Gotham City was never truly silent. But the Batman knew the textures of its quasi-silences and what each of them meant. Though he looked to be completely alone on the high metal lacework of the radio-tower, he wasn’t fooled. “I know you’re there.”
“I know you know.” Superman let himself drift into view, cape rippling lightly in the evening breeze. “How’ve you been?”
“What do you want?” Superman didn’t deserve that surly defensiveness; if anyone on the face of the Earth would drop by just to see how he was doing, it was him. But it was his habit as well as his nature to put his guard up when under threat, and on high alert Bruce’s defenses recognized no allies other than those he’d trained himself. Even they got a measure of acidic preemptive defense from time to time.
Clark, however, didn’t react to it. “I wanted to know how you were,” he said amiably.
A low bark of laughter from his throat startled Bruce minutely because he hadn’t known he was going to laugh. “I’m fine, Superman. You’ve got your own issues to handle. Let me take care of mine.”
The Kryptonian sighed. “Come on, Bruce. I know Black Canary’s in Star City. I also know Nightwing is laid up with four broken ribs.”
“I fought Killer Croc with broken ribs.” It wasn’t a boast; he hadn’t had a choice, having to win his way past Croc just to survive the night. He’d been coughing blood by the time he got home, but Bruce had lived. Mostly thanks to his own stubborn resolve; Alfred’s vast medical knowledge and first-aid training; and a cadre of doctors who surely believed he was the worst skier, surfer, and rock-climber ever to wander into a sports store.
“He also has sprains, strains, and contusions. You were the one who took him off the roster, Batman. Despite his insistence otherwise,” Clark pointed out.
He looked away to hide his smile. Dick had insisted he was fit to fight, but Bruce had had to overrule him. He tried as hard as he could not to repeat his more egregious mistakes, and letting his allies get hurt trying to push themselves as hard as he did was one of those. It had happened to Jay…
…a door slammed shut on that thought. Jason Todd was still a knife in Bruce’s heart, and the last thing he needed was for Clark to guess the run of his thoughts and try to play counselor. He had enough of that from Diana. In the end it had soured their relationship, but all his relationships failed eventually. Bruce had come to expect it. To have the companionship of women whom he admired so greatly for a little while, knowing he would lose them, was still worth it.
All he said to Superman was, “Do you have a point?”
“Not really. Just concerned. You know how worried you were about me when we found out about Ma?” He hovered there, arms folded.
“I was not worried about you. I was concerned by how the loss would affect your effectiveness and your demeanor. You’re a public figure, Superman, and that’s a burden not even I would willingly shoulder.” Bruce spoke with a stern edge to the words, still not quite meeting Clark’s gaze.
“You were worried,” Clark insisted. Stubborn farm-boy. Maybe it took that kind of tenacity to grow up in small-town Kansas. Clark’s optimism was more durable than his invulnerable skin.
Bruce didn’t respond, raising a hand to his ear as an interesting report crossed the police band. Another museum theft, one that should’ve been impossible to pull off, but this thief was either very well-trained, or had a natural gift for larceny. Perhaps both. “I have to take this,” he said, and dove off the tower.
Clark, of course, followed him. Bruce didn’t need the cameras built into his cowl to know Clark was shaking his head slightly. Well, irritating as it was to have someone utterly convinced that outside help was exactly what Gotham needed, even he had to admit that super-senses were occasionally useful at detecting clues at crime scenes.
Jason raced toward the forbidding dull-gray door. Kala was behind it, and she was in danger—the kind of danger only he could save her from. Not even Dad could do what he was about to do. Jason’s strength was the balance of having a foot in both worlds, Kryptonian enough to peel the metal door right out of its frame and human enough to survive the kryptonite radiation pulsing behind it.
The radiation Kala was being exposed to right now. Nausea, weakness, muscle aches, ringing ears, blurring vision, all of that and more. Jason grabbed confidently for lead-shielded steel, bracing himself for the moment that the kryptonite bit into him.
His hands slapped painfully against the door, and for half a second Jason was dumbfounded. His fingers should’ve sunk into the metal like it was clay, molding it into a handhold he could grab to rip away the whole door. He tried again, and again all he got was stinging palms.
His sister was behind that door, his snarky shower-singing Halloween-pajamas-in-June twin, Kala was dying on the other side, and Jason scrabbled at the door until he left bloody streaks on the impervious metal, screaming at her to hold on while somewhere Lex Luthor laughed at him…
…he woke with a startled jerk to see Kala’s concerned face right above him, and Jason reflexively grabbed her into a hug. She yelped in surprise, but hugged him right back, and for a long moment they just held each other. When they were little they’d always slept like that, curled up so close that Richard had joked about them combining like Voltron.
