Title: The Woman Who Loses Everything (1/1)
Disclaimers: DC Comics, Cartoon Network, Bruce Timm, the JLU animated series, etc, etc. No profit intended from my infringement.
Spoilers: Refers to events that take place in the episode "The Man Who Has Everything".
Feedback: Please, please, please!
Summary: In this one-shot fic inspired by the JLU episode "The Man Who Has Everything", Wonder Woman finds out why they call it the Black Mercy. Why remains to be seen. An AU spinoff from my Bridesmaid series.
"Ten years," Diana mused. "It's been a long time."
"For me, maybe," Audrey said crossly. "I'm not immortal like you."
Diana looked at her, surprised, but the smile that spread across Audrey's face told the Amazon that Audrey was just being Audrey, forever teasing her. "You have a wicked habit of doing that when I'm in a serious mood, Audrey."
"I'm sorry," Audrey replied, not meaning it. "Anyway, why be gloomy?"
"I'm not, I'm just - awed," Diana finally said. "I don't know why the gods blessed me so when they cast you onto our shore."
Audrey turned bright red and looked away. "I'm not the special one, darling."
"For much of my life," Diana replied, "I wanted to leave the golden sands of Themiscyra and see Man's World for myself. And yet it was a gift from the outside world - you - that removed all desire I had to leave."
The short blonde woman was now blushing furiously. "It's hard to tease you on a day like today," she muttered. "You're being so - hopelessly romantic."
"Don't try to tell me you don't feel the same way today."
"No, no," Audrey said, shaking her head as she squeezed Diana's hand tighter. "I thought when I was marooned here that I had simply traded one prison for another. But I discovered I was willing to spend an eternity in chains if you were with me."
Diana smiled, knowing full well what Audrey was referring to. It was ten years ago to this day that Audrey, princess of a European nation called Kasnia, was the sole survivor of a boating accident that claimed the life of, among others, her husband-to-be Vandal. Once Audrey had recovered under the care of Amazonian doctors, Diana's mother Hippolyta had decreed that Audrey would not be permitted to leave until the queen felt certain that Audrey could be trusted with the secret of Themiscyra's location.
Audrey had been trapped on an island with no men, no contact with the outside world. No parties. And an Amazon named Artemis who felt very strongly that as long as Audrey was going to be there, she might as well get in shape.
She was not a happy aristocrat.
Fortunately, when Audrey wasn't being worked over relentlessly in physical training and the art of combat, she spent her time in the company of her fellow princess, Diana of Themiscyra. Diana had volunteered to watch the Kasnian in case she foolishly tried to escape.
By the time Hippolyta granted Audrey her freedom, it was too late. Not even the duty of one day ruling her homeland meant as much to Audrey as the love she shared with Diana.
It was funny. Aresia, the last woman to accidentally join their number until Audrey washed ashore, was more the typical Amazon - contemptuous of men, granted superhuman strength. Audrey said that men could be fun under the right circumstances, and she'd expressed no interest in being given Amazonian power. In fact, even after ten years the thrill of the fight meant little to Audrey.
And yet it was the petite beauty who had captured Diana's heart, rather than any number of Amazons more adept at siege warfare. Perhaps it was because she was so different.
"Do you ever think of leaving?" Diana asked.
"Occasionally I wonder how my father is doing," Audrey admitted after a moment. "But my life is with you, Diana. I love you more than the world itself."
Diana smiled serenely as she slipped her arms around Audrey's waist and pulled her close.
"Diana? Di . . . oh, shit! Diana!" Green Lantern hit the emergency button the wall nearby. "Justice League, everyone get their butts up here now! I'm in the science lab!"
Hawkgirl arrived only a minute later, and she was still the last to arrive, except for J'onn, who was still on Earth. She ran in and skidded to a halt. "Oh, no," she whispered.
