Title: Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride (15/15)

Author: Allaine

Email: eac2nd@yahoo.com

Disclaimers: DC Comics, Cartoon Network, Bruce Timm, the JLA animated series, etc, etc. No profit intended from my infringement.

Rating: PG-13

Spoilers: Up to the episodes "Wild Cards" and "Comfort and Joy".

Feedback: Please, please, please!!

Summary: Inspired by vibes I was getting from "Maid of Honor". An Amazonian princess gets to know one of her normal human counterparts and finds they have more in common than just royal blood.

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Chapter 15

"Since meeting you, I've seen my family's castle explode, and I've been abducted by an extremely disturbed woman," Audrey said lightly as Diana carried her through the air. "You have a very interesting way of showing a woman a good time, Diana."

Diana felt her heart twist as Audrey said this. "I hope you won't think all Amazons are like what you saw tonight," she replied.

"I only care about one Amazon," Audrey told her, "and you are nothing like those others on the island."

"Those others" would be a handful for another day or so. It would take time to find a way to transport Aresia and the other Amazons back to Themiscyra. It had never really entered her mind that they be taken anywhere else. The younger Amazons, given enough time with the older warriors who understood more than they, would hopefully learn their lesson. Aresia - well, it wasn't safe for her to be around men, especially for the men. She'd become almost hysterical when she learned the men of the Justice League had once again "corrupted her paradise", and Green Lantern's act of saving her had been rewarded with such vitriol that Shayera had eventually hit her to shut her up.

Circe, meanwhile, would be remanded to the authorities of Man's World. Batman had offered to shuttle Poison Ivy back to Arkham Asylum in Gotham. While Raven had healed her physical injuries, the original trauma her brain had suffered had been such that she remained in a coma, and Raven could not offer any idea as to when or if Ivy would wake up. Diana momentarily considered the lunatic who had unexpectedly developed honest, maybe even healthy emotion for another human being, and the hopelessness of her position. Perhaps unconsciousness was best for her.

Diana wished she could be unconscious too. Dead to the world was better than what she was about to do . . .

"You're so quiet, Diana," Audrey chided her. "Look at it this way. You will get to see your mother again when you return those women."

"That will be good," Diana agreed. She would need her mother.

"Diana?" Audrey asked, slowly becoming aware that she was behaving unusually strangely.

Diana looked at her. "Let's land down there," she said, pointing to a patch of forest.

"Diana, I do not understand," Audrey said as they descended. "My home - my _bedroom_ is but a few minutes away."

"Your father might be there," Diana told her.

Audrey blinked as Diana's feet touched the ground. She allowed the Amazon to set her down. "Why?" she asked.

"He was waiting in your room when I arrived earlier tonight," Diana said. "I didn't see him at first."

The Kasnian woman froze. "He doesn't know, does he?"

"He knows you've been disappearing one too many nights without regard for your security detail," Diana replied. "He's worried about you. But he didn't know about us, no."

"Does he now?"

"No. I had to tell him we were friends, and about the help I gave you when you were ruling Kasnia on your own, but I was able to avoid sharing that bit of information. He's your father," Diana said, "and it's your right to decide when to tell him."

Audrey nodded. "All right," she responded. "Perhaps I should be dropped off on another part of the grounds."

Diana didn't react to this suggestion. "I don't think you need to worry about that, though."

"Why?" Audrey asked.

"Because . . ." Diana choked on the words like they were a hard piece of dough that was stuck in her throat. Her eyes welled up. "I don't think we should be seeing each other any more."

Audrey's eyes seemed to grow impossibly round. Or perhaps the tears were blurring Diana's vision. "What?" Audrey said, her voice trembling.

"Tonight was too close," Diana said. "If it had been just Hawkgirl myself, I don't know what I would have done. Maybe I even would have given Aresia what she wanted, I can't say. But I can't allow you to be placed in that kind of danger again."

"Is that it?" Audrey asked, a terribly hurt expression on her face as she pulled away. "Am I too great an Achilles heel for Wonder Woman of the Justice League?"

"No!" Diana blurted out, stunned by the accusation. "Do you think this is about me? Audrey, I would resign from the Justice League today for you, if I thought it would . . . "

"Then do it!" Audrey retorted. "I'm weak and I'm selfish and you're needed by millions and I don't care! I can't lose you, Diana. Don't you understand that I love you?"

Diana flinched. "I - I think I love you too, Audrey."

"Then why are you doing this to us?!"

"First, before you interrupted me, I was going to say, if I thought it would do any good," Diana said softly. "But it wouldn't, not even if I took my tiara off and never flew another mission. Because there are a thousand people out there who would love to see me hurt, or dead, or worse, and Aresia's just one of them. Any one of them could decide that the best way to accomplish that is to take you from me."

