Once the old barn was completely torn down, Kon sold its tin roof to a pair of scrappers to recycle, then invited Tim over to a massive bon-fire of the remaining wood. They roasted hotdogs and made smores. Kon stirred the fire with his TTK. The flames were so high, the smoke so bilious that at one point the Rosses came over in their truck to see if the farmhouse had caught fire and make sure Kon was alright.
Both boys tried to hold back their amusement as Pete jumped out of the driver's seat of his truck, pulled a large hose from the flat-bed and ran to the water pump shouting that they could still stop the fire before it spread to the house. (It was in no danger of spreading at all, Kon had been very careful about that.) Oh, Pete, you are such a good man.
Lana, on the other hand, climbed out of the truck at a much calmer pace. She stood, holding baby Clark-Peter in one arm, the other hand resting on her hip and just laughed at her husband. "I think they set the fire on purpose, sweetheart." She said. Then, turning to the boys, gave Kon a knowing grin. "Sure looks like one super blaze."
Tim grabbed the Superboy's arm and hissed at a volume so low no human could hear, "Kon, she knows!"
The demi-kryptonian stifled a laugh and whispered back, "Yeah, that's Lana. She's known since, like, forever. Pete doesn't know, though, so hush."
After Tim and Kon, with the help of Lana (actually, it was mostly Lana), managed to calm the panicked Mr. Ross, they all sat down to share the hotdogs and smores. It was a great mid-spring barbecue. When it was time for them to finally go, Pete took a large helping of ash to pack into his own fields. As he was loading it into the bed of his truck, Lana pulled Kon to the side.
"Did your heat vision just kick in or something?" She asked, voice barely above a whisper.
"No." The Superboy assured her. "I just torn down the old barn and was disposing of the rotten wood."
"Well, if it wasn't an accident you need to learn to be more discreet in the future." She reprimanded him, sounding very much like a nagging mother. "I assume your friend who cleverly avoided telling us his name this whole time is one of Batman's sidekicks. I suggest you ask him for a few pointers on keeping a low profile. Remember: discretion is the better part of valor."
"Thank you, Lana." He replied. "But I know how to keep my secrets."
Of the Leaguers that went into space as part of the Rimbor mission, Clark was the one to draw the short straw and got tasked with Watchtower duty. One would think that Captain Atom would give them all a couple weeks reprieve to visit and catch-up with their families or civilian lives before throwing them back into League work. But no.
Watch duty was taken three at a time, and Clark's companions for this shift were the Flash and Black Canary.
Barry spent an hour filling the kryptonian in on all that had happened during his absence. Apparently, some kid claiming to be from the future had materialized in the middle of the Cave's hangar. He then proceeded to zoom to Central City, to the Flash's own home and proclaim himself to be Barry's grandson from the year 2066. That was interesting. The Flash's numerous complaints about said mysterious youngster were not.
Clark was saved from having to listen to it when Canary cut him off to ask the Superman how the Rimbor mission went.
"I'd rather not talk about it." He answered in all honesty. "But, I would kinda like to hear about what happened to Kon-El while I was gone. He was acting weird when I got back. His heart-beat was irregular and his blood-pressure was higher than it should be –almost like he's developed a nervous condition. But when I asked him about it, he just brushed me off."
Canary pursed her lips. "Talk to me after our shift is over."
Kon waited one full day after the barn fire finally burnt out to begin turning the ash into the near-field. He used his still developing TTK to move the now gray and dusty ash and turn it into the soil. It took the demi-kryptonian several trips to move all that had once been a sizable barn and his tactile telekinesis could only reach so far, so it took him some time before the entire field was covered with an even layer of the ash, but when it was done the earth looked rich and dark and ready to be planted.
He crouched in the center of the field, hands laid flat on the ground. Kon imagined the earth churning and rolling around him, tilling itself into long neat mounds and furrows ideal for planting. He stretched out with his TK field to make it happen but when the demi-kryptonian once again opened his eyes, rather than neat rows, he had one very neat circle of rings. Not exactly an orthodox pattern for farming, but still perfectly functional for planting. He would have a series of crop-circles in their purest form.
Aliens and cornfields. Oh, where was Wally when he needed him? There was a joke here, but Kon just didn't have the pop-culture savvy to make it.
