Part 1: Snowy Days
((Author's note: trying something slightly different for the holidays, this is an attempt at a more light hearted romantic comedy. But as always, I own nothing and hope you enjoy reading.))
Trouble first arrived at the cave in the form of a red and white trimmed Santa hat, held in the hands of a very expectant and excited looking Martian. Who was insistent on holding it out for him to look at. And judging by that light in her eyes, was waiting for him to take the hat as well.
"…No." Was all Conner could say to it. He might have enjoyed red as a color, but that was well beyond his limits. Not that M'gann seemed to understand that, judging by her astonished blink.
"What? Why not?" And him simply looking at the ridiculously fluffy white trim or gaudy red color wasn't driving the point home, either. The look she was giving him was like he just declared that breathing was overrated and not something he was doing anymore.
"I've got a threshold on things that I'm willing to wear for special occasions…And that goes well beyond the mummy costume from Halloween."
"And I can't do anything to convince you?" She frowned at him, before her worried look shifted to a bright one in a way that made him REALLY uneasy. And prompted him to speak again.
"M'gann. Before you decide that you need to teach me the true meaning of Christmas and the holiday spirit, keep in mind that Cadmus already uploaded plenty of holiday archive information into my head." Probably so their weapon wouldn't go on a rampage once it saw a bunch of red lights and lit up 'S' letters in the words 'Seasons Greetings.' "Chances are I already know plenty. And I'm NOT grumpy about this either, so don't go thinking that…" From the way M'gann had to open and close her mouth a few times before any words came out, he guessed she was all prepared for just that. "Why are you so…Enthusiastic about this, anyway?" He tried a different conversation, since leaving her silent didn't sound like a great idea. "Didn't we already celebrate the holiday?"
"Well yeah, but that was last year. And it was kind of last minute with the Haly's Circus case in Geneva." She ran the hat top through her fingers, fiddling with the white pom-pom on the end. "And now this year we don't have any big missions getting handed out, the League have a close eye on everything, and I thought…I thought it might be nice to really experience it? You know, like on TV, with stockings, lights, holiday treats, and,"
And goofy hats, apparently. She was still holding on tight to the item in question.
"Okay, okay; I get it." And in a way, he sort of did. If nothing else, her excitement was getting contagious. "But I draw the line at hats."
"Well…What about shopping, then?" It was his turn to give her a bewildered blink, while M'gann quickly warmed to the idea. "Actually, yeah! Shopping sounds great! We can pick out gifts, maybe find a few more holiday decorations…And it IS a thing people on Earth do, isn't it?"
"…Can't really argue that." He admitted, before adding "We're not going to go…Crazy with this, are we?" It was a relief when she gave a giggle at that, and shook her head.
"No. I solemnly promise we are not going to go overboard when it comes to shopping. We'll go out, enjoy taking in the sights and window shopping, and devote all of an hour to actually looking at and buying things. Nothing more. Besides," she flashed her teeth at him in a grin. "There's some holiday baking that I want to try, and I can't do that if we spend all day shopping. But we've got a deal?" She held her hand out, with that eager look still in place.
He raised his hand to shake hers, giving a nod. "Yeah. Deal." Although somewhere along the way, their fingers went from clasping to getting twined together. M'gann's still had a slight chill on their tips, making him wonder if she had been spending time out in the snow again. He squeezed them into his hand to warm them up, running his thumb across them to ease some warmth back into her skin.
"If you do much more of that, we're going to end up kissing on the couch instead of shopping." Conner wanted to reply that didn't sound like a bad alternative, but he forced himself to stand up instead, letting her hand drop back to her side.
"…Okay. Are you ready to leave now?" She started to nod, before catching herself.
"Actually…I'd like to bring one more person along, too." He didn't even need a mental link to guess, either. Not from the way her gaze dropped to the floor, and her shoulders tensed up. "I think it might be good to get him outside, if we can?"
"Right," he was already moving towards the rooms as he spoke. "Get whatever you need; I'll go tell him it's time to go."
"Are you sure-?" M'gann's voice was already cautious over telling their last minute addition to do anything. Conner let himself smirk in response before saying "Yeah, I'm sure. I get the feeling I won't have to do much asking or ordering."
