Chapter 20: Deliverance - The Last Chapter
"Doc! Doc! She's waking up!" an excited John Stewart called out. "Shayera? Shy? Can you hear me?" he asked softly.
She groaned and then squinted from the overhead lights as she came to. From the smell and the sounds, her nose and ears told her what her eyes could not. She was in one of the Watchtower's many infirmary rooms. However, out of habit, she asked anyway.
"Where am I?" a still groggy Shayera Hol-Stewart asked.
Her husband, who had been standing vigil at her bedside, smiled and gently stroked her cheek. "You're on the Watchtower" he said, comfortingly.
She put her right hand up to her face to block the glare of the lights and then squeezed her eyes open and shut several times in an effort to shake her mind fog.
"What are we doing here?" she asked before instinctively reaching for her stomach.
Before her husband could answer, her expression slowly turned from bewilderment to terror as her familiar bulge was gone. She immediately sat up, winced from the pain and yelled out.
"John! The babies! Please let this be a dream! Please let this be a dream! Wake up Shayera! Wake up!
She closed her eyes, but then opened them only to find an unchanged reality. Her eyes frantically searched the room, but saw no sign of her children. Her anxiety was building and she began breathing rapidly. With each drawn breath, she experienced sharp pains.
"Shayera. Calm down. It's going to be okay. Doc! Doc!" her concerned husband yelled.
"Mrs. Stewart? Mrs. Stewart? I really need you to calm down right now" the attending obstetrician calmly stated, lowering your back to the bed.
"You don't understand!" she shouted, but winced again from the pain.
"Your babies are fine" the neonatalogist said smiling, gently placing an oxygen mask over Shayera's nose and mouth.
Shayera closed her eyes and deeply breathed in the pure oxygen. The pain subsided as her breaths became more controlled and rhythmic.
"Slow breaths, Shy. Slow breaths" her husband said encouragingly, holding her right hand.
She took four deep breaths and then slowly opened her eyes. She then gestured with her left hand for the oxygen mask's removal. The neonatalogist removed the mask and then elevated Shayera's bed. Shayera turned to look at her husband.
"Babies?" she asked, allowing a small, yet guarded smile to form.
"Babies" her husband said smiling back at her and gently moving the hair from her face.
"As in two?" she asked again.
"Yes. Babies with an 's'" he answered, beaming.
Tears began to form.
"They're beautiful, Shayera" he said leaning over and kissing her on the forehead. "Beautiful like their mother".
"What are they?" she asked, as tears slowly began to roll down her cheek.
"A boy and a girl" her husband answered.
"Oh, John…" she started, but couldn't finish. She put her left hand up to her mouth and began to weep. Her husband gently wiped away her tears and hugged her.
"It's okay, Shy. It's okay. Let it all out" he said, softly as tears began to form in his eyes.
She began to weep more vigorously as she reflected upon past and painful memories. She held tight to the father of her children as he gently rubbed her back until both had stopped crying.
"You wanna see em'?" he asked, wiping away his own tears, but knowing full well her answer.
"Of course!" she answered, sniffling.
"Mrs. Stewart, there is something you should know first" the neonatalogist interrupted. "Your twins, as you know, were born premature".
She knew, but still frowned upon hearing the word 'premature'.
"But I want to assure you that they are doing fine and are very healthy. However, I must warn you…"
"Warn me about what?" she interrupted, with some alarm in her voice.
"I'm sorry 'warn' is the wrong word. I meant to say 'inform'. I want to inform you that the twins are on ventilators and they do have endotracheal tubes". Shayera gritted her teeth. "However, it's a standard procedure and precaution. You were pretty far along in your pregnancy and our early tests show that they don't have RDS so no surfactant treatments will be necessary for either one".
"RDS?" Shayera asked.
"I'm sorry, RDS stands for Respiratory Distress Syndrome" the neonatalogist answered.
Shayera breathed a sign of relief.
"You know, your twins had several inherent factors going for them" the doctor stated.
"What do you mean?" Shayera inquired.
"First of all, and we don't know why this is, but female premmies tend to be stronger and more capable of recovering than their male counterparts".
"What about Rex?" John asked, with a little alarm in his voice.
"Well, Mr. Stewart, that's the other bit of good news. Again, we don't know why, but statistics show that premmies with African-American descent tend to do better than those without. So both of your children are covered" the neonatalogist said with a smile. "In fact, we may be able to take them off the ventilators in just a few days".
