Tim: Making friends is not exactly top of the priority list. Not when you’re actually attending these schools for their intended purpose: Education. Soaking in every single thing you can, in order to further your own personal agenda. There is very little time for the extra curricular that most people in the age group might enjoy. Despite the focus, the intent design upon learning everything possible as quickly as possible, a couple of friends happened anyway. It hadn’t particularly been because of shared interests though.
At first it was simply clinical interest in the mythical ‘Son of Lex Luthor.’ He was a mystery in and of himself, which tripped all of the little red flags in my head that have been drilled in for years. Nothing about Conner Luthor was natural or easily explained. No real records of him prior to his basically showing up on the school’s doorstep. What history did exist was clearly fabricated. The thinly veiled lie that it had been for his protection only heightened the need to look deeper. Then deeper again when this super boy found himself in the news.
What I had at the end of that search hadn’t been entirely what I expected. This group, N.O.W.H.E.R.E. was the meta-human equivalent of the boogeymen. Hunting down metas all across the country and doing god knows what with them. Their connections to Conner Luthor was stranger still. It seemed that they were the reason for his missing history. Except that it got even more curious still when I dug deeper and found that he’d been working for them, not hiding from them. Nothing added up, so I decided to extend my normal stays at these schools until I rooted out the truth.
Nothing was ever simple though, was it? Every new bit that I’d uncovered took me deeper down the rabbit hole. Until I’d at least unraveled one mystery. I knew why this mysterious Luthor was here. A man with his resources could put his son in to any school he wanted. Yet here was Conner Luthor going to some private school in Metropolis. An all Boy’s school. Sure it fit in with his Father’s agenda, as being ‘Home Grown,’ but it simply didn’t make sense. Until I met her.
“Thanks for meeting me,” it’s not your usual place that I might be seeing her. “Without your boyfriend, I mean.”
The Metropolis Museum of Natural History. A natural place for Cassandra Sandsmark to be. Her mother has connections here, if not being properly on the payroll. Her own background would bring her to this place on her own accord. It’s public, while being private all at once. In one hand is a starbucks coffee. In the other is a Metro-Moo-Moo-Milk, Chocolate. It’s the latter that is being offered to her.
Cassie : I don’t exactly get to meet a lot of Conner’s friends. That might make a lot of girls wonder about what that might spell for their relationship with a boy, except in my case I’m actually pretty aware of what that is. For starters, he doesn’t really have many. How’s that work when you’re the resident A-Lister? Well, people want to be your friend but in reality they just want to use you for your connections. For some kids that might work out to be the same thing, but Conner doesn’t have anything in common with most of them. Other than the fact that he looks like a teenage boy, comes from money and has the trust fund and allowance to match. He at least fits in with his classmates.
“Hey, no problem.”
I can’t say the same. It’s only because I understand the necessity in fitting in and not drawing attention to myself (the wrong kind of attention that is) that I bother at all. While it had started as an act, I have actually made a few friends along the way. The sort of people that we hang out with on the weekends, or go to movies as a group with. About the same as the sorts of friends of Conner’s that I’ve met. Friendly, but probably not someone that’s going to be on my Christmas card list in five years. Maybe my priorities are a little skewed though. Common interests, so to speak.
It really is no problem though, turning up because Tim had asked me to. And the location doesn’t exactly strike me as weird. I grew up in Museums, and on dig sites. This is so much more my natural habitat than a gymnasium in my idiotic cheerleading skirt. The one I’m wearing right now is equally idiotic, but it’s about a foot longer. And plaid, awful blue plaid in the proper colors a St. Mary’s girl should be wearing. I should technically be in school right now, but of all the places to play hookie this one isn’t going to get me into trouble. I can claim project research, or if nothing else? That I already know everything there is to know about this week’s ancient history syllabus.
The chocolate milk is taken with a pleased, and grateful smile and I twist the top off in order to take a swig. Without my boyfriend? The drink covers up the skeptical look on my face as to whether that’s actually the case or not, if only partially. He’s not physically here but whether I’m really without him or not?
“Well… uh. You’re. Welcome? What’s up, Tim? Not that semi-clandestine museum rendezvous’ aren’t fun but I have a feeling you’re pretty much the only boy at that school that wouldn’t need a guided tour and a tutoring session.”
Tim: The school uniforms is a thing. Both schools. Cassandra’s and the one that I’m attending alongside her boyfriend. We should both be sporting it, but only one of us is doing so. Which is a brand of irony in and of itself, given that I feel at home in one and this girl’s reaction says she’d rather wear anything but it. Well, almost anything. Her facial nuance is clear any time she’s wearing her standard cheer outfit, that it’s tolerated but not exactly adored.
