When I was thirteen, my parents bought me a mountain bike and a map of Metropolis for my birthday. I'm sure they gave me other things—they always did birthdays very well—but it was the bike and the map that I coveted.
I would pack my school backpack, stuffing the map in as well even though I'd memorized it, and disappear for summer afternoons. The nice thing about having Superman for a dad, at that point, was that he could find me in a few heartbeats if he needed to, so he and Mom didn't worry much about me going off on my own. It worked the same for me finding home; if my map ever seriously led me wrong, I could just follow the heartbeats home. Home is very literally where the heart is for me.
Most people I came across on my bike trips—which were extended shortly before my fourteenth birthday when I acquired a Metropotransit pass for trains and buses, which had convenient spots for my bike—thought my parents were negligent. Most people I came across, though, didn't know that I was basically a mini-Superman. That was the secret that got me through middle school and high school, though; knowing that I wasn't the geek my classmates called me. It was hard to take the taunts seriously when the taunt-ers all got stars in their eyes when they saw my dad on TV, or when my mom arrived for parent-teacher conferences.
I used biking as my method for achieving Zen. I could've biked across the continental U.S. without getting properly tired, but that wasn't the point. I escaped the house, full of people—Molly was born at the end of July in 2009, then Jo in December 2011, then Brigit in February 2013, then Becca in October 2017, and there was always Mom and Dad, Jimmy from the Planet, Aunt Lucy—and their noises, and found internal quiet in the methodical roar of Metropolis streets. The whir of my tires, the hum of electricity, the muffled sounds of people in the buildings lining the road, the click and rush of the trains on their tracks.
I got to know Metropolis very well that way. In a way that not even Dad knows the city, and he knows it very well. I made friends, some of them my parents, Kryptonian super-powers or not, wouldn't approve of, some they would. My childhood was messy enough without them knowing about the card games in back rooms where I could listen to older guys talk.
My teenage years passed predictably. I was too much like Dad not to be a geek in high school. I was in the marching band—snare drum—and ended up dating Madeline Warner, a clarinet player. When I got my driver's license I was allowed to use the car that was officially Dad's, which meant I got to use it all the time because he never did. My driver's license might as well have been a tattoo on my forehead that read 'chauffeur,' seeing as I was suddenly the shuttle driver for all my sisters. Lucky me. The one bonus to that was that Mom or Dad would put gas in the car when I'd been driving Molly or Brigit around a lot—otherwise, for to and from school, I had to, which meant I needed a job. Mom took about four hundred pictures when Madeline and I went to prom (Molly laughed at me).
I was hired at the Shattered Barrel—which was actually a jazz club of sorts, for dinner and dancing; it could've come straight out of the Roaring '20s, and most of the clientele were probably born around then—as a cook. My English teacher, Mr. Redig, was a regular who knew a guy-who knew a guy-etc. I didn't hate it, and they paid well. Then the pianist for the band had a heart attack and had to quit (this being the year that I was finally thinking about quitting with piano lessons). They couldn't find a stand-in for the first shifts he would miss, and Mr. Redig just happened to overhear the conversation and remember that I was in band and hadn't I played the piano for the choir that one time?
Being a jazz pianist for a group that had been playing together for longer than I had been alive was tough. They were all retired from their careers, so they spent most of their free time working on new numbers. The raise was excellent, but it was hard work—practice from the moment I could get to the Barrel after school to the moment we had to go put on our tuxedos (Mom thought I was so cute; Molly laughed at me) for the dinner show. I did my homework on my breaks, though, as the pianist, I got the shortest breaks, covering for the rest of the band while they took breathers by playing a bit of quiet piano music while people ate. At the end of the night, it was a few more hours of practice (the guys had rearranged most of their schedule so that I could attend, it just meant that I didn't sleep much), then I'd run home just shy of midnight, getting in as much ribbing as I could about their being much too old to be up past nine.
I did a lot of growing up while I worked at the Shattered Barrel. The late middle-age and older crowd didn't much tolerate seventeen-year-old-boy crap, and they weren't my parents or relatives so they didn't have to be nice about it. I learned a lot from them.
That's not to say I didn't have my rebellion. There was about half a year, from a few months before I turned eighteen 'til after Christmas that year, when I didn't want to deal with my parents. It wasn't an "I'm eighteen, I know what I'm doing, I'm an adult don't tell me what to do" sort of rebellion so much as a "I have all these amazing abilities and I've proven that I'm a responsible person and you still don't trust me to use them" sort of rebellion. Ironic as it is, I lived in Kansas for awhile, flying halfway across the country every morning and every night. Grandma Martha had a very "boys will be boys" reaction, Dad paced a lot, Mom huffed, my sisters decided they were vindicated in their belief that I was indeed absolutely insane.
