Author's notes: Back again, with a one-shot, no less! Thank you for all your words of comfort, all of you. They were truly appreciated and taken to heart. Situation's not much better now, but I'm dealing. Writing and reading is a big part of that.
Anyway, remember Flash and Substance? I'm gonna go on a limb and assume that you do :o) I did what I usually do, which is take a couple of throwaway lines and ran with it like the Ultra Humanite stealing the Mona Lisa. Anyway, in this episode, Captain Cold (aka Len Snart) mentions having two things his comics counterpart doesn't have: a wife and an ulcer. Could've gone all the myriad ways with that, but I chose this. Hope you like.
Disclaimer: Not owning a thing. Except an idea that stuck in my head and became Janet Snart. And even that's not entirely mine, since I swiped the idea from Flash and Substance. Ah well.
The dishwasher was out again.
Janet rolled up her sleeves and set to work, scowl firmly set in place. Her husband was going to get an earful the very second he got home. And a good twenty minutes after that.
In fact, she strained her ears to hear his footsteps on the gravel walkway of their little house. There was nothing she would love more than to dump the pile of dirty dishes in his hands for a change.
That said, when he actually was there, he spent most of his time tinkering in the basement. Even in the middle of summer, it got so darn cold down there. Janet hadn't set foot in the basement for ages. If he could at least turn the heat on once in a while …
The doorbell rang, and she cursed under her breath. How did the saying go? Anybody, wholly or partially immersed in a fluid, is bound to receive a call?
She ran her soapy hands under the tap and grabbed the dishcloth, shouting "Coming!" when the doorbell became insistent.
"Whoever you are, I don't believe the end is nigh, and I'm not buying encyclopaedias," she began as she fiddled with the door chain. "So it better be someth–"
Janet froze, her mouth still half-open. Standing on her old doormat was a tall guy in a red costume, whom she had only ever seen on TV – if you didn't count the newspaper picture her husband used for target practice.
But something was wrong.
He was usually grinning from ear to ear in those pictures. Now he looked as grim as they come.
Something was very wrong.
"What happened?" she snapped, trying to keep her voice steady.
Oh, sure, being the wife of a super-villain was supposed to have perks, but at the end of the day, it mostly boiled down to trying to make ends meet while your guy was either in jail or in a hospital bed (sometimes they were the same place) and having his colleagues show up on your doorstep with a grim face and bad news from time to time.
Last time it had been Hartley. Of all her husband's 'co-workers', he was the nicest, always with a polite word when he came to the house, even when it really wasn't a social call.
But she'd never had the damn Flash paying a visit. Just realising that he knew where they lived gave her the creeps in retrospect.
There was something about the expression on his face – she couldn't pinpoint what it was, but it certainly was there – that scared her more than the thought of her husband's main antagonist knowing their address.
"It's – well – you gotta come with me."
She hadn't expected his voice to be so quiet. Nor warm.
Nor … Oh, God, Len … So sad.
Ice gripped her from the throat down, and she fought back a horrible, nervous giggle at the irony.
He just left enough her time to lock the front door, picked her up and –
The world became a multi-coloured blur, and they dashed through a Central City that had turned into a modern art painting. The wind almost deprived her of breath. Then – as quickly as it had begun – the wind dropped, and the Flash gently put her on her feet again. Her legs were wobbling.
Janet had been to the Central City hospital a number of times, some more serious than others. But she had never been afraid to go through the sliding doors before.
She felt as though she was treading through cement, but she finally managed to walk up to the reception desk, barely thinking of dodging the many doctors, nurses and various medical people who ran around, looking busy.
"No … actually, no. Hold on, I'm transferring your call to Doctor Broome. Okay, bye." The guy at the desk put the receiver down and stared up at her. "Ma'am? Can I help you?"
"I'm looking for my husband," Janet said, summoning her earlier annoyance to hide the icy terror the best she could. "Leonard Snart?"
