Jason sat in Tim’s chair in Titans Tower, cradled his head in his hands, and sighed deeply. “This sucks,” he muttered.
Cassie rumpled his hair as she walked past. “Tough it out. Besides, now we can tell Tim we really, really missed him.”
He just looked askance at her. “Don’t ever leave me to settle an argument between Arrowette and Kid Flash again. That wasn’t my idea of fun.”
She dropped into the chair across from him and put her feet up on the console. “Jason, I couldn’t stay. Everyone knows Cissie and I are friends. No matter what I said, I’d be screwed. If I sided with him, she’d be hurt. If I sided with her, he’d say I was playing favorites.”
“Tim ought to be here,” Jason grumbled. “He could’ve pulled out one of his great ‘I am Robin, hear me roar’ moments and made them both shut up.”
“No, Cissie would snark at him on principle, and then you’d have to break that up, and neither of us can claim we’re unbiased where Tim’s concerned,” Cassie pointed out.
Jason shook his head. “The girls are less obnoxious about family rivalries than the guys. I mean, Steph and Cissie get along.”
“Which just proves women are smarter than men.” Cassie grinned at him, clearly trying to lighten his mood.
It worked, a little. “Yeah, right. Sounds like you spent a little too much time on Themyscira. Back off the hard-core feminism. We’re about equality around here.”
“This from the son of Lois Lane?” Cassie teased, smirking. Kicked back in her chair and with her feet propped up, she had a lot of denim-clad leg on display. Quite spectacular leg, at that, but Jason was the son of Lois Lane and didn’t stare.
He also didn’t comment. “Whatever. I wish Tim wasn’t holed up in Gotham.”
Cassie shrugged. “Well, so do I, but the Big Bat has put all his kiddies on curfew. He’s paranoid as hell about this Red Hood guy. You ask me, the sensible thing to do would be to let us help. The guy is good with guns, so why not bring in a couple of bulletproof people to play tag with him? The detectives can find him, you and I can help smack him down. Teamwork, and everybody wins.”
“When Uncle Bruce perceives a threat, he goes on lockdown,” Jason said. “On some level, he doesn’t trust anyone other than himself and his kids to take care of Gotham.”
“Yeah, but you trained with him. Why won’t he let you in?”
“I’m not a Bat. Cassie, sometimes I think the only reason he lets the Birds of Prey operate in Gotham is because he needs Oracle’s resources.”
“So very true,” Cassie sighed. “Well, what else can we do? If we sneak into Gotham, he’ll flambé us. And report it to the League. It’s bad enough I still have to worry about Mom cramping my super-style; I don’t need Batman getting me in trouble with Diana too.”
“If it gets bad enough, she and Dad will lean on him,” Jason said. “For now, he has it under control. They’ll take care of this new guy, the power balance in Gotham will settle down, and everything will be back to normal.” At least, that was how he hoped it would go.
Cassie swiveled her chair back and forth in a short arc. “Yeah, and that’s not all that’s wrong with you. You’re brooding, and that’s Tim’s forte. Something else is up, something personal. Spill, Superboy.”
“Tim being on lockdown in Gotham with this maniac is personal,” Jason insisted.
She didn’t quite dismiss that, but she could be annoyingly perceptive. “He’s Red Robin. He’ll kick ass and take names like usual. What’s going on in the civilian side of your life?”
“It’s nothing,” he said, trying to shrug her off, but Cassie was too good a friend to let him, and he knew it. After a moment of staring expectantly, she kicked his chair, and he glared in aggravation. “Okay, fine. It’s personal. I just found out Elise is dating some guy in California.” Kala had, of course, texted him and warned him not to panic.
“Isn’t she your ex?” Cassie asked.
Jason huffed out an angry sigh. Nobody got it; he wondered why he kept being surprised. “No, we’re just taking a break. We’ve spent more time on break than in a relationship, I think. I’m ready for the break to be over, and she’s dating other guys.”
“That’s kind of what taking a break means, Jason. Was the phrase ‘see other people’ ever used? Or ‘explore our options’?”
“By her,” he admitted grumpily.
“Do you know why she wanted to take a break?”
He paused for a long moment before grumbling, “She’s afraid of getting committed so soon. She thinks we’re too young to be serious, and she wants to make sure this is what she wants forever before she commits.”
“Oh, and you’re perfect and she can’t possibly find anyone else this good, so she should shut up and marry you already?” Cassie shot back.
“No! That’s not how it is,” Jason snapped. “She’s happy with me, Cassie. I think she’s scared of being that happy. Someone told her you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince, and she just wants to make sure she kisses enough frogs to fill her statistical quota.”
“In other words, she’s a realist and doesn’t believe she found her Happily Ever After in high school,” Cassie commented. Jason just glowered.
She sighed and rolled her eyes. “You are so hung up on this girl, Jason. Maybe you should quit chasing her if she’s so dead-set on running away?”
