A/N: I'm a bit nervous about this one because it was my very first attempt at JL fiction and it was written before I had a chance to watch any JLU epsodes.
Disclaimer: I own nothing but these words. The lyrics are from Broken Strings by James Morrison and Last Request by Paolo Nutini.
You can't play on broken strings.
You can't feel anything
That your heart don't want to feel
I can't tell you something that ain't real.
The truth hurts, but lying's worse.
How can I give any more,
when I love you a little less
Was his mind playing tricks on him? Had he simply wished so hard that he'd conjured her up? Could this be real or was it just a dream?
She took a step towards him. He couldn't have moved if his life depended on it. They regarded each other.
She spoke. She said his name. "John."
He tried to say something but couldn't. It was like a tennis ball was lodged in his throat. All he could manage was a pathetic croak. It was ironic. How many times had he replayed this scene in his mind? The things he would say, how he would react when she came back… this wasn't at all what he had rehearsed. Because even though he'd longed and hoped and prayed for this day, being there with her at that time was completely surreal. He took in every feature of her face, her hair, her body. Man, if this was a dream he never wanted to wake up.
"John," she said again. Her voice sounded far away like she was at the end of a tunnel. But she wasn't far away. She was right here. John only had to extend his arm to touch her. She was here.
He felt that he should sit down but it was as if his bones were locked into position. It took a Herculean effort for him to move towards her, one arduous step… and then another. As she neared, he began to feel overwhelmed. Every step made her more and more real.
He stopped right in front of her, their bodies separated by only a hair's breadth. She gazed up at him. He studied her auburn hair, her luminous green eyes and her smiling mouth. It was her alright, no doubt about it. This was no mirage. He was so close that he was aware of every breath she took. He wanted to touch her but something held him back. So they just stood there.
"Aren't you going to say anything?" she asked him silkily. Moments passed by without a response and uncertainty began to wipe the smile off her face. "John?"
The kettle whistled and rattled on the stove.
John finally found his voice. "Would you like a cup of tea?"
Shayera stared up at him in puzzlement. After all these years that was all he could say to her?
"Yes, sure," she nodded.
He went to the kitchen area. She watched while he mechanically prepared two cups of tea – one for himself and one for her. He looked good. Wow. She greedily took in the delicious dark brown of his skin. He'd grown a goatee, neat and trim, that added an air of gravity and dignity to his already handsome face. Just looking at him made her heart race. He brought the two steaming mugs into the den and placed the cups on the mahogany coffee table. He then proceeded to sit down. Shayera had no choice but to follow suit. She sank into his old, somewhat rough, dark green sofa. Unbidden memories began to play in her head like a reel. Countless were the times she'd been in this apartment with John, talking, laughing, kissing… she shook her head. The time for reminiscing would come later. First she actually had to get John to talk to her.
He'd spooned some honey into his tea and was stirring like a man in a trance. The incessant clinking of his spoon against the side of the mug was grating her nerves. She grabbed his wrist to make it stop.
"I think it's ready," she told him patiently, letting her irritation subside.
John stared at her hand. Her touch was like a high voltage taser against his skin. It left him immobilized and vulnerable. He slowly raised his eyes to hers.
"Why?" he whispered.
Shayera let go of his hand and sat back. She wasn't a big fan of couches. She preferred stools so that her wings could hang freely. Couches forced her to sit with her wings folded which meant burning back pain by the end of the hour. But it wasn't really the seat that was making her uncomfortable. It was John's question. What exactly did he want to know? Why she'd left? Why she hadn't tried to contact him? Why she'd come back?
"You know why," she replied after a long time. She couldn't look at him.
"You didn't have to go," he said.
She sighed loudly. "Yes, I did. You know I did. After what I'd done, there was no way I could have stayed."
"Not even for me?" he pressed.
Shayera felt her insides dissolve. Why was he doing this to her? He was killing her. He knew what had happened. He knew her role in it. Not just the Justice League, but the entire planet had been placed in mortal danger because of her – because of her ignorance, her unquestioning loyalty to Thanagar, her misguided trust in a man she only thought she knew…
John continued to watch her, his deep brown eyes reflecting the muted light of the lamp beside him. His gaze was pleading and earnest. She could tell that a lot was riding on whatever she chose to say next but struggle as she might, she couldn't find a way to verbalize her thoughts.
"John, I wish… if things had been different…" she broke off, frustrated by her inarticulateness. Then a scary thing happened: Something – a light – went out in John's eyes. Shayera wondered what it meant. Had that been her last hope of making amends?
