Tell Me Lies

By Ugly_Girl

Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction that infringes upon copyrights and characters owned by DC Comics and Warner Bros. This author (nor anyone else) is making no money, nor receiving any type of compensation for this work.

This fanfic is based in the Justice League animated universe. All bastardization of characterizations is mine.

Rated PG

Part X

Diana groped for the bow that had fallen when Superman had grabbed her.

"Oh, great," the Flash said, looking from one Diana to the other, "How do we know which one is which? Which one is the good one?"

Green Lantern firmed his jaw, nodded at Circe/Diana. "I say, let's not trust the woman with the torturing rod." Hawkgirl nodded in agreement.

Circe smiled, then said a word, waving her arm and gesturing to the group of heroes, even as Diana finally touched the bow.

Immediately, everyone in the room froze. Except Diana, who was protected by the enchanted bow. She stood, and saw Circe's expression of surprise.

"How—?" Circe began, then laughed. "It doesn't matter, little Amazon. You can never defeat me."

"Penelope did," Diana said, her voice calm.

"Ah, but you are no Penelope," Circe said harshly. "You could never be half the woman she was." She lifted an eyebrow, and added cruelly, "At least Penelope could make the man she loved, love her back."

Diana's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean by that?"

Circe smiled and examined a fingernail, as if she wasn't the least bit concerned by the arrow Diana had ready and pointed at her heart. She probably hadn't realized that it was Penelope's bow. "Your darling Batman thought I was you, and yet he wouldn't admit love for you, even under torture. Even when it would stop the torture."

Torture. This woman had tortured Bruce. Fear gripped Diana's heart, even as a different pain ripped through it – Bruce wouldn't admit love for her, even to save himself. He must really hate her.

Circe continued, "At least Penelope won the heart of Odysseus. You are worthless, even for an Amazon."

"Perhaps I am," Diana said as she let the arrow fly. It hit the witch in her chest, instantly ripping through the illusion that she had created to look like Diana. Circe screamed, and tore the arrow from her chest. Blood streamed out; Diana could see that she was mortally wounded – perhaps. There was no telling what the Sorceress could do to heal herself.

Hands to her injury, as if holding the blood inside, Circe cried, "I'll be back for you, Wonder Woman." She laughed, gurgling, and added, "You think you have won, but you will soon discover that I am the victor here, and you are nothing" and then disappeared in a flash of magic.

Diana stared at where the witch had been. Last time, it had taken her three thousand years of sleep to recover, to come back. She hoped it would be the same this time.

Suddenly incredibly weary, Diana waited for a full minute, trying to control her emotions and gather her thoughts before unfreezing the other Leaguers with the bow.

As did, the others looked at her, then around them. Confusion reigned on their faces. Finally, the Flash asked what all of them were thinking: "How do we know the right Diana won?"

Diana tried to smile, but failed. She held up the bow. "This is a bow designed to break Circe's spells. I shot her with an arrow, and it broke the illusion, injured her, and she disappeared." She sighed. "And if you really need me to prove it, I'll stab myself with one of the arrows."

Superman quickly shook his head. "That won't be necessary, Diana. We believe you." All the others nodded.

J'onn added, "The disturbance from the island has disappeared. I can see that you are the true Diana." Then he looked at her carefully, and said, "Why don't you go get Batman? Since you have the bow which can break his bonds, you are the obvious choice. The rest of us will make sure that the witch didn't trap anyone else here, and then we'll meet at the north beach and leave."

J'onn had probably sensed her worry and love for Batman, Diana realized. Her voice was grateful as she replied, "I will." She turned to Wally. "Where was he?"

"Two doors down." He smiled. "It's nice to have you back, Diana."

Hoping that he meant that, but not yet sure that she truly was back, Diana nodded and left the room. She hesitated at the door the Flash had indicated, unsure of what she would see--

…tortured…

--and steeled herself before pushing it open. She felt an incredible relief when she realized that, like the others, he had no real physical injuries -- the pain that Circe had inflicted on them was mostly mental, spelled to make them think it was real.

