[identity profile] seagull2eagle.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] tallihensia
Title: Heartbeats
Fandom: Smallville/DCU - Characters: Conner, Clark/Lex, Hope, Mercy, Cassie, others
Rating: NC-17 for violence - Words: 17,180
Type: drama, adventure, angst
Warnings: CHARACTER DEATHS! See hidden notes for more details if you need them.
Spoilers: General first few seasons.
Summary: Time is creeping by with no action from Lionel, and Clark and company continue on from where they were, but uneasily. There is family and friend bonding over normal things, and the Clex gets closer. Then, all their fears come true as Lionel finally takes his revenge. "Your father took away my pawn. So... I'll take the knight, rook, bishop, and even his queen. It's a fair price to pay, for my pawn."

Notes:
Next in the Not A Villain series after Changes Unfathomed. 11th in the series (12th if you count the prelude). This isn't the end – there's about three more left. (See the Master Post for links and summaries to all stories.) Betas by Sue Dreams and Tainry. Cross-posted to Archive of our Own.

Hidden Warning Notes: (roll mouse over space below to reveal the hidden warning)
Two-thirds of the story is regular things, with family and friend bonding and normal, everyday for them things. The climax doesn't come until late in the story. I tried not to be too extreme on it, but there are a lot of incidental deaths as bombs go off. Of the characters we know and love... Justice dies, but it's quick. Mercy is wounded. Hope is unknown. And Lex... Well, Lex dies. But we all remember what Lex's meteor power is, right? There is angst, as Kon goes through his own wounding while realizing about the others, but then things get better and the story ends on a hopeful note.


Disclaimer: Only mine in my dreams. ^^ This story was written for free entertainment purposes only and may not be reproduced for profit or altered without permission.


Heartbeats



Mostly asleep, Clark waited while the body next to him finished rolling over, then he curled up around it again, instinctively moving close, his arm up and over the side and his hand seeking skin. He tucked his head against a smooth flat chest and tuned into the heartbeats. It was a rhythm he knew well and that soothed him better than the sound of waves or crickets or any other sound. Completely content, Clark started to drift back to sleep again.

"I always knew you'd be a cuddler."

Clark started to wake up. While the voice held hints of amusement, there were much stronger tones of bitterness, and that couldn't be good.

A hand stroked down his back. "Go back to sleep."

Clark pried an eyelid open and looked first at the chest his head was buried against, then he tilted to look up. "Lex?"

Lex's hand moved to his hair and gentle fingers massaged his scalp and stroked through his hair.

All reassuring actions, and yet there was something wrong. Something very familiarly wrong.

With an internal sigh, Clark woke up the rest of the way. He knew he didn't really deserve Lex's love. After having betrayed and abandoned him so long ago, it was something of a miracle that Lex could even accept this much of him now. Even before the betrayal, Lex had his share of problems and hurts. Now... now, it was hard to find a part of Lex that wasn’t broken in some way. If it wasn't for Conner, Clark would never be this close now. That sort of miracle didn't come without its price.

"Lex," Clark spoke again, firmer. If Lex put him off again, Clark would leave it alone, but sometimes Lex needed the extra prod to share. Lex wasn't very good at sharing.

There was an audible sigh from next to him. A bit of silence, but it was the type of silence that was a prelude, rather than the object.

"Do you want to move in?" Lex's voice was flat, unemotional, toneless. Completely and totally neutral, not showing anything. And yet, the pain showed through regardless.

Clark had absolutely no idea what the correct answer to that would be. It was, in all probability, entirely too soon for Lex. The question alone showed that. Yet still, Clark's entire being reverberated with a resounding "YES!" at the thought.

Cautiously, he answered, "It's not up to me." Conner had been the one to suggest it a week ago, and had been remarkably good about not pestering Lex about it since then. Clark himself had been very, very careful not to say a word about it.

"No, it's not. But that wasn't the question."

"I don't want to cause you any pain." Clark could have slapped duct tape over his mouth if it would have stopped those words. Wrong words. He had no idea what time of night it was, but he wasn't awake enough for this. Hadn't been. He was awake now.

"Too late," came the expected reply. Lex took his hand out of Clark's hair and started to shift away, then with another sigh settled again, curving his body to Clark's and resting his hand in the middle of Clark's back.

"If you want to," Lex said quietly. "If... if you want to, you can."

