“Head's up, gang,” Milagro called, pulling her friends out of their thoughts and naps. “We're passing Pluto now.”
Instantly, the other four Leaguers moved to gather around their dinky spaceship’s piloting station, peering outward at the familiar dwarf planet.
“We’re almost home,” Ernie breathed, grinning from ear to ear - literally. Joe nudged his friend in the side, also smiling, but much more sedately.
“Careful, ‘spring, you don’t want to jinx us,” he warned.
“Yeah yeah, I know, but we are finally back on home turf; even if-”
“Ah-ah!” Milagro warned, shooting a scowl over her shoulder. “Don’t you dare finish that sentence, O’Brian.”
“Oh come on, this won’t be like Altiir - right, guys?” Ernie turned a beseeching expression towards the so-far silent heroes, but Sin merely raised an eyebrow at him, while Damian didn’t react at all. “Er, Dames? Bats? Hellooo, Offspring to Batman, anyone there?” A finger stretched out to poke at the other man’s ear - but before it could connect, Damian’s hand snapped up to seize it.
Ernie yelped, then frowned when everyone else snickered.
“I still have a little liquid nitrogen left, O’Brian,” the Gotham crimefighter murmured, his gaze never leaving the viewscreen in front of them.
“Sheesh,” Ernie grumbled, carefully retrieving his finger. “And here I thought we’d managed to loosen you up a bit on this trip.”
“Loosen up, or rough up?” Sin asked mildly. And in truth, the latter was more accurate. None of their original uniforms remained intact, pieces lost to battle or the need for emergency bandages, and the subsequent patchwork effect they’d all gained via replacement clothing made the group appear rather worse for wear.
“It’s because he’s back in the same solar system as Gotham,” Milagro stated, taking one hand off the controls in order to wave it about airly. “All of those presiones familias bearing back down on him again.”
Damian scowled at that, finally tearing his eyes away from the viewscreen in order to glare at the Lantern. “If you would kindly refrain from psychoanalyzing me when I’m standing right here, Reyes.”
“Fat chance, Wayne,” she snarked back. “I’ll poke at your grim self all I like-”
“Guys!” Joe’s rising voice finally caught their collective attention, and everyone followed his pointing hand to a blinking light on the console, one that had been previously unlit. “Please tell me that doesn’t indicate a problem.”
Milagro peered at it, grumbled in Spanish and smacked at some other screens. “Hmrph. I don’t think so - if we were in something with a standard communications array, I’d say that’s the alert for a nearby ship, but in this carrandanga it could mean that, or a warning about an incoming meteor, or a distress beacon for all I know.” She sighed, slumping back in her rickety seat. “I really need to get my ring recharged.”
The others winced or nodded in agreement. In the initial zeta-platform explosion that sent them hurtling across the universe, only Milagro’s timely bubble had kept them from dying or being scattered as individuals. Unfortunately, her ring was severely drained from the journey, and lost all power soon after, hence the five of them taking so long to essentially hitch-hike back across the cosmos.
“Can you adjust the sensor array to get a better idea of which direction it’s coming from, at least?” Damian asked.
“Nada. They’re as adjusted as they’re gonna get without one of us going outside to do it manually.” Milagro sighed again. Sin reached around to pat her on the shoulder.
“We’ll deal with whatever it is when it comes,” the other woman assured her.
And so they waited. Their ship continued onward, moving at a fast enough pace that Pluto was soon left far behind. Distantly, the light of their home sun began to become more prominent against the backdrop of stars, keeping the general mood of the group hopeful.
Then a small trill started up, rising and falling in time with the blinking light.
No one pestered Milagro for explanations as she fiddled with various knobs and levers, frowning all the while. Eventually, she managed to shut the alarm off, but the light became a steady glow, and changed from orange to yellow at the same time.
“Well, that’s not a good sign,” she muttered.
“Because either I’ve broken this thing and it’s giving me an error message, or whatever it was warning us about earlier is so close we’re about to crash into it.”
And of course, that was when something thumped against the roof of the ship.
