Mostly asleep, Clark waited while the body next to him finished rolling over, then he curled up around it again, instinctively moving close, his arm up and over the side and his hand seeking skin. He tucked his head against a smooth flat chest and tuned into the heartbeats. It was a rhythm he knew well and that soothed him better than the sound of waves or crickets or any other sound. Completely content, Clark started to drift back to sleep again.
"I always knew you'd be a cuddler."
Clark started to wake up. While the voice held hints of amusement, there were much stronger tones of bitterness, and that couldn't be good.
A hand stroked down his back. "Go back to sleep."
Clark pried an eyelid open and looked first at the chest his head was buried against, then he tilted to look up. "Lex?"
Lex's hand moved to his hair and gentle fingers massaged his scalp and stroked through his hair.
All reassuring actions, and yet there was something wrong. Something very familiarly wrong.
With an internal sigh, Clark woke up the rest of the way. He knew he didn't really deserve Lex's love. After having betrayed and abandoned him so long ago, it was something of a miracle that Lex could even accept this much of him now. Even before the betrayal, Lex had his share of problems and hurts. Now... now, it was hard to find a part of Lex that wasn’t broken in some way. If it wasn't for Conner, Clark would never be this close now. That sort of miracle didn't come without its price.
"Lex," Clark spoke again, firmer. If Lex put him off again, Clark would leave it alone, but sometimes Lex needed the extra prod to share. Lex wasn't very good at sharing.
There was an audible sigh from next to him. A bit of silence, but it was the type of silence that was a prelude, rather than the object.
"Do you want to move in?" Lex's voice was flat, unemotional, toneless. Completely and totally neutral, not showing anything. And yet, the pain showed through regardless.
Clark had absolutely no idea what the correct answer to that would be. It was, in all probability, entirely too soon for Lex. The question alone showed that. Yet still, Clark's entire being reverberated with a resounding "YES!" at the thought.
Cautiously, he answered, "It's not up to me." Conner had been the one to suggest it a week ago, and had been remarkably good about not pestering Lex about it since then. Clark himself had been very, very careful not to say a word about it.
"No, it's not. But that wasn't the question."
"I don't want to cause you any pain." Clark could have slapped duct tape over his mouth if it would have stopped those words. Wrong words. He had no idea what time of night it was, but he wasn't awake enough for this. Hadn't been. He was awake now.
"Too late," came the expected reply. Lex took his hand out of Clark's hair and started to shift away, then with another sigh settled again, curving his body to Clark's and resting his hand in the middle of Clark's back.
"If you want to," Lex said quietly. "If... if you want to, you can."
Clark blinked. Whatever he'd been expecting, that wasn't it. He shifted himself further up in the bed until their heads were level. As he did so, Lex's hands drifted along Clark without going away.
It was a few days after a full moon. Close enough for moonlight to filter in through the windows and illuminate the bed in a mild soft night light. Lex didn't normally close his blinds. The first several times he'd spent the night, the bare windows had disconcerted Clark horribly but he was getting used to it. By the time the sun rose, Lex was normally up and well along his morning routine. Clark normally preferred to sleep in a bit more, but at Lex's home, he followed Lex's schedule. He'd never asked to stay beyond, not once. And now Lex was asking him to move in.
With a gulp, Clark cautiously asked, "Are you sure?" He was afraid to hope.
Lex smiled, the motion not extending to his eyes. The effort radiated pain. "It's inevitable at this point. I'd just be postponing for my pride, and..." He hesitated. "I don't want to waste the time."
He turned his head away from Clark, looking up to the ceiling. "I already changed my will to leave Conner something. Not the whole thing – that would just bring the sharks in, and I know that neither of you want that. But something he'd like and enough to get by."
Clark had a suspicion that Lex's version of 'get by' and his were worlds apart. But he didn't say anything. It wasn't for him, after all, it was for Conner. And it wouldn't be needed for many, many years down the road. They were both still young, as the world counted it. Hard to believe sometimes with all they had been through, but Clark was only 29 and Lex just in his mid 30s. With everything he did in his superheroing, Clark was more likely to die than Lex was. Had died before, actually. Couldn't always count on coming back. Somebody had to be there for Conner, after, and if Lex was willing, then Clark was all for it.
"Conner would rather have you," Clark said softly, unwilling to let it go by entirely.
"We don't always get what we want," Lex replied, still looking at the ceiling. "If you two move in... at least I'll have some of it."
Clark wondered if he was included in the some of it, or if it was all Conner.
A few seconds later, Lex proved that at least in some ways, he wanted Clark.
Clark rolled to his back under the assault, his body reveling in the sins of the flesh, and encouraging more of it with mouth and hands and every part of him. His mind and heart wanted the closeness that their bodies had, but he would take what he could get.
... ... ...
Clark woke to the sound of a shower running and an emptiness beside him. Pre-dawn lightened the sky outside and there was a slight hint of a sunrise beginning. With a yawn, Clark looked at the clock. 5:15 in the morning. The alarm wouldn't be ringing for another half-hour. But then, Lex never did sleep to the clock. Interrupted middle of the night conversations or activities, none of it seemed to disturb Lex's patterns.
It was rather humbling, how not even an alien superhero could wear Lex out, but how it rather kept ending up the other way around. So much for super-human endurance. Clark didn't really mind, though – not with those results.
With another muffled yawn, Clark got out of bed, first stretching, then sitting again on the bed and scratching his chest. There was no point to sleeping in once Lex was up. Someday, though, he'd love to teach Lex the definition of "lazy morning" – in all the various ways it could be.
There was a chiming sound from the side of the dresser, and Clark glanced over. Lex's cell phone. Another evil thing that took too much of Lex's time and attention. Clark couldn't complain overly much, though – his Justice League or Fortress communicators interrupted him almost as often, and usually with worse timing.
Lex came out, a towel casually slung around his neck and nowhere else. Clark admired the view all the way until Lex walked into the closet and he couldn't be seen with normal vision. One flick of x-ray just to admire some more, then Clark headed for his own shower. He barely remembered to tell Lex to check his texts, he'd been that completely distracted by the sight.
He'd just turned the water on when Lex walked into the bathroom. "Forget the shower, or make it a two-minute version. We have to head out." Lex started to walk out, then paused. "We, as in myself and Clark Kent, that is. Not Conner."
Meaning not Superman, more to the point. Knowing that Lex still had to get dressed, Clark took three minutes for the shower and brushed his teeth too. He was still dressed before Lex, slowing to normal speed as he tucked in his tie. "What's up?"
Lex was putting his version of working boots on. They were steel toed and fire and slash proof, but very highly tailored and most people wouldn't know from looking at them to be anything other than regular shoes. The slacks Lex wore covered the fact that they went up past his ankles. "There's a location on a laboratory. We're going to go along on the raid."
"A labr... one of Lionel's?" Clark put his glasses on, careful to remember the right persona. It was easy to mix them around Lex.
"Yes." Lex got out his special trench coat that was not only threaded with minute amounts of lead, but also was almost impenetrable. Clark had spent some time trying to figure it out, and Lex had finally pointed him at Green Lantern – it turned out to be an alien import from some other tech world that Lex had modified to blend in with Earth fabrics and Earth tailoring. He didn't wear it often – usually when he was attacking Superman or otherwise meeting with meta-humans. Lionel apparently fell into that category. Clark was glad Lex was taking precautions.
They went down to the sub-basement and directly to a modified SUV. Hope was driving.
Lex paused when he saw that. "Where's Mercy?"
"Off on another errand. We weren't expecting you to be active until later." Hope shrugged. "What are you doing about Conner?"
"He's still sleeping," Lex replied with unconcern.
He obviously hadn't been living with teenagers for very long. Clark cleared his throat. "I left him a note and said we were out. When he gets up he'll know not to look for us unless something's wrong."
Hope nodded while Lex turned to look, frowning. Then he sighed, very softly. "You never answered me last night."
"Yes," Clark said instantly. Good idea or not, he wanted the time with Lex too.
"I suppose I'll have to learn about notes."
Clark broke into a broad grin. "Conner will teach you."
With a huffing sound that was half amusement, half resignation, Lex turned from Clark and got into the car. Clark couldn't stop smiling and almost danced to the other side of the car.
"Turn off that goofy look," Lex ordered when they were both inside, a corner of his own mouth twitching up.
"Yes, sir," Clark answered, and leaned over to kiss Lex.
After Lex endured it for awhile, he pushed Clark back. "Idiot," he said fondly. "Hope, send me the briefing notes and turn on the screen."
The screen on the back of the seat between them flicked on, showing the inside of a military van with people in steel grey outfits receiving a briefing from their commander. The briefing was going over details of the layout of the laboratory, how many people were expected to be in it, what sort of defense systems it had, and what levels of force to take it.
Clark felt the slightest twinge of unease go through him, but he wasn't sure why. It all sounded very practical and with enough consideration for the scientists in the lab.
At the end of the briefing, the commander looked at his team, then glanced to one side into the camera. "We're also going to be joined on this run by a VIP. Sir?"
Lex pushed a button on the screen. "Thank you, Nelson." There was a brief showing of surprise from the task force as apparently a screen went on on their side and they saw that the VIP was Lex himself, but they didn't say anything and the expressions were quickly hidden. "Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for assisting on this project. It is vital to our interests to secure this site and ensure the safety of thousands. I assure you, I will not be interfering with the run." There was a brief chuckle from some of the more experienced looking people. "Nelson has my complete confidence in the plan, and I will only be following along after you have secured the building."
That brought a few frowns. One lady raised her hand. "How much after?"
Lex smiled slightly. "Enough after. I need to see the site while everything is fresh. While Dr. Tanero is familiar with our needs, I am the one who knows best the person who built this site. I need to learn what he is thinking so we can better coordinate our efforts in the future. I will not take unnecessary risks."
