It was fortunate, perhaps, that I didn't run into any other incidents or crimes taking place- I certainly wasn't in the right frame of mind to deal with anything bigger than a jaywalker.
So I took my time getting back, grappling, climbing, and jumping across the urban sprawl of Gateway City, almost on autopilot. Diana was back. It felt like it would never fully sink in. The world had moved on without her, Themyiscera pushing onward into peace and prosperity. And she was running around in modified Prodigal suit busting drug cartels? Ridiculous didn't even begin to describe it.
It took me the better part of four hours to get back to Gotham, most of them spent on foot. Rendezvousing with the Batmobile on the outskirts of the city, I drove the rest of the way back, chasing the rising sun that had begun to replace the night's rainfall. I still had no idea what to do about Diana. Would I try to find her again? Should I? She was clearly doing well enough without me, and had no problem letting me think she was dead. What did I even have to say to someone like that? It certainly wasn't the Diana I'd come to know.
It occurred to me as I pulled into the Batcave's underground entrance that Alfred might be a little worried. I'd told him I was just going to check on a small matter; he'd have expected me back hours ago and I'd been incommunicado.
I showered and changed into a simple t-shirt and light khakis. When I stepped out of the bathroom, I was immediately assaulted by the smell of. . .omelettes? Not one of Alfred's usual breakfast choices, but I wasn't about to call him on it. The smell was delicious and I was famished.
"What would I do without you?" I complimented him as I swung into the kitchen. "Just what I needed. You won't believe who I-"
Alfred was not alone.
In fact, he had a companion. Female. She was facing the stove, her back to me, but the build and body language were unmistakable. As for Alfred, he was seated at the kitchen table, enjoying the first round of a breakfast that he apparently hadn't cooked.
My warm feelings toward him were quickly beginning to evaporate. "Care to explain?" I managed between clenched teeth.
He was unfazed. "Not particularly. Though I think Diana would. Perhaps you might give her the chance this time."
Diana turned around, brows raised. "Omelette? I know my culinary skills aren't even up there with yours, but-"
"I'm not hungry," I cut her off. "What are you doing here? I told you to stay out of Gotham."
She set down the plate in her hand and took off the oven mitt. "So, no omelette then. Fine." She looked right into my eyes. We need to talk, Bruce. Maybe a rooftop in the pouring rain wasn't the right time-"
"Maybe two months after you let us believe you were dead isn't the right time."
She blushed, her eyes fluttering briefly away. "Touché. But still, you have to at least hear me out, Bruce. Don't I deserve at least that much?"
My gaze swung back to Alfred, who was nonchalantly enjoying his breakfast despite what was going on mere feet away. Knowing him of course, he'd been listening intently to every word. I gave a polite cough to get his attention. "Do you . . .think we could get a few moments alone?"
"Certainly," he said. "However, might I suggest the deck? It really is lovely outside and a bit fresh air might do you both some good."
I considered pointing out that both Diana and I had had more than enough fresh air recently. Still, his suggestion wasn't without merit. With a curt, 'follow me' nod, I led Diana back through the dining room and past the screen door that led to the massive wooden deck at the rear of the mansion.
Alfred hadn't been lying. It really was beautiful out. The rain was long gone, leaving a uniquely spring freshness to the outdoor air. The sun had risen a bit more, but the dawn sky was still painted in oranges and violets. The pastured grass bounded by a forest line added a perfect touch to the view.
I looked back at Diana. Closely. She was dressed in a familiar outfit; one that I realized with a start was one from the guest rooms.
"Where's the Prodigal suit?" I asked.
"In my car. You would have seen parked in the driveway if you'd come to the manor through the front," she said. "I thought if I was going to ambush you into hearing me out, a change of attire was in order."
I almost smiled at that one. She looked good, in a white sleeveless blouse and blue jeans that hugged her figure in a subtly provocative way. The sun's highlights in her dark hair were hard not to look at, and the way the light breeze picked up light strands of it was almost mesmerizing. Memory hadn't done her justice.
"You look about the same," she ventured, resting forward against the deck's railing.
"You. . .cut your hair," I responded lamely. It was true- her hair was neck length, in a windswept bob that looked like something out of a fashion magazine.
"Thought it was time to change it up," she said simply. "Besides, the shorter length works better with the suit."
"I can't believe you still have it," I remarked, leaning against the railing next to her.
"The gods work in mysterious ways," she murmured. Then, "Okay Bruce, story time. Just, let me explain my side of things. Then if you want to do. . .whatever, by all means."
