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-13.
Reflecting on Forgiveness
The war was over. The OMACs had been buried or lay recovering in the med centers that had been set up to remove the tech from their systems. So many had died on both sides--more metas than Bruce liked to think about had been lost in this war. Their deaths were on his hands. This was his fault, ultimately.
His...and Diana's. She'd committed the act that had launched Armageddon.
She'd killed Max Lord.
She'd...she'd changed. She never smiled anymore. Her stark gray eyes never sparkled. She was cold death handing out retribution to the creatures that humans became when the OMAC tech took control. She was Ares' right hand woman--how convenient that he was now both the god of war and of death. Diana could worship him twice. If she worshipped him--or anything, at all--anymore.
Bruce wasn't sure what was going on inside her. She'd become a master of hiding her feelings. A master at hiding that she even had feelings. But she was, he thought, lonely.
He could see her standing by the window of the watchtower, staring out at the hulking ruin that was his satellite. John had dragged it in--an emerald net lighting Brother Eye's path. Bruce's legacy--death in the form of the ultimate preemptive strike. Kill the metas before those who would protect mankind could become so powerful they were uncontrollable.
He'd never intended this. But then, he'd found long ago it was true that good intentions paved the road to Hell. He'd lived too long in that particular destination not to recognize what the thoroughfares were made of.
He thought Diana also lived in her own Hell, now. A Hell where she was utterly alone. To keep them safe, she'd pushed everyone she loved away. And now that the war was over, she was making no attempt to prompt a reunion. She'd been up in the watchtower for days, helping with repairs, keeping to herself.
Alone. Isolated. Lonely?
Pushing his chair back, Bruce rose and walked out to her. He could see her shoulders tensing as he got closer, could imagine that the hairs were standing up on the back of her neck. He wasn't the enemy, but he wasn't a friend, either. Not anymore. He'd hurt her. He and Clark together had hurt her worse than any of the OMACs had. Hurt her possibly more than she'd ever been hurt in her life. They'd judged her and sentenced her to solitary confinement. When she'd needed them--when they'd needed her--they'd pushed her away.
If she had no heart now, it was because they'd torn it out of her.
She started to move away, not glancing his way, apparently unwilling or unable to look at him.
"Don't go," he said, the words coming out loud and rough. Commander to soldier.
"Is that an order?" Her voice was harsher than he remembered. He might be the commander, but she was putting him on notice that she was far from an ordinary soldier.
How long had it been since she'd talked to him in more than the battlefield shorthand of orders given and information relayed? Had it been since that day she'd come to the Batcave and told him what she'd done to Lord? She'd wanted him to hear it from her. He'd heard it--but he hadn't wanted to listen. He'd ordered her to get out. That had been all he'd said: "Get out."
Sighing, she took a step, as if giving up on him answering her.
"Diana, please don't go."
She stopped, turned slowly, tired eyes fixing on his. She looked haggard. Beautiful, still. He didn't think anything could change that. But dead, somehow. Lifeless.
"I'm sorry," he said, this time the words coming out too soft. Too weak.
"For what?" Her expression did not change as she studied him.
"For many things."
She laughed, and her smile was twisted and bitter. "For what, exactly?" She was going to force this, going to make him choose what he would and would not forgive her for. What he would and would not apologize for.
Anger filled him. Anger that he knew was primarily directed at himself. But it was easier to say, "Forget it," than to admit that to her. Easier to walk away from her.
"You pompous ass."
He stopped, waited to see if there was more invective to follow. But he heard her turn away, her boots making almost no sound on the watchtower floor.
"You think I'm pompous?" As rejoinders went, it sucked. But he heard her stop. Turning slowly, he took a step toward her.
She didn't turn around. "You don't care what I think, Bruce. You don't care about me at all."
"Not true." He knew she cared about him, too. She'd protected him enough times on the battlefield with the OMACs to know she'd been looking out for him. Closing the gap between them, he put his hands on her shoulders. "We need to talk."
"No, we needed to talk months ago. You told me to get out."
"Is that what you're sorry for?"
He took a deep breath, exhaled just as carefully. "Yes."
"Liar." She jerked away from him.
"I can see you're in no mood to forgive."
Her laugh was even more bitter than before. "What do I have to forgive you for, Bruce? After all, my crime is so much greater than anything you could have done." She walked away, heading in the direction of her quarters.
He went the other way and, once he was out of earshot, ran down the corridor to cut her off. By the time she rounded the corner, he was leaning casually against her door. She looked surprised, and he had to bite back a smile.
She made as if to plow past him, but he didn't move. Pulling up short, she said, "Bruce, I'm tired."
Reaching over, he palmed open her door. "Don't let me stop you."
She didn't. The door closed behind her. He waited, but it didn't open back up. Sighing, he ran his palm over the controller again.
