Disclaimer: 6Teen and all related characters are property of Fresh TV; Superman and all related characters are property of DC Comics. This story was written solely for my enjoyment, and I am making no money from this. Enjoy!
Toronto Central Airport, Toronto, Ontario, September 12, 2006
The central airport was bustling with activity by the time noon came around. Even with the sun high in the sky, fall's crisp bite was already in the air, forcing most new arrivals – especially those from warmer climates – to start bundling up…but the growing chill didn't stop one young cyclist; pedalling up to the main entrance, the young woman stopped at the curb, quickly locking her bike at the nearby bike-rack, before removing her helmet, revealing her copper-red, ear-length hair, and then her cycling shades, exposing her blue eyes. Fixing her helmet to her knapsack, the cyclist hurried into the main entrance, pausing as her cell-phone started ringing; unzipping the jacket of her red-white track-suit, she fished it out. "Hello?"
At the sound of her dear friend's voice, 19-year-old Jen Masterson beamed. "Nikki!" she exclaimed. "Oh my God, it's so great to hear you!"
"Likewise!" came the reply. "I just thought I'd call and update you guys; my flight's running a little late; I'll be another hour."
Jen's face fell. "Nothing's wrong, is there? There's no major problems..?"
Nikki laughed. "No, Captain Worrywart; there's no engine trouble, no gremlins on the wings, and no guys sporting automatics. I'm fine."
"Good," Jen answered, "because you can't just depend on some…supposedly-flying miracle to catch you if you crash..!"
Nikki sighed. "Uh, hello? Had this conversation last night with my boyfriend, already!" At the mention of Jonesy, Nikki's tone softened. "How is the big lug?"
Jen giggled. "Knowing my stepbrother, probably a nervous wreck, by now!" she said. "He started marking off his calendar last September!"
Nikki's tone turned wistful. "I just hope we can find time to make it work, what with me going to Toronto U…"
Jen bristled; she couldn't take it, anymore. "Okay, Jonesy's probably going to flip for me blabbing, but I can't keep it a secret!" she exclaimed. "He, Jude, Wyatt, and Caitlin have all been accepted, too! We're all going to be there!"
Nikki nearly choked. "You're…you're kidding!" she cried. "You, Cate, and Wyatt I can believe; Jude, maybe…but Jonesy?"
Jen laughed. "Believe me, Nikki, I was surprised, too! The minute he heard you might be coming back, Jonesy did a complete 180! He almost beat me out for valedictorian!"
"He…he DID? MY Jonesy?" an incredulous Nikki exclaimed. "Don't get me wrong, I love him…but really?"
Jen chuckled. "What can I say? Love makes a great motivator!"
Now it was Nikki's turn to laugh, before she groaned. "Crap. I gotta go; the flight attendant's giving me the stink-eye."
"No problem," Jen answered. "I'll see you on the ground, okay?"
"You bet," Nikki answered. "See you in an hour, Jen. Later!"
"Later!" As she ended the call, Jen happened to catch sight of another familiar face. "Caitlin! Over here!"
Hearing Jen's call, 19-year-old Caitlin Cooke, in her usual light rose halter-top and blue-violet miniskirt, hurried in her direction, her fairly long, sunflower-blonde bangs dancing into her baby-blue eyes, which were fraught with worry. "Oh, Jen, it's terrible!" Caitlin wailed. "I still haven't found the perfect Welcome-Home gift for Nikki, and her flight's due to land, any minute..!"
Jen fought back a laugh. "Relax, Cate; I just talked to Nikki," she assured her friend. "Her plane is an hour behind; you have time."
"An hour?" Caitlin cried. "I haven't found anything all week!"
Jen arched an eyebrow. "That doesn't sound like the pro shopper that snagged a Yummy Couture Handbag on an A&F 90 Percent Off Sale before Tricia even saw it."
The mention of that incident brought Caitlin down from her freak-out; taking a deep breath, she calmed herself. "Okay…okay, I'm good," she answered. "There are several boutiques in the airport; I should be able to find something there."
"There you go!" Motioning towards the airport's inner court, Jen added, "We'd better go meet the guys; they should be here, by now."
Caitlin giggled. "How do you think Jonesy's going to take the delay?"
"Oh, he'll probably have a heart-attack," Jen giggled. "Which is why I want to be the one to tell him!"
Jen stuck out her tongue. "Oh, and him making me think I had school on a Saturday was nice?"
"I see your point."
Jen laughed. "We'd better go, before Jonesy figures it out on his own." With that, the two of them hurried off.
"Dude, is my hair okay?"
Rolling his eyes, 19-year-old Wyatt Williams turned back towards his friend, his dark-complexioned face falling into an expression of annoyance, as he shifted his guitar-case over to his other shoulder, wrinkling his blue jean-jacket, before brushing one of his short dreadlocks out of his eyes. "For the tenth time, Jonesy, your hair is fine."
In his usual light brown khaki pants and white-blue Hawaiian-style t-shirt, 19-year-old Jonesy Garcia looked at his scalp's reflection in an airport-shop window, checking his short, blue-black hair for any imperfections. "Oh, sure, easy for you to say! You're not the one whose girlfriend is coming back after three years! For all I know, she could have met someone else..!"
Wyatt laughed. "No, chance, Garcia; she loves you," he said. "'Course, she might be interested to hear you getting this bent out of shape over her…"
At that, Jonesy's eyes went wide, before he stood up straight, and took a deep breath. "I'm okay," he said calmly. "The Jonesmeister is cool."
"Good to hear." Hearing a beeping tone, Wyatt fished his cell out of his jeans pocket. "Jen and Caitlin just arrived; we'd better go meet them." At that, Jonesy nodded, before the two of them headed off.
By the time they reached the small coffee-shop within walking-distance of the greeting-area, Jen and Caitlin were already there. "Hey, guys," Jen greeted, her smile turning to a mild smirk as she glanced to her step-brother. "Still freaking about Nikki coming home?"
"Please. The Jonesmeister is nothing but cool; Nikki's probably the one who's foaming at the mouth to get back here."
Caitlin giggled. "Then you won't mind waiting another hour."
Jonesy went pale. "What?"
Jen nodded. "Her flight's an hour late."
Jonesy's knees started to wobble. "Guys…"
Wyatt grimaced. "Easy, man…"
"I swear…I'm not gonna make it…"
Jen couldn't help but giggle as "the Jonesmeister" collapsed into a chair from an outside table. "'Nothing but cool,' huh?"
Wyatt also chuckled. "Well, we still have to wait for Jude, don't we?"
Caitlin blinked. "So…where exactly is he?"
"Over here, dudes."
The sound of that voice drew their gazes towards a stall just inside the coffee-shop, where a lean figure, clad in a simple robe and a sombrero, sat alone. The figure turned towards them, lifting the brim of his hat up just enough to reveal…
Jen's eyes went wide. "Jude?"
19-year-old Jude Lizowski smiled his mellow smile back at them. "'Sup, dudes."
Caitlin giggled. "What's with the Mexican look, Jude?"
"I'm in disguise, bra; security's lookin' for me," Jude answered. "Showed up a little early, so I wouldn't miss Nikki, and I figured I'd trick off a couple things with my board…"
Wyatt chuckled. "You pulled an Ollie off the escalator, didn't you?"
Jude rolled his eyes. "Next thing I know, I'm a "threat to airport security," bro."
"But…why the sombrero?" Jen asked.
"Camouflage, bra. The airport cops are lookin' for a guy who'll be blendin' in; they won't look for a guy who stands out." Jude grinned. "Only a genius thinks of the obvious, dudette."
Jonesy grinned. "Jude!"
"Dude!" Jude's smile dimmed. "So Nikki's runnin' late?"
"Afraid so," Wyatt answered.
Caitlin beamed. "I can't wait to show Nikki around the Mall! So much has changed!" she squealed. "They even started renovating that old rec center by the parking lot..!"
Her enthusiasm dimmed as she saw the sombre expressions on her friends' faces. "What?"
"It's…it's nothing, Cate," Jen answered. "You just…reminded us of something, that's all."
"Wasn't just "something," bra," Jude said softly. "We almost lost Nikki for real, that day."
Wyatt nodded. "We would have, if it hadn't been for…"
"Whoa, dude. We promised," Jonesy reprimanded. "Nobody outside our circle hears about him."
Caitlin blinked. "Huh? What are you guys talking about?" she asked. "Hears about who?"
Jen looked stricken. "Guys, this is Caitlin; she's part of our circle, remember? We can trust her!"
Caitlin frowned. "Trust me with what?"
Jonesy sighed, nodding slowly. "It was 1 Year B.C. – Before Caitlin," he said, managing a faint smile. "It'd be a little more than four years today since we saw him, last."
Wyatt's saddened expression matched the others'. "Cate…when you met all of us, we were just five friends," he began, "but a year earlier, we were almost six…"
Galleria Mall, Toronto, Ontario, August 23, 2002
"I still can't believe you did it."
As she and Wyatt walked into the Mall's Food Court, 15-year-old Nikki Wong, in her usual custom-ripped white tank-top and khaki pants, her mid-length hair dyed dark violet, with lighter mauve highlights, chuckled as she gingerly fingered her newly pierced nose. "Hey, I just figured it was time for a change; it's no big deal."
"'No big deal'?" Wyatt cried. "A steel rod going through your nose is 'no big deal'? Your parents are gonna freak!"
Nikki rolled her eyes. "Trust me, Wyatt; my parents are completely oblivious when it comes to style. Have you seen what they wear?"
Wyatt calmed. "Good point."
"Exactly! I mean, hello? The 70s called; they want their clothes back!"
By then, they had reached the Food Court; as usual, Jonesy was sitting at their usual table in front of the Big Squeeze. As he caught sight of Nikki's nose, he arched an eyebrow. "So, I guess you made it past the metal detectors."
Nikki blew a raspberry at him. "Oh, bite me."
Wyatt looked around. "So, where's Jen?" he asked. "How did her job interview go?"
