Five Things That Never Happened
to Jack Knight
The blackness hurt when it pierced his chest. His breath stuttered in his throat as the frozen death ran him through and began to spread. The last thing Jack saw before the shadows took his sight was the tear wending its way over the unfamiliar hard planes of Shade's face.
The package arrived almost a year to the day he left Opal. He closed the store, open just one day, and sat on a box of hand-painted Kahamahama shirts. The return address was Gotham, Alan Scott, but the postmark was Turk County. Jack wondered if there were any post offices left in Opal. He'd tried his level best to avoid any word of the Fall of Opal since he'd gotten on the train and hadn't looked back.
The piece of stationary--Alan Scott's personal stock--that lay on the pile of Styrofoam packing peanuts held one line, written in thick black ink in neat, flowing script.
"There wasn't much left," was all it said.
Jack braced himself and swept the packing peanuts aside, feeling them flow over his hand and back into the sea before he started tossing them out of the box. The pads of his fingers touched metal and he sank his hand wrist-deep into the pile. The cosmic rod was cold and hard in his hand as he pulled it forth, scattering peanuts across the tiled floor of his store. He stroked the handle with his thumb and stood, kicking the box to the wall. He fiddled with the latch on the shaft until the metal plate came off in his hand. He removed the energy exchanger and tucked it in the back of his cash register. The rod found a new home on a velvet board in the front of a display case and a Sharpie and a folded index card followed it minutes later.
"Replica Starman Rod, circa 1954."
"You look just like your father did," Adele Knight said, kissing her younger son on the cheek.
"Aw, Mom." Jack blushed and found a compartment on his belt to fiddle with.
"My little boy, going out to save the day," Adele sighed. "Your dad would be so proud."
"He'd be proud of Davey," Jack said, looking away. "He's the one with the MIT fellowship."
"Davey's the scientist and you're the adventurer. Both your father." Adele tucked an errant strand of hair into Jack's cowl.
"Right. Maybe we could work on the design of this thing," Jack suggested, poking at the crest. "I mean I know Dad wore it and all, but the thing's a little heavy and I could really use some goggles or something. The rod's awful bright, y'know."
"That's my practical side coming out," Adele told him as she kissed his cheek. "Now you get out there."
"Yes, ma'am." Jack winked and tossed off a cocky salute. He thumbed on the rod and rose through the skylight of the observatory and into the night air. He grinned as he breathed in the scent of the cypress trees surrounding his family's property and tilted his face toward the rest of stars in the sky. He was one of them, now, and he'd be the best Starman ever.
The cosmic rod made him weightless and he sped into Opal proper without straining either his arm or his breath. Davey had made improvements and answered with a curt, "You wouldn't understand anyway," when Jack asked what they were. Jack had shrugged and pretended he didn't care. After all, he probably wouldn't understand. He wasn't the science geek. He was the superhero.
Three hours later, Jack alighted on the roof of old building on the corner of First Street and Burnley Boulevard. He gazed out across the dark waters under Rougeableu Bridge and glanced over at the quiet dome top of Opal Electric. A car horn sounded from somewhere behind him, Northeast, and Jack ran a quick mental catalogue of his evening's exploits.
A drug deal disrupted, a mugging foiled, a car theft averted. Jack remembered the looks on the criminals' faces, the fear in their eyes when his cosmic rod had lifted them into the air. He felt queasy, then, and decided to go home.
A warm breeze ruffled his again-escaped hair and birds flapped as turned. As he stepped off the edge of the building, he heard that song he liked, the one by Little Anthony and the Imperials. What was the name of it again? Oh, right, he thought as he stepped off into space. "Hurts So Bad."
Nash's first mistake was sending the letter too early. She should have waited until the baby was born. She should have waited until she knew if she was carrying Jack's son or Jack's daughter. Then, maybe, they both would have known.
Nash's second mistake was forgetting the resources Jack had available through his father. She'd forgotten that Ted Knight could call Sentinel, who lived in Gotham and knew Batman. Whether Batman had located the new Mist on his own or employed the assistance of his Justice League teammates, neither of them knew. And to neither of them did it matter.
Nash's third and final mistake was that she forgot to play the game. In a flash of anger and desperation, she'd tried to kill Jack--her lover, her enemy, her life. And Jack had defended himself as he had defended himself against her brother Kyle.
Jack Knight sat on the plush carpeted floor of Nash's European hotel room, his rod cast aside and Nash's hand held gently between both of his. She coughed, bringing up blood and Jack wiped it away from her mouth with the edge of his sleeve.
"It won't be much longer," he promised her softly.
"Do you think," she asked, her voice already slipping away as she turned wide, glassy brown eyes up to his face, "that our baby will have blue eyes?"
It turned out that sticking the cosmic rod in Sand's chest and hitting the proverbial power button did not fry Sand.
Which was a good thing on several levels.
For one thing, it meant that Sand was still alive. Moreoever, he was in one piece, which he would not have been, had Jack thought a little faster or moved a little slower. Sand had managed to pull himself into form on a molecular level through sheer force of will, he kept himself from being shaken apart during earthquakes with calming yoga exercises, and he even managed to use meditation to keep himself sane while teaching Courtney to drive. But he had no defense against a bullet filled with hydrofluoric acid. No defense but Jack.
However no one was really quite sure how to deal with the new Crystal Sand. Outside of giving him the obvious inappropriate nicknames.
Jack, in particular, was unsure what to do with the sparkling man he once called a friend.
"I, um." He scratched the back of his neck and tilted his head at Sand, who was working on something with his back turned to Jack. It looked like something mechanical and therefore out of Jack's realm of knowledge, so Jack stuck to his original plan. "You aren't mad at me, are you?"
"Mad at you?" Sand's voice had taken on a clear, shallow tone since the day Jack had accidentally turned him into glass. Jack felt a quick pang of regret for the warm gravel that had edged Sand's voice in the early morning or when he was tired.
"You know. Since I...changed your chemical composition and all." Jack winced. Ruin a guy's life, make him impervious to touch, turn the angles of his body sharp enough to slice cloth and brittle enough to shatter in the wrong harmonics and write it all off to a little change in chemical composition.
"Well." Sand turned and leaned carefully against the workbench. "It's not like I had anything real stable to work with anyway. And you did save my life."
"You're taking all this way too zen, y'know?" Jack replied, his face still serious and worried. "And. We haven't really gotten any time. Together. To talk. You know. Alone."
Sand nodded once. His expression might have been thoughtful but it was difficult to interpret in the shifting shadows and glare from the harsh lights reflecting the planes of his glassine face.
"I guess," he said slowly, "that having my body do strange things is starting to become de rigour." He glanced up. "I'm not saying I don't have some anger and frustration to work through. And I'm damn tired of having to adjust to another--how'd you put it? Chemical composition? But Jack? Honestly, there's just one thing I regret." He straightened and stepped forward, bringing his hand up to brush unnaturally smooth fingertips against Jack's cheekbone. Jack choked to feel the ghost of a caress he'd wished for once upon and time. Instead, he turned away when he saw a very human, very liquid tear slip down Sand's face. "And that's everything we've left unsaid."