Author's Notes:And here, we get to the end of this story. I was originally going to post this as three chapters (and I've kept the chapter titles in here, so you can see that), but I decided to post it all at once as one big chapter.
It takes all of two days to install a zetabeam teleporter on the Kent farm. Clark shows up at his room in the Watchtower infirmary in the morning, and by midmorning Conner is sitting with the Kents on the porch drinking Martha's wonderful lemonade.
The house is different from the last time he was here. "This room wasn't here the last time I came, right?" he asks, just to make sure he doesn't have some sort of amnesia due to getting shot.
"Clark built it," Jonathan tells him.
"You—Thanks. But it wasn't necessary. I could have just stayed in Clark's room."
"Martha and I wanted to make sure you knew that you will always have a room here, and that it's your room."
Batman and Robin stop by in the middle of the day—in civies—to drop off some of his things. Martha's excited to have the illustrious Bruce Wayne in her home. She insists that he stay for lunch .until finally he smiles and agrees, so they all sit down at the table: Martha, Jonathan, Clark, Batman and Robin, and Conner. Midnite has him on a strict diet, so all there is to eat is boiled chicken, lightly salted, and boiled carrots and peas.
Conner's amazed, because somehow, Martha's managed to make the food taste pretty yummy, and he tells her as much.
"The secret ingredient is love," she says.
Batman seems to like it. He eats everything on his plate and even asks for seconds, prompting a confused look from both Clark and Robin (Clark seems scandalized by the fact that Batman wants to eat the chicken; Robin seems caught off-guard by the fact that Batman wants to eat.)
Clark on the other hand, takes one bite of the chicken and then proceeds to just mush it from one side of the plate to another.
"Eat your lunch, Clark," Martha reprimands.
"But Ma," he whines, "it tastes like nothing."
"Clark," Jonathan says in a warning tone. "There are children starving in Africa."
"I could take this to them," Clark half jokes. "Look, I don't even need to eat."
"Shut up and eat your mother's cooking," Batman grumbles.
Clark looks up, frowns, but then, he spears a bit of chicken on his fork and puts it in his mouth. "Next you'll be forcing me to eat salads."
"Without salad dressing, even," Batman says with a smile.
"Geeze Bruce, I'm not a criminal. You don't need to terrorize me."
"Force of habit," Batman answers with a smirk, and everyone laughs.
"Who wants apple pie?" Martha asks, "Not you Con," she ruffles his hair. "You get apple sauce."
Martha ladles warm apple sauce into a cup for him. Then she cuts a slice and serves it to Robin. Batman's reaching for his slice when his watch beeps. He pulls his hands away, looks at his watch and frowns.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I have to go. Dick can stay, if that's ok with you."
"Is everything ok?" Clark asks.
"Yes. I just have to go."
"Is it—because, you know, if it's League stuff, I could help."
"I have a meeting. Nothing else," Batman answers, getting up.
"Do you want to take a slice of pie for the road?" Martha asks.
Temptation flits through Batman's eyes, but he bites his lip and shakes his head. "I shouldn't. But thank you; this has been delicious."
"Well, no point in letting good pie go to waste. I'll take his slice!" Clark says. Dick chuckles and Jonathan rolls his eyes.
"I'll show you out, son," Jonathan offers.
Batman's shoulders stiffen. "That's fine. I can show myself out. Dick, be home by ten for patrol, ok?"
And with that, Batman leaves.
In just a few hours, the Smallville transport becomes the most popular League teleporter. Black Canary, it turns out, has experience with physical therapy, and Doctor Mid-Nite stops by to make sure everything is to order, and to explain to Martha what Conner can and can't eat.
Wally and Artemis stop by for dinner. Somehow, Martha manages to fill Wally up. When he undoes his belt and declares that he is officially stuffed, Artemis's eyebrows look like they're going to disappear into her hair. He doesn't say anything about it.
M'gann stops by and spends the night.
Even Lois uses it to come visit several times a day between meetings, interviews, and deadlines, though Conner notices that only comes when Clark is out of the house.
"So, you're avoiding Clark, aren't you?" he just comes out with it over tea.
She sighs. "Look Con, I know… I know you want me and Clark to… I don't know. Ride off into the sunset together."
"But it's not that simple," he says.
"It's not that simple."
"I don't see why not." He crosses his arms and looks down. "He loves you, you know."
Lois looks away. "Conner, Clark lied to me. For years."
"He was afraid."
"I know. But… honestly, Con, I don't want to talk about it. The whole situation is pretty messed up. Maybe… maybe Clark and I will be ok. Maybe we won't. Maybe we'll go back to being friends. Maybe even more than that. But not right now. Not today. Not tomorrow."
Con sighs again. He changes the topic. "You know, Ms. Lane, with everything that's happened…"
"I almost died."
"And then I didn't. One minute I was having lunch with you and Clark, and then I was dying, and then I was really dying, and then… then I wasn't dying."
"I'm thinking… I want—well. Ok." He's looking for words. "I thought I knew who I was. But now…"
Lois frowns and puts a comforting hand on Conner. "Oh, Con…"
"No. It's not that. I mean… Look. It sucks, ok? I hate the fact that there's anything at all tying me to Luthor. I hate the fact that I have half of his liver inside of me. It makes me want to scream, want to tear it out. But… in another way… it's actually, you know, kind of… kind of liberating."
Lois cocks her head. She wasn't expecting that.
"I'm not Superman's clone. I'm someone else. Someone completely different. And the people who made me… Desmond, Cadmus, Luthor… they had an idea of who and what they wanted me to be, but none of that is true. It means… Lois, is it terrible that for the first time, I feel like, like, like my destiny isn't etched in stone? Suddenly, I have a future that isn't genetic mandate. I'm going to be someone, and I have no idea who. I get to find out."
Lois smiles warmly and squeezes his hand. "That's not terrible at all. That's great."
"Yeah. I know, right?" he laughs. "It's wonderful. You know, when Clark and I stayed here before, Martha and I sort of got into a fight because I didn't want to go to college. I didn't see the point, because I was going to just go and be a superhero, and that was it. But now, now four years of drinking and finding myself sounds like a great old time."
