. Off the top of his head he could only think of two things that could make Jason this ashamed of himself, and he hadn’t heard about any civilians or even villains getting injured lately, so could it be…? Please tell me Cassie’s not….
“Lizardboy got punched by a sorcerer,” Kala put in, looking just as grim as Jason sounded. “And now he’s powerless. I tried taking him for a sun-boost, but zilch.”
“All right,” Kal-El said, his mind racing. That was worse than the possibilities he’d had in mind. He knew what it was to lose his powers, how it felt to be suddenly human after a lifetime of being Super. And it was probably worse for Jason. Kal-El had never truly been human, showing powers from the day he arrived. His son remembered what it meant to be vulnerable to every virus and allergy and everything else.
Kal-El stepped forward, placing his hand on his son’s shoulder and looking into his eyes seriously. “We’re gonna get through this, son. First, let’s get to the Fortress and have Jor-El check you out.”
“Already did that,” Jason said in a small voice.
He blinked. “You went to the Fortress?” It wasn’t that Jason wasn’t allowed; the Fortress was for all the sons and daughters of Krypton here on Earth. But without his powers, how had Jason managed that? Kala must’ve flown him.
Cassie winced at the mention of the Fortress, but Kal-El wasn’t paying much attention to her or Tim at the moment. Meanwhile Jason nodded slowly. “Jor-El says there’s nothing wrong with me. The kryptonelles are just … dormant. He did a full scan and tried to boost my powers, but he can’t charge me up the way he did you without wrecking the place again.”
“Well, we don’t want that,” Kal-El said with a small smile. All four kids were looking up at Kal-El then, obviously expecting him to have a solution. That was what Superman did, right? Swoop in, save the day, fly off with a wave. If only it were that easy now, when his son was the one in danger. “Okay. Let’s get this straightened out. Jason, tell me exactly how it happened.”
Jason sighed mournfully. “Dad, I’m not even sure what happened. All I remember is Cassie hitting the sorcerer, him blocking it, me wading in after the guy and grabbing him, and then he punched me in the head. Next thing I knew I was flat on the ground, waking up.”
“And you didn’t block the punch, because it’s been a while since you had to,” Kal-El mused.
His son looked ashamed. “I should’ve. I was trained to. Bad habit to get out of.”
Kal-El put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s not your fault, son. Invulnerability means we can concentrate on disarming an opponent instead of having to defend.”
Tim spoke up then. “The sorcerer claims he bought his gear—probably stole it, since it’s quite a bit better than what he’s actually capable of—and all he knows is there’s an enchantment on them that protects him from harm. Raven examined the gauntlets and said the spell also turns an attacker’s force back on them. But she can’t figure out how that managed to negate Jason’s powers, or how to turn them back on.”
And Raven was pretty much the magic specialist for the current group of Titans. Kal-El sighed. He knew the kids were expecting him to make it all better, but maybe it was time they learned that no one had all the answers. “Well, Jason, you’ve pretty much done exactly what I would’ve suggested already. So now we have to go find someone who knows more than either of us do about magic.”
Jason didn’t look precisely relieved, but he looked less miserable and more hopeful, and that was good enough for his father. “Who?”
“Zatanna,” Kal-El replied. “Just let me run a request through the JLA and get an appointment to go see her. In the meantime, Tim, we’ll have to pull Jason off the roster.”
“Already done,” Tim said. Jason looked wounded at that, and Tim turned to him seriously. “I know you were trained to operate with your powers at low ebb, but we can’t risk it. You’ve had years of fighting with super-strength and invulnerability, and those create habits that can be lethal in the wrong kind of fight. We need you too much to run that kind of risk.”
And that news was too clearly a crushing disappointment. Kal-El put his arm around his son’s shoulders. “We’ll work this out, Jason. One way or another. Now come on, let me get you back to school, and I start working on a meeting with Zee. Kala?”
“I’ve still got some time. I’ll fly along with you,” she said, and gave a light punch to Jason’s arm. “C’mon, Dopey.”
“Wait,” Jason said, and shrugged away from both of them, turning back to his friends, holding his hands out to Wonder Girl. “Cassie? Cassie, I’m sorry. I freaked out, I was a jackass to you, and you were right. I’m sorry.”
“No, Jason, I’m sorry,” she said, and dove into his arms for a long hug. “I didn’t know, and I didn’t bother to think why this would be a bigger deal for you than it is for me. If anyone’s a jackass it’s me.”
“No, you’re not,” he murmured, hugging her tight.
Kala turned to Tim and grinned. “So he’s seen sense and made up with his girlfriend? I think I deserve a high-five for that, don’t you?”
Tim just rolled his eyes and slapped her five. Kal-El took advantage of the moment to send a coded text to Oracle, who would pass on the information for him. Also that way he didn’t have to see Cassie kiss his son, who blushed scarlet at the fact that she’d done so in front of his dad.
“Just do me a favor,” Kala said, ignoring the pair. “When you do take Jason to see Zatanna, can I come along?”
“Why?” Kal-El asked her. Kala had made it very plain that she was staying out of the hero game.
“I wanna ask where she gets those fishnets,” Kala said, and Jason broke away from Cassie to groan at her. Kal-El couldn’t help laughing; trust Kala to find a way to lighten the moment.
“All right, let’s go,” Jason finally said, rumpling his sister’s hair to her annoyance. “Cassie, Tim, I’ll see you around soon. I promise.”
Of course, given the choice, Jason flew with his father, Kala doing lazy loops around them. “I thought you might be mad at me for being careless,” Jason said abashedly on the way back.
“If I did that, I’d be a hypocrite,” Kal-El admitted. “Don’t worry, son. We’ll get this figured out. And I’ll even tell Mom for you.”
“Yeah, I was dreading that.” Jason chuckled.
Kal-El smiled. Lois would not be pleased that her son had gotten hurt—she was famously protective of both twins—and the culprit might need protective custody. “I left her in the middle of an investigation, so her attention ought to be fairly caught up with that. As a matter of fact….”
He slowed in midair, listening to Lois’ heartbeat, which was slightly elevated. And also not where she’d been the last time he spoke to her. He really hoped she hadn’t done something drastic without him there to talk sense to her. Kal-El frowned, tuning his hearing in that direction, and then heard his wife whisper, “Gotcha.”