Then I graduated from high school and the real trouble started. I had overcome my issues with not being allowed to use my Kryptonian quirks for the good of humanity and made up with Mom and Dad, and life was just about perfect. I loved my job, I had some great friends (more than half of them were over the age of fifty, but I didn't really care), and I was very comfortable where I was. I was expected to move on to college, though.
So I went to Metropolis University, living at home instead of the dorms, and arranged my schedule so that I'd still be able to work at the Shattered Barrel. I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I took the general requirements and hoped something would strike my fancy. Nothing did. I hated it. I wanted to drop out.
Then Grandma Martha died. She went in her sleep on November 17, 2022. She was well into her nineties, had lived a long, full, happy life, buried a husband and a daughter before her, saw her adopted son marry the woman of his dreams, and lived to see all five of grandkids born.
It hit Dad very hard. He was International Editor at the Planet by then and it was all he could do to put his section together every evening, his mind off in Kansas. He and Mom couldn't well both take time off, or at least not much. I didn't really tell anybody, I just put in my notice at the Shattered Barrel, dropped out, and went to Smallville.
I took over handling the estate, putting everything in order. She'd recently had her will all settled, had paid off the farm and land long ago, and basically been well set. She'd left everything to Dad, with notes, of course, about which of his daughters got which bits of her favorite, expensive jewelry and the like. That was no surprise. I handled the funeral arrangements, and very suddenly everything was set.
After the wake, I went to the barn to escape the people again. That was where I met Danielle Turner, Lana Lang's daughter. She was dressed for the funeral, standing in the barn in an old fleece jacket talking to the horses. Apparently she'd been tending to the horses for Grandma Martha for years. She was devastated; Grandma had been a very dear friend.
It took some convincing—shouting, actually, when it came to Mom—but I moved to Smallville permanently after that. Dad signed the house and land over to me, and suddenly I had a farm to run. A farm with seed already purchased for the next season's crop, with a small herd of cattle and three horses, a coup full of chickens, four goats, one rabbit, and an uncountable collection of barn cats. I had only vague ideas of how to run a farm, and a few ideas bouncing around in the back of my brain for changes I'd like to make.
I called Danielle. She made a binder.
I soon discovered that Danielle was the most interesting person I'd ever met. She absolutely loved horses. It was what had drawn her to the Kent Farm in the first place, beginning to tend Grandma's horses when she was twelve or thirteen when her mom had found out Grandma was looking for somebody to take care of them or she was going to have to sell them.
She also loved dragons. She collected little glass dragon figurines, which was convenient because it was always a safe gift idea. She also loved Michael Jackson—she did a mind-bending moonwalk—and painting, jazz,bad science fiction movies. She was plump by conventional standards, but then, I can fly, so convention hardly entered the equation. She had a grainy sort of singing voice that put anyone to shame, and she was patient. She was also sarcastic, quite cynical, and every bit of her patience was due to her stubborn force of will.
It wasn't long before I went from thinking Danielle was interesting to being completely besotted. She didn't play hard-to-get so much as innocently oblivious, raised in a society that told her girls of her body type didn't catch the eye of guys like me. It drove me mad once I figured out why, despite the signs that she liked me—the quickening pulse, the slight flush, the averted gaze, flirting back—she ignored me (at least romantically). I'd had to have a long conversation with Mom before I realized what was going on, and even then it took a visit from Molly—who 'casually' mentioned to Danielle that I was madly in love with her—before she finally consented to go on a real date with me.
It was another several months before she felt secure enough that I knew I could propose and she wouldn't say 'no' on the simple fact that she wouldn't believe I was being sincere. I can never decide if it's modesty or a self-esteem issue I should really be concerned about. It didn't help that I was a bundle of nerves, having gotten permission from Dad to tell her the Secret if she said yes.
"Marry me," I blurted, sitting across from her at the kitchen table, the same one that my dad carved his name into when he was a kid.
"What?" she asked, setting her teacup back on the saucer with more of a clatter than usual. Her pulse was racing, her breath shallow and nervous. She looked fabulous—we'd had dinner at TGI Friday's, a treat to ourselves and we'd dressed up a bit to make an occasion of it. I wore knakis and a shirt that wasn't plaid; she wore a knee-length pinkish-orange skirt and a white blouse, with her hair down. She never wears her hair down, but it always looks nice.
"Will you marry me, Danielle?" I couldn't hear her heart anymore because my own was thundering in my ears. If I was a normal person, I would've been sweating bullets.
"What do you want to marry me for?" she asked in that small, shy voice she never uses with me anymore, looking down and away, fidgeting with the hem of her shirt.
Are you Superman's son or not?
I got up and walked around the table so that I could crouch at her side. It's not exactly the on-one-knee approach, but conventional was never our style.
