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Matters of the Heart

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Clark had insisted that it would be a good learning experience. He’d insisted that Conner was mature and responsible enough now to handle something like this. Conner wasn’t sure how right any of that was, but it felt great to have someone trust him with something so important. And it sure as Hell beat going to school. It wasn’t like he didn’t like school or Smallville, but there wasn’t much to do except schoolwork and chores. So yeah, it was nice to be able to fly around the skies of Metropolis, policing it in Clark’s absence instead of listening to a boring lesson on style and conventions in essay-writing or about Euler’s formula.

It was his second day on patrol and so far everything was pretty routine. Basic burglary attempts on a few homes and one on an electronics shop, a terribly-planned bank robbery, one mugging, and he got to bust a drug deal. Yesterday was pretty much the same but there had been a minor fire at a shopping center. It seemed pretty slow, all things considered. Whether that was a good thing or not remained to be seen. There was that saying about the calm before the storm and Conner just hoped that this wasn’t those cases because if the “storm” entailed something like a giant alien thing suddenly deciding to attack the city… well, it wouldn’t end pretty.

Though for the time being, everything seemed alright. The police were on top of things anyway—not that there was much happening tonight either. He figured that he may as well get back home, though he kept an ear out for the screams of civilians as he flew through the darkened Metropolis sky, high above the lights and sounds below. In Smallville, everyone seemed to go down with the sun and get up with the sun, but in the city everyone operated on their own time. It was different, but Titans weekends in San Fran ensured that it was also familiar.

He was staying at Clark’s apartment with Lois and while sleeping on the couch wasn’t all that comfortable, it beat having to commute between Metropolis and Smallville. Not to mention that if there was an emergency, he’d have to be on scene ASAP so he figured that staying there was more convenient. He touched down on the rooftop of 1983 Sullivan Place and entered through the access door. He took the stairs down a few floors and made his way past the identical-looking doors until he came upon number 907. With the little key he’d been entrusted with, he quietly made his way inside assuming that Lois was asleep by now. But as he locked the door behind him, the lights switched on.

“You’re back,” said Lois tiredly, standing near the light switch. She was wearing blue pajamas with a fuzzy robe overtop. It was a chilly autumn night and only Conner’s Kryptonian DNA kept him from wanting a warm jacket of his own.

“You’re still up?” Conner asked, slipping off his shoes and going over to the couch near where she was standing.

“I usually wait for Clark to finish his patrol anyway. I use the time to get some work done,” she explained as Conner sat down.

“That’s a long time to wait.”

“Sometimes. I think he’s got some sort of system though, so some nights it’s a lot quicker. I dunno—Metropolis is pretty peaceful. I guess all the thugs and thieves and other lowlifes are smart enough to not cause trouble when Superman is watching the city.”

“Doesn’t seem to stop them over in Gotham,” Conner shrugged. Maybe it was because he knew Clark, but he was personally a hundred times more terrified of Batman than he was of Superman. Not to mention that Gotham was also under the watch of the entire Batclan, too, and they were as equally terrifying when they wanted to be.

“Gotham’s a special city,” Lois said with a chuckle.

“Hey, it’s not all bad. It’s got its good points,” Conner defended. Though those aforementioned good points consisted mainly of, like, Tim. And that downtown burger joint they went to once. But that was pretty much it. Lois smirked a little at him, probably knowing what (who) he was referring to, and then yawned loudly. “Do you want anything? Tea? A tall glass of warm milk?”

“Milk? Lois, I’m not three years old,” Conner said, crossing his arms and trying his best not to smile but instead to appear as a stubborn teenager.

“Close enough, technically,” she teased, ruffling his hair for added effect. Then she yawned dramatically and declared “Well I guess you’ve got your ear out for damsels in distress and whatnot. Probably don’t need little old me, so I’m off. Got an awesome interview lined up for tomorrow. It just screams front-page scoop! Goodnight, Conner!”

“Goodnight, Lois,” Conner said as she disappeared back down the narrow little hallway. He listened to the city just once more for good measure, but there wasn’t anything that needed his attention. He lay back on the pillow and draped the blanket Lois had kept out for him over himself and figured he might as well get some rest. Half alien or no, he got tired too. But just as he was about to fall asleep, he heard it: something that sounded like a growl—guttural and barbaric but still human—followed by the sounds of destruction and a shrill scream.

Someone was in danger.

Conner was off in seconds, racing out of the apartment (though this time he remembered to lock the door), up the stairs to the rooftop, and took off in the South-Southwest direction the moment he threw open the access door. He couldn’t go supersonic at this height, not so close to civilians or buildings, but he could still fly fast. The cool night air whipped away any shreds of fatigue as he let his hearing guide him. He could hear more roaring, something shattering as it hit tile, a woman screaming in agony and sobbing something unintelligible. It sounded like she was being attacked by some sort of monster.

