Α Marshmallow World
The keys landed with a jangle and a thud as they dropped onto the coffee table. Black heels were pulled off, carelessly kicked under the couch to be forgotten until the sun rose next. Toes in dark stockings breathed freedom before sinking into the deep taupe carpet. The satin-lined overcoat slumped over the rounded back of the barstool, discarded and ignored for the rest of the night. Or morning, depending on one's outlook.
Lana pulled her hair down from her stylised up-do, shiny russet cascades falling down her back as the clock chimed once. She gave it a withering glance, grateful her day tomorrow looked relatively free in the morning. "The night is young, after all," she smiled, but it quickly faded. "Nowhere to go though."
She walked over to the kitchen, her eyes flicking over to the large, rounded window under a barrage of splattered snow. She liked it better in the spring and summer when she could have the window fully open, like a spacious balcony overlooking half the city, warm wind in her hair. Warmer weather was definitely better; winter fashions were so dull and bulky.
Sighing, she found it sad that instead of wanting coffee at this hour to keep her warm, she was craving a soothing herbal tea and a chance to get reacquainted with her pillow. "Me," she gave a self-disparaging laugh, "the great Lana Lang, fashion designer of the elite and socialite extraordinaire, ready to clock out at one in the morning." She shook her head. "What is the world coming to?"
Putting the kettle on and searching the cupboards for a mug of suitable size, the sudden knock at the door surprised her. Setting the burner on low for the time being, she stepped curiously to the door. She rested her hand gently as she brought a narrowed teal eye to the peephole. Black rounded rims and slicked-back hair desperately fighting to curl loose greeted her sight.
"Clark!" she grinned, opening the door. Circling her arms around him in a quick embrace, she pretended not to notice that his suit and coat looked like they had been thrown on in the dark, though her inner fashion sense flared disdain. "What are you doing here so late? Or, early, I guess," she led him inside.
"Just come to visit an old friend for the holidays," he smiled.
"Uh huh," Lana rolled her eyes. "Come on, Clark. Wishing someone well at one in the morning? You're hiding something," she held his chin so she could tilt his head down to look into his eyes, "or hiding from someone . . ."
"Oh, I bet you're on some sort of huge mission, and the villain has some kind of kryptonite war suit and you have to lie low until you can think of a plan to-"
He gave her a disbelieving but amused glance and she ceased her fantasy. "Well, you're hiding, I know that much," she crossed her arms.
"Enough with the intrigue, Lana. Can't I just stop by to see my friend?"
She sighed. "Well, I suppose. But I warn you, I won't be all that entertaining."
"Rough week on the runway?" Clark smiled and took a seat on one of the barstools.
"You know I don't like to model my own merchandise," she leaned her back on the counter, propped up on her elbows, one of the straps on her dress slipping down. "Well, not often anyway. Can't help myself sometimes." She winked at him.
The kettle whistled. Stepping around the counter to the stove, she glanced over her shoulder. "Want some tea? It's not really weather for a root beer float."
"Sure," he answered with a slight smile at the mention of one of his favourite treats.
She handed him a cup with a teabag sitting in it, and he stared a little while at it while it bobbed up and down, browning the liquid. She sat down next to him, stirring the contents of her mug with slight impatience.
"I wasn't sure you'd actually be in," Clark said, warming his hands on the sides of his steaming cup. "No late-night engagements with the money moguls of the town?"
"Believe it or not," she picked up the string of the teabag and began to dip it slowly, up and down, "sometimes I get tired of being so desirable."
"Hard to believe."
"I'm serious, Clark," she mock-glared. "All the fancy parties and big names get dull. I wonder why I even go sometimes. It's not like anyone there is good conversation. After the usual 'how are you' and 'such and such successful venture' and 'this much margin of profit', it gets real boring real quick."
"And no new escort to save you from the attack of the boring billionaires?" Clark blew the steam from the top of the drink and removed the bag. He took a judicious sip.
"Hardly," she let out a rush of air like a laugh, both self-depreciating and amused at Clark's new expression. His tongue stuck out slightly and his face scrunched as he set the mug down. "Too bitter?" Lana knew. Her tone turned sly and taunting. "I'll get you some honey, sweetie."
After grabbing the honey from the cupboard, she dabbed a sticky golden glob on a spoon and stirred it into his tea. "Try it now."
