“I know. It’s just…” Jason trailed off, looking miserable.
“Elise is everything you want, and all you want is Elise,” Lois finished for him.
“Exactly,” he agreed.
Lois sighed. Sometimes it was hard to remember the days when she was so young and certain. In the years since first falling in love with Kal-El, she’d learned that doubt was an occasional part of love, and that reaffirming commitment after doubt only made it stronger. It seemed that love, like faith, was strongest when tested. “The thing is, Jason, Elise is nineteen years old. She’s young and beautiful and she wants to feel like her options are wide-open. That doesn’t mean she’ll never come back to you, and it doesn’t mean she definitely will. She just wants to feel like she has a choice in the matter.”
Jason frowned again. “She does have a choice. Mom, she loves me. She’s happier with me than she is with anyone else. I know she misses me as much as I miss her. Why can’t she just be happy with her life?”
Chuckling, Lois turned down the heat just a bit on the bubbling lentils before they overcooked. Jason took that moment to quickly slide the celery root and rutabaga into the oven for a brief roast. Kitchen crisis averted, Lois looked at her son seriously. “Oh, sweetheart. Look, believe it or not, I do remember being young. Surprise, I was your age once. Jason, Elise has to figure herself out before she can be committed to you, Jason. You have to let her go, really let her go, as in stop Facebook-stalking her and everything else, so she can do that. If she’s really the one, she’ll come back. And if she’s not, then she wasn’t the one to begin with.”
He started dicing an onion, his mouth set in an unhappy line. “I know how to let go of her Facebook and her phone number, but I don’t know how to get her out of my heart. Mom, I don’t even think that’s possible.”
“Well, there might be one way, you know. You could maybe actually take a shot at dating other girls,” Lois offered.
Oh, the black look that got her! “Sure. I saw how that worked out with you and Daddy Richard. ‘If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with’ is actually pretty shoddy advice, Mom.”
She laughed out loud. “Excuse me? I got free weeknight babysitting and kid-chauffeuring for three years, another twelve years of kid-sharing by appointment, and a very good friend for the rest of our lives. Plus man-bait to keep the redhead away from your father. It didn’t work out with me and Richard, but I don’t regret it at all.”
“You don’t?” Jason asked, puzzled.
Lois shook her head, smirking. “Not a bit. I never have. Jason, you were just a kid when all of that was going on and you missed a few of the finer details. No, he wasn’t the one, but that doesn’t mean that we weren’t good together, and we’re still good together. And we did love each other then and we do now. Just as friends, which we were always better at. You really can’t say this to him, because no one should feed that ego, but Richard is a pretty incredible guy and I’m damn lucky to still have him in life.”
Jason went very quiet, mulling over that thought as he slid the onion aside to be sautéed with some mushrooms later. The next task that needed doing was sautéing some chicken breasts, and he minced fresh thyme and rosemary to season them with.
Letting the silence spin out, Lois got to work alongside her son, melting chocolate and butter until she had a dark, smooth, creamy bowl of deliciousness. A dash of vanilla, and she set it aside to beat some egg yolks into a froth. Of course Jason waited until the stand mixer was running to say, “I’m not even sure I still know how to meet girls.”
“Then you definitely need to get your mind off Elise and try dating someone else,” Lois replied over the machine’s whirring, adding some sugar and watching for the mixture to form ribbons. This kind of cooking was her style, relying on observation and intuition instead of reading a recipe card. Once the egg yolks were at the right stage, she cut the mixer off so she could fold them into the chocolate.
Meanwhile, Jason hadn’t replied. “I know you forget sometimes, but you’re only nineteen, Jason. This is going to sound like the stereotypical ‘Mom’ speech, but it’s actually true. You do have your whole life ahead of you. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love for you settle down with Elise and get married and have a wonderful life. You deserve to be incredibly happy. But I also don’t want you to look back twenty years from now and wish you’d at least considered your options.”
“Yeah,” he sighed, still not convinced.
“Yeah,” she said back in the same tone, mocking him until he looked at her. “We both know you don’t want to hear that, but it’s honest advice from someone who’s got a little experience in that department. Your father and I took things for granted the first time around. I think we both assumed that, because we were so much in love, the world would revolve around us. And it doesn’t work that way. You know the story. We had to fight for this marriage more than once. I think Elise is a little worried that things seem too easy with you, and she wants to be sure she’s not just following the path of least resistance.”
“She is the resistance,” Jason muttered grumpily, and Lois just chuckled.
Whether or not he took her advice was up to him, but at least she’d convinced him to stop the cyber-stalking. If Elise had found out about that, Lois could just imagine her outrage.
Even if he closed his eyes and blocked his ears, he’d know where he was by the taste and texture of the air. Gotham City was soot and exhaust, fog and rain, old brick quietly crumbling into dust and the faint vibration of electricity. Kal-El hung above it, wondering for the thousandth time how different life would have been if he’d landed here instead of Kansas, or even if he’d moved here instead of Metropolis.