The young guy typed quickly on the computer in front of him, then frowned. "Oh, yeah, that Captain Cold guy … He was brought in for severe internal bleeding, and … I … don't think he's out of surgery yet. I'm gonna call Doctor Lorne – you go to the second floor, third door on the left after the elevator, and ask for him. Big dark-haired guy with a crew cut, you can't miss him." The phone rang again and he picked up immediately, "Central City General – yup – huh-huh –"
Janet walked to the elevator like a sleepwalker, with only slightly more purpose. When she pressed the second-floor button, she noticed with a jolt that the Flash was still there. He hadn't said a word since they had left her house.
Then something the receptionist had said clicked, and white-hot fury rose inside her.
"'Internal bleeding'? What the hell did you do to my husband?"
Fury was good. It was hot. It kept the cold and the trembling at bay for a little while.
The guy looked down – why was she so darn small, or him so darn tall anyway? – with a look of hollow uncertainty on his face.
"Nothing. Not a damn thing. I collared Captain Boomerang, and next thing I know, Len's right in front of me with that ice gun of his. But instead of firing, he – he just collapsed." There was the slightest note of surprise in his voice on the last word. "Just like that. He was so pale, too, I don't know what –"
"Bull," Janet growled, still hanging on her anger as she would a lifebelt. "There's got to be something you must have done. Len doesn't just …"
The elevator swished open, and she all but ran to the left, bumping into a tall, broad-shouldered man in a doctor's coat – which had the name 'Doctor Arthur H. Lorne' on a tag. Her eyes were just at the right height to make it impossible to miss.
"Easy, easy, madam," he said in a booming baritone, smiling a probably long-practised reassuring smile. "Are you Mrs. Snart?"
"Yes, I am," Janet uttered breathlessly. "Where's my husband?"
The smile slipped a bit. "Still in OR, I'm afraid. There has been complications, not to mention he lost a great deal of blood. That ulcer of his is pretty nasty."
Ulcer … "You mean …" Janet had rarely felt this close to nervous breakdown. Or possibly the most massive fits of laughter ever. "You mean my husband's in surgery … I don't even know whether he's going to make it alive … and this because of his ulcer?!"
The doctor's face became serious. "We're doing all we can. But if – when he comes out – your husband must do something about his stress. Find something, some activity to relieve it. Maybe some kind of sport …?"
Janet barely heard him. Nervous laughter finally broke through at the same second her tears did, and she found herself laughing and sobbing at the same time. She vaguely felt two pairs of arms support her and guide her to a chair, where she not so much sat down as fell.
When she eventually could breathe again – her chest still heaving and her breath painful in her throat – she blearily looked down at her hands and realised she was gripping her own fingers. Her knuckles were white and her hands were still shaking. Much like the rest of her body, actually.
Then someone handed her a paper tissue. Her mind slowly registered the red glove.
"What are you still doing here?" she muttered through her tears. She did take the tissue with a whispered, "Thank you", though.
The world un-blurred. She was in a sort of waiting room. Everything was a dull, light beige, and the guy next to her in the bright red stuck out like a sore thumb. When she threw a glance his way, she saw that he looked pale, his features taut. But it was probably the neons. Hospital lights had the power of making anyone look sick.
A muscle tensed in his jaw, and he turned his head slightly to answer her.
"I want to make sure he's gonna make it."
Janet snorted bitterly.
"Oh, please. What's it to you if he dies? One less 'Rogue' in their little club. One less criminal in the streets. You should be skipping. Celebrating, or something."
The Flash shook his head. "It's not like that. Besides, celebrating the death of a man I've known for years? Nope. Not me, lady."
A remnant of anger flared up in her, and she glared at him – or rather, at his darn mask with the almost blank eye pieces.
"Come on, you can knock yourself out! You've put him in the slammer countless of times – he and his pals try to kill you ever other day – Len keeps a picture of you for target practice, for God's sake …"
Something flickered ever so slightly on the guy's face, like the ghost of an amused smile.
