Clockwatching

by Domenika Marzione


This story cheerfully ignores all of JM DeMatteis's series The Spectre, 'cuz he's got to do a lot more than Abadazad to make up for that utter tripe. Hal Jordan's peculiar difficulties regarding his Spectre personna are courtesy of JLA #35. The Spectre's mandate to stick close to Earth is courtesy of... some Golden Age comic I don't remember the citation for (either written then or set then such as All-Star Squadron) where Jim Corrigan -- the Golden Age Spectre -- tried to follow the JSA to another dimension and was told to turn around and go home by his boss.


"It won't work."

The voice, cold as space and rough as ground glass, was almost conversational. Kyle frowned, not bothering to turn around from where he stood on his balcony, watching the little Guardian children run and chase and climb over each other like so many puppies under Lianna's watchful gaze.  

"Does Ganthet know you're here?"

The voice laughed and Kyle frowned. It hadn't been meant as anything close to funny. It had been meant to distract, to misdirect, because Kyle knew better than to think that Hal would be scared off by Ganthet. Not when he had traveled all this way; Kyle didn't know the specifics of Spectrehood, but there was something unrelated to abilities or desire that tied the ghost to Earth.

"I should go say 'Hi' to him later," the voice said, changing from the bottomless rumble that vibrated in your skull to a human one. More out of curiosity than any willingness to acknowledge the other's presence, Kyle turned to look. Part of Hal's punishment was that he could never be recognized by anyone who knew him; true to form, the blond-haired, hazel-eyed man had nothing of Hal Jordan's movie star looks. Kyle, still resenting the intrusion, took perverse pleasure in noting that it was just as well that vanity was a sin.

"Why are you here, Hal? It's a little far for a social call."

The Hal-not-Hal smiled wryly, looking out at the setting sun on the horizon as he leaned on the railing casually. "Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons does no good in the end."

"I'm doing good," Kyle retorted crossly. He sounded like a five-year-old caught with his hands in the cookie jar and he hated it. He didn't have to justify himself to Hal -- or to anyone else, for that matter. Ganthet was happy he was on Oa, the kids were ecstatic, and the planets he had visited on his policing tour of Sector 2814 were certainly more than pleased. "I'm doing no more than what you did, what Abin Sur did, what all of the Lanterns in the Corps did."

"The Guardians weren't the only ones who had bad operating procedures in the old days," Hal said evenly. He was still looking out and Kyle realized it was easier this way; intellectually he knew that the other man was Hal, but it still looked like a complete stranger. "We all needed to be home more than we were. To remember what we were fighting for, what we were risking our lives for. 'Saving the universe' is noble, but it gets pretty theoretical after a while."

"Yeah, well," Kyle broke off bitterly. "I've had more than enough time to think about that lately."

Hal laughed, but it was a humorless laugh. "Yeah; know that one. Nothing like being dead to spark the intense navel-gazing."

The happy shrieking of the children broke through the silence, rising and falling like waves.

"Three thousand years is too much time for a mortal, though," Hal went on. "It's probably too much time for a spirit, too, but I haven't had that much yet to say for sure. Although Purgatory certainly felt like it was forever... It's funny, in that really-not-very-funny way, that you've got more experience than I do. I'd offer to switch jobs with you, but I seem to remember promising not to ask for the ring again."

Hal turned to face him and that stranger's face grinned.

"Stop making jokes," Kyle said tiredly.

"Yeah, yeah," Hal agreed with an air of false disappointment, turning back to the horizon. "I know. You're the funny Lantern."

Kyle only sighed in response.

"My point is that you've had too much time to think about things -- officially too much time. You've had time to deconstruct and rebuild and analyze everything to its component parts and beyond and generally screw yourself into the ground by thinking too much. You can do that, you know." Another grin, this one almost wicked before fading into something profoundly sad. "And you came back after it was all over and tried to go back to your old life and it didn't work because you didn't fit anymore. The life you had left behind was too small, too simple, too black-and-white after you had spent three thousand years mastering all the shades of gray.

"You don't think or feel the same way about things anymore. You don't find the same things funny and you probably don't even draw the same way as you did before. You came back and tried to fit into what felt like someone else's life and it went spectacularly badly for the first few days, then Terry got assaulted and what little peace you had went out the window because you didn't sacrifice yourself to save the world for that to happen.

"So you left. You came here hoping to make yourself so busy that you wouldn't have to think, that you'd be too occupied saving other worlds to remember what felt so wrong about the one you left... How'm I doing so far?"

There was nothing to say, no denial that Hal would believe, so Kyle didn't bother to try. Instead, he made a sour face, unhappy at being so apparently transparent and uncomfortable with Hal's familiarity with how he felt. Kyle had always measured his successes, failures, and grasp of sanity by what he knew of Hal as both man and hero and it was profoundly disturbing to hear that Hal, the hero-turned-madman-turned-agent-of-holy-vengeance found so much to relate to.

