Disclaimers in Part One
Part Four, Conclusion
Dr. Thompkins left Wayne Manor, and the day passed by. Tem-Dick had fed once more and even drowsed in the bed a little. To pass the time -- carefully -- Tem-Dick sat at the window again. Tem studied the way the drops of rain accumulated on the glass, joining one another until gravity pulled them down. The soft sound of the rain pleased Tem, for it was reminiscent of the droning of the Duon ships' engines.
The Others had gone from sight and sound. Tem supposed they were somewhere in this large place where the Guardian lived. Tem sighed. It was lonely, and it missed Rhyn so badly. The new Without could speak to it some, but its voice was getting infrequent. Tem supposed it was resting. And maybe the Without *was* a little afraid. So was Tem.
Tem tugged idly at the socks on the Without's feet. Tem pulled them off, dropping them onto the window seat. The boy stood up and walked out of the bedroom.
Bruce emerged from the passageway behind the grandfather clock in his study. He pushed the old clock-door closed and slowly sank into his big, leather executive chair. Leaning back in the chair, Bruce rubbed his face with both hands. He hated situations he could not control. He hated the waiting, the not knowing every detail of the circumstances. He was doing a pretty good job of hating himself for not having done a better job of protecting his ward, his young partner. His boy...
Bruce dropped his hands to see Dick standing in the doorway of the study. No socks, no shirt, but thankfully he'd left the pajama pants on. If it was possible to look pale and flushed at the same time, the boy was doing it. Darkening circles under his eyes began to compliment the bruising on his stomach. Leslie's blood tests had shown that Dick's white blood cell count was increasing. They had discussed the situation and decided on putting him on an immunosuppressant drug until the new host arrived, and the organism could be extracted.
The boy walked into the room, looking all around. As he reached the desk, he walked around its perimeter, running his fingers along the smooth top. Bruce sat up and reached into the credenza, pulling out a plaid wool afghan.
"Come over here," he coaxed the boy. Bruce draped the cloth around the boy's shoulders like a shawl. "Tem, this body is not as well as it should be. Let's keep it warm, okay?"
"We were lonely. And our head hurts."
Bruce looked into the silvery blue eyes. The alien Tem no doubt longed for its other half, as well as the rest of its own kind. If they were pilgrims in transit, they were probably clustered together in their ships like sardines in a can. And Dick... As much as J'onn had said that Dick understood what was going on, it had to be an overwhelming experience for him. How much did he perceive? How much of his surroundings could he sense? Had *Dick* come looking for Bruce?
the boy into his lap, hooking a foot around the nearby ottoman to draw
it closer. He leaned back in the chair and put his feet up. The boy curled
into him, laying his head on Bruce's chest.
"This pleases the Without," Tem said quietly.
Bruce rested a hand on Dick's back and closed his eyes.
The smaller Duon space craft carefully docked with the larger cruiser. Superman, Green Lantern, the Duon elder and several other Duon waited at the hatch connecting the two ships. The hatch slid open and three Duon joined them. One of the three was smaller than the others, a juvenile of the species.
"This is Syr," the elder Duon introduced the younger to the visitors. "Syr, Rho-Phan, and pilot Tse-Vin will take a ship to your world. Rho-Phan will assist the transfer of Tem."
"Thank you, Duon friends," said Superman. "Forgive us, but we should be underway to Earth as quickly as possible."
"No, thanks and thanks to you for finding and helping Tem," said the elder. "Safe journey, new friends."
The three Duon returned through the hatchway to their ship, followed by Green Lantern and Superman. Once the five were seated, the smaller ship detached and sped away under Green Lantern's navigational direction.
The Martian Manhunter relaxed in his quarters in the Justice League's satellite headquarters. He had volunteered to extend his watch until Superman and Green Lantern returned with the Duon. Currently, J'onn was engrossed in a detective novel. It was much easier to concentrate on reading in Earth orbit, away from the cacophony of human thoughts.
