This was how it started: Paco, in Arizona, kidnapped and wearing leopard print.
It wasn’t nearly as fun as it sounded.
For one, it wasn’t finally, after all these years of longing, a man has come to our all supermodel jungle society! leopard print. It was this is the ceremonial dress of our people leopard print, longsleeved and high-collared and scratchy. Paco didn’t have a choice but to wear it, because his own clothes had been ripped to shreds when the portal had dropped him into the rocky desert. He’d slid until he’d managed to get a hold of some rocks, hanging there scraped up until the aliens found him.
They were tall and blue and gorgeous, so of course the one who patched him up had to remind him of his abuela. Everything sucked.
“We will await contact from your world’s brightly colored leader,” the alien in charge said, brandishing her very large and very menacing sword. By “brightly colored leader,” Paco was going to go ahead and assume they meant Superman. Also, the fact that their camp had posters of him all over the place probably didn’t hurt. “You will remain here, and you will refrain from touching anything.”
“You’re not my mom,” Paco said to the closing door.
Earth’s brightly colored leader must have been busy rescuing kittens from a tree or staring down the Loch Ness monster, because next thing Paco knew the aliens (they’d all got names with entirely too many sounds in them; Paco could roll his r’s like a boss, but some things were even beyond his considerable talents) were taking him to their sacred volcano. Their sacred volcano, that they’d teleported to Arizona.
It goes pretty much exactly like every B movie would have had him believe.
“If your brightly colored leader does not arrive within the next two Earth hours, we will have no choice but to surrender you to the volcano,” one of the aliens said. She was wearing a feathered hat; it would’ve been hilarious, except for the part where she also had a giant spear.
Brenda had gotten space guys and jungles and stuff. Paco? Hogtied and swinging above a volcano, dressed in now very sweaty leopard print. Everything was unfair. At least he had two hours or so – Superman would totally come and get him before two hours were up.
Or Jaime, but that dude was already pretty late, and Paco? Not so impressed at the moment. Having a best friend who was a superhero should’ve meant never getting intergalactically ransomed in exchange for Superman’s presence. That was just how things were supposed to work.
One Earth hour and fifty-eight minutes later, the alien with the big spear turned to the one holding the crank keeping Paco dangling above the volcano and said, “He is not coming.”
She got an appreciative nod. “Shall I lower the prisoner, then?”
“Wait, wait, wait!” Paco shouted. “Doesn’t the prisoner get any say? Dude’s still got two minutes!”
“As a culture, we do not appreciate the – what is the Earth saying?” There was a brief huddle between everyone on the ground, during which another preciously volcano-free minute ticked by. Finally, the one with the spear straightened up, nodded, and told Paco, “As a culture, we do not appreciate those who are well-dressed and tardy.”
“Wait, hold on a sec –” Paco started as the one who had been manning the crank moved back into position with a dignified clearing of her throat. The rope started to slip, and that was when Paco saw the blue and red shape on the horizon.
Superman landed, all fluttering cape and sky blue eyes.
He was a lot shorter than Paco had thought. And younger. And wearing a t-shirt and jeans under his cape.
“I’m here,” Almost Definitely Not Superman said, head held high. Paco had to hand it to him – aside from the part where his cape was dragging all over the ground, the guy was kind of selling it. “Release him. It’s me you want.”
There was a quick glance exchanged by all parties, before –
“Chain the imposter!”
Right, yeah, obviously. Paco rolled his eyes.
“So,” Not Superman said, once they were chained back to back, “not entirely how I planned this. Sorry.”
“No problemo,” Paco said, because what else could you say to a guy when you were both hovering twenty feet above a volcano, swaying back and forth? To add insult to injury, the breeze kept blowing Not Superman’s cape into Paco’s face. “Not to rub it in or anything but – real Man of Steel have a full schedule of kitten rescuing or what?”
“Urgh,” Not Superman said with an audible eyeroll. “Or what. Let’s just say there were – family issues. Off world. Unbelievably, this is about five hundred times more fun than what he’s dealing with.”
