“We have to stop.”
It was a concerned look that met him when he turned around to face Wonder Woman. She turned her frown towards Batman, who was leaning against a cave wall a couple of feet behind them. As soon as he noticed them watching him, he stood up straight and began walking towards them with controlled footsteps.
They had barely been going through the caves for 10 minutes, but he had been injured at the very start of the battle. He had calculated his blood loss to be 20-30 % under the lethal limit, and only one wound had been too large for him to glue shot while walking. He needed more than just a few stitches to take care of that one, but he had figured it could wait until they reached their temporary headquarters. He figured wrong.
“This way should lead us right below the resistance” he said in the most unshaken voice he could muster. “I am sure Flash has already found a… a proper way out”. He cursed himself for not being able to finish the sentence without gasping for air. Luckily his two teammates didn’t notice. They were too focused on the small streak of blood Batman left behind him.
“Okay, let’s take a break” Superman confirmed, but Batman continued onwards. He wasn’t going to let his weaknesses slow them down.
Wonder Woman flew up beside him: “Come on, Batman. We aren’t going to do anything until the sun rises anyway.”
“I prefer the dark” he gnarled back, but she grabbed his arm in what she thought was a gentle manner to stop him. It forced him to his knees. Two of his smaller wounds popped up just by the mere tug at his arm. Normally that wouldn’t stop him, but he had nothing more to give. When Wonder Woman guided him to sit up against the wall, he willingly followed.
Superman watched them. Batman knew he was using his x-ray vision to check for injuries. The raised eyebrows on the Kryptonian told him that this was going to be a longer break than he had hoped.
“For God’s sake, Bruce” he exclaimed. “Why didn’t you say something?”
“Is it that bad?” Wonder Woman asked worried. She had merely sensed Batman’s uneasiness, but she hadn’t estimated the full extends of his injuries.
“He has four, no… five pressed ribs, multiple stab wound, and one of them is pouring out blood by the ounces. Jesus, Bruce… how have you even been able to walk?” Superman kneeled down beside them to have a better look. He tried to move Batman’s cape away, but Batman wouldn’t let him.
“First of all, you don’t use my civilian name in the field” he started. “Second of all, this is nothing I haven’t tried before. I have won harder battles in a worse shape than this.” That was of course a lie, but a proper one he thought.
Wonder Woman’s eyes begged him to let her take a better look of his state, so he moved the cape while keeping eye contact with Superman. He had to close his eyes for a second though, and he couldn’t seem to open them right away. He decided to lean his head against the wall instead, knowing it undermined everything he had just barked out.
“We alone here?” Wonder Woman asked their friend with x-ray vision and super hearing.
“Flash is on his way. His heartbeat and footsteps are the only ones I can hear, and he is far away. Should be a minute before he comes back.”
“Good. Help me take his cape and belt off.”
Wonder Woman didn’t ask or whispered comforting words as she removed the items. She didn’t even seem to mind the hissing sounds of a man in pain that Batman made against his will when he had to move. Only Superman looked at the bruised and scarred body in front of him, covered with fresh and dried blood, with deep concern and compassion. As an Amazone, Diana had seen much worse, and she knew exactly how to handle a broken warrior – like he wasn’t broken at all. That was why he always let her help him in these situations. He didn’t need the other superhumans to give him pity or to remind him how small and fragile he was compared to them. Wonder Woman didn’t see him that way. On the contrary, she once told him that she respected him more than the others because of his fragility. What was it she had said? “A warrior’s worth is not measured purely by what she accomplishes, but also in what she overcomes.”
The largest wound would have to be treated first, but it was on his lower back.
“I need to turn around” he said as meticulous as he could. He didn’t want them to know that he could barely move, now that he had sat down.
The two strongest people he knew held him as gently as they could. It almost seemed like a joke that they chose to help one another. He had seen them flip over airplanes with one hand, but a 210 pound man they needed help with?
“I am not made of glass, you know” he snarled by the sheer irritation that thought provoked in him.
Superman gasped quietly, but noticeably, when he saw the wound. Only a millisecond later, he heard Flash flinch before making his bad joke:
“Wow – I can see your liver there, Bats.”
It was of course Wonder Woman who took action:
“Do you have any materials in your belt we could use for the stitches?”
“I gave my painkillers, needle and threats to G’dana. The revolutionists needed them more than me” he gasped back. He had been close to slipping in and out of consciousness on their way here. The little movement he had to do just to get his few medical supplies out of the belt that Diana handed him almost made him black out. “Stupid weakling” he hissed to himself in thought.
“I have some bioadhesive and ketoprofen left, but nothing to provide pressure, no alcohol or iodine to sterilize, and barely enough bandages to dress the wound again.”
“Why on earth did you give it away when you need it?” Superman asked condemningly. At least that was how it sounded to Batman.
