Paper Hearts, part 17

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



Dinah huddled deep in the shadows of the fly space of the theatre, starting as an abbreviated burst of automatic weapon fire sounded outside. He's okay, J'onn reassured almost instantaneously, doing as much to counteract Scarecrow's toxin as the antidote rushing through her system.

Batman had sent her ahead, alerting her that Scarecrow had treated the theatre with a toxin which worked on skin contact and arguing for an "exposure and rapid treatment" policy. J'onn had concurred, and while Batman took out the outside guards, Black Canary was acclimating to the terms of the mission.

It sucked.

And as her heart rate gradually slowed and the adrenaline spike settled, she found herself wondering if Scarecrow's toxin would have ever affected Hal Jordan. Odd, but reasonable. Back on the link with J'onn, running tactics planned by Batman - it was like old times, her own JLA days. At least remembering Hal Jordan wasn't bringing his image ghosting back at her as Ollie's memory had done only moments before. Either the antitoxin was taking hold, or Ollie represented a fear she was not interested in investigating more deeply.

Coming in, Batman warned, appearing seconds later in a monstrous swell of shadow and the whipping sound of furling cape.

She'd somehow forgotten how frightening he could be.

And frightened, J'onn whispered in her thoughts. Watch him for me.

Dinah blinked. What else was she going to do as the hostages on the stage below began screaming and their guards found themselves the target of a whirling barage of strikes and kicks? But there was something in J'onn's tone, a heavy reminder of the man behind the mask and of J'onn's unfailing care and awareness of his teammates. Only J'onn would remember how human Batman was in the heat of battle.

Canary, Batman suddenly projected, interrupting her thoughts. Status?

She glanced down at the stage, aware that her reactions had become appreciation of Batman's technique rather than cold fear at his appearance. Ready to rumble, she answered.

Stay backstage, let the curtains shield your descent. There is a trap door going below the stage about ten feet stage right from your position. Meet me there - but stay out of sight.

Roger, Dinah replied, moving silently over the catwalks and then lowering herself down one of the anchored fly ropes. She caught sight of the final bad guy dropping to the ground, watched as Batman loosened but did not release the bonds of the still shrieking hostages. He was only half a step behind her when she finally touched down.

The police and ambulance are en route, he noted, even now not risking speech, not even looking her direction. Scarecrow is going to be below, but I'm not certain where. I'll case each room I enter and cue you when to follow.

Dinah nodded from her place in the musty folds of the heavy velvet curtain. The plan was to keep her in reserve, making sure Scarecrow was unaware of her presence until she was needed. There was an irony in that - sneaking around under the distractions Batman was providing.

The trapdoor creaked as it opened, but Batman wasn't aiming for stealth. He leapt down with a speed that would defy reaction - had there been anyone there. She could feel his frustration over the telepathic link as he examined the room for any clues, then ordered, At my mark, drop down. There's lots of cover options - pick one.

Ready.

She waited for a few seconds, then, GO!

The order was accompanied by the sound of splintering wood, but she didn't let herself think about it until she had dropped and rolled under a desk. Once under cover she peered out toward the direction of the sound and saw Batman crouching just beyond the remains of a door. She could see readiness etched in his frame, but he was utterly still.

His thought carried through the link, though. Damn.

And people complain that I'm reckless, Dinah remarked, pulling herself up to dash after him on cue.

Misdirection is part of stealth, Batman reminded her curtly.

Bruce. J'onn, with a hint of reproach in his tone.

Can you pick up anything of her? Batman asked.

Too much mental static, J'onn answered apologetically.

Dinah sidled across the floor, moving to the shadow of a file cabinet nearer the door. Next move?

A blood-curdling scream came in answer.

Stay in my shadow, Batman ordered, sprinting off down the hall.

Dinah obeyed, dashing after him and working to keep pace with his breakneck run. Past the fluttering edge of his cape, she thought she spied movement.

Batman!

I see him. The screams continued, closer now. I'm pursuing. Find the cover.

