That said, we'll be gone the 27th of October through the 2nd of November. Now, there's not going to be posting that week, as we'll be getting home the day before it's due and we plan to actually head out and do things so we can clear our heads and be filled up with all of those wonderful plots that Mountain-Time always gives us.
We'll be looking everything over and might even take two weeks, just so it's fair to both sets of readers. I hate to leave one or the other hanging, so I'll let you know what we decide. ;)
I'll keep you all posted.
Tim was glad to be back in Gotham City again, but he found it quiet—too quiet. With Red Hood apparently gone and Black Mask in jail, the average level of violence and mayhem had dropped. Not for long, of course. But right now, the relative peace made him uneasy. Someone somewhere was plotting the next big thing.
He spent hours on patrol, monitoring his city, only to return to Titans headquarters and pore over the databases from there. That was what he was in the middle of doing when Steph and Cassie descended on him.
Steph propped her hip against his desk and leaned over so she blocked his view of the screens. “Hey Robin, two hot blondes have been calling your name for the last five minutes. What gives?”
Tim looked up at her sternly. There was only a year or so between them, but sometimes he felt impossibly old and serious compared to Steph. “I’ve got work to do,” he told her.
“There’s always work to do, Tim,” Steph said. “That’s how this business works. But it’s quiet right now. Let’s steal a little time to ourselves, hmm? I think, after the last month or so, we’re kinda allowed a little real-life downtime. I only mean a couple of hours, nothing drastic.”
“It’s only quiet because they’re planning something else,” he insisted.
Cassie cut in then, frowning a little. “Come on. None of us can do this 24/7. Remember when I couldn’t get that through my head? You can take a break. Really, you need to take a break. I promise Gotham won’t implode if you do. Nightwing’s still out there backing up patrols right now and you know Dinah is, too.”
He scowled, and Steph added, “Seriously, I’d be worried about you growing into that chair if you didn’t spend so much time patrolling. When was the last time you slept more than two hours?”
“Or ate something that wasn’t a protein bar?” Cassie put in, crossing her arms to stare at him.
The Amazonian Disapproval Glare didn’t work. Tim had more important things in mind at the moment. With the entire Bat-family off-balance after Red Hood’s war, Tim had to push himself as hard as he could. Bruce was as broken as he’d been after Jason Todd’s death, and this time Tim wasn’t sure he could put him back together.
“Enough of this. His girlfriend can’t make him see sense, the Amazon can’t make him see sense,” Steph sighed. “That’s it. Cassie, let’s call in the big guns.”
“I’m on it,” Cassie said with utter seriousness, pulling out her phone and sending a text.
Tim scowled more intensely. Whatever nonsense they had planned, he wasn’t going to get into it. Gotham was too important, the mission was too important, he had no time for frivolity … and then he heard a heavier step walking into the room, and Jason Kent picked him bodily up out of the chair and set him down, staring eye to eye. “This is an intervention, Tim,” he said.
“I don’t need an intervention,” Tim growled back, automatically trying to shrug free of Jason’s grip and failing utterly.
Cassie took one arm and Steph took the other. For the first time Tim saw the worry in their expressions. Jason looked at him with honest blue eyes full of concern. “Tim, you’re not Bruce. You shouldn’t have to be Bruce. That’s why there’s a whole network of Bats. And even with that, things still happen. Everything that goes wrong in Gotham isn’t your fault. You guys wouldn’t be a team if you were meant to handle it on your own.”
“And that’s a Super telling you that you have a guilt complex,” Steph added.
Jason smiled, sadly. “You can’t fix all of it, either. You have to be a person first, before you can be a hero. Even Dick would tell you that. And people our age go on double dates and eat pizza and watch movies. Also something Dick would tell you.”
“Sometimes we all need to remember why we do this,” Cassie said.
“I know why I do it,” Tim snarled. “I’m not like the two of you—I don’t have powers and feel the need to use them for good. I’m not like Steph or Helena, I don’t have a family history to atone for. I’m not like Dick or Jay, either, I didn’t lose everything and turn to crime-fighting so no one else would have to go through that. You forget, guys, I’m in this because he needs me!”
“Yeah, and he needs you in top form,” Jason replied. “Which you won’t be in if you work yourself to death like this. Tim, you’re going out in plainclothes tonight, we’re going to have pizza, we’re going to watch a movie. If you don’t like it you can sulk all night, but we’re kids. We need to have some fun once in a while.”
“Besides, Babs is on surveillance tonight,” Steph said.
For a moment, Tim swayed. Most of him wanted to stay in and work, because that was his calling, that was what he was best at. But there were times when he yearned to be ordinary again. The prep school boy who’d been genius enough to figure out Batman’s identity was in his past now; Red Robin was his present and future.
