Disclaimers: Characters belong to DC Comics, borrowed for fun, not profit. "The Poisonwood Bible" was written by Barbara Kingsolver.
Extra Note: Broussonetia papyrifera is the scientific name of the paper mulberry.
Continuity Note: Year 2 of the J'onnverse. The furor over the accusation of Lex Luthor in the Bruce Wayne frame has died down for the moment. The Obsidian Age never happened, replaced in this 'verse by "All's Fair" in year 1; Aquaman remains king of Atlantis. Eel O'Brian's struggle to come out of the closet began in "Waking" and continued in "Bedtime Stories" and "Issues." J'onn's faulty memory can be attributed to the events of canon's "Terror Incognita" (JLA #55-58) and the extension of those events in the first several stories in year 1 of this 'verse.
Rating: G-PG (one four letter word, adult themes)
The monitor womb smelled brinier than usual - even for a night when Aquaman was winding up his shift. It didn't particularly bother J'onn, but he made a mental note to intensify the refiltration process in the Watchtower before one of the younger heroes arrived to grumble about fish odors. He nodded a greeting to his Atlantean teammate. "Orin."
"Hello, J'onn." The monach sounded distracted.
J'onn rose lightly to the higher platform he preferred. "Anything I should be watching?"
"Hm? Oh, it's been quiet. I was doing a bit of environmental clean up before my shift, but it seemed well in hand when I left."
J'onn glanced down curiously, noting the aquarium that sat near his teammate. "Rescue?" he asked.
Orin looked up. "Come see."
J'onn paused to transfer the monitor controls to his protocols, then floated down to the lower level. Inside the glass tank was a delicate shell shape from which peered the pale blue eye and translucent white tentacles of what appeared to be a small octopus. This close he could feel the mental vibrations of the little creature, a mix of anxiety and relief. "What is it?" he wondered, mesmerized.
"I think they call it a paper nautilus on the surface. She's protecting her eggs."
The vibrations from the creature began to make sense, and J'onn found himself sending soothing, congratulatory thoughts. "The shell is a cradle," he observed.
"Yes," Orin confirmed. "It is hard when the ocean is hurting to focus on the larger problems, to let some die because you cannot help them all. Her distress was so loud, I just couldn't-"
J'onn knelt to gaze into the tank. "I understand."
"She was injured, but not so badly that she cannot recover and see her brood hatch." He glanced at J'onn. "She likes you."
"She is very beautiful," J'onn noted, letting his fingers rest softly against the glass.
"I know. I want to take her back to the ocean, but I think it will be a few hours yet before it is safe."
"You wish to leave her here in my company?"
"If you don't mind."
J'onn projected the octopus equivalent of a smile at the primitive mind that hummed to meet his. "Why would I mind? She is a welcome guest."
Aquaman's face took on a relieved expression. "Very well, then. I want to return to the clean up, but I will collect her by and by. Have a good day, J'onn."
"And you, my friend."
J'onn glanced at the teleporter display and opened a comlink. "Good morning, Diana."
The Amazon emerging from the teleport tubes offered the monitor camera a beautiful smile. "Hello, J'onn. I just wanted to stop by my quarters to collect something. How are you?" She continued talking as she started out the door and down the hall to the apartment wing where she sometimes stayed.
"I am well, thank you." J'onn let his eyes drift across the monitors, active but showing nothing of League scale. "And you?"
"Enjoying the quiet while it lasts. In fact, I was just retrieving a novel I half-finished before Circe acted up again and then totally forgot about."
J'onn chuckled wryly. "I need to pick up a new novel. I was just considering finding something to re-read in my quarters."
"A little bored?"
"Not at all. Orin has left me a friend to keep me company, but I suspect he will come to collect her soon and then I will miss her and want a distraction."
"A little refugee from that waste spill in the south Pacific. He called her a paper nautilus. You should see her."
"I will," Diana decided, "and... you haven't read 'The Poisonwood Bible' yet, have you?"
"I have heard good things about it, but not yet, no."
"Well, then, let me bring you that. I think you'll like it. It's about a family caught in the repercussions of one member's fanatical mission."
"Diana," J'onn rumbled warningly.
She just laughed. "Truth does not mitigate love, J'onn. I do think you'll like it. It is very... human."
"Very well," J'onn allowed. "I shall look forward to it."
"You can let Bruce read it, too. There's a lot in it that he will understand."
