Handmaidens of Divine Whimsy
It is said that the number twenty-three is sacred to Eris, the goddess of discord. So it's fitting that the gods decided to take away the metas' powers on the twenty-third day of May. Certainly, I have never known a more discordant dayor one that would cause such misery for so many of my friends.
No one knows why it happened. No one can hazard a guess. I see Bruce watching me at the League meetings that mean nothing now. I wonder what he thinksI have to wonder; he will not tell me. He is too busy keeping order to pay attention to me. I am no longer Wonder Woman. I am not even up to the standards of his own brood. I can't fight.
Which is not strictly true. I could fight, if I worked at it, but I have chosen not to. I'm different than many of the metas. They are dependent on their powers to help them bull their way through most situations. But I was trained to fight from the time I was a child. I am still a weapons master; I would just have to use my skills in a different way. I would have to compensate for having less strength, for not being able to take a deadly blow and walk away from it. But since I cannot leap and spin and fly the way I used to, I say I cannot fight. It seems easier than admitting I am tired and not eager to fight anymoreespecially if I'm no longer a living symbol.
Some power decided to make me human. That has to mean something. And it wasn't just my superpowers that were taken awayI'm not even as strong as an Amazon anymore. Phillipus would have let me stay on as Ambassador out of loyalty; Artemis looked like she would have argued if I had not stepped down voluntarily. I had to step downsomething divine had spoken. I'm not meant to be an Amazon anymore or a goddess for mortals here on Earth.
But I don't have to be a goddess. I could still fight as a human, and Bruce knows it. I saw the look he gave me when he asked me what I planned to do. I think he expected me to join him in Gotham, thought I'd become one of his bat-family. Maybe even his bat-wife? I have never understood what he feels for me. He looks at me with that hooded intensity, and I can feel a tingle in my belly that spreads outwards. But every time we have a chance, he walks away from it.
I'm afraid he'll walk away again. It's why I didn't suggest that I would come to Gotham. He didn't try to change my mind, didn't offer me a place to start over. As I got ready to head back to New York, I saw the way he was looking at me. Disappointed, but not terribly surprisedBruce has never held metas in high regard, and I'm afraid I've only confirmed his opinion of us.
We were like gods. All of the metas. We were...superior. Now, we barely fit in. We are inferior to even the most ill-equipped human, for we have no idea how to function as normal. We have no idea how to even measure normal, let alone thrive in it. Although I am doing better than most. I am fortunate that I never hid behind an alter ego and was able to make many friends. In the course of my duties, I got to know a lot of influential people, many of whom still respect Diana of Themyscira. I still have the cachet of an ex-princess and an ex-Ambassador and an ex-superhero. I had several offershigh-paying offers that would allow me to keep living in the expensive city I love so much. I took the one that seemed the most interestingor at least the most different from being a superhero. I became Diana Prince and went to work on Wall Street. And I found I had a nose for business.
I also found that losing my superpowers did nothing to stop the admiring glances from the menand some of the womenaround me. The young ones offered me pleasure; the old ones offered me security. Many thought I was still a virginI could see the gleam in their eyes at the idea of being my first. I chose none of them. I kept seeing Bruce's face in front of me. The look of disappointment. The expectation that I would only continue to disappoint him.
I'm not sure why I care what he thinks. I've seen him at League meetings, but he hasn't even called to check on me. Not once. I guess I'm disappointedI always thought that he rejected me because I was too meta. Now I find he rejects me when I'm human too. I don't think I can ever be what he wants me to be. I am not sure he even knows what that is.
I have given up on him. Just like I had to give up on Kal when it was clear his marriage to Lois would endure. I love Kal, but I wasn't willing to do anything to jeopardize his happiness with her. People probably don't believe that. I know many thought we were lovers. But we weren't.
I wonder how Kal is doing. No one's seen him, although J'onn and Bruce have both tried to call him. They got LoisKal won't talk to them. She said he was injured but recovering.
I wanted to go to him, but Metropolis is not so close now that I can't fly.
Besides, what do I have to offer him? I'm not the woman he loved anymore.
I'm not the woman anyone loved anymore.
Clark and I have a lot of special days. We were silly when we were first dating. Marking anniversaries all over the place. May twenty-third was Tarmello Day. The first day we went to the Saint Ignatio festival in Tarmello. The first day we held hands in public. The first day I let him kiss me on a park bench.
Now, May twenty-third is the day Clark changed. By some strange actmany are saying an act of the AlmightySuperman and every other meta ceased to be special. And with the loss of his powers, Clark is losing more of himself than I would have thought possible. He's not the man I married.
I can imagine how that will sound to people, so I've kept my frustration to myself. There are already those who think I stay with Clark only for the Superman parts. But they're wrong. I fell in love with Superman first, it's true. But I gave up on him. I moved on to Clark, willing to let go of the meta-man and give the real human a try. I let Clark in because I cared for him. Because he charmed me and made me laugh and made me work hard for a scoop. And I do not believe those are Superman's assetsI believe those are deep in Clark's basic personality.
Or I used to believe that. Now, there is little evidence of Clark's former optimism or his cheerful demeanor. His loving concern for others has transmuted into obsession over his own failure to stop their suffering. His love for me is twisting too. He has not made love to me in over a week.
We made love all the time before. Even right after losing his powers, we made love. But not now. As he spiraled down, sex was the first thing to go. Then affection. And now motivation.
He sits all day in his chair watching the news. He has probably forgotten what the inside of the Daily Planet looks like, it's been so long since he set foot in it. I'm worried about him. But I don't know how to reach him. Either I try to be soft and sympathetic, and he tells me I don't understand. Or I try to be tough, and he calls me a nag.
I'm so worried about him. And I can't think of a single way I can help him.
And it's clear he's not interested in helping himself.
I watch the numbers on my computer. The company I predicted would crash and burn is doing just that.
"Nice call, Ms. Prince," I hear from the doorway. "You made a killing on that one."
I don't recognize the voice at first, so I turn, expecting it to be one of the new hires. It is Bruce.
We stand and stare at each other. I am in his element now, the home of the millionaire businessman.
"Did you need something, Mister Wayne?" My voice is colder than I mean it to be.
