TRASHY ROMANCE PLOT NUMBER FOUR
By: xffan2000 and Nancy Brown
Summary: AU. What if Lantern and Hawkgirl really had gotten stranded during "War World"?
Disclaimer: Characters and situations are owned by DC/Warner Bros. Some dialogue is taken from "War World," written by Stan Berkowitz. Many thanks to dotsomething for her patient beta.
A/N: This version has been modified from the original story. For the unabridged adult version, please see JLAUnlimited dot com.
The feel of a cool finger dragging along the shell of his ear brought the Green Lantern back to near-consciousness. A tickle of hair against his cheek caused his head to turn. The slide of moisture across his lips made him smile.
He groaned, trying to fit the sensations into his brain. The last thing he remembered was Hawkgirl's face. Oh, God!
His eyes snapped open. He didn't see Hawkgirl next to him, teasing him, yet the tickling sensations continued. Raising a gloved hand to his face, Lantern felt a long, thin finger. He pulled the offender away from his face and saw a six-inch, orange, slimy millipede-type creature. Lantern avoided yelping, but did fling the bug several feet away a little harder than necessary.
Sitting up, he brushed his head and body, feeling ghostly imprints of the creature still crawling over him. Satisfied he wasn't infested, Lantern took in his surroundings. He wasn't on Earth, he knew instantly. The planet didn't look familiar at all. It was dusk, and sand and rock stretched as far as he could see in every direction. He tried to remember what brought him to this place.
Superman and J'onn were lost, he recalled. He and Hawkgirl left the Watchtower to find their missing teammates. They'd found the Javelin broken and empty and an ion trail leading away from the solar system. Then they... Lantern closed his eyes, trying to force the memory. A fueling station, a street fight, a lift from an alien to ...War World. He glanced around.
"This isn't War World," he confirmed out loud. Then he remembered a glass wall sealing them off from the pilot, and gas pouring into the chamber. "Last time I hitchhike," he muttered, pushing himself to his feet. "Hawkgirl!" he yelled, his voice not carrying in the odd environment.
He stepped forward, stumbled and found himself face down in the sand. The world spun before his eyes. "Okay," he told himself, "take it slow." Lord knows what that gas was, or what's floating around in this atmosphere. More cautiously, he rose to his knees and allowed his equilibrium to adjust. Knowing she probably couldn't hear his voice through the dead air, he called for her anyway. "Hawkgirl!"
Silence replied. A twinge of fear crept into his gut. "Hawkgirl!" he hollered again, only to receive the same answer. Comms won't work this far from the Watchtower. Just before anxiety took residence in his psyche, his military survival training kicked into gear.
"Size up the situation," he quoted to himself firmly.
Lantern took a deep breath, coughed on the thin air, and checked himself for injuries. Nothing hurt. There was no blood. He was only slightly dizzy, which could have been from the gas or the planet's atmosphere. He looked down to his right hand and was very relieved to find his ring still around his middle finger. A quick zap to blow apart a small rock revealed it to be energized.
Once again, Lantern studied the surroundings. Sand, rock, nearly nightfall, no water or plants in sight, no other animals besides the orange millipede burrowing itself into the ground three yards away. Hawkgirl was missing.
"Don't panic," he said, ignoring the knot in his stomach at the thought of Hawkgirl being lost.
Closing his eyes, Lantern listened. No wind. No sound of running water. No low hum of electricity. No animal noises. Though the sky was nearly dark, the temperature was moderate. He opened his eyes. He got to his feet not feeling unbalanced this time. He took a step forward, not having any specific goal in mind except to find his teammate.
It didn't take long before he realized all his shouting was getting him nowhere except parched. Given that he had yet to locate any water, he decided he should avoid anything that would make him thirsty. Lantern looked down at his ring. It had power; he could use it to find her. But should he? Once the power was gone, that was it. There was no way to recharge.
He looked around. In the distance, a small ridge rose from the sand. Lantern nodded to himself. The extra height would provide a better vantage point. He climbed to the top of the ridge, noting how easily out of breath he became. Oxygen must be lower here.
Slowly, methodically he scanned the surroundings. There! He squinted. An unusual lump on the sand about a mile from his position looked more rounded, more human than the sharp rocks covering the landscape. Not human, Thanagarian. But if it was her, she wasn't moving.