"So you're just going to take yourself away from me," Audrey responded, cheeks stained with tears. "You can't break my heart, Diana. Do you think I care about what happens to me?!"

"I care," Diana said. "And the pain this is causing me right now is nowhere near as bad as the pain I would feel if you died because you loved me." She turned away. "I have to end this now before the world finds out about us."

"You knew all this before!" Audrey screamed at her. "You knew this might happen. We both did! Why is it a problem now?"

"Because tonight we were confronted with the reality, not just the possibility," Diana replied. "And I could never live with myself if something like what Aresia had planned for you happened to you."

She felt Audrey touch her shoulder from behind, and Diana's heart seemed to swell and crack at the same time. "Diana," she whispered. "You were the one constant thing in my life. You became my compass, the sun which my planet orbited. If you leave now, I'll never be able to trust anything again. Is that the life you want to give me by ending what we have?"

Diana reached up and took Audrey's hand. Squeezing it, she then pushed it away. She couldn't see how Audrey looked as if she'd been slapped. "I want you to live," she said. "If you're dead, I'm the one who will have to go on living."

Her head fell, and she didn't bother to move the black strands that hid her face. Diana couldn't bear to look at her. "You can make your way home from here," she said brokenly. "And some day you'll find another love, someone who can keep you safe."

"No one will keep me safe the way you always have, Diana," Audrey begged.

Diana shook her head. "No one will put you in greater danger, either." Then she stepped forward and flew away. Her tears spattered the leaves of the trees as she rushed away as fast as possible for her.

Below, Audrey watched for a shocked moment, unable to believe it was actually happening. Then her legs became like water, and she collapsed on the ground. Her heartbroken wail burst from her lips, and the sound lashed Diana worse than any laser.

________________________________

It had taken more time than expected for Poison Ivy to be completely stabilized, and Arkham Asylum had to be prepped and ready for the arrival of a comatose woman by air. The stretcher bearing her pale, unconscious frame through the front gates coincided with breakfast time for the inmates.

As the orderlies prepared to wheel Ivy toward the infirmary, the Dark Knight who had shadowed their work despite the sunlight overhead stopped them. "Take her by way of the cafeteria," he said.

"It's twice the distance," one of her doctors pointed out.

Batman glowered at him, and he quailed. "I don't think she's in any rush," he answered.

As they passed the windows of the cafeteria, Batman stopped them yet again. "One minute," he growled. Then he pushed the doors open and entered.

The inmates turned their heads with one motion and were surprised to see the figure of their nightmares. It was a rare day when Batman came out before sunset. Even with the sunlight streaming through the barred windows, he seemed to cast a pall as he walked between the tables. It was he who was out of his normal environment, but the various lunatics, bereft of their costumes and schemes, were the ones who shrank away.

"Quinn," he murmured as he stood behind her.

Harley looked over her shoulder. "Hey, Bats," she mumbled. She pressed closer to the pasty-faced psychopath sitting next to her, but he appeared to be in no mood to support her. The Joker just continued eating.

"Come with me."

"I'm not going anywhere - hey!!"

Rather than listen to her petulant refusals, Batman simply grabbed her by the forearm and hauled her out of her seat. She glared daggers at him as she was forced to walk with him.

Her anger vanished, however, when she saw the woman on the gurney. "Red!" she said, horrified. Harley bent over Ivy's prone form. "What did you do to her?!" she accused Batman.

By now most of the other "patients" lined the windows, and they too could see Ivy lying there.

"Someone else did this to her, Quinn," he replied calmly. "She's in a coma, and the doctors have no idea if and when she'll ever wake up."

"Why are you telling me this?" she asked tearfully.

"Because I thought you should know. She got mixed up in something because of you, and she's in this condition because of you."

Harley stared at him, grief-stricken. "Me?" she said, putting a hand on her chest.

"She seems to lose what judgment she has when it comes to you," Batman told her quietly. "The least you could do is be there when she wakes up." He glanced at the doctors. "You'd better take her now."

She watched the stretcher take her friend away and moved to follow them, but an orderly stopped her. "You've got to finish your breakfast, Harley," he warned her.

Totally frazzled, she stumbled back into the cafeteria while Batman watched. Her fellow inmates watched her too.

Naturally, the Joker never could allow the silence to continue. "Don't worry, Harl," he said. "Give her a little sunlight and water, and she'll open right up. A-HAHAHAHA!!!"

Harley stopped and swiveled to look at him. Her gaze was so smoldering that the tears practically turned to steam.

