Chapter 13



The worst part about being mostly invulnerable was during those few times when Conner could get hurt, the pain felt a frillion times worse. His nerve endings weren't used to the sensation. Kryptonite-enhanced hits still drove the breath out of him. He didn't know how he made it through the past the first month. Batman was never without the ring during sparring sessions.

As much as he worked his butt off in Gotham, he knew his aunt had it much worse back in home. Every time he called, she was either bent over a bowl barfing or doped out on painkillers. One weekend, he arrived home to find a full home-office set up in Lois' den. Perry had banned her from the office until she felt better; Lois had refused to stop working. Telecommuting was the compromise. He knew his dad tried not to worry him but bits of conversation from Clark and Martha all pointed to rough goings-on. The nail in the coffin was Week Twenty when his dad reduced his hours at the Daily Planet to two days in the office and two days telecommuting just so he could be with Lois even with Martha around.

"I'm surprised they've lasted this long," Conner told Tim. They were at Tim's house supposedly doing law homework. Christmas break started in ten days exactly.

"I thought you said they were nauseatingly in love, irony not intended," said Tim.

"Sure they are and you're my best bud but if I had to spend two-four-seven with you, I'd totally tear your head off," Conner said. "Everyone needs buffer space."

Tim wrinkled his nose. "I guess."

"Trust me, Baby Bat. My next call from home will be either Dad or Aunt Lo griping. Or Grandma confessing to justifiable homicide. Most likely Aunt Lo griping. She's twenty weeks now. It's kind of epic."

Tim quickly searched the web. "I'm not surprised she's cranky though. From what you told me, it's been hard."

Conner decided not to tell him about his birth mom carrying him for a whole year. "Back to more serious stuff: how could going out with Grace have a minus?"

Turning the page on his textbook, Tim said, "Too aggressive."

"I could be totally down with that. Rawr." Conner made a snarly face.

"Okay, ew."

"Plus: knowledgeable."

"Minus: will have to fight Arsenal for her. He'll get even more pissed off at me and that'll piss off the boss."

Conner shook off the bad mental image. "Your turn. What about Hawke, the Leaguer formerly known as Speedy?"

"Plus: nice hands."

"Plus: good with his hands."

Tim blushed. "Yes. Minus: having to deal with Ollie, AKA his dad, AKA the head of the League. I think Ollie wants the entire JL to be made up of his kids, adopted and biological."

"That's disturbing," said Conner. "Plus: may not be a big deal; it's not like Ollie's a priest."

"Unlike, say, the people who raised Hawke."

That hadn't occurred to him. "Huh. Minus: may be a eunuch?"

"Or possible vows of chastity."

Conner stared at Tim blankly. "Sorry, what?"

"You know, where someone swears that they won't have sex?"

Blanching, Conner said, "But like... you can take care of yourself, right?"

"I've never looked into the specifics."

"Dude, I know some people are still in the V-Club due to circumstances-- no offence-- but to willingly not have sex? That's like choosing no to eat!" Conner shuddered.

"It's called principles."

"I have principles!" said Conner, "I always use protection, I tell everyone I date about everyone else I date and I always disclose when I'm going out with more than one person at the same time.

Sighing, Tim said, "Let's just... move on. We do have to a chapter to read before tomorrow's quiz."

"We're good, don't worry. In the grand scheme of things, what's more important: finally getting you a date or a stupid law quiz?"


"Exactly." Conner tapped at his keyboard. "I think we went through everyone eligible for you in the League besides me."

"We can't do you."

"Why not? Afraid of only coming up with pros?" He grinned, jostling Tim's arm.

His friend made a face. "Please."

"It's all a hypothetical exercise. Come on!"

"Fine. Minus: your dad."

"What? That's a plus! My dad would make an awesome dad-of-your-boyfriend."

"He can hear you having sex from the other side of the planet. It is a minus."

"Huh... point. But, plus: really hot and awesome sense of humour."

"Lame sense of humour. It's a minus."

"Plus: knowledgeable."

