Paternal Instinct

by Chicago

Disclaimer: Characters all belong to DC Comics, borrowed for fun and not for profit.

Continuity note: Refers back to "All's Fair," takes place after "Warmth" and "Fidelity."

Rated: G

Admas Sharif took a sip of her Turkish coffee and gave a contented sigh.

"They're working you too hard again," her companion noted, bringing up the topic they had managed to avoid all through dinner.

Admas shook her head. "Gypsy," she said warningly.

"I mean it. Have you stopped running for even two seconds in the past week and a half?"

"I'm stopped now."

Gypsy shot her a look. "You know what I mean."

"Gypsy, my life is always like this. You know that."

Gypsy picked up a piece of shortbread. "I also remember how burnt out you got running the team all those years ago. Which they probably don't."

"Older and wiser," Admas answered mildly. "Besides, I'm not running this team."

Gypsy snorted. "Might as well be. And you didn't used to take responsibility for the entire southern hemisphere, either."

"I'm just going to have to let you lecture, aren't I?" Admas' tone was amused.

"J'onn-" Gypsy objected in exasperation. At Admas' stern look she corrected herself. "Fine. Admas - when was the last time you saw Bruce?"

Admas choked a little on a piece of baklava. She had not expected this question. "I thought you weren't real ... pleased... about our relationship."

Gypsy shrugged. "Maybe I'm not. I haven't seen you together yet, so...?"

"Not since Christmas," Admas confessed. "But that doesn't mean I'm working too hard. I neglected a lot of responsibilities while I was ... ill. I am merely seeking to catch up."

"In between bouts of League business. You're not the only one who could be helping with our sea-faring friends."

Admas shook her head. "At the moment, I'm afraid I am. But that responsibility will ease."

"You say so."

"Gypsy, I only have a short time to spend with you. Let's not argue."

"I just worry about you is all. You're too selfless for your own good."

"On the contrary - I am selfishly enjoying sitting on this veranda overlooking the Nile and hearing tales of your latest exploits. And -" she added - "I'm probably going to be late to my next appointment."

Gypsy looked like she wanted to object, then thought better of it. "Can you stay at least five more minutes?" she pleaded. "I've been enjoying this, too. It's - nice, just hanging out."

"Yes, it is," Admas agreed. She took a final swallow of her coffee and set down the little cup. "Shall we go for a walk?"

"Invisible?" Gypsy suggested with a little grin.

Admas chuckled and rose to her feet. "After I've paid the bill, yes."

Gypsy sighed. "You know, you manage to be my conscience when you're not here, too. Every time I think about slipping into my old ways..."

"Good to know I've had some positive influence."

Admas started as Gypsy caught her in a sideways hug. "In more ways than you know, J.J. More ways than you could ever know."

It was a pleasant walk, J'onn reflected as they gradually worked their way toward the docks. Gypsy darted delightedly through the crowded streets, her light laugh startling other pedestrians who stopped to look into the empty air. She missed this, he knew, having someone around who could share in being different from the rest of the world. She was right to want him to visit more often, although he also knew she would quickly grow annoyed if he were too present in her life.

He contented himself with enjoying the moment, keeping half a mind on the time. He was not truly in danger of running late yet, although he was eating away time he had hoped to use to prepare himself for the evening's mission.

"You're pensive," Gypsy suddenly pointed out, becoming visible on the wharf. No one seemed to notice her sudden appearance, but J'onn suspected he would not be so lucky if he were to manifest. He opted to stay invisible.

"Just a bit apprehensive about tonight."

"You?" She led him down the docks toward the quieter private piers, camouflaging herself again as they approached the guard's shack. "J'onn, what horrible job have they you doing now?"

He waited until they had ducked the traffic arm and gotten clear of the guard. "You'll laugh."

Gyspy stopped short. "You don't have to do the Joan J'onzz thing again, do you?"

J'onn chuckled. "No. Not that it would bother me now, but no. Nothing like that."

"Well?" Now on an empty dock, she let herself again become visible.

J'onn joined her, smiling sheepishly as he faded into view. "Babysitting."

Gypsy snorted. "Don't tell me they've started another junior team. That was enough of a mess the-"

"No, Gypsy. Literally. Babysitting."

Her jaw dropped. "As in watching a real baby?"

He nodded, waiting expectantly for her laughter.

She surprised him. "What are you worried about? You'll be great at it!"

He raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

Now she did laugh, but in a fond way. "J.J., you managed just fine with Booster and Beetle. How could a real baby be more trouble than that?"

"I don't know," he hedged, not willing to confess his true fear that he would frighten little Cerdian. He would shift shape if he could, but so deep in the ocean he found it easier just to stay in his beetle-browed form. He didn't want to be a figure for the boy's nightmares.

"J'onn," Gypsy said softly, resting her hand on his arm and tiptoeing to kiss his cheek, "there's too much of a father in you for you to do anything wrong. Don't you know that's why we all were so hard on you back in the day? We were almost all teenagers - and being pissed at Dad comes with the territory."

