Kal-El dropped Jason off and hustled back to Lois. Something was certainly going on; turning his hearing in that direction revealed angry voices and Lois doing her best to simper meekly. He was unsurprised to locate her in the bank they’d been investigating, and his x-ray vision showed two security guards shouting at her.
Instead of arguing, though, Lois was cringing apologetically—not her style at all. The behavior and the glasses she was wearing told Kal-El she was using her alias, Sadie Blodgett, who was not at all a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter for the Daily Planet.
If Superman came bursting in to her rescue, though, her cover would be blown. So he hovered, fuming. Right now Lois had the situation under control, but if it looked dangerous, then he’d do whatever he had to.
The guards dumped her purse out, finding some documents, and that occasioned still more yelling and threats of having her arrested for breaking and entering. In his present mood, Kal-El considered just letting that happen. Lois would be safe, and she might even rethink her methods at last.
To his amazement, she managed to talk her way out of it, pointing out that they had the documents she’d tried to take, and their superiors would be furious upon finding out an intruder had gotten this far in. The two men went silent at that, and then manhandled Lois out of the office they’d caught her in, into the elevator, and out the door unceremoniously, warning her all the way of the consequences of another attempt.
Her glasses flew off when they shoved her, and Lois staggered, cursing under her breath as she grabbed up the disguise and her rifled-through purse. Kal-El landed the moment she was out of sight. “Back to square one?” he asked, keeping his voice neutral.
Lois grinned at him, that old devil-may-care smile that preceded some of her craziest—and most successful—stunts. Such as shooting him to make him admit his identity. “Not hardly. Fly me out of here, I’ve got a story to write.”
“But … you didn’t get the documents,” Kal-El replied, confused. Some things were automatic, though, and he caught Lois around the waist to take off.
She laughed wickedly. “Those? Random handful of memos I grabbed when I realized I was about to get busted. The real info is all right here.” With that, Lois reached down the front of her shirt, retrieving a flash drive she’d evidently dropped into the most convenient hiding spot.
Somehow, he wasn’t surprised. “You hacked someone’s computer?”
Lois snickered. “Worse. I didn’t have to. The VP keeps his password written on a sticky note on the underside of his desk. Kal-El, the whole bank is a front. They’re laundering money for the crime syndicate at incredible amounts. And you know what the best part is?”
Her hazel eyes gleamed with triumph, and Kal-El found himself swept up with her. “What’s that?”
“I’ve got digital copies of emails between the VP, Suen, and Joeung. We’ve got the sonofabitch. He’s not weaseling out of this one.” Lois gave a full-throated, wild laugh of triumph, and Kal-El’s heart skipped a beat. Oh yes, despite the fact that she drove him crazy with the risks she took, this was why he’d married her.
“I love you,” he said, and kissed her impulsively.
“I love you too. I’m not sharing the byline, though.”
Kal-El stared in disbelief. “What? Lois, we collaborated on this story!”
“But I got the goods.” She grinned at him, and he couldn’t quite tell if she was serious or giving him hell.
He brought his flight to a complete halt. “And just who was hanging out overhead in case you got into more trouble than you could talk your way out of? Worrying myself sick, just so you know. These people are dangerous.”
Lois sighed. “The banker’s people aren’t into heavy intimidation. Those security guards are way too complacent; it’s all white-collar there. The dirty business goes along with the massage parlors and the gambling.”
“Massage parlors?” Kal-El asked, not liking the sound of that.
“Oh yeah. Girls all over China and Southeast Asia promised jobs here, and it’s not ‘til they’re already in the country illegally that they find out what those jobs are. I’ve got deposit records from four big massage parlors doing way more cash flow than just soothing tired muscles. And with ‘hiring bonuses’ that pay to … wanna guess?”
“Not Lei. Not the ambassador’s brother. He couldn’t be that stupid, could he?”
“Of course not. To Joeung. But he’s in deep with Lei, who has a ton of money tied up in the bank. We can at least get the three of them with this.” Lois’ eyes blazed, and Kal-El remembered that Richard liked to compare her to a falcon. ‘Sight, swoop, strike,’ that was how he’d described the particular bird’s hunting style, a bundle of predatory intent wrapped in feathers.
His news-hawk might be wrapped in a suit by L. Lang, but Kal-El understood the comparison and appreciated it. “Let’s get back to the Planet then,” he said, smiling.