He graciously took it and tried again, this time with an approving smile the result. She gave a satisfied nod and walked around the counter again to sit back down. Clasping the cup in her hands she looked into the dark contents in contemplation. "It's true though. I haven't had anyone lately-probably one of the reasons I feel so out of place when I go to those gala events."
"No one? At all?" he looked surprised.
"No one for very long anyway," she shrugged. "I've picked up a few to tag along at certain parties, but I haven't really dated anyone since Lex . . . I guess he's enough to make any girl swear off men for a while." Seeing his sympathetic expression, she led away from that topic. "Anyway, I don't think any of the men here could hold something for me; too much big-city attitude. Even this time of year they're all business."
"If you don't like the company here," Clark put gently, "you could always go home for Christmas."
"Back to Smallville?" Lana pondered aloud, testing on her tongue how much she liked the prospect. "I don't know, with events and scheduling . . . will you be going back too?"
"I plan to spend it with my folks," he answered.
"Hm," she looked over to large window, its panes speckled white by the wind-blown flurries. "I suppose maybe I could head back. It's been a while . . . but enough about me, what's been up with you? I expected if you were coming over, I'd be sharing this," she gestured with her hand holding the cup of tea, "with Big Boy Blue. Why'd you change outfits?"
"Didn't want to raise suspicion," Clark took another sip. "Superman hasn't saved you from any disasters lately; it'd be strange if he were seen checking up on you for no reason."
"Unless you count the disaster of a suped-up robo-Lex almost destroying the world," she smart-alecked. "But then you'd have to check up on everyone on the planet."
"Funny," he said sarcastically.
"Why are you checking up on me?" she asked suddenly. "I'm surprised you've got the time."
"I'm on vacation," he shrugged. "And it's nice to be Clark sometimes," he stared into his tea with a distant look. For a moment the only sound was the wind outside whipping up against the windowpane.
"What are you talking about? You're always Clark." She took in his downcast expression. "Hey," she put a hand on his shoulder, "don't talk like you're two different people. Clark is Superman and Superman is Clark; it's one of the simple truths that help my world make sense."
"Simple? How can you say that?" he demanded softly. "Superman has the power to destroy whole worlds and—"
"And he never would, because his parents raised him right," she interrupted.
"You don't understand," his eyes turned, now gleaming at her intently. "When I'm Superman I don't—"
"There is no 'when'," she stressed, "you are Superman."
"But I was so close to . . . in the battle with Luthor . . ."
"But you didn't," she responded soothingly. "That's what's important. If Clark couldn't let himself do it, then neither could Superman. There's your proof right there." He looked as though he were about to speak. "And your little extra-dimensional counterpart was probably only able to do it because he didn't listen to his own good sense—and his friends' good advice," she said with a nod of her head, indicating that was to be the end of all arguments.
He stared at her a moment, a blank look of amazement on his face before it gradually turned to a gentle smile. "You know, Lana," his eyebrows raised in admiration, "sometimes I underestimate you."
"That's a dangerous course of action," she smirked. "So when are you going to have this little heart-to-heart with your tooth and nail reporter?"
"I make it my business to know," she quipped. "I'm surprised she doesn't too with how nosey she is. And," she interrupted before he could let out another protest, "don't give me that whole keeping-it-a-secret-to-protect her bit. Honestly, that woman knows how to get herself into enough danger all on her own."
"Well," he blushed, looking away, "I guess it's—"
He stopped suddenly when the comlink in his ear blipped to life. He raised his hand to his ear. "I read you Metro Tower. What's the problem?"
Lana leaned her elbow on the table and rested her head in her hand. "Saved by the buzzer."
"S.T.R.—" Superman answered the transmission, "I know it's upsetting that you can't find Courtney after curfew. I—"
Rolling her eyes, sure that Clark had practically prayed for this to happen so he could avoid explaining himself to her, Lana blew some stray bangs from her eyes.
"Yes, I understand, but this is a secure li—what?"
Lana perked up.
"What do you mean, Supergirl didn't come in for her shift?" his expression became fierce. "Where was she last seen? You don't know? How could you not know? You were supposed to be her senior supervisor!"
Lana was torn between being worried and being amused as his protectiveness manifested itself into a biting tone.