"Minus: Not monogamous."

"Unless you wanted monogamy."

"I would."

"Fine, then I'll only date you."

Tim rolled his eyes. "Oh, goody. My theoretical boyfriend will be monogamous with me."

"You're welcome. See? Totally romantic."

"Not sure if that outweighs the Superman minus."

Conner sighed. "Fine, fine, I make a sucky boyfriend. Yeeesh. Now I need pizza."

"Them's the breaks, Super Alien. Although when you finally control your E-field, the fine-motor manipulation could have a lot of applications. So you're not completely hopeless."

"But seeing as it's presently doing nothing but exploding things, it's still a minus. I'm going to need two pizzas."

"I think you'll figure it out. Think of kinky sex games as your incentive."

Laughing, Conner said, "Dude, I knew there was a reason you're my best friend!"

Tim answered with his own grin. "Your turn. Except... We don't work with a lot of girls, do we?"

"Who said I only dated girls? I'm promiscuous, remember?"


"I like guys, too I just prefer girls. I think it's the breasts."

"Oh. Breasts."

"Yeah. They're... squishy." Conner cupped an imaginary pair in front of him.

"My current revulsion to what you're pantomiming has nothing to do with my sexual preference." Tim slapped his hands away. "What about Nightwing?"

Conner immediately said, "Is a Bat. Minus."

"Fair enough."

"But he's got the finest ass on God's green earth. Big plus."

"That's really is true which I say, even as a pseudo-brother," said Tim.

"I don't know if I lust after his ass or if I just want my ass to look the same. I mean, it's like totally the perfect ass."

"It really is. I know that I'm jealous."

"Minus: has better ass than me," said Conner, with a touch of forlorn.

"Plus: He has a good sense of humour despite being a bat."

"True. He actually laughs are my jokes." Winking, Conner asked in half-seriousness. "Is Nightwing going out with anyone?"

Tim hid his face in his hands. "Let's move on, please."

"We've run out of people from the League," said Conner. "Anyone in school?"

"Our school?" He didn't look enthused.

"Dude, the whole point of this verbal exercise was to help you figure out who to make the first move to. I mean, it's so weird-- at work, you totally kick ass but at school, you disappear into the walls. How do you expect to get laid if you don't put your Robbie self out there?"

"I don't really do first moves that well. And neither does Robbie."

Very slowly, Conner said, "Yes. I know. That's why we're doing this. It's not a proposal, Timmy, it's just you saying 'Hi, Random Dude, do you want to catch a coffee?' Simple!"

"Can't I just admit that I am not as suave as you and move on?"

"No one can be as suave at me but, honestly dude, you're not that frickin' ugly. A slight tilt towards the dark side of the Bat but that's exactly why you need to go out and get laid. It's my duty as your friend to help you with that."

Tim gave him an impatient look. "Because that would work out so well. I can just see the conversation-- 'Hey, Tim? How come you can never do anything at night?'"

"It's just going to be the opposite of going out with YJ," Conner pointed out. "Hey, Robin, how come we never see your face outside the mask or hang out when you're not being Robin?"

"You mean except you."

"Well... yeah." A pause entered the conversation. Conner suddenly found the graph in his textbook extremely fascinating.


That just got weird.

"So, uh, what're you doing for Christmas?" he asked. "Going up to Whistler or Vail like the rest of the trustfund brats?"

Tim appeared as relieved about the subject change. "We don't really celebrate Christmas. We're kind of Jewish.

"Is that like being kind of pregnant?"

He threw a book at Conner. "It means I had a bar mitzvah because it meant having a big schmooze-fest of a birthday party. Dad and Dana always go to Switzerland for the winter holidays."

"Cool. So around December, Swiss crime rates go do. Everyone can feel safe about their cuckoo clocks again."

His friend fidgeted. "I... I'm not going."

Rearing back, Conner asked, "Why not? I was six the last time I went there but it was totally awesome and you know if a six-year-old thinks a place is awesome, it really, really is."