And suddenly the roaring turned into gasping—like whatever it was that was attacking the woman was out of air and struggling to breathe. A strange gurgling noise was the only thing Conner could hear after that.

No. No! He was almost at the location—he was so close, his TTK wrapped around him to give him the most aerodynamic form—and he could still hear the woman’s soft sobs. She was alive at least and just a few more seconds and he’d be by her side. Just a second more. He could see the little row house with its faded green door and broken knocker.

And he very nearly crashed into it.

Without waiting he barged in, somehow keeping the door on its hinges but ruining the doorframe. He’d have to explain that to the cops when they got there. He stepped into a dark little foyer and it was way too quiet—no sign of anything amiss here. But the lights in the kitchen were on and that’s where he headed, as fast as his feet could carry.

The scene in front of him was a grotesque one. The woman he must’ve heard was lying near the doorway, facing down and still partially conscious. Her pink nightgown was half red with blood and Conner hoped that it wasn’t hers—but who else’s could it be? If there had been a monster here, it had gotten away. But how? And how could it have gotten in? The door had been securely locked until Conner had forced his way in. He’d have to do a check after the ambulance came.

“Ma’am?” he asked her quietly, kneeling next to her and not bothering to avoid the pool of blood. She gave a faint moan and reached out with twitching fingers. Conner took hold of her hand, but he didn’t know how much comfort that would give her. She was fading fast. A quick x-ray revealed her spine was fractured in two different places, one side of her skull had been bashed in, and her ankle was broken. With these types of injuries, she didn’t have long, but at least he heard sirens growing near. “It’s going to be okay ma’am, the police and the ambulance are on their way. You’re going to be fine—you just have to stay with me a little longer, okay?”

He kept babbling on, hoping to keep her conscious. He wanted to turn her over, to see where the wound from which she was bleeding out was, so that he could compress it or cauterize it or something. He couldn’t let this woman die on his hands, but he also couldn’t risk compounding her injuries. Even if he were to use his TTK to turn her over, the pressure he’d have to apply might end up breaking something else or paralyzing her if she wasn’t already.

Why would anyone—anything—attack her? She just looked like an ordinary civilian. Average height and build, brown hair, fair skin. Was she a vigilante, like he was? As he looked around the kitchen, still talking to her in an effort to keep her conscious, there were at least signs of struggle. Half the cabinets were open, their contents thrown out haphazardly onto the counters and floor. The fridge had been pushed over, having fallen onto the island and cracking a piece of it off, adding to the mess created by the spilled food. A spice rack had been toppled, sending the vibrant colors sprawling across the linoleum and adding a sickening contrast to the scene. A large kitchen knife had been abandoned some distance away and it was possible she had wielded it in defense. When he switched on his x-ray vision for a look at the other side of the island, the result caught him off guard.

A second body.

There was no heartbeat or signs of breathing. The man, dressed in a torn t-shirt and raggedy pants, was gone. But Conner hadn’t heard a man’s voice screaming. Was it possible that the attacker killed him first, before he even got a chance to cry out for help? And when the woman came to see what was happening, she was attacked? It still left the question of the attackers whereabouts, but maybe they’d run off thinking the job was done or even upon sensing Conner’s approach, were it some sort of creature or another metahuman.

“They’re here, they’re here,” Conner told the woman, not needing his superhearing to alert him of the police’s arrival. He heard them barge in nearly like he had, only without the work of having to force the door open.

“M.P.D.!” an officer shouted and Conner was quick to respond.

“In here! Get a medic—she’s fading fast!” he shouted in response. He heard another officer repeat his command near the door.

“Superboy!” said the first officer upon entering the kitchen, lowering her gun. The two men behind her did the same. “Oh my god.”

“What the hell happened here?” asked one of them.

“I got here too late. Whatever attacked them is gone, but I don’t know how it got inside in the first place. It was me who wrecked the doorframe to get in,” Conner explained, releasing the woman’s hand and moving aside as the paramedics came running with a stretcher, a neck brace and an array of other equipment in tow.

“Wait—them?” the first officer asked. Jones, her name tag read.

“Second victim’s behind the island. He’s… dead.” Keeping his voice steady when surrounded by destruction and the blood of innocent people was something he’d learned over the years, something he’d gotten very good at doing, but not something he’d ever get used to. He watched the paramedics strap the neck brace around the woman’s neck, flipping her over with caution and holding her steady as they carefully lifted her onto the stretcher at the count of three. He almost wished he didn’t get to see the poor woman’s face. Not just because it was so badly disfigured from fractures and swelling, but because he’d have nightmares for days to come for not being able to get there in time to prevent that.