“Don’t!” There was fire in the bat’s white eyes, but he couldn’t direct it at Kal the way he was laying. If there was one thing he didn’t need, it was a lecture on how to handle pain and injuries from an unbreakable man. He turned his gaze to Wonder Woman, who he knew actually awaited an answer.
“My stitches blew up during our last run-in with the regime and I bled through two layers of bandages on our way here. I have lost a lot of blood, but nothing I haven’t tried before.”
The last thing he said in hopes that the fear hiding behind Diana’s austere look would go away. He didn’t like to admit it, but he needed her to be tough right now. And he knew she would be.
“We need to clean and close the wound immediately.” Diana started without breaking eye contact. “Flash, did you see any drinking water on your way here? He will need to rehydrate fast.”
His “On it” didn’t reach the other leaguers before the hero had already disappeared again.
“Superman, do you think you could burn his wound shot with your laser vision if I pushed the sides together? It looks like a clean cut. No ragged edges.”
Before he could even answer, Batman grabbed Diana’s arm and rolled over. He stared directly at the Kryptonian this time.
“You need to remove my shirt, all of the old bandages and burn the entire area of the wound. It might be too deep for it to have any reel effect, but at least the cauterization should stop the bleeding.”
Superman kept quiet for a couple of seconds, looking carefully at Wonder Woman and Batman. They both seemed to think this would be their best shot.
“I have never tried anything like that before…” he admitted while biting his lip.
“It will hurt like hell” Batman confirmed. “But I am out of options.”
“Clear H2O brought to you by Flash delivery service!” Flash proudly proclaimed as he reached the others again. He had chopped a piece of rock out of the cave wall and made a dent in it somehow. The newly made bowl contained around half a gallon of clear water.
“I can get more in a second if we need it. Like literally – it was making the bowl that slowed me down. I somehow skipped the ceramics classes when I went to superhero-college.”
Nobody dared start the procedure for a while after Flash’s joke. It was quite possible that this was too little too late and they all knew it.
“You ready?” Wonder Woman dared ask aloud. Batman nodded silently with closed eyes. He was already preparing himself for the pain. He found some small comfort in the fact that it would be a different kind of suffering than the one he had had to deal with up until now.
He actually needed Diana’s help to rest on his left arm and side. That blew even him away. She covered the fact by pulling his shirt up, holding it away from the wound, pretending this small effort made it necessary for him to lean on her. She fooled no one but saved a little of Batman’s pride. He gladly leaned on her, finally admitting how weak he really was. He chose to grab her thigh with his right arm in order to keep his balance while holding the angle Superman needed to see the entire wound.
Wonder Woman was resting on one knee, tightening the muscles in her other leg which Batman held on to. He had been this close to her many times before, but in the field she hardly ever felt like a potential lover, despite his obvious attraction to her. She was merely a soldier helping him back to the fight.
Superman removed the few soaked bandages from the injury. Some were of course stuck in the wound. When he pulled the strips out, Batman didn’t even flinch, but Wonder Woman felt his breaths become deeper and a small trimmer spread across his body. When he for a moment let go of her thigh, she felt him slipping away.
“Keep him with us, Diana” Superman calmly stated as he continued the procedure. “Make him talk.”
“Yeah, make Bats chatty!” Flash laughed. “And turn rock to gold now that you’re at it!”
She didn’t pay him any attention. Her eyes were locked at the back of Bruce’s head, which was all she could see from her angle.
“Are you still with us?” She asked, already knowing the answer.
“Yes.” Batman answered. “But Superman is a butcher – I can tell. Alfred is going to be furious when he has to clean this up.”
“I bet he is practically an artist with sutures by now.” She smiled.
“If it was considered an art, his work would be displayed at Louvre” Batman answered between deep breaths. He wished he could meditate to hide his conscious self from the hurt, but he feared he would become comatose by the effort.
“Batman is making jokes… Please hurry! I’m getting scared” Flash tried again. He knew his jokes were bad and delivered at an appropriate time – but they made the tension less… tense. His teammate’s appreciated that more than they would ever lead on.
“I am ready to start with the lasers” Superman pointed out, turning around to face Flash. “We probably need to hold his legs too.”
Flash did as told, glad to be of some use. “At least he won’t fall asleep during this part, right?”
“Are you feeling ready, Bruce?” Wonder Woman asked again, grapping his arms as tight as she could without hurting him.
“This will probably kill me. If not the lasers, then the almost sure to follow infection. But it only scares me that I’m not more scared of dying. I actually look forward to finally seeing my parents.”
The three other leaguers shared a look.
“Just one more thing, then you can start” Batman continued:
“Don’t freaking call me Bruce in the field and get that goddamn lasso of truth away from me! Now, let’s get this thing over with.”