"Sooo...," Rue finally drawled out, swinging one of the bar stools around and perching on it.
Kon turned on the blocker, wincing as his senses first went haywire then cut to nearly nil. He really wasn't fond of this thing, even knowing how useful it was.
"Lion's Teeth are all Lionel Luthor." He sat down on one of the couches, uncomfortably aware of the last time he'd been there.
There was a pause from Rue. She started to take out her mobile and then put it down when she realized it was blocked too. "Lex's dad? But he died..."
Kon explained about the clones.
"Oh," Rue breathed out. "Oh, that makes sense."
"It does?" Conner had never, ever thought it made any sort of sense. Even being one of the clones... or hybrids as they now knew he was, he still didn't think it made much sense. Lex understood it, and had tried to explain it before, but Conner and Clark could only see the surface patterns and not the part where it made sense.
"You weren't around... you never saw Lex's dad, the original one. Probably the original one. He was..." Rue drew her arms around herself and she shivered.
Conner had never seen her scared before.
After a moment, she said softly, "My dad's death wasn't an accident, then. It wasn't just because he was standing next to Lex. Lionel... Lionel has tried to kill him before. Many times before. It's why Dad never left LexCorp. Well, rarely left. And when he did, it was always with Hope or Mercy. Lionel always blamed Dad for Lex's success in keeping the company through all the board wars. And he might have been right."
Slipping off the stool, Rue went around Lex's desk to pull out his chair and move it over by the windows. "Lex's chair is the most comfortable." She curled up in it, tucking her feet under her and sitting at an angle.
Kon had sat in Lex's chair before. It wasn't the most comfortable. It was an efficient desk chair, but not the most comfortable. He didn't remark on that but gave Prudence the silence she needed.
After a few moments of not moving, Rue started poking through Lex's desk. Opening drawers, rifling through the things she found there, pulling out some paperwork and gadgets.
Conner wanted to give her space, but honestly... "Rue," he started, exasperated.
She held up her hand, blocking the rest of the words. There was a pause, then she shook her head. "You might as well go back to Pru. I'm not ever going to be a Rue, apparently. There's no way. No way at all. My dad's name is Justice... but I can't get that for him. Not if it's Lex's dad."
Tears started to drip down upon the expensive wooden polish of the desk.
Conner opened and closed his mouth, not finding anything he could actually say. He went over to the wet bar against the wall and grabbed some cocktail napkins to hand to Prudence.
She sniffled a few times and accepted them. It didn't seem to stem the flow any, but at least the desk wasn't getting as wet.
"You were ready to take on a whole terrorist organization by yourself, and now you're just giving up?" Conner finally couldn't help it. It had to be asked. He winced a little as he heard the actual words that came out – he'd planned on asking a little nicer than that. But he couldn't help it.
Rue... or Pru... shook her head. "You didn't know Lionel Luthor."
"I've met him a few times." Kon raised his hand to his chest again. The memory of being blown apart wasn't something that looked like it was going to go away soon. Even all the arena fights, the testing, the gel baths... he had nightmares about them still, but it wasn't this sudden, dramatic instant recall of the moment that he kept experiencing. He hoped he would get over it soon. It hurt.
Pru shrugged, dismissing that. "You've met the clones. Which, if they're him, I'm sure... but I don't know. I don't know what they're like. Lex's dad... You would know if you'd actually met him, the original him.
"You know Lex. You know how he walks into a room and that room is his. You've seen his smile, the way people gravitate to him. Even when he's not smiling. He just... people love him or hate him, but there's rarely anything in-between.
"Lex's dad..." Pru paused. "Lex... Lex is a copy of his dad, and not as good at it. He has too much smarts for that – he's more intelligent, more thoughtful, cares more. His dad..." She shivered again, hunkering down in the chair.
"When I was a kid, we lived in the slums. The suicide slums get their name because people who live there don't always live, one way or another. There's no law, there's no cops, there's no rule. Superman comes in and sweeps out some of the worst from time to time... and others fill the gap. It isn't something a hero can do anything about, because nobody else will. Living in the slums is always looking for your own survival, if you care.
"Dad ended up with me because my mom didn't want to be pregnant and was only carrying to term so she could sell the baby and make some money off her mistake. Her words. She was older than dad and hadn't realized he was old enough to, um, well, science and logic weren't her strong points, let's say." Pru shrugged with a grin. "Smart enough in her own way, but it wasn't like reproductive biology was regularly taught out there. My dad was barely a teen, and didn't know much more, but still, he wanted me, and didn't want to see me sold for whatever weird experiments people wanted babies for. So Dad worked really hard that summer to make enough money to buy me. But his specialty has always been in things, not people. Mercy lived upstairs from us, and was the one who finally ended up showing Dad just what he had to do to take care of me. It wasn't like my mother cared or knew herself."
