NEW YEAR'S BASH
Summary: It's a new year. Can things change for John or Shayera?
Author's note: Thanks for the beta Merlin Missy!
In a long, laborious process, the main Watchtower's assembly hall had been fully converted into party mode. High above the metal floor, a net of multi-colored balloons waited for their cue to be dropped. The bulkheads and thick windows were decorated with curly streamers, more balloons and large banners with happy sayings. The deckplates were strewn with glittering confetti.
The length of one entire wall was nothing but a buffet and bar. Trashcans placed throughout the area were constantly emptied, but filled again almost instantly.
All told, it would be a damn big mess to clean up the next day, and the Green Lantern didn't envy the custodial crew their job. He sat in a remote corner nursing the same plastic cup of beer he'd had for three hours. He checked his watch. Two hours remained until midnight in the Eastern Time Zone, the time that had been selected as the point of celebration of the New Year on the Watchtower.
As the music from the sound system rattled his fillings, he wondered for the fiftieth time that evening why he was even there. He'd put his name in for duty this night, but J'onn told him only a skeleton crew was needed and all the volunteer spots had been filled.
Two weeks in space on a Lantern Corps mission and he'd missed his opportunity to get in on some overtime at work. What kind of sense did it make that he was forced to not work on a holiday? Didn't most people have the exact opposite problem?
His glowing green eyes scanned the room, studying his teammates from afar. Some superheroes, like Flash, were in costume. Others, like himself and Clark, were in casual street clothes. John noted with some amusement that everyone's mouth was engaged in one activity or another. Most were talking loudly or laughing heartily. Some were eating; some were drinking. His teeth ground slightly as he noticed the select few that had paired off, stolen to shadowed corners and were kissing.
"Office romances," he grumbled before taking a large swig of his warm beer. He winced. Not just from the foul taste, but also from the sting of being dumped by not one, but two of the League's most beautiful and heroic women.
More than a year prior, Shayera had left him standing broken-hearted on a cliff as she flew into the sunset. For the longest time, he tried to convince himself that she hadn't really dumped him. After all, she hsaid she loved him before she vanished. He hung onto that thread of hope until it frayed under the pull of reality. She was gone and not coming back.
His tentative first steps back into the dating world with Mari, more commonly known to the League as Vixen, started out well. They went to dinner a few times. He attended a couple of her fashion shows. They spent an evening on his couch watching videos, sharing microwave popcorn and slowly reintroducing him to the subtle differences between human and Thanagarian females. Mari took it surprisingly well that night when he pulled up short, blaming his inability to proceed on too much work and too little sleep.
But Mari didn't take it at all well when Shayera showed back up two months ago. Though the former Hawkgirl made no obvious gestures, Vixen couldn't help but notice how antsy he was. He hung on every word Shayera said, every move she made. As he paced while he waited for her to return from putting Grundy down, Mari scowled. He walked by Shayera's side as the group left the scene, leaving Mari behind.
Admittedly, he was smitten.
For her part, Shayera, though agreeing to return to the League, seemed to make it a point to avoid him. He tried to corner her, to speak to her, but she was always busy or never around when he was.
His incredible stupidity no longer surprised him, but it did at the time. After hunting after Shayera for days, he returned to Mari for polite conversation. He was actually shocked when she slammed her apartment door in his face. When she finally agreed to talk to him, it was to simply say she'd had a good time while it lasted and she was moving on. Being the rebound girl wasn't her thing and now that the ex had returned, there was no reason for her to spend any more time with him.
The break was clean and Mari remained utterly professional around him at work. She'd discuss mission tactics with him and cover his back effectively; he had absolutely no worries about trusting her.
But he never got the right opportunity tell Mari that Shayera wasn't really back in his life. She wasn't in anybody's life from the look of it. She worked and slept and worked and worked and slept and worked. That was her life now. She exercised in the wee hours of the morning when the gym was empty. She ate alone in her room, as she was only ever seen on quick trips to the commissary to pick up a tray.
