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Apart, not Alone

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A flashing signal on the dashboard. A forest fire spreading uncontrolled towards the oil fields of Alberta. Shifting winds. Assign a two-man squad, seal off fire's advance on two fronts. Check the active duty roster for elemental manipulators. Ice and Zatanna. Alert their communicators, send them into the field as soon as...

The faint beeping of a communicator went off behind him. Disconcerting, that he had not noticed until now the crowd that was assembling on the bridge of the Watchtower. Ice wasn't checking her communicator. She was standing next to Fire, their shoulders touching. Seeking out a familiar comfort? Her eyes, like the dozen or so people crowding the area despite the large size of the room, were glued to the monitors, tracking activity on the island, the missile, and the bullheaded man rising from his chair beside J'onn.

J'onn forced his focus back to the screens, the panels, the alerts. Another incident flared to life. A pirate crew had taken a civilian ship hostage halfway around the globe. Check Aquaman's last known location. Close enough. Assign and ping. If too far, Aquaman would delegate to his subjects, either to aquatic fauna or merfolk. Arthur had good judgment. Had to trust. Busy with other things.

A quick glance to the side. Captain Atom had responded to his communicator: En route.

"Captain Atom's on his way from California," J'onn announced.

"His top speed's under Mach 2. He'll never get there in time!"

J'onn conceded the point with a set jaw and watched the edge of the dark cape disappear out of the corner of his eye.

"Oh--! Hey! Clear the hangar! Now!" The Bat's brusque orders were clipped but came through the comms clearly.

"Initiating emergency drop in three, two, one," the station's artificial voice chirped cheerily. J'onn frowned and filed away the cheery voice as something to re-calibrate after his colleagues were safe from the impending missile. Or dead. Could go either way at this point. His frown deepened further as the Javelin dropped from the hangar into space.

The small sleek craft plummeted towards earth's surface with gut-wrenching speed. Even on the monitors, its progress was surprisingly expedient. Already warning lights were igniting on a panel to J'onn's left. He knew twin lights would be appearing in the cockpit of the small black meteorite.

"You're going too fast." He tried to keep his voice calm for the benefit of the others, but the note of concern his own ears heard felt painfully obvious.

"If I let the Earth's gravity accelerate me, I should reach intercept in two minutes."

"If you don't burn up on entry," J'onn retorted. Of all the times for Batman to be obstinate and determined, J'onn had to admit that a situation involving a kryptonite-laced missile headed towards a preoccupied Superman on an inhabited island was likely the best time for it, but damn it, this was still a long shot with devastatingly bleak odds. Time to increase them slightly, make better use of the team on location.

"Wonder Woman, can you hear me? There's a missile with a kryptonite warhead heading for your position."

"Say again?" came Diana's voice through a small burst of static, dripping with disbelief.

"Repeat, there is a kryptonite missile heading your way. Can you read me? Flash, get everyone as far away as you can." He knew that Diana would see to any spluttering protests the Flash might make. He moved to return their comm channel to standby, just in time for the commlink to flare back to life.

"I'm going back for Superman," Diana declared. J'onn could practically picture the sound of Bruce's molars cracking under the strain of that trademark clenched jaw as yet another of the Leaguers threw themselves in the way of that missile.

"But--" J'onn began to protest, then reconsidered. Better to increase the odds. "Do it now!" Diana was hard to hurt. She was fast. She was close by. If anyone could get Superman away from the missile in time, it would be her. The islanders however...

"The missile's armed with magnetic repulsors," came Batman's voice. Strained. A statement, never a question. The certainty of fact with a sliver of an opening in case there was a better plan, a better way. None of the people listening would hear their leader doubt himself, not ever. J'onn shifted in his seat and offered the solution that Batman was quasi-requesting. The artillery of the Javelin would never cut through that kind of tech. Its payload was too small. J'onn ran through a list of the resources Batman had with him in the Javelin. The only thing big enough to get through the magnetic shields was...

"The only way past that is with the Javelin itself. You could give the hull an opposing charge." Calm, collected, sound like you're in control of the situation, J'onn thought to himself. Don't let them know how precarious this is. Don't let them doubt.

"Understood." Only years of working alongside the Bat allowed him to hear the note of relief in that iron voice, even as J'onn could see the readout of Batman's vital signs report dangerously high heart rate and levels of adrenaline. Unsustainable levels. J'onn's own muscles clenched with worry as the numbers climbed steadily higher.

The panels were flashing with new situations cropping up around the globe; Captain Atom was requesting a situation update; and that sinister speeding bullet with Superman's name carved into it was still advancing on the small tropical island of San Baquero. Watching the Javelin pierce through the sky, J'onn felt his stomach drop inside him, twisting his organs until they restricted the expansion of his lungs, his chest growing tighter with each passing second.

Anxiety had a way of being especially brutal on the body of a shape shifter. And the damn idiot-Bat had chosen now to either black out from the absurd number of Gs his body was being forced through, or he had chosen the moment of impact to stop responding. Or maybe Batman hadn't been able to eject in time? A crack in J'onn's veneer of calm control appeared.

"Batman?" No answer. Rising panic, fight for air, hands gripped the console tighter for support. Fight to keep the urgency away from the voice; fail utterly. "Batman, come in."

The silence stretched. In the Watchtower, not a single Leaguer was breathing. The silence was absolute.

"Ugh," came the groan of a human male who was seemingly composed of an instinct to save others as a form of suicide. J'onn eased his muscles away from the deathgrip they had on his organs, allowing himself a small private smile. Batman's groans continued to sound quietly over the comm.

He switched Batman's channel to standby. A quick glance over his shoulder told him that no one had moved. His eyes swept over the instruments once more.

"Everyone standing here, congratulations: you've just signed up for overtime. Ice, stop gawking and get to that forest fire, five minutes ago. Green Arrow, a bank robbery in Star City is underway, use of synthetic androids is suspected. Perhaps take Red Tornado with you to account for your blind spots and insight into dealing with the androids. Fire, there is a building collapse in Brazil, it would appear that there are at least fifty people trapped under the rubble. Get going. Everyone else, get down to that island to help the evacuees. That's an order." He turned back to his instruments, ignoring the glares and protests.

As the assembled heroes shuffled out of the room, he casually added almost as an afterthought:  "Black Canary, take a shuttle to pick up Batman. It is likely he will require medical attention. Dismissed." For half a second she didn't move, her head simply cocked to the side. As the last person cleared the room, she strode forward and squeezed his shoulder gently. She let it rest there for a moment, her mouth opening to say something, but no words came out. He ignored her and swept his hand across the screen, clearing the old alerts to make way for new ones. She withdrew her hand and left in search of an available shuttle.

In the stillness of the room that followed, he allowed his shoulders to sag in relief. The tightness in his chest wasn't dissipating. He allowed for a small change in his body, further towards a more fully human form. Tear ducts. An interesting human evolutionary trait. He felt a tear slip out, then two. The release was palpable. An interesting trick of genetics. He wiped them away quickly, reverting his physiology to his calm and carefully controlled exterior.

Others might think him callous and unfeeling, but he knew that these metahumans, these people with super strength, durability and a wide array of powers, they were in greatest need of having a rock to cling to. Someone who wouldn't change in a crisis so they could be free to deal with their own turmoil of emotions. He could do this for them, keep his emotions hidden until he had a private moment. He could be the outsider who kept things running. He could be apart from everyone for their own benefit, even as it caused small cracks in his heart.

He knew Bruce understood perfectly.