"Don't panic!" he ordered himself again, drawing in a calming breath. She's fine, just hasn't woken up yet. He walked briskly to her position, forcing himself not to run, which would make him not only thirsty but terribly out of breath.
As he climbed the sandy hill toward her, he heard her call his name: "Lantern?"
"Over here." He rubbed his head. "Looks like we got taken for a ride."
"I knew we shouldn't trust that freak. Any idea where we are?"
"Not a clue," he said, offering her a hand. She took it, got to her feet, and just as quickly snatched her own away again to glare at him accusingly.
"Great. So we don't know where we are, we don't know where War World is, and we don't even know how to get back to Earth." She spread her arms and walked away. "How much worse can it get?"
"My ring could get us off this planet, but without knowing exactly where we are, we take the risk it'll run out of power before we find another habitable world." Gotta send a message to Oa and hope someone receives it.
"So we're stuck here. Is that what you're saying?"
"Just the two of us?" He didn't reply. "Oh." He couldn't read the look on her face. She spread her wings and glided away from him. Against his better judgement, he followed her to the next outcropping, where she stood hugging herself.
"Look," he said, dredging up an apology from deep inside and placing what he hoped was a reassuring hand on her shoulder. If she didn't think it was reassuring, he'd probably find out the second she broke it off. "Maybe I shouldn't have been so hard on you. I get set in my ways sometimes."
"Yes you do."
He sighed. "Our first priorities are going to have to be finding shelter and locating food and water. Can we declare a cease-fire until we've managed that?"
"Fine." She scanned the area. "Our best bet for shelter is at the bottom of this outcropping. We'll be out of the wind and we can construct something more sturdy backed against the wall."
He hid his surprise at her rather practical suggestion. "If we're going to find water, it'll be underground. You work on the shelter, I'll look for the water." Together, they glided to the bottom of the hill.
"You notice how it hasn't gotten any darker?" Hawkgirl said as she piled stones next to the outcropping.
"It's been like this for hours," Lantern confirmed, still digging down into the sand. He noticed that she quit with her project and was standing over him.
"Found any water?"
"Well, maybe if you used that ring of yours, you'd be able to locate some faster."
"I told you," he growled, not looking up from his hole in the ground, "the more I use my ring, the less power it has."
"What good is power if we die of thirst?"
Lantern smacked his palm against the sand. "Don't you have a shelter to build?"
"Fine," she said.
He saw her red boots move away. Lantern continued to dig by hand, deeper and deeper. He hoped he'd soon hit water. His lips were already chapped and his tongue dry.
Later, after digging three deep holes, he'd still not struck water. Not good. Not good at all. He looked up. Hawkgirl wasn't around, but the rock shelter seemed complete.
"Hawkgirl?" he called. He licked his lips, but it didn't help. "Great." Lantern stood, brushed the sand from his uniform and looked around.
Hawkgirl flew toward him, low to the ground. She did a less than graceful landing, skidding on her knees to a stop.
"Problems with this atmosphere?" he questioned.
She scowled at him, breathless. "I'll get used to it." She then flung out her hands, dropping a pile of familiar orange millipedes at his feet. "Dinner." The little creatures still wiggled, their multiple feet trying to find escape routes.
"I don't suppose you found any water yet, Gunga Din," she asked, sitting down next to the pile of bugs. She grabbed a fat, squirming millipede, which she stuffed into her mouth and chewed.
Lantern swallowed hard. "Give me time."
Hawkgirl crammed two more bugs into her mouth. "Seems like time's all we've got," she commented. Lantern could see the orange of the creatures in her mouth mixed with the green of, he assumed, their guts. She offered him a particularly long bug.
"Uh," was all he could manage.
She looked up at him, and he knew she was cocking a challenging eyebrow at him under her mask. "I thought you were a big, bad military man."
Lantern pursed his lips.
She laughed, throwing the bug into her own mouth.
He squatted down next to her, snagged another orange critter and looked it in the — he hoped — eyes. "Down you go!" He took a deep breath, held it, shoved the millipede into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed.
"Oooo, tough guy," Hawkgirl laughed.
"Fine for birds to eat worms," he grumbled.
Hawkgirl's eyes narrowed. "Shut up, Lantern." She stood, leaving him the rest of the bugs to deal with.
