All's Fair, part 15

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"

Zatanna knew her grip on Tempest's wrist must be painfully tight, but there was nothing she could do to loosen it. There was too much magic zinging through every synapse - the tangled power of Tempest, the other Atlantean mages, and her own resources. Add to it the desperate anchoring hold of J'onn's telepathic link - she couldn't do anything to loosen her grip on him either. That was probably a good thing, as the sudden slam of Tempest's raw power had almost broken J'onn's already tenuous connection with her magic.

Her vision was blurred, and even though she couldn't feel it, she knew her throat was raw. In fact, she couldn't feel any of the discomfort of her body - all was caught up in the swell of magic flowing through her. The magic carried its own euphoria, and she knew what would happen when this was over. There would be withdrawal, and every ache earned would be magnified by her body's craving for so much magic again.

The spell was working, though. That actually worried her. If alpha team was indeed failing, as Batman's last communication had suggested, the earth-side link was vulnerable. It would be almost impossible for J'onn to shield the final push of magic that would pull Poseidonis through, and that swell of power would be frighteningly easy for Mordru to siphon. If circumstances were different, she would abort the mission rather than risk giving the sorcerer so much power. But Arthur had been right - the abort would likely kill everyone involved. If it had only been the JLA members - or even just the mages - she might not hesitate to make the sacrifice. But it wasn't. Over a million innocent Atlanteans were also caught in this magic, and to gamble their lives against the mere possibility of Mordru's ascent? She couldn't afford to think about it. Instead she would trust Batman to give the abort order if it was needed.

A distant hum that had begun as Arthur appeared at Tempest's side was beginning to intensify. The chants of the Atlantean mages, ever closer. She focused on it, stretching out her own power to find any hold, any grasp on the sound. Muscles that already must have been exerting their full strength somehow tightened further, and she felt the shift of bone beneath her fingers around Tempest's arm. J'onn's shielding bore down, pressing into her mind with a concentration that went beyond thought. Even his apologetic tone was abandoned now, and she could no more reassure him than he could do anything other than hold on.

There! A sudden link, powers no longer running side by side but connected, intensifying, twin streams forced into a single channel. The Atlantean chanting resolved itself into words she could not translate but understood in a way beyond words. Home. Bring us home.

The ocean became more silent, and it took her a moment to realize that the ping of the homing beacon sitting on the dry ocean floor, a sound so present as to be unheard, had ceased. A moment later and suddenly there was a fierce current whipping around her, threatening to break her hold on Garth, to sweep her away. She fought it, still chanting, clinging desperately, and then there were arms around her, bracing her against the ocean's battering flow. The smooth curve of a hook pressed into her belly, and she understood that Arthur had swum in behind her, anchoring her in place, sandwiching her protective bubble of magic between his strength and the force of the returning ocean only feet away. She could feel the pressure of the competing forces diminishing her lung capacity, making each breath shallower than the last as she continued to speak the words of her magic.

She could not refortify the spell that kept her safely alive on the ocean floor. She could do nothing other than repeat her spell, over and over, each repetition giving away a little more space in her lungs. Breaths turned into gasps between words, and while she knew the Atlantean chanting was growing nearer, to her ears it seemed to become more distant, echoing against her diminishing supply of oxygen. She strained her will, finding reserves of power she had not realized were there. It had to be now, she realized. Bring them through now, as bright spots began to swim behind her eyes, or it wouldn't matter whether alpha team failed or succeeded. Close only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes, she thought incongruously, squeezing another word out of her failing breath, able to suck in only enough air for ...

A shout sounded behind her, and in her mind she felt J'onn's hold slip, flashing away in a violent recoil. From some will other than her own, the bubble around her stretched open, allowing her to breathe against the descending blackness, and suddenly there were voices, cheers. Aquaman's hold became an embrace, and she felt Tempest go limp, floating into her, his magic suddenly stopped.

"WE DID IT!" she heard someone shout, and she could hear a comlink crackling to life.

"Tempest, Zatanna, Aquaman, report!" Batman barked, and Zatanna realized he must have been watching anxiously the entire time.

"We're through!" she heard Aquaman announce, and she realized he had somehow retrieved her comlink after it floated away. He was holding it now in his hand, resting on her shoulder as he continued to hold her upright. "Some damage, but more or less in one piece."

"And Zatanna, Tempest?" Batman's voice held an unfamiliar hint of anxiety, and Zatanna remembered the link she'd seen between him and J'onn. He wouldn't ask. He wouldn't, she knew, because he didn't want the wrong answer. And stretching out with her mind, she realized she couldn't reassure him. Any trace of J'onn's connection was entirely absent.

She blinked at unexpected tears and realized that Arthur was regarding her with concern. She managed a weak smile and accepted the comlink from him. "Batman?" she rasped, aware now that her throat burned rawly and swallowing against the pain.

"Go ahead, Zatanna." Did she imagine it, or was there a note of commingled relief and fear in his voice? She could only reassure about what she knew, she decided, looking over at Tempest's still unconscious form. There were already people gathering around him, and a man at Arthur's side explaining that the boy was unharmed - merely overextended.

"We're fine," she reported. "Just get J'onn out fast." Because even though they couldn't hear him, he was there. And he was okay. He had to be okay.

"He is okay," came a whisper in her ear, and she looked up into Arthur's face. His hold on her had loosened, and his attention was half on the young man now showing signs of consciousness under the ministrations of an Atlantean healer. She wondered for a moment if Garth would believe the worry that creased Arthur's face as he stood helplessly by. Or not helpless. Rather, using his energies where they could help, even if that was not the place he wanted to be.

Some of that worry faded as Tempest's head rolled and he gave a little groan, and Arthur met Zatanna's eyes. "J'onn is okay." He tapped his temple. "I can feel his ... bemusement."

Zatanna nodded, relief making her limbs leaden and making her aware of her exhaustion. And pain. It was starting now, for the moment only that of muscles tensed too long, but soon...

"Zatanna." Intensely dark eyes gazed into hers, and she felt a touch of magic against her temple. Her eyelids drooped, and she felt herself lifted into the strong arms of one of the Atlantean healers. The man's hands, laced with magic, stroked at her hair as he rested her head against his shoulder. "Sleep now," he suggested sonorously, and her head felt too heavy to even offer him a nod. Another soft touch from those hands, and she surrendered to the suggestion, blissful darkness claiming her.

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