CRUSHED

By: xffan_2000

Summary: A post-"Starcrossed" story. It's been nearly six months since the Thanagarian invasion. John can't let go and Shayera is on the path to destruction.

Disclaimer: This "Justice League" story is not-for-profit and is purely for entertainment purposes. The author and this site do not own the characters and are in no way affiliated with "Justice League," Cartoon Network, Warner Brothers, DC Comics, any station or network carrying the show in syndication, or anyone in the industry.

*****

Gotham Times Op-Ed Piece:

We have laws in this country regarding traitors. Treason is punishable by death. That penalty is certainly warranted for an alien who not only spied on us, but also caused the imposition of martial law, mass destruction around the globe, and the deaths of countless people in forced-labor camps.

Government of Mongolia:

"The Thanagarians enslaved our people to do their work. They used our land against our will to build their machine. We call for Hawkgirl, as the remaining member of her race on Earth, to turn herself over to our government to answer for the crimes of her people."

Head of United States National Security:

"We are taking appropriate steps to see that the Thanagarian is brought to justice."

Daily Planet, Front Page Article:

Hawkgirl Out of Justice League.

Superman, accompanied by Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern and the Martian Manhunter announced yesterday the departure of Hawkgirl from the Justice League. According to Superman, Hawkgirl, a Thanagarian, left the League nearly three months ago. Superman wouldn't comment on Hawkgirl's involvement with the Thanagarian invasion force, but did say that she didn't leave Earth when the Thanagarian army pulled back.

At press time, her whereabouts are unknown.

FreedomFromThanagarians.org:

Days Since Thanagarian Ships Left Earth = 160

Days Since Justice League Announcement = 93

Latest Reported Hawkgirl Sightings - Updated Daily! = Thursday in Mexico City, Zurich and Melbourne (Come on, folks, she can't be in all these places at the same time! Send me some *reliable* information! IH8Hawkgirl@FFT.org)

The Glorious Gordon Godfrey Show, Syndicated Afternoon Talk Show:

"What right did they have to let Hawkgirl go? She has to pay for her crimes! We demand that the Just-Us League provide *us* with some justice for once!"

Letter to the Editor, Central City Gazette:

Hawkgirl should be tarred and feathered.

*****

In a remote forest in northeastern Canada a small brown rabbit tugged against its restraint. A large rear foot was snared in a wire. The harder the rabbit pulled, the more the wire cut into its skin.

A slight breeze ruffled the air. The sound of a snapping twig followed.

The terrified animal halted its frantic escape attempt and hunkered down against the ground. Its breathing accelerated as its ears strained to find the direction of the noise.

Leaves rustled as the predator approached. The rabbit threw itself forward in escape, only to fall against the dirt, its foot more tightly stuck in the snare.

The predator crouched low to the ground and snagged the flailing animal by the scruff. The rodent let out a guttural shriek reserved for its last moments of life.

But instead of snapping the rabbit's neck, the hunter gently freed its leg from the snare and set the animal loose.

Only taking a fraction of a second to realize it was no longer going to die, the frightened rabbit scurried into nearby shrubs where it disappeared.

"So much for dinner," Shayera Hol, the devil with angel's wings, sighed. She removed the snare from its hiding place and stuck it in the back pocket of her tattered jeans.

The release of the rabbit wasn't a first. With nothing else to do with her life, she'd gone through the motions of fishing and trapping for weeks. But while hunger gnawed constantly at her belly, the desire to actually do something about it just wasn't there. She would catch a lot, release most and eat very little.

Shayera unfolded her body-length wings and took to the air, making sure to stay below the treetops. She'd kept to herself for over five months, spending most of her time in remote forests, swamps and jungles. With nearly every government on Earth wanting to "talk" with the revealed spy, the planet's residents -- understandably -- weren't terribly excited to see her. The few times she'd dare set foot in a populated are, the receptions were less than welcoming. The malice she faced from humans made torches and pitchforks seem warm and fuzzy.

On occasion, she managed to scrounge up a discarded newspaper or two. Headlines screamed for her surrender, with heads of state promising to find her and punish her. The words "traitor" and "execution" often appeared more than once in each article.

The thing people would find most surprising, if they'd bothered to ask her, was that she agreed with what they were saying. It didn't matter what nation or planet it was, traitors deserved to die. And for the umpteenth time that day, Shayera wondered why she was still alive.

She had retribution owed to her on two fronts.

She'd betrayed her own people. By derailing their plans to cut a route through Earth she sentenced millions of Thanagarians to die. The years it would take for them to come up with an alternate plan would be stained with the blood of her winged counterparts.

Had she been taken back to Thanagar, she would have been put on trial for a day -- at most -- then put to death at sundown. Oddly, though, she was spared that fate. Whether Hro Talak, her once intended husband, knew she'd suffer worse on Earth or whether he thought he was doing her a favor by letting her go, she'd never know.

She'd also betrayed the people of Earth. For years she studied them and reported back to Thanagar. True, she thought her mission was humanitarian in nature. But still, she allowed numerous atrocities to happen unchallenged. The people she most cared about, the Justice League, were imprisoned thanks to her providing information on their weaknesses. Humans were enslaved and died at the hands of her people. In essence, she paved the way to the annihilation of the entire planet.

Ultimately, she became a turncoat. But in her eyes, and the eyes of most of the world, it was too little, too late. Betrayal is betrayal, and she knew a debt more serious than exile was owed.

Admittedly, there was a bit of selfishness in her desire for a quick death that kept her from turning herself into a government agency; particularly an American agency. The twenty-year appeals process didn't sit well with her. Locked away in a cage for a couple decades while lawyers hashed over ipso-factos wasn't the way she wanted to go out.

Landing in a clearing she currently called home, Shayera hiked up her loose pants and sat down on a large rock. With a sigh she unloaded her pockets of the items she'd gathered during the day. As usual, there was very little. Only the useless snare, a handful of nuts and a copy of the Daily Planet from a week earlier that she'd plucked from a campground trashcan were laid out before her.

Thankfully, the front page no longer featured her, but rather the Justice League. She followed the addition of new members to the team. Green Arrow, Captain Atom, Supergirl, Metamorpho and all the others looked to be doing a fine job of aiding her old friends.

Hawkgirl was definitely no longer needed.

Shayera read the headlines and glanced at the articles. Apparently the League stopped a major robbery at Fort Knox. She flipped to the continuation on page three. Her heart clinched at the photo. It was the first time she'd seen him since Wayne Manor. In the photo, Green Lantern scowled at the camera as he handed over one of the crooks. He'd changed his look, she noticed, as he now sported a goatee and bald head.

Running her fingers gently over the photo, Shayera's shoulders sank. Of all the reprehensible things she'd done, she most regretted having hurt John. He was an honorable man and he deserved so much better than her traitorous self.

She truly did love him. But she hoped, for his sake, that he hated her, because she couldn't stand the thought of him spending even one minute pining for her.

Unable to look at John's accusing gaze any longer, Shayera stood and shoved her hands deeply into her front pockets. Her head tilted back until her green eyes stared straight up through the canopy of leaves to the stars above.

Her uselessness and isolation hit her hardest at night. In the cold darkness of the woods, her wings provided little warmth against her frozen heart.

She missed the camaraderie of watching weekend football games with the guys on the Watch Tower, always staring in amazement at how much food Flash could put away in mere seconds. She yearned for Batman's brooding, J'onn's Oreos, Superman's "do anything for you" attitude and even the barbed girl-talk she and Diana batted back and forth. She longed for the thrill of the Justice League taking on a gang of rogue villains in an "us versus them" match.

But most of all she ached for John. The short time they were together sparked and crackled with the kind of electricity she'd only seen in Thanagarian weapons. As she stood, clad in thin, ill-fitting jeans and a T-shirt, she shivered, wanting nothing more than to feel John's warmth wrapped around her as they huddled together in his bed once again.

