By: xffan2000 and Nancy Brown
John stirred and rolled over. She lay on her side facing him, awake.
"Hey," he said.
"How long have you been awake?"
"Not long. I wanted to watch you sleep."
"I didn't think I was that interesting."
"Just to me," she said, pressing closer and kissing him. Not for the first time, he was glad she wasn't turned off by what by this point had to be his monstrous morning breath. Just the opposite, it seemed. It also seemed Shayera had forgiven or forgotten whatever had been troubling her the night before. Her fingers went to his neck, tracing his features lightly. He kissed them as they passed over his mouth and smiled as she toyed with his beard.
She slid the blanket off his chest and kissed his left nipple. His stomach rumbled in response. "We should probably eat."
"Funny," she said, licking a path down to his navel. "That's exactly what I was going to say."
Shayera went to check the traps while he stayed at the site to work the radio.
"Mayday. Mayday. Green Lantern of Sector 2811 please respond. Mayday." In between dialing attempts, he started the fire.
Shayera returned with one critter and popped it on to cook. Then she sat behind him, rubbing his shoulders as he operated the radio.
"That's very distracting," he told her, not at all displeased.
"It's supposed to be distracting," she said, kissing his neck. The beak of her mask bumped him painfully.
"Someday you're going to explain why you wear your mask even though no one else is around."
"Do you walk around naked?"
"Neither do I." Her hand slid under his arms and gave him a quick tickle before she pulled away.
"Mayday, Mayday ... " He dialed again. "It's really like walking around naked for you?"
She shrugged. "Kind of."
"So when I don't wear a mask, do you think I'm naked?"
"It's not the same thing."
"Mayday. Mayday. Green Lantern of Sector 2811 please respond. Mayday. Why isn't it the same?"
"You're not Thanagarian. On Earth, dolphins are highly intelligent animals but you're not offended that they don't wear pants, right?"
"Well, no. Dolphins can't wear pants. They don't have legs."
"Skirts then. You're not bothered by naked dolphins. I'm not bothered by maskless humans. Besides, a lot of our friends wear masks anyway."
"Whatever." She moved away from him, poking ineffectively at the fire.
"Mayday. Mayday. Green Lantern of Sector 2811 please respond. Mayday."
The noise started out low, like a distant rumble. He barely noticed at first, thinking it was just more rubbish shifting.
It grew. Shayera's eyes widened as her head spun around.
"That' s the Javelin!" she said.
Over the horizon, almost out of sight, John spied the most glorious thing he'd ever seen: the Javelin-7 cruising over the landscape.
He dropped the radio and stood, grabbing a branch from the fire. Shayera took another, and they shouted and waved the torches until the Javelin floated serenely overhead. It paused, then moved off just past the outskirts of the settlement.
Shayera immediately jumped up and flew off toward the ship. John hesitated, then kicked dirt over their fire, putting it out. He glanced around the campsite, saw nothing that they wanted or needed to take back to Earth with them. He wasn't sure why that made him sad.
Without another look back, he made his way toward the landing site. By the time he got there, Shayera was already hugging the Flash like a long-lost brother.
Diana smiled at John and gave him a quick hug before Batman grasped his arm.
"Thank Hera you're both alive."
"Are you guys okay?" asked Flash.
Shayera nodded. "We're fine."
"Where are J'onn and Superman?" John asked. "What happened to War World?"
"J'onn and Superman are back on Earth," Batman said. "They escaped."
"Eventually," said Diana and even Flash looked grim suddenly.
"Were they hurt?" Shayera asked.
Batman said, "Not badly. We'll explain what happened on the way home. Is there anything you need to get before we go?"
"Just us," John said. "How'd you find us, anyway?" he asked as they boarded.
"Kilowog told us," Flash said. "Your message got through to Oa, but nobody knew where you were. Then Kilowog picked up a transmission yesterday." Yesterday? Oh yes. John remembered having crawled out of bed for a little while to get some water and play with ...
"The radio," John said, smiling at Shayera. She ignored his smile and took the seat beside Diana, leaving Flash to fling himself into the seat next to John like a large, friendly dog.
"It's great to have you guys back," Flash said. "The Watchtower's been like a funeral home, what with Supes all depressed, and J'onn being himself."
John looked out the window as they lifted off, watching the settlement shrink beneath them. As they rose into the sky, a sickly red sun peeped over the horizon, much nearer than he'd been expecting. Another surprise: the "planet" was actually a moon orbiting a gas giant, which stormed and raged thousands of miles away. As soon as they were clear of the planetary masses, Batman engaged the hyperdrive, and the whole star system was gone.
