Between Christmas and New Year's Day, the original inner circle made the penthouse habitable. Lois hated every other second of it because on those alternate seconds, she was either throwing up or sleeping. She couldn't figure out the trigger which frustrated her even more because she couldn't predict when she'd throw up next.
Hovering within her personal space, Clark asked, "Are you sure you don't want to take a cab? It's only a few blocks."
"Exactly. I can walk a few blocks from Queen Tower to the Daily Planet, Clark." Lois lugged her briefcase over her shoulder. Clark tried to take it. Lois yanked it back. "Smallville!"
"Lois! The baby--"
"Is going to be fine. I ate breakfast. I'm wearing heavy-tread snow boots. I will walk very slowly. Let go my bag or I will hurt you."
Conner chose that moment to run in for his own breakfast. "Hey Aunt Lo. Isn't that bag too big for you to hold with the baby and all?"
"Argh!" Lois gripped her briefcase with both hands and wrenched it from Clark. "I want to go to work. At least Perry still shouts at me."
"That's 'cause he doesn't know you're preggers."
"We're just worried," said Clark as they stepped outside. "We don't want you to be any more stressed than you already are with the move and the tests."
"I know you are but you know what causes me a lot more stress? Not working. I hate sitting around on my ass, you know that. So even if it means I have to keep digging this goddamned Wonder Woman-Superboy piece, I'll do it. Rain, show or shine. Oooh, Clark, can you get the venti dark roast with a shot of hazelnut and mint?" she asked as they entered their usual café.
""I can't believe Perry's still set on that story. It's been months. I can get whipped cream on my coffee you can lick off," he said, sympathetic to her plight.
"See, and then you say things like that and all thoughts of divorce leave my head." To the server, she said, "I'll have the extra large mango-pineapple smoothie with the energy and cardio mix, fill up this bottle with the iciest water you can make and if that's carrot-bran muffins you're taking out of the oven, score me one but if not, I'll have a four-grain bagel with herbed cream cheese and a slice of tomato. Thanks. Perry's stubborn as a mule when he gets his ideas."
"It probably didn't help that the last story we did with Cat is still in the top five highest-selling issues."
"Stupid Justice League charity date auction."
The overwhelmed server received Clark's order next. "Venti dark roast with a shot of hazelnut and mint, and a raspberry-filled doughnut, please. Oh, and whipped cream on the coffee."
Lois pouted. Clark leaned down to kiss her lower lip. "At least I'm supposed to eat for two now albeit non-sugary, non-greasy, somewhat bland food. One more kiss, then we're in work mode."
Upon arriving at the Planet, Lois discovered Satpal and Ron had come down with a Norwalk-like virus which was problematic. In three hours, Satpal was scheduled to interview Diana Hippolytidis, AKA Her Serenity, Princess Diana of Themyscira AKA Wonder Woman Damn Her Perky Ass. Anna couldn't cover; she was neck deep hunting down a fraud cover-up. Clark was available but he had to hand in three features by the end of the day. Technically, he could have them all finished before the first coffee pot ran out but he had to pretend to be working. Even if he didn't, he wouldn't go. Clark had hang ups about writing about himself. So it was up to Lois to do the interview.
She took a cab to the Hyatt Regency due to time constraints. Diana rose when Lois entered the small, private sitting room. Her hand shake was firm, dry and no longer than necessary to convey her attitude. Everything a handshake should be.
"I am sorry Ms. Dhillon is ill, Ms. Lane," said Diana as she gestured to two plump couches. "I hope it did not disturb her holidays."
"Satpal's disgustingly organised," Lois said. "She probably finished New Year's Eve celebrations a couple days after Christmas. You and holidays?"
"Restful, relatively speaking. Maybe I pour your coffee? I remember from our last interview you prefer it black, strong and capable of throwing Canary out the window."
Lois winced. "I can't believe you remembered that."
"It is not every day someone accuses me of, what was your wording? Oh yes, using my considerable assets as a weapon in a world already saturated with questionable definitions of female empowerment."
"You gotta admit, leotards aren't exactly combatwear."
"I have a strong warrior's body and take pride in it. It's no fault of mine if the Patriarch's world chooses to translate that and the sexuality stemming from that somehow weak or immoral."
"I'll give you points for not being a ninety-pound waif model," said Lois.
Diana nodded. "So, Ms Lane, you want to know more about my life before I became a member of the Justice League."
