TRASHY ROMANCE PLOT NUMBER FOUR

By: xffan_2000 and Nancy Brown

Rating: NC-17

Summary: AU. What if Lantern and Hawkgirl really had gotten stranded during "War World"? Spoilers up through "Starcrossed." (In answer to Hawkgirl92's challenge of many months past.)

Disclaimer: Characters and situations are owned by DC/Warner Bros. Some dialogue is taken from "War World," written by Stan Berkowitz. Author's Note: Many thanks to dotsomething for her patient beta.

**********

The feel of a cool finger dragging along the shell of his ear brought the Green Lantern back to near-consciousness. A tickle of hair against his cheek caused his head to turn. The slide of moisture across his lips made him smile.

He groaned, trying to fit the sensations into his brain. The last thing he remembered was Hawkgirl's face. Oh, God!

His eyes snapped open. He didn't see Hawkgirl next to him, teasing him, yet the tickling sensations continued. Raising a gloved hand to his face, Lantern felt a long, thin finger. He pulled the offender away from his face and saw a six-inch, orange, slimy millipede-type creature. Lantern avoided yelping, but did fling the bug several feet away a little harder than necessary.

Sitting up, he brushed his head and body, feeling ghostly imprints of the creature still crawling over him. Satisfied he wasn't infested, Lantern took in his surroundings. He wasn't on Earth, he knew instantly. The planet didn't look familiar at all. It was dusk, and sand and rock stretched as far as he could see in every direction. He tried to remember what brought him to this place.

Superman and J'onn were lost, he recalled. He and Hawkgirl left the Watchtower to find their missing teammates. They'd found the Javelin broken and empty and an ion trail leading away from the solar system. Then they... Lantern closed his eyes, trying to force the memory. A fueling station, a street fight, a lift from an alien to...War World. He glanced around.

"This isn't War World," he confirmed out loud. Then he remembered a glass wall sealing them off from the pilot, and gas pouring into the chamber. "Last time I hitchhike," he muttered, pushing himself to his feet. "Hawkgirl!" he yelled, his voice not carrying in the odd environment.

He stepped forward, stumbled and found himself face down in the sand. The world spun before his eyes. "Okay," he told himself, "take it slow." Lord knows what that gas was, or what's floating around in this atmosphere. More cautiously, he rose to his knees and allowed his equilibrium to adjust. Knowing she probably couldn't hear his voice through the dead air, he called for her anyway. "Hawkgirl!"

Silence replied. A twinge of fear crept into his gut. "Hawkgirl!" he hollered again, only to receive the same answer. Comms won't work this far from the Watchtower. Just before anxiety took residence in his psyche, his military survival training kicked into gear.

"Size up the situation," he quoted to himself firmly.

Lantern took a deep breath, coughed on the thin air, and checked himself for injuries. Nothing hurt. There was no blood. He was only slightly dizzy, which could have been from the gas or the planet's atmosphere. He looked down to his right hand and was very relieved to find his ring still around his middle finger. A quick zap to blow apart a small rock revealed it to be energized.

Once again, Lantern studied the surroundings. Sand, rock, nearly nightfall, no water or plants in sight, no other animals besides the orange millipede burrowing itself into the ground three yards away. Hawkgirl was missing.

"Don't panic," he said, ignoring the knot in his stomach at the thought of Hawkgirl being lost.

Closing his eyes, Lantern listened. No wind. No sound of running water. No low hum of electricity. No animal noises. Though the sky was nearly dark, the temperature was moderate. He opened his eyes. He got to his feet not feeling unbalanced this time. He took a step forward, not having any specific goal in mind except to find his teammate.

"Hawkgirl!"

It didn't take long before he realized all his shouting was getting him nowhere except parched. Given that he had yet to locate any water, he decided he should avoid anything that would make him thirsty. Lantern looked down at his ring. It had power; he could use it to find her. But should he? Once the power was gone, that was it. There was no way to recharge.

He looked around. In the distance, a small ridge rose from the sand. Lantern nodded to himself. The extra height would provide a better vantage point. He climbed to the top of the ridge, noting how easily out of breath he became. Oxygen must be lower here.

Slowly, methodically he scanned the surroundings. There! He squinted. An unusual lump on the sand about a mile from his position looked more rounded, more human than the sharp rocks covering the landscape. Not human, Thanagarian. But if it was her, she wasn't moving.

"Don't panic!" he ordered himself again, drawing in a calming breath. She's fine, just hasn't woken up yet. He walked briskly to her position, forcing himself not to run, which would make him not only thirsty but terribly out of breath.

As he climbed the sandy hill toward her, he heard her call his name: "Lantern?"

"Over here." He rubbed his head. "Looks like we got taken for a ride."

"I knew we shouldn't trust that freak. Any idea where we are?"

"Not a clue," he said, offering her a hand. She took it, got to her feet, and just as quickly snatched her own away again to glare at him accusingly.

"Great. So we don't know where we are, we don't know where War World is, and we don't even know how to get back to Earth." She spread her arms and walked away. "How much worse can it get?"

"My ring could get us off this planet, but without knowing exactly where we are, we take the risk it'll run out of power before we find another habitable world." Gotta send a message to Oa and hope someone receives it.

"So we're stuck here. Is that what you're saying?"

"Maybe forever."

"Just the two of us?" He didn't reply. "Oh." He couldn't read the look on her face. She spread her wings and glided away from him. Against his better judgement, he followed her to the next outcropping, where she stood hugging herself.

"Look," he said, dredging up an apology from deep inside and placing what he hoped was a reassuring hand on her shoulder. If she didn't think it was reassuring, he'd probably find out the second she broke it off. "Maybe I shouldn't have been so hard on you. I get set in my ways sometimes."

"Yes you do."

He sighed. "Our first priorities are going to have to be finding shelter and locating food and water. Can we declare a cease-fire until we've managed that?"

"Fine." She scanned the area. "Our best bet for shelter is at the bottom of this outcropping. We'll be out of the wind and we can construct something more sturdy backed against the wall."

He hid his surprise at her rather practical suggestion. "If we're going to find water, it'll be underground. You work on the shelter, I'll look for the water." Together, they glided to the bottom of the hill.

*****

"You notice how it hasn't gotten any darker?" Hawkgirl said as she piled stones next to the outcropping.

"It's been like this for hours," Lantern confirmed, still digging down into the sand. He noticed that she quit with her project and was standing over him.

"Found any water?"

"Not yet."

"Well, maybe if you used that ring of yours, you'd be able to locate some faster."

"I told you," he growled, not looking up from his hole in the ground, "the more I use my ring, the less power it has."

"What good is power if we die of thirst?"

Lantern smacked his palm against the sand. "Don't you have a shelter to build?"

"Fine," she said.

He saw her red boots move away. Lantern continued to dig by hand, deeper and deeper. He hoped he'd soon hit water. His lips were already chapped and his tongue dry.

Later, after digging three deep holes, he'd still not struck water. Not good. Not good at all. He looked up. Hawkgirl wasn't around, but the rock shelter seemed complete.

"Hawkgirl?" he called. He licked his lips, but it didn't help. "Great." Lantern stood, brushed the sand from his uniform and looked around.

Hawkgirl flew toward him, low to the ground. She did a less than graceful landing, skidding on her knees to a stop.

"Problems with this atmosphere?" he questioned.

She scowled at him, breathless. "I'll get used to it." She then flung out her hands, dropping a pile of familiar orange millipedes at his feet. "Dinner." The little creatures still wiggled, their multiple feet trying to find escape routes.

Lantern winced.

"I don't suppose you found any water yet, Gunga Din," she asked, sitting down next to the pile of bugs. She grabbed a fat, squirming millipede, which she stuffed into her mouth and chewed.

Lantern swallowed hard. "Give me time."

Hawkgirl crammed two more bugs into her mouth. "Seems like time's all we've got," she

commented. Lantern could see the orange of the creatures in her mouth mixed with the green of, he assumed, their guts. She offered him a particularly long bug.

"Uh," was all he could manage.

She looked up at him, and he knew she was cocking a challenging eyebrow at him under her mask. "I thought you were a big, bad military man."

Lantern pursed his lips.

She laughed, throwing the bug into her own mouth.

He squatted down next to her, snagged another orange critter and looked it in the - he hoped - eyes. "Down you go!" He took a deep breath, held it, shoved the millipede into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed.

"Oooo, tough guy," Hawkgirl laughed.

"Fine for birds to eat worms," he grumbled.

Hawkgirl's eyes narrowed. "Shut up, Lantern." She stood, leaving him the rest of the bugs to deal with.

Lantern looked down at the twisting creatures. Survival training demanded he consume them, since nothing else was available. He'd at least get a tiny bit of moisture and some protein. He glanced back to see Hawkgirl bedding down in the shelter, her back to him, her wings pulled against her body. Bravely, he stuffed two more worms into his mouth and swallowed them whole. He gagged as they slid down his throat, but he kept them down.

As the sun continued to set - or possibly it was rising, he still couldn't be sure which direction it was going - Lantern returned to his digging. He promised himself that by morning, they'd have water.

*****

When Hawkgirl emerged from the shelter, Lantern presented her with a stone cup filled with boiled water and a stone plate containing five toasted millipedes.

She scowled at the gifts. "Thought you were saving your power, Lantern." She rotated the cup in her hands. "Looks like you've spent some of it carving out dinnerware."

"Yes," he said, taking a hearty swig from his own stone cup, "while you got your beauty rest, I used some energy to locate some underground water and drilled down to it. Because we didn't have anything to hold the water in, I made three pots and two cups. While I was at it, I heated a stone to cook breakfast." He crunched a crispy orange bug. It didn't taste much better, but at least it wasn't slimy.

"Ever think about trying to contact somebody with your ring?" Hawkgirl asked around a mouthful of grub.

"Tried that last night, too. No response. I don't know what kind of interference this planet has or even what direction to send the signal. I'll keep trying as the planet rotates, which seems to be very, very slowly."

"Never thought of you as a morning person, Lantern," she commented as she held her cup out for more water.

"Too many years in the military. Either you get used to early mornings or your life is a living hell."

"Tell me about it," Hawkgirl chuckled.

Lantern looked up. "You were in the military on Thanagar?"

Hawkgirl shook her head. "Law enforcement. Detective, remember?"

"Oh, right."

"Lots of early shifts, though."

Lantern chewed on the last of his bugs. "How did you know about Gunga Din?"

"I read a lot."

"I've never been a big reader," Lantern admitted. "Comic books as a kid, text books in school. That's about it." He looked up. "What type of things do you like to read?"

Hawkgirl shrugged. "Anything. Everything. I've read Shakespeare, Plato, Chaucer, Homer, military history for just about every era in human history..."

"A woman who enjoys the classics."

"They're educational."

Lantern nodded. "Yep. Never pegged you as a Harlequin reader."

"A what?"

"Harlequin...they're romance novels."

"Like The Tempest?"

Lantern shook his head. "Not nearly as...classic. They're kind of throw-away fluff."

"Oh," Hawkgirl said. "I haven't gotten around to Harlequins then."

Lantern smiled. Things had gone well so far. He'd never had a chance to sit down and really talk with Hawkgirl since they'd formed the group. She'd helped save his ass when he was on trial, but they never talked about that or anything else. Figuring they had plenty of time to get to know one another, he pressed forward. "Tell me something about Thanagar."

Hawkgirl swallowed the last of her breakfast, washed it down with the last of her water and stood up. "I'll scout around to see if I can find any other signs of life on this rock."

Lantern knew a brush-off when he got one. "We should stick together," he said, "in case something happens."

"You're conserving power, and I can fly faster than you can walk," she huffed.

"You been practicing?"

Hawkgirl's jaw clenched and she launched herself into the air.

He could tell she was beating her wings harder than normal to get lift in the thinner air. "You want to take some water with you?" He hefted a stone pot up.

She rolled her eyes and took off.

"Don't get lost!" he yelled after her.

*****

After what seemed like hours, Lantern still couldn't tell if it was nearly night or nearly dawn. He had made a huge circle around their campsite, climbing the tallest dunes and rocks to get a better view. He saw nothing. Not even Hawkgirl.

The day wore on. He made a few extra pots, gathered more water, hunted more millipedes and poked around the shelter. He sent up another several signals to Oa, but received no response.

Having not slept the night before, Lantern reclined in the shelter and dozed off.

"Help me get the water in there!" Hawkgirl yelled, kicking his boots.

Lantern rolled over, cracking open his sleep-filled eyes. "Huh?"

"Sandstorm!"

He sat up and noticed Hawkgirl was covered in a thin layer of dust. She plopped two stone tubs of water at the back of the shelter. "Get up already!"

Lantern crawled out of the shelter. He could hear the wind howling and feel the sting of the grit hitting his face. In the distance, the sky was no longer the not-quite-night blue, but tan and swirling.

"Great," he grumbled, hoisting two more water tubs into his arms.

Once the water and food were inside, they closed the shelter with the remaining stones. The angle of the outcropped rock would protect them from the worst of the storm, Lantern hoped. The gap-filled entrance was facing away from the prevailing winds.

Hawkgirl sat near the front, her arms wrapped around her knees, her wings folded oddly. Lantern noticed she was breathing heavily.

"You fly through that?"

"Some of it," she said, not looking at him.

He reached out and dusted some of the sand off her leg. She jerked away from his touch. Lantern frowned, puzzled. Hawkgirl ignored him in favor of staring out the tiny gap between two rocks.

The wind outside picked up, rattled the stones, and filled every crevice with sand. Hawkgirl had to turn her eyes from the small window. Lantern noticed her grip her legs even more tightly.

"Claustrophobic?"

She snapped her eyes to him, looking at the same time deadly and terrified. "No!"

He pulled himself back into a corner, giving her as much room as possible. "Okay." He let the conversation drop and listened to the whistling of the wind, having no idea how long it would last.

