DISCLAIMER: The Justice League of America characters are the property of DC Comics. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2005 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG.
Letting the Light In
In the small infirmary, a special kind of hush reigns. It is not a true silence; there are noises in the darkened room: the ping of the monitors, the soft breathing of Bruce as he sleeps, dreaming of Diana as he lies with his head on his arms, finally collapsed in exhaustion leaning up against her bed. Diana lies quietly, deep in the coma-like sleep that is the only place her body can heal. But her breathing is strong now--she is off the respirator--and she drifts, her thoughts scattered and strange, as she almost-dreams about her life and the people she loves. Clark makes no sound; he sits motionless, just listening to her breathe, wondering if she knows they are there with her. If she can tell they have not left her. That they will never leave her.
Bruce shifts slightly, calling out as his dreams take him to a place where Diana falls again, blood pouring out of her. He reaches for her, but he fails her. He lets her fall, lets her die. She looks up at him, her eyes full of love betrayed.
"I love you," he tries to tell her, but he can't say the words, and she dies and never knows.
"Oh, Bruce, really. Can't you do any better now that you're grown?" A beloved voice, and one he only hears in his dreams.
He lays Diana down gently, turns to look at his parents. His mother shakes her head sadly, and in his father's eyes he sees disappointment, but not surprise.
They fade away, and time rewinds, and again Diana falls as the bullets score across her body, as her skin turns from the golden tan he loves to something red and wet.
In her almost-sleep, Diana holds her mother's burned body, weeping as the pain of loss rushes through her. Then the body is gone and her mother stands before her, whole again and smiling gently with the love that Diana has missed since that terrible day she watched her mother die.
"You don't have to watch over me, Diana. It's my turn to watch over you."
"Mother?" She reaches for her, but her mother pulls back. "Take me with you."
"You can't come with me. It's not your time." Her mother kisses her on the forehead, and the touch is a benediction from lips long gone but yearned for so badly. "I love you, Diana."
"Don't leave me." Diana's voice echoes as she feels her mother give her a push away from the light that fills the space behind her. She is pushing Diana back toward pain. Diana fights to stay with her, but then her mother disappears and everything is black and filled with the awful thump-thumping that Diana knows is her heart. A heart that will have to fight on.
Clark sighs, thinking of Lois, how she sounded the last time he called. She will not make him come home, but he thinks she wants him to come on his own. That he shouldn't need to be told to leave Diana.
But he can't leave Diana. Not until she wakes up. His marriage has to be strong enough to survive this. Lois has to be strong enough to share this small part of him. He thinks she is. Or he hopes she is. He just wishes he didn't have to hurt Lois, that there was some way to sit with his friend and not put yet another dent in his marriage. So many little ruptures in his relationship with Lois--so many of them with Diana's name on them.
He realizes there is a different sound--Diana's breathing has changed. It's faster now, as if she's fighting her way through quicksand to get to them. He wants that, wants her to be trying to wake up. He needs that. So does Bruce. They need to see her smile. They need to hear her voice and see her face light up when she realizes they are there.
Or they need her to just open her eyes. That will be good enough--if she would just open her eyes.
He looks at Bruce, but his friend is still asleep. He should wake him; Bruce would want to be part of this. Clark is reaching to gently shake him awake, when Diana opens her eyes, and he lets his hand drop to her shoulder instead.
"Hi," he says.
She swallows hard, her throat is so dry she does not think she can form words, and she feels Kal squeeze her shoulder as if he knows what she is going through. His hand is warm, so comforting.
She blinks, trying to clear her eyes, and then the pain comes. Such deep, abiding hurt that for a moment she wants to dive back into the blackness. But then she remembers how she was hurt, remembers falling, remembers turning away from the bullets, leaving herself open. And she remembers why.
Kal leans in. "Welcome back. We've missed you."
She tries to talk, but there is no sound, so she mouths "We?" to Kal.
Smiling gently, he points with his chin at something on her other side. Turning in what feels to her like slow motion, she sees a dark head next to her. She can feel her eyebrows going up in surprise.
