Chapter 1: Chapter 1
The Alien Angel of National City
Kal-El’s pod shot through the tunnel like a pyjak fleeing a hunting klixen, disappearing into the fiery sky within seconds. Kara Zor-El watched it leave, her fear threatening to bubble over. Not just her fear for her baby cousin, but her fear for her parents, for her dying home.
Her fear for herself.
“I’m not afraid, father,” she said despite herself, as if in speaking the words the sentiment would become true. Whether he believed her or not, he smiled, clasped her shoulders tightly, then hurried to make some final adjustments to the pod that would take her after Kal-El. The pod that would take her away from everything else.
Her mother took her hands, crouching before her with a smile on her face that just about concealed her terror. “The trip will be long, but you’ll be asleep most of the way, and…” She closed her eyes, drew in a breath. “And we’ll be with you in your dreams, Kara, I promise. You will be safe on Earth, its yellow sun will grant you incredible powers, and I know that you will do extraordinary things.”
“I won’t fail Kal-El, mother. I won’t fail you!”
Alura leaned in and kissed her forehead, before settling back once more. “I love you, Kara. But it is time to go. I know it will be hard, but try not to be afraid.”
Kara lunged forward, circling her arms around her mother as if by doing so she could take her with her, in the pod that barely had life support for one child, never mind a child and an adult. “I’ll try, mother,” she choked out, tears finally starting to get the better of her.
“Don’t cry, Kara,” Alura whispered, wiping her own tears.
There was an explosion. It wasn’t the first that Kara had heard that night, but it was the nearest. Alura stood up, turning to face the launch pad at the end of the tunnel just as it collapsed in a cloud of dust.
“Alura, get the pod fired up, I’ll try and clear the path!” Zor-El called out, already running down the tracks. Alura moved towards the pod, but Kara clung on to her for one more moment.
There was another explosion.
Fire filled the corridor, and Alura disappeared before Kara’s eyes, without so much as a scream. The pod melted, and flames washed over Kara. They did not hurt. Within seconds, they had disappeared. Everything had disappeared, save for Kara herself. She floated in the vastness of space, Rao a distant but vivid light above her.
She screamed without sound, thrashing as she finally, inevitably succumbed to the fear and horror; finally realised that Krypton was gone. That her parents were dead. That Kal would be all alone on a strange planet.
That she was alone right here.
Kara Danvers woke up screaming, tangled in her sheets but lying on the floor of her bedroom.
Once she had processed the reality of her situation, once she had calmed down and reasserted her grip on the here and now, her first action was to check the floor to make sure it was still in one piece. She had broken it before, after similar nightmares, and she didn’t want to have to come up with another explanation. There was, perhaps, an extra dent or two where flailing fingers had struck wood, but nothing worth worrying about. She threw the sheets aside with a weary sigh, and padded through to the kitchen, pouring and draining a glass of water. She filled the glass again, then sank to the floor, her back to the cabinets and the chilled glass to her forehead.
She imagined it as the pressure of her mother’s last kiss.
Heading back to the bedroom, she sat on her bed, wrapping up in the sheets, and grabbed her phone, hitting her sister’s speed dial. The phone rang for several long moments, and Kara was just considering hanging up when Alex picked up.
“Kara? It’s two in the morning, are you ok?”
“I had the nightmare again.” She didn’t need to elaborate. Alex had spent far too many nights calming her down when they were younger to need more specific details.
Kara could almost hear Alex shifting from panicked, ready to fight in Kara’s defence to a calmer, more gently concerned attitude, even from the other side of a phone and the city. “Do you need me to come over? Or you can come here.”
“No,” Kara said, shaking her head. “I’m fine, I just…needed to hear you, I think.”
“Yeah, I promise.”
“It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Since you last had it, I mean.”
Kara hesitated, just for a second, but Alex had always been perceptive, at least where her sister was concerned.
“It’s not always this bad,” Kara mumbled. Alex sighed.
“Kara, why didn’t you say anything?”
“It’s not like it’s every night! It’s not even every week, or every month, but…I can’t just call you up every time I have a nightmare, Alex.”
“Of course you can.”
“I shouldn’t, then. You work insane hours, including night shifts, and what if someone dies because you haven’t slept enough because you’re comforting me? And you can’t pick up at all if you’re at work, so.”
“Kara, you’re always my number one priority.”
“Don’t tell the hospital that,” she said, only half joking. There was a decent chance Alex actually would, if pressed.
Her sister laughed, a little awkwardly, presumably thinking along the same lines. “Don’t worry, I won’t.”
Kara settled onto her back, switching the call to loudspeaker. “How is work, anyway?”
“Oh, you know. Busy busy. I, er, had to discipline a patient today.”
“You beat up a patient?”
“That’s so not what I said! Besides, they weren’t cooperating.”
“Alex, how have you not been fired?! You can’t just beat up sick people,” Kara protested, laughing despite her words.”
“Why not, it’s easier then.”
“One day someone’s going to make a documentary about you, just to prove that medical dramas are absolutely spot-on. ‘Badass Dr Danvers’, I can see it now.”
“People want the best, they have to put up with some quirks, right?”
“That’s what I told Miss Grant once. She just looked at me like she could will my soul out of my body.”
“Cat Grant has absolutely no right to call anybody on weird behaviour.”
“She’s not weird!”
“She’s crazy demanding.”
“Well, I mean, yes, that’s true…but so are your bosses. And honestly, she’s amazing once you get used to her.”
“If you say so,” Alex said, before biting back a yawn. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be, I should let you go.”
“Seriously,” she said with a smile. “I’m fine, now. Just needed a distraction.”
“Ok. But call me if you need, alright? Hell, just come over.”
“I will. Thanks, Alex.”
“Anytime. G’night. Love you.”
“Love you too.” Kara hung up, and lay there for a moment, staring at the ceiling. The myriad sounds of National City drifted in; while normally she could tune it down to background hum, if not completely, tonight it reverberated around her, and she knew she would never get back to sleep. She grabbed her glasses from the night stand and put them on, knowing she would regret it in the morning. Finally, she buried her head into the pillows, and screwed her eyes shut.
It was still over an hour before she finally drifted back off.
“Wow, you look exhausted.”
“Thanks, Winn, good morning to you too.”
Winn waved a hand vaguely at her. “Sorry, it’s just – don’t get me wrong, you’re still glowing like a little ball of sunshine, it’s just that normally you’re like a big ball of sun, so…”
Kara shrugged, putting the coffee down as she straightened her desk. “I didn’t sleep well last night.”
“Would it be inappropriate to suggest a catnap?”
“You’re not as funny as you think you are.” As she sat down, she pushed her glasses up, closing her eyes as she rubbed at them. She opened them to find Winn looking at her, concern written all over his expression.
“Seriously, Kara, you ok? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you look this down.”
She forced a smile. “I’m fine, Winn. Just a rough night.”
He didn’t look convinced, but any further comment was forestalled by the ping of the elevator doors opening. Kara hopped to her feet, immediately flustered, and grabbed the coffee just as Cat Grant walked through the door to her office.
“Kiera, I could have sworn you were bringing me a coffee…Wilfred, haven’t you got anything better to do than make puppy eyes at your colleagues?”
A look of confusion crossed Winn’s face before the realisation that Cat was talking to him. His eyes widened, and he whirled his seat round to face his computer, starting to tap furiously at the keyboard in what appeared to be completely random movements. Kara hurried after Cat, coffee in hand.
“Right here, Miss Grant, sorry.”
Cat took the coffee without comment and sat down, flicking a cursory glance over Kara before turning to her papers. “Slower off the mark than usual – what has gotten into you today, Keira?”
“I – ”
“Actually, spare me the millennial angst, just make sure you get yourself straightened out by the next time I see you. Which will be later today, because you’re going to be busy sorting out the new art editor’s office.”
“I am? I mean, of course, Miss Grant. I mean…we have a new art editor?”
“That question makes it sound worryingly like you failed to organise Ms Tyler’s leaving gift…” Cat replied, not looking up from her work.
“Oh, no, I did, and of course I know she’d left! I just – you already interviewed? Did I miss that?”
“Surprisingly, no, you didn’t. The perfect candidate became available, so why waste my time? Just get the office ready for him.”
“And just what have you been doing all day?”
Kara closed her eyes for a moment, quickly counting to ten before turning to face Cat. “Well, I had to keep running back up to the phone, so it took a little longer than it should have done, Miss Grant, I’m sorry, but I think it’s done now.”
Cat was shaking her head before Kara had finished speaking. “No, no, no, this won’t do at all. This is Catco, not the Star City Gazette! There’s no personality here at all, Keira.”
“Well…I haven’t met the new editor yet, Miss Grant,” Kara pointed out. “I don’t even know their name. Besides, I know I loved putting my own stamp on my desk when I started here, not just sticking to the standard – I’m sure they’d like that too, you know? Taking something functional and making it personal? If they wanted to, I mean, and…” she trailed off at the realisation that Cat was staring at her.
“You’ve personalised your desk?”
“Hmm. I hadn’t noticed. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that your sense of décor is as bland as your sense of style. Still, I suppose you have a point, however dismally expressed. You’ll just have to make yourself available to Mr Olsen when he arrives.”
Kara started, recognising the name. “Olsen? As in Jimmy Olsen? From the Daily Planet?”
“No, as in James Olsen of Catco – he’s all mine now.” Cat smiled smugly. “That reminds me, organise a bottle of scotch for Perry White, will you? With my condolences.”
A short while later, Kara found herself up on the Catco helipad, pacing back and forth in a mild panic. Jimmy – James – Olsen. She had never met him before, but she knew all about him. The information that any member of the media would know, of course – Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, the first person to get any sort of decent picture of the legendary Superman, and in fact one of the few members of the media to have any sort of professional relationship with the Man of Steel, along with fellow Planet reporter Lois Lane.
However, his new colleagues would not know that Olsen had a closer relationship with Superman than his reputation suggested. He was Superman’s best friend, and well aware of his secret identity.
And now he was coming to National City.
Did he know about her? Clark had never said, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. Her conversations with her cousin were infrequent, and actual visits even rarer. She would have thought that his best friend moving to her city, to her actual place of work, in fact, might have merited at least a text message.
And so she pulled her phone out, tapping out a number that, for security reasons, she had memorised rather than saving. Clark picked up on the second ring.
“Kara, hey! How’s things?”
“Jimmy Olsen is coming to National City?!”
“Oh, shoot,” Clark sighed. “I forgot to tell you, didn’t I? I’m really sorry, there was a forest fire, and that earthquake, and then that business with the sentient asteroid – ”
“Yeah, I saw. You’ve been busy.”
“I still should have let you know. I really am sorry.”
Kara sighed. It was hard to stay angry with Clark; he started to sound like a dejected puppy, even if he wasn’t trying to deny wrong doing (something that Alex had more than once declared must be a trait common to Kryptionians, given Kara’s facility with the tone as well). “It’s ok, I just…panicked, I guess. Is that weird? I probably shouldn’t panic about him, it’ll be fine, right?”
“He doesn’t know about you, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“He doesn’t?” Kara asked, unable to completely supress the hope in her voice.
“Of course not. Well, he knows that I have a cousin, but other than that, nothing. I wouldn’t tell anyone about you without your permission, Kara. I promise.”
Kara felt a warm glow swell up inside her. “Thanks, Clark. I appreciate that.”
“No need to thank me for basic courtesy. Do you think you will tell him? Clearly, I’d support you if you did, he’s definitely trustworthy.”
Kara stared out over the city for a moment, drumming her fingers against her thigh restlessly. Should she tell him?
Alex swirled her scotch absently, her eyes on the other drinkers in the bar. “Well? Will you tell him?”
Kara groaned, and sank her head down to the table, resting on her folded arms. “I don’t know, Alex. Do you think I should?”
“It wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.”
“What?” Kara jerked upright, shocked. “You never think I should tell anyone!”
“It’s a little different here, Kara. He already knows about – ” she darted her gaze around the bar for a moment “ – Clark. He’s not some random guy.”
“I know, I know. It is kinda cool, I guess, knowing that there’s potentially someone else I can talk to about things.” Her eyes widened once more. “Not instead of you, I mean! Just, like, a different perspective, or – “
Alex laughed. “Don’t worry, I get it.” Her eyes softened, and she put her scotch down, reaching out to take Kara’s hand. “I know it’s hard keeping it a secret, Kara, I really do. I know it sucks. But you know it’s the best thing.”
“Of course I do.” Kara stared down at her club soda. It had been the kind of day that made her wish alcohol affected her – or at least, that it would affect her in any quantity smaller than bankruptcy-inducing. However, she also felt like even regular soda would be irritatingly fizzy at the moment, so it was probably all to the good. “I think I’ll just have to wait and see. I don’t know him, other than by reputation. Just because he knows about Clark doesn’t mean he has to know about me.”
“Very true.” Alex drained her scotch, and grinned at her sister. “You never know, he might turn out to be a real asshole.
“I don’t think Clark would be friends with him if he was, Alex,” Kara replied, laughing. Alex made no reply, but she did smile a smile that Kara recognised, one that only came out when Alex was thinking something she thought she’d regret saying.
There came the buzz of a phone. Alex sighed and checked the message. “I’m really sorry, Kara. I’ve got to go.”
“But it’s not even eight!” Kara whined. “Are you always on call?”
“Pretty much, yeah,” Alex said with a shrug, standing up. “The perils of medical brilliance, right?”
“Fine, go save lives and leave me all on my own, see if I care.”
Alex laughed again, and bent down to kiss the top of Kara’s head. “I’ll see you soon. Love you.”
“Yeah, yeah, love you too.”
Kara ended up staying at the bar for another hour and two more club sodas. She fired a few messages back and forth with Winn, arguing about the upcoming final of ‘America’s Got Talent’ (she favoured the magician, while Winn was all about the dancing dog), before finally deciding that she would be better off on her own sofa with some takeout. Bars with someone else – Alex, always Alex, if she was honest, as Winn seemed more than happy to just go along with whatever she suggested – were fine, but bars by herself could be bittersweet. She loved to people watch, but while hearing the first tentative blooming of romance was a balm to her soul, most of the time, but at others it stung almost as much as the simple sight of a group of friends enjoying themselves. Despite her friendly nature, there were really only four other people on the planet she considered herself close to, and none of those four were exactly social butterflies.
Facing down the barrel of a potentially drastic change to the quiet life she had made for herself since arriving on Earth, Kara retreated, if only for the night. There weren’t many things trashy tv and junk food couldn’t improve, in her experience.
She did, however, feel her spirits lift as she walked through the streets of National City. She had grown to love Midvale, the Danvers’ hometown, but she had been brought up in Krypton’s capital, Argo City, and gleaming skyscrapers were what she considered normal. Nowhere on Earth could truly compare, but National City came closer than most. And with the glow of the street lights, she could almost imagine that there was a red sun in the sky, not a pale moon.
Kara jumped, looking around for the source, but there was nothing to be seen. There were plenty of people around, but nobody appeared to be in distress. It took longer than it should have done for her to work out that the scream was coming from a fair way away; she took off her glasses, acting like she was cleaning them while she focused.
The scream came again, a few blocks south of where she was. She flicked her gaze that way, trying to see through the buildings to get a hint as to what was going on, but there was…too much. Too many people, too much activity. She closed her eyes, trying to clear her vision, then set off as quick as she could safely be without drawing comment. The sounds would have to do.
There was a young woman. And a man. They were in an alley, and she was walking backwards towards the dead end, holding her purse out in front of her. He was strolling – strolling – towards her, a nasty looking knife in his hand and a nastier grin on his face.
“Yeah, that’s it, hand it over.”
Standing at the mouth of the alley, Kara saw red. In a flash, she was behind the mugger, grabbing the hood of his jacket and hurling him aside. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the prospective victims look of fear turn to astonishment as her attacker hit a dumpster hard enough to leave a dent. He staggered forward, and looked up at Kara with a snarl.
He lunged, knife flashing. Kara’s arm almost blurred she moved so fast, snatching the knife from him and flicking it over his shoulder. It bounced off the wall and clattered to the ground. The mugger paused, looking back at his fallen weapon in confusion.
“How the hell…?”
Then Kara grabbed the front of his jacket, one handed, and heaved him over her shoulder, slamming him into the ground. The air huffed out of him, and he clutched at his stomach, groaning.
“You should really find something better to do with your life,” she spat…and then the flash of temper left her, replaced by shock and no small amount of fear. “Oh Rao,” she whispered to herself. What had she done? Alex would kill her – this was the exact opposite of subtle, after all. The guy was twice her size, and she had tossed him around like a sack of potatoes.
She took a deep breath as another sound reached through the fog around her thoughts. There would be time for panic later. For now though: “Are you ok?” she said softly, turning to the woman she had saved. She was a red head, shorter than Kara, and she was staring at her attacker with an expression Kara couldn’t read. “Do you have a phone?” she tried again. This time, the woman shook herself, clearly working through some unpleasant thoughts.
“I – yeah. Yeah, he tried to – but I’ve still got it.”
“That’s great,” Kara continued in what she really hoped were soothing tones. “Can you call the police?”
“Yeah. Yeah, sure.”
The mugger groaned, and Kara shot him a dark look to discourage any further movement. In what was probably the wisest decision he’d made for a while, he stayed still. When Kara looked up, the woman was putting her phone back in her pocket. “They said they’ll be here soon, there’s a beat cop pretty close.”
“That’s great!” Kara said, forcing a smile. “I’ll…go and keep an eye out, ok?”
The woman flinched, looking down at the man.
“Why don’t you come with me? He won’t be going anywhere for a while.”
“That sounds good,” the woman said, nodding. She took a long step around her attacker, keeping Kara between them, and headed towards the mouth of the alley. Kara followed her, keeping an ear out for the cops and any further misbehaviour from the mugger.
“Are you ok?” Kara asked again. The woman was standing there, arms folded tight against her chest, staring down at the floor. She flinched when someone walked past her, a little closer than she might have been expecting.
“He didn’t hurt me,” she replied, eventually.
“That’s good,” Kara said. “It’s…not quite what I asked.”
“I’ll be fine,” she said, fervently, as if saying it would make it true. “I’m just…”
They stood in silence for a minute, and then Kara’s ears picked up the approaching police. “They’re coming. Look, I – I really need to go. I’m sorry. But you’ll be fine – brilliant, even, ok? I promise.”
“What? You can’t just – ”
But Kara had already dashed back into the alley. She kicked off the ground as she approached the wall at the end, soaring over it in one leap. She landed awkwardly, in a manner that would probably have left her with a twisted ankle, had she been human, and hurried off, casting one final look back over her shoulder, glasses lowered enough to see through the wall. A cop was pitting cuffs on the mugger.
She was five blocks away before she stopped having to block out the sound of her own heart racing, fired up on adrenaline, shock, and anger. Anger at the mugger, of course, but also herself for being so reckless.
It wasn’t until she walked past her neighbour on her way up to her apartment that she realised she was smiling.
It might not have been the smartest decision she’d ever made. But she wasn’t convinced it was the worst one, either.
Chapter 2: A Free Press
2: A Free Press
Once the adrenaline had worn off, however, Kara found herself restless for the remainder of the night. She hadn’t covered her face, and both the woman she had saved and the mugger she had saved her from had clearly seen her; how long would it be before she was identified? What would happen then? Would the police be interested in a concerned citizen, or would they just be grateful? Would she be arrested? Cautioned? Would they work out she was an alien? If they did, it was only a short step from that to considering the fact that her legal existence on Earth was – well, not legal.
What would Alex say?
She could almost see the look of disappointment and frustration on her sister’s face, should the truth come out.
For the second time in as many nights, Kara groaned, rolled over and buried her head under the pillows.
She did not sleep well, although she was mercifully spared having to go through the nightmare again. It was the only real positive; she overslept, and even her superspeed couldn’t get her out of her apartment on time. She liked to be in the office by eight, even though Cat herself rarely showed up before nine, but she would be cutting it fine this morning. She grabbed two coffees at Noonan’s, and dashed over to Catco.
Her colleagues were no strangers to Kara’s awkward rambling, but even when Cat was in her foulest mood none of them had ever yet seen her nervous. Her eyes darted from one to the other faster than the human eye would have registered it had actually looked at something, and she avoided conversation as her worst fears cycled through her minds eye at considerable speed.
Someone tapped her on the shoulder.
She screamed, nearly jumping right off the floor, and Cat’s coffee went everywhere. Kara turned to find Winn staring in horror at the consequences of his greeting. Then he looked up at her.
“I’ll get the cleaning supplies, you get back out there and get her another coffee.”
“Yeah – Winn, I’m so - ”
It was a five minute walk from Catco to the coffee shop; Kara was there and back again in three, the new coffee still steaming as she scurried out of the elevator. Unfortunately, Cat had already arrived, and was entertaining herself by verbally flaying Winn.
“Tell me, Mr Scott, are you looking to branch out into interior decoration?”
“Well, no, Miss Grant, but – ”
“I’m delighted to hear it, because on this evidence you have no grasp of aesthetics whatsoever. Or do you think that subtle brown shading enhances Catco’s look?”
Kara hurried forward, casting a quick glance at the spot on the floor Cat was pointing at. There was a very, very faint stain left over from the coffee, and had she not known to look for it (and had she not been blessed with enhanced vision), she doubted she would have spotted it. Rao alone knew how Cat had seen it, as it didn’t look like Winn had still been cleaning when she arrived.
“Your coffee, Miss Grant.”
“Three minutes late, Kyra. That’s the second day in a row, you’re slipping.”
“I’m sorry, there was a problem at the shop – they nearly used whole milk, so they had to get a replacement.”
“I see.” Cat turned on her heel and stalked towards her office. Someone was waiting inside for her, and Kara followed with one last look back at Winn. Her friend grimaced, and mouthed you owe me one; Kara flashed him a thumbs up before closing the office door behind her. Cat was now standing at her desk, for the moment ignoring the various display screens behind it in favour of talking to the man who had been waiting. As Kara approached, he turned to face her with a smile, holding out his hand.
“Hi there. James Olsen, nice to meet you.”
Kara froze. She hadn’t realised that Jimmy would be starting today, and so hadn’t prepared for him to just be right there, smiling at her and offering to shake her hand. And, she realised, she certainly hadn’t realised that he would be so…solid. She’d never met him, but she’d seen pictures of him with Clark and Lois, not to mention in articles about his photography, and he had definitely been working out in the meantime. With a start, she realised she hadn’t taken his hand.
“Hi! Hi, Kara Danvers, I’m Miss Grant’s assistant. And you’re our new art editor!”
“That I am, and looking forward to working with you all.”
“Yes, well…” Cat interrupted. Kara looked at her, a little flustered; there was something faintly worrying about seeing the Queen of All Media leaning against her desk, arms folded and eyes narrowed as she looked at Kara speculatively. “Kyra will take you down to your office now, James, she spent most of yesterday getting it set up for you, so if it’s not to your satisfaction do let her know.”
“Oh, I’m sure it’ll be great,” Jimmy said, smiling at Kara again. He either hadn’t noticed Cat’s expression, or he didn’t care; Kara found it hard to believe that it could be the former – but then, Cat had started out at the Planet, she remembered. She might not have the same effect on Jimmy as she did on everyone else.
“Well, I certainly hope so!” she replied with a laugh. “Um, shall we?”
“Lead the way.”
He followed her out of the office, picking up a bag as he did, and she led him towards the stairs. “So…how long have you been in National City?”
“I got here about a month ago, just been settling in, getting my apartment sorted, you know. It’s a bit of an adjustment – I mean, Metropolis is nice, but National City’s so sunny.”
Kara chuckled. “Yeah, I know what you mean. I grew up – I mean, I moved here from Midvale, near the coast, so I’m used to a bit more of a breeze. Certainly not going to complain though!”
“Oh, I like it, don’t get me wrong,” Jimmy said. “I’m looking forward to getting to work, though.”
“Have you seen anything inspiring for your photography, yet?”
“I’ve got some nice landscapes,” he said. “Nothing that Cat’d be interested in, yet, I don’t think, but nice shots at least. I figure I’ll be behind a desk more often than not, though.”
