Waking, part 18
Disclaimers in "part 0"
He crossed the distance between them in two long bounds, fighting to keep his pulse and respiration level as much as he struggled to understand his own strength in the substantially lesser gravity. The latter was easier as he pulled himself back to the ground, settling onto his knees beside J'onn's body.
He was half-embedded in the bedrock of his home planet. His torso twisted back from the shoulder fused into the soil, stretched across a rocky outcrop. His left arm splayed out, palm up, the deceiving delicateness of his true Martian form giving him the appearance of a bird slammed roughly to earth, wing still unfurled. His neck stretched vulnerably, the weight of his head dangling past the rock and over open space, baring his throat. It was as if he were staring up at the narrow ribbon of night sky visible above him, except his eyes...
His eyes were half-open, dull, clouded - lifeless.
Batman bowed his head for a moment, willing away Bruce Wayne's emotion as he sought more rational memory. J'onn had shut his body down before, lain corpse-like as his spirit traveled in realms not meant for flesh, a noble effort to join Zauriel's defense of heaven. They'd brought him back then...
It had been the Flash who'd been the catalyst, jump-starting J'onn's cells with a transfer of kinetic energy. That wasn't an option now.
But neither was J'onn's death.
Beneath the encasing bubble of Ace, feeding air and warmth to his too fragile flesh, Batman's face took on an expression of determination as he stretched his hand out along J'onn's arm. He gently folded the extended limb back towards him, pulling J'onn's hand to his chest and, as a consequence, rolling the Martian onto his side. A desperate part of his mind tried to take comfort in the fact that J'onn remained supple, even as the logician in him remembered that there was no reason to assume that Martians underwent rigor mortis. It had been over an hour since Bruce's tenuous link to his lover had suddenly snapped, and it was possible that the sudden silence was not an act of conscious will - that J'onn had died then.
He forced the thought aside, raising J'onn's hand to his face. He was glad now that he had eschewed a clumsy spacesuit in favor of trusting the powers of his zo'ok. The little symbiote phased enough to allow him to press J'onn's palm to his face without letting valuable air escape, and the feel of the cold green flesh was almost enough to wrench a sob past his control. J'onn, he thought softly, pressing a kiss into the palm.
There was no response.
He lowered J'onn's hand and reached for the sightless eyes, drawing lids down over them. It almost looked like he was sleeping now, except Batman knew that this was not how J'onn slept. He brushed a hand over the high forehead, thinking.
And while the Bat tore through scenarios to replicate the experiment that brought J'onn back before, Bruce Wayne animated the body that continued to stroke J'onn's brow and hold his hand. Neither particularly noticed the way Ace was stretching out, expanding its armoring presence to blend with another zo'ok.
Not right away at any rate.
That Batman and J'onn J'onzz shared the same bubble of air only became evident when Bruce found himself interlacing his fingers with J'onn's and leaning down to kiss one sunken cheek. He remained there, his forehead resting on J'onn's temple, unwilling to admit defeat, but unable to imagine an answer. A sigh finally escaped him and he closed his eyes, the detective giving the man leave to mourn.
And the hand Bruce held began to return the pressure of his fingers.
He didn't dare open his eyes, holding his breath as he felt the familiar penetration of Martian cells into his body. He surrendered almost instantly, letting J'onn pour into him, feeling the deep core of Mars traveling through him on the currents of his lover's mind. There were no thoughts sent his way, but he knew the touch which surrounded him, and he found he could only let the sensation fill him, his own emotion inchoate.
WHAT IS THIS THING?
The unexpected bellow in his mind flattened him against J'onn, forcing the air from his lungs with a rush. He sensed Ace scrambling as cold suffocation pressed in on him, and then he was in J'onn's warmth, sheltered and breathing in desperate gulps. J'onn? he questioned, reaching for reassurance and information. But while he could feel his lover around him, there was no answer.
WHAT DARES DISTURB OUR LOST CHILD!? The voices screamed through Bruce's skull, disorienting him, disrupting his already tenuous sense of up and down on an unfamiliar world. He felt Ace wrapping tightly around him, responding to his confusion and pulling his cape around him. He found himself lost in memory for a moment, remembering the way J'onn's cape - his zo'ok - sometimes curled possessively around J'onn's body. How much did the little creatures sense danger, protecting in the only ways they knew how? He curled into it, into J'onn, still surrounding him, still silent.
A new voice distinguished itself from the polyphony zinging through his mind. Human! A figure of flame rose up, separating itself from deep shadow to stand before them.
H'ronmeer, Batman recognized, galvanizing himself to sit upright, prepared to defend J'onn.
H'ronmeer stayed where it was, its voice taking on a gentleness Batman had not imagined possible for the god. The zo'ok protect him. You may stand down, little soul.
