Sometimes, I go out into this yard at night,
And stare through the wet branches of an oak
In winter, & realize I am looking at the stars
Again. A thin haze of them, shining
(Winter Stars, Larry Levis)
When winter rolls in, the computers turn up the heat in the cave and M’gann starts spending more time out of doors.
The cold makes her homesick in a way the constant silence in her head does not, in a way that even the presence of her teammates cannot alter. The noiseless seeping warmth in the caves is unnerving and makes her eyes ache. She’ll get used to it, she knows—she wanted to come here, and she never expected Earth to be like Mars (but she never expected Earth to be like Earth, either).
One of the first nights the ground freezes, she creeps out of the back door and floats down the mountain; the beach is an expanse of grey ice water, moving in and out, deceptively calm.
M'gann walks on the ground with bare feet, wiggling her human-shaped toes into the sand, letting the cold-which-is-still-not-cold-enough lay against the skin she is in. Robin has said that it will snow soon, this winter, and M'gann is excited for it. She's seen snow before, on TV, and it looks light and clean and soft. She's seen images of humans tipping back their heads and catching snowflakes on their tongues. M'gann is not sure if snow will melt in her mouth—she feels the cold so strangely on Earth—but she is curious about its possible flavors, the texture the crystals might have on her human-shaped tongue. She scuffs her feet in the sand and feels it scuff her skin, abrasive: still soft.
M'gann lays down on the frozen sand, wondering if she should practice making a—snow angle?—when she feels Kaldur's mind approaching, hears him walk out of the water, the waves shushing against his skin. (It is odd, M'gann thinks, that the water is finally warming, after staying so cool all summer long.) He stands over her and she looks up at him; silhouetted against the sky, she can barely make out the planes of his face.
"M'gann," Kaldur says, serious and polite. "It is late for you to be out of the cave."
M'gann makes her body light, and floats off the ground, somersaulting in the air until she is face to face with him. Kaldur looks confused and she wonders how old he is, and if he is sick for home, if that is why he was beneath the sea so late at night. His eyes are exactly the same color as the water he came out of.
"Earth is a very strange place," she says, keeping her mind at a distance, though she is desperate to feel someone else's confusion and awe at this, the Earth, and all that’s in it. "Did you know that winter here is caused by the tilting of the planet's axis, away from the sun? That the length of days is altered, and many people grieve because the light wanes?" The trivia tumbles out of her mouth in a rush, because Kaldur probably does know—Atlantis is another world but it’s at least the same planet—, but M'gann has been reading so much about Earth on the website called Wikipedia, and she wants to share the information. Conner already knows it all, though he’d listen regardless.
Kaldur coughs, in a way that M'gann thinks is him laughing at her. Well, never mind; she does not know his intent. It would be rude to ask it of him, she reminds herself. Kaldur feels strongly about privacy, whatever he means by that.
"I mean no disrespect," Kaldur tells her, and M'gann believes him. "We are both far from home, and many things are strange to us." He reaches up, puts his hand on her shoulder, and draws her down again, so her feet touch the ground. "M'gann," he says, and his voice is like the voice of her uncle J'onn, deep and benevolent, "now you must return indoors, and rest."
M'gann heeds him and goes. The heat of the caverns pushes at her when she slips back indoors; her bare feet are still cool from the frozen ground. She has sand in her hair.
When she gets to her room, she seeks out the thermostat. Turns it down. It takes a few moments, but soon her room is crisp with recycled air, and M'gann crawls into bed and sleeps. She dreams of Kaldur’s heavy voice, echoing through cave she was born in, deep and soft and familiar. She dreams of her father. She dreams of the dark, the cold, the steady thrum of life on Mars.
The storms Robin promised her take another month in arriving, but when the winds come, they come in violent gusts. Snow piles thickly around and on the mountain, accumulating in drifts; M’gann is disappointed to find that it tastes nothing like ice cream, and not at all like the garish, lovely sno-cone Wally once brought her. Snow tastes blank and a little gritty, the way the air gets back home when it storms on the surface andd blows dust throughout the caves.
Artemis looks at M'gann for a long moment when M'gann asks if snow comes in different flavors; she thinks that the two of them are friends, sisters, but Artemis' mind is still a cool blank surface on which M'gann does not seek purchase, and M'gann cannot tell if Artemis thinks her foolish, or if she knows an answer she won't tell. The anticipation is painful.
"I think snow tastes like water," Artemis says at last, her voice so loud and slow and tripping over itself, so heavy in the still dry air. "Megan, doesn't it snow where you come from?"
"We have words that mean the same thing, more or less. But Earth is different! On TV, everyone makes snow angles—"
"Uh, I think you mean angels—"
"—Snow angels, and they throw projectiles made of snow, and very delicate humans must take shelter in caves or in the guts of warm-blooded animals—"
"Ok, hang on, ew," Artemis interrupts. "Have you been watching Star Wars with the guys? Don’t listen to them. Especially Wally. And yeah, kids play in the snow, but mostly it's cold and nasty and damp, and it's important to drink a lot of hot chocolate." She shivers, as if it's punctuation, and it may well be.
