Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters in this story.

Wootzles! Thanks, Kipling-Narwhal. I know I could never give you anything that would replace the help you have given me, but if I could, it would be a Deep Thought speaking unicorn-whale with HC impaled on its horn and a blow hole that spewed edible chocolate covered cherries. That's how much I value you! :D

So. I would classify this story as angsty. I'm not even sure that I really know what that means, so maybe it won't fit your definition of angst, but I wrote it while contemplating some aspects of love, particularly the more difficult parts. Perhaps some things that are said or done will seem out of character. I apologize in advance if you find it so.

The Real Thing

You're a salty water ocean wave / You knock me down, you kiss my face/ I know the storms will always come/ But I still love to have you around.

Heaven knows what will come next/ So emotional, you're so complex/ A rollercoaster built to crash/ But I still love to have you around.

You're the one I want and it's not just phase/ You're the one I trust, our love is the real thing.

It's you there when I close my eyes/ And you in the morning/ I never thought you'd still be mine/ Or I'd really need to have you around.

Don't go away, My love/ I want you to stay, In my life.

-Gwen Stefani, The Real Thing

It had been days since she had talked with him.

He had been gradually shutting her out over the past couple of months, and the coldness that had risen between them had grown too large to be ignored. The tension finally came to a head in an explosion of anger and shouts. Diana could handle that. But towards the end, Bruce said something she had never expected to hear.

Diana played the painful words over and over in her mind. "I think this was a mistake."

"What are you talking about, Bruce?"

"You and me."

In the past, Diana would have confronted him and argued about it, but she didn't have the energy. Too hurt to respond, she had gathered some clothes and quietly left the Manor.

Over the last couple of days, she had slept in her quarters at the Watchtower. Four wretched and draining days had passed before something had happened. Unfortunately, it wasn't what Diana had wanted, though it was better than the alternative. There had been a hurricane, causing massive damage in the southeastern part of the United States. Suddenly, most of her mornings and afternoons became occupied with cleaning up the devastation. Diana felt bad that she was grateful for the distraction. At night, she would return bone-weary, but when she got into bed, all she could think about was Bruce. She wasn't even sure why they had fought now. Well, that was only partially true. The specifics were hazy, but the growing distance between them was the source. If she had to pinpoint when it had begun, it was the day she had returned from a particularly tiresome mission. Her mother had visited Man's World, again, requesting that Diana temporarily come home.

At least that is what Bruce called Themyscira. Home. She had never told him, but it had been a long time since she had considered it as such. Wayne Manor had slowly, and completely, become her home. In truth, his mansion was just a building. Home was where Bruce was. When she had returned, saddened by the reminders of what she had lost, he had greeted her coldly. That wasn't out of the ordinary. What was unusual, though, was Diana's inability to push through his defenses. She needed someone to be there for her, but he obviously didn't want to be that person. Normally, she could get him to open up, but she lacked the will to try that night. And as subsequent nights past, she found it even more difficult. If it were possible, he became even more emotionally closed off, and, as a result, her bitterness towards him increased. She was tired of being the only one fighting for their relationship. She was tired of fighting for them.

She could list off multiple reasons why he had let it get this bad between them. Some of them seemed extremely probable, others very far-fetched, but at the bottom of her conjectures, she really didn't care for explanations. She needed him to change his behavior. She needed vulnerability from him—an admission that he wanted her in his life and that he loved her. She hadn't heard those words in so long.

And so, here she was, alone for the eighth night in a row, tossing and turning in her lonely bed. She would fall into fitful slumber, but would find herself waking up with her arms reaching across the bed, for him. At first she was angry with herself for being so weak and angry with him because he he hadn't come for her, but as it kept opening her eyes to find herself alone, she grew sadder and sadder. She had even seen him earlier that day, and he had walked past her without even a greeting. Diana was surprised that it had so quickly come to this.

Unable to fall back to sleep, she once again pondered his words, "I think this was a mistake."

Did she really believe that? Could love just die that easily? Could the present heartache erase all that they had built together, rendering it irredeemable, or worse, not even worth the past effort? Would she have been better off if she had never been in relationship with him?

Even though she hadn't lived in Patriarch's World for more than five years, she had already heard numerous times, "Tis betterto have loved and lostthan never to have lovedat all." She never had the opportunity to wonder if that were actually true. Until today.

