God, I've missed these guys so much. I didn't even realize how much until we started this chapter. We had several false starts, so many ideas where to open it, but none felt right. This is what finally fit. Don't worry if you're confused on the details. The upcoming chapters will fill in the missing years here. I hope that everyone enjoys what's coming. This is it. This is the lead-in to the new epic. And with this, Anissa and I are one step closer to opening this universe to its future and Blood Will Tell.

So many tales yet to tell...

For those days we felt like a mistake,
Those times when love's what you hate
We keep marchin on

For those nights that I couldn't be there,
I've made it harder to know that you know
That somehow
We'll keep movin on

There's so many wars we fought
There's so many things we're not
But with what we have
I promise you that
We're marchin on
We're marchin on

For all of the plans we've made
There isn't a flag I'd wave
Don't care where we've been
I'd sink us to swim
We're marchin on
We're marchin on

For those doubts that swirl all around us
For those lives that tear at the seams
We know
We're not what we've seen...

"Goddamn Perry White, taking a week off," Lois growled under her breath. "It never fails. Betcha the old buzzard knew the shit was gonna hit the fan in Libya this week. Not to mention this fiasco with the courthouse. Sonofabitch, and he even tried to pull the frail old man bit…" She trailed off into semi-coherent mutterings, pawing through the detritus of papers on her desk in search of one particular note while she held a still-ringing phone to her ear. "This bastard better pick up. You do not ignore a call from the Daily Planet. I'll come down there, so help me…"

"Lane!" Ames barked from the bullpen. "City Hall's on line two for ya!"

Swearing at the phone she held, Lois slammed it down, resolving to corner the uncooperative senator and put the fear of Mad Dog Lane into him. Then she picked up the City Hall line and answered with a smile, "Lane here, whaddya got for me?"

Over in International, Clark rested his chin in the palm of his hand, propped his elbow on his desk, and looked at his wife with adoration in his eyes. "God, I love her," he murmured.

Across from him, Ron Troupe grinned. "And everyone in town knows it, Clark. Me, I'm just glad I got the nice sister."

"Lois is nice—when she wants to be." Both men shared a smile; Lois was called Hurricane Lane for a reason, and not just because her office looked like it had been hit by one. "Now, what was your hunch on Kazakhstan?"

They fell to talking business for a while. Ron was a keen reporter of Clark's mold, more a quiet and thorough observer than an avid confrontationist like Lois. He'd been keeping an eye on situations in Asia recently, and updated Clark on everything he'd learned and suspected. Once that was done, and a bit of personal chat as well, both men returned to their work. Clark had the International section to rough out by the end of the day, and at least now he had a nice fat story to stick on the front of it.

He was pleasantly occupied and only paying partial attention to the office, at least until he heard Lois' cell phone ring. Clark glanced at the clock and noticed it was half-past two. Sitting back in his chair, he kept a close eye—and ear—on his wife's office for this call.

"Lois Lane, Daily Planet," she barked into the phone. The number on the caller ID was blocked so she added, "I dunno how you got this number, buddy, but you've got thirty seconds to make it worth my time."

"I have a story for you, Mrs. Lane-Kent," came the reply, a low masculine voice with more than a touch of humor in it.

She recognized that voice, even more recognized the name he called her by, and smiled. "Oh yeah? You and half the city, and most of 'em aren't news even in the Petersbrook Picayune. What's it to me? I am, you know, the assistant editor of the most influential newspaper in town." Glancing into Clark's office, she saw that he was smiling broadly. Lois stuck her tongue out at him; he had to be listening to this.

"I know, Mrs. Lane-Kent. But this story is worth your attention."

"So maybe it's worth printing," she admitted. "The tale of how you got this number ought to be interesting enough. But why should I tend to it personally? I've got a bullpen full of eager young reporters who can come talk to you."

"No, Mrs. Lane-Kent, only you can do this story justice," the caller insisted.

"Yeah, right," she scoffed. "Gimme one good reason why."

