Heh… Well, if it isn't good old icebreaker finally publishing another effing chapter. SORRY for the ridiculously long hiatus. There are many things to blame. College, Bleach (yes, the anime), laziness… You get the picture. This chapter is pretty long though.
*The lovely illustration I mentioned at the end of the last update was done by…KawaiiIruka! Round of applause for her awesomeness!
**I recommend reading chapter 15 again before reading this to refresh your minds on wtf is going on in this story. Enjoy and I apologize for the horrible lateness of this chapter.
"Goddesses of Olympus…"
The Princess crumbled under the might of her troubles. She sank to her knees and doubled over until her face and arms were pressed against the cold, hard floor.
"I thank you, humbly thank you, for all the gifts you have bestowed upon me, and I hope that I have used them admirably so as to honor your great names. However, on this night, I wish not only to express my gratitude or ask for your blessing, but to beg for your guidance in a matter most dear to my heart and soul. A matter of which I have spoke often to you, though never in this depth or magnitude. I know that I've disgraced the ancient laws of my home and betrayed the sacred teachings of my mother by not only immersing myself in Man's World, but allowing it to affect me so deeply. I am in love with a man, a mortal of this world. And I know deep within his shadowy heart exists his love for me. I beg of you, please, listen to my prayers."
"Just want to sit here for a minute."
"In this tiny room?" Shayera asked incredulously. "You can go brood in the Cave. It's much more…spacious."
Bruce inhaled slowly. Magnolias, lilacs, jasmine, strawberries… The Cave didn't smell like this. "I can brood in here just as well."
She fidgeted slightly, surveying the walls around her. "I hate cramped spaces. But," she sighed, sitting down against the wall opposite him, "as long as you're going to brood in here, I'm going to babysit you."
He sighed. "You really don't have to do."
"Well, sorry to burst your bubble Batsy, but I can't trust you to be alone while you're like this. I don't know what kind of stupid things you're capable of when you're emotionally vulnerable."
Emotionally vulnerable. Bruce inwardly cringed. He didn't remember the last time he'd actually let himself get emotionally vulnerable to the point of someone else noticing. Well, Alfred always had the funny ability to pick up on those things.
"You want to talk about it?" she asked after a few seconds of silence.
"Whatever just happened in here?"
Bruce hung his head. "I don't know what just happened in here."
"What do you mean you don't know?"
"Happened too fast."
"And that's why you're sitting here looking like you just witnessed Flash give a lecture on quantum field theory?"
She sighed. "Look. I don't know what's been going on with you and Diana lately, but I do know this. You're going to lose, Bruce. There's really no way of escaping it. And the longer you try to convince yourself otherwise, the more confused you're going to get. If you want to go around looking like a complete basket case, fine. But you're going to lose your fear factor. And what's Batman without his single greatest weapon? Just some crazy guy in tights and a cape."
Several moments of silence passed without any kind of response from Bruce.
"Could you at least nod or pretend that you heard a word I just said? It'd really make me feel better," Shayera said.
He lifted his head. "I heard you."
A voice in her commlink cut her off mid-sentence. "Shayera, this is Superman."
"Yeah, what's up?" she asked.
"We just heard from the doctors. They say Huntress is going to be fine."
"Oh good," she sighed in relief. "Is Question with her?"
"Yeah, he just kind of bolted back there as soon as the surgeon came out."
"Of course he did. And he probably won't leave her room for anything less apocalyptic than World War III. Has anyone else been in to see her?"
"Not yet. We're going to give them their space for a little bit."
"Hey, have you seen Batman or Diana recently?"
Shayera glanced toward Bruce. "How recently are you talking?" she asked innocently.
"Well, since they…you know, went to the…"
"Oh. Nope, haven't seen them."
"Hmm. I hope everything is alright."
"I'm sure it is," she dismissed. "But I'll swing by the med bay once I've taken care of a few things. Shayera out."
She closed the connection before Clark was able to pry any further into the situation.
"That was Clark," she said. "Huntress is going to be okay."
"I take it you don't want to pay her a visit?"
"Visiting people isn't really my thing."
"Yeah. It's not like you're Vic's friend or anything."
"He's seen enough of me today."
"How much qualifies as enough?" she asked. "Five minutes? Ten? Or is his pain tolerance higher than everyone else's?"
"I made him come to the Manor this morning," Bruce said nonchalantly.
Shayera raised an eyebrow. "You…what? Why?"
"To show him the recording of what happened in the jet."
Shayera wrinkled her nose. "You mean you willingly revealed that to another human being?"
"Felt the need to have an objective analysis of the situation."
