Summary: Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl have a talk after the events of "The Terror Beyond."
In the wee hours of the morning, Wonder Woman handed off monitor duty to the Martian Manhunter. The overnight duties generally fell to her, J'onn and Hawkgirl, as they were the only three that actually lived full-time on the Watchtower. Diana didn't mind the late duty because it gave her time alone to contemplate the day's events.
Earlier on this day Solomon Grundy was buried. He'd died in an alternate plane of existence, yet the make-shift team brought his body back to their own reality. The usually unflappable Hawkgirl had insisted they honor Grundy in an Earthly tradition, going so far as to orchestrate a small funeral and get him a tombstone. Diana had never seen the winged woman thrown so off-kilter by an enemy's death.
Though, in truth, Grundy turned out to not be the villain they thought he was. As expected, he had selfish reasons to be a volunteer sacrifice, but in the end he helped the entire world by destroying Ichthultu.
Thirsty, Diana detoured through the lounge on her way to the kitchen to grab a bottle of water before retiring to her room. To her surprise, she found Hawkgirl standing in the darkness, staring out the window at the moon. Even at three in the morning, the Thanagarian wore her mask. Absently, Diana wondered if anybody had seen her without it.
The whole "secret identity" thing puzzled Wonder Woman anyway. She understood the notion of trying to keep their normal lives separated from their heroic lives, but to not share the information with fellow Leaguers always confused her.
But unlike some of the other team members, Hawkgirl had no "normal" life she tried to live on Earth. Not that it would be easy for her to blend in, anyway, Diana mused. It wasn't as though Hawkgirl could comfortably fold her long wings into a backpack for any period of time, and Wonder Woman had never seen her make any effort to blend with Earthlings by somehow hiding her wings and showing her face. So, Diana puzzled, why did she always keep her true self cloaked in mystery? The only thought the Amazon could come up with was that by staying veiled Hawkgirl could remain apart and unknown.
Diana figured being alone was Hawkgirl's intention this night, and she continued to walk through the lounge.
"Does Hera really give you strength?" Hawkgirl asked, the hesitant question breaking the silence.
Diana abruptly halted and looked at Hawkgirl's back. "Yes. I believe she does."
Hawkgirl's head lowered then shook almost imperceptibly.
Diana stood, unsure if the conversation was to continue or not. She and Hawkgirl had a brief discussion about religion earlier, with Diana expressing her amazement that Hawkgirl could carry the weight of the world on her own shoulders without faith in anything to support her. Of course it was important to have faith in one's self, Diana understood, but to be unconnected to anything greater was a frightening idea to the Amazon.
"So you think Grundy's soul was waiting for him?"
Diana took a step forward so she could see Hawkgirl's reflection in the Plexiglass, but she couldn't make out her expression. "Yes."
Stillness settled over the lounge again as Wonder Woman waited for a response. Instead of speaking, Hawkgirl's eyes rose to the moon and she sighed.
Curious, Diana tilted her head. "You said ancient Thanagarians worshiped Ichthultu and that it cost them their souls."
Hawkgirl's focus shifted and she made eye contact with Diana in the reflection of the glass. "It was more a figure of speech than an actual belief," she said.
Diana arched an eyebrow, indicating she was interested in further explanation.
"My people lived a near zombie-like existence under Ichthultu's rule. They had no life," she elaborated, "no soul."
Diana understood the turn of phrase, but it brought another question to her mind. "Then what happens when you die?" There was no malice in her voice, only genuine curiosity.
"Nothing," Hawkgirl responded simply.
The directness of the reply surprised Diana. She pondered the answer, wondering if it meant what she thought it meant. "Thanagarians are immortal?"
Hawkgirl chuffed, "No." Finally, she turned and faced Wonder Woman. "Most Thanagarians don't make it to their fortieth birthday."
Diana's jaw dropped at the tiny amount of time Hawkgirl's people lived. Her eyes widened slightly as she mentally estimated that Hawkgirl wasn't too many years from the end. "Such a short lifespan," she breathed.
Hawkgirl shrugged. "Most people are killed. Seldom do we die of what Earthlings would consider natural causes." She appeared to ponder the idea. "We have some elders that are in their seventies, but not many. I don't really know how long my people last when others aren't out to murder them."
Hawkgirl's blunt acceptance of the miniscule number of years she had to live chilled the immortal Amazon's heart. It perplexed her how a species who lived for such a short time could have no hope for an afterlife. Perhaps she had just missed the point, so she attempted to readdress the issue. "And when you die, what happens to you?"
Hawkgirl looked at her curiously. "Generally the body is burned. The ashes are combined with those of others and used for fertilizer."
Something about the idea of people so matter-of-factly being turned into plant food disturbed Diana. She was used to the body of a fallen hero being entombed and a perfect statue carved from marble to serve as an eternal reminder of their existence. For Hera's sake, even Grundy had a permanent resting place and memorial.
"No," Diana finally said, directing her thoughts from the physical to the existential, "what happens to your essence when you die?"
Hawkgirl's head tilted at the question. "My essence?" She shrugged slightly, "Nothing."
"You don't believe your soul goes on after your death?" Diana probed.
A visible shudder ran through Hawkgirl's form. "No."
The astonishment on Diana's face was impossible for her to hide.
"I've read about various Earth religions," Hawkgirl continued. "Eternal damnation. Why would one want to continue suffering after an entire lifetime of it?"
Diana softened, realizing Shayera knew of only the bad. "Not everyone is punished," she explained. "Grundy, for example, redeemed himself at the end. He deserved no more suffering. He will be rewarded."
"And for those not redeemed?" Hawkgirl pressed.
Diana hesitated, knowing the torments of the Underworld that would be inflicted on those who did evil in life.
"Exactly," Hawkgirl answered off Wonder Woman's lack of response. "Death is a release from Hell. Why would anyone wish to exist beyond it?"
Diana's eyes widened. Leave it to Hawkgirl to rattle her fundamental beliefs. For a "sister," she certainly had some radically different views on life. Very depressing views, Diana mused.
"Good night, Princess," the winged woman sighed. She turned to leave, but hesitated. Her back to Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl, rotated her head slightly. "Is there any hope?" she questioned so quietly the Amazon's keen hearing barely picked it up.
Smiling gently, Diana nodded, knowing well the story of Pandora's Jar. "There's always hope."
Hawkgirl appeared to ponder her words for a moment. "Thank you," she finally said before slipping out of the lounge, leaving Wonder Woman alone in the dark.
Shaking her head, Diana turned and continued on her original path to the kitchen. Man's world certainly was a strange place. Unfortunately, it wasn't just the men she couldn't figure out.