“You ever have that feeling like the walls are closing in on you?” Spoiler quipped, and Red Robin scowled at her.
“Bad timing,” Tim snapped, and their grappling guns fired in unison, sweeping them out of the path of a brick wall that suddenly toppled over.
“No, bad pun. Robins are all about them,” Stephanie Brown retorted as they ran, crouched, along the parapet for cover. Gunfire tracked their movements. “Really, who drops an entire wall to take out two people?”
“Someone who knows how hard it is to keep a good Robin down,” came a third, joking voice, and both of them whirled before they realized it was Superboy.
“Hey, homeslice, leave the punning to the Bat-kids,” Steph teased, grinning merrily. “Got any ideas?”
Jason looked over the parapet, ignoring the bullets that ricocheted off his chest. “Looks like five or six guys. Wearing masks—no, half-masks. And their uniforms are half one color, half another. Probably Dent, then.”
“Or Joker. It could always be Joker. He doesn’t play by the rules.” Tim shrugged. “Let’s outflank them. SB, play target?”
“Sure,” Jason said, and stepped up to the edge of the parapet. Renewed gunfire peppered the air, and he caught bullets leisurely. “Hey, you guys wanna do charades? Who does this remind you of?” With that he tossed a bullet in the air and caught it, smashing it flat between his palms. “Any clues yet? Anybody? Bueller?”
Realizing they couldn’t hurt him, the thugs were about to turn away in frustration, and Jason couldn’t allow that. His friends were circling around behind them, and he needed to keep the bad guys’ attention on him. So he stepped off the roof.
Falling, oh, how he hated falling. He could leap tall buildings in a single bound, but always cringed just a little as gravity reclaimed him. Over time he’d learned to control his leaps and landings, but whenever he did this it always felt like he was leaving part of his stomach behind.
The sidewalk cracked beneath his feet, and Jason bent his knees slightly to distribute the force of the impact. He’d learned that here in Gotham, training with Dick and Tim. He’d also starved himself of sunlight to learn how to fight without using powers as a shortcut, and that had been a harrowing time. Especially the roof-running, he’d loathed doing that without his invulnerability to protect him.
The thugs turned back to him, reflexively firing off a few more rounds which Jason ignored. “Really, guys? That all you got?” he taunted. Behind them, through the building they’d been walking toward, he could see Tim and Steph moving in.
“Guess again, brat,” one of the men snarled, and flipped open some kind of container fixed to his belt. Jason knew what it was before he saw the green glow, before the man even took it out. Nothing else turned his knees to water or felt like angry wasps stinging under his skin.
As he slumped to the ground, gasping for air, Red Robin and Batgirl surged to the attack. Steph came in with a flying leap and a boot to the head of the guy holding the kryptonite, while Tim guarded her flank, his bō staff making quick work of the men who turned on them both. Using the sharp edge of a batarang, Steph sliced the lead-lined container off the thug’s belt, and shoved the kryptonite safely back inside.
Jason shook his head to clear it, and saw that one man had moved a little apart from the others. He was aiming his gun at Steph, but before Jason could leap between them, the man’s gun arm seemed to sprout a trio of batarangs, one in each major joint. Tim, of course—he was fiercely protective of Steph. The thug howled, clutching his wounded arm, and Jason put him out with a tap on the head.
The three of them took care of the rest. Steph had a wicked right-handed knockout punch, Tim’s bō made quite an impression, and Jason had long since perfected the art of using just enough of his strength to give a concussion. “Nice,” he said once all the men were down and trussed up for the GCPD. “What’d you do to get their attention this time, R?”
“The usual,” Steph cheerfully replied. “We intercepted a truckload of weapons before they could be sold. Not just ordinary guns, either—exotic stuff like plasma guns and military-grade lasers. Y’know, fancy.”
“We’re not sure who the buyer was, but given tonight’s attack, it was probably Two-Face,” Tim added. “And he’s seeking revenge.”
Jason shrugged. “They all want revenge. We just won’t let any of them get it. Do you need me here? Because I’ve got a 7 AM class.”
