Clark sat at the breakfast table and stirred his cereal around in the bowl, making sure the milk soaked into every part of the grains. He had to admit that Conner had been right – brand name Corn Chex was much better than generic corn flakes. Now that he wasn't budgeting out of reflex anymore, he admitted that, yes, the old ones had tasted like cardboard. This was much better.
Taking a bite, Clark savored the way it was just between crispy and soggy, with a nice taste and accompanied with the rich taste of the milk.
"Omygod, omygod, omygod!" A blue and green streaked blur dashed through the kitchen, but even superspeed had to wait for the milk to pour. "I'm so late! Why didn't my alarm clock go off?!" Conner turned accusing eyes on Clark. "Why didn't you wake me?"
Clark swallowed his bite. "I turned your alarm off. You're not going to school today."
Conner froze and the milk overran the glass, spilling out. Conner yelped in reflex and there was another small blur as he cleaned things up. Then he put the milk away, the glass down, put his hands on his hips and looked at Clark. "What?"
"I called the school and withdrew you. We've got to be at LexCorp this week."
Conner blinked. "Oh yeah. Training. Forgot about that." He paused, "Wait, withdrew? Not excused?"
The chex were getting soggy, turning past that perfect point to over-saturated. Clark sighed, pushing the bowl a little ways away. "You've already missed a lot of school because I wasn't here. And then there was the incident in March where we both were spending time between the JL's satellite and the Fortress of Solitude."
"Not so solitude as all that," Conner grumped. There had been 20 of them in the Fortress for nearly a month, and as big as the place was, they were still falling over each other. Particularly when the AI didn't approve of having anybody else over at all. It hadn't gone out of its way to make things comfortable for the people there.
Clark shrugged. He was more used to incidents like that, but it had been Conner's first. Kon had been with him for nine months now... Clark glanced at the calendar on the wall. Almost ten. Less than a year. It seemed like forever. Conner was such a part of his life, Clark couldn't believe he hadn't been with him for all the fourteen years he looked like. His son. Kon was his son, and they were together, but his son was less than two years old, and more of his life had been spent being tortured than he'd been living with Clark, even if that's not how Kon saw it. “The time in the labs” was what Kon said it was, and it didn't have anything to do with what the time now was. At least that's what he claimed. The nightmares came out at night, and that's the only time Kon would admit to it.
"I wanted you to have a normal life," Clark finally said. "And school is a part of a normal life. But we're not normal, and normal can't cope with our life. Not as it is."
"Shouldn't that be 'lives'?"
Clark laughed. "You've been living with me too long." He lost the smile. "Not long enough. Not yet. I want years and years with you, Conner. Decades. All the time we never knew and all of it that we can have. You're my family."
Kon watched him with wide eyes. Then he blinked, picked up his milk glass and sat down at the table with Clark. "Um, I didn't mind school, not really. And I'm going to do better at the secrets thing, I will. Hope and Mercy will help with that, and you won't have to worry."
Kon was Clark's sun, the rays of sunshine that lit up his life and made the world brighter. Clark wondered if all parents felt like this, even as his smile returned in the face of Conner's earnestness.
"I know," Clark said simply. "Eat your breakfast, and then we'll head over." He pulled the bowl back to him and added some more chex. The crispy new mixed with the soggy old was almost as good as the perfect in-between.
... ... ...
They walked into the LexCorp lobby at 9:15. Clark had called Charity the night before and arranged to informally get on Lex's calendar. It wasn't on any of the computers, and not on security, or anywhere else that could be accessed, but she'd cleared out an hour on Lex's schedule. It hadn't been as hard as Clark had thought it might be. Apparently when Lex had rearranged his schedule to stay at LexCorp for the week and let Mercy and Hope train Conner, he hadn't filled it up with meetings every minute of the day. Clark wondered what that meant. Probably nothing more than wanting to spend time with Conner. Or to do more research on Lionel. Probably. Possibly.
Kon bounced along next to Clark in his usual enthusiastic manner, striding out happily, watching all around them and noticing everything. He could see everything, including the things that Clark no longer did. The cracks in the sidewalk that formed patterns, the smile on people's faces as they met Conner's eyes and he grinned at them, the others who would look away, the plants that grew in little corners where dust had built up, the different shades of blue used in advertising signs.
To his son, everything was new and wondrous and different. He'd point things out to Clark, and Clark would wonder when he lost his own attention to those same things. Kon loved it all, and he shared it with Clark.
Clark only hoped that Mercy and Hope would leave the wonder when they were done training the caution. Obviously, Clark himself had done a poor, poor job of reinforcing the need for a double-life and the dangers that were there. He would do anything to save his son, and in this case, the need for training was greater than his desire to keep Kon from pain. Safe had many meanings, and Lionel had his sights set on Conner.
"Hi," Clark greeted the receptionist. "Clark and Conner Kent, here to see Justice Hamon."
The trim young man checked his computer and nodded. "May I please see your IDs?"
Clark handed his over, and nudged Kon to remind him as well. It was a normal student ID, given out by the school. Not as secure or protected as a Driver's License. If Conner had been old enough, Lex would have gotten him one of those as well, Clark was sure. Lex would have given Conner everything. He'd given him as much as he could, that Clark and Conner would accept and that wouldn't be suspicious. Lex loved Conner; Clark knew he did. Lex wouldn't hurt Kon.
Lex had loved Clark and hurt him. Clark had betrayed Lex and hurt him. The world was different now. Different and the same. It wouldn't be the same. Clark's mind was going in circles between worrying and reassuring himself.
Once they got past the security into the labs, Justice met them with a quick grin and attention more for Conner than Clark. Hope was waiting over at the other door, but Conner was asking Justice questions about something he'd been thinking of, and Justice was answering and the two of them were in their own little world.
Ten minutes later, they were still at it, and Clark had eased into a chair, and Hope was leaning against the wall. Clark would have been more concerned about their schedule, except Hope didn't seem to be worried about it herself. He looked at her and waited until she looked back at him. When their eyes met, Hope rolled hers at the ceiling and Clark had to laugh.
The sound distracted Kon as nothing else had, and he looked first at Clark, and then at Hope, and he blushed. "Um, sorry. I just wanted to know..."
"It's all right," Hope said. "We'd planned on at least fifteen minutes with you two."
"You had?" Justice blinked.
Hope laughed again. "This way, when they ask what you met about, you can tell them."
"True enough." Justice grinned. "Okay, Conner, we've got five more minutes. How about if---"
Clark stopped listening, and settled back in his chair to simply watch, enjoying his son's happiness.
... ... ...
Clark and Conner passed through the hallowed chambers of LexCorp's Executive Secretary, giving a cautious nod to Charity as they did so. She passed them on with only a brief pause while she picked up the phone and let Lex know they were there.
Going into Lex's office Clark walked in first. He looked for Lex and found him at the expected seat behind his desk. Lex met his gaze and his eyes tightened with old, familiar anger. It was a look that Clark was so used to that he didn't even pause and continued on.
As Lex's gaze flicked to Conner, the anger disappeared and his features softened. He didn't do anything as obvious as show emotion, but still Clark read the fondness Lex had for his son. Clark tried hard not to be jealous of his son, channeling it instead into gladness that Lex loved Kon.
"Conner," Lex said with a bare hint of welcome.
"Hey, DT," Kon cheerfully returned as he sauntered in and claimed the office as easily as he'd claimed his parents' hearts.
The mask slipped away as Lex's mouth curved up. He held the smile for a moment, then it slipped away almost as quickly. "Kon, about the other day, I... have to apologize for the way I spoke to you."
Clark blinked. It was almost unheard of for Lex to hesitate over things, and to apologize? He’d never… no, he had heard Lex apologize like that before, but not for many many years. Lex humbling himself to try and get a friendship back. Usually often when it was Clark’s fault equally, but Lex had always taken the blame to get back.
In this case, though, Clark had no idea what Lex was talking about. He looked at Kon, who was looking just as baffled.
Conner studied Lex for a moment and then asked, “What for?”
Lex grimaced and put his hands on the desk, flattening them out. "At the cabin. I shouldn't have yelled at you like that. I'm sorry. There were better ways to get my point across instead of losing my temper."
Conner laughed. "DT, I've seen you lose your temper before. That? That was just taking charge." He grimaced, looking very like his dad as he did. "And I totally deserved it. It was my fault, and I know it was."
The blank look was back on Lex's face, nothing else about him moved, even by super-sight.
While Clark was trying to figure out what had caused Lex to shut down, Kon rolled his eyes. "Casablanca, DT."
They were treated to the exceptionally rare sight of Lex turning red. He shifted the chair away from the desk, obviously embarrassed. Apparently he’d forgotten about his temper tantrum from when he’d barely met Conner. Their second meeting. In all honesty, Clark had also forgotten about it. But then, it was more normal for Clark. He’d seen lots worse from Lex.
Lex, more characteristically, promptly redirected away from it. “I scared you at the cabin, and I didn’t stop – I kept going. I should have realized and stopped.”
Conner laughed. “Are you shitting me?”
“Kon,” Clark reflectively said, then instantly wished he’d kept his mouth shut.
Kon stuck a hand in his pocket and came out with a crumpled bill which he handed to Clark without looking. “DT, you didn’t scare me.”
“Well, maybe you did,” Kon conceded, “But not really. The thing is, you were right. If I was cowering, it’s because I knew that every single thing you said was right and I was guilty for not doing better.” He drew in his breath. “I should have been more careful. Should be. I hurt people – unintentionally, but I do. Mercy’s relationship with Hope might be destroyed, I could have outed Tim, I could have risked you… I don’t want to do that! I think about it all the time. I think about it before I say something, then I think about it immediately after, and then I have bad dreams about it that night. I don’t want the bad buys to know about Tim’s dad, I don’t want them to know about Cassie’s mom. Hell, I’m doing it right now… I don’t know if you know Tim or Cassie or if they have parents, and just because I trust you and know you know doesn’t mean I really know and I shouldn’t have said that. But I did. And I do. I need to learn.”
The last several sentences had been spoken with barely any stops or breaths. Now Conner took the opportunity to take some air in while the others thought through his words.
Clark was glad that Conner had thought about all that. It meant he really was ready for the training and wasn’t just saying so. Clark may not have been the best trainer himself, but even Batman hadn’t succeeded with Kon. So… Mercy and Hope. It would be nice if they never had to worry about such things, but that wasn’t the world they lived in.
Lex was still looking a little uncertain, torn between his instincts of the day before and the worry he had for hurting Kon. Clark sympathized.
Hope cleared her throat. “And speaking of which… Conner?” She gestured at the door.
After a pause, during which it looked like Kon thought about heading around the desk to hug Lex, then didn't, Kon waved a cheerful hand at both his dads and followed Hope out of the office.
There was a minute of silence left inside, while both Clark and Lex looked at the shut door.
“That’s it?” Clark finally said.
Lex grimaced. “Yes. I’m not invited either. I have absolutely no idea what they’re planning.”
Clark’s imagination was painting vivid, horrible pictures that were all wrong. Probably. He shook his head. It couldn’t be any worse than what Batman did. Probably. “No kryptonite, right?”
“I made them turn all their stocks into Justice,” Lex growled. “That was the stupidest stunt ever. And no, they’ve been made well aware they’re not allowed to go anywhere near Kon with it during this so-called-training.”
“Well…” Clark glanced uncertainly between Lex and the door. Then he turned towards the door. “I guess I should head out. I’ll be back later to pick up Conner.” He didn’t want to leave, but it was obvious he wasn’t quite welcome here, and no reason he should be.
“Oh shut up and get back here.” The growl sounded exactly the same. Lex’s reaction to stupid people doing stupid things.
Clark didn’t really feel like getting beat up today. Physically or emotionally. But he turned around anyhow. He looked for a moment at the seats in front of Lex’s desk, then headed instead to the couch perpendicular to the window. He sat down. Lex always had the most comfortable furniture, without losing practicality in the function. Metropolis was above the fog layer outside the window. When they’d come into the building, it was still grey mist on the ground.
There were sounds of Lex moving to stand nearby. Not sitting next to Clark on the couch, just standing near. Not that Clark expected anything like that. Just an observation.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Lex didn’t mince words. “You’ve been moody all morning.”
“I’ve been in your office for less than five minutes!” Clark turned from the window to face Lex.
Lex raised an eyebrow.
Clark groaned. “You’ve been watching us since we got here. Since we left the apartment? You don’t have cameras inside the apartment, do you?”
“Of course not.” Lex snorted. “Despite your delusions, you’re not that interesting.”
Clark was going to have to sweep for bugs again. He did it regularly anyhow, but given the mood Lex himself was in… Or he might leave them there. Conner lived with him now, and Lex cared.
“I withdrew Conner from the High School,” Clark came out with it abruptly. “It’s not the right place for him.”
Lex shrugged indifferently.