"It's a superhero story."

"And this is supposed to make me stop in shock and awe? The Daily Planet isn't the only one covering them. Maybe you haven't been paying attention to the news, but we've got an entire league of superheroes, plus the Titans. My guys can't cover them all these days."

"Yes, but this concerns Superman. He gave his permission to reveal this to you. And he made it clear that you're the reporter he trusts the most. Could you spare me the time?"

Of course he'd use that as his hook. No way could she deny that. Kal-El still did the occasional interview with other papers, but all of the exclusives still belonged to the Planet, and Metropolis' favorite son had made it clear, her current post didn't change the fact she was his chronicler. "You're damn right he does. And you say the okay comes straight from the man himself?" She paused then, looking to anyone watching that she was deeply considering it before she let out an aggravated sigh. "All right, you've convinced me, kid. When do you want to set up a meet?"

"How about right now?" came the quick response. "I'm on your roof. And I brought coffee. Someone told me that you're always in need of coffee."

Lois narrowed her eyes. Clark, obviously eavesdropping throughout the conversation, was now grinning so cheesily that she wanted to throw something at him on principal. "I'll meet you there. Make sure to tell Superman he owes me one. But this one had better be worth it."

With that, she leveled the Lane Death Glare once more time at her husband through the glass walls that separated their offices before she stalked out, breezily telling Ames that she was off to see about a story. Up the elevator to the roof, and a cool breeze stirred her hair, which since she'd stopped dyeing it was the color of silver and steel. Waiting for her was a tall, powerfully built young man in a uniform of flame and black; the hero known to the world as Xenoblaze, and known around Lois' apartment as Jason—or Lizardboy, if his sister was in.

The reporter looked him over with a jaundiced eye, slamming a tight lid down on every iota of maternal instinct that tried to come to the surface. The whole family had discussed Jason going forward with the mission, including wearing the shield in public finally. Each time, they had all decided that it was just a little too soon since his debut shortly after he'd returned from his first training with the Bats the summer before his seventeenth birthday. Jason had continued on to train with several of the other families and was well on his way to being the hero he wanted so badly to be. And it had been a few years in this 'Xenoblaze' identity, one that Bruce's youngest had sprung on him without warning and which her boy had instantly loathed. Each time the crossover to the crest was mentioned, they'd convinced him to wait just a little longer, and her son had seemed to agree and had continued on under his current handle.

Now it sounded like she'd been outvoted in absentia. Somehow Lois wasn't quite surprised. If she were honest with herself, she'd been the main one dragging her feet. He was an adult now, over eighteen, but in her heart of hearts, those nervous blue eyes watching her stalk toward him were still topped with a mop of light brown hair and he was still toting around a lizard that weighed more than he did, grinning proudly. So many mixed emotions bound up in this. Lois had known that it was inevitable, they would eventually find themselves here, but it just seemed too soon sometimes. Then again, everything to do with her twins growing up seemed to happen too fast.

She took a mental deep breath then and pushed that all away. There wasn't time for it and she was setting a bad example. If Jason wanted to go forward this early, he needed to know the costs of opening himself up to the media. Up until now, he'd never actually spoken to anyone for the record. She had been the one to set Kal-El straight, she was the one that had already taught Kala how to avoid prying questions with damaging results in the event that she did make the Big Time. Now it was Jason's turn. Hopefully he could handle a couple of rounds with Mad Dog Lane. "All right, kid, whaddya got for me?"

He gave her a heartbroken look, but before the first syllable of 'Mom' could form on his lips she arched an eyebrow and glared. They could never, ever take the risk of anyone associating his two identities. It hurt them both, but there were already whispers in the news community about Xenoblaze's powers being suspiciously similar to another, more-established superhero. Link him to Lois, too, and the whole house of cards would come tumbling down. She hoped he knew what he was doing or they'd have to start over on his story for this new identity from the top.