Lois laughs. "Ok. But you've got to promise me to drink responsibly."
"I'm nothing if not responsible," he puts on his best devious smile. It gets a laugh out of Lois.
"So, where do you want to go?"
"I don't know. The only thing I know about colleges is what Cadmus programmed to know. It's just a list of schools with numbers. Harvard 1, Princeton 1, Yale 3… it goes on like that."
"Sounds like the US News and World Report." Suddenly Lois squeals with delight and claps her hands. "You know what this means Con?"
"College road trip! Oh, you know what? I bet I can even get Perry to pay for it! And I can help you with the essay, and Clark can tutor you for the SAT or the ACT, because that's the boring part, and then I can coach you for interviews, and by the time I'm done, Harvard and MIT are going to be tripping over themselves to get you to go."
"I don't have any extracurricular activities."
"Do you want an internship with the Planet? Because you've got one if you want. And I'm sure you can also get Wayne Enterprises to give you a summer job." She puts her elbow on his shoulder. "You're gonna go far kid."
Martha and M'gann are baking in the kitchen. Conner's observing, and Lois is "helping" by eating the cookie dough.
"Needs more chocolate," she says as she sucks her finger. Then her blackberry buzzes.
"Pass me that, will you Con?"
He hands it over.
"What's it say?" he asks.
Lois frowns. "Apparently, Luthor's throwing a press conference in five minutes."
She writes a short reply, then puts the phone away and dips her finger into the batter once more.
"Aren't you going to go?" Conner asks.
"Nope. Had enough of Luthor. I also turned down an exclusive he wanted to give me." She rolls her eyes. "Besides, I couldn't go, even if I wanted to. I can't make it in time."
A second later, Conner looks up and asks, voice low, "Is it being broadcast?"
"Is what being broadcast?"
"The press conference."
"Luthor usually broadcasts his press conferences over the internet. But I'm sure it'll be incredibly boring. He'll gloat about how he's been released from custody and cleared of all charges, and then talk about how excited he is for LexCorp this quarter. Chances are, he'll even unveil a new product. His PR people stumbled upon a winning formula long ago."
"Even still… I'm going to go watch it, ok?"
"Conner…" M'gann starts in a tone that's just begging him to stay.
He turns around. "Luthor is free because he had me shot. I want to see how he spins that."
He goes to his room, and goes to the LexCorp website. There's an announcement that the press conference will start in a few moments, but the video block is blank.
He hears a knock at his door. It's Lois.
She opens the door just slightly and peeks in. "Turns out MNN is broadcastingit too. If you want, we can all go watch it in the living room."
He nods and gets up.
Mercy—Conner remembers the name from the time she tried to shoot Kid Flash—rolls Luthor out on a wheelchair. Conner can't resist the urge to roll his eyes. He's pretty sure Luthor is going all out for sympathy. Surely, Luthor doesn't need the neck brace, and those bruises on his face should be turning yellow already.
Idly, Conner wonders what ridiculous sob story Luthor has made up for the press. He's looking forward to seeing Clark ask the hard-hitting questions, even if there's no doubt in Conner's mind that Luthor will brush them aside.
"It's like he's made of Teflon," Lois snorts.
"He'd good for baking?" M'gann asks.
"He's poisonous?" Conner asks.
"Nothing sticks," Martha explains.
It's true. Conner frowns. The worst part is the way in which Luthor used him to get out of his latest mess.
Back on the TV, Mercy's brought Luthor to the podium. She offers him her hand, to help him up, but he brushes it aside and gets up himself, even if his hands shake while he's doing it.
"He's overplaying it," Conner complains.
"Oh yeah," Lois agrees.
Finally standing, Luthor adjusts his tie. He looks straight at the camera—it looks like he's staring straight at Conner. Luthor smiles; Conner grits his teeth.
"It's been quite a week, hasn't it?" Luthor laughs, like it's supposed to be some sort of joke.
"You know," he holds up the papers laid out in front of him. "I have really good PR people. My speechwriter's really first rate. I bet he's pulling his hair out, right now, because I haven't said a single thing he told me to.
"This speech," he waves the paper, "is fantastic. Unfortunately, it's all a pack of lies.
"It's not Mr. Williams's fault. He just wrote down what Mercy told him to write. I wasn't really much help to her. When she asked me what had happened, I told her it wasn't any of her business. So she just… worked with what she had, which was nothing, and Mr. Williams worked with what he had, which was nothing, which I guess, is what makes his speech so impressive.
"Now, I'm working with what I have, which in terms of poetic ability really is nothing, and in terms of heart is nearly next to nothing.
"By the way, I took a couple of Xanax right before this, in case anyone is wondering. Because people should really wonder about people who suddenly do completely crazy things against their nature. It's funny. Normally, I'm much better at this. I'm having a really hard time putting this into words. I really thought the Xanax would help."
"Where in the world is he going with this?" Lois asks.
Conner is wondering the same thing, to be honest.
"But it has been quite a week. Month even. First I was arrested, then I disappeared, and now, here I am. Free and in front of you.
"This speech," he waves the papers, "says I was released because I was cleared of all charges, and that I'll be suing several parties for the wrongs they've done me.
"Both of those statements are wrong. I wasn't cleared of any charges, and I'm not suing anyone. I'm here in front of you because Batman negotiated a plea bargain. In exchange for—
"Let me explain. It's been a crazy week. But not because of any of the reasons I mentioned. After my initial anger at Mr. Kent, I found that incarceration was nothing more than a minor annoyance. There was no doubt in my mind that I would, sooner or later, be acquitted. To keep myself—oh, I don't know, occupied, I guess, I hired Slade Wilson, better known as Deathstroke the Terminator, to assassinate Superboy."
A wave of murmurs sweeps the crowd. Luthor swallows, and Conner does the same.
"The worst part is that I thought it was funny. No, that's not the worst part. The worst part is that it almost worked. In fact, it would have worked if not…
"That's why I disappeared. That's why Batman negotiated the plea bargain. Because, it turned out that the joke was on me.
