[identity profile] seagull2eagle.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] tallihensia

Changes Unfathomed


Link to Part One or AO3.

Part Two of Three




... ... ...


"Oh phew. You smell like skunk, go shower," was the greeting he got in the satellite. They were used to members showing up in some pretty bad conditions, but even superheroes had their limits.

"I scrubbed off in the lake before I came up!" Superman protested.

"Apparently not well enough. You still smell like skunk. Use the super soap and wire scraper if you have to, but don't come near people again until it's all gone." Bart backed off to the far side of the bay. "Don't come near me until then."

With a grumble, he headed for the showers, the wide berth people gave him along the way proving Bart's statement. Really, he had washed first. He couldn't smell it himself anymore at all, though he probably just couldn't smell anything at all after the first blast.

He might have had super-speed, but he took that shower at normal speed, making sure he used the special soap everywhere and rinsing out his hair ten separate times. When he finally came out, people greeted him much more cheerfully, proving the worth of the soap yet again. Or the wire brush.

As usual when he wasn't up on the satellite for a particular reason, he ended up talking to and teaching the younger heroes. It was something he really enjoyed doing, though it was also painful – going through the lessons learned from his past and yet knowing that no matter how much he talked, they had to make their own mistakes.

And then the subject of how to get information about villains came up. As they talked, Superman got an idea. It was true after all. If not quite... right. Before he could talk himself out of it, he spoke. "Be careful about acting on the information you get from others, no matter how accurate it seems at the time. If I had not acted so quickly against Lex Luthor, he may not have been such an enemy of mine."

The flood of questions came at him quick and from all directions. If he wasn't Superman and used to standing firm in all types of storms, it might have overwhelmed him.

"I was a young superhero when I first met Lex Luthor, and I had friends eager to tell me about him, including my best friend, a reporter named Clark Kent."

There was a little pause of confusion from those who had been expecting the name of Lois Lane.

Superman smiled, "I met Lois through Clark later on. But Clark has always been my truest friend, if a quieter person than those he knows. He and Lex... had history. Once friends themselves, they had parted ways, and it made Clark bitter towards his former friend. He was careful, as a good reporter is, but that bit of history and our youth made us uncompromising at a time when perhaps compromise was needed."

"But Luthor is a villain," came the confused protest from one of the equally young heroes.

"Lex Luthor is a complicated person, as are many of the people we deal with." Superman tried to pick his words with care, caught between Lex's history and reputation and where he wanted them to be. "He is most definitely guilty of corporate crime and espionage and bending and breaking laws to suit himself. Villainry in the sort that we deal with, however... on the levels of the Joker or the Toymaker, or those who would match themselves on us... that he is not. Mayhem and mass destruction are the sorts of things he abhors, most of the time."

They looked at each other, baffled. "But he tries to kill you all the time!"

Superman grimaced. "Well, yes. He's also the sort of person who is quick to anger and will not give an inch once confronted, no matter what. If you say the world is red, he might paint it blue to prove you wrong... or he might well loose hologramatic satellite projections to turn it red in truth."

That was a little beyond most of them, though some had had experience enough to draw on and figure it out. "So you called him a villain and he became one?"

"More or less." There was also the matter of Lex's dad and his misdirections, but that wasn't public knowledge yet. "He can hold a grudge too."

"So you were mislead by your friend Clark and that led to the world's worst villain. Lesson is never trust anyone but yourself."

"No!" Youngsters. Superman tried again. "Clark has been a great resource through the years, and he has access to more research and connections than I ever have as a superhero. His information has been invaluable in finding out about the villains I've faced and tracing back through the connections to some less obvious motivations. We have the resources of the Justice League for some of that now, but never discount your own local connections. The problem with myself and Clark back then was we put all shades of grey in with black and didn't see the difference. Now with more experience, we can see that Lex, too, was young and figuring things out and making mistakes. We'd counted the mistakes as the truth and settled on an image of what we thought Lex was like too soon. Older now, we're finding that things weren't quite the way we though, and Lex also is willing to work more with us now." Not too much. He couldn't say too much while Chloe was still here as Watchtower. He had to wait for Diana's move and Oracle's sweep before he could say more.

He hauled himself back to the original topic. "Get your information from your friends, from the police, from other heroes and villains, and from your own observations. But then also stop and think about what you have gathered and see if perhaps there is something you haven't seen. You can't give everybody the benefit of a doubt – hesitate over too much and too long, and there might be lives lost. But where you can... stop and think, and see, perhaps, if there might be other ways than confirming somebody in their villainy."

It wasn't a very clear-cut lesson, but that was the problem with life – things didn't always work out the same. One could give some people the same break and offer them the same second chances... and some of those people would take their second chance with both hands and reform and become heroes even as much as they had been on the path for villain. Bart had taken that route when he went from crime to Impulse with just the slightest of encouragement.

Others would take the chance and then fade into the background, never more to do any great things good or bad, and they would count that well enough. Still yet others would slap that chance down, strangle it, and go on to be worse villains yet. There was no sure-fire way of telling who would make what choice in the end. And as heroes, they didn't always have the luxury of giving the chance.

Superman stayed with the young heroes and tried to help. He recognized a lot of himself in them... and he knew that in the end, they too, would be making their own paths and their own mistakes. Hopefully less of them from knowing his own.

...

At 3:55pm, Superman was flying around Metropolis and hoping there wasn't going to be any last moment emergencies that he had to attend to. At 4pm, he was down the stairs and entering Lex's office, back into Clark's suit and Clark's identity.