"Unnecessary in whose opinion?" quipped one man, but he subsided when the commander glared at him.
"The run is yours, people. I expect your usual superb work and will see you after. Thank you." Lex reached out and pushed a button under the monitor.
Their screen continued to show the people in the van, but obviously the visuals on their end were disconnected as they all looked away and then started discussing things among themselves. Lex turned the sound down so they could keep listening but it wasn't the focus.
"They know you," Clark remarked, fighting not to grin.
"We've worked together a lot," Lex said simply, without any emphasis. Then he turned to look at Clark. "You do realize that this is very much illegal?"
The unease Clark had been feeling earlier suddenly boiled over. It was as if he'd been cooking pasta, looked away for a moment, and then turned back to the stove to have the whole thing spilling over with water and noodles on the stove, smoke billowing up and a sudden need to disconnect the fire alarm. "Um, what?" he weakly asked.
Lex smirked at him. "Theoretically, from what you've heard, it appears that we're on our way to raid another laboratory. It has not been sanctioned by the government, nor are we government representatives. We're another private corporation, with no legal rights to do this."
Clark's heart sank. "It's one of Lionel's." He didn't even count the 'theoretically'.
"We think it's one of Lionel's," Lex stated ruthlessly.
"Ninety-two percent probability," Hope put in from the front seat.
"We could call the local police in," Clark suggested without much hope.
Lex gave that suggestion the scornful derision it deserved. "With what evidence?"
"Or the Justice League?"
Lex laughed. "Like they would believe or trust my word. Yours they might... you're a friend of Superman, after all."
Lex paused dramatically, as if struck by a sudden thought. "Oh, but you are a friend of Superman. Maybe you could call him. See what Superman would say, you asking him to join a raid from the notorious LexCorp, formerly Luthor Corp, against an unknown, hidden laboratory that you know nothing about. I wonder what Superman would say to that."
Clark raised his hands and dropped his head into them. If he was the emotional type, he suspected he'd be on the verge of crying right now. He did sense an impending headache any minute now. Lex had caught him well and truly. Caught between his morals and his trust in Lex. His beliefs in good and true, and his knowledge of Lionel's evil. But it wasn't even that. He'd just automatically gone along with Lex this morning without even questioning it. What did that make him? What did that make of his vaunted morals? What did he do now?
Without letting up or indicating in any way that he saw Clark's dilemma, Lex went on. "But it is interesting that you bring up the Justice League and Superman as alternates to the police. You obviously see them as different, as not needing the local authorities to say what is right or wrong. They don't have to get a judge signing off on permission to break into somebody's place, they don't have to get a court order for a wire tap... for that matter, Superman doesn't even need a wire tap. All he has to do is listen.
"Just a little tilt of his head, and Superman can hear conversations people think are private. He squints his eyes a little and he's seeing through walls. Sure, that sort of thing happens all the time, but at least if we suspect a normal person of doing it, we can go up and see the evidence – a telescope pointed at windows, a camera with photos on it of an area they shouldn't have been in. Superman, though... all Superman has to do is what comes naturally to him – lie."
Clark dropped his hands and turned to glare at Lex.
Lex smiled without humor. "I bet Superman goes around all the time using his powers and nobody ever knows. He could be the world's most perverted peeping tom, and nobody would suspect a thing without the telescope there to see."
"Superman doesn't do that!" Clark said hotly. "And will you knock it off about the telescope?"
Sharp white teeth, bared in an obstinately friendly display. "Ah," Lex said softly, "But how do you know Superman doesn't?"
"Because he wouldn't." Clark tried very hard to keep his temper. Being in the back seat of a moving vehicle was not the place to get into a fight. No matter how much the person sitting next to you was trying to provoke one.
The accusations against Superman weren't new. Clark took a deep breath. "There are certain things about people that we go on trust with them. We trust that people will follow laws, we trust that people will behave decently, we trust that they will hold true to their word. We've developed laws around what happens when people break that trust, true, and there are unfortunately a lot of people who do. But there are many more people out there who do follow the laws and are decent and kind people. Not everybody does great good or great evil – a lot of people are just normal and they live normally, but we still give them that trust in the first place. Laws only come into it when they do something wrong. Superman has done no wrong. The trust we put in him is repaid through his kindness to people, and his assistance. Superman has given us his word that he uses his powers for good, and we should trust him in it."
It was standard, stock reporter answers. It was, perhaps, the wrong tack to use with Lex.
"Just as you trust in me," Lex said softly, his voice low, dangerous, and mocking.
Then Lex's expression changed to one of chagrin and annoyance, not directed at Clark. Lex turned away from Clark as he leaned over and switched off the monitor, negating the connection to the strike van completely. "Superman's greatest enemy has always been me, and he knows this. There is no trust between us." His tone stayed dangerous, but with an added layer of bitterness replacing the mocking.
Clark puzzled over the change for a moment, and then realized that just before that, Lex had said 'you' instead of 'Superman'. Lex, the most careful person that Clark had ever known about keeping the identities separate, had just slipped up. It didn't really sound like a slip-up... Lex could have been talking about Clark's trust. But with his reaction and what they were talking about... Lex had been thinking Superman when he said 'you'.
Given that, the statement about enemies suddenly had an entirely new and different meaning about it.
Within the moment, Clark dropped all the anger he'd been holding. He wondered how many other statements of Lex's over the years had been deliberately phrased for misunderstandings during the heat of battle. Lex had this bad habit of bringing things down on himself, and they weren't always accidents.
"My worst enemy is myself," Clark said softly. "It always has been. Myself, and my ideals."
Lex glanced uncertainly over. Then he looked towards the front of the car. "Hope, privacy."
The sounds outside the car, and even from the front seat of the car disappeared. Clark wiggled his jar to get his ears to pop from the mock pressure sensation.
"I've never wanted you to change," Lex said, intense and serious. "Never. I'm not asking you to change now."
It was true, Clark realized. Lex never had asked him to change. He'd asked, pleaded, for Clark's approval, for Clark to accept him, but while everybody else around him had tried to mold him one way or the other, Lex never had. Well, okay, there was that whole thing about shoving Clark towards Lana and all the dating tips that were more geared towards deception than honesty, but even that was misunderstanding as Lex was trying to figure out how to help a person steeped in morals and a home life that he'd never known. But once Lex got to know him, the only thing he'd ever asked for was the truth. Which he'd never gotten.
"Change comes, whether asked for or not," Clark replied slowly, feeling it out. Maybe the problem had always been that Superman was stuck in his image. People did learn, and grow, and Superman never had, because Superman had to stay true to the ideal that people looked up to. Clark had been young when Superman was born. Almost as young as when Lex had first run into him in Smallville.
"You've always held true," Lex growled. "Just because I'm needling you now... don't change for that!"
"Lex... are you upset because I'm trusting you now?"
Clark thought they were talking about more than just today's raid on the laboratory, however they had gotten here. "I do, Lex. I can change, even if it takes becoming a father to a teenager at 29." The wry smile on Lex's lips encouraged him. Conner gave them both hope. "I can change, and I can love, and I can trust. Something maybe I should have done a long time ago, but at least I'm doing it now."
He took a breath. "If you could accept the old me... can you accept the new as well?"
The bitterness flowed out of Lex and left only a dazzling, brilliant smile. Full of love and good humor and acceptance. Something Clark hadn't seen in a long, long time. It felt like coming home.
Lex didn't say anything, but his focus on Clark intensified until Clark was leaning in and kissing Lex as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Lex's hand dug through Clark's hair until he was touching Clark's scalp, a light pressure to keep Clark where he was. It wasn't needed, Clark wasn't leaving anytime soon, but he loved having it there. He loved having Lex. For this, he could change.
They walked into the building, now secured by Lex's people. The workers in the building had been extricated before Lex stepped out of the SUV. Presumably so they couldn't see Lex and deduce who had raided them. Clark had watched it happen, though, on Lex's screen with Lex's monitors, with only the occasional look out to see for himself in x-ray vision. Clark Kent didn't have x-ray vision, and it was Clark who was with Lex.
The raid had been processional and quick, everything happening smoothly and the guards quickly taken. The few injuries there had been – a guard who had hit his head after being tranquilized, a scientist with a twisted ankle, another with a burn – had been quickly triaged and treated. There had been some attempts of personnel trying to destroy records and experiments in progress, but they hadn't succeeded.
Now, Lex was walking through with Clark at his side. Clark was very aware of his position and the fact that just by being there, by being with Lex at this moment, he was giving his approval to the operation. His presence, seen by many. He cringed a little, still unsure of what he thought of this illegal raid, but Lex had a point with the Justice League being just as outside the law, and Clark would rather be with Lex than without him.
"Dr. Tanero," Lex spoke as they entered one of the research rooms. "What have you found?"
A stocky Asian woman in the same grey outfit as the team looked up from a datapad she'd been entering notes on. "That wasn't waiting very long, Lex. We haven't even finished checking for booby traps yet."
Now that Clark thought about it, she'd been in the van with the others. He hadn't realized Lex mixed his staff, but then, abilities didn't just run to grunt and geek. Some people could be both, and in a lab, a scientist on the raid would be vital.
"If I wait that long, all the evidence I need would be gone," Lex replied testily. "This is a cloning facility?"
"It is," the scientist replied, "though concentrating on parts rather than the whole. On the surface, it looks like they were researching how to make hearts, kidneys, livers, etcetera."
Clark really did wince at that. That sort of research was valuable to medical facilities everywhere.
Lex didn't look at him, but he shifted his stance slightly so that Clark was aware that Lex had picked up on it. "And underneath?"
"Less certain. Still parts, not whole, but... odd. There is some kryptonite in the other room," she pointed to their left, and Clark resolved not to go that way unless he had to, "and it looks like they were programming the parts."
Lex raised his eyebrows. "A timer so they would die?"
