Waking, part 7

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"

***BDEET*** ***BDEET***

"Wuzzat?" Dick Grayson came awake in a fog that quickly cleared as he recognized Oracle's emergency alert. He swung out of bed and into his desk chair, scarcely aware of his feet touching the ground. "I'm awake," he announced.

"Nightwing, good." The Oracle mask faded to Barbara Gordon's worried features. "It's Bruce."

A cold feeling curled in his stomach. "What's wrong?"

"It's not clear. Superman just found him delirious up at the Watchtower. He's called an emergency JLA meeting and asked me to contact you."

"Delirious?" He already had half his costume on.

"Fever of 105 degrees."

"Jeez." He pulled his uniform top over his head. "He didn't sound sick when I talked to him this evening."

"I signed off right after midnight, and he was fine. In fact made a point of the fact that he'd slept over 10 hours in the last 24."

"Ten?" He affixed his mask to his face. "Maybe he was coming down with something."

"I don't think so. More likely he was catching up after J'onn brought it to his attention that none of us were getting much sleep."

Nightwing nodded as he pulled on his boots. "Preparing for the shit to hit the fan. You think he stumbled on whatever it is that's causing the mind-body disconnect?"

Barbara's brow creased in a frown. "I've pulled the notes he was working on from the JLA mainframe. It looks like he'd narrowed down possibilities."

"Switching to the comlink. And?" Nightwing swung out the window, flying across the rooftops to the warehouse where his bike was stored.

"It's not chemical or electronic. He seemed to think it might be telepathic, or something from the dream realm." She paused. "He seems to have already discounted magic."

Nightwing started his motorcycle and roared out of the warehouse, heading for route 61. "Yeah, we talked about that earlier. Garth reported that his magic had been decidedly even-keeled since the whole Poseidonis thing."

"Oh, right. I see that here, along with a note from Doctor Mid-Nite that Dr. Fate seems unaffected. And -" another pause - "it looks like he touched base with Zatanna at some point during the day. She had actually noticed her own physical tiredness because of her magic."

"Huh. But nothing definitive?"

"Not recorded here. Although if he did figure it out, whatever it is could have acted to take him out as soon as he thought it."

"That's not a comforting thought. Listen, call Alfred and let him know what's up. And contact Leslie. I'm about twenty minutes out from the Manor; I'll teleport out from there. They've still got Bruce on the moon?"

"Yeah. I think they're waiting for instructions from you."

"Tell 'em to hold tight. And see what else you can find out."

"Will do. Oracle out."

Nightwing tightened his grip on his bike, increasing his speed as he hurtled down the interstate toward the Bristol offramp. Whatever was happening could no longer be shrugged off, and now, it seemed, it was personal.

"His fever was so high we had to -" Superman tried to explain as he half led, half followed Nightwing to the med bay. His voice trailed off as they entered the room and Bruce's pale features and sweat-tangled hair became visible.

"You did what needed doing," Nightwing said gruffly, crossing quickly to Bruce's side.

"Normally we would just take him to STAR Labs, but I figured-"

"He'll appreciate that," Nightwing cut him off. The younger man had already stripped off one gauntlet to take Bruce's hand in his and was studying his mentor's face intently. He leaned over and spoke softly into Bruce's ear, words so quiet that only Superman's enhanced hearing allowed him to pick them up: "Bruce, it's Dick. You're in the Watchtower with a high fever. We're not sure what's wrong with you, but I'm taking you home to Leslie and Alfred. Okay, partner?"

The final question had almost a note of levity compared to the matter-of-fact tones of the rest of Dick's briefing, a nearly ironic check with a senior partner who was not in a position to object. Or was he? Superman could see Bruce's hand tightening around Dick's, and the stillness of his body was giving way to the same fitful tossing he had exhibited earlier. Bruce's eyes flew open, wildly unfocused.

Dick stayed right at Bruce's side, again squeezing his hand and murmuring, "I'm right here, Bruce."

"J'onn," Bruce gasped. "Find-"

"Shh," Dick soothed, shooting a hard look at Superman. "Where is J'onn?" he asked, his voice hinting dangerously at an accusation that somehow J'onn had not been informed of Bruce's condition.

"We don't know," Superman answered, holding back a cold response to the implied lack of trust. "We tried to reach him, but he's not answering his signal device and Aquaman can find no telepathic trace of him."

"No telepathic-" Nightwing echoed, looking back down at Bruce's anguished face. "I'll find him, Bruce," he promised. "Somehow-"

"NO!" Bruce objected, half-rising from the bed. Superman was immediately at his side, helping Dick urge him back down.

"His fever's rising again," Superman said grimly.

Nightwing nodded absently, his attention focused on Bruce who was now muttering incoherently. Then abruptly he looked up at Superman. "This isn't the same thing we've seen in the others. Do you know what he was doing when he collapsed?"

Superman nodded. "We've got the Watchtower tapes, but I frankly don't know what sense to make of them. We were hoping you might take a look at them."

"You didn't run them by Oracle?"

Superman felt a flush rise in his cheeks. That would have been the sensible move, one that had not occurred to him in his anxiety to get Bruce cared for and contact his family. The tape had seemed secondary to the needs of the moment.

"Never mind," Nightwing dismissed, somehow managing to make the dismissal as cutting as any of his mentor's pointed comments or silences would have been. His eyes were back on Bruce, now being tended by Plasticman. "I'm betting J'onn's involved in the tape."

Superman nodded, not bothering to ask how Nightwing had come to that conclusion. Whatever trace remained of the young man who had once been the light to Batman's dark had been swallowed by the brusque demeanor of a leader in a time of crisis.

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