Booster hadn't noticed the signs at first.
In his defense, he had a lot to deal with at the time. The world kept doing its best to get itself destroyed in some way or another, the newly reinstated Justice League International kept finding itself fighting supervillains that seemed much too close to being A-List for the likes of them, there was always Michelle and Rani and Skeets to find time for, his missions for Rip kept happening more frequently and always at the most inopportune times, and— and—
— and, come to think of it, that last one was probably intentional. But, still, the point stood: it wasn't Booster's fault that it took him so long to notice that someone was leaving him messages through time. Anybody would have missed them.
At least, that's what he kept telling people afterwards.
"Huh." Guy Gardner tilted his head a bit, studying the pictures hanging in the museum exhibit the two of them were hiding behind. "That's weird."
"Really?" Booster glanced over at Guy and raised an eyebrow. "Really? We're being attacked by museum exhibits that have come to life and are trying to kill us, and you think that a picture is weird?"
Guy rolled his eyes, ducking a little lower as yet another large fireball flew over their heads and crashed against the wall ten feet or so behind them. "It's an exhibit about South America a couple of thousand years ago."
"Yes, yes, very interesting," Booster said, turning his attention away from Guy and glancing around the room. "Have you seen any of the dinosaurs lately? And, more important, just how much power does your ring still have?"
Guy snorted. "Bea and Tora are probably still dealing with them," he said, "and my ring has even less power than the last time you asked, oh fearless leader, what with me keeping you from getting your head smashed in by that cannonball."
Booster couldn't help but grin, whether he wanted to or not. "Touché."
Another fireball went flying over their heads.
"It's a good thing that dragon has bad aim," Guy said, smirking a bit himself. "We might be in trouble otherwise."
"Yeah, we might," Booster agreed. He waited for a second, until it was obvious Guy wasn't going to say anything else, then glanced over at the Green Lantern. "Well, are you going to tell me what's weird about that exhibit or not?"
Guy rolled his eyes. "It's an exhibit about ancient South America."
"You've said that already," Booster pointed out.
Guy raised an eyebrow. "Since when did they have scarabs in South America?"
Booster stared at Guy in surprise.
"What?" Guy asked defensively. "I'm not a complete idiot, you know."
"Yeah, every now and then I remember that," Booster said, finally looking at the exhibit. It was a series of photographs of some ancient ruins somewhere or other, with a few broken shards of pottery that were reproductions according to the very small print underneath them. One of the photographs was of a half-fallen down wall, decorated with ornate carvings, including one that—
"Huh," Booster said with a frown. "It does look like a scarab."
Of course, it was right then that the Tyrannosaurus rex came crashing through the exhibits beside them and launched itself at the dragon. By the time they had managed to put out the fires, some literal and some not, the exhibit on South America had been pushed completely out of Booster's mind.
Rani grinned at Booster as she handed him a piece of paper covered in crayon drawings. "I made something for you!"
Booster laughed as he took the drawing, only slightly surprised when she wrapped her arms around his legs in a hug. "What is this?" he asked, looking down at it. "It looks familiar."
"It's cave drawings," she said firmly. "Like in that book Michelle showed me."
"Ah, I should have known," Booster said, nodding.
If anything, Rani's grin grew even broader. "It's a wooly mammoth, and a deer, and a bison, and my hand, and a sloth because Sid was right and there are never sloths in those paintings."
Booster wracked his brain for a second, trying to place that name. "Sid?"
"Sid the sloth," Rani said, letting go of his legs so she could put her hands on her hips in a fairly accurate portrayal of Michelle. "From Ice Age, remember?"
"Of course, of course, Sid the sloth from Ice Age." Booster tried not to smile. He leaned down and pointed to a brown, vaguely beetle-shaped blob in the left-hand corner of the page. "And what about this part here? What's it?"
Rani shrugged. "I don't know," she said. "I just copied it from the book."
"Hey, Booster," Jaime said, dropping down beside Booster on the sofa. The new JLI headquarters weren't exactly the largest, but Booster had to admit that the rec room was at least comfortable.
Booster raised a hand in greeting. "Hey," he said, nodding. Then he paused. "What are you doing here?"