It was now John's turn to breathe a sigh of relief, as a small grin came across his face.
"You didn't tell me you were African-American" he said with a big grin.
"Oh, ha ha" she said smiling back.
"Mrs. Stewart…" the doctor started.
"Please stop with the 'Mrs. Stewart', doctor. My name is Shayera and this is John" she stated.
"I know Mrs…uhm…'Shayera', it's just a sign of respect" the doctor explained.
"Well stop respecting me so much" she replied.
"Ya know doc, I think she is starting to feel better" John said laughing.
"What do you mean?" Shayera asked, with some annoyance.
"C'mon Shayera, a sure sign of you being back to normal is your trademark crankiness" he said, continuing to laugh. "And I love you for it" he said kissing her on the forehead.
"I'm not cranky!" she said, slowly lowering her voice. "I'm just passionate" she explained, laughing a little at herself.
The doctor laughed and then asked the question Shayera had waited the past seven months, if not her entire life, to hear.
"Ready to see your children?" the neonatalogist asked, smiling.
The new mother closed her eyes and deeply inhaled.
"Yes!" she replied, opening her eyes and exhaling.
"They are currently resting in the NICU".
"NICU?" she asked, with a degree of anxiety.
"Oh sorry, NICU stands for neonatal intensive care unit" she explained. "They're fine, Shayera" the neonatalogist said reaching out and gripping her right hand.
"Thank you doctor" Shayera said.
"Oh please, stop with the 'doctor' already. It's 'Karen'" she said walking towards the door.
"Thank you, 'Karen'" Shayera called out.
"Mr…sorry…'John' knows the way. I'll meet you down there in a bit" Karen said, exiting through the doorway.
They were now alone.
"So, how are you feeling, Shy?" John asked.
"Pretty good, considering" she answered with a deep inhale.
"You ready?" he asked, smiling.
She smiled and nodded in the affirmative.
"Okay, I'll be right back".
"Where are you goin'?" she asked, impatiently.
"You'll see" he answered, reaching outside her door and pulling the object into the room.
"What is this?" she asked, annoyed.
"Uhm, a wheelchair" he said pushing it toward her bed.
"I know what it is smarty pants, why is it here?" she said, crossing her arms.
"It's for you" he said, pushing it closer.
"Don't need it" she said defiantly, standing up on noticeably weak legs.
"Riiight. Humor me" he said, reaching out and steadying her.
"Okay, but I'm only doing this because I don't want to argue" she said, breathing deeply and wincing a little from the pain.
"That would be a first" he said under his breath and slowly helping her into the chair.
"What was that?"
"Uh huh. Before we go, could you grab my mace?"
"What for?" he asked. "You aren't gonna hit me are you?"
She looked up at him, batted her eyes and smiled. "Please?"
He sighed, but then nodded in the affirmative and left the room. He soon returned with her mace.
"Ya know. I never realized how heavy this thing is" he commented.
She didn't answer, but reached out her hand and grasped the mace as he placed it in front of her.
"Thanks. Now we can go" she stated.
"Yes sir" he said, playfully saluting.
The trip from the infirmary to the NICU was short and they made it in silence. He was grinning from ear to ear, but she was apprehensive as her hands lay resting on the mace in her lap.
"Here we are" he said, making a mock braking noise. "You ready?"
She deeply inhaled and then nodded in the affirmative. As he was about to continue forward, she stopped him.
"Yeah?" he said leaning over the back of the wheelchair and placing his face next to hers.
"I love you" she said with a smile, before reaching up and touching his face with her left hand.
"It'll be okay, Shy" he said, recognizing her underlining anxiety. "I love you too…mama" he said, kissing her on the cheek.
She smiled and then took a deep breath as he pushed her through the swinging doors of the NICU.
"Ya know. I never knew we had an NICU" she said as he pushed her further into the ward.
"Yeah, they added it when Wally and Linda had their scare".
"Right this way" Karen said, greeting them.
"Shouldn't we have washed our hands or something?" Shayera asked.
"Actually, this entire ward is constantly bombarding your body with anti-bacterial measures. You just can't see it. So not to worry, this area is completely germ free" the neonatalogist assured her.
As John continued to push the wheelchair, Shayera could hear and feel her heartbeat quicken as the realization that she was only a few yards away from her children began to hit home. Time seemed to move in slow motion for those last few steps, until at last, her children lay before her.
"Here they are" Karen announced. "Don't let all this equipment alarm you. Your children are doing extremely well. The isolettes and ventilators are just standard procedure".
