A Christmas in Metropolis
by Nan Smith
Christmas in Metropolis occurs in the continuity of my "Dagger" series, and happens the day after "Consequences".
The characters and familiar settings in this story are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions and whoever else can legally lay claim to them, but the story is mine.
Christmas in Metropolis
By Nan Smith
"All right, CJ, try it once more." Superman nodded encouragingly at CJ Kent while Wyatt Dillon stood by, wide-eyed. "Focus on exactly what you want to heat up and nothing else. It's a matter of concentration."
CJ squinted his eyes. The old log was damp and snow-covered, but he ought to be able to produce at least a *little* heat.
A spiral of steam began to rise lazily from the bark and he could see the coating of snow melting in a circle around the spot. He released his breath explosively. "That's all I can do."
But Superman was grinning. "Not bad at all for starters. Not bad at all."
Wyatt approached the log and carefully extended a finger to touch it. "Hey! This thing's warm!"
Superman rested a hand on the peeling bark. "Definitely. You have a ways to go yet, but you've got the beginning of heat vision, all right."
CJ joined the two of them by the log, rubbing his eyes. "I hope it gets easier. I'm starting to get a headache."
"It does." The Man of Steel clapped him lightly on the back. "I accidentally started a fire with my heat vision when I was eleven, so I'd say you're right on schedule."
Wyatt gulped. "Did they all have powers like this on your planet, Superman?"
He shook his head. "My parents sent me to Earth when I was a baby, Wyatt. It's Earth's yellow sun that gives me my powers. I didn't start to get them until I was around CJ's age."
"Oh." The boy frowned. "But how did you live 'til then? If you were a baby when you got here, you needed a mom and dad, didn't you?"
"Some nice people adopted me," Superman said.
"Oh." Wyatt nodded in comprehension. "I guess you don't want anybody to know who they were, do you? I mean, it's kind of like with CJ. If somebody bad found out, they might hurt your mom and dad."
"That's exactly it, Wyatt," Superman said. "You're a pretty smart kid, you know?"
Wyatt ducked his head. "Lots of other kids think I'm a nerd," he said.
"I don't," CJ said. "Besides, if you're talking about Biff and Grunt, who cares? They can hardly read, anyway."
The younger boy brightened up. Superman chuckled. "I wouldn't worry about it, Wyatt. To tell you the truth, when I was a kid, I was kind of a nerd, too."
"Really?" Wyatt's eyes got bigger.
"Sure." Superman grinned widely. "I think your lesson is over for today, CJ. Why don't I take the two of you home and let you warm up? I hear that Clark and Lois are taking everyone to the Christmas tree lighting ceremony tonight."
"They are," CJ said, knowing very well that his dad was going to be the one to place the star at the top of the tree before the lights were switched on. "Uncle Perry fixed it so we could be up close with the guys from the Daily Planet."
"In that case, I better get the two of you home," Superman said. He slipped an arm around their waists and lifted off. CJ could hear Wyatt laughing. He guessed his friend had never thought he'd get to fly with Superman, and he'd done it three times since last night, if you counted the time when they'd been in Mr. Henderson's car.
Superman deposited them in the back yard of the Kent house and disappeared with a wave of his hand. A moment later, CJ's dad opened the kitchen door for them, a slightly lopsided star-shaped cookie in his hand. "Have a good time, kids?"
Wyatt nodded. "We sure did! Did you know that CJ can float? Well, almost, anyway. And he's getting really strong and fast! And Superman says he was a nerd like me when he was a kid!"
Clark grinned. "There's nothing wrong with that," he pointed out, mildly. "Look at the number of guys who started out as nerds and are millionaires today."
Wyatt nodded vigorously. "Yeah! I'm not gonna care if Arnie calls me a nerd any more."
"You mean Arnie Binkman?" CJ asked, a little incredulously.
"Yeah," Wyatt said.
""Who's Arnie Binkman?" his father asked.
