Author's note: You spoke, I listened. Here's your final chapter. Enjoy!
The single syllable, low and gentle, reached through the darkness of sleep and drew me to the surface. My eyes blinked open and saw first the open balcony door with its curtain stirring gently in a breeze, then landed on the figure kneeling next to my bed, her chin resting on her folded arms only inches from my face. In the moonlight slanting through the window, she nearly glowed.
"Diana?" I said confusedly as I pushed myself up on one elbow, my face displaying my bewilderment. "What are-"
"I know I said a few days, but that was for your benefit, not mine," she said, rising gracefully from the floor and moving like a ghost across the room as I sat up fully and swung my legs out of bed, head swiveling to follow her movement through the half-darkness.
"Diana, what are you-"
"Please, Kal. After all the times you've caught me in personal moments and places, I figured you could survive me returning the favor at least once." She was suddenly in front of me again, dropping my cape in my lap and I could only watch, utterly baffled, as she made her way back out onto the balcony.
"Get dressed and come with me." Her voice held no suggestions and revealed no intentions. It was a simple demand. And I could only smile and get to my feet to oblige.
When I joined her out in the cool night air a moment later, I finally processed that she was scrubbed clean and wearing a new uniform, her tiara and lasso securely in place on her person once again. In moonlight, everything is shades of gray, but I could still see the depth of color had returned to her flesh and her eyes flickered again like open flames as she smiled at me through the dark.
"How are you feeling?" I asked automatically, marveling at the transformation.
Only a few hours ago we had left the Watchtower together and I had seen her safely back to her apartment in the States. We barely said a word from the time she pulled away from that single, fleeting kiss, something I might have thought I'd imagined if it weren't for her hand that remained in mine. She had stepped back from my embrace, gathered the remains of her uniform and effects into one hand, then taken mine in the other and led me from the room, making it quietly clear that nothing else was going to happen there. It felt natural, walking with her hand in mine as she led me silently to the transporters, but my thoughts still reeled, overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of impossible things that had happened in the past few hours.
When materialized on her balcony moments later as the sunset scorched the sky red around us, she had turned and met my gaze for the first time since the moment of that kiss. Her hand left mine to rest on my shoulder, a gesture that somehow managed to be tender even when I felt she was also bracing us apart, demarcating what was and was not going to happen in that moment.
"I'm sorry to leave you like this…" she began, the ragged edges of her sincere tone revealing her exhaustion, "but this has already been a life-altering day. I'm going to need a little time before I can face another. Give me a few days to put myself back together, and then...we'll see each other. I promise."
There had been no option of discussion, but she had squeezed my shoulder gently in a way that catechized me to understand. It did not escape my notice though that all she had promised was a reunion- nothing more.
I had expected more than a few hours to pass before she resurfaced though. And I certainly hadn't expected an entrance like the one I had just witnessed.
"I feel…a lot of things," she responded lightly to my question as I shut my balcony door behind me. "Cleansed might be a good word to start with." She offered a smile as she turned fully to face me, and I saw the shoulder that had displayed a bullet wound only a day before.
"That healed well," I remarked, reaching out to brush my thumb over the faint scar, a nick in the perfect sculpture. That minute etching on her skin that was the only clue that any injury had ever occurred, barely visible even to my eyes.
She looked down and covered my hand with hers, squeezing it gently even as she drew it deliberately away from her shoulder. "So did yours," she said as she dropped my hand, her eyes flickering to the new scar on my brow as she rose into the sky and I followed, perplexed as she turned eastward.
"Where are we going?" I asked as we rose higher into the atmosphere. I followed her flight pattern effortlessly but was becoming more and more disconcerted by the moment.
"When has that ever mattered?" she responded simply, not turning back.
There it was again, one of those cryptic comments that could mean so much or so little. She was back to pulling me along, leaving so much open to interpretation, a slew of possibilities that could be the end of me if I let myself think each one through. More than anything, it was a sign that things were slipping back to normal.
