Mindstorm, epilogue 3

by Chicago

Disclaimers and other information in "part 0"

J'onn sat in Batman's chair. He had swiveled it away from the monitor array of the Bat computer so that it faced toward the distant Cave entrance. He imagined Gypsy commenting on his "careful Martian-type patient impatience," and an emotion like a smile traveled wearily through his being.

His face remained stoic, and as usual, he was surprised how thoroughly his acquired human habits of expression fell away when he was tired.

He was tired, far more than he had allowed himself to admit to Bruce when they engineered their pact. He still maintained that he was less tired than Bruce, but the Battish stubbornness that would not allow Bruce to rest for himself was stronger when turned toward the wellbeing of others. After 38 hours, the Bat would finally sleep, if only to ensure that the Martian would as well.

There was still no sign of the approaching Batmobile, but when J'onn had left the Watchtower, Batman had still been in TriCorner. Even at full speed on good roads, the Batmobile could only go so fast.

Zo'ok shifted around J'onn's body, snugging closer against his thighs and shoulders and rising higher around his neck. J'onn brushed the backs of his fingers over the familiar blue of the symbiote. His eyes did not fail to notice the shadow cast by the high pointed collar that zo'ok had assumed; over J'onn's bald pate, the collar points created the illusion of bat ears. Odd. But then, the way Bruce and Ace had bonded had revealed many curious behaviors that J'onn had not guessed zo'oks to be capable of. He wondered if Ace, as a virtual clone of zo'ok, was transmitting proto-thoughts to its progenitor. Ace had acted on its own in the past to contact J'onn; could it be sending a message now, through zo'ok? Perhaps the shadow was zo'ok for "On our way, don't worry."

Not that J'onn was really worried. Bruce had said he would come directly home, and he would do as he said, if only to assure himself that J'onn had upheld his end of the bargain and done the same.

As if on cue, J'onn's hearing picked up the distinctive purr of the Batmobile's engine, not yet in the Cave but at least to the external access road.

J'onn didn't bother to move, not yet. For the first time since he had snuck away from Titans' Tower the previous day, he was able to turn significant energy to cell repair. His first priority was the remaining burn damage from his encounter with Black, but he knew eventually he would have to deal with the physical effects of his struggle against Bette Noir's delusions.

The distant purr was amplified to a growl as the Batmobile entered the Cave, and within several seconds, J'onn could pick out the reflected glow of headlights from damp Cave walls. The shadows danced crazily as the car wound through its driveway, the downshifts of the engine echoing and disturbing the bats. J'onn watched as the car pulled onto the turntable and halted.

It thrummed there for a moment, and J'onn could sense Bruce looking through the windshield at him. Batman was keeping his thoughts close, projecting nothing, but it was impossible for J'onn not to feel his presence.

The engine finally powered down, and Batman stepped out of the Batmobile. He paused for a moment on the turntable to pointedly study J'onn, but he made no greeting. J'onn remained unmoving, meeting Batman's eyes mutely.

The bats were beginning to settle when Batman finally mounted the stairs to the computer level and settled into a shizentai stance five feet from J'onn. Batman crossed his arms over his chest, letting his cape cover his frame.

J'onn took in the defiant pose and stood to match it. As he rose, he let his body fill out to his full Martian Manhunter height and mass, temporarily abandoned in order to fit comfortably in Batman's chair. Batman tried not to crane his neck to glare at J'onn.

They remained that way for two and a half minutes. Batman spoke first. "You never reported what happened with Noir."

J'onn heard the question underlying the demand. "Even with Black gone, it seemed unwise to leave her in Superman's mind longer than necessary. She may have been a victim here, but she remains dangerously unstable. I did not wish to risk the possibility that she would devise a plan of her own."

Batman nodded once, acknowledging the explanation of why J'onn had refused to remain at Titans' Tower.

"I have returned her to Dr. Trapps' mind," J'onn continued.

"And she went willingly?"

J'onn kept control of his expression, although Batman had unerringly pinpointed the question he least wanted to answer. "She wanted to stay with me," he confessed. "She claimed she loves me, that I am the only creature who could understand her. When she tried to press herself further into my mind..."

Batman somehow managed to shift his pose into one of expectation without appearing to move.

"She saw you," J'onn finished softly. "Or rather, an echo of my love for you. She was... enraged. She accused me of being faithless to her, and then of being faithless to my wife."

That drew a blink from beneath the cowl, less visible than felt. "And then you put her back in Trapps?"

"Yes."

"Good." There was an undercurrent of righteous anger in Batman's tone.

"She is-"

"Don't," Batman interrupted. "Being angry and confused gives no one the right-" He stopped abruptly as if registering his own body language. He didn't move, but J'onn felt Bruce's eyes on him and a taint of confused exhaustion from Bruce's mind.

J'onn offered the rescue of a continued report. "The teleporter is still not safely functional, by the way. I tried it on the way down, and the electromagnetic interference was... unpleasant ... on the way down. It would undoubtedly scramble human organs. Now that we're phasing from disaster management to disaster relief, I suggested that Argent might ferry people back and forth to the moon. I know Wally is anxious to get home to Linda, and we'll need to call in reserves to cover monitor shifts."

Now Batman's posture did shift, his arms falling to his sides and his weight shifting. "You know Oracle has kept me informed."

J'onn nodded. "I know."

"And I know Superman is already feeling well enough to manage the moon side of things."

"Yes," J'onn confirmed.

"And Lantern at least listened to orders and is recovering on the West Coast."

"Bruce." J'onn reached out to rest his hand against Bruce's shoulder. He phased his fingers down through the body armor, pressing key points along overtense muscles.

Bruce almost stumbled, a soft groan slipping from his lips.

J'onn stepped forward a little and pushed back the cowl. "You're exhausted," he observed quietly, noting the deep bruise-like shadows under Bruce's eyes.

Bruce snapped a glare to J'onn's face, his shoulders stiffening. "So are you! And burned. And-"

"Bruce, stop." J'onn pressed a hand to the bat emblem on his chest in a placating gesture. "Shower. Food. Sleep." He paused to add weight to his words. "For both of us."

The tired anger in Bruce's eyes faded, and he nodded. The world was in good hands, they both knew, and there was time, at last, to rest.

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