// "J'onn?" //
J'onn J'onzz jumped a little, surprised by the suddenness of the telepathic message.
// "Yes, Tem. I'm here." // The Martian could sense the anxiety in the Duon.
// "Tem is afraid. The Without does not speak to Tem anymore. The Without fights Tem." //
J'onn extended his telepathic probe to the Duon's young host, sensing his illness and instinctive battle for survival. It was now nearly 48 hours since the symbiont had joined with the host. He had hoped the Batman's young partner could support the Duon for longer than this.
// "Tem, you must be brave, and keep trying to reassure the Without. Try to help the Without support you. I will speak to the Guardian." //
// "Tem will try, J'onn. Will Tem see you soon?" //
// "Yes, Tem. Very soon." //
Dick lay on the family room sofa, bundled up in blankets. His temperature was high, and he was shivering, despite the blankets which Tem now tolerated for the sake of its host. Alfred was successful in keeping fluids in the boy, and had given him tepid baths to try to keep the fever below 104 degrees. He had suggested bringing Dick into the cozy family room as a change of scenery from the boy's bedroom.
Bruce watched Alfred spooning broth into the boy's mouth. Dick's temperature had risen slowly but persistently since yesterday, despite the medications administered by Dr. Thompkins. His blood pressure was still high. Tem had fallen silent since that morning -- compliant to their suggestions, but withdrawn in every other way.
Bruce's pager sounded. Tearing his eyes from his ward, he looked at the message. "Alfred, I'll be right back," he said, already on his way to his study.
In the Batcave, Bruce contacted the JLA headquarters. The Martian's image came over the view screen.
"Yes, J'onn," Bruce said, ignoring the fact that he was out of uniform. What did it matter when the Martian was telepathic, and aware of his identity almost from the moment they had met?
"Tem contacted me. I think it is time to return to the station, for the sake of the boy. We can continue to treat him here, and I can assist Tem in trying to stabilize Robin from within."
At least Tem was speaking to someone, Bruce thought. "Have you heard anything from Superman yet?" he asked.
"No, although Lantern should be with him. I dispatched a message to Hal right after Superman left to find the Duon."
"Good. I'll give you a location to meet us with the shuttle. I can try to raise the two of them while you attend the boy."
Bruce terminated the transmission after providing J'onn with a secure location to land the JLA shuttle craft. He went upstairs to inform Alfred. At least he'd feel less helpless at JLA headquarters, trying to establish contact with Superman, GL, and the Duon.
The JLA shuttle touched down at an old airstrip on a rural parcel of land owned by Bruce Wayne. A black van was waiting there. J'onn opened the shuttle's boarding hatch and stepped out to see Batman, his man Alfred, and the boy, whom the Batman immediately carried inside the shuttle.
"Good morning, Mr. Jones," Alfred Pennyworth said to the Martian. Alfred boarded the shuttle, carrying a physician's bag.
Batman buckled Dick into a seat, pausing to smooth the boy's perspiration-soaked hair away from his face. Dick sat there, pale and silent.
Turning back to Alfred, Batman took the bag and said, "I'll stay in touch, Alfred, and keep you apprised of Dick's condition."
Alfred sat in one of the seats and fastened the safety harness. "I believe I can ascertain his condition personally, sir. No arguments from you -- I am coming along."
Bruce looked at his old friend, whose expression brooked no argument. The shuttle hatch closed, and J'onn, a broad smile on his green face, took the pilot's seat.
"Welcome aboard, Mr. Pennyworth," the Martian grinned. "Batman, I suggest you take your seat."
Outnumbered, Batman sat next to Dick and buckled himself in. Dick turned in his seat to lean against Batman's arm. Batman looked down at his boy. "Hold on, chum," he whispered. "You're going to be all right, I promise. Just hold on for me, okay?"