Dinah resisted comment, following the sound of screams and remaining in his shadow. A few caged bulbs provided pockets of illumination, swinging crazily in Batman's wake and creating dizzying effects, and now a nasty laughter added to the menace of the atmosphere.

"Keep chasing, Batman. I'm sure blondie won't mind death by hallucinogenic overdose."

The words echoed.

Canary! Batman snapped. Heads up!

He was reaching for his belt, tossing something back toward her. She caught it deftly - a small first aid kit. What didn't he keep in his belt?

Upper right compartment. FIND HER!

Dinah barely paused, keeping pace with Batman and letting the screams guide her. She veered off as they rounded a corner and the sound became deafening, crashing through the first door she saw.

Bingo. Tied to a chair, blindfolded, and screaming as if death himself were at her elbow - which, Canary allowed, was not far off. She didn't hesitate, dropping beside the woman Batman called the cover and opening the little metal case. I've got her, she reported, inspecting the first aid kit.

Upper right compartment - a small bottle with a rubber seal. She peeled the plastic from a disposable syringe and snapped the cover off the needle, then pulled five ccs from the bottle. The cover's left arm was already bared.

No time to waste. Suddenly grateful for a life that had involved too much field medicine, she plunged the needle into the cover's arm and injected her with the contents of the syringe.

The cover gasped and screamed again, and Dinah found herself holding her breath. The scream began to fade toward a sob.

I've got a lock on her, J'onn reported. I'm shifting her out of the hallucination. Batman?

Dinah heard a howl in the distance as Batman's answer came through. Closing in.

The cover's rigid body began to slump as her weeping intensified.

Canary, J'onn prompted.

Understood, Dinah replied, reaching for the twine around the cover's nearest wrist. "Shh," she whispered. "I'm with Batman. You're going to be okay."

She wasn't sure the woman heard her, and her arm hung limply where it had been tied. Dinah swiftly unfastened the strap around her chest and freed her other wrist, murmuring soothingly as she worked. Then she stepped in front of the cover.

"I'm going to take the blindfold off now," she warned, resting her hand gently on the cover's temple for a moment to let her digest the idea.

The woman's gasping sobs were easing, and it seemed as if she nodded. Dinah carefully slipped away the fabric covering the cover's eyes, inadvertently removing the tear loosened mask in the process.

The cover's eyes remained tightly shut for a moment, and Dinah brushed tenderly at the still falling tears on her cheeks. "Batman's going for Crane. The hostages are safe," she explained. "We've got you, now. It's okay."

The cover swallowed hard and blinked open her eyes.

She shook her head dazedly for a second, then a deep groan welled from in her as she doubled over. Suspecting what was coming, Dinah side stepped just before the cover began to retch. The acrid smell of bile filled the small room as the cover emptied her stomach.

Disoriented. Lack of equilibrium, J'onn explained, and Dinah sensed he was still easing the cover's mind.

I'm joining you, Batman interjected, his tone grim. I've got Crane.

Dinah ran her hands soothingly over the cover's hair, lifting it from her face and neck as her heaving tapered off. "Batman caught him," she told the shuddering woman. "It's over."

The cover brought her hands to her face, straightening and shaking her head. "Two-" she choked out. "There's-"

"Shh," Dinah interrupted. "Let me untie your legs."

"Important," the cover insisted. "Not just Crane. Another-"

Dinah continued her untying, but she looked up sharply. "He had someone else working with him? Just now?"

"He said - student -"

Batman appeared in the doorway, the Scarecrow over his shoulder. J'onn?

I'm scanning - her memory says there was someone else here, although she didn't hear or see who it was. But Scarecrow mentioned it.

The sound of voices echoed through the hall. "Looks like they came this way," someone called.

"The cops," Dinah noted with a start.

Batman unceremoniously dropped Crane inside the doorway and crossed the room to the cover, scooping her into his arms. She gave a little cry as he lifted her, and Dinah noted that she tried to cling to him, her sobbing intensifying again. "Batman, I'm sorry. I didn't-"

"Follow," Batman directed, turning and carrying the cover from the room in the opposite direction from the approaching voices. His hand slapped the doorframe as he sailed through, and Dinah hot on his heels noticed it was a signal light. Probably one of several - a proverbial trail of breadcrumbs.

