Disclaimer: The following is based on the animated series Dungeons and Dragons, which ran from 1983 – 1985. The show and all its characters have been owned by Marvel Productions, TSR Inc., Saban Entertainment, and others. I'm simply borrowing them for a little while. *G*
Author's Notes: Happy 20th Birthday, to the D&DC! On Sept. 17, 1983 (in the U.S.), many of us climbed into a little red roller coaster for a fated ride through the Realm. Thankfully, some of us never left! Although this is a slight deviation from my current project, I wanted to post a little something extra for the anniversary of one of my favorite toons!
This little vignette was originally to be the prologue of an Eric/Diana fic which was supposed to have led into Legacy. Unfortunately, I was never truly happy enough with it. Perhaps someday I'll have the whole thing acceptable for public viewing, but I always thought this scene, although meant to be part of a longer story, made a decent standalone too. It follows the episode Child of the Stargazer. Angsty, not too terribly romancy, but it has potential!
Hope you all enjoy! Feedback is certainly appreciated.
* * *Morning Star
by Amy Rummi
Diana stared at the sky. They were almost gone now. It had been a clear night and the heavens had been filled with countless shimmering points of light, but now, they were nearly gone. It was hard to believe there had once been so many; so many beautiful stars.
Diana cursed them.
All night she had stared bitterly at the alien constellations, the unfamiliar astral darkness. Then she cursed herself for not becoming more familiar with them after all this time in the Realm. Her father most certainly would have. The astronomer's daughter should have. Perhaps if she had, she would have been able to detect any change in the sky tonight.
An extra star. A newly-added glowing body. A sign. Something. But now, after hours of searching, as the tiny orbs continued to fade from view, she had caught no glimpse of him.
She wouldn't cry. Not again. What would her friends think of her if she fell apart?
Diana shook her head before turning her gaze skyward once more. She wasn't about to do that again. She was going to show how strong she could be -- the strong person they needed her to be.
A dull glow began to appear in the distance where the earth met the sky. The dim light from the first of the Realm's four suns claimed the stars that were nearest to the horizon. They blended into the coming dawn as they vanished.
Diana grimaced to see them go. It was one more place she wasn't going to find him.
As promised, however, she didn't cry. She felt as though the chasm in her heart was growing steadily every moment, but she refused to show evidence of that on her face. She gazed proudly upward as if she was merely admiring the view.
Where had he gone? The way he had literally stumbled into her life so sharply contrasted the manner in which he streamed out of it -- in a blinding flash of light.
Diana remembered how her father used to try to point out shooting stars to her through the large telescope at the university's observatory when she was little. Even after it was gone, she would often find herself still searching the sky, in the hopes of seeing it a second time.
Now, here she was again, still searching for her star.
Dungeon Master did say that they would meet again. Well, she thought, he actually said that I knew him before and that I would know him again. Unfortunately, the little man, while he most likely had the best of intentions, also had a way of twisting his words into cryptic half-truths that were meant to be deciphered. Very rarely did he say exactly what he meant. So where did that leave her?
Unprompted, Diana glanced down to the grass on her left. Alongside the rock on which she sat, something colorful was growing. It was nearly hidden among the taller blades and she would have missed it if not for the increasing light of the dawn. But there it was, a lone splotch of color amidst the dull weedy grass. She reached her hand down and plucked it from the earth.
The flower was little more than a bud, but it looked about the same. It was a very light violet in color and Diana cupped it in her hands as she remembered . . . . Almost the same as the ones she had picked with him.
Unconsciously, she squinted at it. Her eyes felt hot.
No, . . . no. I am not going to cry.
Diana shook her head to drive the tears away, tilting her face up as though to drain the moisture back behind her eyes.
Her chin trembled.
Frustrated with her lack of control, she held onto the flower with one hand, letting it droop limply in her fingers as her elbow rested on her knee, and lowered her face. She gripped her head across her eyes with the other hand, muttering one word.
After a few seconds, the unhappy silence was suddenly broken. Diana jumped at the sound of someone clearing his throat, somewhat awkwardly, behind her. She swiftly wiped her eyes and summoned all of her dignity into her voice.
