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with the roses of the may

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Virgil never had much time for anxiety of the introspective type, the identity crisis common to young men and women approaching adulthood with no real concept of the people they would become. Sure, he had plenty of the regular old superhero type anxieties: who was he under the mask? how could he blend two such separate lives into new colors and paint his own life's mosaic? Maybe he was hanging out with Tim Drake too much.

The gradual shifts of his regular life into a different regular life slid seamlessly from one day to the next. New job, new promotion, new child, and there he stood in front of his bathroom mirror at two in the morning after a night on patrol, and he found his first gray hair.

"We were the youngsters," he told Richie over coffee the next day. Coffee, not sodas at Burger Fool, not for years. Around them, young professionals and even teens bustled in lines to get their daily caffeine.

"We're not old, V," said Richie, though Virgil could see the softness in his chin, and the padding to his once-lean frame. Old Gear had looked like he'd swallowed a tire. Young(er) Richie was no longer a different person. Richie gave an appreciative glance to one of the line-bustlers. "We're just more mature."

But the hair bugged him, worse when Virgil didn't shave for a week in a dim plan to grow a rakish beard like his older self had, and instead of coal black, the bristles came in streaked with gray.

He didn't have time to worry during an Alpha-level alert for the League, but he did have time to hang back between skirmishes, checking out the ravaging lines on the faces of old friends. Batman was long estranged from the rest, but Virgil had seen enough of the society papers to notice Bruce Wayne was all silver fox these days. Wonder Woman was still as gorgeous as the day was long, and J'onn never would age like a human. Yet, Superman had hit what were probably his fifties pretty damn hard, no matter how invulnerable he was, and Green Lantern's shaved head was the only thing hiding the salt and pepper.

And none of that meant a damn thing as Virgil noticed the new crop of kids. Leaguers infamously didn't reproduce (little Rex the thumb-sucking exception proving the rule) so the young faces around him came to this life the same as Virgil did: kinda by accident, kinda by destiny, seriously bossed around by their elders.

Static and Gear and Stargirl (Star WOMAN now) weren't the bright young stars in the group any more.

The hundred-foot tall German Shepherd roared and snapped giant jaws at … What was his name? Gizmo? Gadget? "Duck!" shouted Virgil, and whatever the kid's name, he dropped to the ground as Static blasted the dog, singeing its fur and sending up the worst smell he'd run into since Thanksgiving at Sharon's house.

"Thanks," said the kid. Dee-Vice, Virgil thought, not a 'G' name at all. The boy, who couldn't be more than fifteen, reminded him a lot of Gear at that age, all technology and know-it-all-itis.

"Watch your butt," Virgil said, more kindly than he felt.

"Butt watched, sir," said Dee-Vice, and he initiated his skate-shoes to regroup with the other teens across the street. They were setting up a reinforced supersized dog kennel under Gear's supervision while the heavy-hitters kept Fido busy. Dee-Vice glanced up now and then at Virgil, giving him a thumbs up and a grin.

"Weird kid," Virgil muttered, but Green Lantern heard him and chuckled. "What?"

"When you get it, let me know."

Virgil frowned, wondering what on Earth he meant. "What? Does he have a crush on me or something?"

"Not that I can see. Don't think he's into old guys."

Virgil went for the laugh, then realized GL wasn't joking. Before he could give him a proper scowl, they were called out to help bell the giant cat on Thirty-Fourth Street.

They all returned for the debriefing back at the Watchtower, which used to be more of an afterparty, he remembered. Now it was all paperwork and notes on battle technique, and explaining to Mrs. Waller that they didn't mean to blow up that one street. Dee-Vice approached him after the first round. "Static?"

"Yeah?" Virgil cracked his back. He didn't used to get sore after a fight.

"I was just wondering if you had any notes for me?" The kid's face lit up talking to him, like a puppy. Old guys, came GL's voice in his treacherous memory. Dee-Vice wasn't into him. He had some hero worship going on for one of the older heroes. And of course GL saw it straight through, because Virgil used to play the puppy dog game with him, bounding after the cool heroes and eating pizza in the old Watchtower.

He tried to think of something useful to say, something wise. But all he could think about was going to Burger Fool with Richie, and making fun of Sharon's cooking, and the smell of the hallways in his old high school.

"No, you did good." Dee-Vice grinned. "If anything, don't forget to be a kid. You can be a superhero the rest of your life. You only get these days once."

The kid rolled his eyes, but he didn't lose the grin. "Okay. Thanks."

Virgil watched him walk away. Then he tracked down Richie. "Hey."

"'Sup, V?"

Virgil bit back his laugh. Richie? Was too old to be talking like he was still sixteen. But Virgil wouldn't have him any other way, talking young and growing old gracefully just like Virgil himself.

"Let's get some coffee. I'm buying."