Jaime shrugged. "I'm a member of the team, aren't I?"
"Well, yeah, technically," Booster said, eyeing Jaime. "Except you usually don't show up in the middle of the day unless there's something up. Especially when you're supposed to be in school."
Jaime shifted a bit in his seat.
Booster's mouth twitched, just a bit. "Ah. So, what's up?"
"It might be nothing," Jaime said slowly.
Booster's growing smile disappeared almost instantly. "I've learned from past experience that those words are never a good thing."
Jaime grinned at that. He leaned down and started digging through the backpack sitting on the floor beside him. Booster hadn't even noticed it.
"Here's the thing," Jaime said, dropping a thick book on the table in front of them as he straightened up. "I'm working on a paper for my American history class, and I found something kind of— weird."
"Weird?" Booster repeated. "What kind of weird?"
Jaime opened the book to the middle, flipping through a few pages until he reached a piece of paper that he had put in as a bookmark. Booster didn't think that he was imagining the teenager hesitating slightly before answering. "Scarab weird."
Booster frowned at that, suddenly flashing back to that museum mission from a few months earlier. "This isn't about carvings in South America, is it?"
"Uh, no?" Jaime said, sounding confused. "It's about an American Revolution era painting."
Jaime pointed at a picture near the top of the page. Booster leaned forward curiously, trying to see what it was that had drawn Jaime's attention. It was a fairly normal painting for the time, he thought, nothing but a brown-haired man standing by himself. He was wearing a large brooch under his throat, and Booster had to admit that it did look a bit like a blue scarab. But he didn't—
Booster took a closer look at the man's face, and he felt his breath catch in his throat.
"I'm not imagining it, right?" Jaime asked. "That the guy really looks like Ted Kord?"
"No," Booster said, staring at the picture. "No, you're not imagining it."
Booster stared at the drawings hanging on the refrigerator door. Now that he was looking for it, the scarab in the corner was obvious. Rani had been glad to show him the book she had copied the drawings from, and her version had been surprisingly close to the actual cave painting that had been found a good decade or two earlier.
"Michelle said you wanted to see me?"
It took everything Booster had not to turn around when he heard Rip's voice behind him. He gestured over his shoulder at the book he'd borrowed from Jaime, which was sitting open in the middle of the kitchen table. "Take a look at the picture at the top of the page."
Rip didn't say anything else, but Booster heard him moving behind him. There was a slight rustling sound, presumably him picking up the book, and then a few seconds later there was a quiet sigh.
"You could have told me," Booster said, his hands clenching into fists at his side. He was trying to keep his voice level, but he suspected he wasn't succeeding. He turned around, finally looking at Rip. "You could have."
Rip's face was expressionless. "No, I couldn't." He shook his head. "I couldn't, and you know it. The timeline—"
"Don't," Booster said. "I do get it, I really do, but—."
"But right now, you don't care," Rip finished for him. He paused for a second. "Fair warning: if you punch me, I'll punch back."
Booster closed his eyes, trying to keep his breathing steady. Michelle and Rani were probably nearby, and he didn't want to start yelling. They had both heard more than enough yelling lately.
"What's going on, Rip?" he asked tiredly. "That's Ted in that painting, I know that it is. And I know this has to have something to do with all those scarabs I keep finding in history books and museum exhibits."
When Booster opened his eyes, Rip was staring at him. He looked confused, which wasn't exactly something Booster was used to seeing everyday. "Wait, what scarabs?"
"Remind me again why we're doing this?" Michelle asked, looking up from the thick book she was skimming.
Booster glanced up from his own book. "It's a side effect from when I tried to save Ted. He sacrificed himself, put the timeline back on course—"
"All of which I already know," Michelle said, smiling at him just a little.
Booster gave her a sheepish grin. "Apparently, when he did, something changed. He didn't actually die. He just fell through a crack in time."
"Like Rory!" Rani chimed in from where she was sitting, a book that was much too large for her sitting in her lap.
Booster gave Michelle a confused look.
"Skeets has been letting her watch a show called Doctor Who," Michelle said, shrugging. "Anyway, crack in time?"
Booster gave Rani one more look before nodding. "Rip says he couldn't tell me before now. I had to figure it out for myself. Apparently Ted's been bouncing around from time period to time period, leaving signs. Presumably so I can go back in time and find him."
