Immortal Beloved --The Scenes in Between
(Action Comics #761)
Because there had to be more to one thousand years than just those few panels...
And lo, the battle was begun. The princess born of clay, the Midgard champion, and mighty Odinson did defend Asgard against the profane Vrgtsmyth.
Kal watched Diana stride through the battlefield, surveying the troops of the dead.
"Your mistress knows her way around war fighters." Thor smacked him on the back; the blow almost hurt.
"We've been over this, Thor," Kal said, remembering his discomfort when Thor had first mistaken him for Diana's lackey--although that had not been what Kal had first thought he'd meant by "mistress." "She's not my mistress. In any sense of that word. She's my friend...she's--"
"--She is magnificent." Thor was not really looking at Diana though. He seemed to be studying the far distance, as if he could see into the Vrgtsmyth's encampment. "The battle will be fierce today."
"The battle is always fierce, Thor." Kal sounded sour, like someone had replaced him with Batman--Bruce might enjoy this, finally seeing Kal's eternal optimism being pummeled away with each passing battle.
"Are you all right?" Diana's voice lowered as she walked up to him, and she drew him away from Thor, who was still staring outwards. "You need to help me with them." She motioned with her chin toward the rows of fighters. "They need all of us to lead them, not just Thor and me."
"I can't be what you two are. I won't be."
He saw that his words had stung her by the way she let go of his arm, her eyes going flat. "We fight because we have to," she said softly.
"Why do we have to? There might be a way to talk it out with the enemy. But we haven't even given that a chance." Kal looked over at the far horizon. "Why haven't we?"
He took off before Diana could protest, heard Thor bellowing for him to turn around. He could sense Diana coming up behind him but did not look at her as he said, "Go back, Diana. You don't believe in peace."
He let her catch up with him and saw the expression on her face--she looked stung again. Was he trying to hurt her? He didn't blame her for their being stuck in Asgard, did he?
"I go where you go." Her voice was resolved, calm and firm and yet he thought he heard some deeper sentiment.
"You don't have to."
She touched his arm, waiting until he looked at her to say, "Yes, I do. I'm your mistress, remember?" Her smile was tentative.
"So says Thor." His words weren't intended to make her turn away so quickly, and he touched her hand to show her he was sorry.
"I know you hate it here. So do I. But we have to make the best of it."
He could see the enemy encampment coming into view. "I am making the best of it. We can negotiate a peace."
"I'm not sure we can...Kal, you don't understand the stakes. These aren't mortals. These are gods battling for supremacy."
"Then they should know better." He could see her getting the look that Bruce often wore when Kal had said something particularly naïve. "Damn it, Diana. It's because they're gods...if they can't make peace, who can?"
"You don't understand them," she said, but she didn't turn back. "But you're determined. I can see that. And I'm with you. I'll...try this."
He landed in front of the tent of the general; she set down beside him.
"We come in peace," he said.
There was no answer.
"We wish to discuss terms for a cease fire."
He took a step forward and fire met him--fire and a hail of arrows and lances. Diana knocked the missiles away while he blew the fire back at the general.
Then they fled.
As they flew back to their army and Thor, Kal glanced over at her, saw that she was watching him with a pitying look. She did not tell him she had told him so.
He almost wished she would.
Ne'er before and ne'er since had the noble spirits of the dead been led in such righteous combat. They followed the trio loyally for days. Days which bled red into sleepless nights, which howled into painful months, which shrieked into forgotten years...and still the battle raged on.
"I brought you this." Diana stood at the entrance to his tent, her hair gleaming in the dying light. She held up a fur robe.
"Did you kill the animal that wore it?"
"No. I bought it at the mall." Shaking her head, a crooked smile growing, she spread the fur over the floor in front of the fire. "If it makes you feel better, you can pretend that it died of old age, and I happened upon the carcass before any scavengers did."
"It does make me feel better." He sat gingerly, as if he expected the beast to rise back up in vengeance.
The fur was soft and lush. Diana had killed. For him. Once he would have thought that out of character for her. Now he knew better. She was ferocious. Elemental. But then she had been formed from earth, why would she be anything but elemental?
"May I?" she asked, pointing at the fur.
"You killed it; you should be able to sit on it." But he knew why she was asking. There wasn't much room for two. Unless they sat close. He reclined back, watched her do the same, her feet near his head. He stroked the soft fur. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." She sat up suddenly, then lay back down again, this time with her head near his. "You never talk about her, Kal."
"I know." Looking down, he closed his eyes, calling up Lois's face. A strange, low, almost sob-like sound escaped before he clamped down on his emotion. Looking up at Diana, he saw surprise on her face, then a terrible sympathy.
"Do you want me to go?" she asked quietly.
"No," he said, the sound more breath than a word.
"Then...talk to me."
He said nothing for a long time. She laid her head against the fur, her dark hair in stark contrast to the tawny pelt. She waited him out, idly playing with the fur, drawing lines between the dark brown spots.
"I...I think about her all the time," he finally said.
"You should. You love her."
