Waking, part 20

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



Bruce Wayne had no idea how much time had passed since his mind had been enveloped by this oddly comforting silence. An eyeblink or an eternity - either option seemed viable. He felt he should care more, but after J'onn had querulously pronounced his name, Bruce became aware of J'onn all around him - that the silence was J'onn. More importantly, it was J'onn not leaving him.

Almost as if on cue with this thought, J'onn's voice sounded again. You cannot stay here.

I know, Bruce projected. We've got a planet to save.

No, my friend, J'onn corrected, his mental tone both pained and patient. You have a home to help set back to rights.

So you've persuaded them, then, Bruce noted with approval. We can-

You persuaded them - or we both did. Which is why you need to return now. Go home where you are needed.

Me, Bruce remarked flatly.

Yes.

Not you.

There was a tiny pause. Yes.

Batlike firmness bled into Bruce's tone. Not an option.

Bruce-

I told you I would not let you go through this again. You are not going to suffer the loss of all you love-

Bruce, it's my decision. The right decision.

I do not accept that. And I will not leave you.

A hint of despair entered J'onn's tone. You'll die, Bruce. Ace and Zo'ok can only keep your body alive and protected for so long if your soul does not-

Soul.

The mental equivalent of a nod projected into Bruce's mind.

Bruce stretched his consciousness, taking in the pocket of silence. At its fringes, he realized he could still hear the great voice. This is your soul. He could not keep a hint of accusation out of his tone.

Yes, J'onn admitted.

And when I leave, you will join the great voice.

J'onn's voice grew quieter. Yes.

Bruce's mind flashed back to H'ronmeer's words: An unwanted vision of J'onn's body splayed over the Martian rocks forced itself into his memory, and he stiffened his resolve. No.

Bruce, don't you see? This is the only way - they need this closure, this - There was a sigh that radiated around and through him.

Explain.

For a long moment, it seemed that J'onn would not answer him, and Bruce wondered if he would be able to resist if J'onn were to actually force him to leave.

We woke them, Bruce.

The words were a tangle of remorse and longing.

How?

Love.

Another long silence reigned before J'onn continued.

When we - when we realized we could do this, that we could love each other - that stirred the great voice. The souls of my people, they live on through me. I anchor them, and my loneliness - they respected it. They muted the great voice so as not to remind me more painfully of what was gone.

They sing now, Bruce observed, struggling to understand.

Yes. You remember when they began.

It wasn't a question, and Bruce realized suddenly he did remember that late night after a hard case, when J'onn had come to him, when for the first time they had made love without compromise, blending Martian and human into something uniquely theirs. His mind still easily summoned up the faint awe that graced J'onn's face in the moonlit bedroom, the sense of joyous music still resonating in Bruce in the warm afterglow of their intimacy.

The gods of my people, they are - not precisely custodial. There is no human equivalent for their role in relation to the great voice. The great voice feeds them, and they in turn guard it, direct the people in concrete ways how to maintain it. They are not idols, but more properly a means of expressing ideas which are sometimes hard to grasp, the ways in which the great voice could come into being as we grew and learned as a people.

Like Hindu gods, Bruce grunted.

Similar, yes, in that they are the road to understanding the true ineffable power which invests a soul. But more real - the Martian gods did walk Mars, although we came to think them myth.

Why?

As the great voice grew, as everyone became enabled to hear it, even the living, even relatively young children once they had established themselves enough not to become enthralled and lost in the great voice and suffer death for the desire to meld with it - the gods became less necessary. They became as parables, their lessons acting as powerfully as they could. So they slept.

Except H'ronmeer.

Except H'ronmeer, J'onn agreed. We had not yet conquered our fear of death, of loss, despite the knowledge that death was only passage into the great voice. We still knew the selfishness of individualism, and to lose that in the great voice made us cling to life rather than allow death. H'ronmeer would have been the last to sleep in any case.

It called this your human part, Bruce observed.

Another sigh filled the silence. I do not wish to give you up.

Then don't. Simple.

