The first time it happens, she's not surprised, exactly. Dinah's been feeling it for a while now, those sparks that flare between them any time either her or John got emotional - those sparks that threaten to become something dangerously more. Ever since the explosion, they've become accustomed to letting out their pent-up emotion with sweat and punchbags and hard liquor, and she can't deny it's been hard to ignore.
She'sbeen feeling it in the way his gaze burns against her back when he thinks she's not looking, in the way their hands brush accidentally against each other when exchanging weapons, in the way she stares at him intensely when they're with the team and are meant to be listening to their leader.
It's wrong. And she knows it. John's married. She can't really say it's to a good woman, not like how sure she is that he is a good man. She knows that being the head of Argushardly makes Lyla Michaels the paragon of virtue, after all - Dinah knows about the Suicide Squad, the lives Lylahas probably taken. And it's not that Dinah's much better than Lyla- it's not like Dinah herself hasn't killed, in cold blood (but maybe not the same as her who most likely kills most of the time without pressing her finger on the trigger).
But at least Dinah's trying. As a cop. As a vigilante. And her kill was for vengeance. Not the - greater good, or whatever justification Lyla uses.
Still. He's a taken man. She should know better. Of course she should. And she's better than that. Surely she deserves to be more than the other woman. She's aware that she's already replacing one person - and even now she wonders if she fills those shoes right. She doesn't need to replace another.
But then one night it's just the two of them on patrol, Spartan and Canary, no one else. They finish late. Something's off but she doesn't pretend to know what. She decides, though, that she's not going to pry (it's none of her business, anyway). It's July Fourth, and the constant fireworks make it difficult to discern if the bangs they hear are gunshots or Catherine Wheels. She saves him twice with her Canary Cry without thinking, once when some drug dealers are about to get the better of him and again when a mugger unexpectedly pulls a knife.
When they return to the bunker and she's about to take off her mask he blurts out that his wife haskicked him out for the night.
"She did what?"
"Okay, so maybe she didn't kick me out. But I'm pretty sure I'm going to be on the couch tonight if I go home."
"What happened?" she asks softly, as she sets down her mask and takes off her gloves, but adding quickly, "You don't have to say anything if you don't want to."
He shakes his head. "No, it's okay. I brought it up."
She goes to their secret stash of vodka she keeps hidden under her mannequin, getting out a bottle and two shot glasses. Pouring each of them a shot, she hands one to him, leading the way to the workstation in the middle of the bunker and setting down the bottle on the table.
"Figured you could use a drink," she says quietly. "You've been acting off all night."
"Thank you, Dinah."
"For saving my ass earlier."
"Did… did the fireworks maybe bring back bad memories?" she asks tentatively. "Of the explosion?"
"No," he says - almost too quickly. "That's not it. It's not just tonight. I just haven't been in good form lately."
She decides to drop it. "None of us have. But listen to me." She looks him right in the eyes, then downs her shot. "You don't ever have to thank me. It's what friends are for."
"I don't feel like I've been a great friend to anyone lately. Or father. Or husband."
"I'm sure that's not true," she insists immediately.
"It is true," he replies.
She sighs. "It's hard. In our line of work - having someone - loving someone… anyone, isn't easy. But you've got to realise that you've been through a lot."
"So have you. But here you are, already promoted and looking like you're dealing just fine."
Shaking her head, she gets up, reaching for the bottle. He gets there first, and there is another flicker of electricity as their fingers touch. Neither of them let go, until finally she comes to her senses and snatches her hand away as though burned. Still on her feet, Dinah turns her back on him, and it's easier to talk when she's not drowning in his eyes (and thinking - no, imagining - how they soften as he looks at her).
"That's not true. Just because my badge is a bit shinier doesn't mean I…" But she trails off, and she hears the scrape of the chair as John gets to his feet.
Now she turns around. "I don't know if you've noticed, but since - since Vinnie. Things have been… different with me."
"You mean you've been feeling lonely," he says softly.
"I never said that," she says sharply.
But he shakes his head. "You didn't have to. It's… kind of obvious. Maybe because in a lot of ways - it's like looking in the mirror."
She sighs. "Aside from you guys, I don't really do - friends. Lovers. Family. I can't remember the last time I spent the night with someone without ghosting them the morning after. But - come on. It's not like looking in a mirror. You - you don't have that, John. You have Lyla and JJ. You have a home."