She ran to him, unsure if he was sleeping or unconscious, and quickly cut his bonds with the tip of the arrow, catching him as he fell. She laid him gently on the floor, running her hands over his body, checking for invisible injuries, remembering when she had done the same when she had run into Bruce Wayne in the Gotham Museum, although she hadn't known then that Batman and Bruce were one and the same.

Satisfied that he was physically fine, she touched him with the bow, and he began to stir. But, she realized, he was too weak to wake fully. She suddenly understood the extent of the torture that Circe must have put him through, to make someone as strong as Bruce so incredibly weak.

"Oh, Bruce," she whispered, placing her hand on his cheek. "Why didn't you just tell her what she wanted to hear? Why didn't you just say that you loved me, even if it was a lie?"

His lips moved, and she had to lean close to hear the words coming from his mouth. "…could never…love…you…"

She gasped as if he had kicked her in the stomach, so painful was it to actually hear the words, even though she had known them before. She closed her eyes, barely able to look at him, until she forced the pain away, and she was left with … nothing. Her heart felt as if it had been ripped out, replaced with a cold, dead lump.

She picked him up carefully, cradling him in her arms. "Don't worry, Bruce." She said, and she didn't recognize her own voice. It sounded emotionless, dead. She wondered if she would ever feel alive again. "You won't ever have to love me, Bruce. Soon enough, I'll be gone, and you won't have to deal with me in your life ever again." And she flew toward the beach, where the others were waiting.

*********

Batman watched Diana carefully. Two days had passed since he had recovered from the torture on Circe's island, and he'd spent most of those two days watching her, although she probably hadn't realized it.

She…had changed.

Once, she had been the most joyous woman he knew. Even through the pain of the months following her exile, she had smiled, laughed, her eyes had sparkled with life and fire. Now, it was as if that spark of life had been extinguished. She answered when spoken to, did her monitor duty without question, but…something was missing. When she wasn't out on a mission or on duty, she spent her time in her room, curled up on her bed, staring at nothing.

The others had noticed, too. They'd had a secret meeting while Diana had been sleeping, discussing the possibility if something had happened on Circe's island, if perhaps they had been mistaken that this Diana was the real one, or if perhaps in her fight with Circe she had been badly hurt, or a spell put on her.

J'onn had simply looked sadly at Batman throughout the meeting, then finally said, "I'm positive that she is the real Diana. She is just … hurting emotionally."

The others had demanded to know what pained her, how they could help, but J'onn had remained silent, except to say that it was Diana's private business. Then he had given Batman another long, sad look and left the meeting.

J'onn came into the monitor room, and Batman turned to him, gesturing toward the screen that monitored Diana's bedroom. "She isn't getting any better, J'onn."

The giant Martian frowned. "No, and she probably won't, not here." J'onn sighed, deeply. "She is actually trying to find the strength to leave again."

Batman clenched his jaw. "I thought that we had convinced her upon her return from Circe's island that we did need her, that her unfamiliarity with Man's World was not a drawback. For god's sake," he added angrily, "if she hadn't been raised on an island of women, we would never have known how to stop Circe. None of us would have known about the magic bow. Her kind of knowledge is invaluable to the League."

J'onn nodded. "I know that, and she knows that now, too." He hesitated, then seemed to come to a decision about something. "I shouldn't tell you this, since it is her private knowledge that I know only because I had to scan her mind to make sure she was the real Diana, but Hippolyta has told her that she is welcome back to the island. But if she goes back, she can never return to Man's World."

Something in Batman's chest twisted painfully. Diana had the chance to get her family back -- he knew that if he had the same chance, he'd take it in an instant. But to never return? "Then why does she need 'strength' to leave?" He wondered, surprised at the bitter tone of his own voice. "Surely she wants to see her family again beyond all else. It seems like an easy choice for her."

"No. There are people here, friends…people she loves here." J'onn put extra stress on the last words. "And it is difficult for her to leave them, no matter how much she misses her home, no matter that she has convinced herself that they don't love her back."

