Also, belated thanks [if I somehow forgot to mention it] to my beloved saavikam77 for ALL of the help and assistance on all thing Batclan. We could never have done what we've done with you and we all three know it. Then again, you have a ton of accolades coming up!
That said, on with the show!
It was that time of year again. All the high school seniors were visiting colleges, trying to decide where the spend the next few years of their lives. The attitudes of the upperclassmen at Berkeley were evenly split between welcoming and disdainful. Elise, newly a sophmore herself, had encountered too many of the latter, so she tried to be friendly and helpful whenever she encountered someone who looked completely lost.
The girl who got behind her in line at the Terrace Café didn’t precisely look lost, though she did look a little too young to be a college student, and she was wearing a nametag. No one else seemed to be with her, which was unusual. Parents generally hovered around during these visits, and both of Elise’s had been at her side the whole time she toured the campus.
Elise ordered her coffee and then turned to the girl with a smile, quickly reading her nametag. “Plus whatever … Suzanne’s having. Hi, Suzanne, I’m Elise. Last year I was doing the same thing you’re doing, and it was a lot to get my mind around.” She offered her hand.
Suzanne shook, mouth quirking up in a grin, and tossed her blonde ponytail over one shoulder. “Just a caramel caffé latte, please. And thanks. It’s a really interesting campus.”
“And confusing to get around, the first little while. But then you found your way to coffee, so you’re better off than I was the first week.” They both chuckled at that as Elise paid. The drinks were served quickly, and they walked away slowly. “So what’s your major?” Elise asked, hoping to have met another science major.
“I still haven’t completely decided,” Suzanne admitted. “My man-child Dad said I didn’t have to go to college yet if I didn’t want, but my brilliant, control-freak Mom insisted.” The younger girl shrugged nonchalantly at that, but the little grin that followed it showed a lack of real sarcasm. Sounded like a fun story hidden in those words.
Elise could only nod, sharing the smile. It had always seemed like a foregone conclusion that she would go to college, study science, and make both of her parents proud. Even if, sometimes, it hadn’t been the easiest choice to make. “Well, Berkeley’s pretty much as awesome as they make it sound. I mean, I’m from Metropolis originally, so I had a lot of culture shock to deal with. That was pretty much it.” There was a niggling thought in the back of her mind, but she slapped it away. It had been for the best. For everyone.
“Oh, I’m from Star City. I’m used to this. I hear a lot about Metropolis, though. Is it really like they say?” Suzanne asked.
That made her raise her brows, tilting her head. “Depends on what they say. It’s a really great city, overall. Busy, always something new going on all the time. Blink and you miss it. Not quite as … well, it’s not like the Bay area, but it’s progressive.”
“Do you really get to see Superman all the time?”
That question almost made Elise spit out a mouthful of coffee, but she thought she hid it well. I can never get away from them, she thought, and the idea was almost reassuring. Then again, when you were from Metropolis, the home-town hero was always a curiosity. “Well, um, if you walk around looking up all the time you might, but then you’re more likely to trip over your own feet. Besides, do you see Green Arrow all the time in Star City?”
“Not unless you’re on the wrong side of the law. And then, I have it under good authority that you don’t want to see him,” Suzanne quipped, and both girls laughed.
They talked a little more, swapping stories of their respective cities and high schools, Elise answering the younger girl’s questions about the college. Pretty soon Elise would have to head to her next class, though, and told Suzanne so. By then she rather hoped the younger girl would choose Berkeley. It would be nice to have a friend, someone she could show the ropes to.
“One more question,” Suzanne asked, and her blue eyes were intent. “Does Berkeley have an archery club?”
Coming after the Green Arrow comment, it took all Elise had not to drop her head in her hands. Oh God, she’s a hero fan. Should have seen it coming. Elise bit her lip, thinking. “I don’t think so. We’ve got a Quidditch League, though.”
The younger girl laughed merrily. “I’ll take it!”
Three more shows, that was it. Robb and Ned were already looking at apartments for rent in Metropolis, and freaking out over the prices. Even in Suicide Slum, a two-bedroom walk-up went for more than they could ever afford. Sebast just chuckled at them. “What you should really do is just rent a house in the ‘burbs. I mean, at least there you won’t have to pay for parking for the cars. And shit, Ned, that hearse is gonna take up two spots. I know people in the city who pay a hundred bucks a month for a parking spot.” Kala nodded agreement, her mouth still full from lunch.
“Holy crap,” Robb muttered. “Hey, why can’t we all just move to New Orleans?”
“Not much better in the city,” Ned pointed out. “My folks live out Metairie way because it’s a little better.”
“Besides, we all live in Metropolis,” Morgan added. “It makes more sense for you two to come to us.”
“I dunno, I liked New Orleans. Boys with Southern accents and all,” Sebast mused. Ah, the memories—but this tour was leaving him with what would’ve been a lifetime of memories for anyone else. Meanwhile, Robb and Ned were learning. They just rolled their eyes at him.
