I don't own anything owned by DC Comics.
Spoilers: "Starcrossed," "Wake the Dead," and "The Once and Future Thing Parts 1 and 2"
By virtue of patience
Superman had put his hand on her shoulder. He had smiled genuinely – the only kind of smile he knew how to give – and told her, "I believe in second chances. I believe in redemption. But mostly, I believe in my friends."
So even though Shayera knew that she wasn't quite ready to return to the Justice League, she gave into the sense of security she felt having them around her. Superman, John, Aquaman. Even Amazo. Having them there, lending their support (no one could understand how much she had been dreading a reunion; she certainly hadn't expected it to be like this) made it easy to ignore Vixen, who was making it abundantly clear that she didn't approve of Shayera.
"Coming up to the Watchtower?" Superman asked her after they were sufficiently far away from the crowd of press and spectators.
She heard police helicopters heading to the manhole, where they would retrieve Grundy's body from the sewers and airlift it. They would find his body in tact, but they would see that his head had been bludgeoned in. She could still feel how easily his skull had been crushed under her mace. The horrified tears she was forcing herself to suppress – because she was afraid to cry around these people – were maybe clouding her judgment, and Superman made her feel so safe just then, so she agreed.
She heard Vixen "hmmph" behind her.
All the feelings of security and familiarity she felt in Louisiana fell to pieces when she reached the Watchtower. There was nothing familiar about it. The Watchtower redesign lost all of the intimacy that made the old one feel like home. She wasn't used to seeing the monitor womb look like a military base of operations. She didn't like that there was a "commissary," and that there were "quarters" and "recreation areas." The old Watchtower had been like a clubhouse. Now it was like a barracks.
(It was her fault, she kept reminding herself.)
And now it was crawling with people. Civilians, and more superheroes than she had ever seen gathered in one place. She could identify most of them because of her intelligence work for the Thanagarian army. Of course, all of them knew who she was.
The new Leaguers wanted nothing to do with her. The original Leaguers were only slightly better.
Superman was kind and polite, but she suspected that it was because he was incapable of being any other way. J'onn accepted her return wordlessly. Diana was still feeling betrayed but was more arrogant than ever, and because she couldn't lie she made it clear that she was still livid with Shayera. Batman was nowhere to be found – not that she expected any warmth from him.
Only Wally had welcomed her back with open arms. One afternoon they were having lunch in the commissary when she set down her fork and shook her head. "Hanging out with you is the only time I'm actually happy these days," she admitted in a rare moment of vulnerability, "Why aren't you up here more often?"
He scratched the back of his neck. "…I've been busy in Central City trying to get things back to normal, after…"
After the Thanagarian invasion. Her voice caught in her throat, but she nodded, understanding. Swallowed a fresh wave of guilt.
And John was with Vixen.
The night Grundy was resurrected, Shayera was thrust back into public scrutiny. John had tried to protect her the best he could. She wasn't grateful for his help, but she was relieved to see that he still cared about her feelings. She knew that she had wrenched his heart from his chest when she had introduced him to Hro. Yet here he was, defending her against the world. And her feelings for him hadn't changed. She was almost filled with hope.
But then when the warm feelings had worn off back at the Watchtower she realized that John had been especially vocal because he was guilty. The woman who kept crossing her arms and rolling her eyes at Shayera that night – Vixen – was John's new lover. Because of this, John was almost theatrical the way he was trying to get in Shayera's good graces.
If she hadn't gotten her hopes up so quickly after seeing him again, maybe this news wouldn't have stung so much.
She was infuriated with herself. Went to the training rooms all of the time now. Wailed on hapless robots with her mace. Screamed war cries until her voice went hoarse.
Vixen was desire itself. She was sophisticated and sultry and mysterious and confident. At first Shayera was convinced that she was John's rebound girl. She was a supermodel, for crying out loud. And John wasn't the kind of guy who fell for looks. He had fallen in love with Shayera without ever seeing all of her face.
But then Shayera found out that Vixen was a fearless fighter. She could think on her feet. She never wasted time on small talk. Her every move was carefully calculated – she was smart.
Shayera's first instinct when she learnt all this was to protect John from Vixen. But then the image of his almost-goofy face (with that awful new goatee he was sporting) when he was around his supermodel girlfriend reminded Shayera that she was just looking for an excuse.
She slammed her mace against a robot's head with a loud grunt and it clattered to the ground.
John was with Vixen –
– but he didn't even have the decency –
– to be honest about it with her—
"Shayera," came a sharp voice.
She spun around, half-distracted, half-annoyed.
Batman frowned at her. "If you're going to destroy Watchtower equipment without the intention of improving your skills, then you're abusing your privileges as a League member."
Leave it to Batman to hit her with a multi-layered insult. "I am improving my skills," she shot back, "I'm trying to figure out the best way to beat John back into his senses."
Batman remained stock-still. "We don't harm our team members in the Justice League."
The hand that clutched her mace fell to her side. "Get it all out of your system now," she growled. But she was hurt.
