Characters belong to DC Comics. Situation? All mine, with apologies. Written for fun, not for profit.
Of course, Alfred had somehow managed not to be at the door when Dick entered. He might have headed back to Brentwood already, although Babs had hinted that perhaps Alfred had returned to Bruce's employ and might have something at the Manor more urgently needing his attentions than keeping Tim entertained. Dick couldn't imagine what that might be - poor kid was practically in lock up. He'd managed to sneak him out night before last for a crime fighting jaunt around the city, but such excursions had to be rare or Tim would be in a heap big trouble. Tim needed Alfred around just to stay sane.
The Manor was looking better, Dick noted with approval, seeing subtle signs of Alfred's presence in every room. His umbrella in the stand near the servant's entrance indicated the butler was somewhere on the premises. Dick frowned a little - it wasn't like Alfred to allow one of his charges to come home without at least a perfunctory reminder to wipe their feet or some little message from one family member to another. Maybe the kitchen - which, with Alfred back, might even have something edible in it.
The kitchen was empty - spotless, in fact, in a way Bruce could never manage, even with a cleaning service on call. No Alfred though, which meant he was likely down in the Cave. That'd be the next stop, then, after a quick inspection of the pantry.
Dick opened the pantry door and blinked. Now that was strange. He reached in and picked up a cellophane package, yelling, "Hey, Alfred, when did you start buying Choc- OH!"
As he called out his question, he had closed the pantry door to find a woman standing there. He narrowed his eyes slightly - how had she gotten the jump on him? "And who are you?" he asked suspiciously.
The woman opened her mouth to answer just as Alfred came through the door.
"Really, Master Dick, must I resort to lectures about indoor voices? I - oh! I see you've found our guest."
"Guest," Dick repeated, inspecting the young woman before him. She was pretty enough, he supposed, dark brown hair hanging down her back, warm eyes that seemed only amused by him, slightly taller than average. A tad on the thin side, although not without curves. Not Bruce's usual "guest," but not out of the question.
"All right," Dick said, flashing the patented Grayson smile. "Hi, I'm Dick."
A little grin lit the woman's face as she extended her hand. "Alana."
"Alana Jones," Alfred added significantly.
Dick blinked and looked down at the package of cookies in his hand. He almost missed the reproachful look Alana shot at Alfred.
"Please, Master J'onn. Your willingness to go along with Master Bruce's desires are laudable, but you must see that whatever his strengths, managing his family is not one of them."
Dick double blinked. Alfred, commenting so freely about Bruce to someone outside the family? Something was off about this picture. Alana heaved a sigh and distorted, quickly assuming the familiar shape and bulk of Martian Manhunter. "I might have my own reasons," he commented, lifting the Chocos from Dick's hand and sitting at the table.
"And left to his own devices, Master Dick would undoubtedly ferret out the truth." He gave J'onn a significant look which was returned.
"Whoa, hey, don't go telepathic on me," Dick protested, his mind working furiously. What were Babs exact words this morning? Something about looking in on things at the Manor. Prompted by Dick's complaint that Bruce had been oddly moody a few nights before and mysteriously willing to allow Dick to finish last night's patrol.
"That bruise is healing well," J'onn suddenly remarked, pulling Dick back into the moment.
"Huh? Oh, yeah." His hand went to the almost faded mark across his left cheekbone, courtesy of the White Martian attacks of a week earlier.
J'onn had opened the Chocos, but only stared at them. "I fear that I bear a burden of blame for that one," he confessed.
"Ahem." Alfred stood with his arms crossed over his chest, looking firmly at J'onn.
Dick looked from Alfred to J'onn, his brow furrowing. Definitely an odd dynamic at work here. "Hey, part of a day's work," Dick dismissed lightly, pulling out a chair and sitting opposite of J'onn. He snagged a cookie. "And if you think we blame you for saving the world again, you're right."
Play this carefully, Grayson, he told himself, until you figure out what's going on.
J'onn glanced up, his features taking on an appraising look.
"Surely you know-"
"What, that you blame yourself for waking up Protex and company? You know the gossip mill. I also know that you came up with the plan which saved the world and put yourself at grave risk and seriously pi - ticked Bruce off. And the Justice League has been all hush-hush about what happened."