Batman frowned. "But who does she--"

"That's not for me to divulge," J'onn interrupted, then changed the subject abruptly. "Are you fully recovered after the ordeal with Circe?"

Batman clenched his jaw, wanting to ask more about Diana, but able to see that J'onn clearly wasn't going to give him any more information. "Yes," he grated out, "I have a few missing memories, some time gaps especially around the time of my rescue, probably an effect of the torture, but otherwise I'm fine."

"Would you like me to replace them for you? Your mind remembers them, I just would have to make the connections."

Batman considered that. He hated someone messing with his mind, but he hated not having memory of something -- even torture -- more. "All right," he said slowly.

He remembered the slow brush of something against his cheek, then Diana's soft voice. No! not Diana! It is Circe! his mind warned him. She was speaking, "Oh, Bruce, why didn't you just tell her what she wanted to hear? Why didn't you just say that you loved me, even if it was a lie?" He felt her hand gentle on his cheek, but didn't have the strength to move away from it. And he said the words that he had said to the witch every time that she had demanded that he say that he love her: I could never love you. He heard his own voice speak the words, barely loud enough to hear, and waited for the pain that inevitably would follow. But he didn't feel pain; instead, he heard a gasp, then silence as he was lifted into two strong arms. Strong arms, strong like Diana, some part of his mind told him. And then Diana was speaking again, but her voice was changed, emotionless, telling him not to worry, that, "You won't ever have to love me, Bruce. Soon enough, I'll be gone, and you won't have to deal with me in your life ever again." And then the sensation of flying, and then nothing again.

"That's all of the missing gaps, Batman," J'onn said.

"No," Batman said, trying to deny what he now knew: Diana not only knew that he was really Bruce Wayne -- how long had she known? -- but that he had accidentally told her, the only woman that he would ever love, that he could never love her. And that this change in her, this joylessness, had come after he'd said those words.

And now she was leaving, going back to Themyscira never to return. He couldn't let her, wouldn't let her leave now, not like this.

His eyes flew to the monitor, but Diana was no longer in her room. Suddenly, Flash burst into the room, and Batman and J'onn looked at him.

"Hurry," the Flash said, his face panicked. "Diana is leaving, and she wants to say goodbye to all of us. She's calling a meeting and then taking off." He looked at each of them, searching for answers. "We can't let her go! How can we convince her to stay?"

Batman didn't answer, but swept by the Flash, heading for the conference room. "I'll convince her to stay," he said softly to no one but himself. "I have to. I don't think I can live without her."

Part XI

She wouldn't look at him, Batman noticed. Even as she told them she was leaving, that she wouldn't be able to return, she wouldn't look at him. Instead, her face had the same blank expression as before, her eyes still dull, her voice monotone.

Had he done this to her? Had his words turned her into this automaton?

Did that mean that she loved him, too?

He realized that he didn't know. As far as he knew, she hated him for lying to him about being Bruce Wayne, for taking her on a date, kissing her twice without revealing who he was. She might think that those were not the actions of a loyal teammate, no matter his reasons for not revealing the truth.

So he wasn't certain that she loved him; he couldn't count on using that to make her stay. What would work then? How could he play upon her sense of morality, her honor, so that she felt obligated to stay?

"I care for all of you dearly," she was saying. "But I need to take this opportunity to go home. It may be my only chance."

"We respect your wishes, Diana," Superman said, "but we will miss you. You are an important part of this team. Your abilities have been instrumental in helping us save lives over and over -- I wish you would reconsider, continue to use your powers alongside us."

Diana shook her head, still emotionless. "I know my powers help, but between all of you, you are more than capable of protecting Man's World. If you ever need my help, I will try to come, of course. But only if the consequences are very dire."

Batman scowled. So appealing to her honor as a hero obviously wouldn't work. What else?

And suddenly, he knew.

He stood. "If you would all excuse me, I'd like to talk alone with Diana for a moment."

There were looks of confusion and protests from the others.

"Leave." He said, ignoring them. "Now."

