Author's Note: Sorry. I accidentally deleted the last chapter. This is a repost.
At last, here it is, the final chapter to a long story you have all shared with me. Many thanks to all the people who patiently waited since October of last year, since I have bravely convinced myself I will be able to finish this piece. It is certainly a privilege to share this journey with all of you. I just hope to maintain the inspiration in the future, (do not worry, I will try my very best to update the other fic I have started, plus the long delayed conclusion to Promise Me A Miracle and To Last A Lifetime), even though Justice League Unlimited and the hope for Bruce realizing the extent of his feelings for and Diana have gone. But certainly not in our hearts.
Chapter Twenty TwoAnniversary
Her eyes were glued to the brass knocker of the thick wooden door and for a passing moment she almost wanted to make an abrupt about face in the dark of night and escape the predicament that she got herself into. But it was too late, her stubborn finger had already pressed the button of the doorbell and as she tapped her foot against the cold floor, she pocketed her hands and waited patiently.
When footsteps approached, she tried her best smile and remembered the lines she would deliver so that Alfred would not suspect something out of the ordinary, as if my being here at this time of the night was as ordinary as snowfall at this time of year. She was about to admonish herself for the lame excuse when the knob turned.
"Good eve…" She stopped at the sight of Bruce opening the front door. "Where's Alfred?"
He froze in position for a while, letting a few snowflakes dance through the open door, his left hand grabbing onto the knob a little tightly as his eyes stared in a moment of disbelief at seeing her and for the second time that day. It also felt as if something was caught inside his throat rendering him momentarily incapable of speech. But he was quick to compose himself and recover from the initial surprise.
"He's inside," he shrugged with a flat voice. "Want me to get him?"
"It's…okay." Never did she anticipate that he would be the one to open the door and the earlier rehearsals of the words she planned on saying as she walked endlessly by the park flew out from her mind. She felt like an actor forgetting her lines only, in this life, there were no cuts, no chances to start over again. "I came here to talk to you."
"Oh." He remained standing by the door.
He might have recovered his gift of speech but his etiquette was a little late. She tried to make a subtle hint by peeking through the small space between his body and the wooden door. "Aren't you going to invite me in?"
He realized the blunder and stepped aside, giving her room to enter. "Sorry."
With a very self conscious smile she kept a safe distance as she passed him at the entrance, avoiding the unnecessary feelings that would be stirred up in case she accidentally brushed against him.
A light breeze touched his skin as she walked near. Taking in a deep breath and in the process inhaling her fragrant scent, he closed his eyes for a while, fighting the ghosts of the past that were trying to enter his thoughts, as his hands pushed against the door to close it in place.
"Do you have plans of going out later? Or are you expecting company?" Her voice was soft and almost apologetic, prompting him to turn from the door. "Because I can return later, when you are…available."
For a while he just looked at her face as if still refusing to believe she was here, in his house, just an arm's length away. Then he averted his gaze, placing his hands in the pockets of the dark pair of slacks that he was wearing. "Tonight is just fine."
An awkward moment settled when neither seemed willing to make another move. She took the initiative by turning around, letting her feet lead her to the direction of the living room, looking at the surroundings all the while feeling a strange sense of being welcomed, as if the house was warming to her presence, making her realize just how much she missed everything her eyes lovingly gazed at.
And when she neared the open entrance to the room that held so many memories, she halted for the briefest of moments as if preparing for the emotions she knew would be entering from her eyes to her mind and her heart. With all the courage, she took a deep breath and entered.
She took the liberty of gingerly touching, running her fingers to the leathery texture of the couch as she approached the center of the large room knowing all the while that he was close behind with eyes fixed on her. Then she raised her face to the immortal eyes that looked back at her from the portrait of his parents.
He stood a few feet away from her and marveled at how many times he had seen this vision of her, looking at the faces of his parents as if conversing with them in a silent language, creating the surreal image that made him feel that they approved of her, that she belonged in this house, in his life.
