Disclaimer: I own nothing.
KN, you are gloriously wonderful. Thanks for the beta and my cool BMWW magnets! :D
Stranger in Paradise:
Exiting his section of the Amazonian retreat, Alfred strolled through the garden in the cool morning light admiring the flowers. Shocks of scarlet here, seas of cerulean there, and every other jewel-bright color imaginable contributed to the perpetually fragrant rainbow. Winter did not dare step foot in Themyscira, leaving the blossoms free to dazzle the eye, beguile the nose, and gladden the heart year round.
Passing the herb garden he had been tending since their arrival, Alfred smiled in approval at his work. The ground of Themyscira was extremely fertile, no doubt charmed to bless the labor of even the most inept gardener. But even though he could not take much credit for its growth, Alfred still derived great joy from the carefully arranged bed. In comparison to the rest of the garden, it would be considered drab, even colorless, but it was his little spot of home.
Having felt a stranger in his earliest days on Themyscira but resigned to make the most of an unfortunate situation, Alfred sought ways of making his mark on his new home. Within days a request for seeds was sent to Athena, and her owl promptly delivered them. As he recalled recipes and memories, he would add to the list. None of the herbs cultivated were native to Themyscira, but all had been used in his previous life.
Whenever the seeds arrived, he would rush to the garden the second he had a free moment. Rolling up his sleeves, kneeling in the dirt, he buried the cores deep in the ground. Daily he would check their progress, eagerly awaiting the day the first shoots would force their way through the ground. Their appearance and subsequent flourishing was therapeutic for him, and he patiently longed for the day he would tend his own garden in Gotham.
At the beginning, Alfred was not the only one who watched for the sprouting greenery. Athena's bird would often perch in a nearby tree and remain there for hours, mostly sleeping, sometimes watching. Being no ornithologist, Alfred required a guide book to learn which species of owl it was. Naturally it had been a little owl, or as it was known by its binomial name, Athene noctua.
It had been some time since he had last seen the feathered messenger. Because Alfred had long ago established himself on the island, the bird was only sent for on rare occasions. However, there were plenty of other winged creatures to make up for its absence. The hummingbirds were Alfred's particular favorites.
Turning to look one last time at his garden, he pushed against Demeter's door. Emeralds, silvers, pearls, and ambers gleamed in their settings, depicting symbols common to the goddess of the harvest: cornucopia, sheaves of wheat, sunflowers, daisies, ash and oak tree. It was life and plenteousness. As he passed through into the hallway, he was immediately greeted by the smell of freshly baked bread. The walls glimmered the soft gold of autumn mornings, and lush grass cushioned each of Alfred's steps.
Before he even reached the second door to the kitchen, he could hear Bruce loudly making his way through Demeter's domain.
So much for a peaceful morning.
Opening the plain wooden door, he cringed at the mess he saw. Rushing to the stove, he shooed Bruce away. Within minutes, a proper breakfast was under way.
Not sparing a glance over his shoulder at the stewing Bruce, Alfred queried, "Care for some coffee, sir?"
Bruce didn't answer the conciliatory words, just kept tearing through the kitchen. He had been acting like a bear for the entire week, and while the boy's occasional bouts with grumpiness amused Alfred, Bruce's constant ill humor was getting a bit tiresome.
"Anything I can get for you, Master Bruce?"
"No." Bruce sat down at the table, immediately grabbing his glass of orange juice and gulping it down in what Alfred considered a most slovenly manner.
"Be careful, sir. Wouldn't want you choking on your breakfast."
Bruce banged the empty glass down on the table, causing it to shake. It was a miracle the cup did not break.
Enough was enough.
"May I presume things have not been going well with Miss Diana?" the butler asked, drolly.
"I wouldn't know. I haven't seen her; she's been ignoring me for the past week."
"So your foul temper is merely a symptom of withdrawal?"
"Lovers' spat?" quarrel?
Bruce's fingers tightened around his empty glass. "No."
"Then why is Miss Diana avoiding you?"
"I don't know."
Alfred arched his brow, "Really, sir? There is no reason whatsoever for Miss Diana to be upset with you?"
The young man's anger seemed to deflate at the question. Shoulders hunched, head in his hands, Bruce mumbled his answer. Alfred leaned in, but the mush of words was impossible to discern
"I'm sorry, Master Bruce, but you will need to enunciate."
"I tried to kiss her."
Alfred laughed, instantly earning an injured glare from his ward. The butler wiped the smile off his face as he placed a plate of food in front of the young man and refilled his orange juice. "Excuse me." He cleared his throat and tried again. "I take it Miss Diana was not as receptive to your romantic overtures as you would have liked."
