I do not own Hawkgirl, or any other DC character. I'm just borrowing them for my own view of alternative tales.
*Takes place following the end of Justice League: Starcrossed.
Shayera Hol sighed as she stared down the steep precipice, the wind teasing at her long, red curls as it did the tail feathers of her gray wings. Wings that most humans thought to be some artifice, or even a mechanical aid. In fact, they were a part of her. As they were a part of every Thanagarian ever born on her now forever forbidden homeworld of Thanagar. She sighed again as she turned back to the cavern that was now her home. Her only home.
The chill of the coming winter was already in the high mountain air. Of course, it never truly left this far up in the mountain ranges men had labeled the Rockies. It was not so cold as the void left in her heart by the recent fall from grace she had suffered. Twice over, in truth. For she had lost her longtime lover, and companion, as well as her homeworld when she betrayed the mission that had originally sent her to Earth. Just as she had betrayed those she had befriended since coming to this world, fighting alongside them for five long years before Thanagar had finally come to Earth to complete their plans for the hyper-space bypass generator that would have brought them victory in their long war with the Gordanians, and death to her newly adopted home.
In the end, she betrayed both her homeworld and former allies, and lost everything. In the end, there was nothing left for her to do but leave everything, and everyone behind. She still choked up even now, six long months since that fateful battle that had cut her off from home, and friends. Perhaps from life itself. The League had reformed, taking new members to fill out is roster, barely even stopping operations in the wake of her betrayal. Meanwhile, the world around her still looked upon her with overt suspicion since it had not been so long ago that Thanagar had possessed their world, and threatened its very future. She learned quickly enough that humans had long memories just as any sentient species when it come to betrayal. Not that she faulted them.
To stay out of trouble, and unwilling to risk hurting anyone by having to defend herself, she had retreated to these high mountains, living like one of her own ancestors by living off the land. There was prey aplenty up here, and few humans to bother her. It was lonely, true, especially after having to say painful goodbyes to both the men who had once filled her heart. Who she missed more was hard to say, even to herself, but she knew she no longer had any place among the humans. Unfortunately, she couldn't go home now, either. Commander Talec had seen to that when he spitefully destroyed her hidden ship before leaving the planet himself. She was truly an orphan of the stars now. For once, she could almost truly sympathize with J'onn J'onzz, or even Kal-El. Of course, their races were completely extinct. She had others of her own kind out there in the cosmos, she just didn't dare try meeting with them any longer, even if she could reach them. All they would offer her now was a choice of executions. And none of Thanagar's means of execution were all that merciful. They were a warrior race, after all.
She returned to the cavern, closing the woven covering she had made for a door to keep in the heat as her small fire grew when she threw in a few more sticks to feed the flames. It was early morning yet, and she was still stiff from the cold night since her fire had gone out, and she had slept so deeply she had not noticed until she woke. Not that it mattered overly much. She was still, at heart, a warrior, even if she had become sick of all that went with such a life. She was still capable of suffering a few minor discomforts like a cold bed, and a Spartan home. Trivialities in the wake of her greater misery, really.
She stood back as the fire flared to life, and adjusted the padded deerskin jacket, and pants she had tailored for her unique physiology. It wasn't the type of body armor she preferred, or was used to wearing, but it served its purpose. It kept her fairly warm, and satisfied the innate modesty she had acquired since coming to Earth. She sighed again as she thought of the companions lost because of her divided mind.
She didn't blame Diana….Wonder Woman for her condemnation. The princess was an Amazon, an ancient warrior race. If anyone understood her status as a military operative, it was that immortal creature. Yet she also understood how Diana saw her. If you allied yourself with comrades, it was for life. The woman saw no other way. No grays in her life. All was black and white to her mind. Shayera wished her own mind was as simple. She had not been that naïve since she was a hatchling, though. Not even then. A warrior's training began at birth, and didn't allow for such simplistic world views.
She wasn't all that surprised that the Batman was suspicious of her from the start. He was suspicious of everyone. She knew he even kept his own supply of Kryptonite, just in case. Not that he was a paranoid man. No, just a cautious man. A careful man. A prepared man. She had never met his match in all the worlds she had seen. He was truly unique in his own fashion. And admittedly a bit frightening at times. Who else would have dared face half the trials he had without nothing more than his wits, and a few clever gadgets? No, Batman was many things. But, again, she did not fault him.
Not even the Flash, who was as impetuous in his judgments, as he was in his actions. Little surprise there. His speed seemed to color all he was, or did. As quick as he had condemned her, he had also been just as quick to forgive. Unlike Kal-El's unyielding righteous view of the world that colored all he did. He was a hero to the end. First, last, and always. Ever ready to sacrifice himself, if need be, to save just one more life no matter the odds. But fail that view of responsibility, and gods help you.
She sighed again. He was the crux of her dilemma. She should just leave Earth. Only she wasn't sure where to go even if she could. John was now as much a part of her as her wings. Yet she would never again be able to fully share the warmth of his regard. Not the way she once had. Even she understood that in his own heart, she was still the one who had betrayed them from the start. The one that had nearly cost him a world he had sworn to defend, as well as the love that had been blossoming between them. And for all the regard his heart might carry for her, his duty was still what drove John Stewart. She knew that much, if she knew anything.
As for J'onn, well, who knew what was truly in the Martian's mind. He had come to Earth to help thwart an invasion from an ancient enemy of his own kind. He had stayed to help form the League to defend the planet from others just as insidious. He had tried to understand humanity. Even tried to fit in among them. But he was always the perennial outsider. And no one truly understood what was in that strange creature's head as he stood and stared out into the abyss that surrounded the Watchtower. She had seen him stand there at a portal for hours on end, staring unblinking into the void. What was he seeing? What was he looking for out there? She supposed she would never know.
She sighed again as she walked over to the ledge where she had stored the dried meat she had cured just last month. She took some from the makeshift food locker she had carved out of the rock wall with her energy mace, and shoved the stones back into place to protect her stores. She chewed absently at the animal flesh, remembering the delicacies Ro Talec had offered her from her native planet just a few months past when it seemed her long mission was ended, when in truth, her exile had only just begun.
She sighed again as she found herself pacing her cavern home like a trapped animal. She had to do something. Go somewhere. Or she was going to go mad. Only there was no place on this planet for her any longer. No place in the cosmos, even if she could leave this world. She walked back outside, her morning meal clutched forgotten in one hand as she walked back to the perch just a few yards from the cavern she called home and stared down at the still green valley far below.
She drew a ragged breath, dropped to her knees, and folded her arms around her lower limbs as her wings wrapped instinctively around her body. She shivered even as the wind caught her bare flesh, but the wind was not the cause of the sudden tears brimming in her eyes as she stared out across the valley. "What do I do now," she asked the wind, and wondered if perhaps this was part of what filled the Martian's mind when he stared out at the unfeeling expanse of the universe. He was even more private, and disciplined than she, though, and if he felt any of what she now did, he kept it well hidden.
"I'm being silly," she sighed again, almost leaping to her feet as she stamped down the momentary grief that threatened to overwhelm her not for the first time during her self-imposed exile. "I just have to…."
Whatever she thought she might instruct herself to do, the thought was lost as a shrill scream echoed through the peaks she called home. She turned instinctively in the direction of the cry, and heard the faint echo of voices calling to one another a moment later. Again, on instinct, she cast aside the food she still carried, and launched herself into the sky just a half step from the ledge she stood upon. She arched her flight path to catch the winds, and turned toward the source of the cries she had heard, wondering if she might not be too late even as she increased her speed with powerful flaps of her wings. Most humans, after all, had no powers. Yet they risked climbing such heights as these for simple thrills. It was beyond foolish. Yet it was a hallmark of their daring.
She turned around a tall, spire of rock that seemed to have been haphazardly stacked by some giant's hand even as she caught sight of the climbers. One young man strained atop the plateau nearby to hold to a rope from which two others dangled. One precariously so, and in imminent danger of falling judging by the way she was frantically scrabbling for a handhold against the sheer rock face. The other one was holding to an outcropping, trying to help his female companion find safe harbor, but he could do little one-handed since he was in danger of slipping himself.