But … he wasn’t just Robin. “All right, I’ll go,” he said, and part of him was relieved. If he became as obsessed and driven as Bruce was, then who was going to be Robin for him and drag him out into the light? Who, if not his best friends.
Cassie and Jason high-fived each other, and Steph kissed his cheek. “All right then, pizza and a movie it is,” Jason proclaimed. “Just no action movies. They’re too ridiculous.”
That got a laugh from Tim. When their whole lives were one long action film, of course they couldn’t bear to watch movies that got the details wrong. “We’ll find something,” he said, already feeling better.
Lana had just finished reading an email from Kay when her phone rang. It wasn’t the usual ring, either. Lana tended not to use individual ring tones for contacts, but a certain someone had a habit of ‘borrowing’ her phone as often as she borrowed clothes, so the redhead knew who was calling even without hearing the intro to a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Gypsy. “Hello, Kala,” she answered, laughing.
The young woman she thought of as her oldest daughter—lack of blood relation notwithstanding—replied brightly, “Hi, Lana! Guess what? We just got back from the tour.”
“That’s wonderful! A whole day early, too. Congratulations, Kala.” She leaned back in her desk chair, smiling. While she loved the fact that Kala was pursuing her dream with all the determination she’d inherited from both Lois and Clark, Lana also simply missed her. Having her back in Metropolis was going to be a delight.
“Yes, we tanked up on gas station coffee and drove through the night to save on hotel fees. And thanks, I’m so glad to be back. Much as I love the road, it’s good be home again. Speaking of which, are you home?”
Lana’s eyebrows went up slightly at that. Prepare for the invasion of the starving teenager, she thought. “Why yes, actually, I am. Why do you ask?”
A pause, and then Kala began, “Well, Mom and Dad aren’t home…”
The wheedling tone was so much like eight-year-old Kala that Lana laughed aloud. “Let me guess. Lois and Clark aren’t home, there aren’t any convenient leftovers at their house, you haven’t eaten anything but fast food and snacks throughout the tour, and you’re craving some homemade food.”
“Busted,” Kala admitted.
Lana could just see the expression on her face, Lois’ expressive eyes and Clark’s sheepish grin. “Come on over. I’ll make you lunch.”
“Um, I kinda have the band with me. And Dustin too.” Oh yes, she knew that tone. Luckily Lana was prepared to entertain. A few years of being swarmed by Jason and Kala had taught her to keep quick, filling meals on hand at all times.
“Bring them all. Where are you?”
A long pause, with some chuckling in the background, and then Kala said, “In the elevator.”
That earned her the richest laugh yet. Who couldn’t love this silly child? “You can have chips and dip while I make spaghetti. Meat sauce or white sauce, Kala?”
“Oh God, if it’s you making it, I’ll break my vegetarian vows. Meat sauce. And maybe meatballs too? Pretty please with sugar on top?” Kala was practically drooling into the phone.
Shaking her head, Lana wondered how the girl who could fly to any restaurant in the world wound up in love with her grandmother’s spaghetti sauce recipe. “If you’re lucky,” she teased. “Still have your key?”
“Um, no, it’s in my bag in the van. But I’ll be at the door in like two minutes.”
“I’ll see you there,” Lana said, and took a moment to pour chips into a bowl and put out a couple kinds of salsa. Teenagers couldn’t be expected to wait while a meal cooked; she’d learned long ago to offer appetizers to keep Kala and Jason from ransacking her pantry. Just as she set that down, the doorbell rang.
As usual, the dogs alerted her to the presence of guests. Dusty the beagle bayed, but only once. Narcissa the Doberman made no sound, but when Lana went to the door she found the larger dog standing in front of it, staring , her nub of a tail wagging. “Back up,” Lana said crisply, and Dusty bounded excitedly up the hallway, while Narcissa took two steps back and sat down at Lana’s side.
She’d no sooner unlocked and opened the door before Kala swept through it and practically dove into her arms. Lana squeezed her tightly; Kala was the one all the parents worried about, but they loved her all the more for her fiery personality. “Welcome home, sweetheart,” Lana said, and kissed Kala’s hair—which was blue-streaked this week.
“Missed you,” Kala said, not pulling away from the hug.
Finally, it became too rude to keep the rest waiting in the hall, and Lana drew away with a smile. “Am I still your favorite evil stepmother?”
“Lana, if you feed us, you can be the evil queen, too,” Kala teased. “C’mere, guys, meet my stepmom. It’s a long story.”