Much later, he stretched his legs out, touching her thigh with his. "Sorry." He scooted as far back as he could, but still couldn't avoid the contact in the tight quarters.

Hawkgirl's chin rested on her knees and her wings had pulled more tightly against her back. Though it had been hours since she quit flying, her breathing hadn't returned to normal. Lantern figured she was uncomfortable in the tiny space, but he also knew better than to press the matter.

Sitting in silence, however, wasn't making either of them comfortable.

"Did you find anything out there?" he asked over the wind.

"Lights. Beyond the storm I saw lights. I couldn't get to them."

A shot of adrenaline burned his belly. Lights meant civilization and possibly a way off this planet. He smiled; all wasn't lost after all. He reached out and covered her hand with his, ignoring the flinch. "We'll get there after the storm is over."

She pulled her hand back, and curled away from him.

*****

When they emerged from the shelter, many hours later, it was to discover the rocks almost buried in sand. Had the storm lasted much longer, they would have been covered entirely. The water hole he'd dug had filled in with sand and debris. They dug it open again and refilled the pots.

"Which direction did you see those lights?"

Hawkgirl looked around, then focused in a direction that looked like any other. "They're over that way." Lantern wasn't sure if the confidence in her voice was real or feigned. He wanted to believe her. On the other hand, if she'd just spied some nocturnal luminescence, or was letting her imagination get the best of her, they were likely to get lost in the desert. Of course, we already don't know where we are, so...

"Let's go find those lights."

*****

He had to call it a garbage dump; to use "city" would stretch and snap the word like salt water taffy. The lights were caused by fires burning unattended among the rubbish. Dead hulks of spaceships reposed among the rinds of long-eaten melons, old newspapers written in languages he'd never even heard of, and the scattered detritus of what could have been an unknown number of worlds.

They scuffled briefly with some of the other aliens stranded there, subsisting among the litter. No one had heard of War World, or Earth, or anywhere else Lantern could name. The ones who would speak to them at all had lived there for years, banished from their own homes or unlucky enough to crash here.

After hours of fruitless searching for anyone who knew the planet's location, they settled at the outskirts of the dump. Other than the scattered aliens, they'd spied small, skittering life forms that John was going to think of as rats no matter how many legs they had. Out here at the edge, they caught only the faintest glow from the crude lights of the "settlement," but they also had fewer critters and a somewhat less noisome atmosphere.

It was this or the desert, and the desert would kill them.

At least the pilot hadn't dumped them on an airless ball of rock, or a gas giant, or just spaced them entirely. Small favors.

He examined the rusted-through remnant of spacecraft hull that was about to serve as their roof, balanced atop a group of hole-riddled cargo containers which roughed out some walls. He could sit up without bumping his head and that was about it.

Very small favors.

"It's not exactly the Watchtower," he said.

"It's not exactly anything," she replied, and crawled inside. After a moment, he followed. "We're going to need something to block the door," she reminded him.

"In a minute. I want to try this out." He lay down in the narrow construction, spread his arms and legs, made sure he could stretch properly.

She watched him, her expression unreadable in the dim light. "Are you finished?"

"We might be stuck here for a while. I need to make sure this place is comfy."

"It's not. It's too small."

"I'll put in a sunroom later," he teased. If she was really bothered, she could sleep outside.

"Start with a door," she said, and shimmied out past him.

*****

He was beginning to refer to whenever they slept as "night" and whenever they woke as "morning," despite the barely-changing gloom. Exhausted from their travel and a touch dehydrated, they lay in the shelter trying to find sleep. John had wasted a shot of his ring's power to skewer and instantly fry one of the multilegged rats, but it hadn't been near enough for the two of them, so he was tired, thirsty and also still hungry.

He turned his head in the dark enclosure and barely made out the lump sleeping as far from him as the small space allowed. They'd found two mildewy blankets while looking for building materials; Hawkgirl had wrapped herself in one while the other made a fetid but soft pillow for John. He couldn't face covering himself with the thing, no matter how chilly the not-night grew.

Sleep escaped him.

He ought to go outside, at least let her get some rest. He could try tracking down another rat-critter, or much better, almost anything else to eat. There were aliens living among the refuse. They had to be eating something.

He felt a headache threaten, reminding him he hadn't had any coffee in two days. He closed his eyes, tried to will the headache away as he took deep breaths.

Warmth. He was warm, and soft breath was against his neck. He pushed his hand out, could see nothing in the darkness, felt soft features and a mischievous smile at her lips before she kissed his jaw, sending a shock all the way through him.

Her hands were warm against his bare abdomen, tickling down to his thighs, brushing the insides of his legs, and then, feather-light up his length. His mind swam and his arms were lead as her fingers clasped him and began stroking.

John groaned.

A noise from outside startled him and he sat up, almost bumping his head on the ceiling. The noise, a shifting of rubbish in another part of the dump, rumbled once more and was done. John's heart hammered, and his breath was fast, and Hawkgirl...

...Was still asleep.

John settled back down, trying to calm himself and also trying to ignore his erection. Thank God I woke up, he mused. Rationing out his power meant he couldn't change into a new uniform if he spoiled this one during some juvenile wet dream.

He rolled on his side away from her, praying she hadn't noticed anything.

After another ten minutes or more - who could say in the dark - he crawled out of the shelter. If he wasn't going to get any sleep, he could at least look for provisions, and some nice cold night air was exactly what he needed.

*****

Another rat-critter made a weak breakfast for the pair of them. Lantern had spent as much of his power as he'd dared looking for water sources within easy sight of their shelter, but had come up empty. They split the last of their water from the well in the desert to wash down the rat. Then Hawkgirl grabbed a jug, leapt into the air, and went searching on her own.

While she was gone, John hunted for more rats, hoping to find them enough protein to survive the rest of the day. No luck.

All right. So. No food. No water. But there are other aliens surviving here, so sources exist for both. We need to make contact with them and find out where they're getting this stuff.

And speaking of contact.

He hadn't given up hope of contacting the Lantern in this sector. He glanced overhead; the haze from the dump's light pollution cloaked his view of the stars above him. He could hope his message got through, hope it was picked up by someone in the Corps. Maybe it would be a few days, sure, but someone had to come.

"Mayday. Repeat. Mayday. Stranded on unknown planet in Sector 2811. Please send transport." He repeated the hail five times, then went to look for more rats.

*****

"Please send transport." John heard someone approach and switched from communications mode to defense mode.

"I found water," Hawkgirl said, appearing around a corner and carrying one of their stone jugs. "It's a spring, a few clicks that way." As he watched, she poured some into a cup and took a drink.

"Wait!" he warned, but too late.

"What? It's water."

"We should boil it first. Who knows what's growing in there?" He began to gather kindling for a fire.

"It'll be fine," she said, taking another swig. "I saw the locals drinking it. If it's potable for them, it's potable for us."

"Maybe for you. I'm boiling the rest of it."

"Fine." She finished her drink. "What are you doing?"

"Trying to contact Oa." His ring was already sputtering. Even if he did get a signal out, he doubted he had enough juice left to send it far. "You said you saw some of the locals. Did you talk to them?"

She shook her head. "I wanted to get back."

"Let's go chat with the neighbors."

*****

"My knife," the shortest one said. He pulled out a long blade, its hilt elaborately carved from black wood, and handed it to John. "And my supply of thubbat gin for the female."

John gripped Hawkgirl's wrist, preventing her from grabbing her mace and smashing the alien's skull in.

"She's not for sale," John said firmly. This was the third batch of aliens they'd encountered over the past few days, and the second offer to buy Hawkgirl.

The short creature sucked a slobbering breath past his huge, floppy lips. "All females are for sale!" he said, snatching his knife back from John. His three long fingers curled around Hawkgirl's other wrist. "Name your price, human." He yanked her forward out of John's grasp. She stumbled into his elongated arms, his face even with her chest. He chuckled. "I like you, pretty one."

John knew it was coming. Hawkgirl's free hand went to her mace. He lunged forward, pulling her back from the alien, and into his arms, which served to show his possession and to keep her from making a very bad impression on the locals. "She's my female and has no price," he announced.

"What?" Hawkgirl growled through clenched teeth.

The stubby alien laughed. "Maybe we share then?" A finger made its way toward Hawkgirl's cheek. "More than enough for two." She slapped his hand away and jerked, trying to break free of John's grip.

John yanked Hawkgirl back to his chest. "I paid good money for this female and I haven't gotten my use out of her yet," he said. Her head spun around until they were nose to nose. He knew he was going to get it just as hard as the alien making the offer. "Maybe when I'm finished, I'll consider your proposition."

The alien again chuckled. "Very well, human. But remember, I have first bid. And know the offer will be lower next time since the goods will be substantially used."

"Agreed," John said, steering Hawkgirl back toward their encampment.

"I don't need your protection," she informed him when the aliens were out of sight, shaking him off.

"We need to keep on their good side. Crushing their skulls does not make us good neighbors."

Her feathers ruffled. "You expect me to give in to those...things?"

"Absolutely not. But we need to be more diplomatic and not shed any blood. As long as they believe you're mine, they shouldn't bother you."

"You've got an awfully high opinion of yourself, Lantern." She stalked ahead of him. "They need a good skull-bashing! I'm not some helpless female up for trade. I could take all of them down with one shot from my mace."

"And if, Oa forbid, you lost your mace?"

She spun around, almost causing him to collide with her. She poked a sharp finger at his chest. "I could still kick your ass, Lantern. Along with every one of those other filthy aliens out there."

He believed her.

*****

Hawkgirl remained icily silent for the next several hours. John tried to cheer her up with a joke, then with asking her opinion on how to improve the shelter, and finally he gave up and allowed her to stew all on her own. He wasn't going to admit to enjoying the silence.

He checked the traps he'd set earlier that day and found three small critters. Dinner would be wriggly but substantial. He carried them back to their site with a spring in his step. "You want these baked, fried, or flambéed?"

She grunted in answer and bent down to start the fire. Still mad. Check.

The metal rods they were using for toasting sticks hadn't been washed yet. John put down the critters and scrubbed the sticks the best he could with some water from the jug. They were getting low again. He'd have to talk her into getting more while he cooked. Although...

He peeked her way. She prodded at the kindling then sent a quick charge with her mace to light it. His teammate could watch out for herself in a fight. Kilowog had contacted him a few weeks before, and told him that, unarmed, Hawkgirl had taken out four Lanterns in a bar brawl. So he shouldn't be anxious about her going off without him. After their encounter with the latest group of Casanovas, though, he was going to worry every time she was out of sight for more than a few minutes, and he knew it.

John skewered the critters with the toasting sticks and propped the sticks over the fire. Against his better judgment, he sat down next to her.

He started, "Look..."

"I'm not your possession."

"I know that."

"Do you?"

"Of course! I wasn't trying to 'claim' you. I was trying to defuse the situation. I thought you'd understand."

"I did. You don't."

He rolled his eyes. "And we're back to the 'stupid human doesn't understand anything' spiel."

"On my world," she said very slowly, "as recently as two generations ago, females were considered property. Some males still... I don't like being one step away from chattel. I won't be someone's possession. Not theirs," she said, indicating the city, "and not yours."

"If I said I'm sorry, would it help?"

"No. Because you're not. It was the right action to take at the time and we both know it. I don't have to like it." She stood up, brushing him with her wings as she rose.

"Where are you going?" he asked, realizing a second later that she was probably going to take that as another sign of his possessive tendencies

"I'm getting some more water. We're almost out. We can boil it with dinner." She grabbed two jugs and stalked off into the darkness.

John tried not to worry.

*****

After half an hour, the worry kicked in anyway. Ten minutes to fly to the "spring," a little longer back laden with water, and she was overdue.

Maybe she's resting. Maybe she decided to walk back. Maybe she took a breather flight first to clear her head. He scanned the air but he couldn't see far in the tangle of mangled spaceship wreckage. Given enough time, he might be able to cobble together something that would get them off-world, but then they'd still have no fuel and no idea of where they were headed. And he wasn't going anywhere without Hawkgirl.

He checked their dinner again. He could hear the critters sizzling inside their carapaces. Almost done, or close enough. He'd give them, and her, five more minutes before he went out looking for her.

Experimentally, he gave his ring a quick push. There wasn't much power left, but if he had to fight off a couple of the creeps from earlier, he'd use it gladly.

The seconds ticked by, and at four minutes he gave in. He grabbed the hot sticks from the fire and tossed them inside the shelter for safe keeping. No use leaving food out for scavengers.

John knew the approximate direction of the water hole, but she'd been the one making the trips. He debated flying, hoping to get a better view of where she might be; he decided to wait until necessity or concern made the power expense worth it. He headed in.

The piled refuse teemed with life, most too small to offer a real problem but large enough to cause plenty of background noise and obliterate any soft sounds she might be making. John scanned around him as well as he could, looking for a glimpse of yellow or red. As the minutes passed, he became convinced she'd been ambushed. He refused to contemplate what else might be happening.

There was noise and movement a few paces before him but hidden from sight, and then Hawkgirl appeared, unscathed and lugging both stone jugs. He wasn't going to be able to hide his relief and he didn't try.

"Are you all right?" he demanded, taking one of the jugs from her.

"I'm fine. What the hell are you doing out here? You're supposed to be making dinner."

"You were late. I thought maybe you needed some backup."

"I'm fine," she repeated. He noticed she was limping.

"What happened?"

"Nothing. I was at the water hole and some bug bit my leg. It's not important."

"We can take a look back by the fire."

"Or we can agree that I'm perfectly fine. But if you're so worried, you carry both of these things." She thrust the second jug into his arms and strode off ahead of him towards their encampment. If he hadn't been looking for it now, he wouldn't have noticed how she was trying to compensate and not limp further.

"Why didn't you fly back?"

"Didn't feel like it."

Or you were in too much pain to be able to focus on flying and carrying heavy objects. "Let's get back."

