After, part 2
Disclaimers in "part 0"
Before this confusing state of affairs has a chance to blossom into panic, I feel Ace brushing my consciousness and open the invited link to Bruce's mind. Clear amusement drifts back to me.
Morning, sleepyhead, Bruce greets from some distant locale. His tone is fond and slightly preening.
You were floating so serenely I didn't want to wake you.
An evasion, of course, and I sense he has shielded his thoughts. What is he up to?
Bruce. I let a hint of chastisement bleed into my tone. I don't mind the Brucie line so much - it is a rare taste of playfulness, all the more welcome after a very hard couple of weeks. But he _had_ managed to creep out under my radar.
I'll be home soon, he promises, signaling the end of the conversation.
I sigh and let the link drop, knowing him well enough to know the futility of trying to continue the conversation. So I stretch in the darkness, indulging in what Beetle would call a moment of Gumby-ness before I settle into my trueform. I float cross-legged over the bed, thinking. How had Bruce snuck away?
I remember waking earlier, startled alert by Bruce's racing heart when he had opened his eyes to see me slumbering in my trueform beneath him. It was too much the way he had found my body on Mars, recalling to him all the panic of believing me dead and gone from him forever. I had kissed him reassuringly, running soothing hands over his tensed muscles, feeling his fear turn to guilt for having woken me. He had curled into my arms for a while, and we had talked quietly of nothing of consequence until his weariness began to drown out other emotions.
I had thought to coax him back to sleep and then had been amused to find he had the same plan for me. We had shared a moment's laughter which had given way to kisses and caresses, less passionate than comforting this time. A different kind of making love, more Martian in its shared pleasure of being than anything we had previously shared. I let him feel my surprised pleasure, and he had smiled as we separated, gently coaxing me to round my body into the sphere that required no mental energy to maintain, that allowed for the closest approximation of human sleep that I am capable of.
As I drifted into sleep again, I caught the scrap of relief from his drowsing mind, for the first time aware of how unconsciously troubling it was to him that I did not sleep as he did.
I let myself think on this for a moment. Even before we had become lovers, he was the only one of the Justice League (in any of its incarnations) who had bothered to question my explanation that my long hours of wakefulness were a product of the differential between the length of Earth and Martian days. He had relieved me of monitor duty one day, unexpectedly stating, "Martian days are 24 hours and 24 minutes long."
It had taken me a moment to figure his train of thought, only a second longer to realize I would not resolve his concern with another fiction. "Martian physiology is very different," I explained. "Rarely is there a time when I need all my cells to work in concert."
He had waited patiently for further explanation.
"At any moment, up to a third of my cells can be in repose without hampering my efficiency."
He'd nodded at that, and I caught him reflecting on the usefulness of such a trick. But he was still unsatisfied, even then he had needed to know my limits, to reassure himself how much he could count on me as a teammate. "And your mind? How does it rest?"
"Meditation," I had offered, knowing his own experience could translate the idea. "I need only a few minutes a day to clear my thoughts. If I am highly stressed, or if I have gone a long stretch without time to restore my energy, I might need more complete rest, but otherwise..." I'd shrugged, and he'd accepted this, letting the topic drop and turning back to the task of transferring the security codes for his watch.
It had not occurred to me that his rational acceptance of this idea would not translate into comfort with it when he began to spend enough time with me to witness how little I did sleep. It was one more of those bits of alien-ness which occasionally wrinkled our relationship.
And, I realize, Bruce sneaking out this morning was one of those moments that reminded us of how each of us found ways to restore equilibrium, to transcend what was alien into something more familiar. I allow myself a smile at his little triumph, still uncertain of his motives but delighted at his cleverness. It would be a new game between us - me trying to figure out how he had done it, him trying to repeat the performance.
Satisfied that I have no new worry in this regard, I rise, morphing into the Martian Manhunter form. I will likely have to shift again before heading upstairs, but I want to use the Cave monitors to check the Manor and decide whose presence will be most discreet when I emerge from the den.
I travel quietly down the dimly lit hall of the Cave sleeping quarters, but I pause when I reach the workspace of Batman's lair. Tim is here, in civvies, busy at the computers. I make a deliberate bit of noise, warning him of my approach. Sneaking up on Batman is just another game, but it would border on cruel to suddenly appear at the shoulder of one of his family. Tim is slightly less high-strung about it than some of the others, but even he would suffer some self-recrimination at being caught unawares. Batman would consider such a moment of consternation instructive, but I am not in the habit of training bat acolytes.
Tim glances over at me as I approach, his body tensed in alert until he recognizes me. Then he smiles and rises, surprising me by catching me in a tight hug. He has not seen me since Bruce and I returned from Mars, I remember, just as he says, "J'onn, it is so _good_ to see you."
I return the embrace, reflecting on how much Tim has grown in the past year. He has added at least eight inches to his rangy form and carries the half-finished look of late adolescence. His expression of emotion now is part of that youthfulness, an unself-consciously projected feeling of relief. An older man might content himself with a strong grip on my shoulder and a smile that conveyed how much worry was allayed by the solidity of my presence. For a split second I miss working with young heroes, not yet fully schooled in the arts of protecting their emotions. I let the feeling pass as I release Tim and nod toward the computer.
He offers a quick head shake with an abashed grin, returning to the big chair. "Video game simulation," he confessed, explaining the lines of programming code on the monitor. "Dana wanted me out of the house for the afternoon, so I figured I'd visit Bruce, but he was already heading for the office, so-" He shrugs, typing in a code that will save his work. He glances back at me. "You just getting up?"
Now it is my turn for a faintly embarrassed smile. "Yes."
