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1.

It's a nice day. The sun is out. The clouds are white and fluffy, little bunny tails lazily hopping across the sky safely attached to cute bunny butts.

It's frankly startlingly how lovely a day it is when a crying baby boy is delivered into his mother's arms.

He's got quite a set of lungs, you should know. Some might say that he's screeching with super human strength, but that's just the way it seems with all new born babes, you know?

His mother and her husband look down at him fondly.

"His name is Luke Washington," his mother says, sleepily.

When her husband reaches down to stroke Luke's cheek with a single finger, Luke curls his own fist around the tip of with surprising strength and opens his deep amber eyes to regard him solemnly.

"Hey, little man. How's it going?"

It's not a bad way to come into the world, surrounded by loving family and in a clean hospital room. Heliu Washington watches her son and her husband eye each other as she walks along the brink of sleep and falls into the sea of dreams thinking about a brighter future.

5.

Before this goes any farther, you should know that just this week Luke chewed through two cabinet doors, pooped out at least four bullets, and maybe drank a few sips of WD40.

Because if you don't put stuff in your mouth you'll never know if you can bite off enough that you can chew.

Or something.

The point of all this is to say that Luke is a handful of a toddler. He does things normal babies can't do, and Heliu makes sure to take that into account when she's taking him out to the park for a few hours in the sun, feeding him, and trying to entertain his bright young mind, but it's still a challenge.

Just last month he vetoed Dr. Seus in favor of Peter Pan, the unabridged version, and Heliu doggedly set aside half an hour a night to read to her son.

"Read me some more, Ma."

"My English is not as good as yours is."

"Then I'll read it to you!" Luke said one night, making grabby hands for the multi-chaptered book in her hands.

"Not a good idea. You might read into the night and I do know about it."

Luke pulled a face but didn't deny that he wouldn't just squirrel away the book into his covers until lights out. He threw himself into bed and Heliu took up a seat at the foot of his bed, laughing when Luke parroted lines of dialogue while doing funny voices and funny faces. Once he flailed his hands and hit the wall, leaving a little dent that mother and son giggle over quietly.

"You're a funny boy," Heliu said. She put the book onto the ground and then folded the bottom of his covers neatly. "A real smartie, a real little smartie."

"Love you, Ma."

"Love you."

"Love you, Ba!" Luke shouted. The sound of running water stopped and the sound of pounding feet reached them. "Love you, Luke!" came reverberating down the halls of the house to reach Luke's room just before the appearance of Zeke Washington with soap suds in the crook of his left elbow and a kiss for his favorite little man.

"Mwah."

"Gross," Luke muttered, as he reached out a hand to scrub at his itchy forehead. His dad's stubble was a scratchy.

"I just wanted you to know how much I love you."

"So sweet. You are both so funny."

"I knew there was a reason you married me aside from my dashing good looks!"

Luke squealed when his mom and his dad kiss in the doorway of his room.

"There is a child present!"

"Who? I only see a Trouble Maker."

When he finally falls asleep, there's a little bright spark in his chest, a proud feeling of having something good in him that's something good in his dad too.

Years later, this will be the memory that pops to the forefront of Luke's mind when he thinks about his early childhood. The way his mom had touched the soapy skin at his dad's elbow with such tenderness, the way his dad's hand settled at his mom's waist.

The way Ma had said troublemaker like it was two words, like a title, always makes Luke smile, even now. It makes him feel special and well-loved, even now.

9.

It's cold outside. It's not the kind of day you want to have ice cream, but Luke and his dad are headed towards the nearest DQ for some anyway.

If you were standing on the other side of the road, just watching them together, you'd be able to see that they really meant a lot to each other. Matching baseballs on their right hands, tossing a baseball across the short distance between them as they walk with their left.

If you were standing close enough, you'd probably hear the good natured ribbing that Luke is taking with little giggles and 'that doesn't even make sense's!'.

It's enough to drive the almost-September chill from the air, the easy way they are with each other. Just a kid and his dad walking into an ice cream parlor after a Little League baseball game.

Just a kid with a calloused hand ruffling his hair, with the heavy weight of a baseball glove settled into his right hand, his left clutching a freshly scooped ice cream cone.

He's got the taste the of mint chocolate chip and pistachio saturating his tongue. The bright smile of his father, eyes half hidden behind his shades, but the pride obvious in his stance, makes him so happy.