"Heh," he added nervously.

It was widely considered that while Harley Quinn could be a major annoyance, it would be worth it for most men to have that perky body waiting for them in their bed at the end of the day, no matter how much she was smacked around. For that reason, the Joker was felt to be an unfairly lucky man.

It was also common knowledge that while Harley would forgive her "puddin" almost anything, she could erupt over the most surprising things, and these moments of rage were one of the few things that could frighten the Joker. For that reason, he was also felt to be completely deserving of her.

This was one of those moments.

Harley stomped over to her table, picked up her hospital food, and marched over to where the Joker stood. "You know what, puddin'?" she snarled at him. "Remember how Bats found your little hideout in Las Vegas because of me? Well it wasn't by accident like you thought. I led him there on purpose, because sometimes you can be a real jerk!"

Then she dumped the contents of her plate over his head. "I'm done!" she called over her shoulder before pushing the empty plate into the Joker's arms.

The orderlies watching were too experienced to show smiles at the Joker's discomfiture, but their eyes sparkled. "Go on, then," one of them told her, pointing his thumb in the direction of the door.

She skipped past them and ran down the hall in the direction of the infirmary.

Batman had watched it all, and his presence had been completely forgotten. He also could have smiled, but it would have clashed with his reputation. Instead he turned and vanished.

The Joker grumbled as he knocked half-cooked eggs from his hair. "Her time of the month," he said to anyone near enough to listen.

_________________________

Diana sat and looked out the Watchtower windows. She stared at the blue orb they orbited, her mind blank.

Then she heard footsteps behind her. "Not now, Shayera," she said without looking.

"You obviously haven't picked up any of J'onn's telepathic abilities, have you?"

Surprised, Diana turned her head and looked up. "Hello, Kal-El," she said quietly. "I said I was sorry."

Superman sat next to her and didn't say anything for a moment. "Do you think if you stare at the European landmass long enough, you'll be able to see her?" he asked gently.

Diana looked down. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said.

"It used to be you spent all your free time with Audrey," Superman explained. "And now you spend all your free time sitting at whatever window happens to have the best view of Kasnia."

She looked back at him. "Was I that obvious?" she asked.

"Well, it did take a few days for us to notice the pattern," he said.

Diana nodded. "We broke up right after the Aresia incident."

"Why didn't you tell us?" Superman said after a moment. "It's been almost two weeks."

She shook her head. "I don't know. More than one reason, I guess."

"Mind sharing those? You're lucky you got me. Hawkgirl knew before the rest of us, and she's in a mood to shake the sense back into you."

"That," she said heavily, "is one reason. Maybe two."

"Fear of tempestuous Thanagarians?"

"I was warned," Diana replied. "I was reminded of the risks involved in becoming romantically involved with a regular person. And I blithely assumed that I was different, that I could protect her, that the almighty Amazon princess could do whatever she wished. Reality has been humbling."

Superman sighed. "Pride is something we all have trouble with, Diana."

"But for me," she said, "my reasons were both pride and shame."

"Shame?"

"I've been watching other people and their romantic entanglements for weeks now," she explained. "While I was blissfully happy with Audrey, everything seemed so simple. Whether it was Hawkgirl wrestling with her secret feelings for John, or Poison Ivy's utterly inadequate attempts to woo that poor, deluded Harley Quinn, or Batman courting danger by inviting Catwoman to the Watchtower for Christm . . ." She stopped. "Um, you knew about that, right?"

Superman chuckled. "He thought at least one of us should know in advance."

She was briefly relieved that she hadn't carelessly revealed a fellow League member's secret. Especially Batman, who she should have listened to more. "Now I look back on how arrogantly I believed that I had all the answers to love and the hearts of others, and I feel like such a hypocrite. Even if I didn't speak my mind to Shayera or GL or Batman - " She'd spoken her mind, and more, to Ivy and Quinn, but that didn't count. "I could remember thinking it. I felt I deserved my mortification. I'm not that horribly sanctimonious, am I?" she asked.

"Honestly?" he asked.

Diana nodded.

"There are times when you come off a bit self-righteous," Superman told her carefully. "We know you do it with good intentions, however, and we just chalk it up to the whole 'princess' thing."

She blinked. "I suppose," she admitted.

"But Diana," he continued, "you've got to do something about this."

"About what? Not sharing?"

"No, about what the breakup is doing to you," he responded. "Both you as a member of the Justice League, and you as a person. You certainly haven't seemed distracted lately. If anything, you've become too intense. You're fighting to inflict the maximum amount of pain possible, and while we've all taken out our anger on criminals, it's putting you in harm's way. Not to mention there have been a couple times where you appeared to be two punches away from killing someone."

