"He should be home by now." Bianca put her hands down on the counter and looked over at Alberto with slightly raised eyebrows and her lips pressed together, pointedly trying to indicate that she was worried without worrying Milagro, who was lying upside down on the couch and pretending very hard not to be listening.
"Everything's fine," said Alberto quietly. "We have to trust him. He knows how to take care of himself."
"No. Something's wrong. He was supposed to be home an hour ago."
"This isn't the first time he's been late. There hasn't been anything on the news." His tone was troubled, too, but Bianca could see him trying to hide it for Milagro's sake, and she was almost grateful.
"How did it get like this?" she said, shaking her head. "We have to watch the news to find out if our son is coming home?"
"He's our son, Bianca. He's doing the right thing."
Before she could come up with any of the reasons why that wasn't comforting when Jaime was late coming home from doing something dangerous, the phone began to ring. She was across the room and had it at her ear in less than a second.
"... He's where? But- ... No, but that doesn't make any sense. This morning, he said he was- ... But he was supposed to- ... and you're supposed to make sure he doesn't- ... Fine. ... Yes, fine. Ten minutes."
When she hung up, her expression was grim.
"He's-?" Alberto started to ask. He gripped his cane tighter.
"It was Peacemaker. He doesn't know, but no one has seen Jaime for hours. He said he'll be here in ten minutes." She closed her eyes and tried to mentally prepare for the worst. If something had happened to Jaime, nothing would ever be okay for her family again. She and Alberto couldn't go through losing him twice. Milagro needed her brother. It was always there, hovering at the back of her mind, that there might come a day when Jaime didn't come home. She couldn't let it be today.
"You don't have to do this," Peacemaker tried to argue, half an hour later. "As soon as the League is back, they'll-"
"He's my son, and I said ten minutes." Bianca's tone didn't leave any room for argument.
"Yeah, and I'm going after him, but-"
"I won't leave him stranded on an alien ship without any help. And I said ten minutes."
"Look, lady, I tried, but-"
"We're going after him. I'm coming with you."
His eyebrows shot straight up. "You're coming with me now?"
"He's my son."
"You know how dangerous this is gonna be?"
"You're arguing that I shouldn't come by telling me that my son is alone in a dangerous place right now?
"Okay, fine, fine. You win. Meet me out front in five minutes, and let's hope the kid's still got allies. We're gonna need help."
"I should come with you," said Alberto, as soon as Peacemaker had checked the guns strapped to his waist and then strolled out of the room as if they were just going for a walk in the park.
"No, 'Berto. You have to stay here. If something... there's Milagro. She needs a parent. She can't lose all of us."
"Mom," Milagro added, tugging at her arm. "Is Jaime gonna be okay?"
"I have to do this. 'Berto, if anything happens, you and Milagro should go stay with your mother."
"I said be quiet, Milagro." Bianca knelt down to kiss Milagro's cheek and hug her, a little too tightly and yet not tightly enough. Never tightly enough. She didn't ever want to let go and leave her daughter here without her, but she didn't have a choice. It took every bit of resolve she'd ever collected, but she stood up.
"I can help!"
"Not now, Milagro," Alberto said, gently trying to steer her towards the living room. "Let your mother go." He met Bianca's eyes, over Milagro's head, and nodded. She didn't need to ask what it meant. She knew him.
"We need your help. Jaime needs your help." Less than twenty minutes and a slightly harrowing motorcycle ride later, Bianca was staring down at Amparo Cardenas over her desk. Since Jaime started being the Blue Beetle, Bianca couldn't see this woman the same way anymore. She was only La Dama now. Not Bianca's first choice to help her save her son, but if Jaime could put aside everything La Dama had done and work with her, then so could Bianca.
"Why should I care about your son? He's done enough damage to my organization. And my family," said La Dama, without immediately looking up from her desk and the paperwork she was pretending to fill out since Bianca was shown into the room by a pair of bodyguards.
Bianca put her hands on her hips.
"... Fine," La Dama snapped. "But you can tell him that after this, he and I are even. I owe him nothing further. I'd be happy if we had nothing to do with each other ever again."
"Next time you need his help, I'll make sure I tell him that. Not that he'd listen. He helps people when they need it, no matter who they are or what they've done."
Bianca was satisfied when La Dama had the decency to at least look momentarily uncomfortable.
La Dama brought a teleportation device and an impressive array of weaponry that even Bianca could identify as extraterrestrial. Peacemaker brought his guns and his usual demeanor and a look on his face that Bianca currently approved of. Bianca only brought herself and her simmering anger at the aliens who had taken her son, but that was enough. It had to be enough.
"Ready?" Peacemaker asked, glancing over at her from where he was standing on one of the teleportation pads beside her.
Bianca steadied herself, breathed in and out, and then nodded. Whether she was ready or not, she wasn't running away. Jaime never did. She closed her eyes as the ground beneath her started to glow.
As the light from their teleport faded and they started rushing down a corridor on an alien spaceship in orbit around Earth, Bianca briefly considered how strange it was that this wasn't the first time she'd seen aliens. She'd seen them much more frequently than she was comfortable with since Jaime came home with an alien creature embedded in his spine. This wasn't even the first time she'd fought aliens. But strange was relative, and Jaime needed her.
Peacemaker and La Dama were merciless, shooting and shoving and kicking aside their assailants. Bianca didn't flinch when a blue-skinned arm tried to grab her, and she didn't hesitate in using the gun Peacemaker had given her to fend off the owner of the arm.
Jaime needed her. That was the only thing that mattered.