"I'll see," J'onn hedged, quietly pleased at her easy acknowledgment of their relationship.
"Yes, you will. I'll be up there in a few minutes."
"I look forward to seeing you."
J'onn closed the comlink and settled back to listen to the quiet proto-thoughts of the paper nautilus.
"Here, Kal," J'onn answered, drifting down from the very top of the monitor womb and slipping his finger into his book to mark the page.
Clark Kent - and it was Clark Kent, J'onn realized belated - gave him a puzzled look. "Why were you all the way up there?"
"Multitasking. I'm afraid I got rather engrossed in this novel and found it easier to be attentive to the monitors if they were all below me rather than surrounding me."
Clark nodded. "I suppose that makes sense." Then he gave a wry smile. "I don't suppose you need any more reading material?"
"Perhaps not today, unless those galleys you've brought need immediate attention?"
"It's really no use to try to surprise you with something, is it?"
"As a rule, no. Although I am surprised that you would produce two Larkspur opuses in one year."
Clark settled into an available chair and opened his briefcase. "Well, this is more a compilation piece than anything. And it's your fault anyway."
J'onn raised an eyebrow. "Oh?" He found a slip of paper to serve as a book mark and set his book aside.
"'Reclusive romance writer dating Bruce Wayne?'" Clark pulled out a thick stack of printer's galleys. "Lavender's publisher is chomping at the bit for more Lavender anything with press like that."
J'onn took the stack of paper from Clark and glanced at the title page. "Ah. We've moved beyond steamy plots to real life advice."
Clark shrugged. "Lois' idea actually. As a joke, but then I made the mistake of mentioning to my publisher and..."
"...the rest, as they say, is history," J'onn finished.
Clark fidgeted a little as J'onn scanned a couple of pages. "Lovelorn Press is really keen to have you - Lavender - tour this one. I know you just did the European release of 'Serenity Falls,' but I was hoping-"
"Of course, Clark. I'm sure Bruce won't mind having Lavender around for a couple more months."
A hint of a blush colored Clark's cheeks for a second, a curious reaction but one J'onn dismissed without much thought. "I appreciate it," Clark said. "You don't mind if I leave the galleys with you?"
"Not at all. I look forward to reading it."
Clark relaxed a little, setting his briefcase back on the floor and stretching out his legs to prop them against one of the work surfaces that dotted the monitor womb. "So I take it it's been a quiet shift so far?"
J'onn smiled, setting the galleys next to his book and Clark's feet and floating into a half lotus position. "Thus far. I saw you had some disruptions to the early morning commute."
Clark rolled his eyes. "I've never understood criminal grandstanding. 'If I don't get what I want I'll blow up the Ferrier Bridge.' 'You mean with this bomb I just found and disarmed while you were telling us about it?'" He tsked a bit. "Not that I'm complaining - it's the quiet, scheming ones that are trouble. But still-"
"Clark, not every human has your modesty, and few have your humility."
"I'm not completely ego free," Clark objected, his eyes wandering the monitor womb. "Um, why do you have a fish tank in here?"
"Orin had a paper nautilus in it; he took it back planetside about a half hour ago. I offered to clean the tank and put it back in his quarters, but he insisted he would be buy to do that himself later."
"And no sense pissing him off if that's the way he wants to do it," Clark acknowledged.
"A truth about any being, but yes, Orin is best allowed to assert his sovereignty when no harm will come of it."
"You manage us all, don't you, J'onn?" The question was curious and without rancor.
"Not at all," J'onn denied. "But I have learned through time to pick my battles."
"Speaking of," Clark said, glancing at his watch, "I should probably not be late to work again today. Perry's been in a foul mood lately." He elevated himself out of his chair and picked up his briefcase. "See you, J'onn," he called, already flying out the door.
J'onn let a fond smile follow his friend before picking up his novel and returning to the top of the monitor womb.
"Flash," J'onn interrupted, watching as the speedster self-consciously slowed his motion and took a breath - the first since his arrival 1.4 seconds earlier. "You have a tree."
Wally West looked down at the bonsai he had brought up with him. "Yeah. I have a tree. For you." He held it out towards J'onn, who took it with a bemused expression.
"You were saying this was going to sound goofy?" J'onn prompted, inspecting the dwarfed plant.
"Well, kinda goofy," Wally hedged, squirming a little. "It's kinda Linda's idea, y'know. Just-" He sighed.