“Yeah, she can be a bit of a perfectionist about layouts.”
“Oh, I know just how much of a perfectionist Cat Grant can be,” Jimmy said with a grin. “I could tell you stories – but I won’t, for now anyway. Kinda want to keep my job.”
“Wow, you’re going to leave me hanging like that?” Kara teased, and he shook his head.
“I should really not be saying this to her PA, should I?”
“Don’t worry, I’m very discreet.”
“I’ll bear that in mind.”
He was nice, Kara realised. She hadn’t seriously entertained the thought that he wouldn’t be, given his long-standing friendship with Clark, but he was, genuinely, nice. There was something relaxing about him, and given how nervous she had been about meeting him, that was saying something.
“Can I…ask you something?”
Jimmy smiled a wry smile. “Sure, go ahead.”
“What’s he like?”
“Everything you’d want him to be and more.” There didn’t seem to be any need to clarify who she had meant. Kara supposed he probably got asked it a lot. “He’s actually…kind of a friend, I suppose. He’s always had my back, and not just when something needed punching.”
“I, er, didn’t realise you knew him so well.”
Jimmy nodded. “It’s…hard to explain, I suppose. I’ve never really known why he let me take that photo – he posed, you know? I guess I’ve always thought it better not to question why Superman would want to be friends with me.”
Kara had to admit to being impressed. If she hadn’t known that Jimmy knew far more about Superman than he admitted to, she would never have guessed. He didn’t give anything away. She could probably learn a thing or two from him, in fact. It wasn’t going to stop her teasing him a little more though.
“He’s actually that nice, then?”
“You think he wouldn’t be?” Jimmy asked, a hint of surprise in his voice.
“Oh, I don’t know.” They came to a halt outside what was now Jimmy’s office, and Kara opened the door, ushering him inside. “Well, this is it!” She adjusted her glasses. “I didn’t really know what you’d want; Miss Grant wanted it to be a bit more – well, a bit more Catco, I suppose, but I thought you’d want something you could personalise. Up to a point, anyway.”
“You thought right,” Jimmy said, looking around appreciatively. “What do you think she’d say about a bit of gym equipment in the corner?”
“Um.” There were several possible responses to that, and Kara wasn’t sure she felt comfortable enough with Jimmy yet to say any of them.
“Ha! I’ll take that as a no, then. For now, anyway.” Jimmy dumped his bag on the desk and turned to look at her again. “You were saying about Superman?”
He sounded defensive now, and Kara bit back a smile. “I guess…it’s just in the interviews I’ve read, he comes across as a little pretentious?”
Jimmy’s eyebrows shot up. “You couldn’t be more wrong. He’s the most sincere man I’ve ever met.”
“Oh, I wasn’t trying to be critical!” Kara exclaimed in a panic, and something in her voice must have convinced him; he relaxed a little, and nodded. “I mean, I’ve only read interviews, and that’s not always the best representation of someone, is it?”
He chuckled. “Don’t let Cat hear you say that. She’s really sharpened her claws since leaving the Planet.”
“You’d be amazed by how many of the board haven’t learned that lesson yet.”
“I probably wouldn’t. And I didn’t mean it as a criticism either, to be clear.”
“Well, to be clear…” Kara echoed him, straightening up a little, “Catco is special. If you can get into Miss Grant’s way of thinking, you’ll be very happy here.”
“You’re not just saying that, are you?”
Kara shook her head. “I know she can be…spiky. Very spiky. But she’s incredible, she really is. Inspirational.”
“I look forward to finding out.”
Further conversation was curtailed by the phone starting to ring. Jimmy looked at it, a little surprised, before picking it up. “James Olsen’s office…” He handed it to Kara. “It’s for you.”
Kara took it, confused. Who would be ringing here for her? “Hello?”
“Ah, Kelly, I was just wondering – do I still have an assistant, or did I fire her?”
Kara sighed. “I’ll be right there, Miss Grant.” She handed the phone back to Jimmy, and he hung up, looking amused.
“I think I said very spiky, yes.”
“Well, I’d better let you go. It’s been nice meeting you, Kara.”
“Nice meeting you too, Jimmy,” Kara replied, thrusting her hand out for a farewell shake with a smile.
“James. Sorry, but Jimmy’s just for my mom or if you wear a cape.”
“Hah! Well, I definitely don’t do that!” For god’s sake, Kara! She hurried out of the office, cursing her awkward tongue. For a first meeting though, it could definitely have gone worse.
“Ms Katic? Detective Sawyer, NCPD. I’ve got a few follow up questions about last night.
The woman hesitated before stepping back to let Maggie inside the apartment; Maggie didn’t entirely blame her, it was hardly unusual to see recent victims – older victims, even – wary about trusting strangers, even strangers with a badge to back them up. On the other hand, she was a detective, and you didn’t get to that rank before hitting thirty without developing a few instincts.
Jane Katic was not thrilled to see her. And there was something more to it than a cop being an unwelcome reminder of an awful occurrence.
Nonetheless, she led Maggie through to the living room, and offered her coffee pleasantly enough. Maggie declined with a shake of her head; it was eleven am, so she was already four coffees down, and could probably stand to not have anymore for the day. Inevitably, there would be at least another four.
“I’m just hoping to get a few more details about your ‘savior’,” Maggie explained, getting her notepad out. “Your attacker wasn’t exactly forthcoming.”
“Oh, I see. Well, it was dark, you know…”
“I know, Ms Katic,” Maggie said with a sympathetic nod of her head, “but it would be really helpful if we could get a rough idea of who we’re looking for.”
“I don’t really see why it matters,” Ms Katic muttered. “You got the guy, right? He’s still locked up?”
“Of course, absolutely, but unfortunately that’s not always the end of it. Your testimony was great, and he’s not exactly denying it, but it would be really helpful to get a statement from the person who helped you.”
“Don’t worry, he’s not in trouble.” And Maggie spotted, but did not react to, the gleam in Ms Katic’s eyes when Maggie said ‘he’.
“Oh, well. He was…quite tall. Dark hair, I think, but wearing a hoodie. He was nice.”
“Oh. Um, no. He was Latino, I guess.”
“Great.” Maggie scribbled a few things down. “Anything else you can remember? Anything at all.”
“No. No, I’m sorry.”
“Hey, it’s fine,” Maggie said, putting the pad away and wrapping one of Ms Katic’s hands in her own. “This is just…fine detail. The cherry on top, if you like. It’s helpful, but it’s not essential. The most important thing for you right now is to try and put this behind you, OK?”
Ms Katic nodded. “I know. I’m trying. And I do appreciate everything the NCPD are doing, Detective.”
Maggie winked. “It’s what we’re here for.”
She walked out a few minutes later, and sat behind the wheel of her patrol car, thinking. Katic had absolutely been lying, she could feel it. For any other reason than not wanting her savior to get into trouble? It seemed the most likely explanation, but Maggie didn’t want to press the issue yet in case there was more to it. On the basis that she was lying though, with the specifics Katic had mentioned then the helpful passer-by had probably been a white woman, which didn’t exactly narrow things down in National City. But why not wait for the cops to arrive? She couldn’t possibly have thought that she might get into trouble for beating up the perp – although to be fair, he had been covered in bruises. He had not gone down easily.
She had wondered why he had been so closemouthed about whoever had intervened, initially speculating about it being someone from a rival gang, or something similar, but if the passer-by had been a woman, then someone of the perp’s line of thinking might well have lied out of pride.
Edward Deaver tensed a little as the alien walked into his shop.
There were some business owners, in worse parts of town, in less enlightened cities, who wouldn’t have let it through the door. Edward prided himself on being tolerant to all, however, and so contained himself with watching the alien like a particularly suspicious hawk as it walked through the aisles, putting various products into a basket. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust aliens, of course, but you had to be careful.
His close observation meant that he realised that the alien was looking at him more than was strictly necessary. It took him a while longer to understand why though.
The alien eventually approached the checkout. It couldn’t really pass for human, not without a thick scarf at least, due to the mass of tentacles dangling around its throat, but it wasn’t exactly a ten-foot-tall jellyfish either. It dumped the basket in front of Edward and grunted at him. Edward rolled his eyes; he wasn’t sure whether it was comforting or depressing to find that rude customers weren’t just a human thing.
“Anything else?” he asked after ringing the total up, and the alien had bagged everything. The alien turned eyes that seemed far too small to be useful on him; they were dark, no obvious division between iris and sclera. It held up its free hand, palm upwards.
The hand ignited, and Edward leapt back, barking out a curse.
The alien gestured frantically, in an all too familiar universal gesture, and Edward popped the register open, scooping out the cash inside. He felt calm, which is some ways wasn’t that surprising; it wasn’t the first time he had been robbed, and it probably wouldn’t be the last; it was though the first time that an alien had robbed him. It somehow felt worse.
He handed the bag he had filled over the counter, and the alien snatched it and turned to run. And Edward did something that he had never done before, on any of the occasions he had been robbed; he reached under the counter, and pulled out the shotgun he kept there.
He squeezed the trigger. There was a deafening crack, and the alien staggered – but it did not go down, turning back to Edward and raising its still burning hand. Flames streamed forth, setting the counter ablaze in seconds. Edward hopped back, cursing and racking the shotgun for a second shot before casting it aside as reality dawned on him. Fire first; shoot second, if at all. He had an extinguisher behind the counter as well, something he had never before had reason to use but that he know thanked the god he didn’t really believe in for having.
Outside the shop, he could hear sirens.
Officer Grant clung to his seat in the patrol car as his partner maneuvered it deftly through the streets. Nothing had come over the radio, but when they saw the alien trailing fire after it as it sprinted out of a shop, bag in hand, they had come to the logical conclusion. May swore as she spun the wheel to turn the car into an alley.
“If you wanted to drive, you should have moved your ass back at the precinct!”
The alien struck a stark figure in the gleam of the headlights, but they also clearly showed the alley was narrowing rapidly. May slammed on the brakes, and both officers leapt out of the car, drawing their service weapons as they did.
“Hands over your head, now!”
The alien turned, slowly, hands raised.
And then it smiled. With a twitch of its fingers, flames streamed towards them, and May let out a panicked yelp as she dived away from the patrol car. Grant followed suit, blindly snapping off a shot as he did so. He hit the floor hard, and rolled further, desperate to put as much space as possible between him and the flames; he could feel the heat, but when he came to a halt, he was untouched.
It was more than could be said for the car. He looked at it, stunned; although it was not on fire, in the couple of seconds that had passed since he dived, it was now a blackened shell, thick clouds of smoke pouring from it. He managed to shake off his shock enough to aim his gun at where the alien had been standing.
There was nobody there.
“God damn it. May! May, you ok?”
He could hear her on the other side of the smoking car, and then she staggered into view, swearing under her breath. She looked at the empty space where the alien had been, and spat in disgust.
National City is reeling after NCPD officers became involved in a late night pursuit with an alien criminal. The alien, wanted in connection with a robbery and near arson at a store earlier in the evening, eventually evaded the officers by setting fire to their patrol car.
Experts believe that the number of aliens present on Earth has been on the rise for well over a decade, with National City recognised as a population hub, legal or otherwise. With the exception of Superman in Metropolis, however, there have been precious few positive examples of alien life on this planet. Indeed, most other notable aliens have in fact found themselves in conflict with the Man of Steel. While it is of course wrong to judge a group by the actions of a few, it seems to me that it is perfectly reasonable to judge a group by the actions of the many…
Kara took a deep breath, and then another. The report, or some variant of it, had been playing more or less constantly for most of the night. She had barely slept, sitting up glued to the unfolding news, first in shock, and now in anger. How could they talk like this? It was hardly the first time she’d heard anti-alien views expressed – if nothing else, she’d watched Lex Luthor’s trial, nauseous and delighted at the same time – but this was right there, on the morning news!
There was a crack as her mug shattered under her grip, and she muttered a curse in kryptonian. At least she had finished her drink. She gathered the fragments up and tossed them into the trash before heading out the door. She was due to meet Alex for breakfast before work, although for once her heart really wasn’t in it.
She walked through the streets a little more cautiously than she normally would, a little hunched in. She always paid attention to the people around her, making sure that the casual, negligible collisions that were so common when walking through a crowd did not happen; she didn’t need anyone dislocating their shoulder because she’d been walking too quickly. Today though, she stayed away from the crowds altogether, too unsure of her judgement to risk it. And, if she was honest, too nervous. National City had never seemed so uninviting.
It took her longer to reach Noonans than it normally would under the circumstances, and Alex was already nursing a cappuccino and a pastry. She looked tired, but mustered a smile as Kara sat down.
“Hey. I was getting worried.”
“Sorry, I was…” Kara shook her head. “It’s busy out there.”
“Didn’t sleep well. Didn’t sleep at all, really.”
Alex reached out to take Kara’s hand. “Nightmares again?”
“No, the news.”
“Oh.” Alex scowled, and rubbed at her temples. “Yeah, that.”
“You don’t sound any more thrilled than I am,” Kara said.
“I’m really not. It – it was all anyone was talking about at work last night. Could really have done without it, to be honest. Like my job isn’t stressful enough without worrying about increased awareness of aliens.”
“What’s that got to do with your job?” Kara asked, her brow crinkling in confusion.
“Oh, nothing, it’s more…well, the more people think about aliens, the more likely they are to pick up on things, you know? I just worry.”
It took a moment for the penny to drop, but when it did, Kara laughed for the first time in nearly a day. “Come on, Alex, really? You think that this is going to lead to someone outing me? That’s super-paranoid.”
“Will you keep your voice down?” Alex hissed, eyes darting around for anyone listening. “The more awareness there is, the more likely people are to question odd behaviour. Especially when someone…doesn’t always do the best job of blending in.”
“Wow. OK, first of all, rude. Second, it’s a bit of a stretch from ‘a little odd’ to ‘not human’.”
“Then why are you so worried about it?”
“How could I not be? Have you seen some of the stuff they’re putting out? ‘How does this change your view of aliens?’ ‘Should the authorities enforce stronger measures against aliens?’ And Twitter is just…awful.” She looked down at the table, suddenly unwilling to meet Alex’s gaze. After a moment, she heard her sister sigh, then stand up, and all of a sudden Alex was sitting next to her in the booth, wrapping her arms tight around her.
“I’m sorry. I hadn’t really thought about it like that. I should have done.”
“It’s OK,” Kara whispered. “Most humans wouldn’t.”
Alex said nothing for a moment, but Kara could hear her heartbeat speed up a fraction. “Yeah. I suppose they wouldn’t.”
Kara slipped into Cat’s office silently, making her way around the crowd of editors and journalists to put some documents on Cat’s desk before stepping back, hoping to unobtrusively listen to what was being said. The screens behind Cat’s desk were all playing varying reports on the alien robbery, although mercifully muted for the duration of the meeting. Cat did not look happy, which was not unusual; the source of displeasure, however, was.
“Since the gutter press has already latched onto every possible vilification of the alien community, it once again falls to Catco to stand for independent thought.” She stood up, starting to pace as she issued her instructions. “I want positives, different points of view – aliens who help their neighbours across streets, who campaign for charity. You wouldn’t get this sort of blanket, ‘they’re all bad’ nonsense with any other group, so I’ll be damned if we’re going to tolerate it with aliens.”
“With respect, Miss Grant…”
Kara winced. Cat was fixing James with her most pointed stare, although it didn’t seem to be bothering him that much. People did not interrupt Cat Grant. She supposed he would learn. Probably.
“Was there something, Mr Olsen?”
“Just that any black guy can tell you that you’re absolutely wrong on that point.”
Cat raised an eyebrow. “From every media outlet? Even our most stridently Democratic ones? I haven’t seen a single piece of professional media that’s yet spouted anything but the party line. I don’t count Twitter, of course. For anything, but certainly not for this.”
“I’ll grant that they’re not normally so united.”
“Well, whatever our self-styled ‘competitors’ may choose to print, Catco deals in wider truths. So get out there and find some.”
After the news staff left, Kara hung back, not sure how to break the silence. Cat was going over some papers, apparently unaware of Kara’s presence.
“Um, Miss Grant?”
“I just – I just wanted to thank you, Miss Grant. I like working for someone who isn’t all about the controversial view point.”
Cat looked up from the papers, an unreadable expression on her face. “At this stage, some basic positivity and courtesy is the controversial view point.”
“Then it’s nice not to work somewhere that blindly chases negativity then.”
Cat smirked, and turned back to her work. “I’ve never done anything blindly, Carla.”
It was a few hours later, and Kara and Winn had broken for lunch. Despite being close friends, they rarely managed to time their lunch breaks together, Winn constantly on call for I.T issues and Kara at the whim of Cat’s demands. Often, one of them would end up collecting lunch for the other, which they would then eat at their desk. When they did manage to eat together, they headed out to a nearby foodstall and took in the sun at the same time. Today though, they found themselves in the Catco cafeteria. Winn was waving a burrito around as he talked, while Kara was picking fairly listlessly at a pile of fries, only half listening to her friend.
“And then, get this, Cat told me to start the whole thing over! I’ve been working on that database for weeks!”
“Yeah, that’s awful.”
“Yeah…” Winn’s eyes narrowed. “I can understand it though. The longer it takes me, the more time she has to spend with me. Privately.”
“So you think she’s coming onto me as well?”
“Sure.” Kara bit through a fry, swallowed, then frowned. “Wait, what?”
“Earth to Kara, Earth to Kara. Still with me, buddy?”
“Oh. Sorry, Winn. I kinda – ” she bit the rest of her sentence off, suddenly uncomfortable with the sentences direction. Winn, however, finished it for her.
“Spaced? Yeah, I noticed.” He put his burrito down, facing her straight on. He looked concerned. “Are you sure you’re OK? You’ve not looked yourself for the last couple days.”
Kara nodded, mulling over how to respond. If she was honest, she actually wanted to tell Winn the truth. He was her best friend, and as much as she recognised the need for it, she’d never liked the secrecy of her life on Earth. On the other hand… “Just been a rough couple of nights,” she said. “And…the news is kinda depressing at the moment.”
“God, people are so stupid,” he said, rolling his eyes. Kara sat up a little, looking at him with interest.
“You think so?”
“How can you not be cool with the fact that there are aliens in National City? In what possible universe is that a bad thing? New points of view, technological advances, wider variety of food – I mean, sure, a lot of that food is toxic to humans, but still!”
“You’re a good guy, Winn,” Kara said with a smile.
“You think so?” Winn replied, a little more eagerly than Kara would have expected. As if it was more than just a compliment.
“Yeah, I do,” she continued. “There’s too many close-minded people around here.”
“I’m a little hurt that you’d think I could ever be lumped in with them. Haven’t I impressed you enough with my nerd credentials over the years? Why wouldn’t I be cool with aliens?”
“I’m not sure that nerdy delight is quite the sort of acceptance aliens are looking for, but it’s a start I suppose.”
Winn plucked a few grains of rice from his burrito, and flicked them at Kara, who ducked out of the way, giggling. “You know what I mean. It’s not like I’m going round wearing Vulcan ears and asking them to help me complete pon farr.”
“You probably don’t want to know.”
Their conversation turned to less intense topics for a while, and Kara’s improved mood also restored her appetite, so she headed back up to the counter to get a couple of burritos for herself. After collecting them, she cast a swift look around the room; plenty of people were there, but no-one was looking her way. She ate the first burrito so fast that it probably looked like she’d inhaled it, and disposed of the packaging so Winn wouldn’t spot it. He was already aware of the number of snacks she got through on an average Catco work day, and would sometimes rib her gently about it, but watching her eat two burritos and a stack of fries was probably pushing her luck as far as him not jumping to conclusions went. She had learned over the years that people didn’t pay as much attention to constant snacking as they did huge meals.
As she headed back to their table, she spotted James walking in. He looked frustrated, which she suspected was not a common feeling for him. She put her tray down and waved, catching his eye. Some of the frustration cleared from his expression as he smiled at her, waving in return and changing course to come over to them.
“Hey, Kara. How’s it going?”
“Good, good thanks. Just finishing up lunch, then I’ve got to be getting back – Miss Grant gets a little testy if I take too long over my break. Are you OK?”
He grunted. “Not really. I don’t like the anti-alien sentiment. It’s a little weird after so long in Metropolis.”
“I mean, Superman has to skew the public sentiment a lot,” Winn chipped in. “You’re never going to get a wholly accurate idea of what people think when he’s their primary experience.”
“Why not? He’s proof that aliens are good people,”
“Not if your name is Lex Luthor,” Kara commented.
“Yeah, well, there’s no accounting for crazy,” James said with a laugh.
“Yeah, tell me about it,” Winn muttered. Kara and James both looked at him, confused, but he ignored them both. “Winn Schott, by the way. Resident I.T expert.”
“James Olsen, art editor,” James replied, holding out his hand for a shake. Winn took it, and grimaced a little. His hand was dwarfed in James’, and Kara guessed the older man probably had a much stronger grip. “Good to meet you, man.”
“Winn’s great,” Kara said, smiling at them both. “He made me feel right at home here, on my first day.”
“And Kara’s kept me from getting fired ever since.”
“Pfft, I haven’t!”
“Please, Cat would fire half of us on a whim and you know it.”
“That’s such a bad misunderstanding of her, Winn!” Kara exclaimed. “She’d only fire someone if there was a good reason for it!”
“But she’d be awful about it, right?” James said, winking at Winn. “She was like that back at the Planet.”
“Oh, man, you must have some stories about the young Cat Grant,” Winn said, leaning in with an air of conspiratorial excitement. “You going to share?”
“Hell no, I’m not an idiot!”
“What is even the point?”
“Guys, come on,” Kara said, adjusting her glasses. She supposed it was understandable; just as her job put her in a better position to identify Cat’s flaws, it also allowed her greater awareness of the CEO’s finer qualities. Qualities that, if Kara was honest, Cat clearly tried to hide, with significant success. That didn’t mean she had to like what other people said about her though.
“Yeah, fair enough,” James said. “Kind of a dick move, given your job. Sorry.”
“It’s OK.” She focused on her remaining burrito for a while, ignoring the slightly awkward silence that had fallen. Then Winn cleared his throat.
“So, what would the press be in Metropolis?”
“You said the anti-alien press here was different.”
“Oh! Well, they just – ” James shook his head. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m just being naïve, but I think they’d put a positive spin on things, as best they could. Not lie, obviously, but focus on the good things. Which, to be fair, Cat is doing, but we’re just one company.”
“We’re the biggest media company on the west coast,” Kara pointed out, a little defensively.
“Sure, but you know what I mean.”
“I suppose. What did you come up with? She wanted positives.”
James hesitated. “I’m working on something. Not sure I can pull it off, it’ll require a lot of research. And commitment. And agreement from others, outside Catco. I think Cat’ll go for it though.”
“Intriguing…” Kara tilted her head askance, angling for more information. James shook his head with a smile. “Fair enough, fair enough. I look forward to seeing it.”
“Fingers crossed you will. Anyway, I need some food.” He stood up and headed to the counter. Kara looked over at Winn, who was staring at her with an odd expression, as if he couldn’t decide whether to be irritated or amused.
“Oh, nothing.” He finished his burrito and stood up. “Catch you later?”
“Yeah, of course.” She watched him leave, saying his farewells to James as he did so. That had been weird.
Later that night, Kara was back at her apartment, curled up under a blanket with a pizza. Since lunch, she had just about managed to blank out the news, as much as was possible working for Catco; there had been plenty of administrative business to attend to during the day, and since coming home she had speeded through a book and watched a film as she ate. Now the credits were rolling, though, and she could feel the urge to check the headlines building. She knew she probably shouldn’t, that it would just ruin the good mood she had managed to build up over the afternoon and evening…but on the other hand, maybe Catco’s coverage had started to take over? And she probably ought to know about that in readiness for the next day.
Huffing, she threw the blanket off and reached for the remote, changing the channel.
“We go through this every single time, Sean. The moment anyone who isn’t a white human does something wrong, it’s all ‘We need a wall, we need to ban this religion, we need to send them home’ – whatever. When is America going to wake up and realize that aliens are just like us, and they’re here to stay?”
