Note: Here we have it -- the concluding chapter! Enjoy!
Previously: "It's time to go, Diana," Andromache whispered.
Her shoulders dropped slightly and Diana finally surrendered. "What must I do?" she asked.
Andromache stared at her searchingly. "You must release your burdens," she said simply after several moments.
Diana returned the stare and then forced herself to stand up, pulling Andromache with her. "And how am I to do that?" she asked.
"Accept that your part in the doings and workings of the world is done, that you cannot influence it any further," the other woman instructed as she crossed her arms in front of her. "Let it go on its way, and trust that the world can take care of itself without you standing over it like an overprotective mother." She smiled faintly.
Diana nodded. "I see," she said.
It wasn't as difficult as she thought it might be. As she thought of the people she loved – her mother, her sisters, her friends… Bruce – Diana carefully forced herself to think about them in proper prospective. If she did stay in this state, as she had wanted to since discovering the truth, just how much good could she do for them? They could not see, hear, or sense her presence in any way.
That rules out being Diana the Friendly Ghost, a voice inside of her said, sounding suspiciously like Wally.
In all honesty, Diana knew she did not want to leave, but for good or ill…she was dead. There was no going back to where she had come from.
Over the course of her thoughts, Diana hadn't noticed until then that the scene around her – still the forum on Themyscira – had begun to fade. First the colors, then the finer details of the buildings. The light behind Andromache, however, remained as bright as ever.
"It's working, Diana," Andromache murmured. She reached out and stroked Diana's shoulder. "You're almost there. Concentrate."
Diana closed her eyes, cutting herself off from the fading vision of the island of her birth. Perhaps that would help –
Dusk was rapidly approaching, though it seemed like it was already night beneath the trees. A cold wind blew through the branches.
Bruce, J'onn, and Clark knelt above her, all staring down in her direction.
"... interfering with her higher brain functions," J'onn was saying, his tones, normally so serene, filled with urgency. "She is fading…"
Diana's eyes shot open. "What was that?" she asked.
"What was what?"
Diana looked at Andromache. "I saw..." she hesitated, "I saw my friends. Clark, J'onn, and Bruce… they were standing over me, saying something about my brain and how I was 'fading.'"
Andromache did not answer immediately, and then shook her head, clearly dismissing it. "It's likely that you've begun hallucinating, Diana," she told her. "It could very well be a sign that your presence in this limbo is beginning to have a detrimental effect on your thoughts. We need to hurry." Andromache motioned to the light that still hovered behind her.
Diana found herself wavering, though. Something didn't feel right. "I feel like I'm forgetting something…"
"It's nothing," Andromache assured her. She took Diana's hand in hers and tugged gently, trying to lead her closer to the light.
It didn't work. Diana's previous concentration on "letting go" had been broken. Now she had something new – and far more pleasant, in all honesty – to focus on. Holding her ground, she closed her eyes again.
J'onn, Bruce, Clark, she called silently, where are you? Where –
The wind continued to howl through the trees. There might even have been the occasional raindrop slipping through the densely-packed leaves.
The three men were still in the same positions as before.
"Her brain activity is beginning to stabilize again," J'onn said. He looked up from his medical scanner and stared at Clark and Bruce. "Speak to her, tell her to keep fighting. She –"
The vision had ended prematurely, that Diana knew for certain. She found herself back with Andromache. Their surroundings had regained some luster, and Diana could once again make out some of the details of the buildings on Themyscira. Still, that didn't hold her attention for more than a second. Diana's concentration fell onto Andromache.
The woman had changed in some fundamental way. Diana could sense it, almost see it. Before, there had always been a sense of warmth in Andromache's countenance, a true feeling of kindness and understanding. Diana had felt a true kinship with her, this woman who had once been an Amazon of Themyscira and had left to pursue a larger truth beyond the shores of the island. It also helped to know that Andromache understood what it was like to have feelings for a member of the opposite sex, something few Amazons could claim.
All of that had changed now. There was something different in the other woman's face. Something cold, something almost… alien. It was unsettling, and alarming. Uneasiness began to take hold in Diana's mind, along with a great sense of frustration.
"I can't see them anymore," she said coldly, staring hard at Andromache. "What. Is. Going. On?"
Andromache appeared to be working to control herself, and her normal expression returned. "Diana," she said, her voice exaggeratedly patient, "I've already told you –"
"No," Diana cut her off. She crossed her arms. "I don't believe a word of it anymore. It does not make sense."
"I… don't know what you are talking about."
Diana fought the urge to growl in frustration. That's Bruce's method, not mine, she thought. "Then let me be perfectly clear," she replied. "If the gods were truly so concerned for the state of my soul, then one of them would have come to see to me themselves. Hermes perhaps, or Athena. Likely even Persphone herself, if what you say is true and I am supposed to go to Elysium." Diana gave Andromache a hard stare. "They certainly would hot have dragged an occupant out of Elysium who had been dead for millennia."
