Muddling though Grey

Chapter Twenty: After the Dust settles

Disclaimer: Characters and premise are the property of DC, I'm just borrowing them for a little non-profit fun.

August 12, 2013

Clark hovered outside of Mount Justice and waited to be noticed. He knew it was Conner's week for monitor duty.

"What?" Conner asked over the intercom.

"Could we talk?" Clark asked.

After several minutes the door opened. Conner had recently undergone a growth-spurt, leaving him nearly as tall as Clark. His dark, close-cropped hair was still frosted and he still wore something that looked like jeans and a tee-shirt for a costume, but there was a sheen to the material suggesting something more exotic. Also there was the fact that, these days, Conner generally finished battles with his clothes intact, indicating that they weren't made of anything found in a department store. For the last few months the tee-shirt had been a very dark blue with a jagged pattern of lighter blues that gave the impression of cracks in ice.

Conner let the door slide shut behind him. He waited silently for whatever Clark had to say to him.

"I heard that you developed heat-vision," Clark said. "Do you need any help with that?"

"No." Conner stated. "Heatwave's got it covered."

"Conner, I wish you'd reconsider," Clark sighed. "Heat vision is the most dangerous of our powers if it's not controlled. And it's more than just setting things on fire."

Conner scowled, taking insult on Rory's behalf. "Heatwave's doing fine. We worked out 'on' and 'off'. I've promised everyone who matters that I won't use it in a fight until they're all satisfied with my level of control."

He paused for a moment then added. "I've been going by Jotunn* while in costume for several months now. I'd rather you use that. You never wanted me to know your civilian name, I'd rather you not use mine." Conner turned and headed back toward the base.

"Wait!" Clark called. Conner stopped but didn't turn around. "Do you still blame me for Mirror Master's death?" Clark asked.

"No." Conner admitted after a moment. "You couldn't have predicted the chain of events that got him killed. I don't even believe you apprehended them for the sole purpose of hurting me anymore. It wasn't that you ever hated me, you just don't really care about me at all." Conner smiled bitterly. "You're only here today because you feel obligated."

"I don't-" Clark began.

Conner rolled his eyes. "Kara can't talk enough about you. How welcome you make her feel. How you drive her crazy being over protective. I had to ask the others not to vote her off the team. They were worried it would hurt me, hearing about how you are around someone you actually see as family. I reminded them I have my own family now." He turned back and glared at Clark. "I don't need you anymore."

"Alright. I feel obligated," Clark said, his voice hardening. "I should feel obligated to teach you. I have experience with the powers you're developing. Powers that have the potential to pose a serious threat to the people around you. You should feel obligated to accept any help you can get."

"Rory's been looking forward to this for ages," Conner said. "Besides I told you we already sorted out 'on' and 'off'. If your use of Freeze-Breathe is anything to go by, there's nothing left that you could teach me anyway. Goodbye, Superman."

*Note: Jotunn is another name for the Frost Giants of Norse myth. It's not great but it's the best code name I could think of for Conner.

July 4, 2015

"Happy, Happy Conner-Day! Happy Conner-Day to you!" sang two chipmunk-like voices trailing after a pair of small blurs which left marker streaked walls in their wakes.

"Dawn! Don! You give me those markers right now!" a larger blur demanded. The larger blur over took one of the smaller ones and resolved into Wally with one of his three-year-old cousins tucked under his arm. "What would your mom say if you drew on her walls?" Wally scolded the little girl.

Dawn giggled as her brother launched a surprise attack. Don leapt on Wally's back allowing Dawn to squirm free and resume her rampage.

"Mom! If you're going to draw on the walls you really ought to use more colors," A blonde six year old informed Dawn with all seriousness.

"Owen! Fer pete's sake, stop calling Dawnie that!" Digger shouted turning beet red. "She's not your mother! We got the blood test and everything! You're some sort of cousins at most!"

Owen snickered and patted Dawn on the head. "Don't worry Mom, I still love you."

"You're weird," Dawn informed Owen smiling broadly. Then she darted behind Rory as Wally gained control of Don and lunged for her. "Missed me!"

Wally gave a pretty, dark haired young woman a pleading look. She held out her arms. "I'll keep hold of Thing One while you hunt down Thing Two," she offered.

"Thanks Linda." Wally took a moment to give his girlfriend a quick kiss before handing off his cousin into her keeping.

James let himself, Dick, Artemis and M'Gann in. "Thanks for the assist," Dick was saying. "We totally blew the kids in my gymnastics class away with that demonstration."

"Hey, you know I like flying," James replied.