Finally Jason was awake enough that every corner of his mind believed she was real, that she was here and okay. He’d had his powers in Nevada, he’d saved his sister, everything was pretty much all right—other than not having his powers right now, but even that he was getting used to. Finally he could relax, and sigh, and let Kala sit up.
“Nightmare, huh?” she said, and when he nodded, Kala gave him a bittersweet smile. “Mine are back too. Must be the stress.”
Some things didn’t need discussion. “Yeah, must be. So what brings you creeping through my window at…” he glanced at the clock “…a quarter to eleven? Good thing my roomies aren’t in.”
Kala chuckled. “Like I wouldn’t check first, of course. I was hungry and lonely, so I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone.” She grabbed a bag off the nightstand and nudged him with it, spicy scents drifting up from within.
“Aww, so you brought me dinner? Thanks, Kala. I feel loved.” The fact that he had a class at six in the morning was irrelevant. Jason could sleep later; time with his twin was precious these days.
“Hey, I was going out for burritos anyway, and you know I really miss … my scaly nephew.” With that Kala stood up and went toward the iguana’s cage, laughing. Her silvery laugh was music to Jason’s ears, but he crumpled up a napkin and threw it at her anyway.
She had to turn on a light to wake Gazeera up enough to take him out of his cage without the lizard freaking out, and only then did Jason see her hair. His jaw dropped a little; that was the most drastic change yet. “Whoa! You went blue?!”
“Yeah. Isn’t it gorgeous?” Kala twirled around, making her ponytail spin out behind her.
Jason had to admit that it looked good. Kala’s hair had always had a hint of bluish highlights; she’d inherited their father’s indigo-black hair, while Jason had Lois’ hair that had been blonde when he was little, gradually darkening to the warm black it was these days. Now that she’d gone completely blue with a little purple, it really suited her—but she was his sister. “It’s pretty cool.”
Kala scoffed. “Sebast’s matches.”
Why wasn’t he surprised? Jason chuckled, and then something occurred to him. “So … how’re you gonna hide that if you have to fly in for something?”
She froze for a second in the middle of reaching into Gazeera’s cage. “Aw, shit.” The iguana crawled toward her hand, and Kala gave her shoulders a little shake as she picked him up, cradling the lizard to her chest. “Well, I usually only turn up where you’re in peril, and since you’re not active duty right now…”
“Kal, I might not be active duty ever again,” Jason said quietly.
Sitting down on the bed beside him, she petted Gazeera’s spines. “Don’t say that. We don’t know what could happen.”
“Yeah, and my powers not coming back is still a possibility. Which means it’ll be on you, one way or another.” Kala had always been the one who wanted the legacy. She still spoke better Kryptonese than he did.
“Didn’t we just have this discussion? Jase, I can’t. I can’t be a rockstar and a hero. And I’m not cut out for the hero gig anyway. There’s a reason Jor-El trained you instead of me.”
Part of him wanted to insist. Kala had this whole complex about not being good enough for the legacy. Before Nevada, she was intensely proud of their heritage, and Jason knew perfectly well what had changed. Her pride had played right into General Zod’s plans, and she’d come way too close to turning against her family.
At least, that was how it felt for her. Jason remembered that when Kala had seen them, actually seen both him and Dad fighting to save her, she’d snapped out of it pretty quick. And then put down one of Dad’s most dangerous enemies, even if she’d nearly died herself in doing so. She was no saint, he’d known that all their lives, but she wasn’t evil, either. Far from it. In his heart of hearts Jason really didn’t believe she had the potential to go dark in anything but her wardrobe.
Convincing Kala of that was another matter entirely, and he just didn’t have the energy at the moment. At least the burritos were tasty. He changed the subject, getting her talking about the band, and Kala filled him in on the details of the contract they were going over with a label. Of course she’d texted him the news, but now Kala could wax poetic in her excitement. “…And there’s going to be an actual album, one you can buy in just about any store, professionally produced and marketed. No more harassing visual art major friends from high school into designing our album covers. Although that first self-produced album is gonna be super collectable if we hit the big time, so I hope you kept your copy.” Her eyes flashed amusement.
“Of course I kept it!” Jason said, mock-wounded. “Jeez, Kala, I always need another drink coaster.”
“Ass,” she laughed, and swatted his shoulder lightly. That woke up Gazeera, and the iguana flicked his tail, clawing for a better grip on Kala’s shirt. She petted him soothingly. “Whoa, easy there, lean green salad-eatin’ machine. Go back to sleep, little lizard. Auntie Kala’s just beating up your dad.”
“I’m happy for you,” Jason told her, and meant it. Seeing Kala lose her taste for being the Last Princess of Krypton had broken his heart a little, but watching her achieve her other dream was sweet enough to make up for it.
