Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. :D
Thanks KN for beta-ing this thing. I pass onto you an avocado of gratefulness. Use it wisely. And while I'm at it, why not...you can have NMWCTM, as well. Though why you'd want it is beyond me.
I guess I am in a kind of angsty mood, though not really. I am writing this story more for the ending than the beginning, but in order to get the characters where I want them to be at the finish line, they have to go through some emotional, spiritual, and relational valleys first. I guess I would liken this to a deeper version of another of my stories, The Real Thing. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.
Wedding Bell Blues
I cannot go to the ocean, I cannot drive the streets at night, I cannot wake up in the morning
Without you on my mind
So you're gone and I'm haunted
And I bet you are just fine
Did I make it that easy to walk right in and out of my life?
Goodbye, my almost lover
Goodbye, my hopeless dream
I'm trying not to think about you
Can't you just let me be?
Almost Lover by A Fine Frenzy
It was their six month anniversary, and Diana was excited. She had lived in Man's World long enough to know the significance of relationship milestones. Shayera had told her of the things John had done for all the big events of their relationship, and Diana was confident that Bruce could outdo anything John ever did. She knew she was greatly influenced by the fact she was head over heels in love with him, but Bruce was known within their circles as the smartest man alive, and Diana wholeheartedly believed that. Still, she tried to lower her expectations. They had many dates interrupted by their League duties and calls from the commissioner. Diana said a quick prayer as she walked up the steps to the Manor, petitioning Aphrodite for a wonderful night. Maybe he would even tell her that he loved her.
Before she could even ring the bell, Alfred's smiling face welcomed her into Bruce's home.
"Hello, Princess Diana."
"Good evening, Alfred. How are you this evening?"
"Never better, my dear." He ushered her in and led her to the dining room.
Diana quickly surveyed the room, suppressing a tiny squeal of delight. So Bruce had gone all out. An elaborate spread covered the most exquisitely decorated table Diana had seen in her life. The scents of her favorite flowers mingled in the air due to the vases of freshly cut blooms peppering the room. Even the lights were down low, their illumination aided with the glow of candles. Strains of lovely music completed the beautiful atmosphere. The only thing missing was Bruce.
Diana turned two slightly disappointed eyes on Alfred, but her apprehension quickly disappeared when she was informed, "Master Bruce should be returning shortly. Please, sit down." Stepping up to a chair to the left of the head of the table, Alfred helped her to her seat and poured her a glass of lambrusco. "Now if you will excuse me. There are some things in the kitchen that need attending to." And with that, the butler disappeared.
After waiting impatiently for a few minutes, Diana could no longer sit still. Standing up, she made her way over to one of the vases. She ran her fingers over the velvety petals of a rose that Bruce had bred specifically for her. Her lips turned up at the corners just thinking about it. She leaned over to inhale the intoxicating blossom.
It was in that moment that Bruce quietly made his way into the room. He knew she was unaware of his presence, and he allowed himself to drink in the sight of her. The candlelight reflected off of her raven hair, causing blue highlights to appear. His eyes slowly traveled down the rest of her body, and his heart sped up as he looked over the loveliest woman in the world. She looked particularly gorgeous in a little black dress he had never seen before, and his face warmed with the knowledge that she had worn it just for him. But he had already made his choice, and he had to stand firm.
As he strengthened his resolve to end the best relationship in his life, Diana realized that he was there. The rapturous smile she bestowed on him made his insides twist with guilt and sadness.
He advanced toward her, and when she leaned in to kiss him, he made sure that her lips only connected with his cheek. She smiled oddly at him, and he assumed she would think he was just in another of his moods. Walking to the head of the table, he sat down before she did. The confusion in Diana's eyes was growing more visible by the second.
Taking her seat next to him, she reached across the table, and clasped one of his hands in hers. "You really outdid yourself, Bruce."
"It was all Alfred." A lie. Bruce had spent hours preparing this room. Hadn't even let Alfred see it.
Bruce knew he wouldn't be able to hold out if he didn't end this right away.
"Look, Diana, I know I have terrible timing, but I just don't think this is working out."
Her face fell, and she retracted her hand from his as if he had burned her. Knowing that he was watching, she quickly schooled her features into a look of utter placidity. She had learned many things from Bruce during the time that they had been together. Hiding her emotions shouldn't have been this easy. Actually, it had never been so hard, but she still half-heartedly thanked Hera that she hadn't burst into tears then and there.
Bruce was on the verge of opening his mouth, of telling her that it had been a horrible mistake and that he loved her, but she cleared her throat, and he waited in agonizing silence for her response.
