"I'm just really sick of it."
Black Canary blinked, not understanding. Without a context the Superboy's statement sounded random, completely unconnected to their previous conversation. She rested her chin on her fist and waited for him to elaborate. Sitting in the green armchairs of the private lounge that was set aside for counseling and 'talking sessions', they both listened to the soft ticking of the clock on the far wall.
Finally, when it looked like Kon wasn't going to elaborate, Canary asked, "Sick of what?"
"People messing with my head." He said with all the grave seriousness of an undertaker. "Mind-control, manipulation, memory loss, control-words, life-like dream simulations… I'm just sick of it. When I left Cadmus I thought things would be different. A brave new world of freedom. But since then, all I've found is more of the same. Different names and faces, same old song and dance. Cadmus, Psimon, Lex, M'gann, these new guys… I'm just…" He placed a hand over his eyes, but Canary couldn't tell if it was to block the sight of sympathy on her face, or to hide unshed tears in his eyes. "I'm so sick of people messing with my head!"
Dinah blinked, her brain registering one name on his list she had not expected to hear. "M'gann?" She echoed. "Conner, did M'gann ever use her powers on you?"
The Superboy looked up suddenly, his hand falling from his eyes, and stared at Canary in alarm –as if he'd just let slip some vital piece of information he hadn't intended to. There was another pregnant pause between them, filled only by the ticking of the clock. Finally, he said, "I've asked before you to call me by my kryptonian name, Canary. I prefer 'Kon-El' or just 'Kon'. 'Conner' is a character from a TV show."
He was deflecting from the main issue and they both knew it. But Dinah wouldn't press. If Kon still didn't want to talk about his break-up with M'gann then it wasn't her place to force him. While it did bother her (and several members of the Team) that he never did tell anyone why he ended their four-year relationship, it was Kon and M'ganns's personal life and not anyone else's business. With a sigh, the Black Canary leaned back in her chair and ran a hand through her main of blond hair.
"I understand." She said at length. "We've all just been calling you 'Conner' for so long, it's the name that rolls off the tongue most easily. Even if he is just a character from a TV show." There was another pause, then Canary continued, "Kon, we all know your history with Cadmus and how they used the G-gnomes to control you. Why haven't you ever mentioned anything about just how much it still affects you until now?"
"It doesn't matter." He responded in a tone of forced casualness. "Its not like these things keep happening to only me. The entire Team got their memories erased in Bialya. The entire Team underwent Batman's Failsafe-sim. Red Arrow also had control words implanted in his mind. Robin and Lagoon Boy were also there when these newest guys put us in that dream-world whatever. It's never just me."
"That doesn't mean it affects you any less." Dinah once again leaned forward and placed a comforting hand on his knee. "Kon, its true you're never the only one involved in these episodes of mental manipulation. But the others don't have your history with psychic-abuse. The others aren't likely to be as affected by it as you. Why didn't you say anything until now?"
His eyes suddenly turned hard and defensive. "I'm not an invalid, Canary." He said. "I'm just… sick of it."
Not long after that session with Black Canary, Kon found himself out on the beach practicing his katas while soaking up some much appreciated yellow sunlight. It was one of those early spring days that were bright and sunny as a Disney happy ending, but still cold and windy as a Transylvanian horror night. The cold did not bother the Superboy, however, and he was more than comfortable kicking it on the beach in just combat boots and cargo-pants, sans a shirt –the better to absorb sunlight with.
Nightwing, however, came out in full costume, long-sleeves and all. He crossed his arms over his chest and waited or the Superboy to finish the set he was on. When he did, the former Robin said, "Canary has just recommended I put you on sabbatical."
"What?" The Superboy turned to regard his long-time friend and colleague.
"When I asked her why," continued the Nightwing, "she said she couldn't give details without your permission, but that we –all the mentors and Team leaders- have failed to notice a deep psychological issue that you –apparently- never had adequate opportunity to recover from since your liberation from Cadmus five years ago."
"Those aren't Canary's words." Kon said. It was an attempt to shift the train of the conversation onto an irrelevant tangent and they both knew it. It wouldn't work on the Nightwing, but the fact that the Superboy would even try a deflection was proof enough for the apprentice to the World's Greatest Detective that there really was a deeper issue that Kon did not want to discuss.
"No." He admitted. "They're my words, Canary wasn't quite as concise. Even so, I've decided to take her advice. As of this moment, you are a non-active member of the Team. You can relay communications and give Team support from here at the base just like Mal does, but you will not be going out on missions."