Clark blinked. Whatever he'd been expecting, that wasn't it. He shifted himself further up in the bed until their heads were level. As he did so, Lex's hands drifted along Clark without going away.

It was a few days after a full moon. Close enough for moonlight to filter in through the windows and illuminate the bed in a mild soft night light. Lex didn't normally close his blinds. The first several times he'd spent the night, the bare windows had disconcerted Clark horribly but he was getting used to it. By the time the sun rose, Lex was normally up and well along his morning routine. Clark normally preferred to sleep in a bit more, but at Lex's home, he followed Lex's schedule. He'd never asked to stay beyond, not once. And now Lex was asking him to move in.

With a gulp, Clark cautiously asked, "Are you sure?" He was afraid to hope.

Lex smiled, the motion not extending to his eyes. The effort radiated pain. "It's inevitable at this point. I'd just be postponing for my pride, and..." He hesitated. "I don't want to waste the time."

He turned his head away from Clark, looking up to the ceiling. "I already changed my will to leave Conner something. Not the whole thing – that would just bring the sharks in, and I know that neither of you want that. But something he'd like and enough to get by."

Clark had a suspicion that Lex's version of 'get by' and his were worlds apart. But he didn't say anything. It wasn't for him, after all, it was for Conner. And it wouldn't be needed for many, many years down the road. They were both still young, as the world counted it. Hard to believe sometimes with all they had been through, but Clark was only 29 and Lex just in his mid 30s. With everything he did in his superheroing, Clark was more likely to die than Lex was. Had died before, actually. Couldn't always count on coming back. Somebody had to be there for Conner, after, and if Lex was willing, then Clark was all for it.

"Conner would rather have you," Clark said softly, unwilling to let it go by entirely.

"We don't always get what we want," Lex replied, still looking at the ceiling. "If you two move in... at least I'll have some of it."

Clark wondered if he was included in the some of it, or if it was all Conner.

A few seconds later, Lex proved that at least in some ways, he wanted Clark.

Clark rolled to his back under the assault, his body reveling in the sins of the flesh, and encouraging more of it with mouth and hands and every part of him. His mind and heart wanted the closeness that their bodies had, but he would take what he could get.

... ... ...

Clark woke to the sound of a shower running and an emptiness beside him. Pre-dawn lightened the sky outside and there was a slight hint of a sunrise beginning. With a yawn, Clark looked at the clock. 5:15 in the morning. The alarm wouldn't be ringing for another half-hour. But then, Lex never did sleep to the clock. Interrupted middle of the night conversations or activities, none of it seemed to disturb Lex's patterns.

It was rather humbling, how not even an alien superhero could wear Lex out, but how it rather kept ending up the other way around. So much for super-human endurance. Clark didn't really mind, though – not with those results.

With another muffled yawn, Clark got out of bed, first stretching, then sitting again on the bed and scratching his chest. There was no point to sleeping in once Lex was up. Someday, though, he'd love to teach Lex the definition of "lazy morning" – in all the various ways it could be.

There was a chiming sound from the side of the dresser, and Clark glanced over. Lex's cell phone. Another evil thing that took too much of Lex's time and attention. Clark couldn't complain overly much, though – his Justice League or Fortress communicators interrupted him almost as often, and usually with worse timing.

Lex came out, a towel casually slung around his neck and nowhere else. Clark admired the view all the way until Lex walked into the closet and he couldn't be seen with normal vision. One flick of x-ray just to admire some more, then Clark headed for his own shower. He barely remembered to tell Lex to check his texts, he'd been that completely distracted by the sight.

He'd just turned the water on when Lex walked into the bathroom. "Forget the shower, or make it a two-minute version. We have to head out." Lex started to walk out, then paused. "We, as in myself and Clark Kent, that is. Not Conner."

Meaning not Superman, more to the point. Knowing that Lex still had to get dressed, Clark took three minutes for the shower and brushed his teeth too. He was still dressed before Lex, slowing to normal speed as he tucked in his tie. "What's up?"

Lex was putting his version of working boots on. They were steel toed and fire and slash proof, but very highly tailored and most people wouldn't know from looking at them to be anything other than regular shoes. The slacks Lex wore covered the fact that they went up past his ankles. "There's a location on a laboratory. We're going to go along on the raid."

"A labr... one of Lionel's?" Clark put his glasses on, careful to remember the right persona. It was easy to mix them around Lex.

