“I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”
- Love Sonnet XVII by Pablo Neruda
The full moon hung low in the sky above her. Diana lifted her face to it for a moment, enjoying the view. On Themyscira, she would have joined at least one of her sisters in murmuring an appreciative prayer to Artemis upon seeing the moon’s splendor. Here, alone with her thoughts, she whispered, “I thank you for the beauty of the moon, my lady Artemis.”
Her gaze still fixed skyward, she walked down the street towards her hotel. The noises of the city pressed against her, distant, now-familiar sounds of Man’s World— the wail of a car alarm, the howl of a cat, the laughter of a few youths.
She was in Keystone City tonight, as she had been for the past week. Wally had requested her aid in dealing with a couple of the Rogues as well as the villain who called himself Rainbow Raider. The battle with the latter had been brief but well-fought, and in the many nights to come, Rainbow Raider’s view of the sky would be obstructed by the prison bars of Iron Heights. Captain Cold and Heat Wave, too, now sat in Iron Heights awaiting judgment.
Three weeks ago she had visited Clark in Metropolis and helped him to quietly thwart one of Lex Luthor’s plans. A week before that, she had aided John in Central City.
She did not know where she would be, come morning. The thought did not weary her, precisely, but sometimes she found herself longing for a city to call her own. Themyscira was her true home, of course, but she had no place to call her own in Man’s World, not like Bruce had Gotham and the others had their respective domains. Even J’onn had had the Tower and now his home with Ming.
“Evening, Ms. Prince,” Marco said at the entrance, smiling at her— Bruce always insisted that the hotels she frequented be “respectable” enough to have a doorman. This hotel had not proved the exception to the rule. “I saw the news about the Rainbow Raider. Thank you.”
“Good evening, Marco,” Diana said, smiling back. “I can’t take much credit this time. The Flash did most of the work.”
Marco nodded, looking unsurprised to hear that Wally had defeated the villain. Diana always found Keystone City’s citizens and their whole-hearted faith in Wally refreshing, especially whenever she came to this city soon after venturing into Gotham.
“Does this mean you’ll be leaving tomorrow?” Marco asked. He grimaced in disappointment at her nod. Rubbing the back of his neck, he said, “Too bad. My wife was just about to try that halvah recipe you gave me—she was going to make a batch for you if her first few tries turned out decent.”
Diana smiled regretfully. “Perhaps she can make some the next time I am in the city,” she suggested, mouth almost watering at the thought. She hasn’t had decent halvah in what seemed like forever.
Marco grinned at that. “Sounds like a plan to me, Ms. Prince.” He tipped an imaginary hat towards her and added, “You have a good night, now. Get a good night’s rest.”
Diana climbed the steps to her room. True, she could have used the elevator, but she was staying on the third floor in this hotel. If she’d used that contraption, she would have had to endure a voice in the back of her head murmuring of sloth. (The voice tended to sound suspiciously like her mother’s.)
It had been a long couple of days, and Diana let herself into her room with a relieved sigh. She closed the door and leaned against it for a moment, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. She’d have a nice long shower, she thought, and then perhaps allow herself to sleep in tomorrow morning.
“You look tired,” someone observed; there was a half-amused, half-concerned note in the woman’s voice.
Diana’s eyes snapped open.
She instinctively shifted her footing to a defensive one. In the privacy of her own mind, she cursed a long string of invectives that would have made Wally blush, Clark frown, and Bruce smirk. When had she grown so complacent? Her room had been occupied and she hadn’t even noticed, had stood there like an oblivious fool while this intruder could have attacked her.
Now that she was actually paying attention, she could feel another person’s presence in the room, hear the faint sound of someone else’s breathing. “Who’s there?” she demanded. Her gaze swept the room, but there was no one in plain view. The door to the bathroom was wide open—someone could have been hiding behind the shower curtain, but the voice had sounded as though it were coming from the empty bed.
“Show yourself,” she said, voice harsh.
“What?” The intruder sounded puzzled now. “Diana, I—oh, I’m sorry. I forgot I was veiled.” There was a flustered burst of laughter, and then a familiar form shimmered into sight, reclining regally on Diana’s bed and arching a pair of delicate eyebrows at her.
Diana stared, not relaxing from her defensive position. This had to be a trick of some sort. “Psyche? What brings you here?” She frowned, wracking her brain, but she could not think of what would bring Psyche to Man’s World, much less to Diana’s hotel room. “Is something wrong on Mount Olympus? Is Eros in danger?”
Psyche held up a hand and Diana bit back the half-dozen questions caught in her throat.
“Diana, calm yourself,” Psyche said gently. “Olympus is well, if you consider being dreadfully boring well, and my beloved is fine.” Despite her words, a small frown twisted the goddess’s full lips, a slight crease on her forehead marring her otherwise perfect features. Psyche had been attractive before Zeus had made her a goddess, of course, but she had been beautiful in the way that mortals were beautiful, with a fragile, fleeting loveliness. Now she had the impossible beauty of an immortal.
“Then what is wrong?” Diana asked. “I mean no offense, but I doubt you came for a social visit.”
“No, I did not,” Psyche agreed, still frowning. “I have come to warn you.”
“To warn me?” Diana echoed. She thought quickly, imagining the type of threat that would bring Psyche of all the deities to warn her. Surely Hermes would have been more appropriate, as messenger of the gods. “Is Hades--”
“This has nothing to do with Hades, I’m afraid, and everything to do with Aphrodite,” said Psyche.
Diana’s heart pounded a quick, agitated beat in her breast. For all that many mortals thought of Aphrodite as a tender goddess concerned only with bringing lovers together, all Amazons knew better. Aphrodite was a callous, narcissistic goddess who amused herself by forcing love upon those who didn’t want it, who caused atrocities like the Trojan War through her vanity, who brought mighty Amazons such as Antiope to her knees for the pure thrill of it.
No Amazon held love for Aphrodite in her heart. And indeed, Aphrodite was no friend to the Amazons.
“And what is Aphrodite planning that would bring you down from Mount Olympus and to my doorstep?” Diana asked quietly.
Psyche sighed, brushing her long dark hair away from her face and fixing Diana with a grim look. “She has grown bored of late. Before, she was entertained by the antics of politicians and Hollywood. Breaking up marriages and causing unlikely love affairs seem to have lost their flavor. Now she turns to a more difficult challenge—you and the one called Batman.”
“Me and the—me and Batman,” Diana echoed, and her heart gave another little jump. Diana felt weak all over, her head spinning, her heart pounding loudly in her ears. “Psyche,” she breathed, horror making it nearly impossible to speak. The words caught and tore at her throat as though they were slivers of glass. “Tell me she has not used Eros’s arrows, tell me she has not done this abomination to B--”
The last time she had seen Bruce he had appeared his normal self, but that meant nothing. Bruce could have been pricked by one of Eros’s arrows at anytime, could be hopelessly in love with her and never let it color the timber of his voice or reach his pale eyes. He could have been suffering in silence for months and she never would have known.
Diana thought, stricken, of the conversation they had had before Circe had interrupted them. “I’m a rich kid with issues – lots of issues.” Had he been hiding his feelings for her then, masquerading behind his dark sense of humor? Had that kiss in the restaurant, the occasional intense look she’d caught from him over the years, all been brought about by Aphrodite’s effort?
“She has not used the arrows,” Psyche said, and Diana breathed easier. Psyche’s eyes gleamed bright with mischief as she added, “She had planned upon using them, but it seems Eros has somehow misplaced his bow and arrows. Aphrodite is furious at his carelessness.”
Diana managed a smile at that, weak though it was. She took in a deep, calming breath, and then another, until her heart settled back into a more natural rhythm. Her mind raced, thinking and discarding her options at quicksilver speed. “I shall go to Themyscira at once,” she said.
Psyche looked puzzled. “Forgive me, but what can your mother do that one of the gods cannot? I assumed you would ask Athena to protect your Batman, and Hera to protect you.”
“And so I shall,” Diana said, deciding it wasn’t the time to correct Psyche about the ‘your Batman’ remark. “But my mother has a necklace given to her from Zeus himself, which protects any mortal from a god or goddess’s attentions so long as the mortal wears it. If she will let me borrow it, I shall give it to B-Batman. He, at least, will be safe from Aphrodite’s mischief.” She stumbled over Bruce’s name—doubtless, Psyche knew full well who Batman truly was, but Diana would not dishonor Bruce’s demand for privacy by telling his name to anyone, not even to a goddess she considered a friend.
Psyche tilted her head, looking intrigued. “How did Hippolyta come by this necklace? I have not heard the tale.”
“It happened long ago, before I was born,” Diana said with a small shrug. “My mother would not tell me all the details, but she aided Zeus somehow, and the necklace was her reward. Not many know of it, but the necklace has been used throughout the centuries. Aeneas wore it when he fled Troy, though he lost it sometime during his journey and a naiad returned it to Mother.” She smiled. “The story of the necklace is as lost to history as the tale of your time on Themyscira.”
Psyche laughed. “That is sad. The task Aphrodite assigned me on your island was the easiest of the five, thanks in no small way to your help. It would have been enjoyable, even, had I not been worried I would never see my beloved Eros again.”
“Perhaps that is why the tale was lost. It was far less exciting than the other tasks,” Diana said wryly. “Easy tasks make for less interesting legends.”
Psyche smiled. “I believe you’re right.” Then her features darkened once more. “I would accompany you to Themyscira if I could,” she said softly, earnestness writ stark upon her face, “but I already linger too long here. Should Aphrodite realize I told you of her plans, she would be furious. My peace with her is tentative at best—I do not wish to invoke her ire. She is already angry enough at Eros.” Her dark green eyes were solemn. “Aphrodite will use every power against you once she learns you are trying to thwart her plans. Be careful, Diana. I cannot stand openly against my beloved’s mother, no matter how much I disagree with her, not if I want some small measure of peace upon Olympus. Eros and I have done what we could, but we must stand aside from now on.”
“I understand,” said Diana. She took Psyche’s hands in hers and squeezed them. “I thank you, Psyche. With this knowledge, I have at least a hope of preventing Aphrodite’s mischief.”
Psyche tugged her hands out of Diana’s grasp, and then enveloped the Amazon in an embrace. Diana closed her eyes and breathed in. Psyche smelled strongly of sunlight, and faintly of nectar, as though she had been sipping at a drink when Aphrodite had announced her plans.
Had it really been over two millennia since Psyche had come to Themyscira, a young woman determined to do whatever it took to find her immortal lover? The two princesses, one mortal, one not, had had such an adventure together. In times of discontent, Diana still savored the memory of Aphrodite’s astonished expression, as well as the goddess’s poorly concealed fury when Psyche had succeeded in her fourth task.
“Diana,” Psyche whispered, nectar-sweet breath warm on her ear. “Answer me one question before I go.”
Diana suppressed the urge to shiver at the sensation. Sweet Hera, but Diana had been young then, and as prone to infatuation as any youth. She had loved Psyche with a quiet, hopeless passion, knowing that Psyche’s heart belonged only to her beloved god. That had been a long time ago, however, and Diana’s heart was less foolish now. Though no less fixated upon impossible persons, she thought deprecatingly.
“Whatever you ask, I will answer as well as I can,” she said.
“Diana,” Psyche said again. She sounded almost tentative, an unusual note indeed to hear in a goddess’s voice. “I know Aphrodite means this for her own amusement, and that you would not have her meddling in your relationship with Batman and invoking unnatural feelings, but…you docare for him, do you not?”
Diana didn’t speak for a long moment. Were her feelings so obvious then, to be so easily read upon her face? Psyche had only visited her for a few minutes, and yet she’d already uncovered Diana’s sentiment. She should be careful in the future—not only goddesses were interested in uncovering any weakness of Batman’s. Batman had far too many enemies for her to be so careless.
“I do,” she said quietly into the silence. A wry smile tugged at her lips. “And I believe he feels the same.”
“Then why have you not--”
“Batman desires for our relationship to remain professional, and I will abide by his wishes.” No matter how wrong Diana thought Bruce was in denying his feelings, she was not going to allow Aphrodite to turn Bruce’s emotions upon him, to strip away his defenses and sully their relationship by use of Eros’s arrows or any other unnatural means. She would bring Bruce around to her point-of-view in her own time, not through Aphrodite’s interference.
She let her head rest briefly upon Psyche’s shoulder and confided, “Sometimes I wonder if Batman has the blood of a god flowing through his veins. He is certainly as stubborn as one.”
Psyche laughed. “Like calls to like, I suppose.” When Diana raised her head to question the goddess, Psyche laughed again, the sound as sweet as silver bells. “Do not look so puzzled, Diana. You are just as obstinate.”
Diana wavered for a second between an offended frown and a wry smile. She settled on the latter, since Psyche’s declaration was not entirelywithout merit. “I suppose my mother would agree with you,” she said.
“Speaking of your mother, do not forget to give Hippolyta my blessings,” Psyche said. She released Diana, stepping back and smiling. “And extend those blessings to all on Themyscira. Eros and I will never forget your assistance.”
“I will. Psyche, it was good to see you,” Diana said sincerely. “It has been far too long since you visited Themyscira. Please know that you are always welcome.”
“Perhaps I will visit once Aphrodite has set her attentions upon some other unfortunate mortal,” Psyche said with a bitter twist of her lips. She caught one of Diana’s hands in hers once more, gave it a brief squeeze before she released it. “Be well, Diana. Good luck.”
The goddess’s form flickered, guttering like a candle for a brief instant, seemingly in and out of existence. Then the goddess vanished and a butterfly fluttered before Diana. The bright moonlight dappled the goddess’s wings silver, but Diana knew that the wings were all the colors of the rainbow. She had seen the goddess’s guise before, the colors glowing bright under Apollo’s sun when Psyche had returned briefly to Themyscira to tell Diana and the other Amazons of her newly granted deification.
“Be well, and give Eros my thanks,” said Diana, and opened the window to let Psyche out. Psyche flew swiftly out into the night air.
Diana leaned out the window, watching long after the goddess had disappeared from view. Then she sighed, closing the window and letting her head rest briefly against the cool glass. Hera help her, there was no time to hesitate, no matter how weary she felt. She had no way to know how quickly Aphrodite would discover where Eros had concealed his quiver of arrows or that Psyche had warned her. Sleep could wait. Diana would rest once the necklace was safely around Bruce’s neck.
She raised her head with effort, and tapped her earpiece. “J’onn?” she said.
There was a momentary stretch of silence, and then the Martian’s deep voice filled her ears. “Yes, Diana, I am here.”
“I wish to be put on the inactive list for the time being,” she said, and then hurried on before J’onn could ask what was wrong. “I need to visit Themyscira.”
J’onn paused, and although she knew he would not scan her mind without her permission, she nevertheless carefully blanked out her thoughts, focusing on her longing to see her mother, her desire to breathe in the air of Themyscira and rejoin her sisters for a brief time.
“Very well,” J’onn said. Not for the first time, she was grateful for J’onn’s understanding of the need for privacy. “Do you know how long you will be away?”
Diana frowned at her own reflection in the window. Her strained features stared silently back. “I am uncertain. Hopefully I will be able to resolve things in a few days,” she said. “I will contact you as soon as I am able.”
“I will inform the others that you are visiting Themyscira and do not wish to be disturbed,” J’onn said. “Farewell, Diana.”
The thought came to her that perhaps this was a true goodbye. Aphrodite did not take kindly to her plans falling apart, after all, and even Hera and Artemis could not always protect their beloved Amazons. Antiope was proof enough of that. This might well be the last time she spoke to J’onn or heard his deep, calm voice in her ears or mind. She shook her head, banishing the morbid thought.
“Farewell, J’onn,” Diana said softly, and ended the connection.
She started to turn the earpiece off, and then hesitated. Should she contact Bruce, warn him? She frowned. How could she explain that the goddess of love had taken an interest in them without embarrassing them both? And besides, what could she tell him? Be wary of arrows? She scoffed a little at the idea. Furthermore, once Bruce learned of Aphrodite’s plans, he would insist on stopping her himself, which could only lead to worse trouble.
Still, she could not leave him completely ignorant. She pressed a button upon her earpiece and said, “Code 21A, Wonder Woman to Batman.”
There was a long pause, a full minute passing before the earpiece crackled with static. “Princess,” Bruce said, his voice a low rumble in her ears. “I saw the news about your work with The Flash. Already bored?”
She smiled. “Why, do you need some help in Gotham?” she asked, teasing.
He didn’t rise to her bait, which was just as well. Had he invited her to Gotham she would have known something was definitely wrong and that Aphrodite had done somethingto him; Bruce would have to be on his last legs or in equally dire straights to invite any of the other members of the Justice League into Gotham. She and Clark had found that asking for forgiveness rather than permission was far easier when it came to Bruce and entering his city.
“No, I’m calling to warn you,” she continued. “Apparently some of the gods on Mount Olympus are growing bored, and might resume meddling in the mortal realm. I am going to Themyscira to see if my mother can intervene, but Gotham seems to be of particular interest to them. I thought you would appreciate the heads up.”
“The gods are interested in Gotham,” Bruce muttered. “Have you noticed, Princess, that you never call me when it’s goodnews?”
Diana laughed. Despite her anxiety, she felt herself relax a little at Bruce’s familiar sarcasm. “And you constantly call me up to gossip over John and Vixen’s relationship, of course,” she said, voice warm with amusement.
“Do you know which gods in particular?” Bruce asked. His tone darkened as he asked, “Circe isn’t back, is she?”
Diana hesitated, wondering how honest she could be with him. “I am still investigating, but I know that Aphrodite has turned her eye to your city,” she said slowly.
“The goddess of love is interested in Gotham,” Bruce said, incredulous.
“Apparently Gotham is more interesting than Hollywood,” Diana said. Her face warmed. Suddenly she was glad that Bruce could not see her. One look at her flushed cheeks and he would have known that she was concealing something. Her mother had always said she was a terrible liar.
“Be careful,” she cautioned him. “Aphrodite doesn’t play fair.”
“I’ve read a few myths,” Bruce said, tone dry. “Trust me, the part where Aphrodite offering Paris a married woman helped to spark the Trojan War did not go unnoticed.”
Diana smiled. Well, this conversation was going better than expected. Bruce didn’t seem inclined to insult Aphrodite to her face and get himself cursed or killed before Diana could get the necklace. “Give my regards to Alfred and Robin,” she said. Despite her better judgment, she wished for a moment that she could see him. No doubt his features would be concealed behind his cowl, but that wouldn’t hide the glimmer in his eyes or the smirk on his lips. “And…be careful. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“I can take care of myself,” he said, sounding a little amused.
“You can take care of yourself against Gotham’s villains. You haven’t gone up against a goddess before,” Diana reminded him. The words came out sharper than she intended, and she grimaced. It was usually easy to forget that Bruce was mortal, that he relied on his intelligence and skills rather than super-powers to fight crime, but right now she couldn’t help but remember how he had felt in her arms when they’d danced—not fragile by any means, but warm and alive and oh so mortal.
“A word of advice,” she said, attempting to sound as though she were teasing him. “Don’t do your ‘I am the protector of Gotham and you are not welcome’ speech to Aphrodite. She takes offense easily.”
“Princess,” Bruce said, and stopped. “Diana,” he said, in an entirely different tone, one dark and almost angry. Oh yes, that was definitely his Batman voice. “You know, you would make for an awful poker player.”
Diana blinked, thrown by the apparent non-sequitur. “Excuse me?”
“You can’t keep your temper when it matters,” he said, the words enough of a rebuke that she found herself flushing in a mixture of anger and embarrassment. “Now, explain what’s really going on, or I will tell J’onn that you’re under mind control and force him to tell me your coordinates.”
Diana sighed a little. “That was not one of your better threats,” she said, striving for a light tone even as she began to pace the hotel room. “Besides, we both know that you are well aware of where I am. You selected this hotel room for me, after all.” The evasion fell flat, and she grimaced once more.
“Tell me what’s going on,” Bruce snapped. “I can’t work with half-truths, Diana. I need to know everything.”
“Is this a secure line?” Diana began.
