Good as dinner was, Conner barely finished his third serving. He knew he shouldn't be pissed off at Ollie when they were out of uniform, especially when his stories about Dad and Aunt Lo were perfect blackmailing material. He and Bart were pretty cool outside of the League. And he really wasn't pissed off at Ollie so much as pissed off that he was right. About everything. His fuck-up measurements went way off scale.
Things weren't better in school. After the lab thing in September, no one wanted to talk to him all of a sudden except for those anarchy dweebs who thought spray-painting quasi-Satanist symbols behind the scoreboard was the height of cool. Tana wouldn't even look at him and Roxy ducked into random doors when she saw him coming down the hall. Anytime he acted any way except happy, he got a message in his school login from the guidance counsellor. On the upside, his video game top scores smashed records.
"Hey, you." Lois poked his side. "How did you defeat this scene so quickly? It took me four hours of game-play to get enough power and ammo."
"I'm gifted," said Conner.
Her brows crinkled. "Is something wrong?"
"Nothing I can't handle."
"You sure? You're not just doing the House of El thing where you say you can handle it but really, it's gripping you by the gonads and whipping you around like a towel during the Stanley Cup playoffs?"
He dredged up a smile. "I'm sure, Aunt Lo."
"Liar. But I'll get it out of you." She ruffled his hair. "Pause that for a sec. I want you to help me give your dad his Christmas present."
"Hey, why does he get his present early and I don't?"
"Because he whines more. Come on."
Quickly ducking into the overnight bags, they went to the kitchen where Bart, Clark and Martha cupped spiced apple ciders and picked at pie crumbs. Seeing them enter, Clark's grin widened. Some of Conner's depression faded. He would give anything to be able to do that, to just sit there and smile and somehow telepathically share feelings. With his own girlfriends, he'd stick his foot in his mouth so many times, he had a special barbeque sauce for it.
Lois draped herself on Clark's lap and pecked his check. "Conner has something for you from me."
"And it's so dangerous, you want a middle-man?"
"Something like that." Lois nodded and Conner, trying not to be mechanic, handed the little blue gift bag over.
Clark drew out a six-inch plastic indicator. Looking over his shoulder, Conner saw a little pink plus sign.
"We're pregnant again!" Lois yelled, throwing her hands up. The little gathering exploded into cheers. Conner mashed his grandmother, Bart and Ollie into the group hug and there might have been a stray kiss on his chin and he wanted to be ecstatic, he really, really did but his chest felt a little too tight. He pulled away, dragging both hands through his hair.
"That totally rocks, Aunt Lo," he said, probably for the tenth time.
"I'm thinking we should start looking for a new place," Lois said. "Poor Conn's already stuffed in a closet and with the baby coming, there'll be even less room."
"What kind of real estate are you looking for?" asked Ollie.
"Somewhere I can come and go without people seeing me by accident," said Clark. "Right now, we're conveniently surrounded on three sides by brick walls overlooking alleyways."
"Why don't you just take my penthouse?"
Clark and Lois were thunderstruck. Conner was sure his face looked the same. "The penthouse on Queen Tower? The one with its own elevator and the little waterfall going into the hot tub on the patio? And the TV big enough to eat this house?"
"Hey, the bossman said I could get the TV," Bart said, laughing.
"We couldn't accept," said Clark. "Our salaries can't pay for something like that."
"Dude, the Prince of Wales couldn't afford the Queen Tower penthouse," said Conner.
Ollie sighed. "It's a gift. Everyone knows I'm friends with former-Senator Kent and her family. Just make sure that kid knows who her favourite uncle is going to be."
"Deal," Lois said. She grabbed Ollie's hand for a shake. "I was worried for a second you'd ask us to name her Olivia."
"Don't be ridiculous. I hated my name as a kid."
Her brow arched up. She wouldn't have pegged Ollie as being anything but comfortable in his skin. "What's wrong with it?"
"A production of Oliver in middle school."
"Yeah, nothing like a Dickensian morality play to make privileged, Mayflower in-breeders feel better about themselves," said Ollie, taking a sip of wine shortly after. "Marian's nice for a girl; Jackson for a boy."
Hiding his smile behind his beer, Clark said, "Not Robin?"
"Jesus, no! You want to curse the kid into becoming Bat-like?"
"I say Dawn for a girl," said Bart.