The host scoffed as the previous speaker looked pointedly into the camera. “Yes, you do bring it up every time, Will, and you know what I think about your opinions. But even if I did agree with you in every other case, like I’ve been saying all day, this is fundamentally different! They’re not human, they’re not from this planet, they are nothing like us – it’s not a difference of culture, or lifestyle, it’s like giving civil rights to an animal.”
Sean opened his mouth to speak, clearly outraged, but Will hurried on. “And while I can accept that sometimes, immigrants can be a useful addition to society, what have aliens ever done for us?”
“Saved the planet, on at least two occasions.”
“Yeah, that one alien who’s ever done anything good.” Will turned to face the camera, putting on a serious expression that just made Kara want to punch him. “Whenever we discuss immigration, we get all sorts of hashtag campaigns and the like, full of examples of minority positivity. Fine. You know what I haven’t seen, at any point in todays debate? Examples of good aliens other than, of course, Superman. They’re a drain on our society, they give nothing back except exotic drugs and pornography. Aliens need to wake up and smell the coffee – if they want us to accept them, prove we should. Show us you deserve to be here.”
Kara switched it off before the heat she could feel building behind her eyes exploded out. She shouldn’t have watched it, she’d known it would be bad, but…she buried her head in her hands, covering her eyes just in case, and taking deep breaths.
It took several minutes before she felt calm enough to look up.
What could she do? If she’d just been a ‘regular’ alien, she might have considered outing herself, but her connection to Kal ruled that out; it was too dangerous. To say nothing of the legal difficulties that might fall on the Danvers in the aftermath, and Catco, for employing someone with falsified documentation. And she had no idea how to go about campaigning for change. But she couldn’t – she wouldn’t – just sit there and let this continue. She had to do something.
She closed her eyes, and listened to the city. Her hearing was a mixed blessing. Sometimes the sounds could overwhelm her, but sometimes it all blended together, like white noise that helped her tune out her thoughts. She was hoping for that tonight. Instead, she found all the anger in the city. The screaming couples, the road rage, petty crimes all over…
Her eyes snapped open, and she stood up.
You want more positive examples? I’ll give you one.
3. First Steps
Kara practically ripped the door off her wardrobe in her haste, tossing perfectly good clothes aside as she searched for the perfect outfit. Even in her frustration and anger, the lessons she had absorbed in her time on Earth were still front and center in her mind; keep it secret, stay hidden. While none of her clothes were exactly flashy, preppy cardigans and button downs weren’t the look she was going for at the moment.
She let out a grunt of satisfaction as she found what she was looking for, a pair of workout trousers she had bought in an ill-considered attempt to fit in with the other staff at Catco when she had first started working there. Far from a bonding experience, shared gym sessions had just irritated her colleagues as Kara failed to properly sell the idea that the workouts were challenging for her in any way whatsoever, and she had given up on them after a month. She pulled them on, along with a pair of sneakers and a National City University hoodie that was about a size too big for her. Finally, she put her glasses on the table next to her bed, and pulled the hood over her face. It wasn’t the perfect mask, but it would do.
And then she threw herself out of her window.
She landed on the roof of the building across the street, stumbling a little as she did so. It had been a while since she tried anything like this. Finding her balance again, Kara broke into a jog, not quite ready to go flat out yet, and certainly not on a rooftop. She put a little more kick into her motion as she reached the edge this time, and propelled herself two blocks over, soaring through the night air. She could feel her body straining to stay in the air, to fly, not just fall, for the first time in eight years, but she fought it off, a blend of nerves and caution, all too aware that flying was not the same as riding a bike.
She couldn’t stop herself hovering a little, just before landing on the roof, and it turned out to be a good thing; the concrete splintered noticeably beneath her feet. A quick scan with her x-ray vision confirmed it to be nothing serious though. She took a moment, eyes closed, to listen to the city once more.
A car speeding through the streets five blocks away – but being pursued by the NCPD; better to leave that alone, for the moment, although she didn’t block it entirely from her consciousness.
The hiss of aerosol as some kids sprayed paint onto a building – not something she was going to concern herself with.
Harsh, brutal words spat across a room, not too far away…but as she listened closer, none of her business. An argument, perhaps a life-changing one, but nothing more.
And then. The snap of a door bolt being cut, and the wailing of an alarm system that only she and the security company’s computer network would be able to detect, followed by swift movement from two or three people.
That would do nicely.
Kara hopped nimbly from rooftop to rooftop until she was standing atop the building across from the scene of the crime, a mid-range jewelry store. Surveying it with her x-ray vision, she could see three people, two of them crouched next a wall, engaged in frantic activity of some description. After a moment, she realized they must be trying to open the safe. They appeared to have succeeded; they started pulling things out, and shoving them into a bag held by the third member of the group. She jumped to the store’s roof, heading for the door they had broken open.
The group were clearly pros; they moved quickly, and were already running for the alley when she dropped down in front of them. They skidded to a halt, one of them letting out a huff of surprise, and Kara held her hand out in front of her, palm forwards.
“Stop right there!” For Rao’s sake…you’re not trying to make them laugh, Kara!
Sure enough, her words did not appear to have struck the thieves dumb with fear. They looked at each other, and Kara heard a quiet snigger. The one holding the bag stepped aside, and the other two stepped forward, drawing pistols.
“We’re a little ahead of schedule, so we’ll do you a favor and give you a chance to scram, OK?”
Kara smiled to herself, hidden in the hood concealing her face. Then she moved, darting to where a trash can stood waiting to be emptied. The lead thief took aim, firing just as she spun the lid of the can at him. The bullet missed her, sparking off the wall behind, but the lid hit true, hard enough to leave him bent double, gasping for air. His armed partner looked at him in alarm, and then back to Kara – but she was already in close, grabbing his shirt and hurling him towards the one with the bag.
The third one dropped the bag and charged her, apparently hoping to tackle her to the ground. Unfortunately for him, he might as well have been moving in slow motion. Kara turned lazily to one side, watching him run straight past her and carry onwards into the wall of the building behind. He fell to the floor with a groan.
The thief she had attacked with the lid was still hunched over and breathing hard, but managed to raise an unsteady hand to take another shot at her. It didn’t come close, but she stepped towards him and snatched it out of his hand.
She smacked him across the face, gently by her standards, but hard enough to knock him to the ground. And then the second thief hauled himself to his feet, and shot at her.
His aim was better, and the bullet hit her dead center. Kara just rolled her eyes and walked towards him. His eyes widened behind the balaclava he was wearing, and the pistol started to sway as he stepped back from her.
“Don’t move! I’ll shoot, I swear!”
“Hope your aim’s better this time.” She grabbed him by the arm and spun him around, throwing him back down the alley. He slammed into the trash can and slumped to the ground, covered in the can’s contents. He didn’t move, but Kara could hear his – all three of their heartbeats, so she wasn’t concerned. In fact, she did a little hop and punched the air, unable to contain her glee.
She had done it.
She could hear sirens approaching, and no matter how proud she was of the last few minutes, it probably wasn’t a good idea for her still to be here when the cops arrived. She bent her legs a little, and jumped straight up to the roof. She waited long enough for the cops to appear in the alley, guns ready, and watched with satisfaction as they approached the fallen thieves, puzzlement clear to behold.
As she headed off, hopping from rooftop to rooftop, the click of handcuffs closing rang out to her heightened hearing, and she grinned.
Maggie groaned, rubbing at her eyes wearily before reaching for her now cold coffee. She wanted to go and refresh it, but knew if she left her desk, she probably wouldn’t come back until the next day. For the most part, she loved her job, but there were some aspects of it that she couldn’t abide, and this was one of them. Hours upon hours of trawling through CCTV footage in the all too often vain hope that some kind of clue would become apparent.
The footage in question covered a half hour period of one street, specifically the corner of Binder and Plastino. Maggie had watched the footage through half a dozen times now, looking for someone who fit the admittedly vague image she was working with. Although the captain considered the case closed, Maggie was unwilling to let it go with such a prominent point left unsolved, and whatever empty moments she had were devoted to trying to find the mysterious individual who had intervened in the mugging. She would cheerfully own up to the fact that in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter; the suspect hadn’t denied the charges, and was even now headed off to the National City Correctional for a spell. No-one besides Maggie herself was remotely interested, at least from a legal perspective, in the good Samaritan who had assisted, and even Maggie would admit that it was more the principle of the thing than anything else. She was a perfectionist like that.
She was cursing that perfectionism as she started the footage once more. The trouble was that although it was the best footage available of the location, it wasn’t actually very useful. Low quality, and in a poor location; the mouth of the alley where the mugging had taken place was only partially visible, and the most they had been able to positively identify was that at the end, the victim, Jane Katic, and someone else went and stood there for a while. The second person was barely visible though, not enough to confirm even the description that Maggie suspected was a half truth at best.
“Christ, you’re not still checking this, are you?”
“Well, the busier I look, the less likely it is that Gates hands me down another case,” Maggie replied, keeping her eyes on the screen. She didn’t even look up when Ryan sat down next to her, twirling a pencil between his fingers.
“Clever, I like it. Mind if I join in? I could use the break too.”
“Nope, find your own busywork.”
“That’s what I’m trying to avoid.”
She grinned, and turned to face him. “Aw, poor Ryan. Been working a little too hard?”
“Always,” he shot back with an easy grin. “But seriously, still? You’re not going to find anything on this footage, it’s crap. And he confessed. Why do you care?”
Maggie weighed her options for a moment. She hadn’t actually told anyone that she thought Katic was lying to her, largely because she didn’t want to get the victim of a crime in legal trouble of her own, not for something like this. Ryan had always had her back, but he was a bit more of a stickler for the rules than she was. She wouldn’t have put money on what his response would be. On the other hand, he was a good cop. “I’m pretty sure the description we got of our good Samaritan was a lie.”
Ryan raised an eyebrow in question. “I thought they both matched up, broadly?”
“Yeah, but Katic didn’t offer a description until I’d prompted her,” Maggie said. “She couldn’t remember a thing until I told her the perp mentioned a guy, and suddenly she could remember all sorts of things.”
“You didn’t mention this before.”
She shrugged. “Like you said, it doesn’t really matter. He confessed, after all. I just want to know what really happened. And I don’t think there’s anything sinister to it, I figure Katic just doesn’t want to get her savior in trouble.”
“Why would the perp lie about it?”
“Well, if I’m right…they both described big guys, men of color. When you lie, most people tend to go for the exact opposite, right?”
“So we’re probably actually talking about a white woman, on that basis.”
Ryan frowned. “Not exactly conclusive, but yeah, maybe.”
“Would you admit to getting your ass kicked by a woman smaller than you?”
“Sure. I spar with you – I get my ass handed to me on a weekly basis,” Ryan said with a grin. “But I’ll grant you, before you entered my life I probably wouldn’t, no.”
“Aw, you see? I’m helping you grow as a person,” Maggie teased.
“I’m immensely grateful.” Ryan looked at the screen, stroking his chin. “You find anyone likely?”
Maggie sighed and shook her head. “No, not a damn thing. But…”
“But you’re a glutton for punishment, right, right.” He pushed her chair away with his foot, sliding his own in front of the screen. “Scram. I’ll give it a couple of views, but if I can’t find anything, it’s my professional opinion that you drop it. This isn’t worth driving yourself crazy over.”
“You’re the best,” Maggie said gratefully, standing and stretching. Maybe she would get that fresh coffee.
The next few days passed in something of a haze for Kara. The adrenaline from the thwarted robbery just did not seem to want to abandon her; she was impervious to even Cat’s sharpest barbs, despite their increased frequency due to Kara’s lack of attention at work. She had even laughed off Alex’s jibes about a new partner, apparently the only explanation her sister could come up with for Kara’s distraction, which normally would have left her flustered whether they were true or not.
She was hard pressed to explain precisely why that night had so thrilled her, even to herself. It wasn’t simply that she had helped someone, even if she hadn’t met them; she helped people all the time, whether it was a kind word at work, her actual job, or carrying some heavy shopping up the stairs for an elderly neighbor. Despite her initial motivation, she couldn’t wholeheartedly say that it was about alien empowerment, either – she had certainly relied on her alien-ness, but nobody else would have known. She was under no illusions that stopping one robbery had helped the issue in any significant fashion.
But she felt it had helped her, and that was a start.
She hadn’t been out again since, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, she simply hadn’t had the time; Alex had had a few nights free in a row, a rare occurrence, so they had taken the opportunity to catch up on some shows while they could, and super-powered alien or not, Kara still needed at least a few hours of sleep a night. Secondly, while the thief’s bullet hadn’t so much as scratched her, it had left a hole in her hoodie. She’d debated trying to pass it off as ordinary wear and tear, but it was right in the middle of her chest, and not exactly unnoticeable. If she was going to repeat her excursion, she wanted something hardier.
And preferably, not to get shot at, although that was a relatively minor concern.
It was the weekend before her replacement arrived, this one darker and without branding, but with Kevlar padding. The main change was a white bandana, which she tied so it was covering her eyes. It obscured her face much better than just the hood, but was no impairment to her vision, x-ray or otherwise.
The first time she had gone out, she had done so almost without thought, just flinging herself from her apartment with only the most cursory of checks to make sure she wouldn’t be seen. This time, the adrenaline still thrumming through her, she paused, listening to the city before she jumped. National City never truly slept, and there was so much activity going on that Kara wondered how she had ever managed to drown it out before, even with her lead-lined glasses.
She took a deep breath, and jumped to the building opposite.
Whether it was the earlier hour, or just happy coincidence, the city was calmer if not quieter. She prowled around the rooftops, listening out for anything to help with, but soon found herself just looking up at the stars. It was something that always inspired a mix of emotions. There was always a jolt of unfamiliarity every time she stared up, no matter how many years passed. They weren’t the constellations she had known as a child, looking up from her father’s lab.
Kal-El had once told her that, with a powerful enough telescope, you could see Rao and Krypton. She hadn’t dared try, yet. She wasn’t sure she ever would.
Just as she was considering heading home, there came the squeal of rubber on tarmac, followed by a horrendous tearing of metal. She broke into a run, following the echoes and, after a moment, the screams that followed. She pushed herself faster, jumped over three streets, instinctively slowing her drop to a dark corner so that she didn’t shatter the ground beneath her.
Nobody noticed her landing. They were too busy watching the flames spreading around the crashed car. Kara fought down a surge of dismay at the sight as she ran towards them. They were all human, and the fire was hot even to her, and she could hear several of them calling emergency serves; she couldn’t expect any of them to brave the flames to try and rescue the people still inside the car.
She fought her way through, ignoring the cries of shock, and pulled the door of the car off. There were two people inside, both unconscious, or at least heavily dazed. She pulled the passenger out, an older woman, and quickly ran her aside, pushing her to the waiting crowd.
“What are you – ” one of them started to ask, but she ignored him, racing back to the car and vaulting over it. She ripped off the driver’s door, letting it fall to the ground with a clang that rang out even over the sound of the flames, and pulled the driver out, hoisting him over her shoulder. She jumped up to the roof of the car, then pushed herself off to land on the other side; she felt the roof crumple under the force of her leap, but if any of the car survived at all, that damage would be written off as caused by the crash. Nothing to worry about.
“Get back!” she called as she ran, worried that the crowd were still too close. Some of them had dragged the passenger further back, trying to give her air, and as the crowd parted she headed to them, letting the driver down to lie next to her.
“Is she – ”
The car exploded.
The crowd shrieked almost as one, scattering in all directions. Kara whirled round, raising her hand to shield her eyes, but it appeared the fire wasn’t spreading. Other than the heat, nobody was in immediate danger, if they were sensible.
She took a few steps towards the burning vehicle, doubt beginning to run through her mind. It had been a long time since she used her freeze breath for anything more than cooling ice-cream, and she didn’t know if she could use it properly in this instance. But it had to be worth trying, surely?
Kara took another step forward, breathing deep to fill her lungs…and a jet of water shot past her, soaking the car. She hadn’t even noticed the fire truck arrive, focused on the car as she was. She let the breath out, part in relief, part in disappointment. She was glad she hadn’t had to test her powers under dangerous circumstances, but maybe if she’d been able to display her powers properly…
Someone grabbed her shoulder, and she spun round, ready to fight. It was a firefighter, who raised his hands as if to ward her off.
“Easy there, just wanted to ask you what happened.”
“Oh.” There was a whole crew now, running around and taking care of the situation. An ambulance had arrived as well, the paramedic hard at work on the couple she had pulled from the wreckage. “I, umm, didn’t see the actual crash. I got here after.”
“With the bandana…”
He looked suspicious. Kara nervously raised her hands to where her glasses would have been had she been wearing them, going to straighten them before she remembered they weren’t there. “Yep! Just…trying a new look, you know? Plus, you know, smoke.”
Rao, what was she doing? Why couldn’t she talk properly? She could feel her face reddening beneath the bandana as her nerves increased. She had just torn apart a burning car, but a couple of questions had her sweating. He would be able to tell, if he couldn’t already, and he’d think she had something to do with it, and – ”
The firefighter looked away, towards another member of the crew who was waving him over. He nodded, then turned back to Kara. “I’ve still got a few questions. Be right back.”
“Sure thing!” she said, trying to affect a breezy tone. She wasn’t sure she succeeded. The firefighter stalked away, and she stood there awkwardly. The fire was out now, and the firefighters had dispersed the crowd, save a few lingering stragglers. Those left had their phones out, aimed at her; she turned away a little, suddenly unsure what she wanted.
She looked up. Someone behind the line the fire crew had established was pointing at her. “You rock!”
A slow, grateful smile spread across Kara’s face, and she turned her gaze back towards the fire chief with a new resolve. Whatever he thought of her, there was only one thing for her to do, unless she was willing to go on record and identify herself. Her anonymity would not be his priority, not even a concern, in truth.
So she jogged to the perimeter, vaulting over the barrier. The remaining spectators stood aside, one clapping her on the back, and she hurried off before the fire chief could realize what had happened, picking up speed as she turned the corner.
And she vanished into the night.
A slightly shorter chapter, this time - I'd been looking at longer chapters, but ending there felt right for this one. Feedback always appreciated, and while I haven't shared any of this over there yet, I can also be found on Tumblr at https://kingofthebottleshooters.tumblr.com
Chapter 4: Observations
It's been a while! I've been doing a lot of long term planning for the series, which currently looks like it will (in theory) be about twelve stories long...which is probably insanely ambitious. We'll see. Not wholly happy with this, to be honest, but it's done, and covers quite a bit - hope you all enjoy.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Maggie made her way up the stairs at a steady pace. Katic lived three floors up, and the elevator was out; it wouldn’t do to arrive panting for breath. On the positive side, it gave her an insight into Katic’s environment. The building wasn’t quite on the bad side of town, but it wasn’t a desirable address either, and now that she was seeing more of the block, she could see it was bordering on rundown. She passed a couple of people on the stairs who cast quick, suspicious looks at her before hurrying off, and she idly wondered what petty misdemeanours they might be guilty of.
When Katic opened the door to her apartment, her face fell at the sight of Maggie standing there. Maggie gave her brightest smile in response.
“Hi there, Miss Katic.”
“Mind if I come in?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess.” She stepped aside, and Maggie walked in. “So, um, how’s the case going? I got a court date in a few weeks, so…I kinda thought it was basically done?”
“Yeah, there shouldn’t be any problem at all. I know it won’t be fun, but it’s mostly a formality at this stage.”
“Right, right.” Silence fell for the moment, and Maggie let the awkwardness stretch out. Katic started to shuffle a little. “Do you want a coffee or something?”
“Oh, no thanks, I’m good.”
“OK. So, what can I do for you?”
“I’d like to ask you a few more questions about the woman who stepped in that night.”
“What about her?”
Maggie smiled, and Katic winced, clearly remembering what she had said the last time she and Maggie had spoken.
“So it was a woman who helped you then.”
“Oh, god.” Katic sank into a chair, burying her head in her hands. “Am I in trouble? What’s going to happen to me?”
“We’ll see,” Maggie said, feeling a twinge of guilt. “Why did you lie?”
“I mean, what she did wasn’t exactly…I didn’t want her to get into trouble.” Katic sighed, and looked up at Maggie. “You said it didn’t matter. If it had, I’d have told you everything I could, but…”
“You really think we’d be that bothered by someone helping another citizen out?” Maggie asked, genuinely confused.
“You’re still looking for her, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, because you lied.”
Katic stared at her, hunched in on herself, and Maggie sighed. She didn’t want to scare the woman; if Katic got scared, it would all wind up having to become official, at which point Captain Gates would get sarcastic about Maggie’s obsession with unnecessary detail, and that was something she could happily live without. She sat down on a chair opposite Katic, shifting some magazines and a throw to make herself comfortable.
“Look, you’re right. I did say it doesn’t really matter, and that was true. But I’m a cop, we get twitchy when people lie to us, even about the small stuff. She’s not going to get in trouble, I promise. Hell, we ever get round to finding her, I’ll shake her by the hand, maybe buy her a drink if she’s cool with it.”
Katic’s lips curled into a little smile, and Maggie continued, encouraged. “Just give me a description, and that’ll be it, I promise. No comeback on you, either. We’ll overlook you lying to the police…this once.”
A little bit of a scare wouldn’t hurt though, she reasoned. It wouldn’t do to let people get into bad habits.
Kara tried to make herself wait for the weekend for her next night-time excursion, but it was harder this time. Twelve years of repressing entire facets of her self was not something easily forgotten – especially when it was honestly a sensible mindset to hold – but even the brief flicker of recognition and appreciation she had been given by the onlookers at the car crash was eating away at her. It was like a spark inside her, filling her with a warming glow that kept a smile on her face at all times, even more so than usual. Winn had remarked that it was good to see her back to normal after her dip a couple of weeks previously, and she had burst out laughing at the suggestion of ‘normal’.
Ironically, Winn seemed to feel that this in itself was fairly normal for Kara, and hadn’t commented.
In the end, she made it to Friday night. That counted, she told herself. She’d clocked off for the weekend, so it was as near as made no difference. No need to hold back for those last few hours. She pulled on her hoodie, and with a bound she was clear of her apartment. It was a fairly mild night by National City’s standards, and had she been human she would have been uncomfortably cold in her gym gear, but as a kryptonian she was absolutely fine.
It didn’t seem to be bothering many other people, now she thought about it. Even for a Friday night, the city was thrumming with activity as people wound down for the weekend. She was out earlier than her previous excursions, and it made her a little more cautious as she headed towards the center. Cautious and frustrated; she was finding it much harder to filter out the noise in favor of situations where she could actually help out. For a while, she fell back on practicing with some of her powers. Her heat vision was fine, that and manipulating her strength being priorities when she first arrived on Earth – it had only taken one incident of her accidentally setting fire to a room before Eliza and Jeremiah had come up with a training scheme for her, and after a month of cooking food with only her eyes it had become second nature to her. Her strength hadn’t taken as long, although she occasionally found that a problem even now, given how little pressure it took for her to bend steel.
Starting at Catco had actually helped her in that regard; the struggle not to break her desk in two every time Cat said something sarcastic had been a useful, if challenging training regime.
It had been a long, long time since she had flown though. The brief moment that she had hovered for on her first night out was the only time since she and Alex had been kids, and it made her a little nervous. She’d be fine if she fell out of the sky, of course, but she didn’t want to do it in the middle of the city. She couldn’t afford the costs of repair, for a start, should she be caught and fined. As she dropped down into an alley, she idly wondered whether she should head out into the desert one weekend and practice. No one to see or get hurt, that way.
And then came the sound of a group of people shouting at each other, very aggressively.
She hurried towards it, trying to work out what the cause of the argument was, but everyone seemed to be shouting random nonsense that told her nothing other than they all sounded male, and probably – statistically – human. She eventually found quite a crowd standing outside a bar, surrounding a smaller group of, indeed, young men who were squaring up to each other like something out of West Side Story. She still couldn’t work out what the cause of the tension was, but she had a feeling there was little more to it than alcohol and immaturity.
She pushed her way through the spectators, ignoring the speculation as to who would win the pending brawl, and found herself on the edge of the outer circle. Taking a deep breath, and before she could second guess herself, she stepped in between the two sides, holding her hands up, palms outward.