"He's a kid who's always getting in trouble in class," CJ said. "He got suspended last week for gluing the drawers to Ms. Peterson's desk shut with super glue. With her car keys inside."
"Oh," his dad said.
"Yeah. He only comes to school about half the time anyway," Wyatt said.
Clark was frowning. "Do you know why?"
"His dad's a drunk," Wyatt said. "They live in the same apartment house as me. You can hear him and his wife yelling, two whole floors above us, just about every night."
CJ grimaced. "I didn't know that," he said.
Wyatt shrugged. "My mom's called the cops on 'em a few times, but nothing ever happens," he said. "'Cept the time he punched Arnie's mom."
CJ made a face. He didn't like guys who hit women. He found himself feeling unexpectedly sorry for Arnie.
"Well," Clark said, "it sounds like Arnie has some problems of his own. Look, why don't you kids go get yourselves a snack? Marta and your mom were trying to make Christmas cookies while you were gone."
CJ sniffed. "I don't smell anything burning."
"Your sister seems not to have inherited your mother's cooking skills," his dad said diplomatically. "Try 'em."
The cookies did taste good, CJ decided, although the frosting was a bit goopy. He didn't say so to Marta, though. Wyatt probably would have eaten the whole batch, but his sister forbade them to touch the ones she had set aside to take to the Christmas party at Grandmother Lane's this evening, after the tree-lighting ceremony was over. Ellen Lane always had a caterer supply food for her parties, which was why CJ could be certain that he did *not* like caviar or brie, but on the other hand, how many ten-year old kids found out that they liked lobster patties--or smoked salmon?
Of course, Mom probably wouldn't enjoy it that much, he thought, and his anticipation of the event was dampened slightly at the thought. Mom hadn't been feeling very well for several weeks. He knew it was supposed to get better soon, and very much hoped it would. He didn't like it when his mother was sick.
At the thought, Lois came into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, beginning to rummage through its contents. There were a few pieces of last night's pepperoni pizza left, and she unwrapped one, beginning to munch on the slice of cold pizza as she moved around the kitchen. CJ stared for a moment. Mom ate the weirdest things when she was going to have a baby--babies, he corrected himself. Yesterday, Dr. Klein had told Dad and Mom that there were going to be three of them. The thought of three noisy, smelly babies in the house wasn't something he was looking forward to, but he guessed he didn't have any say in the matter. Marta, of course, thought it was great. CJ recalled being drafted to change his youngest brother's diapers before he was finally trained a few months ago. He sighed. Just when he'd thought they were through with all that stuff, they were going to start all over again--in triplicate.
The rest of the afternoon went swiftly and before he knew it, CJ was putting on his clothing for Grandmother Ellen's party. Wyatt was looking uncomfortable in the dress slacks and tie that had belonged to CJ last year, but that was what they had to wear at the Lanes' parties. Grandmother Ellen had certain ideas about how "little boys" should dress on "formal occasions", and CJ had gotten used to it years ago. Marta, who was far happier in jeans and a T-shirt, was squirming uncomfortably in her one party dress.
"Come on, kids," his dad called. "The van's out front waiting. We don't want to be late to the tree lighting!"
They scrambled into the van and there was the usual contest for the best seats. Marta ended up beside Wyatt, who didn't seem to mind, and CJ found himself sitting between Jonny's and Jimmy's car seats, not the most comfortable of positions. He hoped Jonny wouldn't get carsick again. Younger brothers were a pain at times, he thought, but he knew better than to complain.
Dad parked the van with the other vehicles from the Daily Planet and a few minutes later they joined the group. Uncle Perry and Aunt Alice were there, with their son Jerry and his wife and kid, and Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Sandi were there, too. He saw Ralph with his date and rolled his eyes. The guy was eating garlic popcorn and CJ could smell the garlic ten feet away. Ralph was weird, anyway. He was always writing about scandals and stuff and talking about them to anybody who would listen. CJ didn't understand what was so interesting about them, anyway. He guessed some grownups did, but he just couldn't see it. Besides, Mom called Ralph an idiot, and from what CJ had seen, she was right--not that he would ever say something like that to any adult.
