Time and Tide (1/5)
a Justice League Unlimited / Batman Beyond story
by Merlin Missy
DC and Warner Brothers own everything. With deepest thanks to my lovely betas Dotfic and Amilyn who punched this into shape, and also to BillA1 and Ladyknyght who served as sounding boards throughout the process.
Summary: How far would you go to see someone just one last time?
Notes: This is yet another story set in the wacky R 'Verse (see my profile), and while familiarity with that series is suggested, it's not required. Takes place somewhere between "To Another Shore" and "Flash and Substance" in JLU continuity.
Warnings: Character death
Pairings: Yes. Lots. However, this is primarily gen.
Sunlight, warm on his eyelids, woke him from a dream he immediately forgot.
Groaning slightly, John rolled over to hide his face away from the sun just a little longer, sleep in just a little more. Any minute, Shayera would come into the room and fuss at him to get up, teasing him about sleeping away the rest of his life. He'd continue to groan, telling her he was old enough to sleep as long as he damn well pleased.
Then she'd bring some coffee in, and she'd threaten to dump it on his head. Fortunately for John, in the last thirty years she'd only done that once. Far more often, the coffee would end up going cold as he pulled her back into bed and they greeted the day properly.
Come to think of it, Shayera was overdue for their morning ritual. Possibly she'd gotten distracted by the newsreel, possibly she was on the phone --- they could call it whatever they wanted, but to John, it was always would be a telephone, no matter how much Shayera teased him --- getting caught up on the latest events back on Earth. Arthur was on summer vacation between third and fourth grades, and would call every day out of boredom if his parents hadn't put a quick stop to that. But John hadn't heard the familiar buzzing, and anyway, he didn't know what time it was in Metropolis. Also, he couldn't hear Shayera's voice elsewhere in the house.
Stretching, John brushed against Shayera's wing, and a smile touched his lips.
And then there were the rare and lovely mornings she slept in even later than he did, and he could wake her up with kisses, nuzzling her neck until she woke laughing or scowling, whatever her mood.
He slipped his fingers over the feathers of her near wing, brushing against her face.
"Hey," he said quietly, stroking her soft cheek. Not even looking, he knew the pattern of fine wrinkles around her mouth and eyes like a map.
She didn't respond. He rolled over, slipping his hand down to her neck and tickling lightly. Still nothing. She was sleeping deeply this morning.
John frowned. Shayera never slept this soundly unless she'd been knocked out, and she hadn't been in a fight in years.
"Shayera?" Not a motion, even as he started to shake her. "Shayera!"
Arthur listened. He was very good at listening, at being quiet, at not being noticed. He practiced at it. He'd learned a long time ago that people with secrets, like his parents and the rest of the League, were more likely to relax and talk about grownup things when they'd forgotten he was in the room.
If there was ever a competition for sitting still and paying close attention to conversations, the judges wouldn't even notice Arthur had shown up.
This is Arthur: an inch or two shorter than the average nine year old boy; skinny but with a large enough bone structure to suggest that adolescence would bring an easy hundred pounds of muscle; short blond hair with what the casual observer will wrongly assume are not green highlights; in his hands or near them, always a book; this was not to continue his own education per se, but to add to his unobtrusive eavesdropping.
Today his book of choice was on Greek mythology. Cassie had insisted. It was her book, and she'd written lots of notes in the margins saying things like: This is completely wrong, and She has much better taste than that. Arthur liked the notes, but he'd stopped reading an hour ago.
Nana was dead.
The thought grabbed and shook him like a dog with a rag in its mouth. It was summer, and he and Dad always spent a week in the summer visiting his grandparents on the second moon of Galtos, hiking and camping and staying up way late, and they were supposed to go next month and now Nana was dead and Dad was going alone, tonight.
"We should go with you," said Mom.
"We should all go," said Superman. "I'll call Diana. She can be here in less than an hour. I'm sure Static will want to come, too."
"No," said Arthur's dad. He wasn't crying, and Arthur watched his face very carefully, trying to make his own face screw up that way. Arthur didn't want to cry either. Nine was too old to cry. "It's got to be just me and Dad."
"Are you returning her to Thanagar, then?" asked Barda.
Dad nodded. "And the fewer people we take, the less we look like an invading army. Especially with you guys," he added.
Superman returned his not-quite smile. "All right. You know to give John our best. If he needs anything ... "
"Yeah," said Dad.
"I want to go," Arthur said. Everyone looked at him, sitting in his corner with his closed book. Only Mom didn't seem surprised to see him there.
"We already decided," said Dad. "I want you there too," he said, when Arthur frowned. "But it's not safe. We're not sure what kind of reception we're going to get, and I gotta watch out for your granddad already."
