Chapter 4



Midges and mosquitoes dragged August in after July, one of the least humid Augusts in memory. The minor relief did nothing for Lois, cranky on ovary stimulation drugs and suffering withdrawal from her trifecta of favourite things--alcohol, caffeine and salty snacks.

Swann's hired obstetrician/gynaecologist, Beth Chapel, kept her attention on the computer at her desk as they entered the clinic. "There's a gown in the bathroom. Please put it on and sit on the table."

Lois raised her eyebrows at Clark but complied. She'd worn a kryptonian top, knowing the loose, tunic style would best suit the assessment. "What happened to my usual NP?"

"She's not qualified for the type of assessment I'll be doing but she's still on staff if you'd like to contact her for help outside our scheduled appointments," said Chapel. She finally looked up. Her eyes were entirely blue with no marking between sclera, iris and pupil. She reached for a white cane leaning against the desk.

"How... exactly is this going to work?" asked Clark as politically as he knew how.

Chapel seemed to have sensed his discomfort; her expression softened. "I don't have what you'd call normal vision. I can't see under normal light but under certain circumstances, I have better vision than even you, Superman. I guess you can say I'm kind of like a walking MRI. That bed has electromagnetic fields beaming onto it at perpendicular frequencies which I can see. Depending on how far I focus, I can see you normally or through you into your organs."

"We live in a cool but strange world," said Lois, jumping on the bed.

"No need to lie down yet. I just want to ask you more questions and I'll need you to answer honestly. They may seem very personal but I need to know more than which organs are ticking when. I assure you that none of your answers will ever leave this room-- I'll lock all my handwritten files in a safe just behind that cupboard, and the computer is encrypted and programmed to melt if it's suddenly unplugged or the drive itself is taken out of the shell."

"You wouldn't happen to know a guy who likes to dress up like a rubber bat, would you?" Clark murmured.

"No, but I admire his diligence. Kal-el, if you don't mind leaving the room."

"I don't have anything to hide from him," said Lois.

"You haven't heard the types of questions I'm going to ask." Chapel gestured once more to the door. "If you please, Kal-el."

Lois expected nutrition, exercise and stress management questions. Chapel delved further into Lois' childhood, her feelings on her childhood, her favourite snacks, any pets she'd ever had, examples of undercover job she'd pursued for a story, the way she sat on a chair, how often she had sex with Clark, how often she wanted to have sex with Clark-- the questions went on forever. And when Chapel invited Clark back in, she cooled her heels for the next hour watching CSI re-runs in the waiting room.

"Here's my plan of attack," Chapel told them when Lois re-entered the clinic-proper. "I want to fill you up with as much folic acid, Vitamin C and iron as is safe. I'll write you out a prescription for nutritional supplements but considering the amounts, I encourage you to use them strictly as supplements. They can't be substitutes for poor nutrition."

"Damn," Lois sighed.

"Eat as many dark, leafy vegetables as you can handle as well as anything purple, red, orange and yellow. That's natural colours, nothing with food colouring. Keep your protein intake as is for now; we can reassess the need once we've actually implanted the zygotes. I'm also barring all caffeine and alcohol intake. With most pregnancies, it's all right to have a can of soda or a small cup of coffee once or twice a week but we're dealing with a high-risk pregnancy and every little bit helps."

"Lots of vegetables, no coffee and no alcohol." Trading a look with Clark, she said, "Little Barack III. better be worth it."

"I wanted to name him Thomas Jefferson." He pressed a kiss to her temple.

Thirty-seven days later, she wasn't so sure she could handle another eight months of epicurean abstinence. Her head hurt and her stomach rebelled at every meal. She also developed near-instantaneous irritation at odd things. Clark's scent for example. The smell of ozone drove her insane.

"Conner! Your music volume is way too high for my level of caffeination! Goddammit, who introduced you to Eminem anyway?"

"You did!" Conner shouted over his player. He turned the volume down but not by much. "Remember, you were complaining that RhadaSquat sounded like a Heart-Eminem mashup and I asked who Hearteminem was and you totally flipped out and programmed a playlist for my musical education?"

Lois hung her head. "I'm a horrible role-model. I introduced my teenager to songs with questionable lyrical content."

