By Dannell Lites
Hey, I may be almost fifty, but I still like to live dangerously, okay? Some things never change.
Some things never change at all
Living dangerously, for sure. I still like that a lot. So I opened my eyes and gazed into the mirror. Nope. No change. Still the same blue eyes, the same dark hair, long in the back and shaven on the sides. Held back with a gold and lapis hair clip, now, in the form of a stylized "S" shield. Gift from a friend a a long time ago. I was still 5'7'', narrow hips, and kind of a broad, if still hairless, chest for a kid. Not bad. Not bad at all.
for a sixteen year old.
My costume was still the same, too. Skin tight red and blue with the "S" prominently displayed. I hadn't changed that costume in over twenty years. Not since I ditched the custom made silk-screened leather jacket I kept having to replace. Hey! Clark's clothes may be as invulnerable as he is, thanks to his aura, but mine aren't. At least not that jacket. I used to order the thing a half dozen at a time to keep up with the demand. Superheroing is a rough game. Ask Clark. If you can find him, that is. Since Lois died he hangs out a lot in the heliosphere of the sun so he doesn't get too many visitors these days. Still comes back occasionally to see Jimmy in the rest home, though. And me, of course. I don't wear the shades anymore, either.
"I want to see your eyes," Cassie told me the first time we ever made love.
Damn. I miss that jacket.
You're confused about the age thing, right?
Well, join the Rave, babe, join right in! It's my life we're talking about here and I'm still confused, too. Zero perspiration there, dudes and dudettes. I mean, the beginning is simple enough. Sorta. Kinda. If you look at it sideways.
See, about thirty years ago, Superman died. Okay, okay, he got better but he did die. No, really. Honest Kryptonian. Deader'n punk rock. They buried him and everything. Trouble was that the friendly neighborhood clone masters at the Cadmus Project dug him up and tried to clone him so that the world would always have a Super-Dude to save it from alien invasions, galactic overlords and other-dimensional god-types with acid indigestion.
They didn't quite get what they planned for.
They got me.
Turns out that pure Kryptonian genes can't be cloned. At least not by Earthly science. So they threw some plain old Earth-based DNA into the genetic stew and viola! Me. Now I was supposed to be decanted fully grown and with most of Clark's memories and personality intact. Might even have worked if it hadn't been for the Newsboy Legion who decanted me a little early and busted me out of Cadmus. So, I was "born" at about the age of 15 instead of the thirty-something the Cadmus honchos had in mind.
I also don't have any of Clark's superpowers. None. In fact, I have one, and only one, superpower to my non-existent name. They call it tactile telekinesis and I've got a hell of a lot of that. Among other things it means that if I can touch something, I can lift it. And nothing much can touch me if I don't want it to, either. Pushing telekinetically, I can "fly". Coast to coast in under two hours now. So I can fake having most of Clark's powers one way or another.
I've gotten a lot better over the years with my tactile telekinesis. Lots of things I can do now that I couldn't before.
But, hang on, the age thing gets even more twisted, trust me. See, I got sick. They eventually called it the "Clone Plague" and almost every clone on Earth died from it. It only affected clones, though, so no sweat, Yvette. Emil Hamilton at STAR Labs described it as a sort of "genetic meltdown" of a clones body. I'm pretty tough, though, so I pulled through.
Emil explained it to me real carefully. He tried to be as kind as he could under the circumstances. Emil is a nice guy who wouldn't hurt a microbe if he could help it. He was probably relieved that I took it so well. What he didn't know was that I didn't understand all the baggage that eventually came with what he was trying to tell me. In those days I wasn't much for looking ahead, you know? Cassie says I'm still not very good at that. She's right.
Comes with the territory, I guess.
"Superboy," Hamilton began. Laying prone in my hospital bed, I could see the sadness and reluctance in his eyes and I was pretty scared. I was afraid he was gonna tell me I was dying. Imagine my relief when he didn't.