"I can be good," Arthur said, getting to his feet as Dad came over.
"I know you can." Arthur was afraid Dad was going to get down on his knees, like he used to when Arthur was a little kid, but instead he just placed a strong hand on Arthur's shoulder. "I need to you take care of your Mom while I'm gone. Can you do that?"
Arthur didn't miss his mother's eyeroll; he was too old for that kind of talk, too. But he nodded because he knew he wasn't going to win, and he ducked out from under the hand to stand closer to his Mom.
His parents talked with Superman, who did call Aunt Diana just to let her know what had happened. Barda left the room to get a regular line to call Static, who'd retired last year.
Nana had had a lot of friends. Which was weird, because Dad had once told Arthur the story of why a lot of people didn't like her very much.
Mom and Dad went to grab some of the spare clothes Dad kept at the Tower, and Arthur went back to pretending to read. Cassie would be in later and she'd ask him what he'd learned and he wouldn't be able to tell her anything. He flipped to the story of how Poseidon made the first horse and left the book open to that page while he listened.
Aunt Diana wasn't crying. She wore that same pinched look Arthur remembered from Micron's mother's funeral, when she'd come in disguise with the rest of them.
"You're sure this time?" was all she asked Superman.
He told her back: "Lucky Seven, down to four." More quietly, he said, "I'll bet you Wayne Manor we're down to three come this time next year."
"Not a bet I want to make. How's he taking it?"
"Warhawk was the only one who talked to him. I think ... " Superman's voice went all weird, and Arthur made himself look at Cassie's loopy handwriting: Clearly lacking any understanding of evolutionary principles.
"I know what he's going through," said Superman.
"So do I," said Aunt Diana, and Arthur snuck a look to her face on the viewscreen, watched her wipe something from her eyes. "Have you contacted J'onn yet?"
"No. Warhawk's about to leave. I'll try to reach him after that."
"Tell him I said hello. If you talk to John, send him my love."
Superman nodded, and they said their good-byes as Arthur's parents came back to the Control Room. Dad had a small bag in one hand, and held Mom's hand with the other. Arthur figured they'd already said good-bye while Dad packed. This guess was reinforced when they dropped hands and Mom stepped away from him instead of kissing him. They weren't big on showing affection in the Tower, not in front of everybody else.
Barda opened a boom tube to Galtos for Dad. They'd take the small ship Poppa and Nana owned for the trip to Thanagar itself. Dad waved, did not embarrass Arthur by ruffling his hair, and he was gone.
Only when the tube faded from view did Arthur realize no one had said anything about how long it would be until he came back.
The boom tube deposited him in the barren, rocky expanse that passed for his parents' backyard. The weird wind effects died down, and Rex stood alone for a moment, dreading everything that was to come.
Then he walked around to the front and knocked.
Dad answered it a minute later. Rex tried not to stare, but in the hour since he'd received the call, his Dad seemed to have aged ten years. Dad stepped aside and let him come in.
"You can put your things in the guest room," was the first thing Dad said, his voice quiet and thick.
Rex dropped his bag to the floor and drew his father into a hug. Dad hugged him back, not crying, not shaking, just perfectly still except for his arms. Rex couldn't count the number of times his father had hugged or comforted him when Rex was a boy. Now he could be the rock in return.
They moved to the couch, where Rex pretended not to see as Dad wiped his eyes.
"What did the doctor say?" Rex asked at last.
Dad shrugged. "Doctors," he said dismissively.
"She didn't know. An aneurysm maybe, she said. Nobody outside of Thanagar knows much about Thanagarians. Your mom was fine. She wasn't sick." Dad rubbed the back of his own neck absently. "She just ... didn't wake up."
Rex nodded. His own genetics were a time bomb waiting to go off and always had been. Mom had never cared much about Thanagarian medicine other than what it took to set a bone. The only time she'd allowed herself to come under a doctor's care was when she'd been pregnant.
"Where's the funeral home?"
"Couple of light years away." Dad sighed. "There isn't an industry here. People die, they get buried the next day."
A weird horror filled him. "So she's ... "
Dad tilted his head towards his bedroom.
"I've already called for the transport to where they do ... " He took a gulp of air. "There's a place that does cremations. They'll be here in an hour." He took Rex's hand, patted it. "Go see her. Go talk to her."
And then, he really really didn't want to. He wanted to call up another tube and go back to Earth and go to his own house and run to his own bed and hide. Anything but go into what had been his folks' bedroom for over twenty years and see the thing on the bed that had once been his mother.
But Rex hadn't become a superhero from avoiding things he didn't want to do.
