The Apprentice, part 21
Disclaimers and other information in "part 0"
J'onn let tendrils of flesh slip under the bandages over Bruce's shoulder and back, carefully inspecting the stitched wound. He took advantage of the moment to spread himself through the muscles and veins of Bruce's back, gently massaging healthy tissue and speeding the flow of antibody rich blood to the site of the injury. Bruce would object were he awake, and in a moment, J'onn would let him wake, but he had been put off enough in the last week and a half.
Satisfied that Bruce was healing well and that there were no more hidden injuries needing attention, J'onn snaked his arms around Bruce's body and pressed his face between his shoulder blades, kissing just past the edge of the bandage.
Bruce stirred. "Mmm," he breathed, and J'onn could feel the sound vibrating under his cheek. "This feels nice."
"I missed you," J'onn replied, nuzzling against Bruce's back.
Bruce shifted, lifting and turning his body as if to lie on the opposite shoulder. He winced a little and thought better of it, lying instead on his back. J'onn sat up to allow this movement, then settled his head lightly against Bruce's chest.
Bruce's fingers came up to stroke through Alana hair, although a faint frown - felt rather than seen - persuaded J'onn to slip into something closer to his trueform. "I missed you, too," Bruce murmured. J'onn could feel the calluses of Bruce's fingers caressing the top of his head.
"You were hurt," J'onn observed, his tone carefully neutral.
"It looks worse than it is," Bruce lied.
J'onn nodded and did not call him on it. "And Du Bois?"
He felt Bruce's head shake. "In Arkham. The DEO is investigating." There was more there, but Bruce seemed disinclined to talk about it. His fingers continued their idle motion over J'onn's scalp.
"This feels good," J'onn told him, pressing his body closer to Bruce's side.
The hand on his head stilled. "Come here," Bruce whispered.
J'onn raised himself and looked into Bruce's face. The depths of Bruce's eyes were haunted, a rare glimpse of the sting this case had had for him. J'onn had felt it - had been feeling it since the night Spoiler had been hurt. It had been all he could do not to rush to Bruce's side, to accept that Batman would not welcome the power of a Martian at his beck and call, even when it might make things easier. He had stayed away because, as contrary as it seemed, it was the right thing for them.
But now? The case was over, and he was done with staying away.
He scooted up a little, bringing himself over to straddle Bruce, and leaned down to kiss Bruce's lips. The first moment of contact was tentative, and J'onn could feel Bruce's effort at control, his unwillingness to give in to his desperate need for J'onn's touch.
So be it, J'onn allowed. He brought his fingers up to tangle in Bruce's hair and took the lead, deepening their kiss, slipping his tongue out past Bruce's teeth, claiming Bruce's mouth.
Bruce stiffened slightly at the feel of J'onn's tongue, then his good arm came up to cinch around J'onn's waist, and he met J'onn's mouth with answering strokes of tongue. When J'onn pulled back for a moment, a heavy sigh released from Bruce's body. "You still taste like this mission," J'onn observed quietly, hoping he had picked his moment correctly, that Bruce would open up rather than shut down.
For a second, it looked as if he had pushed too hard; he could see the Bat glaring at him. But then Bruce was rolling his tongue in his own mouth, as if gauging J'onn's comment. "Fear," he said.
J'onn shook his head slightly. "Doubt," he corrected.
Bruce closed his eyes, his good arm still hooked over J'onn's hips, the fingers of his injured side brushing J'onn's thigh. When he opened his eyes again, they were troubled. "Am I that blind? Am I somehow making this attractive to them? Reverse psychologizing them into masks and vigilantism and-"
J'onn leaned down to place a silencing kiss on his lips. "Bruce, your way of shadows, of light and dark and black and white, good guys and bad guys..." He paused, looking into pleading blue eyes. He considered his words carefully. "There is a graceful kind of a child logic to it. It makes sense in its own way, in a world that doesn't often make sense."
Bruce's expression flirted with confusion. "I-"
"Shh," J'onn interrupted. "You were younger than Dick is now when you started this."
Bruce closed his mouth, watched J'onn intently.
"And you began training for your mission almost younger than Dick did."
Bruce nodded carefully, guardedly.
"Does it surprise you that a plan you devised when you were a youth and made happen by the strength of your will and the force of your childish conviction has appeal to other youths?"
"But the danger - they -"
"Will take risks one way or the other. And as much as Stephanie Brown's mother cannot keep her from prowling the rooftops, I am surprised she expects that you should be able to contain such a willful child."
"No, you discouraged. You set rules. You impressed the stakes upon youngsters who, no matter what anyone tells them, will stubbornly refuse to believe in their own mortality."
"It worked about as well as it would have with you."
Bruce's mouth snapped closed, and he stared at J'onn as if deciding whether to accept this logic. J'onn met his gaze evenly, secure in his observations, hoping Bruce could understand, or at least catch a glimmer...
Something softened in Bruce's expression. "Thank you for letting me -"
J'onn cut him off with a nod. "I am learning to wait to tell you things until you will hear them."
A corner of Bruce's mouth quirked up. "Do I want to know how many lectures you've stored up for me?"
The hand on the small of J'onn's back began to make small, absent-minded circles, and Bruce's smile at J'onn's curt answer faded into a distant sort of gaze.
J'onn watched Bruce's face, trailing a hand up to stroke his hair. The contact seemed to bring Bruce back to the moment, for his eyes refocused on J'onn's face.
"Make love to me," he said.
J'onn hesitated, his fingers still twined in Bruce's hair, mindful of Bruce's injury, uncertain what form he wanted. "Bruce?"
"Please," Bruce asked, his eyes adding weight to the request. J'onn began to shift into Alana's form, but the hand Bruce rested against his thigh gave a squeeze. "You. Right now, I just... need... you."
J'onn forced back a half-startled reaction, leaning down to once again claim Bruce Wayne's lips. Bruce's good arm pulled him down, pressing their bellies and chests together. The hair of Bruce's chest and the thin line of hair stretching down from his navel tickled against J'onn's skin, and J'onn sent a ripple through his own flesh.
He swallowed the knowledge of how close he had come to losing this, to losing the man he loved. He let his own disciplined fear dissipate as lips and tongues and hands staked their claims. They were together, and that was enough.