"What do you want to do when you go home? You're going to have a take a bath first, of course, but after our celebratory dinner, is there are bed time story you really want Ma to read?"

"Journey to the West! Journey to the West! Things just got so good and Wukong is going to beat up all the bad guys."

"Yeah?"

"How can you not know that he's the greatest ever? Okay, well, he's at this..."

Oh no, you've lost them. You got distracted by the newest addition to DQ's menu, and now they are out of earshot and you are reaching for your wallet.

13.

Just from the set of his shoulders, the fidgety way he plays with the buttons of his black dress jacket, you can tell that Luke is doing his best not to just take to the skies.

Ma's grief is a heavy thing, keeping her earthbound, and Luke knows better than the leave her alone at the moment. It just wouldn't be appropriate.

But, today was the first clear day in ages, the sky seemingly having been trying to mourn Ba's passing as much as the Washington family was.

Ma is wearing a neatly pressed white dress and white flats. She stands before her husband's grave with her head uncovered and her black hair flying behind her like a banner. Slowly, painfully, she kneels down to the ground and leaves a single chrysanthemum blossom. It's startlingly yellow, like the fresh face of a new sun, before the headstone that she touches so, so gently.

"I'm sorry I couldn't find him," Luke finds himself saying. His mom shakes his head.

"Nothing to find. Not actually."

She takes his hand as he helps her stand and together they bow to the headstone three times as Ma recounts all that's happened in the past two weeks since Ba passed.

Luke wishes there was a way to shed this grief like a second skin. He can't help but blame himself, like somehow he should have known that there was a car bomb strapped to the underside of the vehicle his dad had pulled over just inside city limits for a broken headlight twenty miles away from his school.

Zeke Washington died a hero, because he delayed the bomb long enough that it detonated on an empty stretch of road instead of in a crowded city center like Dr. Cinister, Center City's resident villain, had planned. But now that he's gone Luke is short a dad, and his city is short a sheriff. His Ma is short a husband.

"Let's go home," Ma said. "We have to talk about your father."

"What is there to talk about?"

Ma never calls his dad anything except Ba.

"Everything," Heliu says with a forlorn twist to her lips.

17.

Luke Washington would have been your typical corn-fed white-bread born-and-bred American boy except he's, you know, half Chinese and half extraterrestrial.

He sees things differently.

Got eyes that can see in more colors than you can imagine, can sometimes use X-ray vision if he's trying real hard, and one time he tripped while wandering by the front of an apartment complex that had planted rows upon rows of black-eyed Susans because those cheery yellow flowers had suddenly become scary photo-negative type versions of themselves like something straight out the Twilight Zone, which was how he discovered he can see in the ultraviolet spectrum too.

He remembers things in better detail.

The smell of Ba's aftershave, is just a thought away, not because he's been constantly running over the facts of his dad's life like he's studying for a test, but, it's just, it's just still in his brain. It's not difficult to recall the sense of home and safety either.

"Why did you not join the robotics club?" Ma asks, when Luke finally reveals his junior year of high school that he's going to be a journalist, Ma, a journalist, not an engineer.

"It's kind of...not my thing."

"A good job is not a thing?"

"Ah, no, Ma. That's not what I meant. I meant, that I like writing better."

"Are you sure?" Ma continues, and her worried look hurts Luke more than any shouting, any crying could ever.

All his mom wants is for him to live a life without troubles. He knows how hard it was for her to move away from all her family, pick up a new language, and raise a child like him mostly on her own while his dad worked hard to help fund the raising of a child like him.

Ma loves him and no one could ever get her to do anything she didn't want to, so it must mean that she wanted to raise him in America no matter what sacrifices she had to make.

Ba loved him enough to take him to Little League practices six summers in a row. He loved his job, no matter how much overtime he had to work, and he was always talking about how important it was to uphold goodness, not just the law, but the good intentions the law should have.

Those were conscious choices each of his parents made.

Shouldn't he have a chance to make a choice too?

"Yes, Ma. I'm sure. Who else is going to revolutionize the art of journalism?"

And that's all that Luke ever really wanted to do. Journalism was all about people, as the audience and as the focus. The one thing he wanted to accomplish with a career in the media was changing the way it was created. It might be naive of him to think he could change anything, but he was willing to try, to challenge himself to do more for communities everywhere.