He squeezed his father's hand, and walked the three hundred miles down the hallway. The door was ajar. He pushed it open, expecting a creak and not hearing one.
His mother lay on the bed above the covers, wearing a nice teal dress she'd always liked.
She'd been asleep. Which meant that after the doctor had left and before Rex had come, his father all alone had moved her and dressed her for transport to where someone who'd never met her would render her body to ash.
Rex stroked the hair from her face, smoothed down a few stray feathers from where she lay uncomfortably on her back.
He tried to think of something to say, anything. Thank her for everything she'd given him. Tell her how much he loved her.
All that would come out was, "Sorry."
Terry slid the Batwing in to a reasonably perfect landing in the Metro Tower's landing bay. He killed the engine, but before he opened the roof, he turned back to face his brightly-clad passenger.
"What's the rule?"
"I know the rule."
"Humor me. What's the rule?"
An aggravated sigh. "'Don't touch anything.'"
"Don't forget." He flipped the switch and the roof slid open. He unbuckled himself, then reached back.
"I can get it," said Robin. And with a click, the second belt came free. Terry leapt out of the Batwing, then offered Robin a hand. He heard a soft giggle, and suddenly his arms were full of kid. He should have known.
"Please don't do that in front of the others. I have a reputation, you know." Since the landing bay was empty, he let himself tousle Robin's dark hair.
"Do I have to call you 'Batman' while we're here?" Robin was already looking around curiously, trying to see everything. This was the first time Terry had dared bring anyone to the Tower. He'd tried to keep his life and his League activities separate; it didn't always work out that way, but he'd made an effort.
"Let me see who's here today. If it's just the people we know, no."
Robin toyed with the black domino mask Terry had insisted on, and asked, "When can I take this off?"
"When I know it's safe."
"Arthur doesn't wear a mask when he's here, does he?"
Terry didn't reply. Instead he took Robin's hand. "Through here." They walked down the corridor to Ops. As the door slid open, Robin gasped, just a little. Terry still remembered the first time he'd walked into this room, met these people. He'd been the newcomer, the stranger, and he'd maintained that distance when he could.
Green Lantern nodded at him from where he stood at the control panel. When Terry had first joined the League, Kai-Ro had been just eight years old. Robin's age. Now he was the leader of the team, as much as they had a leader. GL gave a special smile to Robin. "You didn't say you were bringing a guest."
"Aquawoman suggested it." He squeezed Robin's hand and then let go. "Is there anyone here we don't know?"
"Yes!" said Robin. "Now can I take it off?"
"Fine. But keep it in your pocket in case there's trouble."
"Okay." The domino mask was off in a flash and tucked away. "Where's Arthur?"
"In his quarters, I believe," said GL.
The door slid open, and Terry instinctively put himself in front of Robin, but it was only Cassandra. "Hello, Batman. Oh, hello there!" she said pleasantly to Robin.
Robin immediately went shy, ducking behind Terry even more. "Hi." Robin was always a little intimidated around Cassie, though.
"Come on, kiddo. I'll take you up to Arthur's room."
Cassie waved as they left. GL kept his smile. Terry tried not to grouse as he led Robin to the elevator. At least Flash wasn't on duty today like he'd feared. He didn't know Terry's secret identity, and as long as the guy kept cracking jokes and almost getting other people killed, he wasn't going to if Terry could help it.
He was having second thoughts about this anyway. Merina and Warhawk had a house in Detroit. It'd be easy to go there in normal clothes and not have to worry about who saw what or made which connections. But Warhawk was off-world burying his mother, and Merina had Arthur at the Tower this week. Robin attended the same private school Arthur did, though they were in different grades and it was summer break. And somehow Merina had convinced Terry that a playdate made perfect sense.
"What's the rule?" he asked again as they approached Arthur's door. Once upon a time, this had been Merina's quarters, and Terry had asked her out because he'd been young and unsure of where things were going with Dana or with his entire life, and he'd been in her room and sometimes he remembered everything like it had been last week.
Robin looked up at him and squeezed his hand. "'Don't touch anything.' But I can play with Arthur's stuff, right?"
"That's up to him." He buzzed the door, and a moment later, it slid open.
Arthur sat on his bed, reading. Terry tried not to pay attention as Arthur wiped his eyes quickly, then said, "Hi, Batman. Hi, Robin."
"Be good," he told Robin. "If you guys need anything, I'll be in Ops."
"Okay," said both at the same time.
"Bye, Daddy," said Robin, and she went inside Arthur's room to play.
Arthur marked his place with a purple bookmark while Robin poked around his room looking at the toys he kept here.
"What're you reading?" she asked while he put his book away.
"Egyptian mythology." Nana had left books the last time she'd visited, and it seemed right to read those while he waited for Dad to come home.