She knew someone was talking, but her mind and eyes were elsewhere. Her gaze was transfixed on the two ventilators in front of her. They were slightly higher than her seated position so she stretched her neck to get a better look. Her vision, however, remained obscured. Taking a deep breath, she put her hands on the arms of the wheelchair and began to stand.
"Shayera…" her husband began to say in protest.
"I'm fine, John" she said, finding her strength as she arose.
Now standing she could see both of her children. Their isolettes were next to each other and she took a few ginger steps in order to get closer. Her eyes and smile widen as she looked upon her babies. She slowly moved her head and eyes from one isolette to the next. She was soaking them in. She continued to watch in awe as the ventilator helped their tiny lungs slowly and rhythmically expand and contract their chest. She mentally counted their fingers and toes and a large smile came across her face. However, she began to weep when she noticed their tiny wings. She put her left hand to her mouth as tears of joy trickled down her face.
"Told you they were beautiful" her husband said softly, walking up and putting his arm around her.
"After all these years, all the disappointments…" she began to say.
"I know" he interrupted.
"These are our babies, John. Yours and mine" she said looking up at her husband.
He smiled at her and gently wiped away her tears with his thumbs before kissing her gently on the lips and embracing her. They stood in silence, staring at their children before he spoke.
"So what's our daughter's name gonna be? I think you should have that honor because well, Rex was kinda, you know, preordained".
Without saying a word, she slowly pulled away from her husband and a determined expression came across her face.
"Hand me my mace" she said, authoritatively.
He raised an eyebrow, but then reached down and put the mace in her right hand. She smiled at him and turned to her daughter's isolette. She placed her left hand on the clear glass, spread out her wings and raised her now activated mace over her head. John marveled, as the glow from her mace was the brightest he had ever seen it. He put his right hand up to his face to shield his eyes. Then, in a loud voice, she spoke.
"Let the universe know and therefore tremble that a daughter of Thanagar from the fifth house of Hol has given birth! From this day forth, the female seed of Shayera Hol-Stewart shall be forever known as Alexis Hadassah Hol-Stewart!"
After her proclamation, she slowly lowered her wings and removed her hand from the isolette. She turned to face her husband, but he stood there in shock and silence.
"Well, don't just stand there, say something" she demanded, softly.
"I…I don't know what to say" he stated.
"Say you like it".
"I like it" he said embracing her and holding her tightly.
"Oww! Hello! Still recovering from major surgery here!"
"Sorry, it's just…" he began to say.
"I know, John…I know".
"No Shayera, you don't. We need to talk" he said, solemnly.
Before Shayera could inquire further, Karen, the interrupted.
"I'm afraid you are going to have to continue your conversation elsewhere. Visitation hours are just about over".
"We can't stay?" Shayera asked, disappointedly.
"I'm sorry Shayera, but we have to do our daily evaluations" Karen answered. "However, you can still monitor your children without physically being here" she said, reaching into her lab coat pocket.
She pulled out a PDA sized device and handed it to Shayera.
"Whats this?" she asked.
"It's a wireless video monitor" Karen said, pointing to the myriad of cameras on the ceiling. "You can watch them 24 hours a day if you like".
She put the monitoring device in her robe pocket before placing a hand on each isolette. "Mommy loves you" she said, softly.
"C'mon, 'Shayera of the fifth house of Hol'" John said, trying to help her back into the wheelchair. She resisted at first, but finally sat down with a deep sigh. "They're in good hands, Shy" he said pushing her out of the NICU.
"I know, its just…now that they are here, I mean really here, I don't want them out of my sight" she explained.
"I feel the same way, believe me. Hey, why don't you try the monitor?" he said, continuing to push her down the corridor.
She pulled the monitor from her robe pocket and turned it on. Once the device completed booting up, a security measure required her to place her thumbprint on the monitor's screen. After complying, the monitor revealed a real-time, bird's-eye view of the twins.
"Look! There they are" she said, smiling.
"Let me see. Cool! Ya know, I think you can move the camera around with the keypad".
"Really?" she touched the up arrow and the twins' image moved forward. She touched the left arrow and their image moved to the left. "Neat!"
"See? Now you can keep an eye on them" her husband said, reassuringly.
She smiled as she looked down at the monitor and played with the directional buttons.
"I still can't believe it, John" she said, looking up. "After all of the heartache, the pain, the uncertainty, and here they are".
