5 AM

by Chicago

Disclaimers: Characters belong to DC Comics. I took them for a spin just for fun, not for profit.

Continuity note: Follows "Born on a Monday" during year 2 of the J'onnverse.

Rating: G

"It is 5 am, and the sun has charred the other side of the world and come back to us and painted the smoke over our heads an imperial violet" -Soul Coughing, "Screenwriter's Blues"
Alfred Pennyworth moved silently through wide sombre halls, his footfalls muffled by thick oriental runners. Early dawn light poured through the east facing windows at the end of the family wing, scattering bright squares of light across the scrolling patterns of the rug and kissing the leaves of the plants standing there.

The Manor was quiet, peaceful rather than empty. Alfred enjoyed the settled contentment that filled him as he made his habitual check on the young men and women that he regarded as under his charge. Too many times this early hour had been the end of a sleepless night followed by fretful dozing; too often he had greeted the sunrise with hands bloodied from caring for injuries sustained in the crusade that ran the Manor more than he did. Not so this morning; he had seen all of his crime fighters off to their beds a little before one the previous night, whole and well after quiet patrols.

Still, he felt compelled to make his check on them all, to reassure himself that none of them had spirited away in the night.

A faint frown creased his features as he came to the door of the room that had become Cassandra's and found it ajar. He pressed his fingertips against the wood to push the door further open, and his frown deepened.

Cassandra was not there.

He stepped into the room and crossed to the made bed, resting his hand on the spread. It was possible that Cassandra had simply awakened and made up the room, but he suspected it was more the case that she had not been to bed at all. Especially given the drapes were still drawn as he had left them the previous evening. No, if Cassandra had been in the room this morning, she would have opened the drapes to let the sun in.

Straightening from the bed, Alfred walked to the adjoining bathroom. No damp towels, and - no toothbrush? His frown took on a more puzzled character.

"Good morning, Alfred," a voice said quietly, and Alfred turned, half-startled.

"Master J'onn!" he exclaimed softly, addressing the tall, sylph-like figure in the doorway to Cassandra's room. "You startled me."

The green head inclined slightly. "My apologies. You are looking for Cassandra?"

"Indeed," Alfred confirmed.

A hint of a smile formed on the alien's lips, and he raised a slender hand to crook a beckoning finger. Alfred obeyed the gesture, following as J'onn led him back out into the hall. A few steps led them both to the room that Gypsy had claimed, and J'onn pressed a finger to his lips in an unnecessary warning. Then he turned the doorknob and swung the door silently inward.

Alfred stepped into the room at J'onn's invitation, peering through the dim light at the bed. He felt himself smiling as he registered the double lump under the covers and slowly discerned the sleeping faces of Cassandra and Gypsy. They were spooned together, Gypsy's arm thrown protectively over younger girl.

Alfred quietly backed out of the door and watched as J'onn shut it again, his expression tender. "Bruce is also sleeping soundly," J'onn informed him, "but if you would like to look in on him..."

Alfred shook his head. "I trust your word. Although won't he miss you and wake?"

The soft smile that had not left J'onn's lips now broadened. "I often wander during the night," he explained. "He's asked Ace to wake him if I stray too far from the grounds, but -" The Martian shrugged fluidly.

"Understood. So might I interest you in a cup of coffee, Master J'onn?"

J'onn hesitated for a moment. "I shouldn't want to intrude-"

"Master J'onn," Alfred chided. "I would enjoy your company."

"Very well," J'onn agreed, trailing Alfred to the stairs and down to the kitchen.

Alfred waited until they were downstairs to speak. He glanced at J'onn and said, "I hope you will forgive an old man's curiosity, but I do not recall having seen you in this form before."

"No forgiveness necessary. I had been out in the rose garden as Alana watching the dew catch the sunrise. When I came in and felt your concern for Cassandra, I began to shift to my Martian Manhunter form and decided it seemed too... heavy for the day. This is somewhat closer to my trueform. I can shift to something-" J'onn began to offer.

"No," Alfred interrupted. He paused in his coffee preparation and turned to J'onn. "I am - honored - that the Manor has become enough of a home to you that you feel comfortable assuming this form here."

J'onn nodded and settled into one of the kitchen chairs. "It is a credit to your ability to create a sense of home," he acknowledged.

Alfred felt an unexpected blush rising at this praise and returned his attention to the coffee. "I am afraid that is less my doing than it is the benefit of your good influence on Master Bruce."

"Bruce is the boy you raised," J'onn said quietly. "Any good influence I have is simply a case of helping him express the virtues and values you instilled in him."

Alfred finished adding coffee to the French press and continued to face away from J'onn for a moment. "Thank you," he whispered.

"No. Thank you. For him."

Alfred turned to meet J'onn's sincere eyes. "This threatens to degenerate into a comedy skit," he remarked.

J'onn chuckled. "I do believe you're right, Mr. Pennyworth. Shall we agree, then, that he is a difficult man but worth loving?"

The kettle began to whistle, and Alfred turned it off and poured the hot water into the press. He carried the press and two mugs to the table and sat. "Yes, I'll agree with that. Cream?"

"Yes, please."

Alfred readied the mugs, then depressed the plunger of the coffee maker and poured out two cups. He took his own mug and lifted it as if in a toast. "To stubborn men with good hearts."

J'onn grinned and tapped his mug against Alfred's. "And to excellent coffee," he added after taking a careful sip of the beverage.

Alfred took a sip of his own coffee, letting the warmth of the liquid add to his sense of morning contentment. "Indeed, Master J'onn. Indeed."

end