It was no great surprise, Lex was a horrible patient.
"No," Kon said firmly. "Dad says you should stay here." He then prepared himself for the next onslaught.
"Do you do everything your father says?" Lex sneered for a moment, then apparently reconsidered. "If so, I'm your father too, and you should do as I say as well."
Kon rolled his eyes. "Circular argument, no cookies. Look, DT, you're not going to talk me into it, so how about if we just play pinochle instead?" It was a measure of how bad off Lex was that his arguments were so weak.
Lex thinned his lips. "You can't keep me prisoner here."
Prisoner. Oh, geez. Kon threw up his hands. "You're not a prisoner!"
"Then why can't I leave?!"
"You can't even get out of bed!"
"I don't need to be out of bed! I need to be in Metropolis!" Lex drew in a shaky breath. "Lex Corp needs me. My people need me. I need to be home. This," he waved his right hand at the crystalline structure all around them, "is not home. Just take me to my bed, or a hospital, or something, but in Metropolis, not here."
Kon glanced around. "What's wrong with here?" He shrugged. "One place is pretty much the same as another, and the Fortress is better than any hospital anywhere. Sure, you're healing on your own, but this is better."
Lex growled. "I need to be there!" He half rolled out of bed, then collapsed before he could put any weight down.
Catching Lex within the second of collapse, before he could even start to fall, Kon put him back on the bed. Lex struggled for a moment, then lay back, panting, his eyes closed tightly in pain.
"DT," Kon whispered, "please." He hated seeing his father hurting.
"Please take me home," Lex whispered back, not opening his eyes.
Kon sighed. He waited for the next argument, but there wasn't one and Lex's breathing evened out. Unconscious again.
Smoothing out the sheets, Kon pulled the blankets over Lex again, careful not to touch or jar the depression where Lex's right hip and thigh were still re-growing. Superman had gathered up the parts of Lex's blown-up body that he'd seen, but he'd been concentrating on Lex's main body, not even really sure what the healing mutation could or couldn't do about parts. The hip bone had either been missed in the hurry, or just hadn't been there. The bomb had been about that level, ripping through the people near it, and Lex had been close to it.
Lex's healing had miraculously brought him back to life, and then it seemed to slow. Or at least had appeared that way to anxious family watching closely, though the Fortress assured them there was still activity taking place internally. The first several days while Lex had been unconscious and not waking up at all had been hell as Clark and Kon vacillated between joy at Lex being alive and panic about if the mental functions would come back as well. When Lex finally woke up and was himself, they had both breathed sighs of relief.
Once he was awake, however, things became more frustrating as Lex wanted to go back, yet at the same time, couldn't stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time. Getting better as it went on, but obviously still extremely hurt and still healing. He also looked horrible. Besides the hip, which was the most obvious of the wounds, there were bruises and contusions all over Lex that looked just as bad as a normal person who had been in an accident. Shouldn't those have healed up by now? But at the same time, the broken bones and missing parts were re-growing, which would be impossible in a normal human. The hip was getting better day by day. It was baffling. It was a miracle. Lex was alive, and that was what counted.
Even with the healing that had been done, Kon was impressed that just now Lex had made it off the bed in the first place. He hadn't been able to do that much the day before. Still, Lex was weak and even without doing stupid things, he wouldn't make it too far into a conversation before falling back asleep again. Which made it just baffling to Kon that Lex wanted to go back to Metropolis. What was the point?
"How is he?" Superman flew in and asked before he'd even settled to the ground, his attention completely on Lex.
"The same," Kon replied. "I thought you were going to be on the satellite for another few hours?"
Superman grimaced. "They kept asking questions I couldn't answer. I decided to leave it to Batman and Hawkman before I lost it."
Kon winced. Superman's rescue of Lex Luthor, out of all the people in Metropolis, had not gone unnoticed. Despite his rescue of literally hundreds of other people, the final swoop for Lex had been remarked on. Metropolis didn't care – or rather they did, but to them, Lex Luthor was almost as big a figure in their city as Superman was, and they glossed over the super-villain part, so Lex's rescue made sense to them. The reporters who might have made an issue of it (Lois, for one), instead concentrated on Superboy's dramatic wounding and Superman's rescue of him. But to the other super heroes, Lex's rescue was more of an eye-raising event. Hawkman had finally stepped in and bluntly announced that Luthor had been helping them with the investigation into the Lion's Teeth.