It didn't take long to reach the doorway in question. Although by then that confidence had fallen away to leave room for thoughts of how awkward this was probably going to be. He just barely rapped his knuckles against the door when it slid open...And showed an eager, green face going from looking at the floor to beaming up at him.
"Superboy!" He really wasn't sure what to make of how happy Gar was when he said that. A lot like how he still wasn't sure about the posters of Superman that had found their way onto the kid's wall. (Beyond reaching the conclusion that it wouldn't go over well if he punched those as well. Besides he was getting slightly better at his relationship with his sort-of mentor.) Finally, Conner settled for crossing his arms and looking gruff…Which didn't seem to dim the 'SO COOL' light in Gar's eyes at all.
"Hey. Um. Gar." He started awkwardly. "We're...Planning on heading out," Just over that dark green head, Conner could pick out more furnishings in Gar's room; the bed was a mess, while the shelves held a collection of books and dinosaurs stacked haphazardly across them. The only thing that seemed all that neat and ordered was the table next to his bed, and the pictures on it. He picked out a framed face that looked a lot like M'gann, when Gar piped up.
"I can go out with you guys? That sounds great!" Though the air seemed to go out of him pretty quick as another thought came up. "But…How are you going to handle the whole being green thing? I thought that was kind of a hang up for people?" At that, Conner did allow a smile.
"Believe me, one of the first things you learn is that people are good at rationalizing things. This time of year and with a little bit dressing up, I doubt anyone would look twice at a kid pretending to be one of those green…Elf helpers."
"…You want me to dress up as a Santa Elf to go Christmas shopping with you and sis."
"That's the sum of it."
"You know…Being a shut in kind of holds some appeal, the more I think about it." He was pretty sure Gar was mostly joking when he said that. At least he wasn't shutting the door or digging his feet in by refusing to go. Conner simply rolled his eyes and answered,
"Be ready in five. We're heading out then." As he turned away.
M'gann kept her scarf wrapped tight around her face as they stepped out of the Zeta transport and into the alley way. Even Conner looked ready to hurry along, with the winter air biting at their faces and making their breath fog out. Even if Mars could be colder then this, that didn't make standing around in the snow all that pleasant.
"Why couldn't we go shopping in California, anyway?" Gar asked, and she put a hand on his shoulder before her could try and grow any extra fur over himself.
"Authenticity." M'gann replied. "California is nice, but it's hard to get snow in any of the big cities there…And I wanted to see what it's like doing real winter shopping."
"…So far, the answer is that it's cold."
"Very witty, Gar." She gave him a quick poke on the shoulder, grinning as he gave a squeak followed by a giggle. "Looks like you don't have to worry about it being cold for much longer, though; there's our destination!"
She allowed a flash of pride to go through her as they stepped out of the corridor and caught sight of their shopping location. The stores had been carefully arranged along the main street of the city they'd dropped in on, flanking both sides with window after window of lit up merchandise. There wasn't a single store that didn't boast something shiny or in red and white trim, and she could feel Gar pause against her side.
"...Okay. I'll note that this is neat." He finally said. "I'll bet Conner and I can find something here...Once we get inside." He was already tugging Superboy by the arm as he said that, eyes tracing over the displays with an eager glint. Though whether that was getting to where all the merchandise was, or the chance to get into somewhere with a higher temperature, M'gann wasn't fully sure.
"I'll make sure he gets you something cool!" Gar called back to her before the two boys vanished into the crowd. M'gann didn't bother to muffle her smile or her giggle as she watched them leave…Although a few minutes later she found herself wishing that she'd kept Gar on hand, to give her some insight on looking for something Conner might like. She could have used any advice just then, as her eyes browsed over display after display as her feet took her past several stores.
Someone had strung lights along the windows. And with the sun dipping below the rooftops, they were beginning to light up in lines of white and little winking rainbows colors. Overhead, the speakers were chirping out some sort of tinkling, bell and chime heavy Christmas song that she'd never heard before.
M'gann was hard pressed to figure out what she loved the most out of all of that. There was even something fun about how her breath fogged up…Although, as her fingers started to soak in the cold air and she pulled her mittens on, M'gann couldn't help but notice how the couples around her were walking arm in arm to keep warm.
'Come on, girl. You can think about trying that out AFTER you've finished this mission!' She mentally chided herself, and pushed through the doorway and into a shop to get out of the cold. She made out 'Curios and Gifts' on the door as it swung shut behind her, which felt like a good enough sign that she'd chosen a good shop.