And just as often, he’d wondered how would Bruce’s life have been different if he’d been raised somewhere else. Somewhere like Smallville, though it was far too tiny for the Waynes’ wealth and circumstance, but still, he imagined it. Bruce Wayne brought up in a place where the worst crime of the decade was a car theft by joy-riding teens. How much of who they were was a product of their essential selves, and how much was circumstance and early environment?
They would never know how much of each personality was nature and how much was nurture. What Kal-El did know for certain was that they had several things in common: a finely-honed sense of justice, a dogged tenacity to seeing things through, and an overwhelming conviction to fight cruelty and evil and injustice wherever they found it. Not to mention a shared admiration for courageous, tempestuous women. Those commonalities, along with the mission they both pursued, made them friends.
Hovering above the city, Kal-El scanned for a telltale flicker of darkness within darkness, for a shadow that moved against the wind. He ultimately found Batman crouched on a roofline, his bat-eared cowl’s silhouette invisible from every angle except this one. Carefully, Kal-El maneuvered himself to a position above and behind Bruce, listening in to make sure he wasn’t dropping in at a bad moment.
Bruce was listening in to the police band and surveying the street below, but didn’t seem to be onto anything urgent, so Kal-El dropped down to hover over the same roof. Before he could speak, Bruce turned his head to look over his shoulder. Kal-El hadn’t made a sound, and there was no vibration from footsteps when he hadn’t touched down yet, but he’d never surprised Bruce with his arrivals. He knew better than to ask how Bruce always knew when he was hovering nearby; the answer would surely be ‘Because I’m the Batman’.
The eyes behind the cowl’s lenses were keen, and asked a question Bruce didn’t feel the need to voice: You know Gotham is on lockdown. Why are you here?
Kal-El crossed his arms, maintaining his hover a couple inches above the roof, his bright uniform mostly concealed by shadows. He let his expression and the tilt of his brows give his answer: I am a citizen of this entire world, and no place is closed to me. Also I want to talk to you. He added, quietly and with a touch of humor, “Getting you out of your city is a lot like removing a badger from its sette. It’s not exactly easy.”
Bruce nodded, once, and rose fluidly, as if he hadn’t been sitting in a crouch for the last hour or two, possibly more. He walked to the edge of the roof and stepped off, spreading his cloak to glide. Kal-El followed, as Bruce had intended. By grapnel and glide and super-powered flight they reached the top of an old church, where Bruce stepped inside the highest tower, where the bells had once hung.
Kal-El did not make the remark about bats in a belfry that occurred to him. Bruce awaited him in the shadows, and his voice retained its on-duty harshness. “So talk.”
Leading gently to a topic never worked with Bruce. He admired subtlety, true, but direct appeals worked better if the asker had the fortitude and knowledge to run the gauntlet of Bruce’s rejections. So Kal-El said simply, “I—and some of the others—would like you to lift the lockdown on Gotham.”
“Not until this business with Red Hood is finished, one way or the other,” came the expected reply.
“At least let us help you. Some of us aren’t completely useless at finding people who don’t want to be found. And we might be able to bring a few extra resources to figuring out how this happened.”
The cowl shook once, left to right, decisive. “No. My protégé, my problem.”
“If it was my son, I’d be asking for your help.”
“If it was your son, you’d need my help. I’m the only one in the League with kryptonite.”
“That’s not the point. You’re my colleague, you’re my friend, and you’re a very good person to have around in a sticky situation. Three years ago I learned what happens when I refuse the League’s help: you all get drawn into it eventually anyway. Besides, the kids are worried.”
“Don’t act as if I’m unaware that Superboy and Blur have both been in Gotham, along with Wonder Girl.”
“Yes, they were—persuading Spoiler to follow your orders, if I recall correctly. None of them engaged Red Hood.”
Bruce’s eyes narrowed imperceptibly. “I would have stopped her myself, if I hadn’t been deliberately interfered with.”
“You don’t have to do everything yourself. That’s why we have the League, so we can help each other.”
Slicing one hand through the air in a cutting-off gesture, Bruce turned away as if to go. Kal-El heard the report come in over Bruce’s comm just before the man himself said it out loud. “You don’t know what you’re dealing with. He just set fire to a meth lab, with the dealers inside.”
“I know better than you realize,” Kal-El replied, and knew Bruce could hear him even as he stepped to the edge of the parapet. “He’s your son. He’s just like you, with no brakes, no restraint. He does everything you do, but he doesn’t stop with putting them in the hospital.”
“No. He puts them in the morgue, in very small boxes most of the time. I can’t allow that.” With those words he stepped off the edge, hurrying to the burning meth lab.
Kal-El could hear it, once he tuned his hearing to roar of flames. It was already too late for lifesaving measures; there were no heartbeats inside the ramshackle tenement that was being greedily devoured by fire. He could go put it out with freeze-breath, but sirens told him the GCFD was already on its way. Helping Bruce now would only antagonize him further.
Sighing, because while he’d known one conversation wasn’t going to change Bruce’s mind he had still hoped to end on a better note than this, Kal-El took out his cell phone and sent a message to D. Prince. It said simply: Tried, no luck. Your turn.
The answer was swift. O first. Then me. He’ll see sense eventually.
Thumbs blurring with super-speed, Kal-El replied: He never stopped mourning. Now he’s caught between grief and rage.