Jonesy chuckled. "See for yourself." He pointed towards the Big Squeeze.
It was only then that Nikki took a closer look at the girl standing in the giant lemon…before she burst out laughing. "Oh, my God…you…you have got to be kidding!"
With an apron over her white skirt and light violet hoodie, and a lemon hat atop her head, Jen could only scowl. "It was the only job I could get," she muttered. "Nobody else was hiring anyone under 16…"
"But…you're wearing a giant lemon!"
Now Jonesy was laughing. "And to think, I was worried that I wouldn't have anything to crack jokes about when school starts!"
Jen scrunched her eyes shut. 'It's for university…it's for university…'
Wyatt chuckled. "Come on, guys; isn't that hat punishment enough?"
Before anyone could answer, a familiar blond-headed, toque-clad blur rolled by on his skateboard; turning around, Jude zoomed back, coming to a perfect stop in front of the lemon. "Your new job, bra?"
Jen nodded forlornly. "Uh-huh."
Jonesy grinned. "So, guess who I saw working at the Khaki Barn, this morning?"
Nikki instantly scowled. "You mean "The House of the Culturally Undead"?" she snapped. "Because anyone who wears their trash has to be a zombie."
"That's the one," Jonesy answered. "Kristin and Kirsten."
Nikki's eye twitched. "Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber?" she asked. "Figures."
Jen suppressed a giggle. "You're so mean."
"I know." Turning around, Nikki headed off. "Now, if you don't mind, I think I'll pay a visit to the Crappy Barn; those two deserve a proper welcome."
Wyatt laughed. "Careful, Nikki; you might be asking them for a job, one day."
Nikki shuddered. "As if!" she muttered. "For future reference, if I ever get stuck there, please shoot me!" With that, she walked off.
'This is sad, being reduced to bugging those two,' Nikki thought as she walked, 'but what else is there? It's not as if anything ever happens around here…'
The Galleria Mall's parking lot was remarkably sparse without its usual traffic; with the last days of summer winding down, patrons were still on vacation, and the few that remained were at work. Only the sound of the wind filled the lot, as it pushed old flyers across the asphalt, past the old rec center that rested on the cliff-side overlooking the highway, its renovation crews working mindlessly away on it…
"Whooooaaaaaaa – OOOOF!"
That cry of alarm was barely audible over the sound of a sonic boom, as a red-and-blue blur raced towards the Mall…right before it tripped on its own speeding feet, sending it tumbling to the ground, skidding to an inglorious stop behind the Mall.
Groaning as he brushed dust off his blue jeans, dark blue t-shirt, and red flannel jacket, 15-year-old Clark Kent, tall, lanky, and wiry, got back to his feet, adjusting his glasses – part of his disguise – over his sky-blue eyes, before brushing more dust out of his short black hair. 'Man, I have GOT to work on those stops…'
Of course, he probably would have been working on stopping at superspeed, by now, if the Fortress' computer hadn't found that weird program in the files Jor-El had left for him; he'd already gone over most of Krypton's history, and was ready to move on…
Taking out the crystalline sphere the Fortress had generated, Clark looked around. 'Okay, this looks like a "populated area,"' he mused. 'Alright, Father; whatever you have in store for me, I'm ready.' With that, he tapped the sphere's central disc, activating it.
Instantly, the holographic face of Jor-El appeared before him. "My son, if you are hearing this message, then you have already completed your studies of the history of our world," he said. "I am pleased that you have done so at such a swift pace…but if you see and hear me, now, it is because the main computer of your new Fortress of Solitude has made an…unnerving observation in your frequent downloads from its Knowledge Chamber."
Clark blinked in confusion. "What? What observation?" he asked.
The recording could not answer. "The activation of this file is in response to your distancing yourself from your human upbringing," Jor-El continued. "Though you are not one of them, my little Kal-El, you must not ignore the lessons you have learned from your adopted people in favour of your Kryptonian heritage; if you are to live among them, you must understand them."
'Oh, I do understand them, Jor-El; I understand that good people die, while bad people get to live,' Clark thought miserably, as he recalled how Jonathan Kent had suddenly died of a heart attack, while he'd been powerless to help. 'That's why I need to learn as much as I can of who I really am..!'
"I do not know what kind of upbringing you have had on Earth, my son," Jor-El said. "Though your mother and I sent you to Earth with the highest of hopes, it would have been foolhardy to not realize that unscrupulous humans would use your great power for personal gain…which forced me to do this to you."
It was at that moment that Clark felt woozy. "Ugh…"
"By now, you have begun to feel the effects of your body now metabolizing red sunlight, my Kal-El," Jor-El said. "It is an impossible odyssey that I have sent you on, to bear the responsibility of the power Earth's yellow sun gives you…one which may be too heavy, if an unkind soul were to raise you. Upon initializing this program, the Fortress began to saturate its internal atmosphere with nanites, which are now spread throughout your body. These nanites will not harm you, my son; their sole purpose is to absorb the yellow solar energy your body takes in, and give off red solar energy in its place, modulating your internal reserves just enough so that you may reach the closest human population center, before your powers are depleted."
Clark grimaced, as he dropped to his knees, exhausted. "Father…why..?"
"The effects will not be permanent, my son; the device you hold will continually monitor your activities. Once it is certain that you can be trusted with your powers, it will send a signal to destroy the nanites," Jor-El finished, his expression saddened. "It…pains me deeply to do this to you, my son, but Krypton's most sacred law requires that I prevent you from interfering with Earth's natural development, should you fail to learn this crucial lesson. If this responsibility has proved too much for you, then I now give you this chance to turn back, and live in peace as one of them. Good luck, my son."
With that, the hologram shut off, as the sphere shot towards his belt, affixing itself around his belt-buckle. Catching his breath, Clark reached towards a stone, picked it up, and squeezed.
Normally, the stone would have shattered into dust with just the tiniest squeeze…but now, all he got for his effort was a sore palm. Sighing, Clark tossed the rock aside. 'I really am human,' he thought, getting up. Taking one step towards the Mall, Clark grimaced as he wobbled; he was so used to the power he'd gotten from the sun, it felt weird to be without it.
'I guess I have no choice,' Clark thought. 'Whatever lesson Jor-El wants me to learn, I'll have to go along with it if I want my powers back...and it looks like I need to learn it here.' With that, Clark headed into the Mall.
The second he walked through the doors, Clark was mildly awed as he looked around the Galleria; it was like an entire city in itself, complete with skylights, fountains, a food-court…and even an amusement park with a roller-coaster.
Granted, it was no Fortress of Solitude…but darn it if it wasn't a close second.
Clark could only gape as he walked through the Galleria, managing to keep out of the way of mall-goers, walking amongst the numerous stores. "Okay," he murmured to himself, walking by one clothing store, "I am definitely not in Smallville, anymore…"
"Welcome to the Khaki Barn!"
That high-pitched, almost chirpy voice nearly sent Clark stumbling into a display as a 15-year-old girl, clad in a red-pink t-shirt and slim blue jeans, with mid-length blonde hair kept back with a headband and blue eyes, popped into view. "Are you here for our 15 Percent Off Sale?"
Clark could only gape. "W-What?" he stammered. "Oh…uh, no, actually, I…"
The girl was already on autopilot. "We have a wonderful selection of tees and khakis of all sizes!" she chirped, grabbing his elbow and practically dragging him into the store. "Here, you can create the perfect look…which you desperately need!"
Clark was bewildered. "Huh?"
Just then, a second girl, all but identical to the first in appearance – save for her hair tied back in a sort of poofy ponytail – popped up. "Kristen, I need you to help me fold the sweaters!"
"Kirsten, I am making a sale!" the first girl – Kristen – answered. "We're talking Style 911, here!"
Kirsten winced. "Eeeww! I see what you mean!" she exclaimed. "Uh, hello? The lumberjack-look went out of style, last century!"
At that moment, as though Clark wasn't stupefied enough, a third girl, slightly older, but still borderline identical to the first two, stepped into view. "Kristen, Kirsten, I need you both to…" she began, but stopped as she saw Clark, her eyes going wide. "Flannel? ICK!"
"I know, right?" Kristen answered. "Total Fashion Emergency!"
Kirsten winced. "Poor guy…it's like he wandered right out of Hicksville…"
Clark frowned. "Hey..!"
The third girl steamrolled right over him. "Not to worry, honey; with us on your side, you'll go from Tacky to Khaki in no time..!"
At that voice, both Clark and the three sales-girls turned, spotting another girl, around the same height, frame, and age as the first two, with mid-length violet hair, and dark eyes, clad in grey slacks and a white tank-top, with a simple nose-stud in her left nostril. "Jeez, Chrissy, haven't you brainwashed enough people in one week? You don't have enough clones, yet?"
Kristen and Kirsten both groaned. "Oh, no…it's Nikki…"
The third girl – Chrissy – frowned. "This happens to be a place of business, Wong," she snapped, "so if you don't mind..!"
"Actually, I do," the new girl – Nikki – shot back, marching towards Clark and turning him towards the door. "If you think I'm letting you turn my cousin into a fashion-zombie, you're even dumber than those two!"
Clark blinked. "What?"
"Just play along," Nikki whispered.
Kristen and Kirsten finally recovered from their shock. "Oh, like you're one to talk!" Kristen snapped.
"Yeah!" Kirsten agreed. "Have you looked in the mirror, lately?"
"Hmm?" Nikki answered. "Sorry; your mouth was moving, but all I heard was "Baaaaa, Baaaaaa'. I forgot I was talking to a couple of fashion-sheep. Good-bye." With that, she marched Clark out of the store.
Once they were far enough away, Clark let out a relieved sigh. "Thanks."
"No problem," Nikki replied, walking alongside him. "You looked like you needed saving."
"Yeah; they were something else." Clark extended his hand. "Clark Kent."
"Nikki Wong," Nikki answered, shaking it. "If I can save just one person from the Crappy Barn, I know I've done my job."
Clark chuckled. "I take it you're not a fan of theirs."