"More subtle than that." The doctor went up to Lex and showed him the datapad. "See these alterations in the heart muscles here? And this foreign particle here? I haven't figured out what exactly they were doing, but it was definitely not kosher research."
Lex briefly looked over the datapad to Clark, then dropped his gaze again.
Message received. It reassured Clark somewhat, though he knew he was still going to have to have that talk with his conscience at some point.
"And signs of the enemy?"
Dr. Tanero hissed through her teeth, an expression of anger drawing her features together. "This is definitely one of his. But he's on to us – this lab was cleansed before we got here."
"What?" Lex straightened up in surprise.
She pointed at one of the machines. "That's one of his special splicers... but the core was removed long enough ago for dust to have gathered on it."
Lex strode over to the machine and ran a gloved finger over an empty spot on it. "Damn it." He pulled open a panel. "Four months. No wonder our intelligence has been so limited since then."
"I told you we shouldn't have made so many raids all at the same time six months ago." The scientist showed a casual disregard for her safety with that remark.
With a grimace, Lex waved it aside. "We got some of his primaries then. It was worth it."
Six months ago... Clark blinked. That was after Casablanca, when Lex had gone on his rampage and visited Themyscira. Diana had said he'd destroyed cloning labs as well, and rescued the kittens and puppies. With a sideways glance left towards the kryptonite room, Clark wondered if he should be looking for unusual properties in Conner's young cats.
Clark ventured a question. "Why would the core make a difference?"
The scientist looked at him in surprise, then directed that surprise over to Lex. She didn't say anything, but the 'why is he here?' feeling was strong.
Sorting through test tubes, Lex paused. Clark almost thought Lex had forgotten about him. "Li... the enemy used a special processing chip in the cores of the splicer. Very few facilities used this type of core. When it was being manufactured, we put in some codes that would let us get more information if we found it. That he's taken out the cores means that he found our codes."
Lex's anger had been noticeably growing while he talked. Clark thought he was angry at both Lionel and himself, despite his statement that it had been worth it. Lex looked around the room. "Have you gotten everything you need from here?"
The doctor sighed in resignation. "I've gotten enough."
Lex picked up one of the test tubes and threw it against the wall opposite. It shattered with a rain of glass and whatever chemical had been inside it. Lex picked up the next one and sent it on the same path.
Clark quickly moved to the hallway, staying just close enough to the door so he could see and hear Lex, but well out of the way of any projectiles. The scientist was right there with him.
She eyed him for a moment. "Huh. You're not surprised."
"By that?" Clark waved his hand at Lex's continued destruction. "The second time I met him, he threw his fencing foil so it stuck in the wall next to my head. I'd just walked in and he hadn't seen me."
"He threw his fencing foil so it stuck in a wall? That takes talent... and means he was fencing without buttons."
"Luthors don't play it safe," Clark said grimly, more aware now than he had been as a teenager of what that had meant. He shook his head to get away from the mood. "I'm Clark."
"Nan." She held up a gloved hand to show she wouldn’t be shaking his. "Aren't you the reporter that's always bashing him?"
As the sound of breakage continued, Clark tried to start repairing what he could, as awkward as it might be.
... ... ...
"You're quiet today," Garth remarked, as he reclined half in and half out of the ocean tide. They were gathered in a shelter on a small island that had nothing on it but rocks and birds. There was nothing around but themselves, which made it the perfect hang out for a Titan Time Out. Lemonade and cookies and sandwiches made the island a paradise just for them.
Aqualad, Kon reminded himself. Not Garth, Aqualad. Away from training, it was hard to remember not to cross the lines, particularly when they were all just hanging out together relaxing. Did it matter so much, when they were just themselves? He glanced at Tim, wincing to see the mask peeled off while the rest of him was in costume. All or nothing... but that's ideals, and things are rarely ideal. They were there specifically to relax, and let down their guard. But at the same time... Kon sighed. Identities were confusing.
Tim glanced at him curiously, and Kon realized he hadn't answered the question. "Just thinking," he said.
"Deep thoughts," Raven said.
It was easy to think of Raven as Raven... for her, that was her primary identity. Her human one was a bare after-thought. Her comment was less frivolous than it sounded. She could pick up on his mood and knew just how deep his thoughts really were.
"I'm waiting for the next shoe to drop," Kon admitted. They all were. Or at least those of them in the know were. The Justice League had been briefed on the terrorist group Lion's Teeth. After the satellite had been scrubbed top to bottom, the top echelon had also been briefed on Watchtower's betrayal and Lionel's clones. The rest of the League, however, were still on need-to-know. They weren't sure how far Lionel's influence went, and they knew that Chloe hadn't been his only contact. Most of the Teen Titans, though, were in the need-to-know group, for one reason or another.
Just like that, the whole group turned serious.
Cassie reached out and took Kon's hand, and he let himself be reassured by the contact. He wasn't alone, no matter how much it seemed like it sometimes. Cassie had pledged her aid to helping him find his sister-aunt, and she wouldn't go back on it. There was somebody besides himself, with similar goals.
"What are you so worried about?" Cassie asked.
Most of the eyes in the group turned to her in disbelief.
"He's worried about more than the obvious," Cassie said with absoluteness.
Kon wondered how she could tell. "I keep thinking..."
They waited for him.
With a sigh, Kon let out one of his worst fears. "I worry about what if I've got some sort of secret directive planted in me, and I am the other shoe."
There was a little pause where nobody spoke. It was reassuring in a weird way that they weren't automatically leaping to tell him no, it couldn't happen. They were all thinking about it. Kon went on. "I attacked Superman before. I was trained to attack him. Even though Superman broke my conditioning... what else is there? What word will somebody whisper to me someday that will make me turn on everybody I love?"
Raven sighed. "We all live with that. You just have to do what you can while you're you and here."
The eyes in the group redirected to Raven. Her half-demon blood made her fight to be good and not just a pawn of her father's a constant battle. Between Raven's true current efforts and his own nebulous what-if in the future, Kon felt a little ashamed of his worries.
"When you first got into the League, you were interviewed by the Martian Manhunter, right?" Tim asked.
"Yeah," Kon remembered that first interview well. He still hadn't adjusted to being out of the lab and among people, and while the blue wasn't weird, everything else was. Chloe had debriefed him about the details about the lab, and then there had been a secondary one regarding his intentions. "Him and Dr. Fate." That helmet was the scariest thing ever.
Bart kicked the water, sending a spray that reflected rainbows upon them. "Then you don't have anything to worry about."
Conner blinked. Then he shifted his identity and reminded himself that it was Kon-El who blinked and Impulse who had kicked the water. "What do you mean?"
"Jonn reads minds and Dr. Fate reads souls – they were doing more than just interviewing you," Tim explained. "If there had been anything like what you're worrying about, they would have found it."
Kon frowned, "Even if I didn't know about it?"
"They're good," Cassie said. "As a team, they can spot most of that."
"Then why haven't we found who Chloe was working with yet?"
Aqualad shrugged. "Unless we pull every member of the League in for interviews, which would take months and alarm everybody, they have to do sweep patterns and try and catch who is there at the time."
"They have found some."
Everybody looked to Cassie, who looked uncomfortable. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have mentioned that."
As Wonder Woman's replacement and relay, Wonder Girl had been elevated to the meetings that the rest of them couldn't go to.
"I thought this was supposed to be a Time Out," Garth said. "Why are we so glum about everything?"
"Because Conner's turning into his dad," Bart laughed. "Responsibility is all."
Kon winced. "Kon-El. While I'm here with you, I'm Kon, not Conner."
"Speaking of that responsibility thing..." Tim drawled. He cocked his head. "I really almost thought you didn't know me at the meeting last week. Most of the adult heroes aren't even that good at it. What have you been doing?"
"Training," Kon sighed. "The whole thing with the personal lives and the costume lives... I finally found out what Nightwing has been trying to tell us all this time."
Found out through the potential loss of a friend. He'd never been more scared than when Mercy and Hope had played their trick on him and endangered Prudence. It worked out, but only because Prudence herself was a strong ally and somebody who Mercy and Hope had hand-picked. They had counted on not only Conner refusing to have her killed, but also Pru taking up his cause on her own. She was a hidden ally, unknown to any but the three of them, and Hope had told him in no uncertain terms not to let anybody else know. Everybody needed others, but the more people who knew each other... the League was stronger than a house of cards, but what Watchtower had known, they had to presume Lionel now also knew. They didn't know what she'd shared with him and what she hadn't. Pru was outside the loop and somebody that Kon could go to in the future.
The others had been waiting for elaboration, but when they didn't get it, they looked at each other. Tim silently reached his hand up and pulled down his mask, becoming Robin again, albeit a more relaxed Robin.
"We're safe here," Bart protested.
"We won't always be here," Wonder Girl said, not without her own obvious reluctance.
That brought up another thing Kon had been thinking about. "Anybody ever think of what might happen to us if we don't die?"
They all looked at him.
Kon-El sighed. "I meant, if we were hurt bad, instead of dying. Not recoverable type of hurt. In the labs... they always discarded any of us who were hurt, if they weren't worth saving. But here, you don't."
The gazes in the group redirected towards Impulse, then just as quickly jerked away again.
"Flash is fine," Impulse shrugged off the might-have-beens. "He's all recovered and back on patrol again. You'd never know how badly he was hurt to see him now."
"But it does happen," Robin said softly. "Batgirl... Batgirl was hurt like that, never recovered."
"Batgirl?" Wonder Girl asked, her eyebrows raising.
Kon was glad somebody else asked.
"She was around early. Showed up right after Batman started. He didn't even know about her at first, but gradually let her work with him. Then when Robin joined Batman, he and Batgirl used to team up a lot."
"An early version of us, Teen Titans," Aqualad said with a smile. "There's a girl I know... she might like that."
"Yeah, an early version of us," Robin said darkly. "Her spine was severed."