"More than anything."
"I know that, Kal." She leaned in and kissed him on the forehead. "She's the love of your life. And she always will be." With a sad smile, Diana pushed herself up.
"Where are you going?"
"Thor has mead."
Thor had other things, most of which he'd made abundantly clear he'd love to share with her. Kal felt a rush of something he hated to identify as jealousy. "I have water."
She smiled. "It's not quite the same thing."
"Don't go." He patted the fur next to him. "It'll be raucous in Thor's tent. And there'll be singing and fighting."
She was smiling broadly. Those things must have sounded good.
"And..." He could not think of a single reason for her to stay.
"Do you want me to stay?"
"Then ask me."
She sank back to the fur. "I'll stay. Mead is better if it ages." Her smile was brilliant. She lay on her back, staring up through the smoke hole in the tent at the small piece of sky that showed through. "Tell me something about yourself that I don't know, Kal."
"You know everything." It was true. He could not think of anything she didn't know that she might want to.
"Then tell me something about myself that I don't know."
He smiled. "Your hair turns into black copper in the firelight." He touched a strand; the streak of fire in it disappeared as his hand blocked the light.
She turned to look at him, her eyes soft. His friend. His good, good friend. A beautiful person. A beautiful woman.
She sighed. "Maybe I should head over for that mead now?"
Slowly, he drew his hand back. "Maybe you should."
Pushing herself up easily, she walked to the entrance. "Do you want these down?" she asked, touching the flaps. When he nodded, she pulled at the flaps, whispering, "Good night," as she secured the ties.
He turned and closed his eyes, trying not to wonder what color her hair would be in Thor's firelight.
And still, great Kal did abide by dual oaths...never to kill, not even a demon, and to always hold the face of his beloved wife in his heart.
"How long have we been here?" Diana was soaking in the bath next to his. A screen separated them--a screen that was not quite opaque. He could see the shadow of her hand as she reached up to touch the screen, could see the curves of her body as she stood and toweled herself off.
"How long?" she asked again.
Long enough that he no longer remembered to avert his eyes. But she probably did not need to know that.
He wondered if she averted her eyes? If she ever had?
"I think four years."
"Four. I thought it was more."
"It feels like more." He pushed himself up out of the tub, saw that her head did move as if she was following the splashing noise. Suddenly embarrassed, he turned his back to her.
"I'm glad it was you who was with me when Thor called me here," she said into the silence.
He imagined who else she might have been with. Bruce maybe? He had never been sure what Diana felt for his friend. Or what Bruce felt for her. They bickered. They were polar opposites--or so he'd used to think. Watching her on the battlefield, watching her kill without mercy, almost without thought. He wasn't so sure anymore.
"What are you thinking?"
He decided to give her a version of the truth. "That it could have been Bruce."
"Bruce would be dead by now, I think." She slipped on the robe she wore when they were at the stronghold. She always looked softer in it, sweeter. And more dangerous. Less like a superhero, more like a woman.
Like his Lois.
"Today is my wedding anniversary," he said.
"I'm sorry, Kal."
"I wonder if she's still waiting." He joined Diana at the door, tried not to notice how the soft fabric of the robe clung to her body. It never worked; he always noticed.
"I'm sure she is. She loves you, Kal." There was such compassion in Diana's voice. Such surety.
"I love her." He moved past her, saw Thor waiting just down the hall. Was he waiting for Diana?
"There you are," the god said. "Come to the feasting chamber."
"I'm going to retire early." Kal turned away from both of them.
Her hand on his arm stopped him. He could feel the heat of her skin through his sleeve. "Are you all right?"
"No. But I will be." He smiled at her, tried to not respond to the upwelling of sympathy in her eyes, the comfort she would offer if only he asked. "Go to Thor."
"I'm not with--"
"--I don't care if you are or aren't." He turned away, before she could see that it was an utter lie.
There were times when the tides of battle turned, that the great halls rang with merriment and humor that soldiers share on the battlefield. But tranquility always brings her cousin, memory, to a soldier's heart, and Kal did long for the bride he'd not seen for...how long had it been? Five? Ten? Thirty years, now? Time in the land of the Gods works in ways mysterious and slow, but works all the same.
"You don't drink, friend Kal." Thor was tossing his hammer in the air, amusing himself as those around him scrambled away in case he didn't catch it.
"No. I don't."
"You aren't one of us. Diana drinks." Thor looked over at her, his eyes raking up and down her body. Then he glanced at Kal. "You don't like it when I do that, my friend."
"I don't care if you do that."
"I"--Thor jabbed his tankard into Kal's chest, spilling more than a little mead--"don't believe you."
"That's"--Kal shoved the tankard away, spilling even more--"your problem."
Thor laughed. "You don't fear me, do you?"
"No." Kal eyed the exit. Did he have to put up with this for another night? He'd been putting up with it for fifty years now.
"Prove it," Thor said, as he launched the hammer high into the air.
Everyone moved away, but Kal stood planted, the hammer making a direct course for his head. At the last minute, he reached up, pushing the hammer off its trajectory so that it landed on Thor's head.