"They used to ask all the time but it was... I don't really like to cramp their style," said Tim. "Plus I have work here. It's a lot easier without them around to look at my curfew and we usually webcam a few times."

This, this was why his best bud was so screwed in the head. "You're coming home with me for Christmas. We'll make it Christmakkuh or something," said Conner and that was final.

When Conner initially proposed Tim's visit, Clark didn't bat an eye. He wanted to meet his son's so called best friend outside of the League uniform. They were an odd pair even at work-- Superboy was sunshine to Robin's moonlight. He wondered if Tim Drake's personality out of uniform differed.

A boisterous trio of relatives welcomed the boys when they stepped off the plane at Metropolis. Martha and Clark engulfed Tim in the same hug as Conner. His son then immediately tore away to lift his entirely too pregnant aunt into a twirl.

"You're lucky I don't barf as often any more," she said after covering his cheeks in kisses.

"Just when I got used to that sour burrito smell," he teased back.

"We're going to celebrate Christmas at the condo," said Clark. "We didn't want to risk driving to the farm with all this snow and besides, it's just family this year. Present company excepted."

Conner punched Tim's arm. "I told him he can borrow my family this year since his is partying in Europe, served hand-and-foot and carving freshly fallen powder. I mean, who wants to do something lame like that when he could bunk on a floor of a Midwestern flat?"

"You really grew up in a farm?" Tim asked Clark, wide-eyed.

The others laughed. "Are these all your bags, dear?" Martha asked their guest.

"Um, yes, ma'am."

Martha raised her eyebrows at Conner. "What a polite young man."

Conner kissed his grandmother again. "I carry on your culinary legacy. All chefs are temperamental and rude. Is Aunt Lo driving?" he asked.

"Like I trust your dad behind the wheel of a car," Lois said.

"You're in for a treat," Conner told his friend. "Bruce's special car has nothing compared to Metropolis traffic in the winter during rush hour with Aunt Lo at the wheel."

"Watch it, kiddo. I can still return your presents."

Clark rubbed Lois' neck as he fondly listened to his family bickering. It was nice to have Conner home and, more importantly, back to his old self. His jokes didn't seem forced and his smile shone through his eyes.

Once at the condo, he brought out extra blankets and set up a cot in Conner's room. His mom was in her element with not one but two teenage boys to feed. Tim vacuumed lunch at least as well as Conner despite his slighter frame. Martha missed her grandson too much to admonish them for speaking with their mouths full. In mid-bite, Conner decided he had to show off as well. Apparently, he spent an occasional day off with the aging but patient Alfred, learning a few culinary tricks. He called his creation The Mount Everest Nachos.

After dinner, Tim presented Lois with a thick, fuzzy shawl. He made to root around some more but Clark stopped him. "That can wait. Unless these are Hanukkah gifts?"

"No, they're just thank-you presents, really. I don't practice devoutly or anything."

"In that case, we have extra wrapping paper if you need it. Amazingly, Grandma didn't use it all up for your presents." He slapped Conner on the back. The boy sucked in his breath. Clark's eyes narrowed. That was a pain sound. "Are you okay, son?"

"Yeah. Just slept weird on the plane."

He crossed his arms, unconvinced. "Take off your shirt."

"Dad! We're in the middle of dinner."

"Either I see what made you wince or I look through your shirt."

Sighing, Conner slid off his chair and led the way to his room. Clark didn't miss the boy's grimace as he pulled his shirt off. Patches of yellow-purple bruises covered his side. Blood thundered in his ears. Batman did this to his son. Batman hurt his son!

Conner tugged at his arm. "Dad, it's okay! It'll go away."

"How in God's name did he manage to--" His stomach flipped. "He has kryptonite."

"Oh Conner." Martha bit her lip in concern.

"It's part of training."

"I did not send you to him to act as a glorified punching bag!"

"I'm not, I swear. I was just careless and he got a hit in."