Directed by Green Lantern, the Duon craft passed through the wormhole. This set the three Duon aboard to comment approvingly, and they praised the Lantern's navigational skills. Half a day later, the Sol system appeared on their nav-screens, and hours after that, the ship reached its outer boundary. Earth was still a tiny dot on the horizon. Thanks to the speed of the little alien craft, they were farther along than Superman had expected to be, at close to 52 hours from his departure from the JLA satellite.
At this proximity, Superman picked up a communiqué relayed through the JLA's interplanetary signal boosters.
"How fast can you get here?"
No salutation, and the voice was unforgiving and terse.
"Batman, we're still 12 hours out --"
"That's not good enough."
Superman looked at Hal. The Green Lantern took the comm-link and spoke. "Batman, I'll try to increase the ship's speed with my ring."
"Don't try. Do it! Batman out!"
Without a glance at his colleague, Green Lantern extended his power ring's energy around the Duon ship and concentrated on speeding to Earth.
Dick Grayson felt lousy.
Worse than lousy, he felt really awful, sicker than he could ever remember. He'd been as patient as he could, considering he didn't have much choice. The thing that had crawled inside him sort of took over. Dick understood the creature was a living, thinking being, and that it was scared. It was also extremely sad. To Dick, it seemed like the creature, which called itself Tem, was grieving terribly.
Grief was something Dick knew about, and had experienced in the worst way possible. Dick felt that the death of Tem's other part, his host, had to be as painful for Tem as Dick's parents' deaths had been for him. He knew what it felt like to be lost and sad and afraid.
So, Dick had tried to be very patient with Tem. He didn't really understand why he couldn't communicate with anyone, though. It was like he was locked behind a door, or stuck underwater or something. Dick could sort of talk to Tem, but it wasn't so much real language as it was expressing his feelings.
Dick tried to tell Tem how concerned he was about Bruce. He knew Bruce had to be going nuts with worry, not being able to do anything about the situation. He tried to keep Tem from doing stuff that made Bruce upset, but it was hard to sidetrack the alien when it got curious about something. Dick had finally convinced Tem that Bruce needed some comfort, too, although he never expected Bruce to hold him in his lap like that. In a way, it was really nice. But it also worried Dick because Bruce only acted that way when he thought Dick was on death's doorstep, like the time when the Batmobile had blown up and Batman thought Dick was still inside it.
Dick couldn't help that his body wasn't agreeing to having Tem inside him. He tried to use the meditation techniques that Batman had begun to teach him, but it didn't seem to work very well. His immune system was rejecting Tem, and making both of them sick. But Dick was fighting to hang on, even if it wasn't the best thing for his alien invader. He felt sorry for Tem, but Dick wasn't about to let Tem kill him, and he wouldn't let the alien take him away from Bruce, either.
// "Robin?" //
Dick was startled by the sudden clarity of the voice in his head. He knew instantly that it was the Martian Manhunter, one of Batman's Justice League team members.
// "Uh, hi. Tell Batman and Alfred I'm going to be okay." // Talking with his mind to the Martian felt a lot easier than trying to communicate with Tem.
// "I will. They will be relieved to hear that." //
Dick felt a kind of warmth from the Martian, like reassurance and amusement all at once.
// "Robin, I'm going to help you concentrate on controlling your body's natural reaction to reject Tem. The new host won't be here for several hours, and both you and Tem are getting weaker." //
A wave of panic rushed through Dick. // "I'm not going to die! Tell Batman I won't die. I'll fight this thing with everything I've got to keep it from taking me away from Bruce!" // Dick felt an answering sense of calm sent to him by the Martian.
// "We won't let that happen, Robin. All three of us -- you, me, and Tem -- are going to work together to keep your body from getting sicker. But you have to concentrate harder than you ever have before. Do you understand?" //
// "Yeah... I do. Batman has been teaching me how to meditate. Is that like the same thing?" //
// "Yes, and I can help you improve what you already know. Let us all get to work now." //
Dick tried to relax and let the Martian guide him in their task.
