Untold Tales of the JLI: "Home"
Fire was furious. Actually, she was beyond furious. If the solar system were her mood, furious would be Venus. And she was past Pluto. Way past Pluto!
She'd spent the better part of an hour searching the embassy for Booster, and it seemed like she missed him by minutes everywhere she went. She went to the kitchen, Beetle told her he was in his room. She went upstairs, J'Onn told her he was downstairs. She went to the study, Ice told her he was in the monitor room. And on and on.
The more Fire searched for Booster, the madder she got.
Fire couldn't believe that Booster actually told Beetle that she slept with him. How ridiculous was that? And Beetle told Ice. God only knew how many other people Booster told. Fire was bound and determined to end all the rumors by wringing Booster's neck.
"Wait until I get my hands on him!" she thought. "I'm gonna tear him apart! I'm gonna tear him apart, stitch him back together, and tear him apart again!"
Booster was having a miserable time. He was cold and frustrated. He'd spent the last hour and half searching for a can of cranberry sauce. Or more specifically, a store that was open on Christmas day that sold cranberry sauce. He'd found three mini-marts that were open, and all three didn't carry cranberry sauce.
Booster never really liked cranberry sauce, but, was starting to loathe it now!
Booster had enough! He dropped to his knees and shouted heavenward. "Why, God? Why can't I find one stinkin', lousy can of cranberry sauce? Is that too much to ask?" Booster lowered his head and cried out,"One stinkin', lousy can of cranberry sauce?"
Booster jumped up and spun around as something landed behind him. He looked down at a snowbank and there, lo and behold, was a can of cranberry sauce! Booster looked all around (including up) and couldn't see anywhere that the can could have come from.
Booster bent down and gently, with the utmost reverence, picked the can up.
"Thank you." Booster said to no one in particular.
"Ah. Who cares where it came from?" thought Booster as he mentally shrugged. "At least, I can go home now!"
When Booster kissed the can, turned, and started running home, J'Onn re-entered the visible spectrum. He had hovered two stories over Booster, listening to his tantrum. Booster's little conversation with God had given J'Onn the opportunity to deliver the can of cranberry sauce.
"Time to get back to the embassy before I'm missed." thought J'Onn as he flew away.
Back at the embassy, Guy's patience had worn thin. He couldn't understand why no one wanted a drink. How was he supposed to show off his mixology skills if no one wanted a drink?
Guy was reduced to practicing his skills, and, since Guy hated wasting alcohol, imbibing his own concoctions. Every drink Guy made, he had to admit was the best he ever tried. The Manhattan, the martini, the mint julip, the screwdriver... Every one of them was GREAT!
Guy was mulling over why he had no customers when Ice walked up to him.
"Guy," she said with the sweetest, most innocent smile. "I need you to do me a favor, but, not ask why."
"Have a drink." responded Guy.
"No. Thanks." answered Ice. "You know I don't..."
Guy cut her off. "If you want me to do you a favor - no questions asked - have a drink." Guy crossed his arms as if to tell her that this was non-negotiable.
Ice thought it over. She really wanted Guy's help, but, she didn't like alcohol. To her, it tasted terrible, and she saw no appeal in drinking it.
"Mmmmmm... Okay!" Ice relented. "But, just ONE!" She held up one finger to illustrate the point.
Guy beamed. He grabbed a short glass, put some ice cubes in it, and filled the glass from a bottle with the words "Old Granddad" on it. He handed the glass to Ice.
Ice took the glass and sniffed the contents. She immediately recoiled from the "model glue" smell. Ice pinched her nose and hesitantly brought the glass to her lips. She downed the contents in one quick gulp. The alcohol immediately felt like lava going down her throat and burning her lungs.
Guy seemed almost amused as Ice suffered a coughing jag.
"Okay." said Guy. "Whatya want me to do?"
Ice reentered the kitchen and announced to Beetle in a raspy voice, "He'll do it."
Beetle immediately recoiled from Ice. "Whoa! You smell like my dear 'Old Granddad'!" he said as he tried to fan some air away from his face. "Stay away from any open flames!"
"How can anybody ever drink that STUFF?" croaked Ice.
"Well, why did you?" asked Beetle, as he noticed Ice's awfully rosey cheeks.
"Had to." she replied as she filled a glass with water. "It was the only way to get Guy to do it!" She looked at Beetle pointedly. "I took one for the team!"
Beetle smiled at that as he opened the refrigerator door and pulled out a carton of chocolate milk. "Here." he said as he handed the carton to Ice. "It has a stronger flavor than the water."
Ice dumped the water in the sink and filled the glass with chocolate milk. She took a long gulp of it and sighed. The chocolate milk had not only soothed the burning in her throat and lungs, it washed that awful taste out of her mouth. "That's the GOOD stuff!" she said as she smacked her lips.
Beetle handed a confused Ice a towel. "You have a 'milk moustache'." he explained with a smile.
Ice took the towel and demurely wiped her mouth.
Beetle pulled another glass from the cabinet and filled it with chocolate milk. He refilled Ice's glass and handed it to her.
"To well executed plan." he toasted as he clinked her glass.
Fire walked back into the study. Her frustration was mounting. She could not find Booster anywhere. The longer she went without finding him, the more sadistic her plan for him became when she did find him.