“It’s secure enough,” Bruce said, and that was when Diana realized that he was worried.
“I,” she began and stopped, closing her eyes and trying to organize her thoughts. This line might be secure, but with the gods involved, who knew who could possibly be listening in on their conversation. Finally, she said, in the most even voice she could muster, “Aphrodite is no friend to the Amazons. It seems she has decided to entertain herself by using Eros’s arrows upon us.”
“Eros’s arrows,” Bruce repeated flatly. “Those would be the ones that make people fall in love.”
“Yes,” Diana said. “Fortunately, Eros’s quiver seems to be lost for the moment, so she has not succeeded in her plan. I am doing what I can to stop Aphrodite—”
“Do you expect me to sit and twiddle my fingers while you stop her?” Bruce asked. She couldn’t figure out his current tone, if he was acting as Batman now, furious over her attempt at deceit, or as Bruce, concerned and worried.
“No, I expect you to protect Gotham and trust me to handle this myself,” Diana said. At least Bruce had not demanded to go to Mount Olympus and speak to Aphrodite personally. She pictured Batman on Olympus, staring up at Zeus with an unimpressed expression and his arms folded against his chest. Despite herself, a faint smile twitched at one corner of her mouth. She continued, “I have more experience with the gods than you do.”
“I’ve studied more than the Iliad, Diana. I know what Aphrodite’s done to the Amazons over the millennia,” Bruce said.
“Yes, well, if I have my way, my name won’t be linked to Antiope or Hippolytus,” Diana said. “Be safe, Batman. I will contact you once I’ve resolved things.”
“Diana,” he said, but the rest of his words were cut off in a crackle of static as she turned off the earpiece.
She took it from her ear, turning it over in her fingers and studying it. She waited a moment, but apparently Bruce wasn’t resorting to contacting J’onn, for the Martian’s voice did not invade her mind. After a moment she sighed and tucked the earpiece into her belt. She’d turn it on again once she had spoken to Mother and retrieved the necklace.
Diana glanced around the room, but there was little here to call her own. She had some civilian clothes in the dresser and a few bathroom essentials, all easily discarded. It was the matter of a minute to gather the items and the room key and take them to the front desk.
“Ms. Prince?” Marco blinked at her, and she wondered what sort of expression she must be wearing to have earned that concerned frown. “Is everything all right?”
“I’m leaving a little bit earlier than expected,” she explained, smoothing out her expression into a polite smile. “Could you see that these are donated to a local shelter? I won’t need them where I’m going.”
Marco’s frown deepened. “Are you sure you’re all right? You look….” He trailed off and flushed, ducking his head. “Never mind. It’s none of my business. I’ll make certain they get donated to a shelter.”
“Thank you,” Diana said, and took her leave of him.
The sun was just beginning to rise over the island when Diana landed on Themyscira’s shore. The sky was colored all manner of pale pinks and reds, and Diana smiled at the sight of it. Salt stung her lips faintly as she took in a deep breath.
Home, a quiet voice whispered in the back of her mind, and a weight she hadn’t previously realized existed seemed to vanish from her shoulders. Home. Surely things would go well now that she was back on the island. Mother would present the necklace without objection to save a protector of Man’s World, and Diana would go to Gotham, and Bruce would be safe from Aphrodite and all her plots.
“Please, Hera, let it be simple,” Diana prayed, bowing her head.
“Diana!” Harmothoe all but flew across the beach to enfold her in her arms. Her normally grave face was bright with joy. “The queen did not tell us you were visiting!”
Despite her worries, Diana smiled back and returned the embrace. “Harmothoe! It is good to see you. And the queen couldn’t have told you to expect me, for she doesn’t know I am here. I need to speak with her, urgently.”
Harmothoe held her at arm’s length, a worried gleam creeping back into her dark eyes. “Is something amiss, Your Highness?” she asked, formality and concern sharpening the words.
“Aphrodite seeks to harm Batman, one of the warriors who aided me when Themyscira was attacked,” Diana said. “I have come to ask Mother for Zeus’s necklace, to shield him from her tricks.”
Harmothoe’s eyes widened; first shock and then understanding bloomed on her features. “Zeus’s necklace,” she murmured. “Now that is something I haven’t heard mention of in quite some time.” The warrior released Diana and knelt to retrieve her fallen spear. “Let me escort you to the queen. She will be at Hera’s temple.”
The morning hymn had just ended as Diana and Harmothoe entered. Their fellow Amazons were just beginning to disperse to their daily tasks, but a few spotted Diana and let out cries of surprised delight.
Many of the women, catching sight of Diana, flocked to her. Over their heads, Diana could see her mother beginning to make her way down from her pedestal, moving with slow certainty.
Donna pushed through the crowd to throw small arms around Diana’s waist, giggling and sniffling at the same time. The past few years had been good to the girl; her cheeks were flushed with good health, and none of the grief and terror Diana remembered from the fire shadowed her eyes.
“Diana! Diana! I missed you! Are you staying?” Donna asked, bouncing a little on the balls of her feet. She looked disappointed when Diana shook her head.
“Are you at least staying tonight? We could hold a feast!” Pitane said hopefully, her smile dimming as Diana was once again forced to shake her head in denial. She ignored the sudden twinge in her belly reminding her that she hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning.
“The Batman is in danger from Aphrodite,” Harmothoe explained, leaning on her spear and wearing a somber frown. “The princess has little time to prevent Aphrodite’s mischief. She must speak to the queen immediately.”
Pitane and Cynna exchanged alarmed glances. “Aphrodite?” they said together.
“Who’s she? And why does she want to hurt Batman? He’s a good guy!” Donna said, her sweet voice puzzled. A few of the women shot the child startled looks before understanding softened their expressions. Of course Donna would not know of the acrimonious history between the goddess and the denizens of Themyscira. She was not Amazon by birth; Diana had brought her to the island only five years ago, having saved the girl from a fire at an orphanage in Man’s World.
“Aphrodite,” snarled another familiar voice. Grief thousands of years old touched Lysippe’s voice as she pushed to the forefront of the crowd. She pressed her hand to the hilt of her sword and declared roughly, “Your Highness, if you need aid, I will stand with you against Aphrodite. I--”
“Hold, Lysippe,” Diana said softly. Sympathy made her choose her next words with careful precision. “I cannot make an obvious stand against Aphrodite, not if I value Themyscira’s safety. I can only hope to thwart her by slyer means and keep her wrath at bay.”
Lysippe’s face had darkened in disappointment and disbelief as Diana’s words had registered. Now she made a harsh noise in the back of her throat that could have been a laugh were it not for the fury in the sound. “By craven means, you mean,” she snapped. “And meanwhile Aphrodite continues her offenses against our island, with not even our princess brave enough to speak against her--”
“Lysippe, you forget yourself,” Pitane said sharply, and several of the others nodded in agreement, their expressions varying from angry to sorrowful to compassionate. Donna looked from face to face, her mouth puckering in dismay at the obvious anger and tension in the air. “You will speak to the princess with respect, or you will answer for your words.”
Diana shook her head. She rested a gentle hand on Donna’s head and gave it a reassuring pat for the poor child looked to be near tears. The girl leaned against her, resting her full weight against Diana’s knee. Donna mumbled something too low to understand, but it had a plaintive tone to it. Doubtless she wanted them to stop fighting.
“Peace, Pitane,” Diana said. “Let Lysippe speak. Themyscira is not a place to dictate anyone’s thoughts or words.”
“Now that I have your permission to speak freely,” Lysippe said, her words dripping with bitter sarcasm, “I will say it: how long must I wait for vengeance for my son? You and your mother do nothing while Aphrodite makes sport of us.” Her voice rose. “Aphrodite turned Antiope over to Theseus’s cruelty, forced my son to--” She choked on the words, and turned away, but not before Diana had seen the tears in her eyes.
“Lysippe,” she said quietly. She reached out her free hand, then hesitated, uncertain if the gesture would be welcomed or rejected. “Lysippe, I am sorry for your loss, but I cannot bring a goddess to justice. If I brought her before Zeus and demanded an apology for Tanais and Antiope--” And Hippolytus and Areto and Pantariste and all the others killed or harmed to provide Aphrodite some amusement,she didn’t add, but the faces and names seemed to hang in the air nonetheless. “--I would be laughed from Mount Olympus.”
“We are immortal, but we are not gods, Lysippe,” Diana’s mother said. Diana had not heard her approach, but the others took a step back and allowed the queen to walk up to Lysippe and press a hand to her shoulder. “We cannot rebuke the gods, no matter how we may wish to.”
Lysippe shrugged off the queen’s hand. “Cowards,” she said thickly, and then repeated herself louder, spitting out the word, “Cowards.” She walked away from them, out of the temple and into the sunlight, her shoulders braced against her sorrow.
Cynna sighed. “Please excuse Lysippe’s words, Your Majesty. I do not think even another two millennia could ease her grief over Tanais. I will go and speak sense to her.” She waited for the queen’s nod of assent and then hurried after Lysippe.
There was a moment of silence, and then the queen said, “Did I hear correctly? Batman is in danger from Aphrodite?”
“Yes,” Diana said. She kept her hand upon Donna’s head, for the girl did not seem inclined to move. “I need the necklace, the one that Zeus gave you--” She stopped, for her mother’s expression had tightened, something like dismay widening her eyes. “Mother?”
“I do not have it,” her mother said. Diana’s heart sank. “The last time the necklace was used, it was damaged and I sent it to Hephaestus for repairs.” The queen frowned. “To be honest, I haven’t thought of it in centuries. We have seen so few outsiders in the past thousand years that we have had no need of it.”
Diana pressed her free hand to her lips, trying to think. It was not the disaster it seemed at first, she told herself; she would simply have to make another trip. “I will go to his forge, then,” she said. “What payment did you promise him?”
“No payment,” her mother said with a shake of her head. “It was he who created that necklace at Zeus’s request. He considered it an insult to his craftsmanship that I had somehow managed to damage it.”
“That will make things a little easier,” Diana murmured. “I am sorry, Mother, but I must go. I do not know how long Eros’s arrows can remain concealed, nor do I know how long it might be before Aphrodite loses patience and uses some other means to distort Batman’s mind.”
“Diana,” her mother said, stopping her speech with a touch to her arm. “Before you go, I would speak with you in private.” Her gaze flickered to the onlookers; most took the hint and began dispersing. “It will take but a moment,” she added when Diana hesitated.
“Of course,” Diana said, and the other Amazons bowed to her and left, many shooting concerned glances over their shoulders as they exited the temple.
Only Donna remained, her cheek pressed firmly against Diana’s leg. After a moment, Diana sighed and tugged her away. She knelt on the smooth marble floor, meeting Donna’s reddened eyes.
“Why’s Lysippe so mad?” Donna asked, sniffling.
Diana bit back another sigh. How to explain without giving the child more nightmares? Donna was too young to hear of that particular atrocity. “A long time ago, Lysippe had a son named Tanais. Aphrodite did something that…”
“That killed Tanais,” her mother supplied when Diana faltered, uncertain of how to phrase it in delicate terms.
“Oh.” Donna digested this for a moment. She looked puzzled. “Then aren’t you going to punish Aphrodite?”
Diana shook her head. “Aphrodite is a goddess, child. That makes things complicated.”
“If the goddess did a bad thing and made Lysippe cry, then you should punish her,” Donna said, a stubborn note creeping into her voice. Diana recognized that particular expression well; it was the look of an eight-year-old who wasn’t going to take no for an answer. “You’re Wonder Woman.”
Diana resisted the urge to wince. “Donna,” she said quietly. The explanation that she was not infallible for all her gifts died on her lips at her mother’s firm words.
“I will explain why Diana cannot punish her later, Donna. Now you must go see Pitane. It’s time to meditate.”
“But—” Donna began to protest.
“Now,” the queen said, the command ringing through the temple.
“What is it, Mother?” Diana asked after Donna, sulking and still bewildered, throwing half-accusing glances over her small shoulder, had left.
“You mentioned Eros’s arrows,” her mother said softly. “Aphrodite plans to use them upon you and Batman?”
Diana fought back a blush. Hera help her, was she going to have to explain their relationship to her mother as she’d explained it to Psyche? She had hoped to have this conversation-- well, never, if she were completely honest.
“Yes,” she said. “Psyche told me that only Eros concealing his bow and arrows prevented Aphrodite from doing so earlier. That is why I must have the necklace, Mother. I cannot let Aphrodite pervert Batman’s feelings in such a way.”
Her mother wetted her lips with her tongue briefly. “The golden arrows force unnatural love upon those they strike, so that the wounded man or woman falls in love with the next person he or she sees,” she said. “What do the arrows do if the wounded person is already in love?”
“Mother?” asked Diana, blinking in confusion. Why was her mother asking things that Diana had learned as a child? She bit her lower lip. “It destroys that tenderness, forces that person to love whoever they’ve just seen rather than the person they truly do care about--”
“You misunderstand me,” the queen said. “What if the wounded person is already in love with the next person he sees?”
“I-- I don’t know,” Diana said. She frowned. Had that ever happened before? “But Mother, even if he does love me, he is unwilling to admit it. I would not have Aphrodite force a confession from his lips.”
“No, you would rather have him willingly tell you his feelings,” Hippolyta said with a shrewd look.
Diana flushed and didn’t rise to the bait. “I suspect that the golden arrow would make his feelings consume him. I would not want him devoted to me like some lovesick fool.” She grimaced at the thought of Bruce looking at her with a besotted expression and murmuring sweet endearments.
After a moment, her mother said, “Be careful, Diana. Get to Hephaestus’s forge, quickly. My prayers go with you.”
“Thank you,” she said, and briefly embraced her mother. “After this is over, I shall come home for a longer visit, enjoy that feast Pitane was so eager to have.”
“I look forward to it,” the queen said, a look in her eyes that Diana couldn’t quite read.
Diana could hear Hephaestus long before she could see him. The staccato beat of his hammer made the volcano shudder beneath her feet. No doubt a few mortal scientists were currently looking at their machines in confusion, wondering if the volcano was readying itself to erupt.
“Lord Hephaestus!” she called. She made her way through the twisty tunnels, squinting into the dimly lit corridors for any clue as to which way she should go. She pressed a hand to the wall to steady herself, and then pulled it away with a grimace of disgust and shook off the spider-webs that clung to her fingers.
“Lord Hephaestus!” she called again. This time she timed her yell for that brief beat of silence between hammer strikes.
“Here!” a gruff voice answered her. “I’m in here.”
She followed the sound of his voice and the hammer. The corridor widened at last to a cavern where the god had set up his forge. She blinked a little at the sudden brightness, her eyes tearing up briefly, for there were torches set up all along the walls.
The god had his back to her, his broad shoulders bare and glistening with sweat as he raised his hammer high above his head and brought it down with another ear-ringing clang. Huge muscles rippled under freckled and scarred skin as Hephaestus continued his work. It must have been a good day for him, for she saw no sign of his wheelchair or the cane he sometimes used.
“Lord Hephaestus!” she shouted, stepping further into the cavern. “Please forgive my intrusion--”
“Your intrusion?” Hephaestus snorted. He turned to face her, his face ruddy from the heat. An ember had caught in the wild tangle of his dark beard. Even as she watched, the ember glowed red and then fell apart into ash. He fixed Diana with a sharp, assessing scowl and drawled, “Well, at least you’re aware that you’re wasting my time. You have no idea how many fools barge into my forge and demand my attention as though they have a right to it.” He had a deep voice which rumbled much like the volcano itself and seemed to shake even Diana’s frame.
Diana bowed, very low, trying to ignore the nerves that shivered up her spine. Hephaestus was notorious for his foul temper, but at least he seemed to be in a decent mood today. “I hope only to take a brief moment of your time,” she murmured.
“Yet another refreshing change of pace. You aren’t entirely thoughtless, little Amazon.” Hephaestus’s lips parted in a crooked grin at her look of surprise. “Yes, I know who you are, Princess Diana of Themyscira. I might not give a damn about most of the Olympus gossip, but even I couldn’t help but hear about your various exploits, both against Hades and in Man’s World.” He sounded faintly approving. “Besides, I recognize my handiwork when I see it.” He nodded at her bracelets and tiara.
Diana flushed. “Thank you, my lord. In truth, it is a matter of Man’s World that brings me here. I need the necklace you crafted for my mother, the one that protects the mortal bearer from unwanted attention by the gods.”
“I was wondering when someone would come around to collect that,” Hephaestus said dryly. “It’s only been about seven centuries, give or take. Which god are you hoping to escape, princess?”
Diana hesitated. Hephaestus and Aphrodite had no love lost between them, but still, saying the goddess’s name around the blacksmith god was never a good idea. “Aphrodite, my lord,” she said quietly. “She threatens a dear friend of mine with Eros’s arrows.”
Hephaestus snorted, looking unsurprised. “I might have known it was Aphrodite with one of her little tricks,” he muttered. “I’ll be but a moment, little Amazon.” He set the hammer down on his forge and straightened himself to his full height, wincing as, she supposed, his twisted back protested.
Diana averted her eyes as Hephaestus limped across the room. It was unnerving to see a god’s face lined with pain, to hear his harsh breathing as he forced his damaged body to obey him. It was a relief when he grunted in satisfaction.
“Here’s the necklace, little Amazon. Give it to your mortal with my blessing,” he said, and Diana looked up in time to watch him toss the glittering necklace towards her.
She caught it instinctively, pressing it to her chest for a moment before holding it up to the flickering torchlight for examination. It was a splendidly simple little thing, made up of carefully crafted links of gold and copper. The only ornament was a single golden disk with the mark of Zeus carved upon it as well as a few lines in the god’s language that made her eyes hurt to view.
Diana looked away after only a few seconds, blinking until the tears were gone. Then she smiled, relief making her heart leap in her chest. “Thank you, my lord,” she said with another bow.
Hephaestus nodded back, waving a large, impatient hand. “Yes, yes, you’re quite welcome, now go.” The final word was not quite snarled, but had the deep tone of a command.
“Thank you,” Diana murmured again, and left at a speed that was nearly a run. As soon as the tunnels opened up to reveal blue sky, she leaped upwards, turning sharply west towards Gotham.
It was evening by the time Diana reached Gotham, the sun having long since sunk below the skyline and turned the city sky a dark, deep blue. It was an overcast night, but the moon was, for the moment at least, in the one cloudless patch of sky. She cradled the necklace to her chest, unwilling to let it out of her sight even as she alighted briefly atop one of Gotham’s many towers.
A block away, voices were raised in argument. Diana frowned. Normally she would intervene, try to broker some sort of peace, but tonight Bruce came first.
She pulled the earpiece from her belt, fitting it once more into her ear. “Code 21A, Wonder Woman to Batman,” she said. There was a long moment of silence, and she frowned, unease tightening her chest. Had she come too late? “Wonder Woman to Batman, can you hear me?”
“Princess,” Bruce said in a crackle of static. “I was about to send J’onn after you.”
He sounded like his normal self, and Diana grinned with relief, tension easing from her frame. “I am beginning to get the feeling that you don’t trust me, Batman. And to think I went halfway around the world to get you this present,” she said lightly, smiling upwards at the moon.
“Aw, you shouldn’t have,” he deadpanned. She could picture the small smirk curving his lips, the flicker of amusement in his eyes. No doubt he had his arms folded against his chest as well and was leaning against a wall for the full effect. “Let me guess. Is it Penguin all nicely tied up with a bow?”
“No, something much better, I assure you,” she said, fighting back a giddy laugh. She held the necklace up for another good look, admired the way even the gold turned silver in the moonlight. Hephaestus had done fine work when he had crafted this. “I need to give it to you as soon as possible,” she continued. “Where can I find you?”
There was a pause, but this one meant Bruce was thinking. “Meet me at the place we last fought the Joker together,” he said and disconnected the call before she could answer.
Trust Bruce to speak in code even on a supposedly secure line, Diana thought with a fond shake of her head. Still, she flexed her weary legs and sprang once more into the air. It was a matter of minutes to reach the rooftop where she and Bruce had last apprehended Bruce’s nemesis.