And then she spotted the fourth climber. He dangled limp and unmoving at the end of the rope, and must have slipped and fallen from higher up. It was his weight that was endangering the others, and if he continued to swing there at the end of the line, he would eventually pull one or more of his companions to their doom.
Having sized up the situation with a quick, knowing glance, she folded her wings back, and dived towards the unconscious teenager. She grabbed him with one hand, even as the other freed the knife at her waist, slicing him free of the rope to cease the drag on his companions above.
"Ohmigod," the female screamed, risking one hand to point at her as she powered her flight upwards with the young male in her arms, the flap of her wings now audible in the stillness close to the rock where the winds were silenced. "It's one of those alien bird monsters! It's got Thomas!"
"Hold your ground," she called to the man kneeling atop the plateau as she landed. "I am here to help. Your friends are not yet out of danger."
"You're that Hawkgirl chick," the young man exclaimed, his eyes wide as he gaped at her while trying to keep his grip on the rope he still held anchored. "We heard you left the planet."
"Not yet," she smiled ruefully as she gently put the unconscious man down a safe distance from the ledge on the narrow plateau. "Which is just as well for you."
"No," the female screamed, trying to bat her away when she returned to her.
"Don't fret it," the young man atop the plateau shouted down. "She's here to help, Gina."
Gina, however, was too upset to care, or listen. She ended up losing her balance, and her grip, and ended up slipping down the rope, and sliding toward oblivion. Even when Shayera caught the screaming woman, she struggled violently, as if her very touch caused her pain.
"I'm here to help you, woman," she hissed, trying to avoid the small, but strong fists that hammered at her stronger grip.
"You're a monster. You killed my uncle," she accused as she was unceremoniously dropped near the still unconscious youth.
"Gina," the other called to her. "Chill out. She saved your life, stupe."
"Are you going to carry on, too," Shayera asked as she hovered just a few feet from the other youth as she dropped down the face of the cliff. "Or can I carry you up to safety."
"No sweat, wings," the dark-haired teen grinned at her, and actually winked. "Without the dead weight, I can scale this anthill myself with no prob. So, no offense, but I'll make my own way up. That is why we came here," he grinned as he set word to action, and began scrabbling up the sheer cliff life a man-sized spider.
She shook her head as she rose to the plateau, the other man soon joining her as she settled near the far ledge, well away from the hysterical Gina who was now looking over her companion who was only then stirring. "Do you require further assistance, or can you manage without killing yourselves now," she asked pointedly as she stood eyeing the two young men who now joined Gina at their comrade's side.
"We're cool, wings," the insolent one grinned, giving her a thumb's up. "We have a chopper waiting to come take us off the top, and since we're almost there, it'd be a shame to blow off this climb now."
"What of your friend? Is he all right?" "I'm fine," the young man in question moaned as he pushed himself up to sit staring at her in amazement. "Whoa, did I hit my head, too, cause I'd swear I'm looking at a babe with wings."
"You are, dope," the climber grinned as he helped the young man to his feet. "That's one of those Hawk people that blitzed the planet a while back. She's the good one. She sure saved your bacon."
"Oh, right. Hawkgirl. I heard you left the Justice League. Thought you left the planet, too."
"Not yet," she echoed grimly as she glanced at the tight-lipped female who still glared at her as if wishing she had a weapon.
"Well, I'm glad you haven't," the teenager assured her, stepping forward to offer a hand. "I owe you my life. Thanks," he said as she stared at his offered hand, dusty, calloused, and bloody from his long climb.
"You….do this for….enjoyment," she frowned as she took his hand for a brief moment.
"It's something to do on a long weekend," the insolent climber chuckled. "It's not like climbing the Horn, or even Everest, but it's a thrill.
"And I told you to watch out for that shale, dude," he told his companion. "I could tell it was crumbling even before I passed it."
"I noticed," the other grimaced.
Shayera said nothing as she turned away from them. She spread her wings, and was about to jump back into the air when Thomas called after her. "Hey, where you going?" "Nowhere," she told him honestly, and flung herself into a brief dive before her wings spread out to catch her, starting the glide that would carry her through the high mountains she now called home. She didn't immediately turn toward her new home, though. Not while she was being watched. She had not seen people in nearly three months now. Not since she had left that last small town that had had her ready for an execution without even a trial. Only now people had come. They had seen her. She didn't want to inadvertently lead them right to her home, such as it was. She would fly away for a distance, then circle back unseen through the higher peaks to reach her hidden cavern.
"Strange chick," one of the four grinned as they stared after her.
"I don't trust her," Gina spat.
"Hey, she saved your shapely buns, babe," Ian reminded her.
"Not to mention my butt," Thomas agreed.
"I still remember what they did here, even if you don't," Gina spat.
"Hey, let's just chill," Dick told the others. "This is supposed to be a holiday, and there isn't much time left to reach the top before we have to call in our ride home. The sun sets early up here, remember."
"Chill, Grayson," Ian snickered. "Sometimes you are just way too intense, man. I mean, really."
Dick said nothing as he turned to judge the last leg of the climb to the pinnacle of Dead Man's Spire. "I'll take point," he told the others as he checked his guide rope once more before he headed up using just his hands and feet to search out footing.
"I'll have to retie my end," Thomas reminded them. "So give me a sec, Mr. Human Fly."
"I'm cool," Ian told them. "How about you, Gina? Ready to push on?" "I'm ready. For a hot bath, and a soft bed," the woman complained. "I don't know how I let you guys talk me into this."
Ian and Thomas grinned, laughing as they prepared for the final ascension. Dick said nothing as he focused on his climbing, even as a part of his mind balanced what he had just learned. Did Bruce know Hawkgirl was out here hiding in the mountains? Even he had thought she had left the planet after that ill-fated attempt to use their world as a tool in the Thanagarians galactic war with those lizards. Obviously, she hadn't. He'd run it by his former guardian, and see what he said. Not that it was really his business. Still, he remembered his long lessons at his mentor's side. Even unimportant information could be important at odd times. Maybe this was one of those times. He'd have to see.
"Kal-El," the woman sighed as she turned to find the powerful Kryptonian standing in the door of her cave home.
"Why are you out here alone?" "Where else could I go," she asked him, turning her back on him. If Superman wanted to drag her someplace, she couldn't do much to stop him. Even she knew her limitations. Not that it meant she had to like them.
"You have friends….."
"No. Not anymore."
"That can't be true," he frowned, looking around the cave as if only just seeing it.
"I'm sure you heard what happened in Coast City," she finally turned to face him again, the misery etched into her fine features. "I had to leave. For everyone's sake."
"I….remember," he sighed, recalling the riot's, and the lynch mob mentality of an entire city that tried to bring her to trial for the sins of her race. In the end, she had broken away from the mobs that tried to bring her down, and simply flew away. No one had seen her since that day.
"I tried to fit in. But even on your world, there is no place for a Thanagarian."
"Why didn't you leave then," he asked her earnestly, his crystalline blue gaze seeming to cut into her very heart like his heat vision.
She dropped her head, unable to meet that as yet unforgiving gaze. "I can't. Talec destroyed my ship. He….He felt if I chose this world over my own, I should remain here."
"I doubt it," she ground out bitterly as she turned away from him again, stepping outside into the cold where a thin layer of snow now covered much of the mountain.
"Hawkgirl…." "Shayera, please. Hawkgirl is dead. Gone. I'd like to forget her," she told him bitterly.
Superman said nothing to that.
"Just….tell me why you're here," she finally summoned the courage to demand. "Are you going to drag me back to your courts? Does your government still want its pound of flesh after all?" "No. I'm here to see if you're all right." "I'm fine," she lied in a voice that would have been inaudible to any ears save his own.
"You don't look fine."
"Just….leave me alone," she cried, and launched herself into the air, her powerful wings catching an updraft that carried her quickly away from the high plateau she had called home for nearly a year.