Regrettably, none of it was possible any longer, she knew.

Trust had been smashed, friendships were shattered and honor was crushed. She couldn't have done a better job if she'd used her mace, which, incidentally, she no longer had. Just one more thing she'd lost in the Thanagarian invasion.

Frustrated, Shayera kicked at the newspaper, also sending the broken snare and small pile of nuts scattering. It didn't matter that her meager dinner was lost to the darkness. A squirrel, far more deserving to live than her, would be happy to find them in the morning.

It was time for her to move on anyway; Canada was getting too cold.

Unmasked, unarmed and unworthy, Shayera took to the night sky.

*****

High above the Earth, Watch Tower II orbited silently. It had been christened only a week earlier. Amazing, really, what Wayne Enterprises could accomplish in a short timeframe. It was arranged slightly differently and it was a bit larger than the original Watch Tower, but the new station was a very welcome change from the dankness of the Batcave.

In the control center, John Stewart scanned monitors and checked readouts as per his duty. He ticked off the completed activities on the checklist. Several hours remained on his watch, yet he was already considering volunteering to take Diana's shift as well. Flash had been more than willing to give up his watch duty, but he wasn't so sure Diana would be as agreeable. The princess, he knew, took her obligations as seriously as he did.

But he wanted -- no *needed* -- to remain at the monitor station. It was his best chance of locating *her*.

At first, he didn't want to find her, to know where she was. The pain was too deep and raw to even think clearly. That was the time when he remained most occupied. He pulled nearly constant monitor duty while his hand healed and he waited for his replacement Power Ring from Oa. He followed that up by handling as many prison breaks, bank robberies, natural disasters, power plant explosions, and playground fights as he could find.

As days fell into weeks, he one day allowed himself to step back from the anger of betrayal and impartially consider her actions.

Long ago, Hawkgirl asked him if, as a military man, he could understand her situation. Slowly, reluctantly, he came to see her side of it. He would have done the exact same thing in her position. And to his utter shock, Green Lantern concluded that Hawkgirl ultimately redeemed herself to the people of Earth. When she found out the true nature of the Thanagarian invasion, she turned her back on her own people to save the Earth and its inhabitants.

But all the general public saw was a swarm of aliens taking over the planet and a supposed hero turning against them. Because they didn't know the Thanagarian's actual goal of using the planet as a link in their hyperspace bypass -- an action that would cause the implosion of the world -- the populace still clung to a unified hatred for Hawkgirl. Even people within the League, both new and old members, held her in low regard.

As he would feel if any of his teammates were branded an outcast, Lantern was concerned for her well-being. But the vicious condemnation of her and open calls for her death in the press and in private conversation tore at his gut in a way entirely unrelated to their work.

Perhaps she had lied to him that last day and he was still being a fool. It was possible she just used him as a plaything to pass the time, because the bit about her being "promised" to Hro Talak still ate at him.

Maybe Flash's eternal optimism was rubbing off on him because John desperately wanted to believe that Shayera had been caught in some sort of arranged marriage. She said she loved him; that she'd never lied about that. John clung to that thought as he bobbed in a sea of doubt, the waves of public opinion crashing over him daily, trying to drag him under.

John flicked a few switches and changed the monitor views. He hated to dwell on the negatives, but there were so few positives in the situation. Forcing his mind back to his goal of finding Shayera, he called up a variety of news websites and search engines. He plugged "Hawkgirl" in the search fields and turned back to the monitors as the computers ran their searches. He fiddled with camera controls until he had views of the horizon near every major city.

Moments later, he had over three hundred new entries to read from various newspapers, TV stations, newsgroups and private websites.

Sighing, John settled back in his chair to start the fruitless daily ritual of searching for clues to her whereabouts. He sent the energy from his ring into the kitchen to snag a cup of coffee. A ceramic mug of hot liquid floated into his grasp as he scanned through the first of many depressing and irritating documents, taking notes whenever he thought something would help his investigation.

An editorial in the New York Times called the Justice League a group of broken super heroes trying to rebuild what they once had.

It was true. The League was rebuilding. It had been difficult, especially the decision to publicly distance themselves from Hawkgirl. Officially cutting her loose did change opinions back to their favor, polishing their appearance in the eyes of the public. John, however, felt their sterling image tarnished that day.

An article in the Daily Planet listed each of the new heroes who served with the team, chronicling their known histories and what each had accomplished to date with the League. John read the article with interest, acknowledging the truth of the phrase "revolving door of super heroes."

As he reached the end of the article, the pencil in his fingers snapped in half.

The reporter, whom he'd be sure to have Clark -- or better, Superman -- speak with, concluded by restating the reason why the League needed to try out so many new people. They were searching for a replacement for Hawkgirl.

"No," he growled under his breath, "don't use that word." He threw the pencil fragments against the notepad. "*Never* use that word!"

Only twenty minutes into his daily reading and already his blood pressure was rising. Deliberately, he slid his coffee mug across the desktop, out of his reach. He then closed his eyes and took a deep breath, calming himself. It would only get worse, he knew.

Continuing on, he eventually finished all the official publications and turned to the more difficult items to read. Newsgroups, blogs and "Down with Hawkgirl" vigilante sites were the nastiest. He wouldn't read them at all, except the quasi-bounty hunters seemed to have the best of what little information there was out there on Hawkgirl's whereabouts.

Not far into reading his stomach sank at the title of a new thread. "Caught Her!" it exclaimed. "See My Pics!"

John clicked the link, opening the thread. The poster, whose ID he recognized from days past as a frequent guest of the board, claimed to have caught Hawkgirl and had great pictures to prove it. An additional link was provided.

His palms sweating, John scrolled down the screen and caught sight of a few replies. Responses like "Way cool, man!" and "ROTFLMAO!!!!!!" and "You sure got her, dude!" and "Post more!" knotted John's muscles as he prepared to click on the photo link.

An image appeared.

John's anger flared.

Barely refraining from punching through the monitor, John instead cleared the desktop with a wide sweep of his arm. Pens clattered, papers fluttered and his full coffee mug shattered against the metal floor. He slammed his fists against the tabletop with a loud, furious growl, uncaring of the mess he made.

"John?" Diana asked from behind him.

He clenched his fists tighter. "Shit," he breathed. He didn't need people seeing an explosion like that. What was she doing arriving early anyway?

"What's the matter?" she pressed, coming closer to him. "Oh."

John's head hung, but he knew Diana had seen the picture on the screen.

It was obviously a fake. Hawkgirl's head on another woman's body. The shadowing and proportions were clearly mismatched and the wings were the wrong color. Besides, John had seen her. *All* of her. And the woman's body in the picture had none of the scars Shayera carried.

The altered photo, nonetheless, was revolting. The naked woman was tied to a bed, clearly in a struggle to get free. In the background, an exposed man stood ready. His face was obscured, but his intentions and eagerness were obvious.

Diana closed the photo window with a harsh punch to the keyboard. John was actually surprised that Wonder Woman also refrained from destroying the screen, given her opinions on female oppression.

"It wasn't real," she said. Though he couldn't be certain if she was trying to convince herself or him.

He glanced up and saw her staring down at him, an odd mix of empathy and disgust on her face. If there was one thing he despised, it was being caught red-handed searching for Shayera. Ever since she left, he'd put on the brave face and never once mentioned her to any of his teammates. As far as they were concerned, it was over and he'd moved on.

"Sorry," he said, deciding it best to change the subject. "I'll clean that up." He shoved the chair back and knelt to the floor, intent on erasing the evidence of his outburst.

Diana crouched down next to him and put a hand on his forearm. "I'll take care of it," she told him.

"No," he said, not looking at her.

They collected papers in silence.

"Hey," he tried to sound jovial as he tapped the papers into a neat stack, "how about you take the night off and I take your shift?"