*****

It wasn't fine. By the time they reached the fire and she plopped down, he could see the swelling beneath the material of her leggings, and her face was pale.

"Let's eat," she said with a brittle brightness, and she didn't object when he brought her the cold food. He propped the jugs over the fire while she picked at the shell of her critter, then sat next to her to peel his own. They could split the third, or else put it back for breakfast.

When she had stared at her denuded critter without eating it for long enough, he set his down. "Leg."

"I'm just not hungry."

"You're never not hungry. You're like the Flash." Her mouth quirked. "Tell me what this thing that bit you looked like."

She shrugged as she grudgingly pulled off her boot and rolled up her pant leg. "Cross between a scorpion and a mouse."

"Did it bite you or sting you?"

"Dunno. My leg hurt, I looked down, I smooshed it."

The welt was the size of a plum. She flinched as he brushed her tight, red skin.

"This is bad."

"Really," she spat.

"There was probably poison in the sting, or teeth or whatever."

"More good news."

He flickered his ring on. "I'll try to draw it out."

"You need to save your power."

"You lose a leg or die and there's not going to be much point to my saving power." He willed the ring to form a small, sharp needle. She gasped as it pricked her skin and began withdrawing an ooze as green as the construct.

"You're doing fine," he reassured her. The gush of fluid had slowed and he was pretty sure he'd gotten most of it already. "Day or two from now, you'll be back to kicking asses with this leg as good as ever." She didn't smile, but she did relax a little as he finished.

"Yuck," she said, as he expelled the mess at the edge of their little clearing.

"Easy clean up," he replied, vanishing the construct. "Try eating something. It'll keep up your strength."

She managed half a critter before fatigue claimed her and she crawled into the shelter. Not wanting the food to go to waste, John polished off the rest. Considering the short rations they'd been on, it felt like he'd feasted as he waited for the water to boil.

Maybe she just needed some sleep to get better. Yeah, in the morning, she'd likely be back to her old crabby self again.

Thus reassured, if not really, he stowed their water and crawled into the shelter with her, curling a little closer to her sleeping form than was strictly necessary. It's not possessiveness, it's concern, he told himself as he drifted to sleep beside her.

*****

He woke to the sound of her moans. John blinked the sleep away and crouched over her.

"Hawkgirl?"

She didn't respond. He shook her shoulders until she blearily opened her eyes. She was very warm, even through his gloves.

"Wha?"

He sat back. "You were moaning in your sleep."

"So? You snore." She closed her eyes again.

"Will you try drinking some water before you go back to sleep?"

"Not thirsty," she said faintly, and moments later he heard her breathing deepen.

He watched her for a while, and eventually, lay back down himself.

*****

When morning came, John woke to silence. He rolled over, found Hawkgirl still there, unmoving. He shuddered as a horrible premonition coursed through him. A touch to the warm flesh at her neck yielded a weak but steady heartbeat.

He couldn't rouse her.

All right. Think. She got bit or stung last night, and now she's unconscious. This is bad.

He pulled the blanket off her. Her leg wasn't as swollen as it had been the night before. He glanced at her face, then rolled the pant leg up for a look at the site. The red had faded with the swelling, but there was an ugly green shade he didn't like in a thick circle around the bite. Didn't get all the venom out.

John cursed.

He had options, none of them good. He could let her try to beat the infection on her own. He could amputate the leg and hope the poison hadn't spread far enough to kill her yet. He could ask the neighbors for help.

She moaned and he knew he had to do something.

John slipped out of the shelter and stood. He could do this if he focused, although it was probably going to drain what was left in his ring. Didn't matter. He couldn't leave her here alone and defenseless.

He pointed at the shelter and extended an emerald bubble around the perimeter. If he kept it in his head, he could keep the construct up even out of sight for as long as his ring lasted.

He remembered where some of the aliens they'd encountered had been camped, and he made his way quickly through the settlement.

Bubble. Bubble.

He found the alien encampment and resisted by only a margin the urge to grab the first guy he saw and slam him up against the wall. Instead he walked up to the nearest one and loomed over it.

"We need to have a conversation."

"About what?" trilled the alien, not impressed.

"My friend got bit or stung when she was at the water hole last night. Thing looked like..." he paused. "Rodent, with a stinger tail." He hoped that was about what she'd meant.

The alien, a blue-skinned brute in tattered leathers, turned to his chums and spat something in another language. Then it turned back to John. "A gharnot. Yeah. We've seen them around. The stingers are poisonous."

Thought so. "What can I do to help her?"

"Got a sharp knife?" Amputation then. She might never forgive him.

"I can get one." Bubble.

"If you hold her head back when you slit her throat, make sure she's not going to spray on anything you want to keep."

"You slimy little..."

"Hey, you asked. Nobody survives a sting from one of those things. If you don't want your woman to suffer, kill her quickly."

"Yes," agreed one of the others, slithering forward. "Make it a clean kill. The fresh meat will trade for a good price." John stood back, stunned and sickened.

Bubble, he told himself. Keep up the bubble.

"Thanks for your help," he snarled at them, and stalked away. He thought about asking someone else, but if the ones he'd asked were right, no one was going to give him a better answer.

The trip back to the shelter seemed longer than his trip there. He could feel the energy pouring out of his ring and halfway back he reluctantly let the construct go. He'd make it back to her before anything could happen.

He hoped.

He ran the last several hundred yards.

Winded a little by the thin air, he huffed as he went into the shelter. She hadn't moved, but she was still alive. He touched her neck again to confirm her pulse, and snatched his hand back at the heat radiating from her body.

What was normal for her species? He'd slept next to her a handful of nights, and she'd seemed cooler than him, but that easily could have been the chill in the night air.

Now she was like a furnace. He wrapped both awful blankets around her, but he didn't know if that was right. What if Thanagarians needed to be cooled when they were feverish? He had no antibiotics, and even if he did, there was no guarantee they wouldn't kill her faster than the sickness racing through her. If he'd had a chance in taking off her leg, the time was long past.

She stirred in her sleep, moaning. She was too hot. She was too sick. She was going to die.

He had to get her fever down, and he had to get her to take some liquid. The poison was wreaking havoc on her immune system and God knew what it was doing to her organs One thing at a time. Gotta stop it from baking her brain.

John touched her mask, knowing he should remove it. This would be easier without the damned thing in his way. They could have the secret identity argument later, he reasoned. He slipped it off her head as gently as he could. Under her mask, she was...

He had been expecting pretty, or to be more truthful, he'd been hoping for pretty. Yet, even with her hair sweat-plastered to her flushed face, Hawkgirl was beautiful. No time to worry about that, Stewart, he admonished himself. He wet a cloth and placed it to her burning forehead. She moaned again and began to shiver.

The instinct to get her cool fought with the one to keep her warm. He slipped under the blankets and wrapped his arms around her as best he could, letting some of her fever-heat pass into him.

"Don't die," he said into her hair. "Only thing worse than getting stuck here with you would be getting stuck here alone." Her silence frightened him even more.

*****

"Come on," John said, more to himself than to her as he held her upright. "Drink up." He placed the cup against her motionless lips, hoping to coax a reaction. He didn't want to choke her but he knew she needed to drink. If he could get some water into her, he'd try stewing up some of the rat-critters and making a gruel.

If he couldn't...

He tipped the cup, sloshing a little into her mouth. Hawkgirl coughed and swallowed but didn't waken. "That's good," he told her. "Have a little more. Pretend it's coffee." He poured another few drops into her mouth, watched most of it dribble before she swallowed again. "There you go."

The green had spread to most of her leg, but was now fading in intensity. John was sure her body was fighting this, was sure she could beat it.

But she was still almost too hot to touch.

*****

Sometime in the middle of the night, her fever broke. Hawkgirl shivered more violently, but it was the last of the fever working through her, and he held her until the quakes passed.

She opened her eyes, blinking owlishly in the dim light.

"What...Lantern?"

"Hey. How're you feeling?"

"I'm fine." She pushed him away and sat up, pulling the blankets away with her. She closed her eyes, possibly waiting for the dizziness to pass.

"You sure about that?"

"What's..." Her hand went to her face. "Where's my mask?" she demanded. He couldn't remember ever being so glad to hear her annoyed.

He nodded to the place he'd set the mask aside. She grabbed it, clutched it close, turned away from him to slip it back over her face.

"How did I get sick?" The demanding tone was still there. A little fear, too.

"That scorpion thing that stung you. Don't you remember?"

She shook her head. "Not after the sting. What happened?"

"Nothing. You're better now. Obviously."

"You saw my face."

"I needed to take your temperature. You had a fever." He was getting used to reading her behind the mask. "Don't worry. I won't compromise your secret identity when we get back to Earth."

"I don't have a secret identity," she replied. "Do you even know what my resting temperature is supposed to be?" He shook his head. She sat back against the wall. "You're not supposed to see my face. We're not family. It's just... It's not right."

Ah. Cultural thing. "Look, I'm sorry if I broke some Thanagarian taboo. I didn't know. I was just trying to help."

"Yeah," she said. "Thanks." He frowned at her. "I mean it. Thanks." She sounded sincere. He nodded her welcome.

"Why don't you stay in today? Recover your strength. I'll dig us up some grub."

"That'd be great." She lay back down, and he could see the lines of exhaustion still surrounding her. She wasn't out of the woods yet, but he was almost positive she'd be okay.

*****

The following day, she was looking much better. She crawled out of the shelter behind him when he went to catch breakfast, and managed to have a fire going when he returned empty-handed.

"We'll find something later," she said, curling closer to the fire. "Have some water."

As he took a cup from her, the last tiny flicker of power hummed in his ring, warning him.

"Uh oh."

"What?"

"Power's about to die. We've got one construct left, maybe." She shivered. "I'm going to try one more mayday. Maybe we'll get lucky."

He stood in the middle of their site, looked up, prayed Oa was somewhere in the hemisphere above him, and began what he knew would be his last transmission.

"Mayday. Repeat. Mayday. Stranded on unknown planet in Sector 2811. Please send transport." The ring flickered and winked out. He sensed the energy flux through him one last moment, and then fade.

"Your eyes," she said, confused.

"It happens." But he closed them anyway; the familiar green glow against his eyelids burned him for its absence. Now they were stuck until and unless someone got their distress call. Some rescue mission this had turned out to be. J'onn and Superman were God knew where, and they were stranded. Worse, now they were down to one decent weapon between them.

"Drink something," she said.

"Got any Coors?" he teased, taking the cup again.

"If I did, I'd have washed my hair by now."

"It's not that bad."

She snorted. "Lantern, human beer is so close to water, I don't know why you even bother. Now blerg..." She sighed and sipped her own water. "I could use a nice, warm blerg."

"Seems to be in short supply here, sorry."

"Maybe I'll go talk that creepy guy over the ridge out of his gin."

"I wouldn't if I were you. He and his buddies were talking about eating your corpse."

Her nose wrinkled. "We could move, you know."

He laughed and drank his water. "You'd just piss off people in the next neighborhood too."

She smiled, and he knew she was feeling better. "Tell me something," she said after a while.

"Sure."

"Why don't you ever say my name?"

"What? Of course I do."

"No, you don't. You say 'You,' whenever you can."

He shrugged. "Never really noticed. You don't use my name very much, though."

"I do so."

"No, you call me 'Lantern.' You could try calling me 'John' now and then. I wouldn't mind."

"Fine. John. But you still never use my name."

"I don't know your name. I know your code name, but that's not the same thing."

She bit her lip. "Shayera."

"Shayera," he parroted, and she nodded on his pronunciation. "That's nice. First name, last name, or only name?"

"First name. Family name is Hol."

"Nice to meet you, Shayera Hol." He stuck out his hand as a joke. She smiled - she was pretty when she smiled, even with the mask - and shook his hand.

*****

They learned.

The pilots of the trash barges never did pick-ups. Some of the aliens that frequented the water hole whispered that someone somewhere had bribed his way off once, but there were no details of the price.

The pilots either had never heard of the Green Lantern Corps, or didn't care.

When the rumble of a ship's engines came over the horizon, the people who got there first got the best pickings. They found better blankets, marginally so, and from time to time, tins of unspoiled food. For the first time in days, they ate nearly-fresh vegetables.

Weapons were scarce. Enough work made John a serviceable blade, and he practiced wielding it when time allowed.

The broken bits of technological refuse from fifty worlds littered the landscape. They spent hours digging through piles, looking for something they could use, for defense or contacting home.

It was a life unlike any he'd lived before, hard and unforgiving, but he had a friend at his side and there were worse places to be.

*****

Alien technology gave him headaches. Never mind that there was no user's manual, and that it would be written in something indecipherable anyway, John had a hard enough time figuring out if a particular metal box was supposed to be a subspace radio or a booby-trapped toaster.

Normally, he could use his ring to scan the innards of something before he tried to open it. Now he had to rely on common sense and his best guesses. He'd only been shocked once so far, and he'd yanked the power supply from that device in case he did manage to work out something useful.

His latest find sat before him, mocking him. The smooth metal shell curved around it without a crack. The finish was a little dented, but that was the only damage he could see. The shape had reminded him strongly of the radios they used on Korugar.

John knew how to rewire a Korugan radio.

"Any luck?" Shayera sat down across from him.

"Do you see an opening anywhere on this thing?"

"Just for the buttons. I could break it open for you," she offered, hefting her mace.

"Thanks, but I want it working." He slid his fingers around the casing. Has to be a way in somewhere.

"Your loss." She got up again, went inside, and came back out with their blankets and a handful of rags.

"What are you doing?"

"You play with the box. I'm going to go clean this stuff and bathe."

That was enough to make him put the machine down. "You're kidding, right?"

"I'll be at the spring. I'm not going to contaminate it, don't worry. I just want to get a little cleaner than this." She scowled down at her scruffy clothing. "You might want to think about the same thing. A shave wouldn't kill you, either."