Bruce speared his scrambled eggs.
"Well, did the young lady say anything?"
"Just that she needed to go, and then she left."
"She didn't slap you?"
"Didn't yell at you?"
"Berate you for being an imbecile?"
With each successive question, Bruce slumped further and further into his seat.
"Look on the bright side, sir. She could have killed you, and yet you're still here."
The chill in Bruce's narrowed eyes earned an exasperated sigh from his caretaker. "Did you really expect her to welcome your advances? She is an Amazon, and you have probably given her the rudest awakening in her life. Of course she didn't reciprocate."
Bruce stood from the table, almost upending his chair. "Thanks for the advice."
"Oh, do sit down, Master Bruce." Alfred could see the boy waver before wisely retaking his seat. "I can't believe I am having to tell you this, but it's time you thought rationally. Miss Diana likes you. You have surprised her. That is all."
Bruce tore off pieces of his toast, leaving them uneaten. When he finally spoke, his answer passed through a clenched jaw. "Just because Diana didn't kill me doesn't mean she wanted me to kiss her."
If Alfred did not consider himself above such things, he would have rolled his eyes.
"Agreed, but it also doesn't mean that there won't be a time when your…advances will be appreciated. Put yourself in Miss Diana's position. What does she know of the attraction between men and women?"
"Plenty." Bruce ran a frustrated hand through his hair, and Alfred's good humor returned.
"Much as you may find yourself attracted to her, I highly doubt Miss Diana is doing anything other than being herself. Although perhaps it is a gift from her goddess, Aphrodite. Make all young men madly in love with her."
"Yes, I know. But we are not here to discuss my perfections, but yours. You are a relatively attractive and intelligent young man who, on occasion, can be genteel, even charming. Under normal circumstances, a woman might even consider you quite the catch. But these are not normal circumstances, and Miss Diana is not your average woman."
"Believe me, Alfred, I'm well aware of that."
"But Miss Diana is not. As far as she is concerned, the way of the Amazon is what is normal, and they do not look favorably on our sex."
"But she's not like them. She knows that not all men are evil…that relationships are possible between males and females."
"And how does she know that, sir?"
Bruce paused, and Alfred watched as the young man weighed his answer. "We've been reading together."
"And what have you been reading?"
"How romantic. I suppose her favorite part is Aeneas's wife dying. Or perhaps Dido's suicide? Or maybe she enjoyed reading the death of the virgin warrior Camilla? Really, Master Bruce, I thought I had trained you better than that. Why are you not reading Mrs. Barrett Browning, Donne, or even Shakespeare?"
"She chose to read it! Besides, it's not like I'm going to be able to woo her with poetry. This isn't Victorian England. I'd have better luck giving her a new battle ax."
Alfred sniffed disdainfully. "Never underestimate the power of a carefully crafted sonnet, young man."
"She's a warrior, not a little girl whose head is full of romance."
"Alright, Casanova. Please explain how you set about 'wooing' her."
"…She fell on the ground, and--"
"Excuse me, sir, did you say 'fell?' I thought you told me she was graceful."
The butler could not tell if Bruce's angry look was due to the question or some perceived slight on the fair maiden.
"We were sparring, and I performed a leg sweep, and she fell. What difference does it make?"
"Oh none, I'm sure."
The younger man pinched the bridge of his nose, inhaling deeply.
"She was on the ground. I bent over to see if she was alright, and," Bruce stole an uncomfortable glance at Alfred. "Never mind."
"I now see why your method is far superior to mine. Kiss the possibly concussed girl while she is still lying in the dirt. I'm surprised I had not thought of it sooner. Bravo, sir."
Bruce wrung his hands. "It wasn't like that. I touched her face, and she…"
"It doesn't matter. She obviously didn't want me kissing her or she would have let me."
"All joking aside, Master Bruce, perhaps she was just conflicted. While this is natural to you, her attraction goes against everything she has been taught her entire life. That is not an easy obstacle to overcome."
"You assume she is attracted to me. I don't. It makes more sense that she does not like me, and is just too good to intentionally embarrass me. I got carried away. It won't happen again."
Alfred highly doubted that.
"I think next time you should allow her to take control. Ask her permission. While it is not the most romantic approach, I think she will respect you for your honesty, and more importantly, leaving the decision up to her."
"There isn't going to be a next time, Alfred. I'm not going to put myself in situations where I can be rejected or laughed at." Bruce's gruff answer was somewhat counteracted by the light pink that tinged his cheeks.
"Do you really think Miss Diana would laugh at you?"
