Paper Hearts, part 25

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



The wind was slowing him down. He knew it was an illusion bred of his anxiety to reach the boat house, to see Dick safely home, but the idea obstinately remained in his mind. He listened anxiously over the telepathic link as J'onn deftly reinforced his order to Robin not to engage. This night was desperately wearing on his ability to maintain cold rationality, and he could feel the baleful, betrayed gaze of the eight year old sheltered beneath the Bat. Love is loss, his former self seemed to say, and you promised...

He shook his head forcefully, hoping against hope that J'onn was too focused on finding Dick to pick up the half-formed thought.

Tim's voice came over the link, his young mind not yet schooled to hide the worry he felt as he could when he was actually speaking. Batman, he doesn't have much time.

A note of caution from J'onn, a reminder to approach unseen, prompted him to drop his weight and roll across the warehouse roof. He came up in a half-crouch, well shy of the roof's edge, but close enough to hear the voice below, "Tad, it looks like we caught us a birdie."

He clenched his fists, forcing himself to move cautiously, stay in the shadows, find out what was happening before acting. Tad and Torque - Torque outside for sure; Tad likely inside from the volume of Torque's voice. He peered past the roof edge.

I've got them in sight, he announced, fighting the tightening of his gut.

There was Torque, one arm tight across Robin's shoulders, the light glinting off the gun in his hand. Again his voice pitched to carry: "How far behind is your mentor, Birdie-boy?"

Hold on, Batman, J'onn ordered, the message reinforcing the hold of the Bat on Bruce Wayne's churning fear. Tactical clarity resolved itself; from here he could definitely get Robin out of harm's way, but what of Dick, undoubtedly still under guard in the boat house?

Unacceptable choice.

He gauged his options. The walls of the boat house appeared shoddily constructed, thin lumber, shrunken by weather to create wide spaces between the planking.

Robin, he projected coolly, how thin are the walls?

Siding, not solid. Not even a waver in the response, just raw trust. Batman staved off the self-accusation - no time for recrimination now. Just listen as Robin continued. Smells of wood rot.

Dick's location?

A soft touch of reassurance from J'onn; he had a lock on Torque's thoughts, some minimal ability to control his trigger finger. It offered a counter-weight to the image that Robin projected of the inside of the boat house, Dick stretched out, naked, unconscious...

Hold on, J'onn prompted again.

Batman began moving carefully toward the far corner of the roof. A swing from there would carry him through the wall, far enough from Dick's position to minimize the risk that flying wood would strike him. He pulled a batarang from his belt.

Robin, on my signal, he growled and felt a terse sense of acknowledgment. Right along side it came a pressure to wait just a moment more.

J'onn. Not quite a protest, although every muscle screamed readiness as he settled into position, jumpline in one hand, batarang in the other. He took the moment to project his location and intention to Robin.

"You don't mean to say the big bad Bat is going to let me cap both his little disciples," Torque was saying. "Tad, be-"

Go, J'onn snapped, and faster than thought Batman was moving.

Jumpline deployed, his weight on it almost before it caught.

A moment of freefall as Torque suddenly pivoted, putting Robin between them as he lifted his gun.

The jerk of the decel snapping taut.

Batarang flying as Robin turned his arms palm out, breaking Torque's hold enough to duck his head.

The sharp report of the gun, then a clash of metal and a clatter into the darkness.

A surprised shout, and out of the corner of his eye as he flashed by, Batman saw Robin twisting, dropping his weight, lifting Torque over his hip...

CRASH!

Wood splintering under his feet as he pulled his cape protectively over his face.

An outraged howl, cut off with a grunt as Batman's decelerating roll caught legs, tumbling a heavy body over his shoulder and then behind him.

He rolled up into a fighting crouch, turning just in time to catch the coiled spring of an enraged fighter.

Instincts overrode irritation - he gave with the attack, turning to use Tad's momentum against him, flipping him effortlessly into the back wall.

His eyes scanned quickly for Dick. He was stirring faintly, struggling to pull up for air against dislocated shoulders and the heavy weight at his ankles.

Batman went for a batarang, but J'onn was instantly freezing his motion. He felt his mouth go dry at the intelligence suddenly dumped into his brain - the booby trap.

A flash of motion out of the corner of his eye - Tad just wouldn't stay down. He dropped down, letting him sail over him.

His hand dropped to a compartment of his belt, rarely used. Ace, he commanded, concentrating his instructions specifically.

Tad was staggering to his feet. One more moment-

Tad began to charge, and Batman let the little zo'ok fly, ready to turn.

It was like Tad hit a brick wall.

He dropped, blood spouting from his nose.

J'onn-

The air shimmered and the blue of J'onn's cape blocked his view of Tad. Past them, he saw Robin picking his way through the hole he had smashed through the wall, Torque over his shoulder.

