30/30 - Start Back to One

30/30 - Start Back to One

by Darklady and Chicago

Disclaimers and other information in "Opening Credits"

Rating: R

Monitor duty was blessedly slow. Either the forces of chaos had decided to take the day off or - more likely - they were just resting up for the next round. In either case - the planet in the middle of the monitor screen was... not untroubled - no planet of umpteen billion people even managed untroubled - but at least currently unafflicted by any disaster which would justify calling out the JLA.

Even Batman had non-verbally conceded the point, having propped Bruce Wayne's never-ending pile of business reports on top of the keyboard.

Green Lantern was also reading - although from his feet-up posture the topic was decidedly less grim.

"Here's a good one." Kyle tapped a button - sending the printer nearest the Bat into a discreet whirl. "Skiing."

Batman picked up the sheet without comment.

Kyle clicked off his screen. "I took Jade to Sun Valley last year. Stayed at the old Lodge. Wonderful weekend."

"Really?"

"Definitely recommended." " Kyle continued - undeterred by chill response. He was - after all - without fear. "Perfect powder all day, and afterwards you can snuggle in front of the roaring... Oops..." Right, Kyle remembered. Martians. Fire. Not good. "Or maybe not."

The silence thickened as Batman stared unwaveringly at the situation screen. "What else have they got?"

He could definitely feel the altitude as he finally crested the forested rise and set his skis back parallel for the more level track. He caught a glimpse of Kenshu Mei's powder blue parka paused on the path far ahead of him and forced back a hint of competitive irritation. Of course it was easier for her - Martians didn't mind thin air.

He rapidly disciplined the internal complaint, lecturing himself about shugyo as he pushed his poles into the crusted snow and levered himself forward into the established trail. He was quite certain Kyle had something more resort-like in mind when he suggested skiing, and Bruce had to confess to visions of high speed downhill, but once J'onn entered into the planning? Bruce Wayne was startled to learn that New Concept Industries owned a cabin in the Rockies, isolated in a little private valley accessible only on foot or by helicopter in an emergency. And once the idea of using it was planted? J'onn insisted that it be their final date, that they make an overnight visit if they couldn't swing a whole weekend...

He caught up to Mei just as she was closing what seemed to be an oversized mailbox or some kind of wooden food safe perched near the side of the trail. Her backpack was resting at her feet, the top pocket open. "There you are," she remarked cheerfully as Bruce coasted to a stop. Her voice had a brittle loudness in the still cold, and it reached him faintly muffled through his hat and hood.

Bruce offered a smile that he knew would be invisible under the scarf wrapped over his face. "Can't ditch me that easily," he shot back, pleased that he didn't sound as breathless as he felt. "What are you doing?"

Mei bent to close up her backpack, her gloved fingers fumbling with zippers and clasps. "Just leaving some pipe tobacco and books for Slow Fox." She glanced up at him as she hefted her pack and slung it over her shoulders, resettling the straps. "That way he knows we arrived and he'll stay clear of the cabin."

"Caretaker?" Bruce reached out to help resituated Mei's pack.

"Something like that," Mei agreed. "Thanks." She took up her ski poles, which were leaning against a tree, and carefully lifted first one ski and then the other to resettle them in the track. "All right. Maybe fifteen minutes more. You holding up okay?"

There was a hint of teasing in Mei's tone, followed by a little laugh that suggested she felt Bruce's answering scowl. "I can keep up," he replied.

A motion of Mei's hood suggested one backward glance as she said, "Good!" Then she was off, moving swiftly across the snow.

She was taking her skis off outside the "cabin" when Bruce caught up with her again, her scarf and hood pulled down so Bruce could see the cold rosiness of her cheeks. Bruce wished there were more of a slope leading down to her so he could spray her with snow, but instead he had to struggle up a mild grade to the side of what seemed more like an Alpine chateau than a cabin. "Still worried about getting in a workout tonight?" Mei teased, lifting her skis and leaning them against the wall beside her.

Bruce maneuvered around so he could sit beside her. "You should worry you wore me out for any kind of workout," he warned.