He does not appear to mind. "No. I was in the city for other reasons. Thought I'd check up on you."
"How nice." I'm dipping into the sub-arctic now.
"We need stockbrokers in Gotham too."
"No one needs a stockbroker, Bruce."
He laughs at that, and I am struck by how little of the Batman shows through. Bruce is the master at this.
He moves closer, pitches his voice lower. "All right, then we need people on our side fighting the good fight. And we both know you could still do that."
"I could." I cross my leg over the other. It is a move that I have perfectedit elicits truth almost as well as my lasso used to.
His expression changes and suddenly I see Batman's disapproval. He does not appreciate my attempt to use sex as a weapon. "I see you've chosen your new battlefield."
"Save it, Diana." He walks around the desk, bending down to look at my computer.
I reach over to blacken the screen, but he stops me, his hand warm on mine.
"That's none of your business," I say.
"When has that ever stopped me?"
He has a point so I try to pull my hand back, but I can't get away from himhe is stronger than I am now. I look up at him.
"Try harder," he says softly.
When I yank my hand, he smiles. "Well done."
I tip my head at the compliment, and I don't tell him my wrist feels like I wrenched it badly.
"Don't go with Scrimbling. It's about to take a tumble." His expression is dead.
"I know that. I haven't updated this yet." I decide to go out on a limb. "But Roemond and Associates looks good."
"I'd put a lot on them if I were you."
"A tip? How generous of you. And how inappropriate. Insider trading? You, Bruce?"
"I want you to be set for life, Diana."
"Because then you'll have plenty of time to think about how you're wasting your talents when you could be helping us. Oh, and it's not insider trading if I read about the company in the Journal this morning." He turns and stalks out.
Shelly, my assistant peeks in. "That was Bruce Wayne." She looks star struck.
"It certainly was. He likes Roemond."
"He saw the article too, huh?"
"He did." It annoys me that he wouldn't think I'd have seen it. My future depends on my having seen such things. Although if Roemond does what we both think it's going to, I won't ever have to worry about my future again.
I still don't understand why he thinks my future should be with him, being kicked and bruised and maybe gunned down in an alley.
My mother didn't raise me to be a fool.
I can suddenly imagine my mother's expression. This life I'm leading wouldn't please her. She'd want me back on the Island, where I could live my life out as a not-quite-normal Amazon. Or where they could fit me with enough technology to fight again.
And to be killed the way Steel was. To die alone fighting some terrible evil. I've done that once. I don't want to do it again.
Besides, I wouldn't fit in on the Island if I couldn't hold my own with my Amazon sisters. I'm just a human now, and I'm living like one.
Themyscira's no longer my home.
Nowhere is. Especially not Gotham.
The Planet feels empty without Clark. I keep looking over at his desk even though I know that he is at home sitting on his butt obsessing over what he's lost.
I'm long past the point where I feel any sympathy for him.
I turn to see Bruce Wayne coming toward me. His smile is the same as ever. It still holds the confidence of a superhero. He wasn't affected by the black light that took out the metas. He was never super to begin with.
"I went to the apartment," he says, a look of deep concern on his face.
"He didn't answer the door." I don't have to make it a question. I know what Clark didif I didn't have a key, he probably wouldn't let me in.
"What's wrong with him?" Bruce asks.
"What's wrong with any of them?"
"They're not all like this."
I wonder if he's referring to Wonder Woman. I've never been clear what Bruce feels for her. I do know that Clark tended to watch them closely when they interacted.
"Well," I say, "Clark's the only one I care about."
"Understandable." Bruce's smile is gentle, and I feel a sudden urge to confess what's going on, but it would be a betrayal of Clark.
Instead I sit down at my computer. "I'm on a deadline," I say with the apologetic shrug I used to give Clark when I wanted to get rid of himbefore I fell in love with him.
Bruce is as gracious as Clark used to be. And much smoother. "Of course, Lois." He hands me a card with many phone numbers. "If you need me?"
"Thanks." I put it on my desk. "We'll be fine, Bruce."
"I know you will." But he doesn't sound any more convinced of that than I do.
Perry walks over after Bruce leaves. "What'd he want?" Perry still thinks he needs to look out for Clark's interests, even if Clark has abandoned his old boss.
Even if Clark has abandoned us all.
"Just to say hello."
"You used to date him, didn't you?"
"He can still say hello, Perry."
Perry sits down on the corner of my desk. "Kiddo, what's going on with Clark?"
"He's just...it's not a good time right now. And he can't seem to shake this virus."
"It's getting worse?"
"Umm hmm. It's gone into bronchitis now."
"I thought it was a stomach virus."
"No. A respiratory thing." I'm having trouble keeping my lies straight. Probably because they're not my lies.
"Perry, please. I've got to finish this story." I lean forward, give him my best "of course nothing's wrong" grin. "You know my boss is a stickler for deadlines."
"I have an in with him. I bet I could make him ease up on that." Perry stands up. "You need anything, you just let me know."
I nod, turning to the keyboard rapidly so he can't see that I'm on the verge of crying. Lois Lane does not cry at work. Not even when my heart is breaking.
I can't remember the last time Clark wanted to take care of me the way our friends do. I don't think Clark even thinks about me anymore.
The streets are deserted. It is later than I like to leave work, and I am hurrying down the street trying to get to somewhere where the cabs will be easier to hail.
"Hey, baby, what's your rush?"
I don't turn. I've learned to ignore comments like that.
But then I feel a hand on my arm. My first instinct is to whirl, and my body doesn't stop to think. I turn, my hand coming up to connect with his arm.
It feels like iron. I am still acting as if I have Amazon strength. As if my slightest blow will knock him across the street. But I have not even managed to move his hand.
"God, you're a beauty. What say we go somewhere quiet and get acquainted?" He is pushing me into an alley, and his smile is a scary one.
I can feel my heart beating. This is pure fear, and I have never felt it. My eyes seem to glaze over and I can hear my heart pounding in my ears. "Let me go."
"If you're a good girl, I'll let you go. Eventually."
I do not think he's going to kill me. He just wants to rape me.
He thinks he can rape an Amazon?
