Sullivan Kent futurefic
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
In learning you will teach
And in teaching you will learn
You'll find your place beside the ones you love
Oh, and all the things you dreamed of
The visions that you saw
Well, the time is drawing near now
It's yours to claim it all
Son of Man, look to the sky
Lift your spirit, set it free
Some day you'll walk tall with pride
Son of Man, a man in time you'll be
-Phil Collins (Tarzan), "Son of Man"
He was falling.
Sullivan Kent tumbled toward the sidewalk below. Like Icarus, he'd tried to fly too high, metaphorically speaking, and now he was paying the price. He'd tried to fill his dad's boots, but being Superman was just too damn much for him.
And now he was going to die for it.
Served him right, really. He'd had the arrogance to believe he could help people the way his father had. He'd had the arrogance to believe he was making a difference in this world.
But compared to his father, he was nothing. Nothing at all.
And right now, with his powers stripped away and plummeting toward the ground like a safe in one of those old cartoons, he was scared out of his mind. Despite his invulnerability, despite his ability to fly, he'd always had a fear of heights, and that primitive, atavistic fear filled him now.
He kept tumbling dizzyingly through the air, aware that he was going to die in a big, ugly splat any second now. The thought terrified him, closing off his throat and compressing his lungs, so that he couldn't draw a breath.
His fear overwhelmed him, and he fell gratefully into darkness.
When he woke up, he wasn't dead.
He thought about that for a moment, without opening his eyes. The last he remembered, he'd been falling toward the concrete at a terrifying speed, and therefore he certainly should be dead. So how did he know for sure he wasn't dead? What if his consciousness was in Heaven or Hell or somewhere equally metaphysical?
As he contemplated the question, he felt his stomach rumble. He'd forgotten to eat breakfast this morning, and hadn't gotten around to lunch either, and his stomach was making its indignation known. He found that reassuring. Somehow he doubted people's stomachs rumbled in the afterlife.
Slowly, he opened his eyes, expecting to find himself in some sort of high-tech jail, or maybe a sterile laboratory. Instead, he found himself alone in an ordinary dorm room. A girl's room, he figured, judging from the pink fringed lamp and the flowers on the bedspread.
Okay. Instead of dying, he'd wound up in a girl's bed.
Things were looking up.
He looked down at himself and saw that he was still dressed in his father's costume. But he felt weak and strange, weaker than even exhaustion had made him.
He thought back over the events that had occurred just before he found himself falling, and remembered the thing that had entwined itself around his neck.
Reaching up, he found it was still there. Sort of a collar, he thought, poking at it experimentally. It was made of metal, with a small stone embedded in it, and he couldn't seem to rip it off. Evidently his powers were still missing in action. He ran his fingers along it, trying to find the catch...
Sully jolted, so startled he almost cried out. He was used to knowing who was in the immediate vicinity, thanks to his superhearing. But of course his superhearing had been stripped from him along with all his other powers.
The room had been empty, but now he saw a tall woman standing next to the bathroom. Obviously she'd just emerged.
She wore a crimson suit that clung to her substantial curves, and a cowl that covered most of her face. But spilling out of the cowl cascaded a waterfall of dark red hair, a strikingly unusual shade of deep, rich burgundy he'd know anywhere.
"Barri?" he said, frowning.
She sighed, and reached up, removing the cowl. A familiar face smiled at him wryly. "I guess my costume isn't much of a disguise, huh?"
He blinked at her, bewildered. He'd met Barri Allen on his very first day at Met U, and since then he'd been pursuing her, trying to get her to go out with him. And she'd kept blowing him off. She'd been friendly enough, but not interested in him that way-- probably because she was a serious, hardworking girl who devoted herself to studying, while his interests mostly revolved around parties and hanging out with friends.
But despite the fact that they possessed very different personalities, he liked her a lot, and he'd kept trying. They shared a couple of classes, and several mutual friends, and he talked to her every time he got the chance, pouring on the Kent charm that made him so popular with the ladies of Met U. He'd finally convinced her to go out with him a couple of weeks ago, but unfortunately he'd had to leave in the middle of their date to go help someone. She hadn't spoken to him since.
He'd thought of her as a smart, funny, pretty young woman. But it had never occurred to him that she might be a superhero.
