Author: M. Scott Eiland
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators.
Time Frame: Just after the last scene of "Hunter's Moon," with spoilers for Justice League and Justice League Unlimited up to that point.
Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.
Original Author/Story/URL: Merlin Missy, "A Lovely Light" : It is story # 2377803 at fanfiction dot net.
Note: My thanks to Merlin Missy for providing a lovely story for me to remix.
REQUIEM IN STARLIGHT
Shayera blinked as the lights dimmed. After her talk with Vixen (". . .if you don't stop calling me that, I'm going to start calling you 'Hawkgirl'—and after this I'd really like to avoid bird names for a while"), she had gone to J'onn and offered to take the night watch. The Martian had taken one look at her and replied, "Shayera—I'm placing you on inactive duty for at least the next seventy-two hours. . .and I suspect it would be longer if I could actually read your mind. I would encourage you to take the time to reflect and seek healing in whatever form you see fit." He had turned his back on her and concluded, "Be well, my friend—and come back to see me in three days."
There are times that I wish I could get really angry with him
After her minor Waterloo at J'onn's hands, she had retreated back to the lunchroom and found a table in the corner—where she brooded in silence as the others gradually left, leaving her alone until the lights dimmed. She sighed—there was no point putting this off any longer. Retreating to her quarters or using the teleporter to flee to a planetside refuge were not acceptable options—the ghosts that had threatened to overwhelm her since Paran Dul had angrily delivered the news that, deep down, she had been dreading since she cast her lot against her people and with her teammates in defense of Earth.
Faced with the imminent destruction of the world she had come to love, she had turned on her love and her home planet, and stood with Earth, believing that she was right and that her people would find a way to survive without exterminating billions of people she had sworn to protect. She had succeeded—and they had failed. She had abandoned Hro Talek to his fate—and he had died a hero to his people, having struck a mighty blow against the genocidal Gordanians that was not enough. . .not enough to undo what had been done. Her betrayal had doomed her race to extermination for most and slavery and misery for the few survivors.
She walked through the empty corridors, relentlessly approaching her goal. She had mended fences with all of her original teammates—the champions of Earth and the surrounding area of space who had joined her for two years in vigilance in the original Watchtower—the one that had been the ultimate instrument of her betrayal, guided by Batman in a would-be suicidal plunge that unleashed a multi-megaton explosion and destroyed the hyperspace bypass that would have annihilated the Earth and saved Thanagar. In various ways, she cared for all of them deeply—but there was only one person she could seek aid from on this night. She fought a wave of nausea, then forced herself to walk directly to the door and knocked three times. There was no immediate response, and Shayera felt an urge to flee—the hour was late, and her errand would deprive the occupant of the room of needed sleep. She forced down the impulse and knocked again.
"Yes, what is it?" The voice sounded vaguely bemused, and was pitched half an octave higher than usual—an obvious sign of having been roused from slumber.
Shayera forced down another wave of guilt and gave a laconic reply: "It's me."
There was a pause, and the door opened. Diana of Themyscira stood there, wearing a simple white robe and a baffled expression. "Shayera—what's wrong? Do you know what time it is?"
Shayera looked apologetic, and Diana sighed. "All right, come in."
Shayera walked into the room—she remembered glimpses of Diana's quarters in the first Watchtower, and remembered thinking that Diana's tastes seemed rather spartan. She was startled to see a wide variety of artwork and other decorations in the room, including a large painting of all seven of the original members of the League walking out of what looked like the morning sun. She turned to Diana and asked, "Where did all of this come from? You never had this many decorations before."
Diana blinked at the question, then smiled as she registered Shayera's obvious appreciation of her new décor: "Mother had all of this sent from Themyscira—the painting is her work. She wanted me to come home now that my exile has been lifted—and when I told her that I wasn't ready to, she told me that if I would not come back to Themyscira, she would send part of Themyscira with me."