Grumbling, they did as he asked. There were benefits to being Batman at times, he thought.

He waited until the door slid shut behind Superman, staring at Diana. She was still looking blankly at the table. He walked around to her chair, lifted her chin, forced her to look at him.

And then he slid his cowl back, revealing his face.

For the first time in days, an emotion flitted across Diana's expression. Surprise. Good, he thought, surprise was better than nothing. He wondered if he could evoke other emotions in her as well. He hoped so.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

His voice was harsher than he intended, but he couldn't help that. He was too full of conflicting emotions to control it. "Let's be honest here -- you and I both know that you know who I am. And since I am Bruce Wayne, I am reminding you that you can not leave until you complete your contract with Wayne Publishing."

Diana frowned. "I talked to Daniel Lee yesterday. He said that my edited draft looked good, that it was almost ready for printing. I have given them the book, then."

"But you haven't done your tour, or publicity as agreed," Bruce pointed out. "If you leave now without fulfilling the terms of your contract, I'll let everyone know that you broke your word. That an Amazon can't be trusted. You will need to stay for at least a few more months in order to not breach the contract."

Her eyes flashed. Anger, he realized, and almost sighed with relief. She pushed herself up from the chair, slowly, until she was face to face with him. "Are you blackmailing me? Threatening me and the good name of Amazons?"

"Yes," he said simply. He would do anything to snap her out of her emotionless state, even if what she felt was anger. And if in doing so he blackmailed her into staying a little longer, so be it.

But then the anger in her eyes turned to hurt, and she sat back down. His gut twisted with guilt. He wanted her to feel something -- anything -- but he didn't want it to be pain.

She looked at her hands. "Why?" She whispered the word, and he could see the tears glittering in her eyes. He had never seen her cry before. "Why can't you let me go home, and try to find some happiness?"

He had to swallow past the tightening of his own throat. "Because I can't," he said finally, waiting for her to ask him why he couldn't, but instead she merely nodded and said:

"Alright then. I'll stay until my contract is done."

"Good," he said, because she had agreed to stay, and because she was no longer staring dully around her. Instead, she looked almost … normal, if a bit upset and angry. At least she had snapped out of that, he thought. Then, because he didn't know what else to do, didn't know what else to say, didn't know if he should tell her now that he loved her, he pulled on his mask and left the room.

"She'll stay for a while longer," he announced to the others as he walked by them, and ignored their whoops of joy, their questions of "How long?"

Long enough to for me to convince her that she should stay forever, one way or another, he vowed to himself. And he transported himself to the Batcave, and began planning.

A plan to make Diana fall in love with him. Or back in love with him, if she had ever loved him once. And, above all, to help her find happiness on Man's World.

He only hoped she would find it with him.

*********

Diana stared warily at the invitation. It had arrived not long after Batman had left, inviting her to join him -- Bruce Wayne -- at a play the next evening.

Hawkgirl's eyes had widened when she had seen it. "I thought you broke up with Wayne?"

Careful not to give away Bruce's secret, Diana lied, "Maybe it is some publicity stunt for the upcoming book." In truth, she didn't know what Bruce was doing.

"Maybe he's had the hots for you this entire time, and he just can't resist your charms anymore," Hawkgirl mused, her eyes twinkling with humor.

Diana's heart twisted at Hawkgirl's unknowing jab -- she knew Bruce could resist her charms just fine -- but she smiled anyway.

Hawkgirl grinned back. "It's good to see you back to normal, Diana. You were walking around here like a zombie. I'm not sure what Batman said to you, but I'm sure grateful to the guy for bringing you back from the living dead, and convincing you to stay a little longer."

Diana ran her finger back and forth over the expensive invitation. She would never tell Shayera the real reason she was staying, so she joked instead, hiding the pain she felt, "He told me that if I put in a few more months, I'd get free iced mochas for life from Starbucks," she said, and listened to Hawkgirl's laugh.

When Hawkgirl quieted, she said, "So…are you going to accept Wayne's invitation?"

