title: 1958
fandom: DC Comics
characters/pairings: Bruce, Hal, J'onn-as-John, Barry, Clark
rating: G
warnings: none
summary: Five close friends get together to talk.
notes: for rithy. *snugs* inspiration from chi. ^_^

It was the third Monday of the month, which meant that it was time for their regular dinner at Chelsea's. It also meant that Clark was going to be late.

Chelsea's was an old fashioned kind of restaurant, where the waitresses called everyone 'honey,' and half of them were old enough to be grandmothers. Their regular table was the circular booth in the middle of the long line of booths, and on the third Monday of the month, it was always free. The table had a long crack in the finish, and the metallic fringe was mostly rubbed off the edges. The vinyl of the booth had the sheen of age masking its gloss, and the seashell sconces that flanked the table were chipped, almost perfectly symmetrically.

The food was good, and the place was quiet, and no one ever suggested that they change, even after all this time.

Bruce was always there first, but then, that was the way he was. First in, last out, a dependable sort. Hal came next, but he had to go wash his hands before sitting down, so John ended up sitting next to Bruce. John was good at getting to sit next to Bruce. It was one of his particular skills.

The table was sedate until Barry showed up. Then the real conversation got started. Barry loved to rib Bruce about anything and everything, from his predilection for sitting on the end, even though he never had to go to the bathroom, to the large album he had brought to share with the group. Bruce was not an easy man to tease, and Barry wasn't particularly good at it, but once he got started, Hal would join in, and soon, Bruce's left eye would start to twitch as they played off of each other.

They ordered drinks. Clark was never there until after they had finished their appetizers anyway, so there was no point in waiting.

It was companionable. They had known each other for years. They loosely knew each other from work, although they all did their own separate things. Bruce and Barry had children about the same age who liked to hang out together. John and Clark were in the same line of work, although they wrote for opposing newspapers. It was an old alliance of friends, kept together by periodic meetings like these.

Clark came in with the wind behind him, seemingly, as always, just as the waitress was clearing their appetizer plates. Talk swelled for a moment as he rushed through explanation after excuse, and Barry and Hal joked along with him.

John smiled and raised his glass to his 'rival,' watching as Bruce scowled.

Bruce didn't care for Clark that much. Somehow, Clark and Bruce just... rubbed at each other. It wasn't clear to John if Clark really was as put out by Bruce as Bruce was by him, but it bore observation. John was one of the best investigative reporters around because of his habit of sitting back and watching.

It took a long time to order. Bruce had shoved his album off to the side so that it wouldn't get in the way for dinner, and again had to endure a barrage of jibes as Barry, Hal, and now Clark pushed him. Now that Clark had been added to the mix, the corners of Bruce's mouth would quiver as he tried to control his scowl.

No one would have thought it to watch them, but Bruce was easily the most powerful person at that table, hell, in the whole damn town. It never ceased to amaze John how easily a captain of industry could hunker down with the masses just by changing his designer suit in for a sport coat that matched his pants and a thin tie. Bruce could sparkle like a peacock, or blend in like a chameleon, depending on whose company he was keeping, and if you believed the town talk columnist in Clark's rag, Bruce kept the company of many different people.

Bruce intrigued John. He could never quite figure the other man out. Could never quite pin down all his assorted foibles and quirks, and align them with the posh sophisticate he knew Bruce could be. Just looking around the table, John was astonished that any of the were friends at all. Barry and Hal were sociable and friendly, and occasionally met for drinks after work before heading home, but otherwise, they were the oddest collection of people who weren't quite friends there were.

They had known each other for a long time.

It was long after Barry's ice cream dish, licked clean like the rest of his dishes, had been cleared away, and after Bruce had made them set aside behind the booth all their glasses, that he pulled out the album he had brought.