"Hey, Bea!" Guy called out from the other side of the room.
When Fire turned, Guy raised the glass he was holding.
"To you and Booster." he announced as he downed the contents.
"AAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!" screamed Fire as she stalked out of the room.
Booster swaggered through the front door of the embassy.
"All hail the conquering hero!" he proclaimed as he held the can of cranberry sauce high.
From the kitchen, both Beetle and Ice had heard Booster's proclaimation. They looked at each other and smiled.
If they heard Booster, then, Fire heard Booster.
"This should be good!" Beetle said sadistically.
"YOU!" Fire bellowed at Booster from the doorway of the foyer.
Booster noticed that her face was red. She had a wild look in her eyes. Instict immediately took over, and Booster was (rightfully) scared! A little voice in Booster's head said, "RUN! Run fast! Run now!"
Booster listened to the little voice in his head and made a fast break for the steps, the dropped can spinning on the floor. Booster's long legs allowed him to take three steps at a time, but, Fire was hot on his heels.
Booster ran as fast as he could. He had flashbacks of scrambling on the football field to avoid being sacked by linebackers and safeties. But, most of those players didn't want to kill Booster. He was pretty sure that Fire DID.
He didn't understand why Fire wanted to kill him. He played along with Fire's plan. He did his best to convince Beetle that Ice was interested in him. Even when Booster had an attack of conscience, he kept his mouth shut about Fire's plan.
Whatever reason Fire had for being mad at him, Booster wasn't going to stick around to find out. He saw the look in Fire's eyes and, he wasn't afraid to admit it, it scared him. And the fact that Fire took off after him when he ran just confirmed that he need to put as much distance between himself and Fire as he could. At least until she calmed down.
Booster looked over his shoulder and realized that, despite his athletic background and superiority in stride, Fire was gaining on him! And she looked like a cheetah running down a gazelle, the gazelle realized.
"My room!" thought Booster desperately. "If I can reach my room, I can get my suit and use the forcefield until Bea calms down."
Booster made a desperation dash for his room. He got to the door, but, the process of turning the knob slowed him down just long enough for Fire to hit him with a flying tackle. The impact of the tackle knocked them both through the door. The door hit the doorstop on the wall hard enough that it slammed shut behind Booster and Fire.
As Booster laid stunned on the floor, Fire got on top of him and tried to wrap her hands around his throat. Booster recovered enough to grasp Fire's wrists in attempt to stop her from throttling him. He was shocked to realize it was a battle he was losing. Whatever mania had over taken Fire, it was giving her unnatural strength. And, honestly, it was a little embarassing that a 5'7" woman was overpowering a 6'5" former football player.
Booster managed to get out one word as he struggled for his life. "Why?"
"Why? WHY!" repeated Fire through gritted teeth, her eyes blazing. "Oh, I don't know! Maybe because you told Ted I SLEPT WITH YOU!"
"WHAT?" Booster managed as Fire got her hands around his throat. "I didn't say th-!"
Booster's argument got cutoff with his air supply as Fire squeezed down on Booster's throat. With his last breath, Booster managed two words: "H-he... KN-KNOWS!"
That stopped Fire for a second. She loosened her grip... a little. "What do you mean 'he knows'?"
Booster gulped in some air. "Ted knows! He figured out we suckered him!" he explained quickly.
"How could he figure that out?" Fire asked, not releasing her grip.
"He may act it sometimes, but, Ted's not stupid!" Booster desperately explained as quickly as he could. "He must've gotten wind I suckered him. He probably figured out you put me up to it, and he turned the tables. You wanted to trick him into a relationship, so, he tricked you into thinking people thought WE were having a relationship! He knew you'd go ballistic and try to kill me!"
"How can you be sure?" Fire asked warily.
"Because I NEVER told Ted we were sleeping together! I wouldn't joke about that because that's the kind of thing that WOULD set you off."
Fire let go of Booster's throat. "That means Tora knows, too. Because she's the one that told me that you told Ted. AND it means they worked together to trick me!"
"Probably." said Booster as he rubbed his throat. "If Ted figured it out, he wasn't going to keep Tora in the dark. And they're both smart enough to realize that if we were both trying to convince them of the same thing, we were working together."
Fire hated to admit it, but, it made sense. It explained why Tora was acting so obtuse when Fire was trying to explain that there was no relationship between herself and Booster. But, that would mean Tora was an actual participant in an act of revenge. The thought stunned Fire. Her best friend was scheming against her, and Fire had been the cause of all of it.
"What have I done?" Fire asked, as realization dawned on her.
Guy Gardner felt loose. Really loose.
Guy was singing along with the Christmas carols that were playing on the stereo. He had made a ring construct Santa hat and was wearing it proudly.
He felt JOLLY!
"HO-HO-HO!" Guy slurred as he downed another example of his fine, fine mixology skills.
In the kitchen, Ice was beginning to worry.
She and Beetle had watched Fire's reaction to Booster's entrance on Beetle's hand-held monitor. They, also, watched the subsequant rundown and tackle into Booster's room. Once the door shut, however, their ability to watch ended. Beetle's tapping of the security system didn't extend to members' rooms.