He was met by a stony-faced Lex who stood in front of his desk and had his "death to Superman" face on. Clark faltered within two steps in.

"Are you insane?" Lex hissed, fury in his voice and shouting the same in every angle of his body.

"Uh..." Clark frantically searched through everything he'd done during the day. "Is this about the fire?"

"It's about you being a complete dumb-ass! What were you thinking?!"

"Fire is cool?"

"It's not about the damn fire! I don't even know anything about a fire. I do know that you are a self-sabotager who will destroy your own reputation and everything you have worked for in the last ten years for no good reason."

It took Clark a few more moments, but he finally connected that with the talk he'd had with the youngsters. "You heard that? Wait, what?"

"I heard of it," Lex said grimly, "than I dug up the records to see for myself. You are truly the most idiotic person I know. You aren't two different people, you're one very stupid one. Nobody will ever trust anything Clark Kent ever says or writes ever again. Everything you have ever reported on is now suspect."

Clark frowned. "What?"

"The reporter Clark Kent led Superman down the garden path and let his emotions trick Superman into a poor decision, betraying the one who trusted him."

Clark was within inches of saying "what" again, but he swallowed it down. "That's not what I said!"

"It's what they heard," Lex said relentlessly. "Superman is the perfect hero who can do no wrong. Clark is human and flawed."

Clark scrubbed his hands through his hair and messed it into something neither Clark nor Superman style. "Argh. The whole point of that conversation was that we all make mistakes!"

"It's nothing a young hero will ever hear. And now Clark Kent is ruined."

Dropping his hands, Clark stood for a moment, then shrugged. "I'm quitting anyhow. And as far as it goes, it's all true. I was the one who failed you. I was angry and I didn't look beyond the obvious."

"And I'm an obstinate SOB who becomes a villain just because you made me mad." Lex didn't do anything as obvious as growl, but his voice dripped scorn.

Clark winced. Yet... "Well, didn't you?"

If Lex had laser vision, Clark would have been ashes.

Clark savored the win for just a moment, then redirected. "How did you hear about it anyhow? I hardly think it's going to become common knowledge."

"You underestimate the power of gossip and how interesting Superman is to people," Lex said grimly. "Your eternal optimism means that you are unprepared for the worst."

"Plan for the worst and hope for the best. I bet you wouldn't even bother with the second half."

"You'd be right. And most of the time, I would be right too."

Clark snorted. "Look, Lex. I appreciate the concern, but I don't think it's going to be as bad as you think. I admit I'm surprised about the interpretation – that really wasn't the point and that wasn't the only thing we talked about – but you have resources others don't – and don't think I'm not going to mention that to Oracle and Batman either –, and it won't be that bad."

Lex inclined his head. "We'll see if your partner thinks the same."

That took him aback. Clark paused for a moment, thinking that through. "How is that going to hurt Lois?"

"What is the first thing people think when they hear Clark Kent, reporter? I assure you, it's not Superman – you've been careful to keep that distance. Nor is it your series on tornados and the lives they affect years after they went through, no matter how well done the articles were. Award winning journalists... Lois Lane and Clark Kent. Notice whose name is first. If Clark's reputation is toast... guess who also burns."

Clark swallowed.

"Go talk to your partner. Right now. Tell her exactly what you have done, and listen to her. Then see if you have a problem. But the first thing you are doing is leaving her this instant and finding her first."

Damn him, Lex was right. Clark winced at the thought of what Lois would say. The reality would probably be worse. He sighed. "Conner?"

"He'll go to the penthouse with me. You can come by later when you're done."

"Right." Clark turned to go.

"Wait."

Clark turned back. Lex had gone remote on him, that particular stillness that said he'd turned most of his attention inside and was thinking about something. Clark waited, knowing that nothing would happen until Lex decided it would.

Finally, Lex sighed and moved, walking to the window and looking out over the city. "You haven't told her about my father, have you?"

"No." Clark kept his answer simple.

"On my side, you have my permission to tell her. And I think you should."

"It's dangerous." Clark knew that Lois would pry. If she knew, she would investigate. If she investigated, she would come to Lionel's attention. If she was on Lionel's list.... Clark worried for her.

"If all goes according to plan, the world itself will be in danger shortly," Lex said gloomily.

Though Lex had agreed to its necessity, Clark knew that Lex had never liked the idea of bringing the battle to Lionel. At least not for others to. Despite the evidence else wise, Lex was rooted in the belief that it was a battle between him and Lionel alone. Clark's heart broke every time that he thought about how much of Lex's life had been this focus.

Clark knew that Lex was also right. Things would be coming to a head soon, though they didn't know what Lionel would do. They knew it would involve death and destruction and chaos, Lionel's friends. Lois would soon enough be investigating everything anyhow, and would be in just as deep as they, though from her own angle. If they didn't involve her now, Clark would be putting her in even more danger from her own ignorance. No matter which way they turned, there was no safe path.

It was one of the reasons that they had broken up. Lois would never stop investigating, and she was always in danger, and Clark was always worried about her. Loving her had become a strain. And equally the same on her side for him. Clark, after all, was the one who had already died once.

Ironic, really, that his new love was Lex, who all that applied equally to, and in fact intensified a hundred times over. But there was no choice in loving Lex. It just was, insanely and intensely so. Clark hoped it would never end.

... ... ...

Hours later, Clark dragged himself down the stairs to the penthouse. He felt like he'd been through the wringer. Lex had been both right and wrong. While Lois agreed that Clark was a bit of an idiot for phrasing things the way he had, she didn't think the rumors would account to much. However, she also was very, very interested in Lionel Luthor. It was almost scary how interested she was.