"You're going to bed," Diana told him flatly.

A shudder ran through him. He hadn't spent a full night in a bed since she'd left. It just seemed too empty and cold without her next to him, without the down of her wings warming them both. Any sleep he did manage to grab was now done sitting up, generally when he dozed off in a chair in front of a computer.

"Nah," he countered as he picked up shattered bits of ceramic, "not tired."

"John," Diana warned. Her look was stern, yet annoyingly sympathetic.

He swallowed past the lump in his throat. He hated the sorrowful looks his comrades directed at him. He hated the guilty expressions they wore when an infrequent reference was made to Hawkgirl. But above all else, he hated that she'd left, leaving him to pick up the pieces.

As John dumped the ruined mug particles in a trash bin, he felt a female hand on his shoulder. His muscles tensed.

"I'm worried about you, John," Diana said. "We're all worried about you."

Lantern worked on fixing a scowl to his face. The down-turned angles of his new goatee added to the illusion of anger rather than defeat. He was surprised at how much he came to rely on the extra facial hair in hiding his true feelings.

Slowly, he stood, towering over the Amazon still kneeling on the floor.

"What?" he asked, sharper than necessary. "Am I not pulling my weight around here?"

Wonder Woman raised to her full height and squared off with John at eye level, well into his personal space. "On the contrary," she said. "You've been pulling your weight and that of just about everybody else for months now. If you don't take a break and get some sleep, you're going to collapse."

John's glowing green eyes sparked, but Diana didn't back down. Instead, her expression softened.

"Pushing yourself beyond your limits for this long isn't doing any of us any good," she told him, her hand once again on his shoulder. "Get some rest."

John opened his mouth to protest.

"Go," she said sternly, a hint of mirth coming into her features, "or I'll take you out of commission myself."

A smile worked at the corner of his mouth, though he fought against it. "Fine," he said, his shoulders sagging. "I'll go."

Diana smiled and patted him on the shoulder. "Good." She turned and sat in the only chair, effectively kicking him out of the monitor area. "Oh, and if I catch you in the gym, you'd better hope your ring is fully charged."

John had to smile at that. It was good to know there was at least one woman still around ready to beat the stuffing out of him for not doing as she ordered.

With an exaggerated salute, he said firmly, "Yes, ma'am!

She grinned over her shoulder at him. "*Good night*, John."

"I'm already gone," he assured her as he turned and walked away from the monitors that provided no information on his missing lover.

*****

The night was spent flying. It was the only time she felt somewhat safe above the tree line. When dawn broke on the horizon, Shayera landed. By her estimation, she was a few miles outside of Central City.

She knelt next to a small stream and splashed water on her face. The area seemed secluded enough that she could spend the day undetected. She would continue south in the evening.

Cupping her hands, she took a drink from the clear water, enjoying the coolness of it as it trickled down her throat. Flying for extended periods of time took a lot out of her, especially since she was no longer in the habit of regularly replenishing her energy reserves. Her heart still pounded from the excessive speed she pushed herself to and her wings ached from prolonged use.

And, damn, but did she wish for a shower. She looked down at her clothes and decided she also needed a laundromat. Unfortunately, both were luxuries she no longer had. Perhaps a waterfall could be found downstream after a quick nap. It would suffice as both shower and washing machine.

Rocking back on her heels, Shayera yawned. Sleep definitely was calling first. She crawled a few feet away from the stream and flopped on her stomach. Adjusting her arms and wings to serve as pillows and blankets, she settled in for some shut-eye.

The silence of the forest was shattered seconds later by distant screams.

Shayera's head snapped up as she listened for the shouts again. A gentle breeze carried the sounds of human cries and heavy, clanking thuds.

Without conscious thought, Shayera took to the air and caught an updraft. She hung high above the treetops, her sharp eyesight zeroing in on the affected area. A construction site on the outskirts of Central City was her target. Something large and silver was moving around fast, sending people scattering before it.

Her mind screamed "trouble," and she took off, not bothering to think about the implications of her actions.

In seconds, she arrived on the scene, landing amidst the fleeing workers. She was shoved aside unnoticed as the frantic people attempted to escape their follower.

Behind them a fifty-foot robot rampaged closer, the hydraulics in its limbs hissing angrily. Its arms flailed, crashing through metal as though it was balsa wood. With reflexes that seemed cat-like, the robot picked up objects and splintered them in its claws.

Without her mace Shayera was little more than determination and flight. So she did something she almost never did. Shayera assessed the situation.

Surrounding the area was a fifteen-foot tall metal fence topped with barbed wire. The only gate was across the yard, behind the robot. To get past the robot would be impossible for someone on the ground. The machine's arms were too quick and random in movement to time an escape.

A glance backward to count the number of workers and she realized there'd be no way she could fly them out one by one. Over thirty workers were bunched behind her, screaming for help, trying unsuccessfully to scale the wall.

Shayera watched as the berserk robot approached, then stopped. The monster turned its head from one side to the other, almost as though it was confused.

Realization dawned and Shayera instantly understood how the robot worked. It was attracted to movement, and the crowd was giving it too many targets to focus on. The distraction could work to her advantage, she decided.

She could be the bait to draw the robot away.

Crouching, she prepared to take off. Her wings weren't even unfolded when a desperate worker shoved her to the ground as he made a run for the gate.

"No!" she yelled, grabbing unsuccessfully for him.

Immediately he was snapped up in the robot's clamp-like hand. It didn't take super-powers to hear the crushing of the worker's body. He was unceremoniously dropped to the ground and the monster again turned its attention back in the direction of the remaining workers.

Again, the robot's head turned from side to side.

Only this time, Shayera surmised, it was searching for motion. The inaction of the group momentarily puzzled the menace. She quickly rose to her feet and leapt into the air.

Unfortunately, the frightened crowd, having been shocked by the attack on their friend, refused to remain still. The men and women took up arms, pitching anything they could find at the metal monster.

"Stop moving!" she hollered uselessly to the crowd. "Damn," she hissed to herself as the robot easily repelled the attack.

She grabbed the nearest worker by the arms and lifted her from the ground. If she was pressed to save them one at a time, she would. Depositing the worker a block away, she swooped back to the construction site and repeated the action.

With each subsequent trip the scene grew worse. She'd only managed to snag five workers, but many more remained; many of them injured by flying debris.

Shaking her head at the dismal panorama, Shayera reached for another worker.

"Hawkgirl!" a familiar and welcome voice called.

Her head snapped up to see the Flash smiling crookedly at her.

"Need some help?" he questioned, taking the nearest person in his arms, dashing away and returning empty handed before she could answer.

"Yes, actually, I do," she said seriously, lifting another man from the ground to safety.

"I've got back-up on the way," Flash announced happily.

The two former teammates then set to work in tandem removing people as the robot tried to chase them down with each action.

Only one worker remained when the monster got a lucky blow in, sending a pile of I-beams flying. One of the beams crashed into Flash from behind, knocking him violently into a stack of two-by-fours. The speedster attempted to stand, but immediately fell back over, his head in his hands.

"Flash!" Shayera yelled from the air. She started downward toward her friend, but pulled up short, spotting the final worker trapped under a fallen I-beam.

Since Flash wasn't moving and the construction worker was shoving desperately at the immobile beam across his shins, Shayera knew which person the robot would be attracted to. She changed directions immediately.

The worker yanked at his useless legs, screaming in pain as his crushed bones moved under the weight of the beam. He started digging at the ground next to his knees, tears streaking his cheeks.

The robot, drawn to his flailing movements, stepped toward him.

Shayera landed between the metal monster and the man. "Stop moving!" she ordered. "It reacts to motion!"

The worker looked up. As she approached his eyes widened in horror. "Noooooo!" he cried, frantically returning to his digging.

Shayera crouched next to the worker's legs. "Hold still," she ordered again, her green eyes boring into his brown ones.