The Leaguers immediately assumed fighting stances, all of them straining to pick up any other tell-tale signs of what had found them. A couple lighter thumps could be heard, from different spots - and then a face appeared in the viewscreen.
Joe jumped, Ernie swore, and Damian burst out laughing. Clearly using his X-ray vision to peer in at them, Jonathan Kent grinned at the camera that fed live footage into the cockpit’s viewscreen, and waved.
A few minutes later, after Milagro sorted out how to force the airlock to work properly, the half-Kryptonian stepped inside and pulled his best friend into a hug. “You have been sorely missed.”
“I’d certainly hope so,” Damian replied, not resisting the embrace - he’d had to put up with countless like it over the past two and a half decades, after all.
When Jon finally put him down in order to hug or clasp hands with the others, Damian took a moment to actually study his friend. He looked... perhaps not so much older, as more serious. His uniform had been redone, again, with a cape more like his father’s and actual tights instead of the cargo-style pants he’d copied from Conner for so long. The belt was new, too, more closely resembling the design Damian and his family used as opposed to a simple stripe of yellow material.
“I’ve already sent a message back to the Mars Tower,” Jon was saying as Damian concluded his visual inspection. “Lian’s on duty, she’ll start calling up the others and send them out to gather your families, I know everybody’s going to want to see you guys right away-”
“How long have we been gone?” Damian cut in.
He didn’t like the way Jon winced.
“...three years,” his friend finally answered. “Almost three and a half, now.”
There were several startled gasps around the cabin, and even Damian couldn’t help but sag for a moment.
They’d known it was likely to have been a while, what with differences in relative time and that displaced wormhole their group was forced to travel through at one point, but... three years.
His sons would be so much bigger.
“Well, don’t just leave us in suspense, double-S,” Ernie said after a moment. “What’s the highlight reel?”
Jon smiled sadly, but didn’t deny him. “Grace became Elongation again, to fill in for you with the League. And Susie’s powers activated - she’s been stretching and bouncing around the Watchtower for the last few months, says she wants to be the new Plastic Kid.”
Ernie’s face lit up, first at the news about his wife and then his daughter. “She got- she got the full set?”
“The full range of your powers and Grace’s, and some increased strength, too, though that’s linked to how big she makes herself. She calls it “Embiggening”, after a comicbook character, I think.” As Ernie continued to grin to himself, Jon moved on to Milagro. “Nell’s fine. She got that promotion you were both worried about, and took a short break from Snooper to make the schedule adjustment. Miguel made it to senior year, he’s been filling out college applications and running missions with the Titans - made some upgrades to his Green Beetle armor with Jaime’s help that I can’t make heads or tails of. Oh, and Carmelita put on the old Snitch costume last year, says she wants to be Spoiler by the time she hits high school.”
Milagro nodded jerkily when he finished, eyes shining with the updates about her family. “Thanks, Kent.”
Jon smiled, but lost it as soon as he turned to look at the next friend. “Joe... I’m sorry. Robbie didn’t wait for you.”
The blonde man looked stricken, and both Ernie and Sin moved to support him on either side. “W-what?”
“The League made arrangements to keep paying for your apartment lease, but he moved out after a few months... Found someone else, and got married last summer.” Jon sighed, holding out his empty hands in a gesture of apology. “I wish I had something better to tell you, but, I didn’t want you to be in a hurry to get home to see him.”
“No, that- yeah,” Joe swallowed. “Yeah. Thanks for telling me.” His skin rippled like liquid, Morphic powers acting up with the heavy emotion, and Ernie guided him over to the cabin wall to sit down. Sin started to follow, but Jon held her up with his next words.
“Traya took in a kid.”
Surprised, the pale woman stared at him. “She- what?”
“A teenager, named Sydney Bloom. Her parents kicked her out for getting pregnant, and when she was assaulted on the street her metagene activated - wind generation, nearly off the charts with their power,” Jon explained, grimacing. “The League was called in to deal with her hysterical rampage, but Gold Tornado was the only one who could get close enough to actually talk her down, and afterward, she took her home. Helped with the baby when he was born, adopted him when Sydney begged her to. They’re both living with Traya now.”
