Disclaimer: I do not own Young Justice.
Author's note: Thanks so much for your reviews—I was quite surprised that some of you liked it because it's rare to find fans that feel the same way as I do about Superboy and Miss Martian. You guys make this story possible. Anyways, hope you enjoy reading the chapter. Feel free to bombard me with suggestions or opinions.
He never had memories he could call his own. They were borrowed and taught, telepathically communicated during his sleep, during his rapid growth in a metallic cocoon. He was like a Petri dish, something to be studied, experimented on, and manipulated. Most of what he had learned was to prepare him for what they deemed important, mainly to equip him with knowledge of the natural order of the world and nothing else. He knew what the sun was but he never basked in its warm rays; never understood how it could burn or tan the skin; never saw it as a universal wonder. All the information that was fed into his head was basic knowledge, like telling a toddler that broccoli was good but never expounding on why it was good for the body. The trees, flowers, the sky, the moon, Mars—they merely existed for mankind's benefit—but how they grew or came about was a mystery to Conner. He asked them, the ones who consistently observed his every movement and wore stark-white lab coats, but they just smiled stiffly and told him that the world materialized out of a big explosion called the Big Bang Theory, or that humans evolved from monkeys. Some of the theories didn't make sense to Conner. How could an explosion create the natural order of things when the definition of explosion was destruction? And how could humankind come from monkeys when monkeys were a different species and they no longer gave birth to human babies?
Conner had a million of questions, even while he carried out their orders, even when he was training day and night to keep his body fit and alert. Then one day he met Superman. He could never forget that fateful day. He had been living in Cadmus' underground facility for a few weeks, and he was in the training room dodging bullets when the alarm went off. Doctor Hamilton told him to go to his pod, but Conner asked him if they were being attacked. When the doctor confirmed Conner's question, Conner wanted to be included in the action but Doctor Hamilton adamantly said no. He kept telling Conner he was far from ready and that he was not to be involved.
Feeling dejected, Conner made his way back to his personal quarters. Suddenly, he heard bullets just down a hallway from where he stood. He looked to his left, which led to his room, while the source of the cacophony echoed through the right passageway. Conner flew down the east wing, expecting to be confronted with a cyborg. Instead, he was face to face with a man who resembled him except that he looked older and more muscular. The other man, dressed in blue with a capital 'S' on his chest and red cape, returned Conner's surprised gaze.
They were soon interrupted when the Cadmus agents shot at the man but to no avail. He was indestructible, just like Conner. Conner remained immovable the entire time, watching him thrash and hit and deflect all attacks. It was like watching ants getting squashed by a frustrated pinky. When the fight was over and the agents were groaning in pain, the man hesitantly approached Conner, asking who he was. Conner explained as best as he could, and the man had taken Conner under his wing since then, christening Conner as his nephew. He was the one who named him Conner—Conner Kent.
Back in the Martian castle, after breakfast was over, M'gann had been called to her room to change. J'onn then gave Clark and Conner a tour around the castle, which was massive in size and grandeur. While J'onn and Clark were engaged in conversation, Conner's thoughts quickly strayed to M'gann. He tried to focus on the adobe walls, the portraits of the elite J'onzz bloodline, the plush carpeting, the roomy balconies, the smell of roasted camel wafting from the kitchen. But he couldn't stop thinking of M'gann. He wanted so badly to stop, especially after the breakup with his girlfriend. His now ex-girlfriend.
Swimming in self-loathe and depression, Conner nearly bumped into Clark. They had reached the throne room, and after his gaze fell past the Swarovski chandelier and rows of Martian guards donned in commanding suits, Conner could hardly tear his eyes away from her. The way her hands were entwined, how her face was lightly flushed, how she stood demurely beside her father's big golden chair, how the lower hem of her dress swayed in the light breeze. He could feel his heart skip a beat, and he nervously glanced in Clark's direction, waiting for his mentor's cue. He followed Clark like a lost puppy to the throne. Clark bowed in front of the king, and Conner did the same, but in a rush of the nervous jitters that clogged common sense and self-esteem, Conner committed the most atrocious thing in Martian royal history.
