Note: Sequel to The Scattering of Tall Trees. Themes derived from the eleven virtues of the Kryptonian flag as outlined by the linguist of kyrptonian[dot]info.
Who Shall Say
The evolution of a relationship.
When he wants to, Superboy can work hard, really hard. And he does want to—wants to so badly to prove to Superman that he's worth the time—that it hurts. Clark can see that. Is surprised by that, is slightly ashamed by that. Not for Superboy's part, but for himself.
So he obliges. He gives Superboy drills upon drills even though he's never been good at that kind of thing. (There's a reason he wanted Batman to take care of this.) They both get frustrated—Superboy almost every day, Clark a few times—and Clark has to model how to reign it in, how to control muscles earth isn't meant to handle. That's hard, because Superboy is a mess: emotionally immature, neglected, desperate, hurt. It proves exhausting and pushes Clark to his very limits.
It's the first time since Clark was a teenager himself that he's felt this close to that spinning chasm of no control, like the first time his eyes ignited or the first time he'd been exposed to Kryptonite. He remembers feeling that way only a few times, but he can't believe he's forgotten, especially when it seems to be part of Superboy's quotidian.
And somewhere deep inside, Clark can't believe he's been letting Superboy deal with that on his own.
Watching Superboy—Connor—with M'gann is amazing. She tempers him, calms him, loves him. When they're together, Superboy can be soft, tender even.
Clark's starting to understand why she was so upset when Superboy took that Kryptonite bullet.
Sometimes he wonders if he should say something to J'onn, but really, J'onn can read minds. Besides that, M'gann has never seemed particularly secretive, so J'onn probably already knows. In fact, Clark's sure J'onn most certainly knows more about the whole thing than he does.
He's surprised to realize that that thought bothers him, but he pushes those feelings away. After all, it's no one's fault but his own that things are the way they way there are. (Well, maybe Cadmus can take some of the blame, but still.)
When Clark finally gathers the courage to comment on M'gann, he's even more surprised to see the blush that rises on the boy's cheeks in spite of the defiant gleam in his eye.
Somehow Jor-El brings Superboy up, and Clark doesn't even bother to wonder how he found out. Clark's long since given up trying to understand the source of his birth father's omniscience. (If he had to hazard a guess about the Superboy intel, he'd say it's all on Batman, because only the Batman would appeal to the Fortress of Solitude.)
Jor-El insists on lecturing him about how things began, how it's taken so long for Clark to come around to the idea of Superboy. It makes Clark angry, this meddlesome presence in his life who isn't even real, and he argues back.
"Kal-El, be reasonable," Jor-El says in what Clark expects is meant to be a pleading tone.
Clark growls and prepares to rejoin, but he is cut off by the wave of a non-existent hand.
"You know your physiology is not compatible with a human's," Jor-El insists. "You will never have your own son."
Clark glares at him. Just like Jor-El to get down right to the crux of it, isn't it?
"I'm training the kid. What more do you want from me!"
There is a long pause.
"Do you know what I'd give to be here with you, my son? To be more than memories and artificial intelligence?"
Clark's anger simmers and banks, dying to embers.
"He's your chance," Jor-El states softly, wistfully.
It's getting harder and harder for Clark to not think of Jor-El as an actual person and easier and easier to feel guilty about all he's done. Or hasn't done, as the case may be.
Clark sometimes wonders what it would have been like if Superboy had been more of a child when they'd met, if the odd sensation of realizing someone had cloned him might have been overshadowed by the powerful instincts children always seem to invoke. Would he have been less selfish? Less careless? After all, there's got to be a reason offspring come as helpless infants rather than sullen teenagers.
In his head Clark can picture the gentle lectures his mother would give him if only she knew. She'd remind him about how she and his father had found a little boy strangely alone in a smoking field, how they never looked back or questioned or regretted, even when his abilities began manifesting. How hard it must have been for them to raise him, Clark is starting to learn.