The man's jaw quivered and she easily read the terror in his expression. Quickly, she checked behind her, thinking the robot was closer than she thought. No, it was still a few yards away. She turned back to the worker, who again had returned to his struggle for freedom.

She reached out and gripped his shoulder, hard. "I said, stop moving."

The man yelped as her talon-like fingers clamped him. He raised both hands in surrender and bowed his head, not looking at her. "Don't hurt me," he begged, his voice cracking. "Please...don't hurt me."

Shayera's grip relaxed in confusion. "What? Why would I...?"

"You're one of *them*," he cried. "One of those monsters that killed my brother!"

Shayera's frozen heart shattered into jagged shards and she could only stare at the man.

The nameless masses suddenly had a face.

Every person -- be it Earthling or Thanagarian -- who was or would be injured or killed, every family that had suffered or would suffer a loss was singularly her fault.

"Leave me alone!" the man again begged. "Please!"

Her fingers slid from his shoulder and she lowered her head. "I'm sorry," she whispered, knowing nothing she could ever say would be good enough.

The man stopped his struggle for only a second to actually look her in the eyes. She noted his confusion and apprehension with a feeling of true regret.

"I'll get you out of here," she said, her hand coming to rest on the I-beam crushing the man's legs. She shifted position and heaved the huge iron beam a few feet away.

Freed, the man stared at her in disbelief. She grabbed his shoulders and moved to pick him up.

"Look out!" he yelled, pointing behind her.

Shayera turned only to find herself swiftly engulfed in the robot's contracting claw.

"Flash!" she yelled, her feet involuntarily rising from the ground. "Get him out of here!"

Across the construction yard, Flash shook his head.

As Shayera was hoisted upward, the injured worker pulled himself away from the scene as fast as he could. Suddenly, Flash was there, scooping the man into his arms.

"I'll be right back!" he called up to her. "Hang on!"

Shayera instinctively fought against the robot's iron grip. She shoved her hands between the two collapsing sides and used all her strength to try to leaver the claw back open just enough to slip through the ever-tightening hold.

The first snapping sound seemed distant, as though it was behind her somewhere. The second and third were louder, only they were accompanied by shooting pain in both of her wings.

Cracking mingled with crunching as the pain in her wings turned to shocking agony throughout her entire torso. Her grip on the robot faltered, releasing the meager resistance the she posed.

Flash returned to the construction site just as Shayera screamed.

"No!" Flash yelled, running at top speed to the robot's leg.

Battling for consciousness against the unending tightening, Shayera could only watch as Flash desperately searched for anything he could to stop the metal monster. She noted in an oddly distracted way that pieces of the robot were flying through the air. Access panels, wires and various bits of metal clattered against the ground.

As she hung limply in the robot's grip, she noticed the crushing pressure finally relaxed a bit and that the monster's once-efficient movements were now sluggish. A shower of sparks came from above her, and unexpectedly the grip around her chest released.

She collapsed with a dull thud against the dirt.

"Hawkgirl!" Flash shouted.

Dazed, Shayera cracked her eyes open to find Flash staring down at her from the shoulder of the partially immobilized robot. She attempted to draw a breath only to feel pain stabbing through her. She coughed, winced, then tasted blood in her mouth. "Shit," she exhaled.

Flash was suddenly at her side. "We've gotta get out of here. I slowed it down, but I can't stop it," he explained, his attention obviously divided between the slowly approaching robot and his unmoving friend. "Can you get up at all?" he questioned, the worry in his voice clear.

It wasn't right, she thought, for someone to be concerned for her when she'd betrayed so many. The construction worker was correct. She was to be feared, not helped.

Flash gingerly placed his hand on her shoulder. "Hawkg--"

Metal impacted flesh and Flash was tossed through the air into the same pile of lumber he'd crashed into earlier. This time the unexpected impact rendered him unconscious.

The robot followed the path of the last movement it saw and lumbered past Shayera toward Flash.

"No," she whispered, "leave him alone." Her eyes slipped shut as haziness clouded her vision.

Shayera knew the world hated her. She'd read plenty of articles and met enough angry people to know that. She also knew within a matter of minutes she'd be getting the end she so justly deserved, an end that millions of people on two different planets wished upon her.

She wouldn't fight it.

But she would fight to save one more person. A person she once called friend. She'd take care of that damn robot once and for all.

With determination, she gulped in air, pushing her agony away. Wrapping her left arm around her crushed ribs, she forced herself to her knees. Breathless, she scanned the area with blurry eyes. If she'd only had her mace she could short circuit the hulking monster in one strike. But that wasn't an option. Nor was using force given her current condition. So she'd have to get creative.

Looking to the left, she saw a gasoline truck. Would fire be enough? Could she get the robot close enough to melt it?

Glancing upward, Shayera found her salvation. About thirty feet in the air a single high-tension power line ran across the construction site from a nearby sub-station to the unfinished building. It would be perfect. For the first time in months, she smiled.

Fighting against lack of oxygen and murderous pain, Shayera rose to her feet. Dragging her broken wings behind her, she slowly made her way to the valves on the gasoline truck. Normally, she would have simply bashed a hole in the side of tanker; but with her injuries, it was all she could manage to turn the spigot.

Finally, gasoline gushed from the tanker, spreading over the ground, pooling beneath her feet. She smiled and gulped for air again. Her eyes traveled upward to the power line. The robot lumbered closer to Flash, clearly trying to locate its prey.

"Hey, scrap yard!" Shayera yelled, causing herself to cough. Spitting away the resulting blood, she continued to taunt the robot. "Over here!" She waved in the air, trying to make as much motion as possible to catch the robot's attention. Each motion pulled on her ribs and sent shocks of pain throughout her whole body. But it didn't matter how much it hurt, she reasoned. It would soon be over.

The robot's head slowly turned toward her. It paused then turned its body in the same direction. She could see it was now focused only on her.

"That's it, you waste of metal," Shayera wheezed, "come get me." She stood her ground, two inches deep in gasoline. Her eyes darted up to the power line once again. It had to work.

The robot's only working arm raised and its clamp-like hand spread open. It stepped into the puddle of fuel, splashing its way forward.

Shayera spit another mouthful of blood to the ground. "Come on! You're almost there." This time her breath was nearly impossible to catch.

The robot's arm lowered toward her. Inch by slow inch, it approached the power line.

Metal made contact, the circuit was completed and sparks flew. Electrical current surged through the robot.

Shayera Hol drew as deep a breath as her crushed ribs would allow and yelled a final battle cry as the sparks ignited the gasoline.

Flames spread.

The robot fell with a thundering crash to the ground.

The tanker exploded.

Shayera blew backwards and smashed through the metal fence. Her limp, useless body skidded across the pavement, slamming to an abrupt halt against a brick building across the street.

*****

As Green Lantern and Wonder Woman approached the construction site in Central City a massive explosion rattled buildings, shattering windows around them.

"What the hell?" Lantern paused, hanging in the air long enough to survey the surroundings, making sure citizens weren't in danger from falling glass.

Not ten minutes earlier he'd been dozing in the lounge of the Watch Tower when Diana woke him, saying Flash was in Central City and needed help to evacuate a group of people. It wasn't like Flash to cause such destruction so quickly, and John wondered just what the speedster had gotten himself into this time.

"There!" Diana announced, pointing to their original destination. Orange flames and black smoke could be seen spewing into the air.

Lantern's neck muscles tightened at the thought of Flash being caught in the blaze. "Let's go!" He and Diana propelled themselves forward even faster than before.

It wasn't hard to spot the bright red suit from the sky. Flash was several yards from the inferno, sprawled across a pile of lumber. As the duo landed, Green Lantern noted a fifty-foot robot melting to scrap at the center of the fire.

Wonder Woman reached Flash first and pulled him to a sitting position. "Are you all right?" she asked as the speedster's eyes fluttered open.