He frowned, looking her up and down from her red boots to the lightning bolt on her chest to the red cowl she held in her hands. "Who the hell are you supposed to be?"
She lifted her chin. "I call myself Impulse."
"Impulse? But Impulse was a guy, and he became the Flash, a long time ago..." His voice trailed off, and he stared at her as a light dawned. "You're Bart Allen's daughter."
He'd never made the connection, because Allen was a very common name, and the Flash made his home in Keystone City, a long ways from Metropolis. He'd never actually met the guy, although he'd heard his parents laughing about him more than once.
"You've got superspeed," he said accusingly. "That's how you were able to see me."
She shrugged a shoulder, a small motion that made her breasts move slightly, in a very attractive way. Sully tried not to stare. "I have Dad's speed," she admitted. "But I also have my mom's ability to climb straight up walls. That's how I was able to get near enough to you to throw the damping device."
"The...?" He yanked at the offending collar a little more strongly. "What the hell is this thing?"
Her mouth curved. God, she had beautiful lips. He'd spent a year and a half fantasizing about kissing them. Not that his fantasies had stopped him from kissing a variety of other lips. Sully Kent had always been a big believer in variety.
"Batman created it a while back," she answered. "It was designed to stop Superman, in case he ever was taken over by a hostile influence, or just lost it for some reason. It's blue kryptonite, and it drains your powers away."
"Great. Just great."
She gave him her flashing bright smile. "Don't worry, Sully. It's not permanent. You'll be back to lifting cars like pebbles the minute I take it off you."
Sully gave up yanking at the thing, and sat up, frowning. "How did you know it would work on me? For that matter, how did you even know what I've been doing?"
"Sully." She shook her head at him. "I'm not stupid, you know. After spending half my life working with the Justice League, I knew Superman's identity, even though I wasn't supposed to. There've been articles about Superman 2 in the paper for the past month, and you seemed to be missing an awful lot of classes..."
"I always miss a lot of classes."
She nodded, a faint smile on her full lips. "But all of a sudden I wasn't seeing you anywhere. Not even parties. And then you and I had that date where you ran off without an explanation. I really didn't have much trouble putting the pieces together."
He sighed. He was clearly a total failure at the secret identity thing. "Who else knows?"
She shrugged again, and he stared at the resulting movement. He couldn't help himself. "I think some members of the Justice League suspected you at first," she answered. "But your mom is sure it's not you, and they figure she'd know. Plus... everyone knows what kind of guy you are."
He felt his cheeks flame with angry embarrassment. Yeah, everyone knew what kind of guy he was-- a lazy slacker who couldn't possibly become a superhero. Damn it. He spoke gruffly.
"So you figured out who I was. Why did you lasso me? Why take my powers?"
"I wanted to talk to you, Sully. But I knew if I approached you, you'd just deny everything. I figured I had to catch you in the act to get you to talk to me about it. And let's be honest-- if you have even half your dad's strength, I didn't have much chance of catching you as long as you had your powers. So I swiped this little device from the JLA headquarters."
"You almost killed me!"
"Don't be silly." She tossed her head, so that her luxurious cascade of hair fell into her face. "I didn't have any trouble catching you. I have some strength from Mom, too."
He tried to remember what he knew of the Justice League-- most of it information he wasn't supposed to have, but that he'd picked up via his unfortunate habit of eavesdropping. Bart Allen, he vaguely recalled, was married to Andrea Rojas, whose codename was the Angel of Vengeance. He'd seen photos of the two of them together in his parents' albums, and they'd struck him as something of an odd couple, since she was tall and beautiful, and he was short and kind of goofy-looking.
Even so, he could suddenly see their features mixed together in Barri, could see Andrea Rojas' regal cheekbones and Bart Allen's impish smile in her face. And he could easily imagine that the combination of their powers could result in a really impressive superhero.
"Okay," he said. "So you took my powers, and then saved me from going splat on the pavement. I have to admit I don't exactly know whether to thank you, or be pissed..."
"Unless you enjoy going splat, I'd go with thank you."
"Falling that far scared the hell out of me, Barri."
She looked slightly sheepish. "I didn't realize you'd be able to shoot upward so far before the damping device took effect. I thought the effect would be instantaneous. Instead it took about half a second-- which was long enough for you to get a lot higher than I expected you to. Sorry about that."