"Calm d—I am calm! We can't do th—there's no time. I'll meet you at the tower. Superman out," he concluded sternly. He glanced over at Lana with veiled anxiety. "Lana I—"
"Have to go, I know." She gave him a knowing glance. "Don't bite any heads off."
He almost laughed, and would have, had circumstances been different. Putting a hand to her shoulder he gave her a small smile. "I'll try. Stay safe, all right?"
"You know I won't," she winked. "Just don't think we're done with this conversation. I want to know exactly why you came here running from Lois' crazy party plans and how long you thought you could keep this holiday party a secret from me."
Clark blinked in shock.
"My business, remember?"
"Yeah! All right, school's out!" came the boyish cheer as snow-covered shoes raced through the front door.
"Master Timothy!" Alfred scolded after him. "Wipe your feet!"
But Tim had already turned the corner in the hall. A wet path of dirty footprints behind him, his face was ruddy with the cold and his excitement. Pictures in stern frames flew by as his feet followed the pace of his heartbeat. His scarf and jacket were discarded, falling far behind as he leapt forward in liberation. Coming to the stairs to the main living room, he slid down the banister, laughing in exhilaration as his hair went wild in the wind generated during his descent. Jumping and tumbling when he reached the bottom, his momentum was cut suddenly short by a pair of trousered legs.
Upside-down with his head on the floor, Tim could barely catch a glimpse of the sandy hair and dark melancholy eyes. "Hey, big guy," the boy waved.
J'onn stepped back so Tim could right himself. Brushing his sleeve, the kid gave one of his rakish grins before fully taking in the expression of the now humanoid Martian. "What's wrong?"
"Simply put," the distant tone was slow, "I am out of touch. My apologies for being in your way." He turned and started walking.
"Hey, wait," Tim called after him.
"Master Timothy," Alfred's disapproval echoed from the top of the stair.
"Oh man," the boy's shoulders slumped. "I'm in trouble."
Finally catching up to him at the foot of the stairs, Alfred tugged on his ear as he scolded. "A fine mess you've made! I only had those carpets cleaned Wednesday! Since you've such an attachment to the snow, I suppose you won't mind getting better acquainted," the butler's eyes narrowed. "Via snow shovel, of course. I want you to do the whole pathway to the house as well as the roundabout."
"Aw, c'mon," Tim tried his best to be charming. "I didn't mean to make a mess, honest. Haven't you ever been a kid? Where's your sense of fun?"
J'onn stopped before coming to the door out. Turning his head slightly, he watched the interaction.
"I have," Alfred remained adamant, "and at your age, I would have been told the exact same thing. You shall spend the next two hours shovelling that snow so you don't track it back into the house any more, or no dessert tonight."
Tim sighed and rolled his eyes. "Yes, sir."
"Very well then," Alfred nodded, satisfied. "I'll get the shovel."
Tim followed him with his gaze until he was out of the room. He gave a petulant frown to J'onn. "Why didn't you help me out?"
"Excuse me?" he asked curiously.
"Couldn't you have done some freaky Martian thing to make him not so mad?" Tim huffed.
"I believe you misunderstand my abilities," J'onn answered. "And he is merely trying to teach you responsibility."
"Couldn't he have just given me a puppy or something?" he whined.
"I fail to see how a—"
"Here you are, Master Tim," Alfred re-entered, thrusting a large snow shovel into Tim's hands. "I suggest you get started so you can finish in time for dinner." He directed his attention to J'onn. "Perhaps you wouldn't mind supervising? I have . . . other affairs."
"Bat—Bruce and Diana are arguing in the library," J'onn said helpfully.
Alfred stiffened in mild surprise, but quickly recovered, remembering to whom he was speaking. "Thank you. Your supper will be ready at five o' clock," he whirled back at Tim, catching him in the act of trying to tip-toe his way out of the room unseen, "and if you don't finish in time, you'll have to eat it cold."
Tim gave an exasperated huff of air. "All right, all right. C'mon, Mr. Manager," he signalled over to J'onn to follow him outside.
"We're not finished here," she called after him, her hands on her hips.
"I'm leaving anyway," he responded flatly, stepping briskly out the door.
Alfred narrowly dodged Bruce's barrelling form as the angry heir stormed down the hallway. Peering inside the library, he met with Diana's icy glare, which, he presumed, was for the young master. "Might I ask what that was about?" he questioned cautiously.
