Dark Side of the Moon
Disclaimer - characters owned by DC Comics and borrowed without permission for fun and not for profit.
Canon notes - during the OWaW story line, Jonathan Kent went missing and in recent Superman stories (first half of 2002), seems not altogether himself. Superman himself has been struggling to get over the Imperiex stuff and has been notably moody. The reference to the awakening of the White Martians is from JLA 54-58. Luke appears in JLA #65, DL and I liked the issue and have decided Luke is J'onnverse canon.
He hated these moods, although they seemed to be striking more often. That disconsolate restlessness, a kind of empty loneliness that no companionship could ease. Not that Lois wouldn't try, but she was hot on the trail of a story somewhere in California. And his parents... he would sigh if there were air enough here for such a gesture. They had their own worries as they rebuilt their lives after the war. His mother had been unfailingly supportive - he doubted he would have been able to face returning to the world as Superman without her. And his father...
Who knew what had happened to him as he had wandered, memory lost? He still wasn't fully himself, but he stubbornly refused to acknowledge that life couldn't go on as before, that anything was different.
There were other friends of course; he suspected that he had subconsciously chosen this place to be close to their stronghold. But once he'd arrived, he avoided the Watchtower entirely, settling instead in this desolate spot. Most of them wouldn't understand his brooding - would likely be frightened by it. And those that would...
I thought I heard something out here. Superman almost started at the gentle words intruding on his thoughts.
Hi, Jonn, he acknowledged, not bothering to turn. He could picture the Martian in his mind's eye, floating quietly, his expression neutral.
It is beautiful, isn't it?
Lonely, Superman replied before he could stop the thought.
Yes. There was no judgment in J'onn's tone. All that space between peoples. But still breathtaking.
Now Superman did turn, glancing back at his friend. J'onn's eyes were turned faintly upward, shallowly angled past the horizon. Superman followed his gaze to the largest star in this sky, glowing redly in contrast to the other pinpricks of light. I'm sorry, J'onn. Did you want-?
To be alone? No. I just finished my shift and thought I'd tour the moon before I head back planet side. He glanced at Superman. It's not everyday I find someone else in my favorite stargazing spot.
I was just... Just what? Hiding? Mourning?
I understand, J'onn answered simply, settling down beside Superman. Do you want to talk about it?
Superman contemplated. I'm sure you've got places you need to be...
I'm not due in Denver until morning, and Africa has had my undivided attention for two days. A faint smile appeared on his face. If I go back, Gypsy will start thinking I'm checking up on her.
Gypsy. Superman had forgotten about her. More troubling, somehow he had lost track of J'onn's lives, forgotten the hours he spent around the world, keeping constantly busy. He wondered that he had not wondered at it before.
What about -?
Japan? J'onn supplied, and Superman suspected he was being deliberately difficult. I show up today and Hidei will feel obliged to take me to tonight's Swallows game, and his daughter will be terribly disappointed.
You know what I'm talking about.
Superman's thought sounded uncharitable to his own ears, but J'onn only chuckled. Bruce has the team doing a full-scale security overhaul. I suspect my presence would plant ideas in his head.
More telepathic safeguards?
J'onn shrugged fluidly, the motion rippling through his cape. Or less. I try not to speculate.
You could read-
Could. Like I could read yours, if I were in the habit of spying on my friends.
Touche. There was no reproach in J'onn's mental tone, but the point played uneasily in Superman's mind. He turned his eyes back to the stars, thinking about J'onn's earlier comment. So much space between peoples. Or people.
What's it like? he asked.
What's what like?
Superman closed his eyes, sorry he had started this question. But he forged ahead anyway. Being on Earth - not having other telepaths around.
J'onn seemed to think about this for a long moment. Noisy, in some ways. So many unschooled minds, clamoring all at once, too used to their own isolation.
It must be hard.
Yes. And no. There is something wonderful in the human ways, in how they reach out... He trailed off.
It never gets easier, does it? Being the last of your kind?
He felt J'onn's hand settle on his shoulder, and he looked toward the sympathetic green face. He was struck by a pang of guilt, remembering that it was exactly this thinking that had inadvertently led to the awakening of the White Martians. He wanted to reassure J'onn that he didn't blame him for that, that he didn't mean to remind him - but his thoughts were too tangled. J'onn understood as no one else could, but they still came from different places. He couldn't be Kryptonian anymore than Superman could be Martian. And that shared loneliness was an emotional minefield. I'm sorry, J'onn. I'm-
Lonely, J'onn finished for him. And sometimes it's easier to be lonely alone than in a crowd. Even a crowd that loves you.
What's wrong with me? Superman railed. I have so much, so many gifts. A loving family, a wonderful wife, friends...
And a world that wants you to be more.
Yes, dammit! More than I can be. He picked up a loose stone and hurled it into the sky.
J'onn watched the trajectory of the stone long past the point when it disappeared from view. Then he quietly projected, I know.
It's just so frustrating. Always just a half-step too slow, that little bit not good enough. How many people died while I've been sitting here that I could save? How much-
Superman scowled silently, grinding a second rock to dust in his fist.
How many fatal muggings occur in Gotham when Batman is fighting with the JLA?
Wha - J'onn-
How much of Orin's kingdom is devastated each year by human encroachment because he has decided that there is among us a code of justice that forgives our failings in other areas?
How many of Luke's birthdays has Plasticman missed because the hero he has become cannot forgive the two-bit thug he was?
How many whispers of murder have I caught in human thoughts and been unable to prevent?
J'onn, stop. Superman gripped his hand around J'onn's wrist, emphasizing the order with a tight squeeze. He stared at him, and after a moment, the Martian met his eyes with a sad smile.
Is it so bad that we share this way of being human?
Superman had no answer. Instead, he turned his eyes back to the sky and stared into the void.
We do what we can, Kal. And if sometimes that seems not enough? If we allow ourselves to mourn our loneliness? That can be forgiven.
I'm doing too much of that lately.
Only because you are unwilling to forgive yourself.
Superman shot J'onn a sharp look, but the other man was gazing off at the red star descending toward the horizon. That's easier said than done, he pointed out, but he kept his tone gentle.
J'onn nodded. I know.
J'onn. He waited until J'onn turned toward him. I'm happy for you and Bruce. I really am.
But it doesn't make it easier, does it? he pressed.
J'onn shook his head. Love is a powerful force, Kal, but it can only share the burden, not lessen it.
Superman thought for a moment of Lois, her journalistic sense bringing crucial issues to the public eye, her struggles to grease the right wheels, bring nefarious subterfuge to light. And more personally, keeping her husband's identity secret, even from her parents - dedicated to truth but willing to lie for him. The strong woman behind the man, but she shouldn't be behind anyone. It feels - disloyal, somehow.
Because you are a romantic. And a good man. And Lois understands that.
This drew a mental snort. You want to tell him he's a romantic? Be my guest.
Superman grinned wryly at the image that flashed through his mind. I wouldn't dare.
J'onn shifted and allowed himself to drift upright. He'd just decide to run more rigorous training sessions. A faint smile touched his lips. And maybe bring me more orchids.
Superman gave a little start. Orchids?
Never underestimate the Bat, J'onn remarked. Don't stay here all night, Kal. You won't feel the cold, but it takes awhile to thaw out.
Voice of experience?
J'onn inclined his head, a hint of a smirk the only answer.
I'll go home soon, he promised.
J'onn nodded and flew away in the direction which Mars had set.
Superman returned to his stargazing, but the sky seemed different now. Less empty. Less lonely. More a teeming place of people with spaces in between them. And, he thought, too much space now between him and home. He straightened and stretched, and after another moment, took off into the night.