Inside, she was greeted with a collection of tables all piled high with different things; some sorted by color, some by types (books, clothes, even a few pieces of jewelry glimmered at her from the store lights overhead.) with enough covering each table that she could barely make out the white table cloth underneath everything. Nothing that looked right for Conner, though. As her eyes scanned the table displays again, M'gann found herself pausing on a plastic box wrapped up in some cheap, stretchy gold chord and holding two things in it. She could pick out the words 'Peppy Puppy' written in bubbly letters on a tiny book, although the title was obscured by the plush toy dog parked onto of it. M'gann hovered over the box, feeling a very clear, gnawing temptation; the plush was cute enough, and the bargain sale tag almost looked sad with how fluffy and cheerful the combination was…Though it still wasn't something she pinged as a Conner gift, no matter how she tried to look at it.
She was close to running back to the Cave in order to call Wally for help, when the S-Shield caught on her eye. It was a flash of red almost hidden under a pair of black dress shoes and brief case, which M'gann carefully nudged aside. Her fingers brushed over soft knit fabric as she pulled the cloth into her hands, and found herself looking at a carefully knitted scarf. She didn't know that it was possible to get wool that smooth, or in such a dark blue and near black color. The S-Shield emblem was carefully woven into the bottom part, so it would be clearly visible when it was wrapped around the neck.
…And somehow, it all seemed to perfectly fit Conner. She was walking on air when she made the purchase (and had to check a few times to make sure that her feet WERE touching the ground) and hugged the bag tight to her chest as she left the store.
That euphoria lasted until she opened the door, and the screams started.
"So, what's the special gift you're going to pick out for sis?" Garfield looked like he wanted to run ahead in front of Conner, but something (whether it was caution over other people looking too close at him, or concern for helping with shopping, Conner couldn't say) kept him close at hand. He kept glancing between the displays and back at Conner, eyes bright and curious.
"…I wish I knew." Conner muttered as he scanned over the store fronts again. There were other shoppers moving along and gazing through the windows as well; some as couples, some as groups, a handful by themselves…Though he couldn't help but notice that none of them had anything close to the lost, confused look on his face, reflected back on him as he looked at another window. The face he could just pick out had its eyes narrowed and almost dipping into a scowl.
"What would you get her?" He found himself asking.
"Me? Well, maybe…I'd go with something I know she likes. Maybe something from one of her favorite episodes! There was this one time on Hello, Megan! where the characters get each other these mood-stone jewelry pieces…And then there's the silver friendship bracelets from Wendy The Werewolf Slayer, and-"
"…Gar." He gave a low growl that carried a definite undertone of 'not helping.'
"I'm just giving ideas! But as long as you don't pick any poison Sumac again, I think we're good." His breath didn't know whether it wanted to snort in annoyance at that, or turn into a dry laugh; the stuttering noise he made in the back of his throat was Conner's best compromise.
"Very funny-" He got as far as saying, before he stopped at the next store. At first, he couldn't understand why someone had bothered to stack piles of boxes in a window; experience so far dictated that window displays were supposed to be bright and showy in a way that bordered on eye searing. (But M'gann and Garfield liked it, so he had to conclude there had to be something okay with it) But this? Those containers were nice enough to look at, with carefully beveled edges and painted designs, but he couldn't understand why those were the only things on display.
"Hey, a music box store! Cool," Gar broke into his train of thought, almost putting his face against the glass to look in. When he saw Superboy's confused look, he continued. "You know, music boxes? They're…Kind of like CDs, except older. Kind of like antiques?" Conner glanced back at the storefront, trying to go through the archives in his head for anything that matched what Gar was saying.
"…Maybe you'll get it better if you look inside. Come on!" He didn't have time to say that he was almost figuring things out; by then Gar had grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him into the shop.
They ended up staying in there for longer then Conner expected. And when they left, he found himself holding onto a small wrapped box that opened up and played a soft, glassy sounding tune. Somehow, it seemed like a good fit for M'gann.