It was only with the full week's worth of training fresh upon his mind and reflexes that kept Kon from jerking in surprise. He still didn't think he achieved DT's expressionless mask, but hopefully he kept most of what he was feeling away. Nobody looked at him, so at least he hadn't drawn attention to himself.
"Oh, that sucks," Raven winced, a hand going to her back. "What happened to her? After, I mean?"
Robin shrugged. "Went back to her normal identity. Never did anything after that, as far as I know."
"How did she get hurt?" Wonder Girl asked with professional curiosity.
Again, Robin raised his shoulders and dropped them. "Don't know the details. Nightwing mentions her sometimes, and he told me about it, but he admitted that even he doesn't know exactly what happened. He wasn't there during the fight. Or whatever. Batman probably does, but Batman won't tell him either. All Nightwing said he knows is that she never recovered."
They all were silent for awhile, contemplating the risks of superheroing that didn't involve death. They all accepted death was a possibility. Permanent disability wasn't as easily thought about.
Or at least, Kon assumed that's what the others were thinking about. He, on the other hand, was too busy internally repeating ohshitohshitohshit to give much consideration to his own future. That was it, wasn't it? Why some of them knew Oracle, and the others hadn't but then did when they saw her. Kon would have to look up some pictures of Batgirl and see if there was a resemblance. Or maybe he wouldn't. He shouldn't actually be knowing this, should he? Or did it even matter? There had to be some reason why the two were so disconnected now if they were once the same. And Oracle had told him about her injury... did she want him to find out? Oracle was about the same age as Nightwing.
"Okay, now I'm depressed. I wish I hadn't asked," Aqualad sighed and rolled over so he was mostly floating in the waves. "Somebody change the subject. Something more fun."
Kon quirked a grin. It was usually Impulse who was the jovial one, but Aqualad was okay. He couldn't always make it to the land-locked meetings so they enjoyed the ones he could make.
"Okay," Kon reached for something new. "I need a costume change. Any ideas?"
"Finally," Raven muttered. "I can't tell you or your dad apart until you get close."
"I thought you liked being in the same outfit as your dad?" Robin asked, even as he pulled out a datapad.
Kon shrugged. "I do. I did. But as Raven says, we're just a little too much alike, especially with the same outfit. I can be close to Superman without having the same outfit." Another thing pointed out during the training. And really, the outfit was part of what his former owners had raised him with – put him and his brothers into the costume and pointed them at each other to kill. Maybe with a different outfit, Kon might be that much further from his origins. "All of you have different costumes... this looking the same thing, it's kindof retro. Need to be with the times."
"Black and gold," Wonder Girl said. "I think you'd look great in black."
"Not too much black, or we'll have to call him Crow instead so he'll match Raven," Impulse laughed.
"I want to keep the El symbol, but not gold. Ugh. Please not gold."
Wonder Girl glared at him and Kon backpedalled. "You look awesome in gold, Cassie, but it's just not for me."
With a laugh, they went on tossing around ideas for Kon's new outfit.
... ... ...
Conner sorted through the movies and programs on DTs database. There were almost too many to chose from. Being rich sometimes was less fun than it seemed. What was the point when you had everything? Before they'd come here, Con and his dad used to spend time mock-arguing over what to watch, and part of it would be "that won't be on tv long". With DT's access... there could be literally anything.
The adults were leaving the movie choice to him and taking the time Con spent choosing to paying more attention to each other. Con glanced over to where they were snuggled on the couch, Clark stretched lengthwise, his head on Lex's lap, while Lex stroked through his hair.
"I always wanted to do this," Lex murmured. "I'm something of a hair connoisseur, and I always liked yours."
Conner snorted, but quietly. Honestly, the two were amusing together. Something had changed again and tonight was more relaxed than ever, most of the anger and bitterness they usually had simmering in the background gone away. Unusually, Clark was more on edge than Lex, but Dad was keeping whatever it was under wraps and DT wasn't pushing it.
With a sigh, Conner gave up on the database. "You two want to play cards or something?"
The two gave almost identical 'huh?' looks at him. "You know, 52 of them in a deck? Can play poker, rummy, blackjack, pinochle with them?"
"You need a special set of cards for pinochle, and there's 48 of them," Lex lazily remarked. His eyes glinted. "Luthors know all the games, and they're not all chance."
Clark huffed and sat up on the couch. "I would certainly hope you wouldn't fleece your own son, Lex."
"I could have them bring in a pool table tomorrow," Lex suggested, grinning.
If Lex's eyes had expressed emotion earlier, then it was Clark's whole body that shouted his enthusiasm for that idea.
Lex laughed. "Consider it done. Would you like a telescope too?"
Clark rolled his eyes. "I swear, I used it for looking at stars too! Mostly, even."
"Uh huh," Lex chuckled. He looked over at Conner. "Would you like a telescope, Conner?"
Con blinked. "Uh..." Actually, "No, not really."
He'd never before managed to shock both of his parents at the same time.
They looked at him, at each other, then back at him. It seemed like they were both silently trying to pass responsibility for asking off on the other and neither was taking it up.
"I can see them better with my x-ray vision if I really want to look," Conner explained, "And there's much more detailed information about the stars on the computer. What's the point to looking at them through a telescope when I can find everything I want to know easier somewhere else? Plus, they're not really all that interesting."
"Well, that part of him didn't come from either of us," Lex remarked finally after they stared at him a bit more.
It was Conner's turn to roll his eyes. "Fine, I'm going to go play with Cali and Sue. They're more interesting than you two anyhow."
"You played with them to exhaustion just a bit ago," Clark pointed out. "They're probably still sleeping." He glanced abruptly over at Lex, a question showing on his face, but he didn't say anything.
"What?" Lex asked, reading the look just as accurately as Conner had.
"Um... should we be watching for anything... unusual about them?" Clark hesitantly asked.
Conner was baffled. Lex, however, seemed to know instantly what Clark was referring to, and he gave one of his almost-humorous, but not-really smirks. "They're fine. That was one of the eight percent."
Clark blinked, joining Conner in not understanding.
Lex expanded. "The lab they were from wasn't one of Dad's. An illegal cloning facility, yes, but it wasn't Lionel's. We checked over all the animals we rescued from it before finding homes for them."
Conner hadn't even thought of the possibility his cats might be different. He wasn't sure now if he was happy or disappointed. It would have been cool to have pets that could do super things with him. Though how would a cat learn to keep two identities?
Then Lex frowned as he looked between Conner and Clark. "Have you moved in already?"
Clark gave a bark of laughter. "I haven't. I'll get my things tomorrow." He gestured towards Con, "He moved in last week, apparently."
Conner shrugged, completely unrepentant. What? He'd thought it was a great idea. So what if they were taking their time deciding – they were pretty much already there anyhow, and he'd wanted the cats with him.
Running his hand over the top of his head, Lex just sighed. "One would think I would notice things in my own home a little better."
Clark grinned, flicking his gaze between Conner and Lex. Then the grin dropped. "Darn it." He stood up. "Back later," he said, and zoomed off.
After a moment, Lex's attention drifted to Con, who shook his head. "It's only a mugger. Dad'll be fine on his own. Though now that he's out, he'll probably patrol some. I've been running more of the daytime patrols while he's been busy with the League, so he likes to do more of the night ones."
Lex nodded, accepting of it all. "Change," he murmured. "I should, probably, start making some of my own as well..." He looked off in the distance, apparently making plans.
Conner had no clue. "Gin rummy?" he asked.
Attention back to him, Lex grinned and stood up. "Card decks are this way."
They made their way through the place to a room Conner had rarely seen. He'd poked through it his first night here, but other than that it was mostly closed. It was a library, but one that had displays and glass doors on cabinets and not much of anything out in the open. A few things even had elegant dust covers over them. There was one large object about the size of a table that the dust cover sagged in the middle on that Lex went over to and placed an affectionate hand on, before he turned and went to one of the cabinets. He opened one of the drawers and Conner gaped at the number of card decks piled up there.
"Holy Hannah!" Conner reached out and started sorting through them. There were all sorts in there, mostly the typical cards but with different covers ranging from the esoteric to the erotic. He raised his eyebrows at some of those but quickly passed them by to get the ones with animals or scenery on them.
"You're something of a miracle," Lex's voice rumbled over him.
Glancing up from the cards, Conner made an inquiring sound before he went back to deciding if he liked the one with the cats on it better, or the one with sunsets.
"You're so much like Clark, it's scary, but you're even more too. You're cheerful and good and keep looking for the bright points in everything. You have both our genes, but mine luckily seem to have passed you by." The tone was both wistful and melancholy at the same time.
Involuntarily, Conner let out a bark of laughter that held no humor in it. Proving that either he had inherited some of Lex's tendencies towards that, or he'd been spending too much time with his Dad Two. Or not enough time. " I've got a lot of you in me, but the goodness? That's not luck, and it's no miracle."
Beside him, Lex went very, very still. He almost didn't breathe for a moment, then he let it out in a hiss. "They selected for..."
Conner scooped up the cat deck and stood up, turning to face his other dad. "Yeah. Since we were little. Any time anybody showed any sign of aggression, or spitefulness, possessiveness towards the toys, or enjoying the fights more than the rest of us... then they'd be gone."
Lex's face was full of silent fury. "Every time I think I know it, there prove to be new lows in depravity."
This time, Conner's snort was directed at Lex. "Oh come on. How is that possibly any worse than culling us for eye color?" The culling had been constant, and they'd never known if they were going to be next or not.
"Point," Lex admitted. He sighed. "Clark was always after me for the shocking stories of Luthor upbringing I would tell, but you have your own Luthor tales, and worse than my own."
Privately, Conner thought that Lex's were worse. After all, Lex had been supposed to be in a normal home, where KN-5's had been anything but. Darkly, he wondered what sort of stories his sister-aunt would have when they found her. At least she'd be in good company.
