One Breath

by Lara Wilson

His comm is set to switch to certain alerts, so when the news hits the police band, he hears it three seconds later.

And he stops.

Eyes widening with terror behind starlite lenses, he stands on the edge of a rooftop, one foot half off, the other barely clinging to rough stone. He sways, arms pinwheeling, then falls back, hitting hard, knocking the breath from him.

When it returns, it's a gasp, then another, painful. The expansion of his lungs fights against the constriction in his chest and he lays there, eyes now stinging from tears of pain.

Of fear.

A woman's voice breaks into the comm, one he hasn't heard for a while, giving him instructions, clear, concise, the tremor of emotion only heard because he feels it, too.

With a shaking hand, he taps the earpiece, forces out three little words: Roger, Robin out, and drags himself to his feet. His head hurts, feels both light and heavy at the same time, and he tastes bile in his mouth, even as he forces his feet to move, to run.

A leap and he's off the building, line extending without a thought, his training taking over. His agile mind calculates the time it will take to cover the necessary distances. He hears the sirens before he's gone four blocks.

Three more.

Two.

One.

And he's dropping to the alley. Ignoring the rank smell, something all too familiar, he blots out the noise. Sirens, voices, running feet, cameras clicking. He passes a police officer cursing as he rubs a burned hand. He tried to remove the cowl. It's trapped.

He can remove it.

He prays he won't have to.

As he reaches the EMTs on their knees, equipment strewn around them, he passes the commissioner, ignores him, goes to his own knees by the still head.

In the yellow light of portable lamps, the face is still so pale.

Lips blue.

He's not breathing.

The emergency personnel have cut away the breastplate. They're performing CPR as the paddles charge. When the one giving mouth-to-mouth comes up for air again, he reaches out, a trembling, leather-clad finger, brushing that too pale cheek. No one stops him, though a detached part of him feels a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to comfort.

The last hands to comfort him belonged to the man sprawled so still on the ground, body moving only when the electricity storms through it. He hears them up the amps, sees through lenses fogged with tears as the paddles descend again to that scarred, familiar chest, and he finally speaks in a voice so broken.

"No."

"Not again."

"Dad...no..."

The blue lips part, a breath of air escapes, a coughing gasp, and one of the EMTs feels for a pulse, announces they have one.

Tim breathes as well, his a sob of gratitude.

"He's alive," he nearly whimpers, his voice not for those physically around him, but going out across the airwaves to everyone Barbara has connected to him. One brother on his way from New York, the other flying on his own lines across Gotham. The JLA in their heavenly tower, the elderly gentleman's gentleman alone in the cave. The girl brought back into the fold. The woman his father loves and the daughter he never let her lose.

All those who love Bruce breathe with him.

End

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