Waking, part 14

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



The fingers of Bruce's right hand gripped his belt with white knuckles. He was aware enough of his surroundings to know that Dick understood, had directed Alfred to leave the belt with him. That was the only reason he had allowed Alfred to remove it from his body to rest on the bed beside him - admittedly a more comfortable proposition than allowing the compartments to continue to dig into his fevered flesh.

He was also dimly aware of Leslie sitting vigil, Alfred long since sent to bed with promises he would be alerted if anything changed. A bit of guilt gnawed at him for causing them worry, but he knew where he was needed. If he had any doubt, the torrent in his brain effectively stilled it, even as it left him incapacitated.

Not that he understood it. Most of what came through the link that Ace had opened was little more than flashes: light, fire, pain, confusion. Occasional lulls in which he could almost feel J'onn. A moment in which he swore he heard J'onn's voice.

He could feel Ace trembling in its compartment in his belt. He was demanding too much of the little zo'ok, asking it to do a task that perhaps was easy for a fully bonded, mature symbiote. But Ace was not mature, and the poor creature could never be fully bonded in the way that Zo'ok was a part of J'onn. It's trembling increased at this train of thought, and Bruce tried to soothe it. Maybe not fully bonded, but it was bonded and feared being cast aside by him. He never would, he tried to make it understand.

He felt a cool hand on his forehead and heard the beep of a thermometer in his ear. "103.2," Leslie tsked. "Not good, Bruce." She ran her hand over his forehead again in an almost maternal gesture, and Bruce knew that if he opened his eyes, he would see her looking down with concern. That concern would be enough to break his concentration, and with the images beginning to filter through to him now? He would not risk leaving J'onn alone...

There was wind and sand and flame now where they had quieted before, howling abrasively through the pinhole link to rage in smaller scale in Bruce's mind. The Martian gods, booming out fearsome threats and curses, screaming rawly - familiarly - tumbling Bruce into his own nightmare... gunshots... blood... the warm hand that had clasped his falling limp, empty to the ground, to clasp no more... the bouncing - who knew pearls could bounce so high?... waistcoat growing darker before his eyes as pooling liquid spread...

...spread redly to stain a stretch of yellow, to mar the brightness at his side... squelchy grind of bone on bone as fingers cradled broken skull... breath gone... shrapnel tears... wood and metal forced through flesh...

...flesh torn by building's fall... stench of decay among the rubble... don't look... don't see...

...the fires... burning... flames erupting everywhere... staggering corpses to be... reaching out... reaching out... don't look... don't see...

...beloved child... crying... don't look...

...flames...

...dying... unheard death wails... whys unanswered as more fall... only flames... flames...

...crackle...

...echo...

...screams gone silent...

...slipping away...

...flames...

"J'ONN!"

...silence...

Hands on his bare shoulders, urging him back.

...silence...

Gentle orders, murmured in his ear.

...silence...

Cooling sweat, making him shiver.

...silence...

Needle prick.

...silence...

Enveloping darkness.

...silence...

...silence...



Leslie looked down at the digital readout. "His fever's broken," she announced, noting the visible tension in Alfred's body ease.

"Thank god," Alfred breathed, letting himself settle into the bedside chair. His troubled eyes rested on Bruce's now sleep calm features. "I thought - that last round -"

"I know," Leslie acknowledged, using every ounce of professionalism to keep a quaver out of her voice. She could feel the adrenaline crash coming. The sudden fever spike had caught her off-guard, and she suspected it was nothing she had done that had finally sent Bruce's temperature spiraling back to a more normal range.

"I should call Dick," Alfred stated, although he didn't rise.

"Shall I-?" Leslie offered.

"No." Alfred shook his head. "He's not at one of his usual haunts." He leaned down for a moment and straightened up with Bruce's belt in his hand. "He must've let go of it," he mused.

Not surprising, Leslie thought, given the way he was flailing. But she only nodded in acknowledgement.

Alfred stood with a sigh, placing the belt back on the bed beside Bruce. "I think, Doctor Thompkins, that I will stay here a bit, if you'd like to retire upstairs?"

Leslie studied her patient for a moment. "Yes," she decided. "Just for a bit." She rested a hand briefly on Bruce's shoulder, then turned for the stairs, able to hold back tired tears of reaction until she was out of sight of the cave floor. She was relieved, yes, but something told her that her relief had come at a cost.



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