Follow up to Only Human
Events take place within days of the end of JLA #58
Characters belong to DC Comics, borrowed w/o permission but also not for profit.
"Slow down, Flash," Superman ordered, managing to make his voice assume the half-amused patience that the moment required. "Batman took -"
His start of an explanation was interrupted - as he knew it would be - by a blaring siren noise and the arrival of Plastic Man's head in the shape of a police light. The rest of his body followed closely behind as he yelled, "Someone kidnapped J'onn! He was just -"
"Plastic Man!" Superman barked, his tone prompting the other man to snap into drill sergeart shape. Superman chose to ignore the unwanted visual commentary.
"As I was saying, Batman took J'onn to Mars."
The Flash slapped his hand to his forehead. "Of course. We should've thought of that. Mars. So is he better?" There was an anxious undercurrent to the question.
Superman hesitated. "He is healing," he said neutrally.
"I don't like the way you said that. Did Bats put the whammy on him again or something? I swear, that man -"
"Batman is helping J'onn, Plastic Man, and I'd thank you to remember that," Superman reprimanded. "It's just going to take some time before J'onn's back to normal."
Wally stepped forward to rest a hand on Superman's arm. "Hey. J'onn pulled a little mind game on us so we wouldn't know his plan. Don't beat yourself up about it."
Superman smiled faintly at Wally's misperception and decided to go with it. "I know," he agreed. "It's still difficult. I was feeling pretty desperate about how heavy the moon was, and it didn't even occur to me that J'onn was getting consumed by flames."
"It didn't occur to any of us until he said he was dying," Wally reminded him. "Look, go home and get some sleep. Me and Plas have got this shift sewn up."
"Yep, that's right!" Plastic Man added. "Me and the Flash-man, we'll keep the world safe for democracy and all that. You catch some z's."
Superman nodded. "Not a bad idea. Good night, gentlemen."
Superman walked to the teleport tubes, already tuning out the traditional spat about who would take what responsibilities. He knew it was for his benefit, and as soon as he was out of range, Flash and Plastic Man would be taking advantage of the Watchtower equipment to down- load the latest fastest video game - or worse. Another night he might go back and warn them he was onto them and order them to behave, but his heart wasn't in it tonight.
He was already in the teleporter when he thought he heard Plastic Man say, "Hey, this tape's been edited-"
Sat remembering the way Bruce had wrapped sheltering arms around J'onn.
The way J'onn had leaned so trustingly into Bruce, let Batman's sturdy but not unbreakable frame take his weight.
The way they both had seemed unwilling to break contact with one another, even as they stepped into the teleporter.
It wasn't that the idea of it bothered him - was it? He knew of - indiscretions - between Arthur and Diana, had been guilty of the same himself. And he'd been at least peripherally attached to the League during Dinah and Ollie's romance. This kind of liaison wasn't necessarily good for the team, but it didn't really hurt it.
Of course, they were both men - or at least male - but Clark Kent had dozens of gay colleagues and there were certainly gay superheroes. He thought hard, wondering if Smallville had built into him a kneejerk homophobia that he just needed to work through.
But they aren't really a couple, he reminded himself. It was just a moment, a need met...
A need met. A need - a role - he suspected he could not have answered.
The light flared on, causing him to blink fiercely.
"Oh! Clark, what are you doing here sitting in the dark?" Lois demanded from the kitchen doorway.
Clark sighed. "Just thinking, Lois. I'm sorry."
At his sigh, Lois was already moving to stand behind him and wrap her arms around his shoulders. "More like brooding. Is J'onn worse?"
Clark shook his head. "No, not at all. On the mend, actually."
Lois released him and crossed to the kitchen cabinet to get a glass.
"So what's got you doing the Batman act?" She opened the fridge for some milk.
He thought for a moment. "Lois? Am I - hard to talk to?"
Lois replaced the milk in the refrigerator and picked up her glass, returning to the table and sitting beside Clark. "Hard to talk to? I don't think so. Bad day on the moon?"
"No - not - I just wonder sometimes if I'm a good enough friend. I mean, I lead that team, but -"
Lois snorted. "J'onn leads the team, Clark., even if it's just by deferring the leadership to you."