"It's really Bruce. He's been here the whole time."
She wants to touch Bruce, but she feels too weak to lift her hand. Looking back at Kal, she mouths, "What about Gotham?"
"I guess Gotham takes a back seat to you." Clark knows he can't keep this to himself any longer and reaches over, shaking Bruce lightly. "Someone's awake."
Bruce is pulled from another rewind of the dreadful nightmare. He sits up with a jerk, and his eyes are scratchy, his vision blurred. But not so blurred that he can't see that Diana is awake. He smiles, and there is shock in her eyes at what he supposes is something she so rarely sees in him: happiness. "You're awake."
"I am," she mouths. She sees the beautiful smile again and feels a lump forming that her waking up can cause him so much joy.
"Here, this will help your voice," Kal says, giving her an ice chip he fishes from a pitcher on the table next to him. "We'll have you talking in no time." He waits for her to finish the first one and slips another one between her lips. His touch is gentle, his look tender, and she feels a rush of love for him. He means so much to her.
Their eyes meet, and she sees love in his too. Then something else, a sad resignation. "I better get home before Lois starts wondering what I look like." His eyes burn into hers, then he looks away. "And you two should be alone."
Bruce tears his eyes from Diana and stares up at Clark. He did not expect Clark to cede the battlefield to him like this, not even when Clark's been encouraging him to tell Diana how he feels about her. But his friend is giving him a sad smile and a stern little lift of the eyebrows, probably to remind Bruce that he'll kill him if he hurts this woman they both love.
This woman who Bruce loves with all his heart. This woman who scares him because he cares so damn much about her.
"Give her more of these." Clark hands Bruce the pitcher and stands but doesn't move any farther than that. He was not expecting it to be so hard to walk away. He doesn't want to; he wants to stay. But he has a woman at home waiting for him. A woman he loves dearly. A woman he doesn't want to hurt anymore.
"Thanks," Diana says, her voice rough but so beautiful to Clark. So damn beautiful.
She'll be with Bruce now. She'll be in Bruce's arms, in Bruce's bed. Clark swallows hard, touching her cheek for a moment, then turning and forcing himself to walk away, to walk to the monitor room and check on Wally before heading back home. Back to his life, his life that does not include Diana.
"Do I want to know what just happened?" Diana is looking at Bruce so tenderly, he has to look away.
But he can't stand to not see her, so he looks back just as fast. Before he can lose his nerve, he says the words he's spent hours dreaming he couldn't get out. "I love you."
He says it so fast it runs together, and his voice goes up as if he's having a panic attack.
And she does just the right thing. She smiles and laughs just once. Not at him but for him, as if she is sad that he has to rush through such an important thing. "I love you too," she says, her voice husky and weak, and the loveliest thing he's ever heard.
He seems unsure what to say next, so she takes pity on him and asks, "You must have been really worried about me, huh?"
"We both were," he says, looking over at the door. "Clark has been here the whole time. I wouldn't want to be him when he gets home. Lois is not going to be amused at how far he carries devotion."
Diana laughs and feels her abdomen seize up. "Hera, that hurts."
"Just don't make me laugh." She studies him, marveling a little that he always seems to be able to make her do that. Dark and damaged as he is, he amuses her. "Did you really just say you love me?"
He looks a little sheepish. "I really just did." His expression changes, seems far more tentative than she's ever seen it. "What do you think of that?"
"I like it." It's such a simple answer, and it charms him completely. "It scares me, too."
He takes a deep breath, trying not to show that her words sting. "I guess I'm scary?"
"I'm not scared of you, Bruce. I'm scared that once I'm better, you'll back away again, and I'll have to forget I ever heard you say it, just like I had to forget you ever kissed me."
He sees pain in her eyes--not from her wound this time, but from him. Leaning in, being careful not to put any weight on her stomach, he kisses her. "You don't have to forget that one."
"Are you sure?"