"You're on the road to making a full recovery," he announced. I swallowed hard and resumed breathing. His lips set themselves in a pale, thin line and he readjusted his horn-rimmed glasses. "But "
Oh, crap. I hate that word, don't you?
"I have some bad news for you," he continued and, underneath the concealing safety of the hospital blanket, my fingers went numb with fear. Look, nobody wants to die, okay? I was barely a year old in real time and my plans did not include biting the big one anytime soon. Especially not from some thing with a stupid name like the "Clone Plague". No way.
"There has been some genetic damage," the head of STAR Labs Research Division admitted. I gulped.
"W-What kind of genetic damage?"
Like I said, Emil is a kind dude, so when I lapsed into another coughing fit, he leaned me forward, with my head over my knees, to ease it. My lungs were still pretty weak and congested.
"You're not going to age," Hamilton told me bluntly. "Physiologically, you'll always be sixteen. You're never going to get any older." He looked so very sad and I didn't understand it. Not then. I blinked rapidly and stared at him for several moments.
Can you believe I actually smiled?
Yep. Sure did. Damn straight. I mean, after all, who wouldn't want to be young all their life? Right?
Like I said, I didn't understand.
I'm slow, okay? It took me awhile to figure it out. All I knew at the time was that I wasn't gonna get old and gray and wrinkled. And I haven't Like I said, I'm almost fifty years old and I still look like I'm sixteen. I always will.
Others, though Other people grow older. You betcha.
Cassie stuck her salt and pepper head into our bedroom, smiling and bringing in her wake the smell of bacon, eggs and coffee from the kitchen. To me she's as beautiful as the first day I ever saw her. Even more.
"Shake a leg, Kon," she called to me merrily, "or you'll be late for that JLA meeting. Timbo will be righteously pissed. He's got enough problems with Bart, okay? Can you tell me how in the name of anything holy someone like our very own Flasher can always be late? I mean, he can run faster than the speed of light, for God's sake! I think he does it just to torque off the third Batman. Timbo is as bad as Bruce about punctuality. So, move it, lover."
"Yes, mother," I chuckled, grabbing for my pants. I didn't realize what I said, at first.
Cassie's face fell like a collapsing building and I quickly closed my eyes to erase the pain I saw reflected in her still expression. Didn't work. It was still there, burned into the back of my eyelids like a fresh brand, red and raw.
"Oh Christ, Cassie, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" I pleaded uselessly. "I - I didn't I - I didn't mean it "
But there was no one there to hear my abject apology. Cassie was gone.
I sat down heavily on the unmade bed still disheveled with our lovemaking of the night before, and lowered my head. I was gonna be late for that JLA meeting. Oh, yeah. Real late. "Way to go, craphead!" I thought. "Maybe next time you can find a way to rub her nose in the sitch a little harder! Christ." As if last night hadn't been bad enough.
Hey listen, it started out pretty damn good. See, yesterday was Cassie's forty-eighth birthday and I took her out for a candlelight dinner at the best restaurant in Gateway City.
Or at least I tried to do that.
I made reservations in plenty of time. I had everything planned just right. Roses delivered in the morning. Breakfast fixed with my own two hands. Okay, the toast was burned but I tried, damn it. The whole nine yards. Damn, Cassie looked good in that strapless blue number she was wearing and I told her so. I was romantic as hell and scoring lots of points here, folks. Feeling damned fine with Cassie on my arm as the Maitre'D escorted us to our balcony table. It was a warm, gorgeous Spring night with brilliant stars overhead; Cassie was beaming and outshining them all.
After a few minutes, our waiter approached, smiling professionally, and paused as we perused our menus. I started to ask him how to say, "cheeseburger and fries" in French but managed to stop myself just in time. I'm still not much for fancy food. Pen poised, he smiled down at the elegantly clad Cassie.
"And what will Madame have this evening?" he inquired.
