"No, you can't have a Popsicle. It'll ruin your appetite."
"No it won't," Tana protests.
Buffy makes a show of considering it.
"Please? It's hours and hours til dinner!"
"It's three hours."
"That's a really long time. And if daddy's cooking he'll burn it and
it'll be late."
"I heard that," says Kon. He's got Wendy on his shoulders. Buffy pretends this isn't incredibly exciting.
"You will. Can I have a Popsicle?"
"Popsicle!" says Wendy, banging the top of Kon's head.
"Watch it," says Kon, tilting his head up to look at his daughter.
"Yeah, not everybody's head is as thick as dad's," Buffy smirks.
"Hey," says Kon, without venom.
"If you guys get distracted making googly eyes at each other," says Tana reasonably, "I'm gonna get a Popsicle."
"Get two," says Kon. "One for Wendy too."
"They're gonna be so spoiled," Buffy comments, leaning on Kon as the girls run over to pick their treats.
He kisses her quickly. "Just this once."
"Villains never need to figure out that Superman's real weakness is five-year-old girls. The world'd be doomed."
There is something, Joyce thinks, profoundly odd about being the last child in a large family.
She doesn't, of course, know how being the last child compares to being the first child, or how being the last child in a large family is different from being the last child in the first family, but some things she knows logically. She knows that a lot of her friends are first, second, or third children, but by the time they get to sixth there's no one, and tenth is impossibly later than sixth. Tana seems like someone from a different life sometimes; when Joyce was born, Tana was already in college. Now that Joyce is in high school, Tana is already married herself. Tana somehow seems even older than her parents, because Tana is moving at a normal human rate.
Joyce isn't sure about her parents sometimes. They seem to be both too old and too young, because they're around the same age as her friends' parents, but her friends don't have nine older sisters. And besides that, they have the same air all superheroes do, that Uncle Bart and Uncle Tim have too, of having lived longer than they've been alive. Of course, dad actually has lived more than he's been alive, because he's a clone and wasn't born. Joyce was born, like all her sisters, because her mother insisted, and because her father had to admit that as long as her mother's world didn't have cloning, they couldn't just go over there with magically formed two-year-old girls.
And then there are the children. In some ways, Joyce thinks that always thinking of her sisters reduces her parents; her mother is the Chosen One, her father was Superman. She thinks it should be terrible to say that first and foremost they're parents, but they seem so happy about it.
Of course, Slayers don't have children, usually, and superheroes don't have as many. Uncle Tim has his son, and Uncle Bart has his twins, but ten is a lot, and Joyce is aware of this most keenly because she's the tenth.
She thinks she should be miserable. She can line up reasons she should be, but miraculously she isn't.
"Why can't I ever just stop thinking?" she asks, slumping her head onto her knees.
"Genes," says Tana, sitting down next to her.
Tana is thirty-five, nineteen years older than Joyce. She has a husband named Sam and a son named Alex. It seems impossible to Joyce that they're sisters, sometimes. In truth, she forgets. Not that she has sisters--she can't forget that--but the oldest ones are blurry ideas, not people.
"Mom and dad can stop thinking," Joyce points out. "They do it all the time. They get the lovey dovey look."
"And you don't even have anyone to roll your eyes at," says Tana, smiling.
"I've got the cat."
"Do you know Alex is named after our grandfather?" asks Tana, stretching.
Joyce reviews her grandfathers, even though she knows them. Hank and Clark, and Giles sometimes. Rupert, she guesses. She doesn't know their middle names.
"Dad's other dad," Tana clarifies. "They didn't tell me. I figured it out."
Joyce looks at her like she's grown another head. "Luthor?"
"I knew you were smart."
"It's why we can't stop thinking. Genetic."
Tana is a genius. Joyce is just smart. "They never told us."
"That's why dad took mom's name. Conner Summers. As far from Superboy as he could get."
"He doesn't look that different without his glasses," scoffs Joyce.
"I don't get it either. But I don't think Luthor cares."
"I think he loves us," says Tana, lacing her fingers and stretching her arms. "He loves dad."
"Why did they stop at ten?" asks Joyce, feeling young. She asked her mom that when she was six, because she thought maybe she was defective, she was so bad they couldn't stand anymore.
"Because ten was what some guy from the future told them," says Tana. "And dad got attached."
"Mom said it didn't have anything to do with us, it had to do with her not ripping dad's hair out."
"Dad would hate that," smiles Tana.
"Yeah, he would."
"Where are you going to college?"
"I'll let you in on a secret," says Tana, winking. "Luthor gives us amazing financial aid anywhere in Metropolis."
"Dad said that was...something else," says Joyce. She doesn't remember what.
"Dad doesn't know what it is. Luthor gets the schools to lie for him."
"How do you know?"
"I asked him," says Tana, leaning back.
Joyce wonders what it would have been like if she and Tana were the same age, if they'd been in the house together. Anne and Moana were more interested in dolls than stalking their stealth grandfathers.
"Dangerous," says Tana, as if to answer her question. "Don't go looking for him."
"You did," Joyce points out.
"He liked me because I was novel. I was the first one."
"Everything we do is just immitation," says Joyce, a little bitterly."
"You'll figure something out. We don't have a superhero yet."
The thought had never crossed her mind.
"Come play with Alex," says Tana, rising.
"What did you tell dad? About his name."
"The truth," says Tana.
Joyce has spent her whole life weighed down by the knowledge that there are years and years she'll never understand. She doesn't think she understands any better now, but she feels, inexplicably, light.
Maybe she really should start flying.