Unconcerned, Flash launched into a rambling description of the tribulations Superman and J'onn had encountered during their stay on War World. An entire planet had been wiped out and Superman felt personally responsible.
From time to time, John shot glances across to Shayera, but she was chatting quietly with Diana and did not look his way even once.
Against their protests, Batman flew the Javelin back to the Watchtower, where J'onn waited with a grateful smile and a full exam for each. John insisted Shayera go first, less out of chivalry and more out of concern for her still-healing leg. J'onn pronounced her healthy. As she exited the medlab, her wing brushed against John on his way in, but she gave him only a nod in acknowledgment.
Okay ... John cleared his mind as J'onn began his own exam, focusing on the heartbeat on the monitors, the gentle pressure as the Martian poked and prodded.
"It is good to have you both home," J'onn said gravely as he took a small blood sample.
John pressed a gauze against the small puncture. "Good to be back. Are we almost done?"
"Almost." J'onn inserted the sample into the scanner, and while it ran, he examined John's hand and gave him an antibiotic to fight the mild infection that had set in. The scanner beeped. "You have a slight iron deficiency, and you have abnormally low levels of a number of nutrients in your system."
"We lived on fricasseed rat for a month. I'm not surprised. I'll take my vitamins," he added, as J'onn gave him a look that had "bed rest for a week with intravenous fluids" written all over it. "I promise."
"This isn't the first time I've heard that tonight," J'onn quipped. John frowned. "Go home. Rest. Eat well. If I don't see improvement in a few days, you will be back here. Understood?"
"Thanks, man." John dressed, reluctantly. He couldn't wait to get back to his apartment if only to access his battery again and never have to wear this particular uniform again. Then with a wave of thanks to J'onn, he returned to the landing bay, where the others were prepping the Javelin for the quick hop down to Earth.
To John's surprise, Shayera requested to be dropped off first at the outskirts of Midway City. She said she was tired. She said she wanted to get home and see how much of a mess her place had become in her absence. She said she wanted a shower and a meal of something with less than six legs. She said she'd take a day to readjust herself to Earth but that she'd be ready for action after that when her turn for duty came up.
John hadn't the faintest idea why she didn't say even one of those things to him, but said them instead to Batman, who was flying the ship.
To the rest of them, and John himself was by default included in this particular grouping, Shayera said, "See you around," as she disembarked. John mouthed a "See you," and he watched her go, watched though the window as they took off again towards Detroit.
The reasonable voice in his head said, She's tired and she wants her space. We've had too much togetherness lately and Little Miss Claustrophobia probably just wants the chance to spread her wings properly for a while. I can call her tomorrow.
The unreasonable voice whispered other things, and John tried to ignore them as Flash hassled him about John's needing a shower, then waved him a wild good-bye from the gangway.
His apartment was dark and cold, but John couldn't remember feeling so decadent just flicking on a light switch. He was dead tired, more than he'd realized, and he wanted to flop into his nice, soft, warm bed with actual blankets that had never been used by anyone whom John hadn't specifically invited there.
But more than that, he wanted a shower and a shave. Need to go by the barber tomorrow, he mused, running his hand over his hair.
Half an hour later, chin clean and muscles sore in the way only a good pounding with hot water could make them, John padded out of the bathroom. A quick check of his kitchen turned up half a loaf of green bread, some vegetables that had seen better days two weeks before, and a quart of milk with legs. He disposed of these, dug into the freezer, and excavated a frozen dinner.
He stared at the package, wondering if he had enough cash in his wallet for a deep dish from Tony's. Of course, Tony's deep dishes were enough to feed him for the better part of the week, or two people for a couple of days unless the other person was Flash, in which case they had to order three for one meal.
He had no intention of inviting Flash over.
"Green Lantern to Hawkgirl," he said, thumbing his commlink. The Watchtower was nearby; the satellite system would boost the signal. He needed to keep in mind that the system kept a backup recording of the messages they sent, for safety reasons.
After about a minute, she responded, "Hawkgirl here. Go ahead."
"Hey," he said. "I was about to order some food. Do you want to come over and split a pizza?"
"No," she said, and he heard the awkward note in her voice. She knew the system was monitored as well. "I already ate."
"Okay. I thought you might ... "
"Was there anything else?"
"Fine. Hawkgirl out."
Tony's still sounded good, but the thought of eating it alone suddenly didn't. He started preheating the oven for the frozen dinner, then went to check if any of his plants had died from lack of care.
