Paper Hearts, part 29

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"

The seat harness locked against his body with the quickness of the stop, giving Batman an impatient moment as he wrestled free of the Batmobile.

"Easy on the brakes, Batman," Dinah called lightly from the landing above.

He didn't bother to respond as he rushed past her to the medbay.

And stopped, a full breath entering his lungs for the first time in what felt like an eternity.

On the examining table, Dick gave him a cheery wave, his other hand wrapped around a mug. Barbara sat at his knee, daintily eating a quarter of a sandwich. Leslie was repacking her medical bag, pausing mid-sentence at his entrance to say, "Good morning, Batman."

He nodded in reply, forcing himself to remember manners as his eyes sought out the rest of his team. There was Cassandra, perched beside a tray of sandwiches, feet dangling and oversized clothes making her look half her age. Dinah brushed by him to claim a bottle of water, her attitude and Barbara's barely caught smile suggesting she had made some mocking face as she passed. He ignored that.

Where was-?

Here. The softest of thoughts, reassuring him.

He moved forward finally. "Thank you for coming, Leslie," he stated formally. "How are you feeling, Dick?"

"Pretty good for being pistol-whipped, blown up and hung from the rafters," Dick replied, taking a swig from whatever was in his mug.

"Dont. Joke." The Voice froze the room for a split second, and something flared dangerously in Dick's eyes.

"Alfred getting Sasha," Cassandra broke the silence. "I made sandwiches."

Batman kept his eyes on Dick.

"Bruce." That was Leslie, coming beside him to put her hand on his arm.

He stiffened, then turned to look at her.

"It's been a long night," she began, her eyes defying him to interrupt what she had to say. "Dick's going to be fine, even if he's got about four more hours of Titans' stories to tell us."

Dick groaned, snapping Batman's glare back to him. He held up a hand. "I know, I know - head injury 101. Can't we talk hockey or something instead?"

Barbara rested a hand on his knee. "We can always fall back on embarrassing childhood stories," she suggested, her eyes twinkling.

"Dinah, save me," Dick whimpered.

"Oh, no, that sounds TOO juicy," Dinah decided, picking up a bit of sandwich.

"Bruce," Leslie said again. "We've got this under control." Her eyes held a silent order.

"I have data to enter," he grunted, wheeling away from her.

Except -

Cassandra stood in his path, there faster than he could track. "Oracle keep on top of it. I run report later."

"Batgirl," he growled.

Cassandra crossed her arms over her chest. "I not hit with Scarecrow gas, I not have to rescue half my team, I not see my lover shot. I stay up. You sleep."

He could hear every held breath behind him.

And- Bruce.

He turned on heel and stalked back to the locker room, ignoring the grin Dinah flashed toward Cassandra and the relief on Dick and Barbara's faces.

Only when he was out of sight of all of them, standing in front of a locker, did he press his forehead against the open locker door and let out a shuddering sigh.


He could feel the trembling reaction taking hold. He'd almost lost them.

He swallowed hard and straightened, going mechanically through the motions of removing his uniform, wrapping himself in a bathrobe. He was suddenly too tired to shower, too tired to do more than find his way to the back elevator to the Manor, usually reserved for Barbara's use. He didn't want to pass back through the gathered members of his family, only wanted-


He was sitting on the big bed in the master bedroom, alertly watching the door as Bruce entered. He said nothing, only watched as Bruce numbly removed his robe and stripped to his shorts. Said nothing, just watched, face open and sympathetic, waiting an invitation to reach out, miraculously whole and well and suddenly Bruce was afraid to even touch him. He couldn't even meet J'onn's eyes as he crossed to the far side of the bed and curled under the covers.

He squeezed his eyes tightly closed, trying to forget how close it had been, how they would not have found Dick without J'onn's help, how fear of losing J'onn had prompted him to leave the cover...

There was a click of the bedside lamp turning off and a shift on the mattress as J'onn lay down beside him, not touching him, not demanding anything he couldn't give.

His heart ached in his chest, hoping J'onn could forgive him, no longer fighting the exhaustion of his body, feeling sleep stealing over him...


... the bullet ... almost seen before it was intercepted... tearing flesh that was not its target ...

Shh, Bruce. Wake up.

Bruce was shaking, the image still burning into his eyes.

It's over, the soothing voice reminded him.

He curled away from the offered comfort, retreating into himself. No one else hurt. Not for him.

I won't let you. The voice emerged from the tight coil of himself, somehow insinuated into his deepest mind.

He twisted away, spiralling deeper into the heat of lead and the smell of cordite and the flash of muzzle...

And a taste of determination?

"GO AWAY!" he yelled, only aware that it was not a dream cry when he felt the grunt of flesh giving under the assault of fists.

Never. An external embrace to match the internal assurance.

He struggled, feet connecting with shins, a knee rising up to more sensitive flesh, elbows finding just enough leverage to dig into ribs. The embrace neither tightened nor released him, there was merely a mute acceptance of his blows until his breathing came in ragged gasps and exhaustion prompted him to stop and lie spent, quietly enfolded in his lover's arms.

A soft kiss pressed against his forehead, and J'onn's embrace loosened to allow hands to stroke his back soothingly. "Oh, J'onn-" he croaked, pressing his face against J'onn's chest.

A tap came at the door. "Master Bruce?"

J'onn answered without moving. "It's okay, Alfred. I've got him."

Bruce could imagine Alfred moving reluctantly away, wondered when the older man had returned to the Manor. How long had he slept?

J'onn's fingers tangled through his sweaty hair. Not long. He dropped a kiss on the top of Bruce's head, maintaining the comforting circle of his arms around Bruce.

It felt... safe, but Bruce hadn't earned safety. He had let his team down, had failed to-

Stop, J'onn ordered. Bruce felt J'onn's fingers reach to hook his chin, to urge his face up to meet J'onn's eyes. They stared at each other for a long moment, neither blinking.

Then J'onn's hands came up to frame Bruce's face, his fingers tracing the contours of cheekbones and brow, his eyes studying Bruce's dry-eyed expression. The broad green face leaned in, hesitant, uncertain.

Fearful of being rejected.

No, Bruce corrected himself. Fearful of already having been rejected, his face burning as he remembered how many blows he had rained on the accepting body in front of him.

But there was no accusation in J'onn's expression. Only quiet concern as he angled his face to press a soft kiss to Bruce's lips...

Bruce shuddered at the contact, aware only as he relaxed that he had been holding himself rigid in J'onn's arms. His eyes fluttered closed, and he sighed as J'onn pulled back to gently stroke Bruce's face and chest. The tender gestures made Bruce feel boneless, brought him back toward the precipice of sleep.

He struggled against a perceived telepathic suggestion, not wanting to return to his dreams. He felt J'onn stretch to cocoon around him, still quietly stroking his body.

He felt himself getting angry at allowing himself to become so dependent, then felt lips on the frown line between his eyes. Bruce.

Bruce began to draw his legs up, curling defensively, a convulsive sob wracking his body. "Everything I love..." he whispered, huddling against J'onn.

Another soft kiss. "We're all still here," J'onn murmured. "Dick's telling his stories, Sasha is sleeping peacefully, and I-" A hand found its way around Bruce's clenched fist, gently encouraging fingers to open as it pressed Bruce's hand against J'onn's chest. "I'm right here."

He kissed Bruce's forehead again. And I'm not going anywhere.

The dam broke - tears held in by a younger self, jealously guarding them, sprang to his eyes, pouring hotly down his cheeks to be accepted into the green flesh wrapped protectively around him. For the first time in many years, Bruce Wayne cried himself to sleep.

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