“I was mostly normal when I was growing up, my powers coming in a little at a time, not even knowing I was different from my friends other than having to be more careful of my strength.” Clark turned to the window again. “I had a normal life, because I was normal, with normal parents. The powers… the alienness… that was the weird stuff, the stuff I didn’t always want and had to adapt to, while still trying to be a teenager. It wasn’t something I want anybody else to ever have to go through.”
“You excelled at the teenage angst,” Lex agreed, a hint of a laugh in his voice.
Clark’s mouth twitched up at the memory of how many hours he’d spent in Lex’s office or over the pool table pouring out his worries over girls and grades… none of which made any difference in the long run. “I wanted Conner to have normal, but he’s not normal, I’m not normal, and we don’t live normal lives. High School isn’t so wonderful that he needs to be there.”
Lex was still indifferent. Clark had only gotten a few tales out of him of his own early school experiences, and those were mostly about bullies and no-so-nice teachers, so he rather suspected that Lex had a less-than-favorable opinion of schools in general.
“Go on,” Lex prompted after Clark had stayed quiet for awhile.
Clark sighed. “Clark Kent didn’t finish college. Clark Kent is a lousy person to do any sort of home schooling. I don't even know if I'm qualified to home teach. I want Conner to have a good education, and for people not to look down on him for it. I can teach him myself... but then people will wonder because Clark Kent wouldn't have been able to do that. And Conner won't have the right credentials for later, and he should meet new people, not just all the superheroes. I want to get real special tutors, with things that will educate and challenge him... and I can’t afford that. I’m going to have to get a new job.”
Lex blinked at that last. "A new job?"
In all his life, Clark had only ever had one job. Helping on the farm didn't count, not really. The Daily Planet had been his second life and his only other life. Switching his writing to op ed articles hadn't been nearly as traumatizing as the mere thought of leaving the Planet altogether. But, "It doesn't pay enough. I never kept any savings." The job had paid more than he needed to live on, living as cheaply as he did, but at the start he sent the rest of the money on to his mom, and then when she was financially secure, he donated most of the rest to charities. He'd never thought he'd needed any savings. But that was for one person living by himself, and without a teenage son that he needed to put through college and special schooling. If he'd kept his old role as investigative reporter, Perry would probably have given him a raise. For op-ed... well, Perry would still give him a raise. But it was time for a change, even if he was scared spitless over it. "For Conner... for Conner I need to change."
“I could---” Lex clamped his mouth shut on his words.
“Yes, you could,” Clark agreed softly. He’d thought about it. How easy it would be to take Lex’s money, Lex’s time, Lex’s resources. They wouldn’t be for him, after all – it would be for Conner. And Conner deserved the best. With Lex's resources, Clark could keep his comfortable, safe job and not have to change. Not have to change in anything except his morals.
It was a very slippery quick slope to corruption, wasn’t it? When your justifications weren’t for just you yourself. It had always been so easy to be morally upright when it was just him alone. But having to be responsible for another person… After all the many years of fighting crime and not understanding it, Clark suddenly knew why some people could make stupid decisions. Not for themselves, but for others.
Hadn’t he been just the same as a kid? Not accepting anything Lex would do for himself, but freely asking for the gifts for others. Somehow thinking that because it was for other people, it was okay, and never really seeing that it was just as wrong. Or just as right. Because Lex gave those gifts freely at the time, not asking anything at all in return, just happy to help. Clark hadn’t realized until he'd met Oliver that people usually expected things back. It was what Clark's dad had always tried to warn him about, but Clark had never realized because Lex hadn’t ever asked for anything more than his friendship. Lex had just wanted to help, and Clark had always thrown it back in his face, just like his dad. Luthor name, Luthor motives, never mind the truth.
Lex cleared his throat. “You’ve been a writer for many years, with many awards. That’s enough on the resume to get jobs in the private sector. They’ll pay better than a reporter’s salary, even a top reporter.”
Clark looked over, his eyebrows raising. “Doing what?”
Lex’s expression did an interesting dance of moving between incredulous and exasperation. The exasperation won out. He walked to the couch and sat down, forcing Clark more into his own space.
“For someone who prides themselves on knowing people and staying on top of events, you’re sure lousy at the real world things.” Lex huffed. “Companies pay well for people who can write. There are many fields involving communication.” He ticked them off on his fingers. “Press releases – which you should know about, having read enough of them in your reporter job, media relations, company newsletters and announcements, copywriting, technical writing in just about any field you can think of, formal publications, procedures, grant writing and applications, copyright searches and applications, marketing, advertising… and that’s just off the top of my head.” Lex spread out his fingers, showing both hands open.
Strong hands, with slender fingers, that could trace one’s skin so delicately, clever fingers to grasp and hold one moment and play patterns upon the skin the next. Clark forced his eyes away from those fingers, those hands, and the memories and desires that came with them. “Don’t you have to... have training for those?”
Lex glanced from his own hands to Clark’s face, then back again. When he looked up again, his eyes were changing color, turning from a pale blue to a darker hue. But he didn’t reach out. “I don’t think you’d have any problems learning. Do you?”
“Probably not,” Clark agreed. As Lex had mentioned the jobs, Clark had remembered different people he’d known doing them. It may not be a giant public service that he was doing... but neither had most of the things he’d reported on while working his way up the ladder at the Planet. Covering the garbage collectors' strike, the city council meetings, the dog trends... some of that had been impossibly mundane and boring, but had to be done to advance to where he could do good.
He’d also used the reporter beat as a way to keep on top of news about things that needed Superman, making friends with the crime reporters and keeping his ear out. However, nowadays with the A.I. trained and the J.L. coordinating, that wasn’t needed anymore. Lois and Jimmy could always fill him in with local things the others missed.
Right now, the way Lex was relaxing back on the couch was much more interesting.
Clark edged a little closer to Lex, their legs brushing. “One of the problems I have, though, is new jobs will expect regular work from me. Superman always has to come first. I was lucky at the Daily Planet.”
“You had a lot of people looking out for you, even when they didn’t know what they were looking out for.” Lex’s voice had dropped a little lower in his range. Not his deepest, but definitely below his normal speaking voice.
“I won’t have that in a new job,” Clark breathed, not quite sure anymore what they were talking about.
“You’ll always have that.” Lex reached out and touched Clark’s face, fingers light upon his cheek. Then he dropped his hand. “I...” He paused, looking uncertain. Then he closed his eyes and talked without looking. “If you wanted, I have a lot of companies.”
The people hiring him at Lex’s companies would think all sorts of things about their relationship. But then, they’d be right, wouldn’t they? “It’s a good idea,” Clark replied. Then he leaned over and kissed Lex.
He could feel Lex's surprise though the kiss. But getting jobs because of who you knew was a time-honored tradition, no matter what youthful idealism of "I'll do it myself!" thought. And he didn't want to turn Lex away, not ever again.
Clark worked his hand up Lex's shirt, not untucking it, but flattening over the fabric and feeling the flesh beneath.
Lex shuddered, the motion rippling through his whole body. He gripped Clark's shirt tightly in return, fingers clenching and unclenching, grasping at Clark and then letting go again. He leaned into the kiss, sucking almost desperately on Clark's tongue.
Clark reclined back on the couch, taking Lex down with him so that Lex was on the top and their bodies were flush against each other.
Kisses, both gentle and demanding, hands roaming over clothes, legs tangled with each other. They indulged like teenagers, reveling in the feelings they shared.
There was a buzzing sound that barely made their awareness. A few minutes later, it sounded again.
Lex groaned and turned his head from Clark's. "Audio 53. What is it, Sue?"
"Mr. Willits is here for his 10am appointment."
"Fuck." Lex rested his head on Clark's. "Give me ten minutes."
The sound of the speaker clicked off.
"Ten minutes?" Clark asked. "I'm not that young anymore. I'm not sure if that's enough time."
Lex chuckled. Then he untangled himself from Clark and stood up.
"Hey, ten minutes..." Clark reluctantly sat up. He wanted that time with Lex.
"I need to review the proposal," Lex said briefly, though the look he shot Clark said he'd also rather have different plans for that time.
Lex went to his desk and sat down, ruffling through files. "They're supposed to be done with today's session by 4pm. There's a break for lunch at noon. You can get in and out of the office here by the back stairwell." He waved a hand towards a wall that looked like any other wall. Clark knew there was a secret door there going up to the roof. He hadn't known Lex would offer it to him.
"I want to date you," Clark said abruptly.
Lex froze. He lifted his head slowly. "What?"
"I want to date you. As Clark Kent, not Superman." Clark stood up and walked to the desk. "Saturday, you claimed Superman. And it was awesome. But I want you as Clark Kent. I want to go to dinner with you, to movies, hold hands in public, kiss you if I want to, even those horrible fundraising events you go to, I want to go to also. I want to take you on dates, buy you silly things, show you off to Lois and Jimmy, take you home to Mom. Stay home and watch tv if that's what we want. But I want it as Clark, not Superman."
Lex stared at him. After a few moments, he pressed a button on his desk. "Sue, invite Mr. Willits back for the next opening I have. I believe that would be 3pm?"
Charity replied back in the affirmative and arranged a couple more details with Lex before they disconnected. The whole time, Lex kept staring at Clark.
"It's stupid to do it as Clark Kent," Lex said the moment the intercom cut off. "Superman is a much better choice. I get death threats on a regular basis, and people who not just aim at me, but at those around me. It's not just my father, either. Clark Kent would have no protection against any of it. Superman is invulnerable and sees worse villains every day. Nobody would dare move on Superman."
Clark hadn't actually realized that Lex had thought about it. He'd thought the moment in the cabin was born out of impulse and a desire to claim in front of those he disliked. Clark should have known better. Lex never did anything without thinking. Well, almost anything.
"Clark has been friends with Superman for years," Clark said, not unaware of the irony of speaking of both parts of himself. It happened more often than he liked. "The threats that come down on Superman, Clark isn't immune to. They go after Lois more, I admit, but Clark has been kidnapped more than once." He raised his eyebrows. "Sometimes, even by you."
Lex twitched his mouth, acknowledging the hit. Then he went serious again. "Superman's enemies are... odd. Most of the time, if they go after somebody, they're taking hostages to force Superman into an action or inaction. If they hurt people, it's wholesale mayhem: Buildings going down, trains derailed, animating mailboxes on the street, that sort of thing. People hurt are happenstance, not targeted.
"My enemies, you have had some experience with already." Lex's voice was bleak, hinting at repressed sorrow.
"Your father isn't exactly average and I'm already on his list."
Lex snorted. "I wasn't counting him. I mean all the people he's hurt, I've hurt, people who thought they've been hurt, relatives of those hurt, people who want what I have, what they think I have." He grinned with lightened amusement, "Women who want to marry and then kill me."
Clark rolled his eyes. There had been enough of those. "Those people are after you."
"And they hurt those near me," Lex responded softly, the pain in his voice more obvious now and Clark knew it was shown by choice. "You're very good at rescuing hostages. I... am less successful in protecting those around me."
"But that would be the advantage to me," Clark replied just as softly. "I don't get hurt." He thought about that a moment, then amended, "Easily."
"Superman doesn't." Lex stood up and walked to the window. "Clark Kent is human."
Clark shook his head, knowing that Lex couldn't see it. "When was the last time you saw Clark Kent in the hospital?"
Lex paused, then turned around. "That's bad cover telling."
Clark shrugged. "Nobody's ever questioned it. Clark fades out of view."
"In my world, there's no such thing as fading out of view, or staying unquestioned. Superman is already in the public view. Clark Kent has never been there. Have you thought about how the meek and mild reporter will handle reporters himself?"
Adjusting his glasses, Clark cleared his throat. "I'm sorry, you'll have to talk to Lex about that. I don't get involved in business." He brought his hand down and brightened. "Oh, Lex is a wonderful lover. Very considerate. If you want to know more, I'm sorry, but you should have gotten there first." He winked.
Lex laughed. Well, Lex quirked his mouth up and his eyes crinkled with a noticeable smile. That was close enough for what Clark was looking for.
The hope was strong. Clark pulled out his biggest gun. "If you date Clark Kent, you'll get Conner as a son. As Superman, Kon-El won't be the same."
Lex softened. Clark could see him wanting it, wanting Conner, to claim him publically and to call him his son before everybody. He wavered for all of three seconds. Then he turned with fury on Clark.
"This is what you were planning!" Lex hissed. "All that sobbing over your job, and you were leading up to this. You want a legitimate way of me paying for Conner's education!"
"What? No!" Clark blinked.
"I didn't..." Actually, now that he thought about it, that did make sense. "That's not..." It just wasn't planned. "I didn't mean to." How he was going to convince Lex of that, though, was another question.
Lex glared a few moments longer. Then he shook his head and dropped his anger as quickly as he had raised it. "This is reminding me very much like a certain phone call in the middle of the night. A non-existent one-night stand that got me a child I didn't know I had, and a parent who didn't know what they were doing or why they were calling me."