The god fell.
There was a startled rumbling from those gathered.
Diana hurried over. "What's wrong with you?" she said to Kal.
"I'm sick of him." Kal felt something break loose inside him. "I'm sick of the same people in the same smelly furs in the same smelly room with the same stinking drink."
Diana backed away from him.
"I'm sick of fighting and blood and fire and smoke and tents."
Thor opened his eyes, shaking his head as if in a daze.
"I'm sick of Asgard and gods who can't get along, and I'm sick of you, Diana." He looked around the hall; everyone was staring at him. "I'm sick to death of all of this."
Then he strode out.
As he rounded the corner, he heard Diana whisper, "Happy Anniversary, Kal."
So Kal always kept near the face of his beloved...though one spring, he found he did not remember her smell.
Diana smelled like orchids and fire...
Kal could hear Diana coming, her boots hitting hard on the packed ground. She thrust one shoulder through the flap, using her body to push the rest of the fabric aside. If he had to sum her up in one word, it would be: coiled. She seemed like a serpent to him now, tensed and ready to attack. Always ready to strike.
She smiled at him, her face transforming. "Hiding?"
They had long ago abandoned the niceties. He could speak to her this way without worrying she would take offense. They understood each other.
"I missed you," she said.
"I doubt it." He inhaled slowly--she had been at the bonfire. Plenty of company there. "You were with the troops?"
"They needed a rousing story. I gave them one." She dropped gracefully to the fur, her arm grazing his thigh as she lay on her stomach looking up at him. She took a deep breath, and he saw some of the tension drift away with her long exhale. The only time she seemed to relax anymore was with him--and maybe with Thor.
He leaned back, letting his head rest on the pillows behind him. "I've run out of rousing stories."
She laughed. "You never had any to begin with."
He scowled at her but knew she was right. Somehow "Ode to Lois, Number 457" failed to rally their fellow fighters the way Diana's bloody epics did. Never mind that they were Greek instead of Norse. No one seemed to care just as long as there was glory at the end.
Thor certainly didn't seem to mind what was told, as long as she was the one telling it.
Kal reached behind him, pulled out the flower he'd found.
She stared at it, frowning. "I've forgotten the word for that."
He held it to her nose, and she breathed in deeply.
"It's a flower," he said.
"Not that word. I remember that word. It's an..." She frowned again, then smiled. "It's an orchid."
"Yes. Or Asgard's equivalent of one."
"When was the last time we saw a flower?" She rolled to her back, taking the orchid from him and sniffing it again.
"Three hundred and seven years."
She frowned. "We've been here three hundred and nine, I thought. Or have I lost count?"
"No. But we saw one of these in our second year here."
"That's right. We did." Smiling, she rolled to her side, and he tried not to notice how the firelight in his tent created shadows on her skin, enhancing her chest even more than her uniform did.
Three hundred and nine years with this beautiful woman at his side. Three hundred and nine years of gleaming black copper and shadowed curves, and he'd never been unfaithful to Lois.
Although he'd thought about it for the last two hundred and some years. If he'd thought about it, was he still completely faithful?
"Kal, we have to talk about something."
He gulped, could she read his mind now?
She sat up. "It's about you."
She nodded. "And your resolve to not kill."
He could feel his muscles tensing. He did not want to go over this again.
"Ragnel was nearly torn apart today by a monster you showed mercy to last year. It doesn't help our cause, Kal, to let them live."
"I won't kill."
"Kal. They're evil." Her tone was condescending, and he could feel his lips tighten.
"Maybe they don't think they're evil." He leaned forward, touched her hand, near the flower. Was there nothing soft he could reach inside her? "This isn't our war."
"It's not yours. You've made that very clear, even if you do fight in it." She got up, the flower slipping from her hand as she did so. "Maybe you shouldn't fight at all."
"Maybe I shouldn't."
"That's your choice." She turned and her heel caught the orchid, crushing it into the fur and releasing more of the sweet fragrance into the air. Looking down, she stared at him, her eyes refusing to release his. "This is no place for flowers. Or scruples that only serve to endanger the rest of us. We're stuck here until we win or are destroyed. And I, for one, want to win."
"At what cost?"
She looked at him as if he was addled. "At any cost, Kal. We fight on the right side. The just side."
"No, Diana. We just fight."
With a long sigh, she left him. A few moments later, he could hear her at the bonfire, leading the others in a song. He picked up the orchid and began to compose "Ode to Lois, Number 458." But all he could see was Diana's face, her accusing eyes and glowing skin. And her stern mouth that could turn so sweet when she wanted it to.
He knew he would always associate her with orchids. And with bonfires and bloodlust and war. She was more Ares's stepdaughter than she would ever admit.
Picking up the crushed flower, he threw it into the fire. Diana was right about one thing. This was no world for such a delicate thing.
