World's Finest: Close Encounter

(of the Green Kind)

A Tale of Superboy

by 'rith



Archive: Ask first, please.
Notations: Nonexplicit slash herein.
Fandom: DC comicsverse. This story takes place about four years in the future from current continuity. Connor is 24; Kon-El is 20 and a member of the Titans.
Continuity: This is a quasi-sequel to the World's Finest series. World's Finest is a stand-alone 'verse. Nonessential short prequel fic: http://www.offpanel.net/kerithwyn/stories/Diversion.html
Disclaimer: All characters property of DC Comics. What I have done with them is mine, though it's Carmen's and Smitty's collective fault and that's the story I'm sticking to.




I'd been patient.

Go figure. Me, the Kid, patient? That's gotta be some kinda joke, right?

Except I wasn't 'the Kid' anymore. There'd been a point when I thought I'd be sixteen forever, frozen in time thanks to a trick of my wacky clone DNA. I should've known that in this business, nothing is forever. And a good thing, too, or I probably wouldn't have a shot at the latest object of my desire.

The deal is, within the hero community, sooner or later nearly everybody ends up dating one of our own. It's inevitable. No one understands the pressures and the hazards of this particular occupation better than your own teammates. It's got nothing to do with snobbery; that's just the way it is. Sure, some of us have managed to make relationships work with mundanes. Flash, for one. Big Blue, for another. For me, ever since Tana Moon was killed a couple of years ago as a direct consequence of knowing me, I can't consider it. Rayner's the same way, with what happened to his girlfriend.

And that's okay. It's not like I've been hurting for companionship, last couple of years. Cassie and I had a good long run before we called it quits by mutual consent. We'd gotten...bored. Now she's hooked up with Grant, and me... I'd been thinking about someone else.

That's where the 'patient' part comes in.

There are few secrets in our community. Oh, sure, the important ones stay hidden--like secret identities, for those who keep them. No one goes prying into everyone's business or anything like that. The DEO holds the patent on that kind of thing, or did, until Cameron Chase took over. She's been pretty clear about not caring *who* we are under the masks (those who wear 'em, anyway) as long as we get the job done and keep our noses clean. Cool lady.

But among ourselves, the gossip never stops. Endless speculation about whether Batman ever gets any (yes, and you'd be surprised with who), if Captain Marvel really is as innocent as he seems (hard to believe, but he is), and about what *really* takes place on Paradise Island (it's a damn shame digital cameras don't work there). Me? I got outed as bisexual when I got caught on film kissing Hero Cruz during the last Titans Christmas party.

And by "caught" I mean in the accidentally on-purpose sense. Hero and I practically *posed* for that picture. And it was Cassie who took it, giggling her head off the whole time. Mostly I wanted things out in the open, because I don't have anything to hide from my friends.

Scratch that. One thing. But that's not my secret to tell.

The point is, I made it clear to everyone that I was open to other possibilities. It's not like the group of potential dating partners is so huge anyway. No reason to limit my options, you know? Not when so many heroes were already paired off, or considered themselves too old to fool around with a guy like me. Still, there were enough young, single, and *interesting* people around to make a dive into the dating pool an extremely tempting idea.

And one very, very tempting person in particular.

Connor Hawke. He didn't have a hero name; he'd been Green Arrow before his old man came back from the dead and reclaimed the title, and I guess he never found another he liked. He was a good friend of the Titans, even if he'd turned down repeated invitations to join. He liked working solo, or occasionally as one of Oracle's operatives if the rumors about that were true.

But even in a group of white knights, Connor stood out as...our Galahad, I guess is the best way to put it. He's a bigger boy scout than Blue. Noble, pure of heart, and all that.

But not--and this is the important part--a lily-white sexless virgin like Galahad. He's discreet, but like I said, there aren't too many secrets that stay hidden among the super-folk.

Hell, part of the reason I cornered Hero (aside from him being pretty cute in his own right) was to ask him about Connor. I knew they'd dated, a couple of years back, and wanted to get his take.

"Got your eye on him, huh?" Hero asked, smirking.

"Not at the moment," I said, sliding my hand down the curve of his ass. "But yeah, maybe sometime."

Hero grinned. He's like me; seize the day, you know? Or even the moment. The fact that we were groping each other while discussing another guy only added spice. "He's...special," Hero said after a moment. "I really could've fallen for him, but I wasn't what he's looking for." He paused. "I don't think you are either. No offense."

"None taken," I said, and squeezed a little. Hero gasped and leaned into me. "I'm just wondering if I've got a shot."