He laughed. This time literally out loud, which startled Clark. Lex kept the grin after the laugh. "I wanted to pay for Conner anyhow. You've come around to what I asked for originally. Only publicly."
Clark opened his mouth then closed it again. Lex was right. And what did that mean for Clark's great morals?
"Your plan elevates mine to above the board. Publicly makes all the difference." He walked from the window across to the bar. He didn't pick up any of the alcohol or glasses there but he stared at it for awhile before turning back to Clark.
"Speaking of which... What are you planning to do, either of your selves, when next I do something against the law?" He quirked a humorless grin. "When you find out that I have done such, that is."
Lex's voice lowered even more. "I am not my father, but I am not your saint. My sins may not be my father's, but they are my own. I have done things you do not approve of, and I will continue to, for my morals are not yours. You want to be with me publicly, but neither Superman nor the reporter like what I do. I'm not planning to change, just because you're here. What will you do?"
Every atom in Clark's body stilled. The atmosphere was similar to the chill of outer space, and he stopped breathing. He knew. He knew Lex still did things. When Lex had been upset after Casablanca, the incident Conner had just referred to, Lex had gone on a three week villainry spree. Thieving, spying, wreaking general havoc, and intruding on goddesses. Most of it wasn't particularly serious, but it was Lex Luthor, and he was doing it to show his displeasure with the League. He kidnapped people (usually Lois), he launched missiles and fired ray guns at Superman on a regular basis, and his company broke a hundred thousand laws.
But Diana liked him. Even before they'd found out about Lionel.
Clark breathed and tried to remember what the others had said. Kon had interviewed them all after he'd found out that Lex was his dad. None of them really held it against Lex, not as they did for some other villains. Arthur had forgiven him, Victor let bygones be bygones, Bruce negotiated with him on a business level, and Bart liked him. Admittedly, Bart had his own immoral tendencies. But there were differences between tendencies and actions.
And that was the problem, wasn't it? Clark as a teenager had never differentiated. Or his parents hadn't, and he'd picked that up, along with his own disappointment in a dream that hadn't been able to cope with reality. His ideal of Lex meant that the reality could never match. Lex made mistakes. Mistakes weren't the end of the world... but Clark had held it as the end of their friendship. He was older now, and he thought he knew better. But did he really?
And he'd spent too much time thinking.
"I didn't think so," Lex said bitterly and picked up the decanter of ... some sort of alcohol. Clark didn't know what.
"Did you want a platitude or did you want a real answer?" Clark snapped, annoyed. "If you want the real answer, you have to wait. Drinking at 10am in the morning isn't going to help that!"
Lex paused, then put it down. "You'd be surprised," he replied dryly. "Alright, though I would think you'd've thought about it before."
"I haven't stopped thinking about it," Clark said quietly. For almost forever, but his attitude softened by Conner. Clark sighed. "You're not perfect. I'm not perfect. Nobody is perfect, and that includes the people who wrote our laws, and who run our country, and who work in your companies. Laws... are not... I'm not a policeman. I will not stand for you hurting anybody, either directly or indirectly. And..." Clark sighed for a second time. "I don't know," he finally admitted. "I just don't know."
"Well," Lex leaned against the wall, his expression sardonic. "That's honest."
Clark spread his hands. "I'm going to try. I'm going to look at each thing on its own. I'm not going to give you free rein to do anything with no consequences... but I'm not going to rush to judgment. Or I'm going to try not to."
Lex stared at him for a long time without saying anything.
It was hard for Clark not to fall into a Superman stance, standing there with Lex staring and staring at him. It reminded him too much of their fights and their anger. They had had plenty of that. Clark had spent enough time lecturing Lex on the right and proper way to be, what he should and shouldn't be doing. He wanted to tell Lex that he didn't have to break laws anymore, that he didn't have to steal things, that he didn't have to kidnap people... but Lex already knew that.
He wanted to ask Lex to change... but he didn't have that right. Not yet, perhaps not ever. Not after what he'd done when they were young, and how he'd carried it through to their adulthood. Lex was a villain, but not the villain he could have been. Clark was a superhero, but not the superhero he could have been either.
Clark stayed silent.
"Fair enough," Lex finally said. "At least you aren't promising anything you can't give. I think you're going to get yourself into trouble down the line, but that's your affair."
It was kind of Lex's too, but Clark thought he wasn't going to point that out.
Lex walked back to his desk and sat down. "It's time for you to leave. You can come back at four."
Clark glanced at the clock. Twenty-past. Lex not only didn't want him around any longer though he still had the rest of the hour, but the offer of a noon break had also been withdrawn. Wistfully, he thought of the 3pm opening that Lex used to have in his schedule... Lex apparently had thought Clark might get there early. Or had planned for the possibility. Gone now.
He wouldn't even have the chance now for a kiss goodbye, which he could have had a half an hour ago. Clark was an idiot. "I still want to date you," he said softly.
Lex snorted, half with laughter. He steepled his fingers and bent his head down to them while still looking at Clark.
"I'm not saying no," Lex finally said, "but I still don't think it's a good idea. Come back later. I can't deal with you any more right now. You turn everything topsy turvy. You always have. But I've had enough for now. Later. We'll pick this up again later."
That was unexpected. It raised Clark's hopes more than he'd thought possible. And maybe he could get that kiss after all.
"Okay," Clark agreed with the conditions. Instead of leaving, though, he came around the side of Lex's desk. Once there he lost some of his nerve and just stood there.
Lex closed his eyes. "You're going to drive me crazy. If I wasn't already." He stood, put his hands on Clark's shoulders, and kissed him.
It was a simple kiss, just mouth to mouth and no heat behind it. But it was a kiss from Lex, freely given, and meant more than the world. He cherished every moment Lex gave him and when Lex withdrew, he stored it up.
Not saying anything else because even a 'goodbye' might break the moment, Clark backed off until he was out from the desk area, then he turned and went to the hidden stairwell. It was only a moment before he figured out the switch.
Clark paused and looked back to Lex. "What?"
"To get in from the roof," Lex explained, his eyes amused. "The code is 4652 and use your fingerprint from your right pinky finger. For the penthouse, the code is 80659 and your left ring finger."
Only Lex would have specific fingerprints for his access. Clark wondered when he'd been programmed in. "The first one is four digits and the second is five."
"Yes, I know," Lex replied impatiently.
Right. Clark grinned, more at himself than anything. It was Lex. He was surprised the codes weren't some impossible mathematical calculation, but then, they probably needed to be entered quickly, and changed regularly. "See you later," he told Lex, and then headed out.
Clark Kent was taking the day off work, so he changed into Superman at the top of the stairs and left his suit on the steps. There wasn't anything major happening in Metropolis so he flew around the world until he found a forest fire.
It wasn't anywhere near buildings or humans. Just a forest and land. In the old days, he would have put the fire out. Now, they knew that fires were good, natural things that let the world renew itself. So he let it burn. But first he walked into the middle of it and stood there amidst the flames while they licked all around him and didn't touch him. It was a heady, wonderous feeling to be in the midst of something that should kill him and didn't. Much like being near Lex, only Lex hurt more and touched more. Fire was beautiful, this close.
He stood there until he heard a fox in distress, and then he went to rescue the animals.
"Oh phew. You smell like skunk, go shower," was the greeting he got in the satellite. They were used to members showing up in some pretty bad conditions, but even superheroes had their limits.
"I scrubbed off in the lake before I came up!" Superman protested.
"Apparently not well enough. You still smell like skunk. Use the super soap and wire scraper if you have to, but don't come near people again until it's all gone." Bart backed off to the far side of the bay. "Don't come near me until then."
With a grumble, he headed for the showers, the wide berth people gave him along the way proving Bart's statement. Really, he had washed first. He couldn't smell it himself anymore at all, though he probably just couldn't smell anything at all after the first blast.
He might have had super-speed, but he took that shower at normal speed, making sure he used the special soap everywhere and rinsing out his hair ten separate times. When he finally came out, people greeted him much more cheerfully, proving the worth of the soap yet again. Or the wire brush.
As usual when he wasn't up on the satellite for a particular reason, he ended up talking to and teaching the younger heroes. It was something he really enjoyed doing, though it was also painful – going through the lessons learned from his past and yet knowing that no matter how much he talked, they had to make their own mistakes.
And then the subject of how to get information about villains came up. As they talked, Superman got an idea. It was true after all. If not quite... right. Before he could talk himself out of it, he spoke. "Be careful about acting on the information you get from others, no matter how accurate it seems at the time. If I had not acted so quickly against Lex Luthor, he may not have been such an enemy of mine."
The flood of questions came at him quick and from all directions. If he wasn't Superman and used to standing firm in all types of storms, it might have overwhelmed him.
"I was a young superhero when I first met Lex Luthor, and I had friends eager to tell me about him, including my best friend, a reporter named Clark Kent."
There was a little pause of confusion from those who had been expecting the name of Lois Lane.
Superman smiled, "I met Lois through Clark later on. But Clark has always been my truest friend, if a quieter person than those he knows. He and Lex... had history. Once friends themselves, they had parted ways, and it made Clark bitter towards his former friend. He was careful, as a good reporter is, but that bit of history and our youth made us uncompromising at a time when perhaps compromise was needed."
"But Luthor is a villain," came the confused protest from one of the equally young heroes.
"Lex Luthor is a complicated person, as are many of the people we deal with." Superman tried to pick his words with care, caught between Lex's history and reputation and where he wanted them to be. "He is most definitely guilty of corporate crime and espionage and bending and breaking laws to suit himself. Villainry in the sort that we deal with, however... on the levels of the Joker or the Toymaker, or those who would match themselves on us... that he is not. Mayhem and mass destruction are the sorts of things he abhors, most of the time."
They looked at each other, baffled. "But he tries to kill you all the time!"
Superman grimaced. "Well, yes. He's also the sort of person who is quick to anger and will not give an inch once confronted, no matter what. If you say the world is red, he might paint it blue to prove you wrong... or he might well loose hologramatic satellite projections to turn it red in truth."
That was a little beyond most of them, though some had had experience enough to draw on and figure it out. "So you called him a villain and he became one?"
"More or less." There was also the matter of Lex's dad and his misdirections, but that wasn't public knowledge yet. "He can hold a grudge too."
"So you were mislead by your friend Clark and that led to the world's worst villain. Lesson is never trust anyone but yourself."
"No!" Youngsters. Superman tried again. "Clark has been a great resource through the years, and he has access to more research and connections than I ever have as a superhero. His information has been invaluable in finding out about the villains I've faced and tracing back through the connections to some less obvious motivations. We have the resources of the Justice League for some of that now, but never discount your own local connections. The problem with myself and Clark back then was we put all shades of grey in with black and didn't see the difference. Now with more experience, we can see that Lex, too, was young and figuring things out and making mistakes. We'd counted the mistakes as the truth and settled on an image of what we thought Lex was like too soon. Older now, we're finding that things weren't quite the way we though, and Lex also is willing to work more with us now." Not too much. He couldn't say too much while Chloe was still here as Watchtower. He had to wait for Diana's move and Oracle's sweep before he could say more.
He hauled himself back to the original topic. "Get your information from your friends, from the police, from other heroes and villains, and from your own observations. But then also stop and think about what you have gathered and see if perhaps there is something you haven't seen. You can't give everybody the benefit of a doubt – hesitate over too much and too long, and there might be lives lost. But where you can... stop and think, and see, perhaps, if there might be other ways than confirming somebody in their villainy."
It wasn't a very clear-cut lesson, but that was the problem with life – things didn't always work out the same. One could give some people the same break and offer them the same second chances... and some of those people would take their second chance with both hands and reform and become heroes even as much as they had been on the path for villain. Bart had taken that route when he went from crime to Impulse with just the slightest of encouragement.
Others would take the chance and then fade into the background, never more to do any great things good or bad, and they would count that well enough. Still yet others would slap that chance down, strangle it, and go on to be worse villains yet. There was no sure-fire way of telling who would make what choice in the end. And as heroes, they didn't always have the luxury of giving the chance.
Superman stayed with the young heroes and tried to help. He recognized a lot of himself in them... and he knew that in the end, they too, would be making their own paths and their own mistakes. Hopefully less of them from knowing his own.
At 3:55pm, Superman was flying around Metropolis and hoping there wasn't going to be any last moment emergencies that he had to attend to. At 4pm, he was down the stairs and entering Lex's office, back into Clark's suit and Clark's identity.
He was met by a stony-faced Lex who stood in front of his desk and had his "death to Superman" face on. Clark faltered within two steps in.
"Are you insane?" Lex hissed, fury in his voice and shouting the same in every angle of his body.
"Uh..." Clark frantically searched through everything he'd done during the day. "Is this about the fire?"
"It's about you being a complete dumb-ass! What were you thinking?!"
"Fire is cool?"
"It's not about the damn fire! I don't even know anything about a fire. I do know that you are a self-sabotager who will destroy your own reputation and everything you have worked for in the last ten years for no good reason."