"Boring." She picked up one of his airplanes and started to zoom it back and forth.
"It's not that bad." Nana had made notes in this book just like Cassie did in hers, and sometimes he paused his reading to trace his fingers over the letters. Most of the comments seemed to be to herself in a private code, some in English, some in Thanagarian: Wrong era, per C. Arthur could speak a little Thanagarian but he didn't know how to read it yet. Nana promised to teach him when he was bigger.
Everything hurt again, and he sat down.
"Mom's making me do a book report over the summer," said Robin, and she made whooshing noises with the plane. "Hey, do you have the Schway Sailors?"
"Not here. They're at home."
"Oh. You don't have a lot of toys here."
Arthur shrugged and looked around his room. "It's summer. I'm supposed to be home."
Robin put the plane down. "Sorry about your Grandma."
"Is your Granddad gonna come live with you?"
"Maybe." Arthur tried to picture Poppa living in the house with them, and failed. "We've got a room."
"My Grandma has her own wing."
"That's 'cause you live in a mansion." Arthur had been to Robin's house lots. They weren't allowed to play in the Batcave or the kitchen, but the rest of the house and the grounds were more than enough for them to explore. "I don't think Poppa wants to come live with us."
They descended into silence. Robin picked up toys and looked at them and set them down almost in the same spots where she'd picked them up. Arthur resisted the urge to follow her and put them back exactly.
"Do you have any games?"
"There's games in the Rec Room. Bunch of old video games. And there's this really old fighting robots game that Superman likes to play."
"Mom says I'm not allowed to play with antiques."
"I play with it. It's fine." He hopped off his bed. It was stuffy in here anyway. "Let's go."
Merina changed on the way to the Metro Tower, ducking into one of several spots she used for the purpose. Off went the frumpy clothes she wore in her day job at the Metropolis Aquarium, on went her normal costume. People who'd ignored her on the first part of her commute now went out of their way to smile and wave. She found a smile back for each of them, trained by years of diplomatic work as much as affection.
She swiped her ID at the Tower's main entrance and made her way to Ops. "Where are the kids?"
"Arthur's room," said Terry.
She debated going in to say hi to them, and decided against it. Arthur was on the cusp of a curious age, caught between the desire to spend time with his parents and the desire to spend time with his peers. Come another two years, he wouldn't anything to do with her at all, and she'd lose him for a decade at least. If she pushed now, that would happen even faster.
"How's the day been?" she asked Kai.
"Quiet. No major villain activity detected."
"Any ... other news?" She felt stupid for asking, stupider for feeling embarrassed about it.
Cassie was either the least embarrassed or didn't know she should be. "Warhawk hasn't checked in."
"Okay. Okay, thanks." She turned to one of the stations to look over the daily reports anyway. Terry was next to her, but was kind enough not to look at her.
He'd contact her when he could. They might be in orbit around Thanagar by now. Not a good time to call. Not when it was possible they'd get shot out of the sky, or executed on the ground for any one of a hundred reasons.
When she felt her nails prick her palms, she relaxed her hand.
"I'm going to go check on the kids."
The afternoon shift wasn't set to end for another hour, and she could pick up anything she needed to know then. And Arthur could just deal with his mother being in the room with him. Yes.
"I'll go with you," said Terry, and then he was beside her.
In the elevator, he rested against the wall. "I'm sure Warhawk is fine."
"Yeah," she said, not looking at him.
"Look, Merina ... "
He let out a breath. "Tired. Work's been hard and Robin's running her ragged."
"She needs her rest."
"I keep telling her that. But she knows she's going to be home for months after the baby comes, and she wants to get everything set before then."
Merina smiled sadly. She'd been acting Queen of Atlantis when she'd been pregnant, and rest had been something that had happened to other people.
The elevator stopped and they went to Arthur's room. It was, as she'd half-suspected, empty.
"Rec room?" asked Terry.
A few minutes later, they found Arthur and Robin playing video games, with a purloined snack of potato chips and ginger ale between them. Merina scolded them for eating before dinner, then went blank as Terry asked what they were going to feed the kids.
Twenty minutes and a bit of swearing later, Terry managed to slightly burn a few pizzas. They called GL and Cassie down to the mess and had dinner together while the monitors kept silent watch over the world. Micron showed up for the evening shift, took one look at the pizza, and politely said he was full.
After, when GL had returned to his quarters and Cassie had gone out for the evening, to where she didn't say, Merina sat alone in Ops while Micron worked on the transceivers and Terry cleaned up the dinner dishes with help from the kids. This was her life and she was used to it and she loved it, loved this place and these people.
Merina listened to the world.