Pru put down the gadget she'd been turning over in her hands. "Sorry. I was going to talk about Lex's dad, not me and Dad."
"No, that's fine. Go on," Conner urged. He was utterly fascinated by the tale. Families, and how families became families, were probably always going to be a source of mystery and wonder to him. There was DNA connecting him to Clark and Lex, but in the ultimate scheme of things, that didn't mean much more than the phone call that brought them together. People always had the choice what to do about connections, and DNA didn't always mean wanting and caring. Prudence's story showed both.
Prudence smiled a little. Her cheeks were still wet, and her eyes were red, but she looked at Conner and Conner didn't know what his own expression said but it apparently amused her. "You really are young, aren't you?"
Conner shrugged. She'd had his tale earlier, back when Mercy and Hope had done their testing. He knew he wasn't normal... but he was starting to think there wasn't anybody that was. As Hope had said, it was shared experiences that made normality, and it was differences that caught attention. Or was that Mercy who had said that? Anyhow, Conner wasn't going to worry about his differences when he was interested in something.
"Yeah," Pru laughed quietly, then was silent, staring at the polished desktop. She shrugged, apparently to herself. Eventually, she put down the one gadget, picked up a different one from a different drawer, and continued.
"Lex came into the slums looking for my dad. He'd heard about Justice's inventions, and apparently had gathered up quite a few of them that had made it out of the slums. Most folks who wanted things from my dad, most folks used intermediators – they sent others into the slums, in relays for who could survive that deep down, and things went back out the same way. But Lex... Lex walked right in."
She shook her head. "Apparently nearly got himself killed, too. First thing we knew about it was Mercy slamming her way inside the apartment building, yelling at Lex loud enough to be heard through all the thin walls, berating him for being a stupid ass. To this day, I have no idea why she saved him. But she did, and eventually, after she had satisfied herself for Lex's intentions, she brought him to us."
This time, the smile on Prudence's face spread over her whole being, radiant and fond. "Dad and Lex... oh, you should have seen them. I mean, you have seen them, but then. I don't either of them had ever met somebody who could keep up and understand the other. Not always in everything, but close enough on most to follow. It was like instant brothers when they met. Mercy and I just sat back and watched."
The smile stayed on for awhile as it seemed the polished wood became a conduit for the memories.
Conner watched wistfully. He wished he had seen. He had loved seeing Dad2 and Justice in the labs together, when Lex forgot himself and his dignity and just mucked around. There hadn't been enough time for Conner to have seen more. Brothers, unbound. Just like him and his own siblings. Like his other dad and Ryan. Like Mercy and her sisters.
Families could come together, or be made together, however, they could also be torn apart. Not the right mix of electrons, protons, and neutrons, or of the energy that sparked them and combined them. A disruption of the flow, and atoms flew apart.
He could feel his hand on his chest. His chest that had been so carefully rebuilt, then healed. Lex's body had been even more shattered than his own. And that body was rebuilding, bit by bit. Families could heal too, perhaps. Reformed, changed, reorganized and structured anew. Not the same, missing some of what had made them before, but getting new parts instead.
Loss was always gone. KN-5 would never get his brothers back. Gone forever, and he would never know what sort of a family they could have been outside the lab. But he now had Dad, and Dad2. And Tim... he wanted Tim to be part of his family, in some way. And Cassie. Dad brought in Grandma, and Lois, and the Fortress, and the other odd bits of his chosen families. Chloe had proven not... or was another part swept away. Dad2 had brought his minions that he refused to call family, but they so obviously were. Hope and Mercy, Justice, Charity, Concord. And Prudence. Dad2 had adopted them, cared for them, protected them best he could, and they had adopted him just as fiercely back. Dad2's family was weird – all of them holding each other at arm's length and pretending they didn't really care. But to Conner, it was just the same as Dad's. And both now Conner's families too. Along with his own that he was picking up without them. Tim. Cassie. And, he guessed, Prudence too. Though wasn't she a part of Dad2's? Anyhow, his too, now.
"The thing about Lionel Luthor," Pru resumed, her voice sober again, a tremble through it. "The thing nobody understands until they meet him, is that Lionel captivated people. He would walk into a room, and it wasn't even about owning it, it just became that everything revolved around him automatically. Even Lex. Or especially Lex.