"Madmoiselle," Cassie said mildly, "will have the Coq Au Vin with spinach salad and chicken consommé. Roquefort dressing on the salad." I smiled. Since Cassie and I aren't married she doesn't like being addressed as Mrs. Mrs. Kon-El sounds weird anyway and that's the only name I've got.
"And the young gentleman?" asked the waiter, still looking to Cassie. That's when I lost my smile.
"The gentleman," I replied pointedly, "will have the steak and baked potato. No chives. No salad." He didn't quite manage to conceal his haughty sniff well enough that I couldn't hear it. He regarded Cassie with a lifted eyebrow for several instants as if expecting her to correct or discipline me. I handed him back the vellum-printed menu brusquely.
"Could we see a wine list, please?" I requested, keeping my voice admirably level and steady.
When he frowned, then disappeared I knew that the whole evening was on the way down the toilet. It didn't take him long to return with the Sommelier in tow. The round little French wine steward smiled furiously at Cassie, wiping his damply sweating brow.
"Madam," he explained apologetically and already I was wincing, "I fear it will be impossible for your son to order the wine. The law on such matters is very clear. Perhaps you would care to - "
The water glass in Cassie's hand shattered and splashed its contents all over the pale blue silk of her dress. It was probably ruined, I suspected. Cassie may not be Wonder Girl anymore but she's still plenty strong. Retirement doesn't mean she isn't in great shape.
I grabbed one of the pristine linen napkins on the table and wordlessly wrapped her bleeding hand. Like an idiot I just started murmuring, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry " Like that was going to do any good. Cassie just looked lost. So damned lost
I rounded on the two phony Frenchmen, who were still staring at the scene, appalled, like tweedle-dumb and tweedle-dumber.
"She's not my mother!" I shouted at them and all around us the quiet hum of polite conversation ground to a halt. People stared. Silence fell except for the rapidly approaching steps of the Maitre'D. He was practically running. It must've been the look on my face. The waiter and the Sommelier both paled and stepped back.
"Kon, please " Cassie whispered. "It - it's not their fault. It's a natural mistake, isn't it?" Her voice trailed off and when I reached for her hand, she stepped back away from me, trying to disguise it to look as if she were grabbing for her chair, and drove a hot knife of fear into my belly.
"May I help you, Madame Sir?" the Maitre'D began smoothly. He didn't bother to squash his baleful glare at his two subordinates. "Is there a problem?" Cassie was shaking now like a leaf in a high wind. She wanted to cry real bad but she was too proud.
"Nope!" I spat between gritted teeth, "no prob at all!" I threw money at the table and gathered Cassie in my arms. She stiffened at first but after a second she relaxed and lay her head on my shoulder. But she didn't cry. Not even then. She never cried.
"C'mon, Cassimia, we're outta here .. " I whispered. With a bound, I took to the air, leaving astonishment behind me.
I don't have Clark's superhearing, but my ears are pretty sharp. And I do speak French. The last thing I heard as I flew away, Cassie cradled safely in my arms, was the Maitre'D berating the two screwups who'd ruined our evening. It didn't help.
"Fools!" he hissed. "Did you not recognize him? That was Superboy! Of course, he was old enough to order from the wine list! Fools!"
All the way home Cassie didn't say a thing. Not a single word. The silence screamed at us until I thought I'd go deaf. Maybe I already was deaf and just didn't know it. See, I kept remembering the lifeless look in Clark's eyes at Lois' funeral. It's not everyday that you bury your wife of almost fifty years. Could be it was just one too many funerals for Clark. He'd been going to a lot of them lately, after all. First his foster parents, the Kents Clark was torn up, sure but I think he was expecting it. They died within a week of each another. When Jonathan had that second, fatal, heart attack Martha just kinda let go. Perry was no big surprise, either, I guess. He fought pretty hard, but, in the end, lung cancer usually wins that battle. Smoking cigars for thirty years will do that for you. Lana hit him real hard, though. I mean, who the hell dies in child birth these days, anyway? Jesus. Clark and Pete Ross have been friends forever. Pete was devastated, of course. His wife and his kid all at once. I still say that was no accident when Pete's car went off that bridge But I didn't say anything.