His hand wandered down to my groin and *rubbed.* "Why don't you take me home and we'll discuss it...later."

So later, after a lot of not-talking (but a considerable amount of noise), Hero sprawled across my bed and considered. "Honestly, I think I got lucky with Connor because I was the first gay single guy he'd met who was in the same 'business,' you know? Someone who could understand where he was coming from." He chewed on his lip. "He, uh, had a big thing for GL when I met him, but I'm pretty sure he's long over that."

I nodded, not saying anything but feeling a lot of empathy for Connor. Everyone knows that Connor and Kyle are best friends, have been for years. And I know something about being in love with your best friend. Your *straight* best friend. It sucks. It sucks a lot. And not in the good way. "But now?"

Hero shrugged. "Got me." He rolled over on his back and smirked at me, upside down. "How about we stop talking about him and you come *get* me again."

"What'd you do, call up 'Stamina Lad' on your dial?" But hey, I'm *Super*boy. I rose to the occasion.

Anyway. Since then I'd been watching Connor whenever he dropped by the Tower to see Lian and Roy, or we happened to be working the same crisis-of-the-moment. We didn't have a lot in common, that was obvious, but still...I liked what I saw and wanted to know more.

I thought about asking Canary if he was seeing anyone, but man, I'd seen Dinah in full 'mama-bird' mode and if she didn't like the thought of me and her pseudo-son, I'd be doomed. What she didn't know wouldn't hurt *me.*

So I went to the source.

If you want to know who's dating who (or more simply, who's *doing* who), you ask Donna Troy. Donna always knows what's going on with everyone. Not because she's overtly nosy, but because she's so good at listening everyone tells her everything.

I found her in the Titans' kitchen, one of the best spots for superhero gossip on the planet. "Yo, Donna, got a question for you."

She turned a wry eye toward me. "No, Dick and Garth still aren't interested in a three-way."

I grinned. "That wasn't what I was going to ask, but you be sure and let me know if that ever changes, okay?"

Donna snorted. "Get in line, buster. I've known them longer, I've got dibs."

Both of us went a little dreamy-eyed, thinking about them. There's something criminal about two of the hottest guys I'd ever seen *not sharing.* Yeah, I know, true love, blah blah, monogamy's all very well but a guy can dream, right? A girl too, if Donna's slightly faraway expression was any clue. Hell, I'd settle for *watching.*

After a minute she shook her head and said, "So, uh, what were you going to ask?"

"Oh, um, I wanted to know if Connor was seeing anyone that you knew about."

"Ohhh." She grinned, leaning against a counter. "The family charisma strikes again."

Oliver Queen used to be--still is, actually--a pretty big hit with the ladies. I don't get it, but I've heard some of the women in the biz talking about his supposed appeal. He's smooth, sure, but I don't see what else is so special. It's not the age gap, 'cause there're a couple of guys from that first-wave JLA who I *do* find damned attractive. Anyway, whatever he's got, his son's got it too. In Connor's case, though, women don't have a chance.

Which meant maybe I did. "Yeah, sorta. You know anything?"

Donna shook her head. "Haven't heard. He's pretty private, you know, but Jen usually tells me if she hears he's seeing anyone."

Since Jen was going with Kyle, she'd know if anyone did. "Huh. Okay."

"Kon--" For a second I thought Donna was gonna do the 'den-mother' thing she does so well, something about being careful, but instead she smirked. "Good luck. You'll need it."

Yeah, *that* boded well.

I headed toward my room, thinking about strategies, and ran almost literally into Argent.

"Toni, babe." I let my eyes wander, taking in the sights. Argent wears costumes with pieces cut out to show skin underneath because she *wants* to be looked at. I was only too happy to oblige.

She grinned and posed. "Hey, Kon. What's new?"

We'd been playing this flirting game since I joined the Titans. I think we both figured that falling into bed was inevitable, so why rush it?

...let me rephrase. We were both young, healthy, horny superheroes, unattached at the present and all too aware that we lived and worked in death's shadow every day. Which isn't to say we were *casual* with our affections, exactly, but--

Oh, hell, that's exactly what it means. But only with people we trusted. And frankly, the only reason Toni and I hadn't hooked up yet was timing and a vague attempt at restraint. We were enjoying the slow buildup, for now. "I'm plotting seduction. Wanna help?"

"Ooh, always. Who?"

"Connor Hawke."

Toni whistled. "Good taste. Got a game plan in mind?"

"Not...really. Any suggestions?"

