Waking, part 6

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



Clark Kent sat in his kitchen, rereading the note from his wife. He had already known what it would say when he found it on the refrigerator - she clearly had not anticipated him stopping at the Planet before coming home. A hot lead, story to be scooped, off to some small republic in Europe and then on to Asia. Only the hastily dashed "Love you" added to the information he'd gotten from Jimmy earlier in the day.

It was far from the first time he'd come home to a note. In fact, such notes were part of their relationship - this one was written on the back of his own refrigerator post early that morning, "Meeting w/John & Co." Tonight, though, he sat and tapped the note against the kitchen table, worried. Not so much about Lois - she'd in fact called from her hotel less than an hour earlier - but about what he'd observed in Metropolis through the day.

Yesterday he had reveled in it, the sense of urban joy that radiated from the city streets. The entire city seemed to be operating like a well-oiled machine, and even the usual snafus had been minor and scarcely enough to eliminate the good mood of late spring. He had even remarked to Lois how nice it was that for an unprecedented stretch of 46 hours, he had been able just to be Clark Kent. Lois had laughed, and they had gone dancing...

Even with a full day's work behind her, Lois had had energy to burn. They had dressed up for the occasion, and she was a vision, eyes bright, color high, her voice hinting at laughter as she straightened Clark's tie and led him to the dance floor. They'd been out until 2, a rarity for a night when neither of them was working or saving the world. And then home, and to bed, if not to sleep...

He should be smiling at the memory, but instead his face creased in a frown. He'd had his share of weary moments soothed away by Lois in the past few weeks, but her energy had scarcely flagged. She was always high energy, but even her reserves were not inexhaustible. And her energy seemed mirrored by every employee at the Daily Planet, down to the janitorial staff which cleaned offices with smiles and vigor. Perry had even joked - joked! - that Clark was slacking his pace compared to his colleagues.

Yesterday, he would have laughed. Today? The warning he had laughed off in the morning was haunting him now. It was all coming at a human cost, J'onn had said. Yet even with evidence before his eyes, Clark had refused to accept it.

***bdeet*** ***bdeet***

Startled, Clark picked up his JLA signaler. "Superman," he answered.

"Hey, Superman. It's Green Lantern."

"Kyle. Something wrong?"

"I don't know. I was just trying to check in at the Watchtower, let them know that toxic waste situation was all sewn up, but there's no answer."

"No answer at the Watchtower? That's weird."

"Tell me about it. Especially since it's Batman's shift."

"I'll look into it. Why don't you call it a night?"

"J'onn's got you spooked, too?"

"It's after 1 am, Kyle."

"Really? Dude. Yeah, I guess I'll head in then. Just give me an all-clear signal if everything's okay upstairs."

"I will," Superman promised, shifting the frequency of his signaler. "Superman to Watchtower."

He listened to silence for a moment.

"Batman?"

Nothing.

His mind began whirling through possibilities as he shot from his apartment as Superman, heading unerringly to the moon. Attack? It would have to be a pretty impressive attack to take out Batman without a distress signal alerting the rest of the team. Satellite failure? Batman had more alternate modes of communication than anyone - he would just re-route signals. Something innocuous - a call of nature, maybe? He discarded the idea as soon as he thought it. Batman never missed calls when he was on monitor duty. He might ignore calls at other times, but on the moon?

Superman entered the Watchtower through the hangar and headed directly to the monitor womb. No Batman. That was odd, although not unreasonable. Monitor duty did not require constant presence in the monitor womb, although many of the Leaguers preferred watching there to the task of rerouting the feeds to other parts of the station.

Superman scanned the monitors quickly, then tapped in the command to bring up the internal views. No one in Batman's quarters. Or the gym. Or - he hesitated a moment, then checked anyway - in J'onn's quarters. He wasn't in the workshop, and Superman would have noticed him in the hangar - there! A familiar shape, half tucked into shadow near the teleporters. Superman opened a channel triumphantly.

"Batman, report."

No answer. Or movement. Superman frowned, looking more deeply into the shadow, realizing as he did so that Batman would have noted his presence by now, that the man in the shadows was not so much lurking as slumping.

"Damn!" he muttered, zipping through the Watchtower to the teleporters. "Batman!" he cried, reaching into the shadows and cradling his unconscious colleague. Bruce Wayne's head, uncowled, lolled as Superman lowered him to the floor. Sweat streaked his face, and Superman could feel fever radiating from him.

"Bruce!" he said urgently, shaking him slightly.

This prompted a faint muttering from Batman, incoherent save for the word "no." He pulled away from Superman's grip fitfully.

"Bruce, it's me. Clark."

Batman continued to pull unconsciously away from Superman, his muttering growing in intensity.

Superman reached for his signaler and opened the emergency frequency. "Superman to JLA. I need you at the Watchtower, now."

He didn't wait for acknowledgement, barely noticed that the teleporters were already humming to life as, for the second time that day, he scooped an unconscious colleague into his arms and rushed to the med bay.



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