Once the milk has been handed off, there’s a shared glance of understanding over whether or not her boyfriend is ‘around’ or not. “No. No tours or tutoring, although I understand you’re something of legend at those particular things. Maybe another time.”
The slant of one thin eyebrow speaks far more than the actual words spilling forth do, but that’s because I’ve actually done my homework. It’s what I do. According to the kids St. Francis, Conner went from an absentee, smart mouth, never turn in an assignment loser to a straight A student almost magically after starting his sessions with this girl. If that didn’t merit a second look, then nothing would. When given that second glance though, it’s quite curious how she’s tutoring someone like Mr. Luthor in anything. Their course work is almost completely counter to one another. They share not one single common thread. Yet results speak for themselves. Her impact upon Luthor’s life was a turn around. The only real question is how she managed it, I have my guesses based upon other meetings but…
“I’m leaving,” no preamble, just the facts of the situation. “I don’t know if or when I’ll be back.”
“Things are happening back home, it’s a long story. There’s a need for secrecy that I’m afraid Conner wouldn’t quite understand, but I’m willing to share it with you if need be to garner your help. As you know, he’s associated with some people who might also take an interest in what’s transpiring in Gotham. I can’t take the risk of them knowing the whole truth.”
How -I- know about Conner’s associations is left quite unspoken about. What’s clear though, is that I’m aware at least some surface information about it. “Gotham is no place for someone like him. Someone like you either. I need your help, but I understand if you might have some reservations about helping me keep a secret from your boyfriend.”
Cassie : “I don’t know about legend, but I’ve got an unfair advantage that most kids don’t.”
More true than most people know, given that I could have flown here if I’d chosen but that’s kind of high profile and my skirt is knee length which means it’s not nearly long enough for that sort of activity. But after a moment’s pause I continue on and clarify that something like that isn’t what I’d meant. Nope. No bench pressing tanks here…
“I mean. My Mom has special clearance, and I was actually there when they discovered the burial site that they just started exhibiting. I was nine, but…right. Yeah. Another time.”
Conner hadn’t actually needed the tutoring. Everyone believes he did, so the whole ruse was clearly a success. He just hadn’t bothered. Everything I know about Tim says that is not his issue, and he’s given me a run for my money in a ‘facts’ race a time or two. His lack of uniform means he either had some time between school and here to change, or maybe that he just didn’t go to school today. A question that answers itself with that bomb he’s just dropped.
“You know how ominous that sounds, right? Especially starting it with ‘if’ instead of just going with ‘when.’ The fact that you felt the need to put an ‘if’ in there at all…?”
I’m no dumb blonde. I’m not the overly suspicious brunette that Conner can be, either, but there’s just some things if you’ve got a brain and are attentive to the world around you, you’ll just pick up on. Twisting the cap back onto my Moo Moo, my lips do a little twist of their own to the side as the look of concern I’m wearing starts to get a little more intense.
“Tim. You don’t have to share anything if you don’t want to, I’d help anyway. No questions asked. Well.”
There’s a vague flick of my hand as if to indicate that that’s maybe not entirely true. It would obviously depend if he wanted my help with like. An axe murder, or something that would not sit right with me on the moral scale, but you wouldn’t need to explain that to most people. I probably shouldn’t actually be doing it now. It also brings the focus back onto me and less onto my ‘not present’ boyfriend, because I can’t exactly say ‘yup! I absolutely know that Tim and boy, you’re SO right…’ So I don’t say anything about it at all.
“Someone that goes to private rich kid school? Right, yeah. No. I mean. I understand. I don’t keep secrets from Conner. It’s kind of a big thing that he trusts me.”
Otherwise, how the hell am I going to manage him when he needs managing? But obviously, Tim doesn’t mean trust fund babies aren’t welcome in Gotham. He means the other kind of kids that we are. But when it comes to keeping a secret from Conner? Or meeting somewhere without him? Boy’s got super hearing and x-ray vision. Keeping him out of/away from something he’s half interested in is a challenge.
“But if it’s not my secret, then it’s not mine to tell him. Simple as that.”
Tim: “No. It’s Legend. Trust me. You’re the talk of St. Francis. Most of the guys think you have some sort of magic power or something. The others think you must be talented in other areas. They’re not smart enough to realize you have other means of keeping a Luthor’s attentions. Don’t hold it against them.”
There is a certain pause there, because the truth is I’d love to sit down and talk about the exhibit. Cassie was there. It’s like learning from the source. You couldn’t ask for a better information bank than that. Except, of course, her mother maybe. But. That pause ends when I have to weigh the desire to explore, with the need to get back home before someone does something stupid.