"Shayera," Superman called out, but before he could take flight after her, a shot rang out, sending thunderous echoes through the heights even as the winged woman gave a shrill cry, and her wings simply folded under her as she fell.
"Shayera," he cried out again, his own voice thick with horror as his powerful eyes quickly spotted the three men who still had rifles raised to sight on the falling figure. "No," he rasped, and launched his powerful body after hers.
Despite his speed, he couldn't reach her before she hit the unforgiving ground, rolling to a stop very nearly at the men's feet. That they were hunters, having mistaken their target was quickly dismissed as one of them raised his weapon to fire at the helpless woman at his feet. Still two seconds from their location, Superman sent out powerful beams of radiation the press had dubbed heat vision, melting the three men's rifles in a controlled burst of energy.
By then, he had landed at the fallen woman's side. "If I weren't in a hurry," he threatened the trio as he picked up the unconscious woman who looked truly near death as he carefully lifted her into his strong arms. A quick sweep with his x-ray vision showed she was in serious danger. He had no time to waste if he was going to save her.
"She's just an alien monster," one of the men hissed.
"Besides, why shouldn't we get the bounty on her wings," another drawled even as Superman rose into the air.
He glanced back at the three, committing their faces to memory as he turned and flew as fast as he could safely manage with his passenger toward the nearest hospital. Where he quickly found the doctors refused to treat the alien.
"We lost some good men in this town to those bird-people when they invaded, Superman," the hospital administrator tried to explain. "Frankly, if I did force any of my doctors to operate, I still couldn't guarantee they'd do their best."
With no other choice, he had to carry her away to the only place he knew she might received the help she desperately needed. If only he reached that help in time. "Batman, this is Superman," he radioed ahead on the Justice League frequency. "I found her, and it's bad. Someone shot her, and she had a bad fall."
"Where is she now," the grim voice he knew well enough echoed through the earpiece of his powerful transmitter.
"I'm carrying her to the Javelin. I have to get her to J'onn. None of the locals would even try to help her."
"Understood, and not unexpected. But bring her to the cave. I'll have J'onn meet you there. I doubt you'll reach him in time otherwise if she's as critical as your tone suggests."
"She's bad. Aside from the gunshot, she's suffered multiple broken bones, and her wings are pretty badly damaged. I don't know much about her general physiology, but it doesn't look good."
"Get her ASAP. I've already called J'onn, and he's en route now."
"Good. And one more thing, Batman."
"Yes," came the faint air of impatience in the man's voice now.
"The three men that shot her did so purposely. They were talking about a bounty on her."
"That sounds serious. I'll check into it."
Superman closed the channel, and glanced down at Shayera even as he checked his location with a quick scan of the topography below. He was over the barren plains of Dakotas already, but he didn't dare risk greater speed with Shayera already in such bad shape. He shuddered as he thought of how close it still might be. How much worse it could have been if Bruce hadn't used a guilt trip on him to get him to go check on her.
"I remember another alien who was begging for a second chance not long ago," the grim vigilante had reminded him. "Something about his misdeeds not being entirely his fault," he added, stirring some very unpleasant memories about his time spent as Darkseid's mind-controlled minion. It wasn't essentially the same circumstances, but he knew second chances were hard-won, and precious. He had gone out to see their former comrade, even though he hadn't been all that eager to face her again. Especially not after that fiasco in Coast City when she learned it was impossible for celebrities to mingle with common people, even if they really wanted to live ordinary lives.
Especially alien celebrities known worldwide for brining invasion forces home.
In that, he cringed briefly as he slanted his flight path down to the isolated manor house he now sighted near the bay east of Gotham City, they were alike. For however it had been done, he had led Darkseid's invaders right to Earth while he had been in the godlike tyrant's power. He should have remembered that. Should have understood. Just as Batman had reminded him.
Of course, that was hardly a memory he cared to revisit too often he mused grimly as he dropped into the cave through a hidden entrance only a handful of people in the world knew about. He was surprised to find not only Bruce, and his faithful manservant standing by, but also John Stewart, the sector's Green Lantern.
"I heard your call," the grim Lantern told him as the colorfully clad hero lay the battered form of the woman on a gurney Alfred had rolled out for that very purpose.
"The medical bay is this way, gentlemen," the unflappable butler announced as he rolled the gurney toward a smaller section of the immense underground lair that had come to be called the Batcave.
"Where's J'onn," Superman asked as Bruce appeared sans cowl, though he was in costume.
"He's coming. The new transporter isn't quite ready, so he had to leave the Javelin at a hidden airstrip, and he's flying down so he won't draw attention. This isn't the Watchtower, after all. It might be somewhat suspicious if certain heroes started buzzing around Wayne Manor without cause."
"How is she," John asked as the emerald guardian looked down at the limp, battered figure.
"Not good," Superman told him. Then to Batman, he asked, "Did you have a chance to find anything out about that bounty on her?" "Bounty," John exploded as the woman moaned restlessly, then collapsed again.
"It's only been five minutes since you called," Bruce scowled, as grim out of costume, as he was in at times.
"Right. I guess I'm used…."
"The bounty was posted anonymously, over the internet. But someone is offering five million for her wings. Literally," the hero scowled. "They are the proof being demanded that they've killed her."
"By God," John Stewart exploded again as he turned from his wounded lover. "They can't get away with this….." "For the moment, let's focus on saving Hawkgirl's life," Batman calmed him.
"Indeed," a cavernous voice murmured as a green ghost materialized as it passed through the rocks above. All eyes went to J'onn J'onzz's appearance as the Martian settled to the ground even as he fully materialized. "I see you did not exaggerate the situation."
"I have all the equipment you need to treat her," Bruce assured his colleague. "I'll be outside in the main cavern if you need me. There are some things I need to check."
"Perhaps you should wait outside," the green-skinned alien suggested as he eyed the two heroes who remained standing by the woman's bedside. "This might take some time," he advised as he glanced at Alfred, who was working silently as he set up a remote ultrasound scanner used many times for the Batman's own injuries.
"He's right, John," Superman told Green Lantern. "We can't do anything more for her now, except pray."
"A most effective balm, at times, I assure you, sirs," Alfred put forth as he nodded to the Martian the device was ready for the patient.
"All right. But I'll stay here until we know something.
"Do your best," John told the Martian as he turned to go, giving him a last glance before he let Superman lead him away from the medical center that was better equipped than some hospitals. A necessity for someone in the Batman's business.
Shayera woke to the warmth of bright sunshine falling across her body as it streamed in through an open window. She blinked against the glare, trying to focus on where she was, and what had happened to her. She remembered a sudden pain, and falling. She tried to stop herself, but had been unable to keep from slamming into the cold, hard earth. The crippling pain had sent her into dark oblivion for what felt like an eternity, but now she was cocooned in soft bedding, with the warmth of the sun filtering through a window as she stared at a room more luxuriously decorated than some hotels she had visited.
Where was she?
She groaned as she tried to move, and felt every inch of her body weighted, and stiff, as if she was bound by energy manacles. She gave up trying to lift herself from the bed, and simply looked down. All she could see was a thick quilt covering the shape of her body. Was she a prisoner? Had someone bound her to this sickbed, awaiting her recovery for…..?
"Ah, you're back among the living I see," an accented voice drawled as she turned to the opening door to spy a lean, balding man of advanced years carrying a covered tray into the room. "Master Bruce shall be quite glad to hear that. As will several other well-wishers, I am sure."
"You're quite safe, Ms. Hol. You're at Wayne Manor. I believe you visited here on a previous occasion? Under less auspicious circumstances, as I recall. Although I doubt you would consider these circumstances much improved, all things considered."
The man chattered on as she watched him check instruments she had not noticed until then. Tubes and wires ran from the equipment to her body, hidden under the folds of the bedding until Alfred pulled it back to check on her. It was only then that she realized she was enfolded in more than bedding. One arm, and her body from the waist down was encased in thin, but strong casts.
"We'll discuss the details after you've had a bit of broth," the British butler smiled as he pulled the blankets back over her once he finished his fussing. "You should eat it while it's hot."