"Everyone with two eyes can see the similarities between Superboy and Superman. It's as if though they're genetically identical. Twins. For a long time, I thought they were genetically identical. In fact, I paid top dollar for them to be genetically identical But, apparently, I got ripped off, because they're not. Only half of Superboy's DNA comes from Superman. The other half, it turns out, comes from me.
"That's why I disappeared. Because Superboy needed a life-saving organ transfer because I had arranged for him to be shot with a kryptonite bullet I had designed to explode on impact, and it turned out that I was the only compatible donor.
"I'm 43 years old. I've been married seven times. And it turns out, I have a son, and I almost murdered him, because I thought it would be funny.
"That, I think, has to be the worst thing I have ever done in my life. It's a contest, though, because everything in Mr. Kent's article is completely true, and because there are so many things I've done that even Mr. Kent's article doesn't mention.
"I don't imagine Superboy will ever forgive me. If he's smart, he won't. I know he won't believe me when I say that I'm sorry. But, I am. I am very sorry. I've never been more sorry for anything. So, because actions speak louder than words, I am stepping down as CEO and President of LexCorp, effective immediately, and surrendering myself into police custody. I plan to plead guilty to all charges and cooperate fully with the authorities."
Then, instead of waiting for questions, Luthor sits back down, collapses even, in the wheelchair. Someone asks a question, but Luthor just waves it off.
Superman touches down on the stage a few seconds later.
"Mr. Luthor, you're under arrest," Superman says.
Luthor looks up. "Of course, it had to be you," he sighs, sounding half-defeated. "Let's get this over with." Luthor offers Superman his wrists, and Superman clamps down a pair of handcuffs before carrying Luthor off.
Conner gets up to turn the TV off.
"Conner, are you ok?" M'gann asks.
"Yeah. Perfect. Luthor's going to jail. It's perfect. Who wants applesauce?" And then he goes to the kitchen and serves himself some applesauce, like everything is ok.
Conner wants to run. He wants to run, kiss the sound barrier, scream and outrun his scream.
But he can't.
So instead, he just waits until everyone's gone to bed, and then he goes for a walk. The moon is out: full, round and bright and the stars sparkle in a way they just don't in Happy Harbor. There's remarkably little noise. Grasshoppers and ants, rustling leaves, whistling winds.
He blinks. He won't cry, he promises himself. Luthor won't make him cry again. But if his eyes obey, his nose doesn't, and he has to sniffle back the runny mucus.
Suddenly, there's another sound. Whistling. He turns around and sees a light in the barn. Someone's whistling there.
It turns out to be Jonathan, sitting on a bale of hay. He has a block of wood in one hand and a knife in another. He looks up at Conner and gives him a warm smile. "Couldn't sleep either, eh?" he asks.
Conner shakes his head.
"Sit down then," Jonathan invites.
Conner takes a seat on another bale of hay, and Jonathan turns his attention back to the block of wood he's cutting up.
"What are you doing?" Conner asks after a few seconds of being ignored.
"Carving this block of wood. Hobby of mine."
"Well, what are you making?"
"Don't know." Jonathan shrugs. "I think every block of wood has something living inside it. My job is just to find it. I think this one might be a dog. Or maybe a cat." He holds the block up for Conner to see. "What do you think this is?"
Conner tilts his head. It's just a block of wood. "A wolf," he says.
Jonathan looks at the block of wood, and then he laughs. "Yes, of course. It's a wolf. I can't believe I didn't see that before."
"Do you carve often?" Conner asks.
"Not as often as I used to. Here, I'll show you." He gets up and signals to Conner to follow him. They go into the garage and Jonathan shows him a work table covered with little wooden figurines. People, animals, even a replica of the Daily Planet globe.
"These are amazing."
"Thanks. They're not that great."
"No. They are. Can you show me how to do this?"
Jonathan looks taken aback by the request. But then he smiles and laughs. "Of course." He opens a drawer and pulls out a big block of wood and a knife and hands them over to Connor. "Normally, I'd tell you not to cut yourself, but… well…" Jonathan laughs. "You know."
"Yeah," Conner smirks.
"Still, you should avoid hitting the knife against your fingers. It tends to dull the blade. Clark could never get a hang of it. He ruined three knives that way before he just gave up."
"I'll be careful, I promise."
Jonathan nods. "So, what do you want to make?"
"A rose for M'gann," he says eagerly.
Jonathan laughs good naturedly. "Let's start simple and work our way up, ok?"
"Ok," Conner nods. Then he looks at the block of wood. "How about just a bowl. That should be simple enough, right?"
"That'll be plenty simple."
It takes a couple of hours, and his left hand is sore from holding the knife for so long, but in the end he has a thing that could pass for a bowl, even if it's a little lumpy. Jonathan seems very impressed, and then he hands him a piece of sandpaper and shows him how to smooth out the surface. "Start slow," he warns. "Once you get the feel for it, you can start to use your super speed, but you want to be careful, or else you'll bore a hole right through it before you've even had a chance to notice, or worse, you'll set the whole thing on fire."
It's slow and tedious, but at least it gives him a chance to flex his hand. Finally, he's done, and the bowl is smooth, if still a little lopsided. He hands it over to Jonathan for inspection, and the old man runs his wrinkled hand over the whole surface. "Not a single splinter," he says approvingly, and then he puts a hand on Conner's shoulder. "You've got a knack for this, kid."
"It's a little plain, though," Conner complains.
"Plain can be good."
"I know." Conner takes the bowl back and looks at it. He's made something. He likes that.
"Can I have another piece of wood?"
"Something long, not necessarily for carving. I just want to try something."
"I think I've got just the thing," Jonathan says with a nod. He goes through his pile of wood and finds a long thin plank, about seven inches by five, but only half an inch thick.
"This is perfect," Conner says with a smile. He sands one of the faces down until it's as smooth as the bowl, and then he focuses his laser vision on the wood. It takes a few tries. At first he's too cautious, then he's not cautious enough and has to squeeze out the fire, but finally, he gets it just right, and then it's just a few more tries before he gets the hang of it, and he'd burned a picture of a rose into the plank.
He hands it over to Jonathan. "What do you think?"