She looked thoughtful. "I'd be straightforward. Not that *I* have a prayer, but you know what I mean. I don't think he's the game-playing type."

"Yeah, I kinda figured that." I ran a hand through my hair and sighed. "So I should just ask him out. Dinner, a movie, the usual."

"Yep. Then see where it goes." Toni smirked. "If it doesn't work out...you know where I live." She turned and walked away, putting an extra wriggle in her step.

I was appreciative, believe me.

Long story short, I called him. Connor accepted the invite, sounding dubious. I hung up, wondering if my...reputation...had preceded me. It didn't matter, really. Not like I could claim purity of purpose in any case. I wasn't Commitment!Guy, and if he knew that at the start, he wouldn't have any false expectations either.

Which begged the question of why he'd agreed to the date in the first place, but hey, I wasn't about to second-guess my good fortune. Maybe, if things went well, he'd tell me why. Maybe, if things went *really* well, he'd SHOW me why.

Now that was a pretty thought.

And I was getting ahead of myself, like always.

A day later and way too impatient, I dressed for the date in Donna-approved civvies. The lady has good taste. "Now who wouldn't want a piece of this?" I asked my reflection.

Harper chose that moment to stick his head into my room. I swear, in a group as hormonally overcharged as this one, you'd think people would've learned to *knock.* "Hey, Kid."

"What, Roy," I said, not even annoyed, because he didn't mean any real insult with the old nickname. Roy still called Nightwing 'short pants' to get on his nerves.

"Donna says you have a date with Conn," he said, and yeah, I'd figured I'd be hearing about it from Roy sooner or later. I was only grateful word hadn't gotten to Ollie already. Last thing I wanted was the old man in my face about 'corrupting' his son. As if.

"I promise not to knock him up," I said, deadpan, and he scowled.

"Smartass." Roy looked as if he wanted to lock me in for the night. "Look, he's my brother. I'm allowed to be concerned."

I rolled my eyes at the mirror. "Yeah, Roy, I got the message. But Conn's a big boy. He can make up his own mind. Give him some credit, huh?"

Roy blinked at me, whatever he'd been about to say obviously derailed. "Well...yeah. I know he's-- I just wanted to-- oh, nevermind." He made a face like he'd bitten into something sour. "Have a good time."

"Don't let the door hit'cha," I muttered as he left. At least Donna had wished me good luck. Roy probably thought I'd pollute Connor just by breathing the same air. We usually got along okay, me and him, but I wasn't the kind of guy he wanted dating his daughter. Or his brother. Probably because I reminded him of himself, before he got all responsible with taking care of Lian.

I was responsible. I did my duty by the Titans, I pitched in where I was needed otherwise, I did my bit for community service where I could. Roy had no right to disapprove of how I spent my free time.

Thinking about it pissed me off, and I didn't want to leave the Tower pissed off. I decided to peek in and see what 'Nita was doing. Not literally; I'd never developed X-ray vision, to my eternal disappointment.

Kinda funny--or maybe ironic--that Empress and I were the only two to 'graduate' from Young Justice to the Titans. Tim was retired now and had a whole new career, and he was happy with that. Cassie'd *had* to stop, with her injuries and all, and she was still trying to figure out what to do with her life. Greta--our former Secret--was human again and wanted nothing to do with the superhero scene. Couldn't blame her, after everything she went through. Cissie, on the other hand, wanted everything to do with it *except* actually put on a costume again. She still didn't trust herself enough. Bart....

Bart was gone.

Oh, yeah, definitely the wrong mood. I knocked on Anita's closed door rather than barging in, because it was a really bad idea to irritate someone who could mind-control you into flying around the city naked, or something equally embarrassing. I may be slow sometimes, but I do learn.

She shouted "Okay!" and I opened the door. Anita was sitting cross-legged on her bed with a pair of pliers, going over her costume's chain for holes or weak points. It was a ritual with her. She liked to claim she wove protective charms into it, and no one had ever quite figured out if she was joking or not.

"Hey, mon. Very spiff." She waved at me with her pliers. "Hot date?"

I put on a shocked face. "The Tower gossip patrol hasn't gotten to you yet?"

"Na. The resident witch is supposed to be above all that, don' you know?" she said with pointed irony. The fact that 'Nita was *nothing* like Raven didn't stop the comparisons, what with the mystical and teleporting powers. Empress couldn't heal, but she was a serious badass with a sword. I knew who I'd rather have backing me up. "Don' keep me in suspense."

"Connor Hawke." I nodded to her dubious look. "No, really."

"Yah? Score. So why the long face?"