"Pleased to meet you. My name's Conner," Conner said, offering his hand to the Martian King. The king didn't take Conner's hand. Instead, he nodded in the boy's direction, uncertain how to respond to such informal manner. Feeling awkward, Conner took a step back and saw Superman kneeling and he quickly did the same, embarrassed. Clark, however, gave him a small smile, reassuring him not to worry. Conner quickly muttered an apology and knelt next to Clark, their heads bent down in reverence. Conner lifted his head slightly, stealing a glance at M'gann, who was stifling a giggle, wearing a flowing white dress.
Conner felt like melting in her gaze.
The king glanced at M'gann standing next to him, noticing that she was clearly smitten with the young earthling. He had to admit that his youngest daughter was the most attractive among her sisters, drawing princes from the White Martian kingdom to court her. Unfortunately for him, M'gann declined all their advances. He was slightly disappointed in her frivolous nature, because the male Martians were willing to bypass her strange obsession for Earth to marry her. He cleared her throat to catch her attention. M'gann looked at her father apologetically and bowed her head, pretending to avoid Conner's presence. Her father was certain that he wouldn't like the dark-haired boy. He was too blunt, too fleshy, too naïve for his daughter. He was, in Earth's lingo, way out of his daughter's league.
"You may rise, Earthlings," King J'ames addressed their visitors.
Clark and Conner complied, with Clark making a quick bob of the head before standing in the sidelines with the other guests. The party's itinerary was much different from Earth's olden days of monarchy and lavish balls. The guests came during and after breakfast, and the entire day's festivity was about socializing and claiming the most attention of the debutante. And eating exceedingly exotic foods.
"The first dance!" the king exclaimed in a resonantly deep voice.
A strapping Martian boy came forward, approached M'gann, and held out his hand. M'gann only stared, hesitant of her next move. She looked at him and tried to pull the corners of her mouth into a smile. She knew him quite well—assistant general's son J'ared J'ackson. His hair was auburn and cropped short, and his face was serious most of the time—his mouth in a never-ending frown. M'gann could never remember the last time he smiled. He always responded with a stern reply and one-liners, as if engaging in a conversation with her was a chore and duty. She stared into his eyes for a while, and it was like looking into a bottomless pit. Alright, maybe that was too much of an exaggeration—he was an obedient young man after all. But the way he looked at another person gave M'gann the chills. His face was expressionless and cold, like he was just an empty shell that breathed.
She sighed and took his hand, bequeathing to him her first dance. They swayed and twirled to slow music, following the motions of elegant formalities and royal expectations.
"How are you today, Princess?" J'ared asked, his voice sounding like gravel. He didn't dare look at her, and M'gann doubted her father's word when he mentioned that J'ared wanted her hand in marriage. How could he want her as a wife when he couldn't look at her? It wasn't like she resembled Medusa.
"It is fine. I am thrilled that Uncle came home just on time. I expected him to arrive after the meteor shower," M'gann said, her face lightening up for the first time.
"Yes. It is a shame that he brought those two earthlings, however. This is a grand event, and commoners aren't even allowed to be near your presence. What more to be within the castle walls. And these humans just barge in as if they are guests. They are hardly guests," he repeated, his face showing a hint of disgust.
M'gann nearly tripped over her own foot when she heard his comment. She had to force herself not to stop and walk away from the dance floor. She bit her lip and tasted blood. Closing her eyes momentarily, she imagined herself to be wrapped in Conner's arms—strong and toned—his blue eyes and chiseled jaw gazing at her only.
"M'gann?" J'ared asked. His was slowing to a stop.