Nikki frowned. "Oh, yeah; that store is pretty much the embodiment of everything that's wrong with the world, today."
Clark grinned. "Say…do you mind if I hang with you for a while?" he asked. "You know…where it's safe?"
Nikki snorted with laughter. "Sure, why not?" she answered. "I was just gonna go meet up with my friends."
"Sounds like a plan," Clark said. "Lead the way." With that, the two of them headed further into the mall, leaving the Khaki Barn behind.
By the time Nikki and her new tag-along got back to the Food Court, only Jonesy and Wyatt were still at their table, with Jen still in her giant lemon. "Hey, guys."
"Hey, Nikki," Wyatt greeted. "Friend of yours?"
"Oh, yeah; he followed me home."
Clark smiled sheepishly. "Clark Kent."
"Hey," Wyatt said. "Wyatt Williams."
Jonesy pointed at him. "Jonesy Garcia, resident chick-magnet and coolness guru; anything you need to know about life at the Mall, the Jonesmeister is the man you need to talk to."
Jen rolled her eyes. "Clark, please ignore everything Jonesy says," she said. Brightening, she added, "Jen Masterson." Her face drooped. "And before you ask, yes, I'm aware I have a lemon on my head."
Clark chuckled. "Actually, I wasn't going to mention it."
"Why not? We have!" Jonesy laughed.
Nikki looked around. "Where's Jude..?"
That exclamation answered Nikki's question, as Jude came racing down the escalator rail on his skateboard, kicking off at the absolute last second, to sail right over The Big Squeeze…and crash into a nearby janitor's cart.
Instantly, Clark darted to his side. "You okay, pal?"
Wobbling, Jude got back on his feet, apparently unhurt, his eyes in their normal, post-stupid-trick unfixed state. "Duuuuude…"
Jonesy grinned. "Jude!" he declared. "That was awesome!"
Jen looked stricken. "Jude, are you okay?"
Shaking his head to clear it, Jude looked at Clark. "Dunno, bra; think I kinda landed harder than I thought, 'cause it looks like there's a new dude in front of me."
Wyatt chuckled. "Your eyes aren't lying, Jude," he said. "Jude, Clark; Clark, Jude."
Jude waved. "S'up, New Dude."
Clark chuckled. "About a minute ago, you were."
"Yeah, he does that," Jonesy said. To Nikki, he added, "So, where'd you find this guy?"
"Rescued him from the Crappy Barn before the Clones got to him," Nikki answered. "I'm thinking of starting a rescue-service."
Wyatt chuckled. "Always the humanitarian."
Jen looked to Clark. "So, Clark, what brings you here?" she asked. "I don't think I've ever seen you around the Mall, before."
"That's because I've never been here, before; heck, I've never even crossed the border, until a couple weeks ago."
"A neighbour to the South, huh?" Jonesy asked.
"What state?" Wyatt added.
"Kansas; specifically, a little town called Smallville."
Jonesy snorted. ""Smallville?"" he laughed. "Dude, are you serious?"
Jen rolled her eyes. "Thank you so much, Mr. Sensitivity!" she snapped, before turning back to Clark. "So, are you on vacation with your folks?"
Clark closed his eyes. "Not exactly," he said quietly. "I'm here on…family business, I guess you could say."
Nikki arched an eyebrow. "What kind of family business?"
Clark sighed. "Well…I'm kind of adopted," he confessed. "Some time ago, my biological parents…they died; I'm up here to…look into my inheritance, I suppose."
Jude whistled. "Harsh, dude."
"Whoa," Wyatt murmured.
Jen paled. "I…I am so sorry..!"
"It's okay; it happened a long time ago," Clark said. "The point is, in his…his will, I guess, my biological father put in a kind of caveat; if I want my inheritance, there's a test I need to pass – until then, I'm cut off."
Nikki frowned. "What, you mean he ditched you and now he's making you jump through hoops for him? What kind of tool is this guy?"
Clark raised his hands. "Hey, don't blame him," he said. "The way he put it, if I don't think I'm up to it, this is my last chance to back out."
Wyatt looked worried. "Wow. Your folks must have really left something big behind."
"Oh, they did," Clark agreed. "Something world-changingly big."
The very second Clark mentioned the word "inheritance," Jonesy's eyes lit up. Moseying over to their new acquaintance, he looped a brotherly arm over Clark's shoulders. "Well, then, my friend, allow the Jonesmeister and his posse to give you the grand tour."
Nikki snorted. "For a fee, right?"
Jen rolled her eyes. "Can't we make one new friend without you scamming them?"
"So, how long are you here?" Wyatt asked.
"I don't know; long enough to do the test, I suppose."
Jen blinked. "What exactly is this "test" you have to do?"
"I don't know; I guess I'll know it when I see it."
Jonesy grimaced. "Does he expect you to get like a 90, or something?" he asked. "If so, I'd be worried."
Clark shook his head. "I think it's probably more of a Pass/Fail kind of thing."
"Good to know."
"In that case, care to hang with us?" Wyatt suggested.
Clark gulped. "It's either that or the Khaki cartel."
Nikki laughed. "Don't worry; none of us are that cruel."
Jen sighed. "Yeah, but I still have to work."
"I need to make a caffeine-run," Wyatt added.
"Got a bunch of quarters I need to lose in the arcade, dudes."
Jonesy shrugged. "Guess that leaves me."
"And me," Nikki interrupted. "I'm not leaving this poor innocent where you can scam him."
Jonesy laughed. "Whatever you need to tell yourself, babe." To Clark, he added, "She so wants me."
Nikki rolled her eyes. "Oh, yeah; I don't know how I've restrained myself for this long."
Clark blinked. "Are they always like this?"
Wyatt laughed. "Welcome to our world, Clark."
"Is this place always so busy?"
As he walked alongside Jonesy and Nikki, Clark couldn't help but look around at the sheer number of patrons; this place was just as busy as the mall that his folks had taken him to, that time they'd visited New York. "Actually, no," Nikki answered. "You caught us on a slow day."
"Wow," Clark murmured. "This place has more people here than in all of Smallville."
Jonesy grinned. "Let me guess: coolest thing you've ever seen, right?"
Clark managed to hide his own grin, as he remembered that trip to New York…along with the Fortress, for that matter. "Not really."
Nikki arched an eyebrow. "What, you mean something exciting actually happens out there?" she teased.
'Oh, you'd be surprised,' Clark thought. Out loud, he said, "Well, this just isn't my first time in a big city; a few years back, my folks and I went to visit relatives in New York."
Nikki's eyes went wide. "No."
Clark nodded. "Yep."
"Shut up!" Nikki laughed, giving him a playful shove…which he actually felt, now that he was de-powered. "You've actually been in New York? What was it like?"
"Well, it was a lot busier than this," Clark answered, "but other than that, it was pretty similar to this place." He looked around. "So, what exactly do you guys do around here?"
Jonesy shrugged. "Mostly, we hang out, play the arcade, listen to tunes at Spin This, chow down at local restaurants, and dodge the Rent-a-Cop."
Clark blinked. "The who?"
Nikki was about to answer, until she spotted something over her shoulder, and scowled. "Oh, what now?" she shouted. "We weren't doing anything! Go harass someone else!" Confused, Clark followed her gaze back to a tall, well-built older man, in mall-guard uniform, his brown hair thinning, and edged with grey, his eyes ice-blue, glaring at them as he pointed his finger in warning, before walking off.
Clark blinked. "Who was that?"
"Ron, the Mall's Rent-a-Cop," Nikki muttered. "He seems to think that everyone under 20 is guilty of something around here." She raised her voice to shout after him. "Being young isn't a crime, you old fart!"
Clark could only blink. "I take it you don't get along."
"No kidding," Jonesy muttered. "He thinks just 'cause he was in some war he gets to treat other people like crap."
Clark's eyes went wide. "Viet Nam?"
Nikki shrugged. "Maybe," she said. "How'd you figure?"
"Well, he's too young to be a WWII vet," Clark reasoned, "and most Korean War vets wouldn't be working this long after the shooting stopped, so that just leaves one."
"Fascinating, Doctor Egghead," Jonesy quipped.
"He's still a jerk," Nikki agreed. "So he's a veteran; that doesn't excuse him for being a giant jackass."
"No," Clark said, "but think about it: he spent years in one of the most hellish wars in modern history, only to come back and get zero respect from the people he was fighting for." He arched an eyebrow. "Wouldn't that make you a little hot under the collar?"
Both Nikki and Jonesy paused. "Huh," Nikki mused aloud, her expression growing pensive, "didn't really think of it, that way…"
Jonesy's expression was flat. "Way to suck the fun out of Ron-Ranting, Smallville."
Nikki lightly elbowed him, before glancing back to Clark. "I take it you've dealt with grumps like him before, then?"
"Not really," Clark answered. "I guess I was just taught not to judge people too harshly."
Jonesy snorted. "Oh, yeah? And who taught you that?"
Clark laughed. "Who else? It was my…" his voice trailed off, as he realized what he'd been about to say.
Nikki noticed his expression collapse. "Clark?" she asked. "You okay?"
Clark almost didn't hear her; his mind was far away, swallowed by a waterfall of memories.
His Pa holding him as he cried, trying to shut out all the noises that filled his hearing…
His Pa scratching his head at the hole in the barn that his sneeze had blown out…
His Pa smiling gently at his guilty expression, with a field of eye-ray-scorched grass behind him…
His Pa's firm stare, matching his tone as he laid out the things a 14-year-old Clark needed to know about being a man…
His Pa's wide-eyed expression, filled with surprise, as he clutched at his heart, falling to the ground, while Clark had sped towards him, despite the fact that it was already too late…
Managing to find his voice, he said quietly, "Look, I'll catch up with you guys later, okay?" Not waiting for a response, he wandered off.
"Welcome to the Big Squeeze! May I take your ord – AACCK!"