"Just so long as you've got your boots on," Artemis added.

"I though you were both spectacular," M'Gann said, but she only had eyes for Dick.

Meanwhile Dawn dove under the table. Wally paused for a heartbeat to decide between around or under. Just as he started around, Evan casually pushed his chair into Wally's path. Dawn grinned triumphantly as she climbed into Len's lap and started making faces at her cousin, confident that he'd protect her from any retaliation. "It's my house you're drawing on," Len observed mildly.

"It's okay right?" Dawn asked with her best cute look.

"Your cousin knows how to paint," Len observed.

"Why me?" Wally demanded.

"Who's supposed to be keeping the twin terrors under control?" Len asked.

"So where's the birthday boy?" Artemis asked.

"On the phone with Kaldur," Evan said. "Diplomat Lad never gets a day off."

"At least he managed to call," M'Gann said as she absently used her telekinesis to block Dawn's spirit for the door.

"Thanks M'Gann," Wally said and he collected the little girl. "At least someone's on my side," he glared pointedly at several innocent looking Rogues.

"Kaldur says hi," Conner informed the others as he left his room while pocketing his cell phone. "And he'll try to make it next month when James and Wally get recognized for their patents at Wayne Enterprises."

"Sure, that's what he says," Artemis replied. "But you know in a another month there's just going to be some other dumb-shit cutting corners in an off-shore drilling operation or violating agreements around fishing practices or something that has Atlantis up in arms against 'surface dwellers'."

"I'm glad it's not me dealing with corporate criminals," Robin replied. "Give me someone I can punch any day. We should probably visit him instead. I can't remember the last time we saw Kaldur without it being a fate of the planet thing."

"Out of the way! Cake coming through!" Lisa exclaimed, holding a Cold Stone's box over her head.

Instantly three little speedsters were sitting at the table looking angelic. While Owen couldn't run with Don and Dawn, his short bursts were still enough to get him across a room on an equal time scale and even un-gimmicked boomerangs could take out a wall when thrown at super-speed.

"Gimme the candles! I know how to count, let me put 'em on!" Owen demanded. He waited impatiently while everyone else found their places around the table. Then, watching Conner with eyes alight with mischief and adoration Owen carefully counted "One... Two... Three... Four!" as he placed the candles. "Four candles! I had six last month, that's two more than four!" He stood up on his chair and stretched up to pat Conner on the head. "My little brother," he declared gleefully.

James elbowed Hartley. "Guess that makes you a cradle robber."

"But Officer, he didn't look like any four-year-old I've ever seen," Hartley laughed.

"You're no fun," James pouted. "Digger gets way more bent out of shape."

"I must have a better sense of humor," Hartley replied. He leaned over and kissed Conner. "Or maybe I'm just getting some."

"See how funny it is after a couple dozen castration threats," Digger muttered. "And she's not even his mom!"

"Icky! Kissing! Ugh!" Owen shouted. "Can't you guys just hide in the closet like James and Artie?"

For a moment there was dead silence. Artemis groaned and hid her face, James blanched and glared at Owen. "You promised that was our secret!"

"Oopsie?" Owen replied unrepentantly.

"Why didn't you tell us!" Wally exclaimed enthusiastically.

"And here they go," Artemis huffed.

"Right, how are we supposed to have a betting pool if you don't tell us these things?" Evan asked.

"Standard first bet: Ollie or Roy for the 'treat her right or else' speech?" Robin asked. "And bows or no bows involved?"

"I swear Roy only does it because he hates me," Artemis muttered.

"Bows, definitely bows," Wally said.

Conner looked thoughtful. "Artie's other boyfriends were normals. Tricks won't be so easy to crack."

"You're betting they team up?" Robin nodded. "Okay, we can add that."

"Just kill me now," James groaned. "Before they get the pleasure."

"Who'd've thought Ollie would be the crazy, over-protective mentor about dating, well Artemis dating anyway," Wally shook his head. "I mean Uncle Barry had his little hang-up about Dawn and Digger, but Ollie! Man-o-man, he freaks about every guy who looks twice at Artemis."

"The cake's melting," Rory observed. "Lets get those candles lit."

Iris, Joan and Lisa all glared darkly at Rory. "You so much as look at a flame thrower and I will drug you and mail you to the south pole in your birthday suit." Lisa declared. "I swear I will!"

"Not me," Rory grinned. "Con, you've been working on precision right? Let's put it to the test."

"If you want," Conner replied. His eyes changed from sapphire blue to smoldering red. Half the people in the room hit the floor. There was a sharp sizzling sound. "No faith," Conner shook his head with mock sadness as his friends emerged from their duck-and-cover to see the candles burning cheerfully and only half vaporized.

