Root for the Home Team
Disclaimers: J'onn J'onzz and Bruce Wayne belong to DC Comics and have been taken on this roadtrip to explore a theme and not for profit.
Continuity note: Summer of year 2 of the J'onnverse.
The dark-haired young man who helped and encouraged him could feel the importance of this walk, the short hairs of his neck rising a little at so much scrutiny. He kept his face calm, though, disciplined. He focused on his job, accepting the old man's weight, letting him rest as often as needed. It was only 20 feet, but a distance he alone could have traveled in seconds the old man was struggling to cross in minutes.
Finally, they reached the casket, and others paying their respects stepped aside.
The old man gripped the edge of the coffin for balance and peered in at the peaceful face within. He carefully disentangled his arm from that of his caretaker and raised the object - a baseball - he had been clutching in his fist throughout his long walk. "All the boys signed it," he said in a cracking voice. "I was supposed to give it to you when you turned 100."
Sighs escaped from those close enough to hear, and somewhere near to hand, someone began sobbing quietly. The old man's caretaker rested a steadying hand in the middle of the old man's back.
"I guess this will do," the old man concluded, and he gently placed the baseball in the casket beside a frail old shoulder, once hale, then arthritic, and now never to hurt again. He brushed his hand over thin white hair, carefully arranged by the funerary staff, and slowly leaned down to press a kiss to a still forehead. "Goodbye, Mama Betty."
The old man straightened with an effort, his caretaker helping him. A young woman approached them as they moved away from the casket, her eyes red-rimmed. The old man squinted at her. "Laurie?"
A watery smile appeared on the woman's face and she shook her head. She spoke with the kind of loudness one reserved for the old and slightly deaf. "No, I'm Beth. Laurie is my mother."
The old man seemed puzzled for a moment, and his caretaker leaned close to speak in normal tones directly in his ear. "Laurie's daughter."
Understanding dawned in the old man's eyes. "Oh! You look like Laurie."
Beth nodded, and she spoke a little more loudly and slowly. "I wanted to thank you, Mr. Frank, for coming. Nana was so insistent..." She began to tear up.
The caretaker said, "Walter wanted to come."
"Nana told me - she said if we didn't invite her boys, she would haunt us forever. So many of them have passed on, though..."
"Mama Betty caught my first homerun," Walter Frank said, almost as if answering a question.
His caretaker nodded. "I know, Walt. Right center field," he agreed loudly.
The old man's eyes began to tear, and he reached out his free hand to grasp Beth's. "Don't forget baseball, Laurie. Mama Betty knew."
The caretaker reached an arm over Walter's shoulders comfortingly and glanced apologetically at Beth. The young woman just gave the old man's hand a final squeeze, her own eyes again wet with tears. "I won't," she promised.
"Come on, Walt," the caretaker urged, gently drawing the old man's arm back, persuading him to release Beth's hand. "I should get him back to the motel."
"Of course," Beth acknowledged.
"The funeral is at 10 tomorrow?"
"Yes. Thank you again."
"Thank you for letting him know," the caretaker replied. "Let's go, Walt."
"Laurie is a pretty girl," Walt remarked as his caretaker steered him back toward the exit and began the trek back to the rental car.
A half-smile quirked on the old man's face as he slowly became less old - and more green. "Like anyone would have a reason to bug a motel room in Bradford, Tennessee."
Bruce straightened up and returned the sensor to his luggage. "Well, now we know for certain and we can relax," he pointed out. Then he looked back at his lover. "You doing okay?"
J'onn shook off a distant expression and smiled wanly at Bruce. "Yes. Mama Betty lived a long life. A good life."
Bruce watched J'onn for a moment, then crossed to sit on the bed across from him. He reached out and claimed one of J'onn's hands, giving it a squeeze. "She meant a lot to you."
"'Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball,'" J'onn quoted. "You know I read that when it was first printed?" He shifted shaped, returning to the dimensions of Walter Frank, not as he had been at the funeral, but as he must have looked fifty years previously: young and strong, with steady brown eyes and a slow smile. "So I learned baseball."
"Walter Frank, three years with the double-A Bradford Bombers, utility player, lifetime batting average of .256, 19 career homeruns."
Walter's youthful face showed his slow smile. "You looked me up."
"I was surprised. You never mentioned you played."
J'onn shrugged, phasing back to the Martian Manhunter form. "I rarely think about it. Most of the guys I played with..."
Bruce tightened his hold on J'onn's hand. "You miss them."
J'onn nodded. "That baseball - Georgy Saller's widow sent it to me a couple of years ago. Mama Betty used to always say, back when we were all rooming at her place, that she would live to a hundred. So we all signed that ball at the end of the '57 season, promising we would give it to her on her birthday. Bobo had charge of it first, and then Georgy took it after Bobo wrapped his car around a phone pole somewhere in Alabama..."