Her lips formed a wry grin, which kept growing until all her teeth were displayed. "I was wondering when this would happen. Did you know that some people have been placing bets on this relationship? Wally will be disappointed that he thought we would last seven months." A tiny giggle escaped her, and Bruce stared at her in surprise. His heart was breaking, and she was laughing.
"Oh, there's no need for explanations, Bruce. We had a good six months. If it had to end, at least it did on a high note. And at least you ended it in person. I've heard about your other break-ups."
Bruce didn't think it could get any worse, but he was wrong. "We weren't even that close anyway. Thank Hera. Imagine how awful this would have been if I had actually fallen in love with you."
Less than five years ago, Bruce had been stabbed, and while that knife had missed his heart by a few inches, he was able to extrapolate how painful it would have been if the criminal had found his target. So when Bruce felt as if a dagger had been thrust into his heart, he didn't question the sensation or downplay it as being an overly emotional response. If anything, he hurt more. This pain radiated all the way down to his soul.
"Aren't you going to say anything?"
"In the future I don't think we should talk about this."
"I agree. I would like for things to go back to the way they were before we started dating. It will be better for everyone if they see that we are still able to work together, that we are both perfectly fine with this."
Diana slowly stood to her feet, and he followed her as she walked toward the front entrance, always staying two steps behind her. When she reached for the doorknob, he couldn't stop himself. "We're still friends, right?"
Hot tears pricked at the corners of Diana's eyes, but she told herself this wasn't the time to indulge in sorrow. Without turning around she calmly assured him, "Of course, Bruce," and then walked out of his life.
After the door shut behind her, Bruce turned toward the hall. Unable to walk away, he leaned back against the door, the old wood the only thing keeping him from falling. He brought one hand up to his face to cover his eyes. When he was certain that he wouldn't cry, he lowered his hand. Alfred's angry eyes entered his vision, silently accusing him.
Masking his grief with irritation, Bruce barked out, "What?!"
"I'm sure you already know, sir, and I am not going to waste my breath."
Bruce hung his head in defeat. Of course Alfred wouldn't see it his way, so there was no point in explaining or defending reasons that Bruce himself was growing more and more unsure of as the seconds passed and his sorrow increased exponentially.
Bruce's head snapped up when he felt Alfred's hand on his shoulder. In a much gentler tone, the older man said, "You can still go after her. It's not too late."
"Why would I do that? It was for the best." And even if it weren't, he bitterly thought, she has made it clear that she is 'perfectly fine' with my decision.
Alfred had nothing left to say. Perhaps it was time for Bruce to pay for his pride and inability to be vulnerable, but it was with a heavy heart that he left his ward. As the butler walked away, he hoped that Bruce would learn from this incident and, in time, seek Diana out again, but it was a feeble hope.
As for Bruce, there was only one thing to do: throw himself back into his work. He took long, purposeful strides to the grandfather clock, but as soon as it closed behind him, all his energy deserted him. He shuffled down to his weapons cache, restocked his uniform, and unenthusiastically slipped into his armor. He would just have to put his personal problems on hold. Permanently. Gotham called.
Yet, in all his time as the Dark Knight, Bruce had never hated having to be Batman more than he did that night.
When the door had closed, Diana stood there for a minute, hoping against hope that Bruce would open the door and chase after her. When that didn't happen, she activated her com-link.
"Hello?" Clark's chipper voice sounded over the frequency.
"Will you teleport me back to the Watchtower please?"
"Of course. Give me just a second."
Within in a few moments, Diana was staring at her super friend. Summoning all her strength, she gave him a toothy grin. "Hi, Clark. I hope you're having a great night."
"I…uh, I hope you are too." By the way he was looking at her, she could tell he knew something was wrong. She silently thanked him for not asking her about it.
"Well, I think I need to go to sleep. I'm so tired."
When the door to her quarters had slid shut, she slowly took off her shoes and placed them in her closet. Just as slowly, she removed her new dress, hung it on the hanger, covered it with plastic wrap and changed into a pair of pajamas. Working on auto-pilot, she made her way to the sink, brushed her teeth, and washed her face. Flipping off the light, she climbed into bed, pulled the covers over her head, and cried herself to sleep.
The next morning, Diana called Clark to her room.
When he saw how irritated and swollen her eyes looked he angrily asked, "What did he do now?"
"He dumped me."
Clark had warned her of this before when Bruce and she had first started dating, but Diana had assured him that she was willing to take the risk. He couldn't help but wondering if it had been worth it.