“Even the part where we’re about to be dropped in lava? ‘Cause, not really buying that.”
“Trust me, even the lava part,” Not Superman said, laughing a little. “Besides, don’t count us out yet. You’ve got Superboy on your side, and these chains? I can take them, no problem.”
He flexed his shoulders and Paco took a moment to contemplate his life, chained back to back with a teen bodybuilder in a cape. He wasn’t out of shape by a long shot, but he had nothing on the rippling action he was feeling through the thin material of his shirt and Superboy’s likely stolen cape and, wow, okay, so not telling Jaime that in the recap.
The chains held fast.
“Your bonds were forged in the liquid fires of our forbidden oceans!” Clipboard Alien told them gleefully, “And made from the scales of our sea dragons, a hundred feet tall with hides a thousand times stronger than anything else on our planet. I believe there is a creature on Earth that is quite similar – your most noble Loch Ness Monster?”
“We’re going to die,” Paco said.
“Nessie’s real?” Superboy said.
The aliens were in the middle of a deliberation about whether or not the mystic chant would have to be altered to deal with all the added weight (“Hey!”) when there was a dark flash, and the Teen Titans arrived, plus Jaime, and Brenda riding piggyback with Wonder Girl.
Which, okay, Paco was going to have to save that image for a time when he wasn’t hanging upside down over a volcano, chained to Superboy and deeply, deeply embarrassed.
“Paco!” Jaime called. “Hold on, we’ll get you down!”
“Beetle!” Red Robin snapped. “Focus. You, Kid Flash and Miss Martian will handle the aliens. Ravager will get Superboy and your friend down from there. And, Wonder Girl…”
“I think my passenger can handle herself,” Wonder Girl replied, pokerfaced. Brenda waved to Paco; on second glance, she had a batarang in her hand.
“When did – never mind,” Red Robin said. He pressed a hand to his forehead, briefly. “Wonder Girl, Brenda, go help with the aliens.”
Ravager took out Clipboard Alien with her own clipboard, then quickly scaled the scaffolding until she was eyelevel with them.
“I know you,” she said, tilting her head and peering at Paco. “I held you hostage once, right?”
“It was magical,” Paco agreed, “but can we catch up after you’ve cut us down?”
Ravager put a hand on his chest and shoved, spinning them around Superboy faced her.
“Rose,” he said. “Maybe now is not the time?”
“Freeze breath would come in handy about now,” she said, “but I’ve never met a chain I couldn’t break. Hold onto your cape and get ready to fly.”
Half an hour later, while Red Robin was busy putting the aliens into bat-cuffs and muttering to himself, Paco turned to Superboy.
“Hey, that was fun,” he said. “Now let’s never do it again.”
Superboy grinned and stuck out his hand.
“Agreed,” he said. They shook on it.
Then it was just a matter of watching Superboy, Wonder Girl and Miss Martian haul the alien kidnappers off to wherever supers took alien kidnappers in the first place. Jaime was a little ways off, talking in hushed tones to Red Robin and Ravager, so Paco took the opportunity to sidle up to Brenda.
“Well,” he said, yawning and stretching wide. His arm came down around her shoulders, tucking her against his side. “I’m beat.”
“Yeah, getting kidnapped by mouthy aliens takes a lot of out you, I bet,” Brenda said.
“You’re one to talk,” he said, and she snorted and elbowed him in the ribs.
“That was different,” she said. “That was space. It was awesome.”
“Uh-huh,” he said. They were both quiet for a long moment, Brenda’s head perilously close to lying on Paco’s shoulder, and then she glanced up at him with that look in her eye.
“So, you and Superboy looked pretty cozy,” she said, grinning. He groaned. “Should I be worried?”
“Chica, no,” he said, shaking his head. “I am tired, covered in dirt – that was my favorite shirt – and I was kidnapped. By. Aliens. And held hostage. And I didn’t even get to meet Superman.”
“But you got to meet Superboy,” she teased. “Hey, no guilt here. I mean, I’ve seen him. It’s not your fault. It’s only natural.”