"Yes." She made a show of going through her notes as she reassessed her strategy for the interview. In the end, she decided her usual candour would best suit the situation. "Off the record, Ms. Themyscira? My editor says the people want a feature on the women who may be Superboy's mom."
Diana's shoulders straightened. "I was not given that impression when I spoke with Ms. Dhillon," she said tightly.
"Don't get your panties in a twist. Even if the numbers say that, I think it's a load of bullshit."
"Then why do you write it?"
"Partially because my boss says so. But mostly because I know I can put my own twist on the story that he'll like even better. Still off the record, I think you guys deserve a private life for all the things you do for us and unless you're raping people, shooting 'em up with crack or breaking any other law you're supposed to uphold, I don't have the right to know. After all, you don't ask the person you save which way they vote."
A smile, still stiff, worked its way onto Diana's face. "That is very diplomatic of you."
"Yeah, the devil's putting on ice skates. So, back on the record, where were you seventeen years ago?" Lois clicked her recorder on.
"As I have said in previous interviews, I was on the island of Themyscira. I came to Man's World twelve years ago, long after the young man known as Superboy was born."
"And you say no man has ever been in Themyscira?"
"That is correct."
"What about women?"
"No outsider women either."
"And for thousands of years, it's just been the same population of women."
Her regal stillness broke and she leaned towards the stable. "I have not poured you coffee."
Lois' hands twitched but she shook her head. "No, thanks. Not today."
"Tea then? Soda or juice? Or perhaps water?"
"I'm good. I'd just like to hear answer to my question."
With a grace that shouldn't have been possible for a woman of her size and musculature, she poured herself tea and mixed it with honey and milk. Then she took a delicate sip and sat back. "My aunts told me a story. After the Heracles and his men savaged the women, some found themselves pregnant. Such was their suffering that many of the women found the idea of bearing their rapist's child unbearable for how could a child born of such horrors be anything but a reminder of its conception? However, still others longed to follow Artemis and Hestia's pronouncement, to remain ever teachers and do no harm. They looked to my mother for advice."
Lois placed her hand over her belly. "What did she say?"
"She told them the harm had been done to their persons and to seek council individually with the goddesses. Whatever decision they made must be accepted by all Amazons. And so I have a few cousins my age though far fewer than one would predict."
"Were any of the children boys?"
Diana's gaze flattened. "None that I know of."
Leaning back, Lois murmured, "What are the odds of that?"
"Are you asking a question or merely commenting?"
She shrugged. "Whatever you want, Princess."
"I believe whatever decision my aunts made continues to haunt them after thousands of years, those who see their attackers in their daughters' face and those who will never have such knowledge." Diana took a sip of tea. She kept her eyes on the light, milky liquid in the cup. "My mother so wanted a child she bled into formed clay to have the gods breathe life into me. Yet, I believe with all my heart she'd rather destroy me than see me with a man. She raised me to believe all men were savages. So, as a long answer to your initial question, Ms. Lane, no, Superboy is not my son. At that time, any sort of man's touch was revolting to me."
"Seven years ago when your mother commanded you to make an alliance with Man's World, you offered to marry Superman and have his child," said Lois. "Why?"
"Partially for political reasons." She took another sip of tea. "No matter which man I married, I would also be tied to his nation. I could not ally Themyscira to any one country, nor myself as a member of the Justice League. Superman, on the other hand, belongs to the world. I would have allied myself to no country and, furthermore, to a man my mother could not help but see as worthy of a god-made Amazon."
Lois forced herself to unclench her hands before she snapped her pen in half. "Heading off the in-law problem. That's smart." Then, because she was a masochistic bitch, she also asked, "What about everything you just said about man's touch being revolting?"
Diana tilted her head back and laughed. "Do you mean would I have found Kal-el revolting? Heavens no! Kal couldn't be revolting if he tried. He's too gentle and kind to have any sort of negative energy within him. He is the reason I thought I would be capable of having a husband instead of a wife."
Lois' pen snapped. Diana jumped up.
"By Hera, your shirt! Here is a napkin--"
"I'm fine. It happens all the time. Cheap pens." Diana gave her a napkin anyway. Lois rubbed the stains away, wishing she could smear it all over the princess' wrinkle-free immortal face. "You were saying about the possibility of marrying Superman?"