Exactly where I had hoped we would never return.
We flew in silence for a while, my own thoughts a traffic jam and hers a mystery. She never once looked over at me, as though she never doubted my presence, and I for some reason felt my irascibility growing. She couldn't pretend like nothing was different, not after everything that had happened in the past few days. Yet this felt exactly like before- a scrim positioned between us so that I could never be completely sure of the actions or intentions on the other side.
We were somewhere over the Atlantic, suspended between the interminable sea and infinite sky, when she finally spoke.
"I had a dream when J'onn put me under," she said softly, her voice not the haunted echo from the day before but now firm and intentional, assured of its direction. "I was standing on a cliff looking out over a stormy sea. I knew without doubt it was a dangerous and uncertain endeavor, yet everything in me felt a need to dive off that cliff and go see for myself what adventures awaited there."
A non-memory of the same image trickled in from the back of my mind. The whole scene sounded so familiar…
"I wanted to go out there and be right in the middle of it all, but the sensible, pragmatic side of me said it was madness. That there was nothing out there that was worth the risk of pain if it didn't go well. I looked back at the land and saw everything I knew well- my home, my guidance, my mentor-as my only other option. Staying at the cliff's edge was only a temporary solution. I knew I had to choose but couldn't make a decision…And then, you were there too."
She had the same dream.
Startled by the revelation, I looked over and watched her face. She still didn't look at me, keeping her gaze trained straight ahead as she turned our flight down back through the cloud cover.
"You looked at me and offered me the chance to go with you, a promise that whatever happened, I wouldn't be in it alone. And still…even then, I couldn't make that leap. I was afraid. A word I never wanted to be associated with, but you called me on it. You knew exactly why I wouldn't go. Yet you didn't force me to go with you; you just showed me it could be done. Even when something gave me the push and I fell not by my own choice, you were right there waiting, ready to catch me…and I'm guessing by the look on your face that this picture sounds somewhat familiar to you."
She turned and hit me with that knowing expression and bemused smile, the Mona Lisa incarnate. I could only laugh and shake my head disbelievingly as we broke through the clouds to the world beneath and I saw a glittering city spread out below us.
She led me wordlessly through the sky to the exuberant Tour Eiffel shining a radiant gold through its black exoskeleton, shamelessly reaching up from the lights below for the stars above. She touched down gracefully on the spindled arms of the radio tower at the very top, and as I landed next to her she finally turned to face me.
"We never made it here that day, did we?" she said rather than asked, stepping closer until her hand brushed mine gently, an echo of the touch I had offered her before we left the Tower…before everything-I thought-had changed. "I think we missed out."
It was a stunning view indeed but I stood like a stone next to her, more overwhelmed than ever. She wasn't taking everything back to normal, she was pulling me through time all the way back to when there was no normal for us. To a time when all I knew of her was the warrior princess who had joined the League, and I had come seeking the other side. All these years later, and still she was shielding something from me, something she was determined even now to allude to but not admit. Even after everything that had happened in the past few days, she was still unwilling to say exactly what she felt.
It could go on like this forever, I realized. She was certainly capable of following through any course of action she set before herself. And if she was determined to not let herself admit any more than she did before because she thought it didn't matter, then I had no doubt she could do that. She could keep her guise up perhaps her entire lifetime if she was determined enough.
But I knew that would never be true for me. The words that had tumbled through my mind since the last time we were in this city together were now rattling so loudly I could hear nothing else. And I knew it was time, finally time, to say them.
"Diana," I said quietly out over the city, "I'm sorry, but you can't keep doing this to me."
In my peripheral vision she looked over at me, seeming marginally surprised, but didn't say a word, her eyes asking only for an explanation. I felt the finality of the moment settling on me and nearly backtracked, but conviction dug in its heels and spurred me forward. I trained my gaze away from her, stepping carefully across the spindled arms of the tower until I was right at the edge, closed my eyes and started to speak.