"It never changes," she sighed in answer.
"Well, Master Bruce is of a rather fixed nature," Alfred responded soothingly as he entered the room.
"That's an understatement," she rolled her eyes.
"Did you perchance hear where he may be going?" he picked up a book from the end table near an armchair and placed it back on the shelf.
Diana plopped herself into the chair. "Of course not. He only said that he was going out."
"Perhaps it's too much to hope he's gotten the same idea I have," Alfred bent down and pulled a box from beneath the chair. "Would you mind helping me wrap this before Master Timothy finishes the chore I sent him on?"
The air crisp and chill, only a few snow flurries fell to the ground, marking the passage of the previous night's near-blizzard. The clouds above echoed the white upon the ground, an unbroken, pristine blanket. Lightly dancing in the air, the snowflakes brushed his cheeks and tickled his nose. J'onn sniffed.
"Man, this is a lot of work," Tim huffed as he dumped the last few shovels of snow. "But I finished with time to spare. Guess I really am amazing, huh?" he gave J'onn a cocky grin.
J'onn remained stony. "Indeed."
"Jeez," Tim poked his finger into a mound of snow on the side of his freshly dug pathway. "I thought Batman was the one who never smiled," his finger traced a frowning face. "You should lighten up. Do something fun."
"I'm not sure I—" he quickly went intangible before he finished his sentence as a lump of snow came flying at him. It splatted harmlessly against a wall of the manor.
"See? No fun at all."
"I do not find provoking violence 'fun'," he gave Tim a stern look.
"That's what I'm talking about," he came toward the elder man and put the shovel up against the house. "You take things so negative—like there's no other way to look at it."
J'onn watched silently as Tim leapt back out into the yard, sinking slightly as he stepped. "Considering your surroundings," he tilted his head, shaking some snowflakes from his sandy hair, "it would appear you'd be used to such an outlook."
"Point taken," the boy scuffed his foot, watching as it sent a small white spray over the ground in front of him. "But that's no reason to copy his example. I mean, don't get me wrong, he's super cool, and it's awesome he lets me help out, but sometimes it's nice to see heroes who fight because they want to do good, and not because they're all dark and vengeance-y." He lifted his eyes to meet J'onn's. "I always thought it was really cool that someone like you could be on the Justice League, y'know?"
"I'm afraid I do not."
"C'mon. You didn't even come from Earth, but you fight for it as hard as any human. Harder, maybe."
"Superman is not from Earth. As are many others."
"Yeah, but their first impression of the planet wasn't an army tank welcome wagon and an all-expense-paid stay in the local lockdown facility. What?" Tim shrugged at J'onn's raised brow. "I do my homework. Besides, before I heard about you, I always thought aliens were weird slimy things that shot people up into their saucers and sucked out their brains. Well, I guess Superman was different, but he looks like a normal guy. Except for that weird curly thing his hair does. Hey," Tim perked up suddenly. "You ever make a snowman before?"
"Snowman?" J'onn questioned, surprised at the random shift in subject matter.
"Dude, I thought you were the mind reader. You know, snowman. Clumps of snow shaped like a man."
"I cannot say that I have done such a thing," the wind gently pushed his coat as he followed Tim out into the snow-covered yard. There was something in this boy, this wonder and excitement that was intriguing.
"I bet you'd be real good at it," Tim bent down and began scraping snow together, "what with your freaky powers and all. Wanna lend a hand?"
"Thanks again for inviting me, Kara," Courtney smiled. "You know how Pat never lets me out much."
"Hey, I know the feeling," Kara winked at her. "In Kansas, remember?"
"Yeah, you won't let me forget," Courtney adjusted the straps on her boots. "This going to be the last slope before we call it a night?"
Kara looked up at the dimming sunlight. "Yeah, I guess. What do you think Barbara?"
"It's about five right now and it's getting dark," the red-head reasoned, "so yeah. If we try and speed it up as we go down though, we might be able to go again."
"Hey, take it easy, Barb. You try and push it, and this time you might really sprain your ankle."
"Oh, give it a rest, Dick," Barbara rolled her eyes. "I let you come along so you could relax and have fun with us, not to baby-sit."
"Well with the way you act sometimes . . ." he crossed his gloved arms.