"Merely that he is the only man I could imagine marrying. To use current terms, I am a lesbian, Ms. Lane. I like women and while I have made no effort to advertise that fact, I do not deny it either." She flashed a secretive smile. "However, Superman could make me change my mind."
Oh, he could, could he? "Swell," Lois gritted out.
"When I first came to Man's World, he was the only one to show me true honour when most only gave patronising kindness or sceptical disdain. I felt he truly wished me well in all that I pursued. There is something in his eyes." She tilted her head to one side, an unexpectedly girlish gesture. "Do you understand the way I mean?"
"Yeah," said Lois. "He makes it really hard to hate him."
"And very easy to love." Diana shrugged. "It is a moot point in any case. He would not have me if my affections were not fully engaged. I have also been assured that his affections have lain elsewhere for quite some time now. If you find that woman, you will find Kon-el's mother. I am told you are determined enough to dig that far."
"If you could, would you want to meet his... significant other?"
"Certainly. I would be honoured to meet the woman for whom Kal-el wants to be strong." Her smiled turned wistful. "She must be truly amazing."
Lois decided to fold the napkin instead of grinding it into Diana's aquiline nose. "Why do you think he's so secretive about her? And about Superboy, too. No one knew he existed until two years ago and he hasn't even publicly acknowledged him as his son."
Diana curled her fingers under her chin, thoughtful. "He has many enemies who would doubtless use his family to weaken him. More than that, I think he wants something private, someone of his own. He gives so much to the world, you see. But of course you see; you and Mr. Kent are very close to him."
"Hey, we didn't know about Superboy either."
"I have only served with the boy on one mission but will not forget it. A government body contacted us to deal with a growing rebel forces hidden in the forests who apparently took a van with disaster relief supplies. However, when we took our own reconnaissance, we discovered government agents also skimming from the supplies, leaving very little to those in need. Kon-el was so incensed, he ran the supplies from the Red Cross directly to the villages all over the country even though we agreed to take shifts. Afterward, he left the delivery vans stacked one on top of the other in front of the president's residence." She shook her head. "He is a good child, brash but full of heart. With training, he will be as great as his father.
Lois remembered that mission. It had happened not long after Conner moved in with them. Like herself, Conner needed to vent his emotions but on that day even an hour of ranting failed to ease his mind. Clark had to take him to the Arctic reconstituting ice-floes to expend his frustrated energy.
"Do you think Superman should have told the Justice League about his family?" she asked.
"Of course not," said Diana. "I have revealed Themyscira's location to the few people I trust to keep their sworn oaths. Likewise, Kal-el keeps his family safe and secret from those who may harm them even unintentionally. I cannot begrudge him his secrets when I fiercely protect my own. Here's a comparison for your readers, Ms. Lane-- Navy SEALS cannot be referred to by name while they are in service. The work they do is far too dangerous to allow it. How are they any different from the Justice League?"
"I guess they aren't," said Lois. She sat back. Despite her preconceptions, Diana was making a lot of sense. The woman was gorgeous and ethical? Dammit, the world was unfair.
"The good news is he's officially over the training hump," said Ollie. "The bad news is I think he and everyone else are on a training plateau."
He stood to Clark's right in the observation deck of The Kitchen. Below, J'Onn and Arsenal pressed a two-prong attack against Conner. The location was a junkyard. Arsenal proved true to his name; he threw everything and a kitchen sink at Conner with uncanny precision. While Conner dodged the projectiles, J'Onn floated to one side, attacking telepathically. Only Conner's clenched teeth showed under this hood and shades.
Clark forced the air in and out of his lungs at a soft, easy pace. Watching him train was never easy. That was why he only participated in Conner's exercises and not actual scenarios; he couldn't help but pull his punches. "He's been on the defensive since Minute-07."
"Give him a second," Ollie said. "He's a wussy on the offense. Reminds me of you."
Glaring, Clark asked, "Why am I still your friend?"
"I hook you up and pimp out your crib."
"Wow, that sentence just aged you more than your facial hair."
Ollie's eyes narrowed. "The more people mock my goatee, the more I love it. Hey, there he goes!"
Clark returned his attention to The Kitchen scenario. Fighting to keep his E-field up in the face of J'Onns's telepathic attack meant Conner was more vulnerable. He wasn't bleeding but he limped from the aforementioned kitchen sink and his uniform was torn in several places. Normally, the E-field would have protected the suit against damage. Conner threw two cars at J'Onn: one directly at the martian and the other, a split second later, where he guessed J'Onn would go. He missed by a hair but his attention was already on Arsenal. Keeping the older man in his sights, Conner ducked behind a mountain of junk.
