“Cheese!” Walter and The Tick shouted. There was a bright flash.
“168,” Arthur muttered to himself. Neither his stepdad nor The Tick ever got tired of selfies.
He trailed behind The Tick and his stepfather in the grocery store. Which should have been a quick trip in and out. Instead, Dot had abandoned him for fresh produce, and Walter was having Tick pose for pics at every free sample table they came past.
“Look, Tick. Cheese!” Walter called out.
“Cheese!” Tick replied with just as much enthusiasm. The selfie stick was raised once more, and they both shouted “Cheese!” yet again while posing with cubes of Velveeta on toothpicks raised to their mouths.
Arthur’s phone buzzed. He glanced down and saw a text from Dot, “done! Bring the kids to check-out.”
He fought back the urge to roll his eyes at his far-too-efficient sister. He loved her so much, though, and she was saving them both from far worse--
He looked up to watch The Tick handed a small baby. “Oh no,” he whispered to himself. He shuffled quickly but politely through the small crowd of shoppers that had formed around The Tick and Walter.
Since everything, The Terror and Aegis, and all the press over the last several months, it was hard to take Tick anywhere. He kind of stood out. Plus, he always wanted to stop and talk with every person that thanked him for defending The City, wanted to pose for every selfie, and in general, be a very good superhero.
Except he was still The Tick and forgot most of the time just how strong he was.
“Ah ha ha, look at this cutie,” Arthur said as he inserted himself between Tick and the small, fussy baby the mom was boosting into Tick’s arms. He took the little bundle (“Mama’s Little Superian!” the toddler’s messy t-shirt declared) and made a funny face for the child’s entertainment. The baby paused mid-wail to look at Arthur in confusion.
“Arthur, little chum!” Tick threw his arm around Arthur’s shoulders and squeezed. Arthur choked a bit, but safely cradled the baby away from the big blue guy’s killer hugs. He actually felt Tick physically pause for a moment when he realized Arthur was holding the small child. “Little… Superian-in-training?” Tick asked.
“Yeah,” Arthur struggled to get out. Tick hugs were actually pretty great. Sometimes made breathing hard, but super great. “Yeah sure.”
Tick carefully picked up the baby and held the little girl close to his face. The baby gave Tick a curious look, then giggled.
That made Tick laugh loud and and proud. “Excellent, littler chum! Tell me, what are the temperature ranges of your heat vision, and are you more of a jumper or a flier?” he asked in all seriousness.
The baby giggled again and reached for one of Tick’s antenna.
“Yup, heat vision, that’s funny. Ha ha! One selfie, gotta go!” Arthur quickly grabbed the mom’s phone, took a selfie with himself, a confused Tick, and the pleased baby, then passed phone and kid back to mom in record speed.
But something was bothering Arthur from the encounter as Walter and Tick did the coupon dance at check out. Dot ignored them all and pretended they weren't all together as she paid, though she accepted the pile of coupons Tick solemnly handed her. He watched the big guy as they piled into the car. He wasn’t acting strange. Well, any stranger than usual. But... No, that couldn’t be right. He had to have just misunderstood the situation, but the thought wouldn’t leave Arthur’s head. Did Tick not know what babies even were?
Arthur was staring at the back of Tick’s head. The Big Guy’s blue antenna twitched this way and that as he flipped through the radio stations. Dot had taken the volume control to the steering wheel and was blissfully ignoring Tick’s questions about darksynth.
“Tick,” Arthur started. “I had a question.”
“Yes, small flying soldier chum?”
“You remember that baby in the market?” He started carefully.
Tick moved the rearview mirror so he could better see Arthur as they spoke. Dot sighed and adjusted it so she could see again. This was a constant habit between them.
“The grumpy little Superian?” Arthur offered.
“Yes! The angry soon-to-be superhero. We should speak to Aegis about the tiny one’s Initiation and Test Assignment. We could offer an internship opportunity--”
“Tick.” Arthur cut him off. “It got me thinking. What were you like as a kid?”
“Oooh.” Walter perked up next to him in the backseat. “That is interesting. Did your suit grow with you, and or did you earn it when you were older? What is your origin story?”