"Neither do I. If she did, she wouldn't deserve you."
Bruce let out a derisive laugh. "I'm the one who doesn't deserve her."
"Nonsense, sir. From what I have heard, you both seem well suited for one another."
"It's not like she has much choice. I'm the only male on the island."
"I will overlook that slight and simply say what you already know. Miss Diana would not settle for just anyone. She would be happier alone than with someone who was not her equal."
"That's nice. I'm still not going to pursue this."
The answer wasn't exactly promising, but Bruce's slowness in delivering it left some cause for hope. The butler could tell his words were having an effect.
""Of course you aren't, sir."
"Reverse psychology and sarcasm won't work on me. Now where's my morning paper?"
"Ah, yes." The Gotham Gazette lay forgotten by the stove. Retrieving then handing it over, Alfred took a leisurely sip of his tea.
As Bruce unfurled the serial, Alfred requested the local section. Sometimes there would be information on Leslie and her clinic.
The only response he received was that of a glass shattering. Alfred looked up from his tea and nearly spilled it. All the color had drained from Bruce's face, which looked about to crumple. His hand was bloodied, cut by his demolished glass.
Before the butler could say anything, Bruce rushed out of the room.
As the leaves of paper wafted to the ground, Alfred read the big, bolded letters of the Gotham Gazette's front page headline.
Wayne Murderer Killed in Prison Plot
Waiting for the guard to pass by, Diana took one last deep breath before slinking out into the darkness. Graced by Artemis, she easily escaped detection and within minutes was on her way to see Bruce.
It was a slow trek as Diana chose not to fly. Instead, she kept to the shadows, her senses on high alert. Her heart was already beating against her rib cage, and the sounds of the night were not helping the situation. Noises that she was deeply familiar with—birds calling to one another or deer traipsing through a thicket—seemed strange to her ears, and she felt lost.
Each step brought her closer to Bruce, and closer to the confrontation she had been dreading for the past week. She had thought this would be easier than continuing to avoid him, but she was wrong. There were so many questions and very few answers.
Should she pretend nothing had happened? Did he like her? Did he love her? How did she feel about him? Was he only meant to be her friend or did she want more? If she did feel something for him, would she have to give up everything? Would he eventually turn on her and her people?
Was any man worth all this trouble?
She was beginning to think no.
When she found him, she was already over an hour late.
He's still waiting for me.
Guilt and joy twisted her stomach.
He was standing underneath a tree, his back to her. The moonlight was broken by the leaves, shattered and scattered over his skin and the ground around him. The patches of silver revealed his rigid stance, tension visible in the taut lines of his body.
Before she talked herself out of it, Diana stepped forward.
He did not answer her, did not even turn around. She walked over to him a bit more quickly, nervous energy bubbling inside of her.
"Bruce?" she said a bit louder.
After a second's pause, he finally turned. His eyes were cold, withdrawn. He gave a brief nod, a courtesy reserved for strangers.
She took a step back, retracting her extended hand. This was worse than pretending nothing had happened. It was if they had regressed to when they had first met. She hated it.
Diana stopped directly in front of him. "I apologize for being late." Under his glacial stare, her confidence faltered, and her gaze fell to his feet. "About not showing up at our last practices and meetings…"
"Don't mention it."
"I should have given you some kind of warning."
"I understand you have other priorities."
Diana looked up. "That's not it at all. There's nothing more…" She blinked, hesitant to share with him his relative importance in her life. Fumbling for the right words and not finding any, she blurted out, "After what happe--"
He cut her off. "Like I said, don't mention it." The words glided easily through a perfunctory smile. Having not gone without it for months, the missing warmth in the familiar gesture sent chills down her spine.
"I'll let you decide today: spar or read," he politely offered.
His icy civility struck the wrong chord with her, and her voice rose in anger. "We aren't going to do either until we discuss what happened."
He crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Say what you need to say," he replied.
Diana opened her mouth, but again the words wouldn't come. What did she need to say? Or more importantly, what would she allow herself to say?
She finally settled on, "I'm sorry."
He began walking away from her, and she grabbed his arm, yanking him so he faced her again. "That's it?! You almost kiss me, and now you want to pretend as if nothing happened?"
"Nothing did happen."
His words were a crushing blow to her chest, and her face went slack with confusion and disbelief.
"But I thought…"
"Yes, Diana?" he asked patiently, even condescendingly. "What did you think?"
Faced with the possibility that she had imagined everything, Diana was humiliated and insecure. Even worse, it was as if her heart had been hollowed out.