His mother's potential thoughts are nothing, however, compared to what he imagines Lois would say. She, he thinks, would be more akin to Batman, except less subtle. She wouldn't even try to hide her opinion on the matter, and he can't imagine her even considering letting him make up his own mind about it. No, she'd push and push and push until she thought Clark went about it her way, and after that she'd remind him, vindictively at first and then smugly later, that he was a complete heel.
And he can only imagine that she'd have loved Superboy from the start, in that loud, obnoxious way of hers, despite the shock and the questionable origins and the potential threat.
The training is definitely paying off, that much is obvious. Lex looks like he's starting to see that, too, as his latest plot is being thwarted by not one but two Supers.
They've learned each other's strengths and limitations, Clark realizes. Superboy knows how hard Clark will throw and anticipates it. Clark knows exactly how long Superboy will stay airborne before he begins to drop. Superboy's uninhibited in the face of Lex Luthor (he doesn't have all of Clark's grievances with the man), and Clark knows where Lex will be weak.
Later he'll be a little taken aback when he realizes he used Superboy's detachment as an anchor in the always-emotionally charged battle with Lex.
But for now it's just exhilarating and slightly liberating to fight alongside someone who's got such a fundamental understanding of his own abilities—for twenty minutes the communication between them is almost effortless.
The Flashes arrive just in time for clean up, catching only the last blows. Kid Flash zooms to Superboy's side.
"Dude," Clark hears him say, "that was sick." Superboy looks at Kid Flash in confusion while the young speedster laughs and slaps him on the back.
Barry doesn't say anything at all, but his grin is wide.
They made the trip in silence: Superboy because he was nervously curious and Clark because he didn't know what to say.
So it seems sooner rather than later that they are standing in a frozen wasteland.
"What is this place?" Superboy asks quietly.
"A sanctuary," Clark responds vaguely. It's not much of an explanation, he knows. But he still seems to be always at a loss for what to say to the boy if they aren't talking about training or fighting or mutual acquaintances.
It doesn't help that Superboy doesn't say much either.
They walk down a long corridor that's a menagerie of sorts—Clark's collection of extra-terrestrial specimens, all the last of their kind with no planets of their own.
When they reach the end of the hallway, Clark turns around and faces Superboy.
"There's someone who wants to meet you."
Superboy's eyes widen in surprise, but he doesn't say anything.
Clark turns around and leads him into an open room, all of it icy and white. A lone figure stands in the middle. Clark hears the soft murmur of Kryptonian, the inflections speaking of awe and pride and hope. He's surprised that Jor-El is so emotive about this before it dawns on him: for Jor-El, Superboy is the grandson he never thought he'd have, a promise that Krypton will live just a little longer, another person to carry on the tradition, ideals, and culture of a society so dear to Jor-El and to inherit the legacy he is so eager to bestow.
Clark isn't surprised when Jor-El insists the kid begin to learn the Kryptonian alphabet right away.
Superboy looks bewildered by the cake and the balloons and the piñata, but Kid Flash and M'gann are grinning ear to ear.
"Surprised?" Robin asks him, mischievous, quirked eyebrow firmly in place.
Superboy looks like he doesn't know what to say, which Clark guesses is more than likely. Members of the Justice League— including all the mentors, Black Canary, and Captain Marvel—hang back and let the kids warm Superboy up to the idea. Clark does not feel the least bit guilty for the super hearing that allows him to hear the whole conversation.
"Wally wanted to give you a birthday party," M'gann explains, "since you've never had one."
"And we agreed to help," Aqualad confirms, a hand on Superboy's shoulder.
"It's not my birthday," Superboy points out needlessly.
"Of course not," Artemis smirks. "But once Wally gets a crazy idea… Well, you know how he is." She leans towards Superboy conspiratorially. "Best to just go along with it."
"M'gann made cake!" Kid Flash announces, oblivious to Artemis' subtle insults.