"It's all over now," Clark said, trying to keep the pride from his voice.
"I told them to keep him isolated," Ollie muttered. "Lian's going to kill me for bringing her daddy home injured again."
"She's only nine."
"Wait until you have a daughter. They have this look." Ollie shuddered. "There's no fighting it."
Conner pressed his hands against the twenty-foot pile of junk. Metal rattled. Wood creaked. Plastic snapped. Small items-- screws, handles, shards-- floated off the junk pile. Then larger pieces-- phones, table legs, trophies-- followed the suit, pushing the smaller items into a wider orbit. Arsenal started running. A computer tower flew past his hip. A lampshade threatened to trip him. Conner's junkpile now hovered before him, slowly spinning. He stretched his arms forward. The whole lot trembled and for a second, it looked like it might drop. Conner wrinkled his forehead in concentration. Three-quarters of a drawer chased Arsenal down. A dozen picture frames aimed for his hamstrings. Half a credenza lumbered behind them.
J'Onn appeared behind Conner and jabbed him in near the kidneys. Conner dropped, groaning. Junk crashed all around them. J'Onn had done this often enough to go intangible before anything hit him. Without Conner's control, his E-field snapped back tightly around his body. He was unharmed.
Clark released a breath he hadn't known he was holding.
"That's pretty much where we have to stop," Ollie said. "He can use the E-field offensively on anything he touches."
"Like a type of tactile telekinesis," said Clark.
"That's catchy. I like it. But when he does that, he's left vulnerable. It's like using a bullet-proof vest to whack someone on the head. I don't know how to push him any further."
"Maybe we're wrong to train him into using the E-field as a weapon. What if we pull back and work on strengthening its hold around his body? That's what it's there for."
"We don't have much of a choice." Ollie pressed the speakers on. "New scenario people. Superboy, if anything less than a rocketship gets past your E-field, I'm not going to be happy." He then leaned back on his chair, arms crossed behind his head. "Fatherhood suits you, Kal-el. You have a... pregnant glow."
Clark threw him a side-long glare. "Keep them coming, Queen, and one day you'll find yourself mysteriously without back-up in the middle of the Kalahari."
But Ollie's grin held. "You gotta admit, you've loosened up a lot since Christmas. If Kon-el had done that photo-op last year, you would've flipped your top off."
Slowly, Clark turned his head. "Photo-op?"
"The one for Time Magazine. Please let me you know about that."
"They wanted to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Justice League by doing a spread on the youngest members. Everyone except Robin went to New Zealand for the shoot and the interviews. Remember? It was around New Years' Eve."
"Kon told me he was going to a YJ party."
Ollie shrugged. "He kind of did. It was a catered shoot."
Clark spun on his heel and left the room, his cape snapping behind him. Ollie scrambled off the chair to chase him down.
"Come on, Kal, they were together as a team. It was practically a mission! I told them they could go."
"There are League rules and there are family rules, Green Arrow, and one of the family rules is to minimize photography," said Clark. Anger softened his voice. "It's bad enough anyone with a half-decent phone can snap a picture and post it online. We don't need close-ups and-- It's summer in New Zealand. Were they wearing their full uniforms?"
"As far as I know."
"If anyone saw Kon's tattoos--"
"I'm not!" Clark stopped abruptly and whirled around again. Red flashed in his eyes. Ollie reared back. "My reasons for keeping my family invisible from the public eye are valid. You of all people should understand that. To Time Magazine of all places? It's already half advertisement. We toe such a thin line between heroes and monsters; if anyone thinks this--" he pointed to the crest on his chest-- "is supposed to mean anything except unaffiliated aid--"
Ollie held his hands up. "I get it. Trust me, I do. But I personally cleared the journalist and the photographer. Superboy is Robin's second-in-command anyway so he had the group under control."
That took Clark by surprise. "He's second? He didn't tell me." And with that, his anger faded away, deflating his stance.
"It's a teenager thing," said Ollie, patting his back. "One day, you'll make sense to each other again. Until then, I recommend a stiff Caesar, heavy on the tabasco. Just remember I was the one who had to calm Diana down when she found out Wondergirl didn't get the team leader position."
"But Wondergirl's due to enter the League in a few months. It wouldn't have made sense."