"What are you implying?" he asked, wondering if he should be offended.

She threw a rag at him with a playful grin then glided off. He watched her go, and did not object at all to the mental image of Shayera's naked form at the water hole. He considered following her.

Uh uh. That wasn't an invitation, Stewart. That was a not very subtle hint that you need a bath. John had made a point of washing his hands before handling their food, and he tried to clean his teeth as best he could with just the water, but yeah, neither of them were pleasant company in close quarters anymore. He made a mental note to go to the spring. After she got back.

He returned to his work.

The thing looked so much like Korugan technology, he was sure he was onto something. Idly, he touched the buttons again, being careful not to press.

Maybe... He grasped one, then gave it a quick clockwise twist. The machine emitted a hum. He held his breath.

The box flowered open, showing lovely, mostly intact wiring. He identified the major damage. Some parts would have to be replaced, but he was pretty sure he'd seen adequate substitutes during their salvage trips.

This was doable.

He thought about setting it aside right then and going to tell her that he was onto something. On second thought, she was taking a bath and would get pissed at him for interrupting her. Also, he didn't want to be cruel and get her hopes up in case this didn't work. He could tell her when, and if, he got the thing functional. It'd be a nice surprise.

*****

John plucked the last of the meat out of a tiny leg, wishing to hell he had some salt and pepper. A steaming baked potato with butter and sour cream melting down the center would be good, too, his taste buds suggested. And some brightly colored mixed vegetables. He closed his eyes, seeing a big piece of warm apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream. When he opened his eyes and saw the greasy bit of meat from the unnamed rat-crab pinched between his fingers, John sighed. Not quite three weeks and already fantasizing about food. He pitched the scant remainder of his dinner into the fire.

He looked up and saw Shayera, her chin on her fists, staring into the flames, her dinner untouched.

"Eat," John said.

She didn't respond.

"Look, you can snap at me all you want. But at least acknowledge my presence."

Her eyes shifted and met his. "I'm not ignoring you."

"You are and I don't like it."

"I'm just...thinking." He caught the tremor in her voice. It disturbed him.

"About?"

She straightened her back and faced him. "I can't stay here."

He didn't know exactly what she meant, but it stabbed at his heart anyway. "You want to camp someplace else?" he questioned, hoping it was as simple as that.

Her silence made his palms sweat. He hoped it wasn't him she wanted to get away from. "If the shelter is too small, I can make a bigger one," he offered, praying it was just her claustrophobia acting up.

"On this planet," she clarified through clenched teeth. "I can't stay on this planet!"

Her tone was angry and desperate and he didn't care. All that mattered was the million-ton weight she'd lifted from his shoulders because she said she wasn't leaving him. He smiled, though the situation didn't warrant it. "There's not much we can do, Shayera. We're stuck here until somebody finds us. And I can't promise that they'll even know where to look."

She stared into the fire again, her hands clenched in her lap. "So you really think this is forever."

"I sure as hell hope not." He stole a glance. She sat stiffly across from him. He couldn't lie. "But I don't know."

He watched her eyes slide shut and he could almost see hope slip through her fingers.

"What are the odds," he chuckled, trying to force some levity into the situation, "of the same person getting stranded on two different planets in her lifetime?"

Her eyes met his and his smile died under the withering glare. "Very low," she growled.

John swallowed. Jokes could wait, he decided. He stood, busying himself with menial camp cleaning to give Shayera some space. At some point, he knew, he'd also have a breakdown over the situation. Since they couldn't afford to both be mental wrecks at the same time, he vowed to get her through her turmoil first so she could be his rock when his time came.

For longer than necessary, John wandered around the campsite. He figured he'd moved just about every stone in the area twice, yet Shayera still sat at the fire, unmoving.

It was late. At least, it felt late according to his body clock. The sun had been set for what he would consider four full days and he didn't know when dawn would arrive. He gathered an armload of combustible fire material and moved toward the dying flames. The light and warmth made the place a tiny bit more cheerful.

Crouching, John stoked the fire. When he finished, he wiped his hands on his pants and backed up, sitting next to Shayera.

"That should keep it going awhile longer," he told her for no real reason. He turned to find her looking at him, sitting a little closer than what he expected. John blinked in surprise, but didn't move away. He just smiled; glad to have her attention.

"If this is forever, then nothing else really matters, does it?"

John frowned, considering her question.

"We're free," she continued.

He arched an eyebrow. Lost in space, trapped on an unknown planet, foraging for food and water, living in a shack made of trash, nearly dying. Freedom? It was an interesting way to look at the situation.

"I suppose that's - " his full thought cut short when her lips smashed against his. For a second, he didn't move, didn't respond. Her hands pulled at his head, her nails scratching through his hair. The beak of her mask poked at his nose and cheek as her lips worked over his. Her tongue probed for entrance. His jaw loosened, his neck relaxed and he allowed himself lean forward into her kiss.

She twisted her head, her mask digging in as it crossed the bridge of his nose. She bit his lower lip and he gasped in pain. Her tongue invaded his mouth and John's eyes closed. He hadn't expected her to do what she was doing, but he wasn't about to protest. His hands rose to her face, his fingers urging her closer.

John's mind tickled with questions about her motives, so he squeezed his eyes more tightly shut and instead concentrated on the warmth of her lips. Shayera's hands left his face, sliding downward. His hands wandered lower, too. Fingers came in contact with feathers and he cursed his uniform for having gloves. He jerked in surprise - and more than a bit of pain - when her hand reached his crotch and she squeezed hard. He felt her smile around their kiss and squeeze him again. His body responded, but his brain poked at him with less pleasant thoughts.

She's having a rough time. You, Stewart, are taking advantage of her.

In the most difficult action he'd ever taken, John gripped her shoulders and gently pushed her back. "Wait, Shayera."

She frowned at him, but was undeterred as she moved in for another kiss.

"No," he said more sharply than he wanted. "This isn't - "

A shriek cut him off. John pushed her roughly behind him as he scanned the area rapidly.

"There!" she shouted, already charging her mace. Three of their alien neighbors came over a pile of junk headed right for them, shouting and snarling with clubs and knives raised.

She rushed forward and swung, taking out the purplish frontrunner with a blow to the gut. John grabbed the wrist of one with a knife and used the guy's momentum to carry him over John's shoulder and into a wall of the shelter. Shayera was already chasing the third, who held his club like a shield before her onslaught.

John smiled grimly at her, then fell to his knees from a solid blow to the back of his neck. Dazed, he turned and saw five more aliens creeping around from behind the structure. The sixth stood above him, green-skinned and dressed in rags, irregular teeth snarling at him.

"Ambush!" he shouted to her, as he blocked another blow with his forearm, numbing his hand. Desperately, he rolled and kicked out, landing his heel squarely on the thing's knee. It shrieked and raised the club again, aiming for his legs.

John dodged, barely. A quick glance showed him Shayera was taking on three of them, mace sweeping out before her.

They're here for her, his gut warned him. Two others had joined the green guy above him, and he recognized the shorter one with the knife as the same one who'd tried to buy Shayera earlier. There was an ugly smile on its face as it swung wildly at John's head with the knife. John felt the quick slice, prayed the blade wasn't poisoned, and struck at the guy's mid-section with both fists. The alien went sprawling.

The one he'd stunned earlier was getting to its feet and was entering the fracas with Shayera. She kicked him, hard, and made her way over to where John was struggling to his feet.

"Behind you!" he shouted, as another purple guy went for her mace arm with his knife.

She blocked it and struck her would-be attacker in the head. John took a hard kick to his kidneys, pulled his knees in, and jumped to a standing position in time to punch out one of the aliens. He was hurt, he was winded, and he was still a little aroused from her kiss. Not a good combination.

"Where'd the others go?" she shouted, beating another alien into silence.

He swung his head, saw the movement in the dark of their shelter. "Inside!"

She swore. "You got these guys?"

"Sure," he said, grabbing the green guy by the shoulders and bringing its jaw into his knee with a sharp crack.

She shouted and dove into the shelter. There wouldn't be room for her to maneuver or swing in there. They could take the advantage and pin her down, they could... John punched the last conscious alien outside, who fell with a thud, and then he spun to help Shayera inside.

As he reached the shelter, three aliens sprawled out, falling over themselves to the ground. Shayera emerged behind them, grumpy but unharmed.

"They were trying to steal our food stores," she said, grasping one by the throat. The blueish alien burbled but couldn't speak under her grip.

"That's all?" John asked incredulously.

She thrust the guy down to his knees and let go. He rubbed at his neck and nodded weakly. "We're not..." he gasped. "Won't happen again."

Shayera pointed her mace at him. "I can guarantee that. You're not leaving here alive."

John put his hand on her shoulder. "They're more useful to us alive."

"I fail to see how."

"Oh yes," begged the alien obsequiously. "Let us go and we will...we will...we will be useful!" His buddies started to stir. Things were going to get crowded.

John put on his Drill Instructor voice: "Stand straight!" The alien pulled itself to a more or less upright position. At one look from Shayera, the others who could did the same.

"Now this is what's going to happen," John said. "First, you are going to march out of here. Second, you're going to not come back. Think you can remember that, dirt bags?"

There were nods.

Shayera said, "Good! Because if either of us sees any of you again, we're decorating our house with your skins. Go!"

With squeals of terror, and some moans of pain, their attackers fled. When they were gone, John relaxed and turned to Shayera. She was already crawling into the shelter.

"Hey," he said, following her over to the entrance. "What are you doing?"

"Going to sleep. We just had a battle and I'm tired."

"I thought..." He wasn't sure what he'd thought. They'd been talking and then they'd been kissing, and he'd pushed her away, and then they'd fought off the neighbors.

Oh.

Shayera emerged from the shelter with a cup of water and a rag.

"You have a cut on your head," she said, thrusting both at him. "You should wash it before you come to bed." He reached his free hand up, pulled back blood on his glove.

"Shayera..."

"Good night, Lantern," she said, and went back inside.

*****

The feel of a cool finger dragging along the shell of his ear brought John back to near-consciousness. His brain supplied the disgusting conclusion: orange millipede thing. John smacked the side of his head hard to be sure to take care of the creepy-crawly. He brushed at his ear, not feeling the bug. Satisfied, he let himself drift toward sleep again.

The pain in his shoulder blade was unexpected. His eyes popped open and he twisted his head around to see Shayera, her fist still balled.

Several things registered at the same time. There wasn't a millipede; it had been Shayera's finger. He had smacked her, not a bug. She had punched him in the back as retaliation. And, most shocking, her mask was off.

She stared down at him with angry green eyes.

"Sorry," he said, "I thought you were a bug."

Her jaw tightened and her frown deepened.

"What?" he complained.

"Forget it," she snapped, turning her back to him, her wings crowding between them. He saw her reach over, pick up her mask and slide it over her face. She lay back down on her side, facing the wall. He didn't hear it, but he could tell she sighed by the rise and fall of her shoulders.

John rotated and rose up on his elbow. "Come on, Shayera." He reached out and touched her shoulder.

She shrugged him off. "Go back to sleep."

"I said I was sorry." He shook his head. How many times am I going to have to apologize while we're stuck on this stupid rock?

"I only have so much pride to spare," she said. "I'm not offering again."

"Offering?" His brain caught up with his mouth a second too late. "Oh." He hung his head. She'd had her mask off. She was ready, waiting for him and he blew it. Chalk up another apology, Marine.

Shayera hiked up the blanket over her bare shoulder, further shutting him out.

No.

John rose up, maneuvered over her wings and touched her chin with his fingertip. She turned her head slightly. He could tell she was scowling under the mask. Though the angle was awkward, he lowered himself and kissed her pursed lips.

She gave no reaction. Not a whimper, not a slap. She didn't even relax her jaw.

He pressed a little more, moved to nip her chin, planted tiny kisses at the corners of her mouth, stroked her cheek with his nose. Still, she didn't react. John returned to her lips one more time. Perhaps he'd waited too long. Maybe now she was just waiting for him to quit. He anticipated a knee to the groin any second.

He pulled back and met her eyes. "Shayera...I'm offering."

Her eyes widened. Had he committed another Thanagarian faux pas or just surprised her? He didn't have time to ponder further as she grabbed his head and kissed him hard, her mask bumping clumsily against his nose. That thing has got to go. But first he had to deal with the two huge wings in his way. He reached up, cupping one of her hands against his cheek.

"Turn over," he said around their kisses.

She broke contact long enough to readjust her position. For the first time, they lay face-to-face in their tiny shelter. John smiled and reached out for her. She came willingly into his embrace, back to his lips. His kiss never stopping, his fingers inched upward, poking the underside of her mask and lifting it away. He discarded it behind her.

His lips slid up to her eyes, to the tip of her nose, to her forehead. "You're beautiful," he told her.

She huffed. "It's dark. You can't even see me."

"I saw you when you were sick."

She shook her head. "I'm sure I was radiant with my near-death look."

"The most gorgeous thing I've ever seen in my entire life," he confirmed. "And more so when you recovered and wanted to deck me for having removed your mask."

She allowed him to hold her for quite awhile before her fingers started to wander across his back. He felt the slow slide down his spine. She gave his cheek a quick squeeze then dragged her hand forward, up his ribs, tickling him. Her hand snaked between their chests, her palm crossing his chest.

She grunted and he found himself flat on his back, both her hands on his shoulders.

"Where the hell's the zipper on this thing?"

The desperation in her voice made him chuckle. Even in the darkness, he could see the warning look she shot him. He cleared his throat, forcing away his amusement.

"Here," he said, taking her right hand in his. He pulled her fingers to his mouth, kissed the tips softly then guided her hand to his neck. "Like this." He pressed her fingers to the touch-activated closure at the back of his neck.

She startled as the fabric separated neatly along one line down his back. She smiled down at him. "Handy." It took her no time to strip the uniform and his briefs from his body, wadding them up and tossing them into a corner.