Bruce was already there, as still and silent as the gargoyle upon which he was standing. For a moment she almost let her gaze skip over him, he blended into the statue so well. It was only his cape billowing behind him in the strong night wind which betrayed him to her.
His expression was unreadable as she landed behind the gargoyle. “Diana,” he said, turning slightly to face her and inclining his head in a curt hello. His gaze flickered briefly over her, an assessing look that went from the top of her head to the soles of her feet. Apparently having assuring himself that all the bits and pieces of her were properly accounted for and that she had encountered no danger during her trip to Themyscira, he folded his arms against his chest and waited for her response.
“Batman,” she answered, clutching the necklace with hands that suddenly felt clumsy and prone to dropping things. She eyed the side of the building for a second, and then took a careful step away from it. “Here.” She held the necklace out to him.
“You brought me a necklace,” he said. She couldn’t see his eyebrows behind his cowl, but she was certain that they were raised. There was a certain quizzical set to his mouth. “That was…generous of you.”
She waggled the necklace at him like one would dangle a string before a cat, and said hurriedly, “Put it on. It will shield you from all of Aphrodite’s mischief.” Her shoulders tightened with expectation. In a moment Bruce would don the necklace, and she could sleep easier, knowing that he was safe from immortal harm. Her eyes itched at the mere mention of sleep and she blinked away the sudden grittiness pervading her eyes. If Bruce hadn’t been watching her, she would have given into the temptation to rub at her eyes; instead she balled her free hand into a fist and ignored the sensation, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
Bruce took the necklace from her with his dark gloved hands, examining the disk with a slight downward twist to his mouth. He turned the necklace over, squinting at the intricacies of the joined links.
“Of course it would be a necklace,” he muttered, resigned, and then moved to put it on.
Diana watched him, biting her lower lip to keep from looking too thankful. Bruce would only be uncomfortable with her obvious relief and concern, she knew, and his discomfort meant he would avoid her at all costs for the next few weeks. She clasped both hands behind her back and waited.
Bruce paused, the necklace halfway to his neck. His eyes narrowed, darkening with some foreign emotion. It took Diana a second to realize he was staring at her unadorned throat. “And where is your necklace, Princess?” he asked, voice thick with suspicion. He leveled a cool look at her. “You’re not about to do something stupidly self-sacrificing like giving me the only protection you have against Aphrodite, right?”
Diana sighed, seeing the stubborn glint in his eyes, the tension in his jaw that boded trouble if he disliked her answer.
“Put it on,” she snapped. When he made no move to follow her orders, she waved an impatient hand at him. “Yes, it is the only one of its kind, but the necklace only works on mortals. Wearing it around my neck would simply be a fashion statement, not protection.” When Bruce looked at her, still frowning, she snapped, “Batman, put it on right now or I swear in the name of Hera that I will put it on you myself!”
Bruce’s lips twitched at that, and she could have sworn she heard him mutter something along the lines of, “Princess, I’d love to see you try.” Then he shrugged, his mouth softening into what was almost a smile. “Your wish is my command, Diana,” he said.
He started to place the necklace around his neck, and then his hands stilled once more, arrested in the middle of working the clasp. He shuddered, his broad shoulders jerking like a chill had just gone down his spine.
“Batman,” Diana began, wondering why he still hesitated. Then she noticed the pallor of his face, the sudden tremor in his hands. “Batman,” she said again, her voice rising in concern. She took a step towards him, both hands reaching out, ready to steady him should he start to tumble off the gargoyle’s back.
“Diana, I,” he said, a bewildered note creeping into his voice. He lifted his head, staring at her with an unfocused gaze, his eyes looking through her as though he couldn’t see anything clearly. A grimace flitted across his face, half-hidden by the mask. “I feel--” He closed his eyes, swayed almost drunkenly. The necklace slipped from his nerveless grasp, dropping to the ground in a quiet chime of metal. “My--” One hand rose, reached blindly towards his back, and then dropped back to his side like dead weight. His fingers trembled for an instant as though he were still trying to reach his back, but soon even his hands were still.
He fell, and Diana leaped forward to catch him.
A grunt escaped her as she took the full weight of him in her arms, rocking back on her heels before she properly braced herself. “Batman,” she said, but there was no response except for his quick, uneven breaths, loud in her ear. His head lolled, his cheek feverishly warm against her shoulder.
“Batman,” she whispered, shifting his weight to one arm and then feeling his back for a wound. It took only a second for her grasping fingers to catch hold of the smooth metal, feel the feathers against her fingertips, the small trickle of hot blood.
Despair rose in her then, and she swallowed back the bitter taste of bile and defeat. “Hera help me,” she breathed hopelessly. Her hand dropped away from the arrow.
Someone laughed behind her. It was a warm, throaty sound that caught hold of Diana and squeezed until Diana thought her heart would burst.
Diana did not turn to look, closing her eyes in despair. She did not need to see those eyes that poets always likened to the sea, that reddish blond hair that fell in waves to the goddess’s lower back, to know who had done this to him.
“Hera help you? What makes you think Hera cares about your friend, Princess?” Aphrodite asked, amusement still tingeing her voice. “He is only a mortal, and the queen of the gods has no time to be concerned with such an insignificant--”
Rage burned as hot as Hephaestus’s forge, choking Diana as surely as her despair had. “Enough,” Diana snarled, holding Bruce tighter to her chest. “All would agree that it is unbecoming for a goddess to gloat.”
“Watch your tone, Amazon, when you speak to a goddess,” Aphrodite snapped back, tone cold. After a moment, though, cool amusement returned to her voice. “Besides, you should be thanking me, not scolding me. I have watched you two dance around each other for years now. It was high time for him to put aside all his silly objections and cherish you in a manner befitting royalty.” She laughed in delight. “He will worship the ground you walk on, cherish every word that falls from your lips, and obey your every command. It will be wonderful.”
“You thought I would be pleased by Batman’s servility?” It took everything in her not to laugh mockingly. She struggled to keep her voice even. “My lady, you do not know me at all.”
Aphrodite tsked. “You’ll change your mind,” she said confidently. “Wait until he takes off that mask of his to kneel before you and offer you his heart. You won’t be able to resist. It is always so much sweeter when a hard-hearted man like this one finally succumbs to love.”
Diana spoke through gritted teeth, each word sharp and cold enough to shatter diamonds. “Aphrodite, I swear to Hera that if you do not leave right now, I will attack you where you stand.”
Aphrodite laughed again, still amused. “Tell me that again in a few weeks, Amazon, once you have seen what my son’s arrow does to his temperament. You’ll be thanking me and wishing you had never made that fool’s errand to my husband’s forge.”
At that, Diana forced herself to look over her shoulder and meet Aphrodite’s eyes. “Did Hephaestus tell you of the necklace?” she asked, not quite believing the god would aid Aphrodite.
Aphrodite snorted. “Please, as though that idiot would ever help me. No, it was quite simple, really. I told Psyche of my plans, pretended that I didn’t already know exactly where my foolish son always hides his quiver and bow, and then followed Psyche straight to you. That was quite the touching scene you had on Themyscira, by the way.” Aphrodite still smiled, but her eyes were as dangerous as the stormiest sea. “Tell Lysippe to mind her words before I lose my patience.”
“I will pass along the message the next time I see her,” Diana said. “Now go, my lady, and take your son’s arrows with you.” The title nearly strangled her, but somehow it came out only slightly bitter.
Aphrodite did not respond, but in the next second she was gone, leaving only the strong smell of brine and roses in the air and Bruce’s heavy weight in Diana’s arms to show that the goddess had been here at all.
Diana looked down at Bruce’s masked, slack features, grief tightening her chest. If only she had pressed the necklace upon him more forcefully, told him immediately that only he could be protected by the necklace. If he hadn’t hesitated, perhaps…. No, she told herself. This was no time for what-ifs. Aphrodite had been there the entire time. The goddess would have struck him with the arrow no matter when he’d started to put on the necklace.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered into his unhearing ear. This close, she could smell the various scents rising off his skin and costume, sweat and deodorant as well as something that she couldn’t describe but a strong, earthy scent that was uniquely Bruce.
She shifted him in her arms, and frowned. She should get him to the Bat Cave, but how? She had been to the Manor a half-dozen times, but by invitation only. Perhaps she should use Bruce’s earpiece and somehow contact Alfred.
Someone leapt from the next building over, landing lightly on the other end of the roof. “Wonder Woman!” Robin called. The surprise was obvious in his voice, the wariness, less so. “What are you doing here? Batman didn’t say--” She knew the moment he got close enough to see that Bruce was slumped against her. “Batman!”
Diana turned her head enough that she could see Robin’s costume in the corner of her eye—the bright green, red, and yellow leaped out at her from the darkness. “Batman has been injured,” she said. “We need to get him home.”
“Right.” Robin paced forward. “What happened to him?” His voice was flat; as he drew closer, she could see the anger already beginning to harden his young features, his eyes narrowing to slits behind his mask. His hands clenched into fists at his sides.
“Batman was struck by one of Eros’s arrows,” Diana explained. At his blank expression, she elaborated. “One of Eros’s arrows makes its victims fall in love with the first person they see—” She faltered. HadBruce looked clearly at her before he’d lost consciousness? She remembered his unfocused gaze, how he’d closed his eyes before he’d fallen. “Robin,” she said, something like hope catching in her throat, “we must bind Batman’s eyes.”
“Bind his eyes?” Robin echoed, puzzled. Then he nodded. “Oh! I get it. If he hasn’t looked at anyone yet, the arrow won’t work, right?”
“Precisely,” Diana said. “We can keep his eyes covered until I have found a way to reverse the arrow’s effect.” She ignored the quiet voice that sounded like a smug Aphrodite reminding her that there was no known cure.
“Here,” Robin said, coming up behind her and tying a strip of black fabric around Bruce’s eyes with a few quick, efficient movements. “Part of my training is learning how to fight blindfolded,” he explained with a slight grin at her curious look. Then his smile faded. “How are we going to get him back to the Manor?”
“I can carry him if you will let me into the Bat Cave,” Diana said. Her gaze fell upon the necklace, half-hidden in the shadows of the gargoyle. “Pick up the necklace and keep it with you,” she said. “Make certain not to lose it.”
Robin shot her a puzzled look even as he obediently picked up the necklace. He stared at the jewelry for a moment, and looked about to say something. Then he wrinkled his nose and muttered something like, “I don’t want to know.”
“Excuse me?” Diana asked, but Robin shook his head.
“Let’s go,” he said. Without a backwards glance, he took a running leap off the roof. A second later, a rappel gun fired, and Robin swung back into view, landing heavily on a nearby building and starting to run.
Diana draped Bruce over her shoulder, careful not to jostle the arrow still in his back, and launched herself after Robin.
“Your Highness, Master Jason,” Alfred said. His eyes had widened at the sight of Bruce slung over Diana’s shoulder and the arrow sticking out of Bruce’s back, but otherwise nothing else had betrayed his surprise and alarm. “I take it Master Bruce ran afoul of some villain,” he said. “We have an infirmary if you will step this way, Your Highness.”
“Goddess, not villain,” Diana corrected grimly as she followed after Alfred. “Aphrodite, to be precise. Do any of the beds have restraints?”
“Restraints?” Robin said, voice rising. “You said that the arrows make people fall in love. Why does Batman need restraints?” He ripped off his mask, frowning at her. He looked absurdly young without his mask, thin face flushed with anger and windswept hair sticking up every which way. Diana tried to remember how old he was. Not much older than Donna, surely, only twelve or thirteen years old.
“If Batman did look at me after the arrow struck him, he will be out of his mind,” she said, keeping her voice calm and matter-of-fact. “If he didn’t, he will doubtless try to take off the blindfold before we can explain why he’s wearing it.”
“I don’t like it,” Robin grumbled, hunching his shoulders and scowling. “Tying Batman to the bed like he’s in Arkham, like he’s a bad guy--”
“I do not like the idea any more than you do, Master Jason,” Alfred said, “but I believe Master Bruce would prefer temporary restraints over falling prey to the arrow’s powers.” Alfred shot Diana a quick sidelong glance. “The arrow is one of Eros’s, I presume?”
“Yes,” Diana said shortly. She laid Bruce down upon one of the beds, careful to keep him in an upright position so as to keep the arrow from going in further. Blood still oozed sluggishly from the wound, although it was hard to tell how much blood Bruce had lost—much of the spilled blood was obscured by his costume.
Alfred frowned and removed both the mask and the blindfold, returning the blindfold to Bruce’s eyes so swiftly that Diana didn’t even have a chance to protest the initial removal. Now that Bruce’s face was unmasked, Diana could see how terrible he looked. His face was colorless, copious sweat beaded his hairline, and his expression was tight with pain even while unconscious.
Alfred’s frown deepened as he pressed his fingers to Bruce’s throat, apparently not liking the pace of his heart any better than Diana had. “This is beyond my expertise. We need Leslie,” he murmured, almost to himself. Diana wondered who this Leslie was as Alfred stepped away from the bed. “Master Jason, please assist the princess with the restraints while I get--”
“Right, right,” Robin said. The scowl remained on his face even as he set the necklace down on a nearby surface. He began snapping the cuffs over Bruce’s wrists and, after a brief hesitation, his ankles.
Alfred paused, giving Bruce’s unconscious form one last unreadable look before he left at a pace that was nearly a run for the older man. Diana watched him go, trying to keep the sympathy from her expression. Alfred had no doubt grown resigned to Bruce’s injuries during battle, but resignation was a far cry from blasé acceptance.
Robin had just closed the last cuff over Bruce’s left ankle and taken a step away from the bed when Bruce groaned and began to stir.
“Bruce?” Diana said, tightening her grip on his shoulders. “Bruce--”
Bruce groaned again, a full-body shudder going through him. Then the muscles in his shoulders tightened and he tugged his shoulders from her grasp and sat a little straighter. His arms flexed for a moment before he abandoned the struggle against his restraints. “Diana?” he muttered, sounding dazed.
She placed a steadying hand to the back of his neck, uncertain whether she should have been pleased or worried when he didn’t immediately pull away. His heartbeat was still uneven, she noticed, frowning, his skin clammy against her palm. “Bruce, do you remember what happened?” she asked, pitching her voice low and reassuring. “You were injured by the goddess Aphrodite, and Robin and I brought you to the Manor.”
He turned, grimacing at the movement. “Diana?” he asked, in that same groggy whisper.
“Yes, Bruce, I am here,” Diana said. She tried to tell herself it was only the pain that was making Bruce so docile, that he was in shock from the arrow. That was why he wasn’t immediately demanding to know what was going on and who’d had the bright idea to restrain him. She spared a brief glance for Robin, who was watching them with an angry, helpless frown on his face, and then continued slowly, “Robin is here as well. Alfred has gone to fetch Leslie. Just stay still, please.”
“Diana,” Bruce said again, and now the grogginess was fading, replaced by something else, something that made Diana’s heart sink to the floor. He turned his face blindly towards her, something going soft and terribly vulnerable in his ashen face. “I have to tell you,” he said breathlessly. He struggled against the restraints, his voice rising. “On the rooftop, I thought how we should—no, I’m saying this all wrong. I realized how foolish I’ve been. How many years have we wasted because I was a stubborn idiot? I--”
“Bruce, stop,” Diana said.
Bruce clamped his mouth shut, a muscle jumping briefly in his jaw before he froze on the hospital bed. Only the slight movement of his neck under her hand reassured her that he was even breathing.
For a moment Diana stared at him. Then she remembered Aphrodite’s words.
He will worship the ground you walk on, cherish every word that falls from your lips, and obey your every command.
“Damn,” she said viciously, and ignored Robin’s startled expression.
“What’s going on?” Robin asked. His gaze flicked between them, and then the boy swore quietly under his breath, half-darting a glance at her to see if she’d scold him. He relaxed a little when she said nothing. “He saw you.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yes,” Diana said. Then, gentler, she added, “Bruce, you were struck by one of Eros’s arrows. What you’re feeling isn’t real--”
He laughed at that, half-disbelieving, half-amused. “Isn’t real?” he said. “We both know it is. I love--”
“Don’t you darefinish that sentence!” Diana shouted, hearing the anger and pain in her voice and hating Aphrodite even more for it. She pretended not to notice Robin had suddenly found the floor absolutely fascinating; currently he was looking at anything but her and Bruce. She tried to soften her words even as misery choked her. “Bruce, if you were in your right mind you wouldn’t be talking like this.”
Bruce’s throat worked for a moment as though he was swallowing his words. Then he shook his head. “Diana, don’t you see?” he said earnestly. “Eros’s arrow didn’t change my feelings. It just opened my eyes to the truth. God, you don’t know what you do to me. Just the moonlight in your hair--”
“Stop speaking,” Diana said, and he did.
How many times had she imagined the moment when she convinced Bruce to take a chance on their relationship? She’d pictured his slightly rueful smile as he conceded to her wisdom, the way his gaze would warm as he finally let himself look his full of her. Nothing she had envisioned had been like this, Bruce’s expression ridiculously besotted, his words so saccharine that any sane, sensible person would choke upon them.
Diana leaned forward, pressed her mouth close to Bruce’s ear and tried to ignore the way he shuddered a little at her nearness. Perhaps what she was about to do was wrong, forcing her will upon him like this, but she couldn’t, wouldn’t bear this another moment longer.
“You know what?” she said in a low voice. “I don’t care if you’re secretly a hopeless romantic underneath that stubborn exterior of yours. I don’t care if you’ve secretly been composing poems for me that would have made Sappho weep. I will not hear those words from you while you are under the influence of Eros’s arrow, and that is final. Do you understand me?”
“Diana,” Bruce said, wretched, like her name hurt to say.
“Yes,” he hissed through clenched teeth. “I understand. I won’t tell you how I feel.”
“Good,” she said. She still had her hand pressed to his neck, she realized. She stepped away, adding, “Now, stay upright and tell me or Robin if you start feeling faint again. Alfred will be here soon with Leslie. We’ll get that arrow out of you.”
“All right,” Bruce said tonelessly, all animation draining from his face.
When she turned away from the bed, Robin was still studying the floor. “Will you watch him for me?” she asked. “I need….” She needed to be anywhere but here. No, she needed to fly to Mount Olympus and drag Aphrodite before Zeus and Hera, where she could demand the cure and fix this.
She took a deep breath, willing the tightness in her chest away. “I need to get some air,” she said at last.
“Just take the stairs. It’ll take you to the main hallway,” Robin said. She was almost to the stairs when his quiet voice stopped her. “You can fix him, right?” She turned to look at him. His shoulders were hunched, his eyes hooded as he stared at Bruce.
“Yes,” she said firmly, and told herself it wasn’t a lie.
Leslie turned out to be a woman around Alfred’s age clothed in a lab coat and wearing a grim expression. Alfred followed her, clutching a large box. Diana met them both at the door, taking the box from Alfred’s arms and ignoring his raised eyebrow.
“You must be Ms. Prince,” Leslie said. She attempted a smile; it died quickly and never reached her worried eyes. “How’s Bruce?”
“He’s awake. At least he was a few minutes ago,” Diana amended. “He is under the influence of Eros’s arrow, so it’s difficult to tell how much of his current state is from blood loss and how much is from the arrow.”
“Yes, Alfred mentioned the arrow. Besides it inducing love, is there anything else I should know about it?” Leslie asked. “It won’t dissolve once I begin to remove it, for example.”
“I--” Diana blinked. She thought hard, but she didn’t remember any of the sort mentioned in the stories her mother had told her. “I don’t know. I don’t believe it does. I think my mother mentioned that the wound will close up once you remove the arrow, but I’m not certain.”
“That’s something, at least,” Leslie said. The woman started to step into the Manor and then paused, peering at Diana. “Alfred, would you go and get some food for Ms. Prince while I tend to Bruce?”
“I’m fine,” Diana said automatically.
Leslie offered her a polite smile that said clearly she didn’t believe a word of it. “When was the last time you ate, dear?” she asked.
“I--” Diana’s throat was dry, and it took a moment to get the words out. “I am an Amazon. I don’t need as much food or sleep as mortals.”