It’s Gotham. There is a whole lot of stupid. Even more than at school. “It’s not meant to be ominous, just truthful. Look, I can’t ask you to do something like this without at least a little bit of disclosure on my side. My adopted Father, Bruce Wayne, died recently. Got killed, actually. Most people don’t realize the connection because I don’t normally use his last name.”
“Your boyfriend knows though. I think that’s why I’m on the short list for his after-school shenanigans. Luthors. Waynes. It’s kind of a thing.”
“That’s part of the problem here Cassie, it’s not really a secret. Maybe I’m being a little too vague here. I just assumed he’d told you. I know.” Once again, there’s a pause. Giving her a chance to assimilate, to fill in the blanks of what that means. After a drink of coffee and reading her expression, there’s a little bit of a rolling to my eyes before I do it for her. “Come on. Really. You managed a superman with a full layout twist dismount at last year’s cheer competition. Except your superman had a torn quadriceps. The only miracle about it, is that you managed to do it while holding that micro-miniskirt in place.”
“And really. A superman? Did Conner talk you in to that…? Ugh. He’s a bit of a tosser with that ego of his at times. Y’know?”
“The point being. Your boyfriend doesn’t make friends easily. He’s going to notice if I disappear. He’s going to look in to it and while I can use this little clip to broadcast white noise for a few meters of privacy for this discussion? I can’t block out the whole City of Gotham. So I need Conner, and by Conner I really mean the people he works for, to not take an interest in where I’m going. So. Think you can distract him.”
“Wait. Correction. I know you can distract him. What I need is for you to keep him out of Gotham. Period.”
Cassie : My lips part like I’m about to ask him what other areas I’m supposedly talented in, but the words don’t actually make it past half-formed in my brain before I put two and two together, turn a soft shade of pink, and then close them again with an aggrieved ‘hmph.’ Boys. Basically only not the worst thing in the world, because girls are a lot higher on my terrible list as a species. And I have to spend a lot more time around them. Thankfully I have the good grace, and wit, to carry on with the conversation like that wasn’t just mortifying.
“Oh, no worry. I don’t intend to. They’d probably like it, and then Conner’d probably feel the need for some manly display of displeasure. The real secret was apparently just weeks of telling him to get lost and not fawning. Catnip for Luthors, or does it work on all of you?”
I go promptly from joking, however, to my lips twisting again in even moreconcern. Not because of who or what he is, or even who and what I am, or that he’s leaving but because of what he’s just told me. The why. I can’t even… imagine. I grew up with only one parent, and I was perfectly okay with that. There was no grieving the Father I didn’t have, because he was never there to be missed and wouldn’t have warranted the emotion thanks to the general abandonment. But my Mother? I can’t even imagine what losing her would do to me. Disregarding his coffee, and even the bottle of chocolate milk I’m holding there’s an abrupt, and honestly just a hair too fast moment to yank Tim in for a hug. Whether he really wants one or not. It’s happening. And though I take great care to not crush him, I’m not letting him get away either.
“Oh, Tim. I’m so, so sorry.”
Not until I’ve said that, at least, and can let go and while clearing my throat straighten my skirt that doesn’t really need it. Just something to do with my hands in what feels like a very awkward, should be doing more kind of moment. At least until I process what he just said. And then what that means, and I find myself clearing my throat again and answering a great deal more primly this time.
“Ahem. We have a very. Very good squad. And it’s better for the overall drama level in my life if I let them think that’s not because of me. But. No. I don’t make the routines and … yeah. His ego is a little bit ridiculous.”
I won’t say ‘can you blame him?’ because yeah, you really can but at least I understand where it comes from. Managing it is part of my full time job. I’m a little surprised Tim saw that, or even remembers it. Hell I barely did until he brought it up right now, but it’s just one of many events that kind of blurs together for me in the parade of time I spend pretending really hard to be normal. Sighing, I rub the bridge of my nose for a moment.
“You brought a white noise generator? You may as well be putting up a big flashing ‘S’ with the caption ‘pay attention to me!’ going up. Ugh. Look. Here’s what you need to do.”
Not a question of whether or not I can distract him, or keep him out of Gotham, though it gives me a focus instead of being really outwardly upset for my friend right now. Conner’s never seemed to care at all about what goes on there, so hopefully keeping his focus out of it won’t be difficult.
“Get him a birthday present and send it once you get settled. No. I know. It’s not his birthday. It can be an early one. Late. It doesn’t really matter. That’s what we’re planning right now.”