She frowned and crossed her arms. "We never pull our punches, Kal-El."

"Especially now, right? Because if it wasn't for these people, you wouldn't have felt the need to break up with her?" He leaned forward so he could look into her eyes. "If this keeps up, Diana, we're going to have to ask you to take a vacation from your JL duties until you've worked out your feelings."

Diana gasped. "You can't do that! It's all I have right now!"

He shook his head. "That's what I meant when I said how this was affecting you as a person, Diana. We're your friends. We don't like seeing you in this kind of pain. It's as bad as the first few days after you were banished from your homeland. You were so much happier a month ago."

"I can't protect her all the time, Superman," she said softly. "And if someone killed her, they'd be murdering me too."

Superman scratched the back of his neck. "What is Superman's worst kept secret?" he asked.

Diana stared at him. "Other than the weakness to kryptonite?" she said, trying to be humorous. Then she sighed. "Your relationship to Lois Lane."

"No offense, Diana, but I have even more enemies than you. So why are she and I still together?"

"Because breaking up with her now would be like closing the barn door after the animals have escaped," she pointed out.

He looked at her oddly. "Have you been spending time in Kansas that we don't know about?"

"I don't call upon my deities every time I need a turn of phrase, you know," Diana groused.

"Well, granted that our connection is publicized to an extent your relationship isn't," he said, "there are other, better reasons. My personal happiness makes me a better hero, Diana. Knowing I make Lois feel that way, that makes me feel like a better man. Being with her seems to wash away all the grime and filth that I encounter. And frankly, you and I are in a much more dangerous profession than Lois or Audrey. If one of is going to die, it's going to be you or me. I already did, in fact."

"Not really," she reminded him.

"She thought I did," he replied. "She could have decided that she wasn't going to face losing me a second time, and she didn't." He took her hand. "And Diana, you're not the only one protecting her."

She looked up.

"You're in love," Superman said. "That makes Audrey as much a part of our family as Lois, or my parents, or anyone else a League member is close to. If anyone tries something with Audrey, they don't have just you to answer to. They've got all seven of us. If that doesn't make her safe, nothing will."

Diana took her hand from his and wiped at the tears that had started flowing. "I don't know how I can go on another day," she wept. "My life is no different than it was before I met her, and yet it seems so much emptier. I can't sleep. I just lie in bed, wearing the clothes she gave me, and I try to imagine her next to me. Does she feel the same way?"

"Has she said she loves you?"

She nodded. "Over and over again, the night I left her. Oh Hera, what have I done? I hurt her so much worse than Aresia could have. How can she look at me again?"

Superman smiled. "I think you'd be surprised."

____________________________

Audrey left the Madrid nightclub a scant thirty minutes after she'd arrived. Her father had suggested a completely new city. The Spanish city did not summon memories of happier times with Diana the way Paris or the Kasnian capital did, but her loneliness did not leave her.

"Where would you like to go next, Princess?" a member of her security team asked. It was the first time they'd been called upon in two weeks. She'd wandered the halls of her home since the breakup. She'd sat in on so many meetings of state with her father that he'd asked her if she was ill.

"Anywhere," she sighed miserably. The gaiety inside had wounded her, and the forced smiles had required more energy than she had.

Her bodyguards looked at one another. If this kept up, it might be a first for them - a slow night.

As she sat quietly in the back of her limousine, four burly men sitting across from her, she looked out the window and saw the taxicab parked next to them. That first night in Paris, hadn't they escaped from her detail with just such a distraction? The memory drew a tear to her eye.

Then she was gone.

Her disappearance was so sudden that her guards were caught completely flat-footed. It took a few seconds for their brains to comprehend that missing princess plus open door meant she had made a dash for it.

Stumbling out, they were drawn up short by the sight of her sitting calmly in the back of a nearby taxi. She looked at them. "It's not the same," she said. "Could we just drive around for a while?"

They scratched their heads and led her back to her car.

________________________________________

Audrey was focused on trying to breathe. The wind seemed intent on stealing the oxygen from her lungs, and the scenery whizzed by in a dark blur. She had been grabbed forcibly from her ride, and she was completely at a loss for what had happened to her.

Her stomach lurched as she came to a complete stop. She swayed a moment, and felt a hand right her. "Who?" she gasped, turning to see who had taken her, but they were already gone.

Pounding music throbbed through the walls of the darkened room she was in. She turned this way and that, trying to understand what had happened to her and where she'd been taken. "Hello?" she called out. "What do you want from me?!"

"Forgiveness?"

