Summertime, Don't You Cry
Batman came on the heels of a sudden summer thunderstorm, archetypically gothic and ominous. The baby in his arms was not. Nor was the baby bag slung around his shoulder. It had a sun, a moon, butterflies and fireflies with big felt eyes.
The baby yanked Lois' hair.
"Der," went Lois.
"Dee!" went the baby.
Clark just flopped on the couch. His mind couldn't even begin to process what was before him.
"Dee," said the baby at a higher octave. He nuzzled Lois' chest, cooing, content.
Bruce-- still in full Batman kit-- dipped his chin. "That settles it. The baby is definitely Superboy."
"But he's a baby!"
"Your powers of deduction continue to astound the masses, Ms. Lane."
"Kon was seventeen years old." Lois pulled the baby away from her chest but he clung tenaciously to the front of her blouse. "He's probably seventeen months."
"According to standard infant growth patterns, your estimate is correct." Batman turned to Clark. "Well?"
He turned, eyes glazed. "Diapers make up at least two percent of solid garbage in America."
Batman snapped his cape closed. "Useless."
"Why did you leave the baby here?" asked Lois. "You found him. There's the whole finders keepers rule right?"
"Yes!" she hissed. "It's been around forever, an implicit rule handed down from generations of civilizations. It's probably somewhere in Leviticus-- Verily thou shalt keep what thou findest and it is good."
"Since he's your husband's clone, I assumed that he would be best able to care for a super-powered infant. Although if current trends continue, I'm afraid the only thing Kent will be capable of caring for are the lint balls on his pants."
"Washing cloth diapers wastes waters and, unless hospital grade detergents are used, increase the risk of microbial infection," Clark added.
"He's in shock," said Lois.
"Obviously," said Batman. "I prescribe a swift kick in the head." Before Lois could retort, he held out the baby bag. "This has formula, a change of clothes and diapers. Disposable ones. I'm sure you could jettison them into the sun should your environmental conscience nag in the middle of the night. I expect the Titans will contact you soon with their findings regarding this case."
With that, he disappeared out the window and into the night.
Clark suddenly stood up. "Kon is a baby!"
The weather in Metropolis hit the high nineties by noon. Unbearable by any standard but add coastal humidity and the general populace went slightly crazy. Some enterprising college students had rolled out a fifteen by thirty foot plastic sheet and tapped a fire hydrant to create a giant slip and slide on one of Centennial Park's hills. Conveniently, it ended a few yards short of the water park. The police were too busy laughing at their own children, giggling madly as they flew down the hill, to admonish the misdemeanour. Better this than the whole lot collapsed from heat exhaustion.
Clark held Kon with a feather light grip as they walked through the park. The baby was so little and wriggly; he feared crushing him and at the same, dropping him. They walked on grass, not concrete, but he stood six feet and five inches off the ground, a long way to fall for an infant. To make matters worse, Kon didn't seem to like him at all. He kept his little body stretched as far away as possible, whimpering as he twisted this way and that, looking for Lois.
"Maybe if I had breasts," Clark muttered. But that was unfair. Kon had been giggling when Batman carried him into the house last night.
Kon wiggled and twisted and wriggled and the next thing Clark knew, he had to catch the baby as he toppled out of his arms. Kon gasped, arms and legs in starfish. Then he yowled.
Scientific studies show that a baby's cry focuses on a specific frequency and decibel guaranteed to make human adults react at a very primitive level. Nothing is more urgent than a baby's cry. It worked for Kryptonian ears as well.
"No, shhh, shhh, shhh, I've got you. Shhh." Clark held him close but Kon would have none of it. He threw his head back and wailed. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I have you now, shhh, shhh. I won't let you fall again, Conner, I promise. I'll never let you fall. Please, please, please stop."
Nothing helped. Clark turned him to watch the slip-and-sliders. He walked through the water park and dipped Kon's feet in the puddles. He bounced. He tried to lay him in the classic baby-rocking position. He didn't want a bottle. His diapers didn't need changing. He wouldn't burp. He simply would not stop crying. After half an hour and half of a circuit of Centennial Park, Clark was traumatized.
"Conner, please, I don't understand what you want."
Kon pounded his chest with little chubby fists. Clark collapsed on a grassy knoll. Half-kryptonian babies probably had double the energy of a human one. "Cruel Summer" played somewhere, mocking his situation. When would Lois return from her meeting with the Metropolis PD?