“Woah, guys, there’s no need to fight!”
“Piss off, bitch,” one of them spat, and Kara whirled to face him.
“There’s no need for that, either,” she shot back, a little more fire in her voice. “We’re all adults, I’m sure this can be sorted out in a more civil fashion – ”
A bottle smashed against her head, and she broke off, turning round as she rubbed at the spot it had struck. She was more concerned about the alcohol staining her hoodie than anything else, of course, but whoever had thrown it didn’t know that. “Are you serious?”
“N…nobody asked you!” one of the other group called out, his voice not exactly ringing with confidence. Kara suspected that either he’d not intended to hit her, if it had been him who’d thrown the bottle, or that he was a little concerned about the fact that she seemed more irritated than injured.
“True, but I don’t like seeing people get hurt. This all seems really unnecessary, so why not call it off before the police get involved?” It was an effort to keep her anger in check, but she thought she managed it.
Someone in the crowd booed, and was quickly joined by others watching, clearly wanting to see someone, anyone, get violent. Where were the bouncers? Kara couldn’t hear anyone approaching, but she was a little too focused on her immediate surroundings to be sure that they definitely weren’t coming. Which did put her in a bit of a situation. She didn’t want to get hauled off with the others if bouncers did show up. Was it better to call this one off, leave them to it? The thought didn’t sit well with her.
The choice was made for her by the sound of shoes against concrete, as one of the prospective brawlers made a move at her. She stepped aside, not touching him except to give him a slight shove further along his chosen path, which sent him sprawling into one of his erstwhile opponents, and both of them tumbling to the ground.
“Guys, come on, we really don’t have to do this…”
But the prospect of a woman interfering in their ‘fun’ seemed to have done what good sense could not, and united the groups. Against her, to be specific. Kara sighed. “Or maybe we do. Nuts.”
It wouldn’t have been fair to say that it wasn’t a challenge to stand her ground against them, but it would have done the drunken men too much credit to suggest that this had anything to do with their skill; having to simultaneously account for their humanity and their relative intoxication was not something she had ever had to do before, aside from once or twice when Alex had had a big night out, and that was entirely different.
So rather than land even softened blows on them, risking more injury than she was comfortable with, she weaved around them. Not as nimbly as she was able, but quick enough that they barely scraped her as they blindly swung their fists. A strategic stretch of her leg sent another flying to the ground with a thud, and a cheer from the crowd watching; she realized with a start that actually, they were getting exactly what they’d hoped to see, albeit in a different manner.
She arched back beneath another flailing fist, wrinkling her nose as the slight breeze tickled, and then swerved back up to pat the man on the back, pushing him past her into the crowd, who collectively whooped with excitement. That particular guy shook his head as he straightened up, and with a look back at her, headed deeper into the crowd, apparently deciding that the fight really wasn’t worth it. Kara grinned, hidden in her hood, then turned her attention back to those still trying to hit her.
Two more swung at her, and she stepped aside, letting them hit each other; there was another cheer from the crowd, and a flash of light, and Kara’s blood froze. They were taking pictures.
Worse, they were filming it. Filming her.
“Oh, Rao…” she mumbled, mind racing. This was bad. Potentially bad, certainly. Her face wasn’t visible, so at the moment the only thing that could be confirmed about her was slim and female. She dodged another blow, tripping her attacker again, and mentally amended her description to athletic and female. That hardly narrowed it down enough to worry about, right? So long as she was careful…
Easier said than done. She appeared to have annoyed those still standing, whether because she refused to get hit or because they objected to being outclassed by a woman unclear for the moment, and not really relevant to her current considerations. One of them managed to land a blow on her upper arm, barely registering as an impact to her impervious skin, but it still caught her attention, and she turned to face him.
“Will you just stop? This is so unnecessary!”
Glass broke behind her, but it was the sound of something whistling through the air that really called to her. She turned again, and the jagged edge of another bottle caught at her sleeve in a motion that, had she been human – or many other species of alien – would have caused a nasty wound. A flash of anger ran through her, and she snatched the bottle out of the man’s hand, throwing it to the ground hard enough that it shattered against the ground. The man who had been wielding it yelped in alarm as she pushed him, open palmed and harder than she had allowed so far, in the chest, sending him staggering back and falling over his own feet.
Then someone caught at her hood.
Later, she would consider that there was really no risk. That with her speed and reflexes, she could have pulled the hood up before anyone really got a look at her face, if they had managed to pull it down at all before she broke free. In the moment though, she was filled with panic – an unfortunate combination with the lingering thrill of anger.
She snapped her arm back to dislodge the grasping hand, and clearly heard the crack of bone breaking. The man grabbing at her cried out in pain, releasing her to cradle his arm. Horrified, she reached out to him, but he stepped back, a fearful expression on his face, before disappearing into the crowd. His remaining friends – and former enemies – followed suit.
“That was awesome!” someone in the crowd cried out, followed by a series of camera flashes. Kara didn’t think so. Far from it. The breaking bone still echoed around her head, and she could hear the thrum of the man’s pained pulse, now a block or so away. She had a feeling it would be a while before she stopped hearing it, and she wasn’t sure she should. But the crowd were closing in around her, out of excitement rather than fear or anger, and she needed to go.
“Um. Don’t…don’t drink and fight, guys,” she said, through a rather sickly smile that none of them could see and that she didn’t really feel, and then she pushed her own way through the crowd, trying her best to ignore their excitement. And their approval.
For once in her life, Maggie Sawyer was relaxing at work. Having obtained an accurate description of her mysterious local hero, her most pressing concern was now more or less resolved. Officially, it was absolutely resolved, but then officially, it hadn’t been a problem at all. She was still debating whether scratching that last, lingering itch of curiosity in actually trying to find the blonde was worth the hassle she would get from her colleagues, but the main issue of a lying witness could safely be forgotten.
And now, since a lot of the…unusual cases she had worked in recent times had been passed up the federal chain, she was making the most of a quiet shift. She had coffee, she had donuts, she had no shame about living the cliché. Life was pretty good.
“Hey, Sawyer, got a sec?”
“No, swamped, sorry,” she replied around a mouthful of donut. Ryan rolled his eyes.
“Don’t worry, it’s just a question.”
“No, that tie doesn’t work for you.”
“Thanks, but I actually wanted to know if you got anywhere with that good Samaritan you’ve been obsessing over.”
Maggie grinned, and pushed a chair out for him with her foot. He sat down, and helped himself to a donut, ignoring her mild frown of reproof.
“Guessing that’s – mm, this is great, where’d you get them? – guessing that’s yes?”
“Yep. And I’m not telling you, you’ll get fat and then Jenny’ll be out for my blood.”
“She loves me for what’s inside, my youthful good looks are just a bonus,” Ryan said cheerfully. This time, Maggie rolled her eyes.
“Uh-huh. Anyway. Yes, I went back, and she copped to it – female, blonde. Didn’t get a detailed description, between the time gap and her state on the night, but.”
Ryan nodded, a thoughtful expression on his face. He reached for another donut, and Maggie snatched them out of reach. “Get your own.”
“Sugar helps me think!”
“All the more reason for you to get your own. Why the sudden interest? You thought I was crazy, remember?”
“Yeah, but…come on.” He stood up. “I want to show you something.”
Maggie sighed, and looked mournfully at the half-full bag of donuts. “But this is the first quiet afternoon I’ve had in weeks,” Maggie whined, putting her coffee down and
“If you weren’t so obsessive about unnecessary detail, it might happen more often,” Ryan pointed out, standing aside for her to lead the way.
“But then I wouldn’t have twice your clearance rate,” Maggie replied, obnoxiously sweet, and Ryan laughed.
“True, but I wouldn’t ask your advice so often.”
“Ah. So I would still have twice your clearance rate.”
Ryan fell against the wall, clutching at his chest in mock agony. “Unnecessary!”
She shook her head, smiling at his antics. “So what is it you want me to look at?”
“Some CCTV, actually.”
“Oh? You remember I wasn’t having much luck with that, right?”
“Yeah, well,” Ryan said, shrugging. They paused at the door to the viewing room, Ryan opening it for her, and made their way in. There were a couple of other people in there, one beat officer Maggie vaguely recognized, and Tory Ellis, the precinct’s tech officer. She nodded at Maggie as she arrived.
“Hey Mags. Come to see the show?”
“Seems that way, yeah, although no-one’s told me what the show is yet…”
Tory turned back to her screen, tapping at the keyboard to bring up some footage of an alleyway. “Well, nothing that interesting from a technical perspective…”
Maggie watched as the scene played out, a bunch of crooks breaking in and out of a jewelry store, and had to agree with Tory, nothing that interesting…until they were stopped in their tracks by an athletic woman in a hoodie, appearing from the other end of the alley. She looked over at Ryan with a raised eyebrow. “That video?”
“That’s what I was thinking, yeah,” Ryan replied, nodding. “But I was also thinking about what you said the other day, about your good Samaritan, and what you just said makes it even more likely, for my money.”
Maggie frowned, before her eyes widened with realization. “Wait, you think that’s her?”
“Two different women bordering on vigilantism in the space of a couple of weeks? Seems a bit of a stretch.”
“Not impossible,” Maggie said, and Ryan acknowledged the point.
“True enough, but if you dismiss everything you’ll never solve anything.”
And it was more likely, Maggie thought to herself as she asked Tory to replay the footage. Even understandable, up to a point – a random incident leading her to get a taste for it, perhaps.
“She’s ballsy, got to give her that,” Tory commented. “She doesn’t even flinch when he shoots at her.”
“Doesn’t say much for his aim, either,” the beat cop commented. The two detectives chuckled, Maggie mostly just grateful that nobody had been killed. On-screen, the woman disappeared, and a few moments later a cruiser pulled up, two officers getting out – one of them the cop with them, explaining his presence. But there was something about the footage that seemed off. A third viewing didn’t make it any clearer, and she shook her head.
“Where was this?”
“Just off Ditko and Sale,” Ryan said. “Why?”
“Mind if I go down and have a look at it?”
“Thought you’d never ask,” he said with a grin. His car keys were already in his hand. “Lead on, Sawyer.”
“‘National City’s Ninja – Naughty, Neutral or Nice?’ Gotta say, there’s a bit more alliteration there than I’m comfortable with,” Alex said, disdain dripping from her voice.
“Certainly wouldn’t get past Miss Grant,” Kara mumbled, focusing on her potstickers rather than looking at her sister. She’d been doing a lot of that sort of thing all day; the video had been online by the time she got back to her apartment, and when she woke up – after a restless night’s sleep – it was all over the local media, social or otherwise. It could hardly have been a worse outcome, and takeout at Alex’s had seemed like a great way to forget about it, except of course this was the one time Alex paid attention to local news.
“What’s CatCo’s take on it? I haven’t seen their report.”
“There isn’t one yet, not really – I think Miss Grant think’s it’s just an overnight, nothing story. Not enough to it. She is trying to get the guy who filmed it to do an exclusive, but so is everyone else, so.” Kara had never been so grateful for Cat’s decisive judgement. The video had still been the hot topic around the CatCo water-cooler, but Kara Danvers was well known for rambling digressions from the topic of conversation, so she had been able to avoid too much specific discussion, even if the best method of achieving that had been to spend as little time with Winn as possible; her friend loved the video, opining that it was ‘the coolest thing to happen to National City basically ever.’
“What do you think of her?”
Kara tensed up for a second, then forced herself to relax. The last thing she wanted was Alex asking awkward questions. Well, more awkward questions. “Well, um. I mean, she stopped a fight. That’s always good. Got some moves on her, too.”
“Eh, I’ve seen better,” Alex said with a shrug.
“Come on, she took down four guys!”
“Four drunk guys, yeah. They practically took themselves down, mostly.”
“That seems a little harsh,” Kara said, trying not to sound too defensive. “I mean, she’s probably not a professional.”
“Neither’s your cousin.”
Kara rolled her eyes. “He’s been doing it for nearly twenty years; he’s picked up a few skills.”
“True. Still not a professional though. Just a – very, admittedly – gifted amateur.”
“I’m going to tell him you said that,” Kara said, poking her tongue out to hide her grin.
“Feel free!” Alex replied, making no such effort to hide her amusement. “Now, on a completely different note, I am on call this weekend, as per usual, but only for emergencies. You wanna do something? I’ve heard good things about that Buffy show…”
“It won’t be the same without the original cast,” Kara said with a slight pout.
“No, but they’re encouraging sing-alongs, and picnics – could be fun?”
“Ok, but I’m singing Xander’s parts. And you’re not allowed to cry during ‘Under Your Spell’.”
“As if I would!”
Night was starting to fall by the time Maggie and Ryan made it to Hardy’s, the jewelers that had been abortively robbed. Ryan loosened his tie as he got out of the car, apparently in deference to the later hour, although Maggie still considered him overdressed in his three-piece suit. He led the way round to the side of the store, and Maggie paced the length of the alley, trying to work out what was wrong with the picture. It took a few repetitions, but when the penny dropped, it dropped hard.
“Where’d she come from?”
Ryan pointed down the alley, to the dead-end that blocked it off. “Off camera, from that direction.”
“You already spotted it, didn’t you?”
“I thought so. Wanted to get a second opinion before I went to the captain.”
“Yeah, I get that,” Maggie said with a sigh, placing her hands on her hips. The alley was a dead-end; for their possible vigilante to have come from the direction she had, there was only one way she could have arrived. “How far back through the footage did you go?”
“A few hours,” Ryan confirmed. “No sign of her prior to that. And there’s no fire escape on either side.”
“So she dropped off the roof.”
“Have you checked CCTV for the roof access?”
“Yep. No sign of her.”
“So how did she get up there to abseil down?”
“That, I don’t know,” Ryan admitted.
Maggie sighed again, pinching at the bridge of her nose. “So she definitely planned to be here, and either has a vigilante kit or superpowers.”
“Or she’s an alien,” Ryan said.
“The captain’s going to be delighted.”
Ryan clapped her on the back. “Knew you’d want to be involved, Sawyer. It’s a weird one, after all.”
Maggie smiled at him, not entirely sincerely. “You can go off people, you know, Ryan?”
“I can’t believe you cried!”
The weekend had arrived, and Kara and Alex had indeed gone to the park to watch the production. Dusk had fallen as the play wrapped up, and they were walking arm in arm through the city.
“Hey, she was a good actress!” Alex said defensively. “And my allergies were playing up.”
“For that one specific bit?”
“The wind was right in my eyes. Besides, you cried when Buffy was telling them about being in heaven.”
“I am a known sap, who loves musicals, comedies and fluffy animals. You are a former jock turned doctor who proudly claims not to have cried in five years and who laughs at gory horror movies.”
“Only the bad ones.”
“They’re all bad, Alex.”
“No, I just know you can’t handle the good ones.”
Kara shuddered theatrically. “I don’t think there’s any such thing.”
“See?” Alex said cheerfully. “Now, I’m sure you’re still starving, so I’m generously going to let you buy me some chinese.”
“Wow, you really are the best sister ever! Tiger Bowl?”
“Sounds good,” Alex agreed. They wound their way through the streets, discussing the highs and lows of the production as they went, but a few blocks from the restaurant, Alex’s phone buzzed. Her brow creased, and she sighed as she checked the message. “Damn it…I’m really sorry, Kara.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it – go save some lives, Dr Danvers!”
Alex smiled gratefully at her, then hurried off, flagging down a cab. Kara watched her go with a fond smile; she didn’t fully understand her sister’s job, which was some bizarre combination of practicing doctor and medical research at some hush-hush hospital outside the city limits, but she was immensely proud of the good work Alex was doing. Even when it did cut into their time together. Turning, Kara carried on in the direction of the restaurant, but when she arrived she paused. She was hungry, yes, but not starving – their picnic had been substantial, even by her standards – and now Alex had gone she wasn’t sure she still felt like Chinese.
She stood there for a moment, letting the hum of the city wash over her. It had been a busy week at CatCo, which had kept her happily occupied and unable to dwell on the events of the previous weekend, and hanging out with Alex always lifted her spirits, but now she had paused, she couldn’t help but start thinking about it again. She could hear all sorts of things going on around her, near and far, although thankfully nothing too awful, but regardless, she didn’t feel up to going out tonight.
Kara shook her head, trying to get rid of the thoughts. Comfort food was needed, and while chinese was comfort food, in a way – because all food was comfort food, if she was honest – it wasn’t the right kind of comfort food for her current mood. She needed sugar, and she could smell fried dough not too far away.
You couldn’t go wrong with waffles on a slightly melancholy Saturday night.
It took her a few false turns, but before too long she was standing outside a waffle house, quiet at this time of night, but still open for business. Kara walked in, sat down, and started to look over the menu. Absorbed, she didn’t immediately look up when the sound of footsteps alerted her to the arrival of a waitress.
“Hi there, what can I get for you?”
“Um…a milkshake, I think, banana? And…some waffles with chocolate sauce.”
Kara looked up then, and the smile that had been on her face vanished when she met the waitresses gaze. The other woman’s eyes widened with shock, and she dropped her pen.
“I’ll – I’ll be right back with that ‘shake, ok?”
She headed off before Kara could say anything more, and she sank down in her seat. The waitress was the woman she had saved from the mugger…and she clearly recognized Kara. This was bad.
Kara looked around the waffle house quickly, relieved to find that there weren’t many other people there. She had just about decided to slip out before her order arrived, when the waitress returned, milkshake in hand, and sat down opposite her.
“On the house,” she said quietly.
“I…oh. Thank you, but – that’s really not necessary,” Kara said. The other woman shook her head.
“It’s the least I can do.”
Kara didn’t really know what to say to that, so she pulled the milkshake closer, and started slurping it through the straw. The sound seemed even louder than it might have done in the awkward silence, and the waitress grinned at her.
“My name’s Jane. It’s nice to meet you. Again, I guess.”
“Yeah…” Kara took a deep breath, and smiled at her. “I’m – ”
Jane shook her head. “I…probably shouldn’t know. The police were asking questions about you, so.”
Kara closed her eyes. “Great. What kind of questions?”
“Just…you know. What did she look like, that kind of thing.” She looked vaguely guilty. “I tried to lie, at first, but the detective worked it out, and I didn’t want to get in trouble. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, don’t be,” Kara said, trying to sound reassuring. “You shouldn’t get in trouble for me.”
“I don’t think I will, now. I’m not sure if they’re still looking for you – she said she was more interested in the fact that I’d been lying than in you, per se.”
“That’s something, I guess.”
Conversation trailed off, and Kara went back to her milkshake. A bell rang behind the counter, and Jane headed off, returning with Kara’s waffles, which she took with a smile. Jane hesitated, looking around the room, then sat down again, leaning in closer than she had before.
“Was that you?”
“Was what me?” Kara asked, her brow furrowing.
“That video. Outside the club.”
“Oh.” Kara took a bite of the waffle, nodding nervously. “Yeah. Yeah, it was.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell anyone,” Jane said with a smile. “It was pretty cool though.”
Kara grimaced. “I don’t know…”
“What? You kicked their asses!”
“I hurt one of them,” Kara corrected her. “A lot.”
“I heard something about a broken arm…”
“I mean…that doesn’t seem that bad?” Jane said, although she didn’t look entirely convinced. “They started the actual fight, you were just defending yourself. And you were trying to be the voice of reason! That’s a good thing.”
“Maybe,” Kara said, poking at her waffle. “I wish it hadn’t been videoed though. I could do without that kind of attention though. My sister would kill me if she knew.”
“She wouldn’t be proud that you’re helping people?”
“Eventually,” Kara shrugged. “It’s complicated.”
“Well, I think you should be proud. Since you saved me it’s – I don’t know, I don’t feel safer, necessarily, but I’m happier walking home after a late shift. I know there are good people out there.”
“That’s great!” Kara exclaimed, momentarily cheered by Jane’s statement. “But – I can’t be everywhere at once.”
“I know, I’m not saying I walk into alleys like I’m invincible or anything. I’m not an idiot.” She shook her head, a small smile breaking out. “I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. I guess it’s just nice to know there are real heroes out there.”
And with that she stood up, and got back to work, apparently unaware of the thoughts running through Kara’s head.
Was she a real hero? When she had saved Jane from the mugger, perhaps, but that had been spur of the moment, not a conscious decision. And since then, if she was honest, many of her choices had been driven as much by anger as by anything else.
It didn’t feel heroic at all.
“Hey, little cousin! How’s things?”
“I’m nearly fifteen years older than you.”
“And you don’t look a day over twenty-five,” Clark said with a grunt.
“Bridge collapse. I’m lifting a couple of tons of concrete.”
“I can call back,” Kara said.
“Nah, I’m good,” he told her cheerfully. “Everyone’s been evacuated already. So – what’s up?”
Kara sighed, and settled back on her couch, legs curled beneath her and phone on the arm-rest, set to loudspeaker. “What made you decide to do this?”
“The usual. There were people in danger – why do you ask?”
“What? No, not this,” she said, pointing as if he could see her. “Well, yes, this, but like in general. What made you put on the cape?”
“Oh. Well…that’s a big question.” He said nothing for a few moments, but Kara could hear the sound of – presumably – concrete and bits of bridge being moved while he gathered his thoughts. “It felt like the right thing to do. There’s so much pain and suffering in the world, Kara, and I had the power to do something about it. I couldn’t not do it, I suppose. I wasn’t raised to stand idly by.”
“Neither was I,” Kara murmured. “Not until I got to Earth.”
There was another moment of silence. “What’s really on your mind, Kara?”
“I helped someone a few weeks ago. I was out for a walk, and I heard her – well, I heard her shouting. I think it was a mugging, but who even knows, right? And I went over and stopped it. I saw her again earlier, she’s a waitress, and she was so grateful, and so…almost thrilled that there was someone out there who’d help people in need…”
“That’s a good thing, right?”
She shook her head. “I’ve been…going out. And I’ve helped a few people, and stopped a robbery, but then there was a bar fight…”
“Wait, that video?” Clark interrupted. “That was you?”
“Yeah,” she admitted.
“That was really cool! You ran rings around them!”
“It wasn’t because I wanted to help though. Or. Not entirely. I was angry.”
“Angry about what?” he asked, concern evident in his voice.
“Have you seen the news coming out of National City recently? ‘The Alien Menace’, ‘What Right Do They Have’…”
“Yeah. It’s sad, but nothing I haven’t seen before. Been a few years though. Guess the backlash against Lex is dying down.”
Kara scoffed. “Well sure, he’s done two years in prison, it’s about time he got re-evaluated.”
“It’s not exactly unique to humanity to be afraid of something you don’t understand.”
“Maybe they should try to understand then.”
“Maybe,” Clark said gently. “But other than me, how many other positive examples of aliens on this planet can you think of? When they see aliens, I tend to be fighting them.”
“You can’t seriously think they’d be any better if there were more positive examples, can you? They’re no better with members of their own species who they think are different.”
“You should have seen things twenty years ago. Things are getting better, Kara. Maybe not as quick as we might like, but it’s still an improvement. You’ve got to have faith.”
“Easier said than done.”
“Oh, I know that, believe me. But it’s worth it.”
“Do you think I should carry on? Helping people, I mean.”
“Well, I won’t pretend that I wouldn’t be happier about it if it was just about helping people, not you looking for a scrap, whatever the reason. Other than that…what I think doesn’t matter. Do what feels right. I’ll support you either way.”
Kara smiled, gratefully. “Thanks, Kal.”
They hung up, and Kara stretched out on the couch. She wasn’t entirely sure she knew what to do any more than she had done before the call, but she felt better, at least. Before heading to bed, she checked the news one final time.
“And in breaking news, we are receiving reports that the infamous Toyman has broken out of jail tonight.”
“Huh,” she said to herself, raising an eyebrow in surprise. Then she clicked off her TV, thinking no more of it.
Let me know what you think! I do accept constructive criticism, and I absolutely accept delighted screaming if you feel so inclined. Hopefully the next update won't take as long, as I've got the next twelve or so chapters pretty thoroughly planned out, so fingers crossed.