Tim: “I wouldn’t know, to tell you the truth. No one has ever tried that with me.” If the other times I’ve paused were for effect, this time it’s for honest consideration of the question. “To tell you the truth, I’ve never made the effort to have it tried on me to begin with. This might actually qualify as the longest discussion that I’ve ever had with a girl that didn’t involve me trying to explain the science behind why they were wrong…. uuuurk…”
For anyone else it might be awkward, but for me it’s a little comical to see how I’m taken from graceful as a cat to smooshed against the abnormally muscular blonde. If being crushed was a concern, then I’d make an effort to escape but I’ve seen her at work with all those powers of her’s. She’s practiced at not killing people. I know this for a fact, because her classmate Kelsey still walks around with all of her natural born teeth. What actually worries me is the fact that I’m making an effort to stay neutral, to keep myself balanced and focused. Something I’ve accomplished mostly by not being forced to confront everything going on. At least. Not in public.
Once released I’m only to happy to let her go about straightening herself out. After all it means a moment to do the same for myself. Putting dark clothes back in to the perfect order of someone with obsessive compulsive disorder. Including the six strands of hair that she mussed in the process.
“It’s not that good,” her team I mean. “Neither is our basketball team. There isn’t a lot of motivation to excel when your allowance exceeds most of the competition’s income. That’s why you stand out. Both of you. To anyone trained to look past the surface.”
“Birthday present. Check and done.’ I’m not even asking why, it goes right back to the earlier topic of ego. “I probably shouldn’t mention the saturated, low-band ultra-violet radiation that I’m generating to protect against enhance vision… you know what, never mind, point taken. Suspicious boyfriend. Got it.”
“Ouch. Bat-signal joke. Too soon, Cassie. Too soon.” Giving her a soft ‘punch’ on the shoulder, I take the first step towards moving away from her. “I’m teasing. It was funny. And true. I didn’t think about him being jealous, I’m a couple steps off my normal game, I guess. Should have considered that going dark for a clandestine meeting between his girlfriend and his roguishly handsome chum might make him jump to conclusions.”
“Thanks though. For keeping him out of Gotham. And. Y’know. Keeping him from …” Two fingers pointing at my own eyes, then making a little Fwoooosh sound as I point around. “… you’re the M.V.P. in my eyes. That’s why I came to you and why I’ll be there if you ever need help too.”
Cassie : “I’d say we could try to dial it back a little but… on the amazing scale, it’s hard enough keeping him at a three when what he really wants to be is eleven. You know. To match where he is in his own mind.”
Maybe I ought to feel guilty for ragging on my boyfriend when he’s not here to defend himself, but it’s not untrue. Besides. I rag on him to his face all the time, it just doesn’t make much of an impact. Reference comment about the awesome scale and his ego, and there’s not all that many moments in life when he couldn’t potentially be listening in. Which, really, is why the noise generator was a bad idea but there’s the possibility he’s not paying attention in the first place. We’ll hope for that. And I do actually appreciate the input about us standing out, all the rest aside.
I’d rather we didn’t. Or at least I didn’t, but Conner’s the President’s son and he’s going to have attention on him regardless. He’s supposed to excel and my mother would frankly be disappointed in me if I didn’t. Just not maybe in the same arenas, and for the same reasons. Given my parentage… the other half of it… I guess someone might say I’m supposed to be just as notable.
“…ugh, really? Well. I guess we better make this quick then.”
Quicker than I’d like to, given that he’s leaving and who knows when/if I’ll see him again if we’re supposed to stay out of Gotham. And unlike my other half? I’m going to accept that’s best on Tim’s word, and that alone. Until I’m told otherwise. I’d give him the tour just for that, but he’s probably got to get going, and I need to get back to school.
I actually cringe when he points out the reference in my joke, because I actually hadn’t thought of it quite like that. I should have. It was insensitive, and I look apologetic even though Tim says it was actually funny. I don’t even point out that there’s no way Conner’s actually going to be jealous, because ego blow on top of the loss of Bruce Wayne, and everything else? That’s just poor form, and he’s my friend. I wouldn’t even do something like that to Kelsey. Suspicious? Yes, he would be just because he’s being pointedly kept out of whatever we’re doing here. But jealous? Conner thinks/knows he’s the best thing on the planet and that no one else can compete with him. And while I can’t say Tim isn’t really cute? I’ve kind of only got eyes for my Superboy.
“And we don’t want conclusions being jumped to. Because. Yeah.”
Mimicking his eye-laser gesture, without the sound, before I let out a laugh that’s just a hair on the tense side. But that’s mostly for his sake, rather than any of what’s going on right here in the moment.
“Those. But. You’re welcome. I’ll do everything I can. On both fronts. Text me when you get there? And… every so often otherwise so I know you’re okay? I’ll miss you. He’ll miss you, so just try to come up with something to fire his way if you can.”
As ‘okay’ as he’s likely to be, anyway. Alive. Breathing.