I don't own Young Justice. This was originally written to fill a prompt on the Young Justice anon meme: Five times the team failed to appreciate Kaldur, and one time they didn't.
Six Parts of a Whole
"You said you would protect me," Dr. Roquette snaps at him as her fingers fly over the keyboard, putting the finishing touches on the virus that will take down the Fog.
He is too busy listening for the intruder to respond to her, but something inside him files that comment away angrily. Haven't they done just that so far? Isn't she alive right now because they've been there to ward off her attackers? And isn't it her own precious "science" that's put the entire technological world in danger, forcing his team to risk their lives to set things right in the first place? As he wheels to face the noise from the vent above, and the darts strike his chest one two three, the only thing that stings worse than the toxin seeping into his bloodstream is the knowledge that he's just justified the doctor's doubt.
Kaldur stands in the hallway outside the infirmary, where Wally and Artemis and Robin are having their various wounds patched up. Robin had taken the worst of it, though the computer system had reassured them even he would be back to normal in a few days' time. Superboy, being invulnerable, had sustained no injuries in the warehouse battle, and Miss Martian's alien physiology heals in its own way; as for himself, Kaldur's pride is wounded worse than anything else. Your head wasn't in the game, Batman had growled at him, and behind those words Kaldur had detected something beyond disappointment – it had been a threat, really, a warning that if he ever put Robin in that kind of unnecessary danger again, he would be the one facing the Dark Knight's wrath. Not the mud monster.
He should have done better. Kaldur knows this as he stands there, unsure if he should go in to face his teammates or not, but he can't help but think that the blame feels unfairly heavy on his shoulders. He trusts, respects, loves his teammates, but he is not one of them. He has no one here, really; Robin and Wally have always been fast friends, and Roy was always too much of a loner to forge a real bond with anyone, much less someone as…well, different as Kaldur. He is an outsider on the surface world, just like M'gann and Conner, but he can see already that those two have found each other. Even Artemis has clearly made a place for herself, in her banter with Wally, in her sisterhood with M'gann, in her fast bond with Robin over their lack of superpowers. Kaldur alone is alone.
He wonders if any of them notice this. He isn't sure anyone on the team even knows where he lives, or cares to find out, or has any inclination to know anything of his past in Atlantis. When the mission is over at the end of the day, he is practically invisible to them. And sometimes, he gets so damn lonely that it's just hard to live, much less lead.
Roy is livid, this much is clear. It's bad enough that he had to call in help, but then to have the credit stolen away by some creation of Lex Luthor's has put him in a foul mood, which means he isn't speaking to Kaldur as they walk back through the streets of Rhelasia.
"For peace?" Roy finally spits out, breaking the silence with his contempt. "Knowing Luthor, how long do you think peace is going to last? If you hadn't noticed, they united over a new piece of weaponry."
"If they had not united then, war would have been inevitable," Kaldur says, sounding calm as ever. "We have bought ourselves the time to take further preventative measures."
"You're a fool, Kaldur," Roy says, shaking his head. "A damn naïve fool. You may be good in a fight but you have no idea what we're up against. This isn't your little mermaid world. Things are different up here."
Kaldur bristles a little at that. He is tired of Roy's belligerence, of his juvenile tantrums, of his ingratitude, but he doesn't let any of this show because they may need the archer's help again and he does not wish to alienate him. But to be reminded once again that he is an outsider, and an ignorant one at that, it is a particularly unwelcome blow. He turns away.
Later, Roy makes a speech about respecting the team, and pledges his future support. But after everything that has already been said, the words all seem hollow.
On some level, he can't help but feel certain they're both going to die. The flame-cage is too perfectly matched against the both of them, and M'gann is fading in his arms, her power leeched by the overwhelming heat. He can feel his own body drying up by the second. His mind is hazy; he feels weak all over, but he forces himself to stay awake because she has already gone under and he has to watch over her, to keep her from slipping away entirely. He is their leader. He is responsible for them. If he is stronger, then it is his job to apply his strength to save them, and M'gann is the only thing he has any control over at the moment, so he cradles his unconscious teammate in his arms and focuses all his energy on keeping her comfortable, keeping her alive.
Artemis and Robin pull through in the end. When the flames dissipate and the cool air washes over them, he could thank any number of gods.
"Kaldur!" Conner shouts from below. "How's M'gann?"
For Superboy's sake, he checks her pulse, though he already knows she is still with them. But the question leaves something of a bad taste in his mouth. M'gann had not been the only one in that cage – his bone-dry lungs, his aching body, his faint vision can attest to that, yet it is her whom they fear for, whom they ask for, whom they care for…
It is a leader's job, he tells himself. To care for the others first, and to be cared about last.
The worst part is that they all know he can hear them. He's the one who ordered the mind link in the first place, and thank god M'gann complied, but to hear his friends' voices echoing around his own head in scathing tones, to hear their vicious thoughts about his leadership and even his character, and worst of all to know that they want him to hear it all, breaks down whatever is left of the man beneath the hero and the leader. But Kaldur's stronger half stands up to it and roars out the orders that will save Captain Marvel's life, because goddammit, that's what Batman would have done, and that's about all he can keep a grip on right now. But he isn't kidding when he says he'd be happy to step down. Not in the least.
The mission succeeds. Yet when he offers his position up once more, as they board the bioship to head home, he is silently praying that someone will take this burden from him. He cannot lead this team anymore, not when he is this far away from all of the others; he isn't even sure he wants to be a part of it anymore, or if it would be best for him to return to Atlantis and study there among his own kind again. But the team acknowledges him and affirms his role, and while some part of him feels vindicated that they see now the justness of his actions, the responsibility settles back down on his shoulders like the weight of a noose around his neck.