They walked to the kitchen together, where they stopped and raided the 'fridge for ice cream before they sat down at the dining room table. Conner shuffled the cards. "As long as we're on the subject..."
Lex raised an eyebrow at the longer pause.
"You know him best. Why do you think he created us? Because the idea of me killing Superman is ridiculous. I couldn't have, not really. So... he creates us to kill, then sends me out to fail, and destroys the rest? It doesn't make sense." It had made sense once upon a time, when he didn't know any better. He remembered the training to fight, to kill. He had the programming that aimed him at Superman. But he wouldn't have been able to. So what was the point?
Putting down the spoon for his ice cream, Lex got up and went back to the kitchen, returning with a glass of alcohol.
Conner wrinkled his nose. The sharpness stung his nose and he'd never ever understand how DT could drink the stuff. He didn't know what type was in the glass, and he didn't care. Give him a glass of orange juice or milk anytime over that horrid stuff. With that thought, Conner went to the kitchen himself and mixed some root beer and milk together and then came back and dropped some ice cream in it, stirring it with a long spoon.
Lex watched him with a slight, sad smile, sipping at his drink. "You underestimate your ability to kill Superman. If you hadn't broke the conditioning... it very well could have been his second death. Superman was hampered by his trying not to kill you – you had no such limitations and a better fighting skill. He never honed that ability as he perhaps should have, considering his enemies."
KN-5 shuddered. He really hadn't wanted that part of it rebutted. He'd shoved those thoughts so far to the back of his mind that he'd honestly never evaluated the fight in those terms or even tried to think about how it might have gone. His question today had been more about the meaning, and less about the killing.
"Sorry," Lex said softly, regret clear in his voice. "I can be... too blunt, sometimes. I forgot."
"I asked for it," Kon said, fighting his way back to who he was now.
Lex's silence was full of sorrow. Eventually, he went on. "For the why, though, no, I don't think the original plan had been to kill Superman. I think that was a plan C or D – something Dad came up with after his original plans had been scrapped."
Conner sipped his float and regarded Lex, curiosity sharpening his focus intently. "Original plans?"
Lex nodded. "The cloning itself was originally two-fold – first to get him new bodies, and second, to replace me. He's been long foiled in trying to get copies of me because of my mutation, and I think the gene-splicing was his attempt to get around it. Using Superman's DNA, I believe, was an afterthought." Pausing, Lex took another drink. "Or maybe it was Clark's DNA he went after first, only to confirm that Clark was Superman through it. He'd always had his suspicions, but I don't know that he'd gotten final... no, he had Chloe. He would have known." Lex spread his hands out on the table, fingers wide and flat. "But mixing Clark's DNA with mine... that would have appealed to him. Hurting others is always his main goal."
"Diana says you are too focused on his attentions to you. That he had other plans too."
"With all due respect to the Princess," Lex drawled, "she doesn't know my father. Never did. I'm the only one left who knows him at all. Yes, of course he had other plans – he's always had other plans. But all of his plans, at the base core of them, are about how to fuck up other people's lives."
At the vulgarity, Conner blinked. He wasn't used to either of his dads swearing around him. Conner swore, and then he'd have to put money in the swear box, but his dads... no.
Lex pulled his hands in and swiped over a portion of the table, activating a viewscreen that projected between them, the display matching on both sides. "Look at Dad's life. He killed his parents for revenge, then used the insurance money to build up a corporation that would become one of the largest and richest in the world. He was basically saying 'fuck you' to all the people that said he'd never amount to anything. He was good being the head of LuthorCorp... but the main thing he was good at was using it to destroy other people." Names popped up on the timeline, dozens and dozens of them. "He was a lousy executive, in truth – using fear and the hatchet more than reason and care. But he was effective because he was ruthless. He would make friends, then destroy them when it suited him. His only true partner was as ruthless as he, and they divided their world accordingly."
With another wave of his hand, Lex wiped off that display and brought up another. "I don't believe that Dad would ever have gone to prison so easily if he hadn't already been tired of LuthorCorp. Or rather let his failed clone go to prison. It was pretty much the end for his running the company, and he wouldn't have let that go if he didn't want to already. He was more interested in the meteorites at that point, and the potential the cloning had for him personally."
Kon interrupted. "Meteorites?"
"Kryptonite. We didn't know the name of the planet until... for a long time." Lex grimaced and there was a hint of the old anger at Clark under it. Then he lost it as he went on about his dad. "When he went underground, presumably starting his reign of clones, mysterious things started happening to people in his past."
A new spreadsheet came up, with more names, a column briefly describing relations – high school, business partner, paid cop, paid reporter... and then a column of death and disaster. Suicides, murders, permanent injuries, insanity, pauper's exile to Suicide Slums, and more.
Conner gaped at the time frame and all that happened. "Didn't anybody notice?"
"If they did, what could connect them? A person who was dead?" Lex shrugged. "The only ones who escaped this list were those who by then were connected with either Clark or myself. He left us alone. Well, he tried to attack me but more directly, and I had negotiated a hands-off of Clark that it suited him to accept." He turned off that spreadsheet and left the glow of the screen between them. "No, Dad may have had other plans, but you can be sure that he also never forgot about me." Lex grimaced. "To my people's detriment."
There were probably more deaths behind that statement. Kon was glad that Lex hadn't pulled up any more documents for it. "So... what am I, then?"
"Ah." Lex turned back to the screen. Newspaper reports of Superman's death filled the air. "You, I think, were his attempt to take advantage of an opportunity." The clippings disappeared. "He was already working with the mixed DNA, and might have had plans to make one for me, but he didn't want a me with Superman's powers, so he was also developing the conditioning to keep control. I don't believe he ever got far enough with those early plans to bring any of them to life. He was just tinkering, seeing what would happen with these hybrid human/Kryptonian beings – neither one cloneable on their own, but somehow viable together. Or his scientist was – Dad wouldn't have the knowhow or patience to do it himself.
"Then the world thought Superman had died, and he thought, 'why can't I have a Superman of my own?' The children were switched from just experimenting with the hybridization to a focus on Clark, but using mostly the same prototypes. Otherwise, why would there have even have been green eyes? It should have been easy enough to segregate out some of the DNA for selection of traits. Not all, but most of the oblivious ones. But the original ones hadn't been segregated, so the new plan wasn't either, and it was rushed. No time to readjust.
"Still, though, he was too late." A timeframe displayed on the screen again, this time showing Kon's development in the labs outlined against Superman's death and reemergence to life. Clark had been back in the world while Kon and his siblings were still only in third-growth phase, the equivalent of 10-year olds.
There had been a few siblings older than him, but not many by the time the culling had gone through them. At the time he'd been loosed, he, Mik, and Stu had been the oldest of the ones still living. Stu had been older, Mik younger, but each only a few weeks apart.
"Ooooh," KN-5 breathed and leaned forward to look closer at the timeline. That. That right there. That made sense. A plan to replace Superman, while having one under his control. Not to kill, because Superman was already dead, but to sneak in and become anew – a secret weapon to use when he wanted to.
Kon straightened back. "So, when Superman came back... he just scrapped the whole thing?"
Lex shrugged. "Dad was never much for caring about the waste – he would just move on to a new idea instead." He blanked out the screen again. "He probably dithered around awhile to see if the new Superman really was the old one, and to see if he could take advantage of it... but then decided not."
"And sent me out to die, and killed my siblings who hadn't been chosen."
"Sent you out to kill, not realizing that love could break your conditioning," Lex corrected. "And yes. Destroyed my other children, because he had no use for them." The same bleak despair that Lex had shown in the barn when he first told Conner about Lionel was there upon him now. A deep desire to commit patricide, while at the same time knowing it would do no good for the number of times it had been done before. A weight of deaths, all on him.
Conner saw all this on Lex, as he felt it upon himself as well. Lex had struggled against his father for so long... it was almost a miracle in itself that Lex was still fighting and still caring. Conner had lost so many of his siblings, and all to a mad-man's plot that had come to nothing, so they'd just been thrown away. They still fought, and they still cared, because there were others out there too that they wanted to protect from Lionel.
Kon sighed. "Why didn't he send more of us out? Why cull so many of us, when he could have used us in other ways? The ones who weren't good... they could have been useful to him."
"Um," Lex tapped a thoughtful finger upon the table. "Useful, perhaps. But also... rivals. Lionel Luthor does not like competition. He likes things to be interesting, and a bit of a challenge, but any real possibility of failure and he cheats to avoid it. He never played computer games, but if he did, he would be the type to play on easy, and if that was too easy, he'd play higher but with frequent saves and restarts if things weren't going his way, and a firm knowledge of all the cheat codes. A hundred grandchildren with the abilities of a Kryptonian... too much of a threat to him directly. He, after all, killed his own parents. Who was to say that one could not do the same to him? For him, that would overshadow the possibility of using them."
Picking up his glass that had only a finger-full left, Lex tossed it down. "Knowing Dad, he probably didn't even think about that until he let you go. Only when he saw he'd lost you, did he think about what he'd do with the others." More darkly, "Or what others would do with them."
There had certainly been no indications before KN-5 had left the lab that he would come back to it a few hours later to find a ruined building and skeletal remains. The scientists who had also died obviously had had no clue. Though the Justice League had said it had been blown up shortly after he left to fight Superman, before the fight was finished. So unless Lionel had all that prepared all the time... actually, he probably had. Built right into the structure so he could blow it up whenever he wanted, no plans necessary.
Lex winced. "Please don't call him that."
"Only if you stop calling him Dad." There was something seriously disturbing about DT's constant use of the familiar term. Kon hadn't really noticed originally, but Dad hated him using it. And that was the problem with the pronouns. Clark hated it when Lex referred to Lionel as Dad. While Kon originally hadn't thought anything of it, thinking about how much he himself loved to call his parents Dad and Dad Two out of affection... Lex still calling Lionel with that affectionate term just wasn't right. Con wondered darkly what his sister-aunt called Lionel. He would throw up if he found out she too called him Dad.