I crossed my arms. "Alright."
I told him everything, starting with my death.
It was difficult. Hard to explain something you don't fully understand yourself. I knew, logically, that I had died. That by the time I'd hit the water the last bit of strength given to me by the gods had ebbed, and my physical body had been obliterated.
But not my animus. . my soul. That, Aphrodite had preserved in Olympus. She'd broken gods knew how many divine rules and engaged in her first act of creation in millennia. She'd recreated me.
And from there, I'd had a choice. I could announce my miraculous resurrection to Themyiscera, to the world. I could regain my status, my title as Ambassador and as Wonder Woman. I could have my former powers again, permanently. The only catch was that I had to swear off human connection, social bonds with the outside world. I would have to erase even the appearance of impropriety. The ultimate pure and shining role model. I would no longer be part of the Justice League, but would rather be stationed on Themyiscera, where I would remain whenever I was not on official business.
The other option had been to regain my mortal body, sans powers. Due to the original spell placed upon the Amazons, my immortality would remain in place. But I would forever be human. I would never regain my powers. And I would have to hide my existence from the world. Start anew, create a new identity, and never visit Themyiscera again. Philippus, Aphrodite had told me, would most likely take up the mantle of Wonder Woman. And my perceived death would actually help spur the healing in Themyiscera. Having lost her own precious daughter, the Princess of Themyiscera, in the conflict, Hippolyta would command the devotion of Loyalists and Separatists alike. My death would be the catalyst for Themyiscera's rebirth.
"You chose the second one," said Bruce softly.
I nodded. "And Aphrodite was right. I was mourned, but Themyiscera is well on the way to being more unified than ever. I even heard that my mother has taken steps to introduce democracy."
"I'm sure Athena is beside herself with joy," he joked, cracking a full smile. I couldn't even help the deep sigh of relief that escaped me at his gesture. There was hope after all.
I turned to him, shifting my weight slightly so I could meet his eyes. "So you see Bruce, that's why I never made contact. I've been watching, listening. . .and I've been steadily constructing a new life for myself. One on my terms."
"I'm a bit surprised," he admitted.
"You went for the second option. I thought all along, the goal was to get back what was taken from you. Your status, your powers. Yet Aphrodite offered them back to you on a silver platter and you refused."
I looked skyward, in thought. "Maybe I just thought that's what I was after."
He smirked. "How Zen of you."
I poked him lightly. "Shut up. I'm being serious Bruce. Maybe. . .I don't know, believe me I've wrestled with this a lot too. I mean, for me being Wonder Woman was all I had. It was my identity, Wonder Woman, Ambassador to Man's World. I loved it Bruce. And when it was taken away, I guess I subconsciously thought, 'well now who am I? Now what good am I?'". I paused, trying to collect my thoughts. "And then. . .you were there Bruce. You showed me that even without my powers, I could right wrongs. Help people. You showed me that I didn't have to be Wonder Woman to have a purpose."
"Well, really it was-"
"But even then, something was missing," I continued, before he got to full of himself. "Defining my identity based on, even a man as amazing as you, wasn't much better than defining it based on my former title. So I when took Aphrodite's second option, I tried something new altogether."
"Yes. My funeral barge was beautiful. It also contained roughly 6.5 million euros worth of my own antiques, belongings, jewelry, and fine clothing."
"That's over ten million dollars."
"Yep. A drop in the bucket, compared to the kind of cash you deal with on a regular basis. But once I was able to sell a good chunk of the less sentimental items- jewelry, silks, what have you, I was left with a sizable amount of money. Enough to make my own way right back in Gateway."
He looked at me like he was seeing me for the first time. "So these last two months, you've been building a whole new life, Diana?"
I gave him a conspiratorial grin. "Well, it's not really Diana Prince anymore, Bruce." I gave him a few seconds of suspense before continuing. "Linda Carter."
His face twitched. "Linda Carter? Doesn't suit you at all."
"Maybe, but it's not exactly Myspace, Bruce. Making up new identities isn't easy for us non-billionaires, I had to go with minor-level hacking and an unverified Social Security number. Whoever Linda Carter was, she's either dead or has a new identity herself. So for now, that's me."
"Okay. . .Linda." His face scrunched up again. "Yeah, that's the last time I'm calling you that."
I laughed. "Have it your way Bruce." I could tell he still wasn't comfortable with me- the new me- to slip into familiar laughter himself. But he was getting there. I put a bit more gravity into my tone. "I really am sorry Bruce, for putting you through that."
