Paper Hearts, part 5

By Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



Dinah moved forward and slid into the passenger seat.

"How is he?" Dick asked, not taking his eyes from the road.

"Oh, a little green," Dinah joked, then regretted immediately. A wave of disapproval seemed to radiate from Dick Grayson at her levity, and she found it puzzling. Since when had Bat Jr. been so concerned for J'onn? "He's tired," she reported more soberly, studying Dick's face intently. He still didn't look at her, although he seemed to be checking the rearview mirrors more than was necessary.

She frowned. "We pick up a tail?"

"I'm not sure." He turned east on 28th. "Looks like it though. Probably media."

Dinah snorted. "Anything for a scoop. Plan?"

"I'm going to head to Leslie's. You think he can manage invisibility?"

"I'll ask." She rose again, working her way to the back of the ambulance.

J'onn had dropped his human guise as soon as they had gotten underway and Dinah had disconnected the various medical equipment they'd encumbered him with. He now lay quietly on the ambulance gurney, his eyes closed. Dinah could not even speculate why he had chosen to take a bullet rather than merely reveal himself as the Martian Manhunter - yeah, he'd been with Bruce Wayne, but there were ample means to explain why a Justice Leaguer might be serving as an extra bodyguard for the mega-billionaire. It might be sticky, but it would definitely better than having J'onn out of commission - however temporarily.

She sat on the bench opposite the gurney and reached a gentle hand to J'onn's shoulder. "J'onn."

His eyes opened slowly. "Yes, Dinah."

"Sorry to wake you, but we seem to have company." She jerked her head in the direction of the back of the ambulance, a wry smile on her face. "Dick wants to know if you can go invisible if we need you to."

J'onn nodded. "I'm really fine, Dinah. Please let Dick know that. Regenerating the affected cells takes a little time, but I have fought with much more severe injuries."

"Well, we shouldn't need you to fight, just be unseen," Dinah pointed out lightly. She studied his face for a moment as the ambulance leaned slightly. The on-ramp to the Aparo Expressway, she half-consciously noted, mentally calculating how long it would be to Crime Alley. They had a little time to talk. "Please tell me you didn't take the bullet because you're in one of your 'I want to know what human feels like' moods."

A surprised chuckle answered her. "No, no - nothing like that. At least, I wasn't looking to get shot. Although having done it once -" he grimaced - "rest assured I'm in no hurry to repeat the experience."

"Smart Martian," she approved with an ironic smile. She glanced forward, but there was no sign of impatience from Dick. "So," she began, "why did you let him shoot you?"

"It was... the best option." His tone was quiet, and his gaze grew distant. She felt uncomfortably as if she were prying as his mouth hardened into a line that reminded her of an expression that seemed more Batman than J'onn J'onzz.

"I'm sorry," she apologized. "I should know better than to question your judgment." She stood before he could offer the reply his startled expression seemed to imply, leaning down to kiss his forehead. "Just rest," she ordered, heading back toward the front of the vehicle.

"...Dr. Thompkins know the supplies are en route," Dick was saying into the radio.

"Understood, Unit 42," a man's voice replied. "Over and out."

Dick replaced the radio handset, a faint smile on his face.

"Still got our tail?"

"Hopefully not for much longer," he answered, and Dinah became aware of sirens approaching from behind them.

"He wanted me to let you know he's fine."

Dick grunted in acknowledgment, easing the ambulance into the right lane and slowing. Dinah craned her body to catch a glimpse of the source of the sirens. After a moment, a WayneMed ambulance barreled by.

"That's it," Dick murmured. "Take the bait." A sedan pulled out after the other ambulance, and Dick grinned. "They don't know how much a favor they did is when ambulance service was privatized in Gotham," he commented, putting his foot to the accelerator.

"They think they chased the wrong ambulance," Dinah realized admiringly.

"Yep. Although we should probably have J'onn go invisible at Leslie's anyway, just in case. Maintains our cover story."

"Which is?"

"Routine supply delivery. WayneMed makes them to Leslie's clinic often enough that no one would question it."

"Nice. And then we leave J'onn there?"

Dick shook his head. "Too much unpleasant mental noise. He'll go back to dispatch with us."

Dinah sat back, regarding Dick curiously. "You sure know a lot about Martians all of a sudden."

He didn't rise to the bait. "Bruce's orders. If J'onn's well enough, he can slip out when we pass by the penthouse. Otherwise, I can commandeer one of the motor pool cars and give him a lift."

"You've been busy,"

He tapped an ear. "Babs is coordinating." He gestured out his window as he took the Bowery exit, and Dinah saw the Batsignal come into view.

"Happy Valentine's Day," Dinah muttered.

"Not any more." Dick gestured at the dashboard clock, clicking to 1:33 a.m. "Now it's just another crummy day in February."

She snorted. "At least it's not snowing."

"Don't tempt fate."