It took Clark a few more moments, but he finally connected that with the talk he'd had with the youngsters. "You heard that? Wait, what?"
"I heard of it," Lex said grimly, "than I dug up the records to see for myself. You are truly the most idiotic person I know. You aren't two different people, you're one very stupid one. Nobody will ever trust anything Clark Kent ever says or writes ever again. Everything you have ever reported on is now suspect."
Clark frowned. "What?"
"The reporter Clark Kent led Superman down the garden path and let his emotions trick Superman into a poor decision, betraying the one who trusted him."
Clark was within inches of saying "what" again, but he swallowed it down. "That's not what I said!"
"It's what they heard," Lex said relentlessly. "Superman is the perfect hero who can do no wrong. Clark is human and flawed."
Clark scrubbed his hands through his hair and messed it into something neither Clark nor Superman style. "Argh. The whole point of that conversation was that we all make mistakes!"
"It's nothing a young hero will ever hear. And now Clark Kent is ruined."
Dropping his hands, Clark stood for a moment, then shrugged. "I'm quitting anyhow. And as far as it goes, it's all true. I was the one who failed you. I was angry and I didn't look beyond the obvious."
"And I'm an obstinate SOB who becomes a villain just because you made me mad." Lex didn't do anything as obvious as growl, but his voice dripped scorn.
Clark winced. Yet... "Well, didn't you?"
If Lex had laser vision, Clark would have been ashes.
Clark savored the win for just a moment, then redirected. "How did you hear about it anyhow? I hardly think it's going to become common knowledge."
"You underestimate the power of gossip and how interesting Superman is to people," Lex said grimly. "Your eternal optimism means that you are unprepared for the worst."
"Plan for the worst and hope for the best. I bet you wouldn't even bother with the second half."
"You'd be right. And most of the time, I would be right too."
Clark snorted. "Look, Lex. I appreciate the concern, but I don't think it's going to be as bad as you think. I admit I'm surprised about the interpretation – that really wasn't the point and that wasn't the only thing we talked about – but you have resources others don't – and don't think I'm not going to mention that to Oracle and Batman either –, and it won't be that bad."
Lex inclined his head. "We'll see if your partner thinks the same."
That took him aback. Clark paused for a moment, thinking that through. "How is that going to hurt Lois?"
"What is the first thing people think when they hear Clark Kent, reporter? I assure you, it's not Superman – you've been careful to keep that distance. Nor is it your series on tornados and the lives they affect years after they went through, no matter how well done the articles were. Award winning journalists... Lois Lane and Clark Kent. Notice whose name is first. If Clark's reputation is toast... guess who also burns."
"Go talk to your partner. Right now. Tell her exactly what you have done, and listen to her. Then see if you have a problem. But the first thing you are doing is leaving her this instant and finding her first."
Damn him, Lex was right. Clark winced at the thought of what Lois would say. The reality would probably be worse. He sighed. "Conner?"
"He'll go to the penthouse with me. You can come by later when you're done."
"Right." Clark turned to go.
Clark turned back. Lex had gone remote on him, that particular stillness that said he'd turned most of his attention inside and was thinking about something. Clark waited, knowing that nothing would happen until Lex decided it would.
Finally, Lex sighed and moved, walking to the window and looking out over the city. "You haven't told her about my father, have you?"
"No." Clark kept his answer simple.
"On my side, you have my permission to tell her. And I think you should."
"It's dangerous." Clark knew that Lois would pry. If she knew, she would investigate. If she investigated, she would come to Lionel's attention. If she was on Lionel's list.... Clark worried for her.
"If all goes according to plan, the world itself will be in danger shortly," Lex said gloomily.
Though Lex had agreed to its necessity, Clark knew that Lex had never liked the idea of bringing the battle to Lionel. At least not for others to. Despite the evidence else wise, Lex was rooted in the belief that it was a battle between him and Lionel alone. Clark's heart broke every time that he thought about how much of Lex's life had been this focus.
Clark knew that Lex was also right. Things would be coming to a head soon, though they didn't know what Lionel would do. They knew it would involve death and destruction and chaos, Lionel's friends. Lois would soon enough be investigating everything anyhow, and would be in just as deep as they, though from her own angle. If they didn't involve her now, Clark would be putting her in even more danger from her own ignorance. No matter which way they turned, there was no safe path.
It was one of the reasons that they had broken up. Lois would never stop investigating, and she was always in danger, and Clark was always worried about her. Loving her had become a strain. And equally the same on her side for him. Clark, after all, was the one who had already died once.
Ironic, really, that his new love was Lex, who all that applied equally to, and in fact intensified a hundred times over. But there was no choice in loving Lex. It just was, insanely and intensely so. Clark hoped it would never end.
... ... ...
Hours later, Clark dragged himself down the stairs to the penthouse. He felt like he'd been through the wringer. Lex had been both right and wrong. While Lois agreed that Clark was a bit of an idiot for phrasing things the way he had, she didn't think the rumors would account to much. However, she also was very, very interested in Lionel Luthor. It was almost scary how interested she was.
It also solidified for Clark just why he and Lois were better as friends. Reporting was very much Lois' drive in life – getting to the truth and then getting that truth out for people to know it. For Clark... not so much. He enjoyed journalism, and he was good at it, but his drive was his hidden career, not the public one. To save people and help them.
Two people didn't have to have the same interests to be lovers and partners. In fact, very few people did. Their careers were separate, their hobbies were different. It was the little things in life instead that made them compatible.
For Lois and Clark, though, they were too close in just the wrong ways. They had very similar interests that were on the surface almost the same... but just a little off from each other. He liked red, she liked maroon. He liked the ocean, she liked lakes. He liked cooked fish, she liked sushi. He liked journalism... she loved reporting.
They were so close that the inches were more frustrating than the miles.
At least with him and Lex, there wasn't even the question of inches. They weren't that close on anything, except for the effect they had on each other. And Conner. With Conner, they were very much in perfect agreement that their child was the best thing ever.
Lex met him in the foyer, a mystified expression on his face. "There you are. We were wondering if you got lost."
"Not lost," Clark smiled. "What's up?"
"Dad! There you are." His son came bouncing up to them, repeating Lex's words, but instead of mystified, his expression was eager and excited. "You have to see this place! It's full of the niftiest things."
Exuberant teenagers. That explained Lex's look. Clark grinned. "Show me."
After a half hour of being dragged from one thing in the penthouse to another, Clark rather thought that his expression might be similar to Lex's, though perhaps for different reasons.
Conner hadn't gone for the things that most visitors would have been impressed by, he went for the things he liked, and there was an interesting assortment of them. Instead of being wowed by the original Rembrandt in the front hall, Kon drooled over the Wyland in the bathroom.
As Kon noticed certain things, Clark looked and saw other things. He didn't think Kon saw what he saw – Conner was just looking for the nifty. Clark, however, knew some of the stories behind them.
In the Wyland painting, Clark saw some familiar green crystals in the corners and a small creature he was pretty sure was from another galaxy – he turned to Lex with a raised eyebrow and Lex admitted that he'd commissioned the painting directly. Also in the bathroom, Conner also liked the seashells on the counter that Clark recognized as coming from Arthur's kingdom and not your average beach. The shower doors were etched in a frosted random scene... that turned out to be not so random when Clark eyed it a little closer. Kryptonian DNA was woven into knots with human DNA streaming through. Just distorted and artistic enough that it wasn't apparent that it was DNA at first glance, let alone the particulars. Clark wondered if Lex had this made before or after he knew about Kon. From the stains on the edges that even the housekeeping couldn't keep clean, Clark thought it was many years older.
Other things that caught Kon's attention were small knickknacks hidden amongst more recognizably expensive ones. The crystal collection in the shelves, almost all perfect, also included several intergalactic ones. Conner didn't seem to notice, but Clark shook his head at a common variety of periodot in its very particular green color amongst the more expensive ones. There was one milky white crystal that was unusual for being slightly chipped instead of perfect like the others. It was back behind the others, so not so immediately obvious, and it looked like common quartz... but Clark recognized it as being a Fortress crystal.
Kon dragged Clark from spot to spot within the penthouse, pointing out carvings on wooden chairs, scenes hidden inside otherwise normal looking paintings, star constellations in paint splatters on the ceiling, fish swimming in the shades of the carpet, mathematical equations in patterns on the tiles.
On his own, Clark also saw a small brass corn cob holding down a gold-dipped oak leaf. He wondered if the leaf was from Smallville. The brass corn cob definitely was – Mr. Huckerson regularly sold them at the harvest fair.
There were other things in there that he'd never seen... that he'd never looked closely enough to see. Little hints of memories and keepsakes disguised among the rest.
Of course, he hadn't actually been in the penthouse for anything other than to break in and yell at Lex for something he'd done, and he hadn't done much looking at those times.
Clark thought that maybe, perhaps, he should have.
"Alright, Conner, that's enough." Lex finally said during a pause in the explorations. "We really should get dinner before your dad dies of hunger."
"Oh, food!" The teen's attention was instantly redirected and he went dashing to the dining room.
Lex and Clark followed more slowly behind him.
"He makes me feel old," Lex admitted. "Even when I was his age, I don't think I ever had that much energy."
Clark chuckled. "Me either." Honestly, though, at this point, Conner was more like an eight-year old than fourteen. His life of only a year, wavering between child and adult and whatever mix inbetween that was pure Kon and nothing else like it.
Dinner was smooth between the three of them, conversations flowing easily. Clark described the fire he stood in, Conner talked about his training, and Lex listened to both and asked questions that were almost as interesting as the experience.
Clark had to admit, he'd been surprised at the descriptions of the training. When Conner had said that he and Mercy and Hope had spent the time talking, Clark had involuntarily looked at Lex with a raised eyebrow. Lex tilted his head very slightly to one side, replying silently that he was just as surprised, and then he asked Conner another question about it.
It turned out that Mercy and Hope's ideas of identity training were similar to the League's... but they just took it back another step. As Conner explained it, most Teen Titans came in knowing certain things about themselves that Kon didn't, so they moved back to give him that identity. Like taking remedial addition and division before moving on to algebra.
"They explained that everybody in the JL grew up as themselves first, and then created their superhero identities, so mostly people are the mundane first and adapted the hero." With a few notable exceptions such as Bruce, who had taken the time in the travels to reinvent both sides, and Wonder Woman who came from a completely different culture.
"So we spent the first several hours breaking down both the heroes and villains and figuring out where they split their personas."
Clark almost wished he would have been allowed to sit in on that – it sounded like it could have been fascinating. At the same time, he squirmed for just how much it said about Lex and his people knowing so very much about the Justice League's members. It was a good thing that Lex wasn't really a villain like the Joker or they all would have been dead a long time ago.
"They didn't talk about you, though. Not much."
Clark gave thanks silently to whatever deities watched over him. He didn't quite think either of the ladies would have been very kind in their dissection of him, though it might have been accurate.
“So who did you originally model Superman on? Since you came first and him second.”
Clark had also modified himself for the clumsy reporter at the time, but it was true that that had only been after he'd decided on the need for a superhero image. Clark had been Superman for a long time now, and Superman had changed along the way from the first image he'd had of him. The name hadn't been part of it either – he was still a little annoyed with Lois at that. But back then, for those first steps… Clark involuntarily looked over at Lex. “Warrior Angel. I tried to make him strong and true and confident, like Warrior Angel was.”
Kon looked baffled, apparently sorting through his mental super hero lists to figure out who that was.
Lex’s eyes narrowed, the congeniality dropping with automatic reflex as he apparently sensed something wrong. “That was not your comic. You read Silver Star and Darcy and Ghost Fantastic. Not Warrior Angel.”
Clark flinched. Lex was right – that hadn't been his favorite. But Clark hadn’t lied. He hadn't just said that now for the effect. But Lex wouldn’t like the reason. Clark thought about leaving it where it was, then realized he couldn’t. He'd already said too much, and Lex was suspicious. Better to be blasted for the full sin than the partial. He steeled himself. “I thought that if I was Warrior Angel, that maybe…” Clark couldn’t finish. He trailed off, his voice faltering with his words. Superman had courage, but Clark didn't. Not for this.
The color of blue changed to glacial ice. “You thought I would change my ways and come running back to you.” Lex’s voice was as cold and hard as his eyes.
Yeah, Clark figured that would be a problem. Because it was what he’d thought at the time. God, he’d been dumb when he was young.
“Instead, you followed the storyline and got your own Devilious,” Lex’s voice dripped scorn. “An arch-enemy, custom-made, complete with dark enmity.”
Oh, here they went. As Lex kept going, Clark got angry too. That was enough. He crossed his arms and listened with barely suppressed tension. He’d wait until Lex was done and then let him have it back.
Abruptly, Lex broke off. His gaze shifted over to the wall behind Clark.
“I apologize,” Lex said stiffly. “That was uncalled for.”