John knew she wasn't just avoiding him. Flash also complained bitterly and often about how she'd not answer her door or how she'd never agree to hang with him after a mission or how she wouldn't stop and sit with him at lunch.
Even J'onn found her anti-social behavior unhealthy enough to mention it to the group during a morning staff meeting five weeks ago. Batman, of course, found no problem with a person sequestering herself away from others and the discussion was tabled. It wasn't until she started showing up after missions in need of stitches or bone-knitting that Superman finally brought her before the group.
It was the longest amount of time John had seen her since the day she returned. She stood before their table as if she was on trial, her eyes always forward, her shoulders perfectly squared, her expression devoid of emotions. In five minutes Superman questioned her, told her to be more careful and dismissed her. None of the others got a word in edgewise. John remembered the odd looks of puzzlement and concern on his teammate's faces as well as the knot that formed in his own stomach when Shayera actually called Superman, "Sir."
John gulped the last mouthful of his beer and checked his watch again. Exactly three minutes and forty-seven had seconds passed since the last check. John sighed and let his chin fall to his fist. Absently, he twizzled his empty cup in his fingers as he debated waiting until the new year broke or leaving immediately.
"Hey, GL!" Flash said, slapping him on the back. "What'cha doing in the corner all by yourself?"
John straightened and looked up at his friend. "Just thinking about leaving, actually. This isn't really my type of thing."
"Naw," Flash grinned. "You've gotta do karaoke with us. The D.J. is going on break and we're taking over!"
John arched an eyebrow.
"You haven't lived until you've seen Hawk and Dove sing YMCA." He grabbed John's bicep and dragged him toward the stage.
John followed heavy-footed behind, determined to draw the line if Flash suggested he should sing "In the Navy."
"Here," the Speedster said, shoving a teetering stack of CDs into his hands. "You can play the tunes." He pointed to the sound system set up to the left of the stage, then zipped off. A split second later he was on the stage, microphone in hand calling for quiet in the room. "Karaoke time!" he happily announced. "Who wants to go first?"
Several audience members volunteered their compatriots, but nobody actually stepped forward.
"You might try asking Batman," a female voice shouted from the back.
The entire room went silent and everyone looked to see who would soon be the recipient of a Batarang to the skull.
In the back, barely emerged from the shadows, Diana stood. A smirk twitched her lips. Batman stood next to her, his cape drawn tightly around himself. He scowled at the woman next to him.
Flash burst out in a laugh, which quickly flooded to the rest of the group.
John kept his eyes on the pair as the audience returned to the matter at hand. He could have sworn he saw Bruce threaten payback and Diana slyly grin and say she was hoping so.
"First up, Don and Hank!" Flash happily announced as the two young men bounded up on stage, big grins plastered on their faces. The Speedster hopped off the stage and moved next to John. "Hit it, GL!"
With a sigh, John inserted the correct CD into the player and pressed the play button. A familiar tune began to play and Hank and Don happily started singing along, complete with fully choreographed moves. John rolled his eyes as they got the entire room to throw their hands into the air to imitate the letters Y-M-C and A. There was a time, years ago -- and he would deny it now if anybody questioned him on it -- that he would have found it fun and actually taken part. But not any more.
His eyes slowly traveled over the vast crowd of colorful figures as they bounced in time to the music. Flash was dancing between Kara and -- surprisingly -- Mari, a huge smile splitting his face as he bumped hips with the women next to him. J'onn looked especially awkward as Clark demonstrated the appropriate moves. At the back of the room, he saw Diana's silver bracelets glint in the light as she happily flung both arms over her head, then back down. Batman stood stoically next to the Amazon, his eyes mere slits under his cowl.
When John spotted a man in blue and gold stumbling through the door followed by a small shiny levitating computer, his spirit raised slightly. Booster Gold, while a nice enough young man, was so full of himself that John typically made it a point to bust his chops at any opportunity. Cockiness was not a trait to be admired in the League. But tonight, the Lantern had only a slight interest in putting the new hero in his place. Tonight, Lantern wanted to know about the just-completed mission.