Jaime's eyelids fluttered.
"Mi hijo," Bianca gasped, hurriedly kneeling beside him in the thick layer of alarmingly green muck on the floor. "What did they do to you?"
Jaime blinked. His vision was blurry and he couldn't see anything in the dark. As he groped around for some indication of where he was, something lurched in the back of his mind. For a second he thought it meant that he was going to be sick, but then he realized it actually felt a lot like a computer coming back online after being asleep - except inside his own brain. The Scarab waking up. He flexed his fingers, willing the armor to come back, but the Scarab was sluggish and Jaime mostly just felt vaguely nauseous.
He squinted and tried to make out what mother was holding in her hand. Wait. His mother. He was on a spaceship - he remembered fighting aliens in space - and his mother was kneeling in front of him. Either he'd hit his head a lot harder than he remembered and he was hallucinating, or some other explanation that made more sense than that, but he couldn't come up with one right now.
"Mom?" Then he remembered what she seemed to be holding. "Wait, is that a-?"
"It doesn't matter. We're going home now."
"Home sounds good," Jaime said tiredly. He looked down at his palm. His hand was turning blue. Normally that would be something to worry about, but not when you were called the Blue Beetle. At least, not usually.
As his visual display came back online, he could finally focus his vision again. The first thing he did was gape.
"Mom, that's a-"
"But why are you holding a gun? How did you get here?"
"I'm here to bring you home. Did they hurt you?"
"I don't think so. I feel okay. Mostly. Something's jamming the Scarab's signal, I think."
"Get up," Peacemaker said, gruff as always, crouching down beside them to slip an arm around Jaime's shoulders.
The sound of gunfire – no, even worse, lasers – startled Jaime enough that he managed to find his own footing for a few seconds, before he fell back uselessly against the wall. The Scarab mumbled something that sounded like gibberish in Jaime's head, and definitely didn't help him figure out what to do. He was no good for anything right now.
"Are you coming?" a voice snapped from outside the cell. A voice Jaime recognized.
"Wait. Is that-"
"Hurry up!" La Dama shouted.
"I get why Peacemaker's here, but how did you get her to agree to help?" There was obviously a lot that Jaime had missed while he was unconscious, although that wasn't unusual.
La Dama leaned into the room. "If we delay any longer, we won't get back in time for the teleport, and we'll be trapped here. I don't intend to be trapped here."
"Then what are we waiting for?" Bianca asked. When Jaime stumbled and couldn't find his footing, Bianca's arm came up around his waist from one side, and Peacemaker gripped his shoulder from the other. Bianca leveled her weapon at the empty corridor as they moved swiftly through it.
"Why is everyone I know scarily good at this stuff?" Jaime mumbled.
They caught up with La Dama just as one of the aliens caught up with her. She tried to fire her weapon – some kind of energy pulse device, but the Scarab didn't seem capable of offering more than that right now – but it jammed, and she threw it aside, making a frustrated growling sound in her throat as she retreated to stand beside them. Bianca stepped in to cover them, but the alien had some kind of thick armor or exoskeleton, and Jaime could see that no normal weapon would do much against that even without the advice of the Scarab.
A series of sharp syllables came from the alien's mouth. The usual translation never came inside Jaime's head, but he thought he caught the gist of it anyway.
"Hey. That's my mom you're talking to!" he shouted, and raised his hand, palm facing outward. And prayed, a little bit. "Come on, come on..."
Too many things happened at once for Jaime to keep track of all of them while he was this tired and disoriented. There was a bright flash of light and a crackling sound. The alien hit the wall and sank down, unconscious. Peacemaker whistled. Jaime made a little noise that sounded like "ow" and let his arm drop back to his side. Then there was another flash of light, far brighter than the last one, and Jaime let himself slump against his mother and Peacemaker as he lost consciousness again.
"And then I said I wanted to help, but they said no. They always say no." Milagro stuck out her tongue, sulking next to Jaime on his hospital bed.
"Yeah, well, when you're older-"
"It's not fair. Everyone lets you be a superhero, and you're not older."
"I'm older than you."
While Jaime and Milagro glared at each other and bickered, Bianca entered the room and hung her coat up near the door. Alberto took Milagro's hand and led her out of the room. She kept protesting until she was out of earshot. Once they were gone, Bianca sat down on the edge of Jaime's bed and reached out to smooth back his hair. For awhile, while he tried to think of what to say, he just closed his eyes and let her presence soothe away his lingering worries about aliens and lasers and keeping Earth safe from anyone who wanted to hurt it.
Eventually he opened one eye to peek and see if she was mad at him.
"So..." he prompted, and hoped for the best.
"I'm sorry?" he said, wincing.
"You'd better be."
"I'll try not to get captured by aliens. Again. I mean, a third time."
"You scared us. You scared me," Bianca said sternly.
Jaime felt guilty, and then even more guilty when he remembered something that he shouldn't have forgotten. "The aliens, are they gone? Peacemaker wouldn't say when I woke up."
"Don't worry, mijo. Everything's fine now, and you need to rest. The Justice League dealt with them."
"Who needs the Justice League when they've got my mom?" he joked weakly.
"We'll always be here for you." She started stroking back his hair, gently combing through his bangs with her fingers. He might be a superhero. He might spend his evenings saving the world and fending off alien invasions. It didn't matter; he would always be her son first, and anything else after.
He smiled. "Yeah, I know."
"We're proud of you."
"I know that too," Jaime said, still smiling, even while his eyes started to close. "Hey, Mom?"
"I'm proud of you too."