"He does? No kidding?"
Janet threw him a dirty look. The possible smile vanished.
But somehow, in those few seconds, the tension had dropped somewhat. She still felt cold, tired, and angry, but she also felt less inclined to repeatedly hit the guy on the head with a shovel.
Janet Snart thrived on anger. She lived and breathed it. Which was why she often found herself incapable of a normal, level conversation. She'd rather resort to yelling.
Yelling was simple. All the words came tumbling out of your mouth, and then some. You didn't have to actually think to get a good argument rolling.
Besides, making up after a good shouting match was so much easier than after a long, cold silence.
Speaking of silences …
"D'you want some coffee?"
Janet blinked. The Flash was on his feet, staring down at her, and if she'd heard right he just asked –
"Yeah," she sighed, rubbing the back of her neck, her scowl lessening in spite of herself. "That'd be nice."
"How do you take it?"
"Three sugars. No cream."
He zipped away with a whooshing sound, and was back perhaps a minute later with two big cups. Janet looked at the brand logo on the side. "Those aren't from the hospital cafeteria … Where did you –?"
"Corner of Jackson and Flint. They make good stuff."
She dipped her lips into the steaming black liquid. It was indeed good stuff.
The hot coffee burned her palms through the plastic, but it was good. It was something to feel. It felt real.
She turned to him again, this time looking for his eyes behind that darn mask.
She found them.
"So, do you do this kind of thing for all your enemies?"
The Flash stared back. Now that she could actually see his eyes, they were pretty hard to miss. They spelled "Huh?" in a clear, very expressive way.
Janet almost gave a smile.
"I mean, take them to a hospital if something serious happens, call their families, worry about them? … Do you send flowers, too?"
"Pretty much, yeah – apart from the flowers thing. Well," he said, his tone lightening up, "I did send a get-well card last time Boomer fell off a roof and broke a leg, and James still owes me a rematch for those darts last Friday. But –"
She stared at him, then cut him off briskly.
"Wait a minute. You play darts with the Trickster? I thought he was in psych ward!"
A smile that didn't quite reach his lips was dancing in his eyes. "He is. They're the soft kind."
Silence – a hospital's kind of silence, filled with nameless sounds and a smell of bleach and antiseptics so strong it left a tang in your mouth – followed. Janet took a gulp from her cooling coffee. It was just the right temperature.
"The thing is –"
She almost jumped, and her glare returned in full, only to fade a little at the expression on his face.
"The thing is – well – Cold's one of the only Rogues who I know are married."
"Talk about me, does he?" Janet asked quizzically. Her current sarcasm level was definitely sub-standard. Then again, considering the circumstances, it was an easily overlooked detail.
The Flash gave a non-committal shrug. "Not a whole lot."
"So … You notified me and brought me here. I get that. I'm not sure if I want to thank you for that yet –" since I still think it's at least as much your fault as mine that he's in there "– but I don't …" She paused, then went for the eyes again. "Why are you still here?"
"Told you, I just want to be sure he'll be okay."
He didn't answer her right away, going back to stare at the dull wallpaper opposite instead, looking thoughtful and rather subdued.
The Flash going into thoughtful mode. Wow. Bet you didn't see that one coming, Len.
When he opened his mouth to explain – apparently choosing his words carefully and deliberately – it was different from what she expected. If she was indeed expecting something relevant.
"I got into the Flash thing about … eleven years ago. Mostly I ran after petty crooks and jewellery thieves, and I was pretty much a kid then – I mean, I was skinny as a rack, cocky as hell, and I couldn't figure out why nobody would take me seriously." He finished the rest of his coffee and looked up at the wall again. "By that time, Len already had his ice-theme thing going on – he designed that ice gun a couple of months after I took the costume. I ran into him first bank he tried to rob.
"He handed me my ass on a plate that time."
Incredibly, he smiled – a real, genuine one, this time – and met her eyes frankly.
