Donna didn’t begin to grow impatient until the fourth knock and seventh minute of continuous stomach-growling. Balancing the bag of Chinese takeout against her hip, she knocked a fifth time, this one slightly more forceful than she intended. A small imprint of her knuckle remained on the door. She grimaced. Roy was going to have a hard time explaining that to his landlord.
“Maybe they’re not here?” Robbie suggested. Donna’s five-year-old son dutifully carried a liter of soda, small arms wrapped tightly around the heavy bottle. He gave a slight huff that ruffled his untamable mane of red curls as he readjusted his hold on the drink. No doubt Robbie wanted nothing better than to go inside, put the bottle down, and play with his would-be-sister.
Donna shook her head as she knocked a sixth time. It rang out through the hallway of the tenth floor of the apartment building, loud enough to make Mrs. Patterson’s bulbous cat raise its head from the welcome mat it laid on. “Roy told me they were home.”
Tonight was Friday night. Every Friday night they met at the other’s home for copious amounts of takeout and binging on the latest family-friendly films with the kids. Roy had texted her that morning to tell her to bring lo mein and Cola for dinner and then a few rather urgent-sounding messages asking her to get to his place as soon as she could were sent in the afternoon. She hadn’t thought much of those messages at the time, writing them off as his impatience and indolence to make himself and Lian any food on what he considered his “slow day.” Now, a sudden rather unpleasant thought crossed her mind. “Unless. . . something happened.”
She shared a look with her son, both of their brows furrowed in mirror images of uneasiness. Superheroes tended to keep secret identities to protect their loved ones more than themselves. Nemeses that discovered heroes’ secret identities tended to hit right where they knew it would hurt most – by hurting the heroes’ friends and families.
Ready to bring the door down with a swift kick, Donna was relieved when the door flew open to reveal Roy standing on the other side. Apprehension began to gnaw at her once more as she noticed Roy’s eyes darting to scan the hall, sporadically glancing behind him every now and then. The door was open only wide enough to see Roy, his large frame obscuring the view into his apartment.
“Roy, is everything okay?” Donna asked, worry lacing her voice. He hadn’t acknowledged her or Robbie yet which was unlike him. Roy’s eyes snapped back into focus. His eyes widened in a slightly manic expression that had the little hairs on Donna’s neck standing on end. Something was wrong.
Roy wordlessly pulled Donna and Robbie into the apartment and quickly closed the door behind them. Clicks rang out in the unnaturally-quiet duplex as Roy secured the many locks on his door. He had asked his landlord for special permission to install them himself as an extra security measure. Donna noticed the small shake of his hand as he latched the final deadbolt. Donna’s own hands itched to tremble but she forced herself to steady them and calmly set the bag of takeout on the kitchen counter.
Robbie, oblivious to the tension in the air, haphazardly tossed the liter of soda onto the counter and sped off into the living room, shedding his jacket on the way. “Hey! I don’t know you! What’s your name?” A bolt of fear shot through Donna’s body. In an instant she was in the living room, Roy hot on her heels. Gripping Robbie and pulling him behind her, Donna was ready to take on the intruder or intruders that dared invade the home of her boyfriend and his daughter.
Turning to the couch, she saw the intruder and blinked several times in bewilderment. Staring up at her from the suede cushions were two pairs of bright green eyes, one belonging to Roy’s daughter, Lian, and the other, so alike to Lian’s, belonging to a small boy about Robbie’s age. His neatly-combed blond hair and big grin would have fooled anyone into believing him to be a normal, playmate of Lian’s. It was the eyes - that same vivid emerald color of Lian’s, both so unlike Roy’s own forest green - that proved he was anything but some playmate.
Donna’s hands flew to her mouth. She pulled her gaze away from the boy to stare at Roy. One hand was erratically running his fingers through his thick hair while the other was anxiously scratching at the crook of his arm where the ghosts of small pinpricks marked his skin. The last time Donna had seen him in such disarray had been when he had first found out about Lian’s existence many moons ago.
Free from his mother’s protective grasp, Robbie bolted away from her and approached the little boy. Hand outstretched like his father had taught him, Robbie introduced himself. “My name is Robert but everyone calls me Robbie. What’s your name?”
The boy took Robbie’s hand and enthusiastically shook it. “I’m Tommy. I’m Lian’s new little brother!”