She rubbed her forehead and eyes, like a small child just awoken from deep slumber. "I'm not sure anymore. I thought…you tried to kiss me."
"A mistake I promise I won't repeat."
She should have been happier that Bruce was at least acknowledging that something did happen.
Diana nodded in acceptance, swallowing her sudden and surprising disappointment. All that was left now was to fix their strained working relationship.
"And you aren't upset with me?" she asked, her throat tight with emotion. "Have I lost your friendship?"
Then why did she feel like she had lost everything?
"We should stop wasting valuable practice time," he added.
But neither Diana's heart nor mind were ready for sparring or reading.
"So that's it? You don't," she could feel herself fighting back tears, and her face flushed in embarrassment, but she needed to know. "You never wanted me?"
His eyes softened for a brief moment, then were back to the unaffected facade.
But it was enough.
Emboldened, she raised her hand and was just about to place it on his arm when his voice, low and threatening as an impending storm, cautioned her, "Don't."
This close to him, she was able to see outside of her own turbulent emotions. He was not well. It went past anger or wounded pride. His eyes were wild, and he looked pale. She was not prepared for the intense sorrow in his face.
Unable to stop herself, Diana reached for him again. "Tell me why you are hurting."
At her touch, Bruce shuddered, riddling her with guilt—guilt for hurting him and for being too wrapped up in her own insecurity to recognize it. Eyes searching his, she earnestly said, "I'm sorry, Bruce. I was just scared, and I didn't know what to do. Tell me what I did wrong, and I will fix it if I can."
He said nothing, but sank to his knees. Grabbing her about the waist, he rested his face against her stomach. Unsure of what to do, Diana held his head against her, stroking his hair with trembling fingers.
The material of her dress did not prove much of a barrier. The strain to control his emotions showed in his labored breathing. Every breath burned hot against her stomach, but heat, she told herself, was better than the damp of his tears. If he started crying, she didn't know what she would do.
Eventually his breathing evened out, and she chanced a step away. His hands tightened vise-like around her waist, and his gaze arrested her. Her heart broke at what she saw. She could no longer move away, but knelt in front of him.
She caressed his cheek. "It will be alright."
His grip enveloped hers, and he slowly extricated her hand from his face. When he didn't let go, Diana's eyes drifted down to their enjoined hands. A bright red wound marred his skin, and though it was not bleeding, it certainly looked painful.
"What happened?" she said, her voice soft.
He tried tearing his hand away but didn't succeed.
Frowning, she cradled his injured hand, gently running her fingers across the unbroken skin. Out of reflex, his fingers curled over hers. Realizing what she had been doing, she looked up, expecting to see him angry just as he had been that day at practice. Instead, his gaze bore into hers, dark with unmistakable longing.
Bruce leaned in slightly and stopped, dropping his eyes down to her lips before looking back at her. She could only stare at him as heat spread over her face.
He dipped his head down, brushing his nose against her cheek. His mouth was so close to hers she could feel it, and yet they were not touching, not breathing.
The rasp of his voice made her feel giddy.
"May I," he paused and swallowed, "May I kiss you?"
She waited, wavering on a knife's edge between hunger and fear. Her breath hitched in her chest as he moved closer, taking her face in his hands.
At the press of his lips against her forehead, Diana's eyes drifted close. Soon her senses were full of him. The only thing she could comprehend was the softness of his mouth against her eyebrow, then her cheek.
His lips began moving closer to hers.
Diana wasn't ready. She pulled back.
"I'm sorry," she mumbled, embarrassed. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do."
A soft huff of laughter escaped him, evanescing on her mouth. "I don't either…Do you want to stop?"
The seconds passed, but neither of them moved. Finally, Diana leaned forward, only to stop. "I can't do this," she said.
Bruce nodded his head, running a hand through his hair before dropping it at his side.
"You need to close your eyes."
His eyebrows rose at the command. She tried to explain, "I think it would be--."
"No, it's alright."
The violent blue of his eyes were now veiled.
Free of his intense stare, she studied him. His fists were clenched at his side, his jaw set on edge. His nervousness made her feel better. But only a little.
She wrapped her hand around the back of his neck, and his muscles jumped under her touch. She inched closer, watching as he tried not to flinch or even move. Mirroring him, she closed her mouth.
Then she brought her lips to his.
It stayed that way for a few seconds, both of them barely touching, but then she leaned into him. The increase in pressure was a completely foreign and wonderful sensation, and she missed it the instant he pulled away.
She opened her eyes to see that his were still closed. Realizing he was waiting on her, she kissed him again. It was just as tentative as the first, and Diana relaxed into how utterly right it felt. Brushing her mouth against his, she began testing the different kinds of friction they could create.