"Yes." Lex got out his special trench coat that was not only threaded with minute amounts of lead, but also was almost impenetrable. Clark had spent some time trying to figure it out, and Lex had finally pointed him at Green Lantern – it turned out to be an alien import from some other tech world that Lex had modified to blend in with Earth fabrics and Earth tailoring. He didn't wear it often – usually when he was attacking Superman or otherwise meeting with meta-humans. Lionel apparently fell into that category. Clark was glad Lex was taking precautions.

They went down to the sub-basement and directly to a modified SUV. Hope was driving.

Lex paused when he saw that. "Where's Mercy?"

"Off on another errand. We weren't expecting you to be active until later." Hope shrugged. "What are you doing about Conner?"

"He's still sleeping," Lex replied with unconcern.

He obviously hadn't been living with teenagers for very long. Clark cleared his throat. "I left him a note and said we were out. When he gets up he'll know not to look for us unless something's wrong."

Hope nodded while Lex turned to look, frowning. Then he sighed, very softly. "You never answered me last night."

"Yes," Clark said instantly. Good idea or not, he wanted the time with Lex too.

"I suppose I'll have to learn about notes."

Clark broke into a broad grin. "Conner will teach you."

With a huffing sound that was half amusement, half resignation, Lex turned from Clark and got into the car. Clark couldn't stop smiling and almost danced to the other side of the car.

"Turn off that goofy look," Lex ordered when they were both inside, a corner of his own mouth twitching up.

"Yes, sir," Clark answered, and leaned over to kiss Lex.

After Lex endured it for awhile, he pushed Clark back. "Idiot," he said fondly. "Hope, send me the briefing notes and turn on the screen."

The screen on the back of the seat between them flicked on, showing the inside of a military van with people in steel grey outfits receiving a briefing from their commander. The briefing was going over details of the layout of the laboratory, how many people were expected to be in it, what sort of defense systems it had, and what levels of force to take it.

Clark felt the slightest twinge of unease go through him, but he wasn't sure why. It all sounded very practical and with enough consideration for the scientists in the lab.

At the end of the briefing, the commander looked at his team, then glanced to one side into the camera. "We're also going to be joined on this run by a VIP. Sir?"

Lex pushed a button on the screen. "Thank you, Nelson." There was a brief showing of surprise from the task force as apparently a screen went on on their side and they saw that the VIP was Lex himself, but they didn't say anything and the expressions were quickly hidden. "Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for assisting on this project. It is vital to our interests to secure this site and ensure the safety of thousands. I assure you, I will not be interfering with the run." There was a brief chuckle from some of the more experienced looking people. "Nelson has my complete confidence in the plan, and I will only be following along after you have secured the building."

That brought a few frowns. One lady raised her hand. "How much after?"

Lex smiled slightly. "Enough after. I need to see the site while everything is fresh. While Dr. Tanero is familiar with our needs, I am the one who knows best the person who built this site. I need to learn what he is thinking so we can better coordinate our efforts in the future. I will not take unnecessary risks."

"Unnecessary in whose opinion?" quipped one man, but he subsided when the commander glared at him.

"The run is yours, people. I expect your usual superb work and will see you after. Thank you." Lex reached out and pushed a button under the monitor.

Their screen continued to show the people in the van, but obviously the visuals on their end were disconnected as they all looked away and then started discussing things among themselves. Lex turned the sound down so they could keep listening but it wasn't the focus.

"They know you," Clark remarked, fighting not to grin.

"We've worked together a lot," Lex said simply, without any emphasis. Then he turned to look at Clark. "You do realize that this is very much illegal?"

The unease Clark had been feeling earlier suddenly boiled over. It was as if he'd been cooking pasta, looked away for a moment, and then turned back to the stove to have the whole thing spilling over with water and noodles on the stove, smoke billowing up and a sudden need to disconnect the fire alarm. "Um, what?" he weakly asked.

Lex smirked at him. "Theoretically, from what you've heard, it appears that we're on our way to raid another laboratory. It has not been sanctioned by the government, nor are we government representatives. We're another private corporation, with no legal rights to do this."

Clark's heart sank. "It's one of Lionel's." He didn't even count the 'theoretically'.

"We think it's one of Lionel's," Lex stated ruthlessly.

"Ninety-two percent probability," Hope put in from the front seat.

