Sea and Sky:
Disclaimers: Characters belong to DC Comics, borrowed for fun but without permission. No intent of profit. Sea and Sky universe is the creation of Kerithwyn Jade, who ... persuaded me to write this story. This story is set after JLA: Tower of Babel and spans JLA: Queen of Fables. Some of Kyle's monologue during the last penciling scene is taken verbatim from p. 6 of JLA #47.
Relevant information: Batman was booted from the League at the end of Tower of Babel. Kyle was one of the people who voted to keep Batman in the League (J'onn and Flash were the other two). Donna Troy has been through her deconstruction (Who is Donna Troy?) and was put back together by Wally West's memory of her. Wally apparently did not remember that Donna and Kyle had been an item once upon a time. Kyle's relationship with Jennie-Lynn Hayden (Jade) ended a couple months before this fic, and even though Kyle doesn't know it, they'll be getting back together. Kyle was very briefly a member of the Titans. The black and white photograph that Kyle notices on the television is from the Wayne reception for the Atlantean delegation at which Dick Grayson and Garth more or less out themselves as a couple.
It had become the great untalked-about, the topic guaranteed to start people's teeth grinding, regardless of which side of the issue they were on. An uneasy truce had broken out - no one would touch the topic with a ten foot pole. But it still sat heavy in the air of the Watchtower, and after an eight hour stint on monitor duty, Kyle could feel every muscle clenched with tension.
He still had those panels of Zero Man to draw, so he should head directly home, but...
But he knew better than to think he would get anything done without talking to *someone.* Preferably someone who knew what had happened but didn't have the creeping memory of Batman's plans wracking his body.
Roy Harper seemed a likely candidate. Roy could sit down, have a few beers, talk about chicks - he would even listen to Kyle vent. So Kyle left the Watchtower via his own power rather than the teleporter and headed to the Titans' Tower instead of his apartment. He didn't let himself dwell on the paranoia that prevented him from using the quicker but more traceable option.
The Titans' perimeter defenses picked him up further out than he remembered their guard being, and he swiftly identified himself to Argent. After a moment, she acknowledged him and lowered the Tower's defenses just long enough for him to slip through.
Jesse Quick met him at the hangar, clearly on her way out. "Lantern," she nodded.
"Jesse," he answered. "Roy around?"
The blonde speedster wrinkled her nose a little in thought. "I don't think so - not unless he came back in the last couple of minutes. He had to run some errands. I'm sure he wouldn't mind if you waited."
Kyle nodded, watching as she tossed a backpack over her shoulder.
"I gotta dash," she apologized. "Later." She spoke her formula and was gone.
Kyle looked after her as two arcing waves sprayed up from her passage across the sound. He wondered what it was like to be hooked into the speedforce, to live life at double time. Did life happen faster, or did it seem to take twice as long? He shook his head. This whole damned mess was making him think harder than he wanted to about the hero business.
How did heroes get to be heroes anyway? Who gave them the right? He clenched his fist, the one with the ring on it, and scowled. He'd need more than one beer with Roy, that was for sure.
He headed into the Tower proper, following his memory of his brief stint as a member of the Titans. Not much had changed. He found his way to the open common room easily.He tapped the intercom on the wall. "Argent," he summoned, and she replied almost instantly. "When Roy gets back, let him know I'm waiting in the common room."
The teen acknowledged the message and signed off, and Kyle dropped onto one of the couches.
He wondered what the Titans thought of everything going on upstairs. Most of them were attached to League members in one way or another. Did they have opinions? Were they in agreement with Batman's ouster? Or were they more clear headed? Could they recognize how dangerous they all were, they all could be?
Before the ring, Kyle had reason enough to be less than happy with some of the "superheroics" he had witnessed. Hell, he had reasons to be less than happy *after* the ring. He was also all to cognizant of some of his more egregious rookie mistakes.
He shook his head, trying to clear away the ongoing internal questioning. It wouldn't help him in battle to second-guess his every move, but more to the immediate point, he would not be able to get his work done if his mind kept returning to this problem. He tried to empty his mind, taking advantage of meditation tricks that... Batman had taught him. His fists balled automatically at the thought. He forced his fingers to relax.
His eyes drifted almost unseeing around the room, taking in information without really processing it. There were lots of photos.
It occurred to him that this was an odd thing, or at least, a different thing. The Watchtower was almost antiseptic in its lack of reminders of the League's personal lives. He himself had a few things in his quarters, but there was no common room like this one, no gathering space beyond the formal conference table and - at odd moments - the monitor womb.