Mei giggled, one hand over her mouth politely. "Poor Bruce. Do I need to teach you Martian mind tricks?"

Bruce set his ski poles aside and pulled his scarf down, watching his released breath cloud the air in warm puffs. "I think you might have to practice some Martian massage tricks." He stretched his arms and rotated his shoulders. They would be a little stiff in the morning, the muscles twinging from the less familiar lateral work he'd been demanding of them.

Mei smiled and stood, slipping one foot between Bruce's skis in order to lean down and kiss his cheek. Her lips were warm against his chilled flesh. "Don't take too long to come in," she warned. "Your sweat will cool quickly."

He reached gloved hands out to rest against her well muffled body and pulled her closer in order to kiss her lips. "Mmm. And I've got the promise of something warm to come in to."

From this close, Bruce could see her eyes close beneath her sunglasses, and her teeth pressed against her lower lip as he released her from his kiss. "Don't make me wait too long," she said huskily. Then she cleared her throat and stepped clear of him. "See you inside."

Bruce caught her hand. "Promise?"

"All of me," she promised, slipping free of him and entering the cabin through a lean-to foyer.

Bruce undid his skis quickly and followed Mei's example, leaving them leaning on the outside wall. His first couple of steps were stumbling as he adjusted to moving in his ski boots, but he was soon out of those as well, stripping them off in the foyer and setting them neatly beside the pair Mei had left. Parka and ski pants followed, hung on hooks clearly there for that purpose, and then he stepped into a spacious split-level dwelling, toasty warm despite the floor to ceiling windows that looked out over a spectacular view of the mountains.

Mei was nowhere to be seen, but the sound of running water offered a clue to her whereabouts. The sound led him to a spacious bedroom, now hopelessly cluttered with various layers of Mei's clothing. The water sounds were coming from behind a closed door to the left - a door upon which Mei had affixed a piece of legal paper scrawled with coral colored lipstick. Bruce's lips curled up into a smile as he read the note and reached for the buttons of his flannel overshirt. "Join me."

It was good they arrived when they did, Bruce reflected, watching the swirling snow settle over the landscape. The scent of mulling cider filled the air of the cabin, evoking still distant holidays. Ace draped lightly over Bruce's frame, easily taking the form of a royal blue silk kimono - the color a mental suggestion from Mei, who had commented on how well it suited Bruce's coloring as she tied his belt. He was warm, well fed on a solid meal of venison and potatoes, comfortable, yet...

A set of arms wound around his waist from behind, accompanied by the slightest of mental touches that relaxed his suddenly tensed muscles before his fighting instincts kicked in. It's just me.

Bruce turned in the circle of Mei's arms. "You are the only person who can sneak up on me," he told her, bringing his own arms up in a loose embrace.

She tightened her hold and leaned her cheek against his chest. "Something's troubling you."

He stroked his hand over the glossy length of her black hair. "Just wondering about your Native American friend."

"Native American friend?"

"The one you left the tobacco for?"

A chuckle sounded from Mei. "Slow Fox? He's not Native American."

"No?"

"No. Just a deluded New Yorker. He's a harmless old hermit, and he's fine. But you are trying to distract me rather than answer my question."

"I can never fool you, can I?"

"Not unless I want to be fooled," Mei agreed, leaning back from him so she could study his face. There was concern in her dark green eyes. "Talk to me, Bruce."

Bruce traced his fingers over her face before turning back to watch the snow. "I've been thinking about the last month," he confessed.

Mei shifted so she was standing beside him, her fingers lacing into his. He watched their reflections, the Gotham billionaire and the pretty Japanese woman in matching kimonos. The window reflection had something of the effect of a fuzzy filter, obscuring Bruce's scars, making them look like Hollywood representations of lovers. "Are you annoyed that Clark is going to win the bet?" Mei suggested.

One corner of Bruce's mouth quirked into an ironic smile, and internally, he smiled more deeply for the respectful way in which J'onn was NOT reading his thoughts, but rather letting him talk. "I knew Clark had the bet won on our first date," he revealed.