"Len was the first bad guy to take me seriously. You know, as the enemy, a threat to his schemes, rather than some arrogant dopey kid who didn't have the guts to put his money where his mouth was. He didn't pull any punches. He didn't cut me any slack on account of being two months or so short of sixteen. I barely escaped with my life that day."
Janet was halfway between horrified and proud. She'd always known that Leonard Snart was not a 'nice' man – she had never been very interested in marrying one, anyway, no matter how much her mother used to rant about how Peter Montgomery was such a nice boy, and a law student and everything. She'd made her choice.
Still, there had been times when Len had actually been sweet. For a relative value of sweet. But as far as she knew, he had never murdered anyone in cold – lame, girl, real lame – blood.
That tall, broad-shouldered guy sitting next to her had started off as a kid. And Len had almost killed a kid, back then.
Why, then, was that darn confusing speedster still smiling like that?
"Fact is … That got me in gear. Gave me an edge. 'Course, I was still cocky, but at least I took things seriously. You know that saying, about how a hero's only as good as his villain? Man, that's so true. Gorilla Grodd's high on world domination, the Joker gets his kicks killing and torturing people … Never could exactly figure out what Luthor wanted … But Len? He's cunning, he's resourceful, he's sharp, and he never quits – and he sticks to robbing banks and stuff." The last words had an disbelieving tone to them. "How d'you reckon that one out?"
Once the shock began to wear off – what kind of costumed super-powered freak played darts with his villains and recognised their qualities for what they were worth? – Janet actually gave a smile of her own. It was small, tired and looked probably a little frosty, but it reflected what she was feeling with pinpoint precision.
She'd had never been good at warming up to people, anyway. She had always been cold, brittle, and prone to exploding instead of breaking.
Years ago, Len said it was part of her charm.
Actually, the Flash had raised a pretty good point. But if she thought about it for a while, Janet knew she had the beginning of an answer.
"He's never had those kinds of ambitions," she said quietly, more thinking aloud than really answering his question. "He knows that if you attract the wrong sort of attention, you can end up in a real mess. Those loonies in Gotham – I've heard of them. They're nutcases, the lot of them. Bad business, and bad for business." She mentally shuddered as the memory of an overheard conversation resurfaced in her mind. The Joker was a sick, sick man indeed.
"Len has more sense than that. He's a pragmatist. You don't see him tagging along Luthor or somebody else in some half-baked attempt at taking over the world, and certainly not go crazy, Gotham style. 'Robbing banks and stuff' … That's real. Makes sense.
"But he's not doing it just for the money anymore, either. That's the problem."
The Flash blinked behind his mask. "What do you mean?"
Janet threw him a withering look.
"Can't take a hint, can you?"
"Can't help it if you suck at throwing hints."
"God, Len's right. You really are an unbearable wiseass."
"What can I say, I try."
Anger – of which she prided herself on having an endless supply – still bubbled in her chest like a hot bottle, but she couldn't help an inward smile. The guy was annoying as hell, but he did have his charm.
"My point is …" The anger abated suddenly, leaving an icy, empty hole in her chest. Damn it. She wanted – scratch that, she needed – to be furious at him. "My point is, over the years it's become … not really personal, as such, but … It's like some kind of game. A big, stupid game. A Rogue pulls a heist, you stop him, so he does what any stubborn fool does – tries and tries again. Len wouldn't stop now if he robbed Fort Knox empty and got away with it, and the same goes for the others. Well, James is one of a kind, but – you see what I mean. It's the principle of the thing.
"And you – you keep encouraging them!"
The Flash's eyes went round and he leaned back defensively.
"You heard me right!" she snapped, still trying to fill that frozen hole in her chest, various emotions tumbling out. "It takes two to tango, mister! For years you've run after them, and locked them up, and they've escaped – and then it starts all over again! You and your damn 'Rogues Gallery' … You lot deserve one another. You think it's all a game – that it's all pretend, and it's fun … Well, it's not! And one day it'll end badly for someone. Then it won't be pretend. Not anymore."