His eyes skimmed over the collections of images, registering less content than camera angle and composition. Most of the photos were not particularly memorable: snapshots, candids, the usual assortment of posed group shots at this or that location. A few, however, had a more professional air, were more creatively staged (or captured).
Donna, of course, knew how to take a picture - or at least, had known. Without particularly thinking about it, he found himself scanning for telltales of her work, habits of composition and lighting. He rose from the couch to more carefully examine a pair of framed 8x10s on top of the television.
One was a picture of Roy and his daughter, the little girl's head thrown back in laughter and the father gazing at her with undisguised adoration. Both were entirely unconscious of the camera.
The other image - Kyle paused, picking up the frame. It was a professional's photo, but it wasn't Donna's style.
He felt a lump in his throat.
It was Jen's.
He knew her camera work as clearly as if she had left her fingerprints on it - or signed it. This was recent work, he could tell, could see the development even in the short months since she'd left him. The picture was of two men, formally attired, clearly at some high-powered function or another. Jen was moving into the right circles for high-paying gigs.
What was striking was the way the men leaned together; Kyle could see from their body language that in the moment the shutter had clicked, their world had been only one another. It was a black and white photo, but it was obvious that the slighter of the two men had crystal blue eyes, achingly devoted in their gaze. The other man - Kyle took in the scars over his eyes and frowned.
Tempest was with Nightwing.
He was so much with Nightwing that Batman himself had seen fit to lecture Kyle about loose lips. Kyle felt an internal wince that came automatically whenever Batman came to mind. He wondered what unique torture he would devise for Tempest - or this blue-eyed man who apparently was so smitten with him. Unless Nightwing had dumped Garth?
That hardly seemed likely. No, there was something else going on here-
Kyle jerked his head up and set the photo down quickly. "Donna, hi," he greeted awkwardly. "I was just - um - waiting for Roy."
She smiled, a touch of uncertainty behind her eyes. "He won't be back for a while. He had Lian with him, and she seemed pretty determined to eat at a restaurant."
"Oh." Kyle shifted a little. "Maybe I should just go, then."
Donna cocked her head a little, studying him. Kyle knew she didn't remember him, at least, not when he had been part of *them*, but the familiar gesture made him feel lonelier. "Are you okay?" she asked.
And of course she would ask. Donna always cared, even when she didn't really have a reason to. Kyle sighed. "I'm fine. Just having some work issues."
Donna nodded and moved to one of the couches. "Upstairs?"
"Yeah," he admitted. "It's-- tense."
She nodded again and sat down, patting the other cushion of the couch invitingly. "I can imagine," she sympathized. "We're getting some of the backlash down here. Nightwing's not very happy."
"Can you blame him?" Kyle accepted the invitation, sitting on the opposite end of the couch. "We kicked Batman out of the League. For stupid reasons."
She angled her body toward him in a listening pose. "You disagree with the decision?"
Kyle looked down at his hands, at the ring. "He wasn't really wrong. Not really. Maybe not careful enough. Or too careful. I don't know. But *he* didn't try to kill us. I don't know that his plans would've killed us."
"That's not quite how I've heard others describe it."
"Well, they're stupid," he burst out, then closed his mouth hastily, grinding his teeth together. When she didn't respond he went on, "Or not stupid. Just - it was *painful*, you know? Being blind, not being able to help my friends when I heard those assassins..."
He fell silent, and for a long moment there was only the gentle hum of electronics that was a steady presence in all of the various superhero headquarters. "I haven't heard the details of what happened," Donna revealed. "I know about the Babel effect, obviously - we all felt that. But the League-" she shrugged.
"We were taken down," Kyle explained, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice. "Each one of us, each of our weaknesses exploited. Batman tried to warn us when he figured it out, when he realized his plans were stolen, but it was already too late."
"I gather it's the existence of those plans that upset everyone so much. Something about trust?"
"Trust we've taken, not earned," Kyle spat, surprised at his own virulence.
Donna pulled her legs up under her, nodding slowly. "I get that," she said quietly. She gazed around the room, her eyes gradually finding their way back to Kyle. "It's a hard thing to have your life based on the belief that someone else has got it right."
Kyle met her eyes and saw the ache in them, the desire to remember him because she'd been told she should but never would. She had been forced to trust Wally West to know her well enough to bring her back from certain oblivion. Not because she remembered how much they had been through together, but because she had no choice.