So. Shayera really wanted some space. He was fine with that. He supposed she just didn't want the others involved in her personal life, and maybe she was a little embarrassed, too. She'd always been stand-offish with the rest of the group, so admitting the kind of weakness that came with a relationship would be something she'd want to put off. He'd have to point out that the rest didn't have to know right away.
After dinner, and he savored every bite, he climbed into his bed. No hard ground beneath him, no smelly blanket that didn't get clean no matter how much it was scrubbed, no wondering if he was going to get crawled on by a bug or bitten by a scorpion in his sleep. An actual, honest to God real pillow for his head.
So if John felt a little too exposed in the vast space of his bedroom, and if he couldn't reach out in the middle of the night while he slept to touch against a wing and know his lover was there and safe, and if it took him a long time to fall asleep, well, at least he had clean sheets.
Their catch-up day off was cut short. John had to go bail out Flash from jail for what he suspected was not the last time, then help him track down what the kid swore was a talking gorilla. With nukes and telepathy. Fortunately, the others found Gorilla City in time. John listened over the comms a little more closely than he usually did, assessing the condition of their other team members. Diana was mildly injured by a missile impact, but Shayera was fine.
They regrouped at the Watchtower to debrief. John let Flash tell most of their end, since the kid was so damned eager. The others had spent a time no less eventful; apparently Batman had dug Diana from the rubble by himself. If John wasn't almost positive Diana played for the other team, he'd start wondering about the two of them.
After the debrief, and the obligatory monkey jokes from the Flash, someone — probably Flash again — suggested they grab food up at the satellite and hang out a little. "Quality time," he said. The way Flash had followed him around most of the day, John guessed he'd been kind of lonely while they'd been gone. True, John spent a lot of their time together griping at him, but Flash never let that dampen his enthusiasm.
And speaking of wondering which team someone's on ...
No, the kid was just friendly and John and Shayera gave him the most attention, even if that attention was usually demanding what the hell was wrong with his brain.
Flash cooked, thawing some hamburger he found in the deep freeze and frying up a pile of thick burgers while the others went over their reports. Deferring to the spirit of the day, they did so in the mess, letting the smell of the cooking meat whet their appetites while they wrote. The reports were redundant for John, who had to fill them out for the Guardians anyway, but Batman swore the paperwork would be useful when they had to go back and cross-reference villain activities.
Shayera had a particularly large stack of papers in front of her. John sat at her table without asking, and placed his own down neatly.
"Were you guys that busy in Gorilla City?" he asked, as she moved a sheet from one pile to another.
She didn't look up. "I'm also filing the report for our aborted rescue mission. Unless you did already."
"Slipped my mind," he said. "The report, that is."
She let out an exasperated sigh. "Then fill this out." She pushed a small stack of papers his way. "Any idea how to spell gharnot?"
"Then my spelling stands." She returned to her work.
Flash was still cooking. Diana watched him, eyes wide and fascinated at the sheer amount of food he was slapping together. Batman was hunched over his own paperwork. J'onn had returned to his quarters for something. They weren't alone, but it would do.
He lowered his voice. "Is there a reason you're ignoring me?"
She said nothing. He watched words crawl over the paper, watched her eyes not even flicker from the page. It was as good as a shout.
"Look," he said, even more quietly. "If you don't want to talk right now, that's fine with me. If you want to go back to being Miss I-Can-Take-Care-of-Myself-Tough-Alien-Chick, that's also fine. If you want to pretend the past month didn't happen, I'm not fine with that but since it looks like I don't get a say, I guess it doesn't matter if I'm good with it or not." Her pen scratched at the paper.
He continued, "But we work together, and a lot of people depend on our ability to keep working together no matter what. So at some point, you're going to have to talk to me and I know it'll be better if you do it sooner instead of later."
"Move your elbows," she said.
"Your report is in my way. You need to move it, and you're going to have to move your elbows."
"Fine." He picked up his stack and without another word moved to an empty table.
Flash came out with a bunch of burgers on one plate and a mess of fries on another. "Anyone hungry?" John was unsurprised to note his own appetite was completely gone.
Hours later, John stood in the corridor deciding if he wanted to ring up a bubble and offer transport down to the planet so Diana and J'onn could keep the Javelin up here.
Batman separated himself from a shadow, and John started.
"Man, you have got to stop doing that. I've seen Alien one too many times."
Batman made a noise in his throat. "One question, and I need to know the answer."
"If I asked her, would she say it was consensual?"
John turned away from him. "We're not having this conversation."
"J'onn's a telepath. If he doesn't already know, he will. The others tend to be oblivious when it comes to personal dynamics but they're not stupid. They know something's wrong and it won't be long until they figure out what."