"I… that's really amazing," Jonathan says, and then he watches in silence as Conner does the same thing on the bowl, burning a large rose into the inside and a thorn pattern on the outside. He finishes the whole thing by carving the date into the bottom.
"For M'gann?" Jonathan asks.
"Actually," Conner says, cocking his head, "I think I'd rather give this to Martha."
"She'll love that," Jonathan says, and then teasingly he adds, "might get me in trouble though. That's really raising the stakes here. I'm not that talented."
"What are you talking about?" Conner asks. "Those are all amazing."
"Yeah. And I've had approximately eighty years of practice. You'll be carving circles around me in no time."
"Can I make something for Ms. Lane next?"
Jonathan looks at his watch. "How about tomorrow? It's nearly sunrise."
"I don't really want to go to sleep," Conner says.
"But you probably should. In fact, I should have made you go to sleep hours ago. You're still recovering from surgery."
"I know. I… well, you know."
"Want to talk about it?"
"Not really," Conner says, but then, he changes his mind. "Yeah. Actually. Yes. I do want to talk about it."
"I'm all ears, then."
"I don't know what Luthor's end game is."
"I'm not entirely sure he knows what it is either. I've never had the displeasure of meeting the man. All I know about him is that he's done everything in his power to hurt my boy."
"It's just," Conner groans, and then he realizes he's about to start crying, so he has to wait a few seconds until he's sure his voice won't break. "Either… either I can believe that Lex Luthor isn't lying. That he does want me. Or I can believe that he's lying, and that all he wants is to use me. And," he bites his lip and wipes at his eyes, "and either the only person who wants me is him, or no one wants me at all, and, and, I don't know which is worse." Jonathan looks like he's going to say something, but the floodgates are open now, and Conner has to speak his piece. "I mean… Superman, right, the great American hero, truth, justice, etc., you know, he didn't want me. And, and Batman, you know… I though…" and now he can't help it, he just sobs, "I really thought he wanted me. But he doesn't. And then, there's Luthor, who's horrible and evil and vile, but within hours of finding out that I'm—whatever, shit, I don't know… I'm not his son—but then, you know, he goes into surgery, gives me half his liver, calls me his son, and then, and then… he goes and turns himself into the police. And it's just, Clark… for years—and Bruce—
Jonathan cuts him off with a hug.
"Kid. You're wrong if you think no one wants you." He's hugging him very tightly. Conner can't breathe, and that's probably because of the fact that his nose is clogged up right now, but he wants to think it's because of how hard Jonathan is holding him. "Martha and I want you. We're crazy about you. That's why we asked Mr. Wayne if we could take you home with us. And Clark—look, I know. Yes. It took him years to come around, and he's my son and I love him, and I'm not going to judge him one way or another, but I know he loves you too, because I've never seen him look more afraid or more sad than when we thought we were going to lose you. And Mr. Wayne—look, I don't know him. But Clark says he has problems sometimes with showing his feelings. All I know is that he moved earth and sky to save you, and you don't just do that for some random kid."
"He didn't want me at his house."
Jonathan sighs and pulls away. "Is that what this is all about? Look, Martha and I are delighted to have you here. But, if you'd rather be in Gotham, if you think you'd be happier in Gotham, I'll talk to Clark, and he'll talk to Mr. Wayne."
"I didn't mean to imply—
"It's fine Conner. Loving someone means wanting what's best for them. And if you'd be better off in Gotham… well now we have one of those fancy teleporters, and Martha and I can go visit you there.
"Now, get up and get to bed. The world will look brighter in the morning."
Plans for the Future
Conner sleeps like the dead and doesn't wake up until 3 in the afternoon when his grumbling stomach, combined with the urge to go to the bathroom finally win out and call him back to the world.
He showers quickly and gets dressed before rushing downstairs to the kitchen, where he finds Martha serving tea to Batman. Batman looks up and his blue eyes soften. "Jonathan said you and I needed to talk."
"Let's go for a drive, then," Batman says getting up and thanks Martha. Then his watch beeps and he frowns. "Actually, Martha, could I use the bathroom first?"
She nods, "Down that corridor, second door to the right."
Batman disappears for a few minutes. Conner hears the sound of running water, then a flush, then more running water.
"Nice touch on the lead paint," Batman says once he's out.
Martha chuckles. "It was really a necessity once Clark got his x-ray vision. He couldn't turn it off at will, at first."
Batman just sort of smirks, and then signals to Conner for him to follow him. A car, nothing showy, is parked outside.
Fifty miles later, Batman breaks the uncomfortable silence. "You know, Conner, if I didn't invite you to live at the Manor, it was only because I thought the Kents would provide a better home. They're used to dealing with people with powers like yours, and… they're good people who love you."
"Do you want to come to Gotham?"
Conner is silent for a long time. "Would it be ungrateful of me to say yes?"
Batman shrugs. "That doesn't matter.
"The thing is Conner… I'd love to have you. But. You know, I'm an incredibly busy man. I have obligations to my company, to Gotham, to the Justice League. The only times I see Richard, really, are when we're out on patrol, or when decorum dictates we make a joint appearance. And, I… I couldn't take you out in public. Because everything I do as Bruce Wayne is designed to call attention to him. And we can't afford to have people paying attention to you. It's one thing to be Conner Jones, high school student, and another, very different thing to be Conner Jones, Bruce Wayne's ward. People would look at you. And if they look, they might see. I could send you to school with Dick and Artemis, though I'm not sure how much you'd enjoy that. Or I could have Alfred home school you. But I can't take you on patrol until you're better, and I can't have you at public events. And frankly, the Manor is a horrible place."
"When you put it that way…"
"I'm sorry Conner. I'm just… not a very well-put-together person."
There's nothing to say to that, so Conner changes the topic. "Hey, you know, I was thinking."
"I think I do want to go to college after all."
"I thought you thought it was a waste of time."
"It was a waste of time for me. It's not necessarily a waste of time for everyone. Dick is going to go, you know, in a few years. Any idea where you want to go?"
"I figured, I'd look and apply. Lois wants to go on a road trip."
"Sounds like a great idea. I think that's something normal people do. I'd have to check."