"Yup!" said Conner cheerfully. "I'm totally ready to embark onto a life of petty crime and drug-addled promiscuity. Did you know Eminem made a song about Superma--"

"Yes," said Lois. "And if you ever want to eat again, you'll never play it while I'm at home."

"Then I'll just learn to cook."

"Ha! That'll be the day."

"It could be worse. I could be playing to that hair metal crap."

"You will hush about hair metal crap! That stuff is classic!"

"Aunt Lo, they wore shoulder pads and tights."

"It was the times," said Lois. "It'll make a comeback, just wait and see. Besides, you say 'tights' like it's a bad thing. Lots of manly men wear tights."

"Name one," Conner challenged.

"Olympic gymnasts. Big biceps. Legs like tree trunks. While we're at it, Olympic swimmers wear tights, too."

Conner rolled his eyes. "You're weird, Aunt Lo."

The phone rang, overpowering Lois' scorching come-back. It was Martha, wanting an update on life in general. Conner prattled for nearly fifteen minutes, basking in his grandmother's adoration. If nothing else, Lois was glad Conner's move to the USA meant he experienced his grandparents. Having such warm, solid support did him good. He had a lot of insecurity hidden under the cocky attitude. She should know; she'd been exactly the same at his age.

"Grandma wants to talk to you now," Conner said, handing the phone over.

"Gracious of you, kiddo." She tousled his hair as he left for his room. She loved talking to Martha, too. A Martha-Kent-talk did everyone good.

"I swear, Mom, I nearly mugged Cat for her grande, no-fat, soy, iced decaf," she confessed ten minutes into the conversation. "I hate soy coffee. It's like coffee violation. I hear the little beans screaming in indignation but it just smelled so good. And then there's Clark and football season. He only ever has beer when he watches a Sharks game but when he pops it open, I sit beside him just to huff hops."

Martha laughed gently. "Oh, you poor thing."

"I know, right? And this month is just the preview. My womb is still up for rent; we're just hustling up tenants. Nine-month tenants, Mom. Oh, God, I hope it's just nine months. Lana said she was pregnant for a whole year. A year without coffee or beer or Cheezpuffs or vodka or soda or salted pretzels that you dip in processed cheese. Twelve months. Fifty-two weeks. Three hundreds and sixty-five days unless we conceive on a leap year. That extra day in February may just push me over the edge."

"I remember when Jonathan and I researched IVF," said Martha. "It was all so expensive back then."

"Yeah, fortunately, Swann's giving us a discount in exchange for diddling around with our reproductive systems. I swear she draws hearts around Clark's semen samples and, whoa, I TMI'd my mother-in-law. But it's true." Lois grunted and wiggled her hand. Her jar of cocktail onions was not cooperating. "Conn!"

"Yeah?" came from the second bedroom where he'd retreated.

"Culinary emergency. Can't open the jar and too lazy to go get the jar opening thingy."

"Lois, dear, I have to go for now. I'm expecting a call from Tulsa," Martha said.

"Sure thing. Lobby bills. Give 'em heck. Bye!" She hung up as a beleaguered Conner left his room.

"It's not like we live in Wayne Manor," he said. "The kitchen drawer's only six feet away."

"And yet, strangely, still too far to reach from the couch. Don't argue with an ovulating woman, Junior, especially not one who has visual contact with middle age."

"You mean like in the rearview mirror?"

Lois' eyes narrowed. "I rescind your cuteness. Open my pickles." She held the jar out to Conner.

He fiddled with the lid and popped it open. Peering at the contents, he said, "I don't know how you can eat this-- uh... whoa."

The "whoa" was in response to the jar cocktail onions now floating three inches above Conner's hand. The jar bobbed and spun slowly while the lid flipped around beside it like a coin in slow motion.

"Are you doing that?" Lois asked in a lowered voice.

"I think so," said Conner, his tone the same. "Let me try-- OW!" The jar exploded in his hand, sending glass shards flying. Lois reflexively flipped over the arm of the couch, ducking behind it as a shield. Half a second later, Conner's last word penetrated.


"Conn!" Lois leapt to his side. He stared at his hand, confused at the sight. Two of the largest shards embedded in his forearm, thankfully missing the main artery. Smaller slivers cut his knuckles and the pads of his hands. Blood dripped off his elbow. "Hold still, kiddo. Don't try to remove them yourself. Where's the communicator for your second job?"