John left his post at the CD player and pushed his way across the room. He kept a close eye on Booster, watching as he patted clouds of dust off his suit and picked bits of concrete from his hair.
"Booster Gold!" Lantern snapped when it looked like the young man was about to make a break for the punch bowl.
Visibly, Booster's shoulders and expression fell. "Oh, man," he groaned.
Slipping into his usual Marine attitude he took with Booster, John approached and got into his personal space. "You back from a successful mission, Gold?"
"Mission accomplished, sir!" the rocket-shaped Skeets chirped happily. "And might I say, Booster did a fantastic job of saving a group of elderly women from a falling billboard."
Booster swatted his 'yes man' computer companion away. "Not now, Skeets," he growled under his breath.
Lantern let his glowing green eyes bore into the opaque gold goggles Booster wore. The younger man again swallowed. John said nothing and watched as the usual smirk melted from Booster's face.
"Uh..." Booster twisted his neck slightly as though his collar had suddenly grown too tight for him. "I just thought I'd see how the party was going. I promise I'll write the mission report as soon as I leave here."
"What happened tonight, Gold?" Lantern questioned, ignoring Booster's bargaining.
"We stopped Shade and Star Sapphire from robbing a bank," he answered directly.
"And the elderly women you rescued?"
"Tour group in town for New Year's. They got caught in the wrong place. Sapphire knocked down a billboard. I shoved the women out of the way."
John looked the man up and down skeptically. "You shoved an entire group of elderly women out of the way in time before a billboard fell on them?"
Booster cringed then looked at his boots. "There were just three women."
"Two were already out of the way. I just grabbed one of them."
Repressing a smile, John nodded. Embellishment wasn't needed. Booster had done a heroic thing. The young man just needed to learn to tell the truth right up front and not have his suck-up robot toy creating elaborate stories for him.
"Good job," he said flatly.
Booster's mouth fell open.
"Who was on the mission with you?" John asked, though he knew the answer.
"B'wana Beast and Hawkgirl."
"And how did they do?" Lantern questioned.
"B'wana got all the alley rats to corner Shade." Booster bit his lip, but a chuckle escaped anyway. "Shade's not so tough when a thousand rats are chewing on his toes. Screamed like a little girl."
Though he could easily picture Shade attempting to climb a wall to escape an army of rats, John was more interested in the final League member. "And Hawkgirl?" he asked calmly.
"She...uh..." Booster paused and John could practically see his eyebrows knit together under his cowl.
John frowned and waited as Booster tugged at the neck of his suit.
"She got Sapphire," Booster finally spit out.
"So Shade and Sapphire are in jail now?"
"Yeah," Booster supplied, but clamped his jaw shut after that.
"And Hawkgirl is where, then?" Lantern pressed.
Booster bowed his head. "In the infirmary."
John felt his neck muscles contract. Adding this incident, that brought Shayera's total number of trips to the med ward after a mission to sixteen. She'd only been on sixteen missions thus far. Each mission report read exactly the same. Shayera would stand her ground, protect innocent bystanders, but not take any swings. Until...
Every injury she'd sustained was from an enemy making the first strike against her. According to her teammates writing the reports, it was almost as though she waited for permission to defend herself.
His fists clenched at his sides, John stepped past Booster and into the hall. He heard the man call after him, "I'll get to that report after the party, I swear!"
Angrily, John strode up the hallway and into an elevator. He punched the button for the medical floor and crossed his arms tightly over his chest as he waited for the trip upstairs to end.
Even the infirmary was eerily silent this night. A single volunteer nurse was on duty to handle any minor problems. Doctors were on call, of course, for more serious injuries. Thankfully none were around at the moment.
