And So This is Christmas

by Chicago

Disclaimers- DC Comics owns the characters, and if I owned the situation, you can bet I'd change it. A bit of holiday reflection, not for profit.

J'onn J'onzz sat contemplating the box of matches in his hand. It was such a small gesture - a flick of the wrist and it would be done. And really, it was all he could do.

He sighed heavily, closing his eyes. He almost always took monitor duty on Christmas - it was easier to be alone because he was working than to be just - alone. Not that he couldn't slip into one of a dozen identities and find welcoming friends to share the season.

He'd done it often enough with other holidays. But someone had to man the monitors, and on a day when every radio played songs about being home for Christmas? Being among people then only made him feel more lonely.

There was nothing, of course, stirring this Christmas which would require the JLA. In truth, there rarely was. So, lacking any specific thing to monitor, J'onn had done what he always did - turned the monitors to their widest number of sites - and watched.

He watched bombs explode. He watched mass transit get hopelessly snarled after a man had jumped in front of a train to end his holiday depression - permanently. He watched gunfire light the sky around entrenched armies. He watched as famine claimed more victims. It was the same every year.

He turned the match box over in his hands. They weren't Justice League problems. The Justice League couldn't stop war. Couldn't stop hunger. Couldn't stop loneliness.

Individually, they tried what they could. Bruce contributed voluminous amounts of money to various charities. Clark reported on the world's tragedies, bringing them into the public eye. Arthur and Diana both led great nations, governing with an eye towards governing even more wisely. Wally - Wally was always the Flash, had given up the luxury of private life. Even Kyle and Eel did their parts - Kyle with his artist eye, working social commentary into the funny books he drew, and Eel, so many more steps closer to the kind of poverty that drove people to desperate acts - Eel gave time and energy to smaller but no less worthy goals, individually helping people off the road of despair by example and his unwillingness to give up on them.

And what of the Martian Manhunter? J'onn stared out at the starscape, able almost to see Mars. In a few minutes, Earth would rise above the horizon, a placid blue marble that gave no sign of the strife on its surface. At least it still supported life.

He sighed again. Three weeks ago, he had spent his Ead as a relief worker in the Middle East. Such joyful shouts from refugee children who thought there would be no gifts this year to mark the end of Ramadan! Never mind that "gifts" were such treasures as tinned milk and ample rice - a full stomach was as great a gift as any bauble. J'onn, or "Ian Jonesboro" as he had identified himself, had helped distribute mittens, blankets, warm clothes, and - to the children - chocolate. He remembered the shy little girl who had hung back, watching him with expressive brown eyes, too well mannered or intimidated - he wasn't sure which - to ask for one of the candy bars the other children greedily took away. She finally accepted the candy he offered her, not with a rushed thanks, but with a fierce embrace and a childish kiss to one of his stubbly cheeks. He saw her later with her family, cold reddened cheeks dimpling over a happy smile as she sat in her mother's lap in an oversized military issue sweater.

A stray missile had struck the refugee camp two weeks later. The satellite photos of the damage showed that ground zero had been exactly where he had last seen the little girl.

A simple flick of the wrist. He'd already turned off the flame detectors on the observation level. He could've stopped the missile, if he'd known about it. But he couldn't stop them all. There wasn't much he could do to stop the wars of mankind against one another. But he could do this.

He opened the match box and withdrew one match.

"J'onn?"

He hesitated, wondering how he had missed the tell-tale hum of the teleporter.

"J'onn!" Abruptly, faster than thought, the matches were snatched from his hand. "What are you doing?"

He looked up at Superman, taking in the worried expression on the Man of Steel's face. He realized belatedly how this would look to him and silently cursed the misunderstanding. Then he gestured toward the expansive windows of the observation level and to the object centered in them. "I'm lighting a candle," he answered softly.

Superman blinked, following J'onn's gesture to take in the little table with the simple white candle upon it. J'onn watched as the other hero clearly focused his ears to hear the muted din of war in the monitor womb.

"For peace," J'onn added. "Because it's all I can do."

Kal's expression softened into understanding as he looked down at the matches he now held.

"I wanted to do it for the Earthrise - even though they can't see it from down there."

Wordlessly, Kal handed the matches back to J'onn and stepped back, watching as the Martian resolutely scratched the wooden match against the matchbox, sparking his greatest foe to life.

J'onn winced at the sudden flare of light and heat, but he held his hand steady, applying the flame to the wick of the candle. He stepped back as the wick caught, so mesmerized by the tiny dancing flame that he almost didn't notice as Kal closed a hand over his, extinguishing the match before J'onn could be burned.

The motion was enough, though, to draw J'onn's eyes from the fire to smile weakly at his friend. Past Superman's shoulder, he could see the first crescent of the Earth peer over the lunar landscape.

"Ma wanted me to bring you some pie," Clark said, his voice rough edged. His eyes were riveted on the candle. "She was appalled when Lois told her we left you up here every Christmas."

"Thank her for me," J'onn acknowledged, noting the plate sitting on one of the tables behind them.

"I will." He shook himself and met J'onn's eyes. "You're sure you won't come spend Christmas with us?"

J'onn smiled reassuringly. "I'm all right, Kal."

"Okay," Superman acquiesced reluctantly, walking slowly back to the door. He paused when he got there. "J'onn?"

"Yes, Kal?"

"Do you think ever - maybe -"

"It is what I hope for most," J'onn said fervently.

"Me, too."

Superman stood for another moment in the doorway, then quietly exited. J'onn sat a while longer in the dark, watching the Earth rise higher in the sky, breathtakingly beautiful against the velvet dark of the night. Finally he picked up the plate Clark had left him and returned to the monitor womb.

The screens were no longer as he had set them. He frowned slightly, realizing Superman must have changed them before he left. He started to change them back, then paused, recognizing the images that dominated the monitor space. Wayne Manor. The Kent Farm. Familiar apartment buildings, tenements, palaces and temples. The homes of his friends, his fellow leaguers. And in each, even in the depths of Atlantis, the monitors picked up the thing Superman had wanted him to see: the light of candles.

He settled back, leaving the settings as they were. He lowered the light, letting the images of the candle flames provide illumination, feeling their distant warmth in his weary soul. As if on cue, a soft music drifted through the monitor womb, and he blinked back tears.

"Let there be peace on Earth," the recorded singer crooned, and on one of the monitors, the Oracle mask rotated next to an electronically generated image of a candle. On other monitors, more candles appeared, at Titans' Tower, in Opal City, in Montevideo, in Mlilwane, in St. Petersburg. He finally had to dim the monitors or risk being caught by the flames, but the sentiment still hummed from the planet below. J'onn unwrapped the plate Martha Kent had sent, releasing the warm smell of cinnamon and spiced apples, still alone, but not lonely.

On the observation deck, a flame still danced, mirroring its brethren prayers for peace.

-end-


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