It also solidified for Clark just why he and Lois were better as friends. Reporting was very much Lois' drive in life – getting to the truth and then getting that truth out for people to know it. For Clark... not so much. He enjoyed journalism, and he was good at it, but his drive was his hidden career, not the public one. To save people and help them.

Two people didn't have to have the same interests to be lovers and partners. In fact, very few people did. Their careers were separate, their hobbies were different. It was the little things in life instead that made them compatible.

For Lois and Clark, though, they were too close in just the wrong ways. They had very similar interests that were on the surface almost the same... but just a little off from each other. He liked red, she liked maroon. He liked the ocean, she liked lakes. He liked cooked fish, she liked sushi. He liked journalism... she loved reporting.

They were so close that the inches were more frustrating than the miles.

At least with him and Lex, there wasn't even the question of inches. They weren't that close on anything, except for the effect they had on each other. And Conner. With Conner, they were very much in perfect agreement that their child was the best thing ever.

Lex met him in the foyer, a mystified expression on his face. "There you are. We were wondering if you got lost."

"Not lost," Clark smiled. "What's up?"

"Dad! There you are." His son came bouncing up to them, repeating Lex's words, but instead of mystified, his expression was eager and excited. "You have to see this place! It's full of the niftiest things."

Exuberant teenagers. That explained Lex's look. Clark grinned. "Show me."

After a half hour of being dragged from one thing in the penthouse to another, Clark rather thought that his expression might be similar to Lex's, though perhaps for different reasons.

Conner hadn't gone for the things that most visitors would have been impressed by, he went for the things he liked, and there was an interesting assortment of them. Instead of being wowed by the original Rembrandt in the front hall, Kon drooled over the Wyland in the bathroom.

As Kon noticed certain things, Clark looked and saw other things. He didn't think Kon saw what he saw – Conner was just looking for the nifty. Clark, however, knew some of the stories behind them.

In the Wyland painting, Clark saw some familiar green crystals in the corners and a small creature he was pretty sure was from another galaxy – he turned to Lex with a raised eyebrow and Lex admitted that he'd commissioned the painting directly. Also in the bathroom, Conner also liked the seashells on the counter that Clark recognized as coming from Arthur's kingdom and not your average beach. The shower doors were etched in a frosted random scene... that turned out to be not so random when Clark eyed it a little closer. Kryptonian DNA was woven into knots with human DNA streaming through. Just distorted and artistic enough that it wasn't apparent that it was DNA at first glance, let alone the particulars. Clark wondered if Lex had this made before or after he knew about Kon. From the stains on the edges that even the housekeeping couldn't keep clean, Clark thought it was many years older.

Other things that caught Kon's attention were small knickknacks hidden amongst more recognizably expensive ones. The crystal collection in the shelves, almost all perfect, also included several intergalactic ones. Conner didn't seem to notice, but Clark shook his head at a common variety of periodot in its very particular green color amongst the more expensive ones. There was one milky white crystal that was unusual for being slightly chipped instead of perfect like the others. It was back behind the others, so not so immediately obvious, and it looked like common quartz... but Clark recognized it as being a Fortress crystal.

Kon dragged Clark from spot to spot within the penthouse, pointing out carvings on wooden chairs, scenes hidden inside otherwise normal looking paintings, star constellations in paint splatters on the ceiling, fish swimming in the shades of the carpet, mathematical equations in patterns on the tiles.

On his own, Clark also saw a small brass corn cob holding down a gold-dipped oak leaf. He wondered if the leaf was from Smallville. The brass corn cob definitely was – Mr. Huckerson regularly sold them at the harvest fair.

There were other things in there that he'd never seen... that he'd never looked closely enough to see. Little hints of memories and keepsakes disguised among the rest.

Of course, he hadn't actually been in the penthouse for anything other than to break in and yell at Lex for something he'd done, and he hadn't done much looking at those times.

Clark thought that maybe, perhaps, he should have.

"Alright, Conner, that's enough." Lex finally said during a pause in the explorations. "We really should get dinner before your dad dies of hunger."

"Oh, food!" The teen's attention was instantly redirected and he went dashing to the dining room.

Lex and Clark followed more slowly behind him.

"He makes me feel old," Lex admitted. "Even when I was his age, I don't think I ever had that much energy."

Clark chuckled. "Me either." Honestly, though, at this point, Conner was more like an eight-year old than fourteen. His life of only a year, wavering between child and adult and whatever mix inbetween that was pure Kon and nothing else like it.

Dinner was smooth between the three of them, conversations flowing easily. Clark described the fire he stood in, Conner talked about his training, and Lex listened to both and asked questions that were almost as interesting as the experience.

Clark had to admit, he'd been surprised at the descriptions of the training. When Conner had said that he and Mercy and Hope had spent the time talking, Clark had involuntarily looked at Lex with a raised eyebrow. Lex tilted his head very slightly to one side, replying silently that he was just as surprised, and then he asked Conner another question about it.

It turned out that Mercy and Hope's ideas of identity training were similar to the League's... but they just took it back another step. As Conner explained it, most Teen Titans came in knowing certain things about themselves that Kon didn't, so they moved back to give him that identity. Like taking remedial addition and division before moving on to algebra.

"They explained that everybody in the JL grew up as themselves first, and then created their superhero identities, so mostly people are the mundane first and adapted the hero." With a few notable exceptions such as Bruce, who had taken the time in the travels to reinvent both sides, and Wonder Woman who came from a completely different culture.