“I’ll be in the kitchen,” Alfred murmured as though he’d misheard and thought that Diana had announced that she was starving. When she opened her mouth to protest, he added mildly, “No doubt Master Jason is hungry as well.”
“I remember Bruce when he was twelve,” Leslie said. “Boys at that age are alwayshungry.” Her tone was so much like Bruce at his driest that Diana found herself staring. Had Bruce gotten his sense of humor from this woman?
“I will prepare some sandwiches,” Alfred said. “Do you have a particular preference, Your Highness?”
Diana closed her mouth, defeated, and shook her head before she followed Leslie into the Manor.
“I’ll need your assistance with Bruce,” Leslie said over her shoulder.
“I’ll help in any way I can, but I’m afraid that I don’t have much medical knowledge. There aren’t many injuries on Themyscira,” Diana said with a frown. She’d learned first-aid within a few weeks of joining the Justice League, after Wally had been injured and she’d stood there, useless, while Bruce tended to his wounds, but she doubted her first-aid knowledge would be at all helpful.
“I’ll need you to hold him steady while I work,” Leslie explained. “I have to do some scans first, look for any possible damage in case the wound doesn’t heal as you said, but I want that arrow out as soon as possible.”
“I can do that,” Diana said.
Robin looked relieved to see them. “He hasn’t said anything since you told him to, uh, stop talking,” he said to Diana and then grinned hopefully at Leslie. “Gonna get the arrow out of him?”
“That is the plan,” Leslie said with a small smile, and then tugged the box away from Diana. She opened it, pulling out a few medical-looking items. She fussed over Bruce, who continued to look blank and barely acknowledged Leslie. He answered her questions in a quiet monotone and didn’t even flinch when Leslie carefully cut the bloodstained cloak and costume away from the wound.
After a few minutes of this, Leslie looked up. “He has lost quite a bit of blood. Jason, do you know how to prepare a blood infusion?”
Robin nodded, looking almost relieved at having something to do. “I’ll go get it ready,” he said, and vanished further into the infirmary.
“Bruce thought it prudent to keep a stock of blood around, considering his nightly activities,” Leslie explained. Her hands hovered by Bruce’s head, and she glanced at Diana. “Is it all right to remove the blindfold?”
“Go ahead,” Diana said bleakly. What did it matter now? She wasn’t surprised that Bruce looked towards her as soon as the blindfold was gone. He opened his mouth to speak, and then frowned and said nothing, staring at her in mute appeal. She could only meet his eyes for a few seconds, lowering her gaze to the arrow embedded in Bruce’s back.
Once Leslie had viewed the scans and Bruce had fresh blood going into one arm and an IV going into the other, as well as the man being hooked to several machines meant to monitor his blood pressure and heartbeat, Leslie washed her hands and snapped on a pair of gloves. “I’ll be putting him under anesthesia—his body’s already had quite a shock, and removing the arrow will be still another one,” she explained. “I just need you to hold him steady once I begin the removal. Jason will be monitoring Bruce’s vitals.”
The surgery went slowly, or perhaps it only seemed slow to Diana as Leslie bent over the wound and carefully removed the arrow. There was a fresh trickle of blood when the arrow came free, but then the wound closed up as Diana had predicted.
“Thank goodness,” Leslie murmured under her breath, but her hands didn’t falter as she set the arrow aside and began to wash the remnants of blood from Bruce’s back. “I’m going to do a few more scans, of course, but if the wound has healed on its own, he should be fine once he’s recovered from the shock and blood loss.”
“I’ll tell Alfred,” Robin said, and walked quickly to the stairs. As soon as he reached the stairs, however, he broke into a run, yelling, “Alfred! He should be okay!”
Leslie smiled faintly at his enthusiasm, and then turned to Diana. “I can handle the rest. Besides, Bruce won’t wake from the anesthesia for another half-hour or so. Go upstairs, get something to eat. I’ll call for you if I need you.”
“All right,” Diana agreed. Upon entering the main part of the Manor, however, she turned right instead of left and headed to the nearest bathroom. There, she stared at her wan, weary reflection.
After a moment, she tugged her tiara from her head. She pressed her thumb firmly against the point of the star until a dull pain blossomed. The blood dripped sluggishly and almost reluctantly from the wound. It would only be a moment before the wound healed, she knew, and so she quickly pressed her thumb to the mirror, drawing the ancient signal of Hera’s priestess.
A moment later, the mirror shivered green and her mother’s face appeared. “Diana?” she said in surprise, and then her eyes narrowed and her expression tightened. “I take it you are not calling upon me with good news.”
“Aphrodite has used one of Eros’s arrows upon Batman,” Diana said. To her embarrassment, her eyes pricked with tears and her mother’s face blurred. “Mother, tell me you know of a way to reverse the arrow’s effects. Please.”
“I do not,” her mother said gently.
“Mother, he is mindless with infatuation. I could order him to kill himself, and I believe he would do so,” Diana said, even more mortified to hear her voice shake. “Neither of us can live like this. There must be something--”
“Beseech the gods,” her mother said. “Batman is a mortal, true, but an important one. Go to Mount Olympus, tell Zeus how Aphrodite’s amusement has robbed Man’s World of one of its strongest defenders. Aphrodite will be furious, true, but you may sway Zeus to your cause.”
“And if he is not swayed?” Diana almost asked, but they both knew the answer to that. She smiled weakly, trying to look confident. “Thank you, Mother.”
Her mother’s expression was grave. “Be careful, my moon and stars,” she said. She hesitated, and then her expression smoothed into an unreadable one. “Good luck,” she said, softer. Then mirror flared green once more, and her mother was gone.
Diana replaced her tiara and went into the kitchen, where Robin was wolfing down a sandwich in one hand, his free hand already reaching for another sandwich.
Alfred was watching him with a slight crease at the corners of his mouth that suggested an inward smile. He inclined his head towards Diana as she entered. “Your Highness. I hope you like ham sandwiches. I am afraid Master Jason has eaten all of the turkey ones I prepared.”
“Sorry,” Robin said through a mouthful of food, not sounding all that apologetic.
Diana took a sandwich and began to eat. It tasted of ashes in her mouth, and she swallowed with difficulty. “I am going to Mount Olympus,” she said after forcing down another bite.
Alfred did not look surprised, but Robin paused and stared at her. “Wait, Mount Olympus? Like, the place where the gods live?” he asked in disbelief. “Can normal people even go there?”
“I am not entirely mortal,” Diana explained. “I won’t be able to stay there for very long, but I can entreat Zeus to restore Bruce to his normal self.” She took another bite.
“Zeus can do that?” Robin grinned. “I guess being the king of the gods means you can do what you want.”
“You’ll need to have someone oversee Gotham’s protection,” Diana said. “Time is odd around the gods—I may be back in a day, I may be back in a week.”
“I can--” Robin began, looking indignant, but Alfred was already nodding.
“Master Dick is busy in Bludhaven, but I will contact….” He hesitated, and said, almost awkwardly, as though the name felt odd to say, “Oracle. She’ll be able to recommend someone to help Master Jason.”
“Oh,” Robin said, deflating a little. “Yeah, bet you Barb—Oracle—could probably get Huntress to come here. Batman doesn’t mind her too much.” He shot a quick look at Diana, but she assumed a bland expression. Bruce had introduced her to Alfred, Nightwing, and Robin, but she would not press if there were others in Gotham yet to be introduced.
“If Bruce trusts this Oracle, so do I,” she said, and took another grudging nibble of her sandwich. “And I have met Huntress.” She didn’t bother mentioning that Huntress was no longer a member of the Justice League; doubtless, that had been a point in her favor in Bruce’s eyes.
“I will contact her in the morning,” Alfred said mildly, and set a glass of water next to Diana’s elbow. “I am going to check on Leslie and Master Bruce.”
Diana and Robin ate in silence, until Robin finished the last sandwich and leaned back in his chair. He kicked the table idly and said, “So, uh. I won’t tell anyone ‘bout what Batman said.” His ears were a little pink.
“Thank you,” Diana said gravely, resisting the urge to smile.
“Yeah, well, Batman would kill me if I told anyone about him being mushy,” Robin said. He wrinkled his nose. “Plus, I figure Eros’s arrow counts as mind control. No teasing people about stuff they say under mind control. Rule number twenty.”
Diana paused, her half-finished sandwich halfway to her mouth. “Please tell me Bruce doesn’t have an actual list of rules about being a super-hero,” she said.
Robin grinned widely. “I would, but rule number three is no lying to Justice League members,” he said, adopting a solemn tone. He laughed when Diana pursed her lips.
Diana forced down the rest of the sandwich, and then two more. She might not be hungry, but she would need all her energy to reach Mount Olympus and beseech Zeus. She glanced up at the clock. Bruce would be waking soon. She rose to her feet.
“Good luck,” Robin said.
“Thank you,” Diana said. She hesitated, wondering if she should say more, promise him that everything would be fine.
He made a face like he knew what she was thinking. “Just go and get Zeus to make Batman normal again, okay? Please?”
“Goodbye, Robin,” Diana said. “Tell Alfred thank you for the sandwiches.”
“Will do,” Robin said, slouching in his chair.
It was impossible to describe Mount Olympus, the overwhelming grandeur, the sense of timelessness. Even as she stood before the gates and knocked, Diana felt a little dizzy. The gates swung open, and she stepped inside, feeling rather like she was wading through water. Overwhelming power pressed in on her from all sides.
“What’s an Amazon doing on Mount Olympus?” a cheerful voice asked. “You have crossed into dangerous territory, Princess Diana.”
Diana turned her head with effort. When she saw the traveler’s robes and wide-brimmed hat the god wore, she managed a brief smile. “Feigning ignorance does not become you, Lord Hermes,” she said. “You must know what Aphrodite has done.”
“Yes, I might have heard something about an incident involving one of Eros’s arrows and a certain mortal,” Hermes admitted. He stepped closer, and extended an arm to her. “Eros was not pleased by his mother’s theft of his quiver and arrows. You are going to beseech Zeus, I take it?”
“That is my plan,” Diana admitted, accepting his arm. Instantly it was much easier to move. She fought the urge to lean against him and catch her breath. Hermes might have been one of the kinder gods, but even he had his limits. “Do you think he will hear my appeal?”
Hermes frowned. “Zeus is not in the best of moods,” he admitted. “He and Hera have been arguing over whether or not we should return to the mortal world. He is for going back to the mortal world, and Hera is against it.”
Diana’s heart sank. “So if I ask him to help Batman, I will be asking him to--”
“Admit he’s wrong,” Hermes said with a sympathetic grimace. “He’ll certainly see it that way, I’m afraid.” He lowered his voice, adding thoughtfully, “Of course, if you phrased it differently, perhaps he could be persuaded to fix your mortal.”
“Thank you, Lord Hermes,” Diana said. She caught her breath at the sight of Zeus’s palace, glittering gold brightly enough to make her eyes water, but Hermes didn’t bat an eye as he ushered her inside. “You have been extremely helpful.” Unusually so, she thought. Hermes was no enemy of the Amazons, but no ally, either; Iris had always brought any message from the gods to Themyscira. She eyed him curiously.
He caught the look and laughed. “Don’t look so puzzled, Princess Diana. You are a traveler, are you not? I protect all and any wayfarers.” Some of the amusement left his face. “Besides, Eros asked a boon of me. He and Psyche are furious at Aphrodite’s trickery, and asked me to aid you any way I can.”
This close, she could see reflections of Eros in Hermes’s features (or rather, the features that Hermes had passed along to his son) —the pale reddish-blond hue of his hair, the thick curls that tumbled in front of his eyes, the determined jut of his jaw. “Thank you, my lord,” Diana said.
“Here is the throne room,” Hermes said, coming to a stop before a huge door. “Whatever Zeus decides, I will be out here to escort you from Olympus.”
Diana inclined her head. She stood there for a moment, gathering her thoughts and weighing her options. Then she pushed open the door and stepped inside.
Zeus was alone, seated upon his throne and sipping a goblet of nectar. Diana fought back the relief that welled within her. This would be easier without an audience.
She knelt before him, pressed her forehead to the cold floor. “Your Majesty,” she said. The awe in her voice was not feigned; Zeus radiated power so that it hurt to look at him. Little sparks of lightning flared and died around him, filling the air with electricity and making it hard to breathe.
“So, Hipployta’s daughter has come to see me,” Zeus said. If Hephaestus’s voice had rattled her bones, Zeus’s made her head ache, the booming words like the warning rumble of thunder before a storm. He let out a brief shout of laughter that made her teeth click together. “Are you lost or blind, girl? Hera is not here.”
“It is not Hera’s aid I need, my king,” Diana said. “It is yours.”
“Rise,” Zeus commanded. She obeyed, keeping her gaze focused on his thick beard instead of his face. “And what is it you want of me?”
“I beg you to right a wrong, Your Majesty,” Diana said.
“If this is about Aphrodite’s trick with the arrow, I remind you that you are asking me to intrude upon Aphrodite’s domain,” Zeus said. She could feel his gaze upon her face, hear the frown in his voice though she still didn’t dare to meet his eyes. “Tread carefully, girl.”
Diana took a deep breath. “Your Majesty, you best of all the gods know of the thrill of a conquest, the satisfaction you feel when you have coaxed someone into bed and won their heart,” she said. “Aphrodite has robbed me of this pleasure.”
Zeus was silent for a moment, and she found herself praying—to whom, she wasn’t entirely certain, while she stood in Zeus’s throne room, but praying, Please, please, let this sway Zeus. Then he stood. His hand rested, heavy, on her shoulder. She nearly buckled under the weight of it.
“Princess Diana of the Amazons, I understand your difficulty,” he said. “I remember well when Eros’s arrows have been used against me.”
“Then you will help me, Your Majesty?” Diana said, hope fluttering in her chest.
“Athena has crafted a potion that she believes will bring your mortal back to his senses. She awaits only my agreement to make the potion itself. Go to her, and tell her you have my blessing to gather the ingredients.” He frowned. “However, you must not tell Hera that I have helped you. She would consider this meddling with the mortal world.”
“I will not tell her, Your Majesty,” Diana promised, fighting the giddy smile that wanted to curve her lips. “Thank you, Your Majesty. I will not forget this kindness.” She thought Zeus smiled, though it was half-hidden by his thick beard.
“Here is one ingredient I know you will need,” he said, and drew a small vial from his robes. “It is a crushed acorn from one of my oaks.”
She cradled the vial in her hands, willing her hands not to tremble. It was warm to the touch, not hot enough to burn, but warm enough that her skin prickled from the heat. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”
“Go,” Zeus said, and she fled before he could change his mind.
Outside, Hermes glanced at her from where he was leaning against the wall. Diana suspected him of eavesdropping, but said nothing as the god arched an eyebrow. “I take it your conversation went well,” he said. He tipped his hat back, eyeing the vial curiously.
“Yes. Athena created a potion that will cure Batman,” Diana said. “Now I must go to her, learn what other ingredients I need.”
“I’ll come along,” Hermes said. He stepped away from the wall, extending his arm once more to her. “Olympus doesn’t welcome those touched with mortality, even stubborn Amazon princesses.”
Diana switched the vial over to one hand, fingers closing carefully around the glass, and then accepted the god’s arm. “I would be grateful for your assistance, Lord Hermes.”
Athena lived in her own small palace, one that looked more like a library. It smelled of one as well, rich with the scents of dust and ink and parchment and the overall sense of age and knowledge.
Diana breathed in deeply, feeling some of the tension in her ease. Athena’s potion would work, she knew. Diana simply had to gather the ingredients. “Lady Athena,” she called as she and Hermes stepped further into the main foyer. “We would speak with you.”
“Come for the list of ingredients, Diana of Themyscira?”
When Diana turned, she found herself meeting pale gray eyes that gleamed with intelligence. “Yes, Lady Athena,” she said, inclining her head, for that sharp, assessing gaze could belong to no other goddess. “Lord Zeus gives his blessing for me to gather the ingredients.”
“I wondered if you would convince him,” Athena said. A small, pleased smile flickered briefly upon her stern features before she looked grave once more. “I have the list, but I would speak to you first before you begin your quest, child.”
Diana fought to keep her surprise off her face. Every inch of her ached to be off gathering the ingredients and restoring Bruce to his normal self. She inclined her head once more as Hermes stepped away, presumably to give them some privacy.
“I am not aware of time being of the essence to cure Batman, my lady, but I admit I would prefer to begin my quest soon,” she said as politely as she could manage. Impatience burned in the back of her throat, tightened the muscles in her shoulders once more. “Is the conversation so important that it cannot wait until I’ve gathered the ingredients?”
Athena looked at her for a long moment, and Diana inwardly winced at disapproval darkening the goddess’s eyes. “It is about the ingredients,” Athena said at last. “I cannot in good conscience send you on this quest without warning you of the dangers.”
“There are always dangers on a quest,” Diana pointed out. “It would hardly be a proper quest without possible injury.”
Athena plucked a scroll from a nearby table and handed it to her. “Read the list of ingredients,” she commanded.
Diana obediently held up the scroll and began to read. After the second item, she could feel the color begin to drain from her face. By the time she reached the final ingredient, it was all she could do not to curse. She took a deep breath and lowered the scroll. “Forgive my rudeness, my lady,” she said. “It would have been foolish of me to start my quest without knowing the difficulty.”
“So you still plan to accept the quest?” Athena asked, tilting her head to the side and fixing her with a curious look. “Despite knowing the dangers?”
This time Diana didn’t bother to hide her surprise. Had Athena thought she would take one look at the list and give up? “Of course, my lady. It will be perilous, but I cannot….” She faltered for a moment, her throat tightening as she thought of Bruce’s besotted tone, the mindless way he had looked at her. “I cannot bear what has been done to Batman.”
“Very well, “Athena said. Her expression was impossible to read, but Diana thought she saw regret in those grave features. Was Athena so certain that Diana would fail? Diana felt cold, suddenly, goose bumps rising on her bare arms.
“What are the ingredients?” Hermes asked. He took the scroll from Diana’s unresisting hands. As he read the list, his brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed. He looked sharply at Athena. “Cousin, you cannot be serious. The princess has to ask a boon of each of the twelve? How will she survive?”
“I will have to, that’s all,” Diana said.
Hermes shook the scroll at her, face flushing with anger. “You have to go to the Underworld and ask for a gift from Hades!” he shouted. “Did you forget that he wishes you dead? If you set foot in his realm, you will not return!”
Diana shook her head, determination replacing her earlier dismay. “That will be the most difficult ingredient, true, but the others will not be half so dangerous. I will succeed. There is no other option.”
“Other than defeat, you mean,” Hermes said, still scowling. He turned the frown upon Athena. “Surely there must be an easier way.”
She met his gaze coolly. “You know as well as I do, cousin, there is not.” As Hermes sputtered and waved the scroll around, Athena turned back towards Diana. “I can help a little. I have already approached Hera and gotten her ingredient for you.”
Hermes held the scroll up. “Oh, wonderful,” he said in a loud, sarcastic voice. “That will make things easier. So we’ve already got four of the twelve ingredients—Eros’s arrow, Zeus’s acorn, Hera’s pomegranate juice, and your olives, cousin. That means we just need, oh, let’s see, the chalice Hephaestus must create, the words I must give him to inscribe upon the chalice, Demeter’s grain, Poseidon’s salt water, Dionysus’s wine—”
“If you are going to throw a temper tantrum, cousin, you may step outside,” Athena said mildly. “You are not helping the princess with your antics.” As Hermes tossed the scroll at Diana and then stomped out of the palace, grumbling under his breath, the goddess turned to another table and picked up a thin case and shoulder strap made of warm golden leather.
“Remember this, child,” Athena said, opening up the case to reveal a space for eight vials of varying sizes. “You must gather all the ingredients and follow the instructions exactly.”
“Yes, my lady,” Diana said, staring almost greedily at the two vials already enclosed.
“Read the list to me, let me know that you understand what you must do,” Athena said.
Diana handed her the vial containing Zeus’s acorn to be stored safely in the case, and then cleared her throat and began to read.