It would have been perfect except he was holding back.
The next time she felt him begin to pull away, she didn't let him. Her fingers tightened around his hair, and he opened his eyes at the less than gentle tugging.
"Kiss me back," she ordered.
It was the invitation he needed. His touch was no longer gentle either, and his mouth crashed into hers.
Still unsure of what to do but pretty sure he didn't care, Diana closed her eyes and tried to keep pace with him. His arms wound tightly around her, crushing her to his chest as she gripped his shoulders. His mouth was possessive and unrelenting, bruising and biting at her lips. If she hadn't found it so pleasurable, she might have been offended.
His lack of control, the palpable neediness and desperation of his kisses alerted her that there was something more, something deeper than their earlier misunderstanding that was bothering him. Deciding to weather his emotional storm before asking questions, she held on and gave in. The resulting cacophony of harsh breaths, strangled sighs, and teeth, flesh, and tongue meeting was the most exhilarating and dangerous experience of her life.
Without warning, she was awash in his feelings. She gasped, eyes burning with unshed tears, and he instantly pulled back.
"I'm sorry," he said, laboring for oxygen. "I didn--"
Her mouth was on his again. She could taste his doubt and insecurity. They gripped her heart, which determined right then and there he would never feel this way again. As the swirl of emotions threatened to drown her, she willed him to forget whatever it was that was hurting him.
No longer able to tell which feelings were hers and which were his, she kissed him until the only thing that remained was him and her.
It wasn't long before something else drifted in the corners of her consciousness, though it defied explanation or capture. It wasn't fiery or frantic, but it was breathtaking.
He pulled away, but not far. At the touch of his fingers against her temple, Diana's eyes fluttered open.
Had he felt it too?
Diana had not sensed it before, but now it was inescapable, pressing in from all sides.
The air was ripe with it. She had always been sensitive to it, enjoyed a special kinship with the deep mysteries that knit her together. He could not see it, but he practically glowed with its luminance. It crackled on her skin, seeping into her marrow, her very being. Her soul welcomed its comforting familiarity as much as it trembled in the shadows of its terrible, unsearchable depths. Here was the power of beginnings and life, of death and of loss. She would either be remade or undone, and both options were equally frightening.
It looked as if Bruce was going to say something, but no words came. He just stared at her as the seconds elapsed, their loud breathing the only thing interrupting the silence.
His hands fell away from her stunned face down to her wrists, and she could only watch as he played with one of her gauntlets. Not sure what he was trying to do, she almost jumped when the metal bracer clanged loudly to the ground, causing some birds to flee from their resting spots in the branches above their heads.
The sight of her bare, unprotected flesh startled her, and she jerked her hand back, but he held it tightly. She stopped struggling. His fingers played with the other gauntlet, and it too tumbled to the ground.
Having only taken the bracelets off when she had outgrown them—and then they were always immediately replaced with new ones—she was accustomed to the unrelenting metal. Now, for the first time in years, the cool air floated across the pale skin.
Bruce raised both wrists up to his lips and kissed them softly, his eyes intently fixed on hers. Her panic melted away at the odd display of affection. Without knowing it, Diana exhaled in relief.
"Thank you," he murmured quietly, his voice blending in seamlessly with the loveliness of the warm night.
He settled against the trunk of the tree and pulled her with him. Her back was to his chest, and he rested his chin in the curve between her neck and shoulder. His hands found her wrists again and moved against the sensitive skin before joining their hands together over her stomach. Unable to keep silent any longer, she quietly asked, "What are you thanking me for?"
"Our first kiss."
"Just the first one?" she asked, trying to hide her nervousness with humor.
His arms tightened around her, and she could hear the smile in his voice when he said, "No, the other ones too."
As they sat there, Diana's heart raced even faster, recalling what had just happened. She had let him touch and kiss her. Had even ordered him to do it.
Why didn't she feel guilty? Should she feel guilty? Would there be anything more between them? What would her mother think?
Closing her eyes, she zeroed in on the rhythmic rise and fall of Bruce's chest against her back.
"How can you be so calm?" she asked.
"I'm not." He placed her fingers on his wrist. His pulse throbbed under her touch.
"Bruce, I'm scared."
He did not answer at first, but when he did, Diana could hear the hurt in his voice. "Of me?"
The idea of him hurting her, spoken aloud, seemed ridiculous to her, and she was sorry her mind had even suggested it. "No. It's just that everything's so new, and I'm not sure how I should feel…I want to tell my mother."
"That's not a good idea."