I told her about my "conversation" with Roy, but when I was done, she just snorted and shook her head. "He's jealous, s'all. You're him ten years ago. Before he got all Mr. Mom."

"Yeah, I kinda figured."

"So? Go. Ignore Roy. Enjoy yourself." She grinned at me. "Tell Conn I say hey."

I needed to get going anyway. "Will do. Thanks, 'Nita."

"Kon!" she called as I was closing the door, "I'll hex him if he doesn't treat you good."

I chuckled because it was a joke, yeah, but it was also her way of letting me know there was someone who wasn't worried about the Connor side of the equation. Even people outside of Dinah and Roy tended to be real protective of him, like he was still fresh out of the monastery and needed guarding from the big bad world.

But if Conn and I got along, everyone else's opinion could go hang. Time to find out.

It only took me a minute or two to fly from the Tower to his neighborhood, a Korean-populated area of Queens. He'd gotten some teasing about why he hadn't gotten a place in Manhattan like the rest of the NY-based heroes, and he'd pointed out that *was* the reason. Too many of us in one small space, with the added problem of always getting caught up in each others' business.

His building was sandwiched between what I guessed was a Korean grocery and a video-rental place. I'd been good and come down in an alley, out of sight so I wouldn't scare his neighbors, but I still got suspicious looks from passers-by as I headed toward the door.

I skipped the scary-looking elevator and jogged up the stairs to the third story. Conn's apartment was on the top floor, of course. Rooftop access, pretty much required for a hero-type wanting to get in and out without tipping off the neighborhood. Though I wondered how much of that was habit rather than necessity; while Nightwing swore by the power of the domino mask, Connor never went out of the way to otherwise disguise his distinctive looks. Anyone who'd seen him in action would be able to recognize him out of costume. But then, I'd never gone out of my way to disguise who I was, either. In my case that had more to do with not *having* a life outside the Titans, but still...something else in common. Cool.

He opened the door about ten seconds after I knocked, and--

Okay, pure truth: Connor is *gorgeous.* Even above the supermodel-standard for heroes in general. (And what is the deal with that, anyway? Not that I mind being surrounded by good-looking guys and gals all the time, it's just funny.) Guess I ought to thank the geneticists over at Cadmus for keeping that in mind when they built me.

Still...from what I've heard his mom's half-black, half-Korean, and his dad's got that ultra-blond thing goin' on, and Connor got the best of both worlds: perfect dark skin and slightly tilted green eyes and blond hair that should look totally strange but doesn't. He was dressed casual, like I'd suggested on the phone, not even designer stuff like Donna had picked out for me but damn, it didn't matter, he'd make rags look good.

So he opened the door and for a second I forgot all my lines, just looking at him. No surprise, he wasn't as tongue-tied as me. "Hi, Superboy."

Which was exactly the thing to snap me out of it. "Whoa, hey. *So* very off duty now."

He ducked his head and blushed a little. "Kon-El." I liked how he said it. "Would you-- Do you want to come in?"

"You move quick," I teased, just to see that blush deepen a little more.

He gave me a slightly apprehensive look. "Kon..." he started.

"Conn," I returned, mimicking his tone, then laughed. "Okay, *that's* not gonna work. Connor. One step at a time, 'kay?"

Connor chuckled, relaxing a little, and moved out of the doorway so I could step in to the apartment. Pretty much what I expected: clean, neat, not very many decorations or personal touches. There was a, what's it called, a meditation mat rolled up in the corner, a couch, a small tv. It looked almost out of place, and Connor noticed me looking at it. "Kyle got that for me. He said that I wasn't still in the monastery, I didn't have an excuse not to be 'tuned in'."

"Yeah, I don't know what I'd do without 'Slayers' every week." There was a computer desk on the far side of the room, I finally noticed, and the setup looked a little too elaborate for casual use. Oracle connection, maybe? I wasn't going to ask.

He waved a hand at the room. "It's not fancy, but...."

"It's cool, though. Not having people barging in on you all the time. There's no privacy in the Tower." I frowned, thinking about Roy earlier. "Everyone in everyone's space all the time. I think you had the right idea."

"You could move out," he said, reasonably enough.

"But then I wouldn't get to complain about it." I grinned at him. "I mean, what else is a team for if you can't bitch about your teammates?"

Connor looked thoughtful. "I think I missed that approach with the JLA."

"Definitely one of the bennies of the job."

He tilted his head, considering, and offered, "Aquaman left wet footprints all over the Watchtower."

