It's Not Easy Being Dead
Standard disclaimers apply: I don't own them.
Laura Kendall sat on her living room sofa, staring at the paperwork spread out over the coffee table. She hated paperwork, she always had, but it was a necessary evil given her job as plant manager of one of Wayne Industries lesser west coast facilities. But this wasn't even for work – it was for a pizza drive at the grade school where her eight-year-old daughter, Samantha, attended.
Laura ran a hand through her light brown hair. 'I need to make an appointment with Jill to take care of my roots again,' she thought. 'Maybe I'll get it cut short. Cl… Charlie likes it that way…'
The news was running on the big screen, but it was more for background noise. Then one of the talking heads mentioned a name she hadn't heard publicly in nearly nine years. She grabbed the remote and turned up the volume, unable to tear her eyes from the picture on the screen of the dour bald man in prison coveralls.
"While prison officials are refusing to speculate on the cause of death pending an autopsy, it is known that Lex Luthor was suffering a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, possibly related to his long term exposure to kryptonite."
The talking head droned on about Luthor's crimes but Laura wasn't listening. She knew more than she wanted concerning Luthor's crimes. He was the reason she was living in Northern California instead of Metropolis or Gotham or D.C, why she was working for Wayne Industries managing a business instead of writing for the Washington Post or the Daily Planet.
"Charlie, Jay!" she yelled.
Charles Jacob Kendall's head came up as almost before his wife's yell hit his ears. Sixteen year-old Jay ran around the old car they were working on with one of the neighbors. He was running a little faster than a normal boy should be able to, but Charlie doubted Bob Standish noticed as he followed them into the house.
Laura was staring at the television screen, at the old photos of Clark Kent, Lois Lane and her son Jason White. Dead faces from ten years past. The commentator was going on about Luthor's final crime spree, the murder of Kent in the middle of the Daily Planet newsroom in front of sixty or so horrified journalists. Kent had been shot at point blank range then beaten by Luthor's thugs while Luthor gloated that he had determined that Kent was, in fact, Superman.
However, Superman's body – at least a crushed kryptonite contaminated body the authorities identified as Superman's – was found following a rescue near Mexico City that involved a building collapse. That body was interred in a tomb in Metropolis's Centennial Park, over Luthor's vehement protests. He claimed the body was a hoax and if anyone had taken Superman out, it should have been him.
Lois Lane and her son died when her car exploded in the Daily Planet parking garage less than an hour after Kent's death. The photo on the screen showed a car that hadn't simply burned – it had been obliterated. The bodies had been identified by DNA, her engagement ring and her son's med-alert bracelet.
"They said Luthor was dead," Laura said. "He died in prison."
"Do you think it's finally over?" Jay asked.
Laura looked back at Charlie.
"Bruce or Bill haven't called, have they?" he asked.
She shook her head slightly, confirming his suspicions. Neither Bruce Wayne nor Bill Henderson of the Metropolis Police had called to tell them it was safe for them to relax, that the danger was past. That Luthor was no longer a threat.
Bob was frowning, watching the pictures on the screen. Charlie hadn't wanted him to come in, but there really hadn't been a good way to keep him out without making things seem even more suspicious and Bob was naturally curious. It was part of his job as a cop.
After a moment, Bob's expression cleared. "You're in a witness protection program, aren't you? Because of Luthor."
Charlie heard Laura's sharp intake of breath and tried to keep his own breathing even and normal. After ten years in hiding building a new life, he didn't want to have to start over again because a neighbor got too curious. He didn't want to do that to his family. They had a good life where they were.
"What makes you say that?" Laura asked.
"Little things," Bob said. "You guys never talk about where you lived before coming here, but you've kept up your subscription to the Daily Planet. Most people have at least a few old family photos on the walls somewhere. You know, grandparents, aunts and uncles. But you have nothing here that's more than ten years old. And when we ran the background check on Charlie when he was hired by the school district, it came back spotless. Not even a traffic ticket. Nobody's that clean without help."
To Charlie's surprise, Laura managed a chuckle. "He is. Not even a parking ticket. A real Boy Scout."
"So, who are you, really?" Bob asked. "What did you do?"
Charlie sighed. It was one of things he'd always dreaded. One of the neighbors figuring out that there were deep secrets in the Kendall household.
"You do realize that the majority of people in witness protection programs have committed no crime other than choosing their relatives badly," Charlie said after a moment. "There's a knock on the door and there are armed marshals outside telling you to leave now with just the clothes on your back because the bad guys think you would make a great hostage, or maybe they just want you dead. Not necessarily because you did anything, but just because."
"And somebody close to you got Luthor pissed off?"
"More or less," Charlie admitted. Misdirection wasn't actually a lie and after all this time he still wasn't a great liar, although he had improved. Necessity was a good teacher.
Bob seemed to accept his statement as an admission. "Your secret's safe with me," Bob said after a moment.
"Bob, you can't tell your wife, or your boss or anyone," Charlie told him. "You may trust them with your life, but then they tell people they trust and the circle gets wider and wider and then one dark night there's an explosion that takes out half the block."
Charlie watched Bob's face go pale. "You're joking, right?" the man stammered out.
"No," Laura said. "Luthor was never known for his subtlety. He nuked Southern California, remember? And then nine years later the madman's out of prison and trying to level Metropolis. It took Superman to save the city. It nearly cost him his life. It did cost him his life, later."
She turned back to the screen. "Please let it be true," she whispered so low that Charlie might have missed it except for his unnaturally good hearing. "Dear God, please let it be true. Let the bastard be dead."
She shuddered and Charlie reached over to give her shoulder a gentle squeeze. The past ten years hadn't been easy for any of them, but she'd had the hardest time of it. It wasn't easy being dead.