Staccato police bulletins fed through their system, notices from world governments that everything was fine or that things needed monitoring or that their neighbors were grumbling again. Nothing out of the ordinary.
When she felt the first tears prick her eyes, she wiped them away with the back of her hand.
The door whooshed open and she sat up straight as Terry walked in, smelling faintly of dish soap. His expressions were always so hard to read when he wore the mask, even though she was accustomed to looking for them.
"Why don't you go for a swim? Clear your head."
"I will later, I think. After Arthur goes to bed."
They watched the world together. Merina hated to admit it, but she felt better around him, just a little. She had performed a ritual farewell to Shayera's spirit and then placed her grief aside, knowing she would deal with it properly when Rex returned, but her fears gnawed at her relentlessly.
Batman chased away fear.
She knew on a few levels that she'd asked him to take this shift with her as much to have him nearby as to have the playdate for the kids. She told herself that wasn't as much of a problem as it could be.
Micron came back to Ops and just to tease Terry, she started conversing with him in French. Micron had taught her the language back when she'd first come ashore; she'd been so fascinated about everything in the air and sunlight, and she drank the cultures and languages like wine. Micron had even taken her, Rex, and Kai-Ro on a tour of Paris one bright weekend when she'd been seventeen. Kai had been brand new to the League and Rex still a part-timer because he was finishing high school. He'd been so awkward back then and she'd teased him awfully, which had embarrassed him and made it worse.
Her voice died in her throat.
"Qu'est-ce que c'est?"
"Il n'est rien," she managed. She turned to Terry, who'd been sitting at his station growing irritated. "Will you bring Robin by tomorrow? To play with Arthur?"
"Sure." He closed his screen. "She needs to get to bed. I'm going to take her home now if you two have things covered here."
"Good night," Micron said.
Merina watched Batman go, and said nothing more until the Batwing had cleared the landing bay and was on its way back to Gotham.
"Animal Girl is a stupid name." Arthur glared at Robin.
They'd spent the morning swimming in the tank. She needed breathing gear to play under the surface for any real time, but the grownups had said no, so they'd only filled it part-way and splashed until Arthur got bored. He wasn't allowed to play with the training settings, but he was used to swimming the obstacle course, staying under for hours. Now they were playing Supers.
"It's not any stupider than Duckboy."
"Whatever. I like animals." She glared right back. She'd brought her mask and put it back on to play, but it was tilted on her face and looked weird.
"But you don't have any animal powers. You don't have any powers."
"I'm pretending I do. I'm pretending animals can hear me when I talk to them." Robin had brought her favorite stuffed toy dog, and petted it. "Anyway, it's better than your powers. My daddy says you make toilets explode and talk to fish."
"I haven't exploded a toilet in two years." Arthur kicked the floor. He was getting lots better with his powers, really. Mom made him practice, and said she was going to let him come to work with her a little bit this summer so he could talk to the animals at the Aquarium.
"Animal Girl," Robin said again, and Arthur sighed loudly.
"Fine. But I get the good lasers."
All the kids at their school played Supers sometimes, except the kids who were too cool to admit they liked the JLU. Arthur usually didn't play much because Mom and Dad had drilled it into his head that the first word of secret identity was "secret." But he'd always played in his head, pretending he was going out on League missions with them. Sometimes when he sat quietly in Ops pretending to read, he imagined himself in battles, saving people, saving the world. He hadn't told his parents, but he'd already decided his League name was going to be Waterbird.
"All right, Animal Girl," he said, making his voice deeper. "There's trouble in Central City."
"Inque's robbing a bank," said Robin.
"Inque's a Gotham crook."
"Gotham crooks are small-time."
"They are not. Gotham crooks are mean. Anyway, I work out of Gotham," she said with pride.
"Fine. But she's gotta have someone with her. Parasite?"
Arthur grinned. "Okay, Inque and Vandal Savage are in Central City. Flash just called for help."
"We're on our way."
Rex piloted the ship back towards Galtos. He'd been flying — ships anyway — since he was eleven. This was a milk run, and he flirted with just letting the autopilot take them the rest of the way. Dad was lying down in the back, and Rex could flick the "Auto" switch and go talk with him.
He kept flying.
Rex had had barely an hour between first seeing his mother's body and waiting outside as it was rendered to ash. Her wishes. If they couldn't make it down to Thanagar itself for any reason, she wanted her ashes spread in space to orbit the planet.
The Thanagarian authorities, or to be more precise the Gordanian authorities, had no objections, and so the two of them had interred her with the remains of her ancestors. Rex's ancestors, too, although for all the Thanagarian he spoke, their names were strangers to him. A bare thimbleful of ash remained on Galtos in a glass vial and would be mingled with his Dad's when the time came; there was a nice spot in the garden outside the Metro Tower Dad had already picked.
