Comrade in arms
That night, Shayera didn't bother even trying to sleep. Instead, she impatiently rifled through her closet until she found a burka. Pulled it on. Snatched a six-pack of beer from the kitchenette. Teleported out of the Watchtower.
She ended up in a landscape park in Hirosaki, where it was three o'clock in the morning. Unsurprisingly, she was completely alone. But this was the kind of alone she didn't mind. Scores of crickets chirped contentedly, their song drowned out periodically by the sound of a gust of wind through the trees. The light from the moon made the cherry blossoms glow in pale pink incandescence. Her burka hid her wings from sight. The six-pack was cold.
She sat leaned against a cherry tree and knocked back two beers in quick succession. When she flicked open her third one, she paused for a moment to look at it. "I've got to tell you," she confided in it, "You are much better company than Batman."
After a sip, she decided to add, "And I'd much rather press you against my mouth."
Somewhere in the middle of the fifth beer, she fell asleep and dreamt about Hro.
It was the kind of dream that made her sweat. Just the thought of Hro's face – of that body, and those scars – his voice – all of it set her on fire. Hro was the most extraordinary, ferocious, sexy and driven man she had ever known. With him, it had happened at once. They were always ravenous for the thrill of battle and for each other. It was like even standing near each other was enough to set the air between them on fire.
When they were apart, when her mind was relieved from the greed of her body, she still loved him, but it was clear to her that she loved John more. When she saw Hro again after all those years, though, she couldn't help herself. It was like she erupted into flames of lust and joy just at the sound of his voice. At that point she would have done anything to touch him again.
She would have even sacrificed Earth and its six billion inhabitants for Hro. She had no particular love for humans (lately, this indifference was starting to become resentment – couldn't they learn to forget?). Giving them up to save her own people wouldn't have caused her too many sleepless nights; it was just one of the costs of war. There was only one reason she had turned her back on Hro and betrayed the Thanagarian empire: John.
With John it had been slow. He was a good guy, great to fight alongside, a little boring maybe, but always easy to talk to. He was easy to respect. He was easy on the eyes, too.
It was after they ended up in Seaboard City with the fake Justice Guild of America that everything changed for Shayera. She saw his childhood heroes, and how his heart broke in front of her when he realized that they were just an illusion. When they were back at the Watchtower, John stood far apart from the rest of the League.
"Are you okay?" she asked him, leaving Flash to regale the others with tales of his daring.
"It's stupid, really," said John, voice trembling, "Why should I feel like this? I mean, they weren't even real."
"They gave their lives for us. That's real enough for me."
The brilliant green aura that normally set his eyes ablaze was dimmed now when he was looking at her this helplessly. Still, she saw strength in them, and a quiet passion, and, for the first time, vulnerability. She rested her head against his shoulder, and felt her heart drumming against his back. That was when she knew.
Shayera returned to her room after a mission to find Batman sitting on his usual chair of late. They mattress she had destroyed after his last visit had been replaced with a new one.
She hung her mace on the wall next to the door and crossed her arms. Glowered at Batman for an explanation.
"We're not friends," he said.
She rolled her eyes. "Oh. Thanks for clearing that up, because I didn't know that already."
"I don't have time for friends."
"How sad for you."
"It's nothing against you, Shayera."
"I don't care, Bruce. I don't even like you that much, you know."
To her utter irritation, he stifled a smirk at this. "I know. That's why I let this get as far as it did. Because you don't have my best interests at heart."
Her arms were still crossed. "Do you always have to make everything so…" She searched for the right word – "clinical?"
He didn't say anything, because the answer was obvious.
She continued. "But you do slip up sometimes. You pretty much blew our dirty little secret in front of John and Diana on that mission in San Francisco. What the hell did you hug me for in front of them? You never even hugged me while we were sucking face."
"Why do you assume that I didn't plan that, too?"
She dropped her arms to her sides. Peered at him. "Why would I assume that?"
Batman swiveled in the chair so that he faced to the side. "I shouldn't be telling you this."
"Oh, go —" She didn't get to finish her expletive.
"When John, Diana and I time-traveled a few weeks back, we ended up fifty years into the future. I met myself.
"I was all alone. No family, no friends."
"I see," she frowned without sympathy, "So you thought you'd get a head start on alienating two people, who – for some reason that is beyond me – happen to like you. I can't say anything about your situation, Batman, but I can say that I don't want to be a part of it."
He stood up and narrowed his eyes at her. "Too late. You already have a head start: no family, and apparently now you know that you have no friends either." He didn't hide his smugness.
She swung at him to slap him across his face, but he grabbed her by her wrist and jerked it aside. She glared at him and flexed her knee to ram into his gut; he took hold of her by her thigh and locked her in place against him.
"Since when did you become a punching bag?" he demanded coolly. She struggled to break free. He only tightened his grip. "Look at yourself. What happened to you?"
She jerked her head upward to butt him in the neck. The force of the blow against his larynx momentarily arrested his breathing and she used this opportunity to free herself. "What happened to me?" she repeated incredulously, "Are you serious?"
Shayera stormed out of the room. Batman followed.
Each reason she listed hung in the air and then ricocheted back to slap her in her face. "I spent five years on Earth under false pretences. I broke my fiancé's heart. I stabbed every single friend I had in the back. I betrayed the entire Thanagarian empire. And John…" She stopped walking.
Batman's voice jarred her back to the present. "Seems to me like you've had enough time to get over it."