Lantern looked down at the twisting creatures. Survival training demanded he consume them, since nothing else was available. He'd at least get a tiny bit of moisture and some protein. He glanced back to see Hawkgirl bedding down in the shelter, her back to him, her wings pulled against her body. Bravely, he stuffed two more worms into his mouth and swallowed them whole. He gagged as they slid down his throat, but he kept them down.
As the sun continued to set — or possibly it was rising, he still couldn't be sure which direction it was going — Lantern returned to his digging. He promised himself that by morning, they'd have water.
When Hawkgirl emerged from the shelter, Lantern presented her with a stone cup filled with boiled water and a stone plate containing five toasted millipedes.
She scowled at the gifts. "Thought you were saving your power, Lantern." She rotated the cup in her hands. "Looks like you've spent some of it carving out dinnerware."
"Yes," he said, taking a hearty swig from his own stone cup, "while you got your beauty rest, I used some energy to locate some underground water and drilled down to it. Because we didn't have anything to hold the water in, I made three pots and two cups. While I was at it, I heated a stone to cook breakfast." He crunched a crispy orange bug. It didn't taste much better, but at least it wasn't slimy.
"Ever think about trying to contact somebody with your ring?" Hawkgirl asked around a mouthful of grub.
"Tried that last night, too. No response. I don't know what kind of interference this planet has or even what direction to send the signal. I'll keep trying as the planet rotates, which seems to be very, very slowly."
"Never thought of you as a morning person, Lantern," she commented as she held her cup out for more water.
"Too many years in the military. Either you get used to early mornings or your life is a living hell."
"Tell me about it," Hawkgirl chuckled.
Lantern looked up. "You were in the military on Thanagar?"
Hawkgirl shook her head. "Law enforcement. Detective, remember?"
"Lots of early shifts, though."
Lantern chewed on the last of his bugs. "How did you know about Gunga Din?"
"I read a lot."
"I've never been a big reader," Lantern admitted. "Comic books as a kid, text books in school. That's about it." He looked up. "What type of things do you like to read?"
Hawkgirl shrugged. "Anything. Everything. I've read Shakespeare, Plato, Chaucer, Homer, military history for just about every era in human history..."
"A woman who enjoys the classics."
Lantern nodded. "Yep. Never pegged you as a Harlequin reader."
"Harlequin ... they're romance novels."
"Like The Tempest?"
Lantern shook his head. "Not nearly as ... classic. They're kind of throw-away fluff."
"Oh," Hawkgirl said. "I haven't gotten around to Harlequins then."
Lantern smiled. Things had gone well so far. He'd never had a chance to sit down and really talk with Hawkgirl since they'd formed the group. She'd helped save his ass when he was on trial, but they never talked about that or anything else. Figuring they had plenty of time to get to know one another, he pressed forward. "Tell me something about Thanagar."
Hawkgirl swallowed the last of her breakfast, washed it down with the last of her water and stood up. "I'll scout around to see if I can find any other signs of life on this rock."
Lantern knew a brush-off when he got one. "We should stick together," he said, "in case something happens."
"You're conserving power, and I can fly faster than you can walk," she huffed.
"You been practicing?"
Hawkgirl's jaw clenched and she launched herself into the air.
He could tell she was beating her wings harder than normal to get lift in the thinner air. "You want to take some water with you?" He hefted a stone pot up.
She rolled her eyes and took off.
"Don't get lost!" he yelled after her.
After what seemed like hours, Lantern still couldn't tell if it was nearly night or nearly dawn. He had made a huge circle around their campsite, climbing the tallest dunes and rocks to get a better view. He saw nothing. Not even Hawkgirl.
The day wore on. He made a few extra pots, gathered more water, hunted more millipedes and poked around the shelter. He sent up another several signals to Oa, but received no response.
Having not slept the night before, Lantern reclined in the shelter and dozed off.
"Help me get the water in there!" Hawkgirl yelled, kicking his boots.
Lantern rolled over, cracking open his sleep-filled eyes. "Huh?"
He sat up and noticed Hawkgirl was covered in a thin layer of dust. She plopped two stone tubs of water at the back of the shelter. "Get up already!"
Lantern crawled out of the shelter. He could hear the wind howling and feel the sting of the grit hitting his face. In the distance, the sky was no longer the not-quite-night blue, but tan and swirling.
"Great," he grumbled, hoisting two more water tubs into his arms.
Once the water and food were inside, they closed the shelter with the remaining stones. The angle of the outcropped rock would protect them from the worst of the storm, Lantern hoped. The gap-filled entrance was facing away from the prevailing winds.
