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Immortal Burden
by DC Lady

The days crawled at an agonizing pace with Bruce's condition showing little sign of improvement. With Nightwing in Gotham protecting the city as Batman, Alfred and Diana alternated shifts, along with Superman on occasion. They wanted a familiar face present if Bruce should awaken from his coma. J'onn had suggested reading aloud since familiar voices were comforting to even the subconscious parts of a comatose brain. Diana picked up a copy of The Iliad and read it to Bruce in the Ancient Tongue. Alfred had opted for Shakespeare, starting with Hamlet and Othello while Superman had started the first book of the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian.

Despite alternating shifts, Diana found it almost impossible to leave his side. Since returning to the Watchtower her few moments alone were spent in fitful slumber, her heart heavy with the grief of days to come.

Gazing affectionately at the photo album that Alfred brought with him, Diana looked at pictures of a young Bruce with his parents. The family's love for one another was plain in the photos, making her wonder what it must have been like to lose that love so tragically. Turning the pages of the large family album she viewed pictures of Bruce as a teenager, both with Dr. Leslie Thompkins and Alfred. These photos, however, were in sharp contrast to those with his parents. Although his affection for his guardians was great, the exuberant feature displayed with his parents was now marked by a sadness and maturity not meant for a teenager.

She turned her gaze toward J'onn as he entered the room. Holding her breath in anticipation, she watched as his eyes glowed red, trying to establish a telepathic link with his patient. His eyes returned to their normal color and she exhaled in disappointment once again.

"How is he?" Diana asked, a routine question now.

"His vital signs are slightly improved. He is slowly making progress." J'onn replied.

"He is strong and stubborn. He will not give up." Diana remarked, proud of his warrior nature.

"That he is." J'onn agreed. "What about you, Diana. How are you?" J'onn continued, turning to face the Princess.

Instead of answering, Diana decided to question J'onn about the loss of his family on his home planet. He had seen the death of not only his wife and child, but his entire race. "J'onn, how do you overcome the loss of loved ones?"

"I'm not certain that you ever overcome their loss. The pain of it only subsides with time, replaced by the memories of your time together." J'onn stated.

"How do you risk opening your heart again? I've seen you do it with the friendships you have established here," she asked.

"I did not want to be alone. Sometimes you have to risk your heart in order to find happiness, even if it lasts for only a short time," he answered her.

"Is it worth the heartache knowing that it will someday end in death?" she questioned.

"Are you questioning your relationship with Bruce?" he asked.

"I question whether I can cope with his mortality," she whispered, ashamed of her emotional weakness.

"What would you do?" J'onn asked, his concern growing by the minute.

"I've considered contacting my mother and requesting that my banishment from Themyscira be overturned," she told him, again unable to face him.

"Would she do that?" he asked calmly.

"I believe so. However, I will never again be able to leave. Special clemency is not given lightly," she said.

"Then I believe the question that you must ask yourself is, can you live without him, and the rest of us, in your life?" he said, her turmoil screaming out to him.

Unable to voice her answer, she merely shook her head despondently.

"I believe that Bruce has recently learned to face the mortality of those he loves, a lesson learned by allowing himself to love you," he continued.

"I am a coward," she stated.

"If you were a coward you would have left when Bruce was first injured. Diana, do not make this decision in the midst of all of this turmoil. Give yourself time to consider what you would be giving up," J'onn declared and walked out of the room, leaving Diana to her thoughts.

Diana watched the still form of her lover, gently brushing a few strands of hair from his face. She contemplated her conversation with J'onn. 'Can I leave him or can I possibly find a way to live with the time we have together?' she wondered. Heaving a sigh of indecision she decided to busy herself with Bruce's care.

She placed a portable basin filled with warm, soapy water on the table next to the bed. Grabbing the submerged cloth, she wrung out the excess water and placed herself next to Bruce on the bed. She ran the cloth over his chiseled features and spoke to him about the day's events.

"Dick is still in Gotham, taking care of the city and covering for you with Wayne Enterprises. You would be so proud of him. He loves you deeply," Diana paused, rewetting the cloth. "Tim and Barbara are with him. They ask about you daily, wanting to see you, but they realize your wish is for them to protect Gotham." Taking his arm, she gently ran the cloth over the length of it.

Diana turned, hearing a soft knock at the opened door. She smiled when she noticed Flash standing at the entrance. "Hey Princess, how's the big guy?"

"Hello, Flash. Better. His progress is slow, but at least there is progress now." Diana stated, as she stood to greet her friend.

"Has anyone noticed his absence, yet?" she questioned.

"No. J'onn's telepathic block seems to have done the trick. Supes made it clear that Batman would be preoccupied in Gotham for a while. Everyone pretty much took it at face value." Flash reported, only the core members of the league were aware of Batman's condition.

"Good. You know how Bruce can be about looking vulnerable." Diana stated.

"Boy don't I." Flash laughed. "He's a handful, isn't he? I mean, this past year, especially after the invasion, Bats actually let us get to know him a little. You've had quite an effect on him."