"The scarabs?" Michelle asked.
"Exactly," Booster said.
Michelle gave him a look. "Okay, I understand all of that. What I don't get is why we're looking through history books. Haven't you already found a dozen of these things?"
"We need an exact date," Booster explained. "Or, at least, a specific year and a general location. None of the scarabs we've found so far have been enough of a clue."
Both of them looked over at Rani, who was all but bouncing in her seat.
Rani held up the history book she was looking through, pointing to a picture near the center of the page. It was a reproduction of a painting, a fairly amateurish picture of a nondescript man with long brown hair. If it hadn't been for the blue scarab ring on the man's hand, Booster would have passed it over without more than a quick thought that the man in the painting looked a little like Ted, except—
There was something about the way his mouth curled up a little at the corners, a familiar twinkle in his eyes that the artist had somehow managed to capture perfectly.
"Rani," Booster said slowly, not quite trusting his voice. "What does your book say about that painting?"
She turned the book away from him, her eyes moving over the page. "It's called blue eat hour," she read slowly, stumbling over the French badly enough that even Booster had to grimace. "It was painted in a small town called— called— a small town outside of Paris in 1571."
"I think it's pronounced bleu et or," Booster corrected her. Then he froze, the words sinking in, and he started to smile. "Wait, you're sure that's what it's called?"
Rani bit her lip. "I think so?" she said hesitantly, holding up the book for him to take. "I couldn't read some of the words."
Booster took it from her, silently reading the text underneath the painting. "Blue and gold," he said, starting to smile. "That's what bleu et or means, Rani. Blue and gold."
Booster was starting to think that he was too late. He'd been searching the town for hours, trying to keep as low of a profile as possible, but he hadn't found any sign of Ted. All he knew was that the painting was from 1571; he'd guessed at the more specific date based on hints in the painting that made it look like autumn.
What if he'd been wrong? Ted might have already jumped to another time period, in which case he was going to have to start all over again.
Booster froze in place. It had been ages since he'd heard that voice, but he would have recognized it anywhere. Slowly, he turned around.
Ted was standing behind him in the middle of the muddy street. He looked older than Booster remembered him as being, with a few more wrinkles and strands of grey in his hair. He was thinner too, as if he hadn't been eating well.
"Ted?" Booster asked uncertainly.
"Well, who were you expecting? Santa Claus?" Ted asked, smiling tiredly at him. It didn't quite reach his eyes, but it came close.
Booster just stared at him.
After a few seconds, Ted rolled his eyes. The next thing Booster knew, Ted had wrapped his arms around him in a tight hug.
"How long has it been?" Booster asked, not sure if he wanted to know the answer.
"It's been longer and longer between time jumps," Ted said, carefully avoiding the question. He looked exhausted. "I was starting to think that I was still going to be stuck here by the time the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre happened."
Booster hugged him back. He didn't press; there was plenty of time to find out more once they were back in the future. "When's that supposed to happen?"
Ted shrugged as he pulled away. "No idea," he said sheepishly. "I just remembered that it happened sometime around now."
Booster smiled, pressing a quick kiss on his cheek. He was tempted to say screw it and kiss him right on the lips, but knowing his luck one of the townspeople would walk up and see them just as he did. There was plenty of time in the future for everything. Booster just had to keep reminding himself of that.
Ted grinned at him. This time, it almost reached his eyes. "Aren't you the one who supposedly studied history in school? You should be telling me when it happened."
Booster ignored that jab. "Come on," he said, not wanting to let go of Ted. "Let's go home."
"Home sounds good," Ted said, nodding gratefully. Then he paused. "How did you find me, by the way?"
Booster gave him a broad grin. "I've got to admit, leaving scarabs as clues in all of the times you were stuck? Great idea."
Ted blinked. Twice. "What?"
Booster's grin faded. "Oh," he said slowly. "You haven't done that yet?"
Ted shook his head. "I guess we're making a few detours on the way home?"
Booster sighed. "I hate paradoxes," he muttered under his breath. Then he sighed again. "You wouldn't happen to know about an artist anywhere around here, would you?"