M'gann feels neutral towards chocolate, despite knowing that girls on Earth are very fond of it (she prefers the delightful marshmallow—so sweet, so soft!). She does not mention this to Artemis, because she is very fond of her earth sister, and because M'gann knows it is not wrong to have her own preferences.
"Is there a popular way to consume this beverage?" She asks instead. Artemis knows many things; this seems to be another.
Her friend laughs suddenly; and M'gann laughs too, although she is not sure what is amusing. Oh, M'gann frets. What if I am the joke?
"Ok, well, we'll fix this," Artemis says, her voice full of her sharp grin, her teeth exposed. It is not a threat. "We might need Kid Annoying, though, because I am not getting caught with an MIP."
M'gann understands perhaps a third of that sentence, but she agrees.
The preferred method for drinking cocoa, it turns out, varies from teammate to teammate, because no one agrees about what goes in it. Artemis exercises her iron will and even Kaldur defers to her concoctions, which are all spiked. M'gann dutifully sips from the mug Artemis hands to her and wishes that Wally had not already eaten every marshmallow.
"It's Kahlua," Artemis says gleefully, splashing a measure of the liquid into her own steaming mug. Robin, draped upside-down over the back of the sofa, scoffs—M'gann thinks he is drinking schnapps, a delightful word that the team has forbidden her to utter in front of adults. In the time it takes Artemis to serve her, Wally has had three mugs that contain very little cocoa but plenty of Kahlua, and he is giddily pawing at Artemis' elbow, demanding she give up the rest of the bottle. Kaldur is slumped in a corner, sipping manfully at his own drink, and singing softly to himself in a language M'gann does not know. The sound of his voice fills what little silence is left in the cave, reverberating off the cave walls; it’s pleasant to hear, even if it’s unintentional.
Conner drinks from his own mug without comment; M'gann is sure that he, like she, can taste what humans call alcohol in the drink, under the sharp burn of sugar and murky softness of milk.
"Just, ok, go slow," Artemis cautions as she pushes Wally away, defending her own drink. "Have you ever had anything to drink before? –Wally, geez, get off me! Hasn't anyone ever told you, no means no? I'm cutting you off!"
M'gann does not enjoy the sweet dark flavor of Kahlua and chocolate; the heat of the beverage wounds the interior of her soft mouth. She studies Wally and Artemis instead, taking note of the Kid Flash's flushed cheeks and exaggerated movements, the way Artemis keeps out of his grasp without ever quite pulling away. M'gann keeps watching the two of them circle each other, even after the drink before her cools and Conner takes it from her. M’gann does not know how she metabolizes alcohol, or if indeed she can; she’s not sure she wants to discover the answer tonight. Superboy, she knows, is unaffected by most poisons, alcohol among them, and he likes sweet things.
Perhaps this is a rite of passage, M'gann thinks, studying the bottles Wally and Robin brought: Kahlua, two kinds of schnapps (peppermint and cinnamon; she loves the smell of peppermint, so cold and strong!), something sticky and milky that Wally swears she will like (Bailey's. M'gann does not like), and rum. She's seen rites of passage on TV, and this seems to fit the bill: her teammates are laughing and foolish. There is not an adult in sight.
M'gann is unsure of how an Earth girl would react, how Megan would react. She knows they are breaking a rule, but it is a rule she does not understand, a rule no one has bothered to explain. She thinks she is supposed to be having fun, but the yawning gap between her comprehension and her teammates has grown strange in the face of their gentle intoxication.
Artemis catches M'gann's eye and fends Wally off (Wally drapes himself over the couch and grabs at Robin's schnapps; the peppermint spills and the smell is thick and clean in the air). Artemis sits down on M'gann's other side and wraps an arm around her shoulders. Sisters, M'gann thinks, happy to have a reference. She turns a little away from Conner and studies Artemis, Artemis who is joyful and unburdened, whose breath is strong with the odor of chocolate and cinnamon.
"Couldn't shake Kid Lampshade, and couldn't have a party without 'im," Artemis says, fondly. "And it's more fun to get blitzed with a team. But next time, women only! We’ve got to stick together."
M'gann giggles and leans against Artemis, conspiratorially. "I burned my mouth," she says. "I do not think I like hard drinks, they are painful."
"Ha," Artemis says. "Wait'll I get a blended margarita in you." She frowns. "Think we can convince Black Canary that drinkin' is trainin'? Otherwise you'll need to use your psychic powers for evil, because I am too underage to buy anything except limes."
M'gann wants to laugh and keep laughing, at Artemis on her one side, at Conner who sits and drinks M’gann’s abandoned cocoa, at the boys across the room, all of them now singing a song about mermaids and rum, Wally conducting despite the lampshade perched atop his head.