"There ya go. Donna isn't half as good a cook as she thinks she is."

"Wally *never* left anything in the fridge for the rest of us." Connor's eyes were bright with amusement. He'd really been out of the loop if he hadn't played *this* game before.

"Dude, he still stops by the Tower to clean us out, too." I rolled my eyes in exaggerated disgust and thought for a second. "Toni somehow manages to break anything mechanical she touches."

"Barda was very, um. Grabby. And scary," he added.

I played the trump card. "Nightwing flaunts that too-perfect-to-be-real rear of his. He does! His workouts? Tell me why he *needs* to wear those tiny shorts!"

"True, though..." he started to laugh, "You're really not *complaining* about that."

"God, no." He was cute when he laughed. Cuter. "Takes the pain out of using the gym, I tell ya."

His smile was full of mischief I hadn't expected. "I should come by more often. You know, take advantage of the facilities."

"Can't beat the view." Conn was laughing again and it felt like a really good start. Contrary to popular opinion, fastest way to a man's heart wasn't necessarily through his stomach. Though that was next on the agenda. "Hey, you hungry?"

"Sure. What'd you have in mind...?"

"I got it covered." I'd done my homework. I knew he was vegetarian, so that had cut out steakhouses. Italian was so cliché, and I didn't want to go Asian, because hello, stereotype! "Trust me."

He smiled. "All right."

We took mass transit, like regular people, the E train from Woodside and right into the Village. Connor sat casual, like he did this all the time, but we'd both chosen a spot where we could see the rest of the car and the other riders. Ready for anything, like good vigilantes. We realized that at the same time and grinned at each other, and then he said, "So what do you think of the new 'Slayers' season?"

"Well, I did like the anthology style Slayer-of-the-Week thing, but sticking with one character for awhile makes it easier to do story arcs...." and talking about that and our favorite "Buffy" eps took us all the way into Manhattan.

Any day of the week, the Village is a fun place to be. "You been down here before?"

"A bit," he nodded, looking around with interest. "Kyle lives close by."

Damn, I'd forgotten that. Anything I could do to *not* remind him of Kyle would be a Good Thing. We headed down one of the twisting side streets off Christopher 'til we got to the tiny restaurant I'd scouted out. "Greek okay with you?"

"One of my favorites." Connor glanced at the menu stuck to the front window. "You didn't have to choose a vegetarian place for me, if you'd rather--"

"Hey," I interrupted, "I admit to being a carnivore by nature but I'll eat pretty much anything. Plus they do the flaming-saganaki-at-the-table thing. I love that."

He nodded in perfect comprehension. "Who doesn't love seeing their food on fire?"

"This is what I'm sayin'."

So over a table full of veggie dolmades and spanakopita and tabouleh we talked, no surprise, about our hero 'careers'. I told him about what it'd felt like to 'graduate' from Young Justice to the Titans, and that I had my eye on a JLA seat one day. He talked about his ongoing fight against the drug gangs. We talked about being on a team versus working solo; I (sort of) joked that I liked having a group of others around to keep me from screwing up too badly. He said he doubted that--nice of him--but that in the JLA he'd constantly been thrown into situations where he'd felt overwhelmed. I said I doubted *that,* and Connor shook his head at me.

"Martial arts and good marksmanship don't mean much against something like Mageddon. Or Darkseid."

"Man," I said reasonably, "*nobody's* powers mean much against them, short of the big S. Batman and Nightwing--"

He smiled, and I got the distinct feeling he'd heard it before. "--and you're going to tell me you're not as good as they are, which I think is a crock," I finished.

Connor spread his hands. "I know my limitations. I'm not a detective or a strategist. More important, I *like* what I'm doing now."

"Oh, well, that's different." I grinned at him. "This business is way too crazy if you're not having some kind of fun."

"I like to think I'm making a difference," he said quietly, which was totally his white-knight riff, only in his case of course it wasn't an act. The guy was just...good.

"Man, what I hear through the grapevine, you're the scourge of the East Coast drug trade. I don't think you have to worry about if you're making a difference or not."

Again with the slight blush, but he looked pleased, so I pressed the point: I told him I admired his archery and martial arts skills, which was true. The nonpowered folks in our business had to be ten times as good as anyone else just to get by--ask any of the Bat- or Arrow- clan about that. I'd picked up a little fighting skill myself, sparring with Nightwing and Troia, but I mostly depended on my powers. No shame in that, right? The tactile-tk was my 'birthright' and I was an expert with it by now.