Hawkgirl sat near the front, her arms wrapped around her knees, her wings folded oddly. Lantern noticed she was breathing heavily.
"You fly through that?"
"Some of it," she said, not looking at him.
He reached out and dusted some of the sand off her leg. She jerked away from his touch. Lantern frowned, puzzled. Hawkgirl ignored him in favor of staring out the tiny gap between two rocks.
The wind outside picked up, rattled the stones, and filled every crevice with sand. Hawkgirl had to turn her eyes from the small window. Lantern noticed her grip her legs even more tightly.
She snapped her eyes to him, looking at the same time deadly and terrified. "No!"
He pulled himself back into a corner, giving her as much room as possible. "Okay." He let the conversation drop and listened to the whistling of the wind, having no idea how long it would last.
Much later, he stretched his legs out, touching her thigh with his. "Sorry." He scooted as far back as he could, but still couldn't avoid the contact in the tight quarters.
Hawkgirl's chin rested on her knees and her wings had pulled more tightly against her back. Though it had been hours since she quit flying, her breathing hadn't returned to normal. Lantern figured she was uncomfortable in the tiny space, but he also knew better than to press the matter. Sitting in silence, however, wasn't making either of them comfortable.
"Did you find anything out there?" he asked over the wind.
"Lights. Beyond the storm I saw lights. I couldn't get to them."
A shot of adrenaline burned his belly. Lights meant civilization and possibly a way off this planet. He smiled; all wasn't lost after all. He reached out and covered her hand with his, ignoring the flinch. "We'll get there after the storm is over."
She pulled her hand back, and curled away from him.
When they emerged from the shelter, many hours later, it was to discover the rocks almost buried in sand. Had the storm lasted much longer, they would have been covered entirely. The water hole he'd dug had filled in with sand and debris. They dug it open again and refilled the pots.
"Which direction did you see those lights?"
Hawkgirl looked around, then focused in a direction that looked like any other. "They're over that way." Lantern wasn't sure if the confidence in her voice was real or feigned. He wanted to believe her. On the other hand, if she'd just spied some nocturnal luminescence, or was letting her imagination get the best of her, they were likely to get lost in the desert. Of course, we already don't know where we are, so ...
"Let's go find those lights."
He had to call it a garbage dump; to use "city" would stretch and snap the word like salt water taffy. The lights were caused by fires burning unattended among the rubbish. Dead hulks of spaceships reposed among the rinds of long-eaten melons, old newspapers written in languages he'd never even heard of, and the scattered detritus of what could have been an unknown number of worlds.
They scuffled briefly with some of the other aliens stranded there, subsisting among the litter. No one had heard of War World, or Earth, or anywhere else Lantern could name. The ones who would speak to them at all had lived there for years, banished from their own homes or unlucky enough to crash here.
After hours of fruitless searching for anyone who knew the planet's location, they settled at the outskirts of the dump. Other than the scattered aliens, they'd spied small, skittering life forms that John was going to think of as rats no matter how many legs they had. Out here at the edge, they caught only the faintest glow from the crude lights of the "settlement," but they also had fewer critters and a somewhat less noisome atmosphere.
It was this or the desert, and the desert would kill them.
At least the pilot hadn't dumped them on an airless ball of rock, or a gas giant, or just spaced them entirely. Small favors.
He examined the rusted-through remnant of spacecraft hull that was about to serve as their roof, balanced atop a group of hole-riddled cargo containers which roughed out some walls. He could sit up without bumping his head and that was about it.
Very small favors.
"It's not exactly the Watchtower," he said.
"It's not exactly anything," she replied, and crawled inside. After a moment, he followed. "We're going to need something to block the door," she reminded him.
"In a minute. I want to try this out." He lay down in the narrow construction, spread his arms and legs, made sure he could stretch properly.
She watched him, her expression unreadable in the dim light. "Are you finished?"
"We might be stuck here for a while. I need to make sure this place is comfy."
"It's not. It's too small."
"I'll put in a sunroom later," he teased. If she was really bothered, she could sleep outside.
"Start with a door," she said, and shimmied out past him.
He was beginning to refer to whenever they slept as "night" and whenever they woke as "morning," despite the barely-changing gloom. Exhausted from their travel and a touch dehydrated, they lay in the shelter trying to find sleep. John had wasted a shot of his ring's power to skewer and instantly fry one of the multilegged rats, but it hadn't been near enough for the two of them, so he was tired, thirsty and also still hungry.