"Jen came along because she loves you and because she thought she could help you," Hal went on when it became obvious that Kyle wasn't going to contribute to the dissection of his motives. "You couldn't tell her that it was a lot more than Terry's attack that was getting to you. You couldn't explain anything because you didn't understand yourself... and she left because even after you did figure it out, you wouldn't tell her."

Kyle turned away, then, looking back at the apartment they had shared. Jen had been gone for months and almost every trace of her touch had been eradicated by either carelessness or time. He didn't spend much time there anymore. He turned back to the balcony, feeling trapped.

"Why isn't it like the Ion power?" he asked finally, not wanting to hear any more of his inner suspicions confirmed. "Why was it easier to live with godlike powers than it is with whatever fucked up ideas I came up with playing three millennia's worth of solitaire?"

Hal chuckled. "That's an easy one: because the Ion powers weren't yours. They were given to you for a purpose and you fulfilled that purpose and they went away. Here." He waved his hand expansively to indicate all of Oa. "But what you did while waiting for the moment to defeat Gamemnae? You built that. A belief system, a philosophy, a set of conclusions, whatever you want to call it. It's a part of you and it's not so easily shed."

"So I drove myself crazy and I can't undo it?"

"It's not crazy, Kyle," Hal corrected, looking wry and pained and comforting all at once. "Take it from an expert. It's growth."

"I think I'd like to shrink again," he muttered.

"Wouldn't we all?" Hal asked, shrugging. He leaned forward again, resting his elbows on the railing. "To un-know evil, to forget depravity, sorrow, fear? It'd make my job an awful lot easier."

"You could do it, couldn't you?" Kyle asked thoughtfully. "Make me forget all that stuff, make me not remember that time?"

Hal laughed bitterly at some private joke. "I could, but I won't. It never turns out well to un-know things. Too complicated, no matter how good an idea it sounds like when first presented."

"But it's not like I was a freaking Socrates sitting there," Kyle exclaimed, raising his arms in frustration. "There weren't any deep thoughts; I didn't come up with a solution for world peace or a cure for cancer. All I was doing was trying to keep myself sane."

"What do you think most of philosophy is?" Hal retorted. "It's people trying to figure out how the world works and they do that to keep themselves sane. Man is both blessed and cursed to run through life always a little unsure of what the rules of the game are. People think that if they knew the answers, life would be easier or better or hurt less. And, thankfully, man doesn't generally live long enough to realize that there are no answers and that knowing generally makes it worse."

"Congratulations, Rayner, on being the exception that proves the rule," Kyle muttered.

"Not so exceptional," Hal said, turning around and leaning against the rail. He crossed his arms in front of his chest and cupped his elbows. "Every one of the longjohns brigade gets to feel this way. It's not just throwing down with the universe's latest villains. You get to see all of the worst that the world -- worlds -- can offer. You lose your innocence. You realize how bad it is out there, how many are willing to do the wrong thing because it's easier or makes them feel good. And you pretend that it isn't that way because who wants to think that they're fighting a losing cause or that the world isn't worth saving after all?"

Kyle looked down, unwilling to meet strange eyes.

"It's a lot harder as the Spectre," Hal said quietly. "To put away those thoughts. To not rain down vengeance and punishment upon everyone because there's not a single soul without blemish, not a single worthy man in a world-sized Gomorrah. I was never very good at keeping my own temper and now I've got to keep back His. It's like I have rage flowing through my veins instead of blood... metaphorically speaking, of course. I don't have either veins or blood anymore."

"You're not making me feel better."

"Wasn't really trying to," Hal replied cheekily, the haunted (no pun intended, Kyle mused) look leaving so quickly Kyle had almost doubted that he'd seen it. "Just trying to tell you that you're not as alone as you think."

They were quiet then. The children were gone; it was mealtime and Ganthet would be supervising a hall full of playful, finicky children. Kyle's absence would be noted.

"So what do I do?"

"Same thing everyone else does," Hal replied uncritically. "You persist. If the alternative is curling up and wishing that all of your problems would go away, which, let's face it, is what you're doing here, then there really is no choice. You can't stay here and hide forever. You know that."

"I know," Kyle admitted quietly. He'd known since before Jen left him. He'd known almost immediately and it had burned away at him, at his happiness with Jen exploring the universe and playing space cowboy. He'd been almost relieved when she'd had enough and gone home; he'd hated lying to her, keeping things from her, keeping her from all that she loved that wasn't him so that he could keep up the ruse.

"You don't have to come home today, or tomorrow, or even this week. But you do have to come home," Hal said, his voice changing as he slipped back into the familiar, if just as unsettling, form of the Spectre. "You have an obligation, as my successor, to defend Sector 2814 from the forces of evil that would take root here. But you have a greater obligation to Earth and the people you left behind there."

Kyle nodded, unsure of what else to say.

"Tell Ganthet that I like what he's done with the place," the Spectre said as he faded like the ghost he was.

And Kyle was left alone, once again, with his thoughts.

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