Audrey's heart leapt into her throat. "D-Diana?" she asked.

Diana emerged from the shadows. She was dressed in red and blue, but not the uniform she was so well known for. She had on tight blue jeans that accentuated her legs, and a spaghetti-strap red top. Her hair was clipped in a ponytail. "Sorry about the ride," she apologized. "Superman didn't want me to wait. And the Martian Manhunter is currently being driven around Madrid in disguise, so we have plenty of time."

"Is that what you want forgiveness for?" Audrey asked crossly, turning away even as the beauty of Wonder Woman made her tremble. "For abducting me?"

"No," Diana said. "For breaking your heart."

"It's yours," Audrey told her casually, waving a hand. "Now take me back."

"I broke my heart too, you know," Diana replied carefully. "And I think the pieces got a little mixed up, because you still have some of my heart. I thought maybe the two of us could put them back together?"

Audrey closed her eyes. "Is this merely an apology, or are you asking for something more?" she asked.

"I was wrong," Diana whispered. "I was wrong on a level I never would have believed. I was wrong to end our relationship because I thought I knew what was better for you than you did. It's a problem of mine, apparently - thinking I have all the answers." She approached Audrey so that there were only a couple inches between them. "I was wrong to think I could live without you."

"What about the next time something happens to me?" Audrey asked, even though her heart was screaming at her to jump into Diana's arms. "What happens the next time you make a unilateral decision that we shouldn't see each other again?"

"For one thing," Diana said, "I won't ever make a decision about us without you. And if something else were to happen to you, I'd just have to save you again. The whole League would. They know how much you mean to me."

"And," the heroine added, "you hear that music?"

Audrey nodded.

"There's a dance floor down there," Diana said, nodding toward a door Audrey could see now that she'd adjusted to the dim lighting. "And a lot of women are on it. You and I, we'd blend right in, if you're up for some dancing. And if someone happens to spot us inside . . . if the world finds out, then I guess the barn door is open, and the animals are running free."

"Is that American slang?" Audrey asked, raising an eyebrow.

"I think so," Diana said, smiling.

Audrey nodded. "That assumes I'm ready for my people to learn this about me."

"We can do whatever you want," Diana said immediately. "If you want to go somewhere private, that's fine. I just - I need you back. I can't go on living my life without you. My home isn't Themiscyra. It's not even the Watchtower. It's wherever you are."

The petite woman smiled tremulously. "I told my father about us."

Diana gasped. "He knows?"

"Well, he was obviously worried about me, especially after I started moping," Audrey said. "He was surprised, and then he thought it might be a phase, and then he was angry."

"And now?"

"Now he thinks a queen should have an army, and in you I have quite an army," Audrey teased. "Also that he's never been able to control me before, so why try now when he could see how much I loved you? Now that we're back together, though, he's going to want to speak with you. Just because you're a woman doesn't mean you get to skip the fatherly interrogation," she informed her, grinning.

Diana chuckled, and then she froze. "Now that we're back together?" she asked.

"You actually thought I might say no?"

"I hurt you."

"And now it's stopped," Audrey said simply.

Diana picked her up and spun her around. "Diana!" Audrey squealed. "I have been carried around enough tonight. Once more and I will become nauseous!"

"Sorry!" Diana apologized.

"So," Audrey said, Diana holding her in her arms, "why don't we go down there and show everyone how true lovers dance?" And she smiled wickedly.

"Corrupting me?" Diana asked.

"You brought me here, darling. Don't even try being the innocent one here."

Diana gave her a sultry look. "You have corrupted me, infiltrated me, and gotten into my blood, Audrey."

"You make me sound so evil," Audrey purred. "Whatever will they say of the Justice League now?"

"Catwoman was rummaging through our freezer," Diana reminded her. "So it's not like you're the only bad apple in the barrel."

"So I'm rotten now!" Audrey laughed. "Some poetess you are!"

"Remind me to read Sappho to you in the original Greek," Diana said.

There would be no photographs or stories in the papers after that night, but it was no less memorable for either woman.

The End. (To be continued??)

Author's Note: I ought to thank the creators of JL, not only for a much improved second season, but also for writing Maid of Honor the way they did. A few minor changes would have removed all possibility of this story's creation.

Now it's over, and whether or not there's a sequel depends on your response. I strongly urge my readers to either email me, or post a review at Fanfiction.net, if you want to see a sequel. If I see a lack of interest, I have other stories that can use the additional time.

If you like, you could also let me know if you would continue to be interested in a post-Bridesmaid JL story even if Diana and Audrey are only supporting characters, rather than the stars.

Thank you for your readership, and please, if only this one time, speak up if you care.