Play, part 5

By Darklady and Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"

Oh! the plelloch exclaimed in delight, filling Bruce's mind with the sound of clapping hands.

Bruce tuned them out in favor of a more pressing concern. Is this true? he asked J'onn quietly. You have another name?

Yes, J'onn admitted, pressing a pair of lips to Bruce's forehead. It does not translate, so I have long abandoned it.

But these - so beautiful. It must - Bruce broke off, remembering how reluctant J'onn had been to leave the dream world constructed for him by the Know Man and Dr. Destiny so long ago. J'onn had been right then - none of them understood exactly how much J'onn had lost. Even his name -

Bruce, J'onn cautioned, building his face into the interior of himself to rest his forehead against Bruce's and meet his lover's eyes. Do you really think my true Martian name is more beautiful than the cadences in your mind when you call to me?

I can learn it, Bruce insisted earnestly. I want to know it, to call you by it.

Another kiss to the forehead, this one communicating a sense of profound patience. We can discuss it, J'onn decided. But not now.

Bruce resisted the urge to argue, knowing from J'onn's tone that it would be fruitless. And, he remembered, there was the plelloch. Milk run or not, this was still a mission - not the time for a quarrel.

If the plelloch, for its part, noticed J'onn's distraction, it showed no sign. In fact, it was only just calming from its excitement at discovering J'onn's lineage - calming enough to ask, But your beautiful mother surely did not name you "J'onn." What did she call you?

Now Bruce felt a creeping sense of guilt. J'onn clearly did not want to reveal his Martian name, and to hear the plelloch demand it made his own demanding feel petty and childish. Or loving and sweet, J'onn corrected gently, sending a comfortable wave of acceptance through Bruce's mind as his own attention focused on the plelloch.

My new people called me J'onn, and I do not wish to reject this name they gave me, J'onn demurred, making his loss feel, even to Bruce, like a gain. Bruce turned his head to kiss the inside surface of J'onn's cheek, projecting his sense of wonder. One thigh received a grateful squeeze in response.

New people? the plelloch was wondering. Why didn't you say so? Let's go!

WAIT! J'onn ordered, arresting the plelloch's motion and prompting another wave of confusion.

Why? Don't they want to play? The plelloch sounded hurt.

It's not that they don't want to, J'onn explained patiently. It is that they can't.

Can't? Another wave of puzzlement rolled from the plelloch.

They are very delicate creatures, J'onn described, ignoring a snort from Bruce. And they are young in the universe. They do not even have telepathy yet.

No telepathy? The plelloch sounded incredulous. You mean they can't even talk ?

J'onn laughed, pressing a pair of lips to Bruce's to forestall a comment. They can talk, just not in the way you are used to. They vibrate the air.


Bruce sensed that J'onn was sending an explanatory image.

That's crazy, J'onn, the plelloch objected, its tone rebuking him for suggesting something so incredible.

Maybe, J'onn agreed, but true. Shall I prove it to you?

We can go see? the plelloch suggested enthusiastically.

No, J'onn corrected. They would not understand you. They would be frightened and many of them would get hurt.

The plelloch conveyed a mental snort. Are you sure they are even people?

Bruce felt a gentle hand touch the back of his head, then trail a gentle caress down the length of his spine, prompting an involuntary shiver accompanied by a flood of warmth. Quite sure, J'onn assured. I have one with me.

The plelloch gasped. Really? it squeaked. Lemme see, lemme see!

Not if you're going to be like this, J'onn denied, his tone almost cranky as he curled protectively around Bruce. Whatever the plelloch was doing was not reaching through J'onn's filtering, and Bruce suspected there was a very good reason.

He could, however, feel the plelloch's effort to calm itself. Please? it begged. I promise I'll do what you tell me and I won't hurt it.

J'onn paused, considering. You'll have to be very careful, he cautioned.

I can be careful. Honest.

And you'll need to dim the lights. What he actually said was an order that Bruce couldn't quite follow, but J'onn assured him that it was related to the light show around them.

