30/30 - Fair Fare
Disclaimers and other information in "Opening Credits"
Rating: PG-13, possibly R
Bruce caught her hand and teasingly tasted one sugary finger. "What did you expect from cotton candy?" he asked, pulling a tiny tuft off the diminishing ball of confection.
Kelli smiled and tiptoed to kiss him, the cotton candy dissolving between their tongues when Bruce leaned down to deepen the kiss. Kelli finally pulled away and wiped the back of her forearm over her mouth with a grin. "Sticky," she said again, green eyes glinting mischievously.
Bruce chuckled a little and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, hugging her from the back and kissing the space behind her ear. "So does that mean you like it?" he murmured into her hair.
"I like you," she replied, leaning back into him for a moment before slipping out of his embrace and dropping the last of the cotton candy into a green painted oil barrel that served as a trash can.
Bruce raised an eyebrow. "A little wasteful?"
"I can feel my teeth rotting," she answered sunnily, and Bruce shook his head at her. J'onn had picked perfectly for an afternoon at the Gotham State Fair. "Kelli" was a perfect archetype of the kind of former ingénue turned idealist that staffed so many of the non-profits supported by the Wayne Foundation. Business-like when need be but never with the high polish of professionalism that characterized the Fortune 500 set. Smart - often very smart - but always retaining a "gee whiz" sensibility just under the veneer of big city activism. Only J'onn would pick up the occasional surge of desire Bruce felt for this type of woman, so far out of his usual social set as to be a laughable match.
"C'mon!" Kelli urged, pulling at his hand. This much sweetness might rot Bruce's teeth eventually, but now "Kelli's" delight was only charming - especially as it came close to J'onn's very real delight at experiencing new things. He indulged her now as her short braids bounced against her shoulders and she wove through the crowd with a sense of determination.
She stopped finally in front of a contest booth, set up with wooden pins and baseballs. A hawker challenged passersby to knock over the pins with a ball, three chances for a dollar, and look at the lovely prizes! Bruce and Kelli caught his eye and he began to direct his patter: "Win a teddy for your sweetheart. Don't let that pretty face go home disappointed..."
Bruce glanced down at Kelli. "It's rigged, you know," he pointed out.
"Just one dollar here! Not too much to spend on such a pretty lady..."
"Give me a dollar."
"You do understand the way the pins are weighted -" He was reaching for his wallet.
"Dick told you all that," she pointed out, her hand held out for the requested dollar. "And I don't want you to win me anything. I'm going to win myself."
She tossed her head defiantly as she stepped up to the booth and handed over the dollar. The barker grinned appreciatively. "She's got spunk!" he noted. "You've got your hands full with this one." He handed over three baseballs. "Right behind that line, young lady. Show your man what it takes."
Kelli followed instructions, drawing her arm back and launching a pitch that went wide of the pins by a good margin.
"Gonna hafta straighten out that curve," the carnival man encouraged. "I can let your boyfriend take part of your -"
"He couldn't hit the broadside of a barn," Kelli snorted, laughter dancing in her eyes as she gave Bruce a teasing look.
Bruce shrugged. "She has a point."
Kelli unleashed another throw, hitting the pins this time but with so little force that they remained undisturbed. "Just getting warmed up," she assured, rubbing the final baseball in her hands.
"And throwing like a girl," Bruce observed.
Kelli turned to him and struck a pose. "Go figure," she threw back. "Chest gets in the way."
Bruce noticed that he was not the only one appreciating the truth of that particular remark - and he repressed a tangled flash of jealousy and pride to share a look with the carnival man such as men share in such moments. He knew Kelli saw it (or rather, J'onn did), but she had turned back to her task and stood staring at the pins, sticking out the tip of her tongue in concentration. She reared back finally and unleashed a perfect strike, sending the pins sailing.
"Damn!" the carnival man started. "You have got some kind of arm there, miss."
Kelli smiled sweetly. "It was me and six brothers, plus two neighbor boys. They stuck me in the outfield for both sides until I figured out how to throw a strike home on the fly. And I'll take that one." She pointed to a bright green teddy bear.
The barker pulled down the requested plush toy. "Matches your eyes," he noted.
"Family trait." Kelli handed the bear to Bruce. "For you."