Flash smiled, happy to see a less gloomy Batman around the Watchtower.

"He has such a large heart. I'm just grateful that he has decided to chance opening it a little." Diana stated, suddenly lost in thought.

"Well, I have to get back to duty before they come looking for me. Just wanted to check in and see how you were doing." Flash stated.

"Thank you, Flash. We both appreciate it." Diana stated, returning her attention to Bruce's bath.

Returning to the Medical Bay after a brief respite, Alfred found Diana reading quietly to Bruce. He was becoming increasingly concerned for the Princess. Dark circles under her eyes and a defeated expression had become permanent fixtures on her face.

Crossing the room he made his way to her, placing his hand on her shoulder.

"Hello, Alfred," Diana smiled, standing to give the butler a kiss on the cheek.

"Ah, Master Bruce, Miss Diana is looking as beautiful as ever this fine day," Alfred stated, moving closer to the bed to inspect his son's condition.

Diana grabbed a chair for Alfred and placed it next to hers. "Bruce, have I ever told you how lucky you are to have Alfred," Diana began.

Just outside the room's entrance the red glow of J'onn's eyes displayed his effort at establishing another telepathic link with Bruce. Having failed with any connection in his previous attempts J'onn was more determined to help his friend find his way back to his family. After a few minutes, the Martian's eyes returned to their normal shade, as a disappointed countenance was displayed on his features. Undeterred by these failures, J'onn returned to his desk determined to continue his efforts later in the evening.

"...and there was Master Bruce hanging from the railing of the staircase after his failed attempt of sliding down the banister. To this day I think he is secretly jealous of Master Dick's ability to effortlessly perform this task," Alfred concluded, one of his many stories of Bruce as a child.

Diana's giggles at the idea of the future Batman hanging upside down on a banister were interrupted by the laughter of the young man who mastered this feat.

"So that's why Bruce would get so upset every time I slid down the banister. And here I thought it was because of his anal-retentive tendencies," Dick chided as he greeted both Diana and Alfred with an embrace.

"How is Gotham City?" Diana asked.

"It's been pretty quiet since the indictments were handed down. Looks like we're back to normal; well normal for Gotham, anyway," Dick stated.

"Hey, why don't you guys go and get some rest. I'll stay with him. I need to fill him in on nightly patrols. Even something like a coma won't keep Bruce from obsessing about his city," Dick laughed.

"You go, Alfred, I'm staying," Diana stated, firmly.

"Miss Diana you cannot continue at this pace. You will be of no good to Master Bruce if you fall ill from exhaustion. Come, now. I will walk you to your room," Alfred stated, leaving no room for argument. "I should think that Master Dick would like to spend some time alone with his father," He added, knowing that the Amazon Princess would not argue that point.

"Fine, but only for a short time," Diana relented.

Diana walked with Alfred in silence, a thick haze of exhaustion clouding her mind. She began to reminisce over the friendships she established while on man's world and contemplated her departure. 'Will I have the strength to leave him and all those I love?' Diana stopped suddenly trying to clear her mind.

"I can't do this, Alfred. I do not want to be alone!" Diana exclaimed.

"Miss Diana, if I may be so bold to say, you will never be alone." Alfred stated firmly, taking both of her hands in his.

"Yes, I will. One day Bruce, you, Dick, even Clark will be gone and I alone will remain!" Diana exclaimed.

"But, there will be others who you will call your friends. Perhaps you will choose another to share your life with. Your heart is too full to be alone. You will always attract love." Alfred stated with quiet assurance.

"I have never been in love before, Alfred," Diana admitted. " The realization that he will someday die, all who I love here on man's world will someday be no more, is something that I cannot bear. How do I accept the inevitability of his mortality?"

Alfred led the distraught Princess into her quarters, wanting to continue this discussion in private. As they both sat at the foot of the bed, he answered her question with unwavering certainty. "My dear, you live with the inevitable through faith. Faith in something larger than yourself to put life's woes into perspective. From what Bruce has told me, your faith in your gods is great. Why not ask them for guidance? You might be surprised at the comfort they can offer." Alfred reasoned.

Diana blinked in shock at the mention of her gods. Suddenly realizing how she neglected them by not seeking their guidance.

"Also, by living and loving as fully as you are capable with no regrets to follow you into the future. Someday, when you look back on your life here with us, you will fondly and lovingly remember the closeness that was shared. That is one lesson I believe Master Bruce has recently learned by loving you." Alfred finished, rising.

"Miss Diana, you are exhausted. I believe that after a full night's sleep, your perspective on things will be much improved."

Feeling consoled for the first time since Bruce's injury, Diana relented to Alfred's persuasive recommendation to rest. "I am tired, Alfred. So very tired," Diana responded.

"Of course you are, my dear. You have had very little rest since this ordeal began," he agreed.

"Thank you, Alfred. I will rest. And I will seek the guidance of the gods and beg their forgiveness in my neglect of them. Will you call me if there is any change?" she asked.

