Disclaimers: Don't own 'em, don't make money off 'em. The only real crime I'm committing is the overuse of adverbs, and ending far too many sentences with prepositions.
A/N: This story was inspired by a challenge given on the JL Animated RPG message boards (like Artemis's "Sick Day" short). The first paragraph was given to us…the rest was up to the author. Special thanks to Artemis and all the members of the message board for their support while I wrote this.
Also, thanks for all the reviews thus far, and I hope you enjoy the ending!
"Are you insane?" Shayera shouted. "What were you thinking?"
Diana raised an eyebrow, remained calm in the face of her friend's fury. "I saved his life."
Shayera paced the room, swinging her mace beside her as she shook her head, still disbelieving what Diana had told her. "Insane? Stupid." She looked accusingly at Diana. "You could have asked me for help. Then you would have had someone there, just in case Batman couldn't have gotten to you."
Diana lifted her shoulders, her hands in a gesture that said what was I supposed to do? "That might have compromised his identity, Shayera. You couldn't have been there with me."
"Then you could have done it in the Watchtower, dammit!"
"And either J'onn would have tried to stop me, or Superman, or even you -- and you probably would have brought me back too quickly." Diana paused. "Besides, I think it was necessary that Batman did it himself." The ghosts had been there because he felt guilty for them -- if nothing else, he at least knew that he had saved her.
If only that.
Diana continued, "In any case, wouldn't you have done the same for John, even if he insisted that you don't?"
Shayera froze, glared at Diana, lifting her mace to point it at her threateningly. "Don't you dare try to use that argument on me."
Diana smiled. "All right -- then would you have done the same for me?"
Shayera pursed her lips. "As mad as I am at you right now, probably not." She sighed, then added in a growl, "Okay, maybe I would have."
They stared at each other for a moment; Shayera broke, ran over to Diana and wrapped her arms around her. The breath whooshed out of Diana's injured chest, but she held onto Shayera just as tightly.
"It was still stupid, though," Shayera said when they parted.
"I would do it again," Diana said. "It was worth it."
"Worth it?" Shayera frowned. "That makes it sound as if you lost something." Diana didn't respond, and understanding dawned on Shayera's face. "Oh--you, and Batman. I can imagine he wasn't too happy with you."
"That's an understatement," Diana said wryly, with more humor than she actually felt. She couldn't wallow in her pain and disappointment, though -- it simply wasn't in her nature. In any case, she'd known it would happen.
Shayera hefted her mace. "Do you want me to make him see things differently?" She grinned.
Diana laughed. "No, but thank you for the thought."
"The offer will remain open indefinitely," Shayera said. "I'll even give him a head start."
Standing up, Diana shook her head. "If he ever does see things differently -- well, he'll have to do it by himself."
Shayera patted her arm. "Just be yourself, Diana. He'll break down eventually."
Diana wasn't so sure, but she nodded anyway. "Eventually," she agreed. "Let's go to the kitchen and get a milkshake," she said.
Shayera nodded, her eyes sad for her friend, but her lips smiling. "And we'll see if we can find and torment Flash."
Normally, they would have giggled -- but this time, each woman just smiled a little.
Shayera lay in John's arms, stroking the skin of his chest, thinking about Diana. "If you were in danger and the only way of saving your life was to let me die, would you? Even if you knew that you could probably revive me?"
John shifted so that he could look into her eyes. "Is this a test?"
He remained silent for a moment, then said, "I don't think so. I wouldn't want to risk it."
Shayera sighed, scooting upwards so that she could softly kiss his mouth. "That's what I thought you would say." She paused. "I wouldn't let you, either."
Stiffening, John growled, "Let me?"
Shayera tucked her head into his shoulder so that he couldn't see her face and grinned. "That's right. I wouldn't let you, soldier."
He took the bait, rolling her over, staring at her intently. She could see the laughter in his eyes, though. "What else wouldn't you let me do?"
"Oh, not much," she said airily. "But probably not die for me."
"And if I decided that it was my choice?"
Shayera pretended to think about that, said, "Then I guess I wouldn't hold it against you for very long. Unless you died, of course. Then I'd hate you forever, and start dating the Flash."
John narrowed his eyes. "Is this just a way to kick me out of your bed, and get it on with the speedster?"
"Oh, yes, definitely," she said.
"Then I guess I'll have to work a little harder, convince you to keep me here a little longer," he growled playfully.
"Oh, I'll let you do that," Shayera breathed.