Ice expected Fire to be mad at Booster. Afterall, that was the plan. However, she didn't expect Fire to get THAT mad. Fire bolted after Booster like a bull seeing a red cape. Fire was practically incoherant as she ran Booster down. When the door shut to Booster's room, Ice started to worry more.
"They've been in there awhile." Ice said nervously.
"Uh-huh." said Beetle, his brow knit. Ice could tell he was worried, too.
"It's been awfully quiet, too." Ice added as she bit her lower lip.
"Yeah." Beetle said. "Maybe we pushed Bea a little too far."
Ice looked at Beetle with an expression of concern. Ice had never heard Beetle admit to taking a joke too far. For him to admit that, Ice realized, Beetle must have been really worried.
"Bea wouldn't actually hurt Booster, would she?" Beetle asked Ice. "I know she has a wicked temper and all, but, she'd just yell at him and scare him. Right?"
Ice wished she could've said something to reassure Beetle, but, all she could think of was, "I don't know. I've never seen her that mad."
Beetle and Ice just stared at each other for a few uncomfortable seconds. At the exact same moment, both realized what they needed to do.
Both bolted out of the kitchen as fast as they could.
"What have I done?" Fire repeated. There was genuine remorse in her voice. She realized that she had caused the sweetest person in the world - her best friend no less - to turn into a... a callous deceiver!
She was still on top of Booster. But, her hands were now resting on Booster's chest and her head hung low.
"I...I've turned my best friend against me." Fire said quietly, her voice filled with despair.
Booster just laid there and watched Fire's emotional breakdown. He was still too scared to say or do anything that might set Fire off again. He was determined not to say anything until he was sure that Fire had calmed down.
Then, Booster felt something wet patter off his throat.
Booster looked up at Fire and realized she was crying. Booster had seen Fire when she was sad, but, he never saw her sad enough to cry.
"Bea?" Booster asked with genuine concerned, all thought of personal safety put on the backburner.
Fire wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and sniffed. "I'm sorry about... you know... trying to kill you."
Booster propped himself up on his elbows. "Are you alright?" he asked.
"No." Fire answered, her eyes tearing up again. "Not really. I just realized I drove away the only person I care for more than myself. Tora's never going to talk to me again."
"That's not true." said Booster trying to console her. "Tora'll forgive you. You're her best friend!"
"Some best friend I turned out to be." said Fire sadly. "I tricked her into thinking Ted was sick with love for her. I used Tora's own concern for her friends against her. And, then, I used guilt to re-enforce it!"
"Hey! Hey!" said Booster. "Sure you tricked her. And lied to her. And messed with her mind..."
Fire hung her head again.
"But, what you did, you did out of LOVE!" Booster said. "And I'm sure Tora will understand that."
Fire looked hopefully at Booster. "Do you think?" she asked quietly.
"I'm sure of it!" stated Booster. "But, you'd better be prepared to apologize like you've never apologized before."
Fire smiled a little, wrapped her arms around Booster's neck, and hugged him.
Just then, the door to Booster's room flew open. A very concerned-looking Ice and Beetle started to come through the door. They stopped in their tracks and stared in a state of shock at the scene before them.
Booster became acutely aware of his position. He was laying prone on the floor. Fire was sitting on his pelvic region with her arms wrapped around his neck.
"This isn't what it looks like!" Booster yelled quickly in a panic.
"There was a time when I was afraid to shut my eyes.
"I knew that when I slept, the dream would come. And that I would relive the horrors once again.
"I was a prisoner to my own subconscious.
"There is a saying on Earth: 'Time heals all wounds'.
"I believe that saying is false."
Blue Beetle had to admit it. Seeing Fire straddled atop of Booster while hugging him wasn't what he expected to see when he opened the door to Booster's room. He looked over at Ice and saw that her reaction was pretty much the same as his. And here they thought they were going to prevent a terrible tragedy.
"I don't know what you two are doing," Beetle said slowly, a smile starting to creep upon his face. "But, it looks kinky!"
Booster looked up at Beetle with a less-than-amused expression. "That kinda talk almost got me killed, ya know." he said to Beetle.
Beetle snapped his fingers and shook his head as though he were disappointed. "Darn! Better luck next time, I guess!"
Fire quickly got off of Booster and straightened out her clothes, almost as an afterthought. She looked a little preoccupied, as though a lot of thoughts were going around in her head. "We need to talk." she finally said to Ice.
Ice stood in the doorway and crossed her arms. "Oh? Do we?" she asked. She was determined not to make this easy on Fire.
Fire nodded as if she accepted the fact that Ice had reason to be difficult. "Please." Fire said.
Ice thought about it for a second, then motioned for Fire to come out in the hall with her.
As Fire walked out the door, Beetle shut it and said to Booster, "We need to have a little talk, too, sunshine."
"Yeah." said Booster as he sat on his bed, unzipped his parka, and sighed. "I know."
In the hallway, Fire had a hard time thinking of what to say to Ice. It wasn't easy when you knew you were in the wrong. "I want to say I'm sorry." Fire started with.
"And what are you sorry about?" asked Ice, determined to play hardball with Fire. "Getting caught?"
"No." said Fire. "I'm sorry about what I did to you."