He turned his head in the dark enclosure and barely made out the lump sleeping as far from him as the small space allowed. They'd found two mildewy blankets while looking for building materials; Hawkgirl had wrapped herself in one while the other made a fetid but soft pillow for John. He couldn't face covering himself with the thing, no matter how chilly the not-night grew.
Sleep escaped him.
He ought to go outside, at least let her get some rest. He could try tracking down another rat- critter, or much better, almost anything else to eat. There were aliens living among the refuse. They had to be eating something.
He felt a headache threaten, reminding him he hadn't had any coffee in two days. He closed his eyes, tried to will the headache away as he took deep breaths.
Warmth. He was warm, and soft breath was against his neck. He pushed his hand out, could see nothing in the darkness, felt soft features and a mischievous smile at her lips before she kissed his jaw, sending a shock all the way through him.
Her hands were warm against his bare abdomen, tickling down to his thighs, brushing the insides of his legs, and then, feather-light up his length. His mind swam and his arms were lead as her fingers clasped him and began stroking.
A noise from outside startled him and he sat up, almost bumping his head on the ceiling. The noise, a shifting of rubbish in another part of the dump, rumbled once more and was done. John's heart hammered, and his breath was fast, and Hawkgirl ...
... Was still asleep.
John settled back down, trying to calm himself and also trying to ignore his erection. Thank God I woke up, he mused. Rationing out his power meant he couldn't change into a new uniform if he spoiled this one during some juvenile wet dream.
He rolled on his side away from her, praying she hadn't noticed anything.
After another ten minutes or more — who could say in the dark — he crawled out of the shelter. If he wasn't going to get any sleep, he could at least look for provisions, and some nice cold night air was exactly what he needed.
Another rat-critter made a weak breakfast for the pair of them. Lantern had spent as much of his power as he'd dared looking for water sources within easy sight of their shelter, but had come up empty. They split the last of their water from the well in the desert to wash down the rat. Then Hawkgirl grabbed a jug, leapt into the air, and went searching on her own.
While she was gone, John hunted for more rats, hoping to find them enough protein to survive the rest of the day. No luck.
All right. So. No food. No water. But there are other aliens surviving here, so sources exist for both. We need to make contact with them and find out where they're getting this stuff.
And speaking of contact.
He hadn't given up hope of contacting the Lantern in this sector. He glanced overhead; the haze from the dump's light pollution cloaked his view of the stars above him. He could hope his message got through, hope it was picked up by someone in the Corps. Maybe it would be a few days, sure, but someone had to come.
"Mayday. Repeat. Mayday. Stranded on unknown planet in Sector 2811. Please send transport." He repeated the hail five times, then went to look for more rats.
"Please send transport." John heard someone approach and switched from communications mode to defense mode.
"I found water," Hawkgirl said, appearing around a corner and carrying one of their stone jugs. "It's a spring, a few clicks that way." As he watched, she poured some into a cup and took a drink.
"Wait!" he warned, but too late.
"What? It's water."
"We should boil it first. Who knows what's growing in there?" He began to gather kindling for a fire.
"It'll be fine," she said, taking another swig. "I saw the locals drinking it. If it's potable for them, it's potable for us."
"Maybe for you. I'm boiling the rest of it."
"Fine." She finished her drink. "What are you doing?"
"Trying to contact Oa." His ring was already sputtering. Even if he did get a signal out, he doubted he had enough juice left to send it far. "You said you saw some of the locals. Did you talk to them?"
She shook her head. "I wanted to get back."
"Let's go chat with the neighbors."
"My knife," the shortest one said. He pulled out a long blade, its hilt elaborately carved from black wood, and handed it to John. "And my supply of thubbat gin for the female."
John gripped Hawkgirl's wrist, preventing her from grabbing her mace and smashing the alien's skull in.
"She's not for sale," John said firmly. This was the third batch of aliens they'd encountered over the past few days, and the second offer to buy Hawkgirl.
The short creature sucked a slobbering breath past his huge, floppy lips. "All females are for sale!" he said, snatching his knife back from John. His three long fingers curled around Hawkgirl's other wrist. "Name your price, human." He yanked her forward out of John's grasp. She stumbled into his elongated arms, his face even with her chest. He chuckled. "I like you, pretty one."
