Ashes, Ashes
a Justice League story
by Merlin Missy
Copyright 2006

Disclaimer: DC/Warner Bros. own the characters and situations. Written for Hawkgirl92 in the DCAU Valentine's Ficathon. With thanks to Dotfic for the lovely beta. Spoilers up through "Divided We Fall."

She'd forgotten. It had been as simple as that.

The methods which individual star systems, planets, and even cultures within a single species used to demarcate the passage of time were varied. Shayera knew them as she needed to, did not ponder the variations between the time-marking used by her human friends and that used back home on Thanagar beyond what she'd once needed to know to send her reports.

But the reports had stopped over two years ago, and that was why she was banished here on Earth now, marked for destruction should she set foot in front of another Thanagarian.

Thanagarian years were longer than Earth years, a factor of solar distance; Thanagar's climate was not colder than that of Earth, a factor of solar intensity and planet-wide prevalence of natural hot geysers. Shayera had studied geology once, preparing for missions in harsher climates.

Geography and astronomy and cosmochemistry and she knew these facts in the back of her mind as lessons from ages ago, and here they conspired against her to change the length of what she considered a "year."

So when she'd flipped through the news channels that afternoon, looking for word of the latest fight over extraterrestrial rights in the Congress, she'd stopped on a program she didn't recognize and listened as some pundit explained that alien registration was "merely a precaution, considering the Thanagarian invasion of two years ago."

And as she always did, she silently added, Not real years. Bored, she did the mental math to figure out the date back home.

Dates lost their significance when crossed over calendars, but some things she remembered.

Shayera turned off the television, told Metamorpho that she was too ill to stand her watch later that evening, and she went back to her quarters and she closed and locked the door.

"Hey," said Flash. J'onn opened his eyes and did not sigh. He'd been attempting a quiet moment inside his own mind, away from the cacophony of his teammates' thoughts. Instead, he was suddenly and fiercely bombarded with Flash's overwhelming presence: zipping strength and bouncing amusement and vague insecurity and transient lust and rangy friendliness and worry shadowing the rest.

"What's wrong?"

Flash shrugged. "Have you talked to Shayera today?"

J'onn shook his head. "I believe she called in ill last evening."

"Yeah. And no one's seen her today." The worry punctuated his words.

"Why don't you go see her?"

"I did! She wouldn't open the door. She told me to go away."

"Perhaps she does not desire company." He wondered if Flash would get the hint.

Flash spread his arms. "I thought we weren't letting her do the hermit thing anymore. Or did we stop that?"

J'onn sat back in his chair, molding and shifting his body to form with the seat. Never quite comfortable, never quite right. "Nothing was decided."

"So we are still making her come out of her room. Okay then."

"But," J'onn continued, "she is an adult and can decide for herself if she would rather not."

"She called in sick, J'onn. She's never sick."

"Then perhaps she is due a day." J'onn chose not to mention that Flash had taken a large number of sick days, usually coinciding with the dates of particular rock bands holding concerts in Central City.

"Can you please go talk to her?"

Were Flash any more like a puppy ... Even now, J'onn suppressed an urge to retrieve some newspapers for the floor. He sighed.

"After I am finished here."

Flash grinned. "You're a pal." He zipped away. J'onn sighed again.

His shifts never truly ended. On occasion, he took time for meditation, or a brief rest, but as the primary contact point for the rest of the League, J'onn was always on duty. More recently he had taken on a more official capacity as a counselor for his fellow heroes; the ability to read minds, although somewhat off-putting to many of his peers, allowed his unrivaled access to the turmoil of thoughts that made up a human or metahuman mind.

Honestly, he was sick of it.

Shayera had not come to him for counseling, although he knew Batman and Superman had both dropped unsubtle hints to that effect upon her return. After the incident with the Thanagarian strike force on that remote moon, first Vixen and then Diana had come to him suggesting he have a talk with her. Shayera had quietly but firmly declined. After hearing Vixen's report and with agreement from the other five original members, J'onn had placed Shayera under a suicide watch for the better part of a month.

