After, part 3
Disclaimers in "part 0"
"You just don't want to get beat by a girl," I throw back at him, grinning.
"Girl, my ass," he snorts. "You didn't lift your head once in that lap."
I raise an eyebrow at him. "And how would you know that if you were swimming, too?"
"He's right," Bruce arbitrates mildly from a deck chair.
"See?" Tim crows. "Cheating!"
I shrug. "I forgot?" I try.
Tim hauls himself out of the pool. "One more time," he insists. "And this time you have to breathe."
"I'll still beat you," I reply, setting my hands on the pool edge and pressing down to lever myself out of the water. I feel Bruce admiring the view of Alana's streaming body, and I give a little waggle as I bend down on the starting block waiting for the signal.
"GO!" Tim yells, and we dive in.
I do breathe this time, and I still complete my lap ahead of Tim. Alana has a swimmer's body, and I've made a point of making sure she had the skills to match the musculature I gave her. My time in Poseidonis doesn't hurt - spending 24-7 underwater did much to school me in the most efficient ways to move through the heavier medium.
When I reach the edge and lift my head, I see Bruce leaning down to offer a hand out of the pool. "We've got company," he explains as he pulls me from the water and steadies me on my feet, wrapping a towel around my shoulders.
I glance back and see Cassandra balanced on the diving board, waiting for Tim and me to clear the pool. Tim splashes to the edge with an expression of frustration. "I still think you're cheating," he grumps.
"Hop out," Bruce orders, nodding toward the other end.
Tim follows his gesture and breaks into a grin. "Hey, Cassandra!" he calls.
She gives him a little wave, then motions for him to get out of the water. I almost chuckle - she wants an audience.
Tim scrambles out of the pool and steps back from the edge. "All clear!" he announces.
Cassandra nods and turns her back to us, launching herself backward to flip and pike into the water, knifing into the pool splashlessly. We applaud and Tim whistles as Cassandra surfaces, a huge grin on her face. More applause comes from the pool room doors, and we all turn to see Dick and Barbara, arriving unnoticed during Cassandra's display of prowess.
Dick crosses to the edge of the pool to offer Cassandra a hand out, and I bite my lip against warning him about the intent I see in her as she swims to meet him. Bruce wraps an arm around me, and I know he's seen it, too, but Dick appears oblivious.
That is, he is oblivious until he finds himself suddenly flipped into the water. A shout escapes him as he arcs through the air, interrupted as he splashes down, and Barbara, wheeling in behind him, bursts into delighted laughter.
Dick surfaces, spluttering, trying to look indignant. He makes a lunge at Cassandra, but she nimbly evades him and quickly exits the pool, her grin impossibly broader.
Tim is grabbing his sides, scarcely able for laughter to gasp out, "Omigod, that was PRICELESS! The look on Dick's face..."
He raises his hand to give Cassandra a high five, losing sight of the fact that he, too, is too close to the pool's edge.
Now Dick is laughing and Cassandra makes a show of dusting her hands. She moves toward Bruce and me, and I step back slightly, giving her pause.
"I wouldn't," she promises solemnly, and behind her, there is copious splashing as Dick and Tim wrestle in the water. Barbara wheels toward us, shaking her head. "Boys," she remarks.
"I resemble that," Bruce rumbles disapprovingly, although I can tell he is entertained. It is ... pleasant, a rare treat that he indulges in this horseplay. Cassandra's mischief catches hold of me and I turn.
"Good point," I comment, pressing a hand to his chest. Then, before he can think to stop me, I wheel and add him to the collection in the pool. This time I really do have to cheat, augmenting Alana's strength to make sure he is safely into the water. Both Cassandra and Barbara are staring at me incredulously, and I shrug and smile. "He needed that," I explain.
Barbara bites her lip to keep from laughing, and Cassandra raises an eyebrow at me. I start to turn, but a wet hand suddenly clamps on my ankle. I barely have time to register Bruce's intent before I am pulled beneath the surface of pool and into a deep kiss. I needed that, too, Bruce projects as he propels us both upwards.
"Tim, Dick," he calls as we reach the pool wall. "That's enough."