“No, we’re good,” Tim told him. “Wait a sec—SB, are you on the roster tonight?”
Grinning, Jason shook his head. “Nope. I just hate advanced calculus that much.” With that he took off running and leaped, clearing a thirty-story building easily.
“Sweet of him to come out and lend us a hand on a school night,” Steph laughed.
Tim gave her one of his rare, open smiles. “Wouldn’t that be a new excuse for not finishing your homework?” On that note the pair of them returned to their rounds for the night. Robin and Spoiler, running rooftops under a hazy sky.
“You awake, mi amore?” Sebast called softly into the darkened hotel room.
Kala’s reply was soft, but perfectly clear. “No. I’m asleep. I’m sound asleep, and I won’t wake up if you take a shower and brush your teeth before you get anywhere near me.”
“I can take a hint,” he chuckled, and got himself cleaned up. Drying off, he put on boxers and an old, comfortable shirt, then paused to brush his teeth. The face that looked back at him from the mirror wasn’t much changed from high school: he’d let his hair grow out again, his features were a little sharper now, and his goatee was a little longer. “Sebastiáno Vélez Manso, you are a sexy bastard,” he purred at his reflection, stroking the goatee to a point.
“You’re talking,” Kala called from the bed. “I can’t sleep if you’re talking.”
“Ay, woman, you talk in your sleep too much,” he called back. “Besides I have to say a few words to the most beautiful person I know.”
“You’re in front of the mirror again, aren’t you? I know parakeets who are less obsessed with their reflections than you are. And they try to mate with the mirror.”
“I would never do that. I can’t risk damaging this handsome face—or any of my other parts—on broken glass.”
“Shut up and come to bed, you impossibly vain man.”
“Hey, if you’re calling for me,” Sebast teased. He padded barefoot into the other room, which in a hotel like this functioned as bedroom, living room, and dining room. There was only one bed, and Sebast pulled back the covers and burrowed in against Kala.
She grumbled and shifted, yelping when he pressed his cold nose to the back of her neck, and eventually they got comfortable snuggled together like two spoons in a drawer. Sebast slid his arm around her waist, the t-shirt she wore pulling up slightly so his wrist was against the bare skin of her belly. He sighed, his breath warming her shoulder.
Kala leaned back against him. “So, do I even dare ask what the flavor of the night was?”
“Ginger,” Sebast murmured. “He had freckles everywhere. I mean everywhere. I’ve never seen a man with freckles on his thighs before. It kept distracting me. I wanted to find a pen and play connect-the-dots.”
Her sides shook as she started to laugh, and Kala half-rolled over to look at him. “You … you are a repugnant human being, Sebast. You are such a slut.”
Sebast grinned at her affectionately. This wasn’t a new conversation. “Hey, Trojans are made in the U.S.A. I’m supporting the American economy.”
“That is the worst justification for man-whoring I’ve ever heard in my life,” Kala informed him. “Thank God I’m not sleeping with you.”
“Um, mami, you are,” Sebast said, chuckling.
“Ugh. You know what I mean. I sleep with you; I just don’t have sex with you.” Kala rolled her eyes and started to kiss him good night, then hesitated. “Did you brush your teeth?”
In answer, Sebast huffed minty breath at her. “Yes. Now kiss me, beautiful.”
"Sometimes I don’t know why I do,” Kala muttered, and smooched him on the lips before curling back up on her side.
“And that’s why you’re my best friend,” Sebast murmured, nuzzling into her hair again. “Because no matter how much whoring I do, I always come to bed with the same person every night, so I have some dignity and self-respect and all that. Plus you keep me warm even in the coldest winter.”
Kala smiled to herself. None of the boys she’d dated made her feel half as safe as snuggling in Sebast’s arms did. They’d been sharing a bed ever since they started touring, and it had never really been awkward. Considering the fact that he wasn’t into girls, and she’d been platonically sharing sleeping space since the womb, that was no surprise. At first they got double rooms, and she and Sebast shared one bed while Morgan took the other. Morgan didn’t particularly want flirtatious Sebast in the same bed with him, and Sebast pouted at the thought of Kala with Morgan, so they wound up together.