"You don't have to coddle me…."
"Now don't go emulating Master Bruce. One difficult patient in the house is bad enough. I simply shan't tolerate two."
"Bruce is hurt," she frowned.
"He had a rather bad beating from one of those miscreants he insists upon chasing. Not that he would admit it. But he's forced to rest for a few days this time, as even his constitution requires bed rest after…."
"After what, Alfred," the perfectly groomed millionaire asked as he appeared in the door just then, looking far from bedridden.
"Master Bruce, you really shouldn't be out of bed yet."
"Nonsense. A few bruises are hardly any reason to lay around all day. I've got too much work to do."
"Bruises," Alfred snorted as he uncovered the tray he had set on a portable table nearby. Shayera felt her mouth water as the aroma of the broth filled the room. It reminded her just how hungry she was, for she couldn't remember how long it had been since she had eaten.
"Hungry," the smiling millionaire who looked very unlike his grim alter ego just then asked as he heard her belly rumble.
"A little," she grimaced as she tried to move, and felt a spasm of pain in her back. "I'm surprised you let them bring me here."
"Where else would I send a friend," Bruce asked as he sat carefully on the end of her bed.
"Am I really? Still a friend, I mean?"
Bruce's smile faded as he nodded at her. "Always.
"Even people in our business make mistakes. Because of our business, they get noticed more readily. Especially when they're big ones. That doesn't make you a bad person. Or even a lost cause. It just makes you human."
"Have you ever made mistakes," she asked him.
Bruce's face darkened more than when he wore his cowl. "Too many," he assured her. "But like everyone else, I try and learn from them. And I keep going. Hiding in a hole doesn't help anyone."
She looked away from his unwavering glance that was even worse than Superman's.
"I thought it would be easier on everyone if I…..wasn't around. I've heard you got plenty of help now. The Justice League has so much firepower only an idiot would try attacking them now."
"Unfortunately, there is a universe full of such people," he told her.
"Open up," Alfred coaxed her then, having produced a spoon with which he meant to feed her.
Alfred silenced her as he filled her mouth with the hot, and admittedly delicious broth.
"Eat up. We'll talk later," he told her as he rose while Alfred continued to feed her. "And if you're up to visitors, there are a few that would like to see you later, too."
She couldn't reply, since the butler was making sure her mouth was kept full, though he kept his stern, disapproving gaze on his master, and friend as Bruce sauntered out of the room as if he hadn't been beaten half to death by an infuriated Bane just three nights ago.
"All right, give," she finally spat, growing impatient after Alfred finished feeding her, and fussed with reshaping her pillows, and rechecking her medical monitors and the attached lines. "How bad am I?"
"Not bad at all, Ms. Hol," Alfred assured her. "Mr. J'onzz assures us you will make a complete recovery in time."
"Then why is everyone being so nice to me," she demanded. "I feel like I'm being fattened up for….
"How bad are my wings," she rasped, realizing only then she couldn't actually feel them. And for a winged race, anyone who first sprouted their first feathers was always conscious of those appendages.
"I'm sorry, Miss," Alfred stopped to sigh. "They were very badly damaged."
"H-How bad," she groaned, trying to wriggle them even a little, and feeling only a stabbing pain in her shoulders.
"They had to be removed, Miss," Alfred told her, and Shayera felt something very cold, and very frightening tear into her mind. "It was the only way to save your life."
"They're….gone," she gasped, her green eyes filled with horror as she stared at the man, willing him to deny his words.
"I'm afraid so."
Tears brimmed in her eyes, slowly spilling down her pale cheeks as she realized the truth only then. Her wings were gone. Gone. And she was lost.
"At least you are alive," Alfred tried. But she knew he didn't understand. He couldn't. She closed her eyes tightly, and turned away from the sun. Suddenly it didn't feel all that warm.
"They should have let me die," she rasped, then said nothing more.
"It's been two months," Dick reminded him unnecessarily. "The press is starting to wonder if you didn't buy a slave, or something equally melodramatic."
"I'm aware of the media's imaginings," Bruce scowled as he turned away from the powerful supercomputer that was hooked into most of the planet's databases. There was little he couldn't find out with the machine, for nothing could hide from its powerful reach. "And they are hardly the first such nonsensical rumblings I've heard."
"Still, now that her casts are off, shouldn't she be moving out…."
"She's not ready. She's so fragile now, I'm afraid she's worse off than when she first arrived."
"You're kidding," the lean young man drawled as he adjusted the Nightwing costume he had adopted when he first decided to step out from under the mantle of Robin.
"I wish I were. We didn't realize the importance of her wings in her culture, and in her mind. Without them, she sees herself as….worthless. Less than that even."
"Why?" Bruce settled his cowl over his own features, and stared down at the young man through the opaque eye slits he used to great affect on the criminal element he preyed upon. "You were born into a gymnastic family, and have since honed your body beyond anything your family might have imagined possible. Think how you would feel if you suddenly lost your arms, or legs. Or both. To Shayera, losing her wings is just like that."
"Ow. Bummer. I see what you mean. Still, she's healthy and whole now. Well, almost whole. But whole enough. She should be able to….."
"To what? Forget who she is? Forget the thrill and freedom of flying? Forget that in her eyes, she's more maimed than ever before."
"Okay. Okay. Geez, I was just making a point."
"As was I. And keep your mind focused. Bane isn't going to be a pushover."
"He never is. None of them are," Nightwing growled as he followed Batman to the sleek, black car recently rebuilt after the last one had been destroyed by Twoface's goons.
"We'll deal with Shayera in due time. For now, we have to take Bane down before he thinks he has gained another foothold in Gotham. I won't let him think he has driven me off again. This time, he's going down for good."
Even as the car roared out of the hidden cave, heading toward yet another rendezvous in the nearby city, a slender, redheaded figure stepped out of the shadows, and stared after them. The woman limped on a cane, but looked otherwise whole, just as Nightwing had said. The dullness in her eyes betrayed that apparent truth as she looked around the well-stocked crime lab for what she been seeking. Once she had found what she sought, she worked quickly for a few minutes, then left the Batcave behind. Not long after, she left Wayne Manor, too. As Alfred was away shopping at the time, no one saw her leave.
"Well, she can't have gotten too far," Dick told Alfred. "I mean, she's still a stranger in town, and she's still stove up, for God's sake. Someone must have seen her…."
"Without her wings," Bruce pointed out as he scowled at the monitors. "She could blend in anywhere easily enough. Which was what she had been wanting to do all along. Maybe she realized that, and this is her newest bid for such independence."
"All the same, Master Bruce, she was hardly prepared to go out on her own. She has no job, no money, and certainly no ID."
"I wouldn't be too sure of that," he told them. "I noticed some things missing when we came in. Look," he pointed as the tape from the interior surveillance showed the woman working at one of the crime lab's tables before she shuffled out as silently as she had come.
"So she made a false ID card?" "Obviously. And since our materials are of professional grade, it should allow her to pass herself off as just about anyone."
"She still has no means of support," Alfred reminded him. "And I rather doubt she stole any funds from the petty cash."
"So do I," Bruce nodded. "But for now, we have to respect her decision. If she wants our help, she knows where we are."
"She went almost a year last time before you finally sent Supes to check on her," Dick reminded him. "Somehow, I don't think she's the type to ask for help."
"Be that as it may," Bruce drawled as he unconsciously rubbed a sore right fist. "She has made her decision, and we have to respect it."
Alfred sighed, but said nothing. He knew it was not his place to say anything. No matter how much he wanted to say something just then.
"And what do I tell Mr. Stewart when he comes to visit her again?"
"The truth," Bruce growled as he returned to his primary work. "She left. End of story."
Dick sighed alongside Alfred. Both knew he wasn't as cold as he sounded at times. But at times, it was very hard to prove that belief. Very hard.
"Hey, toots, wanna have a good time?"
"C'mon, babe, let's you and me party."
"How much, girlie?"
"You cuttin' in on my territory?"
