Well Met on Moonrise
Disclaimers: Characters belong to DC Comics and are borrowed without permission, strictly for fun and not for profit.
Canon notes: Image of Superman in orbit under a thin shell of ice is drawn directly from JLA "Justice for All" TPB. Luke (Plasticman's son) first appeared in JLA #65. J'onn's previous leadership of "young" teams includes the JLA-Detroit group (JLofA #233-end of series) and the Justice League Task Force. Aquaman was involved in the Detroit team after disbanding the Justice League and restarting it with J'onn and Batman. By the end, both Batman and Aquaman had left, and the kids basically got slaughtered compliments of Professor Ivo. The Task Force did marginally better, although Mystek died in space, and we've seen what became of Triumph (now an ice sculpture in the trophy room).
Continuity note: Follows and makes reference to "The Apprentice" and "Oversung Hero" in year 2 of the J'onnverse. Also reference to "Paper Hearts" from year 1 of the J'onnverse. Recent events in the Flash are ignored; Linda is still pregnant. JLA continuity starting from "Obsidian Age" is presently being ignored, so Kyle is not off in space and J'onn is (obviously) not trying to fight his fear of fire with Scorch. And those new guys? Not here. One more thing - the whole "Graduation Day" fiasco is not happening.
So I was not on monitor duty, and thus I needed to get to the moon. I let myself push up through the stratosphere, emerging from the earth's atmosphere just beyond sensor range of the moon. I had given myself more than enough time to do a lazy orbit of the planet, and I took advantage of it.
From space, the earth managed to be both breathtaking and serene. So high above it, I was free from the constant chatter of unshielded minds, was free to think.
And I definitely needed to think.
Bruce, bless him, had only offered one questioning look when I had lifted myself from our post-coital haze and kissed his forehead, explaining it was time for me to go to the Watchtower. I saw understanding quickly replace the protest that the meeting would not be for hours; he appreciated the occasional need for time alone. That understanding freed me from reminding him that we had decided to stagger our arrival times so as not to stir active imaginations of certain teammates about what we had been doing immediately before 'porting up.
I did not tell Bruce that part of what I had to think about was us. I had run a couple of patrols for him in the past week, a concession he had made as a kind of apology for shutting me out of the Du Bois case. Batman might stoically bear the sting and ache of armor rubbing against his injured shoulder, but he still felt it, and by extension, so did I. Given a choice between me raising my shields against him and letting me play Batman, Bruce went for the latter.
It was a touching gesture of trust, and, understanding that, I had offered an experiment. We linked minds, and I let his consciousness guide me, let his thoughts inform my actions as I hit the jumplines.
It was a strange thing, letting my body act according to Bruce's keen street instincts and fighting skills, paring the filter between our thoughts to a bare minimum. By the time I had finished patrol that first time and returned to the Cave, only Tim's presence had prevented Bruce and I from ravaging each other on the practice mats. We managed, barely, to hold on until we made it back to the Cave bedroom.
The same thing had happened tonight, and the intensity of the need we felt for each other disturbed us both a bit. There was an irony in the fact that a mission we had chosen to assert our ability to be independent of one another would make us feel so much more connected.
It wasn't a bad thing, but it was not exactly comfortable, either. Particularly when there was so much remaining unsaid between us.
I swung around the planet, finally back within sight of the moon, and had to resist the urge to mentally curse. Kal was there... waiting.
He did not wave nor move to meet me, but it was clear enough the way he was hovering there, a thin shell of ice sheathing his body.
When I got within what would have been speaking distance had there been air, I opened a telepathic link. Hello Kal-El.
J'onn, he greeted. You went the long way.
I know, I answered neutrally. With a twinge of conscience, I took advantage of our telepathic link to persuade him that he had decided against asking me if I wanted to talk about it. It was not something I should have done, but I sensed that if I declined to talk, he would feel hurt, and I was not going to talk. I felt a profound relief when he decided of his own accord not to bring up what he wanted to talk about at the meeting, although I kept my reaction from him. I'm heading in now, I told him, striving for a patina of civility in our strained silence. Join me?