He accepted the bear, noting it did in fact match Kelli's eyes. He studied it for a moment then tucked it under his arm. "So where -"
He paused, following her suddenly distant gaze. There was a sign tacked up on a telephone pole in the middle of the midway, garishly promoting the evening's entertainment. Bruce stepped closer to Kelli, putting his arm around her shoulders and drawing her away from the contest booth. "Do you want to go?" he asked.
A sudden blush colored Kelli's cheeks. "Oh. No, I - well -"
"We can, you know. If you want to."
She looked up into his face earnestly. "I've just - I've never seen them before. On TV a little, enough to know what they are, but..."
Bruce tightened his hold and kissed the top of your head. "A little scary?"
She nodded. "Yes. I know it's not open flame exactly, but -"
"It's okay," he reassured, rubbing his hand over her upper arm. "Do you want to try to watch? We could leave if it's too much."
Kelli looked up into his eyes uncertainly. "We don't have to. I know you have things you have to do tonight-"
Bruce pulled out his cell phone and began punching in numbers. Kelli watched him wide eyed.
"Bruce, you really don't-"
"You want to see them?" he asked again as he put the phone to his ear.
Kelli responded mutely, J'onn's eyes speaking to him from beneath the facade.
"Hi, Barbara! Bruce." Bruce spoke into the receiver.
Barbara's careful reply was rich with unspoken comments. "Mr. Wayne! What can I do for you?"
"Listen, you know about that project I've been working on?"
Wariness tinged with amusement crept into Barbara's tone. "Yes. What about it?"
"Well, I was wondering if you could do a little outsourcing for me on tonight's schedule. Looks like I'm going to need more time out here."
"Things are going well, then?" Definite amusement now, undercut with vague irritation.
"Pretty well, yeah," Bruce acknowledged, glancing down at Kelli's face.
"I'll take care of this evening, then," she replied, "but I'll expect an update through the usual channels on this project of yours."
Bruce tilted the phone down under his chin. "She wants an update later," he told Kelli.
He got a nod in return.
"You'll get one," Bruce promised. "Thanks, Barbara."
"You're welcome." The undertone was almost a threat not to make a habit of this. Bruce closed his phone.
"You didn't have to do that," Kelli pointed out, but her eyes were shining.
"I know," Bruce acknowledged, steering her through the crowd. "But it's not everyday a guy has a chance to show a girl fireworks for the first time."
There was a steady traffic heading toward the open air stands which overlooked the Gotham River, and Bruce was mentally considering the remembered layout of the stands when he realized Kelli was hanging back, slowing their pace. He stopped.
Her eyes were hidden by the brim of the cap, but a nervous smile played on her lips. "Just-" she shrugged.
Bruce caught her arm and pulled her out of the flow of traffic. "We don't have to do this, you know," he reminded her gently.
Kelli tipped her chin up to meet his eyes. "But you made arrangements and-"
He stopped her protest with a kiss, angling his face past the cap brim. "So we spend time together somewhere else, if you want. We don't have to watch the fireworks."
Kelli's eyes, still closed from the kiss, fluttered open to reveal troubled depths. "I want -" She took a deep breath. "I want to do this."
Bruce studied her face. "Are you sure? It's -"
Kelli took his free hand and gave it a tight squeeze. "Please. I'll be more upset with myself if I had this opportunity and didn't try."
Bruce nodded. "We'll leave right away if it's too much, okay?"
"Okay." Kelli's chin jutted out in determination. "Let's go."
Kelli led the way this time, and Bruce felt a sense of admiration for J'onn. True, fireworks did not quite have that open flame quality that would completely unhinge him, but he understood the reluctance. What if a stray spark made it to ground and started a fire? What if a particular effect was too fiery? J'onn had explained the ways in which he had schooled himself to handle the presence of open flame, to avoid an extreme reaction to it when in human form. J'onn had regarded that as necessary. The idea of watching dancing fire for entertainment? It was like Russian Roulette, the utter opposite of "fun" in J'onn's mind.
But humans loved fireworks, and J'onn wanted to be able to understand.
They crossed through the pavilion gates, and Kelli stopped. "Where-?"