Gotham was quiet.
He didn't miss the whispers. He didn't miss the crowding apparitions. He wondered about his parents, but he didn't allow himself to miss the opportunity he might have had with their ghosts.
He missed her, though.
She was hurting, too. He'd seen her briefly on a security camera in the kitchen, drinking milkshakes with Shayera. A brief glance was all that he'd allowed himself, but he'd noted immediately that although she was talking and laughing with Hawkgirl, her smile never quite reached her eyes, and every now and then, a sad expression flitted across her face.
He knew she thought he was being unreasonable, stubborn. She was probably right, but that didn't bother him: he was well aware that many people considered him unreasonable and stubborn about many things -- and he'd admitted to himself long ago that he was.
She was definitely right about one thing: the curse had been broken, but he was still haunted.
During times like this, when he was still, she haunted him. Her face, her touch, her laugh. He could see her, feel her, hear her.
And knowing that she wasn't really there left him as cold as the real ghosts had.
He shot a line across the alley, swung out into the night.
If he didn't remain still -- maybe she wouldn't haunt him.
"Hello, Princess. Not reading fairy tales today?"
Diana jumped a little, but schooled her expression before she turned. Bruce stood in the doorway of the examination room she was preparing, his playboy leer plastered across his face. She wanted to smash his nose in.
Apparently, despite the fact that he treated her only as a teammate in the Watchtower, he still felt that he had to keep up his Bruce Wayne persona in public.
"No fairy tales today." She paused, added, "Do we have an audience, Bruce?"
He slowly nodded, somehow making the simple movement sensual – for someone else's benefit, Diana guessed. "A group of nurses in the hall," he said quietly.
"Why don't you go flirt with them, then?"
A lazy smile curved his lips. "Partially because they are busier than you, and partially because of the stolen medical equipment – that belongs to this clinic – that I found in my home."
Diana blushed, muttered, "I forgot to take it back with me. I'll go get it, return it."
His lips tightened for a moment, then relaxed into his Bruce Wayne smirk. "A three day coma will do that – make a person forget. No need to go get the stuff, though – I've brought it with me today. Alfred is sneaking it in the back door as we speak."
"I highly doubt that Alfred is 'sneaking'," Diana said, unable to imagine the dignified gentleman doing anything in a furtive manner. Subtle, yes…furtive, no. Which was one of the reasons she hadn't applied to him for help with her scheme. She bit her lip, wondered, "Bruce…you don't blame him for what I did, do you? Because he wasn't able to stop me, and he is the reason I had access to your house?"
His expression didn't waver, but a hard glint entered his eyes. "No. And I am the reason you had access to the Manor – if I hadn't allowed it, Alfred wouldn't have considered letting you in. I know exactly where that blame lies."
She nodded. "On me."
"On me," he corrected. He glanced at the nurses, looked back at Diana, who was staring at him with surprise on her face. And maybe a little hope. He deliberately squashed it with his next words, spoken quietly. "I should have found a way to break the curse, but I wasn't looking hard enough. I shouldn't have gotten close to you, and I shouldn't have taken the risk of letting you into my home. Those were mistakes that I won't make again."
She turned, her back to him, straightened some already meticulously organized supplies. When she spoke, her throat was tight, but the words didn't tremble, her voice was even. "You didn't have much of a choice, Bruce," she pointed out. "I took the initiative, found out about the curse, decided to break it. You couldn't have stopped me, so you made no mistakes."
"Except for showing up that night. I should have realized what you were trying to do."
She whirled around, her eyes bright with unshed tears. "I'm sure that I can find a scalpel, Bruce. It'll be faster." Shaking with rage and pain, she walked forward, brushed past him.
She stopped suddenly, but kept her face turned from him. "If it makes you feel better, then know this: that night was never a part of my plan. If there was any mistake made that night, it was all yours. Congratulations—you really do have something for which to blame yourself. You may spend your life regretting that night, and that's fine; but never forget that the rest of it was all me."
She stalked past the staring, wide-eyed nurses. "Don't believe the rumors," she said, her nose in the air. "He's ridiculously bad in bed – not fit for a plastic doll, let alone royalty," she sniffed.
If he could be the playboy in public around her, then she'd be damned if she wasn't the princess around him.
Bruce watched her disappear down the hallway, ignoring the nurses, who were staring and giggling. Then he stepped into the examination room, closed the door, and began laughing.