Mei glanced at him. "Really?"

"When Sinclaire Johnson gave the maitre-d' at Maison l'Argent that tongue lashing for being a racist? That was ... a learning moment."

He saw a smile flit across Mei's face in the reflection. "You were surprised that I would make a scene?"

"I don't think it was that so much," Bruce denied. "Sinclaire is not exactly a character given to suffer in silence. It was more..."

Bruce trailed off, thinking. The sky was darkening outside, reducing visibility still further as the snow continued to fall. Mei raised his hand to her lips and kissed the back of it, a gesture of patience, letting him know she would listen as long as he would talk.

"I - I think I'm actually a little ashamed of my reaction," Bruce decided.

"You wanted to ravage me right there on one of the restaurant tables?" Mei suggested, a hint of a smile back on her face. "I often have that reaction to you."

"N-no," Bruce paused, suddenly hearing what Mei had said and blushing slightly. "Not that I didn't - I mean -"

Now Mei laughed lightly. "I so rarely fluster you," she delighted.

Bruce gave her a sidelong look and then put an arm over her shoulders to give her a squeeze. "Another of your unique talents."

She leaned into him, relaxing into his warmth. "So are you going to tell me your reaction?"

He was quiet for a moment. "I was proud of you."

Mei did not respond immediately.

"I don't really have a right to be," Bruce continued. "You're not my child or my protégé. I don't own you. And it wasn't like it was about what Sinclaire was doing. It was you. When you were standing there cutting that maitre-d' down to size with perfect rapid fire French, I wasn't seeing Sinclaire, I was seeing you. J'onn. And I was thinking 'it's about time.'"

Mei frowned. "About time?"

"Everything that you were saying as Sinclaire, about equal rights and dignity and respect - I know you were playing a role, but ... but that's you, too. You deserve all those things, and so often you just..." Bruce trailed off, feeling an unwelcome note of accusation coming into his tone. He wasn't upset with J'onn, he just -

I understand, J'onn's voice whispered in his mind. With the words came an inexpressible surge of love and warmth, and a faint sense of surprise that still occasionally radiated from J'onn at realizing how deeply Bruce loved him. Someday, Bruce vowed to himself, that surprise would disappear.

Outside the window, the darkness had deepened. Now only the light from the cabin illuminated the falling snow, making a crazy, twisting sparkle of furiously swift white flakes seem to explode toward them out of nowhere. It was dizzying, but Bruce continued to watch, his thoughts elsewhere.

He was almost startled when Mei's arm gave him another squeeze before releasing him. "I'm going to get us some cider," she said. "Maybe we can retire to the couch to talk some more?"

She didn't wait for the nod Bruce gave her, instead heading directly for the kitchen. Bruce watched her go, appreciating the slenderly strong legs that the kimono showed to such advantage. He had at one point been impressed at the variety of beautiful bodies J'onn managed to craft, no two alike and none less beautiful than another. Now he was beginning to suspect that he would find beauty in any identity J'onn assumed.

He shook himself, now free of the mesmerizing effect of the snow storm, and turned to take a seat on the luxurious sofa that stretched nine feet long in front of a huge stone fireplace. His gaze settled emptily on the glass framed firebox as he once again lost himself in thought.

"We could light it, if you like," Mei's voice suggested, drawing him out of his reverie.

"Wh- no. J'onn - Mei - why-"

She handed him a mug of cider. "Isn't that the romantic thing to do when you're snowed in in the middle of nowhere? Curl up in front of a fire and - "

"And know that your lover is trembling in your arms from raw terror and not because of your technique?"

Mei shrugged and settled in on the sofa near to Bruce, bringing her legs up under her as she sipped on her beverage. "If it's behind the fire screen..."

"No," Bruce said flatly. He set his cider down on the broad coffee table and turned to watch Mei. She wasn't looking at him, was staring into the middle distance taking tiny sips of hot cider.

He moved closer to her, his motion bringing her eyes questioningly to his face. He said nothing, just gently relieved her of her mug, which he set on the coffee table beside his own. He kept hold of one of her hands and studied her face earnestly for a long moment.