And then Lois
There was nothing unexpected at all about Lois' death. She was eighty-three years old when she died.
Clark was still Superman. At the peak of his powers. Not a gray hair or even the beginnings of a wrinkle anywhere.
But, see, the thing I remember the most about Lois' funeral was the quiet way Clark kept watching me and Cassie. He hardly said a word. I think he talked to Bruce. But, with everybody else, he just shook their hands and looked grave but composed.
Bruce leaned on his cane and they spoke quietly for several minutes, I think. Age hasn't mellowed Bruce much. Still tough as Madonna's corset and twice as mean. Don't let the white hair fool ya. Not even Dick's death stopped Bruce. Tim was real worried about him for a while there, but if the heated death of the Universe isn't gonna stop Bruce, getting old sure won't do the job, will it?
That's not true, is it?
But later, when the graveside service was done, when Clark and Linda and John Henry and I were sitting in the awkward silence of the limousine together Well, he waited until we were alone, at least; until the others had already left for the wake. I reached for the car door and Clark's hand covered mine. He's way stronger than I am so the only thing I could do was just sit there rooted to the spot like a tree. I guess I stared.
"You should leave her, Kon," he said to me. I'll never forget that voice. So calm, so level, so so disconnected. Like he wasn't really there at all.
"She's going to die, Kon," he said, "and you aren't." It would've been a brutal statement if it hadn't been so matter of fact. "She's going to grow older and you won't. Do it now, while there's still time." My throat worked but I snatched my hand away and looked stubborn.
But I couldn't meet his eyes.
All the way home with Cassie in my arms, I wanted to say something. I wanted to say something in the worst way. Anything to kill the silence. But, for the life of me, I couldn't think what. I'm sorry? Yeah, right. It's gonna be all right, babe? Heeelll-o! Not! So I bit my lip and kept my mouth shut, thinking furiously, futilely, for some word, any word, to make it better.
Never did find it.
I touched down on the balcony of our apartment like a passing breeze, teked open the big glass French doors and carried my lady inside, still hanging on tight. It hit me as soon as I walked in the door. The place smells like Cassie. Like candle wax and good, plain food. Like the scent of her favorite perfume 'Charlie'. It smelled like home.
The first one I've really ever had.
"You can let me down now, Kon," said Cassie, restless in my embrace.
I didn't want to and she knew it. "Cassimia " Jesus. Now, how did that happen? I meant for the pet name to come out all passionate and firm like I wasn't gonna take no for an answer or something. So how the hell did it end up sounding like such a wussy plea? Damn.
With a sigh, Cassie kissed me on the cheek; chaste and utterly devoid of fire or passion. "Let me go, KonArtist," she said again. I swallowed my heart at the sound of her favorite nickname for me but, in the end, I let her go. Just like she asked. And watched her walk away.
"W-where are you goin'?" I asked.
She never even turned around to look at me. Maybe she couldn't; I don't know. She only paused briefly in her flight away from me.
"I need to be alone," she told me. "Just some time to think this thing through, is all. I-I love you. Whatever happens remember that. Promise me."
I sat down heavily in my favorite battered easy chair. You know, the one that doesn't match the rest of the perfectly accessorized furniture? Hey, it was either that or fall down. And I wasn't ready to do that yet.
No, not just yet.
I stared at the floor; at the pale ice blue of the carpet. I hate that carpet. Always have. How can you live somewhere you can't walk on the floor, I ask you? I almost laughed. Heh. Easy enough, I guess, if you're Superboy.
Even Tim still calls me The Kid. Did you know that? Yep. The fearless leader of the Justice League of America still calls me The Kid. Kinda funny, really.
So why wasn't I laughing?
When I looked up again I figured that Cassie would be gone. But she wasn't. Not yet, anyway. Still there. I closed my eyes in pain. Maybe Clark was right .. Maybe
"It's not gonna work, is it?" I asked into the late night quiet.