"They always tried to keep me out of the way when Lionel would come by. But he'd come by all the frick'in time, unannounced, always trying for something. Usually trying to get Dad to leave Lex and come to him instead. He was so mad that Dad never did."
Prudence put down all doohickies from Lex's desk and spread her hands out upon the wood. Her fingers were trembling. "You don't know. You just don't know what it was like."
Kon frowned. "Was it a meteor power? Er, kryptonite? He was in... he was exposed."
Pru shook her head. "According to Lex, his dad had always been like that. Even before. They used to discuss it sometimes, Dad and Lex, wondering why. Lex also pointed out that Superman fell prey to the effect just as often as anybody else, and Superman was usually immune to kryptonic powers." She looked up from the table, blinking. "Uh, that's your other dad. I forgot. I mean, I know it, but Clark just is so NOT anything like Superman. It makes my brain hurt to try and think of them as the same, honestly. I mean, I know you're both Conner and Superboy, but that makes more sense. Even with all the training. But Clark and Superman... it just doesn't work."
Conner had to laugh. He lived with it, and he saw how nobody ever connected them, but to him they always were the same. It was probably because when Clark or Superman looked at Conner, or Kon, it was always with the same Dad eyes, no matter what color they were.
He sobered again fairly quickly. "You know, Lex tried to explain it too, why he was always in such despair knowing it was his father we were facing. And I never quite got it. Thought it was just fears from when he was a kid, facing his dad alone. But I think I understand it somewhat better now. Thank you."
Curling up further in the chair, Pru shook her head. "I don't think that's anything anybody can thank one for. Facing Lionel..." She sighed. "I could face a whole terrorist organization. I could. No matter how many of them there were. And I want to do the same to Lionel and all the clones of Lionel. But I don't think I can. Not by myself."
She paused. "Rue was sure a short-lived identity. Oh well."
"You know," Conner shrugged, "in my circle, most of us have more than one identity all the time."
Again, Prudence shook her head, but this time she also straightened up in the chair. "I'm not a super hero."
"Nobody starts off as one." Conner thought about his origins, and all the other origins of the heroes he knew.
Prudence looked interested, but again denied it. "I have no patience for heroes. Too much my dad's daughter. Now a villain... that I could become."
There was a sudden chill in the air, in Conner's body, thinking about it. He had faced his brothers in the arena, kill or be killed. He had tried to kill Superman. Facing a friend or family in battle was not something he ever wanted to do again. "Lex is not a villain." He wasn't. He had the label, but he absolutely was not. He loved Conner, and his D2 was not a villain.
Standing up and moving from around the desk, Prudence walked to the window and held a hand up to it. It was a pose very like Lex often did, though Conner didn't think she was mocking it deliberately. After a moment, she dropped the hand and went to the wet bar. "Want some soda? Or water? Or hell, alcohol, even."
Conner stood up and stretched, warming the chill out of his body. "Mountain Dew."
She grimaced but got it for him. "That stuff will rot your brains. Talk about caffeine kick." She took a lemonade for herself.
"I don't have any brains to rot." Conner grinned back as he opened the can.
Pru sat on the bar stool she'd started off on, and swiveled it around. "I think I know what you mean... but Conner, Lex is no hero, either."
Conner shrugged. It had never really mattered much to him.
"There's a lot of the world that says what Lex does is villainous, including other villains."
To avoid repeating the same movements, Conner turned the can in his hands and then drank some more of the sugar. "Dad came from a good family, and was raised with good ideals. I didn't. They taught me enough that I could mimic Superman, but they also taught me all that was evil and uncaring. Some of my brothers became that way too, absorbing what they were taught. They were killed." Kon paused. For the first time, he wondered if they were culled not because they didn't meet a standard, but because they would have proven a threat to the scientists. His brothers that had turned... none of them, once they passed that point, none of them had hesitated to kill whatever they were set upon, even when not under the mind control. The scientists wouldn't have stood a chance if those brothers had gotten free. Kon wondered what the difference between him and them was.
He sighed, turning the can again. "Let's just say I have a much, much, lower bar for what I really think a villain is than my dad does. Or the rest of the world."
Prudence nodded, accepting that. "Lionel is," she said darkly.
"Lionel Luthor definitely is," Conner agreed. He removed his hand from his chest, clasping it around the can with his other. The can crumpled in his grasp.