It took Jay Garrick two minutes to get curious. Two hours to start worrying. And two long days to corner the source of the problem. Someone else might have chalked that up to his target's general busyness, but after sixty years Jay had learned to tell when he was being deliberately avoided. He had also learned both patience and perseverance, however, and he finally ran his prey to ground.
"Hello, Jay." Alan Scott sounded perfectly calm and unruffled, not like someone who'd been ducking this for days now. Jay, who knew his friend didn't admit to personal problems until he was up to his neck and sinking fast, ignored this.
"What. Is wrong. With you?"
Alan's gaze flickered, just for a second. "Should something be wrong?"
"Alan. Let's pretend that we've been friends for sixty years--which we have--and that I'm not stupid--which I'm not--and skip past the denial part, all right? I caught you burning green the other day. Not practicing with your powers, just...burning. Which might not bother me, except that when I asked you about it, you froze up and ran. So yes, I'd say something is wrong."
Alan gave his friend an irritated look. "I don't suppose it would do any good to tell you that it's my business?"
"No," Jay said firmly. "If something's wrong with you, I'm making it my business. And I'm not going to leave you alone until you tell me what it is, so you might as well save us both some trouble and do it now."
"...all right," Alan sighed finally. "You should probably know, anyway. It...involves my powers."
"What I figured," Jay said quietly, trying to keep the knot of fear in his chest out of his voice.
"When Mid-Nite and Terrific did their physicals, they found...they're still not sure how, but..." he took a deep breath. "Somehow, as I've internalized my power, it's...transformed me. My body is now completely composed of the green flame; the only reason I still look the same, or breathe, or eat, or...anything, is that I believe I should."
Jay couldn't help himself. Even knowing exactly how the words would be received, he couldn't keep them back:
"Is *that* all?"
He did manage to stifle his laughter at Alan's look of outrage; no point in adding insult to injury. "Sorry. Sorry," he managed. "It's just that you have no idea what kind of horrible things I've been thinking you were hiding--that your power was burning you up, or that you'd lost control of it, or God knows what. At least this won't kill you." He paused, thinking about it. "Quite the opposite, it sounds like."
"It's debatable if there's a me left to kill," Alan said grimly.
Jay rolled his eyes. "I know you have a tendency toward melodrama, Alan, but don't you think that's overdoing it?"
"You don't understand--"
"What it's like to find out that what you thought you knew about your powers is wrong? That you're running off some mysterious mystical force? That maybe you're not quite what you thought you were?" Jay smiled, hard. "Care to bet?"
Alan gestured impatiently. "It's not the same thing. You access your Speed Force, you haven't...*become* it."
Jay grinned. "You always were an overachiever."
Alan's glare should have been registered as a lethal weapon. "This is not a joke, Jay."
"No," Jay agreed calmly, "it's not. But I don't think it's as bad as you seem to think, either."
"I'm not human anymore! Exactly how bad do you think it needs to be?!"
Jay's response to that was succinct and explicit. Alan blinked, and he went on. "I've known you longer than almost anybody living, Alan Scott, and I can personally vouch for the fact that you're the same arrogant, stubborn, self-righteous, *human* man you've always been."
Alan shook his head. "And people say that I'm the rude one."
"You are," Jay shrugged. "You think tact is a waste of time. After decades of failing to convince you otherwise, I've learned to just play along and start serious conversations by insulting you, just to make sure you're paying attention."
Alan opened his mouth, then shut it. Jay waited, grinning. "You," Alan finally said, "are extremely irritating."
"Good, it's working. So--" Jay raised an eyebrow--"explain to me why you're taking this so hard."
Alan stared. "Jay, I don't have a body anymore, I just have green flame and willpower. I'm only who I am because I think that's who I am. You don't think that's sufficient for a breakdown or two?"
"A migraine, maybe, but a breakdown?" Jay shook his head. "Not for you."
Sparks lit in Alan's eyes, and they weren't green. "Damn it, I am not some kind of--of marble statue that dispenses sage advice and saves the world twice a week and then hops back into its niche to pose prettily! I'm a real person with real feelings; you of all people ought to know that! I've handled everything from cable television to having to fight my own son to powers that change every time I turn around, and I am *tired* of it!"
Jay started to say something, then looked closer at his friend and frowned. When he spoke, his voice was gentle. "Been a rough couple months, hasn't it?"
Alan rubbed one hand over his face. "More like...a rough couple of years." From the stubborn, self-contained Sentinel, the words spoke volumes, and Jay nodded slowly. "I was just...starting to relax. To get used to what I was seeing in the mirror again. And then I find this out."
"I'm sorry," Jay said quietly. "I should have realized."
"I've been afraid of this for years," Alan continued in the same tired voice. "Of...losing myself in the power, letting it take me away from the real world." He barked a sudden laugh. "Of letting it go to my head. I just didn't realize it was going to go to the rest of me, too."
