Only Human

by Chicago


Don't own the universe or the characters, just took them for a spin and won't earn a red cent for it. This is set immediately after the end of the Terror Incognita arc in JLA.



Batman leaned back and steepled his fingers, his conscious mind preoccupied as he scanned the data displays of the monitor womb. His eyes traveled efficiently over the array of screens, only really seeing their content enough to ascertain that nothing was amiss. At frequent intervals, he focused on one unchanging screen, a video feed from within the Watchtower.

Troubling.

That was the only word to describe it.

In his years with the JLA, Batman had watched his Martian teammate bounce back from truly horrific injuries, regenerating organs and limbs with a matter of fact manner that hid how much those injuries must have hurt him. True, fire proved a particularly nasty challenge to J'onn, but a few dozen Chocos and a little time to heal and the Martian Manhunter was right back to work. Even the episode with Ra's, when J'onn's skin had been made flammable (with your plans a voice nagged. Batman suppressed the guilt), even then, he had not been out of the game for long. But now?

Never had Batman seen J'onn so nearly dead. Had Ray not been available to confirm the faint heartbeat, Batman was not at all sure they would've been able to find any sign of life. It had shaken them all deeply, the idea that the heart of their league could be so broken. Batman had even lectured J'onn as his teammates had gently wrapped his charred body and tended him - "You are never alone," he'd said. His tone had been brusque as he demanded an apology, but he could not help it, it seemed so possible that J'onn might have died doubting them. He tried not to notice, as he took hold of J'onn's wrapped hand, that Wally was trying to brush away bits of scorched flesh that had clung to his suit and come away from the Martian's body when the Flash had carried him to the med bay. Now, three days later without significant sign of recovery, the image was haunting him. He's never been that hurt, Batman worried.

A grim realization was settling over the League. They did not know how to heal a Martian who, for whatever reason, was not healing himself. Quiet inquiries to various mystics and scientists could tell them only that he had been much weakened before their final campaign against Protex and his army, his mind limping at partial capacity even as he concocted the scheme that saved Earth. Dr. Fate, upon hearing J'onn's final message before they'd teleported him back, speculated that he had already given up, made his peace with encroaching death. Kal had barely been able to restrain Batman before he had challenged Fate, and the mystic's suggestion still angered Batman. He knew J'onn J'onzz - while there was the faintest spark of life, there was hope. J'onn had made that a repeated lesson to Batman - and Bruce Wayne - over the years, and he would not abandon that faith.

He realized that his anger had distracted him from his monitoring only when a sudden keening filled the air of the Watchtower.

His eyes immediately went to the medbay monitor. J'onn was no longer on the bed he'd lain on for the past three days. Instead, a flailing creature filled the screen, shifting shape more rapidly than Batman could identify the forms he assumed. The remains of the mummy like wrappings they'd swaddled him in cut into his body, prompting writhing twists of shape away from the pain or efforts to break free. Like before, Batman thought, remembering the only time he'd ever seen J'onn so completely out of control, like when H'ronmeer -

Batman leapt to his feet, moving swiftly to the medbay. H'ronmeer, Martian god of fire and death. Life and love, too, J'onn had once explained after his memory had been restored, but whatever was happening to his friend was not love.

At the door of the medbay, Batman paused. He could not contain J'onn. The Martian's strength would easily overwhelm him, and if he lacked the coherence to recognize Batman as friend? Batman suffered a rare moment of doubt about how to proceed. Call other Leaguers? The keening was almost deafening here in the same room with J'onn. His friend was in pain.

And had awakened alone.

Batman took a deep breath and spoke, his tone firm and reassuring. "J'onn."

The sound seemed to anchor J'onn; the distortions of his body eased.

"J'onn, I'm here," Batman stated quietly as the Martian's cries tapered off.

The form of a monster shrank down into more familiar, human-like dimensions. A familiar touch reached to Batman's mind. Batman?

"Yes," he confirmed, stepping forward toward his friend.

Why am I bound? came the question, a pleading, confused tone in his mind.

Batman stepped closer. "Not bound," he explained. "Bandaged. There was -"

Fire, J'onn projected, sending with the word a searing image of flames. His knees began to buckle.

Batman rushed forward the final steps to J'onn, catching him as he pitched forward. Or rather, trying to catch him. The Martian's bulk bore Batman to the ground, causing Batman to only soften, not break, the fall.

"Easy, J'onn," Batman soothed, feeling how J'onn trembled against him. The burned skin of his body cracked and oozed, torn by his panicked flailing, but he clung to Batman anyway, his head pressed against the bat emblem on Batman's chest.

Batman shifted awkwardly, uncertainly, levering himself into a sitting position. He reached gauntleted hands around J'onn's quaking form, assuming an unfamiliar pose of comfort. Under his hands and against his chest he felt J'onn's shaking ease. "How can we help you get better, my friend?" he asked softly.

The tenuous telepathic contact with his mind seemed to be dissipating. Hard ... can't ... focus...

"J'onn!" Batman's tone was sharp. "Stay with me!" he ordered.

Sorry... Batman...

"J'onn!" The touch was still there, but Batman could feel it weakening. He thought swiftly, reaching up to push back his cowl. "J'onn," he said again.

Trying... Bat...

"Not Batman. Bruce," he corrected, noting with satisfaction the way the Martian in his arms made a futile effort to raise his head as if to confirm with eyes boiled from his head that what he was hearing was true. Bruce peeled off a gauntlet and laid a gentle hand on J'onn's forehead. "It's me, J'onn," he confirmed, noticing how J'onn's skin burned with fever.

B-Bruce?

"Yes. And you can't leave me alone, J'onn." Bruce let his usual emotional guards down a little to give his words weight. It felt cheaply manipulative, but self-sacrifice for a friend would move J'onn more than entreaties to preserve himself. "I don't want to be alone."