As if Lois didn't suspect who was behind those whispers. Luthor was still out there, dangerous as ever, but he'd managed to keep a lid on what he knew for years. Lois privately suspected it was too powerful a secret for him to ever reveal; he enjoyed gloating over Clark's true identity like a dragon perched upon a hoard it could never spend, only guard with avaricious glee. It would be just like him to plant suspicions in others' minds, drops of poison calculated to reach just the right ears.

Blaze—in circumstances like these Lois forced herself to think of him by his codename, so nothing incriminating could slip out—sighed like the teenager he was. Then he got down to business like the young man he was fast becoming. "Have some coffee, Mrs. Lane-Kent," he said.

She took the cup, smirked at him after she took a sip and realized that he had splashed out for what she considered her indulgence order at the coffee shop, and he continued without reaction, "I've asked you here because I have some information—some exclusive information I'd like to share with you first."

"Now you're speaking my language," Lois told him. "So lay it out, kiddo. What's the exclusive, or do I have to play twenty questions to get it out of you?"

Blaze took a moment, seeming to go over whatever speech he had planned in his head before sighing and nodding. "I spoke to Superman recently and I think he's right. I think it's time for the public to know the truth. And I can't think of anyone I trust more to do it," he replied a little anxiously. And then she knew the enormity of what he was telling her. This wasn't just a name change.

For a split second, Lois was startled, and the mother in her wanted to break character and ask her boy what the hell he was thinking. And then realization hit. Oh, wait. Wait. They're going to let him…? I didn't know Kal-El was going to let him wear.… Not yet. Goddammit, you and your dad planned this one out, didn't you? Without consulting me for approval on that, who incidentally gave him his name. The look she cast him then was far from friendly. Okay, fine, you wanna play games, I'm playing this to the hilt. You may as well learn how real reporters interview sooner rather than later, Superboy.

Thus decided, she snorted derisively. "And you called up the editor in chief of the Daily Planet for this? Sounds like you should've taken out a classified ad instead. Forget it, kid, I'm out. Good coffee, though." With that she took a sip and turned on her heel, striding toward the elevator.

"But … hey, wait!" his flustered voice called after her. Lois ignored it, and the next second a strong breeze whipped her hair back from her face, and Blaze was in front of her. "He and I talked. I … I'm changing my name to Superboy," he blurted out.

Lois sipped the coffee, giving him her best jaded-journalist stare. "With Superman's permission, I hope? That name is copyrighted, you know."

"Of course, with his permission," he said, sounding irritated now. "The real story is why."

Lois looked at her watch, sipped her coffee, and said, "Yeah, I was gonna ask that. He's the last of his kind. Planet blew up when he was a baby. He's been on his own all these years and there almost no chance that he has a baby-momma hidden away somewhere. Has to be a compelling story behind why you get to share the name, so I'll give you ten minutes to impress me. Go."

Blaze sighed in clear aggravation. "Are you this confrontational with him?" he asked, keeping his composure with effort.

She gave him no more ground than she did his father when they were at odds on an issue. If he wanted to do this, was convinced that he could handle what the news media would throw at him, he had to prove it to her here and now. "No, I'm worse. He's a grown man, you're a kid, so I'm going easy on you. Nine minutes, thirty seconds."

Lois had dealt with other young heroes, and some of them would've gotten testy and petulant at her dismissive behavior. Not Blaze. He shook himself slightly, re-settled his shoulders, and when he spoke again his voice was mild and calm. "I got the name Xenoblaze from Robin, when I was in training in Gotham City. I never felt like it was a good fit…"

She interrupted, "Reporter's tip: never lead with exposition. Nobody cares about backstory unless you hook 'em first. I know you've got some jaw-dropping shocker of a statement—spit it out."

His handsome blue eyes narrowed just a bit, and then he told her levelly, "I am a clone of Superman."