"Get over it?" She spun around in outrage. "Get over it? Okay, how about I 'get over it' when you get over your parents' murder?" Now it was her turn to be smug (it felt much better than being angry). "You think you've got issues, Batman. Well I left you in the dust, didn't I?"
He drew his cape over his shoulders. "Unlike you, I don't blame my 'issues' for making me a failure. John is trying to show that he's forgiven you. Why aren't you willing to accept that?"
"Maybe for the same reason that you aren't willing to accept that you and Diana don't have a future." She knew that she had hit a nerve. "We're afraid of how good they are. How we can never measure up to them. We're afraid of how much we want them, because we're failures." She spat the last word.
"If I let John forgive me so unconditionally, I'll never be able to live up to it. But at least I'm willing to acknowledge that. You, Batman – the most extraordinary woman in the world wants to be with you and you keep taking advantage of her."
He grit his teeth.
"You can't keep on doing this to someone as sincere as Diana! You push her away whenever you want, but you can't keep yourself from showing how much you care about her. What the hell is wrong with you?"
She was yelling now.
"Diana knows perfectly well that my mission is my priority."
"Then grow a pair and stop stringing her along! Because when you can't make up your mind, you pull them in so deep that all you do in the end is hurt them."
(John! Why did she ever fall in love with John? She had known that it was wrong from the beginning; she was only here doing reconnaissance work, and she was already promised to Hro. John got hurt because he made her forget her mission.)
It was then that Wonder Woman appeared around the corner. When she saw Batman and Shayera squared off in the middle of the usually empty hallway, she stopped in her tracks. Unconsciously reached for her lasso. "What is going on here?" she demanded.
"Move along, princess," snarled Shayera.
"Everything's fine, Diana," Batman said.
Diana didn't move her hand from her lasso. Looked at Batman with eyes full of concern. Hesitated.
"Go," he ordered.
She scowled at being spoken to in such a directive, but prevented herself from acting further out of her implicit trust in Batman. She was gone.
Batman returned his attention to Shayera. "She's contacting Lantern."
Shayera narrowed her eyes. "Then let's get this over with."
She lunged at him the same way she had been doing for the last several weeks. But this time, she didn't want to kiss him; she wanted to thrash him. He dodged her easily and grabbed her by the arm to fling her aside, but she latched onto him too to unsteady him. He faltered, and she used this opportunity to land a kick squarely on his abdomen. He recovered easily and returned the favor with a roundhouse kick that sent her careening into one of the doors that exited the hallway.
They were fighting dirty, but that's all that she and Batman had been doing for the past six weeks anyway. Being dirty. And the harder she felt herself ramming into him, the more she felt that she really existed. Felt guilty too, and unscrupulous, but noticed.
She had his head locked in her arms and then he told her, "After the invasion, I voted to keep you on the team."
She jerked in surprise. "What?" she whispered, loosening her grip on him. Stupid move. He reached back to grab her shoulders and flip her over him. Slammed her hard into the floor in front of him.
She groaned and tilted her head back to see Batman swimming into her field of vision. John was there too. For some reason, he reminded her of an angel.
Until he opened his mouth. "Jiminy – what in the hell is going on here? We do NOT brawl in the Watchtower hallways. And you two are founding members."
Ignoring him, she croaked at Batman, "Why?"
He offered her his hand. "You were smart enough to fool even me." He said it just like that, in all his arrogant glory, the prick. I respect you because you're just like me. She could almost hear him say it.
She didn't accept his help. "I don't want to be like you anymore."
John was on the alert. "If you hurt her, Batman, I swear I'll—"
"You," Shayera growled. Shook her head and scrambled to get up, fighting off John's help too. Looked at him squarely in the eyes, even though her knees were going weak from standing so close to him. "I don't care about the rest of them, but you need to stop being so nice to me. I don't deserve it."
His eyes widened. "Shayera, I—"
"I just need some space, John. I need some time to forgive myself before I can accept your forgiveness."
He studied the ground. "I understand."
Her eyes flicked to Batman, and he gave her an imperceptible nod. She returned it. But there was no approval on her part in this silent exchange, only defiance.
Shayera suspected that John tried to drown out the sting he felt whenever he saw her by injecting every one of their interactions with a show of nonchalant bravado. He'd toned it down a little now. Even started criticizing her on missions every now and then.
She saw Batman and Wonder Woman, both unfortunate enough to have found each other. She would watch him, so pitiful, longing to be with Diana but finding redemption in restraining himself.
That was what came from denying feelings. Shayera didn't want that for herself. Didn't want to be self-delusional, hubristic and clinging only to the shadows. That was the easy way out, and the price was too high. She didn't want to forget John. Knew she was nothing but a hollow shell if she wasn't filled with love for him. It was love without any hope, but maybe she didn't deserve to expect anything better anymore.
And so she would try to smile when John addressed her with well-intentioned pleasantries. Would try to swallow the regret and hurt she felt every time he came into view. Would try not to wish that the ground would swallow her whole when she saw him with Vixen. Would try not to unravel when she saw how empty his eyes were when they looked at her now. She would do all of this, because she didn't want to end up like Batman: stubbornly alone and self-righteously miserable, longing for the day her heart would stop beating.
I'm surprised at how many people have shown an interest in this story – thanks! The strange relationship between Hawkgirl and Batman was inspired by JLU #37, so if you liked this, definitely check out that issue.