"Was he wearing kryptonite-lined boots?" At Conner's uncertain pause, Clark shot off to Gotham intent on showing Bruce Wayne exactly what he did to child abusers. And to think the man had actually been entrusted with training two boys! He should be brought in, no lauded the psychopathic little--

Conner caught up to him, yanking on his shirt. "Dad, I'm fine!"

"Bruising is not fine," Clark snapped. "For us to get bruising that lasts more than a few minutes requires chronic kryptonite poisoning. Are you checking your food before you eat?"

"It's nothing Jor-el didn't do to you."

"That comparison just cost you this debate."

Gotham's steel and cement spires reached out underneath them. Clark reached out with all his senses, searching, ignoring Conner's frustrated yelps of "Da-ad!" Guns popped every few minutes, sirens wailed but went ignored, financial analysts traded vulgar insults with back-alley drug dealers. A mile away near the Artist's Village, a gangster's scream for help against The Batman ended abruptly as a boot crunched his teeth in. Clark rocketed off again.

Even now, furious as he was, he tempered his landing so that Bruce only slammed against the building on the other side of the street. Clark grabbed him by the collar before he bounced off the fifth story into oncoming traffic.

"We're a thousand metres above the ground. Don't struggle." he said. He was quite proud of how calm his voice was.

"Get the fuck out of my city," said Bruce.

"As soon as you give me the kryptonite you've been using to torture my child."

"Torture? Is that what he told you?" Bruce snorted. "Typical meta, relying so much on their powers that a little rock--"

Clark drew him up, glare-to-glare. "You will never get near my child again."

"Dad!" Conner caught up, panting. His eyes widened at the sight. "Um, Dad, what are you doing?"

"I'm not sure. There are dozens of choices going through my head, all of which end with Batman twitching on the pavement like a worm through a lawnmower. It's hard to choose."

Bruce's glare narrowed. "Only dozen? I can come up with a hundred ways to turn you into paste."

"So you decided to practice on my son first?"

"You sent him to me."

"Against my better judgement."

"Considering how doubtful most of your judgements are, I'm not too surprised."

Clark extended his arm, turned Bruce upside down and shook him like a salt dispenser.

"Dad!" Conner swooped in and tried to get between them. "Dad, it's okay. It was just part of the training, honest. It doesn't really hurt me--" Clark snorted, making Conner blush and amend his statement. "Okay, so it really does hurt me but the kryptonite exposure has good reason. I mean, how many times do you have to sit something out because of GK? We were trying to see if I could form some sort of immunity against it."

"It's physically impossible," said Clark.

"We know that now," Bruce groused.

"You could have asked but no, that would be too easy and painless, wouldn't it? Conn, get your things. You're going home."

Over Conner's protest came Bruce's lashed response. "You're making him soft."

"No, I believe it's you how tenderises teenage boys under the guise of bootcamp."

"I've seen the vids. The first time Superboy went into the field, Luthor shot a cannon through his abdomen." Clark's eyes blazed red in remembrance but Bruce heedlessly continued. "You let a teenage civilian in a Kevlar jacket go through a red zone and he almost died. Par for course with you, alien, relying on your powers at the expense of everything else. To top it all off, you only act with your emotions, no strategies or forethought. You're not fit to father any more--"

Before Clark could respond, Conner flew up in Bruce's face. "It wasn't his fault! I was stupid and I went in against orders. Don't you fucking dare shoot my dad down for being too emotional 'cause from what I've seen so far, Bats, you're one fucking hell of a soldier but you suck as a father."

Clark placed a hand on his arm. "Kon-el, breathe."

"No! Where does he get off saying you're not a good father? You're the best father ever! Even when I think you're the biggest dork in the world, I'm so fucking proud to be your son."

Tears sheened Clark's eyes and threatened to fall over. Since he'd embarrassed his son enough for today, he blinked them away. "So what are you saying, you want me to drop him?"

"Well, it's Christmas. How about we drop this in celebration of the holidays?"