Growing increasingly pale, Conner said, "My backpack. Inside pocket. Are you calling JL?"

"Hell yes, I am!"

"Don't! Please. I'll be fine. It doesn't hurt. Last time, it just healed over after a while."

Lois stood over him. "You're not supposed to bleed at all and this is the second time within a month that it's happened. You need someone to look at you."

"No, no, no, I just need you to help me pull it out." Conner turned his big, blue eyes at her. "Please, Aunt Lo? If Dad finds out, I'm grounded from working for another weekend. They're just splinters."

Hands on her hips, Lois glared down at the little con artist. "Fine. But if it doesn't stop bleeding in an hour, I'm calling your dad directly."

"Deal. I--Hey, look!" Lois leaned down to the part of his arm he pointed out. The glass splinters wriggled out, pushed by Conner's rapidly healing flesh. "See? Fine, just like I told you."

"Fine for now." Letting out a disconcerted puff, Lois ran her hands through her hair and asked, "Are you done your homework?"

One of Conner's eyebrows arched.

"Okay, wrong question. Have you started your homework?"


"Good enough for me. Pack the rest of it up. We're going to visit your Grandma's back forty for some practice."

The Kents' back forty had seen a lot of strange goings-on ever since Martha and Jonathan Kent adopted a little black-haired boy thirty-five years ago. After heat vision, super-breath, speed and flying, using bales of hay as footballs was par for the course.

Martha and Lois stood back as Conner threw a block of hay, ran to catch it before it fell, then repeated the exercise. "How do you feel?" asked Lois.

"Bored but good," answered Conner. "Maybe it's like voice-cracking during puberty. Sometimes I'll get hurt but it'll all even out after a while."

"Maybe. I don't remember Clark saying anything about that." Lois looked to Martha for confirmation.

She nodded. "Clark only lost his powers around kryptonite or through Jor-el. It's never been spontaneous."

"So, maybe there was some kryptonite around our condo," Conner said.

"I hope not," said Lois. "The League's done a good job of eradicating as much of that stuff as possible especially around Metropolis. If it's around, it wouldn't be by accident."

Martha handed her cell phone over. She'd typed a message on the memo pad: "See if distractions affect it." Lois nodded once.

"Hey, Junior, give me all the primary numbers backwards from one thousand and don't stop throwing."

Conner groaned. "Why?"

"We're testing your concentration."

He stuck his tongue out but obeyed. "997, 991, 983, 977…uh, 967, 953, 947--" All the while, he threw a bale of hay fifteen yards, caught it and threw it back. "719, 709, 701--"

"What's the fifth word on the twentieth paragraph in Chapter Ten of To Kill a Mockingbird?" asked Martha.


"What song is #55,645 on our main player?" Lois asked.

"By song title or artist?"

"Song title."

Conner had to think for two throws. "Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd."

Turning to Martha, Lois said, "His memory's all right. Explain factors that contributed to the start of World War I."

"Aww, come on. That's confusing! Can I just give you the date?"

Field grass seeds whipped into the air and Clark appeared between the two women. J'Onn trailed at a more human pace behind him. "How's he doing?" Clark asked.

"Peachy," replied Lois. "You never would have known he had a frillion glass splinters from floating a jar of pickles. How was work?"

"Reminding me how much I don't miss Mom's political dinners. We got a name from the woman in the pod but nothing else and the UN refuses to consider putting her in League custody until Krysybestan finishes tallying the damages. Sweden, the USA and China are bidding for rights to investigate the sinkholes and Japan won't lend any equipment until that's settled. Meanwhile, Maland Barda--"


"Our pod-woman," said Clark.

"How do you know that's her name and not an alien epithet?" asked Lois.

"I scanned that much from her mind," J'Onn said. "She has strong, smooth shields. Wherever her origin, she has also trained for psychic attacks. Perhaps it is for the best that she remains with the UN until further notice."

Lois read Clark's discomfort clearly. He'd never gotten over his distrust of government-run xenology research and with good reason. Leaving another non-human in one must have been tearing him up.

"Thank goodness Diana's on the case," said Clark. "She'll make sure Maland's treated well." He studied his son for a few minutes then turned to J'Onn. "What do you think?"