In utter surprise, Clark stepped back. As he moved, he realized that he’d unconsciously stood up and moved into Superman stance at some point. Conditioning, habits, reflexes… they were very hard to break, and he and Lex had a long road to travel. He offered up his own sheepish shrug. “It was pretty arrogant of me to think that.”
Minutely, Lex relaxed. “I don’t think ‘arrogant’ is the right word,” Lex murmured.
Clark smiled bitterly. “Young and dumb,” he repeated his earlier thought.
“We both were.” Lex finally returned his gaze to meet Clark’s gaze. A newly familiar mix of fear and determination in his eyes.
Clark retook his retreated step, involuntarily moving towards Lex.
This time, it was Lex who retreated, if not actually leaving the table, then dropping his eyes and picking up his wine glass to break their flow.
Conner cleared his throat, reminding them that he was there. He'd been silent during their match off, unusually so. But perhaps he'd been learning by observing. Clark wondered what he'd learned, and blushed for how absorbed he'd gotten.
“You based Superman on a comic book character?” Kon sounded incredulous.
That wasn't the question that Clark had expected. "Um... yeah?"
Lex's lips twitched up, the smile not making it to his eyes, but it was something. "Timeline, Kon. There weren't that many real life heroes while we were growing up, and the few that there were, were far away and not part of daily life."
The war was where many of the first heroes had emerged. Diana as Wonder Woman, Sky Captain, Red Moon for the axis, and others. For a child, they hadn't been any more real than the comics. Less, really, as the comics were there.
"That's... weird." Conner blinked, apparently trying to imagine it.
Clark realized that it was quite a change. In the last thirty years, the metahumans had come out in such force that it was almost common place to see them now. The Justice League forces needed computers to track their membership, and the satellite they had up in space was only one example of their resources. They had second, even third generation heroes now, children growing up as much hero as mundane.
For a moment, he tried to picture the world if he'd grown up in it now, and it was a bizarre thing. If there had been that many heroes around while he was growing up, would it have been easier to figure out his place in the world? Would he have become the person he was? Would Lex have been able to leave his father sooner? Clark shook his head. There were enough what might have beens without adding another layer of questions onto it.
"Warrior Angel was a good man, even if a character in a story," Clark said. "He was a man of the world, and I needed something to base Kal-El's strength on. Kal-El was supposed to be suave and somebody people would trust. I... I was just a kid from Smallville and quaking in my boots."
"Kal-El? But that's your name." Conner questioned it.
Lex's lips twitched in amusement even as Clark sighed with annoyance. "I didn't name myself Superman. I was supposed to be Kal-El from the start. The problem is I didn't give any interviews right after that first dramatic rescue – I was too busy – and Lois had the article done and printed before I ever saw it."
Kon blinked a few times. "Seriously?"
"Seriously," Clark replied. He'd gotten used to 'Superman' over the years, but he still winced when he thought about the ego it would have taken to have picked the name directly. "You don't think Wonder Woman picked her name either, do you?"
"So some personas are as much accident as planned." Conner said thoughtfully.
"The newspapers and local people make them up, and we live up, or down, to them, as it fits." Clark agreed.
Conner's eyes went to the crumbs of dessert on his plate. "I had a persona once, something that wasn't me, that I put on and almost never took off because it meant less pain and perhaps a chance for me and my bothers. When I realized I didn't have to have it anymore... I never wanted to put another one on again – I wanted to be myself, and only myself."
Clark's eyes stung.
"It's not the same," Lex said softly. "What that was, was survival. What this is, is parts of yourself shown at different times."
Lex would know. Clark thought about how much of Lex's early self was survival, and how free and yet nervous he'd been to laugh and play with Clark, the rare times he'd let his guard down. Even around Clark, it had been a rare thing. More of a wistful desire to, than the actual thing. He had played roles the rest of the time; the helpful older brother, the generous friend, the dutiful son, the local businessman. Switching them for the occasion. No wonder Clark's parents hadn't trusted Lex. They only saw the roles and had never glimpsed the person underneath.
He didn't really want to teach Conner to be somebody other than who he was. He liked Kon just the way he was. But the world demanded at least two views, if not more.
Conner shrugged. "I'll learn," he said simply, matter of fact. "Can we go watch a movie now?"
With a grin at both his son and the disconcerted look on Lex's face, Clark got up to clean the dishes off the table. Lex had let himself in for more than he'd planned, letting them into his penthouse and his life.
... ... ...
... ... ...
Conner loved the half-hour in the morning that he got to spend with Justice. No strategy, no worrying about identities, no having to do anything but talk science.
He was eternally grateful to Hope for that first weird word game that pulled the science interest out of him. He hadn't even known until then how much he liked it. He had been an interest, but not a passion.
Talking with Justice and seeing how much Justice liked the same things... it was very cool. There were scientists in the League, but he hadn't talked to them like this, because he was a hero, not another scientist. Justice knew about his other identity, but all he cared about was teaching Conner.
Almost, Kon wished he could do this for real. With both the scholarship meetings and this individual time, he finally understood normal people. The teens at his school (former school), he still didn't quite get – they were too young, didn't really take life seriously, for all they thought they did. He was younger, but different. It wasn't his world.
The superheroing had been his world since he left the labs. Now.... Now there was something more.
After the nod from Charity, Kon pushed open the door to Lex's office and went straight in. The other part of this new routine he liked was getting to see his second dad. The night before at the penthouse had been great, the three of them together. Clark and Lex had barely even growled at each other compared with some of their earlier meetings.
"Conner." Lex stood up from his desk and walked towards Kon. There was a hint of warmth in his voice, and a softening of the skin around his eyes.
Compared with the non-greetings that Lex gave Clark, that was real joy. And they'd seen each other less than eight hours ago, considering what time Kon and Clark had finally left the penthouse.
"Hi, DT," he said cheerfully, heading to his second dad and angling for a hug. It was touchy sometimes if Lex would respond or not, but today Lex reached out and hugged him back. Not for long, but it was good enough.
After stepping back, Lex gave a real smile. "Are you ready for today?"
"'Course. You're still not invited, are you?"
"Nope." Lex dropped into Conner's speech patterns for the answer, then grinned. "I would if I could."
"It's okay, DT – I get along fine with Hope and Mercy." His dads' protective instincts would also just get in the way. Maybe not now when it was just discussion, but Kon had no doubt they would get to reactive training later on. He'd really rather not have his dads there. He agreed 100% with Hope and Mercy on that.
"And you don't know just how disturbing that statement is."
Kon searched back through his thoughts until he remembered he'd last mentioned getting on with the two scariest people he knew. He grinned back at Lex. Yeah, it was no problem at all.
He turned to wander through the office. It was huge for an office, with room for a conference table and chairs, a couch and armchairs with coffee table, and even had its own bathroom, complete with shower and a dresser of clothes and cuff links. It had paintings, decorations, artifacts, in carefully arranged layouts – tasteful. Boring.
"Where's all the interesting stuff?" Kon turned to look at his father.
Lex was sitting on the corner of his desk, in a pseudo-casual pose, watching him. He raised a single eyebrow at the question, not voicing the request for clarification.
"Your place, the penthouse, it's full of nifty things that are interesting. This place is boring."
"It's an office," Lex replied dryly. "It's not supposed to be interesting."
"Even if you kept normal working hours, which I know you don't, people are at their work more waking hours than they are at home. You practically live here. It should be more interesting."
"What a fascinating concept," Lex murmured, his lips curving in amusement. "This is a place of business."
"So? You still live here. Make it yours." Kon picked up the pile of pamphlets and printouts on the coffee table. Careers in Technical Writing, How to Use Your English Degree, Writing Press Releases – These were the most interesting things he'd seen in the office and that was because they didn't belong. Conner regarded them thoughtfully. DT hadn't asked where Dad was today.
"Too many people are in and out of here." Lex abruptly stopped sparring and gave a serious answer. "I can't afford to have things in here that will be noticed and investigated. Nobody is ever invited to my home. The ones who break-in... well, my security is fairly extensive."
"That's a sad way to live," Conner commented. Then he left the topic. That was enough of that. On to more relevant stuff.
"Dad's up at the satellite – Diane called a council meeting to tell them about her pregnancy." Conner figured that even though DT hadn't asked about Dad's absence, it didn't mean that he hadn't noticed. "She's going to leave for the island after the meeting. Chloe's already agreed."
Lex stilled. "So, it begins." He walked to the window and looked out over the city. "Death and destruction, raining down like blood upon sunflowers."
Kon frowned. "That's a bit much, DT."
"We have a week, maybe less, perhaps a bit more, before my father figures out what's happening – that he's lost his biggest playing piece. When he finds out... the world will feel his wrath."
"You agreed to the plan!" Kon said with exasperation.
"I did," Lex agreed. "It's the only way. That doesn't mean there's going to be consequences." He stared out the window. "There are always consequences."
Conner nodded. He was familiar with consequences. Lex turned to look at him and for a moment they were united in a history of anguish.
The moment moved on, and Conner tipped his head to one side. "You going to be okay, DT? I've gotta go to class."
The side of Lex's mouth curved up. "You should take care of yourself first, Kon." He paused for a moment, then relented. "I'll be fine."
"Right." Kon weighted the odds and decided no hug this morning. "See you later!" He gave a cheerful wave and then headed out to join Mercy and Hope. His dad and he would work on pulling Lex out of his shell later that night. Progress was made a little at a time.
"So," Hope pushed the computer pen his way, "have you thought about your traits?"
Conner nodded. He started marking up the file they'd worked on the day before. He'd taken several aptitude tests and then they'd broken down the various character traits that were traditionally associated with each. His overnight assignment had been to think about them and to make an initial mundane/hero division.
"Superboy is a lot of what I was initially, and how I've shown myself already." They'd also reviewed a number of tv interviews that he'd given. "He's enthusiastic, sincere, determined, and personable. Conner Kent isn't so well known. A few changes in his personality won't be so obvious. The most logical start would be the scholarship crew. I can be intense, curious, a bit contemptuous for those who don't know as much, and not caring if people like me or not."
"Don't make the mundane a life you don't want to have," Mercy cautioned. "You have to live with both of them. Batman is an extreme – most people are more of a mix."
Conner nodded. He didn't think he could be an ass and carry it off for long. For a particular instance, maybe, but not long-term – and his life was as long-term as you could get.
They continued to talk and plan.
When they finished up for the day and headed to Lex's office, Kon viewed everything with different eyes. Was he looking at things as Conner the proto-scientist or as Kon-El the alien? When people looked at him, what did they see? His walk, his talk, the things he looked all... all of those were indications of who he was that other people used as their cues to respond to him.
In the labs, he'd been a thing. Something to be studied and analyzed. Something to be destroyed if he didn't meet their requirements or standards. They didn't usually let the clones... the siblings know what it was they were looking for until more of their brothers were gone. The random memories they were fed didn't make them people – it made them subjects that weren't insane and could process the things around them. Any lab technician that treated them any differently were gone within a day.
Out in the world, people were different. For the most part, they didn't study him at all. Saw him, interacted with him, usually smiled or frowned at him, but they did the same to all the other people around him. He was just a person, like any other in the world outside. People didn't see him any differently – he simply was and they were too. Unique, but just a person and accepting of that.
Cali and Sue were clones of another cat, and yet were different, separate, individuals from kittenhood. Still kittens, reacting to things as kittens did, but reacting differently, each with their own quirks and their own personalities, and becoming more each their own selves as they grew and reacted to the world around them.
As he walked down the halls of Lex Corp, Conner was aware for perhaps the first time that he was Conner Kent and people saw him as such. Most of the people they walked by didn't know who he was, had no clue of his name. They saw Mercy and Hope walking near him and their eyes went to them in recognition and wariness. The teenager got a glance and perhaps some curiosity and speculation unspoken. Who they saw, though, was Conner Kent. A teenage proto-scientist who met with Justice Hamon and had a Lex Corp scholarship. Dressed in nice jeans (not ratty or torn) and a polo shirt as a concession to being in the hallowed halls. They didn't see Kon-El, alien boy who was the spitting image of Superman and adored in his wake.
It was... a bit of a relief, actually, to know who he was. Conner had thought he'd been free when he was just being who he was with no thought and no care. But definition gave him shape. It was not all he was, nor would it ever be, but it was something that the world could see. Before... he'd been free, yes, but nebulous and vague.
He'd have to see what it would be after some time of it.
Hope paused by Charity's desk while Mercy passed by. Conner paused as well while Hope and Charity exchanged easy greetings and caught up on what was happening in each others' worlds. Mercy prowled along the edges, making sure nobody was in the anteroom who was not supposed to be there. The few people who had been dropping off reports and folders to Charity either got out of there quickly, or shifted uneasily as they waited their turn.