Wonder Woman was standing in the middle of the facility in which the Martian Manhunter still did many of his experiments. Nearby was an open cabinet, one of several in which J'onn stored many live and preserved species of animals and plants. One of the containers was empty; the upper half lay discarded on the floor in a puddle of liquid.
A freakish-looking thing that resembled purple-and-black roses was pressed against Wonder Woman's chest, clutching at her with several thick roots. She seemed completely unaware of its presence, much less the five League members standing around her. She merely stood there, a smile incongruous on her haggard face.
"What is that thing?" Hawkgirl asked.
"The Black Mercy," Superman told her grimly. "A 'gift' from Mongul years ago. I didn't realize J'onn still had it. It's a parasite that attaches itself to its victims and drains the life out of them. The only reason Diana isn't defending herself is that the Black Mercy is making her believe she's living a dream come true. It's all in her mind."
Hawkgirl slowly nodded. "I remember. Mongul almost killed you with this, didn't he?"
"Yes," Superman said, his jaw set. "It gave me Krypton back. And then I lost it again."
"Can we get it off of her?" Flash asked. "Without hurting her, I mean?"
"As long as we remove it in time," Batman said, "she won't suffer any lasting effects. But I'm more interested in how it got out of its container. And why Diana was here when it did."
"Who cares?" Flash said, stepping forward. "How about we rip the damn thing off, then worry about how it got there?!"
But Hawkgirl stopped him, having quickly understood what Batman was getting at. "Wait a second, Flash." She approached Diana, then glanced at Superman. "Is it safe to go near?"
"As long as she's alive, yes."
Hawkgirl bent down and picked up the container lid. "No signs of damage," she said. "It didn't get out on its own. Someone let it out."
"An intruder?" GL asked. "Mongul back again maybe?"
"No, I don't think so," Hawkgirl said quietly. "This Black Mercy, it kills you while giving you your heart's desire, right?"
"Sounds like a nice way to die."
Flash's eyes grew wide. "Hey, wait. You're not saying . . . "
"Flash," Hawkgirl said gently, "this morning Audrey, the love of Diana's life for the past six years, was forced to marry someone else, and there was nothing Diana could do about it. I think we have to take into consideration the possibility that she did this to herself."
"I still say she doesn't deserve it . . . she's the weakest person on the island! And besides, she likes men!"
Audrey couldn't hear it, but Diana did. She grimaced as she turned her head to see Aresia's sour complaints about their relationship. Everyone was cognizant of the fact that if anything ever happened to Hippolyta, Audrey would rule at Queen Diana's side. Some felt she was undeserving. Being a relative outsider, Aresia was just louder about it.
The fact that it bothered her enough to voice her objections during a match with Artemis, slightly disrupting the woman's concentration and making it easier for the master warrior to pummel Aresia into submission, meant Diana would have to deal with it later.
Artemis, she noted, seemed to be putting more effort into the match than usual. Probably because Aresia's comments contained an implied criticism of Queen Hippolyta, who had freely blessed their love. Artemis was loyal to Diana's mother to a degree few Amazons could match.
Diana lingered while Audrey took a few steps beyond, barely noticing. Audrey probably thought Diana was only interested in the fight, something that held little interest for the former Kasnian princess.
And Diana was unexpectedly rewarded for her interest, for when Artemis had thoroughly humbled Aresia, she knelt before the adopted Amazonian and said, "Audrey is no less deserving of respect just because she is a child of Aphrodite, not Athena."
Diana smiled in satisfaction as she turned away. During the private ceremony years ago in which she and Audrey were bonded for life, patron goddess Athena had made a very brief appearance. It was only for a few moments, but long enough for her to kiss Diana on the forehead as she knelt. The subsequent arrival of Aphrodite, whose visits were exceedingly rare, was a greater surprise, but her matching kiss on Audrey's forehead was no less emphatic.
Artemis had been a spectator at that ceremony. Aresia had not. Maybe if she had been . . .
