For a variety of reasons, they don't know Christopher's birthday. But this isn't exactly unknown for adopted Kryptonians, so in true Kent fashion, they plan to celebrate him turning eleven on the anniversary of the day he landed on Earth, which Ma has taken to calling "Gotcha Day."
"So, what do you want to do for your birthday?" Lois asks Chris. She's nervous—of course she's nervous. He's been homeschooled, because he's got a lot of catching up to do in terms of Earth culture, not to mention his powers, and while he's close to their family, he doesn't exactly have a lot of friends his own age. He gets along with several of Bruce's kids—Tim is his favorite, with the two of them having met in Chris's original timeline, which Kon approves of and Jon disagrees with—but at the end of the day, the closest one to his own age is Damian, who is, most definitely, Jon's friend first and foremost.
Chris frowns, thinking, carefully eating whatever sugary cereal Ma's bought him this week. "Well…" he says, hesitantly. "On TV, they always do parties with themes."
"We can do that," Clark says, smiling. "When I was your age, I had a John Deer phase."
"… like, the tractor?"
"It was a tractor themed party," Pa confirms, grinning. "I've got pictures, somewhere."
"So, what kind of theme are you thinking, Chris?" Lois asks.
"They do superhero themed parties, right?" Chris is starting to actually look excited, which is great, because for the first few months Chris refused to be excited about anything, because he was convinced that it would be snatched away the moment he expressed any positive emotions or attachments to anything, because Zod and Ursa are horrible parents.
"If we could manage to throw a tractor themed party, I'm sure we can manage a superhero themed party," Ma says cheerfully.
"Just a general superhero, or do you have a certain one in mind?" Lois asks, taking a sip of her coffee, meeting Clark's gaze fondly as she does so.
It's sometimes so hard to believe that this is real, that they've managed to build this. A family—Ma and Pa and Lois and him and Chris and Jon and Kon and Kara and Karen. It seemed impossible for so long, but here it is, in front of them both. They're happy.
Lois chokes on her coffee.
"Booster Gold," Clark says, the moment he and Lois have made it to Metropolis, which is definitely out of Chris's hearing range.
"He's a jerk, Lois."
"He's a great interview though."
"If you can get past the product placement!"
"Clark, he died trying to save the city."
"… we're pretty sure that was a publicity stunt."
"What? You were there when word got out about him paying people to cause crimes! Would you be surprised?"
"I was also there when he nearly died trying to stop Doomsday, Clark." Lois sets her cup of coffee down on her desk. "I'm not saying you have to be his best friend, or even like him. But Chris deserves a nice birthday. Just… get an autographed poster or something. I'm sure your pride can take the hit."
"He signs everything that stays still long enough, I can probably buy one off WayneBay."
"Smallville, I've never seen you be quite so hung up about someone. What happened to everyone deserves a chance?"
"Lois, you haven't… he's not a bad guy or anything, don't get me wrong. When push comes to shove, he'll do the right thing. But the problem is, it has to be a pretty big shove. He didn't come in this to help people, Lois. He wanted easy money, and our century was the way to do it. He's been through a lot, I won't deny that. But he's also caused nearly as much trouble as he's helped."
"And he gets under your skin."
"And that." Clark sighs. "I just… why him, Lois?"
Lois laughs, and kisses Clark on the cheek. "Because you, and Bruce, and even Diana… he's met you. You're real to him. With Booster Gold, all he sees is the picture. The funny, over the top guy with cool powers and a neat look." She shakes her head and elbows him. "It could be worse, Smallville. He could have bought into the Infinity Inc. hype!"
Clark groans, and pinches his nose. "Yes, well, luckily for all of us that didn't happen."
"Whatever happened to that guy anyways?"
"The one you jumped out a window for an interview with. Supernova."
"Not sure," Clark admits. "Haven't seen him since he showed up to help us get Bruce back. He's working with Rip Hunter, that's really all I know."
Lois shakes her head fondly. "Your life, Smallville."
"Is about to get that much worse, when Booster finds out that Superman is asking him for an autograph," Clark mutters.
"Chris wants a Booster Gold themed birthday party," is the first thing that Clark says when he walks into the Batcave.
Bruce lets out what might actually be called a snicker. "Is that so?"
"I hate you," Clark says moodily.
"I'm sure. At least Michael's merchandise is relatively cheap and easy to find. He really needs to hire better licensing lawyers."
"Ma's started buying Jon Booster-O's for breakfast."
"They're not very nutritional. But then again, your mother knows a teenaged pure-Kryptonian physique better than anyone, so I'd trust her judgement."
"I mean, he seems fine, but now Jon wants to eat sugar cereal for breakfast, and when he does that, he gets hungry halfway through the morning, and then we have to have more conversations about puberty and biological differences between half and full-Kryptonians."
