Derek and Lauren couldn't talk about what had just happened until they got back to the school. Which was already closed, and the parking lot considerably more empty than this morning. Derek said goodbye to Arthur, who had his own car, and went to Lauren's. And as soon as they closed the door...
...there was silence. Mostly stunned silence. Numbed silence. Uncertain silence.
Silence that was only broken by what seemed to be their rapidly-becoming-traditional after-school pitstop at Whataburger.
"What happened." It wasn't said like a question.
Derek was still quiet for a minute. During that minute, Lauren finished her burger.
"Got caught up in the idea of catching the bad guy," said Derek. "Didn't think about much else."
Another hesitant silence.
"So, what happened in the vault?"
"I... I figured out I can go through walls."
"What, really?" Lauren perked up.
"Yeah. Turns out that form with invisibility powers has walk-through-walls powers too."
"Intangibility," said Lauren. "Huh. So how'd you figure that out?"
"I was thinking about how I could get into the safe. I guess I realized that invisibility form looked somewhat ghostly. Don't know why. But that made me wonder, so I tried to walk through the vault door. And it worked."
"Well I found your purse with a bunch of other purses. I was wondering about how to get yours through the wall when that guy showed up."
"Couldn't you just walk it through the wall?"
"I'm not sure it's that easy. My backpack didn't turn invisible when I did the first time. I figured it's the same for going through stuff."
"Hmm... Maybe there's some sort of limit on what changes with you and what doesn't." She was thinking for a second before starting down the road again. "Alright, so what now? You're public."
"Yeah, that is a problem," said Derek.
There was another awkward silence.
"You picked a name pretty quick," said Lauren.
"Quick? We had three hours. And we picked from a list."
"I know it sounds cool and all, but why 'Amelia Powers'? There were plenty of other names on there that weren't already taken."
"Yeah, but... They really only stick to the flying thing."
"Shouldn't you try and stick with the flying anyway? It's easier to make a good name if you just have one power."
"And then what? I pick a name for Amelia when she's flying, and one for her when she's Waterbending, and when she's invisible, and before you know it I've got twenty names to keep track of. They already know she's a shapeshifter, so why pick a name for only one form?"
"But I thought the shapeshifting was supposed to stay secret. The only word anyone has on you being a shapeshifter is something that some guy guessed. He has no actual proof that the flying Amelia and the invisible Amelia are the same person."
"So I'm supposed to get twenty different secret identities and hope I can keep track of 'em all? I thought I said last week I don't wanna do that. It'd be too much of a pain."
"What if you're asked to show off your shapeshifting? You can't do that without some kind of trick or something, can you?"
"I don't think I'm gonna transform in front of people. If I have to, I'll hide in the bathroom and ghost over to a different bathroom."
Lauren sighed. This was already getting complicated.
"Uh... Any chance you can keep driving?" said Derek.
Derek pointed out the windshield. Towards his driveway. With Mr. Swanson's car parked in it.
"Is it bad that I saw this coming?" said Lauren.
Derek wasn't surprised to see his mother and Mr. Swanson in the living room. He was surprised to see his Dad in there, though.
"Good," said Mr. Swanson. "You're home. Now, let's get right to the point." He noticed Lauren. "Um, I'm afraid you're going to have to leave."
"Wha- Why?" said Lauren.
"Because this is a private discussion. No outsiders. No matter how much they already know."
Derek turned to Lauren. "I'll fill you in later."
"And then there's that. I need you to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Our ears only."
This made them pause for a moment. Lauren asked hesitantly, "Can't I sign one too?"
"And have Mr. Fluke investigate this new person's signature? No thank you."
"I'm still gonna fill her in later," said Derek.
"She already knows about Amelia. She was there. I can't just keep this from her. Besides, it's my secret. I can tell whomever I want."
Mr. Swanson sighed. "I don't know why I'm allowing this. Either way, she has to leave."
Lauren frowned grumpily.
"Hey, I'll tell you later," said Derek. "It's not like he can do anything without people getting curious to why some guy is stalking a couple of teenagers to make sure they don't talk."
Lauren smirked a little while Mr. Swanson scowled.
"Alright," said Lauren. "You discuss whatever legal stuff. See ya tomorrow, Derek."