Even the lights will hurt it? You mean it's even more fragile than a Tamaranian?

Yes, J'onn affirmed as Bruce blinked within him.

It thinks Tamaranians are fragile?

They are, J'onn pointed out, his tone distracted. He turned his projection back to the plelloch. And you will need to create atmosphere.

Atmosphere? What - It paused, and it seemed J'onn must be feeding it information, for then it said. Really? Ooo-kay. You say so. This good?

Hmm. Perhaps more...

Bruce began to tune the conversation out, resting back into the comforting warmth of J'onn. The armor around him snuggled against his body, occasionally dropping a kiss here or there as outwardly J'onn directed the plelloch. Bruce could not remember feeling so safe.

Plasticman finished entering the last of the new data on the plelloch into the file and had flagged its location in the JLA mainframe so J'onn and Bruce could easily pull it up for their debrief. For all J'onn's reassurance, the thing looked damned scary, a nightmare special effect from Space Trek, except real. It reminded him of things like the suneater, big ineffable things that just seemed to exist out there, running roughshod over entire worlds and solar systems with unreasoning and inexorable power. The very thought made him shudder.

Which was why, instead of closing the file once he'd updated it, he settled back in the monitor chair to actually read it.

Like many of the files in the Watchtower computer, it was clear that the original entry had been compiled by the White Martians. Plasticman had read enough of J'onn's careful translations of their databases to recognize the style. J'onn tended to edit out the worst of the White Martian editorializing, softening it as much as he could without corrupting their observations. To the plelloch file, however, J'onn had written an entire addendum, and he had heavily footnoted the White Martian translation.

It was actually as much a primer on Martian politics - and the difference between Martians and humans - as it was a description of the plelloch. Gauging from the scorn in the White Martian notes, and their obvious resentment that they had been unable to harness the power of the creatures to any nefarious ends, it was clear enough why the White Martians had no visual image of the plelloch on file. It was also clear why J'onn had told Superman that the plelloch were difficult to describe. Having seen one, Plasticman could see the correlation between the description and the actual being, but without having seen one? Martians clearly "saw" more in the display of light and power than humans could begin to perceive.

"It is impossible," J'onn had footnoted at one point, "for any being with even the slightest telepathy to come within range of plelloch and maintain any malevolent intent." In his own addendum, he had described the sort of playful euphoria which contact with a plelloch induced, and the tone of it was almost wistful. And vaguely warning, a caution to his teammates if they should somehow end up confronting a plelloch without J'onn. "I am not certain that a plelloch could not be harnessed by a people lacking telepathy or empathy, although I am certain that the only affect of such harnessing would be to teach the plelloch to lash out against its captors." His notes went on to catalogue how devastating such a lashing out would be, how powerful a plelloch truly was.


Plas glanced at the monitor display, hoping it was J'onn or Batman calling in. It wasn't.

"Watchtower," he answered. "What's up, GL?"

Kyle's face appeared on the screen. "Just wondering if there's any word on the mission."

"Nope. Nada. I talked to J'onn about an hour ago and got a distinct, 'don't call us, we'll call you,' vibe."

"From J'onn?" Kyle sounded surprised.

"Checking this file, it kinda makes sense. I think I'd rather just let J'onn shoo it away, thank you very much." Plasticman let one eye stretch out to continue reading the text as he talked.

"Ew. O'Brian, don't DO that," Kyle objected with a shudder.

"What?" Plasticman questioned. "This?" He stretched both eyes out, corkscrewing them around one another crazily.

Kyle winced. "I'm sorry I called. You'll let me know when everything's sewn up?"

Eel morphed into a giant embroidery hoop with a needle poised over it. "Rogerooni, GL."

"Great," Kyle said hurriedly, severing the connection.

"Heh," Plasticman remarked, turning his full attention back to the file and a footnote he hadn't previously noticed.

"As I was a child when the plelloch last visited this system, I can only speculate on the ways that plelloch affect adults and their sense of play. I do know that the Martian population dramatically increased in the months following the plelloch's appearance."

Eel leaned back in the chair, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

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