She was sitting on the bed, staring at the floor. "Why are you doing this?"
"Because we need to talk."
"So you said." Without looking at him, she lay down, rolling to her side, her back to him.
He moved to the bed and stared down at her. He almost expected to see her body shake, then wondered if he wanted her to cry. Crying would probably be a reassuring sign that she could still act in some way he could understand.
He sat down on the bed, was about to lie down next to her when she said, "Do it and die."
"I know you're a killer, but I doubt you'll kill me for this." He lay down, his arm stealing around her.
A second later, he was across the room, panting with pain and surprise from having been tossed into the wall. Forcing himself to his feet, he tried to make his voice sound normal. "Hardly a killing blow." He walked back to the bed and lay down next to her.
He hit the wall even harder the second time. Trying not to wince as he got up, he walked back.
She turned over. "Don't do it again."
"What are you afraid of?" But he didn't try a third time. There was something in her expression that said not to push her.
"Afraid?" She closed her eyes, as if his words gave her pain. "Have I appeared to be afraid of anything?"
"You've always been good at fighting. You seem to have perfected your killing skills." He saw her eyes fly open, but he kept going. "It's living I think you're not doing so well at."
"Oh, and you're the expert on that." Her tone was more caustic than he remembered. She'd never tended to use sarcasm this bitter. Her teasing had always been gentle before.
But then she'd never lived in Hell before. She'd probably had to develop some survival skills.
"Scoot over," he said gently, using as casual a tone as he could. To his surprise, she obeyed, and he lay down next to her before she could change her mind. His shoulder touching hers, he took a deep breath as he stared at the ceiling. "Neither of us appears very good at living, right now."
He felt her shoulder move, knew she was going to get up. He wanted to roll, to pin her down and kiss her and never let her get away from him. But she was too strong to pin, and he wasn't in the mood to have another close encounter with the wall.
"Diana, please don't run from me." He could hear something helpless in his voice. Something he hadn't meant to creep in.
She stopped moving, and he felt her relax, her shoulder again pressing against his. They lay like that for some time, not talking. He could hear her breathing--easy, soft. Then it changed, turned deeper. Glancing at her, he saw that she'd fallen asleep. A few minutes later, she shifted, curling against him, her arm snaking over his abdomen. Her sleep was calm. She didn't appear to dream.
Why had he expected her to have nightmares? Did he want her to have them? Did he want her to pay for her crime?
Had it even been a crime?
He rested his hand on her arm, taking solace in the warmth of her, the solid strength that lay at ease next to him. As she slept, he replayed the moments that had led up to this one. He tried to imagine alternate conversations, other actions that would not have led to her being hurt and him feeling so damn guilty.
He hated that this life they were trying to live was still the most likely outcome. Given who she was, who Clark was, who Bruce was, this was how it would play out.
He hated that he couldn't bend.
She moaned softly, then seemed to stiffen. "I'm sorry," she said, trying to pull away, her voice scratchy with sleep.
This time he did try to hold her. "Diana, it's all right."
"It's not all right. It'll never be all right." She didn't fight him, though.
Curling in against him, she finally seemed to give up--she finally cried. And the more she wept, the more empty he felt inside. He'd thought it would be good for her to get it out, but, instead, it was tearing him apart.
"Diana. Shhh. It's all right. I promise it's going to be all right."
She tried to squirm away. He imagined she hated him seeing her in what she would perceive as a weakened state.
"Let me go," she said between sobs.
"I did that already. I lived the past few months without you. I hated it."
She stopped struggling.
"I hate myself. I hate Clark. I hate Max Lord. I hate this world, and this life, and everything in it. And I hate that it was you that I had to walk away from. I hate that you could do what you did, even if it was what you had to do." He had to take a breath and stared down at her, stunned that he had just said so much that he'd never meant to share. He saw her eyes, red from crying, and sad beyond any expression he'd ever seen her wear. "I hate what this has done to you. I hate what I've done to you."
"Do you hate me?" Her voice was so soft he could barely make out the words.
"I love you." He hadn't meant to say that either. Just as he didn't mean to roll her to her back, to follow her over, to kiss her gently, then not so gently.
He had a feeling she didn't mean to kiss him back, to wrap her arms around him, to push her body against his.
He pulled her uniform off, his mind screaming at him to think, plan, forecast. His heart told his mind to shut the hell up. Diana was staring up at him with a helpless look, as if she thought she should stop him, but would die if she tried.
"I love you," he said again, before he kissed her, his hands roaming down her body, memorizing curves he'd only dreamed of before.
"Bruce, I..." She closed her eyes.
"Say it," he murmured into her ear as he nuzzled her lobe. "Say it, Diana." He could feel her hands on his uniform, pulling it off a bit roughly. Making him pay? He could live with that. "Say it, dammit."