“So am I,” she said, grinning. And then the smile faltered. “I just wish Dustin was around to see it.”
Jason sighed. In the beginning, he hadn’t wanted his best friend and his sister dating. It just seemed like a recipe for disaster, especially given the differences between Smallville and Metropolis. He’d thawed toward the idea after the Nick debacle, just glad Kala was with a guy her own age and someone Jason trusted. For a while it looked like they’d make it work, but it had fallen apart there at the end. He and Dustin had talked about it over Skype, and from what the other boy said, it had all come down to a basic incompatibility. Kala loved the city, she loved traveling and living like a gypsy on tours. Dustin loved the country, and he really loved living in the same town his great-grandparents had settled in. If either of them tried to change for the other, they’d just be unhappy.
“Trust me, he’s seeing it,” Jason told her. “He follows KLK on Facebook, y’know. And he’s always gonna be our friend. You haven’t lost him, Kal.”
Her sad little smile broke his heart. “Yeah, I haven’t but I have. Jase … I’m starting to think I’m not cut out for normal relationships.”
“Well yeah, abnormal as you are,” he teased, but she grinned half-heartedly.
“It’s not that. It’s just … things just don’t work out for me. Like Nick, there was a built-in time limit there, we both knew I wasn’t gonna follow him home and hang around while he goes through medical school. And Dustin, I should’ve known better, neither of us can live in each other’s worlds no matter how much we love each other. Alan was just a mistake.” She shrugged, laughing softly. “The most stable non-familial relationship in my life is my hetero-lifemate bromance with Sebast.”
Her phrasing struck him as funny. “Kala, you can’t be in a bromance. You’re a girl.”
Kala scoffed. “Don’t be sexist. Sebast thinks of me as his bro, therefore it’s a bromance. Speaking of Sebast, you wanna hear a sign of the end times?”
“Oh God, what now?” With Sebast, it could be anything.
Kala held both hands up. “Wait, wait, this is terrifying. So the coder and webmaster for our website is this cute Ecudoran guy named Javier. And Sebast is trying to be in a relationship with him.”
“Sebast? In a relationship?” Jason stared in disbelief. “I thought he was allergic to those.” They’d known Sebast since high school, and he had always preferred extremely short-term hookups. He’d always claimed that commitment wasn’t his style.
“So did I, but apparently he feels a connection with Javier. Maybe he’s just grown out of his groupie-seducing phase.” Kala shrugged one shoulder.
Jason could only shake his head. The whole world was topsy-turvy, it seemed, and Sebast dating was just one more symptom of it.
“Speaking of relationships, how’s the blonde bombshell?” Kala asked.
At her question, Jason realized with a guilty start that he hadn’t spoken to Cassie in … three days? “Oh, man, I should call her. Or text or IM or something. I … it’s really hard to get together, with the way things are right now.”
Kala crossed her arms—careful of the slumbering iguana—and arched a brow. She looked eerily like Mom when she did that. “Really? She can still fly. Just because you can’t do your Metropolis Jumping Bean impression right now doesn’t mean you two can’t see each other.”
“Yeah, but … she and Tim are running the Titans, and I can’t really talk about that kind of stuff with them anymore. When we do get together it’s mostly silent.”
“Uh, how much bullshit is that? Last I checked, didn’t you tell me the original Batgirl had to retire after an injury, and she’s still in the game?”
That was an oversimplification of Oracle’s situation, but the point held. Even more so, as a matter of fact. As Batgirl, Babs had kicked a lot of butt in Gotham City, and saved a lot of people. As Oracle, she’d trained young heroes, saved even more people around the world, and still managed to kick some butt every now and then.
So why hadn’t Jason thought of that until now? He hung his head miserably.
“Just because you can’t throw a truck at a bad guy doesn’t mean you have to quit. You’re more than your powers, Dopey. See, this is why I’m the brains and you’re the brawn.”
That wounded his pride a little. “Hey! Who’s going to college? For astrophysics, mind you, at Johns Freaking Hopkins, too?!”
Kala snorted, and Gazeera lashed his tail sleepily. “Yeah, the same guy who’s sitting here navel-gazing and neglecting his hot babe of a girlfriend as well as his caped alter-ego just because he thinks he’s not a real boy without the ability to catch bullets with his face. Sure, Lizardboy, you’re the smart one.”
Jason cuffed at her amiably, Kala ducked, and Gazeera hissed at them both. “All right, all right, you win. Let’s quit before we give Gazeera a heart attack.”
“It’s nice to hear you admit it. Isn’t it, Ignatius? Isn’t your daddy a silly boy? Yes he is.” She crooned to the iguana, rubbing his chin with a fingertip, and the lizard clung to her shirt with his eyes closed.