It was odd to realize that while Hope was just as dangerous as Mercy, people weren't as scared of her. Mercy had an inner quality that made every person around her know that they were expendable – their worth was only what they could bring to Lex and Mercy only cared about that alone. Hope might well think the same, but she didn't project it like Mercy did, and people were easier in her presence. A deliberate distraction? A way for people to let down their guard? Or was it actually the truth? Conner wasn't sure. The two bodyguards treated him differently, and had from the start. They were careful about it, but Conner's importance to Lex had made him important as well.
Lex cared as little as Clark did about whether he was Conner or Kon-El. He simply saw the son he thought he'd never have, and wanted Conner as much as Clark did – not for research but simply to love.
After Charity gave Conner a nod, Kon gave a brief knock and then headed into the office without waiting for an answer. As he did so, he was aware of the people around them suddenly sharpening their focus to him. He'd been just a person before, but now he was a person of interest – somebody who got to go directly into Lex Luthor's office while they were exiled outside.
And thinking of Lex had made Conner switch back to his more nebulous self again. The person who was just him and not Conner Kent nor Kon-El, but somebody of his own. It would be easier, obviously, to be a person among strangers than it would be to his family. He wondered how Clark could stand it.
He waited a moment to make sure the door had shut completely behind him, the sound-proofing intact, and with a quick x-ray through the room to make sure there wasn't anybody else. "Hi Dads," he tossed out cheerfully, glad that both of them were there.
It was obviously not one of their better moments – Clark standing by the window with that tilt to his head that said he was holding himself back with effort, and Lex leaning pseudo-casually against the wall with a feral gleam in his eyes that disappeared as he glanced to Conner. An argument interrupted. At least there wasn't any blood, or anything smashed on the floors.
"Conner," both of them spoke his name in almost the same breath. Clark's voice was happy and relieved – probably glad the argument had been interrupted. Lex's voice was careful, giving nothing away but his name. It said enough, though.
Conner grinned as he picked his way through the room. "Was I interrupting anything?" He couldn't help teasing them just a bit.
"Nothing important," Lex replied with a slight return of a predator's baring of teeth at Clark.
"Oh for..." Clark started to growl, but Conner got there first. He hugged Clark, leaning into the familiar body and the strength there, knowing that Clark's arms would be around him in that moment and that he was safe, always safe, here. All antagonistic sparring was cut off on the instant as Clark's attention was all for him at that moment.
Disengaging, Conner evaluated his chances with Lex. It was always touch and go with his second dad, and this time didn't look good... but he thought he'd risk it anyhow. He walked to Lex and leaned in, putting his head against Lex's shoulder and lightly resting his hands on the outside of Lex's arms. Not demanding, but giving with enough space for there to be a choice. There was a moment of no response and Conner started to draw back. Then Lex's arms wrapped around him quickly for a brief strong hug before he let go again.
As he stepped back, Conner looked up in time to catch the barest glimpse of a familiar fear before Lex's face was wiped clean of any emotion. The rest of the world lived in fear of Lex Luthor, but Lex himself only really feared his son – feared the caring that he brought and made Lex feel.
Probably Conner should feel bad about that... but mostly he felt happy. Smugly satisfied, actually. Ever since that night in Casablanca when Lex had proved himself to be open to their love, and then had slammed the door shut on it, locking it tightly with the fear and the pain, Kon had made it his goal to get back in. They were almost there. So very very close. Conner took another deliberate step back, making sure that Lex had the room he needed, without letting him alone completely.
He turned to his other dad, "Anything interesting happen after Diana left?" They hadn't breaked for lunch, working with sandwiches and soda between bites and sips to forge the new masks he would wear.
Clark's mouth turned up with wry humor, acknowledging the way Kon had slipped through Lex's defenses and came back out again. "It was amazing how many people hadn't realized she was married."
Kon snorted, perching on the back of a couch and swinging his feet. Diana carefully cultivated that image, trying to keep Steve out of her light and away from notice. Something Lex would never have the option of, if he was with Superman.
"After things settled down a bit and they left, Hawkman let us know there was a new terrorist group being uncovered, and potentially a threat to multiple communities. Lion's Teeth."
Lex snorted. It was obviously not the first time he'd heard it, and his reaction was that of summarizing previously spoken cynicism.
Conner tilted his head, thinking about it. "Lionel's clones? As in the sowing of teeth to make skeletons? Isn't that a bit obvious?"
"Only to us," Clark's expression turned sad.
"It's enough to get the world governments mobilizing, or at least preparing for something," Lex added. "It's not particularly clever... but it's a compromise."
"Is the League clean now?" Conner had thought that would take awhile.
"Not yet, but it will never be completely. We had to start somewhere. At least with Chloe gone, she can't give him an analysis of what's happening." Clark's voice hitched as he spoke Chloe's name, the distress over his friend's betrayal still painful.
"It's a start," Lex agreed. He turned and walked to his desk, bringing up the computer and then saving and shutting down files and programs. "What would you like for dinner?"
"Are we going out?" Clark asked, his voice layering another question through the obvious one.
Conner glanced at his dad, trying to figure out the second question but not getting it.
Lex finished with his computer and drummed his fingers on the desk, staring intently at Clark. "Maybe."
"Um... how can we maybe be going out to eat?" Kon asked. With as hungry as he was now, food should be a given. Though he supposed they could have their choice of food at the penthouse too.
Lex laughed. "We're going to a restaurant, yes. Would you like Italian, Japanese, or Ethiopian?"
"Ethiopian?" Conner searched through his implanted memories but couldn't find any hints as to what type of food that might be.
"You'll like it, Con," Clark remarked with a grin. "We eat with our fingers."
That instantly sounded attractive. Conner was, however, diverted by the very subtle difference in the way Clark had said his name. Con. Kon. The same, right? But not entirely. He'd spent huge chunks of the last two days going over video records of himself and his dad both when they were in uniform and when they weren’t. And there was a difference. Con, short for Conner. Kon, short for Kon-El. The same... but different. And his dad knew that difference and spoke to it. Conner had never heard the difference before.
The dinner was, as his dads had predicted, something he liked a lot. The injera sourdough flatbread was delicious in its own right, and scooping up bits of stews and other foods with it was great. The yogurt was enough to counteract the occasional too-spicy food and for the most part he liked the spices in the rest. The lamb dish was delicious. Eating with your hands in a socially acceptable restaurant was awesome. Watching his dads eat with their hands was a real treat. Lex somehow managed to make it look formal too, which was quite a feat.
The talk was mostly mundane, especially as they were in public. It was, though, also interesting. Less for what they were saying than what they weren't. There was definitely something up with his dads.
They were talking mostly jobs and companies. Things that Clark could do if he was leaving the newspaper. Conner was hearing about this for the first time, but was fairly indifferent to it. He didn't really care about his dad being a reporter. It obviously hurt Clark to be talking of not being one, but for the life of him, Conner just couldn't see what was so great about it. The other jobs Lex was cautiously proposing sounded much more interesting, particularly the research one.
Clark looked at him in exasperation. "You think being a researcher is interesting and a reporter is boring?"
"Well sure. With research, you get to dig into stuff and figure it out. With reporting, you just go to meetings and then say what they said."
Lex coughed into his cloth napkin, his blue eyes dancing above it. "What have you been telling him about your job before this?"
"Not that." Clark glowered. Then he shrugged, putting it aside. "Doesn't matter now anyhow. I like the tech writer idea. That could be different."
"It's not all glamorous," Lex warned. "Particularly for the computer and electronic industries. Pays very very well, though."
"Just as long as there's a variety of things to do. I think I'd go stir-crazy if it was the same thing day in and day out."
What neither Lex nor Clark was saying, was anything about each other. Yet there was a definite subtext going on at the table that had nothing to do with either the food nor the talk. Conner watched it with interest. It wasn't nearly as blatant as when Lex had sat in Clark's lap... Kon blinked. "Hey, um..."
Both of the adults looked at him and waited.
"Um..." There were sure a lot of people around. They were at a private table where their conversation couldn't easily be overheard, but it was still public. "Um, never-mind."
Lex raised an eyebrow.
Well, maybe he could ask. "Isn't Lex going out with Superman?"
Clark choked on his mouth of stew and had to grab for the water glass to wash it down.
"Hardly," Lex replied dryly. "We're enemies, in case you didn't know."
"I thought you were getting over that."
"I'm a businessman with several companies under the LexCorp umbrella. Some of them are, unfortunately, not as well regulated as I would like. Sometimes this means that Superman finds things going on that he has to stop. I am working on trying to make sure all the companies work with better regulations, particularly environment and safety. There will always be some conflict, however. It's not a perfect world."
That was so not what Conner had been asking. It was a very Lex-like reply, though, especially in public.
Lex sipped his honey wine and then added, "I don't foresee any future where Superman and I will be anything other than what we are now. Maybe with less yelling and hopefully with much less property damage. But at this moment, we live in two different worlds and that's not ever going to change."
Okay, then... They were just going to pretend the moment in the cabin hadn't happened? Kon mentally went over the superheroes who where there. None of them would say anything. So, it probably hadn't happened.
With a shake of his head, Conner gave up. He'd get the details out of Clark later tonight after they were back home. Instead he tore off another piece of injera and grabbed the last of the lamb dish.
They were in the middle of watching a movie when Kon realized he was going to have to be the one to make a decision. They weren't going to do it. Sure, they'd sit down on a couch next to each other, they might even let their hands wander here and there, but they just weren't going to go any further. Not with him sitting there too.
Darn it. He wanted to be able to see it, to watch his dads together and to cheer them on. To celebrate how far they'd come and urge them closer yet. But Hope had been right. Or Mercy had been. Whichever of them had said that love was private and they needed to be on their own for it.
Kon didn't get it. He just didn't. He supposed if he'd been normal and grew up in a normal way, that he might. He might even think it was disgusting, like kids were supposed to. But he was normal, and they weren't either. Though apparently they were in this.
As the credits rolled, Conner got up from the floor and stretched, yawning dramatically. "I've got a long day tomorrow. If it's okay with you, I'm going to bed down in the leopard room tonight."
Both his dads blinked at him. Lex recovered first, with a sardonic half-grin on his face. "If you want to, Con, that's fine. There're guest toiletries in the left drawer of the bathroom next to the... leopard room."
Conner wondered what Dad Two called the room. It had leopard paw prints on the inside of the doorway, a black and yellow mottled comforter on the bed, and a framed picture of a leopard lying on a tree limb on the wall. Okay, it had a bunch of other things in it too, but those were the things that stood out to Conner. It also was the furthest guest room from the master room. Conner wondered what all the guest rooms were for if Lex never had anybody over.
As he cheerfully waved at them and headed off, he tuned his hearing to listen to them whisper.
"Was that a little too obvious?"
"He's a teenager, he can be obvious if he wants to be. And he can still hear us."
"I know, but...."
The voices were cut off as the sound of kissing replaced it.
With a grin, Conner found the supplies and brushed his teeth. Things were going nicely.
A little while later, though, he turned his head sharply. Then he tried again. Silently, he got up and padded out to the hall and to the master bedroom. He twisted the handle and opened the door a crack... and could suddenly hear everything again. He shut the door. Nothing. He opened it.
The door was opened further than he'd opened it. "Having fun?" Lex raised an eyebrow.
"Um, the sound-proofing..." Conner eyed the door and the wall around it, wondering how it was done.
"You can try and figure it out tomorrow. Goodnight."
The door shut again more definitively, and this time there was also the distinct sound of a lock being engaged.
With a sigh, Conner decided he didn't need to know right this moment. It was sure interesting, though.
... ... ...
The days continued much like that. Conner was fast becoming attached to the routine, even if he did come away bruised from practice sessions. Not that he was telling either of his dads about that. He didn't know how Mercy and Hope had got a hold of the kryptonite against Lex's orders, and he wasn't going to ask. He certainly wasn't going to tell. His dads were happy and he wasn't going to be the one to throw a wrench in it. If all of them were around (an emergency took Superman and Superboy away once in the middle of the day and they didn't get done until late), they'd eat together, varying between the penthouse and restaurants. Once they even went to a pizza place. Admittedly, an upscale pizza place, but it was still pizza. When Kon had asked, Hope said that difficult wasn't impossible, given enough preparation time. Kon was pretty sure that meant that Lex had bought the place and Hope had put security cameras and scanners throughout the place, but good enough.
The newspapers were watching them, but cautiously. The only ones that had made anything of it yet were the sleazier ones. They all knew it was just a matter of time before somebody asked them officially. Clark made Conner practice answers, just as he did too.
When they weren't in the public view, they'd spend the evenings together in the penthouse, sometimes watching tv, sometimes playing games, sometimes talking. Clark would tell Lex about Hawkman's latest feeding of information about the terrorist network to the various national security heads, and Lex would be torn between approval and cynicism. Lex would tell about his latest efforts in research.
The Justice League hadn't done any better than Lex at tracking down Lionel's headquarters. Small operations were found and raided, but invariably were abandoned just before they got there. Lex complained that he'd been doing better than that on his own. Clark agreed glumly. Conner too had been hoping for more. It was disheartening.