"Uh… thanks?" Superboy is still clearly confused.
Clark watches as he allows his teammates to lead him around the room, initiating the festivities.
It's a short party. The piñata shatters with one of Superboy's blows—who's surprised?—and after opening a few gifts from his teammates, Kid Flash leads the group in a horrible rendition of the birthday song after which M'gann cuts the lopsided cake and hands out slices. There's nothing left to do but mingle, really.
Clark watches for a moment when Superboy is alone. He stifles a smile at the perplexed set of Superboy's brow. Clark gives him a slip of paper.
Superboy glances at it.
"Kon-El?" he reads the Kryptonian haltingly.
"Jor-El wanted you to have a name from Krypton," he states. Superboy's head snaps up in surprise and just as quickly falls back to the symbols on the paper.
"Happy birthday," Clark adds.
Clark watches the de-briefing of Young Justice with amusement and something reminiscent of pride. The young heroes have done remarkably well with their latest stealth mission, though he can see that's not coming across clearly except to Robin. (Reading between's Batman's lines of "You should have done this" and "You were weak here and sloppy there" comes after long exposure only.) The kids perk up, though, when Batman ends the lecture on a positive note, something along the lines of "Your results are acceptable," and nods to dismiss them.
Kid Flash immediately zooms off, M'gann in tow, with the word cookies on his lips and M'gann's laughter lingering where they stood. Artemis follows them slowly, mumbling under her breath and frowning until Aqualad catches up to her. Robin makes a beeline to Batman who is busy entering data in the cave's computer and answering Robin's questions gruffly. Superboy's eyes follow Artemis and Aqualad, but he lingers, so Clark approaches him.
Superboy hadn't once lost his temper on this mission, even when M'gann had been knocked out. He's made huge strides in the last few months and Clark is honest to goodness proud of that. He just doesn't know how to say it.
Superboy glances sideways at Clark and then lifts his chin in Batman's directions.
"He always like that?"
"In Bat-speak that little speech translates to 'job well-done.'"
Clark shares a few anecdotes denoting the Batman's famous stoicism, including one in which he, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern were magicked into children. Then Superboy hesitantly asks a question about Kryptonian honorifics (Jor-El's really been into the grammar lately), and before Clark knows it, they've been talking for a solid fifteen minutes with little to no awkwardness when M'gann interrupts them.
"Connor, the gang's all set up to—" She stops abruptly when she notices Clark is still there. "Hello, Megan!" she scolds herself. She looks to Clark, and he can read the apology on her face before she utters a word.
"It's alright," he begins. And as if on cue, his communicator beeps a reminder of monitor duty at the Watchtower. He waves farewell as Superboy says see you later and makes for the zeta tubes.
That wasn't so hard, he has to concede.
All the mentors are in the Watchtower for their weekly meeting with the rest of the Justice League when the tower's main computer abruptly comes to life.
"Robin to tower," Robin's voice crackles through the speakers. Static breaks up the reception, sounding like muffled explosions.
"—repeat, code red priority omega—" Static interrupts Robin again, followed by a thud, faint yelling, and the unmistakable ting, ting, ting of gunfire. The noises end as suddenly as they began, Robin's communicator apparently dead. From the corner of his eye, Clark sees J'onn slump in his seat slightly, a hand to his temple.
"M'gann," he whispers.
Aquaman, Flash, and Green Arrow all try their communicators as Batman stands, signaling the end of the meeting, and the rest of the mentors follow him.
They crowd into the beta tubes, locking onto Robin's last position, and end up in Happy Harbor. They find the children sprawled in the football field of the public high school M'gann and Superboy attend. M'gann is unconscious. Kid Flash is supporting a heavily bleeding Artemis, almost unconscious herself. Aqualad is soaked and breathing heavy. Robin is dusty and coughing and running towards Batman.