"What you did to me." repeated Ice. She was mad, and, this time, she was not going to let her friend off the hook for it. "Let me tell you exactly what you did to me. You lied to me. Worse. You had me believing I was hurting Ted unintentionally. Then, you used my own concern against me by guilting me into doing something I didn't want to do."
Fire looked down. "I know."
Just having to replay the events over in her mind angered Ice even more. "I couldn't sleep last night! Did you know that? I couldn't sleep because I DO care about Ted. Just not in a romantic way. And you put me in a position where I thought I was going to have to hurt him!"
Fire didn't know about Ice being so concerned she couldn't sleep. And, it made her feel worse than before. Fire couldn't think of anything to say.
"Well, do you have anything to say for yourself?" Beetle asked Booster.
"I found your cranberry sauce." Booster replied hopefully.
"That's not what I mean and you know it!" snapped an aggitated Beetle. "How could you? How could you trick me?"
"It was Fire's idea." explained Booster quickly, a touch of remorse in his voice. "She thought..."
Beetle cut him off and waved his hands. "I don't care about what motivated you into suckering me!" Beetle said. "I want to know HOW you suckered me? How'd you do it?"
Booster was shocked and confused by this. "You want to know how I did it?" he asked unbelievingly.
Beetle nodded his head. "I know WHY you did it." he explained. "I could figure that part out on my own. Bea probably pressured you or threatened you into doing it because she doesn't like the fact that Gardner's dating Tora. I just happened to be the best option currently available. What was Bea gonna do?" Beetle almost laughed when he asked his last question. "Ask YOU to try to seduce Tora?"
"HEY!" said an offended Booster.
"No offense." said Beetle, clearly too late. "But you don't exactly have a sterling reputation when it comes to the ladies. And I just can't see over-protective Bea setting Tora up with YOU!"
That ruffled Booster feathers, but, he had to admit that Beetle was right. There was no way in Hell that Fire would "entrust" Tora to him.
"So," said Beetle. "That brings us back to the question of HOW you suckered me."
Fire could see how upset Ice was, but, she just didn't have any type of defense she could explain to Ice. Fire searched for the words, but, none were available to her. And it upset her that Ice was so upset.
Ice was frustrate by the total lack of response she was getting from Fire. "When I found out that you could trick me so cavilierly- so remorselessly- I was hurt!" said Ice. "Is that why you did it? To hurt me?"
"NO!" said Fire, shocked that Ice could have even thought that. "You being hurt is the last thing I want to happen." Fire did everything she could - all of this - to make sure Ice wouldn't be hurt. And it dawned on her that she was causing the very thing that she was trying her hardest to stop.
Fire had always maintained a certain attitude - a "bitchy" attitude some people called it - to keep people at a certain distance. She wasn't one to let people see her "softer side". She was insecure about being seen as "weak" because weak people didn't survive on the streets of Rio de Janiero. All this made it more difficult for her to say what she had to say to Ice.
"You... you know I grew up an orphan." Fire started. "I never really had a family. I.. I never really had any friends either. Just acquaintences and people I knew. But, never really any friends." Fire stopped to think about how she was going to put the next part. "It... it wasn't until I got to the Global Guardians and Doctor Mist assigned me to... to help... 'acclimate' this wide-eyed, little girl from Norway, who was so scared to be away from her people..."
Fire had to stop. She was starting to choke up and had to take a second to compose herself. She pictured Ice back from her time in the Global Guardians. Ice was so scared of this new world shesuddenly found herselfin. It shocked Fire that Doctor Mist had assigned her - someone so jaded by life - to help this scared little girl. But, the more Fire worked with her, the more she came to appreciate just how special Ice was. Ice had all those qualities Fire wished she had for herself. What started out as an 'assignment' turned into something that Fire thought she'd never have - a real friendship.
Ice wasn't immune to the fact that what Fire was saying was hard for her. She could see that this was difficult for Fire, who rarely let her guard down with anyone. And, as compassionate as Ice was, her heart went out to Fire.
"I... I don't ever want to be the one to hurt you." continued Fire, her eyes tearing up. "Because you're not only my friend, but... but... you're like a sister to me. You're the only family I've ever had. And... and I don't want to lose that. I don't know what I'd ever do if I lost that! I... I'm so sorry that I hurt you." Fire broke down and started sobbing.
Ice hugged Fire, and Fire held on as though she were afraid to let go. "You'll never lose that." Ice told Fire as she smiled slightly. "You'll always be my 'big sister'."
Fire buried her face into Ice's shoulder.
"You know I'm not that 'wide-eyed, little girl' anymore." Ice said quietly into Fire's ear, as she patted her back. "And I know that you don't like Guy, but, I can make my own choices. I don't need you to 'protect' me anymore."
"I know." sobbed Fire into Ice's shoulder. "But, I can't help but worry."
"Oh, Bea." Ice smiled sadly. "You always did care too much."
Booster shrugged at Beetle's question. "I don't know." he said.
"BULL!" responded Beetle quickly. "You've gotto know. I can smell one of your 'con-job' from a mile away, but, you got me on this one! And now you're going to tell me you don't know how you pulled it off? I don't buy it!"
Booster thought about their conversation from the previous night. "Well, I guess I set you up by using your ego first." Booster said as he dissected the conversation. "No matter how much you want to protest that you and Tora are just friends, she is still a very attractive woman. And the thought that she might be interested in you appealled to your ego."