He had spent a week in Roswell, New Mexico, on what he described as a 'working vacation.' Bruce had always had a fascination with the strange. When he was a child, he was the type to watch magic shows just to figure out the trick. He loved to uncover the truth behind illusions. But best of all, he loved a mystery that seemed to have no explanation.

There had been a crash there last year, he said, and he had gone to check it out. The album was full of page after page of pictures he had bought from locals, scraps of paper he had taken notes on while he had interviewed people who had seen the crash. He had a false badge he had spent far too much money on as he had 'infiltrated' the local army base, looking for clues. There was a microfilm strip of what he claimed was an alien being autopsied.

Bruce claimed that the military was using alien technology to enhance their own rockets. He showed them a picture of a rocket that seemed to rise right up from the earth. He told them that the government was concealing important scientific evidence of superior life on other planets.

Barry made jokes at first, but in the face of Bruce's passion and fervor, he quickly got bored. Barry always did have a rather short attention span. Hal was intrigued, being a creative sort, so that even if he clearly thought Bruce was off the wall, he was still interested in the theoretical aspects. Clark, of course, immediately locked horns with Bruce, half the time refuting Bruce's evidence with journalistic verve, and half the time simply playing devil's advocate.

John envied Clark's rapport with Bruce.

Their evening was wrapping up. Clark, who had never actually taken off his trench raincoat, put his hat on, so John slipped back into his trench and hat as well. Bruce was not about to give up, though, leaning forward to make his point more emphatically.

Hal was looking through the film absently, so John picked up a photo to look at, not really sure what Bruce wanted him to see in it.

Barry sighed, and asked Bruce what was so important about all this junk anyway.

Bruce nearly exploded. "Don't you see? This could be the answer to everything! Haven't you ever felt like... like... like there was more going on that you couldn't see? That there was this... black curtain hiding all the important questions of the universe, and you could see maybe the outline of things, but nothing concrete? This would change... it would change everything! It would affect every man, woman, and child in the world! Can't you see? Everything we thought was true about life, about science, about mechanics, about theology... It would all be fundamentally shifted! I mean... it's like... It's like, the world, and our lives, has all this potential... like we could all be these great, mythic figures, but we're just walking around, blindfolded and gagged, with cotton in our ears, and this! This would open up everything!"

Chatter surrounded him. John frowned down at the blurry picture. Little green men from Mars? Would it really change things like Bruce said?

What if...? John had often felt like this was not his world. Even when he was small, before he knew what was so different about him. He used to dream that his real parents were from another world, and that one day, they would come back to him, and they take him home, where he wouldn't have to try so hard to fit in. Where he wouldn't have to pretend to be someone he wasn't. Where he wouldn't have to swallow and repress his every natural instinct just so that he could still work and live in society.

He shifted his hand slightly where it rested on the seat, so that it was directly behind Bruce's ass. He sometimes wondered about Hal and Barry, and their casual closeness. He sometimes even wondered about Bruce and Clark, and how Clark got under Bruce's skin so much.

He wondered about this shift that Bruce was talking about. Maybe, if there were aliens, and they changed the world, opening people up to Martian ideas, and ways, then maybe everyone would end up being a little bit more like him.

Maybe he was really from Mars, after all.

The waitress came over, sighing. She made some tired joke about them being as thick as thieves, and put the bill firmly beneath Bruce's nose. Clark got up, and Barry was out the door so fast, they couldn't even see his back. Hal shrugged and smiled as he walked out with Clark, his hands in his pockets. Bruce pulled out his wallet, sifting through his large bills, leaving behind enough for a generous tip, ensuring that their table would be there next month, and that next month, they would be allowed to close out Chelsea's again.

John had to stop Bruce to give him back his blurry picture, and when Bruce asked, his blue eyes naked with honesty, if John understood what he was getting at, if John believed him, there was nothing for John to say but 'of course.'

i had initially thought that they looked like international jewel thieves. i still think that, but as i stared at the picture, these thoughts started to fill my head until i had a story to write. *shrugs* they do look like jewel thieves...