"I've been trying to talk to her."
"Try harder. Work something out, I don't care what. I don't intend to die or to watch anyone else die because two of my teammates can't act like adults around each other anymore. Flash is bad enough. I actually depend on you."
"We'll figure it out," John promised. "Give me a day or two."
"You both have watch tomorrow."
John shook his head. "I checked the schedule ... "
"I just changed it."
"All right. Tomorrow."
"Good." And he was gone, leaving John alone with his thoughts again.
Screw it, we're taking the Javelin.
Back at his apartment, the emptiness clawed at him. The noises from the street outside were familiar from his childhood, but he kept half an ear cocked for skittering feet and the rumble of trash drop-offs. It had been the same when he'd first returned to Earth after ten years in space. Some of the other Lanterns called it "getting your planet legs back." John called it a period of readjustment.
To everything, apparently.
Batman was right. They had to talk. He knew that. She probably did too, deep down. They were adults, they needed to act like adults. If that meant one of them walked away from the team for a while, then that's what would happen. That's what had to happen.
John went to his refrigerator, opened it, stared. He had four bottles of Sam Adams in the door, left over from the last time he'd had company. So, six months, give or take. He had harder liquor in the cabinet and no desire to get it out.
It wasn't his brand, but the beer was cold and not bad. For human beer, his mind helpfully provided.
John took another drink.
Saturday night, and nothing on the television. Nothing to distract him from the one thing he didn't want to be thinking about tonight. She was ...
She'd been scared. That had to be it. They'd been marooned and she'd been frightened at dying even more lost from home. John had been a familiar face and a warm body, and now that Shayera had returned to her adopted home, she didn't need him anymore. Didn't want him anymore.
I should be happy, he thought, in the middle of the third bottle. Most women got clingy after relationships turned physical. Instead, they'd had the sex and she didn't expect him to call every night or take her to expensive restaurants where he couldn't pronounce anything on the menu.
The third bottle was empty. A couple of these would have gone down nice with the critters.
He left the fourth bottle in the fridge and crawled into bed. Tomorrow they'd have watch together and they'd talk and maybe he'd cut her with a "Thanks for the fuck," and maybe he'd just walk away from her and this whole stupid group of "superfriends," as the Flash had called them.
He had no trouble falling asleep and he did not remember his dreams.
It wasn't as easy as he'd thought. Shayera had the first watch, and took the Javelin back up without asking him along. He ringed up a bubble for his own transport an hour later, passing the returning Javelin as he did. J'onn brushed a "Hello" against his mind but did not probe further.
He let himself into the Watchtower at an airlock. Mouth dry, he went directly to the Crow's Nest, her favorite place to spend her watches. Probably reminds her of home.
She didn't turn her head when he landed behind her.
"You could've waited with the Javelin," he said.
"You had your own transportation. I wanted to get an early start."
Now or never. He opened his mouth, and then snapped it shut again. He'd practiced the conversation in his head on the way up and now she was right there and he couldn't speak.
"I'll be working on the stabilizers," he managed, although it was not what he'd intended to tell her.
"Keep me updated."
He turned and went down to the core, where the mechanisms for the stabilizers resided. A few hours of mindless maintenance on their systems was just the ticket for avoiding a conversation.
He could talk to her later. When he was ready.
The alert went off. He checked the time and realized it had been three hours. He flew through the corridors back to the control room.
"What's going on?"
"Trouble," she said, showing him the screen.
"Damn." This situation had been building for months, so he couldn't say he was surprised.
Superman said over the comm: "Diana and I are on-site."
Batman cut in: "I'll be there in two minutes."
Shayera toggled the comm at the panel. "Do you want us there?"
"Negative," said Superman. "We'll call if we need more help."
"Acknowledged," John said. "We'll monitor from here."
Flash and J'onn chimed in, and the five began coordinating. "You two, cover our backs," said Superman, as Shayera turned the volume down to let them talk.
"I've got this," she said. "If you want to get back to the stabilizers."
John knew when he was being dismissed. And maybe that was the closure he'd been needing after all. He turned.
"Do you hate me yet?"
He stopped. "Excuse me?"
"I figured, you probably hate me by now. I thought I'd ask."
"Ask me again later."
"I'm asking now."
"Maybe I'm getting tired of doing things on your timetable."
"I'm engaged." A cold, hard stone fell into his stomach. "That's the word you use, right? When you're supposed to marry someone."
"You really really should have mentioned that sooner."
"You said we were stranded. For good. I thought it didn't matter anymore."
"You're still stranded."