The war raged...the dark lords of the Vrgtsmyth infiltrating the inner chambers of Asgard, showing no signs of fatigue, no signs of mercy. And there were great casualties--casualties more evident than torn shreds of Kal's heart--for in Valhalla even a God may fall. "Tis up to you now, friends. I return to the great slumber awaiting your victory," whispered Thor as he passed beloved Mjolnir to Kal. "In Valhalla, when the battles end, great rewards await. Avenge me, so that we might one day walk in Asgard's divine sun...together.
Kal walked out to where Diana sat cross legged on the open plain, the cold winds buffeting her. Sitting down next to her, he set Thor's hammer on the ground in front of them.
"We're going to miss him," she said, lightly touching the runes carved into the handle of the hammer.
"Perhaps...more that that. For you?"
She did not answer, sat staring ahead of her for a long time. Finally, she turned to him. "Are you asking me if Thor was my lover?"
"No." The answer was so quick, so defensive, it was clear that he was asking her exactly that.
"You think he was my lover."
"I do." There, it was said.
"And it bothers you." She was not making it a question, so he did not answer it. "I know it bothers you."
"You have the right to find happiness. Even in this hell."
She turned to him. "Do you mean that?"
He nodded. He meant it, even if her lover was gone now. Even if she would never be happy again.
They sat in silence, the wind whipping over them, frigid and dry. If they sat there long enough, would they turn into frozen husks?
"He wasn't my lover." Diana turned to look him squarely in the eyes.
He didn't look away. "He wanted to be. Why wasn't he?"
Her face turned red, the color of Wonder Woman's rage, the color of her righteous anger. He'd seen that rage directed at Oliver, at Barry, and most often at Bruce. He couldn't remember the last time it had been directed at him.
"You know why," she said, as she pushed herself up quickly and hurried back to her tent.
He turned and watched her go, fighting the urge to make her put it into words. Her body was silhouetted briefly as she tied down the tent flaps to keep the wind out.
He heard her whisper, "Because I love you."
He had no doubt she knew he could hear her. He waited for more. There wasn't any.
"Goodnight, Diana," he whispered, wondering if she could hear him.
But there was no answer from her tent.
"I love you too," he said, as he picked up Thor's suddenly too-heavy hammer and walked back to his own tent.
Kal did his best to counter the weight of Thor's hammer with the face of his beloved...though he no longer remembered her voice, or her middle name.
Diana's voice rang like a golden bell, chimed by a summer wind.
"Here, throw it here!" Diana's laughter filled the courtyard as she and four of their soldiers played a game of keep-away. The men were laughing too, as if charmed by their goddess at play.
And she was a goddess to them. Kal might weld Thor's hammer, but it was Diana they followed into battle. He was just along for the ride.
"Kal!" The small leather ball he'd made for her came flying at him. He caught it, threw it back to her, harder than he meant to. She made catching it look easy, ran back and feinted as if she was going to throw to him again, then tossed it to one of the others.
Kal drew back, away from the courtyard, to where he could watch her without being a participant. Her hair gleamed in the light like black gold; it shone brighter than the real gold on her uniform.
"That's enough for me," she said, flipping the ball to another soldier sitting on the far side of the courtyard. "Take my place."
He hurried to do as she said.
Laughing, she rounded the corner, and Kal moved so she wouldn't crash into him. But she slowed before she reached him.
"You knew I was here?" he asked, not trying to stop his hands from reaching out to steady her even though he knew she needed no help. Her skin felt warm, warm and soft. He let his hands linger.
She laughed again, and it sounded so foreign--almost wrong--to be happy in this hellish place. "I always know where you are."
He did not question her. Certainly, on the battlefield, they had an uncanny knack for tracking each other down, keeping close in case the other needed help. But he had not known that their sense of each other extended to their less bloody moments. Yet here they were, drawn together again on a day with no fighting--the enemy had taken heavy hits and was regrouping. War would resume tomorrow, but, for now, they had time.
"Walk with me?" She was already pulling him along, toward the entrance to the keep, toward outside. "Or better yet. Let's fly."
He never flew for fun anymore. Didn't want to do anything but lie on his fur and forget how he stabbed foes in ways that left them alive...but barely. Their soldiers finished them off as they came up behind him.
He still did not kill...but it was nothing more than a technicality. Yet, he found he could live with it. If it meant that none of their men would die because of his principles.
Diana squeezed his hand. "Fly, yes?"
She looked so young suddenly. Six hundred years together and she could look so innocent.
"Yes. We'll fly." He could deny her nothing when she was in this mood.
Her laughter tinkled ahead of him. As he caught up with her, she smiled, and he took her hand. Grinning wickedly, she pushed him away, and suddenly they were playing tag in the Asgard skies, with the lingering smell of war and blood and death still coating everything.
"Don't get serious," she said, as if she could read his thoughts.
Finding a thermal, she lofted upwards, and he raced after her. He'd never played with her this way, in his element, in hers too. He could take Lois with him when he flew, but she could never fly next to him this way. Or race ahead, trying to kick him off when he caught her by the foot.
Diana lost the thermal, started to fall a bit, and he grabbed her, pulling her close.