"So we spent the first several hours breaking down both the heroes and villains and figuring out where they split their personas."

Clark almost wished he would have been allowed to sit in on that – it sounded like it could have been fascinating. At the same time, he squirmed for just how much it said about Lex and his people knowing so very much about the Justice League's members. It was a good thing that Lex wasn't really a villain like the Joker or they all would have been dead a long time ago.

"They didn't talk about you, though. Not much."

Clark gave thanks silently to whatever deities watched over him. He didn't quite think either of the ladies would have been very kind in their dissection of him, though it might have been accurate.

“So who did you originally model Superman on? Since you came first and him second.”

Clark had also modified himself for the clumsy reporter at the time, but it was true that that had only been after he'd decided on the need for a superhero image. Clark had been Superman for a long time now, and Superman had changed along the way from the first image he'd had of him. The name hadn't been part of it either – he was still a little annoyed with Lois at that. But back then, for those first steps… Clark involuntarily looked over at Lex. “Warrior Angel. I tried to make him strong and true and confident, like Warrior Angel was.”

Kon looked baffled, apparently sorting through his mental super hero lists to figure out who that was.

Lex’s eyes narrowed, the congeniality dropping with automatic reflex as he apparently sensed something wrong. “That was not your comic. You read Silver Star and Darcy and Ghost Fantastic. Not Warrior Angel.”

Clark flinched. Lex was right – that hadn't been his favorite. But Clark hadn’t lied. He hadn't just said that now for the effect. But Lex wouldn’t like the reason. Clark thought about leaving it where it was, then realized he couldn’t. He'd already said too much, and Lex was suspicious. Better to be blasted for the full sin than the partial. He steeled himself. “I thought that if I was Warrior Angel, that maybe…” Clark couldn’t finish. He trailed off, his voice faltering with his words. Superman had courage, but Clark didn't. Not for this.

The color of blue changed to glacial ice. “You thought I would change my ways and come running back to you.” Lex’s voice was as cold and hard as his eyes.

Yeah, Clark figured that would be a problem. Because it was what he’d thought at the time. God, he’d been dumb when he was young.

“Instead, you followed the storyline and got your own Devilious,” Lex’s voice dripped scorn. “An arch-enemy, custom-made, complete with dark enmity.”

Oh, here they went. As Lex kept going, Clark got angry too. That was enough. He crossed his arms and listened with barely suppressed tension. He’d wait until Lex was done and then let him have it back.

Abruptly, Lex broke off. His gaze shifted over to the wall behind Clark.

“I apologize,” Lex said stiffly. “That was uncalled for.”

In utter surprise, Clark stepped back. As he moved, he realized that he’d unconsciously stood up and moved into Superman stance at some point. Conditioning, habits, reflexes… they were very hard to break, and he and Lex had a long road to travel. He offered up his own sheepish shrug. “It was pretty arrogant of me to think that.”

Minutely, Lex relaxed. “I don’t think ‘arrogant’ is the right word,” Lex murmured.

Clark smiled bitterly. “Young and dumb,” he repeated his earlier thought.

“We both were.” Lex finally returned his gaze to meet Clark’s gaze. A newly familiar mix of fear and determination in his eyes.

Clark retook his retreated step, involuntarily moving towards Lex.

This time, it was Lex who retreated, if not actually leaving the table, then dropping his eyes and picking up his wine glass to break their flow.

Conner cleared his throat, reminding them that he was there. He'd been silent during their match off, unusually so. But perhaps he'd been learning by observing. Clark wondered what he'd learned, and blushed for how absorbed he'd gotten.

“You based Superman on a comic book character?” Kon sounded incredulous.

That wasn't the question that Clark had expected. "Um... yeah?"

Lex's lips twitched up, the smile not making it to his eyes, but it was something. "Timeline, Kon. There weren't that many real life heroes while we were growing up, and the few that there were, were far away and not part of daily life."

The war was where many of the first heroes had emerged. Diana as Wonder Woman, Sky Captain, Red Moon for the axis, and others. For a child, they hadn't been any more real than the comics. Less, really, as the comics were there.

"That's... weird." Conner blinked, apparently trying to imagine it.

Clark realized that it was quite a change. In the last thirty years, the metahumans had come out in such force that it was almost common place to see them now. The Justice League forces needed computers to track their membership, and the satellite they had up in space was only one example of their resources. They had second, even third generation heroes now, children growing up as much hero as mundane.

For a moment, he tried to picture the world if he'd grown up in it now, and it was a bizarre thing. If there had been that many heroes around while he was growing up, would it have been easier to figure out his place in the world? Would he have become the person he was? Would Lex have been able to leave his father sooner? Clark shook his head. There were enough what might have beens without adding another layer of questions onto it.

"Warrior Angel was a good man, even if a character in a story," Clark said. "He was a man of the world, and I needed something to base Kal-El's strength on. Kal-El was supposed to be suave and somebody people would trust. I... I was just a kid from Smallville and quaking in my boots."

"Kal-El? But that's your name." Conner questioned it.

Lex's lips twitched in amusement even as Clark sighed with annoyance. "I didn't name myself Superman. I was supposed to be Kal-El from the start. The problem is I didn't give any interviews right after that first dramatic rescue – I was too busy – and Lois had the article done and printed before I ever saw it."

Kon blinked a few times. "Seriously?"

"Seriously," Clark replied. He'd gotten used to 'Superman' over the years, but he still winced when he thought about the ego it would have taken to have picked the name directly. "You don't think Wonder Woman picked her name either, do you?"