She had a spine of steel. He had been cruel, he knew; it had been deliberate. But even so, though he'd obviously hurt her, she'd withstood it, gotten back at him in her own way. He sobered quickly.
He didn't like to hurt her.
He'd told himself that the pain – hers and his – wouldn't be as bad if she was antagonistic toward him. In the Watchtower, he'd been cool toward her; she, however, had been the same, friendly, open Diana that she'd always been, the one who had made him fall in love with her. He treated her as a teammate, she continued to treat him as a friend.
As she treated all of her teammates – as friends. He tried not to feel jealous, even as he forced himself not to acknowledge that even before the hauntings, she had treated him as a different kind of friend from the rest. As he had her.
He didn't want that friendship, or more than that. Less would be better. He'd prefer antagonism or indifference to her friendliness. Otherwise, his feelings would never fade.
But he didn't like to hurt her.
The door opened.
"Sir? The purloined equipment has been returned."
"Thank you, Alfred," he said.
"Princess Diana passed me in the hall, and informed me that you were an 'ass from Augeas's stables'." Alfred kept a straight face. "I wonder if her highness thinks that Augeas only keeps the highest quality asses."
Bruce's lips twitched. "I doubt the princess thinks that at all. I'm sure she considers Augeas's stock the lowest of them all."
"Good," Alfred said, giving Bruce a hard stare. "I'd hate for such a lovely, brave and intelligent woman to be wrong."
Realizing that Alfred had just insulted him, Bruce glared at the older man.
Alfred gazed back, unfazed.
"Diana, get those stray bullets! We don't want any civilian casualties!" Batman yelled, and the Intergang thieves who were defending their position within the National Museum of History.
She darted forward, bracelets flashing, deflecting the shots away from the crowd that had gathered across the avenue.
"Get back!" she yelled at them. Really, what was it about Man's World that the population was attracted to violence and death, even at the risk of their own safety? Car wrecks, bank robberies, crime scenes, Nascar racing – they couldn't tear their eyes away.
"There's Superman!" A young boy shouted, hero-worship in his eyes. He ran forward, his mother close behind him.
"Oh, Great Hera," Diana breathed. She sped over to him, scooped him up in the middle of the street, felt a bullet tear into her upper arm. Better than the boy's head, she thought, grimacing in pain.
The shooting stopped, and she looked, saw Superman holding each of the guns, the criminals wrapped tightly up with a Batcable. Superman must have used his speed, disarmed them, while Batman finished the job.
She wasn't surprised that Batman had disappeared – this type of fight was too public for him to hang around for long.
Diana handed the child back to his sobbing mother, skipping the lecture that she felt like giving to the woman about staying around a dangerous situation. It wasn't her place; and besides, if the woman didn't learn from the experience, nothing that Diana said would change her mind.
She held her hand over the bullet wound to stem the blood flow, floated over to Superman, who was standing over the trussed men.
"Are you okay, Diana?" He examined her arm with his x-ray vision, his face concerned. "The bone looks alright, and I don't see any remains of the bullet."
"It passed through the flesh." The pain was fading to a sharp throbbing which she could tolerate fairly well. "It just looks bad, since it is bleeding so heavily."
Superman nodded, then gestured for her to go. "I'm going to drop this group off at police headquarters. I'll meet you back at the Javelin in twenty minutes. Can you bandage that up yourself?"
"Yes." She lifted into the air. "I'll let the others at the Watchtower know that everything's under control, too."
She landed next to the Javelin, opened the hatchway, flew inside. Batman sat at the control panel, accessing his computer. He didn't look up as she entered, and she didn't say anything to him, either, simply walking over to the first aid cabinet, pulling out some bandages and antiseptic, placing them on the counter. She wiped away most of the blood, poured on the antiseptic liquid, gritting her teeth as it stung through the wound; the medicine felt worse than the injury.
Gentle, gloved fingers took the bottle from her, lifted her arm. "You were hit," he said, examining the ragged edges of the entry and exit sites.
She stared at her arm, not daring to look up at him when he was so close. Her anger had faded slowly over the last week, and she'd recognized his words at the clinic as a method of pushing her away. And if he felt the need to push her away -- then he must still care for her.
Sometimes, he could be an idiot.
"It's a clean hit," she said. "Superman x-rayed it."
"How did it happen? You are fast enough to block them."
"I was saving a child's life," she said wryly. "And my arm got in the way of a bullet aimed for his head as I picked him up."
He pulled off a length of bandage, began wrapping. "Why didn't you use your bracelets?"