But she hadn't missed a shift.

"I will return shortly," J'onn said to the tech beside him. "Contact me immediately if anything happens." The tech nodded — his name was Sam and he had a girlfriend named Sherry and he thought far too much about what the two of them did together for J'onn's comfort — and J'onn drifted through the Bridge floor and down to the living area.

For politeness' sake, he stood outside her door and pressed the buzzer.

"Go away, Flash," came the voice from inside.

"I already sent him away," J'onn said.

There was a long silence. "I'm sorry if I screwed up the schedule last night."

"I'm not here to talk about the schedule. May I come in?"

Another pause. "Fine."

J'onn walked through the door. Shayera sat on her bed, facing away from him towards the stars. For all he could tell, she'd been sitting that way for hours.

"Flash was worried about you."

"Wally worries too much," she said. "Back in the old days, I always thought you were the mother hen, but Wally has you beat hands down."

He wondered if she'd intended to strike him so. J'onn did not enjoy thoughts of their time together on the old Watchtower. After the invasion, although none of the others had ever said anything, he'd felt it was his own failing that he could not read Shayera's thoughts, had not known her true purpose, and worse, had not shared that lack with the rest.

"I'm fine," she said. "I've got duty tonight and I'll be there."

"As I said, I am not here to discuss the schedule."

"No, you're here to check up on me because Wally can't get it through his head I don't want to hang out with him all the time. And shouldn't you be running the League?"

Now those were intended slights. J'onn repressed a smile; he was on firmer ground with her here. He folded his arms.

"Indeed, I have much better things to do than attempt to coddle a sulky warrior."

At last, she turned her head to him. "'Coddle?' 'Sulky!'"

"You'd perhaps prefer 'whiny?'"

She glared at him. "Do I come into your quarters and insult you?"

"No, but that's hardly a surprise. You don't go anywhere. You're standoffish with almost everyone but Flash. If it weren't for him or the times you pretend to be friends with Vixen, I doubt you'd leave your quarters except to go fight."

"That's not true. I work out in the gym. I spend time being social in the rec room." She paused. Ah.

"Did one of the others say something to you yesterday in the rec room?"

"No," Shayera said, obviously distracted.

"Something on the television, then?" He knew she'd been following the Extraterrestrial Registration Act arguments in the United States; he'd been keeping a close eye on the same thing. "Was it O'Bannon again?"

"No." She closed her eyes and turned her head back to her window. "What day is today? On Mars, I mean."

"I don't understand."

"Everyone's got a calendar. Humans have a few that they follow, and you and I have to use their days to talk to the others. But Mars has a year much longer than Earth's. What day is it there?"

She had a chair sitting by a small table. He drew it up and placed it beside her bed. Days, weeks, months, and none of them the right words. "Eksis, the hundredth day of the year," he said, after much thought.

She nodded. "On Thanagar, today is the twelfth of Dahn. It'll be spring soon." Her breath caught. "We never had snow, but winter was always cold. Dahn was a time for stretching the last of the food stores, for sharpening weapons, for readying."

"Eksis is a celebration day," he replied. "Lights and song and family."

"That's nice," she said, and he heard her tears in her voice.

"What happened on the twelfth of Dahn?"

She wiped her face. "I took my first and last trip to the Batcave."

"If you hadn't, the Earth would have been destroyed."

"I know that!" she snapped. "J'onn, don't you think that's the one thought that's kept me alive? Everything else I've done, everything else I've destroyed, I have that."

He cast back. She did not regret her decision. Something about the date was bothering her, so severely she didn't trust herself to stand watch today. No, yesterday.

"What occurred on the eleventh?"

Shayera shrugged. "I got married."

And because he had been thinking of Mars, his thoughts turned to the bright evening he and My'ri'ah first joined minds and bodies and spirits, and the old pain returned like a cold blast into a warm room.