Conner laughs. "She wants to see if she can get the paper to bank roll it."
"If White won't, I will. Don't worry. And I'll pay for your schooling too, so don't worry about that either. Worry about getting in to the school of your choice."
"I don't have that many extra curricular activities."
"Of course. You don't have time, what, with your prestigious internship at Wayne Enterprises."
"Lois said you'd do that. She also said she'd give me an internship at the Planet."
"Well, there you go. And, of course, you'll have a letter of recommendation from Bruce Wayne."
"Isn't that a bit much?"
"Conner, no one know how wonderful you are half as well as I do. I'd write you a letter as Batman, but, well, that really might be too much."
"Lois said she'd help me with the essay, and that Clark could help with SAT tutoring."
"I think that's a wonderful plan. Though, if he's not any good, you can always take a class."
News travels fast. Clark shows up for dinner with an entire suitcase full of practice books. College Board, Kaplan, Princeton Review, Barron's—everything. For the PSAT, the SAT, the SAT Subject Tests, and the ACT.
"Well, I guess now you have a library, son," Jonathan chuckles.
Martha just bursts out laughing when she sees the stack of books. "Clark, if you didn't have superpowers, I don't think you could even lift those books."
"Well, I didn't know which ones were the best. And besides, you have to be strategic about these things. See what you're best at, and take those tests."
They all have dinner, though Conner notices that this time Martha gives Clark less stewed beef and more pie. After dinner, Clark explains some of the test-taking strategies. "So, for the SAT, they take points off if you get the wrong answer. So, they say you should only guess if you can narrow it down. But there's no guessing penalty for the ACT, so you can just go ahead and guess on that one."
Conner nods solemnly throughout the whole lecture, and then takes the Official SAT Study Guide with him upstairs to work through a practice test. It's long, but not as tedious as he had feared. Clark comes up to his room with a bowl of applesauce when he's done.
"Let's trade the book for the applesauce."
Clark grades the test, and when he's done, he looks upset.
"Did I screw up?" Conner asks.
"You got a 2400."
"Is that bad?" Conner asks, bracing for the worst.
"Only for my ego," Clark answers. "That's a perfect score. What's more, you didn't get a single question wrong."
"But… I'm not that smart."
"What makes you say that?" Clark asks, taken aback.
"Just… it's true, isn't it? I mean, I know I'm not as smart as Robin or Kid Flash."
"Dick and Wally are both very smart. They have maybe different skill sets than you, but that doesn't mean you're dumb, or even, dumber than them."
Clark cuts him off. "You remember how you were able to take down Amazo? You outsmarted that machine. You outsmarted the entire League. It took us hours to take him down. That was very impressive."
"Yeah. Batman said as much."
Clark pushes his glasses up. "Anyway, I guess you should do a few more practice tests to make sure that's not a fluke. And, then, I guess there' not really a need to do the ACT. I guess we should work on SAT IIs next, though, I might, um, be out of my depth."
Once he's figured out that thanks to his Cadmus education he's pretty much set for the SAT subject tests too, he and Clark sit down and try to be strategic.
"I guess you could just take all of them and impress them."
"Bad idea," Lois's voice calls out.
Clark's face lights up when he sees her. "Lois!"
"Shut up Smallville," she says, "I'm still not talking to you. But no way am I going to let you lead Con here astray.
She grabs a chair on the other side of Conner. "I'm thinking you should take a foreign language, the advanced math one, and then something like world history or science. You could do world history and chemistry. Four's not too much, is it?"
"No, I don't think four's too much," Clark chimes in.
"Conner, can you please tell Smallville I'm not talking to him," Lois says, but she does it with a smile that looks sneaky rather than polite, which Conner takes to be a good sign.
"I don't think it's too much," Conner says.
"Yes, Conner," Clark says, "I think it'd be good to take a foreign language, and math, and then global history and chemistry. It'd show them that you're well balanced."
"Though, Conner," Lois adds, "I'm thinking maybe you want to get a few questions wrong on purpose. You know, so they don't think you're a robot."
"Not too many, though, Conner, because, well, you want to impress them."
"So, Conner," Lois asks, "What language?"
"I don't know, Conner," Clark answers. "Chinese is the language of the future, it seems."
"Actually, Conner, Chinese would be a good subject to get a perfect score on. It'd be incredibly impressive, since you're not a native speaker, and so many people who take the test are native speakers."
By the end of the evening, they've decided what tests he'll take and Clark has even signed him up for both the SAT and the SAT subject tests. But the real reason Conner goes to bed with a smile on his face is that Clark and Lois are speaking to each other again, even if they seem to think that they're named "Conner."
In the mornings, when Lois and Clark are at work and the Team are at school, Jonathan teaches him more and more about wood carving. They work their way up from bowls and boxes to spoons, to forks, to decorative knives and letter openers, to animals. They start with simple animals, caricatured cats and dogs, and then they move up to more realistic cats and dogs, tigers and lions, humans, dolls with joints—he's slowly creating gifts for everyone on his Christmas list.
When he's well enough to fly around the world, he starts picking up different kinds of woods from different forests to experiment with colors and textures.
He discovers ebony and falls in love with the color. But it's dense and hard and he finds it hard to carve. It's unlike the other woods he's carved and that makes it hard for him to properly estimate the amount of force he needs. He ends up ruining three knives, until he decides enough is enough and melts the blades back into shape.
But it's good experience, and he finally manages to carve the rose he wanted for M'gann.
Working for the Planet is hard.
Lois, he knows, likes him. But that doesn't mean she's above working him to the bone. She expects him to write a 700-word article a week. Her standards are nothing less than exacting. He spends a few hours on the first assignment. Lois sends it back with the comment, "If this is the kind of garbage you're going to submit, no need to hand anything in next week."
He's a mess for the rest of the day. Jonathan and Martha both notice it, and Clark has to stop by to ask him what's wrong.
"Lois thinks I'm a moron," he tells Clark, showing him her email.
Clark frowns and then reads over the article Conner sent in.
"Well," he says finally once he's done reading it, "it's not terrible."
"Lois hates it."