“Uh, thank you, Superboy,” said Officer Jones once the woman’s body had been cleared. She looked around the scene with a deep frown.

“Don’t really think I was of much help,” Conner said with a shrug, but then added, “Mind if I take some pictures for a friend?”

The officer looked a little skeptical and exchanged a glance with her partner, who nodded. “That’s fine,” she agreed. “But our crime scene guy is going to be here soon, so you’ll have to make it quick.”

Conner mumbled his thanks and took out his cell phone. He might as well get a few pictures for Tim, in case the police couldn’t find this mystery killer on their own. He didn’t want anyone else to get hurt on his watch and if he ended up needing help, then so be it. Conner snapped a photo of everything from the knife to the fallen potted plant in the corner—trying not to miss a single inch just in case that inch might contain vital information. Once he felt like he got enough pictures, he took a quick look around the little house, but the rest of the rooms were spick-and-span. Nothing at all out of the ordinary.

Feeling a little defeated, Conner took his leave matter-of-factly, taking off silently and heading back towards Lois’ apartment.

He knew he shouldn’t feel personally responsible, but Clark had entrusted him with watching over his city, his home. Nothing ever really happened in Smallville apart from the occasional petty theft or cat stuck in a tree, but suddenly he knew what it was like to carry such an obligation. It brought into perspective what Tim and the other Bats must feel towards Gotham. As terrible of a city as it might be, it was their home, they were its guardians, and they were responsible for keeping its citizens safe.

When he got back, Lois was unsurprisingly waiting for him. The light in the kitchen was on and he could smell the warm milk. He would have laughed if he hadn’t felt so crummy. Leaving his shoes by the door, he padded quietly into the light. Lois was standing on the other side of the island, a yellow mug nestled between her hands which she pushed towards him when he entered. She wore an apologetic look on her face and Conner wondered for a moment if she could secretly read minds.

“When I was little and had a bad dream, my mom used to make me some warm milk—with just a little sugar to sweeten it up. It put me right to sleep and helped drive away the nightmares,” she explained, her tone soft and maternal, lacking the usual jovial character.

“How’d you know?” he asked her, taking the mug despite not wanting to ever step foot into another kitchen ever again after what he saw. The neatness and comfortable air that Lois’ kitchen provided contrasted against the image of the crime scene still in his head and it was a little jarring. But such was their line of work, he supposed.

“Well for one, your pants are covered in blood,” Lois pointed out and Conner looked down to see that she was right. He’d forgotten about that. He’d have to get the stains out. “And I heard you take off in a hurry. That means an emergency and they rarely end well. So I figured the chances of you needing something to calm you down after whatever you were bound to see were pretty high.”

Conner smiled weakly at her, grateful for her foresight but also feeling a little bad for keeping her up. Though it seemed like she was well accustomed to it. He took a sip and let the hot liquid run down his throat, warming him up from the inside—though more figuratively than literally. He wasn’t a big fan of milk at all, but it wasn’t so bad and moreover the gesture was just too kind to reject.

“Thanks Lois,” he said in a voice too quiet and somber to really be his. It wasn’t like this was his first disastrous crime scene. In fact, he’d probably seen much worse and those were filled with people he loved. But even thinking about that didn’t make it better this time. He met Lois’ caring eyes but looked away, a little bit ashamed and a little bit disappointed in himself.

“If Clark were here, he’d tell you it wasn’t your fault, Conner,” Lois said after a moment.

“Yeah but if Clark were here, a man could have been saved tonight and whatever psychopath that attacked him and his wife wouldn’t have gotten away,” Conner retorted with a sigh. He took another sip when Lois didn’t say anything else.

“Even he can’t save everyone, and he knows that. Even if he were here, the result probably would have been the same,” Lois tried to explain.

“Maybe.” Conner appreciated the fact that Lois was trying to make him feel better. The look on her face was that of a woman who often consoled her husband went things went bad.

“Look, dozens of crimes happen every hour in this city. You’d literally have to be everywhere at once to stop all of them. You can’t win every single battle. You can’t save everyone,” she repeated. “But that fact that you and Clark and the all the other heroes go out every night means that you’re saving a lot of people. Focus on those, Conner. Focus on all the people you’ve saved and kept out of harm’s way. And for the people you couldn’t, you focus on bringing whoever hurt them to justice.”

Conner smiled a little at that. It sounded a lot like what Tim would tell him and maybe that’s why he and Lois got along so well. But Lois was right, and even if she hadn’t said it, Conner already knew that’s what he had to do. He’d get to the bottom of this mystery of his and he’d bring the creep behind it down. He would protect Metropolis.