Waking, part 8

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



Green Lantern glanced up as the door to the monitor womb opened, faintly relieved to see that Nightwing accompanied Superman. The distinctly unproductive meeting of the remnants of the JLA had left Kyle uneasy - in the absence of an enemy which could be identified or confronted, it became clear that the League had been effectively crippled by the loss of Batman and J'onn. What had begun merely as a confirmation of J'onn's suspicions that something was affecting the planet had suddenly become an attack with pinpoint accuracy.

"How is he?" Kyle asked as Nightwing nodded in greeting.

"Still fevered. You've got the tapes cued?"

"Have 'em waiting for you." Kyle tapped on the keyboard, starting the video feed.

"Wait a minute," Nightwing ordered, prompting Kyle to hit the pause key. "This is feed from the teleporter room."

"Yes," Superman confirmed. "That's where I found him."

"Not here at the monitor."

"No. I-"

"I've got the monitor tape here somewhere if you want -"

"That's okay, GL. I might want you to find it, but let's go with this for now."

Kyle nodded, comforted rather than annoyed by the fuss over details. That was what they needed right now. He restarted the tape.

Nightwing leaned forward, resting one hand on the back of Kyle's chair and studying the monitor intently. Batman was at the teleporter, bringing someone through. There was the usual light display, then J'onn stepped free of the teleport tube with a decided look of reproach. "Bruce-" he began.

Batman stepped forward, pushing back his cowl and meeting J'onn's eyes. His jaw tightened, and for a long moment they stood, squared off, in perfect silence.

Despite having seen the tape before, Kyle shuddered. "It's like watching your parents fight," he remarked to no one in particular.

Nightwing's reply came unexpectedly over his shoulder. "Tell me about it."

Kyle bit his lip in sudden embarrassment. Somehow it hadn't occurred to him that this relationship that the JLA had tacitly agreed not to talk about would be a little more central to Nightwing's life, something with which the other man had had to become comfortable. On the heels of embarrassment came guilt - he'd welcomed Nightwing's presence as a tactician without considering that they were asking him to effectively put all his emotions for a fallen mentor on hold.

The tension from the taped scene seemed to leach into the room, and Kyle could only speculate about what they were arguing. Whatever it was, it seemed that Batman lost the stare down, for suddenly he ground out the words, "I won't let you go through that again."

The words broke the spell, for suddenly J'onn's expression became almost unbearably tender. "Bruce-" he said with an air of helplessness, and then he stepped forward.

Kyle, knowing what was coming, averted his eyes in time to see Plasticman entering the monitor womb, then to watch his teammate drop his jaw to the floor and bug out his eyes in an impressive display of cartoon shock. Kyle felt rather than saw the frown form on Nightwing's face as he leaned forward to pause the tape and said, "I don't like the look of that."

"I'll say!" Plasticman burst out, drawing all eyes to him. "Geez, did J'onn put the whammy on him or - or -" He stopped, looking warily at the three men gathered at the monitor, waving a finger at them suspiciously. "Wait a minute. There's something going on here that I don't know about." He took an involuntary step backwards as Nightwing shot him a hard look and returned his attention to the screen.

Kyle, feeling faintly voyeuristic, joined him in his perusal of the still frame of Batman and J'onn locked in a passionate kiss while Superman asked, "Plasticman, you needed something?"

"Yeah, a better connection to the gossip line, apparently," he snorted. "How long have those two-"

"Plas!"

"Fine. Don't tell me. Don't give me any information. I came to tell you that preliminary tests indicate that there's nothing physical causing Batman's fever. No infection, no sign of illness - nothing." He looked back at the monitor with a faint expression of distaste. "I'll go back to Bat-sitting now." He exited the room.

"What are you seeing?" Kyle asked, eager to get past the discomfort that Plasticman's remarks were causing him.

"A goodbye," Nightwing said softly, still transfixed by the image. One gauntletted hand reached out in an aborted gesture toward the screen, but whatever had caught Nightwing's attention eluded Kyle.