The band was just striking up and the mayor was fiddling with his microphone. Dad had quietly disappeared while everyone was shifting around getting in position, and glancing up, CJ could see Superman hovering just outside the range of the lights. Then he jumped as the band burst into Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and stuck his fingers in his ears. Marta had covered hers, too.
The mayor's speech was just as long-winded as he expected, but when it was finally over, Superman drifted down into the circle of lights. The mayor turned and handed him the star.
"And now, the event we've all been waiting for, as Superman officially places the star on top of our tree," he intoned. "Superman?"
Superman took the star. "Thank you, Mr. Mayor," he said. He floated gently upward, held the star aloft for several seconds and set it firmly on the very top of the tree. As he took his hands away, the lights on the tree blazed into life and a cheer went up from the crowd. The band struck up Jingle Bells and Superman dropped lightly to the ground. Then he lifted his head. "Excuse me, Mr. Mayor, but I think someone needs me."
"Certainly, Superman." The mayor gestured. "And Merry Christmas to you."
Superman was gone in a flash and the crowd slowly began to break up. Wyatt looked around. "Where's your dad?" he asked.
"I don't know," CJ was beginning when Lois spoke up.
"He went to cover whatever Superman's up to, Wyatt. He said he'd meet us at the party. Everybody stick close while we get back to the van, okay? I don't want anyone getting lost in this crowd."
They made their way slowly back toward the parking lot. CJ wondered where his dad had gone and hoped he wouldn't be too long. Grandmother Ellen and Mom were bound to start getting on each other's nerves if Dad wasn't there, and Grandmother would start making remarks about how Dad was always running off and was Mom sure that he wasn't seeing someone else on the side. CJ hated it when she did that.
Fortunately, Dad was waiting on the sidewalk when they pulled up to the building where Grandmother and Grandfather Lane had their penthouse. There were several other cars parked along the side of the street as well, and he recognized Aunt Lucy's, as well as Uncle Perry's and Dr. Trenton's. Dr. Trenton was Grandfather Lane's partner, and CJ thought he was almost as weird as Ralph, but he didn't say so.
"How did it go?" his Mom asked quietly. CJ wasn't sure he should be listening, but short of putting his fingers in his ears he wasn't sure how *not* to overhear.
"Not good. Superman had to transport a woman to the hospital. She was pretty bruised up. Her husband was hitting her with a beer bottle. She's going to need stitches, and will probably have to stay overnight for observation."
"Will she be--"
"I hope so. The husband's under arrest for assault--he was drunk--and their two kids are with Social Services. According to the police who arrested him, this isn't the first time they've been called to the place. He's apparently hit his wife a couple of other times, but never like this before. What a way for the kids to spend their Christmas, though."
"Well," Lois said, "I'm just glad that new law has gone into effect. The wife doesn't need to be the one to swear out a complaint anymore. That'll probably be the best present the kids could get--in the long run."
"I was thinking the same thing," he said. "Thanks to that series of articles on domestic violence you wrote; Superman will probably have to testify, but now the guy will have to spend some serious jail time--and get help, or else." He glanced at CJ, who ducked his head. "Little pitchers definitely have long ears around here. Come on, kids, let's go inside. Grandmother and Grandfather Lane are waiting for us."
They herded the children into the lobby of the building and the doorman, Barney, waved a greeting to them.
"On your way to Ms. Lane's party?" he asked.
"Where else?" Clark said, cheerfully. "Merry Christmas, Barney."
"Right back at you," Barney said. "Hi, kids. How are you getting along, CJ?"
"Fine, Mr. Jenkins," CJ said.
"I like this kid," Barney said. "Always polite to a fault. Wish I could get my own kid to act like him."