Several minor heroes had also been revealed to be working with Lionel, for different reasons. Mostly, it was protecting family and friends with not-very-important information. Some it seemed to be just bragging to the wrong people. There were a few seductions, which Kon shuddered just thinking about.
They hadn't told anybody about Watchtower, still on the Amazon island of Themyscira. Things were bad enough without that too. Not everything was about pure honesty, as much as the innocents wanted it to be. Kon knew that his dad agonized about that as well, hating everything about not being able to tell all of the truth, and yet reluctantly accepting that it had to be. His dad kept muttering about grey chasms shading everything.
Kon took it all in, as much as he could. He wondered what he was supposed to think or feel. He supposed if he'd had a normal life, he might care more, but as it was, what he cared most about was Dad and DT, and his friends after that.
He hadn't rescued anybody since he'd been hurt.
He would have to soon, he knew. But right now... right now they didn't want to tell everybody just how unhurt he was, when cameras had seen how bad Kon had been, and also he wanted to stay by Lex until his DT was better. There hadn't been any press cameras recording Lex when the first bomb had gone off, thank all the goodness. The security cameras might have gotten something, but if so, Lex’s security chief, Mayik, had wiped them. However, by the time Kon confronted the Lionel, people were gathered, cell phones had been out, and recordings had gotten most of the confrontation, if not all the actual words. It was all over the internet. The only sort-of okay part was that the way Kon had nearly lost control was totally overshadowed by the part where the bad guy had laughed in his face then blew himself up. Still, though...
At Kon's heavy sigh, Superman looked up from his intense perusal of Lex. After a moment where Kon got the same intense study, Clark reached out his arms and put them around Conner.
No words. Words didn’t accompany the comfort. They’d had a lot of words before. Some Conner believed, some he didn’t, and it was good having them if only because they were words he’d never had before. But the words had all been said, and the need for the hugs probably wouldn’t go away for a long time yet. His dad was as good with the hugs as he was with the rescues.
Lex was propped up on the pillows as much as he could be. He hated to do the video calls flat on his back, and even though that position obviously hurt like the blazes, Kon and Clark did all they could to help and make him comfortable. Lex still glared at them and hated them. But he was alive. Currently, he was ignoring them, his attention completely on the video screen.
"Hi Prudence," Lex's voice was soft and caring, love and worry tied together in a way he didn't usually express. Kon missed it. He missed it so much, and even moreso when it wasn't directed at him. Not that he begrudged any of it for Pru. He just... wanted some for him too.
"Hey Uncle Lex." Her brown eyes studied him before she gave a thumbs up. "You're looking a bit better today. Just a little bit. You still look like shit overall."
"Thanks," Lex said dryly. Like yesterday, he didn't say anything about the promotion to 'uncle'. Prudence had started that up the day before, and Lex had just paused and then nodded, accepting. "Are you doing okay?"
"I'm good." She shrugged slightly. "But I'm having problems putting together the memorial book. Aren't there any pictures of the two of you that weren't publicity stills?"
"Pictures..." Lex looked blank. "I..."
The world obsessed with taking photos and selfies and family albums, and Kon's DT couldn't even remember if he had a non-work photo with his best friend, near brother. Kon glanced over at Clark across the room, and saw his father swallowing. Come to think of it, all the photos that Grandmother had were ones she had taken, or Clark. There weren't any photos of... well, of anybody at Lex's, and he couldn't ever remember him taking any from his phone.
Pru chuckled. "I swear, you and Dad. He never thought of anything like that either. I can't even find any baby pictures of me until I was big enough to take the pictures myself with us!"
Conner could remember times with DT coming into the labs and Justice had turned to him... the two would have their heads together over all sorts of projects – the ones they would talk about with Conner there, and they also talked about random human things like food and weather and kids. Justice could make Lex laugh. Justice was one of the few people that Lex had ever trusted unconditionally. Conner hadn't seen a lot of them, but he'd seen enough to know that. He stirred.
Lex's gaze went to him and he raised an eyebrow. Then he winced as the movement pulled a healing cut on his forehead. It was the weirdest thing how the littlest wounds like the cuts and the bruises weren't healing like the bones and internal damage.
"Security footage?" Kon tentatively came out with his thought. "From you two just... talking? Still shots from that."