"Excuse me, Mr. Kent, do you need any help?" Clark opened one eye-- when did he close them?-- and saw Tim Drake and Cissie King-Jones looming over him.
"If I say no, would you believe me?"
Cissie grinned. "Give him here. Maybe he just wants a girl."
"It is Conner," said Tim, his smile matching his girlfriend's.
As soon as Clark handed Kon over, the baby hiccupped and quieted. "The blessings of all the gods in all the pantheons be upon your head. I was beginning to think that he'd never stop."
"That's what we're here for. Rescues, crime-fighting, babysitting. Geez, he's a fat kid," Tim pinched Kon's cheek, much to the baby's delight.
"Awww, but he's such an adorable little--" Cissie paused, perturbed. "He's nuzzling my boobs."
Lois joined them in the waterpark another half hour later. A small green bag hung from her arm. "Hi!" She kneeled on the grass to kiss Clark's cheek. "I stopped by the mall for some baby sunscreen and there was a kids' boutique right next door. Who knew baby clothes could be so damn cute? Look what I got!" She pulled a pair of shades-- tiny, tiny tiny shades-- out of the bag; "Isn't it the sweetest thing?"
Clark grinned. "It looks just like his old pair."
"I know! The minute I saw it, I had to buy it. And there was a ti-iny, wee, little leather jacket but it cost too much and he'd probably outgrow it by the time winter came around. Look what else!" She pulled out a blue shirt with a red S-crest, so small it fit in Clark's hand. "Isn't it darling?"
He laughed, his eyes brightening. "It's great."
Well-versed in reading between Clark's lines, Lois sank on her haunches beside him. "What's up, Smallville?"
"I'm just watching Tim and Cissie with the baby." He nodded at the younger couple, now clad in their swim suits, as they played with Kon around the gentler water fountains. Cissie kneeled by the shallow reflective pond, waiting patiently as Tim held Kon's hands. The baby was enraptured by her bright blue bathing suit. His sturdy little body occasionally plopped on the ground but he gamely pulled himself up each time to try again. "I like hearing him laugh."
Lois held Clark's hand.
"You know, before that day--" and she knew he meant that horrible day when Kon sacrificed himself for save the world-- "I remember him laughing in my presence half the time. Which would be more impressive if I'd actually been present in his life more than ten times," He pulled up a blade of grass and twirled it between his thumb and forefinger. "I think he remembers before. He just... he's not comfortable around me, Lois. He cried non-stop until the kids came."
"I don't know a lot about babies," Lois said, "but from what little I hear, knowing what makes them tick is a matter of trial and error."
"I errored," said Clark. "I almost dropped him! The look in his eyes-- he was so scared and distrustful. It's like he knew that I was never-- It wasn't that I didn't want him around. I did. I just didn't know how to-- and then he had his friends and never seemed to need me and I just--" By now, the blade of grass was a stain on his thumb. Clark wiped it off on his pants.
Tim swung Kon around to face them. "Say hi, Conner. Hi Lois! Hi Clark! Wave hi."
Kon jumped as much as his wobbly legs allowed. "Ba! Ba! Ba! Beee! Ba!"
His sitters broke out into giggles. Lois and Clark waved back, unable to keep from returning the baby's smile.
"I can remember every minute my father spent with me since I was three years old," said Clark.
Lois rested her chin on his shoulder, her arms coming around his chest from behind. "So take this second chance."
"Thanks for letting us stay the night," said Cissie. She hopped down from the balcony railing and zipped her pink hoodie up. The air in the condo hovered in the fifties thanks to the fans.
"Are you sure it's not too much trouble?" Tim stopped in the middle of folding down the blankets in the guestroom.
"It's fine," Clark assured him.
"Although you might regret that if Junior over here goes off in the middle of the night." Lois jiggled the baby in her arms. "You're going to sleep the whole night through, aren't you, kiddo? You want Aunt Lois to get her full six hours, right?"
"Dee!" said baby Kon. He played patty-cake with Lois' chest. Everyone broke out into laughter.
"Man, the more things change," Tim said, rolling his eyes. Cissie threw a pillow at him which he caught without even looking back but while he did that, she swung her leg low, tumbling him into the bed.
"Baa!" Kon scolded.
"You tell her," said Tim. He sprawled on the bed. "I'm gravely injured."