5. Intro to Science
Captain Gates was an imposing woman, somewhere in her fifties, who had done her fair share in almost every possible area of police work, actual CSI aside. Maggie couldn’t remember having ever seen her smile, although she knew Gates had a stinging tongue when the mood took her, but she had a lot of respect for her senior officer.
That didn’t mean she was exactly thrilled to be sat opposite her, bringing up the possibility of an alien vigilante in National City.
Gates turned over the final page of the report Maggie and Ryan had put together, and pushed it aside, frowning. “So. You’re sure it’s the same woman?”
“As sure as we can be, at this stage,” Maggie said. It never hurt to underplay a hunch at this stage. Gates stared at her for a moment, saying nothing but drumming her fingers against the desktop in thought.
“What’s your understanding of our Science Division, detective?”
Maggie raised an eyebrow. “Officially or unofficially, sir?”
“Well…officially, Science liaises with the various tech companies in the city, and funnels that research into specialized crime-fighting here and elsewhere in the country.” At Gates’ nod, Maggie took a deep breath, and then the plunge. “And unofficially, they handle the weird stuff. Alien-related crime, masks, that sort of thing. Like the Black Cat division in Chicago.”
“Or Gotham’s MCU, yes,” Gates said. “Although they’re much busier, of course.”
Maggie nodded. She liked a challenge, she liked her cases unusual, but Gotham was a whole different ball game that she wanted no part of.
“It’s good that you’re up to speed, detective,” Gates continued. “You’ll adjust to your new assignment that much quicker.”
“My new – oh, sir, come on!”
Gates sat back in her chair, skewering Maggie with a look. “This is exactly their sort of case, detective, and you’ve already got the ball rolling. It makes no sense to reassign it to someone else. Besides, if I’m honest I’ve been considering this for a while. You’re good with the unusual; you’ll be a good fit over at Science.”
Maggie said nothing, not quite sure how to take that. It was unusually effusive praise from Gates, in her experience, and whatever else she thought of the Captain, she didn’t dish out false praise. It didn’t mean she agreed with the assessment though. “With respect, Captain, I’m doing good work here.”
“I know. But you could do more. I’ve got every confidence in you, Sawyer.” With that, Gates stood up, handing the report back to Maggie. “You start tomorrow. And I’ll want to be kept apprised of any developments.”
“…yes, sir,” Maggie replied, barely hiding her displeasure. She took the file and headed back to the bullpen, making a bee-line for Ryan’s desk. He waved at her, at the tail end of a phone-call, and she hovered while he finished up. The moment he replaced the receiver, she smacked at his arm.
“Ow! Jesus, Maggie, what the hell?”
“Science Division!” she hissed at him. “Starting tomorrow, I’m nerd squad!”
“Ah, lucky!” he said, completely missing her point. “Gates told me I was just going to liaise with them, not actually transfer. Guess she likes you more.”
“What – you want to work over there?”
“You don’t?” He looked genuinely baffled. “All the cool new tech, you get to meet some of the most influential people on the planet, exciting new cases, not just the usual crap – what’s not to like?”
“Rubbing shoulders with rich assholes is not my idea of a good time, Kevin!”
He leaned back in his chair, a smug grin creeping onto his face. “And the cool tech and exciting cases?”
“That’s…” Maggie trailed off, then jabbed a finger at him. “Beside the point. This is your fault. Why couldn’t you just take credit for the solve like a normal cop?”
“Because I wouldn’t have made the connection without you,” he said with a shrug. “You deserved it.”
“Ryan, please stop being nice when I’m trying to be mad at you.”
“That seems like a bad idea for me.”
Maggie pulled over a chair and sank into it with a groan. “What the hell is she doing, Ryan? I’m not Science, I’m gut instinct! I’ll barely keep my head above water!”
“First of all, you’re smarter than you think. Second of all, you know it’s not all actual, you know, science, right? Your guts will take you a long way, I’m sure.”
Maggie grimaced. “That just sounds weird.”
“Yeah, I know, I regretted it as I was saying it.”
“And yet you still said it.”
“Never let it be said I don’t commit.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
They fell into a companionable silence, Maggie vaguely considering whether she should empty her desk in preparation for her move. She had visited Science once or twice, in their rather fancier department on the top floor of the precinct, and most of the space had been taken up with research areas rather than actual working desks, as far as she had seen. Then, Ryan sat up, as if struck with inspiration.
“Hey, if they’ve got any laser guns, can you get me one?”
Maggie rolled her eyes and tossed a pen at him. “I’m not getting you squat.”
Winn was not at his desk when Kara arrived at CatCo the next morning, which was unusual; he liked to get in early, given how many different departments were working at all hours of the day, and how often they needed his technical expertise. She didn’t think too much of it though, other than sending him a quick text to tease him for his tardiness, and cracked on with her own work.
It wasn’t until later in the morning that she realized he hadn’t shown up at all, and she started to become concerned. He hadn’t responded to her text earlier, but she could see that he’d read it. She quickly typed out another, asking if he was ok, and waited. It was read almost instantly, but there was no sign of a response. She looked around, a little nervously. She didn’t want to draw Cat’s attention to the fact that he wasn’t there if she didn’t have to, but she didn’t want to just ignore the fact either.
A quick look at Cat’s office showed that her boss was absorbed in some documents, so Kara took the opportunity to scoot her chair over to Winn’s desk, leaning in to address Javier at the desk next to Winn’s.
“Hey, have you heard from Winn today?”
“He called in, yeah,” Javier replied, not looking away from his screen. “Not sure what the problem is though.”
“Huh.” Maybe he was too sick to type anything out? He’d never been that ill before, but Kara was hardly an expert on human illness, even leaving aside the fact that if there was one trait that defined the Danvers’ other than intelligence, it was stubbornness. Alex in particular had never been one to let illness stop her doing whatever she wanted.
It was eleven thirty; a little early, but maybe Cat was in a good mood. Heading back over, Kara knocked on the door to Cat’s office, gently. Cat took a sharp intake of breath, placed her pen down, and looked up disapprovingly. “Yes, Kiera?”
“Um, I was wondering if you’d mind me taking my lunch hour a little early? I’ve got all the minutes for your meeting this afternoon typed up, and Mr Olsen is all caught up on your suggest – I mean, your instructions for the layouts, and – ”
“Yes, yes, fine, just get on with it,” Cat replied, already losing interest and waving Kara away.
“Thank you Miss Grant!”
Winn had a small apartment on the same side of town as Kara, but not that close to her actual building. It was much too far for her to comfortably get there and back to CatCo in her lunch break…or would be, were she anyone else. As it was, she was there and knocking on his front door within a few minutes of leaving the building. He didn’t answer, but she could hear him inside, and the low murmur of the TV. It sounded like news, which, despite his job, Winn didn’t tend to watch. “Who has the time?” he’d once said to her.
She knocked again. “Winn? I know – um, are you in there?”
There was the clink of glass against a tabletop, but nothing else. She stepped back, playing with her glasses as she considered. He was fine, physically, she could tell that, but…in the end, she sighed, and started to turn away. “Just…call me if you need me, ok? See you soon.”
It wasn’t until she was back at CatCo that her phone buzzed. She pulled it out of her pocket hurriedly, and opened the message.
‘Can I come over later?’
She shot back an emphatic confirmation, and got back to work – but she left her phone on her desk, with one eye on it for the rest of the day.
It was getting quite late before Winn showed up at Kara’s apartment. He looked a mess, his shirt rumpled and hair a little greasy, with bags under his eyes to boot. Kara let him in, sat him down and got him some hot chocolate, which he accepted without a word. He stayed silent for a few moments, despite Kara’s worried gaze on him. Then he put the mug down, and took a deep breath, not looking at her.
“My dad broke out of prison yesterday.”
Kara blinked, not sure she’d heard him correctly. “Your – sorry, what?”
“My dad. Broke out of prison. Which is where he was.”
“Winn, oh my god…” Kara stood up from the chair she was sat in, hurried over to the couch to wrap her arms around her friend. He tensed up for a moment, before relaxing into the hug. “What – I mean, you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want, obviously, and you probably don’t because you never have, but…”
“It’s fine, Kara,” Winn said. He sounded completely drained. “He’s been in prison since I was a kid. I’ve not spoken to him in years.” He let out a bitter laugh. “I’d say I don’t know him anymore, but I don’t think I ever did, really.”
“What was he in for?” Kara whispered. Winn finally looked at her, a weary look on his face as if he knew how she was going to respond.
“You ever heard of the Toyman?”
Kara knew she should have made the connection the moment Winn had told her his father had broken out of prison. What were the odds that two prisoners broke out of different prisons on the same day, after all? But the idea of her friend being related to one of the most notorious killers of the last couple of decades… “Oh, Winn.” And her arms were around him again, tighter this time, pulling him in close before he could try to pull away. He returned the hug, clinging to her for a moment, head buried in her shoulder.
“Yeah. Daddy dearest, serial killer at large. God knows what he’s got in mind. The FBI certainly don’t, although they wanted to know if I did.”
“What?! Of course you don’t!” she cried, indignant on his behalf. She could feel him smile.
“Like I said, I’ve not spoken to him in years. I mean, god, why would I? They believed me, I think. I suppose it was good preparation for when Cat demands an exclusive.”
“That’s not funny, Winn.”
“You think I’m joking?”
They sat in silence for a few moments, before Kara released her hold on Winn. He sat back, wiping at his eyes surreptitiously, which she pretended not to notice as she stood up. “Flavor?”
“Ice-cream. Makes everything better” she elaborated. “What flavor?”
“Oh. Whatever’s going,” he said with a shrug. She chuckled.
“Winn, it’s me. I’ve got all the flavors.”
“Heh. cherry whip?”
“Coming right up,” she said, heading to the freezer. “Get something dumb on Netflix, and settle down.”
“I should get going…”
He caved in with no more protest. Kara didn’t bother with bowls, just stuck a spoon in the cherry whip and her own buttered pecan before heading back to the couch. She gave Winn his tub, then pulled him snug against her as she sat down. “You can talk. Of course you can. But you can just sit here and not be alone, if you like.”
Winn’s eyes were shining when he looked at her, but his smile was sincere. “Thanks, Kara.”
Although she had visited the department before, it seemed to have got a bit fancier since her last visit, most of the walls covered by fancy display screens that looked like something found in the more fanciful TV cop shows; Maggie let out a whistle of appreciation as she walked in holding a cardboard box of all the essentials.
“Glad you approve, detective,” a voice rang out. The speaker was male, and older than her, although she wouldn’t have bet money on how old he actually was; he strode across to her, hand outstretched despite her hands being full. Shifting her grip on the box, Maggie shook his hand with a smile, which he returned. Professional, rather than friendly, but still.
“I’m Lieutenant Saranga, good to have you with us.”
“It’s good to be here, sir,” she replied, figuring she’d hold off on the brutal honesty for the moment.
“We’ve got you a spot over here,” he said, gesturing for her to follow him. “Not an awful lot of space, but I’m sure you’ll make do.”
Sure enough, the desk was cramped, but the computer was a significant upgrade to her previous one, which had still had a slot for a floppy disc. She put her box down, and turned to face him properly, hands on her hips. “I’ll do my best.”
“I know the captain has you in mind for a particular case, but I want to run through a few things with you before we get to that.”
“I understand that your science background is, well…”
“Minimal at best?”
He smiled politely, and Maggie shrugged. “It’s been a while since I studied anything more technical than my TV’s user manual, but from what I hear, that’s not necessarily a problem up here.”
“True enough. I’m told you’re good with the more…unusual elements of modern police work.”
“I just consider it thinking outside the box.”
He let out a hum of amusement. “You’ve dealt with masked types before?”
“Not ‘heroes’. I was on the team when Firefly was in town though.” She grinned, mostly to herself. “And Catwoman.”
“Firefly was a piece of work,” Saranga remarked. “You all did a good job bringing him in.” He chose to gloss over her mention of Catwoman, which was probably for the best. Maggie would be lying if she said her memories of that case were especially professional. Truth be told, her memories of Firefly weren’t entirely professional, but that was for different reasons.
“Didn’t last long,” she said sourly. “He should never have been granted bail.”
“Probably not,” he agreed. “He did head straight back to the Bat’s fist though, so not all bad.”
“You're a fan of the Bat, sir?” Maggie asked, a little surprised. Her new boss shrugged.
“Fan is a bit strong, but we’ve liaised with the MCU a time or two. He’s definitely an asset.”
Saranga’s expression flickered for a moment. She couldn’t decide with what, but she would learn. “Yes, well. That should stand you in good stead. Sawyer. I can teach you the science, but in my experience, science whizzes don’t do so well in reverse. For now though, there’s a bar down town you should probably check out.”
“A little early for me, sir,” Maggie said with a raised eyebrow. Saranga didn’t laugh.
“I know the captain is keeping Detective…Ryan? in the loop, but I think for now you’d be best sticking with another Science detective. Ease you in, you know.”
“Sounds like a plan to me, sir.”
“Good. Sanderson!” he called, suddenly raising his voice. A shorter man looked up from some sort of computer part, which was sparking alarmingly. “Get down to Refuge with Sawyer!”
Refuge? Maggie wondered. Interesting.
Ninja Saves Teen From Drunk Driver!
When he set out to walk home after baseball practice last night, Wesley Chau, 15, could never have predicted how close he might come to tragedy. At only 7pm, there was a drunk driver on the streets of National City, travelling faster than the promising athlete could react. But not too fast for National City’s Ninja! Cont. p94…
“And what can you tell us about the…Ninja?” Maggie asked, not quite hiding her grimace at the name the press had given their vigilante. It didn’t seem to bother Wesley, whose face lit up.
“Oh man, she was awesome! I’ve never seen anyone move like that – I mean, I’ve seen the video, of course I have, but I figured some of it was stage, you know?”
“And you don’t think that now?”
“Hell no. She got me out of the way almost before I knew the car was coming towards me – she’s fast and she’s strong, y’know?”
“What about her reaction to the driver?”
Wesley’s enthusiasm dimmed, just a little. “That was…I dunno. She was worried, at first, but once she realized he was drunk, she seemed pissed? And, like, so was I! Dude could have killed me.”
“Was he hurt before she got him out of the car?”
“Hell if I know. Who cares?”
It was a point that Maggie didn’t care to argue with. The guy had a BAC of 0.2, so he was lucky to only be down a thousand dollars or so rather than facing a vehicular manslaughter charge.
Kara ducked behind the van, drawing nearer to the trio fiddling with the garage’s lock. They could have been employees, dealing with an out of hours issue, but the balaclavas they all sported didn’t exactly scream innocence.
“C’mon, man! Cops drive past here all the time,” one of them said in hushed, harried tones, and Kara grinned to herself before stepping into view.
“Lose your keys, boys?”
They jumped almost simultaneously, and she bit back a comment about reforming as a synchronized swim team.
She grimaced. “I’m not sure I’m cool with that – any other suggestions?”
But they’d already scattered and she rolled her eyes before running after the one who’d told his companions to hurry up. She caught him easily, of course, and he didn’t put up more than a token struggle. The other two were out of sight by then, although not out of hearing, and she toyed with the idea of speeding after them.
No. Best not to.
And if she told herself that it was practical, that she had no way of restraining the guy while she chased the others, that was perfectly correct. It had nothing to do with nerves at all.
The Ninja had gotten involved in six different incidents since Maggie had transferred to Science, and they were still no nearer identifying her, or even definitively confirming that she was an alien – although privately, Maggie was convinced. She had exhibited no tools primitive or high tech, and she didn’t believe the Ninja could do some of the things she did without tools or abilities.
Of course, that was the opinion of someone who worked out no more than was necessary for her to do her job properly. It was possible the Ninja was a real fitness freak, she supposed.
Alien seemed more likely.
Kara winced. Miss Grant must have been in a particularly bad mood to have got her name that wrong. She hurried into the office, adjusting her glasses as she did so. “Yes, Miss Grant?”
“What do you know about this…woman?”
It took Kara longer than it should have done to work out what Cat was talking about, given that the wall of screens behind her were all displaying one report or another about the Ninja – about her. She laughed nervously.
“Nothing! Well, something, obviously, I read the news, but nothing more than that. Of course I don’t, nobody does, but I probably know less than most. Is what I mean.”
Cat stared at her for a moment before sighing. “You know, Carla, I sometimes wonder how you do your job without having a stroke.” She turned back to the screens. “I admit, I was wrong to write her off at first – but it’s the only mistake I’ve made since starting CatCo, so it’s forgivable, I suppose.”
“What about your second husband?” Kara asked before her brain could catch up with her mouth.
Cat turned, very slowly, and shot her a look that probably would have killed actual humans. “The mistakes there were entirely his own. But,” she continued, turning again while Kara steadied herself surreptitiously against the desk, “we should have found out more by now. What’s the point of employing journalists if they don’t investigate?”
“Um. No point?”
“That was a rhetorical question, Carla, but correct.” Cat’s smile, reflected in the screens, was thin and without humor. “So we’ll have to address that, won’t we? Please let editorial know they’re late for a meeting.”
“Right away, Miss Grant.” Fantastic, Kara thought. Just fantastic.
“Package for Winslow Schott?”
“Oh, he’s not here right now – I can sign, if you like?”
The courier just grunted, and thrust the parcel at Kara. She took it from him with a quiet huff, signed his pad, and turned back to her work. Winn should have been there about half an hour previously, but his mind had clearly been on other things than timekeeping the last few weeks; there had been no developments in his father’s escape, as far as Kara knew.
When he eventually arrived, at nearly quarter to ten, Kara waved him over with a smile. “Hey! How are you doing? Did you sleep last night?”
“I’m fine, Kara, promise,” he told her, smiling fondly at her. “You don’t need to keep checking up on me.”
“Of course I do, you’re my best friend.” She looked around quickly, and lowered her voice. “Have you heard anything?”
“No, the FBI haven’t got a clue where he’s gone.” He sat down at his desk, and logged on, tapping away. “It’s probably too much to hope for that he’s just fled the country, right?”
“Probably, yeah,” Kara said, adjusting her glasses. She hadn’t fully worked out how she felt about that, if she was honest; for all that Winn Schott Sr had done some awful things, he was still Winn’s father, after all. “Oh, this arrived for you, by the way.”
Winn looked over, and frowned. “I didn’t order anything.”
“Oh. Well, it’s definitely for you,” she said, checking the label.
“Weird.” He came over and picked it up, shaking it. Kara could hear something shifting inside, but whatever it was, it was well packed. Winn shrugged, and tore the tape off, flipping the lid open.
His face immediately paled, and the parcel fell from his suddenly limp hands. Kara grabbed it before it could hit the floor.
“Winn, what the hell? Are you OK?”
She looked into the open parcel. It was a doll. Not an appealing one; its mouth was too big, spread wide in a sinister caricature of a smile that seemed more likely to traumatize a child than entertain.
“Well…I mean I get why that would creep you out,” she said to Winn, smiling hopefully. He didn’t answer, and she looked down at the doll again, before reaching in to take it out.
Winn’s shout echoed around the floor, drawing several interested looks. Even Cat looked up, disapproval clear, although she refrained from entering the main office for now.
“Don’t touch it,” Winn hissed at her.
“Winn, it’s just a creepy doll…”
“He sent it.”
“He?” Then the penny dropped, and Kara nearly threw the parcel away before she caught herself. “Your dad? Are you serious?”
“Yeah.” He swallowed, nodded. “Yeah, I’m sure. I’ve seen it before.”
“Call them,” she urged him. “Right now. I’ll tell Miss Grant, we’ll get security to bring up the footage with the courier on it.”
Winn didn’t move, and she reached out, tentatively, to touch his shoulder. He started at the contact, meeting her eyes for the first time since he had opened the package. He sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. He was still pale. “Sorry. I’m sorry. I just…I just hoped he’d leave me alone.”
He sat down at his desk, hunched over the phone so nobody could listen in, and Kara stared at her friend, stricken with the realization that this time, she didn’t know how to comfort him.
The bits in between lines of xxxxxxxxxxxx were supposed to come across as a montage, which was trickier to pull off than I thought it would be - hope it works. I've been doing some planning, and I think this is now going to come out at around 30 chapters. So I'm a sixth of the way through! I'll hopefully have the next update done...soon. I'll start writing it tomorrow, but I make no promises. Comments and kudos always appreciated, and if you prefer, you can visit my tumblr too https://kingofthebottleshooters.tumblr.com/ See you next time!
Chapter 6: Ninja's First Toy
Finally! Sorry about the delay...
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Chapter 6: Ninja’s First Toy
“Well, we’re not entirely sure what it is, but it’s not a bomb,” Agent Chase said, looking distinctly unmoved by the prospect.
“Well that’s a great comfort,” Cat snapped, tossing back a scotch in a single motion. It was her second; she hadn’t offered any to anyone else. Winn had rarely seen the Queen of All Media drink like that, especially in front of – well, not civilians, but people she couldn’t fire on a whim. Still, he supposed that a potential bomb threat did qualify as exceptional circumstances.
Maybe if it had actually been a bomb, he would feel brave enough to ask her for one.
“Mr Schott?” He’d been asked something. He hadn’t realized.
“Do you have any idea what your father might send you?”
He wondered if the FBI did courses on how to sound patiently neutral. “No. I’ve not had anything to do with him since the trial.”
“I know, but if there’s anything you can think of?”
Winn sighed. “Do you have it with you?”
“Somewhat against my better judgement, yes.” The agent picked up her briefcase, clicked it open. The doll lay inside, eyes wide and staring. Cat shuddered theatrically.
“Did he have those when you were younger?” she asked.
“Uh. Yeah, I think so.”
“And people were surprised to find out he was a serial killer?”
“Yes, actually,” he muttered through gritted teeth as he reached out for the doll. It seemed to be nothing more than it appeared; a rosy cheeked, smiling, suited doll, which made it sound an awful lot less creepy than it really was. He picked it up, studied it. He had to admit, it definitely rang a bell. There was a pull string on the back, although the loop looked more modern than traditional. He looked up at the agent, who shrugged.
“Just says it’s pleased to see you.”
Winn pulled it, just to see. “Hello, son.” His father’s voice, the first time in twenty years. Winn froze, nearly dropping the doll; Agent Chase leapt to her feet, reaching for her sidearm. “I hope you understand this message. If you do, I’ll see you Wednesday lunchtime. If not, or if you don’t come alone…I’ll be quite disappointed.” The voice faded away, and Chase snatched the doll back.
“How did you do that?”
“I don’t know!” Winn protested. “I just…” he reached out for the pull string again. There was a very faint glow on the inside of the ring. “Fingerprint scanner.”
“How did he build a fingerprint scanner that small, while on the run?” Agent Chase murmured.
“How did he get my fingerprints for it?” was Winn’s more pressing concern. Agent Chase looked up, alarmed.
“Jesus, yes. We’re going to need further r access to CatCo’s security, Miss Grant. And we’ll need to talk to your super, Mr Schott.”
“Great.” More people who would know.
“You’ll have my team’s full co-operation, of course,” Cat added.
“Thank you. Now, Mr Schott – did you understand the message?”
Winn looked at the doll again, then pulled out his phone, tapping away, before holding it up for her to see: a picture of the doll – or one very like it – as a prize at an arcade on the waterfront. “We used to go there when I was a kid. I never managed to win one – he used to be disappointed then, too.” There was a moment of silence. Then Agent Chase let out a breath, and looked at Winn with something approaching regret.
“Are you willing to go? Lure him out?”
“Will I have to see him again? After, I mean.”
“Not if you don’t want to.”
“Then – ”
“I think that’s a discussion that should be had in front of his legal team, Agent Chase,” Cat said.
“With respect, Miss Grant – ”
“They’re on speed dial, we can have it sorted in less than an hour. That still leaves you twenty three to prepare.”
“…Fine. In that case, I’ll take the opportunity for a smoke.”
“By all means,” Cat said, dismissing Chase with a wave of her hand. As the door closed, Winn cleared his throat.
“Yes, Mr Schott?”
“I don’t actually have a legal team.”
“Do you still work for me?”
“Um. Yes? Oh God, you’re not firing me, are you?”
“Of course not,” she said, rolling her eyes. “And yes, you do have a legal team. CatCo’s.”
“Are you serious?”