J'onn raised an eyebrow and looked to Alfred, who shrugged and busied himself, pulling down plates and glasses and collecting a jug of milk from the refrigerator. Dick watched them both carefully. His previous experiences with J'onn J'onzz had not left him with an impression of a person who needed reassurance. In fact, if anything, J'onzz was inclined to take command. It had kept Dick from becoming a permanent member of the Martian's task force years ago - not enough room for two chiefs.
J'onn nodded slowly, biting thoughtfully into a Choco. "Yes," he said. "I did - upset - Bruce."
"How is Master Timothy?" Alfred asked, handing Dick a glass of milk and setting a second one in front of J'onn.
"Bored. Irritated. Sixteen," Dick responded, not taking his eyes off J'onn.
"I shall have to return to Brentwood soon," Alfred noted, resting a hand briefly on J'onn's shoulder. Dick knew the gesture. It was simultaneously a reassurance and an order, a pointed reminder that Alfred had responsibilities elsewhere and that whatever was wrong with you was fixed enough to allow him to tend to them.
Dick let out a low whistle. "You were hurt more than the Justice League is letting on, weren't you?"
J'onn twisted open a Choco. "I am not privy to what the Justice League is telling the rest of the world."
Dick snorted. "Oh, please. It probably drifted right to the surface of my mind in the middle of that little conversation. That's a Bruce evasion." He studied the Martian, noticing the uneven green of his skin and the careful way he was handling the Choco in his hand as he twisted open a new one and polished off both halves. Subtle stuff, but still...
"You were more than hurt," he said succinctly. "And if Bruce brought you here and would only trust you to Alfred I can only guess how bad it was." He frowned. "Although what Alfred could do that STAR Labs couldn't..."
"A sense of home, Master Dick." Alfred spoke quietly, his eyes locking with Dick's.
Dick looked back to J'onn, watching as he kept his focus on the Chocos, not once raising his eyes to meet Dick's sympathetic gaze. A whole slew of odd moments over the past week were beginning to make sense. J'onn must have been at death's door for Bruce to risk bringing him here. And having a Justice Leaguer in his home - even one so skilled at hiding his true identity - that was bound to make Bruce edgier than usual. There were other things, too - Wally, refusing an invitation to catch a movie with Dick and Roy. At the time, Roy had joked that the speedster was getting some action at home, and although Dick had laughed along, the explanation hadn't matched the tone in Wally's voice as he begged off over the phone.
Then there was the strange conversation Dick had walked in on at the Clocktower, Oracle reassuring Superman about something and hastily terminating the conversation when she realized Dick was there. The idea that a Leaguer might be near death - particularly J'onn, who had been so much the League for so long - yeah, they would play that close to the vest. J'onn finally looked up, and Dick offered him a comforting smile.
"Alfred's good at putting everyone back in shape. The best."
"Which is why, Master Dick, you've been taking your injuries to someone else?"
Dick blushed and fumbled. "Umm, Al - c'mon. That's different and you know it."
A thin smirk crossed Alfred's face. "Indubitably, Master Dick."
Dick reached for the package of Chocos and held a cookie out toward Alfred, smiling winsomely. "Peace offering?" he suggested in hopeful tones.
Alfred chuckled. "Not needed, Master Dick. I've made sure that Miss Barbara is well supplied in particularly sticky surgical tape."
This drew an appreciative laugh from J'onn. "Never miss a moment for a lesson," he said approvingly.
"Ah, Master J'onn, I knew there was a reason I liked you."
Dick groaned, then sat up as J'onn cocked his head and suddenly morphed into his Alana form. Alfred's smile faded and he slipped from the kitchen. "What is it?" Dick asked.
"Bruce is home," J'onn explained.
"Well, it's not like he's never seen you all green before," Dick pointed out.
"Sasha," J'onn reminded him.
Right. The bodyguard. That made it doubly surprising that Bruce would bring J'onn here. Even if she did know about the Bat connection, Dick doubted he'd made her privy to his dealings with the Justice League. Dick took a bite of the cookie Alfred had refused. They'd have to have J'onn over more often, he thought, noticing that a slight smile had graced "Alana's" features.