She continued looking around, fixing her eyes on the table, remembering the white rose that once adorned a vase beside a plate of cookies that Alfred insisted on bringing her. "Every single piece of furniture was exactly where I remembered them." She mentioned in a voice that held warmth in remembrance. Then she walked slowly to stand near the fireplace. "And this spot over here…is where we danced for the first time."
He could see the secret smile in her eyes and he felt that he could almost hear the familiar song play even if, in his lifetime, that moment never happened. He only saw and remembered through her, from the words she confessed to J'onn once.
She did not expect he would volunteer any word as she turned her eyes shyly to his face. "The patio outside…it was where you told me…you loved me for the first time…before I left you and did not come back until many years later." It felt very awkward and uncomfortable to say these things to him when his face looked at her without any trace of feeling. But she had to do it, she needed to express herself if only for the last time.
"Here was where I remember seeing my shawl for the last time before…" She fought against her body but she knew she lost when she felt the warmth on her cheeks in a display of embarrassment. "…We walked upstairs where…you told me you loved me for the second time."
At the same time she confessed, he fought hard against his own emotions though he almost surrendered to a smile when he saw the blush on her face. But he had to remember…she hurt him so much today, when he found out that she withheld the truth from him once more.
"And it was the happiest time of my life."
She continued searching his stoic face, at the blue eyes that stared back. But lack of any emotion and the lack of even the smallest sign of recognition or understanding of whatever she was trying to convey was all that looked back at her. It made her inwardly flinch with regret that maybe she was wrong in thinking that they could work things out this easily. Almost giving up, she tried one last time though her eyes wandered from his to the warm sight of the fireplace before her.
She stared back at the flames and the flicker of golden fire seemed to look back at her without a face and the gentle swaying of the flame reminded her of the fate she once had.
"I remember everything, Bruce…like the memories didn't die with me."
…Like the memories didn't die with me…
Her statement reverberated in his ears, making him remember only too well the agony, every ounce of pain that tore a large whole in his heart, bleeding him dry.
His voice finally echoed an emotion. And even though it was not the feeling she wanted to elicit from him, she was still thankful that her words were getting through the invisible wall that he had erected ever since she set foot inside the manor.
"Did you know what that did to the league, to your friends?" This was the chance to make her feel the effect of what she did. To me? It was the unspoken question.
She could not stand the icy stare of his eyes and she looked away, her eyes returning to the sight of the yellow orange light of the flames. "It was the only way."
"You had to die?" All the suppressed emotions were starting to resurface. And this time, his anger was taking over. "Talk about delusions of grandeur."
When he saw her close her eyes as if shielding herself from his insulting words, he almost took back what passed his lips.
"I willingly…died because I had faith in both of you," she whispered as if talking to the flames and not the man standing in the room with her. "I had this feeling…I knew that either you, or Kal, will surely come for me. And I was right."
If she flinched earlier because of his insult, he cringed at the admission of her faith in him, the faith that he felt he did not deserve.
She extended her hand towards the fire as if cold, continuing with what she was saying. "…Just as I was right about Hera taking away my memories if she decides to…resurrect me."
"If she decides to resurrect you. What if Hera did not?" He sounded more hurt this time than angry.
In all truthfulness, she did want to give weight to the possibility that she would never be able to come back, that her sacrifice would eventually lead to her permanent departure from this world, because it would only make matters more difficult.
But she never doubted the love they had for her.
"Then I would not be here right now."
Gone…she would be lost to the world forever. She would only be a memory that would soon fade from their minds. But not from him, never from him. That was why it wounded him when he found out this day that she had her memories back.
"How and when did you begin to remember everything?"
It was the dreaded question. But now she was ready to answer. "J'onn made me remember…as he promised. As soon as I knew, all I wanted was to tell you." She smiled at the fire upon remembering that she could not sleep that night. "So the following morning, I came here to return the gift you gave me…in the chance that…"
Her voice trailed and he stared at her profile in disbelief.
How could his watchful eyes miss the signs that she was trying to convey?
"You knew then?"
She sighed. "Yes."
Even if all that he could see was half of her face, he felt the whole of her guilt. "Why didn't you say anything?"