Mei met his gaze steadily, and Bruce realized she was trying to open a way for him to talk about what he was feeling. He was not quite sure what inspired the fire suggestion, but it did jog something free in Bruce's mind, making him aware of a growing feeling he had not had words to express.

"J'onn," he finally said, "this identity is lovely. They've all been lovely. But..."

He trailed off, and without further encouragement, Mei's features gave way to green. It was J'onn sitting beside him, there in his trueform, eyes regarding Bruce curiously but without judgment.

Bruce ran his thumb over the green hand still clasped in his. "Thirty days. Thirty different lovers. It was... exciting."

J'onn nodded, resting the slender fingers of his free hand on Bruce's knee.

"I - I won't lie to you - couldn't lie to you. I like variety. I like sex, as much as Alfred would be appalled to have me say so so baldly. But..."

J'onn's fingers gave a little squeeze, but he didn't interrupt, seeming to sense that Bruce needed to finish what he was saying.

Bruce flashed him a grateful little smile before continuing. "I told you before, I fell in love with you, not any of the roles you play." Bruce stretched out a hand to touch J'onn's narrow cheek. "I like the array of beauties, I do. But I've been missing you."

J'onn's fingers left Bruce's knee to curl over the hand that Bruce still rested against J'onn's cheek. His eyes glowed. "I'm right here," he whispered.

Bruce leaned forward, softly pressing his lips to J'onn's. He let his hands travel over the dry green skin, exploring the long, slender body. He finally broke the kiss with a sigh, pressing his forehead to J'onn's. "You are so beautiful," he breathed.

J'onn remained still in his arms, and Bruce could sense a certain disbelief in him.

Bruce leaned back a little. "You are," he insisted. "Your form is so... perfect to what you are, to who you are."

"Alien," J'onn stated quietly, gazing down at the hands that had settled into his lap.

"J'onn," Bruce corrected. Then softly, almost hesitantly, "Light to the light."

J'onn's eyes shot up, and he studied Bruce wonderingly. "You remember that?"

"It is what your mother named you. I could not forget."

A sigh escaped J'onn, and he smiled tentatively. "You are a wondrous man, Bruce Wayne."

"Not yet," Bruce disagreed mildly. "I am still learning."

J'onn's smile grew, and he reached his arms around Bruce, drawing him down to lie beside him on the couch. He shifted as he moved to a more humanoid variation of his trueform, pressing a slim finger to Bruce's lips when his lover frowned. "Martians were not made to lie on their backs," he pointed out. "This is more comfortable for me."

Bruce nodded, resting his head on J'onn's shoulder. He breathed in the sandstone scent of his lover, content.

"What else have you learned?" J'onn wondered, resting a hand on the leg Bruce hooked possessively around his midsection and running his fingers over it in little circles.

Bruce's hand stroked over J'onn's chest, half surprised to find small breasts there to cup and cradle. "You don't-" he began, but J'onn shushed him.

"Would you rather I grew chest hair to give your hands something to do?"

Bruce chuckled. "No," he allowed, letting the backs of his fingers trail down J'onn's side, smoothing his hand over green skin. He wondered if Ace's version of silk felt different to J'onn's senses than zo'ok's did. "I learned you cheat at football," he teased.

J'onn's hand gave his thigh a playful slap.

"Hey, it's true!" Bruce objected, rubbing his stinging flesh before settling his hand on J'onn's belly. He pulled himself a little closer to J'onn, nuzzling his cheek against J'onn's chest.

"Scratchy," J'onn remarked, bringing his fingers to rub along Bruce's jaw.

"Someone interrupted me before I could shave," Bruce observed.

"Mmm," J'onn replied, giving Bruce a little squeeze.

Bruce sighed comfortably, letting his hand again work its way up J'onn's torso as he thought. "I learned - no, realized-" he corrected, "that I have... issues... with control."

He waited for a smart comeback, but J'onn was listening now, recognizing the conscious struggle Bruce was having with this discovery.