Lately, they were making enough money to have their own room, but neither of them saw any reason to start sleeping apart now, so they got a single and had more space. For Kala, it was comforting to sleep with a man’s arms around her, hearing his breathing and pulse in the night whenever she woke in a strange hotel room. For Sebast, she was warm and cuddly, even if she did tend to sprawl all over the place like that weird-ass vine they saw down south—kudzu, that was the name of it.
Thinking that, he drifted to sleep. Kala was already unconscious.
“Are you two still fighting over that story?” Lana said exasperatedly, having opened her door to Lois and Clark arguing in heated whispers. “It’s published. Under joint bylines. Just let it go already.”
“He sniped it right out from under me!” Lois snapped.
“For goodness’ sake, Lois, it was an International story from the start!”
“Bull, it happened in Metropolis so it belongs to City!”
The two reporters eyed each other fiercely, neither one giving an inch. Life in the Lane-Kent household had been … interesting the past few days, with the two of them arguing almost from the second coffee in the morning until they turned the lights out at night. Lois and Clark never argued in bed, but there had been a particularly enthusiastic ‘I’ll show you’ vibe to their lovemaking lately.
Lana crossed her arms and glared at both of them. “You two will behave like civilized adults in my home. If you’re going to act like this, you can eat your breakfast on the balcony like a couple of misbehaving dogs.”
At the last word, her ever-present shadow perked up, and Lana reached down to pet her. “Good girl, Cissa. You and Dusty are better trained than these reporters I keep inviting over for some unknown reason.”
Clark sighed, knowing the threat wasn’t in jest. He offered his hand to Lois and said, “Truce?”
She narrowed her eyes for a moment longer, but the scent of French toast was wafting out of the penthouse, and Lois couldn’t resist. “Fine. Truce.” She shook her husband’s hand and then turned to the redhead. “Can we come in now? Or are you going to sic the guard dog on us?”
“Narcissa would never attack you,” Lana said, still a little cross with them even as she held the door open. “She’s far better behaved than either of you, and Clark, I’m sad to say that.” He looked appropriately abashed by the scolding.
Meanwhile, repetitions of her name were holding the dog’s attention. After being attacked in her own home, Lana had wanted a larger dog. Dusty the beagle made a decent watch dog, if only because he tended to yodel loudly at new people in a bid for affection. A bigger dog might be something of a deterrent, and she’d browsed rescue websites and shelters looking for her favorite breed, a golden retriever. Or possibly an Irish setter. Richard and Lois both teased her about wanting a dog with flowing auburn locks to match her own hair.
Lana had gone to an adoption fair to look at a certain golden, and come home with a dog who was definitely red, but neither retriever nor setter. Her first choice had been snapped up by a trainer seeking a therapy dog, but the same rescue group had somehow persuaded her to look at another red dog they happened to have. And that was how Lana became the owner of the registered Doberman, Blackheart’s Narcissa, known to her former owners as Cissy.
Richard and Lois wouldn’t let Lana call a dog that size ‘sissy’, so she’d been rechristened Cissa. She turned out to be the perfect dog for Lana: elegant, refined, quiet, playful when invited, gentle with Dusty and Kristin, and very protective without being too aggressive. And of course, she was red, a glorious deep russet that looked good with everything Lana wore. Lois still teased her about being such a designer that everything she owned—or gave birth to, in Kristin’s case—had to match.
The moment Lois and Clark stepped across the threshold, Dusty ran to them, industriously sniffing their legs for news of his cousins Bagel and Chewie. Cissa stepped out of his way and vanished up the hallway. “Is that a new painting?” Clark said, nodding at the brightly-colored canvas of camellias currently hanging in the foyer.
“Mm-hmm, it’s a Caseria,” Lana replied. “I’ve got two others—he does some gorgeous landscapes and florals. I can give you his card.”