"Because I didn't see the bullet coming," she answered, somewhat impatiently. "I was more concerned with getting him back into the crowd."
"But if you had done as you were supposed to, and block the bullets as they came out of the museum and toward the crowd, there would have been no chance for this kid to be hit. Did he get across the street onto the museum side?"
"No, but he would have if I hadn't stopped him."
"He didn't have anyone watching him?"
Diana finally looked up from her arm, stared into the lenses of his mask. She couldn't even tell if he was looking at her face or the wound he was wrapping. "His mother. But I couldn't have been certain that she would have caught him before he got into danger."
He ripped the end of the bandage in half, tied off the dressing. "You should have protected yourself first. You couldn't have helped the boy, nor anyone else in the crowd if the bullet had done more damage."
"But it didn't—" She bit off her sentence, smiled, lowering her head. "We've had this conversation before." She tested the bandage, rotating her arm, flexing the biceps. "This is good. Thank you." She glanced up at him, decided to take a chance on her next words. "You've gotten rather good at patching me up with your medical expertise."
He drew in a sharp breath. "This isn't like that."
"No?" She lifted an eyebrow. "I get hurt while saving someone's life, you fix me."
"There's a difference between bandaging a small wound you've received in the heat of battle and bringing you back to life after you've committed suicide for me, Diana." He stepped back, began repacking the antiseptic and clean bandages into the cabinet.
Diana leaned back against the counter, her mind racing. This really was the same conversation as before -- she just had to be smarter about her answers this time. Her love wasn't the answer, obviously.
But maybe another approach would break through that wall.
She put on an airy laugh that hopefully didn't sound false to his ears. "Oh, I didn't just do that for you, Batman. It was part of it, sure, but I also did it for the Justice League. And for Gotham."
At the mention of his city he tensed. "What do you mean?"
"That I've grown fond of the city and its inhabitants while working at Leslie's clinic: people like little Teresa and her mother, the other patients who are just trying to live a normal life, or even people like Uzana Costache. If you died, there wouldn't be a hero to take your place to protect that city. And even if someone tried, they couldn't do half as much as you do, even if they had as many powers as Superman."
He didn't respond, and she smiled to herself, knowing there was no way he could contradict her statement. He told everyone to stay out of his city far too often for him to pretend that he thought someone could do the job as well as he.
She gave a careless shrug, realizing how manipulative she was being, but relieved that at least what she was saying was the truth. "And the Justice League needs you as well." She paused. "But I would have done the same thing if it had been anyone. I was just lucky that the conditions were right for me to break the curse."
"And would you have slept with anyone who had a curse on them you could break?" he asked.
This time she recognized the cruel jab for what it was--a defense mechanism--and deflected it easily. She had been too raw to do so in the clinic earlier that week. "No, Bruce," she replied softly. "I would have invited anyone who had a curse for me to break to my room, to sleep and for his protection -- but I had sex with the man I love. You."
He opened his mouth to reply, but a choking sound had them both looking at a very red Superman standing in the Javelin's doorway.
Diana looked at Batman, was amused to notice his own skin had turned faintly pink. She wasn't upset by the interruption -- whatever Batman had been about to say, it was probably an argument. She knew it was better to let him think about her words for a while, stew in them.
She hid a grin, slid into one of the front seats. She doubted the two men would look at each other the entire flight back -- let alone talk to each other.
Men, she thought, not for the first time, but with more fond exasperation than ever before.
She could see in the dark.
She knew she had locked her door.
He stood by her bed, indecision showing on the part of his face exposed by the mask.
She sat up. "You've come this far. You might as well say or do what you had in mind, instead of chickening out now."
He clenched his jaw. "I was coming to tell you that..." He broke off. "I wanted to say that it won't..."
"Would it be easier if I used the lasso?" Diana said, with no intention of making this easy for him.
She let the sheet slip down to her waist, and thanked the gods for her impulse to sleep in the nude that night.
No, she intended to make this very hard for him.
He pushed back his mask, and for a moment she thought that he was going to undress, just get into bed with her, then she realized that he was just making sure he didn't use his night-vision lenses. She smiled.
"No," he said. Sitting down on the bed, bracing his elbows on his knees, he leaned forward as if staring at the carpet. She wasn't certain if he was responding to her question about the lasso, her nudity, or telling himself something with that word.
"Why are you here, Bruce?"