"We could call the local police in," Clark suggested without much hope.

Lex gave that suggestion the scornful derision it deserved. "With what evidence?"

"Or the Justice League?"

Lex laughed. "Like they would believe or trust my word. Yours they might... you're a friend of Superman, after all."

Lex paused dramatically, as if struck by a sudden thought. "Oh, but you are a friend of Superman. Maybe you could call him. See what Superman would say, you asking him to join a raid from the notorious LexCorp, formerly Luthor Corp, against an unknown, hidden laboratory that you know nothing about. I wonder what Superman would say to that."

Clark raised his hands and dropped his head into them. If he was the emotional type, he suspected he'd be on the verge of crying right now. He did sense an impending headache any minute now. Lex had caught him well and truly. Caught between his morals and his trust in Lex. His beliefs in good and true, and his knowledge of Lionel's evil. But it wasn't even that. He'd just automatically gone along with Lex this morning without even questioning it. What did that make him? What did that make of his vaunted morals? What did he do now?

Without letting up or indicating in any way that he saw Clark's dilemma, Lex went on. "But it is interesting that you bring up the Justice League and Superman as alternates to the police. You obviously see them as different, as not needing the local authorities to say what is right or wrong. They don't have to get a judge signing off on permission to break into somebody's place, they don't have to get a court order for a wire tap... for that matter, Superman doesn't even need a wire tap. All he has to do is listen.

"Just a little tilt of his head, and Superman can hear conversations people think are private. He squints his eyes a little and he's seeing through walls. Sure, that sort of thing happens all the time, but at least if we suspect a normal person of doing it, we can go up and see the evidence – a telescope pointed at windows, a camera with photos on it of an area they shouldn't have been in. Superman, though... all Superman has to do is what comes naturally to him – lie."

Clark dropped his hands and turned to glare at Lex.

Lex smiled without humor. "I bet Superman goes around all the time using his powers and nobody ever knows. He could be the world's most perverted peeping tom, and nobody would suspect a thing without the telescope there to see."

"Superman doesn't do that!" Clark said hotly. "And will you knock it off about the telescope?"

Sharp white teeth, bared in an obstinately friendly display. "Ah," Lex said softly, "But how do you know Superman doesn't?"

"Because he wouldn't." Clark tried very hard to keep his temper. Being in the back seat of a moving vehicle was not the place to get into a fight. No matter how much the person sitting next to you was trying to provoke one.

The accusations against Superman weren't new. Clark took a deep breath. "There are certain things about people that we go on trust with them. We trust that people will follow laws, we trust that people will behave decently, we trust that they will hold true to their word. We've developed laws around what happens when people break that trust, true, and there are unfortunately a lot of people who do. But there are many more people out there who do follow the laws and are decent and kind people. Not everybody does great good or great evil – a lot of people are just normal and they live normally, but we still give them that trust in the first place. Laws only come into it when they do something wrong. Superman has done no wrong. The trust we put in him is repaid through his kindness to people, and his assistance. Superman has given us his word that he uses his powers for good, and we should trust him in it."

It was standard, stock reporter answers. It was, perhaps, the wrong tack to use with Lex.

"Just as you trust in me," Lex said softly, his voice low, dangerous, and mocking.

Then Lex's expression changed to one of chagrin and annoyance, not directed at Clark. Lex turned away from Clark as he leaned over and switched off the monitor, negating the connection to the strike van completely. "Superman's greatest enemy has always been me, and he knows this. There is no trust between us." His tone stayed dangerous, but with an added layer of bitterness replacing the mocking.

Clark puzzled over the change for a moment, and then realized that just before that, Lex had said 'you' instead of 'Superman'. Lex, the most careful person that Clark had ever known about keeping the identities separate, had just slipped up. It didn't really sound like a slip-up... Lex could have been talking about Clark's trust. But with his reaction and what they were talking about... Lex had been thinking Superman when he said 'you'.

Given that, the statement about enemies suddenly had an entirely new and different meaning about it.

Within the moment, Clark dropped all the anger he'd been holding. He wondered how many other statements of Lex's over the years had been deliberately phrased for misunderstandings during the heat of battle. Lex had this bad habit of bringing things down on himself, and they weren't always accidents.

"My worst enemy is myself," Clark said softly. "It always has been. Myself, and my ideals."

Lex glanced uncertainly over. Then he looked towards the front of the car. "Hope, privacy."