"I'm okay," she said, her voice husky as she relaxed against him.
"Force of habit. I'm used to Lois being with me."
"I know." Sympathy replaced the gaiety on her face. Then she grinned again. "Lois can't do this." And she kicked him just enough to send him off course, wrenching herself away so she could race in the opposite direction.
He caught her easily, pulled her to him, holding her against him so she couldn't kick him, his leg keeping her close.
Far too close.
She had to be able to feel how much he wanted her.
Her eyes softened, and she looked up at him helplessly. "Kal..."
Their faces were close, so close, as they rode the winds together. He forced himself to stop stroking her hair, but could not keep from burying his face in the dark waves.
She still smelled like orchids and fire. Like home.
"Kal..." Her voice held a warning.
He wanted to hear her laugh again. Just one more laugh and he'd let her go. He pulled away, ready to tell her to laugh for her freedom. But her smile had faded, and he could see that there was no more laughter inside her. She pulled away from him slowly, and he let her go.
He felt cold without her pressed against him.
He wanted her to press against him again.
"It felt good. It felt so good," she said, touching his cheek, utter sadness in her expression. Then she flew back to the keep.
He forced himself not to follow her.
So the alien and the princess did fight to avenge the fallen. And in the fighting, forged a bond between them that no demon could tear asunder. A bond strong enough to beat back the darkness poisoning Asgard. But not the darkness closing in around Kal's noble soul.
"Are there anymore to fight?" Diana asked. They had fought back to back, as they often did. The enemy had sent many against them. None of them had survived the encounter. Together, Diana and he were formidable.
"There are no more," he answered.
Diana walked around him, delivering death blows to the creatures he had only incapacitated.
"You're hurt," he said, noticing she was limping, then seeing the blood soaking into her new fur, the one she'd been so proud to wear since it had come from a beast that none of the other warriors had been able to hunt down.
"Yes," she said, as she hacked into the neck of the last fallen enemy. She stood for a moment, then collapsed on top of it. He rushed to her, turning her over. She'd taken a deep cut down her arm; it was bleeding badly.
"It happened with the last one I was fighting. I guess I was tired and let it get in past my defenses." She was staring up at him. "You need to cauterize it."
"It might be infected and--"
"Kal, I can fight off infection. But I can't fight blood loss. There's no one like me here to give me more. Just you and the dead."
She was right. But it would hurt her. He didn't want to hurt her. "My blood might work. I could wrap this..."
She grimaced, moving a bit so he had a better view of her arm. "Just do it, Kal."
He kept his heat vision to as much of a pinpoint as he could, then realized that method was only going to hurt her more and take too long. He let the stream widen, held the torn flesh of her arm together, burning the wound closed.
She didn't cry out, didn't make any sound. But when he was done, her eyes rolled up into her head and she went limp. Picking her up gently, he carried her back to the tents.
Their troops saw him with her, cried out and came running. "Is she dead?" "Has she fallen?"
"She is only hurt. She will be fine." He looked each soldier in the eye, letting them see that it was true. She would be fine. She would recover.
He carried her to her tent, but at the last moment, veered off, continuing to his own. He eyed the bed he'd built a few years ago, when he'd been trying to find something inside himself that was not a warrior, that could still create instead of just destroy.
The bed seemed wrong for her. She was of the earth. Let her be close to it.
He set her down on the fur, and she moaned, then opened her eyes. "What happened?"
"You lost consciousness."
"That's such a nice way to say I passed out." She eyed her arm. "Nice work, Doctor Kent."
The name stung. Who was Clark Kent anymore? She never called him that.
She seemed to realize what she'd done. "Kal, I'm sorry. I didn't mean--"
He put his finger over her lips. "Shhh. It's all right. It's just...I think he may be gone."
"No, Kal. He's not gone."
"Well, then he's hiding. Deep down and far away." He turned away.
She tried to sit up, but he held her down gently.
"You must rest. I know you will insist on fighting tomorrow. So you must rest now, while you can."
She looked up at the smoke hole and smiled. "I'm in your tent. My tent doesn't have a rip at the top."
"Yes, my tent." He had made that rip one night. Frustrated, missing Lois. He'd let his heat vision fly in a fit of rage. Damn near set his tent on fire. Fortunately, he could put out flames as quickly as he caused them.
"Why am I in your tent, Kal?"
"I...thought it best." He saw her shiver, pulled the sodden fur off her and threw it near the tent opening, then drew one of the covers off the bed. "You're cold."
"No, Kal. I'm dead." She looked up at the sky, seemed to be refusing to meet his eyes.
He lay down next to her, pulling the cover over both of them, then wrapped his arm around her. She moved a bit, snuggling against him in a way he found comforting.
"You're not dead, Diana."
"What's left of me? All we do is kill." She laughed bitterly. "Well, all I do is that. You get to just wound."
He suddenly wondered if it was fair, this bargain they'd struck. Was it right to make her kill for him too, do double duty? What was the cost to her?