She closed her eyes again as if staring too much at the flames hurt. "Because I saw your eyes. And…I became afraid. Those were almost the same eyes that looked at me…the last time."
The comprehension of what she was saying made him look away from her sad profile to her right hand that was fidgeting, unconsciously feeling the seam on her hip where the pocket of her jeans was sewn.
Nervous…she was nervous. And he was making matters worse with insults, questions and anger. He felt ashamed of himself, making him turn away from her.
The soundless movement was not lost on her and, for a while, she thought he was going to leave. "I did not think it was the right time," she continued in the hope that she could prevent him from leaving. "And before I knew it…quite a time has passed. And…you've moved on."
I never moved from where you left me, he wanted to say. But instead, he looked down at the quiet rug beneath his feet.
"I thought, maybe, it was better to just forget. I'm good at forgetting anyway," she shrugged, trying to inject humor into an otherwise gloomy situation. "But, ironically, I found my feet dragging me to the park…because I wanted to remember. And I would be lying if I said I was not hoping against hope that you would remember too."
Her voice betrayed her by trembling at the words of admission while she fought back the tears. It was an effort in vain when she felt a drop fall slowly.
She tried to blink away the haze from the tears that welled in her eyes and the effort only made them fall freely. "Bruce…I just wanted you to hear my side. I want you to know that I'm telling you this not to hold you to the past that we once had." She raised her face to the blurred image of the portrait. "I'm not holding you to anything."
Silence passed between them and the faint crackling of the burning wood was the only audible sound.
He looked up from staring at the abstract pattern on the Persian rug when the essence of what she was saying finally settled in.
She was setting him free. After waking all the dormant emotions within him that he once thought he had successfully buried, she was letting him go.
And…he did not want to be free. He did not want to go any where without her presence.
"You're unfair. You took the easiest escape by dying and leaving the ones who love you behind to grieve." He broke the long silence with a sad voice.
"I'm sorry." It was all she could offer.
He shook his head. "I thought your death was the worst thing that could happen. I was wrong."
His own words were like sharp daggers that dug into his flesh. It was very painful to admit to the depth of his feelings, the truth that he kept even from himself.
"Your living again killed me…when I can't see the woman I loved behind your eyes anymore." He turned back to watch her face for any reaction. "All I saw that day when you returned was happiness, something I can never promise to give you."
And as he gazed at her profile, he saw the faint shimmer on her cheeks as the firelight bounced on her glistening face. There were tears…she was crying. And the image of tears streaming down her face made him conscious of a cold and damp feeling on his own cheeks.
He touched a hand to his face and saw it, the proof that he was only human after all, that he could very well be hurt, be in pain, like any other man.
Proof that he could still cry.
His eyes stared in amazement at the wet drop on his finger, the sole evidence that he was still capable of feeling this much. And now, he was faced with the option of turning off the invisible switch within him that would either suppress or kill all the unwelcome feelings. But all the pretension was taking its toll and it he was tired of pretending he did not care.
Because he cared, he cared more than he ever did. And he let the tears come. "That was why I could not find the strength to tell you because I wanted you to be happy."
"And I am."
"Like you think I am?" He asked in a whisper. "Then why are we both crying?"
His question and the poignant and moving manner it was mentioned made her finally find the courage to turn her eyes to him.
And she saw it.
Tears…there were tears in his eyes.
At that precise moment, when their eyes held each other, she finally grasped and understood the full extent of his pain, the suffering that she was not aware of. At the same time, from across the room, he looked at the eyes of the strongest woman he ever knew, and all he could see was the uncertainty, the vulnerability.
And there was nothing more in the world that he wanted to do than take her into his arms and hold her.
It only took three small steps to bridge a gap between two estranged hearts.
His arms protectively went around her in a heartfelt embrace, the cold palms flattening on her slender back and without any hesitation her arms linked at the back of his neck as she held onto him as tightly, her damp face finding the familiar spot beside his as they both remembered everything that passed, all that they have been through.A time that never happened…
In less than a day they found and shared a love that others take a long time to discover.