She began at his feet, her fingers lacing between his toes. He flinched when she ran sharp fingernails up the soles of his feet and it was her turn to chuckle. She continued up his shins, gripped his calves, cupped his kneecaps, walked her fingers up his thighs then stopped just short of where he most wanted her to touch him. Not sure what she had planned for him, he stared at the ceiling and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

He raised his head, looking down to her, wondering what happened to stop her delightful progress. She was on her knees between his legs, her hands on his thighs, staring at his groin. He had to admit, he was sporting quite the impressive erection at the moment, his dick tingling in anticipation.

"See anything you like?" he said, a lecherous grin on his face.

Her eyes darted up to his then back to his crotch. "I've never seen...I mean...it's...different."

John wilted just a bit at her words. "Different good or different bad?"

"Human males have their reproductive organs on the outside. That's weird," she told him.

He wilted further.

"I mean, doesn't that make you overly vulnerable there? It doesn't seem very practical from a biological standpoint."

A vision of Ubaxti, an androgynous Green Lantern, popped into his head. A sudden jolt of panic shook his body. Were Thanagarians like that as well? Or something else that he'd yet to think of? Perhaps he and Shayera weren't compatible sexually. John propped himself up on his elbows. "You mean to tell me Thanagarian men don't have a penis and testicles?" he asked, feeling an odd twist of...he guessed...pity for the Thanagarian males.

She looked up at him again. "Of course they do," she said as though he should know better. "They're just inside."

He tried to picture a naked Thanagarian male and decided it best to not think about it, as he'd already shrunk to pre-arousal size. He wasn't about to ask how it all worked, because he really wanted to focus on how to make it work between her and himself right now. John reached out, pulled her up and settled her on his chest.

He still couldn't get over how pretty she was, so he told her again.

"It's a little late for flattery, John. I'm already in bed with you," she commented.

"True. But you're not naked yet," he observed.

She kissed him, guiding his hand around to her back. "I have a zipper."

"Much easier than hooks," he said, his fingertips clasping the slider and easing it down.

The tight yellow fabric around her chest gave way and he pushed it down, finally feeling her bare skin against his chest. He slid his hands up her ribs then cupped both breasts and was delighted to discover they felt almost exactly human. Her eyes slid shut and she sighed. A smile parted his lips as hope and his erection returned.

John kissed her hard, one hand continuing to play with her nipple, the other shoving her pants down. It barely registered that she wore no underwear; he'd fantasize about that later. Right now his goal was to confirm human and Thanagarian compatibility.

"Can you lay on your back?" he whispered into her ear.

She shrugged, moved off him, adjusted her wings and carefully reclined. Once she was situated, he pulled her clothes completely off, tossing them in the same general direction she threw his uniform. He grabbed her knees and pulled them apart, moving into the space between her legs.

In the darkness, she looked very similar to human women. Her red hair splayed over the folded blanket he used as a pillow. Her big eyes watched his every move. Her lips looked very kissable. Her breasts, tipped with rock-hard peaks, invited his touch. Her hips flared, making excellent handles for him to grip when he would thrust into her. A dark thatch at the apex of her legs was his goal. His head lowered, diving right in.

She gasped and jerked, her fingernails digging into his scalp.

John felt extreme softness surrounding his mouth. He pulled back, confused.

"What is this?" He drew a fingertip through the soft patch covering her most intimate area.

"Down," she said.

John smiled. It made perfect sense that she'd have feathers someplace else besides on her wings. "Wow." He rubbed his cheek against the down, feeling a little guilty at how rough his beard was next to her softness.

He felt her hands on his head again, felt her knees rise up, felt her hips push against him. A low chuckle rumbled through him and he was glad some things were true across both their species. He moved then, his fingers probing and parting, his lips trailing slowly lower. His tongue darted out, seeking but not finding. His index finger circled, locating her opening, yet still his tongue found no sensitive little nub eager for his ministrations. He licked her smoothness, tasted her wetness, and felt her quake with anticipation. He grunted in frustration, as did she.

"Here," she snatched his finger, lowered it a fraction, pressed it forward, almost inside herself.

There he felt, at the very back of her opening, a harder ridge: one that started on the outside but continued, as he quickly discovered, all the way inside as far as he could reach with his finger. Experimentally, he rubbed, mimicking intercourse. Her hips bucked and he felt her internal muscles clench around him.

Oh, yeah! No fumbling at her clit or searching for her g-spot, hoping to hit it periodically during sex. Her body was built to feel every thrust, from the very tip to the very hilt. John grinned wickedly and dove back in, his fingers and tongue eagerly working in unison to bring her off.

It didn't take long. Her grunts quickly turned to a deafening scream. Her legs slammed shut, clamping his head in a vice-grip. Her wings spread, sending things clattering to his right and left. Her internal muscles repeatedly gripped and released his finger, and he desperately wished it was his cock buried so far within her instead of his finger, as she squeezed for all she was worth.

As her climax subsided, her legs relaxed, releasing the pressure on his head. He kissed her inner thigh and slowly withdrew his finger. She whimpered and shifted her hips at his absence. John crawled up her body, back to her lips, and bent for a kiss. Again, she nearly crushed his skull, this time with her hands as she held his mouth to hers. Her fingernails dug into his scalp, causing him to wince in pain.

Before he could contemplate the notion that sex with her might be hazardous to his health, Shayera wrapped her legs around his waist and flipped him over, knocking the wind out of him. He gasped for air, only to have it rush away from him again when she straddled his hips and pressed her softness against his hardness. He groaned. She lowered her chest to his, kissed his neck, then rose to look down into his eyes.

He could almost make out the green of her irises this close. Gently, he reached up, cupping her cheeks in his palms, and kissed her. Though she relaxed into his kiss, her hips pressed more firmly against him. He bucked under her, felt a warm slide against the back of his shaft, and he had no more concerns about human and Thanagarian compatibility. They'd be perfect together. He smiled at the thought of shifting his hips ever so slightly to the south and burying himself inside her.

Perfect.

It was then his brain overtook his body. Maybe they were compatible. Completely. An image formed in his mind: Shayera standing outside their trash shack, her belly distended, carrying his child. John's eyes snapped open and his lips popped free from hers.

She frowned at him. "What's the matter?" She kissed him again, but his lips didn't work.

His mind was continuing to supply him with horrific visions. Blood. Screaming. An infant's cry. Two graves - one very, very tiny.

He felt the blood draining away from his face and his dick, and she noticed because she rubbed herself harder against him. "John," she coaxed, her teeth nibbling his lower lip.

Fighting against all natural instinct, John stilled Shayera's hips, settling her instead a few inches down his thighs. Her fingernails dug into his shoulders, resisting his shoves.

"John," she hissed, "now."

"I know," he groaned, his fingers tightening around her waist. "But...what about..." He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to ignore the tongue darting into his ear. "We don't want to start a baby on this godforsaken garbage planet."

Shayera pulled back then and looked at him as though he were crazy. "What are you talking about?"

His brain, not exactly on track to begin with, totally derailed. "Sex! Babies!" he managed, hoping to hell he didn't have to explain the birds and the bees to her that very second.

"Thanagarian females are fertile once a year," she said. "And that was two months ago for me."

John's grip on her hips loosened. "Really?" he asked, unable to hide both his immense relief and sudden curiosity.

Shayera rolled her eyes. "Can we talk biology later? Because..." She shifted, rose to her knees and hovered over him. "If you don't finish what you started right now, I swear I'll kill you."

John smirked. He loved her death threats. His hand snaked down to stroke himself back to arousal, but he was slapped away, replaced with her strong hand, squeezing and yanking just barely on the pleasure side of pain. He felt a brief waft of cool air before he was engulfed in her heat. The muscles in his stomach contracted and he nearly lost it right then.

She chuckled and he felt it at the base of his balls. He grunted.

"Don't even think about it, Lantern," she warned, mirth in her voice. She ground their pelvises together, squeezed him, slid up until he was nearly falling out, then slammed back against him.

John grabbed her hips, stopping her. "Take it easy or this will be over before it even starts."

She sat up, crossed her arms and stared down at him. It was the same look she gave Flash when he annoyed her. Were she not naked and were he not deep inside her, he'd be upset that she'd make him think of Flash at that moment. Instead, he closed his eyes. Baseball. Detroit Tigers. Who'd they play last? He tried an experimental thrust and felt a strong tingle. Yankees. Lost the first game 7-2. Stupid team. Another thrust. Not as much tingle, but plenty of pleasure. Tigers won the next one 5-4. He thrust up, she clamped around him; he smiled and didn't care who won the third game.

She took over then, moving up and down slowly, doing a little rotation each time they came together. He reached up, cupping both breasts, his thumbs rubbing the hardened tips. She fell forward, changing the angle of penetration, and forced a nipple to his lips. He took it gently between his teeth and darted his tongue over it. She gasped. He bent his knees, returning her thrusts, and used the extra leverage to impale himself further within her. He could feel her hard internal ridge pressing against the back of his dick, the only rough spot in an otherwise soft and smooth sheath. John gripped her hips, shoving her down.

He chanced a look at her, knowing it could very well send him over the edge. Her breasts jiggled back and forth with their violent movements, her lower lip was tucked between her teeth, her eyes were squeezed shut and a curtain of hair swished in time with her breasts.

"Shayera," he whispered.

She cracked her eyes open, but didn't quit moving.

He thought he might say something he may regret later, so he smiled instead. Her eyes slammed shut and he felt her tighten around him. John looked down, saw himself disappearing inside her over and over, and lost it. With a growl, he exploded, his toes curling, his muscles flexing. Shayera gripped his shoulders and screamed. He continued to thrust through her contractions, his shouts and groans mixing with hers. She collapsed against him, panting.

"Fuck," he gasped.

"We just did," she said, and he had to laugh because otherwise he was absolutely positive he was going to say something he might regret.

*****

Already the days had been difficult to distinguish from one another. One grey, featureless waking merged into a grey, featureless sleeping, punctuated by reluctant forays for food and water, and desperate, heady sex. Even right after they'd finished, John would open his eyes and see her, resting atop him or beside him or collapsed beneath him, and although he was too spent to do anything about it, he'd want her again.

He made a study of her, how she reacted to his touches and where. For all that Shayera was a hardened warrior, her skin was soft and sensitive and ticklish in more places than he could count. She found out his ticklish places too, and as often as she leapt on him to make love to him, she pounced to tickle his feet and knees and ribs with no mercy. He defended himself with tickles of his own and the "battles" would end with them tired and panting and laughing, and usually horny as hell.

In some ways, he was glad it had happened like this, with them.

John couldn't focus on anything but Shayera. Were they back on Earth, they would have duties and responsibilities. People relied on them. Here, no one cared. They ate what they could when they chose to, they kept enough presence outside of the shelter to keep the neighbors from getting any bright ideas, and they spent the rest of their time together, breathless and enjoying each other.

After the first time, or more accurately, later that same night after the third, they'd drifted to sleep having The Conversation. He'd told her of his previous lovers, two human, two not. Only his relationship with Kat had lasted any significant time, and he told her so. Tiredly she'd replied with two lovers of her own, both Thanagarians, but she went silent after that and he fell asleep before she spoke again.

She wasn't inexperienced; he knew from the way she undulated above him, the way she brought him to the edge and held him there with her teeth and sharp nails. Asking her more, asking again, and he would feel like he was prying. She didn't like to discuss Thanagar. He could accept that. The past was getting to be a sticky subject regardless. It was easier not to think about it, not think about anything but the way she felt against him, the way she shouted his name as her wings buffeted the walls in her pleasure.

She lay beside him now, not entirely asleep, and he felt the stirring in his groin again for her, just at the thought of her riding him until he popped. His fingers wandered over her flesh, avoiding the ticklish spots. She snuggled against his hand, slithering herself until his fingers moved down to where she wanted him.

He grinned in the darkness, and continuing to lay there, worked his fingers through her soft down and into her. Her breath came in little gasps as he stroked and played. Her own hand slid across the short distance between them, grabbing blindly for his cock. Her touch was firm but her rhythm was unsteady, distracted by what he was doing to her with every brush of his fingertips.

John pulled his hand back and got to his knees. Her own hand fell away from him, and Shayera rolled onto her belly. He felt her tense as he guided her knees up under her, and he filed that away. She'd been hurt like this, maybe.

He didn't want to hurt her.

On his knees behind her, he stroked the curve of her hips, framing her. Unable to wait longer, he dove in with his mouth.

"Ah!"

He steadied her with his hands, smiling against her ass. It was like her body was designed for this, for him, he thought as his tongue laved her roughly. She moaned with every brush against that sweet ridge, backing up against him clumsily.

He reveled in this, the power of bringing her to the edge, leaving her there if he chose. If I was suicidal, for example.

He licked and suckled at her, his right hand snaking down between his own legs to clasp and stroke his dick. He wasn't far from coming again either, and he teased himself as he teased her.

"Do it now," she gasped, and instead of answering he thrust his tongue in and up hard. She screamed; later he would see she'd scratched furrows into the ground.

As she came, he reared behind her and plunged in deep. She was still coming, still shaking, and he felt every wave as she hitched and jerked beneath him. Any room he'd had for rational thought was long gone, replaced by the sensation of her surrounding him, continuing to ride her climax. He slammed into her, wanting to go deeper, harder.

She was so wet and he...

Grunting and swearing, he came fast. Had he not made a point of getting her off first, it would have been an embarrassing performance. Instead, he was weak and tired and insanely happy. He pulled out, stroked her sides as best he could, and fell bonelessly back to his blankets. She snuggled against him, her breath mingling with his as they stared at each other, neither daring to break the silence.

Her eyes drifted shut first. He leaned closer and kissed her forehead, stirring her back awake.

"Remind me," he said, "when we wake up, I really need to go work on the radio."

"What?"