"So some personas are as much accident as planned." Conner said thoughtfully.

"The newspapers and local people make them up, and we live up, or down, to them, as it fits." Clark agreed.

Conner's eyes went to the crumbs of dessert on his plate. "I had a persona once, something that wasn't me, that I put on and almost never took off because it meant less pain and perhaps a chance for me and my bothers. When I realized I didn't have to have it anymore... I never wanted to put another one on again – I wanted to be myself, and only myself."

Clark's eyes stung.

"It's not the same," Lex said softly. "What that was, was survival. What this is, is parts of yourself shown at different times."

Lex would know. Clark thought about how much of Lex's early self was survival, and how free and yet nervous he'd been to laugh and play with Clark, the rare times he'd let his guard down. Even around Clark, it had been a rare thing. More of a wistful desire to, than the actual thing. He had played roles the rest of the time; the helpful older brother, the generous friend, the dutiful son, the local businessman. Switching them for the occasion. No wonder Clark's parents hadn't trusted Lex. They only saw the roles and had never glimpsed the person underneath.

He didn't really want to teach Conner to be somebody other than who he was. He liked Kon just the way he was. But the world demanded at least two views, if not more.

Conner shrugged. "I'll learn," he said simply, matter of fact. "Can we go watch a movie now?"

With a grin at both his son and the disconcerted look on Lex's face, Clark got up to clean the dishes off the table. Lex had let himself in for more than he'd planned, letting them into his penthouse and his life.

... ... ...
... ... ...

Conner loved the half-hour in the morning that he got to spend with Justice. No strategy, no worrying about identities, no having to do anything but talk science.

He was eternally grateful to Hope for that first weird word game that pulled the science interest out of him. He hadn't even known until then how much he liked it. He had been an interest, but not a passion.

Talking with Justice and seeing how much Justice liked the same things... it was very cool. There were scientists in the League, but he hadn't talked to them like this, because he was a hero, not another scientist. Justice knew about his other identity, but all he cared about was teaching Conner.

Almost, Kon wished he could do this for real. With both the scholarship meetings and this individual time, he finally understood normal people. The teens at his school (former school), he still didn't quite get – they were too young, didn't really take life seriously, for all they thought they did. He was younger, but different. It wasn't his world.

The superheroing had been his world since he left the labs. Now.... Now there was something more.

After the nod from Charity, Kon pushed open the door to Lex's office and went straight in. The other part of this new routine he liked was getting to see his second dad. The night before at the penthouse had been great, the three of them together. Clark and Lex had barely even growled at each other compared with some of their earlier meetings.

"Conner." Lex stood up from his desk and walked towards Kon. There was a hint of warmth in his voice, and a softening of the skin around his eyes.

Compared with the non-greetings that Lex gave Clark, that was real joy. And they'd seen each other less than eight hours ago, considering what time Kon and Clark had finally left the penthouse.

"Hi, DT," he said cheerfully, heading to his second dad and angling for a hug. It was touchy sometimes if Lex would respond or not, but today Lex reached out and hugged him back. Not for long, but it was good enough.

After stepping back, Lex gave a real smile. "Are you ready for today?"

"'Course. You're still not invited, are you?"

"Nope." Lex dropped into Conner's speech patterns for the answer, then grinned. "I would if I could."

"It's okay, DT – I get along fine with Hope and Mercy." His dads' protective instincts would also just get in the way. Maybe not now when it was just discussion, but Kon had no doubt they would get to reactive training later on. He'd really rather not have his dads there. He agreed 100% with Hope and Mercy on that.

"And you don't know just how disturbing that statement is."

Kon searched back through his thoughts until he remembered he'd last mentioned getting on with the two scariest people he knew. He grinned back at Lex. Yeah, it was no problem at all.

He turned to wander through the office. It was huge for an office, with room for a conference table and chairs, a couch and armchairs with coffee table, and even had its own bathroom, complete with shower and a dresser of clothes and cuff links. It had paintings, decorations, artifacts, in carefully arranged layouts – tasteful. Boring.

"Where's all the interesting stuff?" Kon turned to look at his father.

Lex was sitting on the corner of his desk, in a pseudo-casual pose, watching him. He raised a single eyebrow at the question, not voicing the request for clarification.

"Your place, the penthouse, it's full of nifty things that are interesting. This place is boring."

"It's an office," Lex replied dryly. "It's not supposed to be interesting."

"Even if you kept normal working hours, which I know you don't, people are at their work more waking hours than they are at home. You practically live here. It should be more interesting."

"What a fascinating concept," Lex murmured, his lips curving in amusement. "This is a place of business."

"So? You still live here. Make it yours." Kon picked up the pile of pamphlets and printouts on the coffee table. Careers in Technical Writing, How to Use Your English Degree, Writing Press Releases – These were the most interesting things he'd seen in the office and that was because they didn't belong. Conner regarded them thoughtfully. DT hadn't asked where Dad was today.

"Too many people are in and out of here." Lex abruptly stopped sparring and gave a serious answer. "I can't afford to have things in here that will be noticed and investigated. Nobody is ever invited to my home. The ones who break-in... well, my security is fairly extensive."

"That's a sad way to live," Conner commented. Then he left the topic. That was enough of that. On to more relevant stuff.

"Dad's up at the satellite – Diane called a council meeting to tell them about her pregnancy." Conner figured that even though DT hadn't asked about Dad's absence, it didn't mean that he hadn't noticed. "She's going to leave for the island after the meeting. Chloe's already agreed."