He nodded, sending a puff of ice into the vacuum. A moment later we were flying toward the Watchtower hangar bay, still in mental silence.
We slowed as we hovered above the surface of the moon, letting the Watchtower identify us before we slipped through the hangar shields. We waited a moment for the atmospheric systems to replace the air and warmth lost during our entrance, then Kal touched down. "I'll see you upstairs in a bit?"
"Yes," I agreed, also settling down as an unspoken courtesy. To remain airborne over a grounded companion was a psychological ploy; any hero with flight knew better than to abuse its implications.
Kal spared me a curious glance, but he did not press. "Okay." He headed for the lift to the monitor womb without demanding I join him. I let him go.
I stood for a few moments in the hangar looking out over the moon. The silver grey desert stretched blindingly in the reflected glare of the sun, but for the color reminiscent of Mars. I felt a familiar ache, curiously tinged with an impossible desire to walk over that landscape with Bruce. I wondered briefly if it was worth experimenting with joining our consciousnesses, then shook it off. There was too much left to think about on that subject.
Finally I made my way to the lift and let it carry me to the observation deck. I realized halfway there that it was not deserted as I hoped, but I decided to go up anyway. Kyle was drawing there, and there was something soothing about his creative energy.
Tonight, though, his head snapped up when the lift doors opened and his face bloomed into a delighted smile when he saw it was me. "J'onn! You must've read my mind."
"No," I denied, although now that I was in the room with him, I could sense why he was so glad to see me. Without being asked, I shifted form into the figure he was drawing and crossed closer to adopt the pose that was giving him trouble.
Kyle raised an eyebrow at me as he lifted his pencil. "You're not, eh?"
"I am now," I allowed mildly, my gaze drifting out to the view of the earth rising below.
I had been holding the pose for fifteen minutes, lost in my own thoughts, when I realized Kyle had put down his pencil and was watching me. He seemed to sense he had my attention, because he asked, "Everything okay?"
I gave him a little smile and morphed back into my Martian Manhunter form. "Long week," I explained.
He nodded. "I hear that. I've been so wrapped up in trying to make this deadline that Jen finally kicked me out of the apartment. Said I was driving her nuts, and she was tired of waking up in the morning in a bed full of crumpled sketches."
I chuckled, enjoying the distraction of Kyle's depiction of his domestic life. "Tell her it's better than finding Batgadgets under the pillows."
Kyle laughed, and I picked up the image in his mind before he spoke. "She might think that's an improvement."
I let him notice a hint of blush in my cheeks as I laughed with him, relaxing into his easy amusement. It was nice, too, to have him feel comfortable enough to joke, to feel him taking pleasure in getting me to blush. The easy camaraderie helped me to shake off my vague dread of the upcoming meeting and to regain the equilibrium I needed to deal with it.
"Are you going to make your deadline?" I asked him.
"I should now, thanks to you. Which is good since I've been itching to get back to some oils. And this gig-" he tapped his portfolio significantly - "should put me far enough ahead to test the art house market."
"Oh? I had not realized you had aspirations in fine arts."
Kyle zipped up his portfolio and grinned, clapping me on the shoulder. "J'onn, I think every human painter has an inner dream of being the next Monet or van Gogh or Dali. It's like a stage of evolution; you start as a retail clerk who paints, then you become a starving artist, then you manage to make a living with your art, and then you want to be a household name with a painting in the Louvre. Should we head down, by the way? If Batman gets there ahead of us-" Kyle shuddered theatrically, then gave me an apologetic look. "No offense."
"None taken," I assured him, falling into stride behind him as he headed toward the lift.
He stepped into the elevator and punched the codes for both the conference room and for the living quarters. "Just gotta drop this stuff off," he explained. Then he sighed. "Y'know, I understand why Superman wants these meetings, but some days I just wish we could email in our schedule requests."