"I love you," I tell her. It isn't the first time I've said it, and she's told me she loves me before, but we don't say it all that often, and I think I should probably make a point to tell her more often. "I want to spend the rest of my life with you. That's why I want to marry you."
She immediately burst into tears. I hate it when she does that, I have no idea what I'm supposed to do. Is she crying because I've upset her and I should just go? Is she crying because she's happy and I should probably smile and give her a hug? Is she crying because somebody else upset her and I should give her a hug and then go beat the crap out of them?
She solved the problem by throwing herself at me, knocking me right back onto my ass on the kitchen floor. Her tears gave way to laughter quickly, and she began kissing every inch of my face she could get her lips near.
"Is that a yes?" I asked when I could finally move my jaw again.
I'm fairly certain my cheeks would be sore if they could be I smiled so big. I had the ring in my pocket—I'd been carrying it around for days by then. It was a silver band with a single emerald set in it.
"This was Grandma Martha's," I told her, holding it up for her to see, shifting a bit so that we were more comfortable sitting on the floor together, her curled partially in my lap. "Jonathan Kent gave it to her when he asked her to marry him."
"Oh, Jason," she sighed, holding out her hand so that I could put the ring on her finger, I didn't though, not yet.
"See here," I say, pointing to the inside of the band where All My Love was etched into the silver. She nods. "I mean it. I love you so much."
"I love you, too," she says, but she's suspicious now, she's looking at me like she's waiting for the other shoe to drop, like she's sure I changed my mind.
"Danielle, I need to tell you something before I put this ring on your finger. I don't want you making any promises without all the information," I said, hating that I sounded just as worried as I felt. Now who's the one with self-esteem issues? I askedc myself at the same time that another voice in the back of my head, the one that sounds like Brigit at her bitchiest, says She'll run. Who wants to marry a human-alien hybrid?
"What do you need to tell me?" she asked, withdrawing a bit.
I've thought the scene through a thousand times. It ends differently every time, sometimes she loves me anyway, sometimes she just can't take the thought of sharing her life with a part-alien. Sometimes she goes running for the police or the media.
"Actually, I should probably just show you," I said, helping her to her feet and leading her out the back door. It's a cool, clear night; perfect for star-gazing.
"You're making me nervous," she said, her tone only half joking.
"Sorry, I don't mean to," I said, not sure how to make it easier for her. "Will you come here?"
Timidly, she makes her way over to me, standing on our little back patio under the stars. I try to smile reassuringly, but I'm too nervous to pull it off. "Stand on my feet and close your eyes," I tell her.
"Jason," she sighed sharply, putting her hands on her hips and pursing her lips at me. I want to kiss her, but I know better. "You're being very odd."
"I know, I'm sorry… Just, do it, please?"
She sighed again, but came over to me and stood on my feet, gently so as to not squish my feet, not that it matters. She allowed me to wrap her arms around my chest. "Eyes closed?"
"Eyes closed," she said, and I can just feel her rolling those closed eyes.
I rise into the air. I've never done this with another person, not like this. When the girls were little, I used to fly them around the house and things, but it was all in fun, not like this. This is how Mom and Dad used to go flying, the romantic stuff. I had a single, horribly embarrassing conversation with Mom (because all my conversations with Mom these days start with me asking embarrassing questions and being embarrassed about getting answers that she doesn't seem to mind in the least) about how best to approach flying with the woman I'm in love with, seeing as she has the most experience being wooed via flight.
Once we're high enough that we can see everything, the entirety of Smallville proper and the surrounding farms, the moon and stars giving us twinkling light high above, the pair of us bathed in the clean darkness of the sky, I pull back from her a bit.
"You can open your eyes now," I said, and suddenly my voice sounds like it normally does, confident and deep like Dad's—it's always been odd to know that I sound just like Dad, especially since he alters his voice so often. I can only suppose that, since there's no going back at that point, there was no use being so nervous.
"Jason!" she squealed when she got a good look around, throwing herself forward to clutch more tightly to me. "We're in the air!"
"We're flying," I agree.
"We're flying?! How're we flying?"
"Well, I'm flying, I should say," I say, prattling on like the geek I am. "But I've got you, don't worry."
"Don't worry? We're hovering hundreds of feet up in the air with no support and all you've got to say is don't worry?!"
"Would you like to go back down?"
"I don't want to fall!"
"Sh," I say, attempting to soothe her, rubbing circles on her back. She relaxed ever so slightly, but her grip on my shoulders was still incredibly tight.
Slowly, I floated down closer to the ground, spinning us slowly as we went, turning so that she would get a great view of the area as we descended. By the time we're three hundred feet from the patio, she was just standing in the circle of my arms and looking around, awed.
"Now I know what Lois Lane feels like," she whispered when we finally touched down, then she startled. "Lois Lane! Your mother! Your mother slept with Superman?!"
