An/ I was inspired to do this oneshot after I finished reading 'Blackest Night', I've only really just started reading the comics and I've learnt a little more about John Stewart's character within them and I wanted to somehow incorporate one of the biggest issues of his from the comics into the JLU.
I'm not sure how well I accomplished this but this was also an exercise for me as I wanted to work on dialogue again.
Anyway I hope you like it and as always I'd appreciate any feedback particularly on how this reads and how well or not I've managed to incorporate the two universes.
This is set a little after 'Hunter's Moon' but not directly after and before 'Divided we Fall.'
Heart to Heart
A place of peace and tranquillity, still and quiet with nothing but the sound of nature and life. Warmth from the sun's rays caressed the area and seemed to fill the local wildlife with high spirits, bird song increasing in intensity until every species' unique voice became one. Amongst the twitter a woman sat alone within the clearing surrounded by trees and did nothing but simply listen. Although she seemed content and at peace on the outside, inside her heart and soul were the opposite of her demeanour, waging an eternal war over portions of guilt. The results were always the same, the guilt, shame and pain stayed within her, coiled up tightly around her heart, sometimes until she couldn't breathe.
This forest and the clearing were another of her sanctuaries, like her quarters it was quiet and allowed her to sit alone without the pressures of trying to converse and coexist with those around her, although unlike her quarters this forest was far less cold and metallic. She felt almost free here, almost at peace but the quietness gave freedom not just to her but also to her thoughts, allowing them room to expand and engulf her until the darker memories she owned began to replay across her vision.
The memories like her guilt were always the same; she saw her people on Earth and re-experienced her betrayal on both sides, witnessed the almost execution of John Stewart at the hands of her then fiancé. Soon the memories would breakdown and since her return from the moon where a handful of her people had tried to reprimand her...her imagination filled the spaces. Pictures of Thanagar would flit over her eyes, images of her home world during its more glorious seasons, the sunset of either of its two suns depending on the time of year, the mountain ranges home to species born of the skies like her kin. These images though became tainted, her imagination coupled with her guilt tore them apart until she saw nothing but ruins and Thanagar a dead and lifeless ball in space, commanded and harvested by the monstrous Gordanians, and her people...her people were gone because Gordanians were ruthless and would leave no Thanagarian behind.
A bitterness would fill her when humans spoke of choice and free will, because throughout her life she had never had a choice in anything that she did and the single moment in which it had been granted to her, she chose to betray her people and subsequently obliterate everything that she was. No longer was she Shayera Hol of Thanagar, she was Shayera Hol of nowhere, she had no kin, no home, branded a traitor and would sooner be killed by her own people than anybody else.
Never again would she see Thanagar's beautiful sunsets, or smell the tangy aroma of the rain during the wetter seasons. Never again would she see another Thanagarian without losing her life in the process. Inside, her conscience was plagued and many had tried to console her, both J'onn and Clark...but their situations were different. Their people had been lost to events out of their control, but Thanagar had been destroyed by one of its own, she had destroyed everything she ever was or ever belonged to, what was she? What kind of monstrosity executed their own people, their own planet?
Behind her a stick crunched under a boot, the resulting crack resonating throughout the woodland clearing and Shayera's wings flinched at the sudden intrusion, even so she didn't turn around. No one knew of this place and anyone who was there now was only there because they had gone looking for her, there were very few people who took the time to do so. Their presence revealed her unexpected guest broke the silence knowing that she never would.
"What are you doing out here?"
It would never matter how much she tried to untangle her heart from his, there would always be a connection and her pulse would always race when she heard his voice.
"I could ask you the same."
Where she was seated on the ground she had brought one knee up to rest her arms, her chin having been placed atop as she contemplated, but now she sat a little straighter as he approached her no longer keeping the ideals of stealth.
"You've been gone for four hours; J'onn was getting worried about you."
Shayera returned her chin to her arms and looked away from where his green booted feet resided. 'J'onn was getting worried about you,' not 'I was worried about you.' But what did she expect...what could she expect.
"I'm fine; I just wanted some space to think." She looked up into his luminescent green eyes for just a millisecond before turning away again "Don't look at me like that."
He seemed to hesitate for a moment before he replied "Like what?"
Tightening her grip around her knee she shifted so that she revealed more of her back to him to obscure her face, to hide the resentment that was surely there.
"I don't need to be baby sat, John...I'm not on suicide watch anymore." She truly did resent them for doing that to her on her return, she didn't need to be watched in case she took her life, it wasn't going to happen but instead of believing her, trusting her...they'd kept her under careful, scrutinising surveillance.
The choice of words she had thrown his way seemed to surprise him; at least that's what he projected, his voice stuttering as he shifted his boots against the ground "Can I...sit here?"
She never turned to face him and simply grumbled a response "Whatever...it's not like I own the ground."
If he was affected by her short response or the threatening edge to it, he gave no indication but simply lowered himself down and took a seat beside her although not too close, he knew that there was a line between them now and he took especial care not to cross it.