No one speaks to him on the ride back. He isn't sure if it's because they are embarrassed at their treatment of him, or because they just don't care.
It is gradual, but it happens.
In retrospect, it wouldn't have worked any other way. Had they decided to throw him a party, or written him a card, or made a big show of talking him up in front of the League, he would have felt just as alone as before. It all would have felt like a show to try and make him feel better, and the only thing worse than being alone is for everyone to know it. What Kaldur wants is not an apology; it is just to be one of them.
Miss Martian comes to him first. When he realizes that he has begun to think of her as this rather than as M'gann, he wonders if he has already drifted away too far. But she stops him as he is about to go home for the night after training, and even as her physical mouth supplies some excuse about needing his electric powers to repair a piece of equipment in the Cave, she reaches out to him with her mind and asks, will you stay a minute? I need to ask you about something.
He comes up to her room, and to his surprise, she nearly breaks down. She confesses that Earth is still utterly foreign to her, that as easy as it is for her to laugh off her little goof-ups, she is frustrated by her inability to blend in, and the constant worry that she is doing something that will remind everyone of her alien origins. Then she asks him how he does it, because it must have been the same for him when he first came to the surface, and no one has ever questioned him about that experience before.
He is surprised and grateful that she has come to him with this problem, and as they sit up there in her room, he tells her of how KF and Robin used to tease him for his accent and his overly formal speech, of how his strange appearance taught him to cover himself up constantly in public, even if the extra heat compromised his powers. And then he confesses that sometimes he still feels like an outsider, despite all these years on the surface, and her whole expression softens and she reaches out to touch his arm gently, and a little gesture like that shouldn't mean that much but it does to Kaldur. When he leaves at last that night, he feels lighter than he has in months.
A few days later, on a mission, they are regrouped to form a plan B after plan A goes spectacularly wrong, and for the first time anyone remembers, Robin confesses with bare honesty that he doesn't know what to do. And then he looks at Kaldur expectantly. There is no judgment in that look, only trust, and Kaldur can do so much more with trust than he can with superpowers.
Plan B goes flawlessly. Even Batman acknowledges this in debriefing, and those gruff words of praise ring in Kaldur's ears as he falls asleep that night, and many nights to come.
When Artemis and Wally call him to join them in a video game, he says yes before he thinks about it hard enough. Who in their right mind would want to sit between those two on a couch in a competitive situation? It's a damn good thing Kaldur has super strength because he needs it to keep his teammates from killing each other over accusations of cheating, or game glitches, or whatever else they feel like bickering about, but the game is clearly over when Artemis picks up one of the couch cushions and hurls it into Kaldur's face to get him to let go of KF. Then, it's all-out war, everyone for themselves as they chase, tackle and wrestle each other all over the room, trying not to destroy anything irreplaceable. No masks, no mission, no real danger, just three kids goofing off; Kaldur laughs so hard his abs hurt (and this is a damn impressive accomplishment).
The knock on his door surprises him – he doesn't have any friends on the surface besides his teammates (if you can count them), and as far as he knows, none of them know where he lives. But he opens it anyway, and it's Conner standing there on the doorstep, looking uncomfortable as ever.
"Superboy," he acknowledges when the clone just stares at him. "It's…ah…would you like to come in?"
Conner does, and looks curiously around the little apartment as he walks in. It's the first time any of them have been here and suddenly Kaldur is self-conscious, although it's not like Conner's housekeeping skills are particularly stellar either. They sit down; Kaldur offers his teammate something to drink or eat, but the request is declined, and for a moment the silence is a little awkward.
"Did you…have something you wanted to talk to me about?" he prompts at last. Perhaps Superboy has come here to discuss the mole issue once again, to express his anger at the danger to which Kaldur had exposed M'gann, but in a more civilized setting.
"Yes," Conner says, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. "I…you…haven't spent much time around the base lately."
Kaldur hesitates, then just shrugs and has to admit it's true. It's an odd thing to come hunt him down at home for, though.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I have been…distracted. If you would prefer it, I could try to be more present."
"That's not what I mean," Conner says quickly, shaking his head. "I just have something to say to you and you keep running away before I can say it. So…I came here."
Conner stares at the carpet, then up at Kaldur once more, opens his mouth like he's about to say something, shuts it, then sighs and clasps his hands together.
"I just wanted to say…thank you," he mumbles, eyes back on the floor.
It is not what Kaldur was expecting, not in the least.
"I…for what?" he asks.
Conner looks up at him and takes a deep breath.
"Seven months ago…I was someone else's creation. Someone else's property. I was…I was a weapon. You and Robin and KF, you changed all that when you broke into Cadmus, but it was you who convinced me to choose my own path, to become my own person. Perhaps a laboratory gave me life. But you…you were the one who gave me permission to live it. And as…difficult as I know I can be…I am grateful for that, Kaldur. And I want you to know, because I sense…I sense that you've been pulling away from us and I don't want that to happen."
Kaldur is speechless enough before Conner takes a deep breath and finishes, "Because I care about you. We all do."
They are perhaps the kindest words anyone has ever spoken to him on the surface, and from the most unlikely of people. He is moved past polite response. After a moment, all he can do is swallow the distinctly unleaderly lump in his throat and nod.
"And I care about all of you as well," he says softly. " I apologize if I have been…distant. Of late, I have been unsure if my company was at all desired in the Cave."
"It is," Conner says earnestly, nodding. "It is, Kaldur. We miss you."
"Then perhaps I'll pay a visit tonight."
Conner smiles warmly.
"I think we would all like that."