A patriot, she was. A soldier, a crime-fighter. Her mission was Thanagar, so she turned her back on crumbling statues, put a mask over her scars, broke the ranks and left the sky. Sometimes, alone on Earth, she dreamed of black birds pecking at eyes in the ruined halls, gray-feathered Thanagarians of old carved in stone. She felt their thoughts turn toward her across the empty void of space, those long dead heroes in the afterworld still directing troops and battles, their lone soldier-daughter light years away from home.
She stood on Earth and watched the formation fly, thousands of them retreating into the warship. Her heart leapt in her chest, wanting to follow, to rejoin the ranks and brush wings again with her comrades. Oh, how she had missed the sight of them spread across the sky, missed the feel of them on either side of her beating the wind together, missed battle with bodies that were complete and like her own.
She kept her feet on the ground. The warship rose higher and higher, a great hawk shrinking into a sparrow, until finally it had faded in the glare of the sun.
They didn't leave her alone.
Still, she was alone. The mountain at night was lonely, high and cold when she missed the feel of John sleeping enclosed in the fold of her wings. Lonely in the morning when she woke and reached for her mask and found it gone.
She was alone, but they were watching her. Earth was too small a planet to lose someone forever, and they wouldn't have let her be lost even for a moment. They didn't trust her enough for that.
They took turns. The first one she was aware of was Superman, catching a streak of blue and red out of the corner of her eye. Then there was a day, a month later, when she felt a...rustling...in her mind, and she knew J'onn was somewhere nearby.
The Flash didn't bother hiding; he simply appeared in a blur of red at her gate and came strolling through.
Shayera was standing in the yard, drying her wings in the morning sun. She waited for him to come to her, uncertain at first until she saw his smile. Then she stepped into the circle of his arms. The welcome-ness of it surprised her. She realized she hadn't touched another person in months.
"Nice place," he said when they moved apart, looking around at the tiny cabin and the wide sloping clearing, the blue sky arching overhead. "But can you get local channels here?"
Shayera smiled and invited him in.
He told her it had been Batman who located her. "I never saw him," she said.
"You wouldn't have."
Outside in the sunlight Wally had looked wonderful to her, like a gift of fire deposited on the mountain. Inside the tiny dim cabin he was entirely too large and too...too red and unnatural, masked and covered all over in spandex, fidgeting and constantly glancing at the door.
"Who's got me next?" she asked, not even trying to hide the real question.
"Uh, Diana." He stopped long enough to give her a sympathetic look. "I think John's just...you know..."
She nodded. "John," she finished for him. "He's just John."
She hated restocking. Restocking involved descending the mountain to the little town nestled in its grip, landing amid stares and tense whispers, edging up and down store aisles past frightened customers, all the while keeping her wings tucked tightly against herself so she didn't brush anyone by accident.
She remembered a few occasions, when she had first arrived on Earth, when people had thought she was akin to an angel. She hadn't known what that was until much later, until she had learned a little more about human mythology.
This town was far removed from Metropolis and the other cities the Justice League had claimed as their special territories of protection, but its residents had felt the Thanagarian takeover no less.
"Birdhead!" she heard someone mutter.
She was neither masked nor uniformed, but they knew her for what she was -- these days there was no mistaking her for a godlike being or even a human in costume. Their bodies shrank away as she passed, their expressions hostile. Quickly, she paid for her purchases, shouldered her bags, and took off from the street.
Diana didn't hide either. She flew toward the mountain like a missile, straight and intent, getting right to the point as soon as she touched down. "I'm here to observe you and report to the others what you're doing."
"Well, you just missed me buying groceries."
Shayera crossed her arms, then immediately wanted to uncross them. Diana made her...not nervous, exactly -- she'd faced down far more intimidating opponents, after all. But there was something about Diana, something about her presence alone which made Shayera lose a tiny bit of control, her hands and feet and mouth seeming like they might do things she wasn't ready for them to do. She felt she could only maintain control by overcompensating.
She remembered Diana appearing through the bars of her cell on the warship; her face then had been just as angry and evaluating as it was now. "I should leave you to burn," she'd said, but she had opened the door anyway.
"How are the others?" Shayera asked.
"Busy," Diana said. "Apparently, the sudden imposition and revocation of martial law has a rather chaotic effect."
Shayera kept her face composed. "But everyone's...safe?"
"We have it under control." Diana's voice was hard. No outward forgiveness here, no hugs or sympathetic stuttering, no doubt about which way she had voted, despite anything else.
Shayera sighed. "So, you've seen me, spoken to me, determined I'm not trying to take over the world -- is there anything else I can do for you?"
Hands on hips, long bare legs spread apart in fighting stance, Diana was the picture of righteousness. "Why did you do it?"
"I've done a lot of things lately. This morning alone I cleaned the house, repaired the cracked window in the bathroom, made lunch for myself and ate it, washed the dishes, did the previously mentioned grocery shopping. You're going to have to be more specific."
Those blue eyes narrowed. "Why did you betray us?"
"Technically," Shayera said, thinking of Hro, the scars kept inside his mask, "I never had an allegiance to you to betray. My only true obligation was to Thanagar."
"You let them capture us. You exploited our weaknesses. Held an entire planet hostage to your misguided sense of duty."
"And I've apologized for it," Shayera snapped.
"You'll never be finished apologizing," Diana said. "Not if I have anything to say about it."
"Not much of an incentive for me to continue, is it?" Suddenly she was tired -- bone-weary, heavy, deep-seated tired. "Go back to the League, princess. Give them my regards."
Quick as a cat Diana caught her arm. "I'm not finished yet either." Her grip was a vise, all of that goddess-like strength concentrated in the one point of contact, her fingers pitiless and cutting.
Shayera didn't believe in goddesses. She whirled and struck at Diana's wrist, wrenching away at the same time. "Don't touch me." She ignored the pain in her arm, spreading her wings out as far as they would go, battle-ready. "And tell the others to stop coming up here. I've left you alone. All I want in return is the same." She turned and made to leave.
"I have a message from John," Diana said from behind her.
Diana went on, slow and reluctant: "He says you forgot this."
She turned around. Diana was holding out a strip of black cloth. Shayera took it from her, the sturdy texture familiar in her hand.
It was her mask.
Shayera traced the eyeholes with her fingers. "Thank you."
There was still a hardness around Diana's eyes, in her regal black brow, but she nodded and asked, "Is there anything you want me to give him?"
Shayera closed her fist around the mask. "Yes," she said, and stepped forward.
Diana stiffened at the kiss, but after a moment her lips softened, her shoulders relaxing under Shayera's hands. There was a sharp, clean scent about her, and a taste like wind, like air at high altitudes. Shayera thought of kissing John in mid-flight.
Diana let her break it off first, and when Shayera stepped back, she saw that the hardness in her face was gone.
"I'll tell the others to stop coming here," Diana said. She touched the mask where it dangled from Shayera's hand. "Maybe you could come tell them yourself."
"Maybe," Shayera said. "Give me some time and I will."