The redhead dressed in denim jeans, and a worn sweatshirt ignored the taunts, invitations, and warnings as inconsequential as she made her way through the inner city's darker streets. Even with her new ID, Sheryle Hall had no past, no education, and no job skills. She wasn't sure where to turn now, but she knew she wanted to find her own way. She had to try. The warrior that still lived somewhere deep within her wounded spirit demanded it of her. But her clothes were getting more than dirty after days of unsuccessful job hunting, and she was getting desperate as hunger forced her to share the same refuse that the homeless and drifters ate from as a matter of course.
It didn't help that her face still looked pasty and discolored from the injuries she was still recovering from. She learned the hard way that people took one look at her and made their own judgment of who, and what she was. Ironically, they never once saw in her the alien warrior that had almost inadvertently doomed their world just a year ago. The obscurity she had sought since flying away that fateful day was now hers, and it was just as surely killing her as her grief had beforehand.
"Hey, hon, you need help," a stocky woman in plain, modest clothing asked as she paused on the street to address her.
Shayera looked around, thinking the matronly woman was addressing someone else at first. Few people seemed to speak to her unless they wanted something, or were trying to coerce her into something vile. While she might still be relatively new to Earth, she wasn't naïve. She had been on more than one planet in her life, and no matter the setting, vice was vice the galaxy over.
"I'm talking to you," the older woman smiled not unkindly. "What's your name?"
Shayera frowned, trying to assess what this woman wanted.
"Okay, you don't have to spill anything. I know how hard it can be to trust at times. Did your husband beat you? Your pimp," the woman asked when she said nothing.
"I….I wasn't beaten," she denied, then recalled just how bad her still bruised features did look after that last look in a pawn shop window that showed her the reflection of her yellowing features.
"Of course not. Fell down the steps," the woman offered though she obviously didn't believe her.
"I fell….off a mountain," she told her, refraining from telling the woman she had been shot out of the sky when the truth had been on the tip of her tongue.
"Well, that's original, anyway. Listen, I run a clinic, and a shelter not far from here. You'll be safe there, for tonight anyway. If you'd like to freshen up, get a hot meal, we can offer you that. Along with a warm bed for the night."
"Why," Shayera asked, still not that familiar with Terran charity work despite the years she had spent on the planet. This was outside her usual sphere, after all, and she had no experience with such people.
"You are suspicious, aren't you. Well, I don't blame you. A girl can't be too careful. I'm Leslie Tompkins. Dr. Tompkins," the white-haired woman told her. "I run a clinic for women and children down the block. It's my way of trying to help those that need help when the system lets them down. Whatever you're running from, I can help," the older woman assured her. "Just give me a chance. Don't let these streets chew you up like so many of these poor girls," she said, her mournful gaze settling on a young blonde nearby that leaned against a dirty brick wall in obvious fatigue.
"Is she one of those you try to help," Shayera asked, noting the blonde looked haggard, and malnourished.
"Tried, and failed. She won't let go of the drugs, and her pimp keeps her hooked to better control her. The cops don't care, since she's not one of their affluent patrons, so….what can you do," Leslie sighed.
"I have never noticed such squalor before this," she admitted. "I have seen ghettos the gal….the world over, but…..never truly noticed those that inhabited them."
"Falling from grace is always a shock, isn't it," Leslie asked her kindly, apparently not noticing her near slip.
Shayera blinked. Then slowly nodded. "Yes. I….I fell. I never thought I would, but I did." She looked up, adding, "And I can never return to the skies."
Which she mourned as she slowly lowered her gaze.
"We all need a hand now and then, sweetie. Come with me, and maybe we can get you started back up the ladder," she offered. "You don't have to throw your life away."
"She don't need you, old woman," a muscular black man who had harangued her earlier stepped in front of them when Shayera finally just nodded, and fell into step with the woman. "I'll be taking care of Red, here. Good care of her," the black man smiled coldly as he flexed the muscles under his thin tee as if in warning.
"We don't want trouble, DD," Leslie told him. "Just let us….."
"You can go, granny," the black man grinned, stepping up to all but tower over Shayera. "But Red is going to stay and party. I think she might just like what I have to offer," the cocky pimp suggested as he rubbed his denim-clad crotch.
"I rather doubt it," Shayera told him blandly, her eyes flashing in contempt. "Please stand aside. I don't want to have to hurt you."
"Hurt me? Hurt me," the pimp laughed as several nearby bystanders laughed with him. "Honey, I don't think you understand the situation….."
DD, aka Diamond Dave, suddenly stopped laughing.
"Actually, I do," Shayera told the man who was suddenly on his knees, cringing as his right hand was caught in her left, being slowly ground into powder. "I've met your verminous kind before, and I'm still not impressed. Now do the world a favor, and go find a rock to crawl back under. Just….stay….out….of….my….way," she gritted, shoving past the astonished pimp as she met Leslie's astonished gaze.
"Wow," the woman exclaimed as Shayera rejoined her.
"I….know some self defense moves," she covered for herself lamely as she smiled anxiously, having forgotten her still superhuman strength might just betray her as much as her wings had before. While she was not on the level of J'onn or Kal_El, she was still much stronger than any normal human.
"I wish I knew your training instructor. I'd get them to teach some of the girls at the mission some of those tricks," Leslie told her honestly. "Some of them could use that kind of skill."
Shayera had nothing to say to that as the woman led her down the street where the laughing toughs behind them now turned their taunts on the kneeling pimp left cradling his injured hand.
"So, was it a he, or she? That taught you, I mean?"
"It was….a man. He was….very skilled."
"Obviously." The woman looked at her face again. "But I guess sometimes skill just isn't enough, is it?" Shayera caught her sympathetic glance at her features, and smiled wanly. "No. Sometimes all the power in the world isn't enough."
"That's where I come in, hon. Just take it one step at a time, and the bleakest moment can be overcome if you just have faith."
"Yes, faith. You believe in God, don't you?"
"I… I'm not sure what I believe in. I never have before," she admitted.
"Well, I'm no fanatic, but I do believe that a little faith is necessary to overcome the trials of this world. We can talk about it if you like? While you eat," Leslie asked with a knowing smile after Shayera's stomach rumbled hungrily again.
Shayera smiled ruefully as she admitted, "I would appreciate that."
"Then….twist, and just use your attacker's own weight to put him down," Sheryle demonstrated on the young man who had volunteered to help in her self defense class Leslie's mission was sponsoring for battered women.
She let the man go before she could actually hurt him, and looked at the nine anxious women studying her with some doubt.
"Now, who wants to try it?" "Shouldn't we just kick him? You know….in the balls," a young, sandy-haired teen asked her as she eyed the lean boy doubtfully. At nineteen, he was as threatening as any of the men in their lives, and Sheryle, as she had come to be known, understood that.
"That is another, more direct attack. And we'll discuss that, too. But…you won't always get a chance to act as you prefer, so you have to be ready to take whatever opportunity you do have. So, any takers," she asked with a calm smile. By now, her own bruises were gone, and her body had almost completely healed. Except for the constant itch where her wings had once been.
When Leslie had found out she was looking for a job, she was overjoyed to help her. Only with her lack of background, and unwillingness, or inability to be completely honest about her past, she had few options even among the usual minimum wage jobs available. That was when the old woman had come up with the idea of sponsoring a self defense class for battered women. Nothing fancy, just something that could help them safeguard themselves, and perhaps instill enough confidence in themselves to finally stand up for themselves in life, if not in court.
"Come on, now," she urged the audience. "Todd is here to help us. He won't hurt anyone."
She had been hesitant at first, but after meeting some of the truly victimized women that came to the shelter with no place to go, Shayera had been swayed. In her third week of classes, she had had few successes to date, but she had a few regulars who were getting better every day. That was enough to cheer her. Meanwhile, the job didn't pay much, but it gave her a place to stay, and a warm bed. She didn't even mind helping in the mission kitchen when staff was short. For a change, she felt she was accomplishing something rather than just endlessly bashing villains who would only be free to rampage soon after they were captured anyway. For the first time in a very long time, she felt at peace, and was genuinely proud of what she was doing.