"By a bed?" Cissie crossed her arms, unconvinced.
"It's a superbed."
"I think it heat-visioned me."
"You two are ridiculously cute," said Lois. "I'll leave you to that while I settle the little marmot. Come on, Kon. Can you repeat after me? Girls are icky."
Kon solemnly looked her in the eye. "Bee."
They bought the basic baby equipment from a consignment store a few blocks down. The owner had fallen completely in love with Kon, of course, and gave them a discount on a high chair, crib and stroller with a detachable car seat. A visit to the supermarket yielded half a dozen bottles, more formula and five packs of diapers. Not that they expected to have Kon remain a baby for an extended amount of time but he went through all the ones in Bruce's baby bag in six hours. Five packs would do for a week. No wonder they took up approximately two percent of the nation's solid waste.
Clark stood by the stove, waiting for the kettle to cool. Kon fussed as soon as he saw him. Clark's smile dropped. "I'll mix this up for you."
"Want to try feeding him this time?" asked Lois.
He wanted to, she could tell by the way he forced his hands to close, but he shook his head. "He settles better with you. I'll get his crib ready."
Clark never did chores quickly if he could help it. It was as though even that small part of Superman had to be kept apart from Clark Kent. Using tongs and a potholder he didn't need, he took the sanitized bottle out of one pot. He measured out the powdered formula and poured in lukewarm water from the kettle. A twist of the nipple cap and a vigorous shake later, and Kon's bottle was ready.
"You're mighty handy with that, Smallville," Lois said, hand out for the bottle.
"It's a touch easier than moussaka."
Kon latched on the nipple like a starved coyote.
"I'm glad we got the larger size," said Clark. "If he's anything like me as a child, he'll eat three times as much and still be hungry. Good thing it's summer and he'll absorb a lot of solar energy or we'd really be in trouble."
He did it again, the slow fist-curling as he shoved his hands in his pockets. Lois hid her frown in Kon's wispy curls. Oh, Clark. Always so awkward with the people he loved the most. Martha and Jonathan Kent were wonderful people and Lois adored them to bits and pieces, but they'd ingrained their son with a nearly pathological need to be liked and an equally strong fear of being rejected. She understood where it was coming from, of course, but it was still aggravating. Look how long it took him to trust her with his secret.
Kon finished his bottle, burped and mewed for more. Clark put a new one in her hand before she even asked for it. "His bed's ready."
"He's about ready for it," said Lois. "Gawd, Smallville, he's got your eyelashes. Why is it that guys always have eyelashes out for a mile and women have to resort of mascara and falsies?"
"I like your lashes just fine.' Clark leaned down the rub her nose with his. Kon punched his chest. "Hmm. He's possessive."
"Reminds me of another Kent." Lois kissed his cheek. "Go ahead and pull duty. I'll hold the fort. Or at least order the Batlings to hold it for me."
But Kon didn't want to be handled by anyone except Lois even when Tim and Cissie performed a stomach-cramping lyrical dance to "C-C-C-Cinnamon Lips." Tim looked hurt when Kon shrieked in his arms and even Cissie, who'd resorted to mashing him up to her chest, had no luck. Lois couldn't very well finish her article with a baby throwing a fit a few yards away.
"Tim, get me the big plaid in the linen closet, Cissie get another bottle ready."
Her guests sprang into action. Huh. That was kind of fun. No wonder Bruce had sidekicks.
Lois dipped her chin to address Kon. "Okay you. My arms are going to fall off soon and let's not even talk about my hearing. I'm going to wrap you up in a plaid and tie you to my back like millions of women have done for hundreds of centuries and you're going to like it. We're going to get evicted if you don't go to bed by midnight."
"Dee," Kon pouted.
Clark returned home just after four in the morning, his usual time barring space invasion and demonic encounters. A quick scan revealed Tim and Cissie spooning in the guestroom, their breathing patterns indicative of deep sleep. Lois' laptop blinked in the dark; a sticky note reminded him to proofread their latest article before seven. He changed from his costume to boxers and tip-toed into the master bedroom. Lois slept as deeply as their guests. The fan muffled her soft snores. He leaned down and kissed her cheek, as was his habit before pulling the covers down, but this time, he checked on the crib first. He could hardly ignore it; it was on his side of the bed.