She pushed him to his back, was astride him in one graceful and possessive move. "I hate you." But she was crying as she rode him well past his point of control, well past her own. And her mouth on his as they lay together afterward was anything but an enemy. When she finally pulled away, she whispered, "I love you."
He pulled her back to him, kissing her all the ways he'd ever wanted to. She moaned and called out his name, her hands never still on him, giving him pleasure in the simplest touch because it was her fingers landing so gently on his skin, her nails scratching lightly over his back.
"Diana." He was on her again, covering her this time, closing his eyes as her legs wrapped around him, pulling him deeper. "My god." It wasn't a prayer, unless it was a prayer to her. His goddess. Now his dark goddess.
They finally lay quietly, and she curled in his arms. He wondered if she didn't want him to see her face.
"You hurt me," she said.
He knew she didn't mean just now. "I know."
"I came to you. I wanted to tell you myself." She stopped, cleared her throat as if truth and pain were clogging it. "I needed you."
"I know." He kissed her forehead, felt her fingers tighten on his side. "I'm sorry. I was just..." He sighed. The act still repelled him. She was a killer, and he should hate that.
"You still don't think I did the right thing?"
He'd had ample time to consider this. He didn't think she'd done the right thing, or the wise thing. But...she might have done the only thing. And if that were the case, how could it be the wrong thing? "I'm not sure anymore."
She pulled away, staring at him. "Uncertainty? From you?"
"It can happen. Occasionally." He shrugged, running his finger from between her eyebrows, down her nose, lingering at her lips. Then running off her chin, to between her breasts.
She caught up his hand before he could go any farther south. "I started the war by killing him."
"No, you didn't. You were a pawn. As was I, although I should have known better than to build more protocols." He could see in her eyes that she agreed. "Lord started all of this. He was the villain."
"Yes. The chessmaster. He played. He died. He lost. End of story." He leaned in, kissing her as tenderly as he knew how. "Hopefully not the end of our story?"
She took a deep breath. He waited, but she didn't answer.
Pulling away a bit, he said, "We haven't talked about Clark."
"What is there to talk about? He loves Lois. He nearly killed you for her. He nearly killed me for her."
"They're not doing well, you know?"
She looked away. "I didn't know. He doesn't talk to me the way he used to--he doesn't talk to me at all." She made a strange huffing noise. "He watched me kill Lord. Maybe if you'd done that, you wouldn't be talking about our future."
"Maybe." He pulled her back to him. "Maybe not. I'm not Clark." A stupid thing to say. The differences were obvious. But he wanted to say it. Needed to say it. He used to be able to recognize the shades of gray between white and black, right and wrong. Clark never had. "Give me another chance?"
"You don't need me, Bruce. You have your little cat." She pulled away, and he was surprised to see jealousy in her eyes.
"She's not you."
"No. She's a thief, not a killer."
"She is who she is." He nuzzled her, running his hand through her lush hair. "Just as you are who you are. Only..."
"Only I think both Clark and I wanted to dictate who you were. It all fell apart when you went your own way. Our view of you was wrong. It shattered, and we didn't know what to do with all the shards."
"You made me into something inhuman. You made me into some sort of goddess."
He nodded. They had done that. Their beautiful, sexy, giving--and forgiving--goddess of truth. They'd forgotten what she'd been from the start: a warrior.
"I'm not holding a goddess in my arms right now. I'm holding the woman I love."
He saw the corners of her mouth turn up. A smile. Incomplete and tentative. But finally, a real smile.
"The woman you love. It sounds nice." She pressed closer to him. "It feels nice."
"It can be nice. If we want it to be?"
"Can it?" She took a deep breath, the sound still ragged from her crying. "Will we make it this time?"
"This time is our only time. Those other opportunities, we never took them. We haven't failed, Diana. We haven't even tried."
She glanced up at him, another half-smile playing at her lips. "That's important to you, isn't it? That we haven't failed, yet?"
"You know me. You know it is."
Her look was cautionary. "We still might fail."
"We might." He saw her trying to hide a yawn. "We won't fail tonight, however. I can see that you're exhausted. Go to sleep." He smiled as she pulled a throw over them, hiding them from the world. Making them warm. "Go to sleep, my love." He was indulging himself, letting himself say the things he'd only dreamt of saying to her before.
"My love," she echoed, as her leg stole over his and she rubbed his stomach softly. "I'll watch over you."
"You did that. All through the war. Don't think I wasn't aware of how often you kept me safe." He found her lips. They kissed for a very long time. "How about we'll watch over each other from here on out?"
This time, her smile was a complete one. Still full of remembered pain and horror, but real. And for him. Only for him.
He'd take it.