"I don't believe you," Conner growled. "Where's Luthor? I'm supposed to be meeting him instead."
Cade half-heartedly shrugged and said, "It's the truth, Conner. Luthor sent me."
"Lex Luthor. That scheming, arrogant rich guy, Lex Luthor?"
Cade nodded along. "Yes. Scheming, arrogant rich guy."
Conner looked like he was going to crush her head.
Cade wasn't in the mind to fight him. She also decided that her dead body would be the biggest middle finger to Luthor, proving that this idea was terrible.
Conner's blue eyes flared. "So you were lying all this time?! To everyone?!"
"No! No, I didn't lie, I mean, I wasn't lying about being friends-"
"You're one of them, the bad guys. You're in the same league as Luthor." Conner couldn't hide the hurt in his voice.
What had been real, and what had been fake? Had she been acting to be his, their, friend the past six months? Had she been acting like a different person this entire time? What was her real personality? Was her real name even Cade, or is it something else? Was she actually a junior in high school?
Another question that bugged him was what were her ties to Luthor?
"Who are you?"
Cade shrugged. "I'm an American citizen, Lex Luthor's my guardian and I kind of work for him ever since he found me."
Of course, an answer like that wasn't enough to satisfy the multitude of questions boiling inside and Superboy's mouth twisted in a displeased scowl. "So you were lying to me and Megan all this time?"
"I didn't lie about my name, and I didn't pretend to be your friends." Cade sounded so sincere that it was unexpected to Conner. His tense shoulders slackened a fraction, now genuinely confused.
More perplexed than angry now, Conner asked, "Then why were you at Happy Harbor? Was that just a coincidence?"
She looked to the side, staring at a security camera. "No, it wasn't a coincidence. Luthor had me register there as a regular student."
Losing patience, Conner jabbed a finger her way. "So you were acting on his orders. You were told to go to our school and spy on us."
Wincing a little at how callous her actions sounded when he put it like that, Cade nodded.
"But it wasn't exactly spying," she tried defending herself. "It was more for observation purposes, to see how you were adapting to regular society. Cadmus, and Luthor, wanted to make sure that you were safely developing in a social environment."
The young hero snorted. "That's the same as spying."
Cade sighed, "I know it sounds like spying to you, but you should know that Cadmus and Luthor actually care about your well-being, you know. It's your life and you should do what's best for you, but to them, you're something special. It's why he sent me there. He knew that you didn't have a 'normal' upbringing and wanted me to help you with some social skills."
Conner frowned at that. He had known that Cade helped him get along with his classmates at Happy Harbor. Other than the rest of the Young Justice team, she was the first person who had been able to get along with him and she even taught him how to talk to humans and form friendships. Cade was able to explain to him how social interactions worked, what people meant behind their words, and what was okay or not okay to do in public. She spoke to him without being condescending. Even the Young Justice team had occasionally commented on the improvement of Conner's temperament, which had grown more mild and composed than before.
But he didn't like knowing that it was all because Lex Luthor, a suspicious guy, told Cade to do so.
Superboy was well aware that Cade was more than a smart teenager. Her social skills were top-notch. She was the one who helped him and Megan integrate into high school life. She was the one who was patient, from Megan's never ending questions about human lifestyle, to Conner's reluctance to engage in social behavior. She was considerate of other people's feelings and thoughts, knew how social dynamics worked, and understood how to get people to behave certain ways.
It was because of her sociability that Lex Luthor had sent her.
"And honestly, I didn't think of it as 'work'. I thought of you guys as real friends, Mal and Karen included, from the very beginning," Cade finished. "I'm sorry that it turned out to be like this though, I never intended to hurt you guys."
Hearing the apology and unable to detect any sign of deception in her voice and face, Conner's frown lessened.
Cade always had a way with words, no one at Happy Harbor could ever argue against her since she spoke with clear conviction all the time. Even his instincts weren't telling him that she was dangerous, but the fact that Cade was associated with Luthor meant that she couldn't be fully trusted.