J'onn's gaze was unfocused, lost in memory. Bruce sat silent, listening.
"Giz made it to the show for a cup of coffee, but the rest of us..." J'onn shook his head. "We were place holders, guys who filled out rosters in the minors but didn't stand a prayer of making it. Just trying to hold onto youth a little longer. Mama Betty understood that. She said it was a sin to kill the summer dreams of boys."
J'onn looked up, met Bruce's eyes. "She almost made it. Her birthday is in July."
Less then two months away, Bruce counted. He stood and stepped closer, leaning down to kiss J'onn's lips. "You want anything to eat?"
J'onn shook his head. "I just want to sit here, y'know?"
Bruce nodded. "I'm going to order a pizza. You can help me with it if you change your mind."
J'onn gave him a sideways look. "Feeling indulgent?"
Bruce stretched out his arms. "Bradford, Tennessee. There's not much by way of delivery options."
"Fair enough. I won't tell Alfred."
"Well, that's good of you," Bruce replied dryly, picking up the phone.
J'onn smiled and settled back in his chair, losing himself in thought.
The invitation did not need to be offered twice. Bruce slid in beside his lover and snuggled into the warm embrace that enfolded him. J'onn kissed his neck. "Mmm, naked," he commented.
"I am wearing boxers," Bruce pointed out.
A caress traced over the skin of his buttocks. "Right," J'onn noted. "Maybe I just want you naked."
Bruce smiled and rolled over to face J'onn, observing the Martian was taking on an androgynous form, seeming to await instructions. Bruce kissed soft lips. "You are insatiable."
"You are irresistable," J'onn contradicted.
Bruce ran a hand over J'onn's forehead and smoothed fingers through soft, short hair. J'onn's eyes closed and Bruce felt a smooth thigh hook over his own. "You're feeling lonely, aren't you?" Bruce asked.
J'onn's eyes flew open. "Bruce?"
"Shh, it's okay. Very... human, actually."
J'onn touched Bruce's cheek and stared into his eyes, puzzlement evident on his face.
"You had to say goodbye to an old friend today," Bruce said quietly. "And it reminded you of all the other old friends you've said goodbye to." Bruce rested a hand on J'onn's arm and steadied his own mind around a question he had been trying to avoid all day. "It reminded you that you'll have to say goodbye to me."
A stricken expression overtook J'onn's features. "Bruce-"
Bruce stretched his arms around his lover and drew him close, holding him tightly. He could feel tears trickle onto his shoulder from where J'onn's face pressed against him. "Helping you today, when you were Walt," Bruce began, "I realized... that's me and you someday."
"Let me finish." Bruce squeezed J'onn a little tighter. "I just had this flash of us, years from now, me old like Walt, and you... " Now Bruce's voice broke, and he swallowed hard. "You... won't. Won't get old."
"Bruce, I'm sorry, I-"
"J'onn." Bruce pushed back so that he could look into J'onn's eyes. "If anyone should be sorry, it's me. I - I always... panic... about losing the people I love."
J'onn looked ready to protest, but Bruce plowed on.
"I never - I wouldn't let myself ..." Bruce dropped his eyes. "You always knew. You loved me, even knowing..."
"Bruce, don't. Please. Please."
Bruce's words were muffled by a hard kiss, his eyes widening in surprise. After a moment, he gave into the pressure of J'onn's mouth, answering J'onn's passion with his own. J'onn's arms wrapped around him, holding him tightly enough that it was almost hard to breathe. But it felt right. Good. He squeezed J'onn back with equal ferocity, reassured by the solid pressing together of their bodies.
When they finally broke the kiss and eased their hold on one another, Bruce was gasping and J'onn's face was tear streaked. "I love you," J'onn said. "I don't care about the future. I love you now. Have you now."
"Yes," Bruce agreed, kissing J'onn's cheeks. He felt the swell of breasts against his chest and he cupped one in his hand, letting arousal take hold.
"Please," J'onn whispered again, and Bruce gently obliged.
Not that he was allowing himself the same luxury. His mind was replaying the afternoon's events, that moment when he had suddenly seen himself in Walter Frank. Bruce Wayne - well, Batman - faced his mortality every night; death did not frighten him. Old age, on the other hand?
J'onn had been play acting, but when Bruce's time came? How hard would it be for J'onn, knowing what Bruce had been? Who would be there to hold J'onn, who would understand?
Would there be anyone left who cared?
Bruce stared up at the ceiling of his motel room in Bradford, Tennessee, his head cushioned by the shoulder of his lover, and tried to believe it would all be all right.