One thing was clear, however. The Superboy needed more practice with his new power.
Thankfully, Watchtower shifts were not that long. Only about twelve hours.
Flash, Black Canary and Superman all zetta'd back to the Hall of Justice together. No sooner had the golden glow faded from their bodies, however, then Barry was already gone –speeding off to Central City and his nice soft bed.
Canary heaved a heavy yawn and stretched. Twelve hour shifts were murder.
Clark felt fine.
"Can we talk about Kon-El now?" He asked.
Dinah stifled another yawn but nodded. She had been asking the people closest to Conner if they knew anything about his break-up with M'gann and the Superman was one of the people on her list. She wanted to talk to him as much as he did her. Canary led him to a private lounge, one tourists couldn't access, and they sat down.
"Did Kon ever tell you why he broke-up with M'gann?" She asked outright.
"With M'gann? No. He said it was his life and it wasn't any of my business, and asked me to keep my big nose out of his personal life." Answered the Superman. It was a true comment on just how far their relationship had progressed (or not progressed, as the case may be) within the last five years. "But that was a year ago. It can't possibly be what's making him anxious now."
"I'm not sure." Dinah agreed. "Certainly its not the only thing that's placing unnecessary stress on him. Have you heard that he's been taken off the Team, yet?"
"Off the Team!" The Superman's crystal-blue eyes went wide. "What did he do!?"
Dinah shook her head, her long hair bouncing around her shoulders in golden waves. "He didn't do anything. I recommended he take a forced leave of absence, so Nightwing put him on sabbatical."
"Clark, you know I can't talk about my sessions with Kon unless he gives me his permission."
"I know." Nodded the Man of Steel. "But you can't just tell me something like that without an explanation, Dinah."
With a heavy sigh, the Black Canary slumped back in her chair and said, "We missed something, or more accurately, we didn't notice something." She began. "I don't know how to explain it without giving details, but Kon never really recovered emotionally from the treatment he received at Cadmus. I'm talking specifically about the mind-control treatment. So, every time they would encounter a telepath on a mission, or Bats would put the Team through a mental exercise, or dream simulation… He'd get just a little bit worse. Not by very much, just a little bit each time. I think the last mission he went on was the proverbial straw. In a session with me, he had a bit of a mini-break-down."
Clark was silent a long moment after Dinah finished her explanation. She had told him more than she probably should have if she wanted to be able to say she'd respected doctor-patient confidentiality, but Clark was glad for it. He considered her words. An emotional break-down could certainly give-way to an anxiety disorder, that would certainly explain the erratic heart-rate he'd heard and the high blood-pressure he'd seen. But it didn't explain something else Dinah mentioned earlier in the conversation.
"What do you think M'gann has to do with any of this?"
"I'm not sure." The Black Canary confessed. "Her name came up during the session and I've been trying to find out why ever since. It seems no one knows why they broke-up."
"M'gann's a telepath…" Clark said slowly, as if thinking out loud. Then he turned to Canary. "Dinah, you don't think… Did Kon break-up with her because she used her powers on him!?"
"I don't know." She said again. "I'm trying to find out. But that's what I'm afraid of. If she did… If that's what happened, then it makes me wonder who else on the Team she might have used or be using her powers on –who she might be controlling. Maybe La'gaan, since he's her new boyfriend. Or Garfield, since they became so close after his mother passed away. They may not be aware of it at all."
"Dinah, this is serious! You have to tell someone!"
"I do intend to take action." She assured him. "But I don't want to do anything until I actually know what's going on. I don't want to start throwing out accusations and sewing distrust among the Team only to have it turn out to be nothing at all. I need to know what's going on, but… everyone keep stone-walling me."
Clark stood, his long red cape falling around his knees to punctuate the motion. "I'm going to confront Kon-El about this."
"Clark, you can't!"
"Don't worry, Dinah, I won't use any of the information you gave me. He won't know you broke your confidentiality agreement. But like you said, we need to know what's going on. If he won't tell you, maybe he'll tell me."
With Clark on Watchtower, it was the perfect time for Kon to make a quick trip to the Fortress for one more shot of stimulant. Not a double-shot. After the last two times, the Superboy decided to concede that increasing the dosage of a drug that was not designed for his unique dual-physiology was not a wise idea. But it didn't seem to bother him back when he was just taking one shot at a time, so the demi-kryptonian measured out a single dose of the stimulant.