"What do you want me to do?"
"Absolutely nothing. I knew what I was getting into, and I will get through this."
"You do realize we have a Justice League meeting tomorrow night, right?"
"I'll be fine."
"If you keep crying, he's going to know."
She slowly nodded her head up and down and her lower lip began to quiver. Then she burst into tears again. Clark sat down with her on the bed and pulled her into a hug.
"Do you want me to tell Lois?"
"Not yet. She's probably busy with planning for your wedding. I don't want her to have to deal with my problems too."
"It's almost three months away. And you know Lois. She probably had the whole thing planned out the day after I proposed to her."
Clark should have known it was too soon for her to laugh. Her pitiful sigh wrenched his heart.
"Seriously, Diana, let me tell her. In fact, I think you should go visit her today."
"Because Lois has been through bad break-ups before. She can help you. He was your first, right?"
"Yes, he was my first boyfriend."
"That's not what I meant."
"Oh. No. It never got that far."
"Well, that's good. It probably would have hurt more if you had."
"It gets worse than this?"
"Sometimes I forget that you haven't dated anyone but Bruce." He looked up apologetically at her. "Sorry. That came out wrong. The amount of pain people feel isn't in proportion to the number of people they've dated, but to the extent that they loved. And I know you have such a big heart; big hearts hurt the most when they are broken, because they've loved the most."
But that didn't really comfort Diana the way Clark had hoped. "I feel so stupid."
"Why would you feel stupid?"
"You told me this would happen. And let's not forget the whole Amazon culture that has trained me to be wary of men…If I hadn't given so much to him, I wouldn't be hurting like this. I feel so weak. And over a man."
"There is nothing weak in loving someone. I actually think it is harder to do than what Bruce does. He is so scared of getting hurt that he just runs away. At least you are brave enough to face the possibilities and take risks. Don't ever feel bad for loving someone or being hurt by the loss of a loved one. It's part of being human."
"I keep praying that the gods will give him back to me, but part of me wonders how he could even have let me go. He must not have loved me." She sighed and wearily concluded, "And if that's the case, it is better to be alone than to be with someone who doesn't even want to be with me."
"Diana, I seriously doubt that's why he broke up with you. He probably loved you more than anything in his life, and that scared him. I'm sorry that he's such a coward."
"Please don't say that about him."
"You aren't dating him anymore; you don't have to defend him."
"Just because we aren't dating doesn't mean that I have to turn him into the enemy either."
"It would make it easier."
"I know, but I can't hate him. Even now."
"I'm really sorry, Diana. Just say the word, and I'll pummel for you."
"Clark, you will not say or do anything to him. He doesn't know that I'm a mess. Besides, if I wanted him crippled, I'd do it myself…"
"How could he not know? Did he break up with you over the phone?!" Diana watched as Clark's hands curled into fists.
"No. I lied through my teeth."
"And he didn't call you on it?"
She smiled sadly. "It seems I'm a better liar than we both thought."
"So can I tell Lois that you will visit her later today?"
"Maybe. I actually might have some plans of my own."
"Ok, but if you need anything, anything,you let us know, alright?"
" Fine. And if Bruce asks…"
"—I'll tell him that I've never seen you happier."
"No need to overdo it. Just tell him you haven't noticed a change. That is, if he even asks…"
Diana hugged Clark one last time, and he quietly left the room.
The following night, Bruce walked into the conference room. As usual, he was the last one to arrive. Or so he thought. When he took his seat, he noticed that the chair to his left—her chair— was empty. Superman began the meeting before he had the chance to say anything about it, not that he would.
Luckily for Bruce, Wally asked about the missing heroine.
"Diana was called to Themyscira."
Wally's mouth gaped open in dejection. "And she didn't ask for help?"
"What part of 'woman-only' island do you not understand?" John scowled at the man in scarlet. Lantern had grown irritated with how Wally would lament about not being invited to Themyscira every time the magical island was mentioned. Every time.
All eyes turned to Batman as he asked, "Did she say anything about the nature of the visit?"
Yes, but I'm not telling you, Bruce, because you're a jackass. Deciding that was too petulant an answer, Clark cheerily replied, "Nothing out of the ordinary. It had to do with establishing an embassy for Themyscira in the United States. Diana said she might be gone for a few months, but she will be back for the wedding."
Once Clark mentioned the wedding, the subject was effectively changed, much to Bruce's consternation. He pushed his worry, and what little hope he had of salvaging his relationship with Diana, to the side. At least until the end of the meeting.