Andromache did not respond, just stared at her with her hands clenched at her sides. Her green eyes, so unlike Shayera's bright ones, grew cold and dark. Staring at the other woman, Diana was disgusted with herself. Had not Bruce's constant warnings of being skeptical, of not taking anything at face value stayed with her? She had allowed the stories told about this woman by her mother and sisters to overcome her better judgment.
Diana was sure she would never live down this humiliation.
"Who are you? Really?" she demanded. "You are certainly not Andromache, the woman so honored by my people. So who are you? Answer me!"
Andromache finally spoke. "It's true," she admitted, "I am not truly the woman you know as Andromache. I am of a race known as The Watchers."
"What do you want with me?" Diana inquired. "Why this elaborate disguise?" She gestured towards Andromache's appearance.
"Our purpose," Andromache replied, "is to help ease the souls of those who are dying out of the living world, to help them find peace. I chose this form because I felt that it would make your more comfortable."
They were pretty words, Diana acknowledged. It even sounded like a noble cause. Nonetheless, Diana shook her head. "Even if that was true, I am certain that I am not dying. Why are you so insistent that I cross over when I am clearly still tied to my body?"
Andromache's lips thinned and she shook her head. "It's too late now," she said, obviously not intending to answer Diana's questions directly. "Your body is greatly weakened, almost to the point of death." She stared at Diana. "It really would be best if you just came with me now. Save yourself the exhaustion of fighting me."
Diana glared at her. She opened her mouth –
J'onn, Bruce, and Clark again.
"Come on, Diana," Clark said. "You can do this. You're strong." There was a slim hand held between his, which the Kryptonian was patting in a reassuring manner. "Come back to us, Diana."
J'onn glanced up from his scanner and shook his head. "She's fighting, but it's not enough –"
"Diana." Bruce's voice was hard, unyielding. "You are an Amazon, the strongest, most powerful of your people. Now act like it, instead of some wilting damsel in distress."
"Bruce!" Clark scolded, clearly scandalized.
Even here, back within the depths of her mind (and there was little doubt that that was exactly where she was), Diana could feel her ears burn. Must remember to beat Bruce for that comment later, she thought.
She turned her attention back to Andromache, who was clearly growing angry. Diana smirked at her. "I can hear them," she told her smugly. "My friends, they're telling me to fight. Who am I to argue?"
Without hesitating, Diana launched herself toward the other woman. She threw a flurry of attacks at Andromache's face, stomach, and legs, using every move she had been taught by her sisters, had learned from repeated sparring sessions with her fellow League members. If she had been fighting someone like Star Sapphire or Tsukuri, it would likely have made for a thrilling and deeply-involved battle.
Andromache, however, did not fight back at all. She stumbled back at the repeated blows, but did not return them.
"Violence is not the answer, Diana," she said, her tone condescending as she wiped away the blood from her split lip. "I am not someone you must defeat."
Diana growled, "I don't have to defeat you, witch. I only have to push you out." She then renewed her attacks, determined not to stop until she won.
This is my mind, she thought venomously. Fight back or get out!
Andromache still refused to return the hits and kicks, but Diana refused to stop as her frustration grew. "Fight back, damn you!" she shouted. Diana feinted throwing a kick, and when Andromache finally moved to block, Diana struck her hard in the face, knocking her to the ground. She then knelt over the other woman, pressing her arm forcefully against her neck to hold her in place.
Andromache's hands came up to struggle against Diana's arm, but Diana held firm. Still, she managed to grind out, "You might… not come with… me now, Diana, but you face death every… day… so as long as… you remain with… your little club… of heroes." She sucked in a deep breath, still pulling on Diana's arm. "I… may not get you, but… one of the others… will eventually."
Diana glared at her. Moving quickly, Diana grasped Andromache by the fabric of her clothing and hauled her up, pulling her face close to hers. "Go to Tartarus," Diana snarled. "You and Hades would undoubtedly enjoy each other's company."
Without waiting for any kind of response, Diana lifted Andromache up and hurled her into the still-present light. The moment Andromache hit the light, however, deep, excruciating pain gripped all of Diana's senses. It knocked her to her knees.
She couldn't breathe. Every pore in her body radiated suffering. Her hands clutched at her upper arms, feeling like she needed to crawl out of her skin to escape the agony.
Her ears were ringing. Who was screaming? Was it Andromache?
Hera, make it stop!
Diana's voice was raw when she finally opened her eyes. She barely had time to process that J'onn, Clark, and Bruce were there with her before she felt something slide out of her face. Diana groaned at the surge of new pain, and slumped back when she was finally free, only vaguely aware that J'onn, Clark, and Bruce had flung themselves back away from her.
Her eyes were halfway closed in exhaustion, but Diana still managed to observe what happened next. The… thing hovered above her for several seconds, seemingly studying the three men. Diana stared at it. It was little more than a haze of red-ish mist.
