Pain of Darkness
A Justice League Unlimited Story
Copyright June 2006
Disclaimer: The characters Batman, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Superman & Flash and their respective secret identities are all owned by DC Comics. This story is intended for my own pleasure and is not for profit. It has been posted to this site for others to read. Places and characters not own by DC Comics are my own creation.
Synopsis: Cicero said it best: "The soul in sleep gives proof of its divine nature." - A Shayera Hol story
Notes: Spoilers up through "Destroyer." A sequel to "Tribes." References material that appeared in a "Living with Shadows"and "Bookends" Inspired by "Contains Language" by Merlin Missy. A huge shout out of thanks to Merlin Missy for her beta on this story.
Darkness, darkness, long and lonesome, Is the day that brings me here
I have felt the edge of sadness, I have known the depths of fear.
Darkness, darkness, be my blanket, Cover me with the endless night
Take away this pain of knowing, Fill this emptiness with light now
Emptiness with light now. (Darkness, Darkness - Jesse Colin Young)
Just a few minutes ago Batman had told her all he could remember about the man he'd met in the future, the man he knew to be her son, the man named Rex Stewart, the man called Warhawk.
He'd told her that Warhawk had fought bravely and that Lantern had provided words of confidence to the man with the silver wings before the battle with Chronos and his minions.
Now, as she walked back to the infirmary where Mari lay recovering from her encounter with the Shadow Thief, Shayera felt a mother's pride at the accomplishments of her son --- a son not yet born --- a son that if John had his way might never exist.
She reminded herself that even though she came from a violent planet of warriors, she could not take by force here what she wanted. On this planet, she must wait until what she wanted was offered to her. And she had been prepared to do exactly that until John told her about Warhawk.
If John had decided that he didn't want her because he was afraid of the future he'd seen, well, that was his problem. But she would not let him change her destiny, a destiny she now desperately wanted. She was to be the mother of a proud warrior and no one was going to step between her and her child's future.
She entered the recovery room and found John standing next to Vixen, who was sitting up in her bed. Diana was also in the room. This was a surprise. The Princess stood on the other side of Mari's bed. John held Mari's hand and Mari in turn stroked John's ring hand. All three stopped talking when Shayera entered. The only sound in the room was the constant, steady beeping of Vixen's heart monitor.
Diana broke the silence. "Did you come here to congratulate the happy couple?"
"Congratulate them for what?" Shayera asked. Almost as if in answer, she suddenly felt someone nudge her arm. It was J'onn in his true Martian form and his appearance momentarily startled her. "I made this because of you," he said, offering her a carrot stick. "The Lantern and Vixen are going to get married. Make sure you tell them you are happy for them."
Shayera frowned, but timidly took the offered carrot. "I'll tell them. I promise. But please, no more vegetables because of me."
J'onn shrugged his shoulders. "Suit yourself. Just make sure you smile. Otherwise, they'll want me to make another one of these - this time out of you," he said, pointing to the carrot in her hand. Then before she could speak, he swiftly grabbed her hand and bit the carrot she was holding in half. She recoiled in fear as J'onn sank through the floor.
Shayera glanced at Diana who smiled back at her. "Don't worry, Shayera. J'onn won't do anything to you unless I ask him to. And we all know how warmly I feel about you, don't we?"
Shayera nodded. Everyone knew how Diana felt about her. It was the worst kept secret in the League. Had Diana killed her when they were all under Roulette's mind control, it would have been chalked up as a regrettable but foreseeable incident.
One of the medical staff walked in the room, checked Mari's chart and made an adjustment to her IV. As he walked past Shayera on his way out of the room, he whispered in Thanagarian, "Come on, you know what you must do, otherwise there can't be a little king. You do want the little king, don't you?"
Shayera nodded. She frowned and looked at John, whose ring hand was still being stroked by Mari. "I guess congratulations are in order," she said softly.
John frowned. "They are. Remember, this is your fault. You betrayed us. You betrayed me and then you ran away. Mari just took what you weren't using – what you threw away, what you didn't want."
Shayera stared at John as she nervously fingered her mace and whispered, "And what about our son?"
John didn't answer her, but instead turned his head back toward Mari and smiled. Mari looked up and said to Shayera, "You will have no son. There will be no one to vindicate your name, no one to restore your honor or your lost rank. Your name will be a curse upon those who dare whisper it. You, Shayera Hol, are a walking corpse waiting to die."
"Shayera!" a voice rang out. Shayera turned and looked behind her. It was the same member of the medical staff who had whispered to her in Thanagarian earlier. He stood in the doorway of the room. Shayera suddenly realized he bore a strong resemblance to how she'd imagined the man Batman had described as her son would look. "You know what you must do," he said. "Do it for me, Mother. Do it for us." Then he turned and walked away.
