The Death of Old Worlds by Djinn
The island was silent. Eerily, horribly quiet as Diana touched down on the sand. No one had been here since the terrible fight with the OMACs. Blood had dried on the sand, on the marble of her gods' temples, on the buildings she'd known as home or school or refuge. But there were no bodies anywhere. The Amazons who had survived the first wave of the attack--as well as those who had already fallen--had perished in the effects of Io's horrible weapon. Diana had been just out of range when it went off, but she'd felt the ripple effect of it as it had taken out all of the attacking OMACs--and all the Amazons fighting them.
She could close her eyes and still hear the strange sound--almost a non-sound--as two armies disappeared into dust.
"Did you mean for this to happen, sister?" Diana walked into the temple of Artemis and knelt down, sifting her hand through the pile of dust that lay in a corner, out of the way of the wind. This could be one of her sisters. One of her friends. But not Io. She'd seen Io die outside.
"Go to the ships," Io had told her, tears in her eyes. "Explain to the Americans. Only you can make them listen."
"They won't listen to me. Not anymore." Diana had laughed--her new, bitter laugh. Since the world had seen her kill, she'd lost all credibility. Her time of being the one to make the Americans--or anyone else--see reason was over.
"Diana. For me. Please try." Io pointed to the farthest ship. "Please, that one. Go that far. To be safe."
"What are you going to do?"
"Only what they've asked me to." Io looked over at Phillipus, then at Artemis where she was fighting off several OMACs. "Only what must be done. But you need to be somewhere else."
"You have to go on. It's the only reason I can do this..." Io grabbed her, pulling her close. "I love you, Diana." Her kiss was sweet. Sweet and heartbreaking. Then, she flung Diana into the sky, strength honed at her forge allowing her to do what few others could as she bought time while Diana fought to recover and fly back.
But then Diana saw the weapon and heard Io say, "Please, go to your friend, Diana. On the ship, she's there."
And Diana heard Etta calling to her. Chanting her name over and over as if she was in shock. Turning, she saw more OMACs flying toward the island. A new wave. Many new soldiers to continue the fight.
"Go," Io screamed into the wind, as she lifted some kind of weapon to her shoulder. "Fly fast and far, my princess." She fired into the sky above her, the blue-green fire cutting a swath through the battle raging above her.
And then the rumbling started, as if the air itself was breaking.
"Flee," Io screamed. Then the weapon exploded and she went with it.
Diana didn't know what made her turn toward the ships or why preserving her life suddenly seemed the right thing to do. But she obeyed Io. She flew as fast as she could to the far battleship, deflecting the bullets of startled marines as she landed.
She heard Etta calling for the defenders to stand down but ignored her friend as she turned to face the island. There was no one in the air. No OMACs. No Amazons. And no one on the beach, or in the city.
"Diana..." Etta ran to her. "My god. What happened?"
"I don't know."
"The battle's over. That's for sure." It was one of the marines, his gun held easily, not threatening Diana as he stared at the island, then over at her, compassion in his eyes. "I'm sorry, ma'am."
She stared at him, realizing he wasn't looking at her as if he judged her. Or as if he thought she was a monster. "Didn't you see the tape?" She could feel her eyes fill with tears and blinked them back.
Damn Lord. Damn him for driving them all to these horrible, desperate decisions.
"I saw it, ma'am." The marine's expression didn't change. "Hard choices, I'd say."
"I told a friend once: sometimes you have to slay the monsters."
He looked down. "The monsters get in your head, though. They stay there. That's the cost." His look hardened, but not in a cold way, not in a cruel way. "But it's a cost you learn to live with it. If it protects others you care about, it's worth it."
She closed her eyes. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me. Just make the hard choices. It's all anyone can ask of us."
Her JLA intercom had beeped, the sound loud in her ear even if the marine probably hadn't been able to hear it. "Wonder Woman, we need you."
She hadn't even been sure which of the metas had been manning the comms that day. Still didn't know. So many dead who might have called her. So many dead in that final, terrible battle.
So many of her friends...gone. Just like this place. Her home. Now an empty island full of marble tombs.
"Who were you?" She let her tears fall into the pile of dust that had once been a sister. Or was this an OMAC? Hurt and dazed and shedding the tech Lord had cursed it with as it died on strange soil.