Of course Sebast already knew her and crowded in for a hug, and she’d met Morgan so he shook her hand. Dustin got a kiss on the cheek, too; Lana secretly hoped he and Kala would eventually work things out and settle down together. They were very much in love, and even better, they cared deeply for each other.
Meanwhile Kala was pointing out the two new members of the band. “This is our bassist, Robb, and our drummer, Ned. Guys, this is Lana, she’s made of awesome. Oh, and one more thing,” Kala paused, stepping in front of the two newcomers before they could get past the foyer. “Lana here is from Smallville, like Dustin. Remember, he’s the progressive younger generation. So she’s classic Midwestern American, never goes out of style, just like her clothes. What that means for you, guys, is no swearing in the house. I mean it. Also have some freakin’ table manners or I’ll slug you.”
The two new band members started to laugh at that, but Sebast cut in. “She’s not kidding. She’ll wipe the floor with you if you disrespect the family. And I’ll hold her jacket while she does it.”
“Charming,” Lana remarked, cutting them off. “A speech your mother would be proud of, Kala. Yes, gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Don’t let Kala intimidate you. I’ve lived in Gotham, Paris, and Milan.” She noted without surprise that one boy’s head was shaved except for a topknot dyed electric blue, and the other had a safety pin through his ear in lieu of an earring. All the boys were wearing more eyeliner than she normally did, and Kala had obviously changed hurriedly from concert wear, as her own makeup was worthy of the stage.
“But you always come home to Smallville,” Dustin pointed out.
“Don’t we all?” Lana asked him, and Dustin hugged her.
She let the kids hover around her breakfast nook, where the chips and dip had been set out, and told Sebast, “You know where everything is, so I’m putting you in charge of drinks. Kala, get the meatballs out of the fridge, would you?”
“I drive all night to come see you, and you put me to work?” Kala pleaded, with sad eyes worthy of the beagle currently weaving between everyone’s legs in hopes of a treat or some attention. Narcissa was more reserved, sitting just out of the way and watching the newcomers.
“That’s what kids are for, Kala.” Lana smirked to her; the two of them had always gotten along well. Except for the times Kala decided to dye Kristin’s hair or paint her nails or buy her band t-shirts to sleep in, but even those had been quickly forgiven. As much as she tried to be fierce and intimidating, Kala had a lot of her father’s sweetness in her, and Lana had always held a soft spot for that.
“You see what kinda trauma Kala had to go through,” Sebast said, getting down the glasses. “I mean really, parents who expect you to work and do chores and entertain company? The horror. If she wasn’t nineteen we’d call DCS right now.”
“Hush, you,” Lana warned. “I’m feeding you, remember?”
“Yes, ma’am. A pleasure to serve, ma’am,” Sebast said quickly, and all of the kids laughed.
Spaghetti and meatballs was easy to put together, and quick, too. Lana let the kids’ conversation drift over her as she and Kala arranged the meal. Apparently the multi-band tour had been good to them all, as they talked like old friends.
In the beginning, Lana had had her doubts about Kala’s plans to pursue a music career. Clark had badly wanted his daughter to go to college like her brother, and Lana had been inclined to feel the same. Kala had talked her around to it eventually, however, and it seemed to have been a good choice. Even if nothing came of it in the end, Kala had followed her dreams, and Lana could respect that. She’d done much the same thing, setting out to become a fashion designer, and it had paid off for her.
She and Kala worked together in familiar comfort, Kala trotting out to the terrace to pluck some fresh basil leaves for the sauce. When she came back in, Lana asked her, “So what’s the plan now?”
“Get an album together,” Kala replied. “Also the boys are going to try to rent a house in the suburbs, and we’re all going to get part-time jobs, and we’ll take as many gigs as we can find, paying or not. The important thing now is exposure.”
“I thought you already had enough songs for an album,” Lana said, remembering all the time Kala and Sebast had spent poring over lyrics.
“Yeah, we do, but now that we have a full band, we’ve got to actually practice them until they’re perfect, and then we have to produce an actual album. That takes studio time, and it’s expensive. Cheaper here than in L.A., but that’s like saying foie gras is cheaper in France.”
Lana smiled. Kala sometimes seemed like the impulsive one, but she had definite plans. “So you’re looking to rent a house, hmm? Need any help with that?”
“If you know a good realtor, that’d be awesome,” Kala replied. “We should be able to swing the security deposit and stuff. Besides, Mom and Dad would squawk if you financed us.”
“It’s only money,” Lana teased, but she understood. Clark and Lois didn’t want either of their kids overindulged. The money Lana had set aside in their trust funds was a resource that could serve them all their lives, if they tended it carefully. Learning to handle that money helped both of them be more responsible adults, just as not having access to the principal kept them from being tempted to blow it all.