"Objective meaning someone who's in a healthy relationship?"
"Objective meaning…his personal opinion on the matter."
"Damn. Guess I wasn't kidding when I said we should get relationship advice from him."
"But…when I called him, she answered his phone."
"So they were in bed together."
"And that's significant because…"
"Well, I was abrupt and rude to both of them."
The Thanagarian's green eyes narrowed suspiciously. "You resent them, don't you? Because they have what you want?"
Bruce's hands clenched into fists. "It's just so goddamned effortless for them."
"Is that why you didn't want her back in the League?"
"So you wouldn't have to see them together?"
"I…no, of course not!"
"It was just your uncompromising moral code, then? She's an attempted murderer and therefore has no place here?"
"Even though it was the man who killed her family that she tried getting rid of?"
"Even though, when faced with the opportunity again, she didn't take it?"
"Even though it's been over a year since those things happened?"
"And even though you know damn well that if she wasn't a good person at heart, Vic wouldn't be with her?"
Bruce looked over at her, silent.
"Diana had a point, you know," Shayera continued, "when she was giving Vic that spiel about his heart being filled with goodness and truth. Helena's can't be much different."
He looked away again, hanging his head. "Diana is a wise woman."
"Yeah, she is. And a wise woman wouldn't still be in love with a man who's pushed her away for five years if she didn't know that he was absolutely worth it."
Something Vic had said earlier resurfaced in Bruce's mind. The possible positive outcome, however unlikely, outweighed the probable heartbreak.
"What are you saying?" Bruce questioned.
"You've given her ample amounts of time to consider the consequences of being with you, not to mention any bullshit excuses you've given her for not being in a relationship. She's not an idiot. If she had any doubts that this wasn't a massive waste of time, she would have walked away by now. Seems to me she's going to stick this thing out until you're old and wrinkled if she has to," Shayera sighed. "But you want to know what the problem with that is?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"If you make her wait until you're old and wrinkled, the sex just won't be as satisfying for her. So I suggest you hop on the bandwagon while you're still relatively young and nimble."
Bruce stared, eyes wide.
Shayera just grinned. "Don't you think so?"
"Ah, never mind. Of course you do."
Bruce averted his eyes and took to staring idly at his hands. Shayera couldn't help but applaud herself on making such an irrefutable argument.
"Oh, and while we're still on the topic, I'm curious… What were some of the bullshit excuses you gave her? Wonder if they were as bad as the ones I gave John that one night when…"
"When his heart stopped from the detonation of Joker's bomb and you took him back up to the Watchtower and…stayed with him?" Bruce smugly finished for her.
"Yeah," she sneered. "That night."
Shayera sighed. "I told him it couldn't go any further because…because we work together."
"I told Diana dating within the team always leads to disaster."
Shayera let out a high-pitched cackle. "Bet I know where you got your source material on that one."
"We'll blame that one on you."
"Great. It's an honor, really. Let's see, what else did I say… Oh yeah. That we were too different. Bet you used something similar?"
Bruce gave a nod. "She's a princess from a society of immortal warriors while I'm a rich kid with issues. Lots of issues."
"You do have issues. But I think my worst excuse was that we couldn't be worrying about each other while fighting the bad guys."
"Wasn't it a little late for that?"
She glared. "Yes, thank you for proving my point. Your turn, smartass. Any others?"
He sighed. "Fine. If my enemy's knew I had someone special, they wouldn't rest until they'd gotten to me through her."
"Please tell me you didn't really say that out loud to her. Reducing her to the role of a mighty hero's damsel in distress? Not smart."
"That was about the time she crushed a gargoyle's head with her bare hand."
"Yikes. She's scary when she's ticked."
Bruce was silent for a moment. "What did you just say?"
"Uhh, she's scary when she's ticked?"
Shayera raised an eyebrow, not entirely sure what was going on in Bruce's head, if anything. "Something wrong?"
"She asked me if…she scares me."
"Well, what did you say?"
"I said no…"
"You don't sound entirely convinced."
"Maybe I'm not…I don't…"
What are you afraid of? Do I scare you, Bruce?
"Why would she ask…"
Bruce went over the questions in his mind, wondering if they held some sort of hidden significance he'd missed before. Now that his thoughts were open to suggestions, memories of other things said throughout the violently day flooded in.
Diana's words stung in his mind. I hurt you. How had he replied? Oh yes… You could never hurt me. Was that the right thing to say? And something else she'd said… It was your heart's desire. I can't stand the thought of you destroying it on behalf of me.
Bruce sifted through all of these thoughts, trying to make sense of them. Why would Diana insist that she hurt him by pulling him out of the Black Mercy's dream?