"It's funny," Connor said when I ran out of breath, "that little while I was Green Arrow, I always thought I'd be considered a fraud. *Roy* is better with a bow than I am, even if he doesn't use one as often."

"He's got a whole target-range setup on the island. Maybe you can show me sometime?"

"Sure." His smile was easy, unforced, and he could've been saying the same to anyone. *I'd* been thinking about getting his arms around me to position a bow, and *he'd* probably been thinking about...teaching me how to shoot. Dammit.

"Did you ever," he started suddenly, and just as abruptly stopped. "Um. Silly question."

"I'm all about the silly questions. Did I ever what?"

He looked a little embarrassed. "I was just wondering if you'd ever thought about changing your name. I mean, Super*boy*. You're...not, anymore."

I leaned back in my chair, shaking my head. "Man, if you could think of a decent one, I'd love to hear it. All of the good names are taken."

He laughed, nodding. "I remember having the same problem before I decided I didn't need one. Still...."

"I know, I really should. But the other thing is, it's part of my, uh, legacy, you know? And there's only ever gonna be one Superman." I shrugged. "Could be worse, you know? 'Superlad.' Ugh. Or all initials, like CM3. Someone should've talked him out of that."

"I was just thinking, it almost seems like a Titans' tradition. To outgrow your mentor's name." He glanced at me. "Not that you don't still respect Superman, or anything like that."

"No, 'course not." Respect, no doubt. But the thing was...Superman hadn't been a mentor, not really. He'd never been entirely comfortable with the whole clone thing, not to mention that I reminded him too much of the real son he and Lois would never have. I saw it in their eyes every time I'd been to visit in Metropolis, and after a while it just became easier for everyone to skip those visits altogether. Ma and Pa Kent had accepted me wholesale, and I loved them for that, but Clark and I never got further than the occasional accidental team-up.

In a way that was okay, because if he wasn't *really* my mentor, I wouldn't be required to live up to his example. Nobody expected that of me. Hell, I didn't expect it of myself. Nothing like knowing, deep down, that the guy I was cloned from really didn't believe I was worthy of his legacy.

"...Kon?" Connor asked softly, and I shook my head and smiled.

"Just thinking. Maybe it's a good thing you didn't want to be Green Arrow. Name's got a powerful rep."

He smiled wryly. "And Superman doesn't?"

"Different kind. Ollie isn't-- I mean--" Oh, smooth move. Impress the guy by ranking on his *dad.*

Connor saved me from having to backpedal. "I know what you mean." He glanced away for a second, then looked back at me and shrugged. "He knows I don't always...agree with how he lives his life. But it's his."

"Yeah." I didn't want to push that topic. "Dessert?"

He contemplated the glass case at the front of the restaurant for a second, then shook his head. "I'd burst."

"Baklava will do that to you." There was some inevitable argument over the check, but once I got ahold of it with my ttk, it was all over. "I asked *you,* all right?"

"Thank you," he said simply, and I suddenly found myself utterly, completely envious of Kyle Rayner. Whatever he'd done, whatever it was about him that'd made Connor fall for him. But that was stupid, like blaming Tim for how I'd felt about *him.* And this date wasn't over yet.

I'd decided against the movie. Movies were good for later dates, when you could sit in the back of the theater and snuggle. Way too early for that. At the other extreme, a movie wasn't good because we'd both be watching it instead of each other. I wanted Conn's attention on *me.*

But it became clear, pretty quickly, that we didn't have much to talk about outside of the hero game. The one other thing I knew we had in common, I really didn't think was appropriate to bring up.

Well, there was also the fact that we both started out when our predecessors were supposedly dead...okay, that wasn't funny as much as morbid. Definitely a conversational no-go.

So we walked up and down the twisting streets, taking in the atmosphere almost like...ordinary people. I was a little surprised at how *comfortable* Conn seemed here. Like the nods and stares and occasional leers of the guys we passed on the street weren't anything unusual to him. No reason they should've been, of course, but it was way too easy to think of him as being "innocent" along with "good" and he definitely wasn't the former. Hero had assured me of that.

But I'd made kind of a big deal of outing myself as bi, big drama moment, and Conn just...was. Gay, I mean. Without the production. I mean, it hadn't been a big deal to *me,* personally, but I'd still assumed it'd be a big deal to the rest of the world. As far as I knew, Connor didn't see it that way. Not like he didn't care what other people thought, but like it didn't *matter* because he was so...sure of himself, I guess.

I suggested coffee, which turned to be a minor mistake, since he didn't drink the stuff. I shoulda figured. But the coffeehouse served all kinds of tea as well, so he found something he liked.