Shayera smiled—Queen Hippolyta had made a substantial impression on her during their occasional meetings, and the monarch's reconciliation with her daughter had pleased the Thanagarian greatly. She coughed nervously, and looked at Diana as she said, "I'm sorry for bothering you at this hour, Diana—but I needed to talk to someone. . .someone who—"
"Someone who's known you longer than Vixen has." Shayera's eyes widened at Diana's interjection before she realized that her long talk with Vixen ("Mari, damn it!") had been in a public place: dozens of Leaguers must have witnessed the fact of it, if not the specifics. She nodded, and Diana asked quietly, "Why me?"
Shayera smiled again: six months ago, Diana would have probably asked that question in a confrontational or openly hostile manner. Now—after time and an expedition into the pits of Tartarus had forged new bonds between them that were far stronger than the ones that had been there before the Thanagarians had come to Earth—she merely sounded curious. She turned and looked away from Diana—out the window of the room and at the star-filled sky—as she replied, "I needed to talk to someone who isn't predisposed to forgive whatever I've done—someone who doesn't treat me like an older sister—someone who isn't still in love with me—and, forgive me, but someone with more sensitivity than a brick."
Diana began to open her mouth at the implied affront to Batman in Shayera's last comment, but found herself laughing instead. Shayera waited patiently, and after a moment Diana recovered enough to chuckle, "You're being a little harsh on Bruce, Shayera; mind you, only a little." Shayera nodded, and Diana locked eyes with her as she added, "All right, then—you've told me why not one of the others, but that still doesn't answer the question: why me?"
Shayera winced. She's more tactful than Batman, but she can still cut to the heart of things She swallowed hard, and replied directly:
"We've both been exiles."
Diana blinked. Few of the details of the mission that Shayera, Vixen, and Vigilante had come back from less than twenty-four hours before had leaked back to her, but she had heard whispers that it had involved a trap of some kind. J'onn had mentioned during the time before any of them had known anything was wrong that the mission had implicated Shayera's knowledge of the metal that Thanagarians used to make their magic-disrupting weaponry, making it inevitable that she would be on the mission regardless of whoever else was. I don't have Bruce's genius, but I can put two and two together She gestured to a comfortable chair of archaic design, and Shayera sat down, visibly slumping. Diana sighed, sat on the sofa across from her, and whispered: "Tell me."
Diana of Themyscira had lived for thousands of years, and seen many things. She had been trained as a warrior, and had killed in defense of her friends and her planet. However, few of the horrific sights that she had witnessed over the years had affected her as deeply as the story that Shayera had haltingly told over a period of about fifteen minutes, after which the Thanagarian had buried her face in her hands and gone silent. Her heart went out to her teammate, and she had the impulse to utter warm, calming words without any insistence on further information. If that's what she had wanted, she would have gone to Clark or J'onn She took a deep breath and asked quietly, "It sounds like Paran Dul and the others were forced to leave before finding out the aftermath of the confrontation—what hope is there for Thanagar?"
Shayera lifted her head—her eyes were moist, but her voice was level as she replied, "Hro apparently inflicted massive casualties on the Gordanian fleet, but our forces were completely destroyed. If the Gordanians have any ships left—even a few light cruisers—they can destroy our industries and farms from above and interdict any trade from our remaining colony worlds. Thanagar had a population of ten billion when I left—if the Gordanians had time to conduct a full scale bombardment before their fleet was decimated, casualties could be expected to reach the eighty to ninety percent range."
Diana closed her eyes in sheer incomprehension. Eight, nine billion dead. Hera help them She looked back at Shayera bleakly and asked, "And the survivors?"
"About ten percent of the fleet would have been out in various parts of the galaxy, if the Gordanians haven't managed to pick them off, too." Shayera looked down, visibly considering scenarios as she spoke. "If word got out to any of them, they'll all regroup and head back to Thanagar. . .but the Gordanian homeworld is intact, and they'll be able to rebuild. The survivors will need to deal with food shortages, lingering injuries, and other effects of the bombardment long enough for the last of the fleet to arrive. . .but the only alternative at that point will be partial evacuation. Those left behind will be doomed to death by starvation or enslavement when the new Gordanian fleet arrives. Best case scenario—about five hundred thousand Thanagarians get away to be permanent refugees, hunted by an enemy with vastly superior resources and long, long memories." She chuckled bitterly and concluded, "The end result of my betrayal."