And Lauren left.
"I told you they look cute together," said Linda to George.
Derek's face immediately went red. "Mom!"
"Alright," said George. "I admit it. I shouldn't have worried. Now, let's get back to business."
Mr. Swanson sat down on one chair, Derek in the other. "So," said the agent, "what happened today?"
Derek summarized what happened at the museum, ending with saying he told the same recap to the police and managed to make a safe getaway by hiding under a blanket to transform and sneaking invisibly back to the bathroom.
The three adults waited patiently through the retelling. Derek's father showed the most reactions, in his eyes widening at Derek being an invisible girl in a nightgown in public, the teleporting thief finding Derek as said nightgown-clad girl in an enclosed room with no way in or out, and the entire deal with being caught on camera as a girl for the second time this month.
When the summary was over, Mr. Swanson thought for a minute. "So, what we can get from this is: Your powers are varied but have limits that need to be discovered. We can't pass this off as a hoax because of all the witnesses and how impossible it is to have faked that. And we can't just let it slide and pretend it happened to someone else because I know my boss wants something done about it."
"Alright, so, how do we handle this?" said Linda.
Lauren shut the door behind her, then sighed. Coolest thing in the world and I have to sit out, she thought. She got inside her car and started driving home. Then again, this part's paperwork and stuff. Can't be that exciting. The drive was pretty boring. Still, it'd be nice if I knew what was going on. Huh. That's a weird-looking car. For all I know, he's talking Derek into telling me lies or half-truths. She pulled up to her house and got out. I just... don't wanna be left out of the loop. Considering I helped make the loop in the first place. She opened the door and walked inside. "Dad, I'm home."
"Lauren?" said her father, watching TV. "How was it?"
"Pretty interesting, really," said Lauren. "The Terracotta Soldier was kinda cool."
"Yeah, the new exhibit. I'd like to give it a look sometime. Anything else new?"
"Not really. Most of it was pretty much the same."
"Mm," he hummed in agreement.
Lauren stepped over to the kitchen.
"So your friend's a superhero, right?"
"That, or she has a twin who's a superhero. But what are the odds? Same face, same voice, same outfit, and she happened to be there at the same time as your class trip."
"That's ridiculous," said Lauren. "She is not a superhero."
"But she can fly and did try to stop a thief, meaning she is both 'super' and at least trying to be a 'hero'. Ergo..."
He glanced into the kitchen and saw she wasn't there anymore. Riding on his curiosity but also a bit worried, he stood up and went down the hall to look for her.
He stopped at her bedroom. "Lauren?" he said, checking the door. Locked.
"Lauren, we can talk about this, or you can jump out the window and avoid this while knowing I'll be here waiting to talk when you get back. I promise I won't tell anyone anything about your friend."
"Lauren, if you've already jumped out the window, then... then I guess I sound crazy talking to myself."
"Lauren, it's alright. When have you ever not been able to trust me?"
Even more silence.
And still more silence.
The silence was almost eerie.
Mr. Carter sighed and returned to the living room, back to whatever he was watching. The episode ended, and a new episode of the same show came on.
He turned towards the source of the cough and saw Lauren standing there.
"I know you're right, Dad. But I honestly can't say anything."
He still smiled. "But that's an admission in of itself. Admission by omission."
"The most I can say is I'm not allowed to say anything. The last word I had was talks of signing a non-disclosure agreement with the FBI."
And he became worried again. "FBI?"
"Yeah. I'm sorry, Dad." And she walked back to her room.
Mr. Carter just watched TV, not even paying attention to what was on the screen. Just staring blankly. "What has she gotten herself into?"
His feelings about his own question to himself went from worried, to inquisitive.
Derek was still mulling over the decision the next morning. So much so that he didn't even notice Lucas was at the bus ramp door this time.
"Hey, guess what," said Lucas. "I figured out you come in through this door. So guess who's your personal welcoming committee."
"Not now, Lucas. I've got a lot on my mind."
"Yeah well maybe you should tell me why you bailed yesterday. I had a ton of work I needed you to do."
"I was on the museum trip. Let it go."
"Yeah right. How am I supposed to keep my grades up when you're not there to-"
"My God, would you just back off? I'm not in the mood to deal with you today, so just leave me alone!"
