Title: College Hero
Author: TardisIsTheOnlyWayToTravel
Spoilers/warnings: Takes place quite some time after the show ended.
Summary: Embarrassingly, it was only when Alex was away at college and the local tabloid started printing stories of a mysterious superhero that it occurred to Annie that Alex might have chosen to keep her powers after all.

Author notes: It has been a loooong time since I last saw this show, so possibly little details may be amiss. But hey.

College Hero

Embarrassingly, it was only when Alex was away at college and the local tabloid started printing stories of a mysterious superhero that it occurred to Annie that Alex might have chosen to keep her powers after all.

One of Annie's colleagues had left a ridiculous magazine on her desk as a joke – they'd had a mock argument the other day about keeping an open mind about the improbable, Annie vehemently denying the possibility that there might be any truth to the wild claims that such publications tended to print.

Annie had glanced at the magazine and laughed to herself, and was about to throw it in the bin when the main headline caught her eye.

MYSTERIOUS SUPERHERO SAVES STUDENT! it screamed, and Annie wouldn't have paid much attention even then except that there in the blurry, dark photo was a vague figure shooting energy from its fingers in a way that was distinctly familiar despite the poor quality of the shot.

Annie dropped her cup of coffee.

The GC-161 debacle had never really reached the ears of the public, Annie knew; the government had shrouded the true facts of the matter in secrecy, so that almost no one knew that several years earlier a young girl had been granted remarkable powers as a result of an accident with an experimental chemical.

Alex had been provided with an antidote to the chemical's effects by their father, and Annie had never had any reason to doubt that Alex had taken it.

After all, her baby sister had always tried so hard to be normal.

Now, Annie cursed herself for being so blind. Alex had possessed those powers for years, and had come to depend on them despite the danger they exposed her to. Alex had been so young when she came into possession of her powers and at a vital and impressionable point in her development; no doubt the idea of being without her abilities seemed unnatural and frightening after growing up with them.

To Alex, her powers would have been an integral part of her standard of normalcy.

It was all so obvious, and yet Annie hadn't even considered it.

Abruptly Annie wondered if Ray knew.

He and Alex were no longer like a pair of slightly deranged twins, but they were still close, and if anyone knew about the continued existence of Alex's powers then it would be Ray. On the other hand Ray was a terrible actor and an even worse liar, and Annie had never seen any indication that he didn't believe that Alex had lost her powers, which made it seem unlikely that Alex had admitted him into her confidence.

Which meant, once Annie considered all the various factors, that probably the only person who knew that Alex possessed any extraordinary powers was Alex herself.

Her sister was sneakier than she had suspected, Annie concluded.

She felt a vague stirring of pride.

"So," Annie said pleasantly as she sipped at her coffee, "There's been some interesting articles in the local tabloids lately."

Alex just raised her eyebrows like she had no idea what Annie was talking about. Of course, it was quite possible that she was entirely clueless, but given Alex's unexpected deviousness so far Annie didn't feel that it was safe to make any assumptions.

"One of my colleagues left a recent issue on my desk as a joke," Annie continued, "with a front page headline about a local superhero protecting people on the same campus that you attend, Alex. Complete with a fuzzy but nonetheless intriguing photograph of someone sending bolts of energy from their fingertips."

Annie fixed Alex with an accusing stare.

Alex shifted uncomfortably.

"Yeah, that's interesting."


Annie's glare was scathing.

Alex looked faintly embarrassed.

"It's not like I set out to be a superhero," she protested. "All I did was help out a few people and suddenly there were all these stories about a superhero going around."

"Alex, you were dressed in spandex," Annie pointed out flatly.

"Well, once the rumour was out there, I thought I might as well use it," Alex explained in a reasonable tone of voice. "Besides, hiding my identity seemed like a good idea."

Annie pinched the bridge of her nose. She could feel a very familiar headache starting up behind her right eye.

She'd thought that particular headache was gone for good, but apparently not.