"Lawn seating," Bruce suggested, taking her hand and drawing her after him. He already had the spot in mind, near to an exit, not quite prime viewing and therefore frequently the last part of the lawn to fill in. Kelli followed him trustingly.
Bruce finally stopped, turning to look across the crowd and over to the opposite bank of the river. "We should have brought a blanket," he rued.
"We did," Kelli noted, and he blinked to see she had a blanket folded over her arm. A blue blanket of a particular shade...
Bruce raised an eyebrow. "Zo'ok?"
Kelli spread the blanket over the ground and settled onto it. "Martian's best friend," she remarked, patting the spot beside her.
Bruce sat and set down the bear and the aardvark. Kelli immediately grabbed the aardvark and studied it. "I still can't believe they had this."
"Niche marketing. Doesn't take that much to recalibrate the-"
Kelli's finger was over his lips. "No Bruce Wayne, businessman," she scolded. She held the toy up by her face. "Y'know, I think it kinda looks like me."
Bruce shook his head and took the aardvark away from her. "No, it doesn't," he said firmly, pulling her to him. "You look like you, and nothing else comes close."
Kelli relaxed unresistingly into his pull, allowing him to wrap his arms around her. "Bruce, you say the sweetest things. And don't worry," she added, "I won't report that."
Bruce hugged her to him and then let her shift around until she was resting her back against his chest and gazing out toward the river.
"When are they going to start?" she asked.
Bruce glanced at the sky. "Probably another 15 minutes. Let it get a little darker."
Kelli nodded. "That's right. Y'know, I used to spend the first week of July in the Amazon to avoid fireworks?"
"You had to go to the Amazon?"
"There are Americans everywhere, Bruce. Someone was bound to set off some noise and light show to celebrate the fourth. Not in the deep Amazon, though." She snuggled back against him, and he held her close. "When I was on the force, I used to take the worst duty anyone could come up with rather than work the fireworks show."
"You don't have to explain," Bruce reminded her. He reached out to remove her baseball cap, setting it to one side so he could kiss the top of her head.
She sighed. "I know. I guess-"
"Shhh," Bruce encouraged, this time kissing her temple. She turned her head, and they kissed deeply - deeply enough to trigger a stronger telepathic link between them. Bruce could feel the mix of anxiety and excitement thrilling through J'onn, along with an odd undercurrent. It was... a desire to be protected? Something close to that, a sentiment so utterly foreign to J'onn that Bruce was half-convinced he was misinterpreting it. But with that desire was a powerful sense of trust, an unshakable faith that Bruce would not allow J'onn to come to harm.
When they finally broke the kiss and met each other's eyes, embarrassment colored Kelli's cheeks and she dropped her gaze. "I -"
"Don't," Bruce cut her off, wrapping his arms still more securely around his lover and lowering his face so he was speaking into Kelli's ear. "I'm honored," he whispered.
Kelli said nothing, but she rested her hands on his forearms where they crossed her chest, and they sat for a while in silence as the crowd began to fill in around them. Then something must have happened, for a cheer arose from those spectators closest to the riverbank and spread through the crowd. Kelli stiffened in Bruce's arms and he gave a reassuring squeeze.
Music began to swell through speakers planted throughout the pavilion, and a hush fell over the crowd as they recognized one of a half dozen pieces of classical music traditionally played for fireworks displays. Anticipation built with the opening chords, eyes turning skyward as the measure for the first explosion approached.
J'onn could feel that anticipation, Bruce knew, breaking over them like a wave. In his arms, Kelli shivered a little, but she kept her gaze focused on the sky...
Violet and silver, twisting tangles of sparks stretching down toward the river, shading through red and orange on the way down.
The crowd roared approval and Kelli gasped, a sharp "Oh!" escaping her. A mix of enchantment and easing fear stretched back to Bruce through their telepathic link.
"It's okay?" he asked her carefully as another series of booms lit the sky.
Another explosion sounded, and blue-green sparks lit faces in sickly colors - but Kelli was smiling. "So beautiful," she breathed, pressing her back against Bruce's chest, dropping one hand to rest on his thigh.