Lois’ gaze was distracted, already planning out the first paragraphs of her story. “And I’ve got to drop by Maggie’s after all this is written up and hand her the data. She’ll be on those guys before the issue hits the stands, so they won’t have any warning.”
“Teamwork,” Kal-El said.
That got Lois’ full attention. “Speaking of which, what kind of teamwork kept you busy? Just so I can look knowing when I see it in my own damn paper.”
“Oh, that…” He had volunteered to tell Lois about the situation with Jason losing his powers, and finding her in the custody of security had distracted him.
Might as well just go ahead and tell her plainly. Lois was not going to be happy, but at least her baby boy wasn’t actually hurt. “It wasn’t League business this time. There was a problem with the Titans….”
Kal-El flew high enough over the city that no one heard Lois’ outraged intention of kicking the crap out of the sorcerer who’d de-powered her son.
Zatanna got back to them within the day, giving a time and place for Jason and his father to meet her. As it turned out, Kala was working that night and no one could cover her shift, so couldn’t be there to lend moral support to her brother. Jason found himself both disappointed and a tiny bit relieved; he’d worried that Kala actually would ask about the fishnets.
He was nervous, though, and showing it, getting sympathetic looks from Dad. Even more so when they landed on a two-lane road outside Gotham, far enough from the city lights that both of them could clearly hear an owl calling out in the woods somewhere. “Are you sure this is the spot, Dad?”
Kal-El checked his phone’s GPS function. “These are the coordinates she sent me. Just give it a minute, Jason. We’re early.”
The younger man fidgeted nervously. Exactly on time, they both heard a whispery noise, like a faint breeze, and suddenly Zatanna was standing a little distance away. “You could have just called, you know,” she told Kal-El remonstratively.
“I don’t have your direct number,” he replied with a shrug.
She chuckled at that. “I’m sure Oracle would give it to you. You are Superman, you know.”
He shook his head. “And that would be abusing my position as well as presuming on you. No, I’ll go through channels like everyone else. That way it’s fair.”
Zatanna shrugged. “This is why they call you the Big Blue Boy Scout, you know.”
He just grinned. “I happen to like that nickname. It sure beats some others I’ve heard. Anyway, I don’t think you’ve met my son, Jason.”
“No, but everyone knows Superboy.” Zatanna held out a white-gloved hand, and Jason shook with her.
He wasn’t terribly enthused about all this, considering his recent experience of magic, and hoped she couldn’t tell. “Pleased to meet you,” Jason said politely.
“But not under these circumstances, I imagine,” Zatanna replied, with a winning smile. “Well, gentlemen, all I have left to say is … welcome to Shadowcrest.”
With that she stepped back and swept her arm out in a grand gesture, as the empty field behind her disappeared to be replaced by an imposing Gothic mansion. Jason startled a bit at that, clearly confused. “That was not there a second ago!”
“Technically it’s not there now,” Zatanna informed him. At his puzzled expression, she continued, “Unless you want to spend the next year learning magical theory, I can’t give you an explanation that’s not going to sound either impossible or like gibberish.”
Kal-El just smiled. “In my experience it’s best not to worry about how or why, and just trust the expert.”
Just then, Jason’s phone chirruped, and he grimaced as he checked the text message he’d just been sent. He couldn’t help groaning. “It’s Kala,” he said by way of explanation, but did not forward her request to Zatanna to turn him into a giant iguana. Just once. Quickly, he texted back, You’re insane. ILU anyway lil sister.
This must have been her idea of providing moral support, because the reply came back before he even put the phone away. ILU2. Don’t forget to ask about the fishnets for me. Jason just scoffed and left that unanswered, shaking his head—but finally smiling.
With that taken care of, they proceeded up the path to the front doors, which opened just before they arrived. Jason was reassured to see two servants in black tie just behind them, glad that magic wasn’t so casual as to merely open doors.
At least until he realized neither of the servants had heartbeats. “Um…” he trailed off, staring as the two men closed the doors in perfect, inhuman unison.
“They’re not exactly real,” Zatanna explained. “Just magical constructs. I’m the only one living here at present.”
Jason shivered. “But why?” he couldn’t help asking, even though Dad darted him a glance as if to warn against questioning people in their own homes.