From somewhere inside me comes the rage that I have not let out since my powers were stripped away. As he rips my skirt up, hands pawing at my underwear, I remember the things Vanessa used to practice with methings she was learning in self-defense class. I remember laughing about something called "grab, twist, and pull." I am not sure what I am supposed to pull, so when he lets go and slams me into the wall, pulling his pants open, I grab everything I can find and twist. Then I pull. Hard. Very, very hard. Not Amazon hard. But terrified-human hard. And he screams.
As he falls to the ground, I pull off my shoes and flee. Pulling my ruined skirt back down around me, I run until I can hail a cab. I fall into it, trying to ignore the looks the cabbie keeps throwing me. My feet throb from stepping on sharp objects. They stink from stepping on other things.
Tears prick my eyes as he pulls up in front of my building. "Lady?"
I give him a big tip for not asking questions. "It's been a bad night."
"I'm sorry." He does look sorry.
I limp inside, locking the door behind me. I take a long shower, standing under scalding water and scrubbing at my body and feet. When I finally feel clean again, I get out and call for takeout. But when the food arrives, I stand paralyzed at my door. Whoever is in the hall is not standing in front of the peephole. "Who is it?"
But they don't answer.
I reach for the handle, but I can't bring myself to open the door. What if it's him? What if he followed me?
It's an idiotic thing to think. The man who wanted to hurt me is probably still trying to get up. He doesn't know me; he didn't get my purse. He can't have followed me home.
I jerk the door open. My heart is beating so hard I think it might fly out of my chest. I see the deliveryman about to turn away. "Sorry. I was in the bathroom," I tell him.
"Whatever." He is bored, hands me the receipt to signthey have my card on file. I don't cook much. I don't do anything much except work and nearly die on my way home.
He wasn't going to kill me. He was just going to rape
I close the door, lock it, and then set the food down and run to the bathroom, throwing up repeatedly until my throat aches from dry heaving. I try to breathe through my mouth as I carry the food into the kitchen. The smell gets through anyway; I manage not to throw up as I shove it in the refrigerator.
I am not hungry. I just want to go to bed.
I turn on all the lights before I go into my bedroom and lock the door.
I am alone in a dark room. I hear Clark's voice. "I have a surprise for you, Lois."
"A good one?" It is a game of ours. This silly banter. As if anyone wants a bad surprise?
"A very good one."
He turns on the lights, slowly increasing the illumination so my eyes can adjust. The first thing I notice is his smile. The second thing is the uniform.
"That's Superman, little lady." His grin is infectious, and I squeal and leap into his arms. He catches me up, kissing me. "Want to fly?"
"Yes. Oh, yes."
He walks to the window, opening it and climbing easily to the ledge with me in his arms. "Ready?"
"Later. Now, we fly." He steps off, but instead of soaring, we plummet down. I look at him, and he is no longer smilingthe uniform is gone. "Is this all you care about?" he asks me as the ground rushes up to meet us.
I jerk awake. Clark is not in bed. I can hear the television from the living room, and I stumble out, needing my husband. Super or not, I need Clark to comfort me.
"Lois." He doesn't even look away from the television.
"Clark? Hold me?"
He looks up, takes too long to open his arms to me. Instead of going to him, I turn and walk back into the bedroom.
He doesn't follow me.
"So? How are you?"
I can tell it has not escaped Bruce's notice that I jumped when he came up behind me in the hall, or that I shied away from anyone who got too close to us on the street. I am very happy to see his town car idling at the curb. I hate the walk home now.
He pulls the door open. "Diana?"
He gives the driver my address. I've never given it to Bruce, but it does not surprise me that he knows where I live.
"Yes. It's a side effect of being human."
"No, it's a side effect of being scared."
I stare out the window, unwilling to give him that.
He leans forward, and a glass privacy screen lifts into place. "What happened?"
"You were fine the last time I saw you."
I try to deflect him. "I'm much richer since the last time you saw me. I imagine you are too." Roemond stock has gone through the roof.
He isn't diverted. "Did someone try to hurt you?" He reaches out, and I shy away. "A date?"
"I don't go on dates, Bruce." It is the truth. It is one aspect of humanity I'm not embracing. I'm not sure why. Am I waiting for him? For Kal? For a sign from the gods?
"Then what happened?"
"It was late. I was walking home. Hehe pushed me into an alley."
Bruce is leaning in, his hand settling gently on mine. His voice is like a coiled spring. "Did he hurt you?"
"I got away." I pull my hand out from under his. Not because his touch bothers me, but because it doesn't. I want it...I want him. And he'll just walk away again. "I mean, before he could..."
"Good." He seems to relax, but he has not moved away.
"Bruce. While this attention is very flattering, it's unnecessary. I'm fine."
"I could teach you to defend yourselfwe both know you could be lethal in no time."
"Maybe I don't want to be lethal."
"In this world, Diana, you're either the predator or the prey."
I turn to him. "You really believe that, don't you?"
"I believe it because it's true. And now that you're living here on the ground instead of up there in the clouds, you're seeing it too. And it terrifies you."
I hate that he's right.
He moves toward me, his hand dropping to my thigh. "If I offered you a haven at the mansion, you'd say yes just to be safe."
I knock his hand off my leg. "No. I wouldn't. I can make myself safe."
He backs off. "If you say so." He drops the privacy screen as the driver pulls over.
"Thank you for the ride," I say.
"Aren't you going to invite me up?"
"Would you come up if I asked?"
"Then I won't ask."
His smile spins my head more than his words have already done. I want to slap him, only I probably won't do that right either.
"What do you want from me, Bruce?"
"I want you to try again. I want you to be a wonder."
"Wonder Woman is gone." I slide out of the car.
"Someone else could be reborn in her place."
I don't answer, just walk away from him. Back to my apartment, to shut the world out with the heavily fortified door. I've added locks since the attack. The super was not pleased when she found herself locked out. She was even less pleased when I wouldn't make her copies of the keys.
She can go to hell. I feel safe enough again to sleep with the lights off and the bedroom door unlocked.
In this new life, it is the small victories that count.
Clark is gone. He left me, dropped my ring on the floor and left me.
He has gone to her. In my heart, I know he has.
Well, and Bruce told me he had. When I asked. He didn't volunteer it. He wouldn't hurt me that way.