Diana nodded. Was Bruce playing with her, or was there some other reason he'd asked her? "I'm curious about why he asked," she said truthfully, "so I will go. I'm flying to Themyscira tomorrow to return Penelope's bow, but I'll be back in time to meet him to see the play. I'll tell my mother then that I'm still deciding, that I could use a few more months to make my choice, then I'll be back."

"We should go shopping for the perfect dress then," Hawkgirl grinned. "With your book contract, you are fabulously rich now. We should go to Paris tonight, and shop like crazy."

Diana grinned back. Maybe such an excursion was exactly what she needed: she could get away from the Watchtower, try to escape from all thoughts of Batman for a couple of hours. In a way, being around Hawkgirl was like being around her Amazon sisters.

It helped her forget, for a little while at least, how much her heart was hurting.

*********

Batman entered the monitor room, saw Hawkgirl at the console. She was speaking over the intercom to Diana, whom Batman could see on screen in the hangar area.

"All systems are 'go', Diana," Hawkgirl said.

Batman frowned. There were no alerts, no planned missions. "Where is she going?"

"Themyscira," Hawkgirl said.

Batman's heart dropped, and his head swam. He turned quickly and left the monitor room, running for the hangar. She was leaving anyway. Could he stop her in time?

He couldn't let her go. He couldn't bear the thought of her leaving, the thought of life without her. His heart pounded in his chest, his stomach twisted in pain at the thought of losing her, not getting to the hangar in time.

The engines were firing as he burst into the hangar room, and he leapt forward, into the Javelin seconds before the door closed. He rushed to the cockpit, where Diana turned to look at him in surprise. He slammed the ignition button closed, and the engine died.

Silence filled the cockpit for a moment, as Diana stared at him, stunned, and as he tried to figure out a way to tell her…

"You can't go," the words tumbled from his mouth, unplanned, harsh.

Her eyebrows drew together in confusion. "Yes, I can. I have to."

He closed his eyes, felt his throat tighten, forced the words past it. "You said you'd stay," he said, his voice accusational. No, his mind screamed, this isn't right. You are going to lose her. He couldn't. He had to tell her…

"I know what I said. I just have to go--"

"I love you." The words were hardly more than a hoarse whisper. "You can't leave. I … need you here."

Her face paled, and her hands dropped to her lap. "But you said you could never love me."

He shook his head, dropped to his knees in front of her seat, taking her hands in one of his. "I told Circe that. I knew you weren't her, that I couldn't say those words to anyone but the real you." He slid his other hand over her cheek, threaded his fingers into her hair. "I thought she was you when I said those words."

Tears formed in her eyes, slid down her cheeks, and he panicked for a moment, wondering if he was hurting her again. "I'll make you happy, Diana, I promise. I'll teach you to love me…"

"You could never do that," she said softly, and everything in him suddenly shut down.

She could never love him.

He untangled his hand from her hair, got numbly to his feet. He had gambled, and lost everything. He turned away, searching for something to say, suddenly desperate to leave. "I'm … sorry," he said. "I won't bother you again. I hope you are happy on Themyscira."

He took a step, and she grabbed his hand.

"No, Bruce," she said, and he saw for the first time that the tears in her eyes weren't of pain, but of…joy? "I meant that you couldn't ever teach me to love you." She sighed. "Because I already do, so very, very much."

His eyes widened in disbelief, and happiness like he hadn't felt since his parents had died swept through him. He pulled her to him suddenly, held her against him, breathed in the perfume of her hair. "But you were leaving…" he said.

"I had to return Penelope's bow," she replied against his neck. "I was coming back." She pulled away slightly to look him in the face. "Why didn't you tell me this before? Why did you blackmail me?"

"It's … hard to tell you how I feel," he began. "I've pushed people away, since my parents…" His voice trailed off.

Diana nodded. "I understand."

And he could see that she did. He pulled her close and touched her lips with his, a soft kiss that quickly deepened in emotion and passion.

When he pulled away, he was out of breath, an unfamiliar condition for a man as in good shape as he was. He smiled. "So, did you get my invitation? Will you go out with me tonight, Diana?"