He felt J'onn rally in his mind. No. Never alone, he promised, and Bruce felt a remembered ache he usually tried to bury deep within him. He was lonely, he realized, unconsciouly tightening his embrace of J'onn.

"Tell me then how I can help you," Bruce prompted. "We - we don't know how to heal you."

I ... too hard ... can't ... Again J'onn was fading, and a sudden panic filled Bruce. Not another one. No more dead. He couldn't take it. Not another -

"J'onn!" he cried, his mind opening desperately to catch at the telepathic link. Somewhere inside him, a detached observer realized he'd almost never let his guard down so completely...

And then he was utterly consumed. He felt the force of J'onn's pain slam into him with the energy of a speeding truck. His body writhed against tears in the fabric of a mind, against the agony of raw edged nerves, seared to the surface of a body burned beyond recognition. A tangled consciousness - the voices of millions of minds - played at the edge of his senses, beckoning across a divide, reminding him how he stood alone, alone, alone -

And suddenly it was over. He blinked tearing eyes, realizing that he was huddled against J'onn. His body was drenched in sweat, and he felt as if he'd just been through a fight of many hours. In his mind, a voice spoke urgently in a tone that implied it had been speaking for a while: Bruce? Bruce, talk to me. Bruce?

Bruce raised his head, swallowing hard. "I'm here, J'onn," he whispered hoarsely.

Thank H'ronmeer, the voice said fervently. I am sorry, my friend. You opened yourself as - it is a Martian way. In my pain I forgot - forgot you are only human. This is not - "You are stronger." The statement of fact cut off the confused apology.

Yes, J'onn confirmed. I drew - forgive me, Bruce. Your strength - it is our way, when one is ailing - the strength of two eases the burden of - Bruce, I am -

"Stop, J'onn." Bruce shook his head to clear it. The searing visions of J'onn's contact with him remained behind his eyes, the kind of loneliness he felt, but also a hint of what it meant to be Martian when there were still others to share it. He swallowed hard. "I am the one who should be sorry. I - I lectured you about feeling alone. I didn't know - I -"

-couldn't know, J'onn finished for him. I am truly sorry, my friend. It was an unasked for intrusion, an intimacy - J'onn trailed off, his thought unfinished. Bruce could feel him pulling away and clutched at his body, dimly aware that the flesh beneath his hands was healing. J'onn, no! he projected. Don't - don't leave me! He wanted to curse himself for this sudden weakness, but the thought of J'onn withdrawing left him physically cold.

Bruce?

Bruce leaned down again, resting his forehead against J'onn's. What I felt - that was Mars?

Yes. There was a pause. My people.

Bruce waited a beat for J'onn to elaborate, but the Martian had lapsed again into silence. They are- Bruce struggled for a word to capture what he'd felt - strong. Beautiful.

Yes, J'onn agreed. They stay alive in me, if never to touch again.

Another awkward silence. Bruce began absently to cut away the remaining bandages on J'onn's person, or at least those he could reach while his legs remained pinned beneath J'onn's weight. You can heal now? he asked carefully.

In part, J'onn confessed. I can pull my thoughts together, begin the healing. Thanks to you.

Bruce shook his head. I lectured. I presumed -

As did I, now, in taking -

No. I opened myself to you, wanted -

Bruce. In the first motion J'onn had made since his collapse, he caught Bruce's bare hand, holding it. You don't understand. What you did - yes, it is Martian to ease a mind's burden by sharing it. It is - a making one. He paused again. I have used you, Bruce. Not - not in the way you think. This making one - it -

In the awkward silence, Bruce felt a flash of insight. *This is not just a healing art,* he thought.

No, J'onn confessed, sensing the Bruce had figured it out.

It is how Martians express love.

Make love, J'onn clarified. But I used you. I took what I needed from you, but I held back my experiences, my joys. I feared - I feared the human mind might -

Bruce shifted his hand in J'onn's grip, twining his fingers with his friend's. You were right, Bruce admitted, unable to keep a rueful hint from his voice. This was what J'onn lost when his people perished? A shudder shook Bruce.

I'm sorry - J'onn began again, misinterpretting the shudder.

"No," Bruce said aloud, giving J'onn's body a comforting squeeze. "No, it was the right thing. I just - I just wish I could've truly helped you, given more -"

You helped enough, Bruce. More than I could rightfully ask.

Bruce sighed. "You are wrong, J'onn, and in your heart you know it." Because I know it, Bruce thought, and now I've felt your heart.

I am squishing you, J'onn suddenly pointed out, the non sequitur almost prompting Bruce to unexpected laughter.

J'onn pushed himself into a sitting position to free Bruce's legs. He swayed unsteadily, seeming in danger of toppling over again, until Bruce shifted onto his knees and reached over to support him. "You need something more," he pointed out, studying the pain-filled face.

Yes, J'onn admitted, leaning into Bruce's shoulder.

"Is there anything I can - any -" Bruce hesitated, not sure what he was offering or how to help.

J'onn surprised him by leaning his face up to plant a soft kiss on his cheek. You have done enough, but if I may beg one more boon?

"Please."

J'onn gave Bruce's hand another squeeze. Take me home.

Without further prompting, Bruce knew exactly where J'onn meant. A well of souls in a red rock landscape, a room without doors, a Martian place. He nodded and reluctantly pulled his cowl back into place.

"Batman to Oracle," he said.

"Go ahead, Batman," she answered promptly.

"Oracle, we need someone to cover monitors."

"Ummm - Batman, you did tell everyone-"

"I need someone NOW, Oracle."

"Right. On it, boss. And where are you going?"

Batman glanced down at where J'onn's head had settled against his shoulder. He spoke a single word before severing the connection.

"Mars."

-end-

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