John knew it was coming. Hawkgirl's free hand went to her mace. He lunged forward, pulling her back from the alien, and into his arms, which served to show his possession and to keep her from making a very bad impression on the locals. "She's my female and has no price," he announced.
"What?" Hawkgirl growled through clenched teeth.
The stubby alien laughed. "Maybe we share then?" A finger made its way toward Hawkgirl's cheek. "More than enough for two." She slapped his hand away and jerked, trying to break free of John's grip.
John yanked Hawkgirl back to his chest. "I paid good money for this female and I haven't gotten my use out of her yet," he said. Her head spun around until they were nose to nose. He knew he was going to get it just as hard as the alien making the offer. "Maybe when I'm finished, I'll consider your proposition."
The alien again chuckled. "Very well, human. But remember, I have first bid. And know the offer will be lower next time since the goods will be substantially used."
"Agreed," John said, steering Hawkgirl back toward their encampment.
"I don't need your protection," she informed him when the aliens were out of sight, shaking him off.
"We need to keep on their good side. Crushing their skulls does not make us good neighbors."
Her feathers ruffled. "You expect me to give in to those ... things?"
"Absolutely not. But we need to be more diplomatic and not shed any blood. As long as they believe you're mine, they shouldn't bother you."
"You've got an awfully high opinion of yourself, Lantern." She stalked ahead of him. "They need a good skull-bashing! I'm not some helpless female up for trade. I could take all of them down with one shot from my mace."
"And if, Oa forbid, you lost your mace?"
She spun around, almost causing him to collide with her. She poked a sharp finger at his chest. "I could still kick your ass, Lantern. Along with every one of those other filthy aliens out there."
He believed her.
Hawkgirl remained icily silent for the next several hours. John tried to cheer her up with a joke, then with asking her opinion on how to improve the shelter, and finally he gave up and allowed her to stew all on her own. He wasn't going to admit to enjoying the silence.
He checked the traps he'd set earlier that day and found three small critters. Dinner would be wriggly but substantial. He carried them back to their site with a spring in his step. "You want these baked, fried, or flambéed?"
She grunted in answer and bent down to start the fire. Still mad. Check.
The metal rods they were using for toasting sticks hadn't been washed yet. John put down the critters and scrubbed the sticks the best he could with some water from the jug. They were getting low again. He'd have to talk her into getting more while he cooked. Although ...
He peeked her way. She prodded at the kindling then sent a quick charge with her mace to light it. His teammate could watch out for herself in a fight. Kilowog had contacted him a few weeks before, and told him that, unarmed, Hawkgirl had taken out four Lanterns in a bar brawl. So he shouldn't be anxious about her going off without him. After their encounter with the latest group of Casanovas, though, he was going to worry every time she was out of sight for more than a few minutes, and he knew it.
John skewered the critters with the toasting sticks and propped the sticks over the fire. Against his better judgment, he sat down next to her.
He started, "Look ... "
"I'm not your possession."
"I know that."
"Of course! I wasn't trying to 'claim' you. I was trying to defuse the situation. I thought you'd understand."
"I did. You don't."
He rolled his eyes. "And we're back to the 'stupid human doesn't understand anything' spiel."
"On my world," she said very slowly, "as recently as two generations ago, females were considered property. Some males still ... I don't like being one step away from chattel. I won't be someone's possession. Not theirs," she said, indicating the city, "and not yours."
"If I said I'm sorry, would it help?"
"No. Because you're not. It was the right action to take at the time and we both know it. I don't have to like it." She stood up, brushing him with her wings as she rose.
"Where are you going?" he asked, realizing a second later that she was probably going to take that as another sign of his possessive tendencies
"I'm getting some more water. We're almost out. We can boil it with dinner." She grabbed two jugs and stalked off into the darkness.
John tried not to worry.
After half an hour, the worry kicked in anyway. Ten minutes to fly to the "spring," a little longer back laden with water, and she was overdue.
Maybe she's resting. Maybe she decided to walk back. Maybe she took a breather flight first to clear her head. He scanned the air but he couldn't see far in the tangle of mangled spaceship wreckage. Given enough time, he might be able to cobble together something that would get them off-world, but then they'd still have no fuel and no idea of where they were headed. And he wasn't going anywhere without Hawkgirl.
He checked their dinner again. He could hear the critters sizzling inside their carapaces. Almost done, or close enough. He'd give them, and her, five more minutes before he went out looking for her.
