Waking, part 1

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"

The apartment door slammed open and closed with a sound near to breaking, prompting a frown to cross Linda West's face. "Wally," she protested as the blur entering the kitchen stopped suddenly to kiss her cheek. "Easy on the door."

"Sorry," he apologized, but his face wore a broad grin. "Busy day. You look great. What smells so good?"

Linda sighed. At least he was talking at an intelligible rate, even if he was leaping from subject to subject with Bart-Allen like inattention. "That'd be dinner," she replied. "And if you'll go wash -"

He was gone and back before she could finish the sentence, his uniform traded for his civvies, his smile infuriatingly smug. "Even scrubbed beneath my nails," he announced, holding his hands out for inspection.

"Fine." Linda waved him off with a pot holder. "Go. Sit." No sense wasting breath on full sentences.

And of course, he was at the table already, tapping his foot in habitual impatience. Some days, Linda questioned the wisdom of marrying a superhero.

But these were things she'd more or less learned to live with, and she ignored her husband's body language as she pulled a pot roast out of the oven.

"Home cooked!" Wally exclaimed, recognizing at once that this was not one of the fast meals that were the watchword in the West home as a matter of sanity. "What's the occasion?"

Linda smiled. "No occasion. You've just been so busy lately -"

Her words were interrupted by another kiss to the cheek as Wally whisked the baking dish from her hands and set it on the table. Then he was back again to kiss her more fully. "You are wonderful," he breathed, his arms tightening around her. Linda returned the embrace, resisting comment on the fact that she could feel his ribs.

"Let's eat," she suggested, propelling him toward the table.

Wally took the hint, serving up portions for both of them in the time it took Linda to sit down. By the time she had taken her first bite, he was up again. "I know you wanted a quiet dinner, and I appreciate it," he began, already back in the uniform of the Flash, "but there's just so much I gotta do."


It was too late - he was gone. Another time, Linda would have been angry - furious even. Now, however, she pushed her own plate back, worry putting hunger at a distance. So much to do. More and more every day for weeks. And for the fifth time in as many days, she was going to be putting leftovers in the fridge. Leftovers that, if the current state of the refrigerator was any indication, would not get eaten. And whatever else might be true of the world, leftovers just were not meant to last in the oft-raided refrigerator of the West household.

She glanced toward her computer desk, just visible through the dining room door. She'd been resisting the urge for days now, telling herself that Wally would never forgive her if he felt she'd gone behind his back. But she could barely get him to sit still long enough to talk to him, and a rather large portion of the night's pot roast remained untouched. "Sorry, Wally," she said to herself, rising to cross into her study, "but it's time to call in some heavy hitters."

An unfamiliar alert pinged in the monitor womb, drawing J'onn's attention from a fire in Madrid which had demanded superhero intervention. He glanced down at the control console, recognizing the discrete signal system created for the families of various heroes. He hastened to answer, his eyes racing across the monitors as he did so. It wasn't exactly an "emergency use only" system, but it rarely sounded on any other occasion.

"Watchtower," he answered.

"Uh, hi. This is J'onn, isn't it?"

J'onn felt his alarm fading even as he picked up a different kind of worry from the voice addressing him. "Yes," he answered. "Linda?"

"Um, yeah. Listen," she sighed, and he could hear her struggling with what she wanted to say. "I'm sorry. I know you guys are busy, but -"

"It's okay, Linda," he reassured. "Were you hoping to reach someone else?"

"No, no, that's not it. It's just - I'm worried about Wally." The last words rushed out, a worthy imitation of her husband in their haste.

"He has been losing weight," J'onn observed.

"So you've noticed it, too!" She sounded relieved. "Did he explain it to you, or-"

"Linda," J'onn interrupted.

"Sorry." He heard her take a deep breath and let it out slowly. "He just laughs it off, I know. And it wouldn't worry me so much, except -"

"Except -?"

"He's not eating right, either. I mean, not eating enough. He's always in such a hurry. Even for him. It's not that he seems like he's worn out or anything, just -"

"Just working harder than it seems like he should be able to," J'onn finished thoughtfully.

"Yeah. So you have noticed it!"

"Not exactly, but something like it," J'onn allowed. He thought a second longer. "How are you doing?"

"Me?" Linda sounded surprised. "I'm fine. Great, actually, aside from being worried about Wally, I mean. Work's going better than ever and I'm getting caught up on a bunch of projects I'd been putting off forever." An odd note of realization crept into her tone. "You don't think -?"

"No," J'onn answered firmly. "I'm quite sure Wally's not feeling like you don't have time for him. I just understand that this is a hard business to be married to."

"Oh." There was a moment of silence. "I shouldn't have called, should I?"

"Linda," J'onn said sternly. "You were quite right to call. Something is affecting your husband, and you are in the best position to notice it before it becomes more serious. I do not know what the best course of action is from here short of persuading him to slow down, but this is a cause for concern. You'll contact us if anything changes?"

"Yes," Linda agreed with a hint of relief. "Thanks."

"You are welcome. Watchtower out."

J'onn closed the connection and leaned back in his chair, deep in thought. Then he leaned forward, fingers flashing across a keyboard as he pulled data up on the main monitor. A deep frown creased his features. "Should've noticed..." he murmured to himself, cross-referencing the data on the screen with more rapid-fire keystrokes.

Definitely troubling.

He opened a communications channel.

"Batman," a dark rumble answered.

"Bruce, it's me."

A side monitor snowed for a moment and then cleared to reveal Batman's face. "J'onn. I was about to go on patrol."

"Anything pressing?"

Batman shook his head. "I've been able to keep pretty much ahead of things lately. Something wrong?"

J'onn hesitated. "I'm not sure." He lifted his hands from the keyboard, deciding not to send the data amassed on the central screen. "You sleep last night?"

Batman's expression grew wary. "A little. J'onn, what's-"

"Can you finish patrol by midnight?"

"Unless something comes up. J'onn, do you need me up there?"

J'onn shook his head. "Not right now, just -"

"J'onn." There was a warning note in Batman's tone.

"Just sleep tonight, okay? Eight hours."

"J'onn, what's going on? You know I can't promise-"


Something warred on Batman's face for a moment. "You'll explain this?"

"In the morning. I promise."

Batman nodded brusquely. "Fine. Batman out."

J'onn stared at the darkened screen for a moment, then shook his head and returned his attention to the central monitor. It didn't have to mean something was wrong, he told himself, scanning the data again. But somehow, that didn't comfort him.

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