She didn't reply. He turned to look at her. Her eyes were closed. "It's different," she said, after a long time.
"No, you don't. I know I'm going to see him again." She finally opened her eyes. "I know. When we were on the planet, I thought about him a lot the first couple of days. And then, I quit thinking about him." She met John's eyes. "Now I can't get him out of my head."
He folded his arms. "Tell me about him," was not what he wanted to say but it tumbled out first. He knew what he wanted to hear, that the match had been arranged by her family, that she was acting out of duty.
She smiled. "He's strong, and he's brave, and he's handsome. A lot like you. He loves our home, our people. He's devoted his life to them. The day we Promised ourselves to each other was one of the happiest days of my life."
Not an arranged marriage, then. "Great. Good for you."
"John ... "
"Whatever. We're back on Earth and you're engaged. Fine. Glad we cleared that up. I've got some stabilizers to work on."
"Things were simpler back on that moon. We needed food and water and shelter to survive. We had to look for rescue. Nothing else mattered, not even the sex. When the Javelin landed, everything got complicated again."
"Don't worry, I get it. You were embarrassed. You have this great guy back home and here you'd just shacked up with one of the humans, and all the other humans were going to find out." He practically spat: "How awful for you."
"I thought they'd see us together and know everything. I couldn't risk it. And then we were back here, and I couldn't get him out of my head and it hurt. I thought if I pushed you away, I could make myself believe that nothing had happened. That I hadn't broken my promise. I thought it'd stop hurting. Instead, it just hurt more and all I could do was think about you. Yesterday I spent so much time not paying attention to what I was doing because I was listening to you over the comms that I almost got the Princess killed."
"That was your fault?" She nodded. A second realization followed hard on the heels of the first. "Son of a bitch."
"Batman. He cornered me last night. He was talking about you and I didn't know it." I thought he was being abstract and broody and warning me, and instead he was talking about you the whole time.
"Yeah. He says the others don't yet but that they will."
She sighed and sat back in the chair, wings draping to either side of the thin back. "That answers one question then."
"We need to settle this. We can't be on eggshells around each other. People will die."
"I don't want to be involved in a weird triangle with someone who isn't even here. You made a mistake. Get over it and don't make the same mistake again."
"It wasn't a mistake." He took a breath; he'd expected her to take the out he'd offered. "There are some things I need to tell you," she continued. "And when I'm done, you're probably going to hate me even more than you do now."
"I don't hate you." He was still angry with her and he was still hurt and both would take time to fade, but he couldn't imagine hating her.
"You will," she said quietly.
"Let me worry about that."
She wiped at her cheek furiously; it took him a few seconds to realize she was brushing off tears she had no intention of acknowledging. "There are things I'm trying to say, and they're not going to come out right. My language doesn't have the words, and yours is so complicated sometimes it drives me crazy.
"I think what I want to tell you first is, 'I'm sorry,' but it's not something I really know how to say very well, so when I screw it up, you'll have to let me know."
"That was a good start."
"Good. I'm probably going to be saying it a lot." She stopped, considered. "The second thing I need to tell you is that, although I'm not positive, I think I'm falling in love with you." John stared. "All the signs are there. You drive me to distraction. I dream about you. I've been spending the last few days trying to find the path that hurts you least, and every time it hurts you anyway, a little piece of me dies. So I'm almost certain that I already love you, and if so, you ought to know."
He opened and closed his mouth like a fish. "Oh." Bright, Stewart. Using those linguistic skills again. "Okay."
"The last thing ... " Her eyes widened and he followed her gaze to the comm button blinking red. "Watchtower here, go ahead."
"Are the comms down?" Batman demanded.
"I had the volume on low," Shayera said.
"Both of you, get down here now." Even through the static, John could hear an unusual note of tension in Batman's voice.
"We're on our way," John said. Quietly, he told Shayera, "You can tell me whatever else you need to after we're done."
She nodded, and he could see the worry on her face under the mask. Things were about to get ugly on the planet, and maybe they would just get worse when she got whatever else it was off her chest. But just as when the Javelin had floated over the horizon to rescue them, a warm hope brewed in his belly. He took her hand and she didn't pull away.
All right, Marine. Focus on the mission now. Focus on the girl who just said she loves you later. Worry about her pissed off soon-to-be-ex-fiancé when the world isn't in jeopardy.
John touched his ear as they flew towards the airlock. "Batman, what's the situation? Is anyone hurt?"
Batman's voice was cut off by static. John tapped his ear, knowing it wouldn't help. "Repeat, please." The speaker shot static again.
crackle " ... is dead." crackle crackle "Superman just killed President Luthor."