Clark made a considering sound. "I actually like that."
"Or Barry after his coolest uncle."
Martha covered her mouth with a napkin, pretending to cough. From there, the adult conversation devolved into arguments over baby names. Even Grandma got involved, vetoing Clark's continued insistence on "Jonathan" or "Joseph." It was cool in that sitcom way then suddenly, like a kick to the ribs, Conner missed his mom. Chloe would fit in so well there, laughing with her old friends, drinking Irish coffee and teasing everyone with fifty-dollar words just like in Aunt Lo and Dad's stories. She would've loved to see her two best friends with a baby.
Thanksgiving dinner hardened into rock at the bottom of his stomach. He had to escape for a while. "Is it okay if I go visit a friend?" Conner asked. "I just remembered I promised we'd hang out and since I'm spending the weekends for the next hundred years trying to control my whack-job of a power, I think I should drop by."
"Why of course, dear." Martha immediately stood to pack him baked goodies. "Bring some snacks while you're out."
"Give us a call around ten," Lois said as he took the bag and made for the front door.
"Yeah, totally." He hit the porch at a near run--
-- neatly slamming into his dad. "Conner." Clark braced both hands on his shoulders. "I'm proud of you, son. You know that, right?"
A vise clamped around his ribs and squeezed. "Yeah. Yeah, sure, Dad."
"Having a baby doesn't mean we're going to love you less."
Muffling a groan, Conner said, "Geez, Dad, I know!"
He grinned. "I know you know. But sometimes, it's nice to hear out loud."
"You're such a sap." But it was. It really was.
A house as formidable as Robbie's-- Tim's-- would, naturally, have a housekeeper. She actually let him in with his half-joking "Hi! Can Tim come out to play?" and settled him in the formal living room with a soda and nachos in a crystal platter. She probably hand-made the nachos, milked a cow to get the cheese, and blew into syrup and water to carbonate the soda.
This time, he heard Robin coming. Ha! The younger boy showed up with his arm in a light sling, confused. "What are you doing here?" Tim asked.
"Would you believe hanging out for Thanksgiving? Are you and your folks finished having dinner?"
"They're at the fundraising dinner for the Martha Wayne Foundation. It's just me and Yolanda."
That was kind of sad. Conner suddenly realised why someone who grew up in a place like this would want to train under Batman. He admired the man, sure, but he knew he was a hardass. "Well, I'm kind of grounded for life starting tomorrow so I thought I'd better live up my last hours of freedom."
"Um, all right. What do you want to do?"
"You got a PlayStation?"
Ten minutes later, ensconced in the games room with two litres of Zesti and a Tex-Mex feast, Conner and Tim rocked their band to classic alternative and heavy metal.
"What's up with the arm?" Conner asked as he bashed fake drums.
"Second dislocation in a month," said Tim. "I have to rest it completely for the next three weeks or else the doctor says the damage will be permanent and it'll keep popping out."
"Understatement. Why are you grounded?"
"I accidentally wiped out twelve people during practice." He held his breath for the reaction.
Tim missed a note. "How?"
Conner explained all the times his energy field went wacky, leaving out Lois' name where pertinent and ending at the argument between his dad and Green Arrow.
"I'm sorry," said Tim.
"What for? You're not the one who pitched a door at Sue."
"I'm team leader. I should have been there and found a way to minimise damage."
Conner snorted. "Dude, I know you Gotham types are freakishly capable and all but unless you had a Peterbilt in your utility belt, there was no way to stop me. Even Kryptonian tech can't figure it out. Last we heard, I need to use my mind to control it, whatever that means."
"I guess. J'Onn's helping me figure it out." Their virtual rock band jumped into the audience to crowd surf, flipping to the next level of gameplay.
"Are you meditating?" Tim asked.
"Does zoning out in history count?" At his smirk, Conner said, "I try but, jokes about my flakiness aside, it's not easy to think of nothing. Something always comes up."
"Maybe you should try--"
Conner threw a nacho at him. "No. Nein. Nyet. Iie. I'm here to hang out with my best bud, not to do more work."
Tim missed another note. "Right." Half the song passed before he spoke again, "That being the case, our conversation's really limited considering we only have work in common."
"We can talk about people at work."
"Right. Because that's not fraught with danger."
Conner whistled. "Is your housekeeper a spy?"
"No. And she's home by now. Her home, I mean."