She sounded sincerely chagrined, and after a moment's thought, he decided to accept her apology. He studied her, tilting his head on one side. "I just don't get exactly why you decide to capture me in the first place."
"I've been keeping an eye on you for a while," she answered. "And I think you need some help."
He bristled. "I don't need a sidekick."
"A sidekick?" She laughed softly. "Junior, unlike you, I've been working in the superhero business since I was thirteen. I'm no one's sidekick."
"Ever since you ran off in the middle of our date," she went on as if he hadn't spoken, "I've been watching over you. You've hardly eaten or slept in all that time, Sully. You're going to work yourself to death if you're not careful."
He hunched his shoulders defensively. "People need me, Barri."
"Is that why you put on the suit? Because people needed you?"
"Not me, exactly." He sighed. "The world needs a Superman, Barri. But problem is, I'm not Superman. I'm just plain old Sully Kent, and I can't do it all. Hell, I can't do a fraction of what needs doing."
"Look..." She put the cowl down on her desk, and suddenly she was sitting next to him on the bed. He realized she'd briefly gone into superspeed, moving more quickly than he could see in his current depowered state. Her hand dropped lightly onto his. "Every superhero goes through this when they start, Sully. It's not just you. Once you realize how many people are out there who need help-- well, it's really hard to take any time for yourself."
He had to fight to avoid turning over his hand and wrapping it around hers. He'd liked Barri Allen since the moment he met her, and having her this close-- well, she smelled good, and her skin felt soft and warm against his. And the red costume didn't leave the slightest doubt as to how nice her curves were.
But more than the way she looked or smelled, he appreciated the sympathetic understanding in her voice. He'd been struggling through his problems alone for a month, and he really wanted to talk to someone about everything he'd gone through.
"I can't take any time for myself," he said, a little sullenly. "When I stop, people die."
"I know. Believe me, I know." She squeezed his hand. "But if you don't learn how to get enough rest, you're going to make a stupid error, and get people killed. Already your reaction time is all shot to hell. That device was designed to move fast enough to stop Superman, and you didn't have much chance of avoiding it-- but you didn't even try to get out of the way."
He couldn't deny it. He knew perfectly well that ordinarily, he would have stood a much better chance of evading the device. He needed sleep in a big way. But sleeping in was no longer an option for him. He fumbled out more words, trying to explain the problem.
"When I'm not working... I can hear them."
She cocked her head. "What do you mean?"
"All of them. Everyone in Metropolis who needs me. I can hear them calling for help."
She nodded slowly. "I can see why that would be difficult to ignore."
"It's impossible to ignore, Barri. I can't..." He heard his voice tremble, to his immense embarrassment. He was tired and hungry, so exhausted that he was on the verge of tears again.
Way to impress the girl, he thought glumly.
"You can't turn off your superhearing?"
He shook his head, closing his eyes and bowing his head. "Not when people are calling for help. I hear them, and I can't... I can't... I mean, what else am I supposed to do?"
"You have to sleep," she said.
"Can't. When I sleep... they die."
She sighed. "Sully, you need help."
"I can handle it." He did his best to square his shoulders and look Supermanly, although he suspected the big circles under his eyes detracted from the look. "I'm working it out, Barri."
"You're working yourself into an early grave," she said, a little more tartly. "Look, Sully, you were right about one thing. The world needs a Superman. But even Superman can't do it all."
"There's no one else who can do it," he said tiredly. "Metropolis has been going to hell in a handbasket since my dad died, Barry. The city needs me."
"There are plenty of other superheroes out there. All you have to do is ask them to help."
He stared at her. "Are you talking about... contacting the Justice League?"
"But I--" The thought of actually just walking into the JLA headquarters and saying, Hey, dudes, I could use some help over in Metropolis, blew his mind. College kids didn't just walk up to living legends like Wonder Woman and Batman and Aquaman and ask for help.
Anyway, he wasn't a member of the JLA, and he never would be. He wasn't Superman, just a kid in a Superman suit, and no real superhero was going to give him a hand.
"All you have to do is ask," she told him again. "I'm not a member, but I've worked with them before, and I think they'll help you out if you ask."