She stared in wonder at his smile, so unfamiliar was it to her. She knew the smile was for her. Her eyes sparked with humor, and happiness. "I would, Batman, but I've already decided to go out with Bruce Wayne. He's taking me to a play."

"That spoiled playboy," Batman growled. "He'll just treat you badly and tell you lies, Diana. I'm the much better man."

She laughed, delighted by his joke, then quieted when he kissed her again. "I love you," she whispered when he finally lifted his head from hers. "Both of you," she grinned.

"Good," he said shortly, in typical Batman fashion, and calculated that the space in the Javelin was just large enough for him to show her how much he loved her back. More than two men, more than a million men.

And he locked the Javelin's doors, just in case.

*********

"Oh. My. God." Hawkgirl said.

The Flash looked over her shoulder at the screen showing the Javelin. He could see, through the front windows of the plane, Diana and…Batman?

"Oh. My. God." He echoed. "Is that…?"

"Yes."

"And they are doing what I think they are doing…?"

"Yes." Hawkgirl studied the screen. "Batman's usually not this forgetful. His mask is going to come off at any moment. Along with everything else."

They looked at each other, temptation reflected in their eyes. "Should we…?" The Flash wondered.

They stared at each other for another second, then Hawkgirl said regretfully, "We really shouldn't" and switched off the monitor.

"No," the Flash said mournfully, "but we may never get this chance again." He grinned. "To see Diana, totally naked, I mean."

Hawkgirl laughed and slapped his arm, then stared at the blank monitor and mused, "I wonder if Bruce Wayne will be disappointed. I still think he had the hots for her."

The Flash shrugged. "Who cares? He's just a rich boy with too many hot women anyway."

"Yeah," Hawkgirl said. "I warned Diana about him from the beginning. Batman is a much better choice." She paused, then added, "A strange choice, but a better one."

***********

In the Javelin, Bruce Wayne held Diana close. He had managed, somehow, to get the most beautiful woman, the most intelligent woman he knew to love him, and he loved her more than he'd ever dreamed possible.

Despite Hawkgirl's musings, Bruce Wayne was not disappointed.

And neither was Diana.

Epilogue (because Kooky is such a sweetie)

Hippolyta sat on her throne, looking down at her daughter. Diana kneeled before the Queen of the Amazons, placing the bow and quiver of arrows at her mother's feet.

"Rise, Diana." Hippolyta's words were gentle. As Diana stood, she examined her mother's face, saw the hope and anticipation that the queen was doing her best to hide behind her regal expression.

Diana took a deep breath. She was going to disappoint her mother once again. "The Justice League thanks you for your assistance, Queen Hippolyta. Circe was injured; hopefully she will not return nor be a threat to Man's World for another three thousand years, if ever."

Hippolyta inclined her head in acknowledgement. "Circe is an enemy of every Amazon, as well as Man's World. If she should reappear, we will be happy to offer our help once more." She rose from her throne, held out her hand to Diana. "That is enough of that, daughter. Tell me of your decision."

Diana clasped her mother's hand. "Mother...I have chosen to stay in Man's World."

Hippolyta closed her eyes and sighed. "I was afraid this would be your choice." Tugging on Diana's hand, she began walking toward the temple's exit. "Come with me, Diana, to the armory. Bring Penelope's bow and arrows."

The armory. Diana's heart clenched; it was from the armory that she had stolen the uniform she now wore. The uniform of the champion of the Amazons. Did her mother now seek to take it from her? It was probable -- why would the Amazons want an exiled member to wear their most prized clothing?

Diana hadn't realized how attached she had become to the uniform, and for what it stood. It seemed a connection to her sisters in Man's World, before and after her exile.

Her fears seemed to be realized when her mother began to speak. "Diana, you know our history, that long ago the Amazons were prophesized to have a great champion, one who would uphold the ideals of Themyscira, and bring the Amazon's message to the outer world." They walked past the temples and columned buildings, Diana's feet and heart growing heavier with each step. "When the time presented itself, we were to have a great contest, and our best warrior would become the Champion of the Amazons, and deliver this message to Man's World, wearing your uniform." Hippolyta paused. They had reached the doors of the armory.