Experimentally, he gave his ring a quick push. There wasn't much power left, but if he had to fight off a couple of the creeps from earlier, he'd use it gladly.
The seconds ticked by, and at four minutes he gave in. He grabbed the hot sticks from the fire and tossed them inside the shelter for safe keeping. No use leaving food out for scavengers.
John knew the approximate direction of the water hole, but she'd been the one making the trips. He debated flying, hoping to get a better view of where she might be; he decided to wait until necessity or concern made the power expense worth it. He headed in.
The piled refuse teemed with life, most too small to offer a real problem but large enough to cause plenty of background noise and obliterate any soft sounds she might be making. John scanned around him as well as he could, looking for a glimpse of yellow or red. As the minutes passed, he became convinced she'd been ambushed. He refused to contemplate what else might be happening.
There was noise and movement a few paces before him but hidden from sight, and then Hawkgirl appeared, unscathed and lugging both stone jugs. He wasn't going to be able to hide his relief and he didn't try.
"Are you all right?" he demanded, taking one of the jugs from her.
"I'm fine. What the hell are you doing out here? You're supposed to be making dinner."
"You were late. I thought maybe you needed some backup."
"I'm fine," she repeated. He noticed she was limping.
"Nothing. I was at the water hole and some bug bit my leg. It's not important."
"We can take a look back by the fire."
"Or we can agree that I'm perfectly fine. But if you're so worried, you carry both of these things." She thrust the second jug into his arms and strode off ahead of him towards their encampment. If he hadn't been looking for it now, he wouldn't have noticed how she was trying to compensate and not limp further.
"Why didn't you fly back?"
"Didn't feel like it."
Or you were in too much pain to be able to focus on flying and carrying heavy objects. "Let's get back."
It wasn't fine. By the time they reached the fire and she plopped down, he could see the swelling beneath the material of her leggings, and her face was pale.
"Let's eat," she said with a brittle brightness, and she didn't object when he brought her the cold food. He propped the jugs over the fire while she picked at the shell of her critter, then sat next to her to peel his own. They could split the third, or else put it back for breakfast.
When she had stared at her denuded critter without eating it for long enough, he set his down. "Leg."
"I'm just not hungry."
"You're never not hungry. You're like the Flash." Her mouth quirked. "Tell me what this thing that bit you looked like."
She shrugged as she grudgingly pulled off her boot and rolled up her pant leg. "Cross between a scorpion and a mouse."
"Did it bite you or sting you?"
"Dunno. My leg hurt, I looked down, I smooshed it."
The welt was the size of a plum. She flinched as he brushed her tight, red skin.
"This is bad."
"Really," she spat.
"There was probably poison in the sting, or teeth or whatever."
"More good news."
He flickered his ring on. "I'll try to draw it out."
"You need to save your power."
"You lose a leg or die and there's not going to be much point to my saving power." He willed the ring to form a small, sharp needle. She gasped as it pricked her skin and began withdrawing an ooze as green as the construct.
"You're doing fine," he reassured her. The gush of fluid had slowed and he was pretty sure he'd gotten most of it already. "Day or two from now, you'll be back to kicking asses with this leg as good as ever." She didn't smile, but she did relax a little as he finished.
"Yuck," she said, as he expelled the mess at the edge of their little clearing.
"Easy clean up," he replied, vanishing the construct. "Try eating something. It'll keep up your strength."
She managed half a critter before fatigue claimed her and she crawled into the shelter. Not wanting the food to go to waste, John polished off the rest. Considering the short rations they'd been on, it felt like he'd feasted as he waited for the water to boil.
Maybe she just needed some sleep to get better. Yeah, in the morning, she'd likely be back to her old crabby self again.
Thus reassured, if not really, he stowed their water and crawled into the shelter with her, curling a little closer to her sleeping form than was strictly necessary. It's not possessiveness, it's concern, he told himself as he drifted to sleep beside her.
He woke to the sound of her moans. John blinked the sleep away and crouched over her.
She didn't respond. He shook her shoulders until she blearily opened her eyes. She was very warm, even through his gloves.
He sat back. "You were moaning in your sleep."
"So? You snore." She closed her eyes again.
"Will you try drinking some water before you go back to sleep?"
"Not thirsty," she said faintly, and moments later he heard her breathing deepen. He watched her for a while, and eventually, lay back down himself.