Audrey smiled and held out her hand, gesturing for Diana to catch up with her. As Diana took it, she grinned and said, "Was Aresia suitably chastised?"
"Your hearing is better than I thought," Diana confessed.
"It helps me make myself scarce when I hear Artemis coming."
"So," Audrey continued with a saucy look in her eye, "are you staying for more lessons in the art of war, or shall I spend another hour tutoring you in the art of love?"
The Amazon princess flushed. Audrey had been a very experienced lover when she first entered Diana's bed. "I highly doubt you have anything new to show me," Diana replied.
"Darling, so much of it is practice, practice, practice."
Diana's eyes sparkled.
"So what, you're just saying we should leave her to die?!" Flash asked angrily.
"Of course not!" Hawkgirl shot back. "It's just that we have to be prepared here. Diana might not be very grateful when she wakes up, you know? Maybe . . . it won't kill her right away. Maybe we'd be doing her a favor if we left it there a little while?"
Superman frowned. "We have no idea how long she's been like this. Or how long she can last. I'd prefer not to take any chances. I don't know what customs they have on Themiscyra if an Amazon wants to end her life, but I think everyone here believes in helping your friends work through their problems." He paused. "That's why we're here, isn't it?"
Hawkgirl sighed. Diana had beaten the odds as well as she'd beaten all her enemies by keeping her relationship with Princess Audrey a secret from the world at large for six long years. The price had been a lot of secrecy, and too many nights apart. Almost two months ago, however, an anonymous tip exposed Audrey's relationship with "Diana Castle". Wonder Woman's secret identity, at least, had not been exposed, so Audrey had not become a target for everyone with a grudge against the League.
This had proven small comfort. The power of the monarchy in Kasnia had been slowly eroding over the years, while the democratically elected parliament correspondingly waxed in strength. Normally a good thing, of course - power should rest in the hands of the people, not in the hands of one, of course. Here, however, it was personal. Within a week of being exposed, the heads of the Kasnian parliament informed King Gustav that a large majority of the people, when faced with the alternative of being ruled by two queens, even in a ceremonial role, preferred to have no queen at all. Even though Audrey had spent an ever-increasing amount of her time filling important positions in the Kasnian government - including a two-year stint as ambassador to the United States, the period in which reporters had learned Audrey "met" Diana - she was not beloved by her people. As her father aged, she became the monarchy, and the monarchy was especially "not beloved".
Either Audrey could abdicate, thus ending centuries of her family's rule once Gustav died, or she could take steps that would reassure the Kasnians of her "commitment to the nation" - she could marry.
Diana had pointed out, more than once, that if the monarchy was in such a state that it could be abolished by the parliament at will, it probably wasn't worth preserving anyway. She'd also reminded her that if she stepped down, they could spend every day together for the rest of their lives. Audrey's father had less than a year to live, however, and he'd asked her, as a last request, not to let it end like this.
Hawkgirl scowled angrily. Diana had refused to assign blame to Audrey when, crushed by the burden of her ancestors' expectations, she had broken both hearts by agreeing to take a suitable husband. But Shayera could definitely blame the old bastard for putting the family name over his daughter's happiness.
While "Diana Castle" went into seclusion, Wonder Woman had grown progressively more irritable as the days of the crisis passed. As she'd done in the past, she'd become extremely quick to anger, and she'd vented her frustrations on villains more than she should have. After Audrey made her decision, however, Diana went to pieces. Even though she didn't blame Audrey, the sting of rejection after six years made the separation all the more brutal. Losing interest in everything, she'd retreated to her room on the Watchtower for extended periods of time. When she did come out, she looked awful and shrugged off their attempts to help her.
Today, however, had been the wedding, and nearly the entire Justice League had come to the Watchtower to be there for her. This step had been unexpected, however.
"You're right," Hawkgirl admitted. "We can't leave it there, and we ARE here for her. I guess we wouldn't be doing her any favors by leaving her in this fantasy world. She needs to move on."