She did know what she had to do. Up until this moment, Mari had been a romantic rival, but still a friend. Now as Shayera fully extended her wings and snarled, "Idh-leth," Mari had just become prey.
In one fluid motion, Shayera raised her mace, pointed it at the still smiling Mari and discharged a massive energy blast into the woman.
Mari fell back into the bed. Shayera moved toward the fatally wounded woman and snapped at John, "Your harlot will not become your mate."
Mari opened her eyes, fluttered them at Shayera and sat up. "You lose. Again," she said in a surprisingly strong voice for a woman with a twelve inch burn hole in the middle of her body, Shayera thought.
John glared at Shayera and took his arm out of the sling it had been in. "You called her my harlot?" he bellowed. "And what does that make you? You were the one who was my whore. Why did you come back? Did you think I was going to wait years for you to decide you were ready for us to be together again? What gives you alone the right to decide that? Well, now you can wait on me! You're the one who will be destiny's puppet, dancing to the pull of my strings."
"John," she said softly as she reached out to touch him.
He pulled away, out of her reach, and growled, "I should have killed you in the desert when I had the chance."
She stepped back in surprise.
John looked at her and said flatly, "You've always killed everything you loved. It was just a matter of time before you got me killed the way you did eight thousand years ago. This ends now, you sathla tsat-thoth-na. Die!"
Before Shayera could ask John where he learned enough Thanagarian to call her a traitorous, maskless whore, he raised his arm and using his ring, blasted a hole through her chest.
The blast threw her against the far wall where she fell to ground, face down. She lay there, unable to move as the darkness, like a wave crashing upon the shore, enveloped her. She could hear laughter, John and Mari's laughter, as her world went black.
Shayera woke up screaming. It took her several long moments to realize she was in her own bed and that she'd just had another nightmare. Her pillow was wet, her breathing was rapid and her hair stuck uncomfortably to her face.
"Nugjat Maj!" she screamed as she snatched her pillow from her bed and hurled it against the wall. She sat up, brought her knees to her chest, lowered her head and hugged herself as she wrapped her wings around herself.
Unsuccessfully fighting back the tears, she knew that she wasn't going to sleep the rest of the night.
(Metrotower Cafeteria – three hours later)
Shayera stared silently into her coffee cup. There were no answers there and the dark liquid showed the reflection of a woman who was uncertain of herself. As the humans would say, she was caught between a rock and a hard place. She'd never admit it to anyone, but she was unhappy. She missed Thanagar more than she thought she ever would and longed to return, but she knew she probably wouldn't make it out of the quadrant before agents of the Thanagarian rebellion would be after her, intent on assassination. She sighed loudly, recalling Hro's last words to her.
"No, Hro, I'm not happy now," she answered quietly to her reflection in her cup.
"Anything I can do to change that?"
Shayera was startled by the voice and flinched. She looked up as Metamorpho stood next to her table, holding his tray. She tried to stifle a yawn. "No, Metamorpho," she said, nodding her head slightly, encouraging her friend to sit down. She pushed her tray aside, along with her uneaten breakfast. "I mean Rex," she corrected herself.
What were the odds that her son and Rex Mason would share a first name? She made a note to ask Batman if he remembered anything about how Rex Stewart came to be named. One thing she knew for certain: hanging out with Rex Mason wasn't going to help her mood regarding Rex Stewart.
"Well, I'm sorry to hear that 'cause you really look terrible," Rex said. He placed his tray on the table, sat down and took a sip of his coffee.
Shayera's eyes widened in surprise. "You really know how to compliment a girl, don't you?" She gave him a brief, tight-lipped smile. "Let's just say it was a rough night. How's Sapphire?"
"She's doing good. You? You look like you got troubles. Anything I can do to help?"
"Cyanide would be nice." Noting the stunned expression on his face, she quickly added. "I was just kidding and no, you can't help. I have to figure out these protocols by myself."
Rex moved his tray aside. "Sometimes it helps to talk things out, you know. I can listen if you like or we could go somewhere and just get drunk. Your choice."
She suppressed a grin. It was easy to see why John had been fond of his old Marine Corps buddy. She shook her head. "The getting drunk sounds good, but no thank you. I have things I have to work out on my own. This is one of them."
Rex raised an eyebrow. "Yeah. I can see how successful you've been so far."
Shayera frowned, her eyes narrowed. "You should be quiet now."