Bruce sounded hurt. Angry. He had the voice of a man whose plans have come crashing down. I am sorry my husband has ruined his courtship plans.
Clark is with Diana. It hurts like hell to say it aloud. I've resented her for so long. I've wanted her to go away and leave us alone.
Now it hurts, and still I can't help but wonder if they don't deserve each other if she's in the same state he is. Bruce says she's afraid. Outside and working, but afraid.
I want to spit on them both. They're human and they're afraid? Well, welcome to our world. Welcome to Humanity 101.
"Lois?" Perry frowns as I empty Clark's desk. "His virus cleared up, I guess?"
"Cleared out is more like it. He's gone, Perry."
I shrug. "He's been having a hard time. Stress, I guess. And our marriage...we haven't been getting along for a while now." It's a lie. We were fine until May twenty-third. We were more than fine. I'm still protecting Clark. Why am I still protecting Clark?
"Why don't you let me do that?"
"I've got it." I look up at him. Let him see that I'm not close to tears, and he nods grudgingly and goes back into his office.
I cried all my tears over the weekend when my husband left me without even trying to make it better. When he rushed off to the woman he may have loved best the entire time.
That's what hurts the worst. That my life with him may have been a lie.
I don't have to turn around to know who it is. I smile slightly. "You keep showing up."
"I was worried about you." Bruce takes the box from me, holds it while I put Clark's stuff in it. He doesn't say anything, just watches me, his eyes holding mine before he looks away.
"Hey, that's mine," he says, nodding at a pen. "I knew he borrowed it."
I put it in his pocket. "I found my favorite mug in here too."
"Klepto Clark." His smile is careful. I can tell he will abandon the gentle teasing if I react badly.
I decide to laugh. "Maybe so." I finish cleaning out the desk, conscious that we are being watched. I guess I can't blame them. I am packing up my husband's desk after he abandoned me, while another man helps me. A handsome, caring man.
A man for whom humanity is not the enemy.
"He said I couldn't understand what he's going through because I'm human."
Bruce sets the box down. "He's right. You'd never give up that way."
"Neither would you."
"No, I wouldn't." Taking my hand, he loops it over his arm. "Let's go get some lunch. Anywhere you want. My treat."
I name my favorite Indian restaurant. It's a hole in the wall, but the food is great. He smiles often through lunch, but I can feel that he is in pain too.
"It hurts you to lose her?"
He looks up at me, finally shakes his head. "It hurts me to lose any of them. They could try. They could learn. If they would just let go of what they were."
I lean toward him, taking his hand. "Tragedy made you who you are. Gave you determination and tempered you. But for othersit just shatters them."
He squeezes my hand. "You're right."
He drops me off at the Planet, and I kiss his cheek before I get out.
"Lois?" he says as I step out of the car.
I turn, leaning down so I can see his face.
"Clark was a fool."
"I know." Then I shut the door and go back inside.
Kal moves over me, it feels so good to have him this close. We've said no strings and no promises. But we can't seem to stop touching each other.
We've both wanted this for so long. Even if I always envisioned it happening in his Fortress. Or in the air. Flying and making love with a passion and energy that would have killed a human.
Now we make love like humans. And it's good. It's warm and heady, but I just wish that I felt safer when it was over.
I lie in the circle of Kal's arms, and I'm still afraid. I thought he would bring me the security that I seem to crave now. But he hasn't.
I think he expected to find safety in my arms too. I've always been strong enough to catch him when he falls. I was the only one strong enough to do that. But now...now I am sadly lacking.
He never says he loves me. I don't say it to him either. Words that came so easily to us as friends seem to elude us as lovers. Words that gods could speak won't easily cross human lips.
"Diana," Kal breathes. I know from experience he will find completion without discovering solace.
I call him Clark when I whisper his name. He has asked me not to call him Kal. And even though I'll always think of him as Kal, I try to respect his wishes and call him by the name that is linked with his humanity.
Maybe if he didn't believe Kal was gone, things would be better for him. For us. Maybe if he could find some hope, he would never have left Lois.
I am not sure if I am glad he left Lois or not.
He rolls off me, holding me close. The sex is wonderful. Our bodies love each other. But our hearts...? I'm not so sure anymore.
We're both scared. That alone keeps us together. And I feel less scared on the streets when I can cajole him to go outside with me. Kal is huge. Few challenge him. Few want to. They have no idea that he probably has no idea how to fight them.
"Hmmm?" He kisses my neck softly. He is very sweet after sex. It does not make it easier to connect with him though. If anything, it is a barrier. I know he will shut down as soon as our clothes go back on.
"Maybe we should take some classes. Fighting. They offer that now. Street fighting. Defense. Basic stuff."
"That's Bruce talking."
Since he has not talked to Bruce since our powers were stolen, I do not see how he could know this.
"But it might be good for our confidence. For our sense of security."
"I'm feeling very secure," he says, kissing me again. But I think he is just making an excuse for not getting out of the apartment.
"Diana, leave it alone."
I know better than to argue with him when he's in this mood. He'll just leave the bed and go out to the living room. He'll watch the television, noting all the things Superman could have fixed, could have prevented, could have made better. He'll sit and brood and when he does talk to me, it will be a nasty conversation.
I sigh, and he strokes my arm. He does not like to be mean to me, but he is spiraling downwardwe both are. And I don't think that either of us like that we may be pulling each other down faster than if we'd been alone.
I always thought loving Kal would make me complete. I think he always thought that too.
I don't tell him that he calls out Lois's name in the night sometimes.
I don't tell him that I dream of Bruce. And if I call his name out in the dark, Kal doesn't mention it.
"So, how are they doing? Your new recruits?"
Bruce smiles. "I didn't recruit them, Lois."
"Oh, I think you did." I take a sip of the very expensive Bordeaux that Bruce has poured. Dinner with him is a nice perk of chasing a story in Gotham. "So? How are they doing?"
"It's slow going." He actually sighs. The mansion is quiet, but I know that Alfred is hovering somewhere. There if we need him.
"Are they going to get it?"
"I don't know. Linda will, I think." He glances at me, but when I don't react, he smiles tightly. "She seems to have inherited the guts in the family."