"It would be very easy for me to... to use you," Bruce confessed.

J'onn tightened his arm, and the hand that had returned to Bruce's thigh went still.

"You can answer my physical desires so perfectly without me saying even a word. And having Batman and Bruce Wayne in the same place... I... have used... people before. People I love."

Bruce felt J'onn's face press against the top of his head in a gentle kiss. "You're getting better," he remarked.

Bruce shook his head. "I need to learn... better... how to separate -" He paused, frustrated.

"You don't want emotion to cloud your judgment in battle," J'onn offered, earning a nod from Bruce. "But -" he prompted.

Bruce contemplated. "I don't want... I guess I don't want us to always be about what I want."

"We're not, you know."

"I know. Just... this bet..."

"I seem to recall that I picked the dog show," J'onn reminded him.

"Yeah, but Desiree? That form?"

"And that day at the gym."

Bruce lifted his head a little. "J'onn."

"I'm just saying that we've both -"

"J'onn," he said again, frowning slightly.

J'onn fell silent, his eyes staring at the ceiling as his hand traced circles against Bruce's shoulder.

Bruce kept his tone gentle, not quite certain how to address what was bothering him without ordering or demanding. "We need to talk about that night in the Watchtower."

J'onn's hand paused for an instant, then began those lazy circles again. "Okay," he assented, a hint of reluctance in his voice.

"I was... upset that you weren't a beautiful woman."

J'onn didn't say anything.

Bruce pushed up, pulling free of J'onn's hand and propping himself up with one arm. He watched J'onn's face. "You... Kristin... was upset that I didn't want her."

J'onn nodded slowly. He was still staring at the ceiling.

"Sit up," Bruce directed, pulling his own legs up.

J'onn obeyed, sitting cross-legged and looking down at his lap.

Bruce reached out, touching J'onn's cheek. "It wasn't just the persona that was crying."

"No," J'onn whispered.

Bruce waited, not sure how far he should push, not used to taking the lead in this kind of conversation. Finally, "You were upset that I didn't want you."

J'onn raised his eyes mutely, and Bruce saw the hurt in them.

"Oh, J'onn," he breathed, reaching out to hug his lover to him tightly. "I always want you. I love you. You are-"

Words failed him, and he tightened his hold desperately. "Please understand. Even when I'm being stupid. I need you. J'onn..."

J'onn's arms came up slowly, wrapped around Bruce. His face pressed into Bruce's shoulder, and they held each other in silence until J'onn finally raised his head and began kissing Bruce's face, softly but with a certain urgency. Their lips finally met, for reassurance rather than out of desire or lust, and Bruce began to stroke J'onn's back soothingly.

J'onn relaxed his hold at last, pulling back with a self-conscious kind of gasping laugh, pressing his forehead to Bruce's. He licked his lips and seemed to search for words. "You're not the only one in this relationship who's learning, Bruce," he said hoarsely.

Bruce closed his eyes and let one hand come up to the back of J'onn's head, pulling him forward for another kiss. He sent a tentative invitation through Ace: please, J'onn, open your mind to me...

There was the soft tickle of telepathic contact, and Bruce tried to convey how much he loved, how deeply...

J'onn pushed him back, toppling him onto the couch without breaking contact with his mouth. He straddled Bruce, kisses moving from lips to jaw line to throat to shoulder, then he settled his body against Bruce's, skin to skin, Ace taking its cue and shrinking down to a circlet on Bruce's wrist. Bruce brought his hands around the slim green back, feeling J'onn's body rippling against him, the soft press of J'onn's lips over the artery in his neck.

I need you, too, J'onn projected. //Half of my whole.//

Bruce's mind thrilled at their vow, at their truth, his body alive under J'onn's touch. He touched J'onn's chin with his fingertips, leading lips again to lips. The kiss was tender, deep and soft at the same time. Knowing and known. Theirs, like everything else. Greater than 30 different entries into what was possible, a testament to what was. //Whole of my half,// Bruce finished the phrase, and in the silence of a snowy mountain night, they completed one another.

back to previous partendnext part