Rex took a deep breath, seemingly unfazed by Shayera's comment. "You see," he said as he reached over to his tray and picked up a piece of toast, "that's the great thing about a true friend." He took a bite of his toast and continued, "A true friend knows how far he can go and won't care if he passes that mark if it means that he told you what you needed to hear when you needed to hear it."
Shayera glared at him for a long moment before finally answering, "Well, you passed the mark, but ... thank you, anyway." She took another sip of her coffee and frowned at the lukewarm brew. "Okay, let's talk about something else."
"Alright," Rex nodded. He leaned back slightly. "Want to get a little practice out of the way in the training room? Help you think out your problems ... work out your frustrations."
"I'm not frustrated," Shayera bristled. She paused. "Anyway, I just ate."
Rex glanced at her full tray, then shrugged his shoulders and finished his coffee. "I understand. After all, I'm sure the bad guys will take your meal times into consideration before they rob a bank or something. And then again, you've only got one fighting style anyway, so you don't need to practice to make it better."
Shayera stood up. The anger was clear in her voice. "I beg your pardon!"
"Granted," Rex said flatly. Suddenly, he smiled, but Shayera didn't return his grin. "Don't act like this is news to you. Everyone knows you come straight at the baddies and then when they commit left or right to get out of your way, you go in the opposite direction and attack them from behind." He paused. "I would imagine that it works most of the time against those who haven't studied you. Bet it's something they taught you in officer's school, right?"
Shayera sat down again and glared at Rex. "Hurry up and eat. Then we'll go to the practice room and I'll demonstrate some of my moves." She pointed her finger in his face as she snarled, "On you!"
(Training Room - Twenty minutes later)
Shayera hated the training room, but at this moment she hated herself more. She'd allowed Rex to goad her into doing something she really didn't want to do.
She fumed at the idea that Rex was right. As a soldier of the Thanagarian Empire, she had sufficient fighting skills to engage and win against a Gordanian opponent. But her skills and strength paled in comparison to most of the non-humans in the League or their enemies. In the past couple of months, both Doctor Polaris and Diana had made that painfully clear to her.
She secretly longed for the days when she wore a mask, when she felt … Thanagarian. On this planet, wearing the mask added to the 'fear' mystique. It also allowed her to hide her feelings and emotions, things she now wore plainly on her face for all to see. Without her mask, she wasn't to be feared or respected. She was just tolerated.
It was painful for her to think about her life without the mask. She was grateful that she didn't have to think about it for long as Rex walked out of the control room toward her.
"We're all set," he said. "Like I said before, I'm not going fight you. We both know I would win anyway. I'd turn into sleeping gas and the fight would be over with your next breath." He didn't wait for her to respond before he added, "But I will fight with you. Okay. We've got two 'droids in fifteen seconds."
Shayera frowned. She remembered when they'd fought each other years ago, before they joined forces to stop Sapphire's monstrous father. Rex had defeated her quite easily by immobilizing her wings as she discovered her energy mace had no effect on him.
She took a deep breath. "Fine. Have it your own way. Bring on the 'bots."
A couple of robots stepped forward out of the darkness as the practice room turned in a simulation of downtown Metropolis. One of the robots transformed into Volcana and the other into Clayface.
Shayera's jaw dropped. "Clayface is dead," she said flatly holding her mace at the ready. "I watched him die."
Rex started running toward Volcana. "In the computer database, he's listed as missing, not dead. So he's here. Deal with it."
Shayera leaped in the air. "When we're finished with these, it's you and me."
Rex laughed and called out over his shoulder, "No, it's not. Sleeping gas, remember? You'd better get busy."
Remind me again, Rex, why you're my friend when you keep reminding me how ineffective I am.
She flew to the top of a small two story building and looked down as the Clayface robot looked around for an opponent to engage. Not seeing anyone, Clayface started to follow Rex.
She'd show Rex, and herself, that she had more than one move. She leaped in the air; circled above the roof and then silently swooped down on Clayface, screaming her war cry when she was within thirty feet of him.
Clayface turned and projected parts of his body at her like streams of mud. She dodged all of his shots and got close enough to deliver a smashing downward blow to his head with her mace. Her blow traveled through Clayface's body and struck the ground. He split apart, but quickly reformed around her, engulfing her completely, trapping her inside of him.
She held her breath, fighting to move in the putty-like mass that encased her and was now hardening around her. She struggled to move her fingers to adjust the settings on her energy mace to maximum. Her lungs ached. She needed to breathe, but there was no air in the living mud she was trapped in.
An electrified energy surge from her mace rippled through Clayface's (and her own) body and she screamed as he was blown apart and she was thrown clear.