That did it. That broke some of her fury there and then. Lois raised one hand to silence him, covering her mouth with the other to stifle her snickering. Oh my God, you are. You are so much your father's son it hurts. At the break in character, he smiled, seeing his mom beneath her Mad Dog Lane façade. Okay, so maybe he can do this. Don't let up, but maybe he can manage. She took a deep breath and got herself back into reporter-mode, taking out her digital recorder. "Okay, okay, the hero we've known for the last few years as Xenoblaze is actually Superboy, a clone of Superman. Gotcha. I know sheep and bulls and dogs have been cloned, but people? Since when is the tech that good? And you're, what, eighteen? Twenty? The tech was that good twenty years ago to clone a sentient species?"

"I'm not as old as I look. My growth was accelerated," he retorted with a very Lane scowl.

"Oh really? So does that mean your lifespan is shortened, or your accelerated growth just stopped right when it needed to?" she fired right back at him.

Now he was getting into the rhythm of it, his answers delivered with the same speed and verve as her questions. "My lifespan should be normal, barring accident. The accelerated stopped when the additional growth hormones were stopped, which means I will age normally from now on."

"Mm-hmm. And who administered the growth hormones?" That broke his flow, and into his hesitation she flung another question. "For that matter, who cloned you? Whose top-secret project are you?"

"Okay, time-out," he said, raising his hands in the sports gesture. His brow was furrowed, but he was still cautious of the recorder and anyone who might hear them. "We both know that you know the answers to these questions."

"Yes, I do. But the next reporter you talk to won't, and you can't just talk to me your whole life. Not even Superman manages that. So do this for real, like you've never spoken to me before. And unlike a real interview, if you make a mistake I won't print it." Lois smirked, and Jason's sunny smile broke through in answer. "So, Superboy, who created you? My readership wants to know."

"I'm not at liberty to say," he replied, and she scoffed.

"Yeah, right, I'm not buying that. Our government? I can see plenty of military minds who'd want their own pet Superman. No, wait, somebody else's government. Superman's a citizen of the world, but he's most closely associated with the United States. So you're what, the Canadian knockoff? Or a European import, maybe?"

She saw him consider that and reject it. "No, I was created right here in the U.S.," he started to say, and Lois snickered. Conceived in the Arctic, born in Paris. He glared and continued, "But the facility is private, not government-run, and they'd suffer legal consequences if I revealed my origin."

"Oh, so you're a mad scientist's experiment. Maybe you should consider Frankenboy as a code name?" Her thumb hovered over the recorder's stop button, pointing at him to warn him to keep silent.

"You sound a lot like Blur," he growled.

Lois was on that tidbit in the instant it came out of his mouth. "Do I? Y'know, virtually nothing is known about the Blur. Care to enlighten my readers while you're at it?" Other reporters would certain try to lead him into trouble like that.

"I have no intention of revealing anyone else's secrets," Superboy said frostily. "My own are enough trouble to deal with."

Lois decided to have a little mercy on him, but only a little. "All right, I'll let that slide. So why were you created in this mysterious lab? And are there any others? If there's an army of Super-clones lurking somewhere—or Wonder-clones, or Martian-clones, or anyone else—you can bet people will be alarmed."

Caught off-guard, he stammered, "Uh, no, there's no others. Not that I know of anyway."

Then it was Lois' turn for the time-out gesture. "You sound like a politician—a green one, at that. I'll write that up as 'To the best of my knowledge, there are no others, and I have no reason to believe there might be.' Got it? You have got to be more careful with the way you word things, kiddo." The boy puffed out his cheeks when he sighed, making her lips quirk. "Okay, then. back to work. Your reason for existing?"

The break in character made him grin. "Thanks. The reason I'm here is to carry on Superman's legacy. As you noticed, he doesn't have a family, and part of my purpose in life is to help him in his mission, and to further it."

Nicely done, Lois thought, and gave him a quick wink. Jason beamed at her, proud of himself. From there the interview went much better—at least until she caught him without a ready answer again, and the verbal sparring started up anew.