"Are there bugs in the house?"
"Of course not," said Tim. "I do a sweep once a week." At Conner's astonished expression, he said, "I don't have time to do it more than once a week--"
"You are all scary as fuck. No one's here to listen in, so we can talk about whatever we want. I don't get to do this, like, at all. Everyone in school is all weird and hates me right now and as of this afternoon, so does everyone in the Watchtower, at least the ones left who don't already hate me for calling Roy a junkie so my point is--" He stopped.
"Your point is?" Tim prodded.
"Dude, I have no idea." Conner snickered. "My train of thought totally left the station without me."
A grin forced itself onto Tim's face. "Are you sure you're not a natural blond?"
"Missing Cissie already?" Conner shot back.
"I miss her clear-sightedness and guidance," said Tim. "We're not going out."
"Totally. Which is why one time I walked in on you guys sleeping together."
Tim threw him a withering look. "We've never slept together like that. There aren't a lot of beds in the Watchtower and I trust her to cover my back when I'm asleep."
"Suuure, Mr. Nice Guy." Conner winked during an easy section in the song.
Tim paused the game. Turning to face him, he said in crisp tones, "I'm not going out with Arrowette. I've never gone out with Arrowette. I will never go out with Arrowette. Drop it."
"Why not? She's hot! Is it the height thing, 'cause you'll get taller eventually. Maybe. Or she could wear flats forever."
"I like guys."
One of Conner's drum sticks fell out of his hand. He caught it before it hit the ground. "Yeah. That's problematic. Not being gay," he hurried to amend, seeing Tim's expression freeze. "Dating Cissie would be problematic if you're gay 'cause obviously, you wouldn't be attracted to her bits since the bits you like come in a set of three not two even though hers are small enough that it'd probably pass and I should probably shut up any time soon except my mouth keeps moving even though my brain's empty oh look the last burrito." Conner stuffed the entire thing into his mouth.
Tim burst out laughing. It was a deep, gut-busting, falling on the floor to roll type of laughter, the kind he hadn't thought possible for Bats. Relieved, he watched Tim slowly crumple onto the couch, howling, his breath coming out in hiccups.
"I needed that." Tim wiped tears from his eyes. "God, I think I hurt my shoulder again but it was worth it."
"Glad to be of service," said Conner. "You're off your meds, aren't you?"
That nearly set him off again. After a shorter fit, he slumped into the couch cushions. It was the most relaxed he'd ever seen Tim. A light lit above Conner's head.
"You just figured it out. Officially, acknowledged to yourself type of figure-out. The kind where you start wearing purple pins and sticking rainbow stickers on your locker."
Tim sniffed. "I'd never do that. Who I sleep with is nobody's business. But yes, I finally came out to myself yesterday."
Game forgotten, Conner asked, "Dude! What set it off?"
"My harddive crashed and I realised I was more worried about losing my gay porn than my law paper." At his hoot of laughter, Tim said, "Do you know how hard it is to circumvent the safeguards Batman put on my personal computer so that I could download porn? I could probably ace Comp Tech thanks to my porn."
"Every time you're at monitor duty, all I'm going to hear is bow-chicka-bow-wow-oooooh-yeeaaah." Conner chuckled then snorted as he tried not to stop. "Jesus, Gar! Gar's going to flip his fucking lid when you tell him."
"I actually wasn't planning on telling him or anyone else in YJ," said Tim. "It's personal and only marginally related to work."
"But what if you go out with someone from JL?"
"I'm not. It's not professional."
"Dude, there are a lot of very muscled men in very tight clothing at the Watchtower."
"There are a lot of women too and I don't see you--" He stopped. "Okay, bad analogy. My point is it's not professional so I won't do it."
Conner rolled his eyes. "You Bats. Always emotionally constipated. Come on, let's finish this setlist off. I gotta be home by midnight."
"Fine." A few seconds passed, then, "Conner?"
"Thanks. For not... well, for being cool about it all."
"Dude, best friend, remember?"
"Yeah. I guess you are."
Conner bopped his head in beat with the current song. Their band smashed through the next four levels and was on the verge of going international. He wasn't a completely friendless loser and Robin, who was pretty much the only kid the League trusted, in turn trusted him with coming out. The day didn't seem to be as bad as it started out.
"Let's pretend the fate of the world and everyone in it depended on you --"
"No, Conner, I would not sleep with anyone in the League."