"Actually... Look, if she thought this was the best you could do, she'd give you constructive feedback. How much time did you spend?"
Conner shrugs. "I don't know. A few hours."
"Lois thinks you can do a lot better."
The next day, Clark sends him three pages of comments on style, substance, additional avenues of inquiry. In response, Conner spends all the next day on his computer researching and then redrafts the whole thing and sends it back to Clark, they go back and forth on it, until Clark tells him it's good, and then he sends it back to Lois.
She stops by for dinner with his draft drenched in red ink.
The day of the SAT, M'gann shows up with a freshly baked batch of cookies. "I'll have them after, to celebrate," he tells her.
She gives him a kiss for luck, right before he gets into the car. [I wish you'd come earlier, to give me… something else for luck.]
She laughs. [Well, think of it as a reward to look forward to.]
"Oh, M'gann," he says holding up the bag of cookies, you always give me the best presents."
He gets out of the exam early. Earlier even than expected. He's pretty sure he aced it and it's a beautiful day. So he calls Jonathan, asks him if it'd be ok if he flew home, and in five minute he's touching down in front of the porch.
M'gann's already there to greet him with a kiss.
"So how'd it go?" she asks.
"Would you kiss me better if I told you it went badly and I needed cheering up, or if I told you it went well and I wanted to celebrate?" he asks her.
She slaps at him playfully, but then she gives him a kiss, just like the one he wanted.
"And the best part is," he tells her with a smile, "now I get to eat your cookies."
She claps with glee. "Try them! I've been working on the recipe for months!"
"I can't wait!" He takes the zip lock bag out of his backpack and grabs a cookie. It looks perfect: just the right shade of golden brown. He takes a bite out of it. The texture is nothing short of perfect; it's crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside, and with craisins, white chocolate chips, and candied orange peel, it's got a fantastic mix of textures.
M'gann's face falls. "Don't you like it?"
He looks up, realizing his face had fallen into a frown. "No, no, it's very good." But then, because sometimes he's an idiot, "It's just…"
"It's just?" a dangerous light comes into M'gann's eyes.
He should know better, but instead he opens his mouth, "Well… it tastes like a cookie Martha might make."
"Martha's great at baking."
"Yeah," Conner agrees, "But… I like your cookies. You know, the horrible burnt ones with too much flour and not enough chocolate chips, that I could only eat because you'd made them?" He sits down and doesn't quite look up at her. "You know, when I was in the hospital, Robin snuck me one of your cookies. It was lumpy and burnt, and so typically you, and that was when it struck me that I was going to die, and that I was never going to get to eat another one of your godawful cookies, and I just couldn't stand it."
He looks up, and her eyes are bright with tears. She pulls him up and kisses him like she's never kissed him before, and then they go and bake the worst batch of cookies in the history of the world until Martha gets a scent of the mess they're making in the kitchen and chases them away with a broom, which, to be perfectly honest, is fine by Conner, because as much as he likes M'gann's crappy cookies, there are other things he likes even better about M'gann.
The envelope with his scores arrives while he's visiting Stanford with Lois. Clark pick it up at the Kent farm and drops it off at their hotel. Conner, however, won't be pried from the laptop Batman bought him.
"I'm working on my essay," he complains. Technically it's true.
"Yeah, yeah, look, I've read it over a thousand times. It's basically perfect. Funny, charming, poignant, blah, blah, blah. 'Why I Love Her (Cookies)' They're going to eat it up. Come face the envelope like a man."
He sighs. "Have you peeked?" he asks Clark.
"Nope." Clark hands him the envelope.
It feels heavy in Conner's hand, and he can't stand to open it. Lois snatches it out of his hand and does it for him.
"Well, kid," she starts with a wicked grin, "look for yourself."
Without meaning to, he gives out a whoop of triumph.
"This calls for a celebration. I'm taking you out for fro-yo!" Lois says, grabbing her purse.
"So, I guess I'll see you later," Clark starts to say once they're outside the hotel.
"Where the heck do you think you're going, Smallville?" Lois asks.
Lois scoffs. "We're taking Conner out to celebrate."
Clark seems taken aback by the invitation. He blinks, pushes his glasses back, and then whines, "We're not going to that disgusting Pinkberry place you like, where the frozen yogurt actually tastes like yogurt, are we?"
"First off, yes. Pinkberry is delicious. Second though, they have a new hazelnut chocolate flavor that tastes like Nutella, and you can pour as many artery clogging toppings on it as you can fit on the cup." And with that, of course, Clark is sold, though, Conner thinks he'd have been sold on regular plain yogurt if push had come to shove.
Two weeks after they get back from visiting schools, Conner gets a call from Lois. "Hey kid, Perry wants to run your article on what college recruiters tell students in tomorrow's Education section. He needs you to make and approve these changes, though, and you need a couple more quotes."
"I'll get right on it."
He gets it in five minutes before deadline, and it runs in the morning paper. Clark brings a box of issues for him, and Jonathan presents him with a carved frame for the article. It goes up in his room, above his desk, and he sends a link to Batman.
Batman replies: "Great piece Conner. Really proud. Sent from my BlackBerry."
Something about the message dampens Conner's mood, at least until he gets a text from M'gann: "lurvd piece. sooooooooo proud. 333333 meet me 20k ft in 5 to celebrate? ;*"
And then all he can think is HELL YEAH!, because he's been waiting for this since before he got shot.
Batman invites everyone over to the Manor for Thanksgiving. It seems like half the League is invited, and there are even people he doesn't know yet, like Wally's aunt, and parents, and an old guy who was apparently the first Flash. Green Arrow and Black Canary, and Roy and Artemis are there too. So is Kaldur, though not Aquaman. Apparently the whole experience is as new to Kaldur as it is to Conner, and Roy keeps explaining things about turkeys and Native Americans and Pilgrims, and about some guy named Squanto.
"Tell him about Squanto," Roy tells him, and Conner can't help but lapse into Wikipedia mode. It's the first time it's happened since he was shot, and it turns into something of a game at his expense. Even Lois joins in. Squanto, Pocahontas, John Smith, John Rolfe, Disney, Mickey Mouse, and so on and so forth, like a twisted game of free association until Batman cuts them off with a glare.