She landed on the ground with a thud; her mace landed about two feet away from her. She managed to get to her hands and knees, gasping for air as she reminded herself that the robots were not set to kill, but that didn't mean she couldn't die in these practice settings if she wasn't careful. She was amazed as the mud that had been Clayface started moving by itself and reformed. She'd marvel at the holographic technology involved with these robots later, as she scrambled to her feet, picked up her mace, and prepared to give chase to the moving mass as it ducked into a side alley.
She leaped in the air, her mace at the ready and flew into the alleyway Clayface had entered.
Then she spotted Vixen.
Near a large trash bin, Vixen staggered down the alley. She looked up, saw Shayera approaching and collapsed.
Shayera landed near the unconscious woman and knelt down beside her. "Vixen! Mari, what are you doing here? What happened?"
Vixen's eyes snapped open and Shayera realized too late that it wasn't Vixen in front of her at all as a mass of putty shot out of Vixen's body, grabbed Shayera's shoulders and flipped her over. Shayera landed on her feet, screamed in frustration and using her mace smashed the ground in front of her, sending shockwaves toward Clayface, still in the form of Vixen, knocking him over.
With her mace still set at maximum, Shayera hit the prostrate Clayface.
And again until an iron shield suddenly appeared in front of the mutilated form. Shayera's mace bounced back with clang upon hitting the shield. Her eyes narrowed and her nostrils flared as she whipped her head around and looked up into Rex's face. It took her a moment to process who he was and then determine that he wasn't an enemy, at least not yet.
"Shayera! Stand down! Clayface is defeated!" he said sharply.
She pointed her mace at the ground, cursed and then kicked the muddy mess in front of her. She turned to Rex and snapped, "Did you set the machine to turn into Vixen?"
Rex pointed to the glowing mace in Shayera's hand and said flatly, but directly, "Turn that thing off." Her expression didn't change and she said nothing as she turned the mace off without taking her eyes off him.
"I set the 'bots to change into a random League member because that's what Clayface would do. The computer just picked someone you had worked with before. I'd ask if that was a problem, but I see the answer to that question on the floor."
Shayera looked away from Rex and down at the destroyed robot. She wasn't going to apologize for losing control. Never apologize. It's a sign of weakness.
She inhaled deeply, trying to calm herself, trying to slow her heartbeat down. "Let's say it was a problem," she answered.
Rex looked at the destroyed machine, then back at Shayera. "I'd say it was too," he nodded as he walked toward the exit. He motioned for her to follow. She looked down at the mess on the floor again and then followed Rex out.
Once they were in the hallway, he stopped and faced her. "Look," he said. "If not me, you need to talk to someone about what's bothering you. And you need to do it now – before you have an accident out there on a mission."
"I won't have an accident," she snapped.
"You're right," he said as he walked away. "It won't be an accident."
Shayera said nothing as she watched him leave. He was right. She was a danger to the other Leaguers, most notably Vixen. Maybe she did need to talk to someone, but there was no one here she could talk to, no one who would understand that she needed to speak her feelings in her native tongue, no one here who would not judge her at some level.
And she didn't need judging. There was plenty of that awaiting her should she ever return to Thanagar or meet up with a member of the resistance.
Inza could listen, but Shayera had already imposed upon her for more than a year after the invasion. And Inza didn't speak Thanagarian except those words that might be used in a spell.
No, Shayera needed to talk to someone who could hear and not pass judgement. She entered her quarters and tossed her mace on her bed. Looking at the bed, she realized that there was, perhaps, one who could listen without bias.
(Training Room – 2 A.M)
She'd scheduled the training room for her exclusive use. No one could enter the room during this time unless they entered the appropriate codes to the security lock - codes held by the original seven. Shayera was confident she'd have the next two hours to herself.
She'd recreated the meadow from memory. The sky was that of Thanagar and there were jagged mountain ranges in the distance. A gentle breeze blew in the direction of the setting sun as it peeked out over the evening clouds.
She stood in the recreated meadow in front of the single grave marker wearing her white costume and the mask she had taken from Paran Dul's ship.
Her voice choked with emotion as she said softly in Thanagarian, "I know the mask is different, but it's all I have." She paused. "You see, they took my other one away when they left me here on this planet branding me a traitor and a …."
She looked away for a moment, not finishing her thought, then looked back at the grave marker bearing the words of an old Earth nursery rhyme. She took a deep breath before softly adding as the tears ran down her face, "Still, I hope you know it's me. You do remember me, right? Birdnose? I just wanted to talk to you."
She gently sat down on the grass beside the gravestone, crossed her legs in front of her, removed her helmet and leaned forward. "I just needed to talk to a friend."