His whole body shuddered violently. But there was no dizziness, no shortness of breath, no pain in his arms, neck or back. He did still have a pain in his chest, like a small throbbing and he once again felt his pulse in his ears. But these symptoms passed and when they were over Kon-El felt fine.
Then his JLA comm buzzed.
"This is Superboy. Go ahead." He answered.
"Hey, where are you?" Clark's voice came over the channel, obnoxiously chipper and friendly.
"Clark! I thought you had Watch duty."
"I did." Answered the Man of Steel. "But its over now and I thought maybe we could hang-out and catch-up. I swung by the Cave, but Beast Boy said you moved out. I'm at the farm right now, but you're not here either."
"I, uh… I had an errand I had to run." He lied. Then promised, "I'm on my way back right now."
Clark was sitting on the porch when Kon-El set down the Super-Cycle on the charred circle that had once been the termite infested barn. Wearing blue-jeans and a John Deer T-shirt, and flip-flop sandals. He held a glass of cold sweet tea in his hand with a swirly straw. On the wicker table next to his deck-chair was a large pitcher of the same iced tea and a second empty glass, also with a swirly straw. Well, it certainly looked like his genetic-parent wanted to 'hang-out'.
"I like what you did with the place." Said the Superman as the Superboy approached. "The roof looks good, and I like the porch. But you know, now you have to redo the other one to match, right? Just one question… What happened to my barn?"
Clark looked through the demi-kryptonian to the large patch of charred earth that was the late barn. "Some termites."
Kon just rolled his eyes at the poor attempt at a joke. "The termites were why I tore it down. I burned the wood after."
"Did you pack the ash into the fields?"
"Good man. Ma taught you right." Clark pored a generous helping of sweet tea into the empty glass. "Come. Sit. Speaking of the fields, I saw your till patterns. Very interesting. Don't see many circles 'round these parts. Its very post-modern."
Kon did not comment. He wasn't yet ready for Clark to know about his new power. Not until he got a better handle on it himself. He sat down and accepted the offered tea.
After a few moments, when it became clear that the boy wasn't going to say anything, Clark asked, "Have you planted anything yet?"
"No. I just finished tilling today."
They lapsed into an awkward silence. It was funny, Kon missed Clark so much when he was gone, but now that his genetic-parent was back the demi-kryptonian just felt awkward. They went through spells like this periodically over the past five years, where for no apparent reason, it would be difficult to hold a casual conversation. It seemed they could be the best of friends in the midst of a perilous battle for truth, justice and liberty. But on a cool spring day, sitting on the porch, sipping tea… they had no idea how to talk to one another.
After their prolonged silence dragged on long enough, Clark said, "So, I heard you got cut from the Team."
"'Cut from the Team'." Echoed the Superboy. "It's a covert ops outfit, Clark, not the varsity football team."
The Superman ignored his quip about the semantics and instead asked, "Do you wanna talk about it?"
"Can I at least know what's going on?" Clark pressed. "Did you and M'gann's new boyfriend have a fight?"
"No." Answered the Superboy, sounding ever so slightly exasperated. "And even if we had, I've got seniority so 'Wing would side with me over the fishstick."
"Hey now, be respectful! Ma taught you better than that." Chided the Boy Scout. Then he continued, "Well, then, why?"
Kon sipped his iced tea and heaved a heavy sigh. "Canary and Nightwing think I'm emotionally fragile and close to a break-down of some kind. Since that would make me a liability on missions, 'Wing changed my status to 'non-active'. I'm still on the Team, I'm just not working on the Team."
There was a beat of silence.
"Why are you close to a break-down?"
The demi-kryptonian slammed his tea down on the table, not hard enough to damage either the glass or the wicker, but certainly hard enough to make a loud THUNK and splatter sticky sweet tea all over his hand. "I'm not an invalid!" He snarled. "Jeez, you and Canary both. You think that just because I get a little more bothered by one specific thing than everyone else seems to, there must be something wrong with me! Look, I can take care of myself, and I don't need to be babied by all of you. I'm just fine!"
The Superman tipped his glasses down the bridge of his nose and leveled a critical stare over the frames at his clone, boring into the younger man with his unearthly blue eyes. "I can hear your heart-beat." He reminded the boy. "And I can smell your nervous sweat. Something is bothering you."