Kyle felt suddenly petty. He felt like the League was being petty. What was trust but a thin delusion that you could know someone else as well as you knew yourself? He stood reluctantly. "I'm sorry, Donna. I didn't mean to unload this on you."
She smiled again with an emotion somewhere between regret and relief. "I only hope I was able to help. I don't like seeing my friends hurting."
Friends. She was being generous because she had been told they'd once been more than friends. But the sentiment was genuine, was pure Donna. Wally had gotten that much right. Kyle nodded. "Me, neither." He paused. "You're all right? I should go, but I can stay -- "
She shook her head. "Go. It's almost time for me to relieve Toni anyway, and I doubt you want to stick around and talk fashion with her."
Kyle smiled ruefully. "No, not really. Tell Roy I stopped by."
"I will." He headed for the door, but her voice stopped him. "Kyle? Don't be a stranger, okay?"
Once more a lump grew in his throat, and he couldn't look at her. "Okay. See ya."
He managed to hold it together until he was back in the sky. He expected emotion to overtake him as he streaked back to his Manhattan apartment, but instead he found that he felt more clear-headed than he had in days. He slipped into his apartment building via the rooftop entrance and changed into civvies. He had 78 hours to finish drawing the new issue of Zero Man, and at a rate and a quarter? He'd have enough extra cash to get the much needed new bookshelf for his apartment.
First, though, he needed to stop at Radu's.
Four a.m. was the hardest hour.
Kyle rubbed sleep sticky eyes and sucked down the cold dregs of his last cup of coffee. Some grounds had escaped the French press and made their way into his Superman mug, and they filled his mouth grittily. He grimaced. The grounds were bad enough, but the coffee was cold.
He stood and stretched, trying to stave off his own exhaustion.
Hour 49 and Zero Man was on page 17.No wonder the regular artist had turned tail and run - the writer had put 12 panels per page. AND the writing was such a hack job that a new character was showing up just now in the story, so obviously a plot device that Kyle was tempted to just draw an empty outline.
He might, too, if he didn't stand behind his art. He wanted more gigs, and antagonizing writers would not help his cause.
He stood and moved to the center of his living room, bending at the waist and then standing and leaning back to try to stretch his back. He suffered a head rush for his efforts and caught the back of his easy chair for balance. When the world quit spinning, he tried stretching his legs. Then he ran in place for about thirty seconds, trying to jar his brain back toward wakefulness.
No dice - the early morning stupor still hung over him like a cloud.
No help for it - he needed to get outside, get some fresh air, maybe some stronger coffee. He scanned his apartment for an excuse, something to make him feel like he wasn't wasting time that was ticking rapidly toward his deadline.
The new character. He needed some magazines or something, ideas for faces. He could hit the Lucky Corner, get some burnt coffee, pick up GQ and various entertainment rags. He nodded to himself, already heading to his closet to dig out some shoes.
Three blocks there and back for a total of six blocks in the crisp pre-dawn air. Human interaction (well, at least some early morning grunts) with the clerk at the Lucky Corner - yeah, that should wake him up.
He splashed some cold water over his face and grabbed a light windbreaker. He picked up his keys and headed out the door, taking the stairs down two at a time. He passed through the security door into the crisp air, noting the hint of dawn pinkening the eastern half of the sky. Sunrise would bring him back awake he knew from experience.
He made himself jog to the Lucky Corner.
There were actually people there when he entered, some, like him, still working on the day before, others starting fresh. None of them even bothered with eye contact. It was too early. The Bangladeshi storekeeper behind the counter rung people up with bored efficiency. He ignored the giggling of the drunken couple who swayed as they bought whipped cream and condoms. He scanned Kyle's pile of magazines into the register with exactly the same inattention, and a sleep inspired devil in Kyle's mind wondered just what one would have to buy to shake the man.
Kyle suppressed the thought thoroughly, clenching his ring hand in his jacket pocket. Maybe he should consider not wearing it when he was sleep-deprived, aware that he had attracted the attention of the woman behind him with the sudden waggling of something in his pocket. He shot her what had to be an insane-looking grin before he headed out the door with his purchases.
The sky was lighter when he stepped back outside, and he took a deep breath of morning air. It had a certain tang of asphalt and diesel, but it smelled like home. He took a sip of scalding coffee and smiled. The danger hour was passed. He could count on at least another 10 hours before the afternoon sleepies would attack.
His stride on the way back to his apartment was brisker, and he met one of his neighbors at the security door of his building. She looked at him blearily. "That's a still awake look," she remarked.