The next Martian, Prince R'ichard, was next in line for the second dance. Great. Fifteen more dances to go before she could rest her blistered feet. As she let White Mars' Prince R'ichard sweep her off her feet, M'gann craned her neck for a glimpse of Conner's brooding face. When she finally saw his pouty lips, his rigid stance beside Superman, she almost waved her hand to say hello. She could feel a blush coloring her cheeks. He was so handsome and manly, she felt like skipping down the yellow brick road. The feeling was new and strange yet exhilarating. Before she knew it, she was giggling to herself. As she chuckled to the beat, her father and sisters misinterpreted M'gann's giddy laugh as a sign of revelational affection. They started thinking that M'gann finally chose her Martian prince. The king nodded in the Prince's direction, beaming with pride and relief.
Conner was frowning at the spectacle. Who was he kidding? She was a Martian and he was human. There was no chance she'd be interested in him. And to think that he nearly fell for her. Even his ex-girlfriend wasn't this cruel.
He slipped through the crowd to escape, ignoring jabs from haughty aristocrats. Some pushed him, glared at him, smacked his face with their fans, feigning that he was nothing more than a pest. He wanted so badly to hit them right back but that would only earn him more disrespect, and Superman and J'onn didn't need more trouble from him. The League had covered for his careless ways so many times, especially Superman, that Conner was worried Superman would disown him if he ruined the Treaty between Earth and Mars.
After plowing through frilly dresses and starched tuxedos—away from the heady brew of perfumed sweat—he made his way to the buffet table, alone and gasping for air. He could feel the pancakes rising to his throat at the sight of the foods that occupied the table. Fried salamander, roasted camel, cactus salad, stewed pig's head, some brown soup with a consistency of slime, pudding that resembled snot, and chocolate cake. Conner stared at the cake and remembered that this was what Clark had brought from earth. He vaguely remembered J'onn mentioning that M'gann's favorite food was chocolate cake. Still, Conner could care less. She was prancing around with Prince R'ichard, an infectious smile plastered on her face, her freckles dancing along her cheeks, her blush like the warm sun. It was not like she truly cared for him.
He wasn't even human. He was partly human, partly alien; but his fetal development was purely artificial, an abomination, much like Dolly the sheep. There was no way M'gann could fall for him, more so love him for what he was. Even his ex-girlfriend felt uneasy when she found out the truth.
Donna Troy. He had thought he found his soul mate in her. Her hair was as dark as his, her strength equaled his capacity though he had less self-control, her beauty was unsurpassable, and her earrings adorned her face like a Christmas tree. But then she found out he was like Dolly the sheep and that turned her off. Soon she started taking interest in Red Arrow, and she left him like he didn't matter, like a failed experiment, like an old, ugly ragdoll.
Conner couldn't look at women in the eye ever since. Even when Artemis tried to make a move on him, he ran away.
Until now. Something about M'gann sparked an old candle within him. But he quickly blew the candle, extinguishing it, thinking that love was a lie.
Conner sighed and walked out of the ballroom, standing in the veranda. At least the place was calming and beautiful. The air was scented with blossoming roses—another of M'gann's favorites—and the water fountain trickled with sweet water. Conner went to it and took a sip. It was delicious, like naturally flavored water. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, pushing Donna's image out of his mind. But within the depth of darkness and meditation, the smiling face of M'gann shone through, prompting him to open his eyes.
"Penny for your thoughts?" Clark asked, appearing beside his protégé.
Conner shrugged his shoulders. "This was a stupid idea. I shouldn't have come here."
"You sure? Seems like you and M'gann got along pretty well," Clark chimed in. He watched Conner's face and knew that his nephew was hurt from the breakup. It was only natural for teenage hormones to draw young folks together, even though it was obviously just infatuation. He had to admit that Conner was a handsomer, younger version of himself and Conner quickly drew stares from the opposite sex. Donna and Artemis were solid proof after all. Even though Clark had inkling that Conner and Donna's relationship was fast and superficial, he could tell that Conner did care for the black-haired beauty. And when he found out that Donna ended the relationship, he felt sad and disheartened for Conner.
