Waking, part 5
Disclaimers in "part 0"
The Bat had spoken.
It still didn't resolve the potential crisis which would occur when the same raw exhaustion that had caught up with the accelerated lives of the world's speedsters finally touched the lives of ordinary citizens.
And it still didn't answer the question of why.
Which was why J'onn had retreated to his home in the Gobi, declining Bruce's offer to return with him to the Manor. J'onn needed to distance himself from the constant hum of thought around him, to isolate his own thinking, to address his own suspicion that there was some sort of telepathic influence behind the sudden bon homie and efficiency of the world. He couldn't do that in the mentally busy home of the Batman, nor within his telepathically dampered quarters in the Watchtower.
Not that being in his transplanted home was necessarily working either.
Relative distance calmed the continuous clamor that touched his mind, the omnipresent blanket of thoughts that were an inevitable part of being among humans. Normally he welcomed the respite, although this evening he found himself reaching for the stray snatches of thought that drifted his way, catching at anything that distracted himself from his own thinking.
He frowned slightly as he forced himself to exercise more mental discipline. He needed to isolate himself within a sea of thought, to let the distant waves of human consciousness become a uniform thrum, if he wished to pick up any other influences within the mix. The fact that such an exercise was a struggle implied an external sort of resistance. He needed to anchor himself in something that was distinctly his...
The sought after state blossomed suddenly in unwelcome images, human thoughts rendered distant by a flicker of flame.
Flame that danced in Martian bodies which cried their last consciousness to his deafened mind as J'onn forged through choking smoke to this home, then on Mars, to his wife and daughter, warned against the plague...
Papa? I can't hear... the great voice... I feel hot...
A sob welled in his throat - a human reaction, tears that burned as he turned away and futilely entreated his wife to do the same.
One desperate moment of longing pushed him forward, breaking the long established pattern of memory as he sought this time to open his mind to them to find...
SON OF MARS!
He recoiled, eyes blasted by the light that shone off the beings that interposed themselves between him and the now flaming, screaming bodies of wife and child.
"H'ronmeer," he gasped.
Not H'ronmeer, a mental voice boomed, although fitting you should call on the only one of us that you remember.
He forced his eyes open, wincing at the brightness and shying from the flame. "But - but you sleep -"
Because you abandoned us! Abandoned your people! Left us to die!
"No. Not abandoned. Not deliberately. I never knew you - never felt -"
FEEL US NOW!
The flame brightened, intensifying still further, demanding his attention, forcing his focus to read only its dancing, macabre light, consuming flesh and soul...
And it was gone, reduced to echoing afterimages and the taste of desert sand. And burns. He could feel blisters rising on his flesh, somehow soothed by the pressure of his body against the cold ground...
He blinked. The mental shout was not a part of the trance. Bruce? he projected weakly.
You were crying out. Resolute calm was overlaying the earlier panic of Bruce's tone. How had he- yes, J'onn must've cried out - reached out to Bruce at the height of nightmare, or there would be no link between them now.
I am sorry, my friend.
No. Worry rendered the mental tone harsh. No apologizing. What were those things?
Are you all right? Did they harm you? J'onn mentally cursed himself, keeping the thought hidden from Bruce. To what dangers had he exposed his lover by reaching out so blindly?
I'm fine, J'onn. But you were hurt - they were attacking -
Not attacking. Disciplining. And as he projected it, he knew that was their intent.
Disciplining. With fire.
It is apt.
J'onn, I'm at the Watchtower, but I'm sure I can get someone to-
J'onn, whatever you've tapped down there is dangerous, and I will not-
The Martian gods. In my meditative state, I dreamed they'd awakened. He pushed himself upright, staring into the well of souls. Ashes. Ashes to ashes.
Dreamed... J'onn, that wasn't a dream. It was-
Death. The death of Mars. And the waking of her gods to a barren planet and a lone survivor adrift in a teeming mass of unschooled minds. He stared down at his arms, blisters now burst and oozing, and shuddered.
Bruce again, uncharacteristically tentative. Vulnerable, although he didn't know it. Because of J'onn. He closed his eyes, sensing again the caressing of human thoughts, the mental signatures of his friends, of those who were close to him. All vulnerable.
Forgive me, Bruce, he murmured, quietly closing his mind. He needed to confront his gods again, and he would not risk those he loved.