"Point taken. But still, shouldn't I be more - sensitive, or aware, or-"
"Clark, stop. You can't be everyone's best friend. That's not how teams work. What on earth happened up there?"
"Nothing. I just covered the end of Batman's shift."
Lois cocked her head as she studied him. "And what was Batman doing that he couldn't finish his shift?"
Clark shifted uncomfortably under Lois' gaze. "Taking care of J'onn."
Lois sat watching him another moment as she sipped at her milk.
"Batman figured out a way to help J'onn that hadn't occurred to you," she interpreted finally.
Clark started. "Well - yeah, but -"
"Please, Clark. When you get these weird self-doubt moments it's ALWAYS because someone was able to rescue someone or ease their suffering before you could figure out a way to do it. And it's usually Batman who did it. If I didn't know you so well, I'd say you're jealous." She finished her milk and stood, taking his hand. "But I do know better. You want to save everyone, and you've convinced yourself in some corner of your brain that that's actually possible. You can't, Clark, but you still do more good than any of the rest of us could even with our best efforts."
Clark tightened his fingers around hers. "Lois, what would I do without you?"
"Find some other fair damsel to rescue, probably," Lois responded dryly, although he could tell she was teasing as she freed her fingers and took her glass to the sink.
"Never," he vowed, knowing as well as she did that it wasn't true, but also knowing she understood the deeper truth beneath it.
"So are you coming to bed, Smallville?"
He hesitated. "Maybe in a bit."
She acquiesced easily, her hand at the switch as she paused again at the kitchen door. "On or off?" she asked.
"Leave it on - I'll get it," he responded. He'd prefer the dark, but not at the risk of another jab about acting Battish.
Her hand fell away from the switch. "I'll keep the bed warm," her voice trailed behind her as she disappeared down the hall.
He nodded, although she couldn't see him, already lost in thought again. Jealousy? Was that it? He'd had to soothe J'onn during his own monitoring shift a day earlier, and the Martian had never reached out as he had to Bruce. Of course, J'onn had not been so dramatically out of control, just hurting and weary and confused.
Clark closed his eyes against the sudden suspicion that Batman had known how J'onn would react when he awakened alone for the first time since his battle with Protex's army. The Dark Knight had sent the whole rest of the League away, insisting they needed a break from their vigil with his usual inarguable logic. It seemed that as usual, he had forced the event that would solve the crisis.
That was Batman all over - the brains of the outfit, the one who always had the plan, and the wherewithal to insist that it be carried out to the letter. If he weren't so abrasive, he would lead the League. But it was just the way Lois suggested, effectively a triumvirate leadership: the League held together around J'onn, orchestrated by Batman, and mobilized by the charisma of Superman. The three of them - old friends, together long enough to read one another, to argue and know that it would not end their friendships, to anticipate each other's moves even at their most illogical, except now...
Now J'onn J'onzz and Bruce Wayne were linked in a way that Clark Kent would never be a part of. And the more he thought about it, the more he realized they always had shared that bond. He remembered the taste of their combined voices as they talked him out of the despair he'd felt against Mageddon. At the time, he'd focused on how Bruce had lectured him, galling him to action. Now he remembered the almost constant contact from J'onn, holding the tenuous link between Bruce and Clark open, undoubtedly buffering the despair at the heart of the construct reaching back towards Bruce. There were other times, too - after being caught in the machinations of the Know Man, only Bruce had been able to really reach J'onn through his enraged grief. And what of J'onn's reaction to Batman's stolen plans to neutralize the League? He'd kept files himself...
It wasn't that Superman was in a unique position to understand J'onn's alien aloneness and Bruce's determined vow against crime. It was that J'onn and Bruce uniquely understood the way Clark needed to feel needed.
"The third wheel," he murmured softly to himself. "That's so ridiculous."
But identifying the feeling didn't make it go away.
Clark Kent rose heavily, suddenly too exhausted to think. He hit the lights on the way out of the kitchen, letting the dark embrace him as he headed for the comforting arms of his wife.