"Ares would be so proud of me." She burrowed against him, her face hidden by her hair. He could feel her shaking. Crying, she was crying. In seven hundred and fifty years, he'd never seen her cry. Not even for Thor.
He kissed her hair. "You're not dead, Diana. You're not." He stroked her arm, heard her groan as he accidentally rubbed the wound. "I'm sorry."
"Hurting is good. It's the only way I know I'm still alive." She went still against him, as if stifling her tears by will alone.
He considered what she'd said and decided she was wrong...or lying. Pain wasn't the only way she knew she was alive, because it wasn't the only way he knew he was alive. This closeness, this touch of skin against skin, her heart beating against his own chest. Those were the signs of life. He only knew he was alive anymore because he could still touch her.
"Kal." She pulled away a bit. "If you weren't here..."
"I know." He stared into her eyes. Beautiful, mesmerizing, blue eyes that he'd seen every possible emotion in. Including this...love. Lust. Whatever it was. He did not doubt it was showing in his eyes too.
Lost. They were lost. Just as Lois was lost. Dead now for seven hundred years at least. "Lois," he breathed, the pain still there.
"See, Clark isn't gone." Diana's eyes were so sad.
He wanted to kiss her. Wanted to touch her. But he couldn't.
Not when she was curling against him saying, "Lois never understood, I don't think, how much you loved her."
He was sure Diana was right. He'd told Lois, tried to show her, but they'd been together such a short time.
He'd spent at least seven of Lois's lifetimes with Diana.
He'd been in love with both of them at least that long. His arms tightened on Diana, and she moved closer, her arm stealing across his chest.
He had never admitted that he loved her too. Not that way. Loving her as a friend was fine. But to be in love with her...
He needed to tell her; she needed to know. "Diana, I..." He looked down at her.
She was gone, fast asleep, her face so peaceful he could not bear to disturb her. Her wounded arm lay tight to his chest, the skin already healing.
"I love you," he said softly. Then he closed his eyes and fell into an exhausted sleep.
While the princess was accustomed to the ways of gods, Kal was still only a man--a man whose heart could only bear anchor for so long. Before it began to give way, before it began to break...and forget...and Diana was so warm, so close.
The battle drums of their troops pounded into the night. Kal lay back against the rocks, his arm around Diana as she slept against his chest. Eight hundred years. Eight hundred horrible years and they were finally gaining ground. He could finally see progress. They were pushing the Vrgtsmyth back. They were winning.
But winning what? Even if they won, what would wait for them?
For them. For him and Diana. He looked down at her, smiled at the peaceful expression he only ever saw now when she slept. They sought each other out this way often, sleeping pressed together, holding each other, giving comfort.
Comfort. Comfort was no longer enough. He wanted her. His wife was dead, long dead. And he was in love with this woman who slept so close. And he wanted her with a powerful, raging desire, fueled by eight hundred years of pretending that this hell would end and life would go back to the way it was.
This hell might, in fact, end. He had learned that tonight. But nothing would go back to the way it was. Not ever.
"Kal?" Diana sounded like she was having trouble breathing.
He looked down, realized he was squeezing her tightly. He let go of her.
"Something wrong?" She shifted so she was still against him but could see his face. They had become masters at touching, at cuddling close and finding intimacy any way they could.
Except the obvious way. Eight hundred years and he'd never made love to her.
What the hell was wrong with him?
He leaned down, moving slowly, his lips finding hers. God, she was warm and soft and so sweet. Diana. His Diana.
He pulled away, stroking her hair, running his thumbs over her lips. "You've been so patient with me."
She did not say anything, just stared up at him, an almost tormented look in her eyes.
"I want you, Diana. So much."
She reached up then, her arms going around his neck as she pulled him to her. Her mouth opened to his, and he was lost. For a moment, she was the only thing in his world.
Then she pulled away.
"Kal, wait." For only the second time in Asgard, he saw tears in her eyes.
"Diana, I'm sorry. If you don't want this--"
"--Let me talk." Her voice was fierce, her words rushed, as if she had to get what she wanted out quickly or not at all. "Do you know why I've been so patient?"
"Because you knew how I felt about Lois. You knew that I still loved her."
"Lois is dead, Kal. What do I care about her now, after hundreds of years?"
"Then...you don't want me?" He suddenly felt like a schoolboy in Smallville again. Clark the awkward.
"I do. I want you, Kal." She touched his lips with her fingers, as if tracing them for posterity. "Do you know what will happen if we win this war, Kal?"
"We'll be released."
"Yes. But do you know what else will happen?" She leaned in, laying her lips against his throat for a moment. "The gods will reward us. It is their way."
"We don't need riches, so long as we're together."
She smiled. "No, we would not need riches. But they can grant other things. Time, for instance. They can move through time in many directions."
He stared at her. Did she mean...?
"You can have Lois back. It can be the way it was. We can go back to only minutes after we left. If we want that?"
For a moment some small hope shone in her eyes, as if she did not want that and hoped he might not want it either. Then the hope died, the fire changing to one of certainty. One of sacrifice. "I've never told you how much I wanted you...never acted on it, because I always knew you could be with her again."