"Not bad kid." Rory judged. He kicked Wally lightly. "It's safe to get up now."

"Come on Rory, you are his teacher for that stuff," Wally pointed out. "And I know you CAN do practically anything with fire, but that doesn't mean you don't confuse birthday cake and with a bonfire two or three times a year."

Barry blurred in. "Daddy's late! Daddy's late!" Don and Dawn chimed as they swarmed their father.

"And in costume," Iris observed worriedly.

Barry gave his kids a quick hug then glanced around the room. "I'm just down from the Watchtower. There's something building out past Pluto. The Lanterns are doing recon. Expect a general assembly within the hour."

"Enough time for cake at least," Joan decided with the pragmatism that came from living life around super-hero crises for decades.

While the cake was cut and passed around members of the little gathering vanished and returned in costume.

"Like the cloak," Conner remarked, using said article to reel Piper in for a kiss. Then he spent a few moments using straightening it back out as an excuse to stay in contact. "Be careful okay?"

"You too," Piper replied. "You never get to stick with us for big things. I hate it when we can't watch your back."

Iris sat between the twins while Joan lifted Owen into her lap, keeping the little ones corralled as the more tech-oriented began prepping their gear.

"That's gonna be us when we're big," Owen told the twins.

There was a general start as everyone's comms went off simultaneously. "Looks like you called it Mrs. Garrick," Cold said. "Just enough time for the cake."

Batman strode over to the latest arrivals. "Extra-Universal invasion on course for the Sol system. A hive mind and a large army of foot soldiers to get past before we can hit the nerve center."

"How big an army?" Cold asked. "And what'd they want?"

"We'd be calling you in even if you hadn't reformed," Batman replied. "They're after organic matter, basically a space-going locust horde, planets in their wake are left stripped bare of all life. Mirror Master, look for a back door to the hive. Once you've got the Rogues in try to bring it's defenses down from within."

"Gotcha," Evan replied. "Gonna need a breadcrumb trail thought, not enough reflections in space."

"The recon team has orders to seed the intervening distance with mirrors. With Cold's ice bridges it should be enough for a path," Batman said. "Jotunn, join the heavy hitters. Frontal assault, keep them focused on you, batter down the doors for the rest of us if you can manage it. Superman has point for your team."

Conner's expression indicated how much he didn't love playing second string to Superman but he only nodded at his assignment.

"Miss Martian, go with your Uncle and the Lanterns. You'll form the first line of defense. We're making a stand at Saturn's orbit." Batman continued. "Nightwing, you and Batgirl are our best hackers. I need one of you with the Rogues and the other with the insertion team to follow in the heavy hitter's wake. Your first goal is to disable their defenses. Second get out any info you can. We'll have an analysis team at the Watchtower to make use of it."

"You guys keep an eye on Batgirl?" Nightwing asked the Rogues. "This'll be her first mission out of Gotham." He turned to Batman. "I hope you brought Robin. He's going to be a real joy to live with if Batgirl got to come and he didn't."

Batman disdain to respond. "Kid Flash, you're also with the insertion team. Artemis you'll join the reserves. I'll be dispatching further missions as we gather more data."

"I'll see you at the compliment," Trickster said as they broke to head for their various assignments.

"At the victory lap," Artemis agreed.

Across the room Conner spotted a blond head and dark head bent conspiratorially close together and headed in that direction. "Kara! Donna! Ready to go smash things?" he greeted the girls.

"You know it!" Kara exclaimed

"Always," Donna said. "By the way, we've been talking. Do you know any other younger heroes? I mean our age, not practically ancient like you and your friends."

Kara smiled. "Yeah, it's not that we don't like teaming up with you guys, but it's not really that different from working with our mentors. We were thinking if we had a few more people we could break off and have our own team."

Conner thought for a moment. "There's Batgirl and the new Robin in Gotham, Nightwing thinks they're ready for a longer leash. And Green Arrow has a son who's in the game."

"Sooo-" Kara began. "About Robin and the Arrow kid? Are they cute?"

Conner gently rapped her on the forehead. "Kara Zor-El, that is NOT the first thing you ask about a prospective teammate!"

"Yeah well, I'm sure anyone trained by Batman's good," Donna began. Then got side-tracked. "Isn't Captain Cold trying to recruit that new crook in Central, um Weather Wizard wasn't it? For the grey hats? I saw him on TV, I'd definitely team up with him."

"Donna thinks he's hot," Kara giggled.