"No. My mom--" He shook his head wearily. "She's been writing all these articles painting me as some sort of supervillain. No one in the JLA is going to believe that I'm only trying to help."
"Sure they will." She patted his hand. "Like I said, I've been keeping a very close eye on you for the past week or so, Sully."
"You've been stalking me?" He couldn't stop the tired smile that tugged at his mouth. "Wow, Barri, I didn't know you cared."
"Shut up," she said, rolling her eyes. "I wanted to know what you were up to when you were wearing the costume. I know exactly what you've been up to-- and it hasn't been robbing banks."
He thought about that. Barri, with her superspeed, was one of the few reliable witnesses he could hope to have. Ordinary people couldn't swear that he hadn't disappeared for ten milliseconds and robbed a bank or something. But if Barri had been watching him that closely, then she knew exactly what he'd done, every single second she'd been observing him. And since she was the Flash's daughter, the JLA would almost certainly believe her.
Hope began to blossom inside him, along with the optimistic thought that maybe he wasn't alone in this battle after all. There were other superheroes out there, people who could help him. People who might even want to help him.
Maybe she was right. Maybe he didn't have to do it all on his own.
"Anyway," she went on, "you really need to let your mom in on what you're doing. I know she's being kind of irrational right now..."
His mom was kind of irrational about Superman 2 like he'd kind of had pimples when he was fourteen. She hated Superman 2 so much she practically foamed at the mouth when she talked about him. She reminded him of that guy in New York, the editor of the Daily Bugle, who gave Spiderman such a freaking hard time. Everything Sully did, she was determined to cast in an evil light. If he saved the Pope from getting hit by a bus, he was willing to bet she'd write an article blaming him for slowing down mass transit in the city.
"But if she knew it was you," Barri went on, "I'm sure she'd be proud of you."
Sully bowed his head and looked at the pink, girly throw rug she'd tossed over the industrial tiles. Flowers again. The girl liked flowers. "I'm not so sure about that," he said, very softly.
"Of course she would." Barri squeezed his hand again. "In only a few weeks, you've done an awful lot of good things, Sully."
"Yeah. Maybe. But..." Sully hesitated for a long moment. He'd been telling himself that he couldn't let Mom know what he was doing because he didn't want to worry her, but all at once he knew that wasn't true. Not exactly.
He blurted out his deepest fear. "I'm not sure she'd think I was, well, worthy of this suit, Barri."
"Of course she would. She's your mother."
"Yeah, but she knows the kind of guy I am. The person I've always been. I have a bad feeling that maybe she'd feel like that by wearing this suit, I'm, well..." He laughed softly and without humor. "Sullying it."
Barri was silent a long moment. At last she answered, just as softly. "Is that what you think, Sullivan? That you're not worthy of wearing it?"
Sully didn't look up to meet her gaze. She had deep brown eyes that he knew from experience could look right through to his soul-- and right now, he really wanted to keep his soul to himself.
"No one could be worthy of this suit," he answered. "Not really. I mean, there are plenty of superheroes in the world. But there was only one Superman."
Her hand tightened on his again. "I know what you mean," she answered. "I mean, I only got to work with him a few times, but your dad was... well, he wasn't like anyone else. He was... awesome. I mean, literally. It filled you with awe just to be near him. There isn't anyone else in the JLA like that, except maybe Wonder Woman."
"Exactly." Sully nodded. "He was super. And I'm just an ordinary guy."
"An ordinary guy who can fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes."
"Heat, not lasers. And anyway, it's not the same thing, you know? I mean, yeah, I have all his abilities, but deep down... I'm not the man he was. I don't think I ever will be."
"And you figure your mom wouldn't be proud of the fact that you're trying?"
"I don't know." Sully sighed, deeply enough that if he'd had his powers, the papers on her desk would have gone flying. "I just worry she'd think exactly what she already thinks about 'Superman 2'-- that I'm using Dad's name instead of making my own. I'm honestly not sure if she'd be proud, or disappointed."
Barri was quiet for a long moment. At last she said, "I guess the only way to find out for sure is to tell her."
"I don't want to tell her, Barri."
"You don't think she'll figure it out eventually? She's an investigative reporter, and she's already hot on your garish red ass. She's going to figure it all out inside of a few more weeks. I can guarantee it."