"Why not? Is what we are doing wrong?"
"Then we shouldn't hide it from her?"
"Your mother barely tolerates me. She doesn't even know you are here, that you've been secretly meeting me for months. How do you think she's going to react to that?"
"She will be upset, but she will learn to accept you. I will make her."
"You'll only make her angry."
"You don't know my mother."
"She is an Amazon. That's all I need to know."
"I am an Amazon too," Diana said, her tone indignant.
Diana's jaw dropped, and for a second she was unable to say anything. When she regained power over her voice, she said, "Why would you say that? That is the most hurtful thing you could have possibly said to me."
"I didn't mean it like that."
"Well, how am I supposed to interpret that?! Being an Amazon is the most important thing about me."
She sat stone still, petrified with rage.
"Diana…until I met you, not one of your people had treated me with kindness. They talked to me as if I were worthless, like I was an animal. I was nine years old!"
"I'm sorry that they acted that way toward you, but my mother is not Antiope. If she had known—"
"But she didn't take the time to find out. Not until you were involved."
"You're right," she said. "And I wish it had been different for you, I really do, but I'm tired of sneaking around in the dark just to see you, as if we were doing something shameful or bad."
"Are you ashamed?"
"I would feel better about it if I could tell her."
"You didn't answer the question, Diana."
"No, I am not. But it's difficult not to feel like I should be."
He tensed behind her. "I shouldn't have done this."
Diana turned around to see him, but his eyes were downcast. Taking his face in her hands, she waited till he was looking at her before she spoke.
"I have also never been happier, and I want my mother to know that, and that it's because of you."
The smile that lit up his face was beautiful, and she wished their conversation was over so she could enjoy it.
Unfortunately, it wasn't.
"I still don't think it's wise to tell your mother," Bruce said. "Not yet, at least."
"I will wait, but I want to know why."
"You aren't the only one who is scared, Diana."
"Why should you be afraid? You haven't broken thousands of years of tradition by falling for the enemy."
"No, but if you tell your mother and she rejects you, you will ostracize yourself from the rest of your people. You will have lost your family for nothing."
Not for nothing.
"But why are you scared?" she said, barely above a whisper. "What does that have to do with you?"
His hands gripped hers, but relaxed when he realized what he was doing.
"Do you think I want to hurt you? If you are with me, your people will abandon you. You shouldn't have to choose between me and your family. It would be one thing if I was staying here, but…"
"You're leaving?" The air seemed to rush out of her chest. It was not fair. The goddesses could not be so cruel as to take him away from her just as she was realizing how much she cared for him.
"Diana, I have to leave this island, but I…I don't think I could lose you."
"Then stay here."
"I have to go back to Gotham City. I don't think I was ever supposed to stay here permanently, but Athena won't let me go, and she won't tell me why."
A flash of guilt rose up within her, but she knew now was not the time to talk about the curse. But soon, she would tell him soon.
"Why do you have to leave?" she asked, instead.
He struggled for an answer. "You wouldn't understand…I'm not sure I even know. Not anymore." His fists clenched at his sides, and she could see the strain and reluctance with which his next words were said. "But I don't belong here."
But she had seen the magic embrace him. Unless…
"Do you think Athena was using me as some kind of…diversion? To keep you from wanting to leave?" She tried to sound detached, but she knew her question came out in defeated tones.
Strong fingers turned her face.
"It doesn't matter. I know you aren't a diversion." His mouth found hers again, and she learned that more things than desire could be communicated through the simple action.
When they broke apart, she whispered, "I don't want you to go."
"I'm still here, but now that I want to be here…I will leave. You need to know the risks before you grow more attached to me."
"But what about you? What of your risks?"
He stared straight at her, eyes serious. "It's too late for me."
"You're in love with me?"
She saw him blush, his lips twisting in a lopsided smile. "Is that so hard to believe?"
"But it's so soon. We just…" But it wasn't that soon, and they hadn't just met. It had been almost a year, with countless hours together. For the most part the time was enjoyably spent. She nearly always left him looking forward to the next time they would meet. The only person who knew her better was Hippolyta, and even then, he knew her in ways her mother never could. He treated her as an equal, challenged and valued her. She was a better person because of him. If she hadn't been raised the way she had, who was to say she wouldn't be in love with him too?
"I don't expect you to feel the same way," he said, chin raised.
He grimaced, "I'd rather not say."
She nodded her head. "I understand…and I think, if you give me a little more time…I care for you very much, as much as I know how to."
"Don't get me wrong, I want you to say it back and mean it, but it's not something I can expect or demand from you."