Beetle nodded. He had to admit that was true. The thought of an attractive woman being attracted to him did work on his ego.
Booster continued his "post mortem" of their conversation. "Then I gave you a believable premise. That Tora finally realized that 'jerky' Gardner was the 'real' Gardner, and that she was confused in her feelings."
Beetle thought THAT was just truly inspired by Booster. It was the lynchpin in getting Beetle to believe. Without it, he would have blown Booster's argument off, no questions asked.
"And finally," finished Booster, almost proudly. "I smothered the whole thing in guilt! I know you don't like Guy. Who does?So, I set the scenario in your mind that if you DIDN'T do something about it, Tora'd be condemned to spend the rest of her life with Gardner."
"WOW!" Beetle said after a moment. He shook his head. It was like Booster had created the perfect "suckering Beetle" recipe: guilt, ego, and logic! He hated to say it, but, Booster's plan was magnificent.
Booster had to smile at Beetle's awe. "But," Booster said, a little sadness in his voice. "It was doomed to fail. And, even as I was doing it to you, I knew it wouldn't work."
Beetle was confused. "Then why...?"
"You said you could smell one of my 'con-jobs' from a mile away." Booster said. "But, you didn't see this one coming. Maybe it was because - no matter how much you want to convince me or even yourself that you and Tora are just friends - you WANTED to believe. Or maybe it was because I wasn't trying to con you. Despite the fact that I didn't like trying to trick you into something with Tora, I still did it because, on some level, I thought it was the best thing to do."
Beetle thought about that for a second. "Then why did you think it was doomed to fail?"
Booster gave a sad little laugh. "Because, above everything else, Ted Kord is a 'stand-up guy'." Booster shook his head. "No matter how much you dislike Guy, there was no way you were going to make any move on Tora if you thought Guy was still in the picture. That would be 'moving in on another guy's woman'. And that's just not you. You're too much of a 'stand-up guy'."
Beetle sat down on the bed next to Booster. He spent the next minute just thinking about all that Booster had said.
"Damn!" said Booster, upset with himself. "I knew I shouldn't have let Fire convince me to do this."
"Don't be so hard on yourself." Beetle said sadly. "You can't help it if you're chicken-poop!"
Booster turned on his friend. "I am not chicken-poop!" he argued.
Beetle shook his head. "You're the poopiest of chicken-poop! When Fire chased you up the steps, you were practically screaming like a girl!"
"Oh, like you wouldn't be running if a p. Fire were chasing you?" asked Booster skeptically.
"Oh, I'd be running!" said Beetle with a smile. "But, I wouldn't be screaming like a girl! Like a woman, maybe, but not a girl."
"So, you admit you're chicken-poop, too?" asked Booster with a smirk.
"I think everyone has their level of chicken-poopedness." Beetle said. "You're just poopier than most!"
"Time does not heal all wounds.
"But, time does provide understanding for those willing to see it.
"Time has eased the pain of my dreams because I see my dreams for what they truly are.
"They are a personal portal to the past."
J'Onn J'Onzz shook his head.
"These people are incredible!" he thought. "I plan to have this Christmas dinner to bring them together. Everything conceivable goes wrong. Lies. Betrayal. Revenge. And yet..." J'Onn shook his head again. "And yet they find a way to do exactly what I wanted! If I had hair, it would be gray!"
J'Onn walked into the study. He found a clearly inebriated Guy Gardner, ring construct Santa hat rakishly cocked to one side of his head, singing "Feliz Navidad". Even Guy was enjoying Christmas in his own way.
"J'Onny!" Guy called out when he saw him. "Come on over here and have a drink, ya big-ass stiff!"
J'Onn walked over toward Guy's mini-bar.
"What are ya havin', big man?" Guy slurred.
"Whatever your most powerful drink is." said J'Onn. "And make it a double!"
Guy was shocked, but, a slow smile crept over his alcohol reddened face.
"Now, THASS the Christmas spirit I'm talkin' about!"
Surprisingly, J'Onn J'Onzz had enjoyed the drink Guy Gardner made for him. It was both aromatic and flavorful. The alcohol didn't affect his Martian physiology as it would a human's. In fact, the alcohol only served to make J'Onn thirsty. "Probably a bit dehydrating." J'Onn thought as he walked into the kitchen.
He poured himself a glass of milk, sat at the kitchen table, and reflected on the day so far.
Guy had rebuked him once for calling his fellow teammates "the children". At the time, J'Onn meant it facitiously. But, upon reflection, he realized that he didn't think of them as "the children". He thought of them as "HIS children".
They were loud and obnoxious and embarrassing at times. But then, what children weren't at times?
J'Onn had been in every incarnation of the Justice League. From the very beginning until the present. In that time, he had made many friends and felt an attachment to them all. But, the five people in the embassy held a level of attachment that no others, save Gypsy ("Who is more mature than most here." thought J'Onn), had attained. Even Guy, the "problem child" of the group.
Perhaps it was the fact that they all lived in such close proximity to one another, or perhaps it was just their make-up, but, this team was more... familial than the other versions of the Justice League. And, oddly enough, J'Onn realized that he preferred it that way.