Tick looked even more perplexed. He then quickly turned back to Dot, “While I respect you musical choices, friend Dot, can we change to an Aegis monitor channel? I have the feeling Destiny is calling and we are not picking up the phone of justice!”
Dot shared a look with Arthur in the rearview mirror. Tick reached out to move it again so he could share in the look. Dot smacked his hand away.
“Look, just because he doesn’t want to talk about himself as a little kid, doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what kids are .” Dot sprayed more whipped cream from a can on the chocolate pie. “He can’t remember who I am half the time. It might be brain damage.”
“Don’t be unkind,” their mother reminded them both. “He’s such a sweet boy.” She glanced into the living room where Tick was lifting up the couch so Walter could vacuum under it. “His origin story might be traumatic to relive, and he has to block it out to survive in this complex world.”
Both Dot and Arthur stared at her.
Their mother shrugged with a smile. “Walter and I were listening to Onward the Dog’s audiobook.”
“You know what? Best way to deal with Tick is head on.” Dot marched into the living room with the fresh pie.
“No, wait, sweetie. That’s for after dinner--”
“Dot, no! Just asking him things never ends well--”
Walter was laying on the couch, laughing, while Tick bench-pressed it.
“Tick, you’ve got to put down the couch. It’s pie time.” Dot pointed out.
“Oo, fresh mother blessed baked goods!” Tick set the couch down gently (something they had to train him into doing over several months) and made to reach for the pie.
“But first,” Dot pulled the pie out of reach, “you’ve got to tell me where babies come from.”
There was a heavy pause. Tick’s antenna drooped for a moment, then perked back up.
“Little chums come from the stork of justice. Delivered to those deemed worthy by her Lady Destiny to lead the next generation of superheros to uphold the honor and integrity of our fellow citizens of the here and now and The City before us--”
Dot set the pie down on the coffee table and walked back into the kitchen. “Yeah, okay, he has no idea and I’m not touching that.”
Arthur had no idea why he was trying so hard with this nor why he cared so much. Maybe it was because The Tick, for all his faults, was his friend and a good person. It hurt a bit when news pundits and even other heroes would call his partner names for his slightly zanier “inspirational” speeches. The Big Guy deserved the respect and dignity of a real life superhero who could make his own decisions.
“Arthur.” Dot put her hand on her brother’s shoulder and leaned in so Tick couldn’t hear them (maybe, no one was sure how good his hearing was, and neither did Tick). “Why not let him be? Sometimes bigger concepts are harder for him. And he doesn’t think of other people like that, in a sexual way. This might be beyond him.”
“I know, but.” Arthur bit his lip. “I don’t want anyone to make fun of him because he doesn’t get something as fundamental as reproduction.” He leaned forward. The Tick leaned forward too, mirroring Arthur’s serious pose. “Tick. ...when a mommy superhero and a daddy superhero love each other very much…” He searched for the words.
“...they come together to form a mighty team of other superheros to defend the world from Evil!” Tick finished with a flourish. The couch made an ominous creaking noise when Tick surged up.
Arthur covered his face with his hands.
“Maybe I can find one of those old middle school education videos on youtube,” Dot pondered aloud.
“Don’t worry, everyone.” Their mom appeared in the doorway. She held up her very well-used dvd box of The Thorne Birds . Walter perked up again and started clapping. “I’ve got this.”
Arthur sat up with a start. He had fallen asleep sometime around hour three of the romcom marathon. His mother Joan, Walter, and The Tick were openly weeping as the credits rolled across the TV screen.
Dot was still passed out on the floor, empty bottle of whiskey in hand. Lucky, Arthur thought with venom.
“I understand,” Tick cried out as he and Joan clutched each other. “If only Father Ralph had trusted his inner feelings instead of feeding his ambition, he could have lived happily with his true love and family.”
“The book is even better,” mom assured him, as she wiped her eyes, then The Tick’s.
“We’ve got the audiobook.” Walter blew his nose. “We’ll do Wednesday night dinner and Thorne Birds. The new recording is twenty-seven hours long!”
“Noooo,” Arthur moaned. He smacked the back of his head against the back of his chair a few times. “Not what I meant, not what I meant.”
Dot woke up enough to flip him off from the floor.
“Pathos!” Tick shouted and hugged his parents harder.