"They just swooped in and took him," Kid Flash says. He's clearly shell-shocked. Green Arrow gently removes Artemis from his hold. Kid Flash resists at first, but Flash takes his arm and maneuvers him away. J'onn is having no luck reviving M'gann.
"Took who?" Flash demands.
Isn't it obvious? Clark wants to say, but he can't. There's a strange tightening in his chest that doesn't let him speak.
"Heard them… calling him… 'the weapon'," Robin says between rattling breaths. He's bent over, palms on his knees, his face to the ground.
"Thought Cadmus… was dismantled?" he looks up and Batman glowers.
Cadmus. Somewhere in the back of his mind Clark thinks they should have expected this. He should have been waiting for this. Those people created Superboy for some reason, and there's little doubt it wasn't good. Of course they'd try to take him back, make him do whatever they made him for. They've just come to collect what they thinks is theirs, Clark's rational mind whispers. However, its voice is drowned out by a hazy red that washes out Clark's vision and pounds in his ears. He speeds off so quickly that not even Flash can keep up with him.
The next few hours are a blur, a kaleidoscope of red.
When Clark comes to, he's holding a terrified man by the shirt collar, a fist pulled back and waiting to be sprung. Batman is staring at him with undisguised surprise and… horror? A memory surfaces in Clark's mind of landing in one of Gotham's dank warehouses, of a ten-year old Robin poisoned by laughing gas, laughing manically and crying, of Batman standing over a bloodied Joker lying on the ground.
Superman drops the man without a second thought, as though he were made of Kryptonite. Slowly he registers the smell of smoke and dust from rubble. He gazes around and finds himself in a half ruined building, men in uniforms scattered around, draped over broken concrete like some kind of terrible décor. There's also a collection of oddly shaped grey creatures Clark doesn't recognize. In the center of the room he sees Superboy in some kind of pod, his eyes closed.
"He's okay," Batman slowly reassures him, still watching him warily. For the first time Clark notices Batman's hand clenched around a lead box.
Clark forces his muscles to relax and nods at Batman. Bruce holds his gaze for a moment then turns away, the lead box replaced in his belt as he strides over to Superboy's pod.
Moments later pneumonic hisses indicate Batman's opened the pod, and Clark remembers he can breathe.
A few weeks after the kidnapping incident with Cadmus and things have calmed down considerably.
As much as one can expect them to, Clark amends to himself. Superboy is still a little more irritable than he was before, but Clark's pretty sure it's to mask his fear.
Because the kid really is afraid of Cadmus, and though Clark won't admit it, he is, too. It's not your average criminal who can clone a super-powered alien who's nearly invincible, after all.
So Clark makes sure to give Superboy his space while also making sure he's available. Today they're supposed to be working on flying, testing the limits of Superboy's abilities, but the boy's particularly antsy today.
"Something… wrong?" Clark ventures.
Superboy hurriedly shakes his head, and Clark knows it's just because the kid doesn't want to look weak in front of him.
Praying he's doing the right thing, Clark doesn't say anything, just waits.
"It's school," Superboy blurts after a long pause.
Clark waits some more. Superboy takes a deep breath.
"The history teacher told me he's looking forward to it. I didn't know how to tell him…" Superboy trails off.
Clark keeps waiting.
"Parent-teacher conferences," Superboy finally admits. He looks sideways at Clark before his gaze snaps away.
"I'll go," Clark offers.
Superboy stares at him, eyes wide.
"You… you will?" He's incredulous.
Because this is not a superhero thing. It has nothing to do with the Justice League or Young Justice or training. It's about Clark and Connor, normal people with normal lives and normal problems—except Connor doesn't have a normal life. He has no family outside of the superhero circuit, no experiences or memories or connections. He was made to be a weapon and that's all he's ever been, aside from a few stolen moments with his team.
And it's about time he accepted that, Clark admits to himself. It's about time he take real initiative to give the boy some semblance of a normal life. Connor's proved himself ten times over, hasn't he? Now it's Clark's turn.