Kon bit the inside of his cheek. His irregular heartbeat was from the stimulant he'd been taking. Apparently, it was a side effect of human (or in his case, half-human) usage. But he wasn't about to tell Clark that. He wasn't really supposed to go into the pharmaceutical closet at the Fortress when the Superman wasn't there. But he had to tell his genetic parent something, otherwise the overly protective Boy Scout would never drop the issue and leave him alone.
"Nightwing pulled me after my last mission." He said.
"What happened on the mission?" Clark asked.
"Nothing." Kon was quick to reply.
The Man of Steel just leveled a second gaze at the boy. "Kon-El, you got pulled from active duty. What happened?"
The Superboy groaned. Avoided eye-contact. Sighed. "Me, La'gaan and Robin got trapped in another dream-sim. That's it. That's all that happened. No big deal."
Clark was silent. Dinah said that the last mission he went on was a final straw of an issue that had been building slowly over the past five years. Every time he encountered a telepath, underwent a mental exercise, mind-control, artificially induced mental states, dream simulations… It all built up. The last mission, when viewed as an isolated incident might have been nothing, but on top of everything else… yes, it might have made him snap in some way. That would certainly justify pulling him off duty and it could also explain his current anxiety symptoms.
"Did they have M'gann take a look at you –all of you- after you got back from the mission?"
"No!" Kon more snarled than spoke.
"Why not? If I came back from a mission where I was placed in an artificial dream-world that altered my perceptions or ideas about reality, Bats would ask J'onn to look me over just to make sure there wasn't any lasting influence."
"I don't like people poking around in my head, Clark!" Snapped the demi-kryptonian. "You know that. You've always known that. I've never liked people in my head!"
"But M'gann's your friend. I know you two aren't together anymore, but I'm sure you could trust her to look you over without worry." A strategic pause. "Unless… Kon-El, does M'gann being a telepath have anything to do with why you broke-up?"
The Superboy bolted to his feet. "This is a set-up." He said. "I should have seen it. The porch, the tea… Who put you up to this? Was it Canary?"
"A set-up?" Clark blinked at him, confused by his extreme reaction and concerned over his apparent paranoia. "Kon-El, you sound like a bat. What's happened in the months I've been gone?"
"Nothing!" The demi-kryptonian snapped. "Nothing any different than what's been happening since the night I left Cadmus."
"Sit back down, little brother." Said the older man in that obnoxiously calming voice he usually reserved for hysterical rescue victims.
Kon remained standing. He continued to glare at the Man of Steel.
"Fine. Don't sit, just listen." Clark threw his arms up in exasperation. "Okay, so you say nothing happened that was any different than anything else that's been happening since your liberation. That's fair, but that doesn't mean its right. We live odd lives, Kon-El. We do an odd job, and if we do it long enough it gets to us. It builds up over time. You say your last mission involved mental tampering. Well, that's something you've been dealing with since before you were 'born'. It stands to reason that-"
"I don't have to listen to this." The Superboy turned to leave.
Clark stood and placed a single restraining hand on the boy's shoulder. "No. Listen. You went through a traumatic experience at a young age. It happens to lots of people. That trauma makes you more sensitive to similar treatments later in life. Granted, most people don't go through things that are as bizarre as what happened to you, but that doesn't make it any less serious. What you don't seem to get is that you don't have to suffer alone. For as long as I've known you, you've always internalized your problems. You don't talk to people, you just bottle it up. But when you do that, it just puts extra strain on you and makes it all the worse."
"I talk to Canary." Kon growled.
"Rarely. You only ever ask for help after you're way, way past the point of needing it."
The demi-kryptonian took a breath, then another one –deeper. His chest was beginning to hurt again. He hated arguing with Clark. Kon ran through the breathing exercises Canary taught him, then some of the yoga ones he'd recently learned from Tim. "Clark," he began when he was sure he had control over himself again, "I'm fine. I've been living on my own for the past week, I've been keeping busy, repairing the house, maintaining the property; I've been hanging out with the newest Robin –he knows your identity, by the way- I'm not anyone you need to 'save'."