Lucas didn't like that one bit, and as a result, Derek found a fist in his face again, and a backpack dropped on his lap. "All the work I need you to do is in here. Finish it by the end of today, and I might let you go home without any bruises." He then stepped on Derek's shin. "Well, except that one."
Derek had his hand on his face. He opened his eyes. Still conscious, he thought. He moved his hand away and saw the blood on it. Bloody nose. Great. He stood up, pushing Lucas's backpack down (with his bloodied hand, leaving a stain; let him explain that to his parents) and just leaving it.
There were still other students standing and staring.
"Why didn't you say anything?" accused Derek. He headed inside and limped his way to the nurse's office.
He managed to avoid Lucas between first and second periods, and Mike surprisingly backed off. When he met up with the others at lunch, the conversation was pretty much the same as what he, Lauren, and Arthur had gone over at the museum, but Derek noticed Lauren didn't say as much as she normally did.
After school, Derek avoided Lucas and his cronies and made it to Lauren's car.
When the doors were closed and they were out of the parking lot, they both spoke in confusing simultaneousness.
"Derek Lauren my Mr. dad Swanson knows wants Amelia me the to..."
They hesitated before Lauren said, "...you first."
Derek sighed. "Mr. Swanson wants me to go on a live TV interview."
"What!?" Lauren was so startled, she almost didn't notice the person changing lanes in front of her, and had to brake suddenly to avoid him hitting her with his bumper. "What the hell? Can't these people drive?"
They calmed down for a moment before Derek continued. "He says the easiest way to get all those rumors and theories over with is for me to go on camera and explain things."
"What kind of things?"
"What powers I have," said Derek. "What I'm actually going to do with them. When I can do things. Answer some questions from the Internet."
"So like a Q&A session."
"Kinda. Except the questions are already written and planned out ahead of time."
"When's it gonna happen?"
"Uh huh," she said thoughtfully. "Hmm... Hey, can I ask some questions and you try to answer them?"
"I don't see why not," said Derek. "We're supposed to look over some of them beforehand. Check the forums, get a general idea of what questions I'm gonna be asked. If you can ask your own, that might help."
"Yeah. Maybe if I asked you some questions like I was the interviewer, it might prepare you for the real thing."
"Good idea. Like a rehearsal or something."
After a moment's hesitation, Derek asked, "So what were you gonna say?"
"Oh, uh... Remember when you came over to my place, you were Amelia every time?"
"Well my dad saw one of the videos and managed to make the connection."
It was Derek's turn to freeze in surprise.
"One of his coworkers was slacking off and saw it, dragged everyone to watch."
"And what'd you say?"
"He almost guilted me into saying something. All I said was the FBI was talking about non-disclosure agreements, and he backed off. I don't think he's getting completely off my case, though."
"We're gonna have to tell Mr. Swanson about this."
"Maybe. I don't like lying to him about this. Especially when he already knows enough."
"But...weren't you lying when you introduced me as Amelia and not Derek?"
"That was different. He would've been suspicious if I brought a boy home."
"And...you were comfortable lying to him then, but not now?"
"It's not that. It's that I can't talk to him about something I know he knows about. He knows I'm hiding something, and I know he knows." Lauren sighed. "This secret keeping stuff is more guilty than it looks in the comics."
Derek was contemplative for a while. "Yeah, we're gonna have to talk to Mr. Swanson."
They stopped for a burger again.
"Unless..." said Derek. "Unless I tell your dad."
"If he already knows, there's no harm in me just admitting it to him."
"Yeah, but..." Lauren paused to think about it. It didn't entirely sound like a bad idea. "Still, what if he says something? Or...or has a problem with the whole 'turn into a girl' thing?"
"Well... Well I don't have to tell him that. Amelia can do all the talking."
After a minute of contemplation, Lauren said, "So... Let me get this straight. There's you, Derek parker, normal boy. There's Amelia Powers, superhero. Then there's Amelia Stevens, civilian identity for Amelia Powers who's really Derek Parker shapeshifted. That's three identities right there."
"Not to mention Amelia already said to my dad that she's living with Derek. All he has to do is come over to your house."
"We don't have to say where I live."