And that was the point when I should've gone into flirting-mode, easy banter, except somehow I couldn't think of anything to say. Everything that interested me seemed too silly next to, you know, his doing volunteer work in soup kitchens when he wasn't busting drug dealer skulls. And hell, maybe I'd been out of my league when I called Conn in the first place, but no one'd ever accused me of self-control when I saw something or someone I wanted.

Still, I think I managed to fake it okay, and by the time we agreed to fly back to his apartment I felt better about the whole thing.

So up, up, and et cetera. I had a good tight grip under his arms, between that and the ttk there wasn't a chance he could fall, but even before I could assure him of that he seemed utterly okay with putting his life in my hands. He didn't tense up at all when we took off, and maybe it was 'cause he was used to being carried by a flyer like that. (Didn't seem like Rayner's style, he went more for the splashy constructs. But wasn't there a rumor that Peege sometimes worked for Oracle, too? And Hawkwoman? They would both carry this way....) But I liked the idea that he *trusted* me, even if I didn't know why I'd given him reason to. Maybe being with the Titans was better for my rep than I thought.

I took the scenic route, such as it is, flying over Manhattan in a wide circle before heading back toward his place. Even if he'd seen it all before with Kyle or whoever, it's still worth looking at.

But pretty as it was, the skyline only had half my attention. Connor had been polite and all, but not *interested* in the right way. I'd been more than receptive to that vibe and I wasn't feeling it. My ego could take the disappointment, but if I really hadn't had a shot in the first place....

We were halfway down the hall to his door when I finally got up the nerve to ask. "C'n I ask you something?"

"Of course," he said, surprised.

In for a penny. "Why'd you agree to go out with me?"

The question earned me a long moment of silence. I figured he wasn't going to answer, but then he said, looking utterly self-conscious, "I thought I should...try."

That sounded complicated. "'splain?"

"I'm not...good at this. Dating. I don't go out very much." He waved vaguely. "I never know what to say."

So maybe there's no good excuse for what I did next, except I remembered something Hero had said: that he'd had to make virtually all the first moves when *he* was seeing Conn. I figured I might as well take a chance.

"Sometimes," I said, big cliché and everything, "it's not about talking." I took a step closer, giving him the chance to move away, and when he didn't, I put a hand flat against his chest and shoved gently so that his back ended up against the wall. He looked surprised but not resistant, so I leaned in and kissed him.

It was--well, it was a kiss. All first-time awkward, except I was trying to pay more attention to his reactions than I might have normally. I felt his shock, then a tentative acceptance, and then...whoa, baby. I could feel that he was lonely, and that it'd probably been awhile, and that maybe that he wasn't as in control as he seemed.

Just when I was starting to think the evening might get really interesting after all, he pulled his head back, breathing hard. "I'm-- I'm not like my father."

I snorted. "No kidding."

"I mean, I don't--the one-night stand thing, Kon-El, I'm really uncomfortable with that."

I wasn't about to pledge eternal love, and maybe I was wasting my breath, but... "How about a couple of nights, then? I like you. I respect you. I think you're sexy as hell. That's enough for me."

He didn't reply, clearly looking for a way to turn me down gently. Yeah, okay, I don't need to be clubbed over the head with the obvious. Put the libido in check, Kon, if it wasn't going to happen, it wasn't going to happen. I moved back, getting out of his space. "Nevermind, it's cool, Connor, I totally understand."

He tossed me a quick, rueful smile. "Then you're one step ahead of me."

Really, I should have left then. But me being me, I had to push. "Is it about Kyle?"

Connor slumped against the wall. "Not...really, not anymore, and does *everyone* know about that?"

"Uh...pretty much." I tried to break it gently. "Most everybody thought it was really sweet. A lot of us thought Kyle was missing out, too."

"He doesn't have a choice, same as me," Connor said softly. "We can't change simply by wanting it."

Which I *totally* didn't get, but if Kyle was happy with Jade, what the hell did I know? "But then--"

He glanced down the corridor toward where one of his neighbors had just come up the stairs and gestured at his door. "Let's not talk in the hall."

By this point I was pretty sure his living room was all of the apartment I was going to see, so there wasn't any reason not to say what I'd been thinking. "I'm guessing you're waiting for...true love, right? For someone to strike you right like a bolt from the blue." I paused, watching his face. "It was like that with Kyle, wasn't it?"

He nodded, looking a little stunned. "We clicked, right away, it was like we'd always been meant to be--friends."