"Save me from boy-crazy teenage girls," Conner groaned.

"Putting on airs, just because you've been twenty for all of fifteen minutes!" Kara huffed. "By the way, happy birthday cuz."

"Thanks," Conner replied, "and I was never a teenage girl, or boy-crazy for that matter."

The girls giggled. "Right, there was just your one and only," Donna said. "You guys are so cute."

"My little brother has been known to kick the shins of people who call him cute," Conner remarked.

"We're up," Superman said as he and Wonder Woman joined them. "We'll Zeta-beam to the platform on Calypso, rendezvous with the insertion team there and gear up." He turned to Kara, "This time I don't want you worrying about holding back. What we're fighting are the drones of a hive mind, as individuals they aren't sentient. The recon team reports they are highly dangerous. I don't want you taking chances." He turned to Conner and Donna. "You either."

"Rogue here," Conner stated. "I have strict orders against playing martyr."

Superman grimaced. "Lets go."

On Calypso the Javelin carrying the insertion team was waiting for them. As soon as they'd donned oxygen tanks and scuba regulators they leapt into the air, taking positions around the ship. As they cleared Neptune's orbit they got their first glimpse of the enemy: miles upon miles of glitter metallic creatures roughly twice the size of a typical fighter jet swarming like gnats around a massive dreadnought.

"Girls," Wonder Woman said, her voice slurred slightly from speaking around her breathing apparatus. "We're smashing right through. I want the two of you to flank Superman. Let him set the pace and break their formation. You're to keep them off his back. Jotunn and I will be protecting the ship. We'll also be watching to make sure you aren't in over your heads."

Conner heard Kara mutter, "Treating us like children." He smiled to himself, remembering when that had been his team's favorite refrain and how it differently it felt now that they were the ones with younger kids to worry about. He was glad Kara had never known what it felt like when no one older cared enough to worry.

In spite of the grumbling Supergirl and Wonder Girl fell into position. From the window of the ship, Conner caught sight of Robin and Kid Flash giving him a thumbs up, he waved to them.

Once the battle had been joined Conner quickly realized what the danger was: The drones were too tough to be taken down with a punch, or even a blast or two, and if they stopped moving shear numbers would crush them.

"These things are flying tanks!" Wonder Girl exclaimed.

"The LexCorp, military contract, super advanced, can't possibly imagine how it fell into the wrong hands, type-tanks," Supergirl agreed.

"Tanks are just armored cars with a bad attitude," Conner replied, quoting Captain Cold. "And if there's one thing a Rogue should never get stumped by..."

About five minutes later he announced, "Heat, chill, hit. About six inches to the left of center along the lower chest plate seam." Superman turned to watch. Conner had spit out his regulator. In quick succession he had a small patch on the enemy fighter glowing red hot, coated in frost then he drove his fist through the weakened patch of armor and deep into the drone's body. Conner took out two more drones before taking a quick breath from his regulator while trying to shake off some of the ichor coating his arm to the shoulder. Then he went back to destroying the drones with stoic efficiency.

Superman tried mimicking Conner's tactics with less impact. "Hotter hot, colder cold, tighter focus," Conner instructed. "They're bred for deep space, thermal shock isn't easy, but they're not ready for localized temp extremes."

"How?" Superman asked.

For several moments Conner didn't answer. Finally he sighed. "I practiced, with feedback. I don't know how to explain the mechanism."

"Jotunn, take point." Superman ordered. "We can't stall."

Conner nodded sharply. As the push forward stretched on his awareness funneled down to himself and the next obstacle. It was almost a surprise when he found himself at the hive's outer bay doors. Kara helped him force them open and the Javelin followed them in with Superman and Wonder Woman providing rear guard. After they were all in the two of them forced the doors together and Superman welded them shut.

Conner looked around the hanger dizzily then slumped against the Javelin's landing gear. "Might have over done it a little," he admitted as the others clustered around him.

"You did good," Superman told him.

"Supergirl, Wonder Girl," Wonder Woman said. "You two and Jotunn will be staying with the Javelin. Take care of him."

After everything was over Clark headed for the Watchtower infirmary. He didn't go any further than the entryway where he watched Conner's friends and family clustered around him, finishing their birthday celebration, alternately praising him for his efforts and scolding him for getting hurt.

"You once said you'd be happy to be proven wrong about him," Batman remarked coming up behind him.

"I did, I am," Clark replied. "I'm trying not to make the same mistakes with Kara. If I completely alienate her, at the least it'll be for something new. The Rogues weren't as bad for him as I thought either."

"They were willing to change to be the people their children needed them to be."