Jen's rehearsed greeting was cut off as a barrage of plastic spheres collided with her head, while the culprit – that stupid little snotty seven-year-old terror named Stanley – ran off, likely to hide behind the leopard-print pant-legs of his mother, the cougar that half the guys at the Mall – mostly Jonesy – had dubbed "the Yummy Mummy." Straightening the lemon on her head, Jen did her best to control the ticking of her eyebrow. 'University…this is for university..!'
"Rough day, huh?"
Startled, Jen turned to face Clark, who'd been standing by the Squeeze's countertop. "Worse; first day," Jen lamented. "I'm going to be stuck doing this for at least a year!"
Clark blinked. "Why?"
"I'm under 16; this place was all I could get," Jen sighed, turning a mournful gaze towards the workplace of her dreams. "I wanted to work at the Penalty Box…"
Clark followed her gaze, lightly smiling. "Sports fan, huh?"
Jen nodded. "I plan on making it to the Olympics, someday."
Clark grinned. "Nice!"
"Thanks!" Jen's smile came back. "So, care for a lemonade? On the house!"
Clark raised his hand. "Thanks, but no thanks; I wouldn't want to get you in trouble."
Jen snorted. "Jonesy and his brothers would probably keel over dead if they said that," she muttered…before she remembered something. "Wait…weren't you with him and Nikki?"
Clark's only response was a mild flinch.
Jen's face fell. "Clark, are you okay?" she asked. "Did someone…say something?" Her mind instantly thought of Nikki's razor-sharp wit. "Look, I know Nikki can be a bit…snappy, sometimes, but she's only kidding…usually..!"
"It wasn't Nikki," Clark interjected. "Just don't worry about it, okay?"
Jen's eyes narrowed. "Urgh! Jonesy!" she muttered to herself. "Clark, do not listen to him, okay? There are times when I don't think he knows his own butt from a..!"
"He didn't do it on purpose, Jen," Clark said quietly. "He just…made me remember my dad…my adopted dad, that's all."
Jen calmed. "Oh," she replied. "Well, okay…but why did that bum you out?" A terrible chill settled over her. "Clark…did he…hurt you..?"
Clark's eyes went wide. "W-What? No!" he exclaimed. "Oh, God, no! He was great – the closest anyone on Earth could get to a saint!" His face fell, again. "He just…died."
Jen's jaw dropped. "He…he died?" Clark nodded. "Oh, God…oh, God, Clark, I am so, so sorry! H-How did it happen?"
Clark's eyes didn't leave the floor. "He…was just out cutting hay, like he always did," he murmured. "One minute, he was fine, and then the next…h-he was falling…"
Jen nervously chewed her lip, her eyes misting. "You saw him fall?"
"I held him," Clark whispered, fighting tears. "H-He was just…was just fading away and I couldn't…I couldn't do anything about it..!" His cry was punctuated by several salty droplets hitting the counter.
Jen felt like crying, herself. Slowly, she reached across the counter, placing her hand on his. "My Dad died, too," she whispered. "It was a long, long time ago, when I was just eight." She suppressed several sniffles. "It doesn't go away, does it?"
Clark shook his head. "I don't think so."
Jen managed a faint smile. "It does get better, though," she said. "You just…learn to go on."
Clark didn't smile. "Well, where am I supposed to go on to?" he asked. "Smallville isn't my home, anymore; not even a week after he died, I couldn't stay there, anymore…and now, I don't even belong at the…at what my birth-father wanted! Three weeks after arriving at his…estate, I'm cut off until I pass this test!"
Jen paled. "Wait…you mean your dad died just…a month ago?" she exclaimed. "How are you still walking around? I didn't come out of my room for days when my Dad died! My Mom was crying for months!"
Clark could only shrug. "I can't explain it," he murmured. "When I found…something my birth-father left for me, I just…had to go."
Jen didn't know what to say to that; fortunately, she didn't need to say anything, as a familiar gold-headed blur skated by, before looping back and coming to a stop. "S'up, Jen, New Dude," Jude said, but paused as he saw their expressions. "What's with the long faces, bra?"
"Jude, Clark just told me about his dad," Jen answered. "He died, just a month ago."
Jude's rising eyebrows disrupted his perpetually mellow expression. "Whoa…major harshness, dude."
Clark nodded. "Yeah."
An inkling of a plan started to take root in Jen's head. "Jude, why don't you show Clark how to ride a skateboard? You always say that boarding helps you chill out!"
"Awesome idea, bra!"
Clark grimaced. "I don't know…"
Jen grinned. "Oh, come on, Clark! You might like it!" she exclaimed. "Jude's always saying that skateboarding helps him relax…and just look at him!"
Jude nodded. "100 percent mellow, dude."
Slowly, Clark started to smile. "I…guess I could give it a try."
"Great!" Jen cheered. "I'll leave you guys to it!" As Clark and Jude headed off, Jen quickly drew her cell-phone and speed-dialled Nikki.
Seconds later, she got a reply. "Jen?" Nikki asked. "Have you seen Clark? Is he okay?"
"He's fine," Jen answered. "Jude's just giving him a few skateboarding lessons to mellow him out."
"Okay," Nikki said, "but what happened? One minute, everything was fine, and the next, he just…shut down! Was it something we did..?"
Jen sighed. "Not on purpose, Nikki," she replied. "I think that something Jonesy said made him remember how his Dad died, a month ago."
Nikki's tone was incredulous. "His Dad DIED?" she cried, before her tone turned fainter – she was obviously facing away from the phone. "Way to go, Captain Sensitive!"
Jonesy's voice was audible in the background. "Hey! How was I supposed to know?"
"Guys!" Jen shouted. "This isn't helping! Between all that grief and this…test that his bastard of a birth-father is making him do, Clark's a wreck! We have to do something!"
"I know! But what can we…huh? Jen, hang on." There was a moment's pause. "Jen, this jughead says he's got something."
Jen arched an eyebrow. "What is it, Jonesy?" she muttered…but her eyebrows shot up at his idea, as a smile crossed her face.
It was so simple…but it just might work.
"Really, Jude, I don't know about this."
As he rolled through the Mall, Jude's mellow smile didn't so much as waver. "What's to know, bro? Skateboarding isn't just a fun thing to do – it's a total state of mind, dude."
Following along behind, Clark could only blink. "Uh…okay," he replied. "It's just that I don't think I'll be very good; we never had any skate-parks in Smallville."
By then, they had reached the escalators. "Okay, dude; time for Boarding 101." Jude slowed to a stop, bending his knees and using his arms for balance. "This here's your basic boarding posture: knees bent, head up, arms out, and one foot ahead of the other – you just use the back foot to pop up the front of the board to turn, the arms to balance, and the bent knees to stay ready for any sick trick you come up with!" He grinned. "Like so!"
With that, he pushed off, heading straight at the escalator, but before Clark could shout out a warning, Jude leapt off the ground, his board spinning up after him, touching his feet just in time to land on the rail, as he rode the rail down the escalator, and then leaping onto the upwards-running escalator, his momentum carrying him all the way back up. Leaping off, Jude raced towards a nearby sign, where he grabbed it and used it to slingshot himself back towards the escalators, effortlessly repeating his trick, and landing right next to Clark, exactly where he'd started.
A bug-eyed Clark could only stare. "That…that was awesome!" he exclaimed. "How'd you do that..?"
"Practice, bro," Jude replied. "Plus, I think the word you're lookin' for is epic."
Clark gulped as he looked at the rail. "I hope you don't expect me to be able to do that…"
"Baby steps first, dude." Hopping off, Jude nudged his board towards Clark's feet, motioning for him to hop on. "We'll start with just your basic, stationary Ollie, okay? All you gotta do is crouch a little, start to put more weight on one side of the board, then shift to the other side and jump!" Taking a deep breath, Clark got on the board, mimicking Jude's earlier posture, before shifting his weight partially to one side, and then quickly shifting back, as he leapt off…
His feet cleared the board, sending it spinning up after him, as he planted his feet on it…right-side down.
Jude nodded sagely. "Okay, dude, no biggie – just remember what you just did in case you ever want to try a Darkslide," he advised. "For now, just try putting a little less weight on your first side-shift; that oughtta do it." Flipping the board back up, Clark tried again, keeping the bulk of his weight closer to dead-center as he shifted, before leaping again…
…and touching down, with the board right-side up.
Jude grinned. "Slammin'!" he exclaimed. "Perfect execution, bro! Landing was a little hard, but that's no big deal!" He gestured to the nearby bench. "Next, we'll work up to you doin' an Ollie off that bench; we'll start by you buildin' some speed. This part's easy: you just gotta push the floor with your front foot. Just roll to that plant, over there; when you wanna stop, lean back a little – that'll put on drag and slow you down." Nodding, Clark aimed at the plant, and pushed off…
Grimacing at that horrible screech coming from the board's wheels, Clark stopped and looked down, his frown dropping lower as he saw faint wisps of smoke coming from the axles. 'So much for that idea.'
Jude drooped. "Whoa, dude, I never thought boards could make that kinda sound," he said. He knelt down, to inspect the axles. "Coulda sworn I'd greased 'em, this morning…"
Clark sighed. "Actually, Jude, I think I'm the problem," he said. "I'm…a lot heavier than I look."
Jude's eyes widened. "Whoa…sorry, bro. Didn't know."
"Didn't know what?"
Turning, both Clark and Jude spotted Wyatt walking up to them, sipping a coffee. "Just trying to teach the New Dude 'bout the art of the board, bro," Jude said.
Clark nodded. "Unfortunately, gravity had something to say about it," he added. "Too heavy."
"Ouch." Wyatt took another sip of his coffee. "May I recommend a coffee to drown your sorrows?"
Clark shook his head. "No thanks; my Ma always said that stuff stunts your growth…"
"Oh. My gosh."
As Wyatt's expression fell, Clark followed the sound of that female voice back to a young woman of 15, tall and slim, with spotless creamy skin, dark eyes, ruby lips curved in a disdainful frown, and long, mahogany hair tied in a long ponytail, clad in jean capris and a light-purple/dark-violet-striped tank top. "Please tell me I am not seeing what I think I'm seeing."