Did it even matter who it was? Did anything matter anymore?
She wandered back out to the square, staring and listening as hard as she could. As if by such attention she could find just one of her sisters to hold close. One of her aunts to cry with. To remember what was.
"Io, how could you?"
Suddenly, she heard a sound. A low rumble, then a different sound. The chop-chop-chop sound of helicopter rotors. The chopper came into sight, landing away from her but whipping enough wind up to make the dust and sand fly in all directions. Themysciran earth mingling with what was left of those who had fought.
Soldiers jumped out of the helicopter. Soldiers with guns and dark, grim faces. "Wonder Woman, this area is off limits," one of them said, holding up a loudspeaker.
"This area is my home." She didn't need a loudspeaker to be heard over the chopper wings winding down. She watched the men for a moment, then turned, walking slowly toward the beach and the open fields where she'd learned to run and fight and excel in sports. She could hear the sounds of men preparing to fire, but none seemed willing to shoot her in the back as she meandered away from them.
"You are ordered to stand down."
"Make me," she muttered as she sat down on a hillock that led to the sand. "Come and get me," she murmured, almost hoping they would shoot her in the back. Almost welcoming the idea of it.
What was there left to live for? What was there left to fight for?
The rumbling grew, and she could tell it was a tank approaching. So this was how they thought to take her out? With man's premier war toy? She could overturn it with no effort at all. But she didn't move, didn't flinch as it ground its way to her.
Then, suddenly, the sound of the tank's advance changed. The tracks still moved, but they moved over nothing. She heard the sound of yelling, then shots being fired--but not at her.
Turning, she saw Kal holding the tank, bullets flying off him the same way the OMAC's weapons had bounced off him. She stood, watching him, wondering why he'd chosen now of all times to show up.
"You and your men need to leave, Major." Kal sounded different. Not angry so much as ready to get that way. Restraint was missing, she decided. He sounded as if he was capable of anything.
The soldiers obviously thought so, too. They started to back up as Kal landed, setting the tank down much harder than he normally would.
"Get out of the tank now," he said to those inside.
Two soldiers, looking more than a little shaken, crawled out of the hatch and stumbled back to the helicopter as Kal picked up the tank and hefted it into the sea.
"Show off," she murmured and saw his lips twitch. He might be acting more like Etrigan than the Man of Steel, but he still had his sense of humor.
He turned to the soldiers. "I'm going to give you ten minutes to get very far away."
They stared at him. For a second. Then they broke ranks and ran for the chopper. They made very good time getting the requisite far away.
She expected Kal to come over to her, but he didn't. He turned and walked to the square, head cocked as if he could hear some echo of what had happened. She followed him, stopping to sit on the steps to Athena's temple as he moved around the battleground.
They had not talked much. Not since the first horrible days of the war and their more horrible conversations--she and Kal and Bruce had inflicted damage on each other that the OMACs could never hope to equal.
"What happened here?" He finally turned to look at her, and she noticed that the front of his uniform was stained with something that had dried a rusty brown.
"The war to end all wars."
"No. More than just fighting. Some kind of weapon. I can smell it." He looked up at the sky, then over to the spot where Io had stood, where the ground was still charred--sand turned to glass where she and the weapon had been destroyed. "As if the fabric of the world was destroyed."
"How can that be? The buildings still stand. The trees still grow. The birds still--"
There were no birds, she suddenly realized. "The birds..."
He turned to look at her. "Nothing lives here, Diana. Not anymore."
He finally walked toward her, his step slow and measured. The look on his face again a puzzling one. He seemed older and harder and--she gasped, realizing she knew what he looked like. He looked like she did when she happened to check her appearance in the mirror--war had a way of putting an end to vanity.
Standing in front of her, he took a deep breath, and she reached up, touching the stains.
"Blood," she whispered.
"Blood as in you hurt someone?" She knew it wasn't. But she wanted to hear him say it.
"Blood as in I'm a killer." He met her eyes, his own hard and uncompromising. "I did it to protect everyone I love. And you know what? They rejected me for it." He turned, his movement graceless as he almost fell to the stairs beside her. "They turned their backs on me."
She expected him to do anything but give the sharp bark of laughter that seemed to erupt out of him. Turning, she saw that he was staring at her with a hungry look.
"We don't have much time," he said, his voice ragged.
