A Lovely Light
a Justice League story
by Merlin Missy
Disclaimer: DC and Warner Bros. own the characters and situations. Contains spoilers up through "Hunter's Moon." Thanks go out to XFfan2000 and BillA1 for audiencing.
Summary: Post-ep. A search for grace at two in the morning.
As hours were reckoned on the Watchtower, it was late. Shayera had spent a long, good time chatting in the mess with Vixen. No, Mari, and she was going to have to get used to saying that. They'd cleared the air between them, and Shayera was pretty sure every person on the Watchtower but one was happy about that.
The lights had been lowered a touch in deference to the "night" they were observing, and the corridors were almost empty.
Good. The fewer people who see this, the better.
Her stomach clenched; the over-sweet juice she'd gulped back in the cafeteria was threatening to come back on her. She wanted to put this off, knew that she would just be prolonging, not averting. She knew what would happen if she waited too long to deal with ... this.
The door was in front of her, and she wanted to run away, but the only other place she could run tonight was back to her own room. Where she would be alone with too many ghosts lurking in the shadows.
She knocked, once, on the door. There wasn't an immediate response and her nerve threatened to fail. She'd come too late in the night. She would be intruding. This was a bad idea. What had she been thinking?
"Who's there?" came the groggy response from the other side.
Her instincts told her to flee. Her mind told her to stay. As for her heart ...
"Can I come in?"
The pause stretched out, and then the door whooshed open into darkness. She saw the shadows move against the starry background; this side was facing away from Earth tonight. Then the light clicked on.
"What time is it?"
"Late. Early. I don't know. I need to talk."
"All right," said Diana, still not fully awake.
"... and destroyed the Gordanian flagship." The words had tumbled out all at once. She'd kept her eyes away from Diana's as she spoke, choosing to focus on the stars outside the window.
She took another breath, idly playing with a bit of the blanket. "Dul said it didn't matter. The war was over. We lost." She finally looked at Diana. The other woman had her eyes closed again. Shayera felt a stab of anger, which she quelled with effort. It was late, and she'd interrupted Diana's rest, and she had only herself to blame for ... well, for everything.
"I'm sorry," Diana said, half a second before Shayera could. Her eyes slid open again. "How bad do you think ... "
"We had a population of ten billion. Before I was sent on my assignment, I was told the casualty estimates for a full-scale Gordanian attack could be in the eighty to ninety percent range. They'll enslave who they can, take the resources they want, leave the rest to starve."
"Without their flagship?"
She shrugged. "It depends on how much of their fleet Hro took with him." She bit her lip. "I did this," she said. "I killed every last one of them."
Diana said nothing.
"The bypass was our last chance. I stopped them from ... I stopped them."
"We all did," said Diana.
"You were trying to save your homeworld. I'm still not sure what I was trying to do."
"I normally have no idea what you're trying to do."
"Why are you here?"
"There's a question I've been asking myself for a while."
"Tonight. Here. In my quarters. When I have duty at 0600 tomorrow." She sounded tired, but there was less exasperation than Shayera had been expecting.
"I wanted to talk to you."
"Why? I'm sorry for what happened to your people, but I'm not sorry for what we did. I forgave you for what you did to us. I can't offer you absolution for what you did to anyone else."
"I know." Suddenly she was cold, colder than she'd been even when they'd gone to the frozen pit of Tartarus, and she held her shoulders as Diana watched her.
"Shayera ... "
"I was selfish. Still am. I couldn't let the Earth be destroyed because I couldn't stand the thought of this stupid little planet being gone forever. It would have killed me to have lost you all, so I chose. Hro was different. He knew it was always about the mission, about saving our people. He gave his life for them, because I wouldn't sacrifice mine."
She stood up, walked over to the wall where Diana kept her sword and shield. "He didn't kill himself because of me. He killed himself because he loved Thanagar so much and it was the last thing he could do to save our home, our people, and it didn't work and it's all my fault."
"Do you want to talk to J'onn?"
"What? No. Not ... Why?"
Diana paused, then pushed aside her blankets. She approached Shayera carefully. Shayera was freezing, but Diana seemed unconcerned even in bare feet and a sheer nightgown. Diana placed a cool hand on Shayera's arm.
"You're burning up."
"Not by any definition of the word. You should go to Medical. I'll get J'onn to ... "
"I don't want to talk to J'onn."
"If you're thinking about harming yourself ... "
"I'm not so sure."
"Look, Princess. If I was considering suicide, I would have done it a long time ago. I'm not going to kill myself."