Clark was completely unsurprised to hear his phone ringing even before Lois made it back to her office. He and Jason had discussed the big unveiling over the past few days, and he'd encouraged Jason to just spring it on Lois, the way any other hero would. Well, very few other heroes would have Lois' cell phone number, and even fewer of them would get her to an impromptu meeting. Although the coffee would've helped—the way to an editor's Metro section could theoretically be through her caffeine addiction. At least a little.

Clark had known exactly what he was doing when he made the suggestion. Forewarned, Lois might've gone just a little easier on Jason, and that would be counterproductive. One of the things Clark valued most about his working relationship with her was that since that very first star-struck interview, she had never, ever soft-pedaled him. On a flight, she was as filled with wonder and delight as a child; at home together, she was his beloved wife. But when she was in reporter-mode, Lois was fierce with everyone, even Superman.

Jason had to see his mother with the gloves off. It was the only way to prepare him for every other ruthless journalist he would encounter—and there would be many during his career as a hero. One mistake, and all of their secrets would come tumbling out. It was best for him to learn, as Clark had, from someone who was on their side, but who never pulled a punch.

So he answered the phone already prepared for his son's disbelief and frustration. "Hello, Jason," he said.

"How come Mom is so mean?" Jason asked plaintively, sounding just like he had at eight when she had caught him red-handed raiding the container of chocolate chip cookies at Christmas.

Clark could resist a chuckle. "She's not mean. She's a reporter. A darn good one, too."

"Yeah, but she was never like this to you," Jason muttered, clearly disgruntled.

Clark laughed. "Oh, yes she was. For the same reason, too. She'd rather be the one to hit me with the hard questions, the one to make me stumble, rather than let me make mistakes in front of anyone else. Don't worry; she'll edit out the worst of it."

"But why?" Jason asked again. "Why does she have to be so … so confrontational and everything? I had everything planned out, and she ripped it apart from the first sentence!"

"She does that," Clark admitted. "Son, you can't come to a reporter with a prepared story. That's a press release, and you don't get the privilege of those unless you're very well known or representing an entire group. And even then, you have to answer questions afterward. Better get used to it now. Interviewing with a really good reporter is always a little bit like playing tennis."

"Yeah, and Mom serves the ball right at your teeth," Jason said gloomily.

"I didn't really know how to do an interview when I first started out," Clark told him. "Your mom taught me, and I'm grateful for it. Since then I've talked to reporters in more countries than I can remember, representing all kinds of newspapers and magazines and TV stations. If I hadn't dealt with her first, if she hadn't taught me how to react to one of those brutal questions, I'd be stuck in a public relations nightmare now. And you know how important PR is for us."

The line was silent. Jason knew; they were both quite conscious of the fact that the entire caped community maintained a diligent watch on the media. The kinds of powers and resources they had could easily be misused. If they weren't careful how they represented themselves, the kind of casual chatter amongst their own people could easily be misinterpreted. And once the seeds of mistrust were sown, they were very hard to weed out.

Clark suspected there was another reason for Jason's mood. "I wonder if maybe part of the reason you're upset is that you crafted your speech for someone other than Mom?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Jason grumbled.

Smiling, Clark prodded gently. "Someone in California, maybe? A certain chemistry major at Berkeley?"

"Elise has nothing to do with this," Jason snapped. "She's taking sixteen units this semester; she doesn't have time to read the news."

She also doesn't have time for a boyfriend, was the unspoken thought. Clark managed not to sigh. Jason and Elise hadn't exactly broken up. She had requested a break during college, since both of them were pursuing intense academic degrees. Jason had agreed reluctantly, and Clark was certain that his son didn't consider himself single. He was still Elise's boyfriend in his own mind, they were just on hiatus.

Clark was equally certain that Elise didn't view the arrangement the same way. She was a level-headed, intelligent young woman, and the idea of meeting one's true love at fourteen and living happily ever after just didn't jibe with her intrinsic realism. The fact that Jason did firmly believe in One True Love, Forever and Ever, only made her more wary.