"I've never seen this manifestation in a kryptonian before," J'Onn admitted. "A light trace of telepathy emanates from him, which in itself is unsurprising considering his genetic make-up. However his 'voice' is louder than normal."

"Conner's psychic now?" Lois paraphrased.

"No, not quite," said J'Onn. "It's a small difference, a louder whisper not true telepathic communication. But if you wish, I can train him in some basic mental exercises. Perhaps that will ease some troubles."

"I'd really appreciate that,' said Clark. "I guess the only other thing we can do is look out for other incidents and keep note of preceding events. Conner, you can stop now."

"Aw, shucks, just when it was getting fun." Conner pitched the bale of hay one last time. It arced twenty feet in the air, landing with a "whump" out of Lois' visual range.

Martha turned to J'Onn. "Come inside the house for some refreshments, J'Onn. You haven't visited in a while."

"Thank you, Martha, I shall." He held an arm out and they strolled back to the yellow farmhouse, chatting amiably about "the kids."

Poking Clark's side, Lois said, "Hey, Smallville, I think J'Onn's hitting on your mom."

Clark made a face. "So this is what it feels like to be you, Conner."

"Dude, not even," said Conner. "At least they're just holding hands. You two totally destroy my brain."

"Destroy this." Faster than Lois could see, Clark grabbed Conner around the waist and threw him into the air. Conner whooped all the way up and up and up until he was only a black and blue speck in the sky. Laughing, his father launched himself up as well. They played this game all the time out here-- Clark would toss Conner high enough to break cloud cover and fly with him during the trajectory, waiting until the last minute to stop his fall. The whole county heard their laughter. Catch chez Lane-Kent-Sullivan. This, Lois reflected, was one of many reasons Clark deserved a baby.

Egg retrieval required another visit to S.T.A.R. Labs. They were fertilised and ready for implantation a week later. Despite his jokes about witnessing his sibling's conception, Conner was happy to go to New York with his parents. Firstly, it was New York, party central of the planet. Secondly, Dr. Swann's assistant was a stone fox. He winked at her every time he dropped in. Thirdly, it was kind of a huge deal.

"You guys want a girl or a boy?" he asked in mid-leap from one rooftop to the next. He'd declined his dad's offer for a piggyback but that meant running and roof-hopping to Giselle Towers, S.T.A.R. Labs HQ, while Clark carried Lois.

They looked at each other--they always looked at each other before talking, like they had to network brains or something-- before Aunt Lo said, "I think I want a boy. Girls are expensive and get into a lot more trouble."

"Besides, we're having so much fun with you, we want to do it all over again," Clark said in a deadpan. "I don't care really, as long as it's healthy. What about you? Do you want a sister or a brother?"

"Whatever," said Conner. "I don't really mind either one. We totally have to get a new place though. I'm not so into sharing rooms."

With an evil grin, Lois said, "You only have to stand it until you finish high school and then we're kicking you out."

"Lois!" Clark said, but his lips twitched.

"I read on the net that you gotta acclimatise the elder sibling about the idea of having a baby around. Not doing a bang up job so far," said Conner.

Clark snapped his fingers. "That's what I forgot. We'll have to stop by F.A.O. Schwartz after this to buy a PeePee Polly Doll for you."

"You two have read way more than I have about pregnancy," Lois said. "You're making me look bad. But then again, you're the ones who have superspeed. I hereby give all my diapering duties to you. No need to thank me."

"So, like, with names, I was thinking Gordon if it's a boy and Nigella if it's a girl," said Conner.

"You're been watching Food Channel reruns," said Clark. "I've got a swell idea--"

"Swell?" Lois and Conner parroted.

"-- instead of just watching the Food Channel, why don't you actually cook the recipes from those shows?"

"But that would be, like, productive," said Conner with a grimace.

Clark rolled his eyes up. "Right. How silly of me."

"Gordon I can take but there's no way in hell I'm going to name my daughter Nigella," said Lois. "The baby name list is now fifteen names long on the boys' side and seventeen names on the girls' side. Aren't we supposed to narrow it down instead of expanding it?"

"We've already established our family doesn't follow convention," Clark said. "Why start with list making? I'd nix Nigella too, though. It doesn't sound... pretty enough. What about Corazon for a girl and Kahlil for a boy?"