"Yeah, that. But in Diana's head, the oversight was clearly a sign of patriarchal bias, Man's Military makes no sense, let them fight for the position instead of voting, et cetera. I swear to God, I'm going to retire. Then this can all be your headache."
"You say that every year."
"But this time I mean it."
Ollie didn't mean it. The League was his wife, child and vocation. Nothing short of death would take him away. A shiver went down Clark's back at the thought and he hurried to touch the wooden armrest on a nearby chair. He wasn't ruled by superstition but in this line of work, it was better to be safe than sorry.
Pre-Metropolis, Conner would have sworn he was strictly a tea and soda guy. Continued exposure at home converted him into a coffee-swilling Yank. While he waited for dinner, he liked to hang out and pretend to do homework at a café a block away from Queen Tower. During rush hour, musicians played on an intimate stage across from the baristas. The setlist varied from rappers and DJs to singer-songwriters and heavy metal tribute bands. All sorts of people wandered in. Conner liked watching all sorts of people.
The baristas already knew he liked triple shot espresso slushies with whipped cream. One of the managers liked to surprise him with flavour shots of the day.
"Did you actually just give me a shot of lemon?" Conner asked.
"Uh-huh. Whatcha think?"
Conner pushed the cup back across the counter. Deliberately, he turned it around so she would have to sip where his lips had touched the rim. "Why don't you give it a try?"
She took a sip and put it down, licking the foam from her upper lip. Conner grinned.
"Can you just pay for your damn coffee and wait for her break?" groused the customer behind him.
Conner winked and put his money down. The place was packed today for three in the afternoon; maybe someone half decent was on the docket. Single-occupant tables dotted the floor; he perused them like a dinner menu, finally settling on one close to the stage.
The guy looked up and damn if he didn't give Conner a one over. "Hello."
"Do you mind if I sit here? The place is a little packed."
"No, go ahead. It's free."
"Thanks." He pulled at his shirt, smoothing away pretend wrinkles in such a way that showed off his muscles before taking the seat. Hey, the guy was damn fit in a tailored button-up with a crew-cut curls showing off half a dozen piercings and another gold ring through his eyebrow. Besides, he needed the ego boost. "I'm Conner."
"Gary." They shook hands. Conner lingered a second too long. Gary's surprise melted into pleasant amusement.
"So, Gary, are you really that absorbed with--" he peeked at the laptop screen, "-- the linguistic patterns of Middle English or are you trying to avoid conversations with pushy strangers like myself?"
"It's an absorbing topic," said Gary. "But the occasional stranger ends up surprising you."
"You don't say." Conner slowly wiped coffee off his bottom lip with his thumb. Gary's eyes followed then flickered up to someone behind Conner's right shoulder. A small hand squeezed his shoulder.
When he turned his head, Tana was there. Gorgeous, sweet, not-angry Tana. "Hey. Can we talk?"
Shit on a stick. Conner turned back to Gary, going through believable excuses, but he already wore a knowing look. "I'll be right back," Conner said. Without waiting for a response, he took his coffee in one hand, hooked Tana's arm through his opposite arm and left the café. His parents were due home in an hour; that should be plenty of time to talk at home.
"I'm really sorry," Conner said in a rush as they wound through the thinning after-school crowd. "I was in a really bad place and I just kind of lashed out and you got caught in the crossfire. I had no right to--"
She laid her hand on his arm, smiling tremulously up at him. "I know, Conner. And I'm sorry, too. I've spent all these months letting other people convince me that you're bad news."
"They were pretty convincing someones to keep you away for the whole semester."
"That's just it. They weren't. They said there must have been signs before hand of how unstable you were, I just didn't read them that way. But the thing is, there's nothing really. Except--" She stopped at the door, biting her lip. "You moved?"
"To Queen Tower? That's... didn't they do an episode of StarStyle here?"
Conner shrugged, ushering her into the lobby. "Dad and Aunt Lo got lucky. You were saying about my history of non-violence?"
"I wanted to tell them you were anything but violent. I mean, they even talked about your tattoos like they're gang-related or something."
She wanted him to deny it. He could tell. "It's just ink."
"I know, I know. But then they started asking me about unexplainable disappearances and other weirdness and I realised you're never available on weekends. Literally unavailable; you never answer your phone and when I call your house, you're always supposedly out. I'm not trying to pry--"
"Yes, you are," said Conner. "Who's 'they' anyway? What do 'they' care where I go on the weekends?"