At first, J'Onn didn't want the leadership role in this group. Batman had referred to it as "babysitting". However, over time, J'Onn realized that not only did he fill the role readily, but that the role filled something that was missing in him. He realized that his time as a nurturer - a "father" - had been cut short. And, while he missed his daughter and his wife, he missed filling that role, too.
This version of the League allowed him to do that. Whether playing the role of disciplinarian or councillor or "father-figure", J'Onn realized that it was a role he was aching for subconsciously. He had lost a family on Mars, but, this League allowed him the opportunity to have a family on Earth.
J'Onn's thoughts were interrupted as Beetle came flying into the kitchen, quickly followed by Ice. Both ignored J'Onn on their way to the oven. Beetle opened the oven door and peered in. He closed the oven door, leaned back against the counter, and began patting his chest.
"Whew!" he sighed wearily. "Still good!"
Ice wiped some sweat from her brow. "Thank God!" she said in a relieved voice. "J'Onn would kill us if..."
"No, he wouldn't." said J'Onn quietly from the table as both Beetle and Ice jumped. "He thinks you're both doing a fine job."
"Uh. Thanks." said Beetle a little nervously.
J'Onn rose from his chair. "When will dinner be ready?" he asked.
"Uhm... About half an hour." answered Ice.
"Very well." said J'Onn as he was leaving the kitchen. "Hopefully, Guy will still be conscious by then."
Ice was as good as her word. The dinner was ready to serve when she said it would be.
J'Onn was actually impressed by all the preparation Ice and Beetle had done. There were four vegetables (mashed potatoes, corn, baby carrots, and yams), two kinds of stuffing (bread and potato), gravy, and, of course, cranberry sauce (sliced, but, still retaining its canned shape).
Fire had time to "fix her face", as she did not want to sit at dinner with "raccoon eyes".
Booster had changed into a turtleneck sweater in order to hide the bruising aroung his throat.
Guy was swaying in his seat. He had an almost angelic smile to go with his droopy eyes.
When Ice held the kitchen door open for Beetle to bring out the turkey, the table filled with "ooh"s and "ahh"s. Beetle did not disappoint. The turkey looked and smelled wonderful.
As the team ate dinner, J'Onn had to admit that Beetle and Ice surpassed themselves. Not only was the dinner edible, it was delicious. J'Onn made a mental note of this for the next time that Beetle found himself on K.P. duty (as J'Onn had no doubt he inevitably would).
When dinner was finished, with bellies full (Beetle's more full than most with cranberry sauce. As it turned out, he really did love the stuff and finished off most of it himself), the team retreated to the study for the highlight of the night: the opening of presents!
As the rest of the team gathered on the sofa or in the chairs around it, J'Onn positioned himself by the tree. It was his duty as head of this little "family" to hand out the presents. J'Onn reached under the tree and pulled out the first present and looked at the card.
"This one is for Tora." said J'Onn. "From Booster."
Beetle almost choked on his drink when Ice opened the box to reveal a pink and white tee shirt with the word "cutie" spelled out in glittering letters.
"I love it!" said a smiling Ice to Booster, although Beetle got the feeling she didn't.
"The next present is for Guy. From Beetle." announced J'Onn.
Guy almost fell down as he stumbled to get the present. Ice helped him open it, as Guy's manual dexterity suffered from the amount of alcohol he'd consumed. When Guy opened the box, he found a framed "Sports Illustrated" cover showing a Michigan football player celebrating in the endzone. The caption on the cover read "Safety Margin". Guy began to tear up.
"Thass me!" he said pointing to the cover for Ice. It was Guy. He was a strong safety in his college football days and had picked off a USC pass and ran it in for a touchdown during the Rose Bowl. It was, as Guy put it, "one of the greatest moments" of his life.
Beetle heard Guy tell that story over and over (and over and over). Guy mentioned he was on the cover of "Sports Illustrated", but, Guy never had a copy of it. Beetle tracked one down.
Fire leaned over and whispered into Booster's ear. "Damn! You were right! He is good at this."
"This is from Booster, to Ted." said J'Onn as he passed the present to Beetle.
Beetle opened the package to find a toy phaser from "Star Trek" (with working lights and sound). Beetle acted like he loved it - and he did. Which is why he already had one.
"Next is for Fire." said J'Onn as Fire squeeled. "...From Guy."
Fire opened the present cautiously to find a teddy. As in very (VERY!) sheer sleepware, not a bear. Fire also noticed it was a size too small. "Fantastic." she said less-than-enthusiastically.
"The next present is, also, for Fire." said J'Onn as Fire squeeled again. "From Booster."
As Fire leaned over to get the present she whispered to Booster, "If this is lingerie, you're dead."
Luckily for Booster, he went with clothing, but, not lingerie, and got her a pair of kelly green leather boots (Fire noted pleasingly they were in the correct size). They were both gaudy and expensive.
"Next is from Tora. To... me." said J'Onn. He opened the present to find a leather-bound book entitled "Mars" from "National Geographic". It was filled with pictures of Mars from the earliest Viking probe days to the present. J'Onn actually smiled as he turned to a picture that reminded him of his home.
"Thank you." he said to Tora sincerely. He placed the book down and picked up the next present. "Booster. This is from Beetle."
Booster anxiously opened the present and found a modern day University of Metropolis football jersey with his old (or more technically correct "his future") number on it and the name "Carter" on the back.