He fell in love with her and was sure that he would gladly change his life for her, she fell in love with him even with the knowledge that it was very much forbidden.
But destiny, the inevitable fate, pulled them apart and she must leave him…without any memory of the shared love.A curse from the gods…
When mankind's existence was again challenged, fate brought them together again to fight side by side. And once more, the love that was denied for the first time found another way into their hearts. But because of a curse she almost gave up the one thing her heart desired the most, that is, to love him. And he almost gave up on her just the same. But he realized he could not let her go as easily.
And they were happy for a more than two days…before the cruel repercussions of the curse ripped them apart.Her sacrifice and her death…
She died with an aching heart but also with the blind faith that he would not give up on her. And she was correct. He was too stubborn to let her go, even death would not separate him from her.
But eventually, with the feeling that she needed to be free of the pain he caused, that she was entitled to happiness, he finally distanced himself.
But now, as his arms fit perfectly around her, as his heart beat in tune with hers, he wondered how he was able to last this long without her presence in his life.
When he tried not to fuss so much about even the simple suggestion from Alfred that they re-decorate the living room because he wanted everything to be like the way it was when she was there with him…
That a compact disk of Patti Austin was secretly stacked among the number of classical music disks beside the sound system because once in a while he wanted to hear the song that brought them together…
When the small picture of her that used to occupy several bytes in the bat cave computer was now printed and framed and hidden somewhere in his desk at the office because once she asked him about it.
In this very few precious minutes his arms held her, that he was here with her…he knew he lived more than he ever did than the rest of the days that passed in the year.
Overwhelmed…for her part, she was simply overwhelmed.
After a thorough soul searching by her lonesome at the park after he left, she came to terms with herself and decided to come to him this night with the only objective of making him, at best, understand what she had been through and the decisions she had to make for the both of them to finally find the closure they both needed to finally be able to move on with their lives without any doubts lurking like shadows.
But, of course, there was a tiny part inside of her that wanted to be loved again though she knew the chances were remote.
She never thought that this simple wish would be granted her, prompting her to hold onto him tighter, closing her eyes to open them again just to make sure she was not living the fantasy her mind created.
And they remained that way for quite a time, not speaking with words but with the beat of their hearts, just touching, feeling and loving.
She smiled at the unseeing eyes that looked at them both from the painting. And on instinct she sniffed, making her suddenly too conscious of her tears, making her pull away. "I don't know why I am crying. Mixed emotions maybe." She wiped her face with her hands. "What about you?"
He touched a hand to her damp cheek and loved the feel of the smooth skin on his finger. He missed touching her. "You made me cry." There was finally a smile in his face. "You are the only one in a long time who could make me cry."
"Stop apologizing." He silenced her lips with a finger. "I forgive you. Have you forgiven me?"
"There's nothing to forgive."
"Yes there is." He said in all seriousness, touching his forehead against hers.
She smiled at his movement. "We've just patched things up, become friends again…now were arguing once more."
"It's all a part of a…healthy relationship." He moved away and searched her face. "Though I must confess…I could never be a friend again."
She frowned. "Why?"
"I've never moved on, Diana," he finally confessed.
Her heart skipped another beat at the intensity of his stare.
"In a past that I recently only discovered I was a part of, I fell in love with you in just a day. But I lost you to a destiny we both cannot avoid. After more than a decade, without being influenced by that past…I fell in love with you again…" He tried his best to put into words what he felt and she understood. It felt like their fate revolved around this endless circle of love and pain.
"But death then the interference of the gods separated us again. Isn't that supposed to tell us something…that maybe we were not meant…"
"No…I refuse to believe that." He shook his head. "Because I wouldn't have seen you at the park, and you wouldn't be here if we were meant to be apart." He leaned and kissed her forehead. "I'm sorry if ever I gave you the chance to doubt me…" Then he looked deep into her eyes. "But I don't care if this is the third, or if there will be a fourth."
For the first time in a while, the smile that touched her lips reached the depth of coldness that once settled in her eyes, warming her all over. It was a very wonderful feeling, a feeling that could never be translated into words.