He looked away, and then, resignedly, back at me. "It's alright, Diana. I understand. I just find it hard to believe that I'm the only one who knows you're alive. What about the League, your friends? Wally, John, Shayera. . ." he trailed off. "How long are you going to let them think you're dead?"
"It's a tough question, Bruce-"
"Most questions worth asking are."
"Well what do you want me to say? That I don't know? Well fine, I don't know. I have no idea, Bruce, I don't always know what to do like you do. If I tell Wally and John and Clark and Shayera, what then? Word will spread. Around the Watchtower, at first, and then back planetside. To the media. . .to the government-" I almost shuddered thinking about having Agent Levin on my tail. A complication I certainly didn't need. "I can't go back to my old life Bruce, for so many reasons. . .not the least of which is that I promised the gods I wouldn't. I just. . ." I trailed off as, suddenly, he was right up close, pulling me in toward him and wrapping his arms around me. I snuggled into his broad frame and hugged him back, amazed at how much I'd missed his warmth and feel. I let out the breath my rant had been building up, and he just held me closer and ran a hand gently through my hair.
"I don't always know what to do either," he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
"Oh?" My head was still cradled against his chest, but I could picture the smile in his voice. "Like when?"
"Well. . ." he pulled back just enough to place two fingers under my chin and lift it up so that my eyes once again met his. "What about all the times I should have told you how much I love you, but didn't."
I blinked at him, and the declaration he'd just thrown my way out of left field. My mouth open and closed, but no sound came out."
His gaze searched mind, a little confused by my reaction. "Just an example," he went on.
"I-you. . ." Deep breath, Diana. "You love me, Bruce?"
"So much it scares me," he said simply. "Doesn't mean I'm not still a little bit mad at you, because believe me-"
I kissed him. Partly to shut him up, partly because I still couldn't think of anything else to say, and partly because. . .well, what else can you do when the man you're in love with overcomes his commitment-phobia enough to say those three little words?
It wasn't rough or wildly passionate, we'd had that before. This kiss was more lingering. We took our time, exploring it and reacquainting ourselves with the feel of each other. His hand came back up, cradling the back of my head while the other went to the small of my back, practically molding me against him. I giggled.
"What?" he murmured, his lips brushing mine. I pulled back an inch, struggling to keep a straight face.
"Is that a batarang in your pocket, Bruce, or are you just happy to see me?"
Worst joke I've ever told, but neither of us cared. In fact, the look that he gave me was downright wicked. "Well. . ."
"Well that seemed to go well," Alfred remarked later that evening as we ate dinner. "One would scarcely believe she nearly thrashed you hours earlier."
"Mmm." I swallowed my own mouthful before continuing, "Is that how she told it?"
He chuckled. "Perhaps a bit more time in the gym, sir?"
"Everyone's a comedian," I muttered. "But yes, it did go well."
"You've been given another chance," Alfred said, more seriously. "It's a rare thing."
I set my fork down. "It's uncharted territory, Alfred. If it was hard for us before all this, part of me wonders how any relationship stands a chance when as far as anyone else is concerned, she's dead."
"And the other part?"
Good point. Truth was, the other part knew that whatever the circumstances, I loved her. Simple as that. Wherever our relationship went from here, it would have that as its backbone. The other part wasn't worried at all.
I told Alfred this and he nodded knowingly. The topic shifted then, everything from his relationship with Leslie to some new composite plastics I wanted to incorporate in the batsuit's cowl. After we cleaned up, I suited up for a normal patrol in the city and made it back before sunrise. Drifted off to sleep, my customary nightmares and feverish dreams replaced by one Themyisceran princess who'd survived the wrath of a god and even her own death.
It was the most peaceful rest I'd had in years.
"Hello, Hassan," said the white man.
Hassan Al Hassani froze, dropping the breads and meats from market that he'd carried back to his small flat. Questions leapt to mind, among them: what was a strange man doing in his home? Why was that man European and dressed in a finely-tailored suit? How did he know Hassan's own tribal dialect, a variation of Morocco's Berber language? Here in Afghanistan, this blonde, imposing figure was the first Hassan had ever heard speak it.
The man rose, calmly pressing his hands together. He was large, and incredibly dangerous. Hassan could feel it oozing out of him, Armani suit or not. "Did you not understand me, Hassan?" the man asked. "Perhaps I could speak with you in Farsi, if you prefer-"
Hassan whipped out the short-barreled .38 revolver he kept tucked in his waistband. Whoever this man was, he clearly knew far more about Hassan than he could permit. Unflinchingly, he emptied all six rounds into the man. Distance of maybe seven feet, large stationary target. . .all but the first hit directly. Forehead, shoulder, chest, chest, arm.