"I'll try," Sandy, her regular student volunteered as the mousy brunette stepped forward, smiling more confidently than she had in some time.
Word around the mission was her husband had tracked her and her son down, and she had pinned him long enough for the cops to arrest him for violating a restraining order. Typically, he was already out on bail, but the young housewife was no longer cowering at every sudden sound, or movement. She was slowly learning to reclaim her life.
"Good, Sandy," Sheryle nodded. "Now, remember, we don't really want to hurt this young man, so be careful how much force you use. And remember how we learned to grab the thumb as you twist…."
"Got it," the woman nodded as she eyed the young man as if she were starving, and he was a burger with everything.
Todd grimaced, knowing he was about to get another real workout.
A moment later, Todd was yelping in genuine pain as Sandy proved she had been paying attention.
"Very good," Sheryle praised her as he young woman smiled grimly down at her apparent victim. "Who's next," she asked.
"I don't get it," John asked as he flew over the city next to Superman. "Where did she get to this time?"
"It's a big planet, GL," the Kryptonian reminded him. "And a bigger universe if she finally has left us."
"But you said her ship was destroyed."
"True. But with all the visitors we have, the Lantern Corps included, it would have been easy for her hitch a ride with an outbound ship. There have been no less than a half dozen offworlders on the planet in just the last month. She's been gone almost two."
"Do you think she's left the planet?"
"I don't know. From what Batman said, she was pretty shook up over losing her wings."
"You didn't see her afterward, did you?"
"I've been busy," the hero replied grimly. "Metallo broke out about the same time I got back that week. Then the K'zari decided Earth might make good slave hunting grounds. Not to mention…."
"I know. I know," the powerful black man clad in emerald green sighed. "I just….I hate to think of her out there alone when that damned bounty is still on her head. Especially when even Bats is having trouble tracking down whoever put it up."
"The internet is a big place all on its own. It could have come from anywhere, and even if it isn't real, there are plenty of people willing to chance it."
"Tell me about it. The worst of it is that the law wouldn't even prosecute those three you caught for shooting Hawkgirl. Public service, that fat fool actually called it."
"He is the sheriff of that county. We have to respect…"
"Hogwash," Stewart shot. "Batman is right. Sometimes you have to realize that not everyone with a badge is legit. Or worthy of respect."
"Thinking like that only leads to anarchy."
"Then call me an anarchist," the Green Lantern of Earth spat at him, his green eyes blazing with his anger.
"John, I sympathize, but….."
"What if they had shot Lois," John demanded, having recently learned Superman's true identity, and his affection for that rather irritating reporter.
Superman said nothing as they finished the patrol over the city in silence. "We need to focus. Green Arrow said he had a tip Edge's boys were up to something since Batman went undercover on whatever he's working on. And while it's been quiet….."
"Changing the subject won't make it go away."
Superman," a loud voice echoed in his ear just then. "You have a visitor at the Watchtower. I suggest you get up here pronto."
"Who is it, Green Arrow," he asked the arrogant activist that had been added to the roles against his better judgment. Arrow was definitely not a team player, and had a lot of government agencies rather angry with him over his outspoken criticism of official policies. Not to mention his first unofficial mission had ruffled a lot of international feathers.
"You wouldn't believe me. Just….get up here."
"I'm on my way," he said, and nodded at Lantern before altering his flight path, and vanishing in the next second as a sonic boom sounded high over Gotham. The Green Lantern heard some complaints from below, as these people weren't as used to Superman's coming and going as Metropolis.
He looked down at the crowds, noting how many people actually looked alike from this height. Shayera could be down there looking up at him now, and he would never know it. Not unless she let him know. And it was obvious she had no intention of letting anyone know where she had gone. Batman had supposedly gone in search of her, just to ensure she was all right, but had yet to find her. He was, of course, dividing his attention between his own duties with the League, his city patrols, and even the life of playboy Bruce Wayne as John had only recently learned Batman's true identity. Of course, as many others who came to know him, he wasn't so sure that Wayne wasn't the façade, and Batman was the true persona in that odd melding of man and mask.
He swore to himself as he arched right, continuing the patrol despite his wish to be elsewhere. But Bats was still gone, and they had a duty to see to the city for him in his absence. No matter that he wished he could be elsewhere, playing detective, and finding out what had happened to the woman he had come to care for despite the dilemma her tragic betrayal had created for them all.
He turned again, eyeing the dark alleys where many lowlifes liked to congregate in this part of the city, but saw nothing that warranted his attention. Sparing a moment to wonder just what had drew Superman up into space to their newly rebuilt Watchtower, he gave a long sigh, and turned back to repeat his patrol circuit. "Sometimes just letting them see you is enough," Supes had told him in his first days as a Lantern.
And sometimes, he realized as he heard a scream from not far off, you have to press home the point. Speeding up, he aimed his ring as he headed for the trouble, wondering if Shayera was at least someplace safe. He certainly hoped so. She deserved that much, at least.
"Commander Talec," Superman exclaimed, staring at the scared Thanagarian who stood on the bridge of the new Watchtower. "I thought you left our system after we…."
"Defeated us? Yes. However, your Batman summoned me back after he made a disturbing discovery."
"Batman," the caped hero blinked as he looked around but saw only Captain Atom, and Green Arrow on the bridge on lookout duty. "How did he….?"
"The means of that clever monkey are not the issue. The news he sent is," the dour man scowled. "I was given to understand he would be here…."
"And I am," a grim voice intoned as the lift doors parted just then to reveal the dark knight as he pushed another familiar figure forward. "Along with a certain person non gratis I believe you should take charge of now," he addressed the Thanagarian.
"Krager," Superman exclaimed, recognizing the snide Hawkman who was currently bound hand, foot, and wings as Batman shoved him forward.
"He's the one behind the bounty on Shayera."
"I'm not going to ask how you found that out," Superman murmured, knowing the grim detective well enough by now.
"Bounty," Ro Talec remarked as he eyed his subordinate. "You returned to this backspace planet to sponsor assassination attempts on Lt. Hol?"
"Bah. You've gotten as soft as she had," the gaunt, snide features twisted into a sneer as the man faced his superior. "You took our failure as if it were nothing, and let her go. Let these apes go, without even trying to avenge our honor.
"I could not let such a slight pass," Krager spat. "And I did not. For they caught me too late. The traitor is gone. Destroyed. And I can finally return home with my honor restored."
Ro's features twisted as he strode forward, his fists twisted in knots at his sides as he eyed the dark-haired man with a thin beard. "You had Shayera murdered, and you call that honorable?"
"I hate to let the air out of your wings," Batman gave a rare smirk. Not a pleasant expression on his face, but for him, it passed for humor. "But Shayera Hol is still alive and well."
"But my agent brought me her wings," Krager protested.
"Her wings," Ro exclaimed, looking horrified.
"Due to the bounty he placed on her before we became aware of it, she was attacked, and seriously injured," Superman cut in. "As a result, she lost her wings, but we were able to save her life."
"Her life," Ro looked sickened beyond measure. "Thanagarians are not ground-dwellers, Kryptonian," he spat. "It is the gravest insult to remove a warrior's wings. It is a crime worthy of death," he spat, glaring at Krager with as much disdain as he had ever spared for any of Earth's champions during the brief conflict earlier last year.
"Just why did you call him," the silvered humanoid known as Captain Atom asked now as he suppressed a yawn. "Why didn't you just tear his wings off? Sounds like he deserved it."
Batman's characteristic scowl was fixed firmly in place as he responded. "We have enough trash of our own to take care of here. We don't need refuse from other worlds, too. I called the commander to take charge of Krager, guessing they could do more to him than we would, or could."
"Shoving him out of the airlock would have been easier," Oliver Queen suggested, stroking his blonde goatee with a gleeful smile.
"Too lenient," Batman drawled, and no one in the room doubted that he meant it.