Another moment, and Alfred was ushering Bruce and Sasha through the door. "Hey, Bruce, Sasha," Dick greeted.
Sasha nodded and stepped to one side as Bruce clapped a hand on Dick's shoulder. "Good to see you, Dick."
Then Bruce did something unexpected, crossing to the other side of the table. "Alana," he greeted, then leaned over to gently kiss her on the lips.
Dick grinned. Bruce didn't even bat an eye. "Alana" even looked up at him with shining eyes, the perfect picture of happy lover. Great cover. You'd never guess they were teammates in another life. Dick idly wondered if he could pull it off. Of course, the closest opportunity to try it would be if something happened to Gar. Could he kiss Changeling like that? Not parallel, he decided. Gar would still be green.
"Alfred, I'm afraid I made Sasha sit through another business lunch without offering her a chance to eat," Bruce confessed, smiling an abashed apology at his bodyguard. "You don't mind feeding her?"
Alfred didn't miss a beat. "Of course, Bruce," he said smoothly, moving to the counter to begin preparing something for her.
Bruce urged "Alana" to her feet, their fingers intertwined, and led her toward the door. He paused. "Dick, you'll join us?"
Dick pushed back from the table. "Sure. Good to see you again, Sasha." He trailed after Bruce and "Alana," following them to the north library and flopping down in an overstuffed chair. He gave them a look as they settled on the sofa, still hand in hand.
"Guys," he said, "you don't have to keep up the cover. I already know who Alana is."
"Alana" looked up at Bruce, who turned to Dick. Dick's smile faltered. The Bat was looking out at him through Bruce's eyes. "Dick," he said levelly. "It's not a cover."
Dick froze, watching Bruce carefully. What did he mean, not a cover? "Uh, Bruce," he began awkwardly, "I know Alana isn't really -"
"So do I."
Dick could swear "Alana's" fingers were actually tightening around Bruce's, and he couldn't make himself look her in the eye. What was Bruce saying? That he - that he and Martian Manhunter - that they'd - he shuddered. It didn't make sense. It wasn't Bruce. It wasn't Batman. They were teammates, not - not - His mind shied from the idea.
"Dick," "Alana" said softly.
Dick spared "her" a glance, noticing as he did so that Bruce made a slight quelling gesture to her. He closed his eyes. He was saying he would handle this. Which meant it was serious. Which meant they really -
He let out a harsh laugh. "Oh, this is rich."
He opened his eyes to give Bruce a bitter look. "All that time I dated Kory, having to deal with your crazy complaints about aliens, and then you go and bring one home. Nice, Bruce. Real nice."
"Dick!" The Bat was angry.
"Don't even start, Bruce. You realize how much crap I've had to put up with over the years because folks were convinced that you had some weird pedophilic relationship with me? How hard I've defended you against accusations that you're some sick pervert under that cowl? And then you go and -"
"Stop this instantly, Dick." The Voice, hard and cold. Bruce was standing, his eyes blazing. He stepped forward, prompting Dick to rise to meet his challenge. He raised his chin defiantly, almost daring Batman to hit him, do something.
Bruce paused, his hands clenching at his sides. "Get-"
Dick blinked. Faster than he'd been able to track, "Alana" had morphed into the Martian Manhunter and now stood beside and slightly in front of Dick, one hand pressed to Bruce's chest. Bruce's eyes had flared angrily in J'onn's direction for a second, then looked suddenly abashed.
"Bruce," J'onn repeated in gentler tones. "Dick's right."
Dick wrinkled his brow in confusion, looking from J'onn to Bruce. The former was a picture of calm, but Bruce -
Bruce looked hurt. Worse than hurt. Suddenly - lost. Dick had never seen him show vulnerability so close to the surface, but the way he was looking at J'onn, almost pleading with his eyes...
"Bruce?" he asked uncertainly, reaching out toward him.
Bruce actually flinched away from his touch.
Dick pulled back, surprised. What was happening? This whole thing was so out of character...