She had experienced such happiness and joy with him, and she knew he had too. She would never have believed that this current estrangement could have even been possible between the two of them, but here she was alone. All of a sudden, her heart started aching. She had made the commitment to be with him, but it was more than that driving her desire to be with him again. She loved him, and she wanted him back. He was part of her life. But was it just the familiarity that she was craving? It was possible that fear of the unknown was the only thing that was keeping her from leaving him permanently, but she quickly dismissed it. The more frightful prospect was returning to him and finding that he no longer loved her. But that was exactly what she was going to do. Return. And she was going to do it tonight.

She still didn't know which alternative she would choose between never loving or losing love, but there was one thing she was certain of: they were not over yet. They had promised to love each other forever, and she was going to hold to her end of the bargain.

Quickly gathering the few possessions she had managed to bring with her when she had left, she teleported back to Wayne Manor, uncertain of what she would find.

It was late, or rather, very early. Diana assumed that Bruce would have returned from his patrol by now and would be sleeping. It wasn't completely dark outside, as the sun had risen, but it was hidden by many clouds, rendering the sky gray and overcast.

Diana quietly opened the door to their room, floating across the carpet, lest she make any sound and awaken him. She stood over him, watching him as he slept. He lay on his side, his body turned toward her. His hands looked as if they were clasped together, but she couldn't tell, as they were hidden underneath the pillow on which his head was resting.

She slowly studied the face of the man she had fallen in love with. It hadn't changed much from when she had first met him, except for the addition of one or two fine lines. He was as handsome as ever, probably even more so than when they had been introduced, because his personality had increased her attraction to him. His jet black hair looked a little on the longish side, and she knew he was due for a haircut. Probably a shave too. Her fingers itched to touch his face, but she didn't want to wake him. Yet.

As quietly as possible, she knelt down beside the bed and watched him sleep as she had so many times before. She knew she didn't have much longer. In the past, he had always woken up while she gazed at him. The longest she had gone uninterrupted was three minutes.

Her eyes skimmed over the lips she had kissed in a million different ways, then traveled up to his closed lids. The long, dark lashes bristled out against his creamy skin, and she remembered how soft it felt under her touch. One of her favorite things to do was kiss his face when his eyes were closed. She told him it was because she liked to surprise him. But during their separation, she had discovered it was because it felt like the declaration of trust that she craved from him, but he would never give. She was probably looking too much into it, but the very fact that she even thought that was telling. She shouldn't have to resort to reading between the lines to feel secure about their relationship. As she continued her study, she wondered why he could sleep so soundly when she wasn't there. Little pinpricks of worry caused her stomach to tense as she considered that he might have come to the conclusion that he was better off without her. Tears started forming in her eyes. She had come in faith and hope; would she find the answer she wanted?

Unable to bear the separation any longer, she raised her hand to touch his face, but before she could reach him, he opened his eyes. They narrowed, and she prayed that he was just squinting. Before he could say anything, words quickly tumbled out of her mouth.

"I'm sorry."

He didn't say anything, and as she waited, she began to wipe at the tears that were starting to flow more freely down her face.

"Please…Say something, Bruce."

"You didn't do anything wrong."

He sat up, removing his hands from under his pillow. Bringing his fingers up to her cheek, he softly brushed away the tears that were wetting her face.

Diana started crying even harder. Hauling her into his arms, Bruce cradled her head against his chest, whispering into her hair, "I should never have let you leave."

He hugged her tighter when she sniffled and said, "No, you shouldn't have. Why did you make me wait so long? Why did I have to be the one to come back? Why do I…" Her words were lost in sobs.

He let her cry for a few minutes, knowing that she needed to release all her anger, anxiety, and hurt to him. And while she wept, he allowed himself to revel in how much she loved him. Loved him enough to come back, to humble herself and apologize even though he was the one at fault. He didn't like that he was the cause of her pain, but he was gratified that she was still willing to share it with him.

Finally, Bruce could no longer feel her crying, and she turned in his arms, looking into his face. "Did you even miss me at all?"

He hated that it was so difficult for him to tell her the truth. Hated how weak it made him feel.

But he loved her more.

"Yes. I did."

It wasn't enough. He had never seen her eyes so sorrowful. He needed her to look at him differently, because he knew that he was the reason she looked so unhappy, and he hated that too.