The grief hadn't set in.
He expected it to hit any time. Rex had thought he'd break down and just let go, maybe during the walk to the mausoleum, maybe as he stood back and let Dad whisper to the small box as his shaking hands set it into place. So far, nothing. Not yet. Only a vague sadness, and the nibble of guilt that he was a touch relieved that it had been his mother to go first and not his father.
He flipped the "Auto" switch suddenly, violently.
In the back, Dad lay with his arms under his head, staring up at the ceiling.
"Thought you were sleeping," Rex said.
"Thought I was going to."
Rex sat down in the seat opposite. "We'll arrive in about twelve hours. Got a deck of cards in here someplace?"
"Used to. Check in the storage cabinet."
Rex got up and went to look. He'd been kidding about the cards, but he'd take what he could get to pass the time. The storage cabinet held rations, rope, a spare radio, a few bottles of water, fire-making tools, and sure enough, a battered, standard 52 card deck. He pulled them out of the box and started shuffling.
"What do you want to play?"
"I don't," said Dad.
Rex kind of nodded, and just continued shuffling. It was something to do with his hands.
"I think you should come back to Earth."
"I'll come visit after I wrap up things."
"I don't mean to visit. Come back home. Come live with us." Rex didn't look at him, instead focusing on the cards flickering back and forth in his fingers. "We fixed up the guest room since the last time you visited."
"I have my own house."
"It's light years away." Rex sighed. "Mom's gone. You don't have to live off-world anymore."
"We're done talking about this." Dad rolled over on his side away from Rex.
"You have to travel through a boom tube or hyperspace to visit your doctor. You only get to see your grandson twice a year. And you're the only human within five light years of your home address."
"I've spent half my life in space."
"And you spent the other half living within a ten block radius of my house."
"Your house. Not mine."
"It could be yours, too. You can help Merina decorate." They'd bought the place five years ago, but with their schedules, they had yet to put up so much as a single picture, except the things Arthur drew for the fridge. "And if you were there, Arthur could stay with you instead of spending so much time at the Watchtower."
Dad didn't turn his head as he said, "Because we all know how kids turn out when they spend too much time at the Watchtower."
"Just think about it?"
"I did my thinking. Not gonna happen."
"Any other reason than because you're stubborn and old?"
Dad didn't respond. Rex had expected the usual comeback since he made that jibe pretty often. Maybe it reminded Dad too much of Mom. Mom had always said she was just stubborn, and that Dad was the old one.
Not for the first time, Rex wondered how old she really was. The time change between Earth and Thanagar was a little weird to begin with, Mom had told him enough stories to make him think she was older than she looked even when she'd looked young, and then there was a thirty-odd year time jump to factor into the mess. Mom had never said how old she was and she refused to celebrate a birthday. Now he'd never know for sure.
"I'll make a deal with you," Dad said eventually. "You and Merina get married, and I'll come live there with you."
Rex stood up. "I gotta go check the autopilot." His father didn't make any kind of acknowledgment as he went.
Back up front, the ship cruised along fine on its own, just as he'd known it would. He didn't feel like staying and arguing about things neither of them could change. Dad knew what the deal was, knew enough about Atlantean politics to understand why Merina couldn't divorce Arthur's father.
Rex didn't doubt for a moment that Dad loved Merina and Arthur like family. Anyone who asked, and even people who didn't, got an earful about the latest accomplishments of his grandson. He'd never been less than kind to Merina, and never wasted a chance to tell her stories about her own father, which she in turn never tired of hearing. Dad didn't approve of their arrangement, but he understood it. He'd also made it clear, though not when either Merina or Arthur was anywhere within earshot, that should Arthur's father meet with some kind of unfortunate accident ("God forbid, and don't get any ideas!") he expected to hear that the two of them had cornered a justice of the peace the next day.
Considering how long it had taken Dad and Mom to get married after Rex's own birth, Rex had made it clear right back that "Do as I say and not as I do" hadn't worked on him since he was younger than Arthur. To which Dad had his own reply, but at that point they tended to drop the subject because Mom would interrupt with something.
Mom wouldn't be interrupting ever again.
It was probably for the best that they weren't living under one roof after all.
Waterbird and Animal Girl split up in level two, Animal Girl in search of provisions (she liked cheese crackers, Arthur wanted more chips) and Waterbird in search of something cool to add to their pretend weaponry besides his Super Samurai light up pistolasers.
The Trophy Room was locked. Arthur paused at the door. He was allowed in here, but he'd never been alone, and there was a passcode to unlock the door. Dad had brought him in plenty of times, and the code never changed, and Arthur always watched when he did it, but that didn't mean he was supposed to.