Bruce just looks at him.
"… fine, that's not Booster's fault."
"It's good for you to admit it."
"Oh, hey Supes," Booster says, looking pretty surprised that Clark had sought him out. Fire is looking surprised as well, looking at both of them askance.
"Ah, Booster. I wanted to talk to you… about the… Phantom Zone."
Booster chokes on his pop and Skeets drops approximately five feet in the air.
And why does that make Booster's heart race? Clark frowns. He's just looking for an excuse to talk to Booster, what's going on?
"Uh, I mean, sure! What's up?"
Bea glances between the two of them and quickly starts to power walk away, despite Booster's attempts to grab at her. Booster, on Watchtower Duty, is trapped in place by fear of J'ohnn realizing he's abandoning his post.
Clark sighs. "Are you going to tell me what you did to the Phantom Zone?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Booster says, very quickly. Too quickly.
Clark sighs again, making a note to talk to Jor-El about the Phantom Zone, to try and figure out what happened. "I'm… that's not why I'm here. Well, not really. Do you remember, about a year ago, when the other Kryptonian fell out of the sky?"
Booster snaps his fingers. "Oh yeah, the kid! Little guy. I was… uh, at a photoshoot, so I couldn't help, but you seemed to handle it okay!"
Clark frowns, despite himself and his efforts to be cordial to Booster during this conversation. "Yes, well. I adopted him."
Something changes in Booster's expression. "Oh! That's great! How's he adjusting? I know Earth can be a bit of a culture shock. How old is he, like, nine?"
"Almost eleven," Clark says, feeling rather rattled at the sudden change in Booster's attitude.
"Oh wow! Great age. Is he pure Kryptonian? At least you've got some idea what you're in for."
"Sir, I believe that Superman is referring to—"
"Right, sorry," Booster's hand comes down firmly on Skeets.
"Anyways, he, uh. It's his birthday coming up."
"What, you need someone to cover your shift?" Booster says frowning. He's clearly confused and unsure of where this conversation is going.
To be fair, the feeling is mutual.
"No, I, uh. He's… a fan."
Booster looks utterly bewildered. "Of what?"
Booster somehow looks even more confused. Skeets is also managing to look confused, which, for an unchanging, faceless robot, is a bit of an accomplishment.
"He. Likes… your comics. And your cereal. And… anyways, I was…" Clark sighs. "I was wondering if you'd… sign something. For him."
Booster stares at him for a long, long moment. His eyes narrow beneath his visor, as if he's trying to put something together. Finally, he speaks, slowly and carefully.
"… did… did Bruce tell you to do this?"
"No. Lois did."
"As… as a joke?"
"No. He… wants a Booster Gold themed birthday party."
Booster opens his mouth. He closes it again. Then he laughs, and shakes his head, patting Skeets absently as he does so.
"Sure, why not? I've got some of the classic ones around somewhere, I'll find it when my shift's over and bring it to you."
"Thanks," Clark says, feeling almost suspicious at how easy that was. "… how much?"
"No charge," Booster says, then he looks faintly panicked, as if he's said something he shouldn't have.
"… you really like kids, don't you?" Clark says, surprised.
Booster laughs, looking sheepish, and rubs the back of his neck. "Yeah, well… it started with Jaime, y'know? He's a good kid. And, well, after Rani—" he cuts himself off abruptly. "Sheesh, you're way too easy to talk to, Supes, you know that, right?"
"Reporter," Clark points out dryly.
Booster makes a face. "Still can't believe you were right there," he mutters. "Didn't even notice."
"Most people don't," Clark says, smiling faintly. But then he frowns, finally catching up with the conversation. "Wait, who's Rani?"
There's a long moment where Booster stares at him. "No one." Booster says, flatly, turning away, back to Monitor Duty.
"Booster?" Clark frowns. "What's wrong?"
"Ah, you know, just a kid I met at a commercial shoot," Booster turns around again, and his grin is blindingly wide and blatantly false.
… Clark's seen that smile a lot lately, now that he's thinking about it.
Booster's been around for a while, and Clark's… never really been close with him. Bruce is bizarrely fond of him, and over the years, a lot of the others have softened towards him too. Big Barda and Scott Free, Captain Atom, even Oracle seems to enjoy his company on occasion. Not too often, mind you, in Barbara's case, but he's spotted the two of them together a few times, laughing about something.
A lot of things have changed, over the past few years.
Clark remembers Ted Kord's funeral all too well. He remembers Booster's genuine distress when things had gone wrong during the year when he'd been powerless, and he, Diana and Bruce had failed to show up. He remembers Booster sacrificing himself to save Metropolis from the nuclear submarine.