“No,” he retorted immediately, and with enough force that Cassie looked startled. “She’s the one, Cassie. The one. If I try to imagine the perfect girl for me, she’s exactly what I’d picture. She’s just … amazing. And Mom and Dad like her—even Kala likes her, and she’s normally evil to all my girlfriends.”
“How many other girlfriends have you had, anyway?” Cassie asked. She was swiveling the chair again, and Jason was coming to recognize that as a sign of impending interference.
“Enough,” he said shortly.
“I’m looking for a number between two and two hundred here, Super-stubborn,” Cassie said.
“Enough. Four or five.” A lot less than some Titans, and quite a few more than his father had had.
“And how many of those were high school?”
The answer was all of them, and they both knew it. “What’s your point?”
Cassie leaned forward and looked at him seriously out of blue eyes that were almost exactly the same shade as his own. “Look, Jason. All I’m saying is maybe you should actually think about taking this break seriously. I know you love her, but maybe you should look around at your other options a little.”
“Cassie, I know most people don’t fall in love with someone when they’re young and stay in love forever and ever. If that was true, I’d probably have red hair,” he replied, trying very hard not to let his annoyance show. “But I’m not being blind. I love Elise. The last time we broke up, I dated someone else, and it failed miserably. She was a spy for Luthor.”
“Not every girl is a spy, Jason.”
“No, but it’s just not worth it, Cassie. Elise knows me, and I know I can trust her. All the girls I meet when I’m out saving people are just chasing the cape. They don’t know me. And all the girls I meet in college and stuff, I have to keep secrets from them, and that’s no way to start a relationship.”
Cassie was starting to look as though she couldn’t quite believe what he was saying. “Okay, I kind of understand not wanting to date civilians. Keeping secrets sucks, and most of them don’t really get what we do. And the cape-chasing is annoying. The attention can be nice, but it gets old. No one wants to be wanted for their powers.”
“Exactly!” Jason exclaimed. “I’m kind of worried about a girl who wants to date Superboy, anyway. As far as the world knows, he’s got no family, no job, no concept of a normal life. And he’s constantly out saving the world.”
“With a bunch of girls in tight pants, if they wear pants at all,” Cassie added, grinning. She got serious again to add, “Plus you’ve got the same problems I do—exactly when are you supposed to tell someone you’re half human? That’s not something you save for the pre-nup, but it’s definitely not first-date material, either. It just makes dating weird.”
“You get it,” Jason said, relieved. “You really get it. And see, Elise knows all that stuff, and it doesn’t freak her out. I mean, she’s a scientist too. She’s more interested in figuring out how Kryptonians and humans are genetically compatible than in getting all weirded out by me being part alien.”
Cassie gave a heartfelt sigh. “Trust me, I get it. But you know, there is another option.”
“Become a monk?” Jason said.
She snickered. “No, Super-dense. Date a cape. I mean, we’ve got quite a few of them running around these days.”
He blinked. The thought had honestly never occurred to him. Jason considered his fellow Titans to be more than just colleagues. They had to entrust their safety, their lives, to one another quite often. Relationship drama was the last thing they needed. “Yeah, no way. Office romances never work out, and when they flame out, everyone around gets burned. Trying to date another Titan would be like that times ten.”
Cassie raised one eyebrow at him. “Okay, I’m going to have blow your logical fallacies out of the water here. Number one: your parents met at work, both ways around, and everyone wants a relationship like that. Number two: why automatically assume it’s going to flame out horribly? Which leads me to number three: other heroes have had stable, happy relationships with other capes.”
“What, like Dick and Kory? Or Uncle Bruce and Diana?” Jason scoffed.
“No, don’t even try to count Batman. He’s got an on-again off-again thing with that Talia al-Ghul, for crying out loud. I mean like Barda and Scott, or Arthur and Mera, or … hell, your parents ought to count. Your mother sure isn’t a civilian.”
“My parents aren’t the happy-ever-after you think they are,” Jason warned. “For starters, I was the ring-bearer at their wedding. And we had some pretty major fireworks over the years. Sure, they’re a Hallmark card now, but it wasn’t always all roses and puppies. The crap that went down before Nevada ended up with both of them dropping divorce on the table.”
Cassie sighed heavily. “Yeah, but they didn’t split up, and they’re the definition of super-couple. My point is, it can work. And maybe instead of moping around pathetically, you should give it a shot. I’m not saying you should propose marriage to a girl and then go sleep with your first love like a certain someone did. Just go on a couple dates. It might even be fun.”
“I’ll think about it,” Jason said, knowing he wouldn’t. On top of all his other objections, on top of the fact that he just didn’t want to date anyone else, he was one of the unofficial leaders of the Titans. Any relationship he had could cause accusations of favoritism from the rest.
“You do that,” Cassie said. “It’d be worth it just to see you smile once in a while. See you later.” With that she got up, tousled his hair roughly, and headed out.