J'onn let his hand drift over the miniature foliage, expertly snipping off a new limb that was overtaxing the dwarfed tree. He turned a small identifying tag tucked against the split rock it was growing on. "Broussonetia papyrifera," he read. "A type of mulberry, I believe."
Wally shrugged. "I dunno. Linda got real into this bonsai thing a few months ago and she's been fretting about this one and I think it looks just fine but she got all upset about not being able to take care of it right and she's been in these moods lately and so when I said something about how I know you spend a lot of time in Japan and that you might know something about it she said-"
"Wallace," J'onn broke in again, smiling to himself a little about Linda's 'moods.' He had an inkling of what that was about, but he was losing the thread of Wally's sentence and the young man was threatening to slip into speed talking again.
"Look, she wants you to have it," Wally said bluntly. "I only said maybe you could give her advice and I don't know if you even like plants. I mean, I'm sure you don't have anything against them, but-"
Wally trailed off, watching as J'onn touched the moss growing around the rock and considered the way it sprang back, then turned the tree to examine it from a different angle. "It is a lovely bonsai, although in need of some attention," he determined. "I could show Linda-"
"No. Really, no. I mean, if you want to help her with the other trees, that's something else, but she told me I could not bring this one back. She said she thought it would be happier with you and Bruce than-" He bit his lip. "Bruce will really think this is silly."
J'onn finally looked away from the dwarfed tree. "That Linda might care about the feelings of a tree? I'm fairly certain he has heard crazier notions."
Wally shifted. "Yeah, well... you'll take it? I mean, give it a good home and -"
"Tell Linda I am honored," J'onn said seriously. "It has been a long time since I have had the care of a bonsai."
"You're sure? I mean-"
"Wallace. I already know a place in the Manor with perfect light and heat and I am certain Bruce will enjoy having it there."
Wally's eyes went from J'onn to the tree and back again, as if gauging whether he was being humored. J'onn met his gaze evenly, and after a moment, Wally relaxed and smiled. "Okay. So you now have a bonsai."
"I do," J'onn agreed. "Thank you. And thank Linda. And-" J'onn frowned and turned toward one of the monitor screens. "Trouble in Keystone. Mirror-"
He trailed off; the Flash was already gone, a moment later showing up on the monitor. J'onn watched until he was certain no back up was needed, then picked up his novel again.
J'onn stared thoughtfully at a monitor, the attraction of the flames showing there nullified by a careful stop-motion filtering process. Batman's innovation, of course, and one which J'onn was ambivalent about. The transmitted images of dancing flames had been one way for him to school himself against their hypnotic effect, but Batman's point was well taken. A conflagration such as was on the screen now could compromise J'onn's effectiveness as a team coordinator if it caught his mind.
Trial and error had discovered the still frame rate that would allow J'onn to follow battles without being distracted by the flames. The other Leaguers had complimented Batman on the development, and J'onn knew that some of them took advantage of it, as well. It was an impressive display of the work of a good tactician.
Or of a paranoid lover.
The raging fire on the screen was close to containment, Firestorm and Superman proving potent rivals to the Santa Ana winds that whipped the flames through firebreaks and dnagerously close to the edges of a Californian suburban sprawl. The Flash was carving a wider, deeper firebreak, and behind him, fire fighters were soaking down a vast stretch of homes and lawns. They had an air of sombre urgency; even the Justice League had not arrived quickly enough to save all the smoke jumpers caught by a sudden flash over. Nor was there anything that could be done about lost equipment, suddenly a threat as exploding fuel tanks had added to the fire's ferocity and to the death toll.
J'onn reached out along the telepathic link. Firestorm, check the northwest fringe.
On it, the younger hero answered, and the next blink of the screen showed him en route to the desired location. Then, I've got a little space to work here; I could intensify this so it burns itself out.
Superman's voice came on. I'll back you up to keep it this side of the firebreak. J'onn, you'll warn me-?
I will monitor the section you are leaving, J'onn confirmed. Flash, unit 47-
Got it! And indeed, the Flash's quick action showed the flames pulling back from the threatened truck, giving its driver time to pull it back.
J'onn winced against a sudden flare up on the screen from Firestorm's location, then felt tension bleed from his body as an entire swath of burning brush suddenly blackened and smoked out. WOO HOO! Firestorm hooted. Smokey the Bear's got nothin' on me!