"You never told me we could go back."
"At first, I was afraid to raise your hopes when it was clear we had so far to go. But we're winning now, Kal. I can see the end; I can see victory. For both of us." She kissed him softly on the forehead. "You can go back to her, Kal."
"And you? Will you go back?"
She nodded as she turned around and took her place against him, her back to his chest again. "I will go back." She sighed. "I am needed too. By everyone. Just not by anyone in particular."
He wrapped his arms around her again. "That's not true. I'll always need you. You're my best friend. That will never, ever change."
"Good." Her voice broke on the word and he knew, if he looked, he would see more tears.
"You're a good woman, Diana."
She laughed, the sound light and jagged. "A wonder woman?"
"Yes. A wonder woman."
The land of Gods, where for nigh one thousand years or what blood-soaked fairy time felt as such, valorous Kal and fierce Diana did struggle. Until finally their campaign found them at the demon stronghold, a decisive battle in reach. Both on Asgard's hallowed ground, and within the heart of the great Kal. A heart which had grown weary, and very, very lonely. A heart which hungered for a woman's soft touch:
Kal tossed on the bed, the fever finally broken, the wounds on his chest and arm finally healing. He had been out of commission for too long. Had taken too long to heal.
Diana came in, her hair in the long braid she'd taken to wearing ever since she told him about going back to Lois. The braid that kept her hair from gleaming like black copper, that kept him from touching her.
Two hundred years they'd been fighting since she'd told him he could have Lois back. Two hundred years when he'd almost despaired of ever getting to this day. Two hundred years and finally, they were on the edge of victory.
An edge of victory he'd almost not seen. He'd been stupid, had been clipped by one of his foes, one that he'd thought more injured than it really was. The claws had ripped through him, poison that the creatures had taken to slathering on their talons running through his body. Poison strong enough to fell a god--strong enough to fell him.
The men had fought all the harder when he'd fallen. Diana had told him that later. He had been wrong to think that they were only following her. They loved him too. After a thousand years, his army of dead men loved him too.
Diana had nursed him. She'd stripped off his uniform and bandaged him and cared for him, refusing to let him die. She'd been all he'd known as he'd raved in fevered pain. His world had been her voice and her lips on his cheeks and forehead as he'd tossed and turned. Then she'd left him. He'd called out for her, and he'd been almost lucid when she'd come rushing in, a bunch of weeds she'd braved enemy territory to find in her hands. Weeds she'd brewed into a potion that tasted terrible but had made him strong again.
She had done that for him. Diana. His love.
His friend. In a day, possibly, she might be only that. He would have Lois back. His wife. His beloved wife.
"Here," Diana said, easing him up so she could give him more of the healing potion. He grimaced at the taste, tried to lose himself in her scent. She smelled of fire and meat and mead. And of the herby smell of the weed she'd brewed for him--it smelled far better than it tasted, the bitterness hidden from the nose. She leaned in as she settled him back against the leather slats of the bed. Her neck was close to his, her lips just slightly less close. He could kiss her so easily.
He did not. He coughed, and Diana eased away, pulling her latest favorite fur around her shoulders. She looked so beautiful in the firelight.
He sought safer ground. "The troops. They...did you go over the strike plan? Do they know?"
She smiled. "I trained them myself, Kal. And they're warriors born...they're ready." Her armor gleamed in the low light of the tent; he wished he could see her hair one last time. "Now you rest and just let the potions do their work."
"I...I can't rest, Diana. I keep thinking about tomorrow." His voice dropped, she had to lean in to hear it. "I keep thinking about tonight."
"So do I." She sat on the edge of the bed, staring down at him with infinite tenderness.
"When the sun rises, one way or another..." He sighed. "We win, or we die. Tonight...this night--"
"--Is our last night together, yes." She took his hand, staring at him, and this time there was nothing in her eyes but love and desire. This time there was no secret she needed to tell him, no wife she would give back to him.
There was only them and this one night. Couldn't they have this one night?
He leaned forward, wanting her, wanting her more than anything. And seeing her suddenly back on earth, coming to get him for a mission with the League, smiling at him in an Asgard way. How could it be one night? How could it ever be just one night?
He looked down and closed his eyes. He couldn't look at her. Did not want to see censure or anger or frustration with him. God help him, he loved them both. But he was going home to his wife. He'd made a promise. "I...I can't, Diana."
She put her other hand over his, and he looked up expecting to see tears, but there were none. She smiled gently at him.
What if she was wrong? What if the gods couldn't send them back?
Her smile grew more tender, as if she could read his thoughts.
He smiled grimly. "Silly, right? Even if she is...gone...a thousand years and another world past. Lois is still the only one."
She kissed his forehead. "No, it's not silly. It's perfect. It's right. Exactly right."
As she moved away from him, he caught the scent of orchids. Flowers in this terrible world. Diana had been his flower. Diana had been this world for him.