Lex stilled. "So, it begins." He walked to the window and looked out over the city. "Death and destruction, raining down like blood upon sunflowers."

Kon frowned. "That's a bit much, DT."

"We have a week, maybe less, perhaps a bit more, before my father figures out what's happening – that he's lost his biggest playing piece. When he finds out... the world will feel his wrath."

"You agreed to the plan!" Kon said with exasperation.

"I did," Lex agreed. "It's the only way. That doesn't mean there's going to be consequences." He stared out the window. "There are always consequences."

Conner nodded. He was familiar with consequences. Lex turned to look at him and for a moment they were united in a history of anguish.

The moment moved on, and Conner tipped his head to one side. "You going to be okay, DT? I've gotta go to class."

The side of Lex's mouth curved up. "You should take care of yourself first, Kon." He paused for a moment, then relented. "I'll be fine."

"Right." Kon weighted the odds and decided no hug this morning. "See you later!" He gave a cheerful wave and then headed out to join Mercy and Hope. His dad and he would work on pulling Lex out of his shell later that night. Progress was made a little at a time.

...

"So," Hope pushed the computer pen his way, "have you thought about your traits?"

Conner nodded. He started marking up the file they'd worked on the day before. He'd taken several aptitude tests and then they'd broken down the various character traits that were traditionally associated with each. His overnight assignment had been to think about them and to make an initial mundane/hero division.

"Superboy is a lot of what I was initially, and how I've shown myself already." They'd also reviewed a number of tv interviews that he'd given. "He's enthusiastic, sincere, determined, and personable. Conner Kent isn't so well known. A few changes in his personality won't be so obvious. The most logical start would be the scholarship crew. I can be intense, curious, a bit contemptuous for those who don't know as much, and not caring if people like me or not."

"Don't make the mundane a life you don't want to have," Mercy cautioned. "You have to live with both of them. Batman is an extreme – most people are more of a mix."

Conner nodded. He didn't think he could be an ass and carry it off for long. For a particular instance, maybe, but not long-term – and his life was as long-term as you could get.

They continued to talk and plan.

...

When they finished up for the day and headed to Lex's office, Kon viewed everything with different eyes. Was he looking at things as Conner the proto-scientist or as Kon-El the alien? When people looked at him, what did they see? His walk, his talk, the things he looked all... all of those were indications of who he was that other people used as their cues to respond to him.

In the labs, he'd been a thing. Something to be studied and analyzed. Something to be destroyed if he didn't meet their requirements or standards. They didn't usually let the clones... the siblings know what it was they were looking for until more of their brothers were gone. The random memories they were fed didn't make them people – it made them subjects that weren't insane and could process the things around them. Any lab technician that treated them any differently were gone within a day.

Out in the world, people were different. For the most part, they didn't study him at all. Saw him, interacted with him, usually smiled or frowned at him, but they did the same to all the other people around him. He was just a person, like any other in the world outside. People didn't see him any differently – he simply was and they were too. Unique, but just a person and accepting of that.

Cali and Sue were clones of another cat, and yet were different, separate, individuals from kittenhood. Still kittens, reacting to things as kittens did, but reacting differently, each with their own quirks and their own personalities, and becoming more each their own selves as they grew and reacted to the world around them.

As he walked down the halls of Lex Corp, Conner was aware for perhaps the first time that he was Conner Kent and people saw him as such. Most of the people they walked by didn't know who he was, had no clue of his name. They saw Mercy and Hope walking near him and their eyes went to them in recognition and wariness. The teenager got a glance and perhaps some curiosity and speculation unspoken. Who they saw, though, was Conner Kent. A teenage proto-scientist who met with Justice Hamon and had a Lex Corp scholarship. Dressed in nice jeans (not ratty or torn) and a polo shirt as a concession to being in the hallowed halls. They didn't see Kon-El, alien boy who was the spitting image of Superman and adored in his wake.

It was... a bit of a relief, actually, to know who he was. Conner had thought he'd been free when he was just being who he was with no thought and no care. But definition gave him shape. It was not all he was, nor would it ever be, but it was something that the world could see. Before... he'd been free, yes, but nebulous and vague.

He'd have to see what it would be after some time of it.

Hope paused by Charity's desk while Mercy passed by. Conner paused as well while Hope and Charity exchanged easy greetings and caught up on what was happening in each others' worlds. Mercy prowled along the edges, making sure nobody was in the anteroom who was not supposed to be there. The few people who had been dropping off reports and folders to Charity either got out of there quickly, or shifted uneasily as they waited their turn.

It was odd to realize that while Hope was just as dangerous as Mercy, people weren't as scared of her. Mercy had an inner quality that made every person around her know that they were expendable – their worth was only what they could bring to Lex and Mercy only cared about that alone. Hope might well think the same, but she didn't project it like Mercy did, and people were easier in her presence. A deliberate distraction? A way for people to let down their guard? Or was it actually the truth? Conner wasn't sure. The two bodyguards treated him differently, and had from the start. They were careful about it, but Conner's importance to Lex had made him important as well.

Lex cared as little as Clark did about whether he was Conner or Kon-El. He simply saw the son he thought he'd never have, and wanted Conner as much as Clark did – not for research but simply to love.

After Charity gave Conner a nod, Kon gave a brief knock and then headed into the office without waiting for an answer. As he did so, he was aware of the people around them suddenly sharpening their focus to him. He'd been just a person before, but now he was a person of interest – somebody who got to go directly into Lex Luthor's office while they were exiled outside.