"Lighten up," Kara gave him a light-hearted slap on the back, nearly knocking him over. "We'll be fine."
"Yeah, and besides," Courtney adjusted her hair beneath her beanie, "we're definitely able to take care of ourselves."
"So c'mon, Boy Wonder," Kara teased, adjusting her skis to the ready, "see if you can keep up. Unless you're scared you'll lose to a bunch of girls."
"I'm not—argh," he groaned, exasperated, too tired to fight them anymore and wise enough to realise a fight with one against three would get him nowhere. Barbara shook her head at him and patted him on the shoulder consolingly.
"You guys go on ahead. We'll catch up."
"Suit yourself," Courtney shrugged.
"Yeah, catch you back at the cabin," Kara winked to her friend. "Don't be too long."
With that, the two blondes shot down the hillside, scarves flying behind them. Trees zipped past as their skis slid over the ground, the dying sunlight flickering between the branches.
Courtney breathed an exhilarated breath. "This is so great. I'm telling you, I can't thank you enough for letting me come up with you guys."
"The more the merrier," Kara responded. "I just hope Dick and Barbara remember to come back."
"Yeah, what's going on between those two?"
"Near as I can tell," Kara swerved to avoid a rock, "they were pretty serious back when he was in college. But after he graduated, there was a fight and he left town for about three years. He came back, and they've been like this since," she gave a glance at the other girl. "But that's just what I've picked up."
"They've definitely got some tension between them," Courtney's hair whipped behind her, "but I don't really get what she sees in him. He's kind of . . . blah."
"I'd hate to say it, but I kind of agree," Kara acquiesced. "And he should cut his hair."
"Definitely. It's almost as long as mine!"
"Then again," Kara tilted her head slightly in thought, though still paying attention to the slope before her, "he may just seem boring to us. Maybe when he's with her he sparks up. It's always the quiet ones, you know?"
"I wouldn't. Along with keeping me in by ten, Pat never lets me near boys without him."
"What about the League? You're near them a lot," Kara got that look that said she was fishing for something juicy. "Any 'comrades in arms' . . . interesting to you?"
"No, what do you care?" her response was defensive.
"Just asking, sheesh," Kara backed off. "Touchy."
"What about you?" Courtney fired back. "Anyone . . . interesting?"
"What? Me? No way," Kara said rapidly. "Besides, it's not like my cousin would allow it."
"Oh like that would stop you," Courtney rolled her eyes.
"Hold it right there!"
The two girls swerved to a halt, sending a shower of snow forward with their abrupt turning stops. Beneath the new white, icy layer, they could just barely make out the familiar forms.
"Clark?" Kara discerned as he wiped the snow from his glasses. "What are you doing here?"
"Pat?" Courtney realised.
"Courtney! How could you run off like that!" the large red-headed man on the left barked shaking off his coating of snow.
Clark's frown seemed frozen in place. "I spent all day looking for you, Kara. I don't care if you did get Captain Atom to fill in for you, you didn't tell me where you were."
She gave an irritated huff. "I go here every year with Barbara, Clark. I told Ma and Pa. Did you bother to ask them?"
"Well . . . I . . ." he shook his head. "That doesn't matter, you didn't tell me."
"Hey, I got my shift covered, I told Ma and Pa, and I can take care of myself fine. I don't see a problem here," the young superheroine was beginning to get angry.
"And you brought Courtney along without consulting her step-father," Clark was adamant.
"What are you talking about?" Courtney crossed her arms. "I asked you last week and you said it was fine."
"What? No you didn't!" Pat responded.
"Did too!" Courtney insisted. "When you were watching TV! I said, 'hey, Pat, I'm gonna go on a ski trip with Supergirl. Is that okay?' and you said 'uh huh'," she mimicked a dazed approval.
"When I was wa—you know I zone out when I watch the game!"
"Well, I heard you say that it was okay, and Mom didn't have anything against it, so I don't see what your problem is."
Pat looked sceptical. "And you don't have any duties this week for the League?"
Courtney sighed. "No."
"You done now?" Kara asked impatiently. "We'd like to finish this slope before it gets dark so we can find our way back to the cabin."
"What's going on, guys?" Barbara and Dick finally made their way down. They stopped in confusion at the two newcomers.
