Oversung Hero, part 3
Disclaimers and other information in "part 0"
Satisfied with the fit and give of the lower half of his costume, he reached his good arm for the thin underlayer that he wore under the upper body armor.
Startled, Bruce looked up in the direction the voice had come from to watch J'onn finish ghosting through the ceiling and settle down a few feet from him. "Please."
Bruce studied his lover. "J'onn?"
"Just - not yet." There was a hint of pleading in the Martian's voice.
Bruce turned away, reaching again for the undershirt. "Batman needs to make an appearance before word hits the street that someone got a piece of him."
Strong green fingers closed on his wrist. "Bruce."
Bruce looked at the hand on his wrist, then turned a glare at J'onn. "Let go of me, J'onn," he growled.
J'onn remained unmoved. "It hurts."
Bruce schooled a desire to catch hold of J'onn's wrist, to twist his body to throw the Martian aside. Pragmatically, it would be unwise; J'onn could physically prevent him from donning the suit if provoked. And angry as he was, he didn't want to fight J'onn. "I know it hurts," he snapped. "We've talked about this before. Pain is useful, and important. If-"
"Bruce," J'onn interrupted, tightening his hold on Bruce's wrist just shy of bruising. "It hurts me."
A few snatches of thought bled through to Bruce, obviously by design. Memories of Du Bois' knife cutting into his shoulder, not as Bruce remembered it, but as an unexpected stab during a stake out. The constant ghost ache and burn of an injury to another's body. And a fleeting sense of unwilling duty that Bruce knew belonged to J'onn's part in the subterfuge that had provided a cover for his injury, a hidden agony at playing the role of a nameless thug who had tried to "kill" Bruce Wayne and then had cast the illusion that the wound on Bruce's shoulder was fresh. He had forgotten, in his telepathic deafness, that J'onn could not so easily close out the voices of those around him, could not hope to shut himself off to the man with whom he had shared even his soul.
He stared at J'onn, his expression softening a little. He had been so focused on what needed to be done that he hadn't paid enough attention to what he was asking. "J'onn-"
J'onn stood without comment, maintaining his hold on Bruce's wrist, mutely communicating that he would not be moved.
A sense of desperation seized Bruce. "J'onn, I need to patrol. Please-"
Something - recognition? - flashed in the red eyes that met his so steadily, and J'onn's fingers loosened a little. Not enough that Bruce could extricate himself, but enough to imply that there was room to negotiate. "Du Bois did not weaken Batman." J'onn's tone was heavy, as if he knew that talking wouldn't be enough.
Bruce closed his eyes for a second, trying to organize his own thoughts. "I know that. But Gotham-" How to put it into words? He had promised his city. She needed him, and he needed her. To beg her forbearance for anything less than world catastrophe or complete incapacitation was to invite mutual disaster. The cold rationality of the detective knew better, but the heart of the man? He remembered too well the battle with his city during her time as "No Man's Land," her lack of forgiveness for his absence.
J'onn's grasp loosened a little more, and Bruce slipped his wrist free to rub the skin reddened by the press of alien fingers. J'onn sighed heavily. "There are other ways," he proposed.
Bruce frowned. "I can't just sit here and direct traffic. I-" He broke off as J'onn unexpectedly morphed into Batman. He stared, unnerved by the perfect doppleganger. Yes, J'onn had done this before, at that drag show, but that was answering the need of the moment, not a premeditated action. He felt an unpleasant flashback to the Id case, when he had been divided from Batman, filled with impotent rage. "No," he said flatly, turning back toward the locker housing the night's costume. He didn't renew his effort to get dressed, but he would not continue to look at J'onn in his form.
Bruce. The telepathic touch managed nuances that a voiced word could not, implying a plan, suggesting understanding, and requesting at least an audience for J'onn's idea.
Eschewing the link until he got his own tumbled emotions in order, Bruce replied as honestly as he could. "I don't want you fighting my battles for me."
Neither do I.
Bruce turned back, steeling himself, but J'onn had slipped back into his Martian Manhunter form. "Then why -?"
J'onn's expression was thoughtful. "You remember the plelloch?"
The unexpected shift in conversation caught Bruce off guard. "J'onn, what does-" He gasped suddenly as his vision doubled, altered. He saw himself - not J'onn in his form, but himself, standing at his locker, naked to the waist, blinking rapidly. The image faded quickly and he caught at the wall of the locker to steady himself. He waited for his heartbeat to slow, then asked, "Your eyes?"
J'onn nodded. "I can link our consciousnesses, let you see what I'm doing, advise me on what I'm seeing."
Bruce sat down on the bench in front of his locker. He picked his words carefully. "That's really... disconcerting."
"I know. But," J'onn shifted back into the Batman form, "it lets you be part of patrol. I can pretend to be you, but I cannot take care of the city the way you can. And I'm not sure I can bear you pushing yourself as hard as you want to."
"The voice is still too gravelly," Bruce objected, forcing back his discomfort to study J'onn's imitation.
"Hh," J'onn responded, drawing himself up and letting the Bat's cape close around him.
Was that how that looked, Bruce wondered, resisting the urge to challenge his disguised lover, to assert his territorial rights. Interesting.
Bruce considered a moment more. "It won't work."
The Batman body dissolved back into green. "Bruce-"
"Cassandra will see through it." He shook his head decisively and began to rise again to resume suiting up.
"Bruce!" There was raw frustration in J'onn's voice, a rare enough occurrence that Bruce turned back to face the Martian. J'onn's arms were crossed over his chest in the same pose he had been in as Batman, although the blue cape fell back over his shoulders rather than cloaking him. "I do not have to patrol with Batgirl, and if she does see me, I would think she'd be relieved. She understands the need of a body to heal, and I think she's carrying enough guilt from what happened with Du Bois."
The mention of Batgirl's sense of guilt, however unreasonable, caught Bruce short. That was his fault-
"Bruce," J'onn said again, this time sounding tired and reproachful.
Bruce dropped his hands, not wanting to turn back to see J'onn's expression. "What if there's fire?"
J'onn's tone gentled. "Then you'll pull me out of it. You'll be with me the whole time."
"I still don't like this."
He felt J'onn's hand come to rest softly on his injured shoulder. "I know. Neither do I. But compromise leaves everyone unsatisfied."
Bruce reached up to cover J'onn's hand with his own, still unwilling to turn to look at his lover. "Okay," he sighed. "Okay."