"Yeah, I know" he said, smiling. "It's been quite a journey, but with Rex and Alexis finally being here, it's made it all worth it. We're parents now, Shy! Can you believe it!" He pushed her a few more yards and then suddenly laughed aloud.
"What's so funny?" she asked.
"I was just thinking of something Wally said when he first saw the twins" John said, still laughing a little.
"I can only imagine. Do I even want to know?"
"He called them…our little Chocolate Cherubs" he said, laughing harder.
She sighed and shook her head.
"Earth humor is still so foreign to me" she said, a little exasperated.
"That was funny, Shy. Trust me".
She laughed, but only because she was happy to hear her husband laughing again. It had been so long since she heard him genuinely enjoying himself. She hated that eventually their conversation would have to turn more serious.
"So where are we going?" she asked.
"Observation deck Beta" he replied.
"What happened?" she asked, softly.
"What do you mean?" he asked, knowing what she meant.
"How did I get to the Watchtower?" she answered.
"Here we are" he said, ignoring her question as they arrived at the private observation deck. "Beautiful isn't it?" he stated, looking out at the stars.
"It is" she replied. They continued to look in silence at the heavens before she spoke up. "You didn't answer my question, John".
"Shayera…" he began.
"The last thing I remember, you were telling me that when you went to the future, you didn't meet Alexis. After that, it gets kinda fuzzy" she said, interrupting him.
He stood behind her wheelchair as they looked at their reflection against the backdrop of stars. He deeply exhaled before speaking.
"Shayera…to put it bluntly, you kinda freaked out". Her reflection revealed a frown. "You ran into the forest and then tried to fly away, but you couldn't maintain any lift. I caught you just as you were falling to the ground". He took his hands off the wheelchair's handles and walked around to face her. He squatted down and held her hands. "After your fall, things got kinda dicey".
"Yeah…you started bleeding, Shayera" he said, solemnly.
He could feel her squeeze his hands as a pained expression came across her face. She cast her eyes downward and her head hung low. Her distinctive horned bangs fell over her face, covering her forehead.
"John, I'm so sorry. I almost lost the babies. What was I thinking?" she said, sorrowfully.
"Hey, hey, hey" he said, putting his right hand under her chin and lifting her head up. "You have nothing to apologize for, Shy. If anyone should be apologizing, it's me. I caused your panic attack. You were just reacting to what I told you".
She lifted her eyes and a small smile formed. "You have always known how to pick me up. I love you, John Stewart" she said, placing her right hand on his left cheek.
"I love you too, Shayera Stewart" he replied.
Seconds passed as they continued to gaze into each other's eyes.
"So after you caught me, then what happened?" she asked.
"Well I didn't so much as catch you, as break your fall. It was when I picked you up that I noticed you were injured".
She instinctively put her left hand to her stomach.
"So what did you do?" she asked.
"I panicked!" he said, laughing a little.
She smiled at him and he smiled back, but his mood changed as he stood up and walked over to the observation deck's window. He stood by the window looking out for several seconds before speaking again.
"I was scared, Shy" he finally said, softly. "I didn't have my ring and I didn't want to risk moving you without knowing the extent of your injuries. I thought…I thought I was going to lose my family all over again".
She could see tears forming in his eyes from his reflection in the window.
"John?" she said with concern and slowly standing up. She walked over and stood in front of him. "You okay?"
He held her right hand with his left and closed his eyes. A small smile appeared as he took comfort in her touch.
"John? What did you mean when you said you thought you'd lose your family again?"
He opened his eyes and began to look out of the window. He deeply inhaled before speaking.
"Do you remember when I asked you about the solo at Katma's funeral?"
"Yes, you said the name of the song was 'Take My Hand Precious Lord'".
He was surprised she remembered the title, but it made him smile.
"Well, there's a reason I chose that particular song, Shy". He motioned for her to sit back down in the wheelchair before continuing. "It's a song about hope and faith in the midst of tragedy and loss".
After helping her to sit down, he turned, looked out toward the stars and began his narrative.
"Ya see, in 1925, Thomas Dorsey, the son of a preacher, married Nettie Harper. A year later, however, he suffered a nervous breakdown and his wife had to work in a laundry to make ends meet. Prior to his nervous breakdown, he had been a successful blues musician, but after a spiritual experience, he committed his talents to gospel music. One August night, in 1932, while finishing his performance as the featured soloist at a revival, he was handed a Western Union telegram that had four simple words, 'your wife just died'".