He coaxed the memories away, knew the pain would linger regardless.

"You never said that you married Talak," he managed to say, finally.

"There wasn't a good time to bring it up. And when he left, I thought he would go back to Thanagar and have the marriage ... " She shook her head. "Humans use the words 'annulled' or 'divorced,' but it's not quite right. 'Unmade' is better." She wiped her eyes again. "So it wouldn't have mattered."

"It mattered to you."

"No," she said too quickly. "It was just ... I was supposed to marry him, and it had been five years, and it was time. And I couldn't tell him why I might not want to get married after all. I made a promise."

He did not tell her that she'd made a questionable attempt at keeping that promise. He knew he didn't need to. Her heart had not been with Talak at the end, and Talak had known it.

He said simply, "And now he is gone." In Vixen's report, Dul had said he'd made a final desperate run at a Gordanian command cruiser. Heroism or grief, it had been suicide either way and Shayera would always believe she'd driven him to it.

She nodded. "So, I really shouldn't be worried about it. I mean, divorced or widowed, either way I'm not married to him and I shouldn't worry about the date. Right?"

A night full of stars, and My'ri'ah bathed in the light of two moons. They had splashed together in their coupling and not broken contact for nearly a week that first time. And now she too had returned to dust.

"What is the tradition on Thanagar for such an anniversary?"

"Not so much different from here." With forced jollity she continued: "Flowers, dinner, sex."

He nodded. Some things did not change no matter where a species lived or how it solemnized a mating.

"I miss him," she said to the stars. "I shouldn't."

"You loved him once." When she didn't respond, he added, "And you may love him still. Love does not end with life."

"It ended before that," she said firmly; perhaps she believed her own words and perhaps they were even true.

"Something must linger if a simple date pains you."


"As long as he lives in your heart ... "

"Drop it, J'onn," she said in a hard voice. "You don't believe that and neither do I."

"No," he said after a moment. Dead was dead and lost was lost, and all else was a frail attempt at self-delusion. At best, he could comfort himself with the thought that his wife and children had rejoined H'ronmeer. Shayera had no such comfort, and would reject it regardless.

They had both seen so much death, the death of friends and families and worlds.

"What would you say to him?" he asked. "If you had another day?"

"I don't know. Diana showed me ... I already told him I was sorry."

J'onn flashed back to his conversation with Diana, when she'd come to him concerned for Shayera's mental health: the pagan had taught the atheist to pray.

"What would you say?" she countered at last.

"I would have no words." And it was true. Words could not express his gladness at seeing his love again, nor the agony he would feel knowing it could not last.

"Neither would I."

For a moment, a brief glint of time, he considered shifting his form to Talak's, taking her hands, allowing her that last moment with him. And again, he knew the pain he would suffer should the same happen to him, the sorrow that Morgaine had caused him, cruelly offering then snatching away his joy.

J'onn had difficulties with Shayera, still did not completely trust her and knew she feared him after seeing what had become of Kragger. But he did not hate her, and he would not hurt her so.

He moved from the chair and sat beside Shayera on her bed. Her fair skin was blotchy from crying, but her eyes were dry now. She watched him guardedly as he slipped his arms around her. Comfort was a broken thing between them, something neither could offer in entirety but desperately needed by both nonetheless. J'onn longed for a form pressed against his that could flow and merge, not this rigidity of simple flesh, and he knew Shayera's closed eyes looked upon another form, seeking a forgiveness she was too late to beg for trespasses she did not regret.

The embrace broke at last, and she rested her head against him.

"I've got watch in an hour," she said. "And you should get back."

He nodded. Were he human — were he truly humanoid, even — he would bend and kiss her head and depart. Instead, he placed his hand against her hair and hoped she understood as she turned away from him again.

"An hour," he said, and before he could speak more words that would be empty to them both, J'onn floated up through the ceiling.

The End