Without warning, it leapt in Bruce's direction. Diana struggled to sit up, to stop it, but Bruce was obviously prepared. He threw up a containment box to shield his face, and the mist flew right into it. He quickly snapped it shut and pushed a button on the top. A crackling sound reached Diana's ears and she thought she saw a flicker of electricity running around the box.
Bruce looked up, his eyes meeting Diana's. "It's contained."
Diana exhaled a sigh of relief. Clark offered her a hand and she took it, letting him pull her to her feet. "Are you all right?" he asked, his eyes full of concern.
She nodded. "I think so," she replied slowly, rubbing the back of her head. "I'm just… not sure what happened exactly."
Bruce carefully handed the case over to J'onn, and then said, "Something attacked the Javelin, forced us to crash off the coast. You were thrown clear of the wreck, into the branches of the trees. When I got to you, you weren't breathing and your heart wasn't beating."
Diana tried not to flinch, but Bruce noticed the movement. He paused, staring at her silently, and then continued. "I performed CPR until your heart started up again, and then contacted the Watchtower. They beamed J'onn and Kent here down to help."
J'onn spoke up then, adding to the narrative. "I attempted to stabilize you enough that we would be able to take you to the infirmary, but no matter what I did, something kept impeding my progress. My scans showed some kind of entity in your brain, slowly spreading and taking over the higher functions and shutting them down." His eyes glowed in the growing darkness. "Your fighting back forced itself to leave. There was nothing I could do to assist."
Forgive me, my friend, she heard him say in her mind, for not being able to help you.
But you did help me, J'onn, Diana replied. I heard you, all of you.
Clark interrupted the silent conversation then, saying, "We should get back to the Watchtower. We'll send a salvage crew down tomorrow, see if we can recover anything of the Javelin. We should also get that thing," he nodded toward the containment box still in J'onn's hands, "into a bigger containment field. The box's charge will only last about an hour."
They contacted the Watchtower and Mr. Terrific beamed them up without delay. Standing on the platform, J'onn turned to Diana and Bruce, who stood beside her. "Both of you should accompany me to the infirmary."
Bruce shook his head and started to say, "I should get back to Gotham –"
The Martian cut him off. "You were in that crash as well, Batman. You should be checked out, and then you may return to your city."
Bruce looked fit to argue further, but Clark just laughed. "Better do as he says, Bruce," he said, grinning. "J'onn can out-stubborn just about anyone, even you."
The lenses in Bruce's cowl narrowed and he glared at the Man of Steel, who merely shrugged and left the room with J'onn. The expectation that Diana and Bruce would follow was loud and clear.
Diana might have laughed herself under other circumstances, but exhaustion still nipped at her from all sides. "Best just get it over and done with," she murmured, stepping off the platform. A moment later, Bruce appeared beside her.
The journey to the infirmary and subsequent examinations were spent in general silence, punctuated only by the occasional question and answer. Finally, they were left alone while J'onn and Clark left to secure entity.
Diana expected Bruce to leave then, his thoughts fully on checking in on Robin and Batgirl as they patrolled Gotham. So she was surprised when he instead came over to where she was still sitting. She had yet to gather the energy to force herself to move to her quarters and get some much-needed sleep.
"For a while we thought you had stopped fighting."
Diana winced and looked down. She didn't bother trying to pretend that she didn't know what he was talking about. "I did, for a little while," she admitted. "That… thing showed me so much… it was all so real. I saw people suffering and I… didn't want to stay to watch. I couldn't stand knowing that I was the cause."
"Cause?" he asked. "How?"
"It showed me my funeral… made me think I had already died," she told him. "It was just too much, so I was going to give it what it wanted, just so that I wouldn't have to see people grieve over me."
Bruce did not say anything for several moments. The atmosphere was heavy, saturated with things unsaid, and Diana knew she didn't have the strength to say them at the moment. A part of her doubted that Bruce would ever say them at all, strength or not.
So, to lighten the mood, she forced herself to grin a little at him. "Everything changed, though, when I heard the three of you speaking to me. I think it grew overconfident and you slipped through its manipulations." She gave him a playful glare. "I believe I heard you say something about how I needed to stop acting a damsel in distress." Diana managed to give him a slight nudge. "You do realize you'll pay for that remark the next time we spar, don't you?"
His lips turned upward in a faint smirk. "It did the trick, didn't it? If I had known that insulting you was the way to get you to do something, I would have done it years ago."
"Ass," she muttered, but with no heat. Instead, she just shook her head.
"You should get some rest," he told her. "You can make up elaborate schemes of revenge tomorrow."
Diana snorted. "Oh I intend to. You won't have to worry about that." She gave him a smirk of her own.
Final Notes: Well, there you have it, the end of this short story. I hope everything was cleared up for you. If not, ask what questions you like in your reviews. Now that the entire story is posted, I am able to answer as best I can.
Hope you all enjoyed yourselves!