Flash staggered to his feet and grabbed his head with both hands. "Ugh," he moaned, "somebody stop the world from spinning."

Lantern offered a supporting hand to his friend. "What happened?"

"The robot," Flash said, "it was...crazy. I tried to stop it."

"Looks like you did," Lantern complimented.

Flash looked at the burning wreckage. "Yeah." Then, he frowned. "No." Suddenly, his eyes widened. "Oh, no!" He zipped from Lantern's grasp so fast it took John a moment to realize he was gone.

Wonder Woman and Green Lantern exchanged a puzzled look.

"Hawkgirl! She's here!" Flash said frantically as he returned to their position after an instantaneous trip around the perimeter of the flames. "She did this, not me. Help me find her!" He dashed off again, this time making a wider circle around the devastation.

At the mention of her name, John froze, his glowing eyes locked on the blaze. "Oh, no," he echoed in exhale.

"You don't think..." Diana began. She grasped John's shoulder and shook him. "Lantern!"

He turned his head slightly toward her, but kept his eyes on the flames, terror etched in his dark features.

"Put out the fire," she ordered.

Lantern blinked, coming back to himself. Quickly, he produced an airtight bubble of green energy around the flames, snuffing them out.

Wonder Woman took to the air and examined the smoldering scene. "I don't see her."

Flash looked up from the ground to Diana. "Where'd she go?"

Green Lantern also leapt into the sky and hung higher than Diana. He scanned the charred ground below. It was obvious no living thing could have survived the blaze. The likelihood of even finding a body among the ashes was practically non-existent.

"She was hurt too bad to fly off," Flash said sadly.

John felt bile rising in his throat at the speedster's words. Shayera was injured. He had to find her, to help her, to see her again before it was too late. His heart pounding loudly in his ears, John continued to scrutinize the area, looking for any sign of the former League member.

In desperation, his scan grew wider until he saw the hole in the security fence. Something had been blown through the metal slats, leaving tell-tale feathers in its wake. John's stomach contracted in fear as he followed the trajectory across the street.

Crumpled on the sidewalk lay Hawkgirl.

"Shayera," John breathed. Without word to his teammates, he dove out of the air and landed on the sidewalk near her.

As a Marine and a Green Lantern, he'd witnessed plenty of horrific scenes over the years. But the sight of the woman he loved, bloodied and broken nearly undid him. Biting back the helpless sound that threatened to escape his throat, he knelt next to her.

He could hear her breathing -- a short, wet panting sound that froze the blood in his veins. To have proof she was still alive should have been a good sign, but it was anything but a relief. He'd heard that sound before. It never ended well.

Swallowing hard, John forced himself to examine her injuries. It was clear without much inspection that both wings were broken. A snapped bone protruded through the top of one and both lay at odd angles across the ground. Her clothes, hair and feathers still smoldered. And she was so thin. The clothes she wore -- the same ones she was wearing when he saw her months ago -- no longer fit.

John put his hand gently on her sunken cheek. She flinched at his touch.

"Oh, Shy," he choked.

"Holy Hera!" Flash gasped as he and Wonder Woman arrived.

John barely noticed Diana holding Flash back and the speedster's shoulders slumping in defeat. The end was inevitable, John knew, and they were all helpless to prevent it.

Shayera had an inventory of regrets longer than she could list in the short amount of time she had remaining. If it were not so painful to do so, she could almost laugh at the fact that in just the last few moments of life she'd managed to acquire two new regrets. The first being that her plan of instant incineration backfired, resulting instead in a slow, agonizing drowning in her own blood as her damaged lungs fought against the unavoidable.

The second -- and she hoped *final* -- regret of her life was that John had found her alive. A few minutes longer and it would have been over. Instead, she would have an audience for her expiration. Having no desire for John or anyone else to watch her slip away, she silently damned the Justice League's always-fast response.

Gathering her remaining strength, Shayera forced her lids open to see the glowing green of John's eyes. "No," she exhaled, a trail of blood trickling from the corner of her mouth. In agony, Shayera reached out with her right arm.

John held out his hand to her. But to his dismay, she bypassed his offer and instead scraped at the concrete. With gritted teeth she attempted to claw her way toward the shadows.

John grasped her arm causing an involuntary whimper to escape the back of her throat. Instantly he released her, and Shayera's arm dropped limply to the pavement. "What do you think you're doing?" he demanded.

She attempted to breathe, but it was to the point where it was easier to not bother. Instead, she weakly coughed, spattering blood onto John's boots. Wheezing in a shallow breath, Shayera forced as much intensity as she could into her voice. "Let me die..." she begged, her blood now dripping from her nose as well A rattling breath was painfully drawn into her lungs. "...please."

As darkness closed in around her, Shayera thought she ought to tell John that she still loved him -- even though he probably hadn't believed her the first time she said it. But she didn't have enough air left to say anything. Her last thought was a Thanagarian curse at the realization that she'd added yet another regret to her list at the last possible second.

Her body went slack as she was engulfed in blackness.

For a long, chilling moment, no one moved.

"Hera protect her," Diana prayed.

John's eyes slid shut, unsuccessfully blocking his tears. His hand slid slowly down to her battered wing where he stroked the feathers. "No," he croaked, shaking his head. "No, Shy..." His fingers fisted in her feathers.

Diana crouched next to Lantern and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I'm so sorry, John," she said.

His muscles quivered beneath her fingers with his efforts to repress his cries.

"Wait," Flash said, his eyes wide. He dropped to his knees next to his fallen friend. Cautiously, he put his ear to Shayera's back. He listened for a few seconds. "She's not gone!" he announced.

Skeptically, John looked up to Flash. If he was joking, John was prepared to have another lifeless body sprawled on the sidewalk.

"Seriously, GL!" Flash assured him, his ear still on Shayera's back. "I can hear her heartbeat. It's weak, but it's there. Take her to the Watch Tower." He raised his head and looked John squarely in the eye. "Don't let her die," he pleaded.

John glanced to Wonder Woman. The Amazon's tight expression revealed little, but her words were compassionate. "We have to try, John."

Looking down at the battered body of his lover, he saw her back rise slightly with a shallow breath. A bubble of hope rose to the surface of his gloom and broke through. A determination he'd never felt before overcame him.

Before they could know what was happening, Green Lantern swept his teammates up in a transport field and had them hurdling through the atmosphere toward the Watch Tower and possible salvation.

*****

John stared out the thick Plexiglass window to the pinpoints of light beyond. Over the years, he'd spent hours looking at the stars with Shayera. It didn't matter if they were simply standing on the Watch Tower's observation deck, sitting atop a high rise in Gotham or entwined in his bed, they would look at the night sky and talk about the worlds beyond.

He told her of the alien worlds he protected in the Green Lantern Corps -- the battles being of particular interest to her. She would describe Thanagar and talk of her desire to return.

Fleetingly, he wondered how much of her description was a complete fabrication.

He pushed thoughts of her duplicity away, instead concentrating on the fact that the closer they grew together, the less wistful she sounded when talking of Thanagar. Her wish to go back morphed from wanting to leave Earth permanently to simply wanting him to join her on a trip there.

His mouth quirked into a rueful smile. He could just picture them packing a couple over-night bags and heading to the slums of Thanagar for a weekend of head-busting. After their Christmas bar brawl, John was quite certain Shayera would love a vacation like that.

Unfortunately, she wouldn't be going back to Thanagar.

Ever.

"I hate waiting," Flash grumbled, zipping from one side of the room to the other.

Until he spoke, John had almost been able to ignore the constant movement. Almost.

"You think she'll pull through?" the hyper young man asked. He was like some sort of bright red Jack Russell Terrier. Always in need of attention, endlessly bouncing.

It would be very easy to silence an unaware Flash with a quick zap from his ring, and Green Lantern balled his fists tighter to resist the impulse.