For a split second I almost agreed with him, a small part of my mind wanting to suggest we skip the whole thing and find a good sports bar somewhere, but instead I stayed silent. I would have been wiser to have made some mild comment, because I could feel Kyle's stab of anxiety at my lack of response, and I remembered why Bruce found silence so effective an ally.
"I mean, not that I would want you or Batman or somebody to have to do all the work of coordinating all our schedules, but -"
"Do not worry, Kyle. I can appreciate the demands of other obligations."
The doors of the lift opened to the hallway to the meeting room, and I stepped half out of the elevator, pausing to sense if I had sufficiently reassured Kyle. He smiled weakly at me. "Yeah. I'll see you back here in a few, okay?"
I nodded and let the elevator go, turning to square my shoulders toward the conference room. My mind entertained a final wistful fantasy of a sports bar - or any place where the minds around me would be focused on some inconsequential but shared bit of desire - and then I quashed it firmly. I would get through tonight's meeting as I got through all routine meetings, carefully shielding myself against the mental chafing of all the participants as the demands of the rest of their lives clamored in their minds.
Diana and Orin and Eel were already in the conference room when I entered. Diana and Orin were in quiet conversation at the table, and Eel was quietly amusing himself by taking the shape of each League member in turn and caricaturing our usual meeting poses. He was mastering a passable Batman glare as I walked in, but he immediately dropped it. "Hey, J'onny boy!" he greeted, an overbright smile on his face.
I inclined my head. "Eel. Diana. Orin."
The other two nodded at me as I took my seat, and I caught a flash of the fine point of diplomacy they were discussing with a sense of relief. At least they had found a way to make this meeting fit their larger agendas. "Computer," I said, "connect to the monitor womb."
The large view screen at the table cleared and Flash zoomed into the picture. "Hey, everybody! Is it that time already?"
"A few minutes." Wally knew that of course; like all of us, he watched for Batman's teleport signature to know when we were about to begin, and like all of us, he would never admit as much. "Anything developing?" I should wait until the meeting started to ask, but a brewing crisis could change the tenor of our gathering.
Wally shrugged. "The Titans have got some pipeline issue in Alaska more or less under control and the Power Company is supervising a transfer at the Slab, so nothing League sized. And - hey, Plas! The Islanders are - YES! It's good! Take that, Ducks!"
"WOO HOO!" Eel cheered, morphing into a hockey player holding aloft the Stanley Cup. "Woozy owes me big time! I'm telling you, Islanders all the way, baby!"
Diana cast an irritated glance across the table just as Kyle walked in. "The Islanders won?" he asked.
Eel stretched an arm across the room to give Kyle a high five. "You know it. You gonna finesse me tickets for next May, GL?"
Kyle grinned and shook his head. "The season's not even a month old. Don't get too confident," he warned. "How many overtimes?"
"Three," Wally reported. "And-"
Whatever he had intended to say was cut off by the soft buzz of the teleporter warning. "Two minute warning," Eel chirped, settling back into his chair and folding his hands on the table in Catholic school boy disingenuousness.
In truth it was less than a minute before the door slid open to admit Batman, Superman a step behind him. I raised a mental eyebrow at that, sensing the approval of Diana and Orin at the implied power play of the chairman entering last. That power play was accentuated when Kal waited until Batman had taken his seat to claim his own place at the table.
"Let's get started," Superman said before sitting, and all of us angled our bodies toward him, giving the circular table a clear head position. "Wally, everything's okay below?"
"Hunky dory," the Flash confirmed, giving the assessment weight with his casual agreement.
"Good. Let's start by setting the monitor rotation."
The view screen split as Kal called up scheduling software, and various dayplanners and hand held digital assistants made their appearances. I listened to the initial mental chatter as each Leaguer catalogued a set of "any day but this one" thoughts, rapidly scanning for overlaps and for excuses that might be viewed with disdain by some members. Usually I waited to state my own preferences, volunteering for unpopular dates after they had already been discussed, but I wanted this meeting over quickly. "If I may, Mr. Chairman," I began, startling everyone.