"Still lengthening the list. At this rate, the kid won't have a name until kindergarten."

They landed on the roof of the Giselle Tower, laughing.

On good days-- most days, really-- Conner considered himself Chloe Sullivan and Clark Kent's son and Lois Lane's nephew, created the same way more people were. Occasionally, however, he caught sight of his dad and himself side-by-side on a reflective surface and their similarity in looks whacked him upside the head. He didn't just resemble Clark Kent; he looked exactly like Clark Kent down to the stubborn curl at the apex of his widow's peak. According to the JL database, even their fingerprint and retinal patterns matched. Those days, Conner remembered he was a glorified science project, a Superman Lite. The man he called "Dad" was, more accurately, his twin. That was just all sorts of wrong.

This thing that Dr. Swann was doing, it was all cool. Dad and Aunt Lo would actually have a real baby like they wanted. He knew they cared about him; he wasn't that emo. But there was a difference between being someone's kid and being someone's copy. He knew they'd want to have an actual kid. They deserved to have an actual kid.

So, yeah, he kidded around while Aunt Lo prepped for the implantation and made gagging noises when Dr. Swann asked him to leave the room for the actual procedure but he was genuinely happy for them.

This happiness did not extend to hearing them go at it later on that night. Conner groaned as he buried his head under two pillows and a blanket. What a freakin' stupid time for his hearing to kick in! What the hell was this? His dad had to be temporarily blinded by a freak accident for his hearing to set in and he, Conner, randomly got it while his parents were in a celebratory mood? He wanted to be able to hear Robin try to sneak up on him or Wendy the Werewolf Stalker changing out of costume in her trailer. Instead he got:

"Oh, Jesus God, Clark, I love your mouth!"

The world hated him. He'd never be able to face them in the morning.

Covering his ears, Conner zipped out of bed, out his bedroom window and up the fire-escape to the roof. That didn't work even with sirens going off and the blare of a hundred households tuned into late night television. His suffered the auditory equivalent of watching a train wreck.

"Lois. Oh...oh, oh, oh, Lois!"

Conner could cry. He jumped to another roof then another then another until he reached Hobb's Port on the intersection of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers. Still hearing a disturbing amount of heavy breathing, he leapt off the rooftops and ran east. He followed the highways until he couldn't hear them, even if he tried. Now he had the new problem of hearing everything else. He put his hands up to his ears again, wincing in pain. He was in a really loud city.

Looking up, he amended the thought. He was in a really loud and scary looking city. Gargoyles from neo-gothic architecture loomed down over him, the mirrored buildings they protected multiplying them by a hundred. Wind pummelled the top stories and whistled through slotted roof ventilators. Cars honked even this late at night, almost, but not quite, drowning out sirens-- ambulance, police, fire trucks, burglar alarms, hospital equipment. People shouted, fists in drunken fights crunched wetly into soft organs under frail bonds, babies cried. The babies wouldn't stop crying.

Conner fell to his knees, eyes clenched. Tune it out, tune it out, tune it out

Babies still cried. Glass shattered nearby. A woman-- two women? Three?-- shrieked as they threw objects at assailants. A gang ignored the sobs of their initiate.

"-- off. Go home, Robin."

Conner's eyes snapped open.

"I still have another half hour remaining in my shift."

Focus. Focus, focus, focus He got up and ran again, this time straining for that voice. Batman's voice, too. No one could really forget Batman's voice but there was no way in hell he'd try to meet Batman on his own turf. Word was the guy owned a chunk of kryptonite.

"This will take more than half an hour and I can't have you leaving in the middle of an operation."

"Then I won't leave."

"That wasn't a request, Robin. Go home."

He didn't answer. Conner skidded to a stop.

"Yessir," said Robin, a little sulkily. "Robin out."

Conner ran north. He was in Gotham City. He was in fucking Gotham City, home of the goddamn Batman, cesspool of the universe. He had to run all the way to the east coast of the continent to not hear his parents going at it. Honestly, weren't they too old to have sex?

He skidded to a stop again, behind an overflowing trash bin. Nothing, no Robin. He widened his focus and bam! The city assaulted his ears again. Gasping, Conner slammed his hands over the sides of his head. He had to concentrate on something or he'd go nuts. This place was abso-fucking-lutely nuts.