"And if he asks to meet Amelia's foster parents?"
There was the sound of something tapping paper. Lauren looked for a second and saw Derek's sketchbook, a line drawn on it ending with a dot.
"...did...did you just literally draw a blank?"
Lauren had to pull over because they were laughing too hard for her to focus on the road.
"Ah, I've been waiting to use that one," said Derek.
"What are they doing?" said George, hearing voices in the living room.
"Lauren and Mr. Swanson are helping Amelia rehearse for the interview," said Linda.
George sighed and sat at the dinner table. Linda shuffled into the seat next to him. "Honey, I know you don't like Amelia, but think of all the good she can do. You saw that video, right?"
"Yes. Wasn't too thrilled about the comments, though."
"Dear, I still hear horny teenagers talk about me when they think I'm not listening. That's never gonna change." She put her hand on his shoulder. "Amelia can do a lot of good. And when you see her on TV, you know that that brave girl, that public hero, is your flesh and blood. Your son. Doesn't that make you proud?"
"I'd be more proud if he was actually a son in the process."
"This is good for him too. He gets on the receiving end of a lot of trouble at school. This could be a good outlet for him."
"And he can't handle things at school on his own?"
"He tried that, and it got him sent home with a broken wrist. This Lucas boy is persistent and needs to go to ALC. Or maybe the state pen. Honestly, if I had to deal with someone like that, I'd want some sort of outlet."
"Couldn't we sign him up for sports, then? He did say something about baseball a few weeks ago."
"He may have found other interests. Remember what he said about how exciting flying was?"
"Then he could take up skydiving, couldn't he?"
"Honey, can't you see this might be a good thing? Your son gets to help people, vent his problems, and have a little fun on the side. And if he has any problems, he can talk to us about them. Not to mention those powers got him a friend."
"And a fan club. And the eyes of the government following his every move. And have you seen how he treats Amelia like she was a separate person?"
"I can guarantee if Derek got those powers without having to become Amelia, he'd be the same way. And think of it this way. There's no way Amelia could possibly be confused for Derek, but if Amelia was a boy, there would be that risk."
"Dear, stop worrying so much. Things might be a little more complicated, but when is it ever not? Things got more complicated when we got married, right? Or when Derek was born?"
"Yes, except both of those were planned out beforehand. This is random and unexpected."
"And when life throws something unexpected in your path, you deal with it. Ignoring it won't make it go away. Things happen. Such is life."
"You always wanted a daughter," he accused.
"Yes, but I got the best son I could ask for."
"You're only saying that because half the time he is a daughter."
"No; because he's nice, friendly, has good morals, and puts up with a lot of crap and still comes out okay."
"Right. And the fact that you and him have started bonding more since he got his powers has nothing to do with him sometimes being the daughter you never had."
"When was this? The only time I've 'bonded' with him over this is when we went to the federal office. Which was once."
"What about Thursday? You spent plenty of time with him then."
"Because he had a migraine! And he was male when we talked, so that doesn't count as 'mother-daughter bonding'. None of our talks since he got his powers are any different than any of our talks from before then."
George was quiet for a minute. "Wednesday, he was in his room playing with the rain. He was that swimsuit girl again."
"Yes, we all discussed that as a family. Now what are you so worried about? Why is Amelia such a bad thing to you?"
"Because she...just...rrgh. I don't know. Maybe the fact that my son is a girl sometimes, maybe people are expecting him to be a girl now, maybe... maybe there's just something suspicious about all this. He gets strange powers from a mysterious voice from nowhere. And...and what if he gets hurt? I don't want to lose my son to some thug or...or some other superpowered freak, or-" He calmed down when he realized that he just indirectly called Derek a freak, but kept going anyway in a softer tone. "...or to this new identity of his. I don't... I don't want him getting so caught up in all this that he forgets who he's supposed to be. He's our son. I don't want to lose that to some...some...literal airhead."
George walked upstairs, forgoing dinner. Linda stayed at the table and sighed, then picked up the phone and ordered pizza, not in the mood to cook today.
And in the living room, there was silence.
Amelia looked over at Lauren, who looked back in sympathy.
"Lauren? When your heart feels heavy when people you know are fighting... That's a girl thing, right?"