"Do you want to talk about it?" He asked, apparently deciding that she just might open up, of course he knew better but it was always worth giving someone the opportunity.
John frowned slightly and fiddled with his ring, he knew that something was weighing down on her and he was sure he knew what it was, but Shayera needed to open up to him...forcing it out of her would accomplish nothing except testing her very short temper.
"Mar-" He cut himself off deciding it was better not to mention his current girlfriend for the time being, he started again "I heard about Thanagar." He didn't want to mention her ex while he was at it either although he was sure she was grieving.
A detached part of her mind that was watching these moments as an observer duly noted that he had almost said 'Mari', but she let it go, instead becoming annoyed that he was treading on eggshells around her. If there was anything she hated it was people tiptoeing around her and sugar coating everything, especially him.
"That's nice for you."
"Shayera." His tone was sharp and challenging, just enough to make her bite.
John smirked to himself slightly amused that he still knew her and which buttons to press to get a response out of her.
"It's me Shayera; you don't have to wear the mask...you know that."
Her hesitation was enough to assure him that he had gotten through to her but he wasn't in the clear yet.
"Who said I'm wearing one?" After a moment however a sigh escaped her and if John hadn't of heard it he might have said something else, but as it were he simply waited. "I can't talk to you John...not like I used to."
It was strange that he knew that her previous identity had been a cover, that her reasons for being on Earth were far different to those she gave, but somewhere deep inside, John Stewart believed with every inch of his heart that all of those precious moments they had shared together had been genuine. He had to believe that they had shared their truths and insecurities together; he had to believe that it hadn't been a lie.
"You can talk to me Shayera; we're still friends aren't we?" he was startled by how uncomfortable those words made him feel. Friends? No, they were so much more than that, but now they were trapped somewhere in between. Not lovers but not friends either.
She didn't answer and from that he deduced that she too wasn't comfortable.
"Please, Shayera." He picked up a stray leaf from the surrounding ground "I don't like seeing you like this...and you won't talk to anyone. At least talk to me."
"You'll only say the same thing as the others...I don't want to hear it, I don't want hollow reassurances. I don't want pity."
"You know me." That, he knew was all he needed to say and for a long time she was quiet but he simply remained silent beside her in silent companionship. It felt surreal just sitting with her, being right beside her but it was different compared to before. Before he might have leaned close and smelled her hair, touched her back or just simply held her for no reason at all except that it just felt right to do so. He wondered if it would still feel that way but he didn't dare think on it long.
"How did you find me?" She asked apparently not yet ready to broach the subject of her distress.
John said nothing but simply gestured to his ear, Shayera looking and noticing the communicator sitting neatly within and realising that he must have tracked hers. She didn't know whether to be appreciative of him taking the time to find her or to be irritated by her lack of privacy.
"It's nice here, very...you." He said giving her a side glance, the small talk and the personal comment was enough to finally nudge her over the edge, because she hated small talk and she couldn't handle 'personal' between them right now, not when they were so far from it.
"They're all gone."
Looking towards her he saw her hugging her knees as her wings shifted and twitched, brushing the leaves against the ground and sending them in disarray.
"...Shayera..." John began softly but she cut him off.
"Don't..." She looked towards him and fixed her emerald eyes on him, shining brilliantly in the light of the sun, a sheen of moisture coating her irises but she didn't cry, no, she would never let herself cry "Don't tell me it was unavoidable or that I didn't have a choice."
"I wasn't going to say that."
She looked away and he was sure that she wiped her eyes but he didn't dare make mention of it or give any indication of noticing. It cut him inside all the while, she was so vulnerable, so...lost, and all he wanted was to help her find her way back, be her literal lantern and shine the way forward, but he couldn't do that.
"I destroyed my own planet...by stopping them I let the Gordanians decimate my home world and kill my people...what kind of person does that, John?"
"You saved Earth, do you regret that?"
"You have to ask me?" She shook her head frustrated that everyone seemed to ask her that or suspect that she had second thoughts. She noticeably turned further away because the issue for her wasn't whether it was Earth or Thanagar, what she hated more than anything, what she resented was that she had had to choose in the first place "Either way I have billions of lives on my conscience."
Reaching out he placed a hand on her shoulder "I understand."
Roughly she shrugged him away and turned to glare at him, those same eyes that had looked so sorrowful a moment ago were now alight with anger. It was one of the things he loved about her, her passion and spirit, the fire that didn't seem to burn as brilliantly as it once did but he knew it was still there just waiting to be fuelled and resurrected by the right person. He ignored the voice deep down inside of him that hoped that the person was him.
"How could you possibly understand?" She demanded, the sudden influx of anger generated energy nearly making her rise to her feet but she somehow remained seated, maybe it was the emotion she saw in John's eyes that anchored her, because regardless of anything she couldn't bear to keep hurting him and she was certain that the emotion there was pain, because she felt it resonate inside of her as if it were her own.