“Please stop talking,” he said, squashing her against his side. He buried his nose in her hair, breathing in the aloe scent of her organic shampoo, and let his eyes drift shut.
Three months later, Superboy fell out of the sky and onto the hood of Brenda’s car.
“Do you think my insurance covers this,” she said, stunned, hands still gripping the wheel. The light turned green, and the car jolted forward as they were rearended from behind.
“Nah, but it’ll take care of that, alright,” Paco said, scrambling forward and over the windshield. “Hey, hey, are you okay?”
“Ugh,” Superboy said. He had one hand over his eyes. “What did I hit?”
“My car,” Brenda informed him, standing up in her seat now. Superboy removed his hand and glanced around; he winced.
Brenda shrieked and Paco whirled around, ready to hit something provided she hadn’t started in on it already. Red Robin was perched on the back of his seat, his mouth set in a stony frown.
“Don’t do that!” Brenda said, pressing one hand to her chest. She swiped at her forehead with the other, glaring when Paco snickered. “The ninja thing is not cool when it happens to you.”
“Sorry,” Red Robin said. He didn’t sound even a little bit apologetic. He held out a white business card, blank except for a phone number. Brenda hesitated, then took it with careful fingers. “Call this number, tell them what happened, and they’ll take care of your car for you.”
“Yeah, yeah, the car, sure,” Superboy called. “Who’s going to take care of me?”
Red Robin’s lips twitched slightly. He leapt off the car and circled around until he was leaning over Superboy’s prone form.
“How many fingers am I holding up?” he said. Superboy scowled.
“Trick question, dude,” he said. “You always ask that and then you never hold up any.”
“Well, we know nothing’s permanently damaged, then,” Red Robin said. “Can you stand?”
“Trying to figure that out,” Superboy said. He held up one hand and waved it lazy, uneven circles. “Results to be determined.”
Red Robin made a face. “You two, help me peel him off.”
Paco and Brenda exchanged a glance.
“Hey,” Brenda said, shrugging. “When Robin asks you to peel Superboy off the hood of your car – not really an opportunity you want to pass up.”
“Nah,” Paco agreed, hopping out. “And it’s Red Robin.”
“Glad to know someone remembers,” Red Robin muttered. Together, he and Paco and Brenda all managed to haul Superboy off the hood of the car and onto the street. He swayed, unsteady on his feet, and Paco planted a palm in the middle of his back, hauled one of his arms over his shoulder. It seemed like the right thing to do.
Red Robin gave him a look that might have been thankful.
“What happened?” Brenda asked once Superboy looked a little less like he was about to fall face first into the pavement. “Kryptonite?” When Red Robin shot her a look, she shrugged and said, “What? I read.”
“Worse,” Superboy said through gritted teeth. “Magic.”
“You definitely won’t be rejoining the fight in your condition,” Red Robin said. “Can you two take him someplace safe?”
“We would, but…” Brenda said, trailing off as she circled her car. She popped the trunk. Red Robin raised an eyebrow, surveying the stacks of paper, bags of salt and the one lone bucket of something Paco thought looked a lot like lime Jell-O powder. “Jaime called. He’s holding the line by the border, and the scarab says he needs this stuff.”
“I’ll be fine,” Superboy said. Paco let go of him and he swayed backwards, arms windmilling; Paco grabbed him again before he could fall. Superboy fixed him with a dirty look. “Not cool.”
“I can stay with him,” Paco said. “You can take the stuff to Jaime.”
“One problem with that,” Brenda said, patting her car and raising her eyebrows.
“If Blue Beetle says that stuff is imperative, then it probably is,” Red Robin said. “I’ll take you the rest of the way.”
Brenda’s eyes lit up. “Wait. I get to ride with you? In the Batmobile?”
“We’ll be taking the plane, actually,” Red Robin said. Brenda punched the air.
“Is it too late to switch?” Paco asked.
“Look, I appreciate you doing this and all,” Superboy said on the way to Paco’s house. He seemed to being better – he was walking on his own now, slumped shoulders and defeated expression notwithstanding. “But you can just leave me wherever, really. It’s fine.”