And thinking of Lex had made Conner switch back to his more nebulous self again. The person who was just him and not Conner Kent nor Kon-El, but somebody of his own. It would be easier, obviously, to be a person among strangers than it would be to his family. He wondered how Clark could stand it.

He waited a moment to make sure the door had shut completely behind him, the sound-proofing intact, and with a quick x-ray through the room to make sure there wasn't anybody else. "Hi Dads," he tossed out cheerfully, glad that both of them were there.

It was obviously not one of their better moments – Clark standing by the window with that tilt to his head that said he was holding himself back with effort, and Lex leaning pseudo-casually against the wall with a feral gleam in his eyes that disappeared as he glanced to Conner. An argument interrupted. At least there wasn't any blood, or anything smashed on the floors.

"Conner," both of them spoke his name in almost the same breath. Clark's voice was happy and relieved – probably glad the argument had been interrupted. Lex's voice was careful, giving nothing away but his name. It said enough, though.

Conner grinned as he picked his way through the room. "Was I interrupting anything?" He couldn't help teasing them just a bit.

"Nothing important," Lex replied with a slight return of a predator's baring of teeth at Clark.

"Oh for..." Clark started to growl, but Conner got there first. He hugged Clark, leaning into the familiar body and the strength there, knowing that Clark's arms would be around him in that moment and that he was safe, always safe, here. All antagonistic sparring was cut off on the instant as Clark's attention was all for him at that moment.

Disengaging, Conner evaluated his chances with Lex. It was always touch and go with his second dad, and this time didn't look good... but he thought he'd risk it anyhow. He walked to Lex and leaned in, putting his head against Lex's shoulder and lightly resting his hands on the outside of Lex's arms. Not demanding, but giving with enough space for there to be a choice. There was a moment of no response and Conner started to draw back. Then Lex's arms wrapped around him quickly for a brief strong hug before he let go again.

As he stepped back, Conner looked up in time to catch the barest glimpse of a familiar fear before Lex's face was wiped clean of any emotion. The rest of the world lived in fear of Lex Luthor, but Lex himself only really feared his son – feared the caring that he brought and made Lex feel.

Probably Conner should feel bad about that... but mostly he felt happy. Smugly satisfied, actually. Ever since that night in Casablanca when Lex had proved himself to be open to their love, and then had slammed the door shut on it, locking it tightly with the fear and the pain, Kon had made it his goal to get back in. They were almost there. So very very close. Conner took another deliberate step back, making sure that Lex had the room he needed, without letting him alone completely.

He turned to his other dad, "Anything interesting happen after Diana left?" They hadn't breaked for lunch, working with sandwiches and soda between bites and sips to forge the new masks he would wear.

Clark's mouth turned up with wry humor, acknowledging the way Kon had slipped through Lex's defenses and came back out again. "It was amazing how many people hadn't realized she was married."

Kon snorted, perching on the back of a couch and swinging his feet. Diana carefully cultivated that image, trying to keep Steve out of her light and away from notice. Something Lex would never have the option of, if he was with Superman.

"After things settled down a bit and they left, Hawkman let us know there was a new terrorist group being uncovered, and potentially a threat to multiple communities. Lion's Teeth."

Lex snorted. It was obviously not the first time he'd heard it, and his reaction was that of summarizing previously spoken cynicism.

Conner tilted his head, thinking about it. "Lionel's clones? As in the sowing of teeth to make skeletons? Isn't that a bit obvious?"

"Only to us," Clark's expression turned sad.

"It's enough to get the world governments mobilizing, or at least preparing for something," Lex added. "It's not particularly clever... but it's a compromise."

"Is the League clean now?" Conner had thought that would take awhile.

"Not yet, but it will never be completely. We had to start somewhere. At least with Chloe gone, she can't give him an analysis of what's happening." Clark's voice hitched as he spoke Chloe's name, the distress over his friend's betrayal still painful.

"It's a start," Lex agreed. He turned and walked to his desk, bringing up the computer and then saving and shutting down files and programs. "What would you like for dinner?"

"Are we going out?" Clark asked, his voice layering another question through the obvious one.

Conner glanced at his dad, trying to figure out the second question but not getting it.

Lex finished with his computer and drummed his fingers on the desk, staring intently at Clark. "Maybe."

Clark sighed.

"Um... how can we maybe be going out to eat?" Kon asked. With as hungry as he was now, food should be a given. Though he supposed they could have their choice of food at the penthouse too.

Lex laughed. "We're going to a restaurant, yes. Would you like Italian, Japanese, or Ethiopian?"

"Ethiopian?" Conner searched through his implanted memories but couldn't find any hints as to what type of food that might be.

"You'll like it, Con," Clark remarked with a grin. "We eat with our fingers."

That instantly sounded attractive. Conner was, however, diverted by the very subtle difference in the way Clark had said his name. Con. Kon. The same, right? But not entirely. He'd spent huge chunks of the last two days going over video records of himself and his dad both when they were in uniform and when they weren’t. And there was a difference. Con, short for Conner. Kon, short for Kon-El. The same... but different. And his dad knew that difference and spoke to it. Conner had never heard the difference before.

The dinner was, as his dads had predicted, something he liked a lot. The injera sourdough flatbread was delicious in its own right, and scooping up bits of stews and other foods with it was great. The yogurt was enough to counteract the occasional too-spicy food and for the most part he liked the spices in the rest. The lamb dish was delicious. Eating with your hands in a socially acceptable restaurant was awesome. Watching his dads eat with their hands was a real treat. Lex somehow managed to make it look formal too, which was quite a feat.