The demi-kryptonian was suddenly livid. "You can't do that to me!" He snarled. "This Team is my life! It's all I've ever known!"
The Nightwing was unphased. "We're just gonna skip right past the part where I point out that's not healthy either. Or that you're just being melodramatic. This Team isn't you're whole life. You've still got the farm in Kansas and Robin tells me you two have been hanging out outside of costume."
Kon gave a dismissive scoff.
Nightwing crossed the distance between them to pat the Superboy on the shoulder. "You've got the building blocks of a life outside of this Team, Kon. You should take this time to work on them." He turned to leave –going back inside to organize the next mission. Over his shoulder the Nightwing called. "At the very least you should take this time to relax. You look like you could use some rest."
Kon called after him, "I'm kryptonian, I don't need 'rest'!"
The Kent farmhouse had not been lived in since Martha Kent passed away two years ago. It was a natural death from old age, she passed away peacefully in her sleep. Clark had been in Metropolis at the time and he, Kon, had been at the Cave. Ma was discovered by Lana Lang-Ross whom came over to check on Martha from time to time. She called Lois immediately, whom called Clark and then called him.
Martha was buried with love, laid to rest next to Jonathan Kent whom Kon had never met. Pa died of a heart attack before he and Clark had reconciled on Watchtower that faithful New Years Eve. Kon lamented that greatly; he would have liked to have met Jonathan. From the stories that were told about him, the Superboy was pretty sure he would have liked Pa a lot.
The wake was held at the farmhouse and that was the last time Kon had seen the place so full of people and lights and music and life. After that, he helped Clark do a very thorough cleaning of the house, spread dust sheets over all the furniture, closed the storm shutters and arranged for the sale of the farm's livestock. Clark would never let go of the farm, he and Lois –to this day- argue about retiring in Smallville or staying in Metropolis. But with no one to actually work the farm, the herd and the chickens had to go.
After that the place always seemed so… empty to Kon. Not 'dead' exactly, just sleeping. Almost a hundred acres of farmable land and it always felt so empty now that the Kents were gone. Clark would rent a couple of the fields out to local farmers every season, but it just wasn't the same.
These were the thoughts running through Kon's mind as he unlocked the kitchen door and stepped inside.
Wolf hung back hesitantly. Ma had never approved of him lumbering about her kitchen (not that the kobra venom enhanced wolf would ever be so ungraceful as to actually 'lumber'). Even after two years, the Wolf still remembered the dreaded spray bottle, and how it would torment him as punishment for daring to step a paw into Martha Kent's domain. She may have been elderly and arthritic, weak and fragile compared to the males of the Kent pack, but there was no doubt in the Wolf's mind that she was the Alpha Female.
Kon looked back at his four-legged friend sitting strait and dignified on the porch –pointedly remaining outside. "Alright." He groaned. "I'll go open the front door."
He tossed his travel bag down on the counter and made his way through the dining room and kitchen to the entrance way. Wolf was already waiting for him when he opened the front door. He trotted inside, his tail wagging behind him in a very dog-like way.
Together they pulled the dustsheets off the couch, coffee table and TV. The power was disconnected, but a trip to the Ross' to borrow their phone and a call to the power company later promised that he could watch the TV static in approximately six hours. Kon thanked Lana and Pete and made a point of playing with their infant son, Clark-Peter, before returning to the farmhouse.
The water and gas were also disconnected, but that didn't bother Kon all that much. The property still had an old well and pump, which he used to fill a pitcher of water for himself and a bowl for Wolf. At least, the lack of water didn't bother him until after he was reminded the bathrooms needed running water. Another trip to the Ross' and he was promised water within another six hours. Pete laughed at how city-people took everything for granted. Lana just laughed and ruffled his hair. She gave him a helping of cornbread and meatloaf before he, once again, returned to the Kent farmhouse.
Wolf ate the meatloaf. Kon ate the cornbread… and eight hours later, all the lights in the house flicked on. They had power and after a quick check of the sink and stove, they had water and gas too.
Later that evening, Kon washed his face in the upstairs bathroom. He stared at his reflection in the mirror for a long moment. "I look fine." He informed his mirror-world doppelganger. "I don't need rest. 'Wing doesn't know what he's talking about."
His reflection did not answer him back. It was just a mirror and, in fact, could not speak.
Although, something odd did happen that went completely unnoticed by the Superboy. As he went to hang the washcloth on the bar to dry, he missed. But the small piece of towel did not fall to the bathroom floor as one would expect it to. No. Instead, the washcloth hung in the air for a moment or two before curling one end of itself around the bar and hanging to dry.