"So do you."
"No, I mean, you have people you can call home. John, you're lucky. Don't let them slip through your fingers."
"It wouldn't be the first time Lyla and I got divorced."
She tilts her head to one side sadly.
"You say that like it's a real possibility."
"It is. I mean… we've been through it before. I know the signs."
"But you loved her enough to marry her twice," she reasons. "That's got to mean something, surely."
"She's the mother of my child. I'll always love her. But what I can't do right now is talk to her. Not like…" But he trails off, now, and it's only then that she realises that she's holding her breath.
"Not like what?"
He busies himself with pouring more vodka into the two glasses, but his hands are shaking and she finds herself steadying them for him, taking the bottle gently out of his hands and setting it back on the table.
"What shall we drink to?" he asks instead.
For some reason she finds herself smiling. Maybe it's the alcohol she can feel in her blood, the bitter taste at the back of her throat. Whatever it is, John looks surprised as he raises his eyebrows.
Dinah lifts her shot glass. "To Team Arrow."
John shakes his head. "It was just us out there tonight. And you know Oliver doesn't like it when we call it that."
"Okay. To Team Canary-Spartan."
And this time John does smile, and Dinah lets out the breath she didn't even know she was holding in relief. "Spartan-Canary sounds better."
She chuckles. "Of course it does. To you, anyway."
They clink their glasses against each other and down their shots. There's silence, but it's the comfortable kind that Dinah doesn't mind - not really.
"So are you really going to sleep here tonight?" she says eventually.
"I doubt I'll manage to," John says, grimacing. "But, uh, I'll try my best."
"Maybe the booze will help," she offers, but he shakes his head.
"No, vodka doesn't have that effect on me. Did you… want to go? You probably have to start early tomorrow."
"John, can you - be honest with me about something?" Dinah says, ignoring what he's saying. "I… something is wrong. And I don't know what it is, but you need to -"
"I don't need to talk to a shrink," he says shortly.
"And for some reason you're refusing to talk to your wife either and that's taking a toll on her, clearly. But you need an outlet. A way to let out how you feel. Because I know that look."
"That look in your eyes that tells me how empty you are. Whether that's because of what happened on Lian Yu or something else. Like you're just this… shell that's starting to crack, only you don't have someone to pick up the pieces and put you back together when you fall apart."
"Someone said something like that to me once," John says. "A few years ago. But he's dead now."
"Dinah, it's not like this is my first time being blown up or shot at," John interrupts. "And this… this is not something you can help me with."
"But it's affected you differently this time," she insists. "I can tell."
She hesitates, and after a moment she reaches out for his hand. She's surprised to find it's shaking slightly, for some reason. But she doesn't let go.
"Let me help you," she whispers pleadingly. "When Oliver first recruited me and I came to Star City... I was lost. You helped me. You reminded me why life was still worth living. I want to do the same for you."
"You're saying I'm lost?"
"I'm saying that you should tell me, John, whatever it is that's on your mind."
He doesn't say anything at first, but she doesn't let go. She squeezes his fingers and presses her thumb against his pulse. She's surprised to find it's racing.
"You really want to know?" he says finally.
"Yes!" she insists. "I'm on your side, John. I'm your friend."
He sighs, tugs his hand out of her grasp and turns away, and it's only when his back is fully to her that he says in a low voice, "You."
"You asked me what's on my mind. And the truth is, it's… you, Dinah."
Still he's refusing to look at her, so she pulls on his wrist until he turns around to face her.
"Dinah," he says, "you're my friend. My best friend."
"No, Oliver's your best friend," Dinah says instantly.
"Yeah, and how much has he had on his plate lately? How much have I even seen him recently? No, you are. I spend most of my time alongside you - and when I'm not with you… you're still all I ever think about."
She should be surprised. But deep down - it's almost like she's been expecting this. "John," she says, closing her eyes and letting her hand fall to her side, "don't. Please."
"You think I don't know how wrong it is?" And John seems to surprise even himself with how steady his voice is. "You said it yourself. I married Lyla twice. But you -"
"What about me?" she demands, and she's not sure if the sudden heat she can feel rising in her neck is because she's angry or scared of what he's going to say.
"You don't know the ugly side of me," John says at last. "The side Lyla knows. She sees all the cracks in the shell. You don't."
"There are cracks in everything, John," she says softly. "That's how the light gets in."