"And why are you revealing this about yourself? What do you gain from this?"
There had to be an ulterior motive, Superboy thought. There was no way Lex Luthor was letting this entire thing, him sitting in Cadmus with Cade, for no reason other than personal gain.
Almost as if she had read his mind, Cade said, "Honestly, Luthor is the one who'd be benefitting from anything in this situation. I'm not really getting any gains from exposing myself, as you can see."
She gestured at the space between the two of them, as if to point out the strain in their relationship that had been growing since earlier in the day.
Conner rubbed the temples of his forehead. He was so sure that he was less than a millisecond from losing whatever shred of sanity he had as a lab-made Kryptonite.
"Okay, so why are you doing this? Why are you here? Honestly, even though you've been giving me answers, I just keep thinking of more questions and nothing you say is making any sense. All you're doing is running circles around my questions, you're not giving any straight answers, you're not being clear with your relationship with Lex Luthor, and I still can't trust anything you say."
It was the first time Conner had ranted so much human-like emotions in his words, and it even took poker-faced Cade aback. She blinked once or twice quickly, to Conner's satisfaction.
It felt nice to finally be the one to surprise her than the other way around.
"I-um, I can understand that," she said quietly. But the brief moment of being caught off-guard passed, and she cracked a small smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. If anything, the smile seemed sad and….resigned, Superboy observed.
She scuffed the ground with the heel of her shoe, a very self-conscious action that she rarely exhibited, if not at all. Cade was never self-conscious of anything.
"So… about why I'm here and why I'm doing this… it's all because of Luthor," Cade said in a low voice. "And you're not going to be happy about it."
Conner crossed his arms. "More than learning that you're an artificial human? And the lying?"
Cade grimaced. "Maybe."
"Spit it out then," Conner said impatiently. Cade usually didn't drag out conversations.
She turned her eyes to one of the security cameras perched on the upper corner of the lab. This was the tricky part. The cameras can pick up everything in its sight, but the microphones were sparse and couldn't detect anything lower than a whisper. Cade turned her chair and bent her head forward so that her mouth would be angled away from plain sight of the security cameras. Even if the microphone couldn't pick up sound, it'd be pointless if an expert lip-reader could pick out her words instead.
Cade breathed deeply and then locked eyes with Conner.
"I'm going to say this only once, so listen carefully and pay attention," she murmured. Her voice barely made a sound. Conner's eyes sharpened and Cade could tell that his ears were tuned in.
"Yes, I work for Luthor. I do some grunt work, like paper-pushing, putting together portfolios and profiles, and researching things for him. It's all in repayment for the fact he pulled me out of Cadmus. He never had me involved in anything deeper than a small-scale operation, but that changed recently. There's an organization that he's a part of and it's… dangerous."
Conner raised his eyebrows at that and opened his mouth to say something.
"I'm not done," Cade hissed. "He's making me do something that'll get me heads deep with this group… I need help. I want out."
Startled, Conner looked at her with wide eyes. Cade surreptitiously glanced at the security cameras again and then back at Conner as if trying to convey a silent message.
Come on, Cade internally pleaded. Take the bait.
Crossing the ballroom and ignoring most people who attempted to get his attention, Dick noticed that Jane looked different today.
"New look?" Dick asked as he walked up and gestured to his friend's appearance.
Jane looked over herself like she was a little self-conscious at the apparent change. Instead of her usual relaxed formal style of a simple outfit and basic accessories, Jane wore a puffy sheer black blouse that was tucked in a high waisted long silvery grey skirt.
Looking more closely, Dick spied a few rings circling her manicured fingers, a bejeweled watch, and matching necklace and earrings hanging on her neck and ears. She even had some smokey eyeshadow and glossy lipstick on. Not that any of it didn't look good on her, Jane just didn't look like a senator's daughter.