Slowly nodding, Sin blinked rapidly as she processed the news about her longtime roommate and sort-of wife. “...okay. Thanks, Jon. Anything else I should know?”
He finally got to smile again. “Shayan finally proposed to Marigold.”
That startled a laugh out of the woman. “Did she now? Roy must love that.”
“He and Wally have been commiserating about losing daughters to bats, anyway,” Jon smirked. And then chuckled when he noticed Damian glaring at him.
“What do they have to complain about?” The other man asked. “I’ll be the one putting up with Harper flying around my city to spend time with my niece every night.”
“At least she’s half bird,” Sin offered.
“Having wings from her mother doesn’t negate the pig-headedness she inherited from her father.” The others all chuckled at Damian’s deadpan statement, though he soon cut them off with his follow-up. “Although, I suppose it might not even be my city at this point. If we’ve been gone for three years, someone else has taken over as Batman, surely.” He looked expectantly at Jon, who waffled for a moment before he gave in.
Damian stared. Sin stared. Ernie and Joe both stared.
And Milagro started to cackle.
“Oh Dios Mio, Damian, you got replaced by baby sis!” Milagro continued to laugh until Ernie stretched over a hand to bop her upside the head with.
Damian himself didn’t move. He didn’t react. Jon swallowed back his concern and just kept on. “Alf’s been working with her as Robin, still. They’ve done pretty well for themselves. Um, Richard upgraded a while ago, from Impulse to Dart, he’s running more solo missions these days than tagging along with Irey.” When his friend barely twitched, he moved on to other members of the Gotham crimefighting clan. “Jasmine’s stepped up as the new Red Hood, which Jason’s ecstatic about. Cullen’s daughter Lyn took up the name Harpy, and her girlfriend Suze made a Sphinx persona just to be her partner; Sarah started patrolling as Ballpark, which Colin and Amy aren’t really happy about, but they haven’t ordered her to stay home, either; and that foster kid Duke took in, Louis Gibson? He’s going out as Flare, now, too.”
“Sheesh, how many batlings are they up to now?” Ernie grumbled.
“Too many,” Milagro stated, rolling her eyes.
Damian still hadn’t moved.
Jon steeled his nerve, and shared the - to him - biggest piece of news yet. “Ah, you’re also a great-uncle now, Dames.”
That got a frown.
“Mar’i had a baby last year.”
Finally, the shell-shocked Bat met his best friend’s gaze. “She what?”
“A little girl,” Jon went on. “Haley. She’s beautiful, already starting to float whenever she’s really happy. Dick says retirement’s a lot less boring now that he’s got a new flying Grayson to chase after.”
“...who’s the father.”
Again, Jon wince’s. “That, um, that would be... me.”
A beat of silence passed - and then utter pandemonium broke out.
By the time Ernie, Joe, and Sin managed to pin Damian down, he’d worked through his entire litany of Arabic curses and quite a few English ones as well. Milagro stood between them and Jon, her arms flung wide to help hide the Kryptonian from view. “Suficiente, Damian! Knock it off already!”
“She is ten years younger than you-!” The man snarled, Ernie forcibly keeping both his hands away from all utility belt pouches.
“You think I don’t know that?” Jon replied, looking more concerned for his friend than worried about himself. “Dames, I already got the worst going-over imaginable from your family when this started. Heck, even Alfie got in on it - the first time I came to pick Mar’i up for a date, it wasn’t Dick or Bruce or anyone else who threatened me with the kryptonite, it was your eight year old.”
That, finally, got Damian to slow down and stop growling. “Good. I hope he used it.”
“He almost did, when Mar’i told everyone about the baby,” Jon said ruefully. “But she was happy about it, and that helped. Although it didn’t stop Koriand’r from asking if I would spar with her the day after...”
Damian snorted, and Milagro turned to look at Jon in surprise. “And you survived?”
“Barely. Tamaraneans hit hard.”