Kon spent the night giving the farmhouse a thorough cleaning and assessing what maintenance the rest of the property and grounds needed.
Clark would come down one day every summer to give the place a good cleaning, but the last time he'd done that had been last summer. It was now spring again and another year's worth of dust and age had mucked the place up again.
Kon found families and clutches of mice and lizards living in the attic and basement (respectively), both the front and back porch were in need of a new coat of paint. The decks needed to be sanded, and the railing on the back porch had a very bad dry-rot to it and needed to be replaced. The barn was infested with termites and needed to be torn down. The chicken coop and cow's milking pens had long since become lost causes and the churt driveway was deplorably eroded.
Kon made out a list of everything he'd need from the hardware store and then a second list of everything he'd need from the Fortress.
The next day he did not go into town to the hardware store, or up north to the Fortress, however. Instead, he went back to the Cave.
"Roast lizard on a stick?" Kon offered Mal by way of inviting himself into the semi-circle of holo-screens.
The former classmate looked at the offered vermin on a skewer, his nose wrinkling. "Are you serious?"
"Its not poisonous." Kon assured him innocently. "I checked. I found them living in my basement."
Mal was silent a moment. Then, "I'm not even going to ask."
"Oh, you know us country folk…" The Superboy teased. Then, turning his attention to the projected displays, his playful mood melted away and he was in 'serious mode' again. "So, what've we got today?"
"I'm just putting together the visual aids packet for Nightwing's next mission briefing."
Kon spent the next two hours helping Mal (or hindering Mal, depending on your point of view) put together a presentation for Nightwing. More than once, the Superboy interrupted the work to state, "I should really be going on this one. They might need someone with infrared vision."
"They've got goggles for that." Mal would reply.
Some time later, Kon would begin again. "What if they need someone with super-hearing? They might need me on this mission."
"I'm sure they can mange."
"They'll need someone strong enough to break through this barrier."
"There are other ways to bypass a barrier."
"I should really be going on this mission, they might-"
"Kon!" Mal cut him off. "You are not on active duty right now. I'm sure you would be great on this mission. With you infrared eyes, and your sensitive ears, and battering-ram of a head and shoulder. But the boss-bird says you don't go on missions right now. So you're not going on this mission."
"I just think-"
"That's it! I'll give you a mission!" Mal snarled.
The Superboy was instantly silenced.
"Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to run, or hop, or whatever it is that you do, over to the Rite Aide in Happy Harbor and purchase a bottle of aspirin. Then, find the nearest Starbucks and get me a venti chai latte, non-fat, no foam, with two pumps of mocha and whipped cream on top. Save your receipts. Do you understand your mission parameters?"
Kon did not actually answer, he just kinda growled.
When Kon returned with aspire and latte in hand, it was to find the rest of the Team already assembled. He didn't so much as pass the items to Mal as he did thrust them into the man's hands to show his displeasure. In less than a day it felt like he had turned onto the Jimmy Olsen of the group –except Jimmy still got to go out on cases.
"Thanks, Kon." He said, sounding far less vexed than he had when the Superboy left. Apparently, with the demi-kryptonian out of the Cave, the former classmate had been able to not only complete the presentation for Nightwing, but also level-up his orc in World of Warcraft. He was feeling rather pleased with himself. "Hey, after the mission we'll still have to compile whatever data they take back and sum up an abstract to be placed on top of the stack of their individual reports for Nightwing. Wanna hang around for that?"
Kon, on the other hand, not so much. "No." He said. "I've got maintenance to do on the house and some stuff I need to pick up from the Fortress."
"That's cool, I understand." Mal did not seem the least bit disappointed.
From the Fortress, Kon grabbed lead paneling for the storm-cellar floor, near-invulnerable shingling for the roof of the main-house, and a special kind of paint Clark had designed himself for the deck and patio. He also took something that was not for the upkeep of the Kent farmhouse and property, but rather for himself.
It was only half-true what he shouted to Nightwing on the beach a few days ago. Kryptonians might not need as much rest as humans did, but they still needed rest. Between three to four hours out of every twenty-four hour cycle to be exact. Kon had been up for well over thirty-six hours and had no desire to go to sleep when he got back to the house, and so the thing he took for himself was a bottle of stimulant. Something designed to work on Clark's kryptonian physiology. It worked on him too, though not quite as well thanks to his human blood and he wasn't sure yet if it had any negative side effects. But Kon had been taking it almost since he Tim and La'gaan had returned from their last mission together.
