All's Fair, part 16
by ChicagoDisclaimers in "part 0"
The soon to be not Atlantic Corridor if the flood of water filling the screen was any indication. The homing beacon had already shorted out.
They were doing it. Beta team was bringing the capital of Atlantis home.
He couldn't see them; the water churned too much for any of the JLA cameras to pick up the images of either Tempest or Zatanna. Only a bright purple glow suggested they were alive down there, doing their thing. A bright purple glow - and suddenly a city, its spires glistening briefly in the sunlight before the ocean waters closed over them. Within moments it was as if the corridor had never existed.
"Tempest, Zatanna, Aquaman, report!" Batman ordered, his eyes fixed on the signals from their JLA transmitters.
"We're through!" Aquaman's voice squelched over the speakers. "Some damage, but more or less in one piece."
"And Zatanna, Tempest?"
There was a pause. "Batman?"
"Go ahead, Zatanna."
Her voice sounded weak. "We're fine. Just get J'onn out fast," she advised.
Wally didn't need to be told twice. He was on the treadmill tapping his foot impatiently when Batman flew into the teleporter room three seconds behind him. The Dark Knight's fingers flew across the console, locking in the settings they'd established during their test runs. "Start now!" he finally ordered, and the Flash began to run.
25.7 seconds. That was precisely how long the process took on every test run. It felt like longer as Wally watched the odd glistening that filtered through the teleporter. 12 seconds. The potted plant had gone through okay. 17 seconds. So had the fish in their bowl (Wally had been glad Aquaman had not been around to see that). 21 seconds. But they had never left them between dimensions for more that ten minutes. 24 seconds, 25... .1... .2 .... .3.... .4 .... .5 .... .6 .... .7. Wally stopped running and stared at the teleporter tube.
For one anxious moment, he thought they had failed - had lost J'onn forever. Then his eyes picked out the form of the Martian - whether coalescing or straightening up he wasn't sure - behind the glass of the tube door. He thought he heard Batman exhale with relief, then decided he had imagined it as the Dark Knight strode forward to halt a few steps in front of the teleport tube.
The door to the tube finally slid open and J'onn stepped out, his face wearing a faintly amused expression. He turned a little to look up at the teleporter and give it an affectionate pat. "Who'd have thought I'd ever feel a sense of empathy with this machine?" he joked lightly, turning back to the others with a smile.
"J'onn, are you-" Wally trailed off as he realized that J'onn wasn't paying attention to him, had instead locked gazes with Batman and taken a step toward him. J'onn's face was still mild as he asked, "Status?"
Wally might have laughed. It was such a perfect Batman line, the exact thing Batman might say if he had been miraculously 'ported in from possible disaster. Except there was nothing teasing or mocking in J'onn's tone. In fact, there was rather a tenderness to it, as if he were approaching his teammate with terms he could understand to ease a difficult moment.
Batman's reply was as clipped as usual, although his voice had a rough edge to it that Wally attributed to the stresses of running communications for the past several hours. It was more than he was used to Batman ever speaking. "Mordru and the Centurian are gone to places unknown. Prometheus also disappeared while Atom was looking after Steel and a hostage. Superman's injuries mostly superficial lacerations - he's up on the observatory deck. Fire regained consciousness and appears well. She is sleeping in the med bay. Steel - dislocated shoulder and hyper-extended elbow. He's been tended and is in his workshop. Green Lantern and Wonder Woman are still on Everest sorting out hostages. Poseidonis is back - the mages there are attending to Tempest and Zatanna."
J'onn shook his head slightly, his face still smiling, and took another step forward. "And you?" he asked, resting a hand on Batman's shoulder.
Wally felt suddenly uncomfortable, as if he were intruding. He expected Batman to brush J'onn off with a brusque, "I'm fine," but instead, Batman met J'onn's eyes for a long moment.
J'onn let his hand fall finally and said, "I should 'port down to Everest and help with the hostages. And they'll probably need me in Atlantis."
Batman nodded. "I'll take care of other matters."
Other matters? Wally looked from J'onn to Batman and back uncertainly, puzzle pieces of the past month clicking into place. J'onn's voice broke through his sudden tizzy. "Wally, you'll teleport down to the surface with me?"
"Huh? Yeah, sure. It'd feel good to be more useful."
"We couldn't have done it without you," J'onn pointed out lightly. "Bruce, you'll talk to Clark."
Wally blinked at this order-like suggestion. What else had he missed? Did he want to know? Watching the way Batman stiffened, he wasn't sure.
"Please," J'onn added.
"Fine," Batman growled, turning abruptly to take his place at the teleporter controls. Behind Batman's back, J'onn caught Wally's eye and surprised him with a faintly triumphant smile. Too weird, Wally decided, hoping the strain of the mission hadn't left J'onn somehow unstable.
Just happy to be back, J'onn projected, his tone still holding that hint of amusement. Wally thought he caught Batman giving the Martian a hard look as he stepped into the teleport tube, and then there was the familiar tingle of transport and his feet were sinking into the mountain snow.
"Brrr," he complained, looking up at Everest towering over them. "I hate this place."
"I'll second that," Green Lantern's voice wearily agreed. There were bruises on his throat, and he carried a weeping child on his hip. "J'onn," he greeted, reaching out to clasp his hand. "Good that you're back."
"Yes," J'onn agreed, his face concerned as he studied Kyle. "Do you want me to-?" he gestured toward the girl.
Just the implication that he might reach for her provoked a shriek from the child, who grabbed Green Lantern more tightly and buried her face in his shoulder.
Wally watched J'onn recoil from the girl's violent reaction and felt a sudden pang for his teammate. He wasn't sure how to read Kyle's wince as he rubbed the small back comfortingly. "'mafraid she's stuck to me like glue," he apologized for her. "She's pretty freaked."
"Who can blame her?" Wally put in. "Possession by an evil wizard can't be good for a kid."
"Yeah," Kyle nodded. "Probably couldn't hurt for her to have a couple blank days in her memory. I take it this means you've recovered Poseidonis?"
J'onn nodded as if shaking off the girl's rejection. "All safe and accounted for. Including Aquaman."
Kyle smiled. "Well, there's something, anyway. I'll go tell Wonder Woman. Unless you'd rather-?"
"Be my guest," J'onn invited, offering a faint smile that faded as soon as Kyle walked away.
Wally set a hand on J'onn's shoulder. "Hey, she's just a scared kid -" he began.
"I know," J'onn answered. "Shall we join them?"
"Can I ask you something first?"
The Martian paused in his forward motion, waiting expectantly.
"You're really okay, right? I mean-"
"Wallace." J'onn's tone was almost a Bat-like growl.
"I know, I know. You're sick of us asking. It's just - when we got you back, and Batman-" He hesitated, not sure what he wanted to ask - or rather, if he wanted to know.
J'onn raised an eyebrow at him.
Wally sighed. "After that whole Protex thing, Batman really was taking care of you, wasn't he?"
"You doubted him?" There was a hint of reproach in J'onn's voice.
"No. Well, yes, but - well... He was more than taking care of you, wasn't he?"
"And you and him-?"
Wally blew out a deep breath. "Okay," he said.
Wally nodded thoughtfully. "I think it makes me feel better, somehow."
"Me, too," J'onn said softly, his expression distant. Then he shook himself and shot a baleful look up the mountain. "Although I'll feel even better when we're gone from here."
"You don't have to say that twice. Race ya!"
"It's twenty yards," J'onn pointed out, already walking toward the camp. But as Wally whooshed by him, he couldn't help but notice the smile was back on J'onn's face.