The consensus within the family was that Elise would always be a part of their lives. Being part of the Super-family was daunting, but Elise didn't lack for courage. With some breathing room to think about what she wanted, she'd probably come back—someday. And thankfully, Jason was giving her the space she needed. If he had tried to maintain their relationship long distance, it probably would've broken down from all the stresses on it.

And even if Elise never came back to Jason, she'd been one of Kala's friends first, and she knew the secret. Only a select group of people knew the truth, and as one of them, Elise would always be one of the family.

To get Jason onto a happier train of thought, Clark said, "Well, the good news is, you accomplished your main goal. You can finally stop arguing with Tim over the name."

Jason groaned loudly. "He had to say it out loud on an unsecured band! He got that off some internet name generator, Dad! Everybody else gets some kind of name that means something, mine was off the internet."

"Could be worse," Clark offered. "Your sister could've been the one who slipped on an unsecure comm."

"Yeah, right," Jason groused. Kala had always had her own idea for his secret identity: Lizardboy, aka Iguanaman, with a bright green costume, black and green striped tights, and spikes down the back. There was also a fake tail. "Gazeera is like the Methuselah of iguanas, and she's still sneaking over here to the dorm and putting a little cape on him while I'm in class. My roommates already think I'm weird, and she's making it worse."

"Kala loves to tease you," Clark said. "It's how she tells you she misses you."

"With little sticky notes on his cage that say, 'I wanna be your sidekick! Rawr!' and crap like that? No, it's how she makes me glad we don't both live under the same roof anymore."

"This from the boy who picks her up and swings her around whenever you're both home," Clark replied dryly.

He could hear Jason make a sound of irritated annoyance. "Yeah, I'm just trying to get up enough velocity to let go and land her somewhere in Brazil."

"Oh, stop it. We both know better. Jason, you love your sister," Clark chided.

"I know, that's why she's still alive and has all her limbs. She's an obnoxious little jerk, and if my roommates knew that, they'd quit drooling over her photo like a bunch of retarded fanboys." Grumpy Jason was always quite amusing, and Clark talked to him a little longer, eventually hanging up the phone with a smile.

Throughout the call, he'd felt the pressure of Lois' gaze on him, and when he finally looked up to meet it, she was leaned back in her chair with her arms crossed and looking as grumpy as her son had sounded, nearly glaring a hole in the glass that separated their offices. That said, she was at least smirking at him. Lois pointed one finger in his direction, her red nail polish seeming to blaze at him. You're paying for that one, mister, she mouthed, and Clark grinned back. In reply, he just grinned and waved, mouthing I love you.

With Lois Lane, the best defense was to never take offense.

Kala's cell phone rang, and since she was in the passenger seat and the ring tone was a section of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, she answered it. "Hi Mom," she said.

"Hi, Mom!" Sebast called, leaning over her shoulder.

Lois chuckled. "Hi, kids. What're you up to, Kala?"

"Riding out to this club in East Nowhere, population 800," Kala told her mom. It was a ridiculous gig, but it was exposure, and they never turned that down. Not even when they'd wind up paying more for gasoline, food, and a hotel room than they'd make from the gig. Especially not when it was their gig, not a sideline with someone else's band.

Not that they actually had a band yet. Fungiferous Flora had dissolved, and she and Sebast were striking out on their own under the name Sonic Death Monkey. Morgan, a friend of a friend in Metropolis who'd taught them both to play guitar, was along on the trip to play bass, and the club would provide a drum machine since they lacked an actual drummer. The three of them were in the van Kala had bought to transport them and their equipment, and at the moment Morgan was driving, which was why Kala had answered the phone.

Morgan was a handsome blond boy with longish hair and impeccable taste in clothes. From about the second guitar lesson, Sebast had been completely infatuated with him. Unfortunately for Sebast, Morgan was completely straight—he took Sebast's flirting as a compliment while he eyed Kala appreciatively. She definitely could've gone there, being between relationships at the moment, but it would've caused problems with Sebast. Her best friend was more important than any fling, anyway, no matter how pretty Morgan was.