"Mother, I--"

"Silence, daughter." She looked Diana up and down. Diana felt like squirming under that gaze, which held the combined power of both queen and mother; but she faced her mother squarely, didn't flinch from the examination. Finally, Hippolyta continued. "When the gods gifted you to me, a child of clay endowed with special powers, I knew that the Amazons had found their champion. As you grew, and your skills surpassed every other Amazon on the island, I knew that the time for you to leave us was coming." Hippolyta sighed. "And I did everything in my power to stop it."

Diana frowned. "But, Mother, you did nothing to--"

"That is exactly the point, Diana," Hippolyta said. "I did nothing. That day, when we rode our horses on the beach, we both knew that times in Man's World were changing, and that they might need assistance from the Amazons. You had no responsibility beyond that; I, on the other hand, did. I should have held the contest at that point. But I knew that even if I forbid you from competing, you would find some way to enter the contest -- you are too clever, too determined, not to. And I knew that if you entered the contest, you would win, and I would lose my daughter."

Shaking her head, Diana said, "You would never have lost me, Mother."

Hippolyta laid a hand on Diana's cheek. "But I did. For you took fate into your own hands, and when you finally returned, I had to exile you." She turned, pushed open the doors to the armory. Diana blinked as her eyes adjusted to the dim light inside. "And you will have to leave again, soon," Hippolyta added as she walked toward the empty pedestal that once held the uniform.

Diana's throat was tight, and she had to force the words past the constriction. "Do you want the uniform back, Mother?"

Hippolyta's gaze was even, calm. "Yes."

Diana nodded numbly, began to remove the tiara.

"But only for a short time," Hippolyta added.

She froze in the middle of the movement, her hands alongside the tiara on her forehead, sudden hope rising in her chest. "What do you mean?"

Hippolyta smiled. "That it is time the Amazons held that contest."

Speaking softly, almost afraid to hear the answer, Diana asked, "Will I be able to compete?"

Hippolyta raised an eyebrow. "It seems only fair to me, the Queen of the Amazons, that the former wearer of the Champion's uniform should be able to defend her position, no matter how she came by the clothing, don't you?"

"And what of my exile?"

"If you win, it would hardly make sense that the Champion of the Amazons would be forbidden access to Themyscira. And if you lose--" Hippolyta's amused look betrayed her doubt of that happening "--there is nothing that forbids me, your mother, from visiting her exiled daughter in Man's World."

Diana threw her arms around the other woman, burying her face in her neck. "I love you, Mother."

"And I, you, daughter." Hippolyta pulled away. "Now, change out of that uniform, and we'll begin the contest immediately. The others have already begun preparing for it."

Smiling, Diana began removing her clothing. "Mother, if I had decided to stay on Themyscira, would you have held the contest?" she wondered.

"Probably not," Hippolyta said. "But I knew that your choice would be to remain in Man's World. You feel too great a responsibility to use your powers to help everyone." She gave a wry smile. "And I felt certain that this man who you said did not love you would admit feelings for you. Who, after all, could not fall in love with you?"

Diana blushed. "Mother, please!"

Hippolyta pretended to be offended. "What did I say? I know it is the truth." She handed Diana a toga, watched as her daughter covered herself. "Which one was it? The handsome, tall one with the red cape?"

Diana bit her lip, shook her head.

Hippolyta frowned. "That's unfortunate. I was sure it must be him. Then it must be the strong man with the green ring?" She noted Diana's expression, tried again. "The noble Martian?" Hippolyta gasped as Diana shook her head again. "Not the clown in the red bodysuit? He could barely keep his hands off of Menalippe and Mara."

Laughing, Diana said, "No, not the Flash."

"Oh, Aphrodite." Hippolyta prayed. "That leaves the one in the dark costume. The Bat-Man."

"He is a good man, Mother," Diana said.

"But must he be so...gloomy?"