Which stopped at Scarecrow, because it was clear Batman wasn't keen to deal with the police. He lead Dinah down a series of twisting hallways, then pulled up short at a nearly hidden door.

He set the cover on the ground and swiftly picked the lock, then pressed a plastic card into Dinah's hand. "Twenty paces in, turn right. At the end of a short tunnel, there'll be a door. This will open it. It will relock automatically behind you. Twelve paces beyond that, there's a vault with a computer station. Call Leslie, then appropriate the vehicle parked just outside the vault. Go about three-quarters mile. You'll see another vault door. Park there and use this same card to enter. The elevator there will take you directly up into Leslie's clinic."

Dinah nodded. "Got it."

Batman turned and knelt in front of the cover. "Can you stand?"

She lifted her face, desperately pale in the minimal light. She stretched out a shaky hand and caught Batman's arm, trying to pull herself to her feet.

Batman put his hand over hers. "Never mind. Canary will carry you. You were a good soldier today."

Canary nudged Batman with her thigh, shifting him over so she could reach for the cover's hand. "I'm afraid a fireman's carry will have to do," she noted cheerfully, trying to ease the anguish on the other woman's face. "And you, Batman?"

He was already disappearing into the shadows. "I'm finding Crane's accomplice." The words were heavily certain and threatening.

Dinah shook her head and knelt, swinging the cover's arm over her shoulder to guide the woman's torso to bend. "Alley-oop!" she chirped quietly. The cover groaned slightly but let Dinah balance her weight as she stood. "Catch you on the flip-side, Batman!" Dinah saluted, then slipped out through the door.

It took almost ten minutes to reach the computer vault Batman had mentioned, and Dinah was relieved to settle the cover down on a cot she found there. The woman wasn't big, but human deadweight was still heavy. The woman had cooperated by not trying to help - clearly someone who had had experience on the other side of a fireman's carry than the one she was going through.

"I'm sorry," she apologized as Dinah straightened up.

Dinah snorted. "For what? I'm impressed you had your wits about you enough to tell us about the accomplice."

The cover swallowed, tears still threatening in her eyes. "I just-"

"Hey, none of that," Dinah chided. "We've still got to get you detoxed and taken care of. It's been a rough night. I'm Dinah, by the way. Black Canary."

The cover gave her an odd look. "No mask?" she asked.

Dinah chuckled. "You batfolk are all alike. No. No mask. But that's a discussion to save for later. Let me call Leslie."

The cover's eyes drifted closed. "Okay," she agreed.

J'onn? Dinah thought.

She needs treatment, but you got to her in time, he reassured.

And Batman?

He's got a trail, but...

Dinah settled in at the computer and pulled up the number to the Gotham Free Clinic. I don't like the sound of that.

"Gotham Free Clinic," a voice answered.

"Dr. Thompkins, please."

Code 3, J'onn prompted, and Dinah repeated it for the speaker.

"Right away," the voice replied with professional swiftness.

Since when did you get the Bat codes? Dinah asked.

J'onn's answer was delayed by Leslie's voice on the line. "Dinah. What's her condition and your ETA?"

Dinah blinked as J'onn noted, I called ahead.

"She's shaky and in and out of consciousness - not mobile, but no sign of external injury," Dinah reported. "I need about two minutes to load her into the car, so I can be at your site in about five."

"Understood. I'll be waiting."

The line clicked silent.

Masters of efficiency, Dinah commented, crossing back to the cover.

There was no answer.

J'onn?

Sorry. I have to go off link. You're okay?

Dinah hefted the now unconscious cover over her shoulder with a grunt. All good here. You going to need me?

Just call Barbara after you get the cover delivered to the clinic. And I'll keep a mental ear open, so think my name hard if you get into any trouble.

Understood, Dinah replied, feeling the telepathic link slip as she settled the cover into the passenger seat of the electric car that sat outside the vault. Call Barbara. That didn't sound good at all.



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