He was so focused on the bag that he didn't realize the gap in the crowd until Gar yanked on his hand with a hiss. That pulled his eyes up, to see that gap growing into a mob of people running AWAY from something. He picked out glass shattering a second later, and was already running headlong towards the source. Gar gave a yelp behind him, before bounding forward to keep up. He shrugged off his jacket as he ran, hoping that and the fact that it had been zipped over his S-shield would be enough to count as a secret identity...Right as the crowd parted and Conner found himself racing towards what looked like a linebacker that got lost in a punk rock concert.
"...You again?" He growled, looking at a blond head and a collection of metal studs, glancing up from the ruined window. And quickly settling into a scowl when the other boy picked him out.
"Ah could say th' same t' YOU, smallfry." Was the only words he got before a fist snapped towards him. Conner weaved to the side, eyes already glancing around for the other Twin.
"Gar-!" He growled out when there was a blur of muscle and plaid in the corner of his eye. And then a boot getting planted square in the back of his neck and pitching him into Tommy's fist. He heard something crackling and pressing against his gut, right as he remembered that his hands were still holding that gift for M'gann. Conner gasped as the air was knocked out of his lungs, straining against the weight on his neck-
Until it suddenly lifted up as someone yelled "Leave him alone!" and that pressure was ripped free of his head. He staggered back, letting the package drop from his hands. "Conner, I've got her! Focus on taking care of the other!" M'gann shouted, out of his line of sight as Conner forced himself back into a stance against Tommy.
He could remember the boast the Terror Twin had made before, about how he'd gone toe to toe with Superman. Trading blows with him now and feeling his bones barely holding up under the punches, Conner was starting to realize that was a lot more then just an idle boast…And that he wasn't standing up all that well to the punishment.
"What th' hell you got against folks havin' a joyride, anyway?" He watched the other boy's shoulders move, focus on those instead of his fist. Conner pushed himself to the side, so the punch connected with empty air, and snapped a hand around that fist to keep in place as he growled back at the Terror Twin and held him in place.
"Your fault for always interrupting my shopping trips."
...Somehow, that didn't seem as menacing or witty when he said it out loud. But it did have the effect of getting Tommy Terror to stare at him, slack jawed. He never saw the green blur leap up behind him, or how it turned into a gorilla on the way down; at least, not until it struck him square in the back. Garfield gave a roar while Conner gritted his teeth and kept any comments about monkeys locked behind them. The first Terror Twin was down, at least. And the second-
Something spun over his head, smashing into a wall and sending cracks spider webbing through the store front windows on either side. Tuppence crumbled to the floor with a groan, and didn't get up again. 'Getting better at this, huh?' M'gann's voice sounded tired...But there wasn't any pain lancing through it, either. He turned to see her standing in her green skin, giving him a shaky smile. Though when she looked down at the ground and caught sight of a trampled and torn bag, that smile faded.
"Oh no…" He could just pick out M'gann's voice, heavy with disappointment as she held something shredded and mangled in her hands. Her head snapped back up as she saw Conner, her eyes narrowed with worry. "Are you both okay?"
"Fine," he replied, walking back to where he'd dropped the box. He had to brush aside fragments of glass to find the package…Which was looking a lot more crumbled and lopsided then when he'd first held it. "…Just fine."
It wasn't the return she'd been hoping for. Dashing for her room and getting ready to wrap Conner's present was what she'd planned for, instead of dragging her feet and contemplating the ruined package in her hands. Gar and Superboy both gave her room to breathe after what happened.
...The same ended up not being true for Zatanna, when M'gann found her sitting in the den room. Her teammate glanced up when she heard M'gann's steps, already giving her a weird look when she realized M'gann wasn't floating.
"Trip didn't go so well?" Zatanna jumped into talking right away, motioning for M'gann to take a seat next to her while she switched the television on. She jumped through the channels until she settled on a cooking show to play in the background, while M'gann felt a half smile settle on her face.
"Sometimes, I think you know me too well." She murmured, while Zatanna rested a hand on her shoulder.
"I just know how to watch things. And figure out that if you're not zipping around in the air and telling me all about how the trip went, something bad must have happened." M'gann sighed, and gave Zatanna's thoughts a cautious nudge. When the other girl gave a nod an relaxed around her, M'gann fed her some of what had happened; the sudden fight against the Terror Twins...And all the damage that came with it.