The periodic fights between Clark and Lex continued, and they sounded fierce enough at the time, but Kon could tell their hearts weren't into it. It was reflex and fear and anger, but not nearly on the scale they had been. There were no longer steps back for each step forward... now it was just forward, if very cautiously forward and sometimes slower than other times. Conner let the fights roll off his back without worrying about them and waited for the moments of reconciliation and care. Though at those times, sometimes he got sent away for other reasons. Kon rolled his eyes at that, but let it happen, just glad that it was happening at all.
His training continued, and more intensely. He was starting to become two personalities upon reflex and automatic reaction, evaluating before letting one to the fore and keeping the realms of knowledge between the two separate. Instead of resisting anymore, he embraced the chance to be more completely in the different worlds. It helped to think of them as different clothing he wore for different occasions – he just had to remember which to put on.
"I've got it now."
Hope snorted with contempt. "You've finally got the basics and some little bit of understanding. Maybe now the next time Nightwing talks to you, you'll know what he's saying. Your real training happens with the real world. Do not make the mistake of thinking like you are now."
Kon frowned at her, and put his hands on his hips. He was wearing the uniform, it was the correct gesture, and the correct id. "We've been through a week of training, I've got bruises all over, and I know my name in uniform or out, in science or out. You've tossed everything at me. And you've said I've done good!"
"You've done well," Mercy rumbled in her deep rich voice. "You aren't done with training. We're simply out of time. Hope is correct – the rest of it takes place outside the classroom. We took a week we couldn't afford because there were more dangerous things yet. Be proud of what you've accomplished... but be ready for more. The combined scholarship meeting is tonight. Who will you be, when you see your friends there?"
"The scholarship meeting is for Conner Kent, and that is who will be there." Kon was confident of that. He'd been talking with Justice and was just as eager for that side of his life now as he was for the other.
Mercy nodded, her eyes unreadable. Then she got up and left the room without another word.
By this time, Kon was used to it. Mercy often disappeared during the day, presumably to go escort Lex somewhere or to help Concord... Mayik, rather. While Mercy and Hope were Lex's personal bodyguards, Mayik was the head of the rest of Lex Corp security and Mercy coordinated with him on Lex's schedule and other important stuff.
The name thing was almost as confusing as the superheroes and Kon wasn't entirely sure they weren't doing it to mock them. Sure, yeah, the Suicide Slums had a tradition of using descriptive names, and Mercy and Justice and Charity all came from there. But extending the names to the others was... well, it was their own little joke. Kon didn't quite get it, but he figured if the heroes had their own confusing nomenclature, the pseudo-villains could too. Lex and his friends mocking the Justice League and proving they were not to be lumped with the others. When it was just the inner circle together, they called Mayik by Concord. And he'd roll his eyes at them, but accept it since most of the time he would be the peacemaker among them – listening to their arguments, then coming out with something that worked for all. Well, as ironic as that could be, since mostly he came up with something that nobody liked or he would just tell them to shut up and threaten violence if they didn't. Suicide Slums also had a byword for irony.
Kon had also finally gotten used to calling Charity by her public name of Sue. It didn't help that Clark continuously called her Charity when talking about her – apparently he'd known her back before she was Lex's secretary. Kon wondered if Lex or anybody had even told Clark she had another name. The others sometimes also called her that in public. Lex was the only one who constantly remembered to call her Sue in either public or private. From everybody, she responded to either name equally. Probably a lot like Kon had before his training. Two identities in one.
Kon or Conner. Kon-El, Superboy, Conner Kent, Conner Wilson – who he was before he was adopted by Clark. He had to be trained to respond just as automatically to that name, since he'd supposedly had it longer. He forgot sometimes. But now he carried a picture of Sally/Jessie in his wallet along with a newer one of Clark. Or rather Conner did. Kon-El didn't carry anything. Well, not like that, at least. The uniform was too smooth. There were places for some things to be tucked inside the boots, but nothing as practical as Batman's utility belt.
"Have you thought of what you'll be presenting at the meeting?" Hope asked.
Conner dragged his mind back to the now. The combined meeting was the first time Metropolis and Gotham scholarships would be together. Tim had gotten in on Bruce's side and was as happy about his group as Kon was about his. Well, almost as happy – apparently Metropolis had more shady characters and the scholarship wasn't free of it entirely. A whole city as bad as the SS... Conner sometimes couldn't believe that they existed in the same worlds. A city as happy and pure as Metropolis, and one as nasty and corrupt as Gotham. Same world, different states, but close enough to meet once in awhile.
"I'm doing a dissertation on the work Brian Song is doing at STARlab. It's breaking-edge technology, and while it's not my work, it's fascinating stuff." Clark had even managed to get Conner in for an interview with Brian, though remotely through email rather than in person, what with Kon's training schedule this week and all.
"A lot of the other kids will be presenting their own works."
Conner shrugged. "That's fine. I'm... Conner Kent is interested in the science, not the politics or the maneuvering. I might notice it, sometimes, but it saddens me that people will be that way and not care so much for the science itself." He really was, too. He couldn't figure out why they needed the prestige – wasn't the discovery cool in and of itself?
He and Hope were in the middle of a discussion of the paper and how to present it when the door opened and Mercy and Prudence came in.
Prudence was Justice's daughter and also on the scholarship team. It didn't seem odd to see her here at all. "Hey, Pru. We were just talking about the presentations."
Child of a child, escapees from the Slums, Prudence didn't startle easy, and she rarely let her emotions show. At Conner's words, she drew back, her brown eyes wide and her eyebrows almost disappearing into the striped bandana she regularly wore.
"I... Superboy, I don't..." Her eyes narrowed and she studied him with a sudden sharp intensity.
Kon suddenly remember where they'd last been in his training and what he currently wore. He gulped and stood up from the table, his hands starting to spread out in what was probably hopeless reassurance.
"Conner," Prudence breathed. "Conner Kent. That's not a costume." Her eyes darted to one side suddenly, and her hand disappeared inside her skirt, clutching something hard.
Kon couldn't resist the quick x-ray and saw the sharp dagger she held. And noticed her attention was now more focused on Mercy than himself.
Mercy. Hope. Conner pulled in a breath, his mind catching up. "You... you bastards!"
"Bitches, I think," Hope unhurriedly also got up from the table. "I don't think you've learned as much as you think you've learned, Kon." The weight she gave on the nick-name was nicely ambiguous between his identities. Unlike how he'd been.
"I won't tell anybody," Prudence said, as she backed up against the wall. Her stance was that of somebody ready to fight. Her tone was that of despair.
She had probably seen as many people killed as he had. A real fourteen years old, and half of it spent in a place nobody should have to live. "Pru, they're not going to hurt you." Kon's voice was flat and definitive. He moved to her side.
"She knows your identity now," Hope pointed out easily.
Mercy nodded. "We can make her disappear. Justice won't question it."
Conner winced. "Why the hell would you do such a thing! She didn't know! You didn't have to get her involved!"
"You got her involved," Mercy said, utterly merciless. "All you had to do was remember who you were and you could have carried it off. The moment you spoke her name you destroyed her."
Beside him, Pru let out a very very slight sigh. "Object lesson," she muttered. "God Damn It, I hate object lessons."
Mercy showed her teeth and said in the silent language, They're very effective.
Kon wanted to cry. "She won't tell."
"How do you know that?"
It had to be true, because otherwise was unthinkable. Kon turned to her, pleading and worried. It wasn't himself he was worried for. It never had been. "Pru..."
"I thought you were like me," Prudence murmured, her voice barely above speaking level, as it most often was. "I thought you'd been in the slums, though your dad hasn't. Or someplace like that. They said your mom died of a disease, but I thought that was a cover, that her enemies had finally caught her and you were left alone. Now... now I don't know what you are."
Alone. Alone and cold and a life on his hands. His alone. Mercy and Hope would do whatever he told them. Justice would never know. Clark would be safe, Grandma would be safe, Tim would be safe.
Kon would have killed part of himself if he ever even came close to that sort of a choice. Realistically, he knew it was possible. Practically, he knew he'd never ever chose it. Even if it wasn't Pru, somebody who he enjoyed talking to, the daughter of somebody he respected. Even if it had been a criminal, Kon couldn't make that choice. It didn't really matter what Pru would do. Though he hoped...
Kon lifted his head, shifting to Superboy stance, his blue eyes glittering. "Let her go."
Mercy moved away from the door. As you wish. She tilted her upper body in the barest hint of a mocking bow.
"Just like that?" Prudence took a step away from him and looked at him, incredulous.
"Um..." Kon shrank a little under her gaze. "They won't hurt you."
"And neither will you, you big baby. But how the hell do you know I won't hurt you!?"
Conner didn't really remember this being part of her personality. She'd never once spoken so forcefully in his presence, or was so bitterly scathing. Maybe... he didn't really know her after all.
"You could at least ask me!"
Kon blinked. "Pru... please don't tell anybody. My family... my friends. They could be hurt."
"Of course they could, you big idiot." She marched up to him, standing a good two feet shorter, her head tilted up defiantly.
They stood like that for some time, with her focused intently on him, and Conner with nothing to say. He would beg if she wanted him to, but he wasn’t sure that was what was best. Finally, with a snort, she turned from him and walked to the table, pulling out a chair and swinging it around so she sat down with her arms crossing over the chair back. Her tall boots covered anything her skirts pulled up to show, sitting like that. "So... how can I help? Since he's obviously incapable of it on his own."
Hope grinned and sat down across from her. "The problem is obvious, isn't it?"
With a sigh, Kon sank into a chair to the side of his former seat. Pru currently being in the one he had previously. He was doomed. Utterly doomed. With a moan, he sank his head into his arms.
.... ... ...
At the scholarship meeting, Conner was on his very best behavior. He was Conner Kent, nee Wilson. He was a physics nerd. And he didn't know anybody from Metropolis. Nobody.
Tim's eyes were glinting with amusement and secret delight as he introduced himself. Conner glanced at him and then ignored him when he found out Tim's specialty was electronics, not physics. That stuff wasn't very interesting to Conner, though he knew it was something that made working on his own interests easier.
The light in Tim's eyes dimmed as Conner turned away, his outstretched hand dropping as Conner could see in his peripheral vision. He wasn't going to turn back. No, he wasn't.
He forced himself to go onto the other kids, perking up when he found a couple that were more like him. More like him in the sciences, that is. There were many, many children of Gotham who were like him in the hidden pain. Three of Metropolis, dozens of Gotham. Superman had been right, when he said that Batman was not being careless with children. It was other people who were, and the kids his supposed age were children no longer and ready to do their part in the world. Whatever that part was.
Conner was fairly sure he'd picked out the criminal elements in the Gotham contingent too. But... not his thing. Not Conner's. Later. Later he might slip to another self and tell Superman what Conner had seen, but not now. Or he might tell Tim. Yeah. Telling Robin was probably better. He'd have to talk to Tim anyhow. And he'd have to remember that Robin was different than Tim.
This was really the part of it that he had the hardest time with, and it was no easier for being in the realm of Conner. But he kept looking at Pru sliding her stealthy way through the room, unnoticed by most but perking the interest of those she stopped to talk to, and he remembered the price of forgetting.
Half-way through the night, Prudence came up to him, dragging Tim behind her, her small hand holding his tightly. "Conner! This is Tim. Tim has the greatest idea for improving the particle detection programs..."
He allowed himself to look at Tim this time, and he smiled. "Really? That would be so cool!"
"You did well tonight," Lex complimented him.
Conner stared out through the glass window at the lights of Metropolis. "Thanks, DT." It didn't warm him quite as much as it used to, getting a compliment from his dad. But this time, he actually knew how he'd done, and he was... he accepted it. He wasn't happy, but he accepted.
He rather thought he was maybe growing up. It wasn’t a happy thing, but it had to be.
Lex laid a hand on his shoulder, leaving it there for a few moments before removing it and turning away.
Conner forced a smile and tried it out in the ghost of a reflection he could see in the glass. It didn’t quite work. He put it away and turned around anyhow. “Hey, can I bring the cats here?”
That made Lex pause in the middle of picking up the tv remote, and Clark to put down the newspaper he’d been reading. “You want to…?” Lex repeated slowly, trailing off with a hint of disbelief at the end.
“Well, we’ve pretty much moved in, right? I’ve got my bedroom, we’re here every day, half the nights too… Sue and Cali are just kittens. They shouldn’t be left alone so much. So if I bring them here, we can play with them.”
Clark tried to put the newspaper back up, but Lex fixed him with a glare. “This is your fault.”
“I didn’t ask to move in,” Clark whined, “I didn’t say anything!”
Lex kept the glare on him for a bit more, then moved it to Conner, where it stopped being so menacing and just became a wearied look. “You’ve been over a lot because of the training. That’s finished now, and we don’t know what his happening next. Let it be for now.”