"I know you think it shouldn't matter, but it does. You can't know how hard it is for me to be this close to you and always be holding myself back. Always arresting the words I want to say, always restricting myself from holding you as close as I wished I could. Every time you touch me, it gives me both hope and regret because I don't think I'll ever be able to honestly say that I don't want more. I wish I could hold back like you, Diana, but it's not possible. I lost my heart to you a long time ago on a bridge right here in Paris. Since then, it's been no one's but yours, for better or worse."
I opened my eyes but didn't turn to face her reaction, whatever it was. I filled my gaze instead with the seamless sphere of lights formed by the city below and the stars above, pushed a hand wearily through my hair, and went on.
"I've told myself every single day that I was a fool for losing my heart to you. I tried telling myself that you didn't see me that way, that there was no hope of anything else between us, that you had your reasons for holding back and I wasn't a good enough reason for you to forsake all that you know. All this I knew, and yet it's never made a bit of difference in how I feel. You're still the single most amazing thing in this universe to me, and if I ever lost you, it would be like the sun falling out of the sky. You're warmth and reason, you're my guidance and my gauge, and somehow everything in my world has come to revolve around you. And because the last thing I ever wanted to do was drive you away or betray your trust, every day has been for me an exercise in self-control. To not tell you the things I want to say or love you in the ways I wish I could. You keep doing this things though that give me hope that we're not completely impossible and at the end of the day we're left in this unbelievable between-more than some things and less than others. Yet if going on like this keeps you from disappearing from my life, it's worth that to me, because when I'm with you…I feel whole. You're the only person who has seen every side of me, the good and the bad and the impossible to relate to, and somehow you take it all and remain completely unfazed."
I finally turned and saw her watching me with that inscrutable gaze, her eyes focused and attentive but her expression betraying nothing. Back to that, are we? So be it. I didn't hide the overwhelmed smile I couldn't help from fluttering across my face as I shook my head and continued.
"You're as impossible as me, you know that? You walk through all these worlds with eyes wide open and yet you, unlike me, manage to make yourself an amalgam of the best of all of them. You have never once apologized for or tried to hide who you are-to me, the League, or the world, except for that one part that you've kept so closely guarded- your pain and your fears. And so every time you open yourself up, show me a little bit more, trust and allow more than you ever did…it's the best and worst thing you can do. Not only because it becomes even more painful when you backtrack and pretend nothing is different, but also because I will always feel like I'm lying to you. So please, Diana, don't you do this. Don't you come any closer if you don't intend to stay right here next to me where I've always wished you were. Don't make me lie to you any more."
I was nearly breathless by then, my stomach twisted in knots of lead but my heart lifting in my chest as the burden of unspoken truth was lifted word by word. My mouth had been speaking without my brain, but in the breath of silence my mind finally kickstarted and reminded me there was one more thing to say. I drew the breath like it might have been my last, letting it out slowly to placate my pounding heart as I ended my confession.
"Anyway…that's everything. I know you never wanted it, but you've got my heart and it's yours to break or bury. And if what I've just told you means the end of us…it would break me of course, but I would understand. We may not have a choice on when we fall in love, but we can decide who gets the opportunity to hurt us. And Diana, it would only be a privilege to have my heart broken by you."
Only silence followed those words.
She was still for a long time, just holding me captive with her gaze, her glowing face betraying nothing as we faced off in the suspension between earth and sky. I could only stare, barely breathing, watching her every trace of movement and waiting for the inevitable shift of the earth in one direction or the other. She closed her eyes and exhaled an understated sigh but didn't move, made no motion forward or backwards, and I thought that might be the only answer I would get. But then she raised her head, fixed me with a convicted gaze, and started to speak.
"I think you're right. Nobody chooses this, do they? No sane human being would leave herself open to the worst pain imaginable if she had any choice in the matter. But that's the whole problem with it all- you don't get to choose when you fall in love. One minute you're just going though life making your own choices and so sure of the world you know. If you're determined to not fall in love and let yourself get hurt, you can hold yourself at arm's length from the entire world for years if you're dedicated to fortifying that wall constantly."