Story of his life, was her response. Kal-El had to agree, little as he liked it or what it meant for Bruce and his sons.
With that weight on his shoulders, he turned for home.
Dinner was just about ready, the lentils and roasted vegetables perfuming the house with a savory scent that made Jason’s mouth water. While Lois finished her chocolate soufflé and set it in the refrigerator to chill, Jason set the table, making three places since Dad was expected home any moment.
The French doors opened, and Jason called out loudly, “Hi, Dad!”
“I’m not Dad, you incredible geek,” came the laughing reply, and Jason dropped the forks and rushed to the living room.
“Kala?!” He hadn’t expected her; other than their brief collaboration to stop Steph from hunting down Red Hood, he hadn’t seen his twin in almost a month. Seeing her standing there with a big smirk on her face, Jason couldn’t express his happiness any other way than to grab her around the waist, pick her up, and swing her around.
She shrieked with joy, thumping his shoulders and kissing his cheek. “Lizardboy! Knock it off or people will think you missed me or something!”
“I did miss you, Elvira,” Jason muttered, setting her down but squeezing her in a tight hug.
Kala gasped melodramatically. “You’re squishing me!”
“I like squishing you,” he replied, and squeezed tighter.
“Mom … help … hug … of death…” Kala wheezed. Sure enough, Lois had come to the doorway into the living room and was shaking her head in amusement at them.
“Why am I not surprised that the half-alien garbage disposal shows up when we’re about to eat?” Lois teased, but once Jason let her go she hugged her daughter just as long. Kala just snuggled in happily.
“Hey, I got the freeloader gene from you, Mother dear,” Kala replied, and smooched her mother’s cheek, leaving a smudge of purple lipstick. Seeing it, Jason automatically rubbed his own cheek and saw his fingers come away purple.
“Are you sure you can stay for dinner?” he asked hopefully, rubbing the smear away on the tail of his shirt. It would come out in the wash later.
She waved a hand airily. “Yeah, the boys are off doing testosterone-related bonding stuff. Which probably involved beer and competitive belching. That’s fine, it helps them work together as a band, but I’m not invited because having a girl around would mess up the boys’-night vibe. Whatever, I have you to come home to.”
“What about the boyfriend?” Lois asked perceptively.
Kala rolled her eyes. “Currently making my life a drama llama farm. Alan is being a complete pissy bitch right now. I’ll fill you in on the details later, but after what happened last night and our conversation this afternoon, I offered him some of my Midol and told him to call me when he got his panties un-bunched.”
“Ouch,” Jason said, nevertheless impressed. Kala never stood for nonsense with her boyfriends, which was why most of them were out of her life before he had a chance to learn their names these days. Dustin was the only one she’d ever been willing to make concessions for, and he had never asked for much since he loved her just as she was. It still saddened Jason that the two had split up.
About then, a familiar red and blue blur arrived on the balcony, and a moment later Clark was inside. “Kala! I didn’t expect you, sweetheart.”
“Daddy!” She jumped into his arms for a hug, and he swung her around too—gently, though. Jason had almost whacked her heels against the sofa.
When he set her down, Clark looked at Kala with such love in his eyes that it made Jason’s heart tighten. Not with jealousy, for he saw equal love and pride in his father’s eyes on a regular basis. No, there was a note of sorrow lurking beneath his expression, something Jason could sense like a piano just slightly out of tune, and he knew the talk with Uncle Bruce hadn’t gone well.
I wish there was something I could do, he fretted, for the hundredth time. As it stood he couldn’t even go see Tim, although Red Robin had made his way into Titans Tower at least twice since the attack. It had been good to see him up, around, and annoyed; he’d given Jason and Cassie a thorough chewing-out for not updating the log file on their current cases. Much to Tim’s surprise, Cassie had hugged him and told him they’d left it just so he had something to complain about. Which wasn’t true, but it did mollify Tim and smooth over any awkwardness caused by the cast that was still on his arm.
Sighing, Jason went to get more cutlery, setting the table for four now. He caught his father’s eye as he set Kala’s place, and they shared a smile. For a moment, everything else—the Titans, Elise, Kala’s boyfriend, everything—receded. Both of them knew how precious these moments as a family were.
And then, before it could get too heartwarming, Clark said, “So I hear the Blur was sighted on a case with Superboy again.”
“Yup, in Gotham, no less, which is a total no-fly zone these days, but the Blur is no one’s obedient soldier,” Kala replied cheerily.
Lois chortled. “Yeah, the tabloids whipped up that speculation about ‘Blazur’ again, only now they’re calling it Supeblur. I think they sound equally ridiculous.”
Jason and Kala both made retching sounds in perfect unison. “Oh Lord, again? It’s not bad enough that they just guess on the ‘relationship’ between us; they also have to give us the lamest ‘ship name ever,” Kala complained, wrinkling her nose at her twin.
“See, you have to be specific with it. I just think it’s gross. Where do people get this stuff from?” Jason groaned, making a face of his own.
Lois and Clark looked at their nearly-identical expressions of repugnance and broke into laughter, lightening the mood considerably.