“Always.” She stood up and poured another glass of scotch. Which she then handed to him. “I wouldn’t do it for every situation, but given that this could affect CatCo as well…we should also discuss press.”
“You want me to do an interview.” He knew there would be a catch.
“I would advise it,” Cat corrected him. “Get your side of the story out. This will spread, Mr Schott, and other companies will contact you. I guarantee CatCo will give you a fairer go than anyone else.”
“I – can I think about it?” Winn knocked back the scotch with a wince. It was richer than he was used to. “I kinda wanted to keep out of it.”
“And yet you didn’t change your name, or move away,” Cat said idly.
He didn’t know how to answer that.
At her desk, Kara put her glasses back on with a frown. Now, how was she going to escape Cat’s notice long enough to keep an eye on things at the arcade?
The next day, the sun was blazing and the arcade – most of the waterfront, in fact – was heaving. Good for business, bad for the FBI and worse for Kara, who huddled in the shadows atop a building overlooking the bay for fear of being spotted. It was the first time she had gone out like this in the day, and it was more nervewracking than she had expected.
No way was she abandoning her friend though. Winn had been closemouthed about the meeting, other than to admit that actually Cat was kind of amazing, and officially Kara had no idea what was going on – which perhaps explained why Cat had barely seemed interested when Kara had mentioned an emergency dental appointment.
Concerns about being noticed aside though, covert surveillance was still easier for her than, say, her cousin’s friend in Gotham, even with his apparently marvelous toys. She could just sit there, after all, staring through concrete and listening in on the FBI’s communications. They seemed to have partnered up with the local Science Division, and they were all mingling with the crowd or otherwise out of sight in non-descript vans scattered around the waterfront.
Winn was making his way through the crowd, doing his best to appear nonchalant, but in reality his obvious nervousness was attracting a bit of attention, and if it weren’t for the fact that the Science Division had liaised with the arcade owners he might have found himself in trouble. As it was, despite some uneasy glances, he was left alone, wandering from stall to stall, running his hand through his hair.
It was only because she was so focused on him that she spotted his double take, the look of fear crossing his face. It took her a moment to identify what had caused it; another doll, seemingly identical to the one delivered to CatCo, just sitting next to a trash can. It didn’t have to mean anything, given the location, but…Winn crouched down next to it, and pulled the string. She couldn’t hear what, if anything, was said, but Winn put the doll down, stood up and started to walk more purposefully in the direction of the haunted house. Kara quickly realized that a few members of the crowd seemed to be following him – presumably cops or FBI.
As Winn entered the haunted house, Kara strained to focus her vision through another wall. The probably-law enforcement agents hesitated outside, and didn’t go in. There were others inside, apparently civilians, given that none of them looked twice at Winn. At least his nerves stood out less in there, she thought to herself. He didn’t seem to know what to do, just walked through slowly, jumping whenever something spooked him, which was often. To his credit though, under the circumstances, he didn’t scream.
At least, not until an animatronic vampire grabbed him and pulled him through a gap in the wall.
Kara was on her feet in an instant, panicking as she realized she hadn’t really planned for this. She couldn’t just jump into the middle of the arcade – or rather, probably shouldn’t, given alert FBI agents. It crossed her mind in the space of a heartbeat; a second and she was at street level, and a third had her in the midst of the crowd, approaching the haunted house. She had her hair down and her glasses off, with her hood up; she prayed as she walked through the doors that any agents who were nearby wouldn’t see through the flimsy change of appearance to see Winn’s colleague.
Once inside she blurred once more until she was at the spot where Winn had been grabbed. She could hear his heartbeat, although she couldn’t see him. This far in, it seemed the haunted house walls had an unnecessary amount of lead in them. She stepped through the gap, treading as lightly as possible, and followed her ears. They led her through a maintenance area, all pipes and steel rails, and down a set of stairs. She could hear Winn’s agitated vice, and someone speaking in calmer, almost robotic tones. She crept nearer, poking her head around a corner.
Winn was leaning against a wall, looking more angry than scared now. His father was nowhere to be seen, but the vampire was, stood stock still with its gaze fixed on Winn. As Kara watched, it spoke:
“Son, I’m doing this for you. I want us to be together.”
“You think I want to be together?” Winn said with a bark of almost hysterical laughter. “You’re a monster! And I’ve been just fine without you since I was a kid!”
“Have you?” the vampire asked, taking a step closer. Winn stared at it, mought moving soundlessly.
All of a sudden, Kara became aware of a hum of activity behind and above; law enforcement, apparently realizing that Winn had been out of sight for too long, and she cursed the lead preventing her from seeing precisely how far away they were.
And in the midst of her panic, she knocked into some loose piping, sending it tumbling to the floor with a clang.
The vampire and Winn both whirled at the sound, and the animatronics’ arm shot out to grab at Winn’s cardigan. “I told you to come alone!”
“I did!” Winn protested weakly, trying to break free to no avail. Making sure her hood was in place, Kara darted round the corner. Winn’s eyes widened with recognition at the sight of her, and all she could do was hope he had only recognized her as the Ninja, not Kara herself. A single stride took her in punching range of the vampire, and a quick blow left it with only one arm, the remnant of the second dangling uselessly from Winn’s chest, drawing a startled shriek from him.
The vampire’s only response was to look down at its stump, then back at her. Its expression didn’t change, of course, but there was hint of irritation in its voice now. “Well. At least she’s not police, son. I’ll give you one more chance then. Run.”
And so saying, gas started to leak into the room.
Winn immediately started coughing. Panicking, Kara swung another blow at the vampire, crumpling its face. It fell to the floor without a sound, and she hurried to Winn. “We need to get you out of here.”
“Why – why are you – ” He was spluttering to much to finish his question, but she could guess.
“I’m just here to help,” she said, pulling him down the corridor. She could see an emergency exit sign at the end…but she could also hear the FBI getting closer. And amidst all her usual concerns, she had no idea if they had gas masks.
Casting a look over her shoulder, she could see the air rippling where pipes were letting the gas in, and her plan was born. She kicked the door open, pushed the still coughing Winn through, and then as he stumbled out, she turned back, her eyes lighting up. Twin beams of blue heat lanced down the corridor, and when they struck the pipe, the gas ignited. Over the resulting explosion, she could hear barked orders to get back from the agents, and she grinned before dashing out before the fire could get too close for comfort. Outside, Winn was sprawled on the ground, still coughing intermittently. He stared up at her with red eyes. “You – you saved me.”
“Are you OK?” Kara asked, giving him a once over. He looked it, mostly.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m – how did you know?”
“You’d be amazed at what I hear,” she told him with a light laugh. She could hear people running towards them. “Are you sure you’re OK?” “
Yes, what – ?”
“Nice meeting you then!” And she was gone, feet pounding against concrete. She could hear him stuttering in confusion behind her, and she couldn’t help but let a fleeting grin cross her face as she ducked round the corner.
Which, she decided, was probably why the woman managed to sneak up on her.
Kara nearly bowled her over, knocking the gun from her hand by complete chance; the woman grabbed it before Kara could react, levelling it at her steadily. Kara raised her hands slowly, beyond grateful that her hood was still up. “Do you have any idea how much of a pain in the ass you are?” the woman asked. Kara blinked. It wasn’t exactly the question she had been expecting. “Two months of my life, all about finding you,” the woman continued. “You couldn’t have just stayed as a helpful citizen with that mugging, oh no, you had to graduate to a full blown vigilante!”
“Um. I’m sorry?” Kara tried, now more confused than nervous. “And, uh, who are you?”
The woman reached into her jacket with her free hand and flipped out an instantly recognizable badge. Kara’s heart sank. There were the nerves again. “Detective Sawyer, Science Division. And you’re so under arrest.”
“Oh Rao…” It was a split second decision, made as the detective went to replace her badge with some handcuffs. Barely even bending her knees, Kara launched herself into the air, crashing onto the roof of the building behind them with a heavy thud. Below, she could hear Sawyer swearing in Spanish, but she didn’t hang around to hear more.
“Well, the Ninja’s definitely an alien,” Maggie muttered to Saranga as she rejoined the hustle and bustle around the arcade. Her boss said nothing, just turned his head slightly, an eyebrow raised questioningly. Maggie leaned against the wall, looking out over the crowd. “I had a run in with her behind the haunted house – dumb luck I was posted there – and she jumped straight up to a roof to get away from me.”
“You’re sure it wasn’t just advanced tech?”
“As weird as it is, it’s more likely she’s got powers than she’s got silent, invisible rocket boots,” Maggie sighed. “And who’d have thought that thirty years ago?”
Saranaga grunted. “Captain Gates will be thrilled."
“Yeah.” They stood in silence for a moment, watching the crowd. Schott was sitting in the back of an ambulance, draped in a blanket. He didn’t look happy.
“By Schott’s account, she might have saved his life.”
“Admittedly, possibly from a situation she instigated,” Saranga continued, “but nonetheless.”
“I bet the Feds don’t see it that way.”
“Oh no. They’re furious.”
“Anyone asked how she managed to get by them while they were dicking around out of sight?”
Saranga’s lips twitched. “Well, a woman in a hoodie did walk straight past two of them at the door.”
Maggie grinned. “No wonder they’re furious.” She hesitated for a moment, considering her next words. “Now we know for certain that she’s an alien, do you want me to press more at Refuge? They might be a bit more forthcoming if they know we know.”
Saranga hummed in thought. “No, I don’t think so. Refuge is…delicate. I don’t want to exhaust our good will until we know for certain that anybody there knows anything.”
“Fair enough.” Despite her agreement, Maggie was a little disappointed. An alien dive bar was pretty much the coolest thing she’d seen in all her years on the job, after all.
On the positive side, Kara had managed to convince Cat that the agitated state she had spent the afternoon in was due to the aftermath of her dental emergency. On the negative…basically everything else.
A cop. An actual detective had been within figurative inches of arresting her. She would certainly have lost her job, possibly her freedom, and she would undoubtedly have been exposed as an alien. And where would that lead? Alex in trouble, maybe fired – she had no idea whether her employers were pro- or anti-alien. Eliza arrested for harboring her? Rao, Clark exposed?
She was done. She had to be. No more Ninja.
Winn hadn’t returned to CatCo after the failed sting, not that she blamed him. She’d messaged him a couple of times, only receiving curt responses, enough to know that he was physically fine, but distinctly unhappy. Given the potential reasons for that, she was more hesitant than normal to show up at his place with pizza and ice-cream, but the moment Cat let her out for the evening, that was exactly what she did. He let her in civilly enough, but his ill temper was plain to see. He sat down on his couch, nearly knocking over a bottle of beer as he did so. Judging by the debris in his kitchen, it wasn’t his first, but Kara didn’t comment.
Once the ice-cream was away, she joined him on the couch with the pizza. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Winn didn’t reply, just took a slice of pizza. Kara followed his lead, content to just sit with him if that was his preference, but then: “Do you think I’m a good person?”
“Of course you are!” Kara exclaimed. “You’re great – I wouldn’t have survived my first month at CatCo without you! You’re so kind, and helpful; you’re the best friend I’ve ever had. Why would you ever even ask that?”
“My dad thinks I’m like him,” Winn said, not looking at her. “He wanted to – wanted us to team up. Some mad crusade.”
“Well, he’s wrong,” Kara said resolutely, placing her hand on his back. He leaned into the touch. “He hasn’t had anything to do with you since you were a kid, and, y’know, he’s a crazy serial killer. You can’t believe anything he says.”
“I wonder sometimes whether I’m real, you know?” Winn said, as if he hadn’t heard her. “Not like, am I a robot or something. But…am I the way I am because that’s me, or because I’m trying not to be him? When was the last time you saw me angry?”
“I…don’t think I ever have.” Kara admitted.
“I don’t let myself. Any strong emotion…I shut it down. Always have. Because I’m scared.”
“Winn, you can’t live like that,” she said softly, moving her arm to wrap around him. “It’s not healthy.”
He laughed bitterly. “Better than the alternative.”
“Is it though?”
He didn’t reply for a while, swigging at his beer again. “Did you hear I met the Ninja?”
“What? No, I, um – really? That must have – must have been pretty cool?”
“You’d think, wouldn’t you? But she really screwed things up.”
“She – what? How?”
“The FBI think that if she hadn’t shown up, they’d have been able to get a trace on my dad.”
“Oh.” Kara ducked her head, fiddling with her glasses. “What do you think?”
“Well, she pulled me out of a room full of gas that then exploded, so I’m grateful for that.” He shook his head. “I dunno. This isn’t a comic book, and my dad isn’t your average mugger, or whatever. She’s a girl in a hoodie, not Superman.”
“I’m sure she’s just trying to help,” Kara said quietly.
“Well she either needs to stop or get better at it.” “
Oh. Well, um. Yeah, I guess that’s fair.”
She left not long after, claiming that Alex needed help with something. It wasn’t a complete lie; she fully intended to try and wallow with her sister. But Alex wasn’t answering, which left Kara floundering. She really didn’t want to be on her own right now, but bereft of her sister and unable to look her best friend in the eye, she didn’t know what else to do. So it was something of a surprise to find herself at CatCo, while at the same time making perfect sense. She could definitely find something to keep her busy here, and at least it would be productive. She knew how to keep Miss Grant happy, if nothing else.
Well. As happy as Cat ever was.
Over the next hour or so, Kara made significant progress in some of her duties for the next week, and gradually worked herself into a better headspace. It hurt that Winn didn’t like what she’d done, but it didn’t matter – she’d already decided her brief fling with vigilantism was over, after all. The FBI could handle Winn’s dad, and the cops could do everything else, and she’d never have to worry about her friends approval again – A slam rang out further down the hall, and she rolled her chair away from her desk to look. CatCo never truly slept, but most of the people on this floor were long gone. The few stragglers had cleared out since her arrival, and she’d thought she was alone. But there was James, muttering to himself over a mess of paperwork on the floor by the elevator.
“Want a hand with that?”
He jumped, looking suddenly tense, but relaxed when he saw her. “Oh, Kara. Hey. Didn’t see you there.”
“I’ve always been sneaky,” she said, smiling for the first time in hours. “Burning the midnight oil?”
“Trying to,” he chuckled, looking at the mess. “Killing time, mostly.”
“Paperwork is how you kill time?” James shrugged. “Haven’t really found much to do other than work, yet.”
“Aw, that’s…actually more or less why I’m here,” Kara admitted.
“Heh. I’d have thought you’d always be busy,” James said.
“Yeah. I don’t know. I can see you doing night classes or something. Something crafty, you know?”
“Well, I have been known to paint,” Kara said with a grin, “but I don’t think any art class would give me a passing grade.”
“Really? I wouldn’t mind seeing some of them sometime.”
“Oh.” Kara ducked her head, feeling her cheeks start to burn. “Uh, yeah, maybe.”
“Well,” James said, kneeling to pick up the papers, “I’d better get back to it.”
“Oh, yeah, sure,” Kara rushed. “And, um, give me a shout if you need help with anything. I’ve gotten to know what Miss Grant will approve of over the years.”
“Appreciated,” James said with a grin, and then he was gone. Kara watched him go, then sank her head down to her desk with a groan. That had been awkward even by her usual standards. Blushing for gods sake…if Alex or Winn had seen that…
An hour or so later, James returned, armed with mugs rather than paper. He put one down in front of her with a warm smile. “I took a guess on your preference, but I can get you another if I’m wrong.”
“Oh, thank you so much!” It was wrong; not enough milk and only two sugars rather than her usual eight. But the act itself was sweet enough – she could feel herself starting to blush again. James waved off her thanks and perched himself on her desk, sipping his own drink.
“So. What do you think of aliens?”
Kara choked on her drink, slamming the mug down before she spilled any. “What? Aliens? Well, I mean, they’re – I’m fine with aliens! Not that I know any, as far as I know, not that it would make a difference if I did, but – ”
“Woah, relax! I’m not interviewing you for Amnesty or anything,” James laughed.
“I know, I know,” Kara said, trying to laugh it off. “I’m just…yes. Aliens, yay.”
James looked at her for a moment over the rim of his mug. “Then do you want to check out somewhere a friend told me about?”
It wasn’t much to look at; a run down, dingy looking building with no windows. But Kara could hear a lot of people inside. “What is this place?”
“Refuge from what?”
“No – well, yes, I suppose. But that’s the name. Refuge,” James explained. “It’s for aliens. A bar.”
“So what are we doing here? And how – how did you know about it?”
“A friend told me about it,” James said with an easy shrug.”
“You’ve got a lot of alien friends?”
“Just the one that I know about.”
“So, Superman then.”
“Yep.” He walked to the door as Kara considered that. Clark had never mentioned the bar to her. James knocked a complicated sequence, then stepped back a pace. A hatch in the door slid open. It wasn’t wide enough to make out the features of the person on the other side, but their skin was blue.
“Password.” Their voice had a hum to it, almost as if they were purring more than speaking.
“Kal-El says you should forgive yourself.” It didn’t seem to mean any more to the bouncer than it did to Kara. The hatch slid closed again, and James looked at her sheepishly. “He promised that would get me in.”
“How trustworthy is he on stuff life this?” Kara asked, grinning. “And…why are we here?”
“You don’t think Superman’s trustworthy?”
“Sure, in a crisis. That doesn’t mean he’s got a good memory though. And he wouldn’t be the first guy to promise something big and not deliver.” At James’ raised eyebrow, she felt that blasted flush start up again. “Not like that.”
“Well, he’s never let me down yet. As for why we’re here – I’ve got an idea I want to run past Cat, but it’s pointless if I can’t lay some groundwork here.”
“An article. A series, really.” He looked back at the door, pensive. “You think I should try again?”
Before Kara could answer, the door swung open. Whoever had been standing behind it before was gone, replaced by a tough looking black woman who looked them up and down with a frown. “Neither one of you has a cape, so you shouldn’t know that password.”
James stepped forward, hand outstretched. “James Olsen. We’ve got a mutual friend.”
She didn’t take his hand. “More of an acquaintance than a friend.” Her gaze focused, eyes locked on James. “Man. He really trusts you, doesn’t he?” James’ brow furrowed.
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t worry about it.” She looked across at Kara, eyes focused again before a look of surprise flashed across her face. “Come on in then.”
The excitement on James’ face was, Kara decided, one of the most adorable things she’d seen a human do.
Inside the bar was a revelation. Aliens of all races, sizes and shape, more than Kara had seen since before she’d left Krypton – Aloi, Angtuans, a couple of Dhorians, Peganans, Qarians, even a Trontian. As she looked around, slack jawed with shock, she bounced off a Vimarian, who glowered at her despite her gabbled apology. “I had no idea there were so many…” she whispered.
The woman who’d let them in scoffed. “Don’t you watch the news?”
“Yeah, but – this many just here? In National City alone?”
James nudged her, a wary expression on his face. “Don’t stare,” he whispered, and she realized that he was trying very hard not to look around. “We don’t want to offend anyone.”
“No. You don’t,” the woman said as they reached the bar, which she moved behind. “But then, if I thought that was likely, I wouldn’t have let you in.”
“That’s fair,” James said agreeably. “What do you recommend?”
“What do you usually drink?”
“No house specials?”
“Not for humans or unidentified aliens, no,” she said, and Kara was sure that the woman shot her a look at that last part. “I don’t need anyone dissolving their stomach because they drank the wrong thing.”
“Yep, club soda for me!”
She poured their drinks and slid them over. “On the house, out of courtesy to our mutual friend. Anyone gives you trouble, tell them M’gann vouches for you. You give anyone trouble, I’ll throw you out myself.” She turned to leave them behind, but James stopped her.
“So you’re the boss?”
“I work for CatCo, and I’m hoping to do a series about the aliens living here – National City to start with, but everywhere, hopefully. I thought this might be a good place to start.”
She looked at him warily. “Leave me some contact details. I’ll spread the word, but no promises. A lot of us don’t trust humans. Especially humans in a hurry.”
James tilted his beer at her in acknowledgement, and slid her a business card. Then he and Kara headed over to a booth and sat down, tucked away from too much notice. “So you want to profile aliens?” Kara asked, playing with her straw.
“That’s the plan. You think Cat will go for it?”
“I think she’ll love it. No-one’s ever done anything like it before.”
James smiled into his beer. “Good. That’s good.” Kara let her attention wander, still amazed by the variety around them.
“Does he come here?”
“Superman, you mean?” At her nod, he shook his head. “I don’t think so. He’s not really a bar kind of guy. So for him to even mention it suggests something good, I think.”
“I guess he’d look out of place even here in that cape,” Kara said.
“Yeah, he tends to stand out.” He laughed to himself. “Apart from when he doesn’t.” He waved away her confusion. “Don’t worry. It’d make sense if you knew him.”
“It sounds like you miss him.”
“Is that weird?” he asked, looking a little embarrassed.
“Not if you’re close.” “I thought everyone knew we were close.”
Kara winced. Luthor. She’d read the reports. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean – ”
“It’s cool, don’t worry.” There was still a moment of awkward silence before she changed the subject with her brightest smile.
“So, any family back in Metropolis?”
“Not in Metropolis, no. My sister, but…” he shook his head. “I don’t exactly have the biggest social circle.”
“Well, it’s growing now,” she smiled at him. “And if you’re friends with me, you’re friends with Winn too, so there’s that.”
“God, yeah, I forgot you were friends. How’s he doing with the…”
“Serial killer dad? Better than you might expect, but not well.”
“I can’t even imagine what that must be like. You seen him today?”
“Yeah, I went round earlier. He was…angry, more than anything.” She drained her soda, not really wanting to think about that again. “Do you want another drink?”
“Same again would be great, thanks.”
Kara made her way back to the bar, catching M’gann’s eye. “Same again, please.”
“You sure? I can recommend something else if you like. Where you from?”
“What? Um. Midvale. Earth.” M’gann snorted as she uncapped the beer.
“IF you say so. Whatever, none of my business, but you’re obviously welcome here anytime. The password is Dollywood.”
“Anytime? I m not, I mean, you said humans didn’t…” At M’gann’s continued unimpressed expression, Kara wilted. “How did you know?”
“Never met a human whose mind I couldn’t read before. You’re a complete blank.”
“You’re psychic?” Kara exclaimed, leaning forward in excitement. Then: “Wait, did you read James’ mind?”
“Only enough to confirm he actually does know Superman.”
“One of the best methods I have of keeping this place safe?” M’gann’s expression brooked no argument, so Kara submitted even though the idea made her feel very uncomfortable. Should she tell James? “Besides,” M’gann continued in gentler tones, as if her words were a peace offering, “I’ve been doing this for fifty years. I’ve learned to spot aliens when I see ‘em.”
“You don’t look fifty,” Kara said.
“I don’t look my species. Enjoy your drinks.”
I've got the next chapter written out, I just need to type it up, which hopefully won't take too long. All comments, kudos and incoherent flailing appreciated - hope you enjoyed :)
And if you have commented in the past, and I haven't replied: I'm sorry, but please know I had a happy little glow for at least the next 24 hours.
Chapter 7: Friend in Need
It was not unusual for Kara to have a box of donuts on her desk. Normally though, she supplied them herself. She looked up at Winn’s sheepish smile. “I’ll never complain about free donuts, but that’s the occasion?”
“Um, combined thank you and apology for last night?” Winn said, scratching his head. Kara frowned around the donut she was already devouring.
“Apology? What for?”
“You didn’t deserve me taking my frustration out on you,” he said. “You were being a good friend – a great friend.”
“Winn, if that was you taking your frustrations out on me, you’re definitely bottling up too much,” Kara told him. “Seriously, I’ve seen you get more worked up about tv shows.”
“You sure? You seemed a little…I don’t know. Not quite upset.”
Guilty was the word he was looking for, Kara realized, not that he knew enough for that to occur to him. She took his hand in hers, giving it a comforting squeeze. “You’ve got nothing to apologize for, Winn, I promise. And even if you had said something, it’d be understandable under the circumstances.”
“I don’t think it would be, but thanks,” he smiled.
“Thanks for the donuts though,” she grinned, finished a second. “Food is definitely the way to my heart.”
“I’ll remember that,” he replied absently, before his eyes widened.