Diana raised a brow. "If I recall correctly, I'm the one who has been making demands of you."
"Just don't do it out of guilt. I won't want it."
Diana leaned into him, resting her head on his chest. "Don't worry, Bruce. You make it very easy for me to like you."
His laughter vibrated under her cheek. "It wasn't always like that."
"Yes, you were horrible when I first met you. A real pig."
"You weren't so great yourself."
"That's not what you said when I put you in the lasso."
He didn't answer.
She turned her face upwards, smiling at him, "If it makes you feel better, you are the most handsome man I've ever seen."
She curled her finger under his chin, which he batted away, rolling his eyes. "Thanks. That means a lot."
"I do find you very handsome, though."
The way he blushed made her want to laugh. "You aren't so bad yourself," he said.
She did not know how long they sat there, him playing with her hands and dusting her face with light kisses. It must have been hours.
Finally he said, "It's getting late."
Bruce stood to his feet, and held out a helping hand. She tugged on it, smiling up at him, but he didn't budge.
"Five more minutes," she said.
She could see Bruce try, but he could not wipe the grin from his face. "Sorry, Diana, practice is over."
"Ten more minutes."
Bruce knelt before her, his eyes apologetic. "Rules are rules, even for princesses."
"Couldn't we bend them, just this once?"
"If we bend the rules now we're just going to keep doing it." He stood up again, this time succeeding in pulling the reluctant Diana to her feet.
Her shoulders slumped in defeat, and she heaved an exasperated sigh. "Sometimes you are no fun."
"As long as that's clear." A mischievous glint lit up his eyes as he pulled her close, his mouth poised millimeters from hers. "I think I can bend one rule, but just for tonight, and only because you're my girlfriend."
"Is that what I am? A girlfriend?"
"And that makes you…?"
"I like the sound of that."
"I do too."
And then he kissed her again.
It was only half an hour later, when she was flying home, that Diana remembered she hadn't gotten to ask Bruce why he was so upset when she found him. As she crawled in the window, she made a mental note to discuss it the next time she saw him.
Pulling off her sandals, she threw a robe over her chiton and padded to the door. She was hungry and needed a snack. Cracking the door open, light spilled across her toes.
Diana squinted, her eyes adjusting to the brightness of the torches lining the walls.
Floating down the hallways, it was only a matter of minutes before she was heading back to her room, plate of fruit in hand.
She was just in about to enter her door, when a voice halted her forward progress.
Startled, Diana saw a few grapes roll to the ground, only to be trampled under the sandal of her aunt.
"Why are you awake at this hour?"
Diana looked pointedly at her plate. "I was hungry."
"Well, since you are up, there is a matter I wish to discuss with you. I would have mentioned it sooner, but you never seem to be around."
She did not like the direction the conversation was taking or the accusation lacing Antiope's words.
"My schedule is not a secret."
"True, but the matter is not something suitable for the ears of a man…or those sympathetic to them."
The underhanded jab at Alexandra did not go unnoticed by Diana. "It's three in the morning. This can't wait until tomorrow?"
"I have reason to believe that the man has been crossing into our territory, and I wanted to know if you knew anything about that."
"I do not, but even if I did, why would that be important? One intruder could hardly stand against the might of a city of Amazons."
"While this may seem silly to you, there are things you do not know, things you cannot comprehend that make this a significant issue."
"I am aware of the curse if that's what you mean. My mother apprised me of Bruce's… situation."
"Well, then, you should understand the need for vigilance."
Quite frankly she did not, but it would be better for Bruce and her if Antiope did not suspect anything.
"As you know, I have been unable to attend your practices for some time, but my soldiers have been instructed to keep an eye on Bruce."
Diana was not aware of their spying and wasn't sure if she could believe her aunt. Bruce would have known about something like this, would have told her.
"What cause do you have for thinking he is trespassing?"
"Call it an intuition. I have always told you he is trouble, Diana."
"I'm sure my mother has already informed you that Bruce hardly says anything to me during practice. I am hardly going to know what he is doing when I'm not around."
"It is as I thought, but I would rather have answers than assumptions."
"I'm glad I could help. Now if you don't mind…" Much as she tried, Diana could not keep the curtness from her voice or stop her yawn. She leaned against the door, her free hand raised to cover her mouth. The soft material of her sleeve fell down, tickling her arm. She was about to say goodnight, when her aunt's eyes narrowed, looking sharply at her.
Diana followed Antiope's line of sight and tried to keep calm when she realized what had caught her aunt's attention.
"Where is your gauntlet?" The general reached for Diana's hand, but Diana pulled it away.
"I took them off."