Lex's face lit up and he turned that brilliant smile of his on Conner for the first time in a week. "Brilliant!" He looked back at the screen, "Would that work, Prudence?"
Conner forced himself not to step back or move, though he really wanted to retreat to his other dad's arms. He blinked rapidly. He'd missed that smile so much...
"Oh, it totally should! I've seen you guys together, there should be some adorable ones in there." Pru's delight changed to annoyance. "If Mayik will let me go through them. He's already blocked me multiple times!"
"Did you ask him, or were you just hacking in?" Lex chuckled.
They talked for a couple more minutes before Lex's eyes closed.
"Lex? Um, Conner??" Prudence's breath hitched a bit.
Conner moved up to the bed, his hearing assuring him of heartbeats and breathing even before his eyes verified the same with the readouts the Fortress provided. "He's okay," he reassured Pru. "Just out again."
Prudence let out a sigh. "That is so damn scary when he does that."
"You're telling me," Conner said, heartfelt and meaning it. He hadn't gotten over his guilt for his Dad Two being alive where her own father had died... but it helped that Prudence so obviously also wanted Lex to live. She was a whirlwind of efficiency in taking care of all the practical things that needed to be done after somebody died – most of them already having been taken care of before Clark or Conner were even aware of it – but the tears leaked out enough for him to know she was mourning in her own way too. She was holding off on any final dates for the memorial until Lex was well enough to attend.
"How is he? Really?" Pru's voice was wistful.
"Getting better, really." Conner adjusted the pillows, lowering Lex back down to a more comfortable position.
Across the room, Clark stirred, but stayed where he was, out of view of the vid screen. This was Conner and Pru's time – she was still a little wary of Clark.
"He wants to come home," Conner whispered, looking at his DT.
"Don't blame him," Pru sighed. "Lots of people here want him home too. Everything is so haywire without... without any of them. Charity does what she can, but it's still crazy."
"I'll come by tomorrow," Conner offered. While Superboy had yet to make a reappearance, he'd made one tentative appearance as Conner. He could do it again. He didn't think Pru was quite the hugging type, but, well, he'd give it a try.
Pru chuckled. "Not quite the same. But yeah, that'd be great, thanks. I'll drop by the tower around noon?"
"Sure." They firmed up plans and then signed off.
There was a moment, then the Fortress let the hologram of the room go, so it no longer looked like they were in a regular hospital. Conner chased after it with his memories and belatedly wondered if Lex would be more comfortable with the hologram. But no, it was the whole situation, not just the location.
Clark came forward and sat down on the other side of the bed, reaching out to hold Lex's hand. "I missed so much of his life by being his enemy."
Lex snorted. "Like it was your choice alone."
Both Clark and Conner jumped. They hadn't noticed him waking up.
Glancing down at the clasped hands, they also noticed that Lex hadn't pulled away yet. That... was something.
"I think... it was," Clark said softly. "I'm sorry."
"Just don't do it again," Lex said with a certain amount of sarcasm, yet with undertones of something real there too. Before Clark could respond with something sentimental, Lex added, "And take me home."
Clark shook his head. "I'm afraid to let you go. There were so many of them. And you.... You're safe, here." Clark folded himself over Lex and rested his head against his chest, not letting go of his hand.
Lex sighed, but didn't ask again. Instead, he lifted his other hand and buried it in Clark's hair.
Conner slipped away.
(I'm just going to post the first few quickly for what I've got so far.)
Ever imagine LexCorp without Lex? It's not a pretty picture....
That wasn't, of course, the end of the arguments. The next day, they were in the middle of a huge one tempered only by Clark's restraint and Lex's weakness, when Conner thankfully had his appointment to go to.
It was the first time in days that he'd been outside the Fortress. Kon shivered as he flew out, and he hovered over the crystal artifice for a while. He raised a hand to his chest and then lowered it. For as many of his siblings as he'd killed... for as hard as they had tried to kill him... Kon had never been defeated. Not really. Not like that. He was experienced in fighting, in killing. He wasn't so used to being killed himself. Even the rare times he'd been seriously hurt, he'd still won. This... was nothing like that.
Kon didn't understand why Lex wanted to leave the Fortress. There was safety there, and love. It was a good place to be.
But... he had an appointment to get to.