"That box I found. I got it open and I was right. Korugan design, older model. Pretty sure I can get it operational again."

"Oh." Shayera was wide awake now, and belatedly John remembered he'd been going to keep it a surprise. Spilled milk. Have to come up with a new surprise.

"I've been a little distracted the past couple of days," he said warmly, stroking her face.

She smiled at the touch, and he supposed it was just weariness that put the catch in her voice as she said, "Get some sleep," before she rolled over and away from him.

*****

The sand pattered like rain on what passed for their roof. The storm had lasted for two days; less intense overall than it had been the first time, out in the desert proper, this one was showing staying power that John didn't like at all.

They had another day's supply of water and two or three days' supply of food: the last trash drop off had included a whole case of canned Something. So far, none of the cans they'd opened from this batch had been spoiled and he hoped their luck held. If the storm continued, one of them would have to risk going out to the spring.

He'd go the next time she slept.

She wasn't sleeping now. Shayera had grabbed half a dozen metal shafts before the storm had hit in full. She meticulously sharpened each into a crude edged weapon as the wind howled and whistled through the holes they hadn't yet patched.

"Just in case," she'd said. He hoped the rest of that sentence was "In case I start noticing exactly how small this place is, I'll have something to do," rather than "In case we're trapped here for weeks and we relive the Donner party."

He'd coaxed her from her busy work several times over the last few days, kissing her shoulders and neck until she laughed or groused, and stopped, and tumbled into his arms. As much as it was to keep her mind off their confinement, he couldn't imagine a more pleasant captivity.

In some ways he was drunk off Shayera's presence, and by the curve of her smile around the sloppy kisses she returned, John suspected she felt the same. He'd brought the radio inside; its bulk took up too much of their precious space but he didn't dare risk it to the storm. As he fiddled with the wiring, trying one more connection, one additional tweak to the alien circuitry to coax it back to life, he would feel her eyes on him in the darkness and he would set aside the machine for another hour, longer if they napped afterwards.

She was watching him now, her shivs set aside for the moment. "When the storm is done," she said, "we're going to get more spaceship parts and add another room."

He paused, fingers about to twist two wires together for what he hoped would be a reasonable splice. He'd give a lot for access to a soldering iron or at least some wire nuts. "If you say for a nursery, I'm walking out into the storm right now."

"Don't be stupid." But he could hear the laughter she was hiding behind the words. "We're going to be here a while. We should have enough room to move around without bumping against that radio all the time. And we should think about figuring out a way to store more food."

"Unless you know how to build a refrigerator from scratch..."

"I mean, we'll have to salt it or dry it or both."

"Critter jerky. My favorite." He covered his splice with some tape he'd pulled off another wreck. He was probably not lucky enough for it to be electrical tape but he was hoping it was non-conductive. He banged his hand on the casing and stuck the wounded finger in his mouth. "You know, the Professor could make a nuclear reactor out of two coconuts and some bamboo. You think I could wire this damned thing to work." He spliced two more wires.

"You had a professor who could construct a nuclear reactor out of..."

"Forget it."

He taped the last wires. The box hummed.

John stared at it, then very carefully turned the closing knob. The box did not shut entirely; the new power cell was the wrong size. He turned the power knob until it clicked and was rewarded with static.

Shayera looked from the box to John and back again, eyes wide.

He turned the dial. Very faintly, over the damaged speaker, they heard a voice speaking an unfamiliar language, and moments later, a response.

"I think we did it," he whispered.

She didn't respond, kept staring at the box, her expression unreadable.

The patter continued on the roof.

*****

Night, or day, and the storm was still raging outside. John had made transmission after transmission, trying to summon the Green Lantern of the sector they were in, until he was hoarse. Shayera had fussed at him to keep transmitting, an unfamiliar quiver in her voice. Then she dressed, bundling herself from head to foot in their fouler blankets, and braved the storm for more water over John's insistence that he go instead.

In the hour it took her to make the trip, he'd tried dozens of frequencies, not wanting to leave any particular one too quickly lest he miss a reply, but not wanting to stay on a dead line too long either. At last, she returned safe, half-choked with sand and carrying jugs that held almost as much silt as water. He helped her shrug out of the filthy blankets and shook out the worst of the sand as close to the entrance as possible.

Shayera exclaimed in a language he didn't recognize.

"What was that?"

"Um. Rough translation is 'mentally disabled offspring of a Gordanian prostitute.' My hair." As he watched her work her fingers through the ends, he saw what she'd meant. Much of the length had become tangled and matted while she'd been outside.

"I'll buy you a comb."

She glared at him, then reached for one of her blades. Grumbling as she went, Shayera roughly hacked off her hair to her shoulders. "I don't suppose you have a mirror?"

"You look beautiful."

She snorted. "Is it reasonably symmetrical?"

"Hand me that knife." Grudgingly, she gave him the shiv. There was about an inch difference between the two sides of her head. He evened them up as best he could, taking longer than was necessary so he could run his fingers through her soft hair.

"This is still a haircut, right?" she asked.

"It's something. There are a lot of reasons I didn't go to beauty school. But it's even now."

"Thanks." She swept up the clippings with her hand and tossed them into the corner they were using as their garbage until the storm passed. When the weather cleared, he would have to pull down parts of the structure and let what passed for fresh air around here blow through the shelter.

On summer evenings, his grandma would set one box fan in the front window and another at the back door to push the stale, hot air from the day out like sweepings to the street. He remembered those summers: fire hydrant days and muggy, going-to-rain-like-hell days, and days spent trying to find some grass that wasn't fried by the sun so he could run barefoot without burning his feet.

A wave of homesickness punched him in the gut. A few times when he'd been in deep space with the Corps, he'd pined for home and family but the longing had always been tempered with the knowledge he would go back to Earth some day. When he had, at last, been assigned to Sector 2814 after the death of Abin Sur, there had been no question of where he would live, not what planet, not even what neighborhood.

The thought of never seeing his home again...

"How do you do it?" he asked her.

"Hm?"

"You've been stranded from Thanagar for, what, three years now?"

"More."

"How does it not drive you crazy? Knowing you might never see your home world again?"

"Sometimes it does." She set aside her work, scooted next to him. "Homesick?"

He nodded. "You?"

She turned her face away. "Not as much as I used to be." She wrapped both arms around his bicep and smiled. He returned the smile, bending to kiss her.

Something in her eyes, something like pain, and he pulled away. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." She reached with one hand to tug his head back to her, kissing him fiercely. John's first thought was: This is not the appropriate way to avoid answering a question. His second thought was far less coherent as her other hand deftly opened his uniform and slid into his pants.

At some point they were going to give up wearing clothes inside altogether.

His fingers plunged back into her short hair as she wrapped her hand around him and stroked. She bruised his lips with her kisses and he allowed any hope of following up the conversation to rest for now. They had plenty of time for talking, for everything. Shayera could tell him what was bothering her when she was ready. In the meantime, her attempt at distracting him was working.

John prided himself, and also felt a touch embarrassed, that he was adept at shucking Shayera's clothes so quickly. He sighed as her hand let go of his cock long enough for him to tug off his uniform the rest of the way. On his knees, and she on hers, he resumed kissing her as she pressed her body against his.

He bent his head to her neck. The soft flesh there enticed him to kiss and then suckle. She gasped as he worked the spot with the barest tips of his teeth before sucking in hard. When he pulled away, only a pale pink mark remained, which faded as he watched.

Saves on turtleneck expenses, I guess.

Something was in his mouth. He pulled back enough to work the muscles in his tongue and jaw to expel whatever it was.

"Problem?"

"You are a very dirty Hawkgirl."

Shayera frowned, which was his only warning before she punched his arm.

"Ow!"

"See if I go get water in the middle of a sandstorm again. And you're hardly one to talk."

"I was just thinking this place needed airing out." Her frown remained. John held his sigh and dug for a spare rag. Then, with care, he poured some water from one of the jugs onto the cloth, wetting it without dripping. "Lie down"

"What's that for?" she asked suspiciously.

"Gonna give you a bath."

She didn't lie down, but did allow him to scrub at her neck. He followed the path of the cloth with his mouth, leaving blessedly dirt-free kisses along her collarbone and down between her breasts. He wiped less carefully along each arm, nipping her as he went. By the time he reached her neck again, her respiration was rapid.

Instead of asking this time, he rolled her onto her belly. She pulled her wings against herself, but he placed his hands where they joined her shoulders, gently coaxing them to either side of her. He stopped long enough to set aside the rag and retrieve and wet a cleaner one.

She shuddered as he traced down her spine with the cloth and then with his tongue. Nice effect, he thought, and did both again as she arched beneath him.

John dipped his tongue inside of her, tasting her quickly, and she cried out.

He returned to his work, wiping at her thighs, down to her calves, and across the sensitive balls of her feet as she squirmed. He dropped the rag and stroked his way up along the insides of her legs with his fingertips and tongue, stopping just as he reached her inner thigh.

John sat up and gave her a gentle pat on the butt. "Much better. You're all clean now."

"Tell me you're not finished," she said over her shoulder.

"Unless you can show me another place you need cleaned, you're done." She laughed. "I didn't think it was that funny," he said.

"The first thing I thought of was that I want to wash my hair," she replied, still chuckling.

"Oh," he said, and snaked up her body until his face was even with her hair. His fingers stroked between her legs. "I dunno. Your hair seems fine from here." It would have been a better joke had she hair rather than down covering her intimate places, but he made up for it by slipping two fingers deep within her as he kissed her head.

"Mmmmm." That was a noise he could get used to, coming from low in her throat. He moved his fingers around, eliciting moans from her as he probed and brushed with his thumb.

Part of him wanted to stay like this for hours, breathing in her hair, pleasuring her with his hand, but a more insistent part was hard against her back, leaking out on the same flesh he'd just cleaned.

He slid his fingers out and spread her open, then thrust into her with a groan.

Shayera quivered beneath him, making unintelligible sounds as he fucked her slowly against the ground.

This was... This was... If he spent the rest of his life with her, loving her, he would never fail to be surprised at how it felt to be enwrapped within her, how smooth and wet and right. He would never stop wanting this exact sensation, Shayera bucking against him as she moaned and clenched.

He was going to come, had to hold back, had to get her there too. He slid his hand around to her ridge and she reached, tugging the hand away.

"No," she gasped, and she drew in her knees, raising her backside up. The change in position...

Shayera made tiny noises in her throat as he rubbed inside her, stretching her. He planted his hands on her hips and drove deep, timing his thrusts to the heartbeat racing in his ears. He barely heard his own groans.

Then she clenched her muscles. So tight, was all he managed to think and he came, hard. As he finished, he felt Shayera's entire body shudder with her own orgasm. Her breathing was labored, and he was aching and tired. He kissed her head as best he could before collapsing against her.

"Do you hear that?" she asked him, when they could both think again.

He listened. "I don't hear..." His brain caught up. "It's over."

"Yeah," she said, sliding out from beneath him and crawling to the doorway. Past her, he could see the half-night sky as she cracked open their shelter. The storm had passed. Thank God.

*****

Dragging the radio out took both of them. Shayera strung some scavenged cable across the campsite, then hung the blankets and rags over it, beating out the worst of the dust with her mace. John swept out the fire pit and tried to clear the sand from the site as best he could.

When they'd reclaimed the site, John stood back and took a critical look.

"Tell you what," he said. "I want to get some more cleaning done around here. While I do, think you could take the blankets to the water hole?"

"I can, but the spring's going to be nasty for a few days at least. Sure it's worth it?"

"I'm sure."

She rolled her eyes as she gathered the blankets. "Explain to me why I keep doing the laundry?"

"You can get to the spring faster and you have the mace to beat things clean."

"Right." She kissed him on the cheek and flew off. John watched her go, then turned back to the shelter.

All right, he thought to himself. This shouldn't be so hard. John grabbed the roof. Grunting and pushing, he edged it off to one side, where it tilted crazily then fell over. John paused a minute, breathing hard and dripping sweat. In his head, this had been a lot easier. Too used to relying on the ring, he admonished himself.

Okay. The roof was off, and a breeze of sorts scooted over the tops of the barrels and sheeting that made up their walls. Without the roof holding them down, it was easier to skid the sides out and away from the shelter one at a time. Now for the fun part. John had identified some possible housing additions during his salvaging trips. Before the storm, he'd dragged some of them closer in, to have them handy when they eventually reinforced the shelter.

Another five barrels here, three there, and now she'd been gone the better part of an hour. He hurried to get the last of the old barrels into place. The first piece of new sheeting went into place well, but the second was stuck in the rubble where he'd left it, and John gashed his hand open pulling too hard. Swearing, he returned to the site, found a rag and a dab of silty water to clean the wound. He hoped like mad he was current on his tetanus shots as he tied the impromptu bandage.

Mocking him, the sheeting came free easily when he went to move it this time.

The original sheeting, a hodgepodge of deck plating and unidentifiable flat metallic surfaces, went back into place without too much trouble, leaving him only with the roof.

He stared at the overturned roof.

His hand was throbbing, and he was tired and sweaty. When he'd originally found the spacecraft hull, it had been of no consequence to float the thing over several hundred yards. Now he wasn't entirely sure he could lift the piece at all.

As his grandma had been find of saying, nothing ever got done standing around and complaining about it. He took a stance that gave him a good grip, and lifted with his knees.

Or tried.

The pain went through his back like a blade. He gasped and dropped the hull, then stood back panting. That was unexpected.

All right, so he wasn't going to be able to lift it. He could wait until Shayera returned and enlist her help, but that would ruin the surprise. He could figure out a way to rig up a lever. Maybe a pulley. He could...

"What the hell happened?!" Surprises are overrated anyway.

"Hi."

She landed and glared at him. "Don't 'Hi' me, Lantern. Did we get hit by a localized tornado?" Conscious of her load, Shayera hung the clean blankets on the cable again.

"Not exactly."