The mission where they were all trapped in a dream-world where they had no powers and the Justice League never existed. It had been Kon's second time undergoing a psychic trial like that. An artificially induced dream… another form of mental manipulation… he hated it. But it wasn't just those instances that prompted Kon to stave off sleep.
He never told anyone why he ended his relationship with M'gann. Everyone had their own theories and assumptions. Kon never confirmed any of them, but he didn't deny them either. This, of course, just led to more speculation. But the truth was… the truth was M'gann had tried to control his mind –just like Cadmus had, just like Lex had. Well, obviously not just like they had. Cadmus suppressed his free-will. Lex implanted control words. M'gann… M'gann tried to erase his memory.
He had been asleep at the time, asleep in her bed of all places. His mind was at rest, his barriers and guards down. He was at home, in the bed of the woman he loved, asleep in the afterglow of rapturous lovemaking. Kon had no reason to feel in danger or even in just suspicious. But he and M'gann had also been arguing for several weeks prior to that moment –arguing over her misuse of her powers against enemies. And so, in that moment, when his guards and barriers were down, she had taken the opportunity to slip into his mind and erase the fact that he was ever mad at her to begin with.
At first, the touch had been gentle –more like a caress. His subconscious thought he was about to enjoy some very imaginative dream-sex (she did that from time to time). But as her consciousness flitted and rummaged through his own, Kon's subconscious realized it was not a caress or an invitation for an erotic mind-link –it was an invasion.
He had woken-up instantly.
One strong hand seizing her wrist with perhaps more force than he should have. Kon demanded what she was doing, and why, and how could she, didn't she know what their intimacy meant to him, etc. To all of these questions she had only said that she did what she did because she 'loved him so much'.
Kon didn't believe it. If she did love him as she claimed she would not have violated him like that. So, he did the only thing that made sense given the situation. He walked out. Walked out of her bedroom and out of their relationship. He never told anyone why he left her or what she did, but he had to leave. For his own mental and emotional wellbeing, he had to get out. Like Lois always seemed to be telling her younger sister, Lucy, 'its never selfish to take care of yourself'.
Kon was trying to take care of himself now. Sleep was when he was weakest against telepathic influence. So, sleep was what he must avoid.
He measured out one dosage of the kryptonian stimulant and shot it like tequila, then chased it with a glass of apple juice. His body shuddered for a moment as it registered the foreign chemical. When he once again had control over his body, Kon replaced the lid on the bottle of stimulant and stowed it back in its proper place in Clark's little 'pharmacy closet'.
As he was exiting the room, Kon experienced the oddest sensation. His head swam almost as if he had motion sickness or vertigo, but kryptonians didn't get vertigo so that couldn't have been it. He placed a hand against the corridor wall to steady himself and could have sworn he felt the robots that maintained the Fortress working in the room beyond. It lasted for only a moment and so Kon could not be sure that he hadn't just imagined it. He was working off of no sleep after all. The demi-kryptonian decided that if it happened again, he would take something to help him focus on top of the stimulant and thought nothing more of it. He took what he needed for the house and returned to Smallville.
It was well past four in the morning when Tim called.
Kon was re-shingling the roof and watching the sun come up (he was a multi-tasker) when his civilian phone rang. The touch screen proclaimed it to be a private number, but there were only four people in the world who had his phone number (maybe seven if you counted people he didn't give the number to but might have it anyway because they were bats). One of those four people was Clark, whom was off planet at the moment. Another was Lois, but it was roughly six in the morning in Metropolis and Lois Lane-Kent was not a 'morning person'. The third was M'gann but since beginning her relationship with La'gaan, she never called him anymore. That left Tim.
"Hey." Kon answered.
"Hay is for horses, farm boy." The Boy Wonder answered back.
"Don't got horses here." Kon reminded him.
"That's a shame." Tim yawned. "So, anyway, I just got back from the mission and I had this great idea, are you ready? …Breakfast!"
"What a revolutionary idea!" Kon exclaimed with mock awe. "They can put it between dinner and brunch!"
The two shared a snort of laughter.
"So, I still gotta shower and change into civies." Continued the younger boy. "By that time it'll be about seven'ish on the eastern seaboard. I was thinking New York, Jewish bagels with various toppings."
"Sounds good to me."
"Cool. I'll check Yelp and see where's good. Meet you by the zetta-tube."