"Uh-huh. Are you driving safe?" Lois asked.

"Nope, I'm riding shotgun. Morgan's driving," Kala replied cheerily. "How're things back home?"

Just the slightest pause, and then Lois' voice sounded awfully cagey. "Oh, well enough. Did you know your father and brother were planning a little surprise for me?"

"No," Kala said slowly. Oh, that sound like some bad juju afoot. She was suddenly glad she hadn't had a hand in whatever this was. "What's up?"

"Oh, it seems that your brother is thinking of changing his nickname," Lois said. Even though she could tell she wasn't on speakerphone, she wouldn't say anything incriminating on the off-chance that Morgan or Sebast might hear it.

Kala played along. "He's sick of being Lizardboy? That's not exactly a surprise, Mom."

"Oh, but what he wants to change it to is," Lois replied.

When the realization hit, Kala managed not to let it show on her face. It felt like a swift punch to the gut. He's going to be Superboy. My brother's finally going to wear the shield and the name. "Huh," was all she said out loud, fighting for emotional equilibrium.

Bitter resentment wasn't something she wanted to feel toward her sweet, goofy big brother, but it burned in her chest anyway. Part of her wanted to cry, How come Jase gets to be a Super, and I don't? How come he gets the glory and the legacy, and I'm still second-best? She fought it, knowing exactly why she had pushed forward with the dream of singing rather than join Jason. After Nevada, she thought she'd stamped out that petulant little voice, but it never quite died, no matter how many times she throttled it.

As she had several times before, Kala talked down that part of her mind. I am of the House of El, I am part of my father's legacy, and nothing can change that. Jason is better at the hero stuff, I know that and I accept it, so it's just good sense that he's active in the community while I'm not. I don't even think I'd be particularly good at the hero business anyway, at least not until I'm older and have my life as figured out as he does. And since only one of us can use the name without risking the secret, Jason is the obvious choice. We've already discussed this. I know that. He'll actually use the name. So there's no point in getting screwed up over this. Just let it go, Kal.

It didn't hurt quite as much as the first time, and when Lois asked if she was all right, Kala was able to reply without a trace of falsehood, "Sure, Mom. But you know he'll always be Lizardboy to me."

"That's my girl. I know it's hard, but I'm proud of you, you know?" Lois said approvingly. She knew Mom was a little worried, could read it in there, but it was to be discussed another time, without prying ears. "So, tell me, brat: how goes the Great Band Search?"

That brought a smile back out; assurances of Mom's love always did that these days. Kala cupped her hand around the phone and mock-whispered, "Don't tell him, but Sebast and I are trying to get Morgan to join up."

"Not happening," Morgan said from beside her, half-turning to give her a quick grin. God, that boy had one hell of a smile.

"Sooner or later, we'll convince you," Sebast purred from the backseat, locking eyes with Morgan in the rearview mirror and giving him his best Latino smolder.

"Do you have something in your eye? You're kind of squinting," Morgan asked, all innocence, and Kala cracked up as Sebast swore under his breath.

"Oh my God, Mom, these boys," Kala wheezed.

"Can't live with 'em, can't fit 'em all in the asylum," Lois cracked.

Kala snickered. "So true. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother."

"And to think, at one point you gave serious thought to being a doctor's wife," Lois said.

At the mention of Nick Powell, Sebast—who was eavesdropping shamelessly—hissed and made the sign of the cross. "Are you kidding, Mom? I would've rather her been the mechanic's wife!"

"Nick is happy in medical school, and I'm happy with my life," Kala said. Lois had probably already heard that he and Jason had crossed paths at Johns Hopkins, resulting in a mutual death-glare which probably caught a few innocent bystanders in its path. Her brother—and Sebast—would never like her ex, probably because he'd been her first lover. Kala thought they were both ridiculous. She wasn't Jason, to decide on his lifelong mate at the tender age of fourteen, and never get serious with anyone else. No, she and Nick had had fun together, they'd cared a lot about each other, but they'd both known the end was inevitable. She couldn't go home to Boston with him, she couldn't follow him on to medical school, and he couldn't give up everything to follow her, either.