Only two people were in the medical bay. A man in green surgical scrubs sat on a tall stool at the back of the room. On a bunk sat Shayera. She no longer wore her trademark Hawkgirl mask or her yellow, green and red suit. Her current costume was nothing more than a black body suit with wing holes in the back, black boots, and a black belt. She had her head down, watching as the nurse repeatedly inserted and pulled a needle and suture through the skin of her left forearm.
The sight of gaping wounds and blood didn't bother him. He was a solider and had seen much worse over the years. Even on her. He'd learned quite a bit about her Thanagarian physiology, so he knew she was resilient. It took a lot to do serious damage, and her injuries healed quickly. That's why, though she'd been patched back together numerous times, she was still on active duty. A typical human would have been laid up in the hospital for weeks -- if not months -- from the injuries she'd sustained.
John forced a swallow, knowing a knife wound was still a knife wound. And though Shayera acted as though she was impervious, he also knew she felt the pain just as sharply as he did.
Cautiously, he approached the medical bunk as the nurse wrapped white gauze tightly around Shayera's left forearm. Beside the bunk sat a tray. Bloodied cloths, an unlidded bottle of antiseptic, an empty syringe and the leftover suture thread were in clear view. John's stomach churned uncomfortably.
"How's the patient?" He tried to not sound squeaky and sick.
The nurse secured the bandage and looked warmly at his patient as he replied, "She'll be good as new. Only eighteen stitches this time."
John nodded and looked at Shayera. "That's twenty-three less than you had in your thigh last week." He knew this, not from her telling him, but from reading the mission report.
"As of today, the count stands at seventy-nine in," the nurse noted, tapping a finger against the computer screen that held the Thanagarian's medical record, "and fourteen out."
John forced a chuckle as he watched Shayera gingerly poke at her numbed forearm.
"Get some rest and be sure to take your pain medication," the nurse instructed, gathering the tray and removing the gory signs of the League's latest victory.
The two watched the nurse disappear from sight. Shayera's green eyes remained on a distant empty point as John's gaze slipped to her body. He didn't need Superman's x-ray vision to know how many stitches, how many pins, how many screws and how many cracked hollow bones she had. The total was shocking.
"You've got more thread holding you together than a scarecrow," he commented.
"Not true," she returned, sliding from the table and retrieving her mace from the nearby countertop. "Scarecrow needed more stitches."
John frowned. "That's not funny, Shayera."
"Who's being funny?" She attached her mace to her belt then began fiddling with the torn sleeve of her black body suit. She huffed at the damage and started for the door. As was another of her new habits, she was leaving alone.
John muttered a curse to himself and balled his fists. "Shayera!" he called, but ended up trotting after her. He snagged her right elbow and pulled her to a stop. "I want to talk to you."
Shayera's wings drooped slightly. It wasn't something a casual acquaintance would notice as meaning anything. John, on the other hand, didn't consider himself a casual acquaintance. The wilt was something he knew she only did when she was exhausted, yet determined to plod head-long into another conflict.
She turned to face him, her shoulders once again square and her back straight. He could see a slight shine in her eyes. Not tears, not anger, not medication. It was a totally unfamiliar look.
His pause to study her was long enough to annoy her, as she tilted her head and scowled at him. "What do you want to say, John?"
His mouth opened, but nothing came out. There was too much to say, too much to ask. He wasn't even sure if he was angry with her or overjoyed to actually have her attention for more than three seconds.
She took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. It was all the kick in the pants he needed to realize she wasn't going to stay around much longer if he didn't say something. The first thing that popped into his mind flew out of his mouth.
"You want to go to the party?" He grimaced and instantly wanted to beat his head against the wall.
Shayera blinked and said evenly, "No, John, I'm not going to the party." She then turned and again headed for the exit.
John chastised himself with an exasperated grunt. Of course she didn't want to go to the party. He knew that. Hell, everybody knew that.
The door to the med bay swished closed and he realized he'd gone and done it again. Allowed her to slip right through his fingers. He set his jaw and started after her.