He thinks this time she's kidding, but he kisses her again anyway. Then again--soft, easy kisses that she returns gently. Sitting back, he studies her.
"I'm not going anywhere, Bruce."
"You almost did. You almost left me."
She remembers her mother, how she pushed Diana back toward life. "It wasn't my time."
"I'm very glad of that." He touches her forehead again so gently that it makes her shiver.
She's never seen the combination of fear and tenderness that seems to light his eyes. Slowly, she lifts her hand up, touches his face. "I don't want to leave just when it's getting interesting."
He looks away, but doesn't pull away from her hand. "I let you fall."
"No, you didn't." She sounds as if this is very elemental.
"I did. I couldn't...I couldn't protect you." He meets her eyes, is surprised that she is frowning.
"It's never been your job to protect me."
He starts to say something, but she says, "No, Bruce. No."
When he closes his mouth in defeat, she says, "Your job was to keep fighting. My job--my choice--was to go down. To fall. That's what we do. That's why we're heroes."
She can see that her words are touching him, but he still looks morose. "Bruce, was it because it was bullets? Were you suddenly in an alley?"
He jerks away. But she's right. That's part of it. He hates guns. He hates that she was shot. He hates that he let her--
He sighs. He never let her do anything. She is right. She made the choice. It was the only choice she would ever make. It's one of the reasons he loves her.
"I couldn't save them." He doesn't want to talk about his parents, but he's doing it anyway.
"I know. I couldn't save my mother."
He's forgotten they share that. Probably because Clark was with her for that. Clark's marriage nearly imploded because he was with her for that.
Do they need to discuss Clark?
"Where did you go?" She watches as emotions flit across his face. He is so open right now, so unguarded. She thinks she loves this Bruce better than all the others. But she also thinks this Bruce is the most unstable, the most likely to run, no matter how much he loves her.
It's an odd twist with him that the more controlled he is, the more she can relax. She understands the rules with that Bruce even if she doesn't like him much sometimes.
"You love him?" he asks.
"Him?" Does he know she's dissecting him? Does he mean the old Bruce?
He can tell he's lost her. "Clark--do you love Clark?"
"How did we get to Clark? Can I have some more ice?"
He fishes out another chip for her, holds it to her mouth the way Clark did. The feeling of her lips on his fingers is distracting. He thinks she means it to be. She doesn't want to answer the question. She won't answer.
The answer has to be yes, then. It has to be something she thinks he won't like.
Then she sighs. "Does it matter how I feel about him? He's my friend. And he's not here now. You are. I'm with you--if you'll let me be."
"I want you to be with me." It's as if his mouth is operating independent of his brain. He was planning on saying something about it not being his choice. That maybe it wouldn't work.
He was planning on chickening out again.
His mouth was obviously not on board with this plan.
Her smile tells him why. Her smile is everything good and sweet and light that he knows. His world is suddenly a very small place, measured by the distance between their hearts, the space between their lips as he leans in to kiss her again.
As he pulls away, he whispers, "I'm damaged, Diana."
"Everyone is damaged in some way. It's not that we're surrounded by rubble that matters, it's how we crawl out of it."
The way she says it, it makes sense. His heart loves it, wants to believe it. His brain is not so sure she gets just how damaged he is. "I'll end up hurting you."
"You don't have to. You can decide not to."
"It's not that simple."
"You're already backpedaling, Bruce." She looks away, and he sees tears in her eyes. "Why don't you go home now? Gotham needs you, and you've been gone for a while. Just go home."
He almost gets up, but then she looks at him, her mouth set in a hurt frown, her eyes spilling tears that she should not be crying, and he can't leave her, not now, not any more than he could when he didn't know if she would wake up. "You're my home."
"It doesn't feel like it." Sniffling softly, she turns away.
He wants to go; she can tell he wants to go. She wishes Kal were here, wishes he would pummel some sense into Bruce and make him fight for her. "I've never wanted more than you could give, Bruce."
He swallows, feels a lump forming. They're going to pull away again. She's going to let him, because she won't take more than he can give--and he can't give anything. He has nothing to offer her.