The food is great: Martha and Alfred both put on a feast, so there's more than enough food to go around. Clark, frankly speaking, looks like he's in heaven.
The feast goes on into the early hours. Alfred insists everyone stay the night, even over Batman's protests, and that's how Conner finds himself sleeping in the Blue Room once more.
He gets up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. As he's fumbling through the hall, looking for a bathroom, he hears the now-familiar beeping of Batman's watch. He pauses for a moment and listens. He's right by Batman's door. He hears
Batman get out of bed. Hears the click of a light switch, and then the slide of a drawer. He waits for Batman to get back in bed, but instead the door swings open and Batman grabs him tightly by the throat and squeezes hard enough to cut off the bloodflow to his brain. "Are you spying on me?" Batman snarls.
The difference between Conner and Clark—one of many—is that Conner actually needs oxygen to live. He clutches at the air.
It seems like Batman recognizes him. He lets him go.
"Conner, oh God. I'm sorry," Bruce apologizes.
"What are you hiding?" Conner asks, gasping for breath.
Bruce's face hardens. "Nothing. I'm sorry I startled you. Good night." And then he shuts the bedroom door in Connor's face and locks the door.
At first light, Conner excuses himself and returns to Smallville. He tells Martha and Jonathan that he needs to work on his applications. Technically it's true. Princeton recommends that everything be submitted before December 15, and that's only a couple of weeks away.
Bruce shows up in the mid afternoon and asks Conner if he won't go with him for a walk.
"About last night," he starts, "I'm really, really sorry. I had a run in with Scarecrow last week. I guess some of the fear toxin is still in my system, making me paranoid."
"It's ok," Conner says, though he isn't sure it is. Something about Bruce reminds him of what Luthor said about Xanax. But he doesn't want to think about Luthor at all.
"So, you're not hiding anything?"
"Conner," Bruce laughs, "I'm Batman. I'm hiding a lot of things." Then he ruffles his Conner's hair. "But nothing you need to worry about, kid."
"And you're not taking the Miraclo anymore, right?" Conner asks.
"I'm not taking Miraclo," Bruce answers.
"That's the first time you've called me that," Bruce says. "At least, when we're alone."
"It's your name, isn't it? I mean, I call Clark Clark."
"I was saving this for later, but since you're here, there's something I wanted to show you."
"Well, lead the way."
He takes Bruce to the garage and shows him the giant ebony bat he made. It's a screeching thing, meant to be terrifying because Batman is meant to be terrifying. Bruce doesn't react to it like a man who still has Scarecrow toxin in his system.
"I made this," Conner says.
"Conner, this is amazing," Bruce answers, leaning in to appreciate the detail work. He runs an appreciative finger over the wings and claws.
"Jonathan taught me how to carve. Ebony's hard, though, it took me a while to get the knack for it."
"Have you made other things?" Bruce asks, so Conner shows him the evolution of his carvings, from bowl to bat.
"This is absolutely brilliant. I'm so proud of you. You should send pictures with your college applications. I'm sure the college admissions people will like them."
It's December 15. Conner, Clark, Lois, M'gann, Martha, Jonathan, Robin, and Bruce have all read his college applications over about a million times. He prints them all out, puts them in their envelopes, and has them bundled by 3 PM.
It's snowing. Clark and Lois are busy covering something, and the rest of the Team is all at school, so Jonathan and Martha drive him to the post office. The line is long, but not as long as he had expected.
Jonathan puts a steady hand on his shoulder as he hands over the bundle of application packages to the teller.
"Getting them in early?" the lady asks with a wink. "How responsible."
"It's the recommended date," he tells her.
"Yeah. But most people wait until the absolute last moment."
"I couldn't do that."
"Because you're smart. This way, you get to celebrate on New Year's the way you'd want to."
Conner had been planning on sending the applications through regular mail, but Jonathan insists on sending them priority so they can track them and make sure everything gets where it's supposed to be. It's about six times more expensive that way, but Jonathan insists.
The lady at the counter prints out his receipt, stamps all the envelopes, and then she asks him if he wants to buy stamps. He shakes his head and Jonathan pays with cash.
They're already on their way out when the clerk calls out after him.
"Here, for luck," she tells him, holding up a chocolate Tootsie Pop.
"Thanks!" It's his favorite flavor.
Afterwards, since they're already in town, Jonathan and Martha take him Christmas shopping. He's already made gifts for everyone, but Jonathan and Martha still have shopping left to do. He talks Jonathan into buying a scarf for Clark, and Martha out of buying a hat for Lois.
"It'd probably get lost the next time she fell off a building," he says.
There's a fancy café in the department store. Not Bruce Wayne fancy, or even Lois Lane fancy, but Normal-People-Like-the-Kents fancy. The three of them get hot chocolate. Conner asks for a mountain of whipped cream, and he even gets a cherry on top.
"Only because you just sent out your college apps, am I understood young man?" Martha scolds, but he just dives straight in to the chocolate and winds up with a whipped cream mustache that he licks off.
"So what do you want for Christmas, son?" Jonathan asks.
Conner shrugs. "For everyone to be happy. I've got pretty much all I need."
"Oh nonsense boy," Martha says. "We want to know what you want, not what you need."
"Well," Conner starts, unsure, "there is one thing."
He looks at Martha. "Clark says you helped him design his costume."
"If by help, you mean she made the whole darn thing. At least, the first one."
"Well… before… you know, my surgery, Lois and I had talked about how I can't be Superboy forever. You know, I can't be a forty year old man with a beard calling myself Superboy. And I was thinking, I haven't been allowed to wear a cape since the surgery. I guess I'm going to start up again sometime after New Years. I think it'd be a good time to start using the new persona.
"I was thinking of using just, Kr—
"The periodic table sign for Krypton?" Jonathan asks.
Conner nods. "It was the first name anyone bothered to give me. Project Kr. That's what Cadmus called me. It's not much of a name, but better than 'weapon' or 'the superboy.'"
"I don't understand," Martha says, "If that's the name those horrible people gave you, why do you want it?"