Wyatt sighed. "What do you want, Tricia?"
The girl – Tricia – just sneered. "What I want, Williams, is to gouge my own eyes out so my brain isn't subjected to the utter fashion disaster I'm being forced to look at, right now."
Jude frowned. "Major harshness, bra; what'd we ever do to..?"
"Uh, was I talking to you, Lizowsky? No, so shut it," Tricia snapped. "Believe it or not, I wasn't talking about either of you two."
Wyatt arched an eyebrow. "Oh, really."
Tricia kept right on going, as her gaze fell on Clark. "Compared to this loser, the two of you look stylish," she mocked. "I mean, red and blue flannel? Ew!"
Clark just blinked. "Huh?"
Taking out her cell-phone, Tricia flipped it open, as a tiny flash of light shone from it. "I have to get proof of this; no-one will believe it's possible to look this bad, otherwise!" Turning around, she dialled her phone, talking into it as she walked away. "Cate, it's Trish! Brace yourself, because you won't believe the disaster-zone I almost walked into..!"
As Tricia left, Clark could only arch an eyebrow. "Wow."
Wyatt sighed. "Sorry you had to hear that, man."
Clark snorted. "Well, she's a real peach. Who is she?"
"Patricia van Sloan, A.K.A. Tricia," Wyatt answered. "She's the richest girl in our school…and the meanest."
Jude nodded. "That is one bad betty, bro," he agreed. "Not lookin' forward to goin' to high school with her."
Clark flinched, recalling his earlier woes about heading to Smallville High – with Lana – before Pa had passed. "Yeah, I…I used to know someone like her," he murmured. "I never thought she was that bad…but, then again…"
Wyatt nodded. "One in every school district, man," he said. He was about to say something else, but his cell-phone rang. "Hello?" He paused. "Jen, I'm not sure if that's…" Another pause. "Fine, fine; we'll be there." He promptly hung up. "Guys, we're meeting Jen and the others."
Jude blinked. "Where, dude?"
"It's a surprise."
Now it was Clark's turn to blink. "Uh…why?"
"Word of advice, man," Wyatt chuckled. "When Jen gets on one of her little missions, all you can do is go along with it."
"Okay…" Clark said warily. "What mission?"
Clark looked nervous. "Really, guys, that's not necessary…"
"Hey, don't tell us!" Wyatt joked. "She's expecting us in five, so we'd better get going." With that, Wyatt and Jude headed off, while Clark could only follow.
"Is everything ready?"
As Jen asked that for the umpteenth time, Nikki rolled her eyes. "Yes, Jen – we've got everything we need," she answered.
"Great!" Jen exclaimed. "Because here they come..!"
By then, Wyatt and Jude had walked into view, with Clark in tow. "Jen, you didn't have to do this," Clark said as soon as he was in earshot. "Really, I'm fine."
Jen shook her head. "Don't even try to deny it, buster!" she exclaimed. "After the past few weeks you've had, you need some cheering up!"
Seeing that Clark was about to argue, Nikki spoke up. "Trust me, Clark; I actually tried convincing her to lay off, and I've known her since preschool. If I can't do it, you've got no chance."
Clark sighed. "There's nothing I can do to convince you?"
Jonesy chuckled. "Dude, a nuke couldn't convince her when she's like this."
Clark relented. "Okay, okay," he said. "So what exactly was your plan?"
Jen's smile flared back to life, as she held up six tickets. "Day-passes for all of us."
Clark blinked. "Day-passes to what?" Jen didn't answer – she just nudged him around the nearby corner…and into view of the amusement park.
Understandably, Clark was flabbergasted. "H-How..?"
"The park was giving away free day-passes in a contest," Jonesy replied. "It just took a simple bait-and-switch to make sure we made six of the correct guesses."
Jen half-frowned. "Normally, I'd disapprove of Jonesy's scams, but this was an emergency!"
Clark was silent for a moment, before he lowered his gaze, blinking away tears. 'I…I don't know what to say…"
Wyatt chuckled. "Just say you'll ride the Vomit-Comet before you do anything else."
Clark arched an eyebrow. "Did you say the…Vomit-Comet?" Wyatt just nodded, gesturing to the dark violet roller-coaster racing along its track, blazing into a loop-de-loop. "Huh…always wanted to try one of those."
Jen beamed. "Well, now's your chance!" With that, she darted behind Clark, practically pushing him into the amusement park, the others following close behind.
As Jen led-slash-pushed Clark towards the line for the roller-coaster, Clark still looked slightly nervous. "Are you sure about this..?"
"Dead sure!" Jen exclaimed. "One ride on this thing and you'll be right as rain!"
Jonesy shrugged. "That, or you'll launch your entire stomach-contents into geo-synchronous orbit."
Nikki snorted. "Since when do you know big words?"
"What? I know stuff!"
As the waiting-line moved after each ride, the six of them found themselves standing at the front within minutes. Once the coaster had docked at the boarding-station, Jen shoved Clark into a seat, before she and her friends sat in the spaces around him. "Hold on," Jen warned, "'cause here we go..!"
At those words, the coaster began to move, gradually inching up the first hill, finally reaching the top…before rocketing down the track at breakneck speeds, blazing into the first turn with enough g-force to nearly make its occupants' eyes pop out. Not slowing down for even a second, the Comet spiralled into a corkscrew-spin, before rising into one loop…and then another…and then another.
Halfway through the circuit, the Vomit-Comet lived up to its name – on the third loop-de-loop, half the riders promptly emptied their stomachs onto the floor…and anyone who happened to be in the fallout-radius.
Once the ride came to a stop, the five friends got off, laughing. "That was awesome!" Jude exclaimed.
"Best way I know to kill a few minutes," Wyatt agreed.
"Yeah, man; I don't know why some people are scared of this thing," Jonesy remarked. "Some guys are just wimps."
"Yeah, right!" Nikki laughed. "Whatever, Heavil Knievil! I saw the way you retched on that third loop!"
"At least I rode it!"
Jen couldn't help but laugh…but her laughter died as she saw Clark still sitting in the coaster, his eyes utterly wide. "Clark!" she cried, rushing to his side. "Clark, are you okay?"
Eerily slow, Clark turned towards Jen, not even speaking…before he smiled, his words taking them all by surprise.
"Can we go again?"
Clark had to admit: despite the fact that he'd lost his powers, this was rapidly shaping up to be the best day he'd had in the last three weeks.
After a good half-dozen rides on the Vomit-Comet, his new friends had led him to the nearby arcade, where they all had proceeded to lose a day's worth of quarters in less than half an hour. Once they'd stocked up on cotton-candy, Nikki had suggested they take a ride on the aptly-named Swirl-n'-Hurl, which had left them dizzy for the next hour.
"Gotta say, dudes," Jude remarked as the six of them stumbled out of the park, "that was probably the best park-trip we've had in a while."
"Always helps to have a fresh set of eyes," Wyatt agreed.
Clark was grinning. "So you guys do this every day?"
"Not this specifically," Nikki said, "but we can pretty much say the Mall is our home away from home."
Clark's grin widened. "Nice!"
Jen's smile turned a bit nervous. "So…are you okay?"
"I think I will be," Clark answered. "Even if I don't pass my father's test…I think I'll be fine." He sighed. "I'm just up in the air about where I'll go next…"
"Hey, why not hang with us?" Jonesy suggested.
Clark's eyebrows shot up. "Are you sure?"
"Sure, why not?" Jonesy said. "Between all of our folks, we can figure out somewhere for you to crash."
Nikki frowned. "Uh, don't you think he should call home first?"
Clark thought it over. "Actually, I think it might be a good idea for me to spend some time away from Smallville," he said quietly. "What with all that's happened, I'm not sure I'd fit in with my old crowd, anymore."
Jen looked apprehensive. "You're sure?"
Clark nodded. "I'd still have to call my Ma and let her know; I'm pretty sure Smallville has a student-exchange program, and with my grades, I don't see anybody raising a fuss."
"Well, that's it, then!" Jonesy declared. "Welcome aboard, Smallville!"
Clark chuckled. "So you wouldn't mind hanging with a country-bumpkin like me?"
"Of course not!" Jen exclaimed. "We'd love to have you around..!"
"What'd I tell you, girls? Disaster or what?"
Clark's smile died as he turned to spot Tricia standing behind them, along with two other girls – her friends, he supposed. One girl, sporting a beret, grimaced as she saw him. "Eeww! You were right, Trish! Total fashion misfire!"
The other – a blonde – nodded. "I didn't even think it was possible to look that bad!"
Tricia smiled smugly. "Told you!"
Jen's eyes narrowed. "Don't you have anything better to do, van Sloan?" she snapped. "Like torture small animals?"
Tricia rolled her eyes. "What're you complaining about, Masterson? This loser actually gives you a chance at being fashionable…albeit a slim one."
Nikki's expression turned murderous, her fists clenching as she ground her teeth. "Okay, that does it!" she exploded. "I don't care if the Rent-a-Cop gives me the electric-chair; I am murdering that little..!"
She was in mid-stride when Clark simply raised his hand, stopping her. "It's okay, Nikki," he said quietly, his expression firm. "I've got this one."
Nikki's eyes went wide, her expression turning dumbfounded. "Clark..!"
"Trust me," Clark said. "I've got this one." His jaw set, Clark walked towards Tricia and her clique.
Tricia watched his approach with mild disdain. "What, you're going to try and convince me you're not a fashion-reject?" she sneered.
"Nope," Clark replied mildly. "It wouldn't do any good – you've obviously made up your mind." He simply fished out a photo of Martha Kent – one he'd brought with him on his odyssey from Smallville – and showed it to her. "Just wanted to provide a little food-for-thought."
Tricia glanced at the photo, her sneer growing wider. "Okay, where did you dig up that old fossil?"
"I had a feeling you'd say that," Clark answered. "That "old fossil," as you call her, was the most fashionable, most popular girl in Smallville High during the 60s, something like yourself…except that in her day, she was a heck of a lot nicer about it." His eyes narrowed. "She's also my foster-mother, but that's beside the point."