"Man, I know what you mean," I said with all the sincerity I could manage. "I went through...pretty much the same thing with a guy, a few years ago. He wasn't interested in more, either." As long as I didn't name names, I could tell him that much.

"But you...got over it." Connor shook his head, a sharp motion. "That isn't it. I shouldn't be hiding behind old feelings as an excuse for not...trying. It's not about that. Maybe--what you said--I shouldn't expect things to happen like that. Maybe...." he stopped, obviously at a loss.

Temptation. Serious temptation. Right then, I probably could've convinced him to take a chance. Invite me into his bedroom for the night. Give in to a meaningless fling rather than wait for something more real.

That worked for me. But it wouldn't work for *him,* and I knew it.

God, sometimes being a good guy...*totally* sucked.

"You shouldn't, um, compromise. I mean. If you're holding out for something serious." I fumbled around for the right words. "But you're never gonna meet someone if you don't, you know, *meet* people."

Connor smiled wryly. "I'm not a shut-in, you know."

"No, but I bet you haven't really been *looking,* either," I said, and knew I was right by the look on his face.

And then he threw it right back at me. "What about you?"

"Huh?" Oh, very eloquent.

"If I've been...waiting, what have you been doing?"

"Carpe'ing the diem, mostly."

He sounded honestly puzzled. "But don't *you* want more?"

Okay, there he had me. Because mostly, I'd been going day to day without thinking about it very much. There was a reason I tried not to think about it very much. "I...shoot. I guess I never figured I'd be around long enough." He looked alarmed, and I shook my head. "Believe me, I don't have a death wish or anything like that. And I'm not lookin' to go out in a blaze of glory, but it seems kinda...inevitable, sometimes. So I figure, might as well enjoy myself while I can." I made a face. "That sounds all kinds of shallow, huh."

He actually looked...regretful? "It sounds...like fun. But I don't think I could do that."

"Nah. You're--" my mouth got ahead of my brain, as usual-- "too good for that."

He winced. "I'm not a saint."

"No, I just meant, you deserve better."

"And you don't?" His eyes on mine were very clear, very direct, and right then--pow. I could *totally* see falling for him, as hard as I'd fallen for Rob years ago. And Connor wouldn't suddenly realize that he liked girls better.

"I'm happy the way I am." I said it a little too fast, a little too forcefully, for either of us to believe it. But I wanted to wipe away that compassionate *look.*

Well, it worked; he got upset, instead. "Kon-El, I'm sorry, I didn't mean--"

I waved it away. "No, it's good. You're not a saint and I'm not a, a slut. We just want different things."

"I-- I guess." His face was full of confusion, but I wasn't in the mood to talk anymore.

"Listen, it's getting late. I better go. See you around the Tower, 'kay?" I was at the door before he'd even stood up and slipped outside before he could call me back.

I was out into the night air and high, high up before I let myself think about it. For a moment, I let myself indulge the fantasy: I'd go back to the Tower, and he'd have left a message. We'd go out again, and....

Never. Gonna. Happen. Get that *now,* Kon, before you start believing otherwise.

We'd drive each other crazy. I wasn't what he was looking for, Hero was absolutely right about that. He...well, all honesty, he was too *much* for me. Too serious, too damn serene. He'd make me nuts, and then I'd get bored. End of story.

If I said it enough times, I could start to believe it.

It was late when I got back, but I wasn't ready to head for my room yet. Toni was in the living room, curled up on the couch and idly flipping channels on the big screen.

I flopped down on the couch next to her. "Hi."

"Hi, Kon. How is it possible that we get pretty much every channel broadcasting on Earth, plus a couple of imports, and there's nothing decent on?"

I snickered. "Isn't that always the way." I stared blindly at the TV for a few more seconds before asking. "Hey, Toni...you up for a late-night snack? I know this great ice-cream place...."

She smiled at me, kinda gently. She'd known about the date tonight, of course, and the fact I was home before morning spoke for itself. "Love to."

Maybe we'd just end up talking. That'd be nice. No games, just 'Titans Together', the way it was supposed to be. And both of us could pretend that was enough.

***

In Kon-El's room, the message light on the phone blinked on and off and on again.



{end}

Apologies to Roy for possible Wallyishness.

"Slayers"--in my universe, the all-Joss Mutant Enemy network shows the Buffy-spinoff "Slayers," along with "Ripper" and the ongoing "Firefly" series. It's a happy fantasy world I live in, yes it is.

Additional thanks to Smitty for suggestions, nagging, and beta. Now you may all nudge her for the sequel she's writing.


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