John sat poker-straight in his chair, his mouth curved into something of a sneer. "So what now?"
"Now I'm back. If you'll have me.
John smiled wanly. He didn't look convinced. He wasn't convinced. Shayera had just up and left. She'd abandoned this planet, the Justice League, anyone who'd ever cared about her. For four years, no word, no way to know if she was alive or dead, nothing until she literally flew in through his window just now. What did she expect, a parade? Did she think she was just going to neatly slide back into the void she had left? A lot of things had changed. People had changed. Feelings had changed.
"It's not that simple," he said sullenly.
"I didn't think it would be," she told him. "But I'm willing to do whatever it takes to make it better."
"Then turn back time," he retorted. "Before you left, before the secrets, before the lies…"
Shayera threw up her hands. "Don't you think I wish for that everyday? Every single day! If I could, I would do it in a heartbeat! Short of that John, all I can do is apologize and try to be a better person."
John's scowl deepened, etching lines on either side of his mouth.
Shayera looked down at her hands, which were now clasped and resting on her knees. "I thought you of all people would understand."
The unspoken word Xanthi hung in the air between them.
The tension was now at an all time high. It enveloped and choked them like thick smoke. John rose wordlessly and went to his window. Shayera noticed that his hands were trembling and bit her lip. She shouldn't have brought Xanthi up – it was, as the humans liked to say, a low blow. She knew how hard John had had to fight to rejoin the land of the living after the tragedy. Although it was obviously an accident, the guilt of destroying an entire planet had weighed heavily on his shoulders. Even after the Guardians of Oa acquitted John of genocide, he continued to beat himself up for it. It was why he was so intense when he was in the Justice League. He'd sworn that nobody would ever lose his life on his watch. It was rather ambitious but no reparation seemed quite enough to make up for the loss of millions of souls.
Argh! Shayera would have cut her own tongue out if she thought it would fix things. She went to him. He'd folded his arms, possibly in an attempt to stop the shaking, and he was staring fiercely out the window, watching the lights of his beloved Detroit neighbourhood. The tension in his back and shoulders was evident beneath his grey USMC T-shirt. And the anger radiating from him was almost enough to make her reel back. She didn't dare touch him.
She felt about as decent as discarded chewing gum right then. She had to swallow the lump in her throat before she could manage to say, "John, I'm sorry." It sounded banal even to her ears.
He started as if he hadn't expected to hear her voice so close but didn't turn, Shayera thought she couldn't turn back time but she'd managed to transport him back to the darkest moment of his life. A stiff breeze cooled his burning body and made him aware of the wetness on his cheeks. He brusquely used his hands to wipe them dry.
He whirled around without warning. Shayera jumped back, almost expecting him to lunge at her. To be honest, that would have been better than seeing his tears. She was ashamed of herself for hurting him so.
John bit the insides of his cheeks until he could taste salty, coppery blood. Try as he might, he couldn't stop the stream of tears. It wasn't just Xanthi he was mourning for, he realized. It was for himself and Shayera and for love lost. Suddenly he felt his knees buckle and slid to the floor. Shayera was at his side in an instant. "John!" she cried. She put her hands on his drooping shoulders and pushed them back to inspect if there was any damage. Thank God there wasn't a bullet or anything. Her relief was palpable. Superheroes lived moment by moment – they were in a very dangerous line of work that brought them many enemies.
She raised his chin so that their gazes met. The man before her looked completely broken. The tears had stopped but there was still moisture on his cheeks. Gently, ever so gently, she kissed him - once on his left cheek, once on his right. Then, after searching his gaze, she kissed him on the mouth.
Shayera suddenly felt more alive then than she'd ever been. It was like she'd been stranded in a desert, dying of thirst, and John was her oasis. She never wanted to stop. She wanted to drink him in forever. It was John who pulled back, partly out of a need to breathe but partly because he was afraid of the power she had over him.
Shayera was loathe to stop. She stared at him, hurt obvious in her expression.
John wanted to let it go. Just forget the past. He had no right to judge her for what had happened four years ago. Earth was still intact, unlike Xanthi. He could even understand why she'd left. After Xanthi, all John had wanted was to find the most isolated planet he could to live out his miserable years. But he needed to hear her say it. He wouldn't be at peace until she did.
"Why did you come back?"
Shayera sighed deeply. She gazed at him.
Say it, he prompted her in his mind. Say it.
"For you," she told him throatily.
His heartbeat suddenly seemed very loud. Not faster or slower, just louder.
"And the Justice League," she continued. "I thought that if I just made a clean break, you would all just forget me and vice versa."