He pulled her close, hugging her fiercely. "Thank you, Diana. For always being my best friend. I love you."
She hugged him back, her armor tickling his skin. "I love you too...Clark."
He smiled. Generous--she was so generous. To give him back Clark. So that's where he'd been hiding? Inside her all this time?
"Stay with me tonight," he whispered.
She shook her head. "Even I have limits, Kal. If I stayed, I'd never be able to leave."
He nodded. But before she could get up, he reached over and pulled the leathers from her braid, undoing her hair, letting it flow past her hips. It still shone more brightly than her armor.
"You are so beautiful."
She smiled, but he saw her lips shake. And her eyes were bright with tears he knew she would not let fall. She touched his long hair, ran her fingers down his beard. "I've gotten used to you like this. It'll be a shock to see you any other way."
"You're the only one who will have ever seen me this way. You're the only one who will ever know about this."
"Except for Lois."
He looked down. "Right. Except for Lois."
She got up, taking the leather cords from him and quickly re-braiding her hair. "To victory, my friend." She handed him one more cup of the potion. "Drink to it."
He threw it back, nearly choked on it. "To victory. And to us. Comrades-in-arms."
"And best friends." She took the cup away from him, threw it hard against the tent wall.
"Did that help?"
"No." She turned to him. "But kicking a bunch of demons out of paradise tomorrow should." Her smile was weak but very brave. She leaned down, touching his lips lightly with her own. "Good night, Kal. Sleep well."
Then she was gone.
He did not fall asleep for a very long time.
And as the dawn broke, Kal-el of Midgard, his confidante and compatriot, Diana of Themyscira, at his side, led the battalions of fallen Asgard against the wretched Vrgtsmyth and their accursed sovereign for the last time. Armed with unyielding Mjolnir, driven by the soul, the smell, the voice, and the face of his one true love, Lois, great Kal sang a warriors' song that raged for ten years...for just an hour...forever.
Until the demon generals lay prostrate and their foot soldiers were slain. And Kal himself delivered the blow that felled the contemptible mooncalf back through the doorway whence he came. Ever keeping his oath not to kill, not even a demon.
Finally, light returned to Valhalla.
Home. He was home. After Asgard, Earth seemed so bright. And there were so many smells, and more of them good than he remembered. The fruity smell of Lois's hair after she washed it, the green tang of her perfume. The smell of detergent, and fabrics that didn't come from dead things, and newspapers. He savored the aroma of hot dogs from the cart near the Daily Planet, of roasted nuts and popcorn from vendors near the park, of fresh-brewed coffee at the newsstand, and over-brewed tea by the woman in the research department, the musty smell of books in the library, and the myriad scents that were the fruits and vegetables in the corner market.
There were not-so-nice smells too. Exhaust fumes, and the smell of underwashed bodies on the subway, the even worse smell of the humans who lived on the streets. Dogs left waste behind, so did birds, and there was the stink of garbage from the bins outside the Daily Planet. But it was all right. At least he didn't smell blood and hard-packed earth and the stench of death all around him.
He didn't smell orchids and fire either.
"Clark? Are you okay?"
He turned, smiling at Lois. She had no idea what he'd been through. Only a few hours had passed for her while he'd been fighting those thousand years. "I'm fine. I'm with you, how could I be anything but?"
She didn't smile. "We need to talk. About Wonder Woman."
His smile died. They did not need to talk about Wonder Woman. "What about her?"
"I'd rather she didn't just pop in the way she has been." Lois looked down, as if she was slightly embarrassed at what she was saying. "I know it's a little selfish of me, but I don't like sharing you with her."
He wondered what she would think if she knew she'd shared him with Diana for a thousand years. Would she even believe he'd been faithful? Now was the time to tell her about his ordeal. The most recent of many times to tell her. Lois, he should say. Lois, I was lost for one thousand years, and you were my anchor, my safe harbor. I got through it because of you. He should tell her that.
But then he remembered Diana's lips on his. He might never have strayed, but he'd thought about it. God help him, he'd wanted to.
"Clark? Say something?" She was standing over him, looking down at him with a worried look.
He put his newspaper down, pulling her into his lap. "I'll tell her to phone ahead from now on like everyone else does. How's that?"
She smiled. "That would be good."
"I love you," he said kissing her. "I will love you for a thousand years."
It was truth. Utter, hewn-in-stone truth. It would be true so long as he didn't mention that he'd love Diana just as long.
As lies went, it wasn't a very big one. He even forgot it as he made love to Lois--she looked at him intently when they finally lay still, as if wondering why he could not seem to keep his hands off her.
"I love you," he said, tickling her slightly, making her laugh, chasing her suspicion away in a fit of giggles. "I love you, Lois."
It wasn't a lie. Would never be a lie. He loved her with all his heart, and mind, and soul.
But when the phone rang the next evening, when he heard Diana, the sentry for the night, calling him in for the latest crisis, he felt his heart beat just a little faster.
"Be careful," Lois said. "I love you."
"I love you," he said to his wife as he flew away, already imagining the scent of fire and orchids.