“First, keep Eros’s arrow. This will be Aphrodite’s gift, albeit given unknowingly. Then you must gather eight ingredients from the gods, listed here, and request certain boons from the other four gods.
The eight ingredients are these: a crushed acorn from one of Zeus’s sacred oaks, two crushed olives from one of Athena’s olive trees, the poison from one of Ares’s sacred snakes, a vial of water from one of Poseidon’s salt springs, the juice of a pomegranate given willingly by Hera, a vial of grain from Demeter’s horn of plenty, a vial of wine from Dionysus, a white Asphodel flower from Hades’s Asphodel Fields.
As for the other four gods, first you must get words of power from Hermes that must be inscribed upon a chalice. Then you must give Hephaestus the words and have him make a chalice for this express purpose. Once you have gathered the eight ingredients, you must take them and the chalice to Hestia, who will blend the ingredients in the chalice and bless them. After that, the chalice and its contents must be first heated by a ride on Apollo’s chariot, and finally cooled by Artemis in the moonlight.
Then and only then may you dip the arrow into the potion. If you strike your mortal with this potion-enriched arrow, he will be freed from the spell.”
Diana stopped, taking a deep breath. It was not as daunting as it sounded, she told herself. She already had three of the ingredients, Hermes would gladly give her the necessary words, and she knew most of the gods and goddesses would aid her. Only Ares, Dionysus, and Hades seemed dangerous—Ares for his love of Aphrodite, Dionysus for his unpredictability, and Hades for his hatred of her and her mother.
A cool hand pressed against her cheek. She opened her eyes to meet Athena’s steady gaze. “Heed my advice, child, if you insist upon this quest. Put off Ares and Hades as the last two to visit. Ares is likely to tell Aphrodite of your plan, despite his admiration for Amazons.”
“I was planning on saving those two for last,” Diana admitted. She tried to smile. “Thank you for your aid, my lady. You have done much for me and Batman.”
“Yes,” Athena said, and stepped back. That earlier regret darkened her eyes and sharpened her words. “I only hope I have not aided you swiftly to your death.”
Hermes seemed a little more composed when Diana left the palace, the case a reassuring weight on her back. “Well, I thought we should go to Hephaestus first,” he said before she could speak. “Who knows how long my cousin will take to make the chalice. We might have all the ingredients before he’s finished.”
“Let us hope we are so swift,” Diana said. “Should I ask Lady Athena for a piece of parchment so you can write the words down?”
Hermes laughed. “Not unless you like the smell of smoke,” he said dryly. “The words Hephaestus will need to engrave upon the chalice are not meant for parchment or mortals’ ears. I will speak them to Hephaestus myself.”
“Very well,” Diana said. “Let us go.” Impatience forced her to push against the pressure and fly rather than walk towards Olympus’s gates. She found herself breathing easier the instant they passed through the open exit.
Perhaps some of her relief showed on her face, for Hermes shot her a concerned look. “If you need to rest--” he began, and stopped at the sharp shake of her head.
“I am fine. Just relieved to be on our way to Hephaestus’s home,” she said, and ignored the new look that crossed Hermes’s face, a half-amused, half-exasperated look that she would try to lie to a god who was known for his trickery.
“You need not worry too much about Hephaestus,” Hermes said. “He bears no love for his wife, and besides, he has never been one to resist a challenge. It was Hephaestus who designed Eros’s bow, you know, and Apollo’s chariot, as well as many other useful items. He will make your chalice if you ask.”
“I had known of Apollo’s chariot, but not that he crafted Eros’s bow,” Diana said, surprised. She shook her head. “I do not know why I am surprised. The bow is so powerful, who else could have made it? Neither Eros nor Aphrodite have any skill with the making of things.”
“No,” Hermes said after a moment. She glanced at him again, to see him looking almost rueful. “They do not.” Then he extended his hand. “Come, Princess Diana. You are a swift flyer, but my sandals will take us there even faster.”
“Thank you,” Diana said gratefully, and took his warm, callused hand in hers. She would have to thank Eros and Psyche for asking Hermes’s aid, she thought as she closed her eyes against the sudden wind whipping at her face, slapping her cheeks like blows.
They were silent the rest of the journey, the only sound the wind rushing in Diana’s ears. When they landed on the tip of Hephaestus’s volcano, the rocks crunching beneath their feet, Hermes released her hand and said, “Before we enter, there is one thing I should mention.”
She couldn’t decipher his tone. When she looked at him, the god looked almost sheepish, shuffling his sandaled feet and kicking up a bit of ash. “What is it, my lord?” she asked.
“The last time I was here, Hephaestus and I did not part on the best of terms,” Hermes explained, not quite meeting her eyes. She recognized the look now—it was similar to the one Wally wore when one of his jokes had not gone over well and he was trying to figure out a way to soothe the person’s ire.
“My lord, what--” she began, frustration tingeing her voice, and then stopped as the volcano suddenly shuddered beneath them.
“HERMES!” a voice roared, loudly enough that Diana’s heart leapt into her throat. She had to take a step back to steady herself.
“Hephaestus!” Hermes called back, his too-cheerful voice slightly strained as his gaze darted around the top of the volcano. “It has been a while, cousin! I have brought Princess Diana here to, ah--”
Hephaestus was nowhere to be seen, but somehow his voice rumbled in Diana’s ears, making her head buzz with the sound. “You stole my chariot, Hermes,” the god snarled. “Do you know how long that chariot took to build?”
“You are the craftsman of the gods, Hephaestus, I would have thought it’d take you no time at all,” Hermes called, still attempting jollity. Both he and Diana winced at Hephaestus’s enraged growl.
Diana cleared her throat. “Lord Hephaestus, I am sorry that I brought Lord Hermes here. Had I known that he’d committed such an affront to you, I would not have brought him anywhere near your domain,” she said. Hermes frowned and opened his mouth to protest, expression clearly meant to remind her he had to be here to provide the words of power, but she quelled him with a sharp look. “However, my need is urgent. Aphrodite managed to use one of Eros’s arrows upon my mortal friend before he could don the necklace.”
There was a pause, and when Hephaestus spoke again, his voice was quieter and almost sympathetic. “I am sorry to hear that, little Amazon, but I do not see how I can help you. I cannot sway Aphrodite to take mercy, and I work with metal, not with broken hearts.”
“Lady Athena has discovered a way to cure my mortal friend,” Diana said quickly. “Part of the cure is a chalice inscribed with certain words of power.”
“And you need me to make that chalice,” Hephaestus said slowly.
“Yes, my lord, and Hermes can give you the necessary words,” Diana said, and held her breath.
“I will not have Hermes in my domain a moment longer,” Hephaestus snapped. “He will steal something else as soon as you or I look away. It’s in his nature. He won’t be able to help himself.”
“That’s true,” Hermes agreed with a small grin. He shrugged at Diana’s frown. “What? Hephaestus speaks honestly.”
“Then Lord Hermes will not stay in your domain, my lord,” Diana said, thinking quickly. “He can shout the words to you, and I will return alone to retrieve the chalice once you have finished.”
“Very well,” Hephaestus growled. “But, princess, do not think I will treat you so kindly the next time you come asking a boon of me. I do this to spite Aphrodite, not to aid you. If you ever ask me for something else, you will have to pay a price. And gifts from the gods do not come cheap.”
Diana bowed her head although Hephaestus couldn’t see her. “I understand, my lord. I will do my best not to trouble you again.”
“Well, Hermes?” Hephaestus said impatiently. “Speak the words and go!”
“Oh, ah yes,” Hermes said. He smiled quickly at Diana. “You might want to cover your ears,” he advised her.
Diana obeyed, frowning in confusion. A second later, she understood. Even with her hands pressed against her ears, the words Hermes shouted went through her like a combined lightning bolt and thunderclap. Her knees threatened to buckle, and it was all she could to lock her knees and grit her teeth.
When she finally pulled her hands away from her ringing ears, Hermes grimaced. “Sorry, I forgot what an effect words of power have,” he said. “Let me know when your head is clear, and we will go.”
“I am fine,” she insisted, and then raised her voice. “Thank you, my lord. I will return, alone, once I have gathered the necessary ingredients.”
Hephaestus didn’t answer, save for the slight twitch of the volcano beneath their feet, as though the very ground wanted to knock Hermes off its surface and away from the immortal blacksmith’s domain.
“Come, princess, let us go,” Hermes said with an uneasy look.
They flew for a few minutes before Diana asked, “Before we continue, my lord, I need to know something.”
“Yes?” Hermes asked, nudging his hat further up his forehead so he could shoot her an unencumbered, curious look.
Diana licked her dry lips, well aware that she was treading dangerous waters. Hermes was here to help her, but his promise to Eros only stretched so far as his patience. She spoke slowly, without inflection, “Will any of the other gods and goddesses have reason to decry your presence in their domains?”
Much to her relief, Hermes laughed. “No,” he said. “Ares is not fond of me, but then, Ares is not fond of anyone save for perhaps Aphrodite and you Amazonian warriors, and even he and Aphrodite are on the outs every other century or so.”
“That is good to hear, my lord,” Diana said, and tried to believe him.
Demeter’s abode was far simpler than the other gods on Mount Olympus, almost rustic. It was instead her gardens that were elaborate, ripe fig trees and golden wheat swaying in a wind that brought all sorts of pleasing smells to Diana’s nose.
She breathed in deeply. The pressure of Mount Olympus still pushed against her, but somehow it was easier to be back in the gods’ domain with the scent of rich earth surrounding her. “My lady?” she called, coming to a stop under a fig tree and glancing around.
“Hera told me that I might have unexpected company,” Demeter said, stepping out of the wheat field, the golden wheat parting before her and snapping back into place as though the goddess had never walked there. The goddess was handsome rather beautiful, her sun-reddened features exuding warmth and welcome as she smiled. When she clasped Diana’s hand in greeting, black dirt was caught under her fingernails.
“So you are the Amazon all of Olympus is gossiping about,” Demeter added. “Aphrodite believes that Zeus rebuked you for your forwardness and sent you on your way, in case you were curious.” The goddess laughed; a low, throaty sound of amusement. “I overheard Algaia scolding Aphrodite quite fiercely over the issue.”
“I am honored to meet you, Lady Demeter. Forgive me, but did you say someone was scolding Aphrodite?” Diana echoed, fighting back a frown. “I do not recognize the name of that goddess. Who is this Algaia?”
Demeter waved a hand dismissively. “She’s the youngest of the Graces. An outspoken girl, one who makes her opinions on Aphrodite’s affair with Ares quite plain, although Aphrodite does not heed her.” Her smile sharpened a little, turned speculative. “You might like her, actually.”
“I see,” Diana said, although she didn’t. How did Algaia get away with rebuking Aphrodite without fear of retribution? She set aside her confusion to ask, “So Aphrodite thinks I am searching in the mortal realm for some other way to reverse the arrow’s effects?”
Demeter shrugged, a slow, elegant movement. “As far as I know. Now, what was it that you needed again? A piece of fruit? Something from my gardens, I know, although Hera was vague on the details.”
“Some grain from your horn of plenty, my lady,” Diana said, extending an empty vial to her. “I thank you for your kindness. I will offer a sacrifice to you on Themyscira upon my next visit.”
“A sacrifice,” Demeter sighed, accepting the vial. Wistfulness colored her voice. “We still receive the occasional sacrifice from a mortal believer, of course, but it is nothing like it was in the old days. A sacrifice would be most appreciated, child.” She paused, a shadow creeping into her smile and darkening her eyes. “Though you must offer a sacrifice on my daughter’s behalf as well.”
Something twisted in Diana’s chest at the fierce longing obvious in Demeter’s face. “You have my word that I will offer one for Lady Persephone, my lady,” she promised. Then she hesitated, glancing at Hermes, who seemed oddly subdued in Demeter’s presence. Lowering her voice though there was no one else around to hear, she asked, “I travel to the Underworld soon. Do you have a message to give to your daughter?”
“Princess--” Hermes began, frowning, but Demeter’s smile lit up her face and made her seem almost of an age as Psyche. “You are a thoughtful child,” she said. “Tell Persephone that I love her and wait impatiently for when she can return to me.”
“I will,” Diana promised. She hadn’t seen the goddess use her horn of plenty, but when Demeter handed the vial back to her, it was warm, as though the sun had touched it, and filled with golden grain. “Thank you, my lady,” she said with a dip of her chin. Some more of her earlier tension was easing with each passing moment. She was already almost halfway done with her quest, and so far the worst thing that had occurred was Hephaestus roaring at Hermes. True, the hardest parts came later, but at least the quest had begun well.
“Is there anything else you need, my lady?” she added, tucking the vial into the case.
“A very generous child indeed,” said Demeter, sounding amused. “Go and complete your quest, princess. And try not to tarry in the Underworld too long. While my daughter will appreciate the company, I do not think Hades will.”
“No,” Diana agreed with a quick smile, “he will not. Thank you again, my lady.”
“She would have given you the grains in exchange for the sacrifice alone,” Hermes said as soon as they were outside Olympus’s gates once more—Poseidon did not often venture from his kingdom beneath the sea any longer. “Why did you offer to bring a message to Persephone? You gave two gifts for the price of one.”
Diana glanced at Hermes, taking note of the honest confusion in his face. Had he not noticed Demeter’s grief, as strong as Lysippe’s loss despite the millennia and more since Hades had stolen her daughter away? “Were I Persephone and my mother Demeter, I would ask of the few travelers who pass through Hades’ halls for word from my mother,” she said simply. “How could I not offer to bring Persephone a message?”
“How could you not?” Hermes mumbled. He shook his head. “That’s all well and good, Princess Diana. I only hope you have not brought more trouble upon our heads.”
“Do not tell me the messenger of the gods does not want to carry a message,” Diana said, torn between amusement and exasperation. Surely passing along the message would do them no harm.
Hermes grimaced, but subsided, putting on speed and turning towards Eúboia.
They had just reached the island itself and were flying over it when Hermes said abruptly, “It seems we have company, Princess Diana.”
“Company?” Diana asked. Then she heard it, the loud whine of a plane speeding their way. She turned, narrowing her eyes, and caught sight of a familiar black jet. “Bruce,” she hissed, then remembered herself. She glanced sharply at Hermes, but he seemed oblivious.
“It’s heading right towards us,” he observed, tilting his head and frowning. “We should get out of its way.”
“It won’t hit us,” Diana said, adjusting her route and coming to a stop a few feet above the ocean. “That’s Batman’s plane.” She folded her arms against her chest and glared at the plane. “Hopefully it is not Batman himself, since he should be strapped to his bed in Gotham.”
Hermes grinned crookedly. “From what I have heard of your Batman, that means nothing.” He watched the plane with growing interest. “I suppose he should be accompanying you on this quest. You are doing this for his benefit, after all.”
Diana snorted, unamused. “He will be no use to me in his state,” she said. “And I would prefer him in Gotham, away from the dangers. No offense, my lord, but mortals rarely fare well in interactions with the gods.”
“True enough,” Hermes said with a downward twist of his lips. “Though Gotham has dangers of its own, I am told.”
Diana frowned, disquiet making her stomach clench. She thought of the Joker, of Two-Face, of all the villains who wanted Bruce dead, who would certainly take advantage of Bruce’s situation. “It does,” she said, disquiet making the agreement come out hard and harsh.
The jet landed lightly on the ocean’s surface, churning water as the plane shifted into something that could actually float. As soon as the windshield of the plane had opened and a familiar costumed figure stood upon the nose of the jet, Diana flew closer.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded, positioning herself so that they were face-to-face. She was close enough to see the sweat beading the line of Bruce’s jaw, the sickly pallor made worse by the dark coloring of his costume. He was not quite as ill-looking as he had been before, but he did not look himself, not by any stretch of the imagination. “You were supposed to stay home and I’d bring the cure to you!”
Bruce’s eyes shone fever-bright behind his mask. “I can’t let you take these risks because of me,” he said. The words came out hoarse as though they hurt him to say.
“I have Hermes to guide me, I will be fine,” Diana said, attempting lightness. “Besides, you would do no less for me. Or have you forgotten your encounter with Circe?” Then a thought struck her, and she narrowed her eyes. “I have not reported to the Justice League or to a certain concerned butler. How did you know where to find me?”
Bruce shrugged. “I slipped a tracker under your bracelet when you handed me the necklace,” he said, matter-of-fact.
“You slipped a--” Diana closed her eyes, counted to ten—έva, ōύo…ōέқа. “Batman, we have spoken about this before. I do not find your habit of putting tracers on my person endearing, even if I realize you do it out of concern. It’s an invasion of privacy.” She held her bracelets up to the sunlight, quickly found the small tracer. She handed it back to him. She would have preferred destroying it, but she knew how expensive the little device was, and was not so spiteful to cost Bruce thousands of dollars.
“We will discuss this later,” she promised darkly. “Once you are yourself again.”
“Fine,” Bruce said, and then just looked at her. The silent longing in his eyes, the tight misery in his jaw, all made her heart clench and her breath catch in her throat.
“I will have the cure soon,” she told him, and searched his face for any sign of relief. She found none; he simply nodded and kept staring at her. She lowered her voice. “Batman, you must go back to Gotham. You cannot help me.”
“Eros’s arrow didn’t disable me completely,” Bruce said. “It simply opened my eyes to—” He stopped, swallowed. “It didn’t disable me,” he concluded. “I can help.”
“You will be a distraction,” Diana argued. “Go back, Br-- Batman!”
The command hung in the salty sea air for a moment, and then Bruce said, “No.” His broad shoulders bowed for a moment, his entire body curling in on itself as though Diana had struck him rather than ordered him homeward, but his voice was firm.
Diana frowned. Hadn’t Aphrodite said he would obey her every order? “Go home,” Diana said, putting as much authority into the command as she could muster.
“No,” Bruce said again. “Diana, I won’t--” He swayed a little, almost drunkenly. “Don’t make me,” he said through gritted teeth. “I have to do something.”
“Bruce,” she said, staring at him as he struggled against her order, his eyes sliding shut and a muscle jumping in his jaw. There, at last, was a hint of Bruce’s true personality. She could see the stubbornness in his clenched fists and how fiercely he was fighting her command.
Could Bruce perhaps fight against an order that went so much against his principles and beliefs? Diana took a breath, uncertain of what to say. She was glad to see that spark of obstinacy once more and learn that Bruce was not completely her puppet, but she didn’t know if it would be better to keep him by her side or return him to the Manor.
“He might be useful,” Hermes said from behind her. She jumped a little and turned to see him eyeing Bruce thoughtfully. “Ares might appreciate Batman’s skill in battle, and be more inclined to help us.”
“Fine,” Diana said. “You may accompany us.”
Immediately Bruce relaxed, his shoulders squaring and his listing to the side stilling as he took a deep breath. His eyes half-opened, catching hers. “Thank you,” he said hoarsely.
The fingers of her right hand twitched, wanting to press against his shoulder and give him a reassuring squeeze. She clenched her hand into a fist instead and said briskly, “Just promise to let me and Hermes handle the gods. It won’t do you any good to irritate Poseidon and have him turn you into a dolphin.”
“I promise,” Bruce said. Then he frowned. “A dolphin?”
“The Earth-shaker is almost as fond of dolphins as he is of his horses,” Hermes informed him. The god glanced at the water lapping against the sides of the jet and frowned. “How do we make our descent? I could manage it easily, but I know you mortals have trouble going too deeply too quickly.”
“I brought diving gear,” Bruce said. His expression was almost wry as his eyes caught and held Diana. It seemed to say, And just how were you going to get to Poseidon’s home without me, exactly? The moment quickly passed, replaced by a mute, needy appeal that made Diana drop her gaze to the sea and silently curse Aphrodite once more. After a few seconds, Bruce cleared his throat. “Just take us down slowly.”
The descent to Poseidon’s kingdom was slow and strange. Diana saw schools of various beautiful fish, and then fish that grew odd and unusual in their appearance as the water darkened and the pressure and cold mounted against her gear.
She was almost relieved when at last Hermes squeezed her arm. She could not see the god, but the tightening of his grip upon her arm signaled something. A moment later, the god stopped, and with another brief squeeze that seemed more reassuring than agitated, released her.