"Where's J'onn?" Batman asked, annoyed. "If he's studied the Black Mercy, he can tell us more about it than we know already. I'm surprised he even kept it."
"I didn't exactly want Mongul dying in my fortress, you know," Superman said. "I gave J'onn the Black Mercy to destroy. I guess he wanted to study it first. It's not like it's evil, you know. It's no different from a Venus flytrap - except its prey is a bit larger."
"He said he had an emergency to take care of," Green Lantern told them. "He'll be here later tonight. We could contact him, though."
"No," Superman said. "Let's just removed the damn thing. And this time, Flash, when we put it back in its container, I want you to blow it out of the nearest airlock. I don't want this to be a temptation for Diana in the future."
"You got it, Supes," Flash replied calmly.
Superman went over to stand in front of the Black Mercy. "Someone catch her in case she falls," he said.
Batman took a position behind Diana.
"She'll be glad we did this. Some day."
He grabbed one of the tentacles and pulled so that it began to give way.
It was almost pitch black that night as Diana smiled triumphantly, looming over Audrey's nude form in the bed they shared as she raised herself up with both hands. "Happy anniversary," she whispered.
"We can talk later," Audrey said huskily as she raised a hand to caress Diana's cheek.
Diana leaned into Audrey's hand, and she was about to descend for a kiss when she felt something. Something - wrong? Something outside?
"Diana?" Audrey asked, her eyes dark with need.
Diana shook her head. It would take an invasion by Greek mercenaries to get her to leave now. She lowered herself back down.
As Superman was pulling, one of Diana's hands swept over and grabbed him by the wrist, arresting his movement.
Everyone froze. "Diana?" Superman asked.
Her eyes gave no sign that she'd heard him. But when he tried pulling again, she pulled back even stronger.
"This didn't happen the last time," Batman said, worried. "The Mercy itself fought, but it couldn't compel you to, Clark."
"Perhaps she's not being compelled," Superman replied as he let go. Her hand released its grip. "Maybe she's a lot more determined than I was to stay where she is."
"Okay, this adds a new dimension to the problem," Green Lantern said.
"This will have to be a group effort," Batman decided. "Superman, Lantern and Hawkgirl will have to hold Diana back. I'll remove the Black Mercy. Flash will be ready with the container."
"Okay, but we could end up breaking both her arms in the process," Hawkgirl said dubiously.
"Better than her death," Batman replied.
She glanced around and noticed something she'd missed before. "Wait," she said. "I think I have a better idea." She brushed past Flash and picked up something lying on a desk. "It's Diana's lariat," she noted, holding up the coiled rope.
"What about it?"
"Well, she's wearing her armor. Why not her lariat?"
"Because of the lariat's power," Superman realized. "It compels the person holding it to speak the truth."
"Maybe," Hawkgirl reasoned, "Diana thought that if she wore it, it would counteract the illusions created by the Black Mercy?"
"It might work," Batman said.
"If it doesn't," Green Lantern said, "we do it the hard way. Agreed?"
Hawkgirl nodded. She took one of Diana's hands, which hung limply now that the Black Mercy wasn't being threatened, and placed the lariat in her palm.
"This is not good," Queen Hippolyta said. "We can't allow this to happen."
"Why did she do this?" Diana asked.
Artemis coughed. "Perhaps Aresia felt more strongly than we realized that Audrey didn't deserve to be her queen some day."
Audrey's cheeks colored, and Artemis nodded to her. "Not that this is your fault," she told the shorter woman.
"It's all right," Audrey said.
"Regardless of why Aresia took the items Athena left in our care," Hippolyta replied, "she would not be my first choice to wear them. Or my second, for that matter. We must recover them."
When the disappearance of the armor, bracelets, and tiara was reported, the Amazons had assembled to search the island. Aresia's absence was quickly noted, and an exhaustive search had failed to turn either Aresia or the artifacts. Evidently she'd taken them in the middle of the night and left the island.