Tricia arched an eyebrow. "Okay…and the reason you decided to bore us to tears..?"
"Just this," Clark answered. "As popular and youthful as she was, time caught up with her, like it does with everyone on this planet." His voice turned cold. "So take a good, long look, missy, because in forty years – heck, in thirty – that's gonna be you."
Tricia's eyes narrowed. "No." Her mahogany eyebrows lifted, her tone growing somewhat unsure. "No, you're…you're full of it! I'm not gonna turn into some dried-up old hag..!"
The crass mention of his Ma washed away whatever mild trace of guilt Clark might have felt. "That grey hair in your ponytail suggests otherwise."
"What?" Tricia screeched, her eyes going wide. "Y-You're lying! I don't have any..!"
By then, the others had caught on to his plan. "Careful, Trish," Nikki quipped, grinning slyly. "Frowning'll just make those wrinkles worse."
"Shut up, Wong! I do not have wrinkles!"
One of Tricia's friends gulped. "Uh…Trish..?"
"Quiet!" Tricia snapped. "I do not have wrinkles or grey hair! I am not getting old!" Finally, she cracked, her eyes misting, and her lips quivering fearfully. "G-Get me to a day-spa, QUICK!" With that, she sprinted off at a clip Clark would need yellow sunlight to match, as Tricia's friends followed after her.
The second Tricia went running for the hills, a cheer went up from Clark's new friends. "Clark, that was classic!" Nikki exclaimed. "You totally fried her!"
Clark couldn't help but grin. "The truth hurts, doesn't it?"
Jonesy was laughing his butt off. "You were wondering if you'd fit in, dude?" he asked. "Well, don't worry, 'cause anyone who can knock Tricia down a peg is okay by us!"
Jude nodded. "Totally, dude."
Glancing at his watch, Wyatt spoke up. "It's getting kinda late, guys; we'd better start heading home." No-one argued that point, as the six of them headed out of the Mall.
As they emerged from the Mall, Clark saw that the sky was just beginning to turn orange, the sun starting to sink below the horizon. "Wow, time flies, huh?"
Jen chuckled. "Especially when you're telling off Tricia!"
Clark's smile was somewhat wistful, as he thought of Smallville, of Lana…and the times she'd more-or-less shunned him. "Yeah, that was…somewhat cathartic."
Jen blinked. "Huh?"
"Tricia, she…reminded me of someone I knew…or used to know," Clark answered. "I suppose I'll never really forget her, but seeing Tricia and how she acted just…put it into perspective." He shrugged. "If that makes sense."
Nikki smiled. "Hey, it's her loss, Clark," she answered. "Whoever this girl is, I wouldn't waste another thought on her."
Jonesy grinned. "Especially not when you've got the Jonesmeister's expertise on how to pick up chicks," he agreed. "Trust me: with Jonesy as your wingman, the local honeys will be eating out of your hand."
Nikki snorted. "Says the guy who got shot down by the Whack-A-Mole girl."
"Hey, that was just because she was at ground-zero while I was on the Comet!" Jonesy defended. "If I hadn't accidentally spewed on her, I so would've scored that chick!"
Clark managed to stifle his chuckle. "As generous an offer as that is, my biggest concern right now is finding a place to crash."
"Hey, my folks have a spare basement apartment," Wyatt offered. "They rent it out, every so often, so I'm sure they wouldn't…" He paused, as his nose twitched. "Hey…you guys smell something burning?"
As the others started to sniff the air, Jen nodded. "Yeah, that's definitely smoke!" she agreed…before she spotted a black plume rising from the old rec center. "It's coming from the rec center; I hope the repair-crew is okay..!"
Jen's remark was drowned out by a massive explosion that ripped open the center's west wall and knocked all six of them on their backs. His ears ringing, Clark was the first to come to, standing up on wobbly legs. Looking around, his eyes went wide as he saw the center burning out of control; he had to do something, but he didn't have his powers..!
Turning, Clark saw a wobbly Nikki, her eyes wide with fright, standing to his side. "W-What happened?"
"The rec center's on fire!" Clark answered. "We…we have to call 911; we'll need EMS and the fire department, at least!"
Nikki grimaced. "O-Okay!" Quickly, she fished out her phone and started dialling. Glancing back to the rubble, Clark tried to spot any signs of survivors, but he saw nothing…except one still-lit acetylene torch, lying next to a set of scaffolding. His eyes going wide, Clark opened his mouth to warn Nikki, to tell her they had to get the others clear, in case there was another explosion.
But he never got the chance.
A second explosion rippled the center, igniting itself with the torch, ripping apart the scaffolding and sending one steel support-cylinder hurtling towards them like a javelin.
As Clark watched it, the beam seemed to be moving in slow-motion. He didn't know if it was just his mind playing tricks on him, or if his faster Kryptonian neural processes made what he saw seem slower…but that didn't matter.
Because Nikki had seen it, too.
And she'd just frozen.
She wasn't Victor, who could've and would've taken the hit in one of his cyber-implants, only to lug himself home and swap out the damaged parts for new ones.
She wasn't Lex, who would've been smart enough to point out to him that the torch could ignite another blast and tell him to douse it quick.
She wasn't Ollie, who could've bull's-eyed that beam with an arrow and knocked it off course.
She wasn't him or Arthur, who could've taken the hit and survived.
And she definitely wasn't Wally, who would've darted away, darted back, blown a raspberry, darted away, darted back again, and mooned the beam like he had a local bully before darting clear with plenty of time to spare.
Nikki was just Nikki…and so, she just stood there, her mouth open in soundless terror, her eyes misting with fear at what was likely the last thing she was going to see..!
Clark's decision was automatic, as he ordered his feet to move, hoping desperately that he had enough time…
…and then, he knew no more.
That sickeningly wet sound pierced Nikki's eardrums as something slammed into her shoulder, knocking her to the ground, as a warm mist splashed over her face. Coughing to regain her breath, she sat back up, before patting herself over. 'What…what happened?' The last thought that had crossed her mind had been that she was going to get shish-kebabed by that metal spike…
Hearing Jen's voice, Nikki turned towards her friends, who were likely as smudged and bruised as she was. Reaching her first, Jen hugged her. "Nikki, are you okay?" she cried. "I-I saw you fall…and you're bleeding!" Wiping her fingers over her cheek, Nikki's eyes went wide as she saw flecks of red on her fingertips, matching the crimson spatter on her tank-top…only there were no large bloodstains, meaning that she hadn't been injured.
"Guys," she heard herself say, "I don't think it's mine."
Looking around, Wyatt went pale. "Where's Clark?" At that, Nikki looked around, trying to spot Clark, but all she saw was more crimson flecks on the ground, right where he'd been, with a trail of crimson dots leading back towards the Mall, into an alley just to the right of the entrance..!
Getting up, Nikki ran in the direction of the blood-trail, ignoring her friends' cries for her to stop as she darted into the shadowed alley…and froze as she saw Clark, wincing in pain from the steel bar piercing his shoulder, pinning him to the wall after it had propelled him all the way here from the blast.
As her friends caught up with her, a tearful Jen quickly described what had rushed through Nikki's head. "Oh…oh, no…"
Clark managed a cough. "You…okay, Nikki?"
Nikki didn't know if she was mad because she was crying, or crying because she was mad. "I should be asking that, you…you bonehead!" she exploded. "You could've been killed!"
"So…could you, Nik."
Nikki's eyes narrowed. "The…the only reason you get to call me that is because you're hurt, buster!" she snapped. "Otherwise..!"
"Nikki, you can yell at him later!" Wyatt exclaimed. "We need to get an ambulance here!"
"No!" Clark's shout left him wincing. "No doctors, guys; I mean it."
"Clark, are you joking?" Jen cried. "You need help!"
"Doctors…can't find out about me…"
Jonesy gulped. "Dude, you're obviously not thinking straight…"
"No, Jonesy; I am," Clark murmured. "For the first time since Pa died, I am."
Jude grimaced. "Dude…d-don't go all philosophical, okay?" he asked. "Stay away from the light!"
Clark actually managed a smile. "I…I understand, now," he whispered. "Life…it's so fragile…but it's so amazing…" His smile fell on all of them. "All of you…in spite of everything that could happen…you all experience such joy; your lives are so…so vibrant…" His smile wavered. "Thank you for helping me realize that…I just wish that it hadn't taken getting…"
Nikki cut him off. "Don't you even think like that!" she snapped, blinking back tears. "You are going to be just fine..!"
That shrill, electronic screech forced them to cover their ears, as a bright light lit up the alley…coming from a crystal gadget clipped to Clark's belt; the device shrieked again, before it disintegrated, crumbling to dust as it released a shimmery blue wave, coating Clark completely, before dissipating. As Clark started to breathe easier, Jonesy blinked. "Dude, what the heck was THAT?"
Clark's smile grew. "My test," he murmured. "I…I think I passed."
Nikki's eyes went wide, as she started to process exactly what he'd been saying. "Clark…what's going on?"
His eyes clenched shut with exertion, Clark gripped the steel bar, starting to pull himself forward. "Guys…help me get off this thing."
Jen flinched. "Clark, no! You'll bleed to death!"
"I won't, Jen; trust me." Clark's speech was less stilted, now. "I need you guys to help me get back into the sunlight."
Jude blinked. "Huh?"
"No time! Just…uurrgghh!" Clark grunted with pain as he pulled himself free of the bar, sagging to the ground as dark red blood seeped from his wound.
Quickly, the five of them grabbed his arms, lifting him up…and got quite the surprise. "Holy!" Jonesy grunted. "Dude, what'd you eat for breakfast? CEMENT?" With a healthy supply of grunting, they got him out into the setting sun's light…
…and the second they did, Clark stood up, under his own power, taking several steps forward…as his wound began to rapidly scab over, closing in mere seconds.