"Wow. Never a dull moment with you guys, huh?" Zee's fingers drummed on her shoulder in a gentle pat, as M'gann nodded. "If it makes you feel better...I'll bet you can fix it." At M'gann's confused blink, she continued. "You know; sewing, or even getting a replacement gift? Don't let it get you down, though."
"I'll try?" M'gann offered, and to her relief could hear a little more optimism work its way into her voice. She brushed her hair back as she looked at Zatanna, letting her frown vanish. "So...What happened while we were gone?"
And then, Zatanna didn't meet her eyes, while M'gann narrowed hers. "...Zee?"
"Gnirb ym noitativni." Zatanna whispered in response, as a piece of paper flickered into her fingers. She wordlessly held it out to M'gann, who scanned the words before staring back up at Zatanna.
"...You know, I think if Robin asks you to spend the holidays with him, the right answer is 'yes.'" She offered, while Zatanna rolled her shoulders in a shrug.
"Yeah, I'm just worried about you three. Are you going to be okay spending Christmas here?"
"I'll be fine if I know you're having fun with Robin; I'm sure the same is true for the others, too. You should go spend the holidays with him and Batman. I'll bet you'll get some crime fighting in as well, knowing him." She managed a wry grin, something she'd been getting better at from hanging around Artemis. "So you don't even have to feel bad about missing out on the fight at the shopping center!"
"Zee. If you don't go say yes to him soon, I might end up shoving you into the Zeta tube myself." THAT managed to startle a laugh out of Zee, which M'gann happily joined in on. Once they finally subsided to just giggling, Zatanna finally gave a small nod.
"Okay, okay. Christmas with the Bat-family it is, then. You and Conner better give Gar a good holiday too, though." And with that, she wrapped M'gann up in a tight hug.
M'gann kept her eyes and smile on Zee until she stepped through the Zeta tube. When the whirr of the transport died down, she let her feet take her towards Garfield's room.
She found him curled up on the bed, eyes intent on the screen where something with a lot of explosions was playing. She had to work on clearing her throat to be heard over the volume...And even then, she doubted that got his attention.
"Hey. Gar, I'm sorry about how the shopping trip went-" But he did jolt upright when he heard her.
"Are you kidding!? I got to help you and Superboy take out those bad guys; that was the coolest shopping trip ever!" He was grinning from ear to ear as he said that, bouncing in place on the bed. M'gann picked out a place next to him, shaking her head while she smiled.
"So...You're not upset?" He shook his head...But she could just catch a glimmer of something in his eyes, and that prompted her to take a closer look. "...Gar, are you sure?"
He didn't answer right away. And in the silence, she saw where his eyes had ended up resting; on his nightstand, where there was a picture of someone that looked a lot like M'gann herself. Just with more wisdom in her eyes, and a motherly look that made her own throat seize up.
"...Okay, no." He admitted. "But...I don't want to feel crummy all Christmas. I want to be happy with you and Superboy." Maybe it was just that he shared some of her blood, but his thoughts were as loud as Superboy's ever were. Unguarded, unfiltered, and she could pick them up like a loud conversation just outside the door.
'Even though I feel bad now,' Gar's shoulders slumped, and before M'gann really processed what she was doing her arms were wrapped tight around him.
"I miss her too," she whispered, squeezing him into a hug. Gar made a choking noise, and with a kick in her chest, she knew he was trying not to cry in front of her.
"I"m not used..." To spending Christmas without Marie, M'gann knew. And a part of her worried that even with her and Conner, it wouldn't feel much like family in the Cave.
"What do you want for a snack?" She finally asked, easing up on her hug.
"…Banana and peanut butter sandwich?" Gar murmured, and M'gann brushed her fingers over his head as she whispered "Of course. Wait here, and I'll see about getting it together." Not that she held onto much hope that a sandwich would make him feel completely better. But with any luck, it would leave him with a little less hurt.
Conner's fingers moved over the remains of the gift; the front of the box had been caved in, leaving splintered and shattered panels of wood that formed into a rough fist shape. He could pick out the crumbled-in shards of metal as well, along with a ruin of snapped strings and broken gears.
His hands were able to navigate all of that, though. Starting with prying apart the wrecked shards of wood, setting them aside and then working his way through the wreckage of mechanical bits until the guts of the machine were all placed out on the table.