"Yeah, everyone in the bat-clan does." Clark waved a hand dismissively. "Look, Kon-El, I'm not trying to 'save you' as you say. Its just that you seem a bit off –I mean, more off than usual and I worry."
"Oh, you worry?" The clone crossed his arm over his chest. He was getting fed-up with this conversation and ready to go for blood. "Okay then, come back in another six months. Then you can do something about it. Until then… 'we'll figure something out. I mean, the League will."
The Superman winced. Kon would never let him forget those first six months of his life, from July fourth to January first, five years ago, Clark had done everything in his power to avoid the Superboy and generally try to have nothing to do with him. They had since reconciled. Clark accepted the demi-kryptonian as family and adopted him into the House of El as a younger brother. But, in much the same way that Lois would never let him forget that he out-scooped her for the first Superman story ever, so too would Kon-El never let him forget those first six months of neglect.
"Don't be like that." Whispered the Superman. "You know how much I regret that."
"Oh, how much you regret-"
Clark's civilian phone began to ring. It was Lois' ringtone.
"Go ahead and answer that." Muttered the Superboy.
"It can go to voicemail."
"She'll be mad."
"Won't be the first time."
The Ducktales theme ended. Then began again, only coming from Kon's pocket this time.
The Superboy thrust his hand into his pocket and withdrew his phone. "What!?"
The first thing Kon heard over the line was not a snarky come-back from Lois Lane-Kent, intrepid reporter working for the Daily Planet and resident authority on all things Superman. Instead, the first sound to grace his ears upon answering was that of gunfire and cursing.
Then, "Camera on the action, Jimmy!"
"Lois?" Ventured the Superboy, suddenly unsure. "Everything okay…?"
"Kid!" She breathed into the phone, sounding exasperated but energetic. It was her 'hot story' voice, and by the commotion in the background, the story was indeed hot. "Clark's not answering his phone. Can you come to Metropolis for a bit?"
He didn't wait for details, just promised, "We'll be right there!" And flicked the END button, jamming the phone back in his pocket. Turning back to Clark he said, "Just got home and already there's trouble in your town."
Clark sighed. "Wanna come with?"
"Yes." The boy answered, the argument they were having only a moment ago already forgotten.
The problem with crooks is that they tend to be petty. Even serious ones that are into big-crime. So, when an intrepid reporter (with the help of a super-powered meta-teen) starts poking her nose around your weapons smuggling racket and ends-up busting a deal, apprehending one of his men and causing the merchandise to fall into the hands of the SCU… Well, that's the sort of thing that tends to rub these guys the wrong way. So, it really should not have come as any sort of surprise when four of the same model mobile-suits that Superboy fought at the docks a few night ago showed up at the Daily Planet looking for Lois Lane.
Perhaps it wasn't the smartest move to make in Superman's town. But since when have criminals been smart? Superstitious and cowardly, yes. Smart, not often.
Fortunately (and perhaps also sadly), the Daily Planet staff was used to these kinds of interruptions in their standard workdays. The building and everything in it was ensured. The people learned never to keep anything of great personal value in their desks. And they had perfected the single most efficient evacuation and escape procedure known to mankind. The building was completely empty by the time Superman, carrying Superboy in his arms, appeared on the scene.
Clark sighed. "What did she do this time?"
Kon recognized the mobile suits. "Actually, it was both of us. I helped her on a weapons story and ended-up handing one of those things and its pilot over to the SCU."
"Great. Then you can tell me how to disable them and end this quickly."
"They've got living pilots in them and the cockpit's in the chest-plate. The hatch pulls off easily enough. But watch out for the pincer arm. Its pretty durable with enough hydraulic power behind it to hold me."
"Good to know." Nodded the Man of Steel. "You wanna take the two at street-level, I'll take the two in the air."
"That goes without saying."
"Last one to finish buys lunch." And on that note, Clark let go of the demi-kryptonian whom promptly plummeted toward the cracked and torn street.
The thing with smugglers was that, while they might be fantastically organized with their shipping, delivery and clientele. But when it came to maters that were more martial in nature, such as attack strategy and organization… well, lets just say there's a reason they're smugglers and not mercenaries.
The Superboy landed with a muted THUMP right in between the two ground infantry mobile suits. He kicked up a manhole cover and threw it –like a frisbee- at the nearest of the two robots. It struck the mobile suit in the back with a loud, resounding metallic CLANG!, and the lumbering machine turned to face its attacker.