“I guess what they say about Southern gals applies to Southern guys, then,” Ned said with a shrug.
“And what do they say about Southern gals?” Sebast asked, ignoring Kala as she snickered over his pronunciation of ‘gals’. “Purely for research purposes, you understand.”
“Well, when a girl’s got a thick Southern accent, by the time she finishes telling you she’s not that kinda girl … she already is.” Ned grinned at what was an old joke to him, but to the others it was new enough to elicit laughter.
Kala almost pitched out of her seat laughing, getting looks from the only other people in the diner during the lunch hour. Sebast patted her back. “You okay? Cracking up from the pressure of being a rock star?”
Still chortling, she managed to say, “No, I heard that joke when I was like twelve. Aunt Tobie’s from Alabama originally, Sebast. She said that about the girls back home talking to Mom, and nobody would explain the joke to me for years.”
He had to laugh at that. Tobie Raines was an older female version of Sebast himself; he understood that in her wild youth she’d had the same talent he did for scoring even in the unlikeliest of places.
The band teased each other for a while about their origins, with Dustin ending that by saying, “I win. I’m from a place called Smallville. You can’t beat that.” He had a point, at that. Sebast actually liked Smallville, in a strange anthropological way, but he doubted he could live there for more than a few days.
After the laughter that followed, Robb said, “But seriously. You think we can get a house for money we can afford? I mean, we’re looking at really crappy jobs. Fast food and stuff.”
“Mechanics make pretty decent money,” Dustin put in. “And I know you guys are gonna start making better money playing gigs. If we pooled our funds and shared a place we could do pretty well.”
Sebast saw the way Kala’s eyes widened at that. Evidently she and Dustin hadn’t quite talked this one over. “Sounds like a plan to me. I mean, I was planning to live at home, but it’d be nice to have our own place. Maybe we can have an actual garage to be a garage band. I’d chip in for that.”
“You gotta get a job first, bitch,” Kala teased.
He leaned over and stuck his tongue in her ear, making her yelp and swat at him. “Whatever, chula. I still have friends in the convenience store industry. I could get a job there.” Kala gagged, remembering why he had those friends. Sebast counted that one a win; shocking her was still something of a hobby, though it was harder these days.
“Isn’t that dangerous?” Robb asked.
“Nah, I won’t work anywhere they don’t have a big sheet of bullet-proof glass between me and the rabid public. I don’t wanna be held up. Forget that.” Sebast kicked back and looked at Kala. “Are you gonna go back to Retail Hell? It’s the right season.”
Kala groaned, leaning heavily on Dustin’s shoulder. “The money’s good but the customers eat your soul a piece at a time. I swear I can feel the gnawing. Every time they stand underneath the sign that says Bath Ensembles and ask where the towels are, I want to eat my own liver.”
Dustin patted her hair. “You could always come with me and get hired as a receptionist at a repair shop or something. I bet they’d hire you just because you don’t look like someone who’d know SAE from metric, but you could do oil changes during the rush and really freak them out.”
“And I’ve seen how much effort it takes to get the grease out from under your nails after you’ve been working on cars all day. Nope, not for me,” Kala laughed, and kissed him.
“High-maintenance diva,” Sebast teased, and she crossed her eyes at him. Dustin just hugged her.
“You love me as a diva,” Kala said loftily, and the table chorused an affirmative to her delight. Sebast smirked as if it had all been his idea.
But then Kala tipped her head back and looked up at Dustin from heavily-lined—even at six in the morning—eyes. “Are you sure about this? I mean, I would love to have you nearby. But I know how you are about the city….”
Sebast caught his breath. Dustin was good for Kala; he was the only guy she’d shown interest in whom Sebast approved of. And with good reason. Dustin honestly cared about her, and as different as they’d grown to be, he brought out a side of her that was carefree and sunny. Which, given the way her sixteenth year had gone, she needed. Sebast knew about her nightmares, and he tried to give her all the support he could—they were closer than any best friends he knew. But what he couldn’t give her, Dustin could. And he liked the boy for that, as well as for the fact that Dustin accepted him and his place in Kala’s life.
Dustin kissed Kala’s forehead and said, “Well, last time I stayed with you and Jason, and I don’t think your parents are gonna like that much now that we’re officially an item.”
“And now that you don’t have Big Brother in the house watching over you,” Sebast pointed out. That earned him a pouty look, Kala sticking her tongue out, and he scrunched up his nose at her.
“My point is, I was in the middle of the city with you guys. If we can get someplace in the suburbs, I might be able to swing it.” Dustin kissed her hair again, and then added musingly, “I should probably call my parents and tell them about this. They’re gonna freak out a little bit.”
“A little?” Robb scoffed. “Hell, my parents are used to this stuff, but traveling musicians are a lot more common than traveling mechanics.”