Looking at them like that, it didn't seem like a challenge with figuring out how to put it back together again. At least not compared to a motorcycle. The tool box to his side made a well oiled squeak as he pushed it open…And found himself looking at the bulky tools inside compared to the fine machinery laid out in front of him. This might, possibly be more complicated then he thought. Or called for a more delicate touch then what he was used to.
"Here." The voice came a second before a package was dropped next to him. Conner just caught the glint of tools, more narrow and precise then what he was used to, as he moved up the arm and found himself looking at a familiar face; it could have been his, several years aged. And wearing a more unsure expression then Conner usually saw in the paper, or on TV.
"…Heard some of what happened." Superman offered. "And I could guess what you might be trying to do."
"Because it's something you would do?" He wished that his voice was less biting, the same way he wished his shoulders would stop curling up so tight. Superman didn't seem to notice either, as he continued.
"Because I've also heard that you've got a head for mechanics and fixing things. Which is good!" He hurried to add. "I…Never could manage that really well myself, but I asked…" He trailed off, and mumbled something before continuing "…If I could borrow something. They said yes."
"…Wait. Who said yes?" Even with super hearing, Conner hadn't been able to pick that out, and to his surprise Superman ducked his head.
"My…Parents. They also said that it would be nice if…They could meet my brother at some point. My younger brother." He coughed for a moment, before awkwardly adding on "…That'd be you. They've said before that they really want to meet you, and I thought…Well, if you don't have anything planned for the holidays, it might be nice for you to get to know them."
The only way Conner could have felt more off balance and blindsided would be if Superman had just told him he wasn't really weak to kryptonite. He'd never really considered the idea of Superman having parents; he probably just sprang fully formed from the Kryptonian shuttle and jumped straight into fighting crime, as far as Conner was concerned.
"They…Want to meet me?" It was a slightly better question then 'you have parents?' at least. And gave him time to frantically try and get his thoughts in order.
"If you have the time for it." Conner was almost nodding before he could catch himself, and his thoughts shifted over to M'gann and Garfield. And even though he KNEW that Kryptonians didn't have mind reading abilities, Superman must have been able to see some of what was flickering across his thoughts by looking at him. "I think J'onn was going to invite his niece and…New nephew as well. He isn't a stranger to spending holidays with the family, either." He chuckled a little at Conner's face, adding "He's visited a few times…And my home isn't a stranger to aliens."
"I'll…Definitely think about it." Conner finally managed, before adding on in a rush "And I'll tell you soon."
Although as Superman nodded and stood up, Conner found himself hoping that he'd be able to say yes.
"How could I say no to that?" M'gann watched him through the gap in the counter. She could see how he drummed his fingers restlessly on the kitchen surface, still not sure about the arrangement. But his shoulders were looking less tense then before, as she continued. "Uncle J'onn was telling me about his plans, too; he said there'd be room for a few more people, if we wanted to come along."
"Do you?" She just let her teeth flash as she nodded.
"I do. It'd mean really spending time as a family, and a couple, and-" They must have realized what that meant as the same time, from the way they stared at each other.
"…We haven't really told anyone, you know." His thoughts were humming with sudden anxiety. Trying to tell his formerly-father-now-brother figure about their relationship was already difficult, if not impossible. Bringing two parents and an uncle into the equation sounded like building a scale model of Sphere with popsicle sticks.
"Y-yeah. I know. But we were planning on telling them eventually…?" M'gann tested the waters with that, but saw how dour his face still was. "We could at least consider it; they're going to find out sooner or later." Conner sighed in response, giving her a cautious look as he shook his head.
"You know, we could always stay here-" He cut off as M'gann glanced over his shoulder, to where Gar's new room was. She only held that in her eyes for a moment, before dropping it and shaking her head.
"…Conner, I'm sorry. But I'm starting to think that isn't such a good idea. I mean, I like being here, but with all that's happened I…If I have a choice, I don't really want to spend the holidays in an empty cave with a lot of memories. I don't think that would be fair to Garfield, either." She felt something trace under her chin, before picking out the shape of his fingers and thumb as Conner lifted her face back up. And clearly trying to give her a reassuring look, even though worry kept flickering over his own face.
"Okay. We can settle on going to visit the," he paused over the name for a second, still clearly getting used to it. "The Kents."
"And telling them about us?"
"We'll cross that bridge when we reach it. Right now, I think packing is going to be more important."