His thoughts traveled back to the previous night, when he'd approached Diana in her jet. Her words… You've done everything in your power to hurt me, and now you can do nothing more.
You could never hurt me…
"Hurt…" Bruce mumbled aloud to himself.
He shook his head, as if trying to rid it of the mounting confusion.
Shayera's words… Reducing her to the role of a mighty hero's damsel in distress? Not smart.
This morning, Bruce had told Vic… My apathy was for her protection…
Vic's words… You don't think she'll be able to cope with your death if you let her love you? Bruce said… If I can prevent her from having to go through the pain of my death, then I will…
"Damsel in distress…" he continued to mumble.
Do I scare you, Bruce? No…
The image of Diana in the jet, his blood cascading down her arms. She looked like a scared, helpless child. He wanted to kiss her, make her fears go away…
Reducing her to a mighty hero's damsel in distress…
Do I scare you, Bruce? No…
Why would Diana ask that? And why had she acted so…frightening afterwards?
Vic's words earlier… Women can be scary, what with their ability to throw intricate emotions around like a softball. Asks if she was scary. Still is, scariest woman I've ever met.
You resent them, don't you? Because they have what you want?
"Should be effortless…"
Shayera gaped at him, now having absolutely no idea what was going on in his head. "Are you having some sort of miraculous revelation?" she asked. "Or are you just losing your mind?"
Bruce turned toward her. "I need to get out of here," he said abruptly.
"Find out where Diana is."
"Are you going to go talk to her?"
"No. Just do it."
Shayera was beyond confused. "Whatever you say, boss-man." She touched the commlink in her ear. "Mr. Terrific, I need a 10-20 on Wonder Woman."
Mr. Terrific responded without questioning the founding member's intentions. "Private quarters."
"Thanks." Shayera addressed Bruce. "She's in her room."
"Good." The Bat hopped to his feet, promptly throwing open the door and entering into the hallway.
Shayera followed after him, grateful no one else was in the hallway to see such a strange phenomenon as Batman coming out of the tiny room, followed by a Thanagarian. "What's going on? Where are you going?"
Bruce suddenly came to a halt. "Nothing I said ever leaves that room," he growled. "Got it?"
It was a strange relief to hear the good old cranky Bat again – the original pain in the ass that leaves its victims frustrated and royally pissed off. "Got it."
After a terse nod, he retreated down the hall and disappeared toward the hangar.
Shayera gave a snide laugh. "Hey Shayera, thanks for talking to me and making sure I hadn't completely gone insane, it really helped me see things clearly. Oh, no problem at all, Bruce! Feel free to take advantage of my friendly concern any time!"
She turned on her heel and exited through the other end of the hallway, heading towards the med bay.
"Should we get her flowers or something? Which flowers does she like? Is she even a flowers kind of girl?" Kara questioned, walking beside Dinah and Ollie.
"Uhh, I don't know, I don't know, and I don't know," Ollie responded confidently.
Dinah rolled her eyes. "Every girl likes flowers. We just need to ask Vic which ones aren't involved in some bizarre conspiracy."
"Maybe we should get him flowers," joked Ollie. "He's more of a mess than anyone right now."
"Of course he's a mess. How would you feel if I was the one in a hospital bed?"
Ollie's face grew somber. "I'd want lots of pretty flowers."
"Well, now that it's taken us an hour and a half to decide that flowers tend to make people feel better, we just have to ask Captain Conspiracy which ones get his stamp of approval and-"
Kara came to an abrupt halt when she reached the open doorway. Ollie and Dinah froze beside her, all three taking a moment to assess the scene before them.
"Well, isn't that sweet," said Ollie in a half-sarcastic, half-sincere tone of voice.
"Ohmygod!" Kara squealed under her breath. In less than a second, she'd ran back down the hallway and out to where her cousin and Flash were standing. Poking her head out of the door, she said, "Clark, Flash, you have to come see this!"
Clark's brow furrowed. "I thought we were going to wait until you were done so we didn't crowd the room."
"I really don't think they're going to mind!" she said breathlessly, motioning for them to follow.
Wally shrugged and disappeared through the door after her. Clark followed hesitantly, pondering the reasons why Ma and Pa's polite country manners hadn't rubbed off on Kara.
When the three arrived outside the doorway, the two newcomers surveyed the scene.
The room before them was just like any ordinary hospital room: lots of fancy machinery, the randomly placed comfy chairs, and the remote-adjustable bed. Only there were two people occupying the bed. And both were sound asleep.