"But I loved you," John argued. "You knew I loved you and still you left. I wasn't enough for you."
Shayera didn't know where it came from but suddenly she erupted into laughter. John was too stunned to react. From the way he was watching her, she knew he thought that she'd cracked.
She placed a hand on his chest and tried to breathe deeply to quell the laughter. "Lantern, you are so wrong. You're beyond wrong. I didn't leave because you weren't enough. I left because you were more than I deserved."
He didn't know what to say.
"You humans have a saying: 'Home is where the heart is." She pressed her hand to his chest. "This is my home."
John couldn't be sure, but he thought his heart was keeping time with hers. Or was it the other way around? They had ceased to be two people and were now one, with one heart, one love.
But something was wrong. He couldn't put a finger on it. This was what he wanted, and yet…
Shayera smiled. "I didn't expect to find you here. I'm glad I did."
He shrugged. "Normally you wouldn't but Flash, the traitor, led a mutiny against me. The Justice League threw me out of the Watchtower. Said I needed to 'take a break' before my 'head explodes'."
She chuckled. "I'll be sure to thank him."
John snorted then smiled adorably.
"Wait a minute," Shayera said. "You said mutiny, right? What does that mean, are you the leader of the Justice League?"
"Congratulations!" she exclaimed. "But what happened to Superman?"
"He's still around," John explained. "The League expanded so now we have annual elections. This year was my turn."
Shayera blinked. "The League expanded? How many are you now?"
John scrunched up his forehead like he was trying to remember. "Eighty, maybe."
Shayera's eyes bugged out of her head. "Eighty! Wow. That's a lot. I guess things really have changed."
"Yeah, well, after you left, I became a bit of a workaholic," John admitted ruefully, rubbing his head. But even that was an understatement. John had become a textbook monomaniac, his obsession with his work bordering on the psychotic. He breathed, ate, and slept the Justice League. He was on duty 24-7. Were it not for the fact that he had to charge his Lantern ring, he would never have taken a break.
"I'm sorry," Shayera said again.
John shrugged. "It's alright."
There was a pause then John cleared his throat. "Well, as the leader of the Justice League, I, Green Lantern, hereby invite you, Hawkgirl, to join the League."
Shayera drew in very slowly and touched her lips to his, and then drew back just as slowly.
"Is that a yes?" he grinned.
Her green eyes shone. "What do you think?"
Another pause. A police siren sounded in the distance. Out in the street, a car hooted at a jay-walker. Shayera and John regarded each other, and then Shayera let her eyes wander outside. It was a clear night and the stars were out in their best garb. The night sky was beautiful tonight but it made her a bit sad. Somewhere, among those millions of stars was Thanagar, her home planet, a place she'd never be able to set foot in again. She didn't regret her choice – destroying the earth to save Thanagar would have been too high a price to pay. It didn't make sense, especially when there was actually an alternative. But it hurt a lot to know her whole planet now considered her persona non grata. She wished, no, prayed, that she might one day be able to return home.
"I thought of you every single day I was out there," she told John, still gazing at the stars.
She nodded solemnly. Then she cocked her head and looked John directly in the eye. "Do you still love me, John?"
Heavy. The mood had shifted again.
"I'll always love you, Shayera."
There was something about the way he said it, like his love was passive rather than active.
"But not like before?"
He shook his head. "No. Not like before." It was regrettable, but he had to be honest. This was what had been nagging at him. Sure, he still loved Hawkgirl. But before, his love for her had been magma – flaming hot, passionate, dynamic, willing to go anywhere and do anything. Now it had cooled to something solid, immovable, unchanging.
I love you, John. She opened her mouth then shut it. "Could we ever, you know, start again?"
John thought. "Maybe."
Shayera deflated. It wasn't the unequivocal yes she'd been hoping for. On the other hand, it wasn't a straight no which meant that there was still a chance for them. Even if it was just a pinprick of hope, it was something to hold onto. After all, they both had a lot of healing to do.
"Could you – could I…?" she asked. It seemed ludicrous to do so seeing as she had already kissed him twice but that was before she knew how unsure he was about their relationship.
He slid across the wooden floor to where she was and held her. Neither of them was sure if it was a beginning or an end; maybe it was both. He looked at her, she looked at him and in that moment a tacit agreement was reached – to forget the past, and to accept the future.
Whatever it held.
Grant my last request and just let me hold you.
Don't shrug your shoulders.
Lay down beside me.
Yes, I can accept that we're going nowhere
But one last time
Let's go there…