Superman nodded, keeping the surprise off his face, and I kept my own surprise hidden as Bruce mentally fired off a series of dates he did not want me to be on monitor. I felt his displeasure when I nixed one of those dates, volunteering for a night that Eel had planned to take Woozy and Luke to a Bears game and would otherwise be obliged to monitor because he would not present the real reason he wanted it off. A sporting event would be trumped by the others' obligations in a way family time would not, and Bruce's irritation was more than offset by Eel's profound gratitude.
Kal, however, hesitated before writing me in. "J'onn, I'm not sure it's fair to have you cover Thanksgiving." The "again" was unvoiced, but I heard it anyway. Silence reigned for a moment as I sent a silent apology in Bruce's direction for having forgotten the holiday and watched the others glance at him uncertainly.
"I could-" Diana began, but Batman cut her off.
"We have no plans."
The tension in the room seemed to increase at Batman's flat statement, and I kept my expression unperturbed. "J'onn?" Superman asked. In my mind, Bruce explained that Dick was working anyway, and I caught snippets of Oracle speaking through his earpiece, chastising him for making me feel awkward when he knew full well that both she and Tim were spending the holiday with their respective families. I met Kal's questioning gaze evenly. "I am thankful for all the plates of turkey and slices of pumpkin pie that will be teleporting up all day."
A relieved and faintly guilty chuckle sounded around the table, although Kal still looked reluctant as he typed my name into the duty roster. The balance of the slots were covered with minimal fuss, justifying my decision to pre-empt everyone else. I was just relaxing into the knowledge that the meeting would be mercifully brief when Kal announced, "I've got one more piece of business before we adjourn."
I had to double check that no one had groaned aloud, given the clamor that sounded in my head.
Kal turned his attention toward Bruce. "Batman, I have reason to be concerned about your decision to place one of your proteges with the JSA."
I was blindsided, my shields unable to screen out the internal reactions of the my teammates.
He has more?
So much for getting home early.
I realized belatedly that this was the issue that Kal had decided not to discuss with me before the meeting, that he might have been persuaded to talk to Bruce privately or not at all if I had not bent my own rules about tampering with others' thoughts. I resigned myself to my penance as Batman glared at Superman with cold fury.
He spoke in controlled tones. "This is not an issue that involves the League."
Superman did not back down. "I beg to differ. Any action that might destabilize any of the other superhero teams is a League issue."
"The Justice Society has not been adversely affected."
The others were watching this verbal volley like a tennis match, turning their heads now back toward Superman to listen to his response.
"That is not the impression I have received."
An angry demand flared along my link to Bruce, quickly suppressed but not before I caught the "who?" Bruce knew he could not ask me to report on anyone's private thoughts; he respected the ethics of my position. This once, though, I ached to tell him that no one had complained, that Superman had overheard the grousing of the junior JSA members during a visit to the JSA brownstone earlier in the week and jumped to unfounded conclusions.
"Mr. Terrific and Sentinel expressed a desire to increase the mentoring capacity of their team. Are you questioning their leadership?" Batman baited.
Superman did not flinch. "No. I am questioning your methods of diplomacy and your unwillingness to consider Young Justice as a viable training experience."
"Hold on a minute," Flash suddenly interrupted from the monitor, surprising all of us. "Sorry, Superman, but is this about the JSA or about what to do with junior heroes?"
"Batman knows what this is about," Kal replied, his gaze not wavering from Batman's face.
"No," Batman replied icily, "I don't. I resent the implication that I somehow pressured the JSA into a decision or drew upon my JLA status to impose a student on them. Regardless of what you think of my diplomacy -" the word dripped with sarcasm - "I can assure you that whatever impression you have received, the senior members of the JSA chose to institute an internship program and were searching for viable candidates prior to any effort on my part to place anyone."