The two younger men break off their tussling, still laughing, and in moments we are all back on the deck. Dick crosses to lean over Barbara, catching her in an embrace.
She struggles against him, smiling through her protest, "Ick, Grayson. You're getting me all wet."
He murmurs something to her with a hint of a leer, and she smacks his arm. His grin broadens.
"Ah, love," Tim sighs dramatically. "C'mon, Cassandra, let's race."
I smirk at him. "You haven't been beaten enough yet?"
He glowers at me. "You don't count."
I feel Bruce stiffen beside me, and I touch his arm, reminding him wordlessly that Tim is only playing. "You keep telling yourself that, Tim," I throw back, and he grins at me before wandering over to join Cassandra.
"Little punks," Dick comments, looking ruefully down at his soaked clothes. "I'm glad I didn't come in here dressed for dinner."
Barbara chuckles. "Let's go get our suits," she suggests. "We have time before dinner, right, Alfred?"
Alfred, entering the room with glasses of juice and bottles of water, nods. "You have about an hour, Miss Barbara." Then he looks at Bruce. "I hope you don't intend to leave one of my towels at the bottom of the pool."
Bruce starts guiltily, remembering the towel I had been wearing when he pulled me in. "Of course not, Alfred," he replies, leaving my side to dive in and fetch it. I shake my head at him and settle into a chaise longue, claiming a bottle of water.
Alfred smiles at me as Barbara and Dick head off to change and we are left for the moment alone. "I cannot tell you, Master J'onn, how happy I am to have you here today."
I give him a puzzled look, but he is already slipping away, off to attend to dinner. It is not like him to address me as J'onn when I am in some other form, and while he has made it clear that he is pleased with my relationship with Bruce, he is rarely so explicit about it. And what is it about today?
"Penny for your thoughts," Bruce says as he joins me, draping the wrung out towel over the back of a vacant chaise longue.
"You're up to something," I accuse without rancor.
He lowers himself to balance on the edge of the chaise I occupy, leaning in to kiss me. He holds my face between his hands, meeting my eyes. "Maybe I am," he confesses, and his eyes are warmly content in a way that I've almost never seen.
"Are you going to tell me?"
He laughs a little and pulls me to him, holding me for a moment. Against my leg, I can feel the brush of his trunks, and I recognize the touch of Ace.
I smile wonderingly as he releases me, fingering the "fabric." "You're wearing Ace," I delight.
He kisses my forehead, and I wonder at that, too. What threshold did we cross that he is so free with his affection? "Of course," he states, as if it is a given, and his hand rests on my waist, fingers smoothing zo'ok against my flesh. "Where else would I keep a symbiote?"
I shake my head, uncertain how to answer. "Bruce," I begin seriously, "what's going on?"
He twines his fingers in mine. "Patience," he orders. "And thank you."
He ducks his head a little. "I know you could read it from my mind if you wanted to," he says softly. "I am honored that you let me do this my way."
"Do what your way?" I press.
A corner of his mouth turns up. "You'll see," he promises.
I sigh and reach my hand up to run fingers through his wet hair. "Soon?" I prompt.
"After dinner," he says solemnly.
"BRUCE! Can you quit being mushy and moderate this?" Tim's voice demands. "Cassandra keeps jumping the gun."
I watch in amusement as Bruce fixes a scowl on his face and turns toward Tim.
"Umm," Tim backpedals. "You can be mushy all you want." And at Bruce's intensifying glare: "Not that you're ever mushy. No way. Just - umm -"
I give Bruce a prod. "Quit tormenting him and watch them race."
Bruce gives my thigh a final squeeze and heads over to the pool. "How about you race me?" he suggests, although it sounds more like an order and holds a hint of danger.
"Umm, sure," Tim agrees nervously, glancing toward Cassandra, who hides a smile. She knows he is kidding, but Tim is less sure. He can outswim Bruce, but his expression wonders if he dares beat the Bat. He knows the answer if he bothers to think - even the Bat would demand his all. And he does eventually give his all, easily beating both Bruce and Dick and restoring some of his youthful ego.
I decline to return to the water, watching instead as the others swim and wondering what awaits me after dinner.