"Seeing as how I'm the best father ever, I can find it in myself to indulge you this once." Clark returned his attention to Bruce. "If I ever see bruising like that on him ever again, ninja or no ninja, I'm going to wreck you, do you understand?"

"Bring me back to my crime scene and get the hell out of my city," was Bruce reply.

"That means yes," said Conner. "After a few months, you learn to read between the lines."

With a sigh, Clark hooked his hands under Batman's arms and made his way back down to a more reasonable height. "The fact that you understand him frightens me."

Over the next few days, the usual friends sent well-wishes, mostly by phone. Since video-phones became the norm, calls were more satisfying, in Clark's opinion although Lois grumbled about having to put on makeup every time she picked up a call. Bart came in person with Ollie's daughter, Cissie, to drop off presents from the West Coast contingent. Wonder Woman herself visited with her wife. Lois and Etta got along as famously as always, leaving Clark and Diana to half-jokingly set the countdown for Doomsday.

Four days before Christmas, Clark returned from his patrol-- Conner took half his shifts during this visit-- to find the condo decorated as cosily as the farm house. Martha and the boys had put them up while Lois warbled rock Christmas anthems. Cinnamon and pine scented every cranny. They even made the Charlie Brown Christmas tree look nice but then Martha Kent had always had that magical touch.

As promised, they celebrated Christmas Eve and Christmas Day intimately. In the morning, they walked to Centennial Park to skate on the outdoor rink. Lois drank hot chocolate and took pictures from the sidelines, shouting tips while Clark while Conner and Tim chased each other around the rest of the skaters. Martha floated along more sedately, rejecting Conner's offers to pull her along. Clark stopped every few laps to kiss Lois. Conner made vomiting noises in the background. The boys built several forts on the roof made of snow and furniture then fought a complex snowball campaign against each other until Clark called them in so that Santa could land his sleigh.

Of course, between all of that was a seven-car pile-up on the highway then a desperate man holding up a bank. Atlas showed up just outside Metropolis, determined to break into what he insisted was a weapons depot hidden in the middle of farmland. Then, Conner used their Christmas ham to take out the leader in a gang shoot-out. To top it all off, a fire broke out at the warehouse district at three in the morning. But all in all, Clark reflected as he held Lois close on Christmas morning, it was wonderful.

Because Poison Ivy and Harlequin waited for no man when they, Conner missed several visits in January. He made up for it by working with Alfred in the kitchen to pick up tips for his four-day vacation. The old guy knew everything about everything; no wonder Bruce ended up so smart. On the other hand, Alfred had a sense of humour.

Conner watched Alfred choose spices from a tray with thirty-six little steel bowls. "Tandoori is a fine art, Master Conner," he said.

"They sell pre-mixed spices, y'know."

Alfred sniffed. "Those are all right if you have no other choice. Who knows how long they've been in those packets; their flavours are likely half gone thus the need for an entire packet of spices as opposed to smaller yet more powerful flavours. Taste this."

He obediently chewed on a cilantro leaf.

"No dried mix could give you that sharpness. Now, if you'll separate the leaves then mince the stalks, we can add it to the rub."

"Aunt Lo's going to flip," Conner said. "She's got super-tastebuds or something. Everything she eats is like the best food in the world so now she's eating all the time. Good thing the baby burns most of it off or she'd have to get a new wardrobe every month. Not that I think she's fat; she's just... really pregnant. What's that? It looks cool."

"Star anise." Alfred stopped chopping for half a second. "This is late but I would like to thank you for inviting Master Timothy to your family's holiday celebrations."

Blushing, Conner said, "It was nothing."

"Oh but it is a great deal of something," said Alfred. "That boy's parents manage to take care of endangered wildlife and war-torn villages overseas but they pay little enough attention to caring for their son. He's come here a few times but I'm afraid we're no better at old-fashioned holiday cheer."

"I'm sure it's great," Conner offered. As he searched for more to say, his cellphone rang. According to the screen and ringtone, it was his dad. "Heya, Pops. How're things?"