"The JSA started an internship program?" Eel asked, and I could feel him thinking about Luke. "That's pretty cool."
Superman blinked. "I knew they had been discussing it, but we had agreed to let Young Justice operate as -"
"Not quite," Diana interrupted, and everyone turned to face her. "Superman, we decided not to disband Young Justice, but we ultimately have no further control over them than we do over the Titans. I don't know what Batman has arranged with the JSA-" she threw a glance in his direction - "but I am certain he is as aware as I am that Young Justice has been having some... difficulties. If, as I am gathering, this protégé is another teenager, and in need of team training, then I would have to support Batman in not placing him - or her - with Young Justice. That would undoubtedly be an imposition in a situation where adolescent resentment could prove costly."
I sensed a hint of embarrassment from Kal that he did not let show as he rethought the source of the supposed JSA grievance. I also caught a mental snort of agreement from Batman, accompanied by a shudder-worthy image of Tim and Stephanie trying to manage their already difficult relationship in the context of Young Justice. It occurred to me that I should join the conversation, explain that Bruce and I had discussed Stephanie's situation at length, but I could feel the turn of my colleagues' thoughts towards issues I did not want to engage.
"Batman," Eel said quietly, breaking the uncomfortable silence, "does the JSA have an age range on their internship program?"
Batman hesitated a moment, and he had gentled his tone significantly when he finally answered. "He's too young."
"He who?" Kyle asked, and my heart ached for Eel. I prepared to intercede, divert attention, but Eel spoke before I could do so.
"My son. Luke."
Kyle gaped. "You have - wow. Um-" he stopped, aware the Plasticman was not clowning, was not making eye contact with any of them.
"He has..." Eel stretched his hand to impossible dimensions "... powers. The DEO has been sniffing around, and if they realize-" Eel sighed. "I don't want him to end up in their 'orphanage.'" He spat the word. "But he's too young for any of the teams." He stopped talking at that point, but his mind continued the thoughts, self-chastising for what he felt he had no right to demand as a father.
"So is Cerdian," Orin put in unexpectedly, his tone thoughtful. "He is showing hints of his father's power, and it would be better for him to be mentored among his people, but -"
"This is going to be an issue for Linda and me, too," Wally added from the monitor womb. "There's not much chance the baby will not have some connection to the speedforce."
Superman leaned back in his chair, his mind whirling at the unexpected turn of the meeting. I repressed an urge to run as I realized where his thoughts were headed. "Diana, you say Young Justice is having issues?"
She took a moment to compose her reply. "I believe the team is going through difficulties that one would expect for a group of teenagers, although Wally may be more the expert on this than I am."
Wally shook his head. "I would have to ask Jay for specifics, but the team operates differently than the Titans did. They aren't all mentored as closely as we were. Or - well, maybe differently than we were. But from what I've gathered from Jay and Impulse, they've got a fair amount of the usual life sucks vibe that goes with being a teenager."
I felt Superman's internal wince at the mentoring comment, knowing that his relationship with Superboy tended more toward adversarial than paternal. He took a deep breath. "I apologize, Batman. I can see that the situation for young heroes is... more complex than I had realized."
"Hh," Batman responded, and I was caught between disapproval and amusement at the take that, boy scout that emanated from his mind. I wanted to point out to him the good grace of apologizing promptly and publicly, but in his present state of mind he would fail to see the parallel or the lesson.
"It's clear," Superman continued, "that this is going to be a serious issue for us in the years to come, and we should probably put together a group to brainstorm ideas for how to handle it."
There were nods around the table, and I wanted to sink through the floor as Kal's gaze traveled around the room to settle on me. "J'onn, you've had -"
"Forgive me, Superman," I interrupted, "but I would prefer not to participate in this project."
"J'onn?" Diana puzzled, her eyes searching my features.
"But J'onn," Orin began, "you were instrumental in leading -"
"Aquaman." I met his eyes significantly, and he fell silent, undoubtedly remembering what I did not want to remember.