Besides, Kala could no more be a doctor's wife than Dustin could live in Metropolis. He'd tried; the summer after high school, he had come to the city ostensibly to help her and Jason fix up their first car for a long road trip. Kala had ended up dating him, which given his years-long crush on her was probably predictable.

Kala still thought back on that summer with a wistful sigh. Dustin was … well, he wasn't like any of the boys in Metropolis. Patient, thoughtful, considerate, and yet he had a certain poetic sensitivity in his soul that made him more than just a nice boy. Dustin was the one who'd combed his hands through her hair slowly, telling her the glints of blue within the black looked almost like stars in the night sky.

Jason had not been happy about his best friend dating his sister, but Dustin had refused to get mad at him, and Kala had smacked him in the head and told him to stop being a dweeb. They'd had a glorious summer romance that culminated in the road trip to the cabin down in North Carolina, Jason and Elise and Dustin and Kala going on a two-week double-date. Sebast had been in Puerto Rico at the time, sweltering away during his family's annual trip, but he'd been able to meet them at the cabin for a few days anyway.

It had been in North Carolina, surrounded by the songs of crickets and cicadas during those warm summer nights, that Kala and Dustin had realized they didn't have a future, either. He hadn't been happy staying in Metropolis; every normal city noise woke him up at night, and even after a week he still got lost every time he went somewhere new by himself.

Kala could even remember the exact moment she'd known it was going to end: they'd been lying in bed, and Dustin had run his fingers through her hair again. "When we were in the city, these were the only stars I had," he'd murmured in tones of such sorrow that she knew, knew, he could never live in a major city. And her life, if she was successful, was going to be all about big cities, a new one every other night. The thought of it thrilled Kala, but it nauseated him.

Dustin wouldn't be happy living such a vagabond life. He had enjoyed the road trip, but only because there was a log cabin in the woods waiting at the end of it. If he'd had to travel every weekend like she and Sebast were now, it would kill him slowly. Dustin had roots in Smallville, and needed to stay close to the wide-open prairies and gorgeous skies of Kansas. A long-term relationship with him would either mean months of being apart, or months of unhappiness as they tried to follow each other's diverging paths.

Luckily, he'd known it before she had. When Kala hesitantly brought it up, Dustin had laughed and kissed her. "I knew from the first time I heard you sing that you weren't gonna be a mechanic's wife," he'd told her. "You were meant for bigger and brighter things than Smallville. Doesn't mean we can't always be friends, and doesn't mean we can't love each other much as we can while we have each other."

And that, she thought with a slow smile, was why she loved Dustin best of all. No one she'd dated before or since meant so much to her. It was just bad luck that they couldn't live in each other's worlds. Somewhere out there was someone who could handle her life with all of its various kinds of craziness. And even if she didn't find them anytime soon, she had her best friend right beside her through all of it.

Sebast had been explaining Dustin to Morgan while Kala mused, and Lois' chuckle in her ear brought her out of her reverie. Kala sighed. "No, no, no, Sebast. No mechanic's wife. Why would I wanna marry anyone when I'm keeping you forever?" She batted her eyelashes at him, and Sebast snorted amusement.

"Yeah, you're keeping him—on a leash," Morgan quipped.

Sebast swatted his shoulder lightly. "Shh, her mom can hear you! I don't want her to know we're kinky!"

Kala groaned as Lois broke into laughter. "Oh, God, why me? Mom, I have to go, they're starting to show out for company."

"Keep 'em in line, baby girl," Lois said. "I love you."

"I love you, too, Mom," Kala said, and hung up. Once order was restored by glares and shoulder-punches to the boys, she went back to looking out the window. You never know, the one for me might even be at a tiny little gig like this. It could happen…. But until then, I'll make do with the warmth of the stage lights and the yell of the crowd.