“Nuh-uh, no way,” Paco said. “Do you even know when your powers will be back?”
Superboy scowled at the sidewalk. “Don’t know. It’s magic, so – probably whenever they get the guy that whammied me.”
“Yeah, so, not leaving you on the streets,” Paco said. “’Sides, it’s. Y’know. Thanks, for last time. Paying you back and all.”
“Oh,” Superboy said. “That. Right.”
“What, you forgot about that?” Paco said. Superboy made a face.
“Nah, kind of hard to forget,” he said. “Just wasn’t sure you remembered. And there’s nothing to thank me back for – it wasn’t like I actually saved you, or anything. Just kind of ran a distraction.”
Paco held an arm out, stopping Superboy in his tracks.
“We should do this right, man – I’m Paco,” he said, holding out his hand. Superboy stared at it for a moment before he offered his own.
“Nice to meet you, Paco,” he said. They shook hands. “You can call me Kon, if you want.”
“Okay, Kon, so here’s the deal,” Paco said, laying down the rules. “I can’t leave you on the side of the street because my mom? She lives for this stuff. If she found out I had the chance to take someone in trouble home to her and I left them on the sidewalk? She’d kick my ass six ways to Sunday and straight out of Texas.”
“Yeah, because that makes me real thrilled about going to your house,” Kon said. He cracked a smile.
“Nah, trust me,” Paco said, flapping a hand. “You’re getting the easy part out of this.”
“So, Kon – is that short for anything?”
“Uh, Conner, Mrs. Tejas,” Kon said, hastily swallowing a mouthful of tamales. “Ma’am.”
“Mrs. Tejas!” Paco’s mom parroted, laughing a full belly laugh. “Ma’am! Your new friend is so polite, Paco – why can’t you be more like that?”
“I think it’s probably on account of how he was dropped on his head as a baby,” Soledad said. She propped her elbows up on the table, staring dreamily in Kon’s direction.
“Soledad! Paco was not dropped on his head as a child,” their mother scolded. She paused, then added, “That was Viviana. And elbows off the table.”
Soledad slid her elbows off the table and sighed. Paco snapped his fingers in front of her face, but nothing doing. Too far in Tall, Dark Handsome Stranger land, he guessed.
“Your cooking is delicious, Mrs. Tejas,” Kon said, finishing the rest of his plate. Paco’s mother appeared over his shoulder in an instant with seconds; Paco gave him a look as if to say, see, told you. Kon just grinned in reply.
“I like him,” she said, leaning in close. “You should bring him over more often.”
“Definitely,” Soledad sighed.
In the evening, Paco got a call from Brenda.
“Yeah,” he said once she was done updating him on the situation. “We were watching it on the news, but then Viviana’s show came on and Teresa made a grab for the remote. When do you think you’ll be back?”
“Soon, probably,” she said. There was a pause. “Given that dimensional portal over there doesn’t suck us all in and spit us back out a couple alternate realities away.”
“What?” Paco said.
“Okay, gotta go!” Brenda replied quickly and hung up, leaving Paco staring at his phone. He pocketed it and wandered back onto the porch. Kon sat on the concrete steps with one knee pulled up to his chest, his arms wrapped loosely around it.
“What’d she say?” he asked.
“Eh,” Paco replied. “The usual. Something something huge robots, something something magic guy, something something dimensional portal. So she’s thinking another two hours, tops.”
“I hate dimensional portals,” Kon said. “The giant robots are pretty cool, though. Robin and I once sort of wrecked Japan in one.”
“Yeah?” Paco said. He sat down next to Kon, who slid over a little to make room. He flashed Paco a quick grin.
“Yeah,” he said. “It was kind of great. Ages ago, though. A lot of stuff has happened since then.” The smile fell away and he looked oddly pensive, frowning at his shoes.
“So, uh,” Paco said, at a loss for what to say. Jaime aside, Paco hadn’t had a lot of opportunities to hang out with real superheroes, and now he had Superboy of all people on his doorstep. “Hope my sisters didn’t bother you too much. They’re kind of loco.”