"Maybe I should go," said Mr. Swanson.
"Um, Mr. Swanson?" said Lauren. "We kinda need to talk about something."
"Dad?" said Derek. "Mr. Swanson's here to take me for the interview."
George sighed. "Have fun."
Derek didn't leave just yet. "Dad, I heard you and Mom arguing a couple days ago."
And George tensed up.
"I... I know you...don't like Amelia. But she's still me. It's like putting on a costume. It only changes how they look, not how they think. Even when I'm her, I'm still me."
George was silent.
Derek didn't know how to continue, so he didn't. "I'll be back later. Alright?"
And more quiet.
Derek took that as his cue to leave.
He stepped outside. Linda was already in the car, silently cursing her husband's work schedule.
As Derek opened the car door, he noticed his dad standing in the doorway.
"Be careful," said George.
"Sure," said Derek, a bit more confidently.
He shut the door, and the car started and drove off.
["...this protest shows no sign of ending.
["And in local news, we have a followup to Thursday morning's broadcast on the mysterious girl superhero. FBI agents contacted us and arranged for a live interview with the girl herself. So let's go over to Kathy Douglas for the interview. Kathy?"]
The shot switched to a couch and a chair, with a green screen in the background showing the various recordings taken at the museum. On the couch was Amelia, her hat in her hands; Mr. Swanson, sunglasses on; and a blonde woman in her own suit, holding some papers.
["Thank you, John. I'm here in the studio with the girl whose heroic efforts last Wednesday have struck awe, fear, and above all, speculation across the world. Why don't you introduce yourself."]
["My...My name is, um, Amelia Powers."]
["Amelia Powers. I like it. Has a nice ring to it. Now, how did you come to pick that name?"]
["Well, I...I'm not good at picking names, and the Internet was already guessing, so I...picked from their list."]
["Good a method as any other. Now, what about you, sir?"]
["Just call me..."] He hesitated, rather deliberately. ["...Richard Swanson, Federal Bureau of Investigations. I'm here to answer all the questions she can't."]
["Joe Swanson, huh? Not the best alias I've heard."]
["Richard,"] emphasized Mr. Swanson. ["Not Joe."]
["Yeah, sure. So, Amelia, you can genuinely fly?"]
["Could you demonstrate this?"]
Kathy looked sympathetic. ["Nervous?"]
["A little."] She pushed herself up and floated over the seat.
["It's your first time on camera, isn't it? Well, on purpose."]
["Well just...pretend you're talking to a close friend."] Kathy looked at the gap between Amelia and the couch. ["So is there any trick to this? That is, do you know how your flying is accomplished?"]
["Not really. It's not wind, and I don't feel lighter. I'm just... I don't know how I'm flying. I just am."]
["What's it like to fly?"]
Amelia paused for a moment. ["Well, it's... It's like..."] She had to think about it. She knew the feeling, but how to word it was another story entirely. Finally, she simply said, ["Freedom."]
["Oh?"] Kathy raised her eyebrow.
["Yeah. I mean... It's there's... Up there, you have...freedom. You can move in any direction you want, there's nothing in your way, nobody up there except you and the clouds, the wind in your face, it's... It's just amazing. You look down and laugh at gravity. I can see why skydivers do it. There's just no comparison."] She effectively did a flip and came to a rest lying flat on the air. ["Flying is awesome."]
Kathy nodded. ["Sounds like fun."]
["Alright. Now, what about your other powers?"]
["The audio recordings from the museum show that the teleporting person mentioned you have shapeshifting and...'ghosting' through walls? Are these speculations correct?"]
Amelia hesitated. She was told to deny that. She was told to say that she wasn't the only person there, and the shapeshifting guess was just that: a guess. Which it was, considering Warp didn't see the transformation happen, so for all he knew, it could've been two people. Mr. Swanson didn't want the worry of shapeshifters in the eyes of security personnel. It would be easier to just pretend she was one in a group.
Mr. Swanson fidgeted. This was not part of the script.
Amelia realized she was still floating and lowered herself back to the seat. ["Yes."]
["Could you demonstrate this power too?"]
["No. Sorry. Secret identity stuff."]
["Is that so? What about showing your invisibility?"]
["I...I can't. Not like this."]