Diana wasn't about to let that go. "You had a lot of help in stopping your people—including Bruce's annoying suicide attempt." That forced a brief smile from Shayera—Diana's anger at Batman's decision to make a suicide run with the Watchtower was no secret to any of the original League, and the smirk on Alfred's face as Diana tore into Bruce about it was a cherished memory to her. Diana nodded at the reaction and added, "The Justice League stood against your people, and we won. The consequences of that victory are on all of our heads, for better or worse."
"Damn it, Diana: they are—were—my people. You were just defending your homeworld, whether by birth, chance, or choice." Shayera's voice quivered slightly—it was a startling contrast to the usually confident demeanor of the Thanagarian. She hesitated, then continued, "Looking back—I still don't completely understand why I did what I did."
Diana sighed. "I don't know what to tell you, Shayera. I'm not sorry for what we did, or that we won. I'd do it again." Shayera went rigid, and Diana stepped forward and put her hand on the shorter woman's shoulder as she added, "For what it's worth—I understand now why you did what you did before you found out about your people's plans. If my mother had given me a similar mission to the one you thought you were on, I certainly would have taken it, and remained loyal to my people."
"Unfortunately, that leaves me with my sins against my own people, and you can't grant me absolution for those, Diana." Shayera turned to the window again, and seemed to stare out over countless light-years of space to where Thanagar was, as its people slowly starved and bled to death with no help in sight. "No one can do that now."
"I know." Diana whispered. "I'm sorry."
Shayera was silent for a moment, then looked up, her expression bleak. Diana felt a chill and said, "Shayera, I think you should go to see J'onn."
Shayera blinked at the deep concern on Diana's face, then made a negating gesture. "Diana—if I was contemplating suicide, I'd have acted on it a long time ago. I was willing to surrender myself to Paran Dul and the others as a means of saving Vixen and Vigilante—though that turned out to be a false hope, as events turned out—but having made it home, I'm not going to walk out of an airlock or go on a kamikaze run against Icthultu's minions to relieve myself of the guilt. That would be a coward's way out, and—whatever else I've become—I won't die a coward's death."
Diana nodded. Something in Shayera's story had stuck in the back of her mind, and she used it as a reason to change the subject. "Hearing about Hro couldn't have been easy for you." Shayera was silent, and Diana pressed on: "He was a formidable enemy. . .but he was honorable. The Thanagarian fleet could have decimated or destroyed the Earth out of sheer spite after the bypass was blown up, even through our resistance, and he refused to give that order. His death was a heroic one—a death that any Amazon would have been proud to embrace in the defense of her people against a deadly foe. I mourn with you." Shayera nodded absently, but remained silent. Diana hesitated, then asked quietly: "You still had feelings for him, didn't you?"
Shayera laughed bitterly. "Vixen asked me the same question, in the same words. How do I answer that question? I was planning to spend the rest of my life with him—how would Wally put it? Oh, right—we were going to do the 'happily ever after thing.' The war would be over, and we'd go off somewhere to get married and have lots of children. Or maybe we would have just stayed in the military and kept fighting until some Gordanian gunner got lucky and blew us to atoms. I don't know which—but we would have been together until our time came. I loved him—I loved him even after I fell for John. If things had gone how I thought they were going to, I would have been torn when I went back to Thanagar. . .but I always loved him. I still do, though I suspect he died cursing my name." Shayera hesitated, then asked, "Diana? You've heard about my people and their beliefs—how we cast out Icthultu and his minions and refused to bow down to any god after that." Diana nodded, and Shayera continued, "It's just. . .I visited the afterlife as your people believe in it—how does that work?"