Superman, the people downwind- J'onn cautioned, aware of the rolling surge of thick black smoke.
They're clear, J'onn, Superman reassured. In fact, I think we can handle this on ground level now. J'onn could hear the unprojected thought, so you don't have to watch the flames.
J'onn considered the monitor for a moment until he had gauged for himself that Superman was correct. Very well, he allowed. Do you need me to continue the telepathic link?
On the control board, a comlink indicator flared to life, and the Flash's voice came through the speakers. "Better for us to switch to tech for the firefighters. We're all good down here."
J'onn nodded and answered over the comlink, "Understood. Call if you need me. Manhunter out."
He leaned back in the upper platform chair, staring without focus as he mentally checked the other monitors. Quiet, for the most part, and what activity there was was not League sized. His thumb randomly ruffled the pages of the novel he had 2/3 completed reading. Bruce probably would like it, he conceded, remembering Diana's earlier comment. He started to open it, then changed his mind. He had some inkling of an upcoming character death, and to read of a daughter's demise so soon after dealing with a fire?
He sighed heavily and set the novel to one side, rising to do a complete top to bottom circuit of the monitor womb. A screen flickered with another fire, this one well in control by the Moscow firefighters. He returned to check the blaze in California, noting with satisfaction that it had been pushed back enough safely burn itself out. Some chatter continued over the comlink as Superman and the Flash confirmed that Firestorm would stay on site and headed for home, then silence returned.
Perhaps too much silence for him at the moment. He reached out a tentative link to the planet below.
Hi J'onn, Bruce acknowledged, his touch welcoming but preoccupied.
Bruce. You are well?
A soft brush of concern played over J'onn's mind. Yes. Everything okay up there?
Fine, J'onn reassured. Just missing you.
He felt a mental kiss, tender and sweet, and he let himself relish it, closing his eyes. I love you, Bruce reminded.
Mmm. You, too, J'onn replied. You're at work?
Getting ready for a conference call. How was Sao Paolo? he asked, referring to J'onn's visit of the previous day.
As always. A faint resignation slipped into J'onn's tone.
We do what we can, Bruce comforted, not needing to hear about children rescued from one fate only to continue their lives of danger and poverty to understand.
I know. He wrapped mental arms around Bruce's solid projection, drawing comfort from the virtual embrace. Bruce projected back the sense of connection, the warmth of being held. He did not rush the contact, but J'onn could feel his vague distraction and reluctantly released him. I will see you later?
Another fleeting kiss. You have to ask?
J'onn allowed a rueful smile to pass between them. No. I'll let you get back to work.
I'm sorry. I-
No, it's fine. I just wanted a hug.
A warm laugh traveled the line of thought between them. Anytime. I mean it.
I know. Goodbye, Bruce.
J'onn closed the telepathic link and let the spark of warm contentment fill him as he turned back to the monitors.
"Hey, J'onn. Plasticman. Just checking in."
J'onn raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Yeah, well, you know. Just figured I'd see what's doing up there, see who's all hanging out."
"Just me right now, I'm afraid. Quiet evening."
"Oh. So no one else is around, huh?"
"Eel," J'onn said, a hint of warning in his voice.
A heavy sigh sounded over the comlink. "Right. You want company?"
"I would welcome it," J'onn answered honestly, sensing the Eel's unvoiced desire to talk.
"Cool. Be up in a bit."
A bit proved to be less than five minutes, and J'onn silenced the teleporter alert with only a brief glance to confirm it was Eel who had come through. His stretchy teammate strode through the halls toward the monitor womb, a manila envelope tucked under one arm. "Heya, J'onn!" he called as he entered, flopping into one of the lower level chairs and spinning it He leaned his head back to look up at the Martian floating above. "How's it goin'?"
J'onn let a small smile crease his features as he drifted down to the lower level. "You'll get dizzy," he commented.
Eel stretched out a leg to halt the chair's spin. "Eh, I'm always dizzy. Or is that ditzy?"
"Neither," J'onn replied, settling into the other chair.
Eel was already up again, stretching out eyes to examine the bonsai sitting under a light on a worktable. "What's with the tree?"
"A gift from Wally and Linda."
"What, you got new digs or something? Need a housewarming?"
J'onn shook his head. "A propos of nothing."
Eel cast a doubtful look at J'onn. "Ooo-kay. And people think I'm weird."