Cassie looked away. "I don't know, Kon. I just don't know."
I think that may be the first and only time she ever lied to me. The worst part of it was, I was the one who cried. Imagine that. Cassie came and sat in my lap, then, stroking and kissing my hair. She didn't have anything else left to say to me, but she held me for a long time. She held me like Like she was my mother And, no. She didn't cry then, either.
I'm not sure exactly when she left. I'm positive she didn't say anything to me when she did. I'd have remembered that. I remember being cold for a moment and realizing that I was alone. I remember thinking I should probably get used to that.
It wasn't the chill in the air from the still open balcony door that made me get up and start a fire in the living room fireplace. It was something to do, that's all. Random movement to keep me occupied. Clark would've used his heat vision. I'm not Clark. I had to do it the old fashioned Boy Scout way: with matches. Casually, I stepped on the soft, colorful rug covering the polished hardwood floor, then jerked my foot back, as if I'd stepped in flames. The first thing Cassie and I ever did when we moved into this place was make love on that rug in front of a cozy fire. It's still one of our favorite places. I stared down at the rug for a long time before I kicked it away, cursing under my breath.
I made a mental note to myself to get rid of the damned thing. After all, I wouldn't be needing it any more. And I was gonna live for a long, long time, right? If I hung onto every piece of sentimental junk laying around my life, it wouldn't be long until I ran out of room. Can't have that. Out with the old -- in with the new, babe! I'm a love'm and leave'm kinda dude.
It wasn't long until I had a roaring fire, crackling merrily away in the dimly lit room. Outside, night was falling. Fires are good for holding back the darkness. Most of the time. I strode back to my battered chair and sat carefully down. I love this chair. It fits me perfectly. When I leaned my head back into the neck rest it lay at just the right angle to support me in maximum comfort. Yep, this ol' chair knows the shape, the feel of my body almost as well as Cassie knows -
All around me, I watched the shadows from the fire cast themselves onto the walls, flickering and dancing in joyous abandon. Coolness. I'm not sure if I closed my eyes, but I could still see them capering madly. Whoa. Deju vu. That Young Justice camp out longer ago now than I want to remember. So many, many things changed
And some things not changed at all.
I didn't even realize that I was humming. Not until I was actually singing, that is. Can't carry a tune in a paper bag. I don't even sing in the shower. But there I was making like Axl Rose.
"Me and my shadow," I crooned at the dancing, fire-born illusions. "Just me and my shadow "
And my shadow danced to my off key tune.
"Like the wallpaper
sticks to the wall,
My dancing shadow began to grow. As I watched, it grew taller and broader, more defined older until it wasn't quite my shadow anymore. The shoulders broadened, the hair shortened, and when that damned curl spilled over it's forehead, I know exactly whose shadow it was, now. But I just kept singing.
"Let all the others
fight and fuss
I frowned. Hey, wait a minute What the hell was this? The not-my-shadow wasn't alone, now. Arm in arm it danced across the room with another shadow; one with long hair and curves in all the right places.
Oh yeah. Absolutely no mistake about it. That shadow wore glasses. Big ones. Glasses like .. like
Despite the fire the room suddenly got a lot colder. I watched as the not-me-shadow swept up the Cassie shadow in his strong, adult arms and flew away with her. I leapt up from my chair and grabbed for them. But, of course, they were gone. Hey! They were never really there anyway, right?
"Wait!" I whispered. "Wait! Don't leave me alone "
Not that there was anybody there to hear me.
I stumbled to the couch and crashed. Took me a long time to fall asleep, but when I finally closed my eyes, it was mid afternoon of the next day before I opened them again.
Cassie was gone.
I tell myself that this is a good thing. I mean, I know she's not with Clark. That was just my warped imagination working in overdrive. Wherever she is, I hope she's happy. She left me a note promising that when she came back we'd talk.
But I don't think she's coming back.
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This story is © 2000 by Dannell Lites.
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