He heard his dad take a couple deep swallows. "Son, we're taking your Aunt Lo to the hospital."

Conner's legs turned to Jell-o. "Is it the baby?" In his peripheral vision, he saw Alfred set down his knife.

"The baby seems to be okay but Aunt Lo's flu turned into what looks like pneumonia. The health team want to observe them both while Lois is on antibiotics. They're flying in to MGH--"

"I can take them."

"You've got school and training."

"But this is Aunt Lo. It'll take half an hour tops."

In the end, Clark agreed; Conner would have left anyway no matter what. He made his excuses to a very understanding Alfred then flew to New York City to pick up both Dr. Khang and Dr. Chapel.

The wait outside the room was all too familiar. His collar felt too tight and his eyes burned. He couldn't go through this again. He couldn't watch his dad and aunt's hopes literally die for the third time. As he paced the halls, he contemplated going to the Fortress. Maybe Jor-el would be able to do something. Kryptonians had birthing matrices; maybe the Fortress could sustain a human-kryptonian hybrid. It could do almost everything else.

Appearing quietly beside him, Martha pressed a cup of hot cocoa in his hands. He leaned into her shoulder as she put her arms around him and pressed his lips against his temples.

"Why does all this horrible stuff keep happening to us? It's not fair. We bust our asses helping the world and all they want is a baby. That's all. A stupid, basic requirement for life and they have to go through a friggin' gauntlet to get it."

"My sweet, sweet boy. You're being so brave." She brushed his bangs off his eyes.

"I don't feel brave. I feel... I still feel useless. What good is my stupid hard-core training now?"

"Conner, look at me." When he was slow to obey, she tilted his head up by cupping his chin. "Whatever happens, I know you've given your dad and Aunt Lo so much joy and pride. I think part of the reason they finally decided to have a child is because they've had so much fun with you."

The door to Lois' room opened and Pieter Cross stepped through. He smiled at them. "They're both fine. Lois is still running a fever but the baby isn't in any distress. We've titrated the antibiotics and immunosuppressants to a good balance and Beth and Etta are monitoring them both to make sure the situation doesn't change." His smile widened when he saw the evident relief of their faces. "The ultrasound machine is still in there if you want to meet the baby."

Conner rushed inside. Martha followed at a more sedate pace. As Dr. Cross said, the ultrasound machine sat beside Lois' bed along with several other monitors. Not that Conner cared about all the other monitors. The image on the ultrasound screen completely enraptured him. A snub-nosed face with a dusting of hair filled most of the screen. The baby held one fist to its face and its cheeks worked around the thumb. "Oh wow."

Clark reached out, blindly groping for his shoulder. Conner stepped closer. "Meet your baby sister."

"Oh wow." He touched the screen, tracing the line along her cheek. "Heya, two-bit."

"She's almost as gorgeous as you are," said Lois, with a little hiccup in her voice. "Goddammit. I hate pregnancy hormones."

"Here's the audio for the latecomers." Etta switched the speakers on. The rapid, shallow thumping of the baby's heart filled the room. "We'll keep the Doppler mat on your belly and leave you folks alone for a while."

Conner barely noticed them exiting.

Long minutes later, Lois spoke up. "I was thinking. Some of Gabriel's stuff is still in boxes. Y'know, the personal things like the receiving blanket and the teddy bears. Maybe... maybe we should go down to the shelter and donate them."

Clark squeezed her hand. "You're sure?"

"It's time," she said softly. "This baby isn't a replacement and I don't want her to be surrounded by things that have baggage. The crib and all of that can stay but we need to-- I'm thinking we should repaint the nursery, too. None of the pastel crap. I want a big mural on the ceiling so the munchkin has something to look at when she's in bed."

Brushing his fingers through her hair, he said, "It's going to be all right, Lois."

"I know." She looked up at him and smiled. "When you look like that, I can believe in anything."

"And when the two of you talk like that, it makes me want to puke at everything," said Conner.

Clark pulled him into a headlock. Martha joined the embrace, laughing. The world was good.

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