Zatanna only shrugged. “Makes the place a little less lonely. And a little less creepy for visitors, at least the ones who can’t tell they’re constructs.”
“Sorry,” Jason said, abashed. “I’m a little freaked out by magic right now.”
“Understandably,” she replied with a smile. “Look, now that we’re inside the estate’s wards, let me try the easy way, okay?”
Not sure what the easy way was, but wanting to get this over with, Jason nodded. “All right. Go ahead.”
He expected more dramatics, perhaps a crackle of thunder or flashes of light. But Zatanna only looked at him intently and said, “Erotser srewop.” It took him a moment to work out that she’d said ‘restore powers’.
Wild hope rose; nothing felt different, but that didn’t mean anything. Not yet. He needed to test it. He stared down at the checkerboard-pattern tiles, focusing his gaze and seeing … nothing but tiles. All right, x-ray vision didn’t work, but Jason couldn’t give up just yet. He reached for the earliest of his powers to appear, hoping it would be the first to return.
The foyer opened out into a long hallway, and Jason turned to attempt a leap. Nothing like his usual jumps that rose thousands of feet in the air, just a little hop of thirty feet or so. Something easy for him but humanly impossible, from a standing start at least.
He landed about six feet away, not stumbling that time because he’d halfway expected it. “No such luck?” Zatanna asked. Jason shook his head, not trusting himself to speak. The magician shrugged. “I really didn’t think it’d be that simple. Raven sent those gauntlets on to me; the spell that’s on them shouldn’t have been capable of what it actually did.”
“What does that mean?” Kal-El said, a worry line creasing his brow.
“It means there’s some other factor involved. The man you were fighting isn’t a terribly experienced sorcerer, so maybe he has a wild talent that cropped up just in time to save him. Or maybe something else was going on.” Zatanna shrugged, meeting both sets of worried blue eyes.
“But you can reverse it, right?” Jason asked.
“We’ll figure it out. It might just take some time. First I need to find out exactly what happened to cause this, and then I can unravel it. Have a little faith, Superboy. I am pretty much top of my field.” As if to prove it, Zatanna tapped the brim of her top hat, and a brief burst of sparks rose from it.
“Don’t tell me magic really sparkles when you use it,” Jason said, deadpan.
That won him a laugh. “No, but flash powder does. I’m actually at the top of both my fields, stage magic and the real thing. Anyway, since you’re both here and we have the time, there’s a few more things I want to try while I can compare how you react to magic to how your dad does. Follow me to the workroom, gents.” With that she made a showy turn on her heels and lead them down a side corridor.
Jason just looked up at his father mournfully. “So we’re both going to be guinea pigs?”
“No, if you get on my nerves I’ll turn you into a rabbit and put you in the stage show popping out of a hat,” Zatanna said.
“I was told you have to have a sense of humor to work with magic,” Kal-El explained when Jason just rolled his eyes at the joke.
“Which is why Batman has the magical aptitude of a brick,” Zatanna shot back.
“I’ve seen him laugh,” Jason put in.
“Really?” Zatanna turned around and walked backwards. “Who was bleeding at the time?”
“I … well … uh…” Jason fumbled for an instance of Bruce smiling that hadn’t been at a criminal’s comeuppance, or personally embarrassing.
“Still angry with him?” Kal-El asked gently.
“It does get irritated to have someone so consistently disbelieve in what you do. Even when you prove it right in front of him, even when you use it on him. He just doesn’t believe in anything he can’t decipher.” Zatanna took a deep breath. “Yes, it is possible to make someone hallucinate a lot of the things I can do, but at some point you really do just have to give in and believe the evidence.”
“Giving in is the one thing he never does,” Kal-El said, and even Jason had to nod. He’d seen that the summer he spent in Gotham, and ever since. Iron—no, titanium resolve was a Bat-trait that Tim was cultivating, too.
Zatanna shrugged. “I know he’s your friend, and we have business to take care of, anyway.” And with that, they reached her magical workroom, where a number of books were sitting on a table, slips of paper stuck between the pages at places Zatanna wanted to reference quickly.
Jason took a deep breath. He still wasn’t comfortable with being experimented on, with or without his father there. But if this was the only way to regain his powers…
…Bats weren’t the only ones with stubborn determination. That was a Lane trait, too.