Donna involuntarily gasped. She hadn’t meant to. Three curious eyes turned to look at her. Lian scrambled from her seat and launched herself into Donna’s arms to greet her. “Donna! Donna! Donna! Look! I got a new little brother! Now I’ve got two little brothers: Robbie and Tommy!” As the seven-year-old gleefully prattled into her ear, Donna shot Roy a baffled glance. He met her gaze with an equally confused expression of his own.
Needing to speak privately with Roy, Donna set Lian down. “Lian, why don’t you three go to your room and show Tommy the kitten you want to adopt from the shelter? I bet he’d like that.” Lian’s eyes lit up at the idea. She grabbed the two younger boys’ hands and dragged them into her room as she excitedly chatted on about the little feline her daddy had promised to get her for her birthday.
Roy sunk into the grey couch. He dropped his head into his hand and began to tug at his hair. Donna sat next to him and gently pried his fingers out of his hair. He instantly sagged against her laying his head on her shoulder as she wrapped her arms around him. “Just when I think I’ve gotten rid of her, Jade makes her way back into our lives again.” The crack in his voice made her heart ache. She knew the pain Jade had put him through, the heartache. Donna and their friends had helped him slowly mend his heart afterwards, months upon months of helping him learn how to love and trust again. Jade had destroyed him. He had almost hit rock bottom again until he’d found out about Lian. At the knowledge of Lian’s existence, Roy had set his mind on retrieving his daughter from her villainous mother and only that. Acquiring full custody of his daughter had been the final piece to repair his broken heart. She had completed him the way only a child could.
And now there was a second child and Roy was thrown in for a loop. Donna knew he would take care of the boy, knew that the problem wasn’t the boy himself. The problem, the root of all of Roy’s troubles was that the child wasn’t his. Tommy’s light blond hair and lily-white skin were so different from Roy’s own auburn locks and tan skin. Hell, he had a better chance at passing Robbie off as his own son than he did with Tommy. No, Roy’s problem was that after all these years of pushing her aside, of trying to forget what they had together, of trying to remind himself that she was an assassin for hire, he felt inherently betrayed at the prospect of her having moved on so quickly from him and onto another man. That she had raised the boy and had kept his existence secret from Roy only served to harden the blow. The fact of the matter was that Jade had been Roy’s first serious relationship and it had ended in shambles, only to have the broken remnants dug up again as another man’s child was thrust upon him.
Rubbing soothing circles into his back, Donna gently suggested, “Why don’t you start from the beginning? How did Tommy get here and why is he here?”
Roy took in a deep breath. Composing himself a bit, he sat up straighter so that he was looking at her as he spoke. “Batman arrived here this afternoon with Tommy. He said he couldn’t tell me all of the details because of some ‘top secret assignment’ he was working on,” here Roy scrunched his face in displeasure as if he knew that Batman’s “secret assignment” was really just an excuse to keep Roy out of his business, “but that I needed to take care of Tommy while he handled some situation with Tommy’s father.”
“Did Batman mention who Tommy’s father is?” Donna quietly prodded.
Roy rubbed a hand across his jaw. He’d been trying to grow out his beard as a bet with Wally over which of the two gingers could grow the most facial hair. So far Roy was winning with what was merely a five o’clock shadow after two weeks without shaving. “Thomas Blake.”
Realization dawned on her. “Catman.” Catman was one of Gotham’s more notorious mercenaries and a long-time pain in Batman’s ass. It was only natural that he and Jade would have taken to each other.
Roy heaved a tired sigh as he sagged against her again. “Yeah. I’m worried, Donna. If Catman or, God forbid, Jade, try to get ahold of Tommy again, he and Lian could be in serious danger.”
Donna smiled slightly. Leave it to Roy to immediately accept responsibility for the boy. She shook her head a bit. Taking Roy’s chin within her thumb and forefinger, she brought his face close to hers so that they were looking into each other’s eyes. “Roy, if Bruce left Tommy with you, it was because he trusts you and your ability to protect the boy. He wouldn’t have otherwise risked Tommy’s safety. You’ve been able to not only take care of Lian but also of hundreds of other people. You can protect Tommy too. I’ll even help. Now, why don’t we take it one step at a time.” Standing up, she grabbed his hand and brought him to his feet. “We can start by opening up those takeout boxes. I’m famished and I bet the kids are too.”
It was the first time since she’d arrived that she finally saw him relax. He broke out into the grin that she’d fallen in love with the moment they’d met and she knew he would be okay. She’d be there to help him like she promised him she would.