And she proved just how much she felt when she tilted her face and accepted the kiss he was about to give when he slowly leaned in.
And the world seemed to stop revolving, time stilled for a while, as they shared the tender moment in an intimate embrace as his lips slowly touched hers, melting away all the uncertainties, the doubts, erasing the pain and in their place came comfort, security, contentment and happiness, all because of their love.
When they pulled apart, her eyes glistened in the faint glow of the fire because of the tears that threatened to escape once again but this time as a result of bliss. "And…thank you."
There was a trace of a question in his eyes. "For what?"
"Nothing much," she shrugged. "I just owe you my life."
"You're most welcome." He kissed the tip of her perfect nose before regarding her seriously. "You also have to thank…him for that."
"Kal? All this time and you still can't mention his real name," she grinned at his tone. "I already talked to him."
"He told me about your small talk when you decided to march with guns blazing to Themyscira. He explained that he just had to follow behind since he doubted very well your begging skills."
"And?" His brow rose once more.
She tried changing the topic. "Do you know he's seeing someone?"
"Finally…" he sighed. "He's gotten over you."
"Bruce…you don't have to be jealous of what his clone did." She remembered something and a grin escaped her lips. "Though it must be very uncomfortable for J'onn."
"His clone, Diana." He remained serious. "His face, his powers, his intelligence, his thoughts and emotions. I know because my clone felt the same feelings I felt for you and he was willing to risk his life for it."
She broke his hold on him and her hands settled on his chest, feeling the beat of his heart. "Of all people, Kal knows and understands how much I love you. Because he was there for me…all this time. And the only moment he came between our relationship was to save me. You don't have to be jealous."
He knew she was right, but it was not very easy to convince himself because he was too in love with her. "I was never jealous of him. Until I fell in love with you. I feel insecure in ways I never felt before…and you share a very special bond…"
"But it is you I keep coming back to."
Yes…he was her home and it was a very comforting thought, that in this very wide world, he was the one she came back to. But then he remembered. "The curse…"
"You don't have to worry about a curse. Double jeopardy." She had a very smug grin on her beautiful face that made her more adorable. "I think Hera forgot when they created me they gave me the wisdom of Athena. But what about the articles I read once in a tabloid about a…girlfriend?"
"I have a personality to keep."
"You're not even jealous?" He asked in mock hurt.
"I have to admit I was," she confessed. "But when I think about it…I was there when you were just beginning to realize your importance, you confided in me your feelings even if you only knew for less than a day. You sang for me. Then…you came for me even in the likelihood that you would die. Besides, I doubt if they got a cell phone just like I did."
"Never came close," he answered.
And then, as they continued to hold each other close, he urged her body to sway with him. And they danced to the unheard rhythm of the love they had for each other.
But it was hard not to notice the knowing grin that curved on his lips. "What?"
"Do you realize…we seem to favor this spot?"
She tried from keeping the color on her cheeks at his implication. "Yes. Where's my shawl by the way?"
"In my bedroom." His voice dropped to a level that was both seductive and teasing. "Want to get it?"
She giggled and tried to hide her face by touching her forehead to his chin while her hands snaked around him once more. "Later. Right now I just want to hold you…and not just for two days."
"I don't know why…but I seem to be happiest for only two days."
"Okay…two days." As they turned while they danced, he smiled at the faces of his parents and thought that if they were here today, they would approve of her very much. He was determined to never let her slip away ever again. "Plus the rest of my life. I can hold you forever."
And he did hold her, tighter than before.
"I love you."
She would never ever tire of hearing those wonderful words from him. "I know. I love you the same." She kissed the tip of his nose.
And she raised her face to him once again, studying every curve, studying even the lines…yes he was starting to have lines on his slowly aging face.
Yes…he would be growing old…and she would stay the same.
And there would be a time when he would be the one to leave her with a sad and grieving heart.
But not now, not today…but in the distant future.
For the moment, they were together, they would cherish every second they spend from now on, two days at a time.