He shakes his head with a laugh. "Bruce is rubbing off on you," he declares, clearly pleased about that idea. He likes that he might be able to kid me, that I have become... family. I am touched by the brush of the idea across his mind, but to acknowledge my feeling would be uncomfortable for him. Humans often prefer to leave such connections unstated, or delivered in joking tones.
"You need the computer?" he asks.
"I just wished to see what form would be most appropriate for upstairs," I explain.
He nods, understanding, and answers, "Just Alfred and some day staff up there now. Probably Alana."
"Very well," I reply, morphing into the smaller form. He watches with wistful fascination.
"I wish I could do that," he sighs, and I catch a mix of plans ranging from youthful hijinks to easier undercover work.
I raise Alana's eyebrow at him with a smirk. "You want to be able to look good in dresses?"
His expression shifts to a scowl. "No," he contradicts flatly. "You know what I mean."
I grin. "Of course," I acknowledge. "I'll see you later?"
"I'll come up in a bit. Al says Dick and Barbara are coming by for dinner, so I figure I'll stick around and see them."
A little family gathering? Bruce didn't mention it, but he has managed to keep me here long enough to disrupt my plans for the day, as I can see on the computer clock that it is after one. Again I wonder what he is up to, but I only say, "Sounds good," to Tim before I head up the stairs.
I meet Alfred in the hall from the den to the kitchen, and he offers one of his small butler smiles. "Good afternoon, Miss Alana. I was just about to prepare some lunch for Master Tim and myself."
He leaves unspoken the command that I follow him, knowing I understand the cue. I walk beside him, and he continues talking. "Master Bruce has just called to say he is on his way home but he has already dined. He asked me to invite you to stay for dinner."
"Well..." I hedge, earning the patented Pennyworth frown.
"He will be most disappointed if you decline. He has already taken the liberty of inviting Master Dick and Miss Gordon."
He won't be the only disappointed one, I gather from the surface Alfred's thoughts. Bruce _is_ up to something - something of which Alfred clearly approves and even looks forward to. I resist the urge to probe deeper into Alfred's thoughts, not wishing to spoil whatever surprise Bruce clearly intends in order to satisfy my curiosity. "I suppose my plans can wait until tomorrow," I allow, and something in my tone tips Alfred off that I was teasing him. A fond expression of tolerant annoyance briefly crosses his face.
"Very well. Perhaps I can interest you in a sandwich to tide you over until dinner time?" He is already cutting up cucumbers, and their subtle scent puts me in a frame of mind to eat.
"That'd be great," I decide, settling at the table to watch him work. I would offer to help, but he would decline. Sometimes he will indulge me, teaching me the arts of the kitchen, but today he doesn't seem so inclined.
Tim manages to arrive with uncanny timing just as Alfred is setting out the finished sandwiches. It is a light lunch, appropriate to a hot summer day. Cucumber sandwiches and jam buttees, a large pitcher of lemonade, and the chocos that Alfred always puts out when I am here. I eat lightly, savoring the flavors and textures. Experience with Bruce has helped me refine my taste buds when in human form, allowing me to understand the ways a human enjoys food. Still, I earn a grimace from Tim when I wash down a choco with a swallow of lemonade.
"Isn't that unbearably sour?" he asks.
I think about that for a moment, repeating the experiment. The lemonade _does_ taste more sour after the sweetness of the cookie, and I feel the pucker forming in my Alana lips. "Yes," I agree, and he shakes his head and laughs.
"Sounds like you are having too much fun without me," a voice says from the doorway, and Bruce stands there in a three piece suit, briefcase in hand. I can taste a salty muskiness of sweat from him; it is a light suit, but still too warm for the summer weather.
"Hey, Bruce," Tim greets, helping himself to another sandwich. "How was work?"
Bruce sets his briefcase inside the door and crosses to me. "Good day all around," he replies before he leans down to kiss me. "Sleep well?" he asks, a hint of teasing in his eyes.
"Very," I answer. He starts to stand, and I catch at his tie to pull him down for another kiss. The tie twines into my fingers and I laugh against his lips. Ace. He has taught Ace to be his tie.
He straightens with a hint of affronted dignity at my laughter, Ace lying perfectly tie-like against his shirt. "So now I kiss funny?" he objects, but his eyes dance with delight at my discovery.
"Miss Alana has agreed to stay for dinner," Alfred interrupts as Bruce settles in the chair beside me and rests a hand on my knee.
"Wonderful!" Bruce declares, giving my knee a squeeze. I let tendrils of myself stroke his fingertips, relishing the carefully disguised thrill this gives him.
Tim downs a glass of lemonade and rises from the table. "Well, I'm going to go read on the back patio," he announces. "May as well get some of that stupid summer homework done."
"Wear sunblock," Alfred advises, clearing away the lunch dishes.
Tim gives an exaggerated sigh. "Yes, Alfred." He glances at me and Bruce. "Go for a swim later?" he suggests.
"Maybe in a couple hours," Bruce allows, and I pick easily from his mind what he wants to do with those hours. I manage, just, to suppress a smirk.
"Sounds good to me," Tim decides, patting his stomach. "Gives lunch a chance to digest." He heads out, and then it is only me and Bruce sitting there as Alfred fills the sink with dishes.
Bruce's hand shifts a little further up my thigh, and I reach down with to cover it with my own hand and give it a little squeeze. I want to laugh at the pulse of desire that travels through him.
"Alfred, I think Alana and I will retire for a bit," he says, not taking his eyes off me.
Alfred, with perfect decorum, replies, "Very well, sir." But his eyes are relieved and pleased as Bruce leads me upstairs to his bedroom.