When morning came, John woke to silence. He rolled over, found Hawkgirl still there, unmoving. He shuddered as a horrible premonition coursed through him. A touch to the warm flesh at her neck yielded a weak but steady heartbeat.
He couldn't rouse her.
All right. Think. She got bit or stung last night, and now she's unconscious. This is bad.
He pulled the blanket off her. Her leg wasn't as swollen as it had been the night before. He glanced at her face, then rolled the pant leg up for a look at the site. The red had faded with the swelling, but there was an ugly green shade he didn't like in a thick circle around the bite. Didn't get all the venom out.
He had options, none of them good. He could let her try to beat the infection on her own. He could amputate the leg and hope the poison hadn't spread far enough to kill her yet. He could ask the neighbors for help.
She moaned and he knew he had to do something.
John slipped out of the shelter and stood. He could do this if he focused, although it was probably going to drain what was left in his ring. Didn't matter. He couldn't leave her here alone and defenseless.
He pointed at the shelter and extended an emerald bubble around the perimeter. If he kept it in his head, he could keep the construct up even out of sight for as long as his ring lasted.
He remembered where some of the aliens they'd encountered had been camped, and he made his way quickly through the settlement.
He found the alien encampment and resisted by only a margin the urge to grab the first guy he saw and slam him up against the wall. Instead he walked up to the nearest one and loomed over it.
"We need to have a conversation."
"About what?" trilled the alien, not impressed.
"My friend got bit or stung when she was at the water hole last night. Thing looked like ... " he paused. "Rodent, with a stinger tail." He hoped that was about what she'd meant.
The alien, a blue-skinned brute in tattered leathers, turned to his chums and spat something in another language. Then it turned back to John. "A gharnot. Yeah. We've seen them around. The stingers are poisonous."
Thought so. "What can I do to help her?"
"Got a sharp knife?" Amputation then. She might never forgive him.
"I can get one." Bubble.
"If you hold her head back when you slit her throat, make sure she's not going to spray on anything you want to keep."
"You slimy little ... "
"Hey, you asked. Nobody survives a sting from one of those things. If you don't want your woman to suffer, kill her quickly."
"Yes," agreed one of the others, slithering forward. "Make it a clean kill. The fresh meat will trade for a good price." John stood back, stunned and sickened.
Bubble, he told himself. Keep up the bubble.
"Thanks for your help," he snarled at them, and stalked away. He thought about asking someone else, but if the ones he'd asked were right, no one was going to give him a better answer.
The trip back to the shelter seemed longer than his trip there. He could feel the energy pouring out of his ring and halfway back he reluctantly let the construct go. He'd make it back to her before anything could happen.
He ran the last several hundred yards.
Winded a little by the thin air, he huffed as he went into the shelter. She hadn't moved, but she was still alive. He touched her neck again to confirm her pulse, and snatched his hand back at the heat radiating from her body.
What was normal for her species? He'd slept next to her a handful of nights, and she'd seemed cooler than him, but that easily could have been the chill in the night air.
Now she was like a furnace. He wrapped both awful blankets around her, but he didn't know if that was right. What if Thanagarians needed to be cooled when they were feverish? He had no antibiotics, and even if he did, there was no guarantee they wouldn't kill her faster than the sickness racing through her. If he'd had a chance in taking off her leg, the time was long past.
She stirred in her sleep, moaning. She was too hot. She was too sick. She was going to die.
He had to get her fever down, and he had to get her to take some liquid. The poison was wreaking havoc on her immune system and God knew what it was doing to her organs One thing at a time. Gotta stop it from baking her brain.
John touched her mask, knowing he should remove it. This would be easier without the damned thing in his way. They could have the secret identity argument later, he reasoned. He slipped it off her head as gently as he could. Under her mask, she was …
He had been expecting pretty, or to be more truthful, he'd been hoping for pretty. Yet, even with her hair sweat-plastered to her flushed face, Hawkgirl was beautiful. No time to worry about that, Stewart, he admonished himself. He wet a cloth and placed it to her burning forehead. She moaned again and began to shiver.
The instinct to get her cool fought with the one to keep her warm. He slipped under the blankets and wrapped his arms around her as best he could, letting some of her fever-heat pass into him.
"Don't die," he said into her hair. "Only thing worse than getting stuck here with you would be getting stuck here alone." Her silence frightened him even more.