Bruce nodded, still alert, but relaxing a little. Kelli shuddered with almost every effect, her body staying pressed to Bruce's, taking shelter almost. The pressure of her body and the emotions and raw excitement zinging through her and touching his mind - both forces were proving heady. One of his hands had shifted almost unconsciously to cup her breast through her clothes, and he found himself suddenly aware of her scent - a mix of sweat and lingering soap and a sweet, berry-like scent in her hair.
"Bruce," she breathed, and he felt her fingers against his thigh, brushing through the hairs on his leg, phasing through his jeans as if they weren't even there.
A rapid series of fireworks froze her for a moment, and Bruce leaned down to kiss the juncture of neck and shoulder, sucking lightly on the flesh. His lips tingled as he felt J'onn stretch out cells, mingling their flesh together for a moment. Bruce shivered as he nibbled a line up Kelli's neck to her ear and took her earlobe in his teeth for the space of a breath. He felt "Kelli's" fingers thinning against his thigh, slipping down into his bloodstream.
Across the river, a sudden series of flame towers spouted up.
Kelli cried out, twisting her body in Bruce's arms, turning to bury her face in his shoulder. She didn't withdraw her hand as she moved; in fact, J'onn seemed to pour more of his essence into Bruce, drawing a gasp from his lover as they cuddled close.
"It's okay," Bruce soothed. "I've got you. It's okay." He could feel Kelli's face pressed against his shoulder, skin to skin, effortlessly ignoring the t-shirt between them. She still had a hand on his thigh, and one of her knees brushed against his groin.
He pressed his lips to the top of her head, holding her close, his eyes half focused on the fireworks, his body focused on the warmth of Kelli - of J'onn - pressed against him, their cells intermingling. The quality of her trembling was changing.
"It's okay," Bruce continued to murmur. "The flames are gone."
Kelli nodded her face against his shoulder, and he felt her lips mouthing kisses over his pectoral muscle. Then she raised her head and peered back out at the night sky. A new explosion startled her, sending a surge of J'onn through Bruce's body and drawing a low moan from Bruce.
"J'onn," he whispered, his eyes squeezed closed for a moment. Kelli shifted, kissing his jaw bone. He leaned down to meet those lips, feeling the booming fireworks above them acting as counterpoint to his racing heartbeat.
The delight and energy of the crowd was buoying them, coursing through their joined minds to add to the heat flooding between them. J'onn's tangle of fear and wonder was tightening in Bruce's stomach as excitement, raw and wild. Their tongues stroked together and entangled, and even through closed lids, Bruce could sense the color flashing above them.
He pulled away, gasping for air. "J'onn," he said again, running the back of his hand over Kelli's cheek but seeing only the Martian shining out from her eyes. Blasts of red and blue blossomed in the sky, each explosion sending an involuntary shiver through Kelli's flesh - through J'onn, still curling through Bruce's body and passing the shiver along. Bruce's eyes fell half closed and he breathed through parted lips, only dimly aware of the crowd and sounds around him.
No one would be watching them, he knew, although this feeling of being touched so publicly created an echo of J'onn's anxious thrill at the fireworks in his own mind. He rolled his hips a little, pressing into Kelli, feeling J'onn flooding back into him.
"You're so beautiful," Kelli said, but her voice was husky, and the intonation was J'onn. Just J'onn. Perhaps the only person from whom he could accept the compliment. Perhaps the only person who could mean it so completely.
Bruce ran a hand down her shoulder, down her arm, seeking to anchor his wildly spinning thoughts, reassert control over his body. The music over the PA penetrated his consciousness, and he set his fingers on Kelli's chin, urging her to turn back to the sky. "The grand finale," he whispered, pulling her into him and resting his head on her shoulder. "Any minute -"
The sky exploded, the booms overlaying each other almost too fast to distinguish from one another. Colors burst through the night sky, strobing over the crowd, creating an artificial, multi-color day. The people around them oooohed and ahhhhed at the noise and light, and Bruce was lost in it, lost in J'onn, lost in the way J'onn lost himself in him, breathless...
And then the darkness fell again, and Bruce came back into himself. Kelli was curled in his arms, contentment almost palpable through her skin. She raised her face to kiss the point of his chin. "Who knew Clark had such good ideas?" she asked.
Bruce smiled down at the green eyed beauty in his arms. "You did. But I think in the end? I'm the one winning this bet."