"I most definitely will. You shall be the first to be notified." Alfred promised.

Nodding her consent, Diana showed Alfred to the door giving him a grateful hug that lingered in her appreciation and love for her friend.

Days turned into weeks with encouraging improvements in Bruce's condition. Telepathic links by J'onn had also been established on brief occasions aiding in their hope of his eventual return to consciousness.

Diana turned at hearing Dick and Alfred enter the room with trays of mouthwatering dishes prepared by the Butler. She continued Bruce's daily routine of leg stretches to prevent his muscles from atrophying and smiled at Dick's telling of yet another lame joke.

"Miss Diana, dinner is served." Alfred announced.

"Alfred, it smells delicious." Diana stated, gently placing Bruce's leg back on the bed and covering him with the sheet.

It had been two months since the explosion and Bruce's resulting injury, with his family an ever-present constant, praying for his recovery in their own ways. Taking Alfred's advice, Diana sought comfort and guidance from the gods of her youth, finally finding contentment in her immortality and her love for Bruce.

"Hey, you want to hear another joke?" Dick questioned, as the three took their seats at the small table in the room.

"No." Alfred and Diana answered in unison.

Through their ensuing laughter, Diana stood, the first to hear the quiet moans from the bed.

Dick and Alfred hurriedly made their way to the bed, while Diana remained, watching as Bruce struggled to open his eyes.

"Hello, young man. I am certainly happy that you have decided to rejoin us." Alfred spoke, hoarse with emotion upon seeing the deep blue eyes that had been shut to the world for two months.

"What took you so long, big guy? You had us worried." Dick questioned, his own emotions getting the best of him.

Diana watched Bruce as he tried to communicate, struggling against the life support device and gasping for breath. She saw Alfred as he placed both hands on Bruce's shoulders, trying to calm his son. Turning to summon J'onn she found him already making his way to Bruce, whose breaths were again regulated by the machine.

"Bruce, you were injured in an explosion." J'onn stated, checking Bruce's pupils with a small flashlight. "Do you remember what happened?" J'onn asked, checking his vital signs and reflexes.

Still glued to the same spot across the room, she watched as Bruce blinked once signaling the affirmative.

"Bruce, your condition is stable, but you are still very weak. I would prefer to keep you on life support until you have regained some of your strength."

Again she saw him blink once, giving J'onn his approval.

"I'll leave you now to get reacquainted with your family." J'onn smiled, standing to leave the room.

Willing herself to move, she slowly approached the bed, taking his hand in hers. Her heart soared as he turned to her, gently squeezing her hand in recognition.

"I've missed you." Diana stated, giving Bruce a kiss on his cheek.

Giving another squeeze to Diana's hand, Bruce closed his eyes, already exhausted. Placing his hand on the bed, Diana walked into Alfred and Dick's waiting embrace.

"He's back." She cried.

"That he is." Alfred agreed.

"Thank God." Dick stated, their relief evident.

EPILOGUE

One week after regaining consciousness, Bruce was home at Wayne Manor. J'onn was no match against the Batman when his mind was made up, even when his condition was still serious. That, coupled with the fact that Wayne Manor was as well equipped as most hospitals, made the Martian acquiesce in releasing Batman, against his better judgment.

Diana quietly tiptoed into Bruce's room to check his IV. Thinking he was still asleep, she was startled by the sound of her name.

"Diana," Bruce called weakly.

"You are supposed to be asleep," Diana chastised.

"Talk," Bruce stated softly.

"What would you like to talk about?" Diana returned.

Giving her the best Bat glare he could manage in his condition he stated again. "Talk."

Sighing audibly, Diana sat on the bed next to Bruce, careful not to cause him pain with her movement. "You scared me."

"I'm sorry," he replied.

"I was made aware of how fragile life can be. How vulnerable you are," Diana admitted, not able to look at Bruce.

"And how invulnerable you are," he finished for her.

"Yes," she admitted softly.

"So, what now?" he asked.

"What do you mean?" she questioned, but realized exactly what he meant.

"Diana, I will understand if you must leave," Bruce stated quietly.

"I thought about leaving. I didn't want to watch you and those I care for die. But, I realized that I did not want to live without you," she admitted.

"Can you honestly live with death?" he questioned.

"A very wise man once told me that I must learn to live by faith and trust in something bigger than myself. I'm learning to do that," she answered.

"Which wise man?" he asked.

"Alfred," she answered with a smirk.

Bruce responded with his own smirk, satisfied that all was well.

"I love you, Diana," Bruce told her, the first time those words were spoken by him.

"And I love you," Diana responded, her eyes shining brightly.

Slowly climbing into the large bed, Diana cautiously moved closer to Bruce, lying next to him. "You need to rest. I will be right here when you awaken. I'm not going anywhere, Bruce," Diana reaffirmed.

As Bruce drifted off to slumber, Diana noticed his features soften in contentment and relief. Settling herself against his arm, she sighed in her own contentment, grateful that she was able once again to feel him next to her.

The End.