"I care where you go on the weekends, too!" said Tana. "I want to spend all day with you."
"Well... I can't. I work weekends."
Tana stared at him. He had no idea how to translate the wrinkle in her brow, the slight narrowing of her eyes and her half-open mouth. "You work on the weekends," she repeated.
"And this had to be a secret because?" Tana waved his excuse away. "You know what? I don't even care. If you feel like you have to be all mysterious, fine. Whatever. I can live with that as long as I know you've decided."
A lump pulsed in Conner's throat. "Decided?"
"On whether or not we're us," she said.
"You... we're still an us? It's been all semester. I thought you totally moved on. Alan Davidson was--"
"Alan Davidson is my journalism partner." Her hand lingered on his forearm, sliding up his jacket to his shoulders. "I know it's been forever since we last talked but I love you, okay? I wouldn't've gone so far with you if I didn't. Whatever trouble you're going through, I want to help."
Conner took her in his arms. He'd almost forgotten how well she fit there, the top of her head under his chin, her arms encircling his waist. "I... Tana, you're awesome. You're like... God, I do... feel... a lot of feelings for you, you know that, right? A lot. When I hurt you, I wanted to tear my own head off."
She smiled up at him. "I know. You're lucky I hate listening to my parents, hoku.. So, how long do we got until your folks get home?"
"I can't, baby. I wish I could but..." He took a deep breath in preparation for his half-truths. "My parents really need me right now and with work and everything, it's not like I'm going to have any free time. It's not fair to you."
Tana stepped away. "Oh. I see." She looked everything but directly at him. "Okay, I see, I just... I'll just go. See you in math tomorrow."
She left with her head held up high, her long black hair brushing the small of her back. He loved her hair. Tana passed Lois and Clark as she ran for the elevator. Great, so on top of making Tana cry, he was going to get in shit for breaking the no-socialising rule.
"I know I'm grounded. I'll just go and punish myself some more, okay?" Conner turned on his heel to stalk into the condo.
Clark began to speak. "Conner, it's not a--" but Lois pushed him away.
"Let's talk, kiddo."
"Aunt Lo, I really have a crap load of stuff to do."
"Pfft! Since when have you been jumping to do homework?" She tugged his arm. "Let's go out to talk. Clark, don't listen in."
Clark raised his eyebrows. "When have I ever?"
The penthouse opened to a large balcony but that wasn't Lois' destination. She pulled Conner around and behind the west wall where a circular staircase led to a sparsely decorated roof. In the summer, bamboo from the level below could shade a large reed mat currently in storage. From that point, they stared out into Metropolis' sea of neon and lit windows.
"Talk to me, kiddo. You've been a ball of angst for months now."
Conner shrugged. He really didn't feel like rehashing. The day went on bad enough without an instant replay.
"You dad says you're mostly on monitor duty right now." Lois continued.
Oh yeah. That. Conner rolled his eyes. Ollie's suspension still held. He took progress reports from J'Onn but since J'Onn couldn't do jack with the stupid E-field besides teaching his relaxation methods, he still wasn't at the right level of competency with the new power. His friends were out there risking their lives and all he could do was watch them from monitor screens. This felt like a good time to chant his mantra: suck, suck, suck, suck...
Lois turned to face him. "What do you want life to look like, Conner?"
He gaped. "What?"
"Everyone has dreams of the future. Mine was simple and vague: I wanted out of my dad's house. It wasn't until Chloe pushed me into investigative journalism that I found my niche. Or, more accurately, a productive channel for my innate nosiness. She was pretty good at figuring people out, wasn't she?"
Shrugging, Conner said, "I guess."
"I guess," Lois repeated. She pinched the bridge of her nose. "Conner, you have to help us out here. The first year was rough for everyone, you especially but I'd hoped we'd gotten over that bump. Hell, you and Clark cut down your snarking by half. I thought we were making progress but ever since you got suspended from work, you've been... it's like the first month all over again!"
"Maybe it's 'cause I'm dangerous," Conner said with a sneer. "I screw up all the time and every time it happens, the screw-up gets bigger and bigger. They shouldn't've called me Sup-- that codename. I'm not Clark!"
"Kiddo, we don't expect you to be." She let out a breath. "So, what's going on here? Do you want to quit YJ?"