Kon looked up and grinned again. He shook his head.
“Nah, they’re great,” he said. “I wish I had sisters like them. You probably never get bored.”
“Not with them all screaming in my ear all the time,” he said. “Stealing my stuff, whining that I never take them anywhere, invading my room, listening in on my phonecalls. Dressing my kid brother up like a princess.” He rolled his eyes and Kon laughed.
“That’s awesome, dude,” he said. “Seriously, I mean it.”
“Lemme guess – you’re an only child?” Paco said. Kon snorted.
“I’ve got a cousin,” he said. “Sort of.”
“Trade you,” Paco offered, and then he thought about it for a second. “Dude, wait – do you mean Supergirl?”
“Watch it,” Kon said. “That’s my cousin.”
“Man,” Paco said. “That’s kind of crazy.”
They sat in silence for a little while, and then suddenly Kon groaned, tipping his head back.
“I hate this,” he said, balling his hands into fists. “Not knowing when I’ll get my powers back. Or if. I feel so useless – it sucks!”
Paco clapped a hand to his shoulder.
“Welcome to my world,” he said, gazing up at the rapidly darkening sky.
Kon’s powers came back shortly after dinner. One minute they were hanging in Kon’s room, looking up the usual stupid stuff online, and then the next minute Kon was hovering. He looked about as shocked as Paco felt. Then his face broke out in a wide grin, eyes shining and – okay, yeah, there was the Superman resemblance. Paco could see it, clear as day.
“Congrats,” he said. He held out his fist and Kon obliged, knocking it with his own. Paco had to pull his hand back and shake it out, wincing.
“Sorry,” Kon said. “Just – getting use to having all my powers again.”
“Guess that means they won the fight,” Paco said.
“Yeah,” Kon said. He was looking out the window. “Listen, I should really – yeah, I should really go and catch up with everyone.”
“Yeah,” Paco replied. “Yeah, ‘course, that sounds like a thing you should absolutely be doing.”
“Seriously,” Kon said. His feet hadn’t touched down yet, and how cool was that, to be able to just hover in midair. Paco had seen flying – Jaime flew, Jaime had taken Paco flying, huge bug wings slicing through the air and soaring high – but the way Kon handled himself in the air was something else. “Thanks for everything. You’re a really great guy.”
“Don’t let my girlfriend hear you say that,” Paco told him. “She’s big into the dudemance. Gonna throw a fit about me having a mancrush.”
Kon threw him an exaggerated wink, and Paco threw a punch at his shoulder, just barely swiping him. “Go on, get out of here. Tell Jaime good job for me.”
“You got it,” Kon said, already legging it out Paco’s window. “Tell your mom thanks for the food, alright?”
And then he was gone. Paco watched him fly away until he disappeared beyond the horizon.
“Yeah,” he said to himself. “That wasn’t weird at all.”
Jaime said he still had superhero cleanup duty back at the battle site, but he dropped Brenda off first, and she and Paco sat out on the stoop just like he and Superboy had a few hours before. Paco stared up at the night sky, and then at Brenda’s hair, illuminated by the porch light.
He tried to pretend he didn’t see all three of his sisters, badly hidden behind the living room curtain and obviously spying on him from the windows.
“So how was the superhero ride along?” he asked after a long moment. Brenda shrugged.
“It was alright,” she said. He frowned.
“Hey,” he said, leaning towards her. She looked up at him, and he sort of wanted to count all of her freckles, draw lines between them like constellations in the sky. And not even in the mean way he had back in a gradeschool, with what had luckily not been sharpie – in the sappy way where just the sight of her made him want to do something stupid, like sneak over La Dama’s fence and hoist a boombox way over his head and serenade her with all the hits of the ‘80s while her Tia Amparo released the hounds. “It’s okay.”
“Really?” she said, arching an eyebrow.
“Really,” he said, taking her hand. She stared down at their clasped hands for a long moment, frowning. Then she looked up with her whole face lit up, grinning ear-to-ear.