Lex hesitated. Which was interesting, because he hadn't hesitated for Clark – he'd defended it instead. Conner's asking was already getting better results.
"I... I'll try. I'm not sure if I can stop – Da... Lionel was very insistent on it when I was a child," Lex said with a grimace.
And didn't that just conjure up images too? Horrible Luthor family upbringing, from one generation to the next. They were all messed up, in their own ways. Conner picked up his root beer mix and held out the glass towards Lex.
With a wry acknowledgement of the same, Lex picked up his bowl of mostly melted ice cream and knocked the bowl's rim to the glass. Then they drank it down. Lex digging the last of the solid ice cream out with his spoon.
"Thanks," Kon said. It had been a completely depressing conversation... and yet it had been good, too. The incompleteness had been bothering him. Now, at least, he knew. The knowledge didn't make him happy, but it made him more complete. And in its own weird way, he felt closer to his second dad too.
Picking up the cards again, Conner dealt out two hands for rummy.
... ... ...
"Gin!" Conner laid down his hand with a triumphant smirk.
With a scowl, Lex threw down his own and looked over Conner's win. "Those damn sixes...."
"If you weren't so obsessed with the Kings and Queens, you could get them too."
"Higher rank has higher points."
"Which does you no good if you don't get gin." Conner picked up the score card and started adding points to the list.
"You two are scary."
Both Conner and Lex whipped around in surprise to Clark, who was leaning against the wall, watching them.
Clark shook his head. "I've been watching you for the last three games. It's just gin rummy, guys, it's not supposed to be that serious."
His lover and his son gave him identical looks of 'of course it is'. It was probably a hopeless argument to make. "I don't ever want to be around if either of you is in a game of hearts."
Lex smirked at him, while Conner paused with a familiar expression that meant he was sorting through his extra memories. He had to have learned cards from somewhere, and it likely hadn't been in the labs.
"Want to join us?" Lex purred.
"Hardly," Clark said dryly. "I know where I would be in a game with you two – the sacrifice bled out and left to die."
"You're invulnerable, Dad." Conner was laughing at him, the traitor. "How about board games?"
"I suspect they'd be much the same." Clark eyed Lex, wondering if he ever lost a game of Monopoly.
A little bit of the good humor had slipped from Lex's face, and Clark had to wonder what sort of games Lionel had played. Chess, for certain. Clark would probably never ask Lex for a game of chess.
"We could play something a little less... antagonistic," Clark suggested. "How about one of those mutual aid games?"
Again, he was met with identical looks, this time of disgust. Too tame, obviously. Clark sighed. "D&D?"
"For three people?" Lex asked, though his eyes lit back up. Clark suspected he would make a good dungeon master. Either that or a very evil one.
Conner, though, was grimacing. "Ew, no thanks. That stuff is no fun. How about video games?"
"For three people?" Clark was the one who asked it this time. There were a lot of games for two... did Lex even have video games here? If not, he would probably buy some, just for Conner.
"I have some old computer games," Lex said slowly, thinking it out. "Some of those could be played together on LAN."
"Just how old are they?" Conner raised an eyebrow.
"Don't be a smart-ass," Lex advised him. "I don't like my home computers to be completely open to the world, which is what a lot of the mass-player games do. Too much direct connections for too long."
"They're not completely open," Clark protested.
Lex gave him a look. Okay, for somebody of Chloe and Oracle's abilities, a game probably would do it, though for the rest of the world, not at all.
"Plus, I just don't want the press getting word of the head of Lex Corp playing a silly online game," Lex admitted. "I have sanitized computers, I just don't dare let them be accessed."
While all people were human, Clark had to admit that even the reporters at the Daily Planet would be amused at that, and might even try to make something of it. "So what LAN games do you have?"
A few hours later, both Clark and Lex were yelling at Conner. "Get back here!"
Lex added, more practically, "We don't get the group bonuses if you're off the screen from us."
"Plus, you're not invulnerable in the game!" Clark growled, as he searched the bodies near him. "Ew, Lex, do you have to do that?"
Lex peered around the side of his screen with a grin, "What?" Another body near them blew up into gobbets of flesh. "Using the special find ability gets so much better loot. Especially for special items. Look, there's a ring now."
Clark rolled his eyes. "Barbarian." Of all things for Lex to choose to play in the game... "Cali, get off the keyboard!"
"Watch your minions!" Lex's character dodged around an animal.
"That wasn't me, that was the cat."
"It sure was."
"Oh hey," Conner cried, "An orc camp!"
"Conner, get back here!" both his dads yelled.
... ... ...
The next day, Conner was yawning as they went up the stairs to their old apartment. "I can't believe you haven't moved in yet."
"I was polite and waited for Lex's approval first!" Clark shook his head, even as he shifted the load of flattened boxes in his arms. "I can't believe you moved in last week without asking!"
"I asked!" Conner protested. Just because nobody had actually said 'yes'... they hadn't said 'no', either. He'd flown most of his stuff over, coming in from the top door. Mercy was the only one who noticed.
Clark sighed and didn't say anything else. Conner didn't think he was totally off the hook, but he didn't care.
Packing Clark's things was done in less than an hour with them both using super-speed to go through it, leaving boxes everywhere. Taking them over to Lex's, however, had to be done at normal speed, with normal grunting as they went down the stairs.
"Didn't DT offer to get movers to do this?" Con was not all that thrilled with bonding over moving. Well, at least not this part of it. The packing was cool, as he got to learn more about Dad with it. Dad had just as many memory items as Lex and the others had created for Conner’s past, only Dad’s were all real. It was a little weird, thinking of his dad as a real teenager, growing through all the years that Conner had skipped. He had a life before Conner, and it had been a real one.
Clark rolled his eyes and shoved a few more boxes in the back. "I borrowed a van. That's good enough. Suck it up, Con. It won't kill you to do some manual labor now and again." He looked at the items stuffed inside. "Okay, let's take this batch over and then come back for more." He hadn't borrowed a very big van.
"Careful, Dad, you're starting to sound like me," Conner laughed. Or maybe a bit of Dad Two in there.
"There're worse fates," Clark laughed with him.
They were half-way through packing the van for the second trip when they both heard the explosion.
Clark turned a little. "St. Augustine's Hospital," he said grimly. "Both of us." He changed into his uniform and flew out the window, only bothering for the slightest of security measures.
Conner was right behind him.
The explosion had taken place in the hospital's basement utility center. There weren't a lot of people in the immediate area, but the power had been cut and a fire started. The first floors had been weakened by the blast and were in danger of collapsing soon. The generators were down, leaving the hospital in the dark, with death quickly spreading.
They tried first to put out the fire, but it had spread too quickly and was now in too many places inside the building. The sprinkler system was on, but it wasn't enough to stop the flames. They split up, Kon going after the people in danger from the fire, and Superman consulting quickly with the administrators, then grabbing patients and their charts who were in the most critical stages and ferrying them to other hospitals.
Kon was doing his best, but there were too many people in danger. He had to make choices, usually based on who were the next few people closest he could grab and take out. If it had only been a few people, he could have made sure they were safe, but as it was, all he could do was grab, move out to the parking lot, put them down and then head back for more. The other people were organizing as well, helping as they could.
The worst part was coming back inside and seeing the people he hadn't grabbed now beyond hope.
He wanted to freeze time so he could take everybody – he wanted another arm or two or three so he could grab more people. An expanding globe like Green Lantern's, to push the fire's advance in one direction and scoop people up in the other. All his own natural powers weren't enough in that moment. Not nearly enough.
There was another explosion within the building though not as large as the initial one. Kon looked over – something over in the operating rooms, he couldn't tell what. He thought those were mostly empty now, with Dad having gotten most of them out originally. Then he saw his dad stop rescuing people and detour around the back of the building. A chill went through him as he then watched Superman disconnect and move giant tanks of oxygen and hydrogen away from the building. That must have been the smaller explosion, and there were small portable units throughout the hospital. With the fire spreading... Kon went to help Superman. If the big ones went, all their other efforts would be undone.
There was another explosion. This one, not at the hospital. Kon looked over and cried out.
Their apartment. The one they had just been in. A side of it was destroyed and flames were licking out. Their neighbors, their friends. Running out down the stairs, but at least one of the stairwells was gone and just a trap now.
"There are more people in danger here," Superman spoke lowly, his voice laced with pain and anguish. Then he went to rescue more doctors and patients.
Kon hovered for a moment, torn between the horrible, horrible choice. Worse, even, than the individual ones. But there were two of them, and Superman was staying at the hospital. Kon sped off to the apartment building.
He couldn't help his preferential treatment there, and he didn't even try. His neighbors first, the people who had welcomed him in when he first arrived, when he knew nothing at all but his name – the ones Clark had first introduced his son to, before Conner had even known he was a son.
Their apartment, mostly gone. The place that Conner had first been a person, a real person and not just a clone in a lab. Where his dad held him and told him he loved him… a place that had been a home. His first. Carefully packed boxes of Clark's memories, burning into nothing, even as Kon ignored them steadfastly, intent upon rescuing the people. He had to leave the pets. Kon cried, thinking of his own, but the people came first, they had to.
When the third explosion rocked the city, Kon could feel his heart stop before it continued beating out of control. The Daily Planet. Lois, Jimmy... all of Dad's other friends.
Kon had mostly finished with the apartment, though not nearly as much as he wanted to. He darted back to the hospital and met his dad in mid-air. "I'll take over the hospital if you want to---"
"He couldn't get the bomb in a good location at the Planet," Superman said. "They're mostly okay."
"Bomb? He...?" Kon had been so busy rescuing that the implications hadn't hit him yet.