"Why not? Are they coming back?" She gestured in the direction the soldiers had flown off.
"No. I...made a deal with the devil." He smiled, his hand reaching out to touch hers. "I made a deal with me."
She looked away. She'd met the other Kal. The one who stared at her with so much judgment in his eyes. Condemnation was all she'd read in his expression. Disapproval. Disappointment.
Who the hell was he to judge her? Or any of them?
"What did you do?"
"His Earth is coming to the fore, and ours is dying."
She could feel anger erupting and jerked away from him. But he caught her hand, pulling her close, so she was up against his chest. Close enough to smell the blood on him. The same smell that had surrounded Barbara as she'd lain defeated at Diana's feet--the Cheetah finally downed.
"Diana, I had no say in that. I don't know how he's done it. He's had help--maybe even Donna. But it's happening, and I can't stop it, and neither can you."
"Then what was your bargain?"
"He sat out oblivion. He and those he loved. It's how he came back."
She nodded. That sanctimonious version of her Kal had explained it to her as if she was too dense to understand. His almost Heaven.
"We can go there," Kal said.
He nodded. "You and I."
"There hasn't been a you and I for some time."
"I know." He got up, staring out at the sea. "Let's fly. Together. The way we used to."
"You said we didn't have much time."
"Compared to eternity, we don't. But we have hours not seconds." He held his hand out. "Hours to rediscover who we are...or who we've become." He started to lift off the ground. "Diana, come with me. Be with me."
She could feel something give up then. Something that had kept her anger fueled and ready to boil up at him whenever it needed to. The same thing that had kept her fighting the OMACs, no matter how tired or hurt or disheartened she'd become. "I hate you."
"No, you don't. You just don't like me very much, right now." And he gave her a smile she was startled to see on his face. A smile that looked more like Bruce's than Kal's. It was a smile that spoke of despair and burdens taken on and a life lived far outside of the one that had been dreamed of as a child.
"Who are you?" she whispered.
"Come with me and find out." He reached down, his fingers twining with hers as he pulled her to him, wrapping his cape around them as he kissed her.
She didn't stop him, let herself give in to the feelings she'd kept at bay for so many years. Lust and love and anger at herself for having let this man get away when she wanted him so. She opened her mouth to his, meeting his passion with her own, the way she should have done when she'd had the chance.
Before they'd become what that other Kal had called something spoiled that had begun to rot. Before they'd become killers.
"I love you," he whispered, as he let go of her hand. "Fly now."
And they flew. Far and fast and wherever they wanted to go. Until he caught her up to him again, kissing her hungrily. "Is there any place you've never been?"
"I don't know. Is there any place you've never been?"
He shrugged. Then he flew low over empty land. "Here?"
She shook her head. "The Kartel, remember?"
He laughed. "That time you and Bruce..." His face changed, his expression becoming dangerous. "Do you want him now, Diana?"
"Bruce made his choices." Choices that had broken her heart but that had not surprised her in the least.
"Bruce could have had you. He was a fool."
"He made the only choice he could make." She moved so she was flying them, taking them away from the place of Bruce-memories and toward a tropical paradise. "Here?"
"I brought Lois here once. The falls under a full moon are breathtaking." He navigated away from his wife's place, his hands running over Diana, lingering over parts of her body he'd never touched that way before. "Here?"
They were over a mountain range, the snow barely melted off the low hills. "That apocalypse gang holed up here, remember?"
He nodded. They'd nearly lost J'onn on that mission. Maybe it would have been kinder if he had been lost on that one.
She let them hover, enjoying the feel of him, too tired to be angry in the face of so much loss and so little time. "I shouldn't forgive you this easily."
Surprising her, he gently pushed her face to his chest, so close to the stained fabric she could practically taste the blood. "There's nothing to forgive anymore. We're the same."
He was right. There was no point to forgiveness.
"I know where we can go." He flew south, deep into the desert, past the places they'd fought to bring peace, past the places children had starved. To a high plain, near a dry river.
She walked, trying to dredge up a memory of anything they might have done here. Any good--because those were in the days before bad things had to be counted in their actions. "I don't remember this place."
"Neither do I." And he sat, pulling her down with him, his arm around her as he told her of everything that had happened with Lois.
"You're still married to her," Diana said quietly, watching as the sun disappeared from the sky.
