Disclaimer: The characters belong to DC.
Author's Note: This is a tag to "A Knight of Shadows". I'm considering writing a second chapter from the other point of view, for those who might be interested. Constructive criticism is always appreciated!
He doesn't mean to follow him home. Of all the Justice League members, this one will undoubtedly be the least appreciative of the attention. Yet he does follow him.
Intangible, a wraith of thought and movement, he stalks the bat back to his lair. He knows better than to actually follow him inside his home. The man's patience has suffered enough at his hands already. He knows he should leave, should return to the League headquarters if not to his own home, but it is a surface thought only, a knowledge of propriety. It is a thought any on his home-world could have read without trouble, a thought that would have indicated he was adult and well aware of society.
(There is no one here to hear the thought, no one to accept that he is not psychopath and try to reach deeper.)
Settling down to an indeterminable wait, he sighs and allows his deep thoughts to flow to the surface, prying them open on his own.
They are not pleasant.
Why do you not return to your home?
Because I have held and lost my family again, and no home I could have on this world would feel right.
Why do you not return to the League?
Because they forgive me too quickly.
Why do they forgive me too quickly?
Because they pity me.
Why do they pity me?
Because they know my story.
Why does their pity hurt?
Because it is not the right pity.
Because they pity something that is human, and I am not human.
Because I have not earned their pity or their forgiveness.
The thoughts flow around one another, tangle and recede into the recesses again, and he doesn't have the strength of will to call them back. (Not on his own.) He is tired, tired as he hasn't been since he set foot on this world, an exhaustion that hundreds of years of rest should have cured.
Had cured. Had cured and cauterized and calmed over the time, over the passing of moments that he can now count in two planetary rotations. He was well. He was healed.
He is not well. He is not healed. The words come to him in My'ria'h's voice, soft on his ears, gentle on his mind. The aged witch tore asunder the scars that he had almost forgotten, and he now lurks outside an ally's house, Earth dirt crushed between fingers that are too long for human hands.
(As the crumbs of the Stone flowed between his fingers, cool as ash, hot as hope.)
He cries quietly, for true sobs would not be welcome here. There is an air of solitude about the grounds that he crouches on, but not of serenity, and thus he keeps his deep emotions in check. The human who lives here would not welcome the mental prodding of his grief and self-doubt.
He calms slowly, breathing in the heavy air of his new planet. If he is injured, at least it is an old injury, and he knows the way to heal himself. He simply must be… faster this time. Shaking the dirt from his hands, he wills them to return to the humanoid form that he presents to his new world. It is a good form, solid, more suited for the high gravity and heavy atmosphere than his. If it is less comfortable to meditate in than his own shape, that, too, is good. Every distraction overcome is a step closer to achieving what he must.
The day passes and night comes again, and with the night the man that he is following. He almost misses the dark form, silent and at one with the world here, but the man passes too close to him. Pain and frustration drive like a shaft through his essence for a moment before melting away, lost in the faint cloud of pride that always surrounds the other's mind.
He drifts as he follows the human into the city, intangible again, staying out of sight. He still doesn't know why he is following, but it feels right, and there is no harm in it. Perhaps he can even be useful, preventing more injuries from occurring due to the ones he initially caused. Guilt rises to the top of his mind, but it is gentle now, controlled. He had failed; now he will not.
The human moves quickly, quietly, and it is obvious that he knows the route. Sometimes he is airborne, a tribute to his moniker. Sometimes he is a flickering ghost in the shadows, stalking prey that should see him, should sense him, so intent, so intense, but they never do. Not until he wants them to.
He almost interferes the first time. There are five of them and one of him, and even if the human is astonishing, he is still human. His form hardens, becomes solid, heavy on his thoughts, and he takes a step forward.
Fierce joy and ferocious possessiveness slice through his soul, giving him pause. It is a bloodlust his people had taken years to learn, a feeling he often finds distasteful in the life-forms of this world, but it fits his comrade. He is at home here. He is in control here. Here is the seat of his pain and his love, his hate and his joy, and his pride that allows him to be what no one else could be.
He settles down to watch. The battle is over in less than sixty seconds. Only a single glancing blow touched the other's injured ribs, and the ache that had produced was easily overlooked. The hazy glow of pride again becomes the only thing he can read from the human.