"It's not a coincidence," Superman said grimly. "This is directed at us. Lionel's not done yet. Not---"
Superman was gone. Gone before Kon could see him move. Gone before another explosion even registered on Kon's senses. This was a smaller explosion than the others. Smaller and... "DT," Kon breathed as he saw the wreckage mid-way along the first floor of LexCorp, about the size of a conference room or two... wasn't Lex holding a public interests meeting this morning?
Kon followed Superman's wake, as fast as he could, knowing it wasn't fast enough. Knowing that even Dad wouldn't have been fast enough if the bomb had been where Kon thought it might, if Lex had been there, if...
A bare glimpse of Superman holding something wrapped in his cape, flying out of the building, then that glimpse was gone as Superman headed North, fast enough to bend the lightpoles as he flew.
Kon continued into the building, heading for the knot of people on the floor broken and bloody. There was Mercy, down upon the ground, coils of her intestines spilling out around her. Justice, next to her, dead with his head at an impossible angle, twisted around. Further away, Hope, limbs sprawled out as if she'd been tossed away and came down hard. Other people. Some alive, some not. Next to Mercy was a gap... a human-sized gap that was covered with blood and bits of flesh and cloth. Suit-quality cloth, though colors were impossible to tell with the blood and blackened from the explosion.
It looked like they had been leaving the conference room. Alerted from the other bombings, but not quite fast enough. Or maybe that's what the plan had been. The explosion had been near the door.
There were people starting to come out from around. Some people running away, some running towards, some just gaping and watching from the sides.
Kon wanted nothing more than to follow his father to the North Pole and see how his second dad was.
But there were things to do here. Kon landed next to Mercy, his red boots blending with the blood washing the tiles.
Amazingly, Mercy was still alive. More than alive, she was sitting up, her hands reaching to gather her intestines and hold them close to her. Kon reached for her, intending to take her to a hospital.
She shook her head, resisting the attempt. Her eyes flicked behind Kon. Enemy. There. Enemy...
With an indrawn breath, Kon turned, scanning the crowd. His eyes flicked over person after person, then he stopped. There. Not one he'd seen before, but it was. He knew it. Those intense eyes, the way he held his body. It was Lionel. A Lionel. There.
The young man with black hair and an olive completion grinned as Kon met his gaze. He spoke. "Your father took away my pawn. So... I'll take the knight, rook, bishop, and even his queen. It's a fair price to pay, for my pawn."
KN-5 was over there in an instant, hands reaching to kill. It was with an effort that he redirected his grip to shoulders. He thought he might have broken bones. It was less than he wanted to do. "Are there more bombs? Where did you put the other bombs?" Four chess pieces, four bombs. Yet Kon was sure the hospital had only been a diversion, the apartment a twist of the knife. He'd missed on the Planet, Dad said. And here? Kon hoped desperately he'd missed here too. Though Justice was still dead. Others? "Where are they?!"
The Lionel laughed in his face, broken bones or not. "KN-5... you came out so well. Look at you – a year from my lab and growing so well. You think yourself a person now. Do you really think you are? Look at you, ready to kill upon my command."
Ready to kill his creator. But would that be part of Lionel's trap? If Kon destroyed this seeming in front of other people, they would never trust him again. He tightened his fingers then loosened his grip without releasing him. "Tell me," he growled.
"Make me," the other mocked. "And do it before I take you back again. I can, you know. One word... one word from me, and you're mine again. No more will of your own. How much worse will it be, going out to kill now that you know the other super heroes and they trust you?"
KN-5 shuddered, his worst fear standing there in front of him. "I won't!" His protest sounded frightened, even to his own ears.
"You will..." Blue eyes glinted in mockery at him. "My word becomes truth. Abracadabra."
Kon staggered, weakness flooding through his body, his grip turning loose without his volition. But he still had his will. He locked his stance, holding firm, meeting the gaze with his own determination.
"No? Maybe that wasn't it after all," the Lionel laughed. "So then... maybe... Rumplestiltskin!"
There was a bare moment when Kon thought it hadn't done anything, that the Lionel's word had no effect. Then the world exploded.
Pain like nothing Kon had ever experienced before in his life. Sharp pain, diffuse pain. The pain of being inside one of the green gels, having his world rearranged around him. The pain of a thousand shards piercing his body. Pain washing his sight to red smudges as the head he was staring at laughed until the eyes went vacant and it toppled off the body that was shredded to pieces under it. Kon's grasp holding shoulders no longer attached to anything and he dropped them... dropped them even as he fell.
Ground. Hard, unyielding, solid. Kon felt it smack into the side of his face, but it was nothing compared to the pain elsewhere. He could hear screaming. He didn't think it was his own. He could hear them crying out his name, one of his names, the Superboy name. Son of his father. Clone mimicking, but not wholly there. Not clone. Hybrid with two fathers. Both gone now, and him left with nothing.
People rushing towards him. He blinked the redness out of his eyes – it was viscous, gunky, something he should rub out, but he couldn't move his hands... there was only pain and a darkening around him.
He was imagining things. He thought his father was there, calling his name, his own name. Kon. Reaching for him, touching him. But his dad's touch made his dad screw his face up in pain, and his veins bulged on his hands and face where Kon could see, a sickly green glow cast over them. His dad shouldn't be green. Green was a bad color for him.
Mercy was there at his dad's side, yelling at him, her hand pressed to her middle, which was... how was Mercy up and moving around?
Kon concentrated, trying to hear the words.
"LEAD IN THE WALLS!" The words didn't sync up to the mouth movements. Or maybe that was Kon, hearing them long after they were spoken.
His dad was gone. Kon missed him, though he knew he was bad for his dad and his dad shouldn't be there with him, but he wanted him there. He wanted both his dads. But DT couldn't be there... something had happened to DT, Kon didn't know what. He only knew his Dad Two was gone and his Dad One was... was wrapping something around Kon, as Kon was held by others.
Darkness cut off his vision, though he hadn't closed his eyes. Darkness... and a loss of gravity. Kon couldn't move himself, but he felt he was moving, quickly, but there was nothing for him to see, no matter how many times he blinked his eyes. Maybe he should shut them instead.
Was that letting Grandfather win? If he shut his eyes now?
Maybe he could keep them open for just awhile longer. Just a bit.
Light. Light and noise. Machinery in that weird sliding sounds the Fortress made of its ice tools. Which wasn't really ice, nor crystal either, but resembled both.
Conner screamed as the tools touched him and touched what was within him.
"It's okay, Kon! The Fortress is helping. It's getting the kryptonite out."
His dad, next to him, holding his hand. Grimly reaching to pull out some shards himself, his body turning green as he did.
"Kal-El, do not attempt that. The kryptonite will hurt you. We are getting them out as quickly as we can."
The slightly dry tones of the Fortress spoke, hovering between programming and intelligence.
"I'll heal," Superman said grimly, and kept on plucking out kryptonite with one hand as he held Kon with the other.
"Dad," Kon whispered, barely able to get even that much out.
"It'll be okay, Kon. I'm here. You're going to be okay."
The machines moved quickly. His dad moved less quickly. But after awhile, the pain receded to more of a migraine level than to the all-encompassing sharpness that had him trembling on the edge of consciousness.
There was a needle in his arm and red fluids dripped into him. His dad's blood, stored and kept for Kon. Or his own blood, for the Fortress believed in being prepared. Or both, as he could see empty crystal boxes next to the full, smudges of red lining the translucent walls. The light was intense. They’d turned on the sun rays directly onto him.
Kon took in a deep breath, then another. It hurt. But it hurt less now than it had before.
"Kon," his father said in heart-broken relief. "Oh, my Kon."
Very carefully, he was gathered into a partial hug, which he weakly returned.
"What happened?" Kon asked after several attempts at speaking.
His dad fetched him water. "I don't know. I heard you... I came and you were hurt... A kryptonite bomb, right next to you. A small bomb, low impact, but it must have been very close. I couldn't touch you, there was so much kryptonite. So I wrapped you in lead and brought you here."
Mercy had told his father about the lead, Kon remembered that much. "The Lionel. It must have been the Lionel." He shuddered.
"Lionel was there?" Superman's gaze sharpened and he glanced south, as if he thought about flying back.
"Had been." Kon gulped. "I think the bomb was inside him. The first word primed it," that was the weakness, as the kryptonite was exposed, whatever there had been keeping the bomb from being detected lowered, "the second word triggered it." A Lionel, one of many, not caring what happened to that particular body. Taunting and unafraid, even as he triggered his own death – a pawn's death, to bring down a knight.
And the queen?
Kon struggled against the weakness that still permeated his body, though the kryptonite was gone. The Fortress had finished working on him, but he could still hear the weird crystal sliding sounds near him. There. There, on the table next to his.
Kon cried out, lurching up and staggering forward. "Dad... Dad Two..."
Motionless body, still and unresponsive. The tools of the Fortress going over, reattaching flesh and parts and making sutures in organs and flesh where no blood flowed. No heart beat. No lungs breathed. Nothing.
No. No. Nonononononono... They had just become a family, a real family. They'd just moved in. They had been laughing and playing just the night before, like families did. He wouldn't, he couldn't lose DT now. DT, who loved him beyond all reason, who would destroy the world for his sake. His second dad, just as precious as his first.
"Dad?" It was a cry and a wail, a plea for his father to make everything right. He'd never in his life made such a sound or such a plea, but it just tumbled out of him now.
"I don't know, Kon. I don't know." Superman's voice was low and full of the same sorrow as Kon's, but with a fear and hope also threading through. Fear of the hope? What hope was there? Could there be? How could he not know?
Kon tore his eyes off his DT and looked at Superman. Superman was staring at Lex, his face a study in anguish and conflict.