"We shall see him punished. He had no authorization to return to your world, and we've enough trouble with the Gordanians of late since we lost our last bid to end their threat. The High Command does not wish to be caught between two fronts."
"Like we'd bother attacking you," Oliver snorted.
"He's talking about the New Gods. Lord Orion has recently made it clear that he felt their presence in the system was a violation of some treaty. Is that about right," Batman asked the commander with a knowing glance.
"You monkeys have strange alliances. But that is true enough. What of Shayera? Is she truly well? Or did she….take the warrior's path?"
"She is still quite well."
Ro nodded. "I noted she is no longer among your number. So her treachery did not go completely unpunished by your League, either."
"Did you think it wouldn't be," Batman asked him curtly.
"No. And while I thought to strand her here, and punish her in that regard, I never would have injured her so gravely." He opened a pouch at his waist and pulled out a small, green disk. "Give this to her. She will know what to do with it. It will….help her. That is all I can do for her. If you will," he said as Batman took the small disk, studied it briefly, then placed it in one of his own belt compartments. "Tell her….this makes us even. As for you, the High Command shall have a few words for you before they pass sentence. To distract us with such nonsense when we are still in pitched battle with those murderous reptiles….."
The commander shook his head, then touched a stud on his belt. The pair of them vanished in a green haze as they transported back to his ship which orbited the new Watchtower. A moment later, the alien ship turned and vanished in a blur of speed into the dark expanse beyond the planet. "I hope that's the last we see of them," Green Arrow snorted. "They're all a bunch of pretentious ba….."
"Queen," Superman spat.
"Bad guys," the archer smiled smugly as he continued as if he weren't about to lapse into his usual profanity.
"Do you really know where she is," Superman asked his comrade as he accompanied Batman back to the hangar where a newly designed Javelin set awaiting him. "I heard you lost her."
"I never lost her," the detective snorted, sounding insulted. "She's in my city," he added as if that explained everything.
"You think that disk will actually help her?"
"Possibly. I'll give it a once-over before I risk approaching her, though. I'd rather not hand her a weapon designed to use against herself."
"You don't think….?" "They wouldn't be the first warrior culture to use suicide as a means of satisfying personal honor."
"It just sounds so….barbaric."
"Kent, sometimes you really should get your head out of the clouds. The world isn't as civilized as you like to think. Trust me," the detective growled as he climbed into the Javelin, not pausing to offer him a ride.
Superman said nothing as he simply drew a deep breath, and waited for the hangar to depressurize. Then he accompanied the ship down to the planet below before he turned away from Batman's flight path, heading for his own city as he was reassured the Dark Knight was headed back home, and could handle his city on his own once more. He had a lot of questions about Krager, and the entire bounty situation, but he knew Batman well enough to know he wouldn't talk unless he wanted to talk. He'd have to wait and see what manner of report the man wrote up for the files. If he wrote one. He suspected even the Watchtower's files didn't have half the Intel at the Batman's disposal. Not even with their new UN backing.
"Hello, Ms. Hall,," the tall, dark-haired man murmured as he entered the makeshift gym after the others had left for the day.
"B….Bruce Wayne," she exclaimed as she turned to face the man in the immaculate dark suit who stood in the door. "How did you….?"
"No one else knows you're here. I thought you would appreciate that," he told her as he strode into the gym, eyeing the secondhand gear she had been scavenging for her students as her small class had expanded as more women joined up once they realized she was for real.
"Thank you….I suppose. But why are you….?"
"I came to tie up a few loose ends," he told her. "I thought you would like to know that bounty is gone. And I found the man behind it."
"I see," she murmured, turning to put away the body padding Todd had left near the edge of one of the old mats where he had been working earlier that afternoon with some of the new women. "Did you find out why they….?"
"Revenge. Pure and simple."
"I guess we angered a lot of people when we came to Earth," she sighed as she turned to face him again, looking downcast as he reached into his pocket.
"He wasn't human. He was Thanagarian. Krager apparently lost his rank, and standing because of our interference. He felt you were to blame, and came back for some old-fashioned vengeance."
"Krager," she hissed, remembering that officious toady. "Where is he?"
"On his way home. I turned him over to Commander Talec, who assures me he will be severely punished for his role in your….injuries."
"Ro was here," she rasped. "Again?"
"As a temporary guest, to reclaim his missing warrior. I suspected, correctly, that Krager wasn't here on official business."
She sighed. "So, they're both gone again."
"Yes. They left a few hours ago."
"Good," she smiled wanly. "That's….good."
"He asked me to deliver this," he told her as he pulled his hand out of her pocket. "And to tell you it makes you even."
She took the small disk, staring at it in astonishment. "He….He gave you this for me," she exclaimed.
"Yes. I gave it a thorough inspection. It has a limited power source, but doesn't appear to be dangerous. I assumed you would know what to do with it."
"Yes," she nodded as she took the disk. "I do."
A single dark brow rose in a slight arch as he studied her.
"It….It depends on how bad the damage was, but….this could give me back my wings."
"I see. That should make you happy."
"I…..I don't know. I have to think about it. These past few weeks….I've been accepted here, Ba… Bruce," she told him, quickly covering up her near slip as she heard someone moving around in the locker rooms beyond the makeshift mission gym. "No one fears, or hates me anymore. Well, not unless you count the lowlifes that don't like the fact I'm teaching women how to protect themselves," she smiled ruefully.
"I can imagine," he smiled darkly, befitting his true nature.
She studied him briefly, holding the device in both hands as she glanced around briefly before meeting his eyes again. "You said.…the others….don't know? I mean, about me being here?"
"No. I'm the only one that knows you're here. As I said, I suspected you weren't ready to face anyone else, so I've kept your whereabouts my own secret."
"And you are good with secrets," she smiled blandly at him.
"I'm a private man myself, media reports notwithstanding."
"Tell Leslie I'll see her another time."
"You know her," Shayera blinked in surprise as he paused at the door.
"Leslie and I go way back," he remarked as blandly as ever. "She does fine work here, and I help fund her mission."
"Oh. Does she know….?" She fell silent, shrugging as she heard movement back in the locker room area again.
"This isn't the time, or place for that conversation. I'll let you go now," he told her, though she had been the one to stop his leaving. "I'm sure we're both busy, and you obviously have much to think about."
"Yes. Thank you again, Bruce. I mean that."
"Of course," he smiled again, a friendly smile this time. "That is what friends are for, after all."
She recalled the last time he had told her that.
"Of course," she echoed him, still clutching the medical disk in her hands as he left her standing in the gym alone.
Almost in the same instant, Leslie Tompkins appeared from the back. "Dr. Tompkins," she exclaimed, seeing the older woman coming out to greet her as she turned. "I….I didn't know…. Did you hear us," she asked anxiously, sliding the precious disk into a pocket of her uniform gi she was wearing just then.
"Hard not to, Sheryle. Or do I call you Shayera now?"
"I….I prefer Sheryle," she admitted. "I guess you figured out….who I am?"
"I knew the first week, sweetie," Leslie told her with her ever-present smile. "It wasn't hard to figure out."
"But…? Oh, Bruce."
"No, he didn't tell me anything. I watch the news, dear. And I saw those scars on your back one evening while you were changing. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what had happened to you. Or who you were. Hawkgirl," she said meaningfully as she looked up into her green eyes with a surprisingly canny gaze that the Thanagarian had somehow missed until now.
She's as clever as Batman, she realized only then.
"Oh. Does that mean you want me to leave now?"
"That's up to you. I offered you a place here, and that hasn't changed. The question is, Sherry," she called her as she had been calling her since the first week. "Do you want to go?"
Sheryle/Shayera sighed deeply, thinking of the disk in her pocket that would give back so much to her that she had lost. Or take away all she had accomplished.
"No. But….I don't know what I should do. I've missed….them," she said, hearing a door open just then, and amending her words as she simply glanced back at her own shoulders. "But if I reclaim them, if it's even possible, I could lose all I've started building here with you."
"And why should you do that," Leslie asked her.