She had never counted Batman among one of her friends. They had consulted each other on missions because their minds worked alike, and they had played chess together, sure, but only because she thought that he could afford to be taken down a peg.
(And she was relieved that she hadn't seen him during her first few days after her return, because she felt especially guilty on his account. He had almost killed himself to make up for her mistake with the hyperspace bypass, and she knew that the Thanagarians had destroyed millions of dollars worth of Wayne Enterprises projects around the world. After John, she had wronged him the most.)
Still, she had expected him to at least say "Welcome back" before he started to insult her.
Somehow he was John's friend. "If you knew that you couldn't have a future with someone, then why would you pretend to be nice to make that person think that you did?" she demanded suddenly.
"Unless you're training, get out of the training room," he repeated.
She narrowed her eyes and made her way towards Batman. Yanked a towel from the rack behind him. Snapped it in front of his face and threw it over shoulder, but he didn't flinch. She walked out of the room, blinking back the wetness that was starting to fill her eyes.
The Princess had picked up sarcasm during her absence, Shayera noted as she snatched a tray and crossed Diana in the commissary. ("By all means." So regal and yet so rude! If she and Diana were still friends, she would have patted her on the back.)
She saw Batman and John in the distance sharing a table. They were having an animated conversation over coffee – well, about as animated as those two could get. She swore that she saw Batman smile. Yob shiggurath.
Wonder Woman walked towards John and Batman. Shayera watched her enviously. If this had been a year ago, she could have joined them.
And then, she could almost swear that she saw the two men flicker. And then, just as suddenly, they became very quiet and looked at each other in confusion. When Diana set down her tray on their table, Batman asked her something and she shrugged. John turned to look almost dumbfounded at Shayera, and she quickly looked away.
There were other things to occupy her. She had to find a table as far away from John as possible. She wasn't up for a conversation with him just then.
Later that evening, she sat in an unoccupied rec room, absently staring into the distance. Batman came into her field of vision. She rolled her eyes. "Are you here to tell me that I shouldn't breathe from the Watchtower oxygen reserves unless I'm working on improving my lung capacity?"
He pulled a nearby chair up to the chess set. "Care to play?"
She narrowed her eyes. "What do you want?" But Batman was already setting up the chess pieces on the board. Reluctantly, she sat on the chair across from him. "Is it about what happened this afternoon?"
"What happened this afternoon?" he asked without missing a beat as he finished lining up her pawns.
"I don't know." Shayera crossed her arms. "I'm guessing time travel."
He nodded imperceptibly. "Lantern, Wonder Woman, and I took a little trip."
Was he testing her, she wondered? Decided not to ask any questions. Moved her pawn towards his side of the board. They played quietly for some time until something occurred to her. "Did John send you here?"
"Would it matter if he did?"
"…I don't know." She seized one of his bishops. "I just…I knew that things would be awful if I ever saw him again, but I didn't expect them to be like this."
So this was what it had come to. She was going to pour her heart out to a wet blanket like Batman. Beggars can't be choosers, Hol, she told herself.
"I thought that John and I would ignore each other's existence and move on. But he's trying to form another kind of relationship with me, and I don't want it. But I don't have the right to deny it to him. I lost that right after – after everything that happened."
Saying it out loud didn't make her feel better.
"Given the current circumstances, you and John probably aren't going to happen," Batman said finally. Her mouth fell open a little; he cut her off before she could protest. "But you still love him. Why?"
He moved his knight closer to her king. Check.
She knew Batman because he was like her. Knew that he inherently mistrusted anything he couldn't control. Knew that he only allowed himself to value things he could logically explain. Knew that he was afraid of things like faith – and love – because they were too abstract to be constant.
"The three of you traveled through time, but only two of you came back," she realized aloud as she saved her king. It dawned on her that she and Batman were in the same predicament. "Something happened to Diana." Her eyes widened. "Great Hera, Batman, you – and her…"
She always knew that Diana would eventually get off her high horse and fall in love with one of the men that she loved insulting, but she didn't expect it to be with someone as disagreeable as Batman. And if Batman felt the same way about Diana, well then, the poor guy must hate himself.
She smiled humorlessly. Pushed her queen towards his king. Checkmate. Their eyes locked, and, for a moment, both pairs were full of self-loathing and misery.
She knew what was going to happen now, and she saw that he did too. When Batman's king fell, she leaned forward to receive his kiss before he could offer it.
The truth was that she was aching to connect with someone. She still held her head up high, but the stares were slowly wearing her down.
Even when she was alone, they never left her. She could feel eyes on her – some familiar, some strange, all hostile – sizing her up, excoriating her. Not one of the looks she received was understanding. None of them were even pitying.
Sometimes, they were grateful, but even then they were hesitant.
Then, there were some eyes that she couldn't read. John's luminescent green ones, for one. There was a time when looking into them – really, into them – made her want to explode into a million pieces of happiness and desire and passion and love. Now it was like their light had dulled somehow. Like he was looking at her, but he couldn't see her. Like he had given up finding her even though she was right in front of him.
To be continued.