"J'onn -" now it was Kyle - "you're the best mentor we-"
"Let him be," Batman growled, his tone daring anyone to challenge him. I realized that I had been unconsciously reaching out to him through our link, and that he suspected the cause of my distress. He did not radiate the same abashed sympathy that Orin offered, seeing only the need to defend me and get explanations later. It was a very Bat reaction, but I did not wish him to fight my battles any more than he wanted me to fight his.
Unsurprisingly, it was Superman who ignored Batman's order. "J'onn, I think it would be easier to accept your unwillingness to come up with a plan for dealing with younger heroes if-"
I stood, too tired and too unhappy for diplomacy. "The League has entrusted me with young superheroes before," I stated flatly. "I am sure the computer can remind you if you cannot remember how many of those children are now in the ground."
I turned before anyone could offer rebuttal or reassurance, fleeing to my quarters, ashamed of myself. I was shirking a duty, a responsibility I should undertake willingly. My failures were my strength - lessons learned that need not be relearned. Knowledge unshared is knowledge lost, and I was already deciding I would go back to the League and agree to help with the young hero issue. Later. When my thoughts were more settled.
For that I needed the blissful silence of my telepathically shielded quarters, away from the confusion and concern of my teammates. I even eschewed the courtesy of proceeding through halls and doors, phasing along the most direct route to the desired sanctuary.
I almost sobbed with relief when I finally got there and carefully worked to settle my mind. I let my body relax into trueform, floating crosslegged over the floor, my arms resting against my legs. There was too much to think about, and I needed to empty my mind of all thoughts before I could even begin. I reached inside myself to the tangled knot of the past three weeks, unraveling doubts and worries and fears so I could draw each of them back for more careful reflection once my mind was clear. The tangle loosened slowly, and I lost myself in the task.
I was brought back to external awareness by a tap at the door, purely a courtesy since before I could have responded, Batman entered. I didn't even look up at him.
I felt rather than saw him walk in and sit - not crouch or perch or squat - but sit on an African chair that sat against one wall of my quarters. For a long moment he didn't say anything, and I didn't try to read from him what he expected.
Finally, he spoke. "I think we need a break."
That got my attention. I turned my eyes to him in confusion, not remotely understanding. I was half-surprised to see that the cowl was down.
He gestured broadly. "From this," he clarified, "from the Cave." His lips twisted wryly. "From the kids."
I waited as he studied me, offering no reaction.
"I can have Alfred get the penthouse ready for us," he suggested, and I blinked.
We hadn't been back to the penthouse since that whole case in February, with Scarecrow and Hatter and Du Bois. He had been avoiding the place, and I didn't feel inclined to press him on it.
He saw the blink and offered me a tentative smile. "I know," he said, as if reading my thoughts. "But I didn't lose you there."
I felt an unexpected rush of emotion. He did understand, no matter how much we hadn't been talking about it. I cautiously allowed myself to read the surface of his thoughts and was almost overwhelmed by his concern and love for me. There was also a hint of guilt for the way he had been so cavalier about his injury, his close shave, his insistence that I help with the deception that had provided a cover story for Bruce Wayne.
"I'd like that," I said quietly.
He nodded once, ever efficient. "I'll let Alfred know, then." He stood and for a moment was uncertain. "J'onn-"
I inclined my head, listening.
He took a moment to accept the invitation to talk. "I'm not very good at this. Even after all this time." His expression was apologetic. "I know that meeting-" he grimaced. "I know that you're not very happy right now. But I don't know what to do. I don't know if you need time to be alone or-"
He stared at me for a moment, a curiously hopeful expression on his face. I dropped my eyes. "Please."
He stepped toward me cautiously, allowing his hand to settle on my shoulder. I caught a fleeting impression that he was worried he might knock me from where I floated with his touch, and then his fingers tightened and he stepped closer. His arms came around me and I leaned my head against his shoulder.
He held me for a long time.