"Superman is my father, yes," I said quietly, guiding her back into the house and to the warm tea waiting.
"Clark Kent is Superman," I explained, urging her out into the living room and down onto the couch, where I could sit next to her, but not too close, I still didn't want to frighten her.
"Clark Kent is Superman, and Clark Kent is my father."
"… If Clark Kent is your father, and Superman is your father, then Clark Kent is Superman?"
"Yeah," I replied after a moment, not sure about her phrasing, exactly, but rolling with it.
"This is what I needed you to know before you agree to marry me," I told her, taking the ring out of my pocket again and holding it between us. She seemed to remember that I'd just proposed to her, promptly falling back into blinking, gaping surprise. "I know it's kind of overwhelming, springing these two huge things on you all in one night, but, even though my dad's from a different planet, I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
"I've met your dad, Jason," she said, eyes narrowing. "There's no way he's Superman. He's all… awkward. Don't get me wrong he's a great guy, but he's just not… Superman."
I couldn't help but smile at that. Dad's way too good at being a bumbling idiot sometimes.
"You should meet him for-real sometime. He's different."
"Wow, Jason. I just… seriously?" she blinked at me again, flopping back against the couch.
"This is amazing."
I could only shrug. I'd been able to fly since I was five, after all.
"So you have all his… powers?"
Suddenly agitated, I set the ring on the coffee table and stood up, pacing across the living room. I took a letter opener, put my hand down on the coffee table in front of her, next to the ring, and stabbed the letter opener down onto the back of my hand. She yelped, but then froze when she saw that the letter opener had bent horribly instead of piercing my hand. I straightened it back into its proper shape effortlessly. Next, I crossed my legs and hovered midair, brushing the hair out of her face with a controlled blast of very cool air. Then I put my feet down again and bent to lift the couch, with her on it, up so that her ankles were at my eye-level. She yelped again, clinging to the armrest until I put it down.
I stood by for another moment, feeling her eyes on me, hoping against hope that she'd be able to accept me, hating that she was staring. I looked down at my shoes; they were just the same as always.
"I love you, Danielle," I eventually whispered. "I know it's kind of overwhelming, and I won't rush you," I said. Her heart was racing. "Take as long as you need."
Then I left. I had planned to go up to bed, but once I got into the bedroom that we'd been sharing for almost a year I couldn't bear the thought of crawling into bed alone, and I didn't want to force her to share a bed with the half-alien. I climbed out the window and took flight, going higher than I normally did so that the air was cold around me.
I flew once around the world, very slowly. I was wasting time. I listened for people that I knew as I passed over, but I didn't pay much attention to what was going on. Life continued very normally back on the surface of the planet.
Finally, I was within hearing range of Smallville again. To my surprise, Danielle was in the bedroom but she wasn't asleep. She was standing at the window, leaning out over the garden, searching the skies. She was wearing Grandma's ring on a very significant finger.
Without really thinking, I shot from the sky, almost losing my clothes to the slipstream, but remembering to slow down to a more proper speed just in time. It was my best shirt; Danielle would kill me if I let it disintegrate…
The thought was so absurd I almost laughed.
"Jason?" Danielle asked when she caught sight of me as I streaked from the sky, probably looking more like a freak than ever.
I stopped outside the window, hovering in standing position at her eye level as she looked me over. "It's me," I said, not sure what else to say. She hesitated only a moment.
"You'd better get in here. Somebody might see."
"Yes, dear," I muttered. My eyes darted to hers—it was a long-standing joke between us, but I'd just proposed, and I wasn't sure it was appropriate… but she was smiling. Widely.
We stood awkwardly in the bedroom for a moment. She'd dressed for bed, with her flannel pajama pants and ratty old t-shirt under the fluffy blue bathrobe I gave her for Christmas last year. The ring caught the moonlight just perfectly where she stood.
Finally, I reached down and took her left hand from her side, bringing it up so that I could kiss the ring. "Does this mean you're not mad?"
"Why would I be mad?"
"I'm half alien?"
"I'm half Canadian."
I couldn't help but laugh at that, pulling her into my arms, practically floating with happiness when she came readily.
"So you'll marry me?"
"Yes, I'll marry you."
I beamed at her, kissing her soundly. It wasn't until we broke apart only for her to jerk closer to me that I realized we were hovering. I flushed immediately.
"Don't be," she said, relaxing ever so slightly in my arms, looking down. We were a good two feet above the floor, leaving only a few inches between my head and the ceiling. Lucky the Kents had always tended to be tall and therefore had built their house with high ceilings. "It's kind of…"
"No," she glanced up at me sharply. "It'll just take some getting used to, is all."
"You really don't mind?"
"I love you. I don't really care if you can fly or not."
I beamed at her and proceeded to fly her over to the bed, where we celebrated our engagement into the wee hours of the morning.