Confronting

by Chicago

Concurrent with Guarded

Disclaimer - characters not mine, belong to DC Comics, taken out for a spin for fun not for profit.



Batman stepped through the conference room door and into sudden, obvious silence. Five pairs of eyes focused on him - and none of them noticed how Superman avoided looking at Batman at all. They were too fixed in their glares.

The silence lasted long enough that Batman began to wonder if he would have to end it. Not that he would, which posed an interesting puzzle in terms of stalemate. Fortunately, there was a monopoly on patience in the League, and the one being who could outwait him was safely home.

Aquaman was the one who finally challenged him - which made sense. It would take less for his impatience to overcome whatever modicum of intimidation Batman possessed over him. "Where's J'onn?" he demanded.

Batman didn't flinch - didn't react at all, although something tipped off Diana. Her expression softened. "Safe," Batman answered.

"Hell if we know that!" The ice broken, Flash was quick to jump in. Batman gave him a hard stare. The outburst didn't require an answer.

"Bruce." Kal, trying to play peacemaker and looking decidedly uncomfortable. "Sit down, please."

Batman didn't move.

"No, he won't sit," Plastic Man commented sarcastically. "We probably interrupted him in the middle of hiding the body."

Batman turned slightly to level his glare on Plastic Man. "How. Dare. You."

Plastic Man responded by adopting the shape of a turreted fortress wall. "Take your best shot," he challenged.

Diana stepped forward to put a restraining hand on Batman's forearm, although he showed no signs of moving. "Enough, Plastic Man," she snapped, then turned to Batman with troubled eyes. "Batman, we only know what we have on tape, and that doesn't look good. Just tell us where J'onn is and -"

"No."

"What? You think we're going to just accept that he's safe after some of the stunts you've pulled -"

"Flash!" Now it was Superman jumping in.

"No, I'm not letting him off that easy. We're missing half an hour of tape after he went into the medbay, and then only the teleporter log to say they both went to Mars."

"They both went to Mars," Superman said heavily.

"So where is J'onn then? He must be better. It's been DAYS. You know how quickly J'onn heals. We've all seen it. You think he'd really not be here if he could be?"

There were murmurs of assent from Green Lantern and Plastic Man, while Aquaman merely continued to glare at Batman. Then another silence.

Batman let it last another moment before he spoke.

"Martians don't have hearts."

"Bruce?" Diana gasped, tightening her grip on his arm and staring at him, aghast.

"They don't," Bruce repeated, raising his voice against the sudden wave of vocal reaction, "because they are physiologically so completely different from humans that they do not require a circulatory system as we understand it."

He had their attention.

"You were all on-line when Ray told us he had found a heartbeat, but if you like we can contact him now."

"Bruce, what -?"

Batman ignored Kal's interruption, continuing over his question.

"J'onn has a symbiote - always has had. His garments - I am surprised none of you wondered about them. They are a shape shifting organism that lives on his person."

Kyle made a face, but Batman did not acknowledge it.

"The symbiote, like J'onn, is the last of it's kind. It is likely that it could spawn others, but not if it had been burnt to ash on the moon.

"J'onn realized this; his final act was to pull the symbiote into the core of his body, maximally insulating it from the flames."

Now Batman did pause, allowing this idea to sink into their minds.

"His final act -?" Aquaman questioned.

Batman nodded. "He knew he was dying, and he knew us well enough to know we would not let his body stay in the flames. He dared not hope we would actually save him, but perhaps he could save this other refugee from Mars."

Batman fell silent again, remembering how this memory became his at the gentle touch of J'onn's mind. He didn't notice that his tone had changed, although from the looks that Kal and Diana were giving him?

"Zo'ok could sense the last hint of life in J'onn's body. It couldn't tell us how to find it, and it couldn't rally J'onn on its own. It did what it could; it changed its shape to a form we could understand." And our belief that J'onn lived caught that tiny spark that remained of J'onn and made him believe it enough to hang on, he didn't add. They would either understand, or they wouldn't.

"Dear god," Wally breathed, his eyes troubled. He was remembering their rescue of J'onn, Batman knew, the charred flesh smell that lingered even after they had bandaged their teammate. He wondered if Flash had even tried to clean that uniform, or if he had given up and burnt it.

Plastic Man looked to be remembering also, his jaw hanging down to the floor in exaggerated disbelief that his own experience could not allow.

He'd been there, too, after all. He knew.

"But what about the tape?" Kyle pressed. "Why destroy the tape if you just were helping him?"

"Yeah," Plastic Man agreed, forming himself into a burly police inquisitor.

"Batman didn't erase the tape."

Every head save Batman's swiveled to the head of the table.

"I did," Superman confessed, his eyes finally meeting Batman's.

"What?" Aquaman demanded. "Why?"

Kal's eyes pleaded, but Batman kept stonily silent.

A heavy sigh escaped the Man of Steel. "J'onn was - not himself - when he woke."

"We saw that," Flash pointed out. "The tape was only erased from when Batman went into the room."

Arthur nodded thoughtfully. "That's true." He shot an apologetic look in Batman's direction. "It looks suspicious."

"I know. And I'm sorry." The latter was directed toward Batman, but it garnered no response. Another uncomfortable silence reigned.

He knows what he was seeing, Batman realized, suddenly understanding the discomfort Superman had displayed from the beginning of this meeting. He found himself wondering with detached curiosity how Clark would handle his knowledge.

He didn't have to wait long. "As I said, J'onn wasn't himself. He didn't recognize Batman -" So he was going to be circumspect. A little white lie between friends. "- and I did not think he would want us to witness his actions. He communicated as much to me telepathically when I arrived to help Batman handle the teleporter to Mars."

"And you let us believe Batman erased the tape?" Arthur objected, his tone angry.

"I know," Superman hung his head, then raised it to give his teammates a hard look. "Although I will remind you that you had pretty much jumped to that conclusion yourselves by the time you called me to demand this meeting."

There was uncomfortable shuffling around the table.

"Batman," Diana finally said quietly. "How is J'onn?"

"Healing," Batman answered, refusing to offer more to ease the anxious expressions around the room.

Wally cleared his throat nervously. "Is there anything - I mean, can we do -"

"No."

"Batman, man, I didn't mean to say that you would hurt -"

"But you did, Plastic Man." Batman fixed his gaze on Superman. "Are we done?"

Superman's shoulders slumped in a rare picture of defeat. "Yes."

That was all he needed. Batman turned on heel and left the room. He was almost to the teleporter when he heard, "Batman, wait," behind him. He stopped, but did not turn.

Wonder Woman caught up with him and stepped in front of him, studying his grim expression. "They're only worried for their friend, their teammate," she explained - or apologized. He wasn't sure which.

"Not enough," Batman growled.

"And you are?" she challenged.

"Leave it alone, Diana. Give us time to work it through."

A startled expression crossed her face. Had she not realized, or not expected him to confirm it? At any rate, it was enough to make her look at him a little differently, to prompt her to raise a hand to the exposed part of his cheek. She stood that way for a long moment, then dropped her hand and stepped out of his path. "Some of it won't heal," she reminded him.

"I know," he answered, then strode away from her to the teleporter. She didn't stop him,just watched as he set the code for the Cave and stepped into the tube. He spared her a glance before the 'porter kicked in, and she gave him the faintest of smiles. "Take care of each other," she said quietly.

We will, Bruce thought as he rematerialized in the Cave, J'onn's echo of his sentiment caressing his mind. He stood in the tube for a moment, eyes closed. That wasn't pleasant, but for the soft touch of comfort that twined around him where he stood, a mental brush of reassurance? To have this - it was worth it.

-end-

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