Conner was unlike other people his own age. His growth occurred in the lab, and he had no father figure to turn to. He yearned for human connection because the stone-faced scientists didn't give a damn about him. To them, he was just an experiment, their indestructible lab rat. As soon as Conner attracted Donna's attention, as soon as felt the warm touch that spilled through her fingers, Conner reacted like any teenage boy, wanting more. But unlike other boys, Conner wasn't merely looking for sex. He wanted an intimate relationship, and Clark encouraged that. He had coached Conner to slow down, giving him gentlemanly tips so as not to offend the fragile woman.
But Donna proved to be a heartless succubus, so unlike her older sister Diana. She dumped Conner like yesterday's meatloaf. For a fleeting moment, Clark wanted to strangle the little princess but he respected Diana so he didn't dare touch her. Instead, he tried to smile at her but Conner commented that when Donna was in the same room, Clark's face looked like he was having a seizure.
Conner refused to look at his mentor. "She's a pain. She smiles too much."
"She's looking for you," Clark said after a moment's silence.
Conner's ears perked up like a rabbit. "Isn't she dancing with her prince?"
"After she lost sight of you she's been hounding the crowd, searching high and low for someone. She nearly tripped during the third dance."
"Oh." Conner said, hiding the satisfaction that was written all over his face. But he remembered the look of joy when she was in the arms of Prince R'ichard. "But R'ichard…"
"Conner, her eyes were closed the entire time. If I had to guess, she was imagining you dancing with her. Trust me, I should know," Clark said, grinning.
"Oh. But Robin told me you've only dated two girls since you were my age. I would think you'd be known as Don Juan of the Justice League after having dated ten girls. Like Batman or Hal Jordan," Superboy said, his face slightly confused.
Damn you, Bruce. "Sure, but experience doesn't mean everything. You could learn how to be the best accountant during an internship and become a money-whoring CEO within the next three years, or you could work for the firm for ten years and still not get promoted. Life and love are the same way. It's a case-by-case basis. Just because someone dated two girls doesn't mean he lacks understanding in women," Superman said. He swore to himself that he wouldn't let this go; Bruce was going to pay for opening his wide trap. Someday. Somehow.
Superboy only nodded, slightly uplifted. He felt compelled to talk with M'gann, to hear her sweet laughter ringing in his ears, to see her blush every time he uttered her name. He was about to run inside when Superman's comlink lighted up. Earth was contacting him. Superboy immediately stood still and waited, listening to bits and pieces of how a hospital was taken hostage by Mr. Freeze. Superboy nearly cursed out loud, inwardly blasphemed the icy villain. Of all places he could have targeted, he chose the hospital—a place that was the most fragile and vulnerable. Superboy had no clue what attracted Mr. Freeze to that particular place but he felt enraged by it. Still, no matter how angry he became, there was no changing the fact that Mr. Freeze was endangering lives.
"Sorry, Superboy. We have to go now," Superman said, facing his protégé squarely.
Conner nodded. "I understand."
"I'll have to contact J'onn. You go ahead and start the spaceship," Superman ordered as he tuned in to the Martian Manhunter's frequency.
Without another moment's hesitation, Superboy sprinted into the ballroom, dodged gasps from mortified guests who thought that he was extremely rude, ran down the hallway and into the landing dock. He climbed into the League's spaceship and started the system. The jet instantly lighted up and asked for Superboy's confirmation number. He was busy pushing buttons that he hardly noticed how quickly time flew. He didn't even hear Superman and J'onn walk in.
Surprised that J'onn was in their midst, Superboy said, "Shouldn't you be celebrating your niece's birthday?"
"She… she said it was fine. Duty calls." the Martian Manhunter shrugged his shoulders and took a seat behind Superboy.
Superboy stared at the Martian. "You usually man the controls."