The crib's dark honey pine dowels were smoothed soft by a conscientious craftsman and years of use. Kon lay on a mattress resplendent with ice cream cones, fish and beach umbrellas. He'd kicked off his thin blanket, his arms and legs waving around in search of... something.
"Hi," Clark whispered. "Are you hungry again?"
Kon's lips trembled. Clark immediately tensed. He was going to cry again. He shouldn't've looked; he knew his presence upset the baby. But Lois needed her sleep and he couldn't bother his guests when he was already up.
"Shhh, shhh." With shaking hands, he reached into the crib to take Kon. The baby stiffened. "Shhh, it's okay Kon. I've got you, little man, I've got you. Shhhh."
When no cry spewed forth, Clark's shoulders relaxed a mite.
"Let's go into the living room, huh? If Lois has to get up, she'll need an entire pot of coffee to appease her."
Kon chewed on his fist and glowered.
A slurred inquiry came from the bed. "Clark?"
"I have him, Lois."
His wife turned over in bed. "Mmmrmmph. Love you."
"I love you too, sweetheart." To Kon, he said, "Hear that? That is a content Lois. We don't mess with that."
Kon apparently agreed because he stayed silent while Clark checked his diaper (clean and dry) and rubbed his back (no burps). Truce achieved, Clark re-entered the living room, Kon still pressed against his shoulder.
"I can't sleep either some nights," he told the baby. "You see so much, your brain wants to continue processing. Or those other situations when your adrenaline rush hasn't quite ended and you need to fly or f-- uh, be very loving to your partner to burn it off. Did you ever experience that?"
Kon continued to chew on his fist.
"Who did you turn to on those nights? I don't even know your best friends' names." Clark let out a bitter laugh. "Bruce told me you and Tim are very close. Wally told me Bart was another good friend. You'll be pleased to know he's alive in another dimension. You had a girlfriend too, right? Cassandra? She's doing well, uh, figuratively. She'll be happy to hear you're back. Maybe she won't be so angry any more. Diana's had to rein in her a few--"
At the sound of Cassandra's name, Kon had begun to fuss and now he turned in Clark's arms, pulling away.
"Okay, I'll stop talking about her. Did you break-- okay, okay, I'll stop. Shhh, shhh." Gently, cautiously, he cupped Kon's head. Black curls spilled between his fingers. "You're so little," he whispered. "So breakable. I don't think I c-c-can protect--"
He took a strengthening breath. "I'm a horrible mentor and a worse fath-- I can't even use that word. I didn't deserve it. I couldn't protect you when you were almost grown, how much worse off will you be as a child? Keeping you away, keeping you close, nothing worked! You still got hurt. You still d-d-d--" Clark closed his eyes and bowed his head, clutching his charge closer to his chest.
A small, wet hand patted his cheek.
Clark opened his eyes. Kon met his gaze.
Clark very quietly and very honestly went to pieces.
Coffee, that most treasured nectar of the gods, woke Lois up as it perked on cue at six in the morning. The radio alarm blared Top 40 soon after. At ten past six, the light alarm rose to full brightness. Rousing Lois from bed required a team effort.
Stumbling, she turned off all the alarms and followed her nose to the coffee. She only stubbed one toe on the way. Today was a good day.
Only when she saw Clark lying on the couch did she realise that his side of the bed had been empty. Kon sprawled on his chest, drooling, undisturbed by the alarms. One of Clark's paws held him on his diaper-clad tush while the other cupped his head, his thumb stroking his hair.
"He was up when I came in," Clark said softly.
"We had a busy night. He helped me finish the article," said Lois. She brushed sleep crusts from his eyes, one eyebrow arching at his tear-spiked lashes. "Coffee?"
"Please." As she straightened, Clark tugged on her hand. "Lois?"
She smiled at him, head tilted to one side.
"Do you want to have a baby?"
Sun burst through the blinds, striping the floor with gold and wheat. Tim struggled out of the sheets to pull Cissie closer. On the radio, the weather reporter forced cheer in her voice as she announced another week of temperatures in the nineties and humidity in the sixties. Pigeons and gulls fought for the smorgasbord of garbage yet to be picked up. Vendors unwrapped hotdogs and sliced onions, their grills sizzling. Cafés put a new pot on. Lois curled up beside Clark on the couch with her head on his shoulder, her hand over his, his hand on Kon, content.
Then Kon reached out and squeezed Lois' left breast.