"Just wait a minute!" his voice echoed off the metal walls of the brightly lit hallway.
This time, Shayera didn't turn to him. She simply stopped where she stood. Again her wings sagged minutely. By the time he caught up to her, she'd put on the professional face and military stance.
John moved in front of her and smiled. "You can relax, you know. It's just me."
Her green eyes darted away, then returned. She spread her feet slightly, clasped her hands behind her back and looked up at him.
It didn't take a military man to recognize "at ease."
"Dammit, Shayera," he groused, "what's wrong with you?"
The question hung in the air unanswered, but the play of emotions that sped through her eyes nearly ripped his heart out. What wasn't wrong with her, he reminded himself.
"John," she began, the defeat obvious in her tone, "just go back to the party."
"Can't you catch the hint, Lantern?" she suddenly snapped. "I want to be alone!"
"But I don't want to be alone."
"Then go to Vixen and leave me be." She shoved past him.
"Fine!" John shouted, throwing his hands in the air. "Run away! That's always your solution anyway." He pursed his lips and waved her off with a disgusted grunt. Pivoting on one heel, he stalked back toward the elevator and furiously slammed a finger against the call button.
As he stood, his brows low and his teeth grinding, he could only think of how much trouble she'd caused him. Was still causing him.
She'd always driven him crazy. Just now, she seemed to go out of her way to do it. She was back in the League, but she was making a point of not belonging, of staying distant from everyone by refusing to interact with anyone outside of her job. She let rumors and rude comments go unanswered, no matter how loudly they were spoken within her presence. Even the bad guys were allowed a free shot at her.
The elevator dinged at the same time realization hit John squarely in his heart. The doors slid open, but he was already running in the opposite direction.
He didn't knock. She wouldn't answer anyway. A quick zap of green energy from his ring popped the electric lock and he forced the door to her quarters open with his hand.
"You want me to hate you!"
Shayera merely stood in the center of her room staring at him, her mouth hanging slightly open.
He saw a brief flicker of rage cross her features at his boldness, at him daring to enter without permission. He saw, for an infinitesimal second, the woman he'd fallen in love with so long ago. He smirked and hoped she'd try to take her mace to his skull. His heart pounded with excitement. Perhaps she wasn't lost after all.
Then, she clamped her jaw shut. Her body straightened, her hands went to her sides and her expression went blank again.
John's excitement immediately fizzled.
"Hate me. Don't hate me. Whatever," she responded without any emotion.
His teeth gnashed as she stared blankly through him. She was controlled, submissive, and utterly absent in her own body. But John had seen, not two seconds earlier, her sense of self worth, her fighting spirit, her humor, her devious spunk were still inside, yearning to get out. She just had to break the chains holding them in place.
Talking hadn't worked for the past two months, he reasoned, so it was time for action.
His eyebrows lowered and his glowing eyes sparked as his arm lashed out and cleared her desktop, sending books, data discs and her mace clattering to the floor. Two strides and he was right in her face. "God dammit, woman!" he snarled, his harsh breaths blowing her hair back. "You will knock this shit off or, so help me Oa..." He paused. He'd have to sound strong; sound like he meant it, or it wouldn't work. "...or so help me Oa, I'll knock it out of you!"
The impact of her fist against his jaw landed him flat on the floor. John dabbed the back of his hand against his throbbing lip and was pleased to see blood. "That the best you can do?" He stood back up, raised one fist in defense and waved her forward with his other hand. "Come on!"
Shayera's shoulders rose and fell rapidly with her breathing. Her lip curled and her fists balled. John raised both hands higher to protect his face, leaving his stomach conveniently wide open. He heard the war cry and felt the blow to his midsection.
All his air escaped his lungs. He had no time to recover before Shayera tackled him, bringing him to the ground hard. Flat on his back, he felt her reposition herself on top of him. She grabbed his shirt collar in one hand and yanked his head from the floor. John saw her pull her right fist back.
"That's my girl," he smiled.