Conner's chest squeezed tight. They were going to take away even this from him. He'd messed up that badly. His eyes burned. His sinuses itched. "I don't know. Whatever, I guess."
"'Whatever, I guess.' I should've kept up with my teen-speak. You know what they say: if you don't use it, you lose it." Lois grabbed his shoulders, forcing him to face her. Then she rubbed his arms like he'd seen other people do to warm up. "Can I tell you why I, for one, would love to see you quit work?"
He shrugged. He'd always suspected she didn't think he'd fit into YJ either. If anyone could tell a Superman-Lite from the real thing, it would be her.
"The same hour I found out you were Chloe's kid, I promised her two things: One, I'd make sure you're happy. Two, I'd keep you safe even at the price of your happiness. I freak out every weekend when you go away because I can't protect you. Hell, I send you into war zones with lunch money and a thermos of coffee because it seemed to make you happy and I have friends at your work that look out for you. If you can look me in the eye and tell me that you want to quit, if YJ feels like we're pushing you to be in Clark's shoes, just say the word and you'll never have to go."
"No!" blasted out of Conner. "Aunt Lo, you can't-- it's everything I got!"
She cocked her head to one side, eyebrows arched, arms crossed. "I knew it! You're good at school but you don't actually like any of the subjects. You don't care whether or not you're on the football team which, lemme tell you, is more than enough to get most kids beat to death around here. You don't play any instruments, you don't put together computers, you don't walk dogs-- the only time I ever see you animated is when you work. Oh and if your tongue is down someone's throat."
"What! It's true. So you're miserable 'cause you're not working. Geez, kiddo, couldn't you just have said so?"
"Teenagers and adults, two generations separated by language."
Once unbottled, the words poured out of Conner's mouth. "All I ever see when I grow up is YJ. It's, like, everything, Aunt Lo. When I'm in my colours, I don't feel like a huge fake. I feel like I'm really me and I'm really doing what I should be doing so I can make up for--"
Lois caught on quickly. "Kiddo, you're not... you're not doing this because of your mom's death, are you?"
He kicked at the snow.
"You little idiot." She hauled him into an embrace. "How many times do we have to say it before you actually believe? Chloe didn't die because you weren't combat-trained; she died because Luthor is an amoral bastard who deserves to be in a vegetative state with deep, oozing, pus-filled bedsores and a non-functioning penis."
"But I could have helped."
"Even if you were trained, you weren't full-grown yet. You still aren't." Lois cupped his face. "You wouldn't've been able to hear her from your school on one side of the Greater London area when she was attacked on the other. Even if you had, back then, you couldn't run fast enough to rescue her."
"But now I can," said Conner. "I can keep other kids from having to-- it's cool and all with the surfrider and the world travel but really I-- Aunt Lo, I'm supposed to be doing this. Mom's a part of it, yeah, but it's totally more than that. Did you ever feel like that about reporting? Like you can't wait to jump out of bed to go to work and every hour there is like a second and you can't imagine doing anything ever for the rest of your life?"
Lois' expression softened. "Every day."
"This stupid E-field screw-up's messing with it! With everything!" He kicked harder at the snow. "It's domino effect of screw-up. Tana wanted to get together again."
His aunt nodded, her lips pressed together, uncharacteristically silent.
"But I knew I couldn't."
"Because! There's work and family and school and I can't have everything I want!" Conner's eyes widened. His jaw dropped. "Holy. Did I just grow up?"
Patting his back, Lois said, "I'm afraid so, kiddo."
January's snow became February's slush, perfect for staying indoors to decorate the baby's room. When Ollie offered to pay for an interior decorator, Clark asked him to leave the nursery bare. He wanted to build it. After all, Lois was doing all the work carrying the baby; assembling furniture was the least he could do. He didn't expect Conner to enthusiastically volunteer his help but the gesture warmed him.
"You're not just avoiding English Lit homework, are you?" Clark teased.
Conner clapped his hands over his head. "I'm hurt! Here I am, being the best damn big brother ever and you accuse me of using my unborn sibling for devious purposes. I want to help. Avoiding Lit is just an added bonus."
Clapping a bucket of paint and a brush in his hand, Clark pointed to the wall opposite the door. "Paint that between the tapes to make stripes. Keep as much of your E-field on your right for the first stripe then transfer it to the left for the second stripe and keep alternating until you're done."
With a groan, Conner said, "I should've known you'd turn this into a practice somehow."