They lapsed into silence as Dick navigated through the streets of Crime Alley, finally pulling up in front of Leslie's clinic. He shut off the engine and handed Dinah a clipboard. "Look busy with this for a minute," he directed. "I'm going to go talk to J'onn."

Dinah accepted the clipboard with a blink, glancing down to see that it was the log of dispatches. Dick's handwriting had already acknowledged the stop at Gotham General, ambiguously described as a pick up. She pulled a pen from the clip and began the next entry. "February 15, 1:38 am. Drop off supplies at Gotham Free Clinic." When she looked up from writing, she saw Dick already out on the sidewalk, talking to one of the clinic staff. She glanced into the back of the ambulance, but there was no sign that J'onn had ever been there.

She opened her door and stepped down from the ambulance, slamming the door and going to join Dick. The other man nodded to her as she approached.

"...supposed to knock off at two, but if you need-" Dick was saying.

"No - we're just glad you came when you did. It's like your dispatch guys are psychic."

"Well, me and Dinah will just bring this stuff in then. If you wanna sign off, we can let you get back to work."

Dinah mutely offered up the clipboard, recognizing her cue and relieved she had not left it in the ambulance. The tired looked clinic worker initialed the paper without even really looking at it. "Thanks," he said, handing it back to Dinah. "See you guys in there." He turned and retreated back into the clinic.

"What was that about?" Dinah asked.

"Scarecrow," Dick replied grimly. "They've got two victims in there and are low on anti-toxin."

"And we just happen to be carrying anti-toxin?"

Dick opened the back doors of the ambulance and patted one of them fondly. "Unit 42 has all sorts of special stock." He entered the ambulance and deftly triggered a hidden panel. He pulled out a case and handed it to Dinah. "Go ahead and take those in. I'll follow with some of this other stuff."

She accepted the precious cargo and followed the path the clinic worker had taken earlier. It led her into a howling waiting room, packed with injured and ill. Never mind mental noise, she thought to herself, wincing at unmistakable screams of fear coming from somewhere further back in the clinic. The physical noise was enough.

She made her way to the admit desk. "Anti-toxin," she explained to the harried desk nurse, setting the case on the counter.

"Oh, thank god," the woman replied. "Oscar!" she called to a passing man. "Get this to Doc Leslie, stat!" She handed him the case, and he took off at a near sprint.

"Crazy night," she apologized to Dinah.

"Yes," Dinah agreed as Dick came up beside her carrying two other cases.

"Where's Leslie want this?" he asked.

The desk nurse reached over and plucked the cases over to her side of the counter. "I'll get them where they're supposed to go," she promised. "Thanks, guys."

Dick caught Dinah's elbow and led her away as a wheezing old man reeking of booze flopped himself across the counter. "All right, Mr. Gerule," the nurse began.

Dinah shuddered. "I hate hospitals."

"Tell me about it," Dick replied, his eyes scanning the walls. He stopped and crossed to a pair of dilapidated vending machines, digging into his pocket for quarters.

"What-?" Dinah asked.

He didn't answer, making his selection and reaching into one of the machines. He turned back to her with a grin, holding up his purchase. A pack of Chocos.

"Let's go," he said, leading the way back to the ambulance.

Dinah hesitated. "Shouldn't we-"

Dick waited until the clinic doors closed behind them to answer. "No. Leslie would have told them to send us back if they needed us." His eyes flashed toward the downtown sky, but the Batsignal was gone. "I suspect we'll have other business tonight."

He opened his door and hopped into the driver's seat, and Dinah crossed over to her side of the ambulance and got in. "I'll never figure you Batfolk," she commented.

"Part of our charm," he replied, glancing into the rearview mirror. "We're clear," he announced. Then he turned and tossed the Chocos toward a shadowy corner of the back of the ambulance.

J'onn shimmered into view as he caught the package with a slight smile. He ripped open the plastic and extracted a cookie. "Thank you, Dick," he acknowledged.

"You're welcome," Dick replied, starting the engine.

Dinah pulled on her seatbelt and sat back.

"Bruce isn't expecting the Scarecrow," J'onn pointed out in the quiet. There was a heavy note of concern in his voice.

"None of us were," Dick noted, turning the ambulance back toward the expressway.

Dinah glanced at him. "This whole thing wasn't about the Scarecrow?"

"We thought it was Hatter. J'onn, you good for the penthouse?"

"Yes," J'onn answered. "Unless Bruce needs me-"

Dinah furrowed her brow. J'onn was always solicitous, but offering to help Batman? Hell, even she knew enough to keep a low profile in his city.

"Just go with it, J'onn," Dick advised, and there was a muted sympathy in his voice.

The sigh that answered him spoke volumes.

"You want me to drop you off, Dinah?"

"Nah. Gotta get my bike anyway."

She turned to stare at the city going by as Dick returned to the expressway. "You catch all that, Oracle?" Dick said softly, and Dinah realized he must have had his mic open. After a moment, he said, "Understood. Nightwing out."

A heavy silence descended over them as they headed back into the night.



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