She paused, and a flicker of a smile passed across her face. "All it takes to change everything is for someone to come along who makes you reconsider, makes you think it just might be worth it. It's not breaking down that wall, instead they make you feel like that wall never existed. They shake your world to its foundations and the next time you look, your heart isn't where you left it. Someone else has it. And it's the most terrifying thing I've ever experienced."
Did the world tilt or did I imagine that?
She looked away for half a heartbeat, as though drawing courage from an unseen aerial source, and as she turned her magnetic gaze back to me I nearly trembled as I saw her take a small but significant step towards me.
"It's not really fair, what love does to us, is it? It takes everything else inside us hostage and overwhelms us until we do everything acknowledging its presence, whether by defiance or submission. And for a long time, I was determined not to submit. Not just to love, but to all the other new and dangerous things I discovered by leaving my old world for this one. Things that I have never felt before, things that make me feel utterly overwhelmed and completely out of control. My natural impulse was to master it, keep it submitted to my own will. But you saw how that backfired with the way I tried to master grief. Control became my very downfall. But love's not about control is it? It's about giving control up."
Her gaze glittered in the half-light, and I realized with a jolt of surprise that she had tears in her eyes. She took another small step closer, and the very air around her seemed to hum.
"There's nothing more dangerous than caring about one person- you told me that, and I know it's true. It's opening yourself up, venturing into open water, hoping they won't leave you or be taken from you. It's the craziest, bravest, most nonsensical thing a person can do, isn't it? And for a long time now, I've been trying to understand if it's worth it, if a person could be more than what I've been taught all men can be. That dream wasn't just about giving up the nature that said tears were an evil and a sign of failure. It was calling me to face up to the truth: my heart's been lost to you for a long time now. You've just been waiting for me to figure it out…and to decide on my own if I wanted to jump. If I wanted to let go of all I've known in order to discover the new mysteries that seem so dangerous, so vast and so unknowable."
There was air in my lungs, but I couldn't get to it for some reason. She blinked and the tears ran freely down her cheeks, catching the light like golden cascades. She didn't wipe them away though as she took a final step to bring her only inches from me and raised her gaze fearlessly- fearlessly-to meet mine. Her hand found mine and our fingers entwined automatically, her pulse charging through her veins and her skin blazing warm with life. My other hand slipped without thought to cradle her cheek, thumbing the tear tracks and confirming that everything I was seeing was actually real…
"You didn't leave me when I was at my darkest. Somehow you've seen all the parts of me, the best and worst, and you're still here, unfazed. If you were going to give up on me, you would have done it long ago. And that was what I needed to understand too-we don't get to know the future, whether it all turns out well and is completely worth it. But...we'd be in it all together, and that's all that matters."
Her hand slipped from mine and she reached up to hold my face in both her hands, everything about it intentional, declaring its meaning loud and clear. When she spoke, her voice was thick with emotion, but she smiled through the tears, her glittering eyes were brimming with abandon.
"I don't really know what will happen- to us, to this- I don't know if we can love each other this much and still be the people the world needs us to be…it's all part of this vast unknown. But I know that no matter how many days we have left to us- whether the end comes tomorrow or a thousand years from now- I know don't want to go into this unknown with anyone but you."
And it's a good thing she kissed me then, because I don't think I could have held myself back a single second longer.
Author's Note: Thanks for giving me the boost to write one last chapter. It's been a great process and I'm thankful for all everyone's encouragement along the way. It was a little weird having this process overlap the release of the Kal/Diana issue (definitely didn't see that coming when I started posting at the beginning of the summer) but seriously so awesome to see the way the comic echoed what we shippers have been saying for years and the theme I based this story around- they're the only people out there for each other. They're both caught between all these different worlds and ultimately understand each other because they each know what it's like to be able to traverse everywhere all and settle nowhere.
Anyway, I had fun writing, I hoped you enjoyed reading. Please one more review for the road?