He grinned and lifted his coffee in salute. "M'lady, may I present the wonder of caffeine."
"Too early," she grumbled, but she held the door open for him anyway before heading toward the subway.
He almost started whistling as he bounded up the stairs, catching himself because it was, after all, too early. He tucked his magazines into the crook of his arm as he unlocked his apartment. He wrinkled his nose. It smelled musty - like old socks. No wonder he'd felt tired.
He nudged the door closed behind him with his toe and crossed to the living room window, setting the magazines on the sill. A couple of pigeons flew away as he threw up the sash, and he leaned out the unscreened opening to breathe in the morning air. He took another swallow of coffee and looked back at his workspace.
He had much more to draw, but the drafting table was looking decidedly unappealing.
He scanned the living room for a moment, his eyes finally lighting on the sofa. Or more to the point, the sofa cushions. Perfect.
He set his coffee down on top of the magazines and collected two cushions. He set them at his feet as he pushed the living room window open a little further. Yes, he decided with a critical eye, he could work on the fire escape.
The cushions were pushed out onto the iron grating, and he set the magazines on the cushions. A quick dash back to the drafting table netted him a sketchpad and pencils, and then he was out the window in the just barely bright enough morning light.
He kept his coffee sitting on the sill as he began to thumb through GQ. There were always ample numbers of blandly good-looking men in the pages of the magazine, and he could play a certain amount of mix and match with their features to come up with a viable face for plot device character A. His eyes scanned the glossy pages efficiently, noting eyes and noses and foreheads and dog-earing potentially useful ads.
He was just bringing his coffee to his lips when a headshot caught his eye. It wasn't a big one, just an image atop a profile column, but the man had such blue eyes.
His memory flashed back to the black and white image on the Titans' television. This was exactly the shade he'd imagined those eyes would be, and as he considered the face in front of him...
Intriguing. He took up his pencil and considered the bone structure. Handsome with a hint of something ethnic under a tousled head of black curls. Nothing overt, but just enough to be faintly exotic. In his mind's eye, he turned the face in front of him to a 3/4 view, his pencil swiftly drawing in contours to match the new angle.
It was definitely the man from the picture, the one who had been so obviously entranced by Tempest. Kyle's eyes went to the copy beneath the photo. Richard J. Grayson. Heir of billionaire Bruce Wayne.
"Wonder how you managed that, pretty boy?" Kyle murmured, indulging himself in a moment's jealousy. He wouldn't mind having a billionaire footing his bills.
"Of course, you don't, so you better finish these pencils," he reminded himself, turning past the alluring Richard J. to someone with less noteworthy features. He flipped to a new page of the sketch book and began constructing the character who would manage to appear in 14 panels and die gruesomely on page 21.
At least the death scene included a splash panel.
Kyle Rayner was Green Lantern because he had an indomitable will. If life demanded that he go from a full day's heroics to three hours sleep before pulling a marathon three day drawing session, that was what he would do. That was what he *had* done, forcing the final images into existence despite cramped fingers and blurring eyes. One more panel, and Zero Man was done. Done done done. Eight hours before deadline.
He thought about catching a few hours of sleep before finishing, then thought better of it. After almost 67 hours straight? His body would not be satisfied with six hours slumber. Better to finish now.
He looked at the panel instructions presented by the writer. Nothing so nice as a hand writing a note or rain dancing in puddles. No, it had to be an odd angle shot of Zero Man cursing the heavens. Kyle sighed and picked up his sketch book.
He started going back through the pages, knowing he'd roughed sketches of Zero Man's masked countenance from at least 11 different angles before he'd started working. He paused for a moment on one page where he'd drawn the lower half of a face in 3/4 profile.
"Why the hell was I drawing Nightwing?" he wondered aloud, then shook it off. He had begun doing loose pencil sketches somewhere during the third day just to help stabilize his fingers when the only thing between him and sleep was his will and too much caffeine. He was sure there was more than one half-finished drawing of a superhero pulled from the half-haze of dead-exhaustion.
A few more page flips and he found the desired collection of rough sketches. He focused tightly, concentrating his attention on the thin horizontal panel that graced the bottom right hand corner of page 22.
Nearly an hour later, he leaned back. "Finished!" he shouted into the midnight silence of his apartment. He replayed the conversation with his editor with glee, pleased with himself. "Consider it -- done?"
His eyes widened. The pencils were... dissolving? "Stop! STOP!" he yelled, hoping maybe it was the lack of sleep, that maybe he was dreaming. "No! Pencils don't erase themselves. Sixty-seven hours! This is not HAPPENING!"