The talk was mostly mundane, especially as they were in public. It was, though, also interesting. Less for what they were saying than what they weren't. There was definitely something up with his dads.

They were talking mostly jobs and companies. Things that Clark could do if he was leaving the newspaper. Conner was hearing about this for the first time, but was fairly indifferent to it. He didn't really care about his dad being a reporter. It obviously hurt Clark to be talking of not being one, but for the life of him, Conner just couldn't see what was so great about it. The other jobs Lex was cautiously proposing sounded much more interesting, particularly the research one.

Clark looked at him in exasperation. "You think being a researcher is interesting and a reporter is boring?"

"Well sure. With research, you get to dig into stuff and figure it out. With reporting, you just go to meetings and then say what they said."

Lex coughed into his cloth napkin, his blue eyes dancing above it. "What have you been telling him about your job before this?"

"Not that." Clark glowered. Then he shrugged, putting it aside. "Doesn't matter now anyhow. I like the tech writer idea. That could be different."

"It's not all glamorous," Lex warned. "Particularly for the computer and electronic industries. Pays very very well, though."

"Just as long as there's a variety of things to do. I think I'd go stir-crazy if it was the same thing day in and day out."

What neither Lex nor Clark was saying, was anything about each other. Yet there was a definite subtext going on at the table that had nothing to do with either the food nor the talk. Conner watched it with interest. It wasn't nearly as blatant as when Lex had sat in Clark's lap... Kon blinked. "Hey, um..."

Both of the adults looked at him and waited.

"Um..." There were sure a lot of people around. They were at a private table where their conversation couldn't easily be overheard, but it was still public. "Um, never-mind."

Lex raised an eyebrow.

Well, maybe he could ask. "Isn't Lex going out with Superman?"

Clark choked on his mouth of stew and had to grab for the water glass to wash it down.

"Hardly," Lex replied dryly. "We're enemies, in case you didn't know."

"I thought you were getting over that."

"I'm a businessman with several companies under the LexCorp umbrella. Some of them are, unfortunately, not as well regulated as I would like. Sometimes this means that Superman finds things going on that he has to stop. I am working on trying to make sure all the companies work with better regulations, particularly environment and safety. There will always be some conflict, however. It's not a perfect world."

That was so not what Conner had been asking. It was a very Lex-like reply, though, especially in public.

Lex sipped his honey wine and then added, "I don't foresee any future where Superman and I will be anything other than what we are now. Maybe with less yelling and hopefully with much less property damage. But at this moment, we live in two different worlds and that's not ever going to change."

Okay, then... They were just going to pretend the moment in the cabin hadn't happened? Kon mentally went over the superheroes who where there. None of them would say anything. So, it probably hadn't happened.

With a shake of his head, Conner gave up. He'd get the details out of Clark later tonight after they were back home. Instead he tore off another piece of injera and grabbed the last of the lamb dish.

...

They were in the middle of watching a movie when Kon realized he was going to have to be the one to make a decision. They weren't going to do it. Sure, they'd sit down on a couch next to each other, they might even let their hands wander here and there, but they just weren't going to go any further. Not with him sitting there too.

Darn it. He wanted to be able to see it, to watch his dads together and to cheer them on. To celebrate how far they'd come and urge them closer yet. But Hope had been right. Or Mercy had been. Whichever of them had said that love was private and they needed to be on their own for it.

Kon didn't get it. He just didn't. He supposed if he'd been normal and grew up in a normal way, that he might. He might even think it was disgusting, like kids were supposed to. But he was normal, and they weren't either. Though apparently they were in this.

As the credits rolled, Conner got up from the floor and stretched, yawning dramatically. "I've got a long day tomorrow. If it's okay with you, I'm going to bed down in the leopard room tonight."

Both his dads blinked at him. Lex recovered first, with a sardonic half-grin on his face. "If you want to, Con, that's fine. There're guest toiletries in the left drawer of the bathroom next to the... leopard room."

Conner wondered what Dad Two called the room. It had leopard paw prints on the inside of the doorway, a black and yellow mottled comforter on the bed, and a framed picture of a leopard lying on a tree limb on the wall. Okay, it had a bunch of other things in it too, but those were the things that stood out to Conner. It also was the furthest guest room from the master room. Conner wondered what all the guest rooms were for if Lex never had anybody over.

As he cheerfully waved at them and headed off, he tuned his hearing to listen to them whisper.

"Was that a little too obvious?"

"He's a teenager, he can be obvious if he wants to be. And he can still hear us."

"I know, but...."

The voices were cut off as the sound of kissing replaced it.

With a grin, Conner found the supplies and brushed his teeth. Things were going nicely.

A little while later, though, he turned his head sharply. Then he tried again. Silently, he got up and padded out to the hall and to the master bedroom. He twisted the handle and opened the door a crack... and could suddenly hear everything again. He shut the door. Nothing. He opened it.

The door was opened further than he'd opened it. "Having fun?" Lex raised an eyebrow.

"Um, the sound-proofing..." Conner eyed the door and the wall around it, wondering how it was done.

"You can try and figure it out tomorrow. Goodnight."

The door shut again more definitively, and this time there was also the distinct sound of a lock being engaged.

With a sigh, Conner decided he didn't need to know right this moment. It was sure interesting, though.

... ... ...


/// /// ///



Link to Part Three



Date: 2014-05-17 05:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jlvsclrk.livejournal.com
*snicker* Trust Lex to properly sound proof his home!

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