Smoothing his hair back with a frown—what was it with girls always wanting to mess up his hair?—he called, “Yeah, see you!”
From the hallway, she called back, “Who knows? Maybe if you pull your head out of the clouds and look around, you might just find someone who suits you better than Elise.”
He laughed, muttering, “I doubt it,” as he went back to scanning the case log.
Clark was gone during lunch, and Lois took advantage of his absence to talk to his pet reporter, letting her know there might be an opportunity opening in the City department, where all the real stories were. After all, she was an extremely talented young woman, and Lois hated to see her languishing in International. Unfortunately Krista saw through her and wasn’t interested in switching departments. Luckily for both of them, she phrased her refusal with the same grace that had led to her sharing Phil’s byline on the story Clark had sent her to steal from him a while back.
Lois took the setback diplomatically, in spite of Perry chortling at her. After all, a little competitiveness between departments kept everyone sharp. And besides, the two of them had a stern rule: infighting in the office stayed in the office. At home was totally different. She didn’t snark at him about stealing her stories once they got home, and he didn’t tease her about trying to steal his reporter in the elevator after work.
Actually, he should’ve at least smirked at her about it. Lois eyed him warily, wondering what the deal was with lunch. Normally she could figure out where her husband was by watching the news, but not today. Kal-El was awfully subdued, which generally meant bad news. “What’s up?” she asked as they walked to the car.
“I’ll tell you when we get home,” was all he would say, and Lois somehow managed to wait. She knew him in all his moods, and closed-off was only one of them when something seriously bad had gone down. She knew she’d hear it—she was his chronicler and confidant from their earliest days together, and more than a decade of marriage had only brought them closer.
Home, and the dogs needed to be let out, and the answering machine light was blinking, and Kala must’ve snuck in during the day because there were dishes in the sink, but none of that mattered to her husband. He caught Lois by the hips, lifted her up so she was sitting on the counter, and leaned his head against her shoulder with a long sigh. She ran her fingers through his hair, soothing him, and wrapped her legs around his waist. His hands were under her jacket, pressed against the small of her back. Whenever he was stressed or depressed or otherwise drastically out of whack, Kal-El sought comfort in closeness, as much contact as he could get.
“Tell me,” Lois murmured, kissing his temple.
“Bruce found out who’s been slaughtering the drug dealers in Gotham,” he replied, his breath warm against her skin.
“Who?” she asked. She’d been hearing about this new villain for a little while, someone smart and deadly and damn well-trained, someone who’d gotten away from Bruce more than once. Someone who thought nothing of killing a bunch of drug lords’ lieutenants just to make a point. He was in on the drugs and the weapons and everything else, making himself a major player in Gotham City and provoking all the usual gang of crooks in the process. This Red Hood guy was really getting himself onto Bat-clan’s shit list in a big way.
Kal-El sighed, that terrible heavy sigh. Lois hated it; he let himself carry far too much responsibility and guilt, especially for things that weren’t his fault. And Bruce had refused outside help from the first time he encountered the new guy. The Bat could stonewall with the best of them, but sometimes he took it too far.
“If Bruce knows, I damn sure hope he told you, or I’m going over there and he can tell me,” Lois muttered darkly.
Kal-El’s voice was low and desolate when he answered her. “It’s his son. It’s Jason Todd.”
She froze. The boy who shared her son’s name had haunted her for years. When he died, Bruce went off the rails. Oh, not like any normal person. Bruce had gone cold and dark and silent, and since he was already pretty goddamned grimdark, that was a frightening thing to see. He blamed himself, and he wouldn’t let anyone help him shoulder that burden. Kal-El had tried, Diana had tried, and Lois knew both of them had been bluntly rebuffed. The loss of Jason Todd was a wound in Bruce’s soul that no one could heal, not even Tim Drake. Tim was the one who kept Bruce functioning and sane—Batman needs a Robin—but he wasn’t healed.
And now, he was back. Alive, somehow, but Lois had seen stranger things and his reappearance wasn’t what shocked her. Finding a former Robin on the wrong side of the law was more surprising than the dead returning to life. “Wait, what? Is he sure?”
“Jay made sure of it. He gave Bruce blood, hair, and tissue, and all of it tested a 100% match in the Batcave computer.”
“How is that even possible?” Lois asked, still trying to wrap her mind around the idea of someone with Bruce’s training going on a crime spree.
“I have no idea. Lois, I’m worried for Bruce.” He huffed a short laugh, and added dismally, “I’m more worried for Jay. I remember the boy. Bruce says he should’ve seen this coming, that Jay would’ve turned to a life of crime if he hadn’t intervened. All I saw was a bright, mischievous boy who’d been dealt a bad hand in life. What happened to him to cause this? And more importantly, can we save him?”
Lois hugged him tight, pressing her cheek against his. “I don’t know, Kal-El,” she whispered, wishing she had a better answer—or any answer—for him. All she could do for now was hold him close and be the shoulder he leaned on.