The gun clicked empty. The other man stood frozen, still.
Then he reached up and calmly peeled the flattened slug of hot metal from his forehead, letting it drop to the dusty wooden floor with a hollow thunk. He arched an eyebrow at Hassan and took a step forward, an amused smile on his lips.
Hassan's heart felt like it would stop beating at any moment. "Who are you?" he whispered.
"Believe it or not, Hassan the bomb-maker, I am your ally," the man calmly replied.
The man chuckled. "Don't let my appearance fool you, Hassan. I have a very particular interest in the kind of work you do. You're a very innovative young man. Recruited in Morocco, educated in France with degrees in chemistry and polymer science. Then sent to Afghanistan, to aid the fight against the 'Great Satan'."
"I have no idea what you're-"
"Yes, you do. And it's alright, Hassan. Your techniques, especially when it comes those delightful little roadside bombs. . .you're an underappreciated genius, Hassan. A classical artist, if you will, forced to work with recycled brushes and polluted canvas. Think about what you could do if you got your hands on quality materials. Ammonium nitrates, fissile isotopes, playthings you've been dreaming to get your hands on. Not to mention funding, Hassan. Petty fraud and embezzlement haven't been gaining you much, have they? What could you do with ten times your current bankroll?"
Hassan's eyes narrowed. "You listen, I am many things, Mr.-"
"Guerra," supplied the man.
"Yes, Guerra," said Hassan, "but I am no fool. Why on earth should I believe a word you say? What I do is none of your business, but I can assure you I need no assistance in my own endeavors."
The man who called himself Guerra shrugged. Then, reaching down to the floor, he picked up a shining, semi-reflective briefcase. Striding calmly to the dining room table, he set down the briefcase and placed a small silver key on the surface next to it. Lastly, he took out a business card, which he placed on top of the briefcase.
"What is this?" Hassan asked, confused.
The man smiled. "I'm going to go now, Hassan. Use the key, and in this briefcase you will find a small sample of the gifts that I can provide to you and your organization. Make good use of them- and when you have seen firsthand what I can offer, call the number on the card." He paused. "I think you and I will have a very profitable relationship, Hassan Al-Hassani."
The Moroccan reached out and picked up the key, his gaze flitting from it, to the briefcase, to the man.
Guerra was gone, inexplicably. Just as he had survived five point-blank gunshot wounds, inexplicably. Hassan was beginning to wonder if he could even trust his senses anymore.
Still. . .gingerly, he took the key and unlocked the small mechanism at the briefcases clasp. There was a faint tick of metal clicking into place, and then the top slowly opened.
Hassan gasped in delight. He snatched up the business card and examined it in the light. The card was simple: the Greek letter Omega, followed by an international phone number.
Hands trembling, Hassan, set the card back down and took the briefcase's contents out one by one. It was careful work, considering the. . .'volatility' of the substances involved. It was like a fantasy come true. The infidels would never know what had hit them. . .
Meanwhile, outside in the busy streets, the man who called himself Guerra was wearing a new appearance and a new identity. He was confident that Hassan would overcome his initial mistrust, and put the parting gift Guerra had left him to rather explosive use. In the grand scheme of things, the man was plotting a revenge that went to the very gates of Olympus itself. But first things first: a little regional conflict and chaos to feed his rapidly-replenishing powers. The time for vengeance would come in due time.
The man who really wasn't a mere man at all chuckled to himself as he turned down a dark, deserted alley and disappeared, leaving nothing behind but the slight haze of smoke and brimstone.
So, it's finished. Sorry once again for this final delay, but it might surprise you to know that I had no idea how this story would end when I started it. Happy ending or sad, or ambiguous? Would Diana regain her powers? Should she? Would her relationship with Bruce survive intact?
Hopefully I did an acceptable job of tying things (as much as I could) together. It's a relief to finally have finished this work, and while I know its far from perfect, I think I'd be happy if I just gave these rich characters another story worthy of the source material, to add to the many gems that already populate this fandom.
Anywho, enough rambling. Please, pleaseplease just drop a comment or review- I'd love to hear what you think!
PS: I've decided to reboot my Last Laugh fanfic, much as I did with Prodigal, so by all means keep an eye out for an update coming soon ;)