Lois knew oil from watercolor, but paintings of flowers weren’t her style. It worked for Lana, of course. Momentarily ignoring the conversation, she rumpled Dusty’s ears. “Who’s a vicious attack dog? Yes, you are, never mind the big bad dobie, you’re the vicious one, aren’t you?” As soon as she took her hands off him, he leapt into the air at face height: too well trained to jump on her, but too excited not to jump.
“Sometimes I regret the day Ben Hubbard put that puppy in front of Richard,” Lana sighed, and then noticed that Cissa wasn’t at her side.
At the same time she heard from the kitchen, “Here, eat this quick and don’t tell your mom.” Dusty, having a beagle’s superior sense of impending food, dashed away.
“Richard!” Lana called. “I know you’re feeding her!”
“No, I’m not,” he called back.
“Yes, you are. The only time she leaves my side is when you bribe her.”
That brought him out of the kitchen, looking surprised and a little hurt. “Hey! One, a piece of toast won’t hurt. And two, I don’t have to bribe her—she’s ours.”
“No, she isn’t. She’s mine. She even looks like me.” Only then did Lana see Kristin standing behind him, frozen with a piece of French toast halfway in her mouth.
Kristin had been a cute kid, but at eleven, she was started to show hints of the beautiful young woman she would become. She had Lana’s long, gorgeous hair, and Richard’s electric blue eyes. Of course, at the moment she was all coltish legs, outgrowing clothes every time her parents turned around, but the potential was definitely there.
Lana sighed heavily. “Richard, I was talking about Narcissa, not Kristin. Kristin, honey, you’re not in trouble.” Lois snickered at her, and Kristin padded over to her Lo-Lo for a hug, getting a kiss from Lana on the way.
Richard had the grace to laugh. “Honey, confusing the dog and the kid? That’s a bad sign. Clark, you know a good neurologist?”
“I’m sure it’s just the stress of dealing with three reporters under the same roof,” Clark said charitably.
“That’s why my hair is this color,” Lana said, pointing to the streaks of white at her temples.
“Stop your whining,” Lois teased her, elbowing Lana lightly. “You’ve only got to deal with three. This is what happens when you have a whole damn newspaper full of reporters: I gave up and went gray.”
Clark scoffed. “Went gray? More like went to the salon and had them strip the dye from it, with no warning for you poor husband. You just left work black-haired, and came home after an ‘important meeting’ with silver.”
Lois just stared at him, remembering that afternoon with perfect clarity. It had been a risk, she had known it would be a risk, but it had had to be done. And how better to deal than just had it over and done with before she had begun to look foolish? But she had been so nervous of his reaction. “I told you that night; I wanted an unbiased reaction,” she said, smirking slightly.
“Well, you got one,” Clark shot back. “And then we had to get a new kitchen table.”
Richard burst out laughing at that, and Lana rolled her eyes. Lois looked archly at her husband, trying not to smile at all, and then looked at Kristin, who turned to Clark in confusion. “How come you had to get a new table ‘cause Lo-Lo dyed her hair?”
“Actually it was because she stopped dyeing her hair. And she scared me so bad I broke the table running away.” Kristin giggled at that.
It was a whopper of a lie from Clark, and Lana had to leave the room to keep from bursting out laughing. “Richard, you’re letting the toast burn,” she said to excuse her sudden disappearance. “Kristin, honey, come help Mommy?” The little redhead ran to her side, always eager to help someone if food was involved.
“Be there in a second,” Richard called to her, and then pointed the spatula at Clark. “That’s not how I remember hearing it. Clark, you’re such an undercover freak.”
“Coming from you, Richard, that’s a compliment,” Clark replied with a grin.
The conversation had achieved one thing: Lois and Clark weren’t glaring at each other anymore, and as they went into the kitchen to help get set up for their weekly breakfast at the Whites’, Lois linked her arm through Clark’s and smiled at him. “So I guess this means that you still think I’m a one hell of a catch, even though I’m not twenty-five anymore?” she asked lightly.