"I agree," Diana said. "I will go."
"We will go," Audrey corrected her.
Diana looked at her, surprised.
"I know Man's World much better than you, darling," Audrey reminded her. "Better even than Aresia does. She was only a child when she came here, after all. We will be able to find her much faster if I am there to help."
"Besides," Artemis said, "a single Amazon, even one of your skill, Princess Diana, will be at a distinct disadvantage against Aresia if she's wearing the armor. Despite what Aresia says, Audrey is a good enough fighter that it may help turn the tide."
"Very well," Hippolyta answered. "The two of you should prepare to leave as soon as possible."
Diana still looked doubtful, and Hippolyta finally smiled. "You know you'll be more effective in the field if the woman you love best is at your side. Athena and Aphrodite themselves blessed your union. Why separate it?"
"I guess you're right, all three of you," Diana finally agreed. She took Audrey's hand. "Together we'll find Aresia and bring her back, along with Athena's gifts."
"One, at least, was left behind," Hippolyta informed her. She bent over and picked up the lariat. "Perhaps it did not wish to accompany its would-be owner. But I think it would sit comfortably at your waist, Diana."
For a moment, Diana strangely wanted to refuse the offer. But that was silly, wasn't it?
She took the rope.
And then everything changed.
Diana gasped as she suddenly found herself high in the air, standing on a steeple above a tall building. "What? Audrey? Mother?" she asked, looking around wildly.
Then she realized she was wearing the very armor that Aresia had stolen. The lariat was still in her hands. Had she lost her memory? Was this a dream? Where was she?
She looked down into the unfamiliar city and focused on a large church. There was a group of people leaving through the front doors. It appeared to be a wedding party. Perhaps one of them could . . .
Diana's heart leapt into her mouth as she stopped and stared.
There was Audrey, looking resplendent in white, if a bit pensive. On her arm was -
Then she remembered. Audrey was married now. And not to her.
Diana put both hands over her mouth and screamed.
Diana put both hands over her mouth and screamed.
"Now!" Batman shouted.
Superman tore the Black Mercy from Diana's chest. Flash was at his side in an instant as it helplessly flailed about. Superman jammed it into the container. Flash closed it and vanished.
Hawkgirl released a breath she hadn't realized she was holding.
Diana slowly sank to her knees, still clutching the lariat. Her breathing was fast and ragged. "What . . . what . . . " She raised her head. Her eyes were empty. "Who gave me this?" she whispered, holding up the lariat.
"I did," Hawkgirl told her as Flash returned.
Diana flew from her kneeling position and drove her fist right into Hawkgirl's face, knocking her through a wall and into the corridor. "WHY?!" she screamed. She turned to look at the others. "Can't you stop saving people for two fucking SECONDS?!" She turned accusing eyes on Batman. "Where is it?" she snarled.
"Gone," Flash told her. "I just tossed it into space."
Diana growled, causing him to nervously take a step back. Superman quickly got between them.
"Diana - "
"Don't you Diana me," she hissed, shoving a finger into his chest. "You had no right. It was MY decision."
"You're not exactly in your right mind right now, Diana."
"How the hell would YOU know? You never lost Lois!" She glared at Batman. "You never lost Selina! None of you! You never - "
Batman put a gloved hand on her shoulder. "I lost both my parents when I was a child, Diana, but I didn't try to end my life."
Her eyes narrowed. "Yes, we all know how well you coped with THAT," she said viciously.
He glared at her.
"What about J'onn?" Superman asked. "He lost his wife, AND his child. Did he do something like this?"
Hawkgirl staggered in, being supported by Green Lantern. "What about Audrey?" she asked, rubbing her jaw. Damn, that had been a hard hit.
Diana looked murderously at her. "What ABOUT her?"