“You don’t want us to move in?” Kon was crushed.
Lex raised his hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. “I didn’t say that…”
The lights in the room flickered. Conner barely noticed – the apartment lights did that all the time. But Lex reacted, his hand dropping and his whole body going to alert.
“Audio 24. Report status,” Lex clipped out.
An automated modulated woman’s voice came on over some hidden speaker. “Unknown object on HeliPad 3. Security is mobilizing.”
Kon tensed and looked to Clark for instructions. Clark shook his head briefly, indicating that they should wait for Lex before doing anything.
“Visuals display,” Lex commanded.
A holographic screen appeared in front of Lex, showing the layout of the roof with a red light around one of the sections. A box split off to the top right showing the camera view of the helipad. There was nothing there.”
“Audio – Security.”
Mayik’s voice came through. “It’s what you see, Lex. We have a trigger on the ground sensors for weight on the pad, but the camera isn’t showing anything and none of the other sensors are picking anything up either. I have a team heading up to investigate now.”
Lex frowned, tapping his index finger along the side of the remote he hadn’t set down. “Tell them to hold at the top and don’t go out.”
There was the sound of Mayik relaying the command, then he came back on. “Okay, but why?”
“I think I know what that might be. Get Mercy up there first.”
“Mercy’s on down-time right now.”
“Probably not anymore,” Lex said wryly. “Audio, patch Mercy in.”
“I’m heading up,” Mercy said immediately before Lex or Mayik could say anything. “Hold security.”
“Holding,” Mayik replied patiently.
“Audio – mute,” Lex commanded, then flicked his hands over the holographic displays to zoom some displays and open others. They saw Mercy going up a set of stairs, and on another screen a team of 10 LexCorp guards stood by the main roof doors.
Lex snorted. “I don’t think much of the Justice League’s ability to keep a low profile.”
“Justice League?” Kon questioned.
“What do you know that’s big enough to land on my helio pad and be invisible to all sensors?” Lex responded with another question.
“That could be a lot of things,” Clark said with a grin. “But you’re probably right. Give her a break, she’s learning.”
On the screen showing the roof, there was a split in the air and a tall woman in a bright red shirt with a gold emblem over the upper chest stepped out to nothingness. Her long blonde hair hung in waves over her shoulders, with a gold diadem holding it from her face.
“Cassie!” Kon cried out happily. He hadn’t gotten to talk to her, really talk to her, for ages. With Wonder Woman being gone, Cassie had taken up most of her duties. The tiara was normally Wonder Woman’s, and it was a sign of the change that Cassie had it now.
Mercy went out to meet her and they appeared to talk for some time before they started heading back together.
“Situation Turquoise,” Mercy reported on the comlink. “Security Team can stand down. Mark Pad 3 as out of commission until I sign it back in.”
Lex reached out and touched a few controls on the display, studying the readouts there. “Audio on. Mayik – the object that arrived is normally concealed from all electronics. Find out the parameters on those weight sensors, commend the team that worked on it, and get them installed in more places. Duplicate effect to other sensors if possible.”
“Will do,” the security chief replied. “I wish your unexpected visitors would give us some warning next time.”
“So do I, but that’s the definition of unexpected,” Lex returned with amusement.
They signed off on the audio again, and Lex closed off the displays, returning the room to looking like a normal living room again.
“Speaking of neat technologies,” Clark started to say, but Lex cut him off.
“It’s built into the penthouse. Not something that can just be packed up and duplicated somewhere else.”
“Oh,” Clark sounded a bit disappointed.
“I don’t think we could have had that in the apartment anyhow, Dad,” Conner had to remark.
The doorbell for the penthouse rang – a light chiming sound that still managed to be heard everywhere.
“Door, verify visitors,” Lex commanded as he headed towards the foyer.
“Scans show two persons. One identified definitively as Mercy Freeman. Other tentatively identified as Wonder Girl – Cassandra Sandsmark based on records. No other life forms detected. Second person has weaponry on her person, both physical and magical.”
Lex nodded. “Let them in.”
There was a click and the outer door opened. There was a pause while Mercy and Cassie walked through it to the second door, which was security glass where Lex could see them but they couldn’t get in until he’d given another command.
The first few times Conner had been in the penthouse, he’d thought it was excessive. Cool, yes, but still excessive. Part of his ‘training’, though, had included a long list of people who had tried to kill Lex, including details of several attempts that Mercy said had most likely been Lionel. Now, Conner thought that the precautions were the tip of what they could be.
Mercy saw Cassie in, and then she turned and left, the doors closing behind her.
“Wonder Girl,” Lex said in a tone that wasn’t exactly welcoming, but wasn’t his freezing ‘I hate you and wish you’d die’ voice that he sometimes used on Superman.
“Lex Luthor,” Cassie replied in a very similar tone. “Thank you for receiving me. I had word that Superman might be here, and it was expedient to see both of you at the same time.” Her gaze flickered over Clark and Conner, not directly acknowledging them but leaving it to them to see if they would reveal themselves in this grouping. Conner memorized how she did that for in case he had to in the future.
Clark nodded. “We are here,” he let the mixed identity be known and that it was okay in front of Lex.
Lex half-turned, gesturing out. “Let us go to the den.”
There was a brief pause as Cassie looked around, then Lex took the lead, letting the others follow.
“Hey,” Conner bumped shoulders with Cassie. “Good to see you.”
She smiled, the gesture lighting up her face and transforming her seriousness into radiant delight. “You too,” she whispered back. “We need a Titan Time Out, soon.”
“Definitely!” Kon agreed. He didn’t know when, but it would be nice to just be with his friends again with no goal but to hang out together.
The adults were politely ignoring the teens, but when they got to the den and everybody was settling into seats, Kon and Cassie reverted back to seriousness.
“There is news from Themyscira?” Settled behind his desk, Lex got directly to the point.
“Yes,” Cassie’s face was still and remote, a deep seriousness behind her that defied her young age. “Watchtower has confirmed her involvement with Lionel Luthor, and his actions against you.”
Clark made an involuntary pained sound.
Knowing and having that knowledge confirmed are two very different things. Kon inched over in his seat until he was almost touching arms with his dad. Clark gave him a brief smile of acknowledgement for the reassurance and touched his hand lightly before retreating inside himself again.
“Did she…” Clark trailed off. He closed his eyes and tried again. “Did she say why?”
Cassie nodded. “The reason for the Goddesses’ involvement is now clear. A transgression upon a woman, and one that still remains.”
All three of the men blinked.
Clark opened his mouth and Cassie hastily cut him off. “I didn’t mean it like that. Well, maybe but… I meant just that… Ah, never mind.” She sighed. “The Goddesses have been moving, involving themselves and pushing us to find out more. It started when Kon came among us, and has only been getting stronger.” Cassie paused, her eyes going to the door and the outer world. “Chloe told us that Lionel Luthor has her daughter.”
There was a stunned silence in the room.
“Chloe has a daughter?” Clark said, his voice amazed.
“So she has said, and we believe her. The Goddesses have confirmed their interest, and that would make the most sense. She is in the hands of a monster.”
“How old is she?” Lex’s voice was shuttered, not letting anything out but the question.
Cassie looked to Kon, then away. “She would be thirteen or fourteen. Chloe hasn’t seen her since Lionel took her.”
“Fourteen and your Goddesses are just getting involved now?” Lex picked up a letter opener on the desk and ran his finger lightly over the blade. “A little late.”
“Fourteen?” Clark also looked at Kon. “But… that would have been in High School! Chloe wasn’t pregnant in school. I would have known.”
“You regularly go around x-raying your friends to see if they’re carrying a child?” Cassie dryly asked.
“No!” Clark flushed. Then he considered. “Actually, I did a lot back then… we used to get in a lot of trouble and I was checking for injuries.”
“And you’d know what a fetus looks like inside a womb.”
“I had sex ed!” Clark protested. Then looked like he wished he hadn’t said that.
“Taught by Desiree, I’d be surprised if you learned anything,” Lex murmured. Then he shook his head. “The father was my father, wasn’t it?”
“Um,” Cassie blinked at the wording before shrugging. “Yes.”
Lex sighed. “I knew they were… involved. My father made very sure I knew of that. Mocked me about my own… interests. Smallville had very adult-seeming teenagers. But he never breathed a word of a child.” His eyes narrowed, “I wonder, if it had been a boy, if he would have.” With a shrug, he abandoned that line. “Regardless, a child in his hands, though a girl… it was his chance to make an heir anew.”
He ran his finger over the letter opener again. A thin line of red appeared on the edge, but Lex didn’t seem to notice. “This explains why Chloe was willing to work with me against him, briefly. She was trying to get away. She found, though, that his reach was longer than we could go.”
“But… baby…” Clark was still trying to process the idea.
“Not all woman show very obviously before they give birth,” Lex dismissed that. “All she would need was a couple of months break – and there is a very obvious time frame in there that would work.”
Cassie cleared her throat. “Actually, Chloe said he operated on her and took the child before she was born.”
The letter opener clattered to the table and Clark half stood before he sat again.
All Conner could think was ‘ugh’ but he had the sense to clamp down on the thought before it escaped into words.
There was another little silence in the room.
Lex finally broke it. “This changes nothing.”
The other three people looked at him.
He made a small sound of annoyance. “We already knew that Watchtower was working with him. To have it confirmed is nice, particularly if we can get any details out of her about his locations, but it changes nothing.”
“He has a child!” Conner cried.
“He had a hundred children!” Lex shouted back, clenching his hands tightly upon the desk. “We did nothing then! What makes this one so special!?”
Oh… Conner settled back, shaken. Lex meant him. Him and his brothers.
Lex loosened his hands. “We are already arrayed against him. I, with my resources, Hawkman with his his. Oracle is tracing connections. Unless Chloe has something substantial to add or suggestions of what to do, it makes no difference. Knowing what he holds against her, I don’t believe she will reveal anymore – and if she did, we would not be able to trust it.”
Clark sighed. “You’re right. But still… it’s a reason.” He glanced away. “I have been wondering… this makes sense.”
Conner glowered at both of them. “I don’t care what was the past. I mean I do, but that’s done. We know about what is happening now, and we need to rescue that girl!”
“We’re searching for Dad’s headquarters already,” Lex snapped. “What more do you suggest we do?”
“I just want you to acknowledge her! She’s your sister.”
Lex snorted. “She’s my Dad’s daughter, raised since a baby with him and him alone. Who knows what she is now?”
“Yeah, well, you were raised by him too!”
Both Clark and Cassie visibly winced at Kon’s retort, and Lex laughed, a bitter, mocking sound. “Yes, and look at how well that turned out.”
Kon stood his ground, actually getting up from his chair. “I think it turned out just fine,” he said, stubbornly. “You’re my dad and I’m proud of that. She should know her brother is on her side.”
Lex didn’t respond, staring back with not a sign that Kon’s speech had affected him at all.
“Fine,” Conner finally said. “If you don’t want her, I do! She’s my age – she can be my sister.”
“Aunt,” Lex murmured, still with no expression.
“Blood isn’t everything. I care more about you caring for me than for what the genes in my dna are. That you care is still weird considering you didn’t know me until I showed up.” Kon jerked his head at Clark. “That one too. I don’t understand it, and I don’t think I ever will. But I do know that I want this girl to have somebody and that somebody can be me if it won’t be you. She’s going to know that somebody cares, and no, nothing changes, but at least know we know. I’ll rescue her, I will. And somebody will care for her.”
“Not alone,” Cassie stood up and moved to Kon’s side. “You’re not alone, Conner, and we’ll stand by you too. Know that whatever is coming up, that we’re all with you too.”
She took his hand and Kon felt golden sparks go through him. It felt like the canopy of protection that Wonder Woman had raised, and he liked it, though he was also uneasy from it. He suddenly got why his dad didn’t really like the Goddesses being involved. There was a dangerous unpredictability to having the interest of something immortal and not quite human.
“Conner, if we find her… when we find her,” Clark corrected himself, “She’ll be treated well. We rescue people. We’re not going to abandon her.”
Kon knew that, but at the same time, they just weren’t getting it. They weren’t concerned. Well, they were, but not specifically. Well, Clark might be, but Lex wasn’t. Either that, or he just couldn’t tell with Lex. Which was honestly the more likely thing. He knew well how Lex retreated from caring. The cry about his brothers had been full of a raw pain that, honestly, Kon himself still felt as well.
He glanced again at Lex, but his other dad had raised his shields and they weren’t coming down. “Okay.” He tightened his grip on Cassie’s hand. “We’ll keep on the way we have, but when we come down, this is what it’s going to be, and I’ll be there to make sure my sister has what she needs.”
Again, there was a feeling of gold through the room, and then it faded, attention elsewhere. Conner bitterly wished that if they knew where she was they could help in a more obvious way. Then he shrugged it off. They would do what they could do, because that was who and what they were. All of them.