An ant crawled over his foot. Six hairy legs tapped over the tiny, crystalline structure of his skin, thirty-six chitin joints creaking past each other. Two antennae vibrated like tinny wind chimes.

Somewhere due north, came Robin's disgusted complaint: "Two-forty? I'm not going to finish--"

Conner shot out of the alley.


He turned down a street.


And zipped past a dilapidated suburb.


Through a cemetery and around the playground and who the hell built a playground next to a cemetery?

"--in five--"

Up a swank gated community on a hill.


To a doors of a really nice, big house. Conner stared up at it. Robin was rich?

"Dammit," said Robin. It came from the back of the mansion. Sheets of paper clapped against each other. The air-conditioning system roared. Five earthworms chewed dirt. A plane whistled through the sky overhead. Electricity crackled in the clouds. Conner snuck around back to pinpoint the exact window. A faint glow came from the second and third windows on the east side of the second floor.

In one hop, he hung on the wrought-iron flower box on the bottom edge of the window. A grunt and a chin-up later, he wrenched Robin's window open and was inside. The problem was the room was empty.

"Hey, Robbie," Conner whispered. "It's me."

Not a sound. Great. His hearing had clicked off exactly when he needed to hear Robin sneak up on him.

"Robin, I know this is your room. I heard you talking."

Not a thing stirred. Conner rose from his crouch and sighed. "Okay, if you want to make it all official: Yankee-Juliet-Lima, Zero-Five reporting, Brahman Protocol. Now show the hell up, I'm tired."

Robin dropped out of the ceiling like a freakin' bat. Cute.

"You wear your mask while you're in your pj's?" said Conner. "I said Brahman Protocol. Civvies are cool."

"Brahman Protocol only counts during emergencies if other initiatives fail. Even then, we don't interact with the League in civilian clothing. Ever." Robin crossed his arms. "Why are you here?"

"I'd tell you but then I'd have to remember and right now, I'm exhausted trying to forget. You ever try to unhear everything in the state? It's not fun. I'm crashing here for a couple hours." Conner flopped on the bed.

That gave Robin a pause. "You heard me... why are you here, Kon-el?"

"Dude, you are the worst best friend, ever. You know that when your buddy sneaks into your room in the middle of the night to crash, you're supposed to just let him crash, right?"

"Best... of course. That's what usually happens with my... buddies."

Something in Robin's pauses made Conner open his eyes. "You've never had buddies crash over at your place before, have you?"

With a barely strangled sigh, Robin sat at his desk. "I don't exactly have the chance to get out much. Especially at night."

"And people think I'm the alien. Okay, seeing as how this is your first time with the wacky world of normalcy, I'm going to answer your question. I'm over because my hearing kicked in and I heard my parents having sex next door in Dolby Digital THX surround sound." He covered his face in shame.

"Holy shit," Robin breathed.

"Yeah. That."

"I... I'm so sorry. Are you... of course you're not okay. Please, sleep over for as long as you need to. My parents have a psychotherapist on speed-dial if you feel the need to vent."

Conner grinned. "Thanks, Robbie. I knew you had to be halfway human. I'll totally make it up to you though. What's your paper on and why the hell are you doing one in August?"

"I take summer school so my workload isn't as heavy during the normal year," said Robin. "It gives me more time to work at night."

"Makes a sick sort of sense, if you're a Bat. Premise?"

"Compare and contrast a novel with a current event and explain the significance of the similarities or the differences."

Conner made a face. "Dude, that's hard core. I thought you were younger than me."

"How old are you?" If he didn't know any better, he could've sworn asking that question made Robbie uncomfortable.

"I'm going into tenth."

"Oh. I am too. But, um, I skipped a grade."

"Of course you did, you freaky little bird. And that's Lit not just English." He laughed at Robin's fidgeting. "Dude, you are such a nerd. Go figure the YJ stud would be best friends with the YJ keener."

"Stud. As in only good for ramming into walls?" Now even Robin was grinning. "Go to sleep already, Kon-el. I have to hand this in by eight this morning."

"And that's the other thing-- people who let me crash at their place can totally call me Conner."

Shyly, Robin peeled his mask off. "Tim. You... you should know your best buddy's name."

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