As Clark turned around, with even the tiny scratches on his face mending, the five of them could only stare in shock. Jen was the most articulate of them. "C-Clark…what…how?"
His expression guilty, Clark was about to respond, until he whirled around, his gaze piercing the rubble. "No time!" he said firmly. "Stay here, and don't follow me!" With that, he suddenly darted off, at speeds that left a blur in his wake, the blowback from his pace nearly knocking them all down.
Nikki's mind was reeling from Clark's unnatural recovery, until she swore she could hear an agonized scream in the wind…seconds before Clark's red-blue blur darted out of the rubble, depositing a badly burned construction worker on the ground a safe distance away, before darting back into the rubble…and returning with another worker. And then another…and then another…
Before long, Clark had extracted the entire team from the blaze; once the injured workers were safe, Clark darted back over to the five of them. "Is EMS en route?"
Wyatt's jaw moved soundlessly for several seconds before he responded. "Uh…y-yeah, they're coming."
"Good. If they call back, tell them to expect multiple burn-victims…" Once again, Clark's head whipped towards the center, his eyes flashing an eerie electric-blue as he did so.
"Okay, enough!" Jen cried. "Clark, what is going on? How are you..?"
"Call them back!" Clark cried. "Tell them to keep the highway under that cliff clear of traffic – that thing is going to collapse right on top of it!" Sure enough, the ruined building began to creak, inching over on one side, tipping towards the cliff's edge. "I'm going to try and stop it!"
"'Stop it'?" Jen repeated. "Clark, how can you possibly..?" But she got no further, as Clark closed his eyes, focusing…before he started to rise into the air. "That's…that's…" Jen babbled.
Rising almost to the level of the clouds, Clark hovered in midair for a few seconds, seemingly soaking in the sunlight, before he gazed down at the concrete, his eyes starting to glow, as a blazing red laser-beam shot from them, stabbing into the asphalt, gradually superheating a section of it to the point of melting, turning from dull grey, to tar black, and finally to magma red, glowing with heat. Keeping his eye-beam trained on the molten circle he'd created, Clark dove out of the sky, speeding towards the circle at speeds far faster than free-fall…as he dove in through the molten asphalt, disappearing into the ground.
Jen finally finished her exclamation. "…im…possible…"
Seconds after Clark had vanished into the cooling asphalt, the earth began to rumble, as a rapidly-moving bulge in the earth shot away from the circle, racing towards the rec center, darting under it, then back out, then under it, and then back out, over and over and over.
Wyatt's eyes went wide. "Wait…I think I get what he's doing! He's hollowing out the earth under the center, so that instead of falling to the side..!"
Another massive rumble answered him, as the center simply collapsed in on itself, falling deep into the newly-formed hollow beneath it. Seconds after the center's collapse, a smaller rumble shook the earth, as a red-blue blur burst out of the ground, flying away.
The five of them could only stare at what had just happened, shocked into silence. "Did…did that just happen?" Jonesy murmured.
"Dunno, bro," Jude answered. "It's like we walked into The Twilight Zone, or something."
By then, ambulance- and police-sirens had started echoing in the distance. "What…what are we going to say happened?" Jen asked.
"What can we say? That this kid we know pulled the crew out, before hollowing out the ground so the center would collapse inward?" Wyatt replied. "We'd get laughed off the parking-lot."
"But…how did Clark do all that stuff?" Jen cried.
"Dunno, bra," Jude answered. "Guess we oughtta ask him when he comes back."
"If he comes back," Wyatt corrected. "He sure flew off in a hurry." At that, the five of them could only stare in the direction Clark had flown, before heading towards the approaching ambulances.
After flying away from the Mall, Clark's head was spinning from all that had happened, forcing him to land on a nearby rooftop, far from prying eyes.
His friends knew about him, now.
Clark wanted to kick himself for being so careless – hearing those workers cry out for help had put his thoughts on autopilot, and now there were five people who knew about him that he wasn't 100 percent sure he could trust…but what was really eating at him was what they would say to him.
Part of him felt that the point was moot – his powers were back, and now it was time to disappear back to the Fortress, to finish the training he'd begun…but the rest of him knew better.
There were a few loose ends to tie up.
Flying back towards the Mall, Clark hovered over the accident scene; thankfully, EMS had cleared out, and the police were investigating the rubble, not the surrounding area – from what he could hear, it sounded like a worker's torch had accidentally contacted an old gas-tank, setting off the explosion. Using his eye-rays to boil off the spatters of his blood left behind, Clark made sure there was no physical trace of him for anyone to find, before darting back into the clouds, scanning the ground below…before taking a deep breath, and slowly diving back into the city.
His new friends were walking along the deserted sidewalk, likely heading home after all that had happened; as he descended from the clouds, touching down on the sidewalk, they all stopped to look at him. Smiling sheepishly, Clark could only wave. "Hey."
Jonesy managed a casual shrug. "Hey."
'Uh, boy.' Clark's smile wavered. "So…everyone okay?"
"No-one died," Jen said a bit coolly. "We're fine as we can be, after seeing a guy dive through molten concrete!"
Clark gulped. "Yeah…I guess I've got some explaining to do, huh?"
"Understatement of the millennium!" Jen shouted. "How the heck did you do that, Clark?"
Clark closed his eyes. "I…I can't tell you that," he whispered. "I can't let anyone know what I am, yet; I doubt you'd even believe me, anyway."
Nikki's eyes narrowed in surprised hurt. "Oh, so we're supposed to believe you now?" she snapped. "Have you been…like that, this whole time? Was everything you told us just a lie?"
Clark frowned. "I wasn't lying before," he said firmly. "Everything I told you was true: I am from Smallville, my adopted father did die, and I did come here about my inheritance." He sighed, as he looked at his hands. "I just never said what that inheritance was."
Wyatt arched an eyebrow. "And what was it?"
"You've seen it," Clark answered. "My birth-father had to make sure that I wouldn't abuse my powers, so he stripped them from me temporarily, until I passed his test; when I met you all, I was just as mortal as anyone."
"And you never thought to tell us?" Jen asked.
"What could I have said? You'd have never believed me, and I had no way to prove it!" Clark cried. "Ever since my parents found me, I've had to keep quiet about what I can do! If anyone had ever found out..!"
The others seemed to get the message. "We wouldn't have told, dude," Jude said calmly. Looking to his friends, he added, "Kinda surprised you guys are harshing, dudes; haven't you figured it out? The powers, the shady background, plus saving Nikki?" He started to smile. "New Dude's a real-life, in-person, honest-to-the-Big-Dude-Upstairs, straight-out-of-a-comic-book superhero. I think we can cut him some slack."
Wyatt's expression started to waver. "He…did save Nikki…"
Jen looked nervous. "I…I don't know…"
Clark sighed. "Okay." He started to turn. "I know you guys didn't ask for me to…to just butt into your lives, so…so I'll go," he whispered. "All I ask is that you please not tell anyone about me; my life is in your hands…"
At the sound of Nikki's voice, Clark turned around. "We didn't tell anyone about you, Clark," she added, as she started to smile. "And we're not going to."
Following Nikki and Jude's lead, the other three started to smile. "Hey, I've told my share of fibs in the past," Jonesy said.
Wyatt nodded. "If I'd said I had superpowers, I wouldn't have believed me, either."
Jen looked guilty. "Sorry for wigging out," she murmured. "It's just…we were all freaked out, you know?"
Clark chuckled. "Not as freaked as I was when I accidentally jumped over our barn."
Jonesy laughed. "Oh, this I gotta hear!"
Nikki grinned. "Something tells me this little posse's never going to be the same."
"I'll say, dudes!" Jude agreed. "We get to hang with a superhero!"
Clark's face fell, which caused his friends to take notice. "Clark?" Jen asked. "What's wrong?"
Clark's gaze fell to the ground. "Guys…when I asked to stay here…I had thought that I would never get my powers back," he whispered. "But now…"
Jonesy frowned. "What, suddenly we're not good enough, anymore?"
"That's not it!" Clark said. "When I found the artefact my birth-father had left, it just…woke something up in me – that's why I left Smallville." He looked at them imploringly. "I just got this…this feeling that…I had to go."
Wyatt started to understand. "And now that your powers are back, you're feeling it again."
Clark nodded. "I have to finish the training that my father left for me," he replied. "If I don't go, this feeling is just going to keep at me, until I go nuts…like it almost did back in Smallville."
"But…but that's not fair!" Jen cried. "What about what you want?"
"This is bigger than me, Jen," Clark whispered. "What I have to do…it's more important than what a former farm boy wants."
Nikki started to sniffle. "So…so if I hadn't just stood there like…like a total lump…you could've had a normal life..?"
"Aw, no, Nikki," Clark answered. "It's not your fault, okay?" He sighed. "This is just…how it has to be."
"Will…will we ever see you, again?" Jen sniffed.
Clark hung his head low. "I don't know."
No-one could say anything to that. "I…guess this is goodbye, then," Jonesy murmured.
Clark nodded glumly. "Guess so."
Wyatt's expression was sad. "You…you take care, man."
Jude nodded. "Rock on, Hero Dude."
Jen suppressed her sniffles. "If…if you can, look us up sometime, okay?"
Clark nodded. "Okay."
Walking forward, Nikki snared him in a hug. "You'd better look us up," she warned, "and you'd better not ever forget what a total prince you are…or so help me, I will kick your butt!"
Chuckling softly, Clark gently returned the hug. "I promise." Stepping back, Clark looked at the five of them. "Just promise me this," he whispered. "Never lose sight of what you helped me see, today; don't ever lose that joy you all shared with me, okay?"
"You got it, dude," Jude answered, as the others nodded.
Clark felt his eyes start to sting. "And just…remember me every time you see that center, okay?" With that, he pointed at the rubble, prompting the five of them to turn…
Tears leaked from Clark's eyes as he turned away, and ran off, running as fast as he could, heading north, leaving a blur in his wake.
…and when the five of them looked back, all that remained of Clark was the cloud of dust he'd kicked up, with only an echoing boom far off on the horizon.