"But not even Nightwing? Everyone loves--"
"I will hurt you and smile."
The dusting of snow around Thanksgiving stuck. Ten inches fell on Conner's birthday early in December and continued to fall on a regular basis for the rest of the month, making for a very white in Christmas. Without Clark periodically blowing the road clear, they would never have made it to Smallville. Martha urged them to stay home if it wasn't safe; they knew she just loved having company in the old farm house, suddenly huge and empty.
For the first time since he took the crown of Atlantis, A.C. came for an extended visit with his wife, a stately woman named Mera who marvelled at the winter weather. He also brought his kids, Lorena and Arthur, nine and five respectively. Ollie came alone, the running gag being when he finally brought a girl over for Christmas, it would be a sign of his impending nuptials and, soon afterward, the end of the world. Victor brought Sara, one of the staffers at the Watchtower, known to the gang as his not-girlfriend but she had to leave after dinner Bart arrived last, ironically, also alone. He was off-again with his girlfriend this month. J'Onn would not come until late in the morning for Christmas brunch.
"I hear you're expecting again," A.C. said to Lois, in a conversational lull.
She rubbed her belly self-consciously. His formal tones still surprised her although she knew the beach bum had long grown up. "Yup. Four weeks and two days."
He gave her a pendant made of coral and inlaid with dozens of tiny pearls, no bigger than champagne bubbles. "It's a health charm for you and the baby. Mera made it."
"I can't take this!" She pushed it back. "It's gorgeous. And obviously has a lot of meaning."
"She made it for you," said A.C. "Atlanteans don't have a lot of kids but even so, miscarriages are rare. When Clark told us about what happened to you, she cried for a week straight. Please take it, just to settle her mind."
"I... okay then. Thanks. Thanks Mera," she called over her shoulder.
Spiced cider in hand, Ollie gestured to the porch. Lois and A.C. followed, grabbing their own mugs. Smallville nights were wonderful, air crisp on your face and the warmth of the house at your back. The stars were so numerous they matched the sparkle of the icy hills. The snow had stopped hours ago.
"How is life in the lap of luxury, King Orin?" Ollie asked.
A.C. snorted. "It's a rank bitch. I knew I didn't want this job the first seven times they offered and now I don't have a choice. I--" He stopped and look over his shoulder through the window. "I got lucky marrying Mera. We actually like each other and she has the history for the place. She loves Atlantis, y'know? I just... I don't even know what I'm doing there half the time."
"You loved it enough to get a nifty new appendage," Lois said.
A.C. lifted his left arm. In place of his hand was a glimmering harpoon hook. "This was for Lorena. I guess you can say everything I'm doing is for my kids."
"Lian's almost ten," said Ollie. "As of next year, I've been a grandpa for ten years and I'm not even fifty. How is that even possible?"
Lois contemplated her drink. "That means Roy's in his thirties. Oh my God, it's surreal. When did he stop being your annoying, adopted sidekick?"
"The way you get around, I'm still surprised you only have two biological kids." A.C. smirked. He almost looked like his old self.
"Oh, shut up, fishstick. Don't you start, too, Lane. I know you're going to bring the ex up."
They leaned against the porch railing. The quiet kept them company until all the cider was drunk. Inside, Bart and Arthur raced animated go-karts against Clark and Lorena. The little girl sat comfortably ensconced in Clark's lap, hollering commands at the television screen, her red-gold braids wiggling.
"She's never like that with strangers," said A.C.
Propping her chin on her hand, Lois said, "Clark's always been great with kids. The ones in our building adore him. They call him Uncle Clark and swing off his arms. He even goes to all the family-themed activities, y'know, the pool parties and potlucks in the barbeques." Her hand trailed down to her abdomen again.
"Some people are meant to be fathers."
"Then there's us. Who'd've thought we could be parents." Ollie shook his head and took a sip of his cider. "When I look at any of my kids, I can barely believe they're functional members of society."
"We are kind of the poster children for birth control," said Lois.
"I'll second that." A.C. raised his mug and they all toasted his words.