There was a huge crash, and suddenly a huge blue hand was wrapped around Kyle's torso. Five seconds later he was being pulled through the walls of his apartment building into a dramatically transformed Village.
There had been enchanted forests, knights in armor, elves, trolls, witches - and an evil queen of frightening beauty and power. Kyle Rayner didn't care if he never read another fairy tale again. Manhattan was Manhattan again thanks to the Justice League - all of the League, including their vanquished member.
Not that he needed to replay *that* fight again.
He didn't need any other fight. He was dead on his feet, and he only hoped that the restoration of the rest of the city also included the restoration of his pencils on Zero Man. He still had a half hour - enough time to messenger the pages to midtown.
He trudged to his apartment, once more using the rooftop access to his building. His eyelids felt like half the Sahara had settled beneath them. He was back in his civvies by the time he hit his front door, but his keys were still inside. The big blue hand hadn't given him time to grab them before it had pulled him out into the night.
No worries. The ring replicated the keys to both the deadlock and the doorknob with the slightest thought, and then he was inside, moving toward his drafting table with a mix of anticipation and dread. He almost fell over with relief when he saw his pencils, complete and ink ready. "There is a god," he murmured, reaching for the phone and hitting 7 on the speed-dial. He was actually close to tearing up when the messenger service confirmed they were on their way.
He crossed the room to dig up a mailing tube and carefully rolled the pages he'd drawn. He opted to use the ring, not trusting his fingers to anything requiring care. He wasn't quite sure how he'd force himself to stay awake the 10 minutes it would take the messenger to arrive.
He sealed the mailing tube and slapped on one of the preprinted labels for his editor's office. Only seven more minutes, he noted, wondering if he should find toothpicks to hold his eyelids open.
Maybe if he waited by the security door? Then at least if he fell asleep on his feet he'd be right there.
He picked up the mailing tube and on a whim, picked up his sketch book as well. He carried both down the stairs and propped himself beside the mailboxes, his back resting against the foyer wall. He rested the tube against the wall beside him and began skimming through the last several days' work.
He finally found himself staring at the lower half of a face in 3/4 profile. Nice cheekbones, strong jawline, mostly straight nose, although with a hint of flatness that implied it had been broken at least once. When had he drawn this? Because it sure looked like Nightwing's face, but he couldn't remember consciously drawing Nightwing in ages.
There was a tap on the glass of the security door, and Kyle raised his head. The messenger. He pulled the door open.
"You got a delivery?" the Hispanic looking young man asked.
"Ye-" Kyle's voice was raspy, and he swallowed hard. "Yeah," he said again, more clearly.
The messenger checked off something on his clipboard, then checked his watch and made a note. "Sign here, man," he directed, taking the mailing tube from Kyle's hand and tucking it into his bag.
Kyle did as he was directed and handed back the clipboard. "Thanks."
The messenger nodded and turned, taking the steps two at a time and throwing his leg over his bike, using his mounting motion to press down the pedal on the opposite side of the bike and start moving. The drawings would make it on time.
Kyle blinked himself out of his empty stare after the bike and began the slow walk up the stairs. He made it to his apartment unmolested, and it felt like every minute of the last 75 hours was dragging at his ankles as he shuffled in the door. He started to toss his sketch book on the drafting table, but then the drawing he had been studying caught his eye again. The GQ sketches. He had drawn this page when he had been trying to find the right face for whatsisname on page 17. The character that showed up to die.
He blinked. It wasn't Nightwing he'd been drawing. It was that guy Bruce Wayne adopted, the one that was in that photo with Tempest. What was his name? Richard something. Weird that he and Nightwing would have the same bone structure. Of course, Garth probably had a type and -
Kyle paused. Tempest was with Nightwing. Nightwing had the same lower face as the guy in the photo. Tempest had been with the guy in the photo. Kyle tossed down his sketch pad and reached for the GQ. He started flipping through the pages.
There he was. Richard J. Grayson. Kyle put his finger across those so-blue eyes.
Nightwing was Bruce Wayne's heir?
Kyle shook his head and dropped the magazine back onto the coffee table. He scrubbed his face with his hands. "You need sleep, Kemosabe," he told himself. "You're hallucinating."
He thought about the bed, but it was 10 feet and another door away, whereas the couch was right here. He sank down onto the surface, wondering where the cushions had gone. Not that it mattered. He was horizontal at last, and asleep before his eyes closed.