“Hey, there’s no time like the present to get out and see the world,” Sebast said. “Seriously, Dustin, Metropolis could use some honest mechanics. And when we get signed by a label and become famous, we’re going to need someone with mechanical knowledge to supervise our road crew.”
“I’ll take roadie, thanks, but not crew supervisor,” Dustin laughed.
Kala sighed and rolled her eyes. “It’s kinda cheese toast to have your boyfriend be the roadie.”
“It’s what I like,” Dustin said. “Seriously, guys. There’s satisfaction in being a mechanic. People come to you with problems, cars come in the shop with all sorts of weird crap done to them, and you figure out what’s wrong and fix it. At the end of the day, you’re dirty and sweaty and tired, but you’re the guy who makes things go right again. It’s good for the soul.”
The five musicians took a moment to digest that. “Are all mechanics philosophers too?” Ned asked.
“Oh yeah. You really have to think about the world, and humankind’s place in it, when you’re elbow deep in an engine and the damn bolt sheers off. Plus that’s where you learn the best swears.”
“You don’t curse,” Kala said, looking at him in amazement, and Sebast chuckled.
“Around ladies I don’t, or at people. But cars have to be cussed sometimes to work right.”
With that pronouncement, and the playful grin that blossomed on Kala’s face in answer to it, Sebast began to seriously plot how he could keep Dustin around long-term. Anything that made his girl happy was fine by him, even if he missed some of the time they spent together.
With a couple hours between classes, Jason texted Cassie. Wanna do lunch?
Sure, where? The reply came back in seconds, making him grin.
Your pick, he typed back, picking up his pace. He’d need to change shirts for lunch with Cassie; this morning he’d gotten out of bed late, and had gone to his early classes in the old Godzilla t-shirt he’d slept in last night. At least he’d put on jeans and shoes first. A couple of people in his 7 AM class routinely showed up in pajamas with obvious bed-head.
A longer pause as Cassie evidently thought about it, and Jason had time to jog to his dorm, throw on a shirt, spritz on some of the Truth cologne that Kala had gotten him as a random going-to-college gift. The attached gift card had read, So you can smell like a MAN … and not a lizard. Ever since rescuing Mom from Bizarro, though, Kala had almost quit calling him Lizardboy. Jason would’ve been happier about that if the replacement nickname hadn’t been The Amazing Flea.
Eventually Cassie replied, Italian maybe?
I know the best place in Metropolis, Jason replied, giving her an address. So what if he had to change again, into uniform once he was out of line of sight, and hurry to bound his way over there. The family-owned Italian restaurant he’d been going to with Mom since he was about five was completely worth it.
Although when he took the first jump, off a secluded area of Wyman Park, he couldn’t help remembering Kala’s teasing. The Amazing Flea, the Kryptonian Jumping Bean, or even just Pogo Loco. His twin insisted that flying was better, but he didn’t even like flying with Dad, and Kala’s aerial skills made him nauseous.
Flight was just too fast. One little mistake and he could end up doing a header into a building—an occupied building, maybe, with his luck. Kala didn’t have any trouble, she flew on intuition and instinct, and he’d seen her close her eyes in mid-flight. That was stomach-cramping levels of terror, right there. Flying blind? Heck no.
Jason reached the apex of his leap, and started to arc down. He’d land in Philadelphia; his usual trajectory brought him into a little-used public park, where he could run for eight or ten strides before jumping again. The falling part of his leaps sucked, actually. His control was minimal, and a badly-angled landing could result in property damage.
Kala insisted—and annoyingly, Cassie agreed—that the fact that he didn’t leave craters every time he landed meant he was using some kind of flight. They also said the slight steering he was able to do as he fell was flight, but that was simple aerodynamics, like a skydiver changing position to alter course. The girls would never understand how much he loathed the thought of having flight. Running and jumping were fairly sane powers; with flight there were no limits, no constraints, no control.
What irked him the most, though, was not having the speed. Sure, he could match speeds with a car, but even running a hundred miles an hour wouldn’t get him to Metropolis as fast as his strength-based (it had to be strength, had to be) leaps. And then again, if he did run, a cop might give him a speeding ticket. Jason didn’t want to put himself or a police officer into that embarrassing situation.
Of course Kala just flew, and casually broke the sound barrier like it was nothing. She did it high enough that her sonic booms didn’t shatter windows, and she was learning the main airplane routes over the U.S. so she didn’t startle any pilots. Cassie flew, too, not quite with Kala’s ridiculous speed, but she was cruising toward Metropolis right now….
At the pinnacle of his next jump, Cassie caught his elbow, and Jason managed not to yell. “Don’t do that!” he said, hanging from her grip as she leveled out toward Metropolis. “Jeez, Cassie, warn a guy!”
“Yeah, well, my big sister doesn’t warn your dad when she turns up with the jet, and he doesn’t freak out,” Cassie informed him, blue eyes sparkling with mischief.
Jason groaned. Why were all the girls he knew such pranksters? “Just for that I’m making you pay for your share,” he lied.