A sad expression came over Shayera's face.
"Dorsey raced home to find that his wife had indeed died, but he also found that his wife had given birth to a baby boy. He was emotionally torn between both grief and joy, but sadly, his joy soon turned to more grief. His baby boy died in his arms that night as well. Grief stricken, he buried his wife and son in the same casket".
John paused as tears slowly began to fall down his face. Seeing his tears and being ever the detective, Shayera finally realized the parallel and awful truth. With tears in her eyes, she stood, walked over to her husband and embraced him from behind. Again, as she had done so many years before, she spread her wings and wrapped them around him.
"I'm so sorry, John. I never knew" she said, resting her head against his back.
Through flowing tears, John continued the story.
"In his grief, Dorsey blamed God for his loss and turned away from his faith. Concerned about his state of mind because of his earlier nervous breakdown, a friend arranged for him to be alone in a music room with a piano. In the stillness of the room, he was overcome with a sense of peace as he began to key a melody he had never heard or played before. The words and melody for Take My Hand Precious Lord were born that day. Out of his tragedy came triumph, as Dorsey created the greatest gospel song of all time. He watched his song get translated into over 30 languages before his death in 1993".
He squeezed his eyes shut as he came to the end of the story. He was now openly sobbing and Shayera continued to hold him tight.
"It's okay, John. Now it's your turn. Let it out. Let it all out" she said, softly.
They remained in that position for several minutes as John purged his soul of the grief he had never fully expressed. Once his sobbing had stopped, he spoke.
"That's how I did it Shayera...that's how I got you to the Watchtower. Faced with losing my family again, I remembered how Kat had willed her ring back to me from thousands of miles away. I had never been able to will my ring for more than a few yards away, but when I realized I might lose you and the babies, I concentrated like never before and the ring came".
"Why didn't you tell me, John?" she asked. "Why didn't you tell me that Katma was pregnant?"
"How could I, Shy? You had already had your first miscarriage. When Kat got pregnant, I didn't want you to think I was throwing it in your face".
"Oh, John. Can't you see what happened here?" she said, shaking her head. "Don't you remember what you told me after I rejoined the league and was struggling with my purpose? You told me that everything happens for a reason. You said you didn't believe in coincidence. You said you believed in providence. Do you remember? Well, Alexis' middle name is 'Hadassah', John…'Esther'" she said, smiling.
He slowly began to smile as he realized the meaning behind his daughter's name.
"Do you remember now?" she asked.
"Yes" he said and nodded in the affirmative.
"You once told me that I was this planet's 'Esther'. However, I didn't understand because I had never read the Bible, but when you told me her story, the parallel was eerie; downright spooky even. A woman in a strange land, forced to hide her true identity, struggles with her duty to her people, but thanks to a personal relationship, foils a plot to exterminate an entire race of people. You said that was me, John. You said I was Esther. Like Esther's cousin you asked me, 'how did I know that for such a time I was not born?' You said without me, the Earth would have been destroyed. You said what I viewed as a betrayal was really a benediction for billions of people. You helped me see that through my own personal tragedy, there was actually a triumph. You helped me see my life had meaning, John".
"I married well" he said, smiling.
"So did I" she said, smiling back. "Don't you see, John? You were right once again, were it not for Katma's death, you wouldn't have had the example or the will power to save me and our children. It was your tragedy to triumph moment and now we have two beautiful babies to show for it".
He had never pictured his own situation in those terms. All these years he only saw tragedy.
"Thank you" he said, softly.
"For what?" she asked.
"For staying the strong, insightful woman I fell in love with so many years ago. You're going to be a wonderful mother, Shy".
"You think so?"
"I know so" he said, before kissing her. She kissed him back and they embraced.
They were still embracing as they watched a javelin make its final approach. He sighed.
"What's the matter?" she asked.
"I just realized something".
"Number one, I don't have any more secrets and number two, I no longer know the future".
She laughed. "Nor do I. So what happens next?"
"I guess we take it one day at a time from now on" he answered.
"One day at a time?" she asked.
"One day at a time" he replied.
"That's not gonna be easy" she stated.
"Nothing worth having ever is".
She smiled and then sat down in her wheelchair. "C'mon 'daddy', drive me back down to the NICU, I'm having BBWS".
"You know, beautiful baby withdrawal symptoms".
"Groan" he responded.
"Oh, home Jeeves!" she said sarcastically.
"That's James" he corrected, shaking his head.