He felt Shayera's muscles relax. Her fist dropped to her side and she released his collar, landing his bald head against the floor with an unexpected and painful thud. She remained straddling his chest, looking down at him with shame etched in her features.
"I don't hate you, Shayera," he said, taking the hand that was about to sock him in his own. "Yes, I was angry for awhile. But I never once hated you. And no matter what you do," he raised her hand to his lips and kissed it gently, "you can't change that."
She shifted position and he fully expected her to stand up and scuttle away. But to his surprise and delight, she slid further down and rested her head on his chest. Her wings fell over them, her knees pressed into his thighs and her arms tightened against his ribs.
John wrapped his arms around her back; slipped his fingers into her feathers. The sensations were ones he thought he'd never feel again. His eyes slid shut.
He held her tightly for a long time, never once complaining about the coolness of the floor against his back, for he had the heat of her body above him. Nor did he say anything about the silent tears that wetted his shirt.
When she finally spoke, though not raising her head to look at him, the words amused him.
"What about Vixen?"
John stroked her red hair with his palm. "Dumped me flat a week after you came back."
"I'm so sorry, John," she whispered. And he knew she sincerely meant it...for more than just his issue with Vixen.
He shrugged as best he could in the position he was in. "She's a lovely woman and an outstanding teammate. But she was never what I truly wanted. We both knew that."
Shayera didn't respond, but he felt her fingers grasp his shirt more tightly.
John maneuvered himself to where he could raise her chin up. "You're the one I've always wanted," he said, and then kissed her.
When he pulled back, her eyebrows knitted together. "John..."
"Don't argue, Shayera. We've got better things to do than that." Again he kissed her, not minding the slight twinge of pain the action caused to his split lip. And to his great pleasure, she didn't pull away. Instead, she settled herself more comfortably over him and allowed him to kiss and be kissed until they were satisfactorily re-accustomed to each other's feel.
A long time later, John moved his lips to her ear. "It's a new year," he whispered. "It's time to start over."
He heard her sigh. She then started to move away. John tightened his arms around her and she settled for tucking her head under his chin. "It's hard to start over when you don't even know who you are."
"I know who you are."
For the first time in he couldn't remember how long, she voluntarily looked him square in the eyes. "Who am I?"
He could tell she wasn't satisfied with that answer because her lips pursed together and she frowned at him. "And who is she?"
"Hawkgirl of the Justice League."
"Hawkgirl is a sham," she dismissed.
"She's not," he assured her. "She's a true hero. Has been for many years. Not to mention she's Earth's savior." Her eyebrow arched at that notion. "If it wasn't for you, this planet would be a hole in space now."
"If it wasn't for me, there wouldn't have been a problem to begin with."
"That's where you're wrong," John said emphatically. "Your people would have sent someone else. Earth was their target. Whether it was you or some other person, they would have put somebody here to do the job you did." He smirked and kissed her nose. "Personally, I'm very glad they sent you."
Shayera didn't seem convinced. "Hawkgirl of the Justice League?"
"And you're okay with Shayera Hol?"
John smiled. "I'm more than okay with her."
Shayera studied him dubiously. He did nothing but hold her close, smiling up at her as he waited for her to come to her own conclusions.
Eventually, something happened that he hadn't seen in nearly two years. She smiled. Not the half-guilty, "I'm not allowed to be happy" upturn of her lips he saw two months ago when the woman thanked her for saving her life and that of her daughter, but a full thousand-watt, teeth-showing, beaming smile.
"Hawkgirl of the Justice League," she announced, a hint of the old confidence finally breaking the surface.
"Hawkgirl of the Justice League," John confirmed, returning her smile.
She looked down at him, a long-lost playful glimmer sparkling in her eyes. She lowered herself back to his lips, and he wanted to tell her he loved her -- wanted her to hear it this time. But he knew it would be too much for her to deal with tonight. Morning would come soon enough, though. The first of a whole new year of mornings, and John intended to tell her he loved her on every single one.