After Clark had dismissed the others, Bruce stayed behind. "Superman, a word."
Clark waited until everyone had left before turning to Bruce, "What can I help you with, Batman?"
"What are you not telling me about Diana's mission?"
"She might actually miss my wedding, but other than that…Wait, you don't already know?"
Bruce ignored Clark's insinuation and pressed on. "She is a senior member of the Justice League. She can't just leave for three months."
"You mean she didn't consult you?"
Bruce tried to hide his surprise that Diana hadn't told Clark about what had happened. "Diana and I are no longer together."
"Ah." Bruce waited, hoping that Clark would say something to effect of, "So that explains her recent behavior." Instead he got, "That's interesting. She didn't seem out of sorts when I last saw her. Must have been too busy thinking about returning to Themyscira."
"What happens if we need to contact her?"
"I doubt that will be necessary. Between the rest of us, I'm sure we can cover her absence for a few months."
Clark was right, but Bruce didn't feel convinced. Still, to object any further would show that he missed her beyond what was appropriate for a colleague, and he couldn't allow that.
"No doubt." Then he turned around, his black cape swirling at his ankles as he stalked out of the room.
Diana stood on the edge of the beach, and looked out over the clear waters. Digging her feet into the white sand, she inched closer and closer until she felt the waves nip at her toes.
The sun shone down lovingly on her, warming her skin. The aroma of Themyscira's wildflowers, carried on a soothing breeze, tickled her nose. She closed her eyes and fought to find the happiness that always awaited her at the ocean's shore, but was losing out to the emotions in her heart. She had never felt so insensible to beauty and joy in her life. But she remained there, willing herself to no longer be sad.
Hippolyta's voice broke through Diana's restless reverie. "I have missed you, daughter."
Wonder Woman turned around and looked at her mother. Diana smiled, but her eyes quickly filled with tears. The blond warrior enfolded her daughter in her arms, and whispered, "What's wrong, Diana?"
"Oh, mother. I am in so much pain."
"Well, you have come to the right place to get better. Have you eaten anything?"
"Not since yesterday."
"No wonder you are so forlorn. Come, we shall eat first. Then you will tell me everything that has happened, and we will fix your problem." She wiped at Diana's tears, and sternly said, "Now is not the time to cry. An Amazon princess must deal with her sorrows in private." Diana swallowed, set her chin, and smiled at her mother.
As they walked back to the palace, Hippolyta squeezed Diana's hand and added, "I will make sure we eat alone."
When the queen and princess neared the entrance, they were greeted by the sentries on duty. On seeing their rulers, they bowed deeply before the two women. Then one of them asked, "Shall we announce Princess Diana's arrival?"
"No. Tomorrow we shall have a feast for Diana's return. Tonight, I want to be alone with my daughter. Tell the cooks to prepare our meals, and after we are served, we are to be left alone. Under no conditions are we to be disturbed. See to it."
"Yes, my queen," the guards responded in unison. After bowing again, they walked off to perform her orders.
Diana quietly walked with her mother to the dining hall. Diana recognized the women milling in the room as her mother's closest advisers. Hippolyta walked over to them and whispered to the highest ranking of them. In less than a minute, everyone had cleared out.
Mother and daughter sat at the high table, and once they had been served, Hippolyta asked, "So what brings you to Themyscira?"
"Officially, we need to establish a Themysciran Embassy in Man's World. Unofficially, my boyfriend dumped me, and I had to get away."
Hippolyta knew very little about this boyfriend or what the word dumped meant, but by the tears that were beginning to form in her daughter's eyes, she knew that some man had hurt her. Enough time had passed that the queen was able to realize that not all men were disgusting and deceitful pigs, though she was enraged at this information.
"Did he tell you why he ended it?"
"I didn't let him. I pretended to be unaffected by it, but I'm not. I've never felt so much pain in my life."
"Not even when you were exiled?"
Diana looked up at her mom. "No. Now that I think of it, they are on par. But they are different kinds of pain. That was a rejection by my home and family. This is a rejection of my love. I have never felt so inadequate."
"You are Princess of the Amazons. Do not listen to anyone who tells you differently, even if it is yourself."
"You're right. I'm sorry, mother."
Hippolyta sighed. She knew Diana needed her mother, not someone who would lecture her. She just didn't think it would be this difficult.
"Did you love this man?"
"His name is Bruce. And yes. I do."
"You do? Even after he left you?"
"It only happened two days ago."