He smiled at Beetle. "Very cool." he said as he slipped it on over his turtleneck.
"Ted..." J'Onn presented the present to Beetle. "From Tora."
Beetle opened it to find a Chicago snowglobe with miniature versions of the Sears Tower, the John Hancock Center, and Water Tower Place in it.
Fire elbowed Booster in the ribs.
"Turn it over." Ice said to Beetle.
Beetle turned the snowglobe over. Written on the bottom was: "Shake well to re-live 'blue' winters". Beetle had to smile at that.
"What were you saying about 'stupid' gifts?" Booster whispered to Fire.
"Booster..." J'Onn said. "From Guy."
Booster knit his brow as he opened the box. He immediately closed it and put the box down. "Thanks, Guy." he mumbled.
"What'd you get?" asked a very curious Fire.
"A dvd." replied Booster.
"What's the title?" Beetle asked with a bemused smile. He had an idea where this was going.
"'The Erotic Adventures of Mistress Spandex and the Spandex Brigade'!" Guy announced loudly. "Ol' golden butt's favorite rental. I thought I'd buy him his own copy!"
"Porn" Fire mouthed to a confused Ice. Ice blushed.
Booster sat there with his hand over his face and motioned for J'Onn to go on.
"Beetle..." J'Onn had a shadow of a smile. "From Guy."
Beetle cringed as he took the present. When he opened it he found a custom-made Blue Beetle "bobblehead".
"Hit the head! Hit the head!" said Guy excitedly.
Beetle nodded his head as he knew where this one was going, too. He tapped the head and, after the third bobble, the figures pants dropped revealing little heart covered boxer shorts. Guy's little slice of revenge for that prank Beetle pulled on him during one of Guy's dates with Ice.
"Cute." Beetle said with a tight smile as Guy guffawed.
"Bea..." J'Onn said. "From Tora."
Fire slowly opened the present and found a very early group shot of the Global Guardians. As Fire looked at the picture, she recognized it as Ice's very first public appearance as a Global Guardian. She smiled at how young both of them looked in the picture, standing side-by-side.
Ice smiled as Fire wiped an eye and said, "Dammit! Don't make me get all misty again!"
"Next is a present for Guy. From Fire." J'Onn said holding an envelope.
Ice opened it for the slowly sinking Guy. It was a $35.00 gift certificate for the Liquor Emporium.
"I can use that!" slurred Guy.
Ice shot Fire a look, and Fire just shrugged as if to say "what else was I suppose to give him".
"Hmmm... next is a present for me. From Booster." said J'onn. J'Onn opened the box and it contained a rather large "Nutcracker"-style marionette.
"Pull the arm down." said Booster.
J'Onn obliged, and the marionette dispensed an Oreo cookie out of its mouth. J'Onn just shook his head. And continued on with the presents.
"Beetle... From Bea." said J'Onn as he past the present.
Beetle opened the box up and found a very nice 1969 "Throwback" Chicago Cubs away jersey. "Sweet!" said Beetle with a big grin. "It's even got Ron Santo's number on the back!" Much like Booster had done with his present, Beetle slipped it on for size.
"Tora..." J'Onn continued. "From Bea."
Ice opened the box and pulled out a crystal statue of two baby seals. The words "Best Friends" engraved on the base. Ice smiled and had to blink to keep from getting misty herself. "I love it!" Ice said and meant it.
"I thought you said crystal was stupid." Booster whispered to Fire.
"I changed my mind." answered Fire. "It's my perogative."
"Tora. Another one." J'Onn said. "From Guy."
Ice opened her present as everyone else held their collective breath. Ice pulled out an antique jewelry box. When she opened the lid, a tiny ice skater twirled around to the sound of tinny music. Ice smiled and said, "Thank you, Guy. It's beautiful."
The rest were shocked that Guy had given such a thoughtful gift (that didn't involve pornography or lingerie).
"Booster." J'Onn announced. "From Tora."
Booster quickly tore open the box and found a high end arctic parka. From the tag, he could see it was "Guaranteed The WARMEST Parka On The Market!". Enclosed was a note which read: "Sorry I couldn't give you Florida. I hope this will keep you warm."
"Next is for Bea." J'Onn said as Fire squeeled again. "From Ted."
Fire unwrapped the gift to find a pair of gold, flame-shaped, daggling earrings. They weren't gaudy and expensive... They were GOD-AWFUL gaudy and expensive. And Fire absolutely adored them!
As she hugged him, Fire whispered to a shocked Beetle, "Meet me under the mistletoe for a better show of my appreciation!"
"Guy..." J'Onn said. "From Booster."
Again Ice had to open Guy's gift. She opened the box for Guy to reveal the latest NCAA football video game.
"Ha!" slurred Guy. "I can whup Beetle's butt in that now!"
J'Onn looked at the next present. "For me. From Bea."
"You're a poet, and didn't even kn-OWWW!" started Booster before Fire elbowed him.
J'Onn opened the present to reveal a framed poster of what looked to be a stylized version of himself. He was standing in a rainforest with the words "O Homem Verde" printed on it. Literally translated from Portuguese it read "The Green Man", which was how the Brazilians knew J'Onn.