She looked like an heiress to a corporation.
Jane twisted the rings on her hand. "Yeah. I got dressed up today."
Dick grinned mischievously. "Did your dad finally accept lobby money? Luthor's not going to be happy to hear that."
Jane had a strange look on her face as if she wanted to laugh and apologize at the same time.
"No, nothing like that…," she trailed off.
Dick wanted to ask what was on her mind when their attention got called to the front of the ballroom. The host of tonight's get-together gave a welcoming speech full of frivolous words and shallow flattery along with a brief scan of the evening's agenda. Then, the host passed off the center of attention to Lex Luthor who had been standing to the side.
Dick raised an eyebrow at the man's entrance and glanced at Bruce across the venue. They exchanged a wordless conversation of wondering why Luthor was speaking right now; neither of them had been aware that Luthor was going to do something tonight.
The crowd gathered closely to the stage, all interested at what the famous businessman had to say, so Dick and Jane drifted towards the back edge.
Luthor's signature silver tuxedo reflected the chandelier lights every time he moved.
"Many of you know that though I present myself to the public quite openly, I have kept details about my private life as they should be - private," Luthor paused when a ripple of chuckles spread across the floor. "However, I've decided that it's time that I share with you all someone who is a major part of my life."
"Dick," Jane was trying to get his attention, but Dick's eyes were solely focused on Luthor at the podium.
"Sorry, I'm just trying to hear what Lex Luthor is saying," he said distractedly.
"It's fine, I just wanted to say that I'm sorry to tell you, but I'm not actually Jane."
That got Dick's attention. He turned robotically to the alleged Not-Jane.
"What do you mean, you're not 'Jane'?" Dick asked in confusion.
Luthor's voice boomed throughout the ballroom, the speakers resonating with his announcement.
"I'd like to formally introduce the debut of my adopted daughter, Cade. Cade, would you please come up here beside me?"
Not-Jane gave a small smile. She looked almost apologetic, almost regretful even.
"That's my cue," she said.
Shocked beyond words, Dick stared at the girl's back as she walked up to the stage and stood next to Lex Luthor.
As if she belonged there.
Though the people around him clapped and shouted their congratulations and excitement, Dick didn't move to join them. His ears tuned out everything, Dick's jaw tightened, his eyes widened at the sight. Seeing her stand next to Luthor, made his stomach turn in over itself; Dick was feeling queasy.
Almost in disgust, he saw how her silver skirt matched Luthor's suit. It was probably on purpose.
She smiled as a dozen cameras flashed in her face, not at all bothered by the sudden focus on her existence. Her jewelry sparkled in the constant lights and her smile didn't falter for a second as people clamored to ask her and Luthor questions. Luthor had the most satisfied smile the entire time, the kind of smile resembling a cat that caught the canary; Dick wanted to smack it off the billionaire's face.
And what angered him the most was that she hasn't looked at him since standing there.
Not even one look in his way. As if dismissive.
It was infuriating. Everything about this situation was absolutely maddening.
A deep voice at Dick's shoulder jolted him out of his anger.
"Did you know?"
Dick turned face to face with his father. Lines formed on Bruce's forehead when he noted the anger on his adopted son's face.
"I guess not," Bruce said evenly. "You didn't have the slightest idea?"
Dick tore his gaze away, looking back at….Cade. He thought back to the time when she had asked him about Bruce's ties to the Justice League.
Dick wanted to kick himself over the head. He should've digged deeper into that instance, he should've known that something was up, he should've done something. No, instead all he did was exchange numbers and write her off as a normal civvie and befriended her like the absolute fool he became in her eyes, probably.
"No," he muttered sullenly and glared at the girl on the stage.
Everything he thought to be the daughter of a Kansas senator, Plain Jane from Kansas, was a lie.
The thought burned and tasted bitter. Something inside him ached too, but Dick shoved it aside. There couldn't be room for that kind of emotion now, not with her in the picture.