"Okay. Okay."

But Ma still looks skeptical. She smiles though, wanly, and bustles around the kitchen to start dinner.

Luke sits at the dining room table with his laptop and tries to work on his latest article, but he can still feel his mom's worried gaze settling heavily on his shoulders.

21.

Four years and one bachelors degree of the arts later, Luke is standing on the front porch of his childhood home preparing to say good-bye to his Ma.

"Are you sure you have to go?"

"Ma, they offered me a job. I can't not take it."

"I'm so lucky to have been able to watch you grow up," Ma says in Chinese, and one of the best feelings in the world blooms in his chest. It's petals unfurling from the warm center of a beautiful flower, and he holds it close because the flowers are the same color as the trimming of his house, and the center is warm like Ma's hand on his forehead when she wakes him in the morning so they can watch Chinese soap operas together on livestream on Sunday morning (when they cry over noble empresses and backstabbing court intrigue).

"I'm proud to be your son," Luke manages to choke out. He doesn't want his mother to see him cry. The warm bloom in his chest is growing, it's roots tangling with all those veins and vessels leading to his heart.

He'll always remember home. He'll always remember Ma and Ba.

The red necklace at her neck glints in the waning sunset and Luke stands awkwardly in his Ma's embrace, trying to save the feel of her shoulder against his cheek and the press of her hair against his face.

The smell of dried dates and citrus shampoo and sweet pea moisturizer wafts fills his nose. He holds her for just a few seconds really, but it's enough.

"I have to go. See you," Luke says, "See you."

"You must eat enough food on the journey, and dress warm enough and ask for directions, but not stupidly. Be independent, be brave, be good," Ma says in Chinese and she presses a red envelope into his hand quickly, folding his fingers over it gently.

Luke swoops down to take up his suitcase before Ma sees him tear up and heads out to the bus stop.

He could probably run faster than the bus that is coming. When he looks back, his mother has already walked away. Her back is just a quickly receding image in the distance.

23.5

Falling in love with an Amazonian is a slow process. But the final product, the realization that you are actively in love with a very dangerous woman such as Alexia, is like waking up and getting punched in the gut only to realize that that jolt you just felt? That was just like the first hit of a sugar high, too much chocolate coursing through your veins like some kind of joyous fever.

What is love?

Definitely getting hurt over here, that's what.

Alexia is strong and powerful and Luke is pretty sure she could take him in a fight and win nine times out of ten.

It's not emasculating to know that someone who has trained harder in the art of war and fought in more battles under all kinds of circumstances would win against him in a fight. It's refreshing to know that one of his three best crime fighting friends can watch his back better than he can.

"What was it like? Being thirteen and running off into the galaxy to seek your fortunes as an assassin of all occupations."

"Fine."

"Really?"

"I don't think you understand what it means to be thirteen among my people," Alexia says over home-brewed coffee one dreary Monday. It's the kind of day that causes everyone to just kind of huddle up indoors and while both Luke and Alexia were made of sterner stuff than Californians with their thin skins, they both decided to call in sick to work because going out just wasn't worth it.

There was nothing to do out there. Work was a bore.

So here they were, sitting on the couch, fingers wrapped around respective mugs of caffeine and making idle chit-chat like actual friends. Which they totally were.

"Oh?"

"It's not in Earth years, you know. It's by measuring the movement of the third sun of my planet, which moves in orbits much more complex than just the circular ones Earth makes. So you could say I was about eighty five in Earth years when I finally left home," Alexia says breezily.

"Wait, just how old are you exactly?" Luke asks, a little befuddled by the idea that Alexia is any older than the twenty five she looks.

"In Earth years?"

"I don't really know any more."

"What does it matter? I'm not going anywhere any time soon. What, are you trying to get rid of me?"

"What? No! I like older women. In fact, my first girlfriend was a junior and I was just a sophomore and we met in AP Chemistry. She was my lab partner you know, and people would make jokes about how there was some real chemistry between us."

"Why are you telling me this," Alexia says in a flat voice, and Luke snaps his mouth shut with an almost audible click only to open it again to let an avalanche of words fall from between his teeth,

"You make me tell things. Speak, I mean. I mean, I just want to talk to you and get to know you better because you're a very interesting person. Amazonian. I like you and I want you to feel comfortable around me too," Luke says, hoping that he isn't babbling too nervously for his own good.