"Well at least we'll make it to the bottom together now," Kara rolled her eyes. "If you'll excuse us." She brushed past Clark. "We're going to finish this hill and then go back to the cabin, have some hot chocolate, and have a good time, perfectly safe, all on our own. C'mon guys."
Barbara shrugged and followed suit, indicating to Dick to follow. The young man smiled affably over his shoulder before he slid down the hillside. "Don't worry. I'll keep 'em in check."
"'Bye, Pat!" Courtney waved.
Pat watched the last glimpse of blonde hair descend down the slope before it dawned on him.
" . . . Wait, Courtney! You didn't tell me there were boys!"
The sun was just sinking behind the imposing shape of the manor house as Bruce pulled up. Rounding the curve before the entrance to the garage, he glanced at the figures in his front yard. He blinked in surprise.
Tim placed a bit more snow on his assistant, sculpting out a slender waist. Patting it down to smooth out the edges, the snow conformed tightly to the model's form, creating an exact replica.
"What in the world is Diana doing?" Bruce slowed the car to get a closer look.
Her body was nearly covered in the white snow, coming up from her toes to the top of her waist, and extending from one arm to the other, only leaving her head, neck, and upper torso exposed. Scooping up another lump of snow, Tim was about to place a hand higher when a thought seemed to cross his mind. Hovering his hand near her chest, he looked up at her. "I think you need to go bigger again."
As if on cue, Diana's bust increased another cup size.
Nearly swerving into the snow-filled yard, Bruce slammed on the breaks, screeching the car to a halt.
The two in the yard turned their heads sharply at the noise, watching as Bruce stumbled dazedly from the car. Tim looked from his living sculpture to Bruce's strange reaction and began to chuckle.
Phasing out of the snow, Diana's form melded into the familiar green-skinned shape of J'onn J'onzz. "I am sorry if I startled you."
"Startled?" Tim giggled. "His eyes are still bugging out!"
"That's not funny," Bruce growled. "What are you two doing anyway?"
"Making snowmen," Tim said nonchalantly. "I think we make a good team," he indicated the five other sculptures in the yard.
All around them, figures of snow glistened in their frozen moulds. Launching himself upward with his fist in the air, Superman flew to the fore, flanked closely by a replica of J'onn J'onzz in a fighting stance. To their left Green Lantern shot backwards, his ring projecting a beam before him that scattered the snow on impact. A raised spray exploded behind the racing form of the Flash, his grin frozen in place. Hawkgirl just barely touched the ground with one pointed boot as she raised her mace to strike. Behind the three warm-blooded spectators, the incomplete Wonder Woman held her golden lasso in her grip, her form rearing back with all her strength.
Bruce's eyes travelled from one sculpture to the next, cold blue eyes appraising each. "You've been busy."
"Just having a little 'fun'," J'onn said seriously.
"Yeah, J'onn changes his form into whichever person we're doing and then we coat him in snow," Tim explained excitedly. "After I'm done, he fades out and it's left intact."
"There are so many reasons why that shouldn't work," Bruce frowned.
"But aren't they cool?" Tim pressed as Bruce continued to examine his creations. Seeing the puzzled look on his face, he continued. "If you're looking for the Batman snowman, he's over here."
Bruce followed the boy's pointed finger to a shape beneath Wonder Woman's foot. Her lasso, in fact, was caught around the neck of the pointy-eared caped crusader as he bowed in submission, kneeling with the Amazon's heeled boot placed firmly upon his back, holding him down with the lasso like a short leash.
"Very funny," Bruce growled.
"We thought so too." Tim smiled until he met with Bruce's glower. "He thought of it," the boy pointed to J'onn.
J'onn sheepishly put his hands behind his back and looked away.
A slight tick developing beneath his left eye, and too furious (or embarrassed) to say anything further, Bruce stomped back to pull the car out of the snow, grumbling something about evil aliens and equally evil children.
"Why did you tell him?" J'onn frowned slightly at the boy. "You could have just left it alone so he would not be so angry with me."
Tim grinned impishly. "I believe you misunderstand my abilities."
A pleasant rumbling sound coming from his partner in crime, Tim smiled as he figured he was the first person on the face of the planet to make a Martian laugh. Yet another reason why he really was amazing.
The world is your snowball, see how it grows.
That's how it goes, whenever it snows.
The world is your snowball, just for a song—
Get out and roll it along!