"Yeah, well, I do not feel like it. Still tired from yesterday's voyage," J'onn reasoned.
Superboy immediately turned to Superman, who also eyed his colleague questioningly. "Are you alright, J'onn?"
Suddenly the Martian's face brightened, as if a revelation hit him. "I drank too much. That is it. Feeling a little tipsy here." he said, nodding his head vigorously like an excited little boy.
"Ok…" Superboy said, looking from the Martian to his mentor. "I guess you're flying this thing."
"No, you are. This will be good practice for you," Superman said, patting Conner's shoulder. "J'onn and I will gauge your flying skills. Besides, it's about time you learn a thing or two about flying a spaceship."
Suddenly, Superboy felt the crushing pressure of maneuvering a ship across the universe. He breathed in deeply and sighed. He didn't even say goodbye to M'gann, and he imagined her watching his speedy escape, his attention focused on other matters besides her. Conner instantly regretted not wishing her the best on her birthday, and he understood if she refused to talk with him from now on. Running off like that, he wasn't thinking straight, as if his ass was on fire.
With a rocky start they jolted in the air, but his steering soon eased up. They were gliding down the Milky Way when a thought persisted to muddle Superboy's mind: M'gann. He could never brush off the image of her in a white dress, her shy expression smiling at him, her laughter crooning in his ear. He didn't know if this was the last time he would see her. He wished he could ask Superman but he didn't want to pressure his mentor to go to Mars just for a crush. Besides, Conner didn't know how M'gann truly felt about him. For all he knew, she could be betrothed to wed Prince R'ichard or some other stuck-up pansy from the other side of Mars.
Time seemed to fly when his thoughts drifted to Mars, as they were approaching Mount Justice, the headquarters of his teenage team Young Justice. He was beginning his descent when Superman told Conner to change course and fly to Gotham where the attack was taking place. Conner was about to comply when J'onn suddenly exclaimed, making both men jump in their seats.
"Wait, can you… uh… land first? I do not feel well," J'onn said, groaning in his seat. Superboy then noticed that the Martian's pallor was a lighter shade of green. J'onn was certainly acting strange tonight. Superman stood up to help his friend but the Martian just shook his head.
"I am just not used to flying in this…" the Martian had his hand covering his mouth in an attempt to push down the bile that ratcheted up his throat.
"What are you talking about? You're a jet-setter," Superman said, getting more worried. Suddenly, he squinted his eyes and stared at the Martian with a hard look. "You're not J'onn."
Superboy landed the spaceship and immediately turned around. "Who—"
J'onn wearily looked up, a blush creeping up his face. And that was when Superboy knew who the imposter was.
"Princess M'gann," Superboy muttered under his breath. Both he and Superman stood motionless, uncertain of how to react. They were beyond shock.
Just then M'gann transformed into her original form, her arms hugging her queasy stomach.
"Hi, Superman. Conner. I hope you do not mind me tagging along. Uncle said you would not mind."
"He let you?" Superman asked.
She nodded, hugging herself tighter. "It was earlier than planned but it was his birthday gift to me. When he heard that you were about to leave, we made the switch. So here I am."
"And you're birthday gift is…" Superman let her fill in the blank.
"Why, to come to Earth of course! It's always been a dream of mine," M'gann asked, the motion sickness ebbing away. She suddenly felt excited, watching the super duo expectantly, a blush coloring her freckled cheeks.
"Alright. Well then, Conner," Superman turned to Superboy. "Escort Princess M'gann to her room. There's an empty one next to Artemis'."
Conner nodded, still speechless. He hauled the yellow rucksack that she pulled from its hiding place underneath the seat and led the way down the ramp. He watched her look of amazement as her eyes swept across the massive space that was Mount Justice's docking area. She gingerly tiptoed down the ramp, watching her steps, almost as if she were counting each one. When her foot finally touched the floor, she couldn't help but smile.
"Welcome to Earth, Princess," Superboy said, smiling with her.
To be continued…
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