He feels his cheeks heat up and he looks away from his mug of coffee to stare at her bow hung up on the opposite wall, at his neckerchief spilling out from under the door to his horribly messy room, anywhere but Alexia who he now suddenly can't quite bear to look at.

Usually, he doesn't have a problem meeting her eye, but today, this morning, maybe it was the coffee speaking, but he had somehow talked himself into a corner. All the same, despite his embarrassment and apprehension, Luke felt hope curl up around his lungs, warming each breath as he waited for Alexia to speak.

"When you go into battle at my side," Alexia says at last, "I am comfortable."

"Oh," Luke says, the honor of having Alexia's trust almost unbearable, making him feel at once terribly light and horribly grounded.

She trusts him. This amazing woman who can destroy almost anything with her bare hands and still managed to stitch up the sizable hole the Trooper had managed to rip across the back of his uniform.

"It's not too different from stitching up a wound," she had said. At the time, Luke had thought she was being unnecessarily grim, but now he has come to appreciate Alexia's certain brand of dark, wartime humor and he recognizes the meaning behind her words.

Her whole life has been one long war. She's been fighting for a place in her family, fighting for her life, and fighting for one cause or another for as long as he's known her.

"Oh." Luke says again when she leans in very slowly, long lashes fanning across her cheeks, as she presses her warm, bitter red lips against his very own chapped lips for the briefest of moments.

"I-I...Same to you. I'm always proud to say that I fight side by side with the Amazon."

"Well, it's not something you really have to say is it?"

24

There was a lot of red light accompanied by a lot of violent unknowable chanting, and the screeching of the very fabric of time and space being ripped, just a little bit, just enough for Luke to step through from his dimension on Earth into his father's realm.

"I was just afraid that I wasn't going to be a very good father. How could I raise you? You were, are, Earthen," Luke's father says after they've arranged themselves as best they could in his sitting room.

His biological father is nothing more than a minor lord of the court, granted his title only because of his excellent skills as a merchant, but he is still surrounded by strange opulent things that shine and move in the uncertain light. Clear pipes lining his walls pump water studded with glowing bright particles that are actually vibrantly colored fish swimming throughout the house to light it up.

Luke wouldn't wish this as a childhood home upon anyone. It doesn't make for much of a playground, in his opinion.

"My Ba did just fine raising me. I turned out great."

"Yes. Yes, you did."

"I know that you might have been afraid of me, but how could you do that to Ma? Heliu?"

"She was someone I met at a human ba-ar. It was a good place. I tried to be a courteous lover to her and I even left her a most valuable memento. It was the most amazing piece I had seen throughout my career at that point, and she meant enough to me that I chose to give it to her."

"That's great. That's just...really great," Luke says at last, watching his father's face grow distant as he re-remembers his Ma.

"I'm sure she is well? Your mother?"

"Why don't you come and see her?"

"I-I couldn't possibly. It would not be my place," Luke's father says, lowering his head and lashes demurely as if he couldn't fathom the possibility.

"Let me take a message for her," Luke insists, even as his father begins to usher him out of the sitting room.

"I am proud that she has raised her son so well," his father says, and for a moment Luke swells with pride, then his father goes on, "Now if you'll excuse me, I must go and organize the dinner service my Natia has organized for tonight. She's hosting a coming of age party for our youngest. It will be splendid indeed!"

And Luke does leave then, the hunch of his shoulders showing his disappointment.

"Please, keep this quarter of the gem as a token," Luke says as he walks out. He doesn't care how his father might interpret the gesture, but he does know that he doesn't really need it anymore.

He's fine without it. He's got his own family at home, on Earth.

0.

Heliu wakes up with a faintly bitter taste in her mouth and the very certain knowledge that last night she had met a very interesting man at a bar who had held her attention for most of the night and who also took her home.

She notices that around her are sheets that are not her own and that the note on the bedstand tells her he will return with bra-ak-ph-ast in a few minutes.

She smiles at the note for a moment and decides that in the mean time she will get dressed and brush her teeth and mull over potential topics they might be able to talk about over food and tea.

This one will be a keeper, she tells herself as she hunts for her left sock.