He had left enough time for him to drop by the old town first, and to hug his grandmother in person. She talked often to Clark on the vidscreen, and was amazingly accepting of the danger to her son and grandson. "Clark's been like this ever since he fell into our lives," she had sighed at one point. "You live with it... or you don't, but there's no point to trying to change anything." It was nice to talk to somebody who cared and understood. In-person hugs, though, were still the best.
At noon, Conner checked his mental self to make sure he was in the right persona for the location, and walked into LexCorp. His eyes went straight to where the bomb had gone off. The area had been repaired, and there was no sign of the devastation that had occurred. Most of the rest of Metropolis was still rebuilding, focusing on the main damage and leaving the cosmetic until later. LexCorp, though, was.... what did you even call that? But there was no sign there now that his Dad Two had almost died there. That Justice had died. That Hope and Mercy were in the hospital. That...
Prudence walked to the spot and put down a vase of flowers.
Conner made a pained sound in his throat and she came over to him.
"They'll probably take it down later, but hey, at least it's there now." She eyed him. "No hugs."
His hands twitched, but he obeyed. "Pru, I---"
"Not Pru!" she bit out sharply. "Rue. I'm going by Rue now."
"Because the people behind the bombings... they'll rue the day when I catch them. Pru was a kid, for as much as we'd been through. But Rue – Rue knows what it's like now."
Conner blinked a couple more times, then he tilted his head to one side. "Okay."
It was her turn. "Um, okay?"
"Yeah. Rue..." he tried it out in his mouth. It fit okay there. "It works. If you want it."
She sagged, her upright posture dropping a few inches, before she caught herself and slowly reassembled all the vertebrae and tendons to full structure again. "Oh good." She paused. "You're the first person who hasn't told me it's stupid."
KN-5 twitched his mouth into a permitted smile. "People can be who they want to be. Names... are something that can be imposed, or chosen." Or gifted. He shrugged, resettling his own memories. "I've heard worse."
Rue gave a laugh and then jumped slightly as if the noise had surprised her. She slowly relaxed again. "Yeah, guess you have."
It was rare for Rue to even obliquely reference his other persona – she was better at keeping his secret than he ever was. The wording was probably vague enough that she'd decided it was okay.
"Did you get the photos?" The two of them started automatically for the labs, and then almost at the exact same time veered towards the central elevator. Not the labs. Not yet. Not... not yet.
Rue snorted, "Mayik still won't let me into the cameras."
At the elevator, Conner held out his hand to be scanned for access release. Rue did the same. After a pause, the doors opened. They waited until they were closed before selecting the level for Malik's office, same level as Lex's primary office.
"That's weird," Conner frowned. He put it off for a more important question, "How are the cats?"
Rue brightened, another fragile smile hovering almost in sight. "They're doing great. I think they miss you – Cali keeps looking around whenever there's a voice on tv that's close to yours. But she and Sue are just little terrors. Do you know how many feather toys I've been through in the last week?"
Conner could believe it. He'd played with them, and even indestructible skin was almost no match for kitten claws. He encouraged more cat stories and Rue was almost laughing by the time the elevator got to the right floor.
If there was anything that Conner was intensely, personally, selfishly, relieved about, it was that he'd moved out of the apartment long before Lex and Clark had finally admitted they were all but living together already. He didn't have a lot of personal stuff, but he'd brought the cats to Lex's place, and somehow his dads had just not thought about what that had meant.
At the moment, it meant that his cats were alive.
They'd only gotten a few things officially moved before everything had gone to hell. Most of Clark's stuff had been burned up in the fire, or otherwise destroyed. Clark said he didn't care. But Conner couldn't help but think of the apartment where he'd first become a real boy, a beloved son, a person with an identity, not just a number. Clark sitting on his sofa, papers spread out all around him and usually a couple of laptops, intently researching for a story. Pencil between his teeth. The framed paintings, not masterpieces, but gifts from a friend who had taken an art class. The stuff that had been through all of the apartment...
But Cali and Sue were alive. And were currently distracting Rue and making her own apartment a little less lonely.
Conner couldn't even image. His DT had almost died... but Justice had died. And he and Prudence had always been just the two of them.
When they got out of the elevator, they headed towards Security, but turned back when they heard Mayik was with Charity.
Conner couldn't help running that list through his head as well. Lex, Justice, Hope, Mercy, Charity, Concord/Mayik. Charity and Concord were the only two left. Lex, Hope, and Mercy all still in the hospital... well, under medical. Justice gone.