It’s hard work, translating every little thing inside her head from Martian to English, from thought to speech; M’gann relies on sitcoms for most of the mannerisms she wants to convey. The nicest thing about Conner is that he listens when she talks, even when M'gann can hear how anxiously her chatter flows out of her mouth. So she sits near him, keeping the window to her left and curling into his bulk; Conner is heavy with muscle and he radiates so much heat that the window has fogged and frosted over. The frost creates trails all over the glass, thin and spiraling.
"It's really pretty," she says, fanning one hand over the frail patterns on the glass. M’gann is sick with wanting for something cold and familiar; home, home, home, she thinks, in the back of her mind, buried deep. "The frost, I mean, it looks like stars. What do you think, Conner?" Her fingers are light, light; the pads are smooth and she taps the patterns on the glass, one, two, three.
Conner leans around her and touches the window too, but the frost melts and runs under his fingertips. "It's okay," he says. His face is blank and M'gann can read him better than she can read the rest of her team; his mind nudges against hers. Sometimes she can feel him thinking about the night he left Cadmus, the way he’d stood under a night sky for the first time and felt trapped by its vastness, confused by the hugeness of the moon.
Conner doesn't notice the cold, either; he's the only one who doesn't flag after playing outside, who doesn't retreat from the weather and take shelter. M'gann knows it is a human thing, to crave warmth and hot beverages, but. M'gann is not human. This is not her home.
Conner nudges her and M'gann accommodates the weight of his touch. His thoughts at the edge of her mind are hesitant and longing. M'gann turns her face to his and presses against his mouth, the hottest part of him; Conner presses back against her, presses her against the window, kisses her until M'gann gasps and he licks her cold teeth. Conner licks the shape of her mouth and his heat is all around her, save for the cold window at her back. The contrast is pleasing. A lot of things about Conner (and about kissing Conner) are pleasing; even though she’s strong, M’gann is slight and she feels softer than ever when Conner palms her breast; she can feel how careful he is when he touches her, afraid he will hurt her, mark her, change her.
M'gann hums, her delight in her throat and heavy in her mind, spilling over into Conner's head. Conner, who watches television with her late into the night, who drank her share of hot chocolate after she burned her tongue. His wide shoulders. The comfort of him.
He thinks her name at her: M'gann. M'gann. His thoughts are hotter than his mouth against her own; M'gann, who fears the fire and how it can burn, does not draw away. She misses the cold deserts of Mars, she misses the angular skin she wears on her home planet, but. This warmth here, Conner's regard, the unyielding planes of his body against her own: these things are different from and better than the love scenes in the novels Artemis hides in her book bag.
She makes a little noise, and Conner pulls away. His heart under her palm races madly and his face is full of triumph. His mind does not pull away and she can feel his pleasure, fed by their kisses but not aligned with it. The window behind her has fogged again but she’s pretty sure it is still snowing.
It is Conner’s first winter, too, M’gann remembers. She weaves her fingers between his and stands, drawing him along behind her. He follows.
“The average snowfall in Rhode Island is ninety-three centimeters per calendar year,” Conner says once they’re outside. He’s thinking more about kissing her than he is about the numbers, so he doesn’t convert the metric to imperial units, though usually he would. They are, after all, in America, on Earth.
M’gann lifts her face up, lets the falling snow blur in her sightline until she can just barely see the edge of the clouds riding low on the horizon, apricot-colored through the dark and strong enough to blot out the stars.
“If we waited,” she says aloud, her voice muted by the wind, “we could see my planet rising in the east.”
It’s not true, what she’s saying now; December’s a little late for Mars in Rhode Island, at least this year, and the clouds don’t look as though they’ll shift any time soon. Conner knows this, probably knows better than she does; but he allows her this luxury, this game of pretend. The thought that she could show him her world, and that it even matters.
“I like you,” she says, not rushed in the slightest. “I like you a lot. I love you,” the words are good and strong in her mouth.
“Thanks,” he says, shy and serene.
She looks at him and his eyes are full of her. Her heart turns over in her chest.
This is a chance she is not afraid to take.
There are a lot of things M’gann just doesn’t understand yet, still, even after all these months on Earth; there are just as many things that she knows bone-deep. The dichotomy does not bother her.
Still, the climate control is too warm and the cave walls too familiarly different, and so she sits on the beach without a hat. She remembers the summer heat, the way it coiled in her bones by the end of the day. The cold is better, she thinks.
If her family could see her now—
M’gann practices rolling snowballs into perfect spheres, first with one pair of hands and then with two, until the pile grows huge around her. There is no good reason for this, for her sitting outside at three in the morning, in the start of a storm, making ammunition for the next snowball fight. If she is at war with herself, within herself—well, it doesn’t matter. She keeps her hands busy, her mind open and clean the way Uncle J’onn taught her, and lets the wind sing in her ears. This season is just one moment that keeps on moving, spinning along the surface of this world she’s visiting, so far from home. She doesn’t notice so long as she keeps moving.