She kicked at the water for a moment, squinting into the darkness and wondering what was going on. Then light appeared, so suddenly and brightly that she shut her eyes and grimaced. She was only half-aware that Hermes had taken her arm again, and was leading her forward.
Air rather than water pressed against her then, and she opened her eyes in surprise. She found herself standing with Hermes and Bruce in a large, long corridor, the surrounding stone looking similar to marble but with a greenish tinge.
“Welcome to Poseidon’s palace, Princess Diana,” Hermes said.
Diana’s lips were numb from the chilly water, but after a moment she had worked her lips enough to say neutrally, “It is not quite what I expected.”
Bruce, in the middle of discarding his diving gear, looked up. “Shouldn’t someone be here to greet us?” he asked, and looked more like himself with suspicion darkening his eyes.
As though in answer, three beautiful women appeared at the other end of the corridor. “Welcome, welcome,” one called, laughing and clapping her hands together. They moved as though they were dancing, sure-footed across the greenish tile towards Diana and her companions. “Lord Poseidon has been expecting you. Will you come with us and be robed in clothes befitting guests of our lord?”
Diana glanced at Hermes, who shrugged. “It’s generally best not to refuse a god’s hospitality,” he said in a low whisper. “And if Poseidon has already acknowledged you as a guest, you’ve won half the battle.”
“We would be grateful for Lord Poseidon’s thoughtfulness,” Diana declared, smiling and inclining her head to the women. She stepped closer to Bruce, murmured, “I know you will not want to take off your mask, but somehow ask politely for one you can wear in Poseidon’s presence without offense.”
“And if Poseidon insists I take off my mask?” Bruce murmured back.
“Then you will have to,” Diana said. She sighed at his scowl. “I realize that will compromise your identity, but Bruce, he is the god of the sea. Who would he tell if he knew your true identity? Aquaman?”
Bruce snorted and continued to look disapproving as one of the women took him by the wrist and lead him through the doorway and into another room.
“Princess Diana, I hope you do not mind wearing a dress,” one of the other women said. “Lord Poseidon insists upon it.”
“I have worn dresses before,” Diana said, amused. Did the Nereid believe she wore only her battle gear, like Artemis only wore the garb of a huntress, or Ares wore his armor?
“Come with me, please. I am Neso,” the woman added with a movement that was almost a curtsy. She studied Diana’s features, and smiled. “It seems Thetis was right—she had Maira make a dress that matched your eyes.”
Diana frowned. “How does Thetis know my eye color? We have not met.”
Neso laughed. “Child, you lived on an island. We might not interfere in the mortal realm anymore, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t curious enough to peek in on places like Themyscira from time to time.”
“Ah, of course,” Diana said. Neso showed her into a small bedchamber, where a dress the exact shade of Diana’s eyes lay upon the bed. Diana bit back a gasp at the sight of it, and ran her hand reverently over the smooth, light fabric. When she changed into the dress, it swirled around her feet, feeling weightless.
Neso studied her with a critical eye. “The bracelets work well with the dress,” she announced. “The tiara and that case do not. Must you wear them?”
Diana pressed her hand instinctively to the tiara, its cold metal a reassuring constant. “I would feel more comfortable with the tiara on,” she admitted with a smile. “Wearing only the bracelets would make me feel lopsided. And the case contains items that are precious to me. I cannot part with it.”
Neso sighed but didn’t protest. “Come, Poseidon has prepared a feast for you and your companions!”
Diana resisted the urge to frown. “Poseidon’s kindness is generous, but I regret that we really do not have time for a feast. We--”
“My lord will insist upon a feast at the very least, even if you wish to be on your way,” Neso interrupted, tone a little sharp. When Diana stared at her, the woman forced a smile. “I’m sorry. It has been so long since we’ve had guests,” she explained. “If you tell my lord you wish to leave immediately, he will take offense.”
“I see,” Diana said. She pushed aside her own impatience—Bruce was here and safe for the moment, after all, and had not professed his undying devotion recently, which made everything a little more bearable. She inclined her head. “Then I will thank Lord Poseidon for the feast.”
Poseidon did not exude quite as much power as his brother, but his presence was awe-inspiring nonetheless. His eyes were the same green of a stormy sea, and his thick curls the black of the deepest ocean depths. A wide smile warmed his thick, fleshy face as he shouted, “Sit, sit, nephew. Sit, Princess of the Amazons. Sit, Batman of Gotham. Enjoy the feast I have prepared for you!” He gestured broadly at the long table he was seated at the head of, the table’s surface completely hidden by a dizzying number of plates of food.
Diana turned to see that Bruce had, in fact, managed to convince someone that he should be wearing a mask. It was the same shade as his chiton, which was a dark green hue similar to seaweed. The color did not quite suit him, Diana observed, but he looked comfortable in the outfit. There was a touch of the playboy Bruce Wayne in the way he sat down at the table and smiled at both Poseidon and the Nereid who had escorted him into the room.
“You are more than generous, uncle,” Hermes said. He, too, had kept his hat and winged sandals, but wore a chiton the pale blue color of a calm sea. He sat down at the table and immediately snatched something wrapped in seaweed from one of the nearby plates, popping it into his mouth with a grin.
“I have always been generous,” Poseidon said loudly. He was, Diana began to realize, the type of god who always spoke in proclaiming tones, so that his words rang in his listeners’ ears. Poseidon laughed. “Tell me, Princess of the Amazons, I am more generous than my brother, am I not?”
“Your brother, my lord?” Diana asked as Hermes nearly choked on his food.
“Zeus! Zeus, of course! One of my naiads brought word of how he refused to aid you and your mortal companion here.” Poseidon reached over and clapped a hand on Bruce’s shoulder that made the man wince. “Tough luck, that!” he continued. “Always thought my brother allowed Aphrodite too much freedom with those arrows and that bow. Those damned arrows are always causing trouble!”
Hermes shot Diana a quick look that said to let him handle this bit of diplomacy, and so she stayed quiet as Hermes laughed and said, “Truer words were never spoken, uncle! But Athena may have found a way to heal Batman, and Zeus did not say that Princess Diana could not seek aid from other gods and goddesses.”
“So Athena’s invented a cure, has she?” Poseidon said, chuckling. “Well, if anyone’s able to figure out a way to do so, it would be Athena. Good head on her shoulders, that girl. A pity she never married. Imagine what sort of gods she could have brought into the world!”
“Yes, a pity,” Hermes said, with only the brief flickering of his gaze away from Poseidon to indicate his strain. Diana, meanwhile, tried to imagine stern-faced Athena with children, and failed.
“And what sort of cure has she thought up, then?” Poseidon asked.
“I must gather ingredients for a potion, my lord, which will reverse the effects,” Diana said.
Poseidon let out a sharp bark of laughter. “And that’s why you’ve come to my kingdom, princess? To ask a boon of me? Not for my delightful company, it seems! A pity!”
“The pleasure of your company is indeed delightful, my lord,” Diana said smoothly, “but I will not evade your question. I am here for a needed ingredient-- water from one of your salt springs.”
The atmosphere, which had been so cheerful a moment earlier, now turned tense. “And what will you give me in exchange?” Poseidon asked, fixing her with a sharp look. “No boon from the gods comes for free, princess. Any god or goddess who hasn’t demanded something from you in exchange for an ingredient had an agenda.”
Diana saw Bruce tense. She quelled him with a brief touch of her hand to his knee, and then refocused her attention on Poseidon. “I am but an Amazon, my lord, and no goddess. I could not guess what you would want from me, but I’ll gladly give what you wish in exchange for the water.”
“Diana,” Hermes breathed quietly, low enough that only she heard his soft protest.
“Well said, princess,” Poseidon said after a moment, and some of the tension left the room. He rested his chin on his fist, looking at her with a thoughtful gleam in his eyes. Then he chortled, apparently striking upon a pleasing idea. “You are a princess of the Amazons, women known for their skill in battle, but not their riding skills. Ride one of my horses around this table without falling from its back, and I will give you what you ask for.”
“Ride a horse around this table,” Diana echoed. She glanced at her companions. Bruce frowned, but said nothing. Hermes wore an unreadable look. “I accept the exchange, my lord. Shall I ride the horse after the meal?”
“After the meal,” Poseidon agreed, and then chuckled once more, pushing a plate closer to her. “Now eat up! You’ll need your strength!”
“Diana,” Hermes hissed as Poseidon bellowed for another jug of wine to be brought to the table. “Have you ever ridden a horse?”
“One or twice,” Diana said, and shook her head at Hermes’s despairing groan. “What should I have done, then? It’s either ride a horse or go back to the surface empty-handed!”
Hermes didn’t argue, just drank a long draught of his wine. “I suppose we’ll see if one of Poseidon’s horses is strong enough to break even an Amazon’s bones,” he muttered into his drink.
“Quiet,” Diana said sharply, but thankfully Bruce had been distracted by a smiling Nereid offering him a sweetmeat. “If you imply I will be injured, I do not know how Bruce will react,” she whispered. “He is under enough strain, understand?”
“Very well,” Hermes said, and then surprised her by taking her wine glass away when she reached for it. “Poseidon’s wine is stronger than your mortal attempts,” he explained. “You’ll need a clear head.”
Diana watched Bruce listen gravely to whatever the Nereid was saying, all trace of his playboy disguise gone as she leaned over his shoulder. There was only polite interest in his smile as he nodded at what the Nereid had just said and accepted a plate from her.
“Yes,” she said, looking away. “I will.”
“Here are my stables!” Poseidon announced, throwing the doors open with a clang. None of the horses so much as twitched an ear, apparently used to the god’s loud entrances. “You may pick whichever horse you like for the challenge.”
“Thank you, my lord. That is generous of you,” Diana said, and then murmured to Hermes, “Do you know anything of horses, Lord Hermes?”
“I do,” Bruce said as Hermes shrugged. A strained smile flickered on his face at Diana’s surprise. Gently, so that only she could hear, he added, “What, do you think Bruce Wayne never goes to the races?”
“I,” Diana said, and stopped. In all honesty, she paid little attention to what Bruce did in his playboy disguise. She could not escape that particular alter ego, of course, when Bruce Wayne’s antics so often dominated the news, but she did not make a habit of prying into that part of Bruce’s life. “Thank you,” she said at last even as she handed the case to Hermes for safe-keeping.
Bruce nodded, and then turned towards one of the nearby stalls, making his way down the aisle. He examined each horse carefully. At last he returned, bringing with him a mare the color of pale sea foam, prancing lightly on her hooves. The halter and saddle were made of a metal that looked like gold, glittering in the torchlight.
“This one,” Bruce said. “All of Poseidon’s horses are spirited, but she’ll listen to you if you’re confident enough.”
“You have an eye for horseflesh!” Poseidon roared. If anything, he looked delighted at Bruce’s choice. “Well then, princess, let’s see how you ride!”
Bruce handed the reins to Hermes and then knelt, offering Diana his cupped hands. She stared at him for a moment, but his features were obscured by the new mask. She put her foot in his hands, felt his hands tighten briefly, and then she swung her other leg over the back of the mare.
Scarcely had she gotten her seat when the mare snorted and began to prance away from Bruce, tugging sharply at the reins Hermes still held.
“I think you will need these,” Hermes said dryly, handing the reins to Diana.
She gripped them tightly, and then tighter still as the mare shook her head and then began to trot away from the onlookers, heading towards the open door.
“We’ll be waiting at the table, princess!” Poseidon called, and began to laugh as the mare increased her speed.
Diana tugged on the reins to no avail; the mare continued to canter down the varying hallways. No matter how much she strained at the reins, the horse just flattened her ears and went where she willed, jostling Diana’s breath from her. Everything was a blur, the salty air stinging Diana’s eyes as the mare galloped down one corridor, then another.
At last Diana pressed her cheek against the mare’s neck and snapped in her ear, “All right, you’ve had your fun, but it is time to behave. You will go where I want, or you will regret it.”
The horse snorted, and Diana tugged the reins sharply to the left, just in time to avoid a startled Nereid, her arms full of dirty dishes. “I do not have time for this!” Diana yelled, the sound loud enough that the mare hesitated briefly, whickering a soft sound of surprise. “We are going to see your lord, understand?” she said, not knowing if the horse could understand her, but hoping so. This was one of Poseidon’s prized horses, after all; surely she would be intelligent. “Now, go to Poseidon!”
The mare huffed, sounding almost sulky, and then turned and cantered in an entirely new direction. Diana clutched grimly at the reins and hoped this wasn’t another trick.
“Took you long enough!” Poseidon bellowed when she and the mare galloped into the room and began their route around the table. “We were beginning to give up on you, princess!”
The mare came to a stop in front of her master, sticking her nose into his hair and snuffling. “I thought your horse might enjoy stretching her legs, my lord,” Diana said, starting to dismount. Immediately her leg muscles locked. “Gods!” The exclamation escaped her lips before she could bite it back, and she nearly fell from the mare’s back.
Only Bruce’s sudden grasp of her waist prevented her from shaming herself by tumbling from the saddle. “Diana,” he said, dark eyes narrow in the slits the mask provided him. “Let me help you.”
“My legs are a bit sore,” she explained, embarrassed by the concerned looks both Bruce and Hermes were directing towards her. “It is nothing serious.”
“Perhaps you lost track of time, princess, but you’ve been riding through Poseidon’s palace for three hours,” Hermes remarked from where he sat sipping at a glass of wine. “Had you been mortal, I suspect your legs would have fallen off during that ride.”
“Three hours?” Diana echoed in disbelief. It had seemed only minutes. No wonder her legs ached so, the muscles knotted and painful. Through a haze of discomfort, she let herself slide from the saddle into Bruce’s grasp, only realizing as his arms wrapped around her that she should probably have refused his assistance.
“Diana,” he whispered; his breath was warm on her ear. “You should rest.”
“I’ll have Neso the Nereid take me to my room,” she tried to say, but then Bruce let out a quiet, shuddering sigh and held her closer, his lips tickling the spot right under her ear. Her legs now felt wobbly, though she told herself that was from the riding.
“Hermes, let me give you that salt water!” she heard Poseidon shout, then roar with mirth. “I hope the poor mortal won’t have to drink the stuff. Useful, my salt springs are, of course, but tasty they are not!”
“Thank you, my lord,” came Hermes’s quieter reply, and then Bruce was leading Diana from the room.
“Bruce,” she tried to say, but her legs felt even worse with each passing step, and she gave up on protesting. It would be pure foolishness to push Bruce away only to crumple to the floor, she told herself. She would have to let Bruce take her to her bedchambers and then send him away before Eros’s arrow made him do something they’d both regret.
“Here’s the bed,” Bruce whispered in her ear, and she sank gratefully onto the covers.
“By all the blessed gods, that was something I wouldn’t wish to experience again,” she sighed, stretching out her legs and wincing as the strained muscles protested. She jumped at a sudden pressure on her leg. She looked down at the top of Bruce’s head, for he was kneeling next to the bed, his hands cupping one ankle carefully. “Bruce!”
“You need rest,” he said, not looking up at her as he removed one boot. “I know you’re a warrior and can sleep anywhere and in any situation, Diana, but I don’t think you’d actually enjoy sleeping in your boots.” He removed the second boot and leaned away from the bed, one hand resting on the bed next to her knee. She could feel the warmth radiating from his skin.
His hands were bare, she realized. Apparently he had convinced his attendant to leave him a mask, but not gloves. His hands seemed strange, uncovered; she could see the light brushing of hair on his knuckles.
She caught up his hand, the one close to her knee, and turned it so that his palm was open towards the ceiling. Diana studied the calluses he’d earned through years of fighting and building his machines, the small white scars. Sometimes she wondered how people saw Bruce Wayne in his civilian disguise and didn’t immediately recognize his hands as those of a warrior.
“Diana,” Bruce whispered, sounding as though he were choking.
She dropped his hand with a start, shame warming her face. How could she force her touch upon him when she knew he couldn’t refuse her? “Bruce, I am sorry,” she said quickly.
He looked at her, then, and reached up to tug his mask off and drop it onto the floor. Unmasked, she could see the warring emotions twisting his features, the full intensity of his dark gaze. “Diana,” he said again. “I know what you told me, but I-- I want--” He swallowed. “You know how I feel,” he said hoarsely. “Why are you fighting this?”
The misery in his voice made her answering misery taste bitter as she shook her head. “If you hadn’t been struck by Eros’s arrows, you wouldn’t be acting this way,” she said. “How could I take advantage of you when you’re like this? You would never forgive me once the potion clears the arrow’s poison from your system. Iwould never forgive myself.”
“And I am telling you that Eros’s arrow did nothing but tear the veil from my eyes!” Bruce snapped. “These emotions, they’re real, Diana. I don’t understand why you keep arguing--”
“One, dating within the team always leads to disaster,” Diana said, words clipped and precise. She watched Bruce wince. “Two, I’m a princess from a society of immortal warriors, and you’re a rich kid with issues--”
“Stop,” Bruce said. “You can’t hold that speech against me, Diana. Time has passed. My feelings have changed since then.”
“No, they haven’t,” Diana said.
“Yes, they have,” Bruce said, frustration sharpening his words. When Diana shook her head, Bruce groaned. “You don’t believe me. Will you believe me if I approach you once we’ve used the potion?”
It took a moment for Diana to gather enough breath to speak, to make certain her voice was steady and her expression calm. She would not let Bruce see how much that question had hurt. “You won’t,” she said. “You will banish me from Gotham for a few months, participate in as few Justice League issues as possible, and after a few months, you’ll relent enough to treat me as a friend again.”
“Did I miss when Apollo gave you the gift of prophecy?” Bruce asked bitterly. “You sound like you can see the future.”
“I am no seer, but I know you,” Diana said.
“You don’t know me as well as you think, princess,” Bruce said, turning the title into an insult. He rose to his feet, snatching his mask from the floor, and turned to go. Halfway to the door, he paused and turned back. On his face was a look of mingled anger and resignation. “Have you given up, then?”
Diana couldn’t help it; she laughed. It was a quiet, melancholy sound, one that made Bruce frown. “I will never give up, Bruce,” she said quietly. “Perhaps you don’t know me as well as you think, either. You should know I am no quitter.”
Bruce was silent for a long moment. Then he tugged his mask back onto his face. “Get some rest, Diana,” he said, and left before she could speak.
She stared at the closed door, and then leaned back against the pillows, throwing one arm over her eyes. “Oh, Hera help me,” she muttered. “Let Dionysus’s ingredient be a simpler trade. I cannot take another day of this.”
She slept fitfully. When she woke, all her muscles seemed turned to stone, from her neck to even the tendons in her feet. She groaned, rubbing at the knotted muscles in her thighs and cursing under her breath.
“Have this drink, Princess Diana,” Neso said, entering with a steaming goblet and sympathetic smile. “It is diluted ambrosia. It will help your muscles heal.”
“Thank you,” Diana gasped, drinking greedily. She tasted spices, heady on her tongue, warming her as the drink hit her belly. The warmth spread through her limbs swiftly, and in a few minutes, Diana felt well enough to rise. “Thank you,” she said again, and looked around for her clothing.
She changed back into her clothes, handing the rumpled dress off to Neso with an apologetic grimace.
“Do not look so dismayed, Your Highness!” Neso said with a laugh. “This is fabric created by Arachne before Lady Athena turned her into a spider. The wrinkles will come out soon enough.”
“Where are Lord Hermes and Batman?” Diana asked.
“They are eating breakfast with Lord Poseidon before you depart. Lord Poseidon did not think you would want food after the ambrosia, but you are welcome at the table.”
“Thank you,” Diana repeated. In fact, she did not feel hungry at all, all her fatigue and hunger replaced by boundless energy. She adjusted her tiara and smiled. “May the gods bless you, Neso.”
Poseidon was in the middle of a story when Diana entered, but he broke off from telling the tale long enough to roar out a greeting to Diana. Then he continued the story, something about the Nereid Galene’s chance meeting of the king of Atlantis a few centuries ago.
“Not hungry, Princess Diana?” Hermes whispered as Poseidon chortled at his own jest.