“Nothing!” And he practically ran back to his desk.
Agent Falk gripped the butt of their gun in sweaty palms. The NCSD had managed to dig out some of the coding in the vampire animatronic that Schott had rigged up – and what had their life come to that they were dealing with a serial killer who worked with animatronic vampires, for God’s sake? If they’d wanted to work those sorts of cases they’d have taken a job in Gotham – and the signal had been traced to a warehouse just off the docks. An hours frantic activity later, Falk and various others were scurrying around as discretely as they could, body armor over their suits. Falk had shed their jacket, but the California heat was still oppressive, even at night, leaving them uncomfortably clammy.
The nerves didn’t help. They weren’t a veteran of countless shootouts, and it seemed unlikely that Schott was going to come quietly. And they couldn’t even really plan for the kind of resistance they would face – it probably wouldn’t simply be guns, after all.
“No sign of life,” came over the comms, making them jump before they got control of themselves. “What’s the word, boss?”
There was silence for a moment, and Falk could almost see the cogs turning in Chase’s head. She wouldn’t want to go in until they had solid confirmation, but that wasn’t always possible…
The decision was made for the when a loud wail rang out from inside the warehouse. Female, by the sound of it. And young.
“Go!” Chase barked, and a dozen agents converged on the warehouse.
Falk was near a window at the rear, which they forced open, checking for booby traps. As they clambered through, clicking on their flash-light, the front doors started to shudder under the rams other agents were employing. It was impossibly to see anything outside the sparse light thrown out by the torch, which raised their suspicions. Schott was a psychopath, not an alien; he couldn’t see in the dark any more than Falk could, and the lights hadn’t been on before they heard the wail…
Something was wrong.
The doors finally burst open, allowing six more agents access, Chase herself bringing up the rear. They fanned out, more torch light cutting through the darkness, revealing nothing save freight containers. Falk started to search the back, noticing two more agents on the upper level.
“Anything?” Chase asked over the comms. A chorus of negatives came back, Falk’s among them, and they could hear Chase grinding her teeth in frustration. Who had screamed?
“Found something!” an agent radioed in. Pearse, Falk thought, although the hushed tones meant they couldn’t be sure. “God, she’s tiny…”
“She?” Chase snapped. “Pearse, confirm?”
“Hey. Hey, sweetheart, you…God damn it.”
“It’s a fucking doll.” Another wail rang out, and Falk flinched. “That was it. It’s got a recorder on it.”
A sick feeling ran through Falk’s body. “Pearse, don’t touch it!”
“It’s just a doll, Falk…”
The explosion lit the warehouse up like a forest fire. Falk dropped to their knees, swearing, Pearse’s final, aborted scream still echoing in their ears. Frantic shouts came over the comms as more explosions rang out, fire spreading insanely fast – half the warehouse now aflame. It was the containers, Falk realized – at least half of them had been rigged. God, they needed to get out…
Another explosion, nearer this time, threw them off their feet, slamming them into the wall. Coughing, they staggered to their feet, looking back into the main area of the warehouse. It was now fully engulfed in fire, no other agents in sight. Their comms unit was gone, knocked out by the impact with the wall, and Falk swore. They had to get out, and prayed that some of their colleagues had managed it too. They made their way – too slowly, but still as fast as they could, given the chaos surrounding them – back towards the window. But the smoke was so thick they could barely see, and they’d gotten turned around in the chaos…they didn’t know if they were going the right way at all. All they knew was that the fire was worse behind them, so forward they would go.
A nother explosion rang out, and something fell, knocking them down hard. Falk screamed under the sudden weight, and the searing heat pressed against their legs – and then their hands, as they fought to lift it off. It was a misshapen length of metal, probably part of the ceiling, and there was no way in hell they were going to die trapped under it. They screamed again as they heaved, part exertion, part pain, but it lifted enough for them to work their legs out, and they crawled away, sobbing out ragged breaths.
They couldn’t stand though. No matter how hard they tried, their legs wouldn’t support them. They were pulling themselves forward now as much as crawling, which was hardly easier given the state of their hands, but they’d do it. They had to. The pain and the smoke would not take them down, they wouldn’t…
And there was the window, hazy through the smoke and the darkness clouding their eyes. Falk pulled themselves towards it as quick as they could, pulling upright and sticking their head out, but…
The last thing they knew before the darkness finally took them was a strong grip on their arm.
Winn’s heart sank as Agent Chase left the elevator. She didn’t look anywhere near as put together as she had the first time they had met, and to be honest, she’d looked better even after the disaster at the arcade. Now though, she looked like she was running on empty, her clothes rumpled and – torn? What had happened? She came to a halt at his desk, looking down at him with an inscrutable expression.
“I’m sorry, Mr Schott, but there have been some developments. It might be best to talk in your bosses’ office.”
He didn’t look at Kara as they headed in, but he could feel her concerned eyes on his back.
The worry he had felt at Agent Chase’s arrival quickly became horror as she had explained what had happened the previous night. Half a dozen FBI agents seriously injured in a warehouse fire, and his father to blame.
“He lured us in with another one of those dolls, like the one he had sent here, but it was a bomb, not a message. If it hadn’t been for our secondary team…” she trailed off, her eyes suddenly sparkling. “Anyway. We’re having to re-evaluate the case a bit. It’s bigger than we thought. And it might be for the best if you went into protective custody.”
“Oh, no,” Winn started to protest, but she cut him off.
“I know you’d rather carry on as normal, and I get that, but I’m concerned for your safety at this stage. And, frankly, for the safety of your colleagues.”
That brought him up short. If anything happened to Kara…
“That will be between Mr Schott and myself, Agent Chase.”
Both of them looked at Cat, Winn blinking in surprise, and Chase’s face etched with frustration. “With respect, Miss Grant – ”
“Your agents are better utilized catching Mr Schott’s father than keeping him safe from a hypothetical threat. I can have an excellent security team in place within the day, but I don’t have law enforcement at my beck and call – I leave that for lesser CEOs.”
Chase stared at her for a moment, then shrugged. “Fair enough. I hope they’re as good as you say.”
“They are,” Cat replied, supremely confident.
“In that case, I’ll get back to it.” Chase left without another word, leaving Winn still staring at Cat.
“Miss Grant, I – ”
“Agent Chase is correct, I’m afraid. I cannot in good conscience allow you to make CatCo a target, Mr Schott. You’ll be fully paid for your time away, of course, and I’d expect that any work you can do remotely would be done as normal, but otherwise, take some time off.”
He started to protest again, but her glare stopped his tongue dead.
“That was neither a suggestion nor a request, Mr Schott.” Her gaze softened – fractionally – as he wilted. “Your bodyguards will be here in half an hour. They will keep you safe, I promise.”
He didn’t really know how to explain that that wasn’t his main concern. So he just muttered his tanks and left, ignoring Kara once more.
Kara sighed, leaping to her feet. “Coming Miss Grant!”
Cat didn’t look up as Kara approached her desk, pen whizzing over some paperwork which she finally pushed towards her. “Get these down to editorial. And do stop moping – you’d think that someone killed your puppy.”
“Sorry, Miss Grant, I’m just worried about Winn. This must be so hard on him.”
“I would imagine so,” Cat drawled, sitting back in her chair and finally looking at Kara. “But I’m sure you’ll be there for him, disgustingly cheerful and supportive.”
“Of course! But it – it doesn’t feel like enough,” Kara said.
“Sometimes, Keira, we simply have to accept that there are things we cannot achieve.”
“You never accept that.”
“Of course I do.” Cat sighed. “I have achieved many things, great things, in fact, and you’re right, I don’t let many things get in my way. But there is a difference between refusing to bow down and submit to life’s pressures, and ignoring reality. I cannot achieve record quarters when my employees are distracted, although I can replace them with more focused individuals. I can’t give Carter the white Christmas he so desperately wants – not at home, anyway. I can’t produce exclusives if my reporters don’t do their jobs. All I can do with those things is manage them, and perhaps that is all you can do with Will.”
Kara nodded slowly. “Thank you, Miss Grant.”
“If you could perhaps see your way to working now, rather than indulging your emotional crisis?”
“Oh, of course!” and she scurried away. At the door, she paused, looking back over her shoulder. “Miss Grant?”
“Have you ever tried to help someone and made things worse?”
“I doubt there’s a person alive who hasn’t had that experience.”
“What did you do? I mean, did you keep trying, or…”
Cat sighed again, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Was your assistance unwelcome, badly thought out, or badly executed?”
“Um. A little of all three?” Kara hedged.
“Then work out what it is you need to correct, and do it.”
The next couple of days were weird. Work wasn’t the same without Winn, although James was doing his best to keep her company in Winn’s stead. He was definitely better company than the burly, stern people in severe suits who periodically patrolled the building for any signs of danger – thus far, with no results, for which Kara was profoundly grateful. The mood around CatCo was definitely subdued though, Kara far from the only one on edge.
And it all seemed to be in vain. The Toyman had gone completely off grid since attacking the FBI at the warehouse, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, to Kara’s way of thinking, but it wasn’t sustainable either. She couldn’t imagine what Winn was going through. He’d barely responded to her messages since his house arrest, as he called it. She hadn’t quite plucked up the courage to face his new guards to try and visit, either.
Maybe it was time she changed that, though.
So after work, she packed her bag, stopped off at a bakery to pick up Wnn’s favorite cheesecake, and headed over to his building.
If she’d been less distracted, less nervous, she thought she would have picked up that something was wrong before setting foot inside. As it was, it took her a moment even once she was within the building. Too quiet, and a metallic tang in the air…she followed her nose to the laundry room, clapping her hands to her mouth to conceal a scream at what she found, the cheesecake falling to the floor with a wet squelch. She recognized the man, one of the security team Cat had hired, but now was white shirt was mostly red, and his throat was –
She turned away, breathing deeply and fumbling her phone from her bag, dialing 911.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“A body, a dead body,” Kara gasped, whipping her glasses off to let her senses fully flourish.
“Where are you, ma’am?”
She rattled off the address without thought, focusing on the building as a whole. She couldn’t hear any struggle…
“OK, stay where you are, ma’am, officers will – ”
“It’s the Toyman,” she blurted out, suddenly panicking that only a beat officer would show up. “Call Agent Chase with the FBI, I’m at his son’s building.”
“Ma’am, please stay calm, we’ll notify everyone we need to – ”
Kara hung up. She could hear Winn’s heartbeat racing, her friend clearly alive, but terrified. She blurred, posters and notices scattering off the walls in her wake. She was on Winn’s floor in a matter of seconds, skidding to a halt at the sight of another body outside her friend’s apartment. It was…in a similar state to the body downstairs, but she tried not to look at him. Winn’s door was ajar, and she could hear people talking inside.
For once, she didn’t hesitate. In a heartbeat, she was bursting through the door, slamming it against the wall. Winn screamed, and the man standing opposite him whirled round. He was instantly recognizable from the news reports, his face cold blooded behind his glasses. If she hadn’t known, Kara wouldn’t have guessed that he was related to Winn at all.
“Kara, get out!”
Before she could say anything, the Toyman flicked his wrist. Something spun towards her, about head height, and she instinctively raised her hand to deflect it. It was a yo-yo, of all things, and it clattered to the floor with a heavier thud than it should have done.
“Curious…” The Toyman sounded like he looked. He fliced his wrist again in quick succession, and the yo-yo retracted and snapped out again. Over his shoulder, Kara could see Winn staring at her, open-mouthed. This time, she caught the yo-yo, ripping it away from the Toyman easily and tossing it aside.
“Don’t hurt her!” Winn cried out, and leapt at his father.
“Winn, don’t!” Kara shouted, but they were already grappling; the Toyman had a clear, unfortunate advantage, and Winn was thrown aside, groaning. Kara took a couple of quick steps forward, and without looking at her, the Toyman attacked once more, a second yo-yo lashing out at vicious speeds. This time, Kara didn’t bother with deflection, just angling her face a little to protect her glasses. The yo-yo bounced off painlessly.
“What fascinating friends you have, Winslow – Kara, was it?”
“Dad,” Winn choked out, sounding terrified, and Kara saw red. One more quick step, and she was close enough to grab him.
So she did, and then she threw him across the apartment to slam against the wall.
She ignored Winn, darting over to the Toyman to double check he was down. He wasn’t, not entirely, staring up at her woozily. A secretive smile spread across his face. “And where are you from?”
“Shut up.” And she punched him, crushing his glasses under the impact. Only then did she hurry back to Winn, checking him over frantically. “Oh my god, are you OK? Did he hurt you?”
“Not me, no – are you?”
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Kara assured him. “The police’ll be here soon, I called them when I saw the bodies downstairs.”
“Oh Jesus, Kara, I’m so sorry, you shouldn’t – ”
She cut him off, wrapping in the tightest hug she could safely give him. “This isn’t your fault, Winn, it’s all him. Don’t you dare blame yourself.”
“He wanted me to help him,” Winn whispered into her shoulder. “Still on the same vendetta he was on when I was a kid, and he thought I’d help him!”
“He’s…a jerk. A crazy jerk,” Kara told him, rubbing his back. Winn sobbed out a laugh.
“Yeah, jerk. Exactly the word I was thinking of.”
“Shut up,” she protested weakly through a smile. “You know what I mean.”
“I do.” Abruptly, he pulled back, cradling her head in his hands, his eyes flashing to and fro. “But he…”
“I’m fine!” she told him with a chirpy smile. “Not a scratch on me.”
Winn nodded, slowly. “Yeah…”
There came the pounding of boots, and Kara stood up, pulling Winn with her. And her heard stopped as, accompanied by Agent Chase and two uniformed officers, in walked the detective who had come so close to arresting her at the arcade. All four were armed, and Kara and Winn immediately threw their hands up. The detective took in the room swiftly, and holstered her gun. “Cuff him,” she barked at one of the uniformed cops, before heading over to Winn and Kara. “Are you guys OK?”
“We’re fine, right Winn?”
“Oh, yeah, just…fine.”
“I said we should have had you in protective custody,” Chase snapped, standing over the still unconscious Toyman. “Look at this, Jesus. What the hell happeed?”
“It was Kara, she – ”
“After I called you guys, I came straight up here, I was so worried about Winn! And I guess I – will, distracted him,” and she waved vaguely at the Toyman, “so Winn was able to get him,” she finished with what she hoped looked like a proud smile. Winn blinked at her, then stammered an agreement.
“You’re tougher than you look, Mr Schott,” Chase commented.
“He definitely is!” Kara said.
The detective did not look as accepting as Agent Chase, her eyes flicking from Winn to Kara. But, much to Kara’s relied, she said nothing else, turning away to supervise her uniformed colleagues. Kara breathed a sigh of relief, before turning to Agent Chase.
“Can I, uh, call my sister? I was supposed to meet her, and…”
“Fine, but we’ll need a statement from you before you actually leave.”
“Oh, sure, of course. Winn, you OK?” she asked, turning to him with a silent plea in her eyes, hoping he’d understand. He gave her another slow, considered nod.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Alex hissed, pushing her hair back in frustration. Kara had come down to meet her, escorted by one of the uniformed cops, who was eyeing the angrier Danvers sister warily.
“What was I supposed to do? Winn was in danger!”
“You should have…I don’t know. But what if…” she paused, glaring at the cop. “Can my sister and I have a moment’s privacy, please?”
“Not until she’s given her statement, sorry.”
“Oh, come on!”
“Alex, it’s fine. I’m fine,” Kara stressed, trying her best to convey multiple meanings.
“Are you sure? Absolutely sure?”
And where are you from? The Toyman’s question rattled around her head. No, she wasn’t sure at all. And from the way Alex’s eyes narrowed, she could tell.
“You’re unbelievable,” she hissed again. “What did you do?”
“I helped,” Kara said quietly, trying to put a lid on her nerves and guilt. “I had to.”
And then the cop was touching her shoulder. “Might want to step back, ladies.”
The Toyman was being wheeled out, conscious now but strapped to a gurney, seemingly still stunned by Kara’s fist. But not so stunned that he couldn’t offer a cold, knowing smile as he went past. Their eyes remained locked on each other as he was secured within the ambulance, and she didn’t breathe until it was driving away. When she finally looked away, Alex was pocketing her phone.
“Taking myself off call for the night,” she explained.
“You can do that?”
“In a real emergency, yes. This qualifies.”
“Alex, if you’re just going to yell at me for helping Winn…”
“I won’t, I promise,” Alex said, but it was clearly through gritted teeth. Kara stepped closer, wrapping her arms around herself.
“Alex, I’m not going to apologize for helping a friend.”
“But he knows, Kara!” Alex said, throwing her hands up. “He’s a crazy serial killer, and he knows!”
“I’m aware! I just…” Kara didn’t know what to say, much less do. All she knew was that, the situation as it had been, there was nothing else she could have done.
“Miss Danvers? We’re ready for you.” Agent Chase stood in the building entrance.
Kara took a deep breath, and went back in.
The Toyman’s breakout had not been a particularly difficult challenge, all things considered. Time consuming, yes, requiring privacy and the slow gathering of materials, but in the end, all he had done was kill his way out. Not complex at all.
Breaking into the prison to talk to the Toyman was even easier, given his particular skills.
Hanging in the air outside the killer’s room, he observed his target carefully. The Toyman appeared relaxed, contemplative. How much of that was his natural demeanor versus the lingering effects of the medication and sedatives he had been given on arrival was open to debate. Either way, he didn’t look like someone who had had his escape and attempted family reunion thwarted.
But then, the Toyman knew a secret. A dangerous secret.
The Toyman looked up at him as he moved into the room, looking unperturbed by the sudden appearance.
“Good evening, Mr Schott. Or do you prefer Toyman?”
“Who are you? the Toyman asked, not giving an answer.
“Not important. I believe you had an encounter with one Kara Danvers earlier tonight?”
“A friend of my son’s, yes,” the Toyman smiled. “And a lot more than she appears to be. Alien, I suspect, given your own appearance.”
He sighed. As expected, but a problem nonetheless. “And is there any chance you might…forget that information?”
“Oh, I don’t think so. No no no, I think Miss Danvers could become my greatest game yet.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” He stepped forward, grabbing the Toyman faster than the killer could react. For the first time, proper emotion flickered across the Toyman’s face.
“What do you want?”
“To apologize. I don’t actually want to hurt you, but it’s an unavoidable side effect.” Which was true, although it would be more true to acknowledge that he didn’t especially mind hurting a man like the Toyman. He touched his fingers to the killers forehead.
And the Toyman screamed.
Not entirely happy with Cat's talk with Kara, but hopefully it makes sense, at least. Comments, kudos and constructive criticism always welcome! You can also find me on tumblr, if you like: https://kingofthebottleshooters.tumblr.com/
Chapter 8: Angel
Kara was a distracted mess the next morning. Although word had spread about the Toyman’s re-capture, as was to be expected at a media organisation, so far no-one seemed to know she had even been there, never mind the truth of her involvement. For that, she was grateful, but her mind was filled with other possibilities. Had Winn told the FBI the real story? Had the Toyman himself? If so, had they linked her to the Ninja?
Fortunately, she had only broken one mug, and that had been before Cat’s arrival.
Winn hadn’t come in; Kara and Alex had stayed with him for a few hours after everything had wound down, making sure he was OK. Nothing more had been said about Kara’s involvement by anyone, but she still didn’t know whether Winn had put it down to luck or something more. On that side of things, if she was honest with herself she kind of hoped the latter. Winn was her best friend. If there was anybody outside her family who she wanted to know…
Someone cleared their throat, and Kara started in shock. An instantly recognisable man stood in front of her desk, smiling a little less warmly than he usually was in photographs, his hands in the pockets of an expensive looking suit.
“Oh, Mr Lord! I’m so sorry, I was…”
“Oh, don’t worry, it’s a refreshing change not to be instantly recognized,” he said, not quite managing to sound totally sincere.
“I, um,” and Kara started scanning her list frantically, “I’m really sorry, Mr Lord, but I don’t have you down on Miss Grant’s diary for the day.”
“You wouldn’t. This is a spur of the moment thing,” Lord assured her.
“Ah. Well, I’ll…see if she’s free.”
Lord raised an eyebrow, and Kara tried not to wince. The thing about Cat’s glass-fronted office was this it was perfectly obvious whether she was busy or not. Kara had raised it with her, early on in her employment. Cat had simply smiled, and told her that it didn’t matter what people saw, so long as they listened. Such power plays made Kara uncomfortable, even now, but she was would never let that get in the way of Cat’s instructions.
She left Lord where he was, scurrying up to Cat’s desk.
“Um, Maxwell Lord to see you, Miss Grant. He, um, doesn’t have an appointment.”
Cat sighed. “I suppose he’s here about Leslie. How tiresome.”
“Leslie? What did she do?”
“The usual,” Cat said, sounding supremely unconcerned by the matter. She smiled, inclining her head a little, and Kara turned to see Lord returning the gesture.
“Should I let him in?”
“In…three minutes,” Cat said. Kara nodded, and returned to her desk.
“Miss Grant will just be a couple of minutes,” she told him, smiling brightly and counting the seconds in her head.
When he finally went in, Kara couldn’t resist eavesdropping a little.
“I thought CatCo was better than this, Cat – unsubstantiated rumors and petty insults?”
“That’s rather the point of Leslie’s show, Max – not a fan, I take it?”
“Hardly. So you endorse what she claimed?”
“I think that if it was entirely unsubstantiated, you’d be here with a lawyer, not by yourself.” Cat’s smile was practically audible.
“I don’t want to resort to lawyers, Cat, not between friends.”
“Well that’s very sweet of you, Max. I do appreciate it.”
“So can I expect an apology then?”
“From Leslie? I very much doubt it,” Cat chuckled. “But if I find that this is a rare case of smoke without fire, I’ll find you a nice bottle of scotch, how about that?”
“I value my reputation, Cat,” Lord said, his voice lower now.
“Oh, I know. Above all else. Thanks for dropping by, Max.”
It seemed that even Maxwell Lord knew when to call it quits where Cat Grant was concerned. Kara watched him leave with a satisfied smile, before stepping into the office.
“Get Leslie up here please, Kara.”
“Yes, Miss Grant.”
As the email zipped off to Leslie’s account, Winn finally appeared, looking if anything worse than he had when Kara had left the night before. She rushed over to him, glaring at one or two people who were staring.
“Winn, are you OK?”
He said nothing, trudging to his desk and dropping his bag. When he looked up, he started, almost as if he hadn’t quite realized she was there. “Oh!. Um. I. I don’t know.”
“Did something else happen?” Kara whispered, stepping closer.
Winn nodded. “Agent Chase called me earlier. They’re not entirely sure what happened, but it looks like – ” he swallowed. “A stroke. He’s had a stroke. Barely…”
“Barely what?” Kara asked after a moment. Winn blinked, and shook his head.
“Oh. Um, he doesn’t really remember the last couple of weeks. Doesn’t even remember breaking out.”
“Oh my god.”
“Yeah.” He sighed, sinking into his chair. “Agent Chase said it might be a good thing. Might keep him on a life sentence, not death row.”
“They were going to do that?” Kara asked, appalled. The Toyman had done dreadful things, to be sure, but she had never been able to reconcile execution with her Kryptonian values.
“Maybe,” Winn shrugged. “I think he was lucky to escape it the first time, to be honest. Maybe…” He took a deep breath. “Maybe it would be better if they had. If they did, now.”
“He’s a monster, Kara.” But his voice wavered as he said it, and he didn’t quite meet her eyes. Kara knelt down, hugging him as tightly as she dared. He hugged her back, burying his head into her neck. “Thanks, Kara.”
“I don’t mean the hug,” he laughed, and if it sounded like he was laughing through tears, Kara didn’t need to mention it. “I mean for everything. You’ve been amazing since it all started. I really appreciate it.”
“Oh, all I did was bring you pizza,” she giggled, and he leaned back, looking at her properly for the first time, a slight smile brightening his damp eyes.
“And punching him really hard. Don’t forget that.”
“Oh, well,” she laughed nervously. “Anyone would have done that.”
He nodded slowly. “You free tonight? I feel like I owe you at least one pizza by now.”
“Hey, I never say no to pizza!”