Thank you, Alex.

"Alex, I can't believe you."

There was a time when Alex would have looked sheepish and miserable at being caught out by her older sister, but now she just grinned.

A little abashedly, yes, but mostly she looked unrepentant.

"Ray always used to tell me that I should become a superhero."

"Ray," Annie repeats grimly. "I should have known he'd have something to do with this."

"Actually, he only found out a couple of weeks ago," Alex countered. "He was really mad at me, too. Yelled at me for keeping secrets from him."

Annie's curiosity got the better of her, because psycho-analysing her sister was always one of her hobbies, and this didn't fit with Annie's mental profile of Alex at all.

"Why did you keep it from Ray?"

Alex shrugged.

She's as inarticulate as ever, but over the last few years Annie has come to realise that there is in fact a brain in that head of hers. Alex might not be intellectual in the least, and more concerned about her interpersonal relationships than academic pursuits, but she's smart enough in her own way.

Sometimes Annie felt regret over all the times she put Alex down when they were younger. Not everyone can be an intellectual genius, and Annie's brilliance overshadowed any gifts of Alex's own for a long time.

"I don't know." Alex swirled her coffee. She's always had a large repertoire of avoidance techniques, some more blatant than others. "I just want to keep it to myself, I guess."

"Which is why you venture out at night dressed in a spandex costume," Annie pointed out dryly.

Alex raised her eyebrows and gave Annie a dubious look.

"Oh, like you wouldn't be doing it if you could."

"What? No!" Annie objected, startled.

Alex just rolled her eyes.

"Please, Annie, I know about the secret comic book collection. Admit it. You'd love to costume up and fight crime."

Her voice was teasing, and her eyes sparkled mischievously.

"I would not," Annie said disdainfully, which she knew was a total giveaway, and which more importantly, Alex knew was a total giveaway. "Some of us are mature, responsible adults."

Alex made a dismissive phfft sound.

Annie glared at her, secretly trying not to laugh.

"Why do I even try to argue with you," she grumbled. "Fine. You're old enough to make your own decisions."

"I never would have guessed," Alex muttered.

"So how have you been?" Annie continued, totally ignoring the muttered aside.

Alex shrugged.

"Good enough, I guess." She looked thoughtfully down at her coffee. "It's interesting, though. What I'm learning, I mean."

"Making friends?" Annie inquired.

Alex made a face.

"You make it sound like my first week of middle school, Annie."

"I'm so sorry for showing an interest in your life," Annie sniped. She allowed a long pause. "Do they know about your, 'extracurricular activities?'"

It took Alex a moment to get that. When she did, she glowered.

"Annie! Leave it alone! So I spend my spare time being a superhero. Like you said, I'm old enough to make my own decisions. So, back off."

Annie shrugged, like the subject matter was of no interest to her at all.

"Okay," she agreed lightly. "I was just asking a question, that's all. No need to go off at me, Alex."

Alex scowled darkly.

"You are unbelievable."

"So are you," Annie returned evenly.

She hesitated, not quite ready to change the subject yet, despite Alex's frustration.

"Just – be careful, okay?" Annie said gently. "You got into trouble so many times over the years, and – I just don't want that to happen again."

Alex's face softened.

"Don't worry," she said reassuringly. "I'm a lot better at it now. I'm not a scared little kid anymore, Annie. I can take care of myself."

Annie finally let the subject drop.

She wished she could explain to Alex that however safe she might be, it's never going to stop Annie from worrying about her. But Alex is young and impulsive, and has never had the responsibility of someone else's life hanging on her ability to offer guidance and protect their secrets.

Annie's been doing it far too long to ever really get out of the habit. She doubted that Alex has ever understood the toll it took on her, knowing that Alex was always in danger and quite likely to get herself into a problematic situation at any moment.

"Tell me," Annie said instead, leaning forward conspirationally, "are there any cute boys in any of your classes?"

They spent the rest of the afternoon chatting amicably.