“I drank some diluted ambrosia,” she whispered.
“That was kind of my uncle,” Hermes said, and then clapped loudly at Poseidon’s tale.
Once Poseidon had finished his story and Bruce and Hermes had finished their meal, Diana cleared her throat. She didn’t look at Bruce, who hadn’t so much as glanced her way when she’d entered. “My lord Poseidon, thank you for your hospitality and the ambrosia. You have been more than generous.”
Poseidon snorted. “I couldn’t let you hobble out of here, princess, looking like Hephaestus on one of his worse days. Go and get the rest of your ingredients. I look forward to hearing from one of my naiads that you’ve succeeded.”
He tossed two small, gleaming items, one towards her and another towards Bruce. She caught hers, and blinked. It was a small pearl.
“Chew and swallow it, and you’ll be able to make the journey to the surface easier. Still need those odd contraptions you brought with you, of course, but you won’t get a headache if Hermes brings you to the surface too quickly,” the god explained. “No ringing in the ears or difficulty breathing, that sort of nonsense.”
“Thank you, my lord.” Diana placed it in her mouth. It collapsed against her teeth with a quiet crackling sound. The pearl tasted of salt, its texture like tiny pieces of sand as she chewed and swallowed. Unlike the ambrosia, she felt no difference.
“If I’d known you were so hospitable, uncle, I would have visited your kingdom more often over the years,” Hermes said, rising to his feet. “Shall I come and tell you all of the adventures of this quest in person?”
Poseidon tugged at his beard and snorted. “So long as you do no embellishing,” he began, sounding stern, and then belied his words by laughing and declaring, “Ah, embellish all you like, nephew! Tell me how she stole a lightning bolt from Zeus, or a peacock from Hera.”
Hermes grinned and looked thoughtful, as though he was already imagining what sort of stories to tell during his next visit.
“So who are we beseeching next?” Hermes asked once they were back upon the surface, Bruce standing on the nose of his jet and Diana hovering over one of its wings.
“I thought Dionysus,” Diana said, and Hermes nodded.
“Better him than Ares or Hades, eh?” he said.
Bruce frowned. “What about Ares or Hades?” he asked, and Diana realized that the full details of the quest had never been explained to him.
She frowned at Hermes and said quickly, “Just as I asked a boon of Poseidon, I must ask a boon or trade from a few more gods. Then Hestia will be able to mix the ingredients, Apollo and Artemis to temper them, and then you will be cured.”
Bruce’s frown deepened. “If I remember my mythology--” he began.
“Let me figure out where Dionysus is. Hopefully he’s in a good mood,” Diana said and turned on her earpiece. “Code 21Q, Wonder Woman to Zatanna. Code 21Q, Wonder Woman to Zatanna.”
“Diana?” Zatanna sounded surprised, which Diana supposed was understandable. Although they had become friends after the incident with Circe, they worked and lived in different circles and rarely had the opportunity to spend time together.
“Yes. Zatanna, I am sorry to rush you, but I need a favor.”
“Treat me to a dinner at that great Greek place in Metropolis where you’re a celebrity next time we’re both in the city, and you’ve got a deal,” Zatanna said. Diana could picture the other woman’s smile. “What do you need?”
“The current location of Dionysus.”
There was a beat of silence. “Diana. Please tell me you aren’t going to use this information to go talkto him.”
Diana smiled at the concern in Zatanna’s voice. Unlike the other gods, Dionysus had openly ignored Zeus’s rules about non-interference and could often be found in the mortal world. The magic community kept close tabs on the god— his presence had a tendency to throw otherwise stable or neutral magic into chaos.
“I’ll be fine, Zatanna. I have Batman and Hermes with me.”
“Batman and Hermes—right, not even going to ask,” Zatanna said, huffing out a disbelieving laugh. “Give me a minute; let me see if I’ve got anything concrete. …He’s on Crete right now. Is that all you need?”
“Unless your sources know if he’s in a good mood or not,” Diana said wryly, and laughed at the baffled silence that answered her. “Thank you for your help, Zatanna.”
“No problem,” Zatanna said, sounding troubled. “Just be careful, okay? Dealing with gods is…chancy.”
“Believe me,” Diana sighed, “I am all too aware of that fact.” She turned the earpiece back off, ignoring the way Bruce had his arms folded against his chest and was frowning dangerously. “Well, let us go to Crete!” she said, and leapt into the air before Bruce could speak.
Behind her, she saw Hermes shake his head and extend a hand to Bruce. A few seconds later, they were flying next to Diana.
Bruce seemed to be shouting something, probably about Ares and Aphrodite, but Diana pretended not to notice. Instead she put on another burst of speed. Crete was over 400 kilometers away, after all.
Unsurprisingly, they found Dionysus at a bar. He was in his younger guise today, looking like a youth who’d only just begun puberty, the soft golden fuzz of a first beard covering his jaw.
He looked too young to be drinking, Diana thought, but none of the other customers seemed bothered about his age. They were more puzzled by his wife, who looked unfazed by the curious glances directed her way. Ariadne leaned comfortably against her husband, draping a possessive, slender arm around his neck and stealing the occasional sip from his wine glass. She looked the same age she had when she had died and Dionysus had seized her and Semele from the Underworld, a beautiful young woman of twenty-some years.
Her expression was vague and flushed from wine, but it sharpened as she noticed their approach. “It seems we have company, beloved,” she said. She spoke in the slow, languid way of the extremely inebriated, her eyes half-lidded as she studied Diana, Bruce, and Hermes. “I wonder what an Amazon, a mortal, and a god have come to ask of you.”
“Cousin!” Dionysus said brightly, in a soprano that sometimes deepened unexpectedly into tenor. “What brings you to Crete? And in such unusual company, as well! You must have a fascinating story to tell.”
Diana met Dionysus’s eyes, and immediately wished she hadn’t. Dionysus was in one of his more dangerous moods today, his eyes gleaming with madness and cruel mirth. She closed her eyes for a moment, dizzy.
“I am guiding Princess Diana of the Amazons on a quest, cousin,” Hermes explained. Diana opened her eyes and glanced at the messenger god. Judging by the strain in his too-bright smile, Hermes too had noticed Dionysus’s dangerous humor.
“A quest!” Dionysus’s smile faded, replaced by the beginning of a scowl. “My Ariadne and I are not fond of quests. Theseus was on a quest when he abandoned my beloved.” He tenderly stroked Ariadne’s arm as he spoke, as though to reassure himself that his wife was here, not in the Underworld or still abandoned on Naxos.
“This is a very different quest, cousin,” Hermes explained. “Princess Diana seeks to cure our companion, Batman of Gotham, of the infatuation caused by one of Eros’s arrows.”
“You needn’t explain,” Dionysus said irritably. “I know the mark of the arrows’ madness well enough.” He stared at Diana. She met his gaze without blinking, ignoring the roiling of her stomach. “So you are trying to cure him?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Why?” Ariadne asked, tilting her head and looking curious.
Diana glanced at Bruce, but he continued to avoid her gaze, his eyes focused instead on Dionysus and Ariadne. “Would you have wanted Dionysus to fall in love with you through Eros’s arrows, my lady?” she asked. “Dionysus’s love for you is still remembered by the mortal world even today. Eros’s arrows never tainted that moment when Lord Dionysus first beheld you on Naxos.”
Ariadne laughed. “I like you,” she said, and then said in a carrying whisper, “Dionysus, do help them. I know quests are worse than useless, but I like her.”
Some of the madness ebbed from Dionysus’s face and he caressed Ariadne’s cheek. “Whatever you want, dearest,” he told her, voice affectionate, and added without looking away from Ariadne’s smiling countenance, “Is there any way we could aid you, princess?”
Diana took out one of the vials. “We need some of your wine, my lord.”
Dionysus laughed, a wild, delighted sound. “Someone is making sport of you, Amazon. If your mortal there drinks my wine, his infatuation will not be cured, only replaced by another type of madness.”
“Lady Athena gave me a list of ingredients, my lord. I am certain she would not lead me astray,” Diana said firmly.
“Athena,” Dionysus growled. “No, she wouldn’t, the spoilsport. Ah well, I’ve promised Ariadne I would help you, and I never break a promise to her.” He snapped his fingers. Instantly the large vial filled with a wine of a deep purple shade.
“Thank you, my lord,” Diana said.
Dionysus removed his hand from Ariadne’s face long enough to wiggle his fingers in a clear go-away signal. “You begin to bore me,” he announced, and then cast a speculative look at Bruce. “You, however, intrigue me. I’ve seen you before.”
“Have you?” Bruce said without any inflection. “I seem to remember myths where you caused madness in mortal minds. Perhaps you have seen me fighting some of your handiwork. There is a mortal who calls himself the Joker--”
“Oh, oh, oh!” Dionysus said, laughing in pleased surprise. “How could I have forgotten you? Batman of Gotham. Gotham is such a fun place-- so many minds teeming with desperation, on the edge of madness. All it takes is one little push--”
Bruce stepped forward, but Hermes seized him by the elbow and dragged him backwards. “Stay away from Gotham,” Bruce growled, and if the situation wasn’t so terrible, Diana would have laughed. Of course Bruce would tell a god to leave his city alone.
“You are ordering me to stay away from your city,” Dionysus said, fixing him with a sharp, intrigued gaze. “Has Eros’s arrow damaged your mind more than just twisting your feelings for the Amazon, mortal? Or do you truly think I’ll be swayed by that growl and glare of yours?” When Bruce continued to glower, Dionysus laughed. “You do think I’ll obey the command of a mortal! Oh, how novel! You are an amusing little mortal.”
“Stay a--” Bruce began, and stopped with a grunt, presumably because Hermes had stepped on his foot.
“He is quite a character, cousin,” Hermes agreed with a nervous laugh. “And now we must be going. So good to see you, Ariadne, you look as lovely as ever. See you in a century or two!” He dragged Bruce backwards as he made his exit.
Diana bowed. “Thank you again for your assistance, my lord, my lady,” she said, and then followed after Hermes and Bruce. When she stepped out of the bar, it was in time to see Hermes shake Bruce and snap, “You are lucky he didn’t turn you into a tiger and have you draw his chariot!”
“He threatened Gotham,” Bruce said stubbornly.
Diana sighed. If the ambrosia had not still been warming her belly, she would doubtless be dealing with a throbbing headache right now, both from Bruce’s recklessness and from meeting Dionysus’s eyes. “Batman, Hermes, we only have two more items to gather,” she said. “What’s done is done. Let’s not bicker.”
“Fine,” Hermes said. “Are we saving Hades for last, or does Ares have that pleasure?”
Diana shook her head. “Ares first, then Hades,” she said. “We will need all of our strength and no distractions to venture into the Underworld.”
Ares could often be found on Aretias, one of his sacred islands. Diana approached the island with a sensation of mingled nervousness and an odd, exulting excitement.
What would Ares ask in exchange for the snake’s venom? She imagined herself challenging the god to a match, and something in her cried out in fierce joy. It had been too long since she had allowed herself to fully devote herself to a battle, to not have to constantly check her attacks before she harmed her opponent. She could use all of her strength against a god without fear.
Ares was sharpening a spear when they landed in the clearing. A vulture fluttered on a nearby branch and grumbled at their approach and a few of the dogs milling around the god’s feet eyed them with interest, but Ares didn’t look up from his spear.
“So the Amazon comes at last to me,” he said. “I have heard you are a fierce warrior, little princess, and seen the wreckage of more than one of your battles.”
“I am a warrior, my lord,” Diana said. Anticipation hummed sweetly in her veins. “In fact, I have come to propose a challenge.” She ignored Hermes’s startled look.
“A challenge?” Ares finally looked up, his thick eyebrows beetling over his eyes. “What sort of challenge?”
“When was the last time you faced an Amazon in battle, my lord? Fight me. If you are impressed with my skill, you will give us a small vial of venom from one of your blessed snakes.”
“And if I am not impressed?”
“Then I will make another offer for that venom, something that would better please you,” Diana said promptly.
After a moment, a wide grin spread across Ares’s features, puckered the small, thin scar that had just missed mutilating his lips. “Amazons!” he roared with approval, setting aside his spear and slapping his knee. “If only Hera would set aside that stupid ban on men visiting Themyscira! We could have such glorious fights.” He sighed, almost looking wistful. “Very well, Amazon, we shall fight, but the weapons will be of my choosing.”
“Agreed,” Diana said, and ignored Bruce’s hoarse protest. She grinned at the god, baring her teeth. “I am ready whenever you are, my lord.”
“I am in the mood for wrestling,” Ares announced.
Diana studied him, the good foot in height he had over her, the way his gleaming muscles bulged whenever he so much as breathed. Her smile didn’t falter. “Wrestling sounds perfect,” she said.
A minute later, Ares had taken a stick and dug the skamma in the center of the clearing. “No modern rules,” he ordered. “We’ll stick to the proper, traditional way of wrestling, to three points. Hermes will be the referee-- an impartial one, unless he wants to incur my wrath.”
“Of course, my lord,” she said. She watched him take off his armor, revealing the dirty, sweat-stained tunic underneath it, and his boots. She took off the tiara and her bracelets, pressing them into Bruce’s hands, and then toed her way out of the boots. “Keep them safe for me, please,” she said.
“Princess Diana, this is madness,” Hermes said.
“Not madness,” Bruce corrected, “but an unnecessary risk.”
“No risk at all,” Diana said. “Ares won’t be so sloppy as to kill me, and I plan to give him a match he won’t soon forget.”
Hermes sighed and shot her a curious look. “I had heard gossip that Ares was father to your queen, but I admit, I never put much thought into that rumor until now,” he muttered. “It seems more likely by the minute.”
Diana shook her head. “My mother is not Ares’s daughter,” she said, and then turned away, stepping into the square where Ares impatiently waited.
“We shall begin the match on the count of three,” Ares said. “One…two…three!” He roared out the number, and then charged, sand flying away from his bare feet.
She darted forward to meet him, enjoying the surprise that flashed in his eyes. She slid under his legs, careful not to let her back touch the earth, and then threw herself upon the god’s back, wrapping her legs around his waist and slinging one arm around his chest. The other arm went around the god’s throat, trying to choke Ares’s breath from him.
Ares roared and thrashed around, staggering precariously close to the edge of the square. After a minute, however, his struggles knocked Diana’s arm away from his chest, and he reached up to grab her other arm. A second later she found herself flying, off the god’s back and rolling near and past the line, all the way to Hermes’s feet.
There was a beat of silence. “Point to Ares,” Hermes said weakly.
Diana got to her feet, taking a deep, careful breath. The throw had been powerful, but she had not landed wrong. She wouldn’t even bruise. She smiled at Ares. “Well done, my lord,” she said, stepping back into the skamma.
As soon as she had stepped back into the square, Ares charged again, lowering his head like a bull. This time she did not slide underneath him, but instead darted to the side, watching gleefully at the god skidded to a stop, toes almost touching the edge of the skamma.
Ares grinned dangerously and began to circle her, watching for any openings. “Running away from me, Amazon?”
“Not at all, my lord,” Diana informed him sweetly. “You simply seemed in such a rush to be out of the skamma, I hated to be in your way.”
Ares laughed, and she struck in that brief moment, coming at the god low and hard, aiming for his knees. The god’s laughter changed to a shout of surprise as he stumbled and tipped back over the line.
“Point to Diana!” Hermes shouted.
“Your mother taught you well, Amazon,” Ares said. “Never let your guard down in a match.”
He stepped back into the skamma, and she waited the appropriate few seconds before she darted at him, watching him plant his feet to brace for the impact. At the last second, though, she stopped her forward momentum and leapt backwards, out of the god’s reach. “You are hovering so close to edge, my lord,” she said with a mocking laugh. “Do you long for the easy point that would come from grabbing my wrist and sending me flying back to Lord Hermes’s feet?”
Ares snorted. “And meanwhile you dart and prance around like a fool,” he said. He crooked a finger at her. “Come and test your strength against me, girl.”
She looked again at his broad shoulders, his height, his muscles, and grinned. “Thank you for the invitation, my lord,” she said, and stepped forward to meet him in the middle. She planted her feet in the sand, caught his hands to hers, and pushed hard. Her feet slid slowly through the sand for a moment as Ares shoved back, then the movement stopped as she grunted and pushed harder.
Ares grinned down at her, his face flushed. “You might be strong, girl, but no Amazon is a match for a god,” he said.
“We’ll see,” Diana said through gritted teeth even as Ares grinned wider and forced her back another few meters. She strained against him, winning back a few meters even as her shoulders and arms protested at the exertion.
Slowly, Ares pushed her back until she knew the edge of the skamma was an inch away from her heels. She grinned up at him even as he made that final push and shoved her from the skamma. “You may be stronger, my lord, but you’ll find brute strength isn’t everything.” The remark came out breathless.
Ares snorted, stepping back to the center of the square even as Hermes called out, “Point to Ares!”
“You sound like Athena, girl,” he said. “She’s always talking about strategies and battle formations. She doesn’t appreciate the way your blood heats up during a fight, how sometimes you have to just ignore plans and revel in the madness of battle.”
“I can appreciate a good strategy,” Diana admitted, stepping back into the skamma. She rotated her neck slowly, heard something pop in her spine as she stretched and continued, “But there is something to be said to just letting yourself go in a fight.”
Ares chuckled and lunged at her, his large, meaty hands catching hold of her wrists and lifting her off her feet. He spun her around and around until wind roared in her ears and she could barely breathe. Then he threw her. She landed hard enough to send up a spray of sand.
She blinked away sand, listening for Hermes’s cry of, “Point to Ares!” When none came, she threw herself to the side, narrowly avoiding Ares as he grabbed for her once more. He had either misjudged his throw or was enjoying the match too much to end it.
Diana spun to face him just as he charged again. This time she let him come, standing there unmoving despite Bruce’s cry to get out of the way. Ares grinned as he rushed at her, but that grin was replaced by a flicker of surprise as Diana dropped to one knee. A second later, the god’s eyes widened with understanding, but it was too late—Diana already had one hand planted on his stomach, and the other wrenching his arm, using his own momentum to toss him over her shoulder and out of the skamma.
“Point to Diana!”
Ares got to his feet slowly. Frustration now flushed his face, made a vein pulse in his temple. She watched him warily. Ares was well-known for his temper. He would not kill her, but he wouldn’t be adverse to breaking a limb or two if he grew too vexed that a mere Amazon had matched him point-for-point. “Nice trick, Amazon,” he said sourly, re-entering the skamma. “Now let us see if you can use your wits to get out of this one.”
Diana braced herself, but she was not expecting the large, muscular god to move so swiftly, or to hook one foot around her ankle and send her toppling to the sand. She was already struggling to her feet when Ares grabbed her arm and wrenched it behind her back. The pain flared in her shoulder, and she bit back a pained sound.
He was going to make her tap out, she realized, to assuage his wounded pride. She gritted her teeth and struggled, for she was not going to give up without a fight, but she swiftly realized Ares had the advantage. She was trapped on her knees, unable to gain any leverage, and Ares had her arm in an iron grip. She fought against his grip, wrenching her shoulder even more as she tried to struggle to her feet.
“I don’t think so, girl,” Ares said into her ear. “Give the sand a little tap and your discomfort will be over.” When she didn’t immediately tap the sand, he grunted in frustration and gave her arm another painful wrench. Her joint screamed in agony, and she saw stars. He would dislocate her shoulder if she continued to fight, she realized, and she couldn’t go into the Underworld with a dislocated shoulder.
Grimacing, she tapped the sand. Immediately Hermes cried, “Point and match to Ares!” and Ares released her.
She rose to her feet, pride keeping her from immediately rubbing at her shoulder. Instead she kept her throbbing shoulder stationary and used her other arm to don her boots and tiara. She left the bracelets in Bruce’s grasp. She would put them on once out of Ares’s eyesight. She would not wince in front of him.
“Congratulations, my lord,” she said. “What did you think of the match?”
“Well fought!” Ares roared. “I have not had such a match since the last great heroes thought to test their mettle against me. You can have that venom with my gratitude, girl!” He pursed his lips and whistled a loud, demanding note.