Bruce felt J'onn's essence flowing obediently away from him, and he tightened his hold on the hand in his. Don't leave me, he ordered, striving to will the Martian essence to remain entangled in his as he witnessed J'onn returning to the dimensions of his corpse. There was still no answer, but their hands remained fused, blended.
You love our child, human, H'ronmeer stated plainly, and behind him a groundswell of whispers rose.
What is it? How is it? This is human? No, human is -
Quiet, my siblings, H'ronmeer said. You will do harm.
Let him go, H'ronmeer, Batman growled mentally, his teeth gritted against the intrusions in his thoughts.
He thought the god sighed. In a million million years it would not be ideal. I warned you.
You kill him! Batman raged, rising to his feet defiantly, fingers still entwined with J'onn's.
No, the god denied. He sacrifices.
There was sand in his boots. Batman looked down, caught between horror and confusion at the ground swirling around his feet, penetrating to taste at his toes.
It is like rock and sand, a voice marveled. Yet it thinks.
D'infad, H'ronmeer chastened, and Batman knew that he was naming the sand, and that the sand was not merely sand.
My brothers and sisters, it is NEW! There was pure delight in the tone, and again the voices began to hum in Bruce's skull.
It is not new, my sibling of curiosity, H'ronmeer contradicted. It is human.
IMPOSSIBLE! The force of the denial pressed Batman back to his knees. HUMAN IS THE GREAT VOICE FORGOTTEN!
STOP! Bruce projected with his entire will, prompting a stunned silence. J'onn's hand in his began to stretch again among his cells, and in the quiet, a new sound began.
It was like singing or dancing, coiling with unreserved energy through Bruce's soul. It commingled love and joy and fear and pain and wisdom and innocence, a tension of opposites within which lay the truth that bubbled with the thrill of a million million voices. And with in the very heart of it? There was a space, a quiet. A quiet that was being urged to join the song around it, but which seemed to be tuning out the beauty to stare fixedly from within at -
THE GREAT VOICE! There was awe and anger in the buffeting clamor of the gods. INSIDE THIS ROCK.
This human, H'ronmeer corrected, and Bruce felt the god's scrutiny. Little soul, you wait for him. Despite all, he has become your whole.
IT CANNOT BE! THE LOST CHILD IS MARS! HE WOKE US!
They woke you.
The rising argument of the Martian gods was still deafening, but Bruce found it receding as he focused on the little silence staring out at him. In his mind's eye, he touched it and felt it ache in lonely empathy. It would be eased, he knew, if it just joined the harmonies that bathed its surface, and he could not understand why he resisted the urge to soothe it into the stream of consciousness that so desired it.
He became aware that H'ronmeer now stood with him in his own mental plane, watching the way he caressed the silence. That is his human part, H'ronmeer explained.
I don't - Bruce began, bewildered rather than enlightened by the explanation. I don't understand.
You hear the great voice.
Bruce gestured around himself. All this? Yes. It is beautiful.
It is Mars. The essence of every life, every soul.
BLASPHEMER! YOU BETRAY US, BROTHER, TO TELL THIS ROCK-
H'ronmeer took the brunt of this shout, sheltering Bruce from its blast as the man continued to cup the silence in his hand.
FOOLS! H'ronmeer blasted back. YOU WOULD DESTROY ALL THAT WE ARE BECAUSE YOU CANNOT RECOGNIZE HIS TRUTH, THAT THIS IS WHAT HE DIES FOR!
Bruce was barely listening. He was gathering the silence toward him, sharing its loneliness and echoing its ache in the deepest corner of his own heart. He should let it go, a part of him argued, but with it here in his hand? He wanted only to protect it, to hold it close...
BUT HE IS MARS! THE GREAT VOICE! WE MUST MAKE IT REMEMBERED! came a plaintive cry, and Bruce wasn't sure if they were pleading against H'ronmeer's words or Bruce's actions in the expanding eye of a mental hurricane.
IT IS NOT FORGOTTEN! H'ronmeer objected, exasperation evident in his tone. WE FORGOT. BUT THESE MINDS YOU TOUCH NOW? THEY ARE AS THIS ONE!
Fire seared through Bruce's mind, but an island remained where his mental self still cradled a little silence in his hands. Dimly he sensed tears of pain too intense to be borne on his physical cheeks. A clamor arose, shrieks that flayed his skin and forced the air from his lungs, but the silence before him was growing, pushing back the denials and doubt-filled cries of the gods, making them seem as distant from him as his own flesh now felt. Even the dancing voices were retreating as the silence loomed, fixing him with its own intensity. It rose until it seemed to fill every space and then...
He was in it. Absolute silence, stripped even of his own heartbeat or the rush of blood through his body. He remained frozen within it, feeling that he should be frightened, or at least concerned, but he was only in the moment. The perfectly silent moment. He did not know what his body was doing, and it didn't seem to matter. All that mattered was the unbreakable silence.
Or not unbreakable. For even as he began to marvel at the wonder of the silence, a familiar voice spoke in tremulous tones.