The sounds outside the car, and even from the front seat of the car disappeared. Clark wiggled his jar to get his ears to pop from the mock pressure sensation.

"I've never wanted you to change," Lex said, intense and serious. "Never. I'm not asking you to change now."

It was true, Clark realized. Lex never had asked him to change. He'd asked, pleaded, for Clark's approval, for Clark to accept him, but while everybody else around him had tried to mold him one way or the other, Lex never had. Well, okay, there was that whole thing about shoving Clark towards Lana and all the dating tips that were more geared towards deception than honesty, but even that was misunderstanding as Lex was trying to figure out how to help a person steeped in morals and a home life that he'd never known. But once Lex got to know him, the only thing he'd ever asked for was the truth. Which he'd never gotten.

"Change comes, whether asked for or not," Clark replied slowly, feeling it out. Maybe the problem had always been that Superman was stuck in his image. People did learn, and grow, and Superman never had, because Superman had to stay true to the ideal that people looked up to. Clark had been young when Superman was born. Almost as young as when Lex had first run into him in Smallville.

"You've always held true," Lex growled. "Just because I'm needling you now... don't change for that!"

"Lex... are you upset because I'm trusting you now?"

"You shouldn't!"

Clark thought they were talking about more than just today's raid on the laboratory, however they had gotten here. "I do, Lex. I can change, even if it takes becoming a father to a teenager at 29." The wry smile on Lex's lips encouraged him. Conner gave them both hope. "I can change, and I can love, and I can trust. Something maybe I should have done a long time ago, but at least I'm doing it now."

He took a breath. "If you could accept the old me... can you accept the new as well?"

The bitterness flowed out of Lex and left only a dazzling, brilliant smile. Full of love and good humor and acceptance. Something Clark hadn't seen in a long, long time. It felt like coming home.

Lex didn't say anything, but his focus on Clark intensified until Clark was leaning in and kissing Lex as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Lex's hand dug through Clark's hair until he was touching Clark's scalp, a light pressure to keep Clark where he was. It wasn't needed, Clark wasn't leaving anytime soon, but he loved having it there. He loved having Lex. For this, he could change.

...

They walked into the building, now secured by Lex's people. The workers in the building had been extricated before Lex stepped out of the SUV. Presumably so they couldn't see Lex and deduce who had raided them. Clark had watched it happen, though, on Lex's screen with Lex's monitors, with only the occasional look out to see for himself in x-ray vision. Clark Kent didn't have x-ray vision, and it was Clark who was with Lex.

The raid had been processional and quick, everything happening smoothly and the guards quickly taken. The few injuries there had been – a guard who had hit his head after being tranquilized, a scientist with a twisted ankle, another with a burn – had been quickly triaged and treated. There had been some attempts of personnel trying to destroy records and experiments in progress, but they hadn't succeeded.

Now, Lex was walking through with Clark at his side. Clark was very aware of his position and the fact that just by being there, by being with Lex at this moment, he was giving his approval to the operation. His presence, seen by many. He cringed a little, still unsure of what he thought of this illegal raid, but Lex had a point with the Justice League being just as outside the law, and Clark would rather be with Lex than without him.

"Dr. Tanero," Lex spoke as they entered one of the research rooms. "What have you found?"

A stocky Asian woman in the same grey outfit as the team looked up from a datapad she'd been entering notes on. "That wasn't waiting very long, Lex. We haven't even finished checking for booby traps yet."

Now that Clark thought about it, she'd been in the van with the others. He hadn't realized Lex mixed his staff, but then, abilities didn't just run to grunt and geek. Some people could be both, and in a lab, a scientist on the raid would be vital.

"If I wait that long, all the evidence I need would be gone," Lex replied testily. "This is a cloning facility?"

"It is," the scientist replied, "though concentrating on parts rather than the whole. On the surface, it looks like they were researching how to make hearts, kidneys, livers, etcetera."

Clark really did wince at that. That sort of research was valuable to medical facilities everywhere.

Lex didn't look at him, but he shifted his stance slightly so that Clark was aware that Lex had picked up on it. "And underneath?"

"Less certain. Still parts, not whole, but... odd. There is some kryptonite in the other room," she pointed to their left, and Clark resolved not to go that way unless he had to, "and it looks like they were programming the parts."

Lex raised his eyebrows. "A timer so they would die?"