A second later, a brightly colored snake emerged from the tree-line, winding its way to Ares’s feet. Hermes stepped forward, offering the vial and studying the snake with interest. Despite her discomfort, Diana gaped at the snake as well—she would never see its like in Man’s World, for that sacred breed was now extinct save for the few that Ares kept near him.
“Good girl,” Ares crooned at the snake as he coaxed the venom from its fangs and into the vial. After a minute, he handed the vial back. “Will you stay for a meal? I was planning to hunt boar.”
“Thank you for the offer, cousin, but we have a few more trips to make today,” Hermes said. “Perhaps another time.”
It was not until they were away from the clearing that Diana allowed herself to rub her shoulder and gingerly test the joint. The pain was beginning to subside, thankfully-- there would not be any damage besides some soreness. Once they had flown a few miles away from the island, Diana came to a stop in mid-air.
Hermes stopped as well.
“I need my bracelets,” she said, extending a hand for them. Bruce hesitated, and then handed them over, Hermes holding tightly to his elbow as he did. She laughed a little at their identical expressions of disapproval even as she winced and carefully put on the bracelets. “You two look as stern as Lady Athena. We got the venom, didn’t we? And without explaining why we needed it, no less! He will not go running to Aphrodite.”
“You might have explained your plan beforehand,” Hermes said. “Can we at least discuss how we’re handling our adventure into the Underworld? Hades will not welcome you with open arms.”
“I thought we might appeal to Lady Persephone,” Diana said. She shrugged at Hermes’s incredulous look. “She has little love for her husband. If we asked her for a flower from the Asphodel Meadows, she would agree out of spite and gratitude when we bear Lady Demeter’s message to her.”
“There’s an idea,” Hermes murmured, looking less disapproving now.
Bruce’s expression still hadn’t changed. “I don’t think you should go to the Underworld,” he said. As Diana gaped at him in disbelief, he turned towards Hermes. “Hades despises all Amazons, and especially Diana. If she goes, Hades would probably prefer the Meadows to burn before any flower could be used to help her. But if you go, alone, bringing a message from Demeter that must be said in private to Persephone, you could ask her for the flower in secret.”
“This is my quest,” Diana protested even as Hermes began to nod. “I must get the flower myself!”
Hermes shook his head. “Not entirely true, Princess Diana. After all, Athena gave you Hera’s gift. You didn’t have to collect it on your own. And this is your quest, true, but I’ve traveled with you the entire time. The Fates will not protest if I go in your stead.”
Diana scowled, but both Hermes and Bruce looked obstinate. And Hermes did have a point. If she was not there to incite Hades’s fury, perhaps Hermes could get in and out of the Underworld without incident.
“Very well,” Diana said with a sigh. She opened the case and pulled out the final vial, handing it to the god. “Batman and I will go get the chalice from Hephaestus and I will meet you in Hestia’s domain. Does that suit you?”
“Yes,” Hermes said. He hesitated, glancing between Bruce and Diana. “Should I take you two back to Batman’s jet and then go on to the Underworld from there?”
“Since I can’t fly, that’d probably be a good idea,” Bruce said dryly. Now that he had made his point, he had returned to avoiding Diana’s gaze.
Diana flew ahead of Hermes and Bruce, torn between exasperation and amusement. Even with his thoughts and feelings befuddled by Eros’s arrow, Bruce still managed to be irritatingly intelligent and persuasive.
Bruce got into the jet without a word, motioning for Diana to lead the way. She paused for a moment, looking towards Hermes. “You said Eros asked a boon from you,” she said quietly.
“Yes,” Hermes said, expression unreadable.
“If there is anything I can do to lessen his debt to you,” Diana began, and stopped at Hermes’s laughter.
“Princess, princess, princess,” he said with a shake of his head. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but this is the most stimulation Olympus has seen in centuries. It is excitingto be around you. In fact, I’m almost tempted to tell Eros that just traveling with you has cancelled the debt.” He grinned a little wickedly. “I won’t, of course, because having Eros owe me will doubtlessly come in handy later, but I am very nearly tempted.”
Diana found herself laughing. “I am glad to have provided you with such amusement, my lord. I wish you a safe and speedy journey in the Underworld.”
Hermes started to go, and then paused. “I will try to be as fast as possible, but time moves even more oddly in the Underworld than it does on Olympus,” he said without looking at her. “Try to keep your mortal alive until then, even if his arrow-induced sentimentality makes you want to strangle him.”
Diana glanced at Bruce, but he had his head bowed as he fiddled with some of the dials in his jet. “I’ll do my best. Farewell, my lord,” she said.
Hermes sighed. “Farewell, Princess Diana.”
Hephaestus greeted them with a snort. “You’ve got good timing, I’ll give you that much, little Amazon. The chalice has been complete for only a few hours.” He studied Bruce for a second. “Are you the mortal, then, that has brought the princess twice to my doorstep? You should learn to keep away from arrows, mortal.”
Bruce frowned. “Or maybe someone should keep the arrows away from Aphrodite and Eros,” he said.
Hephaestus, much to Diana’s surprise, laughed. “You might be right about that. Zeus would never hear of it, though. ‘Love is Aphrodite’s domain.’” The last sentence was a reasonable good imitation of Zeus, enough that Diana had to duck her head to hide a smile.
“Here it is,” Hephaestus said, limping over to a cabinet. When he pulled the chalice from the cabinet, Diana gasped. Even Bruce let out a quiet sound of surprise.
“It’s beautiful,” Diana said. The chalice was finely wrought, made of varying types of gold, the white-gold words of power nearly blazing from their position around the mouth of the chalice. She took the chalice with reverent hands. “A masterpiece.”
“Yes, a masterpiece that will be used once to cure your mortal and then never used again,” Hephaestus grumbled.
“I will not let such beauty be wasted,” Diana promised. “If it pleases you and if those words of power will not cause any problem, I will take it to my mother after Batman is cured, ask her to use it in ceremonies on Themyscira.”
Hephaestus grunted, but she thought she caught the flicker of a pleased smile on his face. “I suppose that’ll do,” he said. Then he scowled. “Were you expecting some ambrosia and a free gift? You’ve got what you came for, now leave me alone!” The last word was a roar that made the ground tremble beneath their feet.
“Thank you for all you’ve done, Lord Hephaestus,” Diana said quickly, and then seized Bruce around the waist and flew upward, out of the opening at the tip of the volcano. She landed lightly on the wing of Bruce’s jet. “Sorry,” she said, immediately releasing him and stepping back as he strapped himself into the pilot’s seat. “I did not want to overstay our welcome.”
“It’s fine,” Bruce said, busying himself with the board of flashing lights and dials. “Where do we go next?”
Diana blinked, and then flushed as she realized she still hadn’t explained things properly to him. “Once Hermes has gotten the flower, we will have all the necessary ingredients. I will go to meet him at--”
“I?” Bruce said sharply. “Don’t think you’re leaving me behind.”
“The ingredients can only be blended together and blessed by Hestia, who resides upon Mount Olympus. You cannot go there.”
“Then let me wait outside the gates,” Bruce argued.
Diana snorted. “Now who’s being unreasonable? Aphrodite will realize something’s going on if she spots you lingering outside the gates of Mount Olympus. Go back to the Manor. I will bring the potion once it’s complete.”
“So what’s left to complete the potion?” Bruce said, not moving.
Diana sighed. “Nothing dangerous, I swear by Hera. Hestia needs to bless it, and then the chalice must be heated by a ride upon Apollo’s chariot and then cooled by Artemis under the moonlight. Go home, Bruce, and keep the arrow and the necklace close to you.”
“Diana,” Bruce said quietly. His dark eyes met hers once more. “Swear to me you’ll come to the Manor as soon as the potion is ready.”
“Of course I swear,” Diana said. She looked at him for another moment, the muted longing in his eyes, how his gloved fingers drummed on the arm of his pilot seat in an agitated tempo. She resisted the urge to pull off his mask and smooth his rumpled hair away from his face, reassure him that all would be well. “I will see you in a day or two, depending on how long Hermes takes. Wait at the Manor and let Robin and Huntress protect Gotham for a little while longer.”
Bruce nodded, and then the jet came to life in a rumble of sound. Diana flew back, watching the vapor trial long after the jet had disappeared from view. Then she sighed and turned for a third time to Mount Olympus.
Hestia greeted her with a sympathetic cry.
“Oh, my poor dear!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around Diana’s neck and nearly squeezing the life from her. “Hera told me all about your troubles. I wonder at Aphrodite’s wickedness, I truly do. I don’t claim to understand men well, but from what Psyche has told me, your Batman was well on his way to falling in love with you in the natural way! Why did Aphrodite have to muddle things so?”
The torrent of words left Diana almost dizzy. “Thank you for your kind words, my lady. Hermes has gone to fetch the last ingredient from the Underworld, and then we shall be ready for your blessing,” she said.
“Of course, of course, but you must eat, child. You look as though you haven’t eaten in days.”
“I had a meal at Poseidon’s palace,” Diana said, but it was a faint protest as Hestia began to ladle something from a pot bubbling on her hearth. A draft brought the scents of carrots and meat to her nose, and her mouth began to water.
“Fresh vegetables from Demeter’s garden, and rabbit caught by Artemis. I bet you’ve never tasted the like,” Hestia announced, setting the bowl and a spoon on her table and gesturing for Diana to eat.
Diana obeyed, nearly closing her eyes in bliss. The soup was indescribable—somehow Hestia had managed to blend the perfect balance of vegetables, meat, and spices. She ate the soup slowly, and didn’t protest when Hestia pressed another steaming bowl upon her.
“There!” Hestia said with satisfaction. “That should put the lost weight back on your bones. You mustn’t forget to eat, child, even when things go wrong. The strongest warrior cannot hope to defeat even the weakest if he’s starving.”
Diana opened her mouth to thank her once more when the door to Hestia’s house burst open and Hermes entered, red-faced.
“Nearly bumped into Aphrodite on my way here,” he gasped, and offered his vial to Hestia before he collapsed into the nearest chair. “Here, aunt, a flower that cannot compare to your beauty.”
“Flatterer,” Hestia said with a merry laugh. “Now then, set the chalice and ingredients before me, and I’ll make you your potion.” Once the items were before her, Hestia arched an eyebrow. She tapped the vial containing the snake venom. “Hera mentioned the ingredients were on the unusual side. I’m beginning to think she understated things. Athena says these ingredients blended together will cure your mortal?”
“Yes, my lady,” Diana said.
“All right then.” Hestia rubbed her hands together. “No particular order that they must be put into the chalice, correct?”
“Athena didn’t mention an order,” Hermes said.
Hestia nodded and bowed her head, both hands hovering over the chalice. “I bless this chalice. May the potion created fulfill its purpose.” She put the wine in first, then the pomegranate juice, then the water from the salt spring and the snake venom together at the same time. Then came the crushed olives and acorn together, then the grain, and finally the white Asphodel flower.
Diana could not see into the chalice, but Hestia hummed in satisfaction, cupping the chalice in her hands and raising it towards her hearth. “I bless this chalice and its contents,” she said, repeating the words three times as she slowly shook the chalice and let the ingredients blend together. After she had finished the chant, she returned the chalice to the table.
Now Diana could see that the potion had turned a deep pink.
“Shall I call Apollo and Artemis here for you?” Hestia asked. “Apollo is no doubt tending to his horses, so if you want him to take the chalice with him today, you’ll want to get him now.”
“Please,” Diana said. “I want Batman back to normal.”
Hestia clucked sympathetically. “Of course you do, dear. Let me go and fetch them.”
When Hestia returned, the twins strode into the room as though they owned the place. They both had the appearances of youths, although Apollo’s long hair was immaculate and Artemis’s threaded with leaves and sticks.
“So this is the chalice,” Apollo said, giving it a curious glance. “Athena has outdone herself again.” He looked a little sour, which was explained by the next words out of his mouth. “I wonder why she couldn’t figure out this cure when Ineeded it to undo Eros’s use of the lead arrow upon my beloved.”
“And which beloved was that?” Artemis said dryly. “You’ve had so many, I can’t really recall faces or names.” When her brother ignored her, Artemis turned to Diana. “It’s a pity you’ve been foolish enough to fall in love,” she said bluntly. “But I suppose if you had to fall for a man, that Batman is not a bad choice. He hunts his prey well.”
“Thank you,” Diana said, and glanced at Hermes for help. The god only grinned at her, unsympathetic with her plight. “I had some of Hestia’s soup. The rabbit you caught tasted wonderful.”
Artemis grinned in satisfaction, and then gave her brother a hard clout on the shoulder. “Stop gawking at the chalice and sulking, and take it to your chariot! Unless you want the mortals to start panicking when the sun doesn’t rise.”
“I’m going, I’m going,” Apollo said peevishly, “if only to get away from you.” The god snatched up the chalice and left.
“Tell your mother I will be visiting in a year or two,” Artemis said. “It has been too long since my maidens and I have hunted alongside the Amazons.”
“I will,” Diana promised. “And I’m certain my mother will look forward to it.”
“I’ll bring the chalice back here once the potion’s cooled,” Artemis said, and left as abruptly as she’d entered.
“I’m afraid Artemis enjoys ignoring manners and politeness,” Hestia said. “Another bowl of soup?”
“No, thank you. Those two bowls have been more than nourishing.”
“Of course, of course,” Hestia agreed. She surprised Diana with another hug. “Now, don’t mind me as you say good-bye to Hermes. I’ll go see if Athena needs a meal.”
Once Hestia had bustled out the door, Hermes and Diana stood silently for a moment. “Please pass along my gratitude to Eros and Psyche,” she said.
“Please pass along my regret to Batman that I didn’t see him in his natural habitat or state of mind,” Hermes said, surprising Diana into only slightly bitter laughter.
“I will,” she promised, and caught Hermes’s hands in hers. “Thank you for everything you did these past few days, my lord.”
Hermes tugged his hands away from hers, and then patted her gently on the head, being careful to avoid her tiara. “Go well, princess. I look forward to our next meeting,” he said.
“What makes you so certain there will be a next meeting?” Diana asked, and Hermes laughed.
“You’ve spoken with Zeus, met the other eleven members of the Pantheon. Do you think the gods and goddesses will forget about the unusual little Amazon who demanded boons from them? If you thought your life was interesting now, Amazon, you have no idea.”
Diana sighed. “Sometimes I long for a boring, uneventful life,” she said.
“No, you don’t,” Hermes said.
Diana smiled, thinking of the Justice League, how well Donna had looked on Themyscira, Bruce.
“No, I don’t,” she agreed.
Being cooled by the moon had apparently turned the potion silver. Diana clutched the chalice to her chest as she took a deep breath and knocked on the door of the Manor.
The door swung open after only a few seconds. Either Alfred was supernaturally fast or he’d been waiting next to the door. He bowed, the early morning light catching in his hair. “Master Bruce said you might be arriving soon, Your Highness. Shall I take the chalice?”
She hesitated, but this was Alfred. She couldn’t imagine him dropping anything in his life. “It’s the potion,” she said, and watched his eyes widen for a second before the man resumed his neutral mask.
“I took the liberty of keeping the arrow and the necklace together in the Cave,” he said. “If you’ll follow me….”
“Where’s Bruce?” Diana asked when they got to the bottom of the stairs and it became apparent that Bruce was not there.
“On patrol, despite my misgivings,” Alfred said, setting the chalice carefully down next to the necklace and the arrow. “I will call him back to the Cave, if you’ll excuse me for a moment.
“Go ahead,’ Diana said absently, stepping closer to the arrow. She hadn’t gotten a good look at it before, but now that it had been cleaned of blood and no longer embedded in Bruce’s back, she could recognize Hephaestus’s work.
“They will be here shortly. They were already returning home. Did you need anything, Your Highness? Tea? Biscuits?”
“No,” Diana assured him. “I have been staying with Hestia, goddess of the hearth and meals for the past day. I have had enough food to last me a week.”
“You should still take home some of Alfred’s biscuits, Wonder Woman,” Robin announced, entering the room with a grin. “They’re great.”
A hint of a smile lurked in Alfred’s eyes. “Thank you, Master Jason. Perhaps the princess will sample the biscuits another time. Right now, however, I think we all would prefer to have Master Bruce restored to his normal self.”
“That’s it?” Bruce asked, peeling off his mask to reveal strained features puffy from lack of sleep. He frowned at the chalice. “Interesting color.”
Diana dipped the arrow in the potion, watched as the liquid suddenly began to seethe and bubble. Once the liquid had subsided, Diana pulled the now-silver arrow from the chalice. “Shall I administer the cure, or did you want to do the honors yourself?” she asked, offering the arrow to him. Her hands did not tremble, though they very much wanted to.
Bruce’s lips twitched. “I’ll do it,” he said. He pulled off his glove, exposing the pale underside of his arm. It was there he jabbed the point of the arrow in, grimacing and going a little pale, but otherwise not acknowledging his agony.
The arrow dropped from his arm and Diana let it fall, reaching instead to steady Bruce as his eyes fluttered shut and he swayed on his feet. “Bruce,” she said quietly, cursing herself for lack of foresight. The original arrow had made Bruce collapse. Why wouldn’t Athena’s altered arrow do the same? “Let me get you to a bed.”
“No,” he said hoarsely. “I’m fine.” He opened his eyes and smiled a little wryly. “That arrow packs a punch, that’s all.” He showed her his wrist. “At least it didn’t scar.”
She was still holding his shoulders, she realized. She dropped her hands to her side and was taking a step back when Bruce’s voice stopped her.
“Diana,” he said quietly, meeting her eyes. Yes, that was the Bruce she knew-- no slavish devotion, just respect and a hint of stronger emotion lurking in his gaze. “Give me a week?”
“Only a week?” Diana said, forcing a laugh. At least Bruce was no longer avoiding her gaze and did not seem quite as embarrassed as she thought he’d be. Perhaps he would not avoid her for too long. “I would have thought you’d seen enough of my face to last you a month at least.”
“Diana,” Bruce said, sounding irritated. He pressed something into her hand. “Keep this for me, please.”
Diana blinked and then looked down at her hand. Slowly she unfurled her fingers. There, nestled in her palm, was the tracker Bruce had stuck on one of her bracelets. “What--”
“So I can find you,” Bruce said. When she tore her gaze away from the tracker, it was in time to see Bruce settling the necklace around his neck. “Unless you don’t want me to find you, of course,” he added.
It was his tone that caught her by the most surprise. It was a too-casual tone, the one used when someone was trying to feign indifference when they were anything but. She stared at him.
“What’s going on?” Robin whispered to Alfred.
“I believe we should give Her Highness and Master Bruce some privacy,” was Alfred’s only answer, and the man dragged a protesting Robin up the stairs and out of hearing range.
“Give me a week,” Bruce repeated. He touched the necklace, readjusted it. His ears had gone pink, Diana noticed, such an appealing, vulnerable color that it was all she could do not to trace a finger around the edge of his ear.
She watched him for a moment, almost in disbelief. This was almost too good to be true, but there was something in the tense way he held himself, as though he worried that either he or Diana would suddenly explode, made her believe he was earnest. She smiled and slowly attached the tracker to one of her bracelets.
“Bruce,” she said, and something in her tone must have warned him, for he looked sharply at her. She took a step closer to him, and finally, finally allowed herself to reach out, pressing her hand to his cheek. He had shaved before going out on patrol, but already she could feel the scrape of a new beard against her hand. “Come find me in a week, then. I might even apologize for trying to play prophetess.”
“Diana,” he said, but her name was breathed against her lips as she curled her hand around his neck and tugged him gently forward into a slow kiss full of promise.
“I will hold you to that one week,” she said once she forced herself to end the kiss. Her lips tingled, and she watched in satisfaction as Bruce looked at her with half-lidded eyes and ran his tongue over his upper lip. “If you haven’t found me within seven days, Iwill find you,” she added.
Bruce smirked a little at that, mischief gleaming in his dark eyes. “That sounds appealing, actually,” he said.
“Be quiet,” Diana commanded, and silenced his protests with another kiss.