He typed in the code and went inside. He was on an adventure, and anyway, he wasn't going to touch anything.
The more dangerous weapons were locked up tight so most items were there for display only. Dad brought him here to show him the Thanagarian weapons confiscated during the invasion. The collection was smaller than it had been; Dad had taken many of the duplicate weapons and used the Nth metal in some experimental alloys, for shielding and for new weaponry. There was even Nth metal in the construction of Dad's armor, but only a few people knew that.
Arthur wondered if they would put Nana's mace here in the trophy room, if Dad was going to bring it back with him, or if Poppa was keeping it.
He read the little cards by each piece: Metal scrap from Annihilator, Chronos Belt, Brainiac remains – inactive. So much stuff, all of it fascinating. He forgot about the game and instead imagined what each thing was used for. Some bad guy's toy, or some hero's last-ditch chance at a rescue?
He was Waterbird, leader of the JLU, and the only way to save the rest of the team was to use ... He looked over to the nearest trophy. Circe's girdle! Of course! He reminded himself to look up "girdle" later.
"Take that, Vandal Savage!" Imaginary Vandal Savage clutched his chest and fell to the ground, defeated.
"You missed," said Robin from the doorway.
"Sh!" he told her.
"You're the one yelling." She set down the snacks. "I though were weren't supposed to be in here."
"I'm allowed," he said. It was only kind of a lie.
"What's this?" Robin poked at a belt. It started to light up, and they both stepped back.
"Don't touch things!"
"I was just looking!"
A weird shimmery glow filled the space where they'd been standing, and then images appeared in front of them. An empty corridor, daylit.
"It's a TV," said Robin.
"It can't be a TV. It's a belt."
"But it's like one of the monitors. See? There are people walking. Do you think it's a security camera or something?"
"Weird place to keep one," said Arthur, getting a little closer to see. There were indeed two figures walking towards the screen, whatever it was.
Robin frowned. "Isn't that a Thanagarian?" she whispered, as though they might hear her.
Arthur's stomach did a flip. He's seen lots of old pictures and newsreels. Mom had taken out the photo album last night and shown him, and he recognized everything about her, even her costume. "That's Nana. And I think the other guy," they walked closer and he was certain, "that's my grandfather."
"He doesn't look like your granddad."
"My other grandfather. The one I'm named after." Mom had shown him pictures of her father: the long golden hair, the fierce hook, the irritated expression.
"Are they fighting?"
"No, I think they both always just looked that way."
Robin peeked back over at the belt. "What is this thing, anyway? A recorder?"
"I guess." He watched them walk, talking about something he couldn't hear. Just like two normal people. But his grandfather had been dead since Mom had been a little girl, and Nana was gone forever.
The alert klaxon bellowed, and the last thought he had that it might be a window to somewhere else was dashed when the two figures in the belt didn't notice at all.
"C'mon," said Robin, slapping the button on the belt again. The images winked out of sight.
Arthur let Robin grab his hand and lead him out of the room. They ran to Ops, where GL was already pulling up the images of an attack by Shriek and his flunkies in central Gotham. Batman called in to say he could handle it alone, a claim immediately made false by the Batwing blowing up. Arthur was pretty sure Batman had ejected first. Robin's hand twitched in his, and he gave her a little squeeze. Her mouth went all tight and unhappy until Batman radioed to say he was all right.
"I'm already on my way," said Mom over the speakers. She'd been out near Gotham on an earlier mission anyway.
"We're going as backup," Lantern announced. Then he frowned. "Aquawoman, please return to the Tower at once. Someone has to watch the children."
"We can stay by ourselves," Arthur said.
"I doubt that," said Lantern.
Arthur screwed up his face in his best glare. "We're both older than you were when you joined the League."
"Just let them," said Flash impatiently. "They'll be good. Right, Artie?"
Lantern sighed, but Arthur knew there wasn't time. "Fine. Stay in your quarters and don't touch anything."
"Let's go," said Barda, and the three were off.
They always kept the ship docked at the local landing port when it wasn't in use.
Dad told the three-headed harbor master on duty that he'd brought the ship back, waited as the rental agreement was checked and rechecked, and was given the go-ahead to leave. They caught a transport back to the major crossroads nearest the house and walked the rest of the way.
Considering everything, and Rex still wasn't ready to consider everything, Dad was in a decent mood. Discharging his duty to Rex's mother had given him a small measure of peace, but Rex wasn't fooled. Come another few days, the house would be echoing and empty and Rex would be back on Earth and Mom would be gone for good, and Dad wouldn't be able to handle it, not this time.