"License and registration, please?" Kon grinned at the chest-plat, knowing he was looking strait at the pilot even if he couldn't see him.
The mobiles suit's response was to swing its pincer arm in a wide arch, knocking over a bus-stop canopy and sending a variety of other debris in every which direction.
The Superboy dodged most of it with ease, and what he didn't dodge bounced harmlessly off his invulnerable skin. Still smiling, he continued, "I'm gonna have to ask you to step out of the vehicle."
Naturally the MS-pilot was non-compliant with this simple and common request. Instead, he laid down machine-gun fire forcing the Superboy to throw himself between the on-coming bullets and a group of innocent bystanders cowering in the makeshift shelter of a ring of debris. This gave the second the perfect opportunity to flank the demi-kryptonian and snatch him up in what would have been a death-grip were it not for his invulnerability.
"Ugh! Seriously…?" Kon groaned as the wing was squeezed out of him.
He felt a short stab of panic –for no explainable reason- before taking a deep breath and channeling his TTK to force the pincers open. The Superboy was dropped at the mobile suit's feet and he kicked out, knocking one of the massive robotic legs out from under it, causing the machine to teeter off balance and fall over. Kon jumped on its chest and ripped the cockpit panel off. But before he could rip the safety harness and pull the pilot out, he was hit in the back by the second MS.
It impacted the back of his head with enough force to have liquefied a normal person's skull. The Superboy staggered for a moment only, but it was long enough for the mobile suit to get in a second hit that had the demi-kryptonian on the ground. The first MS climbed back to its feet, sans its cockpit panel, the pilot exposed. It stepped on Kon's legs, pinning him to the ground.
"You're that meta-punk who pinched our guy at the docs." Said the exposed pilot.
Kon groaned and tried to move his legs and kick the mobile suit off him. He felt his heart-rate begin to increase again, his chest feeling tight, and he did not like it. The Superboy took another deep breath, trying to get a handle on his symptoms. He stretched out with his TTK and flipped the giant robot off him. Once again, jumping on it and successfully ripped the crash-impact harness and pulled the pilot out. He looked around for Detective Turpin or Captain Sawyer, but sadly, only SCU grunt officers were present –helping with evacuation and crowd control.
The demi-kryptonian hopped over to the nearest group of SCU and passed the pilot off to them. One down. One to go.
The second mobile suit smacked him again, sending the Superboy flying into a pile of cracked concrete and mangled steel thrown up by the battle. A heavy steel girder –some dislodged piece of the Planet building- fell over the boy's ribcage, for the second time this fight he had the wind knocked out of him. His heart was hammering around his ribs again and Kon could feel it in his ears. His breathing was coming up short and he was starting to feel dizzy. This wasn't from the MS or the battle; it had to be from the stimulant he'd taken earlier today.
The Superboy channeled his TTK like a battering ram to push the girder off his chest. He climbed to his feet and glared up at the mobile suit. This shouldn't be this hard. He had beaten the first one at the docs the other night so easily.
Chest hurting, short of breath and light headed, Kon tried to take one more deep breath and force some air into his lungs, but it just wouldn't go. The giant robot loomed over him menacingly and the Superboy braced himself for the blow he knew was about to strike.
The blow didn't fall.
Instead, a streak of red and blue flashed through his field of vision and in the blink of an eye, the mobile suit was down, disabled, and the pilot in SCU custody. Then, in another moment, Clark was standing in front of the Superboy, one strong hand under his arm-pit, giving support. "You okay?" He asked. "Your pulse…"
Kon tried to speak but there just wasn't enough air in his lungs. He was dizzy and light-headed. The pain in his chest spread to arms and neck. The demi-kryptonian groped at the Superman's uniform as his mind jumped to a conversation they'd been having not even an hour ago.
'You only ever ask for help after you're way, way past the point of needing it.'
"Cla…" He gasped, his other hand clutching at the S-shield on his own uniform. Maybe he should have listened to the robots at the Fortress. As Number 2 had said, Clark's medications were not designed for him; they didn't know how it would effect his dual bio-chemistry. Well, it looked like they were finding out. He should have let Number 12 finish his check-up. "Clark… help…"
And then, he passed out.