"Because… they wanted to make me because they wanted a weapon. They wanted me to be Superman's clone, at their beck and call to take down Superman if they needed me to. But that's not who I am. I'm me. I get to pick who I am. I get to pick the meaning of my life, and I want to pick that Kr, my first name, means. And I want it to mean a hero, someone who stands up for truth and justice, and everything else that's good about the world.
"I want to be my own man. But… I'm not very good at costume design." He pulls out a couple of sketches. One is just his Superboy outfit with the letters Kr in place of the S. The other is even worse, since it's pretty much just Clark's outfit. "See?" he asks.
Martha giggles. "Oh dear. I'm afraid that's one are where you take after Clark. Later, I'll have to show you his first design. You know, I had to talk him out of wearing a mullet too."
"A mullet?" Conner asks, incredulous.
"It was the nineties," Jonathan shrugs.
"I'll see what I can come up with between now and Christmas," Martha promises, "But I can't promise a new costume will be ready in ten days."
"That's ok. I don't need it until I start going out again."
"Well, but you know what you do need?"
"Something to unwrap come Christmas. So tell us! What do you want?"
"I don't know. A bunch of black t-shirts?"
Martha rolls her eyes. Jonathan smiles. The three of them laugh, and Conner wonders when life got so good.
If Thanksgiving was lavish, Christmas Eve is intimate. It's just him and the Kents, although, with the amount of food Martha's made, you'd think the entire Justice League is invited.
Both his and Clark's presents are wrapped in lead-lined paper, which Conner thinks is cheating. He gives Martha a jewelry box he made. He gives Jonathan an elaborate picture frame with a picture of the four of them. Clark gets a statue of Jor-El and Lara that makes Clark tear up.
Martha gives him a series of sketches of costume ideas, and they spend several hours as a family arguing about which is best, until they decide on a black and red cape-less suit with the letters Kr on the chest and a small symbol of the House of El on the right arm.
Jonathan's got him a new set of wood carving tools.
They've opened all the presents under the tree, but Conner still hasn't opened his present from Clark. He doesn't want to be rude about it, but Clark sees what's bothering him.
"For Christmas, I wanted to give you something really special. I was wondering, if you're up for it, if you'd like to fly up with me to the Fortress? I can, you know, show you around. And then, I can show you some of the crystals. So you can, sorta get to know my other parents, Jor-el and Lara, and see what Krypton was like, a little."
When they get back, M'gann is waiting for him with a batch of burnt cookies.
It'd be the best Christmas ever if it weren't for the fact that when he wakes up in the morning, there's a new packet wrapped in lead under the Christmas tree.
Rather than guess that it's a Christmas tradition of some sort, he wakes Clark up. They're about to call in Batman to observe the mysterious package, when suddenly it barks.
"I think there's a dog in there," Conner says.
"Maybe it's an evil robot dog?"
It barks again. "Sounds like a real dog."
It gives one last warning bark, and then yellow liquid begins to seep out of the box.
Clark shouts out a four-letter word and runs to the kitchen for paper towels and Conner unwraps the box.
There's a scrappy, underfed white dog that jumps out at him and starts to lick his face. The poor animal looks like it's been malnourished for weeks.
"Cute dog, but who sent it?" Conner asks, once he finally gets his face back from the dog's licks.
"There's a note," Clark points out. He picks it up and reads it aloud. "Merry Christmas, my boy. For you a friend. He's been at the pound for a few months. Feel free to return him, if you don't like him. Although, if you do that, they'll probably have to put him down in a few weeks."
Clark groans. "You agree that with a message that manipulative, there's pretty much only one person it could be from, right?"
Conner is about to say something, when the dog, maybe sensing the potential danger it's in starts to lick his face again, and Conner can't help but laugh.
"This is a really cute dog."
"Yeah. I guess we'll have to ask Bruce to come over and make sure he's not booby trapped."
"You're not booby trapped, are you, are you boy?" he asks the dog, who just barks happily in return.
"What are you gonna call him?"
Conner looks at the dog, then inspired by last night's trip, he decides: "Krypto." The dog wags his tail and barks. "See? He likes it?" Then, as an afterthought he adds, "You know, he might not have figured out who you are. He does know Clark Kent and I are friends."
"Well, we'll have to proceed to assume the worst-case scenario," he says. "I'll make coffee and call Bruce."
Since Luthor's figured out he lives with the Kents, Bruce lifts the Metropolis embargo, which means Conner can go to the Daily Planet New Year's party. He's invited as Conner Jones, intern. M'gann is his plus one. Jimmy Olsen sees him and recognizes him. For some reason, he doesn't find Jimmy as annoying as he used to. They catch up. Jimmy asks how he's feeling, and he tells him he's much better. Almost entirely better.
"I'm so glad. CK and Lois took it real hard, you know, when you got shot. I was surprised CK still went ahead and went to the Middle East. But, you know, he's been doing some really, really great work."
"Yeah." Conner agrees. Olsen doesn't know the half of it.
"Though, you know, he was home in Smallville for Christmas, and he's stopped by for the party tonight. I just saw him. He's somewhere over there," Jimmy points to the crowd, "if you want to say hi."
Perry White has had a little too much to drink. He's going on and on about Elvis, and about how Elvis is the greatest musical genius of all time, and about how he isn't dead, just hiding. He's in the middle of explaining it, actually, just how Elvis has managed to stay alive all these years without anyone knowing about it, when he's interrupted by the countdown.
Conner wants to go find M'gann, to give her a New Year's kiss, but he can't get away from Perry, who is just going on and on about Elvis, even through the countdown, until it's too late. The count down is over, it's the new year, and Perry—
"Fuck." Perry says out of the blue.
"I'm pretty sure I just lost the best damn war correspondent I ever had." He buries his face into his hand and points with the other.
Conner turns around to follow Perry's hand and sees Lois, who looks like she's a little more than a little drunk, shoving her tongue down Clark's throat.
"I need a drink," Perry says miserably. "You want one kid?"
"I'm not old enough to drink," Conner confesses. "Besides, I have to find my girlfriend so I can go do to her what Lois is doing to Clark."
Somehow, Conner just knows it's going to be a very good year.