Waking, part 3

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



It was easy enough to trace the Flash's location, although it did take a few minutes to catch up with him - minutes that had Superman deep in thought. There was something troubling about the meeting J'onn had called, about the way they had interacted as a team. Or rather, not as a team. Yes, J'onn's concerns seemed far overblown, even with the troubling collapses of Max Mercury and Jesse Quick. But something about the way the Martian presented his worry was off. He had been too willing to let his teammates dismiss him, in fact had grown increasingly withdrawn as the meeting progressed. And there was Batman's curious silence to consider.

That was nagging him.

Had Bruce shared the League's opinion, he would have spoken up.

Had he agreed with J'onn, he would have made a point of supporting him.

Wouldn't he?

He filed the question away as he finally dropped down into a run beside the Flash, prompting exactly the reaction he hoped for. Wally stopped.

"Go away, Superman," he ordered.

Superman met the speedster's eyes, noting the thinness of his face and the strain in his features. He had lost weight - rather more than could possibly be healthy. "Wally," he began gently, "I think we need to get you back to STAR Labs."

Wally shook his head. "I've already talked to them more than I want to. They don't know what's wrong. Max would be the one who could tell us if he was conscious. He could commune with the Speed Force-"

A beep sounded from the JLA comlink, causing Wally to pause. "Superman here."

"Superman, I'm at STAR Labs," Wonder Woman's voice answered.

"Any word?" the Flash broke in.

"Nothing good. They've got Impulse under observation now, unconscious with a possible concussion."

"Concussion?"

"Odd accident. He was apparently zipping around the lab and somehow got distracted enough to crash into a wall head first."

"That's not Bart," the Flash said grimly. "Whatever else you can say about him, he knows how to live at superspeed."

"That's what Helen pointed out. And really, he didn't seem to hit hard enough to be out so long."

"And there's no sense of what's happening to them?" Superman asked.

"Nothing. They've examined Jesse and are no closer to figuring it out than before."

"Thanks, Wonder Woman. Keep us posted. Superman out."

"The answer is in the Speed Force," Wally insisted. "Let me deal with it."

Superman looked sharply at the younger man. "Deal with it how?"

"I gotta commune with the Speed Force - catch up with it - hey!"

Superman had caught Wally's wrist in a firm grip. "Catch up with it. Wally, you're proposing you should run into it?"

"How else? I'm not Max, I can't-"

"Wally, listen to yourself. You're not thinking clearly. That's how Barry died ."

"I know," the Flash answered coldly. "So LET GO!"

"No."

"Fine."

A sudden burning drew Superman's eyes down to his own hand, and he realized Wally was vibrating, building up the speed to phase through Superman's flesh. "Wally-" he protested, then gritted his teeth as Wally vibrated his wrist free of Superman's grip in a flash of heat. Before Superman could reestablish his hold, the Flash turned and shot off - and dropped to the ground only 50 yards away.

"Wally!"

In less than a second, Superman was at the Flash's side, fearful for a moment that Wally's heart had stopped. But no, he was still breathing, still alive - just limp and completely unresponsive. Superman lifted him easily, opening his comlink as he did so. "Wonder Woman, tell STAR Labs we've got one more for them. Wally's just gone down."

"Make that two more," Kyle's voice broke in.

"Lantern, report," Superman ordered, flying toward STAR Labs.

"I'm at Jay Garrick's home with Dr. Mid-Nite. The doc had ordered him to take a few days bed rest for multiple stress fractures, but apparently he wasn't keen on the idea of lying around. Joan found him collapsed in his yard."

"Stress fractures?" Superman asked, handing Wally over to the STAR Labs technicians and meeting Wonder Woman's worried eyes.

"Running around too much. Mid-Nite says Jay was trying to hide it, kept working through it until the team confronted him yesterday. They thought it was just Jay, though, not something with the Speed Force."