"Thanks, Hank, but if it's all the same to you, I'd like to be alone."
Another awkward cough, followed by the uncomfortable shifting of feet. "Um. You've called me a lot of things before, but 'Hank'? That's new."
Startled, Diana spun her head around and met the gaze of, not Hank, but . . . .
"Eric?" Her surprise then vanished back into sadness as she turned away from him. "Sorry," she added.
He walked over to her, hovering in indecision for a moment or two before settling himself on the rock beside her. It was the second big decision Eric had made that day, and it was barely even dawn. The first had been whether or not to come over here in the first place. Of course, his instinct had been to go back to sleep, but there was something inside his brain that didn't make him feel right about that idea. Besides, he had been wanting to ask Diana if she was all right ever since leaving Turad, but felt a bit embarrassed doing it in front of the others.
If the situation had been different, Eric probably would have done what he always did: complained a bit, then told the person to "buck up" (like he occasionally did with Bobby), then made some kind of obnoxious comment which usually got everyone laughing – either with him or at him.
Crisis over. On to the next disaster.
But it seemed obvious, even to the Cavalier, that this particular circumstance required a bit more reverence than that. And showing reverence was something he had never been very good at.
He had put off every opportunity to approach Diana until now, convincing himself that there would be a more suitable moment later. But here it was, two days after Starfall, and he still hadn't broached the subject. Now, however, listening to Presto's snoring and feeling assured that the others were definitely still asleep, Eric swallowed his nerves and decided it was now or never.
After all, even though the Acrobat rarely seemed to like him, there were a few times that she and the others had been there when he needed someone.
Well, he supposed, maybe more than a few.
"That's okay," he finally said after a few seconds of uncomfortable silence. "I probably wouldn't have thought it was me either." He started to chuckle, but it faded as he realized that his vain attempt at humor was lost on Diana at this moment. Eric cleared his throat and started again. He didn't look at her, though. She probably didn't want him to. "H-have you been here all night?"
Diana didn't want to admit that she had; at least ever since her turn at the second watch. But even before that point, she had not been able to sleep. Her eyes had remained cast toward the stars since they first came out; since they left Turad the night before, in fact. In answer to Eric's question, however, she merely shrugged.
"I guess it just felt weird to not have somebody wake me for my turn to keep watch," Eric continued as an explanation for his being up so early. "Not that I'm complaining, of course."
For a brief flicker, one corner of Diana's mouth curled up grimly. If Hank had been the one to find her, he probably would have reminded her gently that she needed her rest. Staring at the stars every night could get her hurt if she was too tired to fight during Venger's next, inevitable, attack. And it would certainly hinder her ability to function with the team. But for as much as she respected their leader's judgment, she was mildly grateful, for once, that Eric wasn't so rational.
"I honestly doubt I've gotten that much shuteye since fourth period Brit-Lit," the Cavalier continued, "so I guess I should be thanking you for letting me catch up on my beauty sleep." He discreetly peeked over at Diana, hoping that his comment had gotten some kind of smile. He pursed his lips broodingly when he saw it hadn't. It seemed that his usual tactics weren't going to work this time.
He allowed himself to look briefly at her profile as the increasing brightness of the first sun slowly lit up her face. That face, usually so full of life and fun, was now crestfallen and sober. Those eyes, which used to twinkle whenever Diana came up with a particularly witty comeback to put Eric in his place, were now dull and empty.
She tried to hide it, of course. If he had been a casual outsider he probably wouldn't have sensed anything unusual in her demeanor, but after being on the receiving end of much of her teasing, Eric knew what her playfulness looked like. He was almost tempted to say something incredibly stupid if it would bring that sparkle back into her eyes.
Eric found himself surprisingly angry as he thought of the one who had done this to her. For reasons he could not quite explain, he hadn't liked Kosar to begin with. Now that the guy was gone, Eric liked him even less.
After all, it was Kosar who caused them to lose the portal home this time, wasn't it? That had to be the reason for Eric's disdain. That, -- (he glanced at Diana) -- and how miserable she looked right now. Two strikes against him. Plenty enough for a grudge as far as the Cavalier was concerned.