"I'll admit," Jay said slowly, "I've worried about you myself from time to time. I saw what power did to Fate and the Spectre, how it changed them. Or Ted--so afraid of what he could do it drove him half-crazy. You were playing in the same league--it seemed you'd have to go one way or the other. But somehow you always managed to...strike a balance. Through the grace of whatever's watching out for us...and your own strength of will. You've been depending on yourself to stay human for a lot longer than this, Alan. When you get down to it, that's all any of us can do. As long as you believe in yourself...it'll be okay."
Alan's eyes were shadowed. "That's...a little difficult right now."
Jay shook his head and reached out. Alan didn't move as the other man grasped his wrist lightly, turning it over to take the pulse beating inside it. "This says otherwise. When your heart stops beating, I'll start worrying. Not before."
"How--" Alan had to swallow, hard, before he could finish. "How is it that after everything we've seen, everything we've been through, you can still always believe the best of things?"
Jay's grip tightened for a minute, then released. "Well," he said, in something reasonably close to a normal tone of voice, "someone has to balance you out..."
Alan's mouth curved in a helpless smile. "I suppose someone does. Have I ever told you that I appreciate it being you?"
Jay grinned. "No problem. All part of the service. Listen, I know you're philosophically opposed to vacations, but maybe this would be a good time. Take some time off, spirit Molly away somewhere, try and sort things out together."
Alan didn't wince, didn't even move, but something in the quality of his motionlessness made Jay pause. "You...have told her, haven't you?" Alan shifted uncomfortably, and Jay groaned. "Alan!"
"I didn't want to say anything before I was certain," Alan protested. "Mid-Nite and Terrific were still doing tests..."
"But now you are sure, and you still haven't told her. I know you always liked the mystery man thing, Alan, but there are *limits*. Not telling your wife something like this is one of them."
"You should talk," Alan shot back. "When you thought you were dying of that disease, you didn't say a word to anyone. Including Joan."
Jay took it without flinching. "No, I didn't. I lied to myself first, and then when I couldn't do that anymore, I lied to her. I've brought her enough pain in our lives; I didn't want to bring her more if I didn't have to. And...I didn't want anything to change. I didn't want to poison the last time I was going to have with her." He paused, his eyes steady on Alan's. "And you know what? I was wrong." There was regret in his voice, but no hesitation. Being human meant making mistakes; being a man meant owning up to them. "Marriage is a partnership; it wasn't my place to try and protect Joan, or to make decisions for both of us myself. I should have told her the minute I knew something was wrong." He paused again, then added, "I should have told you, too. I'm sorry."
Alan let out a breath, and nodded acceptance.
"But you're still being an idiot."
"Alan, for god's sake, you two have been in love for decades. She sold her soul for you and you went to Hell to get it back. Do you seriously think that this is going to make a difference between you?"
Alan sighed. "I'm afraid it might, yes."
Jay stared at him. "Come again?"
"When I was deaged...it drove a wedge between us. No matter how often I told her that it didn't matter to me, that I didn't care what she looked like, she just...wouldn't believe me. That's *why* she sold her soul. I almost lost her then; I don't want to risk losing her again."
Jay nodded slowly. "I see your point...but she's your wife, Alan. If you can't tell her this, then you've already lost her."
"... I hate it when you're right."
"Well, you have to let the rest of us have a shot at it sometime... Just tell her, Alan. Give her enough credit to think she can learn from her mistakes, hmm?" He paused, and added, "Besides, you may be taking the wrong impression away from what she did."
Alan blinked. "Meaning what?"
"Meaning that she sold her soul to *stay* with you. That sounds to me as if she's not planning to go anywhere you aren't, no matter what."
"It's the 'no matter what' that worries me," Alan said, but there was a thoughtful look in his eyes.
Jay snorted. "Pigs will fly the day you're not worried about *something*."
"Hopeless romantic. You really think it'll be okay?"
"If not, I'll send Joan over. Molly won't stand a chance."
Alan chuckled reluctantly. "Either that or they'll join forces and declare a rebellion."
"I'll take the risk. Of course, if you tell her and there's no problem, then none of this will be necessary, now will it?"
Alan threw up his hands in surrender. "All right, all right, I'll go tell her right now. Happy?"
"Thrilled," Jay assured him. More seriously he added, "Good luck."
"I've always said--"
"That you make your own luck," Jay finished for him. "So go make it."
Alan smiled slowly. "You know, I think I will."
And in a green flash he was gone, leaving Jay to shake his head. "Still forgetting to say goodbye. You never change, pal." He smiled affectionately. "Thank god."
Just a few continuity notes for the curious: Alan's new, uh, condition was first mentioned in JSA #26. The business with Molly and her soul comes from the Underworld Unleashed oneshot, ABYSS: HELL'S SENTINEL, and was resolved in GREEN LANTERN #71. His various problems have been running through too many issues of GREEN LANTERN, GREEN LANTERN CORPS QUARTERLY, and JSA to count, but between the authors playing musical chairs with his body and powers, the loss of Hal Jordan and half his original teammates, and a semi-recent storyline involving the corruption of his son, you've got to figure he's been under some stress. Finally, Jay's fatal illness (he got better) comes from the two-part Prestige mini, FASTER FRIENDS.