"Who would have thought that Supergirl would be the most super of the clan?"
"I'm proud of her," I say.
"You should tell her. It would mean a lot."
"Why? Because you won't?" I smile at him, knowing how hard he has to be on them. Their survival depends on it.
"Something like that." He pours us both more wine. "Do we have to talk about them? I spend too much time watching them crash and burn as it is."
"What would you rather talk about?"
I laugh. "Nice segue way, Playboy Man."
He shrugs and his eyes sparkle. I'm struck not for the first time by how handsome he is. Not super, but real. Human. Strong and determined and not sitting in a chair bemoaning his fate.
"Bruce, when your parents were killed. Did you ever just want to quit? To hide away?"
"Sure. It's a natural reaction."
"But you didn't. Not for long anyway."
His smile is patient. "We're humans. Scrapping and trying is what we do. It's what sets us apart. The metasthey're just starting to find out what they're made of. We already know."
I nod and set my silverware down on my plate. Dinner has been exquisite, as usual. "I can't stay long," I murmur.
I stare into his eyes and can't think of a reason.
"Alfred outdid himself on dessert."
I smile helplessly. Who am I to deny Alfred his chance to show off a dessert? "After dessert then."
"Stay the night."
"Stay with me," he says, and I think he's trying to make sure that I understand what he is asking for, what he is offering.
"It's not a good idea."
He reaches for my hand, and I let my fingers twine with his. Our skin together is warm and feels like home.
"Why isn't it a good idea?"
"I'm your best friend's wife."
"Soon to be ex. And I haven't seen Clark. He's hardly my best friend anymore."
I forge on to the harder part. "And he's with the woman you really want."
He leans forward, and his expression is as intense as I've ever seen it. "If that were the case, I'd go get her from him. It's a fair fight now. But it's not the case. I'm exactly where I want to be, Lois. Now, if you need time to figure out where you want to be, that's fine." He tries to let go of my hand.
I don't let him. "Did you practice that?"
"Maybe." He grins. "I tried to imagine what you'd say."
"Knew I'd argue, huh?"
"I knew you'd see through to the possible issues. It's what you do."
"Just as coming up with an answer for any scenario is what you do?"
He nods. "I think we're made for each other, don't you?"
I laugh, then I stop. This is serious, despite how much fun it is to be with him. "Neither of them will ever forgive us."
His eyes are dark. "Maybe it's not us who needs forgiving?"
"Maybe it's not." I take a deep breath. I know we are sealing a deal. I know I am nailing the coffin shut on my marriage.
It feels like I've just shed two hundred plus pounds.
It feels good.
I lift my eyes to him slowly in a way I used to think was sensuous before Clark lost all interest in touching me. "I'm not really hungry for dessert, Mister Wayne."
"Did I say there was dessert?" He smiles. "You can be the dessert."
I roll my eyes, and he grins. Then he stands up and holds his hand out to me.
"Shall we get on with our lives, Miss Lane?"
I am not Miss Lane yet, but that is just a technicality. I am more than ready to get on with my life. "We shall," I say as I take his hand and follow him upstairs.
Shelly is reading a tabloid. "I can't believe someone finally caught him."
"Who?" I ask, wondering which actor has broken her heart now.
I stop at her desk, and she holds up the magazine. Splashed across a full page is a shot of Bruce and Lois dancing. There is nothing friendly about the way they are holding each other. These are two lovers showing the world how they feel.
I can feel my chest tighten; the world spins a little bit, and I have to sit down in the chair by Shelly's desk.
"Are you all right?"
I nod. She doesn't know I'm with Lois's soon to be ex-husband. If Clark would ever leave the damn apartment, I'd introduce him to the people I work with. But he doesn't, so I don't. I don't talk about him much at all.
"You know Mister Wayne. Do you know her too?" Shelly asks.
"She's friends with Superman."
"Superman doesn't exist anymore," I say more harshly than I should. Getting up, I head back to my office and close the door.
I pick up the phone to call home. Kal doesn't pick up until I identify myself. His tone sets me on edge. This is obviously not a good day for him. Newsflashit's not a good day for me either.
"I saw the most interesting picture," I say.
"Oh?" He does not sound at all intrigued.
"Bruce and his new flame. By all accounts it's a hot relationship. Those who care about such things are predicting marriage."
"Good for Bruce."
"No, sweetheart. Good for Bruce and Lois."
There is silence.
"Well, I just called to share. Gotta go. Bye." I hang up.
The phone rings almost immediately.
"You did that to hurt me."
He's not entirely wrong. "I did it to share the hurt. Isn't that why we're together. To make things hurt less?"
"It's not working."
"It's sure not." I am on a roll and don't want to quit. "They looked happy, Clark. Ecstatic even. And so pretty together. Such perfect humans."
He hangs up on me. I get through the rest of the day without thinking too much about him. I can't get Bruce off my mind though. Or the way he was holding Lois.
On the way home, I don't like the look of some men hanging around ahead of me, so I take a different route. My path goes past a church, and when I notice some other men coming toward me, I step inside. I only plan to wait them out, but I'm drawn deeper into the church for reasons I can't explain.
I sit down, watching as others come in and genuflect. I don't even know how to do that. Don't know how to show basic respect.
Not to the Church. Not to Clark either. Why did I do that? Why did I torture him that way?
I slip to my knees, find myself crying. Then weeping. I don't move, just stay there even though my knees are aching and my eyes are starting to sting.
It is the voice of my goddesses. But they are not there. Not Athena or Artemis or great Hera even. They have forsaken me.
"Daughter?" I hear again. I look up to see a nun standing in the aisle. "Do you need assistance?"
She is gentle, not standing too close. I realize she will let me be if I say so.
She studies me and sits down beside me. "No trouble is too great that God cannot help."
"I don't know God." I probably should though. According to some, his was the hand that laid me low.
"Would you like to?"
"I doubt he wants to know me. I was cruel to someone I love." I sigh. I have told a complete stranger that I love Kal when I cannot tell it to him.
"Who else would we be cruel to?" She smiles at me. "It doesn't work as well with strangers."
Smiling, I nod through my tears.
"If you'd like to talk, we have a lovely garden."