Flash came to a sudden stop beside Lantern. "What's taking them so long?"

John's eyes narrowed. Hell if he knew.

J'onn J'onzz, the League's resident medic, enlisted Wonder Woman's help with Shayera when the group arrived at the Watch Tower three hours earlier. The Martian planned to use a mix of alien and Earth procedures to, with luck, repair Shayera's injuries and save her life.

In the meantime, John and Flash were relegated to waiting in the lounge.

Flash flopped in a nearby chair and sighed. "Man, she took that thing out without even using that mace of hers. I wonder how she managed it."

John's fists relaxed. Flash raised an interesting question. How had Shayera managed to defeat the robot? He and Wonder Woman arrived in time to see an explosion and the resulting fire. But how the fire started and how the robot ended up in the middle of it, he wasn't certain. With any luck, Batman would find the clues he needed to put the puzzle together and find out who sent the robot on its rampage to begin with.

The important thing was, Shayera brought the enemy down effectively. The city was safe and no one had died in the process.

Not yet, anyway.

John's fists clinched again.

In the reflection of the window, he saw J'onn and Diana enter the room. A gripping fear squeezed his heart and immobilized him fully. He couldn't turn around to see their expressions. He wasn't completely sure he could handle the news anyway.

Flash, however, leapt to his feet in an instant. "Well?"

"She will survive," J'onn announced.

John's shoulders visibly sagged as the weight of the world lifted from him.

*****

When Shayera once again became aware and an all-encompassing pain racked her body, she couldn't be sure if she was alive or dead.

It was entirely possible she was the victim of Hades' Underworld...or some other equally distasteful version of Hell...where she would be agonizingly and endlessly punished for her numerous sins in life. She did, after all, have memory of hot flames licking her feathers.

Her eyes cracked open to confirm her surroundings. But instead of fire and brimstone, she saw what looked to be the medical facilities of the Watch Tower. It didn't make sense, though, as she knew the Watch Tower was destroyed.

A pang of guilt gripped her heart. Yes, add that to the list of sins, she mentally ordered Hades. She had to admire the Ruler of the Underworld for his ability to create such an accurate and personalized torture.

Finding she could once again take a deep breath, she did so and sighed. She'd been hoping that death was a vast nothingness. But, if eternal damnation was her fate, then so be it.

Through her agony, Shayera tried to sit up to bravely get on with her infinite torment. After all, there was no point in laying about when there was justice to be served.

When she became entangled in wires and tubes she realized that perhaps she was wrong. New evidence indicated that she wasn't in the Underworld after all.

Memories started to trickle back. She remembered a robot...an explosion...begging John...darkness...

It was then she fully realized what transpired. Her eyebrows sunk into a frown. They had no right to do this. She never asked them to save her. In fact, she was quite certain she specifically told them to let her die.

Irritated, she shoved herself to a sitting position, ignoring the excruciating pain the action caused. She yanked away the oxygen tube, ripped off heart monitoring sensors and pulled an IV needle from her wrist.

It was ridiculous. What did they think they were doing? She swung her feet off the bed and stood up. Her head swooned. Always have to be heroes, she concluded, forcing the nausea and dizziness away as she stumbled away from the bed.

An overdose of pills, a well-placed scalpel slice, an injection of something lethal...there were plenty of options open to her if she could only make it to the storage cabinets. Minutes later she'd crossed the few feet between the bed and cabinets and paused to lean her head against a cupboard door. Her right arm snaked tightly around her sore ribs in an attempt to ease the pain of breathing.

When she recovered enough to continue, she grasped a handle and pulled. The cabinet didn't open. She gave another yank, but still it didn't give way.

Angered, she shuffled to the next door. It, too, was locked. As was the next and the next. She tried all the drawers but found them locked as well.

Having only a tiny fraction of her normal strength, she couldn't force the locks or smash the metal doors. She let out a frustrated cry as she used her remaining energy to jerk unsuccessfully at a drawer handle.

Defeated and exhausted, she plopped down on a stool and stared out the large window, watching the Earth turn below. Unlike the last time she looked out this very window -- or at least the window's doppelganger -- this time her eyes were on the planet instead of a distant star. Also unlike last time, she couldn't feel John's arms wrapped around her, but instead very tight bandages.

Her eyes traveled down to the medical gown she wore. Her fingers trailed over her chest and sides, feeling the elastic bandages beneath the fabric. Her anger flared again.

She looked out the window once more and realized she had one final option. Rising slowly to her feet, Shayera made her way to the door.

*****

"Sabotage by Mega-Co," Batman said in a low tone over the monitor. "The robot was built by Lex Corp. From my understanding, it was quite revolutionary. Speed, accuracy, strength. Workers would be able to construct a building in half the time by using it. Yesterday was the first use. One of Mega-Co's executives hired someone to reprogram it, sending it on its rampage."

"Do you know who these people are yet?" Green Lantern asked, his intentions obvious.

"Yes," the Dark Knight responded, but didn't offer up names.

"Interesting," J'onn said. "Mega-Co was willing to kill dozens of people to stop Lex Corp from advancing technology?"

"Pretty pathetic," Flash commented.

"Indeed," J'onn muttered.

"I'll take care of this," Batman said. Before he terminated the connection, he looked back into the camera. "I hope she recovers quickly."

The screen went black before anyone could respond.

"Ooo...Bats all warm and fuzzy," Flash grinned.

"If you would excuse me," the Martian said suddenly, "I need to check on the patient." He phased out and sank through the floor.

*****

Her breathing labored, Shayera leaned heavily against the bulkhead, finally at her destination. The trip from the medical bay took the last ounces of strength she had. Her knees were so wobbly she could barely stand.

It didn't matter that she had no reserves left because her one-way trip was nearly over. She needed only to input a pass code and step through the air lock.

With a shaky finger, she poked a series of numbers on the keypad. The tiny screen on the pad notified her of an invalid entry and advised her to re-enter the pass code. Groaning, she pressed the sequence of numbers again. For a second time, the screen rejected her code and asked her to re-enter. After a third failed attempt, Shayera whimpered and weakly smacked the keypad with her fist. On a normal day, the pad would have been a crushed pile of circuits. Today, however, it didn't even suffer so much as a loose key.

Shayera closed her eyes and dropped her head against the wall, too weak to remain standing but too stubborn to slide to the floor.

"We don't have the same access codes," J'onn informed her when he rematerialized after sinking through the ceiling next to her.

Not bothering to look at him, Shayera spoke to her bare feet. "Let me out."

"Your body is not equipped to handle the vacuum of space without proper attire," he said.

"That would be the point," she needlessly countered.

"I am disappointed," J'onn said. "I worked very hard to repair your injuries, yet you do not appear to appreciate my effort."

Shayera shook her head, finally raising it from the wall to look at the Martian. "Why did you even bother? Any of you?" she asked, acknowledging the sudden arrival of Flash.

"We don't leave colleagues behind," Flash said.

Her green eyes blazed as her anger sparked. "I'm not your colleague. I'm a traitor, remember?" she spat. "Dangerous, untrustworthy and dishonorable."

Flash's jaw dropped slightly. "No, you're not. I saw you today..."

"We do not need to discuss this now," J'onn intervened. He reached out and physically turned Shayera back toward the medical bay.

She raged at his audacity. Had she not been totally devoid of strength, she would have punched him straight through the bulkhead.

As it was, he seemed to take full advantage of the situation and steered her in the direction he wanted her to go. "You need to recover."

"There are other ways," she informed him, low and lethal.

"I will restrain you, then," he said calmly as he led her up the hall.

"I won't eat."

"You can be force-fed," he informed her.

From behind her, Shayera heard Flash ask, "Are you serious?"

"Deadly serious," she replied.

*****

Diana just handed John a steaming cup of coffee when a sonic boom echoed through the monitor center.