"Well, credit Wally for figuring that much out. You're on your way?"

"Should be there in about five minutes. I'm bringing Doctor Mid-Nite as well."

"Good thinking. Plasticman, are you monitoring all this?"

"Yep, sure am," Plasticman chirped. "Sending info down to Batman right now, so we should -"

"Batman here. Have you consulted the Atom?"

"Right on schedule!" Plasticman cheered.

"The Atom?"

"He might be able to find something in a little spelunking expedition that the STAR Labs doctors can't pick up." Superman could hear the strained patience in Batman's tone.

"Right. Kyle-"

"I'll pick him up after I drop these guys off."

"Great. Batman, any thoughts?"

"Not enough data yet. Although from what J'onn put together, all the speedsters were showing dramatic increases in activity over the course of the past month and increasingly erratic sleep schedules. The stress fractures, the distractability - I suspect the Atom will find further signs of exhaustion and physical fatigue."

"Over-extension," Superman mused. "Do you think the Speed Force was somehow driving them-?"

"That is not for me to speculate. Batman out."

Wonder Woman blinked at Superman. "That was - cold. Even for Batman."

Superman nodded absently, his eyes turning toward the doctors examining the Flash. "We should've noticed this sooner."

"Clark." Diana rested her hand on Superman's arm, drawing his attention. "We're all busy people with demanding lives. That one or another of us is working particularly hard at any given time isn't unusual. Unless Wally or Max or someone had said something, there is no reason why we should have investigated further."

"J'onn thought there was - which makes me think he might be noticing something else we should be paying attention to."

"You think this isn't the Speed Force? That it's something affecting the whole planet?"

"Batman does."

Diana sighed. "Batman has a personal interest -"

"He's not usually one to let that affect his opinions, Diana, and you know that."

Wonder Woman withdrew her hand as if stung. "Very well. But consider the facts. Have you been over-extended, not sleeping, working too hard?"

Superman gave her an apologetic look. "Well, no."

"And neither have I. And you heard Kyle at the meeting - he's never been better. And Plasticman is so on right now that he's anticipating all of us."

"I suppose - yes, doctor?"

"Sorry to interrupt," the STAR Labs physician apologized. "We've looked over the Flash, and the most obvious reason we can find for his collapse is dehydration and possibly malnutrition. We're going to run the same labs we're running on Max Mercury and Jesse Quick and Impulse and hopefully come up with something in common, but for the moment-?" He shrugged.

Superman nodded. "I understand. Just do what you can and keep us informed. Green Lantern should be arriving shortly with Jay Garrick and Doctor Mid-Nite. Wonder Woman, if you could stay to brief Lantern when he arrives - then I think the best we can do is just get back to our work for the time being. Doctor, there'll be someone at the Watchtower at all times, so any new information can go there and it'll get to the right people. Thank you for your help."

"It's what we're here for," the doctor pointed out, accepting Superman's handshake. "We'll get them through this."

"I know you will." Superman released the doctor's hand and with a final glance toward the fallen speedsters, left STAR Labs. It wasn't until he was flying over the Atlantic that he opened his comlink.

"Superman to J'onn."

Silence.

"J'onn?"

"Sorry, Big Blue," Plasticman's voice cut in. "J'onn's shut down his link."

Superman frowned. "Shut down? But-" He trailed off. They'd told him to go get some rest. After telling him that he was overreacting. It wasn't like J'onn to pout, but given their latest interaction? Superman couldn't really blame him for deciding to follow orders, to really get away from the monitors - and his teammates - for a while.

"I can send an emergency signal," Plasticman offered, interrupting Superman's thoughts.

"No," Superman decided. "I wanted to talk with him, but it's not urgent. Keep us posted if there's any news from STAR Labs."

"Will do. Plasticman out."

Superman sighed and curved back toward Metropolis. He still wasn't sure that J'onn was right, but the Planet seemed to be a place to investigate the possibility.



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