I don't know why, but I follow her. The garden has a fountain. It reminds me of the Island. My home that I can never go back to.
"Tell me of God," I say. My goddesses aren't interested in me anymore. Maybe I will do better with this deity?
I hurry into the mansion. Alfred turns and points upstairs without a word. Nodding, I hurry up to the bedroom.
Bruce is sitting in the chair by the door, his uniform half off. He is pushing at his eyes, as if he can force the pain out by will alone.
I kneel in front of him, and he drops a hand on my head, gently touching my hair. "We lost Ray."
"I know. I heard."
"He was trying to figure out what happened to them all. He volunteered to be a guinea pig."
I nod. There is nothing for me to say here. Bruce needs to work this out. That he will talk about it with me makes me warmer inside than any sweet endearment he has whispered in my ear.
"First Steel, now the Atom. Who's next?"
I resist telling him it won't be Superman. Clark would have to go outside for that to happen.
"I feel as if I'm failing them, Lois." He pulls me, drawing me up halfway, into his arms.
It's uncomfortable, but I don't care. "You aren't failing them, Bruce. You can't take care of them all."
He sighs. "I can't even keep tabs on my best friend."
I look up.
"Clark left Diana."
My eyebrows go up. I refrain from saying something bitchy. They lasted less time than I thought they would. Guess she wasn't so wonderful? Or maybe I should have told her that he isn't very super these days? "Where did Clark go?"
"I don't know. By the time she called me, the trail was cold."
I feel a surge of jealousy that she is calling Bruce. Then I remind myself he isn't Clark. He won't hurt mehe's just taking care of Diana the way he does of all of them.
These metas who can't even look after themselves.
"Do you want me to find him?" I ask.
His eyebrow goes up. "You think you can find him when I can't?"
"We'll see about that."
I kiss him, and he pulls me to my feet, taking me to the bed. We lie in silence, holding each other close. He doesn't do anything more than stroke my arm and kiss me occasionally. I know he doesn't usually share these dark moments, and I am willing to just lie quietly and let him deal with his pain however he needs to.
Even if he's not talking, he's not shutting me out. He's including me in the process. Clark never did that. He always included her though. And now he's left her.
I wonder if she's upset or relieved.
"Ms. Prince, there's a Lois Lane here to see you." Shelly is talking in the hushed tones she reserves for minor celebrities.
I stare up at her for a moment as I tell the nurse at my doctor's office that I'll call her back later.
"Ms. Prince?" Shelly gives me a funny look. It's not like me to put her off.
"Show her in."
Shelly is gone for a moment, then she is leading Lois in.
"Hi, Diana." Lois sounds like we're old friends. I'm not sure why.
"Hello." I motion for Shelly to close the door on her way out. I sit back, trying to look like the corporate raider. Then I realize that I can never outdo Bruce in that regard.
I frown. What does my jewelry have to do with anything?
"I'd heard you'd taken up religion? That all you wore were crosses?" Her tone is somewhere between neutral and mocking.
I don't feel prepared to spar with her. She's always been quicker than I am. Even if I'd never tell her that. And I'm certainly not going to give her the truththat her God doesn't want me any more than my own gods do. "The crosses didn't go with anything."
She smiles slowly. A look of respect.
"Is there something you want, Lois?"
"I have something you may want."
I decide not to ask her if it's Bruce. I just wait, tapping my fingers lightly on the desk as if I have a hundred other places to be.
"I know where Clark is," she says.
"Is he all right?"
She looks taken aback. "You actually care?"
It surprises me too.
"I didn't realize," she says. "When he left and you weren't out there looking for him, I thought you didn't care."
"I guess I can't imagine Wonder Woman not searching the ends of the Earth for Superman."
"I'm not Wonder Woman anymore."
"And he's not Superman."
"No, he's not." I look at her. We've never been friends, she and I. There have been times I wished I felt closer to her.
Now is not one of them. "I don't need Superman," I say, hitting the "I" hard.
Her face tightens. "I'd say you do need Clark though." Her expression is a little twisted. "Or did you eat something for lunch that didn't agree with you?" She points, and I realize I am holding onto my belly for dear life the way I've seen other pregnant women do.
I drop my hand, but it is too late. Lois's quick eyes miss nothing.
"Does he know?"
I shake my head.
"Do you want him to?"
"No. He has to come back on his own."
"What if he doesn't?" She doesn't sound concerned so much as curious.
Weak. She thinks I'm weak. She thinks all of us are.
Her smile is a copy of Bruce's at his worst. Hanging out with the Batman is not improving her disposition. "Well, if you change your mind and want him to know, just give a yell."
I nod. Tersely. It means "Get out" as much as anything.
She stands, then leans over my desk. "Don't you even want to know where he is?"
"No." I'll just go to him, and it will be for all the wrong reasons. It's time to make my own way. If he comes back, great. If not, fine.
"I hope things work out." She could be saying she hopes it doesn't rain tomorrow.
"Are you enjoying this?" I look up at her. She has been my rival for so long.
"Part of me is."
At least she's honest. "And the other part. Does that part pity me?"
"Compassion, I think. Not pity. For what it's worth, I don't hate you. Even though my husband couldn't wait to leave me and run to you."
She is giving me that. A gift. It took Kal a long time to leave her. And he was running away from life not to anything, least of all me.
"If I hurt you, Lois, I'm sorry."
"The kinder, gentler Wonder Woman? Or is that just your religion talking?"
"My religion doesn't talk." No matter which god I call on, they are silent.
"I'm sorry. It can be a great comfort, I'm told." She holds out her hand. "Good luck, Diana."
I don't want to touch her, but I take her hand. "To you too. I hope you and Bruce are very happy."
"We are." It is the same defiant Lois I've seen with Kal. Only this time I have a feeling it is true. Bruce has not been by to see me in a long time. If I was ever something he wanted, I'm not any longer.
Bruce looks up. "Who?"
He seems surprised. "You went to her?"
"I told her we found Clark."
"She wants him to come back on his own."
He smiles. "Good for her." Then he goes back to whatever lethal little toy he's making now.
I watch him for a moment, curious if he's dissembling. But he appears to have put her out of his mind. I know he's preoccupied with the Phoenix Team's first mission. I also know how proud he is of his metas who are willing to try things the hard way.