I don't have a choice, Bruce. This is how it must be.

Bruce felt his temper rising. Why? You still haven't given me a reason!

He regretted his outburst when he felt a wave of anguished sorrow around him.

J'onn, he began gently, trying to blend into J'onn's consciousness as a comforting presence.

I'm sorry, Bruce. It was the softest of whispers across Bruce's mind, a quiet voice breaking over the words.

Bruce fought the desire to lash out, instead forcing himself toward acceptance that he didn't want, if only to bring J'onn's silence closer. Just explain, he pleaded. Please.

The great voice was sounding louder, its joy and power now grating to Bruce. He swallowed the anxiety it prompted.

Please, he repeated.

I opened Earth to them, their misunderstanding.

The gods?

The silence felt like an acknowledging nod. When I let myself love you - it had been so long since the great voice had sung...

The gods woke. You already-

Bruce. There was reproach in J'onn's mental tone. Yes, they woke. And they heard the great voice only singing with the dead, not the living. Save me. And you.

Bruce waited for him to continue, fearing what he would say but needing to know, if he was to lose J'onn, why it must be so.

They thought you were Martian.

Bruce snorted. Dumb gods.

The great voice hummed louder, and he imagined J'onn wrapping around him, reminding him painfully of what was at stake. They saw what I saw. Not that I saw you as Martian, but that I loved you, could love you. That you were becoming my whole.

The last words were almost unintelligible, and Bruce could hear the echo of H'ronmeer again. He felt his soul twisting, and wondered bitterly if he had somehow just died and gone to hell, if the raw pain of inevitable loss was his eternal reward. I opened Earth to them then, he pointed out acidly.

There was another shift in the silence, as if to comfort, and he tried to steel himself to it. No, Bruce. You did nothing wrong. I -

Neither did you! Bruce objected hotly. What kinds of gods are these that would rather see you suffer than allow you what comfort I can give you!

Lonely ones, J'onn answered succinctly. Confused gods, who saw only that somehow, in their slumber, the responsibility of the people to the great voice had been abandoned. Gods who needed to teach a new generation how to hear the great voice.

Humans are not Martians! Bruce argued, anger winning over sense as he felt himself wounding his lover.

I know, J'onn replied.

The great voice intensified.

J'onn, I-

Imagine sleeping finally, believing your work done, and then waking to the absence of all life. And imagine also the tiniest sounds in the distance. Would you not head toward them? And then imagine reaching those voices and finding children, lost and afraid, each desperately alone, silent to one another. You could barely see them, just through a little peep hole, but you knew the way to lead them out of their darkness. What would you do?

Bruce stayed silent, knowing that J'onn knew the answer, and hating that he knew it. He would try to help. He would have to.

They didn't understand the possible costs of their intentions. They cannot even see you as minds - save through me.

But they know now, Bruce objected. They called me a rock.

Yes. And even now they are working to repair their damage as they withdraw from Earth.

So you can come home.

I am home.

The great voice felt nearer, the silence around Bruce palpably diminishing. Why must I let them have you? Bruce demanded, knowing his mind's cry was like a sob.

So that the gods and the great voice might know peace. J'onn's voice sounded distant, peaceful. Calmly explaining. When I join the great voice, then it will be as promised for Mars - the god and great voice will unite, will become joined as a whole, the healed spirit of Mars.

The silence was growing claustrophobically small, and staying within it was becoming an act of will for Bruce. J'onn's voice continued, musing, far away.

My mother told me once that she had had a vision of a dark future in which our people would need a champion. 'Someone who would embody the very best aspects of our race.' She claimed that champion was me. For years, I have borne the burden of failing her prophecy, of not saving my people. Now I can.

J'onn- Bruce gasped, feeling the silence expel him into the tumultuous song of the great voice, watching as it shrunk down, down, smaller and smaller...

"J'ONN!" he screamed desperately, realizing only as the sound left his throat that he was back in his body, wrapped protectively by Ace and Zo'ok, collapsed onto the cold ground beside the still corpse of his lover.



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