He looked at her long and hard, something stirring in those eyes as he fixed them on hers, staring into her soul she was sure, almost to the point where she wanted to tear her eyes away. Never before had he held her gaze with such intensity, never before had anyone had power enough over her to draw her in so completely.
"Do you remember my trial on Aduris Four?"
She didn't understand why he was bringing it up but she nodded "Of course I do." She remembered every single moment with him of course, even those pointless moments people tended to forget, silly things and she realised suddenly how much she missed them...more than the bigger things.
He nodded slowly "The truth is Shayera...I was so willing to seek punishment, because it wasn't the first planet I thought I had destroyed." His words came out slowly, painfully, she saw him swallow hard before he continued, his eyes averting from hers and she recognised the emotion in them, because she saw it in her own every day. He was ashamed. "Xanshi." He stated simply.
"Xanshi?" Shayera repeated, her tone had softened and the anger had dissipated.
John looked at her and slowly looked away again, she watched as he removed the green ring from his finger and enclosed his hand around it tightly, his brown eyes brimming with sadness and guilt Shayera had never seen there before.
"I made a mistake...I overestimated myself and because of that," He stopped, his voice becoming strained "because of me all of those people were annihilated...so yes Shayera..." He focused on her "I do understand."
Silence enveloped them both as John looked away and stared at the ground, Shayera's cheeks burning with guilt and shame at having caused him to relive something so painful, something she had never known. The trial on Aduris four made so much more sense now, he had wanted to give justice to all of those lives, she couldn't imagine how he must have felt at the time believing that he had been the destroyer of two worlds. Indeed he understood plenty, but she wished he didn't, she wished that he had never had to experience such a thing.
"John...I...I," God I don't know what to say "I never knew..."
His broad shoulders shrugged "Not many people do...the Corps do of course and Bruce knows, but then...Bruce knows everything."
Shayera nodded slowly "Does...does Mari know?" It was still hard for her to talk about the other woman in relation to him, to have to accept the fact that he was with someone else now.
Inside her heart was pleading with her, begging her to move closer and wrap him up in her arms and wings and give him comfort, protect him, but it wasn't her right anymore even though her heart was hammering with the knowledge that he trusted her enough to share his darker past with her. With his confession she felt even closer to him than before, felt that someone could understand her the way she needed them to, but also the notion that he might need her began to consume her, it was an intoxicating thought and she quickly pushed it away, because she was one thing he didn't need.
"She might-" She began trying to direct him to seek comfort in his current relationship but he interrupted her abruptly.
"She wouldn't understand...you know that," He turned to her "You didn't think I would understand for the same reason."
Noticeably she deflated and let it go, instead tackling something else, something that wouldn't focus on Mari "How did you deal with it?" She asked him softly as she ran a hand through her hair, how did he manage to cope with it to the point that no one knew or even suspected of his secret, of his guilt and grief that seemed so obvious in her own reflection.
"If you want the truth...I've never really dealt with it," He turned to her and took her hand gently in his knowing that the touch would mean something to her but also wouldn't commit either of them to the stronger emotions wrestling within their hearts "I just realised that I couldn't change it, all I could do was save every life that was in my hands from that point onwards."
Gloved fingers softly moved over her hand and she focused on the sensation for a few moments, the tenderness and comfort of a simple touch, a touch from the only man that had ever truly seen her vulnerabilities, the woman without the masks and orders to follow, she wondered if he ever knew just how much of her he had really seen. His words though resounded in her head and she knew that she would do the same, ever since her betrayals she had been determined to save every single life on her watch. Never again would anyone have to suffer because of her choices or her decisions or her emotions...somehow she would regain trust and friendships and most importantly her family, maybe someday John just might take her back and give her the second chance she craved. Despite these bolstering thoughts however, Shayera's inner demons were picking their way forward, the voice of her guilt shaking her inner emotional foundations, seeking to unsettle her and bring her back down into oblivion.
"Who kills their own people John?"
She felt his fingers tighten around hers "The same person who sacrifices more than anyone could ask of them in order to save a world that isn't theirs." John saw the tear as it fell from her eye and he caught it with his free hand "There aren't many who would do that." He wanted to say so much more but he had already said enough, it was time to for them to go before their hearts and desires got the better of them because he still felt it, was still drawn to her and he was sure she still felt the same way.
Giving her hand one last reassuring squeeze John released her and stood, slipping his ring back onto his index finger and taking a moment to wait for the energy to fill him up, the luminescent green colour of will burning his irises. Shayera likewise stood up and dusted herself off and for the first time since her return gave him a small but genuine smile.
He returned the smile as his ring glowed preparing a transport bubble having decided to himself that they'd take the long way home, maybe they could clear the air between them, at least get on friendlier terms because he hated being at odds with her.
"You're welcome...I told you before, I'm still here for you Shayera."
He never forgot the beaming smile she gave him.