"I know you wanted to air the place out a little, but..." She broke off and stared at it again. "It's bigger."

John smiled weakly; his back was still aching, but better. He rubbed at the base of his spine absently. "It was supposed to be a surprise."

"You're injured."

"I'm fine. Cut my hand. I already cleaned it."

She grabbed the hand anyway, examining the bandage. "If this gets infected..."

"I'll be fine," he repeated, placing his other hand over hers. She glared at him, pulling away and giving her attention back to the shelter.

"It's taller, too." She walked around the new walls. "You did this for me?"

"Not just for you. I thought it'd be nice if we could stand up. And you said you wanted more room."

"Yeah." She bit her lip. "Thanks."

"You don't like it?"

"I do!" She took his hand again, the uninjured one this time. "I really do. I just... No one ever built a house for me before." She had one of her little smiles on, one of his favorites: the kind that was best kissed and teased into laughter. Later.

"Flowers and candy are in short supply here. Figured this was a close second. Anyway, it's not done yet. Lend a hand with the roof?"

She took a position opposite him to grab the spacecraft hull. Huffing and straining, together they managed to place the hull back on top of the shelter. John took a look around the enlarged building.

"Dammit," he said. "I was afraid of this. It doesn't fit right."

"We were going to patch the holes eventually anyway."

"Yeah, but I was hoping we'd have a better fit before we did." He had some ideas about making paste and trying to put together a thick paper-mache for the holes still in the structure, but now they'd have to look for actual structural pieces to add. What the hell. It'll be something to do.

He looked from the shelter to Shayera. Who was looking right at him, and not their home. So. Damage to self: bad. Added instability to shelter: bad. Bigger shelter: good. Happy girlfriend: very good.

John figured he was coming out ahead.

*****

Honestly, when he'd gone to expand the shelter, the main agenda that had been in John's mind was for them to be able to move without bumping into the walls, the ceiling, or each other every time either moved. He'd also thought the added room would be good for Shayera's problems with enclosed spaces. And yes, he'd figured she might be...appreciative for both but he knew that this was not his major motivation.

He did.

So he had no reason to feel guilty now, as Shayera straddled him, forcing him roughly against the thin, scratchy blanket on the hard ground. As her wings extended out to their full length to either side of her and for once didn't threaten to knock over the walls. As they worked into the pattern of stroke and touch and thrust that was becoming ritual. As she took her pleasure from him, and he gladly took the same from her.

But the expression on her face wasn't happiness, not this time, and even when she came, he was almost positive she was going to start sobbing.

"Hey," he said, sitting up awkwardly, heart still hammering and head still dizzy. He managed to slip his arms around her. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," she said, slipping on a smile he knew damned well was faked.

"Don't start lying to me now."

The sorrow in her eyes deepened. She embraced him, turning her head away from where he could see. "Let's drop it. I don't want to fight."

He couldn't resist. "Who are you and what have you done with my girlfriend?"

She tensed and pulled away, letting him slide out of her as she got to her feet. His brain, still sluggish in post-coital bliss, finally woke up. For all he knew, they were married under Thanagarian law now. Bad choice of words there, Stewart. Really bad.

"Shayera, I didn't mean..." He stopped. He wasn't sure what he'd meant.

"It's late. We should get some sleep." She smoothed out the bottom blanket and lay down away from him under the cover blanket.

John slipped under the cover, tried to spoon behind her, but that never worked quite right with her wings in the way. Frustrated, he rolled onto his back, losing most of his share of the blanket in the process.

He'd ask her about it in the morning.

*****

John stirred and rolled over. She lay on her side facing him, awake.

"Hey," he said.

"Hey."

"How long have you been awake?"

"Not long. I wanted to watch you sleep."

"I didn't think I was that interesting."

"Just to me," she said, pressing closer and kissing him. Not for the first time, he was glad she wasn't turned off by what by this point had to be his monstrous morning breath. Just the opposite, it seemed. It also seemed Shayera had forgiven or forgotten whatever had been troubling her the night before. Her fingers went to his neck, tracing his features lightly. He kissed them as they passed over his mouth and smiled as she toyed with his beard.

She slid the blanket off his chest and kissed his left nipple. His stomach rumbled in response. "We should probably eat."

"Funny," she said, licking a path down to his navel. "That's exactly what I was going to say."

He touched her hair as her head slid lower. She nibbled and tasted her way down to his thighs. Her breath tickled his groin. Delicate and strong fingers kneaded the muscles in his calves, up his hips, and clasped around his dick, guiding him past soft, yielding lips and into her equally soft mouth.

Her teeth grated him gently as her tongue rubbed against the slit of his glans. He toyed with her hair more, desperate to guide her head, knowing it would irritate her if he did. Finally he pulled his arms back and folded them behind his head, letting Shayera free to do as she pleased with him.

John closed his eyes.

Warm, her mouth was so warm, and her throat clutched at him as she swallowed him whole. One hand was planted on his butt, the other jerked carefully at the base of his cock as she worked him back and forth into her mouth.

He wasn't going to last long, not like this. She started suckling at him and his eyes flew open.

"God, Shayera that's just perfect. Just like that."

His hips began grinding up against her. He wanted to see her, tried to watch her going down on him. Everything was so dark in here, even with his eyes dilated wide, and he could just make out the form of Shayera's bobbing head and her outstretched wings framing her against the gloom.

There was something incredibly sacrilegious about getting a blowjob from an angel but all he could think was that this was exactly right.

He wanted... He needed... He fought with himself not to pull away from her lips, roll her onto her back and jerk off the rest of the way onto her breasts as she watched. Roll her on her stomach and spray all over those gorgeous grey feathers.

John yelled as lights burst behind his eyes. She slid him out of her mouth gently, continuing to stroke his dick as he moaned and twitched at the touches.

She sat back on her knees and wiped at her mouth. He could just see the pleased look on her face as she bent down and kissed him, her tongue sliding against his teeth. He kissed her back weakly before she lay her head beside his.

"So," she breathed into his ear. "Ready for breakfast?"

*****

Shayera went to check the traps while he stayed at the site to work the radio.

"Mayday. Mayday. Green Lantern of Sector 2811 please respond. Mayday." In between dialing attempts, he started the fire.

Shayera returned with one critter and popped it on to cook. Then she sat behind him, rubbing his shoulders as he operated the radio.

"That's very distracting," he told her, not at all displeased.

"It's supposed to be distracting," she said, kissing his neck. The beak of her mask bumped him painfully.

"Someday you're going to explain why you wear your mask even though no one else is around."

"Do you walk around naked?"

"Well no."

"Neither do I." Her hand slid under his arms and gave him a quick tickle before she pulled away.

"Mayday, Mayday..." He dialed again. "It's really like walking around naked for you?"

She shrugged. "Kind of."

"So when I don't wear a mask, do you think I'm naked?"

"It's not the same thing."

"Mayday. Mayday. Green Lantern of Sector 2811 please respond. Mayday. Why isn't it the same?"

"You're not Thanagarian. On Earth, dolphins are highly intelligent animals but you're not offended that they don't wear pants, right?"

"Well, no. Dolphins can't wear pants. They don't have legs."

"Skirts then. You're not bothered by naked dolphins. I'm not bothered by maskless humans. Besides, a lot of our friends wear masks anyway."

"Two."

"Whatever." She moved away from him, poking ineffectively at the fire.

"Mayday. Mayday. Green Lantern of Sector 2811 please respond. Mayday."

The noise started out low, like a distant rumble. He barely noticed at first, thinking it was just more rubbish shifting.

It grew. Shayera's eyes widened as her head spun around.

"That' s the Javelin!" she said.

Over the horizon, almost out of sight, John spied the most glorious thing he'd ever seen: the Javelin-7 cruising over the landscape.

He dropped the radio and stood, grabbing a branch from the fire. Shayera took another, and they shouted and waved the torches until the Javelin floated serenely overhead. It paused, then moved off just past the outskirts of the settlement.

Shayera immediately jumped up and flew off toward the ship. John hesitated, then kicked dirt over their fire, putting it out. He glanced around the campsite, saw nothing that they wanted or needed to take back to Earth with them. He wasn't sure why that made him sad.

Without another look back, he made his way toward the landing site. By the time he got there, Shayera was already hugging the Flash like a long-lost brother.

Diana smiled at John and gave him a quick hug before Batman grasped his arm.

"Thank Hera you're both alive."

"Are you guys okay?" asked Flash.

Shayera nodded. "We're fine."

"Where are J'onn and Superman?" John asked. "What happened to War World?"

"J'onn and Superman are back on Earth," Batman said. "They escaped."

"Eventually," said Diana and even Flash looked grim suddenly.

"Were they hurt?" Shayera asked.

Batman said, "Not badly. We'll explain what happened on the way home. Is there anything you need to get before we go?"

"Just us," John said. "How'd you find us, anyway?" he asked as they boarded.

"Kilowog told us," Flash said. "Your message got through to Oa, but nobody knew where you were. Then Kilowog picked up a transmission yesterday." Yesterday? Oh yes. John remembered having crawled out of bed for a little while to get some water and play with...

"The radio," John said, smiling at Shayera. She ignored his smile and took the seat beside Diana, leaving Flash to fling himself into the seat next to John like a large, friendly dog.

"It's great to have you guys back," Flash said. "The Watchtower's been like a funeral home, what with Supes all depressed, and J'onn being himself."

John looked out the window as they lifted off, watching the settlement shrink beneath them. As they rose into the sky, a sickly red sun peeped over the horizon, much nearer than he'd been expecting. Another surprise: the "planet" was actually a moon orbiting a gas giant, which stormed and raged thousands of miles away. As soon as they were clear of the planetary masses, Batman engaged the hyperdrive, and the whole star system was gone.

Unconcerned, Flash launched into a rambling description of the tribulations Superman and J'onn had encountered during their stay on War World. An entire planet had been wiped out and Superman felt personally responsible.

From time to time, John shot glances across to Shayera, but she was chatting quietly with Diana and did not look his way even once.

*****

Against their protests, Batman flew the Javelin back to the Watchtower, where J'onn waited with a grateful smile and a full exam for each. John insisted Shayera go first, less out of chivalry and more out of concern for her still-healing leg. J'onn pronounced her healthy. As she exited the medlab, her wing brushed against John on his way in, but she gave him only a nod in acknowledgment.

Okay... John cleared his mind as J'onn began his own exam, focusing on the heartbeat on the monitors, the gentle pressure as the Martian poked and prodded.

"It is good to have you both home," J'onn said gravely as he took a small blood sample.

John pressed a gauze against the small puncture. "Good to be back. Are we almost done?"

"Almost." J'onn inserted the sample into the scanner, and while it ran, he examined John's hand and gave him an antibiotic to fight the mild infection that had set in. The scanner beeped. "You have a slight iron deficiency, and you have abnormally low levels of a number of nutrients in your system."

"We lived on fricasseed rat for a month. I'm not surprised. I'll take my vitamins," he added, as J'onn gave him a look that had "bed rest for a week with intravenous fluids" written all over it. "I promise."

"This isn't the first time I've heard that tonight," J'onn quipped. John frowned. "Go home. Rest. Eat well. If I don't see improvement in a few days, you will be back here. Understood?"

"Thanks, man." John dressed, reluctantly. He couldn't wait to get back to his apartment if only to access his battery again and never have to wear this particular uniform again. Then with a wave of thanks to J'onn, he returned to the landing bay, where the others were prepping the Javelin for the quick hop down to Earth.

To John's surprise, Shayera requested to be dropped off first at the outskirts of Midway City. She said she was tired. She said she wanted to get home and see how much of a mess her place had become in her absence. She said she wanted a shower and a meal of something with less than six legs. She said she'd take a day to readjust herself to Earth but that she'd be ready for action after that when her turn for duty came up.

John hadn't the faintest idea why she didn't say even one of those things to him, but said them instead to Batman, who was flying the ship.

To the rest of them, and John himself was by default included in this particular grouping, Shayera

said, "See you around," as she disembarked. John mouthed a "See you," and he watched her go, watched though the window as they took off again towards Detroit.

The reasonable voice in his head said, She's tired and she wants her space. We've had too much togetherness lately and Little Miss Claustrophobia probably just wants the chance to spread her wings properly for a while. I can call her tomorrow.

The unreasonable voice whispered other things, and John tried to ignore them as Flash hassled him about John's needing a shower, then waved him a wild good-bye from the gangway.

His apartment was dark and cold, but John couldn't remember feeling so decadent just flicking on a light switch. He was dead tired, more than he'd realized, and he wanted to flop into his nice, soft, warm bed with actual blankets that had never been used by anyone whom John hadn't specifically invited there.

But more than that, he wanted a shower and a shave. Need to go by the barber tomorrow, he mused, running his hand over his hair.

Half an hour later, chin clean and muscles sore in the way only a good pounding with hot water could make them, John padded out of the bathroom. A quick check of his kitchen turned up half a loaf of green bread, some vegetables that had seen better days two weeks before, and a quart of milk with legs. He disposed of these, dug into the freezer, and excavated a frozen dinner.

He stared at the package, wondering if he had enough cash in his wallet for a deep dish from Tony's. Of course, Tony's deep dishes were enough to feed him for the better part of the week, or two people for a couple of days unless the other person was Flash, in which case they had to order three for one meal.

He had no intention of inviting Flash over.

"Green Lantern to Hawkgirl," he said, thumbing his commlink. The Watchtower was nearby; the satellite system would boost the signal. He needed to keep in mind that the system kept a backup recording of the messages they sent, for safety reasons.

After about a minute, she responded, "Hawkgirl here. Go ahead."

"Hey," he said. "I was about to order some food. Do you want to come over and split a pizza?"

"No," she said, and he heard the awkward note in her voice. She knew the system was monitored as well. "I already ate."

"Okay. I thought you might..."

"Was there anything else?"

"No."