"They'll be fine."
He nods. But a line of worry crosses his face.
"Go with them if you don't think they can handle it."
"If I do that, they'll know I think they can't handle it."
I smile at his logic. "Send someone else then."
He looks up. "It was what I was considering."
"Great minds..." I sit down in the chair next to him. "Nightwing is the least threatening."
He laughs. "You think?"
"Relatively speaking. You've got a pretty creepy scale going there."
He pulls me to him, kissing me thoroughly. "I love you."
"Yeah. You say that to all the pretty reporters who hang out in the Batcave."
"Got me there." He looks so light I want to take a picture just to prove he can smile that way.
"I've got to go back to Metropolis in the morning," I say.
"Take the jet."
He's practically given me the jet to use to get back and forth. He likes having me around.
I stand up. "I'm going to go check on Alfred. He promised to make those chicken wings I like, but he may need some prodding."
"Lois?" Bruce is putting the final touches on his gizmo and doesn't look up.
"Your divorce is final in two months."
"Yes, it is."
"Do you want a big wedding again?"
I put my hands on my hips. "As proposals go, that one sucks."
He looks up, then he tosses me the toy he's been working on.
Only it's not a toy. It's a little box in the shape of a bat.
"Open it," he says.
I am laughing as I open it. I tease him all the time about borrowing a bat-brush and bat-paste. Now he's given me something bat-wrapped.
As I stare at the ring, he gets up and walks over. "If you don't like it...?"
"No, it's beautiful. Perfect." And very big. I look up at him. "You don't have to marry me."
"Not the reaction I expected." He draws me in for a kiss. "I'd prefer a small wedding, but no one will look sideways if we throw a huge one."
I raise an eyebrow, and he laughs and drops to one knee. "Lois, will you do me the honor?" He slides the ring on my finger as he asks, clearly not interested in waiting for my answer.
It would be very touching if he hadn't pulled on the hood. I can't even see his eyes.
"Goof," I say, pushing him over and following him down. I have never made love to him on the floor of the Batcave. I think I'll resist doing it next time; the cave floor is very cold. I admire the ring as we lie together for a moment, before we get dressed again.
He looks very pleased with himself. "Shall we go upstairs, someday-to-be Mrs. Wayne?"
"You know, if I hyphenated my name, I'd be Mrs. Lane-Wayne."
He smirks. "That sounds ridiculous."
"Yes, I think I won't hyphenate my name."
"Do whatever you want to with your name. Just marry me." He kisses me, and it is a sweet and tender kiss. One human to another.
"I love you, Bruce."
"I love you, Lois." Then he smacks me on the butt.
"You'll pay for that." My reward is his goofy smile again as he tears up the stairs, not trying very hard to get away from me.
I think that I'm the only one who ever sees this side of him. And I love it.
Almost as much as I love him.
I call Lois but Bruce picks up.
"Diana?" he says. He doesn't sound happy to hear from me. He doesn't sound upset either.
"I thought this was Lois's number?"
"It is." There is no other explanation. What other explanation do I need?
"She said she knew where Kal was."
"We both do. Do you want to know?"
I feel the despair that has been plaguing me all day threatening again. "Just...is he all right?"
"He's in the mountains, Diana. He's alone. He's getting better. According to J'onn."
He's getting better, but he doesn't want to come home. He may not even think of this as home. "I love him, Bruce."
"Does he know that?"
"I don't know." I sigh, eyeing the wreckage in the apartment. I got a little out of control when despair gave way to rage. "I don't know if he even loves me."
"I don't either." Bruce's voice is neutral.
It hurts. "Bruce. I'm sorry that I didn't come work with you. I know how well the Phoenix Group is doing."
"If you were meant to be part of this, you would be."
"Meaning what? I don't have what it takes?" Rage is speaking up again. Strike out, it says. Hurt someone else, so you don't hurt so badly. I tell the rage to go away.
"I didn't mean that. I mean we all have our roles to play."
"I'm pregnant," I say, wondering if Lois has told him.
There is a long silence. Then he says softly, "Do you want me to get him for you?"
I remember that Bruce grew up without his parents. "No, Bruce. I didn't mean that. I just...I just wanted you to know."
"Diana, let me go get him."
"No. He'll come home on his own." I don't really believe that anymore. But it sounds better than admitting I've given up hope. "Goodbye, Bruce."
I hang up the phone and as I turn, I stub my toe on an overturned table. Tears fall, and I can't stop them. This time I don't think there'll be any stopping them.
I walk into the bathroom. Kal's things are strewn across the floor. I was cleaning them out, moving them into a box that I was going to put in the storage closet. But despair came over me, and then rage took over. There is nothing of his that is not smashed. The mirror is ruined, and as I stare at myself, I think my reflection is probably finally accurate with all the distortion.
He's never coming back. I'll raise this child alone. I'll be alone. In this terrible world that I'm not equipped to survive in.
That my child won't be either. What kind of mother will I be? What kind of life can I give a baby?
I'd pray, but there are no gods to hear me. Or if there are, they do not care to return my calls. I am not loved. No one loves me.
Death hovers. I've tasted her before; I know she is close. She is not scary anymore. She is not as frightening as living this human life has been. I pick up a large shard that has fallen off the mirror onto the counter. It is sharp. Sharp enough. More than sharp enough. My skin is so soft now. I cut myself all the time unintentionally. Hurt myself in ways that would never have been possible before.
I am so tired of hurting.
The shard lies against my wrist. Go down, not across. Useless trivia picked up somewhere. I adjust the edge. Down, not across.
Like I'm spiraling down.
My mother would be so disappointed in me. I am disappointed in myself.
I press down and feel the shard touch skin. I stay that way for a moment, hand shaking. Then I drop to my knees, the impact on the bare tile painful, and I drop the shard.
I can't do this. I have to believe in something. There may be no God, but I'll pray to him and to my goddesses too. I'll believe in the last things I have left. In myself and in my child. And in Kal. I've always believed in him. He's always believed in me.
We have to keep believing. I have to find hope and know that something good will come.