"I saw that on a recent trip back to Brazil. I thought you might get a kick out of it." explained Fire.
J'Onn gave a little smile. "I'm not in the habit of hanging pictures of myself, but, in this case, I will make the exception." he said as he picked up the next present. "It seems that this one is for me, too. From Guy."
J'Onn opened the box to reveal a green tee-shirt with the saying "Mars Wants Your Women" printed on it. "Thank you, Guy." J'Onn said dryly to the smiling Guy.
J'Onn picked up the next present. "Booster... From Bea."
Booster opened the box and pulled out a 1:24th scale model of a Ferrari. Booster looked at Fire with a quirked eyebrow.
"I knew you wanted one." she said with a small smile. "But, I couldn't afford a full-sized one!"
"Gee, thanks. I'll loan it to the Atom to cruise around in." said Booster.
"Tora...From Ted." said J'Onn as he handed her a present.
Ice unwrapped the package and opened the box. Inside, she found a dvd collection of the British series "All Creatures Great and Small". Ice became addicted to the series when she sat down to watch it on PBS one day. She went on to read all of James Herriot's books. "Thank you." she said to Beetle.
"Guy." said J'Onn, rousting a sleepy Guy. "From Tora."
Guy fumbled with the small box, but, managed to open it. Guy pulled out a small crystal pendant. He brought it closer to his face in order to focus on it better. "There's a lil' scene in the crystal!" he said as he smiled.
Booster nudged Fire and made a tipping motion with his hand to his mouth. Ice saw this and frowned disapprovingly.
"No." Ice said as if chastizing her friends. "There is a little scene etched into the crystal." Then, to Guy, she said, "That's where I'm from. You can always look at that and think of me."
Guy smiled, and Booster could've sworn he saw a little tear form in Guy's eye, and put his head on Ice's shoulder as he continued to look at the crystal.
"And, finally...for me." said J'Onn as he picked up the last present, the large one in the silver/white paper that Fire had been admiring earlier. "From Beetle."
J'Onn peeled the wrap away to reveal a picture of the Martian landscape in a large frame. But, it wasn't just a picture. It had amazing depth, as though it were a window to Mars. J'Onn studied the picture.
"A hologram?" he asked Beetle.
"Yeah. But, a little more advanced." he answered. "I've been working on that for a month. There are eight D cell batteries in the frame. I'm afraid you're gonna have to change them every few weeks. It really sucks the life out of them."
"A small price to pay." said J'Onn, a slight smile creasing his face as he studied the intricicies of the picture. It was Utopia Planitia, J'Onn realized. Not far, at all, from where he once called home.
J'Onn put the picture down gently. "Despite what some might think," J'Onn looked at Booster and Fire. "I did not forget to get you all presents. Or, more correctly, the same present." J'Onn closed his eyes. "They say 'it's the thought that counts'. I would like to give you... my favorite thought."
Suddenly, the members of the team were no longer in the embassy. The study dissolved away into a landscape of reddish-brown sand blown accross a plain, under the palest of blue skies. The scene looked very much like the picture Beetle had just given J'Onn. It was very quiet. It was as though the sounds were muted. Even the wind blowing the sand was quiet. With a shared appreciation, they all realized just how beautiful the scene before them was.
And then, they heard a voice.
The voice didn't come externally. It was in their minds. It sounded like a young girl, and, even though the language she was speaking was totally alien to all, they understood perfectly what she said.
"Father! Father!" she said. "Come look what Mother made!"
They each saw the scene from J'Onn's eyes as he turned toward his home and through the door. There they saw what looked like a smaller, slenderer version of J'Onn's true form. They all knew instinctively that this was J'Onn's daughter. And they all felt such a warm love for her.
"Come on, Father!" she said excitedly and motioned toward another door.
They followed J'Onn's daughter into another room. A studio. There she joined another form. This one looked a more mature version of J'Onn's daughter. They all knew that this was J'Onn's wife. She was standing next to a sculpture she had clearly just finished. She was very talented, and they all felt pride as they looked at the sculpture of the three figures she had completed. The three figures represented a family in the sculpture. This family.
"Do you like it, J'Onn?" his wife asked.
"It is truly beautiful." they all said in J'Onn's voice. "Much like you."
As they all looked upon the two figures, their hearts were filled with joy and love for them both. And more than that. Their hearts were filled with true happiness.
Suddenly, they were all back in the embassy's study.
The members of the team were momentarily disoriented. Perspective was their own again. But, they all still felt the warmth J'Onn had for that moment in time. All realized that J'Onn not only shared a very private memory with them, he shared a little bit of his soul. Each in their own time turned toward J'Onn, who was still standing with his eyes shut. A tear ran down his cheek.
"W-why did you show us that?" asked Beetle quietly.
"That," responded J'Onn. "That is one of my happiest memories. I wished to share it with you because, on Mars, pleasant memories and the feelings associated with them were meant to be shared. To be shared with family."
"But we're not..." started Ice.
J'Onn stopped her. "Yes." he said with a small smile. "Yes, you are. That was a memory of my family on Mars. Given freely to you... my family on Earth."
"When I dream, I dream of Mars.
"I dream of home. Afterall, home is where the heart is.
"And the heart is always with those you love.
"That is truly what home is."
"But, Mars is not the only home I have known."