"People will find out," she whispered, lowering her voice as the old black man came into the gym to start cleaning up as he did every evening. He was just one of the many volunteers that helped out in the mission that Sheryle had found out was respected as neutral ground even by the gangs that roamed the area. It didn't hurt that it was known that the Bat, as they called him on the street, had an interest in the place. And no one with any sense crossed the Bat.
"Honey, you just have to decide what you want. That's what I've been teaching the girls here from the start. That's what you should have been learning, too. You have to decide what role you want to fill in life, and go for it. You don't let anyone decide for you," she quickly cut off the confused redhead before she could speak. "You decide. What's best for you? What do you really want? The decision is yours. And only you can make it."
"I'm afraid," she admitted, shaking her head as Roger moved away to empty the waste cans on the far side of the open gym. "If I choose wrong, if people find out who and what I really am…."
"What are you really, Shayera," Leslie asked her quietly. "Have you ever stopped to ask yourself that?" She blinked, not sure how to answer.
"When you answer that, honestly, then you'll know what path to take. Trust me. I've been where you are a hundred times. It's all part of being human, and learning to cope with the limitations of being human," she smiled as Roger moved by, pushing his cleaning cart as he headed for the waste cans on the far end of the gym.
"Evenin' ladies," he bobbed his head to them as he passed. "Been a good day, ain't it," he asked.
"Yes, Roger," Leslie turned to address him. "A very good day. I have to go now, hon. You finish cleaning up, and I'll see you later."
Sheryle sighed as the woman left with the same brisk stride that carried her everywhere. For an older woman, she was tireless. And while there were a few exceptions, like her mission, her person was sacrosanct to many in the neighborhood. She was regarded by many as a saint, even if she didn't follow the human church that declared such status.
"Life was easier when there was no choice," she said to no one in particular as she went to finish picking up the mats left out after her last class. Roger grinned as he parked his cart, and started pushing the old broom he carried in his cart across the floor she exposed.
"You know I can do that for ya, Ms. Hall. I don't mind at all," he assured her as he pushed the worn dust mop along the scarred wooden flooring.
"You do enough, Roger," she told him. "I don't mind helping clean up my own mess," she told him, and stopped as the words echoed with double meaning in her mind.
"You okay, Ms. Hall," the old man asked her as she stood there with a half rolled mat in her hands.
"Yes. Yes, I am, Roger," she smiled. "I've just got a lot on my mind lately."
"Guess we all gots burdens, ma'am," the old man's white head nodded sagely. "Ma always said, it's the measure of a man, or a woman, I reckon, in how we handle 'em."
"Your mother sounds like a wise woman," she told him as she returned to work, her mind still in turmoil over what to do with her potential restoration.
"She was," he nodded with the same smile he always wore. "That she was."
"Oh. I'm sorry."
"No reason to be, Ms. Hall," he assured her as he passed her on another circuit across the floor. "She had a good life. An' a long one. Reckon we all should be so lucky. It would sure break her heart to see what's happened to this ole city, though. Used to be a good place to live. Not perfect, of course. But it was decent enough."
"Do you have children of your own," she asked him, realizing she really didn't know much about Roger.
"Got three children, ma'am. All grown. Got a few grandchil'ren, too, but they're too busy running the streets to care about a broken down old man like me."
"That's….not right," she commented. "Even my…..my people believed in family. It's a bond that should never be broken."
"Reckon you're right. You Irish, Ms. Hall? I hear they are powerful fond of big families."
"I'm not Irish," she told him with a rueful smile. "Although I've found myself wishing I were lately."
"Well, you got the coloring," Roger grinned as he paused to let her pull up the last mat before he continued sweeping. "Reckon that's why I made the mistake."
"Yes," she nodded.
"So, where you from, Ms. Hall," he asked her politely as he finished the sweeping as she stacked the lasts mat in the corner with the others. "I can guess you're not local. You got a bit of an accent still. That's why I figured Irish."
"I'm….from very far away," she told him. "I have to go," she added in almost the same breath. "I have some things to do."
"Course, ma'am," he nodded. "You be careful. Been hearin' rumblings on the streets. Those gang boys are up to no good again. Happens every time one of their leaders get out of juvie."
"I will. You take care, too, Roger. Dr. Tompkins would hate to lose you."
"Shucks, ma'am," the old man chuckled as she headed for the locker room. "Ain't no one gonna bother an old, dried up prune like me. But they'll look more 'n twice at you. So you do as I say, and watch yourself."
"Don't worry, Roger," she told him confidently. "I can handle myself."
"I know you're canny. But you're still just one woman. Remember that, and take care of yourself. I know a lot of these girls would hate to lose you. You're a real blessing to more 'n one of 'em."
She had nothing to say to that.
Shayera Hol stood on the roof of the building where she now lived, renting a small, squalid apartment she had done her best to clean until it was nearly habitable. The streets were alive tonight, just as Roger had warned, and more of the usual sort were out and about even at this late hour. She heard the cries of the night, the screams from somewhere not far away. Even the hawking cries of the girls and women who sold themselves to support their drug habits.
The stench of the city was not so bad this high up, and unlike most who lived in the brownstone, she didn't mind having to climb the steps to the fifteenth floor apartment where she lived. She preferred living up as high as possible. It helped her remember the freedom she had lost when her wings were crippled, and lost. Looking up at the sky, she remembered the rush of the wind as she flew like the bird she had once been.
She sighed as she thought of the first day she had arrived on Earth. Everything had been so uncertain. She knew no one. Wasn't sure of how to carry out her mission. Then came that invasion by way of Mars, and the unexpected union with the very heroes she had come to find in preparation for her people's arrival. Only she learned to like them, to respect them, and unexpectedly she was invited to join the fledgling Justice League in the aftermath of that failed invasion. She found herself living, and fighting alongside some of the finest warriors she had ever met, and it tormented her that she had to hide the truth of her mission from them. A mission in which even she had been misled concerning the final details. Details that could have doomed the planet, had she not betrayed those she had sworn to help in their endless battle with their mortal enemies the Gordanians.
Of course, she now knew how bad it had all ended. She had lost the trust and respect of the very people she had come to admire. The populace that once cheered her now damned her, had even tried to kill her. In all the grief following the wake of her people's deception, and invasion, she had lost sight of her own code. The warrior's code.
Pulling out the disk, she studied its smooth surface, and felt her jaw clench. Her stubborn jaw, John would say at such times.
She looked up again, holding the disk in both hands, and made a silent oath, renewing the warrior's vows that had guided her life for so many years. A vow to fight for her people. A vow never to run from battle. Never to betray her code, or her comrades. Never to turn from facing the consequences of her own actions. She had forgotten that vow in the grief that had swamped her for too long. It was time to remember what she was, and to reclaim that lost mantle.
She opened her blouse, exposing the flesh between her firm breasts as she pressed the disk to her chest. She didn't know if she could reclaim her wings, but if the physical damage were not too severe, they could be restored with the regenerative genetic techniques known to her people. She was surprised that Ro had given her this chance, but she did not question it too closely. She pressed the hidden studs on either side of the disk, and felt a rush of warmth flood her body.
She imagined she could see the pale light emanating from the disk surrounding her body, and felt a nagging itch in her shoulders as the heat spread quickly throughout her entire form. She shuddered, feeling a momentary weakness, and dropped to her knees as the now spent disk clattered to the gravel roof topping her apartment house. She stared stupidly as the small metal circle that landed between her splayed thighs, and reached down with clumsy fingers to scoop it up. Her back was till itching wildly, but she felt her strength returning by degrees as the characteristic heat of the nannite infusion faded. She climbed slowly to her feet, holding the med disk in one hand before stuffing it into the pocket of her jeans. Casting a last glance up at the stars just visible through the city's haze of smog, she headed for the access door back into the building.
Finally, feeling relatively normal again, she turned and headed for the stairwell leading down to her floor. And another lonely night by herself. Still, it was done. Whatever happened now, she would face it. She had taken her chance, and now she would live with it. And could anyone blame her if she prayed as fervently that her wings grew back, as much as she prayed they did not?
To Be Continued…