Flash skidded to a halt in front of Green Lantern and without preamble, announced what he'd seen. "Hawkgirl just tried to kill herself."

John's expression hardened even as his heart stopped. "What?" He studied Flash' eyes, denying what he saw there. "You're joking."

"Would I joke about something like that?" the young man asked.

"For your sake, I hope not," Wonder Woman cautioned him.

"I was there," Flash stated emphatically.

John shook his head, refusing to believe. "No, she..."

"She tried to go out the air lock." Flash crossed his arms over his chest and scowled.

Had John not already been sitting, he would have collapsed to the ground. Barely snatched from the jaws of death and she was already trying to throw herself back into the maw.

"What the fuck is wrong here?" Flash said for him, clearly enraged.

"Sometimes," Wonder Woman began, "death is the only option."

Flash huffed. "Fine thing coming from an immortal."

"There is honor in dying in battle," she told him.

"Tossing herself out an airlock *isn't* battle!" Flash countered.

"No, it isn't," John said numbly, looking at his teammates. "But we took that opportunity from her by brining her here, didn't we?"

Flash's mouth hung open but no protest came out. Diana lowered her eyes and nodded.

*****

When the door to the medical bay slid open, Shayera didn't open her eyes. Without a clock, she assumed another hour had passed while she slept and that J'onn was making his hourly trip to check on her status and to be sure the energy field was still in place around her bed. He'd been in six times already that she could remember. It was entirely possible he'd been through more often, but she had dropped into fitful sleep a number of times.

She knew the Martian couldn't read her thoughts, but she still concentrated on clearing her mind and projecting a "leave me alone" attitude. That, coupled with her closed eyes, had been sufficient to keep J'onn silent on his previous visits.

Shayera sensed the figure approaching her. J'onn was efficient, so it would only take a couple minutes for him to run through his checklist and once again abandon her.

The mattress dipped with the weight of another person. The Martian never sat on the bed next to her. Shayera's eyes snapped open and her heart skipped a beat when she saw her visitor.

"John," she whispered, as though someone would hear and ask him to leave.

He was surrounded with a familiar green glow. It explained how he'd managed to slip through the force field instead of turning it off.

"Hey," he said, taking her hand in his, "how you feeling?"

Her fingers curled around his and she grasped him with as much strength as she could muster. She'd missed his touch, his warmth more than she wanted to admit.

"Like a squashed cricket," she answered.

Cautiously, John reached out and touched the singed feathers on her right wing, making sure to avoid the healing wound at the top.

"A slightly roasted squashed cricket," she clarified, trying to get him to smile.

But he didn't smile. His serious expression became tighter when his hand slid from her wing up to her face. He cupped her cheek and she nuzzled into his palm.

"You will eat?" he questioned.

She met his eyes and she couldn't miss the deep concern in them. "Sure," she promised him, her gaze unwavering.

In truth, she'd spent several hours pondering her fate. With the force field around her bed she was unable to do anything but rest. To waste her strength rebelling against dinner didn't make much sense. The sooner she recovered, the sooner she could leave. They would be free of her, and she could return to her solitary existence until the next battle raged. Hopefully, the next villain would have more success at destroying her.

John's eyebrows sank and he watched her skeptically. "Why are you doing this?"

She frowned back at him. "Doing what? I said I'd eat, what more do you want?"

"I want you alive," he stated.

"What the hell for?" she snapped, shaking off his hands.

John recoiled as though he'd been slapped. It was a long moment before he squared his shoulders and looked down at her as though she was one of his soldiers. "You do not need to die to restore your honor."

She scowled at him. "What makes you so certain this has anything to do with honor?"

He tilted his head, but his frown remained. "You sacrificed yourself to save Flash and the construction workers. You didn't have to do it. That sounds like an honorable and heroic move to me."

With a huff, she broke her gaze from his. "Well, you've got it all figured out, don't you? Yep, I saved a few people today; I'm a regular paragon of virtue now. Everything is all better. Thanks for clearing that up." She turned her head away from him. "I need to get some sleep now, if you don't mind."

Lantern's teeth ground together. He reached out and grabbed her chin, forcing her to look at him. Instead of the expected anger, he saw a profound sadness reflected in her eyes. She blinked and her temper iced over her stare.

John's expression shifted into disbelief and his throat went dry as he spoke. "You really are going to kill yourself, aren't you?"

Shayera lowered his hand from her chin with a sigh. She crossed her arms over her chest and rolled over, her back to him. "I have nothing left, John." Her battered wings tightened against her body. "There is no point in going on except to hope that I can go down fighting. To try to save a few people -- most of whom are too angry at or scared of my kind to know I'm trying to help." Her head lowered and her knees raised as she tried to curl into a ball. "One of the men I saved today, he was trying just as hard to get away from me as he was from the robot. He actually begged me not to hurt him."

John winced. There were a few people he'd rescued who were angry with him for various reasons, but none ever feared him. He couldn't imagine how upsetting it would be for him to have someone plead for his mercy.

"What good is that?" she continued, shrinking further into herself. "I can never go back to Thanagar and I'm stuck on a planet where I'm hated and feared. I have no place to go where people don't want me dead. Not that I deserve anything different, because I don't. I accept that. But I can't live like this indefinitely," she said, her voice weaker than he'd ever heard it. "By my hand or someone else's...there has to be an end."

*****

John made it as far as the lounge before he completely lost control. With a roar, he pounded his fists against the heavy metal table, bending it in half. He flung chairs at the walls and cleared shelves with sweeping gestures, all the while bellowing with anger.

When nothing remained to be demolished, he slammed his fist repeatedly against a bulkhead as hard as he could, denting the thick alloy. His frustrated cries grew in intensity until he was howling.

"GL! Stop it, man!" Flash suddenly grabbed him by the elbow and yanked him around. "You're gonna bust through the wall."

Lantern stared at Flash, drilling him with his eerily green eyes.

Flash visibly stiffened, preparing for an assault. But instead Lanternís shoulders sagged and John fell against the wall at his back, sinking to the floor, his face in his hands.

A cautious hand was placed on his shoulder. "You talked with Hawkgirl, didn't you?"

John's fingers tightened into fists at the mention of her name. He couldn't let her go that easily. But he didn't know what to say to change her mind. It didn't take a psychologist to recognize the depression Shayera suffered from.

The thing was, he couldn't blame her in the slightest for feeling as she did. The reality of the situation was exactly as she described. He'd read the articles, seen the websites, heard the whispers first hand. And she'd been on the receiving end of all that loathing for six months.

But her telling him flat-out about her intention to die made him physically ill. He concentrated on keeping his breathing slow, to fight the nausea and the desire to hyperventilate.

His mind swirled, causing a vortex in his soul. He could feel himself being pulled under. He tried to be her lifeguard, but she took him beneath the water's surface with her. She was drowning him as effectively as she was drowning herself. Yet, he was the one that wouldn't let go.

The League recognized months ago they were sinking as long as they were linked to her. So they severed the ties and resurfaced unscathed, for the most part.

Why couldn't he do the same?

He had to do *something*. His sanity depended on it.

Drop the anchor around his neck and rush back to the surface. It was the logical choice, the sensible choice. A choice Shayera would probably encourage him to make.

John squared his shoulders and set his jaw.

"You okay now, GL?" Flash asked him. For once, the hyperactive speedster had remained so still John actually forgot he was there.

"Yes. I believe I will be," John said, standing up. He headed for the door.

"Where are you going?" Flash called after him.

Green Lantern didn't answer.

*****

Shayera had lost track of whether it was supposed to be night or day, but she knew at least a couple days had passed. Her strength was returning and with any luck she could convince the League to set her free soon. Perhaps the next time J'onn came in she would broach the subject of leaving.