… he also remembers Booster hiring people to stage robberies for him to foil, of course. And there's the fact that Booster never exactly explained why and how it was that he was alive again, at the end of the year, or why Steel swore up and down that he'd stolen a rocket from him and Natasha.
But the DNA doesn't lie. That had been Booster Gold's body, and he doubts Darkseid would have anything to do with Booster, so it's probably not Omega Beams this time around.
Michael Carter has changed, and he's changed a lot since Clark Kent first knew him, there is no denying that.
And… well, maybe it's time for Clark to give him another chance. Not a second, not even a third or a fourth—they're pretty far past that by now.
But… Bruce doesn't like many people. And there's a reason for it, even if it's one Clark will never quite understand. And even at his worse, Booster Gold has never been malicious.
He can reach out a hand, once again.
"Booster… do you have a kid?"
Raw panic bursts across Booster's face.
"What? No! Of course not!" He laughs, borderline hysterical. "Because I mean, c'mon, I'd sell out my best friend for a toothpaste commercial, right? Who'd leave me in charge of a kid?"
"That's not true and you know it, Booster," Clark says, gently but firmly. "We both know… we all know that you'd do anything for Ted. I don't think there's anyone left who knows a single thing about you who would doubt that."
Raw grief is there on Booster's face for a devastating moment.
"How old is she?" Clark asks.
"… eight," Booster says, his shoulders slumping. "She's eight. She's adopted."
"Where'd you find her?"
"Ah… long story. Different planet." Booster rubs the back of his neck awkwardly.
"How's her English doing? Or have you been sticking with a translator?"
"Ah. We're doing a mix," he says. "She's picking stuff up quickly." He shrugs. "We're still working on her… adjusting."
Clark's eyes narrow. "So, when you say alien planet…"
"A planet with a red sun, for example?"
"Booster!" Clark puts his hand on Booster's shoulder. "Why didn't you come to me? I could have helped."
"I have it handled!" Booster insists.
"She's eight?" Clark challenges. "So has the laser vision kicked in yet?"
"… no," Booster admits. "But I mean, I've got… backup. Someone who knows what they're doing, and we're handling it just fine, honestly!"
If the person wasn't Rip Hunter, Clark would eat Skeets whole, without chewing. He'd seen the way the two of them had acted around each other, and there was an air of familiarity between them. They worked together well, and, if Clark wasn't mistaken, worked together often. And they didn't want anyone to know about it, either.
Even so, it hurt, a little, that Booster hadn't trusted him, but…
Well, okay, fine Bruce, so maybe Clark isn't his best self around Booster Gold. And… well. He can kind of see, maybe, why Booster wouldn't.
"Well…" Clark fumbles, just a little. "Let me know if you need help, then."
Booster nods. "Can you, uh… keep it quiet? We're… well. She's been through a lot, and…"
"I won't tell," Clark assures him. Plenty of heroes have their own reasons for keeping things quiet. Clark won't judge Booster for trying to keep Rani out of the spotlight.
He pauses, having an idea. "But you know… Chris won't have many kids his own age at his party. He's still being homeschooled to help him adjust to his powers and things like that, and it's hard for him to talk to people about being an alien." He shakes his head. "He has Jon and all, and that helps, but I think he gets lonely."
Booster pauses, then nods. "Rani does too. I mean, she's got me and—Skeets, but we tried school for one day, and it was a disaster."
Clark grins. "I bet. What did she do?"
"Solve a college level math equation that the teacher put on the board to show off."
Clark laughs, unable to stop himself. Booster is grinning too, so he doesn't feel too bad.
"Well. If you two want to, you're more than welcome to come to the party." He smiles. "Could do them both some good. And I know Chris would be delighted to see you."
Booster chuckles, shaking his head. "I'll—yeah. Maybe. What time?"
Booster shows up fifteen minutes late to Chris's birthday party, followed by a small, brunette girl wearing a smaller version of his visor and a bright yellow jacket.
Lois stops, lowers her glass, and then glares at Clark.
"You're a piece of work, Smallville, you know that?"
"You're just mad this tops the action figure you got him."
"I got him the entire Justice League International box set," she hisses. "Do you know how hard it was to find one with the entire roster? Do you know how big that team was?"
Clark just beams at her, and kisses her on the cheek, while Booster kneels down and holds out his hand to Chris.
"Chris, right? Your dad's told me all about you."
Chris is staring at Booster with wide, delighted eyes that Clark usually only sees when the two of them go flying together. "You're Booster Gold!"
"That's me! Happy birthday!" Booster takes out a tube wrapped in golden, shiny wrapping paper, and hands it over.