For Lorena and Arthur's sake, everyone turned in early. The children didn't celebrate Christmas in Atlantis but A.C. had told them about the kind sorcerer, Santa Claus, who snuck into houses to reward good boys and girls. As guests of honour, the Atlantean contingent took Clark's old bedroom. Everyone else hunkered down in the living room, pushing aside couches to make room for air mattresses even as Victor complained about lubing his joints. Ollie hummed "If I Only Had a Heart" from Wizard of Oz until Lois threatened to castrate him with an egg beater. Conner and Bart stayed up all night to play video games; they were still hissing insults at each other when Clark got up the next morning to milk the cows. He ordered Bart to set the gifts under the tree then dragged a suddenly lethargic Conner to help him with morning chores.
Royal etiquette flew out the frosty windows when Lorena and Arthur saw all the brightly coloured presents. They rushed through the living room, tripping over Ollie's long legs even as their father told them to hush-- others were still sleeping. J'Onn pushed through the backdoor in his human disguise, bags of food and presents balanced either arm. Martha descended the stairs arm in arm with Mera, trading finer points of Atlantean Council versus the American Senate. They chatted while making a feast of chocolate chip waffles, French toast out of walnut bread, omelettes stuffed with red and green bell peppers and cheddar smokies. Conner returned from the barn in time to prep the ingredients, unable to deny his grandmother's request. Disgusted by their domesticity, Lois made the best damn coffee ever before showing Lorena the mysterious workings of a hula hoop.
"The loot counts are pretty high for the kids and Mom but I don't see many presents for us," Clark teased his friends. "Didn't we feed you enough?"
"Naw, dude, your present is such that you're going to owe us for years," said Bart. "We're all going to help you move into Ollie's old digs."
"This includes renovations for the important things in your life-- soundproofing, tinted windows, surveillance sensors on the exteriors and all access points, state of the art alarm system, a hidden closet for your uniform and, last but not least, a direct patch from the nursery to the Watchtower. No need to thank me, the yearning look on Lois' face as I take my second cup of coffee is thanks enough." Ollie wafted the cup under Lois' nose and took a big slurp.
Their offer could not have come at a better time. The day after Christmas, Lois rolled out of her sleeping bag running and barely made it to the kitchen sink before she vomited. At Martha's insistence, she stayed in the master bedroom until she felt better. By dinner, she was still hugging a bucket. Clark came upstairs to help her clean up and offer whatever comfort he could.
"What do you want to eat?" he asked.
"I want to eat leftover Christmas ham, broccoli salad and that pilaf thing J'Onn brought but I know I wouldn't be able to keep it down." Lois punched the mattress. "I'm hungry for something other than flat ginger ale and dry toast."
Clark shifted down the bed, taking the blankets with him. He lifted Lois' shirt, ignoring her protesting squawks about the cold air, and lightly rested his chin on her stomach. "Hello, little one," he said. Lois curled his hands around his hair. "Please stick around. We'd love to meet you."
Sniffing away her tears, Lois drew him up by the ears for a kiss. "Goddamn hormones. I think I hate this part of pregnancy the most."
"I don't want to squash you," he said.
"You're not squashing; you're warming." They kissed again.
"You know it's love when you've just vomited and I still give you tongue."
"You!" Lois smacked his shoulder. Addressing her stomach, she said, "Baby, I leached all the romanticism from your dad. I just wanted to warn you."
Laughing, Clark returned to his original purpose. "I can give you toast wafted over raspberry jam and flat club soda."
Lois reluctantly nodded. "And I haven't taken my vitamins at all today."
"I'm sure it won't matter if you miss a couple days."
"Considering the delicacy of this pregnancy, that's a risk I don't want to take. Give me my bland food already; maybe if I eat it while smelling ham..." Colour leached from her cheeks. "Never mind. Oh, God. Bucket!"
"I was thinking," Clark said when she lifted her head up again, "maybe we shouldn't, um, we shouldn't make love while you're pregnant."
"Ugh, Smallville, are you kidding me? Pregnant sex is awesome sex."
"But the last time, you miscarried."
"And Chapel said it had nothing to do with love-making."
Stubbornly, he kept on. "I've been reading up on it. Orgasms contract the uterus just like in labour. In high-risk pregnancies, doctors do recommend cessation of sex until they think it's safe."
Lois peered at him through her bangs, unimpressed. "I'm too pukey to talk about this coherently and you're being too paranoid to make sense. We'll talk about it with Chapel in our next visit and I'm going to demand retribution when she tells us that sex is perfectly safe. Until then--" She hunched over the bucket again.