"Take care of his chains," J'onn directed, pulling Tad into a sitting position.

Dick.

Batman spun and dashed to his son's side, putting his hands under the motor that dragged down Dick's body.

Not too heavy - he could create enough slack to unwrap the chain...

From here, looking up, he could see the sticks of dynamite in the rafters. Ace, he projected again, feeling the creature's progress through the wires.

One more loop of chain and the motor came free. A part of his mind registered Robin, dropping his burden beside Tad and J'onn, but the larger part was aware of the slow lowering of Dick's body, Ace stretching thin to ease the fall...

He wrapped his arms around Dick's waist, taking his weight with a silent command to Ace. The zo'ok dropped to the ground and scuttled back to its compartment as he dropped to his knees. Batman ripped the duct tape from Dick's mouth, letting him gulp for air.

Dick slumped against him, shivering. "B-Batman," he stuttered through grey lips.

"Shhh," Batman murmured, supporting him with one arm as he unclasped his cape to wrap around the younger man.

"B-bat - they -"

Dick hesitated, his eyes darting toward J'onn and Robin, tying Torque and Tad together. "Oh," he breathed.

Batman followed his gaze, but J'onn was straightening and coming toward them, Robin half a step behind. What had Dick seen?

J'onn rested a hand on Batman's shoulder as he knelt on the other side of Dick, exerting a calming pressure on Bruce's mind. Dick smiled crookedly at him, his face beginning to redden where the tape had been, the dead grey of his lips diminishing. "C-c-cavalry," he remarked, prompting a chuckle from the Martian.

J'onn ran a hand over Dick's hair, and Batman realized that he was inspecting the injury Dick had suffered. "Stay awake, Dick," he admonished gently. Then to Batman, "Call Leslie. The Manor."

Reluctantly, Batman stepped back, letting J'onn take over at Dick's side. One hand had snaked under the cape draped over Dick's form to Dick's shoulder. "Get some deep breaths," he instructed, "then we'll get these shoulders popped back."

Dick nodded, his eyes fixed on J'onn's as he followed orders. Batman snapped open his comlink. "Oracle, get me Leslie."

Barbara answered without hesitation. "Right away, boss." J'onn must have alerted her that they had Dick, he realized, as the sound of a phone ringing replaced her voice. Robin's voice penetrated his consciousness - calling the police. He almost objected, but then Leslie's voice came on.

"This is Doctor Thompkins."

"Leslie. Dick needs treatment at the Manor. Head injury, possible hypothermia, dislocated shoulders, maybe internal injury," he catalogued Dick's hurts with dread calm, the Bat firmly in control. Had to be in control as a pop sounded and Dick let out a gasp and a weak chuckle.

"G-good thing I d-do this all the t-t-" he chattered, his voice fading slightly.

"Dick." J'onn's voice was calm but firm. "No passing out."

In his ear, Leslie's voice came back. "I'll be there as quickly as possible."

Robin was stepping forward. "BPD is on the way. We've got maybe three minutes." He met Batman's eyes and then looked down at Dick. "Hey, bro," he greeted.

J'onn shifted around, moving to get leverage on Dick's other shoulder, and Dick craned his neck slightly to keep Batman and Robin in view. "W-what k-kept y-you?" he joked.

"Oh, you know," Robin answered, a strain in his off-handedness, "saving the world and all that jazz."

Dick hissed and blinked rapidly. "Ouch."

"Well, that one went easier," J'onn remarked briskly, adding his own cape to Batman's around Dick's body. "Now just get you home and warmed up." He looked up at Batman. "I'll fly him," he said.

"J'onn-" Why was he here? Batman had told him-

"We'll see you when you get back to the Cave. Robin?"

A look of consternation crossed the teen's face. "I gotta get home," he stated reluctantly. "I promised Dad I'd do the morning run around the park with him."

A distant wail of sirens sounded.

J'onn stood, effortlessly lifting Dick and wrapping protectively around him. "At least you don't have to do that in the morning," he pointed out to his passenger, prompting Dick's eyelids to snap open.

"I d-dunno," Dick answered. "B-bruce c-could use the w-workout."

Batman reached out a hand, resting it briefly against Dick's forehead. "You'd wear me out," he said softly. "I'll see you at home."

Dick nodded slightly and leaned his head against J'onn's chest as the Martian floated up slightly. He'll be okay, J'onn whispered in Bruce's thoughts as he drifted out the shattered wall and took off into the night.

The sirens were nearer now. "Ride to the Redbird?" Batman asked.

Robin nodded. "Yeah," he accepted, following J'onn's route out of the boat house. He let Batman lead the way, neither of them speaking. And if he noticed the tremble of Batman's hands as he settled in the Batmobile, he didn't say a word.



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