He looked back to J'onn, realizing that the Martian had not moved at all. He still stood with one hand against Bruce's chest, his eyes still fixed on Bruce's face. His expression was inscrutable, although it was hard to say what he might be projecting toward Bruce telepathically. Dick had never seen anyone exert so much control over his mentor, and he felt the pieces coming together in his mind. He covered his eyes and sank back into his chair. "Holy mindfuck," he groaned.
He was surprised to hear a wry chuckle in response. "Yes, truly," J'onn said, causing Dick to look up sharply. There was the tiniest of smiles on the Martian's face as he spared Dick a glance. Dick blinked incredulously, then did the only thing he could. He laughed. It was absurd. It was crazy. And they were - impossible as it seemed - in love. The mighty Batman - he laughed harder.
J'onn gave Bruce a pat on the shoulder and returned to the couch, leaving Bruce in the rare position of confused inaction. Dick wiped at the tears in the corners of his eyes, trying to contain himself. Leave it to Batman. No courtship, no warning - just boom, in love. And with the damnedest partner. It was going to be bloody awkward, but -
He sobered, remembering what he'd said with sudden dismay.
"Manhunter - Mr. J'onzz -"
"J'onn," the Martian suggested gently.
"Right." He took a deep breath. "I didn't mean -"
J'onn made a dismissive gesture, leaning forward to pull an unresisting Bruce back to the sofa. "But you are right. Bruce is guilty of a glaring double standard and certainly owes you an apology. And this isn't going to do wonders for Batman's reputation should it become public. And I'm well aware that unlike Kal and your princess, I am not exactly the most - desirable creature from a human perspective."
"J'onn," Bruce protested faintly, his eyes still troubled.
J'onn chuckled and dropped a kiss onto Bruce's forehead. "Face it, Bruce," he began, shifting into Alana's body, "despite my abilities to shape change, I'm still basically - what did Prometheus call me? Really bright pond scum?"
Dick snorted in spite of himself, and Bruce managed a sardonic smirk. "Gee, you put it that way-"
"Alana's" face took on a relieved smile, clearly pleased that Bruce was acting more himself. Dick sat back, watching both of them. Barbara had known, he realized, and clearly had been leaving it to Bruce to share the news. And Alfred had been hinting hard, trying to prepare Dick to hear it. It hadn't really helped, he thought wryly, again regretting his outburst.
*Don't,* a voice said in his head, and he glanced at "Alana." She smiled at him, curling her legs beneath her on the sofa and returning her gaze to Bruce.
"Alfred would yell at you for having your feet on the furniture," Dick pointed out.
"Alfred and I have an understanding," she returned.
"Absolutely, Miss Alana," came a voice as the door to the library swung open and admitted Alfred, tea tray in hand. "At least until you are fully healed. At which point you'll be bound by the same rules as the rest of this unruly bunch."
"Hey!" Dick protested, swiping two Chocos from the tray. "I'm -"
"The most unruly of the bunch, Master Dick. I am hoping Miss Alana will have a civilizing influence on you."
"Aw, man," Dick complained. "This doesn't mean I have to call her mom, does it?"
He didn't have time to duck before a sofa cushion bounced off his head.
Alfred gave the woman on the sofa a stern look. "Really, Miss Alana," he sniffed, although Dick could see amusement in his eyes.
The joking seemed to reassure Bruce more completely than anything else had, for he suddenly stood. "Well, since you all are getting along so famously," he began, "I think I've got some work to do."
He began to stride toward the door, but Dick reached out a hand to stop him. "Bruce, I'm sorry. Just -" he smiled weakly - "blame it on shock?"
Bruce shook his head. "No. I handled that poorly. And I should've been prepared - for anything. For that. As you say, after all my comments -"
Dick grinned up at his mentor. "Love. Just makes you crazy some- times, don't it?"
A surprising lightness shone in Bruce's eyes as he returned Dick's grin. "Yeah. It really does." And then he was gone, Alfred in tow.
"Alana" watched them go, then leaned forward to claim a Choco from the tray. Dick kept his gaze on her, wondering at what he had just witnessed and learned. He shook his head. Never underestimate the Bat.
"J'onn," he said, getting the Martian's attention, He held up a Choco. "Welcome to the family."