Batman left the monitor room and returned to the infirmary. Dick was lying on a bed, fretful with fever. Alfred stood on one side him, wiping him with a cool, wet cloth. The Martian Manhunter was on the other side, one hand lightly resting at the top of Dick's head, his eyes closed in concentration.
eyes caught Batman's, and the Dark Knight came closer.
"The fever is still high, but steady," the older man said.
J'onn stirred, pulling his thoughts away from the boy for a moment. He took a deep breath and released it. Looking at Batman, he said, "Your little fellow is quite the trooper, Batman. The moment you walked into the room, he insisted I tell you that he's going to be all right. He was very insistent that I reassure you."
Batman's chin lifted as he regarded the boy. "Tell Robin to stay on-task, and that the next time he deviates from it just to reassure me, he's grounded."
The Duon craft slowly entered the JLA satellite's landing bay. It touched down, powered off, and a moment later, its crew and the two Leaguers disembarked. Batman stood waiting for them next to the entrance to the satellite headquarters.
Superman and Green Lantern approached the Dark Knight with the three Duon.
"Batman, these are the--" Hal Jordan began when he was halted by Batman's upraised palm.
"Let's save the introductions until I get my partner back in one piece." The Batman turned and disappeared through the doorway.
One of the Duon said something to Green Lantern. Hal turned to the Duon and replied, "He said he's very pleased to meet you, and won't you please come this way?" Hal gestured to the doorway, and the three Duon entered before him.
Superman brought up the rear with a grinning whisper to Hal, "Very nice save."
Batman bent down and looked into the alien eyes of his young partner. "Tem," he said quietly, "the Duon are here now. It's time to leave the Without."
Dick's eyes widened as Tem listened to Batman's words. Tem reached up and touched Batman's face. "Guardian... thanks and thanks for allowing Tem to share with your Other. Tem is... pleased... to know that, though you are both Withouts, each of you is a part of the other. Yours is a good join."
Tem turned his head as the company of Duon, along with Superman and the Green Lantern, entered the infirmary. The three Duon immediately rushed to their comrade, vocalizing excitedly. Batman gave J'onn a look of impatience, and the Martian conveyed a message of haste to the Duon.
The smallest Duon climbed onto the next bed and lay back, its eyes blinking in anticipation. The two larger Duon began to vocalize in a low droning tone, almost like singing. One of them stepped closer to Dick, and looked at Batman.
"Tem is ready," said the boy. He pulled his shirt over his head and lay back.
The Duon placed a hand on Dick's abdomen.
Instantly, Dick's body arched violently, his head dropping back, mouth agape. He gasped and began to convulse. Batman gripped the youngster firmly to keep him from sustaining injury during his thrashing.
"Hold steady," J'onn cautioned gently. "Robin is well."
Batman bit his own tongue to keep his opinion to himself. Dick's eyes rolled back white and the seizure stopped as suddenly as it had begun. His muscles went completely limp.
"Tem has withdrawn from the boy's brainstem and spinal cord," Superman reported.
The Batman took Dick's hand in his and watched the boy intently. He flinched when Dick gripped his hand with quad-catching strength. Dick groaned, and his eyelids fluttered open, revealing familiar crystal blue eyes. Dick looked around the room for only a moment before returning his gaze to his mentor.
"Welcome back, chum," Bruce said, breathing a sigh of relief.
"Man, that sucked," Dick complained.
An unstoppable smile flashed across the Batman's face, which he curtailed immediately.
"Hey, I saw that," said Dick, his tired eyes twinkling accusingly.
Toward the back of the room, Hal Jordan raised his hand to his mouth to hide his amusement. Conceding defeat, he left the room, chuckling to himself.
Dick shuddered and looked down at his belly. "It's not gone," he said. "It's... moving."
Alfred placed his hand on the Batman's shoulder. "We should proceed, sir," he urged. Batman nodded to the Duon standing next to the bed.
"Hold on, chum," Batman said to Dick. "We can't use an anesthetic at this stage without injuring Tem."