"I thought it was sweet, if unexpected."
"Sure," Eel agreed absently, pacing around the monitor womb and checking various monitors. "You weren't kidding about quiet."
J'onn watched Eel contort to peek at higher monitors, resisting comment on his companion's restlessness. "There were some small actions earlier."
Eel twisted his torso and made his face cartoonishly indignant. "And you didn't call me?"
"You want to fight fires in California?"
Eel wrinkled his nose. "Maybe not. Although those California girls..." He gave an exaggerated eyebrow waggle.
"Too much silicone," J'onn remarked mildly, causing Eel to pause and stare at him.
"You pay attention?"
J'onn smirked. "Research."
"Ri-ight." Eel continued his check of the monitors until he was back by J'onn's chair. Then he morphed into a uniformed officer. "Looks good here, soldier. Carry on!" he barked.
J'onn shook his head a little and leaned forward, hitting a toggle on the keyboard. "I turned off the sound recorders," he informed Eel.
Eel gaped. "That's what that switch does?"
"Not usually. It seemed appropriate to make the gesture though."
Eel's face scrunched in thought as he flopped back into his abandoned chair. "So that was just for show?"
"Yes. In case Batman wants to know why the sound is off."
Eel rolled his eyes. "How many other secret codes do you two have?"
J'onn fixed him with a level gaze. "Do you really want to know?"
Eel squeezed his eyes shut. "Nooooo. It's bad enough that I wonder what you think at each other. I don't want to start analyzing what you're saying to one another when you tap your pen on the desk at the meeting or something."
J'onn leaned back, a speculative expression on his face. "You're probably right; you don't want to know."
"ARGH! It means something?" Eel assumed the shape of an ostrich with its head in the sand. "Don't thnk about it, don't think about it," he chanted to himself.
"Eel," J'onn chided.
A sigh came from his teammate, who snapped back into his usual shape and slumped in his chair. "I wish - no, never mind." He stared at his fingers, which he was weaving into cat's cradle patterns. "I talked to Woozy last night."
J'onn cocked his head, attentive.
Eel raised his eyes with a vaguely haunted look. "About - you know. That problem I was having a couple months back." He leapt from his chair, suddenly animated. "I just - I couldn't take the guilt anymore, y'know. I had to come clean. I had to -" He sighed again and threw himself back into the chair. "You know?" he whispered.
"What happened?" J'onn asked sympathetically.
"Oh, he was mad. Not because I was... attracted, but... Woozy really hates Batman, you know? He kept muttering about how he froze me that time, about all the nights Woozy spent talking me through nightmares and finding still healing cracks in my body. Yeah, yeah, I know it wasn't Bats who really did it but -"
J'onn nodded, acknowledging the point.
"So after he calmed down a bit, I told him..." Eel swallowed. "I told him about you and me talking. About that stuff you told me."
"Was he... receptive?"
Eel shrugged. "Kinda. No. Maybe. He was-" Eel gave J'onn an apologetic look - "he was kind of indignant. Like... you don't know what - well, maybe you do, but - it's been hard for us, you know? Where we live, where we grew up - being... gay ... isn't really an option. Like it makes you deviant, dangerous to little kids and shit. And if people find out -" He shuddered.
"I know," J'onn said quietly.
"So anyway, he was gettin' pretty upset at the ... presumption, I think was his word. That you thought you could say... and it was botherin' me, because... well..." Eel hesitated. "I kinda told him about you and Bruce. He won't tell anyone, I swear! No matter what anyone thinks, Woozy wouldn't breathe a word. He understands about secrets." Eel's voice dropped. "We both do."
J'onn leaned across to touch Eel's knee comfortingly. "I know."
"I know you know. And he was really shocked. 'Cuz I told him about - well, about Bruce."
Eel watched J'onn carefully, as if expecting outrage, but the Martian only nodded slowly. "I honestly thought you had already told him," he stated thoughtfully. "Not that I'd advertise to Bruce that someone else knows his ID, but..."
Another sigh came from Plasticman. "I know. But it calmed Wooz down a little. Got him all thoughtful. And today, at the office, he came by with this."
Plasticman thrust out the envelope he had brought with him, waiting for J'onn to take it.
J'onn accepted it without looking at it. "What is it?"
"Just... just look."
J'onn considered Eel for a moment longer, then obeyed. He opened the flap of the envelope and pulled out a... Gotham Knights scorecard? He gave Eel a puzzled look.