"She doesn't want to stay married. Soon it won't matter, anyway. Soon, he'll be with his Lois. Young again. And this Earth will be no more."
"Why did he get old?" It had made her spitefully happy to compare Kal's twin to the real thing and find him wanting.
"I don't know. I don't even know if I'll grow old that way." He turned to her, the moon lighting his hair, silvering it as if he would grow old, had already grown old.
But then he pushed her to the ground and took off their uniforms and proved that there was nothing old about him. And that she'd been very far off in her fantasies--loving him was more pleasurable than she'd ever imagined. She supposed she had his other women to thank for that. Just as he had other men to thank for her familiarity with this sensual sharing. It hadn't had to be that way--they could have discovered with each other. Or she could have with him, at least. He might have started before Lois. With Lana or some other amour that predated Diana's entry into his life.
She found it hard to remember a time when he had not been part of her life. "I love you," she whispered as she bent to kiss him.
A low rumble shook the Earth; Kal shuddered underneath her.
"It begins," he murmured. "We don't have to go. We could stay here, always have just this moment. Perfect. Never having to worry that the way we feel will change or sour." He looked up at her, his eyes studying hers carefully.
"We could." She stared back at him, dissecting each blink, each swallow, each twitch of his lips, or of his body beneath her. "But we won't. It's not our way. We'll go to their place." She pulled him up, wondering if they should go to the other place naked.
But he helped her put on her uniform, then he pulled his pants on, tearing the cape off so he could leave the bloodied shirt on the ground. He rolled up the cape. "We'll need a blanket."
The air began to thin, and Diana realized she was having trouble getting enough air.
"We have to go. Now. Or it will be too late." His eyes told her he would stay if she wanted. They could freeze time in this perfect, loving moment.
"Let's go." She took his hand, leapt into the air with him, felt him pull her close as he began to spin, faster and faster.
She thought she heard his voice from far away--but not his voice. The other Kal's voice. "Good luck," it seemed to say.
"Go to hell," she whispered.
Kal laughed, the sound hearty and harsh, and Diana realized he sounded like Thor. "We went there, Diana--to Hell. And they will, too. It's called living."
"Yes. Let's see them do better than we did." She knew there would probably be a version of her on this new Earth. Running around dewy eyed and full of hope for the future. And Donna would survive, she thought. Some form of her would carry on.
Maybe even as the new hope of the Amazons. Maybe even as Wonder Woman. Her sweet sister was welcome to the mantle. Diana was tired of the weight.
Suddenly, light exploded around them, and Kal laughed again, the sound full of triumph. "He wasn't sure we'd be able to get here. He wasn't sure we had it in us."
"He has no idea what we're capable of." Taking his hand, she let him lead her around their new world. "And neither do we."
"But we'll find out." He smiled at her. And, for one moment, he was the old Kal--or Clark, really. The young, sweet man from Smallville, not from Krypton and not from some bloody battlefield that had torn his soul out along with his innocence.
She felt guilt wash over her. Guilt and regret for what she had done. "I started all of this."
"We all did, Diana. What happened, happened. What was, may be again. They think they can do better. But they're just like us, like we used to be. It will be interesting to watch them."
He pointed back, and she turned, staring at the eerie sight of her world disappearing and a new Earth appearing in its place. The loss of her home hit her hard--harder even than seeing an empty Themyscira. Her people had gone down fighting. The Earth had gone down with barely a whimper and no idea what was happening. All those lives...
Would they live on in their doppelgangers from this other Earth? Was anything salvageable? Earth gleamed at her, beautiful and utterly foreign.
"Shiny and bright," she whispered.
"For now." His hand found hers, tightening impossibly hard and not hurting her. She realized he was testing her, seeing what the limit was.
"I won't break."
"I know. It's wonderful." He smiled at her, and his eyes were no longer innocent.
They were here. Together. After the bitterness between them, it should have felt strange. But it didn't. It felt utterly, perfectly right.
He leaned in to kiss her. "We can watch them later, can't we?"
As she nodded, he settled the cape down on the crystalline floor. The red fabric of their new bed was the only spot of color in their world other than their uniforms and the blue-green jewel that was someone else's Earth.
She turned away from the sight of it, losing herself in him, and in the love she'd waited so long for and now had an eternity to enjoy. "Yes, Kal. We can watch them much later."