Chris immediately rips it open, and while Clark should probably stop him, because Chris knows they're waiting to do presents until after cake, stopping a kid with super speed from opening a present is kind of a hopeless cause.
Clark peers over Chris's shoulder. He could use telescopic vision, of course, but that feels like cheating in this instance.
It's a vintage poster, like Booster said. Clark doesn't think he's seen this one in years.
It's one of Booster and Skeets, like he'd expected, but it's also got Ted Kord, as the Blue Beetle, and it's signed by both of them.
To Chris – Up, up and away! Happy birthday.
The signatures are old—before Ted's death, obviously—but the words are new.
"That's so cool!" Chris gasps.
"And, I'd like you to meet Rani!" Booster says, standing up and stepping to one side so that Rani can take center stage. "She's, ah. My daughter."
Lois chokes on her drink, and then focuses the force of a thousand laser eyes that she doesn't have on the side of Clark's face. Karen also looks surprised, but also, hurt.
"Wow! You're Booster Gold's kid? That's awesome!" Chris says.
"You're Superman's son! That's awesome!" Rani says, grinning. "Mikey says that Superman's one of the coolest, after Jaime and Boppy and Wonder Woman, even though he stole his cape."
Chris's jaw drops and he turns around to look at Clark with a look of sheer betrayal in his eyes.
"Dad! You stole Booster's cape?"
"Tattletale," Clark says to Booster out of the side of his mouth. Booster just grins and goes to say hi to Bruce, who has been watching this entire scene with the smallest hint of a smile.
Rani gets along very well with Chris, and even though Jon and Damian's double-act seems to overwhelm her a bit, it's clear that all of them are having a great time.
Clark is so busy helping Ma wrangle the cake out of the oven that he almost misses Karen cornering Booster.
"Michael, why didn't you tell me?" She demands.
"You have a kid?"
"Michael, I thought we were friends."
"We are friends! It just… it happened right before Max. The first time I saw you, after…" Booster snorts, the sound bitter and heavy. "We were busy."
"… I'm sorry."
"About what I said. I know… you were trying to help. You have changed."
"Yeah, well. It's me. Can't blame you for assuming I'm screwing something up."
"You don't screw things up. Not all the time." Karen laughs. "Seems to me like you're doing okay by that kid of yours. And Jaime. He's a good kid."
There's a thump of a chair falling over, and two delighted shrieks—Rani and Chris—followed by Jon's wail of despair.
"What! No fair! She can fly too?"
Clark turns around quickly, towards the kitchen table, where, sure enough, Rani's chair has fallen to the ground, and Rani and Chris are gripping each other excitedly as the two of them float three feet off the ground.
Clark laughs, and goes over to find Booster. "Told you they'd be good for each other," he says conversationally, while Booster stares, white as a sheet.
"Oh god, she can fly," he mutters.
"Cheer up, Booster," Bruce advises, looking far too amused and smug. "At least she's probably bulletproof."
That's it, it's official, Diana's my favorite, you're both awful."
Clark hands him a beer. "Cheer up, Booster! Smile for the camera!"
Because Ma has her camera in hand, and she's aiming it squarely at the three of them, now that she's taken a dozen or so pictures of the kids trying to do handstands on the ceiling.
Booster laughs, takes a drink, and immediately gives Bruce bunny ears.
At the end of the night, when Booster has collected Rani from the tree in the backyard, where she, Damian, Jon, and Chris were climbing as part of some complicated competition with intricate rules that Clark didn't quite understand, Clark sighs and looks at Bruce.
"Fine! I'll admit it. I was wrong about Booster. He's not all that much of a jerk."
"One day I'll figure out what you two are up to," Clark threatens, pointing at him. "You're both hiding something."
"Good luck with that," Bruce says, leaning against his car.
Clark laughs, and shakes his head. "You and your secrets."
"Not mine this time," Bruce's head is tilted back, looking up at the stars. "Not my fault that you can't keep up with Booster Gold."
"I'm just saying. Your son does know you're Superman, right?"
"I'm sorry, how many of your sons had Superman bedsheets? That's right, three!"
"Four," Bruce corrects him, looking slightly put out. "Duke got some for his birthday."
"It's okay Dad!" Jon says, loyally. "You're my favorite."
"Dad doesn't count!" Chris yells, defensive. "You can't have Dad be your favorite superhero, it's not the same! Booster Gold is on TV!"
"So's Dad! So's Mom! So's Kon and Kara and Karen and—"
Clark laughs and grabs them both, easily picking them up in his arms, cutting off the argument.
"Well you're both my favorites," he says, easily.
Chris hugs him tightly. "Thanks Dad."
Clark grins and hoists him up higher. "Happy birthday, kiddo."