Maybe Dad recognized that, too. The house came into view, and he stopped. Rex paused beside him. "You know," he said, "we could take a break, rest our feet. Wouldn't be a bad idea."
"Just for a minute," his father said, and there were some rocks large enough to act like decent seats. It was getting on towards evening, and Rex watched his own tall shadow stretch out beside and past his father. "Your mom wasn't one much for sunsets."
"I've seen them on plenty of planets. Kalinor had some great sunsets. Oa's are never as pretty as I think they ought to be." Dad laughed a little. "Saw one on Mogo once. That was ... " He stopped.
"I can help you get the house packed up," Rex said. "I know it'll take a while, but we don't have a lot of stuff in our place yet and I think what you've got will fit in fine."
Truth be told, it wouldn't but then, the stuff they had didn't really fit either. Merina's possessions were and always had been the colors of the sea: greens and blues and almost blacks and corals and bone whites. Rex's things were simple, cheap browns, thin leathers and battered, chipped woods. Hers spoke of a life alien to the surface world, his of an existence disguising half his nature. Their life together had always been about blending worlds that barely touched. Arthur was their great experiment, just as Rex secretly believed he himself had been his parents' experiment. It was at least better than admitting he was their accident.
"Go home, Rex," said his dad without looking at him.
"Come with me."
He closed his eyes. He wasn't going to win this one. "All right. If you're ready, we should get back to your place before dark."
"Yeah," said Dad, who stood up. "You'll want to set up the boom tube while there's a little light still out." And without looking back at Rex, he started to walk back towards his home.
Staying in Arthur's room lasted about an hour. Not that Arthur didn't have okay toys, but Robin was bored again. They couldn't play Supers in his room, and she didn't want to play anymore anyway.
"We could go to the Rec room again," she said, fiddling with the arms on one of his action figures.
"We're supposed to stay here."
"We won't be doing anything bad. Anyway, I thought you were allowed everywhere."
Arthur scowled at her. "If we're not good when we're here alone, they'll never let me be here alone again. You don't care because you don't live here."
"You shouldn't live here, either. Nobody else's kids do."
"Dad did when he was little. GL was a kid when he started in the League."
"Your dad had to because your grandma has wings." She saw the hurt look on Arthur's face and felt bad. "Sorry."
"It's okay," he said. He hadn't talked about her. Daddy had told her that Arthur was going to be sad for a while and would probably want to talk about his Nana, because sometimes that made it better. But he hadn't said anything, though Robin had seen him rubbing his eyes like he was trying not to cry.
"Hey," said Robin. "You wanna go look at her and your granddad again?"
Arthur bit his lip. "Okay. But just for a minute."
The trophy room was as dark as they'd left it. They went over to the display where the belt was, and Robin looked at it, trying to remember how she'd turned it on before. She thought she'd poked it right here.
There was a click and then the same shimmery light filled the room. Like they'd paused a movie, the two people they'd seen before were right where they'd left them, most of the way down the corridor towards where they watched. Arthur leaned in, and a kind of wild glee was on his face, as their voices came through like from a distant speaker.
" ... growing like seaweed. He already swims almost as well as Mera."
"You've got to bring him by the Metro Tower sometime. I haven't seen him since he was a baby.
"I think they're talking about Uncle Triton," whispered Arthur.
They said something else that Robin couldn't hear. "What'd he say?"
"Sh!" said Arthur, leaning in even closer. They were almost even with the eye of the shimmer now.
"Let me listen too," Robin said, and she swore later that she didn't push.
Rex dialed Earth on the mother box. The tube appeared, huge and looming. He took one last look back at the house, but Dad had gone in already. Then he sighed and stepped inside.
"Behind me!" shouted Kai-Ro, as he raised a glowing shield over Batman's unconscious body. Aquawoman and Flash made it under the shield. Barda was too far away, but ducked behind a wall as the sonic blast hit. Kai suspected her ears would be ringing for hours later nonetheless.
Keeping the shield steady, and wrapping it beneath them as the street beneath them began to crumble, he formed another arm from the bubble and aimed it for Shriek's machine.
Then the world shimmered around them.
"What was that?" asked Aquawoman.
Arthur fell forward, grabbing onto anything he could to keep from falling, but the anything was Robin and they both hit the floor hard.
"Ow!" said Robin, as Arthur rubbed his knees. Something was wrong. It had been dark in the room, but now sunlight slanted in on his face. They were out in one of the corridors, level one probably.
"How did you get in here?" demanded a voice behind them. Robin's face went pale as Arthur turned to see his grandfather and Nana both there, both instantly at battle-alert, both far too young to be believed.
Arthur looked at Robin. "We are in so much trouble."