"Fine. Hawkgirl out."

Tony's still sounded good, but the thought of eating it alone suddenly didn't. He started preheating the oven for the frozen dinner, then went to check if any of his plants had died from lack of care.

So. Shayera really wanted some space. He was fine with that. He supposed she just didn't want the others involved in her personal life, and maybe she was a little embarrassed, too. She'd always been stand-offish with the rest of the group, so admitting the kind of weakness that came with a relationship would be something she'd want to put off. He'd have to point out that the rest didn't have to know right away.

After dinner, and he savored every bite, he climbed into his bed. No hard ground beneath him, no smelly blanket that didn't get clean no matter how much it was scrubbed, no wondering if he was going to get crawled on by a bug or bitten by a scorpion in his sleep. An actual, honest to God real pillow for his head.

So if John felt a little too exposed in the vast space of his bedroom, and if he couldn't reach out in the middle of the night while he slept to touch against a wing and know his lover was there and safe, and if it took him a long time to fall asleep, well, at least he had clean sheets.

*****

Their catch-up day off was cut short. John had to go bail out Flash from jail for what he suspected was not the last time, then help him track down what the kid swore was a talking gorilla. With nukes and telepathy. Fortunately, the others found Gorilla City in time. John listened over the comms a little more closely than he usually did, assessing the condition of their other team members. Diana was mildly injured by a missile impact, but Shayera was fine.

It mattered.

They regrouped at the Watchtower to debrief. John let Flash tell most of their end, since the kid was so damned eager. The others had spent a time no less eventful; apparently Batman had dug Diana from the rubble by himself. If John wasn't almost positive Diana played for the other team, he'd start wondering about the two of them.

After the debrief, and the obligatory monkey jokes from the Flash, someone - probably Flash again - suggested they grab food up at the satellite and hang out a little. "Quality time," he said.

The way Flash had followed him around most of the day, John guessed he'd been kind of lonely while they'd been gone. True, John spent a lot of their time together griping at him, but Flash never let that dampen his enthusiasm.

And speaking of wondering which team someone's on...

No, the kid was just friendly and John and Shayera gave him the most attention, even if that attention was usually demanding what the hell was wrong with his brain.

Flash cooked, thawing some hamburger he found in the deep freeze and frying up a pile of thick burgers while the others went over their reports. Deferring to the spirit of the day, they did so in the mess, letting the smell of the cooking meat whet their appetites while they wrote. The reports were redundant for John, who had to fill them out for the Guardians anyway, but Batman swore the paperwork would be useful when they had to go back and cross-reference villain activities.

Shayera had a particularly large stack of papers in front of her. John sat at her table without asking, and placed his own down neatly.

"Were you guys that busy in Gorilla City?" he asked, as she moved a sheet from one pile to another.

She didn't look up. "I'm also filing the report for our aborted rescue mission. Unless you did already."

"Slipped my mind," he said. "The report, that is."

She let out an exasperated sigh. "Then fill this out." She pushed a small stack of papers his way. "Any idea how to spell gharnot?"

"Nope."

"Then my spelling stands." She returned to her work.

Flash was still cooking. Diana watched him, eyes wide and fascinated at the sheer amount of food he was slapping together. Batman was hunched over his own paperwork. J'onn had returned to his quarters for something. They weren't alone, but it would do.

He lowered his voice. "Is there a reason you're ignoring me?"

She said nothing. He watched words crawl over the paper, watched her eyes not even flicker from the page. It was as good as a shout.

"Look," he said, even more quietly. "If you don't want to talk right now, that's fine with me. If you want to go back to being Miss I-Can-Take-Care-of-Myself-Tough-Alien-Chick, that's also fine. If you want to pretend the past month didn't happen, I'm not fine with that but since it looks like I don't get a say, I guess it doesn't matter if I'm good with it or not." Her pen scratched at the paper.

He continued, "But we work together, and a lot of people depend on our ability to keep working together no matter what. So at some point, you're going to have to talk to me and I know it'll be better if you do it sooner instead of later."

"Move your elbows," she said.

"What?"

"Your report is in my way. You need to move it, and you're going to have to move your elbows."

"Fine." He picked up his stack and without another word moved to an empty table.

Flash came out with a bunch of burgers on one plate and a mess of fries on another. "Anyone hungry?" John was unsurprised to note his own appetite was completely gone.

*****

Hours later, John stood in the corridor deciding if he wanted to ring up a bubble and offer transport down to the planet so Diana and J'onn could keep the Javelin up here.

Batman separated himself from a shadow, and John started.

"Man, you have got to stop doing that. I've seen Alien one too many times."

Batman made a noise in his throat. "One question, and I need to know the answer."

"Go ahead."

"If I asked her, would she say it was consensual?"

John turned away from him. "We're not having this conversation."

"J'onn's a telepath. If he doesn't already know, he will. The others tend to be oblivious when it comes to personal dynamics but they're not stupid. They know something's wrong and it won't be long until they figure out what."

"I've been trying to talk to her."

"Try harder. Work something out, I don't care what. I don't intend to die or to watch anyone else die because two of my teammates can't act like adults around each other anymore. Flash is bad enough. I actually depend on you."

"We'll figure it out," John promised. "Give me a day or two."

"You both have watch tomorrow."

John shook his head. "I checked the schedule..."

"I just changed it."

"All right. Tomorrow."

"Good." And he was gone, leaving John alone with his thoughts again.

Screw it, we're taking the Javelin.

*****

Back at his apartment, the emptiness clawed at him. The noises from the street outside were familiar from his childhood, but he kept half an ear cocked for skittering feet and the rumble of trash drop-offs. It had been the same when he'd first returned to Earth after ten years in space. Some of the other Lanterns called it "getting your planet legs back." John called it a period of readjustment.

To everything, apparently.

Batman was right. They had to talk. He knew that. She probably did too, deep down. They were adults, they needed to act like adults. If that meant one of them walked away from the team for a while, then that's what would happen. That's what had to happen.

John went to his refrigerator, opened it, stared. He had four bottles of Sam Adams in the door, left over from the last time he'd had company. So, six months, give or take. He had harder liquor in the cabinet and no desire to get it out.

It wasn't his brand, but the beer was cold and not bad. For human beer, his mind helpfully provided.

John took another drink.

Saturday night, and nothing on the television. Nothing to distract him from the one thing he didn't want to be thinking about tonight. She was...

She'd been scared. That had to be it. They'd been marooned and she'd been frightened at dying even more lost from home. John had been a familiar face and a warm body, and now that Shayera had returned to her adopted home, she didn't need him anymore. Didn't want him anymore.

I should be happy, he thought, in the middle of the third bottle. Most women got clingy after relationships turned physical. Instead, they'd had the sex and she didn't expect him to call every night or take her to expensive restaurants where he couldn't pronounce anything on the menu.

The third bottle was empty. A couple of these would have gone down nice with the critters.

He left the fourth bottle in the fridge and crawled into bed. Tomorrow they'd have watch together and they'd talk and maybe he'd cut her with a "Thanks for the fuck," and maybe he'd just walk away from her and this whole stupid group of "superfriends," as the Flash had called them.

He had no trouble falling asleep and he did not remember his dreams.

*****

It wasn't as easy as he'd thought. Shayera had the first watch, and took the Javelin back up without asking him along. He ringed up a bubble for his own transport an hour later, passing the returning Javelin as he did. J'onn brushed a "Hello" against his mind but did not probe further.

He let himself into the Watchtower at an airlock. Mouth dry, he went directly to the Crow's Nest, her favorite place to spend her watches. Probably reminds her of home.

She didn't turn her head when he landed behind her.

"You could've waited with the Javelin," he said.

"You had your own transportation. I wanted to get an early start."

Now or never. He opened his mouth, and then snapped it shut again. He'd practiced the conversation in his head on the way up and now she was right there and he couldn't speak.

"I'll be working on the stabilizers," he managed, although it was not what he'd intended to tell her.

"Keep me updated."

He turned and went down to the core, where the mechanisms for the stabilizers resided. A few hours of mindless maintenance on their systems was just the ticket for avoiding a conversation.

He could talk to her later. When he was ready.

The alert went off. He checked the time and realized it had been three hours. He flew through the corridors back to the control room.

"What's going on?"

"Trouble," she said, showing him the screen.

"Damn." This situation had been building for months, so he couldn't say he was surprised.

Superman said over the comm: "Diana and I are on-site."

Batman cut in: "I'll be there in two minutes."

Shayera toggled the comm at the panel. "Do you want us there?"

"Negative," said Superman. "We'll call if we need more help."

"Acknowledged," John said. "We'll monitor from here."

Flash and J'onn chimed in, and the five began coordinating. "You two, cover our backs," said Superman, as Shayera turned the volume down to let them talk.

"I've got this," she said. "If you want to get back to the stabilizers."

John knew when he was being dismissed. And maybe that was the closure he'd been needing after all. He turned.

"Do you hate me yet?"

He stopped. "Excuse me?"

"I figured, you probably hate me by now. I thought I'd ask."

"Ask me again later."

"I'm asking now."

"Maybe I'm getting tired of doing things on your timetable."

"I'm engaged." A cold, hard stone fell into his stomach. "That's the word you use, right? When you're supposed to marry someone."

"You really really should have mentioned that sooner."

"You said we were stranded. For good. I thought it didn't matter anymore."

"You're still stranded."

She didn't reply. He turned to look at her. Her eyes were closed. "It's different," she said, after a long time.

"I see."

"No, you don't. I know I'm going to see him again." She finally opened her eyes. "I know. When we were on the planet, I thought about him a lot the first couple of days. And then, I quit thinking about him." She met John's eyes. "Now I can't get him out of my head."

He folded his arms. "Tell me about him," was not what he wanted to say but it tumbled out first. He knew what he wanted to hear, that the match had been arranged by her family, that she was acting out of duty.

She smiled. "He's strong, and he's brave, and he's handsome. A lot like you. He loves our home, our people. He's devoted his life to them. The day we Promised ourselves to each other was one of the happiest days of my life."

Not an arranged marriage, then. "Great. Good for you."

"John..."

"Whatever. We're back on Earth and you're engaged. Fine. Glad we cleared that up. I've got some stabilizers to work on."

"Things were simpler back on that moon. We needed food and water and shelter to survive. We had to look for rescue. Nothing else mattered, not even the sex. When the Javelin landed, everything got complicated again."

"Don't worry, I get it. You were embarrassed. You have this great guy back home and here you'd just shacked up with one of the humans, and all the other humans were going to find out." He practically spat: "How awful for you."

"I thought they'd see us together and know everything. I couldn't risk it. And then we were back here, and I couldn't get him out of my head and it hurt. I thought if I pushed you away, I could make myself believe that nothing had happened. That I hadn't broken my promise. I thought it'd stop hurting. Instead, it just hurt more and all I could do was think about you. Yesterday I spent so much time not paying attention to what I was doing because I was listening to you over the comms that I almost got the Princess killed."

"That was your fault?" She nodded. A second realization followed hard on the heels of the first. "Son of a bitch."

"Excuse me?"

"Batman. He cornered me last night. He was talking about you and I didn't know it." I thought he was being abstract and broody and warning me, and instead he was talking about you the whole time.

"He knows?"

"Yeah. He says the others don't yet but that they will."

She sighed and sat back in the chair, wings draping to either side of the thin back. "That answers one question then."

"We need to settle this. We can't be on eggshells around each other. People will die."

"I know."

"I don't want to be involved in a weird triangle with someone who isn't even here. You made a mistake. Get over it and don't make the same mistake again."

"It wasn't a mistake." He took a breath; he'd expected her to take the out he'd offered. "There are some things I need to tell you," she continued. "And when I'm done, you're probably going to hate me even more than you do now."

"I don't hate you." He was still angry with her and he was still hurt and both would take time to fade, but he couldn't imagine hating her.

"You will," she said quietly.

"Let me worry about that."

She wiped at her cheek furiously; it took him a few seconds to realize she was brushing off tears she had no intention of acknowledging. "There are things I'm trying to say, and they're not going to come out right. My language doesn't have the words, and yours is so complicated sometimes it drives me crazy.

"I think what I want to tell you first is, 'I'm sorry,' but it's not something I really know how to say very well, so when I screw it up, you'll have to let me know."

"That was a good start."

"Good. I'm probably going to be saying it a lot." She stopped, considered. "The second thing I need to tell you is that, although I'm not positive, I think I'm falling in love with you." John stared. "All the signs are there. You drive me to distraction. I dream about you. I've been spending the last few days trying to find the path that hurts you least, and every time it hurts you anyway, a little piece of me dies. So I'm almost certain that I already love you, and if so, you ought to know."

He opened and closed his mouth like a fish. "Oh." Bright, Stewart. Using those linguistic skills again. "Okay."

"The last thing..." Her eyes widened and he followed her gaze to the comm button blinking red. "Watchtower here, go ahead."

"Are the comms down?" Batman demanded.

"I had the volume on low," Shayera said.

"Both of you, get down here now." Even through the static, John could hear an unusual note of tension in Batman's voice.

"We're on our way," John said. Quietly, he told Shayera, "You can tell me whatever else you need to after we're done."

She nodded, and he could see the worry on her face under the mask. Things were about to get ugly on the planet, and maybe they would just get worse when she got whatever else it was off her chest. But just as when the Javelin had floated over the horizon to rescue them, a warm hope brewed in his belly. He took her hand and she didn't pull away.

All right, Marine. Focus on the mission now. Focus on the girl who just said she loves you later. Worry about her pissed off soon-to-be-ex-fiancé when the world isn't in jeopardy.

John touched his ear as they flew towards the airlock. "Batman, what's the situation? Is anyone hurt?"

Batman's voice was cut off by static. John tapped his ear, knowing it wouldn't help. "Repeat, please." The speaker shot static again.

crackle "...is dead." crackle crackle "Superman just killed President Luthor."

End