"If you died, how long would it take for Audrey to blame herself for your death?" Hawkgirl said softly.
"I mean, she contacted me after she made her decision. She spoke to all of us, I think. I could tell. She wasn't just suffering because she was giving up your love for a fake marriage, for what she felt was her duty. Something we can all understand, I think," she added. "But she was also suffering because she knew the pain she was inflicting on you. I hesitate to guess at how she's feeling right now, but when the doors are closed, I'd guess she looks a lot like you right now."
Dropping the lariat, Diana dropped miserably into a chair. "I didn't consider that," she whispered. "I just don't have anything to live for now. My home, my mother, my love - I've lost them all." She covered her chalk-white face with her hands.
"You still have us," Flash said.
"I'm not sure if that's enough any more," Diana said as she lowered her hands.
Hawkgirl knelt in front of her. "How about you take a little time to decide that, instead of looking for oblivion?" She took Diana's hand. "You know we're here for you. Whenever you need us."
Diana sighed. Slowly, the waterworks started. She slid out of her chair and fell into Hawkgirl's arms, sobbing. "For the rest of my life," she managed to splutter through the tears, "she'll be out there. And I'll love her, and I know she'll love me. But we won't be able to touch each other. How in Hades am I supposed to move on from THAT?"
"I don't know," Hawkgirl whispered. "But we'll find a way." She looked at John and wondered what it would be like if she lost him this way.
From the look on his face, he was thinking the exact same thing.
There had been reporters camped out in front of the building Diana Castle owned, where she both lived and operated her business. Not in the mood, Diana had used her speed to make it into her apartments without being spotted. Incredibly weary, she sought to retreat into the solitude of her assumed life for a while. And she had friends here as well, friends who'd never realized that the young woman who slept over some nights was a foreign royal. Maybe they'd understand why she kept the secret.
Diana dully walked toward her bedroom. She thought she might sleep now. For a few days.
Diana nearly leapt out of her skin. "Aaaah!"
Audrey's pale, drawn face appeared in the dim lighting. "Sorry," she whispered.
Diana looked at her as if she were a hallucination. Which was understandable, considering she now had ten years of false memories of her life with Audrey on Themiscyra competing with six years of real ones. "Audrey?"
"You were on the Watchtower?" Audrey asked. "I thought so. I could have perhaps gone there, but the League probably doesn't like me very much right now."
She wanted very badly to take Audrey in her arms right now, but she couldn't. "Shouldn't you be with your husband?" Diana asked, looking away.
Diana still saw the stricken look on Audrey's face out of the corner of her eye, and she felt a pain in her chest. "I'm sorry," Diana whispered, "I shouldn't have said that."
"Why not?" Audrey asked. "I hurt you much worse."
"I'll live. I'll exist, anyway."
"He's not my husband."
"You said the words, Audrey. I saw you leaving the church."
"You saw J'onn leaving the church."
Diana whipped her head around in shock. "What?"
Audrey sighed. "It was J'onn pretending to me. I will play the dutiful wife when I am with the new Prince, because he is a good man, I think, who has spent his life in service to my country. But I will always be married to you, not him."
Diana found she was crying again. Hera, would she never run out of tears? "He didn't tell me."
"I asked him to let me. I - I wanted an excuse to see you one last time." Audrey looked down. "You have no idea the regret I'm living with now. I could almost ask you to kill me, so that I could stop the pain of what I did to us."
Well, wasn't that ironic? Diana went over to her, and with trepidation, she sat next to her. "Audrey . . ."
The close quarters was too much for either of them, and they slipped into each other's arms. It felt so natural, so right, that Diana didn't know how she could let go of her.
She would have to. She knew Audrey wasn't coming back to her. This was Audrey offering the only thing she could - that in her own way, Audrey would always remain faithful to her.
And as they spent their last night together, their final hours at times frenzied and at times gentle, Diana knew she would hold on to this memory longest of all.