"Open it up."
J'onn opened it and a yellowed newspaper clipping slid out onto his lap. He picked it up gingerly, conscious of its fragility. "Knights Overturn Cubs, Take Back First Place!" the headline screamed. J'onn remembered the game, watched on an old black and white TV at his Denver apartment. A classic Cubs heartbreaker, lost in the bottom of the ninth. But it wasn't so much the memory of the game that had his attention now.
Beneath the headline was a photograph of cheering fans in the front row, a man and a young boy. The caption read, "Thomas Wayne and son Bruce celebrate Orinbock's home run."
J'onn looked up at Eel with a faintly shocked expression. "How-"
"Woozy's a sportswriter; his apartment's full of this stuff. I don't know how he remembers what's in all those file boxes, but-"
J'onn turned his attention to the scorecard, the pencil blurred but still legible, the writing on it childish. "Woozy's not that old."
"He was at that game, though. Not in such good seats, but he was maybe 9? Said that was when he knew he was a Chicagoan, when his uncle took him out to Gotham for that series and he felt his heart break."
J'onn stared again at the grainy photo of a very young Bruce Wayne and his father.
"He wants you to have that," Eel continued, bringing J'onn's gaze back up sharply.
"I couldn't - this -"
"We both want you to have it." Eel's expression was serious, his body still and free from any contortion.
J'onn fell silent and waited.
"We talked it out. We're going - Woozy's going to help me figure out a way to get part-time custody of Luke. And we're thinking-" he swallowed hard- "we're thinking maybe we should move in together. Stop living a lie."
"You were right, about the closet not being healthy. I - we both know that. But... it is - was - easier. Or felt easier, or something." He turned to stare fixedly through the nearest monitor. "You can tell Bruce, if you want."
"It's not my place."
Eel nodded slowly. "I know. But it's okay if you do. Like to explain about that picture or something."
J'onn glanced back down at the clipping in his lap. "I still don't think-"
"Woozy had a crush on Bruce Wayne."
The bluntness of the declaration startled J'onn.
A half laugh escaped Eel. "Kind of ironic, actually. It was a teen crush sort of thing. Bruce used to show up in the tabloids, dark and mysterious. Woozy said he used to think about how he was in the same stadium with him once and..." Eel actually blushed a little. "You know."
J'onn folded the scorecard back over the clipping. "He should keep this -"
Eel shook his head. "No. We're moving forward. That belongs to you."
J'onn hesitated, then slipped the scorecard back into its envelope. "Thank you. And tell Woozy-"
"I will. And..." Eel took a deep breath. "Not really now, not yet, but maybe sometime... you and Bruce could have dinner? With us, I mean?"
"Maybe sometime," J'onn allowed. "Maybe Matches should visit Chicago."
"Yeah, maybe... Maybe go out to Arlington, watch the ponies." Eel nodded to himself. "Yeah, that'd be... nice."
J'onn smiled a little. "Yes, I think it would be."
Eel shook himself a little. "I should head back. Woozy's got preseason Bears tickets. Not often you get to watch football in your shirtsleeves."
"No, not often. And Eel? Good luck. With everything. And if you need help-"
"Yeah." Eel rose and stretched, reaching 3/4 the height of the monitor womb. "Later, J'onn."
"Later," J'onn echoed. He watched Eel leave, then pulled the scorecard out again, gazing once more at the old newsprint. He brushed his fingers gently over the images of Bruce and his father and smiled wistfully.
"Hey, J'onn. It's Kyle."
J'onn opened his end of the comlink. "Hello, Kyle. What can I do for you?"
"You know how I owe you monitor hours?" Kyle broached.
A corner of J'onn's mouth quirked up. "I don't recall that you owe me any hours," he answered without sarcasm.
Kyle snorted. "Don't try to let me out of it. I've had enough lectures from Superman about -" he broke off as if he had revealed something he shouldn't have.
J'onn raised an eyebrow. "Indeed," he commented. "I was unaware."
"Yeah, well, forget I said anything, okay? That's not the point."
A buzz sounded from the console, and J'onn glanced at the teleporter display. "What is the point, Kyle?" he asked, frowning at the display. There was nothing visible in any of the teleport tubes. He automatically kicked security up a notch and set up a roving feed for the monitors.
"Well, I was thinking that maybe I could start making up those hours tonight."