Diana shrugged—theology wasn't one of her strengths, though she had met more than her share of gods in her time. "The wicked are consigned to unpleasant fates in Tartarus—you've seen what that is like." Shayera nodded, and Diana continued, "For others, the gods are generally silent and reports amount to rumor. Greek myth depicted the afterlife as a grim and boring place without reward or punishment, but I've never spoken to anyone who's actually been there. I'd like to think that something good is waiting for me if I die in battle, but I have no certainty as to the form—just that it is there."
Shayera sighed. "Since Grundy died, I've talked to some of the others about this. John spent the most time on it: he talked about angels and heaven and salvation—he said that he listened to some long sermons on the subject when he was younger. Thanagarians believe that when the body dies that it is the end—but what I saw in Tartarus makes me doubt that: can Thanagarians and humans be that different, given our similarities?" Diana shrugged again, and Shayera added, "But can you imagine my people in John's idea of heaven? They'd be running the place in a week, or they'd force God to cast them out in sheer self-defense!"
Diana smiled at the image. "Probably."
Shayera smiled back at Diana, then added, "And as for Tartarus. . .I'm not sure what would be worse: non-existence, or living like those creatures we saw, or like Faust's soul is going to for the next few thousand years."
"I didn't see any Thanagarians in Tartarus—I doubt that Hades could handle them." Diana's tone was matter-of-fact, and Shayera brightened a little. Diana thought for a moment and suggested, "Some of the northern warrior cultures believed in a boisterous afterlife—drinking and feasting and brawling. It sounds like it might fit your people well."
Shayera thought about it, then smiled a little: "It might." She looked at Diana and asked, "What do you think is waiting for you if you die, Diana?"
This time it was Diana's turn to look out the window. "I haven't thought about it much—I spent most of my life on Themyscira, where death by combat or misfortune wasn't exactly a big concern. Since I've been in Man's World, I've been too busy fighting to think much about what happens if someone gets lucky and deals me a deathblow. . .I'd like to be somewhere quiet, I suppose. To forget the sadness of the world and rest. If I can't help anymore, that would be as good a fate as any."
Shayera sighed. "I need more than that, Diana. I want something to believe in not just for me, but for them. There are eight billion Thanagarians who died directly due to my actions, and I need something to help me honor those lives and let me believe that I haven't consigned them to oblivion or damnation."
Diana considered Shayera's words, then walked over to a table and pulled out a box of candles and some matches. She walked back to Shayera and explained, "You need to look within yourself, Shayera—and meditation is a good way to reach that state. Find a quiet place—your quarters or one of the observation lounges. Light the candle and stare into the flame. Think about Hro, and the others of your people you have lost. When the candle burns out, light another. Consider carefully whatever thoughts come to mind—if you're fortunate, enlightenment will be yours." She reached out and clasped forearms with Shayera as she whispered, "May your soul know solace, Shayera Hol of Thanagar."
Shayera squeezed and whispered back, "Thank you." She accepted the candles and said good night to Diana as she left the Amazon's quarters and began to walk back to her own. As she got close, she looked down at the box of candles and frowned—then smiled as she had an inspiration.
The observation lounge was dark and silent as Shayera entered, and she immediately locked the door behind her as she entered and walked over to the huge window. Without the effects of atmospheric distortion, and with the lights on the Watchtower on night cycle, literally millions of stars were visible in the otherwise near total darkness. She knelt before the window and stared out into the starlight, fixing her vision on one bright star as she began to direct her thoughts at one who would never stand in front of her again:
Hro. . .I'm sorry.
As she knelt there, invoking the names of the dead as the starlight faintly illuminated her, she began to hear a low murmuring. She could not make out any voices, and the exact nature of the sound eluded her—but somehow the sound comforted her, as if her thoughts had summoned a last requiem for eight billion dead. As tears flowed down her cheeks, she smiled and continued to speak to those who had departed, as the Watchtower silently spun through its night cycle in the silvery light.
As always, comments are welcomed and desired.