It is a pride that had surprised him at first. The others in the League were proud, as well, but they all had more understandable reasons. Many were scions of their races. A Kryptonian, a Thanagarian, an Amazon… even he himself, the last of the Ma'aleca'andra. Even the true humans were special. One was a scion for Oa, and the other a braggart, though a well-intentioned and decently powered one.
This human who would be known as an animal first, though… he had nothing. Intelligence, to be sure, but that was not in short supply. Fighting skills as well, but fisticuffs against gods and demons seemed a bit ludicrous.
And yet the human never hesitated. He never held to the edge of a battle unless he was gathering information. He never backed down from a challenge. He never wavered in that fierce pride… and yet he never allowed it to be the liability it should have been.
A slight smile touches his lips as he thinks of the one time he had openly broached the topic with the man. It had not ended well for him or for the human, the man running right into the clutches of his foes. Even there, though, his pride had not faltered, and he was free twice over before the League could even arrive with help. A strange being, the human, and one he still couldn't quite understand.
Sympathy pain flashes through his ribs and he realizes that the man is fighting again, with more viciousness and less finesse than before. The finesse is needed tonight, though, the ache becoming sharp stabs that reach through the human's thoughts and out to any who can hear.
The only one who can hear takes a step forward again, ready to move out of hiding, to help, to redress the wrong.
Again the bloodlust and pride cloud his mind, drive him back, and the human finishes the fight quickly. He stands panting for a few seconds afterward, not from overexertion but rather to allow the pain to ebb.
At first he thinks that the words are directed at him, and he flinches back.
"Ma'am, take your boy and go home. Trust me, no one else will touch you tonight."
The woman doesn't say anything as she nods and leads her child past their savior. Her eyes are round, her breathing faster than Batman's as she sidles by him, the boy forced to scrape against the wall of the building next to them. She is keeping him as far away from their masked rescuer as she can. As soon as they are past she scoops him into her arms and runs.
The human simply watches them go, no hint of what this means to him in his stance or his surface thoughts. When they are far enough away, he clambers up the building, favoring his injured ribs only slightly. They trail the mother and child home, the human-not-human hunter and his silent shadow.
He hadn't felt their fear. He hadn't sensed the child's excitement. He hadn't noticed the existence of other minds, too narrowed in on the one man, wishing to understand and help. It is a mistake he doesn't repeat in the skirmishes that follow, skirmishes where he always intends to help and never quite does.
They are still wandering when a faint tinge of light touches the horizon. He blinks slowly at it, unsure what to make of the tentative, dirty illumination it tries to give.
A whole night, given to one man and his city of humans.
A whole night, full of good intentions and little actions.
(A whole night, devoted to watching the human who ached so familiarly beneath the pride.)
A night is not enough, though, not to finish the job that this human has set for himself, and he is still fighting. Only four of them, emboldened by the day, not recognizing that the extra visibility means little. Then three, one moaning over a dislocated shoulder. Then two, as one runs, panic overriding pride.
Then only one, a youth whose thoughts are chaotic, uncontrolled, beyond comprehension. His hand waves wildly, the knife in his fist threatening to slice his own arm as likely as the man he is facing.
J'onn, stop him.
The command is perfectly formed, placed into his thoughts with a precision that he would have expected from a Ma'aleca'andran (because a Ma'aleca'andran would have small vestiges of frustrated annoyance and exhaustion around the words, too). He doesn't wait to analyze the command, instead taking the three steps that bring him behind the boy and felling him with a mental and physical blow.
The words are gruff, but not curt.
"You are welcome." It feels odd to talk to the man now, after the whole of the night. "I must apologize for—"
"Are you hungry?"
The interruption cuts through his thoughts as well as his words, and he hesitates for a moment before even considering the idea. Yes, he is hungry, his physical body coping with but not happy about the demands he has placed on it in the last few days.
"Come on." The human turns and strides away, confident, barely favoring the injuries despite the pain they radiate.
The youth with the dislocated shoulder whimpers and rolls away from the dark figure, moisture darkening his eyes again.
"I have a friend who takes care of all this." The human looks over his shoulder, head tilted enquiringly.
There is a slight raise of one eyebrow, the faintest of hints of a smile at one corner of the human's mouth. "If you want something to eat or somewhere to sleep, come with me."
His hesitation fades as he looks into dark eyes, the mind and soul behind them still clouded but no longer incomprehensible.
He is hungry.
He is tired.
And this man has, in his own way, provided an absolution that they both can accept.
The place they go to eat is dark, but the food is succulent, and for once he finds the aura of pride that cloaks the area welcoming.