"You're getting much better," said Clark. "You haven't had a breakout for months even when we're distracting you. By fine-tuning your ability to shift the field, you can ensure those breakouts never happen. Who knows, it may be tied to your ability to fly."
"Yeah, still waiting for that to kick in."
"I didn't until I was in college."
"Aunt Lo said you had daddy issues. And also you were afraid of heights."
"Aunt Lo has a big mouth. Rest assured, she'll pay for her betrayal." A cough sounded from the doorway. Turning, Clark beamed at his beautiful partner. "Good morning, sweetheart."
"Good afternoon more like," Conner said. "I thought we all agreed I'm the lazybones who likes to sleep until after lunch."
"Blame the Peanut," said Lois, rubbing her belly. "I didn't keep you awake with my hurling, did I, kiddo?"
"It's cool. I just wear my player to bed and concentrate on the music." Conner loped over to where Lois stood then kneeled so he faced her belly. "Hi, Peanut. You should really develop a taste for pizza 'cause Dad and I have to eat it in secret now."
"Even smelling it from a distance makes me nauseated," Lois groused. "I know this is your kid, Smallville, 'cause I can't keep any junkfood down. It's all leeks, spinach, eggplants and squash. My blood is probably only two percent junk now."
Clark pulled her into an embrace. "Do you want to go to Mom's this weekend? She can make her spinach soup."
"I want Twinkies," said Lois. "But I'll settle for your mom's zucchini pie. Ugh, really, Smallville. Zucchini pie? Do you realise what your spawn has done to me? I'm a wheatgrass swilling, tofu-eating, yoga-joining health nut!" But she caressed his jaw as she spoke. "What does his heart sound like?"
Clark zoned into her body. Lois' own heartbeat thundered like a bass drum, blood rushing from the arteries in smooth waves. Air moaned through her lungs. Her intestines creaked slightly, slowing with the scant bit of material left inside after a night of vomiting. There, still hidden by mesentery and fluid, was her womb and inside it, the baby's heart tapping furiously away.
"It's strong," he said, his voice soft. He combed his hands through her hair.
Beside him, Conner grinned. "You're doing everything right, Aunt Lo. This baby's probably going to come out already flying and ready to bench press the doctor. I think we should go for Drustan or Thora."
"We are not naming your brother or sister after your favourite video game."
"But they're awesome characters! Every other person in my class is named Jacob and the ones left over are named Maria."
"I can't believe you're both so resistant to Lara and Jonathan," said Clark.
His wife and his son shared long-suffering looks. "Second names," they said simultaneously before dissolving into chuckles.
"I'm pretty set on Gabriel," Lois said. "Gabriel Jacob Lane-Kent has a nice ring to it."
"Gabriel Jonathan," Clark corrected. "What? You said we could use it as a second name and it's only fair since his first name is after Chloe's dad."
"Gabriel Drustan Lane-Kent," said Conner, just to be difficult. "Gabrielle Thora for a girl."
"Gabrielle Lara," Clark said. "Fairness, remember?"
Resolutely, Lois shook her head. "It's Gabrielle Anne or we skip middle names altogether."
Conner wrinkled his nose. "Poor Peanut. Imagine having a name dating to the Dustbowl."
"Junior, I wouldn't talk considering you're named after an 80's B-film about hairy Scotsmen whacking each others' heads off."
"What are you talking about?"
"Chloe's first crush. She was all of nine years old and we were watching the late, late, late night movie on the SF Channel." Lois grinned toothily. "She always said she'd name her first kid after Conner Macleod of the Clan Macleod."
As the two of them continued to verbally spar, Clark cocked his head to one side. Unlike him, Conner revelled around people, a natural extrovert like Lois. They were so alike sometimes he forgot how recently his son came into their lives. Conner's lightened demeanour relieved him; he'd been worried since the boy started isolating himself from his schoolmates. Maybe he should be easier on him about his Young Justice friends. After all, those kids knew the dangers inherent in their work plus they had more training around keeping secret identities. Conner relaxed around people. He thrived in groups. Yet another example of how different they were.
Lois snapped her fingers in front of his nose. "What are you staring at?" she asked.
"My sunshines," Clark said. He kissed her cheek and rubbed Conner's spiky hair before his son could escape.
Diana Hippolytidis is played by Morena Baccarin. Diana is the former Ambassador of Themyscira and current Justice League Liaison to the UN. Tana Moon is played by Kris Bernal.