CJ felt his face growing warm. His mom ruffled his hair lightly. "We think we'll keep him," she said.
The elevator doors slid open and Barney waved them into the interior. "Have a good time," he said. "Ms. Lane already brought me a plate of hors d'oeuvres. The caterers outdid themselves this year."
Grandmother Ellen's place was brightly lit, and CJ tilted his head back to take in the twelve-foot, revolving, white Christmas tree, decked out in blue ornaments and tiny, twinkling blue lights. It was playing "Sleigh Ride" when they entered the room and then shifted to "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow". CJ thought that it might get kind of irritating after while, but kept his opinion to himself. Grandfather Lane came forward to shake Clark's hand and hug Lois, and then greeted the children heartily.
"Hi there, guys. Who's this?" he inquired, indicating Wyatt.
"This is CJ's best friend, Wyatt Dillon," Clark said. "He's staying with us while his mom and dad are in Las Vegas."
Sam Lane solemnly extended a hand and shook Wyatt's. "Any friend of my grandson's is a friend of mine. Why don't you guys head for the buffet table? Ellen's got quite a spread tonight." He winked at CJ. "I remembered to tell her you liked the lobster patties last time, so she stocked up."
"Thanks, Sam." Grandfather Lane had specifically told CJ to call him Sam, not Grandfather. It felt funny to call his grandfather by his first name, but CJ figured Sam preferred it, so he was willing to oblige.
"Don't mention it. Jonny and Jimmy, we've got your stuff waiting in the kitchen for you. Your grandmother picked out all your favorite food. And there's a lot of new movies for you kids to watch in the den, so you all can just take everything in there," his grandfather told him. "Your grandmother put a plastic sheet on the floor so the rug will be safe."
CJ glanced at his father, who nodded. "Come on, kids, this way. I have to get something for your mom, anyway."
Sam had turned to Lois and was looking her over. "Are you feeling all right, Princess? You look a little pale."
"I'm fine, Daddy," she said. "We do have some news to give you and Mother, though..."
CJ trailed the other kids to the buffet table. His father waved to the food. "Help yourselves, kids. If you don't know if you'll like something, Wyatt, ask CJ."
CJ picked up a paper plate. His grandmother had decided, after Marta had dropped one of her china cups at the last party, that paper plates and plastic cups made more sense for the kids. He cleared his throat. "Dad?"
"Why would a guy beat up his wife?"
His father looked sober. "I don't know, CJ. Some people don't know how to fight any other way than with their fists."
"You and Mom have arguments, sometimes, but you'd never hit Mom that way."
"Of course not," his father said, quietly. "You kids and your mom are the most important people in my life."
"I know." CJ scowled, trying to make sense of what he had heard. "But if a guy loves someone enough to want to marry her, why would he hurt her?"
His dad sighed. "I don't completely understand it either, CJ. There isn't any one reason, I guess. But what this man did tonight is against the law. He's going to have to find out the hard way that what he's done is wrong--and face the consequences. Maybe it will teach him something."
His dad was angry, CJ thought, although he hid it well. But when Superman got angry, he couldn't just hit someone. If he did, he could hurt somebody pretty badly. But so could a guy who hit his wife with a beer bottle. Didn't the guy care about his wife? Or had he been so drunk that he didn't even think about it? CJ shivered. "Arnie Binkman's dad hits his mom, too," he said. "I wish I could do something about that."
His dad patted him on the shoulder. "You won't have to," he said. "That *was* your friend Arnie's mom and dad. It was in Wyatt's apartment building, and I suspected it as soon as I realized where I was."
"Oh," CJ said. "Poor Arnie."
CJ turned around from the television screen. He'd eaten just about his weight in Grandmother Ellen's food, and was sitting on the rug, leaning against the coffee table, half asleep while the movie ran. His mom was standing in the doorway.
"Your dad tells me you were worried about what happened to your friend's mother."
"Come on in here, honey."