The doorbell rings. I am in the nightgown Kal liked best on me. My makeup is streaked down my face. But I don't clean up, don't put on a robe. I just walk out of the bathroom, to the door. I don't ask who it is.
This is my fate. Somehow I know that.
I open the door without looking out the peephole. Kal is there. But I remember to call him the name he prefers now. "Clark?"
He looks so beautiful to me. His hair is long; he has a beard. And he is smiling tentatively, while he seems to be drinking me in with his eyes.
I am babbling about the mess he's going to find when he walks into the apartment.
He is saying he was wrong about everything. But he wasn't. Maybe we needed this time to realize that we weren't wrong at all. That we were right. That we just need a better way to be right together.
I tell him I'm pregnant. I don't mean to blurt it out, but I do.
He closes the door, taking in the wreckage of our once pristine apartment. "I like what you've done with the place, Diana." Then he pulls me close and kisses me.
His lips are ravenous on mine but also careful, as if I might break.
"It's all right. You won't hurt me." I pull him carefully through the wreckage. The days are gone when we can tread through broken glass without worry. The bedroom is untouched. My rage ran out before I got there.
I crawl onto the bed, pulling him after me. "Make love to me, Clark."
"Kal. You can call me Kal."
"I don't have to. Not if you don't like it anymore."
"I like it." He smiles. Kissing my neck, he whispers, "Call me both. Remind me of who I am. All the things I am."
"Kal," I say, and it feels so good to use that name again. "I've missed you so."
"Diana." He pulls the nightgown up, pulls me to him. "I love you. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to say that."
"I love you," I say, barely getting the words out as he makes love to me for the first timewe've had sex so many times, but it's never been like this.
When we lie together, safe finally in each other's arms, he says with wonder, "We're going to have a child?" He sounds so happy that I am almost sorry I didn't find him earlier to tell him.
But he had to come back on his own. And maybe I had to go through my darkest hour so I'd be strong enough when he did come back?
"I'm going to go to the Planet. I'm going to try to get my old job back." He pulls away so he can see my face. "I mean, I'm going to do that if you'll move with me to Metropolis?"
I nod. "I suppose they need stockbrokers there."
"I think so." He touches my face, tracing my cheek. "I dreamed of you so many times. Imagined your face so many nights." He sighs. "Once the baby is born, once you're recovered, I think we should start taking self-defense classes."
I look up at him.
"We can do more," he says softly. "Maybe not as much as Bruce or the Phoenix Group. But more than this."
He is right. We can do more. But not that much more. We put in more than double duty back in the day. There should be some rest for the weary now.
He kisses me for a long time. Sweet, easy kisses that send the despair and rage packing.
"I'm sorry about the apartment," I say.
"It just matches how we look inside." He grins at me, and it is a sweet expression that I have not seen since the twenty-third of May. "We'll clean it up together."
We. It's a word I could get used to.
I watch Clark as he works on his story, chewing on his lip the way he always does. He's not at the same desk. Perry has chosen to put him across the room, which is probably a good idea. Although I don't plan on fighting with him. I don't plan on doing much of anything with him. I'm not even sure we can be friends again.
"Lunch, Mrs. Wayne?" Bruce says softly, sneaking up behind me as he loves to do.
I smile. I've been Mrs. Wayne all of a week. "Aren't you sick of me yet?"
"What are you doing in town?"
"Checking on Diana." He doesn't lie to me. Ever.
I just smile. Diana doesn't interest him, or if she does, he can control his urges. "How is she?"
"Throwing up when I left."
It's mean, but I laugh.
"I knew you'd like that." Bruce touches the small of my back, making me shiverI begin to wonder what he has in mind for lunch. Then he looks over at Clark.
Clark looks up slowly, as if somehow aware he's being watched. He turns to us, a strange expression on his face. Then he gives Bruce a pained smile before he looks away.
"You were right when you said they'd probably never forgive us," Bruce says softly. "I don't think 'a cold day in hell' would be overstating it."
"Aren't they happy together?"
"They are. That's the hell of it." He shrugs. "Oh, well."
I laugh. Batman is such a pragmatist. He won't worry over what he cannot changeand there isn't much he can't change or doesn't have some protocol for. But fixing the rift between us and them isn't in the cards. At least not now. Maybe. Someday.
Or not. I'm fine either way. I'll worry about my life and Bruce's. They can worry about theirs.
I watch John as he plays. Kal and I named him after his father and to honor Steelthe first of us to die. Our baby doesn't know the sad legacy. He is a happy child. He doesn't cry very oftenmaybe I stole all his tears when I wept so hard that night, the night I nearly killed us both?
"He's meta," I say to Kal.
"You weren't going to say anything?"
"I thought I was imagining it." He smiles at me. "Or that I just wanted him to be."
"Did you know Linda's pregnant?"
He looks at me. "She and Arthur?"
I nod. "Apparently they were doing more than just training." I waggle my eyebrows, and he laughs.
"I wonder if their child...?"
"Yeah. Me too." John is crawling our way. He pulls himself up, using Kal's leg to do it.
"Stronger than he looks, isn't he, Clark?" Sometimes I do call Kal Clark. To remind him what we both are. Human. And alien. A little of both.
Now that we realize that, we blend together perfectly.
John gurgles happily as his father holds him closer. Kal is a great father. He's a great husband too. And I'm a wife he can look forward to coming home to. We've learned this part of being human at least. The rest...well, it'll come.
"Lois invited us over for dinner," he says.
"Oh?" I shoot him a look. I can't tell if he wants to go.
"Bruce thinks it's time."
"Well, I'm glad Bruce has spoken." I play with John's toes, making him giggle. "He probably just wants to test the baby."
"She did say to bring him."
"It'll be odd, Kal."
"Yes, it will." He nuzzles me. "We don't have to go."
"Oh, hell. Let's beard the lion in his den." I shrug. "If it's too uncomfortable, we won't ever spend time with them again."
"You're so smart."
I don't always feel very smart. Look at how long it took us to figure out what humans have been doing for millennia. Basic living. Surviving. We failed miserably our first time out.
But not anymore. Now we're passing. Not quite with flying colors. But close. We're close.
And I know we'll keep trying. Kal and I have discovered that the only lesson we really needed to learn was to never stop trying.
I know we never will.