"He was unworthy of you, Diana. It is useless to waste tears on a man who does not deserve to carry your sandals."
"Is that how you felt after Hades?"
"Yes. And it was true."
Diana stubbornly looked up at her mother and pronounced, "Bruce is nothing like Hades."
Hippolyta reached over and rested her hand on Diana's cheek. "I know. It would be impossible for him to be such a monster."
"He is Batman."
Hippolyta nodded as she took in the information. It did not surprise her that her daughter had chosen a fellow superhero.
"Mother, why do you think he could not love me?"
"You should not ask that question. There will never be an answer that will satisfy you."
"I suppose you are right."
"I'm your mother. Of course, I'm right."
"But have you ever asked yourself that? Or thought about what you should have done differently?" Diana looked down embarrassedly before saying out loud, "Of course not. If Bruce had been like Hades I would have rejoiced at his absence from my life."
Making a resolution, the queen prepared to let Diana in on a secret she had never told anyone. "Hades is not the only man I have ever loved."
Shocked, Diana began to stare. "Who was it?"
"Before I tell you, you must eat. Don't think that I have not noticed you poking and prodding at your food."
Hippolyta waited while Diana finished her meal. Finally satisfied that she had had enough to give her strength, the queen led Diana to her old room.
"Mother, are you stalling?"
"I would never do anything so undignified. I am merely preparing you. Now sit down."
Hippolyta joined her on the bed then simply said, "Hercules."
"It was Hercules."
"Mother! He is worse than Hades! If it were not for him…"
"Yes, I know. We would not have been forced to leave the world, there would have been no division amongst the Amazons. All this I know, but people can change."
Diana had crossed her arms over her chest, but didn't say anything.
"I know this is difficult to hear, but eventually, I was able to forgive him for what he had done. It helped that he was sorry for it. I don't know if I could have if he had not been contrite. But that is beside the point. The reason I mentioned this is because I know what it is like to feel as if you are not enough."
This softened Diana. A little. "But-"
"I am not finished. I was the one who ended it. I knew that my Amazons would not be able to accept him after what he did and that the Bana-Mighdallians would attack us if they knew I had a relationship with our former persecutor. I owed it to our nation, but it is not something I did lightly or happily. When I told him, he said he understood the cost of being royalty and the duties that attended it. And then he left. I have not seen him since, but I have wondered why he did not fight me on it, why he did not fight for me. I did not want him to go, and maybe if he had sworn to stay by my side, he would still be here."
"Why did you not send for him?"
She gave her daughter a wry grin. "We Amazons are very prideful. To admit that we want anyone is to show weakness, and to do so in front of a man, that would be sacrilege." In a more sober tone, she continued. "Besides, in this case, it truly was the best thing for us to go our separate ways. Sometimes there are higher goods than even eros."
Diana nodded. She knew it was correct, but the truth of the words seemed drowned out by her roaring emotions and everything she had learned about romantic love in Man's World. And if she accepted this truth, it meant that Bruce had a good reason for leaving her, and there was no way she could ask him to go against his conscience. If anything she loved him more for it. But that only made the pain increase.
"I think Bruce ended it with me for nearly the same reasons. He probably thinks he cannot be Batman and love me at the same time. I know he worries for my protection."
Hippolyta laughed. "That is sweet, though it is misguided. You are many times more powerful than he is. But then lovers are not the most rational of people."
"And that is probably what scares him. He thinks his greatest asset is his intelligence, and perhaps he is threatened by the emotions I produce in him."
"Well, just because many lovers are not rational, it does not follow that none are. I'm sure it is more than that. Emotions can be tamed. But deep, abiding commitment is all-consuming--maybe to the point where he thinks that he is losing himself to you. I imagine he loves you very much and wants to be with you, otherwise he would not think it necessary to push you away."
"It is best if I do not speculate. It will be better if I just accept that I will never know his reasons and try to move on."
But the philosopher in Hippolyta was piqued. "Of course, dear, but he should know that in its healthiest form, love enables us to make sacrifices that we never thought ourselves capable of. He would make a good help-mate for you, and the assistance you could provide him would aid him immeasurably."
"Do you think that is why he ended it with me? Was this his sacrifice?"
"Perhaps, but if it is, I pity him. No woman, or man, is only their mind. The heart and appetite must be ruled, but neither ignored nor neglected. It seems your Batman has forgotten that he is human. I hope that he learns this lesson soon and welcomes you back into his life."
"I do too."
This time when Diana started crying, Hippolyta held her sun and stars until the tears stopped.
To Be Continued
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