"I want to believe. I want to believe in him so very badly. To give up on somebody too soon... it hurts, it hurts when you come back and they've moved on. Even if you were rightfully dead and you can't blame them, it still hurts. But it's so hard to try and believe, when he's right there... Lex was the only one who thought I'd come back. The only one. All of those who loved me saw my body and accepted my death. Lex saw my body and didn't accept it. I don't know how he did it. I can't... I have to. I have to believe in him, that he'll make it through this. But it's so hard..."
Make it through... Lex was dead. Kon returned his gaze to Lex's body and studied it more carefully. Lungs weren't breathing, heart wasn't beating, blood wasn't going through his body. The Fortress had been working on repairing the body for ... Kon didn't know – a half-hour? More? The body was still in pretty bad shape. It must have been practically in pieces originally. Conner shuddered at the idea of Clark picking up everything that had been DT and putting them in his cape to fly back here. To fly to the Fortress and order it to repair a dead body. How could Superman possibly believe in anything but Lex's death after this?
A memory came to him. The loft. An earnest Lex, talking about his father. Trying to blow me up is one of his favorite current methods... Conner's remembered horror, "You've killed him." DT's remembered matter-of-fact answer, "As he has me, several times."
Conner sucked in his breath as the memories of DT talking to him in the loft came back. Full Technicolor, with the sun streaming in through the loft windows and DT framed by that light. Holding up his hand as if in example.
"His healing power. DT heals." Conner felt the sliver of hope shoot through him just as the kryptonite had earlier, hurting almost as much.
"Yes," Clark whispered, bowing his head. Wanting to believe but not fully doing so.
"He said Grandfather was trying to blow him up... that he's died before."
Clark raised his head, giving Kon a sharp look. "He said this?" The hope was a little stronger.
Conner went over the conversation in his mind. He honestly wasn't sure if Lex had meant his dad killed clones of him or had literally killed him. The blowing up was definite, though. "Yeah. He said that." He wasn't going to tell Clark he wasn't sure. His dad needed the hope.
It was, perhaps, a form of insanity to hold out hope against all the facts. DT would have said it was, with that self-mocking smirk of his that put himself into the insane realm without regard to how others cared for him. He wouldn't be all wrong about that either. But Kon thought about the pain in Clark's voice, of how everybody had thought he was dead when he really had been. About how the world gave up, and moved on. The logical thing, the healing thing. Yet, not the hopeful thing.
So what if the hope turned out not to be the truth later? You held on to what there was of it until the bitter last end. Yes, you might know a brother was marked for culling... but while he was there and living and breathing, you gave every last bit of belief that he would make it through, up to the very end.
And with DT... well, DT wasn't breathing and his heart wasn't beating, but that was DT, and DT healed. Kon would give him that hope. Give it to him for a year and a day and longer if needed, because everybody had to have somebody believe in them.
Next to him, his dad held his hand and gripped tightly, looking at Lex with that same sense of renewed hope, and a determination for the hope. They would believe in Lex, together, even if it made no logical sense.
After some time of standing there, holding each other's hands and watching as the Fortress worked on DT's body, Conner became aware of other things.
Over by the control panel, there was a monitor tuned to Metropolis news. The Justice League communicator was active, with heroes talking back and forth. There had been more bombs, in more cities, and the rescue work went on still.
Kon reluctantly drew himself into Superboy mode and took a step towards his room where there were spare uniforms. His current one being completely shredded and what was left removed while the Fortress had been plucking kryptonite out of him.
He staggered with that step, his body collapsing out under him.
Clark caught him. "Sorry, I should have made you sit down sooner."
"But... the kryptonite is out of me."
"That is not something you bounce back from, believe me," Clark said wryly as he helped Kon to a seat.
Superman would know. And Kon remembered that he was only half-Kryptonian and didn't have all of his dad's invulnerability either. He shuddered to think of how close to death he'd come. And may not have made it back from, not like his dad had. Like his second dad might. But then, death was nothing new for him or his brothers. It always had been there, present and everlasting. Life was the miracle, not death.
"But we need to go back." Kon waved at the news monitor.
Superman looked, and then gave a long, weary sigh. He turned his head to look at Lex instead.
Kon hadn't been rescuing people for very long. Not long at all, compared to how long his dad had been doing it. He thought about years and years of rescuing people, and all the non-rescues or the not-in-time rescues, and the need to just be with the people you loved during a crisis, but never able to be because others needed you more. Kon didn't quite understand it all, but he knew it was there.
"I'll stay with him," Kon offered.
Clark sharply redirected his gaze.
"Hey, it's not like I'm going anywhere right now either," Kon gave a shaky grin, feeling how much his chest hurt and how weak he still was. There was no way he was going to be able to get out of here, not like this. "I'll stay. I'll stay as long as.... I'll stay."
Superman's gaze settled into blue and he gave a nod. He raised a hand to his shoulder where his cape normally attached, then looked at it still laying underneath Lex. With a gulp, Superman went to the closet and got another cape. The rest of his uniform he left as it was, still streaked with ash and blood from the earlier rescues.
He lifted a hand to Kon, then flew out without a word.
Kon had the impression that if Clark had said anything, he probably would have stayed. Or it would have been harder to go. He glanced at DT where the machines still glided over the body fixing what they could, as helpless as it might seem, and understood that longing.
With a sigh that weakly mirrored his dad's, Kon went to the console and pulled up the JL logs, scanning over what had happened where, and where they were needing resources. Normally, he was one of the resources. However... He picked up the headset and put it on. "JL admin, this is Superboy. I'm off the active list, but is there some way I can help?"
There was a pause while things were coordinated and relayed. "Remote work okay?" The person on the other end didn't even ask about the non-active status. There was probably a lot of that right now.
"It's fine," Kon thought he could probably manage that. It was his body that was cutting out on him right now, not his mind. Though that could probably use a rest too. Later. Later would be time.
A voice broke in on the line, "Ask Superboy if he has a way of telling who the terrorists are. The Dragon's Teeth." That was Hawkman.
"Um... nothing quantifiable, but if you show me them, I might be able to. Not certain." Though he'd done pretty well so far at identifying them, in both surveillance footage and now in person a few times. DT had had him practicing. Both he and DT could usually pick Grandfather out, though Clark was baffled by how they did it.
It had only been two hours since the attacks started, and already most of them were over. A single strike at multiple points. A few cascading such as had been done in Metropolis, but those were rare. A terrorist attack on 40 different cities all at the same time. If the JL hadn't sent out the warning to all the law enforcement across the world, it could have been much worse. As it was, they'd been on high response, and several of the attacks thwarted or mitigated.
Hawkman had the JL hook Kon up to remotes in various cities where they had captured potential terrorists. Some cities were obviously "round them all up and figure it out later" while others were more selective. There were also more bodies that had had bombs in them. Though those were more regular type ones instead of Kryptonite. The flame bomb that had taken the Martian Manhunter down, though, was obviously tailored. Not much left of that body, and Jonn was in the hospital.
Kon went through the surveillance, concentrating on the people he could see and listening to that instinct he had for the evil eyes and disregard of anything else. There weren't a lot. Most of the 'round them up' people were normal, if not all innocent, probably. The selective ones... one in ten was a Lionel. Kon was sure. And a lot of the bodies. That was... that was a lot of Lionel's. Kon wondered how many clones Lionel had, and how many he had left. Clones, not-clones. Bodies. But living bodies, not dead ones.
Too much death. Kon called in a break and pushed the headphones away. He was tired. So very tired. He muted the news and the comms, and let the silence of the Fortress sink in.
Conner stood up so fast he toppled over and fell to the ground. On the floor, he looked at the crystal blue beneath him and he put all of his self into listening.
Slow. Quiet. Barely heard even with his superhearing, but it was there.
Kon got up and walked to the table that DT was on. Superman's cape flowed off the edges. The Fortress machine had mostly finished working, only a few small crystalline rays extending here and there.
Taking a breath, Kon x-rayed through the body to the heart, ignoring the headache that it gave him to do so. The muscle was still, not moving. Conner felt his own plummet down for a hope deferred. Then, it moved. One tiny clenching, pulling together before releasing. Not with anywhere near the strength needed to pump blood through the body.
Not that there was any blood to pump right now anyhow. The veins were... Kon had no idea how they were doing it, but all the dried blood that had been in the veins, arteries, capillaries, all of it was dissolving, leaving clean tubes, ready for fresh blood to be carried though.
Not that there was fresh blood yet. But there was a heart, and the heart was beating. Not enough yet, not nearly enough. But it was more than had been there before. A lot more.
Kon swallowed. It was hard to breathe and he had to blink rapidly.
He swallowed a second time. "Fortress. Line open to Dad."
There was a brief clicking sound that was the auditory confirmation of a signal.
"Dad," Kon choked up and had to start again. He let go of his x-ray vision as his headache was getting worse. But he remembered it... "Dad, it's okay."
"Kon?" Superman's voice filtered through with other sounds around him. Sirens, people talking, other stuff, not important.
"It's going to be okay, Dad."
Superman's breath whooshed out much as Kon's had earlier. A 'thank the heavens' sort of sound, only they couldn't actually say anything like that over the line.
It wasn't all okay for everybody. There were a lot of people dead still, and others wounded. Conner had no idea if Mercy and Hope had made it, and there was a pang in his heart for Justice. But DT was here, and he was going to be okay.
"Thank you, Kon," Superman's voice was quiet, and there was a sort of renewed determination behind it. "I'll be in later tonight."
The line clicked off. Kon looked around and then fetched a chair to sit next to DT's bed.
"Fortress, monitor, please. Heart, and any charts of... activity that's quantifiable."
Charts promptly went up, projecting over the bed. There had been quite a bit happening while Kon had been working. The heart was only the most obvious of the healing.
It wasn't quite all there yet. Not yet, but there was something where once there had been nothing, and that was enough for hope and for promise.
Conner laid his head on his father's cape, next to his other dad's body, and let himself rest at last. He listened to the heartbeats, and hoped.