“It. Was. Awesome!” she said, bouncing in her seat a little. “I got to ride in the Batplane! The Batplane, Paco, do you understand what I’m talking about here? It was probably the single greatest moment of anything, ever, I can’t even – at one point we got attacked midair, and I got to steer!”
“Yeah, okay,” Paco said, shaking his head to hide his grin. He got up, pulling her along by their joined hands. “How about we go get something to eat. You can buy me a cheeseburger and then rub it in some more.”
“Steer the batplane!” Brenda said.
The next time wasn’t nearly as much fun, at least, not at first. It was explained to him later: a new group had found out about the scarab and the nigh limitless power it possessed, and had decided, in typical bad guy fashion, to take it for themselves. All they knew about the scarab was that it was in the possession of Blue Beetle, who’d attached himself to El Paso, was almost definitely under the age of twenty and probably a boy (though they hadn’t ruled out the possibility of a girl – if the scarab could create the kind of stuff it did, why wouldn’t it be able to disguise a voice).
In further typical bad guy fashion, they’d launched the least subtle attack plan ever: kidnap everyone in El Paso who fit those requirements. Except, of course, for Jaime, who’d been on a date with Traci. In Japan.
They’d nabbed Paco on his way back from the library. Except, he’d been at the library to pick Viviana up from her volunteer job, so they’d gotten her too.
So now Paco was crouched low in what appeared to be an airship, his arms around Viviana. She had her face hidden in his shoulder; occasionally, she would shift, peeking at the armed guards at the end of the hall, but then she would just duck down again. She wasn’t crying, though, and he was proud of her for that. He pressed his cheek against her hair and squeezed her closer.
“Hey, hey, listen,” he said. “It’s going to be okay, right?” When she didn’t reply, he continued, “You know Mom would kill me if I let anything happen to you, and besides, this is El Paso. Like these guys can take on Escarabajo.”
As if in reply to his words, the airship lurched, creaking ominously. Viviana muffled a shriek, fisting her hands in his shirt, but Paco just grinned. “See? About time.”
There was a great tearing sound as the airship wall was ripped away, but instead of Jaime, Paco found himself face-to-face with Superboy yet again. Well, and Wonder Girl, but she’d already dashed off to go punch bad guys. Superboy seemed to be on rescuing duty.
“We have got to stop meeting like this,” he said to Paco.
“I’m not complaining,” Paco told him. Kon held out his fist and Paco bumped it with his own.
Viviana untangled herself from him, staring at Superboy with wide eyes.
“Wait,” she said, dawning realization in her voice. “I know you.”
“Um,” Kon said. He and Kon exchanged a panicked glance.
“You were at our house!” Viviana continued, her voicing rising higher and higher. “You were – you ate my mom’s tamales! Superboy was at my house! My brother knows Superboy!”
“What can I say,” Paco mumbled, looking away. He scratched the back of his neck. “I’m a man of many secrets.”
Viviana punched him in the shoulder. “You know Superboy and you never told me! You suck! You suck so much, you, I, argh! WORST BROTHER!”
“Right,” Kon said, awkwardly. “I’m just going to… start rescuing people now.”
“Please,” Paco told him.
Later, on the ground, Viviana grabbed hold of his wrist and all but dragged him over to where Superboy was standing, watching as hundreds of frantic kids dialed their parents while news crews scrambled for interviews. The police were leading the (very beaten up, very humiliated, very unmasked) bad guys away in chains.
“I can’t believe you know Superboy and you never told any of us!” she said. “Wait until everyone I know hears about this!”
“That’s not such a great idea,” Paco told her, trying to dig his heels into the ground.
“Yeah,” Kon said, coming over to them. “Sorry, Viviana, right? See, the thing is, I know it sounds cool, knowing a superhero and all, but the truth is it’s not that great. People’ll see that as a way to get to me. You and your brother could get hurt. The rest of your family, too. And that’s the last thing I want.”
Viviana’s face fell. Kon put a hand on her shoulder and leaned in, looking her in the eye.