“We’re good,” Kala assured her with an infectious grin.
Lana reached out and rumpled her hair at that. Such easy confidence was a joy to see in Kala especially, given how her sixteenth year had gone. Now if only things between her and Dustin would work out, then Lana could stop worrying.
“So where is everyone staying tonight?” she asked.
“We’ll get a hotel room for the guys, and Morgan, Sebast, and I are staying at home,” Kala replied.
That made Lana grin. She was never happier than when she could help someone else. “Well then, I’ll save you some trouble. We have a guest bedroom and a sleeper sofa here. Gentlemen, just let me call my husband and let him know, but I’m certain he’ll agree to it.”
“Aw, Mrs. White, you don’t have to,” Dustin began.
Lana cut him off, pointing the wooden spoon she’d stirred the sauce with toward him. “I could never show my face in Smallville again if I didn’t offer you three boys a place to stay, so don’t argue with me.”
“I’m starting to want to see this town,” Robb said.
“Me, too,” Ned added. “Sounds interesting.”
Kala laughed at that, her eyes sparkling. “Wait ‘til you meet my dad, then.”
After a thoroughly enjoyable lunch and a much-needed nap (on Lana’s sleeper sofa, because she was too Midwestern to let him or Dustin sleep in the master bed with Kala), Sebast called his parents’ house to let them know he was in town. “The van’s parked somewhere good and cheap, can you pick me up from the Whites’ place?” he asked.
His father muttered about it, but said he’d take care of it if Sebast took the subway out of the most congested part of town. Twenty minutes later he was standing at the agreed-up corner, suitcase in hand, feeling like a hitchhiker. Hopefully it would be Mami who came to pick him up. Papi would have too much to complain about, starting with Sebast’s hair—longer than it had been when he’d left—and his eyeliner, which was smudged as hell. Sooner or later he’d get around to Sebast’s fashion sense—“Why you dress like an undertaker, mijo?”—and his favorite topic of all: “When you gonna make an honest woman of that Kala, ay?”
On the one hand, his parents’ persistent denial of his gayness made his life easier. He didn’t get the lectures and the freakin’ Santeria intervention his one cousin had gotten. But it irritated the hell out of him, the way they ignored what was obvious to anyone with three functioning brain cells. He’d once made Kala snort soda out of her nose by saying that his father would still ask when he was going to marry her even if he had photographic evidence of that one time backstage with both of the male ballet dancers in their grade.
Luckily, it wasn’t his father who pulled up to the curb. Unluckily, Mikey was driving the sedan, with Mami riding shotgun. Zynthiana Vélez had a suspiciously wide-eyed look to her, and Sebast hesitated before throwing his bag in the back. “Oh, shit, you’re old enough to drive now?” he said.
“Yeah, got my learner’s permit,” Mikey said. “Get in, bro, we’ll take the long way home.”
“Bitch, please, I been on the road for six months. Take me to home food and a bed or I’ll cut you.”
“You watch your mouth, Sebastiáno!” his mother scolded.
He sighed. “Mami, why you let him drive?”
“He’s got to practice,” she replied. “You don’ want him to run into a bus or something, do you?”
“Like anybody can miss a damn bus. It’s not like a scooter, Mami. Why I gotta be the guinea pig anyway?” Still, he got in the car, shut the door, and buckled up.
“I missed you too,” Mikey laughed, and pulled back out into traffic with only the briefest of glances into his blind spot. Luckily the oncoming sedan was going slowly and braked to let him in, though the driver honked.
“Madre de Dios!” Zynthiana and Sebast yelped in unison. Mikey, of course, rapped out the rhythm to ‘Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits’ on his horn, and Zynthiana promptly slapped him on the ear. “Michael Antonio, don’t you ever do that again! You can get a ticket in Puerto Rico for that!” The notes had a much different meaning on the island, a very insulting one.
“Mami, we’re not in Puerto Rico!” Mikey protested, and she smacked him again for talking back.
Sebast couldn’t help it. He started laughing. Five minutes back with his family, and everything was perfectly normal and right with the world. “I never thought I’d say this, but I missed you loco people.”
“Watch who you’re calling loco, mano,” Mikey said. “I’m not the one wearing last night’s eyeliner.”
At that Zynthiana turned around for a better look, and frowned. “I swear I don’t know why she lets herself be seen in public with you.” She didn’t have to say who ‘she’ was; as far as the Vélez family was concerned, Sebast and Kala had been a couple for five years, whether they knew it or not.
“Because I let her borrow my eyeliner if she breaks hers?” Mikey, who knew better, laughed so hard he almost missed a red light, and threw all of them forward against their seat belts. “Oh, God, we’re all gonna die,” Sebast groaned.