K: Winn’s dad had a stroke last night. No memory of the last week.
A: That’s…is Winn OK?
K: I think so. Not sure how to feel, maybe.
A: I get that. Did he say anything about…?
A: That’s cool.
A: I’m sorry I was…you did the right thing. I just worry about you.
K: I know.
A: Forgive me?
Kara sighed, taking her glasses off and rubbing her eyes. She considered her phone for a moment, then smiled.
K: Always J
Winn showed up later than planned, but brought an extra pizza to compensate, so Kara instantly forgave him. “Mighty Meaty and Hawaiian? Best friend ever!”
Winn laughed, hanging up his jacket and heading over to the couch. “Never let it be said I don’t pay attention. What we watching?”
“Do you know it off by heart?” Kara asked around a slice of pizza.
“Not quite, no.”
“Then you haven’t seen it enough.”
“Can’t argue with that.”
Neither of them mentioned the stresses of the last couple of weeks, or Kara’s appearance at Winn’s apartment, or Schott Sr’s stroke – there had been no conscious decision to skirt the topics, and there wasn’t the awkward atmosphere of avoidance, just two friends comfortable with each other. It was just what Kara wanted, and as they laughed through a double bill, and she started eating the second half of Winn’s pizza, it felt like her worries were at least a galaxy away.
And then, as the credits rolled on the third episode, Winn paused the stream, getting up to fetch himself a drink. And as he did so, he called to her from the kitchen area.
“Hey, uh, Kara, I just – you know you’re my best friend, right?”
“Best and only,” she said with a grin.
“I have other friends!”
“If you’ve only spoken to them on raids, they don’t count.”
“They absolutely do. Anyway, I…” He trailed off, and Kara twisted in her seat to look at him. He smiled, softly but sincerely. “You can tell me anything, OK? You don’t have to, completely respect that, but anything you want.”
“…I know!” Kara said with a laugh, after a pause. “Of course I know that.”
“Cool. That’s alright then. So come on, get it going again!”
But although she laughed in all the right places, Kara’s mind was no longer on the show. Because although she believed Winn’s words…it wasn’t that simple. Was it? There was no-one else she would rather open up to about being an alien, save maybe James, albeit for very different reasons, but…she had kept it a secret for half her life. Nobody outside her family knew, and it was better that way. Safer.
But it was Winn. Her best friend, one of the sweetest people she’d ever known, on any planet. She could trust him, right? And…maybe he’d understand about her brief career as a vigilante in a way that Alex, hyper-focused on Kara’s safety as she always was, would not. Even if Kara stuck to her guns, and gave up her nighttime adventures for good, it would be a relief to talk about it.
Winn giggled at one of the episode’s sillier jokes, and Kara smiled as she looked at him out of the corner of her eye, the words fighting their way up through her throat.
It was Winn. And understanding the need to hide had never been the same as liking it.
“Yeah?” he replied through a mouthful of pizza, eyes still on the screen.
“Last night…with your dad…” She took a deep breath as he turned to look at her, putting his plate down. “You were right. He did hit me.”
“But you weren’t hurt,” he murmured.
“No. There’s not a lot on this planet that can.”
Winn nodded slowly, his expression carefully blank. But Kara could hear his heartbeat quickening. “On this planet.”
“Yeah. My home planet, not so much.”
“Your. Your home planet.”
“Yeah,” she whispered. Then, forcing a stronger tone. “I’m not human. I was born on the planet Krypton. And I’ve only lived on Earth since I was thirteen.”
“You’re an alien.” Winn took a deep breath of his own, nodded again. “My best friend…is an alien.”
“My best friend is a super-powered alien. Oh my God.” A grin started to crack his neutral expression. “Oh my GOD. Oh. My. GOD. This is so freaking cool!”
And Kara’s heart, which had been starting to sink, swelled ten-fold. “Cool, huh?”
“YES!” he exclaimed, bursting out into delighted laughter. “You’re an alien! A totally badass alien! This is the best thing ever!”
Kara pulled him into a tight hug so fast that she wasn’t sure she hadn’t used her superspeed. “You’re really OK with it?”
“Of course! Why wouldn’t…oh.”
She smiled a watery smile, still tucked into his shoulder, and he hugged her tighter. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Stupid question, I guess. But yes, I’m totally OK with it.”
“Thank you,” she breathed, her voice cracking. “I…thank you, Winn. God, I’ve not – I’ve never told anyone, before.”
She shook her head, pulling away a bit and wiping her eyes. “No. I mean, Alex and Eliza know, obviously. And my cousin’s family. But I’ve never told anyone.”
“I’m honored,” Winn told her quietly, taking her hand in his. She giggled, a thrill of nervous excitement running through her, and on a sudden impulse she threw her arms back around him.
“I can’t believe you finally know!”
“I can’t believe you’ve managed to hide it!”
“Hey!” She leaned back, scowling at him, and he grinned unapologetically.
“Come on, Kara, you’re not subtle.”
“I am so!”
He didn’t look convinced, so she elaborated. “You think Miss Grant would have kept me around this long if I wasn’t?”
“Fair,” he conceded, before learning back against the arm of the couch. He shook his head in wonder as he looked at her. “Man, I’m still – sorry, this is just kind of mindblowing, you know? So you’re, what, extra tough? Strong, too.”
“Well, yeah.” Hadn’t he understood her reference to Krypton? It was well publicized as Superman’s planet of birth…
“Anything else I should…” he trailed off as a look of realization dawned, and he buried his head in his hands before running them up over his brow and through his hair. “And I just put two and two together. You’re her, aren’t you? The Ninja.”
She grimaced. “I really hate that name.”
“Oh my GOD!” He clasped his hands over his mouth as if it were the only way to contain a scream, kicking his legs briefly in excitement. “My best friend is a super-powered alien vigilante!”
“Winn, shush!” Kara protested. “These walls are thin.”
“Sorry, sorry,” he said, taking a deep, calming breath. “But holy shit. You are genuinely the coolest person I know!”
“I’m not,” she said. “And I’m not the Ninja anymore, either.”
“What? How come?”
“I’m not sure I was doing much good,” she mumbled.
“Of course you were!” Winn cried, taking her hands again. “I mean, you saved my life – twice! And…” he sighed. “And I was kind of…critical. I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
She shrugged. “You weren’t exactly wrong.”
“Well, I think you should carry on.”
“You just want to be my sidekick,” she laughed.
“Yes. God yes. It would be, like, a dream come true.”
“You’re such a dork.”
“This is a well established fact,” he said seriously. “But y’know. Whatever.”
“I’ll think about it,” Kara said, shaking her head in amusement at his enthusiasm.
“God, I’m going to be buying you drinks for the rest of your life to pay you back, aren’t I? Saving me twice.”
“Winn, I need to eat like, ten or fifteen thousand calories a day due to my powers – so, like, if you want to chip in, I’d be grateful, but…”
“…Maybe not, in that case.”
“So mean,” she said, poking her tongue out.
“So, um…” he hesitated. “Are there…I mean, I know you were adopted, but…”
She tilted her head, momentarily confused before she realized what he was getting at. “Are there others like me, you mean?” At his nod, she sighed. “Not other than my cousin, no. There’s just us.”
“Kara, I’m so sorry. What happened? Did you – I don’t know, crash or something?”
She stared at him for a moment, then grinned a sly grin. “You have heard of Krypton, right? It’s pretty famous.”
“Krypton?” His brow furrowed in thought. “It does ring…wait.”
“Like, Superman’s home planet.”
“You’re like Superman.”
“Well,” she hedged, “I’ve never tested the whole fire proof thing. And I’m a little rusty in other areas. But…yes?”
“Oh my GOD!” He practically screamed. “Have you – oh holy shit he’s your cousin.”
“You’re Superman’s cousin. My best friend is a super-powered alien vigilante whose Superman’s cousin! OH MY GOD!”
“Winn!” she exclaimed, shoving the palm of her hand over his mouth.
“Sorry, sorry,” he said, leaning back. “But – HOLY SHIT!”
She couldn’t help it – his excitement was infectious, and she broke out in a grin so wide that her cheeks ached. “We should head out to the desert sometime,” she said. “I’ll show you what I can do.”
“Don’t you dare tease me about this, Danvers,” Winn warned her breathlessly, pointing at her in a manner that wasn’t as threatening as he probably thought.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” she reassured him. “It’ll be…” Kara huffed out a laugh, excitement bubbling away. “It’ll be great.”
Kara spent the rest of the week in something of a giddy blur. Nothing much had changed, day to day, since she couldn’t change her behavior at CatCo, but the knowledge that there was someone else out there who she could be free with was exhilarating. Alex had been her rock for years ,and always would be, but there were times when she wasn’t around. And options! Kara had always loved options when it came to food, but emotional options were a new and exciting prospect.
The only downside was that she had still not told Alex. It was…strange, keeping secrets from her sister after so many years of complete openness, but then, it had been a long time since Alex had been disappointed in her. Kara was in no hurry to experience that again.
By the weekend, Winn had rented a car to get them suitably far off the beaten track. Kara had put the clothes she normally wore out as the Ninja on under a coat, and she took a moment to take in the different sounds of the desert before freeing her hair.
“That really shouldn’t make you look as different as it does,” Winn said, looking her up and down.
“You think so?”
“Yeah. I mean, I can tell it’s you, obviously, but if I hadn’t seen you – well, not change, but.”
“Huh. Cool,” Kara said, pleased. Maybe she hadn’t come as close to being identified as she’d worried. Rolling her shoulders to loosen up, she pulled her bag from the back of the car, and headed off over a sand bank, beckoning Winn to follow her.
“So…how are we doing this?” he asked, stumbling a little as they descended the other side.
“I thought I’d start with the basics,” she said, dropping the bag to the ground. It made a louder thud than might have been expected from the ease with which she had been carrying it. “I’m a little rusty on some things, like I said, so bear with me.”
“Don’t worry, I brought snacks,” Winn reassured her, waving a bag in evidence.
“OK…” Kara took a deep breath, and exhaled. Then she pulled a football from the bag, passing it from hand to hand as she looked out over the desert. It wasn’t quite featureless – some hills in the distance, a rocky outcrop a bit nearer, and a few trees scattered around. “OK.”
And then, in a deliberately lazy motion, she threw the ball about half a mile into the distance.
“Jesus Christ,” Winn said from where he was sitting, popcorn spilling from the bag. Kara grinned at him.
“Pretty cool, huh?”
“Uh, yeah. You weren’t even trying!”
“No, I wasn’t,” she said, not quite keeping the satisfaction out of her voice.
“How far would it go if you did?”
“A football?” She paused to consider. “Not sure. It’s not heavy, really, so…” She blurred, checking for the ball with her x-ray vision, and reappeared next to Winn before the dust cloud she had kicked up had had time to settle. Winn jumped when she reappeared.
“God! That – you can teleport?”
“What? No, of course not! I’m just really fast, when I want to be.”
Winn looked from her to where the ball had gone out of his sight, then back to her. “Like…half a mile in about ten seconds?”
“It was more like six,” Kara said, a little wounded. “And I had to find the ball.”
“Oh, of course, my apologies,” Winn said with a roll of his eyes. Kara underarmed the ball at him, and he fumbled it, not willing to put the popcorn down. “Very funny,” he said with a glare, tossing it back. “So how far?”
Kara smirked, and spin around, throwing the ball as if she were throwing a shot putt. And with the full force of her throw, the ball burst in mid-air.
The two friends stared as fragments of leather drifted to the ground, before they caught each others eye. And promptly burst out laughing.
“OK, that might have been a bit too much,” Kara admitted when she had calmed down. Winn sniggered again.
“You think? Man, I wish I’d been videoing that.”
“Probably best not,” Kara said, reaching into the bag again. This time, she pulled out a weight plate. She gave it to Winn, who nearly dropped it.
“Come on, really? You made that look like you were carrying a coffee!”
“Except I don’t have to concentrate not to crush that,” she said. His eyes widened.
“Really? You have to do that?”
“Not so much now,” she said, taking the weight back. “It’s kinda muscle memory at this point. When I first arrived here though…” She chuckled ruefully. “I trashed the Danvers house more than once.”
“That must have been rough.”
“Yeah. They were great about it though.”
And then she frisbeed the weight into the distance.
“God that’s cool,” Winn sighed.
“Oh, you want to see something cool?”
“That’s literally why I’m here, yes.”
There was a gust of wind as Kara disappeared and reappeared, holding the weight again. This time, she threw it upwards, watching it closely. Then, focusing, her eyes lit up, and her heat vision streaked upwards. Before Winn could say anything, Kara strode further away, eyes still on the sky and the now falling weight. She snatched it from the air before it could hit the ground, fingertips sinking slightly into the heated metal, and then zipped back to Winn.
He reached out to the weight, but yanked his hand away before he could touch it. “Crap, that’s hot! Do you know what temperature it is?”
Kara shrugged, and huffed out a blast of cold air before passing it to him. “No idea. What temperature would this melt at?”
“Um.” Winn blinked, staring at the frost covered weight. He shook his head. “Uh, no. No idea, off the top of my head. You – ” He looked up at her intently, gaze flicking up and down. “Does it hurt?” He reached up as if he was going to touch her eyes, but he jerked back, looking a little embarrassed.
“No,” Kara shook her head. “Not much on this planet, remember?”
“Yeah, of course.”
Kara tossed the weight aside – gently – and took a bottle of water of the bag, taking a long swig. Then she looked up into the sky again, scanning carefully for any aircraft.
“Looking for something?”
“Checking we’re clear,” Kara said absently.
There was a slight rise a short distance away, which looked perfect for Kara’s needs. She turned towards it, and took a deep breath. This was her weakest area. She hadn’t flown in years, not since that night…A bit of almost instinctive hovering when she had been out as the Ninja, but actual, proper flying? She didn’t even know if she could still do it.
Forcing her doubts down, she broke into a run. Not at full super speed, but faster than average. Feet pounding, dust flying, she reached the top of the rise, and jumped.
She fell to earth a fair distance away, slamming into and through one of the scattered trees. “Damn it!”
“I’m fine, Win,” she called back. He wouldn’t be able to see her, but hopefully he could hear her. Tamping her frustration down, she zipped back to him. “Like I said. Rusty.”
“I hit a tree,” she said, shrugging it off.
“You hit – are you OK? Yes, of course you are.”
“See? You’re learning.”
“So,” Winn said, settling down once more, “how come you’re out of practice on flying? I’d have thought you’d want to be doing it all the time.”
Kara didn’t respond, just started running back to the rise. For one fleeting moment, she thought she had done it. The ground dropped away beneath her, and she was rising higher, the desert spreading out as far as she could see.
And then she was falling again. She landed hard but more stably, down on one knee and her fists slamming into the ground hard enough to produce a small shockwave. No trees got demolished though, so she was happy to take that as a step-in leap forward.
But it wasn’t enough.
Rather than return to Winn to try again, she ran back that way, up the other side of the rise. It was a little steeper, but the change of direction let her see the look in Winn’s face as she took to the air again.
And this time…
This time she soared.
Her untied hair was billowing around her face, still not enough to disguise National City sprawling into the horizon. The weight that she had stopped noticing after so long adjusting to her greater density on Earth fell away, leaving her feeling freer than she had in years. She was still going higher, so high now that she doubted Winn could see her, but she could go higher, she knew she could. Spreading her arms to adjust her angle, she pushed herself through a loop, letting out a whoop as she flipped over. She was flying again. Finally.
Kara realized that her cheeks were damp. But it was mostly joy.
She hovered there for a moment, looking down at the city that she had grown to love over the last few years. And she changed her mind.
Winn was on his feet, looking at her as if he had seen a miracle when she landed. “Kara, that was – ”
“I don’t want to give this up, Winn. Not again.” She shook her head. “I can’t.”
It took him a moment, but a slow smile spread across his face. “So…does this mean that I’m…”
“Mission support,” she told him firmly.
“Oh, I can live with that.”
“Great,” Kara smiled, before looking back up to the sky. “Great.
And then she flew again. Because she could.
They had returned to Kara’s apartment as the sun started to set, and they were still discussing Kara’s alter ego.
“So if not Ninja what do you want to be called?”
“I mean, I don’t have a better idea,” Kara admitted. “But Ninja just sounds so…”
“It’s no Batman,” Winn agreed. “Or, um, Superman, of course. Why not – ”
“I don’t know if I want that connection,” Kara said, cutting him off.
“Oh. Um. OK.” He paused, clearly considering her words. “Do you…not get on?”
“Of course we do, he’s my cousin!” Kara exclaimed. “But…do you remember all those news reports a couple of months ago? After that alien robbed the store.”
“There was one – he was saying Superman was the only good alien on the planet, that if aliens wanted to be treated better then more of them needed to step up.”
“I see.” Winn paused. “Actually, no, I don’t. Sorry.”
“If I go out there as another Super, then that’s all I am – another Super. It’s not the same…example, I guess.”
“But if you keep doing this, it’s going to come out sooner or later,” Winn said. “Even if you don’t admit it, if you’re using your powers people are going to put two and two together.”
“I know, I know, I just…” she shook her head, trying to find the words. “I don’t know, really. I just want us to be accepted. We shouldn’t need to produce heroes just to get treated like people. And I don’t want special treatment because of who I’m related to.”
“Well, I definitely get that,” Winn murmured. He sat down at the table opposite her, patting her hand. “You’ll figure it out. Maybe rather than – rather than just doing stuff, you should talk about it?”
“Like an interview?”
“Well, it’d keep Cat happy,” he pointed out, and Kara laughed.
“True, I guess. I’ll think about it. I’m still…hiding is my normal. Just coming out and talking about it, even to people who don’t know who I am, it’s…”
“Well, between me and Alex, I’m sure we could get you through it.” At Kara’s grimace, Winn’s eyes widened. “You said Alex knew!”
“About me being an alien. Not this,” Kara admitted.
“Well, OK, now I’m terrified.”
“She’s not that bad!”
“So why haven’t you told her?”
“I’m not scared of Alex!” she protested. “Just…scared of disappointing her.”
“That’s the same thing!”
“No it isn’t!”
And then she heard the siren. A fire truck, downtown. Kara cocked her head, following the sound as Winn stared at her, confused before she explained. “You can hear – is that how you always knew when Cat was about to show up?”
“Obviously,” she replied absently, still focused on the siren. Grabbing her phone, she headed to the window.”
“Take the car back. I’ll be back soon – maybe get some takeout?”
“There’s people in danger,” she said, opening the window. “I’ll think about anything else later.”
She didn’t fly. Not yet, not over the city. But she zipped across rooftops, leaping further than she had before, reveling in the all too brief rush of wind as she did so. The fire was visible from a few blocks away, between the clouds of smoke and her vantage point. She dropped to ground level a street away, hurrying nearer on foot. There was a small crowd watching, and firefighters gathered around two trucks, aiming jets of water at the burning building. To little apparent effect; if anything, it seemed to be getting worse, and some of the firefighters nearer the flames jumped back as part of the building fell away. She couldn’t blame them – even further back, and accounting for her heightened senses, the heat was incredible, and she didn’t know how they could cope.
“We can’t confirm the buildings empty, sir,” she heard, over by one of the trucks.
“I thought these Lord Tech sensors were helping!”
“Not enough, not from out here.” They were right. Kara could see at least two people still inside. She stepped closer to the barrier, drawing the attention of a cop who was guarding it.
“Hey, step back.”
“I can help,” she said, not looking at him as she ducked underneath.
“I said, step back!” He grabbed at her, but she twisted away. They were attracting attention though, and generic though her outfit was, she’d been seen often enough in it that people recognized her.
This was it.
As the cop grabbed at her again, she ran towards the building, ignoring the cries both angry and supportive – or excited at least – and as she approached the door she breathed out as hard as she dared.
The cries died away as the front of the building iced over, quenching the flames in an instant.
And then she was in, fire elsewhere in the building roaring in her ears, mixed in with the clinking of settling ice, and the frantic conversations breaking out in her wake. There was no going back no, but no time to think about it either.
Abandoning finesse, Kara leapt up a floor, smashing through some stairs in her haste to get to the people trapped there. The smoke was incredibly thick, and a strain even to her Kryptonian lungs – a quick huff of non-freezing breath cleared some space for her to breath, and x-ray vision sorted the visibility issue. The first person was two rooms over. Icing a path through the flames, Kara kicked a door down, and hurried towards the prone figure, an older man who was barely conscious. She hefted him easily, gently, hooking an arm over her shoulder to support him as she looked around the for the other person she’d spotted from outside.
Up another level. Perfect.
Kara paused, unsure how best to proceed. Take the man with her, and risk injuring him on the way? Or leave him behind and risk not being able to get back to him. In the end, it seemed better to keep him in sight. She headed back to the main hallway, slower than she might have done by herself, but still quicker than a human would have managed in the same situation. She breathed out more ice as she went, not enough to stop the fire completely, but significantly soothing it. Back at the stairs she paused, considering. She couldn’t just jump up, not with a passenger. So she iced the stairs, hurrying up.
Too quickly. Off balance with the man she had rescued, she slipped on the ice, and she automatically flung out her free hand to stop her fall. She punched straight through the ice and the whole frozen staircase collapsed, sending Kara and the man tumbling down. Yelping in shock, Kara instinctively hovered, the man moaning quietly as they jerked to a halt. She lowered them gently, looking between the front door and the upper floors. Fine.
She hurried out, lowering the man to the floor far enough from the building for the firefighters to get to him, then dashed back in.
She wasted no time, leaping straight up, fists raised to punch through the floor. The building was trashed anyway. Now three floors up, she could hear faint sobbing. Her second target was conscious. It was coming from the back of the building, where the fire hadn’t got quite as intense. Still, there was no harm in freezing a path, which she did hastily, heading towards the sobbing. Her heart nearly broke at the sight before her; a young girl, no more than ten, cowering under her bed as flames started to lick into her room. Kara quickly iced them over, hurrying towards the girl and crouching in front of her.
“Hey, sweetheart? What are you still doing here?”
“My mom got called into work,” she sobbed. “I didn’t wake up until it was too late!”
“Well, I’m here now, OK? Take my hand,” she said, reaching out. She wasn’t sure whether the girl trusted her or just wanted to get out, but it didn’t really matter. She pulled the girl into her arms, cradling her against her chest, and darted back out of the room.
The flames were getting worse. She adjusted her hold on the girl, who gasped as Kara froze more of the building around them. But getting back to the stairs…the flames were really bad. Thinking quickly, Kara hurried to the window, breathing over it so no flames were touching it. Then she lowered the girl to the ground. “I’m going to need you to climb on my back, OK?”
“Like a piggyback?”
“Exactly like that, yes!” Kara said enthusiastically. “Hold on tight now.”
And Kara threw herself out of the window. The girl screamed as they fell, and Kara reached up to grab her arm to make sure she didn’t fall off. But the girl didn’t let go, ad stopped screaming as they hit the ground, Kara staggering a little but keeping her feet. Pulling gently at the girl’s arms to encourage her, Kara lowered her to the ground. A firefighter tried to get her away, presumably to check she was alright, but the girl refused to move, staring up at Kara in wide-eyed wonder.
“You saved me!”
“Well, I couldn’t just leave you in there, could I?” Kara asked, crouching down so she was at eye level. She let out a gasp as the girl threw her arms around Kara’s neck, hugging her tight.
“Mom told me I had an angel looking out for me!”
Kara laughed, hugging her back. “Angel, huh? Well, it’s better than Ninja. Now off you go – let the nice fireman look after you, OK?”
“I want to stay with you!” the girl wailed, and Kara could hear several people in the crowd cooing. She smiled and shook her head.
“Sorry sweetheart. I probably ought to get going.” The cop was definitely eyeing her, but cautiously, looking like he wasn’t sure whether to arrest her or not. Kara didn’t give him the chance, giving one final wave to the girl before running off.
“Bye, Angel!” the girl cried out.
And the crowd followed suit.
My love of people finding out Kara's secret in dramatic or amusing circumstances clashed with my love of Kara just straight up telling her best friend out of excitement - hopefully this struck a nice balance between the two.
As ever, hope you enjoy, and all responses are welcome and appreciated!