J'onn exited the monitor womb, heading down to the hall with senses on alert. "You have tomorrow's shift," J'onn pointed out.
"I know. That makes it perfect."
J'onn paused outside the closed door to the teleporter room, sending telepathic feelers for any mental activity. Nothing stirred. "Kyle, I doubt you are so keen for a 28 hour shift."
"Eight of it will be sleeping anyway when Wonder Woman gets up there."
J'onn made the outer layer of his body impervious to chemical reagents, then set a thin skin of chemical indicators over that layer. "So that's it," he remarked to Kyle. "You have a new video game and you know she won't let you play." He opened the door to the teleporter room and waited an instant. Nothing. No gas, no chemical attack.
"No-o," Kyle protested, making the word two syllables. "Can't I just want to - you know - pay you back for covering for me and -"
"Kyle," J'onn interrupted, stepping into the room and engaging various scans for pathogens.
Kyle sighed dramatically. "Fine. Look, Jen is out of town, okay? And I really want to get some painting done, but somehow I can't manage to sit down and work down here. The street noise is distracting even. So I figured, y'know, I owe you the hours anyway and it's quiet up there unless there's some disaster but I'd have to deal with that anyway and - please? I'll even cover your paperwork."
All of J'onn's scans showed the Watchtower was clean. Perplexed, he went to the computer to check the signal's origin. "You've convinced me," J'onn decided. "Unfortunately, I've got a teleporter bug I'm trying to track down." The signal came from the Batcave? Curiouser and curiouser.
"Is it serious?" Kyle asked.
J'onn turned his attention to the teleport tubes themselves, inspecting them carefully. "I'm not - oh!"
"Jonn?" There was a hint of concern in Kyle's tone.
"I'm fine," J'onn reassured, kneeling to pick up the small paper crane that sat atop a business card sized envelope inside one of the tubes. "Hold on a moment," he told Kyle.
He marveled for a moment at the little bit of origami, tiny but impeccably folded, an exercise in incredible patience and steady workmanship. He balanced the little crane on his knee and opened the envelope.
It contained a small calling card. J'onn slid the card free and blinked at its engraved message. "Dinner. 8 pm."
"Kyle," he said over the comlink, "the teleporter's fine. And maybe I will take you up on your offer."
He could almost hear Kyle's smile. "I thought you might. See you in about 15?"
"That sounds good," J'onn acknowledged, still giving the cryptic invitation in his hand a perplexed stare. He turned the card over, finally, hoping for more information. He started a little when he saw what was printed on the reverse side:
"First Anniversary - Paper."
J'onn's trueform sprawled over Bruce's bare body, chest to chest. His head was tucked just under Bruce's chin, and he half-dozed as Bruce stroked the flanges trailing down from his head. One thin green leg rested across Bruce's hips, and lean toes pressed against his lover's calf muscles.
J'onn snuggled tighter to Bruce, forgetting himself under gentle caresses. Quite without volition, an odd sort of chirrup sounded from low in his chest.
Bruce's hand paused for a split second, and J'onn felt himself stiffening. But Bruce merely chuckled, a sound that vibrated through J'onn's body. "I trust that's a Martian noise for happy," he remarked, resuming his quiet strokes.
"How could it be otherwise?" J'onn asked with a contented sigh, pressing himself more firmly against Bruce. "That lovely dinner, and then... mmm." He turned his face to kiss Bruce's collar bone. "Not to mention your little conspiracy."
Bruce dropped a kiss onto the top of J'onn's head. "What makes you think it was a conspiracy?"
J'onn gestured half heartedly toward the bureau across the room. "All the little gifts and assignments?"
Another low laugh radiated from Bruce's chest, warming J'onn thoroughly with its sound. "Just because you don't remember what was going on around you a year ago..."
J'onn lifted his face. "I do remember," he objected, planting a kiss on Bruce's lips. "I didn't know the date, but-"
"Shh," Bruce interrupted, reclaiming J'onn's lips and deepening their contact. When I think how close we came to losing you- he projected mentally, his kiss becoming more forceful.
J'onn answered the kiss with reassuring firmness. But you didn't. Thanks to you.
To us, Bruce corrected, his arms tightening around J'onn's frame and drawing him more completely atop Bruce's body.
Us, J'onn agreed, letting their flesh begin to blend together.
In the quiet night of Wayne Manor, a clock ticked past midnight, and a new year began.