His lips lifted into a wry, self-deprecating grin in the dark. "I thought I knew when I came up here," he said. "But it seems that I've forgotten along the way, or that it became unimportant."
"That doesn't sound like you," she said.
"No," he said slowly, "It doesn't." He scrubbed a hand over his face, ran his fingers though his hair, and Diana realized that he really didn't know what he was doing here.
She didn't feel a bit guilty that she was the cause of his confusion, either.
"I came up here to look at you," he admitted suddenly. His gaze remained fixed blindly on the floor.
Her lips parted in surprise. "Look at me?"
He nodded sharply, and she felt his withdrawal, as if he'd shocked himself with his words. He stood, pulled his mask back on -- but he didn't glance at her. "And now I have seen you," he said abruptly, striding toward the door.
She beat him there, leaning back against the wood. She felt his gaze rake her form, even though she couldn't see his eyes. "Now you have seen me," she said. She stepped forward, put a hand on one of his rigid arms, slid the other back behind his shoulders, under his cape. She floated up a couple of inches, until her eyes and lips were level with his. "Why did you want to look at me?"
He stepped to the side; she floated with him. She leaned forward, traced the seam of his lips with her tongue, then broke the contact. "Why did you want to look at me?" she repeated.
He tried to push her away; she didn't move. He wasn't trying as hard as he could have, she knew.
Emboldened, she pressed her full length against his, her softness against the stiff armor of his Batsuit. She said the words against his mouth. "Against your own character, and probably your own judgement, you just admitted to me that you came here to look at me, Bruce. Why?" She scraped her teeth along his jaw, then licked the same path with her tongue.
His arms came up then, and she prepared herself to either be ravished or tossed aside, but he simply pushed them into her hair, holding her head still. "It wasn't for this. For seduction," he said.
Her eyes were gentle as she looked at him. "I know that," she said.
They stared at each other in silence for a moment.
She spoke first. "You're in love with me. That's why you came to look at me."
A bark of laughter escaped him. "They don't teach you subtlety on that island, do they?"
"They do," she said. "Just not in regards to relationships with men. I'm in new territory for an Amazon." She took a deep breath. "But Amazons are wonderful explorers." She grimaced as she realized how false that statement might sound. "For a race that's never been off their island in three thousand years," she added lamely.
He removed his fingers from her hair, and she set herself back down on the ground, letting her hands drop to her sides. If he went now, she wouldn't stop him. There was hope at least, she told herself, and she could continue to try.
He didn't leave. "I came to look at you because you were right that day when you said I'd continue to be haunted. I haven't been able to get you out of my mind for weeks." He reached forward, touched her cheek. "I came up here tonight to look at you, to convince myself that the reality wasn't as good as my mental image of you, so that I could finally push you from my thoughts."
"Did it work?" She held her breath.
"No. But I wish it had."
"That's not very flattering," she said, but she was smiling.
His lips twitched. "No, it isn't." He stared at her for a moment, then added, "I have nothing to offer you, and I can't make any promises, Diana. I don't need a relationship."
"And I don't need a man, Bruce, and I didn't want one before you," she said. "And I've never asked for anything from you, or for promises, nor will I ask for anything now." She gave him a stubborn glance. "Because if I ever want you to do anything, I'll make you do it."
"You've gotten good at that, Princess." He smiled. "But ask me first; I might do it of my own volition, especially if what you want is reasonable."
"Like sleeping when you are tired?" She tilted her head toward the bed. "I'd hate to find you passed out from exhaustion on the couch again, when there is a place for you here."
"I'm not tired right now," he said.
She crossed her arms, lifted an eyebrow. "I still think it is best that you get into that bed. Right now." She paused. "Unless you need to go back to Gotham, of course."
"I don't," he said. "Not until morning."
She grabbed his hand. "Good. Then we have plenty of time to tire you out, then let you get some sleep." She pulled him toward the bed.
He planted his feet, and she looked back at him. "Bruce?"
Using his free hand to push back his mask, he gestured with his head toward the door.
Her breath caught. "You want to leave?"
She saw his slow smile in the dark. "No. The sight of you against the door earlier gave me an idea. As much as you would like to take control, I think we should do this my way."
She understood, and her eyes widened. "Is that possible?"
His teeth flashed as he grinned. "Very."
She began dragging him toward the door.
He pushed her against the wood, claimed her mouth, lifting her against him, then stopped.
"What is it?" she wondered, her fingers working at his suit.
He kissed her gently. "I want to look at you," he said. "And we need to turn on the light."