["Like this? So you're saying...this form of you can only fly, and you can't go invisible unless you become someone else. Like that Ben 10 television show my kid watches."]
["Actually...yeah, pretty much. Except with superheroes and not aliens."]
["So could we see some of your other forms, maybe?"]
["I don't think that's a good idea. I'd rather not have their faces all over everywhere."]
["Still has to do with secret identities, right?"]
["Well, the world will still doubt you have these abilities until they see proof."]
["They can doubt all they want. This is real. I wouldn't kid about this. And too many people saw it in person to doubt it anymore."]
["Exactly what I was thinking. So, now that we've establi- Oh, one more thing. The girl in Galveston. Do you-"]
["Me. That was me too."]
["Alright. Anyway, now that we've established that, what are your intentions? Do you plan on using your abilities for crime fighting?"]
It was Mr. Swanson's turn. ["Amelia Powers is only 16 years old. She is too young to legally enforce the law, and has her own education to think about. If she does participate in law enforcement, it will be of circumstance rather than any police, government, or military response."]
["But you're with the FBI and you're monitoring her. Is that right, Mr. Swanson?"]
["Monitoring. Not ordering. She is under our protection, not our command. And I was appointed head of any operations involving her, so any contact with her has to go through me first."] Maybe now I can salvage something out of all this.
["Makes sense. And what do you intend to do about this teleporting person? Who was that, anyway?"]
Amelia spoke again. ["I don't know his name. The Internet calls him Warp, but I'm pretty sure that's a Teen Titans villain already. As for what to do about him...I don't know. He can teleport. I don't think catching him is even possible."]
["Catching him is possible,"] said Mr. Swanson. ["It's containing him that's problematic, but we already have solutions."]
["How can you arrest someone if they can teleport?"] That was Amelia's question.
["Creative applications of existing technology. That's all I can disclose."]
Kathy asked, ["So, what are you going to do, if not law enforcement?"]
["I...I don't really know. I mean, I still want to have a life outside of my powers. And I'm not sure if looking for trouble is a good idea. I don't exactly wanna find out whether or not I'm bulletproof. And I don't wanna live on the red carpet either; I've never wanted to be a celebrity. I guess I'll just...try to help when I can."]
["Alright. Well that's all the time we have. Thank you for joining us today, miss Powers. Mr. Swanson."]
["You're welcome,"] said Amelia. Mr. Swanson nodded.
["Alright. Back to you, John."]
The TV turned off just as the scene was changing. Mr. Fluke stared at Mr. Swanson. "Richard, tell me what went wrong."
Mr. Swanson stared at his boss. "She admitted to being a shapeshifter after I told her not to."
"And why wasn't I informed of this fact?"
"Because I know you would become paranoid about the existence of shapeshifters."
"She has a legal identity we gave her, in addition to already having a legal identity of her own before then."
"She said she wanted to keep the number of identities she had to maintain at a minimum. Hiding her shapeshifting would've caused all of her forms to require their own legal identities, false histories, and all that. This way, she keeps it at two. No more."
"Amelia Stevens is a false persona, then."
"We can use that persona to throw off investigations to her real identity."
"Which you know. You knew from the start."
"Richard, I want every piece of information you know about Amelia right now. Tell me what you can, then come back here by midnight with Amelia personally. I can't fire you, not since you said you'd be her personal Commissioner Gordon on live national television."
"With all due respect, you personally put me in charge of Amelia and anything involving her."
Mr. Fluke narrowed his eyes. "That I did. Still, we can place charges against her for identity fraud."
"At best, she'd be tried as a minor and let off easy."
"I know you're looking out for her, but there are ways to go about doing things. Now, we can get her real information. Or we can make this a messy legal battle that ends in a lot of money lost and one of us unemployed."
"With all due respect, no. I promised I would protect her identity. Exposing who she is to the wrong people could be messy no matter what."
The two of them went into a glaring contest for a minute before anyone said anything.
"Three months, Swanson. You have that long before I forget to overlook this. No more."
"Thank you, sir." Neither of them said anything else as Mr. Swanson left the room, leaving Mr. Fluke alone.
Mr. Fluke sat in thought, looking out the window. "Let's see what all can happen in three months."