"If you hadn't have come today, I was going to bring you back. Diana…I lo-, I love you so much." He leaned in to kiss her, but she turned away from him.

"No. We're not OK yet."

Bruce bit the inside of his lip, contemplating the sheets that surrounded him. Finally, he asked her, "Why isn't that enough?"

Those were the words he said, but Diana knew he was really asking why he wasn't enough. "Bruce…I need you to let me in. To share your weaknesses with me. When you shut me out, I feel like you don't trust me. You have to believe that I will accept you no matter what. But our relationship can't just be about you and your fears of looking ridiculous and weak to me. You have to help me…I have to know that you want and need me in your life."

When she turned to see him, he wouldn't look at her, but he slowly nodded his head. She felt his grip around her tighten again, and he lowered his mouth to her forehead. With her head resting on his chest, she was able to hear the unsteady breaths he took and his accelerated heartbeats. Then his hold on her relaxed, and she felt one of his arms fall away. From his movements, she could tell that he was searching for something underneath his pillow. He shifted them, so they were sitting up more than laying down, and then he held up something in his hand for her to see. It was a shiny gray article of clothing. Diana was certain she knew what it was, but if she hadn't, Bruce provided further clarification, embarrassedly admitting, "It's one of your nightgowns."

Diana took it from him, and while her eyes and fingers ran over the silky material, she quietly asked, "You've been sleeping with it under your pillow since I've been gone?"

"No. I always do."

Surprised, Diana's attention returned to his face. He finally looked up at her, and more shocking than his previous admission were the few tears that were trickling out of his eyes.

"You can't leave me again. Ever."

It seemed there was more that he needed to say, but his mouth remained closed. Diana waited, expecting more, though she wasn't going to ask for it. This time, for the first time, Bruce gave it to her.

"Not even for Themyscira."

Diana almost protested against what seemed to be an order that she could never return to Themyscira, but it quickly dawned on her that he wasn't prohibiting her from ever going back. The reason for Bruce's withdrawal those months ago suddenly became much clearer.

"Is this why you've been so distant with me lately? You didn't think I would want to come back to you?"

Ashamed, Bruce looked away, but he still gritted out his answer. "Yes."

"Why didn't you just tell me you were afraid"—she felt his body tense under hers, but she continued—"that I would leave you?"

When he didn't answer her, Diana wearily asked, "You would rather make me feel like I did something wrong and that you didn't want me, than just admit that you need me?"

"You wouldn't understand."

"I have spent the last eight days pining for you, and the last half hour crying in your arms and receiving comfort from you--a man! Do you love me less because I have shown you my weakness?"

"No." He had actually never loved her more.

"Then why do you think I would?"

"You're Wonder Woman. You're beautiful, perfect, immortal. The longer we're together, the more I will have to rely on you. I will age, grow feeble, eventually die. I want you to see me as strong and capable. I want you to respect me. Because if you don't, how could I expect you to stay with me?" As he listed his reasons for doubt, they all seemed to fade away, overshadowed by the tenderness that shone in her eyes.

"Bruce, my home is with you."

"Promise me." He winced at the need in his voice, but she didn't seem bothered by it in the least.

"I promise. I belong to you now."

Her words staggered him. It was incomprehensible that an Amazon would say that, and to a man as demanding as him. But Diana was the bravest person he knew, and she would admit the truth, no matter how much it cost her. Gratitude washed over him.

"Diana, I belong to you, as much as you belong to me. I don't think I could go on…if you were to go."

It hadn't been easy to say, but once it was spoken, he experienced no shame in admitting his dependence on her. In fact, he felt anything but vulnerable. As she smiled happily at him, he had never been so strong in his life. Or joyful. She had seen him at his lowest point, insecure and fragile, but she loved him still.

This time when he leaned in to kiss her, Diana didn't turn away. Having demolished the emotional walls between them, Bruce's hands trembled as he began to remove the physical barriers that separated their bodies. Even though the actions were familiar to them both, they nervously tasted and experienced each other, exchanging whispered promises of undying devotion and affection. It was as if they were learning each other for the first time, and yet it had never been more meaningful. They had a history, and their love had almost died. Two of the most powerful beings in the world, and yet it was in weakness that their love had been recreated. They were eternally bound to one another, and they rejoiced in the depth of their connection as much as they were delighting in each other.

Eventually, they both drifted off to sleep, laying in the protection of each other's arms.

The End

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