Except that he loves her, and he'd die to keep her safe. He doesn't realize he's said it out loud until she looks at him and says, "I don't need you to keep me safe, and I don't want you to die. I need you to love me. And I want you to live."
"Living is hard," he says, as he traces her lips gently. They are so soft. He loves kissing them. He could spend the rest of his life just getting to know them.
If he could just get out of his own way.
"Living _is_ hard." She sees him look at her in surprise. "I saw my mother, wherever it was I went when I was hurt. I wanted to go with her."
His face falls, and she regrets that she is causing him pain, but she does not regret telling him the truth.
"You don't have a monopoly on inner pain, Bruce. You're not the only one with darkness inside you."
He hates that she feels that way. She is not dark; she's his light. His sunshine.
His sunshine wanted to die.
He blurts out the first thing that comes to mind. "Don't die."
"I'm not going to. I'm back. I had no choice." She closes her eyes, tempted to ask for some painkillers, tempted to swim in the dreamy haze that will let her care just a little bit less about him and whether or not he wants to be with her. But she does not ask, it is not her way to ask for oblivion. "Bruce, if you can't be with me, I'll survive. I have before; I can again. But I don't want to."
She meets his eyes, and he can see how tired she is. Tired in body and tired in spirit. Tired of waiting for a man who runs every time they have a chance.
He's tired of that man, too. He's damned sick of that man.
"You don't have to."
"How do I know that?" she says, expecting a quick answer--he always has to have the last word.
But he doesn't respond, he only smiles at her, and she sees something in his expression change. Something is gone, and she thinks it's his fear, or his caution, or his pain. The things that keep him from her. The things that keep him from loving her the way she needs him to and wants him to. The way she will love him back if he just lets her in.
His smile is tentative, but it is real. His eyes hold hers as he says, "You don't have to."
And then he is kissing her again, and his lips are warm and feel welcoming against her own. She wants him to love her. She wants him to touch her and make love to her and be with her. She wants to sleep in his bed and wake up with him in the morning and see how he looks just before he opens his eyes. She wants so many things--things she's learned not to let herself think about.
Wrapping her arms around him, she tries to draw him closer. And, even though she is so weak, she pulls him off balance, making him put a little of his weight on her. She cries out in pain, and he is off her instantly.
"I'm okay. I forgot my own strength." She touches his cheek.
He smiles, then checks the bandages to make sure they have not torn anything. "See, I'm hurting you already."
"I'll survive." She drops her hand, and he feels the loss of her touch like an addict must feel the withdrawal from a drug.
He wants her to touch him some more. He wants her to touch him, and love him, and fall asleep curled next to him. She's right that he can't protect her, but he wants to try anyway.
He sees her eyes close, but she forces them open, fighting sleep. "Rest, now. I'll be here when you wake up."
"You don't have to be."
"I want to be." He kisses her again, loves the smile that brings. "And when you're ready to get out of here, you can convalesce at the manor."
"You're going to shack up with me?" Her smile is goofy, sweet and full of amusement. But still a little sad.
"I am." He will have to work hard on making her happy, not sad. On loving her, not hurting her. It should not be work, but he knows it will be, at least at first. He is so used to pushing her away; his first instinct will not be to let her in.
But he can learn.
She feels his lips on hers again. Sleep is calling, pressing heavily on her now, but she wants to enjoy this. She wants to remember this. "How we started," she mumbles, then feels his breath on her cheek as he says, "What, Diana?"
"When we look back, this will be how we started."
"We started the moment I laid eyes on you."
She smiles again and feels his hand on her cheek.
"Just let go," he says softly.
She does what he says and floats off, the sensation of his fingers on her skin the last thing she is aware of.
Bruce hears her breathing change to that of sleep, and he exhales slowly. She's right. This is when they start.
This is when he lets her in.
He watches her for a long time, before he puts his head back down on his arms and falls asleep. His dreams are about her, but she doesn't fall this time. And when he falls, she's there to catch him.