She'd been quite the good little prisoner. She, as promised, ate all her meals. And she even tried to get some exercise by pacing around three sides of her bed, repeatedly making the u-shaped trek in the only space available to her.

The luxury of a shower was even offered to her on what she assumed had been a daily basis. It was nice to be clean again, if only physically.

J'onn had also rewarded her with brief updates on important items like the new Watch Tower, the new Javelin, some of the new League members and the details regarding Mega-Co and the rampaging robot.

But not surprisingly, no one else set foot in the medical bay. Even John hadn't made a repeat visit. She was actually glad Green Lantern finally came to his senses and decided to shun her like the rest of the civilized world.

As she rounded the end of the bed, she was surprised to see the faint electrical glow of her force-field prison switch off. Feeling that it was too early for J'onn to check on her, Shayera turned, unsure whom to expect.

"John?"

He approached her without a word and deposited a duffle on the bed. Puzzled, Shayera unzipped the bag. Inside she found clothes and boots. Not exactly sure of his intentions, she looked back up at him skeptically.

The conflicted expression she saw told her he was about to do something he had set his mind to, but wasn't completely satisfied with having to do.

She bit her lip and nodded, realizing that she was finally being pushed out and it was John's job to see she left without incident. It was only a little sooner than she'd expected, so it made sense. Of course they wouldn't want her around any longer than necessary.

She upended the bag and dumped the clothing to the bed. A twinge of something painful shot through her heart as she recognized the outfit as one of the few she kept at John's apartment.

"Well, this is good timing," she commented past the lump in her throat. "I was just thinking about getting J'onn to let me out of here." She turned away from John and started dressing.

She could feel his eyes on her as she stiffly donned the clothes. Knowing she wasn't fully recovered and probably unable to fly for several more weeks, Shayera carefully considered where she'd ask John to deposit her. The mountains would probably be too cold and the Everglades too hot. She'd need an easy source of food until she could fly again, not that she had any big plans to eat much. Somewhere near a lake would still be best. Perhaps a national park. One with lots of trees. She could disappear in the woods again and survive well enough.

She was so lost in thought that she didn't realize she was struggling to get her arms and wings to cooperate with the shirt. It wasn't until she felt John take it from her hands did she blink back to reality.

He helped her maneuver the shirt gently over her damaged wings, guiding them through the specially-tailored holes in the back. As she tucked in the shirttail, she stared out the window. North America was passing below, and she tried to pinpoint the place she'd like best to be left. But, as usual, her eyes drifted to the stars.

Suddenly, an idea struck her. She turned, finding John standing much closer to her than she realized, also looking out the window.

"I know you've probably got orders to drop me back on Earth somewhere," she began, "but maybe you could do me a favor instead."

He didn't speak, but his gaze shifted until he was watching at her out of the corner of his eye.

She cautiously continued. "Take me someplace else," she requested. "*Anyplace* else." She tried to smile. "Maybe I could get a job as a bouncer at our favorite hang-out."

She saw a flicker of mirth cross his features. "After that brawl you caused? They'll never let you near the place."

Raising an eyebrow, she looked back up at him. "I believe it was *you* that started the brawl," she said with mock innocence.

He chuckled and shook his head. The humor didn't last long before he turned his attention back to the planet below.

Shayera dropped her gaze. "Earth it is," she said, knowing she never stood a chance of John going against orders. She stepped toward the exit. "At least I know my way around down there." She waited for him at the door.

John turned and studied her. She wished the League had picked another person to take her back. John had done nothing wrong, so it didn't seem fair of them to stick him with the trash disposal duty. She was sure Batman or one of the new League members would have a much easier time dumping her off without a care.

"Come on," she coaxed. "Let's get this over with."

John straightened and walked forward, a new determination settling in his eyes.

She was shocked when he took her hand to lead her down the corridors. It seemed an odd gesture. She figured he'd distance himself as much as possible to make the inevitability of their parting less painful.

Humans certainly were a strange lot, she thought as they walked to the air lock she'd attempted to go through a few days earlier. The more hopeless the situation the tighter humans clung to the hope that everything would miraculously turn out okay. A bad habit, Shayera thought bitterly, that was seldom rewarded.

She was surprised to see J'onn waiting for them at the air lock. From the tightening of John's fingers around hers, she assumed he was surprised as well.

"Have you told Superman?" J'onn inquired.

"I'll contact him," John answered.

Shayera watched as the two men stared at one another. She frowned. Something wasn't right.

"We will miss you," J'onn said.

For a moment, Shayera thought he was speaking to her. But then she understood.

"John, no," she said, releasing his hand. "You can't. I'm not worth it. I won't let you do it."

He reached down, took her hand again, and with a crooked smile he sternly answered her protests. "There's not a damn thing you can do to stop me." He turned his attention to the Martian and extended his right hand. "Been a pleasure, J'onn. I hope to work with you again in the future."

J'onn grasped his hand. "It has been an honor serving with you." He looked to Shayera. "Both of you. And I am certain we will all work together again soon."

The Martian then turned to the keypad and input the pass code. The air lock opened. Only a thin force field separated the Watch Tower's interior from the void of space.

John produced a life support bubble and encompassed himself and Shayera. He moved them through the force field. Both looked back to see J'onn raise his hand in farewell as the air lock closed behind them.

John propelled them away from the Watch Tower, away from Earth and into the blackness of space.

Caught between supreme anger and stunned silence, Shayera crossed her arms over her chest. John's actions were completely unreasonable. He was being a fool over her and she felt it her duty to convince him to return to the League.

"That has to have been the stupidest thing I've ever seen anyone do," she grumbled at him. "They need you. The people of Earth need you."

John shrugged. "I'm still a member of the Green Lantern Corps. The people of Earth still have me. They've always been part of my area. And the League will get along just fine without me. There are plenty of other super heroes out there. Let them have a chance to shine for a change. Besides," he stole a glance at her, "there's someone else that needs me more."

Shayera scowled at him and he shook his head at her typical response.

"All right," he said, changing his approach, "there's someone that *I* need."

Her expression softened and he smiled at her. She sighed with exasperation and his smile grew wider. "You humans do some pretty irrational things."

"Irrationality is not limited to humans," he commented. "I've seen the male of many other species act the same way when he's in love."

Shayera arched an eyebrow at him then looked away. "I've never heard you say that before."

"You flew off before I had a chance."

She looked down at her boots, unsure of what to say next.

"I looked for you, you know," he said. "You didn't stay in one place for very long. I could never seem to catch up to you."

She shrugged. "I wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms."

"I would have," he stated.

She mulled over the turn of events. It still amazed her that John would care so much for her, even after all they'd been through. Hesitantly, she looked up at him. "We should really talk."

"We will," he assured her. "And you'll tell me anything I want to know."

Shayera met his eyes seriously. "Anything and everything."

"I knew you could be reasonable," he said as though the issue had been up for debate.

"I missed you," she said quietly.

"I missed you, too." He pulled her close with his left arm and gingerly embraced her, being careful to not jostle her ribs or wings too much. She wrapped her arms around his middle and buried her face against his chest. John kissed the top of her head, then rested his chin against her red hair. "So," he said, "where shall we go? I'm all charged up and, if you'll pardon the expression, we're free as birds."

Shayera grunted in amusement at his words. "Well," she said, pulling back far enough to look into his eyes, "I know this great place to celebrate..."

John pursed his lips in false thought. "Let me guess. Omega Quadrant, third moon of Galtos. A loud bar where you can start a fight."

"Omega Quadrant, third moon of Galtos," she confirmed with a broad smile. Then her eyelids lowered and she pressed against him a little closer. "But I was thinking more along the line of a quiet hotel room where we can start something other than a fight."

John's eyebrows shot upward. With a coy smile, he tightened his arm around her. "I could yet learn to like that planet."

With Shayera tucked safely next to him, John changed direction and headed for the Omega Quadrant at top speed.

END