J'onn ducked his head, and Gypsy laughed. "I know you need to go," she said, "but it was good to see you. And let Bruce know he'll be hearing from me if I think that uppity League isn't treating you right."


"You think I'd miss a reason to legitimately chew out Batman?"

"I'll make sure he hears that, too."

"Great. I need more Bat in my life. Really. Now go before he emerges from some shadow to give me one of his looks."

"He wouldn't," J'onn objected.

"Yes, he would. You'll come by again soon?"

"I promise. With Bruce next time."

"I look forward to it."

He offered her a grateful smile, then faded to invisibility again before taking to the sky.

He waited until he was directly over Poseidonis before plunging down into the ocean, shuddering as he always did at the sensation of being fully submerged. Being underwater was deeply foreign to his Martian sensibilities, even after so many years on Earth. He reflected with amusement on a long forgotten fear that he might discorporate on the waves. It wasn't a legitimate concern, but generations on arid Mars had left no memory of so much water, let alone swimming through it.

Yet here he was, dropping straight down into the inky depths at an impossible speed in order to get to Garth and Dolphin's on time. They needed this night out together. Garth's memories were finally settling, and it was now less J'onn's assuring help that he needed than the tender care of his wife.

He was forced to slow his precipitous descent as he entered Poseidonis proper, carefully abiding by the rules of traffic that had challenged his landbased orientations. People moved in three dimensions here, and what were uncrowded skies surface side were bustling spaces above the towers of Poseidonis.

He could have phased into the palace, but manners prompted him to enter through the formal entrance. The guards merely nodded at him - he'd become a familiar enough figure to them in the past few weeks. He swam easily past them and on toward the suite where Tempest and Dolphin awaited him. He brushed a hand across a conch shell set in the door, the equivalent of a doorbell, and the door slid open almost instantly.

"J'onn! Perfect timing!" Dolphin greeted. Her formal garments streamed behind her in the light castle currents, wrapping slightly around the child fussing on her hip.

He offered her a smile as he entered. "Hello, Dolphin. You look lovely."

She rolled her eyes, but her expression looked pleased. "I look like a harried mother," she protested. "Garth," she called, "J'onn's here."

Tempest emerged from the bedroom, struggling with some formal garment. "I never could tie these right," he grumbled.

"Here, J'onn." Dolphin thrust Cerdian into his arms. "You mean," she continued, oblivious to J'onn's panicked expression, "you always turn all thumbs with them when you're in a hurry." She crossed to Garth and deftly fixed the knot as Ian's fussing turned to a full wail.

J'onn shifted his hold on the child, trying to be comforting. The wailing persisted.

Dolphin sighed. "Kids always know when you're on the way out the door." She swept closer to J'onn to lean in and kiss the baby. "He'll quiet down once we go," she assured J'onn.

"Thanks so much for watching him," Garth added, waggling his fingers at Ian and raising his voice above the child's squalling. A glint of amusement showed in his violet eyes as he clapped a hand on J'onn's shoulder. "You'll be fine," he murmured.

Garth turned to Dolphin. "Shall we, my lovely?"

"Lead on, Mr. Ambassador," she replied, offering him her arm. Then, with J'onn blinking helplessly after them, they slipped out the door.

Impossibly, Cerdian's wails intensified.

J'onn floated into the center of the room, shifting the baby to his hip to jog him a little. "Shh, little one," he whispered, brushing his chin across the soft hair atop the boy's head.

To his surprise, Ian suddenly quieted. He looked down to see the child regarding him with saucer round eyes.

J'onn cocked his head to regard the baby, raising an eyebrow.

Ian's sniffling began to steady into more even breaths.

"So it's just you and me, eh?" J'onn commented. "What do you want to talk about?"

Ian began to smile, and J'onn settled to float crosslegged in the water. He turned Cerdian so they could face each other, the child cradled in his lap. The baby stared, mesmerized, at J'onn's face and began to gum his own fingers.

"Let's see," J'onn mused. "How about that silly costume Nightwing used to wear?"

A giggle bubbled from Ian's mouth, and J'onn smiled back down at him. The tension that had been gathering in him all day began to ease. Maybe Gypsy was right - much of him was still a father.

"J'onn must be in the nursery with Cerdian," Garth speculated as he entered their darkened apartment and activated the phosphorescent lichen.

Dolphin kissed Garth's cheek. "I hope Ian did okay with him. J'onn looked so uncertain..."

"I'm sure they're fine."

Dolphin nodded. "Yeah. I'll just go poke my nose in and let J'onn know we're back."

Garth smiled as his wife drifted away, enjoying the view. She truly was a beautiful woman. He was jarred from his thoughts when she suddenly whispered, "Garth, you've got to see this."

Puzzled, he joined Dolphin at the nursery door. There, resting in half a giant clam shell, was the Martian Manhunter. Cerdian rested curled into the crook of his arm. They were both sound asleep.


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