Despite the countless cuts and bruises all over the visible parts of her body, Helena looked serenely content as she slumbered. Perhaps this was because Vic was curled up shirtless beside her, his arms creating a gentle fortress around her broken body.
"Aren't they cute?" Kara whispered.
"Ehh, maybe in a sad and vulnerable sort of way," Clark suggested, scratching his chin.
"Dude, Huntress is hot."
Four sets of eyes turned to the speedster.
"What?" he asked defensively. "I've never seen her without her mask before! Can't blame a guy for noticing these things."
"Those are the only things you notice, twinkle toes," came a new voice from down the hall.
Flash glared at the approaching Thanagarian. "That is so not true!"
"Keep telling yourself that," Shayera chuckled as she passed him. "So how are the lovebirds holding up–"
The winged-woman stopped in the doorway. A wave of bitter jealousy roared up and down her body as her sights came to rest on the two people in the bed. Bruce's resentment didn't seem all that ridiculous anymore. Shayera immediately became disgusted with herself and bit back her envy. Like Bruce, she only had herself to blame.
Dinah came and stood next to Shayera, a downcast expression softening her sharp features. "Heartbreaking, isn't it?"
"Yeah. I can't imagine what it must have been like to witness it all," she murmured, looking sadly over at the blonde.
Dinah sighed. "We were very close to losing them both. And there was so little any of us could do. I don't think I've ever felt so powerless."
Shayera knew that feeling all too well. "It's all over the news. Won't be long until the whole League finds out."
"Morale always seems to drop when it's one of our own. This time it was two."
"Then we'll just have to work extra hard to boost it again. It's all we can do."
"What should we do about the rest of the League?" Kara asked, coming to stand on Shayera's other side. "They're going to want to see for themselves the damage Huntress took, if only out of curiosity. And I doubt Question would be happy about a bunch of people constantly spying on them."
"Hey, isn't that what we're doing?" Flash butted in.
"Maybe if the three of you left it wouldn't seem that way," Shayera said.
"I'm fine with that," Clark agreed immediately.
Ollie nodded. "Yep."
"Good idea," said Flash, starting back the way he came. Clark followed after him.
"I'll see ya, Pretty Bird."
"Yeah," said Dinah, giving Ollie a warm smile before he walked off.
"Heh. Guess they couldn't wait to leave," Kara thought aloud.
"Men are strange like that," Shayera sighed. "All this emotional stuff, they don't really handle it too well. They just kind of bottle it up and brood over it later. It's a bit pathetic, when you think about it."
Dinah nodded in agreement, then quietly glided into the room. Shayera and Kara followed her in, watching as the blonde fished a blanket out of the small closet against the wall. She laid it over the two people in the bed, both of whom were still sound asleep. "I think it'd be a good idea to have one person stay with them, just to be safe," she said, voice low. "We can switch off."
"Then I'll take the first shift," Shayera declared. "I'm sure a few others would be willing to pitch in, too."
"Whoever's on duty can make sure people don't crowd around here," said Dinah. She turned her eyes back to Vic and Helena, sighing. "And we were just beginning to not hate each other," she chuckled, carefully brushing back a rogue cluster of hair that had fallen onto Helena's forehead.
"You wouldn't think they can both kick some serious ass when you look at 'em like this."
"It's funny you should say that," Dinah laughed, turning toward the Thanagarian. "Helena beat me in a rematch last night, and when we caught Ollie and Vic betting on us, we made them fight each other. Ollie lost."
Shayera snorted, and had to cover her mouth to keep from laughing. "Those two sure are feisty. They probably have a great time in bed."
"I wouldn't be surprised," Dinah sighed.
"Alright, you two should get some rest. It's late and you've had a crummy day."
The moment Shayera mentioned rest, Dinah felt the need to yawn. "Yeah. Rest sounds good. Wake me when you get tired and I'll take over the watch." She yawned again as she started out of the room. "Come on, Kara…Kara?"
The Kryptonian's blue eyes were fixed on the slumbering people. She stood completely still, just staring.
"Kara? You okay?" Shayera asked.
"What's it like to be in love?"
Shayera and Dinah exchanged glances. The Thanagarian gave a grimace that said all too clearly, 'You want to take this one?'
Dinah shrugged. "Uhh, being in love is…well, there's really no way to explain it. It's different for everyone," she said, following Kara's gaze to the people in the bed. "You feel things you never even knew you could, ache in places you never even knew you had. Your instincts take over and all you can see, all you can think about is that person. Your knees go weak and your stomach is filled with butterflies. The kind of butterflies you never want to go away. You find yourself caring more about their life than you do your own. It's the greatest feeling in the world, but if that person's in trouble…it's the worst. Any pain they feel is your pain too. You'd give anything, do anything, just to make them okay. Even take their place."