“You understand, right?” he said. “I think you and your brother – your whole family – you guys are really awesome, and I don’t want anything to happen to you. So that’s why it’s not safe to tell anyone you guys know me, even though I know the kind of bragging cred you’d get.”
“Yeah,” Viviana said. “I get it.”
“So we’ve got a deal?” he said. She chewed thoughtfully at her lip.
“Yeah, we’ve got a deal,” she said at last. “On one condition: you have to take me flying.”
Paco groaned, slapping a hand to his forehead. He grabbed Viviana by the shoulders and hauled her back.
“You do not have to do that,” he said to Kon. “Seriously, Soledad was right, she was dropped on her head –”
“No,” Kon said. “It’s cool. That sounds like a good deal to me. One trip around El Paso, coming right up.”
He bowed low, sweeping an arm out to the side. Viviana giggled and Paco kind of wanted the ground to swallow him up. Viviana held out her hand and Superboy took it, pulling her against his side.
“Hey,” Paco told him. “That’s my sister. You keep your hands where I can see them, ese.”
Kon saluted with his free hand. “Hey, I’m a gentleman. Ask anyone.”
Later, sitting in the back of their car, all apparent trauma forgotten, Viviana sighed, “Superboy’s the coolest.”
“Uh-huh,” Paco said, staring out the window. He took a long sip of his soda.
“Could you find out if he’s single?” Viviana said, and Paco spit out the rest of his drink.
The next time he and Superboy met, it was in Alaska of all places and it was freezing. Paco shuddered and cursed his lack of a jacket. Superboy didn’t seem too bothered, but then super-bodyheat was probably one of his powers.
“Do you know whose fault this is?” he said. “Girls. It’s all their fault.”
“Yeah?” Kon asked. “How do you figure?”
“I’m arguing with Brenda, and the next thing I know she says she wishes I would get lost, and then – bam. Alaska.” He flopped down in the snow. It soaked through his jeans but he figured he was going to end up cold either way. Might as well get some real snow out of it.
“Aha,” Kon said. “Yeah, there’s some freaky magic stuff going on. Robin told Rose and the demonspawn and I to go away so he could think, and, then, well…” he trailed off.
In the distance, Ravager and the other Robin, the tiny one who growled a lot, were stalking a grazing moose.
Kon sat down next to Paco. “Brenda’s your girlfriend, right?”
“Assuming I ever get out of here,” Paco grumbled. “And I’m not a Pacosicle.”
“Hey, if it’s any consolation, it’s not just girls,” Kon said. “Boys? Just as much of a handful. Especially if they’re the bat-kind.”
Something dawned on Paco. “So, wait. You and Robin…?”
Kon grinned, and not his usual confident grin, either. It was sort of self-conscious and shy, and he ducked his head as he said, “Yeah, well.”
“Hey, that’s cool,” Paco said. “I can dig it. I’m a modern man. And maybe telling her Robin’s gay will get Teresa to stop carrying that action figure everywhere.”
Kon stifled a laugh. “Oh man, I am going to tell him she does that just to watch the look on his face.”
They sat in companionable silence for a minute, watching as Ravager and Baby Robin continued to close in on the moose. They had moved to lurking behind the trees, and there were a disturbing amount of swords in the picture.
“They’re not going to try and make us eat that thing, are they?” Paco said after a moment. “Because… not happening.”
“I really, really hope not,” Kon said, casting a look up at the grey sky. “C’mon, rescue team.”
The girl who approached him at the garage was blonde and gorgeous and she had a smile like summer, warm and soft and bright.
“Hi,” she said. “You’re Paco, right? I’m Kara. Jaime told me where I could find you.”
“That’s my name,” Paco said, leaning back against the car he’d been working on. He made sure his tattoos were showing, and flexed a little bit, figuring it couldn’t hurt. He might’ve been taken, but hey, a pretty girl deserved a show. “What can I help you with?”
She laughed and held out a piece of paper.
“I think you know my cousin,” she said. “Big guy, goes by the name of Kon, kind of a dork?”