And she shouldn't, she really shouldn't, but almost of its own accord her hand goes up to his cheek. He closes his eyes at her touch and covers her fingers with his own, and she can feel her heartbeat speed up dangerously fast, when just as suddenly he gently tugs away her hand from his face..
"You deserve better than me," he tells her. "We can't."
"Because of what you've done, or because of the things that have happened to you?"
He barely skips a beat. "Both. And… whatever it is I feel towards you - she's my wife."
And just like that the spell is broken.
"Then go home to her." She tries not to say it bitterly, as if his words just now didn't sting, but they both know they did.
"Look, Dinah, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to - spring this on you -"
"Then why did you?" she interrupts.
"You wanted to know what was bothering me."
"And you think it's okay to tell me that that thing is me?"
"I'm sorry," he says again.
"No, I don't want you to apologise, John! I want you to realise that - even if you were broken - I wouldn't ever try and fix you. That's something you have to do on your own. You get that, right?"
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying..." She sighs. "I'm saying, you need someone. And I need someone, too. And I just wonder… if it could be - you and me?"
For what feels like the longest time he doesn't say anything. He doesn't move, he barely blinks. Finally, Dinah has enough, and she tears her gaze away from his.
Taking a deep breath, she says, "Look, we've had a bit to drink, so you know what, let's just chalk it up to that, okay?"
"Is that what you want?"
"Is that what you want?" he repeats. "For us to - forget this conversation ever happened?"
"It would be the right thing," Dinah says, and John shakes his head.
"That's not what I asked. Tell me what you want."
And Dinah knows she will probably regret it later, but the liquid courage from the vodka is kicking in in its earnest now. And she can't help but tiptoe, one hand on his bicep for support, and land the softest kiss on his lips.
It's barely anything - the lightest brushing of her mouth on his bottom lip, but as soon as she has a taste of what is forbidden - as soon as she leans her forehead against his and exhales softly - she knows that is it. She can't go back, even if she wanted to (which of course she doesn't). Her arms wrap around his neck and he immediately pulls her closer and oh God they shouldn't be doing this but it feels so good. John lifts her off her feet easily and onto the table, and the vodka bottle goes flying and lands with a crash on the floor, but Dinah doesn't care.
"We should probably talk about this," Dinah says breathlessly when at last they come up for air.
"Does it look like I've ever been good at talking?"
"But Lyla -"
"Don't say her name," he pleads. "Please. I just… want it to be you and me. Nothing else. No one else. Just for a while. If that's not what you..."
He trails off. And he's still holding her around her waist, but his arms have slackened a bit, and she knows now that he's giving her a way out.
But she doesn't want a way out. She wants him.
Getting to her feet she realises he looks disappointed for a second, like she's having second thoughts. But then she starts unzipping leather and his eyes widen and he quickly follows suit, and once they've divested their superhero clothing they take a step closer to each other, tentatively, slowly.
She's surprised when he kisses her - it's the first time he's initiated anything, but God is he good at this - and she lets out a moan of protest when his mouth moves away from hers, only for goosebumps to erupt on her spine as he kisses gently down her neck. Then he looks into her eyes. She realises after a few seconds that he's seeking permission, and she kisses him in answer. She finds his hand and guides it under her camisole, so at last it's John's skin against Dinah's skin, setting her flesh on fire and making her desperate for more.
And she knows now that they're not going to make it to the bed - no, she needs to have him right there. Heart racing, his tongue in her mouth and her nails digging right into his firm biceps, she kisses him so hard it actually hurts; minutes later it's hard to tell where she starts and he finishes and through it all Dinah can't remember ever feeling so alive in her life. She wants to be on that high forever, to stay in the bunker with John and never leave his arms.
Later, when they finally do make it to a bed, she's exhausted and sweaty and aching, but seeing his eyes light up when they meet hers makes their clandestine encounter seem - purer, somehow.
(Even though it isn't and it's wrong and it's bad and they shouldn't have.)
She looks up at him, meets his eyes. "You okay?" she asks.
"I… shouldn't be," he replies after a moment. "Not now. Not -"
"With me?" she says guiltily. But to her surprise he presses his lips to her temple, kisses her forehead, and it's so tender that Dinah's momentarily lost for words.
"But I am. Okay, that is. For the first time in a long time, since the explosion, I'm okay, Dinah."
And somehow, for him, and for her, that is enough.