Familiar anger wrestled violently with the cold, empty place in her chest, and she bit her lip to hold back the tears. It didn't work.
"If … If he makes it … I won't have him back. Not really. Not entirely. And I know that someday, Hartley or Sam or you or somebody else will show up on my doorstep, and he'll …"
She wiped her eyes furiously, glaring at the Flash with the weight of twelve years of (up to this point, well-hidden) combined fear and anger, hoping that the heat of it would dry her tears before they fell.
"I love him, damn it! I love him, and you – you keep playing by your stupid rules, like they do, and you never worry that someone or something could throw the board someday … I shout at him and I argue with him and he can be an absolute jerk and he makes me so angry all the time but I love him more than anything else in the world …" Her voice broke. "God, I don't have anything else in the world …"
The room disappeared again behind a curtain of tears, and she was alone in her little private hell, shaking all over. When she finally came up for air, she became aware that she was in someone's arms, gripping him with all her strength. Someone who was soft and strong and smelled of aftershave and iced mocha, of all things.
She could feel very light vibrations coursing through his body. Heat radiated off him in waves.
It had something to it, she vaguely reflected, but in the end, heat really wasn't her kind of thing. Or rather, not the kind of thing she liked coming from somebody else.
"I can't not run after them," he said softly, almost apologetically. "I can't not stop them." She almost heard him add, It's what I am.
"I know," she whispered in the fabric of his costume, not yet opening her eyes.
"It's how it works. They steal stuff, they hurt people. Gotta stop them."
She took a deep breath, and slowly broke the embrace, too embarrassed to look the Flash in the eye and bending to tie her shoelaces that weren't that loose.
When she met his gaze, his eyes were sad and his mouth was set in a grim line. She quickly looked away again, absurdly glad for the simple human contact of his hand on her arm.
"Please," she muttered, accepting another paper tissue from the box he had grabbed somewhere, "don't ever – ever – mention it. To anyone. I mean it, I'd never hear the end of it."
"Hey, it's okay," said the Flash, his slight smile a shadow of the goofy grin he usually wore on TV. "As long as you don't go saying to one of my best enemies that I said nice things about him, we're even."
"You mean 'worst' enemies."
"Yeah, that's what I said."
Right. Janet found herself hiding the slightest smirk behind the tissue as she blew her nose. Can't he just run after his Rogues and lock them up? Does he have to care about them as well?
"You know," she said after a few seconds' silence, "I wouldn't say that my husband is a good man by any account. But he's got standards, and he's got morals. A few of them, anyway. And …" She paused. She didn't want the Flash to think she was justifying or making excuses for her choices – nobody got off judging her and her life – but she did want to get this point across. It was important. "Those glasses of his? He takes them off when he's home. He doesn't suddenly become warm and affectionate, because that's really not the kind of guy he is, and he often conveniently forgets the dishes, but … when he comes home, he's mine. Most of the time."
The Flash nodded, the faint smile still lingering in his eyes, and for a little while both kept silent. Oddly enough – given the circumstances and especially who she was sharing it with – it was a companionable enough sort of silence, and the amount of comfort she was getting from this guy (a stranger, who regularly handed her husband to the cops and ran around really fast in a silly costume!) surprised her.
The silence stretched. Janet didn't feel the need to fill it with words anymore, and she was grateful that the Flash didn't either. He just sat with his chin in his hands, staring at the wall opposite. If she peered at him long enough, she could see he was still vibrating slightly.
Time alternately crawled and sped by; having left her watch at home, Janet couldn't really tell the difference. It was only when the door of the waiting room opened and an exhausted-looking doctor walked in that she became aware of time abruptly winding up and starting again.
"Mrs Snart?" he said, and she sprang up, almost tripping on her own feet.
"Yes?" she all but stammered.
She was vaguely aware that behind her, the Flash had stood up as well and was watching intently, thankfully giving her much-needed space.