"Hi Mayik, Hi Charity. Uh, Sue, sorry." Conner kept forgetting. Even with all the training on alternate personalities, he forgot. Charity was just so much more natural. Plus, now he tended to think of the cats when he heard 'Sue'.
Rue waved at them as well. There wasn't anybody else in the main office area where Charity ruled and vetted all who would go into Lex's domain. Normally there were at least a few hopeful people waiting. But without Lex there...
"Hi Conner, Prudence." Both of them responded, stopping their conversation to greet them.
Prudence sighed very quietly beside him. Conner shrugged. At least it wasn't Pru – the longer name still contained the shorter. Both of them.
He switched to the main reason he was here. "Mayik – I was there when Lex said Rue could use the security footage to get memorial pictures. It's okay, really."
The security head blinked. Then he turned very slightly so he was obviously addressing Rue, despite how she was standing right next to Conner. "That is not what you asked for. You asked to get into the security data stream. And you said Lex said it was okay."
Conner mentally and physically paused to re-evaluate. Right. People were squirrely. He kept forgetting that, even though he used the same methods himself at times. For him, though, he had to think about it. For others... not so much, apparently.
Rue shrugged. "Same end result, and I can search and sort easier within the actual data."
Mayik deliberately put his hand over his face. "Not the same thing."
"I can do a lot more inside, and you don't have to waste time trying to keep me out."
"Do you know how hard it is to explain to Mr. Brunel that yes, cyberattacks have increased 400% since the explosion, but it's okay, really, not a problem, because we know one of the criminals and she's the LexCorp mascot?"
Rue tilted her head. "You didn't really tell him that?"
"No! If I said anything like that, I'd be fired so fast even the Flash wouldn't see me go. But I still have to explain about why we're not concerned about the increase in cyberattacks."
"Or you could just let me in..."
"Did you miss the part where it would get me fired?"
Conner broke in, "Wait, you can't get fired. And why is Mr. Brunel asking about that anyhow?"
Mayik and Charity glanced at each other for a non-speaking moment.
After a moment, Mayik sighed. "I'll leave it to you, then. I should get back before one of Mr. Saji's underlings starts trying to make something of this." He smiled over at Prudence, though it wasn't a very good smile. "I'll get you some photos of Justice and Lex. They spent so much time together, I'm sure we've got some good ones."
"But the---" Rue cut off as Conner reached out and grabbed her arm. "Umm, okay. Thank you, Concord."
Mayik's smile was a little stronger as he passed them and went out the door.
They were left with Charity, who looked somberly at them. "Neither of you have been around much. How are you both doing? Pru, are you sure you don't want somebody to stay over, or to move in with me? Or somebody else?"
"It's Rue," Rue sighed. "Yes, I'm sure. Dad wasn't the one to take care of me, most of the time. I was the one taking care of both of us. I'm used to our place, and I'm perfectly fine on my own with the cats."
Charity blinked. "The cats?"
"The ones Mercy and Hope got me," Conner explained. "They were up in Lex's apartment and since I haven't moved back yet..."
"Oh, that's right." Charity let the black cloud of memory pass over all of them and they paused for a moment, before moving on. "How is Lex?"
"Lex is..." He was alive, is what he was. Alive, not like Justice. Not alive just because of the machines either, like Hope. Mercy was possibly getting better, but it was hard to tell. Lex was, "he's getting better. He was able to talk for five minutes today without passing out." Though most of that had been yelling at Clark about being kept prisoner again. They really hadn't made a lot of progress on that part.
Charity winced, like she'd hoped for more.
"Charity, I mean Sue, what's going on?"
"You can call me Charity," she sighed. "I think I'm giving up on trying to change it. Nobody else ever remembers either."
"People should get to choose their names," Prudence said resolutely.
Charity raised an elegant eyebrow, "You call me Charity."
"I knew you in the Slums before!"
"And I knew you when you were a little toddler crawling around and Justice holding you in wonder calling you his daring Pru."
Prudence wrinkled her nose, then wiped at it, catching the sniffle before she let it out. "You don't really want to be called Sue. It's boring. It's a cat's name."
"Hey," Conner involuntarily let out. Then he firmly tried to get back on course. "But seriously, what's up? Nobody can fire Mayik. Mr. Brunel is only one of the VPs, he's not Lex."