CJ hauled himself to his feet and followed his mother into the study. She sat down in the desk chair and CJ settled on the couch. She smiled at him. "Why are you worried, CJ?"
CJ shrugged. "Arnie's always doing stuff--playing jokes on Ms. Peterson. I just thought he was making trouble."
"And now you don't think so?"
"I dunno." CJ squirmed. "Arnie's okay--he just does stupid stuff. And now his mom's hurt and his dad's in jail for hurting her. It's scary."
"Yes, it is." His mother leaned forward. "You know your dad would never hurt me, don't you?"
CJ nodded. "I don't think Dad would ever hurt anyone."
"Well, that's not quite true. Do you remember Lord Nor?"
"Well, sure, but he was trying to kill Dad!"
"That's true. And, more than that, he was trying to take over the whole Earth. But you're right. Your father would never hurt an innocent person. But not everyone is like your dad. That's why he does the things he does."
"That's why he's Superman," CJ said, very softly.
"Yes, that's why. He couldn't stand by and do nothing when he has the power to help."
"Just like I will," CJ said.
"CJ, you can be whatever you want to be," his mother said quietly. "Your dad and I won't try to make up your mind for you."
"I know that." CJ nodded. "But, I've already decided. I'm going to do what Dad does when I'm old enough. I've been thinking about it ever since you and Dad told me about--well, everything. I want to help people like he does, someday. It's important. Arnie's mom is just one person that needed help, but there's a lot more. Dad is only one person, too. He can't do everything. I'm going to help him."
His mother smiled, even if the smile wobbled a little at the corners. "Do you know how much like your father you are?"
"Mr. Henderson thinks I'm like you. He said so, yesterday."
"He did, huh?" His mother looked thoughtful. "You know, he might have a point..."
Someone knocked on the door, and a moment later, Clark stuck his head inside. "Everything okay in here?"
"Sure," Lois said. "CJ's feeling much better."
"I'm glad of that," he said, coming fully into the room. "I already put the presents in the van. The party's starting to wind down, and I think we should get the kids home to bed, don't you? Not to mention, you need your sleep, too."
"Clark, you don't need to coddle me."
"I've got doctor's orders to coddle you--both from Dr. Klein and Dr. Lane. Perry agrees, too. I think you're outvoted, this time."
This time CJ chimed in. "Dad's right, Mom. I don't want you to be sick anymore, either. 'Sides, Jonny and Jimmy are falling asleep on the floor. Wyatt, too."
His mom gave him a mock glare and then sighed in a long-suffering manner. "Men! The whole bunch of you are ganging up on me!"
"Only because you're so important to all of us," Clark said. "Besides, it takes all of us together to handle Mad Dog Lane. Come on; let's go say our good nights."
CJ squirmed down into his bed and yawned. He hadn't been tired last night, even after all the things that had happened--kidnappings, spying and helping, even in a small way, to bring down a bunch of crazy government agents--but tonight he was ready for some serious sleep. Wyatt was already snoring slightly in the rollaway that had been set up for him in the corner of the room. The moon left bands of pale light across the foot of CJ's bed and the Superman poster on his wall.
Someday, kids might have posters of him on their walls because he did the same stuff Superman did, but that wasn't the important thing. The important thing was that someday, he could help people who needed it, the way his Dad did now. People like Arnie's mom, whom he remembered vaguely from Parents Night at school, and like Arnie and his little brother, too. Maybe he couldn't do everything, anymore than Dad could--but he'd have help. His dad would be there, to show him how, and there would be Marta and Linda and the other super-kids left behind by the New Kryptonians. And Wyatt, too. Maybe, together, they really could change the world for the better, the way Mom and Dad were always trying to do.
There was a soft knock on his door and his mom opened it a crack, letting in the dim light from the hall.
"Are you still awake?" she whispered.
"Sort of," CJ said. "G'night, Mom. It was a nice Christmas party."
"Merry Christmas, honey," she said. "Sleep tight."