Disclaimer: Standard disavowal of ownership of all nonoriginal material, especially that of DC.
Warning: plot-free Q study + Q/H shippiness.
Summary: Sleep doesn't come easily to those who connect the dots.
Historian's note: JLU continuity; roughly late season 5.
He only realized he was awake when he recognized the ceiling. It was smooth and pale; just the way he liked it. It had been tiled and speckled, once - there were sixty-eight and a third tiles - but he'd needed it changed to help him sleep.
No one talked about it, but insomnia was a problem for a lot of League members, especially those who had to keep up appearances at their day jobs. The human body had a natural twenty-five hour circadian rhythm, almost but not quite matching the rotation of the Earth. Maybe an evolutionary quirk; maybe evidence that the Earth used to rotate slower before aliens threw a comet at it and killed the dinosaurs; maybe one of the jokes of God, and only the faithful were privy to the punchline. Who could say?
What you could say was that most were never intended to work 9-to-5 and then 5-to-9, pushing themselves beyond endurance over and over, with only the occasional stolen catnap. You could pull it off if you're from Krypton, or an island of Amazons. Everyone else, powers or not, wound up with sleep disorders.
Just look at Wayne. He never sleeps, and it's made him crazier than I am.
Question carefully sat up, turning sideways, his feet to the cold floor. He stretched, rubbed his neck, and reached for the bottled water on the nightstand. He'd forgotten to put it back in the fridge. Lukewarm at best, but the filter was out of charcoal and he couldn't trust Gotham tapwater: he knew what they put in there.
Of course, my problems getting to sleep aren't because of excess adrenalin.
He looked around the room, and his eyes caught on a familiar black cape with white lines hanging casually off the dresser. An angular bluish mask sat on top, and beneath the folds of the cape he could just make out some purple-on-black bars on other clothes stuffed into the drawer.
The outfit shouldn't have worked, but it did. Very, very well.
Purple bars. It was an attractive purple. More like magenta in daylight, but kind of mauve at the moment.
Great. Here we go again.
Mauve, named in 1856 by William Henry Perkin, when he accidentally made the first aniline dye while trying to make quinine. Quinine, now superseded by artemisinin as the treatment for malaria recommended by the World Health Organization, established on 7 April of 1948. The WHO, founded five years to the day before Dag Hammarskjoeld was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations. Hammarskjoeld, whose 1961 death in a plane crash in Zambia was alleged by Archbishop Tutu to have been the result of a bomb orchestrated by the apartheid-era South African government. South Africa, often overlooked as a useful source of the silicate vesuvianite. Vesuvianite, frequently violet in colour, like the purple highlights he could see in the dresser.
High tide. Might as well let it flow.
The waves of association washed over him, crashing past his mind's breakers. He didn't resist; never helped much anyway. Ordered and sorted memories became a chaotic web of facts, ever-breaking and reforming, shattering into countless pieces and then melting back into one.
He took slow, deep breaths and waited patiently for the end.
.. There. Starting to taper off. Shouldn't be long now.
Soft arms crossed his chest. He felt a gentle air blow past his ear, carrying the light scent of apple shampoo.
"Happened again, didn't it."
Apophenic shock, they called it, an intermittent fugue where his brain couldn't help making connections, however random. Not that far from his usual style of thinking, but cranked up an order of magnitude - the MRI must look like New Year's in Beijing. Mostly he had it under control, and it was no more than a minor irritant. Sometimes, like when he'd decided he needed to kill the future President to spare Superman the trouble, it could be a problem.
There were drugs to suppress it, or so they told him, but even if he trusted the FDA it was a liquid lobotomy. Who knows how much of his mind would be left? And what if he lost the ability to find the links that were really there, that no one else could?
No. Not worth it. Despite the risks.
And whatever Clark says, in the cold light of sanity I'm still not sure I was wrong to try.
The shocks were why he needed the ceiling sanded. Otherwise he'd wake up once a week in the middle of the night, start making constellations of the bumps and ridges, and then he'd lapse into an event. The resulting exhaustion would ruin the better part of the next day. Reading books right before sleep didn't cause problems; leaving the news on, which should be unbearable torment, didn't either; but looking up at a rough surface did. Go figure.
She'd rolled her eyes, after browbeating him into explaining why he'd vanish into himself. She'd teased him, like everyone else, but she'd quietly had the textures smoothed away and painted over. Now he had the episodes down to once every few months.
'Lantern can throw an asteroid halfway across the galaxy, unless it's too yellow,' she'd said, 'and the Martian's addicted to Oreos. Hate to disappoint you, baby doll, but on the weirdness scale wanting a flat ceiling's barely a three.'
Barely a three. He was a fortunate man. And some gifts you don't question.
"It did," he said. "But it passed. This one wasn't that bad."
She held him for a long while, and they listened to the damped roar of the city at night, with morning still far away.
"Come here," she said.
He fell back onto the bed. She draped the covers back over his chest and curled up beside him.
"Learn anything interesting this time?"
He turned to face her. "You should definitely wear more purple."
She flashed him a grin and moved the blankets.
".. or that works too."