Diana smiled and linked elbows with her mother as they walked back into the sunlight. "That is part of his charm," she joked, then added seriously, "He is a complex man, but he is not completely surrounded by the darkness."

"If he loves you, then that must be true," Hippolyta stated. "I just don't want to see you hurt as I was, Diana."

Grinning, Diana said, "He is a man, not the King of Hell as Hades was, Mother. Trust me to have a little better taste than that, and to learn from your mistakes," she teased. She noted the sudden determined expression on her mother's face, said in growing horror, "Oh...no...Mother -- you may not come to Man's World just to test Batman."

Hippolyta smiled.

*****************************

"She was supposed to return three days ago," Hawkgirl said.

The Justice League, with the exception of Diana, sat in their chairs around the conference room table.

"Could she have changed her mind?" Green Lantern asked.

J'onn shook his head. "She was determined to come back."

"In any case, she would have returned the Javelin. But it's been hovering over the island the entire time."

"Do you think those women...did something to her?" Flash's tone indicated that the thought wasn't entirely unpleasant to him.

Batman remained silent, but J'onn picked up on his thoughts, voiced the question that they had all wanted to ask. "Should we determine if she needs to be rescued, then if so, attack the island?"

"No need for that," a tired voice said from the doorway. Stunned silence greeted Diana's appearance. Although bathed and dressed in her uniform, bruises and small cuts decorated her face, arms and legs.

Batman's fists clenched.

Noting his barely perceptible reaction, Diana hastened to smile and add, "I'm fine. Everyone stop looking at me like that. I would have waited until I healed to return, but I'd already been gone so long that it seemed imperative to come back before you..." She grinned. "Well, before you began storming Themyscira."

"Diana, what happened?" Superman wanted to know.

"Just a little friendly competition between Amazons," she said. "I won."

Hawkgirl smiled and leaned back in her chair. "And you didn't invite me?"

Diana slid into the empty chair next to Batman, gave his hand a reassuring squeeze under the table. "Maybe next time," she promised.

*******************

"You should have let us know," Bruce growled, but his tone was proven false by the tender kiss he pressed to a bruise on her arm.

"Even I didn't know," Diana said. Her injuries were quickly fading, but she didn't mind the extra attention that they were garnering her. Especially not this kind of attention.

A cut on her thigh got the same treatment. "So your exile is over?" he asked.

She smiled happily. "Yes."

He frowned over a slash on her abdomen. "How did you get this?"

Diana looked down. "One of the challenges is to dodge spears thrown at you by the sisters."

"You weren't fast enough?"

"Well, there were a couple of hundred of them, all thrown at once," she said.

"All of the Amazons had to do that?"

"Just me." Diana smiled, remembering. "My mother decided that the difficulty of my challenges should be in proportion to my powers."

Bruce nodded. "That seems fair." He put his lips to the injury, gently kissed it.

She pulled him up against her and stared into his eyes. "I'm all better now," she said, smiling.

"Not yet," he said. "But as long as the BatSignal doesn't light up anytime soon, you will be shortly."

"That sounds wonderful," Diana breathed, then slowly frowned.

"What is it?"

"Bruce...if the BatSignal ever comes on, and you find my mother waiting for you...fight her."

He gave a short laugh, pulled back to study her face when he realized she wasn't joking. "Are you serious?"

Diana nodded and grinned. "Just consider it a friendly Amazon competition -- fueled by a mother's protective instincts."

He bent his head, kissed her. "All right," he said when he was out of breath. "I'll fight her."

"And you have to win," Diana warned. "You can't go easy on her."

"Oh, I'll win," Bruce said, watching Diana as she lay across his bed. "Just look how easy it was to take down the Amazon Champion -- her old mother can't be too much more difficult."

Diana narrowed her eyes. "You're in for a fight tonight, Batman, and it is not with my mother," she said.

He lowered his voice, became the Bat. "You don't have a chance, Amazon. I'll win."

She rose to the challenge. "No, I'll win, Batman."

In the end, they both won.

The End (II)