"How's my husband?" she asked breathlessly, scrutinising the face of the man standing in front of her in green scrubs for any hint he might give off.
He only gave a tired, reassuring smile. Janet hated reassuring smiles on general principle, but this one made her shift gears from anger to a fragile, flickering hope. The fear was still there, however.
"He'll live. It was touch and go for a moment, and we still don't know if – when he'll wake up, but the surgery went down well and … He'll live."
Janet's legs wobbled for the second time that day, and this time she didn't have the excuse of super-speed motion sickness. She breathed in and out shakily, and asked if she could see him.
The doctor accepted.
Before she pushed the door of the ICU, the Flash gently held her back by the arm.
"Hey … Will you be all right?"
She glanced at the prone figure she could see through the glass door, and nodded slowly. "Yes. Yes, I … I think so." She turned back to the tall red-clad man, who stood beside her looking – well, looking anything but what she would expect a superhero to look, like smug or superior or mocking. "Did I – I don't think I thanked you, did I?"
He gave a small smile. "You weren't sure before. Do you want to?"
"Thank you," she said abruptly, her voice still quiet however and lacking its usual bite. "It's – I am aware that you probably saved his life. And right now I can't think of many … heroes who would have done that. Concern themselves with the life of a thief and a criminal who threatens them and the safety of people on a daily basis."
"Oh, I can think of a few," the Flash said, his slight smile growing a little bit. He nodded at her, and added, "You're welcome."
He did said good night, but true to his reputation, he was gone in a blink, the sudden gust of wind making her shiver a bit.
When she drew a chair next to the bed, she took some time to take a long look at her husband.
It wasn't as bad as she had feared. Sure, Len's face was far too pale, with dark circles under his eyes, and there were all those machines around and little beeping noises that she didn't understand anything about – except that, if they stopped, it meant bad things – but it was him. His short brown hair, his slightly crooked nose, his stubble that meant he'd forgotten to shave this morning and everything.
If she ignored all the stuff around him, and the fact that for once he wasn't tossing and turning in his sleep, she could almost imagine they were home.
"Hey, Len. You left me the dishes again, you jerk."
No 'baby', no 'sweetie', no 'honey' – Janet had found out long ago that her husband was none of those things. He'd made it very clear. 'Lenny' was an absolute no-go, too, and she'd never been able to figure out exactly why. Probably something to do with his family. She'd never asked questions. In his own way, Len had been grateful.
"The lengths you can go to shirk chores … You certainly know how to keep a woman surprised, you know that?"
Now would have been the logical, practical moment to turn into a sobbing mess, but for now Janet felt like she didn't have a single tear left. Instead, she was left with a quiet, eerie calm that gradually filled the hole in her chest and allowed her beloved anger to rebuild tiny step by tiny step.
She would have her usual supply ready when she needed it. For the moment, she could afford to be tender.
His hand was cool when she took it. This was more reassuring than any doctor's smile. Len's hands were always cool.
When a doctor woke her up a few hours later, she found that while her husband's eyes were still shut, his breathing still too regular for him to be truly awake, his fingers had closed on her hand and held it tight. The cold, empty hole in her chest was suddenly gone without a trace.
Even the sight of the cop sitting in the corridor didn't mar her spirits.
Besides, as soon as Len was up to it, she could always talk to Sam and sneak in a mirror.
After all, it was part of a wife's role to take care of her husband.
Love seems the swiftest but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.
So, does it fit with the other DCAU stuff? Is it interesting to read? Do you actually relate to the character? And the classic, eternal question, did I go Mary Sue on you? My beta thinks I didn't, but the final judgement is yours. Hold no punches, boys and girls, I'm really interested in what you've got to say.
For the record, Hartley is Hartley Rathaway (the Pied Piper) and Sam's Sam Scudder, Mirror Master. All the hospital characters are made-up, but I used the name of (John) Broome as an homage to the guy who co-created the Rogues with Carmine Infantino :o)
That's all, folks. See you at the next snapshot?