"More subtle than that." The doctor went up to Lex and showed him the datapad. "See these alterations in the heart muscles here? And this foreign particle here? I haven't figured out what exactly they were doing, but it was definitely not kosher research."

Lex briefly looked over the datapad to Clark, then dropped his gaze again.

Message received. It reassured Clark somewhat, though he knew he was still going to have to have that talk with his conscience at some point.

"And signs of the enemy?"

Dr. Tanero hissed through her teeth, an expression of anger drawing her features together. "This is definitely one of his. But he's on to us – this lab was cleansed before we got here."

"What?" Lex straightened up in surprise.

She pointed at one of the machines. "That's one of his special splicers... but the core was removed long enough ago for dust to have gathered on it."

Lex strode over to the machine and ran a gloved finger over an empty spot on it. "Damn it." He pulled open a panel. "Four months. No wonder our intelligence has been so limited since then."

"I told you we shouldn't have made so many raids all at the same time six months ago." The scientist showed a casual disregard for her safety with that remark.

With a grimace, Lex waved it aside. "We got some of his primaries then. It was worth it."

Six months ago... Clark blinked. That was after Casablanca, when Lex had gone on his rampage and visited Themyscira. Diana had said he'd destroyed cloning labs as well, and rescued the kittens and puppies. With a sideways glance left towards the kryptonite room, Clark wondered if he should be looking for unusual properties in Conner's young cats.

Clark ventured a question. "Why would the core make a difference?"

The scientist looked at him in surprise, then directed that surprise over to Lex. She didn't say anything, but the 'why is he here?' feeling was strong.

Sorting through test tubes, Lex paused. Clark almost thought Lex had forgotten about him. "Li... the enemy used a special processing chip in the cores of the splicer. Very few facilities used this type of core. When it was being manufactured, we put in some codes that would let us get more information if we found it. That he's taken out the cores means that he found our codes."

Lex's anger had been noticeably growing while he talked. Clark thought he was angry at both Lionel and himself, despite his statement that it had been worth it. Lex looked around the room. "Have you gotten everything you need from here?"

The doctor sighed in resignation. "I've gotten enough."

Lex picked up one of the test tubes and threw it against the wall opposite. It shattered with a rain of glass and whatever chemical had been inside it. Lex picked up the next one and sent it on the same path.

Clark quickly moved to the hallway, staying just close enough to the door so he could see and hear Lex, but well out of the way of any projectiles. The scientist was right there with him.

She eyed him for a moment. "Huh. You're not surprised."

"By that?" Clark waved his hand at Lex's continued destruction. "The second time I met him, he threw his fencing foil so it stuck in the wall next to my head. I'd just walked in and he hadn't seen me."

"He threw his fencing foil so it stuck in a wall? That takes talent... and means he was fencing without buttons."

"Luthors don't play it safe," Clark said grimly, more aware now than he had been as a teenager of what that had meant. He shook his head to get away from the mood. "I'm Clark."

"Nan." She held up a gloved hand to show she wouldn’t be shaking his. "Aren't you the reporter that's always bashing him?"

As the sound of breakage continued, Clark tried to start repairing what he could, as awkward as it might be.

... ... ...

"You're quiet today," Garth remarked, as he reclined half in and half out of the ocean tide. They were gathered in a shelter on a small island that had nothing on it but rocks and birds. There was nothing around but themselves, which made it the perfect hang out for a Titan Time Out. Lemonade and cookies and sandwiches made the island a paradise just for them.

Aqualad, Kon reminded himself. Not Garth, Aqualad. Away from training, it was hard to remember not to cross the lines, particularly when they were all just hanging out together relaxing. Did it matter so much, when they were just themselves? He glanced at Tim, wincing to see the mask peeled off while the rest of him was in costume. All or nothing... but that's ideals, and things are rarely ideal. They were there specifically to relax, and let down their guard. But at the same time... Kon sighed. Identities were confusing.

Tim glanced at him curiously, and Kon realized he hadn't answered the question. "Just thinking," he said.

"Deep thoughts," Raven said.

It was easy to think of Raven as Raven... for her, that was her primary identity. Her human one was a bare after-thought. Her comment was less frivolous than it sounded. She could pick up on his mood and knew just how deep his thoughts really were.