Dick gripped Batman's hands tightly, grimacing as the Duon symbiont made its way to the surface of his abdomen. Dick's belly rippled as they tracked the organism's progress. Alfred moved in and held a scalpel at Dick's navel.
"I'm sorry, lad," Alfred apologized. "This will smart a bit." He lanced open the previous wound, leaving Tem an exit. Dick hissed and closed his eyes.
The tall Duon placed his hands on Dick's belly and started to chant. Moments later, wriggling black tentacles began to emerge through Dick's navel.
"Wanna see..." Dick grunted, craning to look down his body. Batman put an arm around the boy and elevated his shoulders.
A small amount of Dick's blood splattered the bed sheet as Tem wriggled its way into the waiting Duon hands. The Duon carried Tem to its new host. The song of the Duon became more reverent and prayer-like.
Amazed, Dick paid no attention to Alfred, who pressed a gauze compress to his sore belly. He watched as the young Duon's belly creased and split, creating an opening for Tem. Carefully, Tem was lowered into its new host, and disappeared as the orifice closed around it.
"Whoa," Dick murmured. "That was *so* weird."
"Master Batman?" said Alfred.
The Batman looked at his old friend, then down at the boy. It was time to close Dick's wound. Since it would be necessary to suture internally as well as externally, Alfred had suggested the boy be anesthetized. The Batman lowered Dick back to a reclined position.
"Relax, chum. Lights out."
Batman took a capsule from his utility belt and held it under Dick's nose. Cupping his hands over the boy's face, he broke the capsule, releasing its small measure of gas. Dick lost consciousness at once.
Dick awoke to find the young Duon staring at him with its large, black eyes. Dick felt a tickle in his head, and his thoughts were filled with those of the young Duon.
"We are Tem-Syr," it said. "Thanks and thanks, our gracious, generous Other. Know our joy that we are now Tem-Syr, and you are returned to the Guardian."
Without conscious effort, Dick responded to Tem-Syr's thoughts with his own. "Syr will be a much better join for Tem than I was. I hope you take some good experiences back home."
"We will tell of rain, and flowers, and chocolate," Tem-Syr communicated with pleasure.
Dick laughed aloud at the thought of the Duon telling its friends about Alfred's hot chocolate. The little Duon made a squeaking noise, its shoulders shaking slightly. Tem-Syr was laughing as well.
The Justice League bid goodbye to their new Duon friends. The Batman had carried his young partner to the shuttle bay as the Duon entourage boarded their ship. Rhyn's body had been taken aboard, too, bound for its final farewell from the Duon people. The elegant Duon ship drifted past the invisible force shield into the space beyond, and in a flash, was gone.
Still a bit woozy, Dick watched the ship disappear, and then sighed.
"Batman," Dick said, "I think I oughta get at least a trip to Disney World out of all this."
"Is that so?" said Batman, amusement clearly in his voice.
"Robin, I can do one better," Superman volunteered. "How about you and I go flying once you're cleared for take-off by Alfred and your partner, here?" The Man of Steel smiled broadly at his cheerful invitation.
"*Yes!*" Dick shouted gleefully. "Oh, yeah, that's *way* better than Disney World, Superman!" Dick looked at Batman, his face illuminated with excitement. "Batman, when can we go? Huh? Can we go? Isn't that cool?? Flying with Superman!"
Expressionless in face and voice, Batman replied, "We're going right now -- *home*!"
The Batman carried the boy back into the satellite station, headed directly to the teleporter. Dick's protests could be heard through the corridors.
Crestfallen, Superman watched them leave the shuttle bay. "What is up with Batman? What's the harm in letting the kid go for a ride? That boy was *born* to fly."
J'onn J'onzz clapped his fellow off-worlder on the back and smiled. "Kal-El, it will happen. The Batman admitted defeat to himself the moment he saw the boy's delight at your invitation. Although, it will take a few days before Batman will be able to share that information with Robin."