Their friend was gone.
Caitlin could only stare as her friends finished their story. "And you've never heard from this guy Clark since?"
Jonesy shook his head. "Not a word."
Looking guilty, Caitlin fished out her cell-phone, bringing up a list of photos stored on it…including one of a guy in red-and-blue flannel. "Is…is this him?"
Jen's eyes went wide. "How did you..?"
"Tricia sent this photo to me when we were friends," Caitlin answered. "I…I kinda laughed when I saw it, but if I'd known he'd saved Nikki..!"
"It's okay, Cate," Jen said. "You didn't know any better."
Caitlin smiled. "Did he really make Tricia freak out?"
Wyatt grinned. "Sent her running for the hills."
Jen laughed. "It was priceless!" Her expression saddened. "I just hope he's okay, wherever he is…"
"He's okay, bra."
Jude's voice drew their gazes toward him. "Hero Dude's out doin' what he does best."
Caitlin blinked. "So you have heard from him?"
"Not exactly, bra," Jude said. "In a way, everybody's heard about him."
Jonesy arched an eyebrow. "How do you figure?" Jude didn't answer; he simply tossed a newspaper article onto the table.
The headline was in bold print, over a blurry image of red and blue: "Nuclear Disaster Averted: Superman Strikes Again?"
"Been seein' those pop up the past little while."
Jen blinked. "Jude…you think Clark is..?"
"Hellooo? A flying dude, dudes? Sound familiar?" The four of them pondered Jude's statement, trying to refute it…and couldn't.
Fortunately, the updating flight-schedule drew their attention from the subject…as a familiar flight popped up. "She's here!" Jonesy was instantly on his feet, all but sprinting towards the greeting-zone, leaving the others in his dust. Once the gate was in sight, Jonesy slowed his pace, caught his breath, regained the Jonesmeister cool…and strode into the greeting-area…
…and saw her.
She had barely changed in the three years since they'd last seen each other: her mauve hair was still mid-length, just spreading out a bit at the tips of her bangs. She'd opted for a dark olive tank-top, with the shoulders custom-ripped around the rims, her favourite triangular mirror-pendant dangling loosely around her neck, matching the glint of her earrings and nose-stud, her outfit completed by a casual pair of grey khakis, with a knapsack over her shoulder. Looking around, her eyes finally found his, as she smiled, walking towards him.
They stopped just a few feet away from each other. Smiling stupidly, Jonesy spoke first. "Hey."
19-year-old Nikki Wong smiled back. "Hey."
Jonesy struggled for words. "You're here."
Nikki's smile grew. "You gonna keep stating the obvious, or are we gonna kiss, already?"
At that, Jonesy could only blink…before he laughed, pulling her into a hug. "Oh, God, Nikki, I missed you," he whispered.
Nuzzling into his embrace, Nikki's tone matched his. "Missed you, too." Looking up, her gaze intersected his, as their faces inched closer…
Jen's call prompted both of them to freeze, pulling apart just in time for Jen to barrel into her old friend with a hug. "Nikki, it's so good to see you!" Jen exclaimed. "How was your trip?"
Nikki grinned. "Surprisingly free of snow."
Once Jen had released Nikki from her hug, a smiling Wyatt quickly gave her another one. "Great to see you again, Nikki."
"Likewise!" Nikki replied, returning the hug. After releasing Wyatt, she turned to Jude…and let out a snort. "Let me guess: Ollies on the airport escalator?"
Jude grinned. "You know me too well, bra."
As Nikki turned towards her, Caitlin started to sniffle. "I…I couldn't find a welcome-home present g-good enough…"
Laughing, Nikki enfolded her in a hug. "Aw, c'mere, Cate," she said. "Just seeing you guys is all the present I need."
Caitlin instantly started bawling. "Oh, N-Nikki!" she wailed. "I m-missed you so m-much!"
"I missed you too, Caitlin," Nikki replied. "I missed all of you." Her smile grew. "I still can't believe we're all going to be at Toronto U together!"
Jonesy frowned. "Who blabbed?" he demanded. "Was it Jen?"
Nikki snorted. "Oh, don't even try to act mad, Mr. Salutatorian!"
"Jen. It was definitely Jen."
Nikki chuckled. "So, now that the gang's all back together, care to tell me what I missed?"
Jen's smile grew. "Nikki, I don't know where to begin!" With that, the six of them headed out of the greeting-area, eager to catch up.
By the time they had helped Nikki find her luggage, they – but mostly Jen – had gotten Nikki back up to speed. "So, they finally fixed that old rec center, huh?" Nikki asked, as they headed out of the airport. "About time."
Looking at the traffic, Wyatt gulped. "Maybe we should call a cab."
Jen nodded. "Hang on; just let me grab my bike first," she said. "I'll be right back; don't go anywhere, Nikki!"
As Jen and Wyatt headed off, Caitlin perked up. "Ooh, I just remembered! The souvenir shop on the third floor was having a sale!" she exclaimed. "Don't worry, Nikki; I'll find the perfect gift!" With that, she dashed off.
Smiling his mellow smile, Jude fished his skateboard out of his robe. "If you two don't mind, I'm gonna take one last joyride 'round this place; catch ya later!" Hopping on, he rolled off.
Jonesy and Nikki were left alone, now. "Huh," Nikki remarked with a smile. "They actually took the hint."
Jonesy shrugged. "Go figure."
Nikki's smile turned a bit shy. "So…a lot has changed, hasn't it?"
"Not the most important things," Jonesy answered. Spotting a newspaper in a stand – featuring the article Jude had shown them – he chuckled. "Though things have gotten a little weirder."
Following his gaze, Nikki snorted. "Yeah, I heard about him," she chuckled. "Stranger things have happened."
"Oh, yeah," Jonesy agreed, before his voice dropped into a whisper. "Jude thinks it's Clark."
Nikki blinked in confusion…before smiling. "Wouldn't surprise me if it was."
Jonesy smiled back. "Think he's okay, wherever he is?"
"Sure hope so," Nikki answered. Glancing around the city in front of them, she looped her arm around Jonesy's. "So, you plan on showing me around, or..?" As she spoke, her gaze happened to fall on a fairly close rooftop…where she froze.
There, on the rooftop, was a red-and-blue silhouette, standing tall, built like a Greek statue…and emblazoned on his chest was a..!
Then a bus passed in front of her, obstructing her view…and by the time the bus moved, the shape was gone.
Noticing her expression, Jonesy looked worried. "Nikki? Are you okay?"
Nikki kept staring. "Did…did you see..?"
Jonesy arched an eyebrow. "See what?"
Nikki scanned the place the shape had been…and then shook her head, smiling. "Nothing," she said. "Guess we should go find the others, huh?"
"Yeah," Jonesy agreed, "but first things first." Meeting his gaze, Nikki understood instantly, as they both moved closer…as their lips met.
They stood there for what seemed like a blissful eternity, just holding each other, pouring out every ounce of longing they'd felt over the past three years, clinging to each other and praying they'd never let go ever again…until the moment ended.
Mildly breathless, Nikki smiled at her boyfriend. "Not bad, Garcia."
Jonesy grinned. "Just figured you deserved a proper welcome-home." With that, the two of them hurried into the airport, to find their friends, eager to pick up where their little group had left off…happily oblivious to the pair of eyes watching them from a distance.
High above the city, hidden behind the clouds, a lone figure in red and blue hovered, propelled by his own power as his now-trained eyes focused on the reunited couple, a smile crossing his face as he'd seen them.
He'd just been passing over Toronto, heading back home when he'd heard their voices, forcing him to stop and listen…until Nikki had almost seen him.
He was going to have to be careful.
Sparing one last glance towards his old friends, he turned and flew off, a sonic boom echoing in his wake as he blurred across the sky, heading for home.
They had their lives…and he had his.
Greetings, all! I guess some of you must be surprised to see a new fic from me! Hope you all enjoyed it!
For those of you who've never read any of my stories before, I'm The Writer With No Name, creator of the "Last Son" fanfic series, upon which this story is partially based. To begin, I'd like to thank you all for at least taking the time to read this story; it took quite a bit of work, considering it was a bit of a change from my usual projects, and that I tried to make it enjoyable for 6Teen fans as much as Last Son fans.
I'm sure many of you – old fans of my stories and new readers alike – are scratching your heads at the notion of a 6Teen crossover with my series, and I guess I can't blame you. The idea for this oneshot popped into my head after I saw the series finale for 6Teen; I felt that the finale's underlying theme was something along the lines of "the end of teenage innocence," especially after hearing the melancholy remix of its title theme (speaking of which, if you haven't heard it, I highly recommend looking it up on YouTube; it's very moving). At first, I thought, "Nah, that'll never work," but the idea kept nagging at me and nagging at me, until I just HAD to write this.
Considering the time at which this fic takes place in both the 6Teen 'verse and Last Son – the 6Teen crew recalling their relatively-carefree earlier days, as well as Clark's exodus from Smallville – I felt that this theme was appropriate. Plus, given that it occurs both in the post- and pre-series realm of 6Teen, as well as the relatively-unexplored timeline of Last Son's earliest days, I figured this fic's plausibility rests in the domain of "Hey, It Could Happen!"
But, of course, that's just me.
I suppose you could call this fic something of an experiment: a way of testing the waters. If you all did enjoy it, I think I can see myself doing a follow-up piece or two, in the semi-distant future, as well as making a tie-in to my upcoming fic, "The Smallville Chronicles." I'll leave the decision in your hands.
Finally, considering that some of you may not like my work, I would like to remind you of Voltaire's opinion on the subject: "I disapprove of what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it." I have never and WILL never flame another author, so I don't think the same courtesy is too much to ask. If you don't like it, don't read it; nobody's forcing you.
Oh, and in case any of my fans are wondering, no, I haven't forgotten Last Son; the next chapter is well underway. Thank you all for being patient!
Sorry if my spiel seemed long-winded; I just wanted to get that off my chest. Hope you enjoy my story!