"Start it up again," Nightwing ordered, and Kyle unpaused the tape with a sudden sense of tragedy. A goodbye. He didn't even want to contemplate what that might mean.

The couple finally broke apart and J'onn brushed one thumb across Batman's cheek before stepping back into the teleport tube. No more words were exchanged as Batman turned his attention to the teleport controls.

"Do we know where he sent him?" Nightwing asked.

Superman shook his head. "No," he said quietly as J'onn's form began to shimmer. "He scrambled the coordinates."

On the monitor, Batman stepped forward, his eyes fixed on J'onn's disappearing eyes.

"There!" Nightwing suddenly burst out, reaching past Green Lantern to pause the tape again. "Back it up just a bit," he demanded. "Frame by frame."

Mystified, Kyle did as he was told.

"Stop," Nightwing finally ordered. "See how he's going to his belt here?"

"Yes, but-" Superman began.

"Lantern, zoom in on J'onn's face."

"He's basically already gone, but okay." Kyle obeyed, focusing on the echo of J'onn's features still hovering in the teleport tube.

"Okay, forward again, still frame by frame. See? Look at his face."

Kyle saw what Nightwing meant. Barely there, just more than an afterimage, J'onn's face took on a sudden expression of surprise before it disappeared entirely.

"I see it," Superman said, "but what does it mean?"

Nightwing glanced at him but ignored the question. "GL, flag these frames so Oracle can look at them when we send the tape, then start it rolling again."

The tautness of Nightwing's body registered in his grip on the back of Green Lantern's chair, and Kyle wordlessly followed his orders. All three men watched intently as Batman stood facing the teleport tube for a while. Then he drifted into a shadowed part of the room, a motion which drew a grunt from Nightwing. Batman's face, still without its mask, was dimly visible in the shadow, and he still regarded the teleporter. For several minutes, nothing changed, and at a casual glance it seemed the room was empty. But for their focus on it, they might have missed the moment when Batman's head and shoulders suddenly slumped into the deeper shadow.

"Flag that, too," Nightwing directed. "How long after that was it before you found him, Superman?"

"About a half an hour."

Nightwing nodded. "Okay. GL, ship that off to Oracle - I'll want his take on it. And- thanks." He sank back into a green chair that Kyle willed up for him with an expression of obvious relief and scrubbed his hands over his face.

"Nightwing?" Superman's face was creased with concern.

"I'll want to get Oracle's take on this, but I think it's a fair bet that whatever is behind whatever is going on is telepathic in origin. And an equally fair bet that J'onn figured it out."

"And went to face it alone?" Kyle interjected, looking up from the keyboard. "We can't let him-"

"No, I think we have to trust him on the decision to face it alone."

"Nightwing-" Superman protested.

"Look, Batman was pretty adamant that we not find J'onn. And based on what we saw here? I've got to believe there's a good reason for it."

"So we do nothing?" The incredulous tone in Superman's voice matched Kyle's unvoiced feeling.

Nightwing shook his head. "I'm not entirely sure what we do," he confessed, letting his eyes rest on Kyle's face. "But I do know some things. Like Kyle here looks like ten miles of bad road."

"But-"

Nightwing held up a hand. "You're doing good work, GL. But until we figure out exactly what's going on and what to do about it, our top priority has to be making sure that we're all rested and well and able to face whatever's coming. Get some sleep."

Kyle started to protest, but something in Nightwing's face stopped his tongue. And, he realized, for the first time in weeks he really did feel tired. Not quite adrenaline and caffeine crash tired, but genuinely weary.

"Nightwing's right," Superman pointed out gently. "We'll wake you if we need you."

Kyle nodded as Nightwing stood, allowing Green Lantern to let the chair he'd crafted dissipate. "I'll be in my quarters," he informed them, aware that Superman and Nightwing were about to talk serious strategy and suddenly too tired to care that he would not be included. He stumbled a bit as he made his way to his Watchtower apartment and was asleep almost before his head hit the pillow.



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