Paper Hearts, part 14

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"

"That's honestly a-all-"

"Mr. Wayne?" Rene Montoya's worried voice echoed distantly through a sudden stab of panicked anxiety that caused the tumbler in J'onn's hand to slip free and thud dully on the carpet as he put a hand to his forehead.

BRUCE! he projected, filling the word with calm command.

"Mr. Wayne, are you all right?"

J'onn managed to give Montoya a shaky smile. "It just all hit me, I think," he offered, his inner ear tuned to Bruce's frantic questions.

J'onn? What happened? Are you-? Not the typical voice of Bruce Wayne - rather the familiar but deeply buried pain of a broken eight-year-old, ripped unexpectedly to the surface.

J'onn forced himself to remain steady, calming. Bruce, calm down. I can feel the toxin working in you. Deep breaths.

Over his bowed head, he could feel Montoya answering Alfred's approach with a troubled and apologetic look. "That's enough for now," Montoya was saying. "We may need to contact you later with further questions."

"Fine," J'onn agreed absently, carefully lending the weight of telepathic suggestion to Bruce's efforts to fight the toxin, to help his lover reestablish his equilibrium.

Bruce was already more focused when he asked, So they didn't try again?

"Master Bruce?"

J'onn glanced up into Alfred's worried face and accepted the robe the other man had fetched for him. He let his eyes talk for him as he said, "Thank you, Alfred. I think perhaps I should go lie down. I didn't realize until just now..." He was intending to communicate that Bruce had heard about the shooting, but he found himself also realizing that had Bruce Wayne been here instead of J'onn, there was a chance he would be dead. Not a fear he needed to share with Bruce right now. For Bruce, he projected only reassurance: They did, but that's not what you should be worried about right now.

Alfred, though, seemed to read both parts of J'onn's unfinished thought, gently urging J'onn to his feet. "You should rest," he agreed, his eyes intent on J'onn's face. "Give yourself time to deal with this."

In his mind, Bruce's desperate hold was easing, the Bat regaining focus. J'onn, Bruce projected, the word laden with relief and gratitude.

"Mr. Pennyworth, we still need to talk to you," Montoya reminded.

Alfred glanced back from the doorway of the bedroom suite, his hint of annoyance invisible from his expression. "Of course. Just let me see to Mr. Wayne."

He didn't wait for Montoya's nod, steering J'onn toward the expansive bed. "You're in contact with him?" he whispered.

J'onn nodded, He got a dose of the toxin, he explained, the need to tightly control his own telepathy easing as Bruce's panic began to fade. Or changed direction, he realized suddenly, gripping at the bedstead as a new wave of Bruce's self-recrimination hit him.

J'onn? Alfred's hand pressed against his shoulder, encouraging him to sit. J'onn obeyed.

Crane's got Sasha. He scanned through Bruce's - Batman's - calculating thoughts. Canary's just arrived.

Alfred's hand gave a little squeeze. It will work out, he opined hopefully. Then aloud, "I'll just go see to our police friends. Call if you need anything."

J'onn nodded and lay down, keeping anxiously abreast of Bruce's thoughts as Alfred left the room and closed the bullet-scarred doors behind him. Bruce's guilt was sand-paper raw, his plan impulsively self-destructive. Batman, he called, hoping the professional conceit would shake the still too-close-to-the-surface fear that Bruce felt for J'onn.

Go ahead, J'onn. Cool tones. Good.

My scans show your judgment is still clouded.

I don't have time -

Batman. J'onn cut off the menacing growl firmly. Are you going to cost Black Canary her life as well? He'd rather not use that card, but given the circumstances?

A sudden surge of anger, followed quickly by recognition, confirmed J'onn's decision. A moment's more pause, then, Suggestions?

J'onn projected approval as he broadened the telepathic link. Hello, Black Canary, he said deliberately, letting the action signal Batman of his intentions.

J'onn? If this is a social call-?

Canary, Batman rumbled over the link.

Oh, Dinah answered. I see.

I would suggest, J'onn continued, connecting the link to Oracle as he spoke, abandoning all your communication and tracing equipment, Dinah.

J'onn? Oracle queried.

It is possible that Crane has ways of sensing electronics. It would explain his escape. He is expecting Batman - not Canary. If Dinah is electronic free and stays to the shadows...

He might not know she's there, Batman finished with approval, his tactical intelligence kicking in, much to J'onn's relief.

So you'll maintain a telepathic link for us? Oracle confirmed.

I could even monitor this mission for you, J'onn offered, so you can attend more closely to Bludhaven and Arkham.

Agreed, Batman cut in. Oracle, we will call you only if we need your resources.

Understood, she replied. Then she sent a more focused thought. You sure you're up to this?

He sent a wave of reassurance against a bitter lead-tainted tang from her own memory. I am fine, Barbara. These bullets did not require stopping.

The fact that it was what she needed to hear did not prevent her mental wince. That close?

Bruce doesn't need to know, he pointed out, redirecting her mental energies with the comment.

He felt her give the equivalent of a nod. Yes, she agreed distractedly. And speaking of Bludhaven... Thanks, J'onn.

One does what one can, he remarked philosophically, a hint of irony in his tone.

Welcome to my world, she shot back.

Where I cannot begin to be your peer, he answered.

Watch your mission, Martian, she ordered, and let me watch mine.

He smiled faintly, sending her the impression of a salute. A pulse of gratitude echoed back as she focused back on her work, the moment for niceties and reassurance gone as new alerts sounded. J'onn kept his mental sigh to himself as he listened to Batman and Canary plan and cast his telepathic sense across the city. So much fear and doubt.

So much.

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