"It must be hard, being in love," Kara murmured, her eyes not moving.
"You'd be surprised how natural it comes," said Shayera bitterly. "You're an idiot if you think you can fight it."
Supergirl looked over at Shayera, whose green eyes were colder than death.
"Don't fall for the idiots," the Thanagarian added.
"Okay," Kara muttered, not knowing how else to respond.
Shayera, knowing she'd made the air so tense even a meat cleaver would fail to cut it, gave a cheery smile. "But you're too young to worry about all that stuff."
"I'm turning twenty-one in three weeks," Kara piped up.
"Great, we'll take you to see Barney," Dinah promised, yawning again. "But us old people need our sleep. I'm outta here."
"You're not that old," said Kara, following her out the door.
"Trust me. Compared to you, I'm an antique."
Shayera chuckled to herself as the two blondes disappeared. A heavy silence fell all around her, and she looked back at Vic and Helena. The jealousy crept through her veins once more. "Falling for idiots is all too easy these days. But you did good, Helena. You hooked the goddamn smartest fish in the sea."
'Before I left my bed in the morning, little Adele came running in to tell me that the great horse-chestnut at the bottom of the orchard had been struck by lightning in the night, and half of it split away.'
Mari finished the chapter and closed the book, sighing. The only sounds were those of the various buzzings common to a Watchtower hallway. This particular hall was deserted, and she occupied the only chair, which had been stolen from a nearby office. Mari figured Shayera had been the one to steal it from whatever office was nearby, considering she was first on duty. It was a comfortable chair, so comfortable that she'd found Dinah fast asleep in it. But that was understandable for someone on a three-hour watch shift in the middle of the night.
It had to be near sunrise by now, though. There were no windows in the hallway, so it was hard to tell. There wasn't even a clock. Oh well. Zatanna had the fourth shift and would come when it was time. Until then, Mari just had to sit back and relax. It was pretty easy when the subjects of the watch were sleeping peacefully. She hoped it would stay that way, for Helena's sake. Sleeping through pain was a hell of a lot better than being awake. But then again, she had her man. A man that…
Mari gave a shudder when the images resurfaced in her mind. She'd seen it on the Watchtower monitors hours ago. The blood, the guns… It was all so horrible, and she had shed the tears to prove it. Mari wasn't a woman who cried often, but she had tonight. And she hadn't been the only one.
It was very lucky neither of them were killed. No, luck had nothing to do with it. It was another four-letter word beginning with L – a word that tied people closer together than anything else.
She sighed and leaned her head back, attempting to ward off self-pity. But something moved in the corner of her eye and all thoughts of self-pity were gone.
A red-haired man slowly emerged from the doorway a few feet to her left. He looked like a ghost. His face was blank and white as a sheet. The bloodied orange shirt that had been resting on the floor inside the room was now carelessly thrown around his upper body.
Mari stood up, afraid that the man might topple over. "Question, is everything alright?" she asked.
He continued to stare straight ahead. "There is no Question without a Huntress." His voice was weak and flat, but he turned to look at her. "It's just Vic."
Mari was silent for a moment. Those blue eyes were the saddest things she'd ever seen. Just looking at them made her want to cry again. "Then Vic it is," she said. "Is something wrong?"
"Wanted to see who was stuck on guard duty."
She raised an eyebrow. "Figures you'd know you're being watched. And no one's stuck doing anything. We all volunteered."
"All?" he asked, as if the word had been spoken in another language.
"Almost a dozen people are lined up to take over a watch. I'm only the third."
He was silent for a moment, then turned and shuffled back into the room. "We don't need your pity."
"Hey, wait a second," Mari called. "We're not doing this out of pity."
Vic turned around, fixing an icy stare on her. "Why then?"
"Because you're a part of this team and we respect you. Both of you."
The chill of his expression soon thawed. "That's a bit funny," he mumbled. "Being part of a team means trusting those around you. Helena and I…have never been very good at that."
"But you trust each other, right?"
Vic blinked quizzically at the strange question. "Completely."
"That's good enough for us."
After a short pause, Vic grumbled, "I really don't understand you people."
Mari just laughed as the red-haired man shuffled the rest of the way into the room. "I don't understand us either."
I know I've been naughty and haven't updated in a while, so if you want to punish me, don't review. It will break my little pathetic heart, but I'll survive. :D
If anyone knows what book that little blurb in italics up there is from, I'll give you a virtual high five! It's from my favorite book of all time.