"Both of them?"
Diana nearly cringed at her mistake.
"I could understand one being broken, but both them? Perhaps I should speak with the blacksmiths about the shoddiness of their craftsmanship."
"That won't be necessary. I only took them off the night." Antiope tried peering around her, but Diana would not move from the doorway.
"Those are not the terms. We are to wear them at all times. It is our punishment." Diana never understood why Antiope was so fastidious about the bracelets. The general did not even believe she deserved the retribution of the goddesses. It did, however, fit with Antiope's legalistic bent of mind. She was scrupulous to a fault, and therefore able to justify finding fault with everyone else.
"No need to worry, Aunt Antiope. I am having them cleaned tomorrow. I did not want to forget, so I took them off as a reminder." Or at least she would be getting them cleaned as soon as she got them back from Bruce.
The general didn't respond, and Diana felt her skin crawl under Antiope's scrutiny.
Acting more confidently than she felt, Diana looked at her aunt expectantly. "Anything else? It's really late, and I'm very tired."
"No, that's all for now, but if you notice anything out of the ordinary, make sure to report it to me."
"Goodnight." And with that, Diana shut the door.
She walked over to bed, setting aside her plate. She was no longer hungry.
How could she forget her bracelets? If someone found them, there could be no more hiding. While that was her ultimate goal, she would rather introduce the idea of Bruce and her in a more flattering light.
She debated whether she should go back to the field and get them, but in the end she didn't think it was necessary. Convinced that after finding such happiness the goddesses would not take it away, Diana quickly fell asleep.
To Be Continued
Anonymous Review Replies:
biggest fan- lol, thanks, I've always wanted one (a biggest fan, that is). :D I'm sorry you feel tortured. I do wish I could write faster, but it doesn't seem to work that way for me. I hope you liked the latest chapter, and that the drama and suspense wasn't too painful. Thanks for reviewing.
togood- I hope chapter 16 was worth your wait. :D Thanks for the review.
holly- Hi holly. That always struck me as a happy name, and I like it. :D So this is what happened next, and I have to say it couldn't happen soon enough (I heart BMWW and wanted them together from chapter one, lol). But now I have to resolve the other issues I raised. Thanks for your kind words, and I'm glad you are enjoying the mythology. I think it's a big love of mine, since I seem to keep coming back to it in all my newest story ideas. So it's nice to see other find it a fun addition. Thanks for reviewing!
ilove-thanks for the review. it left a smile on my face. You got your kisses. :D
jlufan- thanks for the lesson in the judicial system. I have not yet read Plato's Apology, though I might get around to it one of these days. If I do, and I'm still writing this story, I will leave a note. :D
d-ah! my faithful friend, I hope you are well. Like Hippolyta, I think everyone in this story has an intense story, lol. It kind of makes it unbelievable, but whatever, I'm dealing with creatures that can fly and prefer to spend their time in dank caves with bats. I should be able to suspend belief. :D Considering how much reviewer hate I'm getting for Antiope, I have to say I actually like Antiope more than Hippolyta, or at least I am more sympathetic. I think Hippolyta is a bit incompotent as I've portrayed her (it's my fault, though I didn't do it intentionally), and if I were Antiope, I'd be pretty upset with her ruling track record thus far, but that's me.
Here is there real kiss! I hope it met expectations. After holding it off for so long, I'm worried it didn't cut the mustard. This is actually a second incarnation. I have a whole other first smooch scene saved that I might try to include in some other form later. I wrote it way back in the beginning when I first started writing the story, but as I kept going, it didn't seem to fit anymore. I promise there will be a whole revelation scene where Bruce learns everything. I hate it when authors put things off just to keep people reading, and I swear I'm not doing it for suspense. It just doesn't seem right to reveal things now, like I haven't set it up properly.
I'm glad you are finding Diana believable. My beta could tell you that sometimes I'm afraid I make her too wussy or too naive. I want her to be really empowered by the end, but for now she is just figuring out who she is and what she does and does not believe and how Bruce and her feelings fit into that. And of course Bruce is discouraged. LOL he's a bit of a baby. Runs at the first sight of love danger. But he's growing up too. Yeah, I'm not so much a fan of one step forward, two steps back, but really their romance is supposed to add tension to the rest of the happenings (which have taken a back seat to this slow build up), so it kind of has to be like that. Sorry. :(
I'm glad Diana has Alexandra too. I made her too isolated, so it's about time I added a suitable girl friend for her.
Thanks again for the grammar corrections. If I haven't fixed it already, I will. And as always, thanks for reviewing!
Please leave feedback. Thanks for reading.