"I'm waiting for the next shoe to drop," Kon admitted. They all were. Or at least those of them in the know were. The Justice League had been briefed on the terrorist group Lion's Teeth. After the satellite had been scrubbed top to bottom, the top echelon had also been briefed on Watchtower's betrayal and Lionel's clones. The rest of the League, however, were still on need-to-know. They weren't sure how far Lionel's influence went, and they knew that Chloe hadn't been his only contact. Most of the Teen Titans, though, were in the need-to-know group, for one reason or another.

Just like that, the whole group turned serious.

Cassie reached out and took Kon's hand, and he let himself be reassured by the contact. He wasn't alone, no matter how much it seemed like it sometimes. Cassie had pledged her aid to helping him find his sister-aunt, and she wouldn't go back on it. There was somebody besides himself, with similar goals.

"What are you so worried about?" Cassie asked.

Most of the eyes in the group turned to her in disbelief.

"He's worried about more than the obvious," Cassie said with absoluteness.

Kon wondered how she could tell. "I keep thinking..."

They waited for him.

With a sigh, Kon let out one of his worst fears. "I worry about what if I've got some sort of secret directive planted in me, and I am the other shoe."

There was a little pause where nobody spoke. It was reassuring in a weird way that they weren't automatically leaping to tell him no, it couldn't happen. They were all thinking about it. Kon went on. "I attacked Superman before. I was trained to attack him. Even though Superman broke my conditioning... what else is there? What word will somebody whisper to me someday that will make me turn on everybody I love?"

Raven sighed. "We all live with that. You just have to do what you can while you're you and here."

The eyes in the group redirected to Raven. Her half-demon blood made her fight to be good and not just a pawn of her father's a constant battle. Between Raven's true current efforts and his own nebulous what-if in the future, Kon felt a little ashamed of his worries.

"When you first got into the League, you were interviewed by the Martian Manhunter, right?" Tim asked.

"Yeah," Kon remembered that first interview well. He still hadn't adjusted to being out of the lab and among people, and while the blue wasn't weird, everything else was. Chloe had debriefed him about the details about the lab, and then there had been a secondary one regarding his intentions. "Him and Dr. Fate." That helmet was the scariest thing ever.

Bart kicked the water, sending a spray that reflected rainbows upon them. "Then you don't have anything to worry about."

Conner blinked. Then he shifted his identity and reminded himself that it was Kon-El who blinked and Impulse who had kicked the water. "What do you mean?"

"Jonn reads minds and Dr. Fate reads souls – they were doing more than just interviewing you," Tim explained. "If there had been anything like what you're worrying about, they would have found it."

Kon frowned, "Even if I didn't know about it?"

"They're good," Cassie said. "As a team, they can spot most of that."

"Then why haven't we found who Chloe was working with yet?"

Aqualad shrugged. "Unless we pull every member of the League in for interviews, which would take months and alarm everybody, they have to do sweep patterns and try and catch who is there at the time."

"They have found some."

Everybody looked to Cassie, who looked uncomfortable. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have mentioned that."

As Wonder Woman's replacement and relay, Wonder Girl had been elevated to the meetings that the rest of them couldn't go to.

"I thought this was supposed to be a Time Out," Garth said. "Why are we so glum about everything?"

"Because Conner's turning into his dad," Bart laughed. "Responsibility is all."

Kon winced. "Kon-El. While I'm here with you, I'm Kon, not Conner."

"Speaking of that responsibility thing..." Tim drawled. He cocked his head. "I really almost thought you didn't know me at the meeting last week. Most of the adult heroes aren't even that good at it. What have you been doing?"

"Training," Kon sighed. "The whole thing with the personal lives and the costume lives... I finally found out what Nightwing has been trying to tell us all this time."

Found out through the potential loss of a friend. He'd never been more scared than when Mercy and Hope had played their trick on him and endangered Prudence. It worked out, but only because Prudence herself was a strong ally and somebody who Mercy and Hope had hand-picked. They had counted on not only Conner refusing to have her killed, but also Pru taking up his cause on her own. She was a hidden ally, unknown to any but the three of them, and Hope had told him in no uncertain terms not to let anybody else know. Everybody needed others, but the more people who knew each other... the League was stronger than a house of cards, but what Watchtower had known, they had to presume Lionel now also knew. They didn't know what she'd shared with him and what she hadn't. Pru was outside the loop and somebody that Kon could go to in the future.