Charity bit her lip. "Lex is injured and somewhere nobody can get to. We only have your word for it and a couple of brief videos to show that he's alive at all. The Vice Presidents are in charge of the company right now."
"But you're here."
"I'm not Lex," Charity gently pointed out. "My authority comes from Lex. It comes from Hope and Mercy relaying his approval. It comes from Justice overseeing all the science endeavors and leaving the VPs to manage only the business ends. It comes from all of us working together. Right now... the VPs are in charge of everything. Mr. Brunel and Mr. Saji have been working very hard to keep LexCorp together in our time of trial."
"They did not say that," Rue's voice dripped scorn.
"Published press release with both of them."
There were three Vice Presidents in LexCorp North America, each of them supposedly in charge of different sections, but apparently Mr. Lin was not aligned with other two – or they had joined against him. Or something.
Conner had never thought of LexCorp as anything other than Lex's personal playground. Per his other dad, that's what it mainly was. But a LexCorp without Lex... "Would a statement from Lex help?"
"Not if he can't stay awake for more than five minutes during an interview where people can ask questions." Charity sighed. "It's okay, we'll get through it. Only... could you please stop the cyber attacks, Rue? That's really not helping."
Rue's shoulders slumped. "I just wanted to find out who killed my dad."
Conner winced. "I think the guy who did that blew up." In Kon's face. Conner put his hand to his chest, feeling the kryptonite slicing through him again. Briefly, he longed to be back in the Fortress where it was safe. Like Lex was.
"Well, yeah, that guy." Rue waved a hand, dismissing it. "But the Lion's Teeth obviously have more people and it's a large organization. I can track them down. I've got everything the public has, the newspapers are publishing, and what the local police and CIA have too. There are patterns there. LexCorp has more. If I get in, I can run better analyses. Find more of them."
"Um..." Conner looked from Rue to Charity back to Rue... This really did fall under 'superhero secrets'. Yet Rue had a point. Conner really empathized with Rue. Though... 'superhero' business....
Rue kept his secret. She had been hand-picked by Hope and Mercy as his object lesson. As someone who Conner barely knew yet would keep his secret. She wasn't a 'good' person, by his dad and the Justice League's definition – she was a lot closer in spirit to Lex that way. Chaotic Neutral, without the regard for 'law and order' that Clark revered. But her dad, Lex's best friend, had been killed.
Other than yelling at Clark, or worriedly checking on Conner (the Fortress had accidentally let it slip that Kon had been hurt), Lex's main focus during his conscious moments had been for his friends. Justice, Hope, Mercy. The others near them who had also been hurt, though not as badly as the main group. Lex was well aware of the death toll of people too close to him over the years.
Justice had been more than just head of the science division, he had been a friend. A friend that Lex relaxed around and trusted. Clark said he sounded like a brother, and Lex had first responded bitterly, then resigned. "Your Ryan, my Justice," he had said.
Between the lines, Kon had figured out that Lex had met and acquired Justice and Mercy fairly soon after Clark and Lex had parted ways for good. Basically, when he'd given up on any sort of reconciliation.
Kon still didn't know any of the details. But he did know that they owed Rue.
"Charity, do you have one of those blockers? The ones Mercy and Hope use when they don't want anybody to hear us?"
Charity briefly put a hand over her eyes. "You do realize there is security in this building, right? And that nobody knows about those? And I mean nobody?"
Conner shrugged. "That was vague enough. If there was anybody listening, you could have found something else to deflect on."
A sudden smile made Conner realize that Prudence wasn't the only one who had been missing that expression for... probably for the last week.
"You're getting better," Charity approved. She pulled one of the little boxes out of a drawer and handed to him. "Here – keep this one for yourself. You need it once, you might need it again. You two can use Lex's office."
And he had Charity's tact approval to tell Rue, apparently. Conner nodded in thanks.
Rue held her curiosity until they got into the office. Both of them paused there for a few moments, looking around. Lex's office... and no Lex.
This part is mostly background, which I was going to originally skip writing... but it's important for characters, and I kind of owe it to poor Justice.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"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.
(Okay, this is it for the moment. More to come as I write it. Hopefully without really long delays. I hope the chapter format won't be too annoying! I just really thought I owed you all at least this much... ^^; )