"Diana?" Eric said finally.
"Yes?" she answered, almost too cheerfully. If she was trying to convince him that nothing was wrong, she was not succeeding.
Eric swallowed. "Okay. You should know, I-I'm not too good at this kind of thing," he rambled. "Well, I guess you do know that. But I just . . . I thought I should tell you that I . . . well, . . . I am your friend."
She turned to him then. Eyes narrowed.
"I am," he repeated with a big shrug, as though trying to convince her, stealing quick glances as though too embarrassed by what he was trying to say to look at her fully. "And, well, I know I wouldn't be your first choice, but if Hank or Sheila aren't around and you need somebody to -- you know -- talk to . . . ."
Ugh, he thought, wincing to himself. How lame. Like she was ever going to take that seriously.
But Diana smiled at him, grimly at first, for a fraction of a second. It faded, but was quickly replaced by a warmer, more genuine one. One with more of the confident attitude she so often displayed. It made Eric relax a bit and he finally faced her. Diana rose off the rock and looked down at him.
"Thanks," she said as she shifted her gaze to the flower bud that was still in her hands.
Eric stood up as well. He deliberated for a few moments over his next move. Walking away and going back to bed just didn't seem appropriate, although half of him, the awkward half, was all for that idea. The other part of him, the half which had just declared his friendship, felt it wouldn't be right if he didn't do something more.
Big decision number three – all before even the second sun rose. Must be some kind of record.
With a jerky, almost hesitant motion, he tried to open his arms. Then brought them tightly into his body again. Then out a second time. It seemed to Diana, at first, that the Cavalier was flapping them like some spastic robotic bird; he looked rather ridiculous as he wrestled with actions that were usually so foreign to him. Finally he settled on opening his arms wide and cocked his head; an inviting, albeit slightly uncomfortable, look on his face.
He figured that Diana might just laugh at him for his gesture of friendship, but . . . So what, he told himself. At least that would be better than seeing her so miserable, right?
But she didn't laugh.
To his surprise, Diana accepted his invitation. Still clutching the flower to her chest, her sadness carefully veiled by the confident smile on her face, she took a step toward him. Eric ineptly closed his arms as she leaned against his chest. After a moment he managed to relax, finally exhaling a bit of the breath he had been holding. He rested his chin lightly on the top of her head and just held her, looking around with just his eyes to see if any of the others had gotten up yet. Although, he was surprised to admit, a small part of him actually didn't care if they had.
Diana was determined to keep the promise she had made to herself. She was not going to cry. No matter how genuinely nice he was actually being at the moment, she could not show Eric how vulnerable she could be. She didn't need anyone to rescue her. She just needed . . . a friend.
Diana kept her hands tucked into her chest for a few more moments, holding the bud close to her heart. She then, unconsciously, slipped her arms out from in front of her. They slid beneath Eric's own arms and around his body. Her hands clutched at the crimson cape that hung down his back. She didn't cry, but she didn't let go either.
Eric was a bit surprised by this. His breathing came to another abrupt halt, and his eyes went rather wide. He hadn't expected her to hug him back. Admittedly, it was kind of nice, but not exactly what he was used to from Diana. She must be more upset than he thought.
Eric scowled as he thought of Kosar again, inwardly muttering a few choice words that Sheila never would have permitted in Bobby's presence.
I really do hate that guy, he thought. I hate this whole damn place. But to Diana, he did not reveal his growing hostility. He held her a bit tighter, patting her awkwardly on the back and trying to think of something good to say. For as much as he sometimes resented Hank's authority, Eric felt certain that the Ranger would know just the right words to use at a time like this.
"Hey, don't worry. Everything'll be okay," he finally said, as lightheartedly as possible. It wasn't very profound, as Hank would have been, and probably wouldn't get him any laughs, like his usual material but, Eric decided, some situations call for a little more reverence.
Big decision number four. Though he was no longer keeping track.
The two friends stayed that way for a few more minutes as the morning stars continued to fade into the glow of the coming dawn.
* * *Fin