The others had been waiting for elaboration, but when they didn't get it, they looked at each other. Tim silently reached his hand up and pulled down his mask, becoming Robin again, albeit a more relaxed Robin.

"We're safe here," Bart protested.

"We won't always be here," Wonder Girl said, not without her own obvious reluctance.

That brought up another thing Kon had been thinking about. "Anybody ever think of what might happen to us if we don't die?"

They all looked at him.

Kon-El sighed. "I meant, if we were hurt bad, instead of dying. Not recoverable type of hurt. In the labs... they always discarded any of us who were hurt, if they weren't worth saving. But here, you don't."

The gazes in the group redirected towards Impulse, then just as quickly jerked away again.

"Flash is fine," Impulse shrugged off the might-have-beens. "He's all recovered and back on patrol again. You'd never know how badly he was hurt to see him now."

"But it does happen," Robin said softly. "Batgirl... Batgirl was hurt like that, never recovered."

"Batgirl?" Wonder Girl asked, her eyebrows raising.

Kon was glad somebody else asked.

"She was around early. Showed up right after Batman started. He didn't even know about her at first, but gradually let her work with him. Then when Robin joined Batman, he and Batgirl used to team up a lot."

"An early version of us, Teen Titans," Aqualad said with a smile. "There's a girl I know... she might like that."

"Yeah, an early version of us," Robin said darkly. "Her spine was severed."

It was only with the full week's worth of training fresh upon his mind and reflexes that kept Kon from jerking in surprise. He still didn't think he achieved DT's expressionless mask, but hopefully he kept most of what he was feeling away. Nobody looked at him, so at least he hadn't drawn attention to himself.

"Oh, that sucks," Raven winced, a hand going to her back. "What happened to her? After, I mean?"

Robin shrugged. "Went back to her normal identity. Never did anything after that, as far as I know."

"How did she get hurt?" Wonder Girl asked with professional curiosity.

Again, Robin raised his shoulders and dropped them. "Don't know the details. Nightwing mentions her sometimes, and he told me about it, but he admitted that even he doesn't know exactly what happened. He wasn't there during the fight. Or whatever. Batman probably does, but Batman won't tell him either. All Nightwing said he knows is that she never recovered."

They all were silent for awhile, contemplating the risks of superheroing that didn't involve death. They all accepted death was a possibility. Permanent disability wasn't as easily thought about.

Or at least, Kon assumed that's what the others were thinking about. He, on the other hand, was too busy internally repeating ohshitohshitohshit to give much consideration to his own future. That was it, wasn't it? Why some of them knew Oracle, and the others hadn't but then did when they saw her. Kon would have to look up some pictures of Batgirl and see if there was a resemblance. Or maybe he wouldn't. He shouldn't actually be knowing this, should he? Or did it even matter? There had to be some reason why the two were so disconnected now if they were once the same. And Oracle had told him about her injury... did she want him to find out? Oracle was about the same age as Nightwing.

"Okay, now I'm depressed. I wish I hadn't asked," Aqualad sighed and rolled over so he was mostly floating in the waves. "Somebody change the subject. Something more fun."

Kon quirked a grin. It was usually Impulse who was the jovial one, but Aqualad was okay. He couldn't always make it to the land-locked meetings so they enjoyed the ones he could make.

"Okay," Kon reached for something new. "I need a costume change. Any ideas?"

"Finally," Raven muttered. "I can't tell you or your dad apart until you get close."

"I thought you liked being in the same outfit as your dad?" Robin asked, even as he pulled out a datapad.

Kon shrugged. "I do. I did. But as Raven says, we're just a little too much alike, especially with the same outfit. I can be close to Superman without having the same outfit." Another thing pointed out during the training. And really, the outfit was part of what his former owners had raised him with – put him and his brothers into the costume and pointed them at each other to kill. Maybe with a different outfit, Kon might be that much further from his origins. "All of you have different costumes... this looking the same thing, it's kindof retro. Need to be with the times."

"Black and gold," Wonder Girl said. "I think you'd look great in black."

"Not too much black, or we'll have to call him Crow instead so he'll match Raven," Impulse laughed.

"I want to keep the El symbol, but not gold. Ugh. Please not gold."

Wonder Girl glared at him and Kon backpedalled. "You look awesome in gold, Cassie, but it's just not for me."

With a laugh, they went on tossing around ideas for Kon's new outfit.



...


/// /// ///





Link to Part Two




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