“Wait,” he said. “As in –” he drew the S in the air in front of his chest, “—but that’d make you –”
She raised a finger to her lips. He fell silent.
“Anyway,” she continued. “He’s feeling kind of down and he doesn’t want to admit it, so he’s just brooding up in the barn. And I know he’s got a lot friends in the “community”—” she drew air quotes and everything “—but I think some normal perspective is what he really needs. So, no pressure or anything, but if you feel up to it, just give him a call? Ask for Conner.”
“Yeah,” he said, glancing down at the slip of paper she’d handed him. There was a phone number written in a loopy scrawl. “Yeah, sure, no problem.”
“Thanks!” she said. “Seriously, I think it’d mean a lot to him. Anyway, I’d better be going, but it was nice meeting you!”
“Will you sign my chest?” Paco shouted after her. She just laughed and waved.
“Paco!” his mom called a few days later. “There’s someone at the door for you!”
“Coming, coming!” Paco shouted back, stumbling out of his room and to the door. He figured it was Jaime or Brenda, so he hadn’t bothered putting on pants, just kept the shirt and boxers he’d slept in, but the guy on the doorstep wasn’t either of them. He was tall with black hair that kind of stuck up at all angles, and a plaid shirt that was in no way made for the Texas summer heat and he had glasses perched on his nose that were just the wrong side of dorky.
It took Paco a moment to recognize him.
“Dude,” he said. “Did you jack the clothes off a lumberjack mathlete?”
“It’s my civilian disguise,” Kon said. “I’ve got to head back to Kansas for school after this, so.”
“Glasses and a different shirt?” Paco said. “Really? That’s a disguise?”
“If it works, it works,” Kon said, shrugging, and Paco had to give him that. He hesitated for a moment, standing on the doorstep and shifting his weight from foot to foot, and Paco was just about to invite him in or something when he continued, “Anyway. I just wanted to say thanks, for the other day.”
“You came all the way to Texas to thank me?” Paco said, raising an eyebrow, and Kon shrugged again. He stuck his hands in his pockets.
“It seemed like the kind of thing to do in person,” he said. “But – yeah. Thanks.”
“No prob,” Paco said. “It sounded like you needed a bud.”
“Yeah,” Kon admitted. “I did. It, uh, really meant a lot. I’m sorry I couldn’t really tell you what was up, you know, all the secret identity stuff but…”
“Hey, you told me enough,” Paco said. He tried to think of something good to say, but Jaime had always been the one good with making up inspirational speeches on the fly. “You can’t help all that parent stuff, but it doesn’t. Y’know, it doesn’t make you who you are.”
Kon bit down on a grin. “Thanks, man.”
From inside the house, Soledad sang, “Paco’s got a boooooyfriend!”
“And you don’t!” Teresa shouted, giggling.
Then there was the usual amount of shrieking, threats and the sound of things breaking. Paco wilted against the doorjamb. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder.
“I better go,” he said. “Mom only has two hands, and there’s three of them, plus my brother.”
“Yeah, me too,” Kon said. “But hey, you want to hang sometime soon?”
“You know it,” Paco said with a grin. “We’re bros, man.”
“Oh yeah,” Kon said. “We’re definitely bros.”
“Alright,” Kon said, throwing himself down onto the bench next to Paco. Where he’d come from, Paco had no idea. “Here’s the deal – there’s this fight going down a couple of states from here. It’s not a big thing or anything, just kind of the usual evil robot deal.”
“I love the usual evil robot deal,” Paco said. “I love it so much.”
Kon grinned. “Right, so, it’s not really heavyhitter material or anything, no real danger, just lots of stuff to smash, couple of buildings to save, that stuff.”
“What are you getting at?” Paco asked him.
“And I know it’s not the usual kind of stuff you do when you hang,” Kon continued, “but I live in Kansas, and the usual hanging stuff there is doing your Animal Husbandry 101 homework together.”
“That is so incredibly wrong,” Paco muttered.
“And the thing is, everybody should get to beat up evil robots,” Kon said. “So – want to go beat up evil robots?”
“Just let me go get my stick,” he said.