"But what if she--"
"Look," she interrupted, "I don't know your mom, so I honestly don't how she's going to react. But... well, when I got involved in the family business, I can tell you my mom and dad were really proud of me."
"It isn't the same thing. First of all, you're not wearing your dad's old suit."
"Obviously," she drawled, sticking her chest out just a little. He tried to keep his eyes in their sockets, and went on.
"And second, your dad is-- well, the Flash is terrific, but he's not larger than life, you know?"
"Sure, I know that. I just think..." She hesitated. "I think maybe you're undervaluing yourself a little, Sully. The things you've done since I've been watching you, the way you've pushed yourself almost to the point of collapse... well, I don't think you're the same Sullivan Kent you were a month ago. And I think maybe your mom will realize that."
"Maybe. But I don't see how I can ever live up to Dad in her eyes." His voice dropped almost to a whisper. "God knows I can't live up to him in mine."
She fell silent. At last she said, "Sully, why don't you get some sleep? Maybe things will look a little brighter when you're not running on empty."
"Weren't you listening earlier?" He looked at her tiredly. "I can't sleep. I can't. They need me."
"I was listening," she answered. "But I told you, you can't go on like this. You sleep, and I'll patrol Metropolis for the rest of the day. I have to admit, it's been a while since I worked as a superhero. I pretty much packed away my suit when I left the Key, so I could focus on my schoolwork. But you're right. Metropolis is a mess these days, and it could use some help."
He frowned at her. "Don't you have a class this afternoon?"
"I'll skip it."
He gaped at that sentence-- the last sentence he'd ever expected her to utter-- then closed his mouth and grinned. "Slacker."
She narrowed her eyes at him, looking annoyed by his teasing. "Shut up and lie down."
He couldn't help himself. His grin got wider. "I've been waiting to hear you say that for a year and a half, Barri."
"Shut up," she said impatiently, and pushed him over. He flopped over on his back, because right now she was a lot stronger than he was. And that reminded him...
"Are you going to take this stupid thing off my neck?"
"Hell, no," she answered, getting to her feet and walking over to the desk. She slid the cowl into place and grinned at him. "If I take it off, you're going to go right back to flying over the city, whether I'm on patrol or not. You get a decent amount of sleep, and I'll think about removing it."
"Fine." He sighed, dropping an arm over his eyes. Already his muscles felt like they were dissolving into liquid. God, he was so tired. "Take care of things for me for a while, Barri."
"I will," she answered. There was a sudden whoosh and a blur of red his normally powered eyes couldn't follow, and then she was gone.
He lay still. With his powers gone, he couldn't hear the calls of people who needed him. All he could hear was what anyone else could have heard-- the faint hum of fluorescent overhead lights and the whisper of air conditioning, and occasional muffled sounds of laughter and conversation in the dorm hall.
The mattress felt soft against his back, and his eyelashes felt impossibly heavy. He couldn't fight against sleep any longer. His eyelids drifted shut, and before he knew it sleep had slipped over him like a warm blanket.
Exhausted as he was, he slept heavily. But even in the thick, dark depths of sleep, he dreamed.
He dreamed of standing alone in the streets of Metropolis, gazing up at the sapphire sky. He dreamed that in the midst of his lonely despair, he saw brightly attired figures flying through the sky, and hope filled him as he realized he wasn't alone any more. The Justice League was coming to help him.
He dreamed that he saw them all, Wonder Woman and Batman and Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter, the Angel of Vengeance and Green Arrow, the Flash and Cyborg and Green Lantern. Living legends, men and women whose capes he wasn't worthy to touch.
And leading the way, he saw his father, the real Superman, his bearing proud and regal, his crimson cape rippling behind him in the wind.
Sully stood there in his dream, earthbound and staring up into the sky, his eyes stinging with tears as his father approached. He was bitterly aware that he himself couldn't save enough people. He couldn't get everything accomplished that needed to be done. But Dad, he thought, could save Metropolis. Dad could save the day. Dad had always saved the day.
But as he stood there staring up at the superheroes, so far above him, they flew lower, and he saw Superman's face clearly for the first time. Shock ran through him like a jolt of electricity.
Because in his dream, the man coming to rescue Metropolis wasn't his father.
It was him.