Shayera closed her eyes. "Humans have this awkward phrase. 'Have feelings for.' Vix, I mean Mari, asked me if I still 'had feelings' for Hro. What kind of a question is that?"
"A reasonable one, I'd think."
"I was going to marry him. We were going to be together the rest of our lives. We were going to have children together. I loved him. After I came here, and things got complicated, I still loved him." That led to a lot of thoughts she didn't want to think right now. Things hadn't stopped being complicated. "You don't just stop feeling that way because your fiancé wants to blow up the planet you've been living on." Not to mention try to kill the boyfriend you weren't supposed to have.
"I guess not." Shayera didn't see comprehension on Diana's face, but she wasn't surprised. Shayera had yet to see the other woman show the slightest interest in men as anything other than potential allies or enemies.
"I wanted to ask you something. My people. Well, you met what used to pass for our god." And I killed him, too. "After we die, we don't ... We don't believe in anything else, afterwards. The body is buried or burned, and whatever made the person who they were is gone. End of story. But you and I went to Tartarus, and some of the demons there. They used to be people, right? Does everyone go there when they die?"
"No, not everyone. Tartarus is ... It's complicated. I could try explaining if you really want me to."
"But you believe there's something else, somewhere else. I know John believes in that place with the angels. He tried to explain a few times and I got the high points. The others think there's something else too. Except maybe Batman." Diana's mouth twitched, but she didn't say anything.
"I don't think," Shayera began, and then stopped. "There are billions dead on Thanagar. I try to imagine them just being ... gone. Imagine Hro just not here, not anywhere. And I'm trying to fit him into one of those places where people go after they die, and he doesn't. Tartarus is too horrible to consider, and I have this bad feeling that if eight billion Thanagarians showed up on Heaven's doorstep, they'd club the angels with their own haloes and take over."
Diana laughed, not unkindly. "Probably," she agreed.
"So where do they go? Somewhere else? Nowhere at all?"
"I can't answer that for you."
"I know." She turned and sat back on the edge of Diana's bed.
"Some cultures," Diana said, and her voice was tired, "believe that the souls of warriors who have fallen in battle are taken to a place where they spend eternity feasting and drinking. Does that help?"
It was an easy picture to create in her mind: dim, smoky halls, long tables filled with meat and beer, warriors standing wing to wing toasting victories of old. A fairy tale like the rest.
"What about you? What do you look for in an afterlife?" she asked Diana.
"I believe the souls of warriors are allowed to rest, and to drink of the Lethe and forget battles and bloodshed."
Shayera tried to imagine being allowed to forget. "Does it ease you?"
"It gets me through the day."
"I don't want to believe something just to make me feel better."
"I need. I need to do something. For him. For them. And I don't know what. I don't have a story to recite, or a scroll to follow to tell me how to begin mourning death on this scale. I don't know where to begin."
Diana stood a moment in thought. Shayera watched her go to her closet and reach above her head, pull something down. A box. She carried it past the bed to a pedestal, removing the brass container of fruit that rested there.
Then she pulled out a small yellow candle, slender as her finger, and placed it in a simple silver holder.
"I keep spares up here in case I can't get back down to the planet for rituals."
Rituals? "I don't ... "
"You're not using my altar and I don't have another tabletop."
"What are you doing?"
"I'm not. You are." Diana handed her the matches. "You want to work through this? You have to start somewhere. You don't have to pray. You don't have to do anything. The candle is a place to focus. Think about the people you lost, one by one. Talk about them out loud if you want. Light a candle for each one. When you're finished, maybe you'll have a better idea of what you believe."
Shayera looked at the small box. "We're talking at least eight billion dead."
"There are about a dozen candles left in there. I'm sure you can find a store that will let you buy them in bulk."
She took the candlestick from Diana and set it carefully on the pedestal. "Where do I start?"
"Light the candle."
"Not what I meant."
"You know who you need to start with." Diana crawled back into her bed. As Shayera lit the match, Diana clicked off the light. "Just be quiet, okay? I have watch in four hours."
"I will," she said, touching the match to the wick. The candle flickered, then flared to life, lighting the room. "Diana?"
Shayera stared at the candle as the flame licked away at the wax. She would be quiet and not disturb Diana any more than she already had. She could say what she needed to without speaking aloud.
Hro, I don't know that you're out there. I don't know that you'd want to be. I can see you feasting with our friends, and I can see you storming the gates of Heaven. I think you'd be happiest just finally having done with it all and resting. Forgetting. But if you're out there, if you can hear me, I just want you to know. I'm sorry.
Shadows danced on the walls around her, bidden by the candle's graceful light.